If you wish to read earlier chapters of this fic, please copy and past the following links into your browser.
Chapter 1 – https://www.theonering.com/docs/12538.html
Chapter 2 – https://www.theonering.com/docs/12619.html
Chapter 3 – https://www.theonering.com/docs/12725.html
Chapter 4 – Comfort and Conflict
In which Bilbo, tormented with grief, sits with his wounded heir and Sam learns the One Ring may still hold his old master in its sway.
The quiet sound of the door being opened again woke Sam from his dreaming. Sunlight was just beginning to touch the tips of the Misty Mountains far to the east and had yet to reach the rim of the steep sided valley of Rivendell. Dim light filled the room from the vast open windows and the sound of dancing water met his ears. He looked up, rubbing sleep from his eyes and realizing he was half fallen out of the chair. His back moaned in protest and he felt worse than he had after any of the nights he’d slept in the wilds. He looked about and noticed Bilbo had crept in holding a tray upon which a warm breakfast was laid. Oatmeal and cakes, butter and strawberries, tea and a large glass of milk were crowded on its surface. He also had a bowl of some thin broth that Sam surmised was for his master. He wondered if they would be able to feed it to him.
“Good morning, Mr. Bilbo.” he said softly, not wishing to either startle the old hobbit or disturb his master.
“And you are up too, Sam!” Bilbo’s worried expression faded into a smile for a moment and he looked genuinely glad to see him. “I’ve just brought a few things for you both. The elves would have gotten to it, but I wanted to come in and see how my lad was doing.” He set the tray on the table, right where the surgical tools had been set the night before, and bent to look closely at Frodo. Sam shook his head, trying to get the unwelcome images of the previous evening’s activities out of it, and stood stiffly.
“Well, either I was tireder than I felt, or he slept a deal better than he has in a fortnight. The elves must have done some good for him.” Sam decided it was probably not the best idea to go into details of the previous night’s activities for both their sakes. He most certainly wished to forget them. He shuffled over to the bed behind where Bilbo stood and looked over his shoulder.
Bilbo had Frodo’s cheek cupped in his hand and was gently stroking it with his thumb. At first, Sam thought Frodo completely unresponsive, but then he saw the pale brow crease ever so slightly and Frodo leaned into the caress as if it comforted him. Bilbo said nothing but continued to stroke the wan cheek, a tender and joyous smile blossoming on his face. Sam, too, was moved to joy and his eyes watered with the beginnings of tears. Though his master was still unconscious, he seemed to know his uncle’s touch and yearned towards it as a child reaching for the loving arms of a parent. Sam wiped his eyes and fell back, leaving the two of them alone together, then eased himself silently out the door.
When he’d found the washroom, and cleaned himself up for breakfast, Sam returned to find Frodo propped up on several pillows and Bilbo sitting beside him carefully ladling broth into his mouth. It was a messy business, for Frodo had not returned to consciousness, but Bilbo was patient. He had one hand on Frodo’s jaw and would pull it down to tip a spoonful of the liquid in, and then push it up so that the broth slid back in his throat and Frodo could swallow it. Bilbo had draped one of the towels from the night before around his neck to keep the inevitable spills from dampening the sheets and he talked as he worked, speaking to Frodo as if the other hobbit were awake and could answer him. Sam crept over to the tray, picked up the plate of cakes and the butter and hunkered down in the chair he had slept in to eat them.
“There, that’s a good lad…” Bilbo cooed softly. “You take this all and you’ll be up and about in no time. Lord Elrond put things in it to help heal you. Strong elvish medicine – nothing better in the world, I’d say.” He took a corner of the towel and wiped at a bit of broth that fell from Frodo’s lax lips. “I haven’t done this for you in years, my boy.” he continued. “Do you remember just after you came to live with me and you were so sick? I’d never cared for a young one before and I was so terribly frightened I would lose you, but we managed, you and I. Got you back on your feet.” He paused and stroked Frodo’s cheek again. “Did I ever tell you,” he said in a tender whisper. “How happy it made me to see you hale and whole again?” He looked so lovingly upon Frodo’s face that it almost broke Sam’s heart. “If any had come from Buckland after that to claim you back, I’d have fought ten Smaugs to keep you….” The old hobbit’s voice was growing husky, but he straightened, cleared his throat and collected himself. “Now, let’s see if we can finish this, shall we?”
Sam ate in silence, but managed to consume cakes, oatmeal, berries and tea before even thinking that Bilbo might have brought some of the meal for himself. He apologized profusely; blushing beet red to the collar, but Bilbo just laughed and assured him that he was welcomed to whatever he could eat (and that was a great deal considering the past days of hardship and deprivation). Sam was still flustered, but drank down the glass of milk greedily and wiped his mouth on his cuff.
“Where are Mr. Merry and Master Pippin?” he asked at last putting the empty dishes back on the tray. Bilbo laughed again.
“They were still abed, when I looked. Though my guess is they’ve found the kitchens by now and are making themselves known to the elves who work there. I’m certain we’ll see them presently looking in on young Frodo here.” He paused, smiling happily, seemingly delighted to be in the company of old friends and kin again. Then Sam noticed a queer gleam beginning in his eye. “You know, Sam, my lad,” the old hobbit said strangely. “I left a small trinket in Frodo’s care – a very plain gold ring. I thought Frodo would be bringing it with him, but I can’t seem to find it. It seems the elves have taken it away.”
The tone of Bilbo’s voice remained light, but Sam felt the chill as if the wind had suddenly stolen into the room. “What do you say?” he asked, and would have opened the wooden box to look, but some sense warned him that that would be the exactly wrong thing to do. Bilbo’s face had changed. No longer was he the kindly old gentle hobbit, caring deeply for his stricken heir, but a hungry, craven thing, desperately seeking what he had thought was already at hand. “Well, Mr. Bilbo,” Sam answered quietly trying to keep his own voice carefully neutral. “After the troubles we’ve had, maybe that’s the best thing for it, so to speak? Even Mr. Frodo thought it was better left to higher folk, if you take my meaning, sir.”
Bilbo scrutinized him, seeming to wonder at how much Sam had been told or guessed but after a moment he sighed and the fit seemed to have passed. “Yes, yes, of course, you are right. I suppose I just wanted to see the thing again, after all these years.” He looked as if he would ask another question, but then shook his head, obviously deciding against it. Sam almost breathed an audible sigh of relief. He had always considered himself to be a truthful sort. If Mr. Bilbo had asked outright, he didn’t think he could lie, but something told him that he dared not tell his old master the ring lay not two feet from him. If Bilbo thought it was in the hands of the elves, so much the better.
TBC in ‘Despair’ – where Bilbo and the other hobbits confront Gandalf and Sam is terrified to realize the old wizard does not think Frodo will survive.