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 – https://www.theonering.com/docs/12849.html
Chapter 5 – Despair
Merry and Pippin arrived well after the sun had risen and behind them walked Gandalf leaning wearily on his staff. The hobbits had come in gaily but upon seeing Frodo still unconscious and pale, their merriment cooled. Bilbo also added to the chill by favoring Gandalf with an accusing stare over the body of his nephew. Gandalf met his gaze evenly and it was Bilbo who looked away first. The hobbit then busied himself with feeding Frodo the last of his broth as if the exchange had not even happened. Gandalf studied him for a long moment with just a touch of sad pity in his eyes. He took a chair from near the open windows and set it on the opposite side of the bed from Sam’s.
“He doesn’t look much better yet, Mr. Gandalf, sir.” Pippin observed, his bright face pinching again in worry. “I thought Strider said they would be able to cure him here?”
“They may be able to cure him,” the old wizard corrected. “But keep a steadfast heart! He has not succumbed yet and there is hope while he remains unconquered. There is strength in this valley and in the people in it. Strength and knowledge. If his wound is curable, he will find that cure here more readily than in any other place.”
“Seems to me if I’d been allowed to go back to do as I wished years ago,” Bilbo interjected. “My Frodo lad would not have been wounded in the first place.” Though he sounded conversational, it was obvious to the other hobbits that this was a discussion he and Gandalf had had before. The old wizard eyed him, tolerantly.
“No, perhaps not, but who can say what might have happened to you? The ring has passed on, Bilbo. It would do no good to you or to others, if you tried to meddle with it again. Dire as Frodo’s condition is, if you had carried it I fear your fate would have been even darker.” He pulled out his long stemmed pipe and filled it. “If you had gone back, I fear the ring would now be in the hands of the enemy and Frodo would be mourning by your bedside – or more likely, graveside.” Bilbo flashed a dark look at the wizard and Gandalf returned it with cool tolerance. “Don’t scowl so, Bilbo. These young folk know of the ring. They’ve traveled with Frodo these many weeks, though I dare say, they might have known of it long before that.” His gaze drifted over the other hobbits in the room and Sam blushed in embarrassment. “There is a greater purpose at work here. You’ve played your part, my friend, and well, but it is over now. Let it go. This was Frodo’s part and nothing you could have done could have prevented it.”
“But it hurts me to see him so, Gandalf!” Bilbo said with frustration and anger. “I know you have said I had no choice in the matter, but I can’t help feeling if only I had done something differently….” He stood, shaking his head, and gathered up the plates and bowls, clustering them on the empty tray. Then, looking sadly down at the still face of his heir, he stooped and kissed Frodo’s brow. The sick hobbit stirred and fretted weakly, his eyes rolling under half closed lids. “At least he’s no longer so very cold.” Bilbo smiled sorrowfully. “And he knew me this morning, you know? I really think he recognized me.” His voice, heavy with guilt, was thick in his throat. He took the towel from around Frodo’s neck and handed it to Sam. “There you go Sam, be a good lad and carry these things down to the kitchen for me. All this excitement has worn me out and I must find a quiet place to sit and think.” Gandalf watched him shuffle tiredly from the room, his dark eyes peering thoughtfully from beneath his thick eyebrows.
After Bilbo had gone, Merry turned and looked Gandalf squarely in the eye. “What’s all this about gravesides and mourning?” There was alarm in his voice when he addressed the wizard. “You’d best give us the straight talk, Mr. Gandalf. Yes, we did know something of all this ring business before, but what’s not what’s important to me right now. The way you were talking didn’t seem to hold out much hope for Frodo. Is there naught even these great folk can do? We’re his kin, we have the right to know.”
Smoke wreathed about Gandalf’s head as he sat in silence studying the little hobbits before him. He did not wish to share the fear that was in his heart, the fear that all they now did was in vain. Frodo was dear to him, as dear as Bilbo was, but he knew the severity of the malady that lay upon him. Elrond’s own wife, Celebraín, daughter of Celeborn, and a strong elven lady, had barely survived a similar wound, and though Elrond had cured her, she had never been the same afterwards. The pain and shadow that continued to hound her had driven her to seek healing in the West, far across the sea. Frodo did not have that option, even if he could be healed now, which Gandalf doubted.
“There may be something that can be done,” he said aloud, hoping to somehow gently prepare them. “Elrond is a great lord, very skilled in healing and he has cured this type of wound before. However, I shall not lie to you. Frodo’s condition is very grave. He has already borne this wound longer than any would have thought possible. I do not know how much more time he has or what his fate may yet be.”
Sam watched his master in silence. The sinking realization was beginning to dawn on him that Gandalf didn’t think Frodo was going to live. His heart tightened painfully and his pulse thudded heavily in his ears. After all they had gone through to get him here, all his master had endured – to have it all be in vain…? He shook his head in frantic denial. No! Frodo’s color was improving – only his arm and shoulder were still pale and cold – and he had stirred this morning, and eaten. Surely those were good signs? He stepped to the bed, eased out the pillows that had propped him up for breakfast, and settled Frodo’s unresisting body back. He was warm and his breathing easier than it had for a long time. He brushed away the dark curls and lifted one eyelid to peer into the bright blue eye beneath it. No recognition stared back at him from the glassy depths. Frodo was still senseless and now that Sam touched his skin, he wondered if perhaps he wasn’t a little too warm? Or perhaps he had become so used to his master’s icy cold that a normal temperature seemed too warm? He smoothed the coverlet down around his master.
“Since you lot already know where the kitchens are in this here place, would you take the tray back? I…I’d not like to leave him if I can help it,” he said. Pippin nodded.
“I’ll take them,” he said in his small voice. “I didn’t have much of an appetite this morning, and though I still don’t feel much like eating, I don’t feel much use here either. Perhaps a spot of tea would do me good.” He picked up the tray and towel and shuffled off towards the door.
“They’ll give you a room, Sam,” suggested Merry. “If you’ve been up all night long, you could probably use the rest. And I’ll be here and I am sure Bilbo will be back after he’s had his ‘think’…”
“I would not suggest you leave Bilbo alone to watch over him,” Gandalf interrupted carefully. “One other should always be here with him if he wishes to stay by Frodo’s bedside.” The other two hobbits looked at him and Sam nodded in agreement.
“I was just going to say something very like that, Mr. Gandalf, sir.” He frowned. “It was the queerest thing. I’d left for just a moment to wash up this morning and when I come back, Mr. Bilbo had this look in his eye. I don’t rightly know what he’d done, but he says to me, ‘Sam, those elves have taken my ring!’ like he’d just been searching for it! I didn’t like the sound of that. I didn’t know what he’d do if he saw the thing again, and I didn’t want to find out neither so I didn’t tell him where it was.”
“Good.” Gandalf shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Bilbo is a true friend and brave, and he loves Frodo very much, but where the ring is concerned, he shouldn’t be trusted. He kept it for far too long for it to hold no sway over him. Though I doubt he could do any real harm, he would take it back if he got the chance – and he would think to himself he was merely saving Frodo from trouble – but it would not be his own will he was answering.” The wizard nodded approvingly, his eyes resting on the hobbit. “You did well, Samwise. Best to leave it where it lies.” Sam felt his cheeks grow warm from the unexpected praise.
“But why don’t the elves take it?” Merry asked. “Isn’t that why we’ve come all this way? To give it to those who know better?”
Gandalf frowned. “The ring is Frodo’s until his fate is decided or another bearer is found. While he still lives we are all much safer if it stays in his possession but out of sight and under the guard of his most faithful companions.” Then he gave Sam a reassuring smile.
TBC in Fever – With his will succumbed and his life-force fading, Frodo’s body begins its own fight for life.