Thicker than Blood
By Ariel (email@example.com)
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 – https://www.theonering.com/docs/12977.html
Chapter 6 – https://www.theonering.com/docs/13091.html
Chapter 7 – https://www.theonering.com/docs/13391.html
Chapter 8 – Eavesdropping – Where Elrond makes some cold choices concerning the Ringbearer. He must perform the surgery soon – for it is more important that the shard be removed from his body while he still lives than it is for Frodo to survive the operation.
Sam was very glad he had slept, for the night was a sore trial on his heart and body. He had to report to Elrond every hour on Frodo’s condition, when the elf wasn’t there himself, and bring word and instruction back to Gandalf who also stayed with Frodo that night. Frodo’s fever rose, though not alarmingly, and Elrond was not yet prepared to bring it down. The fever, he explained, was the body’s own defense against the poisons of the wound and it was a defense that the dark arts of Mordor could not combat. Elvish craft, however powerful, was something the shard of the Morgul knife had been created to defy and Elrond feared by using it wantonly, he would only hasten Frodo’s end.
So they combated the fever the way Sam knew – with herbs, willow bark tea, cool cloths and sponge baths of scented water. Frodo was restless and though he did not wake, he tossed and cried out in dark dreams. His shoulder also pained him miserably and whenever Sam would brush up against it or Frodo would roll onto it in his thrashing, he would scream in agony. Long into the night, Frodo tossed and raved, but no matter the comforts that Elrond, Gandalf or Sam could devise, it seemed the hobbit would find no peace until Sam, in desperation, took his master’s cold left hand in his and held it. He didn’t think Frodo could feel his touch – indeed, the hand felt stiff and so cold that it did not seem possible to be part of a living body – but the gentle stroking and warmth of Sam’s hand did calm him. Sam pulled his chair to the very side of the bed and sat long into the night merely holding Frodo’s hand and caressing it. At last, comforted by this simple act, Frodo slept.
The morning saw no change except that Gandalf left and Bilbo came with breakfast again. Sam ate while the old hobbit tried to feed Frodo as he had done the morning before, but Frodo, stirring but not regaining his senses, was becoming difficult. Though he calmed hearing Bilbo’s loving voice, he seemed unwilling to take even a few spoonfuls of broth. Sam could see the old hobbit was becoming frightened again. Keeping fluids in Frodo was vitally important – if he was to endure the fever and the surgery that was to come – and though Bilbo had not been told what the practice would entail, he seemed to know it would be a trial and was desperately anxious.
“Come now, my lad, you must eat…” Bilbo cajoled. He tried to tip a spoonful of the broth into Frodo’s mouth but the other hobbit did not seem to understand that the warm liquid was food and could not be persuaded to swallow. At last, after Frodo, trying to speak through a mouthful of broth, started to choke and turn blue, Bilbo stopped trying. He looked so miserable and lost that Sam, reaching for the bowl, gave his hand a comforting squeeze.
“Give `im a bit, Mr. Bilbo. I am sure he’ll come `round again enough to take some. He’s been in and out like this all night. Just you wait till he’s more settled and try it again.” Sam hoped he sounded more hopeful than he felt. Bilbo sighed and relinquished the bowl.
“Yes, perhaps.” The old hobbit settled back, his eyes never leaving his heir’s face. “You are a good lad, Sam. Frodo is lucky to have you at his side. I don’t know how many servants would go so far and through so much for their employer.”
At that Sam’s face grew hot. “Oh, Mr. Bilbo,” he stuttered. “You were the best master a body could ever wish for. There’s few that would’ve taught a servant their letters and spent so much `a their precious time tellin’ stories to the gardener’s boy. You’ve treated me and my old gaffer better than anybody’d a right to expect. Mr. Frodo’s the same way, though I expect he learned his quality from you.” Sam smiled. “No, sir, I’m the lucky one, and I know it. There’s nobody else in the world I’d rather work for than you or Mr. Frodo, `cause there’s no one in the world who’d be so kind to me. A good master’s a rare find, sir.”
“And a good servant is even rarer, my boy.” Bilbo smiled back at him. “I’ve been around for a good many years longer than you, and I know. You’ve quality of your own, you Gamgees, and strength and character. I knew, and I am sure Frodo knows, that we are truly the lucky ones.” Bilbo patted Sam’s hand kindly. “Part of what helped me to leave Bag End was knowing that you and your father would be there to take care of him. I knew he was in the best hands he could be in. And getting him here, like this…” Bilbo’s throat tightened and he was unable to continue for a moment. “I am just trying to say thank you for getting him here alive.”
Sam looked down, embarrassed again. “No thanks needed, Mr. Bilbo. And besides, that were mostly Mr. Strider’s doing, sir. And I had help from Mr. Merry and Master Pippin. Couldn’t have done it without them too, sir.”
“No, I suppose not,” Bilbo agreed, though he thought he knew where most of the care Frodo must have needed had come from, he did not want to embarrass the boy further.
Noon came and Strider visited Frodo for the first time since they had brought him in. He had been busy with Elrond’s people and Gandalf, gathering what news he could about the doings away to the south and east. He chatted comfortably with Bilbo, and Sam could tell the two had known each other for a long time and were close friends. The last doubt Sam might have harbored about the strange man was swept away as he sat listening to their easy and familiar talk. He’d almost nodded off in his chair again when Strider asked him to see about fetching some food for them. Sam started, wiping the cobwebs from his eyes and faltered. Did Strider know about Bilbo’s wanting the ring? Did he know where it was hidden, and that he should not let the old hobbit alone with his nephew? As these questions ran through his mind, he locked eyes with the ranger and it seemed for a moment the man was puzzled. Then Strider spared a quick look at the ornate box at the bedside and gave Sam the briefest of nods. It seemed he understood the problem, but Sam could risk no more explanation with Bilbo present. He would have to trust the ranger.
“Right then, I’ll be back in two shakes.” He popped out the door and made his way towards the kitchens.
Returning with a laden tray, Sam paused outside the door of Frodo’s room. It was half open and Sam could hear two voices speaking. One was Strider and the other sounded like the elf lord, Elrond. Sam could not see them, but he could see Bilbo, sitting in one of the comfortably padded chairs that Sam, when he wasn’t tending his master, had spent most of the last two days in. Bilbo was snoring softly, his head resting against the back and his face buried in the corner of the headrest. He was sound asleep. Sam set the tray down silently on a small table outside the door and popped a tiny baked pastry into his mouth. They wouldn’t be needing all this food yet, not with Mr. Bilbo asleep. He munched his way through the dainty and reached for another.
“He’s not getting any stronger, you realize,” Sam heard Strider’s voice speaking. “What will you do if he has not recovered enough to bear the surgery?”
Elrond’s voice, like that of every elf he’d heard was lovely and melodious, but the words he spoke chilled Sam’s bones. “We must proceed anyway,” he said. “It is imperative I remove that splinter before he dies or he will become an agent for Sauron – and if he doesn’t sense it already, he will then `know’ where the ring lies and be drawn to it. His wraith would rise up and take it back and it would then be in the hands of the enemy. We cannot risk that, even if it means forfeiting the halfling’s life to prevent it.”
“That is a cold choice, Elrond. Bitterly cold,” came Strider’s voice in answer.
“These are bitter times, my foster son. There will be more lives lost than this small one’s if Sauron regains the ring. It is not a choice I make easily nor without need, you know that.”
“But surely you will try to save him?” Strider asked gently, it was almost a plea.
“Yes, I will do everything in my power to keep him alive, but after all this time and trial, I have very little hope. It may take all the combined power of my house just to keep him alive and to melt the shard when it is found. I do not know what will be left afterwards to support his life.” Elrond’s voice dropped and sounded almost, but not quite, kind. “I see you have grown fond of him, Estel, and I am sorry, but I have seen this type of wound before. Celebrian was not even this far gone and I was sorely pressed to save her. In the end, even what I had struggled so hard to do was not enough to heal her fully. I do not wish to give you false hope.”
“You give no hope, my foster father.” Strider paced the room and Sam could see the swirl of his dark cloak on the other side of Frodo’s bed. “I have watched the halfling endure this and I believe you may underestimate him. Gandalf said it long ago that there was much more to these people than meets the eye and after the past weeks in the wilds I am inclined to believe him. Take the shard from him, but do not abandon him to death. They are a good people and strong. You may be surprised how tough they really are.”
“I hope you are right, Estel, and though I would never abandon him to death, I cannot breathe life back when it has flown. I will do everything that I can to save him, but I must do what I must do.”
Sam had listened in growing horror and found his breath was coming hard and tight in his throat. He must have been making enough noise to be heard for the elf and man stopped talking then and were silent. Sam tried desperately to control the churning of his stomach and bent to pick the tray back up, hoping he had mastered himself sufficiently that the two would not be able to tell he had overheard them. He pushed open the door with his rump and backed into the room, carefully balancing the heavy platter.
“Luncheon,” he choked, and hoped they would think his tone was in an effort not to wake Bilbo. He placed the food on another table by the fire and looked towards his old master, carefully keeping his back to the other two. Bilbo still sat, curled up and sleeping in his chair, but the snoring had ceased. Sam crept closer and put a hand on his shoulder to gently wake the hobbit. It was then that he saw that a flood of tears had welled silently from beneath Bilbo’s closed lids to soak his old and wrinkled cheeks.
TBC in Resignation – Where Frodo’s kin and friends prepare themselves for what may very well be his last night alive.