Thicker than Blood
By Ariel (email@example.com)
Chapter 9 – Resignation – Where Frodo’s kin and friends prepare themselves for what may very well be his last night alive.
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 – https://www.theonering.com/docs/13491.html
Sam could get little sleep the rest of that day for he refused to leave his master again. He stayed by Frodo’s side and tended him with stubborn silence even when Merry and Pippin returned to beg him to rest. Sam did not tell them what he had overheard and began to resent them their optimism about his master. He almost wished he could be as simply concerned as they were, but inside he knew it would not be right to deny them their hope and crush their bright eyes with the despair he felt. They soon gave up trying to persuade him to come away and settled down beside the bed to wait and tend their cousin as they could. At the dinner chime, both of them left for the meal but promised to bring something back for Sam when they returned. Then he was left alone with his feverish master.
If anything, Frodo looked worse than ever. His fever had not risen any higher but the red patches on his skin and dark circles under his eyes made him look like someone had beaten him. He still fretted and called weakly when he stirred at all, an action that had become less and less frequent as the day wore on. After supper, Gandalf returned to sit with Frodo for the evening and with him Elrond came to examine his patient again. Sam eyed him with barely disguised fury but said nothing and avoided looking into the ageless grey eyes as he helped the elf remove the sweat dampened tunic from Frodo’s completely limp body. Elrond changed the bandage on Frodo’s shoulder and smeared the still open wound with a green salve that smelled of new mown hay. He then left a vial of clear liquid and instructed Sam to see if he could get Frodo to take as much of it as he could.
“Tomorrow my people will be gathered and we will remove the splinter,” Elrond told him.
“Or kill him tryin’,” Sam muttered under his breath. The look Elrond returned him showed no emotion at all.
“Hopefully not,” was all the ancient elf replied.
It took both Gandalf and Sam’s efforts to get the cordial into Frodo. He would not swallow, or could not, and Sam finally had to slide in behind his master on the bed to hold him up enough to get the liquid down. He rested Frodo’s body against his own, holding his head back and mouth open so that the stuff would trickle down his throat. He massaged his master’s neck to entice him to swallow as Gandalf poured the precious liquid in. When they had finished Sam pulled his master up to position him back on the pillows. Frodo felt so thin and frail in his arms. He had never held his master so, but the feel of his fragile, fevered body was so alien to what Sam knew a strong, healthy hobbit should feel like that Sam broke down and wept. He wrapped his arms around his master and hugged him. He could feel the sickness in him, could feel the hobbit’s heart thudding listlessly in his chest. All day long he had fought to keep his despair at bay, fighting it with stubborn anger, but now it crashed down around him like a wall and his sobs shook both their small bodies.
Gandalf let him cry as long as he needed. When at last, Sam’s sobs had eased somewhat, he helped him off the bed and settled Frodo back among the pillows. The still face showed nothing, no reaction at all to Sam’s outburst, but he was at least calmed and no longer raved. Throughout the night, Sam held Frodo’s hand, as he had done the night before, but this time he could not tell if Frodo was even aware of it. The one hopeful thing that came out of that long, desperate night was that Frodo’s fever broke. Perhaps it was the cordial that had done it, or the cool cloths or sponge baths, but the rosy blotches faded and the fire that had burned beneath the pale forehead cooled. Frodo slept on through that night, dreamless and still, his breathing weak, but eased and steady. Listening to the gentle sound of his master’s indrawn breaths, one thankfully following another, Sam slept too.
“He looks better this morning!” It was Pippin’s voice that woke Sam with a start. He’d slept another night away in the comfortable elven chair. Pippin had tried to speak softly, but to Sam, whose sleeping ears had been so tuned to the slight whisper of his master’s breath, the voice had been like the sound of a trumpet. He sat up and winced at the pain in his neck. He still held Frodo’s cold hand and the chill had made his own fingers ache, but it appeared that some of Sam’s own warmth had gone into Frodo. His master’s left hand was less stiff, and, as he looked more closely, Frodo did seem to have a bit better color all over. Hope surged in his heart.
“I do believe you are right, Pippin.” Bilbo’s voice. The old hobbit carried another breakfast tray heaped with good things to eat and the smell of them caused a rumbling in Sam’s belly. Bilbo laughed hearing it and set the platter by the fire. It was good to hear him laugh, Sam thought. Even knowing what he and Bilbo did, seeing some,… any improvement in Frodo was bound to help their spirits.
“We ought to move your bed in here, Sam.” Said Merry, jokingly. “For all the time you’ve spent in it!”
“I probably wouldn’t get a wink of sleep no how, if it weren’t so. Though I don’t think we’ll be needin’ to move it, Mr. Merry. Mr. Elrond says they are going to try and fish that bit of knife out of Mr. Frodo’s shoulder today. One way or the other, I’ll probably be sleepin’ elsewhere tonight.”
At that, the others’ smiles dimmed and Sam cursed himself. ‘You oughtn’t to have said that, Sam’ he thought, but it was too late to take it back.
“So they are going to try that today?” Pippin approached the bed and crawled up onto it beside Frodo. It was a small bed, by elven standards, but there was plenty of room on it even for several hobbits to fit comfortably. He sat back on his feet and looked down at Frodo’s pale face. He remained that way for a long time before reaching up to his cousin’s face and stroking it gently. “I know they said they didn’t want us here last time, Sam,” he sighed. “but,…could you…?” He looked up, his small, young face pinched and sad. “I mean, I’d like to be here,” he finished.
“Me too,” agreed Merry. “We talked it over, and we’d all like to be here. We’re his family – we’re all he’s got. It’s not right that we should be kept out waiting in the hall when…” His voice fell silent but the look on all their faces told Sam that Bilbo had relayed some of Elrond’s fears to them. They knew what the outcome of this surgery was likely to be and they would not be dissuaded. They had come this far with him, they would go on to the end if need be.
“Well, I’d like to see those elves try and keep us out, then.” Sam tried a smile. It was unconvincing and grim but showed his resolve was with them. “Mr. Bilbo?”
“Yes, Sam. I will be here too.” The old hobbit drew himself up and looked Sam straight in the eye. “He is my heir. I know what his chances are; they don’t need to protect me anymore. I don’t think Elrond would even try to now. I…I just want to be with him as long as I can be.” Bilbo’s returning smile quivered but he was firm and resigned, though Sam could see his fingers trembled as he spoke. Bilbo had looked dramatically older than Sam had expected on the night they had arrived, but the past days had aged him even more. He was diminishing right before their eyes, fading to powder even as Frodo sank deeper into his illness. Sam knew in his heart, if they lost Frodo that day, Bilbo would not be far behind. He would lose both his masters, the old and new. Despair gripped his throat and he felt as if his tears would begin again if he did not squash the feeling immediately. He needed to be strong. Sam was certain that if he broke down now, it would destroy the fragile control that each of the hobbits now clung desperately to.
“Well, then they’ll have the lot of us to contend with, for I’ll not leave him now. But,” and Sam paused. It was difficult for him to continue. “I’m…I’m glad you’ll all be there too,” he finished at last, his voice tight from the fight to control himself.
TBC – Desperation – where even Sam can see the end is near, but he will not give up… not while his master still draws breath.