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The Gift of Iluvatar

By Ariel

Drama / Fantasy

The Gift of Iluvatar

And so it was that Gwaihir saw them with his keen, far-seeing eyes, as down the wild wind he came, and daring the great peril of the skies he circled in the air: two small, dark figures, forlorn, hand in hand on a little hill, while the world shook under them, and gasped, and rivers of fire drew near. And even as he espied them and came swooping down, he saw them fall, worn out, or choked with fumes and heat, or stricken down by despair at last, hiding their eyes from death. 

Side by side they lay; and down swept Gwaihir, and down came Landroval and Meneldor the swift; and in a dream, not knowing what fate had befallen them, the wanderers were lifted up and borne far away out of the darkness and fire. 

'The Return of the King'; Book 6 – Chapter 4 – 'The Field of Cormallen'

Art by the author

As they drew down into the chaos, Gandalf could at last see what the eagles had from far above. The small forms were difficult to discern from the rocks and tumult, but now he could make out where they lay. Face down in the dust; both were covered with such ash and dirt that the wizard could not tell one from the other. Meneldor swooped down and clasped his talons around the midriff of the first. His strong wings beat the fouled air as he lifted again and pulled the tiny body up. The two hobbits' hands were clasped together still, and the other body was lifted with them for a moment though it dropped to the earth again as Meneldor gained height and sped to safety with his precious cargo. The second body landed on its back and Gandalf could see that it was Frodo. Landroval came then and plucked the unconscious hobbit deftly from the ground. He surged up and away as a belch of stench and fume rolled over the place where the two had just fallen. Gandalf could not keep his eyes from the still form as it dangled, lifeless, from Landroval's grip. He followed it intently as the three eagles beat against the swirling, ash-laden winds to gain the clearer air far above. Did they yet live? Gandalf hardly dared to hope.

"Give him to me!" the wizard shouted as they crossed high above the plain. Gwaihir steadied and slowed and cried out the request to his brother. Landroval wheeled back and, as nimbly as he had lifted him from the ground, dropped the pitiful form into Gandalf's outstretched arms.

So light. Frodo seemed to weigh nothing. Gandalf hugged his dear friend fiercely to his breast. Relief, sorrow, pride and love welled up in his heart. They had done it. He had not dared to hope they would and yet of all the creatures of Middle Earth, these hobbits alone stood any chance of it. He looked down at Frodo's pale, dirty face. But what price had they paid? Holding him, Gandalf could feel his life's spark fading even as they flew as swiftly as eagles could towards the sanctuary of Ithilien. The hobbit's aged, worn features told of torments endured that were far beyond what he should have been able to bear, but the still visage seemed at peace, unaware and tranquil. What price indeed?

The eagles broke through the rending clouds into the high air above Durthang. It was clearing. The great shadow had departed and winds from the east were scattering its remains to the four corners of the earth. The sweet smell of Ithilien met them on that wind. Meneldor, carrying Sam, was far ahead; a speck in the distance as he raced to the camps of the Men of the West and healing for his charge. Gandalf shifted his grip and lifted Frodo's face to the clearing sky, hoping the clean air would drive the foul fumes of Mordor from his lungs. But Frodo had no strength left. His breath and body were failing, and the stench of the black land could not be driven from him. Despair gripped Gandalf's heart. It was within his power to save this friend, but not within his right. He was merely a guide, forbidden to directly alter the course of the lives of men and their kin. He could not deny them their fate, nor the gift of Iluvatar, but never in his long existence had he been more sorely tested to do so.

He cradled the small body in his arms and could feel, beneath the now prominent ribs, the soft, slowing beat of Frodo's heart. He yet lived and Gandalf knew from long experience that, where hobbits were concerned, it was unwise to discount them even when all hope seemed lost. He had lost hope for Frodo once before. Yet even through the long days after the Ford of Bruinen, this small, innocent creature had endured and lived, defying the dark powers that tried to succumb him. He bowed his head over the hobbits dark curls. While life remained in this frail body, so must hope remain in Gandalf's heart.

The cry went up from the armies of the west. Victory was at hand and Aragorn at last sent his forces to crush the remains of any companies that still fought. By his side, Legolas, his arrows spent, cried out and pointed skywards.

"An eagle comes bearing a figure in its talons!" His gaze intensified on the rapidly approaching form. "Ai! It is one of the shirefolk!" Aragorn drew a startled breath.

"They live? Oh, hope unlooked for, please say they live! Is there but one, and where is Gandalf?" The lone eagle soared above the Morannan and swooped down on the camps men had made at the edge of the field of battle. Aragorn, seeing the rout of the armies of Mordor at hand, and Prince Imrahil and the sons of Elrond making great slashes through the remaining troups, left to Legolas and Gimli the others who remained with them and the hill he had commanded. He spurred his horse down the slope to the cracked and bitter land below. He could not have dared to hope Frodo and Sam had lived. The sight of tiny mithril coat the Mouth of Sauron had produced struck a blow of anguish in his heart. But there had been only one set of clothes; Frodo's. Perhaps Sam, faithful humble Sam, had completed the task after his master had fallen.

On he raced to where the eagle had landed. A group from the camp was rushing forward to the spot. He could see a small figure being lifted from the ground. His skills would be needed as he had feared. In the encampment, there was a place the healers had set up to receive the wounded. It was crude, only wagons and blankets set upon the ground, but they were readying themselves for a great and terrible task. They laid Sam's body on one of these blankets and were removing his cloak when Aragorn arrived.

"Make way for the King!" A shout rang out from one of the healers, an old and grizzled soldier, scarred and lame from many battles. He led Aragorn to the place where they were tending the hobbit. It is Sam, Aragorn realized as he drew near, but he could spare no more thought to the implications of this discovery. He knelt quickly by the small form and placed a hand on his forehead. Sam was pale, pale as death beneath the filth that covered him. His cracked lips were slack and only a faint breath issued from them. Aragorn sat hunched beside him and it seemed to those watching that he became a thing made from stone, for even his breath seemed to have stilled. Long moments passed as the other healers watched in awed silence, not understanding what passed between the man and halfling. As he sat in a seeming trance, another great rush of wings was heard close at hand. Aragorn did not look up, but several of the other healers ran to greet the arriving eagle.

Aragorn realized he had come none too soon from the battle. Sam was sorely hurt, worn out and exhausted, but it was the reek of poisons that he could still smell on the hobbit's clothing that worried him the most. Hot gasses issued from the ground in Mordor, that he knew from his own experience, and these would choke the breath and sear the eyes if inhaled. When the ring went into the fire, the mountain had undoubtedly awoken and spewed forth such toxins into the surrounds. Sam could not have escaped them. Aragorn sought deep within the hobbit for a way to bring him back despite his hurts - it was hard, but he finally found the faint spark of the sturdy hobbit's heart and called to it.

Voices, calling. From some dim place outside them, Aragorn at last recognized the voice that called his own name. Gandalf was shouting for him from a rapidly closing distance. Aragorn blinked and looked up; coming back from the brink he had reached to retrieve Sam. It was Gandalf, and he was striding across the broken field. In his arms he carried another small form, its dark head lolled back, its arms limp and dangling, its dirty bare feet hanging lax from his arms. Aragorn was bewildered, overjoyed and dismayed at once. Frodo was found! But if he were as badly off as Sam had been! Though Aragorn had fought but little in the battle, the struggle to save Sam's life had drained him. Another such fight, if it were needed, would be exhausting.

The look on Gandalf's face was telling. Aragorn knew the wizard well, despite the change that had overcome him when his past life had been burned away, and knew his stern face's many moods. Gandalf was deeply concerned, almost to the point of despair, for the charge he held tenderly in his arms. Aragorn did not doubt the other hobbit's condition was at least as grave as Sam's had been, if not more so. Gandalf laid Frodo on the pallet beside Sam's and knelt at the dusky head.

"My friend, if ever you were needed by these fair folk, it is now." Gandalf spoke calmly, but with a heavy heart. "He is almost beyond reach. This task was more than he could bear." The grizzled healer was also at Frodo's side. He untied the rope belt and released the clasp from the elven cloak. The form beneath, clad in filthy leather orc stuff, was much changed since last Aragorn had seen it. He was pale as death and painfully thin and bruised, and there were old scratches covering what could be seen of his chest and arms. A foul discolored patch crept up the left side of his neck and down under the jerkin and smears of dried blood covered the back and palm of the right hand. The delicate hand itself was missing its third finger. Aragorn nearly wept at the pitiful sight but he had not a moment to loose. If Frodo still lived, he would fight for him.

He bent over the small face and, placing both his hands to the sides of Frodo's head, pressed his forehead against the hobbit's. Frodo's skin was cold, but not as cold as death would have made it, though Aragorn could discern no breath either fair or foul from him. Breath first, then to retrieve him from this precipice. He willed himself deep into the darkness that surrounded his small friend, searching desperately for any spark of his bright spirit. Deeper than he had imagined, the spark had fled. Aragorn realized that Frodo had never expected anything from this quest but death, and had long ago prepared himself for it. As he called out to him, Aragorn knew this would be a harder battle than he had ever fought before. Frodo was not looking to return, but was instead seeking in the other direction for his hard won peace. Aragorn strove deeper still. There! Frodo? he called with his mind. Come back, my friend. You are dearly held and would be sorely missed if you did not. The faint shadow of light that Aragorn could see hesitated. Sam is with me, his thought continued. Please come back to us,… to Sam. It would rend all our hearts to lose you now. You are more loved than you could ever imagine…

Those who watched in silence saw nothing to reveal the intense struggle that Aragorn was waging. He had, after a long time, stiffened and picked Frodo's head up from the pallet pressing the pale forehead fiercely against his own. A long, slow sigh escaped Frodo's lips, and then he drew a soft breath, weak but his own. Beside them, Gandalf could sense the reek of the air of Mordor as it was finally driven from Frodo's lungs. The wizard felt hope again quicken in him. Aragorn remained still for a long time, holding Frodo's face against his. At last he seemed to stir, and gently laid the hobbit back to the pallet. Frodo was still pale, and would have seemed close to death yet, if they had not seen the faint flush of blood beginning to touch his cheek. Aragorn sat back, completely spent and wearily bowed his head.

"I do not know if he will live." He sighed. "I have given him all the strength I could, but he is far gone. It may not yet be enough." He looked up at the small, dirty face. "It is up to him now." Aragorn looked to Sam, whose hurts were being tended by the old soldier turned healer. "aethelas for them both… as much as you can spare… for the stink of the black land is also upon them. I will settle a sleep on Sam, for it would be too much for him if he were to wake now and see his master thus. The rest will do him good." He laid a trembling hand on Sam's forehead and closed his eyes for a moment. "They need long healing and comfort. See that they are kept at peace." The old soldier nodded and motioned to the other healers to bring what Aragorn had ordered.

Gandalf helped Aragorn to his feet and stood beside him. "The battle is won, but I would feel less for the victory if it cost us these two." Aragorn sighed. "And I am weary! I have never felt so weary!" He swayed a bit and Gandalf steadied him.

"Rest then, Aragorn. I will see to the hobbit's care. There will be much more work to do this day and you will need to be ready for it."

Wounded soldiers were beginning to come down from the battlefield. There were many, but the losses were far fewer than might have been. The men picked from the Tower Guard seemed most grievously injured, and there were many wounded who wore the tabard of Dol Amroth, though Gandalf was pleased to see few who were of the Dúnedain in the wounded. The wizard turned back to his charges. Among the rapidly filling field of hurt and dying men, they were almost lost. The old soldier was washing and binding Frodo's maimed hand but the other healers were being called away to tend the newly arrived injured. A steaming pot of water sat between the two small bodies and on its surface floated the leaves of aethelas Aragorn had requested. The scent drifted over them all and filled the mind with calm and strength. Gandalf touched the shoulder of the soldier. "You have done well, but I will now tend these folk. Your skills are needed among your own people." He nodded and Gandalf knelt between the two hobbits. The healer backed away, awed that so great a personage as Mithrandir would personally tender these perian. The tale of this act and its implications would be quickly spread.

From his own water bottle, Gandalf gave each a spare drink. Neither was able to take more than a small sip, but it was enough to wet their lips and a bit more. He took a cloth and dipped it into the steaming water. This he used to bathe their faces. Sam had a terrible gash across his forehead that had bled into his eyes, but, cleaned, it looked as if it would heal. The warmth and scent of the aethelas water brought a bloom to his tanned cheek that heartened Gandalf. Sam, at least, would live. The wizard was certain his strong spirit would not fail him, but he wished he had more confidence for Frodo. As he cleaned Frodo's face, he noticed how sunken his cheeks were and there were lines of hardship that had not been written there when last he had seen his friend. Frodo looked older now, careworn. Little seemed to remain of the sweet gentlehobbit of the Shire. He had indeed become a vessel of pure light, though that light seemed faint and tired now. "You must choose for yourself, my friend," Gandalf whispered for Frodo's ears alone. "It is the gift your kind were given and it cannot be taken from you." He touched the pale brow and smoothed back the dirty hair. "But I would wish you would choose to live. Without you, this world will be a darker place, despite what you have done."

From the field above, a horse approached. Legolas, with Gimli riding behind, halted at the edge of the field. They dismounted and approached the place where Gandalf crouched. Seeing the prone hobbits, Gimli gave a cry and ran forward. "They are found!" He stopped when he saw their pallor and the look on Gandalf's face. "But less than whole, and in dire straights by the look of them." He bowed his head and Legolas, coming up behind his friend, also looked sadly on the two lying there.

"Has Peregrin been brought here?" The elf asked. "He was not with the remains of the Tower Guard. If he lives still, he would want to know the fate of his kin."

Gandalf shook his head. "He would have been brought to me if he were here. If he is not with the Tower Guard, then he must remain on the field of battle. I fear we may find the Shire has given much towards this victory." At that Gimli stiffened and stuck out his chin, his beard bristling.

"Then we will find him!" The dwarf's eyes glowed with defiant rage and sorrow. "For one so small might be lost amid that carnage. He was valiant, and should be honored. I will see it done." At that, he turned and began to march up the hill again, back towards the wreckage of the black gate. Legolas sighed.

"It is the darkest task of battle, and I have no love for it." His eyes followed his friend as he walked away. "But I too will search among the dead of men for Peregrin and keep hope that he still may live. As I keep hope for them all." He looked back at Frodo and Sam as they lay. "They are most valiant creatures." He mounted his horse and followed the way Gimli had taken.

Hours past and Aragorn, recovered, was again directing the armies. Many companies of Sauron's men had fought on, though those outside the walls of Mordor were quickly finished. Aragorn made ready forces to descend into the black land to do battle with the keep of Barad-Dur where the last vestiges of Sauron's command lay. Though he directed the fighting, he could not keep his mind from worrying about Frodo. He felt as if he had somehow failed the hobbit in not being able to draw him back further from the brink of death. He had kept him from falling into that chasm, and that was a feat in itself, but he could not feel confident that what he had done would be enough to keep him alive. As soon as he was able, he returned to the field of the wounded to find Gandalf. The wizard sat, on a small stool with his pipe, between the hobbits, his eyes distant, as if he saw much more than what progressed before him. Frodo and Sam still lay as they had, but woolen blankets now covered each, and though Sam's color was better than it had been before, Frodo's small face still held a deathly pallor. Aragorn stood for a moment behind him in silence.

"He has not died," he said gently. "And that is a good sign." Gandalf stirred finally and gave him a smile.

"A good sign yes, but he is far from safe. I fear we are looking at a long healing for both of them, if indeed they ever can be healed. I have spent the time feeling their pathways and memories and it is amazing they survived. The strength of these creatures continues to astonish me. Both have endured much more than even I would have thought." The fondness and concern in the wizard's voice touched Aragorn. In all the long years he had known him, Aragorn had never seen Gandalf show the compassion he felt towards hobbits for any other peoples of Middle Earth. Now, at last, all would see his faith had been justified.

"We should take them back to Ithilien. Above the fields of Cormallen, at the edge of the forest we will camp and recover. There the finest healers of Gondor will tend them. Now that the shadow has departed and the stench of that foul land has left them, their remaining hurts could not be in better hands." Aragorn knelt beside Frodo's body and touched his cheek. It was warmer than before and the man took comfort from that small sign.

"Gimli and Legolas are in search of Peregrin," Gandalf said. "I did not see what fate befell him, but he was with the picked men of the Tower Guard. They suffered great losses when the trolls overran them."

Aragorn looked up towards the battlefield. "Then I will hope that luck was with him, as it was with all of us."

The leading hill that rose above the swampy morass before the Morannon was a scene of chaos and carnage. The hulking bodies of many hill trolls lay cooling in the afternoon sun and between them the bodies of men lay, many with their throats ripped open by gnashing troll teeth. Beregond had been found, wounded but alive, and though Pippin was not with him, Gimli was not willing to give up hope until the light had faded completely.

Perhaps it was the slanting sunlight, or the fact that they had moved several of the bodies by then, but suddenly the dwarf noticed something he had not before. A small foot, not at all shaped like a troll's, caught his eye. It was black in color, which was why Gimli had first thought it part of the troll, but as he rushed forward, he saw that it was merely covered with black, dried blood. From the hair atop the arch, Gimli knew that this must be the foot of Peregrin and he gave a great shout of excitement before plunging into the pile of dead. He braced himself against the troll's stiffening body and, incredibly, it moved. Gimli worked himself further underneath to gain a better foothold. It is no vain boast dwarves make of their own strength, and while the troll was many times Gimli's bulk, the dwarf moved him with a will borne of desperation.

It was Pippin's foot. The rest of his body had been pinned him beneath the troll. He was covered from head to toe with black blood, almost as if he had bathed in it, but he did not move and his small rosebud mouth was open and slack. Gimli wept at the sight and knelt at his side. The dear hobbits had indeed paid a heavy price that day. The dwarf tenderly lifted the limp body and cradled it in his arms.

"You have found him." Legolas's sad voice behind him was an odd comfort to Gimli.

"Yes… Though too late, I fear." Gimli struggled up with his burden and began picking his way over the rough terrain of the dead to bring him forth. A slip, and a jarring stumble made him almost drop the body, but it elicited something Gimli had never expected to hear; a weak, pitiful cry of pain from Pippin. The dwarf cried out in shock and looked closely at the hobbit's face. "He's alive!" Gimli shouted and Legolas rushed to look as well.

"These folk are made of stern stuff I know, though I would never have expected this!" the elf cried. "Quickly, to my horse, we will speed him to the healers' field." And the two friends with infinite care and as much haste as they could muster, carried the wounded hobbit from the battlefield.

Aragorn heard the sound of the horse approaching. Legolas strode beside leading the animal while Gimli rode with a small, dark body in his arms. Pippin! Aragorn ran to them and was overjoyed to see the hobbit's hands moving feebly and to hear the little murmurs of protest he was making. The luck of the day was not yet ended! He offered to take the hobbit, but Gimli would not have it. He dismounted and carried Pippin himself to the spot where Frodo and Sam were being tended.

"Here, master wizard, is a valiant warrior in need of healing. He has single handedly killed a troll many times his size and paid a heavy price in the taking. We found him buried beneath the brute, covered in its blood, his sword still clenched in his hand! A warrior indeed! I would count myself lucky to stand beside Peregrin Took in any battle." Gimli beamed as he spoke and tears of affection grew in his eyes.

Gandalf also looked relieved and gazed at the young hobbit with fondness and pride. "You would be lucky, friend, to fight beside him, though I hope the days of battles are nearly at an end. Please lay him beside his kin and the King will tend him. He has earned the accolades you give, but it seems he will need some rest before he is ready to fight again."

Pippin cried out weakly as he was laid down and Aragorn laid a hand on his blood clotted brow. "Easy, Pippin…." He murmured and began removing the hauberk and mail. The chest plate was crushed and he could see where folds of the metal had been driven into Pippin's sides. The helm was gone, and there was a gash along his forehead where his coif did not protect him. Aragorn himself gently removed the headpiece and began feeling along the hobbit's neck and limbs to see what injuries he had received. "There are some ribs broken here," he said at length, pulling the blood soaked shirt away from the hobbit's skin. "And he has a great lump on his skull. There is also a swelling at his side as if something within his body were bleeding." Pippin had not opened his eyes but grimaced in pain when Aragorn touched his abdomen. "There are few who are skilled in this kind of wound – I will tend to it myself."

He took a cloth dipped in the aethelas water and laid it along the hobbit's bare side. He whispered a tune in an ancient tongue and Pippin settled and calmed as if the words and melody soothed his pain. Aragorn kept up his low song as he dipped the cloth repeatedly into the warm water and moved it over the hobbit's many hurts. Where the water softened the dried blood, it wiped off easily and the onlookers could see the dark bruises that had formed fade and become yellow from the healing effect of the aethelas water. The grimace on Pippin's face began to ease as its essence spread through his battered body. As Aragorn finished, the young hobbit's eyes fluttered and he stirred as if waking. The King smiled down at him, joyously.

"You must rest now, Pippin. We very nearly lost you, but all is well now. Sleep, and let your heart be easy. We have won the day, and you have fought most bravely." He placed a hand over Pippin's brow and willed him into a gentle sleep. Pippin's eyes gave up their struggle to focus and he sighed drowsily as he drifted off.

With the morning light, camp was broken and the company set forth to make a more permanent encampment in the fair lands of Ithilien near the banks of the Anduin. Messengers were sent forth to return to Gondor, herald the victory and retrieve the provisions and personnel who would be needed to support them. They had few wagons, but supplies were gathered together so that as many as possible could be used to ferry the wounded. Pippin and Sam were laid gently into the back of one and Frodo was placed in another that Gandalf and Aragorn themselves would accompany. Through the night, there had been little change in their condition, but the King could feel the strength returning to both of the younger hobbits, and the longer Frodo held on, the more confident he felt about the elder as well. They traveled slowly so as not to jar their charges, but the entire company, except those who still remained to serve the troops who continued to fight inside Mordor, were eager to leave the raved lands of shadow behind.

They traveled the better part of a day and then another before reaching the region above the field of Cormallen. The healers had set up tents and structures at the edge of the forest where shelter from the winds and the shade of the trees could keep their charges comfortable. The hobbits were placed a bit apart, in a glade crowned by newly green trees where there was water for them in the form of a happily bubbling stream. Aragorn himself saw to their placement. He asked the old healer to recommend his most skilled staff to help care for them, for the King made it plain he would be attending the hobbits personally.

"I have one whose name is Indil. She is most skilled and patient. She will serve you well."

"Then send her to me and I will instruct her," Aragorn said to him and the old healer brought her forth.

"These little folk are most dear to me, lady," Aragorn began kindly as he greeted the woman. "And I wish for nothing more than to see them hale and hearty again."

Indil was young by measure of the Numenorean blood, but she had lived long as her own people reckoned it. She had born two sons and raised them to manhood, though they had both died in the service of Gondor. She had seen much death and suffering, but her heart had never hardened to it and her dedication and skill in healing had earned her great respect. She bowed, in awe of Aragorn, the Elfstone, and nodded meekly. "I will do as you bid, my King, to the best of my skill and ability. I am yours to command." She looked up at Aragorn. He was gazing at the hobbits with a fierce tenderness in his eye. Indil was intrigued but remained silent. She had lived her whole life under a Steward and not a King, but she knew her place. She would show respect for her monarch; though the compassion he displayed for these small beings would have garnered it even were he not Elendil's heir.

"This one was injured in battle." Aragorn said, laying a hand on Pippin's light curls. "He fell slaying a troll and the creature crushed him beneath it. I have healed much of his hurt, but he will need a long rest and tender care." Aragorn tussled the hobbit's hair affectionately. "His name is Peregrin and he is a bit of an imp. You will need to watch him carefully so that he does not leave his bed before he is able." Then the King moved to the next bed, to where Sam lay. He placed a hand on this hobbit's forehead and closed his eyes as if reading something through his fingertips. "And this is Samwise." Aragorn said with a gentle smile. "He was one of the two who went into Mordor alone to defeat the shadow. He has endured much depravation and hardship. His body is worn out and starved. You will need to ensure he and this next one get as much food and water into them as you can manage."

"We will do our best, my lord, to get their strength back," Indil assured them. Aragorn nodded in satisfaction and turned his attention to the last bed upon which they had placed Frodo. He looks most tenderly upon this one, Indil thought, and she examined the hobbit with interest.

The little creature was deathly pale. Indil could see he was naturally fair, but his malady lay heavy upon him. Dark shadows lay under his eyes and she would have thought him dead already if it weren't for the slight flush of pink that could be seen on his lips. Aragorn stroked the ashen cheek and laid his palm over the forehead as he had done with Samwise. Unlike his companion, this little one's features did not respond even in the slightest to the caress and that observation unexpectedly smote Indil's heart. Aragorn was silent and still for a long moment as if what he learned from his touch was exactly what he had feared. "He remains with us," the King sighed at long last. "But he is so weak. It was far too terrible a burden for anyone to bear." He looked directly at Indil, deeply into her eyes as if compelling her to do his bidding with his will alone. "This one is Frodo. He was the one who defeated the dark lord, though it cost him much. I have sustained his spirit and healed much of his hurt, but his body, too, is worn past exhaustion. He especially will need constant attention, and though I will tend these folk myself, I need to entrust their care to you when I cannot be here." Then he paused and the look of fierce compassion on his face almost took Indil's breath. "These folk are more dear to me than my own life. If ever your heart was moved by love, let you remember it now, and may the memory of that love color your treatment of these good people."

Indil curtsied low before her King and bowed her head. "I will remember, my lord. I will treat them as if they were my own blood."

Aragorn nodded, satisfied, and bid Indil to gather what she needed for the hobbits' care from his own supplies. She was also to stay with them in this shady glade to be ever at the ready to serve them. When she was dismissed, the woman began to order together what she would need. She had a small host of assistants who she instructed to begin a fire, heat a large kettle of water and begin making a special broth of her own invention. She also asked for warm, clean garments and woolen blankets from the King's supply. The clothes would not fit the periannath, but what now clad them would need to be cleaned and mended.

When the water was heated, Indil and two of her attendants brought some of it along with soft cloths, a pale woolen robe and some sweetly scented soaps to the place where Pippin lay. He stirred, and when Indil began to remove his black and blood stiffened shirt, he woke.

"See here!" he protested with feeble indignation. He was weak as a kitten and Indil was easily able to deflect his attempts to remove her hands. She smiled warmly at his discomfiture.

"Well, master perian! It is good to see you are feeling up to a new fight, but you need not worry. I will not harm you, I merely wish to clean the wounds you have so bravely got and help you to make yourself presentable." Pippin's eyes grew very wide as he looked upon the woman and her attendants behind her. He tried to sit up but could not even manage to raise his head above the pillow. Indil shushed him comfortingly. "Rest easy, little master, we will not harm you!"

Pippin would have rather faced battle again than these human women, with their amused grins and alarming intent, but he knew he was in no condition to resist them. "You folk may look upon us as children," he gasped weakly. "But I assure you, I am nearly a hobbit full grown! I can care for myself!"

Indil's warm smile remained but she paused and bowed to her charge respectfully. "It is true, master perian, that our folk might look upon you as children, but from the account of the King, I know you have proven yourself worthy in battle and are no child. Your people have earned great respect and the gratitude of Gondor, would you not want us to care for you as well as we are able? Rest assured that I will tender you with no less respect than I would give the bravest warrior of my own people. Now," her voice, while gentle, was firm. She would not be denied. "By your leave, I will tend you." Pippin sputtered a bit, and looked quite frantic as the ladies positioned themselves around his bed, but when they left the woolen blanket on him and worked beneath it with a most professional detachment to remove his blood stained clothes, he did not find it hard to maintain his dignity. Indeed, he realized full well that in his present weakened condition, he could not have done for himself anyway. Indil slipped her arms under his shoulders and pulled so that his head came to the edge of the bed. She then slipped a thick leather apron under him that draped over the edge of the mattress and poured a pitcher of heated water slowly over his curls. Despite himself, Pippin found himself calming as the women washed his body and the healer's gentle fingers worked soap and water into all the places the dried blood had settled through his hair. Pippin had not realized how itchy those patches had become and Indil's attentions felt as satisfying as a mug of ale on a parched throat after a long day's work. Despite his discomfiture, Pippin sighed and Indil laughed outright. "So I see our ministrations are not entirely unwelcome! You should learn to take pleasure where ever you can find it, master perian."

Pippin smiled dreamily. "Oh, that has never been a failing of mine," he sighed, and then, as if remembering to whom he was speaking, he blushed bright red again. Indil chuckled at his admission, but respectfully did not dwell on it. She was beginning to understand a bit of the Elfstone's fondness for these creatures. For a people out of legend and children's tales, the periannath were unexpectedly earthy. Though initially she had had to remind herself that they were not children, the feel of Peregrin's uneasy tenseness, the way he had relaxed in her hands and the way he had sighed with pleasure made Indil realize quite clearly, that these little ones were definitely not innocents. It was a realization that merely added to their charm. She poured a cleansing rinse of the warm water over his scalp until it ran clear and handed the empty pitcher to an assistant.

"Now, master perian, I will leave you in these kind ladies' hands. Do as they bid and you will be comfortably clean and dressed before you are aware of it. Resist…" She tried to look stern, "and it will not go well for you. We may be women, but we are strong, and with this many, we would be match for even a great warrior of our own people, so take heed of that!" Pippin still looked a bit uncomfortable, but her gentle kindness had put him at ease and he faced the human women who remained to work on him with a determined face. Indil could not help smiling upon him.

She took three of her assistants and moved on to the table where Samwise lay. He had not stirred since Aragorn's gentle touch and even that had been no more than a twitch of his brow. He had made no other movement since Indil had come to this glade and, though the King had said his strength was returning, Indil was terribly concerned. It had been her experience that those who were too weak to even stir in sleep were the ones in most desperate condition. She took his small hand in hers and lifted his arm to see if he had any control of his muscles. The arm dropped instantly, limp as a doll's. It was not a good sign. Indil ordered one of her ladies to bring a bowl of the special broth as soon as it was ready, and then began to carefully remove the hobbit's clothing. He wore little, a simple coat and plain shirt, suspenders and breeches, though these seemed to have been made for a heftier individual than he was. They removed the clothes and set aside the items they contained so that the garments could be washed and mended. A small crystal phial, delicate and fine and an elegant box with intricate designs carven into its surface were tucked into the coat's pockets, but little else. She placed these in the worn backpack that had been laid at the foot of his bed beside an empty water flask, a filthy black cloak and a length of soft grey rope.

As they had done with Pippin, the ladies carefully washed Samwise's body, and though he did not wake, Indil did note some response from him. A soft sigh as Indil poured water over his hair to wash it, a twitch as they rubbed him dry, a weak but definite swallow as they ladled broth into his mouth. Indil was heartened but she knew he was still a hair's breath from death. She had to see that he had food and water in him as often as he would take it in order to give him back his strength.

Leaving her attendants to finish with Samwise, Indil approached the last bed. This was the one the King had named Frodo, and the one for whom he had seemed to show the most concern. She had saved him for last in order to ensure that the sun was high in the sky before she began to bathe him. It was not quite April, and even in these southern climes, the mornings could be chill. Indil wanted to insure that the day was full and warm before she stressed his weakened body with water. His dark, dirty hair hung in loose rings around his small face. Indil idly brushed them back and thought to herself how beautiful he would be clean, awake and smiling. It puzzled her that she would think such a thing about one not even of her own race, but she supposed it was because he was truly fair to look upon. She took his hand to test his muscle tone, but she did not let it go. She knew from just a touch that he would not flinch if she let it fall. The hand was soft and delicate. The long fingers made an elegant, aristocratic counterpart draped over her roughened palm. It suddenly struck her what a staggering thing this small hand had done. To think that it had accomplished what legions of Gondor's finest warriors had not been able to! She gazed into his face in wonder. He did look different from his companions. He was finer somehow, more ethereal. Indil had seen but one of the elvish race in her life, the fair one who fought by the Elfstone's side. This dark haired perian's features almost looked elvish, but there was something even more compelling about him. Indil found herself absently stroking his hand as she had used to those of her sleeping sons and smiled sadly at the memory. Her sons were long dead. They had died far from home or healers. She had never even had the chance to fight for their lives... but… she did have a chance with this little one. Her resolve stiffened. She would NOT let death take this brave, precious one - not while she had the strength to do something to prevent it.

Indil pulled the blanket back and, with utmost care, pulled the filthy leather tunic over Frodo's head. He was limp as a rag, which made the endeavor difficult, but Indil managed it without calling for assistance. Then she removed the leather breeches and tucked the woolen blanket tightly around his pale body. The clothes were foul things, smelly and ill fitting and Indil was temped to throw them away, but something stopped her. These are what he wore to defeat the dark lord. As noisome as they seemed it felt like sacrilege to dispose of anything associated with an act so great. She carefully folded the things and placed them with the others that were to be cleaned and mended. She then took another blanket from the table where her requisition had been delivered and laid it gently over Frodo. Even with the lambskin covered bed and one thick woolen blanket he had seemed cold to her touch. She knew in his condition, a chill would kill him and she wished to take no chances. She let him warm for several minutes under the layers before continuing with her examination.

The right hand had been bandaged the day before and she removed the wrapping to see its condition for herself. Something had removed his third finger as neatly as if it had been cut, but the tissues did seem to be knitting together over the small stub of bone that remained. She left it unbandaged to let the air dry the tissues and preceded up the slender arm. Scratches, recently scabbed, met her questing fingers and when she reached his neck, she found a hard swelling just to the left of the base of his neck. The tissue surrounding it was discolored, she could tell that even through the grime, but she had no idea what could have caused the wound. His head seemed whole, unlike his companion Samwise, whose wound was currently being dressed on the next table, but the rest of his body seemed covered with older injuries. The left shoulder still sported a small white scar that did not look long healed. Along the ribs was scored a great gash as if a sword or lash and struck him and beneath this was the old yellow and green of a terrible bruise that was slowly healing. Over all he had the gaunt look of someone who had gone for too long with too little. His ribs were easily counted and the point of his hip stuck out from the lean body - it was the same look his companion had, only on this fair, delicate form, it looked more tragic.

By the time new water was heated, those attending Pippin had finished. One remained to feed him broth and bread and the others came to help Indil bathe Frodo. She felt strangely unwilling to accept their help, almost jealous of the attention they would give him, but she knew such feeling was folly. If she were to save him, she would need their assistance. As the women gently washed the layers of grime from his body, Indil poured warmed water over Frodo's curls. She worked the soap through his dark hair and though she watched for any signs of stirring, she noted none. Not a hitch of breath or flutter of eyelid disturbed his deathly sleep. He was indeed far gone. When they had dried him and dressed him in a soft white robe, she laid him against her side to try to coax a drop of broth between his lips. But even its enticing flavor could not get him to readily swallow. Indil had to gently stroke the pale neck in order to persuade his muscles to accept it. As the sun rose past noon and beyond, Indil stayed with her small charge and one spoonful at a time, working each one down the slack throat, she managed to get a bowlful of broth into Frodo. When she finally laid him back onto the bed, she put an ear to his belly and was rewarded to hear the sounds that indicated his body had not shut down, and that indeed the broth might give him strength. It gave her hope. Holding his limp body against hers had been a trial on her heart... He was the same size and heft of a child and it pained her to feel him against her knowing how close he was to death. She knew better than to allow herself to feel this way, especially with such a grim patient, but she could not help it.

After checking on the other hobbits and assuring herself that they were all right, Indil found herself drawn back to Frodo. What was it about this small creature that compelled her? He was sad and beautiful, like a stricken dove, and that alone would garner Indil's pity, but not these feelings of compassion and fascination. It must have been the realization of what he had done that intrigued her so. This perian out of legend, alone but for his companion had saved all her people. It would seem an astonishing feat for anyone and for one so small to do it… The fact that he had nearly given his life to accomplish it only made her admiration, as well as her determination that he would not perish, greater. She stroked his cheek gently. 'This was madness', she thought. Indil had been a healer most her life and knew the folly of caring too deeply for those she tended, but with these,... this one especially, she realized, her heart would not be denied. She could not see these little ones die.

She would need to make a feeding tube scaled to the right size. Of leather and boiled for stiffness it would serve well. Otherwise neither of the two emaciated ones would ever get enough sustenance to recover. She knew where to find a large piece of good leather and the saddle maker would have the necessary tools. Putting the device together would also keep her from dwelling on her folly. She had gathered what she needed and was settling down by the fire to begin working when the King returned, walking wearily up the path alone and unheralded. Indil was startled but quickly assembled her attendants and had them stand ready at attention to do whatever he bid. Aragorn smiled despite the weariness and nodded to her, but walked directly to the beds and examined each patient briefly.

"They look much better for your tender care, lady." He said graciously. "How did you find them? "

Indil curtsied and bowed her head as she addressed her liege. "The larger one, Pippin, woke earlier," she reported. "He took some food, but sleeps again, as you see. He was most indignant about being waited upon." She glanced up and noted the brief amused glint in the Elfstone's eye. "The other two were tended, and fed though, they show no sign of waking. The one called Samwise seemed more responsive, but both these two are still very grave."

Aragorn had moved to Sam's bed, and then to Frodo's touching each newly clean head in turn. "They look better, at least." His tone sounded sad to Indil's ear, but she did not know the King well enough to judge his moods.

"I think they are better, at least a little." She suggested, hoping she was not being too presumptuous. "The food and water was not rejected and that is a very good sign. I begin to have hope, my lord." Her voice dropped a bit as if she were afraid to admit what she was about to say. "They are a most remarkable race. I begin to understand what you have seen in these people."

Aragorn leaned heavily on Sam's bed. His stare wandered over Frodo's still pale form and it looked as if he were searching for his words.

"They are dear to me," he sighed, almost too softly for Indil to hear, "but I wonder if perhaps my heart may have acted before my head. I strove to save them but now wonder if indeed I should have." It seemed his heart was deeply troubled and Indil found herself wishing she could give him comfort. He glanced up as if remembering she was there and then nodded towards the hobbits. "These two especially have endured much that I can never heal or reward them for, and the burden this one bore…" He looked sadly at Frodo. "It made scars that will never heal." Again his voice dropped and Indil could barely hear him say; "Do I wish to save him because I love him, or because it is what is best for him?"

Indil found her throat tightening. She did not know if she was supposed to hear these musings, for indeed it sounded as if he was speaking more to himself than to her, but his words frightened her. She also did not know of the hurts he spoke of, but she understood his meaning. There are times when a healer knows it was kindest to let the dying spirit go, but in her heart, Indil knew this was not the case with these perian. She had nothing to go on but her feeling, but that feeling was very strong. If she gave them the chance, the little ones would recover. "My lord?" she began timidly with her eyes downcast. "I have not the gifts in healing you have, I cannot see into their hearts, but I have felt in them a strong love of life." She blushed under Aragorn's stern, appraising stare. "You asked me to look into my heart, my lord, and to tender them as if they were my own." She smiled softly looking down at the sleeping hobbits. "You needn't have asked, for they are easy to grow fond of and have already won my heart on their own."

A gradual softening came into Aragorn's eyes and, slowly, a compassionate smile warmed his face. "I see why you were recommended to me," he said softly. Indil looked up at him and the tenderness she saw in his face took her breath again. Here was a true leader of men. One who could inspire his people from love, not fear. Here was a King. Her King, she realized, and suddenly Indil knew the future of the race of men was bright, brighter than it had ever been in her lifetime. Here indeed was an heir of the blood of Numenor and it made her heart glad that she had lived to see him return. "What you say is true," he continued. "These folk have a spirit that is remarkable. Difficult to see at times, for they are a common folk and aren't often challenged in their peaceful land, but when called upon, they have done extraordinary feats of courage. They are easy to love if one sees them with true eyes." Indil blushed at his compliment. He stood and nodded towards the pavilions that had been set up on the edge of the glade. "And let us hope your heart and their spirits will be enough to bring them all back to us. Come, the tents are assembled now. Let us move them inside before the evening comes."

Indil nodded, still warmed by his praise. She and her assistants helped the King as he personally carried the hobbits to one of the pavilions. The ladies lit a fire in the raised hearth in its very center and the little tent became comfortably cozy despite the opening in the roof that let the smoke escape. Indil placed her chair by this fire and continued to work on the piece of thick leather she had obtained. Aragorn sat by each of the hobbits' sides in turn, murmuring soft words and phrases. When Indil had completed her task, the King aided her as she carefully slipped the narrow tube of leather into Sam's mouth. The upper end of the tube had been left wide, and served as a funnel into which rich broth could be ladled. Sam slept on but his reflexes obediently swallowed the liquid as it came into his mouth. When he had had a bowlful, and a drink of water by the same method, she turned to Frodo. He would still not swallow readily, and Indil could see the fear and despair in the King's eyes when he saw the perian's lack of response, but it was for this one she had made the device. Boiled, the leather was stiff enough, and coated with a bit of fat, Indil was able to guide the tube deep into his throat. His body tensed as she forced the tube down, and that was heartening to Indil. She doubted he would have had that much of a response before the morning. She massaged his throat an eased the tube till it was deep enough for the broth to stay down. Then she asked the King to raise him up and together they fed him a bowlful and a drink as they had Sam. Pippin, stirring finally, but still too weakened to sit up, received his supper in a more traditional manner from the patient hands of the King himself.

"You will be whole in not time, my friend!" Aragorn said wiping a bit of broth from the perian's chin. "The healers of Gondor are renowned and you have their finest to tend you." Pippin smiled wanly, but it did not ease the fear that creased his brow.

"And that is something I had not expected from that battle," Pippin replied, "but what of Frodo, what of Sam!" He strained to look at them but it was clear he was sore from his injuries and the effort was difficult. "I see they lie with me in this healer's tent, but they seem far worse off than I! What has happened to them? Did they succeed? And what of the Dark Lord? Did we win?" His speech was hoarse and cracked a bit from agitation, but Aragorn laughed aloud, delighted to hear the hobbit's sweet voice.

"I will tell you what you need to know to ease your heart, but you must rest! You all are in the best hands you could be, but if you do not take your ease, you will put yourself in jeopardy again! You were far more grievously injured than you realize." Aragorn then told Pippin of all that had happened and all that he had learned of Frodo and Sam's journey from Gandalf. The young hobbit listened with rapt attention for as long as he could, but in the drowsy heat of the fire, the carefully calm voice of the King lulled him, despite his fascination with the tale. He was nearly asleep by the time Aragorn finished and the King touched the hobbit's brow to guide him the rest of the way.

In the deep dark of the healer's tent during that first night in Ithilien, Frodo began once again to sense the world around him. He did not wake but it was as if the gentle ministrations of those who cared for him made him aware that all was not lost. He heard soft singing and smelled a sweet scent in the air, and then there was wood smoke, and warmth and softness all about him. The tortured winds that had first seemed to drive him into darkness calmed. He faced them and realized they no longer tore at his weary spirit. Sweet singing and words from without beckoned him. He could understand their meaning though they were in no language he knew. They told him he was needed and that he had tarried far too long here in this void. This darkness was the place he had expected to go, but the gentle words and love rumored in them made him realize that he did not need to. Not just yet, at least. He felt a great warmth begin to envelop him and some of his weariness fell away. The feeling buoyed him and compelled him. He was needed back and so tenderly and lovingly called that, without questioning, he came. The return journey would be long, but not hard, indeed, by comparison nothing seemed hard anymore.

In the early morning a few days after the periannath had been placed in her care, Indil rose and entered the tent to check on her charges. Pippin was sleeping peacefully and didn't even stir when she laid new wood on the fire. She noted with satisfaction how much healthier he looked than just the morning before. It would not be many more days before he was fit to rise, though probably longer before he could do more than a brief, aided hobble. Samwise too, had improved greatly in color though he was still very weak. She touched his brow and opened one eye, but he drowsed on. The King kept him sleeping by some craft since Samwise was not yet recovered enough to leave his bed. Although at the rate he was improving, Indil thought it would not be very long before he was. Last she turned her attention to Frodo. Of the three of them, he was the only one to show little improvement and it tore at her heart. He was the only one Aragorn had not needed to keep asleep as he was still pale and showed no signs of waking on his own. The day before, Meriadoc, another perian, had come from Gondor with the first supplies and he had been rushed straight away to visit his convalescent kin. He greeted Pippin joyously and talked long with him, and then he stood by the other beds speaking briefly to Sam and Frodo as they slept. Indil could see the worry in his face when he looked at Frodo, still the sickest of them, and it wasn't long before Merry had bright tears glistening in his eyes. He had not meant for Indil to see them and had turned away when he noticed her glance. He had apologized saying that he knew they were doing all they could for Frodo, but the sight of that brave little perian crying over his fallen kin had still pained Indil. She wished she could have had more than just hope to give him.

The newly awoken fire's light mingled with the first glow of morning and both lit Frodo's still features with a warm, golden radiance. He breathed easily, deep in sleep. Indil touched his face and to her surprise, his lips parted and he sighed softly as he dreamt. Instantly she leaned close to look at him, hardly daring to hope. Yes! There was a real blush there that was more than a mere reflection of the fire. She stroked his cheek. An almost imperceptible quiver stirred his muscles and Indil was sure she saw his brow crease just a bit in reaction. She gasped and barely managed to hold back her ecstatic cry. Adversity had always plagued her life, and since she had grown so fond of this perian she was more than half afraid that one morning when she entered the tent, he would be gone. To see him finally starting to come back to them was all she could have desired. She knew her heart had been too bold in tendering its affections – for this one at least she should have had no expectations - but reason, it seemed, had had nothing to do with it. This fair, brave little creature had enchanted her without breathing a word. She took his hand in hers and held it, as happy as if he had sat up and smiled at her.

He was being moved. Frodo could tell from the gentle sway of his feet that he was being carried and was then laid on a soft surface. A moist breeze touched his face along with the sweetly scented caress of a fall of long hair. Someone leaned over him and he sighed, struggling to wake. His mind was full of fog and it was difficult, but he reached up to push the hair aside. A gasp and he heard the sound of a soft voice speaking though he could not make out the words. Then the voice was gone and he thought he heard the sound of running feet. He touched his face and felt his own fingertips, but there was something odd about the feeling. His eyes strove to open and he had to blink several times before he could focus on his own hand. Yes, now he realized why the feeling had been so strange. While the hand had felt completely normal, when he touched his own face, he realized it was missing its third finger. Memory came hesitantly back to him.

He looked up past his hand to the dawn tinted sky that peeked from behind a roof of dark green leaves. He did not know by what miracle he had survived the chaos of Mount Doom, but this place reminded him of Ithilien. The sweet scent and cool air, the soothing music of a little stream and the early morning twitter of birds were stark contrast to the last waking memory he had had. He wondered if indeed he had died, which was what he had expected, but he didn't feel dead. He felt definitely alive, and for the first time in a very long while, a bit hopeful, though even as he his thought turned towards the future, he knew a shadow remained in his heart. It seemed to him as if his life was a march words on a crisp sheet of parchment, black lines on bright paper, though some of those marks had been written by Darkness and could never be unmade. He examined his hand again. The skin had healed over the wound, though the scar was still bright pink and he wondered how long it had been since he had got that wound in Sammath Naur. The scratches along his arms, from the fall into the briars outside of Cirith Ungol, were nearly gone and he no longer felt the pinching hunger and thirst that had been his constant companions in the black land, though, now that he thought of it, he did feel up to a breakfast.

Experimentally, Frodo tried to sit up. His head spun. He had lain far too long, but he found that, while stiff and a bit weak, he was feeling quite nearly himself again. He was lying on a man-sized cot laid into a small opening at the edge of a deeper wood. Another cot, empty, was set up beside him. A little brook tumbled over the rocks and roots alongside the forest opening to meander out into a wide meadow below. Far in the distance, beyond the lines of many tents and banners assembled in that meadow, was the dark line of the river Anduin, its waters not yet touched by the rising sun.

"I did not give up hope for you this time, Frodo," spoke a voice behind him. It was, quite truly the last voice Frodo had ever expected to hear. He looked, astonished, in the direction from which it had come and there, walking up the path, his robes gleaming white in the early morning dim, was Gandalf. A change had come over the wizard and he shone with a light that rivaled the dawn. Frodo could do nothing but stare, dumbfounded. Then he heard his name joyously shouted from beyond the clearing. Aragorn was quickly striding down the narrow path. Behind him, a woman with her cream color shift lifted past her knees, was struggling to match the King's eager pace. Frodo, still shocked speechless by the sight of Gandalf, could no longer support himself on his arms and slumped down on the bed again.

"Gandalf!" His voice sounded cracked, hoarse and unused even to his own ears, which, he supposed, it was. He stared wide-eyed, unable to say anything as he lay gaping on the cot. "I saw you fall!" he continued stupidly, his eyes never leaving the wizard. Gandalf looked down at Frodo with a fierce tenderness and pride that almost embarrassed him.

"As I saw you fall." Gandalf's voice was as fair and joyous a thing as Frodo had ever heard. "Never be too hasty when assuming the fate of wizard or hobbit…as I have learned." He laid a hand on Frodo's shoulder and smiled dazzlingly. "I am glad you finally decided to return to us." The hobbit wondered if it was it a trick of the light, or did Gandalf glimmer with hidden brilliance, like the star glass or moonlight through trees? He seemed at once more terrible and more radiant.

Aragorn rushed towards them with a smile of such joy that Frodo could not help smiling back. He was dressed in a rich tunic of fine velvet with the emblem of a white tree encircled by stars emblazoned across its front. "At last, you wake!" he cried and he took up Frodo's hand and in his. "I have waited a long time to thank you, my friend. You made me fear I would never have the chance."

"But what of Sam?" Frodo gasped, starting to sit up again. "Is he…?"

"Alive and well, Frodo," said Aragorn, smiling brightly upon him. "He has yet to wake, but will soon, I judge."

"The King has tended you since you were brought from the mountain," Gandalf explained. "You were very close to death when we retrieved you, but he was able to bring you back, and Sam as well."

Frodo was full of questions but first he begged to see Sam. Aragorn obliged and returned from the tent with Sam's sleeping form in his arms. They laid the hobbit gently on the other bed and assured Frodo that he was indeed all right and would probably wake very soon. Frodo finally calmed and with an extra pillow at his head, asked his questions and listened to the answers.

Indil had stopped a little ways behind them and waited, listening and watching. His eyes are so blue…, she thought, as the perian listened in amazement to the tale unfolding before him. She wondered that she had never before noted how dazzling they were. For as long as she had tended him, limp and unresponsive, seeing him awake and alive filled her heart to bursting and beyond. She drank in the sight. It should have seemed odd to her – this was not even a man, and he was the size of a child, and yet she knew what she was feeling. She had known love before, and though its sweetness had not flavored her life for many years, she could not deny it. There could be no answering this love, but that did not matter. This feeling was deep, fulfilling, and sustained rather than drained her. She knew she would carry it for the rest of her days regardless of where Frodo went or whatever eventually became of him. His bright face, finally showing pink with health and excitement, looked up at the King and Indil delighted in the sight. It was this vision that she had longed to see since she had first laid eyes upon him. Tears of utter joy threatened to flow from her eyes. She did love him, wholly and completely, and because she did, she knew, she could never breathe a word of it to him. Whatever could she say? It would only serve to make him uncomfortable and she wanted him to be happy, healed, and to never trouble his fair head over her foolish heart. It would remain a secret, her treasured memory, as long as she lived.

At a break in the conversation, Indil cleared her throat and asked politely if Frodo was feeling hungry. Her throat was tight as she spoke, but she fancied she had hidden her feelings sufficiently. She hoped the wizard and her King would not notice the strain in it. Frodo nodded with a smile and Indil had to turn quickly away for now her tears did start to flow. Back in the now empty tent, she prepared a tray of honey and bread, sweet cream and spring fruit, and tried not to think that this would be the last time she would tend him. When she returned, Frodo was sitting at the small table that was beside the beds with Gandalf and Aragorn conscientiously by his side. He ate, but only a little, as his stomach was not yet accustomed to solid foods and when he had finished, Aragorn took his leave. Gandalf settled by the small fire and drew out his pipe.

Indil lingered, not wishing to leave, but she realized that she was essentially dismissed. Her task was over and it felt like her heart was breaking. Frodo smiled up at her kindly. "Thank you," he said as she took the tray. His voice was gentle, light and melodious. Just as she had imagined it would be. She curtsied low and bowed her head.

"It has been and honor and a privilege to care for you, my lord." She could not look into his face. "My people hold you in high esteem for what you and your kin have done. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to do this small service for you." Frodo looked at her, just a bit puzzled.

"Then I have more to thank you for than my breakfast," he said. "You have helped care for Sam and I?" Indil nodded.

"You were no trouble, my lord. Either of you. And it has filled my heart with joy to see you wake to see this dawn." Her voice was indeed trembling and Frodo gazed more intently at her. She drew a breath and steadied herself to look him in the eye.

Perhaps Frodo understood her a little, or perhaps it was just her look of pained longing that spoke to him, but he smiled compassionately and nodded. "Your work was well done," he said softly. "And I will thank you anyway." Indil slowly, sadly, returned his smile and curtsied once more. Now she truly was dismissed. When she left this place she would never again see him. She forced her unwilling legs to move and tried not to appear as if her heart were breaking as she carried the tray back to the little tent. There was nothing for it. She could curse her own foolhardiness, for it was foolish of her to feel love for him, but somehow she didn't want to. She wanted instead to carry the sweet bitterness in her heart forever, to keep alive the memory of the dear perian and to never forget the sight of his angelic face smiling up at her in the morning sunlight.

When Sam woke, he found that he was lying on some soft bed, but over him gently swayed wide beechen boughs, and through their young leaves sunlight glimmered, green and gold. All the air was full of a sweet mingled scent. 

He remembered that smell: The fragrance of Ithilien. "Bless me!" he mused. "How long have I been asleep?" For the scent had borne him back to a the day when he had lit his little fire under the sunny bank; and for the moment all else between was out of waking memory….

From: 'The Return of the King'; Book 6 – Chapter 4 – 'The Field of Cormallen'

The End

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