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Arrival At Rivendell: A Fable Of Middle Earth - Story and Art by Shirley E. Roman, Beta'ed by StarWatcher

Frodo Baggins of The Shire

Chapter 1: A Herald Arrives

At 128, Bilbo Baggins was for the most part happy, content, and very old for a hobbit. Ever since he had settled down in Rivendell some seventeen years ago, he had passed his days in peace, submerged in the ways and thoughts of the Elven folk. For many a year his most vexing problem had been composing stories and rhymes of Elven lore worthy of the ears of Lord Elrond Half-Elven and his household. Though he loved his heir Frodo dearly, he thought less often of him and of the Shire, presuming that, all these years, Frodo had been passing his time in bliss, master of Bag End and of himself.

But that contentment had begun to change recently. Something unnamed, nagging and worrisome had crept into Bilbo's heart and mind, and he had found his thoughts turning ever and anon to Frodo. He could not quite put his finger on what was bothering him, but as he sat in his little room, on top of his bed, the thought again came to him. Something is not right with Frodo. He had consulted with Lord Elrond during one particularly slow-passing midafternoon, but Elrond had simply said that Frodo was still in the Shire and that if things were amiss with him, then Gandalf would have told Bilbo. He was content with that answer for a time, but all too soon, and with ever-increasing urgency, the feeling returned that Frodo was in some deep peril.

At long last the day came when Gandalf himself arrived as a herald of ill-tidings in Rivendell. Before the first rays of dawn had crept into the night sky, the wizard arrived at the house of Elrond, borne on the back of a great white steed. His gray robes billowed and whipped around him like an angry sea. His face was grim and anxious. It was clear that great need had pressed him, in either haste or danger, to ride hence in such a manner to Rivendell. When Lord Imodoion, the first to greet him, beheld Gandalf's grim and anxious state, he did not stop to question him, but instead, ran ahead on light, swift feet to alert Lord Elrond, who was still in his chambers.

While Bilbo slept, oblivious to Gandalf's arrival, Gandalf and Elrond took counsel together in the private chambers of Elrond. The soft lights of strategically-placed candles illuminated the chamber and cast shadows on the richly-carved wooden beams. The air was crisp and fresh, alive with the sounds of living creatures stirring. Elrond, clothed in soft robes of black and gray, reclined in his ornately-carved chair covered with gold and green cloth while Gandalf paced, shoulders bent with weariness. Servants had discreetly entered the chamber and laid out washing bowls, platters of fruit, and goblets of wine. The two paid no heed to the offerings. Gandalf spoke, and Elrond listened in grim silence to all that he relayed. Gandalf told of his encounter with Radagast the Brown, and of the treachery of the former head of his order, Saruman the White. Elrond in turn was deeply disturbed by the news of Saruman's betrayal and imprisonment of Gandalf in the tower of Orthanc. Elrond's ageless eyes looked far and deep into Gandalf's face.

>Elrond, clothed in soft robes of black and gray, reclined in his ornately carved chair covered with gold and green cloth while Gandalf paced, shoulders bent with weariness.

"Nine days ago we received news from kindred Elves abroad that Frodo, unguided and heavy-burdened, was attempting to reach Rivendell," Elrond said. "Glorfindel and others from my household were dispatched to search for the hobbits. We have since heard nothing," he added after a brief pause.

Gandalf's face grew pained. "I told Frodo that I would either send word to him in the Shire or go to him myself in person. In any event, he was to set out for Rivendell no later than September the twenty-second," he explained. "I have since learned that the Black Riders have ridden forth again from Minas Morgul and are abroad in search of the Shire; certainly they expect to find both the Ring and Frodo. Even in the company of Aragorn, Frodo and Sam are no match for Black Riders from Mordor; in my heart, I fear the worst. If they were waylaid or the ring lost on the way to Rivendell, then there will be no victory over the Ring; all folk of Middle-Earth will inevitably become slaves of the Dark Lord -- including the traitor Saruman," he added coldly.

"Then let us hope that Frodo will be found and brought here swiftly," Elrond said. Gandalf looked at Elrond as if he expected him to say more, but Elrond had retreated within himself and said nothing. Gandalf silently took leave of Elrond and walked out into the sun that had already risen to fully illuminate the day.

It was not until midmorning had passed and Bilbo had left his room to walk in the fair gardens that he saw his old friend Gandalf.

"Gandalf!" The old hobbit cried with renewed vigor and delight when he caught sight of the wizard, who at that moment was deep in thought.

At the sight of his old friend Bilbo, Gandalf too felt some measure of renewed strength and joy. He had of course rested after his long journey and counsel with Lord Elrond, but finding that he no longer wished to lie idle, had arisen to walk in the beauty of Elrond's gardens. He had half wished that he would encounter the old hobbit, and so he was particularly delighted that it had come to pass.

"Bilbo, my friend!" Gandalf cried, embracing him gently.

"When did you arrive? And how long have you been here?" Bilbo asked excitedly.

"I arrived before dawn," replied Gandalf without further elaboration. Bilbo continued walking at his slow but steady gait, but as he did so, he looked at his old friend from the corner of his eye. To him it seemed that Gandalf had been well tended by the Elves of Elrond's house. His gray robes appeared fresh as if renewed by the skilled hands of many. As for Gandalf himself, his beard and hair shone silvery white, strength was in his hand and step. Yet Bilbo discerned some air of disquiet in his friend -- and suddenly, he knew.

It is Frodo! Something is terribly wrong. Bilbo stopped abruptly. "Gandalf, what danger is Frodo in? Where is he? What do you know?" His questions tumbled out, driven now by that terrible certainty that something was indeed amiss with Frodo, and that Gandalf knew of it.

For a moment Gandalf said nothing. Then he spoke gently. "We are all very concerned for Frodo," Gandalf began. "He went abroad on what should have been a rather simple errand. That errand I now know brings far more peril with it than either Frodo or I realized at the time. I had sent word that Frodo and Sam would meet me at the Inn of the Prancing Pony in the village of Bree. We were then to travel on together to Rivendell. Unfortunately, I was delayed in reaching them by the treachery of an old friend." He paused, and it seemed to Bilbo that the face of his old friend grew strangely grim as if experiencing again an evil memory. "Even if Frodo and Sam had thought it best to make their own way to Rivendell, then there are natural perils enough in the world to do serious mischief. But it is neither elements nor animals dwelling in their habitat in the wild that are now my chief concern," Gandalf said.

"Gandalf!" Bilbo interrupted. "I don't understand -- what errand did you send Frodo on? Why was he coming to Rivendell, and what is the danger you speak of?" cried the frail hobbit.

"Frodo, like you, is a Ringbearer," Gandalf said gently. "The ring he bears is the One Ring of Power long sought after by its owner, Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor. Sauron will stop at nothing to find this ring and when he does..." Gandalf sighed. "When he does, he will cover all the lands in a second darkness. There will be no place left on Middle-Earth from which free people look upon the stars."

Bilbo stopped in his tracks as a chilling fear gripped his heart. The old hobbit felt the weight of the knowledge of what he had saddled Frodo with, and he cried out, "What of Frodo, Gandalf? Is he to remain as bait for the hunter and be struck down without aid? I will go myself and retrieve the Ring from him."

Moved by pity, Gandalf immediately put his hand on Bilbo's shoulder in a gesture of comfort. "Aid is on its way even as we speak, Bilbo." But as he spoke, Gandalf began to feel a strange sensation of unease quietly but steadily growing in his mind. He could perceive with other senses far keener than sight that evil was approaching Rivendell. The hunter pursues his prey, Gandalf thought as he abruptly took leave of Bilbo to seek out Elrond once more.

Bilbo was greatly troubled by the haste in which Gandalf had cut short their conversation regarding Frodo. At first he sought to follow Gandalf but, thinking better of it, he returned to his room to wait patiently for his return. But the wizard did not return, and Bilbo grew weary. Hours passed and Bilbo did not venture out from his room again, but waited until his supper was brought to him by the elves, as was customary. That evening, an Elf with a face like to that of a merry child brought Bilbo his meal.

It was not until midmorning had passed and Bilbo had left his room to walk in the air gardens that he saw his old friend Gandalf.

"What's happened? Why was there such a commotion?" Bilbo asked. "Do you have news?" he added with a voice slightly above a whisper.

The Elf smiled and laughed gaily, "Why Master Baggins, ‘tis not a thing to think of under the roof of this fair house where the sun still shines and the willows embrace us."

That response did not sit well with the hobbit. Bilbo was old, but he was no fool. He knew that something dark and out of the ordinary had occurred in the past hours and, if Gandalf did not see fit to inform Bilbo, then he would find out on his own. "If we have escaped from some peril then would that I hear of it, so then will my delight at being in this fair house increase all the more," said Bilbo with a stern snort.

Seeing that Bilbo would not be put off, the Elf replied still gaily, "Emissaries from the black land came to call upon the Lord of this House. The Lord Elrond, however, declined to receive them and sent them packing." The Elf laughed with great delight as if relishing some private joke, but Bilbo was not amused and looked rather dismayed.

Perceiving Bilbo's alarm, the Elf added, "Be of good cheer, for Rivendell is safe, and so may you continue to live in peace." With that, the Elf turned and slipped from the room taking with him his light and laughter.

Bilbo found himself alone with his meal and wine. He paid no heed to it, though he was ordinarily over-fond of Elvish fare. He was rather lost in thought, trying vainly to discern some hidden meaning in the Elf's words. None came to him. It was the aroma of freshly cooked breads and meats wafting up to Bilbo's nose that brought him out of his reverie. The old hobbit felt famished and he was overwhelmed by a desire to turn his attention to plate and bottle and away from the morning's evil news in Rivendell. After Bilbo had eaten his fill, he reclined in his cushioned chair next to the roaring fire. He stared at the light and shadows playing on the wall and he grew drowsy. His eyes half-closed and it seemed to him that the shadows danced and then changed into strange visions of dark riders on ghostly steeds. How odd, Bilbo thought before he fell into a restless sleep.

+ + + + +

It took Gandalf but a short time to locate Elrond, who was sitting by himself in quiet meditation. When the wizard arrived, several things happened simultaneously. Gandalf had no more finished relaying to Elrond that, within his mind, he had perceived dark forces approaching, when a great commotion arose, as if a portent of things to come. They heard shouts of "NazgÛl! NazgÛl!" Elven warriors renowned for their courage and skills in the art of war were flying towards the paths leading down to the edges of Rivendell. The feeling of imminently approaching evil became so compelling that both Gandalf and Elrond quickly left the room and sought the one most westward and facing the Ford. They went out upon the parapet that afforded them a clear view of the terrain for miles. What they saw chilled them both to the core.

They beheld five figures running on the road as eight Ringwraiths on black steeds bore down on them from the rear. The figures, three small and two tall, leapt off the narrow road just seconds before the Ringwraiths rushed past them. The NazgÛl were bent with evil malice upon a sixth figure -- a lone, small defiant figure clinging to a great white horse that was moving at considerable speed. It was apparent from the way the desperate rider clung to the horse that the beast bore upon its back a hobbit burdened by either injury or illness. It appeared doubtful that the white horse could outrun the NazgÛl, but Gandalf and Elrond watched in amazement as the horse outpaced the eight Ringwraiths and shot across the Ford.

Gandalf's fingers were colorless as he gripped his staff, and his voice was full of urgency as he cried, "Elrond, it is Frodo! Quickly -- bar the Ford!"

Elrond stretched forth his mighty hand towards the water and, as he did so, he issued a command in a powerful voice. Hearing the voice of its master, the water obeyed and at once unleashed its pent-up fury. The wrath too was set free in Gandalf as he raised his staff and spoke words of spell to the water. He had in mind to not only halt the Ringwraiths, but to infuse the experience with as much terror and dread as possible to discourage future attacks. This he accomplished. The sound of the rushing white water was like to that of many boulders crashing, tumbling and breaking. Gandalf, feeling inspired to make a spectacle worthy of song, worked a shaping spell so that the water formed itself into the forms of white riders on charging horses.

Gandalf erupted with laughter at the sight of the powerful water sweeping away the wraiths and their terrified horses. His mirth, however, was soon halted and replaced with alarm as he saw the greatness of the deluge that had been unleashed. From their vantage point, it appeared as though hunters and prey alike would be drowned in the mighty floodwaters. But it was not to be. The waters began to recede until all that remained on the one side of the Ford was the fallen figure of Frodo. He lay without moving and appeared to be scarcely breathing.

Sam, Merry and Pippin fretted, trapped on the other side of the river, anxious to reach the fallen figure of Frodo. The waters, though indeed greatly receded, were still formidable and too high for the likes of hobbits to safely cross. Aragorn and Glorfindel held them back from attempting to cross immediately, as they greatly desired to do. As the hobbits waited anxiously to cross, Elrond quickly assembled more guides and instructed them to bring the hobbits safely to Rivendell. Elrond and Gandalf stood together on the balcony and watched as the warriors departed Rivendell, riding on mighty steeds, their hair streaming behind them with the swiftness of their passage.

The sun was setting and nightfall was fast approaching when the company of weary travelers and Elves of Rivendell arrived at last within the confines of the Last Homely House east of the Sea. Gandalf and Elrond met them at the entrance to the grounds of Rivendell. As Gandalf stood to the side, Elrond gently removed the cold, motionless figure of Frodo from the arms of the Elves that carried him and brought him to a room that had been prepared. The others anxiously followed after them and, though Gandalf was deeply concerned for Frodo, not knowing what ailed him, his keen eyes observed that Sam, Merry, and Pippin were clearly weary, worn and frightened beyond their strength to endure much more. Their clothes were filthy and torn. Their faces were drawn and pale and their eyes reflected the marks of those who have seen too much. They bore little resemblance to the robust, jolly hobbits Gandalf had grown to know and care for. Gandalf stopped them at the door to Frodo's room as Aragorn and Elrond proceeded inside. Glorfindel remained behind the hobbits.

"Stop," Gandalf said gently, putting his arms about the hobbits. "If you want to help Frodo, then you must rest and eat and gather your strength for the evil days that lay ahead. Glorfindel will escort you to rooms where you will be well cared for."

Merry and Pippin were too overwhelmed to argue, but Sam lifted his weary head in stern protest. "Mr. Gandalf sir, I'm going to be with Mr. Frodo. I promised not to leave him and I'm not going to let him..." Sam's voice trailed off as emotion threatened to overcome him with the fear that his beloved master would die. Sam stared at Gandalf with grim determination on his face.

Gandalf placed his hand on Sam's shoulder and said, "Very well, Master Samwise. It may be that yours is the voice that brings the most comfort to Frodo. Come inside, but stay out of Elrond's way."

Sam's eyes shone with gratitude and relief that he was not to be barred from being near his wounded master. Before Glorfindel led Merry and Pippin away, they clutched Sam and begged him to bring them progress reports on Frodo's condition. Sam in turn promised that he would as soon as he was able and, with that, he turned and followed Gandalf into the sickroom.

The room was light and airy and simply adorned. Pleasantly furnished, it was, with chairs and low tables of various sorts. An ornately carved bed was in the center of the room and Elrond had laid Frodo upon it. His small form looked lost and frail in the big bed. Frodo's torn and dirty cloak and tunic had been removed and Sam, with great difficulty, detected the faint rise and fall of Frodo's breast as he labored to breathe.

Aragorn, Gandalf and Elrond stood beside the bed talking quietly amongst themselves and with the three other Elven healers in attendance. Aragorn had given Elrond the broken hilt, carved with evil runes. Elrond gravely studied it to better understand Frodo's hurts, and he made some notes upon a paper. Before giving the hilt to one of the other healers to preserve, Elrond did as Aragorn had -- he sang a song over the hilt in a low, chanting voice. Elrond turned his attention next to a table laden with various vials, some filled with strange, pungent liquids and others with colorful powders. The others watched silently as Elrond carefully began to mix substances. Each time he had mixed and measured one, he chanted over it with words that even Gandalf did not understand. Finally, when all was prepared, Elrond dipped his fingers into one jar of blue-tinged, fragrant ointment and began to apply it gently, but firmly, to Frodo's shoulder, arm and side. Frodo, however, remained deathly still, for he was beyond feeling Elrond's ministrations.

Sam looked on anxiously from the corner of the room where he sat, a small huddled figure with his knees drawn tight against his breast. He longed to help, to do anything but sit and watch helplessly as Frodo struggled to overcome his grievous wound. For the first time since he had embarked blindly on this journey alongside his master, Sam felt the bitter pain of loneliness and a deep longing for the security of the Shire. Sam did not even have the grim Aragorn to keep him company, for after Aragorn had conversed with Elrond and Gandalf, he had departed on some urgent, undisclosed errand.

While Sam was thinking of those things, Elrond's fingers were carefully probing the place on Frodo's shoulder that had taken the sting of the Ringwraith's blade. Endless minutes ticked by, and still Elrond continued to probe in an ever-widening circle, his face a mask of concentration. Though Frodo's wound had long ago closed, it seemed to Sam that the Elf lord was searching in vain for something uncertain.

I wonder what he's looking for? Sam thought to himself. Sam knew little of Elrond and next to nothing of his skills in healing, but his irrepressible admiration of Elves helped to nurture the hope in his heart that Frodo would be cured.

The same could not be said of Gandalf. For all his considerable powers in the magical arts and knowledge of lore of every kind, Gandalf himself possessed no extraordinary skills in healing. He did however possess a certain useful skill in being able to read minds and discern memories. The cure may yet reside with Frodo, thought Gandalf as he resolved to probe the depths of Frodo's mind.

As Elrond tended Frodo, Gandalf placed his hand upon Frodo's pale, cold brow. Through bleary eyes, Sam watched him. He said nothing ever of what he witnessed that day, not even to Frodo. Gandalf closed his eyes. Nothing happened. In a brief moment the wizard stiffened as if turned to stone, his lips began to move soundlessly and then his eyes flew open. Sam blinked his groggy eyes, for it seemed to him that the robes of Gandalf took on an ethereal quality. He knew that though the wizard's eyes were open, he looked without sight upon the mortal realm.

Gandalf had indeed read Frodo's mind and memory. His spirit had passed through a darkness that was blacker than the depths of the black pits of Moria, and he found himself being inundated with terrifying visions and sounds that were not his own. His senses had merged with those of the injured hobbit and he beheld clearly now a vision of Merry and Pippin being utterly consumed by a huge, malevolent willow tree. He was assailed by Frodo's feelings of horror and helplessness to save Merry and Pippin, and his mind was full of the knowledge that his small measure of hobbit strength would not be sufficient for the task of freeing his friends from a foe so fearsome and strong. The desperation that had fallen on Frodo was as a dark, heavy blanket weighing him down, trapping him, and threatening to stamp out his ability to reason altogether. Gandalf's face contorted and his lips moved as if to emit a desperate cry for help, but no sound reached Sam's closely listening ears. Like a swiftly passing wind, the terrible vision and the feeling of desperation flittered away into nothingness until it was replaced by a cold dread that gripped with formless, merciless hands about Gandalf. The wizard felt his bones freeze to the marrow and his limbs would not obey his commands. A new terror visited Gandalf. He felt himself now lying on his back, imprisoned in a place where the very warmth of living things was anathema to the evil that dwelt there in the ancient spirit realm. He was in the barrow and, as he looked around his prison, he beheld with horror the arm of the Barrow-wight, creeping along the floor, white and hideously long. Then that dark vision passed as well and the memory of a terror more dreadful settled now on Gandalf. He was clinging desperately to a swiftly moving horse and the relentless wraiths were in close pursuit behind him. He felt the wrath emanating from their burning, lidless eyes. He heard their terrifying voices from within his mind commanding him to stop and surrender both his life and the Ring. Gandalf felt both the pain from the knife-wound and the strain of resistance that had served only to intensify the terror Frodo had felt. Still, Gandalf felt, from somewhere deep within, the gathering of Frodo's courage and the hardening of his will to resist the relentless evil that pursued him. But then, he felt his senses dimming and his body falling -- falling into black pit of emptiness until all ghostly sounds and visions ceased. Gandalf now knew of the cruel assault on the hapless hobbits by the evil willow. He knew about the terror of the Barrow-wights. He had experienced through Frodo's eyes his fear, his desperation, the lure of the Ring and his courage at defying the terrifying, deadly NazgÛl. Moments passed before the wizard's body seemed to shudder and Sam knew by his eyes that Gandalf had come back to himself. Gandalf stepped back from the bed and his gaze fell upon Frodo. Pity and something else was in his eyes -- wonder soon eclipsed the look of sympathy. His strength is greater than ever I realized, Gandalf thought. Then a great weariness pressed itself upon him until his hands trembled and he was forced to seek the support of one of the nearby chairs. He folded himself into it and sat in reflective silence.

Sam's eyes were closed in sleep, his head cradled by one arm on the bed, while in his other hand he held Frodo's lifeless, cold hand.

Gandalf was not the only one overtaken by weariness. Sam could fight his exhaustion no longer. He willed himself to stay awake having foolishly vowed that, as long as his master remained lost in that sinking darkness, he would not sleep but would instead watch and will Frodo to live. His mind and body betrayed his will, however, and his need for rest would not be denied. Sam's weary head bowed, his eyes closed and the last thought he had before sleep took him was, Forgive your Sam, Master.

Chapter 2: The Watch Keepers

It was the morning of the new day before Sam awoke with a start. He looked around half bemused before realizing where he was and what he had done. He felt a pang of guilt for having apparently slept the night away, but in truth, he had slept less than six hours.

All that long night, Elrond had labored tirelessly to keep Frodo from permanently slipping into the shadow world. The NazgÛl's wounds always brought with them a bone-chilling cold to its victim and, during the night, Frodo had begun to shake uncontrollably. Elrond had ordered attendants to keep Frodo warm so they had wrapped him in blankets that had been warmed over great heated stones. Elrond was a master of healing, wise and ancient of days. Those with lesser skills would have despaired of a cure for Frodo, but Elrond did not. He had not yet exhausted his considerable skills and store of knowledge and so, with great patience, he had re-measured, remixed, and reapplied to Frodo's shoulder, arm and side, medicines of various strengths and purposes. During the night the lesser healers had bathed Frodo and exchanged his remaining soiled clothing for fresh, soft garments of Elven make. Though he remained senseless, Frodo had even taken a small measure of nourishing broth, fed to him by the skilled and compassionate hand of Elrond himself. And so it was that when the sun's morning rays arrived to bring light and warmth to Rivendell, Elrond had deemed it safe to leave Frodo for a brief time to attend to other business.

The sight of Gandalf alone sitting by Frodo's bedside caused the pang of guilt Sam had initially felt to be erased. His feeling of guilt was replaced by a panic that quickly seized him.

"Mr. Frodo!" he cried as he sprang to his feet and ran to stand beside the bed. "Is he...?" Sam could not bring himself to ask the unbearable.

"He lives still, Sam," Gandalf said gently. He did not add, But for how long? How long before he fades and becomes a slave to the Dark Lord? While Sam slept and Elrond labored in healing, Gandalf and Elrond had talked through the night. It was Elrond's opinion that Frodo was not yet beyond aid and that the Elvish medicine would indeed save his life. Gandalf was not so hopeful, however, for gradually the idea had come to him that there might be an elusive fragment of the evil blade still working its poison within Frodo. He did not give voice to his doubts, however. Two reasons there were for this: the passage of time was insufficient to detect any genuine signs of recovery; and Gandalf gave deference to Elrond in matters where he was clearly outmatched in skill and knowledge. Still, the small, nagging thought that Elrond's medicine had failed to detect the source of Frodo's true peril had crept into his mind, making him less sure of Frodo's recovery.

Sam breathed a sigh of relief as he pulled up his chair by Frodo's bedside, but his heart seemed no less heavy as he looked upon his beloved master. Though Frodo lay under several layers of thick blankets, Sam could plainly see that his body was shaking as if in some vice-like grip of a deadly cold hand. Sam tentatively reached for the hand of Frodo's injured arm that lay upon the coverlet and immediately almost dropped it. It was cold -- ice cold. Frodo's face, too, was marked by dark circles under his eyes. His skin was pale, a colorless death-like mask. Sam's face composed itself into a study of grim determination. He stroked Frodo's arm in an effort to comfort him and, as he did so, he began to talk to Frodo of cheerful things and pleasant memories of the Shire.

+ + + + +

Several hours passed before the Lord Elrond returned to examine his charge. Elrond fought his dismay at seeing Frodo and of the realization that there was, indeed, some fragment of the blade working an evil from within his weakened body. He tended him now with ever-increasing concern, for Frodo showed no signs of improvement, but rather seemed to be nearing the end of his ability to endure the power of the wound. Frodo's strength, like the waning daylight, was beginning to fail. Still, Elrond refused to relinquish hope that he would find the elusive splinter. He worked tirelessly, and neither he nor Sam noticed that Gandalf had arisen from his chair and left the room.

+ + + + +

As for Gandalf, he had been moved by both his love for Bilbo and concern for Frodo to go and seek out the old hobbit. Gandalf came to Bilbo's room and knocked firmly but softly on the door. Hearing no answer, he pushed the door open and entered the cozy chamber. He found Bilbo sleeping fitfully in his chair. He still wore the clothes that he had on when he chanced upon the surprise reunion with Gandalf during his walk in the garden.

Bilbo was slowly roused from his sleep by the sound of the squeaking door being pushed open. He had not yet gathered his wits when into the room came Gandalf. The wizard stopped in front of Bilbo and then he stooped down so that he was looking directly into his face.

"What? Gandalf?" cried Bilbo, confused at this sudden appearance of the wizard.

"Hold fast Bilbo, I've come to bring you news," said Gandalf softly. Though his voice was calm, Gandalf's face betrayed his anxious state. He hurriedly continued before Bilbo could interrupt. "Frodo is here. He crossed the borders of Rivendell yesterday, pursued by black riders from Mordor," he said. "The danger was great -- too great, but he and the other hobbits showed extraordinary courage in arriving here." Gandalf sighed and looked away.

"Then he is here!" Bilbo exclaimed. "But why are you hiding him?" he demanded.

"I am not hiding him, Bilbo," said Gandalf steadily. "Frodo was grievously wounded by a NazgÛl's blade, and he lies gravely ill in this house. I've come now to take you to him."

Dismayed beyond words, Bilbo at once rose to his feet. For a moment, he tottered, and Gandalf caught him by the arm. Leading Bilbo by the hand, the wizard and the hobbit quickly trod the path to Frodo's room.

Despite the ill news of Frodo's health, Bilbo was eager to see his beloved nephew whom he had not seen in over seventeen years. Bilbo had fashioned in his mind an absurd hope that perhaps Gandalf had exaggerated the state of things, but such vain hope died in Bilbo's heart when he entered the room and at long last stood by the bedside looking down upon his heir. Bilbo reeled. The shock of seeing Frodo so pained and changed through his ordeal was a heavy blow to the old hobbit's heart. His speech failed him and he stood, body shaking, gazing anxiously upon his nephew. Frodo's face, though un-aged from when Bilbo saw him last, now bore dreadful marks of fear and illness. Bilbo felt his heart sink to his toes at the sight of Frodo, but that was soon replaced by an anger welling up in his hobbit heart. He turned to Elrond and said bitterly, "If he is going to die, then you had best tell me now and be done with it!" Elrond did not answer.

"There are worse things then death, dear Bilbo," said Gandalf sternly. "If Frodo passes into the shadow world and becomes a wraith, then he will be forever tormented by the Dark Lord for his foul pleasure. Bilbo's face drained of its color at hearing that pronouncement. "Still, Lord Elrond believes that Frodo can be cured, and while he hopes, then we too must keep up our courage for Frodo's sake," he added more gently upon seeing Bilbo's distress.

"You are right, of course," Bilbo said. "Forgive me Lord Elrond. But where are you going?" he asked when he saw Gandalf making his way towards the door.

"To bring news to others who should hear it," Gandalf replied.

It was not until Gandalf had departed that Bilbo recognized the identity of the hobbit sitting next to Frodo's bed. It was Sam, who still maintained his lonely vigil beside his master. The time seemed to Sam to pass with unbearable slowness. It was as if the very hours had wills of their own and were passing only with great reluctance. Sam's eyes were closed in sleep, his head cradled by one arm on the bed, while in his other hand he held Frodo's lifeless, cold hand. Sam could not have explained why, but suddenly, he startled out of his sleep and looked around until his eyes beheld Bilbo, who was sitting in a chair on the opposite side of Frodo's bed. Sam's mouth gaped in disbelief.

Finally, he exclaimed, "Bless me, it's Mr. Bilbo!" For the first time since he had arrived in Rivendell, Sam felt some measure of the weight of the sorrowful burden on his heart lift a little, and he now rejoiced to see the hobbit who had long ago shown so much kindness to him when he was but an unlearned lad back in the Shire.

"Hullo Sam," Bilbo greeted him as kindly as he ever had. "It's good to see you again, though I don't care much for these circumstances."

"Nor I, Mr. Bilbo, nor I," Sam replied. Sam and Bilbo did not speak the rest of that night; and the Elves, who at Elrond's command brought more warm blankets, fresh water and medicine, marveled at the sight of the two hobbits: one ancient for his kind, one young, but both steadfast like unmoving stones.

+ + + + +

The long night passed into the dawn of a new day. The folk of Rivendell brought the Last Homely House east of the Sea alive with the light of their comings and goings, and every now and again the sounds of songs and storytelling could be heard. The light had come, but not for Sam. He was awake, but Bilbo was asleep in his chair, snoring gently, his head to his breast. Sam looked at Frodo and his heart fell once again, but this time, even deeper into bleak despair. Though Frodo's eyes had opened, he stared without sight upon the ceiling. His body seemed to have changed and taken on an appearance as though a transparent light shone intermittently from within.

He's dying, Sam's inner voice said to him. Surely it won't be long now.

+ + + + +

Even as Sam was struggling with those dark thoughts, Merry and Pippin were out exploring the many rooms and passages of the house. Already, they could barely recall the details of the harrowing night of their arrival. So weary and numbed by the terror of their journey were they, that that night, after they had been given food by the Elves and Sam's promise of news of Frodo, they had collapsed with exhaustion upon their beds. It was noon of the next day before they arose and discovered for themselves the healing power of being in Rivendell. Although they were terribly worried about their cousin, they had awakened to find their spirits refreshed and their senses sharpened. Merry and Pippin were pleased to find that, during the morning hours while they slept, the Elves had brought them clean clothes, basins and jars of water with which to bathe. They were even more pleased and relieved to see that platters of food and drink had also been left.

After the hobbits had washed, dressed, eaten and drunk their fill, they set about getting news of Frodo. They did not know where they were going, or which direction it seemed best to go in first, but as they walked, they marveled at the aesthetic beauty of Rivendell. The sound of the rushing waterfall, the feel of the air, and the many fair Elves of various kinds that walked to and fro made Merry and Pippin feel alive with joy.

The two hobbits were rounding a corner down one peculiar winding passageway when Gandalf heard them. The next moment, the wizard appeared in front of the startled hobbits. Pippin had just been amusing Merry with a nonsense rhyme that seemed particularly fitting for hobbits strolling about a great Elf-lord's house. They both were smiling but when they saw Gandalf their faces grew grave with concern for Frodo.

"Gandalf!" Pippin stammered in his high voice.

"Have you news about Frodo?" Merry asked. He half feared to ask the question, for Gandalf's face was drawn and clearly worn from the strain of some ill news.

"I see that you have been refreshed by the hospitality of the Elves," Gandalf said. Merry and Pippin, perceiving some rebuke that Gandalf did not intend, lowered their gazes and blushed with shame. "It is well, and it would gladden Frodo's heart too if he could but know it," said Gandalf gently, placing a hand on Pippin's shoulder. "Come, let us walk together."

Pippin and Merry walked behind Gandalf for some time until at last they came to the pleasant, shaded porch of Elrond's house. The porch was bathed in warm sunlight, and the smell of fragrant flowers was about it. There, the hobbits sat with Gandalf, listening intently as they heard him tell of Frodo's desperate struggle and of Lord Elrond's valiant efforts to save him. Though Gandalf believed there was very little hope left for Frodo, he spared the hobbits this news and said naught of it. Even so, the hearts of Merry and Pippin were crushed. When Gandalf finished speaking, the hobbits begged the wizard to take them to Frodo, but Gandalf bid them remain away while Elrond still labored in healing. Bidding them farewell, Gandalf quickly strode away and was gone as suddenly as he had appeared. For some time, Merry and Pippin did not move, but stared after him in silence, and the many eyes that saw them that day were moved by pity as they looked upon them -- two forlorn, frightened hobbits, sitting with their hearts weighed down with grief.

Chapter 3: Of Torment and Grace

While Sam and Bilbo kept watch over Frodo, and Elrond's search for the splinter grew more desperate, the morning gradually made room for the afternoon, and the afternoon grudgingly gave way to the evening. All this time Frodo had lain ensnared in a horrific nightmare, in which he found his strength to resist the torment of being changed into a wraith ebbing and nearly passing into nothingness. He fought to retain his "Hobbitness", but his tenuous hold on his identity was slipping at a terrifying rate. Fear oppressed him. Dead things, and worse, taunted him with evil promises of endless suffering for having dared to keep the Dark Lord's ring. With fell voices, the wraiths alternately spoke messages of imminent defeat and seductive invitations to share in their brotherhood of torment. Claw-like hands without substance clutched at him, and always there was the pain that nearly consumed him; it was an agony that was now darker and colder than any tomb of an ancient king. Driven nearly to madness, Frodo sought to find refuge in a small corner of his mind, as yet untouched by the deadly poison. In the very moment, just before he felt himself slipping over the edge to that dreadful place where there could be no return, he found it -- a measure of grace multiplied three-fold came to him in the form of a dream that, like his torment in fading, Frodo would have no memory of, even to the end of his days.

"Uncle Bilbo?" The young hobbit lad walking beside his uncle looked up at him with inquisitive, bright eyes and an irrepressible grin.

"What, my boy?" came the response, though Bilbo knew full well what question was coming next. It was a little game, a private joke that young Frodo and his legendary uncle always played before Bilbo departed for his return trip back to Hobbiton.

"When the dwarves come calling and high adventure bids you go, will you take me with you along the road that grows?" asked the lad.

"Courage you must have, or courage you must borrow, stay here and grow and leave adventure for tomorrow," came the familiar, affectionate reply. The two walked hand in hand down the lane leading out of Buckland to Hobbiton. The road was lined with gently swaying trees of willow and pine. The sun shone brightly amidst the brilliant blue sky...

But the colors in the scene seemed to Frodo to shift and blur, distorting the image ever so slightly. At first, the pleasant feelings of joy and kinship at being with Bilbo were present and just as Frodo remembered them, but gradually an ominous feeling of doom fell upon Frodo and he realized it was not a memory that he was reliving, but rather something new he was experiencing. He was at first like a curious spectator, merely watching the scene from that hidden harbor of his mind, but suddenly he was aware that he himself was speaking and walking with Bilbo. It was Bilbo, and yet, not him as Frodo remembered. This Bilbo seemed to change in stature, and strength and wisdom flowed from him.

For some time, Merry and Pippin did not move, but stared after him in silence, and the many eyes that saw them that day were moved by pity as they looked upon them- two forlorn, frightened hobbits, sitting with their hearts weighed down with grief.

"Dear Bilbo, I am already following you, but treasure I have not found. I journeyed on the never-ending road and I have found only fear and death. I am surrounded by my enemies and I am lost... lost dear Bilbo," Frodo said sadly.

But Bilbo laughed with a sound like music and said, "Your foes are weak and they will not claim you. You will vanquish them, and they will lie crushed beneath your feet."

"How can this be, Bilbo? I have been pierced by the poisoned blade of the NazgÛl, and while the shadows grow blacker, my life fades."

"Despair not, Frodo, for yours is the resistant spirit that no foul blade, nor blow, no sting of the dark powers can long endure. The journey is long and the quest unfinished, and you must be healed and recalled to life again," Bilbo said.

At hearing those words, Frodo's heart lifted and the terrible shackles of fear and despair that had long bound and tormented him seemed to lighten immeasurably.

"I have found strength for the journey and I am ready to go on," said Frodo with new resolve and, as he was speaking, the figure of Bilbo began to walk away and steadily diminish.

Though he would remember nothing of what transpired, the last comforting words Frodo heard were, "Come, then -- courage you have and adventures to follow; you cannot wait, not for tomorrow."

Chapter 4: A Race Against Time

The fullness of the night arrived at long last to oust the remaining visages of daylight from the skies over the beautiful valley of Rivendell. The full moon sitting high was generous with her light and all the leaves of the trees, both great and small, shimmered with a silvery hue. The Last Homely House east of the Sea was once again alight with the glow of torches and candles. The gentle sound of the great waterfall flowing put forth its soothing tune and, every once and again, the sounds from harp or voice raised in song could be heard. As the slow hours passed and one blended into the other, Sam had waxed restless and he chafed at his inability to help his master recover. Gandalf, seeing the toll that the endless hours of waiting had exacted from Sam, had sought to ease him by dispatching him on errands of various kinds and urgency. On one such errand, Sam had been tasked to accompany two Elves to Bilbo's room for the purpose of fetching Bilbo's more comfortable couch. Though the sorrowful days had been hard enough on Sam, they had been even harder on poor old Bilbo. He had pushed himself to go without proper rest and food, and Gandalf feared that the old hobbit would take ill as well. He now lay upon the couch, sound asleep, but still close to Frodo.

Gandalf was sitting by the open window in Frodo's room. By the light of the moon his long hair and flowing beard shone like a kingly crown about his head. The wizard's aged but keen eyes were closed, but not in sleep. He was taking counsel with himself and his thoughts were far removed from the confines of the little room in the Lord of Rivendell's house. His great mind recalled many things from past ages: some terrible, and some fair. It could be said that the wisdom of Gandalf the Grey had given counsel to many fools and kings alike, but at this moment, he had none for himself, and he was not consoled. All his wisdom had told him concerning Frodo's fate was that time was running out for the Ringbearer. In truth, Gandalf no longer sorrowed with thoughts that the hobbit of whom he was so fond would die. Rather, his chief source of anguish came from the knowledge that the unfound shard from the Morgul blade would inevitably pierce Frodo's heart, thus permitting the Dark Lord to claim Frodo as his tormented slave forever. In any event, either fate had worsted those who fought for freedom, or fortune had abandoned them.

Still, Gandalf did not forsee the doom of Middle Earth. The enemy did not possess the Ring of Power, for when Frodo was first brought to Rivendell, his hand had remained firmly clenched about The Ring in desperate defiance of the Ringwraiths. It was only the softly spoken words of Elrond whispered in Frodo's ear that caused his hand to relax its hold upon the Ring. Gandalf, having long ago deemed his own wizard's strength insufficient to withstand the Ring's malevolency, refused to take the Ring from Frodo and into his safekeeping. Lord Elrond, as all Elven-wise did, also despised to touch the Ring, and so he had bidden Aragorn, Ranger of the North and of Númenorean blood to take it and deliver it to the Elven smithies. By Elrond's command, the smithies had forged a chain from which to hang the Ring and, even before the tentacles of dawn began to creep across the sky of that first morning in Rivendell, Aragorn had returned with both chain and Ring. He had gently hung the slim, but sturdy chain about Frodo's neck and, after briefly conversing with Gandalf and Elrond, the taciturn ranger had passed swift and unnoticed from Rivendell to attend once again to other urgent matters.

It was the sound of softly spoken words that penetrated Gandalf's thoughts and brought his attention back to the little room in the far corner of Elrond's house. Though barely audible to mortal ears, the voice was familiar and well-known to Gandalf; it was Frodo's. Sometime during the night Frodo's body had ceased to shake from the dreadful cold that had laid hold of it. He now lay terribly still as one who had, after a long struggle, spent all his strength and waited to accept his fate. His eyes were unnaturally wide and staring vacantly. The soft, translucent light about him was stronger than ever. At that moment, Frodo was further from life and closer to death than he had ever been. For a moment, Gandalf stood looking across the room at the figure upon the bed. He sighed heavily and then he moved his chair closer to the bedside. Gandalf took the hobbit gently by the hand though he knew in his heart that he was beyond the reach of any comfort he could give him. Yet he did not cease from trying as he laid his other hand upon Frodo's brow.

Frodo was speaking in his sleep, deep in a heavy delirium. Gandalf's heart was wholly wrung with pity at his friend's suffering, and he bent all his will to catch the frantically whispered words from the dying hobbit. Frodo was speaking of his dangerous journey from the time of his departure up to the encounter with the deadly Barrow-wights, but his speech came from an agonized place of mixed memories with real and present torment. It made his accounts confused and blended with snatches of things that, even from the depths of his wisdom, Gandalf could not fathom.

The long night finally renounced its reign, and the dawn tentatively encroached upon the sky. But it seemed to many of the fair folk of Elrond's house that the splendor and beauty of Rivendell seemed strangely dulled, as if failing. The sun hid from view and the trees appeared to cast misshapen shadows of chill on the ground. Even the dew seemed reluctant to shimmer like gossamer upon the leaves as it usually did at this time. Some wondered if the shadow of the black land had crept into the valley undetected, like some cunning beast of stealth and malice. There were whispers about the stricken hobbit who had arrived at Rivendell through such extreme perils. It was seventeen days ago that Frodo had been wounded on the dell under Weathertop. Three nights and two days had passed since the Elves had picked him up and carried him to safety within the confines of Rivendell. Though utterly lost in the terrifying grip of his illness, Frodo was not alone. Though he did not know it, all those days and nights he had lain in the room in the Last Homely House, striving against the power that sought to break and enslave him, Gandalf, Sam and Bilbo had remained by his side, comforting and encouraging him with soft voices and tender hands. The steadfast friends by his side had borne one another's burdens as well to keep their hearts from despairing utterly, and the thoughts of Merry and Pippin were ever turned towards him.

The Lord Elrond now stood by the bed looking thoughtfully down upon his charge. His ageless eyes looked far and deep, and none but Gandalf knew that beneath the calm expression lay Elrond's sorrowful memories of many beloved Elven-warriors whose lights had long ago been extinguished from mortal wounds received in battle. Elrond thought of his two mighty sons, Elladan and Elrohir, who were abroad and all that he had taught them from his wisdom in the lore and art of healing. Elrond was silently grim as he tended Frodo without rest -- and now, almost without hope. For all his skills in healing, his efforts to find the deadly splinter of the NazgÛl's blade thus far had proved fruitless and he was sorely grieved. He was troubled, for it seemed to him that there were only two fates now racing against each other to see which would be the first to claim Frodo: either death in its finality, or eternal torment as a wraith under the dominion of the Dark Lord. Elrond's eyes now betrayed his thoughts and, sighing heavily, he lifted his head. His eyes met Gandalf's, and the gaze that held the wizard's eyes was at once grave and venerable.

He will soon be but a memory -- is that not so, Elrond? Gandalf asked without speaking.

"It may be so, and yet..." Elrond said aloud. "Behold," he said and, as he spoke, he pointed to place on the upper part of Frodo's left breast. "There is a mark upon his flesh that was never there before," he said with certainty. Gandalf started, and his hand gripped his staff tightly; for on Frodo's flesh there appeared to be a small mark of reddish hue, thin and faintly glowing. "There may be something to this mark. Verily have I labored long to find the remedy that will command the splinter to show itself, and only time will reveal if my skills have proved sufficient to worst the enemy's foul weapon," said Elrond.

"It is not skills you lack but time, Master Healer," said Gandalf, and not for the last time did he bitterly reproach himself for having been delayed by the trickery of the wizard Saruman.

After a time, Elrond departed to retrieve once more the hilt carven with evil runes. By now Sam had returned from accomplishing his latest errands. Bilbo, too, had awakened, and he now sat upright in a chair by the bed. Sam resumed his place beside Frodo and, taking his cold hand in his, he looked with anxious eyes at Gandalf.

"There is still hope, Samwise Gamgee...however faint, there remains some measure of hope for him," said Gandalf quietly.

"What is this hope you speak of, Gandalf?" demanded Bilbo, not trusting that he had heard Gandalf correctly.

"The weapons of our enemies are treacherous indeed for they are empowered from within to bring an evil, aside from that which their wielders can inflict," said Gandalf. "Yet the Lord Elrond is a mighty foe to be feared. He may yet have found a way for the splinter to betray itself in time for him to remove it." Gandalf stood up, and then with a gentle motion he pulled back the covers exposing Frodo's shoulder, arm and side. "Look," he said pointing.

The hobbits gasped and even the eyes of Gandalf flashed brightly at what they beheld. The mark that had but hours before appeared small and of no discernable pattern or direction, had lengthened and deepened in hue and intensity of glow. It was now a spidery-thin streak that was clearly moving in a direction down Frodo's shoulder, across his breast and towards his heart.

Sam's heart leapt within as if a fire had been rekindled deep inside. "But what do you make of that Mr. Gandalf sir?" he asked excitedly.

"Even Lord Elrond cannot be certain," said Gandalf half musing to himself under hooded eyes. "It may be... yes, it may be that Elrond's skills have caused the splinter to betray itself." He did not add: But whether or not the Ringbearer's strength is sufficient to endure its removal is a matter that even Elrond cannot foretell.

"Then Elrond must remove it at once, Gandalf!" said Bilbo impatiently. Bilbo's keen mind had guessed at what Gandalf had not voiced aloud.

Chapter 5: The Skills of the Master Healer

The hours crept by, each one slower than the last, until finally it was nightfall once again. Elrond had not returned, and the hobbits grew anxious wondering at his absence. For his part, Lord Elrond had taken counsel with himself one final time. He sat in his chambers mediating and willing his mind to recall all that he had ever heard or read concerning the weapons of the NazgÛl.

It was many hours later when Elrond returned to the chamber. With him he bore under one arm a clear bowl filled with a strange, fragrant liquid. In the other hand, he bore the hilt of the NazgÛl's blade. He was clothed in ancient robes of crimson and sable, and his head was adorned with a circlet of silver and gems. To Sam's staring eyes, Elrond Halfelven appeared as a warrior-healer, kingly and fierce in battle. Though he said nothing, Sam's stout heart quailed at the sight of the Elf lord, and he clutched at Bilbo's arm. Bilbo likewise was struck dumb. Elrond walked to the bed, and he was followed by three attendants bearing small steaming bowls of water made hot. The hilt and the bowls were set upon the table near the head of the bed. When all was laid ready, Elrond bade the hobbits remove themselves to the far corner of the room. This they did with great reluctance, for their new position did not afford them a clear view, and they greatly desired to see what Elvish medicine Lord Elrond would employ to cure Frodo.

Elrond and Gandalf were conferring quietly together, and the hobbits strained vainly to catch their words. It proved better for them that they did not know what they were saying, for had they known, their hearts would have been filled with dismay. Long had Elrond remained bent over Frodo, his eyes studying intently the slowly lengthening thin line and yet, he was no more certain of the splinter's location at the present then he had been when he first observed the mark. The mark on Frodo's flesh went straight for a time, and then began a winding course. At times it went in one direction and then bent back upon itself and in another direction.

"Alas," Elrond sighed, "it is an evil choice, whether to trust the mark as signifying the splinter's present location, or merely as a sign of where it once was and is no longer. Would that my course be made clear ere I begin."

"And yet there is no time for surety," Gandalf said. "By your skills and by his will has Frodo remained alive thus far -- to say nothing of fate or fortune. It must be enough now as well," he counseled.

"You speak wisely, Gandalf," replied Elrond. "Very well; I will choose now my course, and may I walk in the steps appointed for me." At that, with his left hand he pushed up the right sleeve of his garment. His solemn gray eyes closed as he placed his right hand up to the forearm into the bowl with the fragrant liquid. Immediately, the water began to shimmer and swirl about his arm, though he himself remained still. He began to chant softly and then his voice rose and fell as he spoke the words of an ancient tongue. To the others in the room, the air seemed to grow strangely chill. Sam and Bilbo watched as the candles flickered but did not go out. Elrond stretched forth his hand and, with his eyes still closed and in a slow fluid motion, he began to trace the spidery thin line on Frodo's flesh with his fingers. Elrond's hand stopped abruptly when it reached the end of the red, glowing mark. Sam would remember later that Elrond appeared to be pondering a mystery deep and unfathomable.

Sam and Bilbo found themselves moving forward. They now stared in a mixture of rapt attention and terror at what their unbelieving eyes beheld next, for it seemed to them that Elrond's hand paused and then he pressed against Frodo's cold flesh with his fingers. Slowly, the skin yielded and Elrond's fingers, followed by his whole hand, went into the open, bloodless wound. Sam and Bilbo gasped while Gandalf watched in hopeful silence.

It was a warm summer day, and Frodo was looking forward to his Uncle Bilbo's weekly visit to Buckland. Bilbo was punctual and always made the trip via the same road. The lad departed Buckland early, for he was eager to surprise Bilbo by meeting him far down the shaded road. He looked forward to riding back the rest of the way to Buckland in Bilbo's cart. Bilbo was uncustomarily late, however, and Frodo continued walking for some time until he came to a part in the road where a long wall made of stone ran along. That wall looked just as if it had been made for a hobbit lad to walk along on top. It began low and gradually became higher until it grew many lengths over Frodo's head before finally dropping back low to the ground again. For a time, Frodo walked along it, swinging his arms and singing a tune. All was well until disaster struck: Frodo stepped, and then the stone beneath his foot gave way, plunging him down to the far side of the fence. He struck his chin on the wall on the way down and blackness enveloped him.

When the lad came to himself, he found that he was in a most painful predicament. He had landed in the midst of a bramble of thick, strong, pointed thistles. His flesh was pierced from all sides. His struggle to free himself was brief, having quickly discovered that movement only caused more flesh to rip even more painfully. He was entangled in the thick vines and trapped. Though in pain, Frodo did not panic. He clung firmly to the belief that Bilbo would be coming along that road at any moment. But Bilbo did not come. Hours passed, and Frodo was in agony. The sun was at its fullest and beat down mercilessly. Frodo felt dizzy as he grew thirsty and weak from loss of blood. He bitterly regretted his folly as panic began to set in. He began to call for Bilbo until his voice grew too hoarse to be heard. It seemed that endless hours passed before Frodo became aware of a sound like the clip-clop of horse's hooves along the road. Fear seized the lad as he realized that he could no longer raise his voice loud enough to gain the attention of anyone who could aid him. He struggled again until he could no longer endure the pain of the thorns that ripped his flesh and his mind fell away into darkness.

"Frodo! Wake up my lad! Frodo!" Frodo painfully opened his eyes and saw the face of his Uncle Bilbo looking down at him with pity and deep concern. Bilbo did not ask what happened, but set at once to freeing Frodo. He alternately cut the vines with a small knife and pulled and tugged with his bare hands. Bilbo's hands began to bleed but he did not stop until he had freed his nephew. It was pure chance that Bilbo had found Frodo. He was come late to Buckland as a result of a rather tiresome encounter with the Sackville-Bagginses. He was driving his cart and passed by the spot where Frodo had fallen on the opposite side of the wall. At that very moment Bilbo looked up at the wall and saw both the broken stone and a piece of patterned cloth stuck on the jagged rocks. He recognized the cloth as belonging to a shirt that once was his and now belonged to Frodo. Even so, it was not enough to explain the strange, urgent feeling that had come over Bilbo. He stopped his cart and walked back to the place where the wall was low enough to jump over it. It was then that he saw Frodo lying tangled amongst the brambles. Bilbo cut Frodo free and, as he lifted young Frodo up, the lad both laughed with joy at seeing Bilbo and cried tears from the stinging pain of his wounds.

Frodo watched the story unfold but, as before, the scene shifted oddly and the color lines blurred until Frodo saw, to his terror, that he was no longer looking down at a tangle of thorny brambles, but a black pit of horror, cruelty and suffering.

He found himself teetering on the edge of that endless abyss, now inhabited by the foul stench of decay, evil, and the piercing howls of tortured creatures. The pain that ravaged his body paled in comparison to the mental agony that filled his mind with fright and confusion. He was surrounded on all sides by wraiths whose holds and voices had grown more daunting. To his horror, he found that he had very little will left to resist their clutches. Their hideous voices bombarded him with promises of relief from his suffering but, not for the last time did Frodo, son of Drogo, show extraordinary courage in the face of grave peril. He now knew with a certainty that the NazgÛl would accomplish Sauron's will, and that he would become the wretched slave of the accursed Dark Lord. Yet he vowed to resist until he had no more strength remaining...

The face of Elrond grew pale as the color drained from him, and it seemed to all who stood by that a great struggle against a foe of the unseen world was taking place.

But who will be the conqueror and who the vanquished? Gandalf wondered.

He had not long to receive his answer, for in a stern and commanding voice the Elf-lord cried, "Losto im a carbeth, faeg en thuar hathel. Le gar an tet ile tur um. Im le si a gon le telian amin!"

"Hear and obey my voice, foul shard of the accursed blade. You have failed to accomplish your master's bidding. I call you now and command that you come to me!"

For all the shard's strong will and power to do the Dark Master's bidding, it was not enough to overcome the skills of Lord Elrond, the Master Healer. Against its will, the splinter moved from its place deep within Frodo's side and came within Elrond's reach. Elrond grasped the splinter full of evil and malice and, as he did, a shadow of repulsion passed over his face as if in sudden pain from a mortal wound that he himself had sustained.

Without warning, there came a blinding light followed by an intense feel of heat that drove the sense of frozen cold entirely from Frodo's being. He felt his mind and body being violently pulled from the midst of the wraiths in their hellish abode and he was being hurled backwards by a force too strong and powerful to comprehend. The tomb of the dark shadows issued forth one last despairing shriek, and then it crumbled away. The clutching hands and fierce voices of the wraiths and undead things were now rendered powerless to hold him and, as Frodo fell, weightless and free, he felt the shackles of terror, pain and despair that had long lain on him fall away completely. Frodo was free -- free from the hideous torment of becoming a wraith. He remained bathed in that light of magnificent brilliance and, as he did so, he felt himself becoming wholly hobbit again. He was Frodo Baggins of the Shire: loving friend and gentle master. The blessed relief of peace and freedom from his suffering came upon him, enveloping his soul in merciful, warm comfort until he knew no more.

Frodo did not know it, but he had passed from death unto life and, by the grace that was granted to him, he never again remembered the chilling sounds of the wraiths and undead creatures shrieking and howling in shocked rage, anguish and utter defeat.

Elrond withdrew his hand from the wound, and behold!- the wound immediately closed behind it. In his right hand he held the fragment of the NazgÛl's blade. He held it up and in a mighty, triumphant voice he cried, "Your enemy has been vanquished, Ringbearer, and has no more dominion over you. Enter ye now for a time into the Blessed Sleep." As he placed the loathsome splinter in the bowl of liquid, the fragment melted before their watchful eyes, and returned to the void from whence it came. At that instant, the room was filled with a fragrance that was at once sweet and fresh as the mist from the waterfall that graced to fall at Rivendell.

Sam took Bilbo by the arm and, trembling -- half with fear and half with hope reborn -- they approached the bed. Gandalf came and stood with his arms about the hobbits. Great relief was written clearly on his face. The Elves that were present, the hobbits, and the wizard alike stood by Frodo's bed without speaking, and they looked upon his face and stared in wonder and amazement; for in front of their eyes, Frodo was being transformed. His color was returning, and his body looked relaxed in sweet repose. The marks of pain and suffering were gradually but steadily diminishing from his face, and he looked as a child who has been gently rocked to sleep in its mother's arms.

"He is healing, and he will have great need of sleep and rest ere he awakens," said Elrond quietly and gently. Power and dignity were in his face. "I too have great need of sleep. It has been nigh on an age since I have felt so weary."

"Take your rest, Lord Elrond, for you have well-earned it. I will remain with Frodo," said Gandalf. Elrond turned to take his leave, but Sam ran to him and, taking his hand, he kissed it. Sam had no words to express what was in his heart, and he did not try. The Lord of Rivendell, though greatly weary, looked down upon the hobbit and read plainly the heart of Sam. Bilbo stood beside Sam, and the old, frail hobbit fought to keep back the tears of gratitude that threatened to break free. Elrond smiled upon the hobbits and, though it was the dark of night, it was as if the sun itself was streaming its rays into the room until the Lord Elrond departed.

Chapter 6: Hearts Unburdened

For the rest of that night and almost into the dawn, Gandalf, Bilbo and Sam sat by Frodo, deep in conversation. They recalled all that they had seen and heard, and the hobbits glanced frequently at the sleeping figure of Frodo, as if to assure themselves that he was indeed in restful, healing sleep. Frodo's head with its brown curls lay upon the pillow, and his face was serene and free from fear. Sam touched Frodo's hand and arm, and he was greatly relieved to find that the chilling cold that had long lain upon his friend had left, leaving him warm with life.

At last, Bilbo gave a great yawn and rose to his feet. "I'm weary now, and I think I'll take to my bed. I trust he's in good enough hands with the two of you," Bilbo said with feigned mocking. Sam and Gandalf bade the old hobbit goodnight.

"I suppose you will want to leave me too, Master Samwise?" Gandalf said, looking sideways at Sam from beneath his bushy eyebrows. Gandalf was keenly aware of Sam's exhaustion and he sought to subtly prompt him into accepting the idea of rest as being his own.

Sam shook his head stubbornly. "I can't, Mr. Gandalf, sir. I just can't bring myself to leave him just yet," he said.

"Very well, Sam, but I'm going now to give news to Merry and Pippin as I should." Gandalf left the room and now Sam alone stood looking down upon his master. He gently touched his master's brow. "You're safe now Mr. Frodo. You're safe," said Sam quietly.

By now the sky had become a stunning canvas of deep and vibrant hues, and though the stars were fast fading from the night sky, one or two still lingered and shone bright. Sam stood by the open window, feeling the cool air caress his face and gazing upon the vastness of the heavens. He thought that never before had he beheld a more beautiful sky than the one he looked upon now. He felt small and insignificant, a lone hobbit with a grateful hobbit heart. As he looked out into the sky, an odd thought came to him clear and strong. It seemed to him that the single star that now remained was somehow shining only as a token of approval of him. And then he heard a voice inside his head that caused his tears of sweet relief to freely flow, a voice that said: Well done, faithful servant, well done.

+ + + + +

Gandalf strode the distance to Merry and Pippin's room. He did not knock but entered quietly and stood between their beds. For a moment he stood looking at them, studying their faces until he deemed that the terror of their desperate journey had brought them no lasting harm. The hobbits lay sleeping peacefully, and their gentle snores were the only sounds that could be heard.

"Merry, Pippin, arise now; I bring you news of Frodo!" Gandalf said with a commanding voice. At once, Merry and Pippin jumped up, and their eyes grew wide at the sight of the wizard standing over them. "Be at ease," said Gandalf quickly. "Elrond has cured Frodo, and in the days to come there will be feasting and merry-making worthy of songs and tales for generations to come!"

Merry's and Pippin's exuberant spirits, which had long been subdued during Frodo's illness, were at last unfettered. They yelled for joy and leapt into Gandalf's arms, and the laughter that erupted from Gandalf and the mirth in his flashing eyes was like the sound and beauty of many fountains bubbling unrestrained.

+ + + + +

When Bilbo left Frodo he had walked back to his room by the long way. He remembered many things of his high adventure with Gandalf and the Dwarves and, for a time, he walked much as he had in his younger days before the finding of the Ring. The Ring -- the Ring that he had given Frodo, and which had almost cost his nephew his life. He felt overwhelmed by the weight of his remorse. At last he came to his room. He stepped inside and leaned back on the closed door, and then the tears that he had stubbornly resisted now fell in torrents down his cheeks. He wept with a mix of bitterness and relief, and when he could weep no more he lay down upon his bed and closed his eyes in utter exhaustion.

The sleep that came upon Bilbo took him and carried him gently away to a dream of a memory that brought release and joy back to his soul.

"Well Frodo, are you ready to come with me to live in Hobbiton?" asked Bilbo.

"Yes I am, Uncle Bilbo," replied Frodo. They had packed Frodo's meager belongings into Bilbo's cart, and Frodo was now leaving his sad and lonely life in Buckland behind forever. Bilbo was just about to drive off when Frodo, with eyes twinkling, asked the old question from his days as a young lad: "When the dwarves come calling and high adventure bids you go, will you take me with you along the road that grows?"

Bilbo laughed with delight , for never again would he live alone in his hole in the Shire, but would share in the joy of life with Frodo, the one hobbit who effortlessly kept the light in Bilbo's eyes. And Bilbo, instead of giving the usual answer, replied as the two drove off together: "Courage you have, and strength have you borrowed, adventure with me and leave all that you've sorrowed."

That night, if anyone in passing had chanced upon the sight of Bilbo, they would have been struck by the vision of the old hobbit; for the hobbit heart that had been so grieved of late was now comforted completely, and the smile that graced his countenance was of peace and beauty beyond the sweetest words that could describe it.

The End

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