A G-rated story written for MagicalRachel as part of the Frodo's NY Mathoms (gen division) project. She requested a story including Frodo, Merry, Pippin, Sam, Aragorn, stating that hurt/comfort with a bit of humor would be good. (If you really want the humor, go to her site at ff.net -- she's actually funny, while I'm just lame and angsty.)
And thanks to Baranduin, Trianne and Gentle Hobbit for organizing the Mathoms project.
by Laura Mason
Merry stood, lifting his mug. "A toast! To the fair ladies of Gondor--"
"And their low-cut dresses!"
"Pippin!" Despite Merry's automatic remonstrance, he smiled and the two hobbits laughed before touching mugs and drinking deeply. Frodo and Sam, across the table, smiled at the pair's antics. But when Sam glanced over, he saw there was sadness in Frodo's eyes despite the smile, and his left hand remained hidden under the table as was now habitual.
They'd joined Merry and Pippin this evening, but neither was drinking. Aragorn, who oversaw their recovery, insisted they eat hearty meals rather than fill their stomachs with strong drink. So they partook of the Golden Stag's rather watery stew instead of its reputedly fine ale.
Still, they enjoyed being out in company, particularly in this crowd that only knew them as comrades of the halfling soldiers, not as the Ringbearers who'd vanquished Sauron. The attention and praise which merely embarrassed Sam seemed to add to Frodo's melancholy. And so much of their time in Minas Tirith since the coronation was spent at formal banquets and celebrations in the Citadel with ambassadors, nobles, and the court. All four hobbits, despite their love of plenteous food, preferred less formal socializing in homeier surroundings.
While the taverns of the city weren't as comfortable as those in the Shire, they certainly had a large and faithful clientele. The hobbits frequently joined off-duty Citadel guards, old men and the craftspeople of the fourth level who filled the tables each night, all served their food and the dark ale common in Gondor by the lovely Mistress Belle. Her smiles and laughter made all four hobbits feel more at home in this strange city of stone.
Pippin was staring at her now with adoring eyes. "She's almost as cheerful as a hobbit lass, and just as pretty." He sighed. "Though no one's as curvy as our dear Rosie. We should bring her one of these sheer lace-up blouses..."
Sam turned from the dart players he'd been watching, his ears turning bright red. "Did you -- are you speaking of Rosie Cotton?"
"Yes," Pippin sighed, oblivious. "Do you think she'd wear it? Rosie would look fine in one of these getups, or even in the gowns the serving maids of Rohan wore. Both look a lot easier to remove than -- Ow! Merry, you great oaf!"
"Sorry, Pip, that man pushed me."
"He pushed your leg to kick me?"
"Come on, let's get another round." Merry winked at Frodo, who was speaking soothingly to Sam, then led Pippin toward the bar -- and safety. "You do know Sam's been sweet on Rose Cotton for years now, don't you?" he hissed.
"What? Oh!" Pippin's face lit up with understanding as the barmaid approached them with a flirtatious smile. "Mistress Belle! More beautiful than the stars over Gondor," he began, but she interrupted him.
"Master Peregrin. More ale?" She bent forward over the bar as she spoke to them, and Pippin could only nod, staring straight down her bodice. Even Merry gulped. "Coming right up, boys." She turned away and the spell was broken, though Merry still had to unbutton his collar.
"Can you imagine--"
A moment later she turned back to them, two filled mugs in one strong hand, and leaned over the counter again as they each reached up. "Now you be good," she said, reaching down her free hand to rub Merry's curls. "Don't go and do anything I wouldn't." Merry gulped and blushed as he set down their money and accepted his ale, but Pippin's cup was forgotten, his eyes fixed and rather dazed, his face unintentionally moving closer to the white mounds spilling out of her thin blouse.
"Here, you! What do you think you're doing?!" A very large man rose in the corner, one of the regulars. "That little rat is ogling my Belle." He sounded outraged, but the men around him laughed.
"Sit down!" one bellowed, and another continued, "Relax, Harry!"
"D'ya think this lousy hole would be crowded if not for Belle's bosom?" Uproarious laughter greeted that sally, but Harry's face grew redder.
Pippin collected himself and moved away, cradling his mug of ale, as soon as Belle straightened and the temptation moved out of eyeshot. Merry followed behind him, cautiously watching the upset man.
"Aw, Harry sweets, come give us a kiss," Belle called, but his eyes remained on Pippin. One of his drunken friends, noticing his stare, laughed again.
"What's the matter? Is the little one more of a man than you?" Everyone in the area roared at that, and Harry's attention was drawn back to the joker. Red-faced, he punched him in the shoulder as those around them bellowed with laughter.
Merry breathed a sigh of relief as they sat back at their table, but Harry's corner was still in an uproar as laughter turned to curses. Shoving soon became punching, and it began to look like a real brawl. Belle moved from behind the bar, calling to Harry to stop fighting, and a couple of the off-duty soldiers slowly rose, ready to restore peace if necessary. Such fighting was all-too common in Minas Tirith, but it still amazed the hobbits, who could remember only one such fight ever reported at the Dragon, long before they were born.
"Maybe we should be leaving," Sam began, and Merry looked regretfully at his ale but didn't disagree. Frodo stood up and fixed a stern look on his youngest cousin, who was trying his best to ignore them.
It only took a moment. "Oh, bother!" Pippin said, but he rose. The four hobbits were carefully moving toward the door when a flailing arm accidentally struck Belle in the face and she fell backward, landing on the floor directly in front of Frodo.
"Miss Belle!" he exclaimed, running forward to help her sit up. "Are you hurt?" Sam moved next to Frodo as Merry grabbed Pippin and pulled him to one side before he could join the brawl.
"Let the guards handle it, Pip," Merry hissed, and indeed the soldiers were moving in to the group, restraining those still fighting.
"Here," Frodo said, giving her his clean handkerchief to wipe her hands. "You'll probably have a bruise, unless we put cold compresses on your face right away. Sam, can you get some cool water for her?"
Harry, who'd stopped fighting and was breathing heavily in his corner, looked over at that instant. He saw his Belle sitting on the floor beside Frodo, who had his arm around her shoulder and a hand tenderly resting on her cheek. Harry cursed, then moved to them, pausing only long enough to pick up a thick branch from beside the fireplace.
Sam was hurrying back with a basin of water when Merry turned at Pippin's warning cry. Belle screamed as Harry swung the wood, striking the side of Frodo's head. The hobbit crumpled to the ground, bleeding, as his friends rushed to him. One of the soldiers finally grabbed Harry and restrained him before he could strike again.
"Aragorn cannot put a man to death for brawling, Gimli. Be reasonable," Legolas pleaded, wondering how he had come to be the voice of reason in the group of angry, upset friends.
It seemed that half the city had accompanied the men bearing Frodo to the Houses of Healing, gossiping and crying as his friends stumbled along beside them, numb with fear. Legolas saw them just as Faramir came running up to the group. The former Steward paled when he saw the unconscious hobbit in the soldier's arms, his face covered in blood.
Faramir bruskly gave out orders, settled the Fellowship in the courtyard to wait, and left to find the King, who had ridden out that morning with Gandalf and wasn't expected back for several days.
Hours later the healers reported no change in Frodo's condition, and Sam tried to see him but was turned away, frantic with worry. Pippin was in tears but quite ready to join Gimli in burning the entire fourth level of the city and throttling Harry, the man who'd assaulted the Ringbearer. Legolas found his own patience running out as he tried to keep everyone calm.
A clatter of hooves, and Gandalf and the King rode up at last. They dismounted hastily, sparing only a quick glance at the group of friends clustered beside the door before rushing inside. Faramir dismounted more slowly and handed off his reins to the groom.
"Any news?" he asked wearily, sitting on the bench next to where Legolas stood.
"No, he remains the same." Legolas looked at his companions and realized they were all watching the door now, as if they could draw out someone to tell them Frodo was better. "Are you unwell?"
Faramir stared at his hands. "The King was inside the Black Land. I have been there since our victory, but somehow today..." He trailed off, his head coming up and his gaze fixing on the east. Legolas thought of the ruins left in that blasted landscape, and the centuries that might pass before Mordor recovered from Sauron's torture of the earth itself. "The events of this day proved that Evil can still win."
"But it will not, my friend," Gandalf said from the doorway, his smile reassuring. "Sam, you're welcome to be with Frodo if you wish..." But the hobbit was gone before all the words left the wizard's mouth. "Aragorn is with him and will remain until he awakes. Frodo appears to be resting more naturally."
Everyone breathed more easily and Pippin managed a wavering smile at Merry, who was suspiciously red-eyed.
Sam rushed into the room to find Aragorn beside Frodo, holding his hand and speaking quietly in elvish. He nodded to the hobbit, and continued to speak as Sam walked around to the other side of the bed.
"I'm here, Mister Frodo," he said softly as he put his hand gently on Frodo's shoulder. The beloved face was so pale that tears began again, and continued as Sam berated himself for leaving his master's side in that tavern, among so much violence.
The two of them stayed with Frodo all through the night, keeping watch, speaking reassuringly to him. Frodo remained white and still for many hours, but shortly after dawn he began to stir and even spoke once, an unintelligible mumble. Still, as Sam splashed water on his face he felt reassured that Frodo's recovery was progressing.
He left the King alone in Frodo's room for a few minutes, just long enough to ask for tea and breakfast to be brought to them on a tray. When he returned, Aragorn took a break. So it was that as Sam stood alone in the room, watching the day begin outside the window, Frodo finally woke.
He looked at the very large bed and the stone walls, then gingerly tried to sit up. Dizziness made him groan, and the hobbit by the window turned with an exclamation.
"Mr. Frodo! Don't you dare sit up yet. Just relax, my dear." Gentle hands settled his aching head on the pillow, and pulled blankets close around him. Frodo gazed at him, his face puzzled.
"I surely am glad to see you awake, sir. I thought that brute had killed you." He fussed a bit more with the bedding. "How about a drink of water?"
Frodo nodded, silent, his forehead creased with a questioning look.
"Oh good gracious, you probably don't remember a thing. Strider.. King Elessar said you might not remember. We were at the Stag, sir, and there was a fight. One of the ruffians hit you with a piece of wood, for no reason. Not that there could be any good reason to hurt someone, but Men seem to do a fair bit of fighting when they drink..." Sam trailed off, realizing Frodo still looked very confused. "Frodo, what's wrong?"
The door opened and Aragorn stepped inside just as Frodo asked, "Who are you?"
Merry and Pippin were somber as they filed in to see Frodo. He looked fine, sitting up in bed, the gash on his forehead concealed by a clean bandage. But there was no recognition in the bright, wide eyes that watched as they approached.
"Mr. Frodo, these are your cousins, Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took." Sam gestured at the pair to come closer, and Pippin grasped Merry's hand as they obeyed, looking young.
"Thank you, Sam," Frodo said with a small, almost shy smile lighting his face. "I suppose it's silly to say this, but I'm very pleased to meet you both. I find it comforting to have family here while I recover." Frodo took Merry's hand, blushing a bit, and grasped it. "I'm sorry I don't remember you, Cousin Merry." He then turned to Pippin, but when he saw the forlorn look in Pippin's eyes, Frodo instead pulled the other hobbit into a hug. Then his arm again reached toward Merry, and it became a three-way embrace.
When they finally broke apart, Pippin rubbing his eyes with his sleeve even as he smiled, Frodo began, "I'm terribly sorry to have worried you--"
Three voices immediately rose to cut off his words before he could complete the thought.
"Don't you apologize for what that Man did--"
"Frodo, you weren't to blame--"
"I'm so sorry--"
All three stopped speaking together, just as they had begun all at once, and that and the uniform stubbornness on their faces tickled Frodo. He laughed, a clear and happy sound that immediately had all three instead staring at him in amazement. Sam hadn't heard such pure joy from Frodo since they learned exactly what it was that old Mr. Bilbo brought home from his adventures.
"I beg your pardon. It's just ... I can see what good friends you all are, and you're my friends, too." Frodo looked at a loss for further explanation. "It just made me happy, that's all."
They nodded, smiling at him, and Merry asked, "Would you like to hear some stories, Frodo? About the times we spent together at Brandy Hall in your wicked youth?"
"Well I'd better stay and make sure he tells them right," Pippin declared, climbing onto the bed beside Frodo. "You never know what kind of nonsense Merry will come out with, Frodo, and that's the first thing you need to know about him."
"You are such a liar, Peregrin Took," Merry intoned, taking over the foot of the bed. "I raised this hobbit, Frodo, taught him everything he knows. And then he spreads such rumors about me."
Sam carefully supplied them with mugs of juice, cut fruit and biscuits from the tray on the table, listening to Merry and Pippin babble about the topics Aragorn had declared safe for discussion. He found it difficult to take his eyes off Frodo and concentrate on the things he carried -- it was very fine to see his master completely relaxed and so like his old self.
And wasn't that very wrong, to feel so happy when poor Mr. Frodo had a serious injury from that horrible ruffian? Sam finished serving the others and found a corner of the bed for himself, but his mind wasn't back in the Shire of years gone by. He was remembering Strider's words to them all earlier in the day.
"Frodo knows his own name -- his first name, at least. But you were calling him by name, Sam, so I don't believe he's truly remembered anything by himself," Aragorn said. "At least, not yet."
"I agree. Frodo thinks both Aragorn and I are healers, and he has not questioned having dealings with Big Folk, either," Gandalf added.
"So he remembers nothing of the Shire or how most hobbits live?" Legolas asked.
Gimli muttered something under his breath, then asked "Will his memory ever come back?"
"All we can do is give him time and see if the injury will correct itself. I believe there may be swelling inside his head, which could naturally diminish."
Merry and Pippin were totally silent, as they had been throughout the report on Frodo's condition. The King turned to them with a smile.
"We should not overwhelm Frodo with visitors or too much information. It would be best for him to remember things himself. But Sam and I think you two can safely spend time with him. You may tell him about yourselves. If you share some family stories, perhaps it would help him to remember."
"But won't he wonder why we left the Shire?" Merry asked, while Pippin merely looked horrified at the thought of seeing a Frodo who didn't know him. "What do we tell him then?"
"I doubt that he will question you much," Gandalf replied. "Right now Frodo is a bit like a child, open and trusting. He will accept whatever you tell him." The wizard paused, then continued thoughtfully, "This may become quite distressing to him if the condition continues. You must imagine how frightening it would be, not to know your own name, or anything about your life." The wizard held the eyes of the two hobbits and saw understanding dawn in both Merry and Pippin's eyes, followed by determination. "I know you two will help him heal."
And it was true; Frodo seemed much happier now that he was surrounded by family and being told stories. In fact, he was so relaxed that his eyes were growing heavy.
"Would you like a short nap, Mr. Frodo?" Sam asked, interrupting Pippin in the midst of a tale of frogs and Daisy Took's debut party. Frodo's only response was a long, noisy yawn, followed by apologetic eyes peeping over the hands that had gone to his mouth.
"What a wonderful idea, Sam. Cousin Frodo needs his rest." Merry started to scoot off the bed. "C'mon, Pip."
"Oh, must you leave?" Frodo asked, looking so very lonely that Pippin instead crawled closer to him and lay down alongside him. "No, we've no duties today. I'll join you, Frodo."
A tentative arm curled around his shoulder in response, and Pippin smiled and put up a hand to hold it in place. Merry, too, moved closer to Frodo, who was smiling quite happily. He certainly hadn't forgotten the closeness and love of cuddling that had always been part of his nature, Sam thought.
And then those loving, sleepy eyes fixed on him, and Frodo's maimed hand was unselfconsciously extended toward him. Sam wanted to cry, but instead he smiled and moved to join the other three in a snuggle and a nap.
The Citadel courtyard had rarely heard such noise, Aragorn thought as he followed the sound of singing to the sunny balcony where the four hobbits sat amidst trays of now-empty dishes.
He'd released Frodo from bed rest yesterday, and his guards reported the morning had been spent touring the city, Frodo atop a pony Merry had borrowed, his smile never wavering even when his exhaustion forced them to climb back to the Houses of Healing for a nap.
"Aragorn!" Pippin cried, almost spilling his goblet of wine. "Can you join us for luncheon?"
"If there's any food left here," Sam muttered, glancing over the platters on the table. Frodo laughed, and even after two weeks of hearing that joyful sound, Aragorn stopped breathing.
"We can order more food," Merry began.
"No, my friends, I've had my own meal. I simply wanted to see how Frodo is feeling after his long day of adventures."
"I feel wonderful, Aragorn. A little tired, but it has been so much fun to be out of bed, and to see this beautiful city. I didn't know how beautifully the stone glistens when the sun shines on it. Gimli tells me this stonework doesn't compare to that of the dwarves, but it still seems very wonderful. There is so much construction -- though some of that seems to be repair of buildings..."
"Yes, that's true. Minas Tirith is very ancient and we are now working on repairs in many places," Aragorn said, not lying exactly though he was still uncomfortable with the words. Frodo didn't know about the war and was unaware of how the city had burned, masonry splintered by the catapults and siege towers of Mordor.
"I'm impressed with the skill of your masons and the heights they manage to tame," Frodo said. "I suppose it's because big people are so tall themselves -- or is it? Merry, do hobbits build towers as well?"
Merry, with a glance at Aragorn, began to explain about smials. Sam took the opportunity to lean forward, serving the King a glass of their wine, and speak in a low voice.
"He never even noticed all the people bowing as he went past. Everything was fine." Aragorn nodded and took a sip. The wine was thinned with juice, he noted, as he'd ordered. Frodo was still recovering from so many physical ills. Yet...
"Gandalf!" Pippin's voice cut through Aragorn's thoughts.
"My dear hobbits. It seems I've come in time for a party." And indeed, more food was being brought to them by two serving men, and a lass behind them carried another jug of wine. Frodo's laughter rose again as he hugged Gandalf and pulled the wizard to sit beside him.
Aragorn knew his own face wasn't in tune with the happiness around him, and saw acknowledgment in Gandalf's eyes across the table.
Of the hobbits, only Sam seemed to share his worry. Aragorn often saw Sam go still while listening to Frodo's chattering, then look away with sorrow and a kind of fear in his eyes. Aragorn knew what made Sam unhappy -- he missed his Master, the hobbit who'd watched him grow up, taught him, and ultimately faced death with him. But the fear -- that had another cause, one that Aragorn shared.
The hobbits were chattering again, and Merry was suggesting another song. Gandalf and Frodo's laughter combined to make a beautiful music that blessed all within hearing on this fine, warm afternoon. But Aragorn sat brooding about healing -- how did one restore the spirit, rather than merely mend the body? In Frodo's case, their efforts had been in vain -- only happenstance had restored his innocent joy.
The brawling man who'd assaulted Frodo had been banished from the city, though not from the realm of Gondor. Now it seemed to Aragorn that the punishment was too harsh. Harry's drunken malice had inadvertently done more to salve the Ringbearer's anguish than all the healers of the city.
But if Frodo recovered his memories -- as they all hoped he would -- wouldn't his suffering also return?
Midsummer day was approaching, and Legolas found three hobbits giggling together on the steps of the Citadel, Pippin still in his guard uniform.
"Good afternoon, my friends." All three jumped a little at his voice, but once they saw who had spoken their merriment only increased.
Finally Frodo managed to gasp out "Good day to you, Legolas," and Merry nodded cordially, his face bright red. Pippin merely fell to the side, still laughing, holding his stomach.
"It is a pleasure to see you so happy," the elf continued. "Can you share your mirth?"
"Oh!" Frodo actually looked a little guilty. "But--" He turned to Merry for guidance, and Merry suddenly looked sad. The two younger hobbits had always looked to up to Frodo, older and wiser. To see him asking for Merry's permission to speak only reminded everyone that Frodo, though obviously happy, still wasn't himself.
"We've always trusted Legolas, Frodo. Don't you think he can share the joke?"
"Oh, it isn't that I mistrust you, my dear friend," Frodo protested quickly. "It's rather that you are so close to King Elessar, and I did not wish to compromise you."
"Well now you've given it away," Pippin scolded as he pushed himself up off the ground.
"Or poor Legolas will think we're plotting something dire," Merry added. "Tell him."
Frodo blushed, looking very young. "Aragorn has been so distracted -- his mind seems to be on the road with his bride." Frodo noticed Legolas's frown and hastily added, "I don't mean he neglects his duties! Only that when we're at tea or dinner, he doesn't hear a word we say."
Legolas nodded thoughtfully. Of the hobbits, only Frodo had ever seemed to grasp the full story of Aragorn's long betrothal, the years of love and yearning. And now he had forgotten all that, and only saw a besotted, absent-minded man to tease. He truly didn't understand what Arwen was forsaking for Aragorn, nor the heavy burden of the man's position as high king.
When Legolas turned to Merry, he saw plainly that he and Pippin, though they should have known better, had joined in whatever mischief Frodo thought up. And despite his physical weakness, Frodo was still terribly bright and creative. The elf was almost afraid, but he decided to pursue the matter.
"I have noticed that Aragorn is distracted," Legolas admitted.
"So we've planed a prank, that's all. Something to remind him he needs to be more aware of his surroundings." The devilment in Frodo's eyes was entirely new to Legolas, but Merry and Pippin were fondly smiling at him. Before he could ask exactly what they'd done, there was a tremendous crash from inside the Citadel hall. The clamor was followed by loud cursing -- in dwarvish.
"Oh, no," Merry breathed, and Pippin looked around as if seeking a place to hide.
"Hobbits!" Gimli bellowed. "You rascally, wolly-footed, addlepated hobbits!" Their friend came charging through the doorway, his small axe in hand, dripping with -- Legolas examined him closely, trying to identify the goop. Eggs and cream, he thought. But Gimli smelled like a brewery rather than a bakery, and Legolas immediately knew the dwarf had been carrying his favorite tankard of ale when he chanced upon the trap intended for the King.
Frodo was speaking soothing, apologetic words, but his eyes were not repentant. They twinkled with barely-suppressed mirth. The lesson may have miscarried, but none of the hobbits seemed overly upset.
Then a second, smaller crash from within caused all present to spin towards the door, hope in the hobbits' eyes. But what they saw was Sam, his hair and clothes dripping with oil.
"What in tarnation?" Sam muttered, but his only answer was quickly-suppressed giggles as the other three hobbits pretended to cough and tried to look confused or amazed instead of gleeful. "Master Gimli, what happened to you?" Sam asked.
"The same as happened to you, Samwise Gamgee," Gimli began, but he was interrupted when the largest crash yet echoed through the hall.
Six heads whirled to see Gandalf and Aragorn approach, their clothing turned white with splatters of what had to be flour. Fine, downy feathers stuck out of their hair and beards. Legolas wanted to laugh, and to tell them how lucky they'd been to avoid the previous substances that would have turned their garments into batter for teacakes. But one of the Citadel guards accompanied them, his face stern.
"I shall call out the garrison, Majesty, and none shall rest until we find the one who tried to assassinate you."
Frodo, Merry and Pippin all paled at the guard's words, though they tried to maintain an innocent look.
"Thank you, Mardur. It is most disturbing that an enemy was able to enter into the very heart of my kingdom, and try to harm me in the Citadel itself," Aragorn intoned in a grieved voice, and Gandalf nodded agreement. The hobbits were too busy exchanging glances to see the wink Aragorn sent at Legolas.
"Indeed, this is very alarming," Legolas said quite seriously. "The similar assaults on Gimli and Sam make it seem that a conspiracy is afoot."
Sam only looked confused, but Gimli smiled wickedly and said "Not a foot, but a furry-footed conspiracy, I'd say."
And they all turned to face the miscreants, but the teasing ceased when they realized only Merry and Pippin were frantically communicating with panic-stricken eyes. Frodo was ignoring everything and everyone around him.
There was an odd look on his face, his eyes far away and his brow creased with confusion. As they watched, he raised his left hand and stared at the trembling limb with horror. The shaking took his entire body and his knees buckled.
"Frodo!" Legolas sprang forward in time to catch the small body. When he looked up at the others, his own fears were confirmed on every face.
"He's remembered," Sam breathed.
Frodo rode beside Sam, the slow pace of Theoden's funeral wain more tiring than either hobbit expected. They were surrounded by their friends and the nobles of Gondor and Rohan, all anxious to do honor to the pale, still-thin hobbits in their midst.
Frodo was himself again, and Aragorn watched him speak quietly with Sam, a fond and loving smile on his face. But the King was seeing the deep sorrow and pain in Frodo's eyes that never completely vanished.
Gandalf felt that Frodo's full healing would only come if he left Middle Earth. Arwen, agreeing with him, had promised Frodo her place on a ship. But Aragorn still looked for a miracle, and the other hobbits shared his hope that returning to the Shire would bring happiness to Frodo once again.
Aragorn realized he'd inadvertently slowed his horse, to the point that the hobbits had ridden past him, except for Frodo himself. Further, he saw that Frodo was quite aware Aragorn's eyes had been fixed on the hobbit for long minutes.
"Did you wish to speak to me, Aragorn?" he politely asked, but his eyes were wary.
"Only to ask if you are comfortable, Frodo."
"Yes, your majesty. This journey has been very pleasant." The words were correct, the tone automatic.
"Frodo--" Aragorn knew there was pain in his voice, and it seemed to cut through Frodo's cool defenses. The wide eyes that turned to him were full of sorrow. "I would give you all you desire, even my kingdom itself. But I cannot give you back forgetfulness..."
Frodo shook his head in protest. "Do not blame yourself for healing me!"
"But you were so ..." he paused. "You were happy again."
"I was, and I shall never forget how wonderfully free I felt for those days," Frodo admitted. "But.. I didn't remember holding Pippin in my arms, or reading to Merry, or how I felt when Bilbo adopted me. I didn't remember my parents." He looked around him at the battle-scarred heroes, his friends and companions, and his voice lowered but remained intense. "I didn't remember Sam giving me his food and water, or carrying me though his own feet bled. I didn't know that all the beautiful things of this world were almost lost to darkness."
Aragorn nodded his understanding, and Frodo visibly relaxed. He continued, "There is sorrow in knowing my own darkness and failure. But there are things that shouldn't be forgotten."
"Even if you pay for that knowledge with pain?" Aragorn asked, but he knew the answer before those eyes confirmed it. Long ago he had pledged his sword and his life to this extraordinary hobbit who put the welfare of others ahead of his own, and despite dark roads Frodo truly had not changed.
They rode on, Frodo headed to his home, and Aragorn once again breathed a prayer that the hobbit would find true peace and healing there.
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