A Different Gift by Claudia

When I looked at Frodo, I barely recognized him. His dear eyes still held the same loving expression when turned toward me, but he was terribly bloated. Even on full bed rest, he could barely breathe, and the only way he got any rest at all is if I piled the pillows behind his back and neck in just the right way so that he was nearly in an upright position. Even so, his belly bulged outward like the body of a spider after a good meal. Strider expected the birth to happen any day.

"Hot..." Frodo groaned. "And it's still early morn." He glanced at the window, and I opened it. It did no good. Summer had begun in earnest, and barely a breeze stirred outside.

I then sat cross-legged at the foot of the bed and took Frodo's feet in my hands. I rubbed them both in soothing circles, and he leaned back on the pillow, his eyes closed in contentment.

"I shall never fail to be fascinated with your feet, sweetheart."

"Keep rubbing them."

I stroked and massaged, sometimes letting my fingers purposefully get tangled in his foot hair.

"Oh, Faramir," he whispered. "This is perfect. Thank you so much. The only thing that would make this more perfect is if you brought me another plate of those pickled mushrooms. And the grape jam."

I set his feet down with a grin and went to fetch his mushrooms.

When I came back, he had gone pale, and he clutched at his belly.

"What is it?" I set the plate on the bedside table and took his hand.

"It hurts...just like the day I fell..." He looked at me, his eyes enormous with pain and fear. "I think it's started."

"I'll fetch Strider."

"No..." Frodo clutched at my hand. "No, not yet...It will take a long time. No use in him sitting here all day with me. There...it's better now." He took several deep breaths.

"But Strider can best decide that. And I would rather he know so that he does not go off into the wild or other such foolishness, not to be found when we really need him." My heart had begun to thud in an uncomfortable, flopping way. I could only hope that Strider had not gone anywhere on this day. I remembered Frodo telling me that Allin had drunk himself into a stupor when his first child was born and now I surely wished for a couple of ales. In a few hours, it would be all over. Perhaps even by noon.

I fluffed the pillows, made certain Frodo was comfortable, and I set off to fetch Strider. I left a message for him at the Prancing Pony, and a servant was sent to find him.

When I returned, I found Frodo curled on his side, his face white. He managed a trembling smile when he saw me. "Faramir...Faramir, I'm sorry." He reached his hand to me.

"There's nothing to be sorry about," I said, but Frodo shook his head and moaned.

"Make sure he...or she grows up like you," he murmured. "You could even take him home if you think your father will not be too angry..."

"What do you mean by this?" I demanded. I hoped that Strider would arrive as soon as possible and quell us both of dark fears.

"I don't think I will survive this," Frodo said. "These pains are dreadful, but it will only get worse. Tell Strider to just cut the baby out of me and be done with it...at least spare the babe the pain of pushing out."

"Hush," I said roughly. "You're not going to die. Stop speaking nonsense. Strider's on his way right now. You'll see."

Frodo swallowed and closed his eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm not being brave at all."

I stroked his cheek. "You are...you are...but you must be strong, too."

When Strider arrived, he started water boiling on the hearth and said, "We'll want to get him out of these clothes and into something more comfortable. Brew some tea, Faramir, and I shall get some herbs into him to ease the pain while he can still keep anything in without vomiting."

I rushed off to do as Strider bid, and my heart had begun to thud in unpleasant cold fear. Although I had lashed out at Frodo's earlier words, it was possible that he was right, that he could perish this day, and I was not ready.

By the time I returned to the bedroom with a mug of hot water, Strider had helped Frodo into one of my shirts, which allowed plenty of room for his belly. He wore no breeches.

Strider nodded his thanks and took the mug from my hands. "I need you to do something else, Faramir. I need you to crawl behind Frodo so that your body is supporting him and then I need you to hold his legs apart for me."

I obeyed, crawling behind Frodo and leaning against his sweat-dampened pillows. I pulled him between my legs and then pulled his knees back. Frodo tensed and dug his fingers into my arms.

"A little farther apart," Strider said, pushing Frodo's knees.

"Is this necessary?" he asked, flushing.

"It won't take but a moment." I could not see much of what Strider was doing over the mound of Frodo's belly, but he seemed to be reaching deep inside him, feeling and prodding. Frodo gritted his teeth and closed his eyes, flinching at times. Finally, Strider pulled his hand out.

"We're only at the very beginning stages. He has not opened much. And his pains seem to be very far apart. It will be a long time, probably until sundown at least, until you will have need of my services. In fact, I do have some other business to attend to, and I will leave you for now."

"You're leaving?" I asked, trying hard not to sound worried in front of Frodo.

"Yes, I must go for now, but I assure you, Faramir, that you will have no need of me. I shall check back in the late afternoon to see how things are progressing."

"Late afternoon..." I felt light-headed. It was only mid morning now. "What can I do for him in the meantime?"

"Only this." Strider smiled. "Start timing his pains. Look at the clock when one starts and take note of the time. Then look at the clock again when the next one starts. Have him drink as much of that tea as he can stomach. It will cut the pain a little. Keep him as comfortable as you can. Help him to walk around in between pains, keep him cool, but don't let him get chilled. If something should go wrong, if he should start bleeding profusely or the pains come very close together (less than three minutes), send an urgent message to the Prancing Pony. I will make sure someone there knows how to find me." He clasped Faramir's arm. "Do not fear, Captain Faramir. He will do fine. Hobbits are extraordinarily resilient, and Frodo has spirit."

"Thank you."

After Strider left, I arranged Frodo so that he leaned again on the pillows and wiped his brow with a wet cloth. Another pain was coming on him, and I remembered to note the time. He clutched his belly and kicked his feet, groaning.

"There, hold onto my hand and squeeze as hard as you like."

Frodo did, and I nearly regretted the offer. His grip was shockingly strong and I feared for my fingers. The pain ended, and he leaned against the pile of pillows, gasping for breath. I again wiped the sweat from his brow and went to work massaging his feet again.

"Tell me a tale from Gondor," Frodo whispered, rubbing his belly.

I began telling him the history of Osgiliath. Frodo listened in utter contentment, occasionally taking sips of his tea. But soon he grew noticeably uncomfortable, taking in deep breaths and curling to his side.

"Is another one coming?" I asked, looking at the clock. Ten minutes.

Frodo nodded, and his face scrunched. "Wait...wait to tell the rest of the tale until this is done. I cannot bear it...Let go of my feet...I don't want to be touched."

"Take my hand," I said, releasing his feet and offering my other hand. I would need to find for him a dishrag or scarf. He grabbed my hand, groaning and biting his lip. It ripped at my heart to see him in such pain. I lay beside him and kissed his cheek.

The morning dragged. The pains did not seem to come any closer together, but there were so many. In between pains, he listened to my tales, read, dozed off at times, and sometimes I helped him to walk around, as Strider had suggested.

At noon he ate a little toast, but he threw it up almost immediately as a wretched pain took him. His face was pale and slimy with sweat and he already looked weary.

"How much longer can this go on?" he whispered, and I had not the heart to tell him that a time would come when there was no rest between pains.

When Strider arrived late that afternoon, he asked, "His pains have not come any closer together?" He looked deeply concerned. "I will examine him and see if he has opened any wider."

I spread Frodo's legs apart for Strider, although this time, I felt a terrible amount of guilt because Frodo was in enough pain as it was, and to ruin the few moments of peace he got between pains with this indignity was unfair. Once again, Strider felt inside him. When he was done, he prodded his belly, too.

"He has been in labor for nine hours and there has been no progress."

"What does this mean?" I asked. "Can you not do anything?"

"What does this mean, no progress?" Frodo asked in a huff. "I have been in pain all day for nothing?"

Strider nodded and rubbed some herbs between his finger and thumb. "These herbs will increase the pains and hopefully move it along. There is a slight risk of bleeding, but never yet has anyone bled to death because of it."

"More pain?" Frodo whispered, shaking his head. "No, I can't."

"Yes, darling," I kissed his head and released his knees so that he could relax. "Otherwise this will go on much longer."

"No, no," Frodo moaned. "Not longer."

He swallowed what Strider offered slowly, and his throat hitched, and I feared he would throw it up. He bled a little, but nothing too serious.

When next he had a pain, he arched his back and yelled in monstrous pain. I held him, soothing his belly the best that I could, but he thrashed at me. "Leave me alone! Don't touch me!"

"Best not to touch him," Strider said. "He may not want anyone near him at times."

When the pain ended, he went limp and pale against the pillows, gasping for breath.

"That was a bad one," I said to Strider. "But it was only eight minutes."

The herbs acted quickly because soon the pains came faster and lasted longer. Dusk fell outside, and the chirping of insects filled the air. Frodo became delirious in his pain, shouting for Bilbo, weeping hoarsely, thrashing his arms around, kicking, shouting for me, screaming, shuddering, and sometimes losing consciousness for a short time.

"Is there progress?" I asked. "He cannot go on like this. Strider, we must do something to ease his pain."

Strider examined him again, poking and prodding while I held Frodo, who shuddered and moaned in my arms. "He is open wider, but still not enough. The babe's head is nowhere near, unfortunately. I expect this might go on all night. Faramir, if you need to rest or to eat, now might be the time to do so."

"All night?" I said in horror. "Can he? Does he have the strength?"

"He is doing well so far," Strider said. "And he is made of stern stuff, far sterner stuff than I had first suspected. But I will not deceive you with falsehoods. This will not be easy, Faramir, and we all know that. The babe is very large."

The sun went down fully, and I tried to lie down on the sofa for a time, but I could hear Frodo moaning and screaming and I just could not possibly rest while he was in such pain. I returned to the bedroom and lay beside him, holding him when I could. But soon he turned against me in a fury.

"Leave me alone!" He shouted hoarsely, his eyes wild with pain, barely recognizing me, pounding his fists into my chest. "You did this to me! You caused this! Don't touch me."

I pulled away from him, sick from seeing him in such helpless agony. Frodo writhed on the bed, tangling in the sweat-soaked sheets. The next pain gave him no reprieve. And the next. And the next. The evening passed and soon became night.

Frodo's cries soon became hoarse and weak. He thrashed his head from side to side on the pillow, but the rest of his body had given up the fight. I wiped his brow. I lay beside him, resting my burning eyes, and slipped into a dream about battle and the clashing of swords and tall mountains in the distance. I snapped awake, and I was ashamed to see that it was four in the morning. I felt Frodo's clammy face, and his eyes opened halfway, looking almost serene. The fight was gone from him, and I despised myself then for sleeping.

"I...can't...tell him..." He eyed Strider, who was preparing clean towels in the back of the room. "...cut...take the baby...I can't."

"No..." I put my hand over his brow. "You're almost done. You can do this."

But another pain took him.

"Strider, is he anywhere near to birthing? He can't go on like this."

Strider directed me again to hold Frodo and pull his legs back. He stuck his hands at Frodo's opening. "I can feel the babe's head. It's coming."

Strider reached his fingers in Frodo's opening, aiding to stretch it. Bright red blood leaked on the bed sheet.

"He's bleeding," I said in a panic. "Is that normal?"

"Some bleeding is normal. Now we must get Frodo to push."

I kissed Frodo's sweaty curls. "Push, Frodo, push. You can do this."

Frodo seemed to get a second wind then and he thrust back against me, groaning and pushing with all his strength.

Strider laughed. "I can definitely feel the head, he's coming out. Frodo, you need to give it another big push. I know you can do this."

"No...no..." Frodo sagged into my arms. "I cannot."

"Yes, you can," I said. "It's almost over. You did such a good job with the first."

Frodo took a deep, shuddering breath and pushed with all his strength again. And again. Another hour passed like this. My shoulders were sore, Frodo was drenched in sweat. His fight was back, but in truth, he could not go on much longer. I saw how his arms trembled, how everything shuddered, how his breath wheezed.

Then Strider pulled out a tiny, pink, slimy head.

I grew hoarse in my excitement. "It's coming, Frodo, push again!" Frodo saw the head and it gave him new strength. He pushed with all his strength again, and now the shoulders came out, blood stained the towels, and all at once, as the rising sun made the horizon pink, the rest of the baby slid into Strider's hands.

"It's a boy," Strider said, laughing. Frodo panted, still leaning against me, limp and sweaty.

"I want to hold him..." Frodo whispered. He turned, looking up at me, tears falling from his eyes. "We did it..."

Strider took the babe and washed him, at which time, he began to squall. "Faramir, I want you to massage his belly. The placenta should be coming out soon."

I obeyed Strider, although I was concerned about hurting Frodo. His insides must be torn apart. Soon he writhed again, although not as miserably as earlier, and a slippery mass came out.

Strider had meanwhile wrapped the baby in a linen blanket. "He can hold him for a time," he said to me. "But he will need much rest." He placed the baby in Frodo's weak arms. Frodo looked up at me again. "Blue eyes."

"Most babes begin with blue eyes," Strider said, clearing the bed of the towels and placing a clean towel under Frodo's bottom.

"They are blue," I said. "Far too bright to ever turn gray." I stroked the tufts of dark hair.

"He has your nose, Faramir." Frodo said.

"He has a cleft in his chin," I said. "And did you check his feet, Strider?"

"Hobbits don't grow hair on their feet right away," Frodo said. He tapped the baby's nose.

"All right," Strider said. "Frodo needs to rest, as does the babe. Faramir, do you know of a woman who has just given birth who might help with...well, I am certain that Frodo cannot."

"Oh..." I said. "Milk. We have already spoken to Viola and her sister is still nursing one of her little ones. She will help."

"What will you call him?" Strider asked.

I kissed Frodo's head again.

"Allin Bilbo," Frodo said quietly. "It was Allin who introduced Faramir and I, long ago that night in the Prancing Pony."

"That is a nice name indeed," Strider said.

For a long time the three of us stared down at this baby, this marvel who had already clutched all of our hearts. After Strider left, I put the babe in the crib, and made certain Frodo was comfortably asleep, I blew out the candle in the lantern, the very same lantern I had given Frodo long ago, at that time not foreseeing the precious gift he would bestow on me these many years later.
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