Belladonna screamed and surfaced from the blanket of unconsciousness. Sitting up, she squinted against the kaleidoscoped vision of colours and shapes. After a few moments of blinking, her sight returned, recognising her surroundings as the same room in Downhill Inn she had spent the night.
A pang of pain from her right arm snapped her back to the reason why she was awake. The culprit, Ursula, the Innkeeper's wife, was fumbling with a splint for Belladonna's now straightened arm.
‘Your arm needed resetting.’ She continued with her work, not bothered by her patient's wincing. 'I thought it best while you were out senseless.'
'My body feels like someone ran me over with a plough.’ The wounded hobbit rubbed her chest and felt course material instead of her tunic. She looked down, finding she was wrapped in bandages from chest to belly.
‘It was. You were that monster's rag toy.' Ursula pushed her patient back down. 'Now, please lie back and get some rest.’
Belladonna resisted the healer, the memory of the battle returning. 'The warg attack, they're still out there!'
‘Those beasts won’t be troubling Greenholm ever again,’ a familiar voice answered her from the door.
Gandalf stood leaning on his staff, he was hunched over because of the low ceiling, and beside him were Goran and Waylen. Ursula shot a dark look at her husband who retreated outside of the room. The other two came and joined the healer by the patient.
Goran sat on the edge of Belladonna's bed, ignoring Ursula's disapproving scowl. ‘How is the hero of Greenholm faring?’
‘Hero of Greenholm?’
‘That’s what the townsfolk are calling you.’ Gandalf clarified.
'But it was you who killed the monster.'
'My young hobbit, it was... '
‘The bravest thing I saw.' Goran finished the wizard's sentence and regretted it, on noticing the wizard's dark look. 'Sorry, Gandalf.'
'Now, as I was saying...are you alright, Belladonna?'
‘Could someone light a fire, it’s getting really cold and dark in here.’ Tiny shivers rippled up and down her body, her skin becoming pale.
Gandalf and Ursula exchanged concerned glances. The wizard leaned over and gazed into Belladonna's eyes.
‘Can you not see that the shutters are wide open?’
Belladonna turned to the window and only perceived the grey light of twilight. ‘Yes, its long past sunset.’
‘Belladonna, it’s the middle of the day.’
Ursula put her hand on Belladonna’s forehead. ‘She’s freezing, wizard.’
‘It is as I feared. The poison in the dire warg's foul mouth has gotten into her vital fluids.’
Goran laid a blanket over Belladonna's shivering body. ‘What do we do?’
‘Stand aside, both of you.’ Gandalf’s hand hovered over Belladonna face. He shut his eyes, concentrating; he mumbled words that the pair didn't understand.
Belladonna’s tiny hairs stood to attention, and the air thickened around her. When Gandalf finished, he looked upon the young Took seeking any change.
‘How to you feel?’
‘I don’t feel any different.’ The cold became worse and her joints were assaulted by tiny ice hammers. She looked from the wizard to the hobbit healer. ‘I’m scared.’
‘The poison in your system is both natural and spawned of ancient magics.' The wizard stroked his beard, consuming himself in thought. His eyebrows arched and he stamped his staff on the floor. 'Kingsfoil should do the trick. Bring some with haste.'
'Beggin' your pardon, Gandalf, but if you mean the weed that plant doesn’t grow out here on the Downs. The only thing that comes close is Lissuin flowers. Will they do?’
'Indeed not. There isn’t enough time to ride to Hobbiton or the Grey Havens to get some. Confound it all!' His brow furrowed but defeat drooped the wizard’s wrinkled features. He patted her on the shoulder. ‘I’m very sorry, Belladonna, but there's nothing I can do.'
Ursula pounced on the wizard. ‘Master Gandalf, there must be something you can do? What good are wizards, if they cannot cure the ailing?’
'Be wary, Madame.' A dangerous tone tainted Gandalf's voice. Ursula cowered back. 'You speak of things that you have no knowledge of. I cannot solely defeat the dark lord's art.' He took a few breaths to calm himself and regarded Belladonna with sorrow. 'I'm sorry but the only thing to do now is provide comfort to Belladonna. She will fall into eternal sleep without pain.'
‘I don't see that as comforting.’ Shivering, Belladonna felt a clammy numbness begin to spread to her joints. ‘It’s getting colder’
A commotion at the door drew everyone's attention. The ranger limped in assisted by the Innkeeper.
'You should be resting, Danyal.' Ursula barred his way, and glared at her husband. 'And I told you...'
'Peace woman, I brought the ranger because he's her friend. He at least deserves a moment to say goodbye.'
‘No, I don't.' He yanked a leather pouch off his belt and held out to the wizard. 'Belladonna will not die today. I have some dried athelas here.’
Gandalf snatched it, examining the contents. 'This just might be enough. Quick, Ursula, a mug of hot water.’
She rushed out of the room, leaving the three with Belladonna. Danyal made his way to her side.
He grasped her hand tight, trying to impart his warmth into her. ‘Belladonna, you keep fighting just a little bit longer.’
She pulled the blanket up further, but her skin was already a light blue. ‘I feel so tired.’
Ursula returned carrying a steaming cup filled with hot water. She passed it to Gandalf.
‘Must hurry, I sense the dark poison is nearing victory.’
The wizard dropped the entire contents of the pouch into the mug. Waving his hand over the top, he mumbled an incantation; the liquid in the cup hissed like a drop of fat on a hot skillet. A cleansing scent of spring filled the small room, and imparted a sensation of the lightening of the soul's burdens on those gathered. On smelling it, even a small amount of colour returned to Belladonna's blue cheeks.
'Sit her up, Danyal.' Gandalf asked.
The ranger did as he was told but the young hobbit's head lolled around, her drowsiness was worsening.
The wizard leaned in closer and brought the cup to her lips. ‘Belladonna, I need you to drink this.’
Belladonna took a tiny bit of the liquid; she tasted a garden's morning breath wrapped in mint. Its warmth spread from her neck like a dram of strong hobbit brew. With each sip she felt the encroaching sleep of the poison slipping away.
When she finished the whole mug, the poison's veil lifted. She saw the room lit by afternoon's glory.
'By the light of Eärendil’s Star, you've returned to us.' Danyal embraced Belladonna and held her, overjoyed at her return.
‘I do feel a lot better.’ She tried to hug him back but the bandages and the splint made it awkward.
Ursula laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. ‘You should rest now, Miss. You've knocked on death's door twice, and twas luck he didn't answer both times.’
Belladonna conceded and leaned back onto her bed. Danyal kissed her on the forehead, and was on his way to join the others filing out.
'Danyal, a word?' Belladonna called out.
'Of course.' He sat beside her.
Belladonna waited till they were both alone. 'Thank you, you've saved me twice now.'
'We're even. I hear without you, I'd be left on the road.'
'Good, because I'd like you to be my travelling companion.'
Taken aback by the hobbit's suggestion, he took a moment to compose himself before answering. 'Travelling companion? You can't be serious? As soon as your better, I'm making sure you're returned safely to Hobbiton.'
'Oh I'll go back; just we'll be going the long way round. I think I would be failing Hlldefons memory if I didn't continue the path he set forth. Anyway, a ranger escort would come in handy if I meet any nasties on the road.' Belladonna released a long yawn. 'Now, I'd best follow my healer's advice.' She shut her eyes; it wasn't long before her breathing became shallow and regular.
Danyal was left with his mouth attempting to form words but unable to find any. He got up and walked out shutting the door behind him. Gandalf was waiting sucking on a lit pipe, the small hallway already filling up with smoke.
'You wouldn't believe what she asked?' The ranger shook his head throwing his hands in the air. 'Hobbits!'
'Yes, they're amazing creatures, aren't they?'