Summary: A series of connected vignettes from the perspective of Aragorn set throughout the Quest about hobbit feet.
Disclaimer: All characters, settings and events referenced in the story belong to the Tolkien Family.
Note: These seem to be getting longer with each one. Is this a good thing?
Caradhras was a combination of bad luck and circumstance. We had prepared for every reasonable risk that we could think of before we set out from Rivendell, but storms like the one that drove the Company to turn back from the Redhorn Pass are extremely rare, almost unnatural. To this day, I sometimes wonder if that storm had help. We certainly needed every bit of the firewood that Boromir suggested we carry.
Despite the precautions we had taken, I suspect that all of us, save Legolas, ended up with a mild case of frostbite by the end of the failed attempt at the pass. I remember the wind stealing what little warmth I had that night and numbing my face and ears, no matter how I tucked my hood and scarf. No doubt it was the same for the others.
Gandalf had finally surrendered to the inevitable and lit the fire that all of us had attempted and failed to light. All of us were soon clustered around it as the surrounding snow melted and we were trying to dry out snow-soaked cloaks, hoods and boots, all of which we had brought from Rivendell. Even the four hobbits were wearing boots now. They'd carried them, this far on our advice, as we knew the mountains could be cold. They'd finally given in when the snow reached over their ankles. Of course, by this point it was at least shoulder-high on the smallest of the four, once away from the fire.
Thinking it was probably time to check on the hobbits and make sure they were getting properly warmed up again, particularly Frodo, who had been the worst affected by the cold, I was watching the hobbits doze on the other side of the fire, feet stretched out to warm, when I noticed something odd about one of Pippin's boots. There was what seemed to be a gap at the side of it. The boot looked as though the stitching holding the upper and the sole together had given way at one point. "Pippin?" I called softly. He shook himself out of the dozing state that all of the hobbits were in and responded, though he seemed only half-awake. At his response, I circled the fire and crouched beside him to talk.
"Warming up all right there?" I asked him, quietly in an attempt to not wake the other dozing hobbits.
"Yes," the youngest of the hobbits replied, "though my feet are still numb. In fact, they're so cold they hurt," he continued.
That didn't sound good, in fact it sounded like one of the things I was hoping we wouldn't have to deal with on this stormy night at all. Frostbite. I tried to explain my concerns to the young Took without scaring him.
What I hadn't realized was that our conversation had wakened one of the other hobbits. Frodo spoke up from Pippin's other side, where he was sitting. "He's right, Pippin. It's rare, but not unknown in the Shire. If Bilbo's tales of the Fell Winter are correct, frostbite's nothing to leave to chance."
That seemed to be enough to convince the young hobbit that I wasn't worrying about nothing. Indeed, once the boots were off, I could see the tell-tale signs of mild to moderate frostbite on the toes of both feet. The pale colour and waxy skin were very evident especially the blisters, particularly where the split in his boot had been, it continued down the side of that foot. Not gone so far as to cause serious or permanent injury, but it was going to be painful for him for a while. Strangely, there were also signs of mild frostbite down his legs, though less severe. It took only a moment for me to figure that out. It had to have been the snow falling down the inside of his boots, which were shorter than those of the Men in the Company. Of course, by this time not only Frodo had been awakened, but Merry and Sam as well. All three of them were peering over my shoulder worriedly.
The usual treatment for frostbite at this level is to use warm water to thaw the affected areas, but that wouldn't be practical in this case. It would be too hard to properly dry the hair on the hobbit's feet afterwards, causing more problems. Instead we ended up warming spare socks, and other bits and pieces of cloth to wrap around Pippin's frozen toes and foot. Merry even took off his scarf for us to use. I had to turn him down, though I smiled at the generosity as I said it. "No, Merry, it won't do us any good if the lack of your scarf harms you. Though the offer is greatly appreciated." While I was treating Pippin, Boromir, who also had some mountain experience checked the other three hobbits for similar afflictions. Luckily, other than the mildest level of frostbite, which all of them had experienced before as children, nothing was found.
The warmed cloth wasn't as effective or as fast as warmed water because it cooled off too quickly, but it did seem to do the job. Poor Pippin though, I could see the pain he was going through in his eyes, though he was trying not to show it. I knew what he was going through as well, as I've had frostbite a time or two in my life, and I told him the tales in an attempt to distract the young hobbit from the experience. Dawn was showing slightly by the time all signs of the frostbite barring some redness and the blisters had been eradicated. Clearly though, Pippin was still in pain and probably would be for several days. Someone was going to have to carry Pippin down from the mountain, and perhaps help him for longer than that as walking was going to be a problem for a while.
We ended up carrying all of the hobbits down past the snow-line as the snow from the blizzard was chest high on Boromir and I, far too deep for them to walk. For the next days I saw one member or another helping Pippin as much as he would let us. It wasn't as much as we wanted to though, as the young hobbit had quite a bit of pride and didn't want to ask for help.
Still the Valar were kind to us that day. It could have been worse, so much worse. Despite the injury and the lack of possible proper care, no permanent damage was done, for which I am still thankful.