The clear October day faded towards twilight, the sun’s last golden rays flitting and wavering in the yellow leaves of the big maple outside Bag End. Frodo lay upon a bench, watching the light, his chin resting upon the knuckles of his interlaced hands. The gloaming came, and faint white stars began to peer out from the sky’s depths, and still he lay, motionless and silent as the Hill itself. A chill came on as the twilight deepened, and, shivering, he drew his cloak tighter about his slender frame.
It had been hard, so much harder than he could put into words. It was not so much the fear – great though that was – of where the Ring might lead him, or what It might do upon the way. Nor was it the cursed Thing’s ever-increasing weight, or the Eye that sought It, that sought him in all the hollows of the hills. Neither yet was it that – most likely – he was walking to his death, every step a step closer. It was – what it was he could not (or would not) say.
“Mr. Frodo! It’s such a shame to wake you, but I’ve cooked you a bit of stew. Some coneys and herbs: a gift from Sméagol,” said Sam. Frodo opened his eyes slowly, and took an appreciative sniff as Sam placed the pot on a nearby rock.
“Thank you, Sam,” said Frodo. “It smells so good, like the Shire.”
“Well, it does, but it ain’t quite proper, if you take my meaning. No taters, no carrots, not even a little onion, and no beer to help it down. But it’ll do you good. Eat up, now!” Sam dug in his pack, then handed Frodo a fork and knife, and made to turn away.
“But won’t you have any?” asked Frodo. “You need this as much as I do. Come on, Sam, let’s share!” Frodo beckoned, patting the ground beside himself. Sam hesitated, secretly thinking that Frodo needed the food more than he did. His cheeks were too hollow, his legs too slender, his hands too fragile-seeming.
“It just don’t seem right,” thought Sam. Frodo patted the ground again, and abruptly Sam decided that some things were more important than whether Frodo ate all the little rabbits, or only some of them. He settled beside him, a smile lighting his face. “Alright, then,” he said.
Frodo remembered that smile a long time. He remembered it especially clearly that night on the Hill, as he looked at the unchanging stars and felt the night’s cold touch. “So far away,” he mused. “So very far away.” He shivered again, and then dream wholly took him. He saw a brilliant blue summer sky through dancing green leaves, and felt a gentle warm breeze. Closing his eyes, he heard the leaves rustle, and the tall summer grasses whisper, and the day-crickets trill. The air smelt of hay and wildflowers and sages. He felt whole and content: free of worry, free of pain – and free of longing.
As he lay upon the grass, a shadow blocked the sunlight momentarily. “Sam?” he asked. But no one answered. A song he thought there was, on the edge of hearing: tones of a dulcimer, perhaps, and words too faint for understanding sung in a fair clear voice. He tried to open his eyes, but could not. Again the shadow crossed the Sun. Suddenly the wind was chill upon his face and loud in his ears: the grasses hissed and the leaves rushed. A long-drawn-out wail came down the wind, remote but clear, and he arose suddenly, his eyes snapping open wide in fear.
The stars still shone upon the Hill. Frodo got up and walked around to Bag End’s front door and went in, closing the door firmly. Trembling, he fumbled for the candle in its little cove near the door, then lit it with a match struck on the cove’s stone base. Sharp-edged shadows arose and danced about as he padded down the hallway towards his study. Bag End was chill and silent, but the study door was ajar, and the ruddy fire-glow from within spilled into the hallway. Using the candle, Frodo lit a lamp. It flickered, then came to life suddenly with a whump. A lone moth, late for the year, came to circle about it slowly and unsteadily, then left for an open window as Frodo settled into a chair near the fire. He took up a small grey book titled in Elvish script, hesitated, and put it back down. Then he pulled a blanket over himself and closed his eyes.
“Thank you, Sam. I didn’t know how much I needed some good home cooking,” said Frodo, gratefully. He had eaten his share (and a little more) of the rabbit. “I’m much better for it.”
Sam felt relieved. He grinned, and his eyes sparkled. “Well, I hope as we can make something like this a bit more often while we’re in this land. It’s a good step more wholesome-like than where we were yesterday,” he observed.
“Yes, it is,” sighed Frodo, his face becoming more thoughtful. “Like the Northfarthing, north of the barley-fields, near the Lakes.”
“Right you are, Mr. Frodo. A fine place that is, especially the little spot Mr. Merry found, with the pebbly caves and the good fishing! Why, I’d bet there are some of those same fishes here: the nice plump ones good for a meal for the both of us,” said Sam.
Frodo smiled. “Oh, what I would give to be back there, to be safe and happy,” his smile faded, “swimming and hiking with Merry and Pippin and all our friends. How I wish...that it were so.” He nudged closer to Sam.
“And me,” Sam rubbed Frodo’s shoulders slowly and comfortingly. “But we’ll go back there. I know we will, Mr. Frodo. We can’t see it now; the Shadow’s over it, I reckon. But there is a way back.”
They sat for some time, the gentle morning’s light awakening the land and filling them with its calm quiet strains, almost like music.
“Sam?” Frodo asked, his voice strangely hollow.
Sam turned to look at him, resting his hand on Frodo’s shoulder and parting his lips to respond. But – quite by accident – he met Frodo’s gaze fully, and there he saw something – odd. Frightening, perhaps. He found himself unable to look away.
“Sam,” Frodo repeated, the sound now resonant. “I –” his eyes brightened for an instant, then became intensely sad. Bereft, Sam might have said. “I can’t,” he whispered, his voice quavering. “I can’t do this.” His tears began to flow, and Sam held him close, gently tousling his hair. Frodo clung to him, shaking as with bitter cold. He cried in deep, shuddering sobs, gripping Sam as if to save himself from drowning.
“It must hurt so bad,” thought Sam. “I can’t understand, I can’t think what it must be like. What that Thing’s like. What can I do? Only be there for him. That’s what I’ve got to do; that’s my promise.” He resumed rubbing Frodo’s shoulders, feeling out the tight spots – really there seemed to be nothing but tight spots – and working them slowly, carefully, almost as one might stroke a kitten.
|« previous chapter||story index||next chapter »|