“It was as if someone were looking at us or touching us in some strange way,” said Frodo. “But I couldn’t tell who it was, or why he or she was there.”
“That’s odd,” added Círdan. “I also felt something: a presence I’d not known before.” He paused, considering. “There are, of course, many spirits in these lands, and occasionally even the Lords themselves shed their forms and walk among us unseen.” Frodo looked up, a fragment of – memory? dream? imagination? – coming briefly into focus, then fading away. “But this was different.”
“I wonder. Long ago a friend, a very dear friend, used from time to time to know my mind in uncanny ways. But I never knew it at the time – I mean, I knew that he could do it, but I didn’t feel anything odd when he did. But I still wonder: whatever it was, it seemed somehow familiar.”
“I met a friend of yours shortly before you took ship, on the Road east of the Shire. Was that him?”
“Y-yes, yes.” Frodo gazed eastward from the window of the little camp house. “Merry,” he said, musing on an image of his friend, small and distant but clear, that came to his mind’s eye.
When they returned home, Gildor and Larith and others of their friends were about, preparing the evening meal. A feast it seemed to Frodo, who had not even yet become sated of Elven cuisine. “Truly you spoke at Woodhall, Gildor, when you said that the food of your halls surpassed that of the Road. There are almost more mushrooms here than I can eat, and of kinds I never had imagined to exist. Why, these golden ones would have the whole of the Shire trooping leagues for a single taste. I daresay they might push some folk even beyond sanity.”
“Which is why we keep them here, safely out of their reach,” teased Gildor.
“But not out of his,” observed Atheriel as Frodo snatched one.
“Not yet!” admonished Larith, who was conducting matters. Frodo returned it, bowing his head slightly. “If you think they’re good before they’re prepared, you haven’t tasted anything yet.”
“Well then, I’ll wait,” conceded Frodo, ”and start with some of this wine instead, as all of you seem to have done. Though it, too, would be terribly dangerous for my friends in the Shire.”
“Only if they drank it like they do ale,” Círdan commented.
“Are you saying that we overindulge in ale?”
As the next weeks passed, Frodo began to dream again of his Quest, as he had not done for many years. At first he saw only isolated scenes of places he’d been: Crickhollow, Tom Bombadil’s house, Rivendell, Minas Tirith, Hollin. Then the scenes became peopled: Merry came first, then Aragorn, then Gandalf, Legolas, and the others, and last of all Sam. Always they were doing what they had done during the Quest: Boromir training Merry and Pippin to handle swords, Sam cooking, Aragorn on watch, Gandalf planning their route with Legolas and Gimli. Nothing fearsome happened, but every image seemed overlaid with tones of loss and of foreboding.
Then one night he dreamt of Mordor. He walked fields of pale white, misshapen flowers borne upon plants with nearly-black leaves. To his left, to the north-east, the sky was tinged red, but it was not the red of sunrise. To his right stood Minas Morgul, a faint, sickly light welling through its marble facade. He stopped. Against his will his gaze was drawn upward. A vast dark winged creature perched upon the battlements, and upon it sat a figure darker yet, darker than night, darker than nothingness: a Nazgûl. Fear flowed from him like vapor from a dragon’s jaws. He raised a great black mace and screeched as the creature stooped upon Frodo.
Frodo woke shaking. His bedside lamp was lit and Círdan was there. “I heard you call,” he said.
“It was a bad dream.”
Círdan touched Frodo’s forehead. It was very warm. He took his hand from the coverlet and kneaded the palm. Frodo lay back and closed his eyes, and eventually fell back asleep. Círdan stayed with him awhile, then ruffled his hair, doused the lamp, and went to walk in the garden. The air was chill and bore the scents of fallen leaves and the calls of distant birds. The moon had long set, but the stars were nearly bright enough to read by. Círdan stood and soaked up their mild light.
The next night Frodo dreamt again of Mordor. He groped through dark tunnels filled with sticky ropy webs that hurt his hands. He could not remember where he was going or why, only that he had somehow to find a way out. But there were no landmarks by which to navigate: it was utterly lightless, the passage never went up nor down, and sounds fell dead into the heavy webs. He plodded on and on for what felt like days, stopping only occasionally to sip a little water. Finally he saw a faint light shining through an archway ahead upon his right. Rushing forward, he found a stairway leading steeply downward to an open area. He descended, seeking the light’s source, glad to be free of the webs. Rounding a sharp corner, he stopped dead. Upon the floor he saw himself sleeping, his head in Sam’s lap, his face clear and untroubled, as if he dreamed of better times and places, or perhaps of nothing at all. Sam also slept, one of his hands upon sleeping Frodo’s forehead, the other light upon his chest. A soft white glow illumined them, but deep shadows fell all about, and there was no sound, and the air was still and heavy and moist and smelt faintly of salt.
Frodo woke. Early sunlight shone upon the thin frost covering his window, scattering sparks of red and saffron and emerald and violet about the room. He lay for awhile watching them slowly creep across his blankets and about the walls. Then he rose, put a log on the fire and fanned it to life, and sat down at his desk.
There lay a manuscript, a work in progress, a book he was writing about a people who lived at no time in particular, in a place whose name only he (and Círdan) knew. It had been surprisingly difficult to write, and though sometimes he made no progress for long periods, he could not quite give it up. At the moment it consisted of many apparently-unrelated vignettes, some only a paragraph or two long, some spanning four or five pages of firm, careful script. There were chapter-titles, and he had a good idea of what would go in some chapters, a vague idea of what others should cover, and no idea at all about a good half-dozen. His hands clasped, he gazed at the manuscript’s last page, wondering whether he ever would find the threads to weave it all together, or whether it could be woven at all.
He tried to write, but nothing would come, and he found it difficult to focus on the task. He got up, walked around the room awhile, then sat again and re-read portions at random. Some of this is very good, he thought, but it’s like I’ve written everything I can, like I’ve nothing left to say, even though I know, deep down, that that’s not so. But how do I get it out onto the page? He turned to a blank page near the end of the volume and spent some time writing down whatever came to mind, even if it seemed worthless or unrelated to the book’s themes, such as they were:
Frost on window, rainbows in room, quiet all around.
Does any of this matter? Why can’t I do this? Why is it so hard?
“It’s something quite different, something I can’t put my finger on, something hidden. Only you, I think, can understand,” said Eluan
“I don’t understand a thing, not one solitary thing,” countered Marai. “Moreover, I don’t know why you insist on bothering me with this,” she continued, anger plain upon her face. “Don’t I have enough to do? And aren’t there at least a dozen others you could ask?”
“’But’ what? If you want to tangle yourself up in Kelsa’s schemes, feel free. ‘But’ leave me out of it. And don’t come begging me to cut the ropes and pull the thorns afterward.”
This is going nowhere.
Frodo rose with a snort of disgust. He opened the door and stepped into the garden. No one else was about. He wandered the autumn landscape, shying away from the town and climbing instead up onto the ridge that rose westwards, a cool breeze following him. Looking around at the tawny trees and the cloudless sky he felt his mind quiet and clear. He stretched out on his back upon the fallen leaves. That’s what I need, he thought. Some time alone.
“I’ll be away only a few weeks,” said Frodo later that day. “But I really need to wander awhile. It’s the only way I’ll ever finish this so-called book.”
“’So-called?’ Why, some of it is better than even old Bilbo’s stories!”
Frodo smiled at the comparison. Though Bilbo had died many years before (at the ripe age of 144), Frodo still marvelled at how he had been able to produce the perfect tale for any situation, often seemingly concocting it right on the spot.
“I have a lot of catching-up to do to meet that mark!” he said.
Círdan crouched to look in his eyes, a shadow of a smile upon his lips, then laid his hands upon his shoulders. “Well, you’d better get to it, then!” he said.
Head inclined slightly, Frodo returned Círdan’s gaze, winked, then silently left. Bearing eastward, he walked inland, the sun shining brightly over his right shoulder. The land rose in tree-covered ridges, golden with autumn’s unfallen leaves.
In the late afternoon he came to a wayfarer house. It was a simple stone cottage just south of the road. Inside were several beds, a tiny kitchen, a washroom, and a fireplace. It seemed recently to have been tended, and there was plenty of wood. Beginning a fire, Frodo stepped outside onto the porch. Not far beyond its railing the land fell steeply away to the south in a narrow valley; dun hills, lit here and there with late sunlight, rolled on to the edge of sight. To the right a small clear brook splashed over a stony brink. Frodo stood a long time, his chin upon his laced hands, a look upon his face as if he were trying to locate an elusive sound, or as if he were just upon the cusp of understanding a phrase spoken softly in a specially difficult tongue.
The next day he climbed through the mallorn woods into higher regions populated by oaks and ashes, and then into groves of birch and trees with smooth silvery bark bearing gracefully-tapered reddish leaves, which the Elves called airafernë. Coming to a clearing, he looked back West through a long valley, but he could see only trees and sky and a lone, snowcapped mountain.
He wandered a great deal, mostly on the smaller roads and paths that traversed the island’s higher reaches, making his way through thick golden forests, and about the shores of little lakes, and across wide empty moors with the wind sighing in his ears. As he went, snatches of dialogue or of description sometimes occurred to him. At first he tried to remember these, but when he went to record them at each day’s end, little usually remained. So instead he considered each as it appeared, then let it pass as it would, perchance to feed his imagination as leaves feed the trees from which they fall. And so he walked, and wrote when he needed to write, and woke and slept in rhythm with the Sun. And when he dreamed, lying spread-eagled under the stars or curled upon a bed in a wayfarer house, he saw a faint soft light behind a curtain of fog, and heard a song like the fluting of wind upon tall sere reeds in the twilight.
On a cool hazy day he came finally to the eastern Sea. The water was strangely still, all but the first few hundred yards shrouded in an even grey fog. A little path ran southward, weaving its way between the rocky cliff’s edge and a forest of resinous pines, sweet-smelling in the calm air. Turning right, Frodo followed it. The path steepened as it ascended to a high ridgeline, then slowly it fell away. Some hours later it turned abruptly towards the Sea, dissolving into a beach’s fine white sand.
Slowly Frodo trod the shore, the water’s rhythm gentle and even upon the sand. He thought again about Sam, as he always did when by the Sea, and he looked ever eastward, ever toward Middle-earth that lay beyond the fog, beyond the horizon, beyond all reach but that of thought. A thin cold breeze blew onshore, hissing in the beach-grass, but the Sea was glassy, as if the wind had no power over it. After awhile he came to some rocks, and he sat, his back against them, beach-grass about his feet. He felt warm and quiet, but his heart ached. “So far away,” he thought. “So very far away. Yet so clear, as if you were before me now. Sam!” A single tear crept from each eye, wandering slowly down his face.
In the quiet, lulled by the Sea’s murmur and the wind’s gentle thrumming, he dreamed. At first, disconnected images flickered before his closed eyes, silent and indistinct and too brief for understanding. They seemed to have color, yet he could not have said what colors they held; they seemed to have depth, yet not depth as he understood it; they moved, but neither continuously nor in jerks. Gradually they shifted, becoming more life-like, and he saw himself: not as if in a looking-glass, but viewed directly, as through another’s eyes.
His form, as it were, stood upon a grassy hilltop, his arms outstretched, his head thrown back, joy painted upon his face and sparkling in his eyes. Another hobbit-form stood some feet away, his back to Dreaming Frodo, not so lithe as himself: broad of shoulder he was, with chestnut curls glinting in the sun. Then Dreaming Frodo’s perspective shifted, and he felt the sun upon his face; his ears were unstopped, and he heard the summer wind and the day-crickets; he smelt the grass and the clover and tasted the clean breeze. Last he opened his eyes and saw the other hobbit’s face, Sam’s face.
The little craft clove her way confidently through the glassy water, as if she knew her destination, as if she were following a trail clearly marked for those with eyes to see. Yet Sam’s eyes saw little but fog; even the craft’s bow – small as she was – was only just visible, and her masthead was hidden. Yet he heard, or thought he heard, a sound other than the wind’s whisper in the mainsail, and the water’s slow. even glide from bow to stern: a rhythmic rushing sound it was, seeming to surge forward and to retreat, surge and retreat, over and over.
Then quite suddenly the fog came to an end, and Sam beheld a beach of white sand, surmounted by rocky cliffs. He stared in wonder at the approaching island. Fog spilled from its highlands over the cliffs like a ghostly river and fell upon the beach, dissolving as it met the water. All seemed quiet, not as by the absence of sound, but as if quiet were a thing in itself, a thing woven of fog and Sea and fine clean white sand.
Sam stumbled forward as the craft grounded herself gently upon the beach. “Well!” he said aloud. “I had best mind my boat!” Still dazed, he laid her mainsail upon her deck, raised her rudder, and stepped upon the shore, feeling the soft sand beneath his feet. Then turning to face the little craft, he bowed deeply, reverently. “Thank you,” he said.
The breeze turned south as slowly he hauled the boat out of the Sea’s reach. The fog began to break, and the Sea lost its greyish cast, becoming a clear blue-green under a hazy mild sun.
Though it was only mid-afternoon, Sam felt sleepy. He wandered the beach for awhile, searching for a likely spot, when he came upon footprints: a single set, heading south. He thought that they might be those of an Elf-child. He turned to follow them, hoping to find a village where he might rest, or at least someone to guide him. As he went the shore curved slowly westward and the cliffs sank, until, some ways ahead, he glimpsed a scattering of boulders hedged with beach-grass. They were tall and smooth and brown, and formed little groups that seemed likely to give some shelter from the wind. As he approached them, the ground became less sandy, and the footprints more difficult to follow, and when he came under their shadows the prints disappeared altogether. “Well, there ain’t nothing for it, and no accounting for east nor west,” he mumbled.
Then Sam saw a patch of sunlight shining upon a semicircular group of smaller boulders. “But that’s a fine place, by the looks of it”. As he padded towards it, he glimpsed someone: a small figure, wrapped in a grey Elven cloak, nestled in the crook of two rocks. His head was hooded and his face hidden. “Hmm?” Sam thought. “I’d not disturb this fellow, but it’s a right long time since I’ve seen anyone, and I don’t mean no harm.” Approaching quietly, he called softly, “Sir?” No response. “Sir?”
But the Elf-child seemed asleep, his hands clasped over his slender belly, his shrouded head resting upon his left shoulder, the Elven-cloak wrapped tightly about him. Only his feet were visible. His feet. Sam stared. Then realization flooded him, and he gasped. “Frodo?” Coming closer, he examined the folded hands carefully. The figure moved slightly in his sleep, and then there could be no doubt: the middle finger of his right hand was missing. “Mr. Frodo!” Sam exclaimed, then immediately clapped his hand over his mouth, lest he wake him. But Frodo slept on, serenely, steadily.
Tears filled Sam’s eyes, and he quivered with suppressed emotion. All the long years of separation fell from him as bud-wrappings from a flower newly come to bloom, and he felt again as a young hobbit, seeing now his love for the first time, yet he remembered all that had happened since. And so he smoothed back the hood from Frodo’s face, and laid once again a kiss, feather-light, upon his forehead. Then, with exquisite gentleness, slowly he worked himself between Frodo’s back and the rocks against which he slept, his right hand finally coming to rest upon Frodo’s right hip, and his left upon his chest, feeling there the calm rise and fall of his breath. And he looked upon Frodo’s face, delicate but strong, fair and unfathomable as he had remembered, peaceful and heedless now of fear or want or any pain.
Dreaming Frodo moved to embrace Sam, but found that he was no longer there. Again fragments of images passed before his eyes, then nothing: he felt that he was floating in a void, a place utterly empty of aught but himself: dark and silent and scentless it was. But not for long. A thin piercing screech rose from somewhere in its vastness, then another, then yet another: they beat and echoed, cutting into his mind as a sword cleaves flesh. His left shoulder throbbed and clenched as if bathed in ice. He cringed and cowered. Then suddenly he felt a terrible compulsion. A deep chasm was before him, the glowing wraith-road at its bottom winding its way south and west, over bridges and among fields of misshapen flowers to Minas Morgul’s gates. Something round and heavy and hot pulled at his neck and shoulders, pulled him down. His feet slipped upon the rocks, and a raw terror filled his mind, but the screeches rose and joined with others too numerous to count, a deafening cacophony that became less bearable, not more, with each passing moment. His animal will resisted, yet for the power beating upon him, his feet would not respond, would not retreat, and his hands would not grasp. The wraith-road and its fortress held his eyes, and the wraiths’ voices his mind. He wished to jump, to become one with them and with the Wheel of Fire at his breast, and with the fiery mountain blazing across the devastated plains, and with the Tower that loomed over them, and with the Eye that lived therein. His knees buckled. A cry came from him, a wild keening as piercing as the wraiths’.
Then suddenly something kicked Frodo’s feet from beneath him and pulled him backward. Strong arms held him, dragged him from the cliff-edge. He struggled and thrashed, clawed at the arms, fought desperately to grasp his sword: his fingers brushed its hilt, gripped, slid off, gripped again. But the attacker’s left arm immobilized his trunk and left arm, and the right gripped his right wrist with fearsome strength, pulling it back and up. “Elbereth! It’s your Sam, Mr. Frodo! You remember your Sam?” the attacker choked out. “Don’t go where he can’t follow, Mr. Frodo, me dear!”
The wraiths’ screams seemed then to retreat, and a wholesome warmth returned to his cold hands and crept towards his shoulders. Gradually the tension left him, his breath coming easier. He wept, unable to speak, his mind swirling with horror and shame – and relief. “Sssam,” he stammered finally. “I couldn’t h-help mys-self. It took me, They took me.”
“Shh, Mr. Frodo. It’s alright,” cooed Sam, blotting with his shirt at his gouged arms.
“It’s not! Look at what I did! S-sam, they had me, they s-said –” Frodo broke into tears. “They said you wanted It. They said to k-kill you. And I tried, Sam.” He blushed furiously. “If you hadn’t been s-so strong, I’d have taken my sword to you!”
“But you’re safe now, Mr. Frodo, and so am I. You see, the Lady Galadriel, she was right. He needs you most of all she said. When the darkness presses, you’ll always be there for him. And I will, Mr. Frodo. I will!”
In the late afternoon, Frodo became restless in Sam’s arms. He twitched and moaned, deep choking moans as if he sought to cry out. Sam stroked his head comfortingly. “It’s alright Mr. Frodo. Your Sam is here. It’s but a bad dream,” he spoke softly. Then Frodo screamed, a shattering sound, and thrashed wildly, finally half-waking.
“Wha-what has happened?” he called. Then, realizing that he was not alone, he struggled. “L-let me go! Begone, foul creeping thing, and trouble me no more!”
Sam held him gently, reassuringly. “Mr. Frodo! It’s your Sam! He’s here!”
Frodo ceased struggling in mid-kick. “Sssam?”
“Yes, me dear. I’ve come, from over the Sea. An Elf-lord helped me to build a ship, a little grey boat –”
“Sam? Is it really you?” Frodo asked, now fully awake and fully astonished, and yet refusing to believe his own ears’ testimony. “Let me see you!”
And so they disentangled themselves and rose and gazed upon each other. Frodo’s eyes became very large, and he trembled, his tears flowing freely. “Sam! You’ve come!” He opened his arms wide, and they embraced long, there in the setting Sun beside the Sea, upon a shore both once had thought to exist only in myth.
*** The End ***
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