Victory’s Despair


“Sam, would you walk with me?” asked Frodo one morning, not long after their rescue from Mt. Doom. His right hand, wrapped in a white bandage, no longer pained him, but it felt oddly empty and insubstantial, as if the force of his will had withdrawn from it. In answer Sam took his uninjured hand, shyly but firmly. They wandered Ithilien’s paths, taking in the fresh green leaves against the clear sky, the sunlight peeking into the little glades, the streams chattering over their stony beds, and the firm, clean feel of the wholesome earth under their feet. They felt no need to speak, only to listen and to look, to breathe deeply the herb-scented air, to touch the mosses and the flowers and the great trees’ furrowed trunks, and to drink the streams’ clean cold waters. Only when the gloaming had faded to a clear evening did they return, halting on the edge of the encampment and letting nightfall’s sounds wash over them.



“There’s something, Sam, that I’d like to talk about. Can we?” asked Frodo some days later.


“Well, er, yes, I guess so, Mr. Frodo,” stammered Sam. He was far from sure that he really wanted to talk, at least about what Frodo seemed likely to want to discuss.


“I don’t know – how to say this – properly,” began Frodo, plucking up his courage. “It took me a long time to realize, to understand –” He looked hard at Sam, who seemed, however, to be staring into the indefinite distance. He tried to continue, “I – want to be – want to be – your –“ still Sam did not respond, and Frodo faltered. “Sam?” he asked, pleadingly. “S-Sam?”


Finally Sam returned his gaze, his face showing an unhappy ambivalence. “I – can’t, Mr. Frodo,” he said haltingly. “Y-you know I’m promised to Rosie. I l-love you both, and I d-don’t want to decide.” Then, with something of a shamefaced expression, he added, “But I guess, I know I h-have to.”


Frodo’s heart rose into this throat and tears crept from his eyes. So I will not be spared, he thought. So there really is no place for me. “But –“ he pleaded, holding out a shaking hand to Sam.


Sam took Frodo’s hand between his own and stroked it gently, then released it and turned away, his shoulders slumping. “N-No, Mr. F-Frodo,” he said.



It was a clear afternoon in Minas Tirith. Merry sat upon the wall bordering the outer alcove of his chamber. On the level below there grew a large bay tree, its graceful branches arching far above Merry’s head, its fragrant leaves fluttering in a light, cool breeze. He looked at it in a kind of trance, trying to follow the ever-changing patterns of sky between its leaves, lulled by their gentle rustling. The color of the sky seemed specially rich and clear and luminous, and it reminded him of something, but he could not quite remember what.


His chamber-door closed and soft footsteps make their way across the stone floor. Without turning he patted the place beside himself and waited. Frodo climbed onto the wall and sat there looking at him sidelong, his head slightly inclined and his lips pressed together, his eyes forlorn. Merry put an arm about his shoulders and gently shook him. “Cousin, cousin,” he said softly, “I know it hurts. And I know you don’t want to hear any of the usual salves – just,” he paused, “just like I didn’t when Miss Petunia decided she’d rather have Freddie Bottlesworth – and by the way, what a lout! – than me.” He winked at Frodo. “Honestly I don’t know what she – but in any case, instead of the usual, let me tell you a story.”


“What kind of a story?” asked Frodo, curiosity edging a little of the unhappiness from his face.


“Well, one that’s very old, but that I’m making up right now.”


“That makes not the least bit of sense.”


“It’s a story of every time, and no time at all.”




“I’ve told it to only one other person –”


“Keeping secrets again?”


“– and I made him promise, on the Old Took’s honor, not to repeat it.”


“You told it to Pippin?” asked Frodo with mock incredulity.


“Well yes: he is my cousin, after all –“


“And you think he hasn’t already told the entire Kingdom of Gondor?”


“Well, you haven’t heard it yet.”


“How do you know I haven’t?”


And so they talked through the afternoon as the bay tree shed its old yellow leaves and slowly pushed forth fresh green ones, and no story was ever forthcoming, but neither missed it. As the Sun sank behind old Mindolluin, Frodo smiled and took Merry’s hand, and said, “Merry, you really are the best friend a hobbit could have.”


“Glad you’ve finally recognized it,” he said seriously, his face carefully neutral. But then there came a little tic in his right cheek, and his lips trembled, and his eyes brightened, and the corners of his mouth turned upward, and he failed quite to suppress a little chortle, and soon he was laughing uproariously – and Frodo with him.



Nonetheless Frodo’s hurt at Sam’s refusal did not abate, and often he pondered what Sam felt for him. He thought of the light in his eyes as they had eaten stewed rabbits in Ithilien, and of the way Sam’s hands sometimes had lingered upon his shoulders after they had embraced, and of the words he had heard him whisper upon the dark stairs above Minas Morgul, and of other words that he might have heard later but could not place. And he recalled how Sam had found him upon the very precipice of the wraith-world, just as the veil of his concealment had thinned to its last tattered shreds and his will to look away had almost failed, and had brought him back to the world of light. But most of all Frodo thought of Sam’s devotion: of his words of encouragement and of hope, of the sleepless watch he had kept upon him, of how he had scanted himself to give Frodo enough food or water, and of how – given every excuse simply to give up and go away, and moreover daring great peril all alone – he had rescued him from the Tower of Cirith Ungol.


Frodo wondered whether it was all simply determination to help him complete the Quest, or whether there was something else behind it. Looking back, he was shocked at how much his feelings had changed since he and Sam and Pippin had left Hobbiton. He wondered whether the same was true for Sam, and thought it odd that they never had discussed the matter. But then he realized that they never had discussed any of this. Always they had focussed on “getting the job done,” as Sam had called it, or upon solving some immediate problem; and sometimes they had talked of the past. But seldom had they discussed what they felt, or why. And now the time for that discussion had passed.


But this was not Frodo’s only hurt. In the weeks and months following the Ring’s destruction, he began to have some odd feelings and experiences. At times he would reach for the Ring as if it still hung about his neck, and would take momentary fright at its absence. Other times he would feel a kind of regret at Its destruction. And increasingly he came to feel empty and without purpose, and to lose pleasure in the things of everyday life. Often he would say, “It is gone forever, and now all is dark and empty.” Distressing recollections and grim forebodings haunted his dreams, disturbing his rest. And he began to find it difficult – and even painful – to be among other people: a knot of hurt would form behind his forehead and a pit of apprehension would settle in his stomach, and often he would excuse himself and go walking alone, or go to bed, hoping that he would not dream.


Frodo tried to hide these feelings and to act as he thought others expected. Most especially he sought to avoid burdening (as he put it) Sam with his wishes or desires or problems. He must go on, and be whole and free to live the happiness he seeks – with Rosie, not with me, he thought. And who would want a broken old hobbit, as I am? I have nothing more to give.


And so the seedling of the White Tree was planted and grew and burst into bloom, and Strider was crowned the King Elessar and wedded Arwen Undómiel, and Sam planned his future and Pippin made his songs and smoked pipe-weed, and Gandalf rested from his labors, and all about Frodo there was change and renewal and restoration of hope, but for him there was none. And only to Merry would he speak of these things, and only in part, and Merry kept his confidences. Yet they could not entirely be hidden, and desolate as Frodo felt, the others did not forget him nor cease to think how they might bring him comfort, and the Story in which he had become enmeshed had not found its ending.


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