West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Across the Waters
Frodo sails West, and visions of his past sail with him.
Author's Note: This story is 99.4% book canon; the
remaining 6% is movie verse and liberties that I've taken.
Credit for inspiration goes to, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien, who not only created (subcreated?) this amazing world but left plenty of "untold stories" in it for fanfic writers to fill in; to Diamond of Long Cleeve's lovely "Star of the Sea," and to Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, for all of her lyrical work, but especially for the astonishing and heart-wrenching "Rosary."
Thanks go to my beta-reader, Lurea, who provided some welcome suggestions and feedback.
This story contains no slash or sexual situations, and is rated PG for mild violence and some graphic descriptions in later chapters.
Frodo and the others stood at the rail of the ship as it moved away from the shore. He raised his hand in farewell, but could not find it in his heart to wave. He watched Sam raise his own hand and hold it high. As the ship sailed through the long firth, Frodo could see Sam's raised hand, a small white marker in the gathering dusk. The ship turned to head out to Sea and Frodo leaned over the rail. He was able to see Sam's hand, growing ever smaller and less distinct, for a long while.
The shadowy coasts of the firth receded and the wide water opened before them. The evening had deepened and Frodo knew that Sam would no longer be able to see the ship. He suddenly remembered the Lady's phial inside his coat pocket and he drew it out and looked at it glowing in his palm with the light of Eärendil. As the ship passed out of the gulf, he held the phial out in front of him. It shimmered in the evening shadows, and its fair light illuminated his face. Do you see it, Sam? Do you see me?
The ship sailed further away from land and the coast of Middle-earth faded into the misty evening. When the shoreline had dwindled to a vague shadow in the twilight, the others turned away from the rail of the ship, one by one, until only Frodo remained. Frodo knew that Sam would not have ridden away when the ship was lost to his sight, but would have stayed on the shore with Merry and Pippin, looking out over the water long after there was nothing to see but the darkening waves. So Frodo stayed as well, standing at the rail of the ship with the Lady's phial in his hand. It shone like a star, its reflection sparkling upon the water. Do you see it, Sam? Do you see me? Farewell, Sam. Goodbye.
When he was certain that the ship was far from land, and that Sam could no longer see him, he put the phial in his pocket and turned his back on the vanished shoreline.
All his life, Frodo had heard the Sea in his dreams, yet now that he was upon it, its vastness overwhelmed him. Around him he saw nothing but water, and above him the white stars wheeled and glittered. He had never felt so small.
He wound his cloak about him and walked to the bow of the ship. White foam crested before it, and a fine salt spray misted his face and hair. They seemed to move with great swiftness, yet the water broke quietly against the bow and the ship glided as easily as a rowboat upon a still lake. Frodo could barely feel its motion beneath his feet. He looked up and saw the brilliant scattering of stars in the heavens. He closed his eyes and saw Sam's white hand, raised in the twilit darkness.
A gentle touch fell upon his shoulder and Frodo opened his eyes to see Gandalf standing beside him.
"The Sea is beautiful, isn't it?" Gandalf said.
"I have never seen anything like it," Frodo responded. "I wonder if I ever will again."
Gandalf smiled. "You will find that you are never far from the Sea, in Elvenhome. The Elves love the Sea as they love the stars."
"And what else will I find there, Gandalf? What waits for me?"
Gandalf lowered himself to his knees and looked into Frodo's eyes. "You will find peace and comfort there. You needn't worry."
"I'm not worried...not exactly. But..." He looked at the empty waves all around him. "It's all so...big. It's nothing like home."
"A home awaits you, Frodo. A place where you can rest, and be healed."
"Rest..." he said, and a great weariness and longing came over him. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Are you tired, Frodo?" Gandalf asked. "Would you like to go below?"
Frodo opened his eyes. "I am tired. But I think I would like to look out over the water for a while."
"All right, Frodo. If you get cold, or sleepy, do go below for a bit."
"Yes, Gandalf," Frodo said and smiled up at him. "I will."
Frodo stayed at the bow of the ship after Gandalf had gone, and heard the wizard's words in his mind. A place where you can rest, and be healed. Of course, that was why he had left Middle-earth. Had he stayed, he knew that he would have faced a short life of pain and illness and an ever-growing despair. In only two years, the affliction of his wounds had already grown, even as his melancholy had deepened. He wondered which of the two would finally have been the end of him. No, there had been little hope for him in Middle-earth and Arwen's sacrifice had given him free passage to the West. Could he have chosen any differently?
Yet even now as he stood upon the ship, with his back to Middle-earth and his unknown future before him, he wondered if healing would be possible. He held his right hand up to the sky and examined its wounded silhouette against the stars. He drew his fingers together and the pinky tilted far over, making a little triangle over where his ring finger should have been. He could see bright stars through the space.
He began a slow, deliberate inventory of every wound on his body. The heavy scar on the back of his neck, left by the ring's chain, felt thick and unpleasant beneath his fingers. He grimaced as he touched the depression from the spider's sting, and forced the thought of her from his mind. Even through his shirt, he could make out the scar that the orc's whip had imprinted along his side. He began to put his hand in the collar of his shirt, reaching for his left shoulder, then stopped. He did not need to touch it. That wound pained him constantly now, and he was always aware of it.
Frodo felt immensely fatigued and found it difficult to keep his eyes open. I should go downstairs, he thought, and yet he preferred to stay on deck. He was tired, too tired to face anyone, too tired even to seek out his own bed. I will sit here for a while. I will sit here and rest, and when I feel better, I will go downstairs. He gathered his cloak up in his hands and sat down, propping himself against the wall of the forecastle. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes with a grateful sigh. That's better.
In the darkness beneath his eyelids, Frodo again saw Sam's white hand, so small against the vast night, the last he would ever see of Middle-earth. Oh, Sam, Frodo thought. How did all of this happen? And how is this to end?
Images out of the past drifted through Frodo's mind, as if he were viewing pictures in a gallery. The sound of the water against the ship was soothing, and seemed to grow louder as he approached the edge of sleep. The water, he thought dreamily. Water...
"Hobbits don't belong on water! I've always said it!" His aunt was whispering, but her voice was shrill, bordering on tears.
"Shhh! He'll hear you! We've only just managed to get him to sleep!"
Frodo was not asleep. He lay curled up in his bed, his face to the wall. His eyes wandered over the fine lacing of cracks in the plaster and he listened distantly to his aunts as they discussed him and the events of the day.
"What a dreadful thing. You should never have let him go down to the river. He shouldn't have seen that."
"I couldn't stop him! He ran out before I could!"
Frodo remembered the feeling of his aunt's hand on the back of his neck as she had tried to keep him from running out the door. He had been too quick for her, and she had only latched onto a handful of his collar. For a brief struggling moment, Frodo had been suspended in the doorway as his shirt was pulled up against his throat. He had thrown his entire slight body weight forward and had been rewarded with the sound of his collar ripping beneath her hand. He had burst from the door and raced down the path to the river.
He felt someone sit down behind him. A cool hand stroked his forehead. "Tsk, tsk, the poor thing. At least he's getting some rest."
"Has anyone sent a message to Bilbo? He'll want to be here for the lad and for..." The speaker lowered her voice into a dramatic whisper. "...the funeral."
"We sent a message as soon as we knew for certain. I'm sure he'll be here as soon as he can."
Frodo blinked at the mention of Bilbo's name. When Frodo had last seen his cousin, whom he was still young enough to call, "Uncle," it had been a fine summer evening, and he had been out in the garden with his mother and father and a gaggle of young cousins. Bilbo had sat with him and named all the stars (the ones he knew, anyway) and told him stories about Elves and dragons until he had finally fallen asleep on the old hobbit's shoulder. It had been an evening of fireflies and shooting stars, and although it had been months ago, it seemed far more real to Frodo than this September night, after a day when so many things had changed.
Frodo was sitting in the kitchen, finishing his afternoon tea, when he heard a commotion from the front hall. He put down his cup, jumped down from the long bench at the kitchen table and went to stand in the doorway. He saw an old hobbit, a local farmer whose name he did not know, in the front hall, talking to Frodo's Aunt Amaranth with great urgency, waving his arms about. Water flew from his fingertips, and Frodo noticed that the farmer was dripping wet; only his shoulders and his hat were dry.
Aunt Amaranth emitted a high-pitched wail and threw her hands up to her round face. Frodo was so startled that he took an involuntary step backwards into the kitchen, and his eyes went wide. None of his relations saw him in the kitchen doorway as they began to rush to the front hall. Frodo noticed with surprise and a faint alarm that not one of his aunts or cousins seemed upset that the farmer was leaving a great puddle of water on their clean floor.
He knew that, as a child, he had no business meddling in the affairs of his elders, but whatever was happening in the front hall seemed far outside the normal, dull sphere of grown-up business. He stepped forward quietly and stood outside the circle of his relatives, hoping to catch some hint of what was happening. He heard his mother's name then, and someone asked "In the river?" with shock in her voice. And then Frodo realized that his mother was not there, nor his father.
"Where is my mother?" he asked, and the babble of voices quieted as they turned to look at him.
"Oh, my dear..." Aunt Amaranth said, and a chill passed through Frodo at the way she said it, and the tears that stood in her red eyes.
Frodo did not need any further explanation. He took off at a run, dodging between his family, past the dripping farmer and out the front door as his aunt lunged for him, and tried to hold him back. But she caught only that little bit of collar, and lost him.
As Frodo ran beneath the trees to the riverbank, he heard running feet and voices behind him. He knew he was being pursued from Brandy Hall, and so he ran faster. Someone called his name, but he did not stop or even look around. His aunt's face came to him, and although he had never seen grief before, he somehow knew that this was what he had seen in her eyes. Something terrible had happened in the river, and he had heard his mother's name.
Frodo reached the Brandywine's bank, where a small knot of hobbits was gathered. He pushed his sweaty hair out of his eyes and approached. No one tried to stop him; they were so distracted and he was so small that no one even paid attention to him.
He made his way through the legs of the other hobbits. When he came to the center, he saw his mother, and his father, lying senseless on the ground.
They were both drenched from head to toe, and his mother's hair lay in wet streamers down her shoulders. His father's hands were turned palm-up, as though he were asking for a favor or a gift. His mother's mouth was open. They were both very white, and they did not move. They were dead.
Frodo knew this in an instant. He had seen dead birds and dead mice and once he had seen a dead raccoon out in the woods, near the edge of the Old Forest. He was a keenly observant child, and had noticed the utter stillness of dead things, which he now saw on his parents. Yet while he could recognize their death, he did not understand how such a thing could have happened, and his mind was filled with one question: Both of them? Both of them?
He stepped toward them and a whisper went up from the hobbits.
"Take that child away from here!" an appalled voice cried out, but no one moved.
Frodo crouched down between his parents and balanced himself on the balls of his feet. He reached over and closed his mother's mouth. It was a bright, warm day, but her skin was clammy and cold. He placed his right hand on his mother's shoulder and his left on his father's and sat looking from one to the other. And again, he thought, Both of them? Both of them?
Frodo felt hands on his shoulders and tried to shrug them off, but they would not go.
"Come on lad, you shouldn't see this," a voice said above him.
He turned his eyes up, but the sun behind the speaker's head obscured his face. Frodo squinted at him and asked the only question that came to his mind. "Both of them?"
The hobbit put his hands under Frodo's arms, and kindly but insistently pulled him to his feet. "Let's go, there's a good lad. Your aunts are here for you."
Frodo allowed himself to be steered away from his parents, but he cast a look back at them over his shoulder. The hobbit who was leading him attempted to block the boy's view with his body, and Frodo pushed him aside with a small grunt of effort. He turned all the way around to stare at his parents, not quite believing that this was true, that such a thing could possibly have happened on a sunny autumn afternoon while he sat in the kitchen at his tea.
"Frodo, come along my boy," came a deep voice at his ear. His Grandfather took him by the hand and began to lead him away again, and then Frodo stumbled and fell to his knees. He vaguely heard a sob and several gasps from the assembled hobbits as his vision blurred. His Grandfather picked him up as though he were a much smaller child, and put him over his shoulder to take him back to the Hall.
For the next two days, Frodo lay in bed with his face to the wall, sleeping very little and eating even less. He had grown very acquainted with the pattern of cracks in that wall, and with the way sunlight roamed across the room as the day passed.
His younger cousins had been considered too disruptive and so had been kept away, but his aunts and uncles and his Grandfather had come in to speak to him. The first day, they had come with words of consolation, and a continuous parade of food that they had coaxed him to eat. Strawberry jam must have been considered an irresistible temptation, as Frodo had smelled it every time one of his aunts had come into the room with another clinking tray. To their great dismay, he had not been tempted, but had merely lain on his side and wondered if the scent of strawberry jam would now always remind him of these September days, the view of his wall, the angles of the sun, and the awful quiet that shrouded the Hall.
The second day, the food had continued, but the tone of consolation had changed a bit. Hobbits are sturdy folk, not easily saddened for long. Almost two days in bed without eating seemed sufficient, even for a child of twelve who had just lost both of his parents.
Frodo's Grandfather came in the late afternoon, as the sun was beginning its final journey of the day down the wall next to Frodo's bed.
"Don't you think you should be getting up now, lad? Staying a-bed and not eating won't bring them back."
"I'm not hungry, Grandfather," Frodo answered, his voice muffled against the pillow.
"You're upsetting your aunts. They can't bear to see a child without a full stomach."
His Grandfather took a deep breath and laid his large hand on Frodo's shoulder. "Frodo, this has been a hard blow to the family, and to you most of all. But you won't serve anything by lying in your bed and wasting away." He patted Frodo's shoulder and Frodo felt him rise from the bed. From far above him, his Grandfather said, "I expect you to eat some supper tonight, and I expect to see you up tomorrow morning, Frodo."
"Yes, Grandfather," Frodo answered listlessly. He stuck his thumbnail into one of the larger cracks and worried at it until white plaster dust sifted out like flour.
Frodo dozed a little. In his thin dreams, he saw white hands turned up, as if asking for a favor or a gift, and they changed into a single white hand raised against a darkening sky. He heard gentle river currents lapping against the banks of the Brandywine, and listened as the sound deepened into a steady murmur. That's the Sea, he thought in his dream, although he had never seen or heard it in his young life.
He was awakened by the sound of his door opening. The day had darkened into a violet September twilight, and his room was filled with deep shadows. Behind him, he heard dishes jingle together on a tray, and he groaned inwardly at the thought of talking his way out of another unwanted meal.
Frodo heard the tray being set down on the little table next to his bed, and felt the now-familiar sensation of someone sitting down behind him. A warm hand stroked his back.
"Frodo, my lad, they tell me you have not been up from this bed for more than two days."
Frodo's shoulders jumped in surprise at hearing Bilbo's voice. For the first time in days, he broke his concentration on the wall and rolled over onto his back.
"Uncle," he said with a sigh, and could say no more.
"My dear boy," Bilbo said softly, and caressed Frodo's face. "I came as quickly as I could. I am so terribly sorry."
"Uncle, they are both gone. Both of them. I saw them at the river."
"I know, Frodo. I wish that you hadn't." He sighed heavily. "This will take a long time to heal."
"I don't want it to heal. Everyone is acting like I should forget them already. But I don't want to."
"Frodo, healing this wound doesn't mean you should forget them. You will never forget them. No one thinks that you should. But if you continue this way, we may lose you, too, and none of us could bear that. Especially not me." He took Frodo's hand. "You are very dear to me."
Frodo said nothing, but let Bilbo massage his hand, weaving Frodo's slender fingers between his sturdier ones. Finally he said, "Uncle, I'm frightened."
"I know you are, Frodo, but your whole family is here. You needn't be afraid."
"But...I'm an orphan now. I don't belong to anyone anymore." He dropped his voice to a low, anxious whisper. "They will all forget about me."
In the purple dimness, Frodo saw Bilbo smile with great pity and tenderness. He shook his head, as if in amazement at the grave thoughts of this unusual child. "No one will forget you, Frodo." He leaned forward, as if about to share a secret. "And if it ever looked like that were going to happen, why I'd come and take you home, and then we could belong to each other. Would you like that, Frodo? Would you like to live with me someday?"
Frodo thought of Bag End, with its pleasant garden and long hall and comfortable warren of rooms. He thought of Bilbo sitting by the fire in his study with his maps spread out before him and his feet up on the footstool as he pored over reams of mysterious Elvish translations and scribbled notes in one of his many journals. For the first time since he had run down to the river on that sunny afternoon, Frodo felt a spark of hope about his future, and the tight band of grief and anxiety that had drawn itself around him seemed to loosen.
"That would be nice, Uncle."
"Good!" said Bilbo cheerfully. "But I can't have you coming to Hobbiton with your clothes hanging off your bones. Why not sit up and eat something for me?"
Frodo glanced at the tray doubtfully, but Bilbo looked so happy that he did not want to disappoint him. "I'll try," he said.
"That's my lad!"
Frodo sat up and Bilbo reached behind him to arrange pillows behind his back. As Bilbo leaned close to him, Frodo suddenly wrapped his arms around Bilbo's neck.
"Thank you, Uncle," he said.
"Well, you're welcome, Frodo, but whatever for?"
"For coming all this way to see me. And for not ordering me out of bed."
Bilbo laughed. "Well, I've never seen orders do much good when someone's unhappy. And as for coming to see you, why, I'd have come much farther than this to see you. And it's nothing you ever have to thank me for."
Frodo had a bit of supper and was surprised to find that he did feel better after he ate, warmer and comfortably drowsy. He thought that he might be able to have his first real sleep in days.
The room was growing cool, so Bilbo lit a fire and sat by Frodo's bed. He told him tales of the dwarves, and the hidden passages beneath the Misty Mountains and what it was like to float downriver on a barrel. Frodo was almost asleep when he heard Bilbo's voice trail off into silence. He turned to Bilbo and sleepily took his hand. "Don't go, Uncle," he said.
Bilbo patted his hand comfortingly. "I won't, my boy. I won't."
Author's Note: The poem in this chapter is directly quoted from The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Ring Goes South." (Houghton-Mifflin, Copyright 1994). "Fair quotes" in the conversation between Frodo and Sam are from "Three Is Company" and "A Short Cut to Mushrooms."
The waterfall had been the first sound that Frodo had heard in Rivendell, and it seemed that it would be his last. Upon awakening on that bright October morning, the sound of tumbling water had been soothing, and it had lifted Frodo's spirits every night that he had spent in this room. Now, on a chill December evening, Frodo stood on the little balcony outside his room and let its silvery murmur fill his ears, knowing that it was likely he would never hear it again.
It was late afternoon, and the last brightness of the winter day was fading from the sky. Warm lights were appearing in the windows around him, and Frodo could see the glow of fire through the open door of the Great Hall. It was such a peaceful scene that Frodo could hardly believe he would be leaving it so soon. Yet here he was, clad in traveling gear with a sword upon his belt, preparing to set forth as soon as evening had fallen.
Frodo slid his hand into his shirt and worked his way underneath the mail-coat. He placed his fingers over the scar on his left shoulder, and rotated his arm experimentally, as he had gotten in the habit of doing. As always, the scar felt slightly puckered and the skin at its edges pulled a little as he rotated his shoulder, but it was otherwise unremarkable. There was, however, that faint chill upon it, the skin there feeling just slightly cooler than elsewhere. Frodo had been certain this was merely his imagination, but Elrond had noticed it as well, and had frowned slightly.
"Does it pain you, Frodo?" he had asked.
"No. I can't even tell there's anything unusual unless I touch it with my other hand. Do you think it will go away after a while?"
"I cannot say. I have never seen anyone so grievously wounded who lived to tell of it. It may go away, or it may be a discomfort to you in your later years."
Frodo had not answered, for he suspected that he might not have a great many "later years" to concern him.
He let his hand travel to his chest, where the Ring dangled on Its silver chain. It was extraordinary that this Thing, which had lain so quietly at Bag End for so long, was now sending him out on this hopeless journey. And hopeless it did seem. Frodo had studied maps and spoken with the Wise in his two months at Rivendell, and he would have companions with him who knew far more of the wider world than he did, yet he remained unsure that it would be possible to fulfill this quest. Only Gandalf had been in the Dark Lands, and that some time ago, and not with the Enemy's Ring hanging from his neck. Frodo had noticed with some dismay that Elrond and Gandalf had been content to let him spend most of his time with Bilbo, as if they knew how little counsel or encouragement they were able to provide.
Looking up into the winter sky, Frodo remembered Bilbo's song,
I sit beside the fire and think
Of how the world will be
When winter comes without a spring
That I shall ever see.
He sighed at the thought that this winter might be his last, and that he would never see the spring that would follow it.
Frodo was interrupted from these gloomy thoughts by a sound in the room behind him. He had lit no candle or lamp before coming outside, so it was too dark to see who had entered his room.
"Is someone there?" he called out.
"Just me, Mr. Frodo," Sam said. "I knocked but didn't hear anything, so I came in."
"Well, don't lurk in the dark, Sam. Come out here and join me."
Sam stepped out onto the balcony. Like Frodo, he was dressed in the warm traveling clothes that the Elves had given them. His cloak was knotted tightly at his throat, as though Sam already felt beleaguered by the chill wind of some forlorn mountain pass, and its fur lining brushed against his face.
"Everyone is gathering in the Hall, Mr. Frodo. They say we'll be setting out as soon as it's darker."
"I'll be down in a moment. It's not dark yet, and I wanted to have a last look at the valley."
"It's a pretty place, isn't it? And not just pretty, but happy too. Why, almost the whole time I've been here, I haven't felt at all sad or worried. Except for those first few days when you were so sick, of course."
Frodo himself had no memory of his first days in Rivendell. He remembered waking up to the sound of birdsong and falling water, and a pattern of sunlight dancing on the wall. Before that, there was only a great void of icy darkness.
In the moment before the darkness had fallen altogether, Frodo had known he was drowning. The mist over his eyes had thickened until he was almost blind, and he had been able to hear the mad shrieks of the Black Riders' horses better than he had been able to see what was happening to them. Water had surged around his ankles even as he had begun to fall. I will drown, he had thought, with absolute certainty. He had scrabbled at the horse's mane but in his blind and weakened state he had been unable to find purchase. The horse was very tall for a hobbit, and Frodo had seemed to fall for a long time before hitting the water. I am drowning, he had realized as the river came up over his head, and in his last conscious moment, he had thought of his mother and father, and how odd it was that their only child should die the same way they had, so many years ago.
"I'm sorry, Sam. I was just woolgathering."
They were quiet for a little while. Overhead, white stars began to appear, one by one, in the deep blue winter sky. Frodo usually loved to look at the stars, but tonight their coming only meant that his time in this safe haven was over, and they seemed cold and indifferent. "I suppose we should go."
"Do we have to, Mr. Frodo?"
"You did say we would be leaving when it was dark." Frodo glanced up at the sky once more, then said with reluctance, "And it does appear to be dark."
"No, Mr. Frodo, I mean..." Sam put his head down and picked at a bit of fur on the edge of his cloak. "I mean, do we have to go...at all. Do we have to?"
"Sam, only I have to go. The Ring is mine, and It is my burden. I have given my word to destroy It, and I cannot take it back. I don't know if I will be able to do it, but I must try, for as long as I can. I am very happy that you are coming with me, but you are not sworn to go, nor are any of the others."
"Mr. Frodo!" Sam cried in surprise. "That's not what I meant! I'll go where you go...those Elves said Don't you leave him! and I told them I wouldn't leave you if you climbed to the Moon. And I didn't say it for their benefit, if you follow me, sir."
Frodo had to smile in spite of the depressing state of affairs. "I always follow you, Sam."
Sam was flustered with emotion. He ran his hand under his collar as though it itched. "Well, that's good to know, sir. I just wish, I wish..." Sam looked out miserably into the valley. "I wish you didn't have to go."
"I know. I wish the same thing."
"But it looks like there's no changing things." Sam sighed with resignation. "And as long as you're going, I'm going with you. You couldn't keep me away if you tried."
Frodo put his hand on Sam's arm. "Sam, do you know what the Elves said to me that night?"
"No, Mr. Frodo. What did they say?"
"They said that courage is found in unlikely places. And do you know, Sam? I find my courage in you."
Sam put his head down and even in the soft light from the valley, Frodo could see him blush.
"I guess we've kept them waiting long enough. Are you ready to go?"
Sam looked up at him. "Yes, Mr. Frodo. Sooner begun is sooner done, at any rate."
"Let's hope so, Sam. Let's hope."
Frodo spared a last look at the twinkling valley. He closed his eyes and listened to the waterfall, and hoped that he would remember it, and that the memory would be a comfort to him wherever his road may lead. Then he and Sam left his room, and made their way through the dusk to join the rest of the Fellowship.
"Want some water? You must be awfully thirsty!" The orc's voice was mocking and far too gleeful to hold any genuinely charitable intent. Yet Frodo was too worn and thirsty to ponder the orc's motives. His mouth and throat burned with the liquor they had forced on him. He thought of clear water and almost trembled with need.
"Yes," he answered, and his voice was so weak he could barely hear it himself.
"What's that? What? I can't hear you! Speak up for yourself!"
"Yes...I said..." Frodo paused and cleared his throat, and forced himself to speak louder, though it sent splinters of pain through his raw throat. "I said, yes."
Frodo's mind spun. What does he mean? What does he want me to say? He raised his head and looked up at the orc with terrible confusion. He tried to focus his vision and his mind, yet neither would clear. "What?" he asked, and suddenly thought, almost hysterically, Please? Does he want me to say...please?
"What do you want?" the orc asked cheerfully. "You said 'yes,' then I said 'yes what?' and then you said, 'what?' and now I don't know what you want!"
The orc grinned at him and shook the jug by his side. The liquid inside it made a cool, splashing sound and Frodo almost wept to hear it. He cleared his throat again and said, "Water." And then he added desperately, "Please."
"Oh, well, since you said 'please' and all. Here you go!"
The orc pulled Frodo's head back by the hair and set the jug to his lips, and even before Frodo tasted it, he smelled it, the same fiery alcohol they had already given him. He tried to twist his head away but could not, and swallowed a great scorching draught of it. Tears came instantly to his eyes and he began to cough. The orc roared with laughter as Frodo bent over his knees and vomited.
"That's a bloody waste, if you ask me. Suit yourself!" He turned and disappeared through the trapdoor, and Frodo could hear him laughing all the way down the ladder.
Frodo cradled his forehead in his hands and retched until his temples throbbed. When the nausea subsided, he placed his palms on the floor and pushed himself away from what he had vomited. His bare back found the stone wall and he leaned against it, exhausted. He wiped the back of his hand against his mouth, and his hand shook like a dry leaf in the wind.
He clamped his hands under his arms and attempted to calm himself. But he could find no hopeful or comforting thought to grant him even a little peace. He had recovered enough from the spider's poison to reconstruct the events that had brought him here. His lack of judgment had led him to trust Gollum, and so had caused their betrayal. His foolhardy actions in the monster's lair had separated him from Sam at the worst moment, giving the spider a chance to attack him, while Sam was beset by some other atrocity. Surely, Sam must be dead, or imprisoned, or in the spider's foul den. And through no fault or failing of his own. Sam's only failure was in trusting me, Frodo thought. He said he'd follow me to the Moon, but I brought him to a much darker place. All my choices have proved ill, from the very beginning.
Now his stupidity would cause evil to rain down on all of Middle-earth, on every living creature in it. The Ring was gone. And It had not been wrested from him after torment or captivity. He had delivered It to Sauron's very door, with no excuse for his failure other than his own endless chain of foolish choices.
Frodo drew his knees up to his chest and laid his head on them. He knew he would be tortured and feared it terribly. He could barely breathe from the dread of it. Yet what could be more fitting, than that he should suffer for years in these dungeons? I have murdered my dearest friend, who loved and trusted me. I have unleashed ruin upon the world. I deserve whatever they do to me. I deserve it a hundred times over.
He put his arms over his head and wept.
"Have some water, Mr. Frodo...come on," Sam said.
They had escaped the orc troop, and the company had moved on without coming upon them again. Frodo had flung himself down as soon as they had been clear, and since then he had not moved. At Sam's voice, he tried to turn himself over so that he could drink, and found that he could not even make that small effort. The forced march had claimed the last of his strength, and he lay on the ground where he had fallen, trembling with exhaustion. Frodo felt Sam's hands under his arms, gently lifting him to a sitting position, and he clutched Sam's arm and groaned as dizziness seized him.
"I know, I know," Sam whispered comfortingly, but Frodo could hear the worry in his voice and knew that Sam feared his master was dying. Yes, Sam, I am dying, Frodo thought. He had no fear of his own death. Indeed, he would have welcomed death immediately, but for his oath to complete the task, and his horror at the thought of leaving Sam alone. His loyalty to Sam held him to life, far more than his dedication to the quest. Sam had not left him to die in the Tower, and if he could find the strength in himself, Frodo would not leave Sam alone upon this blasted plain.
Sam cradled Frodo against him and wrapped one arm around his chest while he held the bottle up for him to drink. After a few sips, Frodo felt a bit recovered, and he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. "Now eat this, Mr. Frodo."
Frodo was too spent to be hungry, and he was certain that anything he ate would be wasted, that he wouldn't be able to keep food on his stomach. "No, Sam, I can't."
"Mr. Frodo, I'm sorry, but you will. I won't hear any different."
He did not have the will to argue. "All right, Sam, all right." He ate the waybread that Sam gave him, waiting for his hollow stomach to protest, but he found himself able to hold onto it. Some of his trembling subsided, and he felt a profound desire to sleep.
"Sam, let's not bother with watches tonight. There is nothing we can do now except hope not to be found. Let's just sleep."
"I agree, Mr. Frodo. I'm too tired to be frightened, myself."
Frodo fell at once into a dream of his bedroom at Bag End, with its comforting clutter of furniture and books, and its white curtains stirring at the window. It was a summer morning, in his dream, and as he lay in bed he could smell honeysuckle from the garden and see morning glories peeping around the window frame. His bed was soft and the sheets were cool and smooth against his skin.
What a horrible nightmare I had! he thought. Thank goodness I woke up before it could get any worse! He sat up and swung his legs easily over the edge of the bed. Looking out the window, he saw that it was raining, a soft summer rain that left glistening dew on the flowers and crystal droplets on the window glass. The sight was so pleasant that he almost wanted to go out to the garden in only his nightshirt, and walk on the wet grass. Instead, he went into the kitchen. His old, sturdy teakettle was on the hob and he took it to the sink to fill. As water ran from the pump in a great silver fall, Frodo suddenly felt compelled to touch it. He set the teakettle down and put both of his hands under the water. It was cool enough to tingle. Inexplicably, he filled his hands and splashed water on his face, and ran his wet hands through his hair. He filled his hands again and drank a deep draught of the cool water. He worked the pump and then leaned forward and put his whole head underneath the water stream, gasping as its cold splashed over his neck. I've gone quite mad! he thought, but felt too wonderful to care. He threw back his head and laughed and he shook his head and droplets of water fell from his hair and ran down his chest and back.
He awakened gasping with thirst. In spite of the water Sam had given him, he was so parched that he seemed to be crumbling into dust. Desperately, he tried to cling to the dream, as if the mere vision of water could somehow relieve his thirst. But the dream tattered and drifted away, taking with it both the memory of clear water and the dear sight of his lost home.
Frodo sat up and put his head in his hands. Sam slept next to him, and Frodo touched his arm to reassure himself of Sam's presence. He tried to recall his dream again, but could only see a hazy impression of his room and the kitchen at Bag End. If he'd had enough water left in his body, he would have wept; as it was, he could only sit with his hands over his eyes.
Oh, I want to go home, he thought.
Why don't you?
Why don't you? Why don't you go home, Frodo Baggins?
The Voice was soft and pleasant, soothingly sensible.
I can't go home.
I must complete this task.
And who told you that? Gandalf? The Elves? There came light tinkle of silvery laughter, like a clear brook tumbling over stones. Why do you listen to them?
They are wise.
Yes, wise. And yet they send you, a small, weak creature into this wasteland to do what they cannot. Does that seem wise to you?
Frodo did not answer. He sat with his head cocked to the side, his eyes wide in the darkness. Confusion and doubt filled his weary mind.
Do you know why you are here, Frodo?
Yes. To destroy the Ring. To rid the world of Its evil. To bring an end to Sauron.
Again he heard that light laughter, only deeper now, perhaps not quite as merry. The Elves did not send you here for those reasons. That is what they told you. No, Frodo. They wish the Ring to be destroyed so that they can take back mastery of Middle-earth. How they long for the days of their glory, before any other race walked upon the earth! They hate all of the Secondborn. Men they call "sickly" and "usurpers." Dwarves are "the stunted people." Hobbits...they don't even consider you at all. Only the power of this Ring has kept their greed in check. If the Ring were gone, they could employ their foul sorcery to wipe out all other races from under the Sun.
Then why would they send me? Why wouldn't they destroy It themselves?
The Ring is such a threat to them that they cannot even touch It! It is their one foe, all that stands between them and their lust. They must hate that It came to you! They had to employ all their arts of trickery to set you out on this quest! But Sam...
What about Sam?
Oh, poor Sam. He is completely under their sway. He is here to make sure you complete this task for them, even if it kills you. Why, he'll probably haul you up that mountain and throw you in, Ring and all.
I'm afraid so, Frodo.
There was silence then, but Frodo was still able to hear the words in his mind.
Frodo, forget about this hopeless errand. You were deceived into taking it upon yourself. You do not have to suffer and sacrifice your life. You don't belong here.
I don't! I don't!
Do you want to go home, then?
Oh, yes. Yes I do.
And suddenly his dream came back to him, every sweet detail of it, from the smell of honeysuckle to the texture of his sheets to the feel of water against his hands. His worn body ached with longing.
Of course you do. The Voice resonated with sympathy and mercy. There is only one thing you have to do.
Tell me...tell me how I can go home! Please! Anything!
Sam will not let you go. You will have to kill him.
No...no! I can slip away while he is sleeping! I don't have to hurt him!
But you must! Even if you slipped away he would find you. Do you think that would take long, in your condition? How far do you think you could crawl away before he caught you?
In the darkness, Frodo nodded slowly. It was true. He looked at Sam's sleeping form and felt a sudden flood of bitterness. Sam had not been stabbed, or poisoned, or beaten by orcs. He had not been forced to bear the burning weight of the Ring for these many months. Frodo thought he could probably only make it a few yards from camp before Sam, strong, healthy and unburdened, caught up with him.
You can still be merciful to him. Put the Ring on, and he will not even see you. Then slit his throat. It will be quick. He will not suffer. The Ring will protect you as long as you wear It, and you can leave this awful place and go home. Home, Frodo.
The very word conjured every vision imaginable of Bag End and the Shire. Frodo looked at Sam again and his brow furrowed. Why hadn't Sam stopped him at the Council of Elrond? Why had Sam so insisted on accompanying him? Why had Sam taken the Ring at the spider's lair and left him for dead? Why? It all made a terrible sense. Frodo felt an increase in every pain in his body, from his blistered, bloody feet to his burning eyes. He knew now that he had the power to end this and go home, all he had to do was take care of Sam, who had betrayed him, and led him into this dreadful wilderness. He felt for the Ring and folded It gratefully into his palm. My friend, he thought. My precious.
With silent attention, he removed the orc-sword from his belt. It was a stubby weapon, with a short, broad blade, and its weight felt comfortable in Frodo's hand. He leaned forward, and in his weak state he wavered a bit, and had to steady himself on the ground. His hand touched the empty water bottle that Sam had held to his lips earlier.
Suddenly, Frodo's vision was filled with the image of Sam lifting him up after he had collapsed, helping him to drink and making sure that he ate. He saw now every moment that Sam had held him and coaxed him to drink or eat, or cradled him while he slept, or supported him when he stumbled. Finally, Frodo recalled opening his eyes in the Tower, after he had believed all hope was lost. Yet there had been Sam, dear Sam, who had come back for him, at great peril to himself and to the quest. You came back for me, Frodo had thought, and he had lain in Sam's arms and closed his eyes, and even in that foul chamber, he had felt safe and at peace.
Frodo put the sword back into his belt. He touched Sam's hand for a moment, and then lay down next to him.
What are you doing? the Voice asked, and now It did not seem pleasant or merciful.
Go away and do not trouble me again, Frodo answered. You are a liar. You are the Voice of every lie that has ever been uttered upon the earth.
And you are a fool, It answered.
After that, Frodo did not hear the Voice again, nor did he dream of Bag End, or of water or any pleasant vision. A wheel of fire now filled his sleep, and it burned all memory from his mind. It soon consumed his waking hours as well, and all else faded.
Frodo recognized the sound of water falling upon leaves. He took a breath and was able to smell the rain, cool and fresh, and with it the green fragrance of springtime.
He turned his head toward the soft patter of the rain and tried to open his eyes, but found they were so swollen that he could only manage to open them a bit. He saw the opening of a tent or pavilion, and beyond that a soothing green shadow, as if he lay in a grove. Frodo did not recognize the sight, and tried to imagine where he was.
He looked back at the ceiling, which was of plain white fabric that gave him no answers. His feet felt odd, over-warm and almost numb. He touched one foot to the other, and realized that they were swaddled in cloth. He could not even wiggle his toes. Were they bandaged?
Frodo tried to turn his head in the other direction but winced at a scraping pain in the back of his neck. With great effort, he reached his left hand up and felt what appeared to be more cloth covering his neck and bound around his throat. This was certainly a bandage, so then his feet must be bandaged as well. What has happened to me? he wondered with growing distress. Have I been in an accident?
He gingerly slipped a finger under the bandage on his neck, hoping to discover the severity of the wound that must be there. The bandage had not been wrapped tightly and he lifted it easily. It came away with a sickening pulling sensation, as though it had stuck to whatever it covered. Frodo could even hear the wet whisper of it, so close to his ears, and his stomach turned uneasily. He touched two fingertips to his neck and felt a gaping trench in his skin. What is this? What did this? It seemed as though some great weight had been hung around his neck, and that he must have carried it until it gouged his flesh. A rope, perhaps a noose...or a chain.
A chain! As if doors in his mind had been flung open, Frodo suddenly remembered everything. He moaned and pulled his hand out from under the bandage. Holding his fingers before his eyes, he saw that they were wet from his wound. His eyes fell closed as nausea washed through him. The chain! he thought. The Ring! Sam! He swallowed hard past the growing feeling of sickness and reflexively brought his other hand up to his mouth. Cloth, not skin, touched his lips and he forced his eyes open again to look at his right hand. It was bandaged almost to the wrist, and where his ring finger should have been, there was only empty space, bound with white cloth, faintly tinged with dried blood.
Losing mastery of himself, Frodo turned his head to the side and retched. In an instant there was a flurry of activity around him. He felt unseen arms roll him onto his side, while someone placed a basin under his mouth. He had just a moment to note its porcelain coolness against his cheek before he convulsed again. Someone made a soothing sound and brushed soft fingers across his forehead and through his hair. He retched helplessly, and although the effort caused him great pain, and drained him of his little strength, he produced nothing more than a feeble trickle of liquid. And yet it went on, again and again, until Frodo wondered when he would die, and why it should be possible that he was not dead already.
Frodo sat on the bed in his little pavilion, his hands in his lap, passing a small silver circlet between his fingers. The right hand was still bandaged, more lightly than it had been upon his first painful awakening in late March. Soft grass was under his feet, cool and refreshing to the almost-healed wounds on his soles.
"Ready, Mr. Frodo?" Sam asked.
Frodo turned to him and had to smile. Sam wore a coat of gilded mail beneath his Elven cloak, and a circlet of silver was set upon his curly head. "You look very regal, Sam," Frodo said, and laughed as Sam blushed bright red. "What do you suppose the Gaffer would say, if he could see you?"
"That I'm putting on airs, no doubt," Sam answered, and shook his head as though he suspected the same, himself. "Are you ready to go then?"
"Sam," Frodo said with a sigh. "Must we? Wasn't this morning quite enough?"
"I don't see how we can say no."
"No, I don't either. It's just that this..." he motioned to the circlet in his hands and touched the hilt of Sting at his waist. "This all seems ridiculous. I feel as if I'm in costume."
"Well, Mr. Frodo, it's just for a little while. They want to honor you, for what you've done. And you deserve it, too, if you don't mind my saying, sir."
"It is you who deserve it, Sam. I would never even have made it past Emyn Muil if not for you."
"Now, Mr. Frodo, I only played a little part...it was you who carried that Thing. No one could have stood It for as long as you did."
Not long enough, Frodo thought. Not long enough to destroy It at the last, as I was charged to do. Frodo wondered how much Sam knew. Sam had been there but he had been spent and injured, and knew only what his weary eyes had witnessed. Sam did not know that when Frodo had put on the Ring, he had done so not with anguish but with great relief, the way an exhausted man sinks into bed. It had been bliss to claim the Ring as his own at last.
Bliss to claim It and ecstasy to wear It. Frodo remembered, and would always remember, that in the brief moment when he finally wore the Ring as Its master, he had at once seen all, things that no mortal, and certainly no hobbit, had ever seen or understood. He had seen the light of the Lamps in the Spring of Arda, when all things were young. He had witnessed the Ages of the Trees and the delving of Angband and the kindling of the Stars. He had watched the coming of every being upon Middle-earth, both fair and foul, and the first rising of the Sun and the Moon. He had crossed the ice with Galadriel while the fire of her treacherous kinsmen's ships still burned upon the horizon, and he had seen the towers of Gondolin glitter like jewels before the dragons laid them waste. Frodo Baggins of the Shire had stood beside Sauron, in the days when he was still fair of face, and called himself Annatar, Lord of Gifts. And he had seen the forging of the Rings, his own Ring the mightiest of all, for the fate of all things, both dark and beautiful, was bound to It.
Nothing had been concealed from him, neither the hidden glory of Aman nor the sound of a flower petal falling in his own far-away garden in the Shire. All of Eä had been within his hand. He had trembled to think that he had ever plotted the destruction of such splendor and might.
When Gollum had robbed him, the Ring had remained tethered to him, as though by an invisible thread. And so when It had gone into the fire at last, Frodo had felt Its power extinguished, as simply as a candle flame goes out when pinched between two fingers. The great shadow had passed, but to Frodo it seemed that much of the beauty and mystery of the world had faded with it. In that moment, the world had begun to age, and turn grey, and Frodo had been filled with a terrible regret. If he had not been at the end of his strength, he would have hurled himself into the flames after It.
I could not destroy It then, Frodo thought. I could not have destroyed It ever. He opened his mouth to speak, wanting to tell Sam, to make him know and understand, but as Frodo looked at Sam's open face, he discovered that he could not, and cast down his eyes.
Frodo felt Sam looking down at him with concern, but he could not raise his head to meet his eyes.
Sam stepped forward and took the circlet from Frodo's hands. "I'll tell Gandalf to wait," he said softly. "They can all wait. We'll just stay here nice and quiet for a little while."
Frodo did not answer, only sat with his hands crossed over his lap. Through the screen of his lashes, he could see Sam before him, holding the circlet tightly between his two hands, as a child would hold a tossing-ring.
After a long moment, Sam spoke. "You didn't do anything wrong, Mr. Frodo. Maybe you think that you did, but it's not so. You carried that Thing. No one else could have done it. You destroyed It, Mr. Frodo, whether you think that you did or not."
Silence passed between them. At last, Frodo looked up at Sam and smiled. "Let's go, Sam. We are both long overdue for a good meal, at any rate."
"Well, there you go, Mr. Frodo," Sam said, and smiled. He leaned forward and gently placed the circlet on Frodo's head, then ran his fingers through his dark curls until it lay straight.
Frodo looked at Sam, in wonder at his devotion and resilience. He reached up and caught Sam by the wrist, kissed his palm, then laid his cheek against it with a sigh. "Thank you, Sam. What would become of me without you?"
Sam blushed again, but he met Frodo's gaze. "You don't have to ask that question, Frodo. You'll never need to know."
Sam took Frodo by the hand and together they walked out beneath bright April sunlight, onto the Field of Cormallen.
Frodo heard the water before he saw it. They had been riding for a week, and had come to the Far Downs and the White Towers that stood at the westernmost edge of the Shire, overlooking the Sea. Although Frodo could not yet see the water, he knew its deep and mournful sound well, for he had heard it so often in his dreams.
It was an hour past noon when they arrived at the White Towers, and the sun was high and bright. White gulls wheeled overhead, and Frodo recognized their voice, though he had never heard it in his waking life. As they rode past the towers, Frodo recalled the dream that had come to him at Crickhollow, in the one night of his life that he had slept there as its owner. He wondered if his fate had already been long-sealed on that quiet night. Standing now upon the site of that distant dream, it seemed that all the events of his life had always been leading him here, to this place, this bright September day near the edge of the Sea.
Although he knew they would come to the Havens by evening, he suddenly desired to look upon the Sea now, as he had in his dream. He brought his pony to a halt and gazed up at the towers, his hand shielding his eyes against the sun.
Sam came up alongside Frodo and stopped as well. "What is it, Mr. Frodo? Do you want to stop and rest?"
"I would like to stop," Frodo answered, without taking his eyes from the towers. "But not to rest. I would like to climb the tower, and look at the Sea."
Frodo heard Sam shift uncomfortably in his saddle. "Seems to me that's not the best thing to do, Mr. Frodo. We'll be right on the Sea in a few hours anyway, I don't see why you'd want to wear yourself out." And then in a murmur to himself, Frodo heard, "I'd rather not see it at all, not ever."
Frodo looked at Sam and smiled. "It won't take long, Sam, and even if it is tiring, I will have plenty of time for rest on the ship." He noticed Sam's dismayed expression at the mention of the ship, and placed his hand on Sam's arm. "Come with me."
Sam sighed in resignation. He rode out to the others to tell them that he and Frodo planned to climb the tower, and he did not seem to meet any resistance. Sam rode back to Frodo, who had already dismounted.
In his dream, Frodo had struggled over a great ridge to reach the tower, but he was pleased to find that the land around it was quite level and easy to traverse. He and Sam had little trouble coming to the foot of the tower, where a door was cut into its stone wall. The inside of the tower was as white as the outside, and brightly lit with sunlight from the opening at its top. The thick walls made it cool, and very quiet. Frodo could hear only an echo of the far-off Sea, and wondered if the tower had been built in a way that would capture and magnify its sound. It smelled of centuries of sunlight, rain, and salt air, and seemed immeasurably ancient to Frodo. He considered the long-gone race that had built the towers in a sunlit time when the world was still young, and wondered what they would think of these two little hobbits, and their improbable tale.
A stone staircase wound up the inside wall and he and Sam set to climbing it. It was not an easy ascent, and twice Frodo was obliged to sit and rest. Both times, he felt Sam staring at him from the corner of his eye. "I'm all right, Sam," he said. "Don't worry."
They came at last to a platform at the top of the tower. It was open on all sides, a round balcony of stone. A wall ran around its perimeter, at what would have been waist-high to a man. Frodo and Sam were just able to see over its edge.
Sam gasped at the sight, but Frodo remained silent. Across the downs, in the distance, the world ended in a great expanse of sun-sparkled blue. He had not imagined the Sea could be so vast. He thought of the cozy confines of Bag End and the familiar byways of the Shire, and felt a keen loneliness at the thought that his days would end on the other side of such forlorn emptiness, so far from home. He sighed and Sam looked at him.
"Are you sure, Frodo?" he asked. "Do you have to do this?"
Frodo turned away from the Sea and looked at his friend. "I'm afraid I do, Sam."
"I know what you said to me back in Woody End, but somehow it still don't seem to make sense, your leaving like this. Not after all that's happened."
"It is because of all that's happened that I have to do this. I would be leaving you if I stayed, and forever. I would soon die from my wounds, and you would expend yourself taking care of me and watching me die, instead of carrying on with the life that you should have...that I might have had. I will be healed in the West. And the time may come when we will see each other again."
Sam stood with his head down, and Frodo could see that his shoulders were shaking. "Sam," he said. Sam looked up with tears in his eyes. "After all that you've done for me, I have no right to ask you for anything. But will you grant me these final wishes?"
"Oh, Frodo, of course I will."
Frodo took Sam's hands in his own. "Promise me that you will be happy, and have a full life, and love Rosie and your children and grand-children and great-grand-children, for I know that you will have them. Promise me that you will not remember me as I have been in these last years, but as I used to be, when I sat in the garden and talked to you while you worked, and we would have our tea together. And even then, promise me that you will think of me only a little, and never so much that it makes you sad."
"I don't know, Frodo. I'll promise the first two, but the last...I'll never think of you only a little. But I'll try, Frodo. I'll try."
"Thank you, Sam. My dearest friend."
Frodo embraced him and laid his head on Sam's shoulder. He closed his eyes and the wind blew around them both, stirring their hair and cloaks, and filling the tower with the sound of the Sea.
They remained together for a long while before descending the tower, and continuing to the Havens.
Frodo felt water on his face. Sea-spray, he thought sleepily, although he couldn't imagine why. He was Frodo Baggins, who had spent his entire quiet life in the Shire, and he had never seen the Sea. He licked his lips and the water was fresh, almost sweet. It was raining.
Someone touched his arm and shook him. He opened his eyes to see Bilbo crouching next to him, holding a blanket like a tent over his head to keep off the rain. "Wake up, Frodo. Come inside. You can't sit out in the rain all night."
Why would I sit out in the rain all night? Frodo wondered. He felt movement beneath him then, and the present and all of his past came back to him at once. He was Frodo Baggins, who had been the Ring-bearer, and he was passing over the High Sea, into the West.
Bilbo wrapped the blanket around Frodo's shoulders. "There we go. Now come along, before you get a chill."
"I'm all right, Uncle," Frodo answered. He was surprised to hear himself unconsciously slip back into calling Bilbo by the name he had not used since youth. Frodo's childhood now seemed achingly long ago, lost on the other side of the world. He suddenly felt very old, and immeasurably tired. His shoulders drooped and he hugged Bilbo's blanket to himself.
Bilbo helped Frodo up and he found that he was shivering. His hair and cloak were wet. Frodo looked out over the water but it had grown so dark that beyond the ship's small lights, he could see only thick blackness. Clouds hid the stars, and a steady, grey rain fell quietly upon the deck and into the Sea.
He let Bilbo take him downstairs to his small room. He took off his cloak and coat and sat on the edge of his bed to undress. But although the room was warm, he was so cold that he could not work the buttons on his shirt, and the thought of getting undressed chilled him even more. He dropped his hands into his lap with a sigh.
Bilbo looked at him with concern. "Never mind about that, lad," he said, quietly. "Never mind about that." Bilbo put the blanket over Frodo's head and dried his hair, and Frodo found himself almost falling asleep sitting up. He yawned and closed his eyes.
Bilbo unfastened Frodo's braces, and placed them on the chair on top of his coat. Then he laid Frodo down gently, and tucked the covers around him. Frodo felt Bilbo's hand against his cheek, as comforting as it had been during his boyhood illnesses. He curled his own hand around it and opened his heavy eyes.
"I'm glad you're here, Bilbo."
"I'm glad I'm here with you," Bilbo said. The old hobbit smiled down at Frodo, so fair and so slight. "I remember the first time I ever saw you, Frodo. You couldn't have been more than six months old and I thought you were the most beautiful babe I'd ever seen. Like a faerie-child, you were!"
Frodo smiled and blinked drowsily at Bilbo. He was feeling warm again, and had almost stopped shivering.
"Everyone said you took after your mother in looks, but it was plain there was more to it than that. You were different, and not just your looks. It was always my joy to come see you. You were like a firefly on a summer night! A bright little light, always in motion."
"I remember your visits. All those stories..." Frodo sighed. "Those were happy times."
They sat together quietly for a little while, listening to the faint sound of the water outside.
"My heart broke for you when your parents died," Bilbo continued. "I would have adopted you right then and there, but your relations were worried I wouldn't be a good influence on a lad. I'd fill your head with nonsense and then drag you off on some hare-brained adventure." He paused for a moment, and Frodo could see a shimmer of tears come to his eyes. "They turned out to be quite right, after all," he said, and his voice shook.
"No, Bilbo," Frodo said softly. "It wasn't your fault."
"If I'd known Frodo...if only I'd known, I never would have left you. Or I would have taken you with me to Rivendell. I would not have left you alone with that Thing."
"I know, Bilbo. You didn't know. And even if you had, what could you have done? What could I have done if I had seen my whole path ahead of me? I sometimes wonder if I would have refused the task, and let another bear it."
"You wouldn't have refused it, I'm sure of that, even if you had known everything that would befall you. Not my Frodo." He passed his hand through Frodo's hair. "You don't have it in you, lad."
Frodo smiled, and his expression was bittersweet. "I suppose not." He closed his eyes and held Bilbo's hand. "Don't go, Uncle."
"No," said Bilbo. "I'll not leave you again, my son."
Bilbo drew back the covers and lay down behind Frodo. He took him into his arms, and pulled the covers over them both.
Frodo lay in the comfort of Bilbo's embrace. He rocked with the slight motion of the ship, listening to the water break against the bow. The memory of his dreams came to him, but he was not troubled by them. A blessed feeling of peace stole over him.
Before he slept, Frodo heard Bilbo's words echo in his mind. You wouldn't have refused it...even if you had known everything that would befall you. And he thought once more of Sam, Sam with his hand raised in farewell upon the shores of Middle-earth. Sam, how did all of this happen? he asked again. And how is this to end? Half in a dream, Frodo answered his own questions. This was my fate, he answered for the first. I accepted it willingly, and bore it as well as I could.
The second question he did not consider long. It seemed the answer lay far away, on the other side of a great many years of joy and warmth and quietude. The peace in his heart deepened, touched with a sadness that was not bitter and a joy that was not careless. I bore it as well as I could, Sam, he thought. And now I come at last to the end of my wanderings. Farewell, dear Sam. Thus Frodo slept deeply, borne across the waters of time, and the world.
As Frodo slept, the grey rain-curtain thinned and soon rolled back before the prow of the ship. The clouds parted and Eärendil rode high in the night sky, the Silmaril glittering upon his brow. Beneath him shone Frodo's small spirit, wavering yet still brilliant, gleaming like a star upon the surface of the Sea.
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