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Across the Waters: 6. Rain
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 the Emyn Muil if not for you.”
“Now, Mr. Frodo. 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 own 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 It’s 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 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.
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