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Across the Waters: 8. Sea
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 lay 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 fairy-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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