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Across the Waters: 1. Firth
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 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…
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