“Mum,” Hamson said, “Why don’t you go home and change and have a bit of a sleep? I can stay here and watch Mr. Frodo.”
“Change?” she asked confused, and then looked down at her clothes. She had been wearing the same dress for three days, and it was covered in sickroom stains and mud from her desperate trip to Bagshot Row. “Aye,” she said. “‘Tis hardly fitting for me to be in a sickroom in such a dirty state. I’ll put on something fresh, but I’ll come back here afterwards to have a nap. I don’t want to be down the hill in case…well, in case of anything.”
She left Hamson sitting by the fire and went home. Daisy was serving dinner, and all of her children were at table except Sam.
“Where is Sam?” she asked.
“He came tearin’ in here a bit ago and went straight to his bed,” Daisy answered. “Been there ever since. What happened up there, Mum? Did Mr. Frodo…”
“No, but he’s in as poor a state as he could be. Sam should never have seen him like that.”
Bell changed quickly into a clean dress and went to Sam. He was in his bed with the covers pulled up over his head so that only a little tuft of his brown curls showed above the blanket.
“Sam,” Bell said, and touched his shoulder. When he did not respond, she gently folded back the covers from his face. He was fast asleep, his eyes swollen from crying. “Samwise,” she said, and shook him a little.
Sam blinked and rolled over groggily. He stared at her for a moment, and his eyes widened. “Is Mr. Frodo dead?” he asked in a breathless whisper.
“No, dear, he isn’t.”
“Is he going to die?”
She considered lying to the boy, but could not, not after he had seen Frodo with his own eyes. “I don’t know, Sam.”
“He looked awful sick, Mummy. He wouldn’t wake up.”
“I don’t think Mr. Frodo could hear you.”
Bell saw tears begin to glimmer in Sam’s eyes. “I’m sorry I went up there, Mummy. But when you came in to look for Ham, I knew something was wrong and I thought maybe…maybe I could help…maybe I could talk to him.”
“I know, Sam. I know you didn’t mean no harm.”
“I’m sorry I made you mad, Mummy.”
“Oh, Sam,” she said. “I wasn’t mad…Mr. Frodo was so sick, and I didn’t know what to do. And when I saw you with him I…I was afraid.”
“Why were you afraid?” Sam asked. His eyes were wide, as if astonished by this new idea that his mother could even be afraid.
Bell grew silent for a moment, remembering the strange terror she had felt when she had seen Sam on Frodo’s bed. She could not explain it to Sam. “I don’t know, Sam,” she answered truthfully. “I just was.”
“Oh,” Sam said, and nodded. He looked at her sorrowfully. “I’m sorry I scared you.”
Bell smiled. She sat Sam up and hugged him. “It’s all right, Sam. You weren’t doing nothing but being kind, and having a care for Mr. Frodo, and ‘tis nothing you should ever feel sorry for. You have a fine, big heart, Samwise. ‘Twill do you well in life.”
Bell kissed her children goodnight and returned to Bag End. Hamson was sitting by the fire, just as she had left him, and Frodo, too, was as she had left him.
“Has he woken at all?” she asked Hamson.
“No, Mum. He hasn’t said a word or moved an inch since you’ve been gone.”
Bell went to Frodo and laid her hand on his hot forehead. He did not respond to her touch. His breaths were short and labored, but quieter than before, and Bell feared that even his strength to breathe was now failing.
Bell lay down in the little room she had been using as her own, but she could not sleep. The rain had turned to sleet, and its forlorn sound upon the window troubled her. She fell into an exhausted doze, in which she heard Sam’s voice calling Wake up, Mr. Frodo! Oh, wake up! again and again. Muddled images played behind her eyelids, and sometimes she saw her son in Frodo’s room at Bag End, while other times it seemed that she saw him under a great cliff, in a dark and stony pass. Oh, wake up, Mr. Frodo.
At last, Bell gave up the pretense of sleep. She rose from the narrow bed and sent Hamson home to be with his brothers and sisters. She put water on for tea, and settled down for the night’s watch.
Bell was able to rouse Frodo only twice that evening. She woke him to make him drink some hot water with honey, for he had lost everything he had eaten or drunk that day, and Bell knew he was parched. He opened his eyes one last time when she bathed his face, and he asked her if he would die that night. Bell reassured him as well as she could, in words that she did not believe herself.
The hour grew very late. In the stillness, Bell felt a change come over the smial. During the four days that she had tended to Frodo, a pall of illness had slowly settled over Bag End, that dark mood brought on by dimly lit rooms, anxious silences, and lingering odors of tea and eucalyptus and sickness. But now it seemed that a new shadow lay upon the smial, not of sickness, but of Death, silent and patient.
Bell gathered Frodo into her arms and sat with him folded against her. She rocked him gently and listened to the sleet at the window, to the fire in the grate, to the rattle of his breath, now grown fainter. She would cling to hope yet, because it was her nature, but in her heart, she knew the truth. She was sitting a deathwatch.
She thought of her husband, and of Bilbo, somewhere on the road. They would most likely not get here in time. When Bilbo adopted Frodo, some had joked about it, saying the only reason he had done it was because he had no heir of his own, and he didn’t want the Sackville-Bagginses to get his money. But Bell believed that Bilbo loved Frodo; this orphaned cousin was the closest thing to a son that the old hobbit had. How would he ever bear losing the boy?
The fire burned low and the candles guttered out. Bell would have liked to relight them, but she did not want to let go of Frodo. If he was to die, he should at least die in someone’s arms, whether he was aware of it or not.
Slowly, Bell drifted into a light sleep. At times, it seemed that others were in the room, in the shadows, or near the bed. She thought she saw an old man, with a white beard and great bristling eyebrows, and he seemed familiar to Bell, though she did not know why. She saw a woman, very tall and pale, with a long fall of golden hair hanging in plaits down her back. And there was a hobbit lady, too, with dark hair and a fair face, and when she turned to Bell, her eyes were as blue as an autumn sky. There were these, and more, and at times there seemed to be something else, a presence of some dreadful thing that hunted blindly in the dark, but could not find what it sought. Then all departed, and only Death remained.
The sleet had stopped and it was very quiet. Bell sat dozing, Frodo wrapped tightly in her arms. And Death sat with her, silent as smoke, patient as stone.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.