He didn't really believe it would help, but his anguish of mind was so overwhelming that he had to try it. It could hardly be worse, that was some comfort, and at least it would be a change.
Definitely a change -- he had never been one to get drunk. A bit merry sometimes, with friends at the Green Dragon in Bywater, or at the Golden Perch in the Eastfarthing, with Merry and Pippin. At the very beginning of his troubles, flying from Nazgul on their way to Crickhollow, Pippin had wanted to stop at the Golden Perch. He smiled at the memory, distracted from his misery.
Pippin, ah Pippin! Still not quite of age, but grown tall and shining, all flashing eyes and courage – when he could keep a straight face. He was a great one for laughter, was Pippin, and pranks that left his more straitlaced relatives in various degrees of apoplectic outrage. Frodo chortled inwardly, remembering some of those pranks.
Well, he was Captain Peregrin now, and cutting a wide swath through the fair lasses of the Shire, in company with his cousin Merry. No, Meriadoc the Magnificent, that was it. After everything they had suffered on the Quest, after leading the Shire in rebellion against Sharkey's ruffians, now they were known throughout the Four Farthings for their marvelous parties!
A truly fitting end to the story, for any hobbit. So what was wrong with him?
Bilbo had passed through any number of dangers, and come home to live sixty uneventful years at Bag End, enjoying his dragon's gold and his entirely justified reputation for eccentricity. Frodo had never had a more congenial companion than his elderly cousin – generous and kind and funny, but wise in the ways of the world and learned besides, a true scholar. A spasm of longing shook him for the old days at Bag End, reading Elvish poetry before the fire, with Bilbo in the other chair.
Why could he not settle down as Bilbo had done, turning thankfully away from danger and adventure, unless he found it inside the leather covers of a book? It hadn't been adventure anyway, the Quest. Not what he used to think of as adventure, when he was a lad sitting on the hearthrug (that hearthrug, right there, he reflected, looking at it. Some things never change). The stories Bilbo used to tell him were adventures, dangers that his uncle had lived through with stubborn courage and resourcefulness, and come out on the other side undamaged, as if he wiped the dirt from his hands after a job well-done.
That was the difference, right there. Frodo had not come out undamaged, far from it, and he wouldn't call it a job well-done, either. Quite the reverse.
He wished he knew Bilbo's secret. His uncle had lived sixty years with the terrible Ring chained in his breeches pocket, slipping it on his finger from time to time to escape unwanted visitors. Only at the end it had begun to wear on him, and even then he had been able to leave it with Gandalf and walk away. Leave it for Frodo. He wondered, only half humorously, if he would ever completely forgive Bilbo for that.
He rubbed his hands over his face, wearily, and the scarred gap of his missing finger came before his eyes. He groaned and put his hands in his pockets. Indeed he had not come home undamaged, but that was his own fault.
He might share a last name with Bilbo, and a love for Elvish poetry, but that was all. What Bilbo had endured for sixty years, had broken Frodo in a third of that time. Broken him utterly, mind, heart, and will, until he had been enslaved to the Ring as surely as the dreadful Wraiths, for all he had still walked and breathed under the material sun. Or as much sun as ever shone in Mordor, he thought wryly.
Even now he was not free. The Ring was no more, and the Wraiths were extinguished, burnt out in the sulfurous air of Mordor, their long agony at an end, however much they might have deserved it. But he lingered here in the Shire, a thousand leagues from Mordor, maybe, but carrying its darkness in his own heart.
The Ring was gone, but the longing for it tore through him till he felt empty inside, like a marrowbone sucked dry. And Sam hovered over him, tender and worried, keeping him warm and dry and comfortable while Rosie in the kitchen wore herself out cooking every savory dish she could concoct, to tempt his appetite. The food all tasted like ashes in his mouth, though he smiled and praised it and choked it down. Not for a thousand Rings would he bring sorrow to these two, who loved him so. Left to himself, he would never eat again.
Left to himself, he would slip out some night when it was quiet and simply walk away, walk till he came to some high mountain or tower. He would climb and climb until he reached the top, panting for breath, his heart about to burst. And then he would throw himself away.
There, that was the Ring speaking, still speaking in his mind! Cowardice and self-destruction – that was the counsel of the Ring. Its gold was melted in the Crack of Doom, but its voice was etched forever into his soul.
Well, now he would try if he could silence that voice, at least for a little while. Sam and Rose had taken baby Elanor to Bywater for a day and a night, to celebrate old Cotton's birthday. Frodo had been invited, naturally, but had begged off as having a bit of a cold.
"I don't want to spread it around, Sam. There's nothing more uncomfortable than a summer cold, and the Cottons don't need it, with harvest coming on. I'll be better off at home this time. You'll give them my best regards, I know, and wish Farmer Cotton long life and joy on my behalf."
He had coughed a bit more vigorously than he really needed to, and Sam had been convinced, though still not happy with the situation. He'd gone out and killed a chicken, and Rosie had made soup, bending over the fire regardless of the hot summer day, sweat running in rivulets down the back of her neck. Chicken soup was the Shire's traditional remedy for sickness.
Everything I do brings suffering, whether little or great, Frodo thought miserably, watching her. He retreated to his study, but every word he wrote was in the wrong place and nothing hung together. Finally he flopped down on the green velvet settee, burying his face in a pillow and slipping into an unaccustomed nap, which was certain to spoil him for sleep tonight. The sleep was no loss anyway. His dreams were all nightmares now, and the nights brought him little rest.
When he awoke, the smial was quiet, the late afternoon sun striking through the western windows, and he went into the empty kitchen for the brandy bottle. There were beer tankards lined up on the kitchen dresser, but he had been brought up by Bilbo, and he rummaged through the cupboards until he found the brandy glasses.
He took bottle and glass back to his study. Something in him refused to sully Rosie's clean, bright kitchen with this night's work. Though if it brought him relief, he would do it again – again and again, until he was no fit company for Rose or any other decent lass, a drunken sot who lay insensible in the road. No, not in the road, Sam would never let him come to that.
He arranged a few more sticks on the fire – he seemed always to be cold these days, regardless of the weather – and sat before it with the brandy beside him on the table. He poured, filling the glass nearly to the brim – Bilbo would have been horrified.
"Just a little in the bottom, lad – you don't want to gulp brandy, that's not the point. Swirl it around, like this, and breathe that aroma! That's what you want from brandy, that and a little warmth to your heart on a chilly night."
But that wasn't what he wanted from it tonight. He put his feet up on the leather hassock and settled back to drink himself into oblivion.
The light struck on his eyeballs in a sunburst of pain and he dragged the coverlet over his face. Someone pulled it away from him and he groaned and squeezed his eyes shut, the light coming right through his eyelids anyway. An arm slipped under his shoulders, lifting him into some kind of sitting position, propped up against the pillows.
"There, Mr. Frodo, that should hold you. Wait a moment and that nasty dizziness will pass off." Sam's voice was gentle but inexorable. "I've got a bit of tea here when you're ready – no, not ordinary tea," he answered Frodo's moan, "it's a special mixture my mum used to give my brother Ham, when he'd made a bit too merry with his chums."
There was a dryness to Sam's tone that warned Frodo. "Not that I think you was making merry, exactly, if you take my meaning. That bottle was nigh full, Mr. Frodo, and there's not a drop left! It's a mercy you were sick, though it'll be a few days before your study is fit for you to work in, for all we cleaned it up good after we got you sorted, and the windows stood open all night. If you hadn't given a good part of it back to your carpet, you might not of woke up at all! Brandy's poison, don't you know that much?"
Frodo's head throbbed with exquisite agony, as if the pain had been concentrated from every part of him and focused in the little area above and behind his eyes. Sam's voice flowed over him like cool water, and he smiled slightly. How long since Sam had scolded him? Certainly not since Mordor; Sam's tender care for him since Mordor had been inexhaustible. As it was now still, of course – but the scolding was refreshing, like a bite of green apple after too much honey.
He opened his eyes just a slit and motioned for the cup in Sam's hand. Sam lifted him up a little more and held it to his lips and he drank, took a breath, and drank again. It tasted vile, like old boots boiled with nettles.
"That's enough for now, or it won't stay down." Sam laid him back against the pillows, brushing his sweaty hair out of his eyes. "How do you feel, Mr. Frodo?"
"Better." He didn't mind the pain in his head; it was easier to endure, by far, than the mental torture he had been suffering before –
"That's good. I'm that glad to hear it, and now tell me, if you can, what was the purpose of sending us off like that so as you could drink yourself into a stupor? For that was the reason you wouldn't go to Cottons', Mr. Frodo; it wasn't because of no summer cold! What did you want to go and do that for?"
"To feel better." He would say no more; he would not burden Sam with his torments. Sam had carried him already, further than anyone should have to carry another person. His anguish now was his own to bear. But even that was too much to say, for Sam knew the rest without being told. He sat down on the bed, his hands closing over Frodo's in a grip that hurt and comforted, both at the same time.
"Oh, my dear! But that ain't a solution, Mr. Frodo, not for more than once. That's as bad as the Ring, that is, for stealing you away from yourself, till you're not yourself at all anymore. You won't find your peace in the bottom of a bottle, not if you send to Rivendell and start belting down jugfuls of that miruvor Mr. Elrond gave to Gandalf."
Frodo started to chuckle and thought better of it. Sam held him up again as he retched, nothing but bitter yellow bile. When he was done, Sam eased him back and wiped his face with a damp cloth.
"You don't think it would be worth a try, Sam?" he whispered. "The miruvor? It was wonderful stuff, as I recall." His smile was shaky, but it was real.
"No, Mr. Frodo, I do not! I don't rightly understand what it is you're struggling with, but I can see you're in pain. Don't you think I watched you close enough all those months taking care of you, to know when you're suffering? But there's no lasting help for it in being drunk, so don't you go down that path. You'll have to find another way, Mr. Frodo. You go diving to the bottom of a bottle like that again, I'll break every bottle in the Bag End cellars, see if I don't!"
Frodo grinned, not daring another laugh, and Sam bathed his face and gave him sips of the horrible tea, as often as he could get it down, and at last he fell asleep again.
The next day he was well enough to come into the kitchen and take ordinary tea and dry toast, enthroned in a rocking chair close by the fire. The voice of the Ring in his mind was quiet, and for that alone he thought secretly that the brandy had been a success. In another couple of days the carpet in his study dried out, and Rosie filled vases with lavender and stood them around on every flat surface, so if the room smelled like a linen press, at least it no longer stank of vomit.
He had a week of respite, maybe two. Then it began again – nightmares when he slept, and when he was awake, evil fantasies that dragged him ever deeper into despair. If he had waking dreams of horror in broad daylight, were they day-mares? He shook the phantoms wearily out of his eyes, closed his mind to the Ring's dark whisper, and went back to his writing.
The book was nearly finished. He had begun it at Bilbo's behest, but it had become his passion. This one thing he could do, to tell the story of the Great Danger, so generations to come could read it and be warned. And who else was there to write it? Bilbo was too sleepy now, nodding by his little fire in Rivendell. Sam was busy with his new family and his labors around the Shire; Merry and Pippin were caught up in pleasure and parties, and no blame to them for that. They had done their part and more, and suffered grievously in the doing. Let them enjoy the rewards of all their pains.
That left him, Frodo, to fight off the encroaching shadows long enough to record the story. When the book was finished he could rest. When it was finished, he could go.
He could go – where? The Ring stirred in his mind and he rejected the voice angrily, his hand groping for the white jewel at his throat. Arwen's jewel.
He could go in Arwen's stead, to the Havens. He could pass into the West.
He had not forgotten her gift – and it was a gift beyond all reckoning: passage to the Undying Lands, where mortals could not go, and yet it was offered to him, Frodo Baggins! Offered in mercy, because the Quest had broken him. Arwen had seen that, when he was still hoping he would get over it, be himself again, did he but give the process enough time.
Even when his illness began, after they had returned to the Shire, he had not really considered accepting the proffered gift. The idea was too staggering, beyond any notion of reality. The Undying Lands? If he went there, would he be – immortal? Could the Elves – could even the Valar -- give him that? And would he want it, if they could?
He didn't think he would want it. Long life, good health, few tears and much cheer – the traditional birthday wishes of the Shire – he would take that gift and gladly, would someone only offer it to him!
"Do not expect me to wish you health and long life, for you will have neither," Saruman had told him mockingly. And it would seem that Saruman knew what he was talking about, even at the end.
But immortality was something else entirely, even in Elvenhome. Or perhaps especially there, for what in Ea would he do with himself? He had watched Bilbo reciting his bits of verse to the assembled Elves in Rivendell. In courtesy the Elves had listened, before they turned back to their own high poetry, as much like Bilbo's versifying as the sun is like a candle. Secretly he had blushed for his uncle – what was Bilbo but a source of gentle laughter to the Elves, like a clever child?
Bilbo must have been aware of their amusement, but he did not seem to mind. Frodo felt he would have sunk through the floor before he showed anything he had written to Elrond. To Elrond, or any Elf. It was one more way in which he was utterly unlike his uncle, and it was one reason he had not remained in Rivendell after the Quest, though he suspected Bilbo had been hoping he would.
One reason, but not the only one. The Shire was his home, and even in Gondor he had longed for it with a heart-hunger that was like a physical ache. When he got home at last and saw the depredations the ruffians had made there, it was as if they had inflicted those wounds, those indignities, on his very flesh.
His own cold rage had frightened him, those nights he lay in squalid Shirriff houses on the way to Hobbiton. While his companions slept he had lain awake in the dark, but the darkness in his own heart was far blacker. What would he not do to Lotho Sackville-Baggins, when he had him within his grasp –!
Merry and Pippin thought him so gentle. Had they been able to see into his mind during those nights, they would have drawn back in pained amazement.
Not until they came to the Green Dragon, and his companions had drawn sword in anger at the ruffian who sneered at him, had Frodo regained his senses, and then he had recoiled in horror at his own thirst for vengeance. Was this what he wanted, that hobbits should be proud and quick to violence, parrying insult with cold steel? Would they not finish with the ruffians and then turn their weapons on one another?
Had he not learned by now? Vengeance and murder gave birth to more of the same, till the land ran with blood and there was no mercy for anyone. It needed only this, to finish the destruction of the Shire.
If Lotho was guilty, Frodo knew he was far more guilty himself. By mercy alone he had been saved from his own wicked folly at the Crack of Doom. Who was he to pass judgment on another living soul? And what good would vengeance do, in the end? It would heal nothing.
But the Shire was healed now. There had been bloodshed, but less than there might have been, and if Pippin and Merry still carried their swords, they made much more use of their best dishes. Galadriel's little box of earth, spread across the Four Farthings by Sam's skillful hand, had blessed the land beyond imagining, and Frodo could wish no better future for his homeland than that which already was.
The Shire was healed, but he would not be. The night of drunkenness had bought him only a little respite, and Sam was right: it was no answer. There was not brandy enough in all Arda to drown the voice of the Ring for long, and that malevolent voice was more strident every day. How long before it became a scream, and he heard nothing else? Madness would claim him then, and he could only hope that death would follow soon.
What would it mean, to pass into the West? But whatever it meant, it seemed to be his only chance. He rubbed his eyes, dry and burning from lack of sleep, and wondered again what it would be like to live with Elves, only Elves, forever more. A daunting prospect for a little hobbit from the Shire! Elrond's voice spoke in his memory, and he paused.
About this time of year, when the leaves are gold, before they fall, look for Bilbo in the woods of the Shire. I shall be with him.
He had puzzled over those words the last time he left Rivendell, and now suddenly he understood. Bilbo, too, would be going! His heart lifted. They would go together, he and Bilbo, into the West. Whatever awaited them there, they would be together, and there would be healing.
He would accept Arwen's gift and be thankful, he decided, and then it hit him like a blow what this would mean for Sam. Poor Samwise, left behind at last! Sam had followed him to the end of the world and back, but he could not follow this time. Did Sam understand enough of his master's agony, to know that he must go? But whether he did or not, there was no other way. If Frodo stayed, it would bring Sam yet more grievous sorrow, did he only know it, and Frodo would spare him that. For Sam's sake as well as his own, he must go with the Elves.
And he would have Bilbo; he would not be alone, the only hobbit in Elvenhome. For the first time in many months he felt a stirring of hope, and he stood up and went to look out the window.
The sun was shining, and Sam and Rose were in the vegetable patch, picking something and piling it in a basket. Even from here he could see the way they moved in easy rhythm with one another, their arms touching occasionally as they worked. Sam turned and dropped a quick kiss on Rosie's hair as she bent over, and she looked up, laughing.
Already last winter Frodo had made a will that left everything he owned to them, for the illness had been heavy on him and he had doubted how long he would be "of sound mind" to make such a document. Sam had Rose and little Elanor, and he would have Bag End as well. Sam would be all right. And perhaps some day – Samwise had been a Ring-bearer himself, after all, for a while --
He turned away from the window and went back to his desk. There was only a little time left to finish the book. It was the first of September.
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.