24th November 1418 S.R.
It's something about the falling water that draws Sam out on the gallery at night. Through four nights and three days, the sound's grown familiar, an odd sort of comfort even, but the sight is something else. From the gush of white leap droplets catching the starlight in hard splinters, each drop like the blink of an eye, so sharp and bright, and lost as quick in the falling, lost to the bottomless dark below. How is a hobbit to sleep nearby, even when he's scarce had a wink in four nights of a row?
Sam listens close for the music that always floats somewhere among these tall, stalky dwellings. Of nights, it seems as like the music alone holds them together, bound and wrapped into soft, shimmering lights. But the voices murmur low, almost drownded in the water's splashing, and Sam is careful not to look down. The water shines like snow in the dark, and there's a whiff of winter on the air he can smell, as sure as smoke from a bonfire. He can stand watch like this, with a watery breeze sliding round his ankles and his eyes wide open, though he doesn't have to. But if he sleeps, he'll only jolt from it like he did from his nap this afternoon, without a breath to call his own.
Sam walks up and down a few steps and calls himself a right fool. His watch won't do a single bit more of good than it did at Weathertop – and there's a fact for you, Sam Gamgee, take it or no.
It tears through the hole in his breast, like a cold wind blasting where there's none in this mellow air. The fear. It couldn't be gone now, couldn't be over no more than his watch, not after what he's seen. It's why the gallery and all the fine elven dwellings fall to shadow at his feet, and when he closes his eyes to recollect the Shire, it's dimmed away just like that.
The fear came with touching the ice that swelled through Mr. Frodo's arm and hand, and was made all the worse by the soft pulse battering there, right there, in the midst of that cold. Sam could feel it like the blades of Mr. Frodo's ribs, when he helped with changing the poultice, curving up against his hand. It's in Mr. Frodo's voice, too, rent with moans and gasps from someplace deep within where the dark and cold must be deeper, and there's nothing nothing nothing Sam can do to stop it.
It's wandered into him, that fearful cold, and if he could but keep it there, lock it away safe from touching aught but his own flesh, he would, but it's so much bigger than that.
he thinks what's grown on him since Bree, since looking on the mountains and the old tower's ruins, and the snowy flanks of an elven horse. And Mr. Frodo, on that large bed, under a roof arching away like another sky.
Sam sets a hand to the railing that's carved so thin it seems like mere netting against the night and the waterfalls and the misty lights on the other side of the valley. From there murmurs the singing, and he should take heart from it, for all the high and wise folk were smiling today, the first smiles free of worry in four nights and three days.
There's naught to be worrying over now, those smiles said, what with Mr. Frodo out and about again and a start of fresh colour come back to his face, like all the morning's glory. Sam draws a hard breath at the sting of that joy, though it's gone too quick to believe. And here he's walking between aught but dark air and song, waiting –
"I should have known."
Sam steps back and turns so quick his shoulder bumps into the wood-carvings that part him from a long fall down. "Mr. Frodo?" His breath gathers into the words and makes them more of a gasp. "You did ought to be resting yourself!"
"So should you," Frodo replies. "More than I, in fact. I have just slept several days away."
As he comes nearer, Sam sees that his shirt's hanging loose over his breeches. Perhaps he threw it on quick when his slumber broke, or he's not been proper to bed yet.
"No more'n you needed, sir." Sam lowers his eyes, for he knows too well what lies under these clothes, and he could touch the scar blind through the shirt, high up left on Mr. Frodo's chest. The two wounds have left but one scar, as if it were the same when the Black Rider set his knife where Master Elrond cut later, to pull out that remaining splinter. Though fine linen's drawn over the spot now, Sam can see it before him, black and blood. It's a knowing of his master's skin he never wished to have, that he can't shut out now when Frodo stands so close to him, such a trembling under his breath as he can't stop.
"At the expense of your needs, Sam," Frodo says quietly. "According to Gandalf," he adds, in less of a serious tone, but Sam still can't answer. He looks out at the falling water, and it gives him a chill to the spine.
The sound of Mr. Frodo's voice did ought to steady him though, strong and gentle as it is with recovering. Sam has nursed him through a fever or two, with strong broth and herb-teas, but none of it ever left such a mark on his own skin. As if that Black Rider's shadow had caught him too, and he can't step from it no more.
There's a touch of trouble to Mr. Frodo's voice now, and Sam can't abide that. It won't do neither, thinking of aught but shadows. "'Tis such a strange place," he says, waving his hand about, "and takes some getting used to, you understand, sleeping this high, like a bird in a tree."
Frodo stands beside him and peers through wood that's carved and pierced in shapes like wind-blown leaves. "If they had built their homes deeper in the valley, they would never see daylight... or starlight."
The starlight falls on his brow and turns it pale again, like a thin mist settling. Sam sinks his hands into the pockets of his breeches. "Aye, and they've made all those tall doors and windows for it, I expect."
In all the halls and chambers, there's not a single place like a snug, sturdy smial. There are gaps and openings everywhere, like eyes turned to the rocks, the water and the sky, and all the rooms are half outside.
"It rather feels like slipping from one dream to another, though this one is infinitely more pleasant than the last I remember." Frodo chuckles a little, and the carved leaf-shapes move over his face, enclosing his mouth, his eye.
Sam shakes his head. No dream he's ever had showed such fanciful things, fair and dreadful alike, and he wants to pull Frodo into the clear, touch his hand again to make sure – but he can't do that nowise when Mr. Frodo don't even recollect how it's been through all those days and nights –
"In truth, I remember very little. The water rising at the ford, and then... nothing." Frodo pulls up his shoulders. "Nothing I can be certain of." His eyes drift back till the star-glints are no longer caught there. "Did I call for you, Sam?"
"Yes, sir." And he adds, "that you did," for his croaked whisper won't carry against the water's rushing. "It didn't take you calling for me though, begging your pardon. Mr. Bilbo's like to tell you that they couldn't've–"
"I know." It's Mr. Frodo's left hand that he's raising to lay against Sam's cheek for just a moment, but it's warm, warm of blood and sunshine and all the good things that've leached from Sam's memory quicker than you'd believe. "Bilbo didn't have to tell me that."
Sam blinks his eyes against a burning that takes him by surprise. His tears were all dried up in the fear, all the time he sat next to Mr. Frodo, holding his hand. Warming it and feeling such warmth as bled from his own skin go under in the cold.
But then Frodo turns aside in a sharp motion. "What did you see, Sam?"
His voice is tight with worry, and soft all at once, wavering on a question he wouldn't ask no-one else. This much Sam knows, and it stoppers his throat like wax and pitch rolled together in a hot lump. If he had a comfort to offer, or a way of fetching hope to the words just by choosing them so as Mr. Gandalf can, he would, but –
"The worst," he murmurs, for he's only got the truth to hold out, such as he can see, "the worst I've ever known, and you fighting it, alone."
"Fighting?" Frodo tips his head, though he might be shaking it too, it's difficult to see where his curls blend away into shadow. "What did I ever do to fight it? I lost from the moment that I put on the Ring, as if it could hide me from them
"You mustn't say that, Mr. Frodo."
"I had no will, no voice, no other desire but to do... this." His hand scrabbles up his chest. "You were looking at me, and I knew – but I couldn't–"
"Mr. Frodo." Sam isn't sure if he would have grabbed Frodo's hand to stop it from touching the Ring, but his movement is enough. The hand lowers, Frodo's head bows. "Don't listen to me talking of things I don't understand," Sam goes on quick, and his breath flies with it, "listen to Mr. Gandalf. He wouldn't take the Ring himself now, would he? He were afeared of taking it and not lasting any longer than you did. Less'n you did, I'm thinking. And he's said plain to my face that few folk could've come as far as you, Mr. Frodo."
"And you believe that?"
"I didn't need him telling me so, if you don't mind," Sam says. "'Tis not a matter of believing."
But soon now Frodo will ask him why, and he's all out of answers there. What makes Mr. Frodo strong is the same as leaves him open to danger, it's all tangled up together. He can look at the stars as if they'll swallow him up in their brilliance, as if he's their very own, and he's so beautiful that Sam could cry, even with his face too peaked and the hollows still showing under his eyes.
"But you're afraid," Frodo says softly.
That Sam can't deny. If the fear is a poison, then he's been stung with it like Mr. Frodo himself. The falling water snaps out blades in the dark, but it runs no louder than the anxious drumming in his breast.
"Sam." The sound is close as a touch on his shoulder, drawing him back.
"I wish I weren't!" he blurts, and his eyes fall on the nasty glitter of a chain that carries the Ring now – though by morn that might be gone, Sam tells himself, or tries to, as he's tried ever since Mr. Frodo's waking.
They've not taken the Ring as Sam might have thought, once they reached Rivendell. Master Elrond's folk have taken it only to hang it on that chain, and what's the chain for, if not to say that Mr. Frodo did ought to finish what he started? Under the chain and its burden lies tender skin, rising falling breathing warmth that runs over into Sam's very own blood.
But will they let him go with Mr. Frodo? There'll be a council in the morning, and Sam has no place among all the wise and powerful folk.
"Only a fool would not be afraid." How Frodo can smile at him like this is a riddle and a marvel, filling the spaces between Sam's mithered thoughts. "A fool, or a creature without a heart."
"Oh, but I'm–"
Sam swallows and doesn't protest though he knows Mr. Frodo can see the fear that fills him up like dark water. But there's a need as comes with it, stronger than aught else that drove him on before, to protect Frodo – even when he can't, when it's useless and he's a lumpy piece of baggage in the venture, clumsier with a sword than he's ever been with a sling or his bare fists. But when they're a world away from home, Mr. Frodo's going to want such company as he can trust.
"I was meaning to keep a watch over you," Sam admits what he should have said right away. And if they don't let him... His glance slips to where the water's vanishing in the deep, and there's not a place in the world as will feel firm and true under his feet till –
"Don't look down then," Frodo says. "I'm here."
Though Sam turns to him, his cheeks run hot with the free welcome in Frodo's voice, for it burrows so deep that it stirs up the secret knowing, and how it felt to be touching Frodo like he never had a right to.
"Are you cold, Sam? You're shivering."
"Where shall we go now?" he asks, for suddenly all he can think is how Mr. Frodo's eyes have always held the biggest part of the sky – and he's falling, falling like a leaf on a breath of autumn, without a fear to catch him.
"If you would..." Frodo stops to tilt his head over towards his room. "That bed is as wide as the Brandywine, and perhaps we would both find it easier to rest, if... well."
Sam holds his breath. Most like, Mr. Frodo has to look sharp to see him nod. What fills him up runs lighter now, and it's bigger than aught his body can hold. It sings right down to his fingertips, in as warm a surge as the music from the other side of the valley. That's as much as he knows, and all the comfort he can offer. Surely Mr. Frodo can feel that when he takes Sam's hand.
* * *
(continued in: On Watch
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.