Interval with Stars
Sam could see the signs--the sixth had not been kind to Mr. Frodo--no, not at all. He’d left lighthearted and carefree, singing, even, riding at a pleasant trot. He’d come home five days later thinner than when he’d left, his eyes shadowed, his expression closed. He’d been first up each morning, and Sam had the idea it was more to hide the fact he’d not been sleeping rather than any desire to fix an early first breakfast. By the twentieth he was tense as one of the springs Pippin as a child had once released from the mantel clock in the parlor; on the twenty-first he was nervous as a cat, pacing around and around and around the smial. Sam didn’t think he slept at all that night.
Late in the afternoon on the twenty-second he finally collapsed. He’d gone into the study and shut the door, sat down on the sofa, and slipped to the floor, and hadn’t the strength to get himself up. Sam heard a call, tried to open the door and felt something against it, gently pushed it open against the weight, and had found him there, half crying, half laughing. Sam had felt angry and had had to force himself not to yell at him as one would a stubborn child. With a deep sigh he lifted his master and carried him to his room, undressed him, checked the spider bite and saw it had recently drained (“Budgie cleaned it for me, since you weren’t there”), got a clean nightshirt on him, and put him into bed. He then filled the kettle, set it on the bedroom hob, and once it boiled slipped a leaf of kingsfoil into it, whispering the invocation as he did so. He’d not drunk his tea this week past, and had eaten hardly anything. No wonder he was so weak!
About an hour before midnight Sam went to check on him. As he opened the door, he heard a whisper, “Please, Sam....”
“Please what, Mr. Frodo?”
“Please take me to the top of the Hill. I want to have the stars over me.”
“You digging your grave afore you’re even dead again, Mr. Frodo?”
“No. Yes. I don’t even know any more. I only know I need to be under the stars, Sam. I’ve been so----”
“You’ve been worried sick the day coming will be your last is what,” Sam finally finished for him.
After a time Frodo whispered, “Yes, I suppose so. Or, maybe I’m worried that it won’t.”
“There’s that.” Sam stood contemplating his master for some minutes before saying, “I’ll do it on one condition--you sup some broth and then some of your tea first.”
He heard the sigh, then saw the weak nod. Sam went to fetch them--he’d had them simmering for some time.
He didn’t bring much--not more than he’d expect to feed a bairn of five, but he needed something in him, something warm. Frodo gave no trouble in drinking it down. There was a bit more of the tea, for he’d found through experimentation that Frodo did best on about a mug and a half’s worth, although this time he didn’t dare force him to drink more than a mug. Frodo drank it, then sighed. Sam then went to the dressing room and brought out Frodo’s cloak from Lorien and laid it on one of the chairs, then opened the wardrobe where the rug and blankets were kept for nights on the Hill and brought them out, slipping one of the blankets off the bed to add to the two already there, and set that on the other chair. Only then did he help his master stand, helping him over by the chair so he could support himself against its back while Sam wrapped the cloak around him and fastened the brooch. Taking the bundled rug and blankets under one arm and draping Frodo’s arm about his shoulder, supporting his master about the waist, he helped him to the back door, around to the path to the top of the Hill, then leaned Frodo against the young tree while Sam spread the rug, set the blankets ready. Gently he helped Frodo lie down, then settled down by him and drew the blankets over both.
Frodo had, as he had done when younger, come up here often during the summer to lie under the stars, watching them and sleeping under them. There was now about the tree a circle of athelas, elanor, and niphredil, whose seeds and starts Sam had begged from Elrond and the Lady for Frodo’s comfort, and which had been gladly given. Deep in October on a clear night, it was too cold for the flowers to be blooming, but the small, cool breeze that blew over the athelas leaves brought a clean scent of healing to the two lying now, looking up at the heavens.
The previous anxiety was now gone, the shoulders relaxing. Whatever the new day brought, whether release, continued weakness, or healing, Frodo no longer feared it or desired it--just awaited it. His eyes devoured the brightness above as if the light of the stars were sustenance, and a smile, for the first time since his return, showed on his face. At last he murmured, “I’m sorry Sam. I don’t know what I want any more.”
“I’d think it would be a puzzle for about anyone, Master, not knowing whether your body’s well or ill or just weak, whether you’re able to eat normal or must nibble through the day.”
Frodo nodded, and finally, after a time, his eyes closed, he turned his head, nuzzled into Sam’s shoulder. With a sigh, Sam allowed himself to sleep as well.
When he awoke he was almost afraid to turn to his master, not certain if he might be looking at an empty shell at last, but he finally drew his courage about him and rolled slightly. Frodo’s breathing was very shallow, but steady, his face at peace. Sam sighed and gave a slight prayer of thanks, and slept again. When he woke again, feeling somewhat stiff, Frodo awoke as he tried to stretch, smiled and indicated he was hungry. His legs shook slightly as he was helped to his feet, but Frodo was able to descend the Hill on his own.