Gandalf and Legolas slipped Frodo out of the crowd early, and took him down the ramp to the house that would now serve as temporary home to the Fellowship, except for Aragorn himself. Halladan and Elrohir had joined them, opened the door and brought Frodo to the room Gandalf had seen prepared for him in what had plainly been a library or study. Together Gandalf and Legolas helped Frodo out of his clothes and into a nightshirt, and showed him the side door into the bathing room and privy. Having a private door into the privy would be a great help, Gandalf realized, and he was glad that when the pipes and drains had been added to this house such an extra door had been cut through from the study.
A tall narrow window, heavily draped, looked out onto the street between two of the bookshelves; a smaller one with a casement which could be opened looked eastward beyond the bedstead. The bed was yet tall for Frodo to climb into, even with the stepped stool Gandalf had asked be placed there. With Gandalf’s help he got into the bed, sat up against the headboard and sipped from the cup of water provided, and smiled sadly at Wizard and Elf. “I only pushed myself too far,” he commented. He sighed, then looked at the window. “I would like my wind rods hung there in the window if I might,” he said.
“We’ll see to it tomorrow,” promised Gandalf. “You were superb. The years have only made you a better dancer.”
Frodo’s expression darkened. “For all I’ve barely danced for so many of them?” he asked somberly as he set the mug on the table beside him. “Was this another pleasure stolen from me by the Ring?”
“I strongly suspect this is true, Frodo. You would not claim It, and you made no move to leave your place. It would seek to punish you as It could; and to remove your pleasures one by one would fitting to Its nature.”
Frodo lifted his hands to his face and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms. “I hate It more and more by the day.”
“So do we all, Frodo. So do we all.”
The door to the room opened, and Elrohir came with Frodo’s evening draught. The Hobbit made a face. “And how much longer will I need to take these? For the rest of my life?”
“It is possible, Frodo.” The son of Elrond looked down on him with compassion.
Frodo shivered. “Robbed of the hope of marriage and children; robbed of dancing; and now robbed of my health.” He took the mug and with a sour expression he drank it down, returning it to Elrohir as rapidly as possible and reaching again for the water. After finishing that which was in the cup he thought for a minute, then looked up at the Elven healer. “Can I rebuild my ability to do things again--normal things such as walking, riding, dancing?”
“Yes. But it takes a commitment to work on it regularly at least twice a day, every day from now on. It means getting out each day and walking, the first few days on level ground, and then on steeper and steeper ground until you can walk freely again. But the probability is that you will never again be able to walk all day as you did before, no matter how you try it.”
“I hope that I will not again be called upon to walk all the day as in the past year,” Frodo replied, “but I do wish, once I get home again, to be able once more to take a proper walking trip to Buckland again. I wish to be able to resume something resembling my life as it was before.” He thought for a moment. “Sam is recovering, and doing so well at it. I envy him so.”
“Sam was not stabbed with a Morgul knife, and did not carry the Ring awakened for weeks on end, nor have It first take him and then lose It as you did. For all that he was beside you the entire time, Sam still bore the lesser burden.”
“He bore with me, and the Valar knows that was burden enough.”
Gandalf answered, “Oh, there is no question of that, Frodo, and truly the scars of watching one he loves as dearly as father, brother, and child all in one person nearly die, descending into the madness of the Ring’s visions and threats and persuasions, has left him also deeply scarred. But the fact remains that his physical scars are little more than skin deep, while your physical scars have affected your entire body.
“You and he bear similar mental and spiritual scars; but yours are the deeper, for the weapon was buried long in the center of your heart and mind, while It barely brushed the surface of his. He was stronger than you the short time he bore It, although not as strong as you were during the years before you left the Shire. He could still fight It with every fiber of his being while It had come to the point of hollowing out your soul. It used every grief, every stubbed toe, every fear for the safety of others, every regret for the stars not seen to assault you; and as the journey continued and you had less and less to sustain you It could work more quickly and surely. But with you shielding him as you did while you held It, how could It be ready for the defense he was able to give It when he took It from you when he thought you dead?”
“And what do you know of it working on me when I was still in the Shire?”
Gandalf looked at him intently, obviously evaluating how much to tell. Finally he spoke. “The last time I visited you before I went in search of Gollum, you had a nightmare, one which I believe had been recurring for some time. It was a night that Sam had stayed overnight in Bag End.”
Frodo looked at him warily. “Which one--the eyes or the running?”
“It appeared to involve both. You were running in terror from the Eye. I could not at the time understand why it was given to me to share this dream with you, but I suspect that it was intended I should at last begin to accept the nature of the Ring Bilbo had given you.
“You were running, I believe through familiar tunnels of Brandy Hall at the first, then through nightmare tunnels which were turning into caverns full of bones. But as you ran, you kept checking backwards to make certain what sought you did not turn onto any other path. Suddenly you stopped, and you became Took angry. You were glaring behind you, for the Eye had begun to turn aside, seeking a different target. ‘No!’ you cried, and this you cried aloud, for I heard you from Bilbo’s old room, ‘No! If you wish to chase someone you shall chase me, not my friends!’ And it was as if a shielding circle of Light went out from you and encircled both you and the Eye, forcing It to seek you and turning It away from whatever was outside that circle. And what was just outside that circle, Frodo, was Sam.”
Frodo just looked intently into the Wizard’s eyes.
Gandalf continued, “I rose and went into your room, and I could see the Light of your Being very clearly. Rarely do I see such things made clear in defiance save by the greatest of Elves--they are usually manifested most strongly in times when the spirit is most at peace or moments of great emotion. Certainly I could see that of Aragorn this morning.”
Frodo nodded. “Yes, I could see it, too.”
“I rather thought you could.” He stroked his beard. “That night I could see yours raised as a barrier, a barrier between something and Samwise Gamgee. So bright was it that the Eye could see nothing else save you, not even me when I entered that room. And It became confused and withdrew, and the dream faded for you. You suddenly woke, and when I told you I thought you’d had a nightmare----”
“----I told you that I’d dreamt of falling.”
“So you remember?”
“Yes, I remember.” He started to drink from the cup he held, realized it was empty. Legolas took it from him, refilled it and gave it back.
Gandalf watched him before he went on, “The next evening we were walking toward the Green Dragon, and Sam, who’d gone to the Cotton’s farm earlier in the day, was walking back to Number Three with Rosie and Young Tom at his side, the three of them laughing, Sam and Rosie holding hands as they walked. Suddenly you started to look after her and the look in your eye--then suddenly that stopped. It was as if a small child had just made an improper joke before its father, and you said quietly but still aloud, ‘No, never that. Behave yourself!’ And you turned very deliberately away.”
Frodo’s face had gone white. “You remember that?”
“Well, apparently you do, too.”
“Only because you reminded me.” He looked into the depths of his cup, drank a quarter of its contents, then set it aside. “So, that was the Ring? I thought it was just that perverse side of me I hated.”
“Frodo, everyone has such a perverse side to themselves, but they don’t slam doors shut in their head with their Lights of Being when it whispers to them.”
“You saw me using the Light of my Being on it?”
The Wizard nodded. “It was the fact that twice in less than a day’s time you were using your Light of Being as a shield that first truly made me fearful that what you bore was indeed the Enemy’s Ring. I’d considered it several times, you know, but couldn’t convince myself that Saruman would lie to the entire Council about it.”
“So that was why I didn’t see you or hear from you for so long?”
“It was part of it. It was then that first the signs began that Sauron was sending servants again to the areas around the Gladden Fields to search for It.”
“It remains, Frodo, that you somehow realized that although the Eye was seeking you and It was trying to corrupt you, yet there in the Shire you were able to construct very effective defenses against them, defenses that were intended to shield not so much yourself but others--and particularly Sam, the friend closest to you.”
Frodo thought deeply, rubbing at the place where his finger had been lost. Elrohir asked, “Does the hand pain you, Frodo?”
Frodo almost answered No but thought better of it. “Yes, it does. It’s not throbbing as yet, but it is beginning to ache.”
Elrohir took his hand and held it, gently massaging it as had Aragorn at the feast, singing quietly. Frodo felt the muscles relax, the finger stop tingling, felt warmth fill his hand as it had with Aragorn’s touch earlier. As he sang the Elf’s eyes closed, until at last he finished, then lifted his head and looked into the Hobbit’s face. “Estel is correct--even as the healing enters you, it is pulled away. I think this time it went to your heart. Your pulse has strengthened.”
The Hobbit was as puzzled as were the others. Finally Gandalf said, “I think it is time you let yourself sleep, my friend. If you wish to begin rebuilding your endurance you should start now by being rested for the morrow.”
Frodo sighed, then nodded his agreement. Elrohir and Gandalf saw him lying down, and the tall Elf brushed the hair away from the Perian’s brow. “Sleep, tithen nín; sleep and be rested.”
The Hobbit’s expression eased as he relaxed into slumber.
An hour later the rest came in. Elrohir had returned to the dancing and had reassured all that Frodo was well, and reluctantly Sam had stayed. But he felt it was worthwhile, and he did enjoy the evening, particularly when the singing began.
Many of the lesser lords had left, and now that fewer were interested in dancing songs were called for. One of Éomer’s Riders who was known for his singing sang the coming of Éorl and his folk to Mundberg to assist the folk of Gondor and the battles waged against the Easterlings. Faralion sang a song about Nienor and Túrin which reminded Sam of when he’d first read the story in one of old Mr. Bilbo’s books when he was but a little one, not long after Mr. Frodo had come to live in Bag End. Then Sam found himself begging the Lord Strider to sing for them, and finally he’d sung one of the hymns to Yavanna he’d learned while laboring in the orchards of Imladris. The hearts of all were quieted as they listened; and when he entered the second stanza and the sons of Elrond joined in the singing all were even more moved. There was no question that the King was truly gifted in this as the small Perian was gifted in dancing.
They finally gave Aragorn their good nights, and Elladan walked back down the ramp with them to see all safely inside and Sam given his evening draught.
They examined the rooms given to their use, Merry and Pippin sharing the parlor on the West side of the house, and Sam and Frodo each having one of the rooms on the East end. All gave their good nights to a sleepy Lasgon and Lord Halladan, who was sitting in the day room discussing orc incursions with Gimli. Sam was glad when he realized that the parlor he slept in was the proper way for any to come to the room in which Frodo slept. He’d make certain none would harm his Master. He looked into the room where Frodo rested, Gandalf sitting in a chair at the foot of the bed with a mug of ale beside him and a book in hand, sucking at his empty pipe. Frodo awoke, smiled sleepily at him, asked, “Was it fun?” and at Sam’s affirmative answer slipped back into dreams.
Sam accepted his mug of herbs, and indicated he’d ready himself for sleep. Carefully he removed the clothing he’d worn, got into his nightshirt, slipped through his Master’s room into the privy for the last time, then after assuring himself Frodo was indeed at rest and old Gandalf keeping watch, he went to his own room and managed to climb into the high bed and slip into sleep himself.
“You’ll tell us where it is, and now!”
The sound of a lash on bare flesh and a cry of pain. He’s at the bottom of the tower, and his Master is somewhere up there, far up there, probably at the top, and he must get there, get there before they can strike him again. He begins to run up the stairs.
“Stubborn, are you? What are you, a Took?”
Another lash, and a cry wrung from a body already battered and depleted. “I don’t know! I don’t know!”
The Ring burns against his breast. It is happy with this turn of affairs, is excited that Its former bearer is being beaten.
“We’ll strip you to the bones, we will!”
He is running as fast as he can, but the stairs never end. The more he heads for that landing he can just see, the further off it becomes. The stairs are multiplying....
“Sam! Sam! Wake up! Wake up, dear Sam. It’s only a dream. It’s over. It’s over and you’ve won through. You got me away, and I’m safe now. I’m here, Sam.”
At the touch of the hand on his brow, Sam woke up, still fearful to waken to find his master lying, stripped and beaten, on the rags on the floor of that chamber again, the blood oozing from the stripes across his back and side. But the Mr. Frodo he saw was sitting up beside him on the bed, was brushing the hair off his sweating brow, was wearing a simple white nightshirt----
Simple nightshirt, is it? Oh, yes, simple if you consider a Hobbit wearin’ a nightshirt of silk cloth simple. But if ever there was a Hobbit as deserved such things, it was the Master. That his own nightshirt was also of silk he ignored.
He looked up and smiled, sat up some and drank the cup of chamomile tea Gimli had brought to him, smiled again as he lay back down and drifted back into sleep, still holding his Master’s maimed hand in his own.
Frodo finally allowed Gandalf to help him back to his own bed, and accepted another mug of tea from Gimli before he closed his eyes. But before he dropped off into sleep he remembered what Aragorn had said about how they were all likely to have nightmares, and a tear slipped from his eye.
Gandalf, again sitting in the chair with book and mug and empty pipe, saw the tear and grieved for it.