With thanks to RiverOtter for the beta. Warning--a very dark AU!
“Here, Mr. Frodo,” the Hobbit’s namesake crooned, “I’ve brought you some nice gruel, sweetened with honey, just the way you like it.”
Frodo heard the young Hobbit sit down in the chair by his bed and set the tray on the bedside table, just as it had been placed there for every meal he’d had for the past how many years? He was aware of Frodo-lad as a shadow against the light of the window, which was almost all he could see any more. He blinked his eyes, hoping that this once they might clear some, allow some more detail to be seen as happened on rare occasions any more. He was able to turn his head slightly, although it seemed to take the last of his strength to do so. He did not wish to eat, but knew all too well what would happen if he refused the spoon--his nose would be held until his mouth opened automatically to take a breath, at which time the spoon would be popped in and his throat rubbed until he swallowed. Too often had this been done to him in the years since the day he’d purposed to leave Middle Earth.
They’d ridden that second day until after sunset, and the stars were shining brightly when the glow of the Elves surrounded them, and they’d found themselves in the midst of that great company heading for the Grey Havens. Then at last Frodo had felt relief to see Bilbo drowsing on the back of his stout little pony that trotted gamely at the side of Elrond’s shining horse. Bilbo might be drowsing, but he was here! At least Frodo would not be the only mortal upon the ship or, if he lived to make it, on the shores of Tol Eressëa. For he realized that he’d left the decision perhaps too long....
The realization had finally struck Sam that Frodo was not going to Rivendell to retire--that he was intent now on leaving Middle Earth altogether.
“And I can’t go with you?” he was saying plaintively.
“No, Sam, not now. Although your turn may come some day. After all, you have been a Ringbearer, too, if only for a brief time. But now, come and ride with me.”
But Sam’s expression had become suddenly suffused with a deep and overwhelming anger. “No!” he yelled. “No! We did not go through all that pain and misery for you to abandon me now! I gave up a year of my life for you! I left the Shire for you! I walked through Mordor for you, and carried you up the Mountain when you couldn’t walk yourself! No! You will not leave me now!”
Sam was wearing Sting, and he now pulled the sword out of its sheath and grabbed Strider’s reins from Frodo’s hands. He put the point of Sting to Frodo’s side. “Anyone makes a move,” he warned, “and I’ll kill him. Got that? You ain’t takin’ him from the Shire and from me! You want to leave Middle Earth--well and good. But you’re not a-takin’ my Master with you!” So saying, he began the task of winding their way through the company of Elves, refusing to meet the eyes of either Elrond or the Lady--they were not friends now, but enemies who’d been intent on stealing his Treasure from him.
An Elf afoot stepped toward him, and Sting’s point pressed into Frodo’s flesh. The Ringbearer knew it had cut through the fabric of his cloak and shirt, and he felt the warmth slowly spreading--and he knew that the others saw as Sam withdrew it and held up the point to display his blood there. “I’ll do worse,” Sam threatened, and the Elves moved back. None followed now, as Sam led Strider out of the clearing and headed toward Hobbiton as fast as he could.
“Sam! You cannot do this!” Frodo had tried to explain. “I can’t stay longer. I shall die if I do. It robbed me of too much, you see. Please understand, Sam--I cannot find healing here in the Mortal Lands. I cannot find happiness. I cannot find love now--It saw to that. I cannot do useful work--my body is too weakened and my mind too distracted. Please, Sam, please let me go that you not see me weaken day by day by day, that you not find me after the memories take me, fled with that horror on my face....”
But Sam was shaking his head, and at last he interrupted. “I’ll fight them memories myself, Master. I’ll fight them and hold them off from you. And you are goin’ t’see our children born, Rosie’s and mine, and be there t’hold them, hear?” And he led the way on, as rapidly as possible, although he’d finally sheathed Sting properly now they were clear of the Elves.
Once they were back to the Road Sam had urged both ponies into a gallop, and they’d reached Hobbiton before daylight. Sam had lifted Frodo bodily off of Strider and carried him up the steps into Bag End, where a confused Rosie had brought strips to use as bandaging and had helped strip Frodo and sew the flesh together where Sam had cut him.
“But I thought as he was a-leavin’ the Shire altogether!” she’d protested once.
“They’d thought to take him away too far,” Sam had growled. “They’d thought to take him where I couldn’t come to him, not for years and years, if ever! No--they ain’t goin’ t’do that.”
He’d then carried Frodo from the parlor where the treatment had been given to one of the inner bedrooms that Mr. Bilbo had used to use to store some of his most expensive outfits, one that was fitted with an actual lock. He’d put his Master to bed there, and had locked Frodo in while he’d gone to make a meal for him. Then he’d come back and fed the older Hobbit his breakfast bite by bite, and given him a draught to drink, sip by sip. “No--no one loves you more’n me, Master,” he’d said. “And no one’s to try to take you away from me, hear?”
“Please, Sam,” Frodo had whispered; but there was apparently poppy or other such herbs in the drink he’d been given, and he’d fallen into a deep if disturbed sleep. He awoke to the realization he no longer wore the Queen’s jewel.
He suspected that Gandalf had come to try to reason with Sam, but had been driven off. And he’d heard Merry and Pippin outside the locked door after one of the times he’d gotten up and beaten upon the wood until he’d finally fallen in exhaustion. “No,” he’d heard Sam say. “Do the two of you want never t’see him again? I won’t allow it!”
“But if they offered him healing there....” That had been Pippin’s voice.
“You think as he couldn’t know healin’ here?” Sam had demanded.
He’d not heard his cousins outside the door again, and he wasn’t certain how long it was before Sam had finally unlocked the door and come in, scooping him from the floor and returning him to the bed. Again he was fed before Sam left and returned with a basin and towels and one of the silk nightshirts Aragorn had ordered made for Frodo in Minas Tirith. “You ought to feel fine in this, Master,” Sam said as he slipped Frodo’s clothing off of him and began bathing him. “Tomorrow we’ll see about washin’ your hair,” he added once he had Frodo cleaned and dressed in the nightshirt. He set the chamberpot within easy reach, and helped Frodo under the covers. “Now you rest easy, now. You’re only disappointed you couldn’t go with your friends, but then it’s not good for lads to get everything as they want all the time, you know.” With a kiss to Frodo’s forehead he checked to see that the rushlight would last for a time, gave Frodo a drink, then went out and locked the door behind him. And as he heard that lock click, Frodo could hear the echo of the Ring laughing.
Within a few days Frodo was ill in earnest, feeling nauseous and feverish. A healer was fetched, but one Frodo had never seen before. “This is Healer Thornwhistle from Tighfield,” Sam explained. “I had my brother Hamson send him, as Master Thornwhistle is particular experienced with brain fevers.”
“I don’t have a brain fever,” Frodo whispered, “but the--the memories--they’ll come back--in a few days. Please, Sam; they’d hoped to have me well away from Middle Earth before they could come back. They’ll--they’ll be like to kill me, Sam Gamgee! Why didn’t you let me go?”
Sam turned to Master Thornwhistle. “You see as how it is, sir, since we returned, and how it’s been gettin’ worse? He has terrible nightmares, and is certain as they’re of things as happened while we was gone. Speaks of rings and great spiders--such things as never happened ’cept in old Mr. Bilbo’s most cracked tales.”
Frodo looked on his friend with shock, for he’d never heard Sam being deliberately dishonest before. And that look in his eye....
Three days later Frodo felt distressed and restless all day; he was all but bound to his bed, however, with the blankets tight across his chest and tucked well under the mattress. Master Thornwhistle, whose first name he never learned, came in and began to build a fire in the long-disused fireplace, explaining automatically, “Mr. Gamgee was concerned you might feel chilled tonight, Mr. Baggins, sir.” Once the flames began to rise freely over the logs, however, the memories hit, and the Ringbearer began to struggle....
When he became coherent again, it was to realize that he was being bathed by Rosie. “No!” he whispered, for he did not wish her to see the extent of the scars he’d kept so hidden under his clothing.
But Rosie had become aware of his return to consciousness, and began calling for Sam. “He’s awake--he’s come back!”
But he never truly came back, not from that one. “You had both seizures of the heart and a major brainstorm, Master. I’m so sorry, but Master Thornwhistle don’t think as ye’ll ever be able to rise again. That Budgie Smallfoot was here--said as you’d asked him special to come and be here for the sixth, and he wouldn’t leave. Had me move you back here t’your own room--said as it was too dark in the other room for you, that you needed air and to see proper light, much like when we was in Cormallen, what Strider said we both needed.”
Frodo managed to say, “You lied--Thornwhistle.”
“I had to, Master. It’s best you forget then, you understand. Like it never happened. It hurt you--changed you. So, we’re not goin’ to talk of it no more--not ever. You’re home, here in Bag End where you belong, and here you’ll stay.”
“The Queen’s jewel....”
“I put it back on you--only thing as helped the pain, we found. Thornwhistle--him thinks it’s only your mind as makes it work. Calls it superstition. And who knows? Maybe he’s right! But you’re home and safe with us, and you’ll get to see all the children as Rosie and me’ll have--you watch and see!”
And so it had been for the past however many years it might have been. Now as the anniversaries of October sixth and March thirteenth approached Sam just began feeding Frodo with poppy juice, so that for two days previous and the same after he was mostly sleeping and lethargic. How much it stopped him suffering from the memories was questionable, though. Afterwards he was fuzzy-headed and ill until the twenty-third of October and the twenty-fifth of March, usually, after which time he would slowly recover as much as he could. And each time Rosie had given birth the infants were brought, as soon as they were washed and swaddled tightly, to Frodo first.
But how could he rejoice for them, when he was held a prisoner to Sam’s consuming love for him? And certainly the older ones did not appear to rejoice much to be around him. Sam or Rosie or the deaf Hobbitess Sam had found somewhere to serve as housekeeper saw to his daily baths and gave him his draughts, but the children were the ones who usually brought him his meals and had to feed him; they often had to see the great nappies Sam had made for him changed during the daytime; they were made to read to him two to three hours a day that he not remain bored; they took turns helping to change his position once an hour; they were made to kiss his cheek each night, a ritual that both they and he had come to loath.
His vision had become increasingly cloudy; he could barely talk and was often confused as to who it was that was with him. The confusion might have been the result of the brainstorm, but might also be due to whatever herbs it was Sam mixed into the draughts brought him, or so it seemed to the stricken Hobbit. Yet it seemed to Frodo Baggins that his hearing had merely grown more keen over the years.
Pippin and Merry were allowed three visits with him a year; Folco Boffin never seemed to come around; Fredegar Bolger was allowed to visit with his healer attending him once each fall, on his birthday, an event Frodo was almost totally unaware of at the time, being sedated with poppy at the time as Freddy’s birthday was on October fifth. Only on the Birthday was anyone else allowed to visit Frodo Baggins, but only if Sam felt Frodo was “up to it” or, he’d admitted, he felt the individual had “earned” such a visit in one way or another. But Sam made certain Frodo was reminded frequently of his “generous nature” in allowing such visits.
When the weather was fine a cot was set up in the portion of the garden with the highest hedge where Frodo had often worked on writing the story of the quest into the Red Book, and there he would be allowed to lie under the shade of the cherry trees Sam had planted there, usually with one of the children reading to him.
Other than that he was rarely moved from his room.
However, in the last few years Sam had lessened the more confusing herbs in the draughts he brought. And Frodo had begun working to improve what little control he had over his body, first working on his left arm and hand, and then his leg, always when he was alone in his bedroom, oftentimes when he woke in the night. He had to do so quietly that he not waken Sam or Rosie, who seemed to rouse at almost any change they heard within the great smial. But in time he’d become able to do use his left hand almost normally, although he could not appear to use his right hand much at all. And he had regained much of a Hobbit’s natural mastery of throwing things accurately.
Merry-lad had taken to bringing Uncle Frodo what he considered pretty pebbles, usually bringing two or three a day. At the end of a week Rosie would usually take most of what had been gathered and lined up along the edge of the bedside table and return them to scuffed places along the garden walks. Frodo had begun slipping a few into his drawer, then practicing with them at night. At first he’d made a point of scattering those stones off the table and across the floor with purposely awkward sweeps of his hand while Sam was entering or leaving the room, pretending to reach for the glass of water left there at all times. He now did this about once a week randomly, but knew that most of the pebbles he tossed were going out the window that Sam usually left open that Frodo might smell the flowers outside, once they began to open. He might see but blurs and greyness; but the light of the stars and moon were enough usually to allow him to tell where the window lay. And he was grateful that although Sam was somewhat suspicious of Budgie Smallfoot’s advice, yet the gardener did listen to the healer about Frodo’s need for fresh air and natural light. Perhaps it would be enough one day to allow him to obtain help of some sort.
Sam and Rosie had been gone for a few days, and so it was the deaf housekeeper who’d been bathing him and seeing to most of his needs. Considering he had no access to pen and ink and could neither talk nor sign effectively with her, he had little means of communicating with her. Of the children Elanor appeared to interpret Frodo’s own attempts to speak best, but she rarely spoke to him directly or responded to much beyond requests for drinks or an indication he realized he needed changing. She had apparently forgotten how much he and she had adored one another before Frodo had “had his bad spell,” as Sam had characterized it, and when he could think clearly enough to analyze her reaction to him, Frodo realized the pity she expressed was well mixed with revulsion for what he’d become.
Once Frodo-lad was done feeding him, the young Hobbit left the room, where he could be heard speaking with Rosie-lass. “I don’t understand why we couldn’t of gone, too,” she was saying. “We were all invited, after all, and all by name! You saw the letter the King sent us, Frodo, you and Elanor. Why were we left home and only Elanor got to go?”
“Someone has to care for Mr. Frodo. Our Sam-dad wouldn’t of wanted for him to feel alone.”
“But Mr. Meriadoc and Mr. Pippin took their whole families to see the King when he come to the Brandywine Bridge. We ought to of gone, too, same as them. It’s not fair we can’t go see the King, too.”
“I know. But that’s the way it goes, Rosie. Mum and Da and Ellie should be back today.”
“I wonder if they’ll bring us anything?” Pippin-lad was asking.
“We’ll see when they get back.”
“I hate that we had to stay home and take care of him,” Rosie said rebelliously. “He can’t do nothing--he can’t even talk right!”
Frodo felt his face burn. It’s not my fault I am like this, he wanted to tell them. I wasn’t supposed to stay here! I was supposed to have gone away, maybe to die, maybe to find proper healing for my body and my spirit. Instead, here I lie--a burden to everyone, and especially to myself! He turned his face weakly toward the grey light of the window, tears rolling from his eyes.
It was late in the day when Rosie and Sam returned to the Hill with their eldest. “Well, that’s over, and naught more to worry about till next fall when they’re to head back off to Gondor again,” Sam could be heard saying as he came back from the kitchen. “Old Strider was upset not to see our Frodo, but I explained as he just ain’t able to make the trip to the Bridge. He did seem disappointed not to see you lot, that I must admit--but then it wouldn’t of been fair, to take one or two and not the others, you see. Best none of you go now--when you’re older perhaps we’ll travel up to Annúminas and see the northern capital.”
“But I’ve always wanted to go to Gondor,” Frodo-lad objected.
“And what’s to see in Gondor? Only a lot of places where too many folks died as didn’t need t’do so,” Sam sighed. “Men--they’re a right troublesome lot--always fightin’ one another over some silly slight or another. Not a lot of plain Hobbit sense in most of them. Now, Strider’s different--in most things, at least. But this idea of him comin’ t’see our Mr. Frodo--that’s plain foolish.”
“Well, if’n he has the healin’ hands----” Rosie began.
“So what if’n he does? We saw him with folks as’d had brainstorms in Gondor, and he said it clear--if’n the one doesn’t recover almost right away, chances are he’s not goin’ t’get much better no matter how much healin’ as Strider’s got in him. And Mr. Frodo just has been took too long. Won’t make no difference, him comin’ here.”
Frodo felt frustration well up in him. Aragorn wanted to come here and see him? But he could perhaps get him away! To find that Bag End had become a prison for him....
But if he went with Strider, would it be any different for him than here? That was the question.
“How’s he been?” Sam asked.
“He turns his head toward the door when he hears it open, and smiles if he hears music,” Rosie-lass said. “He does like music, you know.”
“Always did. Used to love dancing--was the best dancer as anyone in the Shire’d ever seen,” Sam declared.
“You’d never know it now,” Frodo-lad muttered in low tones.
“You been as sick as him, you’d not be able to dance, neither,” his father snapped. “Well, I’ll go in and see him now.”
Frodo could not help turning his face toward the door as he heard it pushed open.
“Well, and there you are, and if’n you don’t look fine!” Sam said as he entered. “Well, we’re back, our Ellie, my Rosie and me.”
Frodo was able to ask, “Saw--Strider?”
“You realize that? You know who Strider is?”
The Baggins had to struggle to say, “Ar-a-gorn.”
“Yes, we saw the King. But he couldn’t stay--went on north to the new capital there. Says as it’s all rebuilt and all.”
He tried to ask why they hadn’t told him before they left where they were going, but he could not form the words clearly. Not even he could understand the purpose of the jumbled sounds that came out, and he felt his frustration rise. He uttered a curse in Khuzdûl Bilbo had taught him, and realized it was a mistake once Sam spoke again.
“That’s not a nice thing t’say, and you knows that, Mr. Frodo, sir. How about if’n I was t’say as you shouldn’t get a meal, sayin’ things like that?”
Frodo knew this was not an idle threat, for he’d been ‘punished’ before for saying things that Sam disapproved of. Not that he was too concerned, as he often found himself wishing he’d just die and get it over with--he was tired of not living to any purpose that anyone could perceive. But it appeared that dying was the one thing he’d not be permitted--not on the watch of Sam Gamgee.
“You--could--been--Mayor,” Frodo said sadly.
“Me? A simple gardener, Mayor of the Shire? And who’d of voted for me, d’you think? Not many ’sides the Cottons and my brothers.”
“Merry--Pippin,” Frodo managed.
Sam gave a snort of derision. “Them? Not likely. No, them two don’t quite approve of Samwise Gamgee, not any more at least. No, seem to find me unreasonable or somethin’ like.”
Frodo was almost glad talking was so difficult for him to do, as he certainly agreed with his two cousins who’d followed him out of the Shire.
“Well, I’ll be in soon t’give you your dinner. Rosie’s cookin’ up a meal right now--all your favorites--fresh trout, beans cooked with bacon, a bowl of mushrooms from the Marish, herb bread....”
Frodo turned his face away, suddenly very tired. Save for the mushrooms, those were Sam’s favorite foods any more, not those Frodo Baggins had ever liked best. It appeared that there would be no changes to his imprisonment. If he could only somehow get away! He fumbled his left hand to his face and wiped futilely at his eyes. He appeared to be weeping again.
Late that night he lay awake, filled with misery. How could things ever change for him? Sam had not been intended to live this way. He was to have been the guardian of the stories, and the Mayor of the Shire many times running--not this tyrant who served as gaoler to what remained of what had been his former master and best friend. Frodo wished he could hear crackling in his lungs, and know that this time it would go into the lung sickness again and take him. His own misery was merely the sign of the general distress within Bag End. He closed his eyes, feeling the tears slipping down the left side of his face. Then he felt a change in the room, suddenly realizing he was no longer alone. He stiffened, uncertain as to what it meant.
There was a glow within the room, one he’d once been aware of but that he’d not seen for far, far too long, almost as if a glimmer of starlight had entered through the window and taken the form of a person by his bed. For the first time in some months he felt the fog before his vision clearing somewhat, and he recognized that an Elf stood by him.
No word was spoken, but in his heart he heard, Ringbearer?
Elladan? his own thought answered, knowing he’d recognized this one correctly.
Estel sent me to see you. I do not understand this change in Samwise Gamgee. He should have allowed you to go when it was time, and not held you here as a prisoner. Our brother himself had wished to come see you, but Master Samwise would not allow it. He may not be the Mayor of the Shire, yet he commands a large following of Hobbits who speak of the perfidy of Men and the untrustworthy nature of Elves and Dwarves, and your borders are all but sealed to all outsiders.
He thinks Elves wish to steal me away from him.
You should not lie here ill and all but a declared prisoner, the Elf noted.
It is what I have become, though, Frodo’s thought answered him.
He was aware of the Elf laying his hand upon him, and felt a warmth and strength from its touch. You are little more than flesh and bone, and with little strength to your sinews, save for your left hand.
A brainstorm, years ago, just after I should have left. I can move only my left hand and arm some, and my leg somewhat less. I barely feel on my right, and have no command of those muscles.
Your head--can you move it?
Barely--the wound--my neck--it weakens my neck.
Elladan slipped his hand under Frodo’s neck, and paled. There is something alive in there! He rose. I shall return with Aragorn. It will take three days for me to go and come again. Can you continue to fight it over those three days, Ringbearer?
Frodo sighed. What choice do I have, do you think?
The Elf rose. Indeed, you have no other at this time. I would take you with me, but they would only seek after us. I could hide myself, but not the both of us.
I know. Then after a pause he added, Go, and may the stars shine upon your path.
He sensed rather than saw the Elf’s smile, and Elladan slipped out the window and away.
Three nights later Frodo awoke from a restless dream to realize he was not alone. He sensed three others, and realized again his vision was almost clear. “Aragorn,” he breathed.
Hush, said a thought he realized was that of the second son of Elrond, and a moment of thought supplied the name--Elrohir. Perhael--and that he has become indeed--has ears to hear the breathing of a mouse!
Yes.... Frodo felt as if his own thought was oozing from him slowly, as if he were thinking through honey.
Elladan crouched down on one side of him, and Aragorn on the other. Aragorn was gently feeling the place where Shelob had bitten him, and looked up, alarmed. Frodo could not perceive his thought as he’d been able to do with the two Peredhil. He looked to Elladan. What?
He feels something alive within the wound as well. He is worried. How have you felt over the last three days?
Frodo moved his head restlessly. It itches and burns, and crawls upon my neck at times. I have been weaker. I am often nauseous again. My bowels appear loose and watery. I feel anxious, and what dreams I have known have been horrible.
Elrohir asked, Has Sam tried draining the wound?
He used to do so, but has not for some months, as if he’d forgotten about it. I cannot say how long since it last opened, but it must have been before Yule. I do not remember much from early March--it must have been early March, for he leaves the window open for me to smell the flowers. But it has been no smaller, the few times I have felt it.
There were shared glances between his three visitors. Elladan was looking uncertainly at Aragorn, shook his head, shrugged at one point, and at last turned his attention back to Frodo. He would take you away with us in spite of everything. You need the wound probed and whatever is in there removed.
You can’t--you can’t get me away cleanly--you told me before.
He could feel Aragorn growing stiffer, and at last he pulled the blanket back--then stopped. “Bound!” he whispered.
Elrohir reached to Frodo’s right leg. Mithril. A mithril shackle.
Frodo thought, finally finding the memory. Gimli--we asked for chains to use on the conspirators if needed. He gave us ones of mithril.
Elladan gave a long sigh. And he has used a set on you. The fool!
From Elrohir, We cannot cut this--not with what we have with us!
A drop of water fell on Frodo’s face, as the blankets were smoothed back over him, and the Hobbit realized Aragorn was weeping. He fumbled to take the Man’s hand, felt it close about his.
Elladan stiffened, gave a sign, and with a quick, He wakens! the three slipped soundlessly from the room.
The next door opened, as Sam made a trip to the privy. He would look in each bedroom, Frodo knew, as he went back to his own room. Frodo found himself weeping, even as Aragorn had done. He felt weak, but his mind was clearer, much as it had been after Elladan’s previous visit. Sure enough, Sam opened Frodo’s door, and apparently realizing something was wrong came in, then raised his head as if noticing a change in scent. A breeze through the window brought with it the scent of the crocuses and early hyacinths, as well as the green, healing scent of the kingsfoil Sam had planted. Frodo felt relief flow through him--hopefully Sam would respond well to the scent of the athelas as he sometimes did. Sam came closer, and his voice when he spoke was almost that of the Sam he’d known before the trip out of the Shire, the trip to Mordor. “You been weepin’, Master?”
“My--neck--it hurts!” Frodo’s voice was but a whisper.
Sam looked at him with pity. “There’s naught as can be done for it--you heard Strider and Lord Elrond.”
“Hurts,” Frodo repeated, turning his head weakly away. “Hurts.” He felt Sam sit down on the side of the bed and reach out to stroke his hair. He trembled at the touch of the gardener’s hand. “Stars,” he whispered. “I miss the--stars.”
“It’s my birthday day after tomorrow, Mr. Frodo. Is there anythin’ as you want me to give you?”
How he wanted to say, My freedom. But it was too late for that, he suspected. He shook his head.
“If’n there’s anythin’ as I could do as would make you feel better....” There was an earnestness in Sam’s voice he’d not heard there for a long time, and it emboldened him.
“Sleep out--atop the Hill.” There--he’d said it!
“All right, if’n it will ease you.”
“It would,” Frodo breathed.
“Night after next, as long as it don’t rain--we’ll do just that. Your old rug--it’s still in the wardrobe, with the blanket roll and all.” Sam brushed the hair off Frodo’s brow.
“Thank you.” And Frodo realized he meant it.
Sam helped him to a drink of water, shifted him on the bed, and kissed his hair before leaving the room. Had the virtue of the Elves and the King lingered enough to ease his surety he would be robbed of his prize? Frodo wondered as he tried to relax back into sleep.
The next night Frodo woke at the touch of Aragorn’s hand on his shoulder. He turned his face upward, and was glad to realize he could actually see his friend’s face. He felt himself smiling. He heard the gentle whisper, “How are you, Frodo?”
“Better,” he murmured. “But--in my neck--it’s restless.” He turned his head slightly to ease it.
He could hear the concern. “I do not know what I can do to aid you,” the Man breathed into his ear. “I’ve examined the bed. I cannot take it apart to free the shackle without making too much noise. It would waken them.”
“Too late,” Frodo sighed. “Too late. Cannot heal--not now.”
They were quiet for a time, and Aragorn held his left hand possessively, although it did not disturb him as Sam’s would have doing the same thing. At last Frodo turned his head to look up into the Man’s face. He’d made up his mind--too long he’d lived this way. It was past time to end it. “Free me,” he whispered. “Remember--Morgul knife.”
He felt Aragorn stiffen. “You know not what you ask.”
“I do!” he whispered fiercely. “I--am not--alive! Nearly a wraith now! Please!”
Frodo’s hand was being squeezed so hard it hurt, but he knew that the Man would do what was necessary. At last Aragorn leaned down and whispered, his voice broken, “Let me think on it, small brother.”
In broken whispers Frodo explained about the plan to sleep out under the stars the next evening. “Want to leave--under the stars,” he sighed at last.
There was a shifting in the bed in the next room, and both froze, their attention fixed on Sam and Rosie’s room. Then, with sudden decision Aragorn bowed his head and kissed Frodo’s brow, and went to slip out the window.
Not long before dawn another form slipped in, and Elrohir placed into his hand a tiny lozenge. Hide it between your teeth and your cheek. When you are ready to--leave--crush it between your teeth. Then swallow it. It will work slowly. You will feel yourself grow very sleepy, and perhaps cold. You will eventually sleep deeply. You will not awaken again.
Frodo gave a small nod, carefully slipping the lozenge into his mouth. Clumsily he worked it with his tongue between his teeth and his left cheek. He would leave it there until tonight. Thank you, and thank Aragorn for me. Let him know I am grateful.
He saw the nod, and as quietly as he’d come, Elrohir left.
Frodo was allowed to sit that night in the parlor in his own chair, wrapped in the oversized grey shawl he’d used so often so long ago. The children looked at him as if they didn’t know what to make of this stranger who somehow had escaped his bed to intrude on the living part of the Smial.
Good old Bag End! And now it would be Baggins’s End, he realized. It was right. It was past time.
The faces of the children were different here, in the parlor. The expressions of resentment were gone, and now most of them seemed almost shy. He did his best to memorize their faces now, faces that seemed so young and vulnerable. Now that he was sitting up in the parlor, Elanor and Frodo-lad particularly seemed drawn to him, and spoke of the things they’d always loved best. The younger one brought him their favorite toys to show him, and he fumbled to smooth the hair of Goldilocks and Rosie-lass, gave his half smile to the younger lads.
But then the place on his neck began to burn, and all could see the smile give way to pain. Sam was there right away. “You hurtin’, Master?” he asked.
“The neck!” he whispered. At last the pain relented--some at least, and he gave a sigh of relief. “I’m tired,” he said. “I’m sorry, Sam. I’m so--tired.” He took a breath. “The stars, please.”
Sam looked undecided, but at last straightened. “Well I did promise--that I did. All right. Frodo-lad--you go and get the roll from Mr. Frodo’s wardrobe, and bring it after. We’re goin’ up atop the Hill.”
He brought Frodo’s Elven cloak, and Frodo could see the cut in the fabric that Rosie had never been able to mend, for no mortal thread seemed to hold in it. Sam carefully wrapped it around Frodo, then lifted the older Hobbit in his arms. “Would be better, probably, to see you to your own bed,” he said.
Frodo gave a small shake. “You promised,” he said.
The children wished him a good night, and Rosie opened the door to let them out of the house, the deaf housekeeper standing behind her, an expression of disapproval on her face. Sam carried him outside, followed by Frodo-lad and Elanor. One last time the delicate Hobbit lass gave him her kiss, and this time Frodo felt the same joy he’d known when she was tiny and he’d held her and sung to her in Sindarin and Quenya. “Night, Elanorellë,” he whispered. “Joy to you.”
“Good night, Uncle Frodo,” she said softly in return. She smiled at him, and for once he could truly see and feel that there was a place in the depths of her heart where that old love still held. Sam shifted his grip, and turned to carry him down the garden path, to the steps at the back of the smial, and up to the top, followed by Frodo-lad and the roll. The lad soon had the rug laid out, and helped his father settle Frodo on it. Only after he’d wished Mr. Frodo a nice night did he leave, and it seemed reluctantly. “Joy to you, child,” Frodo murmured after him
Sam made certain the rest of the blankets were ready, and sat himself down next to his former Master. “Only one last thing t’do, Mr. Frodo,” Sam said, and for a moment he felt Sam’s leg next to his, then heard the snick of the shackle being fastened about the gardener’s leg.
Frodo felt suddenly cold. You think even now to keep me from fleeing you, do you? he thought, and turned his face away. You lost me years past, Samwise Gamgee, he continued in his mind, and he felt the tears gathering along with the grey mist. This time when it closed in on him, he realized, it would not lift.
So what? It’s not as if he holds power over me any more. Not after tonight he doesn’t! Allow him his conceit that he can hold me to this prison forever!
The past Master of Bag End looked up, intending to fill himself with the stars for as long as he could. Only when the fog had fully stolen his last sight of them would he bite upon the lozenge, he decided. He felt the thing in his neck stir, more restless than ever. Suddenly he was afraid, then even more determined. Sam was spreading the blankets over the two of them and lying back, and taking Frodo’s wizened body in his arms.
“You know, Master, as how I used to do this for you in Mordor. I’ve not forgot the ways of it, I think. You weigh no more’n you did then, I’m thinkin’. Although you don’t seem t’shine like you did then. You always used to shine, you know. Loved it, I did, when you’d glow, like a star come down from Over-heaven to Middle Earth isself, hidin’ inside a Hobbit’s form.”
Frodo peered westward. Something seemed to be missing. It wasn’t that long after sunset. It ought to be there, there near the western horizon. But he could not see it anywhere. At last he murmured, “Eärendil’s star--I don’t see it!”
“No, you won’t. Not been seen for ever so long, it hasn’t--not since Lord Elrond went sailin’ away. I suppose as now his son’s come back to him he don’t need t’sail Vingilot no more.”
The greyness was closing in quickly as Frodo worked the lozenge into place. He already felt a sharp coldness in him. The Gil-estel no longer shone in the sky, and that since he had failed to sail? It was wrong!
And as at last his vision was all filled with greyness, Frodo bit down, breaking the lozenge, chewed it a bit, swallowed it.
He felt the cold slowly begin to creep through his body and all began to slow. The bindings that tied his fëa to his hröa began to unravel, and he could see the mithril cords fraying. At last! he exulted.
And then he heard the laughter of the Ring, mocking him.
Shining forms surrounded him, but they came not to welcome him, but to guard him--No! To guard Arda from him! And they were escorting him with drawn weapons and cold, wary expressions beyond the mithril Gates of Death toward another set of gates, gates of black adamant, one leaf of which was being opened enough to allow him passage. He cast a terrified look backward at the great edifice of the Halls of Mandos which was denied him, and then looked beseechingly at those who now thrust him out--out into the Void beyond the Gates of Night--out with----
He heard the laughter, but now it was close, surrounding him, engulfing him, consuming him!
You fool! You thought you could destroy my servant--stop evil in your time? Destroy the Ring--destroy Its Master as well? Into the volcano, the elemental fire of the world, and it would be all over! No more Lord of Darkness! No more Great Enemy! Arda would be free of the Threat!
He could see the ruined beauty of One Who had been intended once to be the Chief of the Powers, or at least co-Elder King along with Manwë. In Atar’s original intent it was I who was meant to espouse Varda. Far more likely for the Lord of the Restful Dark, don’t you agree, than the Lord of Winds? But when I sought to show my brother his proper place they all said I brought not Harmony but Discord. They said I wrought my own ambitions into Arda--that I marred it beyond all repair--not until Eä is renewed.
Twice they captured Me, and bound Me. But my servant whom you know as Sauron--he found a way to bring Me in part back. Oh, he brought Me back into Arda in spite of all they could do; and none saw it! None saw that in creating the Ring he was recreating Angainor within Middle Earth, and where Angainor dwelt, there I must be also!
And you wore the Ring, taking Angainor upon yourself, allowing me to move again in the Living Lands.
He who had been Frodo Baggins saw the great cruelty of this One, the delight in the trick played upon all the hosts of the Living Lands of Arda. And he realized now how it was all had been played for fools by Melkor--by Morgoth, the true Black Enemy of all!
Your friend wore the Ring also, and in doing so, he, too, took upon himself Angainor! He made of his love for you chains far more powerful and encompassing than the simple mithril shackle with which he fixed you to your bed or cot. Oh, the one who was intended to save Middle Earth at your side instead was infused with me, and I have had your Lights, have done my best to extinguish them as your friend Strider used to pinch out the flames of candles. The second Savior of Middle Earth--of him I have made a gaoler; and the great King of the World Renewed--he has become a simple, common murderer! And you--you have committed one of the gravest trespasses of all for you have destroyed yourself! Are you proud of what love of you has wrought, you who has never deserved the name of Iorhael?
He had no way of stopping the laughter, for here in the void he had no body any more; yet somehow he had ears to hear--and what he heard could not be shut out!
And they have forgotten that once I had two greatest of servants. One is now no more within Middle Earth; but the second lingers yet. And can you guess where it is she has sheltered all these years since her daughter was given a terrible wound by your foolish friend? It appears that perhaps half a store of wisdom is nowhere as good as a full store, not that yours has served you! And even now, now that your body cools, Ungoliant stirs--yes, she stirs! And where Sauron no longer can serve me, either willingly or unwittingly, yet she can now move, for all believe her dead, slain long ago by Eärendil! More fools they!
Again he was surrounded by the mocking, consuming laughter of Morgoth, and now his screams of torment joined that laughter.
My darkness will cover all, with the help of my second servant! And all has come to be for the love of a simple Hobbit! Isn’t that the greatest irony of all?
But in Hobbiton a golden Hobbit lass had crept into the study of Bag End and was even then opening a forbidden chest, bringing out a scarred black sheath, warned by some whispering in her heart. Some danger stalked Uncle Frodo and her Sam-dad. As she closed the chest after her and set herself to slip out of the smial, her dad’s Elven cloak he’d not worn for years wrapped about her, Elanor realized for the first time that only she of her father’s children ever called him Uncle.
They slept there together, her father holding Uncle Frodo’s body close to him. Uncle Frodo lay twitching feebly, his face turned westward, his expression full of grief. This oughtn’t to be, she knew. He never was meant to stay. He ought to have gone his way long since, found the healing promised him, not lain, weak and barely living, here in the Shire. Dad wasn’t meant to be estranged from Mr. Pippin and Mr. Merry. Uncle Frodo told him as he’d be the Mayor, as many times as he wanted--but who’d choose him? Many think as he’s as cracked as Uncle Frodo’s supposed to be. Only the King doesn’t think as Uncle Frodo’s cracked, nor do Mr. Merry nor Mr. Pippin.
Only she, of all Sam and Rosie Gamgee’s children so far, had read the Red Book, although she’d had to sneak it out of its hiding place to read it. But the Sam Gamgee described there wasn’t the one she’d known; and the ending had been all wrong! Her dad had forced Uncle Frodo to come back against his will. And in her few moments alone with the Queen the Lady Arwen had explained why it was that the King was looking west toward the sunset--he was hoping against hope that the Gil-estel, Eärendil’s star, would rise again, a sign once more of hope for those who dwelt in the Mortal Lands. And she’d seen the grief in their faces that all had not gone as had been intended.
Well, whatever else might occur, she’d sit guarding these two.
She heard the crunch, and saw the swallow. Did Uncle Frodo have some sweets, maybe a horehound drop? Her Sam-dad had told her he used to carry them in his pocket to share with the children of Hobbiton, and that he’d always meant to do so for her and her brothers and sisters--only he’d gotten ill instead.
Frodo was going slowly still, and his eyes were closing, but not all the way. As the night progressed he’d have a twitch here or there, and then his head lolled----
Suddenly she knew he’d died--was gone. But the feeling of danger was growing! She rose, not knowing what it was she feared.
Her father suddenly woke. “Mr. Frodo! Master! Master! Wake up!” He was shaking the flaccid body he held. He sat up, and the sky was greying toward dawn as he looked about helplessly, finally seeing that his daughter stood by him, Sting now bare in her hands, its sheath lying by her on the ground.
The light was growing stronger as he clutched his Master’s body close. “Ellie! What are you doing here? How come you got Sting?”
But she was watching Frodo’s neck with horrified fascination. “I thought as it was his pulse,” she whispered, “only it ain’t!”
“What?” he demanded, but then felt a stirring under his hands. He suddenly let the corpse fall, and watched in horror as the skin over the swelling where once Shelob had bitten Frodo Baggins split, and from it began to creep a dark shape with far too many legs. His eyes widened and he tried to scramble away; but the mithril shackles yet bound the dead weight of his former friend to him. The spiderling came out, but not with any speed or coordination. Whether it was because it was only for the first time in several ages of the world she breathed fresh air again, or because she was born anew under the growing light of day rather than in the darkness of night, or because the poison that had freed Frodo Baggins from his earthly prison affected her nascent form could not be guessed. Slowly she pulled herself free and crawled across the body’s face, and paused there. And Elanor’s father could not get away from it!
She dealt two blows--the first to the mithril shackle, and its chain was sheered in two, and her father was able to spring away.
The second was to the spider itself--a horrid creature almost as big as the hand of a Man. She managed to cut down between head and thorax, while her father leapt to the circle of stones that marked the area where his Master had always loved to lie, looking up at the stars. There he caught up one of the larger ones, and over and over he brought it down on the head, whose mandibles were opening and closing spasmodically, grinding it into the dust.
Having decapitated the thing, she dropped the sword and grabbed up a second stone, and brought it down on the remainder of the thing where it had fallen free of Frodo’s body, smashing it again and again.
Suddenly they felt a coldness gathering around them, and Sam dropped his weapon and drew her away, and with awe and terror they watched as a dark shape began to gather about the smashed wreck of the spiderling. Tall it loomed--only to fall apart as a westerly wind rose and swept it away!
And there, there to the east, barely to be seen above the distant horizon they saw light rising, one that hadn’t been seen in Middle Earth for almost fifteen years, as Eärendil steered Vingilot before the sunrise.
And it seemed to Elanor that somewhere cries of terror were stopped.
Angainor (the Oppressor) was the set of chains and manacles forged by Aulë and intended to restrain Melkor/Morgoth. They were originally used in the earliest times of the population of Middle Earth, when the Valar besieged Melkor in his first northern fortress, not exceptionally long after the Elves first awoke beneath the light of Varda’s stars. In the end Utumno’s defenses were breached, and Melkor was captured and bound in Angainor, and dragged back to Aman where he was judged by the rest of the Valar and imprisoned for some ages of the world.
At last his appointed time of imprisonment was complete. He became envious of the light of the Trees, and determined to see them destroyed. He sought out Ungoliant, who had the shape of a great spider and had been hiding in the unsettled wilderness of Aman, and convinced her to come with him to destroy the Trees. He used a great spear to wound the trees, and she fastened her mouthparts to them, sucking from them their light and poisoning them.
He then set himself to stealing the Silmarils, the three holy jewels crafted by Fëanor, from the Noldor craftsman’s treasury, slaying Finwë and fleeing to the Mortal Lands where he set the jewels in the Iron Crown he crafted for himself and hid himself inside Angband.
At the end of the War of Wrath once more the Valar came to face their brother down, and once more in his defeat he was captured and bound with Angainor. This time his punishment was to be thrust outside the bounds of Arda, through the gates of Night, alone in the Void until the time comes for the remaking of the world.
Gil-estel (Star of Hope): Another name given to the star of Eärendil, the morning and evening star. By tradition this star first rose in the sky after the mariner Eärendil, son of Túor and Idril, reached Aman to beg the Valar to come to the aid of the inhabitants of Middle Earth in their long and fruitless war against Melkor/Morgoth, the fallen Vala who was the first immortal to seek to subjugate all of the mortal lands under himself. Aulë reportedly crafted the crystal bark of Vingilot in which Eärendil sails nightly through the Seas of Night as the sign of hope that at last the war with Melkor would be ended.
Iorhael is the Sindarin translation of Frodo, and means Wise One.
Perhael is the Sindarin translation of Samwise, and means Half-wise.
There were several different influences that led to the writing of this story. The first was a story that appeared in December on the A_L_E_C challenge site on LiveJournal: The Enemy of my Enemy Is my Love by Feather_Silver. In this story Frodo seeks to explain to Sam why it is he leaves Middle Earth, and he tells Sam that it was because he had both carried and worn the Ring. As he describes it, the forging of the Ring was inspired by Morgoth’s thought, and Morgoth intended that It serve as a conduit that would allow the fallen Vala to return within the Bounds of Arda. Frodo has come to believe that his own nature has been so corrupted by the Ring that he, too, now holds sufficient of Morgoth’s nature within him to give the Vala a toehold within Middle Earth. He must leave so as to take that danger away not only from the Shire, but from all of the Mortal Lands.
Then I have been reading Fiondil’s The Wars of the Valar, which had come to the chapter in which Melkor was first bound with Angainor both to limit his freedom and to hold him in his physical shape that he not throw of his hröa and escape his due punishment.
The third story whose rereading worked to inspire this story was my own Go Out in Joy, an AU story in which Frodo chooses to remain within the Shire even if it means he faces physical death soon when the memories return on October sixth, the anniversary of the night on which he was stabbed with the Morgul knife by the Witch-king of Angmar.
In the Master’s original, Frodo leaves Middle Earth with the rest of the Ringbearers save for Sam, whom it is hoped will be allowed to sail also, but not until he has lived fully within Middle Earth. In Go Out in Joy Frodo chooses to remain within the Shire, dying as he’d foreseen on October sixth, but not before the spider bite is probed and a spiderling is removed from it and is destroyed by it being flung into the fire. In this one it is Sam who chooses to hold Frodo within the Shire, disrupting Eru’s intended plan. If within Go Out in Joy Frodo yet knows blessedness in his remaining days and his death, here it is otherwise, for the reason for his remaining is no longer in harmony with the portion of the Song intended for him. The choice is not his, but Sam’s, whose intentions are purely selfish--he did all he did for the love of Frodo, and now he feels Frodo owes him his physical presence.
Therefore he imprisons Frodo. And all that comes of this imprisonment is marred by that selfishness. Frodo does not die on October sixth, but he does suffer from both a heart attack and a stroke, which leave him hemipligic and bedridden from that day on. His close relationship with Elanor deteriorates, and the other children come to see the caring necessitated by his presence as a burden, as does Frodo himself. Sam’s nature becomes defensive and suspicious as well as controlling: access to Frodo becomes a reward, while those who anger him may be denied visits. He avoids Frodo’s anniversary illnesses by drugging Frodo to insensibility for a period of about five days surrounding the anniversaries, although Frodo continues to be lethargic and mostly unresponsive until the anniversary of the resolution of the particular wound comes--in the fall the anniversary of the day on which the shard was removed; in the spring until the anniversary of the day on which the Ring was destroyed.
Sam, as a result of his rebellion against the Creator’s Plan, becomes less than he had been, which is reflected even in his speech, which becomes more uncouth. He commands the respect of the more xenophobic Hobbits of the Shire who look on all outsiders as potentially dangerous, encouraging their suspicions and using them to deter not only the entrance of Men into the Shire but also Elves and Dwarves, for he has convinced himself such folk would be likely to try to steal Frodo from him. His fellowship with Merry and Pippin withers, and he never becomes Mayor.
There is another element of inspiration at this point that comes into play. As some know who follow my LiveJournal, I follow the ongoing unfolding of the West Memphis Three case, in which three teenage boys were convicted, I believe wrongly, of the murder of three little boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, on May 5, 1993. There are some folk who are as certain the three men, now in their thirties, convicted of the crime are indeed guilty as I am of their innocence; and their stated reasons for their beliefs are often difficult to follow. Lately there have been some spirited debates on why we “supporters” believe as we do, and one of the most obnoxious “nons” was banned once more from the main “supporter” discussion board as a result of his deriding behavior. The twisted logic to which he is given is reflected in Sam’s behavior within this story.
Once Aragorn as the King and the sons of Elrond come into the situation, things begin to change; Frodo is able to see clearly once more, Sam’s behavior mellows and reverts to that he was intended to be, and the children begin to see more clearly what led their father to love Mr. Frodo to begin with.
On the Hill, however, as Frodo determines to kill himself using the poisoned lozenge, he fully realizes the lasting effects of his failure to leave at the right time when he learns the Star of Hope has not risen since the rest of the Ringbearers departed Middle Earth. And only when Ungoliant is destroyed is the balance restored and Frodo released from the torment of knowing that somehow he has become a tool of Melkor’s own plots.
I am not certain that those who find themselves in such a situation as Frodo does who choose suicide damn themselves; but Tolkien was raised a Roman Catholic, so I allowed that prejudice to slip into this tale. Frodo is denied the healing of the Halls of Mandos and instead is escorted to the Void where he faces Melkor himself and learns he has inadvertently assisted the fallen Vala to gain a toehold within the Mortal Lands once more by remaining with the growing presence of Ungoliant within his neck within the Shire and Bag End. Whether this encounter is intended as punishment for Frodo’s suicide or as a ruse to distract Melkor so that Elanor could destroy the newly emerged Maia in spider form is purposely ambiguous, as I leave it to the reader to decide which is the truth.
And Melkor, like most sociopathic personalities, cannot resist crowing about his cleverness to this unwitting victim of his latest plot.
Then and only then, when the threat of Ungoliant is destroyed and the balance is finally righted, does Eärendil sail again, emerging as the Morning Star this time.
Elanor is revealed now as the true heir to Frodo’s legacy, for she also was the small one who listened to inspiration and was in the right place at the right time with the right tool in hand to see to it that Ungoliant does not destroy the peace her father and spiritual uncle sacrificed so much to confirm. And as a result of her efforts Frodo is released from his torment, although again I leave it to the reader to determine his final disposition.
I am only grateful that this time I was able to keep this dark plotbunny (I suspect it was actually a very immature nuzgul in the making) from growing past a single chapter. To have been forced to write this interminably would have been a torture I don’t wish to contemplate further!
Dedicated ironically to TR, and more happily to Fiondil.
January 29. 2009