I truly don’t know what comes over me sometimes. Forget what I said about Rosie, please. She never came between us, never!! I’m an ass.
I think Galendur guessed what was bothering me the day of the match, for he was extra kind to me all week—he is always kind to me, but even more so then. And he said, as he took me home afterward, that Rûdharanion parried like a lass, and had to be taught to hold his weapon in such a way that it didn’t look as though he had a broken wrist, and I was wicked enough to laugh.
“But you taught him well,” I said. “For a while there, it seemed a near thing. Toward the end, I really thought he had you.”
“So did I,” Galendur admitted. “I thought he was going to make a raging fool of me, and I’d never be able to look anyone in the eye again. It was worse than in battle when an orc had his cleaver right at my throat. I don’t know if I could ever have lived it down.”
“Ha! That’s the sort of thing you thrive on,” I said grinning. “Anyone who likes to juggle burning sticks while dancing on a rolling barrel can’t be so averse to taking risks. That’s what I told Bilbo when he suggested you might teach him wrongly so as to make him look a complete fool. I said if he thought that, then he didn’t know you at all.”
“Someday, if he keeps at it, he may be able to best me at least once in a while,” Galendur said, “but I think I won’t mind it so much then. Maybe then he’ll give up poetry and take up something he doesn’t smell like half-putrefied orc at doing. Although I must admit, I was a trifle disappointed when he handed over his manuscript to you so meekly. The thought of three she-Elves harassing him day and night, while he huddles in his tower-room clutching his papers with birds mucking on his head, has a certain appeal, wouldn’t you say?”
Well! As we parted at the door, I suddenly threw my arms around him, and he dropped to one knee and hugged me tightly, something he has not done since the wedding, and told me I was “quite a piece of work” even if I was disgusting. Has anyone ever had such friends as I have, who’ll put up with all the worst of my nonsense, accept me as I am and stand by me no matter what?
What Rûdharanion is doing in the tower now, is anyone’s guess. Dûndeloth warned me from the beginning, saying he might try a trick used by some unscrupulous writers to pick one’s brain of memories.
“It’s been used to the good,” he explained, “sometimes by Elven-healers with people who have lost their memories due to illness or some traumatic event. However, there are others who would use it for their own gain. It extracts one’s memories and draws them out, causing acute discomfort and fear and a feeling of violation, or so I’ve heard, and so I should imagine. I do not know if Rûdharanion has ever used this technique, or if he even knows how. I tell you this only so you may be on your guard against it. But do not let it worry you—he cannot do it if you know of it. If you should ever feel the beginnings of an intrusion, simply resist it, and it will stop.”
I did feel it just once, some time after he told me about it, a feeling as though someone were trying to invade my soul and dig for something buried there. I clutched at my Evenstar and shut my mind to it, whispering the words Lady Elwing taught me to keep evil things at bay, and then it went away like a thief when a light is flashed in his face, and was forgotten quickly. I don’t know if it were Rûdharanion or not, and I shall not ask him. And of course, I’ve never mentioned it to Galendur. I shudder to think what he’d do to Rûdharanion if I ever did! But I shall not tell. I really think he is turning toward the Light, and there is no sense in undoing it, and quenching the Beacon once and for all. It would darken the entire Island, I should think, if that light were to go out now.
But enough about him! Dûndeloth’s epic is coming along--slowly, but it is coming. Of course he’s aware that it’s hard for me, but is trying to keep it from being so. I tell him not to worry about me, even if it’s hard, I will survive. I am tougher than I look, I told him, and he smiled sadly. Perhaps I can make him believe it soon.
Still, I dread thinking of what I will have to go through in the latter parts, particularly Mordor and the tower and the rest of it. I manage to keep from thinking of it most of the time; we have much to do between now and then, no sense in borrowing trouble. But just this morning I found myself dwelling on it, and I tried writing a poem, as Dûndeloth recommends I do when I have these moods, but this time I could not, somehow. Yet I did write a prose piece. I’ve been uncertain of whether or not I should read it to you, Sam, and I don’t know if I will let Dûndeloth see it either. Or anyone else, Bilbo least of all….
The red lamp, hanging monster fruit no maggot would touch, take it away. I shut my eyes, but then all is darkness, unbearable. Black pit with one glowing coal, and I am the roast….
Huddle, then pace, then huddle again. Still, still. Death all around. The smells. Their voices, knives, claws, whips, words. I hurt so badly, so badly. My throat, parched and sore. Sam, where are you now? Please come, please come back, now….
I clutch the fabric of the cloak, which is all I have to cover me. What if there’s one left alive out there, and it springs and kills him?
But now I hear his voice: Elbereth, Elbereth. No orc would say that. I lower the ladder, shakily. And there he is, arms full. Rags, clothing, helmets, stink. Yes, I’m supposed to put these on. But how can I? I sink and huddle once more, while Sam’s voice urges me.
Mister Frodo, we have to do it. Nothing for it. We have to get out of here. There may be some left alive out there.
Why can’t I move? For he is right, of course. Yet all I can do is crouch pitifully in the cloak. Sam, come and hold me for a minute. Just a minute. Then perhaps I can go on…but no, but no. Only Elves can escape. Away, away out of Middle-earth, far away over the Sea….
But what is he doing now? Laying down the orc-clothes and taking things from his knap-sack?
“Mister Frodo, I just remembered this,” he says taking out a small earthen jar. “First I go and forget about the rope, then I forget about this. I took it out of Strider’s things when I was gettin’ my stuff at the river-bank. I figured we need it more than he did. It’s the same stuff he used on us when we were hurt in the mines. Remember this?”
He takes out the stopper, which is made of cork, and yes, I remember that smell. Balm. Yes. I remember it well.
“Let me put some on you,” he says. “I remember Strider sayin’ that it won’t work unless somebody else puts it on you, if you put it on yourself it don’t have no more effect than any other medicine. Fancy what my old Gaffer would say to that! He’d of rushed out and bought up a whole cartload.”
And he holds it close to my nose so the scent can waft its way into my senses and I grow calmer. And I allow him to dab a bit of the cool creamy salve on my face, which is scratched and bruised, in my hair, which is matted with blood, then on the back of my neck which is throbbing and burning from the bite of that spider-creature. Then I let the cloak down around my hips so he can annoint the whip-marks and scratches on my body and arms. I hear him sniffle and turn my head to see tears seeping over his cheeks at the sight of my wounds, yet a wonderful change comes over me. The pain abates almost instantly, after a moment of stinging. I can remember that feeling, yes. Pleasanter, actually, than when I wasn’t hurt. Yes, it is sweet and I am floating, floating, my insides are singing, I am home, my wounds are sleeping, you are with me, rain on the roof, the Shadow flees….
“Let me put some on you now,” I say after he is done. “Look at you, your hands and face are scraped raw.”
“No no, master, I’m all right,” he insists, still snuffling. “We better save it for when we really need it. This is just scratches, is all.”
But I take the jar from him, and I dip my fingers in and I put a bit on him, nonetheless. And he agrees that yes, it feels better than when he isn’t hurt, and he certainly hopes there is more where this stuff came from, Elvish it is without a doubt. And he puts the cloak over my shoulders again and then puts his arms around me for one full minute, and I am ready to put on the vile garments, and leave this unthinkable place never to return….
Days later, nights later, so sick, so weary, but for the balm I could not continue; night is falling and we sit beneath a thorny-bush, its maggoty buds just beginning to open; what possible flowers could it bear? Misbegotten blossoms of starvation and venom, orc flowers, monster fruit teeming with seeds of anger…is this from whence orc-children spring?
As we sit, Sam whispers to me of Gollum’s treachery and his battle with the spider-monster, and all the rest of it, and I sit close, my head drooping on his shoulder, and he has put some more of the balm on me. I have no words, I take his hand, there are no words. He strokes my hair and it feels wonderful. Strange he should want to touch it, the way it must look, feel and smell now, but he says no, it feels just a little damp, and smells like it’s just been washed, with the balm in it and all. Now we know what Legolas uses on his hair, I say, and he laughs, and I laugh, and the sound is as rain on parched earth. Sam, if we ever survive this, I shall write such a song for you as was never written in all the world…but who could write such a song? Only Eru Himself, surely…if He is there….
“Sam,” I remember saying, “if I should ever say anything terrible to you again, take no heed. It is the Ring speaking, not myself, you know.”
“Yes, Mister Frodo, I know,” he says.
“How can you love me this much,” I murmur after a long while without looking at him. “I do not deserve it.”
“Why Mister Frodo, if you don't, who does?” he says with a shocked stunned simplicity. Innocence sits on him like a butterfly after a storm.
“I’m wrecked, Sam,” I hear a voice whisper far into the night. “I will never be the same, even if we survive.”
That is, I am certain I heard someone say this, someone with my voice and dressed in my clothes…who wears what was once my face, who even bears my name, but is not myself, someone who shed pieces of himself all through that stifled land under a star-starved sky.
I am wrecked, the voice says. Be still, I tell it. It has no right to say such things. Not to the being who is trying with all his small might to keep more pieces from falling, to keep what is left moving along, tearing pieces from himself to patch it. That beautiful being should not have to hear the voice of wreckage. All we need is two wrecked hobbits. One is more than enough.
I know, Mister Frodo, the being says. You need rest, lots of it. But there’s no place or time for it here. You tell me, I’ll carry you if I have to. Maybe you need some more of this here balm, it might help.
And I let him put it on me, though reluctant to uncover myself once more to this staring land and his tender eyes. And he puts it on my neck where the heavy mill-stone of a Ring is dragging on it, rubbing it raw, and the Ring grows heavier, as if in mockery.
You cannot escape Me, it says. You cannot destroy Me. You are a fool if you think any balm will erase the marks I will put on you. I will enter you as a devouring worm and live inside of you for all your days. You will have no rest, no rest. You are mine. In My image I have made you. You cannot escape Me. I am the hands of the orcs when they touched you, tore the patches from you and tossed them to the wind, they are My slaves and so you shall be. I have only begun to take you apart, and no adoring wretch of a servant can put you together again. You are Mine. And I have only begun to show you. You will scream to die before I am done with you. Did you really think you could destroy Me? I was born before your kind walked the earth. I will be when your kind are no more. And you will love Me and call Me your own even as I violate and kick you into the dust, you pathetic little heap of ugliness. Defy Me if you will, I own you, and you cannot escape, cannot escape...there is no life in the Void....
And still my feet move, my eyes fixed on the mountain that bleeds fire many miles ahead. And then I rest, in the arms of my Sam, who rubs the balm on my wounds until they are healed, and my head is on his shoulder and I sleep without hearing the taunting words of the obscene golden curl, sleeping in the faint hopeful perfume of the balm as a star glimmers through a grey curtain behind the jutting ruin of rock and ash…..
I look back at what I’ve written, blinking and shivering. Balm? Perhaps I need Rûdharanion’s mind-probe after all. Can I use it on myself? Was there any balm? Or did I just add that in? I know such stuff exists, for Lady Celebrían used it on me some time ago when I spilled boiling oil on myself in the kitchen, and I clearly recall how it soothed the searing pain almost instantly, and soon felt better than if I weren’t hurt, and now there is no scar, and she said someone else had to put it on you for it to take full effect. So yes, it exists, certainly. But did we really have any with us on that excruciating trek? For the life of me, I cannot remember. Tell me, Sam, I wish to know. I would have written of it in the Red Book surely…but I do recall, I wrote so little between the ordeal with Shelob and our time in the House of Healing. And I made mention of no balm. That much I know.
But one other thing I do know: perhaps there was no balm at all and I simply added that because I wanted it so. Perhaps it is something I rubbed onto the scars of memory. Yet, I know, that even if so, if there was no balm, there was Sam. And nothing can change that.