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Out of Fear, Toward Worse

17. Out of Fear, Toward Worse

I’d never gone further away from home than Michel Delving, save for the summer I spent in Tighfeld with Ham and our Uncle Andy. Now I was leaving the Shire, and most like wasn’t going to return.

The Red Book tells most of it, the walk which turned into fleeing when the Riders come after us. We had no idea what they was, although Mr. Frodo figured out right enough they was from Mordor.

Huh. I say and write the word easily enough now, but then I’d barely heard tell of it, and it were a name of terror on the edge of stories of the worst darkness. Mordor. What we didn’t know of it then! Tweren’t real to us, you know--but even though I knew Mr. Bilbo’d been there even Rivendell didn’t seem quite real, neither, nor even Bree, and I’d known several as had been to Bree, when I was a lad, at least.

But now we was leaving the Shire, and it were like going into a horrible dream by choice.

Then we found ourselves having to trust this dark stranger in Bree, this Man called Strider. And I were so suspicious of him, with his hints of danger and his knowing too much and the sheath at his belt. I’d never seen no sword save Sting, which Mr. Bilbo’d hung over the fireplace in his study, till he went away, at least. Then I knew he must have took it with him, as it were gone and that dragon map hung where the sword used to be. We had the long knives from the Barrow which old Tom Bombadil gave us to carry, and Pippin insisted we call them our swords, but they wasn’t, not really. The sheath Strider wore--now, that were a proper sheath for a sword, and it made me proper terrified. They thought I were powerful brave, speaking up to challenge this Man, but it were just the way my fear came out in me. I was so afraid of that sword he must have in that old sheath--and you could tell it was an old sheath, very old and worn and well cared for, and once it must have been passing fair, wound with silver wire--but now I know it wasn’t silver, but mithril--and fair gems, and runes of protection, like out of the old tales.

But this were no Elf lord out of the old legends--this was a Man, a Man who’d admitted to overhearing us on the road by the end of the Barrowdowns, who’d followed us in stealth, who knew Mr. Frodo’s right name, who needed a bathe worse than we did, who had a stubbly beard on his chin and suspicion neath his brows, and who looked on us with the same caution as we felt toward him. And his voice changed as we spoke, from coarse to fair-spoken, from warning to authority. And I didn’t know what to think of him.

Then he pulled the sheath from his belt, pulled the hilt of his sword from it, but it were broke off short, and then spilt out onto the table the rest of the blade--I didn’t know what to think. Why was he wandering the wild with a broken sword? It made no sense at all, though Mr. Frodo seemed to know more about it than I did. There were a sense of recognition in his eyes when he saw that blade, though he weren’t yet completely certain what it meant. But he’d read more’n I’d ever done of the Second Age of Middle Earth. I’d studied the First Age, which was the age of the great Elves. I had no idea at the time that the sword Strider carried was the one given to Barahir and then carried by Beren and later Elros son of Earendil the Mariner, Elros who’d chosen to live as a mortal as his grandmothers had chosen. But I kept thinking, if we’re out in the wild and those Black Riders come on us, what use will a broken sword be? And the terror grew. I didn’t really start to trust him till Glorfindel came to us and knew Strider and gave him words of warning--it were almost the first Elf as I’d ever truly seen, and I membered what Mr. Gandalf had said to me of having mistaken Frodo for an Elf the first time as I’d seen him.

I barely realized we’d got finally to Rivendell. Once Glorfindel’s horse carried Mr. Frodo away it became a blur, a horrid blur. I member the kindling of the fire and the run forward with burning sticks to frighten the black horses and their Riders into the river as it rose to overwhelm them and carry them off--but that memory is twisted. Over the river, right on the edge of the water, Asfaloth stood over a crumpled shape, and the water swept toward it, and I feared it, too, would be carried away. And I’d swear I saw the water touch the shape, then draw back as if recognizing this was not an enemy, encircling it and the Elf’s horse to guard them till we got across.

I don’t member crossing the water, but I member Strider gently lifting Frodo’s body from where the water circled it, the fear for him. And I realized then that Strider, too, had come to love my Master, saw the glow of him. Pippin were wild with worry and insistent he be allowed to see till Glorfindel calmed him, and Merry’s face was white with fear and marked with soot and smoke. And Strider ran with Frodo’s body in his arms, singing a healing song as he’d done neath Weathertop, as he’d sung from time to time as he sat on watch during the days we struggled through the hills betwixt that place and Rivendell. Whenever Frodo’d manage to sleep Strider’d sung that healing song, and I’d recognized some of the words, and now I knew it, a call to Estë and Lord Ulmo and Manwë and the Lady Elbereth herself to guard him round, circle him with might and the cleansing of water and the light of stars and the healing of rest. I’d seen those words years ago in a poem old Mr. Bilbo’d been translating and as he’d had Mr. Frodo copy at the front of a healer’s herbal he’d been translating for his cousin Missus Menegilda Brandybuck, Lady of Brandy Hall. Now as I realized what it was as Strider’d been singing, all my lingering fear fell away of me, and I hurried after, leading Bill as Asfaloth followed after his own master, left to ward us as Strider ran forward with Frodo in his arms.

They came out with a litter, and gently Aragorn laid Frodo upon it, covering him with a soft, warm blanket which had been brought as well. And with those who met us was a woman, tall, dark haired, an Elf maiden of such loveliness as I thought would stop my heart with awe. And she and Strider spoke as they hurried forward, the woman on one side, Strider on the other, both with hands on Frodo as he lay still, his eyes half open but seeing naught about him. And we followed after. Someone took Bill’s bridle from my hands, and I ran to try to keep up with the bearers, who moved gently but swift as racers.

I couldn’t take it all in--the Lord Elrond at the door as we arrived, his face still yet filled with concern, the Elvish pouring out of Strider as he came within hearing, and one word I remembered from my lessons long ago from Mr. Bilbo and Frodo-- Adar. Strider was speaking to the Lord Elrond as if the Elven Lord were his father! And the Elvish Lord beckoned for Strider to come with him as they led the way into the Last Homely House. And suddenly there was another Elf following a small figure as was hurrying forward, its face white as its hair--it were Mr. Bilbo, coming forward to meet his lad at last!

They couldn’t move me from Mr. Frodo’s side while they probed and prodded. Strider brought out that horrid, black knife hilt again, and just as Strider had done at Weathertop the Lord Elrond sang over it, and a mist seemed to rise over it and he looked into it as if he could see something there. Then he signed for Strider to wrap it up again, had them bring a wooden tray and lay it upon it, and told them to take it outside the valley and burn it. I didn’t member the mist showing over it when Strider’d sung over it, but apparently this was some kind of Elf magic as could tell them about the foul thing. And after they’d poked and prodded and Elrond opened the wound again to try to probe to find the splinter they seemed sure was still inside, suddenly Strider started to fold, his face almost as white as Frodo’s and Bilbo’s. And I heard Lord Elrond call out, “Estel!” in dismay, and Elves came forward to help Strider stand and to take him out. Estel means hope, I thought, membering again the lessons I had from Mr. Bilbo when I was a lad. What a funny thing to cry out, I thought, when you see someone start to fall, and then someone was scooping me up and sitting me in a chair, and bringing me some more of the miruvor cordial to sip. I didn’t even realize just how done in as I was until I found Bilbo afore me with a cup of broth in his hand, insisting I sip it but sip it slowly.

They fixed a pallet over to the side for me when they realized they couldn’t make me leave, and Mr. Bilbo and Gandalf stayed when they’d left herbs steeping in a kettle of water over the fire, after they’d washed Frodo and cleansed the wound, and the Elves left the room. They sat on either side of the bed where Frodo was sleeping, and Frodo called out after a while as if he was hurting, hurting bad. Lord Elrond came back in the dark of the night and leaned over Frodo for a bit, and sang the song Strider’d sung on the road, but with more power. Then he were leaning over me, looking into my eyes, smiling down on me, and bade me sleep. And I slept.

The dreams came and went for Frodo. I couldn’t make out what he was saying much of the time, but Gandalf seemed able to do so. And I’m sure at least one of those dreams was of the Eye searching for him; but Elrond came and sang a different song, facing south and east, a song like the running of water such as that we heard all round us outside, and Frodo calmed.

Twere a few nights afore Lord Elrond felt Frodo was strong enough for him to probe the wound one more time, and this time he found it, the splinter. He had Strider aside him, and Glorfindel, and Erestor and other Elvish lords of one sort or another, and together they sang over Frodo as Elrond and Strider cleansed him one last time, then wound a fresh bandage about his chest. When they was done, I come forward and looked into his face, and it was clearing at last, and the pain was gone, and a hint of pink was starting to show in his lips, which had gone more and more blue over the past week. And I knew he was going to be fine.

A few days later, after the Council, while Mr. Frodo and Mr. Bilbo were talking in Mr. Bilbo’s rooms, I found Strider sitting on a balcony, looking down. I was all confused, and needed to talk. He was quiet, his pipe in his hand. He was dressed in his leathers again and his stained cloak, and I wondered if he’d just been out riding, but he said that no, he was going to go out soon with the sons of Lord Elrond to seek knowledge of what had happened to the Black Riders after the water swept their horses away.

“I’m sorry, Strider,” I said, “sorry I couldn’t trust you afore.”

He just smiled and leaned forward, touching my shoulder and then turning my face up to look into his eyes. His eyes were a dark grey--maybe a hint of blue and green to them, but mostly grey. “Sam,” he said gently, “you only acted and spoke out of your deep love for Frodo, whom you plainly cherish. How can I fault that?” He sighed, and looked toward the part of Rivendell where Mr. Bilbo’s rooms was. “He is healing so swiftly, now that cursed thing is out of his shoulder. I am still amazed, Sam, that he wasn’t overcome. I couldn’t have borne it that long, I fear.”

“You love him, too, Strider,” I said.

“Yes, I do. As, I think, I do all of you.” He were quiet a bit, then whispered, “As I was singing the hymn to Estë, Ulmo, Manwë, and Elbereth over him I felt I perceived a light shining from his heart, Sam. I’ve seen something similar in the greatest of the Elves, and a few times, when he has come close to uncloaking himself, in Mithrandir--that’s the Elvish name for Gandalf, Sam. But never before had I seen such in a mortal.

“Frodo son of Drogo is a most unusual individual, Samwise son of Hamfast. I cannot begin to understand what the Powers have graced him with, but he draws love and honor to himself as a lodestone draws iron shards.” Then he looked back into my eyes, deep in, if you take my meaning. “I would do anything within my power to aid him. I will do anything to protect him, if I am allowed.”

We finally turned away from each other and looked out over the waters and the falls that fill the vale. Then I asked, “Begging your pardon, Mr. Strider, but why did you call Lord Elrond ‘Father’?”

He laughed. “My father died when I was only about two years old, Sam. He was the Dύnedan, the Lord of the descendants of Numenor remaining here in the ancient realm of Arnor. He was Arathorn, the heir of Isildur and Valandil, and would have been King of Arnor, if the realm had not fallen to ruin in the days of King Arvedui, our ancestor.

“The Enemy has long tried to destroy the descendants of Elendil here in the north kingdom as he managed in Gondor, and my mother brought me here for protection. All my ancestors have been fostered here from the days of Valandil, taught to rule and lead, to fight and heal, to speak many tongues and to understand the motivations of many peoples so as to protect what is left in this land that is still green and growing, still capable of flowering and bearing fruit.

“I came here early, for the search for me by the Enemy was intense, and many were dying to hide and protect my mother and myself. So she gave out that I’d died of fever, and they brought me here in secret, and the Lord Elrond raised me as his own son and gave me the child’s name of Estel.”

“Then it were your name he were calling out when you started to fall the other day, just after we arrived.”

“Yes, Sam. When he saw I was falling down from exhaustion he called me by my child’s name. He almost always calls me by my rightful name now, but when he fears for me he still names me as he did when I was a boy and thought of him simply as my Adar.”

“And you’re really named Aragorn?”

He nodded. “Yes, Aragorn son of Arathorn, heir of Elendil, Isildur, and Valandil. I was twenty years when Adar told me my true name and heritage. And I have wandered far throughout the ancient bounds of Arnor and beyond, learning the ways of those who will be my people, my allies, and my enemies, if we win through the coming war. Many names and titles I’ve borne, and there will be a few more ere all is finished.”

“Do you mind if I still call you Strider? I mean, it’s how I’ve thought of you for so long now, and my mind doesn’t wind its way around changes in how it thinks of folks easy.”

He laughed. “I’d be honored if you would choose to do so, Sam.”

“I hoped you wouldn’t mind, sir. I mean, when you’re king and all, I suspect I’ll still think of you as Strider even then.” I had a thought and started to laugh. “Can you imagine the face of old Butterbur when he realizes the wicked Ranger Strider as he’d warned us about is now his king? Bet he’ll about choke of shock!” And we both laughed. He has a wonderful laugh, Strider has, deep and filling. Just wish he had more chance to let it out.

Maybe he does, now.

The talk with Gandalf was longer. He, too, told me of the light he saw shining from Frodo, specially his left arm, as where he’d been stabbed. And he warned me that the wound would never really heal, that it couldn’t heal here in Middle Earth.

And he said a funny thing, that he’d had a vision of Frodo as a glass filled with light as with water, for eyes to see as could.

But it seemed to me that he was well enough--more solemn, but still Frodo, still my beloved Master.


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