Vigil: Chapter 1 - Tremors and Truths
Author's note: This story further expands on ideas introduced in "The Inner Light", which can also be found on this site.
For my mentor, my moral support, and my cheerleaders. You know who you are...
Chapter 1 Tremors and Truths
Something was changing. Sam could see it...in the way Frodo nervously glanced at him, seemingly longing to tell him something, but then relenting at the last moment. In the way Frodo's voice had become quieter, as if it was easier to keep it from shaking this way. In the way that Frodo's talk was changing...he seemed to care less about the doings of the Shire now, and spoke more of old memories, pleasant times they had had before either one knew anything of the cruel malice of the Ring.
Most of all, he could see it in the look in Frodo's eyes. When his burden had been lifted from him on Mount Doom, although he was devastated by the loss of the Ring, his eyes had lost that shuttered quality, that wild look of a trapped animal longing to be free, and at the same time walling itself off from impending danger. That look that his eyes had possessed after they had entered Mordor, when Frodo had truly begun to fight the power of the ring. That gleam was coming back...slowly, but Sam could still see it. He longed to ask Frodo what was pursuing him, what was going on that he couldn't see.
The first strange thing that Sam noticed occurred after supper one night not long after he and Rosie had joined Frodo at Bag End. Frodo had seemed a bit tired and withdrawn that day. He had stayed in the study for most of the afternoon, which was not usual. He was almost unbearably quiet through dinner, and Sam thought it odd that several times Frodo seemed about to reach for something with his right hand but aborted the movement in midair and deliberately placed his hand back into his lap. Sam was in charge of clearing the supper dishes, and Frodo usually would linger about the kitchen and assist him when Sam would allow it, or at the very least talk to him as he worked.
Frodo stood up from the meal hesitantly, his eyes nervously flitting in Sam's direction, then quickly down to fix on the plate before him. He attempted to pick it up with one hand, but as he tried to lift it, it waffled and clanged noisily on the table. Frodo quickly rescued the plate using both hands, trying to conceal it, but even with both hands tightly gripping his burden as he carried it from the table to the wash basin, Sam noticed Frodo's hands shaking--not the way they would tremble from fatigue, but tremoring, almost beyond his control. Sam was alarmed, but obviously Frodo did not want him to be aware of whatever was going on, so he did his best to ignore it and continue with the washing up. Frodo apparently had decided to leave the rest of the cleaning to Sam, as Sam noticed him putting on a kettle of water for fresh tea.
Several heartbeats later Sam peered over his shoulder just in time to see Frodo's favorite tea mug escape his unsteady grasp and crash to the floor. Frodo swore in frustration as he stooped to pick up the scattered fragments with hands that betrayed him, would not obey his command.
"I'm sorry, Sam," he muttered as he tried to gather the strewn pieces together; Sam walked over and stopped him, knelt on the floor beside him and took Frodo's trembling hands together between his own.
"What's the matter, mister Frodo, are you ill?" he asked, trying to contain the worry and anxiety racing through his mind. He remembered tremors like this, had seen them before...he had vivid memories of those same slender, graceful hands covered with filth and shaking like leaves in a stiff autumn wind...on the journey to Mount Doom.
For just a moment Frodo seemed on the verge of confiding something--his chin quivered as he stared at the floor in front of him, but he swallowed audibly, quickly regaining his composure.
"I'm fine, Sam, just a little tired today," Frodo replied, his eyes downcast for a moment to hide whatever truth they may have revealed against his wishes. When Frodo looked back up at him, his eyes were clear, silently begging Sam to let it drop for now, to let it go.
Sam obeyed his master's unspoken plea.
"Well, if you're that tired that you're gonna be loose with my crockery, maybe you should get some extra rest this evenin'," Sam teased, grinning amiably at Frodo, forcing a mirth he did not feel.
Frodo cracked a small smile at this, and seemed greatly relieved as Sam gathered up the rest of the shattered mug from the floor.
"I think I will retire early, Sam, please bid Rose good evening for me."
Blue eyes met his and held as Frodo rose unsteadily from the floor, but only long enough to assure Sam that all was well.
Frodo turned, tea forgotten, and Sam watched him as he retreated to his room, wondering what was going on inside his master's mind and why he felt he needed to conceal it from his dear Sam.
As he returned to the wash basin, he began thinking over their time since the quest...
When they had first returned to the Shire, things had seemed fine. Frodo was still quite pale and as thin as ever, but he seemed in the best spirits since they had awoken in Ithilien. Seeing his master so content had quite pleased him, and he had gone happily about his work rebuilding the Shire. He was not around much in those first few months, so busy was he at planting and overseeing the many tasks inherent in wiping away the stain of Saruman from his dear country. Frodo had stayed with the Cotton's, and then moved back to Bag End after its restoration. Sam had been thrilled at the prospect of joining Frodo at Bag End with his new bride--this way he could have all that he loved most gathered into one place.
Those first few weeks had been glorious--Rosie keeping house for both of them, Frodo puttering about, reading, spending time with him in the garden, and he himself, gleefully absorbed in his new life, tending his garden and his bride and his master to his heart's content. It had seemed like a paradise...as if nothing in this world could be better.
Sam sighed heavily as he put away the last of the dishes. He would bide his time and observe. He loved Frodo dearly, but he also knew what that thing had done to him, even if Frodo himself still could not recall those grueling last days on the mountain. Frodo needed to be surrounded by love, but he also needed space. He had always been one to do things on his own, stubborn hobbit that he was, and whatever was bothering him he seemed intent to deal with by himself too. Frodo would come around, he always did. And perhaps there was nothing to this. Perhaps Frodo was just tired, and Sam himself was seeing things that were not really there. Perhaps...
Sam cast these thoughts away in one swift motion as he tossed the dishtowel onto the peg next to the basin; but he couldn't help glancing worriedly at the closed door in the hallway as he went to join Rosie in the parlor.
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Frodo closed the bedroom door with both trembling hands gripping the knob behind him, and slid numbly down its length as the bolt clicked home. Tears of sorrow and frustration rolled unheeded down his cheeks as he sat there, knees drawn up before him, and stared at his tremoring hands lying nervelessly in his lap. He gave up the struggle. As he let his head wearily fall back against the wood, his right hand moved of its own accord to his chest and unerringly pinpointed the spot where it would find the Ring. Where it should find the Ring. His whole body shivered as his hand searched and found only Arwen's white gem on the chain about his neck. Although it did provide some comfort, the gem was conveniently placed--his hand would encounter it as he involuntarily grasped for the Ring. The Ring was not there, it never would be again. Searing pain ripped through his mind, as the anguish of Its loss enkindled anew in every fiber of his being. He pressed the heels of his unsteady hands into his eyes, as if he could combat the onslaught with merely his palms and struggled there for a moment until he found what he needed.
He was back in Buckland, running through the meadow that bordered the Brandywine, heading for the treehouse that he and Merry had built. Merry was on his heels, trying desperately to overtake him, and with a final burst of speed the younger hobbit succeeded and sent them both tumbling in the grass, rolling over each other again and again, squealing with laughter and finally landing in a tangled hobbitpile. The memory brought a faint smile to his lips, and eased the pain in his head enough that he could breathe again without gasping.
What was the matter with him today? He'd had his problems in dealing with the loss of the Ring, but it had never before been like this, or at least not in a very long time...
He remembered what seemed like an age ago when he had awoken in Ithilien. He could remember nothing of his dreadful journey, even the attempt to focus his mind on it had caused him excruciating pain. So he had focused on the good memories he was able to reclaim and he had held them aloft in his mind against the shadow of the Ring just as he had held Galadriel's phial against the insidious evil that was Shelob. He had vowed to withstand the longing for the Ring, to spite It for everything It had done to him.
Sam had awoken and Merry and Pippin had come, and he had been able to convince them that everything would be fine. He had used those blissful memories, clung to them with all the force of his will when lust or anguish borne from the Ring had threatened to consume him. Although it often took all the strength he possessed, he managed to conceal it from their eyes; he had learned to control it.
But today, today he could not control it. The weight of the Ring bore down heavily upon him. All day he had conjured up memories to cling to, to keep his mind from falling into lust for the Ring, but by the end of the day he had just run out of strength to keep the hunger at bay. His hands had betrayed him. Despite summing every ounce of self-control he could muster, he could not keep them from tremoring, could not keep his right hand from straying over his breast in search of the Ring. He knew Sam had noticed this at dinner. He had seen his friend's watchful eyes take note as he forcefully returned his hand to his lap, time and again. Blessedly, Sam had let it drop and allowed him to escape without questions, without calling upon him to explain something that he did not understand himself. His hands yet trembled there in his lap, and although it was not as severe as even a few minutes before, he just could not still them.
This was not getting any better. He had hoped that as time passed, his longing for the Ring would fade, and he would be able to put that part of his dreadful recent past behind him, even if he could not yet escape the dark void that remained within his thoughts, the place where the memories from Mordor dwelt. That place still caused him great pain every time he drew near, so he did his best to avoid any thought about it. But this, this he had thought he could deal with. He was fooling himself. The Ring was his first thought in the morning as he awoke, and his last wish in the evening as sleep took him. This would never change. He resembled Gollum now more closely than he ever imagined he could--he would never be rid of his need for the Ring. But unfortunately for him, while Gollum had striven to possess the Ring and had tracked it all over Middle Earth, he had no such option, because the object of his ever-gnawing desire no longer existed. Gollum had fared better than he had--he had always been within arm's reach of the Ring, could taste his victory as he pursued It, and had finally passed out of existence with It, while Frodo himself was left to mourn Its crushing absence for the rest of his days.
For the rest of his days... This stark realization drove him to the brink of utter despair. There was no way to overcome the Ring. He would just have to struggle with his desire for It in an unending battle to retain his sanity. He bowed his head to his knees, as fresh tears stung his eyes and threatened to spill down his cheeks.
No. He would not give in to this. It may be true that his desire for the Ring would never abate, but he did have weapons. The memories he recalled still had power. They were strong enough to bring light to outshine the lure of the Ring. And maybe things would not be this bad again. Maybe he was just tired today, and that was why his lust for the Ring had had so much influence over him. Maybe...
He rose unsteadily from the floor, lit a taper and changed his clothes for bed, his hands still quivering as he buttoned his nightshirt.