Vigil: Chapter 7 - Relief
Chapter 7 Relief
The ground tilted wildly under him as he struggled to move one aching, bloody foot after the other. Every step towards the edge was more excruciating than the last...
He stumbled...fell...his knees and palms striking the blackened ash before him and embedding the fine gravel into his skin. But he hardly noticed the pain of this for the war that was waging within.
It was his entire being now. Every part of him, every corner of his mind was consumed by the Ring, and there was nothing of him left. Its voice was all of existence...YOU...ARE...MINE!
Somehow he rose again and lurched forward another step, and Its call intensified even more...grinding...squeezing...crushing...
His hands grasped at it now, and it burned like fire against his fingers...warmth to limbs already cooled by the breath of hovering death.
He clutched the Ring as he felt the sickening snap of all that was left of his sanity as the fire rose up in front of him in a mighty surge of fury...
He came to himself, leaning hard against the wall in the hallway, gasping, gripping tightly to Arwen's gem around his neck.
Oh stars, it had happened again.
He braced himself there, panting, grasping at the smial surrounding him with all his senses to convince himself that this was real...
They had begun to claim him even in broad daylight. The memories were so vibrant that they crashed into reality and overwhelmed it, and they clung to the good memories in his mind like vultures, gnawing and destroying what weapons he had left to use against the power of the Ring. All that was past and all that was now paled in comparison to those days on the mountain and to the growing shadow of the Ring in his mind.
His days of late had fallen into a dreadful pattern...an organized strategy to stave off the Ring's power over him. He would spend the day reading from his extensive collection of Elvish tales, or sitting in the garden on fair days, or playing with Elanor--these things were his only respite from Mordor, since his past memories of the Shire had failed him. He could live in this world during the day, letting Elanor's touch and Sam's soft glance and the words of the Elves comfort him, allow him peace from his wounds for a time.
By evening the only way to do battle with the memories was to face them head on - to focus on one event as if it was a weakness in the soul of evil and exploit it, to write it down in the Red Book. He was writing his own story now, stabbing into the darkness with all the might his quill could muster, hoping that flattening the events onto the page could expunge them from his memory. He would write for hours until exhaustion took him and then stumble wearily to bed, praying to the stars above for blessed, dreamless slumber.
He could not keep the darkness at bay anymore. It constantly threatened to overpower him, and he knew that his physical health was declining even further as a result. He rarely strayed farther than a stone's throw from Bag End now--just far enough to sit in the sunshine and watch Sam tend his garden. He had not the strength for anything more, so consuming was the struggle within his mind. The battle against the longing and the memories was taking all that remained of him. All his energy had to be conserved just to keep him here, grounded in this reality rather than plummeting into the dark and ever-widening chasm that was the Black Lands...and to keep his inner struggle hidden from those around him.
He was barely able to protect them now. Although he kept the battle raging inside him from their sight, he could not hide his weakness and his failing health. It pained him greatly to know that Sam was watching him, aching to speak and offer comfort--but something kept him from it, be it acknowledgment of place or respect for a dear friend, Frodo did not know. He still longed to tell Sam, to unburden his tortured soul and find solace even if just for a fleeting moment...but he could not. He could not lay upon Sam what he could not shoulder himself. He had to endure this alone, and offer Sam the chance to live unfettered--as it was clear that he himself would never be able to do again.
He had to leave. He had to go before the Black Lands came to claim him forever. He had to leave before he became a true burden to Sam and Rosie and little Elanor, before they had to watch over him for the rest of his days, lost in his own mind, a prisoner of insanity. It was coming soon, and he hoped he would be able to hold on until September, when Elrond and Bilbo and their company would pass through the Shire on their way to the Grey Havens.
He wondered if the elves would welcome him, if they would be able to heal his wounds...but he realized that this did not matter. All that mattered was that Sam and Rosie and Elanor, and Merry and Pippin would not have to see him suffering. As long as they were free of the burden he unwittingly placed upon them, it would be enough.
He pushed away from the wall and stood there for a moment, his hand still splayed out on its smooth surface to steady him. Then he began to walk down the hall towards the study.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Sam stood in the entryway to the kitchen, watching Frodo as he slowly made his way to the study, his left hand still trailing the wall for balance as he walked. Tears rolled silently down Sam's cheeks.
The peace that Elanor had brought to Frodo was slipping away with time, and his master was struggling now more than ever before. In the last week, he had walked by the door to the study several times and had noticed Frodo sitting at his desk, head in hands. His shoulders shook, and Sam had realized that he was crying--weeping silently as if in utter despair.
Frodo was dying. These demons from the past were going to consume him; there was no other way for this to end.
He should not have waited this long. He should have sent word to Merry and Pippin to go to Rivendell after Frodo had been ill in March, but Frodo had been so at peace after Elanor was born that he had begun to hope that things were not as bad as they seemed. And...he did not want to believe it...did not want to believe that after all Frodo had done, the evil that had touched him would claim what was left of his life. He had been a fool. He would send word to Merry and Pippin today.
He should not have let this go on as long as he had, he should have forced Frodo to discuss things with him much sooner. Because soon...soon they would not be able to say the things they needed to say to each other. It would be too late.
Oh, Frodo, how did it come to this? I have respected your wishes, allowed you to bear this alone as best I could, but now you have to talk to me, you have to let me in to help you before you cannot help yourself anymore.
He would sit Frodo down this afternoon, and tell him that he knew the truth of what was happening, and convince his master to let him care for him as he had on their journey. Frodo had had his last wish for this long, but it could go no further.
Wiping the tears from his eyes, he went back into the kitchen to compose his message to Merry and Pippin.
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Sam returned from his errand to town mid-morning, and strode into the smial quite purposefully. He had spent the long walk composing what he was going to say to Frodo, and had steeled his resolve about what he was doing. Yes, this was the right choice, this was the best way to take care of his master. As he entered the main hall, he called out, "Frodo?" and received no answer. He proceeded up the hall to the study a little nervously, a strange fear suddenly gripping his stomach as he went.
Sam found him there on the floor behind the desk, shivering violently and delirious with fever.
"Frodo!" he cried as he fell to his knees beside the shaking form and carefully rolled him unto his back.
Frodo's eyes were open, but fixed in a blank stare somewhere over Sam's shoulder. He was drenched in sweat and hot to the touch as Sam gathered him up into his arms and just held him there, his mind reeling in confusion and sorrow. Why? Why had this happened now? This was no anniversary, it was the middle of summer! Why had he fallen ill now? "This is no time for questions, Samwise Gamgee," he scolded himself, "get Frodo to bed an' then worry about the why-fors!" He carefully lifted Frodo off the floor and got to his feet, gently carrying him down the hallway to his bedroom.
The fever had lasted for six days already--the longest time that Frodo had ever been ill since returning from the quest. Sam watched over him day and night, trying to lessen the fever by forcing Frodo to drink and cooling his face and forehead with cloths dipped in Athelas water. At times he seemed to rest peacefully, but Sam knew from previous experience that Frodo spent the long ordeal in the Black Lands. Sometimes he would be deep in fever dreams, rolling restlessly about on the bed and mumbling incomprehensibly to himself. But much of the time he was awake and delirious, living in real time the memories that played before his mind's eye. Some of the memories Sam could recognize, because he shared them with Frodo to a certain extent. Others were too terrible for Sam to even think about...Frodo spoke of things that had never happened, things that Sam imagined might have been if the Ring had not been destroyed. Sam could only guess that these were visions that the Ring had showed Frodo as he carried it, twisted realities designed to wear down his resolve and make him lose hope. These moments were the hardest of all, for both of them. It utterly destroyed Sam to bear witness to what Frodo had endured, and to watch him endure it again at the whim of some dark force that still lurked inside of him.
By the evening of the sixth day Sam was just beside himself with worry. It seemed there was nothing he could do until the illness decided to loosen its grip on Frodo. He was just forced to watch and wait, and plead to the stars that his life not be taken, not yet. Not before he had the chance to tell him all the things in his heart...
Sam sat beside the bed in Frodo's old wooden armchair, leaning back and resting gratefully as Frodo lay still for the moment in what appeared to be genuine sleep.
Suddenly, Frodo bolted upright, eyes wide and face pale with terror at whatever he saw. "No, you can't have it, I won't give it to you!" he cried, crawling backwards on the bed until he was pressed tightly against the headboard. Sam could only watch helplessly as Frodo clutched at his shoulder and screamed in agony as the phantom king of the Wraiths stabbed him with evil fury. Frodo collapsed against the headboard, still grasping his shoulder and whimpering, submerged in the pain that revisited him.
Sam got up and went over to him, gently laid him down again on the bed, and pressed a cool cloth to his forehead to try and comfort him. To his great surprise and relief, blue eyes met his and appeared to be looking at him for the first time since he had fallen ill.
"Sssam...?" Frodo struggled, barely more than a whisper.
"Your Sam is here, Mr. Frodo, an' everythin' is goin' t' be fine," he said warmly, the look of pain and grief transmuting to joy as he realized that the fever was finally breaking.
"You've been ill, but it's going t' be alright now, I promise," Sam replied.
"No...no...it will never be..." Frodo's eyes were wild and desperate, his cheeks still flushed with fever--he was aware, but he was not himself.
"I...mmust...go, Sam..." Frodo managed urgently, trying to raise himself onto his elbows.
Sam restrained him gently.
"Shhh," he soothed, "you've been ill for several days now, you're not goin' anywhere."
Frodo lay back down and brought his hand up to grasp his still-aching shoulder.
"I can't do this, Sam. I've tried...I've tried so hard, Sam, but I just can't hold back the darkness anymore. Soon it will take me, it will take me away and I'll never be able to return." Anguish and sorrow lanced through his voice, and Frodo closed his eyes to try and halt the tears that had begun to stream down his face.
"I'm just so tired, Sam..."
These words came so painfully that they broke Sam's heart. He felt almost like an intruder. He knew if Frodo was a little farther from delirium, he never would have spoken this way, but Sam felt that he had to know what was really going on...had to understand what was happening to Frodo.
"Why? Why didn't you tell me things were this bad?" Sam asked gently, hoping Frodo was still altered enough to give him an honest answer.
"...had to p-protect you...to give you back the life I couldn't have..." Frodo replied dazedly, eyes still closed, wrinkled brow attesting to the pain in his shoulder.
"Why can't you have it?"
Frodo opened his eyes and gave him a look of confusion.
"Why can't you have your life back?" Sam restated, sure that the true answer would likely destroy him, but pressing on anyway.
"I will never be free of the Ring, Sam, and I have nothing left to fight it with anymore." Frodo peered at him for a moment, then stared up at the ceiling, continued hesitantly, "And the memories pursue me in my dreams...all the time...in my mind. They are so strong, Sam. They wash out everything else."
"And I cannot stop them...!" he spat the words out as a sob escaped from his throat.
"Oh Frodo..." Sam choked as he gathered Frodo's slight form into an embrace and the elder hobbit sobbed into his shoulder.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Sam...I can't protect you," Frodo whispered into Sam's shirt, "and I must leave."
Sam had braced himself for this, had tried to prepare for it, but now that the time have come he realized that it would tear him apart to have Frodo tell him he was going to die...
He took a deep breath, and shook out the words, "Where, where must you go, Frodo? Who can take better care of you than I can?"
"...I must go with the elves...into the West," Frodo breathed, spent from the effort of weeping and still quite feverish.
The elves! Oh stars, could it actually be possible?
A thousand questions sought voice in Sam's mind all at once, as he tried to sort out the most important ones to ask his ailing master.
"But Frodo, how? Will they come for you? Will it be soon? Will they be able to help you?"
Sam whispered through the tears of relief now thickening his voice.
"...they will come...soon...Arwen said ...to go...if I was still hurt..." Frodo struggled, as he slumped against Sam, exhausted.
If he hadn't been still holding Frodo, he would have jumped for sheer joy. Frodo was not going to die. All this time, Frodo had known that the elves were coming...
But with a stab of anguish, he realized he would still have to say goodbye. The Sundering Seas would part them forever, and he would not be able to see his dear master again. But if there was a chance for Frodo if he left Middle Earth, if it would ease his suffering and maybe allow him to live in peace, it was enough...it was more than enough.
Frodo had fallen asleep still tucked against Sam's shoulder, and as he tenderly laid his master back down he wept tears of joy that were soft and bittersweet. Frodo would not remember telling him these things, he was almost sure, but his heart had been eased. Now they would both begin to say goodbye to each other.
Note: This story is complete through this chapter, but I have left several loose ends so that I can return to the story and write it through to the Havens in the future, should I decide to.