The sun was high in the morning sky, however, the courtyard in which Frodo sat was cold and dark. The high walls of the buildings surrounding this small plot of land blocked any sunlight that dared to attempt pierce its depths.
It was a tiny courtyard housed far within the sixth circle of the city. It was nothing much to look at, in fact it seemed as if the world had forgotten it was there. Even during his daily visits he never met anyone else. There was evidence that in an earlier time someone must have visited this place, it even seemed that at one time this space had been loved, greatly. Now it was overgrown and in disrepair. However, there was something about it that appealed to Frodo, it seemed to match how he was feeling inside; empty, hollow, depleted, and he, too wanted to be forgotten.
Frodo sat upon a cold, stone bench against the wall of one of the buildings. In the center of the courtyard stood a crumbling, dilapidated birdbath. There was a large crack that ran the length of the base from top to bottom and it was caked in mud. Its shallow, empty basin was intact, but stone dry, evidence that it had been long since any birds perched upon its edge. Surrounding the birdbath was an unremembered patch of garden, now overrun with a multitude of weeds and brambles. One persistent plant still grew, trying to stretch its fragile green leaves up through the enclosing prison of weeds above. Frodo, staring at the plant, found his voice saying “It is best to stay where you are little one, do not try growing any further. Your life shall just be snuffed out in the end.”
Frodo drew a ragged breath. The last several months had certainly been wearing for him and he often felt hopeless, but the callousness in his voice surprised even himself at that moment.
The walls of the buildings on either side were thickly blanketed with a dark green moss, evidence that sunlight rarely entered the forbidding, roofless cavern. Frodo wondered what kind of flowers had grown there in the gardens previous life. What flower could grow without sunlight? He did not know but Sam would, he was certain of that. Frodo closed his eyes and thought about the beautifully tended gardens of Bag End. Sam had such a gift for loving all living things. There were times Frodo would watch Sam working in the garden, the calloused hands of the gardener working so gently with the flowers. His hands tending to a leaf-tip or a rose bloom, sometimes it seemed to Frodo that the plants would stretch out their green fingers towards Sam in recognition of him. Yearning for the touch of their master’s hand. Frodo may have been Sam’s master, but Sam was master of so much more! The very grass at Bag End seemed to leap for joy under Sam’s feet!
Frodo sighed, Bag End seemed so far away, another lifetime altogether. He doubted that he would ever see the beloved old place again. He knew for a certainty that he would never walk her halls, or sit in her garden. Bag End belonged to another now, and he had no loving relationship with its present owner. All Frodo had left to go back to was that little house in Crickhollow, a house he remembered only vaguely. It certainly didn’t hold for him the warm memories of Bag End. It was not his home, and never could be.
A familiar voice broke into Frodo’s musings.
“Hullo Frodo, hiding in the shadows are we?” Frodo looked up to find Merry standing in front of him.
“Hullo Merry, no just enjoying some peace and quiet. How did you find me?” asked an astonished Frodo.
“Well,” whispered Merry conspiratorially and moved in closer toward Frodo to be heard, “It seems that once a spy always a spy. You have been followed for days my dear cousin, by someone who shall remain nameless.”
“Sam!” Cried Frodo, “I might have known, has he been following me all this time?”
“Mmmmm, he was quite worried about you last week, you had been disappearing for hours at a time. I know he just wanted to make sure you were all right.”
Frodo sat back with a look of annoyance on his face. “Merry? That explains how Sam knew where I have been coming, but how did you find me?”
Merry, realizing that his treachery had been discovered, smiled mischievously and responded, “Well, my dear cousin. I have also been worried about you. Sam was of no help as to your whereabouts. He may feel fine about spying on you himself, `looking after Mr. Frodo’, as he says, but he is not one to volunteer information. So today, when I saw him sneak off, I sneaked off right behind him.”
“Well, Meriadoc Brandybuck, you can tell Sam, and anyone else that might be listening,” Frodo raised his voice for emphasis, “that I am fine. Just looking for some solitude. Thank you for your concern, but I am all right.”
“There is no need to yell Frodo, Sam’s gone back, and you are stuck with me now I am afraid. Merry sat down on the bench next to Frodo and produced two apples, handed one to Frodo and promptly took a bite of his own. Frodo just stared at the apple, turning it over in his hand.
“Come on Fro, the apple is not going to eat itself you know, I brought it because I was sure you had not had any breakfast.” Frodo looked at Merry with an astonished expression on his face.
“Fro? Merry I can’t remember the last time you called me that! It’s been years! You were so little when you first called me that, I think you weren’t even two, you had just begun to learn to speak and you couldn’t pronounce your `D’s.” Frodo said with a laugh.
“The other children used to tease you by asking you to pronounce your full name, you used to call yourself Meri-a-roc!”
Merry laughed in return, “It’s good to see you laugh again Frodo, even if it is at my expense!” Merry took another bite of his apple.
“Yes Merry, those were happy days, we were so young, so joyful. I suppose those days are gone forever now. I do not think we shall ever be that content and carefree again, things are just too different now.” Frodo replied with a long sigh.
Merry looked at Frodo with sadness for his cousin in his eyes, “What’s wrong Frodo? Talk to me, I’m here for you.” Merry placed his hand on Frodo’s shoulder. “I can’t help if you don’t talk to me.”
“Oh Merry,” Frodo looked at Merry, “it’s not that I don’t wish to talk to you, it’s that I just don’t know what to say. I have all these thoughts, and feelings that no one could possibly understand for I do not even understand them.”
“I know,” Merry’s quiet voice answered beside him. “It’s the Black Shadow isn’t it? I feel it too; the coldness is what hurts the most. Sometimes; I think it will never go away.
It chills me to the core of my bones. There are nights I wake up and my right arm is lifeless and rigid. The deep chill is running all through my body, everything has vanished from sight but him, the one who was slain. Even now it is too dreadful for me to speak his name. He looms up in front of me in my nightmares, terrible, tall and threatening! Towering above me just like before, only this time I have no sword, this time I have no way to defeat him. No way to defend myself. I am powerless before him. Then the darkness envelops me and I am lost. I am like a dead thing captured by the Black Shadow. All chance of escape is gone and I am without hope. Yes Frodo, I do understand, I do.”
Frodo just stared at Merry, unsure of what to say in response to this revelation. His eyes searched his cousin’s face. He saw fear there and looking deep into Merry’s eyes he knew that Merry truly understood. But he saw something else too. Hope, there was hope in Merry’s eyes. Something that Frodo had let go of long ago. How he longed to have that hope back.
“My dear Merry.” Frodo reached out his hand and stroked Merry’s cheek. “My dear lad, I had forgotten that you too battled the Shadow. Forgive me. You too, were touched by the horror of the Witch King. You, it would seem my dear Merry, are stronger than I. I do not have the strength to fight it anymore.
” It seems that I have been struggling so long. The coldness never really leaves me; the Shadow is a constant cloud over my eyes! The Blackness is always there, waiting to engulf me! I am frightened Merry. Frightened of the damage it has already done to me, and the damage it yet may do! I no longer have the fortitude to bear the burden. I am not angry mind you, I knew in my heart when I agreed to take the Ring that I would not survive intact, and so it seems I haven’t. My body is still here, but the hobbit that once was no longer exists. All I have left now is the emptiness and the scars of what I did not do, what I could not do.”
Frodo looked down to his right hand, a shadow crossed over his face, and tears welled up in his eyes. ” I failed Merry, I made a promise, and in the end I failed. I did not do what I set out to do. I am quite sure that someone else could have accomplished the task much better than I in the end.”
Frodo looked at Merry, “I am so very sorry. I am sure that you and Pippin wished you had stayed in the Shire. Oh, how I wish I could change it back for you Merry. You have seen far too many things. A young hobbit should not even know such evil exists, let alone to have witnessed it with his own eyes, and suffered as you both have. You and Pippin almost did not survive this journey, and now it has changed you both, forever. I am so very sorry, can you ever forgive me?”
Merry, tears welling up in his own eyes, took Frodo’s right hand in his own.
“You really are a silly, daft old hobbit aren’t you? Fro, there is nothing to forgive. I think that you have forgotten my dear hobbit, that we were the ones that left you no choice about our coming with you. That long ago night in Crickhollow we might not have known exactly what we were getting ourselves into, but for better or worse we were along for the journey, whether you wanted us or not. Then again in Rivendell, when Lord Elrond wanted to send Pippin and I back to the Shire, we begged to go along with you. We knew that we must complete the journey with you! And we would have followed had we been refused. No, my dear Frodo it was not you who dictated that we come with you, it was the other way around, Cousin. And it was our love of you that carried us through our own trials. We did not wish you to be anywhere that we could not follow! But who could have known what the outcome would be, where our paths would take us? When we were separated, and Pip and I on our own, and even later, when I lost Pip, and all hope seemed lost, I knew you would prevail. I knew that if there were one hobbit in the world that could accomplish the task, you would be that hobbit! You’ve got to fight the Shadow Fro; you can’t let it take you! You have so much left to do, so much left to give.
Frodo smiled sadly, “I am empty Merry. I am nothing but a broken vessel, I have nothing left to give.”
“Frodo, I remember when I was young, my Grandfather Rory told me a story about an old gardener that had two large clay pots for carrying water, each hung on the end of pole. One of the pots had a large crack in it, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the Brandywine to the garden, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the gardener only delivering one and a half pots of water to his garden. Of course the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect for which it was made. But the poor, cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it was made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the old gardener one day by the Brandywine. “I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your garden.”
The gardener said to the pot, “and did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That is because I have always known of your flaw, and I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you have watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”
“Fro, without you, none of us would still be here. You had the strength and fortitude to carry your burden farther than anyone else could have, I believe that with my whole heart. I know that no one else in Middle Earth could have achieved the journey to Mount Doom as you did, with Sam by your side. You did succeed, even though you feel you have failed, you did not! You must learn to fight against the very thing which is destroyed! He cannot harm you any longer; he cannot steal your joy. Only his memory can, and surely you can defeat that. You did not let him win before, do not let him do so now! You have to fight the Blackness! I beg you to hold on Frodo, I will do what I can to help you. We can fight the Shadow together; just promise me you won’t give up. We still need you, there are so many more gardens to water!”
Frodo sat silently for a while, just staring into Merry’s face. He knew Merry was right. But could he find the strength within himself? How would he know unless he tried?
“All right Merry, I shall try, I shall do my best to not let the darkness take me. And I promise, I shall confide in you more often. You must be patient with me though, I am just an old bachelor, and I am not very good in confiding.”
“That’s all right Frodo, I can be patient, we have all the time in the world, now. However my dear cousin, I don’t have all day to watch you eat that apple. Come on eat up. You never were a big eater, but this has become ridiculous, you’re no bigger than a tweenager! I’ll certainly have some explaining to do when we get you back to the Shire, if you go back looking that skinny!” Merry said with a laugh and a twinkle in his eye.
“My dear cousin Merry, I do believe that all that Ent draught has gone to your head.
You have become quite bossy with your elders!” Said Frodo teasingly as he took a bite of his apple.
“Fro, all this talking about water and of the Ent draught has made me thirsty, and has given me an idea. Stay here, I’ll be right back.” Merry stood up and quickly exited the courtyard. He was back not five minutes later with a bucket in his hand. He walked up to the abandoned birdbath and began pouring water into the basin.
“What are you doing Merry?” Frodo asked.
“A little experiment my dear Frodo.” No sooner had Merry finished pouring the water and sat back down, than a pair of beautiful white doves flew in and perched upon the edge of the birdbath, cooing happily. Merry and Frodo exchanged a smile, for no more words needed to be spoken. It was just as Gandalf had said; a great shadow had departed.