Chapter 10: Reflections

Frodo found it very odd to be carried, especially by a tall, serene elf, who did not appear at all disconcerted by his small hobbit burden. And, that was odd, as well, to think of himself as small.

As he was borne swiftly away from the comforting presence of Gandalf – and his Sam – it seemed, suddenly, that everything – the bed, the benches, the doorways along the hall stretching ahead, the grand arches and breathtaking vistas beyond, even the elves themselves – everything, while beautiful, was too large, too unfamiliar, too strange. And, it was disorienting enough, after all he had just survived, that for a moment he closed his eyes, and let fall a soft sigh, his body stiffening, his arm tightening reflexively around the elf’s shoulder.

I wish I might have stayed much longer with Sam… that there had been time to pull him close… to be alone with him… But he knew his whirling thoughts and emotions needed a chance to settle, that he needed time to shake free from the remnants of utter nightmare. He was grateful for the elven efforts on his behalf, and he tried to find patience and enthusiasm for what must yet be done. Whatever might help me recover the sooner should surely be welcomed. I will return to Sam as fit as possible… so that… so that… well, I’ll think of that later… Such pleasantly distracting thoughts of Sam soothed and inspired him, and he opened his eyes, again feeling that he could face what the elves had in store for him.

The elf bearing him engaged Frodo in light conversation, as courteously as though they had met in less unusual circumstances, and pointed out the graceful waterfall visible through the arches, and a statue depicting ancient legend. He learned that his bedchamber was one of several peaceful suites devoted to elvish healing and restoration. He could see through opened doors that most of the rooms shared a balcony and a spectacular view of the ravine, but one candlelit chamber, quite close to his own room, seemed to extend deep into the living rock of the cliff itself, and he could hear tumbling water within as they passed.

Such gracious hospitality made his weakness and confusion seem less undignified to him; even the grand scale of all they passed seemed less intimidating. He began to feel that he might actually recover his usual resilient good health, and be able to think again… and he knew, with every thought of Sam, never far from his mind, that he was certainly still able to feel...

They arrived quickly at their destination, and Frodo gazed curiously about the light-filled chamber. A balcony extended along the far side of the room, and above its arched doorways, there were high clerestory windows through which he could see the midday sun and bright clouds in a vivid autumn sky. Tall glass-fronted cabinets of some darkly polished wood stood between the arches, filled with gleaming bottles and tiny, stoppered vials, each with an elegant label in a flowing black script. Various high benches were scattered throughout the room; on some were implements that reminded him of an apothecary: mortars, pestles, small papers for folding around medicines, glassware with lines marked for measuring. Other benches were padded, with a supply of linens of various sizes and textures folded at hand.

Frodo was set down on a large cushioned bench facing a hearth with a cheery, crackling fire, and invited to enjoy simple food and drink from a table within easy reach. How long did Gandalf say it was, since I came to Rivendell? It feels like forever since I’ve eaten…

Sunlight sparkled through a graceful decanter and a goblet of golden liqueur, which he was told would be good for him, as well as pleasant tasting. He tasted it, and found it like mead from summer festivals at home in The Shire, with a tang of clover and something faintly herbal. Frodo helped himself to portions of everything from an enticing platter of crusty rolls and soft orange cheese, and a silver bowl of crisp red apple quarters, a cluster of purple-globed grapes, and slices of rose-blushed peaches. A small, steaming tureen brimmed with creamy mushroom soup that even smelled like the fragrant soups of home. This is so thoughtful! Someone must have told them my favourites. Sam, perhaps? It is wonderful to feel hunger again… And he smiled to himself, feeling strength and good humour flow back as he savoured food that tasted better than any he could recall.

I would have liked to share this meal. I wonder what Sam is doing now they have whisked me away? Resting, I hope, after these days of fear. He must have worried for me, but that is past, and soon, we will share… Even more restorative than the excellent food, were the images of Sam, and the memory of Sam’s touch. Frodo longed to return to him, to tell him and show him how very much he was loved and needed… and desired…

But now, the food was cleared away, and it was time for such healing art as the elves might offer him. He had been aware of quiet preparations for what he assumed would be the ‘further treatments’: amber oils had been warmed, releasing herbal scents; medicinal smelling unguents blended; and towels and silken drapes were set forth by a tall padded bench.

The two elves remaining with him explained what each would do, offered to answer any questions, and asked a few themselves, clearly aware of the rare nature of his hurts. Frodo was rather amused at their restrained curiosity about his unique injury. This must have been the talk of Rivendell! Who would have thought that a hobbit from The Shire would ever cause such a stir here?

He was lifted gently to the high bench. Careful examination of the cold scar was painful, but not unbearable; he was reassured that most of his discomfort was due to healing, rather than continuing harm, although some lingering tenderness was expected. Then, healing massage was described, and offered, and he accepted that what might seem strange was still necessary, and possibly even pleasant.

Frodo shrugged cautiously out of the overlarge robe and let it fall from his shoulders, then pulled the Ring and chain around his neck, out of the way. They helped him to lie down on his back, stretched out on the bench, and were careful to protect his wounded shoulder, and to preserve his modesty with filmy draping cloths. That reminded him of their earlier attempts and he barely suppressed a laughing snort. I do hope this works better than before! They must have seen rather a lot of me these past days. But Sam didn’t mind… Oh! Calm down, Frodo! Now is not the time to think on Sam! That requires more concealment than you can trust from those clinging, flimsy things!

Distraction! Well, this massage should do it. As odd as it was to be carried, this will be disconcerting indeed…

It was difficult at first to submit to the healing elven hands on his body; no one had ever touched him quite like this. However, these hands recalled sweet memories of his mother’s tender care in a long distant childhood, and, much to his relief, they did not feel in any way like the sensuous, loving touch of the dear sturdy hands he had known more recently, and longed to know better. Could hobbit hands do this? Perhaps I could learn? It would feel very differently offered with love… desire… Oh… yes… Sam would like this… Oh! Better not think on that!

Frodo set aside his musings on massage and his Sam, and let himself drift, trustingly, to formless, unthinking sensation, as his chest and belly, and even, to his surprise, his face and neck, were oiled and rubbed with rhythmic, varying pressures. Tight muscles were gently kneaded, with long strokes soothing the ache in his arms and legs. And, then, he was very carefully helped to turn over onto his belly for massage of his back and shoulders and hips. He found, for the first time in many long days, that he could again bear to lie on his stomach, without too much protest from his wounded shoulder.

And, finally, under this tender care, lying on the padded table with sunlight falling warm across him, Frodo relaxed and set aside the worry and pain of burden and wound. He drowsed for a time as the elf ministering to him continued to ease his hurts, and as he drifted along the edge of sleep, he heard someone singing. Although he did not know all the elvish words, he recognised the lore behind the lyrics, the ancient myth threaded through the music. And as he listened, it seemed to him that salt waves tumbled and broke on a distant shore far beyond any he had seen in waking life. They floated him on healing currents, swept him to heated springs where renewing waters rose from the very foundations of Middle-earth. And the vital waters soaked into his skin, eddied through his veins, and invigorated him for what might lie ahead. He was drenched and healed and finally restored, then washed upon a nearer shore, to wake to the rippling sound of water falling… and find himself still on the bench, still receiving that tireless healing touch, and glad to know himself so very alive.

A clear voice spoke through the haze of loosened limbs and lessened concerns. “Frodo… wake now. Let me help you…” A strong arm was offered and he was able to pull himself to sit on the side of the bench. He felt invigorated, revitalised, and wondering, he stretched, finding his muscles supple and limber. Then he flexed his wounded shoulder, gingerly, and was relieved that it was far less painful than it had been.

“Thank you. My shoulder is much better, and I truly feel revived, quite amazingly so.” He looked up questioningly at the elf standing before him now, arms ready to lift Frodo once more.

“I am glad that it has helped, Frodo. Now, I will take you to bathe in healing waters.” The elf made to lift him, but Frodo stopped him with a shake of his head, and his hand stayed the proffered arm.

“I appreciate your kindness, but I believe I can walk now, and would like to do so.” Guarding his shoulder, he slipped down from the bench to find that indeed, he did feel well enough to manage on his own. His attendant guided him to the bathing chamber, that candle-lit recess in the cliff which they had passed earlier. Frodo thanked him once more, and graciously refused his offers of further assistance, and so he departed, assured that Frodo was now strong enough for safety, and sensitive to his desire for time alone.

Frodo stood for a moment to marvel at a bathing room like none he had seen. Torches in vine-like sconces and small white candles cast a golden glow upon dark, glistening rock. The natural cliff rose, slanting, from the farther end of the pool; a sparkling stream wound across its face to fall into a turbulence, which rippled out into gentle waves near him. Elven artistry and wild rock were merged seamlessly; steps and benches shaped into the sides of the pool so artfully, that he could not tell where elven carving ended and nature began. The water steamed in loops and coils as though heated; he could feel the warmth drifting towards him. How is that done? No fire, too deep for the sun… Perhaps as in the song? I have heard of such waters springing above volcanic fire within the very depths…

The pool was large enough for a hobbit to swim, and he wondered hopefully whether he would soon feel well enough even for that. Carefully, holding to a railing wrought with leaf and lily, he climbed down shallow steps into the foaming water, sighing as the heat rose past ankles, hips, and finally up to his chest. A basket of scented soaps and towels nearby caught his attention. Lavender soap? As from home? Another thoughtful touch… I wonder if Sam told them? He lathered the massage lotion from the tendrils of hair clinging to his forehead and the nape of his neck, and from lean limbs slick with oil. He ducked his head to rinse clouds of bubbles into the hot water, steamy wisps and foam rising from the surface. Then, his arms spread out upon the water, he let his body drift up so that he was floating, rocking in the warm eddies and the softly flickering glow, eyes closed and thoughts adrift.

But as relaxed as he was and as safe as he felt, Frodo was aware that terrors lurked still behind his closed lids. There are things I must think about, dangers I could never have imagined at home… but it is so hard to think on them… He frowned and sought for comfort in the pleasant languor of lying in this lovely pool. So different from my prosaic bath with its kettles of boiling water at Bag End. That was such a placid life, compared to what I have known of late…

No, at home I could never have imagined what I have seen or what I have known now. The very worst of The Shire was as nothing compared to that! Though perhaps all evil, even the petty meanness I saw occasionally there, is somehow of a kind, if not the same degree… I doubt I shall ever truly understand why all this has happened to me, though Gandalf has explained so much and so well…

But I think that, even in my own study, I did catch at least a glimpse of such terrible evil, in all the myths and great tales I studied, since Bilbo first taught me. They are filled with malice and despair, as well as beauty and love. And I am certainly not the first to be hurt by the Ring or darkness or Morgul blade, nor the only one to suffer. But just as I saw those hints of great evil from my study, so too did I catch glimpses of an even greater joy. In those same tales, in the beauty of the stars and storms above Bag End; and especially, in the face of my Sam - always dear to me, and so beloved, too, had I just seen then as I see now.

That joy… It is as though I thought I knew water, from what I saw in The Shire, contained in my own teapot and bath, running free in little rivers, or even wild in the sudden storms of spring; and, thinking that was all, I then encountered the greatness of The Sea. My books had hinted at it, but I did not and do not know The Sea, nor do I expect that ever I shall. But I have read of it, vast and beautiful, and knowing that it is there makes the water I do know mean even more to me… Is joy like that?

Oh, Sam, I have seen, and known such joy with you! There is so much happiness we have shared already; the truest friendship, and even a life companionably side by side. And I was content with that, only glimpsing more, for I believed that ever having more was only a dream… A dream that would be as far beyond what I have known as The Sea is beyond The Water…

And now, I have been incredibly fortunate, for I am here, despite all - saved from a terrible death, or worse that I cannot bear to think on now… Comforted by such kindness here in Rivendell, and even loved, as I know I am, and have always been. And I know that I love, and that I want that joy I only glimpsed before…

There is something I read - what was it? Ah, yes! “Beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron…” Yes, that was it. And now, I can truly understand beauty, and a joy so vast that it almost breaks my heart, far greater even than the terror.

Oh, I want that with Sam! There would be beauty piercing more deeply than any sword, even the Morgul blade I have known so bitterly – and such a burning joy beyond mere cold iron! As I lay afraid, almost overcome by pain and death and evil, Sam’s arms and his love helped me hold to life, to remember what life is. And I want life. I want Sam, and I believe he wants me… and now, there will be time…

Love for his golden, beautiful Sam called to Frodo in the vivid images from his dreams. And his recovering body answered with a surging tide of warmth and rising heat: desire for Sam mingled with his desperate desire for life itself. He slipped lower in the steaming pool, and reclined on a ledge, rocked by gentle waves.

Dream merged now with memory: Sam’s strong hands, nestling the tenderest of seedlings into rich black soil, twining vines onto a trellis, tamping pipeweed from his leather pouch into their pipes… Sam’s voice singing contentment in the garden, or bawdy pub ballads, or ancient lays to lilting tunes that he made himself… The curve of muscles flexing beneath a straining shirt or a sheen of sweat; hips narrow beneath that wide back… The brushing interchanges of daily life, all charged by secret dreams… A steadying hand, a wayward tendril tucked back, a clasp of friendship… and Sam’s expression, looking at Frodo in moments unguarded…

And memories more recent: resting in sheltering arms, clinging to Sam for life and light, even as death and evil sought him… Lying loved in Sam’s arms, feeling his tentative touch; and wanting, needing, inviting more… The comfort and the exquisite feel of Sam’s strong hand enclosing him, with all the security that love could provide…

Frodo’s own hand followed that memory, and he laid his palm on his belly beneath the warm water, tracing fingertips along the path of Sam’s touch; lower, until he held, even as Sam had done. Fevered imagination carried him forward, to more of Sam’s touch, to all that they might now be to each other… His hips and firm heat rose seeking; his hand tightened, and in an instant he realised that his new-wakened desire would peak far too soon.

No, this is for Sam… Wait! We shall be together, soon…

Frodo released his hand, breathing hard, smoothed it up across his belly, and down his side to brace it on the ledge beneath the water. He opened his eyes, took a deep breath, and stood, trembling in the swirling chest-deep water. Holding to the side of the pool to steady himself, he shook droplets from his hair and ran fingers through the wet locks. As he caught his breath, he tried to ignore his body’s demands.

He climbed the steps from the pool, and stooped to pluck a thick towel from the tall stack laid conveniently nearby. As he dried himself, he paced, to compose himself and calm his vivid imaginings.

Frodo dropped the wet towel into a basket; the robe lay near, but he did not feel chilled in the warm room. I do feel much better than when I woke. He raised his arms, tentatively, over his head, clasping his hands together. So far, so good. Slowly he stretched out, arms extended higher and further back, shoulder blades together, his back arched, belly tight. Oh, much better - that even feels good! He held the stretch, then lowered his arms and gripped his hands behind his hips, lifting up… But that is merely manageable! And Frodo knew that certain lovely ideas he had recently imagined would have to wait until he had healed a little more. Later! For we have now and later… But if I am careful, and put no weight on that side, then it will serve well enough for now…

He wrapped himself in a fresh towel, and, rubbing his hair with another, returned to the adjacent bedchamber. He closed and locked the door, and leaned against it, looking thoughtfully at the room, which now seemed almost comfortingly familiar. It was cleared of elves and all sign of the night’s ministrations. Gandalf, and Sam, too, were indeed gone, as he had expected. Patience, for Sam will be back. Patience, Frodo!

Clean white bed linens were turned back invitingly. Hmmm. They must have supposed I would rest… and that is the last thing I wish to do! A creamy silken nightshirt was laid ready for him on the bed. He picked it up, dropped the damp towels from his waist and for his hair by the bed, and went to the mirror, remembering the first time that he had noticed it, with a smile for the memory of Sam lying warm and golden beside him.

He was even more naked now than then, unless one counted the greater amount of fabric in the shirt falling from the hand at his side, set against that revealing little drape. It was a kind attempt to preserve some modesty -- although as long as I lay unconscious, there wouldn’t have been much of that left to me, anyway -- but it was totally ineffective! Well, Sam and I will laugh about it, now that this darkness has passed.

Frodo looked curiously at his reflection in the mirror. Oh, Sam! What do you see when you look at me? Something beyond what I see, I hope… A rueful, wry smile; unruly tangled hair, which he tried unsuccessfully to smooth back; lean muscle under flesh less rounded now than when he had left The Shire; skin still flushed from the heat of his bath; that cold white scar on his shoulder - and the Ring on its chain at his breast.

Frodo shivered. He could see the effects of that burden on his drawn face, shadows still beneath his eyes and cheekbones. Perhaps I could set it aside? He pulled the Ring away from his body and looked down at it lying heavy in his palm. Such a different thing from the toy, the trinket Bilbo always believed it to be… and even knowing what I know, it is such a pretty thing lying there, so fair and golden... Frowning, he let it fall back against his breast, and his fingers slid beneath the chain to lift it off… and then he grimaced. No, I must not – not yet. The Wise have kept it with me for some reason, and soon it will be gone, into their hands, to do with as they will… But its evil must not lie between Sam and me! And I will not think further on it now. Frodo slid the Ring around on its chain and dropped it over his shoulder. It slithered coldly down his back, and the silver chain glinted across the hollow of his throat. There. And I shall turn my thoughts to what joys lie ahead!

He continued his inspection. Something pleases my Sam, or at least does not displease him! Wondering, Frodo shook his head and met his gaze frankly in the reflection. He knew that his eyes were often remarked, sometimes even directly, if unflatteringly, to his face: “Such a strange colour for a hobbit, startling; distant, even!” He readily admitted that their colour was unusual, and knew that he often seemed, and often was, preoccupied; but beyond that, he could only see their familiarity. He held out his hands and looked at them critically. Skilful enough with quill and ink, but hopeless with trowel or sword. But Sam’s skill in the garden more than makes up for my lack, and we shall need swords no more… He looked up and down his figure. Taller than some, and too thin even before all this. Not much there for cuddling, though Sam has held me dear these past days, next to his own smooth flesh…

And so pale, even when I haven’t been ill; my very skin contradicts me and denies how much I love the sun! Not at all like Sam’s skin that looks to have soaked all the sun’s glow within, and those sleek muscles rounded with his strength… And soon I shall know the feel of him beneath these pale hands of mine. May they always give him joy - and perhaps they have learned something to share from that massage!

Frodo cast a last glance at his mirrored reflection. Well, I am as I am, and that will be enough, if my body serves us well, so I may love my golden, sun-wreathed Sam as I wish, as he wants me… He closed his eyes for a moment, lost again in the anticipation of all he hoped to share… Heat flooded his cheeks and swelled in his loins, and he shivered at his immediate rising response. With a sigh, he shook out the shirt in his hand, and shrugged it on over damp curls, just as there came a soft knock at the door.

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(Author’s Note: The phrase, “…beauties which pierce like swords, or burn like cold iron…” is quoted from a review by C. S. Lewis of The Lord of the Rings.)