Chapter 6: Nightmare

Frodo, sleeping snugly, burrowed under bright quilts on a crisp Bag End morning; Sam bustling heartily about his room, rekindling the fire to take the chill from the air. Frodo drowsy and pink with health, waking rested and refreshed at Sam’s call, eager to be about his day, glad to see Sam…

Oh, that he could wake so easy now! But, no, he’s not supposed to wake yet! Not ‘til that terrible wound is clean…

And Sam entered the chamber, chilled with a completely different cold than any brisk Shire morning, and hazed with an ominous mist whose source was not the tumbling falls outside… Frodo, focus for elven skills, centre of Sam’s world, lying so still, so pale… Sam climbed to sit on the bed at his side, and took his cold left hand.

On the bed, in the midst of it all, arms aching with tenderness for this fragile flesh laid out for elven healing… touch and scent and oils and unguents… What strange art! These elves can help him… Gandalf won’t let him… Oh, but this may be beyond the lot of them! Don’t think, Sam, just touch him, hope for him… but cold… so cold… his hand shouldn’t be this cold…

Oh, but he’s been almost this cold before, and been warmed… Frodo late from a long ramble, caught out in spring’s sudden storm gale driving stinging freezing rain… Waiting, worried…not like this, but so very worried… couldn’t go home, not knowing, and so worried. Candles flickering, kettle simmering, logs ablaze… Later and even later, and remembering another time when he’d been late and was found hurt, so hurt… Oh, the chill in his heart, the rising fear… pacing, watching, pacing, waiting…

Fear suddenly banished by relief as the green door burst open and he was there, cloak dripping on mud tracked tiles, soaked locks streaming water across icy cheeks, shaking, leaning panting against the wall, looking up… “Hello, Sam. You stayed…” and his eyes so dark and his hands so cold… but all was well, he was only chilled… cold flesh towelled dry and slim hands warmed between his own… Steaming kettle poured restoration, in teapot, then in bath… sodden clothes stripped… hot scented water and grateful sigh as numbed sense returned… smiling “Thank you, Sam! Where would I be without you?” And all was well then, and could be now…

But memory was interrupted by melodious elven voices, and words he understood: “Not yet… try again later… let him rest awhile…” Then they were leaving and the lights dimmed, and the mist had cleared… Sam lying next to Frodo, arms around him, blankets over them… finding hope, drifting…

Hold him close… all those memories… just close your eyes… elves will help him… But his hand is so cold…

Frodo laughing, poised on a branch too high above… Summer’s heat rising from the lazy water below, steaming in damp tendrils on Sam’s forehead… Laughing with Frodo at the fun, only a little concerned… “Too warm, Sam?” And then, Frodo jumped, still laughing, suspended in thick air, lithe and curled for a huge splash all over Sam, chill of deep river water. It took forever for his dark head to bob up from the water’s depths, but then he stroked strongly to the bank, and shook cool droplets all over the blanket and Sam, teasing... “Better?” And Sam nodded, delighted by the play, as Frodo flung himself down on his belly, heedless, knocking over the empty wine bottle as Sam caught the glasses. Grabbing his book and carefully wiping off the droplets before looking up to ask if this would be the tale Sam wanted next… his eyes so warm in the summer heat… And his hands would have been warm then...

But that branch, so high… so far… what if he fell and no water breaking below, only craggy rocks, sharp rocks… so high and far… and if he fell… so high up there… broken and bleeding… hurting… the height, the heat… warm, too warm, dry rocks climbing… heat, stifling, parching, throat filled with dust… can’t swallow… no water… Oh, so thirsty! Need water! But this water too dark, too deep! Too much water, it could happen, had happened, his parents… lost under water… too much…

I’m lost, water swirling, thick, no up nor down, and can’t breathe…

Breathe… No breath…

But I am breathing… but no breath, not quiet, just none, not rasping, just not there… no soft breathing beside him… no cold slim hand transferring its chill to his own bones… Frodo?

Frodo! Where is he!

Empty rumpled sheets, empty enormous bed, and cold light sparked off sharp crystal decanters. Casting off covers and sleep… staggering as feet sought balance on warm tiles, caught up in arms, and a voice, Aragorn’s, soothing, “Be at peace, Sam…” Sagging onto the side of the bed, clutching Aragorn’s arm, seeking stability from his words. “Frodo rested, as you did… They have taken him to bathe in hot springs, trying to warm him. It will be a while. Sam, you must eat… your strength…”

Too many words… Eat? Would that help Frodo’s failing strength? Maybe so…be strong, Sam… he needs you…

A blur of words exchanged and cousins’ caring… “Here, Sam, come on, Sam, you must eat…”

Cloth covered tray, fruit and bread, clear water soothing… this might help… strength regained might be strength to share...

Strong, for Frodo… strong, like Frodo… helping… warm hand reaching down, and nimble body braced… “Here, Sam! Come on, Sam! You must see… it’s worth it!” Firmly grasping Sam’s sweaty hand for hoist and scramble up the last steepness to stand beside his agile Master. Seeing Frodo first, his hand lifted, shielding eyes like the sky against brightness full in his face, overlooking rolling hills, fields filled with harvest’s haystacks, bronzed autumn glades, and a silvery road curling, fading into pinks and purples and sunset’s golden blaze… Every bit of the sight worth it… hanging on to that memory, the light in his face, that strong warm hand… Oh, Frodo, hang on…

Hanging onto swaying pony… flinch at every hill and stumble… ravaged days… bleak night watches, holding Frodo against the aching chill that rose within him, hoping comfort until desperate dawns, and flight again… Frodo fading, no longer alert, no longer answering Sam’s concern, scarcely speaking, bright eyes greyed and lost in haze… just enduring… Then, of a sudden, hefted onto massive stallion, escape and lure… fleeing fell pursuit, plunging… until… ford and fall… and here, to wait…

A single hour of comfort since? Only stolen, cherished moments of such sweet holding… silken warmth tingling skin’s every fibre… so long ago…a moment ago… where is he?

Waiting, worrying… elves coming in and out, more vials, fresh linens, quiet voices…and still no Frodo… dozing propped on pillowed headboard… then more waiting, and, always, Frodo…

Until there, finally, bundled in elven arms, lean arm spilling limp from silken blankets… Sturdy arms held out for Frodo, laid carefully on Sam’s lap… moan and burrow, hand curled at Sam’s breast… cradling him, still asleep--or asleep again? Reaching under downy covers, lightly past bandages, finding flesh warmed… but so wrong… heated from the outside, not his living blood glowing through that fair skin. Rather… cold rising from deep within, chasing the hot springs’ lingering warmth from his limbs… cold seeping even through the blankets to chill Sam’s own arms and thighs and chest everywhere he was held so close… so close… as if such closeness could guard him now against what must come…

He could not guard him then… failed though tried, tried… flung aside. Endless night far colder as Ring-wraiths screeched shrill shrieking terror… utter cold indifference to one so dear… hounded to rough rocks ringing sweeping horror, as single-minded malice surged past puny swords, stabbing… and all caring, all love, all shielding stood for naught… And none at all left to stand with Frodo as Ring-lusting rapacious evil thrust into innocent flesh… anguish screamed as never sounded in Shire ears nor ever in the whole of Middle-earth…

Then… lost, lying pierced, invisible… lost until his will wrenched Ring from hand… and finally found, fair face masked and bright spirit hid by unimagined agony… suffering… fading, until only that strong will remained… all there was, all there is… is it enough?

Frodo’s will, glowing spirit flickering, this beloved body, and this moment with arms holding him close… and all thoughts fled… only fright filled fretting until movement in the room… shreds of a voice… Gandalf?

“Cannot find it… no more time… wake him… pain… decision…”

Was that an echo of despair? Rousing from dreadful dreams to misery, his own and all around… insistent voices requiring Sam to leave, go for sustenance before the next attempts… Frodo resting softly on his chest, drawing his only warmth from Sam himself… fair skin less chilled only where touching Sam, dark curls warmed by Sam’s own breath… but leave him… leave him?

“Samwise… the Lord Elrond must speak with the Ring-bearer… alone…”

Ring-bearer? Why? Only Frodo matters! Oh, why did this come to him?

Regretfully releasing tender hold… so wanting to see him awake… but not to face what would come… anguish rushing back without buffering sleep and art… oh, if they can’t hold back the pain… how can he bear that, so weak… pounding heartbeat unsteady, slight body too cold still, his hand icy now…

Elven hands lifting Frodo from Sam’s embrace, trying not to jar the injured shoulder… but still, sharp hiss of pain as he is laid back on the bed, paler, greyer, than before, breath harsher… restless… head twisting on pillow, dragging dark curls…

He’s waking, oh, he’s waking… cold hands tensing… gripping, crumpling sheets… Cannot leave, must leave, oh, Frodo, that this came to you… what can they need to say… oh, please, just help him! Leaning over him, hand cupping hollowed cheeks, thumb brushing across dry down-turned lips, tensing again as breath caught…

“Frodo, love, hold on… I’ll be right back here with you…”

Kissing furrowed brow, skin like carved marble… Then, leaving, unseeing through hot tears, almost running into Lord Elrond’s draped robes gliding, Gandalf striding, passing purposeful…

Haste, make haste… Tears scrubbed away… A gulp here, a bite there, and enough. Neither talk nor tell… take cousins’ love to Frodo…But hurry… hurry so as to wait the sooner, until a sign, a summons, a call… and it came when the tall door opened…

“Master Gamgee, the counsel is complete; it is time.”

And Aragorn, at the chamber door, catching his arm.

“A moment, Sam…” Such concern in his face, such meaning in his rough voice…

This commanded Sam’s attention and drew his focus from Frodo alone as nothing else had in all these long days. What? Sam collected himself to hear well whatever required this unexpected intervention.

“Yes, sir?”

Aragorn continued, “I will not long delay you, for haste is needed. But there are things that you must know, before you enter.” Aragorn’s expression was grim as he knelt before Sam to speak blunt words.

“Frodo has shown great courage in resisting for so long. But he cannot endure much longer. There is only time for this last effort. He may live, as we all hope, or die in the attempt… or be overcome by evil and fade. Frodo knows this… and more…” Aragorn paused; Sam returned his solemn look with dread. That these were terrible dangers he already knew; he braced himself to learn the ‘more’ as Aragorn continued, “The Wise, in mercy and in love, will not let him pass to torment in the wraith world, if they are able prevent it… and would offer him the last gift to our kind… Do you understand, Sam?”

All colour drained from Sam’s face as he listened, and he reached for Aragorn’s shoulder to steady himself; he closed his eyes a moment, breathing hard. This is what they talked about? And me not there for him? Oh, Frodo! I won’t ever leave you again! Mustering all his love for Frodo, he found strength he had not known he had, and replied, voice husky with pain, “Yes, sir, I do understand. And I would be with Mr. Frodo, whether or no, more now than ever. Now, sir, let me pass.”

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