Chapter 8: Morning

Sam shifted languorously, and turned his face up from the warm darkness of Frodo’s hair into the bright morning light filling the bedchamber. He felt breath soft and slow on his cheek and opened his eyes to see Frodo, asleep next to him, safe, secure in his arms. His face was peaceful and fair again, although purpled shadows on the translucent skin and beneath black lashes plainly marked his ordeal. He lay on his back, his warm weight tilted and sheltered against Sam’s chest, and his hand was laced loosely with Sam’s over his belly, floating on the gentle rise and fall of his breathing, their pulses beating steadily together. Did you wake in the night and seek my hand, or did I find yours, my love?

Sam lay still as memory of light and music and words of hope filled him with jubilant relief. And after a while, he squeezed Frodo’s hand very gently, slid his own from beneath it, and pushed up on his elbow to look at the source of his joy.

“Frodo has come through this indeed, Samwise, by his courage and strength of will, and by grace… and your devotion was no small help.” Gandalf was seated in a large carved chair pulled close to the bed. Wreathes of pipe smoke scented the room with the fragrance of Old Toby and of home. Sam nodded greeting, unable to speak yet through the rush of emotion, as Gandalf continued, “He needs this restoring sleep and should not wake for a while. Perhaps you would trust him to my care while you refresh yourself and enjoy breakfast?” Gandalf smiled and added, “Second breakfast, by now.”

Sam acknowledged that as a sensible idea, reluctant though he was to leave Frodo’s side. “Yes, sir. He does need his sleep, doesn’t he, sir? Not likely to wake soon, neither. And you won’t leave him.” A statement, not a question, and Gandalf nodded solemn agreement, then gazed tactfully out past the balcony arches, a small smile playing on his lips, as Sam turned back to Frodo.

It is so hard to leave you, but this time, you’re in no danger at all… Sam carefully withdrew his arm from beneath Frodo’s neck; the unexpected tug of the silver chain, catching at the hairs of his arm, gave him pause. Well, danger there, still… but that’ll soon be rid, and left here safe with the elves and no concern of yours no more… He leaned down to brush his lips across Frodo’s brow. He whispered, “I won’t be long, Frodo. Sleep well, my love. You’ve earned it.”

Sam extricated himself from the covers with some difficulty. He climbed out on the far side of the bed and straightened his clothes. He was still tired after the night’s ordeal, unsteady on his feet, and the more dizzy from relief; he knew he must tend to his own long neglected needs to be any good to anyone today. But what he wanted most was to see Frodo awake, alert, himself again, to see for himself that body and bright spirit both had come through terror intact. He shook his head to clear it and, with a final check that buttons and tucks were presentable, turned back to take his leave of the wizard.

“Mr. Gandalf, sir. Thank you, sir, for everything you did, and for letting me just be there with him. I don’t know as my help did that much, but I do know that yours did. Thank you.”

“Samwise, there are none among us who would not have aided him any way we could… Frodo truly is an amazing hobbit,” Gandalf said, fondly regarding Frodo’s peacefully sleeping form. He leaned forward to place his hand gently on Frodo’s hair, and added, quietly, “It was exceedingly close... I think now that your ‘just being there’ made more difference than you or I can know…” His voice trailed off, as he seemed to see beyond this chamber.

Sam watched him closely. There’s more on his mind than he’s saying, but that’s nothing new. Best leave those thoughts for those who are best at thinking them, Sam, and you just tend to your master. He needs rest and healing and whatever else those elves can do for him. That’s what he needs right now… and maybe, just a bit more…

“And Samwise, you need breakfast! I shall be here with him until you return.”

At Gandalf’s smile, Sam wondered, disconcerted, if the ancient wizard had the ability to hear his thoughts. Now there’d be an earful if he’s heard the half about Frodo… but he’d know I’d never bring him harm! I just love him, whether or no… Bemused by puzzlement at just what the wizard knew, and joy at the miracle of Frodo’s survival, Sam answered, “Yes, sir, I suppose I do. I’ll be back in two shakes.” And with a last look to confirm Frodo’s peaceful sleep, Sam slipped away.

* * *

As much as Sam needed refreshment, he would not have left for even a moment, had he known that his absence would wrest Frodo from his hard-won slumber. For Frodo soon became restless and stirred, burrowing beneath downy covers, unsuccessfully seeking warm arms secure around him, a sturdy body lying next to him. The empty sheets he found instead were already cooling, and offered no solace for the alarming, but dim, memories that troubled him as he roused. Gradually, he wakened, disoriented and confused, and he could not shake a lingering sense of loss. With a wince, he rolled away from the pillow he had clasped to him and opened his eyes to see Gandalf nearby.

Gandalf greeted him warmly as he struggled up to lean against the cushioned headboard, and offered words of comfort and reassurance. And Frodo realised that the long nightmare had given way to a lovely clear morning, and that, somehow, he had survived. I did not know I could… though I wanted so to live… He closed his eyes and lay back against the pillows, trembling, aware that Gandalf watched him closely. To live as myself, as a hobbit… or if I must, to die mercifully, still myself… rather than… than… He blanched, and his body stiffened as he remembered suffering and the torment seeking to rip his will to shreds…

“It is over, Frodo. You are safe, among those who care for you.”

Gandalf’s hand fell kindly on his shoulder, and his tremors stilled beneath its utter steadiness. He opened his eyes. Yes, you were there with me at the end… and a light…

But there were long gaps in his fragmented recollections of these last days, and while he accepted that some forgetfulness was a great mercy, he wanted desperately to learn what had happened, that he might pick up the torn strands of his life. Patiently, Gandalf answered as many questions as he had endurance to ask, and told him of wraiths and blades and possibilities that were still terrifying in the clear light of morning. And, as he strove to understand incomprehensible evil, and beyond that, such miraculous healing, Frodo knew that what he wanted now, more than anything else, was simply to be with Sam…

* * *

It was longer than Sam had hoped before he could return to Frodo’s chamber. Food and freshening took no time at all, even though Sam made himself eat heartily from an array of fragrant plums, the lightest and most buttery pastries he’d ever tasted, herb and mushroom omelettes both, and honeyed tea. You’re no good to anyone if you don’t keep your strength up… just as Merry and Pippin insisted when you could barely keep a bite down. It was all ashes then, no matter how pretty it looked… but this is delicious! And Sam found that it wasn’t difficult at all to eat enough to make up for all those missed meals. His only regret was that Frodo was not with him…

He’d love these mushrooms, and all that sweet clover honey. Surely one of the first things they’ll do is feed him, just easy fare that settles well, when you haven’t eaten for so long… so very long… And for a second, all fell to ash again in his mouth, and he felt the delicate shape of curved bones in a frame wasting even slighter. He washed the memories away with a gulp of tea. Why, next thing you know, he’ll be eating enough for any two hobbits, specially with treats like these. And if they don’t do right by him, well, I’ll just find the kitchens myself… And even now, Sam had to chuckle at the unlikely thought that the elves, whose tender care for Frodo had met even his exacting standards, would miss anything for him now.

As Sam was pushing away from the table, Merry and Pippin found him. They clearly knew already that Frodo had come safely through the night, and assured Sam that, with that consolation, Bilbo had finally been convinced to rest, grey-faced and trembling after the night’s vigil. Good thing dear old Mr. Bilbo weren’t in there. I don’t know that he could have stood it. I don’t know how I stood it. Nor Frodo…

“Sam, I know this must be difficult, but we’ve been so worried, and would hear whatever you can tell.” Merry’s voice was quiet, but his and Pippin’s faces clearly showed their concern. “Perhaps over another cup of tea, before you go back to him?”

Sam knew that there was a need to talk, though it would delay him from returning where he most wanted to be. As Pippin poured hot tea for each of them and passed honey and biscuits, Sam tried to collect his thoughts, and found that it was even some relief to speak of the healing with these hobbits who also loved Frodo dearly. Sam told them of the creeping mist, and learned that they too had glimpsed and felt its chill malevolence wafting across Frodo’s body. He spoke of the ethereal music, and knew his words did not in any way do it justice; but they had heard it spilling forth from Frodo’s chamber in the night and had felt its power. He tried to describe the cleansing light sparking and searing from Gandalf’s staff, and again, words failed; he could only remember a sense of hope, unfurling as the light fell upon him.

And although Sam could see in their troubled expressions their need to hear of Frodo himself, he could not bring himself to speak of the agony in Frodo’s face and body. But, the sudden piercing memory of that final scream and collapse released his own tightly contained grief for all that Frodo had suffered. He stared down, unseeing, and the tears he had suppressed fell at last as Merry rubbed his back comfortingly, and Pippin held onto him, crying softly. Finally, Sam looked up, his face again calm. Brushing away the tears with the back of his hand, he said, simply, “It was far too close. But he’s a strong one…” Sam noted their nods of agreement, and added, very softly, “It took everything he had… and he was worn out, well before the end… but he just held on and held on…” Sam’s voice faltered, and he looked anxiously toward Frodo’s chamber. “He was still sleeping when I left, but he could wake, any time…”

With sympathetic understanding that there was much more that Sam could not tell now, or perhaps ever, Merry squeezed his shoulder. It was clear enough from what Sam left unsaid that this miracle had been bought at an appalling price to Frodo. Merry shuddered to think what his beloved cousin had endured even beyond what they had witnessed on the way to Rivendell.

Pippin gave Sam another quick hug, saying in a hoarse voice, “Dear Frodo… I am so glad you were there for him, Sam.” Then Sam excused himself, eager to return to Frodo, knowing that the cousins would see him for themselves soon enough.

The door to Frodo’s chamber stood open and Sam saw, to his delight, that Frodo was already awake and sitting up in bed, supported by pillows bolstered all around him. A woven blanket was draped over his shoulders and chest, and his usually animated hands rested quietly, folded together on his lap. And as Sam took in the sight of him, thrilled to see him awake, it struck him suddenly that, as closely as he had held Frodo these last days, as intimately as he had touched him, as much as he had suffered for and with him, he had no idea what Frodo knew… or whether he remembered any of it. Sam felt a rush of queasiness as he realised that it was quite possible that Frodo remembered absolutely nothing

All he’s borne and been through must change him, whatever he knows of it… How could it not? But what does he remember? Oh, I hope not the worst – may he never recall that! But, please, let him remember… let him know…

Sam shoved aside his sudden trepidation. Now, Samwise, you just set aside your concerns, because what he remembers or not has nothing to do with his need to have you calm and here for him now… He rapped at the doorframe to announce his arrival. As Frodo turned to see, his darkened eyes and bruised fragility tore at Sam’s heart, and emotions that Sam could not read flickered across his face. And, then, before Sam could identify them, his face lit with a smile of such warmth that Sam almost lost his footing as he hurried across the room to him.

Sam hoped he remembered to nod greeting to Gandalf, but his attention was all for Frodo and he rushed the last few steps to his bedside.

“Oh, Mr. Frodo, sir, you’re awake!”

“Sam!” Frodo reached out eagerly to Sam, but his sharp intake of breath proved such sudden movement to be unwise. Sam caught his hand in midair – Oh, mercy, it’s so warm! – and leaned to kiss it lightly, watching Frodo’s eyes closely, seeing there welcome, and inquiry, and something new… invitation? His eyes! He doesn’t really need words, much as he loves them. Now if I can just be sure to read aright what he’s telling me… Frodo turned his hand in Sam’s, and for a moment, his fingertips touched Sam’s lips, before withdrawing to rest again on his lap. When he spoke, his usually melodious voice was rough, but far stronger than Sam had expected.

“Yes, wide awake now, though I feel I have been lost in dark dreams for a very long time. Gandalf tells me that’s not far from truth.” Frodo frowned a moment, looking down at his lap, absently rubbing the back of his hand, and then his face cleared. “I do recall some of it, though.”

Frodo gazed up at Sam, and there was a hint of a smile returning. “There was some light, even in all that darkness. Everyone was very kind to me, especially during the peaceful time the elves gave me…” Frodo nodded appreciatively towards Gandalf, but turned right back to Sam, lips quirked, and dark brow lifted. He looked intently at Sam, and spoke, his voice low and lilting for Sam’s ears alone, laden with meaning beyond his words, “I remember some moments quite well, in fact, Sam…” And his eyes were now as sparkling and spirited as in the memories Sam had clung to during that long, chilled nightmare vigil, his expression as warm and melting as ever Sam had dreamed.

Sam felt the air rush from the room, and he could not take his eyes from Frodo’s. Oh, my Frodo… you do remember! He caught his breath, cleared his throat, and managed, “Mr. Frodo, sir, I – I–” Say something, Sam!

But Gandalf interrupted the thoughts Sam had barely strung together.

“Excuse me, Frodo, Sam… Frodo, the elves are here for you. They can offer more to encourage your recovery. Nothing unpleasant at all, my dear hobbit,” he added, much to Frodo’s relief. “But, you must go with them now.”

Sam glanced to the elves waiting patiently by the mirror, one of them bearing a tray of vials and decanters that looked distinctly medicinal to his eyes; he was reminded painfully of his first sight of Frodo, lying pale and unconscious before that same mirror. Whatever they can do, must be done! But, they’re going to take you… before I have a chance to tell you… Oh, Frodo!

As Sam turned back to him, Frodo saw fleeting anguish on his face, and knew his hurts had hurt Sam, too… and was that also disappointment, frustration mirroring his own? He sighed and touched Sam’s hand, feeling it close tightly over his as if such comfort had always been shared. Perhaps I could stay… delay this elvish treatment, if only for awhile, so that we might have some time… It’s not that I am ungrateful… and I do hurt still… but… It was difficult not to be irritated when both his pain and the healing offered were in the way of what he really wanted.

Gandalf read the hesitation easily, and his “Now, my dear hobbit,” was firm though fond.

Frodo gave Sam a small, rueful smile, and the slightest shrug of his shoulders, and Sam could only lean down to press a tender kiss on the tumbled dark curls. As Sam bent close, Frodo turned his face up to him and said, softly, “I can’t think this will take very long. The elves have already ‘seen’ much of me lately, as have you, my Sam…” His eyes shone; his gentle voice lowered, deepened, and he asked, “Would you… see more, Sam?” And for the very first time, Sam heard raw need in that familiar voice, and saw in Frodo’s eyes his vulnerability exposed far more than ever his body had been in all the days of illness. Sam wanted nothing so much as to take him in his arms right there, comfort him, and explore every meaning suggested by those beautiful eyes and his simple words and that hoarseness in his voice…

“I’ll be right here, Mr. Frodo, soon as they allow.” He brushed a kiss across Frodo’s brow, and murmured, low for Frodo’s ears only, “Yes, sir… now and always…” And Frodo’s face cleared, and his smile became radiant, and Sam heard the sharp release of the breath Frodo had held so tensely. Sam dared to raise Frodo’s hand to his lips and rest his cheek against it, eyes locked with Frodo’s for a long moment. Ah, your hand is so warm now, with health returning… with this heat burning between us… Frodo…

Then Sam stood back reluctantly, as a graceful elf stepped forward and offered to carry Frodo to rooms nearby for the ministrations required. With his customary courtesy, Frodo declined and wished to walk, but after a cautionary word from Gandalf, he deferred to elven judgment and accepted, equally politely. Sam smiled, glad to see Frodo well enough to exert his own strong will; he and the wizard exchanged a fond and knowing look over Frodo’s head.

Frodo was wrapped discreetly in a soft robe and as he was lifted, he could not prevent a hiss of pain. It was obvious from the sudden strain in his breathing that his body had not recovered as quickly as his wit and composure had done. Sam hands clenched protectively and he could hardly restrain himself from going to Frodo’s side. But then, there was no time for more talk or touch, for Frodo was gone, and the mirror reflected only empty white sheets, dragging dishevelled onto the floor.

Gandalf offered words of comfort. “Samwise, Frodo awoke only a short time before you returned. It is an excellent sign, Sam, that he is already so much recovered. Quite himself!” Gandalf chuckled, and Sam wondered again what he might know, from mind reading or simply from astute observation. “Frodo will feel much better when he returns, I dare say.”

“Yes, sir. I do hope so, sir.” Whatever I can do to help him feel better, is as good as done. Oh, Frodo, love! I can hardly wait to see you again!

* * *