The pelting rain had slackened to a steady gentle shower. Gandalf had chased him out of that driving rain; now Frodo, still dressed, lay awake in his berth, listening while the smell of washed air came in through the porthole above his head. Bilbo, in his berth across the small cabin, snored softly in his sound sleep. The ship creaked and waves slapped the hull; now and again there were soft footsteps above on deck or in the corridor outside the cabin door. There were a few hours until dawn and almost everyone else on the ship slept. This time of night had become Frodo's favorite. He would become as still as possible, and no one would watch him with concerned appraising eyes. During the day he always felt the worried gazes that followed him. He couldn't help their worry, but he really only wanted to be left alone with his thoughts.
Often those thoughts were about wounds and scars. Bruises, he thought, fade with time; cuts can heal cleanly with sometimes finer, sometimes greater scars; but burns leave great swaths of hard deformed flesh or deep gaping gouges. He thought of Merry and Pippin. It seemed to him that in their parts in the War of the Ring they had suffered bruises and some deep cuts on their bodies and in their hearts. But they were young and strong and their wounds were healing cleanly, and they were wiser, stronger and more mature for having suffered them.
Sam, now, Sam had suffered deeper cuts, and they were not all clean. It had been his part to watch the burden exact its toll on the beloved master and friend who bore it. Sam had watched Frodo's eyes as peace and hope were replaced by terror, despair and madness. He had watched Frodo shuffle along, bent almost double under the weight of that small token of pure evil. He had watched as Frodo was stripped of their world and entombed in the wheel of fire, blinded to everything but those visions the wheel permitted him, forced to listen to that relentless voice in his mind. And Sam had watched as the Ring and Frodo claimed each other in Sammath Naur. Sam had provided whatever comfort he could to Frodo, giving him the greater part of their pitiful rations and holding him as one would comfort an ill person. But it had been unbearably hard to witness and be unable to spare his friend these torments. Sam had indeed suffered on that journey.
Upon their return to the Shire Sam was further wounded by the ignorance and indifference shown by the hobbits to the suffering that Frodo had endured to save them and their home. Frodo himself didn't care, for he was discovering just how grievous his own wounds were, but Sam understood what Frodo had done and at what cost. There was no easy way this wound could heal unless the Shire hobbits were made to understand, and that was not likely to happen. And then Sam was torn by his love and worry for Frodo, and his love and duty to Rosie. Sam, bless his soul, couldn't see any way to resolve his dilemma, but Frodo had eventually seen the way through. At the Grey Havens his heart had taken yet another tear when he realized that Frodo was leaving on the ship, but that was necessary. All of Sam's wounds would be made clean by Frodo's departure; he would heal and become whole. He would live a good full life in the home Frodo had bequeathed to him.
But Frodo was burned by the Ring. At times he still saw the great wheel of fire, glorious and terrible and all-encompassing, and he felt a shred of desire for it. It sickened him to feel that; he still remembered those last moments at the Cracks of Doom before the magnificent, catastrophic wheel in his mind was suddenly and violently consumed by the flames that had created it. Frodo had never spoken a word of what happened in those last moments, what was promised and threatened by the Ring, but he suffered from guilt and horror whenever he thought about it.
Or at least he suffered from the memories of guilt and horror, for it seemed that he had become a wraith after all, neither wholly in this world nor completely in another. Now he felt a great void where the Ring had once burned; he heard silence where it had whispered and cajoled. What he once was and what he once could feel was either burned out of him, leaving a great gaping hole, or buried beneath the hard scaly cicatrices on his heart. He remembered what it was to laugh and love, to be happy and interested in the goings-on around him. He tried to use those distant memories in his daily activities, but it was harder and harder to do. He knew, but could not bring himself to care, that he was no longer fooling his companions. They read his hollow eyes.
Feeling suddenly restless and confined in the small cabin, he rose quietly from his berth and crossed over to Bilbo. The blanket had slipped down the old hobbit's shoulders; Frodo pulled it up to Bilbo's chin, smoothed a lock of white hair off his forehead and kissed him softly on the brow. That was what one did for those one loved; Frodo knew that, he just couldn't quite feel it. Pulling a dry cloak about him, Frodo went above into the cool fresh rain. He found his usual place amidships, where one of the Elvish crew had secured a small box up against the side of the ship for him. He had spent hours standing there looking out over the sea, listening for he knew not what.
Hope had failed again. When he awoke in Ithilien and realized that he and Sam were alive and had survived the unthinkable, he expected that he would recover and return to his beloved Shire. He hadn't known then that the physical hurts were merely the bruises, that the deeper wounds lay inside where the healers' arts, even those of the King and Elrond, could not reach. He began to understand as they approached the Fords at Bruinen. The memories of that confrontation on the banks flooded back in, and he felt again the cold horror of the attack by the Nazgul King. As they drew closer to Hobbiton, passing places that were familiar, Frodo perceived them with a subtle yet distinct oddness. He recognized them, the Brandywine River, the Green Dragon, Bag End, but they somehow seemed diminished and changed. He did not share the sense of comfort and happiness that the others did at returning home.
His sense of detachment and disorientation grew as time went on. At first Frodo thought it was because of the damage that Saruman had wrought in his final efforts at mischief, but when things were put right and Sam had worked his wondrous touch upon the damaged land, Frodo still felt removed, as though he were dreaming life rather than living it. He realized that numbness was not merely the absence of sensation but a pain all its own.
He had thought he might be able to live with the remains of his physical wounds, but he was wrong there too. He suffered terribly on the anniversary dates of his worst wounds, almost as badly as he had when he first felt the Morgul blade's blow and the great spider's sting. And the pain grew with each anniversary. He always wore Arwen Undomiel's token and remembered her other wedding gift to him. When Elrond sent word that Cirdan was building again Frodo recognized that this was the best way. He was too weary to hope that he would heal, but he knew that Sam would not heal if he were there to hold the wounds open. As for the Shire, Frodo had come to believe that it was better to become familiar with a strange place, than to remain in a familiar place become strange.
The greyness of the rains mirrored the greyness of his spirit. The words he spoke to Sam at the Grey Havens had barely hinted at the desolation in his soul left by the intimate company of the Ring. He slipped the hood off his head and, parting his lips slightly, lifted his face to the gentle rain. He had come to prefer rain to the sun, for rain was the opposite of fire and he had been touched too deeply by fire. He tasted the drops that ran between his lips. A soft breeze caressed his wet cheeks and stirred his hair. There was second, stronger breeze, and this one carried an unexpected gift: a strange scent that was sweet and rich and somehow green. He lowered his head and opened his eyes, and his thoughts fled.
The grey rain still fell but the dull curtain was streaked through with light silver and delicate blue-green iridescence. He stood motionless for a heartbeat then stepped to the deck and hurried to the ship's bow. As he watched with wide, wondering eyes the curtains of rain grew bright as purest mithril. The strange yet beautiful fragrance had grown more intense, but it was pleasing, invigorating yet calming; it smelled of peace. The rain ceased and the clouds behind the ship parted. The first deep golden shafts of the rising sun shone from behind him, and they lit up the shore that was their destination, a white strand leading to indescribably verdant fields and hills. He saw white gulls flying above the shore, and their distant cries were intermingled with strange singing, borne faintly on the breeze but growing louder. It was beautiful beyond anything he had ever known before.
Frodo hadn't noticed that the ship's company had awakened and was now on the deck behind him, looking west toward the shore. He was alone at the bow, the others a respectful distance behind the bearer of the One Ring. They all stood silent, listening to the voices and birds' cries in the wind and the rush of water past the hull; they absorbed their imminent arrival to the land that lay before them. Foremost among the group on the deck were the three, white and golden and dark, who still wore rings. Their gazes shifted between the brilliant green and white land, and the small figure cloaked in Elvish grey. Their expressions echoed their emotions, reflecting joy and anticipation as they beheld their new home, and sadness bordering on grief as they regarded their small friend. Bilbo, wearing a cloak over his nightshirt, crossed the deck to join them.
Dazzled by what was happening, Frodo nevertheless felt the song and scent and light reach deep into him, into his ruined cauterized heart, and it seemed that they caressed something there that he did not know still lived. He was startled by that touch but did not want to disturb it, for it felt like something he had known and believed lost forever. Slowly, he smiled; it was small, but it reached his eyes.
"And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that...the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise."