Frodo's Dreme: The Sea-Bell

by Lothithil

June 19 of the year 1420 S.R.

It was early summer in the Shire. The air was warm even though the sun had retired a long hour ago, leaving the stars to gleam fitfully in a hazy sky. No moon scraped the clouds that scudded across the violet roof, driven by the wind. It tossed the heads of the trees slowly, stirred the flowering bushes outside Frodo's window. A handful of the brightest stars shed traces of light across the sleeping hills and valleys of Eriador.

Frodo watched them through his window. Even though the starlight was weak, it was more than enough for him to see by. Since his near-fatal encounter with the evil dagger of the Witchking, the hobbit could see most ably in the dark, though sometimes in the bright light of day he had trouble distingishing the faces of dear friends. Sometimes he wished he could have seen the Witchking die, even as horrible as the description of that event had been to hear; the memory of his fear and his icy blade still haunted Frodo's hours.

He lay sleepless on his bed, listening to the whispering of the leaves through the open window. Few were the nights when he could rest fully. Even when he could find that soft retreat, he was often visited by disturbing visions; feeling of despair and displacement, as if he were still wandering homelessly. He would wake from them often, perspiring, assailed by the darkness around him. With shaking hands he would fetch out the gift of Galadriel and hold its pure light to his breast until the shadows retreated.

The sounds and silence of Bag End were strange to him now, after so many months on the road. How odd, that one could miss sleeping on the chilly ground with rocks and twigs poking the back, but Frodo found that he did feel that way at times. He was too comfortable, and he felt himself most unworthy.

Frodo sighed and flipped the covers back, getting out of bed. There was no use lying still and pretending to sleep; he might as well do something productive. He put on his robe and tied the belt, creeping softly out of his room. Sam had ears even in his sleep, and he didn't want to wake him or Rosie as he moved about in the darkling hours.

He went to his study and closed the door softly. Lighting candles to brighten his desk, he sat down and sifted through the papers he had neatly stacked there, business he had planned to attend to in the morning. A book bound in red leather lay on the side of his table, the black letters looking shiny in the candlelight as if the ink were still wet.

The letters and business papers could not hold his attention. He set them aside and took the red book in his hands. He did not open it. He did not want to release the things he had written there, things he sometimes wished he could utterly forget, things that were etched forever in his memory, like the scars on his flesh. A ghost of a pain tingled in his shoulder, and he closed his eyes against it.

Gently he laid the book aside, too. Taking a fresh piece of parchment, he smoothed it with his hand and reached for his quill. The loss of his third finger had not caused much trouble with his scribing, but often he experienced sensations, a phantom itching in that place were there was now no skin to be scratched. He flexed his fingers and took up the quill. Dipping it into the ink, he began to write.

There was a dream that came to him frequently, one that he could not wake from easily. He would lie, sobbing dryly while in the grip of this dream, until it played itself out to its end or until Samwise appeared, his brown face creased with concern, shaking his shoulder gently and calling his name.

It was hard to remember, what had so frightened him, but after each time he had the dream, he could recall a little more. He could feel the dream scratching at the pane of the window of his sleep now. This time, he would write it down. Then, perhaps, the dream would no longer plague him.

'I am walking on a narrow field of sand,' he wrote, 'bordered on one side by an endless vista of water. Grey waves reach up and claw at the sand. I stay beyond the sea's touch, but I am forced further and further away from the water. It is as if the sea is rising to claim me, to draw me down into its unmeasurable depths.

'The sky is black and full of stars and one shines most brightly, reaching down to touch the sand before my very toes. It gleams upon a shell that has been cast up by the tide. I bend and pick it up; the tide lunges in and washes over me. The shell is cold in my hand; the water is cold. It glistens on my palm, now wet and shaking. From within its whorled depths, turning inward on itself in a maze of mother-of-pearl, comes the ringing of a bell, like a buoy dancing on the crest of a wave, but the sound is very faint and far away.

'My eyes scan the featureless water, and there! a boat has appeared, silent and empty. The panels and prow of it glimmer slightly; it is grey and oarless, and the wind is its only rudder.

'An utterance on the tongue of the sand, driven by the breath of the sea, cries faintly, "It is late... Why do you wait...?"

'My fear falls from me in that moment. On impulse, I leap into the boat, willing it to bear me away out into the depths from where none return.

'The sea is not so smooth as it looks from the land. I am wetted with spray over the edges of the boat, and dizzied by the rising and falling as the small craft climbs from trough to crest. A spell like sleep takes me, and I am given to believe much time has past. It seems so real, this feeling of departure...'

Frodo raised the quill quickly. His hand trembled suddenly, and he had nearly smeared the ink. He set down the black feather carefully and massaged his right hand, the scarred tissue between his remaining fingers suddenly aching terribly. Frodo sat with his head in his hands for a time, then he picked up his quill again.

'... departure. I am taken to a strange land, a stretch of sand in twilight. I hear the sea-bell again, louder this time. There are reefs nearby, teeth to tear the hull of a ship like a crust of bread. How have I come so far and yet survived?

'The sand is white, even in the darkness. The stars are glittering above and on the surface of the water; pale cliffs rise ahead. I step ashore, and with fingers chilled I catch up a handful of the gleaming sand. It trickles through my fingers, and seems to be made of powdered jewels and starlight; many colours sparkle as it sifts away. Ahead, at the foot of those pale cliffs, black holes yawn; threatening and empty, like eyesockets in a drying skull. The wind changes as the night crosses over, stirring the hanging weeds like a ragged curtain. The light from the shining sand seemed to ebb then, and I hurry away, afraid of what might be within those dark caves.

'The cliffs are tall and unrelenting. I walk along the sand until at last I find a rill of fresh water, trickling down a terraced fall from the tree-crowded crown. I drink eagerly and the water eases me greatly, rinsing the salt from my mouth. Up the fountain-stairs I climb above the sea, reaching the towering green world above.

'There I find a fair country, dim under the promise of an unrealized dawn. There are flowers here; countless varieties and in every colour and a great pool of cool water, its surface a image of a clear sky. Upon it floats moons and stars, but overhead the sky is occluded and without feature. Will the sun rise within the water?

'Trees grow all about, huge and sleepy, dwarfing me as I wander beneath their boughs. The weeds ripple like the sea behind me, but here it is warm and dry, and the air is sweet. I can hear bells again...

'But it is not the sea-bell that speaks now. Music echoes from the valley, and the sound of running feet I hear, animals scampering and... singing?

'I hurry toward the sound, and coming to the place from where I was sure the music dwelt, I stumble into an empty glade. The voices cease, and the footsteps fall silent. Not even a bird is there. I turn and call out, searching the limbs and behind the boles for the merry-makers, but I am alone. There is no one here.

'The music begins again, far away from where I stand. Did I mis-hear it? I run forward, briars cuting my hands and roots catching my feet. In another clearing I find myself, alone with the memory of music and mocking silence.

'Frustrated, angry, I cry out, "Why do you hide? Why won't you talk to me? I command you to talk to me!" But there is no one. "Answer me! Speak to me! Please..."

'Night grows darker rather than light, or perhaps I have been struck blind. Groping, I make my way through the trees without direction. The music does not heed me, nor the voices singing address me. I sink down against a dead tree, and there I sit for a timeless time, weeds winding over my legs and mushrooms growing in my shadow. My thoughts are like a riddle without an answer.

'After an eternity, a light appears before me, waking me from the night of my heart. "I must find the sea," the thought comes to assail me. Bent and grey with age, I make my slow way. Darkness clings to my limbs, and the thorns catch and cut me, scoring my knees and hands as I crawl forward. I am lashed by rain, and the thunder beats on my back. I ignore it all and continue, until I can smell the salty tang of the air, coming anigh the sea again.

'There are the birds, wheeling in the air and wailing their mournful cries. There is barking; seals lumping down the stones to the water, and the cavern voices piping in the wind. Ice crystals sting my face, and I fight through the snow that is piled in my path, rising as if to smother me in a wave of white. But through it I come again to that dark shore, slipping down the frozen fountain-stair where once I had climbed.

'My grey boat is still there, dipping in the tide; tossing like a restless pony. I pull myself over the oarlocks, falling to lay senseless within its wooden ribs. It bears me away, back over the hungry reef, passing through the ruins of great ships... no, not ruined, but vast and tall as granite cliffs, lolling slowly at harbour.

'It is utter night yet when I step ashore, turning my back to the sea. I stumble through the village, where silent snow falls and dusts the streets. Windows are tight shuttered, and light struggles to trickle through barred shutters. No knocking nor calling I do is heeded, nor is my pleading beneath the closed windows answered. Those few who are about outside of the shelter do not heed me, but pass on and take no note me.

'I huddle beneath an eve, beside a drain that spits rain out onto a bed of flowers. From my pockets I dig forth all my possession and throw them down. A single sea-shell, dark and dead, shatters on the flagged stone.

'I can never go back. I can never go there again. I talk but no one hears. Eyes pass over me as if I cannot be seen, and they don't speak to me, men that I meet....'

"Mr Frodo?"

Frodo opened his eyes, startled to hear a voice that was not his own. He was sitting at his desk, his head down on his folded arms. The quill was lying on the floor. A sheet of parchment lay on the desk, but the candles were burned out and it was too dark to make out anything that had been written.

Samwise was gently shaking his shoulder... his right shoulder. Sam was always careful not to handle his left side. But that old wound did not disturb him now. Frodo sat up and knuckled his eyes. "What's the time?"

"Not even sun-up yet, Mr Frodo. What are you doing, sleeping at your desk? It's in bed you should be, sir, or you'll sicken. You don't get half the rest you ought to, if you don't mind my saying so."

"I couldn't sleep, Sam. I wasn't even aware that I was asleep just now, until you woke me. Ah!" Frodo rubbed his back, where an ache had begun from bending over in the chilled room.

"See, now, let me help you." Sam gently helped him stand, wrapping the loose robe tightly around Frodo again. "Let's get you back to bed. There's naught that needs your attention that won't wait until tomorrow or even the day after."

"No, Sam... there is nothing." Frodo straightened up and collected himself with a sigh. "I am all right. Go on back to bed, Sam. I will be just fine." Sam looked at his toes, then glanced up at Frodo. Frodo smiled at him. "I promise I will go to bed. I just want to tidy up. Good night." Sam nodded and left, pulling the study door shut with a soft bang.

Frodo gripped the back of his chair and bent slowly to pick up the quill. He set it in the cork block, then tightly capped his ink-bottle. The parchment was nearly covered with his writing, but he did not light a candle to read it. Opening the red book, he slid the sheet beneath the cover and closed it again quickly. Now he might rest, without the sea-bell ding-dinging inside his head.

He returned to his room and lay down on his bed. The pillow was softer now, and the night no longer pressed so closely about him. Frodo let his breath escape him as he relaxed into sleep at last. He held the philter of Galadriel in his right hand, the starlight glimmer shining through the gap left by his missing finger. He pressed it tight against his breast, and his dreams were gentle with him for the rest of that night, and for many nights after.