‘Frodo! Answer the door!’
Bilbo went back to his writing, and had almost forgotten the sharp knock on the front door when it was repeated.
‘Frodo!’ shouted Bilbo in exasperation.
‘Where is that boy….?’
But even if Frodo had heard his uncle, he might not have answered; it was a cloudless day in late September and he had wandered out early into the woods with a book of Elvish tales borrowed from Bilbo’s small library. The sky was immeasurably blue and the fields just turning to the bleached gold of early autumn. The grass was tall and fragrant and deep in the shady wood that lay beside the road to Overhill where Frodo often went to read and daydream. He had found a grove of oaks older than the Shire itself and among them a beech with shining silver bark and a low bough onto which he climbed with his book, nestling into the crook of the tree as if into the embrace of a beloved old friend.
The only sound was the drone of bees searching the last of the summer honey and the song of birds. Frodo was not yet fluent in Elvish and skipped words he did not know. In the empty forest, with only the woodpigeons to hear, he said aloud the Elvish sentences and wondered at their musical sound and how it seemed indistinguishable from the rustle of leaf and call of bird. He read out the name ‘Earendil’ and it seemed to him as he said it that the evening star suddenly twinkled above in the gathering dusk as if summoned. Frodo put down the book with a sigh; he had not noticed it was getting so late. Bilbo would be wondering where he was…
Dew was falling in a clear blue dusk as Frodo walked over the hill to Bagshot Row. Suddenly a dark shape loomed up before him and he started. There was no evil to fear in the Shire, by day or by night, but the darkness on the edge of the Elven tales had entered his heart and for a moment he was almost afraid….
‘Why, Mr.Frodo, there you are!’
The sturdy figure outlined in the starlight was Samwise Gamgee. Frodo laughed with relief.
‘Sam! What are you doing out so late? Has my uncle kept you….?’
‘No!’ said Sam quickly, then added; ‘Well, yes. Well, that is, he asked me to step along the road a bit to see if you were coming home. You see, the Sackville-Bagginses have come to visit and he…well, he….’
Sam stammered to a halt, not wishing to speak ill of Frodo’s relatives.
‘He needs my help to get rid of them’ finished Frodo with a laugh. Sam nodded with a grimace. Frodo put a hand on his friend's shoulder.
‘Come on then, Sam. We’ll go back together and face the foe bravely…..’
‘Sam’s face lit up with delight. Nothing gave him more pleasure than to walk with Frodo. In the dark his eyes still made out the slim volume in Frodo’s hand, its red cover emblazoned with a silver star. He ventured to say;
‘You been reading again, Mr.Frodo?’
‘Yes, Sam’ laughed Frodo and he handed the book to Sam, who held it carefully and rubbed his palm over the soft leather as if caressing it. Frodo noticed but said nothing; he knew Bilbo had taught Sam his letters, and that Sam was inordinately proud of the fact, whatever the Gaffer had to say about young ‘uns getting above their proper place in the order of things…
‘Go on, Sam, read it.’ Said Frodo. Sam opened the pages but quickly closed them again.
‘Bless you, Mr.Frodo, I can’t read Elvish! Not that I wouldn’t like to, I would dearly love to know it, and to see them too!’
Frodo smiled. He knew everything Elvish fascinated Sam.
‘Well then so you will, Sam. I will teach you.’ Even in the dark he could see Sam’s astonished smile.
‘..and you can keep the book.’
Frodo only half heard Sam’s exclamation of delighted thanks, for they had just reached the crest of the hill above Bagshot Row and the whole Shire lay below them in the last light of day. The Evening Star, the Elves’ Earendil, glittered above and in the silver light the fields and streams and little woods were as still as a land painted on a tapestry in some great hall of a faraway palace.
‘It is so beautiful!’ breathed Frodo, but Sam did not hear him. ‘I wish it could be like this for all time, and that I could be like Earendil, beloved of the Elves….’
He stopped. Sam was staring at him.
‘Just dreaming, Sam…..’
An impenetrable blanket of cloud obscured the stars, and Frodo gasped for air as it seemed to block his very lungs and prevent him breathing.
‘Here, Mr.Frodo!’ said Sam in a hoarse whisper. ‘there’s a drop of water left in my canteen, take it…’
Frodo had wedged himself between two sharp-edged rocks because he did not have the strength to sit up on his own. He wondered bleakly if he would be able to get to his feet again, but set the thought aside as Sam handed him his waterskin and helped him take the last few brackish drops. It seemed only to make his thirst the more, but he knew Sam had given him his last water and he felt guilty.
Above and all around was darkness, the darkness of Mordor. He sat on stone, hard and sharp, for there was not a single blade of grass in this fire-blasted land. The horizon was jagged, broken only by hill and ravine, not by bush or tree, for here there grew no trees. The only vegetation was a sort of brightly coloured lichen that clung to the sides of rocks and gave them a spoiled, scorched look.
Sam followed Frodo’s eyes and said under his breath;
‘What a place; what a terrible place…’
‘Yes, Sam…’ thought Frodo, but what was worse he could not call up any memory of the Shire to counter it; he felt as if he had been trudging through this ashen wilderness for all time, that grass and leaf had ceased to exist in any part of the world..
And he was in pain; not just the weariness and the thirst, but the wounds he had received; his shoulder where the Witchking had stabbed him throbbed and the wound that Shelob had given him in the neck burned. He felt feverish and his head ached. He thought that even had he drunk the entire pool at Bywater his thirst would not abate…
Evening was drawing on, and a wind from the West had sprung up. Sam raised his sweat-streaked face to gain some coolness and saw the breeze had torn a rent in the blackness above. Through it shone the Evening Star.
‘Look, Mr. Frodo! Earendil! Remember you showed me it once, in the Shire. The hero of the race of men who was beloved of the Elves so they put him into the sky….’
But when Sam looked he saw that Frodo had fallen into a waking doze, and his eyes although open did not behold the stars. Tears sprang into Sam’s own eyes.
‘I will look at it for us both then, Frodo m’dear…’ he said softly to himself…
Through the window of the carriage Frodo could see the stars appear; he leaned forward and saw, over the West, the Evening Star. For a moment grief smote him as he remembered himself as he had been when he looked upon it in the Shire, so long ago. Then the pain went, and the sadness returned, and he leaned back and looked away.
His hand was healed, so was the wound in his neck where Shelob had stung him. The shoulder not even Elvish craft could cure. With time it grew even more cold, and now the cold had spread to his whole being, so that even in summer he felt no warmth, and in winter he was as one dead. But to others all that seemed amiss was the pallor of his face, the thinness of his frame.
Frodo looked out of the carriage at the last of the Shire rolling past. It was late in the year, but the woods were still in leaf, great islands of dark in the yellow stubble. Owls called and a fox trotting across a meadow paused to watch them go by. Frodo smiled; at least all this was restored to what had been before, even if he was not. That was why he had done it...
Ahead of the carriage in the twilight rode Sam, not guessing what was about to happen. Frodo thought of the grief he was about to cause the faithful hobbit and sighed. He turned to speak to Bilbo, but the old hobbit had fallen asleep. In a way it was easier that way, and Frodo said;
‘I’m tired, Bilbo, and I want to go away. Somewhere they can’t find me, even the people who love me. Some hurts are too deep, and have taken hold. It will be summer again in the Shire, but not for me, even if I stayed. I wish I could really be like Earendil, not touched by pain or sorrow. But I am just a hobbit and I have taken wounds such as we mortals were not made to know.’
Frodo looked out the carriage window again at the darkening sky.
‘If the evening star shines still on the fields of the Shire I will be happy. Perhaps it will shine too on the Western Sea. When you look at it Sam, think of me….’