Lamplight

by Varda

Before they went away on what Sam came to call ‘The Journey’ Frodo never spent the morning indoors. He used to say it was the best time to see the Shire so off he would go, his white-tipped walking staff in one hand and a book in the other, whistling up the lane past the Gaffer’s house where Sam would peer out the window to see him go by.

Even in winter he would go walking as soon as it was light, the rosy dawn of a frosty day, with the blackbirds still disputing their territority over the whitened lawn. Frodo would have no book in hand then, but still his staff and wearing a red scarf, whistling as he broke the ice in the pools along the hedgerows.

But after he came back from the Quest he ceased his morning walks. To Sam, observing him anxiously, he seemed to lack vigour, and to feel the cold more, even in summer. He sometimes walked up the hill after supper, on warm moonless nights, and gazed up at the great host of sparkling stars above, and sighed, and looked West. Sam sometimes walked with him, but gradually, with so much to do at home and from some vague sense that Frodo wanted to be alone, he no longer accompanied him.

Now instead of walking, after his breakfast, Frodo settled down to write. The book with the soft red leather cover emblazoned with a silver star was always on the table, and Frodo bent over it with a furrowed brow, writing or looking out the small mullioned window over the Shire-fields, chewing the end of the pen, lost in thought.

Sam found him so often shivering on chilly winter mornings that he had fallen into the habit of slipping out even before his own breakfast to creep into the study of Bag End and set a fire. Then, by the time he had risen and breakfasted, Frodo could settle down to write comfortably in a warm room. Deep down Sam knew, despite all the concerns of his busy life, that Frodo was not well; he had lost weight, and his eyes were sunken and ringed with shadows. But when asked Frodo reassured Sam that he was perfectly well..
‘I’m fine, Sam! You have other things to worry about. Never mind me…..’

And so on a morning in October that Sam thought to return two books Frodo had lent him – Sam always being anxious to improve his reading, as befitted his new respectability in the Shire - he was not surprised to find Frodo at work on his book, the fire burning brightly on the hearth.

Sam entered quietly, and perhaps Frodo did not hear him, for suddenly he broke off his writing with a gasp of pain and laying a hand on his shoulder he sat back as if struck.

Sam walked forward into the room but Frodo’s eyes were closed and for a moment he did not see him. Sam placed the books on the table and Frodo opened his eyes and this time he could not keep up the pretence.
‘It’s that wound you got on Weathertop, isn’t it?’ Sam asked. Frodo gazed at him and nodded.
‘It’s never really healed….’ He said.

Sam sighed. The tall airy chamber in Rivendell where Frodo was nursed back to life came to his mind's eye but it seemed far away in both time and space and he knew that Rivendell was now deserted. There was no-one to help Frodo heal now, except himself.

‘Don’t worry, Sam’ said Frodo with a sad smile. ‘I will be all right. It is just this time of year….’
‘Well, don’t make it any worse’ said Sam. ‘get you to bed after supper, I know you work late on your book some nights, I can see the lamplight under the door. Now do this for me, Mr Frodo, at least tonight, take your rest. You will feel better in the morning’
‘Very well, Sam’ said Frodo with a wan smile. ‘I will do as you say….’

And indeed that night Sam saw the little rill of light under the door go out soon after supper. He was tired himself and went to bed early. He walked out down the garden path before turning in, looking at the deep blue sky of just after dusk. For a moment he felt small and unimportant under the myriad of stars, then he thought of the stars seen through the Mallorns in Lothlórien and smiled and went in to bed.

But Frodo could not sleep. After Sam had gone to bed he got up, lit a candle and went back into the study. It was cold; the fire had died to a few glowing embers and there was a frost falling outside, but Frodo set down the candle beside the book and opened it and looked again at the words written there…..

‘’I remember little enough of the last of our journey up Mount Doom; Sam had to carry me for much of the way, as my mind was a turmoil of pain and darkness. Brave Sam! He was almost as weak and thirsty as I was, but he bore me on his back till we reached the outer causeway of the Door. There it was we were overtaken once again by Gollum….or Sméagol as I had come to call him.

In truth however there was little left of the hobbit he had been when he went by that name. Those shreds of thought and memory that still clung to his mind were now wholly torn away by the Ring, the great power of the Ring as it called to him to take it and save it from the Fire.

For I now believe that as I neared the fires of Mount Doom the Ring sensed its danger and began to cast about for some means of rescue. And it detected Gollum and bore down on his mind and drove away what was left of reason, pity and feeling. Sméagol died there, on the slopes, long before he reached the Door. And so did I, but I did not realise it then ….''

Frodo straightened up, amazed at his sudden recovery of strength. Sam and Gollum had vanished from his sight, struggling with each other on the slope. Frodo looked up and saw the great door glowing in the flanks of the mountain, and pressing the Ring to his breast he started to run.

Run! He had barely been able to walk only a few moments ago. He did not question his strength, he just used it to cover the last few yards to the Door, and ran in.

But now, like a tide running and turning, he became aware that something else was coursing through his veins; a warmth, like a fever. He shook as if surrounded by ice floes and not lava but in his veins burned a great fire and a strange feeling of joy and elation filled his heart. He plucked out the Ring and gazed at it; so beautiful, so precious. Precious to him, precious…..

How long he stood there he did not know, but he came back to awareness of his surroundings when Sam shouted at him.

He stared at Sam as if seeing him for the first time; a nasty, boring pest, always telling him what to do, always taking all the food. How had he endured this irritating companion for so long? He hated him, hated anyone like him, hated all hobbits….

‘Throw it in the fire!’ the pest shouted at him, but Frodo looked down at the Ring and saw there all beauty, all wealth, all things he desired. He could not at that moment think of anything he desired, even water and rest, but knew that whatever he wanted, good or ill, the Ring could give it to him. He had only to guard it, keep it…wear it…..

‘The ring is mine….’ He said to the pest, who began to weep and cry, and the sound gave Frodo such joy, a pleasure he had never known before, pleasure in the pain of another…..

Then Frodo looked down at the Ring and saw in its golden round a light drawing him in. He did not know what his name was, what the name of that wretched creature on all fours before him was. All he knew was he had to put on the Ring…..

At once pain disappeared. The ache in his shoulder, which never ceased, disappeared. A great silence descended on him and he saw before him not the fires of Oroduin but the lands of the Shire and of Gondor and Rohan, and lands he had never seen before. It was the same vision he had seen upon Amon Hen, only now surrounded by fire. Fire everywhere, everything in flames…..he laughed. It did not matter, nothing mattered…..

Gone, too, was the Eye. Now he bore the Ring he was revealed to Sauron, but as an equal. He bore the Ring, the one cast with the blood of Sauron. He was equal to Sauron.

A great weight struck him, and long thin bony arms gripped him and held him tight. The great strength he thought he had turned out to be an illusion, and he felt his arm and hand pulled inexorably upwards. With a screech of joy the creature called Gollum opened his jaws and bit down with an audible snap and the Ring, worn by him for so short a time in victory, was snatched from him as Gollum bit off his finger.

Frodo fell to his knees in agony; not from the loss of the finger, but of the Ring. His life rushed back into his mind and seared it; nothing seemed to have colour or shape, everything was full of pain and hate and all he could think of was that he had worn it, but it was his no longer….heedless of Sam’s cries from behind him he staggered towards Gollum to try to take back the Ring. He had to regain that paradise, that freedom from pain….he reached Gollum and struggled to take back what he had just lost…..

They fought for only a brief time; Frodo’s strength had begun to ebb away again, and some bewildering change had come over Gollum; he could not stop staring at the Ring; even when Frodo tried to regain it he stood transfixed, as if the last of his sanity had been swept away by recovering the golden orb. Frodo grabbed at the hand and as Gollum fended him off he swayed backwards and Frodo grabbed him and he slipped from the precipice and pulling Frodo after him he fell towards the river of fire……

It was some time later that Frodo realised where he was; hanging onto the rocky ledge of the precipice in Mount Oroduin. A warm wind blew him gently from side to side, his ragged clothes streaming out like the banners of a defeated army. He seemed as light as a feather, and was able to hold onto the ledge without effort but gradually his fingers were beginning to lose their grip. He looked up and noticed his finger was missing, but he felt no pain. He felt no fear, even though molten fire ran in torrents below him. He felt no desire for anything at all, for the only thing worth desiring had been lost….

‘Mr.Frodo! Grab my hand!’

It was Sam, dear Sam, no longer a pest and a heartache in Frodo’s eyes but a beloved face and voice. He weakly mouthed the name ‘Sam’ but could not find his voice. In all the wide world noting mattered, and he wanted only to let go and plunge into the fire and be free of all this….but Sam would not let him.
‘Grab my hand! Don’t you let go…..’

A tear fell from Sam’s face onto Frodo’s hand as it gripped the stone.
‘Don’t let go, Frodo….’

Let me go, Sam, don’t bring me back to what I know I won’t be able to endure….
‘Take my hand, Mr. Frodo!’

Without me, he will never have a life. Without me, he will not go back. Without me, there will be no Samwise….

Frodo threw his hand upwards and Sam caught it and with what strength he had left he pulled and Frodo was hauled, coughing and gasping, onto the causeway. Feeling the heat of the rising lava both Sam and Frodo scrambled to their feet and ran from the Hall of Fire of Oroduin….

Heat, unbearable heat. Frodo put up a weak hand to push back the blankets and a soothing voice spoke beside him and he came awake with a start…..

‘You leave them blankets on you, Mr. Frodo. You’ve gone and gotten a chill, and you have to stay warm until it eases off….’

Frodo looked round in astonishment; he was in bed, in his own room at home in Bag End. Outside the small round window the same blackbird was calling challenges to the same rival, and a fire burned merrily on the hearth.

Frodo pushed himself up into a sitting position but Sam stood up and leaning over him said;
‘No, Mr Frodo, no getting up, not for a few days at least….’
Frodo could see Sam was slightly annoyed. He burst out;
‘There you were safely away in bed, Mr.Frodo, and I thought no more of it. Then past midnight for some reason I was restless and came in to make sure all was well and there you were, with the fire dead, asleep in the freezing cold, your head on that dratted book…..now you have a fever…’

What Sam did not mention was that he had thought Frodo dead; that his face and hands were cold as stone and pale as snow; that in an agony of grief Sam had snatched up a blanket and wrapped Frodo in it and carried him in his arms into his room and laid him on his bed, tears blinding his eyes. And that when Frodo had moved Sam's joy had been scarcely less than when he had woken in Rivendell...

Frodo lay back weakly, not able nor willing to argue with Samwise. Sam fussed;
‘That darned book, I declare it will be the death of you….’

‘As long as it is not the death of both of us, I will be content…..’ Frodo replied with a smile and drifted back into a deep dreamless sleep…..