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Thicker than Blood: 13. Sacrifice
Sam approached the dark carven door of Frodo’s room balancing the heavily laden breakfast tray on his arm. It was now two days since the council had been held and Frodo had agreed to continue to bear the ring – all the way to Mordor, wherever that lay. Sam had heard of it, but only in the tales that Bilbo had sung to him, and he was still coming to grips with what that journey might entail. It was further than Rivendell had been, that he understood, but his knowledge of foreign parts only told him that the road lay somewhere to the south. He put the tray down and knocked timidly on the door. Frodo did not answer so he pushed the door open and peered inside.
His master lay still sleeping though the sunlight filtered into the room. Sam picked up the tray again and brought it in as quietly as he was able. He puttered about for a bit, tidying the room and wondering if his master would wake on his own but when he didn’t, Sam came and sat by the bed again.
Frodo still looked drawn and pale but, Sam reminded himself, the wound and then the council and all had been a dreadful trial. It had taken quite a toll on him. Mr. Frodo would need a long time to properly recover. Unfortunately, the rest and care he would need to do so were not things he was likely to find on another trip into the wild. Sam leaned back in the chair and propped himself on one elbow, observing his master thoughtfully. Frodo lay on his side, facing the windows that overlooked the falls. One arm was curled up under the pillow, the other, the left that had been so cold and lifeless, lay draped across his side. He looked peaceful and contented despite his haggard appearance. It was good to see him comfortable at last. As Sam sat, he thought on the events of the last few days. He had not been surprised that Frodo had offered to take the ring. His master was, of course, the bravest, most noble hobbit he had ever known but Sam was surprised that none in all that great council had tried to discourage him. They had denied Bilbo, with courtesy and respect, but allowed Frodo to take on the task that none of them seemed willing to attempt. Hadn’t his master given enough? Sam was very troubled. It seemed to him that his master had been brighter and more radiant than any in that company and that wizard, man and elven-kind had offered him, the most honorable one, up almost as a sacrifice.
When Sam was a lad, his father bought a lamb for the Mid-year’s day feast. Sam remembered its bright eyes and the shining whiteness of its coat on the day before it was to be slaughtered. He had played with it in the yard, letting it suckle his fingers and watching its snaky, quivering tail wriggle in delight. He was old enough to know what the lamb was purchased for, but still he could not help being drawn to its cheery, youthful energy. It seemed to him that this innocent thing, that could have no notion of its doom, was somehow aware of its fate. Yet while it could, it still played and reveled, as if it knew that the gift of life was something to be cherished to the end. In Frodo these last few days, Sam saw something of that lamb; the sacrifice before his time had come, walking open eyed into a dread from which it knew there was no escape.
Sam shook his head. It could not be so. Though he understood very little of the overheard talk, one point had been made perfectly clear. Mr. Frodo’s ring was very dangerous and could not be got rid of by any other course than the one chosen. Sam shifted uncomfortably in the chair. These were higher matters he had a right to consider but as he would not be parted from his master, they did concern him now. It seemed a dreadful mission and one few supposed would succeed, but he could not believe the elven lords and Gandalf would send his master on an errand that had no hope. Still, he wished with all his heart that some reprieve would come before they set out, some stay that would save both he and his master from this journey for Sam knew Mr. Frodo would not go back on his promise.
Frodo stirred but did not wake. He rolled onto his back and the injured left hand draped across his belly. The sunlight from the windows beyond outlined Frodo’s profile in dark relief. He would be waking soon, Sam surmised, but felt no need to hurry the process. Only two days up and about, his master could use all the healing sleep he could get. Sam pondered leaving the tray and slipping out, but even though Frodo was healed and resting peacefully, Sam was still anxious about him. There was an air of such melancholy about his master, even at peace in this comfortable, cheery house, that Sam was almost moved to tears. He thought again of the Mid-year’s lamb. He had played with the gentle creature all that day, delighting in its joy at life, frolicking with it on the warm grass, but as evening drew near and his Gaffer had come to collect it, Sam could not find it in his heart to go with them to the butchering shed. He could not bear to watch that sweet creature perish, as he knew it must. The Gaffer had looked at him disapprovingly, knowing his son had given his heart to the animal, but when Sam said nothing and let his father lead the lamb away, Hamfast let the matter alone. Sam spent the rest of that night alone in the garden, wrestling with his feelings. What surprised him most was that he did not lament caring for the doomed lamb at all, nor did he regret an instant of the day spent in the sunshine with it, but he was dreadfully ashamed at not having the strength to accompany the animal on its final journey. He had always regretted that choice. He would not have been able to spare the creature, but he could have calmed its fear, made its passing easier and thanked it for the day in the sun. He had been too weak to do any of those things and the memory still haunted him.
Frodo sighed and stirred again, though this time his eyelids fluttered and opened fully. He stared at the dark beamed ceiling for a moment, as if not remembering where he was and then turned to look at Sam. A sleepy smile lit his face and Sam was brought back from his thoughts.
“Morning already?” Frodo asked softly.
“Aye, master, and I’ve got a nice breakfast for you, if you’re willing. Kept it good and hot by the fire.” Sam sat up and reached for the dressing gown the elves had provided, a dark blue, weighty thing that seemed made of wool, but infinitely softer. “I’ll set it out by the window there, if you’re ready.”
Frodo yawned and stretched a bit, but held his left arm more gingerly than the other. Yes, this wound would be a long time in healing. “I’d like that, Sam, thank you,” he answered and rose from the bed to slip into the robe Sam held for him. When Frodo left to freshen up, Sam set out the breakfast on the small table by the window. Eggs and bacon, mushrooms grilled in butter, jam and thick, soft bread like the loaves Gildor had fed them quickly covered the table. Sam had just set down the pot of tea and a cup when Frodo returned. He looked upon the ample fare with delight.
“You sit yourself down, Mr. Frodo, and if there is anything else you’d be needing, you just give me a holler. I’ll be in earshot.”
“Oh, Sam! You don’t expect me to eat all this without help, do you? Please, sit and join me! You’ve brought far more than I could manage on my own. I might need some fattening up, but if you continue to feed me like this, they shall have to roll me to Mordor!”
Sam almost grimaced at the reminder of what lay in their future, but he hid it well, or so he hoped.
“Well, sir, I’ve had my breakfast with Mr. Merry and Master Pippin, but I’d not say no to a bit of that bread again. It’s like that stuff we ate in the glade with the elves – and I’ll surely never tire of it.”
“Well then, you shall have it,” smiled Frodo, and he motioned towards the other chair at the table. Sam sat and tore a crust off the sweet elven loaf. They ate in companionable silence until Frodo had had enough to satisfy even Sam, and then pushed their chairs back to digest the meal over tea. At Bag End, Sam had often come in for a cup before starting to work in the morning, so their ritual was a familiar one, but he wasn’t usually so quiet. Frodo noted it.
“Beg pardon, Mr. Frodo, Sir. I guess my mind’s been a bit scattered lately,” he said, blushing slightly. “I just haven’t felt much like talking.”
Frodo put his cup down and looked at him kindly. “You’re worried about the journey ahead of us, aren’t you?” he asked quietly. “Why Sam, you know I must go, but if you feel the task you were meant to do is completed, then I won’t hold you, you know that! I doubt Lord Elrond would bid you go if your heart was truly set against it.”
“Mr. Frodo! You can’t mean it! You ought to know by now that I’d never let you go off with no one but a lot of big folk and elves for company! Who’d take care of you, sir? Besides, it would kill me for sure knowin’ I’d let you go off by yourself into danger when I was home safe by my own fire! I just couldn’t do it!”
“I know that, Sam, I know.” Frodo looked out at the waterfalls lit bright white by the morning sun. His blue eyes were thoughtful. “Do you remember what you said to me in that glade outside of Woodhall? About having something to do before the end, and not being able to go back until you had finished it? Well, I realized before we left the Shire that I would never go back to it, but I couldn’t see my future or where the road ahead of me led.” Then he paused, and Sam saw the sadness return to his face. “Now, I do. The road leads into peril and darkness, but it must be trod and I must be the one to do it.” He sighed and glanced at Sam from the corner of his eye, almost ashamed. “The ring is very powerful, Sam,” he said in a soft voice. “Though I have had it for years, I never really realized the danger it held. How can I, in good conscience, not destroy it when the fate of all I know depends on its destruction?” His master was looking down at his hands and Sam had the feeling there was much more that Frodo was not saying. “It must be destroyed,” he continued. “And I could not give it to any other to do it.”
Sam was silent again. It was not his place to question his betters, nor argue with his master, but as he looked on Frodo’s troubled face, he saw again the haunted visage that had lain so still in the sickbed. He’d given so much to keep Mr. Frodo alive, and still they nearly lost him. Perhaps since he’d worked so hard at saving it, that made Mr. Frodo’s life seem all the more precious to him. He didn’t really know. All he did know was that it pained his heart to know that his dear master would soon be plunging back into deadly peril.
Frodo was staring out the window again, towards the west where the sun was coloring the wooded sides of the steep valley a brilliant morning gold. In the reflected light, Frodo’s eyes looked almost unearthly – a shade of blue that rivaled the clearest autumn sky. There truly was something transcendent and extraordinary about him. It shone forth so clearly that Sam wondered how all could not see it as well as he could. He felt a surge of sorrow rise up in his throat. Why did it have to be his master? If ever there was a more precious hobbit, he could not imagine it. Frodo deserved so much more than to be the willing sacrifice on a dangerous journey. He deserved a life – and a long one, with those who loved him. He deserved a wife and family, home and hearth, comfort and safety and to be cherished as long as he lived. At that moment, Sam ached for nothing more than to tend the garden at Crickhollow, caring for his master to the end of his days. He could almost see it in his mind. The cozy house, a sweet lady hobbit at his master’s side and little ones running about with eyes the same brilliant hue as Frodo’s. He would be there too. Possibly dear Rosie Cotton would consent to be his and they would move to Bucklebury and start a family of their own. He would tend Mr. Frodo’s gardens and then his own sons would care for them after him, as he had followed in his father’s footsteps. Oh, what a sweet dream it was.
Frodo sighed and picked up his tea again. He seemed to come out of his reverie but there was still a hint of sadness on his face. He poured himself another cup and smiled at Sam as if apologizing for his silence.
“I understand, Mr. Frodo. Honest, I do. But it don’t stop me from wishin’, Sir. I might not be a party to all these great doings, but I can wish they’da passed us by this time, you know?”
Frodo laughed, and it was a sincere laugh from the heart. It was a joy to hear. “Why, Sam, you will never cease to make me laugh! Yes, as usual, you see most clearly. I would not have minded being ‘passed by’ again but we have lived as the unknowing beneficiaries of others’ labors for so long. It is time for us to step forward and do our part at last.” His smile was as bright as the sun. “It really is a privilege for us to be the ones chosen for this task! Can you imagine if Lotho had inherited Bilbo’s ring? Lotho Sackville-Baggins representing the Shire to the rest of Middle Earth!” He laughed brightly again. “The very thought makes my blood run cold!”
Sam could not help smiling at that. “Well, I might wish it weren't yours to take care of, Sir, but I’ll go where you do, come what may. I’ve not finished the job, so to speak, and I won’t have till you’re home safe again.”
Frodo’s smile faded a bit but he gave Sam a brief nod. The motion’s meaning was not lost on Sam. ‘Yes, Mr. Frodo, till you’re home safe again, I’ll be at your side. That’s the job as I see it, and a more important piece of work I’ll never see again. I’ll see you safe home again if it kills me.’
The Mid-Year’s lamb was cooked overnight in the clay stove on the crest of the Hill. It had come out succulent and tender, as fine a lamb as his mother Bell had ever cooked, and the family told her so repeatedly. Sam remembered that day, sitting at the table surrounded by his siblings and staring at the roast before him. He knew it would be delicious, his mother was a very good cook and he was hungry, but he could not bring himself to touch the meat. His father noticed Sam’s lack of appetite. After the meal he called Sam to him and led the boy out to the garden for a talk. Sam remembered fidgeting nervously; the Gamgees were not wealthy and the waste of food was not tolerated. He thought he knew what the topic of Hamfast’s lecture was going to be but his father surprised him.
“Do ya think you was respectin’ that lamb by not eatin’ a morsel, my lad?” his father had asked. Sam had looked up startled and his father smiled. It was not what Sam expected. “Do ya think it’s better to act as if he’d never been, and throw away the gift he gave you?”
Sam sputtered, not knowing what to say and Hamfast set the boy on the old log that served as a garden bench. “Um… no,… sir?” he answered, not sure if that was what he should have said or not. The Gaffer merely smiled again.
“My boy, I want ya ta think about somethin’ important. It’s somethin’ I learned about life a long time ago – and it’s somethin’ you’ll learn someday, maybe if you’re payin’ attention.” Sam was all ears. His father gave out lots of advice, but there was nearly always some bit of deep wisdom in it. “Everybody makes a difference, boy,” he said. “It don’t matter if you’re a lamb or a gardener, everybody makes some dent in the lives a’ somebody else. Can’t live in this world and avoid it. Now, that lamb there. He made a difference. At the least, we won’t go hungry tonight, but at the most,…” and there he’d peered closely at Samwise. “Maybe he taught you a thing or two about living.” When Sam returned a confused stare, the Gaffer continued. “It’s a big thing to offer, yer life, even if yer nothin’ but a spring lamb, and it’s not given lightly. Even if the meal’s over and the lamb’s ‘et up, those who ‘et ‘im are better off than they was before, right?” The Gaffer’s eyes twinkled. Sam was a bit lost. “He gave you a gift – himself ta eat – and you ought to be thankful for it. By not takin’ that gift, it’s like throwin’ it back in the poor thing’s face. Now, you wouldn’t want to do that, would ya?”
Sam had thought about that for a long moment. “But it still hurts, Dad. I feel like I did something wrong…Oh, I don’t know.” Sam was almost on the verge of tears.
“There weren’t nothin’ you could have done different yesterday,” his father said quietly. “And nothin’ I’d a’ rather seen ya do. You took care a’ that little thing and kept it happier than it mighta been otherwise. That was mighty brave a’ you.” Sam blushed and looked down, but he still felt that he had somehow failed. “But there is somethin’ different you can do t’day… and for the rest a’ your life…” the Gaffer added. Sam looked up again. “Ya kin live the life that lamb gave up his own to give ya. Take the meat, eat hearty and live a long happy life. Ya want ta do honor to ‘im? Then remember the sacrifice that lamb made and never take it for granted as long as you live.”
Sam still remembered that afternoon – it had made quite an impression on him. He never did forget that lamb, nor the lesson it and his father had taught him. He looked up from his tea to the silhouette of Frodo drinking his across the table. Though the curls were soft brown instead of pearly white, here too was a lamb. Sam’s throat tightened at the thought. Despite what his Gaffer had assured him, he still felt guilt at not having accompanied the spring lamb to slaughter even so many years later. He would not make that mistake with Frodo. He would never leave his side no matter what happened.
Besides, Mr. Frodo was a hobbit, and not a lamb, and Sam was still certain the elven kind would not send him on this journey if there were no hope of his returning. If Sam stayed by his side, he would be able to keep his master safe and someday Sam’s vision of Frodo in Crickhollow with a happy family at his side would be a reality. The image filled him with warmth and purpose. Yes, it was something to reach for – Mr. Frodo happy and whole in his own home, a passel of little ones to care for, and a sweet patch of garden to for him to mind – a brighter future Sam could not even imagine. He wasn’t sure if that was the ‘job’ he had to finish or not, but it was a worthy one. He would see it through.
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