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Across the Waters: 3. Falls
The waterfall had been the first sound that Frodo had heard in Rivendell, and it seemed that it would be his last. Upon awakening on that bright October morning, the sound of tumbling water had been soothing, and it had lifted Frodo’s spirits every night that he had spent in this room. Now, on a chill December evening, Frodo stood on the little balcony outside his room and let its silvery murmur fill his ears, knowing that it was likely he would never hear it again.
It was late afternoon, and the last brightness of the winter day was fading from the sky. Warm lights were appearing in the windows around him, and Frodo could see the glow of fire through the open door of the Great Hall. It was such a peaceful scene that Frodo could hardly believe he would be leaving it so soon. Yet here he was, clad in traveling gear with a sword upon his belt, preparing to set forth as soon as evening had fallen.
Frodo slid his hand into his shirt and worked his way underneath the mail-coat. He placed his fingers over the scar on his left shoulder, and rotated his arm experimentally, as he had gotten in the habit of doing. As always, the scar felt slightly puckered and the skin at its edges pulled a little as he rotated his shoulder, but it was otherwise unremarkable. There was, however, that faint chill upon it, the skin there feeling just slightly cooler than elsewhere. Frodo had been certain this was merely his imagination, but Elrond had noticed it as well, and had frowned slightly.
“Does it pain you, Frodo?” he had asked.
“No. I can’t even tell there’s anything unusual unless I touch it with my other hand. Do you think it will go away after a while?”
“I cannot say. I have never seen anyone so grievously wounded who lived to tell of it. It may go away, or it may be a discomfort to you in your later years.”
Frodo had not answered, for he suspected that he might not have a great many “later years” to concern him.
He let his hand travel to his chest, where the Ring dangled on Its silver chain. It was extraordinary that this Thing, which had lain so quietly at Bag End for so long, was now sending him out on this hopeless journey. And hopeless it did seem. Frodo had studied maps and spoken with the Wise in his two months at Rivendell, and he would have companions with him who knew far more of the wider world than he did, yet he remained unsure that it would even be possible to fulfill this quest. Only Gandalf had been in the Dark Lands, and that some time ago, and not with the Enemy’s Ring hanging from his neck. Frodo had noticed with some dismay that Elrond and Gandalf had been content to let him spend most of his time with Bilbo, as if they knew how little counsel or encouragement they were able to provide.
Looking up into the winter sky, Frodo remembered Bilbo’s song,
I sit beside the fire and think
Of how the world will be
When winter comes without a spring
That I shall ever see.
He sighed at the thought that this winter might be his last, and that he would never see the spring that would follow it.
Frodo was interrupted from these gloomy thoughts by a sound in the room behind him. He had lit no candle or lamp before coming outside, so it was too dark to see who had entered his room.
“Is someone there?” he called out.
“Just me, Mr. Frodo,” Sam said. “I knocked but didn’t hear anything, so I came in.”
“Well, don’t lurk in the dark, Sam. Come out here and join me.”
Sam stepped out onto the balcony. Like Frodo, he was dressed in the warm traveling clothes that the Elves had given them. His cloak was knotted tightly at his throat, as though Sam already felt beleaguered by the chill wind of some forlorn mountain pass, and its fur lining brushed against his face.
“Everyone is gathering in the Hall, Mr. Frodo. They say we’ll be setting out as soon as it’s darker.”
“I’ll be down in a moment. It’s not dark yet, and I wanted to have a last look at the valley.”
“It’s a pretty place, isn’t it? And not just pretty, but happy too. Why, almost the whole time I’ve been here, I haven’t felt at all sad or worried, except for those first few days when you were so sick, of course.”
Frodo himself had no memory of his first days in Rivendell. He remembered waking up to the sound of birdsong and falling water, and a pattern of sunlight dancing on the wall. Before that, there was only a great void of icy darkness.
In the moment before the darkness had fallen altogether, Frodo had known he was drowning. The mist over his eyes had thickened until he was almost blind, and he had been able to hear the mad shrieks of the Black Riders’ horses better than he had been able to see what was happening to them. Water had surged around his ankles even as he had begun to fall. I will drown, he had thought, with absolute certainty. He had scrabbled at the horse’s mane but in his blind and weakened state he had been unable to find purchase. The horse was very tall for a hobbit, and Frodo had seemed to fall for a long time before hitting the water. I am drowning, he had realized as the river came up over his head, and in his very last conscious moment, he had thought of his mother and father, and how odd it was that their only child should die the same way they had, so many years ago.
“I’m sorry, Sam. I was just woolgathering.”
They were quiet for a little while. Overhead, white stars began to appear, one by one, in the deep blue winter sky. Frodo usually loved to look at the stars, but tonight their coming only meant that his time in this safe haven was over, and they seemed cold and indifferent. “I suppose we should go.”
“Do we have to, Mr. Frodo?”
“You did say we would be leaving when it was dark.” Frodo glanced up at the sky once more, then said with reluctance, “And it does appear to be dark.”
“No, Mr. Frodo, I mean…” Sam put his head down and picked at a bit of fur on the edge of his cloak. “I mean, do we have to go…at all. Do we have to?”
“Sam, only I have to go. The Ring is mine, and It is my burden. I have given my word to destroy It, and I cannot take it back. I don’t know if I will be able to do it, but I must try, for as long as I can. I am very happy that you are coming with me, but you are not sworn to go, nor are any of the others.”
“Mr. Frodo!” Sam cried in surprise. “That’s not what I meant! I’ll go where you go…those Elves said Don’t you leave him! and I told them I wouldn’t leave you if you climbed to the Moon. And I didn’t say it for their benefit, if you follow me, sir.”
Frodo had to smile in spite of the depressing state of affairs. “I always follow you, Sam.”
Sam was flustered with emotion. He ran his hand under his collar as though it itched. “Well, that’s good to know, sir. I just wish, I wish…” Sam looked out miserably into the valley. “I wish you didn’t have to go.”
“I know. I wish the same thing.”
“But it looks like there’s no changing things.” Sam sighed with resignation. “And as long as you’re going, I’m going with you. You couldn’t keep me away if you tried.”
Frodo put his hand on Sam’s arm. “Sam, do you know what the Elves said to me that night?”
“No, Mr. Frodo. What did they say?”
“They said that courage is found in unlikely places. And do you know, Sam? I find my courage in you.”
Sam put his head down and even in the soft light from the valley, Frodo could see him blush.
“I guess we’ve kept them waiting long enough. Are you ready to go?”
Sam looked up at him. “Yes, Mr. Frodo. Sooner begun is sooner done, at any rate.”
“Let’s hope so, Sam. Let’s hope.”
Frodo spared a last look at the twinkling valley. He closed his eyes and listened to the waterfall, and hoped that he would remember it, and that the memory would be a comfort to him wherever his road may lead. Then he and Sam left his room, and made their way through the dusk to join the rest of the Fellowship.
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