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Across the Waters: 5. Flood
“Have some water, Mr. Frodo…come on,” Sam said.
They had escaped the orc troop, and the company had moved on without coming upon them again. Frodo had flung himself down as soon as they had been clear, and since then he had not moved. At Sam’s voice, he tried to turn himself over so that he could drink, and found that he could not even make that small effort. The forced march had claimed the last of his strength, and he lay on the ground where he had fallen, trembling with exhaustion. Frodo felt Sam’s hands under his arms, gently lifting him to a sitting position, and he clutched Sam’s arm and groaned as dizziness assailed him.
“I know, I know,” Sam whispered comfortingly, but Frodo could hear the worry in his voice and knew that Sam feared his master was dying. Yes, Sam, I am dying, Frodo thought. He had no fear of his own death. Indeed, he would have welcomed death immediately, but for his oath to complete the task, and his horror at the thought of leaving Sam alone. His loyalty to Sam held him to life, far more than his dedication to the quest. Sam had not left him to die in the Tower, and if he could find the strength in himself, Frodo would not leave Sam alone upon this blasted plain.
Sam cradled Frodo against him and wrapped one arm around his chest while he held the bottle up for him to drink. After a few sips, Frodo felt a bit recovered, and he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “Now eat this, Mr. Frodo.”
Frodo was too spent to be hungry, and he was certain that anything he ate would be wasted, that he wouldn’t be able to keep food on his stomach. “No, Sam, I can’t.”
“Mr. Frodo, I’m sorry, but you will. I won’t hear any different.”
He did not have the will to argue. “All right, Sam, all right.” He ate the waybread that Sam gave him, waiting for his hollow stomach to protest, but he found himself able to hold onto it. Some of his trembling subsided, and he felt a profound desire to sleep.
“Sam, let’s not bother with watches tonight. There is nothing we can do now except hope not to be found. Let’s just sleep.”
“I agree, Mr. Frodo. I’m too tired to be frightened, myself.”
Frodo fell into a dream of his bedroom at Bag End, with its comforting clutter of furniture and books, and its white curtains stirring at the window. It was a summer morning, in his dream, and as he lay in bed he could smell honeysuckle from the garden and see morning glories peeping around the window frame. His bed was soft and the sheets were cool and smooth against his skin.
What a horrible nightmare I had! he thought. Thank goodness I woke up before it could get any worse! He sat up and swung his legs easily over the edge of the bed. Looking out the window, he saw that it was raining, a soft summer rain that left glistening dew on the flowers and crystal droplets on the window glass. The sight was so pleasant that he almost wanted to go out to the garden in only his nightshirt, and walk on the wet grass. Instead, he went into the kitchen. His old, sturdy teakettle was on the hob and he took it to the sink to fill. As water ran from the pump in a great silver fall, Frodo suddenly felt compelled to touch it. He set the teakettle down and put both of his hands under the water. It was cool enough to tingle. Inexplicably, he filled his hands and splashed water on his face, and ran his wet hands through his hair. He filled his hands again and drank a deep draught of the cool water. He worked the pump and then leaned forward and put his whole head underneath the water stream, gasping as its cold splashed over his neck. I’ve gone quite mad! he thought, but felt too wonderful to care. He threw back his head and laughed and he shook his head and droplets of water fell from his hair and ran down his chest and back.
He awakened gasping with thirst. In spite of the water Sam had given him, he was so dry that he seemed to be crumbling into dust. Desperately, he tried to cling to the dream, as if the mere vision of water could somehow relieve his thirst. But the dream tattered and drifted away, taking with it both the memory of clear water and the dear sight of his lost home.
Frodo sat up and put his head in his hands. Sam slept next to him, and Frodo touched his arm to reassure himself of Sam’s presence. He tried to recall his dream again, but could only see a hazy impression of his room and the kitchen at Bag End. If he’d had enough water left in his body, he would have wept; as it was, he could only sit with his hands over his eyes.
Oh, I want to go home, he thought.
Why don’t you?
Why don’t you? Why don’t you go home, Frodo Baggins?
The Voice was soft and pleasant, soothingly sensible.
I can’t go home.
I must complete this task.
And who told you that? Gandalf? The Elves? There came light tinkle of silvery laughter, like a clear brook tumbling over stones. Why do you listen to them?
They are wise.
Yes, wise. And yet they send you, a small, weak creature into this wasteland to do what they cannot. Does that seem wise to you?
Frodo did not answer. He sat with his head cocked to the side, his eyes wide in the darkness. Confusion and doubt filled his weary mind.
Do you know why you are here, Frodo?
Yes. To destroy the Ring. To rid the world of Its evil. To bring an end to Sauron.
Again he heard that light laughter, only deeper now, perhaps not quite as merry. The Elves did not send you here for those reasons. That is what they told you. No, Frodo. They wish the Ring to be destroyed so that they can take back mastery of Middle-earth. How they long for the days of their glory, before any other race walked upon the earth! They hate all of the Secondborn. Men they call “sickly” and “usurpers.” Dwarves are “the stunted people.” Hobbits…they don’t even consider you at all. Only the power of this Ring has kept their greed in check. If the Ring were gone, they could employ their foul sorcery to wipe out all other races from under the Sun.
Then why would they send me? Why wouldn’t they destroy It themselves?
The Ring is such a threat to them that they cannot even touch It! It is their one foe, all that stands between them and their lust. They must hate that It came to you! They had to employ all their arts of trickery to set you out on this quest! But Sam…
What about Sam?
Oh, poor Sam. He is completely under their sway. He is here to make sure you complete this task for them, even if it kills you. Why, he’ll probably haul you up that mountain and throw you in, Ring and all.
I’m afraid so, Frodo.
There was silence then, but Frodo was still able to hear the words in his mind.
Frodo, forget about this hopeless errand. You were deceived into taking it upon yourself. You do not have to suffer and sacrifice your life. You don’t belong here.
I don’t! I don’t!
Do you want to go home, then?
Oh, yes. Yes I do.
And suddenly his dream came back to him, every sweet detail of it, from the smell of honeysuckle to the texture of his sheets to the feel of water against his hands. His worn body ached with longing.
Of course you do. The Voice resonated with sympathy and mercy. There is only one thing you have to do.
Tell me…tell me how I can go home! Please! Anything!
Sam will not let you go. You will have to kill him.
No…no! I can slip away while he is sleeping! I don’t have to hurt him!
But you must! Even if you slipped away he would find you. Do you think that would take long, in your condition? How far do you think you could crawl away before he caught you?
In the darkness, Frodo nodded slowly. It was true. He looked at Sam’s sleeping form and felt a sudden flood of bitterness. Sam had not been stabbed, or poisoned, or beaten by orcs. He had not been forced to bear the burning weight of the Ring for these many months. Frodo thought he could probably only make it a few yards from camp before Sam, strong, healthy and unburdened, caught up with him.
You can still be merciful to him. Put the Ring on, and he will not even see you. Then slit his throat. It will be quick. He will not suffer. The Ring will protect you as long as you wear It, and you can leave this awful place and go home. Home, Frodo.
The very word conjured every vision imaginable of Bag End and the Shire. Frodo looked at Sam again and his brow furrowed. Why hadn’t Sam stopped him at the Council of Elrond? Why had Sam so insisted on accompanying him? Why had Sam taken the Ring at the spider’s lair and left him for dead? Why? It all made a terrible sense. Frodo felt an increase in every pain in his body, from his blistered, bloody feet to his burning eyes. He knew now that he had the power to end this and go home, all he had to do was take care of Sam, who had betrayed him, and led him into this dreadful wilderness. He felt for the Ring and folded It gratefully into his palm. My friend, he thought. My precious.
With silent attention, he removed the orc-sword from his belt. It was a stubby weapon, with a short, broad blade, and its weight felt comfortable in Frodo’s hand. He leaned forward, and in his weak state he wavered a bit, and had to steady himself on the ground. His hand touched the empty water bottle that Sam had held to his lips earlier.
Suddenly, Frodo’s vision was filled with the image of Sam lifting him up after he had collapsed, helping him to drink and making sure that he ate. He saw now every moment that Sam had held him and coaxed him to drink or eat, or cradled him while he slept, or supported him when he stumbled. Finally, Frodo recalled opening his eyes in the Tower, after he had believed all hope was lost. Yet there had been Sam, dear Sam, who had come back for him, at great peril to himself and to the quest. You came back for me, Frodo had thought, and he had lain in Sam’s arms and closed his eyes, and even in that foul chamber, he had felt safe and at peace.
Frodo put the sword back into his belt. He touched Sam’s hand for a moment, and then lay down next to him.
What are you doing? the Voice asked, and now It did not seem pleasant or merciful.
Go away and do not trouble me again, Frodo answered. You are a liar. You are the Voice of every lie that has ever been uttered upon the earth.
And you are a fool, It answered.
After that, Frodo did not hear the Voice again, nor did he dream of Bag End, or of water or any pleasant vision. Only the wheel of fire filled his sleep, and it burned all memory from his mind. It soon consumed his waking hours as well, and all else faded.
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