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Thicker than Blood: 7. Resolve
afternoon, October the 21st ,
Bilbo had written in his diary but he was truly afraid to write anything
further. The morning had shaken him
badly. Frodo had been so… still.
Even as ill as he had ever seen him, the boy had never been so listless,
so motionless – it was as if the life-force were truly being drained
from him into the dark well of his wound. Bilbo
tried to put forth a brave front but his terror was an icy knot in his stomach.
They were going to lose him. Gandalf
thought so, though he had not said it. The wizard had gotten very close and in his later years, but
he had always seemed in possession of some secret knowledge, some security that
gave him confidence in every situation. He
showed no such confidence this time, and that fact more than any other filled
the old hobbit with cold dread. Bilbo
felt as if events were spinning him headlong towards a precipice and nothing he
could do or say would stop him from plummeting over the edge.
hobbled along the corridor lit dimly by the afternoon light.
Slanting rays of the sun rarely entered here. The high walls of the valley cut them off before they could
fill these rooms with light, but there were usually torches to see by, blazing
merrily in the intricately carved sconces.
They would be lit soon, Bilbo suspected. He found the room where Frodo was being cared for and
hesitated. He could hear murmuring,
a long missed but lovingly familiar voice weakly raised.
Bilbo’s heart leapt and he opened the great door quickly.
was there, sitting on the bed, his back towards the door when Bilbo entered.
He held Frodo’s right hand and was gently wiping the hobbit’s brow.
The bed was a shambles. Frodo
had thrown the coverlet back and the sheets lay twisted in ropes and knots about
him. His bare feet kicked and he
arched his back but neither motion had much strength in it.
His limbs, so pale before, were mottled with the blotchy redness of
fever, all but the left arm, which still lay pale and unmoving by his side.
Frodo called out, but the words were garbled, slurred.
It was as if his lips would not cooperate.
Bilbo crept forward and Gandalf spared a swift look back to him, but
continued mopping Frodo’s face.
“He has a
fever.” The wizard explained with
as much tenderness as he could muster. “To
be expected, I suppose, after all he has been through.”
forward and took the damp cloth from Gandalf’s hand.
The two looked at one another for a brief second.
All the pain of the world seemed mirrored in the old wizard’s eyes and
Bilbo knew his own must look very like it.
He gripped the cloth tightly as the surge of grief filled him.
Not yet. He would not give
up while this beloved child still lived. He
must find enough hope from somewhere to keep going.
His jaw set grimly and he touched Frodo’s cheek with the cool cloth.
He whispered leaning close to the younger hobbit’s fevered face.
“It’s your old Bilbo, my lad, come to see his bright one.
Be easy. I’ll not leave
eyes rolled beneath half closed lids, but he stilled as if to listen to
Bilbo’s voice. A sigh escaped his
lips and the arch left his back as he settled limply onto the pillow.
Bilbo smiled through his tears.
right! You know your old Bilbo,
don’t you lad? Ah, my sweet
boy…” His voice shook till he could say no more but still he stood
beside the bed tenderly stroking the fevered face. Gandalf held forth a bowl fresh mint water and Bilbo dipped
the cloth into it, ringing it out and wiping it ever so gently across Frodo’s
brow, cheek and neck. It cooled him
and eased his frantic tossing till, finally, his breathing steadied and he
slept. Bilbo straightened, his back
ached and his old knees felt stiff as old tree trunks.
something to be said for a loving touch.” Gandalf took back the cloth and laid
it and the bowl aside. “Thank
older hobbit stepped back and settled wearily into Sam’s chair. “If only that is all it would take to bring him back to
us.” He looked up at the wizard.
“Whatever am I going to do, Gandalf?
I can’t lose him. He’s all I have.” His
voice sounded small and pitiful and Gandalf wished fervently that he had more
comfort to give. They sat in
silence for a long time, each studying Frodo’s now peaceful face.
At last Bilbo spoke again. “You
know, I’d never wanted children.” He
said. “But the older I got, the
more I began to realize how much I needed to feel some sense of continuation –
that someone would be there after me…” He sighed.
“I guess it finally sunk into my thick head that I wasn’t going to
live forever. I took him on as my heir because I was fond of him, and
thought he deserved more than the hand he had been dealt…” His lip quivered and he looked again on the brink of tears.
“But I never realized how much I would come to love him.”
very wisely, my friend,” Gandalf answered kindly.
“He has talked in his fever, and I have delved somewhat deeper into his
memory. He loves you too.
More than I think he realizes.” At
that, Bilbo did smile, though it did not stem his tears.
“And of all the forces of this world,” Gandalf continued softly.
“Love is probably the most powerful and unpredictable.
I would not discount its effects even when all seems lost.”
nodded, wiping at his eyes and straightening his back.
“Well, it certainly crept up upon me unwary, but I’d not change
that.” The two then sat silently
again for a long moment. At last
Bilbo collected himself and stretched. “I’ve
had my think,” he said quietly. “Though
you probably know it was more of a nap than a think, but I’ve worked some
things out, I believe.”
“ Gandalf asked.
at his waistcoat and fingered a brass button idly.
“Yes, it’s about this ring. I
thought you might be interested in what I’ve decided.”
indeed, I am.”
looked uncomfortable, but his eyes then came to rest on Frodo’s still face and
that seemed to give him some resolve. “You
know, I always thought of my ring as a trinket, a plaything,” he began with
note of wonder in his voice. “I
guess some part of me knew it must be important, but I never saw it as a burden.
I suppose that was why I couldn’t understand why you insisted I pass it
on. At the time, I didn’t realize
the great responsibility that lay with keeping it.
But there it is, I suppose. Though
I did it almost without thinking, I took on that responsibility when I picked it
up in Gollum’s cave.” He paused
again, gathering his thoughts. “And
when I made Frodo my heir, I gave him not only a home and a fortune, but
responsibility too. Responsibility
to bear my ring, even though it lead to this…” his voice trailed off again
sadly. “That is what it means to be an heir, I suppose.
You get the good and the bad baggage when the old can no longer take it,
and, well,…I guess I am coming to my point.”
He eyed Gandalf thoughtfully. “It’s
not been an easy thing for me to admit, but I am finally really feeling my age
– both my body and mind. I forget
things, little things mostly, but that troubles me and I’ve a much harder time
getting up in the morning than I used to. I
can’t even imagine how I’d be now after a night camped out on the ground!
They’d probably have to dig a hole beside me next morning and roll me
into it!” He grinned at the
little joke, and after a second, so did Gandalf.
“Yes, I am too old and feeble to have gone on the journey my boy has
and I know that. It is the
responsible part of me that says, the ring has to belong to Frodo now – I’m
too old to bear the burden any more – for I know now it is just that… a
burden and responsibility. I bore
it, and now he must bear it… but I must ask one favor of you Gandalf?”
old wizard had been listening with respectful silence and he looked up at Bilbo
then with a warmth and pride in his eyes that Bilbo was heartened to see.
“If I can grant it. What
is it you wish?”
let him bear this burden any longer than he must!” Bilbo said fervently.
“If you’ll not take it, give it to some great warrior or elf lord to
carry! This thing is too great and
terrible for any humble hobbit – and it is too much for my Frodo!
Please find someone else to bear it, Gandalf, you must!”
frowned sadly. “You are right,
Bilbo. The ring is a far greater
burden than anyone should be made to bear.
But how could we choose another bearer?
Fate is impartial and cannot be swayed by lust of the thing – and fate
chose you, and thereby your heir, Frodo. It
was a good choice, in my opinion. You
kept it safe and hidden for 60 years, as did Frodo after you. You call yourselves humble, but perhaps your humility was
what allowed you, of all people, to hold it and not be corrupted utterly?
I cannot say, but I trust that fate will continue to guide us.
Frodo was chosen, and Frodo should remain the bearer until such time as
he can no longer bear the thing.”
Until he can
no longer bear it…
Bilbo felt the chill those words portended and shuddered.
“You sound like an elf, Gandalf.” he said disapprovingly.
“You answer my request by saying both no and yes.”
He sighed. “If you may not
promise to take the ring away, can you at least promise that Frodo will not bear
this burden alone? Can you not stay
with him and protect him as you had promised me you would?”
words were meant to sting and the old wizard did allow a flash of hurt to cross
his face. “That I will do,” he
said solemnly. “As long as I am
able to do it. I can promise
last felt satisfied and settled back in the comfortable chair. He sighed and his eyes drifted over the still form of his
nephew lying peacefully asleep on his bed.
All this discussion and thinking had filled his head and taxed him.
He was glad to have it out in the open, discussed and at least somewhat
resolved at last. He relaxed and let the stillness of the room and the calming
presence of the wizard settle in his limbs.
He began to feel sleepy and unguarded.
he asked drowsily. “Do you know
where the ring is? I know you say
Frodo is still the bearer, but looked for it before and didn’t find it on him.
Perhaps the elves have already taken it away?”
stiffness and sorrow in Gandalf’s reply was lost on the drowsy hobbit.
Bilbo was not speaking from his own thoughts, but those of the ring
obsession that still had some hold on him even so many years after he had
relinquished the thing. Comfortable and on the brink of sleep, he had not noticed how
odd his request sounded in light of the previous conversation.
Bilbo,” Gandalf said truthfully. “I
do not know where the ring is held. Only
that it is kept safe and those who do know where it is also know they keep that
knowledge in stewardship and that the ring remains Frodo’s.”
as well then,” Bilbo mumbled and his head fell forward onto his breast and he
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