Another Way of Leaving: 2. Hail, Sting

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2. Hail, Sting

The trouble with riding was that it gave him too much liberty to think. He imagined the scene in the morning, when Sam would find his door locked. He wouldn't think much of it, not till mid-morning probably, when Frodo didn't appear. Then he would come knocking, softly at first, then loud and importunate, shouting his name. Finally he'd fetch tools and have the door from its hinges, fearing what he would find inside the silent room.

And all he would find would be the note. Frodo had thought of leaving the starglass for him – he had no need of it himself, where he was going! And Sam would treasure it, for its own sake as well as for his master's. But the starglass would give away his real intent, for certainly he would not leave it behind, were he truly going adventuring into the wide world. So there was only the note, the compassionate, lying note, for Sam to find.

And all his clothes. He'd forgotten that he should have packed some clothes, to give credence to his lie. He hoped Sam didn't stop to notice that he'd taken only what he wore on his back. He was three hours out from Hobbiton when that thought came to him – too late to go back and rectify the mistake.

It was hard to leave Sam. But he had Rose and Elanor, and Bag End would be his as well. The papers were all drawn up, legal and properly witnessed, left with Merry for safekeeping. Merry didn't know what he held, of course. He'd given him the large, sealed envelope, told him to hold it safe. Merry had looked at him strangely but forborne to quiz him about it, merely remarking that he was getting as odd as Bilbo in his old age, and Frodo had laughed and agreed.

Sam would grieve for a while – not too long, he hoped, since he would believe his master had gone seeking adventure of his own will, as Bilbo had. Sam had all he needed for his happiness, and the only threat to that happiness was moving away from Hobbiton at a steady trot.

He forced his mind away from Sam.

Merry would be all right. His brush with darkness had left him stronger, wiser, as Aragorn had said it would. So long as no horror overtook him – like finding his cousin drowned in the Brandywine! – Merry was good for a long and productive life. He'd make a worthy Master of Brandy Hall.

And Pippin, blessed, unquenchable Peregrin! He'd come almost unscathed through captivity and terror, battle and near death under a mountain Troll. His laugh was as contagious, his smile as bright, as the day they'd left the Shire two and a half years before. He'd suffered, certainly, and been made the steadier by it, but no shadow had taken up residence in him. Suffering had tempered him like a fine sword. What a Thain he would make, when the time came! Frodo didn't think he had anything on his conscience where Pippin was concerned.

He had for Bilbo, though. His conscience ached over Bilbo. Word of his death had come from Rivendell late last year. Almost Frodo had gone to visit him on his birthday, but his wounds were hurting him and the book was nearly done – he had put it off until the spring, and that had been too late. Then he had a new pain to bear, in his heart, because he had not gone back in time to say good-bye.

Oh, Bilbo. If there's anything beyond -- if there is, I'll see you soon. I'll say hello, Bilbo, and never again good-bye.

Aragorn – he said he thought there was something beyond. I guess I'll know by morning.

The land was rising around him now, billows of rounded hills, like ocean waves in the moonlight. Like the waves around the Elven ship he had watched departing from the Grey Havens, carrying Gandalf and Elrond and Galadriel into the West, into the land where mortals could not go. Middle Earth had seemed very drab to him, when they had gone.

The pony slowed to a walk, climbing. Frodo had halted several times, resting the beast. The pony was a bit of a problem, what to do with him. At least he had no particular markings, not like the white strip on Merry's pony. Strider was a plain brown, strong and good-hearted, but in appearance nothing to set him apart.

If I take off saddle and bridle and turn him loose in the woods, he'll find his way to a stable somewhere. Not likely that he'll go all the way back home, where he'd be recognized. Best do it before I get there, though, and make sure he wanders off before I hike to the cave. I don't want him hanging around the entrance, waiting for me to come out!

Another hour, maybe less. He touched Sting in its scabbard. Soon.

Like Turin Turambar, he'd die on his own sword. That story had always made him shudder. To find everything good in your life turned inside out, to be brought down in your very hour of triumph, your beloved wife not only dead, but the one woman in all the world you should not have wed --! Well, he'd missed that evil, at all events. In all his failure and shame, at least he hadn't awakened to find himself married to his sister! Of course, he had no sister.

"Hail, Gurthang," he muttered, remembering the end of the tale. "From no blood wilt thou shrink. Wilt thou take Turin Turambar? Wilt thou slay me swiftly?"

The moon was sinking behind the hills. He was nearly there. He pulled the pony up and swung down. Unbuckled the girth and lifted down the saddle, eased the bridle off. The pony butted up against his chest, questioning.

"No, I haven't got anything for you. I'm sorry, I should have thought, should've brought an apple or something." He leaned against the silky neck, his hand playing with the pony's mane. "Sam would have remembered to bring you an apple, Strider, even if he was going off to fall on his sword! I'm afraid you got a poor bargain in masters. I hope whoever finds you will be good to you."

He backed away and slapped the pony's rump. "Go on, now! Off you go and find a new master – make sure it's someone who'll remember to bring an apple for you!"
He waited ten or fifteen minutes as Strider ambled slowly away, until he could no longer see the pony in the dim light. Then he draped bridle and saddlebags round his neck and hefted the saddle. The cave was perhaps half a mile further on, and it was awkward carrying the saddle and picking his way over the rough ground. The night grew darker as the moon set, and finally he stopped and brought out the starglass to light his way.

When at last he reached the cave he was sweating and panting from exertion. He dropped the saddle in and climbed down after it. Then he moved deep into the underground room, holding the starglass before him. He set the saddle down and sat on it, leaning back against the wall. He was exhausted – he hadn't had this much exercise in months.

He'd had no idea it was this much trouble to die. I'll have to catch my breath before I can slay myself, he thought. It struck him funny and he laughed softly.

At last he stood, unbuttoning his shirt. It would be morning soon. He was determined not to see another morning. He dropped the shirt on the ground and drew his sword.

How to do this? The cave wall was rough and pitted – he felt along it with his fingers till he found an indentation that seemed about the right size, and fit Sting's hilt into it.

Did it matter if it actually pierced his heart? That might be a little tricky, aiming the point between his ribs. So long as it went clean through him, it should be effective enough. He held the edges of the hilt as well as he could, arching his back a little to fit the length of the blade between his body, just beneath his ribcage, and the wall.

He pressed his body slightly against the tip to steady it, and a drop of blood appeared.

“Hail, Sting,” he said, remembering the story, postponing the moment. “Wilt thou take Frodo son of Drogo? Wilt thou slay me quickly?”

He took a deep breath and steeled his nerve to fall forward on the blade, and a cold whisper answered him.

“Gurthang am I not! Do not shame me, Ringbearer!”

He trembled with shock and cold – the cave was drafty without his shirt – and the tip pierced a little deeper, drew more blood. There had been no voice; it was his imagination. Don’t fail at this, Frodo. You can at least die, if you can do nothing else!

“I have drunk no innocent blood till now,” said the whisper. “Do not shame me!”

He recoiled, shrinking away from the steel, and it clattered to the rocky floor. “I am not innocent,” he protested, staring down at it. But the whisper hung in the air, “Do not shame me!” Blood ran down his body from the shallow wound.

He stooped finally and picked up his shirt, using the shirttail to staunch the flowing blood, then picking up the sword and mechanically wiping the tip clean.

Why had he thought he could use Sting? The sword had defended him against Shelob, against the orcs of Moria – it was almost like asking Sam to slay him. It was ancient, forged by the Eldar in the dim past, his ownership a brief moment in its long history. But it was an honourable blade, and would be shamed to slay the master it had defended. He burnished the blade, made sure no trace of his blood remained on it, and slid it back into its sheath.

How, then? It would be morning soon.

He had no rope, but he had the pony harness. He could contrive to hang himself with that, could he find something to hook it to. He held up the starglass, searching, but the roof of the cavern was far above his reach, and he could find no protuberance on the wall that would serve his purpose.

There were trees enough, outside, but that would leave his body in plain view to anyone who passed by. There would be inquiries, and word would get back to Sam and his cousins, soon or late. He needed a way to die inside the cave.

At last he sat, cold and worn out, and pulled his shirt back on. How typical, he thought bitterly, that he couldn’t even compass his own death! The saddlebags lay beside him and he pulled out the bread and meat he had packed, an age ago, it seemed, not merely yesterday evening.

Pity he hadn’t thought of bringing poison, not that he’d know where to find any. Poison would be ideal – creep far back in the cave and swallow it, and he’d never be found, never again bring sorrow to any living soul. And then he realized – he did know where to find poison! In the woods, under the leaves. It was spring. There would be mushrooms. Bilbo had taught him long ago to recognize those that were safe to eat – but of course that meant he knew the others, as well. The ones that would feed him death.

It was still dark, but it would be morning soon. When it was light enough to see, he would go mushroom hunting one last time. He lay down with his head on the saddlebag, pulling the blanket over him, to wait for daylight.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: jodancingtree

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 03/15/04

Original Post: 03/10/03

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