2. The River
He was wading, the water cool around his knees, and the water sparkled as if it were more than just a trick of the light. He could feel it sparkling, as if it burst in invisible bubbles against his skin, and the sensation delighted him. He waded deeper and deeper, until the water lapped his chin, and then he began to swim.
He hadn’t swum since he was a boy, playing in the river with his Brandybuck cousins. Hobbits didn’t swim, not usually, but the Brandybucks did, and he had been among the best. When Merry got old enough, he taught him, and they’d had races – underwater, so the onlookers on shore couldn’t tell who was winning until one of their heads surfaced by the mark. He grinned, remembering, and got a mouthful of the effervescent water.
It surprised him, and he breathed in without thinking. For a moment he was afraid, out in deep water for the first time in how many years? I’m going to drown, he thought, just like my parents – then realized that he hadn’t choked or coughed, he had breathed the water, as if he’d been transformed into a fish!
He turned over, startled, and looked down his body. No, not a fish. But where had he lost his clothes? No wonder the water felt so marvelous; he was skinnydipping! And what would Aunt Eglantine say to that, he thought mischievously, and chortled at the idea.
But he had breathed that water, or so it seemed. Could he do it again? He put his face in and tried it. A little, shallow breath to experiment – there was no discomfort; it was just like breathing air. He lifted his face and laughed, triumphant, in the open air; then he dove, down and down to the sandy bottom, graceful and swift as a minnow.
This was swimming as he had never dreamed of it. No trace of fear, no rush to get back up to the air before his breath ran out. The water tingled deliciously against his skin, but didn’t burn his eyes. He swam leisurely, eyes wide open, exploring a world he had never imagined.
Fish streaked by him, in every color of the rainbow. A little one, just the color of green apples, bumped his nose and veered off to one side. He tried not to laugh, then remembered that he could breathe water and laughed anyway. A stream of bubbles erupted from his mouth, and he rolled onto his back, drifting like seaweed a few feet above the bottom, and watched the bubbles rise to the surface, a sheet of gleaming silver far above. He laughed again, half for joy, half for the pleasure of watching more bubbles.
He trailed his fingers along the sandy bottom and disturbed a crayfish. He stared at it – no common crayfish, this, patterned in pale pink and lilac, iridescent like mother-of-pearl. It skittered away – it moved like an ordinary crayfish, anyway – and his attention was caught by the rock it had been sheltering behind.
The rock was rough and craggy, the size of his fist, and it shone purple in the clear water. He took it in his hand and ran his fingers over it. Rough, many jagged spires and indentations, yet each face individually was smooth as glass. Amethyst? A large purple fish swam past him, slowly, just a shade darker than the rock in his hand.
A purple fish. A hunk of amethyst in a sandy river bed. Breathing water, for that matter.
This was the strangest dream he had ever had, and he thought he’d had some strange ones in his time. Never one so pleasant, though.
Something caught his ankle, stopped his forward movement. Fear nibbled at his mind again, and he twisted to see what it was. What he saw made him drop the amethyst and gape in blank astonishment.
Decidedly this was the best dream ever. He was never waking up from this one, not if he could help it. He hadn’t seen Pippin in – was it sixty years? He’d lost his sense of time in Tol Eressea, but hadn’t Sam mentioned sixty years? (And where was Sam? Shouldn’t Sam be in this dream too?)
“I didn’t know you could swim,” he said, sending up another stream of bubbles. His voice sounded strange underwater, hollow and slow.
Pippin grinned – how well he remembered that lopsided grin! “It’s not much of a trick when you can breathe water. Are you going to stay down here all day, cousin?”
Frodo twitched his ankle out of Pippin’s grasp and tried a handstand on the river bottom. He managed to hold it for a couple of heartbeats before the current toppled him over. A crab scuttled between his hands. A brilliant blue crab. He followed it with his eyes.
“Why not?” he said. “I like it down here. I may just live here from now on. I’ll dig a hole in the sand and be the world’s first water-dwelling hobbit.”
“You can do that later. There’s someone waiting for you topside.” Pippin grabbed his wrist to drag him bodily up to the surface, but an odd look passed over his face and he stopped.
“Frodo? What happened to your hand?”
His enjoyment of the dream vanished in an instant. If he had to explain about his hand – and to Pippin, who knew well enough what happened to it –
His hand had been a burning shame to him since Mordor, his missing finger an ever-present reminder of his failure. His -- unworthiness. He wrenched himself free and pushed off the bottom with both feet, thrusting for the surface as fast as he could. Pippin caught up with him as he reached the shallows and stood up, waist deep in the water.
“Frodo, wait! Look at your hand!”
He looked, and did not believe. He held up the other hand – impossible that he could have forgotten which hand had only four fingers! – but no, they were both alike. Five fingers on each hand. There were no scars; the skin was smooth and unmarked, only his fingertips wrinkled from the water. He held them up to the light of day, staring in astonishment and relief, and tears ran unnoticed down his face. His shame was taken away.
“Every time I meet you, Frodo, you’re crying,” said a voice from the riverbank. “Come out now, child.”
Close by the water stood the Man he had met in Tol Eressea. Only once had he seen him, and then, indeed, he had cried – cried as he had not since the day they told him his parents were dead.
Iluvatar’s Son, this Man had named himself. And he had made Frodo face his sorrow and pain over the Ring and the manner of its destruction, and then he had taken it all away. Frodo had been heart-whole again, and only his maimed hand had been left to remind him of his failure. Now even his hand was healed.
“You! You did this!” he cried, holding his hands up for the Man to see. “How did you – ? Thank you!”
He began wading out of the water, then stopped in confusion. “Lord, I – uh -- ” He looked down at himself and blushed.
“You are as I made you, Frodo. Come out of the water.”
He waded out, his eyes fixed on the Son, trying not to be embarrassed. He stood before him, dripping wet and naked, and it didn’t matter – he forgot everything else in the total understanding of the eyes that held his own. Here was One who knew him better than he knew himself. And loved him – better than he loved himself.
“I would not have you be ashamed, Frodo. You are my servant, and my very dear child.”
The love reached out to him and filled him. As if he had been waiting for this all his life, some empty place inside him filled, and he was complete. The Son opened his arms and Frodo walked into the embrace as if he were in very truth a child, as if the fate of Middle Earth had never hung round his neck and dragged him to the edge of destruction.
And Pippin stood watching, glowing with reflected joy.
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.