3. Time and Tide
No. Could it be happening already?
He had known it was coming for more than a week now…the nightmares over the past days had been especially vibrant and terrifying, and the darkness had seemed to hover at the corners of his vision, blending phantom and reality.
It had happened to him before…last March, on the anniversary of his encounter with Shelob. He had thought nothing of it before then, but as the thirteenth day of March wore on, he had felt the shadows rise about him. By evening they had overtaken him--he was delirious with fever and lost in Mordor, reliving again and again the horrors of that hateful day…held captive by the dark forces buried deep inside him.
The illness had lasted only that day; by morning he was himself again, although weak and shaken by what he had experienced. He had been able to keep it from Sam, as he was abroad tending to the wounds of the Shire and did not return until some days later. By that time Frodo had regained his strength and spoke nothing of himself.
But now, he was living with Sam and Rosie. If he became ill as he had in March, how could he keep it from them?
He raised his left hand from where it rested on top of his blanket, and flexed his fingers experimentally. They were already stiff and unwilling to do as he bade them, and his shoulder twinged in protest at the sudden motion.
It had already begun, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Nothing he could do…
It waited for him. It hung there in the dark, behind the shield of time, waiting to consume him. These anniversaries would come as surely as the sun rose and set each day, and they would torture him. Evil had broken his will once before, and it would remind him on these days that it could do so again at its leisure.
Frustration and anger rose inside him as he thought about how truly powerless he was, even now. It was no different from before. He had been powerless the entire time while he possessed the Ring. There was no way to actively fight It. He had been forced to find a way to hang on to his sanity while It attacked, wore him down. At Sammath Naur he had also been powerless…he could not resist claming the Ring, and It had somehow overwhelmed him and made his choices for him. Powerless…
As he lay there seething with anger, a voice deep inside him crooned, You deserve this.
You deserve this for your failure. You deserve this because you almost destroyed Middle Earth…you would have destroyed Middle Earth if not for Gollum...why should you not now be powerless?
It was true. He had decided on that mountain to take everything for himself, whether he remembered the details or not, and by some wild stroke of luck disaster had been averted and all of creation had escaped having to pay for it. He DID deserve this.
But Sam did not.
Sam had done everything on the quest just as he was supposed to do, and had even done one better than that by bringing his master down from Mount Doom to be rescued by the eagles. He had kept Frodo safe, just as he promised he would, and when he returned he had rebuilt the Shire to spite Saruman's evil deeds. He deserved a wife, and a family. Sam deserved to live without evil overshadowing him, without having to be reminded of those dreadful days.
So he had to keep trying. He had to keep trying to contain the evil within himself. He had to keep convincing Sam that everything was fine, and that he would be whole again. Maybe, just maybe he would eventually pay his penance for what he had failed to do, and then perhaps he could be whole again.
Even though he was trapped and powerless, he would try.
Although his only wish was to sleep the day away, to avoid what he knew was coming, this would mean for certain that Sam would know something was wrong and would have to care for him. He rose gingerly from the bed, favoring his left side as he made ready to join Rosie and Sam for breakfast.
Summer had bowed gracefully to an early fall, and Sam had been so busy preparing the celebration for Mr. Bilbo's and Frodo's birthdays and bracing the garden for an early winter that he had forgotten to note another important date rapidly approaching. On October the fifth, Frodo had eaten first and second breakfast with him and Rosie, but had seemed withdrawn and distracted, enough so that Rosie had commented on it after Frodo had excused himself and headed rather abruptly for his study. The morning had passed quietly, he out in the garden planting delicate cuttings of elanor into pots for the coming winter, and Rosie bustling about the kitchen preparing a delightful-smelling lunch. Not a peep had echoed from the study that morning.
When Frodo did not appear in the kitchen for lunch drawn by the smell alone, he approached the study a bit warily, sensing that something was not quite right but unable to even hazard a guess what it could be. He knocked, and when no reply was forthcoming, gingerly peeked his head around the door. What he saw nearly made him gasp. Frodo was sitting behind the desk in his usual place, but instead of bending over his work as he usually did he was slumped back in the chair. Deep, bruised circles had appeared underneath piercing blue eyes that were unfocused, as if staring at something Sam couldn't see. His cheeks, which were pale to begin with but usually possessed small roses of color, were white as fine linen.
He ran to his master's side. "Oh, mister Frodo, what's the matter?" he cried. This seemed to rouse Frodo from his dream-state, for he jumped in surprise.
"Wha…oh Sam, is it time for lunch?" he asked weakly.
"Mister Frodo, you look ill. You should go lie down for a while," he stated in a rather insistent tone, hoping to persuade Frodo to listen to him before he had the chance to think about it.
"No…I'm fine Sam, honestly. You just…caught me daydreaming," Frodo replied more calmly, summoning the strength from somewhere to try and convince Sam he was all right.
Sam did not believe him, but there was nothing he could do. If mister Frodo said he was fine, he was not about to question it. So, he tried a different tack.
"Will you come an' have some lunch, then?" he asked gently, as he watched Frodo turn visibly paler at the mention of both food and movement from his chair.
"No, thank you, Sam, I'm not very hungry today, I'll be fine here," was the cheerily forced answer.
Sam was cornered. There was no way out of this but to try to force mister Frodo to rest, and that was just not going to work. The perils they had endured on the journey had bound them together and they had learned to depend on each other, but things had changed when they returned to the Shire. There were no perils here, and Sam was expected to be Frodo's servant and gardener, to mind his place. This made it easy for Frodo to keep things from him; it was not his place to question Frodo's judgment or to know his master's mind.
So, against his better judgment, he gave up. He ventured defeatedly, "Well, I'll have Rosie bring you a plate after while, in case you change your mind." As he left the room he glanced back over his shoulder to see Frodo wincing as he shifted in his chair, attempting to resume his work.
He had not even sat down at the kitchen table when he and Rosie heard the bone-chilling shriek echo through the smial. They both flew to the study to find Frodo splayed out on the floor, writhing as if in terrible pain and clutching his left shoulder. Sam crossed the room in two strides and knelt beside Frodo, pulling him gently into his lap. Frodo looked up at him for a brief moment, whispering "I'm ssssorry," before being overcome by another wave of agony. At that moment, trying to hold Frodo as he struggled against the pain, he brushed against his master's left arm. It was frigid to the touch.
That was when it hit him. The Wraith-king. It was October the fifth, and tomorrow was the anniversary of Frodo's near-fatal wounding two years before on Weathertop. It had not been this way last year! Frodo had been fine…or had he? Sam now recalled that day the previous year…it had chanced to fall as they crossed the Ford of Bruinen on their journey back to the Shire. Frodo had resisted riding into the stream, and had seemed to pass into a dark dream for some moments. He had been silent the rest of the day and Gandalf had insisted on riding beside him, while the others rode behind. It had struck him as strange then, but he had not guessed the true reason for Frodo's behavior at the time. As the pieces fell into place with a sharp click, his heart shattered in pity and desperation.
They put Frodo to bed, and comforted him as best they could as fever and pain ravaged him for three harrowing days. Sam was beside himself with worry. On the third day, he collapsed into Rosie's arms and wept, afraid that they had lost his dear Frodo forever to the chilling stab of the Witch King's blade. But later that day Frodo awoke, weak and still feverish yet no longer held spellbound by the evil Wraith-lord's gaze. His joyful relief at Frodo's turn toward recovery turned rapidly into rage.
He did not want Frodo to see him so angry. His poor master had enough to deal with. Frodo slept peacefully, so he left him in Rosie's care and although it was still early in the season, he found himself out behind the woodshed, squarely aiming his fury at a stout piece of wood and splitting it with all his might into kindling.
Why? Why was Frodo made to suffer like this? Hadn't he given enough of himself? Hadn't that cursed Ring TAKEN enough of him, now the evil would come to claim what remained, too? Why couldn't he just live in peace? He had done so much for this world and it gave nothing back to him but pain and haunting memories.
Crack! Another log split beneath the weight of his anguish.
Frodo deserved more than this, so much more! He had saved Middle Earth from ruin. He had borne that thing all the way to Mount Doom, as it gradually destroyed him from the inside out. He deserved happiness. He deserved a family. He deserved to not have to worry about anything for the rest of his days.
But Frodo did not seem to think so. Whenever he mentioned anything about Frodo being a hero, his master would bow his head as if it pained him. Frodo seemed embarrassed by the attention that he and Rosie paid him, and kept to himself now as much as he could.
Sam was losing him. He did not know to what or why, but somehow Frodo seemed to be slipping away from him, walling himself off to protect himself from…what? The nightmares? The memories that he did not want to reclaim? Sam himself? If only he could approach Frodo about it…
The whole thing made him even more furious, that what was happening to Frodo would cause him to behave so, to push away those that he loved and endure this, whatever it was, alone. And when would it end? Would Frodo ever be allowed to live in peace?
He was angry at Bilbo, for leaving Bag End and that thing behind in Frodo's care. He was angry at Gandalf for allowing Frodo to possess the Ring so long, for allowing It to sink Its claws into his gentle master's heart. He was angry at Strider for not protecting them better, for not preventing the Witch King from stabbing Frodo with his evil blade. He was angry at the Council for allowing them, so small and defenseless, to set out with the Ring. He was angry at almost everyone he could think of, and even a little bit at Frodo himself, for not allowing him to offer what little protection and comfort he could.
But he had to keep trying. Despite his anger at all of these things, it was not Frodo's fault that these things were happening now. He had to try his best to care for his master as he could. Even if Frodo did not appear to want it, Sam knew he needed it more than anything else. He would do his best to help Frodo become whole again, to have the life he deserved.
He spent the rest of the afternoon there, until he was exhausted and his anger at last was drained from him by the strain of hard labor.
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.