2. Chapter Two
They halted after about two hours of steady running, and Frodo and Sam were the last ones of the company. Frodo had lagged far behind the rest, gasping with hitching breaths, and Sam had paced himself to match. Neither had spoken a word of complaint, but Aragorn took one look at Frodo as he stumbled into the clearing, and ran to him.
“Oh, Frodo, I am so sorry,” he said. “In our grief and haste I had forgotten that you were hurt. And you are not the only one who needs tending, though I’ll wager you are most injured.”
He made Frodo sit down, and sent Sam to fetch clean water from the nearby stream, instructing him to set it to boil. Gingerly Strider peeled the clothing and mail from the hobbit’s slim body, and despite his gentleness Frodo’s sharp intakes of breath betrayed his pain.
“Oh Frodo, Frodo, why did you not speak up?” Aragorn rebuked him softly, “There is much I can do to ease you.”
Frodo gritted his teeth, refusing to meet the Ranger’s gentle gaze, and did not answer. But he allowed himself to be laid onto his back, and responded like a puppet as Strider lifted each arm to examine the hobbit’s ribcage.
Frodo’s right side was blackened and bruised from armpit to waist, and there were a few places where the rings of the dwarf-mail had driven through leather and into flesh. These areas were crusted with dried blood. Frodo’s left side was also bruised, and when Aragorn pressed gently against the hobbit’s sides, he cried out.
“A couple of broken ribs, no doubt,” said Strider seriously. “But none have pierced the skin, so they should mend well and quickly.” He took the hot water from Sam, who had returned, and broke several dried athelas leaves into the pot. The smell of them immediately filled the little dell, and the entire company breathed deeply of the healing scent.
Strider bathed Frodo’s chest and sides with the warm water, and soon the hobbit’s breathing eased, and the pain left him. Despite himself, Frodo’s features relaxed.
Strider then took some soft cloths, and tearing them into long strips, wound them about Frodo’s middle until he was well padded. Then he helped him put on again his leather shirt and the mithril mail, and bade him lie quietly while some food was prepared.
Sam watched the ministrations with anxiety. Even when he was sure of Frodo’s physical well being, he could not shake the sensation that something was seriously wrong with his master. Frodo seemed separated from himself somehow – detached in a way he had not been since they had begun this journey.
Could it be simple grief? Sam considered it. They were all practically crippled with the grief of losing Gandalf. All but Legolas had wept, and even the elf wore a countenance of disbelief and profound sorrow.
No, it was more than grief.
Sam stretched himself out upon the ground next to Frodo and put his arms behind his head. They were a little apart from the others, Strider having come to meet them as they entered the clearing, and Sam felt safe enough to venture a whispered question, although he was not sure that his master would feel safe enough to answer.
“Mr. Frodo?” Sam paused, breathing in the lingering scent of athelas. “Are you alright?”
For several shuddering moments, Frodo said nothing. Sam waited, understanding that he might get nothing from the older hobbit, and accepting it, having learned long ago from his Gaffer not to overstep his bounds. But then suddenly Frodo did speak, and it was not at all what Sam had expected.
“It’s my fault, you know.”
The words were so quiet, like a whisper or a prayer. Sam would have believed they had siphoned off the breeze if Frodo had not breathed deeply and repeated the words.
“It’s my fault.”
Sam rolled onto his side, propping himself onto his left elbow, his back to the company and his face towards his friend. Silent tears ran from Frodo’s eyes, down the side of his face, staining the brown blanket beneath him.
Sam was alarmed, but he held his tongue, resisting the urge to exclaim his disagreement. Instead he spoke softly, “What’s your fault, Mr. Frodo?”
Frodo hitched in a shallow breath, and turned his head slightly away from the younger hobbit. “Gandalf. It’s my fault we lost him. It’s my fault he’s…”
Breaking off, Frodo brought his hands up and pressed them against his eyes, struggling for control. “It’s my fault he’s dead, Sam. And I can’t bear it.”
Sam swallowed a few times, unsure of what to say. Although he disagreed with Frodo, he knew his master well enough not to argue with him.
“What makes you say that, Sir?” he asked instead, quietly.
Frodo’s hands fell away from his face, and for the first time since they had come out of Moria, he looked at Sam. His eyes were startlingly bright, bluer than sky or water, and shimmering with liquid grief.
“I made the decision, Sam. Going through Moria was my decision.”
Sam’s mind stumbled back to Caradhras. Almost buried in snow, without fire or shelter, all the fury of Saruman and the mountain flung at them from above…
---------“Let the Ringbearer decide.”
Sam looked at Frodo, compassion welling from his eyes and heart as he suddenly understood the pain his friend had been embracing.
---------“We will go through the mines.”
“Oh, Mr. Frodo,” he said in a trembling whisper, “Don’t blame yourself. You ‘ad no way of knowin’ such a monster existed, and if you had, you mighta made a different decision. How could you have known?” He reached his right hand out towards his master, but did not touch him, laying it instead near the other hobbit’s shoulder. “Besides,” he thought indignantly to himself, “Gandalf had no business layin’ the decision on Frodo in the first place, Ringbearer or no.”
“Perhaps,” Frodo said in a helpless whisper, pulling his eyes from Sam’s face, unable to bear the sorrow in the deep hazel eyes of his closest friend. “Perhaps, and perhaps not. There seemed to be no other way to go.” He trailed off, but his tears continued to flow unabated.
---------“So be it.”
Sam lowered his propped upper body to the ground, remaining on his side, and watched Frodo’s profile through his own tears. He was silent for several moments, but soon his troubled thoughts tumbled out on their own.
“Now listen here, Mr. Frodo,” he said, gently but insistently, “You ain’t no wizard, and you can’t see the future. You had a hard choice put to you, and in a pinch besides, and you made the best decision you knew to make, and there’s no saying it were a bad decision, neither. We don’t know what mighta happened had we chosen to continue in the snow, or headed fer Rohan, or turned back to Rivendell even. T’ain’t anyone who blames you, and if you don’t mind my saying so, I doubt Mr. Gandalf himself would blame you were he here to be asked.”
Sam fell silent.
Frodo took several shallow breaths, seeming to turn the words over in his mind. Then gingerly, he rolled to his right side, facing the younger hobbit. He brought his hand up, slowly, and slipped it beneath Sam’s, which still lay near him. Sam folded his strong fingers around his friend’s and waited. He could hear the hushed voices of Merry and Pippin punctuated with sniffles, the clinking of cookware as Gimli made a meal, Aragorn’s low voice as he spoke to Boromir and Legolas. None of it seemed important.
“Perhaps you are right, Sam.” Frodo breathed at last, closing his eyes and pressing his forehead against their clasped hands in a gesture of profound weariness. “I don’t know of any other way we could have gone…”
Sam squeezed his master’s hand gently, and wished, not for the first time, that he could somehow share his pain, could somehow bear more of the burden, even as he did with their packs.
Not for the first time.
Not for the last time.
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.