1. I Am Sorrow
My poor Sam. He’ll be so guilty if he finds me gone. I plied him with too much good Rohan ale, teased him with joking and merriment.
Here, just one more toast, I laughed, changing his empty tankard for my full one, and another and another and another – until I washed his worries away in a sea of drunken forgetfulness. We laughed together just like old times and in his spirit fed joy he may have even, for the barest of moments, believed that I too was content. After all, we’re heading home. How could I not be happy?
But no, my dearest Sam, I’ve duped you; fed you smiling lies along with the laughter and drink.
I’ve played the trickster, just like Gollum, using deception to hide my true purpose. I had to do it, please understand. I can no longer bear the pain of his devotion. The selflessness of his love for me will lead him to destruction. If I do not force him free, we will both perish. It is only one small step, but if I can convince him I’m getting better, maybe he will let me go.
The lanes are quiet; no one stirs. The people of Edoras are yet many hours away from waking to the call of dawn. It is peaceful, but still my heart churns in my breast. It struggles against a consuming emptiness and I fear that not even time will see it healed.
Unbidden, my fingers alternately grip the white jewel at my throat and worry at the empty pocket on my waistcoat. Seeking…they are always seeking. It isn’t there of course I know that. But I crave it still. It is like the tingling memory of a ghost limb – long gone to some accident, but felt just the same. It has become a ghost of memory, just like the finger that it once embraced…
I am weeping as I stumble along, shedding tears I cannot force when the others are around. Not even in the comfort of Sam’s selfless embrace can I weep thus, though if truth be told he sheds enough tears for the both of us. I am the cause, I know, but can do nothing to ease his fears. Around them, my heart is cold. I feel nothing. I will not shed tears for myself, not even to make them happy.
No, even alone here in the desolate lanes of Edoras, I do not cry for Frodo Baggins, The Ringbearer. I am crying for it – for its loss in the fires of Orodruin – and the thought sickens me. I know, in my heart of hearts, I would weep less were it my own dear Sam and not the ring that had perished in the flames. Yes, I am a monster for thinking such thoughts but I know they are true. He is dearer to me than my own life, but I would have given him over to a fiery grave to save it for myself.
Somehow I’ve reached the burial mounds, my feet following the path they took this very morning as we lay King Theoden to rest. I am wrapped in grief as I crumble to the damp ground of the mead, clutching weak and trembling knees to my chest. There is pain in me that no medicines can touch, a cankering ache, eating away at my belly…blackening my heart. Bile fills my mouth, along with the bitter dregs of last night’s ale. In shame I leave them both in the grass at my feet. Would that I could vomit forth the poison that is in me too. It is killing me.
Curled in misery, I wrap myself in the Lorien cloak, warding off the biting of the cold. But the chill comes from within me and I cannot stop the quaking that shakes me to the foundations of my being. I want to scream, to wail, to tear my hair and clothes. I want to die.
But not here, I have no right to seek death here, not among the brave and noble lords that grace these biers.
I am a coward, better suited to lie on desolate stones, my bones picked by scavengers. It would have been better to die in Mordor, forgotten and alone.
No, not alone…if I had died in Mordor, I would not have been alone…
A noise…someone is coming. The steps are light and shuffling and for a moment a pathetic spark of hope flares in my belly. Selfish me, I imagine it is my Sam who has come to find me in this dark place. He will know how to make things right and will soothe away the grief and uncertainty with a hot cup and nurturing arm around my waist.
Come, Mister Frodo, don’t you fret. Your Sam’ll look after you.
But no, it’s not Sam. After so many days on the road with him, I’d know his tread and the steps are not his. Yes, there it is the scuff of leather on the hardened ground and not the bare-soled slap of his hobbit’s foot at all. I do not move and the elven cloak shrouds me in secrecy. I wait – in my misery – for the steps to move on.
I see her then, for indeed it is a small lass, not much bigger than me. She is ragged and thin, a victim of this war as surely as I am. One leg is twisted – broken beyond a healer’s skill to heal if one were even considered when the damage was done; and in her shambling gait, the evidence of other wounds inflicted on her child’s body.
Arms laden with refuse, detritus of the streets cast off by others, she scavenges the burial mounds where I’ve come to rest. She doesn’t see me. The cloak shields me from her prying eyes, as she picks through a dog pile of scraps. She finds a crust and tastes it delicately, as if it were a rare treat. She knows, just as we discovered in Mordor’s dark lands, that when you’re hungry, even moldy bread is a feast. Other morsels are quickly gathered and stowed away against future need.
Once again, I feel the wetness of tears upon my cheeks. In the black pit of my despair I weep silently and yet I do not know if it is for me or for her that I cry.
She draws nearer, seeking out offerings left for the dead, and I realize that the cloak works too well. If I do not move, I fear that in the dark she will tumble over me. I do not wish to frighten her; I do not wish to cause her any harm.
Cautiously I rise, hoping to slip away unnoticed – fading back into the night. But in clumsiness, my heel catches the cloak, pulling it taut and releasing the clasp at my throat. The fabric slithers silently to the ground, revealing me in its sudden absence.
The child freezes in terror, her treasures falling from fear-numbed hands. To her, it must have seemed that I appeared from nothingness, springing from the very ground that covers the grave of her dead king. She gestures weakly with one hand, an action I’ve noted several times since arriving in Edoras, but never before directed towards me. She motions a warding sign, a Rohirrim gesture against evil.
Yes, you are right to use it, here and now, I silently admit, swallowing a laugh filled with bitter irony, for there is still so much evil in me.
Her mouth moves without speaking, the pinkness of her tongue licking at dry lips. She trembles but does not move to flee. She knows the futility of flight. Her broken limbs could never bear her fast enough to escape me.
We face each other, unmoving. I too am speechless in her gaze. What is there for me to say?
She scuffles forward a fraction of a step. Curiosity has nudged its way through the fear. She has seen horrors unimaginable; perhaps I seem to her an unlikely source of danger.
Again I laugh in silence. Oh dear little one, if you only knew the darkness I am capable of…
“Please, tell me…” she entreats of me at last, her high sweet voice filled with fear, “a…are you flesh? Or are you a spirit?”
For a breath I hesitate, not knowing how to reply for in my soul I know that I am both…and neither. It is my aching heart that finally answers her.
“I am sorrow.”
She looks at me, long and deep, piercing me with eyes as pale as the hidden moon – with eyes older than her tender years suggest. In that glance, she speaks directly to my heart…unburdening it with her veiled wisdom. At that moment, I know she understands me, for she too has faced the darkness and survived. Her body is twisted and savaged, and as she takes another cautious step forward, I note the mark of a blade at her throat, the unnatural cant to her hips and legs.
She walks these lands a ruined creature, just like me…but indeed, we are not kindred. Not even in spirit. Though we both bear the marks of evil on our frail forms, in her, I see the willingness to trust others even in spite of the ill that has been done to her. There is no trust in me…I cannot even trust myself. She is filled with hope’s light, while I am rimmed only in shadow.
With naught but a lot of misery to call her own, she radiates comfort and conviction. In her is a promise of tomorrow. The fact that she is even alive envisions the belief that indeed spring will come after the winter’s chill. I think of how much like my Sam she is – so filled with life, so sure to trust. In her look, there is the belief that some good lies in everything.
Like Sam, can she still see some hope for me?
She speaks no more, but raises a hand to touch my face…tentatively, as if in dreaming she’ll awaken to find me gone. She touches to prove to herself that I am real, and I shudder to think that one so dear as her should come so close to my darkness.
Her palm is hard but lays warmly against my bloodless cheek. I close my eyes against the tender heat of it and cannot help but lean gently into its soothing curve. She strokes away the dampness of my tears with her work worn fingertips. Somehow she knows my pain, can feel it through her caress.
It is but a moment in time, but somehow she reaches into me, pulling at the ties that bind my sorrow until they give way. I tremble, her innocent trust breaking through the grief that fills me. Stepping back, she draws her hand away and smiles at me as if to say: You’ll be fine now – go home. Rest. Heal.
She backs away and gathers her armload of treasures, then turns and walks down the hillock, not looking back. She leaves me gaping in her wake – bereft of words or thoughts. After her touch I am laid bare to the night.
What it is that passes through her, as she totters off, I do not know. Yet as I stand and watch her disappear into the gathering mist, I know that my heart is better off for having met her.
My mind broken through, I stoop to grab Sam’s cloak and fasten it around my shoulders. I realize, at last, standing there amongst the dead, that she has taught me a gentle lesson about living.
Feeling at once, terrified and alone, I turn and run. As I retrace my steps back up the hill to Meduseld, I can feel the flood of suppressed grief begin to surge.
“Oh Sam…I’m so frightened…” I whisper to the night, but there is no one there to hear me.
He’s still sleeping when I enter the great hall, and I’m glad. I kneel at his side, intending only to return the cloak before crawling to my own pallet nearby. Yet frozen in silence, I pause to watch the steady rise and fall of his chest as he breathes. While I watch, I know that I was wrong – oh so wrong – and shame swells within my heart.
No, my dear and loyal Sam I could not sacrifice you. The ring is but a thing, a passing fancy, the sweet taste of a forbidden dream – but you, you are real and solid. My rock, my anchor – like the Shire, you are home to me.
As if sensing my scrutiny, he stirs. Shifting in the woolen covers, he throws a lazy arm over his tousled head. Eyes flutter open, still hazy with drink, and he yawns a sleepy smile. Whispering my name, he reaches out his hand to touch me. On his lips, the sound is like the breathing of wind through the willow trees by the Brandywine River. When he speaks my name, he makes me think of home.
His eyes take me in and he frowns in his endearing way. “It’s late, you ought to be abed.”
“I’m cold…” I choke and he smiles sadly.
Tears threaten to fall for I am weary to my soul and my mind is raw with unshed grief.
“Come on then.”
Flipping back the woolens, he draws me in. Shamefully I melt into his embrace as he covers us over. He is warm with interrupted sleep and he cradles me possessively against his chest – wrapping me in both arms and legs until I am cocooned by his limbs.
He owns me whether he knows it or not. I am bought and paid for by his flesh and blood and toil. His lips whisper a chaste kiss into my hair and I cannot help but sob against his shoulder. He smells of sweat, of pipe weed and ale, but for once the familiar scent of him does little to comfort me.
“There now, Mister Frodo… ‘tis no more need for weepin’. Your Sam has you now.”
“I don’t deserve you, and yet you give me everything.” I barely breathe the words through my tears but he hears them just the same.
“Shhhh…that’s just tired talking. Sleep.”
He admonishes me gently as if reprimanding a petulant child and snuggles me closer, stroking my back with his patient hand. I can feel the press of his chin on my head and the steady beating of his heart against my cheek. I want to argue, to push him away, but I do not have the will. I need him still, to hold me together, to keep me safe, to show me there’s still something worth living for.
I need him – even if it is only to save me from myself.
For I am Sorrow…but he gives me hope.