Never and Always: 11. First Frost

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11. First Frost

11th November 1419 S.R. Early in the morning, they take a walk over the Cottons' fields, past the scrubby hedgerow and the line of bristling old hollies, till the land's stretched out in flat acres afore them and in every direction save the north where Bywater lies huddled in deep browns. Overnight, the first frost has come. It doesn't run deep yet, no deeper than the first layer of soil that feels crisp and grainy under Sam's feet. The sun's going to seethe a hole through the clouds, toward mid-day, and then the salt-white scatterings will melt off stone and earth as though they'd never been. Sam blows into his cold hands. As a lad, he used to think it was dragon's breath, covering leaf and branch and blade of grass in such a fierce silver misting. He must have heard that in some tale or other that he doesn't now recollect. It's naught that he's about to trouble Frodo with, but his own recollection seems as rutted as the land is, on some days. When he's grabbing on to the tail of a song or a scrap of rhyme, and it breaks off or cracks like a twig before he's quite grasped a hold. It's a small worry, nohow. Winter, he tells himself, winter's as fine a season as any, and made for story-telling near the hearth. Such songs and tales as have bits broken out of them will return to him then, or he'll puzzle them back together. There'll be baked crab apples and the living warmth under the skin that prickles so after a good walk in the cold. The midwinter sun will bathe the Hill in that fine shade of gold, never mind that the Bag End gardens still look a dreadful sight. A whiff of woodsmoke hangs on the air. The few crippled willows bent over the Water are fogged in this weather, but the air itself tastes as glass might, clean and smooth with a bit of iron stirred in. Sam rubs his eyes against a sudden sting that's got no right of being there. But Frodo's close beside him then and motions him along with a soft touch to his elbow. They've walked nigh on a furlong when Frodo stops again on a bramble-grown ridge that sunders the fields from sheep pasture. A patch of lighter grey out east shows where the sun's crawling up, and below spreads a silence so deep as if all the grounds were covered thick in snow already. "The coming spring, Sam," Frodo says quietly, "will be everything... everything it can be, and the most beautiful we've ever seen, you and I." Sam doesn't say a word at first, he's so tangled up in watching Frodo's face. His eyes seem to show a constant changing, from a light grey that turns cloudy at times, to the colour of the Water in the year of the flood. A stormy shade seeming to seethe within, but so still at a closer look. Now Frodo is watching out west, and an intent look it is, piercing the breath that curls up from his mouth. Sam waits a while, but it goes on longer than he can stand. "Mr. Frodo?" Softer, then – "Frodo?" The pondering look swings back to him at that, holds him, near as fast as a touch. "Where are we going?" "I don't know..." Frodo clasps both hands before him and turns in a slow circle, as if to take in the width of the fields, horizon to horizon, the whole waiting world as it is, now. Wide and clear in the want for colour. "I don't know where I'm going, although I should." There is something in the way he says that that's not right. Not right at all. Sam slides a quick glance to Frodo's hands and sees them linked tight together, in such a manner as will hide a bit of trembling. His hands tell of his moods more than his eyes or his mouth do these days. Oftener than Sam would like, they're restless and wandering across things as like they're asking questions. Or making memories of them, if that's possible. But now they're grasping firmly against all manners of chills. Sam takes Frodo's hands and chafes warmth into them. He always had greater warmth of blood in himself and used to do this on many winter days of the years before, when Mr. Frodo's fingers were just about to turn blue from a forgetful stroll round the Green Hills. Now the bones push clearer through the skin than they used to, but they're stronger hands too, for all that he’s lost a finger. "Are you tired, Sam? If you would like to turn back..." Frodo holds his eyes with a gaze that's gone very still. "Oh, not yet!" Sam smiles and takes his next breath in deep. They'd been riding near the entire way home, and now the season's not in favour of long tramps. Truth be told, Sam isn't sure how many miles he could cover at need, though the scars on his feet no longer give him any pain. Frodo slips one hand free of Sam's grasp and lifts it to Sam's face, drawing him just a bit forward, a thrumming warmth in his fingertips. When he speaks Sam's name, it's like a frost melting off his voice. The kiss tastes winter-cloudy, clumsy with the cold before it dissolves in the breath that steams between their mouths. White puffs swirl out like a veil though there's no-one to spy on them for miles around. Frodo leans their foreheads together, and his fingers waver down through Sam's curls to his collar, before his hands drop away. His touch is often like this, now. Brief and thoughtful, as if he's taking in a year's worth at a moment. It's staying at the farm, Sam tells himself; the small room that they share and the patter of footsteps, the Cottons' muffled voices through their door. The press of other lives so close about them, pieced out from the Shire's ruin and woven back together in the long-familiar ways. Like the weirs that some farmers use further down the Water's course, and these strange thoughts that he's having are minnows slipping through the meshes. But no – no, he knows it's not that, it's the deep stillness, the waiting that hangs about Frodo and stirs anxious flutters in his own breast, days and nights. Frodo sleeps so little, and his dreams are so vivid, as if they touch him closer than his waking time does. It's one of the reasons why Sam couldn't let them put him in another bedroom. "But you, Sam," Frodo says as if he's carrying on with a conversation Sam hasn't heard. "You'll have more planting to do in the spring, and much work to set things to rights." He holds his face up into the watered sunshine, and its silver falls into his eyes. "Aye, that I do." Sam's throat is close on the words, and the cold air sinks like a weight on his shoulders. He can't think of the planting without thinking of the dead stumps and beaten soil, without feeling that prickle of time wanting at the back of his neck. Surprise runs through him when Frodo's arm slides round his shoulders and he's pulled back into the bit of warmth as they can capture between them. "Everything will grow again," Frodo murmurs, his mouth near brushing Sam's ear. "There will be fine young trees in all your favourite spots. They cannot take the place of the old, but when you watch them bloom, you'll find that they guard the memory of those that were lost... like their own shadows." Sam moves his head in an unsure nod, his cheek crushed to the wool of Frodo's cloak, but the ache in his chest only winds up tighter. It were such a blow to ride up Hobbiton Road and find the ash-blackness of Mordor stare out from where home used to be. "'T won't be the same," he whispers, and his mouth fills suddenly with the harsh salt taste of cured mutton that's marked all his winters in the Shire. He burrows into Frodo's embrace, clutching wind-pierced wool for a hold, the only hold that there is between black furrowed earth and seamless sky. He's near expecting the pain that's inside him to burst open like a chestnut in a bonfire. He has to pull away then and tips his head at the sky. A high wind has bitten the edge off a cloud, and a scrap of blue shines through, deeper and clearer than he might have expected. Oddly, it puts him in mind of Tom Bombadil's blue coat. His blue eyes. Is it winter where Bombadil lives? Now that he's seen Lórien, Sam wonders about that. Surely winter sets to the Old Forest as it does every place else, but perhaps it's kinder there. He remembers Tom laughing as bright gold spun on his finger, innocent as a strand of sunshine. Sam didn't know then what he knows now, but the remembrance sprawls out and for a moment sets him free... of everything. "Frodo..." Sam turns and finds a startling in his eyes. A wild notion's pressing up inside him, and he's breathless with it. Mayhap that's for the best, too, for it stops the words in his throat, and he can think on them another moment. "What is it, Sam?" Could they go, without stopping, till they've reached that secret place? Or would they lose their way in the snow, and does Old Man Willow still hum his cruel charms, so deep they run in shivers underground? Perhaps Bombadil and his Goldberry drowse the winter away as the trees do. Moss-gatherer, old Gandalf called Tom, before he took to his own road. And Mr. Frodo said then that he'd like to visit Tom, too. All at once, Sam is thinking of the many roads they've come, all the crossings and waymeets that have brought them back here, where the moment spins and wheels dizzy about him. But if they'd taken only one step down a different path, then maybe – "I'm thinking how long our roads have been," he murmurs. Frodo sets a hand on his shoulder and slides it up till his fingers tangle gently in Sam's curls. "Our journey's not at an end yet. Trust me, Sam... even if it takes many years." It's not what Sam might have wanted to hear, but the sound of Frodo's voice lends a strange comfort that trickles through him, slow and sure, and the hurt seeps away like meltwater. Sam looks at the ground between his feet, his head still awhirl. Is there aught that Tom could do for Mr. Frodo, for both of them, or will he stay out of their business just as Gandalf's staying out of it now? Or is it just your own fancy running away with you? Sam asks himself. Maybe it's him wanting to run off, and what a queer thought that is, now that they're finally home. "The road goes ever on and on," Frodo speaks that verse from Mr. Bilbo's song so softly that Sam strains to hear. What used to worry him with foreboding sounds like a promise, of a sudden. When he meets Frodo's eyes again, the stillness settles into him too, all wrapped about one single question. "How many years, then?" But Frodo doesn't answer that. He leans over to kiss Sam's brow lightly. The day's halfways gone when they reach the farm again. Rosie is out in the front yard, scattering a thin handful of grain to the hens, her face alight as if spring had set a toe on the doorstep already. Frodo smiles at her and bows his head. Sam meets her glance only for a moment. It's Highday, and not just his Gaffer will be here for supper; all of Rosie's brothers with their wives will be visiting too. They'll speak of the good year to come. They'll seat Frodo at the long table's end that's Farmer Cotton's usual place. Sam will be sitting between his Gaffer and Rosie, and through the merry clatter of forks and spoons he'll still hear the silence that's out here and the dreamy murmur of Frodo's voice. He'll think of that scrap of blue and the hope in it that he thought were nobut his own wishing. It's the colour that's been missing from Frodo's eyes, so very clear when he said trust me. And Sam does. * * * (continued in: Dawn)

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: Cara Loup

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 10/03/11

Original Post: 05/30/05

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