12. Burdened Again
The ordeal had almost proven too much for Bilbo to bear. He had had to be helped from the room and almost carried to his quarters by Merry and Pippin. They put him to bed in his own rooms and he had fallen asleep almost instantly, exhausted and spent but at last eased of heartache. Pippin returned to Frodo’s room, but Merry stayed with his cousin for a long while to insure the old hobbit would be all right after the stressful night. Sam, Pippin, Gandalf and Strider changed the bed, removing the bloodstained linens and cleaned Frodo. Though his master was still spent and unmoving, Sam could feel his heart beating strongly as he held him and he knew Frodo would be all right.
It was long past midnight when Pippin, curling up on the bed beside his cousin, fell into an exhausted sleep. Strider gently lifted him and carried him to his room, but Sam could not be persuaded to leave his master even now. He sat close, holding Frodo’s hand and laying his weary head on the bed beside him. Gandalf, unsleeping and watchful stayed also, a tireless guard on the precious pair. Frodo’s left hand was still chill, but the aching cold had left it and the comfort that knowledge gave Sam could not be measured. At some point during the long night, Sam did fall asleep where he sat, but the sound of booted feet coming up behind woke him again with a start. He blinked, stupidly, forcing himself to wakefulness and reassured himself that Frodo was still sleeping before looking to see Gandalf standing behind him.
“He’s really going to live now, isn’t he Mr. Gandalf?” he asked, still bleary.
Gandalf smiled and the joy and pride in his face warmed Sam. “Yes, he will, my friend. Elrond has saved him at great cost and peril, though I daresay Frodo himself had much to do with his own healing.”
“I weren’t none too sure about that Elrond. He kept talking like it didn’t much matter if my master died. It was like he didn’t even care! But I guess he did after all.” Sam looked again at Frodo’s peacefully sleeping face and smiled.
“You should not judge him too harshly, Samwise. Master Elrond has lived many ages of this world and has seen much you cannot even imagine. To him, the life of a mortal is like the bright flash of a dragonfly wing sparkling in the sun; beautiful, but compared to his long life, fleeting. If he were to love such temporal things as strongly as his kind are able, his heart would have been broken long ago. If he seems cold, it is only a protection, a shield against those he could grow to love only to lose far too soon.”
Sam blinked again and shook his head. “I never thought of it that way, sir,” he said.
Gandalf laughed softly and his eyes twinkled with merriment. “I understand that feeling all to well myself, Samwise. You hobbits underestimate your own power to get under one’s skin, so to speak. You have charms that even the mighty cannot withstand, if they bother to get to know you.” He grinned broadly. “Quite a dangerous lot you are!”
Sam caught himself yawning. “Dangerous? Not hardly!” he scoffed.
Gandalf glanced over at the bedside table his eyes fixed on the rune-covered box that still rested there. “Yes, and formidable. I cannot think of a people who could have done what Bilbo had Frodo have for the past 77 years, but that heinous job is not quite finished. There is one thing left for Frodo to do.”
“And what’s that, Mr. Gandalf?” said Sam sleepily.
“He must bear the ring again.”
Sam stiffened, waking more fully as the implications of Gandalf’s words sunk into his tired brain. “Oh, Mr. Gandalf…” he pleaded. “After all he’s been through for that accursed thing, can’t he be given a bit of rest? Doesn’t he deserve it?”
Gandalf picked up the box and took it, closed, to Sam. “He must continue to bear it for a little while longer, Samwise, though I hope it will not be for long. Now that he is healed, we need to return it to him.”
Sam eyed the old wizard with great hesitation. “Aw, no, Mr. Gandalf, sir.…” he said. “Wouldn’t this be the time to find another more worthy person to take the thing?”
“More worthy?” Gandalf looked shocked. “I can think of no one more worthy than Frodo Baggins, my friend. But if you mean deserving of this burden, I would say that no one on earth deserves it – but it must be borne and by someone who will be least harmed by it. Frodo has been tempered by pain and blood and is a weapon whose mettle has not yet been tested against the enemy. I think he will withstand the evil power of the ring far better than any can foresee.” He opened the box. The ring lay in the bottom, glittering palely in the candlelight. A new chain of fair silver had been strung through it.
Sam looked up sorrowfully. “Must I?”
Gandalf nodded and Sam, very reluctantly, reached in for the chain. It was light and strong and slipped easily through Sam’s fingers. He lifted it up and let it dangle for just a moment as if weighing it. Gandalf nodded to him again and Sam slowly undid the clasp. Being careful not to touch it, he laid the thing on his master’s breast and reached gently under his neck to redo the clasp. When it was done, he gave Frodo’s gown a tug and the ring slipped beneath it, hidden from sight. He sat back; not feeling at all comfortable about what he had just done, and sighed.
“That was powerful hard, Mr. Gandalf, sir, but I suppose its best for the time being. I just hope you’re right and these great folk’ll find someone ‘deserving’ to take it on for him. He don’t deserve all this trouble.”
Gandalf smiled and closed the box. “One’s fate is rarely deserved, in the truest sense of the word, but none can avoid their own. We must all do our parts, no matter how small or insignificant they seem. The fate of the world may someday depend on the acts of the least of us.” He put the box down and gave Sam a comforting clap on the back. “Your part is neither small nor insignificant, Samwise, and I believe much of it is yet to come. You will do well.”
The Fellowship of the Ring: Book 2, ‘Many Meetings’
Frodo woke and found himself lying in bed. At first he thought that he had slept late, after a long unpleasant dream that still hovered on the edge of memory. Or perhaps he had been ill? But the ceiling looked strange; it was flat, and had dark beams richly carved. He lay a while longer looking at patches of sunlight on the wall, and listening to the sound of a waterfall.
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