1. Midnight at Bag End
I’m sitting on the stone steps, halfway down the Hill, out of sight from the windows. Sam and Rose would worry, if they woke up and saw me sitting outside at this hour, but I cannot sleep.
I can smell the mallorn blossoms from here. The night air is sweet with the fragrance of Lorien, and I lean against the earthen bank beside me and close my eyes. I could imagine myself there again, carried on the scent of mallorn, back in Lothlorien, the Elven-songs ringing in my ears.
But they were songs of mourning, for all their beauty. Mourning for Gandalf, fallen in Moria, pulled down by an Evil beyond our comprehension, into the Pit. None of us knew, then, that Gandalf would return. I wish I could have seen Lorien when they were not in mourning. Too late now. The Rings have lost their power, now the One is gone, and the Golden Wood is fading.
Lothlorien is fading, and the Shire survives. That is a strange thought. How many ages have the Elves kept Middle Earth, filled it with music and wonder, fought back the Shadow – and now their time is ending. Lothlorien is fading, and Elrond is passing to the Havens at last. What will become of Rivendell, with Elrond gone?
And the Shire survives! Earthy and ordinary, barefoot hobbits plowing their fields and planting their kitchen gardens and filling our little land with golden-headed children. Like Elanor. Sam’s little Elanor.
She’s like a flower, Sam and Rosie’s daughter. But some new and wondrous flower, her bright hair catching the sunlight, throwing it in my eyes like a dream of joy. And Sam’s face, holding his baby – oh, that was worth coming home for!
When the dark closes in and I wish I hadn’t come home – when despair fills my mind like a black fog and I want to curse Sam and Gandalf and the Eagles and all, for bringing me out of the fire and forcing me to live – I have to hold on to that. Sam’s face, with baby Elanor cuddled up against his heart, her golden hair tickling his chin. Rosie’s tender laughter, watching him.
“Well, I’ve got competition now, I can see that, Master Samwise! Yon fair-haired lassie will steal you right away from me, if I don’t watch out!”
No danger, Rosie. But you know that.
There isn’t much that Rosie misses. When the dark closes in on me, she always knows. I don’t want Sam to know; he’s been through so much with me already. I try to hide it from him, and I don’t think he guesses how deep the rot goes, inside. There’s too much of Gollum in me now, and he hated Gollum. I couldn’t bear for him to know.
Yet I sat in the kitchen a month or so ago and told Rosie – told her! – that I still desire the Ring! I’ll never know why I did that. In all my failure, that’s the blackest mark: to still desire that Thing, the greatest evil Middle Earth has ever seen. That I would want that – Eru, have mercy – bad enough that I could not destroy it, but to still be longing for it! I don’t know how to bear the shame of it. Rather I should have flung myself into the Fires of Doom. A fitting punishment.
And Rosie never turned a hair. She sat across the table and held my hand, gentle as a mother, caressing the shameful scar where my finger used to be, and she murmured something comforting. I don’t even remember what she said, only her hands, holding on to me when I felt I was falling away into the Pit, and her eyes. Eyes that held no reproach, no condemnation, only tenderness. Only love.
I would have said that no lass could be worthy of my Sam; no lass ever born could measure up to his greatness of heart. I didn’t know Rosie then. Oh Sam, I couldn’t have wished you any better reward.
The Shire survives, and Sam is here to hold it. Sam and Rose, for faithfulness and hobbit sense. Pippin and Merry, too – the Shire will be safe now, as safe as anything in Middle Earth. Until the Shadow takes new shape to rise again, as Gandalf said it always does.
No, that’s looking too far ahead. We can’t protect our land for all times, only for our own time.
Pippin and Merry and Sam – and Rose will comfort Sam, when dark memories come in the night. Even Sam must battle them sometimes, although he never shows it. The Ring was too corrosive for any mortal to bear it without harm, not even my Sam.
And I have to decide. Elrond is leaving soon, and Bilbo with him. The Elves are passing out of Middle Earth, into the lands where the Shadow cannot come. Fair lands, they must be. Lothlorien could pierce my heart with loveliness – what must the true Elvenhome be like!
How can I bear to leave the Shire again? Dearest home in all of Middle Earth, and I’m forever leaving. Last time I thought I never would come back, and here I am. If I pass over the Sea, there’s no returning.
How can I leave Sam? Oh, there’s a thought to break the stoutest heart. He never left me, not for danger, not for love. He left Rose behind and followed me into exile. He followed me when I tried to turn him back, when I ran from him, called him thief, when I all but lost my mind. I told him plain we were going to our death, and still he followed. I can’t leave Sam.
I can’t stay here. The rot runs deep, deep in my soul, and there’s no healing it. Arwen said I could go, if my wounds still pained me. Did she guess, the wound that hurts worst of all? Is there healing for this in the West? Healing, or cleansing. Some medicine to wash away the stain of guilt, the rottenness of clinging to Evil – knowing it for what it is and still desiring it.
There’s no cure for that in Middle Earth.
I can’t stay here; I can’t leave Sam. I could take him with me. He was a Ringbearer. They would let him come, if he desired it.
If he desired it. Will you tear his heart again, Frodo Baggins? Must he follow you forever, leaving his Rosie, leaving his home, his baby girl, everything he loves? And he might do it! If you asked him, he might even do it.
And then indeed you’d have cause to be ashamed. You can blame your failure on the Ring – it was too strong for you. It sounds hollow, that excuse, but you can make some argument for it. Even the Wise feared to pit themselves against the Ring. Aren’t you a bit arrogant, thinking you could withstand its power?
But to call Sam away from all he holds dear, because you would miss him, or because you’re ashamed to leave him? Be ashamed, then! Sam has a life to live, that’s more than you do. Take your wounds and your grief and your guilty conscience out of his way. Give him a chance for happiness.
And how could I face Rosie? I took Sam with me once and almost broke her heart – dragged him with me into mortal danger, nearly got him killed. No thanks to me that he came back alive! And Rose forgave me. They’ve made themselves my family -- Sam is my brother, Rosie is the sister I never had.
I remember now, what Rosie said, the night I told her I still long for the Ring. She said I was a hero. She said – no matter what I said -- to her I was a hero.
So be a hero, Frodo. Do what heroes do. Pass over the Sea, where maybe you’ll find healing. Give them their lives, unshadowed by your pain. Give Bag End a new, more worthy Master. Give the Shire a wise and faithful keeper. Make your love, a love that sets them free.