“Well, my sweet young lass,” crooned Samwise Gamgee, Esquire, as he carried his newly bathed infant daughter back to the master bedroom in Bag End, “you do smell much better, if I might say so, and who has a better right to do so than me, eh? Ooh, but it does appear as you can smell almost as foul at times as ol’ Gollum hisself! But, you clean up much nicer!”
She smiled up at him as he chuckled, and babbled as she reached for the ties for his nightshirt. “Now, wait just a minute there, my little Lady Elanor,” he protested, throwing the lacing over his shoulder, out of her reach. “We won’t have none o’that, now!”
But a faint noise reached the ears of both the pair, and both turned their heads in concern toward the bedroom of Frodo Baggins. “He’s hurtin’ tonight,” Sam whispered. “Let’s go see if’n there’s aught as we can do to make it better.”
Both he and his Master had known nights of discomfort since they’d returned from their journeys abroad, and certainly more than once when Sam had been subject to terrible dreams Frodo had come to help Rosie soothe him. Indeed, more often than not Frodo had calmed him more surely on nights of uncertain weather than Rosie could have, as Frodo knew all too well the situations that Sam was reliving in his dreams, having shared in most of them. But at least Sam’s bad nights were mostly due to nightmares, not to the physical pain left from a Morgul wound or a spider’s bite or the brutal biting-off of his ring finger.
Frodo had always done his best to suppress his pain, discomfort, and grief. Indeed, Sam suspected that his beloved Master spent far, far more difficult nights than he himself did. When Sam thought he heard cries of distress or pain he’d go immediately to Frodo’s side. But how many such cries were smothered by Frodo pressing his mouth against his comforters, pillows, or his own fist or forearm?
Taking a deep breath, Sam gave a single knock on the door and opened it.
Frodo sat in one of the two armchairs by the fireplace, his preferred one to the right, closer to the bedroom door, with his feet up on a cushioned ottoman. He was wrapped in the soft, green blanket sent him via Gimli by their King and Queen, and over that the light comforter Pippin had sent him from Buckland, having sworn that he himself had chosen most of the down with which it was stuffed. Frodo had extra pillows about him, and even more pillows and cushions, most from the smial’s extra bedrooms, were to be seen in his bed. Lately Frodo had been most comfortable when he lay with his torso raised, which was a far cry from before the quest when he usually slept on his side. Sam was certain that this meant something, although he wasn’t sure he wanted to know precisely what.
At least he does appear to be asleep, Sam thought as he turned his attention to the fireplace. There was a decent blaze there, at least—Frodo often felt cold anymore, and he’d obviously built up the fire before taking his place in the chair. His mug sat upon the table between the two chairs, and it had but recently been emptied. Shifting Elanor so that she could be more securely held by one arm, Sam reached to touch Frodo’s forehead, at which, of course, Frodo awoke with a start—not a terrible one, thank the stars.
“I’m so sorry, Frodo,” Sam murmured. “But we heard a sound as if you was in pain, so we come to check on you, Ellie an’ me. Where does it hurt?”
Frodo gave a thin laugh. “Where doesn’t it hurt, Sam? It is my shoulder the most, of course, though. It will ache so. But I just drank my tea, as a good little Hobbit ought to do. It is already better.”
“Are you certain as we ought t’leave first thing as we planned, Master? I mean, you won’t of had a full night’s sleep.”
“If we don’t leave first thing, will we leave at all, do you think, Sam?”
“But if we leave later in the day, perhaps….” After a moment, he said, “You’d feel so much better with proper rest, you know.”
Frodo was already shaking his head. “No, Sam, it is too late to keep thinking like that. I have been thinking so for far too long, and I have failed to get better. If we do not leave first thing as we have planned, I fear it will be too late for me to leave at all.”
He turned to look into Sam’s eyes. “There comes a point at which a person cannot go home again, Sam, for not only will home have changed so that he no longer can find his place within it but he himself can be so changed that he is not, and never again can be, who and what he was before.”
“The Shire, it’s healin’, Mr. Frodo Baggins, and it couldn’t be healin’ half so well as it is were it not for you bein’ there in the Mayor’s office, doin’ what you did.”
“And the healing continues now that Will is back where he belongs.”
“Aided by them as you taught how to see what went wrong.”
Frodo’s eyes searched those of his friend for some moments. At last he said in low tones, “Perhaps. But now they see what they must.” He paused, then added, “They do not need me any longer, Sam. Yes, the Shire is healing. But I am not. As I told Gandalf ere we parted at the Old Forest, I am not as I was. I am changed, too badly changed, by what I carried and by what was done to me, to be merely a Hobbit of the Shire, no matter how much that is all I ever wanted to be. We were all told that the wound I suffered at Weathertop will not heal, not here in Middle Earth. The same is true of the wounds left by the Ring Itself.”
“Can you be better, there with Master Elrond and Mister Bilbo?”
“They so hope they can help me, Sam. But I will not be able to heal here.” His eyes focused moodily on the fire on the hearth. “I cannot rest as I am. I hope that I will be able to rest, once I am with Bilbo again. I had wanted to rest here, to watch you learn to be a husband and father, to see your children born and grow, to see you accepted as the wonderful and capable Hobbit that you are by the whole of the Shire. At least I have been granted the grace to see that process begun. But it is elsewhere I must go to find myself again. Perhaps I helped the Shire begin to heal, but I cannot heal myself.” Again he sought Sam’s eyes. “Please forgive me, Sam.”
“I understand, dear Master. It’s now time for you to find your own healing.”
Frodo’s eyes were bright with tears that would not quite come. “Yes, Sam, it is.”
So saying, he held out his arms to take Eleanor to hold for a time, and Sam went over to the bed to set it straight again. After studying the pillows and cushions, Sam set them in order to better raise and support Frodo’s torso and head, then returned to the chair. “You want as I should leave you to sleep as you can here, Frodo?”
Frodo looked over his shoulder thoughtfully. “I would sleep better, I think, were I to return to bed. I was only feeling cold, I think, so I stirred up the fire and laid on another log, and sat to know its warmth for a time while I drank my tea. I drifted off, but not deeply. Yes, it was warmer here by the fire, but I found myself remembering other fires that weren’t so—comforting.”
Sam felt himself shudder in sympathy. He, too, remembered such things.
Frodo rose rather stiffly, and carrying Elanor carefully walked toward the bed, finally pausing by it to give her a gentle kiss to her forehead and return her reluctantly to her father. “Go to your dad, sweetling,” he whispered. “Thank you for allowing me to know and love you as I have.”
“We will come see you there in Rivendell, Frodo—Merry, Pippin, and me, and the children and Rosie, too, when they’re old enough to come so far.”
Frodo gave a sigh, closed his eyes briefly as if he was thinking on something he did not wish to say aloud, laying his hand softly on Sam’s shoulder before he slipped under the sheets Sam had folded back so carefully, and laid himself back against the cushions. As Sam, one handed, carefully added the blanket and comforter Frodo had taken to the chair he murmured. “You are so much better than I am at building them up properly, Sam. Thank you so.”
Sam continued with his former thought, “I wish as you’d let me send for Merry and Pippin to come with us. It’s not quite fair to them, don’t you know, not letting them know as you’re leavin’.”
“They’re not even home from the Southfarthing as yet, Sam. And I do not know how much more tearing of my heart I can bear right now. I have written to them. They will understand.”
Sam wasn’t so certain of that, but wisely let it go. “Well, sleep as best you can, and I’ll fetch Strider and ol’ Bill from the stable at the Ivy Bush as soon as we’re done with first breakfast. Rose has a nice hamper of food ready for us to take with us.”
“Bless her. And bless you and our dear little Elanorellë here as well. Sleep well yourself, Samwise Gamgee.”
And with that he turned his head slightly and closed his eyes. Sam found himself whispering a bit of that prayer for healing old Strider used to murmur when he’d labored over Frodo after he’d been stabbed with that awful knife. And as he closed the door behind himself and Elanor, he wished more strongly than ever that Merry and Pippin, and Strider, would be going with them tomorrow morning as Frodo Baggins left Bag End and the Shire for good.