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Turnabout - Chapter 5 –
When Sam looked up, he saw Gandalf looking at his master with a fathomless expression.
“He’s fallen asleep,” the wizard said, quietly, so as not to disturb him. Sam nodded, unsurprised.
“Shall I carry him to his rooms?” the other asked, and this time Sam shook his head.
“If he’s dropped off, best to let him be. He’s right black and blue and I’d be willing to bet if you moved him, he’d be waking. No. Let be, if you please, Mr. Gandalf. I’ll tend him.”
The wizard smiled and the fierce, black eyes softened in a jolly crease of wrinkles.
“In such providence, succor.”
“Beg your pardon, sir?”
Gandalf laughed and stood, shaking out his white robes as he looked down at Frodo fondly. “You have taken fine care of your master, Samwise. That is all I meant. You have come a very long way from the nosy fool I caught beneath a window.”
Sam blushed and his ears grew hot but he could think of nothing to say. Gandalf gathered up his staff and stood before him smiling with the same fondness he had displayed towards the sleeping Frodo, if perhaps, a bit more humour. “I leave him in your care then, Samwise, for more capable hands I could not imagine. I have a last duty to attend in this great labour of mine. Do not look for me on the morrow. I will return when my task is done and when I can truly rest at last.”* He bowed slightly and Sam found that acknowledgment even more embarrassing. “I take my leave, good sir,” he said and turned away. Then he strode into the great hall, pushed open the front doors and disappeared into the night.
Sam threw some more logs on the fire and light leapt into the room. It was a cosy place, for a room in a house of men, but too big for him to feel truly comfortable, or even for the great fireplace to warm it properly. Sam wondered what Gondorians did to keep their dwellings snug in winter and then, with a start, realized that, as far south as they were, it might never get cold enough here to truly need such amenities. He suddenly missed the chill of winter winds in the Shire as much as he did the snug warmth of his own little smial.
Frodo lay back in the chair, his head propped against the backrest. His feet dangled uncovered several feet above the floor and his hands rested in his lap, one loosely cupped around the bowl of his half-filled pipe. Sam took the pipe and drew the throw over his master’s feet, and then, because he didn’t feel sleepy and didn’t wish to leave his master untended, sat before the hearth to let the fire warm his back. He looked up thoughtfully at Frodo’s face.
Even in sleep and in the forgivingly warm light of fire, he could still see the marks of age in it. He had never really noted them before Ithilien, though his master was several years his senior, but now it struck him that the fine lines and sculpting weren't only due to the trial of their journey. Frodo was growing old.
He had never felt it his place to consider his master with such familiarity, but along their journey, he had learned to see Frodo with new eyes. If he idealized him less, then he loved him more. And he now began to wonder what would become of him once they did reach home. Sam had had an idea of what he would do when they returned, but what did the future hold for his master?
He’d always assumed (or maybe hoped) Mr. Frodo would settle down at Crickhollow and find a good lady to marry, but now, seeing the hollows still evident in his cheeks and the flickering of mithril-coloured strands among his dark locks, he wondered. The quest had taken its toll on both of them, but somehow he knew that it had drained his master even more deeply than it had him. Frodo’s spirit still burned bright, like a light shining from within, but it was as if the glow was now cloaked in ash, like the embers of a dying fire.
He watched the play of firelight across his master’s sleeping form and noted the shadow that hid the fact that a finger was missing from his hand, and a deep and profound sadness filled him. Somehow he knew that, whatever hopes he had cherished and whatever plans Frodo himself had made, some of those things would now never come to pass. He remembered a morning in the house of Elrond, when he had brought Frodo breakfast after his long ordeal, and had sat watching him sleep then too. He had dreamed of a day when he would see his beloved master happy, with a plump wife and child at his side and a little patch of garden for him and his to mind, but the image was dim now and fading away.
Sam looked down. It had once been devotion and pride of place that had kept him with the Bagginses. They were good masters, and the finest hobbits in the Shire. Old Mr. Bilbo had taught him his letters and Frodo had treated the motherless boy with warmth and respect, sharing with him the gift of Elven-lore that Sam had so loved. He had been happy to give them his devoted service in return.
But something had happened to him over the months of the quest. He had learned his own worth. Frodo seemed to have seen it long before he himself did. What was it he had said? That Sam would end up by becoming a wizard - or a warrior? It was as if Sam had reached the point Frodo had known all along he would. A tear slid down Sam's face, but he did not wipe it away. He still didn't want to be warrior, or wizard either, for that matter. He wanted only to serve his master. He might have learned his own worth, but he also knew Frodo’s.
He had watched his beloved father grow old, too, and seeing him becoming too stiff and old to work in Mr. Bilbo's garden had filled him with a similar keening regret. But at least his father had lived a long and happy life. It didn’t seem fair that Mr. Frodo, the wisest and most deserving person he knew, should never have the chance to know the sweetness of home, happiness and family which most hobbits took for granted. If only he could somehow give him back the future the quest seemed to have stolen away.
"We've seen a right turnabout, haven't we, master?" he whispered softly. “I wish I could make it up to you, Mr. Frodo, but truth be told, I can’t." He drew a breath and looked back up at his sleeping friend. "And since I'm no warrior, or wizard neither, all I can do is promise to take care of you as best I can. You won't want for nothing and that’s for certain. There won’t be a hobbit in the Shire who’ll be better cared for. No doubt you deserve more, lots more, but you’ll have your Sam, and Mr. Merry and Master Pippin, too, and we’ll see to it you have the best life a hobbit ever dreamed of. And I’ll see to it that our folk know what you’ve done too, and remember it, and…” His voice trailed off.
That was not what Frodo would want of him. His friend - yes, he could say ‘friend’ now - would want Sam to live his own life, and to live it well, and not be troubled by the older hobbit’s sorrows. He would want to see them all happy and contented, living the lives he had sacrificed so much to protect. Sam knew that, but in that moment it seemed a terrible burden to have to live and be happy while your heart was broken for another. He sighed. A burden, perhaps, but not as terrible as the one Frodo had borne.
“I can do both,” he said, realizing as he said it that it was the only answer. He nodded, confirming the decision to himself. Frodo sighed in his dreaming but did not stir and Sam smiled at him with a tenderness and warmth that would have made Frodo shake his head and laugh if he'd been awake to see it. “Don’t you fret about it none, sir. I couldn’t be happy having it any other way.”
The next time Merry woke, he was much stronger, but so sore even the healing bath of athelas could not completely ease his joints. Pippin, dismissed from duties, stayed with him during his recuperation and Sam visited, bringing cheer and news of his master, but Frodo, similarly suffering, would not be up to making the trip to the Houses of Healing for several days.
While the two injured hobbits recovered, Aragorn and Gandalf were engaged in a great labour indeed. They had both disappeared from the city the night after the incident and none knew where they had gone, but when they returned the next afternoon, they bore with them a sapling whose trunk glistened like snow and whose roots had been wrapped gently in a dampened cloth. There was a hastily called ceremony that, of the hobbits, only Pippin was able to attend, in which the old tree by the fountain of the Citadel was gently uprooted and carried off to the Houses of the Dead and the little seedling set in its place.
“It was as if that little thing knew it was in its home, Frodo!” the young Took laughed excitedly. “I swear you could have seen its roots burrowing into that black soil as you watched! It’s only been planted for three days, but already it’s got twice the leaves it had. Oh, you should see it, Sam! It’s no ordinary tree – it’s almost like it’s… aware of you!”
The four of them were relaxing in the gardens of the Houses of Healing. Merry had finally been released from his bed, and Frodo’s stiffness had eased enough to let him come the short distance to visit him. Both patients, walking to this meeting bent like old gaffers, had greeted each other with laughter and gingerly hugs, each delighted that the other was swiftly recovering.
“Aware?” asked Merry. “Like an Ent, Pip?”
Pippin took a sip of his tea and shook his head. “Not exactly, Merry. It’s a grander little tree, in a way. Not old and wise like Treebeard, more like a young and noble lordling. There’s nothing dishevelled or mossy about this fellow. He’s…” Pippin stumbled on the words and finally gave up, explaining, “if Aragorn is a King of men, then this will be a King amongst trees, if that makes any sense.”
Frodo nodded, smiling. “It does indeed, Pip, and it makes me more eager than ever to see this marvel.”
“Aye, and myself as well,” agreed Sam. “I’ll never tire of seeing new things sprouting up and this sounds like a marvel of the sort I daren't miss. Might be I could jog up to the citadel this afternoon.”
“And I’ll let you,” said Frodo, meaning quite clearly that he was not up to such a trek as yet.
Merry laughed, agreeing with his cousin, and rubbed his back for emphasis. Though their talk was easy and familiar, he had kept one eye on Frodo the whole morning, looking for…. He wasn’t sure what. He was almost to the point of wondering what he had earlier been worried about. Though there was some quietness in his cousin's manner and perhaps just a hint of difference in the way Sam attended him. The gardener was always eminently respectful, but his solicitousness suggested greater concern than for just this healing injury. Though it was very subtle, Merry felt Sam was acting more as one would for a greatly aged but beloved father than for a dear master; with reverence, not just respect, and a touch of helpless sadness.
He knows, thought Merry suddenly. There's something he knows about Frodo and either won't share it, or, more likely, won't admit it to himself. Merry sat back, carefully, and sipped his tea, as if simply listening to Sam and Pippin's talk. Frodo was similarly engaged and Merry's eyes studied him over the rim of his cup.
Frodo's face was clear and held a gentle if distant smile. He looked happy, benevolent and wise, but it was as if his mind wandered other paths and sat in other gardens than the one he presently occupied. Once in a while he would glance up and study one of his companions, and occasionally a look of tenderness would wash over his features that did not seem tied to the conversation going on around him. The smile would warm on his face, lifting the corner of his mouth and making his eyes, slits of astonishing blue in the bright sun, sparkle beneath veiled lids.
He looked to Merry and met the other hobbit's eyes, studying him in return. Then he smiled, brilliantly and openly and Merry felt like a child who had sneaked a pie from a window ledge only to find that the treat had been left there purposefully for him to take.
"Are our two invalids having words of their own?" laughed Pippin. "Cousin Frodo looks decidedly conspiratorial."
"Looks to me like they've both been wool-gathering. Master Pippin, if I didn't know better, I'd say they've been bored by our talk!" Sam raised a brow in mock indignation. "Ought we to feel insulted?"
Frodo laughed. "I am listening," he answered. "It's comfortable talk, not boring, I assure you. When you speak, I see bright futures filled with hope stretched out before you. It is a sight that fills me with joy." Then he shook his head, feigning exasperation. "Yet you would scold an old hobbit for taking such ease as his poor wits can conjure? For shame."
Pippin laughed outright and Merry blushed, but Sam, after a wry grin, looked hesitantly at his master. "Does that mean you've been…?" He shifted in his chair, glanced at Merry and Pippin as if for support and then seemed to decide to push on. "Well, sir. Here's a question I've been meaning to ask you, if it wouldn't be too forward of me." He waited a moment and Frodo carefully nodded. "Ever since that night when Gandalf left and we had that little talk about seeing things that hadn't been yet, I've been wondering…"
That statement, of course, caused Merry to gape in surprise and a flurry of exclamations interrupted the gardener, as both of Frodo’s younger cousins demanded an explanation. Sam, after receiving a preoccupied nod from Frodo, described the conversation they'd had with Gandalf as clearly as he could.
"This is very peculiar! And quite astonishing!" Merry declared. He looked at Frodo with a serious and puzzled frown. "You've seen us? As we will be someday?" He was not sure he believed the story. His eyes narrowed. "Sam says you had a sight of me in the future. Does that mean I could ask you something, like who I'll marry, and you could tell me?"
Frodo chuckled and shook his head.
"I wouldn't give much weight to it, Merry; consider the source! But I will confess, now that I've been convinced by Gandalf that these imaginings aren't evil, that I have been letting my mind wander, contemplating you all." His eyes sparkled with such cheer and compassion that they could not but smile back. "I wouldn't presume to think that what I've seen is truth…" He paused and his expression became more serious. "But it comforts me," he said softly. "Yes. That it does."
Merry digested this strange, new information. While quite an un-hobbit-like talent, if there had been one of his race who might have displayed such an elvish trait, it would have been Frodo.
"And there, Mr. Frodo, is my question," persisted Sam. His voice was low and deferential, but firm; he would not be gainsaid or evaded. "You've got some hint our futures are bright and I'm right glad that's a comfort to you, sir, but," he sighed and his frank brown eyes put the question right to Frodo, insisting on an answer though his words were slow and hesitant, "what about yourself?"
Frodo was silent and his look grew serious as the other hobbits fixed expectantly on him. Merry felt a lump in his throat grow as memory stirred. This was what he had feared, the very thing he had tried to explain to Pippin. He had worried Frodo might be going away, feared his dear cousin leaving him in a manner that he couldn't prevent, no matter how many spies he engaged nor how intricate the plans he made. Sam must have sensed something like it too. He held his breath, as eager for the answer as he was afraid of it.
"The future…" Frodo breathed at last, breaking the apprehensive silence with his quiet, thoughtful voice, "as Galadriel once told me, can be a perilous thing to see. Can you ever know it with certainty and does your knowing it change what must be?" A smile that was both gentle and full of wisdom crossed his face and Merry suddenly saw that there was nothing at all fragile or ephemeral or intangible about his cousin. Frodo's will seemed revealed to him for the briefest of moments and Merry drew in his breath in amazement, perceiving it. Here was a hobbit whose strength had changed the world, one whose deeds would be remembered by men after all the others of his race were dust. There was something in Frodo Baggins as unyielding as the roots of a mountain and yet mortal, fallible and somehow even more incredible because of it.
This was the strength that had dared to stand against the might of the Dark Lord in the heart of his realm. And realizing that, Merry also had a glimpse of the kind of power it must have taken to overcome him. He shivered as a chill ran down his spine.
But the moment of clarity passed as if Frodo had put a veil over a great light and Merry was left blinking in astonishment at a face he had known and loved all his life, and wondering if he had ever really seen it before.
"Perilous, it is, but sometimes good to know," Frodo continued. "I… haven't seen much of myself, in future," he said with a chuckle, "though, as Gandalf explained it, I can understand why. Still, from what I can piece together…" Merry thought he caught a hint of melancholy in his cousin's voice but then Frodo shrugged and the shadows of foreboding seemed to scatter before his sudden, jubilant smile. "From what I can see," he said, certainty strengthening him, "in the end, I think I will be all right." His reassurance met each of them in turn. "Yes, I will be all right," he said. "And so will you be."
* From The Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter 5, ‘The Steward and the King’ – Gandalf accompanies Aragorn to find the new white tree.
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