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CHAPTER 6: "TO CAST AWAY A TREASURE AT NEED..."
Sam stood for a moment, his head out the window, breathing heavily, his mind in turmoil. After a moment, he felt Merry's hand on his back.
"Sam?" It was a rather raspy whisper.
Sam took a deep breath. "I'm all right now. It--it was just the shock--"
"I take it--" Merry's voice was hoarse, and he broke off, clearing his throat. When he spoke again, his voice was stronger. "I take it you didn't know anything about that?"
"No, no--I'd no idea!"
Pippin still sat on the settee, the open box in his hands, staring at it. Then, with a sudden and decisive movement, he overturned the box above the tea table--
and watched the chain come slithering out.
Merry and Sam came over behind him and stared. There was no doubt whatsoever what chain that was. Most of its length was discoloured with what looked like-- and yet they knew was not--rust; one link was broken, the end pulled out, distorted and sharp.
Sam gasped again, shaking his head in denial. He leaned forward, placing his hands on the back of the settee. Merry looked at him for a moment, and then said "I think we could all use a drink."
Sam fumbled awkwardly at his fob, and drew forth a small key that he handed to Merry. "With little ones about, I keep the cabinet locked." His voice was distracted and distant.
Merry nodded and went over to the cabinet next to the study door, and unlocking it, drew forth a bottle of brandy and three snifters. Uncorking it, he poured a small amount in each, and then, casting a glance at the chain on the table, he poured a little bit more.
He handed one snifter to Sam and another to Pippin, and then guided Sam back to sit in his chair. Grabbing his own snifter, he sat down next to Pippin, and took a large swallow of the brandy. Pippin stared for a moment, making a face, for he did not care for distilled spirits and generally stuck to wine and ale. Then he took a quick swallow, much as he might have swallowed bitter medicine. The cousins looked over at Sam, and realised he had already finished his. His colour had begun to come back, and tears were running down his face.
"I can't believe it. I thought 't was lost at the fiery Mountain, along with the--the Ring. I can't think how Mr. Frodo come by it."
Pippin had yet to speak. He took another swallow from the snifter, grimaced, and put it down. Then he leant forward, and put a finger forth, stopping short of touching the grisly chain. "So much blood," he whispered. "so much."
"The Ring were so heavy, once we came into the Black Land; so much heavier than before, and it got even heavier with every mile we went. That *chain* rubbed his neck raw with its chafing, digging into his skin, cutting, bleeding--" Sam's voice was low and intent, his eyes had a faraway look in them. "I hated that chain near as much as I hated that Ring! Why would he have it? Why would he keep it?"
Merry wet his lips, and stared as well. It was horrible to contemplate, yet he could not look away. He took another large swallow of the brandy.
Then he put the snifter down. "I suppose we had better open the letter, then." He picked it up and put his thumb under the seal. "Maybe--maybe this will explain how it came to be here." He opened the letter with a trembling hand, and clearing his throat, began to read:
"19 Halimath, S.R. 1421
My dearest and most beloved friends--
I know that sooner or later Sam will find this strongbox. And knowing Sam, I am certain that he will call on you, Merry and Pippin, to help him sort through these things. For the most part the items in this strongbox are things that I had saved all of my life, mementos of those who were dearest to me. I think that you may be surprised at some of these things, and will recognise many of them.
But where I go now, I can take only a few of the smallest tokens. Rest assured that I have with me things that will help me to remember each of our lives together--yet even without those reminders, I will never forget you, my three dearest ones. I hope that as you sort through the mementos in this strongbox, you are filled with as many happy memories of our time together and stories you have heard as I was when I placed these cherished memories here for you.
Yet, not all mementos are pleasant ones. And not everything that should be cast aside can be, as I have learnt to my everlasting regret. But where I go now it has no place. It is my hope that by leaving it here, the three of you will be better able to understand and accept my decision to leave Middle Earth.
I wish that I could bring myself to discard it--yet I find that I fail at that just as I failed in the end to discard what else needed discarding. Do what you will with it. I could not abide to look at it, yet casting it off was impossible, just as the other task was impossible. In the end, I am leaving it behind me, for it has no place where I go now.
Forgive me, Sam, for not parting with it and making you see it, but when it broke, not all of what it bound to me was destroyed. Even broken it carries memories of things and events that have changed all of us forever. It became as much a part of me as the Shire, or any of you. And so I entrust it to the three of you to do with as you think best. I cannot bear to think more of it now. Please forgive me for my weakness.
I am sorrier than I can say to have left this responsibility and burden upon you all, yet I know that you will do the right thing. I hope that you can forgive me placing such a burden on you.
And I also hope that you will find a place in your lives for the pleasant memories and things I have left for you.
I leave my beloved Shire knowing firsthand that she will be well cared for by all of you as well as by our new King. I have no doubts that the three of you shall be the best Thain, Master of the Hall, and Mayor that the Shire has ever had. I know I will find my peace beyond the sea and hope that you, my brothers, will find yours as well.
I am going to miss you all; I already do. But this was the only way.
All my love,
Merry's voice broke, and he gave a broken sob, quickly suppressed. He made an angry gesture at the chain, which lay on the table like a serpent. "Even that. Even the chain, he couldn't bring himself to say it. Just as he couldn't bring himself to name the Ring. Look at it, covered with his blood, and... is that... is that…" Merry gulped. "… some of his hair?"
There, caught and knotted on the chain, were several dark hairs ending in tiny curls.
Tears pooled in Pippin’s eyes as he looked to Sam, hoping he would say that Merry’s guess was wrong.
Sam was staring at it as if mesmerised. "I don't understand it. I don't know how he come to still have it. Them Orcs took all of his clothes and left him there in naught but his skin, like he were an animal. At the … at the end, he was clad only in my Lórien cloak, with a rope tied around his waist, and a ragged pair of Orc breeks -- it’s not like it could have caught in his shirt and he didn’t know about it until he got back to the Shire."
Merry and Pippin both looked disturbed at this revelation. Although they knew it had been bad, neither Frodo nor Sam had ever mentioned precisely what the Orcs had done to Frodo. Neither one of them had been there and so they had thought it similar to their own experiences among the Orcs. They had both just assumed that Frodo’s clothes were so ragged from the journey that they were thrown away by the healers. The image of their dear cousin in nothing but Sam’s cloak with that chain cutting into his skin as it weighed Frodo down with that Ring was unbearable.
Pippin picked up the quill Merry had been using from time to time to make notes of how the items in the box were to be disposed, and poked at the chain. "That must be how it survived. Sam, you said that this chain cut into his neck so badly that it made Frodo’s neck bleed. Look at it; it must have dug so hard into his skin that it got caught there, caught between the back of his neck and his curls. I’m forever getting things caught or tangled up in my curls. I guess it’s one of the burdens we hobbits have that Men and Elves don’t have to …" Pippin paused, an idea coming to him. "Strider … and Gandalf … they had to have known he had it. Someone gave him the box."
"Why? Why would he keep it?" asked Sam. "It can't have been good for him, to know it was around."
Merry steepled his index fingers together and pursed them against his lips deep in thought.
There was a long silence.
At last, Merry broke the silence that hung over them like the very air of Mordor itself. "This was by no means something Frodo would have wanted to give to anyone as a treasured piece of jewellery in a bequest. Nor would he have wanted to take it with him to Tol Eressëa when he went there to heal."
"Yes, Merry, but why didn’t he get rid of it? I thought it was gone. Why did he bring it back home to the Shire, to us?" asked Sam.
"He couldn’t," Pippin whispered. Merry and Sam turned to look at him. "He couldn’t bring himself to do it. He’d thought he had failed with the Ring by not being able to cast it into the fire. This … this chain, became an extension of the Ring to him. And since he couldn’t destroy the Ring, he couldn’t destroy the chain or rid himself of it either. So he kept it in his strongbox to represent the Ring and how he had not had the strength to cast it into the fiery depths of Mount Doom."
"But why bring it back here?" persisted Sam. "And why--" he wet his lips, "--why leave it for us to find?"
"Because he trusts us," replied Merry. "When we formed the Conspiracy, we swore to look after him, and he’s holding us to that promise. ‘It became as much a part of me as the Shire, or any of you,’ he said in his letter. Well, he trusted us with his life, and so he trusts us to take care of this." Merry nodded his chin in the direction of the coiled chain on the tea table. "After all, he did say that he considered us all to be like brothers to him."
"Welcome to the family, Sam," Pippin quipped, though his expression remained troubled.
"Poor Mr. Frodo," Sam said quietly. "It must have been powerful hard for him to carry that thing all the way back here to the Shire, and then to keep it here with him."
"Gandalf was right--and the Elves," murmured Merry. "I always thought I knew Frodo's heart, that if I loved him enough… I thought I'd failed him, that if I had been with him more..." The tears that had gathered in Merry’s eyes spilled over unheeded. "But this--I'd never have believed this of him. I could never have helped him enough..."
"You thought that, Merry?" asked Sam, surprised. "That's what I've often thought myself, me, right here in Bag End with him, me and Rosie--we thought we was taking care of him, helping him through the dark times. I kept wondering how it was I didn't know, how I never knew he was suffering so bad as he was."
"Oh, Sam!" Pippin put a sympathetic hand on Sam's arm.
"Sometimes--sometimes I even wondered if maybe--maybe I shouldn't have wed my Rose. If I hadn't been so taken up with being her husband, being Elanor's dad, that I could have helped him more... but…"
Merry's head, which had been bowed in his own sorrow jerked up. "Never think that for a moment, Sam! Elanor … Elanor meant the world to him! She brought what little joy and light he could find in his life those last few months!"
Sam wet his lips. "That's a good thing to hear, Merry. I … I felt powerful guilty that I couldn't regret wedding my Rose."
"Strider was right," said Pippin. "He was talking about me, and at the time we'd no clue--but he was right."
"What do you mean, Pip?" asked Merry. Pippin had picked up the quill and was poking at the chain again, as though he could not help it. Merry gently took his wrist and moved his hand away from it. Pippin didn't seem to notice.
"Remember at Isengard? He gave me back my Lórien brooch, and he said 'He who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters'?Frodo was in fetters--he was a slave to the Ring, and that…" he cast a look of loathing at the chain "well, that chain..."
"Fetters." Sam finished the sentence for him. "That's right."
The three stared once more at the chain. Merry gave a deep sigh. "He left it, though, in the end. He did cast it *off*, even though he couldn't cast it *away*." He looked up, his eyes growing distant, and a sad smile touched his lips. "I think perhaps that this is a good thing--a sign that his healing *would* come there, in the West."
Pippin's eyes brightened at this. "I think you are right, Merry. Just like--like Bilbo couldn't throw the Ring away, but he could leave it in someone else's care, pass it on."
Sam nodded. "One thing's different though! This is no Ring of Power, what has to be carried off to a fiery Mountain. This is just a plain chain, what it won't take much to destroy." He stood up and decisively strode over to the cold hearth, and began to lay a fire.
Merry and Pippin watched, nodding approvingly. The tinder caught, and they watched silently as Sam built the fire up. Sam came back over, and they watched the fire grow hotter.
With the quill, Pippin took up the chain and dropped it back into the box. Merry reached over and shut the lid with a snap, and pushed the latch closed. Then he handed the box to Sam. "You are Frodo's heir, Sam. The honour belongs to you."
"Thank you." Sam took the box over and tossed it into the hottest part of the fire. "Won't melt it completely--hearth-fire's not hot enough for that. But it won't be a chain no more. It can be raked out and thrown away with the ashes."
"That's fine, Sam," said Merry. And Pippin nodded. As they watched the fire crackle and pop, and the box catch light, the clock on the mantelpiece struck one.
For a picture of the chain, and an explanation of how it came to be there, see the Author's Notes for this chapter.
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