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Written for the LOTR Community Longest Day Challenge. Thanks so to RiverOtter for the beta.
The Water Is Wide
Galadriel found the Ringbearer out on the deck of the grey ship upon which they sailed. He sat near the stern on a coil of rope, a seat better suited to his stature than the benches built for those who would walk upon the decks on those few fair days they knew during their voyage. Little thought appeared to have been taken for the comfort of the two small mortals who sailed with them—no shorter benches apt to their own stature. It was true that Frodo had been given the cabin intended originally for the Lady Arwen, with its comfortable berth and its delicate appointments. But even it had yet been prepared for one Elven tall, not for one barely four feet in height.
One of the sailors sat near at hand, working upon the nets with which fresh fish were caught for the sustenance of passengers and crew, watching over the safety of this one. He looked up and nodded his acceptance of her to replace him, and moved off to the bow where he resumed his labor, his eyes now eager as he looked westward toward their destination. Frodo, on the other hand, watched eastward, knowing that he drew further by the moment from all he had ever loved.
The Hobbit’s face was pale, but that was nothing new, considering how delicate his health had become ere they’d set sail, and how close he’d been to giving over when the memories of his woundings had hit him on the sixth of October. He often said little or nothing over the space of a day. Although it was given her to sift the hearts of those she was with, Galadriel allowed Frodo Baggins his privacy, letting him choose what and when he might share with her of those thoughts that occupied him. But it appeared he had no wish to talk, not now….
“Water is such a blessing, but has cost me so much.”
She was startled, for she’d sat by him for much of the long hours of the day with him not even appearing to take notice of her arrival. Even now his gaze continued to be upon the darkening horizon behind the ship. She laid her hand upon his shoulder and looked also eastward, and awaited what else he might say.
“My mother loved the river, and when I was a child she took me to it and taught me to love it as she did, to relax in its embrace and lie back upon it and allow it to bear me upon its surface. I learned to swim, and to swim well. But she warned me that the Brandywine was to be respected, and not always to be trusted, especially when the current was running swiftly and the water was rising.”
He was quiet for a time. Then he continued, “My first sight of the Brandywine when I was old enough to appreciate it was when we approached the Buckleberry Ferry. I remember….” A pause. “I remember asking, ‘The water is wide. How will we cross over it? Are we to fly?’ And she laughed and pointed to the ferry. A barge really, rather than a boat, to be poled rather than rowed. My father was tense, and she calmed him with her arm about his waist. When the ferry Hobbit untied the ropes and began to push us across against the current he grasped onto the rails so hard his knuckles were white with the strain of it. But once we floated free I was caught—caught between terror and delight. So strange, this feeling of floating, of seeing not solid land on either side but water, moving and ever changing by the instant.”
He took a shuddering breath. His voice was almost a whisper when he spoke again. “Mother loved the Brandywine so, to paddle and swim in it, and to sail upon it. Not that we had boats with sails, of course. We Hobbits tend to have but rowboats and coracles, and a few barges and rafts intended only to carry loads from here to there. All her life she and my uncles and aunts would start from a particular landing far upstream of Brandy Hall in one of our rowboats, and would allow the river to carry them downstream until they fetched up in the shallow bay at the turning of the river where the children of Brandy Hall would swim and play within the water.
“After they married, she finally convinced my father to sail with her in this manner. It must have taken quite some time to talk him into it, for he was fascinated by the sight of the River, but had no more liking of being in or upon it than most other Hobbits other than the Brandybucks. In time he learned to use the oars after a fashion, and I remember rowing out with the two of them and seeing how uncomfortable he was, but how determined he was not to disappoint her. Usually she would end up taking over the oars, amused by his barely hidden relief that she was doing so.”
He again sighed, and took a drink from the water bottle he had with him, his eyes still not leaving the horizon, which was now a delicate pink. After he settled the bottle again between his knees he continued once more. “To sail—no, to float—down the river at night when the stars were brightest—that was my mother’s delight. And to please her, my father would suggest that they sail on fair evenings in the spring and summer and early fall of the leaf. And she loved it so, and him so for overcoming his fears for her sake.
“We don’t know why they didn’t come home after that last sail. There was talk of a strange creature seen along the bank that dove into the water when the one making the report came near to it. But the water, although somewhat higher than usual as it was spring and the water always flowed higher in springtime, was yet calm enough, and the current not dangerous where they tended to sail. My father knew well not to move suddenly within the boat, having done this on many occasions by this time in their marriage. They found her body next day, under the overturned boat, below the bay where the boat usually fetched up. It appeared she’d struck her head upon the gunwale as she tried to surface, and was stunned, and that this alone was why she drowned. My father’s body—it took far longer to find it. It was beginning to bloat when it was found, caught in a snag of roots in a downed tree that had fallen during the winter.”
Was he brooding? she wondered when he went quiet again. The pink of the horizon was now going purple and turquoise, the few clouds dark bruises upon the deepening blue of the upper sky.
“The boats you gave us, they bore us well. I rode with Sam and Aragorn, two I already loved deeply as brothers of the heart. Sam was even more wary in the boat we rode in than had been my father. But the suspicions of Gamgees toward the water are very strong.” He had the ghost of a wry smile upon his face, but the crease between his brows was pronounced. “I knew I must leave them, the rest, to go on upon my own. I could not take them to the certain death I saw for myself, going into Mordor willingly. I thought that if I went on alone, I would draw the danger after myself, allowing them to continue free and to find a safe haven to await the signs that I had either won through, or, more likely, failed miserably. What did I know of Saruman’s Uruk-hai coming from the west, seeking out Hobbits to carry them away, knowing only that such creatures were said to be carrying something needed by their master for the war?”
His face was growing stern. “After—after the Ring took Boromir, I knew I could wait no longer. It was growing too strong for them.” He took a deep breath, and whispered, “It was growing too strong for me, too. I didn’t know how much longer I could hold out against It.
“I went down to the boats, where they’d been drawn up above the waterline. No one else was about. I suspected they had gone after me, and was glad, for I would not have to fight them about this. Even if they could not see me because I wore the Ring, I knew they would see the boat being drawn into the water, and would guess what was happening.
“Then it happened just as I’d anticipated—Sam was calling to me, insisting he would go with me. And then he was trying to follow after me—only he cannot swim! And when he began to sink I had to turn back and save him, and take him into the boat. And in the end, Sam Gamgee, who was so terrified of boats and water, rowed with me across the lake to the eastern shore, bound to go with me for the sin of loving me as a brother. And I was glad, and also felt terribly guilty, that I would not in the end die alone. But I felt that I’d lost the rest there, once I went into the boat there at Parth Galen.”
Tears were beginning to roll down his cheeks unheeded. She could feel how painful these memories were for him, and she wished—almost—she could spare him such anguish. But, she knew, this was necessary for his healing, to speak aloud what he’d kept hidden in his heart for so long. She was glad when he again continued his thoughts.
“I saw Sam beginning to wilt as we journeyed further and further into Mordor. He was not built for waste places, my Sam.”
For the first time she answered him, “Nor were you, my friend.”
He shrugged. “No.”
Again he sipped from his bottle, and brooded.
“When your granddaughter first spoke to me of the chance to sail west and find healing once more, I felt the first true thrill of hope I’d known since we’d been in Lórien. Since we left your land I’d felt increasingly as if I were in fact becoming a ghost—a wraith indeed. And there were so few moments even within Minas Tirith when I felt as if all were truly real about me.”
A sigh. She tightened her grip upon his thin shoulder. Indeed, he felt barely substantial even now.
“I could barely cross the Bruinen when we left Rivendell on the last leg home. The water looked so wide. I knew it was shallow enough to ride across, perhaps even to wade across; but I found myself wishing for a boat—or to perhaps be transformed into a bird as was Elwing! And the—the memories were hitting me so, of both being stabbed and of facing—facing them! The Wraiths and—him!”
He was beginning to shake under her hand. “When we approached the Brandywine—the Baranduin—the river again looked wide, perhaps wider than it was when we crossed over at the Buckleberry Ferry the night we reached Crickhollow as we looked to leave the Shire. But we could cross over at the Bridge, and I remember rejoicing that it was as solid underfoot as I remember it always being! But although we were home again, it was not the same, even as I’d known it could not be, for I was not the same. And I began again losing substance, only this time physically as well as spiritually.”
The horizon was now dark, and only the flecks of reflection upon the waves of the sunset behind them to the west could indicate where the water lay. “And you chose at the last to accept the gift that Arwen offered you,” she said.
“Yes, I did. And the water is wide, and growing wider, between those I love and me. And I will not see them again, for no ship could bear me back to them. I am not of Melian’s blood, and cannot think to transform into a seabird to fly back to see them again. Will Sam follow after? I did not wish him to leave his Rosie and little Elanor, after all, nor the future I have foreseen for him. He has so much to do and to be! He can live—there! He can know the fulfillment—there!—that I cannot. But once Bilbo is gone from me, I will be so lonely! No matter what beauty and joys there may be in Elvenhome for me to encounter, I remain a child of Middle Earth, and a mortal. I do not wish to die alone, I find.”
He wiped his face with his sleeve. “I do not want Sam to find his love for Rosie going cold, but I don’t want his love for me to fade away, either. How selfish I am—to want him to be with me at the end only so I feel comfortable when it comes, knowing again that I am not alone when death must come for me.”
He looked up into her eyes at last. “I am not afraid of dying, but I don’t want to be alone then, although I don’t want to be forced to say goodbye to those I love, either. Am I not pathetic?”
She thought on that conversation often as she watched him upon Tol Eressëa, as she saw him give over the horrors of his memories, as he learned once more to embrace life, and as he again began to dance and to sing in the joy that was returned to him. She saw how the young Elfling Livwen was drawn to him, and came to love him, and how she shared in his renewed curiosity by teaching him to sail and gave him the small boat her father had given to her when she was smaller. Yes, he grieved when Bilbo left him, but not overmuch. Soon few who knew him well could imagine life on Tol Eressëa without him, so much beauty and delight did he draw to himself.
But the day was coming, all too soon for those who must remain in this world until its ending, when he must look to leave them. And on the day he knew that Rosie had died, and at last Sam was free to join him, she saw how torn he was, wanting that comfort, but not wanting to draw Sam from what was proper to their kind. And she was as glad as he was to know that at last Sam had himself chosen, and was upon his way, voyaging as had Frodo, away from pain and loss, to reunion, as brief as it might be, before Frodo Baggins, the Lord Iorhael, must go on and finish his own voyage.
She was both amused and saddened to see the pain all of this gave to young Livwen, herself but newly come to adulthood. For Livwen truly loved the strange being she’d known since her childhood. Frodo would no longer sail in the boat she’d given him, and there was but little chance he’d take his beloved brother of the heart out into it, not at this late stage in their lives. Although he’d had it cleaned, sanded, and repainted, and its sails replaced, its centerboard and tiller planed. Perhaps he thought to take Sam out upon the Sea in order to give over his life. She hoped that in the intervening years that Samwise Gamgee had learned to row properly, for she knew that he would find the water appearing wide once his friend was gone from this life.
But in the end, the two Hobbits left Tol Eressëa together, their fëar rising to dance amidst the stars. And it was one who was fearless who joined Frodo in boarding Eärendil’s craft to make that final journey to the true West beyond the West, where no further pain or grief could come to either ever again.
But one stood watching after them, ignoring the abandoned body of Sam Gamgee lying beneath the White Tree of Tol Eressëa, and for Livwen daughter of Talorë the sailor, Galadriel knew that the elleth was finding the water to be wide.
Inspired by the English folksong The Water is Wide. A version can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clSZU1HR
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