I'm including this for the Tolkien Blog Party of Special Magnificence (hosted by Hamlette)
Fourteen years ago, I was so avidly in love with all things Tolkien that I delved into fanfiction. This week, I've done something I almost swore to myself I would never do. I looked back at some of my writings, grimaced at the emotionalism of it all, and decided to give this story, one of which I'm particularly fond, a rewrite. I nearly posted it here without editing it, but couldn't, in all good conscience, do it. The core of what you see is the story I imagined all those years ago, but any skill you might find in these lines is a result of many years of practice and deliberate schooling. Thank goodness I didn't just throw Imladris up here without taking the time to hone it, if you will. May you enjoy this story as much as I enjoyed writing it all those years ago, and as much as I enjoyed editing it yesterday and today.
Synopsis: While Frodo lies wounded in Elrond's house, the hobbits deal with the pain of nearly losing their cousin and friend along with the guilt that they could not protect him.
~ * ~
A gentle breeze caressed Merry's fine, sandy locks back from his face, but did nothing to assuage the ache in his heart. The beautiful gardens of Elrond's house went unnoticed to his blank eyes. He kept seeing them again and again: he and Pippin being ruthlessly shoved aside, Frodo backing away . . . the stab, the scream that pierced the hollows of his ears. Merry's head sagged forward. He had failed Frodo. He and Pippin, as Frodo's cousins, should have stood up to the wraiths. It was because of their failure that Frodo had been injured. What use had they been to Frodo on this journey at all?
Merry gazed out over the valley of Imladris. It truly was beautiful, he thought in anguish, but of what use was it. No amount of beauty could heal the harm done to Frodo, who now lay so pale and unresponsive.
Deliberate footfalls disturbed the sounds of nature and Merry turned. There stood an elf, tall and majestic, with dark hair that flowed in ribbons down his back and piercing eyes of an indeterminate color.
"I am Elrohir, Master Meriadoc, son of Elrond," came the voice.
Merry felt that his lips were permanently shut, for not a word squeaked past his tight throat.
"Sit down for a while, young hobbit." The expression on the elf's fair features expressed concern.
Merry found that his legs would no longer support him and slumped back onto a stone seat, his eyes trained on the elf. Elrohir leaned against the intricately woven railing of silver and studied the hobbit unblinkingly for a moment before his gaze softened. "Frodo will recover, Meriadoc. His wound, though great, has no power while in Elrond's house."
Merry's jaw clenched and his eyes sparked. "I could have prevented the injury, should have prevented it. Frodo is my cousin, and I simply stood by and let that, that THING do him such harm. I would rather have jabbed my sword into my own heart then have Frodo hurt in such a way."
The elf's eyes locked with his and seemed to search for something, until finally Merry broke the contact. The young hobbit stood to walk away, but Elrohir's firm voice stopped him, "You did try to save Frodo, Meriadoc. Your guilt is not from failing to try, but from failing to do."
Elrohir knelt in front of Merry, laying hold of the tense shoulders. Their eyes met, and Elrohir spoke, "You did all you could. The wraith's power far exceeds your own, Master Meriadoc, but you were there with Frodo when the blow was dealt, and you did all within your power to protect him."
Tears blurred the image of Elrohir. A calm hand settled on his shoulder. The perfume of hundreds of flowers mixed with the tears Merry cried, creating a healing balm to sooth the ache in his soul until there was nothing left but peace. The elf let him weep, and when Merry finally lifted his head, Elrohir lifted his hand and stepped away, that same hand clutching the railing. His eyes focused away from Imladris, away from the forests and the waterfalls that glittered below the Last Homely House, strands of his long hair drifting on the subtle breeze.
Anticipating awkwardness, Merry breathed deep when he realized there was none. "Feeling this helpless is quite unpleasant, Elrohir. But I suppose I needed to feel it sooner or later. I've been so very absurd for so much of my life, and I suppose it's time I stopped. It's just that family ties mean the world to hobbits. We're like a very old tree in a forest whose roots are all intertwined. If you tear up one of the roots, the entire tree feels it."
"It is not so different with elves, young hobbit. After all, unlike your kind, elves were never intended to die and yet it does happen from time to time and when it does, we all feel it, like a shudder of cold in the middle of summer."
"However," and Elrohir's eyes gleamed, "it is not your companion's time to die. Have hope, Meriadoc, for Frodo will heal. Now, I believe it is time you found something to fill your stomach."
A rumble sounded in Merry's gut and he chuckled. "I can't even remember the last time I did eat, and for me that is amazing. You wouldn't happen to have any apples would you?"
Rich laughter split the air. "Yes, I believe Vasalye our chef has some apples in the kitchen."
The pair started off in the general direction of the kitchen, smiling and talking, leaving behind an invisible and unanticipated companion.
Pippin, lurking behind some lilac bushes, had just scrounged enough courage to approach his agonized cousin when Elrohir arrived. So he concealed himself, watching and listening, desperate for some change in his cousin's behavior. His shoulders relaxed when Merry complained of hunger, sounding very like his old self. Once the two started in the direction of Elrond's kitchens, a place with which Pippin was quite familiar, he silently followed.
~ * ~
"Merry, I'm so relieved you're back to, well . . . normal."
Merry looked thoughtfully at his cousin. "I couldn't see or, perhaps it was that I couldn't accept, that Frodo was injured and I wasn't somehow at fault. Remember all those times we got him into so much trouble? This felt like another of those times."
Pippin snagged one of the lush flowers that had fallen from an exotic plant, examining the vibrant colors, releasing the branch carefully to snap back to its bush as they walked on. "I understand, Merry. But perhaps not as much as you."
Merry sighed. "I can't explain it to you, Pip. But it's not something you need to worry about, since all will be well."
All will be well, yes, Pippin mused inwardly, but there's something . . . strange happening here. And I wish I understood it. Rivendell has such a strange effect and I wish I knew what it is and why. There was no place like Imladris to force a hobbit lad into growing up, as much as he might resent the change, yet equally appreciate the deepening.
"Frodo is our cousin," Pip said hesitantly, hazel eyes narrowing, "and somehow that makes him responsible for us and us responsible for him. When we couldn't help him, it almost felt like a, well . . . like a part of me was dying with him."
Merry paused in the path and Pippin outpaced him a few steps before looking back.
Hurrying to explain, Pippin exclaimed, "I don't feel that now. Knowing that Frodo is recovering has taken the failure from my heart. Does that make any sense at all?"
Hands shoved into his pockets, head tilted to the side, Merry fell into stride with Pippin again. "Yes, Pip. It makes perfect sense."
The two walked silently for some moments before Pippin blurted, "I am still worried about one thing, though." One of the birds attracted Pippin's attention as it dove through the waterfall and emerged with wings radiantly beaded in droplets. "Sam isn't himself."
Merry pursed his lips. "I know. He hasn't been himself since Weathertop. If I felt this terrible about Frodo, I can't imagine what Sam must be feeling. You would almost think them brothers, Frodo and Sam. There's not much of the servant/master relationship left, not that there really was much to begin with since Frodo always treated Sam more as an equal than he does some of the influential hobbits in Hobbiton."
Pippin snorted, "And he's been royally snubbed for doing it. But his treatment of Sam has its rewards, especially now with Sam doing everything in his power to set Frodo's health to rights. He's done his part for Frodo, staying beside him day and night, even forgoing sleep and, dare I mention it, food. He's been an excellent guardian, you could never fault him. But I doubt Frodo would want Sam to waste away while waiting for him to awaken."
A slap across Pippin's back nearly sent him plunging across the path and into a particularly thorny looking bush. Merry danced backwards, eyes alight, and blurted, "Let's fetch old Bilbo! If anyone can talk some sense into Samwise Gamgee it's the hobbit that learned him his letters, as Sam's old Gaffer would say."
As swift as hobbit children at play, Merry and Pippin raced through the gardens, narrowly dodging befuddled elves and stone statues until they arrived at Bilbo's room. A familiar voice called for them to enter nearly before Pippin's knuckles rapped on the door. Bilbo sat at a little writing desk, just his size, with a quill in one hand and a map clutched in the other. His now-white hair wreathed a face awash in wrinkles and lines, twinkling blue eyes smiling out from the midst of them.
Gazing at them over the top of his map, he cheerily called, "Well, my lads, what seems to be the trouble? Here sit down, before you fall down."
Planting themselves on the edge of Bilbo's bed, Pippin nudged Merry in the ribs with his elbow at which Merry hastily said, "We're worried about Sam, Bilbo."
Jumping in, Pippin urged, "He hasn't been himself since Weathertop, not even when we finally reached Rivendell and Elrond."
"Ah," Bilbo nodded his head, and placed his quill back on the desk. "I see, lads. While you may be overstating things just a bit, he does seem to be a bit more on the move than usual whenever I pop in to sit a spell with Frodo. As if he can't force himself to sit still, and now that you mention it, I don't think Sam's looked me in the eyes once since you lot arrived."
Bilbo settled his hands across his stomach and leaned back into his comfortable looking chair, ideally hobbit-sized like the desk. "At least you're behaving normally for a change, Merry. For a Brandybuck, that is. You had us all concerned with your brooding and your melancholy, which is why I sent Elrohir after you."
"You did that, Bilbo?!"
A self-satisfied smirk settled itself across Bilbo's aging face. "I did, and I'll do it again if you don't watch yourself. You're not suited for dark moods, my lad, neither of you, and certainly not our Sam. Which I assume is why you two terrors have disrupted my peace?"
The two looked askance at one another before Merry coughed and muttered, "We think it would be better if you spoke to him, Bilbo. After all, he holds you in such high regard, far more than he does us."
"Mmmm, and why might that be, I'm pretty sure? Nothing to do with all those games you played on him when you were in your tweens?"
Silence settled into the room.
"Very well, you two young scalawags. I'll speak with him. And if he won't hear truth from me, I'll just ship him back home so Gaffer Gamgee can deal with him."
Merry opened the door to Bilbo's room while Pippin rested one arm around the elderly hobbit's back, attempting to support him until Bilbo shrugged him off. Outside, with leaves dancing in a sudden breeze, Bilbo seemed suddenly stronger and Merry and Pippin stepped aside, watching him descend a short set of stairs and vanish around a colonnade on the way to Frodo's room.
~ * ~
Straightening and stretching some kinks from his back, Sam rubbed a fist across his eyes and glanced at the head of the bed. Frodo was so very pale and still. Nearly every hour on the hour Sam checked to make certain he was still breathing. At the touch of his master's light breath against the palm of Sam's hand, he would sigh and return to the chair, idly swinging his legs back and forth.
A wavering voice from the door nearly startled Sam off his chair. "Hello, Sam, my lad. Here you are, yet again."
A sharp pang twisted across Sam's chest and he lowered his eyes to the floor, noting the pristine marble stonework of the tiles. "Yes, sir, Mr. Bilbo. Here I am, at least, until Mr. Frodo wakes up. I'd rather not leave him until then, if you follow me."
"Indeed, indeed I do, Sam. Do you mind if I join you for awhile?" The door clicked into the jamb, not even a squeak from its well-oiled hinges disrupting the room.
"Of course not, Mr. Bilbo." Sam risked a glance upward as shuffling steps neared the chair.
"It's not natural, Frodo being so still and pale. Always so full of life and laughter is our Frodo." Bilbo's wrinkled cheeks twisted in a frown and he patted a gnarled hand on Frodo's young one, seeking a bit of warmth that Sam already knew was absent from his master's skin.
"Aye, that he is, Mr. Bilbo. Always so enthusiastic, about everything. And now, well . . . it's hard, seeing him like this, sir. It's not right, none of it."
"No, Sam, none of it is right. Just as none of it is your fault or your responsibility."
The tiles swam and Sam heard the rushing of blood in his ears.
"Oh, I know you, Samwise Gamgee. Stubborn as a mule, the most loyal hobbit I've ever known in all my long years. You've taken to blaming yourself for Frodo's wound, but I'll have none of it." Bilbo's wizened finger pointed right in Sam's face. "I've already told Merry and Pippin that I'll send you back to the Gaffer if you don't come round, and don't think I won't do it."
The ache in his throat in Sam's throat made the words hard to squeeze out, but he managed it. "But I was there, Mr. Bilbo. There was ought I could do to save him, and it's tearing me up inside. I hate myself for being so helpless." His voice cracked and Sam's eyes blinked at the welling of tears.
Bilbo gripped Sam's shoulders, even though Sam could not bring himself to face the elderly hobbit. "My dear Sam, are you in charge of the setting sun? Eh? Do you cause the birds to migrate south? How about the rivers, my lad? Do you decide which direction they flow? Of course not. You had as little to do with what happened to Frodo as you do with determining the ways of nature. And the sooner you stop grieving something you could not stop, the better off you'll be, and the better it will be for Frodo when he awakens, for awaken he will."
"Will he, Mr. Bilbo?" Sam choked the words out.
"Of course he will, Samwise Gamgee. If there is one thing you must learn and quickly it's that you can trust to the healing hands of the Lord Elrond."
"And what about you, Mr. Bilbo?" Tears tracked silently down Sam's cheeks, but he faced Bilbo now.
"Eh, what about me, lad?"
"Can you forgive me?"
Bilbo shook his head and pulled an astonished Sam into an embrace. "There is nothing to forgive, Sam. Nothing at all. You're the only one who thinks you're guilty of anything other than loyalty."
Once Bilbo released him, Sam rested a hesitant hand upon his own breast, taking in deeper droughts of air than he had in days. The weight was lifting, not entirely gone, but dissipating fast. Eyes closing, Sam leaned against the side of Frodo's bed, for the first time letting the aura of the Last Homely House sink into his very being. Peace. It had been such a long time.
Bilbo's voice broke into Sam's thoughts, "Now, Sam, I know you haven't been eating much since you arrived and I'm sending you down to the dining area for a bite."
Sam's mouth opened, but Bilbo beat him to it. "No arguments from you. None. Your master will still be here when you get back."
"Very well, Mr. Bilbo." He laid his palm on Frodo's hand, hoping for just a bit of warmth, almost imaging that he felt it. "If you'll stay with him, I'll go."
Bilbo's eyes smiled, sending his wrinkles into disarray. "I'll stay with him. You needn't have even asked."
Sam nodded. "Perhaps I can find Mr. Pippin and Mr. Merry. I'm sure wherever they are, food can't be far away."
Bilbo laughed and Sam disappeared out the door, taking full note of the blue sky and the faint mist from the waterfalls, the tinkling sound of elvish singing somewhere in the distance and not so very far away, the familiar laughter of two hobbits.
~ * ~
Merry and Pippin whipped past him on their way towards Elrohir and his brother Elladan, widening Sam's smile. Not a single word of reproach had they given him, only kindness and the same absurd teasing he had come to expect, even anticipate. While they were not Frodo, it wasn't so very bad knowing a Brandybuck and Took, despite what Ted Sandyman might say to the contrary.
The elves seemed almost fascinated with their diminutive companions. Merry and Pippin were not at all uncomfortable with the noble lords surrounding them, and together they wove tales of the Shire and their own personal adventures in Buckland. Oh, how Mr. Frodo would love this. As soon as he wakes, I'll show him all I can before we start back for The Shire. But, Sam paused in his pondering, the Ring had come this far. Would it be safe here? Did the elves possess enough power to protect it?
What can one do against such an evil power as the Ring. It's like a leech that latches on tight and drains you of all that's good. Sam had grown to hate the thing his master carried, not for what it was, but for what it was doing, for the changes it was enacting to everything and everyone around him. The change in Frodo was only slight, but it was there nonetheless. And dear Bilbo. Sam sighed.
A light touch at his shoulder snapped Sam from his dreams, and he turned to find Elrohir at his back. The elf spoke only two words, "He's awake."
Sam jolted from his seat and was through the crowd of elves and into the hall in the time it took Elrohir to draw another breath.
Merry strolled over, a mug of elvish wine in his eager hands, Pippin trailing him. "What's happened?"
"Your Ringbearer has awakened from his long and deadly sleep. All is well."
Their eyes widened and a smile dawned across Elrohir's fair cheeks.
"Come on, Merry!"
Pippin made it two steps before Merry's hand on his sleeve yanked him up short. "No, Pip. We need to wait until after Sam has seen him. He needs it, they both do."
Elrohir smiled down at his miniature charge. "You have learned much, Meriadoc."
"One might say that I had a good teacher, Master Elf. For now, Frodo needs Sam more then he needs me or Pippin. And I'm glad."
Rivendell shone all the brighter, for the knowledge of the Ringbearer's recovery had now reached the ear of every inhabitant. The Hope of Middle Earth had been restored.