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Absolution - by Eretria (tiny_eretria@yahoo.com)

* * *

I’ve found a path to follow

I knew it straight away

Now that I’ve found it I won’t stray

No, I will not stray

Not stray.


* * *

The wind howled around Bag End’s round door. Rain poured down in sheets just like it had all day long. The winter had brought a lot of snow this year, and now the rain seemed to want to take the place of the snow. The caverns were filled with sweet rainwater, and Bywater pool had grown bigger than it had ever been before. Except for that, everything seemed to be just like it had always been. The Shire was being reborn; spring was near. Thunderstorms were coming more often, bringing news of the rebirth of the earth that Samwise Gamgee looked forward to with great anticipation. He wondered if the second year after he had used the Lady Galadriel’s gift would bring the same good fortune to the hobbits.

But there was more.

He was awake at night more often now, listening to Rose turn in her sleep, and he took great delight in just watching her face, which had grown even more beautiful during her pregnancy. It was only a few more days now. A few more days, and their first child would be born. Their child. Sam’s heart did a little somersault. Would it be fair, just like its mother? he wondered. There was no doubt, if he rightly thought about it. It would be fair.

Rose sighed softly and her small brown hands curled up next to her head in a picture of innocence. There were times when Sam wondered what he had done to deserve so much happiness. He had the most beautiful wife, they were expecting their first child, he lived in the most beautiful hole in Hobbiton, and he could take care for Mr. Frodo, just like he had always wanted to.

Sam moved forward to gently push some of the curly hair away from Rose’s forehead. His hand lingered, and he traced her forehead carefully. How little it took to be happy. Just a touch, a sound, a smile. He had it all.

But, with a sharp pang of guilt, Sam remembered Mr. Frodo’s wistful glances the night before.

Rose and he had sat in the kitchen of Bag End, peeling taters, and chattering about the

day. Then the baby had started kicking, and Rose had reached for Sam’s hand to place it onto her round belly. The joy he felt had overwhelmed Sam, and for a moment he had forgotten all about Mr. Frodo. It was only when Rose had nudged him that he noticed the older hobbit standing in the room.

Mr. Frodo had tried to cover it up, but there had been something in his glance which cut deep into Sam’s heart. Only now, sitting next to a sleeping Rose Gamgee, did Sam understand what it had been.

Resignation. Longing, deep longing, but after all, resignation.

Sam rose from his chair and tucked the covers around Rose’s shoulders. On tiptoes, he walked out of the sleeping chamber, a candle securely in his left hand, and up the smial to Mr. Frodo’s room. The old clock in the living room ticked softly. The rain clattered against the windows, and the wind seemed to knock against the front door, like an unwelcomed guest at night.


When he drew nearer to Mr. Frodo’s room, he realised that the night was darker than it had ever been before, and colder.

Frodo’s door was closed, and Sam hesitated. He didn’t mean to disturb his master, but his earlier realisation had woken the need to see Mr. Frodo. See him and make sure that he, Sam, had been wrong.

His hand closed around the copper doorknob and turned it carefully. The round door opened with the slightest of squeaks. Sam held his breath and peered around the door, afraid that he had woken his master after all. But inside, nothing moved.

He could barely see Frodo in the huge white feather bed. Those feather beds were something he knew his master had missed most, and they had been one of the first things to be brought into Bag End again.

From where he stood, Sam could spot dark, tousled hair, nothing more.

Carefully, he tiptoed forward into the room.

It was a comfortable place. Not tidy, but comfortable. A big armchair stood in front of the open fireplace, so that sitting in it, both the fireplace and the window could be seen. There were a lot of candles, and many quilts and plaids, for Mr. Frodo was often cold. The room was littered with written pages, some in Frodo’s flowing hand, some in old Bilbo’s thin, spidery hand, but those were kept on a special stack, and held an almost sacred air.

Sam smiled. The whole room was filled with Mr. Frodo’s essence, right down to the smell of herbs and old papers and ink.

One thing was strange, though. The candlelight seemed to have problems fighting the darkness in this room. Indeed, this was a night like he only remembered a few to be, but never here in the Shire. Only on their perilous journey had they faced nights as dark as this. The smile slowly faded from Sam’s face, and he drew nearer to the bed in which Mr. Frodo slept. He rounded the dark wooden bed and crouched next to it, holding the candle higher.

The meagre light reflected dully off the white, starched covers. It caressed the dark curls, and, very suddenly, was met by two deep blue eyes, very much awake.

Sam recoiled, clutched the candle with both hands, promptly lost his balance and fell onto his behind with an undignified thump. "M . . . Mr. Frodo . . ."

"Sam." Sam thought he saw a twinkle of amusement appear in Frodo’s eyes.

"I’m frightfully sorry, Mr. Frodo," Sam whispered. He felt a fiery blush climb into his

cheeks and lowered his head. "I didn’t mean to wake you, but look at me, ninnyhammer that I am, here I go and wake you nonetheless."

"Sam, shhh."

The room was quiet for some moments; nothing was to be heard but the wind and the rain outside. The flame of the candle crackled softly.

"Shhh, Sam. No, there is nothing you can do." Sam’s head snapped up. He met Frodo’s eyes and still found them wide open.

"What is it, Mr. Frodo? What can’t I do?"

Frodo heaved a sigh and pulled the covers closer around his shoulders, shivering. Only now did Sam notice how pale his master looked. The warm candlelight had given a wrong impression at the first look. What Sam beheld now made his heart sink. Frodo was not well at all. It wasn’t only his ashen countenance. Perspiration had matted his dark hair, and beads of sweat were trickling down his temples. The raven eyebrows were furrowed in pain. His lips had lost all their colour, save for the marks which still showed traces of blood where Frodo’s teeth had clearly pierced the skin.

The ticking of the clock was unbearably loud. His own heartbeat seemed to fill the room. Yet Sam couldn’t tear his gaze away from his master’s pallid features and his unfathomable, wide-open eyes. Sam wondered where his master was, for it certainly wasn't in the Shire. He had seen Frodo like this a few times before — but it had been in the dark land of Mordor and not in the cosy confines of his beloved Bag End.

The gardener knew that Frodo couldn’t hear him when he was in this state. No matter how much he wanted to, Sam couldn’t glimpse into the dark landscape Mr. Frodo travelled through, couldn’t lend a helping hand. That knowledge shot tiny, yet persistent, pinpricks through Sam’s heart.

Suddenly he knew with a certainty he had never experienced before that this wasn’t the first time for Mr. Frodo to be in this state since they had returned to the Shire.

He had been there before, Sam could see it in the resignation that shimmered through Frodo’s tense features.

Sam felt his heartbeat quicken and his hand start to shake. The candlelight painted uneven, flickering, wisp-like spots onto the white covers.

Why had nobody told him, Sam wondered? Surely somebody must have known? Rose must have known. Why hadn’t she told him? But first and foremost: Why hadn’t Mr. Frodo said anything? Didn’t he trust him anymore? Didn’t he want him around?

Sam called his thoughts to a sudden halt. No. He would not question Mr. Frodo’s decision. It was his, and his alone. Still, Sam felt the cold stab of disappointment. Who was Mr. Frodo sharing his pain with, if not with him, Sam? His master couldn’t bear all this alone, now could he?

The trembling of his hand slowly subsided. Sam stared at his master, scrutinising every inch of the well-known face. He used to be able to read that face. Now the deep blue eyes held all the depth of the Sundering Seas, where once they had been as familiar as the blue twinkling of Bywater pool on a crisp September morning. But now . . . all the experiences, everything Mr. Frodo had gone through had changed them. They were quiet no longer, no longer twinkling, no longer well-known. Suddenly, Frodo seemed to be leagues away from him, and Sam felt fear scraping at the back of his mind.

His heart leapt. A surge of pity followed suit. Yet, he questioned himself: Pity for whom?

Carefully, Sam sat the candle down onto the small bedside table next to Frodo and

pulled one of the big armchairs close to the bed. He had no intention of leaving anytime soon. Rose surely would understand. She always did. And Sam loved her even more for this silent acknowledgement in all things which involved Frodo.

He had just settled into the chair, when Frodo started to shift and toss abruptly, his hands reaching out. When they met only air, Frodo’s face fell. Sadness washed over the frail features, sadness so deep that even the wind outside changed his voice and seemed to mourn.

Sam sat, motionless. Had he caused this? He hadn’t noticed until now, how sick Mr. Frodo was. Had Frodo been waiting for him to find out? Had he been waiting for Sam to be there for him, to be his strength when his own strength was waning? Had he been waiting for Sam to see?

But here Sam sat, having been blind until now. The guilt he felt was nearly unbearable.

Again, Frodo’s hands reached out. This time, Sam acted purely on instinct. He caught Frodo’s slim, cold hands in his strong, brown palms and squeezed them carefully.

A ghost of a smile flickered over Frodo’s features. "Bilbo."

At first, Sam was so taken aback that he almost recoiled. Pain lanced through his heart. He had hoped to find . . . What? Absolution in the gesture, in Frodo’s words? There was none. Sam closed his eyes and breathed deeply, willing the knifing ache in his heart to subside.

The wind howled mournfully outside. The air was dry and smelled ever so slightly of herbs. The fire crackled. The clock ticked. Minutes trickled by like the droplets of rain outside the window. Still he held Frodo’s cold hand.

He had almost fallen asleep in the chair next to his master when a whisper woke him from his doze.

"He looks so happy, Bilbo." Sam’s eyes snapped open again. Frodo had shifted to his side and gazed at him with those crystal clear eyes which saw another place than the one he was in. "So happy."

The clear eyes fluttered shut and a sigh heaved Frodo’s slim chest. Then, barely audibly, he added: "I wished it was me."

Sam had to bite his tongue to keep himself from crying out. Yet, he needed to know. His mind knew of whom Frodo spoke, but his heart needed the confirmation. Carefully, he inched closer still, so that Frodo’s eyes, open once more, filled his whole vision. Troubled eyes, they were, filled with fear, despair, resignation and . . . anger. Sam sucked in a surprised breath. Why anger?

"I envy him, Bilbo." The words were spoken so softly that they were almost swallowed by the sounds of the night.

No. It couldn’t be that the storm’s melody was still the same after a statement such as this. Mr. Frodo couldn’t possibly mean this! It couldn’t be, because it must not be. Frodo blinked, still unseeing, a wistful little smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

Sam scrutinised the older hobbit once more. Had those lines been there all the time? Sam was certain that they hadn’t been there the last time he looked at Frodo. But when had that been? When had he taken the time to really spend time with his master? Sam had been so busy with the goings-on in Hobbiton, with the rebuilding and the plants, and with Rose and the child and the gaffer . . . Only now he realised how much he must have neglected his master. It was this time in the year again, was it not?

Tears stung in his eyes, but Sam forced them not to fall. He hadn’t been strong for Mr. Frodo for too long a time. He needed to be strong now, for him. For his master. Again. If there was any way to re-forge the bond of trust between them, it had to be done tonight. Not by words. But by Sam staying here with his master, in this dark hour.

Careful, very careful, Sam reached for a large white handkerchief and dabbed Frodo’s bruised lips clean of the trickle of blood. He smoothed the cloth over his master’s forehead and started to hum low under his breath. He had done this for his younger sister, Marigold, when she had been down with the Winter Sickness years ago. She hadn’t responded directly, but the sound of his voice seemed to have calmed the tweenager.

Even though he had hoped for it, it startled Sam that Mr. Frodo was reacting in a very similar fashion. His hands relaxed their hard grip on Sam’s fingers, and his lips regained some colour. The older hobbit’s whole posture appeared more peaceful, and the steady shivering eased.

So Sam continued. He softly sang all of the lullabies he could remember his mother singing to him and his siblings. He smoothed Frodo’s damp curls and moved to pull the covers up to his master’s chin. Dimly, in the waning candlelight, Sam saw the milky white gem around Frodo’s neck glowing softly. He stared at it for a while, wondering what Elvish powers lay in its luminescent depths.

A flicker of uneasiness drifted over Frodo’s features, and Sam realised that he had stopped singing. He started anew and watched again how Frodo’s features relaxed. Shaking his head, Sam finished his task of tucking Frodo in.

He continued to sing and hum until the words failed him and his voice trailed off. Sleep won the battle.

* * *

Morning light filtered in bright, friendly rays into the windows of Bag End and drew erratic patterns onto the dark floorboards.

The storm had cleared the sky of clouds and had taken away the rain. Someone had opened a window. Birds were singing outside, and fresh air surged into the room. It was cool, but pleasant. It smelled like Sam remembered it from his childhood days. The air was full of freshness and of the scent of sun-warmed grass, with the heavy layer of dark, newly turned earth. Mixed with the smell of the just recently extinguished fire and of the wooden furniture. He sighed. It was the smell of home.

This was the hour of the day which usually belonged all to himself. He was always the first to rise, to light new fires around the hole, to have bath-water and breakfast ready. Those were duties which were so much part of him that he couldn’t remember ever not doing them. Carefully, he stretched and cracked an eye open.

There was something wrong this morning, though. The air which touched his face now hadn’t touched his face last night. And when he moved his shoulders, he felt his muscles scream in protest. Confused, he opened both eyes and looked around. He wasn’t in his room, and he wasn’t in his bed. Rose was nowhere to be seen. Instead, he sat in an armchair right next to Mr. Frodo’s bed and was still holding the pale hand in his own brown one.

Memory came rushing back as soon as he had realised his location. So did the pain in his heart.

Sam turned his head to look at his master. The older hobbit was resting peacefully now, snuggled deeply into the feather bed he loved so much. The dark shadows under his eyes were gone, as were the lines on his forehead. He didn’t seem quite as far away anymore, not like he had the night before, when he had seemed more like a wraith than a hobbit. Now he appeared closer, warmer and more ... alive.

A small snore escaped Frodo’s half-open lips, startling Sam. Yes, well. Wraiths didn’t snore, did they? Sam thought wryly. All of a sudden, he felt like an intruder. He carefully disentangled his hand from Frodo’s and rose from the armchair, ignoring his aching muscles and moving, mutely as only a hobbit could, towards the door.

There was nothing he could do here anymore, and he didn’t want Mr. Frodo to wake up and find him here. He couldn’t explain why, he simply didn’t want to.

When he had stolen a last glimpse at the sleeping form of his master, he closed the door quietly. In the hallway, he remembered the open window. He mulled the facts quickly over in his mind and decided that Rose must have woken up at night, and must have searched for him. She must have opened the window. Sam felt a light pang of conscience. He hoped he hadn’t worried her.

Two people he cared about had felt neglected. Sam couldn’t stand the thought. But what could he do? What, but . . . breakfast. A thought flashed through his head and brought a determined smile to Sam’s face. He would cook them a breakfast they would never have dared dream of.

His mind already on flour and pots and pans and eggs, Sam walked towards the kitchen, never seeing Rose standing in the doorframe of their room at the end of the smial, smiling softly at the resolute expression on her husband’s features.

* * *

About one hour later, the sweet smell of cinnamon, freshly baked buns, roasted bacon and fried mushrooms wafted through Bag End. Sam had put every effort into conjuring a healthy, filling and warming breakfast. The only thing he had to do now was to set the table and wake the two sleepyheads.

The first task was completed quickly. Sam knew the kitchen like the back of his hand, and he knew the favourite teacups and plates both Rose and Frodo had. He worked quickly, but with great care, and finally, when everything was set to his liking, he walked up the smial to Rose’s and his room. He turned the doorknob gingerly and peered around the door, ready to wake her. Then his face fell — Rose was nowhere to be seen. The covers were pushed back and the window was open, but the bed was empty. The band she always put in her hair wasn’t lying on its usual place on her bedside table. Where was she?

It was a sneaking suspicion that led him down the smial again, and up to Mr. Frodo’s door. It was half-open, just enough to hide Sam from the view of those inside the room. He could hear Rose laughing softly, and Mr. Frodo joining in, good-naturedly.

"Really, Rose. You shouldn’t say a thing like that." Sam stood rooted to the spot. His master sounded truly all right, just like last night hadn’t happened.

"But it’s true, Mr. Frodo. Look at me! A few more days and they will say that one of the big fish from the Sundering Sea — you know, the ones Mr. Bilbo always talked about in his stories — has gotten stranded up here in Bag End."

Sam heard Frodo chuckle, and bit down on his lips as well. The vivid image Rose had just created was just too much.

"I still think you’re very beautiful, Mistress Rose," Frodo said. Sam knew that his master was smiling at her, gently, in a way only he could. And he knew that Rose was blushing prettily.

"Why, thank you. It’s what my Sam keeps telling me, but I never quite believe him." Before Sam could rage inwardly about her statement, he heard Frodo answer: "You should. He is a smart hobbit, your husband. Much smarter than I am."

"No, Mr. Frodo, you shouldn’t go saying things like --"

"Rose." There was the sound of someone rising, and a small gasp, presumably from his wife. Sam’s heart pounded in his chest. A long pause followed. When Sam finally couldn’t take it anymore, he stole a look around the door, and saw Frodo standing in front of Rose, who was sitting in the very same armchair Sam had sat in last night. She was still in her night-gown and had a warm, knitted plaid around her shoulders. Frodo was looking at her intently, his gaze straying often from her face to her round belly and back to her eyes again. Finally, he sighed softly and sat back down on his bed, grasping Rose’s hands carefully in the process. He cleared his throat and looked down at their intertwined hands.

"Bilbo was always there for me, and he was the best guardian, mentor and friend any hobbit lad could have asked for. But when I look at you two . . . I never thought much about wanting a family, or having a proper hobbit household, but now I find myself missing things without ever having had them in the first place." Rose was about to protest, as was Sam, but Frodo continued: "But perhaps I do have them in a way, through Sam and you."

The blood rushed in Sam’s ears. He couldn’t have heard what he just heard, could he? His hands shook. His knees became soft as the melted butter he had used for the buns. It felt strangely hard to breathe.

It was Rose who broke the awkward situation. A little jolt went through her body. She said nothing but shifted her grasp on Frodo’s hand, guiding it to her belly. Sam could see Frodo hesitating. He soon gave in. The child must have started kicking again. Rose’s eyes shone brightly, brimming with tears, and she swallowed hard.

Yet it was the look on Frodo’s face which Sam would not forget his entire life. Veneration. Deep abiding love. It was as though Frodo touched something sacred, as though he were creating a bond with the child. And for the very first time since they had returned from their quest, his master appeared happy. It lasted only for moments, but it was there. Deep, honest and real.

A single tear rolled over Sam’s cheek. He didn’t wipe it away.

Instead, he drew a deep breath, schooled a mask of cheerfulness and softly knocked on the door. "Is there anybody fancying breakfast here, or should I send for Master Pippin?"

Two chuckles answered him, the sound of feet shuffling and then the door was opened with a swish.

"Good morning, Sam." Rose kissed him on the cheek. Guiding her courteously, his arm linked with hers, was Frodo.

And when he smiled at Rose and Sam this time, there was no pain in his eyes.

* * *


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