For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 7, Part 148
Friends of the Family
April 15, 1452
Stunned at Gandalf's abandonment, Frodo stumbled awhile through the noise and stench, tottering out of the way of charging men, lurching against the thorny-wires and ripping his clothes (and sometimes his skin, though he only knew it by the blood) dodging fire, tripping on the dead. Blood also dripped down his shirt from the graze on his side, though his charred stumps tried futilely to wipe it away. The explosions made his ears ring and his thoughts shatter. At first the terror thrummed in him, but then it grew too exhausting to sustain. He sank to his knees at last, a weakness coming over him. He found it increasingly hard to think...
"Is this how I shall die, then?" Frodo murmured, his eyes impossible to open, his chin dropping to his chest. "Without a single friend to stand beside me at the last? But if Námo calls, I cannot crawl to Mandos--he shall have to fetch me for himself." He swayed a moment where he knelt, then righted himself, vaguely roused for a moment by nearby screaming and the explosive discharge of the magic staffs. Poor warriors...they could still feel pain.
Yet Gandalf had said...suddenly he remembered all that Gandalf had said--and worse, all that he had replied--with that burst of clarity that comes upon one at the brink of death. "I brought this on myself," he confessed, there alone in the midst of the battle's rage. "Gandalf kept offering to, to take me from the dream, but I kept turning him down. I...I guess I can only accept what I deserve..." And he started to topple over.
But his head did not go far, soon coming to rest against a sturdy, tweed-clad hip. A crusty but kindly old voice asked, "Would you like to leave this dream, even now?"
"Gandalf?" He strove to raise his head, but his neck would not obey him.
"I am afraid that Gandalf is engaged elsewhere. But do be a good fellow and answer my question. Would you like to leave this dream?"
"I...I don't know."
The hobbit sighed. "Well, admitting that is a start, at least. Would you allow me to lead you at least part way out of the dream?"
"I...I think so. Yes. Yes, I would."
"Excellent!" He felt the body bend down to him. "I cannot guarantee that we can manage it at this point, mind you, but let's make a good start, shall we?" A sturdy arm wrapped around him, while a hand drew his own arm up over shoulders close in height to his own and pulled him to his feet. "Come this way, Frodo-Lad--And rest assured on one point: we have never turned our backs on you."
"Papa?" Frodo asked in wonder, as his head lolled onto the friendly shoulder. "Is that you?"
The other hobbit chuckled. "Oh my goodness, no! Although I am flattered, I truly am flattered. But think, Frodo--you must force yourself to think even now. Who was the sleepiest hobbit that you ever heard of, yet uncursed by poppy-gum? And one who spent those sleepy years in Rivendell, learning to make the best of his predicament? What hobbit, in short, learned to travel in his dreams?"
"Bilbo?" Frodo murmured, finally managing to see in an eyelash-blurred way. "How good of you to come for me. Will you take me now to Mandos?"
"Oh, it's not quite so bad as that just yet, not if you put up a good fight. Yes, yes, you do still have some fight in you, you simply have to remember it. Can you walk?"
Frodo tried, but everything spun and he keeled forward; he'd have hit the ground if the elder had not caught him in his arms.
"Ah. I see. I am not Gandalf, to go whisking you around--not yet anyway, not while we remain in Sauron's territory. We shall have to get you a bit further out, I believe..." Suddenly Bilbo snapped his fingers. "I have it! You are fortunate, my lad, in the friendships that you've forged."
Somehow, Frodo did not know how, he discovered himself swaying in a saddle. He struggled to open his eyes, and saw that Bilbo rode a little ways ahead of him, leading his steed by the reins through desert country. The vividness of his dream vision returned to him, though he still felt drowsy unto death, so that every boulder, every thorn-bush, every kaktush around their upward-winding path, each stood out and sparkled as though made of jewels. Yet the land looked familiar to him. Of course--where else would he find the borderland between Sauron's dream and other realms, struggling to break free, if not on the outskirts of Mordor?
Bilbo said, "Fix this in your mind, if you remember nothing else. We move parallel to many worlds along this path, one of them being yours. If you survive, you will want to know of it." A long time passed, during which Frodo struggled obediently to memorize each rock formation and turn of the path. But soon the vividness softened back again, a final flare of a guttering candle before it shrinks down small and blue, ready to go out. He blinked often and nodded more and more in the saddle. Just when he felt certain he would fall off of his steed, they reached the mouth of a cave. Bilbo led him into the cool shade and helped him topple from the saddle. "Are you sure you cannot walk?"
"I don't know."
"If you would prefer to lie down..." Bilbo gestured to a depression in the floor of the cave. "There--that is your grave. If you do not wake up soon, your friends will bear you up here, into these mountains that overlook the villages of Nurn, and bury you within this cave. In that way the populace will have at least the consolation of believing that your spirit watches over them, as they struggle to make the best use they can of what little you could teach them in your short months among them."
Something smote Frodo to the heart, then, deeper than anything had ever penetrated him before. "They...they would?" Images returned to him of the hunger and squalor that he had found on his arrival at Seaside, and the fragility of the drought-stressed crops even now. "No...no--I cannot do that! The, the people...they have so much yet to learn...I just cannot..."
"Is that a fact?" The spirit murmured as Frodo gripped his solid-seeming arm.
"Oh, Bilbo, I am so tired I cannot tell you...but...but Bilbo, they will starve!"
"Do you want to waken from this dream?"
"I don't..." Frodo hesitated, swaying where he stood. "I don't know if I can anymore, honestly. But yes, I should like to try."
"Fair enough! Then I shall do the best I can to help you. But you manage it on your own two feet. Here, now..." The stout old fellow once more pulled Frodo's arm over his shoulder and guided his steps back down the path, which seemed to have changed, as though exiting the cave from a different point. "There you go...one foot in front of the other...just like your father would want you to do. Keep it up, keep it up, keep walking..."
"An' thinkin'," Frodo said dreamily, his heavy eyelids hiding his path from him again and again, as clarity seeped away. "You said I need to think...but of what?"
"Why don't you ask me a question? I've given you enough...wait a minute, don't trip on that root, there...given you enough mysteries to mull over, I believe."
It seemed an impossible suggestion, at first. But then the very thing he struggled with came to mind. "What made you so sleepy?"
The old hobbit chuckled. "Oh, that! I do believe it must have been the blow to the head I sustained during the Battle of Five Armies. It apparently did more to me than cause me to lose consciousness for a day. The Ring, you see, kept the long-term effects from catching up with me, but almost as soon as I relinquished the pretty thing I found myself falling asleep in the most absurd situations." He laughed again. "I knew something had changed a couple days after my party, once the dwarves and I reached Bree, when I woke up with my face in my dessert. After the initial shock wore off, the dwarves would not stop ribbing me about how nicely bearded I looked with whipped cream on my chin!"
Frodo giggled weakly, too, but then he said, "It sounds like a bother."
"Oh, it was, it was. It caused many an unexpected break on our trek to the Lonely Mountain, I can tell you that. Ah, but the dreams--not poisoned, not like in this realm at all--they more than made up for any inconvenience, once I knew what I had received." Bilbo sighed. "I could have learned much from such dreams, and promoted much good, and prevented some evil, had the Ring allowed my injury to have its way with me sooner."
"Let's hear it for sleepiness," Frodo attempted to declare, but his mouth wouldn't respond quite right. He nodded against Bergil's leg, but the man shook him and made him stagger on.
"Keep it up lad, we're almost there," said Bilbo. "It was right for me, at least, and I came by it honestly--but it is not right for you. The world has little use for a drowsy gardener." Frodo opened his eyes to a hazy scene, walking down a hill full of apple trees in bloom, the blossoms blowing all about them on the breeze. He could barely make out a small cottage or hole at the foot of the hill.
"It all seems so dim," he mumbled. "Why can't I see it clearly?"
"Oh, well, that. Sauron's poppy-gum does tend to block the light of Valinor--which is just as well, perhaps. There is more than one kind of overdose, you know. On the other hand, it could seem dim because you might well be waking up indeed."
"But I feel soooo tired..." Frodo started to sink to his knees.
"No, no, we'll have none of that!" Frodo felt a whoosh, and then coldness cascaded down over him. He opened his eyes briefly to the sight of his naked knees poking up in a battered tin tub full of chilly water, while somebody poured more over his head, then he closed them, then opened his eyes to a waterfall rushing down on top of him, while a hearty old hobbit held him up beneath the stream. "Better now? Come along, then. That's it, you've got it. One foot in front of the other."
And just like that Frodo found himself stumbling down the hill full of apple trees once more, supported by the elderly hobbit--who, unlike him, appeared mysteriously dry already. Bilbo chortled. "Ah, the things I could teach you about dream-travel--if I had found you in any shape to hear! But no--the Valar have called you to garden, and a gardener you shall always be, if you manage to live through this."
They entered the little home, its tidy foyer graced by an oval hobbit-style rug of braided rag, though the rags showed a faint shimmer, as though made of uncommon stuff. A typical Shire umbrella-stand stood beside the door, but the walking-sticks within looked elvish-carved, and perhaps so did the stand itself; Frodo's muzzy eyes couldn't tell for sure. "Where have you taken me?"
"Home--my home, to be specific, or at least the home I enjoyed after I left Rivendell. I lived here, you see, for a time in Elvenhome, within the light from Valinor, in quite a number of different realities. I didn't always die immediately, you know." Bilbo half-dragged him into a kitchen, where a kettle whistled on the hearth. "And here we are--just in time for tea!" Bilbo held a cup to his lips. "Come now, drink it down."
"This isn't real tea."
"Well, it's as good a metaphor as anything--and metaphors can save your life, in places like this. Drink, drink, it's nice and strong, strong enough to wrestle a bull, your dad would say, and real enough for our purposes, certainly. And tasty, too, I should hope. Come on, now."
Frodo took the cup in both hands..."I have hands again!" he exclaimed. Breathing the steam seemed to clear his head a little bit, though everything remained dim around him.
"Wonderful thing, dreams. There...done yet? Good. Now, let's get you walking some more..."
Frodo stumbled in circles around the room, the hobbit exhorting him on. Yet sometimes he heard other voices, instead, deeper, human voices: "Why'd he do a thing like that? I mean why in Angband would he do a filthy thing like that?"
"I don't think he had a choice, Fish. We found a turned-over cot, a broken bottle, and a rope dangling from the window."
"I came here fast as I could run, Bergil, dark or no dark. Nightmares--somehow I just knew."
"Would you like another cup of tea?" Bilbo asked brightly. "Of course you would. There you go, finish it off. Now, let's keep on walking, shall we? But out the door this time...someone has arrived, you see, someone I would like you to meet. He finds this sort of travel much more challenging than I do, so I suggest you make the most of the visit." Frodo felt wood and rug give way to earth and grass beneath his feet. With difficulty he lifted his head to see the blurred face of another hobbit, one with salt-and-pepper hair and the most incredibly intense gaze, piercing through his fog.
"Hel, uh, hello?" He stared. Now he could make out what his sister Rosie would have called "interesting lines" (but then the lass had always had a taste for older gentlehobbits.) "How...but not young? Papa always said 'incurably boyish'..."
The fellow grinned. "Yes--I have aged. Thank you for noticing. Wonderful, isn't it? I'm not sure that Sam would recognize me, now. Well, he might, if anybody would."
"Ummm...I'm sorry...I mean, good for you! I mean...dunno what I mean."
Bilbo interjected, "This state of his is not his fault, you know. Poisoned against his will, poor fellow."
Frodo peered more closely at the stranger, before he lost his balance and Bilbo caught him. He tried to catch a glimpse of the left hand. "You...are you...?"
"Yes. I am. Tell Sam that I am fine. Or was fine, or whatever. Well, still very fine indeed, in my own way. Tell him...tell him that I lived happily ever after, to the end of my days. Can you remember that?"
At his side Bilbo said, "And tell Sam, for me, that my father built Bag End with a score of children in mind, and it saddened his heart no end to only get me. Tell him that it pleases me beyond words that the old hole finally sees the kind of use its builder meant for it."
"I...I don't think I can..." Frodo felt himself go woozy and lurched once more into the stout old hobbit's arms. "Bilbo...I don't think I'm going to make it..." He grasped feebly at the elder's shirt but could not find the strength to close his hands. He felt himself sinking...
Yet Bilbo held him firmly. "Try! Are you your father's son or not?" Frodo felt himself shaken. "Try harder than that!" Gradually Frodo found his feet again and stood the best he could, leaning on Bilbo's arm, who sighed then, saying to the newcomer, "I fear that we are wasting our time with messages, dear lad--the poppy rarely lets anyone bring back much of substance to their world."
"It's all right," that handsomely-weathered other replied. "It was but a hope. I think his father knows already, anyway. Or at least he should." He shook his head. "It appears we must simply concentrate on keeping the boy alive, if we can. It would break my heart to let Sam down."
Frodo Gardner said, "It's...it's so hard to think...you're all getting fainter and fainter...is it time?"
Gruffly Bilbo said, "We'll see about that. More than one old friend has come to visit you." And in response to Bilbo's words, the sharp-eyed hobbit held forth reins, in a hand of four fingers.
With difficulty Frodo followed the reins to the steed, struggling to open his eyes wider..."Billie Lass?" He stumbled forward as fast as he could lunge, and fell against the furry neck, and hugged it, hearing the soft whickering in his ear that he had always loved so well. "Oh, Billie Lass! It was you all along, wasn't it--you that I rode!" But then he looked up to the others. "Is this it, then? Will she carry me to Mandos?"
Bilbo said, "Well, that depends. See if she'll have you."
The minute Frodo let go of his pony's neck she turned away from him. "No, wait! We just now got back together! Don't leave me again, don't you dare leave me again!" He reached for her, but she moved further away, even as he stumbled after. "Billie, please!"
The pony turned her face around to him with the most loving look in her huge brown eyes--then kicked him firmly in the chest with both hind feet.
He found himself sprawled on his bedroom floor in Seaside, near a puddle of water spilled from his bath.
"Come on, Frodo," Bergil said, hauling him up. "Back on your feet again! There you go. Fish, have we got any more of that tea?"
"Bergil? Fishenchips? Elenaril?"
The blind healer smiled to hear his voice. "Welcome back to the land of the living, Frodo!"