I feel my determination to press forward in the set of my jaw and in each steady stroke of the paddle. Three strokes, four strokes, then another and another; skimming across the water, I gaze steadfastly to the distant shore.
From behind, a dear voice floats across the lake surface.
“Not alone... Frodo... Mr. Frodo...”
My eyes sting with tears as I stare straight ahead and whisper, “No, Sam.”
It does not matter he cannot hear the words. I could not bear to utter them to his face.
Then the splash of water reaches my ears.
My head snaps back, an unexpected anger rising within me, not unlike a parent toward a willful child, mayhap... Why will he not allow me to protect him from the fate the Lady Galadriel foretold me? I could not endure losing him to the Ring...
“Go back, Sam. I’m going to Mordor, alone.”
“Of course you are. And I’m going with you.”
I watch in stunned surprise, unable to believe my eyes, as my long-time friend wades deeper and deeper into the water, up to his knees, his thighs, then his waist. Fear swells within me.
“You can’t swim!”
He heeds me not at all, but continues to wade forward, up to his chest, until suddenly he flounders, then drops out of sight...
My heart pounds as my eyes dart about, searching the now still surface of the lake.
Frantically, I paddle the boat to where I watched him disappear. Too long, it is taking too long! I thrust my hand down into the icy cold, straining to reach what I cannot see, hoping against hope my grasping will find that for which I seek.
Something solid... I wrap my fingers around it... a wrist? Then I feel fingers tighten around my own wrist...
With all that I am, I heave upward.
Uncaring of the wet and chill, I haul my dearest friend, coughing and gasping for air, into the boat beside me.
All words have left me as the bedraggled hobbit before me sets himself to rights to kneel in the bottom of the boat across from me, then fixes me with a look I will never forget. I imagine it is not unlike the look my mother gave me when she learned of one of my pranks.
“I made a promise, Mr. Frodo. A promise! ‘Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee,’ and I don’t mean to. I don’t mean to.”
I scarce know how to reply.
No words... no words can express the joy in my heart, to be granted such a friend as this. A warm embrace and tears flow freely.
A deep breath, and new courage lifts my heart.