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The Gardener's Tale

2

The longest watch was the one just before dawn. The courtyard below Frodo's room would slowly fill with a cold grey light, and across the valley the trees on the top of the hills would catch the first rays of the sun and glow as if on fire.

But Sam would see it all with exhausted eyes, having sat up all night by Frodo's bedside. Elrond had said he did not have to do it, one of his people could, but Sam had got himself into the sickroom and was not leaving now.

It wasn't easy. The night they arrived it was all chaos, servants running about with torches and Gandalf and Aragorn looking grim and worried. Sam feared the worst. He had dreamed of seeing Elves, and in the space of an hour he must have seen half of Elrond's household, and the great Elf-lord himself, but all he could think of was Frodo, carried off upstairs out of his sight. He was left with the servants and the baggage and the ponies in the courtyard. Gandalf hurried off with Elrond and Master Merry and Master Pippin were too tired to care, only wanting something to eat and somewhere to rest. But Sam could neither rest not eat. When the servants came to being them to dinner Sam was gone.

He slipped up the stairs in the direction Gandalf and Elrond had gone. He was lucky it was dark, and there was so much commotion, as he was not noticed quietly padding up the wide polished stairs. But when he got to the door there were Elf-guards there and they stopped him with their bright swords. The door was closed and locked, but he must have been heard pleading with the guards because it opened and Gandalf looked out. 'Mr Gandalf, sir, please can't I come in?' The wizard was going to say no, Sam could see, then his face darkened and he said in a low voice 'Come in, Sam. But be quiet and don't get in the way.'

Sam gratefully squirmed through the half-opened door and sidled over to an empty corner of the room. In a better hour he would have been astonished by the beauty of the room; many windows showed the starlit sky above the peaks of Rivendell. The walls were lined with sconces where candles blazed. Tapestries richly decorated hung on the walls and when they stirred in the draught the heroes and warriors picked out on gold upon them seemed to move and breathe.

But now Sam had no time for such things. He only had eyes for Frodo, and the people trying to help him. He had not thought Frodo would get as far as Rivendell. At the Ford they had picked him up quite cold and ashen white and in a deep sleep, and he had not come to himself since. It seemed to Sam that he would never wake. Aragorn carried him till the messengers of Elrond met them with horses then they reached safety quickly enough. But Frodo looked no better. In the flickering candlelight his stillness was even more noticeable. But worse, to Sam, was Elrond's face; he was stern and still, not speaking or listening, just looking at Frodo. After a while he spoke to Gandalf. Seeing Sam over the Wizard's shoulder, he kept his voice low. Sam heard Gandalf reply, and urge something on Elrond, who shrugged and turned to two of his attendants. These were skilled in healing, because when Elrond treated Frodo they assisted him.

Sam could not see clearly what they did with his master and did not really want to. He sat on the cold stone floor in his corner. He was aware they opened the wound to take out the tip of the poisoned Morgul knife that had broken off when Frodo was stabbed on Weathertop. Sam stared out of the window at darkness, twisting a corner of his jacket hem around his fingers. How lucky it was that Frodo was unconscious. After what seemed like an age Elrond gave a little gasp of relief and moved carefully away from the bed with something on a piece of cloth. He placed it on a metal dish on a table beside Sam and turned back to Frodo. Sam raised his head to look at it.

It was a tiny triangle of bronze coloured metal. Almost at once it began to give off a thin tendril of smoke. He could not see it clearly, it was as if it was covered with water. Then it suddenly vanished. Only the wisp of smoke was left. Sam gave a cry. Elrond turned round and looked at the empty dish. He spoke with Gandalf for a while and Sam could detect the hopelessness in their voices. They gave orders to the attendants and went out. Sam stayed. He got the impression they did not think it mattered what he did, because there was so little hope.

That was the worst day. Sam had had no sleep, and everything was made worse by his weariness and hunger. But he could not leave. The others went out after a while and he got up off the floor and gingerly sat on Frodo's bed, gently took his hand and looked in his face. It was the same or worse than it had been for the last few days. Grey-white, stiff, with the eyes sunken, like a corpse, or a wraith. Sam shuddered and remembered what Strider had said about the Nazgul. Maybe it would be better for him to die. He gently rubbed Frodo's cold white hand with his own weather-beaten one and brushed away his tears with his sleeve. He had never thought it might come to this back in The Shire that sunny spring day he had been caught eavesdropping in the garden at Bag End. He pulled the bedclothes up to Frodo's chin. There was a morning chill in the room. Under the sheets Frodo seemed lost in the huge bed. Sam could never remember seeing a hobbit lose so much weight so quickly. Frodo's cheekbones stuck out. The sight stung Sam's heart. He got up and started to savagely poke the brazier to life, just to have something to do. Then he went back and sat by Frodo.

And there he stayed. Elrond come after a while and examined Frodo. He said nothing, but smiled at Sam for the first time. Then Gandalf came in and as they were alone Sam took his courage in both hands and spoke to him; 'Mr. Gandalf, sir?' 'Yes, Sam?' 'I was wondering, if you don't mind me asking, how is Mr. Frodo? will he be all right?' Gandalf did not answer at once. He sighed and gave Sam a kindly look. 'I don't know, Sam. We can only wait and see. Lord Elrond is skilled in healing, the most skilled in any land in Middle Earth, but he has never had to treat such a wound. He thought at first it was beyond his aid.' 'I know' Sam muttered, thinking of the hopeless look on Elrond's face that night. Gandalf smiled. 'You must remember, Sam, Lord Elrond is not much used to hobbits!' Then his face grew grave. 'Perhaps, Sam' he said 'You are sorry you came along.' Sam, tired as he was straightened up and his brown eyes met the wizard's in a defiant look. 'I never said that!' he answered. Gandalf smiled. 'Good! That is what I wanted to hear. Now, you have to go and get some rest!'

But Sam refused, so Gandalf got Elrond's servants to bring him something to eat. They made up a bed for Sam in the anteroom outside, but Sam hardly ever used it. Often Gandalf would find him asleep on the tiles beside Frodo's bed and cover him with a rug. Elrond got used to him and smiled at him when he came and went. On the third day, although Sam could hardly notice any change in Frodo, Elrond let the other servants go and allowed Sam to nurse Frodo on his own. He swelled with pride, until a sudden fear struck him that Frodo was so far gone that it did not matter who looked after him, even a silly hobbit. Sam wanted to ask Elrond about it but could not summon up the courage, and did not dare ask Gandalf either.

What rest Sam got he took in the daytime. There were more people with Frodo then. Elrond always came in the early morning, gliding in with that regal manner he had, quiet but commanding. Gandalf was never far away, sometimes smoking near the window, although Sam had not the heart for a pipe. And Bilbo came in to sit once or twice. He seemed glad to see Sam, although not too sure who he was. But he found it upsetting watching Frodo and did not come any more after the first few times. Merry and Pippin came up but were too fidgety to stay long. Sometimes Sam could see them engaging in horseplay in the wide leaf-strewn courtyard, enjoying the warm autumn sun, as if they did not have a care in the world. Sam felt sad as he watched them. They were only boys, really. Sam had worked since he was old enough to help his father but these had only ever had a life of ease. Sam wasn't that much older than them, but felt like an old man looking at them. They did not really know what Frodo was going through. They had never really been ill, or felt pain. It was just a big adventure to them. Sam sighed and turned away back to the bed. He kept a little bowl of water and a fold of soft fine linen beside the bed to wet Frodo's cracked lips with. As he did so he thought, he'll need looking after for a long time after this, maybe for his whole life. He will never really be whole again. I really can't leave him now, not ever.

But the nights were the worst. After the evening meal in the banqueting hall the voices and music and lights would die down in the great cluster of buildings that made up Rivendell. There might be a visitor or two when the guests had dispersed, especially Gandalf, or last of all, Elrond, slipping silently in and looking at Frodo in the candlelight. But then Sam was alone with his master and his thoughts. The moon might rise and flood the smooth stone floor with silver light. Sam wished for home with an aching heart. Awful things visited him in moments of dozing; black riders, and worse. And Frodo seemed even colder and more still at night. Sam knew it was the danger time, and kept the brazier stoked and blazing, and the light was like a beacon in the dark room. But the flames played on Frodo's face and showed mo sign of movement.

One morning Gandalf found him asleep on the floor and ordered him to go and get some proper sleep. He protested but Frodo seemed to be resting better and breathing more easily, so he risked going down to the kitchen and getting a proper breakfast, and when he came back he said to himself he would just lie down for a nap and fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke he realized with a start it was evening. He jumped up hastily and was about to go into Frodo's room when he saw Gandalf sitting at the balcony looking down on the fountain in the courtyard. 'Go in quietly now, Sam. I think you will find something that will make you very happy.'

Sam paused with his hand on the door, then turned the handle and walked in.

Frodo was awake and out of bed. Sam could not believe it. He hurried over to his master and shyly took his hand. It was warm, for the first time in days. Sam could never think of anything to say at times like these. He blushed to the ears and said 'Your hand's warm, Mr. Frodo. It's been so cold all through these long nights!' Frodo smiled. His face was still pale. More than pale, sort of translucent. The waxy light of the newly-lit candles seemed to shine through the skin rather than play on it. 'Gandalf told me you hardly ever left my side, Sam' Frodo said gently, with an inquiring look. Sam hung his head and blushed even more deeply. 'We were that worried, Mr. Frodo' and the long nights with little hope came over Sam and he could say no more. To save his embarrassment Frodo looked around. On the far side of the room was a mirror. Not as dusty and dark as the one left behind in the hall in Bag End, but shimmering and silver and edged with elven ladies and enameled leaves. Frodo looked at his reflection in it. They could both see how much thinner he was. Frodo self-consciously smoothed down his tunic.

'I should be well enough to go home soon!' Sam gave Frodo a grateful glance. Home! 'Let's go and find the others....'