Another Way of LeavingChapter 1: The Last Adventure
He left the note for Sam propped against his pillow, the pillow he wouldn't need tonight, or ever again.
It was a suicide note, of course, but he hoped Sam wouldn't guess that. He'd worked hard on that note, for the little it said. Trying to say thank you – a hopeless task – how did you thank the one who followed you into the pit and dragged you out again! Even if you didn't want out, even if the pit was the only proper place for you, after the Ring.
He hadn't said that, only thank you. Only that he would never forget his faithful friend. For certain he wouldn't, not if he lived to be hundred, which was no part of his plan. He'd written that he couldn't face a lifetime in the quiet Shire, that he needed a new adventure. And that was true enough.
The last adventure. He shivered in spite of himself. He'd know, before this night was out, what lay on the other side of death, if anything did. He hoped nothing did.
Oblivion, that was all he wanted. An end to pain, to memory, to the burning need for that thing which he hadn't had the strength to destroy, but which had been destroyed in his despite. It was good – good! – that the Ring had been destroyed, and his deepest regret was that he had not gone into the fire with it. It had taken his hope and his integrity, and it was the most savage irony that it had left him his life. A life he no longer wanted.
Well, the Ring was gone and could do no more harm. He was its last victim, and he would see to it that he was the last. His wounds pained him more and more, and he felt the darkness spreading in his mind. The melancholy that was daily harder to dissemble, the self-loathing that made him hide away in his study, seeing no one but Sam and Rose, writing, always writing.
The writing was done now; the book was finished. Nothing more he had to do, and so he would leave, before his darkness spread out from him and infected everyone around him. It was too much to bear, that he might drag Sam down with him, after everything Sam had suffered for his sake already. And Rose – how nearly he had robbed her life of happiness, taking Sam with him on the Quest. If he had known, back then, how Rose loved Sam, would he have taken him along? But Sam would not have allowed himself be left behind!
Useless questions. All in the past and beyond changing, for good or ill. If Bilbo had never picked up the Ring in Gollum's cave – but then Gollum would have killed him. If Bilbo had taken the Ring to Rivendell, instead of leaving it to him. If. If.
He locked his door from the inside and climbed out the window. He'd had to wait until the smial was quiet, everyone asleep, and he needed all the remaining hours of darkness. He knew they slipped in at night to check on him. He'd lain in the dark sometimes, feigning the deep, slow breath of sleep, while candlelight flickered in the half-open doorway. He wanted no one checking on him tonight.
The stable was at the bottom of the Hill, and he risked a light once he was inside. Easier to saddle a pony when you could see what you were doing! He'd thought about walking, but Sam would be quicker to believe he'd gone adventuring, if he took the pony. It gave him more scope, as well, where he could go to slay himself. He could get a good ways from Hobbiton in a single night, if he went mounted.
He would not do the deed at Bag End. He'd decided that from the beginning – what surer way to send Sam into the darkness, than for him to find his master's stiffening corpse, bloody from wound or face distorted from hanging – he wanted to save Sam from the dark, not pitch him into it! Not at Bag End, and not anywhere that his body might be found.
I need the Ring again, he thought wryly, so I can disappear!
Drowning would be good, but still, not near Hobbiton. Drowned folk sometimes surfaced, much the worse for their time underwater. A quick leap off Brandywine Bridge would do the trick, if not for Merry. If he surfaced in the Brandywine, Merry would come to hear of it, might even be called in to say for sure who it was, this waterlogged body. Merry had suffered his own brush with the dark, on Pelennor Field. He feared for Merry as much as he did for Sam.
At last he remembered the cave. He had found it years ago, long before the Quest, when he used to hike far afield for the sheer joy of it, hoping to meet some of the Fair Folk as they passed through the Shire on their mysterious comings and goings. Down at the edge of the Green Hill Country, it was, east of the Tookland.
He had been beating his way through the brush, some little distance from the path, enjoying the feeling of being unseen, even if anyone passed by that unfrequented spot. And he had fallen in a hole! He'd twisted his ankle and lay for a moment catching his breath, and when he recovered he looked around and found that the hole was the entrance to an underground room, a natural cave with rocky sides and bottom.
He didn't know why he had kept it secret, but he had. He'd taken refuge in it sometimes, when he was caught by bad weather in the area, but never when he had a companion with him. He'd kept the knowledge of it to himself, and now it came to him as the solution to his quandary.
It had been a shelter to him, off and on through the years. He'd used it last the summer before the Quest, when he'd roamed the Shire saying farewell to his old haunts. Now it would be his last shelter. There he could do what he had to do, and the cave would be his tomb.
The pony saddled, he slung his saddlebags on its back and doused the light. He hadn't packed much – a snack and a water bottle – a blanket in case the night was chilly. He'd suffered enough in Mordor with cold, hunger and thirst – there was no need to repeat that. Just get to the cave and use the sword, and suffering would be at an end, his own as well as the danger of causing any more of it to those he loved. Sting hung at his belt and he ran his hand over the scabbard before he mounted the pony. Soon.