Author's note: I'm in the middle of writing a somewhat
long story, and felt the need to refresh myself with something short, and not
When he was a boy, he had once been very sick in this room. Later, he understood that he had been abed for four days before he was moved to his uncle's room, but he could never remember four distinct days, four sunrises and sets, four nights. He remembered that sometimes it was daylight, and at those times he seemed to feel a bit better, and the world was clearer, less frightening. But more often, it was night and the nights were endless, dark, swirling fever-dreams and waking to a room lit only by fire, so that the very walls seemed to glow red, filling him with unspeakable dread. And at all times it hurt so to breathe, and the fever made his bones ache and his skin sore until even the smooth linen sheets seemed to scrape and scald him. He knew that he was not alone, for the lady who lived down the Hill stayed with him, but at times he did not know her, and it seemed that she was his mother. He thought that perhaps he had dreamt his mother's death in his fever, for here she was, laying a damp cloth on his forehead and holding his hand so that he would not slip away. Mumma, he would say, Mumma, please…open the window. I can't breathe, Mumma please…the window… And she would lay her cool, cool hand on his cheek and say, 'Tis open Frodo, dear. See, 'tis open. But he could not see, and it was not his mother's voice, and yet he would seem to breathe easier, for she had said the window was open and so it must be.
He could not remember being moved but he knew that they had not been able to leave him in his own bed, and when he had woken for a little while he had known himself to be in his uncle's room, but his uncle was not there. Yet it was a comfort to be in his uncle's bed and to be away from the room where the walls had been blood-red all night and there had never been enough air. He was able to feel a nightshirt on him that was too big, and a bulky swaddling between his legs, and he had a vague understanding of what had happened to his bed. Some small corner of his mind that still spoke as his not-sick self tried to tell him that he should be embarrassed but he felt only a desperate gratitude that someone had made sure he would not soil his uncle's bed. And then the lady who was not his mother but was yet so kind had put her arms around him and held him and he was not so afraid. Then it seemed he had fallen into a deep sleep, in which there were no fever-dreams or red-painted rooms but only cool, cottony darkness and peace. He had awoken to a great weariness in his mind and limbs, but the morning light had been fresh and his head had been clear and he had known who he was and where he was and who was with him.
For two weeks Frodo stayed in Bilbo's room, for they did not want to move him and a new mattress was needed for his own bed. Bilbo moved a little cot into the room so that he could be at Frodo's side if he woke in the night. And Bilbo was with him during most of the day, too, bringing little convalescent dishes to him, rubbing warm ointment on his chest and bundling him in blankets to keep in the heat, and often holding him while he slept. And every day he would say, How do you feel, Frodo? and Can you take a deep breath for me, lad? And Frodo would do his best and take the deepest breath he could without causing himself pain, and Bilbo would listen to his chest and say, Music to my ears! And every day it was a little easier to breathe, until Frodo could hardly believe it had once hurt so terribly to take even the smallest sip of air.
When the new mattress was delivered, Frodo went back to his own room. He had not been in his room since he had been taken from it, and he found that he had a superstitious dread of that place where he had been so sick. He knew it was silly, yet he almost expected that he would open the door on his room and see that black night was forever at the window and the walls were red as blood. But of course it was not so. It was only his own room, with a plump new feather mattress on the bed and brand new overstuffed pillows to go with it. And there were all his warm blankets, freshly laundered and sweet-smelling, and his writing desk and his little hearth with the old portraits of his mother and father above the mantel, where he could see them from his bed. Someone, Mrs. Gamgee no doubt, who had been so good to him during his illness, had placed pink gillyflowers in a blue and white pitcher upon the window-sill, to welcome him back to his room, and all whispers of fear and illness vanished, and he felt very much at home.
All that Spring, Frodo recuperated from his illness, and Bilbo watched him carefully. Bilbo insisted that Frodo take a nap every afternoon, for it would have been very dangerous for Frodo to become fatigued, and vulnerable to falling ill again. In fact, Frodo often did find that he was quite tired, and that his eyes would begin to close on their own not long after luncheon was over. Yet Frodo felt obligated to resist his afternoon nap, for it seemed somewhat shameful to be twenty-one years old and in need of a nap on a fine Spring afternoon, like some old gaffer who had drank too much ale at the May Feast. So when Bilbo would shoo him off to bed, Frodo would say, Just let me finish this chapter, Bilbo or In a little while, Bilbo.
In truth, Frodo was always glad of his afternoon nap, as long as he had held up his honour with some little performance of protest. He would go to his room and draw the curtains against the bright day, and soft shadows would steal into the corners of the room. He would put on his nightshirt and crawl under his covers and adjust his pillow until it was just right. And then it would be so warm and so quiet, and he would be so drowsy that he was often fast asleep as soon as his eyes closed.
Frodo would sleep for hours on those long Spring afternoons. Outside were sunlight and birdsong and daffodils tossing their heads in the still-cool breeze of April but inside were comforting shadows and soft blankets and the blessing of deep, healing sleep. Frodo would often awaken just as twilight was dimming the day. These were the times that Frodo loved. He would still be cosseted in sleep, barely awake really, with a languid warmth filling his body. His room would be almost dark, but his half-open door always glowed with the golden light that came to him from the kitchen, where Bilbo would be preparing supper. He could hear Bilbo moving about the kitchen, sometimes talking to himself or singing bits of verse or whistling, and the scent of Bilbo's cooking would drift down the hall and was always wonderful. And Frodo would think that he should get up, but he never did, for it was far too nice to lie abed, feeling well and warm and happy.
Usually, he would doze off again, to be awakened by Bilbo's hand on his shoulder, or stroking his hair. It's supper-time, Frodo he would say, Do you want to get up, or shall I bring you a tray? and Frodo would answer, No, no, Bilbo, I'll get up. In just a moment. And Bilbo would light a taper while Frodo yawned and stretched and then he would finally sit up and put on his dressing-gown and have supper with Bilbo by the kitchen hearth, as they always did. And then Frodo would stay up with Bilbo for a little while, and he would read or Bilbo would read to him, usually something he had written that day, while Frodo sipped his tea or perhaps the bit of brandy that Bilbo sometimes let him have. At times like these, Frodo almost felt glad that he had been so sick, for his convalescence had given him the chance simply to be with Bilbo, without needing to learn anything, or meet anyone or make any sort of impression at all. Just Bilbo and himself, and the fire crackling in the grate and the old clock ticking away on the mantel. And Frodo would think he could be perfectly content if the whole rest of his life was made of such evenings.
On some afternoons, Bilbo's servant Ham Gamgee would bring his son Sam to Bag End. And if his father had no work for him, Sam would sit on the edge of Frodo's bed and read to him while Frodo dozed off to the sound of Sam's fluty little-boy voice, faintly amused that Sam would rather sit indoors and read to him than play with his friends in the sunshine. Sometimes, Sam would break off his reading to ask a question about some word, or about the story, and Frodo would mumble a drowsy response and Sam would always say, Now there I go bothering you, Mr. Frodo. Pay me no mind. You take your rest and I'll just read, and no more questions. And Frodo would smile and say It's all right Sam, I don't mind, and then he would slip into sleep.
Once, Frodo had awoken at that favourite twilight time of day, with the room lost in shadows and the sound of Bilbo in the kitchen, and had felt a soft yet solid warmth against his back, and had heard the sound of low, sleepy breath behind him. He had turned around slowly to find that Sam had been lulled by the quiet of the room into a nap of his own, and had apparently dozed off behind Frodo, the book he had been reading from still open next to him. Frodo had smiled at the little boy, lying curled up on his side with his right brace twisted over his shoulder. He had put his arm around Sam and nestled his face in the boy's hair, and found he smelled of the outdoors, of earth and sunshine. Sam had sighed and shifted back a little into Frodo's embrace, and they had lain like that for a while. And Frodo had found himself wondering what it would have been like to have had a little brother.
Bilbo had come in then, and there had yet been enough light in the room to show that Frodo was not alone. Bilbo had looked at the little boy, surprised, but Frodo had smiled and laid a finger across his lips so that Bilbo would not wake him. Then Frodo had leaned over and whispered, Sam, in the lad's ear. But Sam had only muttered something and buried his face in the pillow. Frodo had tried again, to no avail: the lad was sleeping like a stone. Then a mischievous thought had come to Frodo's mind, and he had put his mouth close to Sam's ear and said, not loudly but not softly, Samwise Gamgee, you are very late for supper! The effect had been astonishing, for little Sam had sat bolt upright and said, Oh! and then Oh! again and, very flustered, had jumped off the bed and run for the door, straightening his braces as he went. Good-night Mr. Frodo! Good-night Mr. Bilbo! he had called as he ran down the hall. I am very late for supper! Then Sam had slammed the front door shut behind him, leaving a great quiet in his wake. Hm, Bilbo had said after a moment. Excitable little fellow. Without missing a step, Frodo had responded, Perhaps he'll be fierce as a dragon in a pinch. And he and Bilbo had looked at each other, and then laughed for a long time over this old exchange, this familiar bit from Bilbo's great tale.
When he was a boy, he had once been very sick in this room. And now, so many years later, Frodo found that he was sick here again, though not with pneumonia, or anything so simple. Indeed, he had not been well for a long time, although he could not say for certain what ailed him, only that he was often cold and weary, and that his old wounds pained him and his heart was heavy and his mind was dark.
It was now early September, after another fine summer, the second finest summer Frodo had ever seen. Only the summer of 1420 had been better than this one, which meant that this one had been very good indeed. Yet around July, Frodo had found he could not get through the day without an afternoon nap, and as the long summer days wound on towards Fall, he came to look forward to a nap every day, and he slept for long hours while sunlight lay heavy over the world and bees hummed in the garden. He always slept deeply, and though his rest at night was often plagued by dark dreams, his afternoon dreams were wholly good, dreams of golden sunlight sparkling upon a wide blue water, and the sound of sea-birds calling overhead.
When he woke, the day was slipping into dusk, the soft violet twilight of September. Frodo could hear the voice of crickets and the day's last songbird in the garden, and he heard Rosie too, moving about the kitchen as she prepared supper, singing bits of a country tune or cooing at Elanor, who was lying in her basket upon the table. As always, Frodo felt a deep peace in himself upon this evening awakening, and a much-needed warmth and blessed absence of pain. He imagined that he could live perfectly content in the Shire for the rest of his life, if only he could hold on to this feeling, so welcome, yet always so fleeting.
Frodo opened his eyes and for a moment looked about the room that had been his for so long. After all the things that had happened, and all the places he had been, sometimes, especially on these quiet evenings, he almost felt as if he had never left this place, as if nothing had changed. He could even look to the window-sill and see a blue and white pitcher of gillyflowers, put there, as always, by Mrs. Gamgee. But of course, this Mrs. Gamgee was not Sam's mother, but his wife, and a great many things had changed, after all.
And yet some things remained, for there was Sam, sleeping in the chair beside Frodo's bed. He often came in to sit with Frodo when he slept in the afternoons, and now and then, he would drop off himself. Sam's hand was draped over the arm of the chair, and Frodo had only to lean over a bit to take it. He always enjoyed seeing Sam there when he awoke, Sam who was dearer to him than even a brother could have been, and who had proven to be much fiercer than any dragon, in the very worst of pinches.
Sam stirred and opened his eyes slowly and then his relaxed fingers closed around Frodo's. He looked down at Frodo and said, "Well, good evening, Mr. Frodo! Did you have a good sleep?"
"Always, Sam," Frodo answered.
"Goodness, but it's gotten dark. It must be late."
"No," Frodo said with a smile. "We are just in time for supper."
Sam rose and lit a taper and Frodo sat up to put on his dressing gown and join Sam and Rosie and Elanor for supper. He paused for a moment, in the candlelit room, his room, to be grateful for rest and comfort and a quiet supper by the fire, and for the small, good things that stay the same, though all the world may change.