Wintered

Summary: "It is unnatural for that which was dead to come back to life. The sun was meant for
the living, and though I was still breathing, the world had long since considered me dead."
Takes place after ROTK in Minias Tirith. Definite AU or possible alternate ending at the very
least.

Warning: Written during a severe case of the winter blahs. Not a happy story, not a happy ending. Sorry. (This is sad that I'm so busy that I wrote this in January and only getting around to posting it now)

I tried to get the formating right so it wouldn't look so weird, but no matter what I do it still comes out with every few lines only having one word. Sigh.

Disclaimer. It all belongs to Tolkien. All of it. Yes, even that.

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"So learn from this and understand true values. I who tell you have wintered into wisdom."

-Beowulf

"No man may indeed become wise before he has had his share of winters in this world's
kingdom."

-The Wanderer

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Bilbo once told me that winter made you wise. It was so long ago that we had the
conversation, a lifetime apart from where I am now, but I can still remember the day so clearly,
as if no time had passed at all.

It was one of the worst winters that I could remember. The snow blew with a ferocity that
scared me. To look outside was to learn a lesson about white, for that was all there was to know.The door to bag end had been packed so tightly down that we were helpless to leave until the snow melted or some kindhearted soul saw fit to dig us out. I didn't mind, for never was there a more perfect setting to listen to Bilbo's tales.

The most fascinating thing about my uncle, I believe, is the random spouts of wisdom that
seem to erupt unsystematically and almost fortuitously from the great depths of information he
holds in his mind. It is like one who holds a fist of seeds that is always full. Some are bound to
slip through the fingers, but that tiny impromptu seed that he didn't even know he dropped could
grow into a most magnificent tree and provide for hundreds of years to come.

That particular evening was a calm one, winding down after a long day of stories and
lessons. The two of us sat as close to the fireplace as we dared, hoping to soak in whatever heat
we could through the piercing cold that had permeated us for the last several days with no end in
sight. We held our soft woolen blankets wrapped around us like cloaks with one hand, while the
other held fresh, gloriously warm, cups of tea laced with cinnamon. Just as I shall ever associate
Bilbo with the smells of parchment and ink, I shall ever associate winter with the sharp spice of
warm cinnamon.

I had just professed my desire to see the sun again on a fresh, warm day. I tilted my head
to look at him and I recognized instantly the look he had in his eyes. He looked as though he was seeing something no one else could. His eyes unfocused and his lips parted slightly before he asserted his claim that winter was indeed the root of true wisdom.

I did not understand what he meant, back then. I wasn't dim or un-insightful, I just took
things more for what they seemed than I do now. Was I to think that winter, that caused icy
fingertips and numb noses, possibly had anything to do with intellect? Why was I forced to read
out of books, when all I really had to do was go outside on a snowy day? All winter had ever
done for me was to make me cold. I did not understand, for I myself had not witnessed enough
winters to know that he wasn't speaking in the literal sense. I didn't know that someone could
experience winter even in the midst of the most beautiful summer day.

Bilbo never told me what he meant by his comment. He decided that I should figure it out
for myself, though I never for a moment's time believe that he meant for me to find out the way I
did.

From suffering, wisdom arises, though most don't know that there are different kinds of
wisdom. Most think of book wise, or world wise. There's the wisdom that is needed to make
good decisions, or even just being aware of what's happening around you. Just knowing. Not
necessarily knowing more than others, but knowing it on a whole different level. I recognize that
now. The smartest creature on the planet will never be wise until they have felt loss, until they
have felt pain, until their very existence is hanging by a thread. It is impossible to be wise when
you don't even know the true value of life.

I admit that I never appreciated my life as I should have before all of this happened. Of
course I was glad that I was alive, happy with my situation and healthy except for the random
cold or hey fever. I loved nature, my friends and family (most of them at least) and literature. I
enjoyed talking with Sam in the garden early in the morning, conversing with Bilbo over tea
before bed.

But now I relish every heartbeat. I can't believe that when I want my arms to move, they
move. My eyes blink and my lungs expand and contract, and wouldn't you know it, my hair
grows. When I read a book, I recognize the words and connect them to objects, thoughts, ideas
that mean something to me, that I understand. All of these things I took for granted. All of these
things that you don't have to think about because your body just does them, the basic things that
should never be taken away from a living thing until they are ready to give them up.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what Bilbo meant, and I even thought I knew, which is
why it shocked me when he told me that spring was the cruellest season.

This pearl of waxed philosophy was given with a bit more explanation than the last. He
told me that though winter was a form of death, death was still just another part of life.
Everything that lives eventually dies, and that includes the world around us. But spring brings the
world back to life. No other living thing can come back, or should come back after being dead for so long. Spring may be beautiful, refreshing and so very welcome, but it is also very unnatural.

Why could the earth come back to life when nothing else could? What would happen if
spring decided not to appear anymore? Winter would be harsh, as usual, but when the spring
months came around, there would be no warmth from the sun. The flowers would not bloom,
babes would not be born. The air would always be stale, the trees would always be skeletons and the icicles would always drip, drip, drip, but never melt away.

Spring was a sadistic season because it held such a sweet promise before us, taunting us
like a child holding a toy just out of his younger brother's reach, only giving up his hostage once
he bored of the tease. Spring had the power to send us all unto an eternal darkness from which
our own deaths would be the only escape.

These insights were made long before I entered my own long winter. I did not know that
my days of basking in the sun were limited, that I should have enjoyed my peaceful life while I
could, for the moment I inherited that ring, autumn descended. The sun began to dim, leaving us
in search of worthier places to grace with its presence. The days became cooler and all that was
good prepared for hibernation. Leaves changed overnight from vibrant green to dull, muted
brown before crumbling away completely, becoming nothing more than specks of dust to be
carried away by the wind.

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The snow fell on my winter as I left for Rivendell. By the time the nine of us began our
quest, we were in the midst of a blizzard that would cover us all with it's icy fist until the ring
was destroyed.

It wasn't until Caradhras that I remembered what Bilbo had told me. I shivered in the cold and wished for a warm woolen blanket and a fresh cup of cinnamon tea.

Sam, Merry, Pippin and I huddled together, hopping to share warmth and protect each
other at least a little bit from the skin-burning wind that hit us from all angles. It was the kind of
wind that seemed to have a goal of digging it's icy fingers beneath yourflesh, and wouldn't leave
you alone until it did so.

"I hate the snow," said Pippin through his chattering teeth. "I hate winter."

"You know," I said through equally uncontrollably chatters of my jaw. "Winter makes
you wise."

"Well, now you're starting to sound like Bilbo. Seems to me that winter has made you
more mad than wise." He spoke in a teasing voice, struggling to put a 'you know I'm only
joking' look on his face, but seemed to give up once he realized he couldn't even feel his face, let
alone twist it into any recognizable expression. I smiled at him and huddled closer.

Bilbo was right. We all gained so much wisdom from our winter, possibly more than we
would have liked, but every ounce of knowledge was well earned and put to use. At the end of
our quest, I knew that my friends understood what I had meant that night. They had suffered, and were wiser for it, and for them, spring had been kind and comd swiftly and without delay.

Spring did not find me so easily, however. I wanted it so much that I could taste it, smell
it, almost see it, tantalizing me in the distance, floating just out of reach, but far enough away that
I could not benefit from it's warm embrace.

I admit that I was never very patient waiting for it to appear. I knew that spring's healing
would not just occur one day without warning. It would be a gradual process, unfolding slowly
but surely over time, but still no tendrils of spring entered my mind. It was long past the time
when everything should have been in full bloom, but it seemed that my oasis had dried up and
left for dead.

After much deliberation and many sleepless nights, I decided that maybe it would be of
benefit to speak to someone about my plight. It first I had decided on Sam. Well, not really
decided, more assumed I would talk to him because he was the one I had become accustomed to running to with all my problems. After realizing that, I decided against talking to him. He had
been so happy and relaxed, smiling and laughing more in these last few weeks than he had all
year, that I couldn't bear to worry him now. I could not put my burdens on his shoulders again.

The next person I thought of was Gandalf, but he was so busy lately, and I didn't want to
pour my heart out only to be answered with some riddle I would then have to decipher. Aragorn
was equally busy, and the troubles of one small hobbit were nothing compared to the troubles of
a king.

I never considered Legolas or Gimli, for the elf would look right through me and might
learn more than I was ready to share, and the dwarf, though a wonderful companion, was not the most compassionate of beings. Its not that he didn't care, he just didn't understand. Emotions
are very cut an dry with him; either you're sad or you're not, happy or you're not, no in-between.

I was equally reluctant to tell Merry and Pippin, for they were still so young, even after all
they had been through and all the growing they had done (both literally and figuratively).It would
be a tragic thing to have let them think all this time that we were all well and good, and then turn
this upon them. Besides, their banter and joking alone was enough to turn my mood, if only for a
short time.

I consciously knew that I was making excuses not to say anything, though I knew I
should. Some were legitimate, some were obviously not, but I just couldn't force myself to say
anything. I spent all of dinner one night at war with myself, trying to put aside my fears and
doubts and just do it.

It was a rare occasion that all of us were together for a meal. We sat around a heavy
wooden table that smelt so strongly of cedar that it almost overpowered the food. Us four hobbits were given chairs that were intended for a much larger table so we looked to be about the same height as Gimli sitting in a normal sized chair.

As usual when the eight of us were together, we spent most of the time telling jokes and
sharing stories. The stories ranged from those of our childhoods, legends of our homelands and
even some tales that took place during the quest, before and after our fellowship had failed.
Despite the differences the tales had, they all had one thing in common: they were lighthearted
and humorous, usually leaving the listeners with tears of mirth in their eyes form laughing so
hard. They were never sad, never scary. No one, now that we had peace and contentment back in the world, wanted to be reminded of crueller times. Those chapters remained closed for fear of releasing their demons back into the world. The only thing that mattered was that we were all
here, alive, if not whole. Most of us, at least.

Looking around the table, I marveled that we were all still here. Merry, Pippin and Sam
had healed beautifully. If I hadn't been there with them, I would never have believed that they
had ever seen any hardship or privation at all. They sat around in their oversized chairs, laughing
so hard that they had to grip the edge of the table so that they wouldn't fall off. Their eyes were
watering and their noses were red with the aid of several mugs of ale. They were more drunk than any one else, though Gimli wasn't far behind: his hearty roar of laughter resonated throughout; it bounced off the walls and hit us from all directions. He had made more toasts than I could remember, every time his mug hitting the table a bit harder, spilling a little more ale onto the already sticky surface.

Gandalf's eyes smiled behind his pipe, the corners of his mouth turned up in a genuine
smile. Aragorn and Legolas through it all still managed to look dignified while also appearing
cheerful and lighthearted.

I saw into their souls that night. I wondered if they could see into mine. The veil was up,
the curtain drawn, but was that just a clue to them that something suspicious was going on
inside?

To look at them was to see eyes radiant with light. Their complexions pale peach and rosy pink
in all the right places. Their hair thick, shiny and clean. Steady hands, nimble fingers, clean nails,
straight backs, chins up, eyes ahead, never down. They carried themselves confidently, presented themselves so honestly to the rest of the world.

I knew that my eyes were still dull and red, my skin was pale where it should have been
pink and ashy where it should have been peach. My hair was limp and thin. My hands were
shameful, shaking as if afraid I would do something else horribly disfiguring to them. My posture
was atrocious; I slouched so badly that I was several inches shorter than I used to be. I recall
counting the cracks in the stone as I walked over them with still aching feet.

Spring hadn't come because I hadn't been ready to face it. My thoughts were still dark,
my mind still lingered in the deep places were others wisely refused to go. I had been lift behind
in this winter while everyone else moved on into summer. The sun was shining on them while a
cloud danced above my head, obstruction all warmth and comfort.

This winter, I feared, would be my last. I could no longer endure the shadows that
besieged me. They teased me, told me that they knew what I wanted most, and would try their
hardest to see that I didn't get it.

How long would it take for someone to notice? Who would notice first? Probably Sam,
for he know best what I looked like when I was defeated and despaired. Would anyone else
notice so easily? Probably not, for they had latched on to what healing I did have and would not
let go. Sam, on the other hand, always looked for what healing I didn't have and made it his
personal quest to see those gaps filled.

It was at that dinner that I made up my mind not to say anything to anyone at all, even
though I knew I should, I could not be the one to shatter their well deserved happiness. If I could not have any myself, it was not their fault, nor burden. If I was to get better, it would happen eventually, and if I lingered in darkness, it was probably no more than I deserved.

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Time wore on. I found myself growing weaker and more weary by the day. I couldn't eat
without feeling every morsel go down like a lump of coal and settling in my stomach. I couldn't
sleep at night without waking up alone and panicked and not remembering where I was.

Sam tried to brew me some tea in the middle of the night once when I had awoken
screaming. I accepted it , hoping it would calm my frayed nerves, but the moment I smelled it, I
leaned over the side of the bead and lost my stomach on the floor. It was cinnamon tea. Winter's
tea.

I began sleeping all day because I could no longer stand the exhaustion I felt constantly. I
did not wish to speak to anyone because no matter the topic of conversation, I still saw worry in
their eyes. I felt the healing I had gone through reverse itself until I was once again a desperate,
skeletal creature, claimed by shadow.

Now at the point where I no longer had the strength to leave my bed, I spent most of my
time asleep. When I was awake, I found my thoughts plagued with the desire to have been left
outside Mount Doom to be swallowed un the flames that had been the birthplace of my
destruction.

I was turly a pathetic sight to behold. What hero was this who refused to eat even when
food was held to his lips? Who would do nothing but sleep because he was afraid to think? I
heard them talking when they thought I couldn't hear. They didn't know what was wrong. They didn't know how to cure me. To them, I was physically ill and nothing more. They didn't know I was wintering away.

I heard them say relapse. I heard them say that they are out of ideas, that they don't know
what else to do. I heard them speak in tearful voices of death as an inevitable end to by struggle.

Sam, Merry and Pippin never left my side. They slept there with me, refusing to let me be
alone. They said they didn't want me to be lonely, that someone should always be there in case I
needed them. I knew that they really wanted to be there at the end. They didn't want to be away
when I went to sleep for the last time, and I was grateful, for my heart ached with the thought of
leaving without seeing them again.

And spring never came. I longed to speak to Bilbo, to tell him I understood what he told
me all those years ago. I was finally wise. It is unnatural for that which was dead to come back to life. The sun was meant for the living, and though I was still breathing, the world had long sinceconsidered me dead.

I hope that everyone understands they could not have saved me. I hope they know that
they should still have rich, full lives even though mine is done. I hope they know that as I closed
my eyes for the last time, I could still see eight of them, even though only seven were actually
there, ready to see me though to safety. As time slowed, I could hear them wishing me a safe
journey, for I was traveling where they could no longer watch my footsteps aor guard my path.

I want them to know that as I drifted from darkness, the first thing I smelled was fresh
grass. The first thing I saw was a flower in bloom, and the first thing I felt was the sun on my
face.

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I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door."

"Fellowship of the Ring" , "The Ring Goes South"