Disclaimer: These wonderful characters from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings do not belong to me but i'm just borrowing them for a while just to have a bit o' fun. Hope the Professor won't mind. ;)

Returning Shadows

All throughout the journey, Frodo had been looking forward to going home the most. He could not wait to go back to all that was familiar to him: the beautiful trees of the Shire, a sip of ale at the Golden Perch, to go back to the quiet life in which all hobbits enjoy.

He was reluctant to leave dear Bilbo, but he and Sam had both felt something amiss as the chill air of October started to blow. Though loathe at the parting he may be, he knew that the Shire was his home and that he had to return.

So the hobbits and Gandalf set out westwards towards the Shire on the fifth of October in a leisurely pace. Though there was a slight coldness in the air, the weather was made for long distance travel; the type of weather that encouraged long walks, for it was neither too hot nor too cold. The trees around them leading from Rivendell had traces of gold and red, symbolizing the first signs of autumn. Often a draft of air from the North would blow upon them, signaling the imminent changing of the seasons.

But as they trotted towards the Ford of Bruinen early on October 6th, Frodo felt a sudden return of pain, accompanied by heaviness of body and mind. Lagging behind, Frodo slowed Strider down to a mere trot as his vision became blurry and the fair weather seemed to have suddenly turned freezing, as if the wind was seeping into his soul. Shivers racked his body as memories of Weathertop replayed in his mind so vividly and strongly that it made the abrupt bout of pain from his shoulder even more difficult to manage.

Frodo tried to rid himself of the misty vision by rubbing his eyes, but to no avail. The trees around him seemed shadowy, and it was as if the Black Riders had reemerged from their destructed states to further torment him in daylight. Frodo stopped his pony completely, pulling at the reins of Strider, and felt he was in the midst of a swoon. Horrid memories of the Black Riders sought to smother every thought he had of trying to manage the pain and iciness that was fast spreading to every facet of his body. Shaking with hurt, fear, and confusion, he dimly felt himself falling, falling down into a dark abyss, where the Black Riders all reached out to him, trying to take him back to the Eye…

"Mr. Frodo? Mr. Frodo! Sir, what happened, what's wrong?" cried Sam with anxiety and alarm. He had first realized that Frodo had not been keeping up and had quickly turned around, riding backwards and catching his swaying master just in time to break Frodo's nasty fall from Strider.

Vaguely, Frodo felt someone holding him and was relieved to see Sam looking worriedly down upon him. He didn't say anything for a while but when he finally managed, he could do nothing but mutter, "The… memory… darkness … heavy… upon me…" Frodo gasped between his words as he clutched at his aching left shoulder, yet struggled to maintain a calm façade to show that this was not a huge matter.

Seeing that Sam had turned back, Merry and Pippin quickly rode back on the trail with Gandalf following closely behind.

Dismounting his pony, Pippin walked quickly over to see that Sam was holding on to Frodo. Frodo, seemingly unaware, did not seem to hear him, as his bright eyes seemed to be glazed over with fear. His pale face glistened with perspiration that had gathered on his forehead.

Merry touched Frodo's forehead and cheek, finding that it was cold despite the sweat, and quickly went to fetch some blankets. He found it quite odd that Frodo had suddenly fallen into such an ill state. Placing blankets upon Frodo would hopefully lessen his shivering.

Frodo, still unaware of his surroundings and his friends' actions, dimly knew that he must somehow get up to show that this momentary weakness would pass. There was still a long way to go, and he could not succumb to this pain. He still wanted to keep going.

Grimacing, with his right hand on his left shoulder, he struggled to his feet with the help of Pippin and Sam and motioned for them to place him back on Strider. But everything around him still seemed blurry, and the strange chill would not leave his body.

"Are you sure that you want to go on, Frodo?" asked Merry who came back to Frodo's side after retrieving the blankets. Frodo was on his feet, but was strongly supported by Pippin and Sam. "That was quite a fall from Strider you had before. You can barely walk. You should rest a bit before we set out again."

"Yes, it is nearly time for lunch anyway," piped in Pippin who was trying hard to be brave and mask his fright at Frodo's sudden collapse.

Frodo heard these seemingly far away inquiries by his worried cousins and sank down back to the ground. He had not the strength to move anymore, so he let strong arms bring him towards somewhere comfortable so he could lie down. The shadow, which must be Sam, had laid many blankets upon him. He could not deny that he felt very disoriented, trying to endure memories, pain and chills at the same time.

Gandalf did not say anything but only noted the time and moment of this sudden onset of illness. Hearing what Sam had heard from Frodo when he first intercepted him at the time of fall and noting Frodo's actions and behavior, he thought of the timing of these strange events. "October 6th," he thought… "This would be… oh no…" Gandalf closed his eyes to try to shake off the disbelief of the coincidence of the timing of the Frodo's reoccurrence of pain.

Frodo did not say anything while they all ate a silent lunch. Sam sat by his master and tried to keep Frodo comfortable by supplying as many blankets as possible. Merry and Pippin had started a fire, to try, in any way, to stop Frodo's uncontrollable shivering.

Frodo did not feel any better by these actions. The heat from the fire only felt like it was eaten up the chill that now seemed to emanate from within the shoulder wound that he had long endured a year ago. The blankets seemed to suffocate him. Now shadows seemed to be whispering in his mind as his shoulder and side ached horribly with pain. He could only see vague black shapes of the Ring-wraiths hovering about him and could no longer hide his discomfort and fear. He felt sick and nausea was building within him, yet he did not know what to do.

"This is just like how I was when I was ill with the Morgul wound," thought Frodo. He closed his eyes for opening them did not help with his fear of the shadows that were so abundant in his blurry vision. Closing his eyes made some of the nausea retreat a bit as well.

"Here, Mr. Frodo have something to eat or drink, maybe you'll feel better," said Sam softly, trying to do something, anything to get his master into a normal state again. He had boiled tea and had prepared some bread for Frodo, and bringing it to Frodo, he bid him to eat, or at least to drink some warm water.

With the help of Merry, Sam carefully lifting up Frodo to a sitting position, Sam slowly tipped the cup into Frodo's lips. Frodo felt something warm upon his lips and felt somewhat comforted by the warm touch. He took a slow sip, taking care to not drink too hastily.

Frodo still seemed not at all focused on Sam's actions, but instead seemed to be looking at a distance towards something that was not there. He did not sip much, but continued to clutch at his icy and painful shoulder. His energy seemed more intent upon trying to endure the pain and cold that seemed to be starting to consume his body. The warmth of the drink had helped, but it was no rival to the iciness that seemed to wrack his whole body with unbearable cold and pain.

Something soft touched his mouth, and he discerned through smelling that it was some type of food, but Frodo wearily shook his head to the initial contact. He did not feel like he was up to eating anything at all. Hunger was the least of his worries at the moment.

"Come on, Mr. Frodo," coaxed Sam, "This will hearten you and make you stronger."

Frodo did not relent and continued to shake with cold. Closing his eyes did not help with the feeling that the shadows were seeking to smother him. He gasped, as the throb of his shoulder had suddenly intensified, feeling like the tip of poisoned ice, was being pierced into his shoulder.

With a look of defeat, Sam gently laid his master back down. He looked helplessly around to see the panicked faces of Merry and Pippin stare back at him.

Gandalf had had enough observing, and had a strong suspicion why this was happening. It was time that he said something.

"Samwise, do you have some athelas?"

"Athelas, why do you think we need athelas, sir? Do you think that that would help?" asked Sam anxiously, who was looking at Frodo with helpless tears. But Sam did not wait for Gandalf to answer as he went quickly to his bag to extract some leaves. He had only thought to keep it to be part of his collection of different herbs and plants and had not counted on using it so soon again.

Sam quickly boiled the leaves, emitting a sweet smell, which both refreshed and calmed the nerves of everyone. It was reminiscent of the first time it had been used in the dark dell of Weathertop. Merry and Pippin felt calmer, while Frodo felt that breathing was easier and the pain receded a little, which gave him a measure of hope that this weakness would eventually pass.

While Sam was busily preparing the athelas, Merry and Pippin kept Frodo as comfortable as possible. Merry gently stroked Frodo's hair and held onto his icy hand, whispering words to calm him, as Pippin arranged the blankets so that they covered Frodo as best as possible.

Feeling utterly worried, Pippin was scared though he maintained a façade of composure; he did not want to alarm anyone though he felt it unfair that Frodo still had to suffer.

"Don't pain and darkness ever leave?" He thought as he looked away for a while, trying to prevent anyone from seeing that tears had gathered in his eyes. Seeing his cousin ill like this gave rise to too many memories reemerged from the time when they were traveling to Rivendell. Even though he had been through a lot since the initial journey to Rivendell, he did not ever want to relive pain and fear again. It was just too soon.

But he calmed down a little when he heard Gandalf recite some Elvish incantations by Frodo's side. Gandalf somehow felt like he had to try to make Frodo more relaxed. These incantations did naught to ease Frodo's pain, he knew, but he thought that attempting to call Frodo back into awareness was worth a try.

Opening his eyes, he seemed to look toward the direction of Gandalf and he felt the dark shadows retreat, but his vision was still as blurry as ever. Gandalf's words made him more at ease, and gave him more strength to combat the evil memories. He felt himself placed in a sitting position, as some warmth was placed upon his lips. Smelling the warm and sweet scent of athelas, Frodo relaxed as the tea also had power enough to gradually dissolve his horrible memories of Weathertop. But the tea did not rid his mind of the throbbing pain of his shoulder.

"The Witch-king is dead… he will not hurt me again," thought Frodo, trying to stifle the dark thoughts from returning. He looked toward Gandalf with his soft murmurings of Elvish, which helped in assuaging his fears.

While Sam and Gandalf stayed with Frodo, Merry continued to brew the athelas so that it could be used to bathe Frodo's icy shoulder. Subsequently, Merry, Sam, and Pippin took turns to use the warm athelas-drenched cloths to apply to Frodo's shoulder and side.

The throbbing subsided a bit, and he felt he was warming up, but just like a year ago, Frodo could not feel any feeling return to his shoulder and hand.

About two hours had passed since Frodo had suddenly collapsed from the pony. After the various treatments, he felt better, more at ease with himself. The athelas did indeed help a lot, but he still could not see amidst the grey mist that had settled in the world. Though some dark shadows remained in his vision, the evil memories were kept at bay, though he still felt uneasy and nervous that at any minute a Black Rider would come back to demand the Ring from him again.

However, he felt like he did not want to delay their trip back to the Shire. They had rested long enough. Removing the blankets, he carefully stood up again with the help of Merry and Pippin.

"Are you all right, Mr. Frodo? You rested for scarcely two hours. It's still early… why don't you rest some more?" asked Sam, who felt that his master was still not himself, that Frodo was trying to mask his pain and unease. But Sam knew his master better than that; Frodo could not deceive him with his ginger walking movements.

Shaking his head, Frodo walked on doggedly with Merry and Pippin by his side. With the help of Merry and Pippin, he mounted Strider and continued trotting slowly towards the Ford.

Sam rode behind Frodo for a while, but nothing happened from there till the Ford that caused the hobbits further worries.

"Are you in pain, Frodo?" said Gandalf quietly as he rode by Frodo's side.

Well, yes I am," said Frodo. "It is my shoulder, the wound aches, and the memory of darkness is heavy on me. It was a year ago today."

He reached for his aching shoulder, and felt cold. He had felt better after the athelas treatments, but seeing the dreaded river again, his mind vividly replayed the whole scene at the Ford when he was defying the nine Ring-wraiths. He cringed and could almost feel his tongue cleave to his tongue and could almost hear his sword being broken by the horrible Witch-king. His heart was laboring hard, and suddenly breathing became more difficult as well. Fresh pain returned anew in his shoulder.

But he was brought back to the present with Gandalf's answer.

"Alas! There are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured," said Gandalf.

I fear it may be so with mine," said Frodo. "There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not be the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?"

To that Gandalf did not answer. He did not want to think that Frodo could not heal in the peaceful Shire. However, in his heart, he knew. And it pained him. It seemed that Iluvatar had long designated a task for these Shire-folk and the wisest, most unique one had to do the impossible. If only Iluvatar would show some mercy.

But Gandalf put his hand to Frodo's left shoulder and mentioned Frodo to follow. Gandalf's touch brought Frodo back to the present and some pain lessened. But dark memories did not wholly recede.

The river currents flowed slower than usual and it was a shallow, and was not any trouble for any of them to cross over, but it took a long while for Frodo to have the courage to cross it. With the encouragement of his friends, Frodo crossed reluctantly, with Sam closely following him. Merry trotted alongside Frodo and Pippin slightly in front, but Frodo seemed not to heed they were there.

Memories continued relentlessly. Taunting him by the riverside, the Nine seemed to still be there, as menacing as ever. But a familiar touch of Sam and Merry's hands upon his shoulders and cheek brought him back from the terrible memory. He continued to ride on, trying to mask his fear, still determined not to worry his friends so much. Hadn't they gone through enough already?

"The Nine are gone… they cannot hurt me again." Frodo thought, trying to reassure himself by repeating this over and over.

A year ago. It seemed like yesterday.

He trusted Strider to trot on, for clear vision did not returned. He rubbed his eyes with his right hand, but the blurriness did not subside.

When the day's travel was over and it had come to rest for the night, Frodo still did not speak to his friends, but kept his cloak close to him. He was beyond weary, feeling like a spell was laid upon his heavy limbs. Wordlessly, he set up his bedroll and quickly collapsed immediately upon it, taking care not to sleep on his left side. The other hobbits looked worriedly at each other and knew that they had better keep watch over Frodo.

Even though Frodo seemed to be better after his first collapse, he had been unnaturally quiet all afternoon, still seemingly ill at ease, riding slower than usual, especially at the crossing of the Ford. They had all noted his odd behavior, as he would occasionally reach to his left shoulder with his right hand, rubbing it as if still in pain, then moving his hand to where the Ring had once been. His hand instead touched upon the white jewel that Arwen gave him, and for a little while, his face showed no fear. Frodo's eyes were not as clear, having traces of fear and pain apparently there, not to mention a glazed look overshadowing the bright eyes. They noticed that Frodo's appetite did not return, even though he had had nothing to eat since elevenses.

Pippin broke the tense silence.

"Gandalf, tell us. Why is Frodo acting so strangely? Why is he suddenly so ill? Why is he not talking?" Pippin asked, walking over to Frodo and sitting beside him.

"I do not know for sure, Peregrin Took." Gandalf paused. But why should he keep anything from these brave and loyal hobbits? All of them had already been through so much; there was no need to hide anything from them. They had already showed so much resilience, courage and endurance.

He looked at the faces of each of the three hobbits. Each face showed intense worry, fear and confusion. Merry was by Frodo's side, gently placing more blankets upon him, while Sam was busily boiling another pot of athelas. Pippin held on to Frodo's hand, uncharacteristically ignoring even dinner to be with Frodo.

Quietly he said, "It has been a year since Weathertop. I fear that some hurts do not go away so soon, which may be the case for Frodo. Where he can find rest, I do not know. We can only hope that time can heal all pains. Returning to the Shire should be comforting to him, I would like to hope…." He was not ready to tell them what Frodo had said to him at the Ford. He long kept that secret from the hobbits. Frodo's insight had unnerved him, and he himself was not ready to completely give up hope.

"What then if this happens next year?" Asked Merry calmly. His cousin had gone through so much. How could it be that he was not allowed for peace? A respite from evil memories? Surely time could heal all wounds. Merry's hobbity mind held on to hope; for wasn't hope the thing that kept all of them fighting till the very end in this War? Innocence dashed, Merry was wiser and more insightful than before, but he knew that hope was something that evil could never taint, and he would use this weapon to fight whatever evil remained from the Quest.

Gandalf looked off into the west, but he did not say anything. It was the question that he had expected that one of them would ask.

"Well it's not going to happen, Mr. Merry," said Sam resolutely, looking at Merry and Gandalf. "Mr. Frodo will be quite all right once he's back in the Shire, taking a long rest, writing his book, doing all that he loves. We've all just been out of the Shire for too long, and places do hold memories. I'm sure I would be scared to even see a spider again or be in any place dark. This will pass. Today ain't an indication of the future. In the meantime, I recommend that we all have something to eat."

Gandalf admired Sam's optimism. Harthad Uluithiad. He called him that for a reason. Hopefully Sam would be right. But at the present moment, it seemed too much to hope.

While the hobbits and Gandalf ate a quiet supper, Frodo tossed around fitfully in his sleep.

The Black Riders are still there… hunting me for the Ring… dark bushes in the Shire, covering Bag End…

Can't see my friends…. blade still in his flesh… slowly creeping to my heart…

The Witch-king is back… and his bright knife gleamed with a pale light approaching me at Weathertop….

The Black Riders riding up… "To Mordor we will take you!"

And then suddenly the great Eye appeared.

Frodo sat up with a start, opened his eyes and screamed, grimacing with the pain in his left shoulder. Dark shadows still danced in his vision. Sweat had gathered upon his forehead, yet he felt icy claws upon him. The Black Riders! He had to flee faster from them, have to reach Rivendell!

All his friends jumped up with a start and ran to Frodo to calm him down, assuring him that he was safe, that the Black Riders were gone forever, the Quest completed, and that he was going back to the Shire.

"Mr. Frodo, you're all right… there's no one to hurt you. The Quest is completed, you're going back to the Shire," Sam said over and over as he held on to Frodo in his arms.

"Calm down, Frodo… you're with Sam and Pippin and Gandalf and me. You just had an awful nightmare… don't worry," added Merry, who dabbed Frodo's perspiration-filled forehead with a handkerchief.

Frodo heard the reassuring voices of his friends and was gently laid back down upon his bedroll. A smell of athelas made him breathe easier as all dark thoughts fled for the moment. Gently placed in a sitting position, something warm touched his lips and he sipped the soothing liquid given to him. Calmed down a bit, coherent thoughts once again formed amidst his confusion. Of course, the Quest was over… why had he acted the way he did? Had he only been dreaming? But it was so real. Had he been acting strangely the whole day? And why was he still in pain if they were not fleeing from Black Riders on the way to Rivendell?

He did o't have time to further his curiosity. The calming actions of his friend led him to feel at ease and relaxed again. He felt a warm cloth soaked with sweet-smelling athelas laid again upon his bare shoulder, easing it of the pain that he intensely felt when he first woke up. Someone held on to his right hand, and someone else was using a cloth to wipe his sweaty forehead. He was safe, no need to worry. His friends were there besides him. Exhausted but relaxed, Frodo closed his eyes and fell back asleep.

Wordlessly, the hobbits mutually understood that they had to keep watch of Frodo that night.

Merry and Pippin kept a small fire by Frodo's side, as Sam alternated the warm athelas cloths that were placed upon his shoulder.

By midnight, Pippin had fallen asleep. Merry was reluctant to sleep but by the bidding of Gandalf and Sam, he acquiesced to their insistence.

"But please do wake me up if … Frodo is… unwell," pleaded Merry before he lay himself down upon his bedroll. He was still very worried, and until Frodo acted regularly again, he would still worry. Well, tomorrow is October 7th, Frodo should be back to normal by then…and with that last thought he fell uneasily to sleep.

Throughout the night, Frodo did indeed toss and turn a lot, sometimes opening his eyes only to close them again, murmuring incoherent words that both Sam and Gandalf could not make out clearly. Sam kept stroking Frodo's hair as he whispered into Frodo's ears that he was safe, that there was nothing to worry about. He did this far into the night and only rested only after making sure that Frodo was sleeping peacefully.

"Master Samwise, you better sleep now, for it's late," said Gandalf. "The sun will be coming out in a few hours, so please sleep for a while. We do not want you lagging behind tomorrow," he said with a wink. "I will see to your master for the rest of the night."

"Aye sir, you're right. I feel quite done in… but as Mr. Merry said, please wake me if anything is wrong." And with a last worried glance at his master, he fell back on his bedroll and closed his eyes.

Frodo slept soundly for more than three hours, and did not wake in the morning with everyone else.

"You cannot blame me for being the sleepyhead this time, Merry," said Pippin cheerfully. "It seems that lazy Baggins decided to sleep in."

"Well he had a tough day yesterday, it is expected that he would sleep more, silly Took" replied Merry.

"I understand he needs sleep, but I wonder about food. Won't he positively be the most famished hobbit you would ever know when he wakes up? I would be, if I had not eaten for more than twenty-four hours. Silly Baggins…" Pippin looked at Frodo with respect and admiration yet Merry also saw much worry in Pippin's eyes.

Frodo woke half an hour later, hearing voices all about him. He was bundled up with many blankets and he felt some cloths upon his shoulder. Had he been ill? A dull ache from his left shoulder still bothered him as all the events of yesterday came flooding back to him.

Opening his eyes, he was upset to still see misty surroundings. He sat up slowly to see his friends all look at him enthusiastically that he had awoken.

"Hey look who's up!" cried Pippin excitedly as he raced to his cousin. "I saved a lot of breakfast for you! I'm sure you're hungry… for you haven't eaten for a while…silly hobbit, we were all so worried---"

"How are you feeling, Frodo?" asked Gandalf, interrupting Pippin. "Are you feeling better?"

Frodo nodded, as he stood up gingerly. There was no use telling them that his shoulder still throbbed, and he still couldn't see clearly. No need to worry them especially since he had already been the cause of much anxiety and inconvenient care.

Frodo quietly ate what Pippin had generously offered. He still felt a bit ill, as if he was coming off several days of fever. He was bone weary, as if a spell was laid upon his body like it had been in the Morgul Vale. He shuddered involuntarily at that memory.

"Mr. Frodo? Are you still cold?"

Sam's voice interrupted that thought as he shook his head at the inquiry. Speaking was still quite an effort but he did not want to worry his friends, so he continued to keep quiet.

It was an hour past midday when they decided to start off again. Gandalf still felt uneasy and worried about Frodo's condition. He did not feel that Frodo was being entirely truthful about himself. Frodo's eyes were unfocused, and he was still unnaturally quiet.

Seeing that his master was still so silent, Sam rode behind Frodo, Merry slowly besides Frodo, trying to make small talk with Frodo. Pippin rode in front of Frodo and spoke of many stories in the meantime. Pippin felt like he had to talk in order to rid himself of the feeling that things were not quite back to normal yet for Frodo. Besides, whatever dark thoughts Frodo were having could be combated with stories of the Shire, right?

After an hour of trotting down the trail, Frodo finally spoke words that gave the hobbits much worry.

"Must …rest …for a while," Frodo whispered to Merry as he dismounted with Sam helping him. He almost fell down on the ground again, if not for the help of his friends. With Merry and Pippin's support on either side, he walked slowly over to a patch of grass and sat down, leaning back heavily against a tree trunk behind him. Dark shadows were starting to pervert his vision again, and his left shoulder ached horribly. He was so weary, feeling like he was on the brink of collapsing in front of his friends; but he could not care about that anymore. He closed his eyes, but Black Riders rode to greet him...

"Sure, no need to rush, dear cousin… are you all right? You still seem very pale… Frodo?"

Frodo opened his eyes in fear and was calmed again with the voices of Merry and Sam. A wave of dizziness washed over him. But then he felt like he was being held, and he was deeply comforted by the gentle touch of his friends.

"Maybe he needs a drink. I still have a bit of tea left …maybe that would help." Sam quickly brought out the bottle, placing it upon Frodo's lips and tipped it down carefully. Frodo did not protest against Sam feeding him again, and with a discreet nod of thanks, he drank thirstily. He did not know why he was so weak, but certainly the tea did help.

"I'm still very weary… guess old age is finally setting in, right, Pippin?" whispered Frodo with an effort. His friends were worried; no doubt, he had barely answered to any of Merry's questions and hardly said anything in response to Pippin's stories. But he could not ride on without feeling like he was going to fall off his pony. At any rate, sleeping would hopefully give him respite from the shadows and rid himself of the dimness of his surroundings.

"You're not that old, silly hobbit," replied Pippin putting an arm around Frodo.

"We'll all rest here for a little bit. It is quite all right, Frodo…no need to hurry, " said Gandalf. "Take a nap, dear lad."

Frodo did not need to be asked twice to take a nap. His head, already in Pippin's lap, relaxed and his eyelids fluttered and closed, and he was asleep in an instant.

But nightmares greeted him. Dark shapes mingled with sharp knives were abundant as dark horses neighed loudly. Crass voices broke the tense silence. But every time, Frodo opened his eyes, it was only his friends' touch and faces that brought him back to reality.

By the third time he opened up his eyes in fear, not only Sam and Pippin's faces were there, but athelas filled his smelling senses, and finally feeling comforted enough to close his eyes again, he fell into a deep sleep.

Frodo woke up to see that it was dark. He was lying down besides Pippin and Merry who were lying on either side of him. Did he sleep the day away? His left shoulder now only ached intermittently, and he sat up seeing clearly that a fire had been lit, and Gandalf was smoking his pipe by the fireside.

"Your nap turned out to be quite long, Frodo," said Gandalf as he puffed at his pipe. "It is evening now… Sam went to take a walk, if you want to know."

"Yes, everything is clearer now and I feel quite ready to go trekking again," said Frodo with a grin. "I guess my sleepy cousins took advantage of this light day of travel."

"As did you, my friend. You look quite better from earlier today and yesterday. Sam will be back soon and he'll prepare something for you to eat."

Frodo was himself again that night and the following days, but he mentioned nothing of his behavior the past two days, but instead cheerfully told his friends old stories that had not been told before.

The rest of the journey to Bree did not mark anything out of the ordinary other than the weather changing to being very cold, windy and rainy. Frodo was as talkative as the day before his sudden onset of weariness and pain.

Comforted by Frodo being himself again, the hobbits could not help but feel like they needed more of an explanation of what happened in the past two days. But they did not ask Frodo about it. Gandalf had thought it best to not mention it, and the hobbits had agreed. They shouldn't dwell on something that would eventually pass.

Frodo's fast pace at the sight of Weathertop did not alleviate his friends' worry that this illness had everything to do with what happened a year ago in the dark dell of Weathertop. But fortunately, no sudden action was needed to comfort him, for his behavior did not turn odd like it did on October sixth.

October 6, 1420

"I am wounded, "wounded; it will never really heal."

Sam's heart ached with pain to hear those words from Frodo when he was ill again the following year. Even though he was not there when the March Illness had set in, he had heard about it and knew that the sudden illness also related back to the Quest.

But hadn't he been the most optimistic one during the first illness? But now, it seemed that all hope was dashed, that time could not mend all wounds. To admit defeat was not easy… to accept these anniversary illnesses was a blow to Sam's optimistic take that all darkness would eventually pass in this world.

He helped his master walk to his room for some rest and cared for him, comforting him with words, stroking his face and head, holding on to his cold, left hand. He stayed by his master's side for the whole day, making sure that if Frodo awoke from horrible nightmares, that he would be there to comfort him.

When Sam was sure that Frodo was peacefully asleep, he ventured out of the room to get something to eat. He closed his master's door softly, and only then, did tears begin to spill relentlessly down his cheeks. Leaning against the door, Sam knew at that moment that a full recovery from the memories and hurt would not be likely. His heart ached with bitterness at this thought but resolutely told himself that he would still stand by Frodo through this post-quest ordeal and do whatever possible to relieve him from pain.

"I will always be here for you, Mr. Frodo," whispered Sam as he opened the door a little, to see his master's face shine with Elvish wisdom within, calm and peaceful like one who has passed on to a more serene place beyond the shadows.

The End

The parts in which there are stars () and italics means that I've taken those quotes directly from The Return of the King, Homeward Bound. Pg. 967 in the One Volume Houghton Mifflin Edition.