“Let’s go for a stroll by the Water.” said Sam. It was mid-June, but as warm and muggy as August, and lacking even the slightest breeze. They had opened all Bag End’s windows, but the only rooms that felt even slightly comfortable were the root cellar and the wine cellar.
“I’m too tired to go, Sam. I’ll be waiting when you get back, just here on the couch.” replied Rosie. It has been a busy day: Tolman, their youngest child, had just wedded Daisy Took, a distant relation of Pippin’s. As the last of the guests filed out (mostly heading to The Green Dragon in Bywater to continue the celebration), Rosie slumped into a kitchen chair, exhausted but happy.
Sam looked at her. “Alright.” he said. “Maybe you’d best lie down a little after all. I won’t be long, darling.” He kissed Rosie on the forehead, a gentle brush of the lips; looking up, she stroked his face, her hand roughened with age, but as deft and tender as always. Then he padded into the hallway, out the door, and down the Hill towards the Water.
Tall clouds built in the West, their scalloped edges brilliant white, their swollen bodies dark and threatening. “It’ll be a good hard one,” thought Sam. “Just what we need to break this nasty hot spell.” Thunder rumbled in the distance. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply the fresh earthy smell that comes before rain. Lightning flashed, and for a moment he felt disoriented. He opened his eyes, or felt that he had, but he wasn’t on the Hill anymore. He was huddling beneath tall, leggy bushes. Someone sat beside him, facing away, a hood covering his head; Sam thought he knew him. The sky was dark and the ground quivered beneath them. As Sam opened his mouth to speak, the stranger turned towards him slowly. Sam’s eyes widened in horror when he realized that the cowl concealed no face. “Run, Mr. Frodo!” he screamed.
A few raindrops splashed Sam’s forehead. He opened his eyes. He stood low on the Hill gazing southwards over the Water. The wind rushed through distant trees. “Oh, Mr. Frodo, please forgive your Sam! I said I’d be there for you, and I wasn’t – I couldn’t. Oh, Mr. Frodo, you deserved so much better than that!”
The wind came, sudden and fierce, and the rain began to fall in earnest. But Sam stood, arms spread wide, opening himself to the storm. Lightning flashed and thunder roared all about him, and hail stung him hard. He gritted his teeth against the pain and turned to face West, directly into the gale. A howling gust knocked him to his knees. He regained his feet, only to be flattened by a stronger blast. Then far in the West the clouds tore apart and the sun shone through, intolerably bright. And, seemingly out of the sun’s very disk, something came. A small, dark speck at first, rapidly it grew until it was revealed as a huge eagle. Just as it seemed it would seize him in its talons, it called once, sharply. Then with an abrupt turn it ascended, disappearing into the east.
Sam lay, trembling, upon the path. The rain became a light shower, then ceased altogether, and the clouds broke, the sky filling with golden afternoon sunlight. The wind became a gentle breeze, fresh and cool upon the hillside’s red clover and upon Sam’s wondering face. In his open left hand there was a shell: pale white and translucent. Upon its convex surface, fine reddish ridges traced radial paths from its root to its broad edge; its concave surface was smooth and shiny and faintly iridescent, and seemed to invite touch. Sam brought it to his lips, feeling its exquisite pearly texture, smelling its faintly salty aroma. “How – how did you come to me?” he asked of it.
He returned to Bag End at sunset, still almost in a trance. He shook it off only when he saw Rosie standing in the doorway, smiling in welcome. “Dear me, Sam, if you don’t need looking after! You’re fair soaked through! Come in and I’ll draw you a nice warm bath,” she said. Long ago she had come to terms with Sam’s tendency to lose track of time. She knew that he’d always come back, and usually in a shape that didn’t require summoning the healer.
“Alright, Rose.” said Sam, his face unusually thoughtful. Rosie helped him out of his clinging shirt and breeches and wrapped him in a huge bathrobe. Then she set him before the fire, which she had kindled when the rain began, and kneaded his shoulders. He leant back against her. “Thank’ee, dear. That feels just fine.”
“Rose, sweet?” asked Sam one evening, some days later.
“Do you remember –“ he began, then paused uncertainly, wondering whether he ought, even after so long, to open the space behind this particular door to Rosie’s view.
“Do I remember what?”
“Do you – well – do you ever think about Mr. Frodo?”
“Mr. Frodo? It’s been such a long time, Sam – it seems like a story now, like the Tooks’ tales. I never knew him like you did, Sam; I couldn’t have,” she paused, considering. “But you’re wondering about him. Have been, I think, ever since he left. But more since that storm last week.”
“You know me real well, anyway: I am wondering about him. But it was somewhat right uncanny that brought him to mind.” At this he opened his left hand and held it close to Rosie’s face; upon it lay the shell: fine and white and glossy. Rosie looked at it curiously, her brow wrinkling in concentration. She touched it lightly, running her second finger about its edge, over its fine ridges, then into its silky concavity.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s from far away, if I know anything at all.”
“Where did you get it?”
“Now that’s the odd thing. All wrong if it wasn’t a dream.” So he told her of the storm, and his vision of the road to Mordor, and the clouds splitting asunder, and the eagle and its call, and his discovery of that very shell in his hand, as if the eagle had placed it there.
“It is odd. I had thought that things like that didn’t happen anymore, if I really believed that they ever happened at all. But here you are, and here is your shell, and from goodness knows where.”
“From Mr. Frodo.”
“Do you think so?”
“I do. It’s a message.”
“What kind of message?”
“That I – I don’t know. Not to forget, at least,” said Sam. But as he spoke the thought came to him that it meant more than that, though he didn’t understand how. He shivered. Looking at Rosie tenderly, he took her hand between his own and kissed the fingers, one by one. “This message.”
Sam woke with a start. It was very quiet. The Sun had just risen, its first rays glancing high upon the northern wall. For a moment Rosie spoke softly, but quite clearly, in her sleep. “Sam, love, tell him –“ Sam turned to her, stroking the hair back from her face. Slowly the light crept down the wall, touching first a drawing of Minas Tirith – Pippin had made it some years following the Quest – then lingering upon the bed’s high posts and rich back-stand, and finally caressing Rosie’s face. She drew a deep breath and turned onto her side to face Sam, then went still.
“Rose, sweet?” Sam spoke softly, stroking her curls. Their silkiness surprised him. He touched them again, then her cheek, tracing its curvature. It seemed oddly cool. “Rose?” But she lay still, utterly still. “Dear?” Sam took her right hand that lay upon the coverlet. It, too, was cool. Gently he chafed it, pressing the palm as Rosie liked, as he had done to awaken her countless times. But she didn’t stretch and yawn and curl tighter against him. “Rose, sweet?”
Sam and Elanor, as befitted the widower and the eldest child, buried Rosie under the big maple tree, her head propped upon a clean yellow pillow. Her eyes – could they have pierced death’s domain and thence some feet of clean rich earth – would have looked downward towards the Water, as she had liked to do in life. Upon her grave they planted bushes bearing small, sweet, white roses; and nearby they planted aromatic sages with long, graceful, striped leaves: a gift from Pippin, who had found them on one of his journeys to Gondor. Sam stood looking at them for a long time, trying vainly to recall the place or experience of which they reminded him.
“Da?” asked Elanor when the others had left.
For answer, Sam put an arm about her shoulders and drew her close. But the late Sun shone on unchanged, glinting off the Water and flickering in the maple’s big, broad leaves.
That autumn, on Frodo’s birthday, Sam set out from Bag End, taking only what he could carry on his own back. To everyone but Elanor (and Merry) he let on that he was going for “a bit of camping in the Westmarch.”
“Isn’t it a myth? Is there really something beyond the Sea?” asked Elanor. It wasn’t that she disbelieved her father’s tales about Frodo’s departure, but the Blessed Realm was too strange, too far-removed from her experience, for her entirely to accept its existence, much as she wanted to.
“There is, El: something wonderful. Mr. Frodo said it couldn’t be described aright in our tongue, that only Elvish could capture it. And Mr. Gandalf, as helped us on our Quest – well, he came from there a long, long time ago.”
“So you really mean to go then, da?”
Elanor hugged him, sobbing. After some moments she recovered herself and asked, “Can you take something with you?”
“’Course, my lovely.”
“Then take this,” she said. She gave him a little book with a plain grey cover. He opened it and gasped. There, written in Frodo’s strong, flowing hand, was a primer on Elvish.
“El! Where did you – I’d forgotten this! Why, Mr. Frodo made it for you, to remember the Elves by.”
“I made copies long ago. You take that one. It might come in handy.”
“It might!” Sam paged towards the end, briefly glimpsing something that looked like Elanor’s writing, but she closed the book gently before he could read it.
“Wait! It’s a surprise!” she exclaimed.
“All right, El, I won’t read it yet.”
“When you get there, read it with Frodo. It’s for the both of you!”
“Thank you, El.”
“Thank you, da. And keep yourself well, this day and every day.”
“Well, this time it really is good-bye,” began Merry. “I could follow you to Rivendell, and Moria, and Lórien, and back again, but not – not over the Sea. However, I can give you a good send-off. In fact, almost the best send-off you could wish for.”
“What’s that?” asked Sam, mystified.
“Well, last night, for the first time in I don’t know how many years, I heard his voice, Frodo’s voice.”
Sam froze, a look of amazement on his face. “Y–you’re sure?”
“As sure as I’m a Brandybuck, Master Samwise, and a knight of the Riddermark. As sure as I’m your friend.”
“What did you hear?”
“It was like this: I felt I was drifting in a kind of fog, damp and clinging, like the fogs they get in the Marish. It cleared quite suddenly, and I saw a broad expanse of white sand. It seemed to extend for miles to the right and left, but it was rather narrow back and forth: ahead were steep cliffs, like some we saw next the River after leaving Lórien. And on the other side (on the east side, I thought), behind me, there was a vast water: the Sea, I guess. It made odd rushing sounds.
“On the sand there stood two figures: one very tall and bearded, with long silver hair that hung down his back. He looked like I imagine Strider must look now, only taller.” He paused, considering. “I think he was the master of the Havens. But the other figure – that was Frodo, appearing much the same as he had when he went over Sea. They talked quietly, looking towards me but apparently without seeing me; they seemed to gaze through me into the fog. I guess they spoke Elvish, since I couldn’t understand a thing they said. At a given point they took hands, and bowed towards me (or towards something behind me, really), then turned and walked back to the cliffs.
“The vision faded, then I saw a rapid sequence of little snatches: a golden-leafed forest, a long bay with many tiny boats sailing in the bright Sun, a mountain standing high and quiet and alone, a little house of stone, a hall lit by clear gems and peopled by many Elves, a bed with a lamp beside it, a little pond with graceful fishes swimming slowly about. Then everything went dark and quiet: not like a quiet night, but velvety silent, like deep in a cave. Suddenly I heard Frodo once more, singing unaccompanied in what must have been a large hall, in Elvish: a joyous song it seemed to me, sung clear and strong.”
Merry stopped, looking steadily at Sam.
“Was there aught more?” asked Sam.
“No, that was all. But it seemed certainly to be from the present or near present. When Frodo sang, I felt it in my body, as if I were singing, or more as if I sang with the voice of dozens; every bit of me hummed. I’d never felt anything like it. And then, when he finished, the silence was so empty, and the loneliness so profound, I thought I had died. I woke with a gasp, soaked in sweat.”
“Master – Merry – you’re alright now?” asked Sam with concern.
“Yes – yes. It was only a moment. But Sam! I’m so happy for you! That song was a little touch, I think, of what you’ll find when you arrive. I hadn’t ever imagined what it might be like.”
“Master, I can’t thank you aright for this, and for everything else you’ve done for me –“
“You have. Just you take care of yourself, and remember all the adventures we’ve had, and tell the best of them to Frodo, and I’ll be happy. Good-bye, Sam.” He opened his arms, and Sam embraced him heartily.
“Good-bye, Master Merry,” said Sam.
Descending the Hill, Sam turned to look one last time at Bag End. He bowed in thanks, then crossed the Water and bore west, making for the Road to the Havens. The day was clear and bright and cool. A few trees’ leaves had begun to turn, but most were still green, whispering in the light east wind.
As he went the trees gradually gave way to brown seeding grasses and wildflowers: tiny asters there were, and goldenrod with its long yellow spikes, and the last of the year’s sweet clover, still abuzz with honeybees. The hills also changed, becoming taller and steeper, and sometimes near their summits there were outcroppings of stone.
The next day opened grey under flat, even clouds. A very light rain fell, and the grass was slippery. The Road threaded its way through long valleys, then up onto the hills, then down again, then up again, over and over. Slowly it dwindled to a narrow cart-path, but its surface was always smooth and clear of plants. Sam wondered who had made it, and who kept it in such good repair. Perhaps the Dwarves, who still passed sometimes through the Shire? But he had met no one, so there was no one to ask.
As Sam traveled his heart became fuller and heavier. He longed for reunion, but feared that it was no longer possible. He ached for Elanor, for Rosie, for Merry, for Bag End and its garden, and for the uncomplicated life he had led before the Quest. Now that he was embarked upon his last journey, he began to consider what it meant to leave the land of his birth, indeed to leave the only land he ever had known to exist. What was beyond the Sea? Would he ever be at peace there? He stared with unfocussed eyes at his campfire, the little orange and red flames dancing in the twilight’s damp, soft air. A deep silence fell, broken only by the fire’s gentle thrum and pop, and the whisper of tall grasses in a wind too faint to be felt. He wept slow, warm tears for the past that was lost, and for the present that must become the past, and also be lost.
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