A Life Well-Lived


“Well, I’m home,” said Sam.


Rosie took him in her arms, stroking him comfortingly, then drew back, her hands upon his shoulders, to look in his eyes. “You’ve seen him off, then?”


“I have. And didn’t never think it’d be so hard.” He looked down at this feet, his lips set in a straight line.


“Poor Sam.”


“I – I wish he didn’t have had to go.”


“Why did he? I never understood.”


“It’s a long story, sweet. Too long for tonight, I’m thinkin’, and too sad.”


“Not now then. I have something more cheerful in mind anyway. Come! Little Elanor’s just over here,” she pointed with her chin to a bassinet close to the fire, “sleeping neat and quiet as a cat.” She took Sam’s hand and they padded softly toward her. Her round, clear pink face was at rest, and her small perfect hands were folded upon her tiny belly. They smiled and, still hand-in-hand, went off to bed.



And time went on. Other children came, just as Frodo had predicted. Sam loved each for his or her own gifts and quirks (and even shortcomings), and he spent all his thought and labor making the Shire a better place for them, and for Rosie, and for all its other inhabitants. He worked on everything, from routine family tasks like planting and tending and harvesting, to building new holes for the poorer hobbits, to performing the (mostly ceremonial) duties of the mayorship, to teaching youngsters about the wider world. And for a long while his life unfolded as he would have wished it to, had he felt the need to wish.


During this time the hobbits prospered. There were more marriages and births than in many years, and everyone was healthier, and even those who died did so more comfortably and with greater peace than before; and funerals became once again celebratory (as they had been in the Old Took’s day) rather than sorrowful (as they had become during the latter part of Sauron’s rise, however little the hobbits had reckoned their peril). Many new hobbit-holes were built, and new countryside cultivated, but the hobbits respected the forests and the wild-lands, and well more than half the Shire was still untamed when Sam’s youngest children came of age. Even the climate improved, with regular rains through the spring and summer (and a good break in autumn for the harvest), and moderate winters.


Elanor became a great scholar, something hitherto rare among the hobbits. She traveled the lands to learn about their peoples and to research their lore, and on a time she even assisted the King Elessar in compiling, ordering, and analyzing the histories of Gondor. And, as entrusted by Sam, she kept the Red Book of Westmarch, in which were recorded Frodo’s and Sam’s accounts of the War of the Ring. To this she added the accounts of King Elessar, and of King Éomer of Rohan, and of Legolas and Gimli, and even that of the Orc-captain Urgnákh of Dol Guldur, who had led the assault on Lórien. The tale of his unlikely survival, the life he led afterwards, and his encounter with Elanor became a standard part of young hobbits’ educations – and an ongoing source of befuddled amazement to their elders.


Sam and Rosie’s second-born, Frodo-lad, was the most curious of the family. As a youngster he was forever catching frogs, or swimming rivers, or digging holes, or nibbling plants, or climbing trees, or asking questions on every topic from growing taters to the duties of the Mayorship to Elvish poetry. But as he grew into his tweens, he began to develop the discipline to match his curiosity, and thus he began to discover things, some of them strange and uncanny. A wizard he became, and a friend of such Elves as still remained in Middle-earth, and in later days he became a teacher of wizards. And thus the hobbits grew in knowledge – but also in wisdom. They remembered the lessons of the Ring, and so they used their powers not to dominate others, but to ward and to heal, to find and to preserve, and to purify and to delight. And to delight in any case their magics lent themselves most readily, and ever afterward the best fireworks in Middle-earth were made not by the dwarves of Dale, but by the graduates of Frodo’s school of wizardry, a circumstance Gandalf no doubt would have approved.


Their other children had also a variety of gifts, and contributed handsomely to the Shire’s prosperity and happiness. But as the youngest few went off on their own, Sam began to feel a certain wistfulness, and to think that he had not experienced all that he might have. The endless rounds of visits and teas and dinners and marriages and festivals and games and swims and cart-rides – and even plantings – began to weary him. And thus the happiness and content and clarity of purpose of his earlier years gradually gave way to ambivalence and to confusion, and to a longing for something he could not (or would not) say. “It ain’t right. I don’t feel like I should. I’m gettin’ all numb-like, as if nothin’ matters no more,” he would think. “But I reckon I might have – I could have – but I can’t, not no more, not never.”



“Easy, Sam!” gasped Rosie as Sam kneaded her back.

He stopped abruptly. “I’m sorry, Rose. I was thinkin’ about something, and my hands went off on their own.”


“You seem awfully preoccupied lately. What’s on your mind, sweet?”


“I don’t rightly know,” he half-lied. “But things don’t seem so clear and bright-like as they did. It’s like everything’s gone grey.”


“That sounds like what the Elves say.”


“Rose, does that happen to hobbits, too, when we get old?”


“Sometimes, I think. Take a look at Adelard, for one: from all I can tell, he just exists. Never does anything, never visits anyone, just eats and sleeps.”


“Maybe that’s aught he needs; maybe he don’t feel like there’s nothin’ missing. But I do. It’s like the magic’s gone out of the world, like there ain’t no more to know or to do, or to see.” He looked down despondently. But even as he did so, he recalled a conversation from long before. With a shiver it returned, word for word, expression for expression, nuance for nuance, as if he had stepped bodily through a shimmering doorway directly into the past.


But – you’re talking like, like you won’t be here to tell them yourself, Sam had said.


I might not be, Frodo had replied.


But why?


Sam, it’s just the way of the world. I did what had to be done, but it’s taken all I had to give. Sam! In here, Frodo had put his right hand to his chest, then slowly had drawn it away again, opening it fully. It’s empty. I’m empty. I can’t feel like I did. I know that I ought to be happy, but I’m not. I can’t be – anymore.


Rosie saw a faraway look come into Sam’s eyes. “Sam? Sweet?” she asked after some moments.



Gradually Sam’s longing became keener and more focussed. He began to wonder about Frodo: whether he still lived, what he was feeling, what he was doing. And he felt guilty for wondering, and especially for wishing – in a small, secret part of himself – that he had made a different choice. For a long while he hid these feelings. But his regret grew, and the joy seeped from his life like the green from September’s leaves.


It was the autumn of 1480 when finally he opened his heart, but it was not to Rosie.


“Is he still – alive?” asked Sam. He stood with Merry in a clearing upon one of the Tookland’s hills. The turning leaves flickered against a crystalline blue sky, and air was crisp and clean.


Merry shook his head faintly, “I don’t know, Sam.” Then he gazed into the West, his face fixed in concentration. After some moments he shook his head once more. “I just don’t know.” There was a long silence. The wind came in waves over the hilltop, stirring the leaves and hissing in the seeding grasses.


“What do you see?”


“Nothing, nothing at all. Understand, Sam, that I never saw through Frodo’s eyes or anything like that, nor could I speak to him in thought, nor he to me. Instead I could feel – but only sometimes and in measure – how he felt, and maybe a little about why. Usually those feelings came to me of their own, though sometimes I could reach out to him if I tried. I tried often after the Orcs took Pippin and me at Amon Hen, but it was very hard, and mostly I felt nothing, or I ended up going in circles in a kind of nasty fog.”


“What about after he went over the Sea?”


“Well, the feelings dwindled then, and they also changed: they were less like impressions of his emotions and more like visions. And it became even harder to reach out to him. But still, every so often, something would come to me. Once I saw a little stone house in a valley open to the south, and another time a vast cloud-shrouded mountain in the western Sea, and often there was a lonely stretch of white sand. Sometimes I heard him speak my name, or yours. But over the years even those things faded.” He paused, looking directly at Sam. “It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen or felt anything. Maybe I’ve lost the gift. Maybe –”


A choking fear rose in Sam’s gut. Pushing it down, he asked, “It was only for him, wasn’t it, Master Merry?”


“Yes, Sam. I never felt anyone else that way. Not even Pippin.”


“Did he – ever feel you like that?”


“I think he did when we first met. We were very close. In all Brandy Hall’s chaos, he was my one solid, dependable friend – or really I should say ‘my foster-brother’. And we never outgrew each other.” He paused, staring into the distance again with crossed eyes. “I wonder, Sam, where he is. But somehow I think I would know.” He puffed his pipe in silence, considering. Then softly he said, “I guess that he waits still.”


Sam bit his lip, his eyes glistening. Then he smiled, more with his eyes than his mouth. “Thank you, Master Merry.”


Merry winked. “At your command, Master Samwise.”



Never before had Sam felt so conflicted. His decision to follow Frodo to Mordor – most likely trading his life for a bitter road unto death (or worse) – seemed trivial by comparison. Yet there was no decision to make. “It’d be dead wrong, Samwise. The Thain knows what you’re thinkin’ with such foolery, and at your age? And who’s to say they’d let you, or that there’s even a way to do it?” he thought one moment. Then the next: “Mr. Frodo! It ain’t never been like this before. I didn’t know then. I wouldn’t let myself know! Oh, Mr. Frodo, wait for me, me dear!” But the thoughts echoed in his mind, and he heard not the faintest whisper of a reply, and he felt no better for having considered them.


Nonetheless Sam tried to hide his thoughts from everyone but Merry, and most especially from Rosie. “Wouldn’t do no good worryin’ her on my problems, nor makin’ her jealous of somethin’ that ain’t never happened, nor most like never will,” he thought, but then, “It ain’t right to be hidin’ this, neither.” He shook his head. “Just like the other thing, there ain’t no right choice,” he said to himself very softly.



“Master Merry?” asked Sam one day.




“Do you remember, last autumn I think it was, when I asked ‘bout Mr. Frodo?”


“Certainly I do.”


“Well –“ Sam paused. Now that it had come to it, he didn’t know whether he wanted to ask what he thought he had wanted, or whether, if he dared to ask, he wanted an answer. “Well –“ he began again. “There were some other things –“ he blushed, too embarrassed to continue.


“Other things?”


“Well, yes Master Merry. But it don’t seem – maybe it ain’t right to ask about them.”


“Then what in the name of the Old Took are you doing here, Master Samwise, asking me about just those things that aren’t right to ask about?” Sam blanched, taken aback at the rebuke, but relaxed when Merry winked conspiratorially.


“I – well, there are some things – things I’d meant to say, but the time didn’t never seem right, if you take my meaning.” Sam reddened again.


“Go on.”


“So I’ve come to ask, er, whether Mr. Frodo ever – If h-he might have asked y-you –“ Sam stuttered to a halt, his face scarlet.


“Out with it, Master Samwise, unless you want me to guess.” He gave Sam a look that was half dare and half puzzlement. “But you ought to know by now how wicked my guesses can be. Wouldn’t you rather just ask?”


“I – I –” Sam pushed out.


Merry sat patiently, his fingers interwoven. He suspected that he knew what Sam was getting at, but thought it best to let him get at it unassisted.


“I – I – was going to ask – oh Master Merry!” Sam burst into tears.


“Now Sam,” Merry put a gentle hand upon his shoulder, “the sooner you get it out, the better you’ll feel, just like Frodo used to say about thorns in the feet. What’s the matter?”


“It’s – does – does Mr. Frodo want me to go over the Sea?”


So that is it! thought Merry. But I wonder that it’s taken him so long to get here. Why couldn’t he have accepted Frodo then? Why wait? Why agonize? I just don’t understand. He shook his head slightly and, though he tried to contain it, a ghost of sadness flitted about his face.




“I’m sorry, Sam. I was just – caught in a memory.” He decided to start cautiously, but to let the conversation take its course. He took a deep breath, let it out, and eyed Sam kindly but gravely. Then he began, “You know, of course, that Frodo always wanted the best for you. He said that he’d never have made it back without you.”


“I do know. But it seems as I couldn’t never give him my best.”


“I’m sure that’s not true.”


“But it is, Master Merry, it is. And now I know – now, after all this time I really know – what I want. I’ve lived a full life, and can’t say I’ve regretted nothing – but this: that I never let myself see what I really wanted. That I never asked – that –,” he sobbed suddenly, “oh, it was – worse than that, Master Merry! It was worse than that!” He buried his face in his hands and wept. “I – I – ,” Sam finally stuttered, looking at his feet. ”I – .“ Then he raised his eyes to Merry, and, seeing the pity written in his face, took courage. Speaking firmly then, but without hope, he said, “I – refused him.”


Merry sat quietly, his eyes sad.


“It didn’t never seem right,” Sam continued in a rush. “Rose was waiting, and I wanted so much to get back to her, and I did. But I knew deep down, as it were,” and here he slowed, “that Mr. Frodo was – always would be – waiting for me. Like he said, I was ‘torn in two’. And it ain’t never healed. I feel like I made a mistake, or like there wasn’t never no right choice to make.”


“Maybe there wasn’t,” said Merry, taking a pull from his pipe.


There was a long silence. Finally Sam drew himself up, and his face cleared as if he had made a decision. “Master, you didn’t never answer my question,” he said.


“I’m sure you know the answer, Sam.”


“Do I?”


Merry paused, looking at Sam, then beyond him at the surrounding hills. “It’s deep in your heart. You did what you had to do, what others expected of you, what you expected of yourself,” he returned his gaze to Sam. “But you buried something else important. And it wouldn’t be telling any secrets to say that Frodo did the same thing.


“He was terribly torn, Sam. But he had to go, for his good – and for yours.”


“Then it’s true,” Sam smiled, an odd half-smile: in it were relief, and a shimmering joy – and a sadness deep as the waters of Kheled-zâram. Merry was reminded of Frodo’s smile as he had faced them in the gathering dark, while the white ship silently slipped away and the distance grew wide between. “Then it’s true,” Sam repeated.


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