Rosie was standing in the doorway looking out at the sunset when Sam padded out into the entranceway to stand just behind her. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” he asked, looking over her shoulder.
“Yes, it is,” she said, softly. She had an odd look on her face, he thought as he looked down sideways at it. Finally she asked, “Do you think as Master Frodo is there lookin’ at the sunset, too, Sam?”
He was a bit surprised, for they’d not shared their wondering about what Frodo might or might not be doing for quite some years. “I suppose so,” he said thoughtfully. “That is, if it’s sunset there as where he is, of course. Don’t have no idea as to how far west of us he might be, you see. And as the Sun is movin’ westward, it might not be as late in the day there as it is here, I’d think.”
“I’d never of thought of that, love,” she said. He placed his hand on her shoulder, and she automatically raised hers to cover his. Then she said, “When I’m gone, Sam, I want you to promise me as you won’t linger here any longer’n you need to. You go on, and seek him out. Him and you’ve been waitin’ a long time, after all.”
He was disturbed, but kept his tone even. “You plannin’ on leavin’ me, dearling?” he asked.
“No,” she said, “not plannin’ on it, not rightly, at least. But I know as I can’t linger indefinite like, you see. Soon enough I must go. I’ve had a full life and a happy one, and I’ve never regretted marryin’ you. But havin’ thirteen, even as much joy as they’ve give us both, still has been a strain on a body.” She remained still for a time. Finally she said quietly, “Been dreamin’ about my parents the last three nights runnin’, Sam. And last evening my side was achin’ some, and I heard Master Frodo’s voice, askin’ me if I was all right. Looked around and saw those beautiful eyes of his, lookin’ at me, concerned but reassurin’. I laughed and said as I was fine, then realized I was lookin’ at the delphiniums.”
He felt the knot growing in the back of his throat. Finally he cleared it some and said quietly, “I see him up on top of the Hill, there by the oak. He’s standin’ there, lookin’ out on the Shire as he always did, that smile on his face, then he turns and looks at me, invitin’ me to share it.”
Rose smiled. “Yes, that’s the Master for you,” she said. “Come along in. Linnet’s baking chicken with mushrooms for late supper tonight.”
Frodo-lad had married Linnet Aspen from Bree when he was thirty-six, and Linnet had gladly joined her new in-law’s household in the Shire. They had two daughters and three sons, Holfast and Hamfast and Frodo-third. Hamfast himself was now married and lived in Number 3, having chosen to marry before he was quite of age, and he had a son and a foster son as well, young Samwise still a bairn in arms, and five-year-old Billigard Broadloam, a child entrusted to Ham and Lily shortly after his birth by his aunt Tribbals.
One last minute Sam spent looking at the sunset before following his wife back into Bag End. The evening breeze stirred his hair, and the sound of it in the branches of the trees brought the sound of the sea to his mind. For the moment that sound was almost overwhelming for him, and he felt again the twisting in his heart and bowels he so often felt when he must fight the strong urge to abandon everything and head to the Havens and give himself over to the Sea Longing.
No, not yet--not even the Sea Longing would lead him to break his vows to Rosie. He took a deep, cleansing breath and brought her image before his mind’s eye, and felt the power of the attack recede, although it never quite disappeared. Then at last he turned and closed the green door behind him.
“Will you be going to the Free Fair, Da?” Frodo-lad asked him as he passed the peas.
Sam and Rosie exchanged looks. “I don’t see any reason as to why not,” Sam said, “but only if your mum wishes for both of us to go, of course.”
“I was out there last week. Thinned out the lilies and athelas a bit last fall about the statue of Uncle Frodo, and they’re beautiful right now. No weeds to speak of in the bed.”
“What did you do with the bulbs and plants as you thinned away?” asked his father.
“Took them and planted them about the library hole, Da. And they’re a sight there, from what I saw last week. And the gardens for the Shire school are a real treat to see as well.”
Sam nodded with approval. He might not have accomplished anywhere as much as his Master had in the eight months Frodo had served as deputy Mayor, much less what old Flourdumpling had done; yet the entire Shire continued to bloom and thrive, for which he was grateful. And word from Minas Anor indicated their Lord King and Lady Queen and their family would be here next summer, which was a pleasant thing to consider--it was always wonderful to see Strider and those he loved.
He looked across at Rosie and saw her smile at something Linnet had said, and then at Holfast’s response. Her smile was still one to thrill him to his core; but it faded far sooner than it used to do, and he realized she was rubbing at her shoulder in a gesture which brought to mind how Frodo had come to do the same after he was wounded, not necessarily as if he were in a great deal of pain, but as if he were rubbing at an accustomed ache. He realized something else--she had been losing weight, and he’d not even noticed. And the skin on the back of her hands was paler and more fragile looking than he remembered. Her odd comments at the door suddenly seemed more ominous.
He decided he’d keep more of a watch on her over the next few days--maybe call Silman Chubbs, the current Chubbs healer, up to see how things were going with her. It was hard to think on how he’d get on without his Rose-button.
He sat with her in the parlor when supper was done as the younger fry saw to clearing the table and cleaning the kitchen, held her beside him on the narrow sofa on which they’d sat together so often in the times of their greatest worries and their greatest joys. Her kiss was still sweet, but was merely gentle and loving where once it had been thrilling. At last she drew him to his feet, led him to the bedroom. There they rejoiced in one another as they’d done so often in this bed, from the first night after they’d been joined in marriage by Mr. Frodo. And afterward he lay by her, smiling into her eyes until at last she drifted off to sleep, still smiling, leaning her head into his shoulder. Content, he followed her lead.
“Do you want to go for the full fair, Mum?” Frodo asked.
“I’m not certain,” she answered, then turned to look up into Linnet’s face. “Just porridge, I think,” she said. “Don’t know as why, but the smell of the bacon is puttin’ me off it this mornin’.”
“Are you certain, Mother Rose?” her daughter-in-law asked. Then she shrugged and saw to it that Rose’s bowl was filled and the honey pot set at the ready for her.
“If you go for the full fair, will you stay in the inn do you think?” asked Frodo’s older daughter Lily.
“You think as we’re too old to sleep out near the grove?” her grandfather asked, his eyebrows raised.
“You used to sleep there near the grove?” Dahlia, who was only eighteen, sounded shocked. She looked at her sister, her own eyebrows raised. “Do you think they know what happens in the grove?” she asked in a low voice.
“I’d certainly hope no more’n ever’s happened in there,” Sam responded.
Dahlia looked at her grandfather curiously. “What used to happen in there?” she demanded.
“Well, I know as it was one place your gammer and I’d slip off to for a bit of kissin’ where her brothers wasn’t always spyin’ on us. Was one place where old Tom would keep them out of. Course, it was one place as where him and his Lily’d go for their own kissin’ in their courtin’ days, I think.”
“Bet Mum and Dad didn’t kiss in there,” young Frodo-third said with a sidelong glance at his father.
“If not, it’s only because your mother didn’t come into the Shire to attend the Free Fair until shortly before we married,” his father responded.
“Of course, once they was married they’d slip in there at times to keep up the tradition,” added Sam, an indulgent smile on his face.
Frodo brought the subject back to the Free Fair. “Well, I was just wondering whether we would want to go together in the wagon or if I should arrange to reserve one of the traps from the Green Dragon for the two of you. I have to be there from the day before the fair begins as I’m in charge of assigning sites for the food vendors.”
Rose looked up with a thoughtful expression on her face. “I don’t think as I’d really want to be there all that long. No, maybe we’ll just go over in the trap on Midsummers.”
“I’ll talk to Bungo today, then. They have that new trap they just bought last spring with the padded seats.”
Sam laughed. “You think as we’re gettin’ too old to sit on a regular wooden bench?” he asked.
“Da, you’ll go on forever,” his son answered him fondly. “But at your age the two of you deserve some comfort, you know.”
Rosie straightened. “I’d be just as pleased with a cushioned seat. Gettin’ a bit old to rough it any more.”
“I’ll arrange for it to be brought around early Midsummers Day, then,” Frodo said decisively.
Lily was looking at her gaffer. “Did you really used to sleep out near the grove?” she asked.
“Certainly did. Was one of your Uncle Frodo’s favorite places to sleep when I’d go with him. He used to keep a count on the couples as went in, you know.”
Dahlia looked properly scandalized. “He didn’t!” Then her face grew a bit more solemn. “Not that he ever went in there himself.”
Sam snorted. “And what give you the idea as he never did? Him and Miss Pearl went in a time or two when they was courtin’, although only a time or two.”
Lily and Dahlia traded shocked looks. “Uncle Frodo courted?”
“You really think as he never felt as a lad loves a lass, you two? Mind you, neither was of age yet, and it never got beyond a kiss or two afore she--afore she decided as she ought to think of the other lads as was givin’ her the eye. No, from the time as he was twenty-one until a few years afore he come of age Pearl Took loved Frodo Baggins--and then she changed her mind. Ended up marryin’ Isumbard Took and was right glad of it, of course--she and Mr. Isumbard ended up havin’ four children, and fine Hobbits as each has turned out to be. But your Uncle Frodo was only just beginnin’ to heal from that when--when the Ring come to him, and that was that.”
“What did that do to him?”
Sam shrugged. He could feel the anger just the thought of what the Ring had cost his beloved Master and friend rising once again in him, and the younger Hobbits could certainly see it in him, he knew. “Once the Ring come to him--him and old Mr. Bilbo afore him--It put paid to any interest either might have in lasses. Can’t fully appreciate quite how It done it, but know as he looked less and less after a likely lass until after It was gone--and then he felt as it was too late. Said as It had scoured him right out, leavin’ nothin’ to share with a love.”
“He was quite a handsome Hobbit,” Lily said thoughtfully. “He must have had plenty of lasses who looked after him.”
Rosie gave a sigh. “That he did, sweetling. That he did. Can’t tell you exactly as how many hearts he broke, but it was a fair number--and especially that of Miss Narcissa--that’s Missus Narcissa Brandybuck now, Miss Narcissa Boffin as was.”
“The one who married Mr. Brendi?” Holfast asked, his eyes brightening with interest.
“That’s the one.”
“But she and Mr. Brendi have always been so happy, every time I’ve seen them,” Lily objected.
“That’s true now, but it wasn’t till a few years after Master Frodo left the Shire that they realized they now loved one another and married. The King hisself married them, you know, in Rivendell in the Hall of Fire.” The two lasses looked at their grandmother with mingled disbelief and a rising excitement of romantic ideas on their faces.
“It’s odd,” Frodo-third said as he served himself more mashed potatoes and reached for the gravy boat, “how few folk seem to realize that the statue by the dancing ground is actually him. I heard one mother telling her bairn that this was just a statue of a Hobbit dad and his daughter.”
Sam gave a grunting laugh. “I’ve heard that one so many times over the years--and once by old Odo Proudfoot tellin’ that to his great granddaughter Cyclamen. Now, if that wasn’t a shock to hear. Cyclamen knew well enough as she was the lass in the statue and that it was her cousin Frodo’s lap as she was sittin’ on. Odo couldn’t of missed as it was Frodo’s face as he was lookin’ at. Last time as he went to the Fair--died a month later, sittin’ on the stoop, his pipe in his hand.”
“Does Master Ruvemir still make statues for the King, do you think?” asked Dahlia.
Sam’s face grew sad, for he’d truly liked the stunted Man. “No, Master Ruvemir died a few years past, there in Gondor in Minas Anor, in the Houses of Healin’. Lord Strider hisself carried him there, was by him till he took his last breath. Told me last time as I seen him that each time he must lose a close friend it gets harder, though he knows in time he’ll find us all again.” He looked up and out the window that looked over the garden, his eyes thoughtful. “Got many of the advantages of bein’ of Elven blood, he has, but some of the disadvantages as well. Has to watch so many of us go ahead of him, know he has to wait years till he’ll come where we’ll be waitin’.”
Lily found herself trading glances with her mother, then watching her father. Her dad was watching her grandfather with a good deal of concern, realizing that the day Sam must leave Bag End and the Shire loomed ever closer now. Then she looked at her grandmother, and saw the compassion and surprising serenity in Rose Gamgee’s face as she looked at her beloved husband.
Two days later Frodo, Lily, and the four children who lived at home yet set off in the wagon for Michel Delving, calling out that they’d look for the arrival of the patriarchs of the clan on Midsummer Day. Shortly after they left, Silman Chubbs arrived and spoke with both Sam and Rosie, gave each a brief yet nonetheless thorough examination, and then sat them down in the parlor for a talking to.
“You’re both getting on in years,” he commented. “Unfortunately, that’s not something as I can do much about. Can’t say as how long either of you has, but it probably won’t be all that much longer--maybe a few months--even a few weeks; maybe a few years yet. There’s no saying. But you shouldn’t ought to try staying on your own, you realize. If one of you should fall and break a hip or something like it could be very serious.”
Sam and Rosie traded glances. “Hadn’t thought of the possibility of that,” Sam said slowly.
Silman sighed and gave a nod. “I’ll stop and talk to Hamfast as I go down the Hill, have him arrange for one of the family to stay with you while Frodo and his family are gone to the Free Fair. Are you going, too?”
“We’re drivin’ over in a trap in a few days time.”
“Glad as you’re wise enough not to try to ride, Mr. Sam, sir,” Silman said with some approval. “But you should be fine for that.”
After he left, Sam went out and sat on the bench by the front door, feeling somewhat resentful and unsettled. This, he realized, was part of what Frodo had felt his last couple years in the Shire--the knowledge he was diminished and would lose more before it was all over. Although it was worse for Frodo, knowing that he’d come to this point long before a Hobbit ought to begin fading. He’d never known the joys and pleasures of marriage and seeing his children born and grown. He’d never grumbled over the yards and yards of cloth that must be purchased to see his family decently clothed at the same time in his heart he felt such pride to have so wonderful a set of children needing to be clad. Sam took a deep, sighing breath, and felt the catch in his chest that he knew well enough indicated he was indeed coming closer and closer by the day to the end. He looked out at the Shire below him under the slanting light of the afternoon Sun, and found himself almost overwhelmed by longing again, the longing to go the quays of the Grey Havens and step aboard that grey ship that would take him in search of his Master.
At last he rose and went inside.
He woke on the morning of Midsummer and felt as if something were missing. What it could be he couldn’t say. He sat up and looked down where Rosie lay beside him, and he smiled and reached out to her--only to discover that as she’d slept Rosie Cotton Gamgee Gardner had slipped out of her body and begun her own journey West.
No breath lifted that gentle bosom; no warmth radiated from her hand; no blood stirred in her cheek. He looked up and briefly felt he saw her looking back at him, from there near the hearth where the little statue of Frodo sitting on the bench by the door sat.
You’re free now to seek him out, Samwise Gamgee. Use well the days, and then come to me, both of you. Remember what I told you as I wanted, love.
Shocked and bereft once again in his life, Sam remained sitting in the bed, looking toward where her image had faded.
“Gaffer?” called Hamfast from the doorway. “When shall I go and fetch the trap?”
“Send to Michel Delving, and have whoever’s there come home,” Sam said, his voice surprisingly calm, he thought, listening to himself. “Have them come. Your gammer’s died.”