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4: Farewells

“Gaffer?” began Hamfast the younger, as he found his grandfather forking hay to the ponies in the stable.

Sam paused in his work, grounded his hayfork and leaned on it, wiping his forehead with his handkerchief. “Yes, Ham my lad. And what is it you’d wish to have of me?”

Young Ham appeared markedly serious, even a bit nervous. “There’s something I want to do, Gaffer, and I’d like your advice on it. It’s been my hope that one day I might come to know the King better, you see, and to visit the King’s capitol and perhaps stay there for a time as you did.”

“You mean Annúminas?” Sam asked.

“No, Gaffer--I mean Minas Tirith--or Anor, rather.”

“Would you wish to go alone, or take your Iris and the lads with you?”

Ham straightened, then looked directly into his grandfather’s eyes. “Iris and me--we’ve been discussing it. We’d like to go there and live, Gaffer. Maybe work in the gardens of the Citadel. They sound so wonderful, you know. And--and after all you’ve told me of him and what I’ve seen of him during visits, I find I love Lord Strider, perhaps as much as you do.”

Sam was surprised. “Apparently you was misnamed, Hamfast my lad. Gondor is quite different from the Shire, you know.”

Ham nodded, slowly. “Yes, I know. But when the King comes next summer I intend to offer my service. And Iris wants this, too.”

“Have you spoken of this with your dad?”

“Not yet, not directly. But he’s known how often over the years I’ve asked you to describe Minas Tirith to me and how it was when you lived there in the Sixth Circle. I don’t think he’ll be too surprised.”

“It’s a right long ways to go, you’ll find.”

“I’ve read the Red Book myself, you’ll remember. I know it is, and am willing to deal with the journey. We’ve bought a wagon from Mr. Sancho so we can carry what we wish to take from here, and we’ll undoubtedly return from time to time to fetch more. And we’ll see to it that when they’re old enough the children will return here to hopefully find brides and perhaps husbands, providing Iris and I have daughters in the future.”

Sam looked at his grandson with interest. “You’re a great deal more adventurous’n me,” he said finally. “But know this--you have my full blessin’ and it’ll be a load off my mind knowin’ as Lord Strider has one of us by him, a bit of family, if you understand my meanin’.”

“And I’ll make certain, Gaffer, that he’ll always know just how much you’ve always loved him and have wanted only the best for him. I’ll keep an eye on him for you.”

Sam smiled. “Thanks for that, Ham. Thanks so deeply for that. It will ease my heart, knowin’ as he’s watched over by one as carin’ as you.”

Ham nodded. “Thanks, Gaffer. And you remember to tell Uncle Frodo how much love we have for him, and how glad we are that you’ll be with him.”

Sam drew a deep breath. “You know as I will, lad--that I certainly will do.”

The next day Sam’s son Hamfast came from Tighfield in the Northfarthing where he’d become partners with Cousins Anson and Haldred in the family ropewalk. He was accompanied by his oldest son Andwise and Anson’s son Homson. “Hello, Da!” he called out as he stopped the pony cart near the Party Field, having found Sam kneeling near the mallorn tree and weeding the circle of flowers that grew about its trunk.

“Hello, son,” Sam said as he rose creakily to his feet and dusted the knees of his trousers and his hands. “And what are you about today?”

“Brought those pictures as you asked after,” Ham said, lifting a thick packet from beside him on the bench. “What are you going to do with them?”

“Just never you mind. I’ve a use for them, and I’m glad as Cherry agreed to do them and you’ve brought them.”

Ham the older laughed as he climbed down from the wagon seat and entered the field. “All right, then, Da. You seein’ to the flowers here, then?”

Sam looked at his son critically. “You’ve been among Uncle Andy’s folks too long, lad. You’re beginning to sound like me, you know. I’d hoped as your education in the law would stand you in good stead to fight the Northfarthin’ influence.”

Ham laughed louder. “Oh, it stands me in fine stead, Da. The folk of Bree and from the steadings south of the Shire have been taken in by my accent and think as they can fool me easy enough--until I bring out my travel desk and begin writin’ out the contracts. When they know as I can write not only a contract binding in the Shire but one to match the King’s own lawyers they begin thinking twice.”

Father and son laughed together. “All right, Ham my lad,” Sam said, putting his arm about his son’s shoulders. “Walk back with me up to the hole, once you and the lads have seen to the ponies.”

Once they were back in Bag End, Sam took the packet of pictures Ham had brought him and disappeared with it back to his bedroom, and Ham was left in the parlor with his brother Frodo, the two lads having gone to Hobbiton with Frodo-third, and Frodo’s two lasses gone to the Cotton’s farm with Holfast and their mother. “He seems better,” Ham commented.

“He is.”

“Is he going to take the ship West?” the roper asked the gardener.

Frodo nodded. “It appears so, Ham. And I have the feeling that your namesake is leaving me, too.”

His brother straightened with concern. “Is he thinkin’ of joinin’ his mother’s folks out in Bree, do you think?”

Frodo shook his head. “No--he’s been talking of heading south with the King, if Lord Strider will accept his service.”

“He’s been talkin’ of that since he was a lad, Fro.”

“I know. Seems the talk isn’t idle, though--not this time. He discussed it with Da yesterday, and Da is certain he’s serious about it. He and Iris have apparently been planning for it for some time, and Mum’s death and Da’s decision to leave have led to the decision to go south with the King when he returns to Gondor after next summer’s visit north.”

“It’s going to be hard for you, though.”

Frodo nodded. “He’s always been the restless one, insisting on marrying young and living in Number Three instead of here, accepting Billi as he did, and the old ambition to live in Minas Tirith. Seems both you and he were misnamed, you know.”

Ham sighed. “Gaffer Ham started it, naming Da as he did--Half-Wise never was the proper name for him, either.” The brothers shared a smile.

Hamfast the younger and Iris and the lads joined the family for dinner, and Billi was thrilled with the attention given him by the Tighfield cousins, both of whom were in their late teens. After the younger Ham’s family returned down to the Row, Sam poured out a glass of wine each for himself and his sons, and the three of them went up atop the hill where they spoke deep into the night, although they carefully avoided speaking of Sam’s decision until the last.

“I’ll be well enough, I think,” Sam said finally. “You lot have all done well by yourselves and will stand by one another, I know. But I won’t last much longer if I stay. I miss your mum somethin’ awful, I find. And she wished this, you realize.”

“I’ll miss you more’n I can say, Da,” Ham said. “But he’s been waitin’ for far too long.”

The next afternoon Ham and the lads were back off to Tighfield, to be replaced by Rosie-lass and her husband Piper Took. And so it went as Sam and Rosie’s children came one last time with their families to say goodbye as they could. Sam began to appreciate just why Frodo, the last few weeks he’d spent in the Shire, had decided he didn’t wish for visits from his own family, and had forbade them to come until after his birthday. But then Frodo’s own health had been very fragile indeed, and he was doing so much to prepare for his leaving, and so much of that by himself. Sam, too, was doing a great deal of what he did by himself, but not all.

A good deal of what he did now was simply to sort things. Neither Bilbo nor Frodo had done a great deal to clear out their own personal possessions when each left Bag End for the last time. It wasn’t until Frodo sold Bag End, seventeen years after Bilbo’s departure, that he finally sorted through the bulk of Bilbo’s clothing and saw it disposed of. And it was when they were expecting Rosie-lass that Sam and Rosie did the same for Frodo’s personal things that had been left in his room. He didn’t wish for his own children to have to do such a thing, and so Sam was now seeing to it the bulk of his clothes were sorted out for the use of his own children. His sons Hamfast and Merry-Lad were built most like himself, and so the bulk of his own clothing he saw boxed up for delivery to them, although there were a few items for each of his sons, and other items to be delivered to each of his daughters from his things and Rosie’s.

The small statues done of Frodo and Strider that had been gifts from Master Ruvemir were to remain in Bag End, although he indicated in his will that they belonged to all of his children or none of them, depending on how they preferred to look at the situation; but many of the pictures Ruvemir had given Sam over the years as well as some that had been done by Frodo himself Sam was now going through, making certain each lad or lass received at least one. All of Sam’s pipes he saw distributed among his sons and older grandsons; all Rosie’s dresses and jewelry and ribbons and fripperies he saw given to his daughters and older granddaughters.

By the time Frodo and Bilbo’s birthday approached the master bedroom in Bag End was beginning to look quite bare, Sam realized; but he was glad of it. The study, on the other hand, was looking more cluttered that it had looked since it was old Bilbo’s personal domain, for here Sam was spending a fair amount of time in the mornings, doing what writing needed doing before he left the Shire. There was no need for articles of adoption, for which he was grateful; but he’d spent a good deal of time working on getting his will crafted as he intended; and now it was done as well as the directives he wished seen executed.

Merry-lad and Pippin-lad were now in business together, for they’d bought out the nursery in Overhill and ran it jointly. Daisy-lass was now chief librarian in Frodo’s library, assisted twice a week by her brother Frodo and her niece Lily, both of whom also taught in the Shire School for the Hill region. Tolman had been apprenticed to his Uncle Hal, and had taken over the nursery in Tighfield; he had gathered a number of likely lads who did much of the gardening and forestry in the Northfarthing now. To each Sam now left part of the landholdings Frodo had left to his own guardianship, and a portion of the farmshares and business partnerships. Young Frodo Brandybuck, who’d taken over much of his father’s own legal practice, was much in and out of Bag End that last month along with Ordo Goodbody’s son Oridoc as they helped Sam sort out which holdings should go to which son or grandson, daughter or granddaughter, niece or nephew.

Most of what had come from Frodo’s own estate to Sam, however, now went in its turn to Frodo-lad, and from there it would go to Holfast, although there were a few properties, such as the vineyard and wine press of Old Winyards, that Sam now saw made over to Fosco Baggins as they had originally been Baggins properties and ought, he believed, to return to being Baggins properties.

A week before the birthday he and Frodo Brandybuck went together to Michel Delving, entering the Mayor’s office this time as citizens instead of as the Mayor and his primary legal advisor. Dorno Sandheaver looked up from his examination of a purchase agreement for a house in the Southfarthing, his eyes lighting up as he saw who’d come in.

“Oh, good,” he said, relief obvious in his voice. “Maybe you can make sense of this. Have a contract submitted by Terno Sackville, and it’s written so strange as I begin to wonder if he’s had instruction by Timono Bracegirdle or something.”

Sam straightened. “Long time since anyone named that one in this office,” he commented as he reached out to take up the questionable contract. “Where does it go odd?” In moments he’d located the questionable clauses, and then he sighed and shook his head. “I suspect as he indeed had thought to push a fast one past Ladro there, but he was right clumsy at it. Best nip this in the bud now afore he convinces hisself that he’s far cleverer than everyone else. Main reason as Lotho went as far as he did was ’cause his victims was too embarrassed to admit they’d been cheated.” He pointed to a particular section of the contract. “See, here he’s indicated if Ladro doesn’t dig a new well by a week afore Terno’s client takes possession, the purchaser doesn’t have to pay the full purchase amount. And here....”

After fifteen minutes’ discussion Dorno had marked three separate conditions written into this contract that, if not met, would void the buyer’s responsibility to pay the full purchase price to the seller, Ladro Appledore. Finally Sam asked, “Who’s the buyer?”

“Lothario Bracegirdle,” Dorno answered, looking up sideways at his predecessor in the office.

Sam’s eyes hardened. “Lothario, is it? Then I wonder whether it was him or Terno who come up with those conditions. I suspect as it was Lothario. He was a lawyer hisself once, but lost his ability to practice or write contracts ’cause he was followin’ Timono’s lead, and then he wrote a marriage contract to bind a lass not yet even twenty-five to one o’ their own so as to allow the intended bridegroom to get his hands on her dowry, which was substantial. That was when your granddad was Mayor, the last term. My Mr. Frodo--he left me a warnin’ as the Bracegirdles on that side just might try such a thing, and as usual he was right.”

“If he’s not allowed to write contracts, then Lothario Bracegirdle wouldn’t try to dictate the terms to Terno, would he?” Dorno asked, his eyes troubled.

“Oh, you’d best believe he’d try such things, especially if’n he thinks as you, bein’ new at it, so to speak, aren’t quite experienced enough to catch anythin’ unusual. Bigelow Bracegirdle tried to pull a couple odd tricks when I was new, hopin’ to get out from under the supervision as he was put under from usin’ weighted dice in Westhall, and at least one o’ them times he was bein’ advised by Lothario, he was. You’d best pull out any other contracts as Terno Sackville’s presented on behalf of anyone, particularly if’n it was for a Bracegirdle, and anythin’ presented on behalf of Lothario or anyone close to him since you was made Mayor.”

Dorno nodded, glaring at the contract before him. “I ain’t cut out for this, not like you were,” he said.

Sam smiled and shook his head. “And what makes you think as I was, Dorno? I learned as I went along, same as you, same as Mr. Frodo, same as your granddad. You caught as that contract wasn’t on the up and up--shows you have the instinct for it.”

Dorno looked up into Sam’s eyes. “There’s a big difference between me and the three of you, though--you, Ganda, and Cousin Frodo--you all like other Hobbits and love the Shire with all your hearts. More as I sit in here, more I wish as I was back on the farm raisin’ taters and rutabagas. Root vegetables don’t argue; and cows don’t try to pull things past you so as you don’t notice.” He looked back at the contract, which he closed with a decided slap. “I find I don’t particularly like most Hobbits I meet. I’ll not run for office again, I’ll tell you that. Let you take it back.”

Sam’s smile faded. “I won’t be here, Dorno. I’m an old Hobbit now, and I’ve lost my wife and the healers tell me as I may live years yet, or I may go in weeks. Here Mr. Frodo had the right of it--he didn’t think as he’d last out a full term, so he nominated old Will for Mayor again, in spite of your granddad tryin’ to make Frodo bein’ Mayor official like. And turned out as he was right. He may well be alive now, but he wouldn’t of lasted had he stayed here, you know. No, I’m ready to move on now, and that’s why Mr. Brandybuck and me come today, to bring my will and directives and a few transfers of property and the like.”

“Then I’ll nominate your son Frodo.”

Sam considered. “You might do that, and he might just accept it. But I’d suggest you look at groomin’ up Holfast. He’d make a fine Mayor--you watch and see. Suspect as him and his brother Frodo-Third will live together in Bag End with their families, and the two o’ them will share responsibility for the hole. But Holfast is the one as truly loves the Shire. He’s the one who followed me most about my own work, more’n his dad, even, and who knows everythin’ as each of his uncles and aunts does, and all the rest as cares about him, too. Right curious, Holfast is, and full responsible.”

“You’d not suggest your grandson Ham?”

But Sam was shaking his head. “No--not Ham. No, he’s for offerin’ service to the King, he is. And if I know the Lord Strider, he’ll accept it from him, he will. Will go south with him to Gondor, I think.”

Dorno and Frodo Brandybuck exchanged looks, for it seemed unthinkable a Hobbit of the Shire would take service under the King if it meant leaving his home.

At last Dorno sighed. “All right, then, what is it you have for me?” Together they saw the will signed, the directives noted, the transfers of property registered. “You’ve given these over to Fosco Baggins?” Dorno asked, his eyebrows raised.

“Yes, I am. He’s Mr. Frodo’s first cousin and ought to of been his full heir, him and his twin sister Forsythia. Had my Mr. Frodo been well enough, he would of adopted the two of ’em as Mr. Bilbo adopted him; but he wasn’t so he didn’t. Instead he adopted me, and he had his reasons. He give me his conditions, and I’ve met them. Have only one last bit to do to complete those conditions, and I’m gettin’ ready to finish that as well. Then him and me’ll both be satisfied as all was done proper. But I want these Baggins holdin’s revertin’ to the family. I hope as Mr. Fosco’s sons and Missus Forsythia’s children’ll help to restore the family one day. I know as my Holfast is lookin at Mr. Fosco’s youngest daughter, he is. Be nice to have a Baggins back in Bag End, even if she accepts the name o’ Gardner.”

“It will be right and proper, I think,” Dorno said with a sense of satisfaction he’d not expected to feel.

“Now, I sent young Mr. Brandybuck here to see Mr. Fosco and to take of him three coins, one for each property. Here they is, and I wish them give back to him when the will is executed. And I wish for you and any of your family as desires to attend to come on the eighth of October for the special meetin’ as we’ll be havin’ that day instead of celebratin’ the Birthday.”

Dorno sat up straight in surprise. “No party this year? Why not?”

Sam smiled. “I’m headin’ off to see someone as I’ve not seen in years. And with their mum gone, the children won’t feel much up to it this year. But you’ll be expected on the eighth, you understand.”

Confused but willing, Dorno nodded his acceptance. His grandfather could, perhaps, have advised him what to expect; but Will had died twenty-five years back, happy at having been able to retire to the farm.

Two days before the birthday Merry, Pippin, and their heirs came to Bag End, bringing with them packets of their own. Sam was at first a bit tense with them.

“Were you planning on slipping away, too, Sam?” Pippin asked him once all had joined the gardener at the table in the garden. At Sam’s flush he sighed. “We can’t go with you to the Havens, but we aren’t going to let you go without adding our own packets to him. We know you’ve been collecting pictures and locks of hair to take to him, so we’re bringing ours. And we have letters. I so hope he can still read them.”

Sam looked down at his hands on the tabletop, then back into the Thain’s eyes. “I suspect as he can still read, Pippin. Would one go blind there in the Elven lands, do you think?”

Pippin looked uncomfortable. “I doubt he’s gone blind--it’s just--just, how has he changed? He was already changing so, and we were told he might become quite different, there when he was in Rivendell. I think that was part of why he was reluctant to choose to go, you know, because he had no idea what he might come to.”

Sam sighed as he nodded. “Yes, that’s so. But I truly doubt as he’ll of changed all that much.” He turned his attention to Merry, whose wife Estella had died back shortly after Yule. “You holdin’ up all right?” he asked gently.

Merry smiled, although it was a solemn smile. “I’ll get by, you know. Diamond’s health has been failing as well, so it appears that all three of us will survive our wives. But at least we two have had warning.”

The former Mayor shook his head. “I can’t say for certain as which would be worse--havin’ the warnin’ as you two have, or havin’ it come as a surprise as it proved for me. Although, strictly speakin’, it wasn’t totally a surprise. Silman had told us both that--that we was gettin’ on in years, and the end could come at any time, within weeks or years--there was no real tellin’. Only we didn’t expect it might come within days for Rosie--or at least I didn’t expect it. She might of.”

Merry’s eyes were glimmering with unshed tears. “This is the worst about growing older and--and approaching the end--seeing the ones we love so going first. I know it’s not going to be all that long; but how can I help but feel as if it’s forever since I heard her voice, or those of my parents and so many others I’ve loved? It’s strange--with Frodo, it’s almost at times as if he were someone I only heard tell about; and then the next moment it’s as if he just left the room and I’ll follow him into the dining room when I’m done with this conversation.”

Sam gave a twisted smile. “Rosie was tellin’ me as she’d heard him askin’ as to how she was, and saw him lookin’ at her, only to realize she was lookin’ at the delphiniums.”

Pippin laughed. “I was in the bathing room and would swear I heard him singing from the alcove where Da hung the curtain for me when I was younger.”

Merry looked at his younger cousin sideways. “If you heard singing and then the splash of water I’ll warn you it wasn’t Frodo--it’s the ghost of when you were younger. Frodo was never the menace in the bath you were.”

The three of them laughed, and their sons, looking on, shook their heads. Faramir, leaning on the cane Master Ruvemir had sent to him, commented, “Gammer used to tell me you were an enthusiastic bather, Da.”

Sam smiled more broadly. “You should’ve seen the first night as we got to Crickhollow--had water all over the place, and your Uncle Frodo told him no dinner until he’d mopped up the floor. More water in the air than left in the tub by the time he was done.”

“Singing, dancing, drawing, writing--Frodo was always the best in the Shire at those,” Pippin added.

“You were always the better singer,” Merry objected. “Frodo sang well enough, but you were the better singer. And if it comes to dancing, Fosco would give his cousin a fair contest.” He closed his eyes and added, the pain in his voice obvious, “Oh, Sam, how I wish we could go with you. All of a sudden--I miss him so! I miss him so very much!”

Sam reached out to take Merry into his arms. “I know, Mr. Merry,” he whispered into Merry’s ear.

Obviously working to keep the tears out of his own eyes, Pippin focused his attention on Sam. “You promised not to call us Mister, Samwise Gamgee. What are we going to do with you? Even after all this time you will insist on slipping back into old habits!”

“Can’t take the gardener out of the Hobbit,” Sam sighed.

“Let’s go down to the Ivy Bush and have an evening of it,” Pippin said. “Leave these stodgy young Hobbits behind.

Frodo sighed. “Uncle Peregrin Took, I’ll remind you none of the three of us could be considered young by any but you three. After all, I’m now a grandfather in my own right, and so is Periadoc here.”

“And I don’t doubt it will come soon enough for Goldy and me,” Faramir added.

“We’ll let them go to the Ivy Bush, and the three of us will go to the Dragon,” Perry suggested. “After all, they aren’t up to taking the longer journey.”

In the end the six of them ended up at the Dragon, and they were followed after by Ham the younger and Holfast and Frodo-third. Fathers and sons laughed, and told stories, none of them drinking much. Then they returned to Bag End for a last night with each sleeping in the beds brought here when the smial was restored, the great long beds that Sam’s children had always been so amazed by and proud of.

At breakfast next morning Sam looked across the table at the other two. “I’ll be tellin’ him of last night--make him feel as if he was there, too.”

“I wonder if he misses going to the Ivy Bush and the Dragon,” Pippin said thoughtfully.

“I’d like to walk along those shores beside him and see what has thrilled his sense of beauty all these years,” Merry said. “I’d like to see if mallorns grow there on Tol Eressëa the way they used to in Lorien, and if the Elves there build their great flets and halls up in their branches.”

Sam considered. “Accordin’ to the old tales from Númenor there’s a great city there on a great hill, similar to Minas Tirith. Hope as we don’t have to live in that.”

“I can’t imagine Gandalf would have allowed that,” Pippin sighed. “You be certain to give him greetings from his favorite fool of a Took, remember.”

Sam smiled. “That I will, Pippin. That I will.”

After their meal they walked together down to the mallorn tree accompanied by Frodo, Perry, and Farry, and together they laid their hands on the tree’s silver bark. They were aware of Aragorn and Arwen laughing together with Eldarion and his sisters in Minas Tirith; of Elrond’s sons in the stables of Rivendell preparing to head south to stay a few months with their sister, of a party of Elves within the borders of the Shire headed west toward them from Buckland, of distant singing somewhere. But Frodo Baggins today was conspicuous by his absence.

“Not below their White Tree, then,” Merry said.

“Apparently not,” Sam sighed. “Wonder if he’ll know as I’m comin’?”

“Oh, he’ll know all right, Sam.” Pippin’s voice was definite. “His foresight will tell him if Gandalf doesn’t.”

They broke away and walked toward the paddock and stable. Roheryn, Pippin’s pony, moved away from the rest at the sight of his master and pressed himself against the near rails of the fence. Soon the four ridden by Master, Thain, and their heirs were saddled and bridled, and the four of them were mounted. In spite of the leg which hadn’t healed properly from a bad break when he was younger, Faramir Took was an accomplished rider, and rode watchfully beside his father. Pippin and Merry sat their ponies momentarily. Sam looked up at them. “Give Lord Strider my love and greetings when you see him again, and to the children and the Lady Arwen. Tell ’em I’m sorry as I didn’t get to see them one last time, but I hope as they understand.”

“We will, Samwise Gamgee,” Merry answered. “You know we will. The stars light your path, Sam.”

“And the ones the two o’ you ride at the end,” Sam returned. “And I’ll give him the letters and the pictures and all. I wish as we could send you a letter in return, but I doubt as it would arrive here in your lifetimes, even were we to send one in a bottle. We’d be back with one another afore it arrived and was found and give into your hands.”

“May the Creator make it so,” Pippin said softly. And with one last mutual look the two Travelers who would remain in the Shire turned away and rode north toward the Road, followed by their sons.

They rode slowly as they turned east toward Buckland, and instead of staying at the Floating Log they camped a good two miles east of it in a woodlot belonging to a Goldworthy cousin. It was nearly midnight when they found their camp surrounded by the group of Elves heading toward the Havens.

Merry rose from his bedroll, and bowed to their visitors. “My Lords and Ladies,” he said. “Lord Celeborn? You are accompanying them?”

He who had been Lord of Lothlorien bowed in return. “Sir Meriadoc, Sir Peregrin. It is good to see you again. These are your sons? It is apparently long in your reckoning since last I saw them. I see they are Hobbits grown and worthy.” He sighed. “Yes, I have decided to leave earlier than I once thought to do.”

Pippin sat up in his bedroll, his now silver hair shining in the starlight and reflecting the glimmer emanating from the group of Elves. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly, “for I know that your granddaughter will grieve for your going, and particularly when----” He paused. “I see,” he said. He looked carefully about them. “That is why her brothers go to her now, to advise her that you go to the comfort of her mother, father, and grandmother when that time must come.” He gave a nod, then took a deep breath. “I’ll tell you this, my Lord--we haven’t a great deal of time left to us even in the reckoning of our own folk, for we are now elderly Hobbits. But I swear that we--or at least I--will be there to greet Aragorn and your granddaughter when their own time comes. They will neither of them face the path ahead on that side alone.”

Merry gave his younger cousin an approving smile. “That I will promise also,” he said as he turned back to face the Elven Lord. “They will be properly escorted from the time of their arrival.”

Celeborn felt strangely moved. “Then I will leave Middle Earth relieved for that concern,” he said.

One of the others, one both Merry and Pippin were certain they’d seen before, asked, “Will Lord Samwise join us?”

“He is planning, I think, to leave Bag End early tomorrow morning. He intends to meet your party near the Woody End. He’ll be riding his pony, and his son Frodo plans to accompany him at least to that point, although I suspect that Sam will want to go on without him from there on. I think he hopes to spend one evening with his daughter Elanor along the way, if that meets the schedule for sailing.”

“It will be well. You have given him your farewells?”

Merry nodded solemnly. “And our messages to bear to Frodo. We spent the night with him last night. My Lord,” he said, turning again to Celeborn, “will you please bear our greetings to your Lady? It is long and long since we saw her last, when Frodo sailed. Please remember us to her, and let her know that we’ll do our best to be there for Aragorn and the Lady Arwen as we can.”

“Gladly will I bring to my Lady and my daughter’s husband whatever greetings you care to send to them,” Celeborn replied. “And I will tell you this--that as you have sworn to stand by our granddaughter and her Estel as you can, so we here will stand by Lord Samwise on the journey that he may come whole to his Master’s side, and at least my beloved Galadriel and I will be by their sides when the time comes for them to quit Arda at the last that they not feel alone.”

Merry and Pippin traded glances. Pippin shrugged. “If, my Lord Celeborn, Frodo doesn’t give you the slip. He will want to go only with Sam by his side when the time comes, you’ll find. Hates leavetakings--always has since his parents died. My mum and da and Merry’s parents have always insisted that, and certainly we found it true enough.”

The other Elf who’d spoken to them laughed. “And so it was with the two of you at Lord Frodo’s sailing, was it not?”

Merry sighed as he nodded. “If Gandalf hadn’t been convinced by Bilbo it was true, we wouldn’t have made it in time.” He examined the Elf more closely, then smiled. “Yes, I remember--you were in our camp when we woke, first time we slept on our return trip. I’m glad you are indeed going with Sam.”

The Elf made a deep bow. “Glorinlas Gildorion at your service, small masters,” he said. “At your service, and at that of the Lord Samwise.”

Pippin straightened. “So, Gildor wasn’t only your lord, but also----”

Glorinlas smiled. “Yes, and so it is. I stayed to see to the comfort and safety of our people, and so that I may tell my adar when I come again to his side that the lands we loved indeed were restored and cared for ere I left them. Your people and Elessar have done well by Arnor and the Shire; indeed Gondor itself is much renewed, and there is once again more woodland there that is cared for and cherished on both sides of the great river. He has proven a worthy steward, and his children will do likewise. As for your people----” His smile widened. “Your people have ever been worthy, and provide a proper example to the Men whose lands surround yours. It has been an honor ever to sojourn in the lands Argeleb gave unto your folk as your own.”

Faramir Took spoke from his own blanket roll. “That is great praise, coming from your folk. Thank you.”

The Elves settled about the small camp and brought out supplies, preparing a small meal and sharing it with the four Hobbits, then stayed by them until they again fell asleep. When the Hobbits woke in the morning, it was to find the Elves had left them to continue their journey; but a light meal had been left for them keeping warm by a carefully guarded fire.

Merry looked westward. He sighed. “More of the great wonder and beauty that ever surrounds the Elves is going out of Middle Earth.” He looked at his cousin. “I wish I were going with it, though.”

Pippin nodded, also looking west. “I know. But I think that in the night we set our own path, and it’s not that way.”

Pippin and Merry looked at one another, sharing unspoken thoughts, and their sons found themselves watching their fathers with some shared concern.


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