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5
5: Sam's Last Riding

5: Sam’s Last Riding


“Papa Sam?” Linnet’s voice was tight with grief. “Do you have all ready to take with you?”

Sam smiled. “That I do, lass. Oh, Linnet, I’d never dreamed I’d find another daughter I’d love as well as my own, but it’s been so, ever since you come into the Shire to the Free Fair that year and first smiled into my Frodo-lad’s eyes. Stand by him, love, and help him heal. If’n I were to stay, it simply wouldn’t be for all that long, and you know as that’s true.”

“I know--but....” Her reserve broke, and suddenly she was clinging to him. “I’ve come to love you and Mama Rose so much, and I’m devastated to be left without the two of you. My own mama and papa have been gone so long, you know.”

“I know, lass,” he murmured comfortingly into her ear. “But it’s the way of things, after all. At least you’ll know as I’m goin’ to be happy again in my last days. Oh, child, you never had the time to know him, but him and the Lord Strider’ve always been as my brothers, in some ways more’n my real brothers Ham and Hal was. It’s been so very, very long since I last saw him, and he was so weak at the time. Wasn’t certain as he’d last to reach Tol Eressëa, but it appears as he did. I swore to remain by Rosie’s side as her husband; but she’s gone ahead and wished me to spend my last days with him that we both might come to her when the time’s right for it. And that we will do. Be glad for me, for I won’t be goin’ out in pain and grief, but in joy and peace when the time comes.”

Lily and Dahlia came from the kitchen carrying a large hamper between them. “We fixed you food to eat along the way, and a cake, even. For Uncle Frodo’s birthday, for you and the Elves, perhaps,” Lily said, flushing.

Sam looked at it, perhaps a bit bemused at the question as to how he was to carry it. However, he managed to respond, “Thank you,” He looked at the two of them with their beautiful eyes near to tears, wondering how, now it had come to the moment, he could bear to leave them. Yet he knew that he must do so if he was to come to Frodo again, and indeed he must do so soon anyway even if he stayed. He took the hamper and settled it on the desk chair before him, then reached out to draw them to him. They were weeping. “I love you, Lily, Dahlia. Open yourselves to what comes next. One thing as Mr. Frodo begged of me, that I always live fully, and I’ve tried always to do just that. Now it’s your turn, you see. I have a bit more to live afore I let go, sharin’ all of you with him; and he’ll share all as he’s done since he left with me. But your lives is here, here in the Shire and Middle Earth. I’ve seen the lads eyein’ the two of you, and you eyein’ them back. Each of you, find the right one as you can. And somehow I’ll get that hamper loaded, and the Elves and me--we’ll share it in honor of your Uncle Frodo and old Mr. Bilbo’s birthday.”

The door to the smial opened and closed, and he could hear the subdued voices of Holfast and Frodo-third speaking with their father. He looked that way, gently kissed first Dahlia and then Lily, and pulled away. “The Powers keep you,” he whispered to them. He already had his Elven cloak about himself, and now he settled the straps of his pack more firmly over his shoulders as he drew a deep breath.

Frodo-lad looked into the study. “We have the ponies ready, Da,” he said quietly. “Are you ready?”

Sam gave a nod. “Just you’re goin’ with me, right?”

“Yes, just I’m going with you. What are you taking with you?” He looked at the cloak, the old pack worn over it, the set of saddlebags and bedroll, the large hamper. His eyebrows rose at the sight of the latter and he looked questioningly back into his father’s eyes.

Sam sighed and shrugged. “The lasses have tried to make certain as the Elves and me is in no danger of starvation on the ride,” he said. “They tell me as they’ve included a cake.”

“A cake?” Frodo found himself suddenly suppressing a strong urge to laugh aloud, and saw answering laughter in his father’s eyes as well. “A cake. A birthday cake?” he hazarded.

“We made two, Dad,” Dahlia said, “one for us and one for him to take with him.”

“I hope no candles,” their father answered his youngest.

“Not on the one for him to take, although we put a few in the hamper for him to light if he wishes.”

“That was Dahlia’s doing, Dad,” Lily advised him. “She’s still young enough for her it’s not a proper birthday cake without candles.”

“Well,” Frodo-third commented, “I brought three bottles of wine for you to take with you for the birthday toast. Wasn’t certain as to how many you’d need.”

Sam gave up trying not to laugh, throwing back his head and giving out peals of laughter in which his son, Holfast, and even Linnet joined, while Lily and Frodo-third looked embarrassed and Dahlia affronted. Sam finally calmed, looking about the room with full humor in his eyes. “I don’t know as I could have known a better, happier leavin’ if’n I’d tried,” he said. “Oh, all of you, I couldn’t love none of you better in another hundred years, you know. And I can’t wait to share it all with him, see him laughin’ in sheer joy again after all this time. For I know as he will.” He looked to the two lasses. “I’d never of thought to of taken a cake with me, for I’d thought to go light and quick; but now I can’t leave it behind. Only wish as I could take it all the way and share it with him. Tell you what, though--soon as I get there I’ll make him a cake and put those candles on the top. That sound acceptable to you? And I’ll save one of them bottles of wine to share with him, too--him, Gandalf, Lord Elrond, Lord Celeborn, and their ladies, if’n all will join us. It’s the closest I can come to havin’ all o’ you there with us.”

One last embrace he shared with each, and they escorted him out the door. His pony was descended from Bill, the pony Berry that had been given him by Éomer of Rohan, and Pippin’s Jewel. Bilberry greeted him with a whicker, and watched over her shoulder as the saddlebags were carefully attached to her saddle. Sam mounted and again settled the pack on his shoulders, then watched as his son finished fastening the hamper onto the special crupper built into his saddle to accommodate small Hobbits or large hampers. “I suppose,” Sam commented, “I’ll have to carry that in my arms the last bit. But you’re comin’ no further with me than the Woody End, and then I’m goin’ on alone from there. I’m not temptin’ you to do more than you can, son.”

Frodo-lad nodded, then carefully mounted and moved his own pony Anden alongside his father’s steed. “Let’s go, then,” he said, and the two of them turned their ponies’ heads down the lane and then north toward the road, pausing briefly to bid farewell to young Hamfast, Iris, Billigard and small Samwise before riding smartly on.

It was late the next afternoon that Frodo rode back to the stable, where he found all three of his sons waiting for him. “You camped out with them?” Hamfast asked him.

“No, came back this way a bit,” he answered. “Slept out along the road, and woke to find Frodo Brandybuck was sitting by me, and had a meal fixed for me. Said he’d figured he’d find me somewhere along the way, and he didn’t want me to have to be alone when I woke up. We rode back to Hobbiton together. He’s staying with Fosco and Cyclamen at Green Hall.

“Da took the hamper and the bottles just this side of the Woody End, after he hugged me goodbye and kissed my forehead. Told me again he wouldn’t have me go further, wouldn’t tempt me. Then he rode away. I saw an Elf waiting for him, there on the edge of the wood, a tall one with golden hair. First Elf other than Prince Legolas I’ve seen in many, many years. He bowed to me, then focused his attention on Da. They were waiting for him. I know he won’t be riding alone to the Havens.”

Together they saw Anden stabled. “He told me that he’ll leave Bilberry with Lord Círdan’s folks at Mithlond, and they’ll return her to Elanor’s,” he said quietly as he saw the gelding’s manger filled and made certain the water bucket was full. “He asked me to explain to Lord Strider as I can, and to beg forgiveness for him. It appears he didn’t ever send that letter.”

“What was Frodo Brandybuck doing along the road?” asked Frodo-third.

“Apparently looking for me. Told me that when he and Da went to Michel Delving last week he had his own packet to add to the ones Da was already taking, with pictures of Mr. Brendi and Mistress Narcissa and their other children, and of the Baggins twins as well and their families. And I suppose they all sent their own letters.”

“It’s odd,” Holfast said quietly, “how we never met Uncle Frodo, but all feel as if we know him anyway.”

They all shared a mutual nod.

Together they walked up the hill where Linnet stood at the door, watching for her husband’s return. She held out her arms, and he walked into her embrace. “Well,” he sighed into her hair, “I’m back. Much of my heart is heading for the Havens, but I’m back.”

“And I’m so very glad,” she whispered.

The lads had shifted the clothing and most of Frodo and Linnet’s own things into the master bedroom while he was gone, and he stood in its door for a time feeling more lost than ever. The small desk that had always stood in the room held the box of inks and that of blotting paper and the one of drying sand with its small silver sifter and the box of quills and pens, and had a vase of his favorite flowers on it; and over the back of the chair was draped the lord’s mantle Lord Strider had given Uncle Frodo long ago, and which Uncle Frodo had left for the brother of his heart. So, his da had left it for him? He rubbed at the ring he wore now on his right hand, the ring denoting Lord Gamgee, another of the roles bequeathed to him at his father’s departure. He took a long, deep breath, and turned around. No, not yet--he wasn’t ready for that quite yet. A lord now of the combined realm of Gondor and Arnor, and, from what his father had told him as they rode toward the Woody End, undoubtedly of a right tidy fortune as well. He’d heard jokes about his father being a lord of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, but had never thought to consider what that meant. At least when Hamfast went south with the King he could arrange for funds to be waiting there for him.

He took another deep breath and went to the study and sat down in the chair at the desk. The two drawers that were always kept locked were still locked, although he could look into the others. He wondered where the key was to those drawers, and knew that his father would have arranged for it to come to him when the time was right. Well, he’d learn when that was also when the time was right. He smiled. “I’ll wait while I have to, Da,” he said softly. “I’ll wait.”

After dinner Hamfast the younger brought up a box from Number Three. “I thought you’d like this now, Da,” he said quietly. “Apparently your Gammer Bell kept a box of things from when Gaffer Sam and the others were children, and the box went to Auntie Daisy as the eldest daughter. Well, she gave it to Daisy-lass when she and Belo lived in Number Three before they inherited the smallholding in Overhill from his parents, and she left it there in Number Three.”

Together Frodo-lad and his three sons and two daughters and wife opened the box, finding in it pictures and small craft objects, sewing samplers, letters, samples of writing exercises Sam and Marigold had done, infants’ clothing--all the things a mother tends to keep of her children’s accomplishments. Most of the pictures appeared to have been done by Daisy, Marigold, or their Uncle Frodo; there were pictures of the Gaffer, and their aunts and uncles and Gammer Bell herself, of Number Three as it had been before the destruction of Bagshot Row, of Bag End and its gardens, the Party Field and the oak that used to grow where the mallorn grew now, old Mr. Bilbo. One picture done by Daisy was of what had to have been Uncle Frodo with Sam himself as a child, the tall tween kneeling, and the small, sturdy lad standing, both looking at something Frodo held in his hands. Both were similarly clad in dark trousers, simple shirts, and braces; and the looks on the faces of dark-haired youth and lighter-haired child were both rapt.

Dahlia took one of the portraits of Gammer Bell done by Frodo and examined it. “She looks so much like cousin Mayblossom,” she said gently. “Both have eyes like Gaffer Sam, although her hair was darker than Mayblossom’s, apparently.” Both Mayblossom’s hair and that of her father Elfstan was a wonderful, fine ash brown.

But it was the picture of Frodo and Sam together that had captured the attention of her father. “I knew Da often had Aunt Marigold copy books for him and sometimes she’d illustrate them as well,” Frodo murmured, “but I never dreamed Aunt Daisy was so talented with drawing.” He looked at his son Hamfast. “Your gaffer looks much like you and your Uncle Ham did when small.”

They found a letter from Frodo to their grandmother, written from Buckland.

Dear Mistress Bell,

I am enjoying my stay at Brandy Hall, but I very much miss being at home in Hobbiton, which is something I’d not expected. After all, this was my home for so long. But now that I’ve lived in Bag End for two years that is my home and I miss it deeply.

I miss you, too--your gentle acceptance, your quiet happiness in the presence of the children and your husband. I miss the gardens and the stream in the wood at the bottom of the hill, and going into Hobbiton and Bywater on market days. I miss sitting on top of the Hill and looking across the Shire, knowing I’m at the center of the most beloved land the Valar ever gave to a people of Middle Earth.

And I miss Sam’s company. I love my cousin Merry very much, for he’s been like a brother to me since he was born; but Sam and I share so many interests in spite of the fact I’m so much older.

Give my love to all. And Sam, as you read this to your mum, give her a hug for me, will you?

Yours,

Frodo Baggins


“He sounds such a nice person,” Lily commented.

“Even then they were like brothers,” Holfast noted. His father nodded solemnly.

Frodo took a deep breath and looked around at the rest. “Well,” he said quietly, “I’m for going to Uncle Tom’s farm for a few days. Who’s with me?”

Linnet had already packed their things, for she’d anticipated that for the first few days her husband would need to be with the extended family. Soon the lads had the wagon readied and the ponies harnessed to it, and after Eruhael Baggins, second oldest son to Fosco and Cyclamen, promised to come daily from Number Five to care for the cat and see to it the garden was properly watered, to care for the ponies, and to keep an eye on Number Three as well, they headed for Bywater in the gathering dark.

*******


Sam spotted the Elf at the edge of the woods, letting himself be seen by Frodo-lad, and felt relieved to know he wouldn’t be waiting alone--if there was any waiting to be done, of course. The Elves might already be there, after all; they rode horses rather than ponies, although as he remembered before there had been a number who’d walked then. Yet they were far taller than Hobbits, and could go at a far greater pace even when they walked relatively slowly.

It was a smaller party than had accompanied Lords Elrond and Gildor and Erestor, the Lady Galadriel, Bilbo, and Frodo. The Elf who’d waited for him at the edge of the wood bowed as he came to the side of Sam’s pony, reaching up to take the hamper Sam carried. “There was no need for such a burden, my Lord Samwise,” he commented, “for we brought provender in plenty.”

“I’m certain as you did,” Sam sighed as he gratefully relinquished his burden, “but my granddaughters wasn’t quite so trustin’. They’ve never traveled with Elves, you see.”

Several of those around him laughed, and Sam thought the laughter was somehow easier than he remembered from before. Sam examined the Elf who stood alongside him and bowed his head respectfully. “Lord Glorinlas? Good to see you again, sir. It’s been quite some years now.”

“Yes, Lord Samwise; and I carry warm reports to my father on how those lands he loved best have fared, and much of it due to your personal care and dedication.”

“That and the Lady’s gift,” Sam commented. “If’n it hadn’t of been for that, much of what you see about you now would still be far shorter and less full of leaf. I’m so grateful for what she give to me and to the Shire at large.”

“It was your own good sense that guided you in its use, my lord.” Glorinlas looked about him in appreciation. “I grieve to leave this beauty and peace, but know that it is now time to do so and to be restored to my people there. And I know that for as long as the Shire stands and your descendants remain in it the beauty of the land, both cultivated and wild, will remain. Now come and join us, for we rejoice to have you travel with us.”

Another, taller Elf approached on the other side, reaching up to take the wine bottles in their padded bags, and Sam turned that way to find himself looking into far older eyes, silver grey with wisdom and experience, the fair face with its mixed joy and grief in balance surrounded by hair of shining silver. Sam bowed his head more deeply. “My Lord Celeborn,” he said, adding in Sindarin, “a star indeed shines upon our meeting.

The Elf lord smiled deeply, giving a deep bow of reverence. “Always the Lady Elbereth’s stars have shone upon you and your Master, Lord Samwise. And you think to bring wine?”

“My granddaughters sent the hamper, while Frodo-third sent the three bottles of wine. Two for us to share now, and one for me to share there with my Master and those as will join us.”

“You will drink with us tonight?” asked Glorinlas.

“It’s his birthday, you see,” Sam said quietly. “We’ve always drunk a toast to him and Mr. Bilbo on this day. And there’s a cake in the hamper the lasses sent, also for the birthday. They couldn’t imagine as anyone would celebrate their Uncle Frodo’s and old Mr. Bilbo’s birthday without such, you see.”

The smiles he saw on all sides were indulgent, but the face of Celeborn itself simply looked proud. “I see indeed. Here in the Shire itself perhaps few enough properly remember what your Master and you accomplished; but your own family knows and honors him fully. That is good. Shall we go forward, then?”

Lord Celeborn mounted his horse, a great shining stallion of white, and brought it beside the mare ridden by the Hobbit. Samwise Gamgee hadn’t changed markedly from what he could see: his eyes still a rich, light brown; his hair now white where it had been the color of dark honey before; his skin still warmed and kissed by long exposure to the sun; his hands still capable. He’d lost weight, though the muscles weren’t wasted, and his expression was that of one who’d known great losses and long patience, and an underlying excitement which Celeborn realized was growing inside the Hobbit as they continued their way westward.

One of those from Rivendell, the healer Meliangiloreth, raised a hymn to Yavanna, and none seemed surprised when the voice of Samwise Gamgee was lifted with those of the rest. His voice wasn’t as true as Celeborn remembered, and was perhaps a bit more breathy; but there was no question he still could sing and had never forgotten learning this from the Lady Arwen. They rode into the sunset and an hour longer, at which time Celeborn realized Lord Samwise was tiring markedly. He silently indicated they should look for a place to rest, and soon were alighting in a grove. Sam alit, then almost stumbled, and in clasping his wrist Celeborn realized that the Hobbit’s pulse was racing and not as even as it ought to be. He signed to Meliangiloreth, who came forward with her red healer’s bag over her shoulder.

“I think we stopped to rest none too soon,” he said quietly, releasing their guest’s wrist to her.

Sam was brought to sit on a fallen tree trunk, and he was offered a sip of miruvor. In a few minutes his posture began to ease and he stretched. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Silman Chubbs as has been our healer didn’t think ridin’ astride was necessarily the best way for me to travel any more, you know. And now he’s been proven right, apparently.”

“I’ll prepare a draught to aid you in gathering strength for what must be faced,” she assured him. “We will do our best to bring you safely to the Havens and beyond.” At a nod from her Glorfindel brought out a wafer of lembas and broke off a section for Sam.

Sam accepted it with a nod of thanks, rose and faced West, then sat and ate it slowly. He smiled up into Celeborn’s eyes. “There was a time while we was in Mordor I’d begun to wonder if’n I’d ever again appreciate as how good lembas is, you know. Am glad enough to learn that they do taste excellent again.”

The Elf smiled in return. A simple meal augmented by some of the food from Sam’s hamper was soon served, although Sam ate little enough of it. Afterwards the promised draught was brought him. He examined the liquid in its finely made metal cup, sniffed deeply. “Smells like what Lord Elrond sent to add to the athelas tea as I was givin’ to my Master, there just afore he left us,” he commented.

“It undoubtedly is the same,” Meliangiloreth answered him. “It is one draught Lord Elrond learned assisted mortals to gather strength. We found it useful in aiding those of the Dúnedain who’d been greatly stressed in their labors against orcs, trolls, and those of Angmar to return to their own people, or to finish other tasks that might be needful ere they could rest fully.”

He examined the cup thoughtfully, then drank it down, returned the cup to her. Glorinlas had removed the cake and was examining it before cutting into it to share out among the party, and another was opening two of the bottles of wine. Soon each had his or her own share of the vintage and a slice of rich cake in their hands. Celeborn raised his cup. “To the Ringbearers!” he proclaimed. “May their Lights shine ever before Iluvatar!”

Cormacolindor!” the rest responded, and all downed their glasses, then ate their slices of cake.

“Excellent,” Glorinlas murmured to Sam as he tasted the pastry.

Sam nodded. “My granddaughter Dahlia’s always had a deft hand at the bakin’ of cakes, and has made those for the birthday the last ten years or so. Only wish as I could bring him a slice to share, but as that’s not practical I had to promise to make him one when I come to him. Only hope as I can understand how to use the ovens as is used there.” He laughed. “She even sent candles to put on it for him, she did, dear as lass she is.”

“Candles?”

“Yes--small, slender candles, one for each year since he was born. Makes it brighter and brighter each year--he’s just turned a hundred and fourteen, after all.”

“That would take a good deal of time to see them all lighted, I’d think.”

Sam nodded. “At Mr. Bilbo’s last birthday in the Shire there was a hundred and forty-four candles, a hundred and eleven for him and thirty-three for Frodo. Gandalf watched as they started lightin’ them one by one, shook his head mutterin’ ‘Get out of my way, or we’ll never get them all lit!’ and waved his hand, and all of them lit at once. Havin’ a wizard what’s good with fire around can be useful, we found.”

Glorinlas laughed aloud. “Then we will hope that Mithrandir is there when we see your cake set before Lord Frodo that he be able to eat it before it goes stale.”

Greens were gathered together to cushion Sam’s bedroll, and soon after the meal was done he laid himself down gratefully, and was quickly sleeping. Several looked at the Hobbit with curiosity and growing respect, for as he slept his Light of Being, a warm, rich gold in color, could be fairly easily discerned. Meliangiloreth’s gaze held a degree of concern. “Throughout almost all his Light is strong, save for about his heart,” she said. “The loss of his wife followed so soon by this departure is not particularly easy for him, I fear. So many he appears to be abandoning now as he leaves Middle Earth at the last, and there is grief at those partings also. There is a growing excitement as well that adds to the irregularity of the heart’s beating. We must work to the easing of his burdens and calming of his spirit if he is to reach the other shore.”

Together those gathered sang a song of healing, and the Light soothed over his heart--for a time.

He was given a mug of the draught on his awakening. He ate little enough, which caused Meliangiloreth concern--after all, living in Rivendell she had been acquainted with Master Bilbo and his appetite; and as he rode he was markedly quiet, growing increasingly distant during the day. By afternoon there was no question that he was entranced, his thought wandering paths that were distinctly Elvish in nature. Celeborn was carrying Sam’s pack; Glorinlas carried the hamper. But all were worried for Sam for the lack of speech and awareness of his surroundings. The trees they passed sang their joy that Sam, who’d planted many of them, rode among them in such company, but the Hobbit didn’t respond.

They stopped in the late afternoon, and Sam had to be advised to quit his saddle. Glorinlas looked at him with added concern where he sat himself in the grass. “It reminds me of traveling with the Lord Frodo, whose health was far more fragile. He also grew distant the further we rode, and Lord Elrond found he had to constantly reduce the strength of the draught he gave him.”

“I might expect a young Elf to react in this manner, but not a Hobbit,” the healer responded. “Perhaps I ought to change to a simpler athelas draught, although the athelas does not answer as readily to me as it does the sons of Elrond or young Estel. But I am already short of athelas.”

Glorinlas gave a short laugh. “You are in the Shire, where Lord Samwise Gamgee, the King Elessar’s most favored counselor, was Mayor for many years, and where he has seen to it that athelas is planted in herb gardens across the land. It is likely, in fact, that he carries some himself, if you can get him to answer a question about it.”

Meliangiloreth cast a questioning glance at Lord Celeborn, who nodded. “He sent requests for seeds and cuttings of several herbs and flowers from my lady wife and from Lord Elrond,” he agreed, “including for athelas plants and seeds. He used them to ease the pain of his beloved Master and friend.”

“The athelas will answer to him, a mortal and a Hobbit with no Dúnedain blood?” asked the elleth.

“So Elessar has told us,” Celeborn answered her. “You will find he is as able to communicate with cultivated plants as we of the Firstborn do with the plants of the wilds.”

The healer considered this for some time, then went forward to speak with the Hobbit. It took care to draw his attention to her query, but at last he gave a nod in answer. “I have some--in my pack,” he said. Celeborn brought it to him and unfastened its flap; soon Sam produced three parchment packets, each carrying two of the leaves.

After a moment of thought she asked him, “Will you help me to brew a draught of athelas, my lord?”

Again he appeared to need to think carefully before he replied, “Yes, I will. Have you willowbark? Usually mix it with willowbark and chamomile for him, sometimes ginger as well.”

“Do you feel any pain?”

He shrugged slightly. “My left shoulder--a bit, and my arm.”

“Is your stomach upset?”

Again his answer was delayed. “No,” he finally said slowly. “No, doesn’t seem to be--not now, at least.”

When the water set over the small fire that had been kindled began to boil, Sam took two of the leaves of athelas, rolled them between his fingers and breathed on them, then dropped them into the water, beginning to murmur the words of the Invocation in Westron. Again Meliangiloreth was surprised, but neither Glorinlas nor Celeborn appeared to find it unusual. “He traveled with Elessar, and was by his Master’s side while he, Elrond, Elladan, and Elrohir treated the Ringbearer when he was distressed,” Celeborn reminded her quietly. “I would be surprised if he didn’t use the invocation.”

Melian added a measure of willowbark and a small amount of chamomile and stirred it as it steeped; finally she filled a small mug and allowed it to cool some, then gave it to him to drink. The athelas, she noted, smelled of green places, tilled earth, and the scent of a woman well-beloved, with a trace of the Sea to it, the Sea and Elven lilies and ink. Ink? Why ink? she wondered. Sam drank the draught almost without attending on it at all, his own focus to the West. She followed his thought briefly, then pulled back, realizing that he looked across a simple meadow of grass and flowers at the Halls of Mandos, and that should he choose to cross that meadow and take the Way, there was nothing to deter him. Again she was surprised--such had often been true of the greatest of the Dúnedain, and would, she was certain, be true for Estel when his time came; it often was such for those of Elvenkind who’d begun to fade; but again, why should this be true of a Hobbit? He had not about him the distinctly Elven feel she’d noted in the Lord Frodo during his time in Rivendell.

She drew the attention of Lord Celeborn. “What should we speak of to keep him grounded here in Middle Earth and his journey?” she asked. “I fear he is strongly tempted to cross to Namo’s Halls even now, and sees his way open. It would be a great grief not to see him restored to his Master’s side after this long wait.”

Celeborn agreed and crossed to sit beside the Hobbit, who sat even now with the empty cup in his hands disregarded. “Tell me, Master Samwise--how many of these trees about us did you plant?”

It again took time to draw his attention away from the Place and back to the mundane world of the Shire, but he did at last answer, merely politely at the first, but growing more present as the discussion went forward. Meliangiloreth indicated they should rest for a time; and after about a half mark in the reckoning of Men Sam yawned and began to drift off to sleep. His bedroll was produced and he consented to rest for a time; near sunset he awoke again and accepted the meal offered him more readily, accepted another of the athelas draughts, and was ready to travel on.

Still he was quieter than was his wont, but now he looked on what he passed, was obviously committing much of it to memory. When they stopped late in the night he was again ready for sleep, but it was a more normal rest for a mortal, the healer noted with relief.

They went more slowly than they’d planned. It took three more days to reach the Tower Hills, and here Sam, thinner than he’d been when they met but drawing himself to full awareness indicated he wished to spend the night with his daughter Elanor and her husband and family in their home. The Elves withdrew to the apple garth their people had once planted here, watching as Sam turned toward and through the small village to the smial dug under the first of the Towers.

Some of Elanor’s grandchildren and their friends were in the gardens, and turned at the clop of his pony’s hooves to greet him with pleasure. “Gaffer!” they called out. “Gaffer Sam! Mummy, Daddy, Gramma, Grandfa! Gaffer Sam’s come at last! He’s here!” And they swarmed out under the arbor that shadowed the gate to gather around him and bring him into the warmth and comfort of Undertowers.

The Elves watched with satisfaction as they saw full animation again fill the features of the elderly Hobbit, as the excitement of his progeny spread infectiously to himself.

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