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6
6: Undertowers

6: Undertowers


Elanor waited at the door of Undertowers, Ergus standing pressed against her side, his tail thumping against the door as together they watched Sam with Elanor’s grandchildren and other children from the village clustered about him. Dropping from Bilberry and allowing young Felstran to take the pony to the stable, Sam came in through the gate, led by the children, little Amitra holding his hand. He paused on the near side of the arbor and looked around, examining all carefully, storing the beauty of the garden and the pleasant aspect of the smial in his heart. Finally he looked back to the door, smiling as his eyes met those of his first-born. “Hello, Elanorelle,” he said gently.

He’d lost weight since her mother’s funeral, she realized, and there was a sense to him that time was limited and precious. “Hello, Sam-Dad,” she said. “Been waiting for you.”

“Well, I come at the last.”

“How long will you stay with us?”

“Tonight.”

“Not longer?”

He shook his head. “Time’s gettin’ short, it is. Don’t know as to how much longer I can linger if’n I stay, lass. Not long, I’m afraid. If I don’t go now, lovey, there’s a good chance I won’t be able to go at all.”

The two of them examined one another. “Frodo didn’t come with you, Dad?” she finally asked.

Again he shook his head. “I didn’t want to tempt him more’n I had to, sweetling. He can’t go with me, you know. Wouldn’t be fair to keep up the tearin’ of his heart past the first day. He wanted me to stay aside him, but realized as it’s the end times for me no matter what. Said as long as I must look at goin’ anyways, he wanted me to go by ship, let him think of me as bein’ with my Master at the end, that empty place in my heart as has been there all his life finally filled again. Save at the moment there’s more’n one empty place, and the biggest one can’t be filled until I rejoin her there.”

Elanor Fairbairn nodded gently. “I see, Sam-Dad. Well, would you rather sit out here or come into the smial?”

Fastred returned soon after from a meeting with the village heads for the Westmarches, and was glad to find his father-in-law sitting in the garden with Elanor and much of their family. “Sam-Dad,” he greeted him. “You finally were able to come. How long will you stay?”

Mayblossom and her next-older sister Angelica and their brother Bilbo, a particularly handsome Hobbit with ash-brown hair like his father’s and youngest sister, prepared tea that day, and soon they went in for it. The fair days were lingering this year--“To ease your journey,” suggested Fastred; after the light meal they went out again, and climbed the hill to the tower, walking about its base and talking quietly, recalling visits here over the years.

“First time as I saw them,” Sam said, looking up, “was when we traveled to the Havens. We camped one night down there in the apple garth, I believe. Surprisin’ how vague it is in my memory; but most of my attention in the nights was on my Master, and he was right quiet at that point. Don’t know if he slept at all that night, for when at last my own eyes betrayed me and I did sleep, last I member was the shine of his eyes, lookin’ up, takin’ in the stars; and when I roused, shortly afore the dawn, they was helpin’ him to sit up straight, and Lord Elrond had his draught ready to give him. After the first night, when they fixed a bed for him always there was somethin’ behind him to help him sit up some, for it was gettin’ right hard for him to breathe. Only thing as kept him from givin’ over, I think, was he didn’t wish for me to see him die--not then.”

He gave a sigh as they stopped on the north side of the tower and looked west. “We paused, there the last time, near where the monument is now. We rested some, and Lord Elrond had me give him the last draught. Didn’t know as what he was lookin’ at, for his gaze was distant and his face quiet. He come back alert for me, and did his best to remain so the last bit of the way, but you could see as it was an effort. But when he went aboard the ship at the last, there with old Gandalf, you could see the easin’ coming to him right away--that last smile, the one what made you know he was one to love with the whole of his heart, what made it worth it to see him go away, knowin’ as he’d finally be able to smile like that all the time and not just at odd moments when aught could get past the pain.”

Sam went quiet again. In the resulting silence they could hear the quick clop of pony hooves and the creak of a wagon coming westward into the village along the track. Ergus whined and strained that way. Elanor and Fastred traded glances, then turned to Sam. “Dad,” Elanor said quietly, “it appears someone is coming from the Shire proper. Shall we go down to see?”

Sam looked down, saw a shadow in the growing dusk. “It’s a coach,” he said. “No, Merry and Pippin know as we’ve said goodbye and I didn’t want them hurryin’ to see me off. Who could it be this time?”

Fastred helped his wife’s father down off the hill north of the hedge that marked the boundaries of the garden, and watched as the coach came even with them and stopped. It was the Bolger coach, being driven by Drogo Smallfoot; and as Fastred opened the coach door and pulled out the step, out of it emerged Marigold, Ergus’s tail wagging rapidly as he recognized her. Fastred reached out to steady her, for she was white with fatigue and the jouncing, and her balance was unsteady for the moment.

Sam came forward. “Goldy? What in Middle Earth are you doin’ here?”

She looked at him intently. “You didn’t come to bid us farewell, Samwise Gamgee,” she said. “I was waitin’, for with Tom took as he is since Rosie’s death, I didn’t want to leave him. But you never came.”

Sam took a ragged breath. “I couldn’t, lass. My Master, afore he left hisself he said as the farewells as he’d been forced to make had left him frayed. Well, I know now just what he meant. There was so much needed doin’ afore I was ready, so much to write and all, and too many to see. I sent you a letter.”

“Yes, you sent me a letter, as if that would be enough. It’s not the same, Sammy, and you know it.”

Ergus looked up at the faces of the Hobbits around him, whining softly.

Marigold started to take a step forward and almost fell, and he caught her, looked to Elanor, and said, “We’d best get her indoors and sittin’ down.”

With Elanor hurrying to open first the gate and then the door, Fastred turned to where Drogo was clambering off the box of the coach. “Let me help you unharness your ponies and get them into the stable,” he offered.

“Gladly,” murmured the Smallfoot. “I’ve been driving pretty steadily for most of four days, and it’s nice to be off the box.”

As Sam helped Marigold into the smial, he was asking, “Where’s Tom? You didn’t leave him home alone, did you?”

His sister snorted. “Home alone? Indeed not. As soon as Fro-lad arrived back in Hobbiton he decided to come to the farm to get away again and ease hisself, and his whole family is with him, as well as our Holman, his Lissie, and their brood. The next day after they got there, your Primrose arrived with her Frodovacar from Budgeford, and they brought with them both Mr. Budgie and Mr. Drogo, Mr. Budgie to see to Tom’s health and his son to drive. I was that upset you’d gone off without comin’ to tell me that Mr. Drogo agreed to drive me here to Elanor’s.”

They got her seated in the rocking chair, and Angelica hurried off to bring her a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits. Sam sat heavily on the stool beside her, bringing out a handkerchief for her to use to wipe her eyes. “I’m sorry, Marigold,” he murmured, patting her hand, “but I was to the point as I couldn’t take no more. It took so long to realize as it’s truly time to accept what’s offered to me and all, you see, and what with the thirteen of them and all the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren and the Thain and Master and all and the trip to Michel Delving--I’ve been that pulled until I felt as I couldn’t look another one in the face to say goodbye. I suppose as it’s a bit better as I’ve been beyond havin’ to say goodbye repeatedly for a few days. But I’m so sorry as I didn’t come.”

“Once you go,” she said quietly, “there’ll be but me and our May left of the six of us. To lose Jolly two years past in that accident, and now Rosie and you----” She gave a shuddering breath. “I know as it’s time and all, but I still feel as you ought to be by me forever as you’ve always been.”

“Ceptin’ the year as we was gone,” he sighed.

She nodded. Angelica was back with the biscuits and tea now, and Marigold accepted it with relief before she turned her attention back to her brother and searched his eyes over the rim of her mug. Finally she set it down on the small table on the other side of the chair just as the door opened to admit Fastred and Drogo with Ergus beside them. “You’ve always been the strongest of us, Sam; the most steady; the wisest. And you’ve always been the one as loved the strongest and always knew how to show it proper. When we realized the King Elessar’d named you a Lord of the realm somehow we wasn’t surprised, and certainly we never doubted the story as so many have. Then to meet him when he come to the Bridge and see him honor you--well, o’ course he would! We could see he was the same sort as you--as you and Mr. Frodo--one as sees to the heart of the matter and loves with the whole heart.

“When Mr. Frodo went away, none of us was terrible surprised as he’d not been particular well since you four come back and his heart was failin’ him. He’d been growin’ steadily weaker and losin’ flesh and not puttin’ it back. That shoulder of his where he was stabbed with the Morgul knife as he said in his book pained him a great deal at times, and he had no strength left to be patient as he’d been afore.

“He took a good part of your heart with him, and to tell the truth, I was surprised as you didn’t go with him that day, myself. But then, you’d give the rest of your heart to Rosie, and at first that was all as kept you here in the Shire until you started to heal some and Frodo-lad come and that Master Ruvemir come from the King and said somethin’ to you to restore your hope. Then you was strong enough to stand not just aside us and Rosie, but aside the entire Shire.

“And once Rosie was gone I knew as you wouldn’t be too far behind her in leavin’--leavin’ to follow your Master at last; but I’d always expected as this time you’d let a body know proper, and give me the chance to say goodbye as I ought to o’ done when you left afore. I love you, Sam--I love you more’n I can begin to say. A good part of my heart is goin’ with you, you see.”

Sam’s eyes had filled with tears, and he reached out and put his arms about her, arms which remained strong and sheltering. “Oh, little sister,” he murmured, “but I’ve treated you terrible. Can you forgive me? Please? It’s just I’ve had so many, many goodbyes to be said, so many to comfort, so many to assure as I’ll still love them no matter as how far away I might go and what might happen to my body and all. You’ve been a rock to me, you know. You’ve been the one whose love I’ve never had to question or reassure. Guess as I forgot your heart bruises just as easy as anyone else’s. I’ll never, never stop lovin’ you any more’n I can ever stop lovin’ Rosie or any of the bairns or the Shire itself or Lord Strider or--or him. It’s been so long since I saw him--so long. I need to find him afore I go the last bit of the way, and I’m afeared as that won’t be all that long.

“It was love of him as took me out of the Shire the first time and across the known world and all through Mordor. It was love of him as brought me to where I could find the other brother of my heart sittin’ in the corner of the Prancin’ Pony in Bree, and showed me the bright shadows of where I’m goin’ now as lingered here in the Mortal Lands. It was love of him as helped me understand as to why I’d always loved the stories of Elves and all, and appreciate that I belong not just to the Shire but to the whole world. It was love of him as taught me to leave my fear behind me, and to just go on and do what needed doin’ with no hope of seein’ after, just ’cause it needed doin’ or all would fail.

“I need that bit of my heart back, Goldy. You understand, don’t you? I could live for so long with half a heart; but with Rosie gone too now, I don’t even have that any more. To be ready--truly ready--to go on, I need what he holds. You know, I’d always thought as I give him that half of my heart ’cause I’d had it inside me from the start. It’s only recent I’ve realized as I only had it inside me ’cause he give it to me first to begin with.” He looked off toward the doorway. “He had heart enough for the entire world he did, and I did my best to hold that part for him durin’ our journey so as it’d stay safe of what the Ring was doin’ to the rest of it. But it wasn’t enough--not enough to sustain him--not as long as he stayed here.”

She nodded. “You know what the Gaffer always said, Sam--as those as is the best tend to die young--their hearts start gettin’ bruised so easy for they’re so large and exposed to begin with, and it takes it out of them when the bruisin’ starts happenin’. He was one of those, after all.”

Sam swallowed. “Yes, that he was. That he was.”

She drew him close to her. “I’ll miss you, big brother,” she said softly. “I’ll miss you somethin’ fierce, you know. But at least I know as you know how much I love you, and how much as I hope he’s standin’ right there when that ship as you’ll be sailin’ on comes there where he is, with old Gandalf standin’ aside him. Please, please tell the both of them as how much I’ve missed them all these years. Please let them know as I’ve never forgot them--never in all my life. And let them know as how much I’ve trusted them for me to be able to let you go away from me now.

“One more thing,” she said, drawing back to look seriously into his eyes. “I’m trustin’ as you’ll be there when I arrive when all is over here for me. I’m expectin’ to see my brother as he truly is, the tall, shinin’ Lord Panthail, waitin’ to greet me and begin showin’ me the rest of the Way. You and him, side by side, and Rosie aside the both of you, and old Mr. Bilbo standin’ behind you all, with the Gaffer tendin’ to the flowers and Mum aside him and the rest standin’ about. And then I can turn about when it’s time to greet Lord Strider and the Lady Arwen when they arrive aside the lot of you.”

The two of them, brother and sister, were smiling deeply into one another’s eyes. “That I’ll promise, lass. That I promise true. And you stand by young Eruhael for me, please. He, too, has heart to give the whole world if’n it can accept it. He, too, was properly named.”

“Not like you, or your son Hamfast, or your grandson neither.”

He kissed her hair. “I’ll wish you goodbye, then, Goldy, and carry my love back to Tom and your young’uns. I’m findin’ myself done in, and I still have a ways to go tomorrow. I’m leavin’ early, most like afore sunup. Know this,” he added, looking at all who were gathered in the room, “I’ll never stop lovin’ any o’ you, never in this world. And I’ll be tellin’ him, tellin’ my Master, as how his gifts to me’ve filled this world with love more’n any single soul deserves. So I’ll be gettin’ that part of my heart back again, and fillin’ up both it and that as he holds for hisself, with the memories of just how much that love has sustained me and made the stayin’ so well worth it.”

Jared Thorny was sitting beside Mayblossom, his arm about her shoulder, young Felstran beyond them. Angelica and her husband Miko Proudfoot sat with their two bairns on their laps, their eyes shining with tears and pride. Bilbo was holding his wife Rosamunda (Rosamunda Took as was) to him on one side, their son Holdhope sitting tall and straight on the other, his eyes full of dreams and stars. Sam stood and turned slowly, looking at daughter and son-in-love, their lads and lasses that were here, thinking of those who’d gone elsewhere throughout the Shire, thinking of the other children to whom he’d already bidden goodbye. Finally he turned back to Marigold. “And you, lass--you tell May and all o’ hers just how much I love them, and how grateful as I’ve been to have such as each and all of you as my sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews.” He turned to look into Drogo Smallfoot’s eyes. “And tell your dad just how much I appreciate what him and Mr. Freddy done and tried to do for Mr. Frodo, and that I’ll carry your love and respects with me. Again, just keep an eye on Eruhael Baggins for me, please, him and all of those who stand by him. Don’t rightly know when he’ll take him a wife, but I suspect as it’ll be soon enough now.”

He stood there, and his sister rose, kissed his cheek gently, and stepped back, allowing each of the rest to follow after her. Then when each had kissed him goodbye, Elanor led him back to his room and saw him into it, and he turned, smiled reassuringly at her, and closed the door after him.

She rose an hour or two before sunrise and fixed a light breakfast. She wasn’t surprised to find his room empty, but noted that his saddlebags and pack rested by the door. He’d be in the garden or on the hill, she knew, or perhaps getting Bilberry saddled and bridled. When he returned she realized from the hay sticking to his pants cuff it had been the stable he’d been to. “Morning, Sam-Dad. Come and eat some before you go.”

He followed her into the kitchen and sat down to eat. He carried a water bottle over his shoulder, and drained some of its contents into a mug he took from the kitchen dresser. At her questioning look he gave a light laugh. “It’s a tea as was made up for me. It’s good even cooled, and most sustainin’.”

She leaned over it and sniffed. “Athelas?” she asked him.

“Yes,” he said, smiling. “One other thing--mind if I cull me some leaves afore I go? May need some along the way, and the ones as I brought is spoken for.”

“Gladly, Dad. Eat that up, and we’ll go out and gather some before you leave.”

Together they went out with Ergus attending them, taking some of the parchment envelopes Sam had taught her to keep ready as well as Sam’s cloak, pack and saddlebags. She noted that a large hamper she remembered from Bag End sat on the bench, although her father ignored it as he set the pack and bags beside it; and Bilberry indeed stood patiently near the arbor, ready for the ride to come. They walked to where athelas grew along the herbaceous border, and Sam pulled out his pen knife and efficiently cut about ten or twelve leaves, placing them in pairs into the envelopes, at last slipping them into the inner pocket of his waistcoat.

He then straightened, and looked back eastward. “It’s all there,” he sighed, “where I was born and raised and knew my Mr. Frodo and it all started. I love the Shire and hate to leave it, but it’s time and time, lass.” He turned back to her, smiled down into her eyes. “I’ll never stop lovin’ you, Elanorelle--never, never, ever. And I’ll be glad to tell him as just what a dear one you’ve growed up to be, how responsible, how loving, and what happiness as you’ve had with Fastred and the bairns and all.”

He led the way to his pack, opened it, and carefully slipped out the Red Book, gently pressing it into her hands. “This is for you, now, dearling. You’re now the one to keep the stories going, to tell how much was give up willingly that none lie under the Shadow. You’re the one to see to it as one sits behind the ale tent and tells the rest. You up to that, you think?”

Her eyes were filling with tears as she murmured, “I can only do my best, Dad.”

“That’s all any can ask of another, Ellie. It’s all I can expect. But I know that from you and Fastred that’ll be a good deal.”

“Wait just a moment,” she said, and she hurried into the hole, Ergus watching after her, and then coming back out with three more packets. “Here,” she said. “These are from us and from Auntie Marigold and Auntie May. And when you see him again, Sam-Dad, tell him I remember. I may only remember how he looked from the statues and pictures Master Ruvemir made and the one by Master Iorhael, but I’ll never forget his love, and how he’d sing to me and whisper to me in Quenya and Sindarin. Let him know I’ll never stop loving him back, please, Sam-Dad. And let him know the stories will always be told, always and forever.”

He gave a small, tightly controlled nod, and slipped the thick packets into the pack where the book had sat. Father and daughter stood and watched the sunrise, his arm about her, then he turned once more and kissed her brow, as Frodo had once kissed his, as the Lady Galadriel had once kissed Frodo’s. “Take care, love,” he murmured. “The stars shine ever on you, Elanorelle.” He swung his cloak over his shoulder, securing it with the leaf cloak brooch, settled the pack on his back, lifted the saddlebags, and after giving Ergus a last pat he went out the gate under the arbor to his pony, surely fastening the bags. Then he swung up into his saddle, looked down on his daughter with a gentle, free smile of love and pride on his face, and at last turned Bilberry’s head west toward the Havens.

*******


That night and for several thereafter Elanor and Fastred and those of their children who lived in the village went up onto the hill to stand by the tower and look westward. One night, not long before midnight, they saw a great flash in the sky, a sudden, clear light that appeared to brighten all--momentarily; and in the midst of that glow was a single spot of golden light somewhat reminiscent of the Sun herself.

As Ergus stretched his head and his tail thumped, the rest finally looked to one another. “That’s it,” Fastred murmured. “They’ve found the Straight Path at the last, and are gone from Middle Earth.”

Elanor nodded, a knot of tears and pride caught in her throat, past which no words could yet come. Mayblossom and Angelica and Bilbo and Felstran huddled near, and Holdhope stood watching, his body taut with longing.

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