Sam remained on the deck as the plank was removed and the cables finally cast loose. He looked up the quay and saw the Elf who’d taken Bilberry’s bridle still stroking the pony’s nose. For a moment the mare focused on the one who soothed her, then turned back toward the quay itself, watching as the ship began to pull away. He could see her quivering, and he felt his heart lurch, for she’d been his all her life. Bilberry was the last remnant of his life in Middle Earth he’d see, the last creature from the Shire. The Elf smiled at him reassuringly, and the ship began to pull more rapidly away from the pier with the tide. One of those who crewed the ship leaned on the tiller while others saw to the release and setting of the sails. The light slanted more, and sunset light made the white blaze on the mare’s face glow like flame.
The roaring was returning, and he found he felt dizzy. The combination of fear and excitement, warring as they were within him for predominance, became overwhelming; and suddenly the healer Meliangiloreth was kneeling by him again, feeling his pulse, saying something to others, and then he was being scooped up as if he were little more than a bairn and whisked through a doorway.
“No!” he tried to say, but he had the feeling that the simple word came out garbled, if that were possible. That they were giving his attempts to salvage his dignity no heed was obvious; but a moment later he lost interest in that struggle as intense pain radiated out from his chest and left shoulder. It was all he could do to deal with that and keep himself aware. Then he realized that perhaps he’d do better to allow himself to lose consciousness, as that way he would at least become unaware of the pain for a time. Glad to find his mind grasping such an elegant solution, he stopped fighting and slipped gratefully into darkness.
The words seemed to echo as if spoken into an empty rain barrel; and his consideration of them was slow as if his thoughts had to swim their way through thick syrup. He looked up into eyes grey-blue as a misty sky, once he could tell what it was that was above him. There was a dull ache in his side. “What happened?” he finally managed to ask.
He heard a deep breath taken in relief. “He wakens indeed,” another voice said, that of the healer Meliangiloreth, he realized.
The one leaning over him, however, was male, and the eyes almost as thick with memories as those of Lord Celeborn, although the face that came into focus around those eyes appeared somewhat younger. The gaze was intense, and a warmth spread from where fingertips were laid over his breast. As the warmth spread the ache eased more. “Yes, he wakens. Can you tell me where you know yourself to be, Lord Samwise?”
“The ship--we went aboard. Then--my chest.”
“That is enough. Do not seek to speak further--we can tell well enough you are indeed awake and aware. You suffered a seizure of your heart, although it was not sufficient to leave permanent damage. That you have been drinking the infusion of athelas and willowbark undoubtedly has aided you to go through it with relatively little harm. Had you not done so, it is likely you would have lost a good part of the heart’s beat or perhaps have died.”
Sam felt the muscles in his scalp tighten. “To come--so far, to not make it....”
“We agree, small lord. Now it is best you rest, and when all can gather we will sing again the songs of healing and strengthening for you. Already the aid of Lord Ulmo reaches you for your easing, and the aid of the rest of the Valar is becoming more obvious as well.”
Sam murmured, “Athelas--in my weskit. Culled it this mornin’.”
The strange healer looked with surprise at Meliangiloreth, who responded, “He began growing it, apparently, for the easing of the Ringbearer. And it gives its benefits for him. He has aided in the brewing of the draughts since we realized he was overly sensitive to the gilfloren draught.”
The male healer looked consideringly down at Sam. “I know that ever the athelas has answered the touch of the children of Eärendil, including Lord Elrond, his sons and daughter, and those of the line of Isildur, and especially the Lord Elessar. But this is unexpected.”
Meliangiloreth indicated her agreement. She turned to the clothing removed from the Hobbit and soon found the envelopes of athelas. Her fellow Endoril had himself been trained in healing in Gondolin, and had worked alongside Elrond for some centuries in Imladris before removing to Mithlond after the coming of the Istari. His mother was slain in the fall of Gondolin, and his father before the walls of Angband. His brother died in the first siege of Mordor, and his sister had long ago sailed West with her children after her husband was slain by orcs in the pass of Caradhras. He’d accompanied his wife, daughter, and younger son to the Havens after the death of his firstborn as he rode in the patrols from Imladris, attacked by warg-riders. He’d sworn to remain long enough to see Sauron felled, and that he’d done now. It was time indeed to seek out his own place in Aman. But he found himself glad he’d chosen to take this particular ship as he attended on the small mortal Lord, for he found Sam’s condition a worthy challenge for his training, and his humor, curiosity, and remarkable intelligence a refreshing antidote for the jaded attitude he held toward most of the mortals in his experience.
Within a few days Sam was much recovered; within a few more he was beginning to learn his way about the ship below decks, for he admitted he had no desire to go out within sight of the sea as yet. That was as well, for the weather had become very windy and wet, and Endoril didn’t wish to add exposure and chills to the Hobbit’s ills. The ship sailed easily enough under the guidance of those who’d chosen to crew it; but they often faced rain squalls and high seas--no, it was best Lord Samwise remain sheltered.
The first time Sam entered the great salon at the stern of the ship he stood amazed, looking out the windows at the view of the sea behind them before turning decidedly away from it. It was amusing to watch him doing his best to walk about the room in such a manner that he kept his back to that view.
Yet he’d shown a good deal of relief in being able to be among the company, and he listened avidly when songs were raised and tales were told. When he began taking part in conversations made in Sindarin, rather hesitatingly at first, all were intrigued; when he showed he knew even some Quenya he had many intent on teaching him more.
“I must remind you,” he advised Glorinlas one afternoon, “that I’m an old Hobbit now. Maybe for you Elves learnin’ more languages comes easy enough no matter as how old you might be; but for us mortals it’s not so easy the older as we get. Take it slow.”
He ate little per meal, but sufficiently often that Meliangiloreth was able to assure Endoril that he was in no danger of failing due to poor nutrition. His gait improved day by day, and the only time they could perceive distress in him was when he must look on the sea. Only on the darkest of nights would he look out of the windows or go up on the deck the few times the weather was calm, when he might see the stars shining down on them, a sight which appeared to soothe and reassure him.
One evening when he’d been sitting, listening to the rest of the company, the call began to go out for him to sing a song of the Periannath for them. “I’m not as much a one for songs as was Mr. Frodo or his cousins,” he told them, flushing somewhat. “Mostly when I sing it’s one of the hymns to Yavanna as I learned from the Lady Arwen.”
“Surely you know songs of your own people, too,” objected Glorinlas. “After all, you were grown to the manhood of your people before you left to meet Elessar and she who is now his Queen.”
Sam flushed some more. “Well, of course I do.” He sighed. “If you insist, but don’t be surprised if it’s a bit rough. I’m an old Hobbit now, and my voice ain’t what it was.” He thought for a moment, and began the walking song Bilbo had sung in Rivendell before they left to return to the Shire.
“...will turn toward the lighted inn,
my evening rest and sleep to meet.”
He then went on to sing the song he sang in the Tower of Cirith Ungol as he searched for Frodo. All sat still and at attention, for although as he’d warned his voice was now rough with age, yet the peace of age that looks to rest while the next generation continues to toil was clear in the first song; and the defiance of hope dearly held in the face of grief and fear could be heard as he sang the second.
When he was finished there was an unrelieved quiet for some time, and once again he began to flush. At last Lord Celeborn, who’d sat looking down at his hands while Sam had sung, looked up to meet the eyes of the gardener. “Your voice may not be as pleasing as that of Captain Peregrin Took or that of Lord Frodo Baggins, Master Gardener,” he said gently, “but it holds yet a power that perhaps you do not fully appreciate. For us, once we take up the tasks facing us, we look to follow them from that time on until the ending of Arda, for not even weariness of spirit may excuse us fully. For those who were born to know the Gift of Iluvatar, it is so very different, as the time comes when you may look to enjoy even the weariness ere you take your next road. We thank you for the gift of these songs you have sung for us, and the reminder of what the quest cost both you and the Lord Frodo.”
Sam gave a small nod. “I’m not certain as how long we’ll be able to remain there where we’re goin’, but I know as our time must come soon enough. I know as I’ll have few regrets, not once I’ve come to Frodo once more; I doubt as he’ll have much, either. We’re both old Hobbits now, after all, and it’s about time as we rested. My Rosie’s waitin’ for us both to come to her; and so many of those she, Mr. Frodo, and me’ve loved are waitin’ there for us, too. Then it’ll be our turn to welcome others as they come. It’ll be a joy when Lord Strider and your granddaughter come to join us, you know.” His smile was full of anticipation, and his eyes filled with a calm peace. “There’s compensations for bein’ mortal, you see.”
The Elves looked on him with surprise, for his Light had grown steadily brighter as he spoke, and remained as bright until he indicated he was tiring and would return to his own cabin. Glorinlas accompanied him out of the salon, and the rest of the company watched after him.
Endoril and Meliangiloreth drew near to Celeborn, and he looked up at them in question. “How does his heart?” he asked.
“It is far stronger, its beat steady,” Endoril told him. “His Light of Being is now fairly even throughout his body. However, I believe that as strong as his Light grows, it will exceed the limitations of his body fairly soon.”
Meliangiloreth slowly nodded her agreement. “I’ve seen enough of the heirs of Isildur pass through Imladris to know that in some mortals the Light of Being is clearly discernible; but never have I been able to see such so clearly as I do in Lord Samwise save that in Frodo Baggins as he returned with Lord Elrond and Mithrandir, which was bright indeed in spite of indicating his continuing physical and spiritual distress at the time. Only in Estel have I seen it so bright in Men in several generations, and his has been the brightest since Arvedui.”
Two days later Sam was asked if he would mind describing the journey to Mordor to the company, for most had not heard the full story. He shrugged. “It’s little enough,” he said quietly. “I’ve certainly told enough of the details of it to the children as come to listen in the Commons in Hobbiton, Bywater, Overhill, and Michel Delving, not to mention the Great Smial and Brandy Hall and at the Free Fair most years. And then I’ve read the entire book repeatedly to my bairns and grandbairns as well.”
He told it in Westron, and for the next six evenings he’d speak for some time after the sunset meal, after which he’d accept another light meal himself and a glass of watered wine, then retire. All listened intently, for much of it hadn’t been widely known. He told it in a direct, unadorned manner, and the love and honor he held for his master was quickly apparent, as was the respect he held for Peregrin Took, Meriadoc Brandybuck, Bilbo Baggins, and Aragorn son of Arathorn.
The utter hatred he bore for the Enemy and his creation was also obvious, as was the pity he felt for the creature Gollum. “At one time I loathed him completely, and I never trusted him. My Master pitied him from the first time as he seen him, though, and sought to help me see just what it was as the Ring had done to him. Only as he crouched there in front of me, weepin’ as he’d die into the dust when the Ring was destroyed, did I finally begin to understand just how wretched as he was, what It had brought him to. Then I pitied him, then and when he fell into the fire, clutchin’ It, callin’ out, Preciousss!! But I could never pity him as much as I did my Master, although perhaps as I ought to.”
All listened with respect. Meliangiloreth knew much of the story, for Lord Elrond had written a great deal of it into the chronicles of Imladris before he left Middle Earth, and she had read it. But what he’d written was but a bare outline in comparison; here they heard the full story, and saw the expressions of memory cross the features of the one telling it, the pain and the pride and the grief and the delight.
Four untrained in war had come out of the peaceful land of the Shire; two had returned warriors, and two heroes beyond the comprehension of most of their own people. All four had returned deeply scarred, one so deeply he had been forced to flee Middle Earth completely to find any peace for his soul.
When at last the story had been fully told Endoril asked, “Are you sorry you went on that journey?”
Sam looked at him with raised brows. “Am I to be sorry about such a thing?” he asked. “I realized as I had a job to do, although when I left I had no idea as to what that job would be. I only knew as I must see it through, and that I must never lose my Master. I was still but a little one when Gandalf laid that on me, you know--that I must never lose my Master.”
“Yet you lost him at the last to Tol Eressëa,” commented a younger Elf from Mithlond.
But Sam was shaking his head. “No, I didn’t lose him. I would of if’n I’d tried to keep him by me, for the legacy of the Ring was eatin’ him away as much as the weight and power of It when he still carried It. But by lettin’ him go I gave him his one chance to find the healin’ for his body and soul as he needed. You don’t lose what you give up willin’, you understand. I’ve known that for a long time. I’m just finally comin’ back to where I know as he’s waitin’ for me.”
Celeborn asked a question that he’d wondered about for a very long time. “Do you still miss the presence of the Ring? After all, It was there with Master Bilbo during your childhood, and with Lord Frodo from his coming of age until Its final destruction.”
Sam took a very deep breath. Finally he said, “Only one other has ever asked me that, my daughter Elanor, years ago. Yes, I miss It, for although my Master did his best without understandin’ what it was he did to shield me and the others as was closest to him from It’s influence, still I felt It by me, felt the assurance of power there, almost every day of my life. Somehow I knew as there was power, a power that if I wished I could reach out to, take as my own. I had some powerful strange dreams at times afore we left the Shire, specially when I’d stay up in Bag End with him.
“But I’ll tell you this--I’m not the least sad as It’s gone. I never wanted such power, and was afraid when I’d wake from those dreams. With It gone, those dreams is gone, too. I’d of been a right bad’un if’n It had indeed caught me. That I know. How the Master was able to carry It for so very long, givin’ in only when It took his mind there in the Sammath Naur I can’t understand.”
He rose and turned away from his audience, took one of his rare looks out the windows at the stern of the ship, looking up at the beauty of the stars that were visible that night. Finally he spoke. “I understand that rape, the takin’ of a lass or lady by force, isn’t uncommon in the lands of most Men, and that it often leaves the one as was raped feelin’ destroyed. That’s what the Ring did to my Master--at the end It raped his spirit, took him by force, tried to make him into Sauron’s image. My gentle, carin’ Master--It took him. And he felt destroyed. He felt destroyed. He felt tainted. I’m just glad as he was give this grace, and that I’m allowed to come to him again afore we leave Arda.”
He went quiet. The chair he’d sat in was turned around for him, and he sat for some time looking out, looking up. At last Endoril came to stand by him. “Small Master,” he said gently, “would you like your last meal of the day now?”
Sam shook his head without turning his eyes from the stars. “No, I’m not hungry. I miss him a lot tonight, I do, and feel as we’re gettin’ right close at last.” He finally looked up into the healer’s eyes. “I can hear the stars singin’ of him, hear that in my heart.” He smiled and looked far younger than he’d appeared since he’d dropped from his pony at the quays weeks ago. Endoril was reminded of how he’d looked so many years past when he’d come to Mithlond to accompany the Lord Frodo Baggins to take his own ship, and saw now the joy he’d not seen then. “At last I’ll see him again, be able to thank him and have him able to accept it. Couldn’t afore, you see. He never thought as he was worthy of it, you know.”