The first gift received was the awareness of the spring. On the north side of the Hill, beyond the way up to the top where the residents of the smial had long been wont to sit, picnic, daydream, read or write or draw, and watch the clouds and movement of the light over the Shire in the daytime and the stars and Moon at night, there was an outcrop of stone that had traditionally marked the end of the gardens and the beginning of the orchard that grew on the east side of the Hill.
He found the spring one morning, working through a small fissure that had been developing slowly over the past three years. It didn’t give a great deal of water--more a steady trickle; but such steady trickles could cause a great deal of damage to hills that contained smials if not properly cared for.
And so he began work on the grotto, in which he created a water garden, experimenting painstakingly. Then, having an idea strike him, he wrote to Annúminas asking to purchase slabs of the green marble quarried there.
Six weeks later a wagon driven by Dwarves entered the Shire over the Brandywine Bridge and toiled along the Road to the turnoff to Hobbiton and up the lane to the picket gate in the hedge. The children of the Row watched with awe as the Dwarves lifted the great slabs with the same ease a Hobbit might show lifting a much smaller paving stone; and carefully these were carried up the back stairs and through the gardens to the place where the grotto was taking shape.
His plans for what he wanted were rough, but apparently were well understood by the Dwarves, for they went immediately back to the wagon for their tools--hammers and chisels and stone knives and saws; and in four days’ time the grotto was almost complete, as well as the stone channel designed to carry the run-off harmlessly down the side of the hill to the small stream that ran along the boundaries of the orchard and into the blooming woods on the south side of the Hill. Then they went away.
Then three Elves came, bearing dirt and cuttings, seeds and bulbs--woods violets and spray-loving orchids, great purple flags and tiny forget-me-nots, and helped set up the small plantings along the wall and about the stone-lined pool floored with coarse sand now taking shape at the bottom.
The water ran slightly more freely now, as if now that it had a pool to disport itself in it felt free to explore and play.
His daughter followed him about now as he worked on the grotto, digging in the dirt, patting mud over small bulbs and roots, and even wading in the water. She was the one who first noted that the pool now contained small fish, golden and silver flashes under the sparkling surface of the pool. How they got there none could (or perhaps would) say; but there they were. He smiled, and shaking his head at the wonder of it, he set to making the grotto even more beautiful.
Then came the evening of Yule, when his family had just returned from celebrations at the farm where his wife had been born. Children had gone in, herded by their mother, to doff party clothes and put on nightshirts and gowns, cleanse sticky faces and hands, and go to bed with poppets and stuffed ponies, cat or dog to keep them company until the late dawn. It was a fair night, the winter stars sparkling almost as if they were carved from bits of jewels, the air cold and almost still.
He stood in the small bit of garden he’d once designed for the pleasure of one who no longer frequented it, smelling the clean smell of frost and sleeping earth, resting shrubs and hedges, and the hint of evergreens. He held his pipe in his hand, but hadn’t filled or lit it, merely held it, for he’d realized the times he truly enjoyed a good pipe were fewer than they’d been when he was younger. Yet the feel of it was enough to give him comfort as he looked over the hedge, much lower now than he’d kept it then, toward the western horizon.
Then the hair on the nape of his neck and over his toes seemed to tingle, and he looked to see he wasn’t alone. An Elf was there, one whose name he’d never been told, but one he remembered from a journey completed years ago, one from a wood of silver trees and golden leaves. He bowed politely, and the Elf bowed in return, with that singularly graceful respect so native to his kind. And the Elf held out the Yule gift he’d brought--a great basin of silver, and a ewer of the same metal and workmanship.
More hair seemed to stand up, for even the dark of past-midnight of a Shire Yule couldn’t keep him from recognizing basin and ewer, sparking further images of hair of mixed gold and silver, hands white and shining holding that ewer, and three individuals in succession bending over the basin.
He spoke passable Sindarin now, he knew; and even some Quenya; but the language that had been spoken there was different, a silvan tongue not spoken elsewhere. But the intent was obvious. The Lady to whom these objects had once belonged had left them behind, now to be given to him as a last bequest to perhaps keep alive more strongly in the mortal lands the memory of what had once been known throughout Middle Earth. At last he reached for them tentatively, accepting them with humility, saying softly, “Hannon lei.”
The Elf smiled, bowed again, and disappeared as Elves can do, not to be seen again for many years.
For several days basin and ewer sat upon the table in the dining room, and the children peered at them with respectful curiosity, knowing instinctively they were not to be touched, as he took a great log of walnut, a tree cut down on the orders of one intended to dance in the Light who had instead called upon himself the Darkness of oblivion, and began working it.
Spring had barely begun before it was done to his satisfaction, and he carried it out to the grotto he’d built and in which the first plants were beginning to show themselves and set it there, then returned to the smial to fetch basin and ewer, his daughter and now his older son following him to see what he would do with them.
The ewer fit exactly on one of the higher stone shelves he’d designed for the walls of the grotto, and the great basin accepted the embrace of the wooden rest he’d carved for it, and he believed--or almost believed--all was well.
On the evening of the spring equinox, after the children were abed and his wife, expecting their fifth child now, had followed them, he took from his wardrobe a grey-green cloak he wore less often now, now that the one who wore its mate was no longer there. He fastened it with the delicately fashioned, enameled silver brooch, and went quietly out of the smial, following the carefully wrought path he’d laid to the back of the Hill, back to the grotto.
The light of stars and moon reflected from the shining ewer on its high shelf and from the empty basin; and with a pensive memory of how it had been before, he took the ewer and held it under the spill of water from the spring until it was filled. Holding it carefully, he approached the basin, and after giving a careful bow he poured the water into it, then set the ewer aside. He passed his hand over the water, leaned over, his eyes closed, and breathed on its surface, then straightened. When the light of Eärendil was at its highest, then and then alone he bent over it again, setting his thought on the one vision he wished to see above all others.
Long he looked, and what he saw he never told. Only his small daughter, errant from her bed and creeping after her father, saw him bent over the basin, the light of Stars reflected on his face, showing clearly the longing that lay there, the longing for something he could not know again for many years yet, if ever.
Yes, long he looked, his face aching with longing and a grief not yet assuaged, until suddenly the expression changed.
He straightened, shaking his head and even laughing. “Samwise Gamgee,” he murmured to himself, “as the Gaffer always said, you are a ninnyhammer.” He smiled as he looked one last time into the basin, then turned away. His daughter found herself having to scurry to get back into the hole and her bed before he re-entered the smial.
The next morning the basin and its pedestal were moved, now sitting in the midst of the pool where the water from the spring spilled into it with silver plinks and echoes, and the ewer was brought inside where it sat with great honor on the dresser in the dining room until the first daughter married, when it went with her to her new home in the Western Marches.
But the basin remained in the grotto, the water spilling and singing in it as it filled and the overflow rained down in gladness on the pool below where silver and golden fishes swam.
And far to the West a small figure walked hand in hand with another as tall as the first was small, both shining in the beauty of the night, below sparkling stars and glistening moon, waiting for the coming of a ship they had great hope would bring to them the golden treasure they’d left behind, singing the songs of longing eased common to their current home.