Sam’s head was in a muddle during most of the two-day ride to the Sarn Ford, but he wasn’t surprised to see Gandalf and one of the sons of Elrond waiting there, Pippin before Gandalf and Merry before the other as Glorfindel swept up to them. There was a pause for greetings before they turned their horses together to cross over the ford at the shallows, the Bounder and Shiriff on duty there saluting and watching after. Sam looked at the dark-haired Elf. “But the one of you, this time?” he asked.
There was a nod. “Elrohir remains in Rivendell for the moment, although he will follow after soon,” he answered. “He’s already bade farewell to our adar; to do so again would tear him almost apart. He plans to arrive just after the ship sails.”
“What ship?” asked Pippin as they finally found themselves riding along the road southeastwards toward the Greenway and into the growing dark of evening.
“Our father has chosen to follow our mother, at long last, into the West. But when word reached them that the Ringbearer was possibly failing, the ship sailed first south and plans to come up the Anduin that they might reach him. It will be difficult for Adar and our sister both to need to see one another once more after they’ve already bade each other farewell, but it cannot be helped. She and Estel both attend on Frodo, to give him what aid they can to help him hang on until the ship reaches Minas Tirith.”
“Let us ride,” Gandalf interrupted, “if we would arrive in time.”
There was a nod from the others, and they reached the Greenway sometime near midnight, continuing southwards for another hour toward Tharbad and beyond.
“I ought not to have insisted he stay behind,” Pippin fussed as they carefully gathered wood for a small fire at their first camp. They’d been advised they wouldn’t rest long, so they should make the best of what time they were granted, but Sam was needing a mug of tea.
“You made the best decision you could for him,” Merry pointed out. “I mean--he has Aragorn by him, and the Lady Arwen, and the Houses of Healing and all. And this was the reason we decided to insist he stay behind, you know, because we saw he wasn’t getting better anywhere near properly enough. If he’s has a seizure in--in spite of all that--do you think he would have survived, perhaps, to get home?”
“It might have done better,” Pippin said, as he picked up a last broken branch and turned back toward the campsite that had been chosen. “He could maybe have talked some sense into Mum and Da, after all. The stars know I haven’t been able to do so.”
“And perhaps had he come home the two of you mightn’t of ended up havin’ to stay in the Crickhollow house,” Sam added. “Your folks, Mr. Merry--they’re fine ones, I know--but they do worry about you way too much, I’m thinkin’, if I might say so as perhaps shouldn’t.”
“Oh, you have the right of it, although they’re starting to come around,” Merry agreed. “But what I’m thinking would have come out better had he come home was the whole ruffian and Sharkey business. Uncle Pal’s gotten way too worried about ruffians, you know--has Took archers out alongside the Bounders, and they’re ruffled far too easily. If we hadn’t come on them at the southern borders last month, I still think they’d have shot at those Rangers. That could have led to some bad feelings between our folk and Strider’s, you know. And those who shot Saruman and Wormtongue--they’ll never get over it, I’m afraid. To see that grey ghost-thing rise from Sharkey’s body like that!”
“He was doin’ his best to goad you into doin’ it with your sword,” Sam pointed out. “That one--he wanted to die.”
Reluctantly Merry nodded as they rejoined Elves and Wizard.
Having gotten some warm tea down him, Sam rolled himself up in his blankets and tried to sleep. What he remembered, however, was Frodo’s face as the three of them turned on him in Edoras and insisted he stay there with the Lady Arwen and go back to Minas Tirith with Aragorn. “You’ll do so much better there,” Merry had said. “Oh, Frodo--you know I would never be parted from you again if it could be managed. But you’re just not truly getting better!”
“They love you, too, Frodo,” Pippin had argued. “And they’ll stay by you through thick and thin, just as we would.”
Frodo had turned toward Sam. “You don’t want me to stay here, away from the Shire, do you?” he asked, almost begging. “Bilbo--what will he think if I don’t come back to see him again?”
It was at that point that Gandalf had joined them. “And what is this? You’d have him remain here in the South? But how do you know he doesn’t have something yet to do in the Shire?”
It had felt odd, to be arguing against the Wizard as much as against Frodo; but in the end the three of them had prevailed. Aragorn had heard the arguing and had come to see what it was all about. He’d not taken one side or the other, and had looked concerned when at last Frodo, worn down by their arguments, agreed; but he’d drawn Frodo toward him, his hands protectively on the Hobbit’s shoulders, and even Sam, who hated the thought of arguing against his beloved Master, had been relieved to think that this was where Frodo Baggins would stay, at the side of his friend and King, those healing hands ever close enough to comfort and strengthen.
And what had staying brought him? Not three years since they left the Shire, and Frodo had yet suffered a seizure of the heart, even with Aragorn and the Lady Arwen both by his side. He heard a decided “Hummph!” near him and turned to see Gandalf rolling himself in his cloak and a blanket beside him.
“One of the Elves takin’ the first watch, then?” Sam asked.
“Elladan has insisted upon it. Being headed south ahead of his brother disturbs him somewhat.”
Sam nodded. “When ought we to arrive?” he asked at last.
“I’d think on the Birthday,” Gandalf sighed. “And the grey ship ought also to be arriving about then. It will be a relief to Bilbo to be able to be by Frodo’s side.”
“Old Bilbo--he’s comin’ on the ship?” Sam asked as he shifted more to face the Wizard.
Gandalf nodded. “I was to come, also--but something told me to follow after--that I’d be needed here. And now I know why.”
“Would it have been better, perhaps, had he come home to the Shire with us, ’stead of stayin’ in Minas Tirith?” Sam asked.
There was a pause before the Wizard answered. “I suspect that it might well have been better had he accompanied you. I cannot say he’d have been any better in health--his heart was damaged by his ordeal, after all. Although I suspect that the failure of it would have been going on fairly steadily had he remained with you rather than all at once as it has turned out. But he would have probably been chosen to serve as deputy Mayor rather than Will Whitfoot’s nephew Gordolac, and he would have done a far better job of it.”
“No question of that!” Sam agreed. “No criticism of Gordo, of course, but he’s not the brightest star in the sky, after all. He’d still not sorted through all them documents as built up in the Mayor’s office since we left the Shire by the time as old Will come back; and we’d not have Timono Bracegirdle in custody and all what he took with him of jewelry and all if’n the Rangers hadn’t of caught him and brought him back to the Brandywine Bridge. Good thing as the Master’s brighter’n the Mayor and Thain both and set up a gaol of sorts to hold him. My Rosie’s been goin’ with me to Brandy Hall to help sort through things--she’s helped see lots of things returned to their rightful owners, she has.”
“You chose well, Sam. A worthy one your Rosie is. That’s one grief Frodo knew--that he not be by you on the day you wed.”
“Did him ’n’ Lord Strider watch it, there in the Palantir?”
“I suspect they did.”
Relieved, Sam nodded. “I’m glad,” he sighed, as he turned his head and at last closed his eyes.
The Wizard reached out a hand and caressed the Hobbit’s head. “Yes, a worthy wife for a most worthy one,” Gandalf whispered as Sam sank into a deep, exhausted sleep. “May we arrive before it’s too late.”
As they prepared for the next ride Sam, gathering what stores there were into the hamper so that Glorfindel could hand it up to Merry to carry for the next part of the ride, heard Pippin questioning the Lady Arwen’s brother. “He’ll be all right, won’t he, riding by himself?”
“He won’t be riding alone, either. One of our warriors and one from Lothlórien will ride with him.”
When Pippin spoke again, Sam could hear the relief. “Oh, that’s good. I just worry....”
“There is little need, small master. My brother and those who will accompany him know their business, as we do ours. I will not say,” he continued, “that it does not feel strange to know he follows after as he does; but he comes quickly enough to come to our sister’s comfort when our father leaves Middle Earth altogether; but slowly enough that there is not the farewell to do all over again.”
“Can you speak with him--mind to mind, I mean--the way we saw your grandparents and your father and Gandalf do there as we returned northward?”
As he stowed the last of his gear into the satchel he carried as he rode, Elladan appeared to be considering the question. “There are few enough of the Elves on this side of the Sea that can do that,” he said at last. “We can--feel--somewhat, at least, what those we care about are feeling, and know ósanwë with the minds of a very few, as I’ve found myself able with the Ringbearer. Arwen can do more--but then she’s spent more times with Daernaneth and Daeradar than Elrohir and I have done. Perhaps because he once stood before the faces of the Valar themselves when he made the choice to live as one of the Firstborn, our Father has this ability, although not so strongly as it is seen in our grandmother. And I suspect that having lived once in Doriath Daeradar learned the way of it. Or perhaps it is only because he has spent so many yeni at his wife’s side. As for him--” he indicated Glorfindel, “as one who was reborn and sent back to us, he appears to dwell in both realms at once at times, although he also appears able to dwell here in this one fully.
“But my brother and I--there is no question that there is a bond between us--a very strong bond. We were not born individually as was true of our father and his muindor, and are, we are told, almost identical in looks as they were not. We are not quite as were the two youngest children of Fëanor, but there is no question that we each always appear to know what the other does, even when we are far separated.” He looked back northward. “And right now he is focusing on seeing to it his goods are ready for the ride, and that he has enough to bring for the both of us. As I must ride quickly and lightly, there is little I have brought with me that I will not need on the journey--he brings clothing for both of us and so on. There will be a packhorse with their party.”
One last time they checked over the site to see they had all, and Glorfindel lifted each of the Hobbits to place before the rider with whom he traveled before joining Sam atop Asfaloth. At a nod, the Balrog-slayer led the way, Gandalf right behind, Elladan and Merry at the back.