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83
Leaving the Flock

Written for the LOTR-Community Bird challenge on LiveJournal. For Inzilbeth for her birthday. Beta by RiverOtter.


~~~

Leaving the Flock


Sam did not find his Master in the study as he’d been most of the time lately. Nor was he in the parlor, the kitchen, nor even his bedroom or the nursery. The bathing room and privy were also empty of the presence of the Master of Bag End and the Hill.

“Master Frodo? No, love, he didn’t go out, not as I saw. But I’ll admit as I’ve been back and forth atween here and the back of the smial--could of gone out and I just didn’t notice. Did you check t’see if’n he was down at the turnin’ of the lane, speakin’ with the children of the Row?”

“I just come from there meself, Rosie, comin’ back up from Number 3. The Gaffer’s feelin’ his joints somethin’ awful, he is. Thinks as we’ll have but a couple weeks more of fair weather, and then the winter rains’ll settle in, or so he tells it. Hope as it’s true--I’d hate to ride out to Bree and mayhaps a bit further and come back with it pourin’ down on me.”

She peered back toward the study. “I hate t’think on Master Frodo travelin’ through rain at all, what with all him’s been through already.”

“I’ll say this--if’n there’s Elves involved it’ll be mostly dry about them if nowhere else, and I don’t think as a one of ’em would allow him to become ill.” Then in much lower tones, “Or more ill than him is already.”

So saying Sam resumed his search of the smial, and found Frodo Baggins, of all places, in the dining room, looking out toward the westering Sun as she sank toward the horizon.

“Hullo, Sam,” Frodo said softly, his eyes still fixed out over the garden toward the sunset. “The goldcrests are already building their flocks, apparently preparing for their migrations. I so hope it doesn’t presage an early winter or a particularly harsh one.”

In the silence that followed, Sam could hear the high chirping of the hundreds of birds gathered about the Hill. Many were moving from branch to branch in the cherry trees and the lilacs; a large number took off from the hedge and circled the hill three times before moving in a chattering cloud to the branches of the trees Sam had planted opposite the Row, displacing more that swept up the hill into Bag End’s gardens. One of the newcomers landed in the rosemary bush that grew right outside the southernmost window. Sam could see the growing sparkle of delight in Frodo’s eyes as he found himself almost eye to eye with the tiny thing.

“Oh,” Frodo breathed softly, examining the bird, its orange crest, its moss-green back and grey wings. “How perfect.”

He watched it for some moments as the bird changed its position from one spot to another on the rosemary, before at last it raised its wings to rejoin its fellows. He whispered, “They will remain in their flock throughout the winter, going from sheltered place to sheltered place, always seeking what insects they can find. Do you remember the flock that flew about us as we prepared to enter the Midgewater Marshes, Sam? They must have eaten well there!”

“As well, I’d think, as them midges ate off us,” Sam answered, and at last Frodo turned toward him, smiling. But that smile was but the ghost of the smile that Sam had ever loved. Oh, but it was indeed time to let his Master go, perhaps follow the flocks of goldcrests eastward to the sheltered vale of Rivendell, remain there with Bilbo for what time there was left to him.

But Frodo was clearly thinking of other things at the moment. “We are a lot like the goldcrests, we Hobbits,” he said softly, his eyes appearing to look at an interior map of the Shire. “We’re numerous and small, sometimes hard to see, but always there about the edges. Not as showy as the red-winged blackbirds or as demanding of attention as are the robins. Not as ominous as crows or anywhere as wise as ravens. We eat all the time and chatter perhaps too much.” He lifted his eyes again to Sam’s. “But we nevertheless enrich the earth.”

He searched Sam’s eyes for a time, then whispered, “I leave the guidance of the flock to you, Sam. Promise me you will help guide them always to where they find good food and shelter. Promise.”

His lips were rather pale, the gardener noted, and his eyes almost feverish. Sam swallowed, finding his own throat tight and rather dry. “I’ll do the best by them as I can--you know that, Frodo,” he answered, barely noting that he’d left of the ubiquitous “Mr.”

For a brief moment that sweet smile could be seen clearly. “I hold you to it, Sam. And now it’s time for me to prepare for a new nesting place for myself.”

*******


As they rode westward with the Elves, Sam noted that a flock of goldcrests appeared to always be about them, several times a day. And he could have sworn that even as Frodo walked aboard the grey ship one of the tiny birds broke free of the flock, and was clinging to the rigging as the ship left its berth and disappeared into the sunset. He so hoped that the tiny thing didn’t feel lost and alone as it followed Frodo to its new nesting site, and that the flock there in the Undying Lands would welcome it.

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