They’d spent a long afternoon under the White Tree of Tol Eressëa, talking of this and that. Sam had again brought his pack, and as they did once or twice a day, drawing out the delight of it, they delved into it to bring out just one more memory he had of his years after his Master had left him. This time it was a folder of stiff paper, one that Frodo examined thoughtfully before he realized why it felt familiar. It is from Minas Tirith, he hazarded. One of those folders people there use to protect documents and diagrams.
Sam nodded. “Master Ruvemir gave it to me, last time he come north,” he agreed. “Although I put another picture in there, too.”
Inside were two pictures, one watercolor over graphite, the other a chalk drawing. “Estella Brandybuck, Estella Bolger as was--she did that one,” Sam said, indicating the chalk drawing. “She was not so good as you or Master Ruvemir, but she proved as she had an eye for it. Merry--he’s been mighty lost without her this past few years since she died. Not but the Thain’s been much better without his Diamond.”
Frodo gave a small shiver, and his Light reflected from the blossoms overhead. It is still difficult to imagine Pippin as the Thain, he shared with his friend. I know he is and has been for many years, but it seems he ought to have stayed young Pippin, my scapegrace Took cousin, forever.
“And to the Tooks you’ve always been the one what glued Mistress Lalia to her own chair, you know!”
Frodo gave a sigh. I suppose that folk will never accept that it was Reggie who did that.
“No, even when he told folks as it was him, they never did. It was always more excitin’, it seems, to think as you’d done it.”
They both laughed, and Sam’s heart lifted as it always did to hear the joy there.
Frodo examined the two pictures. They were of a circular lake with a small island in the center of it, the water blue in Estella’s picture and somewhere between brown and a soft green in that by the Gondorian artist. Around the lake grew an assortment of trees, most of them apparently fruit trees. Somehow it seemed familiar to him, although he could not say how. Where was this? he asked.
Sam had a gentle smile to him. “You’ll never guess,” he said. “Not in a thousand years!”
I feel as if I’ve seen this place. Frodo examined it again. But I didn’t see it from where the pictures were made. Both of them are almost the same, it seems, although the trees are better in the painting.
“I suspect as Master Ruvemir caught them more as they was, and for all as I know he might of gone there a second or third time, even, after the one time as we went there together. It was the year as we spent in Gondor when Elanor was a tween, Rosie and her and me, when little Tom was born. Rosie didn’t go all the way with us--she stayed at the guesthouse with Mistress Diamond and the Lady Éowyn and them, although Estella wouldn’t let her Merry go without her. She felt as he might of needed her, I’d guess. And I suppose as he might of, at first, at least.”
Frodo only nodded, his attention still fixed on the pictures as he listened.
“So we went on, went on to let them see....”
See what? Frodo prompted after a moment’s quiet.
Sam was also looking at the picture, a look of thoughtfulness and--and satisfaction--in his eyes. At last he said, “Where we went--you and me.”
Where we went?
Frodo returned his attention to the pictures. I certainly don’t remember any lake that looked like this, he noted, a touch of irony to the thought.
Sam shrugged, and he smiled again. “No, it wasn’t there, not then. And, no, it wasn’t there in Ithilien.”
Frodo lifted his own eyes to search Sam’s face. That’s not the Dead Marshes, then? No--not with that ring of hill about it!
“Oh, no--not the Dead Marshes, although them’s not the Dead Marshes no more. Anything but dead now, they is. You’d not know that place, neither. There’s lots of birds as lives there now! But, then there’s lots of birds as live here, too, now, here about this lake. This lake wasn’t there then, not when you and I was there.”
Frodo looked at the painting more closely, and then he suddenly smiled. I remember--I saw this in a dream, oh, some time ago. I was here--had been feeling rather restless and had been haunting this garden for some days. I’d not sensed any of you for some time, and I---- Again he laughed. To tell the truth, I was feeling rather neglected. I was rather stubbornly spending almost all my time here beneath the Tree, hoping against hope I’d get some sense of what you were all doing--and then Olórin came to me. I am not certain why he even bothered, as I was being rather rude to others, as obsessed as I’d become with trying to imagine where you and Aragorn might be. It was spring--I remember, for the White Tree had just blossomed, and almost always I would feel you there, there beneath the mallorn when the White Tree blossomed here, and I would feel Aragorn beneath the White Tree in Minas Tirith.
“My birthday, then,” Sam said, nodding slightly. “It had to be just after my birthday. The mallorn in the Party Field and the White Tree in Gondor both always bloom on my birthday.”
They do? Wonderful! I only know that I always feel close to you and the others when the Tree blooms for the first time each year. But that year I didn’t sense either of you. I remember feeling very disappointed.
Sam was smiling. “Then that had to be about the time as we was goin’ here,” he said, pointing to the pictures. “There’s only a couple times as I know as I wasn’t there in the Party Field on my birthday, and that was when I was in Gondor. I always took time off for the family birthdays, you see--wouldn’t go to Michel Delving or nowhere else for my birthday. Only the year as we went south to Gondor with Elanor, when little Tom was born, and afore that the year as Master Ruvemir finished the monument there afore the Citadel. We come south both them years, and that year we wasn’t even there at the White Tree--we was across the River, helpin’ to dedicate more monuments. Seems as Lord Strider loves monuments as much as other Men. Right foolish, it struck us--but as he’s the King I suppose as nobody’s goin’ to say him nay.”
Frodo laughed again, and Sam laughed right along with him. “What monuments?” he asked aloud.
“Well the first is there where we woke up, you know, there at Cormallen. There’s a guesthouse there, now. Big place--bigger than the Prancin’ Pony in Bree, you see. And there’s a monument, with the King standin’ there, and you’re on one side of him, and I’m on the other.”
Frodo shuddered deliberately. He didn’t!
“I told you, Frodo--he’s made certain as you and me is goin’ to be membered all through Gondor. At least with Master Ruvemir the statues look like us, not somethin’ strange and all.”
Frodo shook his head. I must suppose that this was indeed the year you were away from home, then. He turned his head back to the pictures once more. But although my memories have never fully come back of everything we saw during our journey to Mordor, I know I never saw this place.
“Oh, but we did. It just didn’t look like this then. Looked completely different when you and I was there. But you was tellin’ of when you had a dream of this place.”
Yes, Olórin came to me, as I said. I was tired, as I had been refusing to sleep for fear you might come to the mallorn or Aragorn would visit his White Tree and I’d miss it. He sat by me, and put his arm about me, and--well, I fell asleep in spite of myself. And Lord Irmo sent me a dream. He’d do that now and then, the times I was feeling particularly lonely.
Gandalf was by me, and we stood up--and then we were there, on that island. He tapped the island in the painting. It was beautiful, only we weren’t alone. I believe Lady Yavanna was there, looking particularly satisfied. And I believe Lady Vána was there, too, dancing both about the island and on the surface of the lake. And--and Lady Estë. All were filled with joy and triumph! And I looked across the lake and saw that there were people leaving--it appeared to be a number of them. I saw curly hair beyond the ridge. Gandalf had his arm about me, and I saw there were other Maiar about me as well, and all had a similar look of pride and satisfaction to them. I looked at the far shore again, and realized one had stayed behind--no, not one--two. There was a young Man--a boy, really, tall and slender, obviously of Dúnedain heritage, and he was carrying a young child, almost an infant, on his back. He had dark hair, and hers was golden as the Sun. She reminded me of Elanor as I remember her. He was looking across the lake at us, and seemed to see something. He gave a rather respectful nod, then turned and left. I saw that by where he’d been standing there were strawberry plants--I could recognize them in spite of the distance.
The air was sweet and filled with the scent of blossoming fruit trees. I saw apples, cherries, plums, peaches, apricots, even almond trees such as bloom in Mistress Rhysellë’s orchard. And over me was a white tree--not one such as this, or that Aragorn found in the King’s Hallow, but one such as I’d not seen before. And I knew that this was special and blessed, given for this place alone.
Sam nodded thoughtfully. “That was us leavin’, then. Lord Strider and the Lady Arwen and me--we all knelt to touch the water. The King--he blessed it, and named it Nuru Lahta.”
Frodo examined the painting and chalk drawing again. Death passed over? He named it that?
“That he did.”
But whom did it pass over? Frodo asked.
“Us. You and me. You see, Frodo--this is what’s left of Mount Doom. When the mountain exploded--there was this bowl left, and Lord Strider--him and Gimli both say the same--as the lava boiled up and sealed it off, and then the rain has filled it. And the Powers--the Valar--them claimed it--give it back to the living.”
Sam straightened proudly. “Merry--he felt as he had to see where it was you and me went. He begged the King, and we all went with him--Pippin, Legolas, Gimli, me. Elanor went with us, and Pippin’s Farry, and Estella with Merry. And with the King came the Queen and their children, and Master Ruvemir and Master Faralion as well, and the Captain Faramir. Only him was Prince by then, you know.
“Yes, old Strider named it ‘Death Passed Over.’ Only it passed over so many--most of them as had been fightin’ afore the Black Gate, and those as was tryin’ to hold Cair Andros, and those as was fightin’ at Erebor and Laketown and Mirkwood and Lorien and Rivendell--there was fightin’ almost everywhere, you know.”
I know--remember, I was there at Aragorn’s side as he heard all the reports and those who’d been there told him how the Enemy was attacking them!
Sam again nodded. “Oh, yes, we was both there, you and me! That’s right, Well, Mordor--it’s still hot and dry, most of it, but it ain’t dead no more--not now. It’s a livin’ land now, and many of them as lived about the lake as Lord Strider told us about, there to the south of Mordor--many now live there about what was the Mountain. And they call it all Nuru Lahta, they do. And some is certain as they’ve found the knoll as you and me was on when the Eagles found us. The Eagles--they just laugh--say as it’s not there no more--was carried away by the lava as was comin’ down toward us when them found us, you see. Said as that knoll is long gone. But that don’t make any difference to them as now lives about the place. They say as it’s a hallow, and whenever the King comes there they ask him to come and bless the water again.
“There’s light and water now, there in Mordor, Frodo Baggins. And the folks as live there--they say as they all owe it to us--to you, me, and old Gollum.”
Frodo looked at the two pictures of the lake, trying to imagine how all this life could have returned to such a place as he remembered. He gently ran a finger over the painting. It is a living land now, Mordor is?
Sam nodded solemnly. “That it is.”
Frodo appeared to be shining more brightly. Then we did make a difference!
“That we did, Frodo--that we did.”
And the Maiar who kept a discrete watch on the two Ringbearers were pleased to see the Light of each shine out the more.