For Linda Hoyland for her birthday. Beta by RiverOtter.
Sam had been growing increasingly solemn over the past few days, and Aragorn found himself watching after his friend with concern.
“It’s that we’re not home right now,” Rosie explained. “He’s always been there, in Bag End, for Master Frodo’s birthday, and it just don’t seem right for him t’be nowhere else, you see.”
“So, that is it, is it?” the King said thoughtfully as they stood near the herb garden for the Houses of Healing, where Sam was moodily evaluating the mulch mixture the herbalist was preparing to use about the roots of the roses. “I hope that he does not find the Ring-day celebrations distressing.”
“Ring-day?” she asked.
He nodded thoughtfully, his eyes still following the gardener as he examined a spotted leaf with an expression of disapproval on his honest face. “Ring-day is what we call the celebration of Frodo and Bilbo’s birthday. We remember how it was on this day the Ring came into the hands of Frodo, perhaps the best person in all of Middle Earth to carry It safely that It not destroy all ere It could be brought to the Mountain. The Ringbearer has become greatly honored here, you must understand.”
“They celebrate Master Frodo’s birthday here?” Rosie repeated. “Then mayhaps it will help him feel better, knowin’ as the folks of the City all celebrate it, then. Although it does feel queer, thinkin’ as Hobbits of the Shire are that well honored so far away, and better’n them is at home in their own place.”
He turned to search her face, the grief on his own clear for her to see. “So few there honor his memory to this day?” he asked.
Reluctantly she nodded. “I’m afraid not, Lord Strider, sir,” she said. “Oh, those as was closest to him do, and always have; but most folks--they only member as him went away and took the others with him--they always blame him, you see. Not the fault of the rest as they went, you understand--it’s always seen as his fault they was led astray. And when they come back, he was the one as made the rest stop and take care so as they didn’t hurt none as had give up fair and square, and there’s them as is still angered they wasn’t allowed to hurt ’em back. And then, when the whole Shire was ready to elect him Mayor in his own right he refused to run--give it all back to Will Whitfoot, and him didn’t want it back at all! Oh, most of them as speak hardest feels as if he betrayed them, choosin’ not t’run after all. Then, when he went away--well, that was the worst thing of all, not wantin’ t’stay a Hobbit of the Shire, goin’ away with the Elves. If’n him wanted to go away with the Elves, then obviously him wasn’t a proper Hobbit all along, don’t ya’ see?”
The King did see--he saw all too well. There were those, when he’d returned to his own folk among the northern Dúnedain, who’d refused to recognize him as having any authority over any among their people. After all, he’d been raised by Elves, away in Imladris, and had not shared their griefs and privations over the eighteen years of his minority. Why should they accept him no matter what the authority of those who recognized him as Arathorn and Gilraen’s son and thus as the proper heir to Isildur? He’d had to prove himself day by day, again and again before some had finally softened to him. How were most folk of the Shire to begin to appreciate Frodo Baggins, his sufferings and sacrifices on their accounts, when they could not begin to appreciate just what danger they’d been in, having the Enemy’s Ring dwelling in their midst for so very long?
He reached out his hand, and Rosie took it in hers, running her fingers over his still sword-callused palm, as both turned their attention back to Sam, who had wandered over to the line of athelas plants and had fallen to his knees, now lifting the long, narrow leaves to look for weeds to pull.
“Thursday will be Ring-day,” Aragorn commented to his guests as they ate together in the Royal Chambers that night. “It is our celebration, Sam, of the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo, and our honoring of the both of them, and particularly Frodo, for what he undertook in accepting the Ring and the quest. The City will be filled with revelers, and there will be many fetes and mummeries throughout the seven circles, all honoring Frodo and those of us who traveled with him. There will be retellings of the story of Bilbo and the Dragon, although I fear that most do not realize this is not but a fanciful tale but is indeed among the histories of the northern realm. And there will be reenactments of the Quest itself on all levels of the city, including here in the Seventh Level, out in the Court of Gathering. I’d like you to be forewarned that you not be taken by surprise, or come to see any of the dancing and pantomimes as disrespectful in any way. All is meant in honor and love for Frodo, you see--of Frodo and you.”
Sam had paled, and then flushed as Aragorn indicated he, too, was to be honored in this celebration. He met the King’s grey eyes, his own brown ones steady if a bit bright, before turning his attention back to his plate and his meal. “Thank you for tellin’ me ahead of time, then, Strider,” he said, leaving the matter at that.
That evening, however, as he and Rosie prepared for bed together, he paused, laying his hand on her shoulder, looking down on the bulging where she bore their expected thirteenth child. “They do pantomimes for Frodo here?” he asked softly. “That’s play-actin’, isn’t it, Rose my love?”
She nodded, pausing in her brushing of her hair to look up into his beloved honest face. “Yes, or so I understand from our Lady Arwen. She says as the children make up the scenes they play at themselves, so they don’t necessarily match what really happened. She says as the scenes are often dear, sometimes sad but more often funny and charmin’. She so hopes as you enjoy it, but hopes as you a’n’t disappointed not t’recognize what they show.”
He nodded, thoughtfully.
The day before the Birthday Sam was quiet much of the day. He was on hand when Prince Faramir and his family arrived from Emyn Arnen in Ithilien, greeting the Steward of Gondor solemnly and accepting the warm hugs of his wife and children.
“He appears much distracted,” Faramir murmured to the King.
“Yes, he is, for he is not accustomed to being away from Merry and Pippin on Frodo and Bilbo’s birthday, or away from his home. He is finding it quite unsettling, apparently.”
“I see,” said Faramir as he turned to watch Eldarion and Elboron draw Sam away to show him how they had been studying wrestling holds together. After a moment he returned his gaze to meet that of his Lord and friend. “I only hope that tomorrow will not prove offensive to him,” he commented.
The Lord Elessar nodded slowly as he returned his attention to Sam once more. “And I so hope as well,” he murmured.
Sam rose early the following morning and went to the far door leading out into the gardens beyond. He felt unsettled. Here it was, September twenty-second, the birthday of his Master and old Mr. Bilbo, and where was he? Thousands of leagues away from Bag End, in Gondor, of all places! He ought to be home, seeing to it that the Birthday was properly celebrated, laughing with Sancho Proudfoot and watching the children of the Row arrive carrying their platters of cakes and biscuits, and their parents bringing tureens of rich stews or platters of roasts. Merry and Pippin ought to be arriving home right about now, having left Minas Anor a month ago, he thought as he opened the door and sniffed the air redolent with the scents of a myriad fall blossoms and turning leaves. The gardeners had turned the soil in one of the nearby beds yesterday, and he inhaled the scent greedily. There was a different smell to the soil here, but still the scent of fertile earth was as food and drink to him. He stepped out further and closed the door behind him before tying the sash of his dressing gown about him.
And then he saw the boy.
He’d seen the boy before. His father worked in the gardens, while the child’s mother, if Sam remembered rightly, was a pastry cook in the Citadel kitchens. He often could be seen kneeling by his father’s side pulling weeds, and it reminded Sam both of his own childhood working alongside his old Gaffer as well as how his own children had all labored in the gardens of Bag End and elsewhere alongside himself.
At the moment the boy was pushing a barrow that was almost as tall as himself. The handle of a rake stood out to one side, bouncing up and down as he took it over the ground; and it appeared that there were a number of leaves in the barrow, considering the trail the child left behind him as he trundled the barrow down the cobbled way.
“It ’pears as you’re losin’ your load,” Sam called out.
The boy raised his head, apparently surprised to hear himself being addressed, and looked inquiringly at the Hobbit.
Sam pointed behind the barrow. “Your leaves--you’re leavin’ a number behind you.”
The child turned his head, and Sam could see the look of dismay as he took in just how many had escaped the barrow. “Oh! That’s just too bad!” he said, shaking his head. “And I need as many as I can gather.”
“For our pantomime! We’re to do ours near the memorial, you see. Would you like to help? You could play Sam!”
“I’m to play Frodo, you see, and Denergil is to play one of the Eagles that rescues us. And Lissel is to play the Elf Queen Galadriel--she helps me stand up when I’ve got very tired and fallen down.”
“I get very tired and I fall down, and Queen Galadriel comes and helps me stand up, you see!”
Confused and intrigued, Sam asked, “And who plays Gollum?”
“Oh, we don’t have him in,” the child answered. “None of us likes him very much.”
“Well, I never liked him much, neither,” Sam admitted, “but all else would of gone for naught if’n it hadn’t been for him.”
“’Cause It--the Ring--It had taken Frodo, there at the last. If’n Gollum hadn’t of been there, he’d not of been able to drop It hisself. Oh, I loved my Master, but I could tell as the Ring took him--took him hard, there at the end.”
“Well, you see--wait, what’s your name now?”
“Teragil. A nice name, that. Well, Teragil, if’n I was t’help in your pantomime I don’t think as I’d have to play at bein’ Sam Gamgee.”
“Why not? Would you rather play at Gollum?”
Sam felt a shudder of revulsion go through him at the thought. “No,” he explained, wanting the child to understand. “I wouldn’t have to play at bein’ Sam Gamgee ’cause I am Sam Gamgee already. I was there, there with Frodo Baggins, there in Mordor in the heart of Mount Doom, right over the fire, when Gollum bit off his finger and took It, and then him fell in. That’s when I picked up my Master and we ran--ran right out of there, though I doubt as I can tell you exactly how I managed it. It was horrible close in there, what with the fire and the smokes from it, and I’d had such a nasty knock on the head....”
Teragil had stepped closer, his mouth falling slightly open, his attention fully fixed. Now he interrupted. “How come you had a knock on your head?”
“Gollum had hit me here--right here! Hit me with a rock, him did.” Sam pulled the hair from his temple to show the scar. “And I fell down and hit here on the floor, and it was bleedin’ somethin’ fierce, it was. I shook my head and looked around, and there they was, or there Gollum was, leastways, holdin’ on to somethin’ and lookin’ like he was floatin’ in thin air ’cause my Master had put on the Ring when It took him and had gone invisible. I guess as that just proved he wasn’t strong enough to claim It proper, for them as mastered their rings didn’t go invisible when they put them on, although they could make the rings themselves go invisible so as other folks didn’t see them.”
“You saw the others who had the other rings?”
Sam nodded solemnly. “Oh, that I did. I traveled hundreds of miles alongside Gandalf, you see, and I never realized as him was wearin’ the Ring of Fire. I knew as the Lady was wearin’ Nenya, the Ring of Adamant, but only ’cause she told us so, Mr. Frodo and me. And it wasn’t till them all was goin’ on the Grey Ship as I could see as Master Elrond was wearin’ the blue ring, and that was how him could keep Rivendell hidden as well as it was.”
“Oh.” Teragil looked thoughtful. After a moment he asked, “Where’s Rivendell?”
“Way north, east of the Shire, at the foot of the Misty Mountains, it is. The Elves called it Imladris----”
“Oh, I’ve heard of there! That’s where Lord Boromir went!”
Sam felt himself grow solemn. “Yes, that he did. That’s where we met him, us Hobbits.”
The boy looked surprised. “You did? You met Lord Boromir? But that was a long time ago! I wasn’t born yet!”
Sam couldn’t help laughing. “Well, I’m a good many years older than you, lad! But that’s where we all met--except for us meetin’ old Strider--we met him in Bree, you see. Now, what are you goin’ to do with them leaves?”
“Oh, it’s to make the lava with! My ada won’t let us use coals, so we’re going to use leaves.”
Sam was intrigued. “I’d like to see as how you’ll do that!”
Prince Faramir came out of the Steward’s Wing to find the King standing with his family, the Lady Rose and Lady Elanor near the fountain that bubbled cheerfully in the cross hallway. “Master Samwise is not with you?” he asked.
Rosie sighed, shaking her head. “We’ve hardly seen him all day, Lord Faramir. He’s been that busy, workin’ with some of the children what are supposed to do one of the pantomimes. Asked to have his meals sent out to him in the gardens and all, he has. And they’ve been right busy, they have, fetchin’ leaves and cartin’ them around to the memorial.
The Steward exchanged amused glances with the King. “And what are they to do with leaves?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” Aragorn answered. “It should be entertaining, at least.”
Rosie gave a slight frown, then sighed. “Well, I hope as these pantomimes don’t last all too awful long. Don’t know as how long I’ll be able to keep to my feet today. The bairn’s gettin’ most heavy, don’t you know, Lord Strider.”
The King was distracted from giving her a more thorough look by a herald coming through. “Our Lord King, Lord Faramir and beloved ladies, the festival is about to begin. If you will come now?” He turned and led the way out through the Hall of Kings and the vestibule to the front doors of the Citadel.
“Éowyn? The children?” asked the King of his Steward as the two of them walked side by side toward the doors outside.
“They’ve gone out. The children of our servitors have begged Elboron and Morwen to help in their pantomime, apparently at the suggestion of Master Samwise.”
“And what is he doing in all this, do you think?” Aragorn wondered as they came through the doors. He searched through the crowd of faces below, both familiar and unfamiliar; where was Sam?
Sam, however, was not in evidence at all.
A row of chairs had been set up for the King, Queen, Prince of Ithilien and his wife, the Lady Rose, and other nobles residing at the time within the Citadel. Aragorn nodded at Lord Húrin, who joined them with his wife Lynessë at his side, accompanied by their son, who was much of an age with the Princess Melian. He gave Melian a shy smile, to which she responded with a formal nod, her fair brow furrowing slightly before turning her face toward the Memorial.
A number of children came forward to sing, a young woman directing them. The first was a harvest song familiar throughout Gondor; the second was a portion of the Lay of Frodo of the Nine Fingers that was often sung by children. When that one was over, the woman turned to give the King a slight shrug and an uncertain smile and curtsey before giving way to a much smaller figure--not a child, but....
“Oh, Sam, and what are you up to?” Rose Gamgee-Gardner could be heard to say, reaching out her hand to her daughter, who sat beside her in the low chair intended for her husband. Elanor straightened in her seat, returning the squeeze of her mother’s hand.
Sam nodded to a boy with a simple flute, who blew a note for the rest. At that he nodded, and the children began to sing,
“The road goes ever on and on,
out from the door where it began....”
Aragorn smiled, his face softening; and Queen Arwen lifted her head higher, delight clear to be seen upon it. “Bless Bilbo,” she murmured in low tones.
When at last the verse was complete, the children moved aside, kneeling down to reveal a great hill of brightly colored leaves that had been raised before the memorial to the Hobbits. Two children came forward, dragging their feet as if very tired.
“Isn’t that Dad’s Elven cloak?” Elanor asked her mother, looking at the thinner of the two.
The child wore it with a rope belt girding it tightly about him. Aragorn leaned toward his Steward. “It’s how Frodo had it fastened around his body when he was brought out of the ruins of the Mountain,” he whispered. “Sam must have tied it about him.”
“I am so tired, Sam,” the slighter child said.
“I will carry you if I have to, Master Iorhael,” the other boy said.
“No, Sam--I will go myself,” the first insisted, and turned toward the hill of leaves, then slumped dramatically to the ground.
A taller girl with blond hair came forward and stood over the fallen “Hobbit.” “Ah, Frodo Baggins--rise and go onward, and save all of Middle Earth!”
“My Lady Galadriel--but I cannot do it by myself.”
“If you cannot do this, no one can!” She leaned down and extended her hand. He took it and allowed her to lift him to his feet, then turned determinedly to the mountain.
He took a few slow, deliberate steps before again falling to the ground. At that point “Sam” came to stand over him.
“I cannot carry It for you, Master,” he said, “but I can carry you.” So saying he went upon his knees. “Climb upon my back, and I’ll lift you up!”
“Frodo” did as he was told, and the other boy began crawling toward the mountain.
A boy and two girls came to one side, and began to sing.
“When you cannot walk yourself, then I will lift you;
upon my own back I shall carry you up.
Your burden is heavy, enough to defeat you.
I will bear you until at last with the Valar we sup.”
It was a song none had heard before, and all listened with solemn quiet, watching the slow crawl of the two toward the mountain of leaves.
A smaller child crawled out from behind the hill of leaves, a girl, Faramir thought, although he didn’t recognize her. “Frodo” tapped his friend on the
shoulder. “Here is far enough, Sam. I must go the rest of the way myself.”
“But Iorhael, you are too weak!”
“I must do it myself!”
“How often I’ve heard him say that,” the King confided.
“Frodo” walked forward slowly, then stopped. He held out a pretend Ring as if to drop it onto the edge of the brilliant leaves. “Here is the Ring!” he proclaimed. “And here is the Fire! The Ring must go into the Fire!” He paused, his eyes fixed on the unseen Ring. “But I can’t! Ah! I am undone! It is taking me! Oh, no! I claim It as my own!”
And the girl rose to a crouch and hurried forward. “I will take It if you can’t get rid of It yourself!” she cried out, and all the company straightened, for this was no stranger child, but was instead Morwen, daughter to Prince Faramir and Princess Éowyn. She grabbed “Frodo’s” hand firmly and began to struggle with him, until at last she reached forward to bite the other child’s finger.
“Ouch!” cried the boy who played Frodo, the pain real, before he remembered he was supposed to fall down, clutching his hand tightly to himself.
Morwen, however, rose to her full height and lifted her hand to display her “prize.” “I have it!” she called out. “I have it! My Precious!” She danced up and down and up and down until the boy who’d played Frodo rose and ran toward her and tried to grab her hand. “No!” she cried. “It’s mine!” And with that she jumped backwards and fell into the leaves, at which time someone hidden within the pile rose up and began dumping more leaves over her body.
“Sam” came forward and grabbed “Frodo.” “Master! We have to get out of here!” He pulled his companion away, dragging him away from the hill of leaves, which was being flung at this point in all directions.
They didn’t run far, though--just until another child dropped some leaves in front of them.
“We are stuck, Iorhael!” said “Sam.”
“Yes, this is the end,” declaimed “Frodo.”
“I won’t get to marry the Lady Rose now,” “Sam” said, sinking to his knees.
“Yes, you will,” said a taller boy with paper wings, who ran forward, followed by another, each of them picking up one of the smaller boys and carrying them away as a group of children dumped leaves over where “Frodo” and “Sam” had been crouched a moment before.
A very tall boy, one of the Royal Pages, Faramir noted, stepped forward, and one of the Eagles surrendered “Frodo” to him. “I am the King Elessar! And no matter how close you are to death, Frodo Baggins, I now call you back! Now, you must sleep properly for a while until you are well again.” He laid the boy down on a hastily laid pallet placed upon the ground, and then he did the same for “Sam.”
At that another small figure came out and stood over the two children lying on the pallet. The voice that spoke wasn’t that of a child. “Oh, my two dear boys,” it said.
Aragorn startled. “Bilbo!” he breathed.
“My two dear lads--what did I do to you, Frodo, giving you the Ring the way I did? How could I have done that to you and Sam? I didn’t want none hurt but myself! But now Aragorn’s healed you, and you’ll sleep for a time and get better. And I’ll be waitin’, I will, waitin’ for you two to come and tell me it all next fall. But I love you both--love you both past tellin’. And that awful Ring--It can’t hurt you no more! It can’t hurt nobody.”
Sam must have managed to stand just like Bilbo Baggins, Faramir determined, seeing the tears of recognition in the eyes of both his King and Queen, not to mention those of the Lady Rose.
“He sounds just like old Mr. Bilbo,” he heard Rosie assure Elanor.
“Galadriel” came forward to stand opposite “Bilbo.” “You will rest now, and you will see the beginning of the peace you have given us. And you, Frodo Baggins, Lord Iorhael, you will find healing far away, but we will never forget you.” So saying, she laid a blue blanket over both figures lying upon the pallet.
The boy with the flute began to play, and “Bilbo” turned to sing,
“Ah, Elbereth Gilthoniel....”
And the King rose to his feet to join the hymn, as did his Queen and his older daughter and son, then Faramir and many others.
When it was all over, the children came together and bowed to the company, and at last Sam came to join the rest.
There was dancing after that, and great rings of golden straw were set all about the base of the memorial, while crowns of scarlet and gold leaves were set upon the heads of the statues of Frodo and Samwise. But as servants came from the Citadel with great trays of golden honeycakes and sliced apples and peaches, the Lady Rose suddenly rose to her feet.
“Sam,” she said, her face white. “It’s time.”
He looked at her and at the spreading stain upon her gown, then nodded. “Strider!” he called, leaning forward to lift her in his arms as years before he’d carried Frodo Baggins out of the Sammath Naur, hurrying toward the doors to the Citadel with the King and the Princess Éowyn following close behind.
The last to enter the feast hall that night was not the King, but instead Prince Faramir. He approached the seat given to the Lord of the Feast, and stood quietly until all had gone still. “My friends,” he announced, “usually it would be our Lord King who would greet you with suitable words. But it must be otherwise this year. It would appear that still another future resident of the Hobbit home known as Bag End shall be born today, on September twenty-second, as the Hobbits of the Shire know it. And until the Lady Rose is delivered of her child, the King will not be free to grace us with his presence. Let us rejoice together, and I entreat the Powers that they grant her an easy birth!” So saying he gestured, and all turned west for the Standing Silence.
It was not that long afterward, however, that another tall figure, formally dressed, entered the hall and approached the King’s seat, the Elendilmir upon his brow. All rose hastily, but he quickly gestured for them to sit once more. “I rejoice to tell you that Tolman Gamgee-Gardner, the thirteenth child of Lord Samwise the Stout-hearted and the Lady Rose of Bag End in the Shire, has now been safely born, and rests in his parents’ arms at this moment. Quite a Ring-day gift to the world of Arda has been granted us, and both speak of this son as a last birthday gift to them from the Ringbearer himself.”
There was cheering, and the musicians began to play the music from the Hobbits’ Husbandman’s Dance as glasses began to be lifted around the table to toast Lord Perhael and his lady wife and their newest child.
It was late when at last the feasting and dancing were over. The King bowed many of the guests out of the Hall of Merethrond, wishing them the joy of the day and a peaceful night, and soon torches and lanterns were leading many toward the head of the ramp to the lower city. Once all were away, the King led his Steward to the keel of stone sticking out over the plain below, bringing out his pipe and wallet of leaf, and at last his striker set.
“So,” Faramir commented, once his Lord’s pipe was lit, “another son for Samwise and the Lady Rose.”
“Yes, and a fine child he is--and quite the pair of lungs he boasts!”
Both laughed. “As small as they are, the Pheriannath are not to be ignored, are they?” the Steward commented.
“Never that,” Aragorn replied. “Oh, Frodo--if only you were here to see!”
They stood quietly until the pipe was spent, and the King knocked the ashes out against the wall before they turned to walk back together to the Citadel. As the approached the White Tree, however, they realized there were three small figures underneath it.
“And it’s now, Teragil, my Elanorellë, as we let them as is there know. Now, set your hands against the trunk there. Yes, that’s right. Now, I’ll bring the bairn close enough to have him touch, also.”
“What is Sam doing?” Faramir asked, surprised.
Aragorn smiled. “Introducing his newest son to his beloved Master,” he whispered. “I suspect he’s done this with each child born in Bag End since Elanor herself--brought them out to the mallorn in the Party Field to present them to Frodo as he can.”
And they could hear Sam saying softly, “Are you there, Frodo Baggins? Here--here’s our newest, our Tolman. Named after Rosie’s dad and her brother, he is. And quite the birthday present you give us this year! And this here’s Teragil, who pretended to be you earlier--but he didn’t mean nothin’ but good from it, you understand....”