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65
Swans & Sleeves


Frodo-lad was the only member of the Gamgee family who was not completely thrilled over the new arrival. He had a sister already; what did he need with another? But since he was but two years old, he could not make anyone understand his feelings, except by yelling at the top of his voice, at which the others would shush him, he didn’t want to be wakin’ the little un, did he now?

No, he didn’t, for then she would cry herself, and then all the attention would go to her once more. He couldn’t win, one way or t’other. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t try.

Now his mum was feeding li’l Rosie-posie, as Elanor called her, and she said he could come sit beside her while the little 'un nursed, but he wasn’t having any. Why couldn’t he at least have had a brother? When he had a sister already.

Nobody understood.

Ellie was sitting in their dad’s lap now, before the fireplace, and their dad was telling a story. Frodo-lad didn’t know what it was about, and didn’t much care. He sat holding his lamb in the corner and sucking his thumb. Maybe if he sat absolutely still and gave them all the silent treatment, they would see, once more, that he was important.

"Mister Gandalf is wed," Dad was saying. "I seen it all last night. Since Mister Frodo found his glass again, I can see the dreams more clear. And this one, it was like I was right there. I didn’t see Mister Frodo’s weddin’ save for in my head, but I seen Mister Gandalf’s, and it was even more splendid. It was at the Queen’s Palace, not at the light-house on the beach like Mister Frodo’s, and I’m guessin’ the entire Island turned out for it also. The Palace was atop of a hill, and that hill was just solid with folks. Mister Frodo said when he was wed, there was young 'uns up in trees, and folks out in boats, lookin’ like a regular fleet out on the sea, and it was his guess that there was folks out for a mile around. But this was different. And I was there, strange to tell."

"Did ye see Mister Gandalf hisself?" Mum asked.

"Yes," Sam said in hushed awe. "He didn’t look like I remember him, but I knew him for Mister Gandalf the moment I set eyes on him. It was out front the Palace, and there was flowers everywhere. I never seen so many flowers. More flowers than there was folks. Roses, every color. Red, yellow, white, pink, orange...and lilies. And daisies, and carnations, and pansies, and poppies, and wisteria, and honeysuckles, and--"

Rosie hid a smile. Sam did tend to get carried away when talking of flowers.

"Was there elanor?" Ellie asked. "My flower."

"Why...yes," said her dad, running a finger along one of her gold curls. "Lots of elanor. They couldn’t of done without that, of course."

"What about bluebells?" she asked him. "And buttercups? And daffy-down-dillies? And dandelions? I like to blow on ’em."

"If you want bluebells and buttercups and daffy-down-dillies, then they had ’em," her dad assured her. "And there was flowers we don’t have here, that I don’t know the names of. It was as if all the gardens of the Island had turned out, just as the folks. And butterflies was all over the place, not as they’d been invited, but they turned up anyway, and no one was turnin’ 'em away. And--"

"What about the bride?" Rosie asked. "What did she have on?"

"I’m gettin’ to that," Sam grinned. "Well, there amongst all the flowers, and butterflies, and what not, stood Mister Gandalf. As I was sayin’, he didn’t look the way I remembered, his hair bein’ solid black, ’stead of white, and he had no beard and his face was all smooth and not crinkly, but I’d of knowed him for Mister Gandalf if I seen him on the moon. All tricked out like a king he was, and he wore his white--not the same white, 'cause this robe was trimmed with gold and with fur. And was a mite too long in the back 'cause it drug the ground, but he didn’t seem to care. And he had a gold thing on his head, with some white gems in it, and a chain on his neck with a big disk of gold and gems on it, and under the robe he wore dark blue and red velvet embroideried with gold also. And tall black boots, polished so I could of seen myself in 'em.

"But even as royal as he looked, I forgot all about him when I seen Mister Frodo."

He paused, and it wasn’t for effect, but just to take in the memory.

Elanor sat straight up. "You SAW him, Sam-dad? Truly??"

"Plain as daylight," Sam said softly. "He was standing with his lady...and she looked much as I pictured her, and even fairer. As fair as Mister Frodo hisself, and a fine couple they did make. She was all in gold, and had yellow roses in her hair, which was gold like yourn, lassie, but considerable longer. Did you know she’s going to be playin’ your mum in a play soon?"

"You don’t say!" exclaimed Elanor, sounding just like her Aunt Daisy. Rosie smiled.

"She’ll have her work cut out for her then," she said. Sam never could be quite certain she believed Mister Frodo really had a lady. But if she didn’t, she humored him along.

"That she does, playin’ the fairest of 'em all," Sam said, and Elanor giggled, and Rosie said, "Go on with ye now."

"She’s havin’ to cut her hair some for the part," Sam continued, "and Mister Frodo’s about to break his heart over it. But it’ll all grow out again, I keep tryin’ to tell ’im. And Mister Frodo is got up as princely as he might be, in silks and velvets, and a silver circlet on his head, with a pearl in it. And he has on a white robe over all, trimmed with silver. And...what else do you think he’s wearin’?"

Elanor puckered her brow. Frodo-lad yawned in his corner.

"A pocket-watch?" Elanor guessed. "Like yourn?"

Sam chuckled. "Not that I can see. Guess again."

She frowned, sucking on a forefinger. Sam gently moved it from her mouth.

"Mittens?" she ventured. Her dad shook his head.

"One more guess," he said.

"Don’t tease the child, Samwise," Rosie chided. "Why don’t ye tell her what she wants to know?"

Elanor lit up a little. "A helmet," she said, "with wings on. Like Uncle Pippin told of."

Her dad laughed out loud. "Now I can just see Mister Frodo wearin’ one 'a those. No, sweetling, he was wearin’...boots! Fancy that!"

"BOOTS?" Elanor squealed, looking at him with popping eyes.

"He has come up in the world," Rosie said. "Boots, for a fact?"

"Boots," Sam assured them. "White ones, worked in gold. I’ve a feelin’ he don’t much like to wear 'em, though, and only puts 'em on for special. But there he was, in his boots, standin’ with his little water-lady and the elf-lass that's their daughter now. And before long he takes his leave of 'em and goes up to this platform that’s covered in white cloth and draped over with flowers, and there’s a stand on it with a book, and he climbs some steps in back to get up on it--it’s not very high, just a couple feet off the ground. But he’s to perform the weddin’ you see, and needed the platform so as to give him some height. And as he’s goin’ to it, he passes by some folks standin’ near to his lady. There’s a little lass that waves to him--little by elf-standards, that is, and she’s got hair of the prettiest red-copper color, and behind her is a lady with hair the same color only darker, that’s her mum I’m thinkin’, and another lady with hair in the same color only lighter, and beside her is a fair-haired gent holdin’ a babe on one arm with hair that’s a mite reddish also, and another lady beside 'em with the reddest hair of 'em all, looks like her head’s on fire, the way the sun shines on it. And near the lass is a dark girl a little older that I'd swear looks like the Lady Arwen as a young ’un, and next to her stands a lad that looks a good bit the way our Mister Frodo must of looked as a boy, only his hair’s not curly and his eyes ain’t blue, far as I can see. The lady standin’ behind ’em looks like she could be the Lady Arwen’s sister; that’s their mum, of course. Right solemn she looks. The lad is the one playin’ Mister Frodo in the play, I’m thinkin’. They all wave to him as he passes by. Music is playin’. I can see a lady playin’ the harp--it’s the Lady Celebrían, Lord Elrond’s wife, I’ll swear to it or my name ain’t Samwise Gamgee. She’s all in gold too, and the Lady Galadriel stands close by, and for once she ain’t in white--she’s in light blue. Reckon they figure the bride ought to be the only one in white. And there’s yet another lady...I could swear it was Lady Arwen, but I know she couldn’t of sailed. She’s standin’ with Lord Elrond...she’s his mum. The Lady Elwing. She’s for real, and not just made up."

He paused and shook his head.

"She’s the one as turns into a bird," he said when the others looked blankly at him.

"Oh!" exclaimed Elanor, clasping her tiny hands in her lap in awe. She had no idea what the story was behind Lady Elwing, but.... "Did she turn into a bird?"

"No, m’love," Sam chuckled. "The only time Mister Frodo seen her as a bird was when the ship was comin’ in, and she flew down to meet Lord Elrond. It was...I don’t know how many years it was since she seen her son, but it was a long, long time. Longer than I could imagine. I couldn’t imagine goin’ for a week without seein’ my babes, let alone hundreds of years." He shook his head, trying to take it in.

"I’m not a babe," Elanor reminded him.

"Course you’re not," Sam teased her, lightly pinching her nose, then glancing over at his small son, who had nodded hisself into a little heap in the corner, his chubby cheek pillowed on his lamb. "Where was I? Oh yes. Well, there was others playin’ instruments as well, the like of which I never seen before, even in my travels. I--"

"A bag of pipes?" Elanor said. "Like at Joy Smallburrow’s cousin Sweetpea’s wedding?"

"No, lovey," Sam said, "I didn’t see no bagpipes. Just flutes, and harps, and a little drum, some bells, and others I don’t know the names of. And there was some ladies dancin’, all in pretty colors, with flowers in their hair, they made a circle around Mister Gandalf and danced, real graceful-like, wavin’ their arms around, and some of 'em brushed their hands along of his sleeves and hair..."

"They didn’t!" Rosie said, at the same time taking the newborn babe off her breast, since the tiny one had fallen asleep. "Don’t sound quite proper to me."

"They do things different in different places," Sam explained. "Well, finally I cast my eye, wonderin’ if the bride is ever goin’ to show, and...there she is. Everybody hushes up, and the instruments play soft, and she comes, real slow. Course she’s all in white, with a sheet over her face, I don’t know how she can see where she’s goin’, and I’m hopin’ she won’t trip and fall. She’ll feel mighty silly if she does. But the sheet’s right thin, I can kinda see her face through it, and Elves have keen eye-sight. She’s holdin’ gold-yellow roses, and..."

"What's her gown like?" Rosie asked. "Besides white, I mean. Did ye get a good look at it?"

"I seen it plain as I’m lookin’ at you now," Sam said solemnly. He tried to think. It was true enough he had seen it, but like most males he didn’t have much of an eye for detail when it came to ladies’ gowns. All he could remember was, it was white and beautiful, and most fine. But seein’ as how Rosie was so interested, he figured he’d better improvise, not wishing to disappoint her. "It had pearls, lots and lots of pearls, all over the neck, which was...well, a mite low, if you foller my meanin’. And lots of embroidery in silver and gold. And...and I can swear, it had three sets of sleeves. The--"

"THREE sets of SLEEVES?" Elanor exclaimed, eyes and mouth all wide open.

"Aye," Sam said, glad he remembered that, at the very least. "There was sleeves made of lace clinging to her arms--you could see her arms right through ’em, fair enough, and there was tiny pearls all over ’em too. Then another pair over ’em, of some mighty thin white stuff, all puffy-like, that came to the elbows, and they had lace a droopin’ off of ’em too, long lace it was, mighty pretty. And a hangin’ down in back of ’em was some long, long sleeves of thicker stuff, lined with silver silk, and all over gold and silver and gems in back, they hung almost to her ankles, they did. I never seen the like of it, not even when Lord Strider and Lady Arwen was wed." He shook his head, just thinking of it.

Elanor looked at him in awe. When Joy and Poppy Smallburrow came over to play tomorrow, she was going to play weddings with them, and she was going to have three sets of sleeves too. Joy would be mightily impressed. Poppy probably wouldn’t care much, but she was so little. Not much older than Frodo-lad.

"And besides the three sets of sleeves," Sam continued, "she had a skirt that was much longer in the back than in the front. In fact, it was so long in back, it would of drug the ground if five little ladies hadn’t been a carryin’ it for her. One of ’em, the last one, was Mister Frodo’s little lady. There was another that looked a good deal like her--it was her daughter of course, but looked almost like it could be her twin sister. There was three other little ladies with hair the color of moonlight or white clouds, the kind of hair only very old folks have here. Two of ’em was twins, I could see. Well, the Lady Ríannor, that’s the bride, just sails along with the little ladies holdin’ her skirt up off of the ground, and as she comes up closer to Mister Gandalf, suddenly the back of her skirt comes right off! I could hardly believe my eyes. I’m hopin’ she don’t notice, 'cause if she did, she’ll be mightily embarrassed. And the little ladies don’t even tell her, they just take the piece of her skirt and toss it right into the air! And you ain’t a goin’ to believe this part, but--"

"Could you see her drawers?" Elanor interrupted.

"No, sweetling--she had still the rest of her skirt coverin’ her in back, and her petticoats too I’m sure. But when the little ladies tossed the piece of her skirt in the air, the wind snatched it and carried it high up, and what do you think happened to it?"

"It blowed away," Elanor said primly. Why was dad askin’ her such a thing? When any fool could of figured it out.

"No, lovey," her dad said. "It turned into a swan, it did. Right there and then. I couldn’t believe my eyes."

Elanor gasped. Rosie shook her head.

"Don’t ye think yer stretchin’ things a mite?" she chided her husband.

"I would of thought so," he said, "if I hadn’t of seen it with my own eyes. It turned into a swan, a right big 'un, and flew up, up, up, and circled round a time or two, then flew away, with folks shoutin’ and pointin’ and everythin’. Mister Gandalf seen it, but he looked mighty kerflummoxed, of course he weren’t expectin’ it. But I reckon his lady didn’t see it, with that sheet over her face and all. I don’t know why she had the sheet on her. Reckon it’s the custom there, or somethin’, to have the lady’s face covered. Anyway, the swan flies away, and Mister Frodo is lookin’ out to his own lady, like he thinks maybe she had somethin’ to do with it all, but she looks back up at him real innocent-like, and then the other little ladies giggle. And Mister Frodo holds his hands up, and I figure he’s askin’ the folks to be silent so’s he can perform the weddin’. And I’m half expectin’ Mister Gandalf to bark at 'em to cease their clamorin’, but by and by they settle down, and Mister Frodo clears his throat, and starts off with a prayer, and everybody bows their head. Then he says somethin’ like, 'Dearly Beloved, we are gathered to unite this couple in the bonds of holy wedlock’ and pretty soon he gets to the part about how he pronounces them husband and wife, and that’s when Mister Gandalf lifts the sheet off the bride’s face. And--"

"Is she ugly?" Elanor piped up.

"Nay, far from it," Sam said in hushed tones. "She’s one 'a the fairest ladies I ever seen. Her hair is all black as night, and her skin is white as cream, and her lips are red as rubies, and her eyes are...not that she was so fair as my own ladies, mind you."

He had to throw that in, since he had the feeling Rosie had misgivings at times about how he could love her after all the beauties he had encountered in his travels. He wanted to assure her, that her own down-to-earth comeliness suited him far better. What would he have done with an elf-lady even if she’d of had the likes of him? He’d of looked ridiculous, he would.

"And Mister Gandalf looks at her in the purest joy you could ever imagine," he continued, "and he kisses her, right on her ruby-red lips. And everybody is dead quiet, and the music stops playin’, and I’m fair tremblin’, just watchin’. I’m thinkin’, Mister Gandalf has his reward at last, just as I had mine, and Mister Frodo has his. After all he’s done to fight that Sauron and save Middle-earth, he has his bounty, and he’s happy through and through. I can see it shinin’ from him like the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the light from the towers, just beamin’ all over the whole world, like. And Mister Frodo is shinin’ just as bright, and I can see how happy he is for Mister Gandalf, it’s as if one of his dearest wishes has come true, and he could just leap for joy, hisself. And then the music starts up again, and Mister Gandalf and his lady start dancin’, him not takin’ his eyes from her, and her not takin’ her eyes from him, and they whirl around a time or two, then sway, then take a few steps and whirl again--they’re the only ones dancin’ this time. Some of the ladies in the crowd are dabbin’ at their eyes, and some of the fellers as well. And then, just as the music has ended...well, what do you think happens?"

"Her sleeves fell off and turned into birds?" Elanor said. Sam could only stare for a moment. Even from her, that was most unexpected. Rosie smothered a giggle.

"Nay, lovey," he said when he could get his bearings. "But something just as wondrous. Seven swans suddenly rise up into the air, and fly all around and around, swoopin’ and circlin’ the crowd, and one of 'em settles right down on the platform next to Mister Frodo. And what do you think? It seems to be sayin’ somethin’ to him, although I can’t hear no words...and he shakes his head. And then it seems to be sayin’ somethin’ more...it wants him to get on its back. Mister Frodo don’t seem like he wants to, and I can’t say as I blame him in the least. But finally he does get on its back. I scarce expect it to rise, but it does indeed, as though Mister Frodo weighed no more’n a butterfly, and up they go, round and round, and Mister Frodo is holdin’ so tight, I’m thinkin’ he might choke the life out of the bird, and my heart’s fair in my throat, but it seems to be assurin’ him that it won’t let him fall, and soon he relaxes his grip, and even seems to be enjoyin’ himself somewhat. They don’t fly very high, at least. And it swoops down near Frodo’s little lady, and their elf-lass, and she gives a little squeak and jumps away, and giggles, and it circles round a few more times, and finally settles on the ground and lets Mister Frodo get off. I let out a sigh of relief, and he goes to his lady, and I look to the bride to see if she’s put-out about havin’ the attention drawed away from her, but she looks like it was her own idea to begin with. And Mister Gandalf is laughin’ out loud, and then the music starts up yet again, and more folks dance, and some go to the eatin’ tables...and the swans settle back to earth and turn into the little folk once more. I can’t tell for sure which of ’em gave Mister Frodo a ride--one of the twins looks more pleased with herself than the rest, so I’m guessin’ it’s her. She shouldn’t of done it, is what I say...but it’s over with, and no harm done after all. Still, she shouldn’t of done it. And I think it’s gettin’ on for bed-time for some of us here, what say?"

Long after the little ’uns were tucked into bed and the lights turned low, Sam sat with his pipe beside his own little lady, looking solemnly into the fire.

"Was that so, about the swans?" Rosie asked him after a silent spell.

"I seen ’em," he replied. "But I reckon I won’t write it down the way I wrote down some of them other things he told me, since nobody would be likely to believe it, and think I was wantin’ in my upper story, if they was to see it. I wish I could write down the poems he tells me, but I never can remember 'em when I awaken, only the sense of 'em. It’s a sad thing that the rest of the world must go without ever knowin’ of 'em."

"But he’s happy and well at least," Rosie said, "and that’s the main thing."

"Aye, it is," Sam said thoughtfully caressing one of her spirally fair curls. "He’s where he belongs. He’s doin’ the folk a world o’ good, and he’ll continue to do so. And I reckon he never supposed he’d end up with such a family as he’s got now. I’m glad now he’s where he is. I know he’s happy and full of joy, every night, I can feel all he feels. When he’s sad I can feel it. When he helps somebody, I’m proud of him. And..."

"And when he reads certain books to ye," Rosie said with a roguish twinkle in her eyes, "ye learn some mighty interestin’ and useful things."

"Aye, that I do," Sam had to agree, and if anyone else had been around he might have blushed. "Perhaps I should write ’em down...but I don’t know whether I’d get meself elected for one term after t’other, or run out of the Shire, if anyone was to see ’em."

She laughed aloud. "You are a caution, Samwise Gamgee," she told him pinching his cheek, "and no mistakin’. Remember when Daisy and May paid you to drop their hankies in front of him so’s he’d pick ’em up and they’d have somethin’ he touched? And he wondered how you come to have lasses’ hankies with you, and you said your mum must of switched them in the wash? That was pretty good comin’ from a lad of nine years."

He laughed with her, then sobered, and was silent for a long moment, listening to the purr and crackle of the fire, fancying he heard the far-off roar of the sea when one of the logs fell hissing.

"If only...I just...didn’t miss him so," he said at last.




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