Again Gandalf stayed on some weeks after the children left. He were right glad to hear Frodo was adopted proper, and that was when I overheard tell of the banker of discretion the first time. And he seemed glad to hear how popular Frodo was with the folk of Hobbiton and Bywater (cepting, of course, the Sackville-Bagginses). And Mr. Bilbo told him about the riding lessons and the box of stationery with its key and locked drawer, and showed off his work as a copyist and book binder. Mr. Frodo was down at the Ivy Bush to have a half pint with an older Took cousin as had ridden over from Tookland for the day, and I was taking advantage of a mild evening to run some string for the sweet peas to wind around near the kitchen. They didn’t seem to notice me out there as they talked.
Then the talk changed to memories of Mr. Bilbo’s adventures, and his time in the home of the Elven King in Mirkwood when he had to wear his ring to keep invisible, and Gandalf was asking him how things looked while he wore it. Mr. Bilbo had to think on that a bit afore he could answer.
“Different,” he said at last. “Things get sort of hazy when I wear it, and I can’t see people’s features clearly. But what I need to see I will, like when I needed to see the keys to get the dwarves out of their cells. But there was one time when almost everything was obscured for some hours--and then it was frightening. I felt like I was about to be discovered, but how or by whom I had no idea. I slept mostly in a linen cupboard they only seemed to open once a fortnight, and they’d already been into it that day, so I hid in there as I had no fear of them coming into it and encountering me. But I covered myself with sheets and shivered, sure someone was turning an eye my way--but then...
“It was most remarkable, really: the feeling passed completely, and my heart felt so much lighter, as if the one seeking me had suddenly been pulled aside and sent in a far different direction. I found myself singing, then quieted when I realized I could perhaps be overheard. But even the Elves around the place seemed more lighthearted than usual, and that was just before they began to prepare for the feast. And that was when I realized I could see almost clearly. It wasn’t anywhere nearly as hazy as it had been.”
Gandalf seemed to ponder this, then asked him if he’d talked to Frodo about the ring and finding it.
“Yes, right after you were here the last time--and, yes, it was the full story. Wasn’t going to have you disclosing it all.” Then, after a moment he added, “I try not to keep secrets from the boy. He’s become my lifeline, Gandalf. Keeps me grounded, he does. And he’s about the most decent individual I’ve ever met, don’t you know.” Again he paused. “Dotes on the other lads, young Merry and Pippin and Freddy and Folco and Sam. Keeps a good eye on them all, and would fight any number of dragons for them. He’s loyal to a fault, and oh, so dear to me. If it weren’t for him I’d have left the Shire years ago. For the wanderlust has been growing upon me. I feel the urge some days just to throw it all to the winds and just take off along the road once more. But not till Frodo is of age and settled--I had to promise Rory and Saradoc and Esmie that before they’d let him come to me.”
“Any hint of romance in his life? Any lasses throwing themselves his way?”
Mr. Bilbo laughed right out, gay as gay. “Only about every lass in the area, as well as Pimpernel and perhaps Pearl Took, and I think May Gamgee--only lately another lad has been looking her way and she’s realized it’s a more likely match. Oh, I’ve seen the looks they all give him, watching him as he passes, coming out with glasses of cider for him and coy smiles. And he is starting to enjoy the attention. Ah, yes, he could enjoy himself immensely if he allowed himself--and if he were a scoundrel. At the feasts he dances and never wants for partners. And the mommas watch to see if he’s looking at their daughters, and not with concern but with anticipation.”
Gandalf laughed. “And our young Master Samwise?”
“Ah, he’s been spoken for for some time. Rosie Cotton has had her eye on him since she was a wee lass. I’d hate to be the one to come between the two of them.” I felt my face go warm, for I’d felt that way about her since she first sat on my lap when she were tiny and told me I was her Samwise and no one else’s.
Gandalf laughed again, but it were for heart’s joy, not in fun of me. “Good--it can be steadying and heartening, the love of a good lass for such as Sam. And she’ll keep him grounded, as Frodo does you.”
They both laughed and filled their pipes and drank their ale. I finished the last string and turned toward home, studying on what I’d heard. I felt that what they’d talked about, about that ring and feeling looked for, was important somehow.
There were rumors growing about dangers and strangers. The Dwarves who traded along the West Road told of darkness growing in southern Mirkwood once more, where it had faded long ago when the White Council drove the Necromancer out of Dol Guldur. No one was sure what these names meant, so a few days later while Mr. Bilbo and Mr. Frodo were around the hill checking out the state of the orchard with my Gaffer, I asked Gandalf what Dol Guldur was and who the Necromancer was and how he got driven away and what the White Council was.
He looked at me with surprise. “And tell me, Master Samwise, how have you heard of such things?”
“Well,” I told him, “my Uncle Andy and my brother Ham were home for Daisy’s birthday, and they met with some Dwarves at the Hog’s Head along the West Road along the way from Tighfield. The Dwarves was speaking of Dol Guldur and the Shadow and the Necromancer. And I wanted to find out what it means. Seems I remember something about Dol Guldur and the Necromancer from Mr. Bilbo’s stories, but I don’t know what they were--or are. They said it was all in Mirkwood, and that was in Mirkwood, where Mr. Bilbo and the Dwarves went, and they fought the spiders and Mr. Bilbo wore his magic ring to hide from the Elves.”
He nodded slowly and looked at me closely, like he was deciding something. “All right, then. Now, tell me, what do you know about Sauron?”
“He was a servant of Morgoth, him who stole the Silmarils and threw Beren into the dungeon and all. And he was beaten by Elendil and Gil-galad, and Isildur cut his finger off and took his Ring. But they beat him, didn’t they?”
“Yes, they beat him--for a time. For a time. But what are three thousand years to the Valar, or to the likes of Sauron? The Shadow is defeated for a time, but always it regathers its strength and returns.” He sighed, his face sad and his look distant.
“For almost three thousand years Sauron has been quiet, but he was not destroyed. He has been quietly rebuilding his strength. Do you know what necromancy is?” I shook my head, “It is one of the means by which those who are opened to power may build their strength. It is by feeding on the life forces taken from the living as they are slowly killed that such build their power. It is a slow, horrible process, for it takes the lives of hundreds to regain only a portion of the power which was lost.
“No one knew for certain who or what the one we have called the Necromancer was, only that he appeared out of obscurity and took the southern forest for his own and built for himself the fortress of Dol Guldur. He was found to be capturing Men, Dwarves, Elves, and beasts, and slowly destroying their lives so as to harvest their life force for himself. He was finally exposed as Sauron, and the White Council met to discuss what must be done with him. Long had Saruman, head of the White Council, counseled us not to move against Dol Guldur, but at last he changed his mind. I do not know why, what caused the change in his resolve. Saruman has long been subtle in his thought, secret in his intent. Oh, we cast the Enemy out of his stronghold of Dol Guldur, and the darkness over Mirkwood was lifted--again, though, but for a time, and but for a very short time. For Sauron did not flee--he went only as far as Mordor, back to his fortress of Barad-dur, which had been rebuilt in his absence. The forces of Elrond and Isildur had destroyed the Tower, but as long as the Ruling Ring continues to exist the foundations remain, and it takes but a little to raise the walls again.
“Orodruin awoke, and its torment has been visible from the White Tower of Minas Tirith for the past fifty years. And now the Shadow is creeping back into southern Mirkwood, and the great spiders, which had seemed to have disappeared from the great forest, are multiplying once more; and orcs and trolls are breeding in the mountains. And fear awakens across Middle Earth.”
He looked deep into my eyes, searching me, it seemed. “I rarely speak of such things to Hobbits or to ordinary folk, but you of all people, I think, need to be forewarned. And, again, I am not certain why. I don’t know why some are drawn out of obscurity to fell deeds.”
It made my skin crawl, it did, to hear such things. Fell deeds? Me?
As if he’d heard my thoughts, he continued. “No, not fell deeds--or, not too fell, at least. But fealty must be true.”
“You told me, the last time, I must not lose my master.”
“Yes, I did.”
“I don’t mean to. You know that.” And he nodded. “But I don’t understand.”
He looked very sad and tired. Finally he said, soft and low, “Neither do I, Sam. Neither do I. I am limited in what I know, for there are bounds set to my own power and knowledge, and for good reason. But at times I rattle the bars of the cage of my spirit, wishing to have my memory, my knowledge, opened so I can understand, although I sense that that would be to open myself to despair.” Again he sighed, and looked away from me, toward the west, and his expression softened. “But I know I must trust those who sent me and the one who guides even them, and that they will not send more than their servants, who must be their tools within Middle Earth, can bear. It can be hard, watching, but I know it will be for the best for all, including their tools.”
I can’t say why this comforted me, for it wasn’t really comfortable words and I certainly didn’t understand it, but for some reason I felt better. Then he reached out his hand to my shoulder.
“You’re just a teen, Sam, and a young one at that, but you have the soul of a man of your people within you already. Now, I will counsel you to let this concern fade from the forefront of your mind, for to dwell too long on dark thoughts can taint the act of living--and you are meant to live, my dear boy.” And he smiled, and turned me to the elven flowers under the lilac. “Now, tell me, lad, how you managed to coax this poor plant into remaining alive. It is quite remarkable, considering the damage inflicted by young Peregrin. Another formidable Hobbit in the making, I fear.”
And I found myself explaining how I’d tried to comfort the plant for the insults done on it by that active child, and how I felt I’d convinced it that this was but an infant yet, and it had decided perhaps it would give us another go. And for a while the whole gist of what we’d said to one another did seem to slip deep into my mind, not hidden, mind you, but not in the open, neither. Sort of waiting, if you take my meaning.