As Sam held Belladonna’s newborn son in his arms, he felt a wave of homesickness wash over him. At the same time he rejoiced to see the look on his Mister Frodo’s face. It must have been on his own each time a new grandchild came into the world.
“Isn’t he just sweet?” Amaryllis chirped as she caressed the wee toes. “He's soooooo teeny!” Belladonna’s sisters hung about giggling behind her. Belladonna sat beside her mother, Summershine, who held baby Peregrin in her lap, while Anemone held little Starbright. Belladonna had the black hair, and seemed mighty perky considering that she had given birth just a few hours ago. Sam wondered where the baby’s daddy was. No one had spoken of him. Then he vaguely recalled Mister Frodo saying that no one knew where Belladonna’s mate had got off to.
“So what will you call him?” Sam asked her gently.
“Well,” Belladonna said, “I thought maybe I’d call him Peacock. My great-aunt Fairwind said a long time ago that if she ever had a son she’d name him Peacock, but she called him Meriadoc instead. And I’m greatly fond of her, so I thought it would be an honor to him.”
“Aren’t you afraid he’ll end up with an awfully loud voice and a vain strut?” Anemone teased her.
“Pain splut,” little Peregrin spoke up. Sam laughed. Belladonna smiled.
“Maybe he’ll just have beautiful blue-green eyes and a sweeping, commanding grace,” she said. Sam was impressed.
“Or maybe he’ll have lots and lots of eyes on his bum,” Arkenstone said, “and he’ll be able to see what’s coming without turning around.”
To Sam’s surprise, no one reproved him. Instead, all laughed, including Sam.
“Or all of those together,” Amaryllis said. “Wouldn’t that be splendid? We could charge people to come and see him. We could be rich!”
“You're worse than your Uncle Guilin,” Raven laughed.
The next few days were a leisurely and wondrous blur to Sam. They toured the City of Avellonë, taking in all the sights, and took dinner at the Palace, and visited Ríannor’s horse farm and Barathon’s sugar plantation, and the homes of the twins--Nightingale’s and Calanon’s being near the beach, while Gloryfall and Amonost lived in the forest in a fern-grown, butterfly-visited clearing that caught the noonday light--and went to the Sporting Center to see a race, and Sam found he didn’t always need the wheelchair, or even his cane. The sheer beauty and color of his surroundings, together with the joyous atmosphere and loving enthusiasm of Mister Frodo’s family members, not to mention all the delicious food and drink, and most of all the very presence of Mister Frodo himself, had such an invigorating effect, Sam felt as if thirty years had dropped from him. He found he could get up in the morning and go to the privy without having to wake anyone, and get himself dressed without help. And he found that on the nights that he didn’t get Mister Frodo to himself, he didn’t do so bad as he expected, Rosie-doll being company enough. There was a faint fragrance coming from her that he recognized, after a few moments, as athelas. Although his smeller was not what it used to be, still the scent was soothing, and as he cradled her in his arms, he dropped right off to sleep in a matter of minutes, and his dreams were sweet and relaxing.
And they went to Temple.
He had not expected to be feeling this good, and he even found himself somewhat dismayed. He knew Mister Frodo had lasted this long because of him, but surely he wouldn’t last much longer…and Sam had counted on going out when he did. Now he found that he didn’t want to go out so soon.
He spoke this concern to Mister Frodo, as they lay in canvas chairs out on the beach, watching the children play in the water and the sand. Northlight sat apart with Raven and Anemone so that Sam and Frodo could have some time alone together. Amaryllis had obviously not inherited her mother’s dislike of the water; indeed she had quite a passion for it, and complained about not being allowed to go cliff-diving like her cousins.
“It doesn’t seem fair,” she’d said, as Skylark, Treasure, and Glimmerglass took turns diving incredibly far outward and landing with scarcely a splash in the blue-green waves, followed up by their mum, sweet Miss Summershine. “Why couldn’t I have taken more after my daddy’s side?”
“I wouldn’t want to cliff-dive,” Silivren said with a little shiver. “I’d be scared.”
“So would I,” Castiel said. She looked the most like Mistress Lyrien, but her hair was a shade or two darker than her sister’s, bound in wet braids.
“Well, I would too, I think,” Amaryllis said. “But it’s still not fair.”
The adults laughed. Arkenstone and Little Iorhael ran out with their wave-boards, which were brightly painted with sunburst designs. Sam watched the two lads in fascination as they paddled out and waited for the swell, and then slowly stood on the boards with bent knees and outstretched arms, heads thrust well forward.
“Now I would never of let any of mine do that,” he said shaking his head. “Not but that they wouldn’t of gone out and tried it anyways. ‘Specially Merry-lad and Pippin-lad. The two of them would of tried most anything once, and more often than not, they did. Now Ellie was the spunky one of the lasses. Very daring she was. And smart, and pretty as a picture. Folks said as she was the flower of the family, and had somethin’ elvish about her. In fact, there was a few spiteful folks as went around sayin’ as she was your daughter, Mister Frodo, and even went as far as to say that’s why you took off like you did. They didn’t say it to my face, of course, but it got back to me. I know it wasn’t true in the least, though she did seem to take after you in some special way….”
“That’s terrible—that they would say such a thing,” Frodo said flushing a bit, more in anger than embarrassment. “Even if I could have fathered a child, I would never have done such a thing to you, Sam.”
“I know you wouldn’t of, M—Frodo. Nobody with any sense thought anything of it, so don’t take it to heart….I wish Ellie could of come with me. She’d of been right at home here. I couldn’t rightly say if the others would of liked it or not. Now Rosie-lass, she was clever, but in a different way from Ellie. She had a sharp tongue, more often than not, and was quick to light into you if you got in her road, and could talk her way out of a fix. She was like her mum in more ways than just her name, with a good heart underneath it all. Goldilocks was a talker too, but not so clever, and not so good at keeping secrets. Got herself into many a pickle ‘cos she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. She married Mister Pippin’s lad, Faramir. Maybe I told you already. Primrose was the one that didn’t live to marry. She was born with a defect that made her slow to learn so that she was but a child all her life, and we lost her before she come of age. But what a joy she was to us all, in the time we had her! All of ’em was a joy, in their own way....Bilbo was the only one of the lads that never married. Funny what there can be in a name, ain’t it?”
“I hope you don’t miss them too much, Sam,” Mister Frodo said.
“I s’pose I will miss ‘em from time to time,” Sam said. “I didn’t expect to last long here, but I’ve been feelin’ so chipper lately, I might be around considerable longer than I thought. And…well…”
“Sam, are you worrying that you won’t feel like coming with me when my time comes?” Frodo asked. Sam jumped, since this was exactly what he had been worrying about, and he was trying to think of a way to say it. “Sam dear, I do not ask you to go with me if you do not want to. I’ve told you that already. I can wait for you. You shall take all the time here that you wish, and join me when you are ready.”
“But…but…Frodo, what would I do here without you?” Sam protested, choking up a bit. “Your family—well, I know they’re fond of me, and I of them, but…”
“To be truthful, Sam,” Frodo said, “I’ve had a worry of my own—I already hinted about it at the Faire, I think. I’ve worried about Anemone, and what she’ll do without me. As I said, she still has many good years left to her. You saw her dancing with her sons, and her grandsons, and with Guilin…well, if he weren’t married already, I would not mind if she were to marry him, just for company—the height difference might present a bit of a problem, I’m sure. I thought perhaps she might meet some sea-man and marry him, but I doubt that will happen—how many seafolk would wish to be bound with a woman of advanced years, who would die soon? But I don’t like to think of her all alone. And she thinks the world of you, and—“
“Why, Mister Frodo!” exclaimed Sam, at the same time thinking to himself, absurdly, that he shouldn’t of said “Mister”, “are you sayin’ that…me…and Anemone…. Now Frodo. I think the world of her also, but I don’t wish to marry again, and no more does she, I’m sure. And it wouldn’t hardly be fittin’ for us to live together under the same roof without a weddin’, even if we wasn’t sharin’ a bed and all. No, M—Frodo, it can’t be.”
“As you wish, Sam. But all the same, if you should change your mind, I want you to know you both would have my blessing on the union.”
Sam was considerably rattled, and didn’t know what else to say. In a daze he turned his eyes back to watching the young ‘uns playing on the beach and in the water, without really seeing them.
“Let’s don’t worry about anything, Sam,” Frodo said after a long moment. “Let’s just enjoy our time together, and take in all we can. Now tell me more about your family. Did Frodo-lad really change the family name, and why?”
Much later they sat on the terrace smoking pipes and watching the sinking sun and the first glimmering of the Beacon light. Sam and Northlight discussed gardening techniques as Anemone and Raven cleared the supper table and Amaryllis talked with Mister Frodo.
“I wish we could go and see the tower up close,” Amaryllis said as Northlight went to put away his tools in the little garden-house. “But I guess it’s too far away.”
“Yes, it is,” her granddad agreed, “for a couple of old codgers like us. My old bones could never withstand that journey.”
“That’s all right,” Sam said. “I’m content to view the light from here. I’ve been feeling considerable stronger since I’ve been here, but I’m not THAT strong.”
“I’ve only been there once,” Amaryllis said, “but I was too little to remember much about it. I’d like to see it again sometime.”
“You’ve the rest of the ages to see it,” her granddad reminded her with a smile.
“Well, I know,” she said, “but I want…” She halted. It was as if it had occurred to her for the first time that her granddad was not going to live forever.
Northlight came back from the garden-house and sat down on the terrace steps, and his daughter came and sat beside him, wrapping an arm around his waist and pressing her dark head against his shoulder. He kissed the top of her head and laid his cheek on it, squeezing her with one arm and caressing her hair. Sam hoped she wasn’t weeping. The sun had sunk considerable into the clouds, hovering just above the sea.
“The sun is about to drown,” Amaryllis whispered.
“Look,” Anemone said suddenly, coming out to stand behind her son and granddaughter. “Someone is coming over the bridge.”
Sam lifted his head, laying his pipe on the little table between his long chair and Frodo’s. He squinted his eyes, but could see no one. Northlight stood up, and so did Amaryllis. Mister Frodo sat up in his long chair. Raven came out from the house where she had been putting away the supper dishes.
“Someone IS coming,” Mister Frodo whispered to Sam. “I can see something. But…it has no light.”
Northlight took something from his vest pocket and whispered to it, and Sam saw a light begin to glow in his hand. He held the light up, the better to see who or what was coming.
“Must be a wild varmit?” Sam said. “You…you don’t have bears out here, do you?”
“We do, I’ve heard,” Mister Frodo said, “although I’ve never seen one. I don’t think a bear would cross the bridge, however.”
“It IS a bear,” Amaryllis said in alarm. “Grandmum keeps bees--he probably wants our honey! Daddy, what will we do? Oh, if we only had a bow and arrow...or a spear....”
“It’s not a bear, love,” Northlight said between clenched teeth. “Do not worry—the light of Ëarendil will protect us.”
Now Sam could see a at the end of the bridge, and a chill ran over him. It was no bear, unless bears on this island wore hoods and cloaks. Why didn’t it have light? He saw it hesitate, stand still, and it seemed it was either taking a look around, or thinking of going back where it came from, which Sam hoped it would do, or else screwing up the courage to come closer. Amaryllis clutched tight to her father’s arm.
“Amaryllis,” Raven said, “perhaps you had better come inside, dearie.”
But Amaryllis stayed where she was, until her father bade her go indoors. The little girl then turned and went in, but did not close the door behind her.
“Raven,” Mister Frodo said, “will you please go fetch my light from Sam’s room?”
Raven nodded and flurried indoors, and Sam saw the figure start toward the cottage. It was walking quickly now.
“Who do you suppose it is?” Sam whispered to Mister Frodo, who didn’t answer but kept his eyes fixed on the approaching figure. He took off his eyeglass, rubbed it absently on his shirt-front and put it on again. Raven came back out with the star-glass, which she gave to Mister Frodo, who murmured to it to make the light come on, then set it on the little table. Sam could feel its warmth, and the beautiful brightness was a sudden comfort to him.
And the figure was getting closer. Now it was coming up the garden walk, a good ways away yet, and Sam couldn’t help but wish they had a guard-dog, which Mister Frodo said they used to have long ago, but he had long since died, and it didn’t seem necessary to get another.
Now Sam could see it was a male figure, coming up the walk hesitantly, and Northlight stood just above the top step holding up his own light—Sam had noticed a slight bulge in Northlight’s pocket several times before but hadn’t thought to ask what it was, and he remembered Mister Frodo telling of how he had poured some of his light into another little phial for Raven when she was a little girl and afraid of the dark.
The figure came closer, until it was about five yards away, then stopped. It wore a long cloak, almost ankle length, and the hood was over his head, but Sam could see a bit of his face underneath it, pale in the shadow of it.
“Who goes there?” Northlight spoke. The figure stood motionless, then slowly its cloak parted in front and a pair of pale hands appeared.
“Northlight,” a voice spoke softly from the hood, “don’t come any closer.” He held out both hands to his sides, and the hood fell away. Northlight started, nearly dropping the glass.
“Ionwë?” he said.