#15 The Last Ringbearer

It was time to go.

He didn't understand whence that thought had sprung, that tiny voice whispering through the cracks in his mind. Yet, when he woke, with the sunlight gleaming though the window of his bedroom, the same as many passed years, he knew that today he would leave the Shire.

A silent house greeeted him as he padded softly to the kitchen. He had known this hole all his life, could walk the halls with eyes closed and never bruise a toe or bump a shin. He knew intimately every sound, every smell. But, as he stood in the kitchen waiting for his tea water to boil, he felt like a stranger. No, that wasn't quite right. He felt like an old piece of furniture that should have been tossed out long before. His eyes strayed out the window, watching the fall flowers, just beginning to open to the sun's warmth, playfully dancing in the early breeze. Brows knitted together as he spied weeds amongst his charges, and his heart sank as he realized he had not tended to his garden in several weeks. He hadn't felt like doing even gardening these past two months. Simply breathing in and out, the unconscious act of living, had been a chore for him. And now what had been a life sustaining force, through his negligance, had fallen fallow.

The whistle of the teapot sliced into his self-depreciating daydream. His hand went to remove the pot, but halted short of the task. Standing there, alone in his big kitchen, he noticed how loud that whistle seemed now. Now that the silence was always here with him. A heavy heart deepened further when he lifted the teapot off the stove and the silence reigned again.

Once this house had been filled with voices. Loud singing, shouts and arguments, laughter. Peals of joy and surprise had filled those rooms, now vacant. Fourteen voices had filled up this house and made it a home. He stood, eyes shut, straining to hear them again, thinking if he could grasp one stray laugh of his daughters, a word of love whispered, he wouldn't be so alone anymore. At least, not for that instant. It wouldn't help with the aching to come, but an instant, just a small voice from his past, was enough for just now.

"It's time, Sam."

Hot water from the teapot splashed upon the floor, over the stove and on to his feet unnoticed. His breathing stopped. Time stopped. Straining harder now, he squinched his eyes together and practically willed the voice to come again. It didn't. It wouldn't.

That voice hadn't been heard within those walls for almost a lifetime. Yet, the timbre and tone would never be forgotten.

Suddenly, noticing that he was standing in a puddle, he dropped the teapot unceremoniously back on the stove and reached, without looking, for a towel to clean up his mess. He began to hurridly mop up the water for he knew he would get an earful when his wife woke up.

Bitter tears sprang to his eyes. She wouldn't be scolding him for this mess, or any other. Nor would she hold him in her arms, so in tune with each other, their breathing in sync. She would never smile at him again, her eyes twinkling with his reflected love. She was gone. His Rosie was gone.

The slightly damp towel dangled in his hand as he sunk to the floor and wept. All of his tears were not of loss and pain, however. Those had been spent. No, these were tears of fond remembrances. He saw her there dancing at Mr. Bilbo's party, her smile as they were wed, the cross look when one of the children had broken another dish while slaying a "dragon" in the house. He saw her understanding expression when work called him away, and he relived the tender looks of love when she bid him come to bed. For just the youngest son of a simple gardener from Bagshot Row, Rosie had been a gift that he hadn't deserved, and he thanked the heavens for her every waking moment.

"It's time, Sam."

Rose's laugh drifted away from his mind suddenly when the voice broke through. Climbing to his feet as fast a hobbit of his advanced years could, he ran through the house, checking every door, every closet, every hidey-hole. He felt an overwhelming desire to find something. Exactly what he wasn't sure. That voice, the one from long ago, had spurned something deep within him and it wouldn't be satisfied until it was found. Running in to the study, wild eyed and breathing heavy, his eyes fell on the desk. Old and heavy with years, once a place of high literary endeavors, now only used for bookkeeping and the occasional letter to distant family. In that moment, it appeared to him to have a air of saddness and maybe longing for its other owner to sit again and return it to its former glory. Rosie had kept this room clean, spotless even, save one drawer. It was there that he had been drawn. Trepidation nearly engufled him as he found the key, without realizing it, and opened the drawer. It sat there, ominously apparent of its seeming unimportance. But, he was hesitant to touch the red leather, as if he knew what would greet him when his fingers brushed the cover.

Swallowing hard, he grabbed the book with both hands and yanked. The book came free of the drawer without incident, and he suddenly felt like a fool, reacting as he did, like children listening to a ghost story. He began to thumb through the pages, the musty smell of the old paper tingling his nose. He reached the last few pages of the book, and for the first time he realized that only a small section, paragraph size, remained open on the very last page. The rest of the pages left to him had been filled with the stories of the rebuilding of the Shire, the gift of the Westmarch by King Elessar. The tales of his seven terms as mayor and the celebrations of births. There amongst those last lines was even an explaination of the First Horn of Buckland. His life was there on those pages. And there was only room left for one more thought.

"It's time to come home, Sam."

This time, when the voice spoke, he did not react with surprise. He only nodded with understanding and a smile. Sitting down, he took up pen, dabbed it with ink, and in his steady and nonsensical hand finished that final paragraph.

With a sense of peace, he gathered the few things he would need for the journey. He reckoned he did not need a folded hanckerchief this time, even though he knew, tucked in the corner of the top most drawer of his chest was a stack, neatly ironed and lovingly placed by his Rosie. He put several of her hair ribbons in his pocket instead. Back at the desk he wrote instructions to his children: what to do with Bagend, how to tend the garden, (He knew that his oldest son would not need these, but he felt obligated to add to his garden's care one last time.). He thought of his beautiful children as he listed their names. All grown and ensconced in their own lives now. Even his fliberty-gibbet of a daughter, Goldilocks, had settled down. Of course, she had married a Took, (A Took, of all things!), and as everyone in all the Four Farthings knew, marrying a Took was not really settling down. Sealing the envelope with wax, he chuckled as he recalled his daughter's wedding to that Took. "This finally makes us offically family," Pippin crowed, hugging him fondly, while Merry gave the newlywed couple an elegant, if somewhat bawdy, toast. His heart tugged as he thought of his two friends. He would have no time to say his farewells. They would understand, however. Of that he had no doubt.

His business attended to, he gathered his elven cloak, still like new, from the first peg by the door. His walking stick, a gift on her last birthday from his precious Daisy, waited for his hand in the hall.

What conviction he had at this final leave taking evaporated when he stood in the doorway. He looked out on his garden, at the majestic mallorn trees gracing the Party Field with their beauty and shade, and his resolve began to waver. His eyes strayed across the Field to #3 Bagshot Row and he could almost imagine seeing his gaffer standing there, smoke rising around him, dispensing advice to all, whether they were listening or not. Why was he leaving? The Shire was where he belonged. His heart was here.

"Come home, Sam."

The voice was gentle, yet held a sense of longing. A deeply burrowed feeling, one that, through herculian effort and time, had been allowed to hide within his soul, sprang forth with such force that he swayed slightly, grabbing the doorframe for support. Emotions of pride and love consumed the empty place in his soul that he had almost forgotten was there. Wiping away the tears of newly rediscovered joy, he shut the door of Bagend behind him for the very last time.

He walked down the lane toward the Westmarch, the redbook tucked under his arm, humming that silly childish tune about oliphaunts. He was leaving the Shire. Yet, he was going home.

He stood alone on the dock, the wind played with his grey curls. "I'm coming, Mr. Frodo," Samwise Gamgee said as he watched the white sails skim towards him across the grey waters, "You're Sam is coming."

It was many months before Elanor had the heart to open the red book and read that last paragraph.

"On September 22, 1482, by Shire Reckoning, Samwise Gamgee, the Last Ringbearer, left Middle-earth and sailed into the West to join Mr. Frodo Baggins, his master. And Friend."

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