And Back Again

To naias, my beta: weilder of the wet noodle, Frodo-watcher, truth seeker, and keeper of the ironed handkerchief. Thank-you.

AND BACK AGAIN

Rosie stirred the stew on the stove, glancing from time to time at her husband sitting so quiet and thoughtful with Elanor on his lap. He seemed shrunken somehow; sitting so still with his face tense, holding his body like some great weight was bearing down on him. But the strangest part was the silence. "Well, I'm back," he had said and nothing more and that wasn't like her Sam. She pursed her lips ruefully. Of course he would be missing Mr. Frodo, gone to Rivendell for a visit with Mr. Bilbo for who knew how long; and he'd be feeling odd as well, not to have his Master close at hand for the first time in all his working life. She knew he had planned to travel only part of the way to Rivendell and so when the silence had gone on too long she asked as lightly as she could, "you saw Mr. Frodo off safe then, on the last leg of his journey?"

"Yes," Sam said hoarsely, turning his face from her, and though Elanor had not fussed or been wanting a distraction he stood quickly and carried her to the window to show her the lights of Hobbiton far below. Sam felt Rosie's eyes following him and knew by the stilling of her movements that she was waiting for more, but he could not tell her - not yet.

Then slowly, while he stood so silent at the window, she began to give him the news of all the family and to bustle again with the preparing of the evening meal. His heart eased a little, warmed by this wife who understood, without knowing why, that he was not yet ready to talk. He put Elanor over his shoulder and buried his face in her soft hair, breathing in the faint scent of the lilac soap Rosie made special just for her. Elanor's tiny hand tickled as she played with the thick curls at the nape of his neck. She babbled contentedly while Rosie's lilting voice carried on, easy and unhurried, with never a pause for a response. Sam breathed it all in. He closed his eyes and breathed in his whole life, here now in the kitchen, and tried not to think. He would not think.

But unbidden came the sea to his mind's eye: the sigh and murmur of the waves on that faraway shore; the briny scent of salt and seaweed. He saw the gulls, wheeling and diving on the wind off the water, mewling mournfully and following the small white ship as it left the shore, slowly and forever. Behind his closed eyes the kitchen disappeared, and he was there. Sam was there and could not leave.

Rosie's hand on his shoulder startled him back. He had not heard her come up. Gently, she led him to the table and his waiting supper. Though her worried eyes questioned, she did not ask.

* * *

Elanor went down early that night, exhausted by the excitement of having her dad finally home. He had walked with her and played with her in his lap all evening before reluctantly giving her over to Rose to be nursed asleep and tucked into her crib. Rosie and Sam went early to bed as well. He found that his grief had taken him to a place beyond tears, and he told Rosie, finally and as briefly as he could, where he had been and where Frodo had gone to, and could never come back from. Then he lost himself for a time in his wife's caresses and their love.

Late into the night Sam held Rosie while she slept peacefully in his arms. He watched the room slowly fill with the light of the rising moon. He heard the bushes beneath their open window rustling in the fitful breeze and could not stop the sound from turning to the murmur of the sea in his mind. He knew if he shut his eyes he would be there again, on that shore, perched on the edge of Middle Earth while the ship drew away from him, watching it leave forever. He could not bear that.

He had thought that his return to the Shire would complete the final leg of Frodo's leaving, and that he would find relief from the sorrow that had been his silent companion on the homeward journey. But it was not so. He was not yet reconciled to Bag End without a master, not yet reconciled to Frodo's irrevocable absence. Sam shut his stinging eyes. The one who had scoured the Shire was banished from it. The one who had saved Middle Earth could nowhere find refuge in it. How had it come to Frodo's tale ending so? How could this be measured a hero's reward? The welling tears slipped down his cheeks to his lips and he tasted the sea again.

How long had he stood on the quay at the Havens? Long after the ship was gone down the firth, and the sun was set, and the stars came out; long after Merry and Pippin would have left had the choice been theirs, though they had said nothing. So Sam had stood bracing his feet against a rising wind off the water that seemed to press him back onto Middle Earth, and suffering the spray like tears from the sea on his face. He had not known until then that the sea was like tears, but it was fitting, after all, that what carried Frodo from him should taste of sorrow.

And now he was back to bear witness to Frodo's absence. His long, silent journey home with Merry and Pippin and the wordless sharing of their sorrow had not brought him any lasting solace. And tonight he felt his grief increased by his slow perception of the burden of a promise left with him - a promise broken or a promise not yet fulfilled - he could not tell which - but it would not let him rest. Rosie stirred against his arms that suddenly held her too tightly and Sam gentled his embrace, nuzzling her soft hair and murmuring soothingly. When she slept again he eased his arms from her and got quietly up.

As he always did whenever he rose in the night, Sam went first through the adjoining door to Elanor's nursery to look upon her small, sleeping form. She had kicked off her blanket in her baby dreams and lay on her tummy, thumb in mouth, flushed with sleep. Fluffy golden hair curled around her ears and neck, gleaming faintly in the glow of the moonlight peeping through the curtains. Sam drew the blanket over her, and lightly rested his hand on her small back to feel the ebb and flow of her breath, young and quick. "My perfect Elanor," he whispered, and then, as if making a poem, he intoned haltingly - "named by Frodo, blessed with his love, sheltered in his home, safe in his Shire." The only child of his that Frodo would ever know and she would not remember him. He was gone before she could know him. Sam turned suddenly away and slipped from her room.

On the table in the hall he found candles and a flint. Deftly he lit a taper and padded down the passageway, hesitant, knowing where his heart was leading his reluctant feet.

He opened the door to the study. Frodo's desk and chair stood in a silver pool of moonlight pouring through the window. Sam took a key from the secret cubby at the back of the desk's middle drawer, unlocked the bureau cupboard and pulled the doors wide. On its shelf lay Bilbo's Red Book. Never before had Sam looked at it alone. He had only ever read what Frodo would show him from time to time after his long nights of writing. And before that, when the book had been Bilbo's and Sam had been just a little lad, he had not touched it, nor seen it even, though Bilbo had not taken any particular care to hide its existence from Sam, and he had overheard the old hobbit speak of it often enough to Frodo and once or twice to Gandalf, even. And now it was given into his care. Sam gently ran his hand over the ancient leather cover. Now it was his to keep safe.

Reverently Sam lifted the book and carried it to the desk. He stood for a moment gathering his strength, and then began searching through the broad heavy pages near the start of Frodo's writing for the account his Master had shown him many months before of their meeting with the elves in the Woody End. He found it, held his breath, and drew his fingers slowly down the page to his own words of promise laid out in Frodo's strong flowing script, stark against the vellum:

"Don't you leave him! They said to me. Leave him! I said. I never mean to. I am going with him if he climbs to the moon."

Sam struggled to breathe against the unbearable tightness in his throat and chest. He raised his face to the moonlight shining through the window and felt the fervour of those words undimmed in his heart. They had guided him through the quest and back again. When the One Ring went into the Fire he knew he had done what his heart had told him to do, and he had felt that nothing could stop him then from doing it still to the end of his days, whether his end came in that hour or in a thousand, thousand hours.

Sam blinked at the tears blurring his vision of the moon and then it shone clear again - cold and distant. "Don't you leave him. . ." But now Frodo was as far from him as the Moon. He had left, and his Sam could not follow.

Sam turned from the light mocking him, so faraway and unreachable. His glance fell on the worn scabbard mounted on the wall above the bureau, hiding the bright point of Sting. Suddenly, he saw himself bending over Frodo's body in the Pass of Cirith Ungol, felt his life falling into ruin, his promise broken and his despair as he pleaded to his master, "don't go where I can't follow".

Sam bowed his head as once more the dreadful emptiness of being left behind engulfed him. When he had stood over Frodo's still form on that high pass it seemed hope had abandoned him. He had held Sting in his hand, with its blade bright in the dim light of the stars. Then the black fall into nothingness had tempted his heart so desperate with grief and fear and regret. For a brief moment the sword had offered him the release he seemed to desire.

Quickly Sam looked up, breathing deeply, and casting his eyes about the room to rest on all the familiar furniture he had known since his childhood days when he had first begun to visit with Bilbo. Through the open door of the study he could see on the hall floor the dim shape of the twisted wool rug that had been Rosie's gift to Frodo on his last birthday but one. Sam set his chin and shook his head. He knew he neither sought nor desired that black fall now, no, not for an instant. On that high pass Frodo had been his only point of light in the constricting darkness of Mordor, and all his paths had been bleak and hopeless. But now he was safe in the Shire, with the choice of a sure path before him and his family a constellation of encircling lights. He was back and he was bound to them now.

Why then did his heart echo with the pain of Cirith Ungol? How could he feel both bereft and blessed? His words from the page, still open at the Woody End, spoke back to him:

"I don't rightly know what I want but I have something to do before the end and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, if you understand me."

After the elves came he had felt so different, seeing ahead somehow down the long, doubtful path laid before them, and hope had become his faithful companion. Sam fumbled with the pages, turning far forward in the tale until Cirith Ungol and his fearful choices were before him. Impatiently he wiped his blurring eyes and focused on those three words he had spoken then to galvanize himself to take the Ring, and to leave Frodo: "see it through".

It had felt so wrong then, but for just a few moments it had been right to obey that hard won decision - to take the Ring and leave his Master. And it had made all the difference. Middle Earth would have been lost if he hadn't taken It and gone. The orcs would have found him with Frodo and the Ring, and then the Ring would have gone to Sauron.

But still, that had not been the task for him to see through. No, his proper place had been at Frodo's side and his job to strain every sinew and bone of his body to see him through to the end, to Mount Doom and the dreadful task that had been appointed to the Ring-bearer. And he had done that - he had carried them both to the breaking point, and had not been broken - he had not been broken. His job was done. He had seen it through, and been released.

Or so it had felt for a time, but no longer. Sam sank into the chair at the desk, trying to remember. Many months it had been since his uneasy heart had begun to whisper to him the return of a promise. Distractedly, he leafed through the last pages of the Red Book, trying to recall when it was after they returned to the Shire that Frodo's road had started to stray from his own. For a long time it had seemed as if his dear Master was back: whole and untroubled and healed. But then, as the months advanced into their second year home Frodo had retired gradually from the daily goings on of the Shire, closeting himself more and more closely within Bag End and withdrawing into himself. And hints of Frodo's hidden burdens had whispered to Sam. He had not heard them clearly but they must have touched him because again he had begun to feel the binding of a promise unfulfilled. Now with Frodo's leaving he felt the sudden weight of that promise. He struggled to understand what it was. He had seen the journey through to Mount Doom and beyond; he had seen Frodo through to his last footsteps on Middle Earth. His Master's tale was over. What more was there for him to do?

Sam got up and walked in agitation around the study. He could not think here with the moon shining cold and distant upon him, and all the Quest laid before him in Frodo's own hand. Uncertainly - reluctantly - he padded down the hall to Frodo's room. He eased the door quietly open in deference to a heart longing to find his Master there, nestled under the bedclothes, lost in sleep. Sam stopped at the threshold, smiling sadly, remembering all the times this past summer when he had found Frodo just so, with the mid-morning sun shining full through the thin curtains and the dust motes dancing about his drowsing head. Bird song, insect buzz, the distant call and answer of children, all floating in the open window could not disturb Frodo's sleep. It was as if he had become immune to the life of the Shire.

Some mornings Sam could not help just watching Frodo sleep for a few more gentle moments before he called him. Here was his dear Master of the Shire. And if the sun was shrouded by clouds then in the dim room he might see, or might think he saw, the inner light that in Rivendell and Ithilien had graced his Master's face and figure. It seemed to grow stronger as the summer advanced. Sam was never sure whether it was a good sign or no to see Frodo transformed so, though peace was on his brow when it shone through the clearest. And always Sam would feel as he had in Ithilien when he had gazed upon Frodo while their stew slowly simmered.

But that summer he could never watch Frodo this way for long. No matter how quietly he stood Frodo would soon rouse without prompting, and so Sam always called to him softly at the first sign of wakening, and never let his Master know that he kept watch over him still.

Now, looking back, Sam saw that what he'd thought was a comfortable arrangement of the rhythms of their daily lives had really been a sign of things going wrong. In the deep of winter Frodo had begun to write earnestly - desperately even - secluding himself in the study, first for long lonely hours in the evening, and then late into the night, and finally until even the pale hour before sunrise. Then he slept until Sam woke him when the sun rode high into the sky. The routine had suited itself to Rosie and Sam. They rose at dawn, had their breakfast - just the two of them - and tended through the quiet morning to home and garden. When Sam woke Frodo the three of them shared their midday meal. Then Sam and Rosie were at Frodo's disposal until evening came on, when the Gamgees went early to bed and Frodo had Bag End to himself again, as he had done for those many long years between Bilbo's leaving and his own. Sam knew now that every evening he had abandoned Frodo to meet alone his dark memories and his demons. He should not have done so. He bowed his head and rubbed his sleeve across his eyes.

Now restlessly he wandered among Frodo's things, uneasy at being there on no purpose of his Master's. The flickering candle cast uncertain light and shadow on all the familiar furnishings, books and paintings. Many had been Bilbo's, and when Frodo inherited them he had kept them close, drawing about himself the comforting memory of his absent uncle, personified in his books, his paintings and his maps. Now Frodo had left these and all his own things to Sam. "You are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you." The words broke Sam's heart, he did not think he could stop it. He sat on Frodo's bed and pressed his face into his hands.

How had it come to this? How had it come to his Master's leaving? Sam knew Frodo was changed by his burden, how could it not be so? And he thought he understood this in some small way. During his own brief possession of the Ring he had felt the temptation of that falsely benevolent power tugging at his mind and heart and he had called on all his strength and understanding, and his love for his Master to forbear it. And even those few hours' burden had given him enough understanding to pity and spare the murderous Gollum. What had it been like for his Master?

They had never spoken of it between themselves. In those early days it had been enough for Sam to see the peace in Frodo's face and to hear the ease of his laughter as they sat with Merry and Pippin under the trees of Ithilien, exclaiming at their tales of Treebeard and their looting of Isengard. In Ithilien and Minas Tirith Frodo had left it to Sam to tell others if they asked of the journey across Mordor, and Sam would make short work of it. There was little pleasure in the telling. If Frodo was near then Sam would see the ghost of the Ring-bearer on Gorgoroth Plain return to dim the light in his Master's eyes and draw the blood from his cheeks. It had not yet become, after all, like one of the old tales to be told by the fireside, not for those whose part in the story was still going on, at least.

What had it been like for Frodo, Sam wondered, to write down their tale, when the burden of the Ring was still so heavy upon him? What power had the Ring still wielded that in the end had compelled Frodo to abandon the home and world he had suffered to the brink of death to save? Sam dropped his hands from his face, gripping his knees tight. He could not bear not knowing. He needed to understand.

He, too, was a Ring-bearer, and knew he still bore, buried deep, the taint of the power that had tempted him. But he had locked it away. In those first weeks in Minas Tirith it had come on him at times when he was tired or vexed, like a sudden flush rising in his belly. He had quickly learned to close his mind, and body, and heart to it until it ceased to return. But tonight, if he truly wanted to understand, then he would have to ease the barriers, let it come in its fullness, suffer the lure of the Ring unleashed.

Sam breathed deeply to quell the fear constricting his chest and closing his throat, willing himself to do this thing that might reconcile him to his Master's choice. He could not rest without understanding. For mere hours he had borne the Ring, but he knew its mark was still upon him. Squeezing his eyes shut, he cast his mind back to Cirith Ungol, and suddenly his heart, again bereft of his Master, was powerless. He felt the Ring heavy on its chain around his neck.

Like an overwhelming flush, swifter and stronger than he had reckoned possible, the desire coursed again within him. And again he felt himself enlarged with a power thrilling through his heart and limbs and mind. He thought with pity and condescension of his own puny healings of the Shire, and envisioned the greatness of its beauty and growth if only he could possess the Ring. His breath came ragged, and sweat pricked his skin as the urgent desire of command and domination swelled within him. If only he could wield the Ring . . . fulfill that desire . . . see his will done . . . be Master of all he wished to rule . . . if only.

Sam staggered to his feet, gasping, and stumbled blindly to the window. Desperately he drew back the curtains, fumbling with the latch of the casement to finally swing the pane wide. He focused on the pinpoint stars, breathing in the scent of mown grass and wood smoke. The Shire anchored him. Sobbing, Sam banished the longing from his mind and cast it from his heart with a force of will that did not falter until he was certain it was gone - that he had hidden it so deep it could not return, not without his leave, and that he would never give again.

Loss and longing slowly ebbed from him. He was spent, unfulfilled - unclean. That this forbidden and evil desire lived in him still with such strength shocked him. But that was not who he was, and it was not who he had ever been; it was a trick of evil and nothing more. It did not define him, Sam knew, but now with a sudden agony of understanding he realized there had been times during Frodo's last months in the Shire when briefly it had overwhelmed and defined his Master. How could it not be so, when in the end the Ring had bent Frodo to Its will, forced Itself onto his finger, claimed him? Sam leaned his forehead against the casement and drew in deep, shuddering breaths of the cool night air. He had not understood until now what Frodo had endured and, now that he did, he could not understand how Frodo had endured it for so long never been broken. The wonder was not that Frodo had left, but rather that he had possessed the strength of will to go on for even a moment after that terrible day on Mount Doom.

Wearily, Sam turned from the window and sat on the bed again, weeping now. How had his Master, a small hobbit of the unknown Shire, come to bear the evil that threatened all of Middle Earth? Sam cast his mind back to the start of his long journey with Frodo, this binding together of their paths when they were young and the Ring had not yet passed into Frodo's possession. So long ago now that Hamfast's last born son, newly motherless, had found refuge in Mr. Bilbo's hobbit hole, and in his tales and lessons, and had soon found solace with the nephew come to be his uncle's heir, who too well understood the little lad's loss.

Sam sighed. Unwittingly, Bilbo had brought the Ring to the Shire, and passed it on to the one person able to carry it to Mount Doom. Unwittingly, too, he had nurtured in his gardener's smallest son a longing for elves and for adventure and above all an abiding love for Bilbo's heir, a love that had been earned through a thousand small acts by that heir himself. It was here in this hobbit hole at the table in the dining room over tea and a lesson with Bilbo that Sam's love for Frodo had begun. In the end it carried them to the edge of destruction and back. But it could carry Frodo no further.

Not all wounds can be healed, Sam knew that well enough. But still, why had he been graced with healing when one far more deserving was passed over. Why could Frodo not be healed? Sam shook his head. He knew why, of course he did, if only he would admit it. Tonight he had barely glimpsed the dark places the Ring had taken Frodo to. And Frodo was burdened by other wounds as well, by the Nazgul blade, the spider's sting, and the bite of a pitiful creature beyond redemption. All had pulled Frodo from him during this quest that had bound Sam ever more strongly to his Master. But still why did it seem Frodo was being punished rather than rewarded?

Then Sam thought of Faramir's men in Ithilien during their routing of the Easterlings, and of those who had fallen and died, swiftly or slowly, for a cause they would never see triumph. Their lives had been precious to them, just as precious as Sam's was to him, and Frodo's to himself. Perhaps their part in the fight for Middle Earth had been smaller, but still they had done all they could, and given their lives doing it, and had reaped no reward. "Fairness" Sam now saw, had no meaning or influence in this story. It was enough to simply go on, doing what had to be done, hoping it would be enough, with no thought of a reward beyond knowing that what could be done, had been done.

And in the end, Frodo had been granted a gift denied to many who had fought, and he had been able to acknowledge it: "I have saved the Shire" he had said on the slopes of Mount Doom when death was closing in. Frodo had done, or seen done, what he had set out to do. And he had done what no other person in Middle Earth could have. If the worth of a life was measured by its accomplishments, Sam thought, then Frodo's life could not be measured any greater. He bowed his head. But the Shire had not measured it so, not by Sam's reckoning, not yet at least.

And so a long time Sam sat on the bed, weeping first with wonder for the greatness of Frodo's deeds and then desperately with sorrow for Frodo's loss of his home and his life. Finally, the grief that had filled Sam's heart these long days since Frodo's leaving was released. He wept until he was empty and spent. He wept until he felt hope echo within his empty heart, and then he let hope comfort him.

Frodo lived still, after all, though he was gone now, with Gandalf and Elrond, and with his beloved Bilbo. Gone now to find peace and healing with the elves. It was not for Sam to question Frodo's leaving, or to use his own breaking heart as a measure of Frodo's regret. His Master had always been his own judge of what he must do. He would go where his heart guided him, whether his Sam could follow him or no. It was no less than he deserved and it was a journey he had chosen - chosen at desperate need perhaps - but chosen just the same. Frodo's will was his own, Sam did not doubt that - he only longed to know that peace, wherever he could find it, would finally be his Master's reward.

Then Sam thought of how content Bilbo had been in Rivendell; and even he himself had wished to stop in Lothlorien on their homeward journey, and perhaps he might never have been able to leave it if he had. And now he remembered Frodo's own words to Pippin in Rivendell, after the Council, "Yesterday I dreamed that my task was done, and I could rest here, a long while, perhaps for good."

Yes, the Shire was not the only home a hobbit might be happy in. If Frodo had sought elsewhere what the Shire could not give him then no part of Sam should doubt that choice nor wonder whether he had gone at need, or would find what he sought. He must trust that Frodo had chosen a true path to peace and healing; it was, after all, a path that others far wiser than Sam Gamgee had shown him.

So Sam bowed his head and felt his heart breaking with thanks for the gift of Frodo's passage to the Undying Lands. And with this acceptance came finally the slow understanding: that he had been long released from the promise made to Gildor in the Woody End. Frodo's path was properly sundered from his own.

When Sam could think again the moon hung low in the sky, golden and huge, with its light reaching through the open window to flood over the walls and furnishings of Frodo's room and caress Sam's shining face. The words of Frodo's poem came to him and he heard Frodo speaking them, wistfully and sadly, but without bitterness or regret:

A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

Sam gazed at the moon dropping down to the hills beyond Hobbiton, and its golden beams warmed him as if they were the rays of the Sun.

But now Sam felt even more strongly the tug of a promise in his heart, and he wondered what he was to do, newly masterless as he was. Two years ago he had left the Shire with Frodo as just a simple gardener. As a hero to the free folk of Middle Earth he had returned. But in the end he had come back to be a gardener, and 'to do' for his Master, and had settled without regret or resistance into that simple life, the one he still felt he must truly have been heading for all his days. And now he was returned from a second journey, and a longer one perhaps, though he had been only a fortnight away. Outward bound he had again gone as Frodo's servant, and homeward he had come as the Master of Bag End.

Sam got heavily up. He closed the window, drew the curtains, straightened the coverlet on his Master's bed and shut the door gently behind him as he left. Down to the entrance hall he padded for his coat. It had gotten damp with seaspray at the Havens and he noticed that now it never quite felt dry and still it held the smell of the sea. He breathed in this comfort with silent thanks. Out into the garden he went, guided by the gentle light of the setting moon to the bench beneath the old apple tree. His gaze wandered from the vegetable garden, to the flowerbeds, the bushes and shrubberies, and to the windows of the hobbit hole itself.

"All that I have and might have had I leave to you". Frodo's words of gift, and Sam now realized it was with them that he had felt the sealing of a promise and the burden of a task to fulfill. What was he to do? "Carry on?" Take the life that was gifted to him when the one Ring went into the fire and carry on? The last journey, but not the hardest. To take Frodo's gift of his own life's inheritance and to use it well: keep the tale of the War of the Ring alive; see the Shire through its long healing to beauty and peace in the 4th Age, and, not the least, be one and whole.

Again Sam buried his head in his hands. "and Frodo-lad will come and Rosie-lass". And more, many more he resolved, enough hobbit children for the two families who should have dwelt in Bag End; enough when they were grown to be scattered across the four farthings and beyond and to take with them the legacy of the Ring-bearers.

Sam thought again of the Red Book. His now to keep safe. But even more: his now to finish. The last pages were for him. He drew a deep trembling breath. Frodo's part was ended and he was gone from Middle Earth, and left behind his Sam to tell their tale to its end. And he would do it; he would see Frodo's story told right through, and see it remembered and that the worth of that life was not forgotten, not for as long as Sam, or his children, or his children's children dwelt in Middle Earth.

He had not thought when he sat with Frodo on the stairs of Cirith Ungol talking of old tales and songs that some day he would be the one to write the end of their own tale. But there it was, and he would do his best, and leave it to others to decide whether theirs was a 'happy ending' or a 'sad ending', though he knew by the easing of his own heart this night which it truly was.

He smiled sadly. Frodo's words of gift, all of them now, came to him. They had settled into his heart during the silent journey home and they would never leave him:

I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you. And also you have Rose, and Elanor; and Frodo-lad will come, and Rosie-lass, and Merry, and Goldilocks, and Pippin; and perhaps more that I cannot see. Your hands and your wits will be needed everywhere. You will be the Mayor, of course, as long as you want to be, and the most famous gardener in history; and you will read things out of the Red Book, and keep alive the memory of the age that is gone so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more. And that will keep you as busy and as happy as anyone can be, as long as your part of the Story goes on.

Now Sam felt his whole self tremble with the knowledge of what he had been and now was and was yet to be. He looked down at his hands, rough with calluses, scarred by briar and thistle, with broken nails and bulging veins. These were no mayor's hands. Will Whitfoot had been mayor all Sam's life, and was mayor again, now that he had recovered from his time in the Lockholes. For a spell Frodo had done his job for him. But Sam was not like them. He was not suited to such office. His jobs lay with the gardens and forests of the Shire, carrying on the healing work begun with the Lady's small box of earth.

He looked around the garden - his garden now. He had not wanted it to be so; he had never wished to be his own Master, never coveted a home such as Bag End, nor desired more than was due to the son of a gardener. But it had come to him unasked for, and he saw now that oftentimes, for good or bad, this was the way of things in both the wide world and the four farthings. He must do what he could with what came to him. No more or less was being asked of him.

He thought of the Quest and the other tasks his hands at taken up at need: how the light of Earendil had shone from the Lady's glass through his fingers; how his hands had wielded Mr. Bilbo's sword against Shelob; taken the Ring unwillingly from his Master's neck and returned It at his bidding; held between them his Master's hands to still them from the lure of the Ring; fended off the murderous grasp of Gollum; and heeded the restraining voice of his heart when they could have killed the wretched thing with the cold steel they held. A gardener's hands, and no mistake, but they had done more at need then, and he must trust they could do so still. Frodo did.

For a long time Sam sat thinking while the new day approached, then he stood and shook off the chill that had seeped into him. The stars were faded into a deep blue sky and the last of the moon was slipping behind the distant hills. He watched it go, then went inside, hung his cloak on the first peg by the door, that had always been Frodo's, and padded down the hall to the study, back to the Red Book lying abandoned on the desk. It was a shadow in the soft gray light of morning. He shifted it gently to a corner of the desk and took a sheaf of parchment from the drawer, chose Frodo's second best quill and charged it with ink. Before he wrote he closed his eyes, steadying himself, trying to make sure he had every word right. Finally, he began in his angular hand, used only to making notes on the progress of the garden or the needs of the woods and the meadows of the Shire:

". . . you too were a Ring-bearer, if only for a little while. Your time may come. Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot be always torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do."

When he was done he tried to examine his work critically and to satisfy himself that it was a neat enough job for a first effort, and faithfully echoed Frodo's words, but his tears blurred his vision and dropped upon the page. He steadied himself again, then tucked Frodo's words away in the back of the book, returned the book to the bureau, hid the key and went to the window to watch the sun rise. "I will take the hidden paths that run, west of the moon, east of the sun," he whispered. Day or night, Frodo's path to the Undying Lands - and his path too, one day,- would be before him.

But he was back and his part in the tale was not yet ended. Sam closed his eyes. The lap and murmur of the sea came to him once more and he felt his eyes sting as if from salt spray, and his cheeks were wet and the taste of the sea was on his lips again, and his heart finally eased. "your time may come. . ."

But not yet. Frodo was right. Here was where he belonged and here was where he wanted to be. He could not always been torn in two. He had a job to do, a great job of work. He would see it through.

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