Sam faithfully celebrated Frodo’s birthday every year; usually he had a small party consisting of his and Rosie’s families and Merry and Pippin if they were able to come. The Red Book would be brought out and those that wished to would take it in turn to read from it or, even better, the three remaining travelers would tell their stories from memory.
When she was little Elanor loved this celebration almost more than any other the Gamgees held during the year. But as she got older she began to understand that for her father the pleasure was bittersweet at best, being a celebration that could not be enjoyed by the person who most deserved to enjoy it and who should have been the guest of honor. She saw that Sam’s sorrow did not diminish with time, but sprang forth fresh on this one day each year to be concealed by him as best he could in the noise and bustle of his family and friends.
* * *
On her 25th birthday Elanor began to understand better what she observed. She had a small party with only her brothers, sisters and parents, but the children took full advantage of the excellent excuse to eat more than they should and to be as noisy as Sam and Rosie would allow. After the cake Sam took Elanor into the study. He closed the door and then hesitated. Elanor looked at her father curiously, he was acting most strangely, almost as though he was not quite sure what to do. He removed an envelope from the desk drawer and sat down tentatively in a chair opposite her. “After Mr. Frodo went away, when you were just a baby, I found this.” He handed her the envelope and she immediately recognized the handwriting from the many hours she had spent poring over the Red Book: “To Elanor on her 25th birthday, from Frodo”.
“I don’t know what’s in it and I never found any other letters for anyone else, either. Now you’re old enough to be given it”.
“Daddy, why didn’t you ever tell me about this?”
“I didn’t think I should, not until it was time to give it to you. It was that hard, hiding it away and trying to forget about it all these years.” He tried to keep the longing from his eyes and turned his gaze away from the envelope. Elanor weighed it in her hands, hesitating under her father’s watchfulness, wondering what messages it contained from someone she could not remember, but whom she knew so well from her father’s faithful retellings and reminiscing.
Suddenly, Tom burst in through the study door. At age 5 he was the youngest – and the last – of the Gamgee lads and lasses. “There you are Elanor” he exclaimed, “we didn’t know where’d you’d got to. Come back to the party”.
Elanor laughed as Tom threw himself into her arms. She stood up and handed him to her father. “You go back to the party with daddy, I’ll be along in a minute,” she said.
“What’s that?” Tom demanded, pointing to the envelope Elanor still held. Taking his daughter’s lead Sam replied “that’s something special just for Elanor, to share with us if she chooses.” And he carried Tom out of the room, closing the door firmly behind them.
* * *
Very early the next morning Elanor heard her father get up and go outside. She rose and went in search of him, wrapping her cloak around her against the chill dawn air. All his life Sam had used the solitude and simple tasks of the garden to work through his troubles and soothe his sorrows, so Elanor knew where to look for him. She found him weeding the strawberries. Sam sat back on his heels and smiled ruefully up at Elanor as she approached. “The birds woke me, and I couldn’t get back to sleep,” he explained.
“I want to read my letter to you, daddy,” she said, and led him to the bench beneath the apple tree at the end of the garden.
It was a long letter and she read it slowly and calmly while Sam sat close to her, but his eyes were not on it. Frodo had written to Elanor of his love for her father, and of Sam’s bravery and loyalty during their long journey to Mount Doom, qualities that Frodo suspected Sam would not do full justice to in his own telling of the tale. He spoke of his love for the Shire, his sorrow at leaving it, but the pleasure it gave him knowing that children such as Elanor and her brothers and sisters would grow up in its peace and beauty. Then he charged her with the duty to always treasure her home, and to remember the sacrifices that had been made by so many to preserve it. Finally he wrote:
I had to leave the Shire because I had been too wounded in my quest to ever be well and whole enough to enjoy it. My leaving grieved your father, as it grieved me, but I was comforted knowing he could be one and whole in the Shire, and this is a knowledge that will comfort me daily, and make our separation bearable. Elanor, you are blessed with a wonderful father. Take care of him.
The letter was finished. Elanor knew the last paragraph had been written for Sam. She folded the letter and put it back in the envelope. Sam never asked her to read it again, but Elanor noticed that he seemed less troubled on Frodo’s birthday that year and in all the years that followed.
* * *
Rosie Gamgee died on Midsummer’s Day in the year 1482. Up to the day of her death Frodo’s prediction had held true, Sam was as “one and whole” as any hobbit in the Shire. For many years after the children had grown and left Bag End to pursue their own joys (which were many) and sorrows (which were few) Sam and Rosie lived on contentedly in Bag End. Sam tended his garden, growing more vegetables, and especially “taters”, than he and Rosie could possibly use, despite the numerous family dinners still given week in and week out. In rainy and cold weather he puttered about the old hobbit hole putting it through yet another slow but complete reorganization and restoring it, now that the children were gone, and though he little realized what he was doing, to its former arrangement when Frodo had been the master of Bag End.
After Rosie’s death Elanor watched her father closely. Though he was 102 years old and living alone for the first time in his life he refused to leave Bag End to live with her and her family. He was in excellent health, and since he had looked after Rosie by himself in the last few years while her health had failed Elanor knew she need have no fear for her father’s physical well being. And at first he seemed not to grieve the loss of his wife too deeply. Her death was not unexpected, and their abiding love for each other had ensured that they had said all that needed to be said between them. Elanor had long sensed that her father expected to outlive Rosie, even before her mother became ill, and had she been possessed of less knowledge than she was she would have wondered at the change that overtook him as the summer progressed. It appeared to be like deepening grief.
Sam distributed among their children and grandchildren all of Rosie’s possessions according to her instructions, and gave, at the same time, many of his own. He sent to the museum at Michel Delving the mithril coat and the small sword Sting, and his own wooden box, his gift from the Lady Galadriel, which had held the mallorn seed and the earth of Lothlorien and by which the Shire was blessed with beauty. He tended the garden at Bag End as always, and perhaps gave greater attention to the simple tasks than he had for many years. But he made no plans for the next year’s garden as fall drew closer and when he harvested he let the soil lie bare and fallow.
Elanor visited often and she sensed a hesitation in her father. September came and Sam remained at Bag End, refusing all invitations from his sons and daughters to visit, if only for a day or two, and welcoming few to Bag End except Elanor. Merry and Pippin visited Sam in early September, at Elanor’s prompting. They talked of the War of the Ring, and of the Scouring of the Shire and the wonderful jewel it had become in the more than 60 years since. Sam seemed more grieved than comforted by the visit. In the second week of September Elanor went to him.
She let herself in when he did not answer the bell, and found him sitting on the sofa in the study, the Red Book closed on his lap, deep in thought. She sat next to him and took his rough, strong hands in her own. Sam squeezed her hands and gave her a small smile. “Frodo will be 114 years old in 10 days” he said “and I have missed his last 61 birthdays”.
“It would be a shame to miss another one” she replied. Sam put the Red Book carefully on the table beside him and took his oldest daughter into his arms.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said hoarsely. “I’m that torn in two again. I want to go, and I’ve made ready to go, except for the good-byes. I don’t know how to say good-bye, to explain how I want to leave everyone I love so dear. But I’m that tired. I’ve looked after the Shire, and I’ve raised you and your brothers and sisters, and helped with the grandchildren, and loved your mother all her life. And I feel I’m done, and I’m tired; there’s a weight on me that I don’t understand.” He paused and added in a whisper “and a longing that I do”. Then he released himself from her arms and looked at her. “But Elanor, how is it you know what troubles me, for I’ve never said a word in all these years, that one day I might go across the sea?”
Elanor drew out of her small satchel a very old and yellowed envelope that Sam had not seen since her 25th birthday. His hands shook as he took it from her.
“Frodo’s letter to you”, he said. “You read it to me, and it was many years ago and only once but I feel I remember every word. Frodo said naught about what troubles me today”.
“No”, she said. “That was not the only letter”. And the large envelope back she removed from it the letter Frodo had written her and two smaller envelopes. One was addressed to her and had been opened. “I did not tell you about this one” she said, handing it to him. As Sam read it, his hands began to tremble.
When you were born you were so beautiful you father did not know what to name you. There was no flower of the Shire that was both so fine and so singular that its name deserved to be given to you. So I reminded him of the little golden sun-star flower that blesses Lothlorien. Thus you came to be named Elanor. You were six months old when I last saw you and growing, as your father predicted, “beautifuller still”. You were a blessing to him and a comfort to his heart when he was in special need of both.
When I told your father I was leaving he said he felt “torn in two”. He wanted to stay with me, but even more, he wanted to remain in the Shire with your mother and you, and the rest of your family yet to come. It was a cruel circumstance that his love for me, that kept him steadfastly by my side through our long and terrible journey, and his love for the Shire, that kept the strength of hope alive in him during that journey, should come to be set against each other and create such torment in his heart.
But he knew, and I knew, that the only place for him was the Shire. He had many things yet to do – be a husband and father, nurture the Shire to a beauty never before seen in the four farthings, and, not the least, keep alive the tale of the War of the Ring. But, Elanor, there will come a time when these tasks are done. Though your mother will have a full and happy life, your father will outlive her. You and your brothers and sisters will be grown and will be passing on to your own sons and daughters the tale of the War of the Ring. Then your father will be ready to join me. He bore the One Ring only briefly, but when his work in the Shire is done then perhaps the darkness that comes from that burden will no longer be kept at bay and his longing to join me no longer assuaged.
But I will not be there to guide him on his way. For this reason I write to you. If, after your mother is gone, your father makes preparations to leave, but remains at Bag End, then I ask you to give him the letter I have written for him, which I entrust to your care. You may then also show him this one.
Elanor, I do not lightly ask you to do this thing that will separate you forever from your father. I give you this early forewarning of your task so that you can see for yourself, over the many years your father will yet be with you, that I ask no more than what is due to him. And to me. Together we went to Mount Doom, both of us comforted by the thought that when the Ring was cast into the Cracks of Doom and our end came on the fiery slopes of the mountain we would be together. And together we still need to be.
Sam hugged Elanor tightly, and she could feel him struggling against tears. “All these years” he said hoarsely “you’ve known all these years that I might leave one day. How could Frodo burden you with this?”
“It was not a burden, daddy. I knew how much you loved Frodo; every time you told us the story of the War of the Ring it became clearer and clearer. And mummy had told me about the Grey Havens, though I don’t think she ever really let herself understand what Frodo’s leaving meant to you. This letter showed me how much he loves you, and it has comforted me to know that he waits for you, and that one day you would be ready to go. It was not a burden. And he was right to think that a day like today might come, when you are ready to leave, but cannot leave, so he needed someone here to help you, and him. I am honored he chose me to be that person.” She released herself from Sam’s arms and gave him the last letter. “Here is his letter to you”.
Sam took the letter and held it, not breathing, feeling like time had played a sudden trick. He was seated on Bill the pony, under the stars of the Shire, and Frodo was beside him, Elrond before him, with Galadriel and Gildor, Gandalf and Bilbo, and Frodo’s words were in his ears “you, too were a Ring bearer, if only for a little while. Your time may come”.
He rubbed his sleeve across his eyes and handed the envelope back to Elanor “I can’t read it, you must read it for me”.
She took it from him and began. It was very brief; few words were needed.
My dearest Sam,
I have no doubt Elanor is reading this to you because you can’t stop the tears in your eyes. Master Gardener, the Shire has flourished under your stewardship – the gardens and fields, the orchards and plantations. Your children and grandchildren are spread to the four farthings and beyond. You have nurtured and husbanded all your long life, and you have kept alive the memory of the Great Danger, and instilled in every hobbit in the shire a love for their land, their kin and their friends. Your long work is done. Your story ends with me.
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
Nor bid the Stars farewell
And they held each other for a long time without speaking.
“I am ready” said Sam.
The next day Sam wrote brief letters and set Bag End to rights. He brought his elven cloak and its silver and green broach out of safekeeping and made them ready for the morning. He gave Elanor the Red Book. They left on ponies before dawn the following day.
* * *
When they arrived at the Grey Havens a small sailing ship was moored in the harbour, tossed gently by the waves, and it creaked as it rocked. Sam looked down upon it and was afraid. All those many years ago, paddling down the Anduin in an elven boat that would not founder, with Frodo and Aragorn by his side, he had been afraid to be on the water. But this, the prospect of this lone journey into the wide sea, he had not fully considered before now.
An elf came off the ship and approaching them bowed in greeting. “Master Gamgee, I have come to accompany you across the sea.” Sam had not seen elves since he had taken Rose and Elanor to Gondor when Elanor was only 20 years old, but they continued to enchant him.
Then Sam hugged Elanor, and gathering his courage, let her go for the last time. The elf took Sam’s hand and led him onto the small ship. He did not look back. He stood at the bow with the elf by his side, and endured the rise and fall of the prow in the waves and the wind and sea spray in his hair. Other elves went about their duties on the ship, but he took no notice of them.
The day wore on and evening began to fall, though Sam was not aware of the passage of time. Sometimes he stood alone at the bow and sometimes the elf was with him. Afterwards Sam could never remember what they talked about or the songs that the elf would sing. He was given an evening meal and a place to sleep, and slept without dreaming and on waking returned to the deck, looking always into the open seas of the west. And so he stood on the morning of the third day, with the rays of the rising sun behind him, and the elf next to him. Then he saw a green land with golden shores. The song of the elf beside him mingled and merged with the calls of sea birds. As the ship drew nearer to the shore he espied a white dock, and, after a time, a small lone figure, standing there, still and patient. Sam smiled and felt his heart finally ease. “I’ve come back, Mr. Frodo,” he whispered.