LINDEN AND LAUREL – Part 3 of the `Seasons in the Shire’ Trilogy
( This story stands completely on its own, as a complete, independent story, but if you are interested in reading the first two parts of this tale, please check ff.net – the works of Aratlithiel1 )
By Aratlithiel and Ariel (Original concept by Ariel, writing by Aratlithiel, beta by Ariel)
Summary: Sam deals with Frodo’s illness and departure
March (Rethe), 1420 S.R.
‘But do not expect me to wish you health and long life. You shall have neither.’
Sam grimaced as he gazed at the tiny linden tree that leaned forlornly over the riverbank. It’s withered, broken bows hung so low they nearly caressed the sparkling surface of the Brandywine as it rushed busily by on its watery errand through Buckland. He reached out to touch several long gouges that marred its young bark and dipped a blunted fingertip into a well of fragrant sap that had gathered in a particularly deep and cruel looking gash.
‘You shall have neither.’
Sam thought he had seen his share of destruction during his travels but his look into the Lady’s mirror had not prepared him for what he had found when he finally reached the home he had yearned for during that eternity of pain and heartache. It seemed as if the heart of the Shire had been uprooted and burned along with the trees Sharkey had wantonly destroyed. The longer he spent on his new forestry duties and the more devastation he encountered, the more every living thing became precious to him. Each sapling that had survived was his triumph and each that perished caused a new pain in his heart.
‘…health and long life…’
It seemed that whenever his gardener’s eyes fell upon a plant, bush or tree that was beyond hope, his mind worried at the spiteful words Sharkey had uttered in hatred and malice. The sight of a living thing broken and hopeless ever turned Sam’s thoughts to his master.
No. Not hopeless.
Sam stroked the slashes that covered the sapling’s spindly trunk and rubbed a dollop of the thin sap between his finger and thumb. He knew what sort of weapons had made the marks, for he had seen them up close and dripping with black blood. He cursed the wanton nature of creatures who would seek to end the life of something so fine simply because it was their nature to hate anything of beauty.
He sniffed at his fingers but even the light fragrance of the tree’s sweetness seemed weak and violated, far less potent than he knew it should have been. He touched his tongue to the sticky sap and tested the texture of the tree’s lifeblood.
Not hopeless. If it can still weep it can still live.
He knew it would be smarter to cut the sapling down and pile it with the other woody debris to be hauled away and used for mulch and winter fuel. A life spent caring for living things had taught him that sometimes it was necessary to pinch away dying buds so that new life could spring forth. This little tree would surely die anyway and Sam knew he should make way for the flush of new growth that would undoubtedly take its place. Putting this sad little plant out of its misery was probably the best thing he could do for it.
His eyes followed the cut marks downward until they reached the ground. Here, by the banks of the river, the soil had been eroded away leaving the roots exposed and dried-out on the side toward the water. Dried, withered fingers of ropy wood extended ever downwards in a vain attempt to reach the rich loam that had given it birth.
Yes – better to cut it down and make room for new life to take root and flourish in its place. Sam turned and stepped over to where he had left his hatchet. He hesitated and without understanding quite why he did it, grasped his shovel instead. He walked the short distance back to the hopeless sapling. Gently, he began to dig, freeing the rest of its fragile roots from the soil and wrapping the root ball carefully in a large bundle of coarse cloth.
He set his small charge tenderly in his hand-wagon and returned to his work on the riverbank.
Sam had been touring the Southfarthing for nigh on a fortnight, checking the progress of the Lady’s magic and seeing to the condition of the trees he had planted. He had been more than pleased with the results of his labors. With very few exceptions, the flora was thriving. The Lady’s blessing seemed to be working miracles all around him. In time the land would recover and his heart swelled with pride to know that he had some small hand in making it possible. But it was time he made his way back to Hobbiton. The restoration of Bag End would be complete soon and Merry and Pippin were expected from Crickhollow, hauling Frodo’s belongings back to his home. Sam thought there was a chance he might catch up with them on the road and they all could travel the rest of it together. He had missed his companions and would welcome their company but most of all; he wanted to get home because he missed his Rose.
He smiled to himself. He had spent days agonizing over exactly how he would ask for her hand. He had held imaginary conversations with her, trying to anticipate her every response. Seeing as how Rose was almost as willful as she was fair, Sam was quite certain she would have some hard questions for him and he wanted to be primed and ready with answers she would find fair to hear. No, he was done with his adventuring, and yes, his situation with Mr. Baggins was quite secure. He had been so well prepared for so long that when he finally opened his mouth his arguments had come tumbling out before he had a chance to stop himself. He was both shocked and overjoyed when she said, without hesitation or question, “Well you’ve wasted a year, so why wait longer?”
They had yet to tell anyone other than Rose’s parents but Rose wanted a May wedding so he didn’t imagine the news would keep too much longer. She was the best lass he knew and the fact that she seemed to have a tender spot for his master only made him love her more. Few people were interested in his Mr. Frodo these days, unless it was to whisper behind their hands about how his journey had only made him even more odd. The fact that Rose pointedly ignored such things warmed his heart. She seemed to see some small part of what he saw in his master and that gave Sam a depth of feeling for her that he didn’t think had been there before they’d left on their travels.
Now if only he could help Mr. Frodo find a nice lass for himself, maybe things would be alright again. If ever there was a hobbit who deserved to be well-loved and tenderly cared for the rest of his days it was certainly Frodo Baggins.
‘You shall have neither.’
Sam cringed and cursed himself for letting the filthy words sneak into his otherwise pleasant reverie. It wasn’t that Sam believed them, necessarily – Frodo himself had said the corrupted wizard had lost his power and his words were only a feeble attempt to daunt and deceive. But he still could not help the fear and worry that toyed with him whenever he allowed the words to enter his thoughts. It was as if once they had been spoken aloud, it would only be a matter of time before they became truth.
Sam tried to push the thoughts away. His master was better now, wasn’t he? Surely, he’d not entirely gotten back to his old self yet, but that was to be expected after the horrors he’d been through. The treacherous road and the filthy thing he’d been chained to for so long would have been enough to sap the very life out of anyone. The fact that his master was still walking and breathing and not babbling or drooling like a halfwit was testimony to his strength and will. Sam could not bring himself to lose faith in that will now…not after he’d seen it demonstrated so many times and in the worst of circumstances.
Mr. Frodo would be fine. He would. It would just take some time was all. As soon as Sam got him settled into Bag End, his master could rest and let his Sam take care of him. Things would be better. Of course they would.
He turned to check on the plants and flowers he carted. Collected from the blasted remnants of South Farthing’s gardens and forests, they would find a home in Hobbiton where they could thrive unmolested. Sam would fill his gaffer’s and Mr. Frodo’s plots with a richness and diversity that had not been seen in these parts since Mr. Bilbo’s day. He smiled and his eye fell to the linden sapling. Maybe he’d plant the little tree in one of the gardens at Bag End where he could keep a careful eye on it. He could nurse it back and make it grow again. Of course he could.
May (Thrimidge), 1420 S.R.
Healing. He stroked the marred bark with tender fingers, gently tracing over the hostile reminders of the wounds so ruthlessly inflicted. They’d never heal completely, of course. They’d always be there for anyone who looked close enough to see. But he doubted anyone ever would – folks just didn’t like reminders of bad times past and would much prefer to focus their attentions on the beauty exploding around them, especially in this year of bounty and plenty.
He had carried the sapling here to Bag End all the way from Buckland and his father had taken one look at it and shaken his head at his son. “Y’ve a good heart, son,” the Gaffer had said, his face tender, yet hard and sad, “but not everythin’ can be saved. And mayhap somethings is best left to their own misery. Elsewise they’re like to break yer heart one day.”
Sam had been just a little bit angry with his father – probably because he knew the Gaffer was right. Angrier still with himself because he couldn’t rightly say what had possessed him to bring this tree home with him, battered and near-death as it was. Something about it just seemed to speak to him and tug at his gut in a way that few things in his life did. And Sam had learned through many trials and hard choices to always trust his gut.
Now, a few months later, Sam was heartened a little by the slow signs of healing the little tree showed. The gashes – once so stark and white against its grey flesh – had hardened and mellowed. Swellings of healing scar wood were filling in the sides of the gashes and the exposed heartwood had weathered to blend more subtly with the unbroken bark. The sap it had bled freely now coursed undisturbed through its branches and boughs, providing nourishment rather than flowing over its own wounds.
He stroked his hand along the spindly branches, his fingers seeking and finding tiny buds of freshest green poking out along the branches through the dead, brown nubs of the year’s first growth. Tiny but perfectly heart shaped leaves caressed his callused fingers. Not thriving – not yet anyway – but trying. The transplanting had been a tricky operation – so many of its roots had withered even before Sam had dug it up that the remaining healthy ones had not been able to support even the meager crown that remained. With rich soil and judicious watering, he had coaxed the tiny tree to finally grasp hold and dig deep. It was trying and Sam decided that as long as it tried, he would keep it safe and cared for and keep encouraging it, coaxing it back to life. He would keep his faith.
August (Wedmath), 1420 S.R.
It stood melancholy and slight just a few feet away from his master’s study window. Sam had planted it there because the sunlight was just right and the Hill behind it gave it a measure of shelter from the harsh autumn winds that whistled through the surrounding hills. And truth be told, Sam liked to be able to look out at it any time he wanted – just to make sure it hadn’t taken a turn or been blown down by a sudden gust.
It had shown signs of steady improvement all through the spring of that year. Its limbs didn’t seem to droop quite so low anymore and Sam had been overjoyed to see a new flush of growth spring forth on the day he married his sweet Rose. It was as if the tree were trying to share its joy for him in the only way it knew how – by living and surviving and by digging its roots deeper just as it knew he wanted it to. And stars and glory if it wasn’t still holding on and trying. Trying.
November (Blotmath), 1420 S.R.
He sank down next to the tree – his tree he had come to think of it – snaking a protective arm about its slender trunk and absently stroking the rough bark. It was a good place to sit and think and Sam found himself doing a lot of that lately.
He was worried. Very worried. He had been sure his master was recovering. Slowly, yes, but surely and steadily or so Sam had convinced himself. Frodo had been nothing less than overjoyed that spring when Sam and Rose had exchanged their vows. He’d been first in line to kiss the bride and shed tears of undiluted joy when he had next embraced Sam. They settled in comfortably together, Rose immediately taking charge of feeding him back to ‘proper hobbit size’ as she put it. Sam took care of the gardens and his forestry duties, Rose took care of Bag End and they both took care of Mr. Frodo.
Took care as much as they could at any rate. He was slipping away – Sam could feel it. What’s more, Rose felt it too and both of them felt helpless to coax him out of the melancholy. The bone-deep sadness radiated from his eyes so blindingly sometimes that you just had to look away or risk him seeing the tears his sorrow brought to your own eyes.
He had resigned his duties as Deputy Mayor and that disturbed Sam. He had hoped that the temporary office would draw his master out more, forcing him to participate in the doings of the Shire he so loved. Sam thought that once folk spent some time with his master and began to see him – really see him – the rumors and nasty comments that had always followed him would finally stop. Folk would see him for the noble hero that he was and wouldn’t have the heart to spread their bile anymore.
Instead, his master’s travels only seemed to inflame the gossip. People pointedly ignored Sam’s efforts to educate them on what his master had done. How he had saved them all from a darkness so black they couldn’t imagine it. Nobody cared and nobody wanted to know. When Frodo relinquished his duties to old Whitfoot at the Free Fair, most just shrugged and thought how typical it was for Baggins to hole himself up in his home, keeping to himself in that most peculiar Baggins way. Frodo just seemed to accept it with an amused resignation and quietly withdrew from Shire life to spend more and more time in his study.
Shortly after, Rose had given Sam the joyous news that he would be a father and Frodo had wept when Sam told him. Sam had allowed himself to believe that the anticipation of childish laughter and scampering feet in the tunnels of Bag End would give his master the happiness he had been lacking since his return.
Then October had arrived on whispers of gold and russet. Fragrant wood smoke wafted in the air and the winds that had not yet reached their autumnal ire, satisfied themselves for a time with appling cheeks and pinking noses. The harvest had been extraordinary and there was not a hobbit in all the Shire who would want for anything that fall.
Except maybe Samwise Gamgee. Sam only wanted for one thing in that year of good fortune and plentiful bounty. Sam wanted his master to be as whole and as happy as he was. Sam wanted him healed.
Things had only gotten worse since the summer. The air had chilled and fall crept up on a silvery sigh, and the year’s waning seemed echoed in his master’s form. He looked well enough at first glance, but if one looked closer and cared to notice, one might note the clothes that hung just a little too loose or the blue shadows underneath the depthless, too-wise eyes. You might see the winces and small cringes that crossed his handsome face when he got up too fast or walked too far. And though you might warm to see his familiar crooked smile, you might also notice that it rarely reached his eyes and that he gazed at you with horrible knowledge and endless sorrow carefully cloaked behind a pretense of careless mirth.
All of these things were hidden; concealed with a desperation that spoke of boundless love for those he wished to protect from such knowledge…but Sam saw. Sam saw everything and Sam was afraid.
‘…health and long life…’
Frodo spent far too much time locked away in his study, poring over the past and recording it for those who might wish to learn the tale in years to come of the darkness that had come so close to claiming them all. The few times Sam had flipped through the elegantly scripted pages, he had been struck by how Frodo had downplayed his own efforts and sufferings. His agony during the seventeen days from Weathertop to Rivendell was barely mentioned and the horrors of Cirith Ungol were skipped almost altogether, except for the details of Sam’s own acts in that accursed place. To read the text as his master had written it down, one would think that he had simply awoken in Ithilien, strolled blithely to the pavilion and commenced to feasting. No mentions were made of the numerous thick bandages that covered his body or the nightmares that woke him screaming and sobbing until his voice left him and he lay limp and exhausted in Sam’s arms. Too painful for him to think about, perhaps or to dwell on long enough to write down, Sam supposed.
He had found his master one evening in early October, collapsed over his writings and in the clutches of a dark dream. Sam had helped him to bed and Frodo had tried valiantly to appear well and hale the next day. But Sam and Rose had both noticed his absence from the dinner table and heard the soft moans and muffled screams from behind the locked bedroom door. Frodo had tried to hide them, but Sam and Rose, attuned by deepest love, could hear his cries. They stayed away as much as they could and pretended not to see – it seemed important for Frodo to believe his pretense was successful – but always they kept an ear on the door and a surreptitious eye on his gait as he stumbled from the bedroom to the study.
It wasn’t until the illness seemed past and Sam’s worry receded that he realized the date on which it had begun. It had been two years ago to the day that malevolent screeches had filled the black night and an evil blade disintegrated with the first glint of rose-colored sunlight in the pre-dawn sky. Sam’s dreams were filled with the memory of it and of the coppery-sweet smell of his master’s blood coating his hands.
‘You shall have neither.’
No. It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. That his master should still suffer from the wounds inflicted upon him on his dark journey was the worst kind of injustice and Sam refused to believe that that sort of unfairness could exist. He could not consider that the one who had endured such darkness to save all that was good and beautiful would in the end be deprived of it. It was too unfair. It was too wrong.
His hand clenched around the slender trunk and his teeth ground in his mouth. He gazed at the bare, pale branches, looking brittle now and old – as if one good wind would snap them and send them skittering across the bleak November grey.
It looked dead.
Tears crowded behind Sam’s eyes as his gardener’s voice told him that if it didn’t look better in March, he would have to finally concede and let the little thing go. Sometimes faith just wasn’t enough.
February (Solmath), 1421 S.R.
Yule came and went and the good cheer of the season seemed to spread right through Afteryule and into Solmath. The exuberance of the Shirefolk at the bounty and merriment simply could not be contained. Their general good fortune after a year of oppressive rule and fear was cause for constant celebration and none of them felt the least bit decadent for indulging.
The cheer spread itself far and wide and Bag End was no exception. Visits from Merry and Pippin only added to the ebullience that infused the very air of the spacious smial. Plentiful dinners of Rosie’s excellent fare and cozy nights spent in the comfort of a blazing fire and each other’s company seemed to bring color to Frodo’s pale face and life back to his eyes. Rose’s belly grew full and round and Sam again relaxed and allowed himself to believe that the turning point had passed. He began to feel hope that his master’s health and would bloom again with the splendor of the spring. .
March roared in with the storms that winter seemed to have forgotten about. They howled through the hills of Hobbiton with an urgent rush that seemed determined to exact payment from the land before the reward of spring. Sam watched his tree through the study window, every gust of fierce wind seeming to bend it lower in supplication to the harsh world in which it struggled to survive.
Frodo was ill again mid-month and again thought to conceal it from his friends. But Sam saw with great love in his heart that Rose kept a careful eye on him as if she had expected it and lent assistance as unobtrusively as she could without letting on that she was aware of his suffering. Pots of tea or light soups when he was awake and extra blankets or cool cloths at his forehead when he was not were all she could really do but Sam loved her more than he could say for trying.
Soon enough, Rosie’s time came due and she gave birth to a lass as fair and beautiful as any who had ever before graced the Shire. Sam had handed his daughter back to the midwife and wept in Frodo’s arms for the joy of it. The name Elanor was settled upon and for a while, Sam forgot his worries about both his master and the sapling and simply existed, basking in the elation that good fortune had provided him.
The little tree held on. It had survived the cruel spring weather and had even managed to send forth new leaves – granted they were small and few, but their cool green gave way to warmer hue as spring turned to summer and Sam once again felt hope surge in his heart.
October (Winterfilth), 1421 S.R.
It had been several weeks since Sam had the heart to come out and visit his tree and now the sight of it just made his heart ache worse. It had been declining steadily since August and now it seemed as though Sam’s own bleak humor had been absorbed by it and it shared his grief at the loss of his master.
It was leafless and pitiful, its rich charcoal bark bleached to a sickly grey – it’s old wounds showing stark in the harsh October light. Sam sank to the ground at its feet and wept, casting his arms around the spindly trunk and embracing it as his tears rained down, moistening the hard, cold soil at its roots.
Tears of rage, sorrow and unfathomable grief fell from his eyes and scattered on the ground like an offering to a deity who neither knew him nor cared of his anguish.
‘… I have been too deeply hurt…’
Yes, Frodo had been hurt – hurt more deeply than anyone who had ever walked the face of Middle earth. But instead of being rewarded for his deeds and his love for all things living, instead of being given the life he had longed for spent alongside beloved friends in the home of his heart, Frodo had had to make the harshest of choices – leave behind all that he loved and perhaps live, or stay and force those dearest to him to watch him die, for die he surely would.
Had Sam been aware of Frodo’s options sooner, he could well have predicted which way his master would choose. His Frodo had never been one to cause pain to those he loved, not if he could help it. He’d rather endure it himself, keep it locked within and spare his friends, no matter the cost to himself. It was the reason his feet had led him out of the Shire to begin with three years ago and it was that same reason that led him to the agonizing decision to leave for the West.
Sam did not fault Frodo for his choice, but laid his blame on those who had inflicted it upon him. He was angry beyond words for what the Wise had put his dear master through – the dark roads he had traveled, the wounds he had suffered. They were the ones who had chained that filthy trinket like a lodestone to his neck. They had caused the steady erosion of his spirit, the wearing away of his heart and the stealing of his gentle soul. Frodo had suffered because he had trusted those he thought wiser than himself – and they had said it must be done.
And he had done it – he had done what they had asked and all he had sought in return was to go home. The coffers of Gondor had been thrown open to him, offers of gold and parcels of land were offered to him with open palms and he had wanted none of it – he had only wanted to go home. Now even that small reward had been denied him and Sam wished there were someone he could lay hands on and throttle and scream ‘Why?! Why?!’ until he got an answer that would satisfy him. But Sam knew in his heart that there was no answer that would salve his heart and so he clutched at his tree and wept until his chest hitched and his eyes burned dry and harsh in their sockets.
But the worst part of all was that Sam couldn’t be sure. No one, not even Gandalf himself, had been able to assure him that the West would heal his master. He had sought Master Elrond’s wise council during that final journey, but even the elven lord could not guarantee that Frodo’s leaving all he loved was more than an empty hope. Sam no longer had trust or faith that Frodo would be healed just because that was what was fair – he had too much experience with unfair when it concerned his master – and it was the uncertainty, more than anything else, that ate him up inside. After all the tearful goodbyes had been said, and the emptiness of that last shore had stolen its way deep into his heart, Sam realized his greatest heartache came from a fear that Frodo would die far from home and bereft of kin and friend. The uncertainty was what made letting go of his dear master so wholly unbearable.
He could still hope, but hope seemed to have fled with trust and faith and Sam had only his anger to warm his heart now.
He pulled away and looked up at the linden, his eyes marking every bruise, every gash, every scar. It’s branches hung lower now than they had when he had stumbled upon it last spring and as he had last year, Sam told himself he would give it one more winter and then let it go.
April (Astron), 1422 S.R.
The winter passed slowly and uneventfully. Sam took undiluted joy in his wife and daughter but not much else. Certainly there were moments of true happiness, but by and large, his thoughts throughout the cold season were filled with his master and he found himself frequently worrying over voices of the past.
‘Where shall I find rest?’
‘Alas! There are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured.’
‘But do not expect me to wish you health and long life. You shall have neither.’
‘…I have been too deeply hurt…’
If only Sam could be sure – if only he could know. Maybe then he could be one and whole as Mr. Frodo had wanted him to be. But until he was certain, until he could somehow know that his master had finally been rewarded the health and happiness he so richly deserved, Sam would remain torn in two and thus reluctantly defy his master’s last wish for him.
Rose seemed to understand, bless her, and always knew, somehow, when a dark mood was coming upon him. She would gently pry him from his morbid thoughts and coax him back into life at Bag End where the scent and feel of Frodo Baggins still lingered. She missed him too, Sam knew, but somehow seemed more confident than he that Frodo had found what he sought in the West. Rose never seemed to doubt that the last Baggins to dwell under the Hill had found the peace he had earned through blood and privation and so thoroughly merited. Rose believed in justice and fairness and so could not imagine any other end for the noble Ringbearer. Sam, who had already witnessed too many injustices, had not the faith his wife did. He remained a heartsick and worried hobbit, still unhappily torn in two.
July (Afterlithe), 1422 S.R.
Spring rolled in more gently this year and to Sam’s surprise, the little sapling suddenly seemed to reawaken. It took on a deeper, richer color and sprouted emerald buds of new life too numerous to count on its wavering branches. It no longer held the unhealthy cast of a thing on the verge of death, but the intense, vibrant glow of something newly reborn and rejoicing in its good fortune. It grew amazingly fast and soon enough its small crown had thickened and spread till it actually cast a circle of real shade in the garden. Sam thought it almost looked as if it were extending its boughs to the heavens in new-found joy and he couldn’t help the smiles it brought to his face whenever his glance wandered to it.
Even the Gaffer had grudgingly admitted that the tree was thriving. “Aye, I suppose it’s found its place, then,” he grumped with a twinkle in his eye and hobbled away whistling with a smirk for his son. Sam laughed.
Summer eventually relieved spring and a haze settled over Hobbiton that kept the heat of the sun close to the ground and most hobbits in the cooler recesses of their smials. The heat had even convinced Sam to leave his labors early. He had worked hard the whole day and the dampness in his shirt and trickles of sweat coming from under his wooly pate convinced him he was quite due for a bath. He would then settle in, clean and comfortable under his favorite tree and relax with his afternoon tea.
He had pulled some of the blossoms from the linden’s heavily laden boughs a few weeks before and decided that they would be dry enough now for the tea he had been looking forward to making from them. He left the light brown fragments of flower steeping fragrantly in the kettle while he went to check on his wife and daughter. Both sweet lasses were spooned together on the bed in a room with no windows in the back of the smial. It was one that Mr. Frodo used to reserve for guests who did not happen to be in his highest favor. Sam’s old master had always favored windows and open air and it had seemed logical to him to deprive those he wished to encourage to leave of them. He had probably never even considered how pleasant such a room would be at the height of summer’s heat. Sam wondered idly how many guests had lingered past their welcome during the hottest months to the consternation of their reluctant host. He chuckled and made his way back to the kitchen to finish making his tea.
He carried his mug outside and paused to marvel at his tree. His eyes lovingly took in the riot of green and sunlit yellow leaves that whispered against the hot, laden breeze and the golden clusters of rounded blossoms that swung like tiny bells from beneath graceful yellow-green canopies as fine and translucent as tissue. He walked over to run his hand along the bark as he had so many times before and was again amazed at the magic that seemed to have been worked on this once pathetic and broken little sapling. Sam could still see the scars, but only because he knew they were there and was looking for them. He didn’t think anyone who didn’t know the history of this particular tree would even notice that it had one.
He sat himself down with his back to the strengthening trunk. The now bountiful crown of leaves provided ample shade against the harsh rays of the afternoon sun but the slowly stirring breeze allowed motes of light to drift erratically across his lap. He sipped his tea and for a moment simply delighted in his surroundings. The lush green of the Hill, the various gardens bursting with a rampage of colors. He could be truly happy – if only his master were here to enjoy it.
A heavy branch, weighted with flowers and smelling sweetly of honey, dipped down in the fitful breeze and brushed his cheek. Sam leaned his head back against the trunk and closed his eyes, allowing the leaves to caress his face and the sigh of the wind in his ear to lull him into a gentle sleep.
A shadow fell across his closed eyes and the scent of chamomile, ink and ale drifted into his nostrils. He opened one eye a crack and saw a slender figure standing before him, its hands stuffed into its pockets. It stood in black relief, its features shadowed against the sun, but when a gentle chuckle emitted from the figure, Sam’s eyes flew open in instant recognition. An incredulous smile lit his face and tears obstructed his vision of the already indistinct figure. Sam dashed them away impatiently – this was a sight he would not be denied.
‘Why, Sam,” the figure laughed in a voice Sam would know even if it spoke in the darkest corners of his dreams, “aren’t you going to invite an old hobbit to tea?”
Sam stared mute for a long moment. His mouth worked soundlessly and he looked dazedly to the mug in his hand before he heard his own voice respond in a trembling whisper, “I’m sorry, sir. I’ve only brought the one cup.”
Frodo threw his head back and laughed and Sam thought the sound was like clear bells, elves singing and a summer breeze blowing through lilies all rolled into one. He stepped aside and Sam saw him clearly for the first time.
This was not the Frodo who had tearfully left Sam behind at the Havens so many long months ago. This was Frodo as Sam remembered him before the ***able Quest, before knife and sting had robbed him of his health and vitality, before tooth and Ring had stripped him of his vigor and spirit.
His dark hair was still shot with the silver. Those strands had cropped up soon after the quest, and the healers said they would forever mark him. But despite the grey, his locks were silken and lustrous now, a deep chestnut that shone in the afternoon sun like a crown of golden light. His face had a wholesome appearance; his cheeks full and rosy rather than pale and gaunt as they had been before his departure. His frame was lithe and sinewy; his limbs strong and supple instead of wasted and trembling. But what caught Sam’s breath and filled his heart was the way Frodo’s eyes were clear and joyful. They no longer held on to fathomless pain or terrible wisdom nor did they shine with the harsh light of tribulation that had so torn at Sam’s heart. Rather they glowed softly, with a gentle radiance borne of true happiness and in their bright blue depths sparkled mirth and merriment. Just as they had back when Sam had believed his life would hold nothing more adventurous than convincing his master that turnips were a healthy staple to his diet – regardless of how they made him gag.
He sidled over to Sam and dropped beside him with a graceful, limber ease, no twinges or winces that made you imagine you could hear his bones rubbing together as he moved. He drew up his knees, casually resting his arms across them and looked to Sam. His eyes danced and when he flashed Sam a smile, Sam thought surely his heart would stop for the joy of it. It was the most beautiful smile Sam had ever seen in his life, so dazzling it nearly blinded him with its brilliance.
This was his Mr. Frodo. This was the hobbit Sam had been desperately seeking for over three years. This was all Sam had ever wanted to see again.
The smile Sam at last let shine through his personal darkness brought with it all the tears of sorrow and rage he’d kept locked inside. So long hidden, they suddenly streaked down his cheeks as cleansing tears of pure and unadulterated happiness. He stared, agog at the hobbit before him, all health and grace, rich sable on finest porcelain dusted with nutmeg. For a long moment Sam had no words and then he seized upon the ones he’d spoken to Gandalf so very long ago…
“Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
Frodo laughed and reached his hand out for Sam’s own. Sam looked down to see it was his right hand and the finger was missing. Real then. He’s real and he’s here.
“That depends entirely upon what you mean by sad, Sam,” Frodo said. “If you mean that I was weary and ill, then yes, that has come untrue.”
“I couldn’t of wished for nothing more, Mr. Frodo,” Sam whispered. “And you’re here. You’re home. “
Frodo’s smile faltered a little. “No, Sam. Not yet. Though I will never consider a place my home unless you are there, my dearest, most treasured friend, I am not with you yet. Perhaps in many years, when you’ve lived your life and accomplished all the things I have seen for you, perhaps then we’ll meet again and then I truly will be home.”
“But you’re here,” Sam protested. “I can see you…I can feel you. You’re here. “
Frodo said nothing, but leaned over and took Sam in his arms.
“Samwise Gamgee,” Frodo whispered in his ear, “you are my truest friend and I miss you more than words can say. I’ll be waiting.”
Sam awoke with a start, the feel of Frodo’s arms around his shoulders still lingering on his skin. He looked around quickly, hoping beyond hope that the dream had been real – that Frodo had come back…that he was home and well and happy. Nothing. There was nothing but the linden bough that had drooped heavily under its burden of leaf and flower to drape itself across his shoulders while he slept.
No. Not a dream. It couldn’t have been.
Sam lifted his shirt to his nose and breathed in deep. There – on the shoulder where Frodo’s head had rested as they embraced. Sam smelled ink there, overlaying the scent of the lye soap Rose used to wash with. Ink and chamomile.
Here. He was here. Not a dream.
He was here. And he was whole.
Sam leaned back against the tree and the laugh that bubbled up from his lips filled the little garden. He laughed more deeply and heartily than he could remember doing in his entire life. His tears streamed unchecked down his red cheeks and he lifted his arms to the yellow and green above him.
“He’s healed!,” he told the tree. “He’s healed and he’s well and oh! but I think my heart’ll burst with happiness from it.”
He lowered his arms and slapped his knee, shaking his head and smiling fit to split his face. His tears still flowed and Sam just couldn’t stop laughing. His sides began to ache and his cheeks were sore from smiling but he didn’t care. It was an ache and soreness he would have paid for in blood and he meant to enjoy every second of it.
Sam didn’t know how long he sat there grinning like an idiot and laughing and crying all at once. It didn’t matter. None of it mattered anymore. It was all right now. Everything was all right. When his mirth finally settled to become a warmth in his heart, he leaned his head back against the tree and looked up to the leaves that had sheltered him in his slumber.
“Here,” he said. “Here and healed. Just like you.”
Suddenly Sam’s heart stopped in his chest.
This tree came to Hobbiton from Buckland. It had been wounded beyond healing by the enemy. It was sick and nearly hopeless in the spring and the fall and nothing Sam could do could make it well again. And now…now somehow it bloomed and nearly burst with life. It’s scars were still there, still visible if you knew where to look, but not enough to trouble it anymore. It was healed. It was whole.
‘The same, ‘ Sam thought. And all at once his joyous laughter erupted once more. He turned and wrapped his arms around the trunk of the tiny tree, holding it tight in a mighty embrace. He kept laughing .
“Oh, I know who you are now,” he whispered into the bark through breathless chuckles and then he kissed it. “Thank you,” he said. “It’s all come untrue. It all has!”
May (Thrimigde), 1483 S.R.
Frodo Gardner strode through the gardens of New End, stopping here and there to check the progress of seedlings along the way and pulling the errant weed when he happened upon one. As had become his custom these past weeks, he eventually wandered over to the linden, standing tall and stately outside the study window.
‘Da’s tree,’ he had come to think of it over the years. Everyone knew the tree was special to the old gardener, the fact that he cherished it above any other flower, plant or tree in his beloved gardens was easily apparent by the care and time he reverently lavished on it. Frodo and the other children came quickly to learn that if you couldn’t find Sam Gamgee when you were looking for him, chances were he was sitting under his beloved linden carrying on a conversation with no one. ‘Frodo-lad, go look out by Da’s tree and see if you can find him for me, eh?’ was a request his dear mother had made often enough. And most times when she asked it, sure enough, he would find his father there, leaning back against the tree, his face washed in a glow of contentment and his deep, low voice speaking softly to the boughs overhead.
When his mother passed away on Mid-year’s Day last year, his father had taken the very finest rosebush from the east garden and planted it on a small incline overlooking the linden. Frodo had argued with him to wait until the spring – mid-year hardly being the time to be transplanting – saying that surely the roots would not catch in time for the winter frost. But Sam had been unswayed, a small, knowing smile on his face as his son shook his head and told him he wouldn’t hold back on his ‘I told you so’s’ when the time came. Frodo now had to admit that the bush was flourishing just as well as the linden, early buds promising a hearty bloom in a month or so’s time.
Since his father’s departure last September, Frodo had often found himself wandering out to Da’s tree. Sometimes he just looked at it, his gardener’s eyes – a gift from his father – scanning the bark and leaves as if they were etched in secret runes and if he just looked long enough and hard enough, he would unravel their riddle and finally understand his father’s need to travel to the West.
Not that Frodo begrudged him his right as a Ringbearer, of course. In fact he liked to think of his father living well past the lifespan he would have been allotted in Middle earth – maybe even outliving Frodo’s own grandchildren there over the sea. He just couldn’t quite understand it.
Frodo was very much like his father, his mother often referring to them as two peas in a pod, especially when she was at her most exasperated with one or both of them. And being so much like him and knowing his father’s love for his home and family, Frodo found it very difficult to understand what pull could be strong enough to call him away from them before his time was finished.
He knew his father had loved Mr. Frodo beyond measure – he had read the Red Book often and Sam had even expanded on the stories it contained to detail the parts Mr. Frodo had left out of the account. During such times, his father would get a far-away look in his eyes and his face would be filled with such love that Frodo and the rest of the children couldn’t help but come to love the former master of Bag End as well. Although none of them had ever met him, except, of course Elanor, but being six-months-old at the time of his departure hardly gave her any bragging rights – though one had to give her marks for trying, the entire family shared a reverent love for Mr. Frodo. They knew the truth of the Red Book, and understood how much Mr. Frodo had sacrificed, but none of them came close to the depth of love that Sam Gamgee held in his heart for lo those many years.
Still, Frodo couldn’t imagine any love surpassing hearth and home and so he often came out to the tree – Da’s tree – to try and make sense of it. The truth was he missed his father terribly. It didn’t matter that Frodo was sixty years old with children of his own and well past the stage in his life where he should need his parents around…he missed his Da and his Ma as well.
Frodo knelt in the grass at the foot of the tree on the side opposite the rosebush and several feet further down. He had spotted a seedling striving up through the soil only a few weeks ago and had immediately recognized it as a laurel. He had no idea how it had traveled to this particular spot to settle in and take root. Laurels did not commonly grow out of nowhere, where no other plant was nearby to seed it in and no slip from an already flourishing bush had been planted. But laurels were uncommon in this part of the Shire and Frodo had not planted a slip and would have noticed if his father had before his departure. It was a mystery, but one that Frodo was content to leave unsolved. It would grow well in the shade of the linden, and be a welcome splash of evergreen in the sunny garden. It would shade and support the linden’s trunk and keep it and the roses company for many years to come. Frodo smiled, content to let the little plant grow.
He sat back on his heels and stroked the rough grey bark as he had so often seen his father do, his keen eyes picking out the vague shadows of the scars acquired in the tree’s youth. He wondered if maybe his father had felt such an affinity for the tree because it had been so hurt and broken when he had found it. That would be very much like his Da, to find something beyond repair and wish it back to health and life. Much as he had with his beloved Mr. Frodo. Only he hadn’t been able to wish Mr. Frodo back to health as he had with the linden and Mr. Frodo had been forced to leave Sam behind when his choices left him no other options. Frodo had always felt deep compassion for his father when he thought about him losing his best friend that way, but the linden had always seemed to comfort him and Frodo loved it for that if for no other reason.
He sighed and plopped down, his back leaning against the tree, head back and eyes closed. If anyone had walked past at that moment, they may have thought they were seeing the ghost of Sam Gamgee resting in his favorite spot against his tree with the morning sun high in the clear blue of the early summer sky.
Frodo opened his eyes and looked at the little laurel. He smiled.
“Miss you, Da,” he said and closed his eyes, drifting into a light sleep with a gentle smile on his lips.
EPILOGUE S.R. – ?
Many years passed and many generations of Gardner’s came and went under the Hill. The linden and the laurel grew and flourished together with the rosebush behind them, looking on and keeping watch. The linden was no longer known as ‘Da’s tree’ because there was no one left who remembered ‘Da’ except in books and legends – Sam Gamgee had become a line in the Longfather -Tree and an historic legend, and those who knew him had long since passed the Circles of the World. With them had passed the knowledge of his love for this particular tree as well as the reasons for it.
The tree, the bush and the rose continued on, passing countless seasons surrounded by the gentle laughter of children and the occasional boisterous evening of dance and song in the field below them. They grew old together, the linden’s branches slowly thinning more each season and snapping off occasionally in a particularly high wind. It didn’t leaf or flower as fully as it once had and the shower of green and gold that had wafted down over the laurel for so many seasons slowly grew less as time passed. The laurel too had eventually ceased to flower in its age and the buds on its branches grew less with every passing year.
There eventually came a spring when neither linden nor laurel sprouted buds and their branches were bare and bereft of life. As if seeing this, the rosebush gave forth one more season of the loveliest roses anyone had ever seen the like of and then quietly curled up its leaves and passed – as if only waiting for the linden and the laurel and then bursting with joy before releasing its hold on the fertile soil of the Shire.
~*~ END ~*~
Co-author’s post script
In ancient legends, the linden tree was known for its beauty and became the tree of virtue, nobility, love and fertility. Some legends called it the prince’s tree, akin to the rowan in both form and meaning.
The simple laurel was considered the tree of enduring faithfulness.