When? He was always promising – but when? Rosie set the last of the supper on the table where the broken leg made the bowl wobble and some of its contents spilled onto her good tablecloth. Frodo-lad threw back the front door. The hinges cried out in pain. She chastised her oldest son for the noise, though she knew it was not his fault. Where was that husband of hers?
Rosie went out the door, her face twisted as the door cried out again. She sighed when she saw the weeds sticking out between the stones of the walkway that circled the hill and lead her to the garden behind the house. The sight that met her eyes washed the anger away and replaced it with sympathy.
A figure was bent down on one knee. He was pulling weeds with one hand, and holding a pipe steady in his mouth with the other. His eyes were in another time – seeing another place. The late afternoon sun made his curls look a fiery gold.
“Sam?” she said. When he got like this, she most times left him be, but he went to this place more and more. It worried her.
“Hmm? Wha’? Oh! Rosie, dear. I did not see you there,” came the reply. His voice was that of the sweet, shy Hobbit she had married, but the dark shadow over his face remained.
“I need your help in the house,” she said.
Silence was her answer. She walked over to her husband and knelt down beside him. She put her hand over his that still feigned pulling weeds.
“I fear a journey will be necessary,” he said.
A thrill went through her. She almost lost the opportunity to love him before, and every time he took these journeys, the fear renewed itself.
“Take me with you, Sam,” said Rosie.
Sam put one hand on her face and reached down to kiss her. His mouth on hers sent fingers of warmth through her. This was her Sam. The one she had waited for, shared the last ten years and six children with. She had to do something to keep from crying.
“Are you sure you do not have a touch of Took in you?” she asked.
Sam pretended to look thoughtful and then they both laughed.
“Hoy, when is supper, Mama?”
The pathway to the garden was crowded with her gaggle of children.
“Elanor lay out the plates. Frodo-lad, check the baby. Li’l Rose, get the milk jug, Merry, pump up the water. Your father and I will be in shortly,” she hoped she sounded as normal as she wanted to sound.
All the children scampered away to do the bidding of their mother except Elanor. She was as tall as her father now – almost three foot five inches. Rosie admired how much her tow – haired daughter imaged her father.
“You are leaving again, aren’t you?” she asked.
“That is none of your concern right now and how do you know?” Rosie said.
Rosie had a sudden urge to run up to her daughter and hold her tight. She wished her daughter were not so like her father in that way. Rosie thought to not let her go to the court of the King so often if this is the result.
Sam went up to Elanor and held her hand. They walked back up the path to the house. Rosie was angry at herself for feeling jealous of Sam’s and Elanor’s closeness. They seemed to connect to each other. She could not accompany her husband on his trips to court with the King, so Elanor went. Rosie had to stay at home with the other children. Her face went hot as she realized how foolish her offer to go with him now had been. She was needed at home. That is where she belonged.
A Hobbit of import was on the steps when they rounded the hill. It was Will Whitfoot. His well fed belly strained the brass buttons on his waistcoat as he rocked heel to toe on the stoop. Rosie did not look down as she came up the cobblestone path in hopes if she didn’t see the unruly grass there perhaps Master Whitfoot would not.
“Ah, there you are! Have you forgotten us? There is a meeting! We must decide what to do about the Brandywine Bridge. It is old and much over used. A new one would be. . .”
“Master Whitfoot, save your speech for the council. I have only to grab my coat and we will be under way,” said Sam.
Rosie curtsied and stood with her hands folded in the respectable Hobbit fashion her mother had taught her.
Sam appeared in the doorway and called to Rosie with his hat in his hand.
“Dearheart, the children are in need of you,” he said.
Rosie gave a little jump, and strode into the house. Merry had pumped far too much water and it spilled into the floor. Pip was having a grand time splashing his chubby hands in the puddles. Frodo-lad was holding a squirming bundle of flailing arms and legs that was squealing its disinterest in being held. Li’l Rosie was complaining to anyone who would listen how she has to do all the work and Elanor gets to stroll in the garden.
By the time Rosie had the water and Pip cleaned up, the baby quieted, and the feuding sisters at bay, Sam had gone. She kept his supper warm, and waited up for him.
She helped him pack. He would need all his shirts, an extra waistcoat, a long coat, three good britches, three traveling britches, and several handkerchiefs. She always made sure to pack plenty of those, since Sam had told her of old Master Bilbo’s unfortunate experience of running off without one on his first adventure. The rest of his provisions he would procure when he reached Bree.
“I would still be more comfortable about this if Meriadoc and Peregrin were going with you,” said Rosie. She poured him the last bit of hot tea he would get for a while.
She sat beside him at the table. He took her hand and held it as if it would break in his grasp. He would not meet her eyes. She waited, saying nothing. Over the years she came to see this was Sam’s way. He would speak when ready.
“Merry is off on a ride of his own with King Eomer. Pippin’s child is ill and I would not ask a Hobbit to leave his ailing child,” said Sam.
“It is only for a short time. A regular visit – that is all. I will be back before you know it,” said Sam.
“Then why isn’t Elanor or one of the other children going with you? Why must you travel alone?” asked Rosie.
“There are many more of us Gamgees now. I would feel awful leaving you alone without help. The others are too small and not used to the journey,” he said.
“I will leave with the sun’s rising. Frodo-lad will tend the garden. Master Whitfoot will take care of the Shire business. And you -“
“I have to sit and worry after you. Oh, Sam! Please do not go alone. If Master Frodo were here, he would advise against such a journey,” she was grasping at whatever words might stop him.
“King Aragorn has seen that there are no Orcs or servants of the Evil One still lurking about. This is my regular annual visit to the King’s court. Perhaps in a few years, you will come with me,” said Sam.
Rosie mulled this over in her mind. She had thought many times to go with him to see the White City where the Evenstar lived and ruled. That world seemed far away and unreal to her. If anyone else had told her but her Sam of the wonders of that place, she would not have believed them. She sighed and they embraced for a long moment. She could not stop the tears now.
All the children gathered on the front stoop to bid a fare well to their father. Sam slung his pack on his back and steadied his walking stick. The children yelled their farewells until he went around a bend in the road and could not be seen anymore.
Rosie used a quick wave of her hands to shoo the children back into the house. She put the baby to bed and ran a bath for Pip. She set the others to work on the evening meal. The chores were many and would be more with Sam gone. She had to keep her mind on the forward path. She did not give her sorrow leave until she was in her bed, and then it soaked her pillow and left her eyes red in the morning.
The door to the Prancing Pony swung open. The new morning sent brilliant beams in behind the silhouette in the doorway. He strode in and gazed around the near empty inn. He wore armor and a weapon at his side. He caught sight of the barkeep and made his way to the station in the middle of the room. The warrior reached down under the high chair at the bar. He pulled out a small wooden box. He stepped up on it, hoisted himself on the seat, and nodded to the inn keeper.
“Why if it isn’t Master Meriadoc! It has been many a day since you have graced my establishment,” said Butterbur.
“Merry!” Rosie could not sit still any longer. She knew from his voice with its strong Buckland accent that this was indeed her Sam’s friend.
“Rosie!” he yelled. He jumped down from his perch with a great clank of his armor and hugged her. The armor was cold to her arms, but the embrace was warm and comforting.
“Hoy, ya old smial dweller!”
It was Pippin. He had got up from the table he and Rosie were sitting and clapped Merry on the back. Merry turned to him and returned the favor.
“Hoy ya old pint killer!” he said.
“Not without the dear friend who introduced them to me!”
Butterbur appeared behind the reunion with a tray.
“Come my good sirs and little mistress, your meal is laid,” he said.
Rosie sat down with Merry and Pippin. To her they hardly looked the part of Hobbits. She wondered again as she often did when she saw them, how much taller they were than any other Hobbit she knew. Seeing them together brought to mind her reason for being there and she began to cry.
“Why is Rosie here in Bree? Where is Sam?” asked Merry. Rosie could see his keen mind already at work guessing out the trouble.
“Sam is missing. He left for his annual trek to the King’s court five months ago. It usually takes him only three and then with a child along. He is alone. He insisted on going alone and . . .” Rosie broke off and let Pippin tell the rest. He has been wonderful. Ever since she had appeared on his front porch, he has been dedicated to help her.
“What did Butterbur have to say? If anyone knows the goings-on of this town, it would be him,” said Merry.
“Butterbur says Sam was here about five months ago. He had served him a meal and let him stay in one of his `cozy Hobbit sized rooms’ for the night. Later, as he went out back to empty the wash basin, he heard voices. He went around to the back of the stable and saw Bill – Bill Ferney. That old apple – nosed trickster. Butterbur says they seemed to be talking civil enough, and Sam bade him leave. So, he did,” he said.
“I cannot see what Sam and Ferney would have to say to each other, unless it was ill. I cannot see his having a change of heart and begging Sam’s forgiveness after all these years,” said Merry.
“Here is the worst of it, Merry. Butterbur says Ferney has been getting brave lately since he has taken up with some new friends. They have gone into business together. They run slaves into Haradrim,” said Pippin.
“Pip! That is where I have been. To Rohan where such things were a trouble. We managed to stop the caravans, but if one had slipped by many months ago…” he stopped as if aware all of a sudden that Rosie was still there. She too guessed what they had. Her Sam could be in the nets of slave traders. And not only that, but a slave trader with a grudge against him. She grabbed at Pippin’s arm for support. Her head swam as if she would swoon.
A crowd of men came into the inn. The way her companions sat up and stared she assumed one was Bill Ferney. Merry and Pippin got up, hands on weapons, and walked up to the group.
Rosie realized she had better get to cover. Merry and Pippin would try diplomacy first as any good Hobbit, but were not afraid to put steel to steel if it came down to it, or so the stories told.
She slipped out the standing open door. She drew her shawl about her closer at the early chill. The large wagon parked in the front of the inn must belong to those men. It had a canvas over the top which was tied down probably to prevent prying eyes of their dark devices. She looked around for a place to wait until Merry and Pippin had their talk with Ferney. She did not want to go far, so she leaned against the wall of the tavern next to the window so she could peek in at intervals and see what was going on.
“Hoy! Is anybody about? Hoy! I need assistance!”
Rosie heard it but could not tell where it came from. She peered into the window. The men were still talking to the Hobbits. She looked up and down the street. No one was about this early. She leaned against the wall again and chalked it up to the wind.
“Hoy! I say, can anyone hear me? Help!”
Rosie followed the voice and found it came from inside the wagon. She glanced at the doorway of the inn to assure no one was watching her. She went to the back of the wagon and began to untie one of the straps. A hand came out as she loosened it, and helped get it loosed. Those fiends had a load of slaves right here! The hand was followed by an arm. It was a Hobbit! Some poor Longhole or Sandheaver, of which Sam had brought back home for a meal and rest many a time had stumbled into a trap!
“Don’t worry friend, I will get you out. I have strong and worthy friends with me too. All will be well and that apple nosed Ferney will pay for his crimes,” said Rosie.
It was indeed tied down well and would need a knife to free the person inside. The hand withdrew and a face appeared through the opening in the canvas. The face was filthy and the hair matted to the forehead with dried blood.
“Rosie?” said Sam.
Rosie gasped outloud and began to untie faster. She tore at the bindings with her nails and teeth. At last, it broke free and Sam could wriggle out of the hole it made. She grabbed her husband and held him. He was covered in filth and had taken more beatings than meals, but he was alive.
A commotion got their attention from inside the inn. Negotiations must have broken down and the fight was on. Sam and Rosie fled to the bushes across the road. The men exploded from the tavern door with two whirlwinds of steel on their heels. The street was alive with the alarm of trouble. The Sheriff of Bree was called. He showed up still tucking in his shirt. The fight was over. Rosie and Sam came out of their hiding place and surprised the Hobbit warriors with their tale of rescue. If they had hesitated only a few days more, Sam would have been away forever. Merry and Pippin explained to the Sheriff Bill Ferney had paid for slave trading with his life. The others would be held until a trial was held.
Rosie drew great satisfaction from watching Sam eat. He had a bath, a clean change of clothes, and was eating the first good meal he had had in weeks. She tried not to listen to his tale of being waylaid behind the tavern as he visited the horses. How they hid him in a cellar with little food. When Ferney realized it was Sam he had, he had taken pleasure in settling an old score with his fists.
Pippin jested that Sam had better take Mistress Rosie along for protection the next time he traveled past his front door. She blushed at the idea. Imagine, her a simple Mayor’s wife off to sit at court of the King of the White City. Indeed ten years later, she found herself not only journeying to the Men’s Kingdom of Gondor, but staying a year and became fast friends with the beautiful Queen.
We return to the forests again. Our hobbit friend has lost all faith and finds the true meaning of apathy by the end of this chapter. He is taken captive by a band of elves and one human. This chapter suggests that some of his past will be revealed soon.