It was grey and overcast that late September evening, the clouds blending their somber shades with the watery horizon until the old hobbit was unsure where the sky began and the sea left off. There was no gleam of sunlight, no sparkle on the restless waves that bore the ship westward. There was only the wind–crisp and cold off the sea–filling the sails well enough but making it uncomfortable to stay on deck. Shivering, he pulled his elven cloak more snugly around him and huddled deeper into his warm jumper (much as he huddled into his mood, which was no brighter than the fading day).
Samwise Gamgee Gardner–renowned hobbit of the Shire, husband, father, adventurer, and Ring-bearer–was leaving home forever. He sailed upon the very ship which had left the shores of the Grey Havens six decades ago, bearing away his closest and dearest friend to a place where perhaps his old wounds could at last be healed.
Sam bore no wounds, nor regrets, but now that Rose was gone he suddenly found himself untethered, as if he had been released by the very things that had once bound him so steadfastly to Hobbiton. He knew that the family he left behind would do well, and the Red Book would be cherished and maintain its place of importance on the table in Elanor’s sitting room. He had written the last pages himself, though he had not followed the manner of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. He entered his accounts weekly–daily sometimes, after the fashion of his old Gaffer–noting this and that in simple, yet colorful terms. Had he known it, Sam’s entries of births, christenings, marriages, deaths and Shire events were all the more eloquent for their simplicity, due in part to his poet’s heart and passion for song and verse–due in larger measure to his love of home, hearth, and family, and of the land he had helped to save, then lovingly restore.
Were they three days or three weeks out? He wasn’t sure. Time seemed to pass much as it did in Rivendell on this small grey ship, and it gave him too much time to think. Granted, it was only two months since Rosie had been laid to rest, two months filled with moving her favorite rose bush next to her headstone, culling the garden one last time, making out his will–a busy period where he could not grieve as he should. Unencumbered now, his thoughts were full of her, and all their years together stretched behind him like the wake of their ship. There was time to examine every memory, every family event, every joy and sorrow. There were his children, too, whom he would never see again, old friends from childhood–even the abandoned bit of garden at Bag End. Still, time eased all hurts, so it was said–teaching new lessons and mellowing even the rawest emotions. He had indeed led a wonderful, fulfilled life with his Rosie, and had not one regret to plague him.
`So why’m I sittin’ here frettin’ like a tweenager?’ he admonished himself. `I should be happy I’m going to a place I’ve heard about all my life–goin’ to see Gandalf again, and the Lady Galadriel–goin’. . .’
The old gardener shuddered, pricked suddenly by a cold deeper than the air around him. He grabbed the front of his shirt, holding onto something hidden beneath it, and sighed.
“Master Gardner, you should come below and warm yourself,” encouraged one of the ship’s elves. “It will not do for us to deliver such a renowned guest to Elrond’s house in troubled health.”
Sam mustered a smile for the youthful-looking Celwain, who had shown him much kindness since the moment he had stepped upon the ship. “Oh, I’m all right, lad. I’ll take a turn or two on deck and that’ll warm me up. I’ve been sitting too long, that’s all.”
Celwain did not look convinced, but left the Shireling alone. He returned soon, however, with a hot drink in hand. He located Sam at the other end of the ship, walking as he had promised, and was rewarded with the sight of a healthy blush across the hobbit’s wrinkled cheeks. But Sam was in no mood for conversation, evidently, for he thanked the elf and turned back to the sea. Celwain shook his head and smiled, leaving the hobbit to his thoughts.
Sam stood leaning against the bowrail and watched the elves busy about their work on deck. Celwain told him they were nearing land but, except for an increase in shore-birds, Sam could see no other sign that they were approaching landfall.
He turned and looked down over the rail, and gasped. There, beside the prow, was a large, grey creature with a long nose and black, bright eyes. It moved effortlessly, keeping up with the speeding ship almost as an afterthought. Sam must have made some noise; two elves were beside him in an instant. Wordless, he pointed to the creature and even the elves, so often indifferent to Middle Earth’s wonders, joined in his delight. They pointed and laughed, speaking in their beautiful, illusive tongue. Celwain, the only elf but one on board who spoke the Common Language, soon joined them. His grey eyes sparkled with pleasure as he told Sam how these sea creatures often followed ships in the eastern seas, playing and larking for days. “We see them less often than we used in the Straight Way, but neither do we frequent the Grey Havens of late. Be of good cheer–it is a welcome omen!” he said, clapping Sam on the back.
Sam stood unmoving in the prow, long after the elves had disbursed to tend to their duties, long after Celwain had brought him something to eat. There it remained on its tray, untouched, as Sam watched the grey blur where sea and sky joined.
`A welcome omen,’ he pondered. He hadn’t thought on omens of any kind since Mordor; all of those had been bad, and after the Shire had been put to rights, they felt unnecessary, even unwanted. Aragorn seemed to place stock in them, though, as had several of their Company. But hobbits preferred no deeper omens than a red dawn portending a rainy day. `Omens, indeed!’ he thought sourly.
Then, without warning, his thoughts ran back through time, skimming the years like an eagle over the mountain tops–back, back to a time he had tried to forget, a time when he and his master had lain on a rocky bed surrounded by fume and heat, trying to rest where there was no rest, to gather a measure of strength where none was left. He had felt his heart succumbing to despair then, and his courage beginning to wane, when he chanced to see a lone star peaking through the noisome gloom above him. Sam had perceived it as a witness to things that were too high and pure for Sauron to reach. But had this, too, been an omen?
Sam harrumphed. `If it were an omen, I was too exhausted to see it, and I couldn’t even rouse Mr. Frodo enough to look at it!’
Now he’d done it. Gone and thought on the one thing he was trying so desperately not to.
His beloved Mr. Frodo, whom he’d met when he was just a wee thing and known most all his life. His Master Frodo, whom he’d served in the Shire and accompanied in the Quest. His friend Frodo, who alone had understood why he must leave the Shire and mustered the courage to do it, though Sam and Rosie wanted him to stay.
Sam drew a shuddering breath, his thoughts returning to that moment when Frodo had pulled him into his arms to say their last goodbye. As they parted, Frodo held onto him for a moment and placed the chain around his neck. “Keep this in remembrance of me, dear,” Frodo whispered. “I’ll be close as long as you wear it.” Since that day Sam had worn it under his shirt just over his heart. He pressed his hand there and closed his eyes.
Sam had longed for the day when he might have the chance to see Frodo again. For years he had entertained half-hopes that he, too, would be able to go across the Great Sea, but it was only after Rose’s passing, when he received a letter from Cirdan the Shipwright, that he knew he was well and truly going. Throughout the difficult days of setting his affairs to rights, packing what few things he needed, and saying goodbye to his children and their families, he often thought on the anticipated moment he would disembark and look once more into the face of his long-absent friend, to hear his voice once more, to tell him about the now-grown Gardner children, all who haled their beginnings in the halls of Bag End, and to tell him especially of his wonderful years with Rosie, happy and fruitful years.
Indeed he had grown quite merry that last night at the Fairbairn home in the Westmarch, not far from the Grey Havens. He had presented the Red Book to Elanor with a flourish and told a few stories to Elfstan and Firiel who, though come of age, still lived there. Fastred had proposed a toast after the meal: “To as fine a father-in-law as a hobbit could want–may his travels be comfortable and his destination fair.” Elanor had done well with her choice of husband and Sam knew that he and his wife would take good care of the history of the Ring, passing the book down from generation to generation until it either fell apart from use or gathered dust as some forgotten mathom in centuries to come.
With one last, loving touch of the tome, Sam announced his intention to go to bed, suffered with pleasure his daughter’s and granddaughter’s kisses, and cheerful wishes for a peaceful sleep from the male hobbits of the household.
But he was not to enjoy much rest that night; he had nearly reached his bedroom door when he heard Fastred talking to his boy:
“How old would Mr. Baggins be now, Father?”
“Mr. Frodo? That’s a good question, Firiel. You know, they say he looked every inch a hobbit just out of his tweens when he left the Shire on his adventure with the Ring, but he was really fifty years old–twelve years older than your grandfather. That means he’ll be coming up on–why, that’s right! His birthday is tomorrow, September 22nd! He won’t have reached the age of Bilbo, but nonetheless, eleventy-four is still an accomplishment of note for the average hobbit.”
Sam went into his room and closed the door, leaning back against it. “Average hobbit indeed,” he fussed, removing his weskit. As if anything Frodo had done on that journey was average–as if Frodo was ever average! He found himself breathing heavily and put a hand to his chest, trying to will away the severe weight he often felt. The jewel was still there, tucked away next to his heart, but it offered him no solace. The discomfort soon went away and he finished preparing for bed, sleep eluding him as he stared at a lone star that wended its way across the top of the window.
The final goodbyes that morning after breakfast were tearful but reassuring. Sam had the deep sense that all was well with the Shire and that he had played no small part in it. He could finally understand what Frodo meant when he said that he could bear leaving the Shire because he knew that it would remain safe in his absence, safe in the hands of Sam and other good hobbits–like Merry and Pippin.
Dear Merry and Pippin, both widowers and their children grown, were free to roam where they would now. Sam knew eventually they would both move to Gondor to spend their remaining years with the King and his bride, Arwen–Merry had so indicated the last time they had visited the Shire. Sam had sent them a final letter just days ago, wishing them happy lives long enough to surpass their tall frames; and also another letter to Gondor, sending his final good wishes to Lord Aragorn and the Lady Evenstar. `I’ll give the white jewel to Galadriel, my Lady,’ he had written, `just as we talked about on our visit those many years ago.’
First Bilbo, then Frodo had left the Shire behind, and now Merry and Pippin were well on their way, too, being more like Rangers than `proper hobbit-kind’ anyway. It only remained for Sam, the last hobbit of the Company, now to do the same. So, the final kiss given, the last handshake grasped and the last goodbye murmured, he turned his back on his daughter and her family, descended the stairs, and walked the short, morning trek to the docks.
The ship was there, as lovely as the day he’d first seen it. Cirdan greeted him and gave him into the care of Celwain, who soon had him berthed. Despite the chill and rain of the morning, Sam insisted that he stand on deck as the ship made her way out of port. He wanted to see what Frodo had seen when he left these shores. Only this time, there weren’t three hobbits standing on the pier, wiping at tears and trying to smile. There was no one, no sound except the lap of high tide on the shore and the singular call of the sea birds.
It was then that Sam’s long uneasiness began to make sense. It had been six months since the jewel had grown cold against his breast, but Sam had been busy with caring for his failing Rose and forced to lay aside any plaguing suspicions. Now, free of work or worry, Sam finally acknowledged the troubling thought that perhaps, when he reached the distant shore, there would be no hobbit watching for him there either.
“Master Gardner, you may want to come up on deck.”
Sam opened his eyes and found Celwain had entered his cabin. A fresh burst of sea air had come in with the elf and Sam could hear the voices of maritime birds calling outside.
“Are we there?” he asked, rolling out of the berth and reaching for his trousers.
“Nearly so. You said you wanted to observe our approach to the docks.”
Sam nodded and followed the elf to the deck, pulling on his warm outer garments as he went.
`So here I am at last,’ he thought, following Celwain silently to a spot on the rail away from the busy crew. He looked down the length of the ship toward the thin, white line that promised to become a shore. The pre-dawn world was dimly lit and a light fog moved over the water, but as he stared, trying beyond his eyes’ ability to make out what lay upon the land, he began to hear a soft melody in his head–as if he were remembering it from a time long ago. As he peered through the mist the melody grew in intensity and seemed to permeate the light which, while he watched, transformed from a pale grey shimmer to startling clarity–revealing white shores that gleamed in the morning sunlight. Sam gasped in astonishment at what he saw and rubbed his eyes in self-doubt. But the vision remained firmly in place as the ship carried him closer, borne by a stiff breeze, and grew brighter as they fast approached land.
“Glory and trumpets!” he murmured. He inhaled deeply and felt as he were breathing air that had been created just for him–so pure and clean and sweet-smelling that he was sharply reminded of miruvor, nectar of the elves, such as he had not tasted since the days of healing on the Field of Cormallen after the destruction of the Ring.
It was as if the weeks and months of grieving and fear were melted away by the taking of that first breath, and Sam found himself first humming the melody he had heard in his head, then singing: `A Elbereth Gilthoniel, Silivren penna miriel…’
Had Sam but known it, two elves nearly met their untimely end when his song reached their ears high in the braces of the ship. The old hobbit’s voice was still firm and the notes true, but to hear such words from the lips of a halfling was almost unheard of. Indeed, another hobbit–the elf-friend who had long ago journeyed on this ship with the Lady Galadriel and Gandalf–never sang, and the elderly kinsman who traveled with him was too old to manage it, though he tried. But here was a new hobbit, traveling all alone and singing of the Queen beyond the Western Sea!
The ship pulled smoothly into port and stopped with nary a bump. The world seemed totally still beneath the old hobbit’s feet, as though the tide held its breath here at the edge of the Undying Lands. Sam shielded his eyes against the morning glare; though the sun was behind him, the whiteness of the sand reflected her light almost to the point of pain. At the end of the quay was a platform rising several steps and arched over with a large trellis of blue stone. There, under the mass of flowers that surmounted it, stood several people. Sam turned away, not wanting to dwell on the fact that none of them were particularly small in stature.
“Come, Master Samwise,” called Celwain, who stood at the gangway. “It’s time!”
Sam blew out a hard breath to try to steady his nerves. There was nothing for it but to go down and greet the greeters, so to speak. Sooner or later he must know what had become of Frodo; he hadn’t sailed all this distance just to turn around and go back. `I can see it now,’ he thought ruefully, looking back at the ship as he walked down the length of the quay, `Sorry to bother you, Mr. Cirdan, Sir, but could you just hop on the Straight Way again and pop me back to Middle Earth?’ No doubt the Shipmaster would throw him headfirst into the bay and be better off for it.
But Sam’s troubling question would still be unanswered.
He straightened his shoulders and picked up the pace; Celwain was already several yards ahead of him, and he didn’t want to keep his hosts waiting.
“Greetings, Master Samwise. Welcome, welcome, at long last!”
Sam found himself enfolded in Gandalf’s arms and hugged the wizard’s neck fiercely. When at last they parted, Sam looked at the white-robed figure, astonishment written across his features. “Why, Gandalf, you haven’t changed a bit!” And it was true. Gandalf, Mithrandir of old, may have just stepped out of the pages of the Red Book. He looked just as he did on that sad day he sailed…
“Welcome, Samwise Gamgee! Elen Sila Lumenn omentielvo! “
“Mister Elrond, Sir! I’m honoured to be here, Sir, and grateful.” Sam bowed, taking Elrond’s proffered hand and finding it warm and comforting in these strange surroundings.
“Nay, but it is we who are honoured, Samwise. We have all looked forward to this day, when the last Ring-bearer partakes of the favor bestowed upon so few mortals.”
Sam blinked, taking in his surroundings and acknowledging the smiles of two other elves in their company whom he did not recognize. “Where is the Lady Galadriel?” he asked, craning his neck as if expecting her to step out from behind a stone pillar.
Gandalf harrumphed. “You are a dear friend and welcome traveler, Sam, but even someone of your renown cannot expect the Lady to leave her responsibilities to greet one little hobbit of the Shire!”
Sam reddened to his ears and stammered. “Oh! Of course not, Gandalf! I didn’t… I mean, I didn’t expect…”
He was cut off by elvish laughter, joined by that of Gandalf and Elrond, not vexing him in the least, but rather bolstering the old Shireling’s spirits as it shattered any notions of this far country being anything other than a welcoming resting-place at the end of all journeys.
“Gandalf has not lost his stringent wit, Sam. You must not take him too seriously here,” Elrond remarked, his eyes twinkling as he turned his gaze back toward the ship. “Cirdan has delivered you safe and sound and we intend to make you feel entirely at home.” He extended a hand and Sam turned to see two ship’s elves had delivered his small chest of belongings. The elves who were with Elrond and Gandalf bowed to Sam and picked up the chest, making off along a path that wound its way up a small hill and away from the docks.
“Come along, now,” Gandalf said, placing his hand on the hobbit’s shoulder. “Although the Lady Galadriel couldn’t be here for your arrival, she is expecting you in her chambers; you must mind your manners and visit her as soon as you are able.”
“Yes, by all means!” Sam answered, fingering something in the pocket of his weskit. “I have something to give her–I think she’d like to have it, don’t you know.” Gandalf shot him a quick look under his busy eyebrows but said nothing.
The path was wide, and the elf and the wizard walked beside the hobbit as he slowly made his way up the hill.
The room was lovely; built of the blue stone that seemed so prevalent here, it sparkled with veins of what Sam guessed might be quartz, but of so pure a strain that no blemish sullied them. Indeed, the shafts of sunlight filtering through wide, diaphanous curtains brought the stone to life with glittering reflections of radiance. Sam, deep in thought, stood at one of the many doors that opened onto a stony veranda looking out over the shore, a curtain brushing lightly against his arm as it danced in the air currents coming off the ocean.
Sam remembered when the Lady received him and the Company in the woods of Lothlorien. It had been the first night he’d gotten a decent night’s sleep in weeks, and the first time he’d been able to really see elves being–well, elvish. Rivendell was wonderful, of course, but things were uncertain then and Sam had been sadly preoccupied. But Lothlorien changed him somehow, and he had always felt he’d left a part of himself in that perilous yet peaceful place.
Here, all was sunlight, though he supposed it must rain from time to time, else it wouldn’t be so beautiful. Or perhaps it was elvish magic that nurtured everything like it did in Middle-earth before the War of the Ring. He hadn’t seen the Lady’s ring but he knew she bore it, knew what it had done in the days before Sauron was finally defeated. But no matter. Magic and such things were too far above his likes and dislikes; all he knew was that there must be a lot of good, rich dirt around here and plenty of growing things to put his hand to, if it was allowed.
But first there was some unfinished business he wanted–he must tend to. Surely Gandalf knew what it was, whether the others did or no. Yet here he was waiting for the Lady Galadriel to come speak to him, and he grew restless with the delay. He took to pacing, thoughts he had successfully dampened throughout his trip rising to take precedence now.
`Where is Frodo?’ he wondered, his heart both straining in hope and recoiling in dread. `Where is my dear friend?’ He crossed his arms and shivered despite the warm sun across his body. `What’s happened to him to have caused the white jewel to grow cold?’ He feared he already knew the answer in the palpable absence of his companion. Surely there was nothing that would have prevented Frodo from being at the landing to greet him, was there?
His turbulent thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the tall, oaken doors opening at one end of the hall–for hall it was, with a raised dais at one end and room for many. He turned to watch the procession and was surprised to see only one individual come through before the doors closed again behind her.
Awestruck, Sam stood rooted to the floor, and time rolled back to the night he saw her for the first time: Galadriel, Lady of the Galadhrim, even more fair than he had remembered her.
“My Lady!” he cried, and threw himself on his knees, too overcome by her presence to notice that his joints did not creak in this extreme position. He felt her soft, tapering fingers under his chin and lifted his eyes to hers and suddenly laughed, the sound filling the chamber like water. Galadriel raised him up and kissed him on the top of his head, her musical laughter blending with his earthy chuckles.
“Well-met, young Samwise! I am greatly moved to see you again!” The Lady had placed her hand upon Sam’s forearm and moved toward some soft chairs near a shaded door.
“As I am to see you, ma’am. I’m fair astonished at how lovely you are–beggin’ your pardon!” Sam handed the Elven Queen to her chair and plopped into his, his legs swinging.
“There is no need to ask my pardon, Sam! As if I should pardon a compliment!”
Sam stared at her, taking in the sun-kissed hue of her fair skin, the deeper gold of her hair, and her startling blue eyes that seemed to reflect a thousand suns. “Oh, Lady, it does me good to see you–makes me feel like a young hobbit again!” he exclaimed, waving his arms.
Galadriel only smiled, but was there a touch of mischief in those eyes? She had given him that same look when she went upon the ship at the Grey Havens, as if she knew something he didn’t yet, but when he found out what it was, would think it wonderful beyond compare.
It didn’t take long for him to feel a bit bashful under her scrutiny, as kind and gentle as it was. He fidgeted, handling something in his weskit pocket. The Lady’s eyes followed his movements and her eyebrows lifted inquiringly.
“Um, Lady, I–I have something that I think rightly belongs to you. I’ve had it around my neck ever since Frodo gave it to me, but I’ve always known that if I were to come here, I–.” He glanced out the window, then back at the elf-woman who sat quietly watching him. “Well, I’ve been thinkin’ on it all the way across the sea and–” He pulled his hand out of his pocket and withdrew a little packet, tied with one of Rosie’s hair ribbons. He lingered a moment, caressing the ribbon, then left his chair and stood before her.
The Lady placed her hands around the hobbit’s and looked at him keenly before taking the packet. She began to untie the ribbon, beckoning Sam to come stand by her side. He did, like a child at its mother’s elbow, and watched with wide eyes. She pulled back the edges of fine, lace-edged cambric to reveal a small white gem hung on a mithril chain. She gasped and placed a hand over her mouth, her eyes gleaming. “Undómiel!” she breathed.
“You’ve seen this before, I take it?” Sam asked, watching the sunlight play on the jewel’s many facets as she held it up.
“It was mine, long ago, when I was but an elf-maid in the halls of Valinor,” she whispered, her eyes far away. “I gave it to Celebrían on her wedding day. She in turn gave it to Arwen–I know not when.” Her voice faltered and her eyes sought Sam’s. “How came you–?”
“The Lady Arwen gave it to Frodo, ma’am, before he left Gondor. It has some power I don’t rightly understand, but it eased him during those times he fell into–when he was unwell. He didn’t think he would need it anymore, coming here `n all, so he gave it to me just before he sailed. I’ve worn it ever since–`til today.”
“And has it aided you, Master Samwise?”
Sam considered for a moment. “Not the same way. Don’t get me wrong–it did bring me comfort, somehow, but not like it did him. It seemed like Mr. Frodo could actually sense when the Lady Evenstar was singing to him during those dark times, sending him support, aiding him in ways I never could. But when he gave it to me and had gone away, it was more like he was still in the next room, within call, like. I could almost pretend, sometimes, in the early mornin’ before the sun came up, that he was still there…” Sam faltered and stopped speaking, unsure if his voice would hold.
“It is one of a kind–imbued with the power of those who made it, born of the songs of the Valar, before the fall of Melkor,” whispered Galadriel, still beholding the jewel with awe. “It is utterly pure, and faithfully reflects the spirit and grace of the one who has lovingly bestowed it upon another.”
Sam shook his head, not understanding, but content that this gemstone of the ancient times had given great comfort to Frodo during the brief but harsh years of his decline in the Shire.
But even as he marveled at the subtlety of this small embodiment of timeless Elvish enchantment, Sam was blind-sided with a sudden and inexorable truth: At the beginning of those long months where the jewel’s power waned, when Sam no longer felt the presence of his old master, the spirit and grace of Frodo must have indeed come to an end.
Sam struggled to repress a sob; his breath caught in his throat and the old infirmity gripped him. He pushed a hand to his breast, grimacing.
“You are unwell!” Galadriel exclaimed, coming out of her reverie and placing her hand over the hobbit’s.
“I’m all right,” Sam gasped, the ache intensifying. “I’m just…” Fresh pain assaulted him and the edges of his vision turned black. There was movement around him and he felt himself being lifted, then he knew no more.
“Where am I?”
“You are in your bed, and rightly so, Samwise Gamgee. I’m afraid the doings of the day were too much for you.”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“A little trouble with your heart–nothing Lord Elrond could not put right. Luckily for you, like the elves who have come here to renew themselves, you may also join in this rest. Of course, your years are still numbered–as is ordered by the standard of your kind–but there is still no reason you may not partake of health and youth while you are here.” Gandalf leaned over and patted Sam on the shoulder. “You won’t recognize yourself the next time you peer into the looking-glass, my dear hobbit.”
But Sam could neither concern himself with his appearance, nor the returning strength that surged through his veins even as he lay there. He looked through the windows of his room and saw that it was night. Though the stars were playing, dancing through the gossamer threads of his curtains, they seemed dim and distant to him, and he tore his gaze away and looked into the unfathomable eyes of Gandalf Greyhame. The former pain in his chest was gone, but a new, more piteous hurt had arisen to take its place, and his eyes filled with tears.
“Frodo’s dead,” he said.
“Yes,” said Gandalf. “I am very sorry, Sam. He waited as long as he could.”
End of Part I
Part II, “Sojourn”, will be posted in a week.