Chapter Ten: I Sit Beside the Fire and Think…
<strong>October 24, 1482</strong>
Merry walked slowly through the dark bar as he headed for the table nearest the hearth that he and Sam would meet at periodically, usually when they both had the time to do so. They would usually contact one another and set the day and time in advance, but this instance was different. Sam had done all the planning, and Merry received a note from his friend that was more in the nature of a summons than of an invitation. Whatever Sam had on his mind, it was important and couldn’t wait.
As the familiar table grew closer, Merry could begin to see a dark form bending over the wooden surface, his lightly aged hands rocking a full glass of ale steadily. He seemed to be in deep concentration, a kind of trance. Merry slowed as he drew nearer, not wanting to disturb the retired mayor’s train of thought.
Sam sensed his friend’s presence and he slowly looked up to face him. He began to stand, but Merry held up a hand to stop him.
“No, my good friend,” he laughed lightly as he drew his chair back and seated himself. “No need to stand on my account.”
Sam returned Merry’s smile and nodded. “As you wish.”
A moment of silence passed between them and Merry took hold of the glass of ale that was waiting for him to arrive. He took a deep drink of the golden liquid and savored the taste thoughtfully before swallowing. He decided it would be best for him to begin a general conversation; Sam wouldn’t say his mind for awhile yet, not until they had talked of other things.
“How are things fairing in Hobbiton?” Merry smiled at Sam and the old gardener lowered his glass from his lips and rested it on the table.
“Going quite well; the new Mayor has been almost completely broken in. His mind is still in fair shape as far as I can tell, which is always a good sign.” Sam laughed and shook his head. “I’ve been a bit harder on him than I had planned to be.”
Merry smiled and nodded. “And your other children? How is Elanor’s marriage treating her?”
“Quite well; as far as I can see, at least.” Sam frowned and shook his head. “But there seems to be no hope for dear Goldilocks.”
“Goldilocks?” Merry pictured the small lass with bright, golden curls that bounced free of the tight braids her mother would so painstakingly make. “Has she still not found a rightful suitor?”
Sam leaned in to the table and shook his head. “She’s been of marrying age for years now, yet she’s had her eyes on no one since her brush with that Goodbody from the East Farthing, and that was in her middle tweens! I just worry about her is all. I only want for her to be happy.”
Merry thoughtfully tapped the wooden surface of the table. “Well, Sam, not everyone finds the perfect sole mate at the same time. I wouldn’t worry about it. After all, as the saying goes: ‘There’s someone out there for everyone.'”
Sam let out a sigh as Merry spoke the well-known phrase his mother would often utter when his Gaffer grew frustrated with Daisy’s late marriage. It was true for Daisy, she wed while Sam was gone, but his thoughts turned to poor old Bilbo and Mister Frodo. He raised his eyes to meet Merry’s and gave him a sad smile. “If only that were true.” He lifted the mug of ale to his lips and finished the remaining draught.
Merry shrugged. “You may be surprised; give the lass time.”
Sam frowned again. “That’s the problem now, Merry; I don’t think I have the time.”
The smile faded from Merry’s face. “Why, Sam, you can’t mean—”
Sam shook his head. “No, Merry, I’m not planning on dying any time too soon, but I’ve been planning something of another nature. And that’s why I’ve asked for your confidence.”
Merry nodded slowly. “Tell me what you can, Sam. I’m listening.”
Sam drew a breath and leaned once again against the old wooden table. “As you know, it’s been awhile since dear Mister Frodo left, and as you can imagine, it’s been eating away at me since that great ship disappeared into the deep mist those long years ago.” A hint of old but unforgotten pain stirred in Sam’s eyes and they shone in the dancing light of the fire.
Sam sniffed casually and turned to Merry. “I know that you’re the only one here that can really understand what a torture the past years have been; you’re the only one that knows how it feels to be separated from one you loved so much and saw so many dangers with.”
Merry lowered his gaze to his nearly drained mug of ale as flashes his and Pippin’s adventures passed before his eyes. He felt the light sting of a tear forming in his eye and he slowly nodded his head. “I understand, Sam. I know how you feel.”
He heard Sam draw a slow and rugged breath. “And with Rosie gone now and most of my children married off, it’s given me a lot of time to do some thinking. Since you know what kind of things must run through my mind on those days in March and October when I know Mr. Frodo would start to feel the pains from the Journey then you will also understand why I’ve decided to do what I plan to do—”
Merry quickly raised his eyes to meet his friend’s. He spoke before Sam had a chance to, “You’re leaving.” It wasn’t a question; it was a stated fact.
Sam sat in stunned silence and started Merry. ‘How did he know?’
“You’re leaving the Shire,” Merry continued in the silence, “and you’re going to the Grey Havens, for Frodo.”
After a few more seconds of watching Sam shift nervously in his seat, Merry let out a clear laugh. “Oh, come now, Sam. You can’t be so surprised. I know the state of your mind; you said so yourself.” His smile slowly changed to a frown. “You’re not the only one that’s thought of taking such actions. I, however, cannot find what I seek as easily as you can. But I will seek it nonetheless.”
Sam shook his head to clear his thoughts. “You’re leaving, too? But, Merry, where could you go? Not to the Grey Havens?”
Merry laughed. “No, Sam, I could not travel the same path as you; I was not a Ringbearer. Yet I left something behind when we returned to the Shire, and I must follow my own path to find it again.”
“Gondor.” Sam whispered as the thought finally came to him.
“But, Merry, what could you hope to find there?” Sam hated to say what he was saying, but he felt that Merry needed to hear it. “Beggin’ your pardon, Merry, but all you could hope to find is a grave. And besides, you weren’t ready to see the White City again when Elanor, Rose and I went to see Strider in ’42, what makes you so sure you’ll be able to see it now?”
“I’ll be ready, Sam, you can trust to that. I couldn’t leave with you in 1442 simply because of Estella and the children. Now that I’m also alone in my old hobbit hole and young Pip has taken up the duties as Master of Buckland, I’ve no reason to delay my passing in Gondor any longer.”
This statement took Sam off guard and he repeated for clarification, “Your ‘passing in Gondor’? Why, Merry, what do you mean?”
Merry smiled grimly at his old friend. “Sam, when you get down to it, we’re both leaving for a common purpose: to find ourselves and eventually die where our lost companions passed. Your mission is only different in the way that Frodo may still be alive when you arrive.
“But if he isn’t, at least you’ll be closer to him in the lands beyond the White Tower than you are here, and you can spend eternity at his side in a grave. In the same way, I’ll be closer to Pippin in the White City than I am here, and I’ll be able to die where I can feel closest to him.” Merry sighed. “It’s not the happiest thing to think about, and not a topic of choice to discuss over half a pint in the Green Dragon, but then again reality outside the Shire usually isn’t.”
Sam nodded in solemn understanding. “How long before you plan on leaving?”
Merry shrugged. “Not long, but not immediately.”
The bartender placed two new mugs on the table, and Sam watched Merry slowly reach out and draw the mug to him. Merry had changed; Sam saw it in his downcast eyes and heard it in his shaky voice. His heart was so frail after Pippin’s death, and it didn’t take much to break it anymore. They had all changed, of course, during the Journey. One can’t leave on such an extraordinary experience and come back the same hobbit; it wasn’t possible. But this change he saw in Merry was something new, something he hadn’t sensed in the hobbit before.
Sam had, however, had sensed it in another. The shadows that crept across Merry’s face had once touched the cheeks of his master in the long months before his departure for the Grey Havens. In his eyes were similar signs of the same pained and anguished tears he’d cried for too long. Sam slowly drew his mug up to his lips and lowered it, thoughtfully savoring the taste and studying Merry.
What was it that beckoned the shadows of despair to linger on Merry’s once rosy cheeks? Sam thought back to the events of the past years. He remembered the gradually increasing tension he saw between Merry and Estella as little Pip (who wasn’t so little anymore) entered his mid tweens. Sam wasn’t sure exactly what caused it: whether it was Merry’s strange behavior and late night trips to the pub, or Estella’s suddenly cold, humorless personality. Perhaps it was both, or one resulted in the other. In any case, it began to slowly weaken the marriage, but Sam had hope when they were brought back together by Estella’s third pregnancy, their second son.
It was a miscarriage. Such a loss could drive the strongest of men to insanity, and it completely shattered Merry’s already despairing heart. Tears stung in Sam’s eyes as he remembered the look of shock and anguish on Merry’s face when the Healer told him the news. Sam couldn’t begin to imagine what was going through Merry’s head, what it must have felt like to lose his child before he even knew him and showed him the world he was bringing him into. Sam shuddered at the thought and silently thanked the Lady that his children had all made it safely into the world.
Sam cringed at the memory of the years that followed. The pain of the loss of their unborn son was too sharp for Merry and Estella to endure. It quickly pulled them away from each other and the family apart; they could no longer live with one another. What small hope the two had in saving their marriage was gone. So, Estella and the children moved out. Merry would have moved himself, but he was Master of Buckland and had business to attend to at Brandy Hall.
Sam remembered the night after Estella left. He’d gotten a sharp knock on his door at Bag End and opened it to find Merry standing on his doorstep, looking lost and confused. Before Sam could say anything, Merry looked up at him with eyes shining with tears and stopped the words before they could form in Sam’s throat.
“We were going to name him ‘Sam’,” he said with tears streaming down his stained cheeks. He sobbed into Sam’s shoulder through most of that night.
Merry missed his children terribly after their move. They would always come by, of course, and Pip was there as often as he could be, but it wasn’t the same to Merry. Nothing was the same to him anymore.
Merry and Estella lived separated for some time, but slowly began to see more and more of each other again. Merry had told Sam that the two could begin to talk about their loss together, which was a great improvement from the acknowledging nods that they had once used to communicate.
Within the past year, Estella had passed away. Not long before her, Rosie had also passed. Sam and Merry spent sleepless nights talking about the Good Years in front of the Bag End fireplace, the embers in the hearth warming the tears on their cheeks and giving light to the darkness in their hearts.
It was darkening in the bar now and the fire beside them had begun to die out. Sam thought back to the purpose of this meeting. He had planned to leave for the Grey Havens by the coming of winter, but that was before he knew Merry’s plans for departure. He knew in his heart he couldn’t leave Merry alone now, not after all the two had gone through since their return to the Shire. He’d have to wait, and wait was what he would do. He’d wait to see Merry off, wait to watch him begin his long ride to Gondor, wait to give him his last farewell, and then he’d make his own departure.
Sam tipped the mug back and drained the remaining ale out of it. As he set it on the table, Merry pushed back his chair and rose slowly. Sam looked up at him and raised his eyebrows.
“Goin’ off home?” he asked.
“Eventually, yes.” Merry watched as Sam stood and began walking with him towards the large, heavy door in the front of the pub. Merry reached out and took his cloak from its peg on the wall. “I’ll try and catch a carriage to take me back to Buckland.” He gave a small shrug. “Then I might fancy a walk before I get to sleep.”
Sam pulled his own cloak around him and opened the door for Merry to step through. “I’d best be off, too. I’ve left some carrots out that I didn’t have time to store properly.” He closed the door behind them.
Merry smiled and patted his friend on the shoulder. “Take care of yourself, Sam.” He turned and stepped onto the road.
Sam smiled and nodded. “And you, Merry.” He turned and started off in the opposite direction, feeling uplifted at the thought of the warm fire that was waiting for him to return to Bag End.