Than Meets The Eye
1. Than Meets The Eye
A/N: Okay folks, here we go. I’ve had this idea bouncing around in my head for a while now, but I did my best to ignore it since I wasn’t sure I’d ever find time to write. When it started banging pans and shouting obscenities, I decided it just would not go away and finally put pen to paper. Or finger to keyboard, as the case may be. The idea is actually the basis for a much longer fic that I hope to write in the future. At the moment, I’m just testing the waters with this piece to see if the premise will go down with you readers before committing to an epic. This is most definitely AU, though not canonically impossible, I think. Extraordinarily unlikely, but not completely impossible. It is purposely vague, but my hope is that I’ve dropped enough subtle hints to lead readers in the right direction, at the very least. Hopefully, I’ve kept the characters true enough to themselves that people won’t find it too alternate for this universe. I realize the idea itself will not please everyone. I only ask that you allow me some leeway - I'm just having a little fun with a concept I've never run across before. For those who have sent such lovely comments on this and other sites, many thanks. Your encouragement has been invaluable! Cheers.
A grey and persistent drizzle had just begun to sink through their clothes and darken the sky to an early dusk when two shapes slipped through the deepening thicket in search of a quiet spot for private counsel. The taller of the two picked his way through the brush, stopping occasionally to hold back shrubs and overhanging limbs to allow his companion easier passage, and though his stature made this hardly necessary, the gesture was appreciated. It was the first time the two had found a chance to break away from the others since they left Rivendell two days before. A leisurely pace had led them past the Ford and near the fringes of the Trollshaws by nightfall of their journey’s second day. They might have gone on for a while longer, had not one of their party taken ill the day before, just after they crossed the Bruinen. They felt an early rest was needed and so made camp before sunset. It was now October the seventh and the long road was almost at an end, but not all the riddles had been read.
Stepping out of the trees into a grassy clearing divided by a small, clear brook, the two made their way to the edge of the creek bank, found suitable resting places on the flat, smooth stones, and began rummaging through packs in search of smoking supplies. The drizzle had become a thin mist and though unpleasant, it was not wet enough to discourage a bit of pipeweed After procuring the necessaries and taking several bracing pulls from their respective pipes, the two relaxed back against the large stones in temporary content. Not a word had passed between them since their decision to take an evening stroll and neither seemed anxious to break the peace. For a while it was enough to enjoy a moment of rest and put their thoughts in order, but each knew the serenity was bound to be short-lived, if only for the weight of the discussion to come. After but a few minutes the silence, which had been comfortable at first, quickly became taut with anticipation as each wondered how to begin the conversation that could wait no longer.
“Yesterday was October the sixth, wasn't it?” asked the smaller one, choosing to break the fragile peace at last.
“Indeed,” Gandalf replied solemnly. “The first anniversary of Frodo’s wounding on Weathertop.” He knew the direction this seemingly innocuous query was taking and he dreaded following it to conclusion.
“Aye, I thought I remembered it aright,” his friend answered, dangerously close to tears. “He'll never be well again, will he?” he asked, hope and resignation warring for mastery in his quavering voice.
Gandalf’s brow wrinkled into a frown as he considered the best way to phrase his explanation. “I am afraid that Frodo is not quite the same hobbit who set out on the road a year ago. He has grown immeasurably and become more than anyone could have imagined, but he has changed. The price was steep and there is no going back.”
“No, that I know. Nothing will be the same for any of us. I understand that now, but doesn't make it any easier to accept. It seems unfair, somehow. Cruel.”
“Yes, I suppose it does seem that way. The cruelty is not intended, however. It is merely the product of moving in the great circles of the world. Affecting so much of the present and the future with your actions takes enormous strength of will and consequences are inevitable. Little hobbits have proved themselves beyond even my wildest imaginings, but you are, after all, still only little hobbits. Grown to greatness and sterner than you appear, but not indestructible. Frodo nearly gave his life, but he also gave a great part of himself, his strength and spirit both. Now the balances have come due, just as they do for all in the end. No, Sam, Frodo will never be utterly healed again in Middle Earth. Not completely.”
The silence descended once more as Sam pondered this and the grey twilight deepened further. He sat quietly smoking and spoke no more until the tension once again began to build. Gandalf soon felt he must prod Sam toward conversation or those in camp would become concerned enough to seek them out.
“What questions would you ask of me that Elrond was unable to answer?” Gandalf finally asked, breaking through the hobbit‘s thoughts. In truth, he knew not where to begin and thought to let his companion choose the direction their talk would take. Sam did not answer right away, though a hundred questions had been burning in his head for days. He too was unsure how to start and took his time deciding which information he thought most vital to pry from Gandalf before the wizard decided to close up again, as he had always been wont to do. Finally, in a voice laced with uncertainty he began.
“Why do I remember nothing? From before, I mean. All I remember starts with Sam Gamgee, son of Hamfast and Bell of Bagshot Row. I don’t recall a thing from the other time--either of them-- and that don’t seem right somehow. Shouldn’t a person have some memory, some guess about a thing like this? You remember before, don’t you. In the West, that is? I’ve heard you mention odd things about it when you thought we weren’t really listening. Why is it that you can remember but I can't recall east or West or anything?” Sam’s face had reddened with the passion of his speech, but now he ducked his head, ashamed to have had such an outburst in front of Gandalf of all people. What would his Gaffer say?
For his part, Gandalf had expected this and patiently awaited the end of the small rant. Sam was too polite to really unleash the frustration he was feeling, but the wizard was certain the hobbit shouldered no small amount of resentment towards him. He was well within his rights to do so, knowing the truth had been kept from him for months now. Although Sam seemed to understand the reasoning behind the decision - that he was still recovering along with Frodo, and the celebrations in the White City had been rather continuous - Gandalf guessed rightly that withholding the truth from the stout hobbit had earned him a few hard talks.
The wizard sighed wearily and thought again how best to start. “My dear hobbit, the nature of the situation warranted something drastic. If you had been aware of your true identity, aware of what you are, you would not have been the Sam Gamgee that was needed. Hobbits are concerned with the simple cares of daily living and lofty thoughts and worldly views are entertained by only a few, all of whom eventually become famous for their eccentricities. Think of Bilbo and Frodo. Regular hobbits, both, but subject to ridiculous gossip all their lives because of their unusual ways. No, Sam, if you had known, you would have been too noticeable, a cow in sheep’s clothing. And what’s more, you would not have become precisely the thing you were sent to become. You would have ceased to be a hobbit. Do you understand?” he asked, looking at Sam intently, but kindly.
“No, not really. But somehow I feel it deep down. I’ve heard the reasons and part of me agrees with them. I suppose it’s the stubborn hobbit part of me that wants to argue,” he chuckled blandly.
Gandalf smiled warmly at that and asked, “Do you remember nothing at all then?”
Sam thought back to the vivid dreams that had been arresting his sleep every night since leaving Gondor. They had steadily increased in intensity throughout their travels until he grew weary and tense from the strain of pretending he was well rested. He found it strange that he would begin to have such dreams, dreams that felt more like nightmares, now after all they’d been through. He’d slept like a log all through Mordor, his sleep deep and for the most part dreamless, even when he should have been alert and on guard. So to have these hallucinations plague him in times of peace seemed a bizarre and unwarranted punishment. When the serenity of Rivendell proved no cure and he woke several times screaming and drenched in sweat, what he had before considered a nuisance suddenly seemed graver. The others all assumed he was just revisiting the hellish journey in his sleep, but Sam knew he was not dreaming about Minas Morgul or the Plain of Gorgoroth. The menace of Shelob and the treachery of Gollum had even been put to rest in his heart. No, these dreams were not terrifying in themselves- many were scenes of beauty and wonder. What woke Sam with a scream was the terrible feeling of dislocation. He felt as though he couldn’t find his feet, couldn’t anchor himself to anything. The sands were constantly shifting beneath him and each picture that flashed through his mind told him stories. Someone else’s stories. He knew, as sure as he knew the color of Shire trees, that he had never seen the things his mind was conjuring, even in his recent wide travels. In the end, his stubborn logic could think of only one explanation. He was dreaming someone else’s memories.
This instinctual knowledge finally led him to seek counsel among the wise, though he had to overcome a considerable amount of reluctance to do so. Sam was not without his pride and the fear of looking childish and frail in front of the likes of Elrond had been difficult to ignore. Still, he needed help, and only a ninny-hammer would refuse to ask for assistance when it was needed, as his Gaffer would have reminded him. Elrond had looked at him soberly and sighed, placing a hand gently on the top of his head.
“Come, my friend. We need to have a talk,” said the elf, before leading him to his private chambers for a conversation that would turn his world entirely upside down.
Sam could not articulate all this easily to Gandalf, could not express the horror he had felt when his very soul seemed unable to find purchase, could keep no solid grip on the worlds flashing before his eyes. His provincial vocabulary wasn’t able to convey these thoughts precisely enough. Instead, he settled for answering the old wizard in simple hobbit terms.
“I dreamed someone else’s dreams. Or memories. At first they were shadowy and dark, but in Rivendell they became more like waking dreams. Like I was watching things happen from someone else’s eyes. Thought I was finally going mad, I did. Wasn’t too surprised about it, really. I finally went to Lord Elrond for help because I didn’t want to go home like that, didn’t want to face everyone in the Shire not knowing my own self anymore. It’d break my ma’s heart if I came back wrong. The Gaffer’s too, though he’d make more noise about it. I think I understand how Frodo must feel a little more than I used to. I don’t know how he can stand it.”
“He can stand it because he must. We must all go on living, go on doing our best, else the victory is fruitless. Frodo’s path may have changed, and he may carry great burdens, but he sacrificed all for the Shire and he must see it for himself. It is the hope that kept him steadfast until the end, that he would see the land he loves once more, whole and unmarred. Is it not the same for you?”
“Yes, it’s the same,” Sam replied and began to add something before changing his mind and resuming his pipe. Silence descended once more and a chill breeze swept through the clearing, bringing a hint of the winter to come in its wake.
The quiet hobbit all but startled the wizard out of his robes by suddenly blurting out his next question, the frustration in his voice clearly evident. “Just how long have you known all this?” he all but shouted, sitting up stiffly and glaring at his companion.
Gandalf just managed a deft catch of the long-stemmed pipe that had fallen from his lips when the hobbit cried out and huffed grumpily as he regained his composure. Here it comes, he thought. The thunderstorm he’s holding in and I shall take the brunt of it, though it was hardly my doing. Ah, well, one must be able to take as well as they give, and I‘ve been known to give often.
“My dear hobbit..” he started in reply, when he was suddenly cutoff by the next outburst from Sam.
“All my life, is that it? Did you watch me all those years knowing everything and not saying a word? I know, I know, I would not be who I am, or who I’ve become or...or...oh bother! You know what I mean to say, and it may all be well and true, but to think that...that...you knew all this time...it‘s just...” Sam’s spluttering had finally bogged down his train of thought and he settled instead for crossing his arms with a final “hmph!” and turning his face away from the elderly Istar.
Gandalf tried to hide a smile that he knew was somewhat inappropriate given the situation, but the look on Sam’s face during his tirade had been too endearing, too comical coming from the overly-respectful hobbit and he was unable to contain his laughter. Sam looked at him with something akin to shock as he continued his chuckling.
“Begging your pardon, Mr. Gandalf, sir, but I don’t think it’s very funny. Here I am trying to ask you serious questions and you find call to mock me. That’s not proper, if I may say.”
“Of course you may say and more as well. I am sorry, Samwise. I was not mocking you at all. Its just that your face...well, I’m sorry for it and it shan’t happen again. Please accept my apologies.”
Sam muttered something under his breath and nodded.
“As to your question, I did not know until this very year. I was told to look for a hobbit, it’s true, but I thought certainly it was Frodo. Why in all of Arda do you think I took such an interest in he and Bilbo? I loved the old hobbit dearly and I grew to love Frodo on his own merits as well, but I would not have devoted so much of my time to any of you if not for that. The Shire holds a special place in my heart, but I have always had many other concerns requiring my attention in other lands. I rarely had the luxury of time to visit the Shire; I did so out of the need to watch Frodo. You hobbits are an entertaining bunch, but only if there is plenty of time for supper and stories, and a bit of a smoke.” Gandalf winked at Sam after this bit of oversimplification and Sam couldn’t help but smile back, his earlier ire all but forgotten.
“Well, when did you learn exactly? You didn’t act any different before we got to Rivendell.” Sam asked, quite curious on this particular point.
“When I returned as you see me now, I returned armed with much knowledge. Perhaps I asked my own questions in the time between time. I cannot myself recall, but much was made clear to me that had before been shadowed. The riddle was answered when I awoke, and it gave me hope that I had thought long spent. I thought of you and Frodo often, alone in the dark places, but I was able to devote myself to other urgent causes, as was needed. It was the reason I was blessed with such illumination.” Gandalf’s eyes had taken on a hazy look as he spoke of his return, his mind for a moment walking other paths as he sat by the stream. Sam was hesitant to disturb the wizard as he sat thus, in what he felt was a somewhat private moment, but the thing he wanted most to know was gnawing at him and wouldn’t be ignored.
“Gandalf, how did this happen? Or, why? That’s what I’d really like to know, if you understand me,” Sam asked. “I’m no lore-master like Lord Elrond, but I’m sure I’ve never heard of this happening before,” Sam said with indignation at the thought that such a good tale might have been denied him.
“I was very desperate Sam. The powers of the this world were beginning to move and I found myself in need of assistance, as I never had been before. I simply could not divide my attention enough to see to all that required careful vigilance. I could not be everywhere at once. Of those in the order, Saruman would not be moved to action and Rhadagast couldn’t be lured from his beloved creatures. Of the names Pallando and the illustrious Alatar,” the wizard winked at Sam, “nothing was known by any west of Rhûn. Further than that I had no time to search, else I might have learned the fate of the Ithryn Luin. As it was, I could gather no information and held out no hope of assistance from that corner. So I beseeched the Valar plainly and they granted my wish, though not in the way I had hoped. I did not understand them and was rather exasperated, but of course their foresight proved mightier than my own, and help was sent in due time, and in correct circumstance. I still had many years to wait and many wild guesses as to which one of you Shirefolk would be the one, but when Frodo arrived at Bag End, I thought my search over finally. What a fool I was to overlook gardeners! But then Frodo is so very different from the average hobbit, more extraordinary than Bilbo even. I knew he was fated for a high destiny, but though I knew you for a solid, decent hobbit, Sam, I would never have guessed more,” the wizard paused for a moment in thought. “Perhaps, though, I did know in some fashion. I sent you with Frodo as punishment, do you remember? Why did I choose to do so without hesitation, without thinking the idea through carefully? Perhaps that shows a touch of the Valar as well.”
Sam now sat silently again, letting the wizard’s words flow through him. He had heard a similar story from Elrond, but it had seemed unreal somehow coming from the elf, as ephemeral as his dreams upon awaking. Now, hearing Gandalf voice his own part in the story gave it real substance. He could no longer ignore the enormity of the truth presented to him, as he could no longer ignore the whispers of his heart. It was futile to resist; he knew it was all true. He was beginning to see the greater design in his life, and in his part of the fight against Sauron. His part in the fight against all shadow that is never-ending. In just a few moment’s time, as he listened to Gandalf’s voice and watched the first stars begin to prick through the thin, ragged clouds, Sam began to recognize this reality, and in part, to accept it.
“What will you do now, Sam?” Gandalf asked softly.
“Go home like I planned, I suppose.” Sam shrugged in answer. “What else would I do?“ No other possibility had even occurred to him. Thinking on it now, he could imagine nothing else. He wanted to go home, to lose himself in the everyday rhythms of life, perhaps now more than ever. His mind was still reeling from the continuous upheavals of the past year and he needed something to center him again. Something that would give him a solid footing. The only solution he could envision was his family, his home, and the soothing comfort of tending his garden.
The fog had blown away to soft wisps by this time and the stars were burning cold and radiant in the open sky above the clearing. Earendil, brightest of all, shown down brilliantly, as if in approval, and Gandalf felt little surprise that he should grace them so benevolently tonight. His story was, after all, not so very different from Sam’s. The last hope for the people he loved, his true nature cloaked in service to those errands, reward and burden both. A small, sad smile crept onto the wizard’s face at that thought. Had he himself not experienced the same? And Sam was right, what else could one do but carry on until home was again in sight, promising rest.
The minds of both companions were traversing pleasant thoughts of familiar beds and welcoming faces when a sound reached them through the brush. The crackling of fallen leaves and heavy swish of branches being rearranged announced the identity of the rambler long before his face could be seen.
“That’ll be Mr. Pippin, to be sure. He tramps around louder than a pack of dwarves! You’d think he’d have learned to be quieter after all he’s seen, but he crashes and cracks like he’s never had naught to be wary of,” Sam grumbled indignantly. There was no real annoyance behind the words, though. He was relieved beyond hope that Pippin had retained his carefree exuberance. He was altered, as were they all, but the darkness of war and grief had not managed to stifle his indomitable spirit. He was and would always be Peregrin Took, rascal of the Four Farthings, and in that Sam and Gandalf shared an equal measure of joy.
Pippin’s curly head finally popped into view, the moon casting her silver lamp upon his white face, and spotted the two by the embers of their pipes. He squinted a moment, trying to make out if these were indeed the two he had been sent to fetch, then gave up the futile task and threw all caution to the wind.
“Is that you then, Sam, and Gandalf? He asked. “What in the Shire are you doing so far away from camp? I’ve spent the better part of an hour going in circles hunting the two of you,” he said, striding toward them with his hands on his hips. The pose was a striking imitation of his eldest sister Pearl at her most put-upon, and would have embarrassed him down to his toes if he had but known it. “ Supper’s waiting, though it’s no doubt gone cold by now, and Frodo doesn’t like you wandering away for too long, wizard or not.” He emphasized the last word with a nod of his head and all but tapped his foot in impatience.
“Thank you for your endeavor Master Peregrin. We’ll be along presently when we’ve finished our smoke. It wouldn’t do to waste good pipeweed, I’m sure you’ll agree. You may wait with us if you like.” Gandalf added, though he was already rather certain of the reply.
“I think not, Gandalf. I’ve left my plate unwatched far too long as it is. It’ll be a wonder if Merry leaves me even a crumb. You know how he is about food.” Pippin said in the grandest conspiratorial tone he could manage.
Sam and Gandalf shared a wink and a smile at that, bidding Pippin a pleasant return and a full plate. When he had stumbled and cursed his way out of earshot, their chuckles quickly turned into full out laughter that they could not contain, and they had to wipe their eyes in the end. It felt good to have a real laugh again and the mirth held their earlier solemnity at bay for a short while. Pippin’s very hobbity comments had brought to Gandalf’s mind an important question and though he hated to turn the mood serious again, he felt he had to know. “Will you tell them the truth?” he asked quietly, staring straight ahead as the question went aloft on the night breeze. “Will you tell any of them?”
Sam had expected this question and was prepared to answer, for it had troubled him most of all since Rivendell. How would he explain something like this? He could not tell his family...they would certainly not believe it and really would think he’d gone mad. His Gaffer would no doubt blame the wizard and all of Hobbiton would blame his long association with Bilbo and Frodo if the story ever got out. No, his family would be happier if they were unaware altogether.
“I think I might tell Mr. Frodo, at least. Someday. Mr. Merry & Mr. Pippin would understand, but I think it would change the way they act around me, and I couldn’t stand that. If I'm going home, I want it to be the same home I remember, and that has no chance if this gets out. I think it’s best for everyone if I stay plain old Sam Gamgee.”
“Old Sam Gamgee would have trouble being plain after his grand deeds even if he was a mere hobbit. I think you’ll find it somewhat more difficult to stay quietly in your garden from now on,” the wizard said.
A blush crept across Sam’s cheeks, though it could not be seen in the deepening dark. A year ago, staying quietly in his garden had been all he desired, and his ambitions ran no further. But now, after surviving so much, he knew what his strengths were, his hobbit strengths. He would not seek power, or leadership, or even influence, but he no longer doubted his capabilities.
“We had best start heading back before Frodo himself comes to fetch us,” Sam said as he began moving to stow his pipe and pouch. Gandalf stood as well and the two shouldered their packs and began picking their way carefully through the now black trees toward the camp. A silence fell again, broken only by the snap of twigs and the occasional rustle of leaves. As he walked, Sam stole glances upward, where he could see the stars slanting down through the slatted branches. The familiar points of light looked entirely newborn, as if he’d never seen them before, as if they’d been newly made. All polished up for our homecoming. First the entire courts of Gondor and Rohan, now even the heavens are putting on their finery. Though I’d rather have twinkling stars than another one of those feasts in our honor. I’m just not made to be bowed at, no matter what Gandalf may say.
While Sam’s thoughts had been elsewhere, he and Gandalf had come to the edge of their camp and laughing voices drifted out to them clearly. Without speaking, he and Gandalf both paused to listen to the cheerful sound before rejoining their companions. Merry’s voice could be clearly heard admonishing his younger cousin.
“Pippin, are you certain you actually spoke to them or did you just fib to get back to your supper quickly?” Merry asked, his voice that of a long-suffering adult dealing with a flighty tweenager.
“Of course I spoke to them Merry,” Pippin replied, rolling his eyes, which made Frodo laugh. “They were both sitting in the dark smoking and told me they’d be right along. I can’t believe you’d accuse me of neglecting my wizard-locating duties. Honestly.” Pippin said, sighing loudly.
“Well, what were they talking about then?” Merry asked him pointedly. Pippin started to reply, most likely in a rude fashion, but without waiting for an answer, Merry turned to Frodo. “What are they discussing that’s so private, Frodo? And why Sam? I’d understand you and Gandalf having secret talks, that‘s nothing new, but Sam?
“I don’t know, Merry. Perhaps Gandalf should have had more secret meetings with Sam rather than me from the beginning,” Frodo said thoughtfully. “Perhaps things would have been different, easier. I do know that Sam Gamgee has done nothing but surprise me since we set out last year. If you’d seen what he went through, how he never wavered, never backed down, not even in the end, well, you’d look at him a little differently I think. He truly is the best of us,” Frodo said, turning sad eyes towards his cousin. “ He saved us all, Merry.”
Sam listened to his friend speak these words with a considerable lump in his throat and was about to burst into the circle, denying all the praise, when he felt a warm hand land on his shoulder.
“He’s perfectly right, you know. You deserve the compliments, and you deserve the credit. The world will know peace in large part because of the choices you made, Sam, and you should not throw aside all acclaim. For whatever you are in truth, you were still a hobbit when you crossed Mordor and met destiny at the peak of Mt. Doom. The hobbit in you deserves to feel proud.” Gandalf whispered.
“That’s kind of you, Gandalf, and I am proud of what we did. I’m just not used to flattery and such. Still embarrasses me, it does. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.” Sam replied, blushing brightly in the shadows. “I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to any of it.”
He took a couple of steps toward the light of the fire when Gandalf’s voice stopped him. “Whenever you grow weary of it all, Sam, weary of this world, Oromë’s halls will welcome you again. Our task has been fulfilled,” the wizard spoke, in little more than a whisper.
Sam nodded once without looking back and stepped into the light of the fire, Gandalf’s words echoing in his head.
“Whenever you choose, a ship will be waiting.”
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.