1. Sam's Crosswise Verse
“ ‘You’re crosswise, Samwise. Crosswise and jammed up’,” the voice -- rusty and raw-sounding -- belied the soft words. “Me gaffer would say that now, he would.”
The rocks in the shadowed niche absorbed the soft comment. Strange, as there was not a shred of vegetation to muffle the sound. Nothing seemed to be stirring, not the slightest breath of noise. Silence and blackness and dust.
“The Gaffer, he’d say, ‘You shouldn’t go leaving things crosswise’.”
It was only the barest whisper and the stone seemed to suck it out of the air before it reached the ears for which it was intended.
A grimy, calloused fingertip reached as if to touch the tip of one of those ears, but drew back, trembling.
“Me mum now, me mum would say ‘Don’t go to sleep crosswise, Sam... love’,” the voice stumbled shakily over that dearly remembered epithet. The hazel eyes seemed to shimmer as they shifted once more to check whether dark lashes fluttered in response.
“We’ve been crosswise before, you and I. Not often. Not recently. Not till now.” The whisper rasped to a stop and the quiet effort to clear the gravelly throat was loud in the stillness, “Remember the first time?”
The eyes shut out the grey and black landscape and the dear face before him and saw another landscape, another time.
“Was all about that book. You found it on that tinker’s cart. Old... What was his name? Old Snivey. He was a sight, and a smell too as I recollect.” The slightest quirk of the lips at the memory and gold-brown head drifted back to rest against unforgiving stone.
“The Gaffer’d sent me off to find some doodad or other when he heard Snivey was in Bywater. He was all set to repair some new-fangled thing Mister Bilbo had cooked up. Anyways, it was one of those sticky days . . . hot as blazes and wet-feeling. Felt like a storm was coming for sure, but nary a cloud t’ be seen. Everything was heated up and smelling powerfully that day. Mister Bilbo’s white roses, the trimmings from me clipping the hedge. You could even smell the fish in the Water up on the Hill, I recollect. And the cinnamon from those sticky buns Mister Bilbo had cooked for the guests.”
“Cinnamon... I remember your fingers smelled of it, and your hair, and your clothes, that whole day. You’d been fidgeting like water fit to boil and driving Mister Bilbo to distraction with Mistress Lobelia about to visit and all, and you just newly come to Bag End. He about threw you out of the smial that day. Scared me half t’death, the whole business. What with Lobelia going on about you with Mister Bilbo, and you not really settled in yet.”
A barely audible skitter of rock brought the head up and the sword came up as well. The faint metallic echo rang for a moment in the air. The sword shivered ever so slightly, ringing softly with each beat of the sturdy heart, but no other breath of sound came. After a while the sword lowered slowly to rest again on the rock, but the eyes stayed open and wary, focused on the dim path beyond the niche.
“Mister Bilbo, I think he was just looking for an excuse. Anything to get you out of Bag End. Anything at all. I went to tell him where I was going for the Gaffer, and he nigh on dragged you to the door. I remember he pulled some coin outta somewhere and shoved it at you and told you to buy some pipe-weed, some really good pipe-weed and a lot of it. It was quite a bit of money and would buy a lot a leaf, that.” The hazel eyes blinked in remembrance of the extravagance.
“I still don’t know what had got into you that day. It was like you were listening to some tune no one else could hear, leastwise me. And you fair walked that way too. Barely resting on your feet like you were going to fly into the air or pull lightning straight from the sky. But then, you... You always seem to walk to music no one else can hear. And me just wishing I could hear it.”
The voice trembled to a halt again. The head lifted as if listening for elusive music in the air. Hazel eyes shimmered, then shifted to see if the expression had changed, to see if the story had awakened some memory, some remembered tune heard by only one. Still, nothing.
“But this, this was different. Now, I think -- I’m guessing -- but I think... I think you were scared. Scared that Mister Bilbo...that he wouldn’t be keeping you. But then...then I didn’t know that.” The voice rasped to stillness again, trembling in the dark. “Right then I thought that you didn’t care. That you really were dancing above the ground. Above all of us. That you really were beyond all of us and you were beyond caring.”
“I hope you know now -- I think you know -- that I was scared too. That’s why. That’s why everything got crosswise that day.”
Another whisper of sound. A slithery murmur. The hazel eyes lifted. The ears tuned for ethereal notes in the air. Listened wearily for the music of loss, of defeat, of death in the dark. The sword shifted slightly on the stone and a metallic echo shivered in the shadows. There was a dusty, dark silence in response. A long silence, and the gold-brown head slipped backward against the stone, weary beyond bearing.
A sigh. A deep intake of breath in the night, and the story resumed.
“I think you could smell that book,” the lips quirked, ever so slightly, up. Almost smiling. Almost. “Everything else smelled that day, especially old Snivey.”
“And you. You smelled of cinnamon, and juniper, and ink, and leather. I could smell you beside me as we walked in the heat. I knew you could smell me too, with that nose of yours so far up there above everyone else. Me and my dirt. Me and my sweat. You smelling and looking like something cool and sweet. Me smelling and looking like earth and smelly growing things and soil. You not even really walking, more dancing down the road.”
“I think you could smell that book a mile off. I remember looking up at you and wondering if I’d been right the first time I saw you. I knew then that you WERE an elf. You could see things and hear things and smell things no one else could.”
“You practically put your hands right on that book. And old Snivey, I think he had it hid back for the Baggins you know. He knew that Mister Bilbo coveted those things. Old Snivey, he had it hid, and there you go and you put your hands right on it. Right there in that pile of junk in his cart. Your fingers just danced in there and pulled it out of all that ugly stack of stuff that he carted around. I think it spooked him. I think it spooked him a lot.”
“It spooked me,” the voice had gone hoarse again. For a moment the dark crevice through the rock was silent. The murky sky glowered down and the two tiny figures were lost in the red-tinged shadows.
“The cover was blue leather. The color of those flowers Bilbo brought home,” the raspy voice trembled on. “Back when he visited the elves once, he brought some seeds home. And they bloomed. The gaffer was a trifle surprised by those, I think. Now those seeds, those were ones I planted myself. Right under your window, as it turned out. Blue like the sky at harvest. Blue like...blue like your eyes. Just like. Odd those flowers. They bloomed the day you arrived from Brandy Hall. The very day.“
“And the cover of the book, it was that color too. I remember looking up at you that day. Looking at that leather cover and then at your eyes. I remember the smell of that book, and every other book in Mister Bilbo’s study. Leather and old ink and old paper . . . The pages were like old ivory. Thick and sturdy, and ancient, and filled with beautiful small black words. You were paging through it, holding your breath. Your eyes were shining like... I don’t think there is anything like that in the world. Then, all of sudden, you near pressed it to your face, breathed it in before old Snivey could even move. It had you. ” A breath, a pause, a sigh.
“It had you. You belonged to it before you even bought it. That book had you.”
There was a strange silence in the pass. The ivory features, so like those long ago pages – fragile, but strong – glowed the darkness. The hazel eyes shifted, shimmered, and blinked down at that beloved countenance.
“You spent all Mister Bilbo’s pipe-weed money on that book. Snivey knew he had you. He knew that he could get whatever he wanted for that book you cradled in your hands, held like it was some precious live thing. You counted over all those coins. And I stood there in the heat and damp watching you do it.”
“ I know I said it that day. I know I did. I was afraid, so afraid. I was afraid that Mister Bilbo would send you away. Afraid the magic would disappear. Afraid that you would be gone. Afraid. I was standing there breathing in the cinnamon and juniper and ink and listening for that music that I knew you could hear. And I was so afraid I would lose you, when I had just then found you.“
The pass was quiet. Too quiet. Noisome smells drifted from somewhere nearby. And a sense of something lurking, just out of sight in the dark. Something malevolent. Something that wanted to stop the music. Something that wanted to still those feet dancing just above the ground.
A hitching breath in the dark, and the story went on.
“I said it then. I said ‘Mister Frodo, no.’ ”
Something slid from the shimmering eyes, coursing down the pale slippery paths already on both filthy cheeks. “No.”
“And I said it about him too. About coming this way. About following him. About trusting him. I said it just that way.”
“You didn’t pay any attention to me that day any more than you did at the Black Gate. You smiled at me then though. You ruffled my hair. ‘Don’t worry Samwise. Everything will be fine. Bilbo will love this, more than all the pipe-weed in the Shire.’ You said.”
“And I shook my head and pulled at your sleeve trying to get you away from there . . . away from it. Tugging at you. Trying to save you, I thought. I just kept saying it ‘Mister Frodo, no.’ ” The voice paused and the next word was barely a whisper. “No.”
“But your eyes were all for that book. And Snivey grinning at you with those black teeth of his, and frowning at me when you weren’t looking. It was like it had a spell on you, standing there in the heat and dust, stroking the cover with your fingers.”
The chapped fingers reached out again, this time just barely brushing through the dark, limp curls.
“I must’ve gone mad that day, pulling at you like that, knocking the book out of your hands. I remember the smell of the dust that kicked up when it hit the road. And the sound you made, before you swallowed it that way you do. And the look on your face when you saw it splined out on the road, like a big blue butterfly knocked into the dirt, before you hid that too. But I saw it. I saw it in your eyes when you stooped to get it. When you looked up at me. That look you gave me at the Gate. Crosswise and all jammed up.”
“And I was crosswise. Thoroughly crosswise and jammed up. I thought you had gone and thrown it all away. Mister Bilbo. Me. Bag End. Everything. I thought he would send you back to Brandy Hall for spending all that coin on that one book. That book. I thought you would be gone. Back to those Brandybucks. Back to Mister Merry. Away from us. Away from Bag End. Away from me.”
The voice was even more rusty now, raw with need and remembered fear.
“I thought the music would be gone forever. I thought my life would be just brown soil and pale roots. No blue elvish flowers. No cinnamon, or juniper, or leather or ink. No wild music that I might just hear someday, if I tried real hard. No more feet dancing just above the ground. No more fingers reaching up to catch the lightning.”
Another soft susurration of sound somewhere nearby stopped the ragged murmur. A metallic whisper as the sword lifted warily from the rock. The eyes lifted from ivory skin up to grey and black landscape, but the voice went on now, beyond caring.
“I ran. I forgot what the Gaffer sent me for and I ran. I heard you say something, but I was so angry, so scared, I couldn’t hear nor see. Somehow I got back to the garden. I pulled up a row of something, I don’t remember what, thinking it was weeds. I was watering the garden all by myself, digging in the soil, crying into it, not wanting to hear when Mister Bilbo realized all his pipe-weed money was spent on something else. Something silly and magical with a cover the color of your eyes. Not wanting to see what happened. Not wanting to know when you would be gone, and you only just come.”
“But the storm never broke, ‘cept over my head. The Gaffer near had my hide for not getting what he sent me for. He found me after Mistress Lobelia left and you came back. You managed to avoid her completely, somehow. I know you must’ve been watching from somewhere for her to leave. You fair ran into the smial.”
The golden head shook ever so slightly, “Worse and worse. You catch Mister Bilbo after time spent in close quarters with her like and you are surely dancing with lightning. I wanted to stop you. Trip you up. Make you wait. Give him time. But I was afraid to see that look in your eyes and I missed the chance.”
The eyes shifted once more from path to face, “Right there under your window, me gaffer found me. Near on top of those blue flowers. I remember thinking then that they smelled spicy too. The Gaffer found me. And me shaking, half listening at the window, half holding my breath, hoping I was wrong. And him telling me I was for sure wrong for floating around with my feet not on the earth. But I weren’t really listening to him for once. I was listening for something else. Knees in the dirt, shaking, and me gaffer thinking it was fright of him.”
“But the storm never broke. I even saw Mister Bilbo showing that book off to the Gaffer next day and talking about how it was a rare book of verse and what a bargain it was and how you had a natural gift for spotting them. But I knew already. I knew that night when the smial stayed quiet and you were puttering about in the kitchen like normal that I was wrong. That now we was crosswise, and that scared me even more. Like at the Gate,” the voice sank to a whisper of sound. “Like now.”
“I finally went home to the row when it got too dark to see the soil anymore, and I had ruined a few more plants, and I could hide me face in the shadows. But mum, she saw it,” the voice tripped and stumbled on, “She saw it right away. And she never tried to pull it outta me. She just tucked her finger under my chin and said ‘Whatever or whoever you’re crosswise with Sam Gamgee, you cannot sleep on it. You cannot sleep crosswise.’ And she turned me around and pushed me out of the hole.” The lips quirked again in memory. Almost smiling.
“I didn’t run up the hill that night. I was standing at the gate staring at Mister Bilbo’s green door -- your green door -- when you came out of it,” the eyes were still on that face, watching the lashes hopefully, “It was still hot and sticky and not a cloud to be seen and the moon shining down, and you standing there with your hands shoved in your pockets, dancing and standing completely still at the same time. In all that heat and damp you looked like something cool and silvery. Like mithril.”
“You walked over with that look on your face. The way you hold your mouth and the way your eyes look when most of you is inside somewhere and not showing anything outside. You leaned back on the fence, sliding down where you could be face to face with me without looking like you were doing anything out of the ordinary.” The fingers twitched again as if to touch. “Those things were what made us, you and me, those things you did to tie me to you like that. Sure as if a silvery rope was looped around something inside.”
“ ‘Samwise.’ You said. And I stopped you. I don’t know what you would have said then, and now I wish I had waited to hear it, because I would know better what to be saying now. I tripped right over what you were about to say and blurted something out about being wrong and about how I hoped your book wasn’t bad spoiled. And then I stuttered something I don’t remember. Something about Mister Bilbo and the pipe-weed and the coin and stepping out of my proper place and all.”
“You were staring at your toes in the dirt, and you looked up and glared at me over that ‘proper place’ bit, like you always do. And I know even in the dark you could tell I had been crying, with me screwing up my face and trying not to spill out all over again. But when I got to the part about being crosswise and what me mum said, you suddenly looked up at the moon and smiled, and that stopped me cold. I remember what you said then like it was yesterday. ‘It is a book of verse Sam. Some of the loveliest verse you will ever read, and you are going to read it Samwise Gamgee’.”
There was a long moment of silence in the pass. Grey dust and red-black shadows dissolved into remembered golden afternoons spent bent over ivory pages and beautiful small black words.
“ ‘Crosswise is a good word for a verse,’ you said. ‘And moonrise rhymes with crosswise. So does sunrise.’ I was so confused for a minute that I thought you were making fun. Then you put your hand on my shoulder and looked right into my eyes. ‘And Samwise’.”
“That look was gone from your eyes like it had never been there at all. You gripped my shoulder a little firmer then. I still remember smelling cinnamon on that shirt of mine for a long time. You didn’t say anything about being right or explaining what you did or asking why I did what I did. You just looked back up at the moon. ‘Let’s promise Sam. We’ll make a game of it. Our crosswise verse. We will start our own verse and whenever we get crosswise, the one who realizes it first must think of another rhyme for our verse and tell the other. Before anything else. Before “I was wrong” or “you were right” or anything else. Agreed?’ you said.”
The hazel eyes slid shut again. “Sometimes it was you finding the rhymes. And sometimes it was me.” A long moment passed with no whisper of sound.
“I remember one time when it was you. You knew I was crosswise about something that I was pretty sure that you and Mister Merry had got up to. I remember you managed to get at me when I was around the Gaffer and Mister Bilbo both, and I couldn’t get away. I knew you were coming at me with that promised verse, and YOU knew I didn’t want to hear it. I wanted to stay crosswise that day. I wanted to hang onto it and nurse it inside for a while. But you pinned me up good and proper and hissed that awful verse in my ear.”
“And best not believe any lies,
Or you’ll be covered in horseflies.”
The eyes opened. “It was pretty bad, Mister Frodo, that verse was. I myself think Mister Merry come up with that un. Didn’t sound like something you would come up with. But it did the job. “ The lips really smiled ever so slightly at that point. “And we never ran out of rhymes. I guess that says something right there about you and me.”
“But when I saw him, tugging at you, pawing at you at the Black Gate like that, I remembered myself pulling at your sleeve that day. And I saw that book hit the dust again. I saw blue butterflies splined in the dirt. And your eyes,” the raw whisper stopped and the eyes slid shut again. Moonlight glimmered on wet cheeks. “Your eyes when you looked at that book. Your eyes, and his, when you look at the Ring. When you listen to It. And when you listen to that Stinker. And you listen ta nothing else. See nothing else. Thinking you can trust him. Thinking you can trust yourself with It wrapped round your neck, with It wrapped round your mind. And me thinking the same thing I was thinking so many years ago. That I would lo...” the voice hitched over the word. “Lose you. And me saying the same thing as so many years ago -- ‘Mister Frodo, no.’ ”
The gold-brown head leaned forward then, and the arms moved to lift the frail form cradled there, bringing the unresponsive ear closer. “No.” Shiny blotches bloomed on the dusty pale face below, dripping down from the shaking head bent over it. “No.”
But the promise had to be kept. And after a long moment, the raw whisper came again.
“So when you find yourself crosswise,
And all jammed up, Ma...Master Sa...Samwise.”
The voice broke and trembled. The still face below his was wet now with borrowed tears and a shiver went through the sturdy shoulders hunched over it, but the rusty voice stumbled on.
“Don’t dare let the m...moon rise,
And certain not the s...sun rise.”
The smell of cinnamon seemed to drift briefly in the dusty air. Shimmering eyes closed painfully against the vision of pale features in the darkness to recall a book splined on a brown dusty road in the hot sun.
“Until you lo...look into those ey...eyes...,
And re...remember b...blue butterf...flies.”
Warm salty lips softly touched the cold temple and then rested in the dark curls. There was nothing else to say. There would be no more verses.
For a time there was nothing but the sound of soft sobbing in the pass.
When at last the blackness passed, Sam looked up and shadows were about him; but for how many minutes or hours the world had gone dragging on he could not tell. He was still in the same place, and still his master lay beside him dead. The mountains had not crumbled nor the earth fallen into ruin.
“The Choices of Master Samwise”, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien
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.