34. Home Is the Wanderer
One day the Queen overheard Frodo singing when he thought himself alone, and prevailed upon him to sing for her. Arwen herself had a lovely voice, and they found that they harmonized well together; several times after that they sang duets for the King and Radagast, and Aragorn surprised Frodo by producing a small harp from a leather case to accompany them.
“Is there anything you cannot do?” Frodo exclaimed with a grin. ”You were Ranger and healer and a commander of armies, you are a ruler of strength and wisdom, and now I find that you are bard as well! Truly the race of Numenor is in flower once again!”
Aragorn laughed. “I was raised by Elrond, remember. Small chance of growing up in Rivendell without learning to sing and play some instrument! But I had not known that you could sing, Frodo, or we would have had more music on our journey together. Music lightens the heart.”
“It does,” Frodo agreed. ”I wish I had remembered that in the bad times.”
Radagast was absent much of the time, though he joined them for dinner. He spent his days with the ancient lore-master who had charge of the great Library of the city, but his answers were vague when Frodo asked what he was doing. Something to do with the wizard's mysterious errand to the East, was all he could discover.
At last one evening Radagast filled his pipe after dinner and turned to the King. “I have learned all I can in the old records, thanks to your generosity in having the Master of Scrolls assist me, Elessar. This was the need that brought me to Minas Tirith, and now it is answered. I must not presume longer on you hospitality.”
Aragorn smiled. “That is a courteous way of saying you are ready to be on your way again, I think.”
Radagast sent a smoke ring to drift around Frodo's head. “It is time I brought my Donkey back to his home pasture, before I follow the path I must tread. Long years have passed since I saw my brother Istari who went into the East, and the time of our labors is fulfilled. I must seek them out, wherever they have wandered, but I will see Frodo home first, if he is ready to go with me now.”
Frodo nodded. “The day after tomorrow?” he asked.
“That will do very well,” said Radagast.
The next day Arwen sought Frodo out. “I have something for you, dear heart, before you leave us.” She held out a small pouch of black velvet, embroidered with the White Tree. “This was left in my keeping, to be given to you when I had opportunity.”
Wondering, Frodo untied the drawstring and shook the pouch out over his palm. A ring fell out, a graceful filagree of white metal that gleamed like silver, but with a deeper, richer sheen. It was set with an oval stone that changed color as he turned it in his hand, appearing green or blue according to how the light struck it.
“It's like the Sea,” he breathed, holding it up to the window and watching how it cast sparks of light around the room.
Arwen smiled. “That is what its maker said,” she agreed. “It was made for you by one who claimed to owe you his life, when you pulled him out of the Sea. Do you remember him?”
“Nano! Of course I remember - he made this? Oh, he became a master of his craft, indeed!” Frodo laughed delightedly, slipping the ring on his finger and holding it up so the stone caught the light once more. “He was here, Arwen? Did he make jewels for you as well?”
“He made a necklace of sapphires for me, and a coronet for my daughter on the occasion of her marriage. He was, as you say, a master of his craft.”
Frodo looked up sharply. “Was? But not any longer?”
“I am sorry, Frodo. He went with some of Gimli's people to Khazad-dum, to re-open the mithril works there. Your ring was fashioned from the first mining of that metal since the Dwarves were driven out long ago. But I fear that Moria is a place of ill-fortune even now; there was a cave-in a few years later, and many of the workers were lost. Your friend was one of them.”
Frodo bowed his head, his eyes filling. He stroked the cool gem with one finger and pressed it to his lips. To hear of Nano's success and his death all in one telling tore his heart.
“When?” he whispered.
Arwen paused to consider. “Six or seven years ago. He was not young, Frodo; he had lived a full life, and a happy one. The necklace he made for me will be treasured as long as this Kingdom endures, and even now his son follows the same trade with honor, in the Glittering Caves. The son did not go to Khazad-dum; he was content in the place of his birth.”
Frodo nodded. “I am glad his son still lives, at least. Thank you, Arwen.” He went back to his own quarters soon after that, packing up his things for their departure on the morrow and then lying on his bed, remembering, until at last he fell asleep.
They broke their fast with Arwen and Elessar and left the city before the sun had passed the third hour. The King had provided them with mounts to speed their journey, a pony for Frodo and a sturdy gray for Radagast. They did not stop to visit anyone else on their way, and on the afternoon of Midsummer Day they reached the cave where their friendship had begun, in the Shire, east of Tookland.
“And so the old hobbit got home that night,” Radagast said with a smile, and Frodo grinned.
“Almost, anyway. Will you come and visit Bag End, Radagast? You had me to stay in your house, and I would like to welcome you to mine. Although,” he added, struck by the thought, ”it isn't really mine any more. But Sam will welcome you, I know, and I would like for you to see my old home.”
Radagast looked down at him fondly. ”No, Donkey, I will leave you here where I found you. I fear hobbit hospitality would be irresistible; I might not get away till next spring, and indeed I must be about my search for the Blue Wizards. Come, we will have an early supper, and you shall sing me the songs of the Shire one more time in the firelight. In the morning we must go our separate ways.”
So it was, and the night was far gone before they took shelter in the cave for a few hours' sleep. At dawn they rose and ate breakfast without much talk.
“I want to go home, yet I do not want to leave you,” Frodo said. He sat by the breakfast fire, watching it die down to coals. Radagast stood and took his hand, pulling him to his feet.
“Come along, Donkey.” He tipped the hobbit's chin up so he could look into his eyes. “You have been the best companion for the road I could have wished for, and yet, to speak truth, I had not felt the need of any companion until you came to me. Now I know better and I shall miss you very much! But your little gardener has been missing you these many years, and he needs you now.” The wizard bent to hug him, leaning his cheek for a moment against Frodo's hair. “Go home to him, Donkey, and do not linger on the way.” He kissed the top of Frodo's head.
“Go now. I will watch you out of sight.”
Frodo threw his arms around the wizard, burying his face in the softness of the brown robe for a long minute. Then he turned and swung onto his pony. “Farewell, Radagast.” He met the brown eyes, so deep with knowledge and tenderness. “Farewell, and grace go with you. I hope you find your brother wizards.” He turned his pony away, starting down the long slope of the hill, trusting the beast to find its own way because he was blinded by tears.
He didn't linger on the way, but he didn't hurry. Every mile tugged at his emotions, the little springs he crossed on rustic bridges, the rolling hills with round windows peeping out here and there from riotous flower gardens. He kept his pony to a walk, gazing about him as the Shire tiptoed into his heart and filled it, bringing a flood of gratitude that he had lived to see this beloved place once more.
“I'm home,” he told himself. “I'm home, I'm really home...”
It was almost too much to grasp, and he went slower and slower, till by the time he reached Hobbiton it was already dark. He stopped at the bottom of the Hill; the old stable was still there, smaller than he remembered it, the key hanging under the window shelf as it always had. He let himself in and cared for his pony by the light of the starglass, remembering the last time he had been in this stable by night. Despair had filled him then; now it was happiness.
I'll sleep here tonight, he decided. No need to wake Sam and Rosie, set them running to fix him a meal, put fresh sheets on a bed for him. He hadn't eaten since breakfast, but he wasn't hungry. Coming home had been food enough for him this day. He rolled up in his blanket and was asleep in minutes.
The birds woke him in the morning and he was confused for a moment, finding himself under a roof. Then he remembered and leaped up with a rush of joy. I'm home! He followed the grassy path up the Hill to the kitchen door, the garden fresh and dewy all around him, the summer lilac bush filling the air with fragrance.
The kitchen was silent, no one up yet, and he set about making breakfast, waiting for them to wake. But Sam came into the kitchen alone, and the happy homecoming was darkened with grief - Rosie had died on Midsummer Day.
“I'm that thankful you got here in time for the funeral, Mr. Frodo. It's like as if you knew I needed you...”
And Frodo kicked himself for his slow travel of the day before, although in truth he would have been too late, even if he had galloped all the way. By the time he and Radagast had reached the cave, Rosie was already gone. He set breakfast before Sam and coaxed him into eating; shook the wrinkles out of Sam's best suit of clothes and helped him tie his cravat. He himself had to borrow a jacket from Frodo-lad; he was lean and wiry from his years in the wilderness, and Sam's clothes hung loose on him.
So he was there to stand by Sam as Rosie was laid to rest. When it was all over and the guests had gone home, and Sam's children had bedded down their little ones in all the spare bedrooms of the smial, Frodo was still there to sit with Sam in the twilight, and pour him a nightcap before he led him off to bed. But in the morning he woke to the rattling of crockery, and there was Sam at his bedside with the breakfast tray, as if all his years away had been no more than a dream.
“What do you think you're doing, Samwise Gamgee? It's me should be bringing you breakfast in bed!” he exclaimed, sitting up and reaching for the tray.
“Well, I brought enough for both of us, Mr. Frodo - I thought I'd pull up a chair and eat with you, if that's all right.”
Frodo smiled. “I'm glad you suggested it, Sam, or else I'd have to bully you into it. Come along then, breakfast in bed is delightful, so long as you're willing to share it with me.”
After a few days Sam's children returned to their own homes and they were alone together. Frodo felt as if time had stepped backward. Bag End was utterly familiar to him, as if he had never been away, but Sam smiled when Frodo asked if he had changed anything at all in the last sixty years.
“Well, of course I did, Mr. Frodo! We had to make bedroom space for all the children, and a playroom so they wouldn't be everlastingly underfoot in the kitchen - we even had a schoolroom for a while, in the second pantry just off the kitchen, so's Rosie could keep an eye on the cooking while she helped them with their lessons.
“You said it was mine, you know, afore you left, and I treated it just that way. But once the children were grown we didn't need playroom nor schoolroom, and these last few years I've been putting it back the way it was before, as near as I could remember. I didn't want you to not know where you were, when you got home.”
For a moment Frodo couldn't speak past the lump in his throat; he put an arm around Sam's stooped shoulders, gently, fearing to be too rough. Sam seemed so frail and old that Frodo was almost ashamed of his own robust health. “There never was anyone like you, Sam Gamgee, not in the whole history of the Shire! But I'm afraid you've worn yourself out, doing that for me; now I'm home you're to rest, do you understand? You let me see to the work.”
“I'll do no such thing, Mr. Frodo! I think I see myself letting you cut wood and scrub floors, to say nothing of the cooking - no, sir! I'll take care of you like I always did, like I've been wanting to do all these years -” Tears sprang to Sam's eyes and he pulled out his handkerchief and blew his nose.
“Shh, lad, it's all right, I'm home again.” Frodo led Sam to the settee and sat down with him, patting his hand. ”Very well, then, you'll take care of me, wake me up in the morning as you used to - I'd like that, you know; I've missed your, 'Wake up, Mr. Frodo, it's a beautiful morning!' You always said the same thing, whether it was bright sunshine or a howling blizzard outside the window!”
He gave Sam a comical look, and Sam chuckled. “But I'll cook supper, mind - I can cook, you know! and as for the scrubbing and heavy work, we'll get some bright young fellow in from the village to see to it. I want to take the pony cart and drive out a little; I'd like to visit Merry and Pippin, wander about and see some of my old haunts, and I want you to come with me, Sam. I can't have you wearing yourself to a thread with housework.”
Sam was reluctant to let Frodo do any work at all, but Frodo made a show of indignation at the insult to his cooking (”I'll have you know, Master Samwise, that Radagast told me himself he hadn't eaten so well in years, when I took over as camp cook! You just wait till you taste my potatoes with cheese and mushrooms!”) They agreed at last that Sam would prepare breakfast and noon dinner, when they were home for it, but supper would be Frodo's responsibility.
“All the more reason for me to make sure we're away from home in the middle of the day,” Frodo said with a laugh. “You'll see more of the Shire this summer than you've seen in years, my lad!”
He wasn't lying when he said he wanted to visit Merry and Pippin; he had not thought of them often while he was gone, but now he was home he longed for their company. He had not allowed himself the luxury of homesickness in all the years he'd been away; now it descended on him in a flood, and he would have been content to visit them and come straight back to Bag End. He had been wandering for so long, sleeping on the ground, and it was heavenly to lie down in his own bed and wake to the rattle of the breakfast tray as Sam carried it in.
He would not have roamed the Shire this summer on his own account, but Sam needed to get away; Bag End was too full of Rosie. Sam moved into the little bedroom off the kitchen, away from the master bedroom and the big bed he had shared with her.
“It's too lonely, Mr. Frodo - I keep reaching for her in my sleep and it wakes me up. I'll do better in that hard little bed I slept in when you were first Master here, when I came to look after you when you was sick. That won't get me thinking Rosie is there by me.”
They spent a week at Great Smials, and the visit was a success for the most part. It was a jolt for Frodo, seeing Pippin with lined face and thinning hair - in his mind's eye his cousin was still the fresh-faced lad who had visited Bag End and shortsheeted all the beds, or perhaps the dashing hero of the Battle of Bywater. But Peregrin the Thain was as merry as little Pip had been of old, and Frodo soon forgot his elderly appearance.
The rigid decorum that governed life at the Smials wore on Frodo, until he reflected that the King's court in Minas Tirith was somewhat less punctilious in its etiquette than the Thain's entourage; after that he found it funny. Sometimes he had to bite his lip not to laugh, or slip quietly out of a room to indulge his mirth in private.
“You've been out in the wilds too long, Mr. Frodo; you've forgot the ways of civilized hobbits!” Sam chided him. “You've picked up wizard's manners, seems like.”
“I suppose I have, Sam,” Frodo admitted. “Be honest, now, don't you find it just a trifle ridiculous - no, I can see you don't. Never mind - just be glad I didn't pick up orc manners!” He chuckled wickedly, imagining Canohando at dinner with the Thain.
The visit to Buckland went better; Merry and Estella were hospitable but casual hosts, and in Merry's son Saradoc he found an eager listener to his stories of Mordor.
He had expected that Sam would enjoy hearing about his labors restoring that blasted land; Sam's had been the guiding hand in the reclamation of the Shire, after the ruffians were cast out. But Sam was not interested.
“Mordor! The less I hear about that place, the better I'll like it, Mr. Frodo. How you could go back there is more than I”ll ever understand, never mind staying for nigh on sixty years! Weren't you homesick? When I got your letter saying you were healed, I thought you'd be coming home any time...” He turned away, hiding his face, and Frodo's heart smote him.
“I -” He put his arm around Sam. “I couldn't think about being homesick, Sam. I couldn't let Radagast go alone, after all he'd done for me. Well, you wouldn't let me go alone, you know! And it was a good feeling, watching the land come back to life, knowing I was helping to make it happen. And the orcs -”
Sam grimaced. “Orcs! If I'd a known you'd run into orcs, I wouldn't've let you go alone that time neither! I never thought Radagast would lead you into danger, but I should've known - just like Gandalf, his mind on his own business and never a thought who gets hurt by it -”
“Sam!” Frodo's face was stern. “I never thought to hear you echoing Saruman's lies - if that's what the Shire thinks of Gandalf, I wrote the Red Book all for nothing!” He went to one knee by Sam's chair, taking a wrinkled hand in his own.
“Gandalf saved us all, old lad; don't you ever doubt it. If he hadn't realized what Ring it was, that Bilbo took from Gollum's cave -! We wouldn't have had to go on the Quest; we'd have been murdered in our beds before we ever left the Shire! Hobbits came off very lightly in the struggle - think how many Men died fighting the War. We lost nineteen at Bywater; that's all. Without Gandalf, we would have lost everything. And Radagast looked after me as if he had been my father -”
He choked on the word, and Sam reached up to put an arm round his neck.
“All right, Mr. Frodo, you've got the rights of it. Your Sam's as much a fool as he ever was, I reckon. But I'd as soon not hear about no orcs, if it's all the same to you.”
So Frodo went boating on the river with young Sarry, telling his tales of Mordor, but Sam sat on the bank and fished. After a couple of weeks they rode home again in the pony cart.
In truth, Sam didn't want to hear about Frodo's adventures at all. He listened absently to stories of injured animals, of Nano and Gimli and Rhosgobel, but when Frodo fell silent, fearing that he was boring his audience, Sam turned every conversation to Rosie.
“She was a lass!” he laughed. “Oh, I wish you could've seen her, teaching Elanor and Goldi to dance the springlering! Light on her feet like a bit o' thistledown, and her hair flying in her face...” He broke off, smiling, but when Frodo moved to clear the dishes from the table, he looked up.
“She was sunshine in the house, Mr. Frodo. Even on dark days - we had a few bad times, too, you know, while you were gone. Had a run of sickness one year; it laid us up for a long while, and there was a-many died of it. Coming on top of a crop failure; oh, it was a bad time, right enough! Rose, she was all over Hobbiton and Bywater, taking care of folks, till she took sick herself, and as soon as she was well again, she was back at it. You couldn't keep my Rosie down.”
“I remember.” Frodo stood with the dishes in his hands, gazing around the old kitchen. “She looked after me, too. Did she ever tell you, the time she woke me from a nightmare?”
“She did? No, she didn't tell me about that. Where was I, I wonder?”
“You were asleep. It wasn't long before Elanor's birth; Rose couldn't rest and she heard me kicking up a ruckus; I fell out of bed, and she came running in. We made some tea and sat up talking for a while.” He swallowed. “She was a rare lass, Sam; you were lucky to have her. I wish I had come home in time to see her again.”
Sam nodded, his hand over his eyes. “I believe I'll go have a lie-down, Mr. Frodo,” he said after a moment. “Wake me up for supper, mind, and maybe we can take a walk down to the Ivy Bush after. Should be a pleasant evening for a stroll.”
Summer wound to its end. The fields turned golden and they drove along the little byways, watching the harvest. They carried jugs of cider and baskets of spicy meat pasties; when the sun got high, they stopped near some of the reapers and invited them to share their meal. Everyone knew Sam; he had been Mayor of the Shire nearly fifty years, and he knew almost everyone by name, and the names of their parents and grandparents as well.
When the leaves turned color, they drove out to Bindbole Woods, staying the night at an inn and starting home in the morning through cut fields white with frost, their breath making little clouds before their faces. When they got home, Frodo turned the pony out to pasture and pushed the cart to the back of the stable, out of the way.
“I think that's it for this year, Sam. Time to sit snug by the fire till spring, read a little poetry, break open a barrel of Longbottom Leaf. Are you up for a game of chess after supper?”
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.