26. Last Riding
The next morning I walked down the Hill to the woods, walked into it to the stream where we used to find them worms that make shells of sticks and stones. And, as I stood there, suddenly I realized I was not alone. An Elf stood nearby, Erestor of Rivendell, I thought. He held a great bundle, and when he realized I saw him he gave it to me.
"For you, Little Master, and the Ringbearer. Namarië." He bowed and turned and disappeared as only an Elf can.
I took the bundle back up the Hill, back to Bag End, and I knocked on Mr. Frodo's door and entered when I was bade. "Lord Elrond sent this, Master," I said.
He sat up in his bed, took and opened it and took out a letter, then read it. He then searched through it until he found a leathern packet, and took it out, opened it and looked inside. He then handed it to me, and told me, "He says you are to add this to my tea, Sam." I nodded, and headed for the kitchen. I set some water as to boil, then went out to cull some more kingsfoil. When all was ready I finally opened the packet and found it were full of different leaves and some berries. I took out a portion of it, and added it with the athelas, chamomile, and willowbark to the water, let it all steep. I then strained it all through cloth as I used, and squeezed it to get the final good from it into the pot as I spoke the Invocation. I added honey, then poured him a mug and took it to him after covering the pot with its cozy. He drank, and looked much better very quickly. He looked a bit surprised, even. "I didn't know your tea could be improved upon, Sam, but this is excellent." And he smiled a full smile, the first in some time. He was better as he rose and dressed.
He was off for two days to Michel Delving, then back again. He seemed stronger and happier than he'd been for some time. And then he was showing me papers, documents, the Deed to Bag End made out to me and Rosie, the keys. And he asked Rosie if she could spare me for a fortnight. And we were packing our saddlebags.
Oh, I thought I knew where he was going--I thought I knew. But I was so wrong. We camped together neath the stars as we used to when we was younger, and he lay there long, looking up, his eyes shining. And he sang the song as I'd sung when I was seeking him, soft, under his breath.
"...The Elven stars as jewels white amidst their branching hair." And he continued to sing the rest, then to hum the tune. Finally he went quiet. "The Elven stars," he whispered at last. "They give us hope."
"Yes, Mr. Frodo," I murmured back. "I member that one I saw in Mordor, when for a second the murk pulled away. It did give me hope."
"At least we have this, Sam, that we both see the same Elven stars, no matter where we might be." He sighed, and finally his eyes closed and he slept.
It were a different tune he were singing as we met the Elves and Mr. Bilbo the next day, their Birthday. And they was singing a hymn to Elbereth, like as when we first met Gildor and his folk when first we left the Shire. And now, finally, I knew he weren't just going over to Rivendell. There'd be no two-month's journey to see him and back home again for me. He were going where I couldn't follow, not for a powerful long time. For him I tried not to weep; but I did. And Galadriel rode by me, and once laid her beautiful hand on my head, and I looked up and saw that through her joy she, too, was also weeping--weeping for my grief. And I had to smile for her joy as I continued to weep my loss.
He talked a bit as we started out, but though he asked me as to ride with him, he were pulling away as we rode, riding by Bilbo, who rode by the horse of Lord Elrond hisself. Together they kept the old Hobbit seated as they rode, for he slept more'n he were awake, and it took all they had to keep him from falling at times. He were old and frail looking, and aside him Frodo looked strong and healthy by comparison, in spite of the fact his face was pale as niphredil.
They honored them so, the Elves did. And Elrond prepared the tea as he'd sent me, adding in athelas leaves as it steeped, and sang invocations over it as he fixed it, and gave it to both Frodo and Bilbo, but stronger, I saw, to Frodo. And more color came into his cheeks after he'd drunk it. And he laughed with the Elves, then drifted into a trance, I think, as they sang about him.
That night they fixed a bed for the two of them, protected by living shrubs and roofed with the leaves of a linden tree. And for me they fixed a pallet near the opening, but it were long afore I could lay me down. Lord Elrond hisself finally came to me and sat by me, where I sat, looking out over the land of the Shire that could be seen from where we were.
"You weep still, Sam."
"Yes, sir, I do. Can't seem to help it. I don't want him to see it and have it hurt his heart no more, sir."
"He's been very ill, Sam. You know that."
"Aye, I've known that. Didn't want to accept it, but I've known it. Why else would I make him all that tea, grow athelas about his window, whisper the Invocation?" And he put his arm on my shoulder, drew me to himself. I was surprised, for I'd never seen an Elf embrace a mortal afore. And I felt his tears falling on my head, and was healed by them, but looked up to see him smiling sadly down at me.
"So many mortals I have seen come and go in my lifetime, Samwise. So many I have come to love, and had to allow to leave. And, finally, I am the one leaving, and taking with me one whose Light has given joy and life to the entire world of Arda. And I cannot spare you your pain, any more than I could spare theirs or my own."
He sighed. "If he remained, it would be for only a short time, Sam. The pain in him is to the foundation of his soul. The self-loathing is intense. He wishes to spare you the bitterness of his ending."
"Will he die there, in Elvenhome, Lord Elrond?"
"When it is his time, yes, Sam. No matter what Ar-Pharazon chose to believe, mortals cannot know our life, any more than we can know your death."
"Cepting if you choose it."
He was quiet for a time, and his voice was sad and full of regret as he agreed. "Yes, excepting when we choose it, as Lúthien chose to become mortal to be with Beren, and Idril with Tuor, and now Arwen with Estel--with Elessar." He sighed again. "As my brother Elros chose, as well.
"You have cared for him well. He has had time to see what his life will come to if he stays, time to accept the love and honor he deserves, time to see that those he loves are cared for, time to choose. He has chosen. He hides the pain he is under, seeks to hide the weakness and the grief, the bitterness. His writing has allowed much of that to be released, but not all. He still needs healing, Sam. The three Rings are shorn of their power, and although our personal power is still great, it is a mockery when we see that which we wrought with the power of the Rings fading. I could keep him alive here, but not give him the full healing he needs, that he deserves, for I am but an Elf in the end, and what he needs cannot come to the Mortal Lands.
"Do you understand?"
"I think so, sir."
He rested his chin on the top of my head, and I felt my body soothe in spite of myself. "He will await your coming, I think, Sam. If you choose to come in your turn. But he will not be as he is now, perhaps. I cannot foresee clearly. But this I can say, his love for you, and little Elanor, for your wife and your family to come, for his cousins and the Shire and Elessar and Arwen and all Middle Earth will not perish, but will be fulfilled. That is the one promise I can make you." I nodded. After a time I was picked up and placed on my pallet, and an Elf Lord sat by me through the night, singing softly, the song mixing in my dreams, showing me the scattering of the stars by the hands of Lady Elbereth.
And then there we was, at the Grey Havens, looking at the Ship standing by the quay. I'd not seen the Sea afore, and I were amazed. But the fear I'd felt on the River I didn't feel here. This was a different water'n what I'd always known, and I knew it would take the heart of me as I'd always given Mr. Frodo, but that it would deal right gently with it.
Gandalf was there, preparing to leave, too, and I understood why he'd put off the King when he'd talked of him staying and ruling us all. No, he couldn't remain here, not without running the risk of taking Sauron's place, he couldn't. Don't know why I understood that, but I did. He was going back to be whatever he was over there. For I don't think it would just be to be an old man in white.
It were such a relief when Pippin and Merry arrived. And at least we all got to say goodbye; and Frodo, too, was relieved that Gandalf had gone against his wishes and summoned them here. And I wouldn't go back on my own, knowing only the loneliness and loss. I was grateful, and jealous they'd share the goodbye.
Not only am I pompous, but selfish as well, it seems.
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