13th April 1418 S.R.
This spring, the grass is so thick under Sam's feet as like it wants to swallow up all the sun for itself and leave none to the shrubs and flowers. It's a fine, clear day, but what with the rains this week it's no marvel that the lawn's grown wild as it has, spilling over the verge already. Sam picks up his shears and turns his back on the open window. There was a south wind come with dawn, but it's died off again and now the air hangs over the garden thick and swollen with the early bees' buzzing. The sound is tangled with the voices like weeds, so he can't rightly hear what they're saying – but then he doesn't mean to. Sam kneels by the holly to start cutting the lawn in that spot, a good dozen yards from the window. It's a proper place to begin, right at the tip of the old oak's shadow, spanning the yards from here to the smial. He'll move along the lawn as that shadow shortens, like a hand telling time.
There's an odd paleness to the grass this spring, as if it's not got enough colour left for all its hurried growing. His fingers dig into the greensward and find the earth crumbly and dry, ready to yield up the roots at a tug. He rubs the grains between his thumb and forefinger, thoughtful of what the earth is telling. From the flowerbeds near by the hedge, the scents of hyacinth, evermind and daffodil rise in a cloud. Sam watches a bee tumble about, dawdling from one blossom to the next in that drunk pattern as they have, and he can feel with the small thing that's caught out of its reckoning. The scents are so strong and heady, they take up all the air, and the grass Sam is cutting adds its own wet smell.
A sound flies from the study's window then. It's Mr. Frodo's voice, raised in a short exclaim, and Mr. Gandalf picks up next with a steadier tone that soon lowers to a murmur again. Sam looks at the patch he's cleared, every blade of grass so sharp before his eyes, he can't even blink against it. The shadow's shrunk back to his heels, baring the rest of him to sunlight, but there's a burn at the back of his neck that's not got aught to do with it. He doesn't mean to be listening, not now. He's not meaning to be hopeful, neither. The grass falls in tufts left and right of his knees.
Sam gets up and moves further down the lawn, seeing as how he's made quicker work of the verge than he knew. The curve of the flowerbed teems with lilies, unfurling their petals like tender flames. Some of them are so thin, the sun burns sheer through them, and they'll dance with the lightest breeze. Sam's fingers trace round a pale gold fringe, just shy of touching, before he pulls the boldly growing grass away from the lilies. Since old Mr. Bilbo's leaving, he's done some planting about the garden as will make folk frown and stare, his Gaffer included. Mr. Bilbo liked his rare flowers beside the cabbage and taters, but Mr. Frodo will look at them bloom with strangeness in his eyes and a smile rich of thought.
Sam wipes at his neck and feels a bit of oddness flutter round his own stomach. It's been there a while, and mixed with it is the hardship of keeping a secret from Mr. Frodo. Much as he's agreed to Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin's plans, they don't have to bear the knowing day in and out, and there's a deeper worry Sam couldn't speak of nohow. There've been times of late when the strain in his breast won't let a word out. But now, with Mr. Gandalf blowing in again after such a long run of years, mayhap the day's come sooner than Sam thought it might.
Maybe, he says to himself, and maybe not. Perhaps there'll be another summer like the last, when Mr. Frodo carries a book out into the garden and sits not too far from where he is working. He'll run his fingers through the grass in soft, distracted motions, and Sam is sure that his hands wander with the flow of the Elvish tongue, even when Mr. Frodo isn't reading aloud. It doesn't take the sound of his voice. The rustlings of the pages and the grass and Mr. Frodo's clothes will follow Sam round the garden, and he doesn't need to look any more than he'd turn to be sure where the sun rises. The garden lies open like a green hand when they're out in the forenoon brightness, safe and whole while they're both thinking about Elves.
Sam looks over his shoulder at the shadow that's inched closer to the window from where Mr. Gandalf speaks, slow and grave. Sam runs his thumb along the shears' blades, wiping grass snips away that are starting to clump together. He's come a lot closer, but he's not following what's being said inside. It's one thing to keep his eyes on Mr. Frodo, and another listening to his converse with a guest when Mr. Frodo trusts him not to. Not as most his visitors do, without thinking, for some well-born folk will chatter over Sam's head like they would over a tea-pot. It's different with Mr. Frodo who'll nod to Sam, across the silence that they share between them.
Sam bends over his work again. Straight before him, a lively crop of dusty miller's inching forward, all the leaves covered in hoary white. Without his tending, this bunch would overrun the pansies, and the grass would tangle through it, and the glory vine that sprawls crimson in autumn will choke the tenderer shrubs. It won't take more than a season for the garden to grow wild, for the weeds to shoot up taller than the roses, and if Sam's not around to keep the greens to their own place, the sanded paths will be lost too, but all that can't be helped.
He's known a long time that an end will come, and all the Shire's sweetness can't mend it. It's a knowing that crept up on him slow as the seasons, and Sam can't rightly recall when it grew clear for a fact. But once it did, it settled in his bones like a coming change in the weather, full of what his mind can't get a true hold on. What lies out there, behind the Marish and the Brandywine River and those stranger places that mark the world's bounds. Mr. Frodo has a mind for it though, a mind that wonders and frets and seeks out the kind of beauty most folk won't never see. It shows enough times, when he reads a bit of verse to Sam or when he speaks of distant lands.
Sam starts up at a hard rattle and with the tail of his eye sees that Gandalf's pulling the shutters close. His fingers go very tight on the shears' grip. Words that he's not wanted to hear come lumbering through his head, and he's wishing very hard he could bat them away like the grass off his breeches. He keeps cutting and cutting. The grass falls left and right.
He hasn't tried to guess what Mr. Frodo might be thinking when he looks to the far horizon. Oh, it didn't take his Gaffer minding him that there's no bit of sense in trying. When those moments come, it's simply that he can't. When his whole chest feels hot and light with Mr. Frodo looking back to him and the ground's all but slipping under his feet, then his mind is wiped clear as this morning's sky. During those moments, he's stopped in such a place as he's never tread before. Perhaps Mr. Frodo's doesn't recognize it either. Sam can't quite make up his mind on the boldness in that notion, or why the fear that he carries is also a hope. What he does know is that Mr. Frodo were never afraid of things uncommon to hobbits, and that he's wiser than the lot of them.
Sam looks to the closed shutters, and his stomach's clutched up tight. There's a fire inside that he lit himself, for warm as the morning may be outdoors, Bag End's walls are thick and lie covered in shadow till noon. He's close enough for that shadow to settle on his shoulders and crawl down to his fingers that turn stiff and cold on the shears. He can't have heard right.
Sam pushes to his feet and takes himself further off. His back and arms swing through familiar movements as he trims the verge, and the flower-scents thicken about him, lying close as a haze. When he stops to look across the garden, it slopes away like a memory, and he needs another moment to find his breath. It's as like Mr. Frodo were already gone. He swallows hard. His mind's long been screwed to the point. There's a road before him as clear as setting foot outside Bag End's gate, and no need for thinking any further than that first step.
Sam heaves to his feet, telling himself to get a rake and set it to those scattered grass-mounds before he cuts any more. With a creak, the shutters push open again. Sam ducks his head between his shoulders and whistles. This way he won't be hearing what Gandalf says, there by the window.
In the box below blossoms a batch of mornstar that he's planted early, so they're what Mr. Frodo sees first when he sits down at his desk. Soon the garden will be at its most beautiful, but it won't matter no more, not in face of such things as Mr. Gandalf were speaking of. The mornstars' blue and gold run together, ghost-like in the shadow. Sam blinks to unblur his sight, but the words that rock about at the back of his head can't be shaken aside so easy. He decides to forget about fetching a rake and walks back to where he's stuck his shears in the dry earth. He drops to his knees among the limp grass-clippings and can't think aught but –
"No!" It's Mr. Frodo by the window now, and that's his voice, tight and strange – "...whatever it may do to me."
Sam's fingers tremble too hard to move the shears back and forth as they should. This is not Mr. Frodo setting his gaze where the land runs into sky, his eyes full of silver daylight. There's fear in his voice, sharp as the shadow that lies in a short puddle about Sam, under the window.
"...and I suppose I must go alone."
This is the end of it then, and it's naught like he fancied. It's all about Elves and rings and fiery mountains, and that Mr. Bilbo's part of the tale don't make it any less fearful. The shadow's thick over him, holding Sam in his place, where he's been doomed to stay. He sways forward and his hands clutch at the grass that sends up such a wet, smothering smell. He can't hear nothing more, for his ears fill up with sound as if there's a storm rushing into the fields, into the grass.
There's his one hope taken out of the fear and that's all as remains. His hands shake harder, as if the storm were inside him, and he grabs his shears fast as he can, like he might use them to stop it all. But he can't stay here, he can't even stand up on this ground no more that's asway as like to buck him off.
It takes Mr. Gandalf's grip to haul him upright, away from the sickly smell of the grass, and into the room. An anxious bit of mirth flickers in Mr. Frodo's face, and he's very pale when he meets Sam's eyes.
Perhaps we'll still be seeing Elves, is all Sam can think at that moment, for there has to be a hope in this, even just a spot that he can reach out to Mr. Frodo.
Taking a step into that road might not end the tearing inside him, but that can't be helped neither. Mr. Gandalf must have seen that he needs to go along, even if Frodo didn't. Sam's throat is too tight with tears to say more, but he looks at Mr. Frodo to promise him silence.
A smile answers him, brief and shaky, and then Sam knows. They've both kept their silence a long while, and shared it too. Like a promise of its own.
* * *
(continued in: Last Garden)