Never and Always: 2. Last Garden

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2. Last Garden

25th September 1418 S.R. The garden is smaller than the Bag End gardens, yet in the dark it is hard to guess where the hedge ends and shadows begin, both clustering equally thick. Aged plum trees stoop over the unshorn grass. Not a breath of wind stirs the leaves. Frodo walks away from the house, both hands shoved firmly into his trouser pockets, until he has a glimpse of the fields beyond the spinney. They lie wide open in the dimness of new moon. As he looks across, Frodo's thoughts amble from the items in his travel pack to the journey ahead. Although his legs feel sore from the past days' running and scrambling, he's so awake with anticipation and bewilderment that not the softest down pillows could coax him to sleep. He stops under the loose branches of a hazel tree and looks around. The flower beds show clumps of ladies mantle, periwinkle and toadflax that fend well on their own, and the lawn is reasonably well-kept. If Sam were to tend this garden as everyone back in Hobbiton believes he will, it would soon overflow with colour and variety, offering delight to the eye just as the vegetable patch would provide pleasures for the stomach. Frodo smells wild sage on the air and smiles. A riot of kitchen herbs would grow here as well, under Sam's care, weaving stronger scents through the flowers' sweetness. Frodo lays a hand to the hazel's bark. He didn't realise that he is already missing his garden at Bag End, and it startles him that he can smell the memory, a midsummer blend of reckless, cheerful bloom and sun-drenched grass. He looks to the fields again that they will cross before dawn. The frothy shimmer of a mist hovers there. Frodo hears the footsteps only when they've already come quite close, but he doesn't need to glance over his shoulder to know – "Sam." There is a murmur in reply, an exhalation rather than sound, which amounts to a courteous 'Mr. Frodo' but holds traces of 'what a nice, quiet evening it is,' even now. How often they had stood like this on the Hill's slope, admiring a sunset or the graceful swoop of a hawk, or the snowy splendour of blossoming cherries in the orchard west of the Party Field. They would exchange occasional remarks or merely breathe the transparent air, gazing out in the same direction. Though when Sam pauses half a step behind him, as he so frequently does, Frodo can't know where his eyes linger, he merely wonders, and the hawk will have sailed from view when he catches himself at it. "What do you think of the garden, Sam?" Frodo asks in a low voice. How achingly familiar this is. His shoulders tighten, and it's suddenly impossible to attempt a backward glance. "It could do with some weeding, sir, and a pair of hands to till this bit of cledge proper." Sam's voice is clear and calm, as it would be on any other night. But for all that – or perhaps because of it – Frodo is brought up cold against the unwitting cruelty of his question. Your hands, he thinks, and: I wish I could offer you this garden to work your marvels. Yet to speak his thoughts aloud would not amend his carelessness, and he's oddly sure that Sam knows anyway what lies so thickly on his tongue. They're on the other side of the Shire's old boundaries, beyond any range that Sam has travelled before, and soon they shall venture past the borders of Frodo's own wanderings as well. This is the last garden they'll rest in for a long time, perhaps for – "Won't you come indoors, Mr. Frodo?" Sam asks. Across the fields, a light flits and winks out with will-o'-the-wisp swiftness. Perhaps a Crickhollow farmer is making his last round. "I should be tired, but..." Frodo pulls up his shoulders. "We don't know what's lurkin' out there, sir." A little more urgency has crept into Sam's tone and roughens it with braced worry. "No," Frodo agrees, "but... I don't think they have crossed the river yet." The words slip out easily, but listening to their quiet certainty is unsettling. How could he even guess where those Riders are hiding? He turns quickly, as if for reassurance of some sort, and is startled to find Sam so near. As though he might block what follows them with his body and the squared strength of his shoulders. The air is so still that Frodo believes he can hear the Brandywine across the dark miles, and he thinks that somewhere in the short space between Sam and himself, their halting breaths must meet. "Do you still want to come with me?" Frodo asks. They have had a similar conversation only the day before, when Gildor's company had departed, but the question has crept upon him more often than that. Sam's glance darts to the side and drops to his toes. "I don't blame you for not trusting me no more, Mr. Frodo. And now that you've got Mr. Merry and Pippin to go with you..." "Not trust you–?" Frodo breaks off and remembers with frigid clarity that those were his very own words. "The conspiracy." "Yes, sir," Sam mutters and shuffles his feet. "I was merely... startled," Frodo begins to answer, but his mind swarms again with the multitude of discoveries. That Sam has dutifully reported his steps and intentions for so long, that he must have met in secret with Merry and Pippin, that he has taken careful note of Frodo's regrets alongside his restless wishing. "I had no idea," Frodo adds, "and I feel rather... foolish." In a single moment, he is looking back on their life in Hobbiton as if it were bathed in a summer glare. As if from the crisp shadows of trees emerged wistful shapes, aglitter in the sunlight, and the course of overgrown paths cleaved starkly through the meadows. Between one blink and another, everything stirs alive with hidden movement, and the fields themselves run over with impatient thoughts that Frodo has chased back to reason so many times. "There's no call for it, sir," Sam objects, his eyes still downcast. Frodo shakes his head and trails a glance across the dim garden. The journey from Hobbiton to Crickhollow alone should have taught him that he doesn't know everything about Sam Gamgee by far. There is no good reason either why that should disconcert him. "I do trust you, Sam," he says, "more than I did before, in fact." When Sam's eyes rise to meet his, shadowed and watchful, Frodo hears what he never intended to say. Why is he constantly tripping over his own words tonight? "Oh, I didn't mean–" "Not to worry..." Sam surprises him with a short chuckle. "I do take your meaning, Mr. Frodo." "Yes. Well." Frodo runs a hand over his curls. "I confess I'm not sure I do." Still oddly flustered, he looks over to the house. A light sways up in one of the windows as someone moves about with a candle. It occurs to him that Sam has not quite answered his question, but how can he repeat it now? "Chief investigator..." Frodo muses, reaching for a lighthearted tone. "All this time, you were spying on me!" "Aye, so I was," Sam admits with cautious humour. "That ought to teach me a lesson!" Frodo continues, now chuckling himself. "I shall keep my eyes on you at all times, from now on." When his glance returns to Sam's face, he's relieved to find the welcoming smile there, though Sam's eyes fill with something less familiar. Yet it's possible that Frodo has caught it before, on the edge of his vision, a wide-awake wondering quiet that needs no words. Is this how Sam has looked at him when they stood on the Hill of evenings, this past summer? "Ah, but I've no cause to be spying now," Sam claims, and his gaze holds steady. As frank an answer as that is, Frodo finds nothing to say and merely dips his head in a quick nod. As if stirred by the same impulse, they start to stroll along the row of firethorn and broom, back up toward the plum trees. Sam's firm pace beside him should be enough of an answer to Frodo. Beyond doubt, Sam will follow him, as he promised. His choices are unlike Frodo's, they fall into place with simple necessity, instead of winding up from confounded meanderings. The only decision Frodo has made in recent years that took hold instantly was to carry the Ring and its dangers out of the Shire. It rises into his chest then, with unexpected urgency, the notion that he should offer a promise of his own. Or if not that, then a proper reward. But Sam's reward has already presented itself, and his most fervent wish has come true. They have spent long hours among Elves, sheltered in the spell and lilt of their songs, and before Sam fell asleep – or pretended to fall asleep – his face was lit with such a joy... Frodo lets go of the memory with no small regret. A tight ache in his chest wraps itself round the question he truly wants to ask. It tugs so sharply now that he feels it must have dogged him since April, if not longer, when Gandalf pulled Sam in through the window. When for all his quaking at Gandalf's glower, Sam faced them with a choice already made. From Hobbiton to Bywater, people have clucked their tongues upon hearing that an honest lad like Sam would move out to Buckland. Frodo finds himself suddenly tangled in thoughts that belong to someone else – Sam's Gaffer, for instance – and through them, he fancies the life they're supposed to lead here. On warm evenings, they would sit in the garden together and enjoy a pipe, quietly talking, sheltered by the hedge and the distance from the village dwellings. But what was Sam thinking when he passed that tale to his father and his family? Frodo breaks his stride and turns, almost ready to ask. Where they stand now, the starlight tips a faint glint into Sam's eyes, and they pierce Frodo without effort, with a gentleness that trails a soft pain in its wake. Sam chooses that very moment to answer. "I still want to come, Mr. Frodo. More than I did before, you understand." "Yes," Frodo murmurs and means no. Sam would jump down a dragon's throat to save you, Pippin announced earlier, with a bright smile and a flash of his eyes, when they revealed their conspiracy. Frodo can still feel the heat that wanted to rush into his cheeks then. Perhaps because Pippin made light of something that Frodo himself didn't know, or because he can't stop wondering how it is that Pippin – "I'm afraid..." It's out before Frodo knows it, and the truth seizes in his throat so that he has to clear it before he can go on. "I'm afraid I'm glad of it, Sam," he says, twisting what he nearly let slip, and wondering if he can fool Sam. The truth is a thrill spun from fright and gladness in equal measure. Close to the gate, they've reached the grounds' highest point. Nightbirds rustle somewhere in the hedge that spreads weightless as a shadow, and the mild swells of the country around this garden cannot stop the slow unravelling – "I suppose it's too late to say that, isn't it?" Sam shakes his head. "It's never too late, as my Gaffer would say, not while there's a day as wants doing." As quickly as Frodo's regret has reared it's washed aside and gives way to a soft laugh. "Your Gaffer, as usual, is right." Sam's smile is stronger in his eyes than it is on his mouth and deepens as Frodo looks at him. Possibilities blow about them like thistledown on a breeze, but the air is breathless and a little too warm for late September. Perhaps we shall return, Frodo thinks. Somewhere in the house, a door rattles drily. He draws a deep breath and for the first time, it becomes scathingly clear. He doesn't mean to return any more than Bilbo did, and Sam has known it for months. Frodo feels something catch in his breast. "We did ought to go in now." Sam's touch is gentle on his arm, and lingers just long enough to let the warmth seep through Frodo's sleeve. "'Tis only a few more hours till we're off again." "Yes, Sam." Frodo feels his chest widen. He's breathing a strange salty smell that stings in his eyes and will follow him into his dreams. A single thought settles alongside, light as a feather. They will never live here. * * * (continued in: Waterfalls)

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.

Story Information

Author: Cara Loup

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 10/03/11

Original Post: 05/30/05

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