Sam awoke with a groan, and slowly opened his eyes to see a mist veiling the first light of the morning, and his former master curled by his side on the cushioned long chair under a thick blanket. A sweet fragrance rode the mist, but Sam's leg hurt too much for him to even take much notice of it, let alone appreciate it. From the hip to the ankle was one dull, throbbing ache, and he couldn't bend either hip or knee it was so stiff…and nature was calling, getting more and more insistent.
If he could just get up…but it was his left leg that hurt, and Mister Frodo was on his right side, and Sam didn't like to wake him. But it looked like there was nothing for it. He couldn't get hisself up, and he'd wet hisself before long if he didn't….
Maybe he shouldn't of come, he thought with a huge sigh. What with his leg and all…he'd be puttin' the others out taking care of him. Thing was, he hadn't expected to be around for so long. But after last night he'd found himself wanting to stay. Just a few hours he'd been here, and already the Island had a hold on him. But now…
Well. He'd have to wake Mister Frodo, like it or not. And he looked so peaceful, with his head on one side, looking younger than anybody else would of had any business to look at his age, and so comfortable and cozy…Sam almost thought he was dreaming last night, that he was here at last…and now, his leg was reminding him that he was wide awake, indeed, and his bladder was agreeing, and if he didn't do something soon, he'd be in a bad way and no mistakin'….
Say what you would, old age was not a pretty thing, and that you could tie to.
His hand clamped on Mister Frodo's shoulder, shaking him ever so gently, then more insistently, whispering his name.
"Sam?" Mister Frodo's eyes fluttered open, and looked up at Sam just as innocent, smiling and delighted to see him there, then full of concern, as he raised himself up on one elbow, reaching up to brush a silver curl or two off his forehead.
"I'm sorry to wake you, M—Frodo, but I can't seem to get myself up, and I need to use the privy bad," Sam said, surprised at himself for how embarrassed he was to be saying this to Mister Frodo of all people. "And my leg, it's really hurtin', I can't bend it at the knee or the hip or anywhere else for that matter, and…"
"Let me help you," Frodo said, and he got himself up, a bit stiffly to be sure, then hobbled to Sam's side of the long chair. "Just give me your arm, and…yes, like that. We don't have to go all the way back to the privy, you can just do it off the side of the terrace. There's no one else to see, and it won't harm the flowers any."
He helped Sam to the rail and stood behind him, supporting him under the arms while Sam did what he must, then assisting him back to the chair. Then he said that he must do the same, and when that was accomplished, he turned his head asking, as he buttoned up, "So, did you sleep well last night, Sam?"
"Yes sir, I did. But my leg, it's a hurtin' somethin' awful now. Lord Celeborn used to make a kind of tea that helped it something wonderful, and…"
"Yes, I know that tea. Sometimes they make it for me also. Raven will be here to brew it for you soon…I hear Anemone in the kitchen now. She's heating up the water already. But an Elf must do the actual brewing."
"It's awful early for Raven to be here yet, isn't it?"
"Yes…but she'll come if I summon her. In the meantime, I know of something that will help it until she gets here. We'll have to go indoors, for it will involve some undressing."
Anemone appeared in the doorway, in her dressing-gown, smiling, asking if they had passed a pleasant night. Frodo explained the situation to her, and she helped him assist Sam into the house and to the guest-room. Then she left and came back with an earthen jar, which she set on the little table beside the bed, and went out again, closing the door behind her. Frodo helped Sam off with his breeches and underdrawers, then opened the clay jar while Sam discreetly arranged his shirt-tail over his belly and groin area.
"I know that smell," he said as Frodo dipped his fingers into the balm and smoothed it over Sam's leg.
"I was certain you would remember it," the older hobbit said smiling. "And we have dozens of jars of it on hand, so you needn't fear we will run out. This is most useful stuff, and Lady Celebrían keeps us well supplied."
"It feels better already," Sam said as he pulled his drawers back on, and Frodo picked up his breeches to assist him. "I don't know how to thank you for this. But my knee is still a mite stiff. If you could help me stand…I don't like to ask it of you, but…"
"Of course. Just let me wipe my hand—there. Now, let me help you up…"
But it was no easy matter trying to pull stout Sam to his feet, and Sam told him to take it easy, fearing his friend would hurt himself.
"Maybe if I wait a few minutes my leg will loosen up," he said. "I should change clothes anyway, these are wrinkled somethin' terrible. It wouldn't do to go to breakfast lookin' so much like somethin' the cat drug in."
"You could just put your dressing-gown over it, Sam. We don't stand on formality here. Wait, I hear Northlight. Will you mind it if I ask him to help us change clothes? Anemone helps me usually. I can dress myself if I really must, but it goes much faster when she helps me."
"No, I won't mind it."
Sam could hear Raven and Amaryllis in the kitchen along with Northlight, and felt relieved and profoundly grateful. Northlight came in smiling, and asked Sam if he had slept well.
"I shall be your attendant," he said as he helped Sam to dress, "for as long as you care to stay with us."
"My attendant!" Sam exclaimed. "Now that I wasn't expectin'. But I don't like to put you out any," he stammered. "I mean…I know you care for M—Frodo's lands and all. I—"
"My brothers and nephews will see to that," Northlight said. He seemed different in the daytime, more down to earth and real somehow. He had the sort of sharp features Mister Frodo had, his large intelligent eyes the same shade of blue and a slight cleft in his pointed chin. But for his strange pale hair, he could almost have passed for Mister Frodo's son by blood, Sam thought. "As for putting me out, I shall be most honored to serve you for the rest of your days. We all owe you much, and I already feel as if I know you."
"Same here, Mister…Northlight," Sam said, quite taken aback.
"Just Northlight," said Mister Frodo's son with the sweet, grave smile Sam had seen at times in his dreams, as he carefully drew a brush through Sam's tangled white curls. "There now. Lean on me, and put your hand on my shoulder, like this…"
When they repaired into the kitchen, Amaryllis threw her arms around her granddad and gave him a smacking kiss on the cheek, then did the same to Sam as if she had known him all her life. The tea was already brewing. Sam gasped a little at the sight of Raven. She wore a white blouse that showed her collar-bone, and had sleeves that stopped short of her elbows, with beautiful lace adorning them, and her skirt was black with a design of red and gold flowers embroidered around the hem, looped up on one side to show her ankles and feet, which were in black slippers. Her dark hair was pulled back with gold ribbon to reveal gold hoop earrings. She was small for an elf-lady, not so tall as Northlight, who was but about five and a half feet.
Anemone, by contrast, wore a simple and pretty pink gown, her gold hair in a thick braid down her back. Northlight drew out a chair at the kitchen dining-table for her, motioning for her to sit, while Raven poured out tea for all.
"What color roses do you like best, Mister Gamgee?" Amaryllis asked him, just out of the blue. She was dressed similar to her mum, though her skirt was much shorter, just to her knees, and her hair was in two braids. "My mother likes red best, and my father likes white, my grandmum likes yellow and so does granddad. I love pink best, myself. When my mum was a little girl she used to put a rose at everyone's plate, in the colors they liked best, and I'd like to do so too, now you're here."
"Why…I'm not real sure, miss," Sam said. "I love roses in all colors. I tell you what, you pick a color for me, and I'll like it no matter what it is."
Amaryllis flurried out the door, and returned with a rose in a vivid orange color. "Will this do?" she asked, a little anxiously it seemed.
"That's perfect," Sam said smiling. And kissed her hand as she presented it to him.
"I passionately love roses," she said. "I've a feeling you and I are going to get on just splendidly."
"I've the same feelin'. And you might call me Sam, if you like."
"How is your tea, Sam?" Raven asked him. "Is it hot and sweet enough?"
"It's perfect, my lady. And I do thank you brewin' it for me. I can already feel it takin' effect. And them sweet buns…they smell right delicious."
"There are plenty," Anemone said, "so take all you wish." She took them up with a spatula and put them into a basket lined with a napkin, and set the basket in the middle of the table. Raven put a bun on everyone's plate with a pair of tongs.
"My lady," Sam said to Anemone, "I do wish to thank you for lettin' me have Mister Frodo to myself last night. That was most kind of you."
Amaryllis stifled a giggle. Anemone smiled. So did Mister Frodo.
"You may have him any night you please," Anemone said as she took a plate of eggs from Raven. "I do not mind sharing him if it's with you."
"Oh, I wouldn't ask that of you, my lady," Sam said. "Maybe just once in a while…once a week maybe?"
"How about twice a week?" she said with twinkling eyes. "I could spare him twice a week, I'm sure."
"Oh, that's most generous of you," Sam said in profound gratitude. "Mist—I mean, Frodo, is that all right with you?"
"That's more than all right," Frodo said smiling first at his lady and at Sam.
"Oh, I almost forgot!" exclaimed Amaryllis, jumping up so suddenly her chair fell clattering over in back, and she ran to the counter and took something covered in a white cloth, as Northlight, grinning, bent to retrieve her chair. "This is for you—I saved it from last night. Uncle Moonrise made it for me--see, it has my name and my flower on it--but I wish for you to have it...Sam."
It was one of the melons, a small one, carved into an amaryllis, to be sure.
"Everyone is so good to me," Sam said, his throat choking up all of a sudden.
After breakfast Anemone announced that the Midsummer Faire had been postponed this year on account of Sam's arrival, and would take place on this day instead, in celebration, and they could all go in the afternoon. She said that she and Frodo would go and bathe now, while Raven and Amaryllis cleaned up in the kitchen, and Northlight could show Sam the garden, then they could go bathe, if that would be all right with everyone. Sam said it was all right and he would greatly admire to see the garden. Raven had her hands full with keeping Amaryllis with her, telling her she was to stay in and help clear up and not bother Sam with questions and chatter until after the baths.
The mist had lifted, and now that Sam could bend his leg-joints and they didn't hurt now, he saw the garden for the first time in daylight. Northlight and his brothers and sisters had made it magnificent for their parents to enjoy in their latter years, and also in anticipation of Sam's coming. There were willows flanking the little stream that ran under the springhouse, and rose-trees, and hibiscus bushes, and flowers of every color and height and size and shape, artistically and tastefully arranged all about the house, with a wide stone path rambling through, small statuary all about, and bird-houses, and wind-chimes, and little wrought-iron benches here and there, and some swings and see-saws and a water-slide for the little uns…it was like a little park of itself. And the gazebo and the fountain out front, and yet more flowers, and a little grotto near the falls with a small bridge arching in front it of, with little lamp-globes on it to light at night. An air of love and enchantment and joy hung over all, tangible as the bird-song that echoed from the cliffs, the trickle of the fountain waters and the rushing of the falls, and the sun-kissed fragrance of the roses and frangipani and wisteria and jasmine all about.
"And you did all this?" Sam said as Northlight led him to one of the benches and assisted him to sit on it. "I don't think me or my old Gaffer could of improved on it."
"Well, my Ada passed a good bit of what he learned from you to me," Northlight said smiling. "And he made some of these bird-houses. See how they are made of clay, with little mosaic-works on them? I doubt that any birds ever had such amazing homes. He decorated some of the paving-stones also. See those star-burst designs, made of glass and mother-of-pearl and marble and quartz? When the torches are lit at night, the stones fairly glitter at our feet. And look here. He made this design in honor of the peacock we had, when he first came to live here. We never had another, after that one passed on. But we had this circle of mosaic."
"Amazin', it is," Sam said in total awe. Mister Frodo had described all this to him, but seeing it all before him was another matter. He glanced over his shoulder toward the little bath-house out back of the cottage, of which he had yet to see the inside. He could hear soft laughter coming from within.
Northlight smiled, a little shyly it seemed. "So you truly were able to hear him through his star-glass?" he said with raised silvery eyebrows.
"Oh yes," Sam said. "I don't know what I'd of done if I hadn't. He told me all that went on with him. It was that good to know how he was doin' and all. I only wish I'd had a glass of my own so's I could of kept him posted as to what was goin' on with me and mine also. And he certainly told me plenty about you."
"Did he?" Northlight looked greatly pleased and a little surprised. "I hope he didn't bore you half to death on that score. I'm really rather a dull chap, you know."
Sam gave a startled laugh. "Not to him, you're not. He's that proud of you, he is."
"I'm glad of that," Northlight said, and sobered. "Did he ever tell you…what happened to me, about forty-odd years ago? The incident near the mill?"
"Aye…he told me," Sam said, "although…not much when it happened. It wasn't till long after that he told me all. It was that hard for him, and I don't wonder."
"I'm glad he was finally able to tell you," Northlight said. "It was a terrible thing…for all of us, but what it did to him…I still don't like to think of it. I'm glad he got past it. If he did."
"I think he did," Sam said, "and…and I don't wonder that he's proud of you, neither."
The door of the bath-house opened, and Frodo and Anemone emerged, in dressing-gowns, Frodo running his fingers through his wet hair. Northlight waved to them.
"I believe they are finished," he said to Sam, rising and extending a hand. "Shall we?"
His tone was cheery enough, but it seemed to Sam that a bit of the light had gone from his face.
"Ionwë had never forgiven me for the fountain trick," Northlight explained as he soaped Sam's hair, Sam glancing away from the little nude bronze boy that stood on one side of it, glad of the fragrant silvery bubbles that obscured his old body in the chest-deep warm water, and delighting in the gushing little hot jet that tickled his back right in the middle, where it was most apt to hurt. "He never got past the humiliation of it. I had nearly forgotten it myself, but he never did, and nursed the grudge all through the years."
"I don't see as he should of held it against you," Sam said. "When he brought it on hisself in the first place. If he'd of let you alone, it never would of happened. And you were much too nice to him about it, if you were to ask me. You fixed his books back and everything. Books must be dear. You saved his hide, when all's said and done. He should of been grateful."
"I suppose so," Northlight said thoughtfully as he massaged the soap into Sam's scalp deftly with his fingertips. "But then there was the matter of his sister, Arasinya, also. Of course she and I were never aught but friends. I invited her a time or two to join me for lunch in a public place, in plain sight of others, but she thanked me and told me that for my sake she would not, for her brother would surely think something evil of it, and make trouble for both of us. He spoke constantly of the 'danger' of races mingling, it was a near obsession with him. He never did finish college. He quit during his second term, declaring the institution to be boring and pointless. He hung with low types, according to Arasinya, frequenting the Brazen Parrot, gambling, staying up late, getting into fights, betting on horses, and such. I finally managed to persuade his sister to go to college, and finally her parents caved in and allowed it, after I offered to lend her the money. She finished college and married one of the professors there, a fine fellow, and told me more than once that she owed her happiness to me. But our friendship continued to infuriate Ionwë. He sent me a nasty note or two—without signing them, of course. But I knew very well he had written them."
Sam shut his eyes tightly as Northlight poured warm water over his head.
"But when I started teaching at the college, I didn't see much of Ionwë any more," he said. "Then Raven and I were wed. It was sixteen years after the incident with the fountain. And I became 'fleshly' then. It was a world-shaking thing for me, of course, to know this; I was reborn, and it brought untold joy and wonder. We were married in the summer, when I had a holiday from the college, and a more beautiful time I would never know until the birth of our daughter. But then the term began once more, and life must go on. One day I stayed late at the college to work on some research in the library, and it was nearly dusk when I turned for home. I took the mill-road, for it leads directly to our house and is the quickest way there. Lainadan the miller lives not in the mill-house but nearby it, and you can see his house through the trees but it is hard to see if you don't know it is there. Sometimes I stopped there and bought a sack of flour of him if we had need of it. I tried not to stop there so often, for he very much liked to talk, and could become very repetitious, telling the same stories he had told before, and it was hard to get away. But I shall never have anything bad to say of him again.
"It was that evening that I was riding down the mill-road for home, when I heard a loud explosion, and my pony shied and threw me—I completely did not expect it, needless to say. And it was then that I met up with…them."
Sam shuddered. Although he knew basically what had happened already, it was different hearing it from Northlight's point of view.
"They were disguised as orcs," Northlight said as he shed his robe and slid into the water across the tub from Sam. "Four of them. They had been drinking—I could smell brandy on them—and they came at me…and I knew, for the first time, what it was to be terrified and helpless, unable to get away, afraid for my life, in terrible pain…they came with clubs and struck me down, screaming, jeering, laughing…one of them said, 'Where are your powers now, fish-boy?' or something like that. For my powers had gone when Raven and I were wed. I gave them up, as I knew I must, in exchange for physical sensations. I might have kept them, if I had wished, but I could not have it both ways. And so I gave them up for the delight of being her husband, and knowing the joys of the flesh, but in doing so I knew also the pains. And I knew pain that night. Not that I had not felt it before, when I fell from a tree and scraped my skin against the rough bark, or stumbled through a dark room on my way to the privy and kicked a chair-leg with my bare foot. But those were ordinary accidents that befall us all. This was, was knowing broken bones, and the feel of a whip on one's bare skin, and a fist in one's face, and a kick in one's private areas, and…oh, I am sorry, Sam. Is this so upsetting to you?"
For Sam had hunched up in the water…the bubbles were gone by now but he neither noticed nor cared…shivering.
"Aye, it is," he said. "But you may tell it if you wish. I knew somethin' of it, but…well. Were they tryin' to kill you, or what?"
"I don't know…because Lainadan the miller heard the noise," Northlight said as he rubbed an arm with a sponge, his hand shaking a little. "And he came banging on a metal tub to frighten them off, and they fled. They had been lying in wait for me—they must have planned the whole attack. Surely they knew of the mill, for there is a road that leads to it from the main road, but I think they stupidly underestimated the distance and supposed themselves to be farther from it than they were. And they ran off, and I lost consciousness then, and the next thing I knew I was lying in a bed in the healing-chamber of the Palace, with broken ribs and arm, and a gash across my forehead and cheek, and a great many bruises and cuts elsewhere, in danger of my life. And more pain than I knew was possible to feel."
Sam felt sick and dizzy. "Oh, my poor master," he said softly without even being quite aware of what he was saying.
"Yes," Northlight agreed.