5. Sam's Last Test
The rain was pouring down in sheets, and any outdoor activity was out of the question. Frodo sat by the fireplace with his woodcarving tools spread out around his feet, his full attention given to the round of wood upon his knees. He chipped at the wood carefully, biting his bottom lip in concentration.
Sam’s bedroom door opened and he came in, buttoning his shirt. “Morning, Mr. Frodo. What’s the plan for today?” He lifted the big skillet down from its hook on the mantel and reached into the larder for the egg basket.
Frodo looked up from his work. “How about a walk across the island, Sam? We haven’t been over to the south end yet.” He kept his face straight with an effort, but the corner of his mouth twitched.
Sam peered out the window at the rain cascading down. The path from the front door ran with water, and the steps were little waterfalls. “Guess I’ll pass on that, Mr. Frodo. I never was much of a swimmer, if you take my meaning.”
Frodo laughed then. “Oh Sam, it’s so good to have you here! I could never joke with the Elves, you know?”
“No, they’re wonderful folk, but not much for jokes,” Sam agreed. He picked his way around the tools on the floor and set the skillet down on a bed of coals he raked out of the fire. He squatted beside it, a long fork in his hand. “What are you making there, Mr. Frodo?”
“Oh, just something Galadriel asked me to carve for her when we were there for dinner last week,” Frodo said vaguely. Sam raised an eyebrow at his evasiveness, and looked curiously at the block of wood, but said no more. The bacon sizzled in the pan and he gave his attention to his cooking.
The weather didn’t improve during the morning. Frodo washed up the breakfast plates and went back to his carving. Sam sat at the table with a sheet of paper before him, chewing on the end of his pen. He was trying to write a poem, but he wasn’t getting on very fast. He had written:
I never saw the Sea before that night.
I stood and watched upon the Western shore
The star-glass flash and vanish out of sight
Held in a hand that would return no more.
I hardly saw the ship through blinding tears:
To lose my master seemed a grief too sore,
Away beyond the circle of our years
To where my steps could follow him no more.
He was stuck there. What he had written certainly expressed how he had felt when his master left the Havens sixty years before, but he couldn’t think how to make the transition from that old sorrow to his present happiness. He doodled on the edge of the paper, drawing a trailing vine down the margin, then adding tiny berries hanging along the vine. It was very quiet in the little room, and both hobbits were startled by a loud knock on the door.
Sam opened it and a slender Elf stepped into the room, water streaming from his hair and clothes. Frodo sprang up to greet him. “Orophin! Come in! Heavens, you’re drenched! Will you have a glass of wine, or would you rather something hot? That rain must be cold to walk in!”
The Elf smiled and shook himself, rather as a dog might. Droplets of water flew everywhere, sparkling as they fell, and he looked to be quite dry. “No, Frodo, I cannot stay. I came only to bring you a message from the Lady Galadriel, and I have more to deliver.” He reached into a packet that hung at his belt and pulled out a small green envelope. “The moon will be full in two nights,” he said, and with this cryptic remark, he nodded his farewell and went back out into the rain.
Sam closed the door, brushing water droplets from his arms and shoulders. “Wonderful folk, Elves,” he said again. “A good thing he can shake himself dry like that, if he’s got to go delivering messages in this weather! But why does it matter when the moon will be full?”
Frodo had opened the envelope and was reading its contents with unmistakable delight. “Because, old lad, Galadriel is offering us seats in her boat for the Autumn Moon Regatta!
That’s quite an honor, Sam! Galadriel has the fastest boat on the island, but it only carries seven: five passengers and a crew of two. I’ve been on it once or twice, but that was a long time ago.” He raised his eyes to Sam’s face and smiled. “I think this invitation is really meant for you more than me, Samwise. Galadriel thinks very highly of you.”
Sam made no answer, but his face had gone pale. “How about a mug of tea, Mr. Frodo?” he said at last. Without waiting for an answer he went over to the fireplace and busied himself pouring water into the teapot. Frodo stood in the middle of the room, the invitation hanging from his hand, watching Sam in perplexity. There was a sudden crash as a mug slipped from Sam’s hand and shattered on the stone hearth.
Frodo moved then, going to Sam and drawing him away from where he was trying to pick up the broken pieces with clumsy hands. “Leave it, Sam!” he admonished. “Here now, sit down and tell me what’s the matter.” He pushed Sam into a chair and handed him a mug of tea, then poured another for himself.
“All right, Samwise,” he said. “Out with it. You look like you’d seen a wraith, but why?”
Sam took a long swallow of tea. “Nothing for you to look so worried about, Mr. Frodo,” he said with an attempt at a laugh. “Just what is this Regatta we’re invited to?” As he had intended, the question distracted Frodo’s attention.
“It’s a gathering of boats from all over the island, Sam. They sail out together at sunset, in all directions, like the rays of the sun. And each boat is lighted from end to end with colored lanterns, only each one with lanterns all the same color – gold, blue, green, or white. When the moon comes up, they race back to the island, and the first boat of each color that reaches the island is the leader for that color. As the other boats get back, they fall in place behind their leaders and the lines of boats sail round and round the island, weaving in and out so the different colored lights make patterns in the dark.”
He broke off, chuckling. “One year there was a collision, and Elrond’s boat capsized. So Elrond and a dozen others were swimming around in the dark, and the other boats going every which way trying to pick them up – the amazing thing was that none of them rammed each other in the melee! Oh, but Elrond was angry!”
Sam regarded him with horror. “A good thing you weren’t in Elrond’s boat, Mr. Frodo!”
“Well ….. actually, I was! I hadn’t swum a stroke since I was a lad at Brandy Hall, but I remembered how to swim again in a hurry, believe me! But that was just the one time, Sam. It never happened again – they rehearse ahead of time now, to prevent accidents.”
He was pacing around the room, his face glowing, bursting to share his excitement with Sam. “All the while they’re sailing, there’s singing, too -- a singer on each boat. They prepare all year for this, you know, and every year the songs are new, written just for the Regatta. All the singers for each color take a different part of the harmony. Oh, Sam, it’s wonderful! Galadriel’s boat is sure to be one of the leaders, so we’ll be right at the front. Just wait – you’ve never seen anything like the Regatta!”
He fell silent, lost in memories -- bright ribbons of light that wove ever-changing patterns through the darkness, jewel-like lanterns reflecting in the black water, waves of music rolling out over the sea. A great circling web of sound and color, with himself and the elves caught up in the circle and moving with it, and over their heads the glorious full moon of autumn sailing across the sky. And this year Sam would be there too! His happiness felt almost too great to bear, and a deep thankfulness came over him.
“And then what, Mr. Frodo? How long does it last?” Sam asked. Frodo blinked, recalled to the present moment.
“It goes on all night, Sam; until the dawn. And there’s feasting too. Sometimes the music changes to two part harmony, and then everyone on the boats that are silent can eat, and toast the ones who are singing. When the sun comes up there’s a last song to welcome her: that song is the same every year, and everyone sings. Then the boats come back to the island, and they’re put in dry dock for the winter. The Regatta is for all the little boats that belong to the island, the ones that don’t go out in the winter storms.”
Sam listened in growing dismay, all the more as he marked Frodo’s enthusiasm. This plainly was a highpoint of the year on Tol Eressea, a celebration that could not be avoided without giving offence. “And it means a lot to Mr. Frodo,” he thought. “He’s that happy to get this invitation!”
Sam sipped his tea, remembering the ten-day voyage that had brought him to Eressea. Only his deep longing for Frodo had gotten him onto the Elven ship, and only the prospect of seeing his master again had sustained him during the voyage. And that had been a full-size ship, not a tiny yacht built for speed! Sam, in all his long life, had never lost his fear of boats.
He was surprised at Frodo’s eagerness for this Regatta – especially after the near-disaster with Elrond’s boat! Hobbits as a rule disliked the water. But there, Frodo had grown up beside the Brandywine; he’d spent his childhood boating on the river with his Brandybuck cousins. Frodo had never feared the water.
“Sam?” Frodo’s voice broke in on his thoughts. “Are you all right?”
Sam shook himself mentally and forced a smile. “Yes, I’m all right, Mr. Frodo. I think I’ll go have a lie-down, if you don’t mind. This rain pouring down all day wears me out, somehow.”
Leaving Frodo staring after him, Sam set down his mug and retreated to his bedroom. He did not lie down on the bed, but drew a chair over to the carved footboard and sat down before it. He looked again at the pictures of himself -- fighting Shelob, with Frodo on Mt. Doom, rescuing Frodo from the orc tower. Here were some of the most terrifying moments of his life.
Although if Frodo had known, he could have added another picture: Sam in the small Elven boat on the River Anduin. To Sam’s mind that trip down the river, endless days in a frail cockleshell on the water, had been as bad as the long dark of Moria. Except the Balrog, of course. Worse things had come later on, to be sure; but his fear during that river journey had been very real.
And it was all so long ago. He had not thought to find his courage tested again, here in Eressea. He shuddered, thinking of Frodo overboard, paddling about in the dark water. What if he had drowned, and Sam had come to Eressea to find him dead already, like Mr. Bilbo --? Sam drove that thought back. Frodo had not drowned, he was right in the next room, up on end with excitement at the thought of another boat ride!
All afternoon Sam sat alone, wrestling with his fear. Frodo would not insist that he take part in the Regatta, he knew that, but neither would Frodo go without him. If he refused his place in Galadriel’s boat, Frodo, too, would stay ashore.
He stared at the carved pictures. Those had been deadly dangers, but he had found the courage to meet them for Frodo’s sake. To spend a night sailing around Eressea on a little boat (even the fastest boat on the island, he recalled, with a shiver) -- that was no real danger at all. Even if the boat capsized, he could hold onto the side, couldn’t he? He felt a wave of self-disgust at his faintheartedness. After all his adventures, to still be afraid of the water!
He’d bring no honor to Frodo, if he refused to go. Whatever his master might think, the Lady’s invitation was surely a tribute to him, more than to Samwise. Frodo had been the Ringbearer, when all was said and done.
In the end, his love for his master won out. Frodo was pleased beyond words at this invitation, anyone could see that. Sam would do nothing to dampen his joy, not if he had to sail to Valinor in a washtub! A leaky washtub! With this thought, he got up and set the chair back in its place against the wall. Squaring his shoulders, he stepped back into the outer room.
“Well, Mr. Frodo, what do you say to a bit of supper? ” he asked cheerfully. Frodo looked up from his carving. “That would be fine, Sam,” he said, but as Sam moved around the room preparing the meal, Frodo watched him with lingering concern, wondering why he didn’t look more rested from his long nap.
“Maybe you’d better teach me that song, Mr. Frodo. The one we’ll be singing, when the sun comes up.”
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.