1. The Road Goes Ever On And On
There was only one thing that he knew for certain, and that was that if he had not gone with Frodo on the Quest of the Ring, he might never have understood it. At times, when he missed Frodo the worst, he almost wished that he had indeed never gone, but even then with the pain of bitter loss flaring up in his chest, he knew that he did not truly mean it. He would not have given up those feelings and the short, happy time they had had in Ithilien and Minas Tirith for any bliss in Middle-earth.
It might have been after Frodo was wounded at Weathertop, when he was hovering between life and death, looking too small and pale in the big white bed at Rivendell, that Sam knew that he could not bear losing him. Before, he had been scared for all their safety, and especially Frodo’s, for the Old Forest had been frightening and the Black Riders had been terrifying, but to see Frodo so close to death, it seemed, had given his heart a jolt, and now, sitting beside Frodo’s bed, he wondered how he could not have known before.
“You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s taken away, that’s what the Gaffer says,” Sam told himself. He had never experienced the truth of it before, and now only the scare had been enough for him. “It’s not going to happen again. Not if I can prevent it.”
“And it might very well be that you shall have to, Master Samwise.”
When he turned to the side, there was Elrond standing next to him. Sam made to get up, but Elrond laid a gentle hand on his shoulder and held him back.
“You should sit and rest,” he said. “You have watched over your master for many days with barely any sleep and must be tired. He is no longer in danger. His sleep is one of healing now.”
“Well, he’s still looking too pale for my tastes,” said Sam. “I’ll be glad to see him up and about again, and home at last.”
“I dearly wish to see the same,” answered Elrond. “He took great peril upon himself, and so did all of you who came with him. But we do not know what road might still lie before us, for not even I can look into the future. Yet I feel that before all of this ends for better or worse, you shall have an important part to play. Take good care of Frodo; more so than you have already, if you can.”
“I said it before, and I’ll say it again, I am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon!”
Elrond smiled and nodded at Sam with knowing eyes. “You have found something on this journey already that surprised you, and it frightens you as well. But I deem it good for both of you and the fate of us all, for love might prevail where all else fails.”
Sam shifted uneasily in his chair, not knowing how to reply.
“Gandalf will come shortly to sit with Frodo,” said Elrond. “Maybe he can convince you to lie down and take some sleep at last.”
When he had left the room again, Sam left his chair to sit on the bed, nearer to Frodo, looking at him closely for a long while and shaking his head. “To the Moon, if I must,” he muttered, and as if to answer, Frodo sighed in his sleep and smiled.
They had not set out for the Moon, but when they fled through the East-gate of Moria into Dimrill Dale, with Gandalf fallen only minutes ago, Sam felt that they might as well have set that goal. The Moon or Mordor – without Gandalf, both seemed equally impossible to reach.
When they were out of range of the orc bows, Frodo suddenly sat down on the barren ground of the Dale. Sam saw Gimli and Pippin do the same, while Aragorn stood with his drawn sword clutched tightly, his face grim, tears running down his dirty cheeks. Sam himself felt tears welling up inside him, and so he sat next to Frodo, one arm wrapped around his shaking shoulders and for a long time, they cried together for their lost friend.
“What will we do now?” murmured Frodo finally, so softly that only Sam could hear it.
“I don’t know, Mr. Frodo,” said Sam. “It will be a whole lot harder, and I’ll miss him terribly. But now I shan’t leave your side for a minute. Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli, and Boromir too, they’re great warriors all right, but without Gandalf, I’ll feel safer not letting you out of my sight.”
Frodo looked up and smiled through his tears, then, and was about to say something when a cry from Aragorn interrupted them.
“Farewell, Gandalf! Did I not say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware? Alas that I spoke true. What hope have we without you?”
When he bade them to get up and get going again, Sam and Frodo dried their faces with their sleeves and followed him, though secretly, Sam agreed that there was little hope left.
They trudged on in silence until they saw the Mirrormere and then reached Durin’s Stone. When Gimli called Frodo to follow him and look into the water, Sam, too, came with them, drawn by a force he could not explain. Like Gimli and Frodo, he bent down to see, but unlike them, he found no jewels glittering in the water. He did not see Durin’s crown.
Instead, he saw only himself in the dark pool, but a wheel of fire was whirling on his chest, hanging on a chain from his neck, and when he shifted closer to the water to have a better look, the fire extinguished and he could see that it was the Ring that he bore.
Sam nearly cried out, but he held back just in time. Now he wished even more than before that Gandalf were still with them, for he of all of them might have known an explanation. But since he could not ask him, Sam thought it might be best to think it over alone, and only later would he ask Aragorn for his advice, though he was now frightened more than ever before.
“Me, carry the Ring?” he thought. “I don’t want it, don’t even want to look at it if I don’t have to. Or did this mean to show me that I’m tempted by that horrible thing even if I don’t notice it?”
“What did you see?” asked Pippin as Sam came back to the road, but Sam was too busy pondering what he had seen to reply to him.
When night fell, they finally reached Lothlórien, and for a while, in his wonder Sam forgot about his fear and the Mirrormere. The next day, when they were brought before the Lord and Lady, all that he could think of was the beauty of the Golden Wood and the Elves.
And when the Lady Galadriel spoke to them, other images stirred in Sam’s mind as her eyes met his. He saw himself back home in the Shire, wandering along Bagshot Row and the meadows surrounding Hobbiton, drinking ale at the Green Dragon, and tending a little garden that was nobody’s but his own.
Would you not choose to return there now if I gave you this choice? To return without peril on your way, in this very moment? her calm voice inquired, though her lips never moved.
When Sam realised that her voice was in his head and only he could hear it, he cringed, for he felt uncomfortable, as if he stood naked before her. When he heard her offer of going home, he did feel tempted, but for no more than a moment. He was not going anywhere without Frodo, even if he were to have the greatest garden in all of the Shire.
And what if he could go with you?
Again, images formed before his inner eye, and he saw Frodo and himself together at Crickhollow. They were sitting under a tree in the garden, smoking their pipes and their hands were clasped between them.
Sam blushed and looked down, but again, he refused the offer. When afterwards, Pippin asked him what had happened, he could not tell him everything, and when some days later he looked into the Lady’s Mirror, he was grateful that she did not mention in Frodo’s presence that she had tempted him with more than going home alone.
That night, after they had left the hollow and the Mirror, and the Lady had left them soon after, Frodo and Sam strolled for another little while through the forest, until Frodo said that he was tired and returned to the tent of the Fellowship. But Sam stayed behind, sitting under a great mallorn at the edge of a clearing and looking up at the stars. They seemed unfamiliar to him so far from home, and he wondered how it could have happened that a hobbit like he, who was not an important person even in his own country, should have come to journey so far and see such things as he had seen, especially the Golden Wood.
He did not know how long he had sat when he saw Galadriel appear again between the trees. Her hair was shimmering like silver in the pale light of the stars, and the branches of the trees seemed to sigh and bend towards her as she walked by. Sam got up when he realised that she was approaching him.
“I should like to speak with you for a while, Samwise,” she said when she had reached him. He nodded as an answer and she bade him to follow, leading him to a bench not far away, under another tall mallorn tree.
“Sit with me,” she said, and for some time they sat in silence, listening to the rustling of the golden leaves, Sam watching her gaze up into the sky, beautiful beyond any words he might have found to describe her to his friends at home.
She smiled, then, and looked down on him. “Yet there is one you deem fairer, though courtesy would not permit you to say so.” As he made no reply, she went on. “I know what you have seen in the Mirrormere, and when I first learnt it, I marvelled at it. Few have ever beheld anything but Durin’s crown, and unlike my Mirror, these waters tell only what shall be beyond any doubt.”
“But,” Sam jumped up and looked at her in despair, his worries now returning to him for the first time since they had entered Lórien, “but it’s Mr. Frodo as is supposed to carry it! I couldn’t . . . I couldn’t betray him, could I?”
“Do not fear,” said the Lady, and her voice was warm and gentle. “Not for this at least. By this kind of treachery your heart is untouched, and I sense that it shall remain this way. As for your other fear, nobody can foretell Frodo’s fate, but still you need not despair. You may have to bear this burden in another way than to carry the Ring after his death as the image you saw might suggest. Already, you have vowed to watch over him, and this may be your plight; to guard him and carry hope and courage for both of you, and let him share in it when his body and mind become weary from the heavy task. When we part, I shall give him a light to shine in dark times when all other lights go out, but there is a light brighter even than this, and I cannot equip him with it. You shall find this light in yourself when the time has come.”
“I don’t know,” said Sam unhappily. He felt very small now, and frightened of what lay ahead. “Elrond already told me something much like you, and I can’t see it. I’ll go wherever Mr. Frodo goes and I’ll do whatever I can to help him, but there’s only so much I can do. I’m not a warrior. I’m not like Aragorn or an Elf, or even Gimli. Why me? Why would I be so important?”
Now Galadriel rose as well. Tall and fair she stood before him, a Queen with powers beyond his grasp.
“Tell me,” she asked, “do you not love your master?”
“I do,” said Sam. There was no other answer.
“And do you not believe, though you have not said so aloud or even to yourself, that you love him more than others do?”
Hot blood rushed into Sam’s head, but he nodded. It was true, and he knew that the Lady had read it in him already.
“Then you are no different from a Man or even an Elf and of no lesser power than I when it comes to the testing of your heart. There are warriors of many different kinds, and Mithrandir chose wisely when he put you at Frodo’s side.” To Sam’s astonishment, she bent down to him and kissed his forehead. “Return now to your companions, but do not forget my words. More than all others, Frodo shall need you to stand with him until the end.”
It was not long before Sam was reminded of these words. When Boromir reported that it had been over an hour since he had last seen Frodo, who had been wandering alone to make up his mind about where to go from Parth Galen, Sam dashed off without waiting for any of the others. “Not out of my sight, I said,” he thought. “Not for one minute, I said. Now it’s been an hour, and who knows what might have happened. It’s a small miracle if there are no orcs about.”
He ran frantically, shouting Frodo’s name, but it took not long for Aragorn to catch up with him, and only a short while passed until Sam could no longer keep up with his pace. He stopped then, trying to catch his breath, when suddenly, it hit him and he clapped his hand to his head.
“Whoa, Sam Gamgee!” he said aloud. “Your legs are too short, so use your head! Let me see now! Boromir isn’t lying, that’s not his way; but he hasn’t told us everything. Something scared Mr. Frodo badly. He screwed himself up to the point, sudden. He made up his mind at last – to go. Where to? Off East. Not without Sam? Yes, without even his Sam. That’s hard, cruel hard.”
But while Frodo’s decision hurt and brought tears to his eyes, Sam knew that he had done it out of love. He had not wanted to burden any of them with the task of coming with him, and it was this that made Sam’s determination to follow him all the stronger.
As he ran down to the boats, he remembered the Lady Galadriel’s words: More than all others, Frodo shall need you to stand with him until the end.
“And I will,” Sam thought, never feeling the pain of his knees which he had cut as he stumbled and fell on the path, nor the pain of his lungs as he forced himself to greater speed still. When he reached the water and saw the empty boat sliding down the river bank, only that one thought was left in his mind, and he plunged forward without thinking.
“Coming, Mr. Frodo! Coming!”
Then he was in the water, and no clear thought came to him until he was back on solid ground and Frodo appeared in front of him out of thin air. And even then, as they talked, he felt as though he were in a daze, all his mind set to but one goal: to have Frodo allow him to go with him.
“It is no good trying to escape you,” said Frodo in the end. But I’m glad, Sam. I cannot tell you how glad. Come along! It is plain that we are meant to go together.”
And as they set off in the boat towards the eastern shore, Sam knew that Frodo was right and that the two of them had been meant to go together since the beginning. Lord Elrond had known it, and so had the Lady Galadriel, and they had provided him such guidance as they could, after the way of the Elves, though he wished they had spoken clearer words.
“Until the end,” he muttered under his breath when he looked back to Parth Galen one last time, and with that, he turned away.
The end had come, or at least it felt that way to Sam as he held the Ring in hand and looked down on Frodo’s still, pale face. Not only had the vision he had seen in the Mirror of Galadriel come true, Frodo lying dead – murdered by the terrible spider – but also what he had seen in the Mirrormere, in a more grievous way than he and the Lady had hoped it would. He did not have to carry Frodo through his task to the end, but to carry the Ring himself.
“Good-bye, Master, my dear!” he murmured. “Forgive your Sam. He’ll come back to this spot when the job’s done – if he manages it. And then he’ll not leave you again. Rest you quiet till I come; and may no foul creature come anigh you! And if the Lady could hear me and give me one wish, I would wish to come back and find you again. Good-bye!”
But when he had put the chain with the Ring around his neck and looked at Frodo one last time, who lay motionless and fair like any Elf, he wished only for one thing; that he had told him what only now had become clear in his own heart and mind. He loved Frodo more than he loved any other, and he would have given up even Rose for him, if Frodo would have had him. Although it would never come to pass, Frodo should have known before he died, and the pain about this missed chance was greater in Sam than the fear of what lay ahead.
And yet later, when the tower of guard at Cirith Ungol was empty of orcs and Sam held Frodo in his arms again, he did not speak. It seemed to him suddenly that it would be a selfish thing to do, for now that he had borne the burden of the Ring, for however short a time, he did not want to weigh Frodo’s mind and heart any further. Already, Frodo knew that Sam loved him, and Sam told himself that this had to be enough – until maybe at the end of their journey, they would find happier times again. He would not give up that hope.
With an effort, he braced himself for what was to come and kissed Frodo’s forehead. “Come, wake up, Mr. Frodo,” he said, trying to sound as cheerful as he had when he drew the curtains back at Bag End on a summer’s morning. And he would do the same at Crickhollow once they were back at home. He had to believe it to get through this and give Frodo strength.
“I am glad you are here with me,” said Frodo when the Ring was destroyed and they watched Mount Doom fall around them with no way to escape. “Here at the end of all things, Sam.”
“Yes, I am with you, Master,” said Sam, laying Frodo’s wounded hand gently to his breast. “And you’re with me. And the journey’s finished. But after coming all that way I don’t want to give up yet. It’s not like me, somehow, if you understand.” For although he had felt these last days that this was his part to play, to help Frodo get to Mount Doom and then die there with him, now that the Ring was destroyed, hope flared up again inside his heart.
“Maybe not, Sam,” said Frodo; “but it’s like things are in the world. Hopes fail. An end comes. We have only a little time to wait now. We are lost in ruin and downfall, and there is no escape.”
But still Sam managed to convince Frodo to move further away, down the road until they could go on no more. On the hill of ashes where they ended up waiting for whatever end might come, Sam spoke for a while longer to keep fear away until the very last, and his eyes strayed still north, north into the eye of the wind, to where the sky far off was clear, as the cold blast, rising to the gale, drove back the darkness and the ruin of the clouds. Perhaps the sun was shining now in another part of the world, maybe in the Shire, and no shadow would cloud it again, and hobbits, Men, and all other people could now live without fear.
They might not live to see it, but peace would come. With that thought, Sam turned and looked back at Frodo, and he knew that if he did not speak now, he might never have the chance again. Not long ago, he had wished for this chance, and now that the task was finished, there was nothing to hold him back anymore.
“Mr. Frodo,” he said, and despite the blazing heat of the the rivers of fire around them, he felt his cheeks flush even more, “Mr. Frodo, there’s something I’ve wanted to tell you, but first I didn’t understand it myself, and then there was never the right time. And then I thought you were dead and, well, I knew I had to tell you if we made it through.” Sam drew a deep breath and tightened his hold on Frodo’s uninjured hand.
“Sam,” said Frodo before he could go on. There shone a bright light in his eyes, which were tired, but clear. “My Sam. I know. The Ring blurred my mind and wouldn’t let me see or remember anything good, but now . . . now I can see it. I love you. I wish we had known before all of this began, but I am still happy.”
They kissed, then, amidst fire and ruin, and though he still held some faint hope, Sam felt that if this were to be the end, he would be at peace. For a while, they stood like this, until their strength failed them and they fell, still holding on to each other’s hands while the world went dark around them.
It was two days before the journey from Minas Tirith to Rohan should begin, where King Théoden would be laid to his last rest among his ancestors. The morning was fair and warm, and Sam was making his way from where the hobbits were housed to the gardens of the Houses of Healing. As he walked by, many of the people of the City greeted him, as they always did with the four hobbits, and he politely inclined his head and muttered greetings as well, though his thoughts were elsewhere.
When he reached the Houses of Healing, he avoided the area of the gardens where the convalescents enjoyed the mild air of June, but went for a small secluded spot where, sitting on a wooden bench hidden behind a cluster of green bushes, he could overlook the lower five levels of the City and the land surrounding it. For a while, Sam watched the people bustling in the streets and the sun shining on the white roofs and walls, making Minas Tirith glow in a light that he would have associated only with Elves before. It was a beautiful sight, all the lofty towers and big houses, and looking back, it seemed silly that he had been afraid of an inn of the Big Folk such as The Prancing Pony in Bree when he had come there first.
But that felt to him now almost as if something from a different life, or at least from very long ago. Sam sighed and leaned against the backrest of the bench, letting his legs dangle.
“It’s high time we got going,” he said to himself. “It’s beautiful, there ain’t no doubt about it, but it’s one thing to enjoy a visit and another to forget about home, as the Gaffer would say. Well, we’re going home soon, though I suppose it will take some time to get there, stopping at Rohan and Rivendell in between and who knows where else. At least the way back won’t be as dangerous now, with no more Black Riders and orcs and other nasty surprises.”
But thinking of unpleasant surprises, he shook his head to himself. Just after breakfast, Gandalf had taken him aside for a talk, and still, Sam could make no sense of it, though he was racking his brain in the attempt.
As he had always been, Gandalf had been cryptic about what he wanted to say, at least too cryptic for Sam’s tastes.
“Now, Sam Gamgee,” Gandalf had said, “tell me, do you regret that I sent you with Frodo as a punishment when I found you listening in on us last April?”
Sam had shaken his head. “I shouldn’t think so,” he had said. “Of course I had no idea what I was getting myself into. A right fool is what I was, shouting hurray, thinking I’d see Elves and not doing much thinking about how dangerous it would all be. And begging your pardon, but you oughta have told us more before. But now it’s over and we’re going home, finally. All is going to be well, or at least I hope it will.”
Gandalf had nodded, and while he had been as merry as any of them since the war had been won, now he had looked grave, and it had seemed to Sam that there was a certain sadness in his eyes as he spoke, or maybe even pity. “All shall be well indeed, but it might not be in the fashion that you think or desire. The Shadow is fallen, but it left much destruction in its wake.”
“What do you mean by that?” Sam had asked, but Gandalf had not wanted to explain any more.
“You will see soon enough,” he had said, “and you might think of regretting going with Frodo then. But nothing that happened was in vain, and sometimes, it is better if somebody does not get what he wishes for, only he does not understand why. Do not let it turn you bitter, is my advice to you. Something good might come of it, even if it might seem otherwise.” Then he had turned away, leaving Sam worrying and wondering what all of this was to mean.
It was for this reason that he had retreated here, trying to sort his thoughts away from the others, who were busy making plans for the upcoming journey and meeting with the people they had become friendly with in the City to prepare their farewells.
“What do I wish?” asked Sam. “To go back to the Shire and live in peace, and not to get into any such adventure ever again, that’s for certain.” He could not imagine, though, that there lay any more adventures before him, with Sauron destroyed and Aragorn being King and, as he had promised, bringing order to the North and making sure that the Shire was not troubled by anyone, as he had done before as a Ranger. The most adventurous thing Sam could foresee was trying to get home safely after one ale too many at the Green Dragon.
But even as he thought it, an idea came to his mind that made him frown. He remembered the Lady Galadriel’s Mirror and what he had seen in it: the cutting down of many trees and smoke rising over the Shire from ugly chimneys like it had risen over Mordor from Mount Doom.
Some never come to be, the Lady had said of the things shown in the Mirror, but she had not said that this would not happen with certainty. Still Sam could not imagine how it should come to pass now that the war and the danger were over. No, it had to be something else. Also, if this had happened, how could he have hindered it had he stayed behind, a single hobbit on his own? Gandalf could not have meant that he would be regretting going on the Quest for this reason.
He had just reached this conclusion when he first heard and then saw Frodo coming through a gap in the bushes. He was walking towards Sam, the white stone that the Lady Arwen had given him was gleaming on his breast in the sunlight, and as always during the last weeks, Sam was happy to see him look more and more recovered, more like the master he remembered from a year ago. He would never be quite the same as back then, though, and neither would Sam or their friendship. Sam blushed at the thought, and he smiled when Frodo sat down next to him on the bench.
“Gandalf told me I might find you here,” said Frodo. “You’ve taken a liking to the place; you have been coming here often.”
“Well, it’s a little green in between all of this stone,” said Sam. “No offence to the people here, but I need some living things around me, like we have at home, and this is the closest it comes in these parts.”
“Home,” repeated Frodo. “I wonder how it will be, going home after all of this.”
“Joyous, I hope. The Gaffer will be glad to see me back, and I’ll be mighty glad to see everyone too, and then there’s the garden at Crickhollow that could need some good tending after we’ve been gone for so long. I doubt Fatty Bolger did a proper job of it.”
At that Frodo smiled, but like with Gandalf before, there was suddenly sadness about him. He took Sam’s hands and leant forward and kissed him on the lips, like they had done now many times since they had awoken in Ithilien.
“Is that what you want, Sam?” he asked softly. “To come to Crickhollow with me?”
“Why, of course it is. I’d have wanted to come anyway, because you need a gardener there and someone to take proper care of the place. But now that things are how they are . . .”
Frodo sighed, then, and squeezed Sam’s hands in his. “I’ve wanted to talk to you about this,” he said. “But at the same time, I have wanted to put it off.”
“About what?” Sam’s heart was filled with foreboding at these words, and now he thought he understood what Gandalf had been talking about earlier. “Mr. Frodo, you ain’t telling me that . . . that . . .”
“O Sam,” said Frodo, and he looked down at their clasped hands, and for a moment, Sam meant to see him waver. But then he looked back up in Sam’s eyes, and there was a determination on his face that Sam knew all too well. “I love you, but it’s for that reason that I must do this.” His voice was soft, but his grip on Sam’s hand had tightened so much that it hurt. “When we come back, I want you to go to Rose.” Sam shook his head, but Frodo did not let him speak. “I want you to go to Rose and tell her what you’ve wanted to tell her for some time, long before we ever left home. She’s going to say yes, everyone but you has known that for a while. You two will have a garden of your own to tend to and many children and grandchildren. And for all I care, you and everyone can visit me every day and take up all my guest rooms or even live right there with me. But Sam, I can’t do this. I cannot be with you like this. It would not be good for either of us, not after everything that has happened.”
Sam could not answer. It seemed to him that all the words had run right out of him, only to be replaced with a terrible pain.
“Sam.” Frodo raised his hand to Sam’s cheek, and it was only then that Sam realised that there were tears running down his face. “I love you,” said Frodo again, “and more than anything, I want to see you happy.”
“Then why can’t we be together? That’s what would make me happy, and you as well. ‘Specially after everything that’s happened.”
Frodo shook his head. “Maybe for a while, and maybe for many years. But I’ve been thinking and I feel in my heart that it would be wrong. I am hurt, Sam. Not broken, but hurt in a way that won’t leave me for a long time. And you . . . you’ve seen how it happened, and you know how it feels, at least a little, since you carried the Ring as well. Tell me, could you ever stop worrying about me? Could you ever stop looking for signs or stop trying to look after me and carry it for me, like you did this past year?”
Again, Sam could find no answer, and he lowered his head as Frodo had done before, looking down on his brown hand in Frodo’s white one.
“It would not be fair to you, Sam, my dearest, to burden you with that,” said Frodo. Then he put his free hand under Sam’s chin and made him look at him again. “I want you to be happy, and I know you shall be with Rose. Have you stopped loving her?”
Sam shook his head reluctantly. He did love Rose, and had not the last year happened, he would never have dreamt of choosing anyone over her. Yes, he loved her, but the feeling was entirely different from what he felt for Frodo in a way that he could not express with words. When he said so, Frodo smiled again, but this time, he did not look sad.
“I know what you mean, and that is what I want for you,” said Frodo. “It is what you should have, and what we can’t. I shall watch you and be an uncle to your children and as happy as I ever could; happier than I might be with you, though I know I am hurting you by saying it. Do it for me, Sam, if you can’t do it for yourself. Trust me with this as you have before with other things. You do not want for me too feel guilty whenever I look at you, thinking that you are burdened with something you should never have known but for the fact that you were born in such evil times, and blaming myself for it. Gandalf once told me that we can only decide what to do with the time that is given us. I’ve made my decision about what to do with my time, and there is nothing you can do to change it.”
There was such intensity and love in his eyes and voice that Sam found it impossible to refuse. He could only nod although he did neither agree nor understand, and Frodo kissed his forehead before he rose. “I am sorry, Sam, to have sprung it on you like this. I should have put an end to it much sooner, but I didn’t see clearly then. I’ll leave you be for a while now to think.” With that, he quickly walked away before Sam could say anything else.
When he was gone, Sam did not move, but stared out over the City and the Pelennor fields for a long time.
They were standing at the Grey Havens, speaking their parting words, and if Sam had been sad when Frodo had told him in Minas Tirith that they would not be together in the way they both wished, now he felt close to despair. But he knew that Frodo had not recovered and needed to leave, only he had not wanted to see it before, when they had been happy at Bag End for a few years.
“Well,” said Gandalf, “here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea, comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”
Then Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and he embraced Sam tightly. “I am glad that you have Rose,” Frodo whispered to him. “You did the right thing. I would have left you for this, we both know it. I would have gone West nonetheless.”
Sam could say nothing. Frodo tightened the embrace one last time before he turned away and went aboard; and when he was gone and the ship had set sail and left the Havens, Sam stood watching the Sea until night fell and it was as dark around him as it was in his heart.
Finally Merry, Pippin, and Sam rode all the way back home in silence. Still Sam’s heart was heavy as he approached the Hill, and he wondered if he should not have begged to be allowed to go with Frodo. Then he had reached Bag End, and he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.
We can only decide what to do with the time that is given us. Gandalf had told it to Frodo, and Frodo had told it to Sam. Now Sam saw the love of his wife and daughter on their faces, and he felt his love for them strong and true, and he, too, made his decision.
He drew a deep breath. “Well, I’m back,” he said.
It was on a warm August eve, two months after he had buried his Rose, that Sam first heard the call of the Sea. He was sitting under the mallorn on the little bench he had built a few years after he had planted it, his eyes were closed and he was thinking of nothing, smoking his pipe, when there was a strange sound mingling with the rustling of the leaves. It was the murmuring of water, soft waves on the shore, barely audible, but there. Sam would always have recognised the sound, though he had not seen the Sea since the day Frodo had left him and Middle-earth. He opened his eyes and it was gone immediately, and even when he closed them again, he only heard the wind in the leaves. Sam sighed and went inside where Tolman and Marigold had supper ready, and between his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, Sam forgot the Sea for a while.
The second time Sam heard the calling of the Sea was when he sat down to read the Red Book again. He had read it many times over the years, his finger following first Bilbo’s and then Frodo’s letters, and last his own round handwriting. When he began reading early in the morning where he had left off the last day, it was nothing more than gentle sighs, but when he came to the end late in the afternoon, his head was filled with the roar of the surf and with images of Frodo, clearer than he had seen them for many years. His heart twisted as he thought of Frodo smiling at him, still young in his memory from decades ago, and looking outside to where his last great-grandchild, an infant still, was lying on a blanket with her mother under a young beech in the garden, Sam felt old and tired.
The third time the Sea called to him, it was the first of September and he was watching his grandson Barwick weeding the flowerbeds under the window of the study at Bag End. He had to think back to an evening in April 64 years ago, when he had done the same and listened in on Gandalf and Frodo, and so his great adventure had begun.
“Maybe it’s time for one last adventure,” something whispered in his mind, and again, there was the rolling of the waves, just like that day when he had stood at the Grey Havens until deep into the night, looking out at the Sea long after the ship with Frodo on it had disappeared.
There was a fourth time that Sam heard the Sea, in the black of the night when he lay asleep in his bed, and dread overtook his heart as he dreamt and saw himself lie pale and dead, all his family gathered around him with tears on their faces. “This is not how it should end,” the waves murmured into his ear with Frodo’s voice, and the image disappeared. Instead, he saw a long column of Elves, slowly wandering through woods and meadows, singing sadly as they went and left Middle-earth behind forever to go West. The last of them turned suddenly to look at Sam, and it seemed as if he were asking him: “What are you waiting for, Master Samwise?”
When he woke up, the sound of the Sea was still clear in his ears, and it was then that he made up his mind.
Sam reached the Havens in the afternoon of the 22nd of September, and he was not surprised to find a party of Elves waiting by the shore. When he approached and dismounted his pony, they came to greet him, and when one of them spoke to him, he recognised the Elf who had spoken to him also in his dream.
“You are just on time, Master Samwise,” said the Elf. “We are setting out to Aman in only a few short hours, as the sun goes down into the Sea.”
They shared one last meal on the soil of Middle-earth, after which Sam sent his pony on its way back home. Then they all went aboard the ship that was waiting; the sails were set, and a fresh wind blew and sent them on their way into the sunset.
Sam sat leaning against the mast and hummed to himself an old song he had learnt from Bilbo when he had been no more than a lad.
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
This time, though, Sam knew what lay at the end of his road, and as he went over all the events which had led him here in his mind, it appeared to him that his journey had never stopped since he had set foot out from Hobbiton to go with Frodo to Crickhollow, and that it had been a journey not only on his feet, but also in his heart, towards understanding.
And when in the end, the ship reached the Western shores, there was a small figure waiting at the pier, looking out in their direction, and then directly at Sam when they were near enough to recognise each other.
Frodo’s face was lined gently and his hair was white like Sam’s, but still he looked better and healthier than before he had left Middle-earth. It was as though a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders, and when Sam went ashore and Frodo took his hands and said, “My dear Sam,” there was no remnant of sadness in his voice or eyes, no trace of the pain and the darkness anymore, only the joy of their reunion and anticipation of what lay ahead.
It was then that Sam found confirmed what he had understood in his heart only when he had set foot on the ship; that everything was as it should be, and that they had both needed all these years apart, to live their lives and recover from old wounds, which otherwise might never have healed completely. After all they had gone through, they deserved happiness together, deserved this and nothing less; for Frodo no longer to bear the burden of his task even long after it was over, and Sam the burden of watchful worry for his master. They could not have had this back home, but now they were free, were only Frodo and Sam, both of them whole and with no shadow between them.
Sam thought back to the Shire and all its dear round faces; those who grew up with him now grey and wrinkled with merriment, the young ones listening to the adventures of the legendary Bagginses and their companions wide-eyed and open-mouthed, quite obviously wondering if they might ever go on an adventure themselves. He thought of many evenings at the Green Dragon, of ale and much singing, of Merry and Pippin, now Master of Buckland and the Thain. Sam thought of bouncing first his children and then their children and grandchildren on his knees, of quiet hours with Rose and long afternoons tending the garden of Bag End under the summer sun, and he was glad and grateful.
Then Frodo put his hand on Sam’s cheek, they were in Aman and at the end of their journey at last, together. As they leant in to kiss, Frodo’s eye sparkled as they had many years ago when they were both young and free of sorrows, and it made Sam’s heart sing.