West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
The Making of Samwise
A history of Samwise Gamgee's life as he grows into his destiny.
Author: Bill The Pony
A/N: Thanks go out to Teasel, my steadfast beta, who gave me the idea that broke my writer's block and then waded bravely through a sea of indefinite pronouns until we emerged together on the far shore with a readable fic. And then, above and beyond the call of duty, she went once more into the breach and provided a title. Greater love hath no beta.
For those who are keeping score on the timeline, you will note that I've altered the timeline of the attempt to retake Moria. It shouldn't have much tangible effect on canon; there's plenty of time for Balin to make the attempt and fail before the quest gets underway. Plus, to me it makes more sense that the attempt happened later; it has always seemed unlikely that so many years would pass without anyone thinking to send out a party to find out whatever happened to Balin.
98% of the poetry quoted herein is Tolkien's. I took quite a bit of artistic liberty in combining two poems from The Hobbit and altering certain references to make them fit the present situation.
The Sun was sinking low by the time Mr. Frodo found his way down to the field, but Sam's afternoon had been so busy he'd hardly noticed Frodo hadn't been about. The day's heat had faded with the sinking Sun, and the blue sky was shading towards black. Already a few stray stars had begun peeping out, with more joining them even as Sam watched the day fade from orange to rose in the west, and then to soft purple, a pleasant gloom gathering under the trees and spreading across the land.
May had brought 'round a shirt for Sam, no doubt at the Gaffer's behest, not long after he first swung the spit over the coals, and he'd put it on as she bade him. Only now was he glad of it, as the evening breeze sprang up and bent the flames of the cookfire, making the blaze give off a low roar and pushing the smoke away down the valley. May had run back home at Mr. Bilbo's bidding and fetched Daisy and Marigold both, and they had spent the afternoon running between the field and Bag End, peeling taters and boiling cabbages, baking bread and cooking apples with brown sugar and butter-- and all manner of other good things.
Mr. Frodo pulled rein and stopped the cart that bore them, the meal, a barrel or two of ale, and the Gaffer. Half a dozen dwarves tramped along behind, singing a low, rolling song Sam hadn't never heard before. It made the gathering dim seem to draw all the closer, though in truth it was just the last rim of the Sun sinking past the horizon. Without so much as closing his eyes, Sam could almost imagine they were underground, with the Dwarven song rolling and echoing through halls and corridors of stone.
Marigold's laughter soon spoiled his imagining. She and Daisy and May and Mr. Frodo and all the Dwarves set to unloading the cart, and in a twinkling the rough trestle table was covered with linen and laid with platters of vegetables and dishes of fruit. Platters held fresh loaves and soft fresh butter, and cakes both sweet and savory, and bowls of fresh berries sat alongside dishes of heavy cream.
Sam took his knife and approached the fire, which had burned low. A few of the Dwarves raked out roasted potatoes of their own-- strange orange potatoes with a long, lumpy shape and narrowed ends. Sam had taken one of them to cut up and plant on his own, and hoped it would yield a harvest to last over winter; they smelled savory for all their strange look.
"Has the mutton roasted through?" Bilbo appeared at Sam's shoulder, handing over a long knife with a blade worn slender by many passes of the sharpening stone. Sam took it and leaned in close, piercing the haunch and gazing at the juices-- they ran clear, hot fat crackling on the coals and glistening on the crisp, well-basted skin.
"I reckon it's done," he said, and in a twinkling the Dwarves took over, six of them bearing boards on their broad shoulders and two reaching with hooks to pull the spit off the fire. After much pushing and prodding and more than a few burned fingers, they managed to work the mutton off the spit and onto the board, which sagged as they carried it to the table and set it there in the center, legs sticking up. The meat had cooked up tender, and looked near to falling off the bone.
"Well done, Samwise." Mr. Bilbo slapped his back, and Sam took a deep breath, near to bursting from the praise.
They followed the roast to the table, and everyone sat down but Sam's sisters, who filled mugs and tankards for all before they took their seats at the low end of the table with Sam and the Gaffer himself. Mr. Bilbo sat at the head with Balin at his right and Frodo at his left. Merry and Pippin sat a little farther on, and all the Dwarves between. Sam didn't mind, though he would have dearly liked a better view of his master.
Still, he didn't have much time for fretting, what with all the food-- and there was plenty of it, tureens and dishes and platters passing round and round. By the time the night thickened and all the stars were out, shining like jewels in the heavens, they were all on their second helpings and the roast looked well on its way to becoming a heap of bare bones.
He sat back contentedly, tucking his thumbs behind his waistband. A bit of smoke would go down well, but he didn't have his pipe or his pouch of weed along with him, so it would have to wait. He felt entirely too full to go wandering off home to get it, so he contented himself with a fresh mug of ale and the scent of Dwarvish tobacco, borne to him on the breeze as a few of them drew out stubby pipes with wide clay bowls.
Not all were smoking, though; three Dwarves armed with shovels and hoes advanced on the oven and began raking out coals, scooping them into iron scuttles and carrying them out to the center of the green, where they dumped them in a pile and then laid fresh wood on top. The blaze leaped up merrily, sending long fingers licking towards the stars.
Sam's sisters leaped up, locking arms and dancing about, and the Gaffer began to clap and croak them a tune; soon they were dancing a reel and making a good job of it for all they had no lads and only the three of them.
Mr. Bilbo laughed, fumbling for his pipe and turning to watch the girls, and Frodo sent Sam a small, secret smile down the length of the table before reaching for his own.
"Sam, come on!" Daisy commanded, whirling past. "We need a fourth to do this one proper-like!"
Reluctantly Sam let himself be chivvied into the dance, even though he would much rather have sat comfortably and let his dinner settle. The summer evening still held a bit of sultry heat, and the fire fair made Sam swelter as he and his sisters swung and capered around it. He was soon wringing wet with sweat again, and his dinner had him puffing as he handed May off to Marigold and took Daisy on in her stead.
One of the dwarves went to the cart and pulled out a burlap sack draped over something round; when he pulled it off he held a drum as wide as the span of Sam's arms. He quickly caught the Gaffer's rhythm, the low notes of the drum murmuring under the heel of his hand, and sharper notes coming as his fingers struck the hide. Sam's heels came down sharp with the note, and he lifted May right off the ground; she squealed with delight and spun away, coming right back, her skirts flying up near far enough to show her knees, making the Gaffer scowl a bit.
One of the Dwarves had a harp, and when he began tuning it Frodo jumped up to join the dance, which let Sam stand aside to catch his breath. Frodo was already laughing when they caught him up, his slim form darting through the figures of the dance, first lit golden by the flames, then silhouetted dark against them. Sam found his abandoned ale and took a swallow, glad of its cool wetness on his dry tongue.
He spared a glance towards Mr. Bilbo, who sat with Balin, their heads together, bent over their pipes. Twin curls of smoke wafted up, and Bilbo tilted his head back to blow a thoughtful smoke ring, watching it rise. Balin took his pipe from his mouth, talking so low Sam couldn't hear him, his expression intent; Bilbo's own countenance showed little.
The master's hooded, neutral look made Sam decide he'd rested long enough, so he got up and started gathering crockery, hauling it over to the oven, where a kettle of wash water still hung over the remaining embers, steaming hot. He got to work right away scrubbing plates and bowls and flagons, forks and spoons, knives and glassware. Two of the Dwarves came to help, drying the dishes with clean cloths and hauling them all over to stack them up carefully in the cart for return to the smial.
By the time Sam finished and poured out the kettle, putting out the last of the fire, Frodo was back at the table with a mug, and two dwarves were out in the field, awkwardly trying to follow the steps of the dance as Marigold demonstrated them. The rest of the Dwarves were gathered in a noisy knot, holding clarinets and wood flutes, fiddles and viols, making a rather tuneless racket. The Gaffer stood up and beckoned to the girls, tossing Sam a speculative look. To Sam's relief, his old dad didn't crook a finger at him, but settled for gathering up the girls instead. When he had them all, he went near Mr. Bilbo, taking off his cap and waiting till he was noticed.
"Thank you, sir, for a fine evening and as good a bit o'mutton as I ever set tooth in. But I'd best be getting the lasses home; it's past middle-night." He ducked his head first at Mr. Bilbo, then at Balin.
"And thank you, Master Hamfast, for all your hard work-- and your daughters'." Bilbo inclined his head with gracious dignity, every inch the squire. Satisfied, the Gaffer herded the girls towards the hedge, ignoring Marigold's loud and indignant protests that she wasn't tired yet.
Sam all but held his breath until they were gone, half-afraid the Gaffer would turn back for him, or that Mr. Bilbo would give him a frown and send him scurrying, but he was safe, for the moment at least. He found himself a seat tucked up against the roots of the tall oak in the center of the field and curled himself comfortably to rest; his feet were aching from the long day of work.
When the Gaffer had gone, Sam hid his relief behind a swallow of ale, listening as the Dwarven drum began a slow murmur, almost a heartbeat in the night. A ground mist had begun to rise, seeping from the shadows and collecting in the valley; its feathery arms folded around the hedge. The mist blocked out the few lights from Hobbiton and the Row, making the stars grow hazy and indistinct above. Again it felt to Sam almost as though he'd wandered underground and lost himself there, and a shiver crept up his spine.
He turned his eyes to Frodo, seeking the security of a familiar smile, and found a frown instead. Frodo now sat by Balin, listening to his speech with Bilbo, and his mug seemed forgotten on the table.
A low rumble-- one voice taking up a low and rolling melody, then another and another joining, made the hair on the back of Sam's neck prickle and stand up. He had heard the song before (or a version of it) sung by Bilbo himself, who loved to tell of his adventures to any who would listen. But the Dwarven voices made it seem strange, wonderful and terrible at once:
Far under the misty mountains' gloom
We carry long-appointed doom:
We must away ere break of day
To take the halls of Khazad-Dûm.
The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells
In places deep, where dark things sleep,
In hollow halls beneath the fells.
For ancient king and elvish lord
There many a gleaming mithril hoard
They shaped and wrought, and light they caught
To hide in gems on hilt of sword.
On silver necklaces they strung
The flowering stars, on crowns they hung
The dragon-fire, in twisted wire
They meshed the light of moon and sun.
Far over the misty mountains tall
We heed our fathers' dying call.
We must away, ere break of day,
To claim our long-forgotten hall.
Goblets they carved there for themselves
And harps of gold; where no man delves
There lay they long, and many a song
Was sung unheard by men or elves.
The mountain throne once more is freed!
O! wandering folk, the summons heed!
Come haste! Come haste! across the waste!
For we of kin again have need.
The sword is sharp, the spear is long,
The arrow swift, the will is strong;
The heart is bold that looks on gold;
The dwarves no more shall suffer wrong.
Now call we over mountains cold,
'We shall retake the caverns old!'
For honor fight, our ancient right,
Our fathers' blood, and Durin's gold.
Far over the misty mountains grim
To dungeons deep and caverns dim
We must away, ere break of day,
To win our rightful home from him!
The king will come unto his hall
Under Caradhras cruel and tall.
For Durin's Bane must needs be slain,
And ever so our foes shall fall!
Sam realized his mouth was hanging open, so he shut it with a snap. The dwarves had made a ring about the fire, shuffling their feet in a slow and intricate pattern as they chanted. Their heels stamped the grass, raising puffs of dust and ash, and their rough, callused palms slapped against their chests at the end of every verse.
Balin sat straight next to Bilbo, firelight gleaming in his eyes, and Sam was struck at once by his carriage-- the pride in the set of his jaw and his carefully-kempt beard in its snow-white braids, the heaviness of the fists that lay clenched on his knees, and the sturdiness of his shoulders despite his age. Like a King he seemed to Sam then, proud and stern and old.
Of a sudden, Sam understood the song was not sung in jest-- this was no pleasure trip for the Dwarves, but a gathering of friend and kin to set out upon another desperate quest, one from which they might not return. But surely they had not come for Mr. Bilbo, not as old as he was?
Sam turned anxious eyes on Frodo, who sat at Bilbo's left hand, but he had lowered his eyes to examine his pipe. Frodo's mouth was set tight, and his jaw stern. Bilbo turned to him then and spoke; Frodo lifted his gaze to meet Bilbo's and answered quietly, but his troubled expression did not ease.
Sam would have given a good deal to overhear the conversation, and he was just about to sidle closer on the pretext of filling his mug when the notes of a harp fell of a sudden, low and rippling. They echoed like a cascade of water droplets into a pool hidden deep in a mountain's heart, and with it the sober song changed, growing faster. A horn struck up a valiant theme and the dwarves followed it, abandoning their chant for dancing, catching hands and swinging one another out in a design that varied like the lattice of a snow-crystal. They wove their steps like the jewelers' wire of which they sang, darting in and out of the simple circle and arranging their hasty steps in a pattern Sam's eyes could scarce follow.
By and by the chant resumed, but in a tongue Sam did not know. He forgot his ale in his wonder, sitting up straight; the words rumbled and rolled like thunder across the field, rising and falling as the Dwarves drew near to the fire, near enough it seemed it would singe their beards, and then pulled back to the stretch of their arms as they circled it. But each time the song fell, it did not fall so far as it had the last time, rising slowly towards some urgent peak that frightened Sam even as it exhilarated him. He held his breath, watching the tips of their boots all but touch the embers as they pressed in.
The drum throbbed, and iron sang-- hammers tapped together, ringing clear and true, and the Dwarven voices rose again as the circle broke, but they did not stop this time, even as one of their number fell back and ran, the song rising to a shout as he flung himself forward in a dreadful leap, right across the blazing fire!
Sam himself gave a shout, startled, and filled with fear, but the Dwarf was across the fire, and he seemed unharmed. He joined the dance again; the song had fallen, only to build once more, and the next time Sam was not so startled as a Dwarf leaped headlong across the flames and tumbled in the grass beyond. Then another followed, and it seemed the fire rose to seek him, licking around his boots and threatening to kindle in his cloak.
Sam laid his hand upon his chest, his mouth dry and his eyes wide. Red fire lit the Dwarven faces, which gleamed with sweat. They chanted and sang as each one of them made his leap, and then they pressed close, so close Sam was sure they would be burned, arms rising and falling as though they would strike the fire, and he could not tell whether they were meant to bless it with the forge-hammer, or curse it with the axe. Their booted feet kicked at the coals, and sparks flew; none seemed to notice even when the sparks winked out against their arms and faces.
Through it all, Balin sat regal and proud, the rough round of wood and the simple trestle table all the throne he needed, until the circle parted in twain and he rose, sauntering towards the fire as though he would walk through it, unhurried and unheeding. He stood at its verge, lifting his face; his white braids shone red as blood and his voice was deep as he chanted, and then leaped without a running start-- a mighty leap, flames curling about his ankles, his heels barely clearing the embers, mantle kindling as it fell, wreathing around him in a nimbus of fire.
But he kept his balance, standing proud, ignoring the flames, and his kin and subjects slapped them from his garment as he turned and stared into the fire, his voice lifted over all the others as he raised his hands and chanted, low and grave.
The others stepped back, and when they returned, they bore vessels of water; Sam had been so rapt he had not seen them fetch the water, and did not know when it had been drawn.
When Balin fell silent at last, raising his arms to the Moon, the Dwarves lifted the vessels and drowned the fire, its hiss like a hundred angry snakes, the smoke of its death thick and choking, and the music of their chanting fell silent with a final hushed chord.
Sam remembered his ale then, and took a shaky swallow, his eyes watering from the smoke. When it cleared, the Dwarves were bundling the trestles into the cart, and shoveling the dead coals back into the oven, where they belonged. Mr. Bilbo had his hand on Frodo's shoulder, and was speaking kindly, though too low to be overheard through the bustle. Sam could not see Frodo's face, but the set of his shoulders spoke of distress, and he interrupted Bilbo frequently.
There would be no chance to sneak away tonight with his master for the chance of a cuddle and to explain his promise to Mr. Bilbo, that was plain.
Sam got up and helped with the clearing away, and when the cart was laden and the Dwarves had all tramped away up the Hill taking Bilbo and Frodo with them, he went back to his own smial and let himself in.
Sam lay awake in his bed for a long while, the chanting of the Dwarves echoing in his mind and the memory of firelight flickering across the insides of his eyelids. He only fell asleep with the coming of dawn.
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