West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

Dreams of a Far Green Country
The love between Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee lasts for a lifetime ... and beyond.
Author: Diamond of Long Cleeve
Rating: NC-17

 

Chapter One

It was in the early hours of the morning that Sam Gamgee kept his watch.

His master's face was bathed in candlelight. That face which had been drained of blood under moonlight at Weathertop. That face which had been so pale as Aragorn bore Frodo's unconscious body up the steps to the porch of Elrond's house. That face which had looked so ivory-white against whiter pillows as Sam sat vigil in the three tense days since their arrival in Rivendell. The candlelight restored a golden glow to Frodo's sensitive features as he slept deeply, recovering from his near-fatal wound.

He lay so still, and he looked so small, a mere slip of a hobbit in a great Elvish bed with the wooden carving of an Elf-maid at its head, her arms held out in a protective gesture. Almost as if she was blessing Frodo, Sam thought, curving her arms out towards and around him, and the sight comforted him, because Mr. Frodo revered the Elves, and invoked the name of the Lady they loved, the Lady who created the stars. Tentatively, Sam took his master's left hand; bringing Frodo's palm up to his lips, he kissed it.

"They were working on you late last night, Master," he murmured, "and now you're sleeping like a baby. They say you're past the worst now. All I can do is wait. Mr. Gandalf said so. He said that last night Master Elrond and his healers found that splinter from the Morgul-knife that stabbed you. It was working its way inside you, Mr. Frodo, towards your heart." Sam drew a shaky breath. "But they found it, and they took it out. They made me go out of the room for that part, sir." Sam's voice became unsteady. "I weren't allowed back in for ages. I can't argue with all those great Elves, Mr. Frodo. I'd not leave your side for a second but they weren't having none of that."

"You should not watch this, Samwise," Gandalf had said. "Go and get some rest. I shall come and wake you." And Sam had been put, gently but firmly, outside the door. A white-faced Merry was waiting outside, and he put his arms around Sam. "Come back to our rooms, Sam," he had whispered. "There's nothing we can do. And I need to be with Pippin, he's just about worn himself out with crying. Won't you come and keep vigil with us instead?"

"But I can't stay away from him, Mr. Merry," Sam had said desperately, "not even if he dies -- especially if he dies. They can't keep me from him. That Gildor we met in the Shire, his folk told me not to leave Mr. Frodo. And that I won't."

"I can't think that Gandalf would send you from Frodo's side if he thought Frodo was going to die, Sam. But I suppose the Fair Folk need us hobbits out of the way. It must be some deep elvish healing that we don't understand. And I don't suppose it's too pleasant... not if they have to dig deep into Frodo's body to find any shards or splinters from the knife." Merry shuddered.

"I can't sleep, Mr. Merry. I can't think of nothing besides him."

"Please, Sam. You need to sleep. Just for a couple of hours. I don't want to hear what they're doing in there. Please, Sam, come and rest."

Then Gandalf had been there once again, tall and grey and patient. "Go now and sleep, both of you. Be assured, Samwise, that I will fetch you when the time comes."

"It was three o'clock in the morning when Gandalf called me," Sam told the unconscious Frodo. "And here I've been ever since. Old Gandalf, he sat with me for a while, until he went off again, once we knew you were past the worst. Gandalf says you've taken a turn for the better, now that cursed splinter's been taken out of you. "

He shivered. Images came unbidden to his mind: a cold hilltop, and even colder breath, an icy blast of venom. Thus they had come, rising on the hillside like clouds of malice, and one of those fell shapes in flowing black robes had stabbed his master in the shoulder with a cruel knife. That was the one whom Frodo had called 'a pale king', raving in delirium from his agonising shoulder-wound.

Oh, and then Frodo had lain so inert and icy cold to the touch. Like those dreadful creatures who had dared to harm him. Whatever they were. The Nine, Gandalf called them. The things which had once been men, so Strider had said, now permanently cloaked in shadow. Indeed they had become shadows themselves, in thrall to the one Shadow. Sam hated the thought of their corruption coming anywhere near his master's body and mind... touching him... hurting him.

Once more he stroked Frodo's hand. "But you're still with us," he murmured, "You're alive. You beat 'em, Mr. Frodo. Stood up to them at the River, didn't you, sir? Such a strong spirit as you have within you, so Strider said. You proved him wrong and all, he didn't reckon much to us hobbit-folk at first, did he, when he met us at Bree? Ah well, a lot of folks did always take you for granted. But I know you better, Mr. Frodo. I've always known you."

He reached over his master's still body and very gently smoothed the silky tendrils of hair drifting over Frodo's forehead. Hesitantly his fingers slipped through the tangle of dark curls. Then he frowned, and withdrew his hand, blushing slightly. There wasn't no need to be taking liberties, he told himself. He wouldn't be stroking Mr. Frodo's hair, so bold and tender-like, if he was awake.

"But the thing is, sir," he said softly, "I thought I'd lost you. And I can't lose you."

Because you've been a part of my life forever. Ever since I was a lad of nine summers and you came to live at Bag End.

"Such an elvish-looking lad as you were. With your books and your fine way of speaking." Sam spoke dreamily, almost rhythmically. "My dad did Mr. Bilbo's garden and then it was me and him in the garden and then it was just me looking after your garden. And I thought that was the way my life would always be. And I didn't mind a bit."

This was the future which Sam had foreseen for himself, day in, day out, for always. Life in the Bag End garden was as predictable as rain and as sweet as sunshine, and the Masters of Bag End had given Sam the humble gardener glimpses of far horizons in the stories they told, causing him to dream and wonder and hope if he himself would ever meet the Fair Folk one day, or travel to those strange and wonderful lands that lay beyond the borders of his little country.

But here he was. Sam of the Shire had travelled with his master through bog and dale and moorland, up bleak hills and down into forested valleys. He had seen the Elves in the woods of the Shire and heard them sing to the Lady who made the stars. He had seen the dark powers, and they had frozen his blood.

Now he was in Rivendell, home of Elrond Half-elven, the Last Homely House East of the Sea. It was real, and no tale: or rather, Sam had entered into the tale and become part of it. He was amongst Elves, of whom he had dreamed since he was a small boy. It should have been a dream come true, the adventure of adventures. For characters in another tale maybe. The dream had become a nightmare: Sam Gamgee was amongst Elves, but Mr. Frodo had almost died.

"Mr. Frodo," Sam whispered. He laid his head on the counterpane so that his cheek rested over Frodo's hand. "Please tell me you've turned the corner now, sir," he mumbled. "Please, Mr. Frodo, wake up soon."

The carved oak door opened slowly, and Sam looked up through a mist of tears to see Mr. Bilbo standing in the doorway. He was richly dressed as always, in a waistcoat and breeches of fine Elvish weave. He gazed gravely at Sam. "They tell me my Frodo is on the mend," he said.

"Yes, Mr. Bilbo sir. Mr. Gandalf and Mr. Elrond say he's turned the corner. We can but hope and pray 'tis so, anyhow."

"You're a good lad, Sam," Bilbo said quietly. "My Frodo is blessed to have a faithful lad like you."

He placed his hand gently on Sam's shoulder. "Like father, like son," he said, and managed a shaky smile. "Where would we Bagginses be without our steadfast Gamgees? Come now, I'm here to relieve your shift. No arguments, Sam-lad. You need your rest. I have it on good authority from Gandalf."

"As you wish, Mr. Bilbo," Sam murmured, sensing that the old hobbit wanted to be alone with his nephew. He rose and Mr. Bilbo sat down heavily in Sam's place.

"My dear boy," he said hoarsely as he gazed at Frodo. "Sweet Varda, but this is my doing. I brought this upon you."

But it ain't your fault, Mr. Bilbo, Sam wanted to say, Mr. Frodo is your heir, he inherited that cursed Ring from you. How were you both to know what that thing really was?

He bowed unhappily, although Bilbo was not looking at him, and prepared to slip out of the room. As he turned to go, he found himself looking up at Gandalf standing silent in grey. The old wizard's eyes were deep and dark and kind. He laid his hand on Sam's head and murmured, "Faithful companion... it is nearly dawn, and you must sleep now. Frodo will wake later today and I shall come and find you. Go now, Samwise. Let your heart be at peace."

Sam stumbled sleepily out onto the verandah and made his way to his little room on the ground floor, which was next to Frodo's . The light of dawn had broken over the far mountains, chasing the stars away, and the air was cold and fresh. Already a few birds were singing in the scented pines of Elrond's gardens, where the shimmering music of waterfalls constantly played.

As Sam fell into bed, he curled his body into a tight ball. The last picture in his mind before sleep took him was of Frodo's brilliant blue eyes, and his cheeks looking rosy with health, as he awoke from his long and near-fateful sleep. And then the dream changed, so that Sam saw Frodo clothed in silver and grey, with his cloak flowing in the breeze behind him, and a white jewel shining like a star on his breast.

 

Chapter Two

The singer's voice soared into the autumn evening. Her hair fell like dark water down her back, her eyes were like pools under rain, her skin resembled summer dew on a white rose. She was tall and pure and beautiful, as if a light shone through her, the inner light which all Elves seemed to possess.

So it seemed to Sam, who was comfortably perched with Frodo on velvet cushions in an alcove, near one of the carved pillars in the Hall of Fire. Merry and Pippin were tucked in a corner nearby, also surrounded by an abundance of cushions. Merry had his arm around a sleepy Pippin, and he was smoking his clay pipe. Sam noted approvingly that Merry was also sporting his favourite yellow waistcoat with a green brocaded overcoat: the said waistcoat, which had been stained and torn by their hard journey through Wilderland, had evidently been cleaned by the Elves with the utmost care.

Now that Frodo was safe and well again, Sam could relax and enjoy his surroundings to the full. To look at Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin -- and indeed himself and Mr. Frodo -- you'd think the four of them were healthy young hobbits without a care in the world, he thought.

Pippin's small bright face was sweetly relaxed in slumber. He was soon snoring, to the obvious amusement of some nearby Elves and Merry, who poked and tickled him in the ribs, making Master Peregrin stir and grumble. Merry caught Sam's eye, and smiled. He looked a great deal thinner, Sam thought... but then they all did. Mr. Frodo most of all, and Sam tutted privately to himself. The master would need feeding up, so he would.

It had plagued Sam no end not to be able to wait on Frodo at table earlier that evening. He had fidgeted and picked at his food as he sat between Merry and Pippin in the banqueting hall, eyeing Frodo all the while where he sat next to an ancient Dwarf garbed in snow-white velvet, the pair of them engaged deep in some earnest conversation which doubtless was of great import.

"Sam." Pippin nudged him. "This is such a splendid feast and you're hardly touching a thing. That simply isn't right for a hobbit!"

"Well, look at Mr. Frodo," groused Sam. "That Dwarf's talking away fit to bust and the master's listening more than eating. Come on, Mr. Frodo, you've been ill. Never mind sipping that fancy wine, get more of that venison down you. "

Merry's broad, handsome face was flushed with amusement. "Sam," he had drawled, "you are such an old mother-hen."

"And that's precisely why we love you," said Pippin, taking an enormous mouthful of chicken and herbs.

And Sam had to smile at himself. That was the way of their people: this light banter, after such dreadful danger, was the stuff which deep love was made of. Which hobbits were made of.

That had been earlier. Then Mr. Frodo had met with Mr. Bilbo -- a reunion eagerly planned and anticipated by Sam, Merry and Pippin -- and after that everyone had assembled with a company of Elves in the Hall of Fire.

There Sam was caught away in a perfect dream of music as the Elves sang many ancient lays and ballads and their harps spilled silver notes like fountains into the night. As the last strains of the Elf-lady's song quivered into silence, Sam ventured in a low voice, "That was a sad song, Mr. Frodo."

"Indeed it is, Sam. But it's a story which means a great deal to the Elves, the tale of Beren and Lúthien."

"So I've gathered, sir. I'm trying to put it all together in my mind from the tales they was telling earlier. So they got the Great Jewel back from the Dark Lord, but Beren now, he was badly hurt, because the Dark Lord's wolf ate the Jewel and bit his poor hand off at the wrist, and he was so hurt that he died. But the Lady Lúthien pleaded with the powers that live over the Sea, and they summoned Beren's spirit back from the dead and allowed them both to return to mortal lands." Sam drew a deep breath. "And so they lived on this fair green island in the middle of a river."

"Tol Galen, the Green Isle," Frodo murmured. "In the Land of the Dead that Live."

"Aye. There's a mystery there, sir. Beren being a mortal man who came back from the halls of the dead, and the Lady Lúthien having to give up her mortal life, as it were."

"She had to choose between him and the Undying Lands," Frodo explained. "He couldn't go to the Blessed Realm, because he was mortal, and it seems to be Eru's will for mortals to remain here in Middle-earth. So Lúthien gave up her immortality for the man she loved. Yes, it's a sad story, but it's very beautiful. At least they ended their days together, even if the Elves did lose the one they most loved. She was their jewel, but they lost her."

He glanced across the Hall, to where Aragorn was sitting with the Lady Arwen. They were both sitting very still, her hand clasping his.

"It seems to mean a lot to Aragorn," said Frodo thoughtfully. "Remember how he sang to us of Beren and Lúthien when we were camping at Weathertop?"

"I'd rather not think about that night, sir, unless I have to, begging your pardon."

"Forgive me, Sam. I shouldn't have reminded you."

"Bless you, Mr. Frodo sir," Sam exclaimed, "it's you I'm thinking of. I don't want to think about no dark happenings here in this place, it's so full of light. And I don't want to think no more about those dreadful creatures who hurt you."

"The memories won't go away just because we don't talk about them, Sam. But forgive me. We should be thinking of sweet and good and blessed things in this place. You and I and our friends are safe, and all the dark things are outside."

"It's like being in a dream, listening to this. You'd better pinch me, Master, because I'm bound to wake up soon."

Frodo laughed softly and merrily. "It is a bit like that here, isn't it? The Elves seem part of this world and yet... not part of it."

"Aye, the whole place is full of an enchantment, and now that you're well and yourself again, I can take proper note of it. I had no heart for it before, not with you lying so sick, Mr. Frodo."

"My faithful Sam," said Frodo, pressing Sam's hand. "Always looking after me. Well, I'm fully recovered now. And Bilbo is here. I could believe the world will always be just like this. I don't want to go back to the Shire yet. I want to stay here, among the Elves, and look at the stars over the mountains. I don't want to leave Bilbo either. I suppose at some point I must think about the Ring once more, but please --" Frodo drew a deep breath, "Not yet. Not tonight."

"They've got their Council tomorrow, Mr. Frodo," Sam said, troubled. "And they're wanting you and Mr. Bilbo to be at it."

"I know, Sam. But I have a brief respite for a few hours yet. I want to make the most of it. Ah! Here comes Bilbo!" Frodo smiled. "He was working on that long poem of his earlier this evening, with Aragorn. Now he's going to recite it. And believe me, there's nothing Bilbo likes better. He adores impressing the Elves."

There was laughter in Frodo's voice. And that sounded like the Mr. Frodo Sam knew: poised and easy and relaxed of manner. That was the gracious and gentle master Sam loved. Frodo had come back to him, through storm and dark and clouds of fear. The creatures of the night, the creatures of the Dark Lord, hadn't been able to take him away from Sam.

As Bilbo took his place to polite applause from the gathered Elves, he bowed deeply and winked at Frodo. Frodo chuckled. " I love my uncle," he said affectionately, and then he leaned forward to murmur in Sam's ear, "Oh, and Sam, I forgot to say this. Bilbo told me earlier that the Elves believe that the likeness of Lúthien lives again in the Lady Arwen. She is descended directly from her."

"Well, now," said Sam, gazing at Arwen, "fancy that. She is probably the beautifullest lady I've ever seen on this earth. That Goldberry, she was a lovely lady, all merry and sweet like a lass in the spring, but the Lady Arwen..." Sam shook his head, not able to find the right words.

"Arwen is like the starlight," said Frodo reflectively. "She is the Evening Star. And she is loved by Aragorn, who is mortal. I wonder what that means. I wonder what it means for them."

"Well, I hope it don't mean nothing sad, Master. Look at him now, he reminds me of one of them Elf-lords, so grand and fine. And fancy him loving such a great lady. You would never have guessed so much when we first met him in Bree," yawned Sam.

"Indeed not. And you were all ready to defend me to the death against him, Samwise," whispered Frodo with a mischievous look. "Ah, but we'd better hush. Bilbo is ready to begin, and we don't want Elves to think that us dull hobbits don't appreciate poetry!"

The wine and the music and the candlelight merged into a tranquil glow. As Bilbo recited his verses in calm, measured tones, accompanied by the rippling sounds of a harp and lute, Sam was lulled to sleep.

When he awoke, Frodo was not there, but Merry was bent over him, rousing him gently. "Frodo and Bilbo have gone off to talk by themselves, Sam. It's late. The Elves are singing hymns to the Lady of the Stars. I wouldn't want you to miss this. It's so beautiful. Look at Pip, he's all goggle-eyed."

As Sam sat up in the alcove, rubbing his eyes, he felt as if he was still dreaming. Ah, but he'd had such a peaceful dream. All about himself and Mr. Frodo walking along a white beach, bordered by woods, and he could hear sweet silvery Elvish singing, just audible above the sighing of the waves. Where this place was, Sam didn't know, but it seemed to be a green island, right in the middle of the Sea.

 

Chapter Three

It was late November. Autumn had faded gracefully as Elrond's gardens flamed with colour: russet and scarlet and gold and ochre. But today it was cold and grey and miserable. The distant peaks of the Misty Mountains were perpetually swathed in snow: now the first snowflakes had fallen in the secluded valley of Rivendell.

The grey day suited Sam's mood. Even Merry and Pippin were too tired and disheartened by the grim weather to go tramping outdoors. As for Mr. Frodo, he'd been cooped up for hours behind closed doors with Aragorn and Gandalf and Elrond, as they had endless discussions and pored over ancient maps.

So Sam spent time with Mr. Bilbo, who talked to Sam for hours in his kindly way about the legends of the Elves, and said how proud he was of his Frodo, and how much he, Bilbo, wished he could go with his boy on this great quest. Sam listened respectfully, feeling much for the old hobbit who would soon have to part from his adored nephew. At last he thanked Bilbo, and slipped off to Frodo's room, where he contented himself by taking an inventory of the clothes they were likely to need on the journey ahead, although it would still be a month or so before the Fellowship of the Ring set out.

It was after five, and already dark, when Frodo emerged, somewhat terse and abrupt. He perked up slightly during the evening meal, but told Sam he would not stay for tales and songs in the Hall of Fire. Sam followed him out.

Back in his room, Frodo stared morosely at the fire. "I'm sorry I've been a bit distant and grumpy, Sam. I've had an awful lot to take in today."

"That's all right, sir," Sam said respectfully.

Frodo frowned at the fire. "And the wound in my shoulder aches," he said. "I sometimes wonder if I'll have to bear it for the rest of my life." He gave a deep sigh, and put his head in his hands. "I can't see ahead, Sam. I can only see darkness. And yet there is no going back. I could no more stay here now than go back to the Shire as if nothing had happened. Not with this awful thing in the world. It has to be destroyed..." Frodo looked up, "and I am the one to do it. It is my fate, Sam. I know I have to do it."

Sam gazed at him anxiously. Two months had passed since they had left the Shire on a balmy September evening. The autumn winds and rains had come and gone, and in that time, Sam had seen more of the world than he could have dreamt. And he had seen his master -- his kind, gentle, self-assured Frodo -- lying hurt and bloodstained on a hilltop at night. And he had seen him lying stricken on the banks of the Bruinen as the white elf-horse Asfaloth snorted and stood guard over Frodo's limp body. How small he had looked to Sam. How unprotected. His confident, self-possessed Frodo, reduced to that.

Without thinking, Sam crossed the room and placed his arms about his master. Just over a month ago, Sam Gamgee would not have dreamt of doing such a thing. But a lot had changed between them in that time, in ways that Sam could not have put into words. Frodo turned and folded himself into Sam's embrace, his slender body trembling with tightly controlled tension. His long, elegant fingers clutched at Sam's shoulders and he buried his head in the crook of Sam's neck. "Oh, Sam. Hold me. I'm afraid."

"We're all afraid, Mr. Frodo," Sam comforted. "None of us knows what lies ahead. But we're coming with you."

Frodo lifted his head and gazed at Sam. "It'll be your death to come with me," he said roughly, his usually melodious voice tight and hoarse. "Go home, Sam. Go back to the Shire."

"I won't do no such thing, Mr. Frodo," said Sam staunchly. "If I don't come with you, if we don't see this thing through, there won't be a Shire to return to in the end, if I've understood the great folk aright. It'll all be -- gone," Sam's throat constricted, "if the Dark Lord gets his Ring back."

Frodo had gone very still. He drew away from Sam, but his hands remained on Sam's shoulders. "Pippin said that you'd throw yourself down a dragon's throat to save me," he said unsteadily, "and he was right. Oh Sam!" Frodo's voice was caught somewhere between a laugh and a sob. "You follow hard after me and I can't ever shake you off!"

"That you can't, Mr. Frodo," said Sam, stolid as ever, but his mouth twitched. They smiled sheepishly at each other, and some of the tension visibly drained from Frodo. His hands relaxed their grip on Sam's shoulders, and his expression softened.

"My faithful Sam," he said. "I am lucky indeed to have you as a friend."

Sam looked awkward. "You're my master, Mr. Frodo... I mean... it's my place to be at your side..."

"It's not my intention to embarrass you, Sam. But don't tell me you'd be following the Master of Bag End to the ends of Middle-earth if he happened to be Lotho Sackville-Baggins. Would you?"

Sam's mouth twitched a little more, and then he guffawed shyly. "Not bloody likely, sir," he said with some heat, and Frodo laughed out loud. Sam beamed and said gruffly, "It's because of who you are, Mr. Frodo, that I'm here in the first place." His cheeks reddened. "And it's good to hear you laugh like that, sir," he added.

Frodo smiled. On an impulse, quite without thinking, he reached up and stroked Sam's cheek with his fingertips. Sam's lips parted, and his hazel eyes went wide, and his cheek warmed against the pressure of Frodo's palm. Then Frodo found that somehow he could not quite take his hand away; instead, it slipped down Sam's neck to rest on his collarbone, just beneath his golden curls. Sam's breath hitched. So did Frodo's. They gazed at each other awkwardly. The room seemed very close and hot all of a sudden.

Frodo drew a deep breath, as if about to say something -- then he seemed to change his mind, and bit his lip, and the hand caressing Sam's neck dropped suddenly to his side. Sam let out his breath, releasing the tension ... and yet he yearned again for that hand on his cheek.

Hastily Frodo turned away, clearing his throat. Over his shoulder, he commented in a carefully neutral tone, "Goodness, but I'm tired. All those Big People have worn me out with their talk. I won't bother with a bath tonight, Sam, even though baths are so delicious here. All I want to do is drop into bed."

"Right you are, sir." Sam got very busy re-arranging Frodo's clothes (for the umpteenth time) on the chest-of-drawers in the corner. He couldn't account for it, but tonight every nerve in his body was sharply tuned to his master's presence.

He heard Frodo sigh, and there was the sound of cloth being unlaced, as his master drew off his green velvet tunic and laid it on the bed.

The waistcoat Sam folded was made of velvet as well, and a rich burgundy colour. Mr. Bilbo had given it to Mr. Frodo for his thirty-second birthday (the Bagginses had often gaily broken with hobbit-tradition by giving each other presents on their birthdays). Sam smoothed the cloth carefully. It was Frodo's favourite winter waistcoat, and he had packed it for their travels back in September. It had been worn for many years, and the velvet was beautifully supple, as soft as the fine Elvish clothes Frodo had worn since his waking and recovery.

Behind him, Frodo sighed again. It was then that Sam turned his head to favour him with a shy glance.

Frodo was gazing at the fire once more, but this time his face was dreamy and flushed. It was hard to believe that he was Sam's elder by twelve years. Sam pushed away the unwelcome thought that possessing the Ring made Mr. Frodo look so youthful. He also looked, not to put too fine a point on it, very alluring, or leastways Sam would have put it that way to himself if Mr. Frodo was a hobbit-lass... Sam wasn't quite sure where his thoughts were taking him... but certainly Mr. Frodo looked fetching enough as his ebony curls, tinged with chestnut, tumbled wantonly over his brow and his sky-blue eyes shimmered in the firelight.

How slender and graceful he was, Sam thought, for a hobbit, and he had lost even more weight during the arduous journey of the past month. Slim thing he may be, but he's stronger than he looks. He knitted his brows. Stop gawking at the master, it's not like you've never seen him in his birthday suit before. This was partly true: when he woke Mr. Frodo on those summer mornings when he started extra early at Bag End, it had been plain that Mr. Frodo sometimes liked to sleep without a stitch on him.

"I'd best hang this shirt up, sir," Sam murmured. "Linen creases so."

"Oh, just throw the shirt on the floor, Sam," Frodo said lightly. He smiled wryly.

"We'll not have much need for grooming or fussing over our clothes in the weeks and months ahead. It'll be a hard road, and a grim one. We'll all be looking like Strider in the end... even the magnificent Boromir."

"Yes, Mr. Frodo, but for the time being, I'll make sure your clothes are tidy and well pressed," said Sam firmly. "We'll make the most of all this comfort while it lasts."

A third sigh, the deepest one, gusted through Frodo, and he bent his head. His face was pale and thoughtful as he unbuttoned his breeches and stepped out of them. Now he was clad in his cotton drawers and nothing else. He was as slim as a boy... And his skin... the firelight glowing on that creamy alabaster skin... it's as smooth and fair as a maid's...

Sam drew a deep breath and recollected himself. "Here, sir." He slipped a voluminous satin nightshirt over Frodo's head, and Frodo giggled boyishly from underneath it. His voice was muffled: "This thing is enormous: I swear it was made for an Elf more than twice my height."

The Elves had dressed Frodo in this garment after performing the deep surgery on him which had removed the Morgul-splinter. Sam touched the exquisite fabric reverently.

"Aye, sir," he said, "but it's a beautiful thing. Like everything the Fair Folk touch and make." Like the person who's wearing it, so to speak, if I could make so bold. Frodo's curly head emerged, and he shook the sleeves vigorously down his arms.

"Here now." Sam helped his master into bed, and Frodo snuggled luxuriously against the fresh cotton sheets.

"Oh, that does feel good," he sighed. He gazed up at Sam. "Sam..." Once again his voice was hesitant. "Would you -- please stay with me?" And he put his slender, elegant hand over Sam's broad capable one where it lay on the counterpane. The touch of his master's hand sent a pleasant shock through Sam, although he wasn't quite sure why. Or perhaps he did know why. There were a lot of words unspoken between them tonight.

"It's ridiculous," Frodo said. "I'm a grown hobbit, I've lived independently for seventeen years. I'm not afraid of the dark! And yet I need someone with me. It is indeed getting dark outside, but I'm not talking about the night. Sam..." Frodo's great eyes sought out Sam's. "Sam, I need you with me."

Sam shifted position, hauling himself up next to Frodo and slipping one arm shyly around his shoulders. His bright curls dipped against Frodo's dark ones. "Here, Mr. Frodo. I hope this ain't... too familiar."

"Of course it isn't," Frodo said in a low voice.

"Just let your Sam take care of you, is that it?"

"Yes," said Frodo simply. "That's it. That's what I want."

They lay like that for a while, both breathing deeply and evenly. Frodo sighed and leaned back more heavily against Sam. "Sam," he murmured, "my solid rock." And he looked up and smiled. "Thank you for indulging me," he said softly, and placed a kiss on Sam's cheek.

That kiss burned its way through Sam's skin. No hobbit-lass could have kissed him so prettily. His whole body warmed in the most delicious and unaccountable way. Frodo nestled even more deeply into his arms, and Sam's fingers drifted through the silky tumble of Frodo's curls.

Frodo spoke into the quiet, his breast rising and falling. "For as long as I've lived at Bag End, you've been there. When you were little, it was like having a baby brother around. Merry used to be that to me, at Brandy Hall. You are so much part of my life, Sam. You are the one constant. Everyone else I've ever loved I've had to let go. When I was a boy at Brandy Hall I used to wonder if there would be anyone for me, ever. Not that my relatives were unkind to me. But I had nobody to call my own, not after my mother and father died. Then there was Bilbo, who became like a father to me. And then I had to let go of him as well." Frodo's voice tightened. "But never of you."

Sam's chest felt very tight. It was all out in the open now. The reason why he had sobbed out loud while crouching under the Bag End window on that fateful April morning, listening in distress to Frodo's quiet statement that he must leave the Shire. Yes, he knew the reason why he would follow Frodo to the ends of Middle-earth... and beyond.

"I'll always be at your side, Mr. Frodo," he promised. Greatly daring, he darted a quick kiss against Frodo's cheek.

Frodo turned his face up towards Sam and his luminous blue eyes shimmered from under his dusky eyelashes. "You can kiss me again, if you'd like," he said, gazing unabashedly into Sam's clear, soft hazel eyes.

"I don't want to take no liberties, sir," Sam said tensely.

"You wouldn't be," said Frodo, very quietly. "I trust you, Samwise. This isn't a liberty," and he kissed Sam again. Sam closed his eyes and couldn't help whimpering at the feel of that full, generous mouth on his. When Frodo drew away again, he smiled -- that radiant, heartfelt smile Sam knew so well -- and murmured, "And besides... you may take as many liberties with me as you wish."

Sam swallowed hard and said thickly, "Well, now, sir... I mean..."

"Sam," Frodo whispered, and now there was no mistaking the tender affection in his voice, "please. I don't want to make you nervous. We're friends, aren't we?"

"Friends, sir?" Sam couldn't help smiling slightly. "This seems a mighty bit more than friends might do, begging your pardon."

"Yes." There was laughter in Frodo's voice, and then he sobered. "But it's what I want," he said shyly. "Perhaps I've always wanted it. I just didn't know it before. You've become so dear to me over the past month, after all we've been through together. Dearer than I can say."

Sam felt hopelessly tongue-tied. "Ah well, you're the one for the fancy words and all, Master."

"And you, Sam, are the one who is good and wholesome and sweet. Like the earth. Like the gardens you tend so lovingly." Frodo's tone caused delicious chills in Sam. Lady save us, but he's a tempting thing... I know him so well, I've loved him for years... but I never thought the master and me could be this close...

"You're... you're a fine one, Mr. Frodo." Sam's heart was thumping. "Too fine for the likes of me."

"That," said Frodo with sudden severity, "is not true." He shifted in Sam's arms and looked up at him. "It's not true," he said. "And I don't know how to prove otherwise except by doing this," and he kissed Sam yet again.

"Are you sure, sir?" Sam whispered.

"Yes. More than sure. Don't you think I know you, my Sam? Don't you know that I would trust you with my life?"

Sam's arms tightened around Frodo protectively. "And I know you," he mumbled against Frodo's hair. "I know the spirit in you ... and the light in you."

They kissed again. The kiss lingered, deepened, Frodo's mouth opening under Sam's, their tongues meeting and melding in a sweetness that made their heads swim. Then they drew apart slightly, panting, only to cling even closer.

"Get in with me under the covers," Frodo whispered. "Go on..." His eyes had become mischevious, glimmering demurely. "It's lonely for one hobbit in these great big Elvish beds."

Blushing and breathless, Sam threw back the covers and clumsily tucked himself in, and Frodo pressed hungrily to him.

"You're wearing too many clothes," Frodo whispered between kisses, "We'll keep each other warm." He was unbuttoning Sam's own tunic as he spoke, and sliding it down Sam's sturdy arms. Gently his hands explored Sam's broad chest and Sam shivered. In return he shyly eased Frodo's nightshirt off one shoulder, baring creamy skin to his lips and touch. And then they were skin to skin, mouth to mouth.

"I swear, Mr. Frodo," Sam murmured, lifting his mouth away for a second, "but kissing you's better than drinking any Elvish wine." Then his lips were warm and possessive on Frodo's again, and Frodo's mouth curved in a drowsy smile against his.

"Kiss me some more then, Sam," he commanded sleepily, and Sam did.

They moaned softly, Frodo's slender body moving and turning and pushing restlessly like the sea against Sam's sturdiness, and Sam's body hard and full and thrusting clumsily against Frodo's. They were both gasping, both flailing in an unfamiliar sea of emotion and sensation, neither quite sure of what they wanted to do, but each hungry for the touch of the other, locked in each other's arms, forming a circle of safety against the night outside and the dark things that lay ahead. Their bodies twisted together in the white bed until Sam gave a cry, and then Frodo. They collapsed against each other, spent and panting and sticky and dazed.

Neither cared. There'd be time enough later to learn about each other and where these strange new sensations might take them. For now, they were curled up together in a cocoon of warmth and safety.

"Sam," Frodo whispered against Sam's throat. "You take such good care of me. My strong, splendid Samwise."

"You're worth taking care of," Sam whispered back. "Ain't nobody in the world I'd rather take more care of. And that's a fact."

Frodo settled deep into Sam's arms, and laid his dark head against Sam's breast. "Sam," he said contentedly, "my Sam," and his weight became soft and heavy in Sam's arms as sleep slowly stole through his limbs.

A deep joy filled Sam. It was winter outside, but here in the Last Homely House, his arms were full of Frodo -- his beautiful, gentle Frodo. And he was alive and well. And Sam knew that Frodo loved him.

Well, he hadn't expected to end up in his master's bed, that was for sure, and goodness knew what his old dad would make of it. Sam had never been with another lad before in his life. He didn't think Mr. Frodo had either. One thing was certain though: he loved Mr. Frodo, he always had, and now he knew for sure that the master loved him back. And that would be enough to see them through whatever lay ahead. I'm with him now until the end. The end of our road. We'll have old Gandalf with us, and Strider, and Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin, because Elrond said they could go too. And I have him, and he has me. We'll see this through. I love him. I always have... whether or no. And he pressed a tender kiss on Frodo's curls.

Eventually both slept deeply to the rhythm of the other's heartbeat. Frodo dreamed of a summer afternoon long ago by the Brandywine, as his mother taught him an old rhyme about birches and beeches. And Sam dreamed again of a green island where he and Frodo walked hand in hand upon a white shore.

The winter dawn found both hobbits entwined around each other under the warm coverlets, deeply and sweetly asleep, sunshine-coloured curls mingled with mahogany curls on the pillow.

 

Chapter Four

The Fellowship left Rivendell at dusk. Ice hung from the porch and the Bruinen gurgled in the foggy twilight. It was the 25th of December, 1418, in the Shire Reckoning. The snow fell in soft flakes. Sam hoped it wouldn't settle. It would be a hard grim night as they left the valley and sought their first shelter in woodland up on the heights.

It'll be Yule back in the Shire, he thought, as he patted Bill's nose, Marigold'll be putting up the scented pinecones and the hollyberries in the kitchen to make the place smell sweet and look bright. They'll be having a party down at Cotton's Farm. And at Brandy Hall and the Thain's home of Great Smials. No, perhaps they won't be having no Yuletide parties. Perhaps Mr. Merry's father and Mr. Pippin's think their lads are dead. Perhaps my poor old Gaffer thinks I'm dead too, now he'll know for sure we went off with Mr. Frodo, with all those Black Riders about.

He glanced over at Merry and Pippin, standing arm in arm as usual and swathed in furs, as they all were, save Gandalf and Legolas.

Elrond and his daughter Arwen stood side by side. Sam caught Arwen's glance as it rested on Aragorn. Much emotion could be discerned in the look that passed between them. Arwen's translucent eyes shone with tears... or maybe it was a trick of the light. Then suddenly, without a word, she left the doorway and flew lightly over the snow, her grey cloak billowing behind her to reveal a lining as blue as a peacock's feather, appearing almost black in the rapidly gathering dusk. She threw her arms around Aragorn and clung to him tightly. Aragorn's eyes closed. He put his arm around her and they stood still as statues, not moving or speaking.

Sam was deeply moved -- as he glanced at Frodo, he could see a wealth of sorrow and fellow-feeling in his master's eyes as he gazed at Aragorn and Arwen.

Then Gandalf said, his voice rich and kind, "The Fellowship awaits the Ring-bearer." He placed his hand gently on Frodo's shoulder. And Frodo turned, a small figure in a dark green cloak trimmed with fur, his bright sword Sting hidden in its sheath, and he led the way out of the courtyard through the stone porch to the path winding away up the valley towards the heights.

My Mr. Frodo, Sam thought. He led Bill carefully through the porch, and Bill briefly nuzzled Sam's arm with his velvety nose. Ahead on the path, Frodo turned and gazed back at Sam. Their eyes met. Frodo's eyes were sombre but they lit up softly when they rested on Sam. Sam smiled back, confidently and hopefully. Frodo smiled -- a deep, serious smile -- and nodded back.

I'm glad you're with me, Sam, his eyes said.

And he beckoned to Sam, and waited on the path for Sam to lead the pony up to him. Sam was aware of the eyes of all the Fellowship on the pair of them: of Merry, intent and serious, with his arm around an unusually sober Pippin. Of the wintery calm in Legolas' fair Elvish face. Of the deep, strange, shrewd eyes of Gimli. Of Boromir's glance: always a little aloof, a little apart, this stern man of Gondor. Of Aragorn, whose hard, handsome features mellowed slightly as he glanced at Frodo and Sam. His grey eyes locked with Gandalf's as the two hobbits turned and went up the path, Frodo's hand on Sam's shoulder, Sam leading Bill.

Gandalf nodded to Aragorn, almost imperceptibly. It was clear that the Ring-bearer was dearly loved. There was no question that he had the right companion at his side.

 

Chapter Five

Frodo awoke. At once the sweet music of the fountain which played outside the Fellowship's pavilion flowed into his consciousness. In its rippling voice he could hear memories of the tremulous song of Nimrodel, the lost Elvish maiden for whom the river flowing down from the Misty Mountains was named. Oh, but there were endless songs, so faint and far, in the night air in fair Lothlórien. Frodo tensed and listened. There were voices, far off, in the trees, like soft rain upon leaves, he thought to himself. He stirred upon his pillow, and his gaze was caught by the moonlight which shone through a rent in the curtains of the pavilion, allowing him to see the silvered glade, and the waters of the fountain flashing and glittering, like dancing crystals set with pearl and silver.

Crystals... pearl and silver... Frodo was reminded of the belt on his mithril corslet, and his fingers slipped through his tunic to touch the icy links of the Elvish mail which lay beneath his clothes. The mithril mail was a sharp reminder to him of the Quest which would have to be resumed once they left this blessed land. At Bilbo's specific request, he had never taken it off. Not even here, in the heart of Elvendom on earth.

Frodo's eyes prickled with tears. Outside Moria, he had been dry-eyed. Stumbling off to mourn alone, too dazed with anguish even to comfort his beloved Sam. Now he tasted the salt taste of his grief on his lips.

All the other members of the Fellowship was deeply asleep; their quiet breathing filled the pavilion. Frodo turned his head. Sam's rich fair curls were tumbled on a white pillow next to his, and like his own pillow, it was bordered with gold. They shared the same blankets and furs, lying on deep silken mattresses which the Lórien Elves had provided. Sam's back was turned to Frodo, and Frodo became aware that his young gardener's breathing was wheezing, in harsh irregular gulps. Sam was not asleep, Frodo suddenly realised. He was crying. Trying to muffle his sobs.

"Sam," Frodo whispered. "Sam... " He reached across and slid his arm over Sam's waist. "Sam, dearest... "

At that, Sam turned and pressed himself close against Frodo. Frodo felt the hot tears trickle down his neck. "I never meant for to wake you," Sam choked.

"You didn't," Frodo whispered back. "Sam, don't hold back the tears. You can cry here. Lady knows we haven't cried enough. None of us. We've had no time."

Sam's body shook deeply with sobs. "I was thinkin'... I was thinkin' of you having to go back to Mr. Bilbo to tell him -- I couldn't bear it... "

"Oh, Sam," Frodo thought, "I might not even survive this quest myself. If ever I get back to Bilbo -- oh, if only I knew I could." A lump rose in his throat. But he said nothing, only took Sam in his arms and held him close. And as he rocked him gently, and kissed his hair, it seemed to Frodo that he was holding onto something immensely precious and fragile, that he and Sam were teetering on the brink of a frightful abyss, a fall into nothingness, a chasm of fathomless grief and loss.

A coldness flooded through him. He knew what lay within that abyss. Ancient sorrow: the grief of a hobbit-lad whose mother and father went boating on the river one summer afternoon and never came back. A September night when he finally realised that his beloved uncle Bilbo was not in jest, and really did mean to leave the Shire for good. And then the long fall into darkness under the mountains of the Grey Pilgrim, Frodo's mentor and Bilbo's, the wizard who loved the Little People, their guide, their leader... gone forever. Like Mum and Dad. I can never get them back.

How can I get through this? Frodo thought. How can I? Who can I call on? Who can I turn to? Lady... help us. Help us all.

As if sensing his unspoken thoughts, Sam pressed himself hard against Frodo and kissed his throat in desperate longing.

Frodo kissed him back, on the mouth, feeling his own tears slide against Sam's cheek, aware of their bodies stirring against each other. Here in Lórien they lay under the light from the Undying Lands across the Sea, and it flowed into his heart like a healing stream. Here in his arms was love born of friendship, a love sealed in mutual pain and grief and determination. And maybe -- just maybe -- he and Sam and the others would find here in Lothlórien the strength and the resolve to go forward.

Oh, Sam. Without thinking, he reached down and gently stroked Sam's hardness through the cloth of his breeches. Sam arched against him at once with a stifled groan, gasping and thrusting against Frodo's hand. A few skilful movements on Frodo's part, and the breeches were unbuttoned, and Sam was full and hard and warm in Frodo's palm. A series of steady strokes, and Sam groaned and came, spilling through Frodo's fingers. Frodo quickly fished for a pocket handkerchief and cleaned up as discreetly as he could, then put both arms around Sam as he lay panting and spent, and cradled him.

It wasn't enough, this quick snatching at love in the night. But the Quest had left hardly any time for tender luxurious interludes, especially with the other members of the Fellowship sleeping so close. They had both savoured long languorous nights in that last month at Rivendell, learning the ways of each other far into the night until the pale winter dawn. But the Quest was about taking comfort where and when one could, which wasn't often. A pair of loving arms had to be enough most nights. It was too exhausting and dangerous for much else. And Frodo had also begun to feel that he was too taut, too thin and stretched inside for much more than the merest crumbs of love. But at least he could hold Sam as tightly as he could and comfort him: his beautiful, touchingly vulnerable Sam.

"I love you," Sam whispered against Frodo's throat.

"And I you," Frodo murmured.

Sam nestled back against him. They lay like that for a long time, not speaking. The air vibrated.

Frodo stiffened. "Did you hear that?" he whispered to Sam.

"No," Sam said, but he too had become alert.

"I'm being called," said Frodo slowly. "It's the Lady of the Elves. She called me."

Sam sat up and looked down at his master's pale face. There were traces of tears on his cheeks and shadows under his forget-me-not eyes.

Frodo gazed up at him. Sam's lips were swollen with tears and kisses.

He managed a smile, and stroked Frodo's cheek. "If she's callin' you, then I'm coming too."

Frodo sat up, and slipped out of his blankets. Carefully, as silent as only hobbits can be, they stole out of the pavilion, Sam carefully gathering up their cloaks and drawing them close around Frodo's shoulders and his own.

It could not be much after midnight, although time was not easy to measure in the Land of the Dreamflower.

Through a gap in the trees they saw the pale sheen of Galadriel's gown. All around her the light glimmered and flashed. Gold and silver blended and shimmered in her hair. She beckoned to them. Yes. Come.

Sam glancing at Frodo saw glittering points of fire in his master's deep blue eyes. There was the faintest hint of transparency in Frodo's form. The light was enveloping him... or was it coming from within?

Sam couldn't tell. But he took Frodo's hand in his, and the Lady watched and waited as the two hobbits slowly walked down the steps into the glade.

The Elven-light was cool and mysterious, and the silences of the forest lay all around them. Underneath that silence lay the songs of Middle-earth, the songs of Over-heaven, all the songs in the history of the world which echoed back to the Blessed Realm across the Sea.

Their clasped hands were warm.

 

Chapter Six

The ground was hard beneath Sam's skin, but he barely felt it. He could hardly feel anything no more. There was nothing left to feel, except Frodo shivering in his arms. Sam tightened his grip. Frodo felt skeletal-thin, his teeth chattered as if he had the ague. His once-silky curls were dry and tangled as thorns. Sam pressed his lips to Frodo's hair, now flecked with ash (the very sky seemed to rain ash at times), and buried his head in his master's neck.

There was nothing left any more. Only the Mountain.

Dimly Sam sought for memories... of sunlight flashing on Bywater Pool, Rosie Cotton and her brothers laughing in the sun, his sisters May and Marigold merrily teasing him. Of Old Mr. Bilbo reading in his study and exchanging pleasantries and gossip with the Gaffer. Of young Mr. Frodo sitting on the windowsill with a book, glancing up at Sam shyly through dusky eyelashes. Of Frodo lying asleep in his arms at night in Rivendell. Of Elvish voices singing deep in the woods of Lothlórien as he and Frodo wandered hand in hand through the paths of the Golden Wood. Of deep kisses stolen all too briefly in Ithilien.

The cleansing, wholesome memories flooded through Sam like rain. Then the sweet fragments of memory were snatched from his brain, and he coughed and retched, because there were so many fumes in the air. He held Frodo close against him, his beautiful lost Frodo, now become little more than skin and bone, with such a darkness behind those clouded eyes. There was nothing left in the world except the Mountain, and Frodo's desperate fight to hang onto something sane, something good, but oh, when he clutched at Sam, it was if he saw right through him, as if Frodo was staring into emptiness, into nothing.

Nothing left at all except for the fact that I love him. No dreams no more, no hope. No, I won't give up. There is always hope.

The Mountain rumbled. It wasn't sleeping easily.

No dreams now. Only him. Oh, let me hang on... for him.

[* * *]

And now at last there was only the Mountain.

They were both doubled over, retching from the fumes, collapsed against the other. To breathe was an agony. But Frodo gasped out -- "Sam! Oh Sam, forgive me -- please forgive me--"

His face was drained of blood, tear-streaked. He wept as Sam held him and tried to staunch the blood seeping from his mutilated finger. It's not for myself I'm weeping, Sam.

"Please forgive me, Sam. Forgive me for bringing you to death in this terrible place."

Sam shut his eyes and kissed Frodo's hair. We die together, dearest. At the last.

The sky was crackling and the whole world was on fire around them. "I love you," Frodo sobbed, as the searing heat drew nearer and licked hungrily at their hands and feet. "I love you, Sam."

He had been so gentle and authoritative in the moments after the Ring's destruction. Even telling Sam to forgive Sméagol -- which Sam had, despite Frodo's torn and bloody hand. For the Ring was gone, and Frodo was himself again, Sam's own Frodo. As broken and bloody as he was, his eyes were clear again, and Sam had knelt before him, saying, "Frodo. My Frodo." Master. Lover. Friend.

"It's gone," Frodo had said, "it's gone, it's gone, it's gone! Oh Sam!" Then they fell into each other's arms, exhausted beyond endurance and even as the fires flared round them, in the heart of Sauron's doomed realm, they were able to laugh and weep for sheer joy and relief.

But now as his strength finally gave out, and the rivers of fire drew near, Frodo clung to Sam, saying only at the last, for there was nothing else now to say: I love you, Sam.

There was nothing left for Sam to do but hold that wild, broken Frodo in his arms as the fires threatened to engulf them and the whole world gasped and shook. We've done it. The world is saved, and now we die. Do you think I'd ever have let you die here, on your own? What else could you think but that I should die with you?

 

Chapter Seven

It was the last day of April. The seven-circled city lay under the great blue shadows of Mindolluin and the evening sun glittered on the River Anduin as it wound its way to the Sea, the merest thread of light on the far horizon.

In the highest circle above the house Sam could hear joyful voices: Pippin's and Merry's, laughing with Beregond. The musical tones of Legolas and Gimli's baritone rumble could also be heard, and Gandalf's voice like a deep woodwind instrument.

The voices faded slightly. The revellers were on their way to the Hall of Kings, where the merrymaking would continue long into the night, as all of Minas Tirith celebrated Aragorn's coronation, which had taken place earlier that day. Sam and Frodo had been left -- tactfully -- to rest, because Frodo, although much recovered, still needed to build up his strength.

Sam had laid aside their celebration clothes in readiness, and the two silver circlets which Gandalf had placed on their heads on that never-to-be-forgotten day at Cormallen. He and Frodo would both join the feasting later.

[* * *]

Frodo stirred.

Sam turned and smiled. "Awake, sir?" he said.

"Yes," said Frodo contentedly.

Sam studied him. Frodo's face was relaxed and serene. He looked, Sam thought, perhaps the slightest bit older than he had when the Quest began, and certainly much thinner, although there was no trace now of the tortured haggardness which had marred Frodo's face and body in the last dreadful stages of their journey. Perhaps -- but perhaps Sam was imagining it -- there were the faintest hints of grey in those rich mahogany curls. Sam frowned. When the Ring had gone into the fire, maybe some of Mr. Frodo's youth and vitality had vanished with it... but Sam refused to countenance the thought. All that mattered was that the Ring was destroyed. The hand of the Dark Lord had stretched out only to blow away in the wind. All the horrors of their journey were past and there was sanity in Frodo's eyes again. The beautiful face that Sam loved was purified of all darkness.

He went over to the bed and took Frodo's hand. Frodo sighed and smiled and relaxed back against the pillows, looking, Lady love him, extremely inviting.

"Well, Sam Gamgee," he said. "Here we are. Alive and well."

"Yes, sir," said Sam.

Frodo laughed, and looped his arms loosely around Sam's neck, and kissed the tip of his nose. "How long are you going to keep that up?" he teased, "calling me 'sir'?"

"Well, you're still going to pay my wages when we get back to the Shire, ain't you?" said Sam, with mock primness.

Frodo laughed delightedly, and ruffled Sam's hair. Sam grinned sweetly, and then became thoughtful.

"I mean it, Mr. Frodo," he said. "You're still my master, and you always will be."

"But you're more than my servant, Samwise! I want the world to know that too."

"Reckon they do by now, sir."

Frodo nuzzled Sam's neck. "Well, they're ninnyhammers if they don't."

They rolled back together on the white bed. After a while Frodo said, "Sam."

"What's that, me dear?" Sam's fingers stroked gently through Frodo's curls.

"I never thought we'd survive."

"Neither did I, me dear."

Frodo drew a long shaky breath. "I thank the Lady that we have done so. For everything she's given back to me. My life, my friends. You."

"Ah," said Sam sagely. He kissed the top of Frodo's head. "Well, somebody was lookin' after us, and that's a fact," he remarked.

Frodo stroked his face. "I would not have survived without you either. I can never thank you enough, my Sam."

By way of reply Sam slipped his hand down the front of Frodo's chest. Nimble fingers slipped opal-buttons free. Frodo's silk shirt fell open to expose an expanse of creamy skin. "Mm," said Frodo huskily. Then -- "Yes. Oh yes. More."

"It's been a long time," Sam murmured.

"Too long," whispered Frodo throatily. "We ought to celebrate properly, don't you think?"

"Indeed, Mr. Frodo," and Sam began to press tiny kisses against Frodo's throat. His hands moved over his master's body, sliding beneath the delicate fabric of the shirt, kneading, caressing. Frodo's breath began to come in ragged gasps."Sam... "

"'S'all right," mumbled Sam, "let me take care of you--"

He unbuttoned Frodo's breeches and slipped his hand inside, his fingertips stroking hard silken flesh.

Frodo, taut as a bow, thrust hard and eager against that clever hand -- "ohh --" his voice was a hiss of pleasure as he arched against those warm steady strokes... "please... "

"I'm here," Sam murmured, "I'm right here ..."

Frodo flung out his arms on the pillow and forgot everything except Sam. His body arched upwards, into the light ... Sam, Sam, Sam ... then his hips bucked right up, as Sam's mouth enclosed him, enfolding him... the sensation drenched and drowned him and flooded right through him ...

Stars above...

It was life, love, pulsating warmth and welcoming heat. Frodo had never known or imagined such pleasure. He tossed his head from side to side, moaning wildly. Sam's loving hand stroked his cheek as he reached the peak and ...

Ohhhh...

A sweet ecstasy of oblivion as he cried out and exploded into Sam's mouth. The joy was so intense he lost all awareness for a while ... as he came to himself again, there was Sam, kissing his length tenderly, as he lay soft and spent and panting.

"Liked that, did you?" Sam's voice was deceptively innocent as he gazed down at his master lying all rose and cream beneath him.

Frodo, half-naked and still half-roused, sat up as best as he could, and put his arms around Sam. "You're all golden, my Sam," he murmured.

"And your mouth's as red as a berry," Sam said. They kissed deeply.

"Lie back then," Frodo whispered, laying his hand on Sam's chest.

Sam obeyed, settling back with ease and putting his arms above his head. His master was on top of him, arms on either side, and the sheer intensity of his gaze could have pinned Sam to the pillow. He smiled daringly, mischeviously, and Sam's heart turned over.

"It's my turn to treat you, my generous Sam," said Frodo softly. And he placed a trail of kisses down Sam's chest and stomach... and lower.

They lay in each other's arms for a long time, their clothes strewn on the floor, watching the pale green evening through the window and listening to the birds singing.

"We really should get ready for the banquet," Frodo said lazily.

"What a day," said Sam. "Seeing old Strider become a king at last. That day on the field when I woke up and found you and Gandalf alive and well and all those fine lords and ladies cheering us... that was the happiest day of my life. But this has been a glory and a triumph too."

"Like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves, and all the songs you have ever heard," said Frodo softly. "That's what you said. Gandalf told me."

"But that was just the start of it. There are happier days yet to come, Mr. Frodo. It's like a dream. A dream that doesn't end."

"Yes, Sam. A dream without ending. Without any shadows. All the shadows have fled."

Frodo slipped out of bed and walked to the window, wrapping a sheet around his nakedness with his typical modesty. His dark head gleamed in the evening sun slanting through the room. "The Banner of the Tree and Stars is flying from the Tower, Sam," he said. He smiled and reached out his hand. "Come then. Our friends await us."

Sam gazed at him: once again he fancied he could see a light shining through Frodo, as if his master's skin was transparent, as if he was a clear glass held against the full golden light of evening. Frodo's eyes were soft and cleansed of sorrow. A dream without waking, Sam thought. A dream which doesn't end.

 

Chapter Eight

It was a steep ascent through the woods from the Rivendell stables up to the house. Sam huffed as he climbed doggedly, all the time breathing in the heady pine-scented air and delighting in the muted thunder of myriad waterfalls, misting the woodland paths with spray.

He had been with Merry and Pippin, visiting Shadowfax, who was receiving his daily grooming. Shadowfax had more or less ignored them -- that marvellous horse never gave much sign that he heeded the company of hobbits, although he was eager enough to accept Merry's seemingly never-ending supply of apples.

Sam now wanted to find Frodo again. It was late morning, and the sky was high and blue over the mountains and forested sides of the valley.

He eventually found his quarry: Frodo was standing on the terrace outside his room, gazing out at the autumn woods and the peaks of the Misty Mountains beyond. Sam ran to him, took his hand and nuzzled his neck. "Are you all right, Master dear?"

"Yes, Sam," Frodo answered, but his voice sounded rather distant. "I've had a long talk with Elrond."

"And?" Sam prompted. His eyes strayed to the glittering white jewel which now lay on a slender mithril chain on Frodo's breast.

Frodo drew a deep breath. "We talked of many things. I wanted to talk to him further about Arwen giving me this--" he touched the white jewel.

Sam nodded. "A beautiful thing it is too, Mr. Frodo, and it's a healing sort of a stone, if I've understood you aright... "

"Oh yes," said Frodo, "and healing is what I seek. That's what I went to talk to him about." He hesitated. "I'd like to be free of the power of the Ring forever, Sam. I needed that reassurance." His voice dropped.

"You are free of it, me dear," said Sam, and his voice was strong and his eyes glinted. "I saw it go into the fire. You are free."

Frodo was silent.

"Why so sad?" Sam whispered. "What's troubling you, me dear?"

"Because so many things are ending, Samwise. That's why. I'm so glad to be here, with you, and Bilbo, and the people I love... but I can't help feeling pain for everything that's gone."

Sam knitted his brows together, and stroked Frodo's hand.

"I know it was a price worth paying," Frodo went on. "But it's sad, all the same. It's like Elrond, never being able to see Arwen again."

Sam became very still. A cold feeling went through him, which he did not quite understand, and he shivered suddenly. Perhaps it was just the crispness of the autumn air.

"I'm sorry," said Frodo, distressed. "I'm upsetting you... "

Sam shook his head. "No, no, me dear. You could never do that. It's just that... well... let's just think about all that we've gained, so to speak," and he hugged Frodo. "Why, this is the Last Homely House. Mr. Bilbo's here, and everyone, and we love you. And us hobbit-folk are going home."

"I know, Sam. Please forgive this nonsense."

Sam clicked his tongue. "Stop that now. You went on a road darker than any of them fine lords and ladies could imagine, and all on account of them too, no disrespect to them. It weren't them at the Cracks of Doom now was it?"

"No, they weren't there. They weren't there, to refuse to destroy the Ring, as I did," said Frodo.

"Now you just listen to me," said Sam. He gazed deeply into Frodo's eyes. "I was there," he said. "I saw what that bloody cursed thing did to you. No-one else could have got so far. No-one."

Frodo lowered his gaze. "Except perhaps you."

Sam's eyes widened. "Me? I scarcely put that filthy thing on my finger but it was whisperin' all kinds of nonsense to me. Frodo me dear, what makes you think I could have done it?"

"I'm glad you never had to make that choice, my Sam," said Frodo simply, and the self-doubt in his eyes seemed to fade a little.

Sam traced the outline of his lips with one finger. Under that lingering touch, Frodo's lips curved in a hesitant smile.

"I wish I could be free of the darkness, Sam," he said, and there was no bitterness in his voice, only a calm, resigned melancholy. "Perhaps it will fade away entirely once we get back to the Shire."

"Aye, that it will," said Sam comfortingly. "'Tis only to be expected, me dear. Such a summer as we've had! I ain't surprised that some of them bad dreams have come back. We've been so long in the sunshine it's as if we've forgotten just how much darkness there was before. But you bore that burden a long time, Master... and your Sam sometimes wonders if you have told him everything you suffered. But he's always here, if you'll ever wish to talk."

"I know that," said Frodo. "I will, Sam."

In the brilliance of the autumn sunshine, as gold and rich as apricots, he kissed his Sam, on a balcony in Rivendell, and cared not who saw them.

But when they left Rivendell, a few days later, the weather changed and the shadows Sam had thought were left behind seemed to catch them up, like the iron-grey clouds which loomed over the homeward road. The clouds pursued them past the Ford of Bruinen and Weathertop. Frodo shivered, and the shadows in his eyes grew.

On the night they stayed in Bree, Frodo left his bed and came to Sam's, who kissed and held him close all through the night, thinking of the cosy chat they'd had with Barliman, and the joy of finding Bill, the pony he thought he'd lost.

But he knew that Frodo in his arms was not sleeping, but pale and wide-eyed and wakeful. Their arms encircled each other but seemed only to enclose an uneasy peace.

 

Chapter Nine

The August clouds were high and white. A pigeon called sleepily from the beech tree across the lane. Bag End lay dreaming in heat.

In the deep green shade Elanor had been laid to rest in her basket, where she kicked her chubby legs and cooed contentedly. Sam, tending the roses near the hedge, heard the baby's cooing change into a delighted giggle. He looked up.

Frodo was kneeling on the rug beside Elanor's basket, lightly tickling his fingers over her tiny round belly. The baby crowed. Frodo smiled and picked the little creature out of her basket, laying her against his shoulder, her pale golden curls underneath his chin.

Sam watched his master sit back on his heels with his daughter in his arms.

Elanor blinked in the piercing sunlight and her bright hazel eyes, so like her father's, fell on Sam and brightened even more. She chuckled, more pleased with herself than ever, and waved her little hands in the air. Little sun-star. My Elanor. My elvish sweetling.

Sam laid down his pruning shears and wiped his hand on his tan breeches and walked over to the pair of them. Gazing down at Frodo, he placed his brown hand carefully on the white linen of his master's shoulder.

Frodo looked up. His blue eyes were unfathomable, unreadable.

"She's growing fast, ain't she?" said Sam.

Frodo laughed. "She's a handful! Aren't you?" he teased the baby, who gurgled and tried to grab a tempting lock of his dark hair.

Sam and Frodo looked at each other in the summer sun. They were so close, yet so far apart. Sam's heart ached. If he could, he would hold them all in his heart forever -- his Elanor, his Rose, his grave and beautiful Frodo who these days seemed so remote... but a voice deep inside him warned him that it was not to be. Sam always chose to ignore this inner voice. He could take care of them all, he told himself firmly. He would.

Frodo, still holding Elanor firmly against his shoulder, suddenly seized Sam's wrist in a firm grip with his left hand, the unmaimed one. He gazed fixedly at Sam, and said nothing. Behind the summer-blue of his eyes lay darknesses and depths which Sam could not plummet. Not any more, because Frodo would not let him enter so deep. If Sam could have done, he would have dived into those depths and sought Frodo out. It was not as if Frodo had ever left Sam's side. Indeed, he hardly ever left Bag End, so intent was he on finishing his book, the story of their quest. He was always there for Sam, always there for Elanor and Rosie, and yet... not quite there at all.

Sam knew that he didn't know how to reach Frodo any more. All he could do was love and care for him as best he could. So he tended the garden as lovingly as he tended his wife and child, as he had once tended Frodo's body... as he still did, from time to time, when Frodo allowed it. All his forestry work was not only for the continued healing of the Shire but also for Rosie and his children and his grandchildren... and for Frodo, whose wounds could not be seen.

Sam's fingers carefully stroked and caressed Frodo's. "It's good to see you out in the sun... me dear."

Frodo's lips gently brushed Sam's knuckles, a kiss as light as thistledown. Then he placed a soft kiss on Elanor's little golden head. But when he spoke, his voice was matter-of-fact.

"I know, Sam. Always chained to my desk! But I must finish the book. There are only a few more chapters to do. Then I'll get Merry to check it over and the whole thing should be complete by September." Sam nodded. "Then you can and visit Mr. Bilbo in Rivendell, like you said."

"Yes," said Frodo, and his eyes were dark blue in the late summer sun. "In September."

 

Chapter Ten

On the night of September 28th, the company of Elves took shelter in a beechwood not far from the Firth of Lune. The next day would see the final stage of their journey, through the quiet green country of Lindon, down to Círdan's gates and the ancient city of Mithlond.

Bilbo slept deeply, wrapped warmly in furs, and watched over by his old friend Gandalf, who smoked long into the night. Nearby Shadowfax stood quietly, like a horse carved in stone. Ever proud in battle, he was now as meek as a foal, waiting the morrow in quiet expectation, for he would be going over Sea with his master.

Many of the Elves slept. But some stayed awake: and one took a harp and plucked the strings softly, and a gentle undercurrent of music wove in and out among the trees, like a murmuring brook on the very edge of sound.

Sam lay wide awake, staring up at the stars, listening to the constant shivering of leaves in the breeze, and the chiming tones of the harp in the night. Next to him, Frodo raised himself up on one elbow.

"Do you hear that, Sam? The Elves are singing of the Undying Lands. They're going home."

Sam didn't answer.

"Sam?" Frodo said in a low voice.

When Sam spoke, his voice trembled with tears. "So that's it then, is it? You're going with them and leaving me forever."

"Sam."

"I can't bear this." Sam's voice shook. "I thought I'd seen the worst. When I found you in that cursed awful Tower. When I thought you and me would die on that Mountain. But this -- losing you like this -- I can't, Mr. Frodo -- I can't... "

Frodo's eyes filled with tears. "I'm sorry," he whispered, and he touched Sam's hand.

Sam sobbed, once. "Why?" he whispered. "Why, oh why? I thought you were getting better. And me and Rosie -- don't we take enough care of you?"

"Oh, Sam." He felt the warm touch of Frodo's lips on his cold forehead. "Nobody has ever loved me more than you. But I can't stay in the Shire. I am dying."

 "Dying?" Sam cried. "But that Saruman was lying. We know he was. You ain't dying."

"My ailments are getting worse," Frodo whispered. "It's becoming harder and harder to stay. I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I need a greater healing than the Shire can give me." Sam choked.

"I could heal you," he said pitiably. "I know I could."

"Then you would have to watch me die, dearest Sam," said Frodo. "And I will not put you through that."

Sam stilled, and a strange despairing calm descended on him. "This is what you and Elrond talked about, isn't it? When we came back to Rivendell after the quest?"

"Yes. He was concerned about me. He knew that Arwen had given me the healing jewel and he knew what it meant. He said that if I wanted to, I could sail West when the time came."

"You was always an elvish lad," said Sam, with wonder and grief all mixed in his voice. "I used to think you were an elf, when I was a little lad--" His voice caught on a hiccuping sob -- "and now you've become more like the Fair Folk than ever. And I can't reach you no more. You'll soon be gone."

"Sam. Elrond says that you may come, when the time is right."

"I can't leave Rosie." Sam's voice was like a wail. "I can't leave Elanor."

"Sam, Sam... I would never ask you to!" Frodo's voice broke. "I -- I didn't know what to do, that first autumn after the quest. I wanted to come back to the Shire before I made any decision about going over Sea. I've known for a long time that Bilbo meant to sail with the Elves. But you, Sam--" Frodo took Sam's hand again, and kissed it. "You too were a Ring-bearer. Your time will come."

"But not for years," Sam said miserably. "Not for years and years."

"I shall wait for you, Sam. That's a promise."

"Is it... is it because of me -- and Rose?" Sam whispered.

There was a silence. The wind in the trees sounded like the far away sea. "No," Frodo said at last, and his voice was steady. "No, it is not. It's because I am wounded, and dark inside. The healing I seek lies in the West. I've avoided facing up to this for a long time. I can do so no longer. I can't face going through another October the sixth. I cannot. Not even with you."

And suddenly the wave of emotion broke, so that Frodo gathered Sam to him, saying, "Sam, Sam. I know your big heart has enough room for me, and for your Rose, and all the children you are going to have. I only ever wanted you to be happy. It's all I want now."

Sam's tears fell like rain down Frodo's cheek. Frodo held him close, and kissed him again and again.

"There now," Frodo whispered. "When I think of all the times you've comforted me... dear Sam. Please, please don't be too sad. It's not all hopeless! I am going to be healed." "

But I won't be there when you are," Sam sobbed.

"You will see me, when I am," said Frodo. "I promise." He cupped Sam's face between his hands. "I promise, Samwise."

Then, because there was no further need for words, which only fell uselessly, like pebbles on a stony beach, he comforted Sam with his body, holding him as close as he could, and letting Sam love him in return.

At last they slept deeply, arms around each other, exhausted by grief and the sheer weight of loving. And the Moon rose as they slept, and the Elves sang softly.

[* * *]

The waves broke in a long silver line on the shore. Sam would hear the sound of those waves for as long as he lived. The restless, ever-changing, never-changing music of the Sea. The wild crying of gulls. The pendant fluttering on the mast of the white Elven ship, beautiful and graceful, as it listed in the wind, tugging at its ropes, as if longing to be free, to fly on its journey to the West.

Dimly he was aware of the Lady Galadriel's soft namárië, of a flash of gold as she turned her back on Middle-earth and set her face westwards, her bright tresses blowing in the breeze. Farewell, Lady of the Ring of Water.

Of Elrond, in robes the colour of the sky. Bearer of Vilya, the Ring of Air.

Of Gandalf's last smile on them all, and his gentle benediction. Farewell, Keeper of the Ring of Fire. The clop of Shadowfax's hooves as Gandalf led him up the gangplank.

Then Frodo. Last of all. Farewell, my Frodo. My own Ring-bearer. Bearing a white jewel like a star on his breast. My treasure.

Merry first in Frodo's arms, then Pippin. Their cloaks fluttered in the wind from the Sea. Frodo's silken-grey, Merry's green, embroidered with the white horses of the Mark, Pippin's sable-and-silver. Then Frodo's arms around him. Holding Sam as if he never meant to let him go. As if he could hang onto this moment forever. I'm leaving everything to you, Sam.

Frodo's final kiss on his brow. The deepest kiss they had ever exchanged, even though it was so delicate and light. It said so much. The kiss burned its way through Sam. He closed his eyes and received it like a blessing.

I love you, Sam. I always will. This is all I can leave you with. You are my heir and I have given you everything. Except myself. I have to leave you at the last.

But there is a far green country over the Sundering Sea, Sam. Follow me there, when all is done. Follow me over the Sea.

As the Sun set in the West, Sam's thought took flight. I will.

 

Chapter Eleven

The elven-singer's voice pierces the night. The stars glitter above the softly glowing courtyard. Countless ages ago, Elbereth dusted the heavens with the shining dews gathered from the leaves of the Silver Tree, Telperion, and so it was that the stars sprang from her hand. Here in Elvenhome, the Land of Release, the Elves ever sing her praises, and the stars hang huge in the halls of Space and Time.

Long was the way that fate them bore,
O'er stony mountains cold and grey,
Through halls of iron and darkling door,
And woods of nightshade morrowless.
The Sundering Seas between them lay,
And yet at last they met once more,
And long ago they passed away I
n the forest singing sorrowless
.

"That's a sad sort of song to sing in this place, Mr. Frodo," murmurs Sam.

Frodo's eyes are as deep and bright as an August sky. "The Elves do not forget the tales of Middle-earth, Sam. The Eldar mourn for Lúthien, but they honour the memory of her love for Beren. Just as Elrond and Celebrían remember Arwen and her King Elessar, and light the star-candles in their memory." He pauses. "Just as I remembered you, my Sam," he says softly. "And... Merry, and Pip."

Sam presses his hand. "I'll tell you all about them, me dear. About them and their families and all their doings. So I will."

They both fall silent. The Hall flowers with light and the interweaving of melodies ripple, the soft thrumming of lute and harp becoming a river of sound.

Frodo, clothed in silver and grey with a jewel on his breast, looks almost as young as he did long ago, when he was a laughing lad with glossy curls falling over his brow. Almost as young, save for the silver threads in his dark hair, and the wisdom and sorrow in his eyes which mirror the heavenly hues of Vilya, the Ring of Air.

Sam's white curls are threaded with gold, and already his body bears the bloom of restored youth and vigour. He knows he came here two days ago.

He knows that in that time he has regained some of his youth... for how long, he does not know, but Frodo has assured him that they will both feel young again, for a time. This is a dream from which there is no waking.

The courtyard is open to the night sky. Sam glances up in wonder at the glittering glory of Over-heaven. "I swear, Frodo dear," he remarks, "that the stars here seem bigger and brighter than they do back home."

Frodo squeezes his arm. "They never appeared quite like that in Middle-earth, did they, no matter how wonderful they were?" he says, smiling. "It's because the Island is so close to the presence of the Lady that the stars appear so big and bright."

Sam ponders this. "Have you ever seen the Lady, Frodo?"

Frodo pauses. "No. But, in a way, I don't need to. I am aware of her presence. When the Elves sail out at the Festival of the Gates of Summer, we sail within view of the holy mountain, the mountain of the Lord and Lady. And then we pay homage, and we feel their blessing."

Sam catches his breath. "Why, me dear... oh, how I wish my Ellie was here to hear that," he says with deep and profound emotion. "She loves the Fair Folk so, my Elanorellë. Only saw 'em a few times in her life, but she loves 'em dearly."

"As does her father," says Frodo, smiling, stroking Sam's arm. "That's why he's here."

"That ain't the only reason why he's here," says Sam, "and you know it well."

Their eyes meet: coppery hazel, summer-sky-blue, darkened by night-shadows.

Frodo's sensitive face is suddenly tense. "Sam... I wanted so badly for you to be whole -- I never meant for you to be torn in two--"

"No use in talking about regrets now, me dear. I'm here now. The way you looked at me when we parted... my heart fair broke, but I remembered what you said to me. About how I could come one day when the time was right."

Frodo looks away, his face clouded with doubt and remembered sorrow.

Sam draws him close and strokes his hair reassuringly. "When she was just a lass of fifteen summers, my Ellie said something to me. She always loved to read the Red Book and find out all she could about you. She was always saying as how she wished she could have known Frodo of the Ring. That's what she called you. And she said you were my treasure. Your treasure's gone over the Sea, Sam-dad, she would say, and I hope one day you find him again. I told her then. I told her that I knew you and me had not said farewell for good. I said you'd promised me my time would come someday."

Frodo closes his eyes. "Oh Sam. I so wanted to leave you with some hope--"

"You did, me dear. You did," says Sam softly.

The tension washes out of Frodo. He relaxes, and sighs, and puts his head on Sam's shoulder. "Thank you."

"Let's get home then," Sam says comfortingly.

The Elves make a way for the two hobbits to pass through the Hall out through the porch into the night. Sam dimly registers the fact that the Fair Folk incline their heads as he and Frodo, the two Ring-bearers, pass by. Respectful greetings follow them: Fare you well, Iorhael. Greetings, Master Samwise. Goodnight, Masters Iorhael and Panthael.

They lie in each other's arms, gazing out through the open window at the starry night. The fair city of Avallónë lies white and glowing under the starlight. The little one-story house by the harbour looks over dark waters. Lanterns sway on the quayside, and the music of waters is unceasing. Far away there is the sound of singing... elven-voices in halls and towers, and further inland, deep among the forests.

"The Elves will take us to visit the smial tomorrow," Frodo says quietly.

"The smial, Mr. Frodo?"

"The Eldar built it for Bilbo and me. It's near a little cove not far from here, on the south-west part of the Island, and the headland looks both east and west -- east towards Middle-earth, west towards Valinor." Frodo pauses. "And I shall take you to see where Bilbo lies." His voice cracks slightly.

Sam kisses the top of his head. "Is it a long time since he passed away?"

"No, Sam, not long. Time is not the same here anyway, but... no."

"And that's when you knew... I'd come?"

"I've always known that you would come, Sam. I told you that you would. Did you doubt it?"

"Doubt you, Mr. Frodo, me dear? You made me a promise, that I could follow you. I never stopped believing it."

"You don't have to call me that, you know," says Frodo with a faint smile.

"You were my Mr. Frodo all them years in the Mortal Lands. You are still. You always were."

"We are Ring-bearers, Sam. Side by side."

Sam smiles, and kisses Frodo. "Aye," he says, "but you're still my Mr. Frodo."

Then Frodo laughs... softly and merrily, and a little sadly too. So much has been lost all this time... so much has been gained. Through these long years, love has never wavered, nor have they given up hope.

He nestles deeply into Sam's arms.

"You know, me dear," murmurs Sam, "I dreamed of you and me in this place long ago, and that memory has never left me."

"I dreamed of Elvenhome too, Sam. In Bombadil's house."

"Aye, I know that. You wrote it down in the Red Book, so you did. It gave me comfort and hope that you'd find rest and healing."

"I did. But I lacked just one thing more, Sam."

"I'm here now, me dear."

"I wonder," says Frodo, "if Lórien himself sent those dreams to us. He's the master of dreams and visions." And Sam glancing down at the sleepy Frodo in his arms is struck by his mysterious smile.

"You might meet him one day, Sam." Frodo's voice is becoming heavier as sleep calls to him like a poppy drought, stealing through his relaxed limbs.

Sam kisses him reassuringly. "I'm sure I might, me dear. I'm sure I will see many beautiful things here. But the best of 'em is right here in this room, in my arms. Sleep now."

At last both Sam and Frodo sleep, arms entwined about each other, in a deep, dreamless, untroubled peace.

The stars hang huge and bright in the depths of the night. The soft breezes of eternal summer stir the curtains. Frodo's star-glass, given to him by the Lady Galadriel, which stands on the windowsill, sparkles with a thousand points of refracted light.

* * *

There is the boom and thunder of the waves on the shore.

There is the relaxed happiness of Frodo's face as he turns and runs towards the thundering surf, spreading its lace wide on the white-gold sands. Sam laughs as Frodo grabs his hand and tugs him towards the waters' edge.

There is a white beach on a green island, with blue mountains in the distance.

There is a time of youthful summer, a flash of the energy and joy they knew so long ago in Middle-earth, before the shadows came, before they both knew sorrow and separation and the death of their loved ones. Before the Sundering Seas lay between them.

Through darkness and fire, through the autumn stars, through the misty veil which separates the Mortal Lands from the Blessed Realm, through the long years of wanting and waiting, hoping and yearning...

Now at last they walk, hand in hand, in a far green country.

* * * * *

Notes

Iorhael is Frodo in Sindarin. Panthael means 'Fullwise' and was Aragorn's Sindarin name for Samwise, quoted in Sauron Defeated, Volume 9 of The History of Middle-earth.

Excerpts

'The Song of Beren and Lúthien', quoted in Chapter X1, 'A Knife in the Dark', Book One, The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien, copyright 1954, 1965, 1966, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

 

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