West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
As the hobbits prepare to set off on the quest, the Ring makes its presence felt.
He wanders through the empty rooms, the whisper of his footsteps falling softly on the dusty floors. His hands caress a worn carving here, the mellow brick surround of a fireplace there.
"Will you forget me?" he asks silently.
He smiles a little at his conceit. Surely dead wood and stone do not remember, and yet... Already he feels disconnected, remote from his beginnings, and so he gropes and grasps at tenuous threads and vague imaginings.
There is a lightening at the end of the dark hallway, and a half-open door beckons. He splays his hand against it for a moment before he enters. This had been his room once, before the doors and windows of an uncomplicated life had been thrown open and the unknowable invited in. This had been his refuge. Now twilight washes everything in a shimmering grey haze; the embers of a dying fire glow sullenly in the hearth, and the bed is the only piece of furniture that remains.
The floor is bare, save for a patch that glows whitely in the dimness. The fine linen of the nightshirt he retrieves slips through his hands, and he runs his fingers over the embroidered neckband before folding it and laying it on the coverlet beside another very like it. Fit for princes of the Shire, they are, sewn with love and expectation, and images ribbon across the surface of his mind as he strokes the silky fabric. Laughing golden Merry and young Pippin, grown wise in spite of himself. Endless summer days and youthful secrets shared, memories that reassure him with their clarity - even as they cut him to the bone.
"Oh my dears..." he whispers, his voice breaking on the soft words.
He hugs himself against the chill and his eyes skitter aimlessly over the familiar room. The panelled walls are mottled with pale shadows - there his treasured maps had hung, there - the ghostly outline where a chest of drawers had once stood. His gaze falls on a dark smudge, down by the skirting board, and he moves forward to fall on his knees beside it. The edges of the long-hidden etching are still sharp, and his finger trembles as he traces the letters of his name and the circle scratched around it. The old wood had been difficult to carve, hard as the bones of the hill. He remembers the welts the knife had raised on his tender palm, the dry scent of dust, the longing to belong that had brought him to attempt this bit of hopeful witchery. There's a stain in the grooves yet, barely visible in the dim light, and the tip of his finger tingles at the memory. But it had worked, hadn't it? He had had a home, if only for a little while.
He kneels unmoving for a long time, lost in the deluge of yesterdays. Random images flit through his mind - his father's face, his mother's smile, and often - the murky waters of the Brandywine. Fiery blossoms against the dark sky and the pleading look in Bilbo's eyes, on a birthday night a lifetime ago. A brightly coloured poppet, gifted to Merry from a gypsy's store. The sound of childish laughter as he pulls the strings and makes it dance for his cousin's amusement. And then it spins around at a careless jerk, and it wears his face.
The sharp edge of anxiety in Sam's voice finally pierced the fog that surrounded him, and he looked up dazedly. Strong arms helped him to his feet, and in doing so they dislodged his hand from where it rested, snug in his breeches pocket. A fall of gold followed, tangled in his pale fingers and Sam looked askance at the ring that swung from the end of its tethered chain, its polished surface gleaming in the candlelight. Frodo stared at the precious thing silently and stuffed it back, and Sam's mouth tightened into a grim line as he settled his master on the bed.
"You gave me quite a turn, you did. Whyfore were you setting in the dark, my dear?" Sam chattered as he moved to the hearth and built the fire up, but even in his daze, Frodo didn't miss the sidelong glances or the worried crease between the sandy brows. Sam's unease roused no feeling in him, when just weeks before he would have allayed his beloved's fears with kisses and repentant caresses. Now the world seemed to have slipped behind a pane of glass so grimy with smudged fingerprints that the light barely shone through. Sam's voice seemed muffled and far away, and there was a heaviness to his body that weighted his limbs down and made it difficult to move.
"Your cousins are gone to the 'Dragon, and they'll welcome your comp'ny if you're of a mind to join them, Frodo. To drink a last drop with the lads, like." Sam knelt at his feet, and Frodo didn't even know how he got there. "Are you wanting to go, love?"
Frodo shook his head slowly. He'd put a good face on it for months, answering importunate questions with calm courtesy and pretending that he was perfectly content at the prospect of leaving his home. Now, on his last night in the old Smial, he had no appetite for the stares and whispers that he knew would accompany every sip of the 'Dragon's ale.
'Mad Baggins', they would call him, "near as cracked as old Bilbo had been." And they wouldn't know how close to the mark they were.
"No, Sam. I... I'm afraid I don't. Want to, I mean. But you must go, of course. "
His hands lay limply on his russet lap; clean hands, with nary a speck of ink on them - unfamiliar hands. Sam gathered them up gently, "There's summat wrong, isn't there. Tell your Sam?"
Frodo looked up, into warm hazel eyes, lit by the firelight with flecks of gold.
Shall I tell you that my last thought before you woke me was resentment, Sam? Of those foolish Bracegirdles and Boffins, of the Shire that I hope to save? Resentment of you, my dear. You will still have home and family when our journeying is done. And I - I will have none.
Will you look at me with loathing if I tell you? Will you stay behind and be... safe?
He looked away. "Nothing," he said aloud. "There is nothing."
The room went quiet, save for the snap and crackle of the restless fire. Frodo heaved himself off the bed wearily and moved toward the door, feeling as if he was battling against the muddy current of the Brandywine.
"I ain't one of Maggot's tame mushrooms, Frodo."
Frodo stopped and shut his eyes as the import of the softly-spoken words sank through the numbness that enveloped him. To be kept in the dark and fed manure... he finished silently, and the spasm that flickered over his face owed nothing to merriment and everything to pain. He turned to look back. Sam had risen to his feet; the skirting board behind him was hidden in deep shadow, and deeper still were the wells of hurt in his expressive eyes.
Suddenly Frodo's mind slipped back into a time long past. He seemed to taste moisture in the air, felt the warm hearthstone under his back and heard his voice promising, No more secrets, Sam. Not ever. For a moment he sensed a quickening - as if he could almost feel again. Then the memory faded; the fog closed in around him and the words disappeared into greyness.
"I am sorry, Sam," he whispered at last, and turned away.
He had seen this coming for months.
He had felt it under the silky skin, knots of tension that he'd tried to smooth away with soothing fingers.
He had heard it in the unaccustomed harshness of the light voice as he listened to Frodo bargaining with Lobelia for the future of Bagshot Row.
They will have their tenancy for their lifetimes and that of their children after them, if they so wish it, the master of Bag End had snarled, his careful courtesy fled. Agree, or I shall see the Hill levelled and the land deeded to the Thain before I will suffer you to set foot in it!
Lobelia had looked into the blazing blue eyes and the determination burning in them and had agreed perforce. But the canny beldam took full advantage of his weakness, and had gotten what she had always coveted for a song. Frodo had been all but exhausted after that, Sam remembered. It's fair enough, he had said tiredly. I don't care about the gold, and I won't abandon those who depend on me. Sam had wept grateful tears as he held his master in his arms that night, for he knew, none better, how his old Gaffer had worried on that score.
Aye, he had seen this coming; he had seen it in the desperate arch of the lithe body above him, in the beautiful fevered face gleaming in the firelight. He had felt it in the thrust of urgent flesh, the wet slap of skin against skin, in the hot devouring kisses, as Frodo fought for what little control he had over his life. Sam felt prickles of heat sweep across his skin, felt himself stir and swell at the thought of their loving, and he pressed his thighs together and tried to ignore it - for that release too had gone the way of his beloved's smile.
Now it was here, a shadow that had swallowed his master up and bid fair to ensnare him as well. And sweet words and cozening weren't helping any, and Oh my love, how can I help you? What can I do?
It's up to you now, Sam, Merry had said at the gate before the cousins left for the tavern. I dislike admitting it, but we've failed to jolly him out of the doldrums, and now even Folco's beginning to notice something's wrong. You know how he talks, even if he doesn't mean to.
Shake some sense into him! Pippin had added pleadingly. Or plow and furrow him until he begs for mercy. But do something, Sam! I hate seeing him this way...
Sam stared with aching eyes at the beams above him, wishing with all his might that Mr. Gandalf had shown up like he had promised he would. Surely he had some potion or spell to make the darkness go away, else what good was a wizard for? Apart from driving innocent hobbits from hearth and home and abandoning them in their need, he thought angrily. If he ever saw the wizard again, he'd give him what for, or his name wasn't Sam Gamgee. And he didn't care if that name would likely belong to a toad if he did.
The flash of bitter humour steadied him somewhat and his mind stopped running in circles like a hen in a pother. His gaze moved around the familiar room; over walls now painfully bare and empty shelves that had once held treasured books. He mourned for the firelit corner where the cosy armchair big enough for two had stood and a lump grew in his throat as he recalled tales of derring-do and high romance, told in the sweet cadences of Frodo's soft voice. So many of his happiest memories centred around this smial. If he could feel so overset at the knowledge that he was leaving Bag End forever, how much worse must it be for his master, whose home it was?
He turned his head to gaze at the still form beside him, a dark mound under the bedclothes, its face turned toward the wall. All he could see of his beloved were the dark waves of his hair, spread out over the pillow and stroked to silver by the moonlight. He reached out to smooth a curl gently and the lump in his throat threatened to unload its burden of tears.
You ain't leaving everything you love behind, Mr. Frodo. Or don't I count for anything, after all?
Sam squashed the painful thought hastily and drew his hand back. Frodo hadn't stirred at his touch, but he knew without a doubt that his master was merely feigning sleep. Frodo always slept so light and it was only after a bout of... No. That thought wouldn't do him no good either. He looked away resolutely and his eyes found the softly gleaming panes of the bedroom window and the honeysuckle tendrils silhouetted against the pebbled glass. The vine needed pruning before the winter, he mused, and his mind seized on the distraction and went haring off on well-trodden paths. He let it go with relief, mulling over the list of garden chores he kept in his head - things already done, and things he had yet to do. Not having to plan for the coming year felt strange, he thought, and a pang struck him as he realised all over again that he wouldn't see his roses blossom in the springtime, nor see the new strawberry bed yield up its crop of luscious fruit.
He sighed ruefully. Well, there wasn't no use moaning over spilled ale. It made no never mind to his care for it that he couldn't call the garden his own no more, as Frodo had found out months ago, when they had first determined what they would have to do.
I'm tempted to leave it to the brambles, his master had remarked as he eyed the ordered beds and the glorious profusion of colour around them. Sam had turned an affronted glare on him and Frodo had giggled, skipping away nimbly to avoid his gardener's ire.
Silly hobbit, Sam thought affectionately, recalling how he'd chased Frodo around the beanpoles before wrestling him to ground on the Hill. He remembered the sharp fragrance of crushed grass and the scent of warm earth as they lay in each other's arms in the sunshine, their cares forgotten for the moment. It was the last time he had seen Frodo truly smile.
Suddenly he felt a need to feel the fertile soil of Bag End under his body again, a yearning so intense that it brought tears to his eyes. He longed to be away from the bare, oppressively silent room before the joyful memories turned dark and began to hang like bats from the rafters. He wanted to feel the clean air on his skin... He rubbed his burning eyes and looked out the window at the late summer night, frowning thoughtfully at a notion that had occurred to him. If words weren't helping any, mayhap doing would accomplish summat. It never hurt to try, as his gaffer was right fond of saying when a task looked to be especially formidable. And it wasn't as if he had anything left to lose, after all.
He lay still for long minutes, considering what he would do. At last he nodded to himself, counted to the beat of three and sprang out of bed with a curse, making as much of a clatter as he could manage in the dimness. Then it was out the bedroom door and back in a trice, his arms filled with the old quilt that had been too worn to send on with the rest to Crickhollow. Frodo sat bolt-upright amidst the disordered bedclothes, his hair falling over his face and his eyes wide with apprehension, and Sam allowed himself a small, satisfied glow.
"I can't stand it any longer, Mr. Frodo!" Sam put a quaver into his voice, which wasn't so hard, seeing that there was a hollow in his belly big enough to put his foot in. "This place fair gives me the collywobbles, and I know I shan't sleep a wink if I don't get a breath of air!"
He swept a few items into the folds of the quilt and bent over the bed. "Come, my dear," he said coaxingly, "You've been cooped up in the hole for a tenday. It's a lovely clear night and the view from the top of the Hill will be beautiful."
"But I'm so tired, Sam." Frodo seemed to shrink back into himself and Sam quickly slipped his free arm around his master's shoulders, pulling him over until the curly head rested against his chest. "I feel as if nothing could ever be beautiful, anymore," Frodo whispered, and Sam blinked the tears back and kissed the soft hair gently.
"We're all of us heart-sore, love, and you most of all, which isn't to be wondered at. Please come and keep your Sam company, Mr. Frodo. He needs you, he does, and it won't be but for a little while."
Finally Frodo mumbled his assent, and it worked just as Sam had hoped it would - a good scare to jolt Frodo out of his fog and an appeal to his tender heart to keep him here. It didn't take a moment to strip the blankets off the bed, but as he pulled his master toward the door, Frodo balked. Sam looked back to see the pale hand reaching for the ring that hung from the belt on the bedpost, and the sight filled him with a deep, unreasoning discomfort.
"Leave it," he said brusquely. "It won't take no harm where it is, and you don't want to chance losing it in the dark. Leave it be."
Frodo withdrew his hand reluctantly, and Sam took it and led him from the room, shutting the door firmly behind them. He felt easier at once and wondered at it in passing, and when he stood at last on the stoop with his master's warm presence beside him, he went positively giddy with relief.
It was a beautiful Shire night. The air was perfumed by the last blossoms of honeysuckle and night-blooming stock, and every breath was a pleasure. And it was bright enough to see by - the moon had lifted her filmy skirts well above the horizon, and the last rosy fingers of sunset were beginning to fade.
Sam bedded the quilt on the long grass, well away from the old oak's dripline and open to the sky. Then he turned back to where he had left his master and caught his breath at the picture he made. Frodo stood motionless on the brow of the Hill, his blanket pooled unheeded around his feet. The soft evening breeze stirred his hair into a dark cloud about his face and the moonlight filtering through the thin fabric of his nightshirt turned his body into clean-limbed shadow, shrouded by seeming wisps of mist.
Instinct and a sense born of their bond told Sam to stay where he was, and he sat back on his heels, enjoying the view without shame. He was very good at waiting; it was a poor gardener indeed who dug the seeds up betimes and killed the young plants a-borning. His patience was amply rewarded when at last Frodo drew a deep breath; his slumped shoulders firmed, his back straightened, and slowly, he raised his face to the sky.
Sam followed his gaze upward, and gasped softly.
The countryside stretched out below him, a mass of grey huddled shapes in the fog, and he wondered dully what beauty Sam could see in it. His toe throbbed, a distant ache somewhere in the dim landscape of his body. He thought he'd stubbed it on the way up the Hill, but he wasn't sure. It was hard to be sure of anything, when his head felt so heavy and his thoughts so strange. He curled his toes into the cool comfort of the grass absently, and regretted it almost immediately as his knees all but buckled under the spear of pain that shot up his leg. And when his watering eyes cleared, something had changed.
All around him, the night came slowly alive. The gravelled road that circled Bag End began to shine silver under the moonlight, fading and re-appearing as it wound through the low hills and smials of the town. Firelight flickered from the windows of homes that he could put names to - there the Widow Rumble and the Twofoots beside her; here, the cheerful light of Number Three and the image of the Gaffer's disapproving frown. Where once there had been silence, he could now hear the faint sound of tipsy laughter and the purling music of the millrace, the call of a nightjar and the croaking of frogs from the garden below. There was the comforting scent of woodsmoke in the air, and he shut his eyes and took a deep draught of it - and when he opened them again, it was to the sight of a sky encrusted with stars.
Everything the Elves' Lady had created must be shining down on them tonight, he thought dazedly. He fumbled for her name even as he drank in the beauty of her work, found it and offered it forth.
"O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!" he whispered reverently.
"Bright Lady of Stars..." came Sam's soft rumble in his ear and the comforting warmth of strong arms wrapped around his body. They stood there for a time, absorbing the peaceful wonder of the scene; then Frodo sighed.
"I feel as if I have been walking in an evil dream. Gandalf was right. I can bear the wandering, as long as the Shire I love is safe. If I ever lose sight of that again, will you remind me, Sam? Will you remind me of the beauty of our home?"
A choked sob was all the answer he got, and he turned to peer into Sam's face worriedly.
"I'm sorry to be such a bother to you, my dear."
"Bite your tongue, Frodo Baggins!" Sam sniffed and blotted his wet eyes on his sleeve. "As if you'd ever be a bother to anyone - you with your easy ways." He took a step forward and gripped Frodo's shoulders anxiously. "You're all right now, aren't you? You aren't low in your mind no more?"
"I'm all right, Sam," Frodo assured him, and Sam breathed a sigh of relief and caught him close.
"Ouch," said Frodo reflexively.
"If you aren't the stubbornest hobbit that ever lived..." Sam grumbled as he wrapped the maltreated toe in a makeshift poultice of comfrey leaves. "Why didn't you tell me you was hurting? I'd have gone slower if I knew."
Frodo wriggled pleasurably in his nest of blankets as blunt fingers combed through his foot hair. "It's fine, Sam. It just aches a little now." His voice took on a serious note as he added, "Come lie with me, love. I have something to confess."
Sam frowned, but did as he was bid. Frodo stared up at the star-strewn welkin and said quietly, "I don't quite know what came over me, Sam. Everything we did to make the Shire safe seemed so hopeless. It was as if a voice whispered constantly in my mind; telling me that I had lost everything that mattered, that my happy memories of home would play me false at the end, that I no longer had any control over my life. It told me I was alone, that Gandalf had abandoned me and that you, Merry and Pip would leave me as well. It made me believe that I had the right to resent those I was trying to save, the right to resent you, Sam, for having the home and family that I thought I would never have again.
"You should bless the rock I stubbed my toe on and not damn it, for I might have gone on believing the lying voice of my mind if not for the pain that brought me back to myself. Will you forgive me for thinking so ill of you, my dear?"
"There's nowt to forgive, and you'd know that if you was thinking straight," Sam replied forcefully. "You weren't yourself, Frodo. You was heartsore and sick, and we all worritted so over you. No, love - let me have my say," he said, as Frodo made to speak. He gathered the pliant body into his arms and Frodo nestled into them gratefully.
"Blood don't make a family, me dear. Might as well call Miz Lobelia family, if it did. It's them as seen you at your very worst and love you anyway that's family - it's them as misses you dreadfully when you're gone and welcomes you gladly when you turn up again." He kissed the dark hair lightly. "When you get right down to it, it's love that makes a family, so you've got me and Merry and Pippin and Mr. Bilbo, wherever he may be. And who knows? Mayhap we shall meet others we could get to love - though having an elf in our family might be passing strange." They both laughed at the unlikely thought, and Sam went on.
"As to memories, why - they fade and change all the time, Frodo. There wouldn't be room enough in our heads if they didn't." He chuckled reminiscently, "Two heads're always better'n one, the Gaffer says, though I suppose he meant that it be easier to knock 'em together for sense. But it's the memories you share with family that keep fresh, right enough, and I'd be glad to share yours, if you'd let me."
He fell silent, and Frodo stirred in his embrace. "Samwise Gamgee, wisest of hobbits," he said softly. "I should know all that, but I had forgotten. You belie your name, my Sam. How did you get so wise?"
"Come to that, there isn't much else to do while you're weeding but think," Sam replied with a grin.
Frodo smiled back, "Crickhollow will never be the home to me that Bag End was, but when we return, I promise you, my dear - I will try my best to make it one, and not pine for what I've lost."
Sam cleared his throat. "We could carry our home with us, as the turtles and snails do," he offered.
"Whatever do you mean?"
He was mightily intrigued when Sam looked away shyly. "I loved you for so long, Frodo, before I was a tweener even. Ever since I realised that I was wanting more from you than I ever thought you would want to give, I've had this dream..." He paused, and Frodo nodded encouragingly.
"I built us a home in my head, you see. A little smial with a door as blue as your eyes and yellow windows, it was. It had a parlour for pretty and a study and a bedroom with a featherbed big enough for two. And copper pans in the kitchen like in Bag End. I saw a yellow tile over Tighfield way that I liked a lot, and I put that in, too." Sam gazed at him earnestly. "It wasn't as grand as your home, but I was pretending that you were same as me - not that you could ever be common o'course, but you know what I mean, don't you? I dreamed about it nights and thought about it every day, and it came to me that I - that I..." He broke off and buried his face in the blanket, and all Frodo could hear was a faint aarrgh.
"...felt a bit like an expectant bridegroom, perhaps?" he inquired delicately.
There was silence for a long moment, then Sam whispered, "I s'pose so."
Frodo reached up and pulled the blanket away. "Are you inviting me to move in with you, Sam?" he asked tenderly.
Sam surfaced at last, and even in the moonlight Frodo could see that he was blushing furiously. "I'd like it very much, me dear," he said. "And if the roof leaks a bit and the door sticks in the summertime, it makes no never mind, does it? As long as we're together."
Frodo flashed him one of the wicked grins that Sam had missed so much, "And our garden will be beautiful, won't it? More beautiful than any garden in the Shire."
"Aye, and you'll be the most beautifullest flower in it," Sam nodded firmly.
"My dear Sam," Frodo observed, "We are, as Pip would put it, getting decidedly mushy."
"Nothing wrong with mush in the right place, Frodo Baggins," his beloved retorted and Frodo pulled him down for a slow, deep kiss. "No," he agreed. "There's nothing wrong with it at all."
They no longer spoke after that, and the peace of the night was broken only by moans of delight as they learned each other's bodies all over again, and then by Frodo's voice, sharp with impatience, "Oil! Have we got any oil?"
Sam rummaged in the blankets, and held up a phial with a sheepish grin. "Erm. I was thinking to give you a rub down..."
"And I know exactly where I want it." Frodo began to get to his knees, and Sam forestalled him with a touch.
"Not like that, me dear."
So they lay spooned together under the stars, enjoying a splendid view of the Shire. When the unbearable pleasure took him at last, Frodo felt it as the tolling of a great bell, ringing sweetly through his body and fading slowly into silence, and Sam's voice whispering in his ear...
Let us make a memory...
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