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I confess to guilt over writing this. Usually I am inspired to produce fanfic out of dissatisfaction with the original source, be it an unexplored circumstance or an under-developed character. But the ending of The Lord of the Rings fulfills me as few finales have; it breaks my heart in the best way, and I would not have it spoiled.
And yet when I most recently reread the trilogy, this came to me, and left me no choice but to write it. I mean no disrespect to Tolkien and his legacy, nor do I imagine it to be 'what really happened'; in fact it likely is contradictory to what was intended. But all the same I hope it may be considered a homage, a gesture of gratitude for a story long-beloved to me among millions of others.
1482: Death of Mistress Rose, wife of Master Samwise, on Mid-year's Day. On September 22 Master Samwise rides out from Bag End. He comes to the Tower Hills, and is last seen by Elanor, to whom he gives the Red Book afterwards kept by the Fairbairns. Among them the tradition is handed down from Elanor that Samwise passed the Towers, and went to the Grey Havens, and passed over Sea, last of the Ring-bearers.
—from Appendix B, The Return of the King
The fog floated over the sea, a thick white blanket like snow in deep winter, if less cold. Still, the wind above the waves was enough that Sam drew his cloak tighter around his shoulders—his elven cloak, the gift of Lothlorien. In sixty years the warp and weft of the cloth had not frayed, nor its shifting colors faded, and it withstood the weather's grief better than wool or fur. Enfolded in its mantle, he was gray as the ship's deck, scarcely heeded by the tall elves passing on soft-soled boots as they manned the vessel. He felt as a wraith, no more substantial than the mist, as he leaned against the rail and gazed through the wooden bars at the dark sea.
Once he had disliked the water, but he found peace now watching the ocean, the roll of the waves soothing in their constancy. The ship rode lightly over the dips and swells, never jarring. Even the fog was less a trial than simply part of the ocean, and the cold which reddened his cheeks did not seep into his bones the way frost did in the Shire. The damp, salt-scented air did not stiffen his joints, and even when standing on the deck for long hours he did not feel the ache in his back which had plagued him for the past few years.
He didn't know how long they had sailed—not long, he didn't think, perhaps two or three weeks, though he saw few nights or sunrises. The elves took but one meal a day, though at all hours they assured that he had food aplenty, and not only the lembas upon which they mostly subsisted. The elf-bread was still delicious on his tongue, but not any more substantial. And even after so many decades his hand hesitated to bring any to his mouth, the simple act summoning memories he had not allowed himself to consider for years. Stone and fire, the darkness of Mordor...
But Mordor was no longer dark, and he had not had to eat lembas for years. And on the ship he was not troubled by dreams.
Before, Sam rarely remembered his dreams, and was never bothered by them; the only thing which would rouse him from sleep was the wail of a baby, and he had not heard that sound beside his bed for years. But in the last couple months he had awoken, night after night, when the stars were still bright in a black sky.
He couldn't put description to the visions—not nightmares so much as moments relived of the past he had never dwelled upon. Caverns and barren mountains, gnawing hunger and parched throat, and sometimes he would feel that terrible weight around his neck, light loose chain strangling his breath. He would come to gasping, reaching for the warm comfort of his dearest, until he would finally remember she no longer slept beside him. Then he would lie in the darkness, his eyes open, listening to the soft snores from the other room of Ruby and her husband—such a fine lad. They all had chosen well.
It had been one such night, when the full moon glowed through the curtains and he lay in the bed alone, that he had decided he wanted to see Robin's children. The youngest must be walking and talking and chasing after her brothers by now; it had been almost two years and the littlest ones grow so quickly. And he should visit Elanor, as she and Fastred had been asking—why, Elfstan would by of age in a matter of years. He needed to travel to them. Leave Bag End, leave the Shire.
And he had realized, thinking of the journey away, that his feet would never find the road back again.
Two tears fell through the mist to the damp deck. A light hand fell on his shoulder, warm through the cloak, but when Sam looked up the elf was already striding away to attend to the sails.
Then from high above, where the lamp in the crow's nest gleamed, he heard a shout, though not of warning. The elves paused in their activities, every long and lovely face turned toward the West. All was silent, save for the creaking of the timbers and the lapping of the waves against the hull.
A shrill glad shriek split that quiet. High in the sky to the West, Sam spied a narrow shape cleaving through the fog, dropping down and down to swoop past the sails with another cry. He reached for his spectacles, but they were absent from his pocket, nor on his nose. Yet he found he could clearly see the gull lifting aloft again to streak along ahead of the ship's prow. Following with his eyes, he watched it disappear into the mist, where now came a glow, of sunrise he would have thought, save it was in the West.
Then the fog parted, like a curtain drawn aside for a play, to reveal daylight, amber dawn shining as polished silver on the wave crests. And beyond the sea lay land, first a rocky shore of granite, and then past the sloping teeth of the rocks rose hills of deep and wild green. The shade was that of no plant or tree Sam had seen before, vivid as it was dark, fierce and stirring as Merry and Pippin's tales of Fangorn in the young sunlight.
As the bird flew, so the ship drove forward with the wind, until it stopped short with barely a jerk by the shore, and slipped in among the rocks as neatly as it would dock at a pier. Sam had no chance to be amazed by elven seamanship—indeed he would not have been, having always known there was little past the skills of the elves. But they seemed now less powerful and wonderful beings than children, laughing and jostling as they rushed to the gangplanks. He was swept along with them, so swiftly he barely had time to realize he moved as lightly any of them, his legs not betrayed by pangs of gout, before he was crossing from the rocking deck onto solid stone.
There on the rocky shore a crowd had gathered, so many one could not hear a word of speech, only applause and joyful cheers of welcome. Sheltered in his cloak Sam thought he might go unseen, inconsequential in this grand throng.
Until he heard a voice, low and deep and filled with mirth, saying, "So you have come, Samwise Gamgee." And Gandalf was before him, bending to embrace him. He looked no older, perhaps younger, even; one could never tell with wizards, but the lines did not seem to cut so deeply into his features. On his hand was the elven ring, and it gleamed red in the sun as he smiled at Sam.
Behind him Sam saw two more rings shining, and there stood Elrond and Galadriel, both unchanged, Elrond as tall and strong and proud as ever, and Galadriel as perfect and powerful, though it seemed to Sam she might be even more beautiful, for her eyes were warmer than he remembered. Beside and beyond them the host of welcomers spread over rock and ledge, elves he recognized, and more he didn't.
Then he looked past the stone, and his breath was stolen, for on the hills among the forest still more figures danced, and not all of these looked elven. Between two trees he thought he might have glimpsed a human, mortal among eternals, and more a man dead long ago—the very image of Boromir. And one other seemed to be a hobbit, as beautiful as Galadriel in her way. He thought, impossibly, that it was his own Elanor, and then she tossed back her hair and the sun played over chestnut curls, and he could not help but cry aloud, in wonderment, "Rosie!"
He would have rushed forward to the trees, but Gandalf caught his shoulder. "Wait, Samwise," he said. "There is much here to explore, and nearly time enough to explore it. But now there is another who would wish to greet you."
From the midst of the elves a smaller figure stepped forth, soft-footed on the stone and walking as if in a dream. He came forward until he stood before Sam, and quietly, looking into his face, spoke his name.
Sam fell to his knees. He took his hand, the finger still gone but the wound long healed, pressed it and said, "Mr. Frodo! Oh, Master—"
But Frodo lifted him to his feet, kissed him on both cheeks and said, "No, Sam." It came to Sam that he had never seen Frodo look this way, older than he had appeared when he had sailed, but younger than he should be, a hobbit of forty or so, in his prime, and no burdens shadowing his eyes. "No, dear Sam, not Master, not here."
"But I'm your Sam," Sam said, even as he thought of Rosie, then looked to he to whom he had first sworn his self.
"My Sam," Frodo agreed, smiling. "My Sam, as I am your Frodo. As I am Bilbo's Frodo, and you are Rosie's Sam. We are all things here, Sam."
"No," Sam said. "Not everything, Ma—Frodo. But happy. I don't understand anything else, but I know I'm that."
And Frodo laughed. "Elrond and Gandalf warn me that cannot last forever. But so am I, Sam, and I thought I had already known happiness. And we'll have this for long yet, while we wait."
"While we wait for the others. Merry and Pippin, and Legolas and Gimli, and Aragorn."
"Strider?" Sam looked about, as if expecting Gondor's king to have sailed up while he stared at Frodo. "But he's a mortal man, isn't he?"
"You'll understand," Frodo said. "Later, when they've all arrived, and there will be much to do. But come, Sam. There's so many things I want to show you, and so much you can tell me, and we can learn if this happiness truly has an ending, or whether it can only grow, after all."
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