Author's Note: I
never imagined when I started writing this, that I wouldn't be posting the
final chapter until two days before RoTK's release. It feels like we're all
coming to the end of a journey, doesn't it?
Thank you to all who read this story, or any of my other work. It's been an honor to be able to share these things with all of you. And thank you to all of the wonderful writers in the LoTR fandom---you have all enriched this story, these characters and the past two years more than I can say.
And of course, the greatest of thanks to J.R.R. Tolkien, for giving so much to all of us.
When Sam returned to Bag End, he put Bilbo's gift on the desk in the study, and it remained there, unopened, for a long time.
Sam did not go into the study again until a crisp morning of November, a day of fine autumn sunlight in the leafless trees and woodsmoke on the air. Bright sun streamed through the window and reflected off the gleaming surface of the old desk, once Bilbo's, then Frodo's, and now Sam's. Nothing lay on the desk now except the old leather case.
The study was stuffy and unpleasant. Sam leaned over the desk and pushed the round window open. A fresh autumn breeze drifted in with the sound of birdsong and relieved some of the heaviness in the air.
Sam sat down in the wooden chair and looked about himself, drumming his fingers on the surface of the desk. He felt uncomfortable and out of place, and faintly guilty, as if he had put himself into a position that he had no right to occupy. He began to whistle nervously, a little country tune. The gay notes fell dully into the room's silence, and Sam soon checked himself.
With a deep breath, Sam stared at the satchel. He pulled himself up to the desk until his stomach was almost touching it, and untied the satchel's leather cords. Inside, he found papers of all sizes: large, folded sheets of parchment, delicate sheaves of onionskin, tiny scraps of paper with only a few words scribbled on them. As Sam shuffled through them, he saw many detailed maps, careful descriptions of dress and armour, bits of poems and stories and elaborate family trees. Here were all of Bilbo's most beloved interests, a vast catalogue of the peoples and cultures of Middle-earth. A sad smile touched Sam's face. He knew there had been a time when these things would have fascinated him, yet now they held little interest. Indeed, he sometimes wished that he could have lived his whole life in the Shire, and never known anything of the world outside its quiet borders.
He turned over the next sheet of parchment and flinched as if he had been struck. Here was Frodo's portrait, drawn by Bilbo so long ago.
Sam leaned back in the chair and exhaled softly.
"My," he said in a small voice after a long moment. "But it's good to see you again, Mr. Frodo."
The weight of years and the memory of many things fell upon Sam, and suddenly it seemed that so much had been lost that the world could never be set right again. He covered his eyes with a trembling hand, certain that his heart would break.
A touch fell softly on his shoulder. "Sam, what is it?"
He said nothing, but turned to his wife and wrapped his arms around her waist.
"Ah," Rose sighed, and reached out to the parchment. Her finger traced the softly penciled outline of Frodo's youthful face. "Just look at 'im," she whispered.
"I know," Sam said.
"How old was he here?"
"Twenty. Just twenty. 'Twas the year before he came to live at Bag End." Sam turned to look at the picture on the desk, resting his cheek against Rose. "It was the first I ever saw of him. I thought he was an Elf."
They were silent for a moment. Then Rose said quietly, "He always made me both happy and sad…I could hardly tell which. Like a sunset that's so pretty, but it makes your heart ache all the same. You can't even say why."
"Aye" said Sam. "He was like that. He was like that, somehow."
"No, Sam" she said, and tilted his chin up to look at her. "He is like that."
"You're right, lass," Sam said. Then, in the midst of his sorrow, Sam felt the kindling of joy, great joy, like the sun breaking over the mountains after a dark night of rain. He looked back to the portrait and placed his hand over Rose's. "He is."
The autumn breeze blew in through the open window, over the desk and across them, husband and wife. It carried with it the scent of the harvest and the fields, the gentle air of year's end in a quiet corner of the world. Yet beneath these familiar things, Sam seemed to smell salt in the wind, and in his heart he heard the sound of the Sea as it whispered upon a distant shore.