Chapter 40 --- Westward

There was a figure lying in the road, a loyal horse standing beside it. There were cries among the large company as they neared it. News soon reached the king's ears of a man found fallen in the road. Aragorn tried to weave his way forward on his mount to see what or who it was that was causing such a stir. A soldier quickly flanked him, peering into the king's troubled countenance with worry.

"I do not think that it is Saruman, Emáten, causing this stir. I have heard some of the men speak of a man lying in the road."

The young knight at his side furrowed his brows, unsure whether to question the king on how he knew what he was about to ask, or to mention that this could be a trap. Warily he reached for his sword and kept his horse close to the king's. He may not have been able to defend the Ringbearers from that wretched dotard but he would now leap before his king if need be. Aragorn knew this and smiled with a hint of amusement in his eyes.

The company of Gondorian soldiers was thick and it took Aragorn long to reach the front. He and Emátenlooked on in stunned fear for a mere moment before, with a clatter, Emáten dropped his sword and swung down from his mount crying, "Brother! Oh brother, what grim token is this? What has led you to this place?" He ran to Envin's side and knelt before him, embracing the young healer's form.

Aragorn soon followed and grasped Envin's wrist. "He lives yet," said the king. "He has overtaxed himself I am afraid."

"Why, my king? Why would he take flight when he was so exhausted?"

"I do not know. I shall try to revive him and gain what answers I can."

"Do you think it was Saruman?" Emáten spat the name like it was venom in his mouth. "Or perhaps he was fleeing the city, it may not yet be safe from danger, especially with that rotten snake slithering about."

"I do not think Gondor is in any peril, Emáten. My wife would have sent word to me, and Saruman has no power any longer. But I agree that we should hasten. We should be a fortnight, perhaps less, but if you so desire to get your brother home and cared for then you may hasten ahead with him and whom ever men are willing shall accompany you. I doubt the road is dangerous any longer and so close to the city as well."

"I dearly wish my brother cared for, my lord," said Emáten sorrowfully cradling Envin's head. The young healer furrowed his brow as if he felt a pain and his eyes moved feverishly. His lids fluttered open partly and his dry lips parted in wonder.

"Emáten?" He rasped.

"Yes, brother, I shall take you home."

This did not please the healer; he reached up suddenly and grasped his brother. "No... the Ringbearer. I have seen that he is in great danger. I must reach him."

"You can go nowhere as you are," the king responded sternly.

Emáten had a torn look upon his countenance. "My lord if he speaks sooth then someone must reach the Halflings."

"It shall not be him, but I believe he is delirious. Gandalf has promised to stay with them until they were safe in the Shire. I trust Mithrandir to protect them."

Emáten bit his lip and suffered great debate before bowing his head low. "Yes, my lord. I shall ride now for Gondor."

Aragorn called for three attendants to accompany the brothers and they set off at great speed. Envin's steed was left with the king's company and the two brothers traveled upon Emáten's horse. The four horses sprang forth upon a wind and let fly over hill and plain. Aragorn watched them until they could no longer be seen by the Ranger's eyes. Dusk was beginning to settle on the company and still they had more to travel before Aragorn desired them again to rest. The king smiled slightly, impressed by the men's sovereignty. They are a strong men, Aragorn thought, whose hearts are noble and willful.

Aragorn watched the dwindling light give way to the silver night whose shadows and moonlight made his heart ache for his love. Arwen would have told him if she saw the hobbits to be in grave danger. Still the king trembled with an unknown fear.

That day was a cold one, ushered in by an icy wind that scoured the whole land of Rivendell. The warm falls and streams held over them a veil of mist that hovered and drifted in the cold air. All around the Last Homely House silver lanterns were hung and upon the limbs of trees to light the frosted land. Gandalf looked toward the grey sky and said, "Today we depart." The small, hooded form beside him nodded dully. Sam looked up into the face of the wizard and Gandalf saw how young the hobbit was for the first time in a long time. Sam's face was trusting and determined, he adjusted his cloak and entered the Last Homely House to bid his farewells and prepare his master for the journey.

Sam and Gandalf had been walking all morning until the world was far too difficult to see as the mists rose up. They traveled back and all was silent among them. Sam had watched the elves move among the mist, holding long strings of silver beads from which hung their flickering lanterns. He watched them weave the strings about trees until the lights swayed in the breeze. The elves were quiescent and their bright eyes were distant. Sam found them strange and far away. Their beauty seemed to emerge from the mist and disappear henceforth. He felt a slight longing there, in the glances that they gave him. Gandalf smiled to see that Sam, no matter what had changed about him, would always hold a childish wonder and reverence for elf-kind.

Once the two solemn wanderers again reached the home, Gandalf had spoken his intentions. Sam seemed to already know and nodded slowly. He was glad to leave in a way. During their walk Gandalf had studied the hobbit. Somehow Sam had known that as well, but any acknowledgement he gave to it was small and noncommittal. There was a painful desperation in Sam, something that shone in his eyes when he gave a somber look that Gandalf, at first, had difficulty placing. He had recognized it. It seemed like he had seen that subdued fear and painful acceptance before. He had. In Frodo. If he was less wise he might have found it horribly frightful, but he was aware of a slight pain in his heart whenever Frodo seemed to look at him through Samwise's eyes. Had the innocent almost childlike mind of Sam gained the gentle thoughtfulness that was his master? It could very well have been so, during the quest, that Samwise gained some of Frodo's gentler qualities.

The day moved quickly, like a dream that flows swiftly through waking thought. Pippin and Merry had shown some foresight and gathered theirs' and Frodo's things ere Sam told them the news. He had only walked into their room and Merry looked at him, walked over toward the post and grabbed Frodo's coat, "So we're leaving then," was all he said and it was not a question. Perhaps he had judged it by Sam's countenance alone. He stayed only enough time to see Merry help his pliant but wary master into his coat. He turned away before whatever sudden feeling (which he found he could not name) had registered on his face.

He gathered his own things in relative silence, occasionally muttering aloud what he thought he might have forgotten. Tying everything to his pack with a bit of twine he paused to look at his handiwork, started as if struck by a sudden memory, and rushed to the shelf. It was very high for a hobbit but he stood precariously on tiptoe and his hands met what he wanted; the small wooden box that Arwen had given him to hold Frodo's jewel. He smoothed his hands over the carvings thoughtfully before placing it with his things and shrugging into his coat.

He found Merry and Pippin had brought Frodo to Bilbo's room for their last goodbye. The old hobbit had his arms around his young heir and his head bowed onto the lithe shoulder. Sam guessed that he had been weeping and when he pulled away Sam saw the dark patch on Frodo's shoulder and knew he had been weeping long. Frodo shifted uneasily when Bilbo pulled back and met the older hobbit's eyes with caution. Bilbo grimaced as if his heart hurt to see the confusion in Frodo's eyes. He backed away with one hand behind him to guide him to his chair. He stumbled, let his legs collapse into the chair and finally broke his gaze with his nephew to stare at the floor. Frodo turned to Merry as if he held the answer, seeing that it was not in him either, Frodo walked away to another part of the room. He ran his hand brusquely over the stacks of books and papers, let them hover over a mug that had been left atop the pile, then drifted to stroke the feather quill. It was then that Merry looked up at Sam and the gardener knew that Merry had known of his presence the whole time.

"Come along, Sam," he said with a touch of cheer. "It's too cold out for Bilbo to bid us farewell on the doorstep, so we've come to him."

Sam stepped forward and knelt before the old hobbit on the chair. Bilbo gave a teary smile, "Stand up, Sam," he proclaimed. "Up off your knees so I can say goodbye properly."

Sam obeyed and stood as Bilbo did as well. And before Sam could stutter a word he was caught in Bilbo's embrace. A little stunned he returned it as respectfully as he could. "I'm glad you were with my boy," said Bilbo then he pulled away to look at Sam. "Sam. I'm glad you were with him."

"Be well, Mr. Bilbo," Sam responded softly, a little dazedly.

"You too, lad," was a very stern reply. Sam saw that it was an order.

Sam stepped away and let Merry and Pippin say their goodbyes in peace. By the time he reached Frodo, who was very intently playing with the feather, Merry and Pippin were laughing and gathering their things. Sam placed a hand on Frodo's back and finally received some amount of attention. Frodo looked up, a little startled, then broke into a warm smile, his bright eyes darting to the pen. He held it toward Sam, proudly displaying the unique item. Sam smiled tentatively, reached out to touch it, and was quickly tapped on the nose. He blinked a bit then sneezed, eliciting what sounded like a soft laugh from Frodo.

"Come on, Sam!" Pippin called.

Sam placed a hand on Frodo's back and led him away. Frodo was at first reluctant to leave his new found feather, but did not put up a big fuss. By the time he was out of the room the pen was forgotten and he followed obediently, every few steps seeming to pause, forgetting what he was supposed to be doing, then with a short look at the others followed again.

Gandalf had the ponies ready and was already mounted. Elrond was standing beside him. Whatever goodbyes they wished to exchange it had already been done. The Lord of Rivendell gave them his blessings and watched as they rode away. Sam looked up as the sun hung low in the western sky. They would not ride hard or long that day. But at last he and Frodo and all his kin had turned their eyes home.

A/N: I know I know! What the heck, right! Apologies. And it was even a short chapter too. ::sigh:: Perhaps I can make up for it with an immediate update, say tomorrow. I'm working on the next chapter now. Bah! What's wrong with me?

Laurajslr – Thank you for sticking to this. I can't wait to read your next story. Yes Sam is mourning the loss of the part he had been playing but it would all be worth it if he could see how much more this will help Frodo. Sadly he can't. Poor Sam.

Breon Briarwood – Yeah, Sam would feel much better if he could see how this would help Frodo. But poor Sam just sees the hopelessness of the situation. Poor hobbit.

Leia Wood – Glad you are enjoying. I try to keep dialogue as Tolkien would have it. As close as I can be anyway.

Arwen Baggins – I'm glad you are enjoying my fanfic! Keep reading, I know my horrible timing is hell to put up with.

Ailsa Joy – Bear with me here. I'll pick up my act soon. Hopefully I'll beable to update very quickly too. So glad you are enjoying.

ShireElf – Yes, Frodo is going to need to be making some decisions soon if he is every to be saved.

Nimrodel – I'll try to update sooner, promise.

Nymredil72 – Ah! I thought you hadn't updated in a while but I just remembered you stopped categorizing your story under Frodo and Sam didn't you! I promise to check up and catch up right away. Yes I tried to fix the awkwardness between Frodo's cousins and Sam. Not only is the status a difficult gap to bridge but their personalities are definitely a foil for Sam's. I'm glad you enjoyed that part.

InsanelyObsessed – I'm glad you took the insane amount of time it takes to read my fic. I hope you stick with it. Enjoy!

Frodo's Gal – I'm working on a strictly humor Frodo and Pippin story but it may be a while before it put it up. Keep reading!

Nayana Baggins – So glad you like it! Keep reading please!

Iorhael – It's okay I hope you are still liking it, bear with my insane updating schedule. Eh heh.