Author's Note: Well guys, this is it, the final chapter. After reading Ch 17 reviews, I realized I really could have made that the ending, but as I had already started this one and I always like to know "what happened then.?" I decided to go ahead and post this one too, making it sort of an epilogue. I'm actually feeling very sad knowing this is the last chapter!

I really want to thank all my faithful readers and reviewers. You guys have been truly wonderful and supportive. Rather makes me want to write another story (problem is, I only like writing about Sam)! Ah well. Again, my heartfelt thanks to you all.

Ellen

Chapter 18 Epilogue

Sam slept deeply for the next four days, waking only to take nourishment. Frodo never left his side with Pippin and Merry often staying with him. None of them could get over that fact that Sam had returned alive. Sam woke abruptly, early the morning of the fifth day, caught in the grip of a nightmare. He looked around in alarm, searching for Frodo and gave a deep sigh of relief as he spied his dear master sleeping in the chair beside him. Sam studied Frodo's face with deep satisfaction and affection. He couldn't help but think of the weak, haggard Frodo he had last seen on the burning slopes of Mt. Doom. Frodo was still somewhat pale and thin, but obviously healthy. That was all Sam could hope for. He wondered what ill effects the Ring might have left on poor Frodo, but for the moment, Sam was simply content to believe that all was well with his friend.

He slowly pushed himself up on his elbow. He still felt tired and weak, but much better than he had when he arrived. His aches and pains had also diminished and now he realized how hungry he was. He looked around hopefully, thinking there might be some food somewhere, but with disappointment, slowly eased himself back down again. "Sam?" Sam turned suddenly to see Frodo awake and grinning at him. "Looking for something?"

"Mr. Frodo!" exclaimed Sam slightly embarrassed, "I didn't mean to wake you! I was just lookin' around for something to eat."

Frodo laughed, a sound that filled Sam with delight. It had been so long since he had heard Frodo truly laugh. "Sam, you amaze me! You return from the dead and all you want to do is eat! You do Hobbiton proud!" He held Sam's hand in his own and continued to grin affectionately at his friend. At that moment, the door quietly opened and Merry and Pippin looked in hesitantly. Seeing that Sam was awake, the two cousins whooped with delight and charged into the room.

"Samwise Gamgee!" crowed Merry, "I can't believe it! Everyone thought you were dead! Old Gandalf, (who we also thought dead, but he came back!), swore he saw you fall into the fires of Mt. Doom! No one could possibly survive that!"

"That's true!" agreed Pippin, "But I don't think Frodo ever truly believed you were dead! He'd wait up on the parapets watching for you for hours at a time! We kept trying to tell him it was no use. Guess he showed us!"

All the hobbits laughed and began trying to talk at the same time. They were all so happy to be back together, the room fairly pulsed with their joy. Sam couldn't help staring at Merry and Pippin and exclaiming over their unseemly growth spurt. He hadn't noticed this when he first met up with Pippin, but now it perplexed him. The cousins laughed again and proceeded to tell Sam the story of their time with the Ents and the downfall of Isengard. Sam wasn't quite sure how much to believe of this outlandish tale, but enjoyed it just the same.

Frodo ordered food to be brought up to the room, and although Sam was cautioned against eating too much after his long period of deprivation, he was more than satisfied. The other three quickly disposed of the leftovers.

Aragorn and Gandalf arrived shortly thereafter with Legolas and Gimli in tow. "Master Gamgee!" boomed Gimli as he approached the bed, "Never have I been more pleased to see a gardener in all my life! You hobbits are certainly difficult to kill off!" He laughed uproariously at his own joke while Legolas shook his head in mock dismay.

"We are indeed delighted to see you safe and sound, Sam." The elf smiled warmly at Sam who blushed deeply. He had always been somewhat intimidated by the elegant Elf. "You were the talk of the party!"

"That's right!" grinned Gimli, "After Pippin's grand announcement and your dramatic entrance, nobody cared about the King's wedding anymore!"

They all laughed as Aragorn pushed them out of the room in order to tend to Sam. "We will come back later, Sam!" called Legolas as he and Gimli hurried into the hallway, narrowly avoiding the door Aragorn slammed in their faces.

Sam continued to improve with every passing day, but was still unwilling to talk about his ordeal. Whenever he tried, the image of Damrod lying in the road, an arrow in his back, rose up before him. He felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and so did his best not to think on it.

However, his dreams would not let him forget and most nights he awoke abruptly, bathed in a cold sweat and heart pounding. One morning after such a dream, he lay there in his bed, trembling. He knew the time had come and he reluctantly forced himself remember all that had happened to him after Mr. Doom. Once released, the memories of his nightmarish journey welled up like a volcano erupting. Every moment of anger and fear and grief he had so determinedly buried burst forth in a great soul- wrenching cry. Sam buried his face in his pillow, his body convulsed with wracking sobs as he thought of brave Damrod, dead because of him. He thought of Frodo and what he had lost on the Quest; of Boromir's death; his own months of suffering and torment.

Finally, when all his energy had been spent and his pillow soaked with tears, he wearily rolled to his side and gasped. There, sitting beside his bed, regarding him gravely, was the Lady Galadriel. "M.My Lady!" he stammered in embarrassment, trying to wipe his eyes and make himself presentable. He was horrified to have the beautiful Lady of Lothlorien see him like this.

Galadriel smiled, her eyes soft with pity and sympathy. "Do not feel ashamed, Samwise Gamgee. You have endured much pain and grief, perhaps more than any of the Fellowship. If that pain is not released, it will destroy you from within."

Sam stared at her, chewing his lip. "No one suffered more than Mr. Frodo." He mumbled as if somehow that made his own suffering seem less important.

Galadriel tilted her head as she quietly studied Sam's tear- streaked face. "Yes, Frodo did suffer and will continue to do so. The power of the Ring does not leave its victim's unscathed. But, that does not alter what you have borne. As well as the physical pains, you had to bear the agony of watching your dearest friend suffer as the Ring destroyed him more and more, knowing there was nothing you could do. And yet, you never lost hope. You remained at his side, carried him to the top of Mt. Doom on your own back, and even carried the Ring yourself for a short while. Without you, the Quest must certainly have failed."

Sam looked down, his hands absently twisting the bedclothes into a knot. "I.I can't help thinkin' about Damrod," he said in a low voice. "He died because of me. If he hadn't rescued me from the Haradrim, he'd still be alive today."

Galadriel placed her hand under Sam's chin and gently tilted his head until reluctantly, his eyes met hers. "We all had our parts to play in this." She replied softly, but firmly. "Some were meant to fall, others to continue on. Your part is not yet finished, Samwise Gamgee. There is much work yet for you to do in your life. Damrod played his as it was written." She smiled again as she gracefully rose to her feet. "I think the time has come for you to tell the others of your journey. It may alleviate much of your own pain. Also, Lord Faramir would wish to know of his friend." As she turned to leave, she spied Sam's pack lying open on the floor, her gifts still within. She knelt down and picked up the box she had given Sam so long ago in Lothlorien. She nodded slowly, her serene face thoughtful. "Yes, Sam, there is still much work for you to do."

That evening, Sam told Frodo of his tortuous journey home. He felt it would be easier to tell just Frodo at first and then later, the others. Frodo listened intently, tears in his eyes. It pained him more than he could say to hear how much Sam had suffered. But Sam found what the Lady had said was true. He did feel better after telling Frodo and later, it was easier when he told Gandalf and the others.

"I still feel terrible about Mister Damrod," he sighed as he finished his tale for the second time. "He risked everything to save me. I guess I should tell Captain Faramir what happened to him."

Aragorn reached over and gripped Sam's arm. "Damrod was a soldier, Sam. He knew the risks, but he must have felt saving your life was more important. He will be honored." Sam's smile was sad, but grateful.

A moment later there were loud voices heard outside Sam's room. All heads turned as a loud, demanding knock sounded against the door. Legolas rose to his feet and warily opened the door. In came Lord Faramir, a broad grin on his face. "Greetings, Sam!" he said, walking over towards Sam. "I am sorry I have not had the opportunity to visit you before this, but I had some business to attend to." Some muffled laughter could be heard outside the door. Faramir continued, unperturbed. "I am pleased to see you looking considerably better than when you first arrived, and so I bring you a visitor!"

Sam turned to the door and with a cry of joy leaped to his feet. A pale, but very much alive, Damrod strolled into the room, followed by another Ranger. "Damrod!"

"Hullo, Sam!" grinned Damrod as he knelt in front of the flabbergasted Hobbit. "I hoped you had made it to Minas Tirith safe and sound after I was forced to, uh, take my leave of you! It appears as if you have been well taken care of!"

"What happened!?" asked Sam in disbelief, "How did you escape the Orcs?"

"Well," Damrod began, rising to his feet, "I can thank Mablung here for that! After you and I had made our escape, Mablung decided that I might be in need of help on the journey back, what with all the foul creatures still free in Lebbenin, so he trailed us. He came upon me on the road just in the nick of time and was able to kill most of the Uruks. The rest of the Orcs took off after their leaders were dead. We took refuge in some nearby caves until I was strong enough to make the journey to Minas Tirith."

Mablung continued the story. "Unfortunately, while I was dispatching Orcs with my bow, a couple of others made off with my horse. Otherwise, we would have been here much sooner!"

"I could not help but wonder what had happened to you," Damrod said, looking down at Sam, "I feared the Orcs had managed to catch you and I wanted Mablung to go look for you."

"I kept telling him it was useless!" sighed Mablung, "If the Orcs had gotten you, by the time I would have found you, it would have been too late. I knew you were on Damrod's horse and I hoped he would take you to safety. Fortunately, he did!"

Everyone began talking at once. Sam continued to shake his head in disbelief, then he looked at all the merry faces around him. This is why he came back, he thought to himself. This is what had kept him going during all those long days of pain and misery. Here, there was joy and love and strength. Here, people cared about each other. He turned suddenly as he felt a comforting hand on his shoulder. He turned and found Frodo looking at him in concern.

"Are you alright, Sam?"

Sam thought for a moment and realized he felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his heart. For the first time, he truly believed he would be alright. "Yes." he said, smiling slowly, "I am alright. And Mr. Frodo?" He turned to his friend, "I'm thinkin' its time to go home to the Shire."

Frodo gave Sam a warm smile, placed his arm around his companion's shoulders and nodded. "Me too, Sam. Me too."

The End