The midsummer sun beat down on the busy roadway leading to the Brandywine Bridge. Sam brought the cart to a standstill amid the press of mounted and walking Hobbits, all making their way to the broad pasture beyond the river. Sam sat high on the driving bench, reigns held loosely in his hands, exchanging greetings with the many friends who shared the same road and the same destination. All the residents of the Shire had been invited, by Royal Proclamation, to attend a celebration and to meet their new King. Rosie was seated comfortably in the back of the wagon with the children, sheltered from the midday sun by a canopy stretched over willow struts. Elanor, a golden, grown up lass of four summers, watched with wide-eyed excitement, giving a constant commentary to her mother of all she could see. Frodo lad slept against his mother's skirts, his thumb in his mouth, his curls plastered damply around his face. Rosie rested against cushions for comfort, the new baby cradled in her arms.

Sam urged the ponies on slowly as the press of the crowd moved forward. Just beyond the bridge the throng was halted at a guard point, liveried guards checking and directing the Hobbits towards a field set aside to accommodate tents and stabling. When he reached the front of the queue, Sam handed a roll of parchment to the guard, who on reading the inscription promptly saluted.

"Greetings, Master Gamgee. I was instructed to look out for you. If you will excuse me for a moment, I will arrange for you to be escorted to the Royal Pavilion." The guard called over to a companion and together they moved aside the barrier and led the cart through. The second guard climbed up beside Sam and directed him across the pasture and up a gentle rise towards an area cordoned off for the Royal Party.

Elanor woke Frodo and they gazed about in silent wonder. At the lower end of the pasture were brightly coloured merchant tents and stalls, flags and banners fluttering in the breeze. The central area was open space and at the bottom of the rise long trestle tables had been set up to accommodate the expected throng. Large marquees housed those engaged in cooking the feast, the smell of baking bread and roasting meat filled the air and set Hobbit stomachs rumbling.

The cart was brought to a standstill in front of a large and lavish, tented pavilion, festooned with banners and surmounted by the Royal Standard. Rosie was rendered speechless with wonder and apprehension; Sam gave her a reassuring hug as he helped her and the children down.

"This way, Sir. Don't worry about baggage and cart, they will be attended to." The guard led them in through the curtained entrance and announced them to their Royal hosts and the assembled guests.

Guiding Rosie, and holding the children's hands, Sam stepped forward and bowed. The King and Queen stood side by side, tall and regal, and as fair as Sam had remembered them. Sam was conscious of the King's keen and perceptive gaze upon him, scrutinizing his countenance and searching his face looking for signs of change.

"King Elessar, Queen Arwen, may I present my wife Rose, my daughter Elanor, Frodo and baby Rose. Rosie blushed and bobbed a flustered curtsy, desperately trying to soothe Rose, whose cries of hunger threatened to drown out all conversation and hindered by Frodo Lad who had hidden his face in her skirts and was clinging on as if his life depended on it.

"Rosie it is a pleasure to welcome you; Sam, it is too long since last we met." The King stepped forward and kissed Rosie's hand in a formal gesture of welcome and then kissed her forehead in affectionate greeting. Arwen, seeing her discomfort, swept over and putting a comforting arm around her shoulder, drew her over to an area set aside for comfort, furnished with rugs, cushions and comfortable seating.

"Make yourself at home, Rosie, I can see the baby requires your attention"

Thank you, My Lady; I'm afraid she is not shy about letting her needs be known!"

"It's a pleasure to have you here and to get to know you all better; and please call me Arwen. We are all friends here, please relax and enjoy yourself. We have heard much of your charms from your friends over there," she said with a smile, pointing to the far side of the room. Merry and Pippin had drawn Sam and Elanor into the midst of the assembled company. The King, Legolas and Gimli were all seated around the table, mugs of ale in their hands. The conversation was loud and full of laughter. Elanor had been lifted up to sit on the table between Legolas and Gimli, her legs dangling down as she captivated them with her description of the journey.

There was so much news and gossip to catch up on that the afternoon passed quickly. Sam was quietly observing the friends around the table when he saw Arwen rise from her place beside Rosie and walk across the room towards him. He was suddenly reminded of a promise he had given several years before. Acting on the impulse of the moment and before his courage failed him, he stood up, pulled over a footstool and climbed up onto it. As Arwen approached he hailed her quietly.

"My Lady." He extended his hand to draw her forward. Arwen smiled and looked at him quizzically; surprised by the uncharacteristic boldness of his actions but eager to hear what it was he had to say. She stepped in front of him and waited as he raised his gaze to hers. Sam was oblivious to the silence and surprise that had settled over the company as they watched the tableaux unfolding before them. Raising his hands he placed them on Arwen's shoulders and gently pulling her towards him he kissed her on each cheek and then on her forehead. She had hardly time to react before he lowered his head and whispered quiet words that only she could hear. Her reaction was immediate; tears sprang to her eyes and she lowered her head onto his shoulder, raising her arms to embrace him tightly. He returned the embrace as she sobbed quietly against him. The silence in the room thickened as the King got to his feet.

"Sam, what is the meaning of this!" The king's words were icily quiet but his face was stern as he stood beside his wife. Sam dropped his arms and let his eyes fall to the floor as Arwen released him and turned away to compose herself. She reassured the King with a sad smile and a light embrace and moved away to her private chamber. The King turned back to Sam, awaiting an explanation.

"Well, Sam!" Sam remained still until the King stood right before of him, only raising his head when he felt the King's breath ruffle his hair. His heart was hammering in his chest and he had to brace his knees to stay upright. He slowly raised his eyes to meet the frosty gaze of the King.

"I was asked to deliver a message and a greeting, Sire," he said in a hesitant and slightly shaky tone.

"Then I suggest you deliver it without delay!" Sam was suddenly reminded of the grim-faced ranger in the Prancing Pony. He smiled at the recollection, and taking his courage in his hands he embraced the King, bestowing kisses of salutation on his cheeks and brow. The King braced himself at the unexpected display of intimacy but Sam held his gaze and retained a grip on his shoulders.

"I travelled with Frodo on his journey to the Grey Havens," he began by way of explanation. "It was a difficult journey." he paused, suddenly caught up by the poignancy of the memory. Taking a deep, steadying breath he continued, "I knew I could no longer keep him safe.that I had to let him go.and it was so hard!" Sam paused again, his eyes never leaving the face of the King as he battled for mastery over his own fragile emotions. He saw the sternness replaced by a look of deep compassion and felt a comforting hand on his shoulder urging him to continue. "Lord Elrond vowed that he would care for Frodo and look after him in my stead." Silent tears ran crept down his face as he spoke; he brushed them away roughly on the sleeve of his jacket. "As one father to another he asked me to stand in his stead when next we met and for me to pass on to you his love and his blessing. He asked me to tell you that not a day would go by that you.you were not.not in his thoughts." Unable to control the flood of emotions that overwhelmed him, Sam tried to pull away but all movement was prevented by the bear-tight embrace that held him pinioned. It took several minutes for him to regain his composure.

He was suddenly aware of the deathly, uneasy silence that filled the room; he looked about and saw the shock and discomfort of his family and friends. He looked back to the King, and filled with mortification whispered, "I'm sorry, I meant no offence.I didn't mean to embarrass you or your guests." He jumped down before the King could reply and rushed for the entrance, bumping into a guard as he went.

"Aragorn!" Legolas had risen to his feet and moved towards the King. "You can't leave it like that! Shall I go after him?"

"Peace, my friends. Give him a few minutes privacy, and then I will go and find him. Bravery comes in many guises and I think that display took even Sam by surprise."

***

Sam was lying on the ground beneath a large oak tree, in a small copse behind the Royal Pavilion. He gazed up at the leaves as they moved in the afternoon breeze; dappled sunlight played across his vision and the soft whisper of the leaves soothed him with their quiet song. He wondered if the King would ever forgive him.

"You still grieve, Sam?" He hadn't heard the quiet footfall as the king approached and he made to rise but a hand on his shoulder urged him to be still. The King settled next to him with his back against the tree.

"Ay, a bit. but it's not grieving so much now as.well just missing him. I think of things I want to share with him, things that would have made him laugh, seeing his eyes light up or that wicked grim spread across his face. I guess it's the old Frodo I miss; Frodo before the Ring, when everything was simple and easy and I was happy to be just a gardener and he was just Frodo Baggins, Master of Bag End. I guess that must sound daft- like a child wishing for the moon!"

"Not so silly, Sam. Shall I let you in to a secret? There are days when I long to dig out my old clothes and become Strider again.to disappear into the wilderness with only a horse for company and never have to sit through another council meeting or meet another trade delegation or be nice to people whom I would never willingly invite into my home." They sat in silence, each contemplating what had been lost and what had been gained, and the price that had been paid.

Their quiet reverie was interrupted by a quiet cough from nearby. "This all looks very cosy, but poor Rosie is in there worrying herself into a tizzy thinking maybe you've been clapped in irons for upsetting the King and Queen. I think you should come back and put her mind at rest!" Merry stood with his hands on his hips and regarded the King and the Hobbit with a look of feigned annoyance. "And Sam, that is not the sort of behaviour we expect from the next Mayor of Hobbiton! Next time you plan to upset the Queen and accost the King could you please give me prior warning! I nearly had a heart attack in there and poor Gimli is still choking on his beer!

"Did I ever say I wanted to be the next Mayor of Hobbiton?" said Sam with a degree of exasperation

"Look, Sam, we have been through this before. It wasn't my idea-which is a surprise since it is such a good idea," he continued with his usual brand of cocky self-confidence. "Frodo set it in motion; he proposed you and did all the paperwork to set it on a proper footing- and you wouldn't want to go against his wishes, now would you?" Sam gave up with a shrug, knowing he had been backed into a corner from which he couldn't escape.

"Looks like it is back to work," said the King with a grin, as he helped Sam to his feet. "No peace for the wicked, hey Sam?"

"Then I must 'ave been very wicked" muttered Sam to himself as he followed them back to the Pavilion.

***

Late into the night, Sam sat at a small desk and by the light of a small lantern wrote of the day's events in his journal. His head was so full of thoughts and memories that his hand had difficulty in keeping up as he poured them out onto the page. He still felt slightly heady from the fine wine served at the banquet, but what filled his heart had occurred after the feast. A herald had blown a fanfare and the gathered host had settled into silence as the King got to his feet to address the assembled company. His speech had not been long; he greeted and thanked the Hobbits for their welcome and reaffirmed his commitment of protection and support of the Shire. Then he called forward Merry, Pippin and Sam and proclaimed and honoured them for their courage and actions during the fight against the Darkness. Finally, to Sam's joy and delight, the King called forth a minstrel who sang to the gathered company the song the three Hobbits had first heard on the Field of Cormallen-'Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom'. As on his first hearing, Sam listened with tears in his eyes, Rosie's hand clasped tightly. His joy was that now all of the Hobbits of the Shire would know and begin to understand the enormity of the quest Frodo had undertaken and the price he had paid. No longer would the traveller's tales be dismissed as stories; the primacy of the King placed a stamp of authority that none would dare to discount. At that moment, Sam had felt the last vestiges of pain and anguish melt away. He turned to the King and bowed; his happiness and joy lighting up his face. The King had acknowledged his thanks with a smile and a nod; words were not needed, for he understood.

Now as the lantern light flickered, Rosie padded over quietly. "Come to bed, Sam, it's very late and we have a long road home tomorrow." She looked over his shoulder as he closed the precious book and saw the inscription inside the front cover:

The thoughts of Samwise Gangee.
Memories for a friend.

"Ay, Rosie, it's a long road, but we'll get there, in the end."

THE END.

********

A/N According to the Appendix B, the visit of King Elessar to the Brandywine did not occur until 15 years after Frodo's departure. I have invented this earlier visit for the purposes of my story.

Many thanks to everyone who has encouraged and offered me support over the last few months. I appreciate ever review and comment. Special thanks to Kay and Puxinette who have been with me from the beginning, and to Shirebound for kindly ironing out the wrinkles in my spelling and punctuation and always having a kind word- Thank you.

Helen