What Sam Knew
To Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West.There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart.
Sam stands watching the sea.
The smooth white planks under his feet are cooling under a veiled sun as clouds thicken above the horizon, colouring the sky in purple and blue. An impatient mist has come and gone, wetting the ends of his curls and gathering cool on his arms. The summer rain waits with him, leaden and longing for release.
The dwarf sits at his side upon the pilings smacking on the end of a lit pipe, the billows buffeted away by the misting air. They've been here for many hours, watching the horizon since dawn. The day is waning now and there is still no sign--nothing more than a wisp of blue cutting the edge of heaven and earth, dulling into haze. The gulls, too, have grown tired of waiting and are flying off home to the port towers and chimneys of Avallónë.
Sam sighs and shifts his weight. The dwarf grunts in sympathy, tapping out his pipe before he speaks.
"'Tis been a long wait this time." These are the first words Sam has heard him utter since breakfast. Now hours later, only a mild hunger stirs in his belly, although a large supper waits on the hearth back home, heated and tended by Bilbo's patient hands, more patient then his own which fidget at his cuffs as his shirt billows in the rising wind, rushing out to meet the waves.
When Sam was a lad Gandalf had told him of the ways in which the world had been made, all out of song--a singing that was heard before the earth knew its place, before the sun rose in the sky and the moon followed at night. There was song before goodness and before evil. These were the songs that had made the world. Sam knew many songs, but none of them had ever been magical enough to nurture a dying flower or call home a lost sheep. His songs were of his homeland and all of them were known to joy and sorrow.
But here, standing at the sea, waiting, Sam could sometimes in the quiet of his mind imagine the sound of that first song. It seemed to him that if ever there was a place one should sing such a song it would be here wondering at the vastness and the emptiness of the sea, wishing it to be filled with light from a time before darkness and betrayal--a time before evil knew its name.
"Aye," Sam answers the dwarf, his eyes still upon the horizon, pained with the knowledge that each time the wait has grown longer. "But I must always see it through."
The ship came at sunfall to a chorus of trumpets and light singing of the elves who kept these harbours, though arrivals were now no more than memory. All the ships had gone to dock save one. Galadine was her name. She was a small ship with a single purple sail and Legolas was her captain and builder. She had borne both the elf-prince and Gimli to this place beyond the shadow of evils, beyond the reach of time. Now it was the ship who took his master away.
Sam and Gimli had spotted her mast in the setting light, a waving shadow above the line of the sea. They'd moved to the very edge of the planks, squinting into the dimming light. The shapes Sam saw moving on her bow were greyed and muted, flowing and merging with the shadows. Then his eyes caught the white billows of a shirt set upon a small frame under a shock of dark hair, and there his heart lit until Galadine found her berth and welcomed the seafarers home.
Frodo rides next to Sam in the cart, warm against his side and heavy-lidded from the rocking.
Sam had driven the cart out from their lone home on the grassy southern sandhills, empty. He'd not brought it before. What provisions his master and the prince took with them were usually drawn hard to the cask, drained and depleted, cast away as they made their final approach. This time was different. There were many things to lift and carry from the leaden hull. Wrapped tied somethings, some heavy and some light. Some wet and some crusted with dried salt or sand, beige and tinged with gold flecks--not the sand of Valinor.
"A cart!" Frodo cried once they'd managed to loosen from one another at the edge of the dock, a flurry of artless kisses and half words muffled by grasping arms and coddled heads. "Sam, how did you guess?"
Sam could not answer, he was too full for words, his heart beating fast and his throat gone dry with desperate relief. He could not speak yet of what Círdan had told him when he'd asked him to look afar, across the waves, to where his master sailed, too long gone from the Isle. He could not speak of it, not even if the Shipwright's answer had at first burned in his chest like dark fire.
He has gone beyond my sight
Frodo smiled and ran from his arms and bounced up into the cart to observe its sturdiness. The pony snorted at him in disapproval, as if Frodo's inspection was an affront to the vehicle he bore. Legolas chided Frodo for being such a hopeless collector as he and Gimli began to unload the hull hand over hand until the cart's wooden bed was filled to the brim and its bundles secured with rope. There were tiny stick cages this time, some empty but some were occupied by odd creatures of scales and feathers, snapping at Sam's hands as he lifted them in.
Now his master's seawind-matted curls brush his chin as they ride home alone. Frodo's skin is chafed by harsh water and reddened by relentless sun and bruised by hard labour. His hands which lay open in his lap are marked by healed cuts and rope burns. Their kisses are roughened now by the uneven peel upon his once smooth lips. Sam would see to him now, take all care with each curve and hollow of skin, nurturing and nourishing the abused flesh until it re-emerged soft and glowing to match the constant brightness of his eyes. There, in blue upon blue, nothing had changed.
"I wish you could have seen it," Frodo murmurs, raising his heavy lids a moment. Sam looks silently away from that wistful sea-weary gaze as Frodo nestles himself more comfortably under his sheltering arm. They ride quietly for a time until Frodo says, "What are we having for supper, Sam? Please tell me it's not fish."
Sam chuckles and the movement brings a wincing smile to Frodo's cracked lips. It dissolves the unspoken words trapped between them.
"A new island! Goodness me, Frodo, is that where you were off to?"
"Yes, Uncle," Frodo says, holding out a bound stack of wind-torn parchments. "These are for you to read to us in the evenings after supper."
"Are they now?" Bilbo says, inspecting the heavy bundle as he takes it from Frodo's outstretched arms and lays it upon the table Sam has just managed to set for dinner. With all of Frodo's unwrapping and cutting of twine, hardly a surface in their common smial has remained uncluttered with oddments of dried leaf, cracked shell and small crusted rocks.
A pile of oblong pink-green fruits Sam has never seen the likes of tumble out of a sack. Frodo reaches for one and holds it up for Sam to smell.
"Aren't they wonderful? Tree after tree grew for miles around, right out of the dunes! They were the one food Legolas and I never tired of eating. Hand me that knife, Sam-dear. I'll show you how to cut them."
Sam watches carefully as Frodo circles the odd fruit with a paring knife, severing the flesh away from the fibrous centre. "The pit is very tough and hard," he explains, "but the outer flesh is as soft and sweet as any Southfarthing peach."
Sam is doubtful, but lowers his mouth to accept the oozing crescent. It is delicious and he looks at Frodo as the flesh falls apart on his tongue and juice drips down his chin. This draws a slow smile from Frodo that makes Sam's spine ache with longing even if his master is in much need of a bath and a hearty supper.
Sam breaks the weighted gaze and reaches for a napkin. "We'd best be getting dinner on with. It won't be getting any more done."
Sam watches with satisfaction as Frodo devours his meal, his lips and fingertips tinted with the juices of the many rich sauces and puddings Sam readied, the moment they had word of Frodo's distant return, and instructed Bilbo to set on the fire in time to welcome him home. He watches white teeth bite the tender flesh from the lamb bone and quick fingers pick the crisp roasted skin from the fine wings of the goose. The warm breads fall apart under the buttery drippings as Frodo smiles and pops fingersful into his mouth again and again. Bilbo chuckles with amusement.
"If I had ever known you'd come to love a hearty meal so, I'd not have fussed over your tepid appetite in your youth."
Frodo drinks deeply from his cup before attempting a reply. "You didn't prepare meals half so well in my youth, Uncle. But I suspect, once again, Sam has played no small part in this feast. I've been starved for the taste of real food. I cannot stand even the thought of fire-baked shells. Legolas sails far better than he cooks."
Sam smiles to himself as he reaches to pour the wine into his master's emptied cup.
Frodo hums quietly as he lays his head back against the towel folded at the edge of the tub. Steam rises from the water and swirls in the firelight, dancing above Frodo's outstretched arm. His fingers still cling to a brandy glass Sam is watchful of should it need hasty retrieving as Frodo grows sleepy from the heat of the soapy water and the indulgence of a well filled belly.
It is a song from their long past, a song the lasses used to sing in the river on washday. It warms Sam's heart to hear it as he sits upon the stool behind the tub, gathering another knotted mass of damp curl into his palm. He eases the comb into it, careful not to pull, teasing out the matted tangles and recovering tiny treasures trapped in their nests: gold-flicked sand and bits of dried green seaweed he lays upon a cloth on the stool beside him. A pair of scissors wait ready in his pocket for managing the worst of the snags. This is proving to be one of them and Sam takes them up and begins to snip cautiously, eyeing Frodo's expression.
Frodo's eyes stir under their lids, but no more. Sam nips at the mat slowly, until Frodo's song ends and he takes another sip from the glass before passing it back to Sam.
"Share this with me," he says, letting his arm slide to rest on his thigh rippling pale under the water. "I'm hoping it will discourage you from cutting too much."
Sam accepts the glass and takes a deep swallow. The liquor warms his chest as he sets it aside before cutting the last of the mat free. It lies in his palm, a small soft tangle. He pushes it about with his thumb until a small white shell pops free.
The rain falls heavy outside their bedroom window as Sam undresses for bed. The distant beach sands are dark and the sigh of the waves muffled under the loosened storm. He's stoked the fire high and laid down extra quilts to keep them warm through the long night. The clouds that gathered as the Galadine returned through protected waters have burst, spilling over onto the thirsty sandhills. It has been a long time since the last rain and Sam is grateful to whatever powers govern this, to whoever keeps the seas calm when Frodo is away.
He has gone beyond my sight
Frodo lies bare in the bed under the coverings, his dried cropped curls tight around his forehead that rests in slumber upon the pillow. Sam thinks the trim makes his master look younger, though he has always looked the same. He knows Frodo was young once, even a child, but these are ages Sam can no longer remember. Even as he watched his own children grow from fauntlings to adults with children of their own, his memory of Frodo had been the one constant for Sam in a changeling time spanning two worlds.
Sam pulls the covers aside and slips in quietly, laying his head next to the face he loves, beautiful in sleep. He'd fought his weariness all evening, for Sam's sake, but the bath proved his undoing, murmuring sleepy apologies as Sam carried him to bed, clean and dried.
Frodo's lips are parted and his sweet breath falls on Sam's nose as he watches his master's sealed eyes wander in dreams. Does he dream of the sea? Sam wonders. And when Frodo is far away rocking in a berth, does he dream of their home? The old one, or the new? Though both have grown old in Sam's long memory.
Sam lifts his hand and rests it upon Frodo's bare hip; tonight he will not feel the chill of a cold bed, nor lie awake aching for the hobbit that belongs here, warm beside him. His master smiles in his sleep, the right hand reaching across the sheets for him. Sam takes the maimed hand in his and brings it to his lips. Not everything has stayed the same.
Dawn is but a murmur away when Sam feels Frodo stirring beside him on the fringe of sleep. Sam is not quite aware himself, his head heavy with dream and shy of new waking. The rain has stopped and outside the rustles and chirps of the garden have just begun. Frodo makes a sound that stirs Sam to open his eyes to see a smooth bare arm slip free from the coverlets that have wrapped about them in their close sleep.
Raspy lips pass under his chin to nip at his nape and Sam is suddenly roused. He reaches in turn and Frodo is soon under him, pliant and warm, winding about him as they come together, seeking to part lips with hungry tongues. Frodo moans with each deep kiss and Sam is moved to place his palm against his cheek and whisper useless words of ease. Bilbo could sleep through the ending of the world if the sun were not yet high enough to his liking. But there is no tempering this and Sam soon gives in to raw sounds of his own as the lithe limbs he has missed so keenly gather him fast.
Sam surrenders to the relentless desire he has carried with him all his long life. Once only the innocent fondness of a child's longing, long grown into a vital need no words can ever define. With his Rose there was love and comfort, as there should be, but here in this second life, there is fire. Sam burns through his regrets as he tastes the fluttering pulse at Frodo's neck and trembles with a feeling not unlike fear. Sam squelches his tears through tight lids as his lips move from the heat of a damp throat to suckle the soft pink rise of nipple, flattening under the press of his tongue. Quivering contours of fine bone and silken skin beckon him, all weather-wear lost in the half-light as his love moans and stretches beside him to invite more and more.
They cling and kiss recklessly for long minutes until Frodo begins to thrash at the sheets that bind his legs like one of his creatures captured on distant shores. Rested and fed, Frodo has risen into a ferocious demanding that Sam will be charged to tame. He cries out to Sam, drawing him up by the ears, and then they are kneeling–Frodo's knees spread over his thighs–Frodo's hot mouth on his, seeking, feeding, his face caught in his master's hands. Soon, one of those hands draws down Sam's chest to find his waiting length, coaxing it to harden further, urging it to peak and spill. Sam thrusts into those merciful fingers, knowing he will come all apart if he cannot hide from Frodo's eyes blurred and burning with love. Sam groans, closing his eyes. His fingers pull back the silky curls to stop Frodo's tongue so he can speak. "Enough," he says between hard breaths and Frodo shakes his head in protest. Sam runs his hand down Frodo's arm to his fingers to work himself free from the grasp. Frodo whimpers, panting and wincing with lust.
"Shh, Master," Sam whispers against his flushed cheek. "Let me"
With a hand pressed to his lover's bottom, he draws Frodo close to grind their hardened need together. He lets his fingers smooth over rounded muscle to caress the heated crease between and Frodo tightens in response. There is a way he intends it to go, imagined during long nights of waiting, but Frodo must always be made ready and this Sam never forgets.
They tumble back on the pillows as Frodo begins to fight him again in his impatience and Sam must hold his hips down to keep him still as he descends, remembering the strange taste of foreign fruit as his mouth opens to feed upon a rigid sweetness that has no name. This is what catches Frodo at last, stills his movements, but does not relax his limbs as he strains for the next sip and lave, his moans coalescing into one long writhing cry.
Sam takes his time here, remembering the scent, savouring, rubbing his chin against all the beautiful slick heat he creates here. Sam lets his nose drop to nuzzle loose furred skin as the legs that threatened him with their thrashing now fall open. He lets Frodo's hips go as his lover spreads himself upon the abused sheets, defeated. Even Frodo's cries are stilled and Sam can hear the sea again as he moves to lift Frodo's hips forward and ease his legs back, exposing what he seeks, small and surprising and hot under his searching tongue.
Sam wishes he could see that lovely face twist and crumble with slow pleasure. Instead, he imagines the tiny frown furrowed between sable brows, the nose sharpening as the upper curve of bowed lip presses and trembles. Frodo is remembering now, Sam can feel it thrumming through his skin as he teases and licks. Frodo is remembering why the pain of his leaving still runs dull and cruel through Sam's veins--the first leaving and all the ones in between. Sam lets him hover there on the edge of understanding, gentle kisses growing ever forgetful as the dampness begins to cool at each pause. Then, when all is still, and Frodo's breath is but a peaceful shallow wave, Sam lets the pain burst free like last night's storm as he rises to bury himself in it.
Skin to skin they rest watching the sun rise together. Their harsh breath and animal grappling has become a sigh and fading twinge of pleasure still echoing through sore muscle and spent flesh. Bilbo is moving deep in the smial. Perhaps the daybreak woke him, but somehow Sam doubts it. He imagines the dead will be passing under the window soon, throwing them a disdainful glance.
He moves his exhausted body against Frodo lying spooned before him and he is pierced through with the memory still fresh in his mind: Of heat buried in heat and the fullness swelling deep in his groin, pulling him down with its inevitable weight. He can still feel Frodo moulded to him, the hot spill of his lover's climax coating and easing their joining like hot sealing wax stamped by passion in every thrust of his hips. One thought echoed in his mind as he felt the first cleansing tremor of his release take him: How, how can you leave this?
Sam breathes in the musky scent of sweat and seed and wonders what it must be like for Frodo, to allow their love to culminate this way. It cannot be the same as it was for his dear Rose. And somehow that makes all the difference.
"Are you all right, love?" he asks.
Frodo turns in his arms and buries his face at Sam's neck. Shaking fingers slip around his ribs and cling to his back. Tears dampen Sam's chest as his lover trembles and weeps in his arms. "Yes," he answers, "yes, yes"
Sam takes the footpath from the garden to the shore, the one that follows the white cliffs and overlooks the beaches below. The shrub here grows low and sturdy and Sam pauses among them to collect fallen branches into a bundle he carries on a strap over his shoulder. He stops and stoops, breaks the longer twigs down to the size he needs and loops the twine about them to hold them all together.
The seas are calming today and the air is clean and sweet-smelling from the recent rains. The path under his feet is damp, but firm--a mixture of sand and earth that never turns muddy. Frodo couldn't have known this, when he and Bilbo chose this part of the Isle on which to build, that it would be difficult for gardening. The soil about their grass-covered hill his dark enough, but drains too readily for many of the seedlings Sam brought with him out of Middle-earth. Every late winter he takes the cart inland to the forests and collects the dark-scented earth from the glades, bringing it back to mix with the best of what the sandhills can offer.
In time, Sam's garden became renown across the Tol. Market days drew curious looks of admiration for all the strange vegetables and roots he grows out away by the sea where the halflings dwell.
"Are more of you coming?" he had been asked for years. "I don't reckon so," he'd answer them. "I'm the last."
Sam takes stock of the sticks he's collected, figuring the bundle might be nearing the right amount. Sam is building a birdcage for Frodo. Or rather, a cage for Frodo's ongoing guest, a green-feathered something with a bright orange beak that doesn't care for Sam in the least. Though, for his own part, he's tried to make peace with the fierce little thing. It sings and hops about on Frodo's shoulders, but whenever Sam draws near, its plumage comes up and it titters low in its throat. "Hush, now," Frodo would say. "This is just our dear old Sam."
It came with the rest of the odd creatures Frodo brought back from the island a while ago and it's the only one that's stayed. The lizards had escaped their tiny homes by daybreak, Bilbo chasing them out the door with a broom and no small words for Frodo who merely laughed. Frodo has seen to it that the bird will not follow them.
He's told Sam of how the bird flew out to them as he and Legolas sailed away from the island. It followed the boat for many leagues before perching on the crossbeam, exhausted. Frodo became fearful it would not have the strength to fly home and so climbed the mast to catch it. He loves it and cares for it well, and the little beast loves Frodo just as dearly. It sings for him and him alone, eats from his plate and waddles up the smials after him whenever he leaves a room. It cannot fly anymore, Frodo has clipped its wings. Sam hopes by making it a bigger home it will eye him less suspiciously and want to spend less time squawking in their bedroom at night, attempting to protect Frodo from the threat of Sam's affections.
Sam turns away from the sea and heads home, the gentle wind at his back. He is alone today, Frodo and Bilbo are off visiting Gandalf in his tall stone house by the emerald lake at the edge of the forest. They are due back by suppertime and Sam plans to have a hot meal waiting for them. As he walks he remembers how he used to gather sticks for his children from the banks of the Water for a game they liked to play. He'd choose them for their similar lengths and thicknesses and paint them various colours. The girls would squeal and the boys would snatch them away and run up into the grasses to find a bald spot to drop and retrieve them. The one who could gather the most without moving any others in the pile would win. The sound of their laughter is still clear in his memory, high and sweet. He smiles as he pulls the bundle higher on his shoulder and heads for home.
"Day 24, morning. I rose early today to meet the sunrise as she came up over the fan-like trees in the east. I walked the sands until I reached the centre of their dense grove, the warm light breaking through the whispering leaves. It reminded me of Ithilien at daybreak when Sam and I used to walk through the old gardens in the mornings before the men in the camp gathered to break their fast. It lacks the scent of old herb and pine, but the light was the same on my hands and feet, scattered and bright"
Bilbo pauses in his reading and squints over at Frodo who lies back in Sam's arms where they've stretched out together on the bench, warm under a blanket. Supper is over and the dishes wait in the kitchen, but Frodo insists he leave them till morning; tonight he wants Bilbo to read some more from his journals. The unbound loose leaves of his most recent sailing adventure now lie in a small chest which Bilbo takes down ever so often to entertain them. Something about this entry puzzles him.
"Frodo, now which camp were you speaking of? Was this before the Great War or after?"
"It was after, Uncle. The month before we removed to The City."
"Oh," Bilbo says, nodding. "I had not realized you'd spent so much time there."
"We did," Frodo says, reaching under the blanket to stroke Sam's hand. "We were waiting for the soldiers to make safe the fields and for Aragorn to decide when he must enter Minas Tirith as their King. I wasnot well, then. The walks we took in the morning under the old trees lightened my spirits considerably. It's perhaps why I remember it so well."
Bilbo is quiet for a time. "A pity we've no copy of the Red Book here to keep it all straight. I wonder if anyone cares about our story at all anymore."
"My Elanor would have kept it," Sam says to reassure him. "It won't be forgotten."
Frodo wraps a blanket around the sleeping bird's old cage before they blow out the parlour candles for the night. Sam has started the new one, but it lacks a roof as yet and the bird only clucks suspiciously at him as he takes his time wrapping each stick together, soaking and bending them just so to make the tiny windows and arches.
Frodo takes his hand and Sam sets the latest miniature dome aside for the night. It's late and Bilbo has long gone off to bed. Their arms slip about one another as they enter their room at the front of the smial. Sam closes the door quietly and takes Frodo in his arms, kissing him soundly. Their kiss gradually slows and lingers until Frodo sighs and holds Sam tightly to him for a long quiet hug.
It's for Elanor, Sam knows. For all he's tried, it's so hard to speak with Frodo about his children and Rose. To say their names aloud here calls to mind how long it's been since he left them behind on the shores of their old home. Could he see the Shire now he would not know it for all it must have grown and changed. If Bag End still rests under the oak, would he know the sandy-haired children that now run from its wide green door? He does not think so. And those smiling familiar faces would not know him, either.
Sam holds Frodo to him and strokes his back. He will not weep tonight. His heart is eased by the memory of the sunlight in Ithilien and how happy he was to see it after so many months of relentless night. And he can remember Frodo, too, and the relief he felt to see those eyes began to wake from the darkness that had brought them to that place so very long ago.
"Come me dear," he whispers. "It's time we were abed."
Bilbo has left for a long visit to the harbour town. Elrond has come and Sam and Frodo both know he will soon be entrenched in long talk that will go on for many days and nights. When they've packed him a basket of food and seen him off a mile or so up the road, Frodo takes Sam's hand and they wander over the sandhills and up to the woody dell and crystal pool for a quiet spot to share a meal basket of their own. They sit and talk, laughing with their toes dipped in the clear water, watching the silver fish swimming about.
From there, Frodo leads Sam back to the seashore where he's fashioned an old lean-to made of leaves and branches. This must be one of Frodo's secret places where he likes to slip off for a few hours to read or think. Sam is pleased to be invited here.
It's past midday now and the afternoon has grown hot. They strip off their clothes and walk across the wide beach to the gentle sea.
"Close your eyes, Sam," Frodo says as they near the breakwater and takes both Sam's hands in his. "Trust me."
Sam does and lets Frodo lead him into the waves that begin to lap over his legs and feet, cool and soothing. Step by step Frodo takes him another foot out and gradually the water rises to meet his waist, then the middle of his chest where he stops, knowing Sam will soon refuse to go any further.
Frodo holds on to Sam's shoulder and wades around until he stands behind him, sliding his hands under Sam's arms. "Lean back," he says softly and Sam hesitates. "It will be all right," he says. "I've got you."
Eyes still closed, Sam takes a breath and leans back until his hair sinks into the moving water. Frodo's hold is sure on him and he tries to relax. "Let go," he says. "Trust her." Sam lifts one leg off the sands beneath him and instinctively his arms fly out to find balance. "Let go, it will be easier," Frodo says and Sam gathers all his will to let his other foot slide free from the bottom. He gasps, but the water takes him up and instantly he is floating as if his flesh weighed nothing at all.
Frodo laughs, his steady fingers never leaving him as he lays suspended here between water and air. He opens his mouth and breathes as the sea rocks him gently in her arms and although his eyes are still closed, Sam smiles.
They share the last of the food together, sitting under the lean-to as the afternoon wanes. They drink the last of the wine from the bottle and wipe their chins on the backs of their hands. They settle down on the old blankets Frodo has left here over the years and begin to kiss. They're barely clothed at the start of it and Sam can easily read Frodo's response to his nips and nuzzles, and yet it goes no further for an hour or more. Sam lies here kissing Frodo over and over with the song of the sea in his ears and the sun warming his back. Frodo's lips are fully healed and his skin is smooth and lovely once again under his wandering hands. He doesn't want it to end, he never wants Frodo to be anywhere but here in his arms sighing his name in his ear.
Eventually, Frodo breaks to catch his breath and tells Sam with half a voice that he cannot hold off anymore. "Nowplease..."
Sam reaches into his sandy linens to find the hard weeping heat that waits for him. He strokes him not more than a dozen times before Frodo is biting his bare shoulder and sobbing nonsense in his ear. His body trembles against him once, twice and again before he falls away, eyes sliding closed in bliss. Sam smiles and removes his slickened hand, cleaning it in the sand. He kisses Frodo's sweaty forehead and nestles in close, rubbing himself against his hip.
Frodo reaches out with a careless hand to tap his arm. "I know, love. I know. Let me catch my breath a moment."
Sam chuckles and begins to lick Frodo's ear, slowly and methodically, sucking the pointed tip in between his lips while he waits.
Frodo smiles. "Are you trying to tell me something, Sam?"
Sam nips his lobe as he slides his tented linens down off his hips. "I am."
When Sam is finished, Frodo lifts his head and sits up. He throws a blanket over Sam and leans back against a tree, pulling him close, laying his sandy head in his lap. Gentle fingers begin to stroke through his curls and Sam closes his eyes, sated and drifting towards sleep. Frodo's touch never falters and the warmth of his thigh stays constant and still under his cheek, but Sam knows tears are falling from his master's eyes as he watches the waves break on the reddening shore.
This is how Frodo says goodbye.
The next morning, Sam wakes to an empty bed. No word, no sound. In his dreams he felt lips brush his cheek once and pass away. Had they been any place but home Sam would have felt it, known it and woken to catch his hand in his. If he'd wanted him to, Sam would have done it, begged him to stay. But Sam knows Frodo too well and like his Gaffer once said: There ain't no use chasin' what don't want to be caught.
Sam lies in bed long past the hour he should be up making breakfast and seeing to the daily chores. Frodo's odd sea-trinkets line the sill under their bedroom window: crab casings, shells and something bony and finger-like that reaches for the sun.
Sam lies in bed and waits for strength.
When he can manage it, Sam begins his first day without Frodo in the garden, raking dead leaves and later hauling water up from the well. His heart is sore with memories of yesterday and his eyes burn with unshed tears he will not allow to come forth anymore. He knows the first week will be the worst and then it will get easier; it will become bearable and then he will begin to brighten at the thought his love might be coming home again soon.
But this time the return was so brief; Sam has not had the time to fortify himself and he stumbles in the sandy lane as he carries the water up to the smial, splashing half of it at his feet. He turns the bucket over, spilling the rest of it and sits down hard upon it in the centre of the path, wishing the anger will come instead and get him past the sorrow and onto the worrying. But the worrying can be the worst.
When Sam's children were born, one after another, for a month or more he and Rose would lie down at night into an exhausted half-sleep, their keen ears pricked to the sound of the bairn's breathing in the cradle next to them. It wasn't unknown to lose a child suddenly in the night and that fear kept them vigilant during a time when by all accounts a body should drop into the deepest sleep it knows for all the rest it was lacking. But he never did sleep soundly, not even when the wee thing was old enough to turn its own head about. They never lost a one. But sometimes when they were young just about all of Sam's children found a way to choke or take fever as if it was being pulled right out of living by unseen hands. And Sam would feel his whole life pause in those terrifying moments while he cleared its tiny throat of a pebble or held it close to his chest as it burned with struggling breath until whatever graceful spirit watched over his little ones would bow her head and the breath of life would come back into them, whole and hale as if nothing had passed.
At least back then, when Sam would wake with a start to the sound of odd breathing or a cry, he could open his eyes and unshield the lantern and know the child was safe and that he could lay his head back down upon his pillow and close his eyes. But here there is no lantern bright enough to see where Frodo has gone. And for sixty or more years, no way to know if the one he loved most in the world was sleeping soundly in his bed in a distant land or waking sudden in the night in need of his Sam who could not come.
Sam rubs his eyes until they ache. Then he stands up and takes the empty bucket back down the path to the well to begin the task again.
Frodo left the bird behind. It sits in its grand cage day after day by the garden window and watches the smial door. Sam feeds it bits of vegetable and greens and ripe fruits. He changes the paper that lines the bottom and covers the roof at night with a sheltering blanket. The little creature suffers Sam to perform these necessary tasks. It does not hiss or threaten to nip as it did before its master went away; it only regards Sam warily with its wild red eyes as he opens the cage door to fill its water cup. It drinks and preens a bit, then waits for Sam to remove himself so it can resume its long stare.
"Frodo should have set you free," Sam says, pulling out his hand and drawing the door shut. "I told him as much. But then, I'm supposing he knew you wouldn't have the heart to leave."
Gandalf arrived at the smial not long after. News must have reached his stone house on the lake. Gandalf lives alone but Legolas and Gimli often come for visits. Sam knows the elf-prince must have been about when Frodo and Bilbo went for their luncheon with him the day he gathered sticks for the birdcage.
Sam waves to the wizard from the garden where he's bent over weeding in the sandy soil. He washes his hands at the back basin, and after a welcome hug, leads Gandalf inside for tea.
"Samwise, it's good to see you today. Bilbo's still in town, is he?"
"Aye, he's spending some time with Elrond, I believe," Sam answers as he prepares the tea for them.
The wizard unfolds his long legs under the bench and watches Sam fondly as he moves about the kitchen, setting out cakes and jam.
"Just a teaspoon of honey will do, yes. Thank you, Sam."
Gandalf is always welcome company and has a keen sense for dropping by whenever one of them is in need of a good long talk. Sam takes the bench across from him and wonders if he's up for it just yet.
"Bilbo didn't know Frodo was going back to sea," Sam says, answering the unspoken question.
"I see," Gandalf says, holding down his beard as he sips his tea. "Did Frodo speak to you about it, then?"
Sam shakes his head. "Frodo's not much for words on it. When he's ready, he just goes."
Gandalf winces at the heat of the steam and sets his mug down. Then he takes up a flat knife and spreads jam on a tiny cake, popping it into his mouth. Sam does the same and they chew for a moment in silence. Sam asked Frodo once what he and Legolas talked about on their long journeys. He told him they didn't speak hardly at all; they just listened to the sea and the wind.
"I saw some of Frodo's escaped lizards today on the walk down," Gandalf offers. "They live in the sandhills now, you know. Thriving and skittering about."
"I've seen them, too. They like it here," Sam says, glancing towards the garden window and the bird who sits unmoving in the barred shadows of its cage. "Not everything does."
"You'll have to forgive our Frodo," Gandalf says as they take a long walk along the white cliffs at dusk.
"What do you mean? I always do."
Gandalf stops at the cliff's edge and leans upon his staff, eyeing the wide blue-gray sky for clouds just as Sam will do every day until Frodo comes home.
"Not completely. There is a pain you hold on to. One that has been with you ever since your arrival."
Sam lowers his head. He thought Gandalf was referring to the journeys Frodo has taken here on the other side. But he knows, the hurt he carries began the first day he ever looked upon the Havens. "I don't mean there to be," he answers. "But it was so hard for me those long years. I thought if I could just get on that ship, it would end. And we'd be happy again. But then, after a while, it began even here, his leaving. He was so happy for so long after I got here. At first I thought the sailing might be a passing thing, that I'd get used to it. But he sails farther now, into strange waters and visits strange places. He promised me once he'd never leave the protected seas, they both did. I suppose that is what I find so hard to forgive." Sam stops and regains his breath. "I'm supposing you'll tell me I drive him away."
"No, Samwise. I do not believe that is so. Frodo accepts your hurts and understands them more completely than you realize. He's very protective of your feelings, you know."
Sam thinks of the embrace Frodo gave him the night he spoke of Elanor and nods. "Then why does he leave our home, if not for me?"
"I have thought long on this, my dear friend--for the both of you. It seems to me Frodo does not sail because he wishes to leave you behind. Your separation is a necessity in a quest for something he seeks."
"I don't follow."
"Frodo does not seek solitude. He seeks what his soul longs to grasp. Frodo has never aged, Sam. He does not know what you and Bilbo know. He has never felt the years weigh upon him, breaking him down, making him yearn for rest. There is a weariness he sees in you that he wishes to understand. I saw fear run like cold steel in his eyes when you first arrived, before you were healed. He saw your mortality painted in grey hair and bent bones. It haunts him, this unknowing. In his everlasting youth, Frodo feels lost, unprepared for the final journey."
Sam feels chill enter his flesh. Final journey. They don't speak of it. No one here does. Only the few of them have the need and its knowledge is obscured in legend and half-guesses. He would ask Gandalf if he felt he could bear the answer. Instead, he thinks of Frodo lying next to him in their bed, the morning light touching his face, peaceful in sleep.
"Do you think, if I let him go long enough, far enough, he'll come back again? That it will be like it was in our early years here?"
Gandalf squints into the setting sun. "It may be, Samwise. Perhaps his answer has already come and at this very moment Legolas draws up his anchor to return him home to you. Frodo may sail as far as the winds take him, but he will not leave you behind forever."
Sam stares out to the horizon line and feels the weight of his pain and fear begin to ease. He feels the care the sea gave him when he let her hold him up just that once while Frodo laughed in his happiness.
"Maybe the wait won't seem so long this time," Sam says and turns to catch the glimmer of a tear hiding in Gandalf's eye.
Story continues in 'What Frodo Saw'
And concludes in 'What Gandalf Heard'