Sunshine and Roses

Grey, thoughtful eyes watched the Hobbits as they joined in the festivities; another banquet to honour the new King and the achievements of the ring-bearers. They sat at the High Table, seats raised with cushions to accommodate their small stature, feet dangling not able to reach the floor.

From his position at the far end of the table it was not difficult for Faramir to see the antics of the two larger Hobbits, Merry and Pippin were giving their full attention to the abundant food and ale; joking and laughing, voices raised in exuberant enjoyment.

He turned his attention to the pale, dark haired Hobbit; reluctant hero of the Ring quest. Frodo observed the proceedings with watchful, hooded eyes, he smiled occasionally at the antics of his cousins, but even in the dim candlelight Faramir could see that the smile stopped short of his eyes. The Ring-bearer picked at his meal and took only occasional sips of ale. He wasn't comfortable being the centre of attention and was growing increasingly uneasy with the constant stares and questions.

The perceptive eyes of the Steward moved on to the remaining Hobbit who sat beside his master; watchful, assessing, guarding; a role he couldn't bear to relinquish even here within the security of the banqueting hall. Faramir tried to catch the Hobbit's eye but he steadfastly avoided eye contact with everyone but his compatriots, his discomfort at being in such 'high' company radiating from his still-weakened frame. Even when Legolas or Gimli tried to engage him in conversation his replies were brief and uttered with self-conscious embarrassment. Faramir could almost hear his sigh of relief when Frodo indicated that he was weary and ready to retire for the evening. The two Hobbits slipped away almost unnoticed but Faramir noted how Frodo lent into the support of his friend as they made their way slowly from the Hall.

Faramir picked up his goblet and moved down the table to sit next to the remaining Hobbits.

"Merry, How are Frodo and Sam doing now?" he asked when he had gained the Hobbit's attention.

"Just fine, I think, thank you, Sir," said Merry, suddenly realising that the Steward was concerned and not just making a polite enquiry. "Why do you ask?"

"I have seen little of them since they returned to the City, but they both seem much changed. I know that they are still recovering from their ordeals but they both seem very subdued!" Faramir felt the need to proceed carefully, not wanting to embarrass or offend his companion. "Frodo's suffering is plain to see, though he tries hard to hide it, but I am particularly concerned about Sam!"

"Oh, Sam will be fine; he is just shy in company,his father drilled into him the importance of 'position' from the time he could walk, and it is a lesson poor Sam learned only too well. So long as he can look after Frodo he is happy. I shouldn't worry about him, Sir, besides he would hate it if he thought he was taking attention away from his 'Mr Frodo'," Merry explained.

Faramir was suddenly conscious of the large social and cultural gap between the three gentle-hobbits and the little gardener and he wondered if, along the way, any of them had paused to consider Sam's worries and concerns. As he wished the two slightly tipsy, Hobbits farewell, Faramir promised himself that he would keep an eye on the gardener.

Faramir watched, as his duties allowed. His daytime hours filled with his responsibilities as Steward; but he and the King both had to find their way through their new roles and there was much adjusting and compromise in the process. With Eowyn away in Rohan his evenings were mostly his own and he found that the members of the fellowship made good companions. He spent many an evening with them in their quarters in the sixth circle, relaxing over an ale, listening as they told tales and sang songs of their homeland's; Elf, Dwarf, and Hobbits contributing to the entertainment.

Frodo always at the centre of the group, cosseted and protected by his cousins and companions; a quiet observer, often lost deep within his own thoughts until gently pulled back by a touch or a question.

Sam never still, never resting, never at ease even within the safety of familiar company. His eyes always tracking back to his master, anticipating his needs, encouraging and cajoling. No one else seemed to notice his ministrations, so used to it by long habit and expectation that it was taken for granted. He flitted about like a pale shadow; avoiding attention, avoiding notice.

Faramir watched and noticed; saw the pain and the grief that fluttered across his face when he looked upon his master; saw the grateful smile when Frodo praised or thanked him, the desperation when his help was politely declined. While the other three Hobbits gained strength in the give and take of their familiarity, Sam was becoming increasingly isolated and withdrawn.

Faramir's gentle attempts to awaken the three cousins to their companion's distress fell on deaf ears; not through neglect or malice, for they were all fond of Sam, but all so wrapped up in their own recovery and adjustments that Sam's stoical and steadfast nature blinded them to his pain. But Faramir recognised the grey fog-like depression that enveloped the little gardener and knew that he was further oppressed by being cloistered within the cold white stone of the city. Sam was a son of the land, needing sunlight, toil and earth beneath his fingers to thrive; withering within the parched, bleak city.

***

After sharing a lunchtime repast with the Hobbits, Faramir drew Pippin aside.

"Master Peregrin, I have a duty for you." Pippin pulled himself to attention and looked at the Steward with anticipation and a touch of puzzlement.

"Yes, Sir, what do you require of me?"

"I wish you to be on hand this afternoon to keep Frodo company!" Pippin looked even more puzzled.

"Sam will not want me taking 'his' duties, Sir. He always sits with Frodo while he rests or sleeps, just in case he needs anything!"

"I know this, Pippin," he said, with a hand on the Hobbit's shoulder. "But I will need Sam's company and it will ease his mind if he knows that someone he trusts is looking out for Frodo! And please," continued the Steward, "say nothing of this to either of them."

"Of course, Sir, if that is what you wish," said Pippin as he was dismissed.

***

"Sam, there is a messenger here for you!" whispered Pippin, popping his head round the door of Frodo's chamber.

"Shush, Mr Pippin, I'll be right there." Sam closed the door to the chamber and took the message from the squire, his face creasing as he deciphered its contents.

"Mr Faramir wants to see me!" he muttered. "But I can't go now; Mr Frodo might wake and need me!"

"Don't worry, Sam, I will stay here and look out for Frodo. Besides, you can't keep the Steward waiting, it must be important if he sent for you especially."

"I don't understand it, why would he need to see me? I haven't offended him or anything... have I?"

Sam followed the squire through the quiet corridors without a word, his mind running over all of his recent encounters with the Steward, trying to remember how he could have given offence. The squire stopped at a door set into the outer wall of the building, opened the door and stood aside to allow Sam to pass through. The door opened onto a sun drenched terrace, six paces from front to back, and twenty or so paces long, curving around the contours of the building, a walled balustrade providing a barrier to a sheer drop. The view was breathtaking; out over the Pelennor to the silver ribbon of the Anduin and off to Ithilien in the distance. The terrace would have been a beautiful haven once, but now it was sad and neglected, the beds choked with weeds and the roses and jasmine spindly and diseased as they drooped from sagging trellises.

Sam walked slowly along the length of the terrace until he came upon Faramir sitting on a stone bench. They sat in silence for some time, each locked in their own thoughts.

"Sad isn't it, Sam," Faramir broke the silence. "This was planted years ago for my mother, but no one comes here now! She used to sit here and tell us stories of her homeland by the ocean. She used to watch the boats coming and going on the river....she hated the city...this was her little oasis."

"You wanted to see me, Sir?" Sam kicked his legs, his feet dangling above the ground.

"I wanted your advice and your help, Sam." Faramir looked down at his small companion but he would not meet his eye. "I want to make this garden bloom again, make it a bower for Eowyn when she returns...she is unused to the stone walls of the city and I would like to make her a garden of sunshine and roses so that when we spend time here she will...."

"No, Sir, I'm sorry....I'm not the one to ask...I can't help you....some things, well, they're just too..." Sam spluttered to a halt, turning his face away to the view, eyes screwed tight. Faramir touched his shoulder and held out a crystal goblet.

"Here, Sam," he pressed the glass into his hand and watched as the contents were downed in one swallow. Sam choked slightly on the unfamiliar taste of the wine but it warmed his belly and he soon felt the familiar glow as the effects of the wine wound through his system. He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes, allowing the sun to warm his face, the tight lines around his eyes and mouth easing slightly as he relaxed.

Faramir watched, hating to disturb this rare moment of calm but knowing that more needed to be said to break through the carefully built walls of Sam's resistance.

"It is good to see your friends finding comfort and relief in each others company now that they are reunited!" Sam's eyes remained closed but the tight haunted expression had returned. "Who do you look to for support, Sam?" he asked quietly.

"I don't need no support, I'm fine....it ain't my place to go bothering others...I'm here to look after Mr Frodo, that's my task...it's all I ever wanted, from the first step to the last...he had his burden and I had to help him bear it!" He held out his glass defiantly and watched as the Steward refilled it; this too he downed in one.

"Sam, I know what it's like to have no one to confide in, no one to share your worries and you fears...when Boromir went away I lost my confident and I felt bereft, even before I learned of his death...Even if you couldn't burden Frodo with your confidences there must have been someone you could talk to amongst your companions!"

Sam's face creased into a mirthless smile. "Bill was a good listener!" he said bitterness and grief sharpening his response.

"Bill!"

"Ai...he listened well and never gave unwanted advice...just listened, made no demands...A more faithful friend you couldn't want...and I abandoned him...left him at the mercy of the wolves!" The effect of the wine was now loosening his tongue and his reserve.

"Sam, who was Bill?"

"Bill was my pony...we left him at the gates of Moria...repaid his loyalty and devotion with almost certain death...!" Sam leapt down from the bench in an attempt to hide his tears. He tore at the weeds in the nearest flowerbed and buried his hands in the soil.

"Some things are just to broke to fix...can never be put right, no matter how hard you try...!" he growled, viciously digging and pounding his hands into the packed earth. Faramir knelt down and pulled Sam round to face him.

"Sam, it is not your fault...none of this is your fault; not Frodo's pain, not your fear, not Merry's or Pippin's injuries, nor losing Bill! You did your best and your best was enough." Sam struggled against his grip, fought to get free, but Faramir held him tightly and when Sam started pounding against his chest with his fists he accepted the blows.

"Go on, Sam, get angry...let it go...it is alright to grieve for what is lost." He pulled the little gardener against his chest, pinning his arms between them as he held him tight.

"He's changed....the light and the spark have gone out of him...he's going further and further away from me and there is nothing I can do to hold him...I tried so hard...so hard...and it wasn't enough...I couldn't save him!" Sam sobbed, huge wrenching sobs that tore at his breaking heart. "I love him...and it wasn't enough." The violence of Sam's grief shocked the Steward, but he held him tight until the storm had passed and the Hobbit sagged against him, exhausted and insensible. Faramir picked him up and carried him to the House of Healing, calling for a squire to summon the King.

***

The servants entered carrying loaded platters, Merry and Pippin quickly cleared the table to make room for the dishes.

"Sam, hasn't set the table!" grumbled Merry.

"Nor is he likely to" The king's quiet voice cut through the hubbub of voices. He and Faramir had followed the servants into the room.

"Aragorn, will you be joining us for supper?" Frodo asked, his face lighting up at the unexpected visitors.

"Faramir, what have you done with Sam? He has been gone for hours..." Pippin looked at the Steward, suddenly aware of a tension in the room. It was the King that answered.

"Sam will not be joining us tonight." He put up his hand to forestall the barrage of questions bursting from the lips of all three Hobbits. "Patience please, I will explain in a while...Pippin set three more places we are expecting more guests."

The meal was a quiet and sombre affair, the absence of Sam hanging like a pall over the assembled company. When the platters were empty Merry passed round the pipe weed and everyone quieted to await the King's news.

"Sam is under the Wardens care in the House of healing...he collapsed earlier, worn out by grief and sadness and despair." Frodo pushed his chair back and got to his feet.

"I must go to him...you should have told me straight away." His voice raised in alarm and anger.

"Frodo, please sit down. Nobody is going to disturb him tonight or tomorrow, not until I give them leave!" The king's voice was quiet but stern. "We have given him medicines that will make him sleep, he needs a long, undisturbed rest and will not wake until well into tomorrow, maybe longer."

"But I should be there for him...Faramir what did you do? what did you say to him? he was fine when he left!" The accusation left Frodo's lips before he had time to think.

"Fine!... He wasn't fine, hasn't been fine since you came back to the city...I tried to tell you...you looked at him but you didn't see...he's fading away before your eyes, your friend, your companion and you don't even see him." the Steward's grey eyes flashed with anger and indignation and then he sagged and dropped his head into his hands. "I never intended to cause him such distress; I just wanted to give him a chance to talk!"

"Peace, Faramir," said the King, "you merely precipitated a crisis that was already threatening to boil over. We are all at fault here! We all assumed that because the physical scars were healing and Sam was quiet and uncomplaining that he was alright...Well, we were wrong...he needed our love and our support and we failed him. So now we have to work out how to put things right. And we have to tread carefully; Sam would hate to be smothered by attention, however well-intentioned. He needs to feel valued, to be given a chance to open up and talk under his own terms, not rushed or hurried, and he needs to be given the opportunity to get out of these walls and into the fresh air...and so could you, Frodo! You have been holed up indoors for too long."

Frodo left his chair and walked around until he stood before Faramir; he picked up his hand and clasped it to his chest. "I'm sorry, please forgive me, I should never have spoken to you like that. You have been a better friend to Sam than we have. I'm so ashamed...after all he did for me; I was too blind to see what it was doing to him."

"There is nothing to forgive, Frodo; we all have our burdens to carry!"

***

Sam slipped back into the Hobbit's chambers two days later, picking up as though nothing had changed. Only Frodo was in when he arrived and he welcomed him back with a smile and a hug. When Merry and Pippin returned later, bickering about whose turn it was to set the table, they greeted Sam with teasing banter about his abandoning them to the tyranny of Frodo, but in a quiet moment each made a point of greeting him, causing him to blush and stammer.

In the mornings the Hobbits, often accompanied by Legolas and Gimli, headed out of the city, up into the hills or down towards the river; sometimes begging a picnic to keep them fortified. Often while they were out Sam and Legolas would huddle together in the shade of a tree or by the edge of a meadow, whispering together over some little conspiracy, and Sam would return home his bag heavier than when he set out. Every afternoon when Frodo settled down for a rest Sam would excuse himself and disappear for an hour or two. He never said where he went and if asked would smile and say that he was receiving therapy prescribed by the King. He would return flushed and tired, and as the days passed they all noticed that the sparkle had returned to his eyes and the spring to his step.

One evening the Hobbits lay sprawled by the fire, Merry and Pippin on cushions on the floor, Frodo lying on the settle, his head on a pillow, his feet resting on Sam's lap. All was quiet, Frodo dozed and Sam rested, idly brushing his fingers through the wiry curls on Frodo's feet in a soothing caress. He wasn't conscious that tears were spilling, unbidden, down his cheeks; he wept silently, tears dripping from his chin, soaking his shirt, wetting Frodo's feet.

"Sam!...oh Sam...it's alright!" Sam buried his face in his hands, but they were pulled away as Frodo settled his head against his shoulder; tears mingled as all four huddled together in a cocoon of support and comradeship. There was no need for words, words were inadequate, words would come another day.

****

There was a conspiracy afoot; Sam, with the help of Legolas had a plan. When all was ready they assembled their companions in the Hobbit's chambers; the last to arrive was Faramir. Legolas with a last smile of encouragement left Sam's side and went to stand with the others, leaving the little gardener to stand with quaking knees facing his audience.

"I'm not good at speeches and fine words, so I won't waffle on where it's not wanted...I...want to thank you all, you've been kind and thoughtful and your friendship means a lot to me. And I want to say a special thank you...!" Legolas stepped up behind Faramir and gently pushed him forward a pace. Faramir looked around in confusion at being singled out but everyone else was as baffled as he was, he turned back to Sam, puzzled; a Elven hand on his shoulder encouraged him to kneel down to meet the Hobbit's eyes.

"You showed your honour and your quality when you found us in Ithilian and I never thought to have the chance to thank you for it. And again, in this city of stone and splendour, you saw what other eyes could not....you saw me, and you saw my pain and you knew what I needed, even when I did not. Gondor is lucky to have you and I shall miss you when we are far away." Sam took the Steward's face in his hands and kissed his forehead reverently. Without giving Faramir the chance to gather his wits, Sam spoke again. "I have a gift for you but I must ask you to trust me and put yourself in my hands!"

Not trusting himself to speak the Steward could only nod his head. Legolas produced a length of cloth and tied it around Faramir's eyes. Elf and Hobbit led the Steward from the chamber and along the silent passages; the rest of the companions followed in stunned bewilderment. When they stopped Legolas let go of Faramir's arm and stepped back to the rest of the group indicating that they should wait and allow Sam and Faramir to go on alone. Sam and Faramir passed through a door and disappeared from sight.

Sam led him forward, steering him on a steady path around many obstacles. He stopped, let go of his hand and climbed up onto a bench so that they were at eye level.

"Faramir, this is for you...in memory of your mother and in honour of your Eowyn...you told me once that you wanted sunshine and roses..." Sam loosened the blindfold and let it drop to the floor. Faramir blinked against the brightness of the sunlight. He had to sit down as his legs gave way beneath him. The tired and neglected terrace had been transformed into a garden bursting with colour and vitality, flowerbeds overflowing with flowers of every colour, terracotta pots dripping with scented blooms and from the walls roses and honeysuckle twined through trellises, tight buds bursting open into perfect blooms.

"You did all this for me?" Faramir asked, incredulously.

"Ay, and for me, this was therapy prescribed by the King."

"Therapy?" asked Faramir.

"Sunshine and Roses, and friendship," said the King, leading the rest of the fellowship into the garden. "Simple pleasures that can mend a weary heart!"

Faramir grasped Sam's hand. "Thank you, my friend, every time I come into this special place you will be in my thoughts and my heart."

"My pleasure, Sir. It was an honour."

*** Shireling Feb.2004