What Frodo Saw

By Europanya

Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.

***

Frodo lies in his bed, the comforting clutch of the mattress under him. It's so quiet all he can hear in the darkness is the beating of his own heart. The pillow under his head is stuffed with the goose down gathered from the flock Sam keeps at the pond beyond their smial. He loves the feel of it, cool against his cheek as he turns and lifts his chin to welcome the slow lap of Sam's tongue.

It's well past an hour in which they should be fast asleep, but Sam is warm against his side, his arms about him, holding him so close. There is nothing between them save the tickling brush of Sam's low curls and warm sleepy flesh, mingled with his own. Moment by moment, a swelling pulse rises to greet his mounting desire and Frodo grasps Sam's bottom to urge him closer, legs shifting to fit.

Sam rumbles deep in his throat, a sound that's soft, yet hungry. Sam is always so much quieter than he, a habit learned from years of making love in a family smial. Frodo cannot imagine Bag End's rooms so full with life. To him it was always grand and vacant.

Frodo slips his fingers between their hips to nest them more soundly together. When it feels right, he withdraws his hand to circle Sam's back and invite him to move as he needs.

He doesn't know who woke who, but they are both aroused and Frodo seeks to join their mouths tight together, a voiceless hum of pleasure vibrating between them. Frodo loves this, to give himself over to his Sam, to bless him in release.

Let me hear you, Samjust this once.

Frodo wakes and the pillow under his head is not soft or cool. It is tough, flat and damp with his sweat. The blankets he pulled over his exhausted form to sleep a few hours ago have bundled about his legs and trap his feet. The small hanging berth he lies in rocks unhinged, tossing him side to side, making his rousing head pound.

As much as he wants to hold onto his dream, he knows the only cure for the dizzy pain is to go topside and watch the horizon. He sits up to look through the portholes where he can see the grey hue of daybreak hovering over blue-green waters. The hold in which he makes his bed reeks of salt and wooden supply casks hammered down tight and strapped to the hull ribs. He is at sea and no one has slept at his side for a fortnight or more.

Frodo drops down from his sleeping berth, lifts his coat from the peg and climbs the short ladder to the deck. The air that stirs his hair as he clears the hatch is cool. He stands upon the damp planks and slides his arms into the coat sleeves, yawning.

Legolas sits at the stern, greeting him with a pleasant smile. It is early, yet, the elf says in his native-speech. Were you unable to sleep?

Frodo buttons his old coat and shivers, wishing for a hot cup of tea. Sometimes I cannot sleep for a night or more. It is not unusual. I will grow tired of being awake, eventually. Would you like a rest? I thought I would come take the rudder.

You may, Legolas says, rising. I will stand forward and watch for a sign.

Are we close? Frodo asks, squinting at the vague horizon.

Any day now. You must tell me, Iorhael; do you desire to cross the veil? Frodo looks up at the elf; his fair face is watchful, but smooth of expression. It is merely a question.

I want to see the island again, he confirms and Legolas nods, passing him the tiller. Frodo takes the thick varnished beam and pulls it fast under his arm. He feels the will of the sea tugging against his grip, but he has grown strong enough to master it.

Legolas moves to the bow fluidly, his long legs navigating the pitch and sway of the Galadine with a grace Frodo envies. Keep her heading due South and you shall have your wish, my friend, he says into the wind.

Frodo believes he hears the lilt of child-like joy in the elf's ageless voice.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Frodo stands, watching the sea.

The tiller hard against his side, he looks to the South beyond Legolas' flowing hair, watching the waves for a flicker of life splashing through the rolling grey hills. Sometimes there are narrow-nosed sea-pups that come swimming over the crests to follow them and leap in the bow wake. White and black, they chirp and frolic like children, pleased to meet this strange new friend with her purple sail and long sleek hull. But soon they are off again, disappearing into the distance, only a fair memory.

Frodo looks to the sun, veiled in thin cloud and wonders how long they have been at sea.

Time moves mysteriously in the Utmost West. Without the wear of age, the elves feel no need to mark the passing years. Although the sun rises and sets and the seasons turn, gentle and lingering as they are, it is easy to forget how long ago the last full moon rose or when the cool weather is due to return. Time does not matter to the elves and Frodo soon came to understand it no longer mattered to him. He was merely grateful to be free of the stain of evil that had haunted him to his last days in Middle-earth.

It is difficult for him to guess how long he has lingered here. Sam once said he felt "doubled" as if he'd lived one life in Middle-earth and the next here with him and Bilbo in their smial by the white cliffs. But for Frodo, he knows his life here has been longer than Sam's, away from the chains of time. He can only conceive of it in two ways--the years with Sam and the years without.

Memory, like time, slips past Frodo. He holds on to those moments he wishes to cherish and lets the rest flow away like a forgotten river that vanishes into the mists. The ones he held are the ones he kept when he knew his Sam would come. Frodo had all but lost hope that Círdan would ever have need to summon him. He'd grown so weary of waiting, enduring only long enough to meet a dying hope, grown pale with sorrow in his heart.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

There was a rapping upon the smial door. Frodo was startled from his book. He and Bilbo were not accustomed to late visitors out in the sandhills. He got up from the fire and opened the door.

"Gandalf? Have you not noticed the hour? Is anything wrong?"

The wizard's countenance implied the need for haste. "No, nothing of the kind. But there is news, very important news for you, my dear friend. Get your coat, you must come to the harbour with me at once. Círdan has summoned you."

Frodo could remember his hands shaking as he fetched his coat and walking stick, leaving a quick note for Bilbo who was asleep in his chair, a book forgotten across his lap.

He walked briskly at Gandalf's side until well after midnight when they entered the harbour, following the quiet white stone streets of Avallónë and climbing the winding stairs of the white tower that rose high above the lamplit quays where Círdan kept his watch on the distant seas.

"A ship has come," the tall, white-bearded elf said in greeting, bowing low to Frodo who did the same. They stood on a polished mosaic under the open moon dome at the height of the tower.

"Does Lady Galadriel wish to speak with me?"

"No, Frodo; this ship does not come from Valinor."

"Does it come from the East?" Frodo whispered, hardly daring to ask. No ships ever came from the East.

Círdan smiled. It was the first time Frodo had ever seen one of the Eldar smile like that. A sob took him. His Sam had come.

Gandalf knelt beside him on the moon-struck floor and took his trembling hands in his.

The old wizard smiled with a gladness of his own. He patted Frodo's hands until he calmed, then his face grew grave. "There are some things you should know, Frodo."

Frodo nodded his head, still unable to find words.

"Many years have passed in Middle-earth since you last saw it."

Frodo wiped his eyes. "How many?"

"Nigh on sixty, as far as the Eldar can tell."

"That cannot be soit's not been more than, I should say" Frodo felt the pale room float about him. He could not say, there was no true telling of the years as he had once known them as sure as he had known his own name.

"What are you saying, Gandalf?"

"Sam has grown very old and frail," the wizard answered. "He has had a long life. He and Rose raised thirteen children. Rose has gone, but Sam leaves many he still loves dearly, behind. You must know this. He will not be as you remember him."

Frodo swallowed his tears and spoke plainly. "I am sorry, Gandalf, but you do not understand. I will know him, the moment I can look into his eyes. Oh, tell me, Gandalf, when will that be?"

Gandalf rose and took Frodo's chin in his hand. "Soon enough, my friend. His ship will arrive in a few day's time. Look to the South."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Resting in the stern upon a coil of spare rope, Frodo watches the sun set over the western seas and remembers the first time his eyes lit upon this proud graceful ship he now helms. He, Sam, Bilbo and Gandalf stood upon the docks that cheerful morning, watching the horizon until she came, her square sail filled with the wind. Frodo had not seen a ship enter the harbour in years and the sight excited and delighted him as much as the gulls that dove and danced about her mast.

This was the ship Legolas had built for himself and Gimli to make the last crossing together. It filled his heart to know so many of his friends come home to these far shores at last.

After their warm greetings and celebrations, the elf-prince took Frodo onboard the Galadine to show him her solid fittings and fair trim. Frodo could feel the harbour waters rocking under his feet and was wistfully reminded of his own crossing, so long ago and so filled with sadness. It came back to him now as a wakening rush of longing as Legolas told tales of the wide deep seas he had known, of the sounds of the far winds and the serenity of the vanishing horizons. There was a light in the elf's eyes that made Frodo smile.

It was not long before they took their first sail together. They did not go far. They kept their words promised to a grumbling Gimli and a concerned Sam who waved goodbye to them from the docks, that they would not stray from protected waters. Legolas took them around the south side of the island and for only the second time in decades did Frodo see the white shores and cliffs from a distance.

The wind in his hair again, Frodo stood at the bow, breathing the salt air. Still ignorant of sailing knowledge, he spent his hours watching the sunlight dance on the rolling sea-hills or the fan of water part under the bow to reveal the dark shadows of fish that swam deep in the blue.

When he asked, Legolas showed him how to navigate by the sun and stars and how to work the sail and the tiller, though both were unwieldy in his small hands. The elf was patient and spoke with encouragement, always using his native tongue, Sindarin. Frodo had learned how to speak it well and Legolas was desirous to hear it in his own ears now that he had at last come home.

You and I are kin, he said, once. We have both heard Ulmo's bellowing horns, sounding across the waves. We are powerless to resist his seductive song. Therefore, shall you ever be my First Mate, and I, your Captain.

But what truly seduced Frodo's heart on that first voyage was the world made known to him when he peered down into the watery curtains of green and blue and saw, for the first time, the broken columns and crumbled rooftops of the vast sunken world of Númenor and how Legolas dove down to harness their anchor upon an ancient canon of a great masted ship, pulled into the depths when Illúvatar broke the world and undid the evil of men.

Come, Iorhael! Legolas called as he broke surface to breathe. Do not fear the sea.

Frodo left his clothes on the deck and jumped in after him to take his hand and hold the air tight in his lungs as they dove under the riven arches and wondered at the sea-life encrusted statues with their white eyes gazing sightless up at the mirroring surface. In the glow of the Evenstar he still wore upon his breast, Frodo lit the hidden depths to reveal the empty doorways and fallen towers where brave young men once walked with shining swords and broad shields. In the silence of the sea, Frodo could imagine their cries for forgiveness rising up over the engulfing foam as their great fortresses, gardens and treasures were swallowed by the seas and forever stilled, dulled, yet kept from decay by the swirling deeps.

"What was their crime?" he had asked Gandalf once in his youth.

"They wished for never-ending life."

Frodo grows sleepy in his coil bed. The sun has set and the stars are beginning to blink on as his eyes close. These are the mysteries of the wide swaying sea. She has become his mistress and his will to be parted from her has grown weaker as the years turn about him.

He sails even though he knows the pain he leaves in his wake.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Frodo waited on the beach for two days and nights, alone.

The sun rose over the hills on the morning of the third day and on the horizon to his waking eyes flickered a hint of white. Frodo ran forward on the sands from the lean-to he'd made from fallen branches and leaves to the sea's edge, lapping cold about his ankles. He wished for Gandalf's gift of long sight that he might know if it were only another test of his imagination.

The flick of white did not disappear when he rubbed his eyes with sandy hands. It grew like a beam of pure light, reaching over the waves to pierce his chest. Tears muddled his sight as he ran along the beach following its course, up over the land to the edge of the cliffs. The ship came within a league of the shore where she came about and paused, furling her long white sails.

Frodo blinked across the bright blue waves to spy an oared boat lowered from her decks and rowing steadily to shore. He took the narrow path down to the beaches and ran into the sea, fighting the waves until they splashed over his head. He dove under them and swam, unclasping his dragging cloak, kicking under the sparkling surface again and again, until at last he came up beside the small craft, grasping, sputtering for the edge. Large thin hands grabbed his wrists and lifted him up and over into a graceless puddle in the belly of the hull.

There were three elves in the boat--two to row and one to sit and shelter a small hooded figure bent under a grey cloak clasped with a delicate Lothlórien leaf. Dripping and shaking with joy, Frodo stumbled over the runners to kneel at the figure's bare grey-furred feet. With his wet hands, he lifted the weeping face.

"Hullo, Sam."

Wrinkled hands reached out to touch what the age-clouded eyes could no longer see. Cold bent fingers traced the wetness of Frodo's chin, his nose and eyelids.

"Was this your face, Master?" asked a voice worn thin with time and broken by tears. "I can't remember your face."

"It does not matter, my Sammy dearest Sam," he said and rose to hold him to his damp breast as the sea flowed beneath them, taking them home.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The sky and horizon have all turned to silver glass, like a great rippling mirror reflecting the colours of the sea and the purple sail of the Galadine as she draws near. Frodo holds the rudder steady as Legolas readies the sail. They brace themselves for the passing. On the other side will be rain, hard and unpredictable. Beyond it will lie the open circle of the sea, unknown to the taming of the Valar.

The bow presses into the brilliant lining of the veil and foot by foot, the Galadine ceases to be, cut in twain as it parts the curtain; a mirror of itself is all Frodo can see until Legolas vanishes with the mast and in another breath Frodo comes face to face with himself, grim, but determined.

All is light for wondrous moments until the singing ends and the outerworld clears its throat in defiance.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was not far to the smial, and for this Frodo was grateful. Sam could walk only but slowly and would not suffer hobbit or elf to carry him beyond the cliff stairs. So like Sam.

"He has had a hard journey," the elves whispered to him. "The sea is not kind to him. We will summon Mithrandir."

An age-bent Sam clung to Frodo's arm, taking one awkward step after another, asking him. "Where are we going? Where are we going?"

"Home," he would answer, when he could find his voice. "Just a little farther."

Gandalf would come soon, he would come and Sam would sleep as soundly as Bilbo had for many nights and days. It would not be too late.

"If Sam sails before his own end," Gandalf had said. "He will be healed."

Frodo entered the smial alone with his Sam at his side. It was quiet and clean, the windows and curtains opened to let in the fresh air. A fire was built, ready to be lit, in the bedroom as Frodo had asked Bilbo to do so before he left to help prepare Gandalf's home for Sam's welcoming party.

"You'll want with some privacy, my lad," he'd said and Frodo was grateful for his understanding.

Sam raised his thinned grey head and blinked blindly at the bright parlour windows. "It smells like Bag End," he said and began to weep quietly.

His bones were so bent, Frodo feared they'd break like glass in his arms as he lifted Sam into the bed. Sam's blind eyes closed the moment his head was laid upon the pillows and his bony shoulders covered by quilts. Frodo had chosen this room for them when he and Bilbo built the smial a quarter-century before. Their window faced to the east, where it would greet the garden and the sun. He dreamt Sam would be happy here. But in all his homecoming imaginings, Frodo had not envisioned Sam lying in their room like this, broken and withered by time, shallow of breath. He had not thought the turnings of the world would be so cruel to one he loved so dearly.

Frodo sat at his side upon the quilts and took his friend's age-spotted hand in his.

"I don't know what's come over me, Master," he rasped.

"You're going to sleep, my dearest," he said, placing a kiss upon Sam's soft hollowed cheek. "For a long while. Do not be afraid."

"I wish I could see you. Could you speak to me? Let me know you're here."

"I will, and I shall sing to you, as well."

"Will you sleep?" his Sam asked, fading even as the words left him.

"I will not sleep," he said as he laid down beside him and began to hum. He took his poor Sam under his arm and rocked him into a long blissful sleep.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Those next quiet days, Frodo left Sam's side only thrice. Once to eat, once to bathe his hands and face, and once that first afternoon to answer Gandalf's gentle rapping on the door.

"Where have you been?" Frodo cried. "I've been sick with worry."

"Easy, easy, my friend. There is nothing to fear."

"Go to him, Gandalf," he'd said, tugging his robes. "Tell me how he fares."

"Sam is in the West now, Frodo," the wizard said with a grin. "No ill will come to him, only the healing this fair land brings." He patted Frodo's shoulder and ducked into their bedchamber. The wizard sat at the edge of the bed and laid his hand upon Sam's sleeping brow. He whispered a word of greeting, then closed his eyes for a long while. Sunlight streamed in the open window and Frodo could hear the finches meeping in the garden.

"Gandalf?" Frodo asked when he could no longer stand the waiting.

The wizard smiled and opened his eyes, chuckling to himself.

"What's so funny?"

"Your Sam is busy dreaming of a swift clear stream, full of trout. He desires to fish, it would seem."

Frodo's heart eased. "Well, he should like the emerald lake."

Gandalf nodded and gave Sam's sleeping rump a soft pat. "He's quite well. Old beyond his years, but well. Sam has a strong heart despite the frailty of his body. You forget how stubborn your kind is. Let him sleep. Offer him water if he stirs, but only then. You must be careful not to disturb the process. Stay close and wait."

Frodo felt tears of relief on his face. "I am. I will. Thank you, thank you."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The rain is hard. But the winds are worse.

Frodo shouts to be heard over the roar of the sea. Legolas is tied to the mast and he is hooked to the stern, the heavy beam of the tiller throwing him over in each pitch. A storm awaited them, beating its fists against the forbidden barrier, anxious to pounce on any who dared leave paradise.

The Galadine groans and dips, her bow catching water that washes them both off their feet and tosses them to the deck.

Bring her to port! Legolas yells as he struggles with the fraying rigging to keep their sail aloft. Do not let her take on water!

Frodo scrambles to his feet. The ropes that keep him on deck burn his ribs as he throws himself against the tiller to carry out his Captain's command. The sea is unkind and they are hit from starboard by a wicked white-capped crest, crashing down upon their backs in angry foam. The rudder jams and Frodo is thrown to the deck, swimming on his belly in the swirling water. His tether snaps and he slides forward past the mast and into the hatch door, striking his head.

Grab the hatch!

Frodo tries, but for all the strength he's gained these years at sea, he cannot grow larger hands and the hatch cheats him as they take on another wave. Salt burns his throat and nose as he's rushed into the bow and sucked down into the anchor bay. A black well of water greets him and Frodo knows no more.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam slept for two days and nights. Not a sound or stir.

On the third day he woke once, drowsy, and asked for water.

On the fourth day Frodo woke from an exhausted half-sleep to find Sam lying upon his back, staring upwards at the rounded ceiling.

Frodo touched his arm. "Sam?"

"These are the same woodcarvings from our study," he said, before his eyes slid shut once again.

On the fifth day Frodo undressed him sleeve by sleeve, trousers and cloak to bathe his thin wrinkled skin.

On the sixth day he woke from a fitful dream to find his Sam sitting up on one elbow, looking down at him with tear-filled hazel eyes, grown beautiful once more.

"I can see you again," he said with awed joy. "And you haven't changed. Not one bit."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam grew stronger each day. After the first week, he still slept long hours away, but would now wake ravenous and thirsty, needful of the sustenance his body required to heal itself. Frodo looked after him, fed him, cleaned him and adjusted his pillows. In the evenings they would lie warm and close under the blankets and Frodo would read to Sam or sing old songs that would bring a smile to Sam's sleeping face.

Soon, they could walk together on the beaches on the days Sam was wakeful. Arm in arm, Frodo would answer Sam's slow questions as he struggled to walk on renewing legs and feet.

"Where are the others?" he asked, squinting at the cool surf-foam that ran over their toes.

"Bilbo has gone to stay with Gandalf at his home in the forest for just now," Frodo answered. "The rest, the elves and such, all live in or near the harbour. There aren't as many here as there were in the early ages. A good many of the old homes are empty. Bilbo and I chose the sandhills for their solitude and so we could watch the sea."

Sam closed his eyes and drew the salt air into his lungs--a strong clean breath that gave Frodo hope. "It feels so strange, being here," he said. "I can't quite figure if I'm awake or asleep."

Frodo squeezed his arm. "It will feel like that for a while. It takes some getting used to. It did for me, though my healing was brief. Age is harder to cure than hurts."

Sam nodded, turning his changing face into the wind that blew his thickening curls. "I feel much better, Frodo. I had forgotten what it was like to not be in pain."

"You will never feel pain again, Sam," Frodo said. "Nor illness, nor injury. Even your dreams will be peaceful after a time."

Sam looked up at the wide blue sky and smiled a sad sort of smile. "No pain," he said. "No more pain."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A rope bites his armpits, scrapes his skin raw as it pulls. There is no air, only darkness. The rope pulls again and Frodo wants to scream from the pain as his leg is wrenched free of its trap in the anchor well. Cold hard wind whips his wet hair as his lungs burn and burn for a taste of air that will not come.

A hand beats upon his back, hard and merciless again and again until he opens his mouth to expel the intrusive sea. Wracked with retching coughs, Frodo takes the salt air into his lungs one painful gasp after another until he can begin to find his sense.

The storm howls in his ears, the wet planks of the tilted deck hitch oddly beneath his chest and cheek as he lies upon it, wretched and wishing for death. All around him groans the wounded hull of the ship, scraping against solid rock that tears at her fragile belly, poisoning her with angry water.

Arms lift him and his head lolls against wet cloth and straining muscle as he is carried over the severed bow and down into the surf. The white waves thrash at the long legs and booted feet of the elf, fighting his way ashore.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Frodo ran up the grassy sandhills towards the forest with Sam hard on his heels.

They were on their way to Gandalf's for the first time together. It was to be Sam's welcoming to the Tol now that he was healed and well. Many new faces were expected from Valinor and beyond.

"Frodo, wait!" he called to him, tugging his arm. Frodo stopped and turned about so fast they fell into each other, tumbling into the long grasses.

Frodo rolled himself off Sam and onto his back, helpless with laughter. White clouds were floating in a bright span of blue. Sam bent over him, out-of-breath and flushed.

"Are you all right?" Frodo asked out of concern for a hobbit who had only just been renewed into his finished state: bright hazel eyes, golden skin and hair, strong and handsome as can be, though a touch older than Frodo remembered.

The laugh lines crinkled around Sam's eyes as he took Frodo's hand and kissed it. "I'm as well as can be. Better than ever, I reckon."

Frodo smiled up at Sam, and at how their hands were still folded together. "Then why did you stop me?"

Sam's expression changed to one of shy happiness. "I'm not so sure as if I'm ready to share you yet."

"What do you mean, Sam? Share me with who? You live in my home, you sleep in my bed, you fuss about in my garden"

Sam played at the grass under his toes and smiled. "I know, but I've never kissed you."

Frodo's heart began to pound as Sam looked respectably askance. "Do you wish to?"

Sam tucked Frodo's hand up under his chin. "For as long as I can reckon," he said, and gazed upon him with a longing Frodo knew all too well.

"Please," Frodo whispered, reaching.

Sam drew close, and from that moment on, Frodo knew the full measure of love.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The sky is dark and the sands stained golden with hard rain when at last Legolas brings them ashore.

Frodo tries to walk, but his torn leg fails under him.

Hold fast to me! Do not leave my side!

The waves rush in and try to overtake them, seeking to drag them both back into the sea, to dash them upon the rocks. The beach is cluttered with broken planks, shards of glass, cracked and leaking casks of fresh water, bleeding into the sands.

Frodo tries to understand what has happened, his aching lungs and spinning head all confused. The howling rain is terrible to hear and he must shout in the pointed ear that carries him.

What is this place?

There is a whipping in the air as they climb up the rocky beach to higher ground. The rocks blacken the night around them and the fan-like leaves of the trees thrash at the height of the beach.

It is the island. They have found it once again.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He and Sam were not quite late, through somewhat sullied about the elbows and knees with grass stains, when they at last reached the evergreens that circled the emerald lake. The boughs were lit with paper lanterns in blues and reds. Music tumbled down the hill in greeting. At its height, Gandalf's house stood with its stone windows glowing, its heavy oak doors thrown open and the smell of a fine feast waiting inside. There were many smiling faces at that door, shouting with joy as he and Sam climbed the steps.

"Samwise! My dear lad. Here! Here!" Bilbo burst forth first, arms wide, wrapping a startled Sam up in a hug. "We've missed you terribly; haven't we, Frodo? So good to have you home!"

Sam stood amazed, seeing the elder Baggins in his own restored youth. It was a sight Sam had long forgotten. "Bilbo? Is this really you?" he asked, gripping Bilbo's shoulder as if he could not quite trust his eyes. Bilbo chuckled, patting his arm, but Sam was soon drawn to another long-missed face.

"Gandalf!" Sam cried and ran to the wizard who bent low on the steps to embrace him while they both laughed. "I can't believe it!" Sam said in his excitement, as he loosened the wizard to clasp an unprepared Elrond in a hobbit's boundless mirth.

"Well, well, Samwise Gamgee. Eressëa welcomes you, too," the Elven-lord said with a grin. "Many have come to greet you, to meet the one who bore the Ringbearer to the fire and back."

Sam remembered himself and gave Elrond a low bow. "I am grateful, sir," he said humbly, reaching out to Frodo, his eyes wet with happiness.

Frodo smiled and slipped under Sam's arm. "Welcome, Sam," he said softly in his friend's ear, leading him up the last of the stairs. "Tonight is for you."

The party lasted all day and halfway into the night. The halls of Gandalf's stone house were filled with food and drink and singing and storytelling as his Sam was passed along like a strange gift newly collected from the sea. Many came from Valinor bearing herbs, seeds and culinary delights--having heard that their small new guest was friend of the earth and hearth.

Are you healed? they asked, and Frodo would translate for Sam's puzzled ear. Have you made the crossing well? How do you find our home? Most spoke in Sindarin, but a few of the Eldar only uttered Quenya from their ancient tongues and Frodo would pause between the tall resplendent elf-lords and ladies and Sam's polite, but nervous smile until the words would come to him.

How do you find their home? Frodo wondered, though is own question was silent as he watched Sam intently, finding his way in this new life. Will you be happy here with me?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Frodo lies in the sand, hiding from the hard wind, trying to regain his strength.

Legolas sits grimly on the rocks above him, watching the Galadine struggle in her trap. Broken and tossed on the jagged shoal, the last of her hull-planks separate and are flung out to sea on the thoughtless crests. The rains have ended, but the winds still howl in the final gasps of the storm. All they can do is wait.

Frodo has dug himself a hollow in the sand to try and block the penetrating wind. The sand is cold under the sodden weave of his trousers, chilling him to the bones. He has been nearly sleepless for three days and cannot manage to think clearly anymore. A panic still runs in his blood, disturbing his mind with terror-thoughts whenever his eyes manage to close.

Outside the veil, the Ring's memory returns, biting at his old wounds, rewaking the distant nightmares. His dampened shoulder aches from the Morgol blade and his mind is haunted by wraiths flying across the sands, searching, the fellbeasts tearing away their ship's sail in their black talons. Their terrible screams rise above the wind, chilling his blood.

Frodo clasps his hands over his ears and wails into the wind.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

All that joyful night, desire kindled between them like white flame. The stone halls were busy with robes and lamps and fair faces, but the corners were dark and secretive. After the feasting, they pulled one another into these corners to mesh wine-sweetened lips and tongues, gasping furtive love-words while the moment held.

A sound would echo in the hall, someone calling for more drink and elven slippers would rush into the kitchen or backstairs to find two halflings, clinging to each other, flushed and smiling to themselves.

Frodo professed tiredness when the game began to leave him breathless and weak with wanting. He longed to fall into bed with his Sam and let whatever would happen, happen at last.

The room Gandalf set aside for them was at the height of the house, beyond the wizard's grand library--a high quiet place with a roaring fire and a long window that opened up to the stars.

Everything in the room was big: the doorway, the hearth, the chair and the bed, tucked in fine linen only elves knew how to weave.

Sam shut the door after their last goodnights as easy and comfortable as if he slept in this room every night of his life. He smiled at Frodo and began to undo his clothes, folding his coat and weskit upon the bed like he'd done every night in their room in the sandhills since he was healed.

Frodo was frozen, his desire trapping him in an odd sort of fear, trembling at his hands. He wandered about the room idly, looking to the stars. Everything would be different now. Everything was different now--the light of the heavens was brighter, the fire warmer.

"Frodo?"

Sam stood half-undressed at the end of the high bed. He grinned and held out his hand. Frodo went to him and was held close for a long time until he was warmed clear through and his trembling eased.

"No worries, me dear," Sam whispered in his hair as his hands soothed his back. "It's the simplest thing."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

This gardener's son, his dearest friend, his love who followed him over the seas, took him in his arms before the fire in Gandalf's home, bathing him in kisses from hands to forehead while the layers peeled away: waistcoat, shirt, buttons all undone and all his skin touched and loved with gentle hands. They kissed until they both stood bare before the heat of the fire, pressed to one another, hard and lost in soft moaning.

Sam took him to the big chair and threw a blanket upon it and another about their shoulders, easing Frodo back between his legs like a child waiting to be rocked to sleep. Frodo leaned back against him as fingers trailed up his bared throat and across his chest, his Sam kissing his temple, his nose, his open mouth. The heat of Sam's arousal pressed the soft flesh of his backside while his hands stroked down his thighs and groin, arousing and soothing.

Their movements moved the chair which stood on curved runners, and with the gentle rocking, Frodo forgot the elves and the party, the candlelight and the stars. He forgot the pain and loneliness of his long years, abandoned on distant shores, vanishing meaningless into each deep kiss. He felt loved and cherished in Sam's lap, ravished at his mouth and hot and huge in his lover's hand.

There is nothing, there is nothing, his mind echoed in Sindarin and Quenya. Nothing but you.

"It's so simple, Frodo," Sam whispered. "Come with me." And the exquisite pleasure was set free as Frodo felt the warmth of Sam's love burst at the low of his back while his own went blissful and weeping with sweet salvation into Sam's waiting hands.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A hand rests upon his forehead; an arm is holding him up, wrapped in a sun-warmed blanket.

He hears Elvish spoken, soft and sure in his ear, telling him go back to sleep.

Do not fear. The storm has passed. Yours has, too.

Frodo reaches for that comfort, seeking the peace it brings to his troubled mind. With his drifting thoughts he remembers the times Sam would come in from the garden at midday for tea. On cold windy days Sam would sit at the kitchen hearth, shivering at the fire between sips. Frodo would come to him and slip his arms around his shoulders, kissing his ruddy face. He'd invite Sam into their bed and tuck them both under the blankets to warm him properly. He'd rub his cold hands and feet and kiss the chill from his cheeks. Sam would bury his face at his shoulder and lie contented, soon finding his way to a light sleep, easy as a child. Don't let me sleep too long, he would murmur and Frodo would promise to hold him just a little while, just until he was warm all the way through.

He imagines that these arms are Sam's, that this voice is Sam's, though the tongue is different. Comforted, on a far abandoned shore, Frodo finds his sleep.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

End -- Part One of Two

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Legolas is building a boat.

He's gathered what beams and planks he can find from the wreckage and arranged them on the dunes. The seas have receded and the Galadine's skeleton lies drying in the sun. Legolas has his axe, mallet, borer and plain–all he requires, he says, to make a new craft that will bring them home.

He has all the fittings he requires save one--a mast.

Frodo walks the beaches now searching for it. He has eaten and drunk from the supply casks that have washed up on the shores. The sea has been merciful, returning much of what she had taken from them. They can live long on the life of the sea, but the fresh water will not replenish itself. Legolas is not worried. He needs no longer than one cycle of the moon to make his boat, he says, just enough to get by, better if it rains again.

Frodo walks the beaches, the gold-flecked sand catching in his foot hair. A small blue crab has taken him up for a ride, clinging to his sandy curls as he walks. The island is peaceful this day, a warm sky greets him clothed in giant cotton clouds. Frodo's shoulder still aches and an old gnawing pulls at his breast like the pendulum of a clock, once again measuring the passage of time. He walks with the Evenstar clasped to his chest and with a limp upon his wounded and bound leg.

Frodo crosses the narrow belly of the island to search the northern shore. He passes under the grove of fibrous thick-stalked trees that fan their comb-like leaves in the sea air. The light of Ithilien dapples his arms and hands. The going is slow for the winds have shed the trees of their dead fronds, hurling them into tangled masses he must kick through or else climb over to pass. His clearing efforts uncover the remains of the overripened green and yellow fruits he and Legolas enjoyed so well last voyage. Now, the season has grown late and he must pick what he can of what is still savorable and gather them into his shirt which he wears tied about his waist like a sack. He waves the flies aside and selects another soggy sandy fruit.

Overhead, Frodo hears a familiar chirping and he stops to look up. High in a crevasse a green bird with an orange beak looks down and titters at him. She is sitting on a storm-tattered nest woven from the fibres of the tree. Under her belly, Frodo can hear the peeping of growing chicks. Her feathers are not as bright as the one who followed him out to sea. Her belly has been plucked bare to reline the nest she tends alone. Frodo feels the sting of regret as her fierce red eyes watch him disdainfully until he continues on his way.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

After the visiting elves said their farewells and their sleek ships departed to Valinor, he and Sam took a room in the harbour for a few seasons. Here in Avallónë, Sam could become accustomed to the elves' ways and language, picking up snatches of phrases Frodo taught him with a patient ear. Sam's accent was even more pronounced in Sindarin so the Eressëans often looked to Frodo for a clarification whenever they went to market or stopped by the Great Stone Hall for singing and supper.

Everything was new to Sam--the lay of the streets, the customs of the elves. He was awed by them and awkward with his requests. He wanted to be busy, he explained to Frodo. He wanted to understand the trade and wares of the port so that he might find a way to fit within the workings of this strange new land. Sam needed to be useful. He did not want to be a guest.

This was also a new beginning for Frodo, who after spending the length of his long life alone, now belonged to someone. And that someone belonged to him, every night and morning in their high room over the arching quays, where bare limbs entwined and mouths engaged in heady desires. Sam was ever so patient and gentle with Frodo's fervent awakening into sensual love. Once that cask had been unstoppered, there was little Frodo could do to stem the rush. To want and to be desired was a distraction that needed Sam's sturdy sensibility to govern.

It was not unusual in those days for Sam to give in to Frodo's pleads to let whole days go by without ever rising from the bedsheets--pausing only for bathing or requests of food and drink to be brought to their room when one hunger at last outweighed the other. Sam would take him up in his needful arms and say, "We should try to make it out today, love. Even hobbits want with a bit of sun and air."

So they would go on long walks up into the rocky hillsides overlooking the vacant harbour manors where the birds nested and the flowers grew bright and fragrant between the forgotten doorways. They'd find a sun-warmed hill and Sam would undress him under the shelter of an Elvish elm and they would kiss and have sun and passion at once and not be bereft. There, in Sam's arms, Frodo felt as if the world would indeed, never end.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Legolas and he have built a fire in the night. Overhead, the stars shine white and sharp.

Frodo lies on his back blinking back at them. They seem remote to him, sightless. They do not care who watches them, displaced on distant shores. The stars of the Utmost West are different then the ones he knew in Middle-earth. Yet Varda was not careless in her art. Frodo has come to know her unfolding tale spoken in prickling clusters and streaks of light and found it beautiful. But tonight, he longs for the patterns he once knew, the Sickle rising above Bag End, turning on its handle to scythe the heavens; the sword of Menelmacar straight and true, his drawn bow ready in his hands.

He and Legolas have no such weapons here, the stars are but an echo of divinity, no power will fall from them to earth. The Valar walk far away in a veil of mists and legends high upon the peak of Taniquetil, seat of Manwë in distant Valinor. In all his sailings, Frodo has never glimpsed the height of its summit, only the glow that rises from the forbidden land's white shores ascending with the Pelóri into clouds.

Across the waves comes a long low moan, vibrating the sands. Another moment and there is an answer, more distant and wrung with longing. A shiver runs through Frodo, though he knows what makes these lonesome sounds. The shepherds of the sea, they are named, Legolas says--the giant finned maia who swim these deep waters in their massive sleek shapes and cry to each other in the night, rending Frodo's heart. They are as old as the sea herself and wisest of all the Valar's children.

Frodo turns his head to watch Legolas seated by the fire, his elf-sleep clouding his half-opened eyes. His fair face is serene. If he feels doubt, he will not let Frodo know it. His days are innumerable, yet, it is in his immortal soul Frodo must now place all trust.

A star falls across the sky. Frodo wonders if it will burn out in the cold plunge of the sea. And when it does, will the shepherds find it and lay it gently to sleep on the deep dusky bottom, cold and alone.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

From Avallónë, he and Sam took to the forests. They lived without roof or bed, making the tall evergreens their walls and doorways. They sheltered within the trees' ancient groves and slept curled at their mighty roots, folded in blankets, warm and peaceful.

Frodo wanted to share the whole of Eressëa with Sam, show him the spirit of her harbour and now the splendour of her wilds. Sam walked at his side, his face in the sun day after day and Frodo thought him happy. As they wandered together, Sam spoke of the Shire and his days as its Mayor. He told Frodo of those passing years and how things had changed in their old home, and how some things never changed. But of all the stories Sam told him, he was slow to speak of his family. Rose, he would mention with a fond smile, but of his children, the words would not come and Frodo kept his silence.

There came a day when Sam found a swift stream filled with trout and set his pole into the crystal waters for a long afternoon of quiet thought. There were days like this with Sam that would come unexpectedly. He would grow reticent and walk at Frodo's side as if his eyes were seeing far away or long ago.

It pained Frodo to see his friend like this, but knew it best to let the day pass and wake on the morrow to find Sam's arms tight about him and warm kisses in his hair.

This day was no different, so Frodo wandered through the river lilies, looking to spy the shy wet creatures who lived by the running water. The day drew cool near its end when he wandered back to Sam with a lily in his hand, to offer him a quiet word of comfort with its white fragrant bloom.

Sam had set his pole aside as was sitting with his head bowed upon his knees.

Frodo's heart ached for him as he knelt by his side, laying the lily at his feet.

"Sam?"

Sam raised his face, dry but swollen from long tears. He rubbed his eyes and offered Frodo a weak smile.

"Please, Sam. Speak to me."

Sam breathed and watched the water as it ran past in a sweet murmur. "I used to take my eldest, my Elanor and my Frodo-lad, to a place like this up in the Northfarthing woods," he said as he looked about them up at the trees. "They were my first little lad and lass, and though a father shouldn't say such things, my most dearest ones. The lad and I would fish and Elanor would walk the banks gathering flowers, she couldn't have seen more than eight or nine summers, all rosy cheeks and golden hair.

"Frodo was quiet that day, not like him at all. I asked him what was troubling him and he looked across at his sister and said, 'Dad, when are you going to leave us?' I gave him a cocked brow and said, 'What's this all about? I'll not be going nowhere. You're stuck with me, lad. You and all your brothers and sisters.' 'But, Dad,' says he, and his eyes all filled with tears. 'Ellie says you'll be leaving us one day, to go live with the elves, that's what she says. That you'll be going away to where Master Frodo lives and we'll be all alone.'"

Sam paused in his telling to wipe his eyes, before he went on. "I looked to my Elanor who stood there with her blue eyes, so pretty with flowers in her hair and in her hands, and it didn't need guessing. She knew, you see. Though I never told her a word of it--your promise to me that I might follow one day--at least not until she was much older. I don't know how she knew, but she did and all's I could do was hug my lad to me and promise him I'd never-ever leave. Not for nobody. But even as I said it Elanor and I both knew it was a lie."

If there is more Sam would have said, he lost the courage then and all Frodo could do was to take Sam in his arms and hold him until his tears were all run out and the sun had set over the forest groves.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In his dream Frodo walks the sandy path to the sea-cliffs beyond the smial. He is alone, but searching for something and does not pause until he approaches the cliffs' edge. Sam is there, just ahead at the very brink, his back to him, standing, looking out at the waves as they slink towards the shore. The bird is upon his shoulder. The open cage lies broken on its side at his feet. The bird's wings have grown back to their full plumage. The bird flicks his tail, as if it will take to the air at any moment.

Frodo shouts for Sam to catch it before it flies, but Sam cannot hear him. Frodo calls again, the anguish of loss tearing him apart. Sam does not turn, though Frodo knows his eyes are on the setting sun. Frodo cries to him again and again, but his voice will not carry here. He has gone much too far away to catch Sam's ears.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Frodo is still unsettled by his dream as he wades with Legolas through the rocky shoal, searching for a good strong flatboard to make their rudder. The new boat is coming along. It will be small, but room enough for the two of them and a little food and water.

Legolas bends to lift a shattered beam, draped in seaweed. "This will do," he says in common-speech and Frodo is glad to hear it. The sound of his mother-tongue urges his heart to speak.

"Do you think they will forgive us?"

Legolas lifts the wet wood against his shoulder and water streams down his shirt and arm. It is cold, but the elf will not show he feels it. "Why would they not? Is it not by our own will that we have come to be here?"

Frodo has never clearly understood why they are allowed to make their journeys. They alone sail out and return to find the Straight Road still held open for them. But Frodo was not speaking of the elves. "Gimli, he does not disapprove?"

Legolas smiles and lifts his head in a laugh. "Frodo, Gimli is a dwarf. There is little he does not disapprove. This will be no different. But then, it is not the same for us as it is for you and Sam."

"I suppose you are right," Frodo says, looking to the horizon. "It is different for us. I fear this return more than I have any others."

"Forgive me, friend, if it is not my place to ask, but why has Sam not sailed with us? He would be most welcome."

Frodo answers with an unspoken truth he has known ever since Sam set his weary feet on the white sands of Eressëa. "Sam has no love for the sea. He's never forgiven her for taking me away from Middle-earth, away from him."

Legolas nods solemnly. "I see."

"It is a cruel irony that when I am home all I long for is the sea. And when I am here, swathed in her embrace, all I long for is Sam. But I know the two shall never meet, save only in my heart."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

They returned to the smial in wintertime so Sam could begin his plans for a proper garden. The functional plot that Bilbo had tended would soon be overtaken by Sam's design for a grand croft rich in colour and scent, gravid with herbs and vegetables to fill many tables. And he spent day after day forming his beds and knots.

But when the weather warmed, Sam's dreams were not to be. The seeds he had brought out of Middle-earth sprouted confused shrivelled offspring that would not thrive despite Sam's every effort to encourage them, running out into the night to tack down cloth or to douse their drying tendrils with buckets of water he hauled up from the well.

Frodo found Sam sitting in a raised bed, holding a leafless twig in his lap tenderly as a stillborn kit.

"What's the matter, Sam?"

Sam sighed and shook his head. "It's this soil, Frodo. It don't hold the water as it should though the rains have been good," he said as he dug a furrow in the bed with his foot. "Too much sand. I knew it would give me some trouble, but with the seasons as mild as they are, there's no changings to let the wee things know when to flower or seed."

"But there are the seeds the elves brought you, Sam. They're accustomed to the climate here, certainly. Perhaps you'd think of giving some of those a try. I've grown quite fond of Elvish greens and potatoes."

Sam rubbed the dirt from his hands. "Look around us, Frodo. Even the elves would have a time getting one of their fancy 'taters to sprout here. Nothing but grass as far as the eye can see. I can grow some roots and onions, I'll warrant, but not much else. The grass strangles everything." He yanked a tangled mass of blades from his seedling bed and tossed it aside in defeat. "I suppose I'll get used to fetching supper from market."

"No, Sam!" Frodo said, coming to kneel beside him in the sandy dirt. "We'll go stay where the soil is good. We'll move the smial, anything. You must have a garden. I have asked you to give up enough of the Shire, I will not ask you to give up the earth, or your love of her children."

Sam sat for sometime, thinking. "Don't move your home for me," he said at length. "I'd already lost the Shire long before I came here. My back was too weak and my eyes too dark to serve her anymore than I had. There was nothing left for me, Frodo," he said, finding a sad grin. "You gave me a second life here with you. A chance to be whole again. I shan't regret it."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Frodo sits upon the sands twining long thick strips of leaf together into a weaving pattern Legolas has taught him. It is tedious work that has worn his fingertips raw. This primitive woven tapestry will become their new sail. The old one was torn apart in the storm--her spare, lost to the sea. A fire is going, although the heat of midday burns hard down upon them. Summer is arriving and the stench of the root resin Legolas is boiling in the firepit stings his nose and lungs like the breath of Mt. Doom.

The elf dips a swath of wrapped reeds into the steaming resin and wipes the hot sticky fluid over the upturned planks of the hull, sealing it. The sap drips and scalds his fingers, but he does not flinch. Instead, he sings a lay of the Valar as he works, his Sindarin light and lovely above the rancid smoke. It is a song Frodo has heard him sing many times before to the sea winds. It speaks of Yavanna and her trees and gardens; it speaks of Manwë and his wisdom and long-sight; and of Námo who is keeper of the Houses of the Dead; and lastly, it speaks of Ulmo, who dwells in the rivers and the deeps, and how the Children of Eru tremble when he rises as a mounting wave that strides to the land, the terrible foam-crested King of the Sea.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The days have grown hot and their provisions are dwindling when Frodo at last comes upon the hidden mast. He was diving down in the rocks, looking for shells to chip off and bake for supper when his foot struck something rounded and smooth.

Forgetting his meagre catch, he drops the shells upon the beach and runs across the sands to fetch his companion.

"Legolas! Legolas! I have found it!"

The elf follows him back to the western shoal where Frodo points down into a rocky niche that has caught the tapered head of the mast in its jaws.

Legolas dives down and begins to hammer upon the shell-encrusted rock with his mallet. But he must soon pause to rise for breath before diving under again. Sand and seaplants stir and murk the water, making it difficult to observe his progress.

Legolas breaks for air. "Frodo, can you come around the other side? Brace yourself up under it?"

"Yes," Frodo says and dives in, swimming up under the long rounded mast, planting his feet against the sharp rocks. The slick hard shells cut his soles as he throws his shoulder and back up against the trapped beam while Legolas strikes with the mallet. He's losing his air when he feels a give, and with an underwater groan, the mast slips free.

They break at the surface along with the rising mast in a rush of bubbles, gasping and spitting sea water.

Legolas clasps his shoulder. "Well done, Frodo! We will be home, soon."

Frodo treads at the surface, his dread dissolving into hope that this tiny boat can bear them home.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

They settle down in the small hull to sleep on the last night before their departure. Frodo is restless to begin, but they must wait for dawn when the tide comes in to lift the craft off the beach and out to sea.

Even his hobbit's legs are cramped under the blanket between the refitted mast, oars and the last of the water kegs. For food, they've saved only enough to keep their bellies occupied every other day or so. It will be a fortnight or more before they find the veil. And that is only if the winds are kind and the sea forgiving. From there they must hope that Círdan will spy them from his tower keep and send ship to rescue them.

Frodo does not want to think what will happen if he does not.

Overhead, the stars blink down, still and silent, waiting for it to begin.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

On the occasion of his 107th birthday, or as near as they could guess, Sam brought Frodo a small gift wrapped in rough burlap.

Frodo put his book aside. "What is it?"

"That's the point of a gift, isn't it?" he said. "Not to know?"

It was securely wrapped so Frodo took the tightly knotted twine in his teeth and bit it free. The burlap unfolded to reveal a single acorn.

"It's an acorn," he said.

"Aye, good guess. Now tell me, from what tree."

"Sam you know I'm dreadfully ignorant of" Frodo paused, noting the emotion he saw building in Sam's eyes. "It's not"

"It is, Frodo-love. I've kept it nigh on five years by my guess. It'll need planting this year if it's to grow at all. I figure, if a mallorn can grow in the Shire, then maybe a Shire oak can grow in Valinor."

"Sam. I don't know what to say."

Sam leaned in to steal a brief kiss. "You'll know where it should grow."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

They took off at dawn before Bilbo woke with spade and a sack of black earth gathered from the rich soils of the forest glades. It had been Sam's solution to the gardening problem. Rather then move the smial to better earth, he would move better earth to the smial. Each winter they'd take the cart up into the evergreens and work for several days shovelling and loading, dumping and returning again.

Sam's garden flourished and the forgotten green and pedalled treasures of their long lost home were now spreading from their door towards the sandy paths that led to the white cliffs. Sam was a respected vendor at market and the days of his horticultural uncertainty seemed finally behind him save for one. "It's just that it never snows here. The ground don't freeze proper. I can grow just about anything I could ever want but lettuces. Oh, but I do miss a gentle snowfall on the hills."

They'd not gone far before Frodo came to a stop at the height of a lone hill, about halfway from the smial to the emerald lake. He tapped the earth with his spade, turning over a few shovels for Sam's approval.

"If we pack a good deep hole, the acorn should sprout fine as can be next spring."

Frodo dug the spade in with his heel, beginning the work. "Do you like this spot, Sam?"

Sam turned about, the sea-wind rustling his hair. "'tis a fine place the old oak herself would be envious of if she could see her daughter and us all these leagues away, spreading her influence."

Frodo smiled and together they prepared her bed.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The sea is kind. Too kind.

For nine days and nights hardly a whisper of wind rises out of the south. Their thick woven sail hangs limp and Legolas must use the oars to urge the small boat along. He rows from dawn to dusk until he cannot lift his arms anymore. There is not enough room for them both to lie stretched out at night, so at day's end, Legolas secures the oars, drinks water and eats a bite of food before seating himself upon the water keg at the bow to seek an elf's motionless rest.

Frodo sits at the tiller, hungry and sore, his fair skin reddened by salty winds and steady sunlight. He wears his stained and tattered shirt swathed about his head and the blanket over his shoulders to keep the worst of the midday heat off. Half the water is gone, though they have been careful with it. Even so, thirst plagues his every thought.

At night the winds turn chill and Frodo shivers in his blanket, his head pillowed upon their small sack of food; mostly lembas bread and some dried bitter fruit and sea vegetable they prepared upon the hot island rocks. Legolas drinks little and eats even less. It is best you take what you require, Iorhael. I cannot die from lack of food and drink, but I will languish and not be of aid to you should we have need.

For this, Legolas spares as little effort as he can between rowings. When he is not at the oars, he is sitting still, his bright elf eyes greyed and vacant. He does not speak for days or more sometimes and Frodo grows ever more lonesome and concerned for their fate. His shoulder and arm are going cold and his maimed hand burns where the finger used to be.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

On the morning of their fifteenth day, dawn comes with a high brisk wind.

Hearts filled with hope, they rush to adjust the sail. The healthy gust catches in the weave and the boat leaps forward, heading North at a good sharp clip. They drink a little water in celebration and break apart a cake to eat and speak of homecomings as they gallop along.

Our fate has turned. We have wind again. The veil will soon be near.

Frodo helms the tiny boat while Legolas stands, holding the mast, his long braided hair flying once more about him as he watches for a sign.

At nightfall the wind takes a sudden turn and the aft stay snaps. Ropes whip through the air and Frodo must dive into the hull to avoid its lash. Legolas lunges to grasp the flight of the ropes, but misses and the unbalanced craft lurches, tumbling water keg and hobbit hard to starboard.

We will be capsized! Legolas shouts as he throws himself to port to try and reset the weight. Iorhael! Catch the sail, it is sundering!

Frodo scrambles to his feet and leaps for the snapping ropes, but it is too late. There is a tearing and the bottom half of their sail is rended, blowing out over the waves like a wounded bird, falling into the sea. Frodo curses, gripping the boat's edge as Legolas shows his fear for the first time in wide unbelieving eyes.

"I am sorry, Legolas," Frodo says to him when he has caught his breath. "I've failed you."

"No," the elf answers as he watches the torn weave sink into the waves. "Not all things are meant to be mended. The Galadine's sails were lost in the storm and the sea keeps them. Every one."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The days go on. In the night Legolas takes the oars. In the day he sits in the bow, eyes clouded in exhaustion. Frodo offers him a swallow of water when he wakes and before he sets his bent shoulders and bloody hands to the oars. There is no more food.

They do not speak, only the sun burns down and the waves jostle their wretched and bruised bodies in an endless grey-blue sea.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Legolas no longer stirs.

Frodo woke to find him fallen in the bow, lifeless as a dead willow, his eyes half-open, seeing nothing. Frodo shook his friend and tried to slip the very last of the water through his lips to no avail.

Frodo pulls the elf-prince into his lap and smoothes his long blond hair from his pale face. Frodo is too exhausted to feel anything but the thirst, though his heart now murmurs to him that he is utterly alone.

When the hot sun fades and the cool of night begins, Frodo lays his friend aside. And with a prayer to Elbereth, he takes the oars in his small hands and begins to row.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Long ago, Sam told him while they sat hidden in the dry dead stones of the Gorgoroth under a blood-dark sky, that hope had failed him, once. He told him of how he found Frodo pale and stung with poison, lying broken on the path to Cirith Ungol and thought him dead.

Sam stopped in his telling and even in the shadows where they knelt, Frodo saw a black cloud cross his friend's eyes. There was something he could not say, though death whispered to them from every side, thirst parched their throats and the Ring hung in a heavy burning demand between them.

What, Sam? Please tell me if you can.

Sam drew the fetid air into his lungs and spoke of the breaking of his will. Of those moments of darkness in which he looked to the bright honed edge of Sting and peered into the black bottomless cracks and asked those pitiless fates for release from his anguish. And yet, he was stayed from their call.

What? Frodo needed to know. When all hope failed, what would stay his hand?

Grief, Sam said. When there was nothing left, only the need to honour his Master's fallen soul in grief pulled him back from the brink and gave him the will to go on.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Frodo lies on his back in the hull of the boat, sucking the burning salt air one piercing breath of life after another and waits. He waits to grieve.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A bright yellow sun burns behind Frodo's eyelids when he finds himself awake.

The planks beneath his aching back creak and groan. His tongue is swollen and sore. He cannot swallow and must cough and gasp for each breath with an open bleeding mouth. Every fibre of his being calls for water and when he opens his eyes, water is all he can see. In his confusion, Frodo scrambles to his knees and leans his head over the stern, reaching out a blistered hand to dip into that cool promising blue.

A mournful cry vibrates in the deep below and Frodo stops, the seawater running harmless through his fingers. Below him is a great black eye looking back. Frodo scrambles to hide the Ring in the folds of his tattered shirt. It no longer hangs about his neck, only a small white jewel. The great eye rolls aside and Frodo slowly understands. An ancient shepherd of the sea, huge and black, has come up underneath their boat. A black tail rises, raining water as the maia bellows and the very waves shake and spatter from the deafening sound.

Frodo clasps his hands over his ears, but in the distance, if he is not mistaken, there comes a kindred answer.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The ship came at sundown.

A tall white ship, the most beautiful Frodo had ever seen, with long billowing sails and golden trim. Círdan was at the bow, his beard flying behind him in the renewed wind. The elves lowered ladders and long strong arms lifted them both from their watery cage. A blanket was pulled around his shoulders and a soft mattress met his rump.

Smooth glass touched his lips. Drink, they said. Water sweet and cool and wet eased his cracked lips and Frodo cried out for the want of it. Swallow after swallow settled in his shrivelled belly until the chalice was pulled away.

He growled blindly for it. Wait. You must not purge it. It has been too long.

Frodo moaned and buried his sunburnt forehead in his wounded hands.

Forgive me, forgive me.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sleep is the salvation of all ills.

Frodo slid in and out of dreams, waking only to drink the sweet renewing fluids the elves brought him. When he woke for the final time, he raised his head and looked about. He was lying in a soft hammock, rocking with the waves, slow and gentle. He felt he could stand and rolled out onto the floor. His leg no longer pained him and his shoulder was warm again. It was evening outside and Frodo took the stairs to the deck.

Círdan stands at the rail dressed in white, his long hair and beard blowing. He smiles at him. Iorhael, he says in greeting. The stars of Varda shine upon you tonight.

Frodo joins him at his side and looks up into the heavens and all around the western horizon. Far off, he spies a silvery light shining from the beacon of the world's tallest mountain--the House of Manwë, the peak of Taniquetil.

Well, it is not so very high after all, Frodo says, remembering the view he once knew from the Citadel's ship's prow, looking up at snow-capped Mindolluin in the after-days of the War of the Ring.

The clouds of Valinor have parted tonight, says Círdan. Perhaps Manwë wishes to see you for himself, Ringbearer.

Why? Frodo asks as tears of shame spill from his eyes. We broke the veil and you, too, must have followed to retrieve us.

The Eldar cannot judge over the will of the Valar, Círdan says with kindness in his sonorous voice. Ulmo has spoken to you and I do not question him. I can only seek to protect those whom he leaves behind. The brief fierce hearts of Mortal-kind will ever be unknown to me. But I count myself among the blessed, Iorhael, to have known yours.

Where is Legolas? Frodo asks, wiping his eyes. Please tell me he fares well.

You may ask him for yourself, Círdan says and only then does Frodo see the lone figure, swathed in robes of white, standing at the bow with his long hair trailing in the winds.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The oak acorn did not sprout that following spring. Nor the one after. Just as Sam was about to rue the mild climate once more, the acorn shot up a sturdy green shoot come the third year. Frodo, Bilbo, Sam and Gandalf gave it a toast that spring and from then on, kept an eye on the nascent tree, stopping by on their visits to one another to check on her progress and give her encouragement to keep on growing.

The little tree grew year after year until she stretched her limbs to the sky, branching out and growing thick and strong with age. She stood and watched the growing splendour of Sam's garden; she stood taller and watched the approach of Gimli and Legolas half a century later on their fine ship with the purple sail. She stood on her hill when Frodo first sailed from Eressëa upon the Galadine. She shelters Sam when he waits alone and she watches when he is blessed with Frodo's returns. A grand tree she is, worthy of her matriarch who still stands with equal pride on a distant shore upon another hill, watching over those who still dwell under her boughs, the children of Samwise.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

There were sea birds and singing over the chorus of silver trumpets when at last Círdan's vessel returned to the port of Avallónë. Frodo was well again, fed and healed by the elves who had come to bring him home to the Blessed Realm.

Frodo stands at the bow, straining his eyes in the fading light to find a small shape waiting and waving with the others, but the face he seeks is denied him.

Frodo is first off the ship when the gangplank is laid. He runs to the one face he knows best, standing in the crowd.

"Gimli! Where is Sam?"

The dwarf stands before him, grim. "He'll not be coming, lad."

"Why? Where is he? What has happened?"

The dwarf looks to his boots and says nothing while Legolas watches them both with troubled eyes.

Frodo hears the elves calling his name as he runs from the docks, up the stone stairways and into the harbour streets. There are carts and horses he might take, but he cannot wait for them. His legs need to run, too long cramped within the lengths of a sailing deck.

The twilight deepens to night as he reaches the narrow road that winds through the sandhills, empty and quiet save for the swish of the grasses in the breeze. He is tired and his limbs cry out for rest; his chest is afire with rapid breath.

He summits the last hill in the darkness and below him the sight that greets him is one of confusion. The garden path does not lead through lush latticed vines that have before welcomed him home. The slats lie broken and the vines have dried in the warm air. Beyond, the once-clipped knots of boxwood and thyme have run wild, falling over each other. The pale blue morning glories are gone, a trace of twisted cracking tendrils in their stead.

How long was I gone? How long?

Closer to the smial the vegetable patch has been kept in a loose careless manner, the mulching half-mixed in, the tools lying out rusted, forgotten. Most of the rows are barren and overrun with grass.

Inside, the parlour hearth is cold, the ashes thick and unswept. Papers and books lie carelessly about on the tables and sills, stacked along the walls, dust coating their bindings. It looks much as Bag End did when Frodo was young and Bilbo kept their home.

"Bilbo?" Frodo whispers into the dark smials, as he passes through the turnings to his uncle's bedchamber. He lays a hand upon the door and pushes it open. Bilbo is inside asleep in his chair by the smouldering fire, a book turned over his lap, his half-eaten dinner left cold and congealed on the bed table.

Frodo backs away and turns to face the door to his own room. It lies half-open and dark within. His heart pounds as he moves to push it open. Shirts lie hung over the chairs, trousers in a bunched clump at the foot of the bed. Dried leaves have caught in the rope rug and the window curtains hang heavy and closed.

A hobbit lies deep in the bed, covered by a careless throw of faded quilts, his sand-coloured hair lies limp on the pillow.

"Sam?"

Frodo steps to the bed, the side he's always slept in, and pulls back the wrinkled linens to nestle in. The bed is warm, but musty and his Sam lies awake staring away from him at the shuttered window. Frodo moves close and places his hand upon Sam's arm, his cheek to his lover's shoulder. He slips his arm around him so he can feel the warm thump of his chest. He begins to rock him. A song stirs in his throat and he starts to hum it.

Frodo hums until his dry throat cannot manage anymore and only the distant sound of the sea spreads through the smial and its dark chimneys.

"I'm tired, Frodo," Sam whispers.

"I know, love. I know," Frodo says. "Shhyou need sleep." Frodo's silent tears squeeze from his eyes, leaving the bitter taste of the sea on his lips. He touches Sam's hair. "Go to sleep, my dearest. I'll watch over you."

"Will you sleep?" he asks in a voice that has spent too many nights choked with unshed tears.

"I will not sleep."

Frodo lies close and rocks him until Sam's eyes finally close and his breathing deepens into peace.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In the morning, Frodo rises early and goes to the kitchen to set the water going. He washes the dishes from the previous night and scrubs the pots. He prepares a simple breakfast from the meagre staples left in the pantries.

He eats alone, quickly, then heads into the garden to begin the sweeping. The dead leaves and clippings he rakes and piles into the compost bin and turns it with the shovel, stirring up the worms that have nested into the soft earth beneath. He clips the hedges that line the pathways and tosses those in as best as he can until the sun shows her full face over the hills.

His back is sore and his head is light from the work when he returns to the hole to wash, startling Bilbo at the kitchen table, enjoying the meal he'd left on the fire.

"Frodo, stop my heart. I thought you were Samwise!"

"No, Bilbo. I've come home. Forever."

Bilbo looks puzzled, but he soon breaks into a pleased smile. He opens his arms and welcomes Frodo into a long hug.

"Good," Bilbo says at his ear. "Good. Good."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The day is half over when Sam rises.

He sits at the end of their bed, staring at the open window. Light streams in and bathes his face and hands in golden light.

Frodo waits for him at the door, soap and towel in his hands.

Sam turns and blinks at him, his awareness dawning as his hands move to undo the buttons of his rumpled shirt.

"Am I awake?" he asks.

"Yes, Sam," Frodo says. "You've always been awake."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam is finishing his luncheon with Bilbo in the kitchen as Frodo slips about the smial, gathering odds and ends and placing them in a large worn sack. The bird squawks and leaps about its cage, desperate for Frodo to come and let it out so it might hop about after him. But Frodo must put off this homecoming as the bird's long green feathers have regrown in his absence and he has other tasks more pressing at hand.

He is clearing the cluttered window sill in their bedroom when Sam comes to the door, questioning.

"What are you doing, Frodo?"

Frodo cinches up the sack and holds out his hand so Sam may take it. "Come walk with me."

He leads Sam along the sandy path that follows the white cliffs. They stop at the far end, where the longest cliff juts out into the sea. Frodo sets down the sack and unties the opening. He reaches in and grasps a cluster of shells and dried sealife in his hand. He looks to the cliff's edge and down the steep drop to the waiting ocean, beating herself against the crumbling rock, slowly eating away the land.

"I've spent so much of my life wishing I was somewhere else, instead of being where I belonged," Frodo says, closing his fingers about the odd assortment, brittle and faded in his grasp. "I don't know why I took these things, Sam. I want to give them back. I want to mend this."

Frodo throws his arm out over the edge and lets his sea-treasures go, falling, tumbling over themselves down into the surf. He reaches in and grabs another handful, tossing it over the cliff after the first. And then another and another each swing going wider and farther into the waves.

Sam draws close and kneels beside him, watching him make this offering with sad eyes. Frodo's fingers search deeper into the sack until they grasp parchment and Sam reaches out to grab Frodo's arm to stop him.

"Don't, Frodo," he says. "Not your papers. Please."

Frodo holds the ink-marked parchment crumpled in his fist. "Why not, Sam? Why not everything?"

Sam runs his hand along Frodo's arm to his wrist where he gently loosens and retrieves the paper from his fingers and lays it back in the sack with the rest of Frodo's sea journals.

"Because the sea is a part of you," he says softly, looking into the sack. "A part that I love. And have always loved, though it breaks my heart." He takes both of Frodo's hands in his and holds them in his lap, warming them with the touch of forgiveness. "You don't have to" Sam says and their eyes meet clearly. "not for me."

Sam blurs in his vision as Frodo begins to let go of the shame he's carried with him across the seas for ages. "But I've jumbled them all--the journals. They'll make no sense anymore. They make no sense to me."

Sam takes the sack from Frodo and reties the opening, hoisting it over his shoulder. "We'll give them to Bilbo for safe keeping, then. He'll get them all back in order, right enough."

Sam stands and reaches for Frodo's hand, lifting him to his feet. "Come on, now. The day's getting on and we should be at home."

Sam slips his arm about his shoulders and Frodo lets Sam lead him away from land's end. Frodo stumbles, his legs unused to the firmness of the land, but Sam holds him steady, one step after another.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Their lovemaking that night is slow and loving. The clean sheets and fluffed pillows tumble about them as they move together, touching, kissing, remembering. Years have flown here like the rain falling onto sandy ground that never holds it long, draining away to the sea beyond their bedroom window.

When their moans have eased into contended sighs, Frodo holds Sam to him as he sleeps peacefully, watching the trace of happiness lingering on his lips. All that day, they'd worked side by side in the garden until it was clean of the tangles of neglect, the paths smoothed and the wildness clipped. Sam assures him new shoots will grow and roots will regain some of their hold. But Frodo cannot deny that Sam's garden was once much larger, years ago, bursting with greens and yellows and reds, blooming long through the year and spreading out far from their smial over the Sandhills, the envy of many. It hasn't been that way for a long long time.

Frodo draws his fingers through Sam's hair as he clutches him tight, burying a fierce kiss in his curls.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The next day is warm, a clear blue sky shines down on the sandhills. Sam works in the garden most of the day and Frodo sits nearby on the bench scribbling odd notes down in a journal Sam had given him long ago as a gift. They are lines of little importance, just brief mentions of something funny Bilbo had said at breakfast, the way the winds have changed, the movement of Sam's hair as it blows through his curls while he works.

Sam makes supper that evening, and the three of them sit down together to side of lamb, baked herbed bread, some creamed greens and a simple fruit comfit. The sun is setting when Frodo and Sam enter the parlour and their eyes meet through the bars of the birdcage, the fussy creature flapping about, vying for Frodo's attention.

Frodo grins. "Sam, I think it might be time we set our little friend free."

Sam's lips part slowly. He is surprised. "Do you mean it?"

Frodo glances at the strange little bird who flew so far to be near him. Its fluttering display sends long green feathers floating from the bars to the floor.

"I do."

Frodo lifts his arm to unhook the chain from the low ceiling. The cage is heavier than he anticipates and Sam is quick to his side to help him lower it. He holds the chain as Sam carries the base in his hands. The bird looks frightened, confused by their intent, and at once Frodo is overcome with sadness.

"Will you take him?" he asks, looking to Sam.

Sam nods gently as he understands. "I'll see he gets on his way."

Frodo wraps the end of the chain around Sam's arm so it will not swing and damage the delicate construction Sam spent so many hours fitting together.

"Thank you, Sam."

Frodo stands and watches Sam carry the cumbersome cage out the front door and down the lane that leads to the sea-cliffs. Sam is talking to the bird as he goes, telling him what a fine evening it is for flying and how he shouldn't be afraid to take to the air. The twilight deepens as Frodo is drawn to the threshold where he stops, unable to follow any further, watching Sam and the cage fade into the dusk

Time seems as if it's slowing down as he takes a breath and steps back to shut the door. Today was a good day, he thinks with a small smile, and the latch grinds and clicks shut under his palm.

Deep in Frodo's heart a sure knowledge begins to awaken, like the first breath of wind before a coming storm. He walks the parlour now in a daze, his fingertips touching the things he has known as parts of his home: the bench, the mantle, the chair, the candle sconce.

Bilbo comes in and reaches for his arm to stop his idle movements.

"Frodo-lad, what is it? Where is Sam?"

Frodo's legs fail him and Bilbo catches him up like he used to when he would faint from sudden illness in his youth.

"Help me, Bilbo I've let Sam go."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

On the cusp of the cliffside Sam sets the birdcage down and kneels before its tiny windows and arches. The bird stares back at him with fierce red eyes, unknowing of the journey it is about to take.

Sam opens its door as he has so many times when Frodo was gone. But this time the bird does not jump away. It hops upon his wrist once, then to his shoulder before it flicks its tail and leaps for the air, spreading its regrown wings in flight.

Sam stands and watches it soar westward towards the setting sun where the light is falling in golden ribbons upon the open sea. The sea is sighing, rich with a song Sam has heard every day since he first kissed Frodo goodbye on the shores of Middle-earth. It is part of the symphony of creation and within its melody Sam opens his heart to sing.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

To be continued in What Gandalf Heard.

The first tale in this trilogy is What Sam Knew.