Fondly dedicated to my understanding roommate, who very kindly consented to debate the loyalties of Samwise and Faramir with me one afternoon. Also, I must extend a profound THANK YOU to Docmon for providing an invaluable beta edit.
A pert servant, Master Samwise. But nay: the praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards. Yet there was naught in this to praise. I had no lure or desire to do other than I have done.
Faramir—The Two Towers (The Window on the West)
I wonder if any song will ever mention it: How Samwise fell in the High Pass and made a wall of bodies round his master. No, no song. Of course not, for the Ring'll be found, and there'll be no more songs. I can't help it. My place is by Mr. Frodo. They must understand that—Elrond and the Council, and the great Lords and Ladies with all their wisdom. Their plans have gone wrong. I can't be their Ring-bearer. Not without Mr. Frodo.
Sam—The Two Towers (The Choices of Master Samwise)
Samwise Gamgee was sitting alone when Faramir appeared and inquired after Gandalf. "I'm sorry to say he's not here, sir," Sam told the newly appointed Steward. "At least, he wasn't when I was last inside. He and Mr. Frodo set off somewhere to have a talk."
Faramir frowned and looked about the small, enclosed garden at the back of the house where the Fellowship had been staying since Strider's coronation. "Did he name a time for his return? For he agreed to meet me here just ere the noon hour."
"Oh, I'm sure they'll both be back before lunch," Sam said. Over the past few weeks, Frodo's appetite had begun to return—albeit slowly, much to Sam's frustration—and he now rarely missed mealtimes. "In fact, they might be back already and doing something or another in the upper floors. If you like, I'll go in and look for you."
"Nay, you need not trouble yourself," Faramir said briskly. "I can easily expand my search to the second floor. Stay, Master Gamgee, and enjoy the spring warmth. You have more than earned a reprieve."
Sam opened his mouth to explain that he really didn't want to stay and enjoy the spring warmth, but before he could say anything, Faramir was gone, his long strides taking him back into the house and out of calling distance. Left alone once more, Sam shifted uncomfortably on his stool and sighed. It seemed as though everyone was abandoning him this day. Legolas and Gimli had vanished shortly after daybreak, Merry and Pippin had gone down to the Second Circle at the conclusion of breakfast, and Gandalf had spirited Frodo away an hour or so after that for a private discussion, leaving Sam with only the house and the grounds for company.
This might not have been such a terrible thing if he'd had something to do. All his life, Sam had tried to keep himself busy. Idle hands bred unwanted thoughts, or so his Gaffer insisted. Actually, his Gaffer left out the part about thoughts being unwanted, but Sam had altered the counsel in honor of Bilbo, who had shown him that long thinking spells were not as dangerous as they might seem. But lately, Sam felt he had been doing too much thinking. A few highly disturbing ideas had recently come to him that made him wince every time he heard praise for Frodo's "valiant servant." These ideas were made even more disturbing by Faramir's presence, and the longer he sat here, the more he thought about—
Shaking his head sharply, Sam pushed himself up from his seat and decided to take a walk around the garden.
The walk offered little help, though, for it was a dismally short journey. When he was first introduced to Minas Tirith, Sam had been so happy to see life again after the dreary wasteland of Gorgoroth that he scarcely noticed the meager state of the city's gardens. Oh, Ithilien had been much nicer, of course, but Ithilien was a land of forests and streams. Minas Tirith was a city of stone that had struggled against the darkness of Mordor for many years. A bit of neglect in the gardens was understandable, and Sam had eagerly embraced what little greenery there was. But now, returning to his stool and casting his gaze over the drooping, yellowed leaves, Sam decided that Legolas was right. The gardens of Minas Tirith were in such an appalling state that it might have been better if there were no gardens at all. Their current state was nothing short of cruel.
Well, I shall certainly change that, Sam vowed with sudden purpose. He had been reluctant to undertake any major reconstruction of the garden as the house was not his and the attendants seemed to be highly possessive when it came to the grounds. But enough was enough, and Sam was tired of thinking. It was time to start doing.
"You are certain that Mithrandir will return, Master Gamgee?"
One month of traveling with Strider, two months of living among Rivendell's elves, and two more months in the company of not only Strider but also Legolas and Gandalf had taught Sam how to handle the arrival of individuals who could appear and disappear at will. This training now enabled him to turn a startled shriek into a far more dignified gasp, and when he whipped around to confront Faramir, only a slight flush in his cheeks betrayed his surprise. "I'm sorry, sir, but I didn't hear you come out," he said, quickly catching his breath.
"My apologies if I took you unawares," Faramir said, though Sam caught something deep within his eyes that might have been amusement.
"No, no, it's all right," Sam said as his pounding heart slowed to a more reasonable speed. "You asked about Gandalf again? Or Mithrandir, I guess you call him here."
"Yes, I wondered if you were certain of his eventual return."
"As certain as I can be, I suppose," Sam answered with a shrug. "He's a wizard, after all, sir, and I've learned it's never wise to say too much about them or about where they're going to be. They don't always take kindly to it."
Faramir laughed. "Wise words, my friend, and spoken from experience if I am any judge. I will do my best to heed you. Still, this seems as likely a place as any to find an elusive wizard. Would you object overmuch if I joined you here and waited for him? I still tire easily, and I would enjoy a quiet place to sit."
"Of course I won't object! You're more than welcome to join me," Sam said, but his heart sank. He hadn't done any proper gardening for months, and with his thoughts as dark and jumbled as they were, he didn't want to play host to a man who seemed to read minds as clearly as any elf or wizard could.
"Good!" Faramir said, moving toward a bench that stood beside the garden wall. "Come then, and we will enjoy the sunshine together. I am honored to share it with such pleasant and renowned company."
Faramir's smile broadened as he said this, but Sam took no notice. The words had only further jumbled his thoughts, and the disturbing ideas had returned in force. "I don't know that the company's all that pleasant or renowned," he mumbled as he climbed up next to the Steward.
"Nonsense! You have a most courteous tongue in your head so long as your master is not in any danger, and as for renowned, the tale of your Quest is being sung from here to Langstrand. You are known as a hero to all of Gondor," Faramir smiled at him, but his eyes were now strangely piercing and some of the mirth had left his face. "Does that bother you, Master Gamgee?"
"It doesn't seem to matter much what bothers me or not, sir," Sam said, looking away. "But heroes aren't for the likes of simple hobbits."
"And yet there are four heroic hobbits in this very city."
"I don't know about that. It seems to me that people are saying a lot of things that aren't really true."
"Then you accuse us all of telling falsehoods?" The tone was light, but there was a stern undercurrent to Faramir's voice.
"Oh, I don't mean no disrespect!" Sam said hurriedly, looking back up at Faramir. "Not towards you, leastways. But I don't think people ought to put so much stock in things they didn't see for themselves. I'm not really a hero."
"Indeed?" Faramir's eyes now had an almost elven intensity to them. "Then you did not dare the stairs of Cirith Ungol? Journey through the realm of the Nameless One? Pass beneath the gaze of the Lidless Eye and venture into the very heart of the Dark Lord's fires?"
"No! I mean, yes, but…" Sam felt his fists clenching as his frustration with both himself and with Faramir rose. "I didn't mean to do any of those things. I just stuck by Mr. Frodo."
"Which is itself a remarkable feat. Many are they who would have turned aside. But you did not. Your friendship held true and your loyalty to Frodo never wavered. If nothing else, you were a faithful servant, Samwise Gamgee. And that alone is heroic."
"But that's where it all goes wrong!" Sam exploded. "All those people and minstrels singing songs about Mr. Frodo's courage and me standing by him…they don't know! They don't understand! That's how everything was almost ruined!"
There was a pause, lasting a moment too long and yet not long enough. "Ruined?" Faramir asked, almost casually. "Ruined in what way?"
He was on dangerous ground now, but Sam had no choice save to forge ahead. He'd already said too much. He might as well say a bit more. "It was just after Mr. Frodo was stung by that spider. Shelob. I-I thought he was dead, so I took his sword and the Ring. I didn't know what else to do. And I started to go ahead to Mordor, but then I heard the Orcs and I couldn't just leave Mr. Frodo to them, even thinking he was gone, so I…turned back." He looked down at his hands, fearful of what he might see in the other's eyes. "I didn't care about the Ring anymore, or about the elves or Gandalf or anything else. The Orcs could have It. I just wanted to get back to Mr. Frodo."
Sam closed his eyes, waiting for condemnation. Faramir, of all people, had a right to hate him for his choice. He had defended his country against Mordor for years, as well as countries far beyond his borders that he'd never see or visit. And then he had risked everything on the faint hope that Frodo would be able to accomplish his task. But Sam had betrayed that. Sam had been ready to throw away Faramir's gamble as well as everyone in Arda—Gondor, Rohan, the Shire, and all—for a chance to die beside Frodo.
And people were now singing praises in honor of his loyalty.
Long, silent minutes ticked away, and the sun burned hard against the back of Sam's bowed head. "I had not heard that part of the tale," Faramir said at length, his voice carefully neutral.
"I don't think any of the minstrels or the storytellers know about it," Sam murmured.
"Does Frodo know?"
Sam nodded. "I couldn't not tell him. Not when it's all about him."
"And what had he to say?"
"That my heart's smarter than my head." Sam grimaced and wished for a dark hole he could crawl into and disappear. "It's what I told myself when I found out he was alive, but I wasn't thinking about that when I turned back. That's where it's all wrong! I went back because I couldn't go on. Not without him."
Another long silence passed, and Sam fought the urge to fidget. He stole a glance at Faramir, but the Steward was looking at the garden, his face filled with something that Sam could not easily name. He quickly looked down again, locking his eyes on his hands.
"What stopped you?" Faramir finally asked. "It is my understanding that the Orcs carried Frodo away to the tower of Cirith Ungol, and it was there that you rescued him. What stopped you from confronting the Orcs ere they reached the tower?"
"Nothing stopped me," Sam said miserably, hunkering down even lower on the bench. "I was too far away, and I couldn't run fast enough to catch them, not even after I heard Mr. Frodo was still alive. The Orcs went inside before I could get to them, and they used an entrance I couldn't open. I had to go around another way, and it took some time."
"Then had you been swifter in the pursuit of this friendship, Sauron would have regained the Ring, and the minstrels who now sing your praise would be dead," Faramir concluded.
Feeling the other's sharp glance, Sam hesitantly raised his eyes. "Do you see now, sir? Do you see why I can't be called a hero?"
Faramir pursed his lips and looked away. "Would you do it again, Master Gamgee? Having now heard the songs and the praises, would you still return for him?"
"I would," Sam whispered. "And I'm sorry about you and Gondor and all the people here, but I'd have to go back. I went on the Quest for Mr. Frodo. Without him, there wasn't any Quest left."
Faramir nodded slowly. "Then you acted in the only way that you could."
Sam blinked. Over the course of the conversation, he had prepared himself for a number of different responses. Calm acceptance was not one of them. "Begging your pardon, sir, but do you understand what I'm saying?"
"I do," Faramir answered, his eyes still fixed on some point in the distance. "Better, perhaps, than you imagine. In fact, I would venture to say that it is you, Master Samwise, who does not fully understand. Fate looks after her own in most unusual ways."
Staring blankly at the man, Sam tried to find a response to that. "I won't say you're wrong. There's a lot here that I don't understand, seemingly. But what I really don't understand right now is why you're not…upset."
A smile tugged at Faramir's mouth and he glanced down at the hobbit. "You seem upset enough for both of us. But let me ask you this: do you regret going back for Frodo?"
"Of course not!"
"And you would do it again?"
"I just told you I would."
"Then if the choice itself does not bother you and you would not alter your actions given the chance, might I ask what does upset you?"
"They ought not be singing about me!" Sam all but shouted, feeling as though they were now talking in circles. "All those people ought not be singing about how loyal I was when it nearly killed them!"
"But it did not kill them," Faramir pointed out. "I think that is significant. And your heart still tells you that your decision was correct, which is also significant. Do these things not suggest something to you?"
Sam frowned. "Should they?"
"Perhaps you were meant to accompany Frodo on the Quest because you would turn back for him. Perhaps you were the means by which you and Frodo both survived. Had you pressed onward and taken the Ring to Mount Doom, do you think you would have had the strength to complete the task alone?"
"Well, no. Not knowing what I know now. But I didn't know it then, and I took an awful risk, going back like that," Sam persisted, still confused as to why Faramir was not angry. "You wouldn't have done it."
"True," Faramir agreed softly, a look that might have been regret flashing across his face. "I would have continued on. But my first loyalty always has been and always will be to Gondor. Your first loyalty was and still is to Frodo."
"But that's another thing," Sam exclaimed. "When we met you in Ithilien, you weren't thinking of Gondor, meaning no disrespect. You were thinking of everybody else. You let us walk out of that hiding place knowing there wasn't much chance of our destroying the Ring before it was too late. If you'd taken the Ring back to your father, maybe you'd have had a chance to save everything."
"The Ring would have saved nothing," Faramir said sharply, and there was a sudden fierceness in his eyes that brought to mind Sam's last memories of Boromir. But then it was gone, disappearing as swiftly as it had come, and in its place was a deep sadness. "No, Samwise," Faramir continued, his voice softer. "The Ring would have devoured Gondor, and my father would have been driven to a madness far greater than the madness that others are even now attempting to hide from me."
Sam didn't know exactly what Faramir was talking about, but he'd heard enough from Pippin to know that he'd just blundered into very delicate matters. "You know what the Ring would have done now, sir," he murmured hesitantly, afraid to say too much but unable to keep quiet. "But when you let us go, I don't think that—"
"Are my loyalties still in question?" Faramir asked, and though his tone was mild, a touch of the fierceness had returned. "Then you were inattentive during our first meeting, Master Gamgee. I served Gondor as a captain and a soldier against an enemy that sought to destroy all it touched. But I did not seek to be a destroyer myself, nor did I wish that for Gondor. Yet had we taken the Ring by force and learned to wield its power, such would have been our fate. We would have become a dark and a loathsome people, scarcely better than the creatures of the Nameless Ones. Or perhaps worse, for we would have known our fall and gloried in it." Faramir paused and fixed Sam with a look that once again called upon elven intensity. "My loyalty to my people was such that I could not allow them to succumb to darkness, even though it cost them their lives. In sending the Ring away, I acted in the only way that I could. Just as you did."
"Hear me," Faramir interrupted sternly. "I told you once that your heart was shrewd as well as faithful, and so it was. Had you not turned back at Cirith Ungol, Frodo would have perished, and you would have ultimately delivered the Ring to the Enemy. But your loyalty to Frodo delivered us all. Do you understand now, Samwise? My loyalty and your loyalty were both needed: one to keep the Ring from Gondor and speed you on your way, and the other to keep the Ring from Mordor and save the life of he whom fate had chosen."
Sam stared at Faramir, his mind working through what had been said. "Then…then I was right to go back? Is that what you're saying, sir?"
"I am saying that fate intended for you to go back, and as such, it was not only right but necessary. There were greater forces at work for much of your journey, but perhaps their greatest act was to make you Frodo's companion. We all owe you our lives." Faramir smiled, his eyes gentle. "Do not hang your head on behalf of a generous heart, Master Gamgee. Your acclaim is well deserved, for I still count you among the praiseworthy."
At that moment, Sam decided that he didn't need the waters of the talking trees that Merry and Pippin kept going on about, for he felt that he grew several inches beneath Faramir's assurances. "You've a fair way with words and no mistake," he said, almost shyly. "But if that's all true, sir, then I hope you know that you're also part of the praiseworthy."
Faramir's smile grew, and he inclined his head. "I have found a most courteous companion indeed."
Sam returned the smile, thinking that the sun had not shone this brightly for many days. He was about to say as much when a noise from the house caught his attention, and a new voice rang out through the garden.
"So it is here I find you, taking your ease while others begin to worry! You have led me on quite a search, Lord Steward."
A bark of laughter escaped Faramir, and he stood to greet Gandalf as the wizard joined them. "I rather think that it was you who led me on quite a search. I arrived here at the scheduled hour but found no one to greet me. It seems that you, Mithrandir, are late."
"Late? Ridiculous! I arrived precisely when needed," Gandalf informed him before turning to Sam. "Should I hold you responsible for detaining the good Steward, Master Gamgee?"
"Well, I don't know that you can blame either one of us," Sam said carefully. "Mr. Faramir was here for some time and you weren't. Do you think that maybe one of you didn't understand when you were supposed to meet?"
Gandalf raised a bristling eyebrow. "I see before me the markings of a conspiracy."
Faramir laughed again. "Think what you will, but there was no conspiracy here. At least," he continued, his eyes suddenly narrowing, "there was no conspiracy on my part. Master Gamgee and I were simply enjoying a quiet talk."
"Ah. I trust I have not interrupted?"
"No, I believe that we had reached a conclusion of sorts by the time you arrived precisely when needed." The suspicion in Faramir's voice could not be missed, and Sam blinked, wondering if Gandalf had deliberately delayed his arrival.
"Good. I suppose that a quiet talk is reason enough to avoid more pressing concerns," Gandalf said, either not hearing or blatantly ignoring the accusation. "But I fear I must now deprive you of your companion, for we have much to speak of. As for you, Master Gamgee, I am pleased to inform you that Frodo has returned safely and is within the house. He intends to eat before taking an afternoon nap, and if Lord Faramir has not wearied you, I suspect that your company would be welcome in the kitchens."
Recognizing the dismissal, Sam nodded and slid off the bench. "Thank you sir. I'll go and join him."
"Then I bid you a good day for now. Come, Faramir. Let us tour the garden as we talk. I think a brisk walk will clear my mind."
Sam took this as his cue to leave and he dutifully moved toward the house, wondering just how much talk Faramir and Gandalf would be able to have during a brisk walk through such a small and meager garden. That was not his concern, though, and he forced it from his mind as their voices faded behind him. But he did make a note to thank Gandalf later. The more he thought about it, the more certain he became that the old wizard had played a part in arranging his conversation with Faramir. And for that, Sam was grateful.
Entering the house, he headed for the kitchens where he could already hear Frodo bustling around with pots and pans. Remembering what food was available, Sam began planning what they could fix for a meal, and then he began planning what he might do after lunch.. With Frodo asleep for the afternoon, Sam would be alone once more, and if Faramir and Gandalf were outside long, he wouldn't be able to do that bit of gardening. But maybe…maybe that wasn't such a terrible thing. Maybe he could do with a bit more thinking.
Or maybe he could take a walk down to the Second Circle and look for Merry and Pippin. He'd hesitated earlier because he hadn't felt that he could endure the stares and the praise from strangers who didn't understand. But even if they didn't understand, Sam did now. At least, he thought he did. He still believed that heroes weren't for the likes of simple hobbits, but Sam could see that fate had done something remarkable in choosing Frodo's friends and companions. And whatever his feelings on his own contribution, it was probably all right for the people to sing about that.