Summary: Years into the Fourth Age, Sam bids farewell to Middle-earth.

Disclaimer: Characters and places are the property of the Tolkien estate.

MASTER SAMWISE'S LAST JOURNEY

Three and a half weeks after he had set out from Bag End, Sam Gamgee woke up to feel a different breeze on his curly head. The very air itself felt special, to he who had spent so many summer mornings tending the gardens and woodlands of the Shire. After eating and drinking he went forward and stood on the poop-deck, his face to the mist. There was no sound save the rushing of the blue water under the grey wood and the whisper of the wind in the silken sails. Sam held his breath, waiting.

He could not tell the length of time that it took for the mist to clear, but he would always say, with a touch of awe in his soft voice, that it 'disappeared like a curtain opening, and in all my travels, I never saw anything like the land before me'.

The ethereal grey mist had surrounded the ship for the whole journey, and perhaps Sam's sense of wonder was accentuated by the sudden blaze of light, but certainly all who ever came to the uttermost West (and few returned to Middle-earth to tell the tale) experienced the same – a glow of white light, purer even than the light in the glass of Galadriel carried by the Ringbearer on his quest. And the sight of a great city of towers and spires, fashioned by the most skilful hand imaginable, with the green mountains of Eressëa stretching out beyond as far as the mortal eye could see or the mind envisage.

The ship beat her way onwards towards the gleaming shores.

Sam's eyes grew tired with the light but he could not stop gazing. As the vessel grew closer the sailors could see people awaiting them on the land. The Elves began to lower the white sails and Sam strained his aching eyes for a sight of the one person he had come for. The ship slowed. Suddenly, from the island, three flashes of colour greeted the ship.

White and blue and intense red they shone, and then Sam could see the features of the waiters on the quayside.

In the centre of the small group he could make out a tall woman, her hair like molten gold and her dress silver. On her left stood a raven-haired man; it was he who bore the blue light. On the lady's right there was a shorter but still imposing figure, white hair reaching down to his chest and a faint white shimmer surrounding his body. But it was the smallest Sam was interested in. Dressed in brown and red, he stood at the old man's side. Sam ran to the bow of the boat, forgetting in his eagerness that only a month ago he had not been able to walk without his stick, and waved his brown hand at the shore.

"Mr. Frodo!" he called. "I'm here! Mr. Frodo!"

For Sam it felt like another hour before the ship docked - though who can tell how quickly or slowly time passes in that place? As soon as he could he hurried down the gangplank - and fell promptly into the arms of a waiting Elf.

"Be careful of yourself," the Elf said. "You have been long at sea."

"I was the same," said a well-remembered voice. Sam looked up quickly. "Hello, Sam," Frodo Baggins said. "Welcome."

Frodo touched the Elf on the shoulders and took Sam in his arms. "How are you feeling, Sam?"

"Younger, somehow," Sam answered, puzzlement in his voice. "You look younger, Mr. Frodo."

"I feel younger, and older, and the same," explained Frodo. "It's like that here. But I feel at peace, Sam, which I did not when I left Middle-earth. Come," he helped Sam up. "Time to meet old friends."

"Well, Master Gardener," the tall Elven-woman said as Sam came towards her. "How is my mallorn?"

Sam bowed low, supported by Frodo's gentle hands. "Beautiful, Lady," he said. "But not as beautiful as you."

She laughed, and her voice was like silver. "Ever the flatterer, Master Samwise. Welcome to Tol Eressëa, the Lonely Isle." Galadriel took him by the hand and led him to her companions.

"Last of the Ringbearers," Elrond said, raising his hand to Sam with the blue Vilya on the middle finger. "We have been waiting a long while. All is well in Middle-earth?"

"Yes, thank you," said Sam. "Master Elrond, I have a message for you from the King and Queen. They send their respect and best wishes and the Lady Arwen says she is always thinking of her father."

A fleeting shadow of sadness crossed Elrond's face. "She knows her choice," he said. "But I thank you, Samwise. The message is welcome."

"As are you," the old man said, clapping Sam on the shoulder. "You weren't seasick, Sam? I remember you and boats never understood each other."

Sam laughed. "Not that we did, Master Gandalf," he admitted. "But she was a wonder, that one. Stable as the garden at Bag End and lovely as Strider's palace in Minas Tirith. And the ropes! Clean forgot I was sorry to leave home after a day at sea, I did. But I'm glad to be here at last. We saw a lot of things on our journey, Mr. Frodo, and begging the Lady's pardon but I saw nothing as wonderful as this." He flung out an arm to the shimmering buildings.

"There is nothing as wonderful on Middle-earth," Frodo said. "We are Sundered from the world here, Sam, and natural laws do not govern this place. The power of the Valar holds sway and we live in the reflected bliss of Valinor over the water. People do not die here, but live on in peace."

Gandalf beckoned to a waiting Elf. "Take Master Samwise's things to his lodgings, Geldir. Tell them we will arrive shortly."

"Certainly," the Elf said, bowing low to the group. He turned and called to his companions. "Baggage to the city, on Olórin's orders."

"Olórin?" asked Sam, as they began to walk in the direction of the city. His legs felt steadier now and he could take in the sights around him.

"Gandalf, Mithrandir… they were but given names for my task in Middle- earth," Gandalf said. "Before I came was Olórin, and to Olórin have I returned. But I will still answer to whatever name you give me, Sam, so do not worry your head about that."

Sam nodded, and fell back to walk with Frodo. "Do you remember what you said on the Mountain, Mr. Frodo?" he asked.

"I am afraid not, dear Sam," Frodo replied. "I cannot remember much from that journey, though it does not pain me any longer."

"You said, 'I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.' Well, Mr. Frodo, I am glad I am here now, but it doesn't feel like the end any more. The end has been and gone, and I think this is the beginning."

"You are right, Sam," Frodo said. "The beginning of forever; but this time we know that we need not fear for our friends at home."

In front of them stood a tall and fine building, with light inside and the sound of singing. Frodo smiled and held open the door, and the Ringbearers passed in together, leaving behind them the aches and pains of past losses and defeats and fruitless victories for the everlasting glory of the West.