A/N: WAIT!! Sorry if you all thought that was the last chapter, I meant to add that there was still one more, but evidently I forgot (it's been rather hectic lately with some guests visiting from out of state). So, here is the final chapter!
Chapter Twenty-Five: A Letter Long Awaited
Sam Gamgee wearily set down his hoe and wiped the sweat from his brow. The warm Spring sun beat down upon him, and he was exhausted – but there was nowhere in Middle-Earth he'd rather be. Here, in the garden of Bag End, he was happiest. Every flower, herb, vegetable and tree was tended to with the greatest care and joy. He couldn't imagine doing anything else so enjoyable.
Although, even Sam had to admit, it was getting rather warm.
"Just take a little break," he muttered to himself, sitting down in the grass beneath a small oak tree. He looked over at the freshly tilled plot of soil where he was going to plant this year's vegetable garden. The seed packets were lying beside the shovel, ready to be planted. Tomatoes and greenbeans, carrots and peas…It made his mouth water just thinking about the delicious, homegrown vegetables.
A familiar voice interrupted his thoughts, and he looked up to see Frodo coming out of Bag End, a pitcher of lemonade and two cups in his hands. He smiled as he saw Sam, and coming over, sat down beside him in the shade of the tree.
"I thought you might be getting hot out here," Frodo said as he set down the cups and poured the lemonade, ignoring Sam's offers to do it. "And it seems that I was right. Here." He handed Sam the cup, and the young gardener took it gratefully.
"Thank you, Mr. Frodo." He took a long gulp of the lemonade, savoring the tangy-sweetness of its flavor. "Have you heard back from the Elves yet, sir?"
Frodo laughed and took a gulp of his own lemonade. "Sam, you ask me that every day," he pointed out teasingly. "No, we haven't heard back yet. Uncle Bilbo did say that it may take a while – Lindir's been out in the wilds lately." He patted his friend's shoulder. "But don't worry, Sam. I promise, the instant we get the letter back, I'll tell you."
Sam finished his lemonade and smiled gratefully at his friend. "Thank you, Mr. Frodo."
Frodo poured him some more, and took another sip of his own. "Uncle Bilbo was thinking about taking us fishing later today. He's going to go ask the Gaffer if you can come."
Sam's eyes widened excitedly. "I hope he'll say yes!" Then suddenly he sobered and his cheeks turned red. "Oh, but Mr. Frodo, I'm not very good at fishin'. Remember the campin' trip we took with Mr. Milo? I didn't catch aught but a stick."
Frodo laughed. "Don't worry, Sam. You just need practice. You'll get better."
Another familiar voice interrupted their pleasant conversation.
"So, the rich Baggins spends his time with a gardener's son, does he?"
Both Frodo and Sam jumped to their feet to see Ted Sandyman leaning idly against the garden fence. "Are ya that desperate?" he continued with a sneer. "You and that Uncle o' yours are so queer, I'll bet that he's the only one who'll have ya."
Frodo clenched his fists. Insults to himself he could take in good grace, but insults to Sam and their friendship he could not bear. He walked over to the fence and firmly crossed his arms across his chest. "What business is it of yours who my friends are?" he demanded, giving Ted a fierce glare that should have warned him to stop.
But Ted ignored it, and gave a harsh bark of laughter. "Rather prickly today, aren'tcha? Can't I even comment without getting in trouble?"
"If you ever simply commented. Haven't you anything better to do? Shouldn't you be working with your father at the mill?"
Ted grinned and lazily shook his head. "Nope. Today's me day off."
"What do you want, Sandyman?" Sam spoke up, coming over to stand a step behind Frodo.
"Oh, the lofty Samwise deems to speak with me?" Ted exclaimed in mock-reverence. "I'm honored!" He smirked and looked Sam over. "Well, you think you're mighty fine, don'tcha, Sam? Runnin' with rich lads who ain't got nothin' better ta do."
Frodo stepped in front of Sam. "Leave him alone, Sandyman," he said firmly, with a look that clearly dared Ted to push his luck. He did.
"An' now you got ta be protected by your master, eh, Sam?" he sneered. "Can't stand up for yerself, can ya?"
Sam swallowed and stepped forward beside Frodo. "Of course he can, Sandyman," Frodo answered. "He's not afraid of you. But he knows better than to waste energy on an idle fool who has nothing better to do than torment those smaller than him." Sam looked up in surprise at his master; he'd never seen him speak so forcefully to anyone before.
Ted was surprised as well, and it took him a moment to think up a response. "A fool, am I?" he finally said. "You're one to talk of fools. At least I don't spend my time with my head up in the clouds, dreaming about Elves and dragons and nonsense; the only time you live in reality is when you need help. At least I do a hard day's work." He smiled as he found this new approach. "You've never done a lick of work in your life, have you?"
Frodo opened his mouth to reply, but instead it was Sam who angrily retorted, "Of course Mr. Frodo works! He's helped me in the garden, an' he can cook, an' he helps Mr. Bilbo translatin' Elvish near every day." Frodo squeezed Sam's hand gratefully, and Ted snorted.
"Cookin' an' writin' ain't work. I mean real work. Work that makes ya sweat."
Sam again began to reply, but Ted cut him off. "Now it's the servant protectin' the master, eh? What's the matter, Baggins? Cat got your tongue?"
"You're right, Sandyman," Frodo replied after a moment. "I haven't worked hard. I don't know what it's like." Ted smirked, but Frodo went on. "But you're wrong when you say that I don't live in reality. I watched my parents die before my eyes. You do not think that is reality?" Sam looked up and saw that Frodo's eyes sparked with the intensity of his words, although tears shone in their sapphire depths. "You don't know the full meaning of reality."
Ted was taken aback once more, and Frodo continued. "I am aware enough to know who my friends are, and to know the difference between someone who is cowardly, and someone who is brave – something you know nothing about, Sandyman."
At last Ted was able to reply, with a punch that landed on Frodo's jaw and sent him stumbling back a few steps. "So I'm a spineless coward, am I?" he snarled. "I'm braver than you, Baggins. Come on, let me see how brave you are!"
Frodo pressed his hand against his throbbing jaw and glared at Ted. "You just showed your cowardice," he said through clenched teeth. "Fighting proves nothing."
Sam, who was shocked speechless for a moment, now jumped over the fence and landed a punch that sent Ted sprawling. "Come on, Sandyman," he growled. "Come and show me how brave you are."
Ted pressed his sleeve against his bleeding nose and stood up, glaring fiercely at Sam and Frodo. He stood there for a moment, and then took to his heels and ran, stumbling, down the Hill and out of sight.
Sam stared down at his own clenched fists in astonishment. His shock rooted him to the spot for a moment, and then a soft moan from Frodo brought him quickly back to reality. He hopped back over the fence and rushed to his master's side, as Frodo was sitting down in the grass, rubbing his sore jaw.
"That'll leave a nasty bruise," Frodo remarked. "Goodness, he's got hard fists."
Sam gently pried Frodo's fingers from his chin and lightly touched the rapidly forming bruise, stopping when he caught his master's slight wince. "We'd best put some ice on it," he said. "It's startin' to swell."
"Thank you, Sam," Frodo said softly as the gardener helped him to his feet.
"Just doin' my job, sir," Sam mumbled, blushing.
Frodo shook his head as the two gathered the lemonade pitcher and cups. "It was more than that and you know it."
"Well, 'twas nothin' you wouldn't 'a done for me," Sam insisted stubbornly. Frodo sighed and gave up trying to win an argument with him, and they headed inside. As they opened the door, they nearly collided with Bilbo who was on his way out. "Good Heavens!" he exclaimed, catching sight of Frodo's bruised and swelling jaw. "What's happened?"
Without waiting for a reply, he ushered them into the kitchen to get some ice. While he wrapped the ice in a towel and gently pressed it against Frodo's chin, Sam told him what had happened, leaving out the majority of his own actions, which Frodo made sure to tell.
Bilbo shook his head, leading them into the sitting room and forcing Frodo down onto the sofa. "Will that Ted Sandyman ever learn?" he said as he examined Frodo's chin. "Sit still, lad, this will only take a moment. Goodness, he hit you hard, didn't he?"
Frodo nodded, cringing as Bilbo pressed on his bruises. "But Sam hit him back even harder." Sam blushed and looked down. "I didn't mean to, Mr. Bilbo, sir," he stammered. "But when he hurt Mr. Frodo –" Bilbo cut him off. "I know, Sam, it's all right. You two didn't start the fight, and you were only defending yourselves. Hopefully you've given him something to think about, and he won't bother you for a while."
Later that afternoon, Bilbo, Frodo and Sam headed out toward the Water with their fishing poles over their shoulders, merrily singing one of Bilbo's favorite walking songs together. The swelling of Frodo's jaw had gone down, leaving nothing but a large and rather colorful bruise, which did nothing to dampen his high-spirits. They tramped through the woods that surrounded the river, taking the round-a-bout way, and then Bilbo took his time choosing just the right spot to fish.
"My father was an expert fisherman, you know," he said as they walked along the bank. "He took me out fishing all the time when I was a lad. Ah! Here we are!" He stopped beneath a large old willow tree, which bent over the water, creating a veil around them.
"It's beautiful!" Frodo breathed as he ran his hand along the smooth grey bark of the old tree and looking up at its trailing branches. The soft green leaves formed a thick canopy above them, whispering softly in the cool Spring breeze. The weeping branches hung down into the water, swaying gently.
"It is, isn't it?" Bilbo agreed as he readied their fishing gear. "My father picked this place out years ago, and my mother liked to read here. Their initials are carved on the other side."
Frodo and Sam walked around to the other side of the trunk, and there indeed were the letters 'B. B. & B. T,' and beneath them, '1308'. As Frodo read the carvings aloud, Bilbo explained, "1308 was the year they became engaged." There were a few moments of silence, broken only by the whispering of the breeze and the soft song of a water bird, and then Bilbo broke it. "Well, are you lads going to help me set up our fishing poles or not?"
Frodo and Sam were snapped out of their dreamlike state, and with exchanged smiles, they went over to the water's edge to help Bilbo.
Once their lines had been cast, there was nothing to do but wait. And wait. And wait…
Bilbo was beginning to drop off to sleep when a surprised cry from Sam startled him back to the present. He blinked and saw Frodo and Sam, knee-deep in the water, struggling to reel in what must be a large fish. "Uncle Bilbo, help!" Frodo laughed, holding tightly to Sam's waist to keep the younger hobbit from being pulled further out into the water.
Laughing, Bilbo splashed out into the water with them and keeping his arms securely around Frodo's waist, he planted his feet in the mud and helped them pull back. It took all of their combined efforts, but with difficulty, they managed to drag the fish to shore. It was huge, probably bigger than the fish Merry had caught on the camping trip and in the stream, and it barely fit in one of the buckets they'd brought along.
"Good catch, Sam!" Frodo congratulated him as they sat down, laughing and panting, on the bank. "And I thought you said you didn't fish very well!"
Sam looked down at the fish in the pail. "I guess I was just fishin' in the wrong spots."
Bilbo nodded, taking a gulp of water from his canteen. "This is the best place in the Shire," he agreed. "The big fish like to come here in the shade of the willow tree, and hardly anyone ever comes to bother them."
"Well, this one will make a tasty meal," Frodo said with a smile. "I don't know if we shall even need to catch any more!"
"Oh come now," Bilbo snorted, helping Sam cast his fishing line again. "We'll need more than one if we want enough for the Gamgees and you and I, Frodo."
Within about a half an hour, they had caught two more fish, each about half the size of Sam's, and then they decided to head back. Sam triumphantly swinging the bucket full of fish, they sang cheerfully again, this time "Upon the Hearth," another favorite of Bilbo's.
Reaching Bagshot Row, Sam went home with his fish, while Frodo and Bilbo continued on to Bag End. As they put away their fishing poles, Frodo had a sudden thought. "Uncle Bilbo? Can I go to the post office and see if the letter from Lindir has arrived yet? Sam's about to go mad with impatience."
Bilbo chuckled and shut the closet door behind them. "Of course," he said. "But hurry back. I'm going to start cooking these fish! You wouldn't want to miss out."
Frodo grinned and licked his lips at the thought. "I'll be as quick as I can," he promised, and then ran out the door. He hurried down the Hill and cut across the marketplace; the post office was located at the edge of it. A little bell hanging on the door-handle jingled as he entered, and the postmaster, Tobias Banks, looked up. He was only just come-of-age, and had taken over the duties of postmaster from his father, who had just retired, much to Tobias' dismay.
"Hullo, Toby," Frodo greeted him cheerfully, coming up to the counter.
Tobias went back to sorting envelopes. "Hullo," he replied shortly. He did not much like the "cracked" Bagginses of Bag End (something his father had taught him), and he was not in the mood to even pretend to be polite today.
Frodo was used to Tobias' rudeness, and had learned to ignore it. "Have you any letters for Uncle Bilbo and I today?" he asked with a bright smile. Tobias did not return it, but muttered something unintelligible under his breath and slowly walked to the back room to check for letters.
Just then, the little bell on the door rang again, and the blacksmith, Ned Hornblower, entered. Instantly, Tobias hurried back out, all cheerful smiles and eagerness to help. "What can I do for you today, Mr. Hornblower?"
Ned glanced at Frodo. "Weren't 'ee helpin' Mr. Frodo? I don't want ta interrupt. I can wait."
Frodo smiled and shook his head. "No, Mr. Hornblower, it's all right. Go ahead."
Ned tipped his cap gratefully. "Thank'ee kindly, Mr. Frodo." He placed a large parcel, which he'd been carrying in his arms, on the counter. "How much would it cost ta send this o'er to me relatives up in Quarry?"
Frodo waited patiently as Ned and Tobias discussed the postage price, tapping his fingers softly against the counter. His eyes traveled the small room and eventually came to rest on a jar full of fine quill pens, and beside them, a large group of inkpots, neatly placed upon a low shelf. He walked over and picked up a quill pen, running his fingers lightly over the edges of the feather. Putting it back in the jar, he looked at the inkpots. Both he and Bilbo were constantly running out of ink and good pens, with all their writing.
He picked out two fine quill pens and a large inkpot and returned to the counter, where Ned was handing Tobias the money. "Thank you, Mr. Hornblower," the postmaster said brightly. "Have a nice day." Ned tipped his cap. "Thank you as well, Mr. Banks, and a good day to you." He looked at Frodo with a grin, and tipped his cap to him as well. "An' a good day ta you, too, Mr. Frodo."
"Good day, Mr. Hornblower," Frodo returned as Ned left the shop. Then he turned to Tobias. "All right then. I believe you were checking to see if Uncle Bilbo and I have any letters." Tobias' cheerful smile vanished, and sighing, he returned to the back room.
A moment later, he returned, carrying several letters in his hands, which he laid down on the counter. Frodo looked them over and his face lit up with a smile as he came to a smooth, silky white envelope, unlike the ones hobbits used, with beautiful flowing script addressed to Bilbo. He set it on top of the others. "Thank you, Toby. And I'd also like to buy this inkpot and pens. How much are they?"
Tobias looked down at the pens and inkpot placed on the counter. "Very well," he said. "That'll be six shillings, if you please." Frodo reached into his breeches-pocket and brought out the desired amount of money, and then gathered the letters, pens and inkpot and left the post office.
'Goodness, Toby was in a worse mood than usual,' he thought as he headed up the Hill. Reaching Bag End, he shifted the letters, pens and inkpot onto one arm and opened the door.
"I'm back, Uncle," he called, shutting the door behind him and coming into sitting room. He placed the quill pens and inkpot on the table, and went in the kitchen to find Bilbo hard at work preparing the fish.
"Ah, hullo Frodo," Bilbo said, looking up as his nephew entered. "It took you long enough."
Frodo smiled. "I had to wait. But I bought some new pens and an inkpot."
"Good, I just used the last of the ink."
Frodo held up the letters. "And Lindir has finally written back," he said excitedly. "I suppose you'd like to read it before I give it to Sam?"
Bilbo wiped his hands on a towel and hurried over. Frodo handed him the letter, while opening one of his own, from Merry. Bilbo sat down on the sitting room sofa to read his, while Frodo remained leaning on the doorway of the kitchen.
After a few minutes of silence, Bilbo got up. "Well, Lindir's going out into the Wilds again; he didn't really have much to say to me. But I imagine Sam will enjoy the part of the letter addressed to him." Frodo set his own letter down and took the one Bilbo handed him. "Lindir wrote to him? Good, he'll be thrilled! I promised him I'd give it to him right away."
Bilbo returned to the fish. "Well, then you'd best go now." Frodo was already heading for the door. "Don't worry, Uncle," he called. "I'll be back in time for supper!"
Frodo raced down toward #3 Bagshot Row and nearly collided with Sam, who was coming up the Hill.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Frodo," he apologized. "Wasn't watchin' where I was goin'. I left one of me shovels up at Bag End, an' I was just goin' to fetch it."
"But Sam, Lindir's letter has arrived!" Frodo was breathless and bright-eyed with excitement.
Sam's eyes widened. "The letter's here? From the Elves?" he asked, as though unable to believe that the letter he'd waited months for had finally arrived.
"Yes!" Frodo grabbed his hand and pulled him over to sit down in the shade of a large tree. "Here, read it." He handed the letter to Sam, who reverently ran his fingers over the silken paper, tracing the elegant flowing script. Tears of joy filled his eyes and his hands shook as he held the letter. But suddenly he swallowed hard and gave the letter back to Frodo. "No, Mr. Frodo," he said softly. "You read it – I can't."
Frodo was about to protest, but catching the pleading look in Sam's eyes, decided against it. "All right, Sam, if you insist," he said instead. The two settled down comfortably in the long soft grass against the smooth bole of the tree. Sam rested his head on his master's shoulder in indescribable bliss, and Frodo slipped an arm around him and hugged him tight, unimaginably happy for his friend. Then, skipping down the page to the part addressed to Sam, he began to read:
"'Greetings, Samwise, Elf-friend,
'Bilbo has sent me your poem and told me about your desire to see Elves. Rest assured that your work is being sung throughout the halls of Imladris, Rivendell, as you call it. Seldom have I heard of mortals with such a gift with verse.
'As I have heard that you enjoy learning songs and verses, I am sending along one of our own songs, translated into the Common Tongue.
''Tis merry in greenwood – thus runs the old lay, –
In the gladsome month of lively May,
When the wild birds' song on stem and spray
Invites to forest bower;
Then rears the ash his airy crest,
And the beech in glistening leaves is drest,
And dark between shows the oak's proud breast,
Like a chieftain's frowning tower;
Though a thousand branches join their screen,
Yet the broken sunbeams glance between,
And tip the leaves with lighter green,
With brighter tints the flowers;
Dull is the heart that loves not then
The deep recess of the wildwood glen,
When roe and red-deer find sheltering den,
When the sun is in her power.*'
'That song was written long ago by a young Elf to pass the time as he hunted in Greenwood the Great, now called Mirkwood. It has been passed down many generations and is now a favorite among Elf children here in Rivendell, although I find it pleasant, myself.
'I believe that you will get your wish, Samwise, and see Elves someday soon. You are a most unusual hobbit, much like dear Bilbo, and I admire your talent with words. I hope that our paths may cross someday, that I may have the honor of meeting an Elf-friend.
'May the stars shine upon your face.
**** The End ****
A/N: Well, there it is…until the sequel, anyway. I hope you've all enjoyed it, and I'll get the first chapter of the sequel up as soon as I'm able! Just a warning, though, it may be a while before it appears, as I have a few other stories I'd like to work on, but keep your eyes peeled!
* And no, I did not write that poem. It is called ''Tis Merry in Greenwood,' by Walter Scott. I merely borrowed it, and no copyright infringement is intended (I only changed one tiny thing, from "the sun is in HIS power" to "the sun is in HER power", as the Elves – correct me if I'm wrong – referred to the sun as 'she.'). I'm sorry, I tried to write my own, but my poetic skills – if they even exist at all – have vanished for the moment. I am working on a poem or two for the sequel however, which I hope you'll enjoy.
Shirebound: You don't know how much you've encouraged me with your kind reviews! You've really helped me keep writing. God bless you!!!
Fool of a Took: Another reviewer I couldn't write without! You're the one I write the humor for – without you, it'd probably be a pretty boring story. Thanks!
Demonic-Kiwi: Keep writing! I can't wait to read more of your work, and I hope my Frodo angst has been satisfactory. J Don't worry; there will be more in the sequel! Thanks!!
LilyBaggins: Thank you so much for your thoughtful reviews, and keep writing, too! Your story, the Pine-Woods Excursion, really has me hooked. Thanks for reviewing!
Elerrina Wood: Love your stories, as well. Thanks for your reviews, and I hope you enjoy the sequel!
MarigoldG: Well, you kind of disappeared toward the end, but you don't know how much I appreciate the reviews you DID write. They really encouraged me to keep going. I hope you've still been reading, and I hope to hear from you about the sequel. Got any title ideas, by the way? J
SeAnna SerpentOwl: Thank you for your reviews as well! Couldn't write without them. God bless you!!
I hope I've remembered everyone, but my sincerest apologies if I left anyone out. You are no less appreciated! Thanks again everyone, I'll see you in the sequel. God bless!