A short while later the hobbits rose and began walking west towards the city. The road leading from the ship havens to Avallone was well-tended, the flowers and trees fragrant and blooming. Sweet songs of birds mixed in with the slow hum of the Sea, and the white Tower of Avallone soared above, the pearl and crystal roof of it gleaming in the rising sunlight. The buildings underneath it were much clearer now, and they shone as well, the stone glinting gold and silver. "It's so beautiful," Sam whispered, his eyes wide in awe. Frodo spoke quietly beside him, a gentle, fond smile on his face. "That's Avallone, my home."

Finally the hobbits passed a filigreed silver gate under a stone archway and entered the city itself. There were many buildings and arches built of a white stone that Sam had never seen before, along with silver fountains and lamps. Flowering vines climbed up the walls onto windowsills and balconies, blooming in vivid colors. There were also many trees and shrubs, tended with care but allowed to grow freely. Sam knew, somehow, that this city was very old, older than any other city he had ever been to, but at the same time it felt young, as if he were visiting at the height of its glory. Not a single brown leaf littered the streets or hung from a branch, though the Shire had been at the beginning of a glorious autumn when Sam had left. The air had the delicious lightness of springtime, but the land looked like it was in early summer. Sam could hear many voices raised in song: though they sang different songs, there was no discord among them, and each voice seemed to weave into the others, making each song sound more beautiful. Some of the Elves passing by smiled at the pair, and Frodo smiled back and greeted them, but none interrupted the two friends as they walked.

Frodo led Sam off the main street to an archway on the right that led into a small courtyard and garden. "Are you hungry?" he asked. "It's breakfast time." Sam nodded vigorously. "Well, I say you've practically read my mind!" he said, and Frodo laughed. "Sit here for a bit, I'll be right back." Frodo smiled at him again and walked away and into a doorway at the end of the courtyard. Sam, meanwhile, settled onto the edge of a stone fountain on the side of the courtyard, watching the current of the water flow from a small waterfall above his head into the basin. The edges of the clear water were tipped with tiny rainbows in the sunlight, and the noise of the water was peaceful. He gingerly reached in and placed his fingertips in the water, smiling at the warmth of it.

Frodo returned a few minutes later, carrying a small basket. He grinned and sat down next to Sam, placing the basket between them. Inside was a small loaf of bread, still warm; white cheese, and several pieces of fruit. There was also a small water-bottle for them to share.

Sam took a careful bite into one of the apples. "Mmphf..." he murmured, closing his eyes and marvelling at the taste, soft and sweet against his tongue. "Take a sip of this," Frodo said, handing Sam the water-bottle. The drink inside was deliciously sweet and cool, tasting a bit of honey...it seemed slightly thicker than juice or wine and had a golden color. "This is better than any sweet I've eaten," he said.

"It is wonderful," Frodo said between mouthfuls. "Did you enjoy your journey?"

"To be honest, not much, Mr. Frodo. But it wasn't because of anything the Elves did as much as my own fear; I didn't like being out on the water. It was only a few days, but still, it was hard not being able to see land. I stayed below for near the whole way; I only came up this morning when we could see land." He paused, taking a vigorous bite into another apple, chewing it and savoring the taste. "There were these creatures swimming beside the ship...they weren't like any fish I've ever seen. Dolphins, they were called. Have you ever seen them?"

Frodo nodded. "I saw them when I first arrived, too. They were quite lovely. Sometimes they wander into a bay onto the western coast here, close enough so that you can touch them. The Elves love to swim with them." He smiled fondly. "But I am happy that you've made it here, Sam. I know it must have been hard for you."

Sam smiled. "Oh, Mr. Frodo, it was all worth it. Not much trouble at all, now that I stop to think about it."

After they were finished with breakfast, Frodo led him towards the house where he lived. It was much more than a simple house -- there were several stories and many rooms, halls, and staircases. Sam was surprised to find the contrast between the outside and the indoors. From the outside, Avallone gleamed like a pearl, a drop of white in the midst of the green wilderness. Inside, however, everything seemed rather earthy and comfortable, rather like Rivendell had been. 'A perfect place to sit and think and rest,' Sam remembered. It was still vibrantly beautiful, though, and possessed a strong sense of Elvishness unstained by time or decay. The furniture was beautiful, and many expertly woven tapestries hung on the walls, with depictions of the Sea under starlight or bright forests and gardens. They walked down several hallways until they reached a corridor of doors. One of them was wide open, and Frodo led Sam inside. "I apologize for the mess," he said. "I didn't get a chance to clean up this morning."

Frodo's room, while not overly large, was far from the little room Bilbo had been given at Rivendell. Sam was delighted to find that all the furniture, while Elvish in design, was exactly Frodo's size. On the left side of the room was Frodo's bed and wardrobe. The bed was unmade, but Sam could see the linen on it was rich and beautifully embroidered. Halior had also dropped off Sam's bags; they lay neatly placed beside the wardrobe. On the right wall was a row of open windows made of stained glass. Frodo came forward, closing each window so that Sam could gaze at them. The sunlight that shone through made the colors come alive. A white ship with a swan-shaped bow sailed upon a blue-green sea towards a grove of trees blooming with brightly-colored flowers. The ship sailed under starlight and a crescent Moon while the grove of trees bloomed under a radiant Sun. "It's beautiful, isn't it?" Frodo said. "Every room here has a different one. The larger ones tell stories, like tapestries made out of glass instead of silk."

A desk sat against the wall on the right side of the room, covered with many pages of notes in Frodo's familiar handwriting, still firm and beautiful. There were also pages in another strong and graceful handwriting that Sam dimly recalled seeing before but could not place. "I started another book for the Elves," Frodo said beside him. "They have little knowledge of hobbits, so I'm writing down our history for them, as well as some stories and songs. There's still a lot of work to be done on it." Frodo rose his head and looked at Sam. "I would appreciate your help on it, if you like. I'm sure there are many new happenings in the Shire that we need to add in."

"Many," Sam said with a smile. "It'll take me days to tell you about them all. And Merry wrote a book about herb-lore; my copy stayed at Bag End but I remember a lot of it." He reached down and took a page off the desk that was written in the other hand. "Whose handwriting is this, Mr. Frodo?" he asked. "I think I remember seeing it before, but I'm not sure."

"Olorin's," Frodo replied simply, and Sam looked at him, puzzled. Frodo broke out into a wide smile and began to laugh. "I am sorry, Sam! It has been too long. Olorin is Gandalf's name here in the West; the Elves gave it to him long ago."

"Gandalf?" Sam asked, his eyes widening. "Gandalf! Why, I should've known! How is he?"

"Well, he looks quite different, but for the most part he is still Gandalf." Frodo straightened the papers, smiling fondly. "I suspect he shall be around here again quite soon. He comes often to visit and help with the book, though I shouldn't say he just 'helps' -- he's written a great deal of it. I always suspected he knew much about hobbits, but it's amazed me how much he really does know. Some of what he's told me isn't even in the Shire's history books or records."

On top of the desk lay another book with dark blue leather covers and pages trimmed in gold. Sam opened it and noted with surprise that the leaves were covered in Bilbo's thin, light hand. "Some of Mr. Bilbo's poetry?" he asked, and Frodo nodded. "Yes...the new stories he heard here inspired him. There's even some written in the Elven tongues. It's all very good; we shall have to read it together sometime." Sam absently flipped through the pages; he smiled at he realized that this book had been handled a great deal, just like his copy of the Red Book at home. It smelled slightly of sunlight and flowers, the ribbon page-marker was slightly frayed around the top, and it opened naturally to several places: Frodo's favorite poems, he guessed.

Then he suddenly gasped. "I've nearly forgotten, and after all this time! I have a gift for you, Mr. Frodo!" Smiling, he reached into his coat pocket and took out the bundle of letters. "They're letters for you, from Merry and Pippin and all of the children. You've always been part of the family to us, even though you were so far away. They figured you would enjoy knowing a bit about each of them, and what's been going on in the Shire since you left." He handed the bundle to Frodo, who grinned widely, his eyes shining. "Thank you so much! I can't wait to read them." Then his smile sunk a bit. "Oh, my dear Sam, I am so sorry! I have nothing to give you!"

"Don't worry a bit," Sam replied with a smile and a gentle touch on Frodo's shoulder. "Coming here and seeing you again was gift enough. There's nothing more I'd want in the world right now."

Frodo smiled lovingly at him, reaching for his hand and grasping it. He laid the bundle carefully on the desk. "Come on, Sam, there's more I want to show you."

Frodo led Sam down hall after hall, exploring the house where he lived with the Elves. There were many rooms to sit comfortably and read or think, and there was a large library filled with books and maps and pictures that showed the history of the Elder Days, much of which had been forgotten in Middle-earth. Frodo also showed Sam the pantries and the kitchens, which were bustling with activity. It had always been hard for Sam to imagine Elves doing mundane things like cooking, but he saw that they were delighted with it. The smells around him were intoxicating, and he stood at one of the counters, peering over it like a child to see what wonderful things they were making. A beautiful female Elf smiled at him, then handed him a raspberry pastry wrapped in paper. Sam bit into it, closing his eyes as he savored the taste. "Goodness, the food here is wonderful. I've never tasted raspberries like these before." The Elf smiled again, gently. "I am pleased you like it, Master Samwise. Do you enjoy cooking?"

"It's one of my favorite things, next to gardening," Sam said between eager bites. "I even won a few Free Fair contests when I was a lad."

"Then you can aid us here any time you like," she said. "Perhaps you can show us how to make some of your favorite meals."

"Well, I don't think anything I could show you could be as good as this," he said with a chuckle, "but I would like to help out, if I can." The Elf smiled at him again and went back to making pastries. Sam looked around and found Frodo, who was talking and laughing with another one of the Elves, and after Sam had finished his pastry, they went out to do more exploring.

In the large dining hall, there was a chair near the center of the main table with cushions on it. Sam chuckled, walking over and running his hand over the top of the chair. "Yes, that's mine," Frodo said with a warm smile. "I've grown quite used to my feet not touching the ground when I sit down."

Sam also saw the places where the Elves worked making furniture, weaving cloth, and working on pieces of art. Everything was exquisitely detailed...the furniture was carved with patterns of animals and birds and leaves, and the clothing and fabrics were skillfully woven and embroidered. He realized that much of the Elves' joy came from simply building and making beautiful things, not doing the high and lofty things he had always imagined them doing. After lunch, the hobbits walked into a large courtyard, filled with trees and bushes and flowers blooming in every color Sam could think of. The vines climbed and wrapped around the statues and fountains. They spent the rest of the afternoon there, listening to the songs of birds and admiring the beauty of the garden.

As the shadows were growing long and the city was filled with warm golden light, Frodo led Sam up a short flight of stairs and onto a balcony above the garden. They could see much of the city from where they stood -- there were the white buildings that shone golden in the bright light, and surrounding them were the green trees and mountains of Eressea. They could even see the Sea in the distance when they faced east, the water glimmering like glass. Below them, the Elves were walking out of the houses and halls and into the courtyards. Some came out and stood on the balconies, facing west to watch the sunset beyond Valinor. The whole island nearly stood still for it: the faces of the Elves were content and beautiful around him, and they stood like statues, their shadows stretching behind them.

Then he felt Frodo grasp his hand. "This is the most wonderful time of day," he whispered. "You can watch it a thousand times and never tire of it." Sam said nothing, but just smiled.

As the Sun slowly disappeared below the horizon, the sky turning brilliant peach and pink and orange in its wake, a song started among the Elves, slow and soft at first, sweet and gentle. As the Sun dipped lower and lower below the horizon, the song became louder, but lost none of its sweetness. It was like a lullabye, as if they were singing the Sun to her rest. Then the dark blue of the night sky began to appear high above the vibrant sunset, and as the Sun disappeared under the horizon, the Moon slowly rose, bringing the stars with him. The song of the Elves rose louder and higher, welcoming the starlight. This was a song of celebration and welcome and it lifted Sam's heart. The air cooled around his skin, and a gentle wind from the east ruffled his hair. Lamps around the city were being lit, and the forest was dense and dark under the cover of night. As the night sky became dark velvet the song ceased, and, laughing and singing once more, the Elves went on their business again.

"That was too beautiful for words," Sam whispered with tears in his eyes. Frodo's hand was warm in his, and his eyes were shining with joy. "I know," he said simply, and that was enough.

As they walked into the dining room, the hobbits discovered two chairs covered in cushions set out for them at the center of the table. Sam was very hungry, and was delighted with the feast that had been set out. The food was better than anything he had ever eaten -- everything had a sweet and fresh taste, and the air was filled with fragrant smells. At first the food held his attention, and he spent a long while satisfying his well-earned hunger, but eventually he raised his head above his plate and wine-glass to look around him. He could only catch snatches of conversation with the little of the Elf-tongue he'd taught himself from Bilbo's and Frodo's books. Frodo sat next to him, speaking fluently, his voice almost as musical and beautiful as those around him. Sam knew Frodo was telling the Elves about him; he could tell that much from Frodo's face and the keen eyes of the Elves that glanced at him, soft smiles touching their faces. Sam tried not to blush under their gaze, but eventually he lowered his eyes and Frodo gave him a gentle smile. Slowly Sam lifted his gaze up at them again, and they all smiled warmly at him, their faces radiant with joy.

After dinner, they all rose and proceeded to a spacious hall with many windows. The top was open to the starlight and the hall was filled with the gentle light of silver lamps and candles. There were cushions on the floor in soft velvet, silk, and brocade, and Frodo led Sam to a place and sat down. The conversation around them quieted as an Elf rose from her place on the right side of the hall. She smiled at the assembly, giving a special glance to Frodo and Sam, and then sang a beautiful song in her clear, lovely voice. Sam managed to catch a few words and realized the song was a hymn to Illuvatar. When she was finished, everyone in the hall, even Frodo, murmured a few words.

Then a dark-haired male Elf stood up from his place on the left and began singing. It was the hymn to Elbereth, the same one the Elves in Rivendell had sang, though some of the words were different. Another Elf played a harp alongside him. Then three more Elves rose from their places and sang hymns as well. Sam recognized one other as a song he had heard being sung in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell, but the other two were new to him, and very beautiful. When they were finished, there was some applause from the Elves, and then a female Elf rose from the place she had been sitting and walked through the center of the hall before stopping in front of the hobbits. As Sam looked up at her, she seemed to be crowned by stars, and the low light of the room set off fires in her dark hair. There was a light in her face and in her grey eyes that reminded Sam of the Lady Galadriel -- he knew that this Elf was very old and had seen many things, but she was filled with joy and love rather than weariness. She smiled gently at Frodo and Sam, then closed her eyes and began to sing.

Sam did not understand most of her song, but the sound of her voice enveloped him. It was as light as air at first, dancing like tree leaves in moonlight, the syllables coming in soft half-whispers. He began to smile brightly -- the song's rhythm reminded him of running over soft grassy fields after his children. The memory was so vivid that he could see the faces of his children once again, still flush and beautiful with the joy of childhood. Then the song became slower, yet the joy did not cease. She did not whisper anymore, but sang deeply in long notes, her voice rising so loud that it echoed deep in Sam's chest and made him tremble. But Sam's smile did not fade, and tears sprang to his eyes and fell softly onto his cheeks. He looked over at Frodo, and to his surprise silent tears were running down his face as well.

Her voice rose until it reached a note that she held for what seemed like forever, and Sam felt his heart would burst from the pure joy of it. He heard Frodo take in a breath beside him and hold it, and he gripped Sam's hand harder...Sam couldn't remember Frodo even grabbing it. Then the long note became softer before dying out. She sang a few more syllables in the gentle half-whisper, and then she fell silent and bowed her head. There was a moment of silence that cut like a knife, and then the assembly broke out into applause. Frodo and Sam both wiped their tears away, and Frodo started laughing quietly.

The Elf gave a laugh and a smile to the two hobbits, and then she knelt before Frodo and whispered something into his ear. Frodo nodded and laughed, answering her back in her own tongue. The she faced Sam, smiling at him warmly and touching his cheek with her hand. She spoke to him in a beautiful soft voice that seemed like a new song in itself. Sam knew a few of her words, but not enough to understand what she was saying. But Frodo squeezed his hand and smiled at him. "She is Nieoma of the Teleri, and she welcomes you to Eressea. She said that her heart, and the hearts of all those assembled, are glad to see that you have finally joined me here, and that they all have delighted in meeting and honoring you. She also wanted to honor your presence by singing 'Linde Muina Vanesse', as it is my favorite song." Sam's eyes widened and he gasped, and Frodo smiled wider. "She says that she hopes you enjoyed it as much as I do."

"I did enjoy it," Sam said quietly to her. "It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. Thank you." Frodo translated Sam's words to her, and Nieoma nodded her head and gave him a radiant smile and a gentle kiss on his forehead. Then she rose and walked to the other side of the hall and sat down. The hobbits watched her leave, then turned back to each other and smiled.

The conversation among the Elves that had started during Nieoma's greeting hushed, and several more Elves rose from their places and proceeded to the front of the hall, where there were lutes, drums, cymbals, flutes, harps, and other instruments that Sam had never seen before. They all took an instrument and began playing and singing joyfully. Many of the other Elves rose and began to dance in the center of the hall, their footsteps light and their laughter lifting Sam's heart in pure joy. Next to him, Frodo's eyes were bright with happiness, and again Sam was struck by the wonderful change that had come over him. The Frodo that he had known and loved from his youth in the Shire was back again. He was not haunted any more by shadows or pain; instead, he was filled with joy and wisdom.

Sam began to relax, and sighed in contentment. He'd eaten a great deal at dinner, even for a hobbit, and was beginning to feel sleepy. As he watched the dancing his eyelids started to grow heavy, and soon he lay down on his side on the cushions and watched through half-closed eyes. He felt Frodo's hand on his shoulder, and without being aware of it, he fell into a deep sleep, and the gentle music wove itself into his dreams. He saw a field of bright flowers growing underneath a sky dotted with white clouds, and the glint of sunlight in clear stream water, the swimming fish silver streaks under the surface. Then he saw a thick forest with the Sun peeking through the dark green canopy of tree leaves above him. Then came hills of bright green grass coated lightly with grey fog, and a ribbon of white beach with bright gems mixed in with the sand. And last he saw a woman robed in green with kind, dark eyes. Her hair was dark brown, the color of soil, and at the top of her head was a crown made of leaves and flowers and twigs that fell around her face. She smiled softly at him and his dream ended. Sam opened his eyes and slowly sat up. Frodo still sat beside him, watching the dancing with a soft smile on his face.

"I had such a nice dream," Sam said quietly. "It was lovely."

"It must have been a good one, because you were snoring so loud I thought the Elves had adopted a horn player!" Frodo laughed and Sam's jaw fell open and his cheeks reddened in embarassment. "Was I really, Mr. Frodo?" Frodo shook his head and smiled, patting his shoulder. "No, Sam...I was just teasing you. I'm sorry."

Sam sighed and chuckled. "That's a relief." He watched the Elves for a few moments, focusing on the musicians in the front of the hall. "My boy Merry used to play the fiddle. When he was learning, the racket was bad enough to make you want to climb a wall, but once all the practice got to being useful, he was wonderful. He used to play at the holiday fairs with some of the other lads and lasses. And everyone would dance, just like this."

"You've spoken of Elanor and of Merry, but you said you had thirteen in all. What about the others?" Frodo smiled, remembering the happy family he'd seen in his dream. He knew all of their names, of course, but Sam found such joy when he talked about them that he didn't want to stop him. Sam's eyes would light up, and he suddenly would look very young again.

"Well, let's see," Sam said, breaking out into a bright smile. "There's Elanor, Frodo-lad, Rosie-lass, Merry, Pippin, Goldilocks (Goldy for short), Hamfast after my Gaffer, and then lovely Daisy. Then came Primrose, Bilbo, Ruby, and Robin. The little one is Tolman, Tom, after Rose's brother, though he's not so little anymore; he's past his coming-of-age. You told me most of the older ones, 'cept for the order, because Goldy came after Merry and Pippin. And the grandchildren, of course, though that list is too long to get into right now." He paused, a fond smile on his face. "I'm so proud of all my young ones, though raising them was mighty hard at times. Hamfast was the worst of 'em, but he straightened out soon as he came of age. My Rose was such a lovely mother; I couldn't have asked for better. And we never had any one of them sicker than a fever or a broken bone. We were very lucky. They're all beautiful and strong, the whole lot of them."

"I am so happy that the Shire and your family took such good care of you, Sam," Frodo said.

"Aye, that it did," Sam replied. He looked at Frodo carefully. "Did they take care of you here, Mr. Frodo?"

Frodo's smile did not fade. "They did. But that's a story for another day, because there's a lot to tell. But I'm as well now as I've ever been." He stood up, offering his hand to Sam. "Let's take a walk. The city is beautiful at night."

Like Frodo had said, Avallone was equally as beautiful under the starlight as under the sunlight; it still gleamed like pearl and many silver lamps were lit. It was a clear night, with a cool breeze that blew in from the Sea, and the stars glowed high above their heads under a shining moon. Along the walls grew vines with different colored flowers that bloomed brightly. One in particular caught his attention: a large star-shaped flower with a pearly texture. He walked up to a flower and breathed its sweet fragrance in deeply. Part of Sam felt as if he were inside some exquisite joyful dream, but the scent of the Sea in the air and the feel of the wind against his skin proved that it was real. He could hear many voices, either raised in song or in musical conversation. Their music mixed in with the distant song of the Sea and the night hum of the cicadas.

There were other Elves walking about the city under the moonlight. Some of them would nod their heads or smile in greeting to Frodo as he walked, and he would nod or smile back. Sam greeted them in what little he knew of their language, and they would laugh in delight. Frodo introduced Sam to them, sometimes in the Elven-tongues and sometimes in the Common Speech. They all knew of Sam and his deeds: apparently the story of the Ringbearer and his faithful companion was well-known among them. "Frodo has always spoken so highly of you," was said more often than not, making Sam lower his head and blush as if he were a tween again.

When they were alone again, Sam said, "That word many of them call you, 'cormacolindo'." He said it slowly, trying to wrap his clumsy tongue around the soft syllables. "It means 'Ringbearer,' doesn't it?"

Frodo smiled and nodded. "Yes! How did you know?"

"I know a small bit of Elvish, mostly what I could pick up from the books and from the King's letters; the important ones were written in it. But I remember that word especially because every year in Minas Tirith they had a festival called Cormare; Ring Day." Sam dropped his eyes slightly, a tiny smile touching his face. "It was on your birthday, Mr. Frodo. The whole festival was in honor of you, and what you did."

Frodo's eyes widened, and his jaw dropped in shock. "A festival? For me?" He straightened up, then knit his brows together and frowned. "A whole festival?"

Sam chuckled under his breath. "Aye, it was. With dancing and games and food and all sorts of things. Everyone would dress up beautifully and the minstrels would sing that song they made for you...you know, the one they sang in Cormallen. And then at the end Strider would speak to everyone, saying that even though you weren't with us any more, we should still remember you and all that you did to rid the world of the Ring. And then there was a feast at the end of the day. It was lovely; I wish you could have seen it."

"Oh, dear," Frodo said simply, lowering his eyes and pausing for a short while. "I never expected that, not at all. But they must have honored you, too, Sam, since you were there with me."

"They did." He laughed harder. "I was Mayor for nearly fifty years, and I don't remember smiling so much or shaking so many hands in one day as I did when I went to Cormare. Made me blush all the way down to my toes, it did! I tried to go whenever I was able, since it was so important to Strider and the Queen. I went" -- he paused, squinting his eyes -- "seven times in all, I think. The King and Queen lived north of the Shire for a while, so that made the trip easier.

"But it wasn't safe to take all of the little ones so far, especially when the family started getting bigger and bigger. They said, 'Sam-dad, why can't you have a holiday of your own here at home, so we can celebrate without having to go so far?' I told them that I didn't want a holiday and that Mr. Frodo was much more deserving of one, but they wouldn't have it. And so every year on my birthday they would go down to the Party Field and dance and sing all day. The mallorn would always flower then, too, and it would bloom on 'till the end of the month. I didn't know why until I asked the Queen about it, and she said I had been born on the Elves' New Year! Fancy that!"

Frodo chuckled. "I remember your birthday one year -- you were still a child then; I was young myself. Bilbo and I went to your birthday-party, and he told your Gaffer that you were especially blessed because you were born on the Elves' New Year. 'It's a magic day,' he said. 'Your boy is going to be something special, Master Hamfast.' Your Gaffer laughed, and then he said, 'Well, I hope my boy has magic enough to keep the taters and marigolds growing, at least!' It was very funny."

The hobbits walked through the streets and pathways to the center of the city, where the Tower of Avallone stood. There was a light at the very top that radiated out above their heads out into the darkened sky. Above the gate that opened to it was another stained-glass window, illuminated by the lamps in the courtyard around it. It was the image of an island filled with trees and green hills in the middle of a gently rippling Sea. On the right side of the window swam a great Man with a helm crested like a white wave, his body seeming to come out from the water itself. His arm was extended, and he was pointing to the left. Underneath the shore of the island swam a woman with long dark hair that flowed out behind her, mixing in with the blue-green water of the Sea. She had a sweet, gentle smile on her face. At the left side of the picture swam a bearded figure who laughed brightly like a child. Sam smiled as he looked at him.

Frodo began speaking quietly. "Back when the Elves first awoke, Orome, one of the Valar, found them by accident when he was hunting the fell creatures of the Enemy. The Valar instantly loved the Elves and wanted to protect them from evil, so this island was taken from where it had been in the Sea and brought to where they dwelt to take them West to Valinor. It was a long journey -- this was ages before the Straight Road was opened -- and there were many of them who desired to go. That's what this picture shows: the person coming out of the water is Ulmo, Lord of the Waters, and he guided Eressea to the West with his servants Osse and Uinen and others the Elves did not see. But some of the Elves grew to love this place because of the starlight and the Sea and its closeness to the light of Valinor, and they stayed here and built this city. They were allied with the Numenorians before it fell. And other Elves who came West made their homes here, and made Avallone even more beautiful." He smiled softly. "The Elves leave that light on every night, so that anyone travelling the Straight Road can find their way home."

The two hobbits stood together looking at the Tower for a few more moments before walking back through the lamplit streets to Frodo's room.

Frodo lit a single candle on a table beside the bed: its small golden glow left the room in comfortable shadow. He then opened the windows, and Sam, sitting on the edge of the bed, smiled at the stars that were visible in the night sky. Though he wasn't very cold, Frodo had pulled an extra blanket out for him, and he wrapped himself in its silky warmth.

The hobbits lay for a while in the bed listening to the murmur of the voices in the hall. It was very soothing, and Sam felt his eyelids growing heavy once more. He had extraordinary strength for a hobbit his age, but he was not accustomed to staying up so late. Frodo, however, still seemed quite alert and Sam could see little sleepiness in his eyes. But he had settled in next to Sam all the same, curling up on his side underneath the blankets.

"That song was so beautiful, Mr. Frodo," Sam finally whispered, still in awe. He could hear her voice in his head, the echo of her melody still lifting his heart long after it was over.

Frodo smiled next to him, his eyes glowing bright in the candlelight. "Do you want to know what she was singing about?" he asked.

Sam laughed. "To tell you the truth, I'm a bit afraid to find out. It was such a lovely song and I'd be mighty disappointed if it were about something simple." He paused. "But then again Elvish songs are never about simple things, are they?"

"Some of them are," Frodo replied. "Elves have lullabyes, and children's songs, and simple hymns and songs of thanks. Sometimes the most beautiful songs are about the simplest things."

"Is your song about simple things?" Sam asked.

Frodo laughed quietly, a wide smile on his face. "Yes, I suppose it is. It's about the fields and hills of Valinor. It talks about how flowers of every color stretch for miles there, and the way the sunlight looks as it shines through the tree branches. And how clear and warm the water is if you swim in it." He sighed. "I'm not sure why it touches me so. I first heard it not long after I came here, when I still used to ache inside for the Shire. Even though I didn't understand it at first, something about that song took the ache away." He paused, looking far away for a moment, then spoke again. "Are you disappointed?"

"No, not at all," Sam answered, thinking about the dream he'd had while asleep in the hall. "In fact, I think I like it even more now."

"I'm glad to hear that," Frodo said. His wide grin had been replaced with a warm content smile that crinkled up the lines around his eyes. He turned around and snuffed out the candle on the table beside the bed, then settled into the pillows once more.

They did not speak again, but lay next to each other like they had countless times before, in much more dire circumstances. Sam smiled as he listened to Frodo's even breathing, enjoying the presence of the friend he had missed for so long. He reached out, searching for Frodo's fingers, and he felt Frodo's soft warm hand grip his in the darkness. A feeling of peace came over him as he fell into a deep sleep and untroubled dreams.

He was near the end of one of those dreams when he noticed that the side of the bed next to him was cool. He opened his eyes and raised his head off his warm pillows, and through the morning light he saw Frodo moving silently about the room. "Mr. Frodo?" he called groggily. "Do you need me?"

Frodo chuckled softly, then walked back toward the bed. "Sleep, Sam," Frodo said, tucking the covers around him. "There's no need to get up." He ran his fingers through Sam's hair and then touched his shoulder and walked away. Sam closed his eyes again and was soon fast asleep.

He rose later in the morning feeling more refreshed than he had in twenty years. After he dressed and cleaned himself up, he went in search of Frodo, wandering through several hallways and rooms until he reached the garden. Frodo was sitting on a bench, reading one of the letters Sam had given him. He was laughing loudly as he read it, but turned his head toward Sam and grinned at him. "Hullo, Sam!" He patted the seat next to his, indicating for Sam to sit down.

"Hullo, Mr. Frodo," Sam said, taking the seat next to him. The sunlight was sublimely warm against his skin and the air smelled richly of blooming flowers. "I'm sorry I slept so long."

"Don't be sorry at all; I was the one who was up early. I don't need very much sleep. Four or five hours is more than enough to keep me satisfied." Indeed, Frodo looked awake and well-rested, as if he had slept a whole night and not merely half the time. "I didn't even expect you to be awake yet...I'm sorry if you had a hard time finding me."

Sam shook his head. "No, not at all." He smiled. "I heard you laughing before. Whose letter were you reading?"

"Pippin's, who else?" Frodo replied, tipping his head to the letter. "He was telling a story about how his grandson hid in a pantry closet and nearly scared the cook to death. I remember once, when he was a lad, he did that same thing at Bag End and gave Merry such a fright that we all thought he'd seen a ghost. Bilbo was so mad when he found out the truth! Pippin was a perfect little rascal."

"And his young ones followed in his footsteps," Sam said with a chuckle. "His son Faramir is married to my Goldilocks." He smiled with a bit of pride. "She's very beautiful, with golden hair like her sister Elanor. She loves dancing most of all: she's so graceful, just like her mother was. Fancy that, my grandson's in line to be the Thain! My Gaffer would never had thought that at all, given a few ages to think it over." He laughed again. "What else did Pippin say?"

"I've only read part of the letter; it's quite long. He said so much about himself and his family...I'm glad that he's happy and well. And I've read Merry's already: he told me about his family and many things that went on in Buckland. I can't believe he's married to Estella, of all people! They used to hate each other growing up; once when the Bolgers were visiting Bag End he and Fatty snuck up on her and put mud in her hair. I remember afterward, she came running up the Hill screeching and dripping in mud and Merry laughed so hard he couldn't stand up. 'I'll get you for this, Meriadoc Brandybuck!' she screamed. Oh, I'll never forget that."

"That she did," Sam said with a smile. "She did get him in the end."

Frodo sighed. "I've missed them so much. I wanted to spare them the goodbye at the last, because I wasn't sure if they would understand why I had to leave. They were so happy; I didn't want to trouble them with my grief. I never wanted to trouble anyone with it, least of all you. And I was afraid that they would try and stop me from leaving if I told them. It was hard enough to leave you and Rose and Elanor, I wasn't sure if I could leave them, too. That's why I waited so long to tell you where I was really going. But when they came at the very end, I realized I had been thinking only of myself...I wanted to say goodbye to them. Gandalf knew it. And when they came to see me off I was glad -- not only because I could have my chance to say goodbye, but because you wouldn't have to go home alone." Frodo's voice started to crack and tears sprang to his eyes. "Sam, they were okay, weren't they? They weren't...jealous of you, that you were able to come here and they had to stay behind again?" He suddenly looked very young, much like the tween neighbor Sam had known in his childhood.

He leaned forward and embraced Frodo, hot tears running down his cheeks. "They loved you so much, Mr. Frodo, more than you realized. They knew why you left, and they knew had faith that you were happy and you didn't hurt any more. They were the ones that helped me through it, if you could believe that. And no, they weren't jealous of me. They didn't really want to come West. They loved the Elves but their hearts were down south, in Gondor and Rohan. They told me before I left that they were thinking about going on one last adventure, too, to see the White City and Edoras again. They were just waiting for the right time. They're happy; don't you worry about them at all." He wiped away the tears with the back of his hands. "My, it seems we both've been crying ever since I came here! It's a good thing, I suppose."

Frodo wiped his tears away and laughed. "Yes, yes it is." He tipped his head down toward where Merry's letter sat beside him. "I had quite a shock this morning, when I was reading Merry's letter and I saw the date on it. I can't believe it's been sixty years since I left the Shire! I did not know. I mean, I know that time has passed, of course -- the Elves do keep records, and there are holidays and festivals each year. But I don't think I remember sixty years' worth. Bilbo kept a Shire calendar when he was alive, and for a while after he died I tried to keep it, but then the days started running together and I lost track of time. Eventually, I was hopelessly lost and I stopped doing it." He laughed. "I suppose when you become set in your ways, time certainly does move quickly."

"That's the truth, Mr. Frodo," Sam replied with a laugh. "Before I knew it my little ones were all grown up and getting married, and I was considered old by Shire standards. Old! Aside from a few cricks in my bones and creases in my face, I feel pretty fine. Could never get the young ones to understand that, though. They were always worrying that I would get sick if I stayed outside too late or if I worked in the garden too much. They even tried to get me to stop doing it -- my boy Robin wanted to take over! I told them I would work in my garden as long as I could get up and walk to it. 'I've been tending this garden here for well on ninety years, and I don't plan to stop now!' I said. I only gave up being Mayor because I was bored with it, not because I felt old. Too many silly banquets year after year."

Frodo responded with a jolly laugh that brought tears to his eyes. "I can just see you saying, 'Another banquet? Didn't we just have one?' They must have thought you had gone completely mad!" Then Sam started laughing, and both hobbits sat in the garden laughing until tears rolled down both their faces and their sides ached. Looking at Frodo wipe away the tears from his eyes, Sam was struck again with a wave of happiness at seeing his long-missed friend again. "You want to know something strange, Mr. Frodo?" he asked.

"I suppose so, if you're willing to tell me," Frodo said, raising his brows mischeviously. Sam smiled, then went on. "Well, after you left I always yearned for the Sea, just as the Elves do when they see it. There were times when it was stronger and other times when it was weaker, but it never truly left my heart. Rose knew it, bless her; before she passed on she told me, 'Samwise, I know the sound you hear in the quiet at night. When the time is right, you follow it and pay no matter to what anyone else says.' But after I was free to go, I wasn't sure about coming, though I'd always dreamed of it. I was scared that you might not want to see me again, or that my coming might bring up something unpleasant that you'd rather forget. I was scared, too, that you might have died and I would come here and find naught but your grave, and I don't think I could have taken that.

"But one night a few weeks ago I had a dream that I was at some sort of party -- oh, it was beautiful, like nothing I've ever seen before -- and you were with me. And you looked older than I'd remembered you to be, like you do now, but you were so happy that it brought tears to my eyes. My heart told me that nothing had ever changed between us and that I was foolish for thinking so, but I never believed it until then. Then I was on the sand, staring out at the Sea in the sunset, just like it was when you left, and I heard this voice say to me, 'He's still waiting for you. Listen to the call of the Sea. Don't be frightened.' When I woke up, I knew that you were alive and well and I decided to come here and find you. I wanted to see the Sea again so much I could nearly smell the salt in the wind when I was outside. So I packed my things, said goodbye to my family, and I came on one last adventure to find you again. And when I saw you yesterday...I've had so many happy moments in my life, but that one was the best, I think."

Frodo smiled, then reached forward and held Sam's cheeks in his hands. "It was the happiest moment of my life, too, Sam." He paused for a moment, lowering his head. "Thank you...thank you so much for coming here."

"Like I told you before, Mr. Frodo. It weren't nothing." Sam grasped his friend's hand and stroked the palm with his fingers. "I'm glad to be here."

A week later, Frodo took him on a short walk away from the city and down to the seashore on the east side of Eressea. The Sun was shining radiantly, but the wind from the Sea kept the air light and cool. The blue-green water was as clear as glass, and the soft white sand sparkled under their feet. They walked for a bit on the shore until they found a quiet spot to sit and have lunch.

Afterward, Frodo stripped off his light jacket and vest and rolled up his breeches, then walked across the sand and into the water until it reached nearly up to his waist. Sam stayed far back on the shore, just in front of the sand dunes that stretched before the green hills. Frodo was not reckless at all, but Sam watched him quite nervously, afraid that somehow the small waves would wash him away, or that he would lose his footing and sink under the water. "Don't be a old ninny, Samwise," he muttered to himself. "Mr. Frodo's got that bit of Brandybuck in him, you know how they like the water. And he's been living here more than half his life, he's used to it. There's no reason to get yourself all upset." But he still felt nervous, despite his scolding.

Eventually Frodo noticed his distress and walked back over to where he sat, smiling and then sitting down himself. The sand stuck to his wet trousers, leaving white patterns across his thighs and legs. "Are you all right? You looked a bit frightened."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Frodo," Sam said, lowering his head. "I'm just scared of the water; you know how I am. A walk through a puddle was always enough of a swim for me."

"Well, it's a beautiful day and the water is wonderful," Frodo said. "Today's a good a day as any to go for your first swim."

Sam's eyes widened in shock. "A swim?" he asked in a shaky voice. Then he straightened up and tried to look calm. "Um...I'm just fine sitting here, thank you." He patted the sand and nodded. "It's not moving."

Frodo looked deep into his eyes, his face becoming serious. "I promise, nothing will happen to you. We won't go in far, and I'll hold your hand the entire time. I won't lose you."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Frodo, but I don't think I can." Sam shook his head, looking away from Frodo's imploring eyes. He'd crack if he had to look Frodo straight in the eye. He felt Frodo's gentle touch on his shoulder. "Please? Trust me. I want you to come in with me, just for a little while."

Then Sam made his mistake: he raised his eyes and looked at his friend, and under Frodo's pleading gaze, he lost. "Oh, all right!" he said with a sigh. "I'll go in if you want me to. I've always done what you asked me to."

Frodo laughed merrily, rising and grasping Sam's hand. "Come on!" Frodo was laughing and smiling brightly, but Sam bit his lower lip, trying to hide how nervous he really was. 'You've faced worse things than this,' he said to himself, but that still didn't stop the shaking of his knees and the queasy knot in his stomach.

After Frodo helped him out of his jacket and waistcoat, he clasped his right hand tightly, and Frodo wrapped his left arm around Sam's shoulders. They walked together slowly down the stretch of beach. Frodo's arm was strong around his shoulders. "Come on, Sam," he said quietly, the sound of his voice blending in with the roar of the waves. "You can do this." Sam nodded, staring at the white sand below him.

Then they reached the water. It felt warm on his feet and the sand felt soft between his toes. White froth rushed past him and onto the shore, then receded back just as quickly. Taking slow steps, they went further from the shore and deeper into the Sea. The water was at Sam's ankles, then up to his knees, and finally heading towards his hips. Frodo clasped his hand tightly and kept a protective arm around his back, ever patient, whispering soft words of encouragement. Sam could see the waves crashing in a few feet before them, white tips blending into the blue-green water. "Are we going out that far?" he asked in a shaky voice. "No," Frodo said. "This is as far as we'll go." The waves crashed in front of them, but the water was calm where they stood waist-deep. The feel of the sand was reassuring under his feet, and he curled his toes a bit.

Then Frodo started laughing. "Look down!" he said, tipping his head. Fish were swimming underneath the water near them, the sunlight glinting on their scales and making them glow silver. Sam opened his mouth and gasped in surprise, then laughed as he watched the fish dart around them.

They stayed in a few long minutes, feeling the rhythm of the water as it rushed into the shore and back out again. Sam stared ahead, listening to the crashing sound of the waves. He'd heard the sound often since his first glimpse of the Sea at the Grey Havens, and he enjoyed being so close to it. The warm wind from the east stirred his hair, and he took in deep breaths, gathering in the scent of the water.

Frodo slowly guided Sam back to the shore, smiling the entire time. They stretched out on their backs on the blanket they had brought with them, letting the sunlight dry their clothing. "How did you like it, Sam?" Frodo asked.

"Well, it was nice, as far as swimming goes," he said, "but I'm not sure if I would be able to do it very often. I still like it here on the shore much better."

Frodo smiled and patted Sam's shoulder. "That's all right. I'm glad that you came in with me." He sat quietly for a moment, turning his head and looking at the water. "The Elves say that the Sea echoes with the voices of all those that have come before us. They also say that it's the only place where the Music that was sung before the world came to be can be heard. It's just a small part of it, but it's there, so that we never forget where we came from."

"Maybe that's why it stays with you, wherever you go," Sam said quietly. Frodo nodded, looking deep into his eyes. "Maybe," he whispered.

They headed home as the Sun was lowering before she set. Sam discovered he had been given his own room next to Frodo's, along with beautiful furnishings, new clothes, and finely made bedding from the Elves, all made specifically for him. Frodo had known the whole time, of course: it had been his job to get Sam away for the day while the room was prepared. The stained-glass window in Sam's new room had a beautiful forest with a family of deer running about in it, and fish with silver scales jumped out of a clear blue lake with gently rippling waves. "That reminds me of your song, Mr. Frodo," he said with a broad smile. "And of today."

As he lay in his bed that night, he could still feel the rhythm of the waves, rocking him slowly. It was a remarkably peaceful feeling. "Someday I'll have to go back in, if only to feel this again," he whispered. He was surprised to discover that the idea didn't scare him as much as he thought it would. "Seems like I can learn something new, after all," he murmured as he drifted off, the memory of the Sea's rhythm inside his body.