And Whither Then, I Cannot Say
Originally written 8-26-02 - Revised for publication 1-7-02.
On lazy afternoons such as this, Samwise sometimes found himself obliged to step out of the smial for a moment and sit on the front steps outside Bag End, watching as the sun would sink out of the sky and down past the horizon as it had done every evening for thousands of years. Far beyond the count and concern of hobbits. Though to many a sunset was a sunset, to Samwise each was unique in their own manner. The sun never struck the sky as it did before; the beautiful painting of fire trickling to tears never in the same composition. Business or no he'd step out some evenings and just take a stroll in the crisp twilight air, without a note or word. Rosie, used to these impulsive strolls now, never fretted for him, for she knew he'd be back. Whether it was a few minutes later or the next morning was in the heart of Samwise.
It was another hazy autumn sundown in the Shire, late in the year 1427, by Shire-reckoning anyway. Though the Fourth Age had begun, no one had quite gotten into habit of changing the calendar; hobbits didn't much care for change, preferring to stick with the worn and traditional; so such complex tinkering was not bothered with. Already the events of six or seven years ago seemed long forgotten. The Shire had gone back much to the way it had been when four hobbits had left years ago on the Quest, perhaps even better than before… the prosperity of his homeland brought much joy to Samwise. In all honesty he had never been happier, what with his wife and daughter living in Bag End now, and, of course, the regained peace so long despaired for. The trees were beginning to flourish again, the luster of green returning to the land, along with the blossoms of gold and silver brought from the Lady's gift. The Shire thrived, beautiful once more, as it had been the past age. Sam only wished one person was here to share its beauty with him.
Tonight he took leave as always, clutching a walking stick and wearing a thick overcoat to keep out the cold. Closing the round door behind him he stood for a moment on the threshold, watching as the sun began to drip like candle wax down below the horizon, down to its bed in the heavens as the moon rose to take its place. Faintly the stars twinkled far above in the darkening sky. Sam stood for a moment and took in the beauty of the sunset, watching as the sun flamed gold, touching the trees and hills with its embers, sinking below the Havens and the Sea he knew lay far beyond. All was still and hushed, with the exception of the usual night sounds; crickets chirping furtively in the brush, families settling down to supper before bed, the occasional night bird sailing the evening sky far ahead, crying a song for the approaching darkness. After a pause, he stepped off the threshold and down the short path, turning down the same road he had traveled time after time before. He was silent, with the exception of soft thoughts, musing as they always did on things… his family, the Shire, his position as Mayor, his friends… memories would always come flooding back to him, both good and bad, and he'd smile or weep appropriately with each one. The evening especially reminded him of someone who couldn't be walking with him, sharing the tears and the laughter with him. Evening was a sad time for Samwise, and his footfalls became something of a lament to memories past.
Samwise didn't return until long after dust, the golden sun since replaced with a full moon, which shed its pallid light on the Road and brought him home again. He was greeted first by his Elanor, who came running out to meet him as he turned up the path to Bag End. "Daddy!" He reached out and picked her up, clutching her in the crook of one arm as she wrapped her arms around his neck and chattered about what had transpired while he was gone, questioning him about anything he might have seen. More than he had as a young lad she enjoyed the stories he would tell of elves and kings, dragons and evil, and she always made a point to question him time and time again to retell the stories; and he was more than happy to, enjoying her wide-eyed attention. His fair, golden-haired Elanor he loved more than every beautiful flower and tree in all the land; and indeed, she was far more striking than any of those. But she couldn't surpass dear Rosie; she stood in the open doorway, waiting for him, smiling as he stepped up the path. Beyond he could see the warm glow of a welcoming home, and he returned the smile as Rosie threw her arms around them both, laughing as she brought them inside, little Elanor in his arms.
Elanor was still talking, trying to catch her father's ear. "Daddy! Daddy! Oh... mum, step off a moment, will you? You're squishing me! Daddy! Guess what?! Guess who's here?!"
Sam blinked, bemused. "Who…?"
It was then Sam observed the two hobbits sitting on his hearth, sitting back on their elbows with their feet by the flames, talking merrily aloud to one another. The hobbit closest to the door suddenly broke off, noticed Sam, and broke into a wide grin.
"Hullo Sam! It is about time you were back. Merry here and myself arrived hours ago but the Misses said you were out and about. Is it proper to leave your guests stranded in your home?" Peregrin called cheerily and without scorn, despite his words.
"Oh really, Pip," Meriadoc chimed in. "It was no trouble. Don't you bother yourself over it, Sam; we're more than comfortable. You have a very welcoming home, as I always says, but not one listens to old Merry anymore."
"Nay, you two are pulling my leg. Old indeed!" said Sam with a chuckle as he set down Elanor. "The both of you look as youthful as ever, if I've ever known you two, and hardly uncomfortable in the least. I should hope you are saying pleasing things about my home!"
"Indeed we are; your hospitality almost surpasses that of the elves in Rivendell, and that is a high compliment, no mistake! If ever I knew a Gamgee, I wouldn't be surprised in the least, anyway," Merry replied with a grin. "But come, are we to sit on the hearth and speak lovely things of your home forever, or are we to get to supper, as I've heard it announced?"
"Yes! To supper!" cried Pippin. "I don't think I could go on with such chatter on an empty stomach."
So the Gamgees and the two guests sat down to supper, speaking gaily and of many things, concerns of the Shire and of the world outside. Pippin told them much of the happenings in Gondor, of the new King and his concerns, and Sam told the two of the comings and goings in the Shire, Rosie and Elanor adding in the occasional hearsay. Hobbits loved to banter and discuss - the more gossip the better - and these were of no exception. It was a while until they all finally sat back, full and content, listening to the crackle of the fire. Rosie took little Elanor to bed, who had hung on attentively to every word all through the night until she could lift her eyes no longer. This left the three alone around the hearth, all thinking quietly to themselves.
Merry broke the silence with a soft sigh. "Well, Sam, how have you been getting on these days?"
"As well as can be expected," replied Sam. "Much of my feelings are mostly caught up with this business of being Mayor, as well as my family to attend to."
"And not one can blame you in the least for the strain! But beyond doubt, you cannot hide your troubles from us, Samwise Gamgee. And these walks Rosie was telling us about…" He paused. "You still think about him, don't you?"
Sam sat silent, staring into the flames, sucking on his teeth as he always did when anxious. "The evenin's hardest for me," Sam explained. "I still remember the day he passed so clearly. I think, if you follow me, I see him sometimes in the sunset; I try to reach him… but he ain't there."
Pippin glanced at Sam, face grave. "We all miss him, Sam, but… it was his time, there was nothing left for him in Middle-Earth. At least remember him for what he left behind. He still lives in the beauty and prosperity of the Shire, his home. He wouldn't want you to grieve for him; he meant for you to be whole, as he said."
Sam nodded, though tears were forming in his eyes. He quickly brushed them away. "Oh, that reminds me… bother it all…" He rose and scuttled from the room, leaving the two hobbits to sit and wonder. Quickly came he back, though, carrying a stack of pages, all filled with Sam's curly handwriting and scribbling. He sat back down in his chair between the two, saving a sheet of parchment as it attempted a vain escape of the pile.
Merry blinked at the pile. "Ah! Frodo's book… do you mean to tell me you've finished your part?"
"Yes, yes… I spent many an evenin' dwelling on how I wanted it all ended, and this is how I've written it… though I ain't certain… perhaps you could hear it for me 'n tell me what you suppose." Sam said, ringing his hands nervously.
"Certainly!" Pippin said with a smile. "Let's hear it, then!" He and Merry pulled their chairs up close, and Sam held up the sheets of scrawled parchment, and began to read aloud the ending he had put together. When he had finished the three sat in silence, the crackle of the dieing fire the only sound in the room. There were tears down Pippin's cheeks and Merry was staring off past his hands, lost in thought. Sam sat looking at the two expectantly.
Pippin was the first speak up. "Beautiful, Sam. You have a skill with words that would make old Bilbo and Frodo proud, I'm sure… certainly Frodo would not regret letting you finish his story."
Merry nodded his head, snapping back to attention. "Of course… the way you used the Grey Havens for their passing… very fitting, I think."
Sam sighed. "Mr. Frodo loved the sea, and the elves… he told me of the sea often… seems only just that there's a better place out there for 'im. Where he could be happy, and healed again. Somehow I couldn' bring myself to end the tale on any less a note as the rest, being such an extraordinary tale, if you take my meaning."
"Well Sam, it isn't quite the end of the story yet," Merry replied. "There is still some of the Fellowship left in Middle-Earth, and many tales to follow afterward."
"Then let them be told by others more willing!" cried Sam. "I've told more than my share in this life."
Originally written 8-26-02 - Revised for publication 1-7-02.