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Concerning Sam  by Kara's Aunty

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc . I have written this short story purely for my own enjoyment.

While I try to remain true to canon, this is the first time I have attempted a LotR story please bear with me.

Credit: www dot Tuckborough dot net which I found an invaluable source of info. Any canon errors in this piece are my own fault, not theirs. Any other errors are also my own fault as I have no Beta.

Note: This chapter amended on 07/02/2010.

Concerning Sam

Chapter 1

Gondor, Year 14 of the Fourth Age

Aragorn ascended the seemingly endless flight of steep steps towards the tower room where the Palantír was closeted. The magical orb was guarded at all times, kept safe from those who could not understand its power, or who would wield it with malicious intent if they ever learned of its existence. None but himself were ever allowed access to the fabled Seeing Stone.

As King of Gondor and Arnor, he had responsibility for the people and lands of not just one kingdom, but two. Unfortunately, not even Aragorn, King Elessar was able to reside in two places at once, therefore, while he resided in Minas Anor he would often look into the Stone to survey events in Annúminas, the Shire and elsewhere, thus ensuring that he was kept abreast of events both good and bad in all his lands.

But Aragorn also used the Palantír to ensure himself of the safety and well-being of loved ones; those who lived too far away for him to visit as often as he would like. He missed the hobbits greatly and, although they wrote to him often, it was never the same as actually seeing them. Whereas the Palantír could never physically take him where he wanted, he could still partake - to a certain extent - of his friends’ joys and sorrows, triumphs and struggles with its use as a visual aid. It made him feel closer to them.

Summer had arrived several weeks since, and the days had grown long and almost stiflingly hot. It was now over two months since Aragorn had last gazed into the Stone’s depths, and he was keen to see the smiling faces of his little friends once more. The last time he had seen them was that Spring, when Pippin had been officially installed as Thain of the Shire.

As much as the death of Pippin’s father saddened him, Aragorn was proud of the Fellowship’s youngest member. Pippin would be a good and fair leader, for he was loved by his people and would govern (as much as a hobbit ever would govern) with kindness and honesty - as well as with a splash of the inherent mischievousness of the Tooks (particularly this Took).

The King chuckled at the thought of the elegantly named Ernil I Pheriannath obsessing over the many different ways to cook mushrooms - and at the lengths Pippin was prepared to go to procure his favourite food. He wondered absently if Farmer Maggot would have to worry about protecting his fields from a marauding Thain …

With a smile still gracing his noble features, his thoughts turned to Merry, who had also been present at the ceremony. The Master of Buckland glowed with pride when Pippin was installed as Thain Peregrin I. Bedecked in his Rohan finery, and standing beside his wife Estella, Merry’s face remained suitably respectful as Pippin (looking uncharacteristically serious) accepted his new responsibilities, but the Knight of Rohan almost dissolved into laughter when given a cheeky wink by the Took during that most solemn of occasions. Diamond and four-year-old Faramir hugged and congratulated Pippin after the ceremony, which - like all good hobbit ceremonies - was followed by a grand party, with hobbits from all over the Shire converging in Tuckborough to toast the new Thain.

It was with a light heart that Aragorn reached the level of the Tower where the Palantír was kept, and he was greatly anticipating another such pleasant viewing of his Shire friends’ daily life. Two silent figures stood at each side of the door to the chamber, dressed in the black and silver livery of the Tower guards. They bowed low upon his reaching them. He nodded in greeting, addressing them by name, and enquiring after their families before entering the room.

The small, circular chamber itself was relatively bare, with white stone walls reflecting light from the only window in the room, found to the left of the door. A stone pedestal stood in the centre of the room, upon which rested the cloth-covered Palantír. There was a wooden desk and chair bearing signs of elvish craft beneath the window, but no other furniture. Aragorn preferred it that way. To make this place more comfortable would be inviting trouble, as none - not even he - should be encouraged to spend too much time with the Palantír. It would be unhealthy to forget to live his own life if he was so engrossed in those of others.

Stepping over to the pedestal, he withdrew the grey cloth covering the black sphere. Taking a deep, cleansing breath, he closed his eyes and emptied his mind so that he may become more receptive to the Stone, and more able to control what he wished to see. Once he was ready, he opened his eyes and placed his right hand on the dark orb.

“Show me the northern lands of my ancestors, where my Steward rules Annúminas and the fair lands of Eriador.”

The Palantír began to swirl inside, as if a storm was passing in its depths. Grey clouds whirled around the heart of it and then an image slowly appeared …

The round green door of Bag End came into view. The door opened and out spilled four of the Gamgee brood; Elanor, Merry, Pippin and Daisy. Both lads laughed and bounced with excitement. Fourteen-year-old Elanor carryied her toddler sister in her arms.

Now you two lads be good and mind what your sister tells you,” came a stern, but sweet, voice from an open window to the left of the Smial.

Aragorn smiled in satisfaction, guessing that the voice drifting from what appeared to be Bag End’s kitchen to be that of the children’s mother, Rose Gamgee.

Straight to the market for the butter and back again. We‘ll be having our dinner as soon as you get home.”

Yes, Rose-mum!” Pip-lad shouted.

But we’re always good,” said Merry-lad, obviously peeved by his mother‘s assumption that he would be naughty as soon as she was out of sight.

Don’t worry Rose-mum, I’ll take care of them.” Elanor tossed her golden locks over her shoulder as she regarded her youngest sister. “Now then Daisy-lass, do you want to try some little steps? See if we can’t beat the lads to market, eh?”

She can’t beat us! She’s only two!” scoffed Merry.

Daisy-lass can hardly walk Elanor. We can beat her hundreds of times and back again.”

Well, Pip-lad, you can hardly talk, but it doesn’t stop you trying, now does it?” Elanor crouched to place the hobbit lass on the ground outside their garden gate, and Daisy proceeded to place one chubby leg in front of the other. Suddenly, the toddler decided against forward motion, and opted instead to spring up and down on the spot, her brown curls flying, her big eyes sparkling.

Jumpy, jumpy, jumpy!” squealed Daisy in delight as she happily partook of her favourite pastime.

The Palantír grew cloudy, and it was with some regret that Aragorn bade the children a silent goodbye as they made their way to the town market. The four hobbit children finally faded from sight and a new image presented itself in the Palantír …

A clearly pregnant Rose Gamgee was making her way towards Frodo’s old study, which Sam (reluctantly) used to keep all his notes in, and to correspond with Shirriffs from all over the Shire as part of his Mayoral duties. She held a large tray in hands and had to use her hip to swing open the study door.

Sam, love, here’s some tea and seed cake to keep you going until the children get back.”

Rose placed it on the desk where her husband sat. Aragorn could only see the back of the Sam’s head because the master of Bag End was too occupied with staring out of the window to turn and face his pretty wife. A half-finished letter lay in front of Sam, the ink on the last word long since dried. He seemed not yet to have noticed the room’s new occupant.

Sam, my love; your tea,” repeated Rose. She placed her hand on the side of her husband’s face and stroked it gently. Sam finally stirred at the unexpected physical contact, and Aragorn finally caught sight of his friend’s face when he cocked it in his wife‘s direction.

Aragorn frowned in concern. He watched a similar expression flit across Rose’s face as she regarded her husband. The hobbit lady lifted a hand to stroke Sam’s hair and, for a moment, the former ranger felt like an intruder in their private moment. But he could not turn away; not now that he had seen Sam's taut, strained features, or the eyes with their almost vacant expression. The gardener’s skin was waxy and pale, as if he had not seen the sun for several days.

Sorry, Rosie me dear,” Sam mumbled. “I was just trying to answer some of these letters before dinner. I could take a cup of tea, though, now that I think on it. Something to perk me up before I write back to Robin Smallburrow. Seems he’s having some problems with the Shirriff-post in Frog Morton - I may have to go over there tomorrow, and perhaps stay over for a night at the inn”

The hobbit’s eyes dropped to Rosie’s swollen abdomen and he sighed. “I just don’t like leaving you when you’re so far gone with the little ‘un; and then there’s the others to mind as well.”

It’s all right love. Don’t you worry about me. I can get our Marigold over to help me with the children, and Elanor’s old enough to help with the baking and such.” Rosie kissed his forehead softly. “It might do you good to get away for a day or so; get some fresh air and have an evening with a friend at The Floating Log. You‘ve not been sleeping well Sam Gamgee and don‘t be denying it!”

She hushed her husband as he started to bluster his way through said denial.

I know you‘ve been waking up at night and then sneaking out to try and calm yourself with athelas water, I smell it in the kitchen each morning! Sam, I’m your wife. I know you better than you think, and it pains me to see you like this. It’s like Frodo all over again! If you won‘t talk to me love, at least talk to Merry or Pippin. I can’t bear to see you like this.”

Sam nodded his head in submission. “All right, me dear. Pippin has visitors, but I’ll send a letter to Merry and see if he’d like to meet up for a day or so in Frogmorton. Try not to worry, Rosie love. I’m fine - really I am. There’s nothing that a night or two’s poor sleep can really do to hurt your old Sam! I‘m made of sterner stuff than that!” He pulled his wife down to him and placed a soft kiss on her brow. “And you‘re always there when I awake, the first flower of my day to brighten me up.”

The depths of the Stone swirled again and, before Aragorn could protest, the scene shifted entirely from the Shire to further north, where the city of Annúminas came into view …

City buildings gleamed and towers and spires sparkled in the afternoon sun. People were trading in the broad market square, children were playing in the streets, dodging foot traffic as they chased each other and guards kept silent sentry on the palace battlements and city outskirts, always alert for trouble even in these times of peace. Fathers were teaching their sons to ride in one of the larger stretches of land to the south of the city; groups of women were returning by foot, horse and cart from Lake Evendim where they had obviously spent the day bathing with their daughters and younger sons, perhaps teaching some of them to swim.

Elessar saw that the people - his people - were content, happy and at peace; his heart filled with joy to witness it.

But it was tinged with worry from the disturbing vision of Sam.

What was wrong with his friend? Why did he appear so careworn? True, the anniversary of the end of the War of the Ring had passed a few months since, and Sam, having played a central role, may have been dwelling on his experiences from that time. Was that what the vision in the Palantír had shown him?

Frustration filled the former ranger, for he had no viable way of knowing how long ago the things he saw in the Seeing Stone had come to pass, if indeed they had passed at all. The visions could be either past, present or future, for all he knew. If only he had the ability to snatch Sam from the Palantir’s depths and question him on the matter!

It was a foolish thought. Such a thing was impossible, this he knew well. And even if it were not, Sam would not wish to talk of events that were now over, and brought nothing but pain upon remembrance. His beloved Mr Frodo, his dearest friend, was gone and Sam could not bring him back.

As if sensing his train of thought, a new vision came forth in the Seeing Stone. As the dark mist inside it parted, Aragorn saw …

A cosy room lit faintly by starlight peeping through the window. A fireplace was smouldering with the remainder of what had been a good blaze and a sturdy wooden table and chairs sat not far in front of it with a half-filled flagon of ale and a platter dish bearing the remnants of an earlier repast.

The far side of the small chamber, opposite the window, had a large (by hobbit standards) four-post bed, and on the bed, sheets twisted around him, was the form of Samwise Gamgee. The gardener seemed to be caught in a dream: he struck out at something only he could see, crying out, “Mr Frodo! Frodo. No…!”

Aragorn’s heart ached as he watched Sam fight his dream demons. The room itself was foreign to his eyes and Rose was noticeable in her absence, and he speculated that Sam had made the journey to Frogmorton in this vision. It disturbed him to see the sturdy gardener in such distress, to be alone with no one to aid him or stroke his brow in comfort. No one to draw him from the terrors of the dreaming world.

It was pointless to imagine which one of the many days that Sam and Frodo had endured in Mordor was causing this particular nightmare, but he could not bear to witness his friend's distress.

The Palantír cared not for such trivial matters as the emotions of those who wielded it; it continued to show the hobbit struggling against his demons, swiping at the air as if fending someone - or something - off, and weeping inconsolably. Finally, Sam fell into an uneasy rest and slept, muttering only now and again in his sleep, and plucking occasionally at his sweat-soaked nightshirt.

The Seeing Stone swirled a final time, and the last vision was again of Annúminas, sitting by the south-eastern shore of Lake Evendim, looking peaceful and tranquil in soft early morning light. Aragorn could not suppress his pleasure at witnessing the city’s prosperity, but he was unable to dwell on it as long as he normally would.

With a deep sigh, the King withdrew his hand from the Stone and Annúminas disappeared, leaving only a black orb sitting innocently on a stone pedestal. The Shire visions had affected him deeply.

Sam was in pain.

Aragorn ran a hand over his jaw as he contemplated the hobbit gardener‘s possible dilemma. Past, present, or future? One thing was certain: Sam had, was, or would be experiencing, a very difficult time. Aragorn had no way of knowing if this really was due to the recent anniversary. If it was his wife and children would usually be present to distract him from it and assist him through it with their love.

But what if there was something deeper at work?

He frowned again, unsure of why such an idea had presented itself in the first place. There had been no sign of any outside influences adversely affecting his little friend. Sam’s illness - if indeed he suffered one - may be naught more than the result of an everyday fever, or minor hobbit malady.

Regardless of the cause of Sam’s distress, one thing was certain: ascertaining it would be difficult. Samwise Gamgee was not the most forthcoming of people, and would not speak of his troubles openly - especially if he believed it would distress those he loved. His letters to the King never made any mention of ailments or worries pertaining to himself, leaving Aragorn with the impression that all was well within the Shire, Hobbiton and Bag End in particular.

Stubborn Gamgee!! he thought, striding from the room. He barely acknowledged the guards on his exit and made his way briskly down the Tower steps. Were he to snap his leg in two parts, he would only complain of a slight pain in his toe! He is worse than a Dwarf!

Eating up the distance to the Royal chambers with the long strides that had given him one of his many aliases, Aragorn determined to consult his Queen and beloved wife regarding the disturbing visions. It was difficult to know what he could do for Sam at present, so great was the distance between them, but he would not sit back and let his friend - and a Saviour of Middle Earth - suffer for much longer without at least assisting him in any way he could!

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Author's Note:Please allow some leeway for the dialogue Aragorn heard through the Palantír and any other slight discrepancies regarding the Stone. I realise it could only display visions (and possibly only places which also housed a Stone) but I’ve used some 'artistic' licence for the purpose of the story.

Thanks!

Kara’s Aunty :)

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc . I have written this short story purely for my own enjoyment.

Credit: www dot Tuckborough dot net

Note: This chapter amended on 07/02/2010.

Concerning Sam

Chapter 2

Mid Summer, 1435 Shire Reckoning

Sam awoke feeling quite groggy. Sitting up, he took a blurry look at the unfamiliar surroundings.

Where was he?

It took a few moments for him to recall his journey to Frogmorton.

Of course! He had left Hobbiton yesterday to meet with Robin Smallburrow and sort out the mess with the Shirriff-post.

“Sam, you old ninnyhammer!” He shook his head at his own forgetfulness. “Best get yourself up and washed, that should clear your head.”

Feeling rather stiff and sore, the gardener swung his legs over the mattress and rose, stepping across to the small dressing table next to the bed. A large jug of water, a bowl and a fresh towel stood ready for use. He stuck a cautious finger into the bowl. The water was not exactly warm, but it would suffice for a quick wash.

Sam performed his morning ablutions and, after dressing and combing through his burnished gold locks, pulled a pocket watch from his weskit jacket. It was 9 o’ clock. He had overslept and missed first breakfast!

Harrumphing at the oversight, he left the room and made his way towards the main hall of the inn, where tables were arranged for diners and drinkers alike. He was annoyed at himself for sleeping so late. Being Mayor, and father to eight children, usually had him up at dawn; if he’d been at Bag End this would not have happened! Not that he felt any more refreshed for the long lie-in. In fact, he felt like he’d hardly slept at all, and was more than a little surprised at the headache and stiffness of his limbs. Still, perhaps it was only the strange room and the absence of his wife, which made him restless through the night. That could easily have caused him to both oversleep and feel so stiff.

On his arrival at the dining area, a stout, brown-haired hobbit matron with bright blue eyes approached him.

“Good day to you, Mayor Sam. You must have had a tiresome journey from Hobbiton yesterday to have slept so late this morning!” She smiled at him warmly and ushered him to a table near the window. Other than the Mayor and his hostess, the inn appeared to be quite empty. Sam offered the proprietress a small smile.

“I wasn’t able to leave Hobbiton until yesterday afternoon, so it was quite late when I arrived,” he replied, grateful for a viable excuse at being overdue for his first meal of the day. “One of the lads showed me to my room last night. I must‘ve been lost in dreams after that!”

“Not to worry. You’re still in time for second breakfast. Now, you just sit here Mr Mayor, sir, and I’ll see to it that Farlibar brings you a nice large breakfast to make up for the one you missed.”

Sam didn't know if he could manage a large breakfast, but he didn't want to contradict the pleasant proprietress, so he took the proffered seat and smiled politely in thanks. The hobbit matron left to procure his meal. When she was gone, Sam turned to gaze out the little window by his table. His eyes lingered absently on the Smials directly across the Great East Road while his thoughts lingered over his forthcoming mayoral duty.

Robin was to expect him before elevenses so they could discuss matters with the Shirriff-post, which was currently being repaired after a fire three weeks earlier. One of the Shirriffs had fallen asleep at the fireplace in the office after spending an exhausting day rounding up stray sheep from a local farm. Unfortunately, the hobbit official had left a candle burning near some documents on the desk, and when a healthy breeze blew in from the half-opened window, it quickly set them alight.

Fortunately no one had been seriously injured. A sharp-eyed passer-by had spotted the smoke then raised the alarm. The Shirriff was somewhat overcome by fumes from the burning room, but had been evacuated and tended to. However the desk, its documents, the floor around it, and the wall behind, were badly scorched, meaning some reconstructive work was necessary before it was once again fit for use.

Robin was as yet indecisive about whether the flooring should be made of wood, as before, or fitted with stone slabs to prevent danger from fires spreading in the future. As such, he had carpenters and masons squabbling with him, and each other, over which course of action was the most prudent. Sam was of the opinion that Robin should have been able to make the decision himself, but there was a question of the expense involved. His friend preferred not to make any final decisions on the matter until he had fully explained the situation then gained proper authorisation from the Mayor.

As he had promised his wife, Sam despatched a letter to Merry by Messenger Post the evening before he left. It was a brief note, informing the Brandybuck only that he would be in Frogmorton today, and inviting him to the Floating Log later that evening for a few ales. Pippin, however, was currently entertaining his in-laws and Sam did not wish to take him from his guests. As it was, he wasn’t even sure if Merry would make it; he may very well be too busy with affairs of Buckland to leave on such short notice.

Still, Sam would wait in case he was able to come. He hadn’t seen Merry since Pippin became Thain and it would be nice to spend some time with him. Rosie would have him tell Merry that he was sleeping poorly, and talk to him about the reasons why. This was, no doubt, mainly because Merry had been on the Quest with him. Nevertheless, Sam was reluctant to bring the topic up. He didn’t know how to put his dreams into words - or even if he wanted to.

Stifling a yawn, the Master of Bag End lamented the fact that he was still tired, despite having slept half the morning away. His eyes were hot and gritty and, with another yawn, he lifted a hand to rub at them. It wouldn’t do to dwell on the reasons for his constant lethargy these days. No good would come of that, in his opinion. Best to look forward, not back!

Decision made, he drew his gaze from the Smials and settled it on the doorway to the Inn’s kitchen, wondering how long it would be until he was served. Not that he particularly anticipated his meal; leastways, not any more. Not when an ache filled his stomach that no breakfast could fill. At night, his sleeping mind taunted him with images of what had been, and what could have been. In the morning, his waking mind chided him for his foolishness, for dwelling on such dreams so many years after Frodo had left.

Now then, Samwise Gamgee. You need to pull yourself together! Where’s that Gamgee strength? What’s Mr Merry going to say if he manages to make it here, then finds you’re barely able to keep your eyes open, or your head straight? If I know him, he’ll start worrying and give me a talking-to sharp as Rosie’s! And then where’ll I be? Won’t be much of a Mayor if I’m too busy being scolded like a child by the Master of Buckland in front of half of Frogmorton!

His breakfast arrived, pulling Sam from his self-chastisement. A strapping young hobbit stopped at the table, nodded, and proceeded to unload his wares. Sam guessed him to be the 'Farlibar' his hostess had referred to earlier.

“There you go, Mr Mayor, sir,” said the newcomer, bouncing (rather anxiously) on his heels. “Made your breakfast myself, I did. Best bacon, eggs and sausage in all the Shire, if I may say! We got some lovely, fat mushrooms delivered from Farmer Maggot and I fried them up nice for you, too. Never let it be said we don’t know how to treat dignitaries in Frogmorton!”

“Er, thank you,” replied Sam, staring at the mountain of food he‘d been served in silent dismay and trying to recall when he’d ever heard anyone saying they didn’t know how to treat ‘dignitaries’ in Frogmorton. The lad must be new - he was still hovering near the table, his pale fingers worrying the tray on which he had served the food. Oh, dear. If this was what he was like with the Mayor, he’d probably faint dead away if the Master of Buckland showed up as well!

“It looks and smells delicious.” Sam smiled at the young hobbit, nodding his head in a polite dismissal while silently determining to eat what he could of the meal. But Farlibar remained, rocking on his heels, staring expectantly at him.

Having no idea what the lad wanted, Sam was left to speculate that, as a cook, he may be looking for an appraisal of his skills. Wondering if everyone who ate at the inn had to bear the lad hovering over their table, or if it was just his luck as Mayor, he took a forkful of fluffy scrambled eggs and placed it in his mouth. They were delicious.

Satisfied at the look of appreciation on the Mayor’s face, Farlibar departed for the kitchens, leaving Sam in peace to consume his meal.

Although the food was very tasty - and despite his best intentions - the Mayor only managed to clear half his plate.

Good thing Rosie’s not here, or I’d be getting an earful, and no mistake! he mused, staring woefully at the remaining sausages and bacon. As it was, he was slightly alarmed at the thought of the cook taking offence when the other half of his breakfast was returned to the kitchen. It wouldn’t do to have Farlibar hounding him for the remainder of his stay! Still, he thought he’d take his chances and plead a delicate stomach if the lad did try to accost him. And, given the current pallor of his complexion, and the loose fit of his clothing, he doubted the younger hobbit would argue the point.

After breakfast, Sam left the inn at about 10 o’ clock and made his way to the village Shirriff-post. As he walked, he took in great lungfuls of the clean, fresh morning air. The brisk stroll helped to clear his head, allowing him to focus on the business to come.

A short while later, the gardener arrived at his destination, stopping just short of the Shirriff-post proper. The official building was now a proper hobbit structure, not the ugly, one-storey monstrosity erected during Sharkey’s time of defilement. But his enjoyment of the post’s hobbitty appeal was marred by the lingering stench of scorched wood which seemed to cling to the building. Voices drifted through the open door and he recognised one of them to be Robin‘s, who he spied just inside the hallway. Robin was in the middle of a heated argument with a stranger regarding the merits of stone versus wood. Sam rubbed his head and sighed despondently, his temporary feeling of clarity gone as quickly as it had arrived.

He really didn’t want to spend the entire morning trying to resolve this issue - he didn’t know if he was up to the task - but when an angry hobbit with a work-belt tied around his waist came storming outside, muttering about ‘unreasonable public figures who had no idea what a good, honest day’s work was like’, Sam feared he would have little choice.

So, resolutely squaring his shoulders for battle, the Mayor of Michel Delving bravely entered the hall.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Author's Note: This was originally planned as a one-shot as I didn’t trust my knowledge of Middle Earth and canon to go any further. Sam’s story had other ideas though, so everything after the first chapter is new territory for me (only having ever written one-shots before this fic). I have tried to be as faithful to the Great Master as I am able to so bear with me if you spot any errors.

Kara’s Aunty :)

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc. I have written this story for my own enjoyment.

Credit: www dot Tuckborough dot net, also www dot grey-company dot org which I used to aid me with the only Elvish word I used. I probably still got it wrong though, so don‘t blame them. German, I can. Elvish is beyond me.

Note: This chapter updated on 07/02/2010

Concerning Sam

Chapter 3

Gondor, Year 14 of the Fourth Age

Aragorn entered the Royal Chambers to find Arwen had returned from visiting the Houses of Healing, where she had been visiting a guard’s wife who was recovering from a difficult childbirth. She dismissed the ladies-in-waiting who were attending to her change into formal court wear and approached her husband, smiling softly when he embraced her.

As he pulled out of the embrace she sensed his agitation.

“You are troubled, Melamin. Is all not well in Arnor?” she asked.

“All is well, Arnor thrives,” he replied. “It is Samwise who concerns me.”

Arwen’s normally smooth brow furrowed slightly in concern. “What ails Master Gamgee?” she asked, drawing Aragorn to a settee where they sat down beside each other.

“He is burdened with ill dreams.”

The monarch explained all that he had seen in the Palantír, describing Sam's troubled sleep, his great distress when dreaming, and his gaunt appearance.

“I believe he has been plagued by them for many nights,” finished Aragorn, “and he is suffering.”

Arwen took her husband’s hands in her own and held them there. “Many of those who fought against the evil of Sauron and lived have ill dreams Estel, yourself included. You cannot protect him from them.”

She regarded him as he sat next to her, saw his forehead still furrowed, and continued. “Samwise has a family who loves him and good friends close by who have shared many of his experiences outside the Shire. What can you do at this moment for him that they cannot?”

Aragorn’s concerned grey eyes focused on Arwen‘s lovely face. “I do not know. But I do know that he will not reveal his troubles to the Lady Rose, nor to Merry and Pippin. He holds his pain inside to spare them! How can they assist him if he will not unburden himself?”

“Samwise Gamgee knows the value of his loved ones. He will talk to them when he is ready. You must be patient and place your faith in him.”

The King arched his dark brows in surprise.

“I have already faith in him, Arwen! But I do not know if it is prudent to display too much patience, given his appearance in the Palantír.” He rose from the settee and began pacing before it, somewhat irritated.

Undomiel stood and placed herself in his path, effectively halting him.

“Estel, it is not my intention to dismiss your concern. But you must admit that he would not wish to see his loved ones worry on his behalf. Such is his nature.”

She placed a hand on either side of his face, forcing him to look at her. “Do not despair. Samwise will talk of that which troubles him before long. I know this.”

Aragorn looked deep into his wife’s sparkling grey eyes and saw the wisdom of Ages in them. “You are wise, beloved.”

He traced her face gently and then withdrew from her hold, walking to the settee and resuming his seat. But he was unable to find peace of mind despite her assurance. Arwen returned to Aragorn’s side, clasped one of his hands in her own, and waited patiently for him to continue.

“When Frodo and Sam were first brought from the Black Lands by the Eagles,” he began again, “I had to plead with their souls to save their very lives. Frodo’s spirit was deeply wounded from his long exposure to the Ring and I knew that - despite my best efforts - he may not survive to enjoy his victory: that the damage inflicted upon him may never heal here. And if Frodo had succumbed, Sam would have followed him into the very arms of Death.

“But Frodo did survive. He chose to remain for the sake of his friend. He recovered on the Field of Cormallen and Sam recovered with him. I allowed myself to believe that all may be well. The hobbits returned to the Shire, and reclaimed it, and thus I continued to hope that Frodo would thrive.”

He sighed in remembrance. “When he grew ill again, I knew that all my hopes were in vain. He only survived long enough to make the journey to Valinor and I know not if he survived long enough to find the peace he sought. I will not see him again in this lifetime, either way.”

Arwen soothed his brow with a kiss. “Valinor is a wondrous place, filled with beauty, light and hope. Evil cannot prevail there. If Frodo travelled there with Adar and Mithrandir, he will have survived and found freedom from his torments.”

Aragorn closed his eyes briefly and bowed his head in gratitude at her words. When he opened them again, he continued: “That eases my heart. But what of Sam? What of his torments? I know that he loves his wife dearly, yet he was devastated when Frodo left. Caring for his friend and master was a significant part of his life. It kept him going before and after the Quest, held his own traumas at bay. And since Frodo’s departure, Sam’s growing family has occupied him instead. But what if he cannot stifle his pain any longer?”

“The Ring is gone, Melamin, the Dark Lord dead; he cannot not be tormented by them any further,” answered Arwen.

“You forget that Samwise was also a Ring-bearer, Arwen. He may have carried it for a short time only, but the Ring was at the height of its power. He was tempted by it, as Frodo was. He used it on the very edge of Mordor to evade Sauron’s orcs and rescue his master. Who can tell how long he wore it during that time: Minutes? Hours? With the Ring so near its Master, who knows what it may have done to him! The effects may not be as acute on him as they were with Frodo, thank the Valar, but he has long left them untended and they may yet destroy him. I cannot watch him go through what Frodo suffered, regardless of how slow that process may be.”

“Samwise gave up the Ring of his own free will, Estel. Do you know how strong someone must be to do such a thing? Even when the evil of the Ring was yet resting, such a feat would have been almost impossible. What he did shows his great strength of character and proves that he has mastery of his own will.”

She moved closer to him, speaking with conviction. “It may be that suffers some lingering effects of his contact with the One Ring, It may yet haunt him and taunt him in his dreams; but it can do no more than that. The Ring is destroyed and Sam is resilient. Do not forget that he had more to look forward to on his return to the Shire than Frodo did, and that is what anchors him now. His Rose will allow him to wilt so long after its destruction, and neither shall his friends allow Sauron to have this last victory.”

Here, Arwen paused, smiling fondly. “Our favourite gardener also has far too much ‘plain hobbit sense’ not to know this himself. He is wiser than many. You did, after all, make him a Counsellor of the North Kingdom for this reason, among others.”

Aragorn eyes widened in understanding and suddenly, he broke into a broad grin, making the connection to his other visions. With a shout of laughter, he stood, pulled Arwen from the settle, and hugged her tightly to him. The elleth’s feet left the ground as he swung her around and she squealed in a very un-elflike manner.

“You are quite right, my Queen. He is wise and he is my Counsellor.” He placed her back on the floor and kissed her soundly.

“I believe it is long past time that we paid a visit to Annúminas and took the counsel of all my hobbit lords, do not you? And Eldarion will have to be officially presented before the people of Arnor as their Prince and future King.”

Arwen’s tinkling laughter filled the room like the sweetest of music. She was delighted by her husband’s improved humour and responded in kind with a playful curtsey. “Your wish is my command, Your Majesty.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Melamin - My love

Estel - Hope

Adar - Father

Author's Note: All characters in this story will refer to the Ring as an entity as opposed to an object. The story will be picking up pace from the next chapter onwards, so hold on tight...

Kara’s Aunty :)

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc. I have written this story for my own enjoyment.

Credit: www dot Tuckborough dot net.

Note: This chapter amended on 10/07/2012.

Concerning Sam

Chapter 4

Frogmorton, 1435 Shire Reckoning

It was late afternoon by the time Sam returned to the inn. It had been an extremely trying day. What should have been a relatively smooth discussion over materials and costs had turned into a shouting match between the Shirriff and Helman Fallowborn, the mason. Helman spent over an hour insisting that a wooden floor would be folly after the recent fire, and advised that the entire post be slabbed for safety‘s sake.

Robin argued that, although practical, slabbing the entire building was unnecessary, provoking the mason’s ire by insinuating the he was sure to benefit more from it than the Shirriff-post. Fallowborn was greatly offended at the slight to his character and accused Robin of calling him greedy. A heated argument commenced shortly thereafter, one which only escalated when the carpenter, Bango Brightfields, returned from his lunch and accused the pair of trying to exclude him from the proceedings. It was at this point when Sam decided he'd had enough.

Sick and tired of petty arguments, he smartly informed everyone that if they did not sit down and talk like sensible hobbits, he would see to it personally that workers from Hobbiton were brought in to undertake any and all repairs on the building. The realisation that none of those present may receive any trade was enough to create an uneasy truce and force a compromise: Bango was commissioned to craft a new office desk and chair, whilst Fallowborn would lay paving only in the office.

Now, almost an hour after concluding the matter, Sam was back at the inn with an ale in hand and feeling very thankful that his business here was over. He missed Rose, especially last night when the nightmares had returned. At home, his wife was always there to hold him and whisper comforting words which soothed him. But she hadn’t been there last night, and if he’d felt tired this morning when he woke up, he felt absolutely drained now and wasn't looking forward to another night away from her.

He fingered the note from Merry that Florabella Goodenough, the kindly matron whom he had met that morning, had given him on his return. It read:

Dear Sam,

I’m in Budgeford with Estella, visiting Fatty at the moment. We’re on our way home tomorrow, so I’ll stop by the Floating Log for the night while Estella goes back to Brandy Hall. We can have a few ales and laugh at poor Pippin having to entertain his crusty in-laws!

Merry

Merry’s personality was so imbued in the short note that Sam had to chuckle. He fingered it fondly, wondering how his friend had received the note at Fatty’s home when he had despatched it to Brandy Hall. Certain that the matter would be explained when Merry arrived, he smiled at the obvious good humour it contained. It had been a few months since they had seen each other last and Sam couldn‘t wait to see him again.

As if the very thought had conjured Merry up, the sound of hooves pulled Sam from his thoughts and he peered out the window and over the courtyard, spying a familiar pony being led into the stables by an unnaturally tall hobbit in a deep blue coat. The new arrival was met by a stable-lad, the latter of whom patiently received instructions from the well-dressed hobbit on how his pony was to be cared for during its stay. He grinned as the hobbit turned round and made his way towards the inn.

A minute later, Meriadoc Brandybuck walked into the Floating Log, resplendent in velvet coat, rich brown breeches and a golden-coloured weskit. Scanning the room, he quickly spotted Sam andhurried over to clap his Hobbiton friend heartily on the back.

“Sam! What an excellent idea this was! A night of freedom from the wives, with just us lads drinking and catching up on important matters like ‘When will Robin Smallburrow be old enough to make a decision on his own?’” Merry laughed aloud at his own wit.

“Merry!” admonished Sam, looking around to make sure no one had overheard his boisterous friend poking fun at their local Shirriff.

They both sat down and Sam spent a moment examining his newly arrived companion. Merry looked very well: pink-cheeked, bright-eyed and brimming with good humour. He was obviously delighted to see Sam in return, and the gardener fervently hoped that he didn’t present too poor an appearance. He really wanted to avoid the barrage of well-meaning, but uncomfortable, queries regarding his state of health.

“How are you, Merry? And Estella?”

“Oh we’re both very well. Expecting some good crops this harvest. We spent a couple of days with old Fatty, what with it being his birthday. One of his neighbour’s sons is with the Messenger Post, the very one you gave my letter to, actually, so he knew to bring it straight to Budgeford.”

“Well, that answers one question,” said Sam, sipping at his ale.

Merry continued. “We left Fatty’s after lunch. Estella returned home, though she left me strict instructions to behave myself and not to corrupt you.”

“It’s a bit late for that,” Sam grinned. 

“Well, that’s what I said! But she believes you to be a fully respectable hobbit and won’t hear of me unduly influencing the Mayor into behaving like a drunken Bree-lander.” Merry paused, blinking in confusion. “Odd, though; she never warns me to behave myself around Pippin, and he’s the Thain.”

“And a lost cause?”

“A reasonable assumption, Mayor Gamgee! In fact, it was he who corrupted me!” stated Merry, looking for all the world as if he actually believed what he’d just said. With a shrug, he continued to happily chat away about how the downfall of his character, going to great lengths to explain how it only came about after his unfortunate introduction to his younger cousin.

Florabella stopped by to take their order. A mere minute after she left to hand it in at the kitchen, the proprietress sent a couple of ales over to the two friends while they waited.

Merry took a sip of his, relishing the bitter taste while regarding his companion over the brim of his mug. It had come as a bit of a surprise to him to find Sam looking thinner than at their last meeting, and it was with some concern that he noted the dark rings around his friend’s eyes. He was anxious to know what was wrong, though willing to allow him to broach the subject first. And if he didn’t ... Well, Merry would drag it out of him! One did not stay the Master of Buckland for very long without obtaining the ability to manipulate those around him.

Still, he couldn’t stop himself saying; “You look tired Sam. Had a bad day?”

“Not bad exactly, just very long,” replied his friend. “At least all’s well at the Shirriff-post now, so I can go back to Hobbiton tomorrow and leave Robin and the others to see that all’s taken care of as agreed.”

A loud clatter sounded from the kitchen, making both hobbits jumped.

“A word of warning,” Sam began, in a low voice. “The new cook is a young lad by the name of Farlibar, and he’s somewhat anxious that his food should please. He may lurk over us until we approve, but after that he should leave.”

“Anxious to please, eh?” Merry eyed the kitchen speculatively and Sam wished he’d not said anything. He recognised that evil gleam.

“As the Master of Buckland and cousin to the Thain himself, I’m used to eating food of a certain standard. Let’s hope he can meet it.”

“Don’t give the poor lad a hard time, I don’t think he can take it. He seemed nervous enough to have served food to the Mayor; if you start going on about Masters and Thains, I’m not sure what he’ll do.”

Merry pretended offence. “Why Sam, you wound me with your doubt! You know I would never torment someone just because they’re a little nervous.”

Sam rolled his eyes at Merry’s ridiculous claim, then groaned as he spotted the subject of their conversation making his way towards their table with a truly enormous tray of food.

He smelled trouble.

“Evening Mr Mayor, evening sir,” said the young cook, nodding at them as he placed the tray on the table and unloaded platters of food. “I’ve brought you and your guest some of my finest fare for your dinner.” Farlibar removed the tray and stood in front of them, clasping it nervously while they loaded their plates with the delicious consumables.

“Let's hope so, for I am used to only the choicest ingredients and the most succulent cuts of meat,” announced Merry grandly, looking (in Sam‘s opinion) uncharacteristically serious. “I would be most disappointed if this establishment was unable to provide them.”

The Master of Buckland stared poor Farlibar straight in the eye and repeated, “Most disappointed,” in the gravest of tones.

Sam sighed.

Farlibar gulped.

Merry began to leisurely inspect the food they had been served. “Soup, mashed potatoes, sliced beef, dumplings, gravy … what, no vegetables? Who eats beef without vegetables?”

Rolling his eyes, Sam removed the lid of a dish that had been placed in front of his friend; it contained a small mountain of peas and carrots, covered with slowly melting butter.

“That‘ll do, I suppose,” muttered Merry (thoroughly enjoying himself). Farlibar was beginning to hop nervously on the spot. “What’s for dessert, then?”

Raising his chin proudly, the cook revealed that his famous apple crumble and cream would be served, as well as buttered fruit scones. It was obvious that the lad was oblivious to the stranger’s identity, certain as he was that this would impress the well-dressed guest of the Mayor (because everyone loved his apple crumble).

“Famous apple crumble?" drawled Merry, cocking an eyebrow. "How can it be famous when I’ve never heard of it?”

Sam shook his head in resignation.

The cook flushed red from the neck up at Merry’s arrogant tone. “It’s very much loved and praised in Frogmorton and hereabouts!” he exclaimed. “Why, I’ve been told the Thain himself declared it to be the best crumble he’s ever tasted. If it’s good enough for the Thain of the Shire, it ought to be good enough for other folk!”

He glared at Merry, daring him to contradict.

Fortunately, no contradiction was forthcoming: at that moment Sam delivered a swift kick to Merry’s shin under the table and he, understanding the message, helped himself to a mouthful of beef and mash instead.

As much as Merry hated to admit it, the beef was extremely good; it had a rich meaty taste and the potatoes were creamy and smooth. In fact, he thought the cook had done very well indeed. But he didn’t have to tell him that.

“Not too bad,” he remarked grudgingly, knowing the flustered cook had been expecting a more effusive answer.

Farlibar’s eyes widened in affront. Not too bad! What did that mean? That it was good? That it was bad, but not overly so? He was not used to people being so vague about his cooking skills! Generally, Farlibar was a shy hobbit, but he was an excellent cook and he knew it! He took great pride in the preparation of all his dishes and derived great satisfaction from watching people enjoy his meals. Why, only last week the proprietor of The Green Dragon had tried to solicit his services for his own establishment, but he had refused! Mistress Goodenough had given him his first real job and he was grateful to her for it. He would not repay that generosity by running off at the first sign of pastures new.

Who then, was this pampered, arrogant, stuffed shirt, who sat there casting doubt on his one, true skill? Perhaps he was touched in the head? Well, Farlibar would be happy to clear his head with a good whack from the tray. That should do it nicely!

Sam, spotting the blanching of the cook’s podgy fingers as they tightened on the tray, grew slightly alarmed, so he quickly dismissed the lad with a deft compliment on the magnificence of their fare. Farlibar nodded in thanks, but stiffened when Merry snorted. Turning on his heel, he returned to the kitchen, refusing to acknowledge the mayor's guest any further.

“Now then, Mr Merry, that was a bit much! The lad doesn’t know you and won’t understand your humour.”

“Oh, come on Sam. It’s just a bit of harmless fun. I’ll make it up to him with a healthy tip. What do you say to that?”

The offer mollified Sam enough to continue with his meal and the pair ate for several minutes in silence. Then:

“Why did you call me ‘Mr’ Merry?”

Caught off-guard, Sam looked at his friend in surprise. “Did I? I didn’t realise I had.”

To his chagrin, he found Merry was watching him in a manner reminiscent of Rose - a look that was slowly beginning to vex him. Why the fuss? He was fine - just needed a good night’s rest, that’s all.

“You don’t call me that anymore unless your upset or worried,” observed Merry casually. “Don‘t think I haven‘t seen you're not yourself, Samwise Gamgee. You’ve lost weight; you look haggard.”

“Don‘t you go imagining things now, Merry. I’m perfectly all right! You know that Rose is expecting again, and I’m run off my feet with so many little 'uns already on top of all my duties as Mayor. I’ll be fine once I know that Rosie and the babe are both safe and well.”

He took a gulp of his ale, hoping his friend would not pursue the topic. To his relief, Merry didn’t, and they finished the rest of the meal discussing the general goings on in the Shire, particularly in Buckland and Hobbiton. Sam made a concerted effort to eat as much as he could during dinner, unwilling to give Merry the opportunity to comment on his health again.

With the main course finished and their plates cleared away, it was to Merry’s great amusement to see their dessert delivered by the proprietress, Mistress Goodenough. Clearly Farlibar didn’t trust himself to come anywhere near the Brandybuck, and Merry proceeded to crow victoriously. Sam ignored him, opting instead to concentrate on his apple crumble. When the last scraping of custard was licked from their spoons, and the final scone polished off, the two hobbits retired to the fireplace where they each produced a pipe and began to puff away on some Old Toby.

As a room was already prepared for Merry, they briefly debated whether they ought to remain by the fireplace or move upstairs for their supper. In the end they remained where they were: Sam didn't mind either way, really; he was content to be wherever his friend was, though he may have been less so had he known what said friend was thinking …

For Meriadoc Brandybuck, called the Magnificent by his fellow hobbits, was determined to make Samwise the Stubborn tell him exactly what was bothering him before they parted ways tomorrow.

*~*~*~*

Several hours later, Merry sat alone in his room, sipping a mug of tea, and feeling more frustrated and concerned than ever. Sam had skilfully averted all of his attempts to win his confidence and admit that something was troubling him.

And something was troubling his stubborn friend, Merry could see it. He could feel it!

It wasn’t merely Sam's rather alarming appearance; Sam wasn‘t Sam anymore. The usually sunny, confident hobbit had been snappish and distracted several times throughout the evening. Oh, he was very apologetic when Merry pointed it out to him, but instead of explaining his behaviour, he simply claimed that he was tired.

Not that Merry doubted that for a second, given his haggard appearance, but it was frustrating to know that he deliberately avoiding the real issue - that he was not confiding in him. Yet what could he do? Master of Buckland or not, even he couldn’t sway Sam Gamgee when Sam Gamgee was having none of it.

But what was he to do? Sam was clearly holding back. He had no doubt it had something to do with the Quest - which was the usual cause when any of the remaining Travellers experienced a severe bout of melancholy. And knowing Sam, that meant he was also missing Frodo keenly. They were all missing Frodo, though. Hardly a day went by when Merry didn’t ache at the thought of not seeing his older cousin again; or know that when he visited Bag End he would not see the person he missed most in the world, but someone else instead. This thought often made him feel guilty, because Sam lived in Bag End now, and Merry did not mean that he was unhappy to see Sam. On the contrary, he loved Sam like his own family. They had certainly been through enough together to warrant calling each other brother.

But Sam was not Frodo.

Merry was instantly ashamed at himself for the stray thought. He did not have to miss Frodo at the expense of Sam.

Of course he’s not Frodo! he berated himself. He’s Samwise Gamgee, and a good thing too, or we’d all be under the rule of Sauron right now!

He sipped at his tea again as he stared at the slowly burning fire. It really was too warm for it, but he loved the comfort of one; it made the strange room seem a bit more homely.

His thoughts turned back to the problem at hand. None of the hobbits particularly enjoyed talking of the darker moments they each experienced during the Quest. When Frodo left Middle Earth forever, it was like a further wound had been inflicted on them. But the trio of friends had rallied and become closer because of it, and when they had a real need to unburden themselves to someone other than their spouses, they would meet and talk with each other.

So it disturbed him that Sam was holding back and rebuffing him. It felt too much like his experiences with his elder cousin during his final years in the Shire.

True, Frodo had suffered serious wounds to his body and spirit during the Fellowship’s journey. Carrying the Ring for so long had ensured that he would never again be the carefree, innocent hobbit that Merry had adored as a child. He had become reserved, serious, withdrawn, and would not speak to his cousins about his troubles, presenting them instead with a façade of normality that they could easily see through but went along with for his sake. Things had only worsened on his return to the Shire, where he had been haunted by dreams about the hated object and plagued by annual illnesses.

Dreams and illness …

Maybe that was it! Merry slapped his mug on the table and cursed his own short-sightedness.

Sam had been a Ring-bearer too! Certainly, he had only carried it for a day or so whilst attempting to free Frodo from the Tower of Cirith Ungol, but that was on the very borders of Mordor! The Ring would had been extremely active in its attempts to return to its Master. And the more he thought about it, the more he realised that Sam was exhibiting similar behaviour to Frodo’s after the Quest had ended.

Why had he not considered this before?

In fairness, nobody had. Everyone had been consumed with worry over Frodo and Sam’s immediate survival after the Eagles rescued them, and were then too consumed with relief when both finally awoke. Even Gandalf and Aragorn, as concerned as they had been with the effects of the Ring on Frodo’s long-term recovery, had not been too worried about its effects on Sam. This wasn't because they didn't care, more that Sam had not carried it for long. He was also remarkably resilient, and had seemed to bounce back to his old hobbit self immediately on seeing Frodo well again.

But Frodo was not here anymore. Sam didn't have to wotty about ensuring his master’s continued survival, for the elves in Valinor were taking care of that.

So who was taking care of Sam? He had no jewel from the Queen to soothe him. Rose, Pippin and Merry could support him to an extent, but they could not aid him if memories of the One Ring were affecting him adversely. If that was the problem. And if it was, what if more care was needed than anything anyone in the Shire could offer him?

Merry was sure this was at the root of his friend’s current woes, and it made him more determined than ever to speak with Sam before they left Frogmorton in the morning.

However, he did not have to wait that long …

A mere two hours later, his sleep was shattered by terrible yells. Springing from his bed in alarm, he dashed to the bedroom door, fearing that a fire might have broken out. He flung it open, ready to rush to the aid of Mistress Goodenough; but instead of the expected clouds of smoke, or the panicked voices of stampeding hobbits, something more unpleast became apparent to him. Something which chilled his blood to the core. The screams, loud enough to rouse him from rest, were now piercing. They echoed down the hall, ringing through his ears and filling him with horror when he realised their source: they came from across the hall.

From Sam’s room!

Merry didn’t hesitate a second longer. Mustering all the courage that had seen him defy the Witchking of Angmar, he rushed over to Sam’s door and shoved it open, only to gasp in shock at the sight which met his eyes …

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Author’s Note: Please forgive me if you found the pov switches a bit confusing - I didn’t realise it was until after I had posted elsewhere. Unfortunately I don’t know how to change it now without messing the whole chapter up. I tried to get a beta, but that didn’t turn out so good and this is the result…

Anyway, next chapter: The One Ring versus Samwise Gamgee!! Miss it if you dare ...

Kara’s Aunty :)

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc. I have written this story for my own enjoyment.

Credit: www dot Tuckborough dot net.

Note: This chapter updated 08/02/2010.

Concerning Sam

Chapter 5

Frogmorton, 1435 Shire Reckoning

With their supper finished and a final pipe smoked, Sam bade Merry goodnight and retired to his room.

He was exhausted after the long day at the Shirriff-post, exhaustion which was compounded by several hours spent avoiding his friend’s probing questions and trying to convince him that all was well.

Now, all Sam wanted was to try and get a decent night’s sleep before the journey home tomorrow.

Yawning, he lay down on the bed and pulled the covers over himself, praying for a restful night, and wishing once more that his Rosie was with him. His head was beginning to ache again, and he was also feeling strangely unsettled.

Perhaps he should use some athelas to aid his sleep? It might make his rest easier.

But he had only brought a couple of leaves with him, and he had already used one after his meeting with Robin in order to refresh himself before Merry came, because the very last thing he had wanted was for Merry to suspect he may be unwell and start fussing over him.

Fat lot of good that did, thought the gardener ironically, recalling how tenacious the Brandybuck had been with his questions all evening.

Of course, Merry was not worrying without reason. And, as unwilling as he was to admit it openly, Sam knew that something was wrong, too. His sleep had been disturbed by nightmares a couple of weeks before the anniversary of the One Ring’s destruction but, unlike every other year, they had not stopped after the anniversary passed. On the contrary, they had increased, becoming more and more sinister with each passing week. He did not understand it.

It was now several months since they had started and hardly anything seemed to soothe his sleep anymore. Hardly a kiss from his Rosie, or sweet smile from his children. As a result, he was constantly tired and short-tempered; his head always ached, and his eyes always burned. Furthermore, Sam was finding it ever more difficult to concentrate and participate in his daily tasks. His family life was suffering because of this.

Every aspect of his life was being affected.

For many weeks now, the hobbit gardener had fought to retain an illusion of normality for the sake of his loved ones. He didn't want to worry his Rosie. But it was getting harder to deny that something was wrong, with the effects of his lack of restful sleep becoming more obvious. Even the athelas plant did not aid him as much as it should. This evening, it had barely lasted an hour before he began to feel irritable. And now he only had a single leaf remaining. Why hadn’t he thought to bring more?

Well, there was nothing else for it but to keep the one he had left until morning. If the athelas wasn’t proving as durable as it should, it wouldn’t be much good to him tonight. Maybe using it before breakfast with Merry would be enough to stop his friend worrying further until they had both left Frogmorton and he could get back home to Hobbiton.

He yawned again, feeling weary through to his very bones. His eyes began to droop and he soon fell into a dream.

One of the worst of his life …

*~*~*~*

Only a few yards away from the dark entrance to Shelob’s lair, a grieving Sam held his master’s still form close to him, rocking gently back and forth and weeping bitterly. Frodo was motionless; no breath left his body, his eyes blank and unfocussed.

He was dead.

“Don’t go where I can’t follow!” cried the faithful gardener in dark despair. “Don’t leave me, Mr Frodo. Come back.”

But Frodo did not heed his call. He would never come back. The Master of Bag End was dead, and the realisation was a pain more acute than any he had ever experienced.

Voices suddenly pierced the fog of his grief. Harsh and ugly they were. Sam cocked his head to the left - they came from the stairs leading up to the Tower of Cirith Ungol. And they were coming towards him.

An orc patrol!

The hobbit was torn. What should he do? He and Mr Frodo would surely be discovered; the orcs would then find the Ring and all would be lost! He mustn’t let that happen! But what was he to do? Did he have the strength to carry on the task by himself? Was he meant to? No! He was a simple gardener, not a mighty lord of men, or a glowing hobbit master. He had no business thinking he was fit to finish such a task!

But if not him, then whom? There was none other available to complete his master’s duty. Who would see the job through to the end if not him? Not the orcs, that much was certain!

Oh, this was not the time to be digging for inspiration! A mind as empty as his from all but sorrow would yield none, anyway! What mattered was that he hide himself and his poor dead master first. As for what he should do after the orcs had gone? Well, he could think about that when they were out of sight.

Decision made, Sam surveyed his surroundings wildly as the voices grew nearer. They were almost upon them!

Spying a recess in cluster of large rocks near the stairs, he lifted Frodo’s inert form and hurried over to it, squeezing them both inside. They barely fit, and it did not quite hide them from anyone who may be approaching the crude stairs on his side; fortunately, the orcs were coming down the stairs, and it was Sam’s hope that they would not have reason to glance backwards after descending them.

He held his breath when they finally appeared. There were three in total, all dressed in the garb of Sauron’s army, and they were uncouth, bickering amongst themselves in their foul tongue. They did look around them - his heart almost stopped in fright - but they did not look behind them, and it was with great relief that Sam watched them disappear into one of the larger caves.

So now it came to it his moment of decision; and Sam had little time to make it. He did not know how far into they caves the orcs would patrol, if they thought Shelob may be a danger to them. He might know that the monster was severely wounded, but they did not, so he would have to leave soon.

He turned his tear-soaked face back to Frodo’s dead body and cried at the unfairness of it all. This should not have happened to such a gentle spirit! How could this be fair? His master was gone, his last days tormented by the cursed thing he bore!

Rage swept through him then, filling him with hatred for it. He had felt the Ring calling to him during the journey to Mordor, trying to seduce him, but he had ignored it. It was a deceiver, Sam knew that. Getting Frodo to Mordor so he could destroy it, and getting him back to the Shire in one piece afterwards, was all he had cared about. Power meant nothing to a simple gardener like him. It would not make his roses grow!

But Frodo would not be returning to Bag End ever again. Nothing could change that now. He had died trying to destroy the Ring and Sam would not allow his sacrifice to be in vain! He would take it himself and throw it in the fires of Mount Doom where it had first been given life, thus destroying it forever.

Suddenly, Sam was overcome with a feeling of ... wrongness. A feeling that told him this should not be happening. But he shrugged it off and made up his mind.

It was time to act.

Tearing at the vile webbing that encased his beloved friend, Sam reached beneath Frodo’s shirt and pulled the Ring and the chain over his head, freeing it from his body. His hand felt unclean where it grasped the Ring, a feeling which only increased as he slipped the chain over his own head and felt the golden sphere nestle on his breast. It made him feel heavier. Vulnerable.

Yet he was also determined.

Placing a gentle kiss on Frodo’s forehead, and promising he would come back for him, Sam left the recess, placing some large boulders in front of it to further conceal the body within. He had no idea if he would be successful in his attempt to destroy the Ring, let alone how he would get back to collect Frodo’s body for a lengthy return to the Shire, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to try!

Sparing another glance at the cave into which the orcs had disappeared, he wondered if they were on their way back yet, or if further patrols were to be found at the top of the stairs. He would have to slip by the Tower unnoticed, to be safe. But how to achieve this?

The Ring! It would render him invisible enough not to be seen by greedy orcish eyes.

The thought of actually wearing the Ring was repulsive to him. He was reluctant to put it on - knew it was dangerous to do so, for he had seen daily proof of the effects on Frodo. And to wear it this near the border of Mordor might prove perilous to the Quest. But what other choice did he have? Perhaps, if luck was with him, he could ambush an orc near the Tower and take its armour. At least that way he could take the Ring off before he crossed into the realm of the Dark Lord. And orcish gear might help him get across Mordor unchallenged. The only worry was finding a solitary orc to ambush …

It did not seem like much of a plan, but it was all he had. With a shiver of disgust, Sam pulled the Ring from its chain, slipped it over his finger, and disappeared from sight.

A wave of dark seduction flowed through Sam’s mind the second the golden band rested on his finger. The Ring was now whispering to him forcefully, showing him armies at his command and kings bowing before him; promising all this would be his if he would only succumb to its will. But Sam did not want such a thing. He was no great leader of hobbits, elves or men, and had no wish to be. Realising the futility of its actions, the Ring changed tactics. It showed him vast gardens of indescribable beauty, telling him he could be master of all. Again Sam refused, knowing it for a false promise. He was still too distressed by Frodo’s death to pay attention to anything the Ring offered.

The Ring lashed out at him in anger, but he could not afford to let himself be affected by that. As long as he wore it, he could feel the burning Eye searching for him, as if Sauron himself sensed the presence of his greatest desire. Sam swallowed his fear, knowing he had not the time for such a luxury. He had to leave. Now.

With his mind steeled for the journey ahead, the stalwart servant made his way towards the steps and, taking one last look at the recess where Frodo’s body was concealed, climbed the stairs towards his fate.

*~*~*~*

Ten days later, and a very determined Samwise Gamgee was still forging his unsteady path towards Mount Doom.

After leaving his fallen master, he had indeed found an orc patrol near the entrance to the Tower of Cirith Ungol, and had successfully slain one of its number when it wandered some distance from the main group to relieve itself. Truth be told, he had been surprised - although grateful - that the creatures had such modesty. He ran it through with Sting, donned its filthy armour and helmet, then concealed the body. Taking off the Ring and placing it on the chain around his neck, Sam then crossed into the Black Lands, beginning the final leg of his journey.

Unfortunately, the great number of orcs and uruk-hai in Mordor was proving difficult to evade, and he had almost been caught by a large army marching towards what he thought was the Black Gate. But evaded them he had. He was now mere days from his intended destination and could see the fiery summit of the mountain he was headed towards.

Something still didn’t feel right. He couldn’t pinpoint what the problem was, exactly, but he was certain that this should not be happening.

“Of course this shouldn’t be happening Samwise Gamgee!” he chided himself. “You should be home in the Shire with Mr Frodo, bringing him his afternoon tea in the garden at Bag End and discussing the tater crop! Instead you're here in this evil place, with this evil thing around your neck, and a great flaming Eye trying to find you!”

Shaking his head at his own foolishness, the weary hobbit trudged painfully onwards, his feet aching and blistered from the unforgiving terrain, his tongue thick with thirst, and Barad-dúr looming menacingly in the distance.

His water had run out two days ago. Driven by desparation, Sam had been surviving on any and all puddles of tainted fluid he came across. It tasted awful, but his body screamed for liquid sustenance. And though he carefully rationed his food, there was little left of the provisions Faramir had given them at Osgiliath. All the Elven bread was gone.

To make matters infinitely worse, the Ring had taken to taunting him ceaselessly. It showed him visions of his family in pain, of the Shire destroyed, and told him that he could stop this if only he claimed it. But the thought of what it had done to his beloved master stoked the fire of Sam’s hatred for it and he defied it time and again, wishing nothing more than its destruction.

However, it would not give up. Its attempts to control him had increased the nearer Sam drew to Mount Doom, as if it sensed its impending demise.

That night, exhausted by the heat from the burning mountain and sick from the filthy water he was drinking, combined with his lack of proper nourishment and the effects of weeks without proper rest, Sam collapsed by a dry river-bed.

He was not going to make it!

The Eye was searching for him, he could feel it. The Ring continued its efforts to wear him down with each step that brought him closer to his goal. Sam was feverish and malnourished. He did not know if he could go on. Was this what Frodo had experienced whilst carrying it on their journey these many months? His poor Master! How had he endured this for so long?

The thought of Frodo gave him strength. He would do this for his sake; the Ring had killed his greatest friend and Samwise Gamgee would destroy it no matter what he had to go through!

But I did not kill your master,” whispered the Ring. “You did!

Sam’s whirling mind stilled at the accusation. He did not want to hear any more of its lies, yet he was completely powerless to stop them.

Your master was not dead when you left him.

Sam scowled in disbelief. “You’re lying! I saw him and he was dead, killed by Shelob’s poison!” His breath hitched as he remembered Frodo’s body lying in the recess. The Ring was trying to deceive him again!

It is no deception, foolish hobbit. He was drugged by her poison, not killed. My master’s servants easily found his resting place on their return and he was taken to the Tower for questioning.

He swallowed thickly. It wasn't true, was it? Frodo had been properly concealed from the patrol! Unless ... Had the orcs found the spider, badly wounded as she was, and searched more thoroughly for the one that inflicted her hurts?

No! It couldn't be true. This was all wrong and deep down his innate hobbit sense had already recognised that! But what proof did he have that something was amiss?

None.

Still, he wasn't the Gaffer's most stubborn lad for nothing ...

“No, I won’t believe you! You’re trying to trick me again, but I won’t be having none of it!” he said desperately. It couldn't be true!

You abandoned him too hastily; refused to see what was before your very eyes because your desire to possess me was stronger than your need to see the truth. You betrayed him.

“Stop it!” yelled the hobbit, fearing the truth behind its words. What had he done? “I never wanted you! I thought he was dead!“

The Ring seemed to laugh at him. “He is now.

"Liar! You're a liar," cried the trembling hobbit as he dissolved into tears. Of all the things the Ring could have accused him of, the thought that he may have inadvertently caused his master harm was too much - especially as he had no way to refute it. Guilt gnawed at his heart when the Ring showed him a vision of Frodo, bare-chested and bleeding, in the Tower.

The Uruk-hai made great sport of him before he died. He suffered greatly at their hands.

“Stop it! Stop it! I would never betray Mr Frodo. Stop it!” he begged.

He was whipped and tortured for days,” it taunted. “He pleaded for mercy again and again, and called out for his Sam to help him. But you were not there and neither was I. He died believing you had stolen from him. He died hating you in his madness!

“Liar! You’re a liar! Mr Frodo doesn’t hate me. This is wrong. This is all wrong!” Sam was weak at the thought of what he might have done to his master. Could it be true? Or just another of the Ring’s tricks to stop him from fulfilling his task? “Elbereth Gilthoniel protect me! I can‘t fail him now!”

Whether the desperate hobbit's plea had been heard, or whether he was hallucinating, Sam couldn't rightly tell, but suddenly the Ring’s taunts abated. In their place, there came to him then a vision, but this time it did not strike fear into his heart: he saw Frodo resting peacefully on a cot underneath a sprawling canopy in a fair green land. Next to his beloved friend was another cot, in which he himself lay asleep. Strider sat by the RIng-bearer, bathing his face, and all at once it struck Sam: this was the truth. This glorious, peaceful vision was the way his world aught to be; this was what he must believe - not the twisted, evil corruption of the One Ring! But if his vision was the truth, why, then, was he here?

Another image flickered into existence. He saw himself returning safely to the Shire with Frodo, Merry and Pippin. He saw Rosie Cotton, now Gamgee, placing a tiny hobbit infant in Frodo’s arms; saw Frodo smile with pure pleasure as he held the babe.

That was reality! Sam would never leave his Mr Frodo! The Ring was trying to turn him mad!   

It all came flooding back to him: they had both survived! The Dark Lord Sauron had fallen, and Barad-dûr with him. The people of Middle Earth were freed from his tyranny forever. But Mr Frodo had been too poorly to enjoy his victory. The Master of Bag End had long since left the Shire to seek comfort across the Sea …

A pang of sorrow struck at Sam’s heart, and he wept as he realised he would never see Frodo again.

As if sensing the chink in his temporary relief, the Ring made its move.

What does it matter if your master lived? You will never see him again because you failed him. You know that. Everyone knows that.

“You’re not real. This is not real. I’m not even in Mordor anymore - haven’t been for years!”  sobbed Sam. “And you’re dead! Gollum fell into the lake of fire and took you with him!”

The Ring laughed derisively. “I will never be dead as long as you live in Middle Earth. For you bore me yourself and I will live on in you, tormenting you.

“I only carried you for a day! You don’t have the power to torment me like you did my poor Master.”

The Ring's anger swelled until the little gardener thought his head might burst with the fury of it.

You are as witless as your name suggests, Samwise,” it sneered. “For many years you have ignored me in this belief, going about your daily life with hardly a care in the world. Yet I have grown in strength within your feeble mind while you did so, and you have not even suspected it! I have seen things as you have not. You may think yourself honoured by your false king and your pitiful friends, but I have seen the true measure of their feelings when they gaze at you. They hate you!

“You don’t know what you’re talking about! They love me,” he croaked.

Are you so certain? Frodo was ever the favoured one. It is he whom they miss so keenly. Do you not think they blame you for his departure? For failing him and ultimately them?

Despair nestled heavily in the pit of Sam's stomach, an additional trial he could easily have done without: it was bad enough trying to fight the assault on his mind. In desperation, he cast his gaze around him, searching for a way out of his nightmare; yet no matter that he now knew the truth of his reality, he knew no way to escape from the dreadful dream-Mordor.

But there must be a way, or how did he get in?

You will never escape, fool, because this is the land of your greatest failure! For all your pitiful attempts, you were unable to save your Master; he still succumbed to me in the end.

“But you were destroyed, and your master with you!” cried the distraught hobbit.

And was your master not also destroyed?” demanded the Ring.

He did not want to listen to it, but his memory betrayed him as it pulled him towards visions of the years Frodo had suffered before he finally left Middle Earth; of all the anniversaries that had weakened his body and spirit - and he knew there was a grain of truth in this.

Grief shook the stricken gardener to his core.

Did you not promise Gandalf that you would not leave him?” enquired Sauron’s relentless monstrosity with sadistic pleasure.

Sam remembered hiding in the cave by himself and watching as the orc patrol found his master’s body. He recalled the horror which gripped him when he heard them say that Frodo was still alive. It was his fault Frodo had been imprisoned in the Tower! His. No one else's ...

His strength to fight against the Ring was crumbling faster and, in his despair, he began to claw at his head in a feeble attempt to liberate it from the voice of the One Ring before it conquered him.

It was useless. His once-dormant Enemy delivered its final blow with deceptive gentleness. “Did you not promise his cousins - your friends - to take him to Mordor and bring him back again? All of him?

Sam recalled the deep grief in Merry and Pippin’s eyes as Frodo sailed away from the Grey Havens, knowing they had lost him for good; he imagined their disappointment when Bag End's front door opened to reveal him instead of their beloved cousin.

It was too much.

"No, No, NOOO!!!!!!!!"

The shattered hobbit screamed in denial, tearing wildly at his hair, and then collapsed. He did not move again.

And the Ring cried out in victory.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc. I have written this story for my own enjoyment.

Credit: To www dot Tuckborough dot net, but also to the Plants For A Future website.

Note: This chapter amended on 10/07/2012.

Concerning Sam

Chapter 6

Frogmorton, 1435 Shire Reckoning

Merry burst into Sam’s room and recoiled with shock at what he saw. His friend was lying on the floor beside the bed tangled in a sweat-soaked sheet.

Sam’s prone body was crumpled on its side and he clutched what looked suspiciously like great clumps of bloody hair in his clenched fists. To Merry’s horror, bare scalp was evident in the places where Sam had clearly ripped his hair out with considerable force; the wounds remaining bled profusely, and both brow and temples were scratched badly.

Although the screaming had stopped, Sam was now apparently unconscious.

Merry blanched in horror. What on earth ..?

Knowing there was no time to lose, the Brandybuck rushed over to his friend’s side and fell to his knees.

“Sam! Sam!” he cried, shaking the gardener’s shoulders vigorously in the hope of reviving him. There was no response.

Worry clutched at Merry’s heart as he rolled Sam onto his back. With a heave, he pulled the Mayor’s limp form as far off the ground as he could and cradled his torso and head against his chest. Fever burned in Sam’s brow.

What in the name of the Shire could have caused this?

Realising he had to get him off the floor and back into bed, where he would be easier to tend, Merry attempted to lift Sam. But, despite the gardener’s obvious weight loss, he couldn’t quite manage it alone. Laying his friend carefully on the floor, he dashed to the door and yelled down the corridor for assistance, desperately hoping that some other guest was within earshot. But barely had he commenced with his cries when Mistress Goodenough herself came running up the hall, her dark shawl thrown haphazardly over her nightly garments, and a candle in her trembling hand.

“What’s going on Mr Brandybuck, sir? What was that screaming I heard? Is something wrong?” Her blue eyes were large with concern.

“It’s Sam … Mayor Sam. He’s had a fall and is injured. He won’t answer when I call him. You must fetch a healer immediately - and get someone to help me lift him back into bed!”

There was an edge to his voice as Merry barked instructions at the homely wife, but he was far too worried for his friend to mind his manners.

Florabella moved past him, entering the room to assess the situation for herself. She gasped in shock at the grisly scene then left in haste, stating that she would despatch Farlibar to assist her guests and fetch the healer herself.

Relieved that help was finally on its way, Merry dashed to the dressing table, grabbed the towels lying there and doused one liberally with water from the jug. Kneeling beside Sam, he began to wipe the blood from his brow and temples, then removed the bloody hair from his fists and wiped them clean.

Hearing footfalls outside, the Master of Brandy Hall looked to the door and witnessed Farlibar entering the room. The cook made his way over to the bed, paling at the sight of the Mayor.

Foregoing explanations, Merry snapped out more orders. “Quick, help me lift him onto the bed.”

“Let me just arrange it quickly, sir. We can‘t put him back into it with those bloody sheets,” said the sturdy hobbit. Merry gently cradled Sam’s head in his arms, waiting impatiently while Farlibar took fresh ones from the bottom drawer of the dresser and hastily made the up the bed.

Once completed, they freed Sam from his soiled sheet. Grasping him by his arms and legs, they lifted him onto the soft mattress and covered him with a clean blanket.

“What happened to him sir?” the cook dared to ask as Merry daubed gingerly at the open wounds on Sam’s scalp. Fortunately, they were not deep, but a few layers of skin had been ripped off with the hair and Merry knew that head wounds tended to bleed a lot.

“I’m not entirely sure,” he replied in distraction, applying pressure through the towel to the largest wounds in an effort to stem the flow of blood. “I heard screaming and when I followed the sound it led me to the Mayor’s room. I found him on the floor, unconscious and with lumps of hair in his hands. I think he suffered a night terror.”

Farlibar gulped and Merry knew he must be wondering what kind of night terror could cause such an extreme reaction. Unwilling to alarm the cook with further explanation of what Sam’s dream may have been about, Merry sent him to fetch more towels and some hot water for the healer when he arrived.

When the cook had closed the door behind him, Merry's gaze returned to Sam. He placed a hand on his forehead, silently willing the gardener to wake up. There was no response. He tried talking to him, hoping the sound of his voice would rouse him, but to no avail. Sam remained silent, the only motion on his form were the patches of crimson appearing through his makeshift bandage.

With a deep frown marring his brow, Merry continued his vigil at his friend‘s side. He had never seen the brave gardener in such a state. Even on the fields of Cormallen, when Sam’s body had still shown evidence of the ravages of Mordor, he had not been so eerily prone; reposing instead in the rejuvenating healing sleep he had been placed into by the hands of the King.

“Oh Strider, I wish that you were here now. Sam needs you,” muttered Merry.

It was a foolish prayer and Merry knew it. Aragorn was in Gondor and thus too far away to be of immediate assistance.

With a sigh of exasperation he cursed himself, recalling his fruitless attempts to make Sam talk after dinner. What had he been thinking to tread so cautiously around the subject? He should have came right out and demanded that his friend tell him what was wrong! If he had been more persistent, told Sam that he was being foolish to dismiss his worries so quickly, this may have been avoided!

But Merry knew it was useless to try and ’roast the tater after it was mashed’, as Sam would say. He was also aware that there was no quicker way to ensure Sam closed himself off than by making such demands of him.

And now, with the benefit of hindsight, Merry blamed himself, however irrationally. Armed with his suspicions about the One Ring and its possible lingering effects, he cursed himself again.

Still, if this was the Ring’s doing, what could he possibly do to help Sam fight such an evil thing? What could anyone do? For there was no one left in all Middle Earth who had experience with it!

No one but Samwise Gamgee, last of the Ring-bearers.

A wave of frustration swept through the hobbit knight and he had the sudden urge to scream at the unfairness of it all. Why had Gandalf, with all his wisdom, not thought about leaving provision if such a thing happened? What good was the elven knowledge of Ages if Galadriel and Elrond were safe in Valinor?

It’s all very well for them, he thought bitterly, clasping Sam’s hand tightly. They may have found their peace across the Sea, but Sam has no such comfort!

With a deep sigh he shook the unreasonable thought from his mind. After all Sam may wake up in a few hours. Perhaps he was being premature in his assumptions regarding the Ring; he hadn’t seen Sam in a few months and had no knowledge of what may have befallen his friend in that time. The gardener’s condition may have nothing at all to do with their Quest!

As if in response to that thought, Sam began to thrash weakly about the bed and Merry, caught unaware, almost jumped out of his skin. Mumbling feverishly, his friend's hands snaked slowly towards his head, trying to tug away the blood-spotted towel.

Liar … stop it … it’s not true! Forgive your Sam … Mr Frodo …”

“Sam, Sam! It’s not real! It’s a dream. You must wake up!” Merry yanked the rambling hobbit’s hands away from his head, his voice raised urgently in an attempt to rouse his friend. But it didn’t work and Sam fell silent again, exhausted and perspiring heavily from his small exertions.

If he had suspected it before, Merry’s heart sank at the realisation of his worst fear. Sam was exhibiting too many similarities to Frodo during his anniversaries: his distraction at dinner, the lack of concentration by the fireplace, his sickly appearance and now the fevered dreams and apparent stupor.

It could not be anything else.

Florabella Goodenough’s anxious tones in the hallway broke into his troubled thoughts and Merry glanced hopefully at the door. It opened to reveal the homely matron and a portly hobbit that could only be the local healer.

“Mr Brandybuck, this is Healer Tubbit,” said the proprietress indicating the white-haired hobbit who stepped into the room behind her. Healer Tubbit sported a rumpled brown suit, which he had obviously donned in haste, and moved with surprising agility towards the bed.

Merry stepped aside, allowing the healer to examine Sam. Mistress Goodenough hovered over the end of the bed, glancing from patient to healer, before worriedly enquiring as to what was troubling the Mayor.

“Well, apart from the obvious, he’s burning up with fever and his heart is racing,” said Tubbit brusquely, having removed the towel from Sam‘s head to inspect the damage. “What happened here?”

Deeming any mention of the Quest superfluous - at least for the present - Merry explained the situation as concisely as possible. Tubbit grunted upon hearing that Sam had torn the hair from his head, then requested that the area around the bed be cleared so he could tend to him properly. Both Merry and Florabella quickly complied. Farlibar returned with hot water and towels a few minutes later, sparing Sam a worried glance as he deposited them on the dressing table. Noting the arrival, Tubbit thanked the young cook for the supplies and shooed him abruptly from the room.

With the cook gone and more room to manoeuvre round the bed properly, the healer opened his little bag and removed soft linen cloths and pot marigold. Realising that a poultice was forthcoming, Merry quickly removed the soiled towel from Sam’s head so Tubbit could cleanse it before applying the herbal preparation, the gesture earning him a grateful nod from the older hobbit.

“Has he regained consciousness since you found him?” enquired the healer briskly, leaning over Sam once more.

“Only once, before you arrived, but he was delirious and trying to get at his scalp again,” replied Merry with a frown. “Then he just stopped and hasn’t moved since.”

“That might not be such a bad thing for the moment. He’s lost a good bit of blood from his head wounds, though not altogether too much - they aren’t all that deep. Still, I don‘t want him plucking out his hair again any time soon.”

Tubbit’s relief was little comfort to Merry. Sam was in danger and only he knew the reason why. The healer would be able to do nothing more than treat his superficial injuries.

“What really worries me is the fever and what may have caused it,” continued Tubbit. “Has the Mayor been ill recently?”

Merry replied that Sam appeared to have lost a good bit of weight since he last saw him. He also informed Tubbit that Sam had been rubbing his head all evening, as if in pain.

“Have any of his family been struck with similar symptoms?“ queried Tubbit, who was applying freshly made poultices to Sam’s head while they spoke.

“Not to my knowledge,” answered Merry.

“Well it sounds like we can rule out the danger of it being contagious then.” The healer began to dress the scratches on Sam’s brow and temples.

“I don’t think we ever had to worry on that account,” muttered Merry. He felt the healer’s curious glance, but did not elaborate on his remark. Tubbit harrumphed.

“Nevertheless, I would like to speak with his wife. She’d be able to tell me more about what’s been going on with him and for how long.”

“She’s with child at present. I’m not sure that the journey from Hobbiton would be wise,” supplied Merry with a shake of his curly head. He did not want to drag Rose here unnecessarily, not when there was a chance that Sam may still win the battle. After all, Frodo’s bouts of illness hadn’t lasted more than a few days - though their effects had lingered longer.

For all his caution on Rose’s behalf, he knew that when she was informed of her husband’s illness, she would travel to Frogmorton regardless. It’s what Estella would do and Sam’s wife was no less determined, despite her condition.

The healer wrapped his patient’s head with a bandage then took some paste from one of his pots and scooped a generous amount of it into a bowl. He added hot water, mixed it up and placed the bowl on the dressing table next to the bed as vapours began to rise from it. The room filled with the scent of lavender.

“If she’s less than seven months gone the journey should not be too much of a strain,” said Tubbit.

Merry told him she was about six months into the pregnancy. The healer nodded in satisfaction, informing him that if the Mayor had not fully awakened by mid-morning, she should be sent for.

Tubbit gathered his herbs and accoutrements and placed them back in his bag, then addressed Merry.

"I've put poultices on his scalp wounds and applied some marigold paste to his scratches. They should aid with the healing. Check them every four hours and I’ll replace them when I come over later in the morning to see if he‘s better. I’ll leave a pot of lavender paste next to the bowl on the dressing table. Mix some with hot water every two hours and the steam from that should help with his headaches, if he’s still suffering with them.”

Merry nodded in understanding. “What about his fever?” he asked.

“The plant his poultice is made of should help to bring it down,” informed the healer. “Some cold cloths to his forehead and neck should help too, but change them regularly.”

Merry thanked the healer and Tubbit departed with a courteous nod of his snowy head. Florabella followed in the healer’s wake, stating that she would return shortly with fresh water and cloths. The door closed behind them with a soft click and, all too soon, he was alone in the room with his inanimate friend.

Pulling a chair from the table over to the bed and taking a seat, Merry clasped Sam‘s hand in his own to begin his vigil anew.

“Fight this Sam!” he whispered in his friend’s ear. “You’re stronger than anyone I know. You beat the Ring before, you can do it again!”

*~*~*~*

The night was long and Merry did not rest at all well during those dark hours, though he was not alone in this misfortune. Sam moaned and struggled in his sleep several times after the healer departed and Merry had been hard pressed to hold him down as his efforts to claw at his bandaged head grew ever more desperate.

But he had finally calmed, allowing Merry a brief respite to doze. The Master of Buckland rested his weary head on the edge of the bed and closed his eyes for an hour or two. Come morning, Merry’s neck was stiff as reward for it. And he was still tired; his eyes smarted horribly and his head ached dully, but he could not think of his own discomfort while Sam was ill.

Now, just after mid-morning, Tubbit arrived to renew the poultices.

The healer clucked in disapproval upon noting that Sam’s fever showed no visible improvement.

“That fever would be easier to treat if the Mayor was conscious,“ he remarked with a frown. “Still, no use worrying about that just now. It’s early days yet. But if he’s not awake by this evening, I might have to think about using the old farmer’s method to get some fluid in his stomach. Unpleasant business, but it does the trick. See if you can’t rouse him at some point, Mr Brandybuck, and get him to swallow even a few mouthfuls of marigold tea. The Mayor must have liquids and this infusion will help his body fight the fever.”

Merry nodded, desperately hoping it wouldn’t come to the point where Tubbit would have to start sticking hollow reeds down his friend‘s throat.

“You must write to his wife now. It will take her at least a day to get here in her condition and I’ll need to speak with her as soon as possible,” continued Tubbit, unaware of his companion‘s fears.

“I've already sent Farlibar to have it posted to her,” Merry replied, feeling grateful that the young cook had been willing to help after the teasing he took from him yesterday. “But I must be honest with you Healer Tubbit; I don’t believe that she will be able to enlighten you further.”

Tubbit regarded him steadily, awaiting expansion of this statement. Merry sighed deeply. He hadn’t wanted to share this, for he knew the healer may not be able to treat the true cause of Sam’s affliction and explaining it would only compound his helplessness, but that did not mean he should withhold information that Tubbit, as Sam’s healer, should know.

Deeming the healer’s need greater than his own, Merry gave him a brief, but succinct, account of the four hobbits’ journey outside the Shire those many years ago, and of the particular trials Frodo and Sam endured in Mordor, with particular emphasis on the effects they had had on Frodo. He then described the content of Sam’s fevered mutterings throughout the night and related his own suspicions about their cause.

When he was finished, Tubbit took a weary seat at the table to digest all that he had heard and Merry took the chair across from him.

“Why did you not tell me this last night?” demanded the old hobbit in accusation.

The Master of Brandy Hall shifted uncomfortably in his seat as the healer’s eyes bored through him. “It would have been of no immediate use. I had hoped Sam might have woken up by now, making further explanation unnecessary, but he hasn't.”

Tubbit ran a wrinkled hand through his snowy hair and shook his head in disbelief.

“I knew some things about your time outside the Shire, but I didn’t know the extent of it,” admitted the healer ruefully. “I won’t pretend to understand what you all went through, young sir. Nor will I deny that there are great evils in the world - I think most folk in the Shire are aware of that after Sharkey’s time here.”

He lifted his head to regard Merry. “But if what you say about the Dark Lord’s trinket being destroyed is true, I don’t understand how it could still be affecting the Mayor.”

Realising that the healer would never be able to comprehend the power of the Ring, Merry simply said:

“It was an evil so great that the Elves feared it; Gandalf would not touch it for fear of losing himself to its power and becoming a threat to us all in his own right; and that - even after its destruction - it left such memories in my cousin’s mind that they would have killed him had he not left Middle Earth forever and sailed with the Elves across the Sea.”

The healer laid an elbow on the table and rested his chin in his hand, a lone finger tapping absently against his cheek as he spoke. “If this is indeed what afflicts Mayor Sam - if this Ring has such influence over his mind - then there may be very little that I or anyone in the Shire can do to help him. This is a battle he may very well have to fight on his own.”

“I know,” Merry replied, eyes downcast. He raised his head as a chair scraped against the floor and Healer Tubbit rose to leave.

“I’ll come over again this afternoon to change the poultices and see if there’s been any improvement in his condition,” the elder hobbit announced. “I want you to rub his limbs to keep his circulation moving properly and keep changing the cold towels to help break the fever. We may not be able to help his mind, but we can treat his physical symptoms and maybe give the Mayor a better chance to fight this magical Ring’s hold on him. Try to get a few hours rest yourself, sir; he’ll need you to be fit and well if you’re to help him.”

Tubbit paused briefly after donning his coat, sparing Merry a thoughtful glance. “Don’t you worry now, young sir. Ring or not, I’ll do everything I can to help the Mayor. Now, I’d best be off. Until later then, Mr Brandybuck.”

With that, the healer was gone.

With a weary sigh, Merry dropped his head into his hand and rubbed at his aching temple. Tubbit was right: he needed to rest. Just as the thought flashed through his mind, Sam broke his unnatural silence with a low moan and he turned to witness his friend’s growing restlessness. Once more, the gardener battled a demon he couldn’t see and was ill-prepared to cope with. How could he even think about resting when Sam needed him? Sam’s need came before his and that was all there was to it! If only he had some help …

But what help? There was no one else present to aid him. And he couldn’t count on much more than basic assistance from the Floating Log’s proprietress; although she would do all in her power, she and Farlibar would be too busy with the business of the inn to relieve him for very long.

Frustrated, he slammed his hands on the table. This would never do! If Sam was going to fight this, he was going to need more than one weary friend! And Merry would not let his friend fight it alone.

I need reinforcements and the sooner, the better, Merry realised. But first he would have to clear his own head. If only he’d had the sense to carry some athelas with him …

Of course!

Merry slapped his forehead in irritation. Sam was a gardener and he knew for a fact the organised hobbit always had a few leaves in his pack when he travelled even short distances.

Rising swiftly from his chair, Merry quickly retrieved Sam’s pack, opened it, and searched for the familiar oilskin cloth he kept his herbs and plants in. Located it quickly, he pulled it out. To his chagrin, there was only one leaf within the cloth, though he refused to let it dishearten him further. One leaf might not last all day, but hopefully it wouldn‘t have to.

Armed with the athelas, he boiled some water and crushed the leaf into a bowl, then poured the hot water over it. The room slowly filled with its soothing fragrance. It wasn't as strong though as when Strider, or even Sam, prepared it, but it helped nonetheless. Merry breathed of it deeply and soon felt much more alert and refreshed.

Sparing a quick glance at the bed, he noted that Sam struggles had eased a little, and that the sickly hobbit was breathing somewhat easier too. Lifting the steaming bowl, he stepped over to the dressing table and swapped it with the one containing the cold lavender water, berating himself for not having thought of it sooner. Still, there was no use worrying about that now. He had other matters to take care of.

With his head clearer and his friend temporarily at ease, Merry deemed it safe to begin making plans. Pippin would want to be there for Sam too, so he wrote his cousin a quick letter, apprising him of the situation and telling him to make his way to the Floating Log with all possible haste. He finished the letter by advising him to bring as much of the athelas that Sam had planted at the Great Smials as he could, and folded it afterwards with a good deal of satisfaction. Pippin would get there faster than Rose could in her condition, and would not mind leaving his in-laws to their daughter for a while, given the circumstances.

Turning his thoughts to home, the Master of Brandy Hall also wrote a quick note to Estella informing her of his delay and requesting that she to see to the running of the house during his absence, knowing that she was more than equal to the task.

Once his wife’s letter had been folded and placed neatly by Pippin’s, Merry debated whether or not he should also send one to the elves in Rivendell. Elrond’s sons had not yet followed their father to Valinor and it struck him that they may be of assistance. Unfortunately, it could take several weeks before he got a reply from them and he wasn’t sure what Sam’s situation would be in that time - he may have recovered, but he may not.

He decided to send it anyway. If Sam did recover, any advice they could give him would at least be helpful in the future if such a thing happened again.

All three letters were shortly despatched by Messenger Post with strict instructions from Merry to deliver the one to the Thain with all possible speed.

With his task accomplished, Merry resumed his vigil by Sam’s bed in a considerably lighter mood. He removed the stale cloths from the gardener’s forehead and neck and replaced them with fresh ones that he had soaked in the athelas solution. Despatching the letters had been the most positive action he had taken yet, and Merry definitely felt better for having taken some control of the situation. With a little luck, it wouldn’t be too long before Pippin arrived!

Bending over the bed, he ran a gentle hand over Sam’s forehead, trying to communicate his thoughts to the stricken gardener with sheer force of will.

Don’t worry Sam. You’re not alone. We’re going to get you through this. The Ring might think its got you, but it doesn’t know the Samwise Gamgee that we do, and it doesn’t know your friends either. It won’t have you too, I promise!

What Merry didn’t know was that he would not have to wait as long as he thought for reinforcements.

The elven sons of Elrond were already on their way.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Author's Note: Bet you're all wondering how they could have known. Read on to find out!

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc. I have written this story for my own enjoyment.

Credit: to www.Tuckborough.net, www.realelvish.net and www.elvish.org.

Note: This chapter updated 10/07/2012.

Concerning Sam

Chapter 7

Imladris, Year 14 of the Fourth Age

2 weeks earlier

Elladan and Elrohir, Lords of Imladris, sat on the balcony of their father’s old study one afternoon enjoying the view of the gardens and eagerly anticipating their upcoming trip to Gondor.

It had been two years since they had last seen Aragorn, Arwen and their beloved nephew, who would be five years old in a few short months. The little prince had included his very own note in his father’s last letter to them pleading that they visit soon - and they would not disappoint him. Glorfindel could remain as guardian of the Elven realm until they returned, as their Daerada would be accompanying them on the trip.

“Eldarion begins to master the art of the written word,” said Elrohir, fondly reminiscing on the note.

His brother smiled in answer as he sipped at a glass of fine Elvish wine.

“In fact, I would say that he has a better command of it than Estel did at his age,” Elrohir continued.

“Indeed, muindor nin,” agreed Elladan, regarding his brother in amusement. “Poor Estel did not accomplish that feat until he was -"

"- in his twenties at least.” Elrohir’s grey eyes gleamed with mischief.

Elladan nodded his agreement. “Of course,” he theorised, joining in further with the harmless teasing of their absent foster brother while studying the dark red liquid in his glass, “it could be that the blood of the Numenoreans has grown so thin these past few centuries as to render basic writing skills among the Dúnedain almost obsolete. His most recent missive, for example, was clearly in too fine a hand to be of his own doing.”

Elrohir smiled wickedly. “Then it is a good thing he took our sister to wife, else the future kings of Gondor may have lost the ability altogether!”

“Perhaps we should suggest to Estel that he have our nephew teach him the necessity of good script? What say you, brother?” ventured Elladan.

“I say that he may allow his position as King to go to his head and see to it that we lose ours!”

“I think not, foolish Elf. He has not long won a war against a Dark Lord. It would not do to start a new one with a furious Queen. I deem that we would be quite safe!”

They laughed in unison at the thought of their sister‘s ire, having both experienced it on many occasions. It would be even more satisfying to be able to tease Aragorn in person very shortly with her at their disposal.

A knock on the door disturbed their moment of fun, and before they could give the intruder permission to enter it swung open, revealing a tall Elf clad in blue.

“My lords, Radagast the Brown has arrived and urgently asks to speak with you.”

The brothers eyed him in surprise.

“Radagast the Brown?” asked Elrohir in a more serious tone.

“Yes, Lord,” confirmed the messenger. “Shall I show him in?”

“At once, thank you.”

The door closed as the twins returned with their flask of wine to sit at the great desk in the study proper. There they discussed what could have brought the normally reclusive Wizard to their threshold, for he rarely visited.

As it happened, they were not given much time to speculate. Another soft knock heralded the wizard's arrival and the door opened once more. The object of their ruminations was ushered in by the same Elven courier who had given them news of his arrival.

As suggested by his title, the Istar wore a long cloak of brown colour and held a long wooden staff in his right hand. His grey hair spilled wildly over his shoulders and hazel eyes assessed them both upon his entry.

Aiwendil, it has been many a year since last we met. You do us a great honour with you presence here in Imladris,” greeted Elladan as the brothers rose in welcome.

Radagast replied with equal cordiality, taking the seat proffered by Elrohir. Soon he was seated in front of the bookshelves surrounding their desk, which contained literature and maps from all over Middle Earth.

“No doubt you ask yourselves what brings me to your home, my lords” he began in a deep voice, coming straight to the reason for his impromptu visit.

“The question had passed through our minds Radagast, although we are pleased that you are here, regardless,” Elrohir said with an elegant bow of his dark head, making use of the Wizard‘s more commonly known name now that conversation had been established.

Elladan handed their guest a glass of wine for his refreshment before resuming his seat.

“As you know," began their guest, "I do not normally concern myself with the affairs of the wider world, being content to do what good I may with Nature and the many birds and other creatures she sustains.”

The brothers nodded as one. “This is known to all the Eldar. We are ever thankful that the plants and creatures of Middle Earth have such a wise and powerful attendant, for they are of importance to us all,” said Elladan.

“Quite, quite,” Radagast blustered rather hurriedly. Elladan almost smiled at his obvious discomfort with praise. “What you may not know is that I am privy to various information from far and wide, thanks to even the smallest of these creatures. Gandalf was aware of this, as he should be, and he paid me a visit before he left Middle Earth for this very reason.”

They waited patiently as he paused for a sip of wine.

“He asked me to be especially alert for news my feathered friends carried from the Shire; specifically details of any ailments afflicting the Hobbit, Samwise Gamgee, that may be of a sinister nature.”

“Master Gamgee?” asked Elladan in puzzlement. “I do not understand. What sinister ailments could befall him?”

“I refer to potential illness brought on by the influence of the One Ring.”

The twin Lords of Imladris straightened immediately upon hearing this, taken by surprise for the second time in as many minutes.

Elrohir said in a sombre voice: “He carried the One Ring but for a short time and it is now destroyed. Other than the yearly reminders he must have to contend with at the time of its destruction - and I say that with the utmost respect to what he must certainly endure at such times - it can surely harm him no longer.”

“That is correct, for the most part,” countered Yavanna’s chosen one. “Frodo Baggins was the Ringbearer for many years, and so it had plenty of time to seduce and tempt him. Thus it ruined any opportunity he may have had for a normal Hobbit life after its destruction, making his departure to Valinor a necessity rather than a luxury. Frodo’s loyal friend, however, had the chance to live his life in Middle Earth to a fuller extent; to raise a family in the world he helped save and enjoy the fruits of both their labours, the damage inflicted on him being minor in comparison. It would have been folly to offer him a place on the boat before his time.

“Yet Samwise Gamgee was a Bearer nonetheless: he bore it and wielded it when even the Wise would not dare, thus rendering himself forever susceptible to its evil sway. He has never truly taken time to confront the danger it presents to him, for his life is filled with family and duty. Because of this he has been left vulnerable for an attack on his very spirit which I fear may be imminent, if not underway as we speak.”

The brothers absorbed this information as Radagast took another draught from his glass.

“What reason have you for these fears?” queried Elrohir in concern.

“The yearly reminders you spoke of just now did indeed disturb him this past March. But the birds keeping watch on him have reported back to me that they have not desisted. Indeed they grow worse with each passing week. It has come to the point now that young Samwise fears the very night’s rest that should refresh him. He is now many months gone without proper sleep and his health is ailing as a result.”

Radagast placed his glass on the study desk and regarded them gravely.

“The owls tell me that when he is in the grip of his nightmares, he is in wretched torment and wakes up trembling. He has started to leave the marriage bed in the small hours of the morning in an attempt to keep the severity of them from his wife, spending many hours inhaling athelas fragrance. But he cannot keep this from her much longer: his health suffers and she already suspects.”

Elladan addressed the guardian of Nature: “Then what you say is cause for alarm on his behalf. We were unaware that he may yet suffer to such an extent because of his deeds.”

“My brother Istar had hoped that Master Gamgee would never have to know the torment of Frodo so intimately; that having the support of his family and friends, and living the life he had always desired would be ample comfort to ensure he had many long, happy years in the Shire.”

“So such an illness has always been a possibility, however unlikely,” surmised Elladan. “This will be beyond the knowledge of his fellow Hobbits to deal with.”

“And Sam is the only one other than Elves and the King who is fully able to harness the power of athelas. As a gardener with experience of its healing properties, he was the one best able to render aid to Frodo in his hours of darkness once they returned to the Shire. He was truly gifted with its use. But now he is the one facing the darkness and it will not be as effective in the hands of his friends should the worst happen,” finished his twin.

Elladan and Elrohir sat in silent contemplation of Sam’s dilemma.

“It grieves us indeed to hear that his trials with the curse of Sauron continue,” said Elrohir. “He and Frodo shared a bond as deep as my own brother and I - that he misses his Master is pain enough for him. He should not be subjected to a battle with the very thing that made their parting inevitable.”

He spared a look at his brother, whose brow was furrowed in distress, knowing he was thinking of the pain they had suffered when their mother left them. After the attack, she had been unable to find any joy in the land she had always called home, despite all they had tried to help her.

After she left, her sons had spent years hunting down the orcs responsible for her torture. Yet despite the dozens of orcs slain by their, swords and the now peaceful era enjoyed by the few of their kind that had remained in Middle Earth since the fall of Mordor, they knew that they could never be complete until they saw her whole and carefree again.

But that would not happen unless they left Imladris and abandoned Arwen and her family forever. It was an impossible choice.

So they would remain here until their foster brother accepted the Gift of Men, and his wife after him - another bitter reality. Eldarion would be the successor to the throne of the Reunited Kingdoms and they could finally sail to comfort their parents, harbingers of their own sister’s doom.

Elrohir’s respect for Sam, although great already, grew further as he realised what he had in common with them.

He felt the Wizard‘s eyes upon them.

“Gandalf would not leave Middle Earth until he was sure that aid would come to Master Gamgee swiftly in the event of such an occurrence. And I felt it necessary to travel here myself rather than sending word in any other manner, for I am greatly concerned by the potential effects this danger presents to one who has already sacrificed much for the safety of others.”

“Then we shall ensure aid does indeed arrive swiftly,” declared Elladan with fervour. “We shall leave no later than sunrise tomorrow. Our Daerada may keep counsel in Imladris while we are gone.”

Elrohir nodded his agreement. “I shall send word to Gondor immediately. Aragorn would wish to be informed of this, and to know that the Ring-bearer was receiving appropriate care.”

He asked Radagast if he would care to join them for their journey to Eriador.

“Alas, I cannot. I have left my duties in Rhosgobel untended long enough - and I feel that our noble Hobbit friend could be in no better hands in all Middle Earth, unless they were the hands of the King of Gondor and Arnor himself.” The Brown Wizard rose from his seat, adding; “But if I might impose upon you for a night’s accommodation, you would have this old man’s unending gratitude. My own journey here was long and I am unused to prolonged travel. I will have to rest before I attempt the return.”

The sons of Elrond informed him that he would always be welcome in Imladris and thanked him graciously for his timely appearance. Before he left their company to be shown to his room, Radagast voiced his confidence in Sam’s recovery at their hands and asked them to tell the Hobbit he should always be assured of the Brown Wizard’s aid if it were needed.

“For I would be a poor tender of Nature if I allowed her to be deprived of such a guardian,” he finished.

With that, he was gone and the brothers began to plan their trip to the Shire.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Muindor nin      My Brother

Author's Note: There was little dialogue of Radagast's to be found in the books, so I had to improvise. His speech may be a bit formal here, but I have left it so because of the company he's in. Apologies if he sounds like Gandald # 2, I did try to avoid that.

Coming up: The One Ring versus Samwise Gamgee - Round Two (ding, ding).

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc. I have written this story for my own enjoyment.

Credit: www.Tuckborough.net

Note: This chapter updated on 11/07/2012

Concerning Sam

Chapter 8

Frogmorton, 1435 Shire Reckoning

Sam lay on the bed of his room at the Floating Log, seemingly oblivious to Merry’s frantic efforts to rouse him.

But although he was insensate to the outside world, there was a fierce battle underway inside his head. His soul quailed under the assault it faced from within; his mind being forced to wander the desolate wastelands of Mordor. Desperately he sought a way out of the vicious entrapment, finding only temporary reprieves in the recesses of his mind before it found him again.

For the One Ring was tormenting him constantly, trying to convince him that he alone was the cause of Frodo’s suffering because he did not stop his Master’s fall. Its ceaseless insinuations that his failure was the reason Frodo had finally left Middle Earth, causing great pain to all their friends, was eating away at Sam's heart, and he could not entirely deny them. It was using his own guilt against him! And if he didn't win this struggle against it, he would be lost forever to those he loved. Like Frodo was lost to him ...

"And whose fault is that?"

“Leave me alone!” cried Sam. It had found him once more. “I won’t listen to you!”

"What choice do you have, worthless one?"

No matter how hard he tried to fight the Ring, how defiant he was, it continued to wear him down. He could not escape.

"You do not know how, feeble creature!"

It was right, he did not know how.

He had no idea how long he had been here. It felt like an eternity and he wasn’t sure if he would ever be liberated from this dream Mordor. That thing would not let him leave it unless to taunt him with false visions of his friends and all the places he loved. It would not let go of its prey so easily.

Still he fought it with all his strength as he sought a safe exit: he would not give up! It would not take him like it had his poor Frodo.

"Why do you struggle so? You have not the power to resist me! I was crafted by a being greater than you could ever hope to comprehend. Your defeat is only a matter of time. Succumb to me now and I will reward you!"

“I’ve seen what reward you offer and I don’t want it. And the only thing great about your Master was the fall he took from that ugly big tower of his!” shouted Sam.

He felt a sudden wave of fury buffet him; the Ring seemed to pulsate with the force of its own anger.

"And you will pay for your part in that! Were it not for YOU my Master would control all these lands as we speak. YOU are the reason He fell and I will destroy you for your actions!"

Sam was caught off guard at the outrageous accusation. It seemed to be holding him personally responsible for Sauron’s demise! But Frodo was the real Saviour; Sam had only helped him along until he’d completed the task. And others had helped in Sauron's downfall, too - played a bigger part than him. Why, old Strider had raised the dead army to crush the onslaught of Minas Tirith, and had amassed a small army to stand defiant at the Black Gates! And Gandalf had risen from death itself to ensure the final victory over the Dark Lord! If Samwise Gamgee had had any part in the downfall of the Ring's Master then he had not acted alone.

"Perhaps not," it said harshly. "Yet you were the one who dragged your insipid friend across half of Middle Earth, through Ithilien, and up the stairs of Cirith Ungol. You wounded my Master’s servant there. The Baggins whelp would not have survived his time in the Tower if you had not been so bold as to rescue him - and you DARED to use me to accomplish this!"

It seethed with hatred.

"When I was trying to control his little mind there was always you pulling him away from me with your abhorrent tales of his repulsive homeland, giving him strength to resist me. He would have been mine long before he ever crossed the plains of Mordor, but for you! His resistance would have crumbled and I would be with my Master, ruling over all at His side but for YOU."

Sam trembled under the onslaught. He had never experienced so much loathing directed solely at himself before, and it was breathtaking in its force.

"Even at the end, when I finally had my prize and my Master’s victory was in sight - after all those long years I endured with that worthless half-creature, trying to get back to my Master‘s side - you thwarted all with your moment of pity towards Gollum at the Sammath Naur. Due of this act of weakness he was able to steal me back; my physical form perished alongside him in the very place of my birth! And my Master was robbed of His rightful victory!"

“Then why are you doing this?” Sam yelled. “If your Dark Lord is gone forever then you can’t hope to accomplish anything by tormenting me! It won‘t bring him back.”

"Insolent creature! My Master will never be truly gone as long as I exist - and I will never be truly gone as long as you exist! I will see to it that you never know another moment’s peace. You will never again enjoy that which you do not deserve!"

“Your Master is gone. He can’t ever come back! You’re no more than a memory and I won’t let you hurt me like you hurt Frodo!”

"I did not hurt your beloved Frodo. You did. Despite all your efforts he still claimed me. You were too late and too useless in the end. Your incompetence as a servant and so called friend sealed his doom the moment he left your petty lands."

“No!” Sam screamed, trying to stop the hateful words. “It was you. But he’s safe from you now. You can’t ever hurt him again. You’ll never touch him in Valinor!”

Head aching from his exertions, Sam could feel the sweat pouring down his body. He was burning all over, but still he struggled against the Ring.

“The Elves will heal him, Mr Gandalf will see to that. Lord Elrond and the Lady Galadriel will take care of him, and when I see him again you’ll be nothin’ more than a memory!”

"You? See him again?" mocked the Ring. "What makes you think that will ever happen?"

“Mr Frodo said as much at the Grey Havens!”

"Simpleton! He only said that your time may come, not that it would. Have you been clinging to that small hope these many years?"

“It’s not a hope, it’s a fact,” retorted Sam. “My Master wouldn’t’ve say it if he didn’t mean it.”

"Your Master does not have the power to grant you such! Only the Valar can do that. Tell me, have they spoken to you lately? Or did the Elvish ‘friends’ that you so admire confirm what you believe he promised?"

To Sam’s dismay, he was forced to admit that no such confirmation had ever been made.

"You see? If it were as you say then surely they would have made some mention of it. No, they do not deem you worthy of such a dubious honour - for you are the reason he sought healing in the first place. It would be foolish of them to ever allow you near him again!"

He sobbed, distraught at the thought this might be true. It couldn’t be true! But he racked his brain trying to remember anyone telling him with any certainty that he would have passage to the Elven home. There was nothing.

“But I have the Sea longing!” he yelled. “I wouldn’t have that for no reason!”

"What more fitting punishment could there be for a traitor? It will wound you forever without anyone having lifted a finger to draw your blood. An elegant torture. And very … Elvish," sneered the Ring.

“I’m not a traitor! I did everything I could to help Mr Frodo. I wouldn’t hurt him for the world, I’d rather die first!”

"Then why did your Master make you a false promise? It is because he despises you for not saving him and wants to know you suffer in return! The Elves would rightly grant him this small vengeance."

“Liar … stop it … it’s not true!” he cried, distraught at the thought of Frodo hating him and the Elves condoning such a punishment. They wouldn‘t. They couldn‘t! “Forgive your Sam. I did what I could. Mr Frodo…”

He was unable to continue because of his great distress. Sam knew he was in the middle of some kind of horrible illusion, but he was unable to tear himself free of it, and so it had become his reality. The Ring was hunting him, stalking him relentlessly through every corner of his mind and trying to break him with what it found there.

And it was winning.

He did not know how to fight against this. He tried to recall the good memories of his Master after its destruction, to confirm that he had not failed as the Ring claimed, and to assure himself that his greatest friend did not despise him: the look of wonder on Frodo’s face when he realised it had perished in the Sammath Naur; his joy at seeing Gandalf again upon his recovery; his happiness for his heart’s brother when Rose Cotton became Mistress Gamgee.

There! If he truly had failed, as it claimed, then Frodo could not have known these moments of peace or rejoiced at his good fortune!

But it countered by showing him the leer of greed on Frodo’s face when he claimed it; forced him to witness anew the many times Frodo had suffered during anniversaries, and then it would chant in the Black Speech, louder and louder until Sam thought he would go mad at the sound.

“Stop it! Stop it! I won’t listen to any more of your lies!”

"Then perhaps you would prefer to see some truth?"

“No, don’t. Stop!” he begged.

His efforts to stop the Ring showing him any more of its visions was futile and he found himself in the Shire watching Merry and Pippin apparently stifle a look of disappointment when he answered the door to Bag End.

"They would rather it was their cousin who greeted them. To them you are a poor substitute, who used their beloved kin and then usurped his home! Shame on you!"

“They’re my friends! They would never think that! We all miss Frodo and I would gladly swap places with him if it meant they could see him again.”

"Indeed? And what of your wife and the spawn you produce so frequently? Would you so easily abandon them?"

“Don’t you dare talk about my Rosie or my children,” screamed Sam in fury.

"Why not, short one? Have you not been wishing your life away as quickly as possible - and therefore theirs - in the vain hope that you could see your fallen friend again?"

“No! Never! My family means the world to me, I would never want to hurt them!” He was outraged by the Ring’s evil accusation.

"But you have," it said maliciously. "They are no more than a distraction to whittle away the long years until such time as your wife dies and your brats are grown, leaving you free to pass over the Sea. Do you not think they are aware of this? Perhaps you would not like to wait until your Rose is old and shrivelled? Would it not be better for her life to end now, that you may leave all the sooner?"

“Leave my family alone!” he shouted, incandescent with rage at what he was hearing. “Don’t you dare talk about them like that!”

It laughed at him, delighting in his pain; for that made it stronger and him weaker.

"I speak only of what I see. Shall I prove my point if you doubt my honesty?"

It gave him no time to reply and suddenly he was seeing Bag End. Sam watched his vision self sitting on a bench in the garden, pipe in hand, gazing wistfully West. Rosie and Frodo-lad were walking towards him with the apparent intention of joining him on his seat, but his other self had caught the scent of the Sea on the air and could not concentrate on their presence. Sam saw them withdraw from the garden, leaving his vision self to thoughts of Frodo and Valinor - but he did not miss the expression of hurt in Rosie's eyes as she left, or his son‘s confusion at being ignored.

Sam knew he often looked West. Was this really how he treated his family when the longing came over him? Did he silently rebuff them, making them feel they weren’t good enough? Tears of shame leaked from his eyes.

"Do you see? They know that they are nothing more to you than a consolation; that your real heart’s desire lies elsewhere."

“I love my Rosie. I love all my family and friends,” he wept.

"Love?" The Ring scoffed at this. "What has your love ever done for anyone? Did it save your Master? Spare his cousins’ pain upon his departure. Does it comfort your kin when your mind is with Frodo? Your love is a curse of slow agony! A poison which infects all who bear it! Better that you were dead so that they may be spared such an affliction!"

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” argued Sam weakly.

"Oh really?"

He now found himself looking at a vision of Minas Anor, the city of the King. Aragorn and Faramir stood before a marble statue of Frodo in the palace courtyard, a statue that he knew had been commissioned, but had never seen. Aragorn traced the marble Frodo’s features as he told Faramir how much he missed his friend. His regal face clenched with pain when he spoke of the Ring-bearer’s departure, both of its necessity and his own agony at being denied a final farewell.

“It was a cruel fate that Frodo could not stay to enjoy the wonders of the world he saved, Faramir. Perhaps if I had stayed with him on his journey I may have lent him my strength and he could have survived to be with us all.”

Sam’s despair increased at witnessing Aragorn’s lament, and he heard Faramir reply:

“My King, you could not have gone with him to Mordor. You were needed here. But Sam was with the Ring-bearer. He remained with him throughout and saved his life so that he could see what he did for us all and we would have the opportunity to honour him for it.”

Aragorn eyed his Steward sadly and asked what use such honour was when they would never see him again.

"You see the worth of your love, half-wit? The pain it causes? Your King does not even acknowledge your part in the deeds that gave him his crown, ungrateful Man! He believes he could have done a better job of saving your Master himself!"

The distraught Mayor of Michel Delving was unable to muster a retort, wracked with guilt and feelings of worthlessness, crying like a hobbit babe.

"And perhaps he is right. For who are you to think you can contend with the will of Sauron? A gardener! A fool! Servant of a lesser race!"

Body heaving with great sobs of agony, Sam was again incapable of response.

"Your friends blame you. They despise you. They have deserted you! You now have your true reward for your blind faith in them, for they will not assist you like you thought you had assisted your Master! They do not rush to your aid. You will remain here with me, witness to your failure forever and they will be glad to be rid of you!"

“No! They love me!” whispered Sam dazedly. “They love me.”

"If that is true where are your Hobbit friends? You deprived them of their Frodo, they will not so easily forgive and forget. And your King? Does he try to help you? Would he mourn your absence as he does your Master’s? No! He is leagues away, safe in his Kingdom and enjoying the power you helped steal for him. And your so-called Elven friends? They care not one whit for you. They laugh at your childish worship and stab you in the back with their absence."

Sam could not bear any more of this. He sought once more for temporary haven in the dark corners of his mind. If he did not get some reprieve, he would be lost forever.

Was it right? Did Merry and Pippin really consider him unworthy of their friendship? Did Aragorn secretly blame him? Did the Elves think him no more than a nuisance? Was he really so unworthy of love and respect? Did his family believe he did not care for them, his precious Rosie doubt his affections?

"Yes! Or they would be assisting you at this very moment. Do you see any of them here?"

No. He could see no one. All that he saw were the vast bleak plains of Mordor that he had been returned to once more, and the dreadful summit of Mount Doom, burning in the distance as his own body burned in turn. He was being consumed alive by the fires of hatred and despair.

"And this is where you will stay! Abandoned by them and claimed by me. You will suffer now as my Master suffers because of you; enjoy the same exile that he endures because of you; and it will be of the same eternal duration. This is the power of your love. Enjoy it!"

Sam could not fight the will of the Ring much longer; it crowed with pleasure at his pain. He retreated further into his mind - Harthad Uluithiad was beginning to lose his hope.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

                                                                            

Author’s Note: Please bear in mind that Sam is ill, upset and has a pathological piece of jewellery out to get him. The visions the Ring shows Sam are not necessarily true representations of the people contained therein, but he is too unwell to realise that…

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc. I have written this story for my own enjoyment.

Credit: www.Tuckborough.net and also www..realelvish..net

Concerning Sam

Note: This chapter updated on 11/07/2012

Chapter 9

Frogmorton, 1435 Shire Reckoning

Merry sighed infrustration as he continued his vigil at Sam's bedside. Exhaustion gnawed at his eyes. There had been no word yet from Pippin and he’d barely rested by the time Tubbit returned at midday to check on his patient. The healer remained for an hour while Merry went to his own room to wash and change clothes.

Now it was late afternoon, and other than taking a small bite of lunch brought up by Farlibar after the healer left, Merry had spent the day sitting by his stricken, trying to rouse him with no success. The only times he showed any sign of animation were when caught in another of his disturbing dreams. Sam would thrash about the bed, clawing at his head, yelling about traitors and liars, or sob desperately as he called for Frodo and begged forgiveness for some unknown deed.

The Master of Buckland could not bear to see his friend like this. It was difficult to watch him struggle and remain powerless to help him. He had tried cajoling Sam back to awareness with talk of his Rose. “Think how angry she’ll be with me if I can’t take care of you for even one day!” he joked desperately. “And remember how Estella told me not to corrupt you? Well, she’s sure to blame this on me too! Come on Sam, you can‘t do this to an old friend. Two hobbit wives out for my head; I‘ll be lucky to see the end of the week!”

But no matter what he said, there was no response. Sam lay still, trapped in some nightmare where he couldn’t reach him, and Merry was becoming more desperate as the day wore on. He was tired and very upset. After yet another attempt to rouse the unconscious Hobbit met with failure, his concern rocketed.

“Come on, Sam. This isn’t funny anymore. Wake up!” Merry demanded in frustration. Yet again, no response. He grabbed Sam by the shoulders and shook the gardener.

“Wake up, wake up, wake up!!”

“Merry! Stop it!”

Releasing Sam, Merry whirled around. “Pippin!” he cried, caught off guard to find his cousin standing in the doorway. Pippin's face was a mask of shock,  and he knew he must look like a monster, shaking an invalid.

Dropping his travelling pack, Pippin shut the door behind him, strode over to the bed and, rather than start berating him, enveloped his cousin in a warm embrace.

“It’s all right Mer, I’m here now. Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. Sam will be fine. He’ll wake up soon. He can’t ignore us forever: we’ll just annoy him back into the waking world!”

Pippin released him, took off his Lothlórien cloak and threw it over a chair before facing the bed.

“How is he?” he asked, rearranging the rumpled sheets before clasping one of Sam's hands.

Merry sighed. Plodding toward the table, he took a seat and rubbed his tired eyes before relating the previous day's events. Beginning from his arrival at the FLoating Log, he told of Sam’s distraction and short-temper during dinner; of his own unsuccessful attempts to gain his confidence all evening; of how he’d found Sam lying on the floor that night after being awoken by his screams, and finally of the hallucinations he seemed to be having.

“Hallucinations?” asked Pippin.

“Yes. He keeps yelling and trying to gouge lumps out of his head. That’s why it’s bandaged, Pip. He’s ripping his hair out. His head’s in an awful state.”

Troubled by the news, Pippin regarded the dishevelled bandages in concern. “It must be his fever Merry. He’s burning up right now,” he said, laying his hand on Sam's forehead.

“I know. We can change his cold cloths and I’m supposed to try to get some marigold tea into him, but I’ve stopped doing that.” He shrugged helplessly at the younger Hobbit when Pippin frowned at him. “I don’t like forcing liquids down his throat when he’s like this - he chokes. Did you bring the athelas, like I asked?”

“Yes, hold on a minute. It’s in my pack. I brought a fair bit so it should last us for a while.” He let go of Sam’s, grabbed the bag he’d dropped at his feet upon entering the room and brought it to the table where Merry sat. From it he withdrew a large wrapped packet. "There we go."

Relieved, Merry quickly heated some water and asked Pippin to crush a leaf into a bowl. Pouring the hot liquid into the bowl, he then placed it on the dressing table, by Sam’s head. “We should have enough leaves here to last through the night.” he said. “But I’m going to speak with Healer Tubbit when he comes back and see if we can’t find some other way to get that tea into his stomach!”

He smiled weakly at his younger cousin. “I’m glad you’re here Pip. I’ve been really worried about him. There’s not much the healer can do except treat his fever, but I don‘t think it‘s just the fever that‘s bothering him”

They sat down at the table again where Pippin asked him to elaborate.

“It’s what Sam’s saying when the fever grips him,” explained Merry “He’s yelling about not being a traitor; saying that he tried to save Frodo, and  screaming at someone - or something - to stop lying."

"Something?"

"Yes. Pip, I think it’s the Ring. I think it's hurting him.”

“The Ring?" exclaimed Pippin, ashast. "But Merry! Do you really think that’s what the problem is? Because if you’re right, what can we do to help him? We need Strider for this!”

“I think it is Pip. I don’t see how it can be anything else. Unfortunately Strider’s too far away to do much. I’ve written to Rivendell for advice, but it’ll be weeks before we hear anything from there." He glanced toward the bed. "I don‘t know how much longer Sam can last like this if he doesn‘t get proper help soon. He might pull out of it by himself any time now, but what if he doesn’t? Frodo was affected for several days at a time near the end, and was always weaker after each … each …”

He faltered, trying to arrange his tumbling thoughts. Pippin squeezed his hand, regarding him with knowing eyes. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Merry continued. "I just didn't expect this to happen to Sam. I don't know if I can go through this again," he confessed fearfully.

Pippin threw a glance at the bed and thought of Frodo's struggles with the demon Ring. “What do you think it's doing to him, Merry?” he asked in a subdued voice.

“I wish I knew,” his cousin answered. “But if it is the Ring, we can be certain that it’s not pleasant - not if it's making him think he‘s some sort of traitor.”

“Why on earth would he think that? He must know he's anything but!" exclaimed Pippin in frustration. "Oh, this isn’t fair! He didn't carry it very long. Why can’t it leave him alone? Why is it bothering him now?”

“I don’t know," admitted Merry. "When I first saw him yesterday, I was shocked. He didn’t look like he’d been keeping too well; he’s thinner and paler than I’ve seen him since the end of the War. We have no idea what’s been happening to him since we saw him last. Come to think of it, he did look a bit drawn when you were made Thain. This might have been slowly getting worse since then for all we know.”

“But that was in April!” exclaimed Pippin in horror.

“It’s only a guess, Pip, I don’t know for sure. We know he usually has bad nights round about the time Sauron fell and that anniversary was not long before your ceremony. Maybe it was just the after-effects of that. But if it wasn’t and this has been slowly worsening since then, Sam would’ve been more open to an assault from the Ring without knowing it.” Merry rubbed his face tiredly.

Pippin frowned at this possibility, deeply upset that Sam might be experiencing anything akin to what Frodo had endured when they returned to the Shire. Was this to be his payment for saving Middle Earth? If he survived this, would they have to worry about other such attacks for the rest of Sam’s life?

“What about Tom Bombadil?” he suggested suddenly. “There must be something he could do to help - after all he seemed to know about the Ring. He must have some knowledge on how to counter its effects on Sam. He could be here in under a week.”

Merry hadn’t thought of this before and saw how his cousin was excited by the idea, but after thinking it over he had to reject it.

“Pippin, he’s not a healer or a Wizard of any sort, not that we know of. All we do know is that he didn’t seem to be personally affected by the Ring. I don’t really see how Tom could help us, even in the unlikely event that he would be willing to leave the Old Forest.”

His cousin's hopeful expression dimmed. “Regardless of what else we do Mer, if Sam’s no better by morning I think we should take him home to Bag End. He needs to be around his family and in familiar surroundings.”

“I’ve already sent a note to Rose at Healer Tubbit's request. She'll arrive here before we can even think about moving him anywhere,” explained Merry.

“Still,” insisted Pippin, “I think more good can be done for him at home than in a strange room at the Floating Log, and I think Rosie will agree with me. She can speak to Healer Tubbit when she gets here and tell him anything he might want to know. I'll arrange a coach to take us to Hobbiton after first breakfast tomorrow, and if Tubbit gives us a letter outlining Sam's treatment we can give it to the local healers as soon as we arrive at Bag End.”

This seemed to make some sense to Merry, and he nodded his agreement, marvelling at how much Pippin had matured in these last years, particularly since that April.

“You’re right Pip,” he said. “This is no place for Sam to be. I should have thought of that sooner.”

Pippin smiled at him sympathetically. “Well, you did rather have your hands full, Mer.”

The Thain rose. “I’ll ask Mistress Goodenough to let me speak with the healer, to make sure it‘ll be all right to move him, then have a coach made ready to transport us to Bag End in the morning. Until then we can take shifts watching over him ‘til Rose comes. I‘ll get some food sent up too, because we‘ll need to keep up our energy if Sam‘s going to be flailing about as much as you say he does.”

With that, he left the room and Merry had to grin at how the foremost Hobbit of Tuckborough still managed to think of his stomach at a time like this. Sam would have rolled his eyes and declared that some things never changed, if he‘d heard him.

Roused from his thoughts by a low moan, Merry found that Sam had become restless once more. The Mayor called out feebly, trying to free himself from his covers. Merry went to him and laid a hand on his friend’s forehead. The fever had not worsened, but it was still burning away relentlessly. Removing one of the sheets, he pulled the other halfway down Sam’s torso, frowning as it uncovered loose skin in place of a round Hobbit stomach.

Wetting a cloth, he began to wipe sweat from Sam's head and upper body in an attempt to keep the gardener cool. Once finished, he covered him with a single sheet and debated opening the window a bit wider to let more fresh air circulate. But he didn’t want to lose the benefit of the athelas infusion, which was still gently steaming away, so he left the window only slightly ajar. Hearing raised voices drifting through the small opening, he was glad of his decision, unwilling as he was to have Sam disturbed by rowdy patrons from the entry hall.

It was a great relief to him that Pippin had brought plenty of athelas, for the one he'd crushed that morning hadn’t lasted as long as the time when Aragorn had used the plant on him in Minas Tirith - when he had been affected by the Black Breath - and they might have to go through more to make up for that.

Pouring himself a glass of water, he resumed his seat at the table, hoping Pippin wouldn’t be away too long. He wondered how long it would be before Rose arrived in Frogmorton, and regretted that she had to make such a journey in the first place. It would be unpleasant enough in her condition, but the worry of her husband’s illness must surely have her frantic by now.

All at once, he heard his cousin’s voice in the hallway, sounding quite excited. Wondering what had brought him back so quickly, he stood up in anticipation of perhaps seeing Rose Gamgee walk through the door.

But Pippin did not enter with Rose. Instead he brought in two very tall, very elegant and very concerned looking Elf lords.

Merry was taken aback to see the twin sons of Elrond execute a quick bow in his direction before making their way swiftly towards Sam.

“Look who I found downstairs Mer!” exclaimed Pippin in relieved excitement. “I was just about to go out in search of the healer when they walked in.”

One of the dark headed elves left the bedside.

Mae Govannen, Master Meriadoc,” he said, coming to a halt before the stunned hobbit. “Forgive our unexpected arrival; we had word that Master Gamgee may be ill, and have travelled for almost two weeks in our haste to reach him.”

Merry looked at the graceful being in wonder. “Well met Lord Ella ... er, Lord Elroh ... er, well met my Lord.”

The new arrival smiled gently as his confusion. “I would be honoured if you would once again address me as Elladan, my friend.”

Still somewhat perplexed at their sudden, but welcome appearance, the Master of Buckland nodded in relief, grateful that they were there and wondering what twist of good fortune had brought them in the first place.

Correctly guessing the reason for his puzzlement, Elladan took a seat and quickly told him of Radagast’s visit two weeks since while Pippin and Elrohir tended to Sam. Merry was amazed to learn they had been forewarned by the reclusive Istar, and felt somewhat guilty for his earlier ill-feeling towards White Wizard. Of course good old Gandalf wouldn’t have left them without making preparations for such an event! He was too fond of them all to treat them in such a careless manner!

Elladan went on to explain that they had ridden first to Hobbiton, only to be told on arrival that the Lady Rose had received a letter from Merry informing her of Sam’s ill health. She had been readying herself for the trip to Frogmorton when they appeared, and they had listened with vexation as they realised they had passed the inn already.

“We bade the Lady Rose to ready his chamber, for he must be returned to his home as soon as possible. It will be better for him if he is there, surrounded by family.”

“See, I told you!” piped the Thain from the bedside.

Merry rolled his eyes. “We were going to leave it until tomorrow morning though, to see if he was any better by then,” he added.

Elladan looked over at his brother, who shook his head.

“Nay, Merry, we must leave at once. Every minute delayed is a minute more the evil of Sauron has to work on our brave friend.”

The Master of Buckland swallowed hard at this. “Is it really so bad?” he asked in great concern.

Elrohir, who had had his hand on Sam’s forehead and his eyes closed in concentration, turned to regard him gravely. “The Ring-bearer is in a battle for his very soul. We must not delay his return to his family any further. And I must ask that you both accompany us, for your assistance will be vital if he is to survive this vicious assault. It is worse than we had feared, my brother.”

These last words he directed at Elladan who nodded in understanding.

“Come Merry, we must make preparations for immediate departure. If we are fortunate, we may arrive in Hobbiton before nightfall.”

As they packed the hobbits belongings, the Master of Buckland spoke of Sam's treatment thus far, adding: “I can’t get him to drink anything Elladan. He’s burning up, but every time I try to make him sip some tea, he chokes. I don't think he's had anything proper to drink since last night!”

Elladan rested a hand on his shoulder in comfort. “Do not distress yourself, Merry. My brother and I shall take care of this. There are other methods of hydration that Hobbits may not be aware of - if it becomes necessary, we shall make use of them. Now, let us finish packing so that we may leave this place.”

Pippin declared he would seek out Healer Tubbit to explain what was happening. “Should I ask for a letter for the healers in Hobbiton?” he enquired of Elrohir whose hand was once more placed on Sam’s forehead.

“That will not be necessary, Peregrin Took,” came the somewhat distant answer. “We have ways of helping Samwise that are beyond those of your kind.”

Elrohir spared Pippin a glance to take the bite from his words. “Please inform him that we are most grateful for his efforts thus far. He has the gratitude of the Elves of Imladris. Without his intervention in preventing the escalation of the fever, the Ring-bearer may have already succumbed to the evil that preys upon him.”

Both hobbits blanched. After receiving instructions from Elrohir to have their horses readied for departure, Pippin left the room without further comment.

Realising his cousin had forgot to ask about arranging transport, Merry posed the question of Elladan just as he was about to join his brother at Sam’s side.

“Nay. It will save time if we take him upon one of our steeds, for they are of elvish stock and very swift.” He observed the exhausted hobbit speculatively. “You will ride with me, Meriadoc, for you appear fatigued yourself. You will not last very long on your trusty pony. Pippin may follow on his own, though let us pray that it is swift: we cannot stop to wait for him if he falls behind, for our errand is of the utmost urgency.”

No sooner had he spoken when Sam suddenly began to thrash wildly on the bed, striking out at Elrohir, whose hand was still on his forehead.

Muindor nin! Tolo hí!” he cried.

Merry watched in alarm as Elladan raced to the bedside and the two elves tried to restrain Sam without hurting him.

Let me go! Liars! Liars … I did not. I know you hate me! Stop it! Let me go!” he screamed, trying to throw them off, though his fevered exertions were little match against the strength of two of the Eldar race.

“Elladan! Athelas!” Elrohir demanded. Merry was too quick for either of them: he grabbed the already adjacent bundle, hurried over with it and handed them a fistful. The hobbit trembled in shock to see his normally placid friend in such a fevered fit of violence: clearly Sam had no idea what was happening, because he would never have raised his hands or voice to anyone, let alone two of the Elven race he so admired.

Grabbing the proffered athelas leaves, Elrohir crunched them in his slender fist; both elves whispered an incantation in Sindarin before breathing on them, and Elrohir then placed the broken mass directly under the bucking Mayor’s nose. Having no choice but to inhale the sweet fragrance, Sam's frantic lashing slowly abated.

Elvish chants continued until, finally, Sam stilled. Merry collapsed on a chair, shaking in shock. “What happened?” he asked tremulously, his breath hitching raggedly in fright.

There was no response for a full five minutes, leaving him to wonder what kind of struggle must be underway for his friend’s peace of mind. But when they had finished and Sam was resting in some peace, Elrohir turned to him.

“Be not alarmed Meriadoc. He rests for the moment, but we must leave soon before another such attack comes upon him. The Ring is deceiving him and the Samwise is weakened to the extent that he does not now know friend from foe. He recognises the scent of the athelas plant, thank the Valar, but cannot be certain if the hand that offered it is true. Curse Sauron in his Exile! May he never know a moment’s peace!”

Merry had never seen the normally impervious elven lord in such a passion of anger, and he knew a sudden moment of fear: what if Sam didn’t recognise any of them as friends? Pippin or himself? Rose or his own children? Was the memory of it truly so powerful as to trick the most faithful hobbit he knew into thinking his loved ones would abandon him?

These maudlin thoughts were interrupted when Pippin returned to announce that their horses were now ready. Having already left word with Florabella Goodenough to have messages sent to Diamond and Estella informing them of their husbands continued delay, the Thain readily agreed to Elladan's plan of following on his mount. He would lead Merry’s pony Stybba behind him.

With that resolved, Elrohir wrapped Sam in a blanket, gathered him in his arms, and the small company swiftly left the inn. They were soon mounted on their respective horses; Elrohir cradling Sam, Elladan holding Merry steady in front of him, and Pippin perched on his little black pony. Turning towards the Great East Road, the anxious riders left Frogmorton and headed towards Hobbiton with all possible speed.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Mae Govannen -  Well Met.

Muindor Nin! Tolo hi! - My brother! Come here! 

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc. I have written this story for my own enjoyment.

Credit: www.Tuckborough.net and also www.realelvish.net.

Note: This chapter updated on 11/07/2012.

Concerning Sam

Chapter 10

Gondor, Year 14 of the Fourth Age

In one of the small rooms near the Tower Hall, used as a retreat after conclusion of the day’s official Court audiences and petitions, Aragorn Elessar sat perched on the edge of a mahogany writing table.

And he was not happy, having received disturbing news from Imladris that morning regarding Sam. Frustration at his inability to help was becoming almost intolerable. The news that Sam's condition was serious enough to merit the Elven lords journey to Eriador had concerned him all day - despite Arwen’s reassurances the evening before - and it had been difficult to concentrate on the business of trade agreements with Harad earlier.

Despite his worries, the meeting with Haradrim merchants had been successful, for Aragorn was determined to forge a more secure relationship with their neighbours, to help ease lingering bitterness and continue the process of building bridges between their two peoples. Commerce with their former enemy was a way to achieve it.

I may be of some use this day, at least, he thought irritably.

It was tradition each month that his Steward accompany him here to discuss any news of note from Ithilien, though in these times of peace their meetings were more informal. Both men used them mainly as an opportunity to spend a rare hour or two in each other’s company enjoying relaxed conversation. Faramir had joined him ten minutes earlier, and was relating another tale of his wife’s escapades in the kitchen, and of his son’s refusal to eat her fare. Normally Aragorn derived great amusement from these revelations, but not today. Instead he remained silent, staring out of the window, drumming his fingers on his knee, and not wholly attentive to the narrative.

A slight cough behind him made the king suddenly aware that the one-sided conversation had stopped. He looked around guiltily to find his companion studying him, and tried to look as if he had in fact been listening; the Steward was not so easily fooled.

“The ongoing saga of Eowyn’s culinary efforts usually has you gripped, my Lord.” Faramir’s mouth quirked in humour. “Yet today you are preoccupied. What draws your attention so?”

“Faramir, you cannot relate something as amusing as Eowyn’s culinary efforts and address me so formally all in the same sentence,” he said wryly.

The Steward grinned. “ I consider myself duly chastised. Allow me to rephrase: Aragorn, what occupies your thoughts thus?”

The former ranger knew that Faramir would wish to hear any news of the hobbits regardless of its gravity, so he delved into his shirt pocket. Withdrawing a letter, he passed it to his friend, allowing him to read it through.

“I see,” said the prince. “This is more than reason enough to distract you.”

Receiving the letter back and returning it to its place of rest, Aragorn resumed the drumming of his knee, aware of his companion's close scrutiny.

“You are vexed by your absence from the Shire when Samwise may be in need of your assistance."

“Indeed,” replied Aragorn. His Steward was too perceptive for comfort at times, or perhaps it was simply that his concern was rather obvious.

“This message was despatched by your Elven kin two weeks ago; they ought to have arrived in Hobbiton by now. Master Gamgee will be receiving the finest care in Middle Earth even as we speak,” stated Faramir.

“I realise this.” He rose, striding across to the window he had found so fascinating moments before. Gazing out towards the Great Hall of Feasts, Aragorn related in a somewhat distant voice: “Before this letter arrived, I had already some knowledge of his illness, having witnessed it in the Palantír. I saw our stalwart friend in much distress. He did not look well, Faramir. His appearance was not that of the Hobbit who left here several years ago, and I speak not of the lines time may have added to his face.”

Faramir joined him by the window.

“I spoke of it later with Arwen," he continued, "and she allayed the worst of my concerns. But this missive has reawakened them.”

“You are worried for our friend. It is only natural. Yet there is little we can do at present other than hold him in our hearts. Elladan and Elrohir are our best hope for now; they will see to his recovery in your stead.” said the Steward. “Samwise may have the stature of a Hobbit, but he has a will as strong as a Mûmak is tall. The evil of the Ring cannot hope to defeat him.”

Aragorn appreciated his comforting words and hoped they would prove true. “You speak wisely, Faramir. Still, I must see him well again.”

Crossing to the writing table, he took his seat behind it. He regarded Denethor’s shrewd heir closely, waiting for his reaction to the upcoming news, for he had not yet informed him of the decision he had made the previous day.

“It is necessary to make the reunification of Gondor and Arnor official,” said the king in a more formal tone. Faramir remained silent, waiting for him to finish, and Aragorn had the uncanny feeling that he knew what would come next.

“To this end,” he continued, “I have decided to leave for Annúminas before winter begins. My people in Arnor should know their King, and Gondor may be without him for some time.”

Faramir received the news well, leaving Aragorn to doubt if he would ever be able to shake the Man‘s steady composure. Perhaps the next bit of information would be sufficient.

“I understand, my Lord,” said the Steward, returning to his own seat and resuming use of the honorific title. “Gondor has waited for your return once before, and her patience was rewarded in the end. I am confident that you will not stay away quite so long this time. I shall make arrangements for Elphir to come to Ithilien, whilst I keep counsel for you in Minas Anor until such time as we may again celebrate your arrival in the White City.”

Elessar admired Faramir’s continuing ability to adapt to almost any situation and produce an appropriate response; it was one of the reasons he had made him Steward in the first place. Still, he lived in hope that one day he may surprise him into silence. If only for a few seconds.

“I wish for you and Eowyn to accompany me on the journey.”

Faramir’s dark brows raised in surprise.

Finally!

“During our absence I intend to have your uncle take temporary Stewardship of Gondor. It shall be safe with him and he is loved by its people. The duration of Imrahil's absence from Belfalas will also give Elphir invaluable experience in understanding the true scope of his responsibilities as future Lord of Dol Amroth.”

Leaning back in his seat, the king temporarily indulged in the pleasurable feeling of having thrown his friend off balance for once.

“Of course, my Lord,” replied Faramir, quickly regaining his normal inscrutable countenance. “And Ithilien?”

“Erchirion may enjoy the challenge of presiding over your fair land for a year or so, do you not agree?”

The Steward nodded, happy for his cousin’s good fortune. “I believe he would.”

There was silence for a few moments as both Men mulled over the upcoming changes but inevitably Aragorn felt Faramir’s steady gaze upon him once more. He knew what he was thinking.

“Yes, Faramir. We shall also pay a visit to the Shire, or as near it as I will allow.”

The younger man’s mouth quirked again as his assumption proved correct. It really was an annoying habit. Probably the result of Legolas’ influence, given that their lands are so close, Aragorn speculated.

“I cannot travel so far without seeing the Hobbits,” he added in justification, though it was not required by his companion. “There may be little I can do at present to help, but with my foster brothers’ aid Sam should have recovered by the time we arrive, and it will ease my heart to see him whole once more.”

“As it will also ease mine,” said Faramir seriously. “Our loyal friend should not have to suffer such trials so long after the Dark Lord’s defeat. I only hope this one may be of short duration and that he will not be plagued by them again, if that is not a false hope!”

“Perhaps it is false, perhaps not.” Aragorn’s reply was non-committal. “We may better assess the potential of such hope upon our arrival in his homeland. And we may also ensure that all action be taken to ease any future intervention by the Ring - at least until such time as he must depart Middle Earth forever.”

“Then he knows that he may accept the gift of a place in Valinor when his hurts are too great?”

Elessar nodded. “I believe Frodo informed him of it at the Grey Havens.”

“It will be a loss to us all when that day arrives, but it may yet be many years ahead of him,” said the younger man. “With the support of all those who love him, he could stay with us long enough to meet his grandchildren.”

“Indeed!” declared the King. “And we must see to it that this comes to pass. Sam must accept our support if he is to enjoy his beloved Shire as long as possible. Only then may we enjoy the pleasure of his company for equal time.”

He rose again - this time with resolve - and donned his robe of office. Their sojourn was over and it was time for preparations to be made.

“If I have to enforce it by royal decree, I will make certain that the curse that threatened our lands for two Ages of Men will not force him from us so quickly. Sam shall know that he will not have to face the Ring alone! We owe him no less, both as our friend and as our deliverer.”

Nodding agreement, the Prince of Ithilien stood also and together they left the study to meet with the High Council and make arrangements for their pre-winter departure.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Bag End, 1435 Shire Reckoning

Contrary to what Elladan predicted, the small company did not arrive in Hobbiton before night fell. It had been necessary to stop after a couple of hours travel when Sam began struggling in his brother’s arms near Bywater, and they were delayed for almost another hour whilst tending to their fevered charge.

In the end, it was shortly before midnight when they finally dismounted outside Bag End. The homely Smial was ablaze with light, and the round green door crashed opened before they could announce themselves. Rose Gamgee rushed out with her eldest daughter in tow; together they gasped at the sweating form of their loved one.

“Sam!“ cried his wife in shock, clutching Elanor to her. “What happened?”

Although informed of the danger he may be in earlier that day, she was not prepared to find him returned to her in quite so grave a fashion.

“Let us see him settled first my Lady. We may speak of what has passed thereafter,” said Elrohir, as they entered the Smial. “I trust you have seen to our request that the younger children be despatched elsewhere for the moment?”

“Yes, I’ve had all the little ’uns taken to stay with relatives, only Elanor remains,” explained the hobbit lady, her voice fraught with worry. “She’s the oldest and better able to understand and be of some help, although I don’t much like her seeing her Sam-dad like this.”

“But I want to help, Mum,” insisted the lass, fearful that she may yet be sent away.

“I know, me dear.“ Her mother grasped Sam’s hand and tipped her head up at Elrohir. “If he needs us like you said he might, it’s best at least one of the children is here.”

“You are indeed correct, my Lady,” affirmed the elf. Elrohir did not want the younger children to fear their father if he should start calling out in his fever again. Neither did he wish for Elanor to witness it, in all honesty, but Rose had been visibly shaken by their earlier revelations and could not have been left alone while awaiting their return.

Elanor sagged in relief, then rushed off to obey Elladan's request that she prepare a bed for Merry and Pippin, who were busy stabling the horses.

Rose watched her husband‘s flushed face in concern. “Come right this way, my Lords,” she said, turning abruptly to lead them down a round wooden hallway.

The bedroom was at the far left of the Smial, and they had to bend slightly in order to follow in her wake. Soon they entered a spacious chamber overlooking the fragrant gardens. A window seat gave a fine view of Sam’s handiwork outside; highly polished wardrobes stood at the wall facing the large bed, and a sweetly carved dressing table adorned a wall opposite the window. Every free space in the room was adorned with tokens from the children to their parents; carved wooden animals, drawings of flowers, sticky bits of string, and other gifts that such little ones manage.

“We must try to bring his fever down,” said Elrohir, depositing Sam gently on the bed. Both elves set their travelling cloaks aside, that they may move more freely.

Plucking her husband's hand from the bedsheets, Rose cradled it tenderly. “Oh, Sam! What’s happening to you, my love?”

Elrohir began opening the window to the garden, letting the scent of Sam’s beloved flowers and plants enter the room with the rush of fresh air, while Elladan explained the situation to Rose.

“Mistress Rose, your husband is ill with fever and caught in battle with the memory of the One Ring.” He placed a hand on her arm as her hands flew to her face in horror.

“Do not be alarmed, my Lady. My brother and I shall do all we can for him. Samwise is strong and he will win this fight. But he will need the support of us all to do so.”

She nodded, wiping tears from her cheeks. “I’ll see about getting some water boiled then, in that case. No doubt my Sam will be needing some for that athelas he’s so fond of. And if you or your brother need anything else you must let me know, sir.”

Elladan looked to his brother, who was busy stripping Sam of his sweat soaked garments, before responding. “We shall need plenty of water - both hot and cold. Merry and Pippin shall be arrive once they have settled the steeds, so have them carry any heavy pots through to us. Also, a fresh garment is required once we have cooled him down.”

Rose nodded in compliance and sought a clean nightshirt for her husband, handing it to Elladan before she left for the kitchen. Mere moments later, Merry and Pippin arrived, and they heard her dutifully requesting their assistance.

Elladan moved to the bed where Elrohir was watching over the stricken hobbit. Sam had not stirred since the episode in Bywater, but neither did his slumber seem peaceful. His breaths were fast and shallow; his bandage was also askew after the long ride, which they set about removing. The angry wounds on his scalp and forehead were soon redressed with their own supplies.

Merry came into the room with a basin of cold water and Elrohir quickly bathed the gardener, pulling the fresh nightshirt over his head when done. Entering shortly thereafter with hot water was Pippin, followed by Rose, who went directly to her husband to claim his hand once more. She murmured soft words in his ears.

“How is he?” asked Pippin of Elladan, having beckoned him over.

“He remains too warm for our comfort. If we cannot revive him soon the Ring will tighten its grasp upon him in this weakened state and make our efforts that much more difficult,” replied the elf quietly, wishing to avoid alarming Rose any further.

“Well that’s not good,” said Merry frowning. “We brought him all the way here so that his own home and family could help to bring him back to us!”

“And indeed they shall, my dear hobbit.” Elladan admonished him quickly, and Merry had the grace to blush. “But with each passing hour Sam is under greater assault from the Ring. Had we remained in Frogmorton all this time he may have been lost to us before dawn. We have won ourselves valuable time with this journey, and we have armed ourselves with the weapons for his rescue.”

He indicated Rose, who was seated at the top of the bed resting her head on her husband‘s shoulder, and young Elanor, who had just came in from preparing the guest room.

Merry apologised for his hasty remark and Pippin patted his back in sympathy. “It’s all right Mer. It’s been a long day for you and you’re tired. Why don’t you lie down for a bit? Elanor’s made up the beds, and you need to rest soon or you‘ll drop.”

“No, I want to be here for Sam,” Merry answered stubbornly.

Elladan’s countenance softened at his loyalty. “Master Brandybuck, you have not slept for many hours. I must insist that you take some rest, if only for a while. Your services will be required here later and you must be refreshed for the task ahead.”

“I’ll make sure that he rests, Mr Elladan,” came the sweet voice of Sam's daughter. Grabbing his hand in her little one, she led Merry out and his shoulders slumped in defeat. Pippin moved to the window seat while Elladan prepared fresh athelas water.

The gentle sound of Rose's whispered endearments filled the silence as continued her vigil by silent husband.

“Good, my Lady. He needs to hear your voice, to know that you are near him,” Elrohir remarked, observing her efforts. “He may listen to you, if not to us.”

She looked up at him with questioning eyes, and the graceful elf explained that Sam had not responded well to them earlier.

“Then I’ll talk for all the Shire if there’s a chance it’ll help him,” she declared, regarding him with determination. He saw her eyes soften slightly. “You and your brother have both come all this way to help my Sam when I myself had no idea it was so bad. I’ve known for a while now that he's been sleeping poorly, slipping out at night to use the athelas water.”

Her cheeks glistened again with tears as she berated herself. “Why didn’t I make him talk to me? I should have forced him to see sense and let me know what was troubling him so! But that Gamgee pride wouldn‘t let him open up to me!”

Elrohir could not bear to see her so upset. “Nay, Lady! You could not have guessed at the true reason for his condition. He did not know it himself. You must not blame yourself now: be strong for him. He will need the strength of us all before this night is out, if we are to wrestle him from the Ring’s grasp.”

He was relieved when she composed herself enough to make an effort at controlling her tears.

“Still,” she told him, “You’ve both come so far and are doing so much. That makes you as good as family in my eyes, and my family calls me Rose. Just Rose.”

Elrohir smiled at her. One moment she had been in need of his reassurance and the next she was making both brothers members of her extended family, and using her motherly way to chastise them for calling her Lady.

“You honour us both with your words gracious Mistress. 'Rose' it shall be.”

Elladan moved to the other side of the bed, and together they watched for a few moments as the Ring-bearer was comforted by his wife.

“I believe this would be a prudent moment to try and reach into his mind," said Elrohir, "for he is now home and soothed by his beloved one.”

Frowning, his twin glanced across at him with questioning eyes. “So soon? We have just arrived. Do not forget that we have spent several hours with him and he does not recognise us as friends yet. It may take some time before he feels the effects of even her presence.”

At this moment Elanor returned, having successfully dealt with her Buckland uncle. Concern was etched on her lovely face as she studied her Sam-dad's flushed features. She glanced at Elrohir for reassurance that he would be well again.

“Fear not, little maid. We will see to it that your father recovers,” he said in response to her unasked question.

Hannon le, good sirs. I know you’ll help him because he tells us such lovely tales of your folk.” Her golden head bent over her father as she dropped a kiss on his cheek. “You have to wake up soon Sam-dad. We need you, and Uncle Pippin’s Sindarin isn’t nearly as good as yours. How can I speak to our fine guests if you don’t help me?”

Elladan’s doubts were allayed when he witnessed the obvious affection she held for her father. This was how they would bring Samwise back to them. These acts of love spoke louder than any evil could. Catching his brother's eye, he nodded in agreement before leaving to prepare the athelas water. Elrohir addressed his hostess once again.

“I shall attempt to reach Samwise, Rose. You must not be alarmed if he becomes agitated, for he may fight me in his fever. The Ring tries to deceive him as to our true intentions towards him, but we must try to find a way through its veil of lies as soon as possible.”

He threw a pointed look at her daughter, a silent request to remove her in case this attempt should scare the young lass. She bobbed her head in understanding and sent a protesting Elanor from the room with the task of taking Merry a light supper. Bending over slightly, Elrohir placed his hands on Sam’s forehead and closed his eyes in concentration.

At first, he thought he had met with more success than his initial attempt in the Floating Log. The soothing words of Sam's wife seemed to have made him slightly more receptive. But he soon started to moan and fidget, pulling his arm from her grip and using both to try and push Elrohir away. Pippin hovered anxiously by the bed, ready to grab Rose if his struggles became more frantic.

At the sound of Sam’s movements, Elladan returned carrying the bowl of fragrant athelas water. He placed it on the bedside table where its vapours might ease their patient, yet its soothing effect was not in evidence while Elrohir continued his ministrations.

Indeed, Sam became so agitated by the prolonged invasion that he began to buck and thrash wildly, and Pippin eventually did have to pull Rose away. The gardener’s arms and legs swung in all directions in his effort to throw the interloper off him. It was all Elladan could do to restrain his frantic movements.

“Liars, Liars!" yelled Sam. "I know you hate me! Let me go.”

“Nay, mellon nin. We are your friends!” cried Elladan. Sam was oblivious.

“I know you hate me ... I‘m not a traitor!' he screamed, struggling furiously. Elrohir’s, whose eyes were clenched in concentration, suddenly paled.

The scene was too much for Rose: sobbing, she tried to rush to her beloved's aid, only to be refrained once more by Pippin.

But Elrohir was just as desperate to help him, and he did not desist in his efforts to reach Sam, who continued to yell out, frantic for peace from his apparent tormentor.

“You tricked me ... you’re punishing me! I don’t know what you want ... I did what I could!” The little gardener wept with frustration.

Finally, Elrohir opened his eyes and called for pure athelas leaves. Pippin complied, allowing Rose to finally break free and rush to the bedside. She was anxious to soothe Sam with her presence, but - for her own safety - Elladan made her wait until he was significantly calmer. Thus, she had little choice but to stand by helplessly and watch. Luckily, Pippin was quick with the athelas leaves: Elrohir snatched them up, crushed them in his hand and breathed on them. Immediately the elves began to chant soothing Elvish words, and Elrohir shoved the broken leaves to Sam’s flaring nostrils.

The heady scent was taken directly to his lungs and, slowly, his struggles weakened until he finally collapsed on the bed in a soaking mass of sweat. Erratic breathing steadied, but Sam's face remained flushed from both effort and fever.

All motion in the room stilled as those around the bed recovered their equilibrium. Rose was permitted to be at her husband’s side once more, and as she rushed to comfort him, Pippin joined the Elven lords, who had withdrawn from the bed to discuss what had just happened.

“What did you see, muindor nin?” asked Elladan in grave concern.

Elrohir straightened hair that had fallen about his face during his battle to save Sam. “I saw a dark place. I felt the heat of a mountain.” He looked at his brother in disbelief. “I heard the voice of the Ring itself!

Two pairs of eyes widened in alarm.

“Alas! when I called out to the Ring-bearer, he turned from me. He resists. He does not trust his own judgement and flees when help is offered. He would not listen to me!”

Ai! This is ill news indeed,” declared Elladan.

Taking a few deep breaths to compose his rattled nerves, Elrohir then addressed his companions in a more sedate tone. “Do not lose faith, gwanunig nin. Samwise may not wish to hear me yet, but he also has no desire to listen to the Ring. As long as we hold fast to that, then we may hold fast to our hopes of saving him. The Ring is desperate to win its prize, and infuriated by Sam's continued struggles. It is unable to gain a full hold of his mind for Sam is proving a more difficult adversary than it had first believed.“

“And so it tries to shake his faith in us, to hamper our efforts to assist him and give it more time to claim victory,” finished Elladan, whose face tightened with anger.

“Indeed,” confirmed his twin. 

Pippin was very disturbed at this unwelcome information. “Let it try then,” he declared defiantly. “There’s not a hobbit in the Shire more stubborn than Samwise Gamgee, and none as loyal either, except maybe Merry. Thank goodness Elanor took him something to eat and wasn't here to see her Sam-dad like this.”

Nodding in agreement, Elrohir gave instructions that Sam be allowed to rest - and conserve his energy - before they attempted to reach him again.

“This will give Merry time to rest as well, for he surely has not been able to do so during such commotion. When all are fit to be here, we must brace ourselves for the task to come; for Sauron’s instrument will not release its claim so easily and we will all be in need of our strength to fight it!”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

                                          

Hannon le - Thank you

Mellon nin - My friend

Muindor nin - My brother

Ai! - Eek! (No joke…)

Gwanunig nin - My twin

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc. I have written this story for my own enjoyment.

Credit: www.Tuckborough.net and also www.realelvish.net.

Note: This chapter updated on 11/07/2012.

Concerning Sam

Chapter 11

Bag End, 1435 Shire Reckoning

Two hours passed, giving Sam time to recover and allowing Merry some much needed rest before joining them. The sons of Elrond were able to reflect on what had occurred earlier, and complete their strategy to free the Ringbearer based on the experience. But the time was now upon them to cease planning and begin their final assault on the memory-Ring.

Taking their positions, one at each side of the bed, they nodded to their companions, a signal that the trial was about to commence. Standing nearest the window, looking deceptively small and delicate, were Rose and Elanor, who returned Elladan's nod firmly: each was determined to act when instructed, for they wanted their husband and father returned to them. Merry and Pippin, standing in front of the bed, were no less nervous. But they had each faced true evil before, and neither would be cowed by a mere imprint when one who was dear to them was under such threat.

Elrohir addressed the four Hobbits. “Elladan and I shall now begin our descent into Samwise’ mind. He may become distressed by this, as he did earlier, but you must not take any action to intervene on his behalf at this time, regardless of how disturbing you find his struggles. Merry, I would have you and your cousin restrain him should it become necessary, but do no more than that.”

Both Hobbit Knights confirmed their readiness to carry out his request. Rose gripped her daughter's hand in comfort, for Elanor had yet to see her father's wild struggles, though the lass was prepared to stand by him no matter what happened.

“We should have more success with this attempt as there will be two of us participating," continued Elrohir. "Once we have reached Sam, we must use all our concentration to make him heed us. This may take some time, so you must all be patient; the memory-Ring will do all in its power to hold him fast. If we can convince him that we mean him no harm - that it is attempting to deceive him as to our true intent - this may give him hope.”

Four hobbit heads bobbed in understanding. Elladan spoke next. 

“As soon as he shows any indication of taking this first step towards liberation, the Ring may become more desperate in its attempts to belay him: this is when your services will be of greatest import. I will ask you all to begin talking to him of joyful things; memories of warmth, shared experiences, his children - anything which may help him on his path back to us. Sam will not hear your words, neither will he see you - but he will feel your love, and this will draw him away from its grasp and back to those who care for him.”

“Are you sure this will work?” asked Rose anxiously.

“Do not fear Mistress Rose. The memory-Ring may be powerful at present, but it is still only one, and it is still but a memory. We, however, are many and real." Elrohir assured her. "It cannot sustain its assault indefinitely against such a united front.”

The hobbit wife, reassured by his words, fell silent again, allowing the elves to commence with their task. Two graceful figures then bent over Sam, placed their hands on his head, and closed their eyes in concentration.

Thus began the fellowship of friends and loved ones the desperate Quest: the fight for Sam was underway!

*~*~*~*                

Sam was hiding from the One Ring again; he could feel it searching for him. Why would it not leave him alone! He was fatigued by their many confrontations and wounded by its hateful words. If only he could find a little time to recover properly! Ready himself for escape - or at least for the next round. But finding a place to retreat to was becoming more difficult with each encounter.

To make matters worse, he was being further tormented by a new threat. An Elf had been here earlier, making demands of him, trying to confuse him with kindness and fervent entreaties to join him.

What was going on?

Sam knew he was already being punished by the Firstborn for his failure to save Frodo, he understood that now. They had inflicted him with a Sea-longing he could never hope to fulfil. So why torture him further? It served no purpose, surely?

Was his mind not his own anymore? Should he expect anyone with the ability to enter it to pop up at will? Did he not even deserve the right to his own thoughts?

Leave me alone, he thought. I won’t bother you none if you don’t bother me.

And now the Elf was coming again, Sam could feel the Light from his presence. But wait, there were two of them this time! Could he fend them both off? One had been bad enough while trying to simultaneously keep the Ring, but two? This was becoming more and more impossible!

“Go away!” he yelled angrily. “I’ll not listen to your lies, so you might as well just turn around and leave me alone!”

He tried to block their advance, shouting at them to leave, accusing them of trespassing where they weren’t wanted, attempting to push them away through sheer force of will, but to no avail. Their combined Light was too strong; it invaded his refuge and left him open to their attentions. They were here and he could do nothing about it except try to ignore them.

But their strong presence would undoubtedly attract the Ring, and then he would face an assault on two fronts! Sam wanted to scream in anger at the unfairness of it. Was this the reward for his failures? He didn’t think he could stand it!

Sure enough, the Ring followed swiftly in the wake of the elves and Sam cowered further in his once dark place in a futile attempt to evade it.

"Who are you? How dare you enter this place! Remove yourselves at once, favoured spawn of the Valar!"

The little gardener almost wished It luck - if the Ring could get rid of them, he’d only have to concern himself with trying to get rid of the Ring.

“Begone, foul Instrument!” one of them cried. As before, the silvery voice - though raised in challenge - struck him as vaguely familiar, though he hadn't identified it yet and didn't really care enough to try. It was the voice of an Elf, wasn't it? And Elves scorned him, he realised this now. That was all he needed to know.

But hide as he may, he could not prevent himself from hearing the heated argument between his foes.

"What business have your kind here?" the Ring demanded.

“Our business is none of yours. Leave this place and this gentle Hobbit.”

"Gentle Hobbit?" It laughed in disbelief. "You are surely not referring to the halfwit who has the impudence to defy me? He will be mine and you cannot prevent this!"

These words made Sam’s jaw clench in anger. He may have failed once before, but he had never belonged to a bit of gold, and he never would! He’d die first!

“Silence, vile trinket! Your lies are not welcomed by us.”

"Lies? I do not lie ... is that not so Master Halfwit?" It was addressing him directly now: it knew where he was! No use in hiding anymore.

"You know the truth of my words even if they do not."

“Leave me alone!” cried Sam. He did not want witnesses to his shame.

“Samwise, it is I, Elrohir of Imladris. You must not listen to the Ring. It will deceive you.”

Elrohir of Imladris? The Lady Arwen’s brother! The other must be his twin. Why they had come he didn't know. He’d hardly ever spoken with them during his time in Rivendell, and had been stuck in the real Mordor with Frodo while they were fighting at Strider’s side.

He could feel the Ring’s pleasure at this revelation and wished it couldn’t read his thoughts.

"Indeed, Master Halfwit. Why are they here and not your upstart King? It is because Isildur’s heir does not wish to be - but neither can he ignore your distress. What would his people do if they knew he had left one of their precious Saviours to wallow in misery? They would turn on him! No. He must make it look like he cares in order to prevent an uprising! So he sends his Elven slaves to do what he himself finds distasteful!"

“Untruths and deceptions! It lies to you Sam, do not pay heed to its words!” declared the second Elf, speaking for the first time.

"I speak only the truth Halfling. If you had been the Baggins whelp, Gondor’s Usurper would have arrived long ago. But you have deprived him of the opportunity to ever see his beloved Frodo again! You are the lesser half of the remaining whole, all who knew your Master know that!"

Sam covered his ears at the Ring's diatribe. He didn’t want to believe what it said, even if he could see some reason in its argument.

Of course Mr Strider would have come for Frodo. That was as it should be! Frodo was the Master, he was the servant. Frodo was special, he drew people to him and commanded loyalty without ever asking for it. It wouldn’t be right to expect a great king of Men to come all the way to the Shire just to hold a gardener‘s hand when he was feeling a bit under the weather. He would not listen to the Ring!

But then he recalled the visions it had already shown him, and knew it had been at least partially right. Hadn't it? He rubbed his aching head in confusion.

“Samwise, Aragorn would never desert you,” insisted Elrohir.

"Then I ask again: Where is he?"

Sam didn't want to listen any more, not to any of them. They were all trying to confuse him! He was so hot! His head hurt, and they were too loud. “Just leave me alone, all of you!” he rasped.

“Nay, Panthael! We will not leave you to this fate. You are loved in your own right. Your family needs you to return to them. Your friends are diminished without you. You must have faith in our words,mellon nin.”

"Friend, you call him! He knows he is not your friend and that you are not his," gloated the Ring.

“What mean you by this?”

It refused to answer.

“Samwise? What falsehoods has it spoken? You must know we are all your friends - how can you doubt this?” asked one of the Elves.

At first, Sam ignored him, fervently wishing everyone would just leave him be; but they persisted until he was left with no choice but to respond. “It told me things I didn’t realise before. It told me I failed Mr Frodo ‘cos I didn’t stop him from falling to it, that it’s my fault he’s gone. It told me that my friends think I betrayed them by not bringin’ him back whole!”

Tears fell as the loss of Frodo struck anew, at the pain he had caused everyone because of this, and at having to admit his faults to people he‘d once thought he could trust - who might now mock him. “It says lots of things and I don’t want to admit the truth of any of them, but it makes a sort of sense.”

"Of course I do," sneered the Ring.

The elven brethren were horrified at by both these revelations and the smug crowing of the memory-Ring.

“It speaks nonsense, Sam! It seeks only to cloud your mind and turn you from us,” the Elven intruder - Elrohir perhaps? - said. “You did more for Frodo than anyone would have believed possible. He survived the Quest and its aftermath, and now has solace from his tribulations. Frodo is dearly missed, but all know that he lives and finds comfort because of you!”

Elrohir drew closer, much to the anger of the Ring. He knelt before Sam and the hobbit finally saw his face. Clear grey eyes regarded him in earnest; the gentle voice of the graceful being fell on his ears. “It seeks to bewilder you, mellon nin. The Ring desires this one victory because you helped to thwart its Master, and now it has no other realm left to it but the kingdom of your mind. No one carries it without consequence, you know this. You saw yourself how it affected Frodo. Do not let it have its vengeance on you.”

Sam looked on the fair face of the Elf, heard the plea in his voice and struggled with his own confusion. He had seen what it did to Frodo, but hadn't that had been partly his fault because he didn’t stop it?

The Ring was enraged. "They entreat you to follow them, use pretty words and name you ‘friend’ , but do they really mean them? No! They scrape at your feet because they have been ordered to by their betters. But they hate it!"

Elrohir's gaze did not waver from Sam’s brown eyes, and now Elladan joined them both, kneeling so that the former Ring-bearer could see the honesty on his countenance as well.

But their Enemy would not give up. It now focussed its attention on the two interlopers who were attempting to steal its prize.

"Coddlers of trees! You are too forgiving of such a pathetic creature! Have not his actions ensured your fickle sister's eternal desertion? This should anger you! And his victory at my Master’s expense has also made it imperative for the Elves to leave Middle Earth: you cannot remain here now with the Elven Rings gone as well. You were too reliant on their powers and are now helpless without them. When you leave, the lands your kind fought and died for over many Ages will dwindle and decay; your hard labours all for naught!"

At these words, Elrohir's eyes hardened visibly, and his fists clenched. Alarmed, Sam drew back, horrified that he may have anything to do with the Lady Arwen‘s fate. It was Elladan, laying a hand on his brother’s shoulder, that calmed him.

“Peace,gwanunig nin, he said softly. Elladan then reached out to the hobbit once more. “Samwise, the Elves would have left Middle Earth regardless of the outcome of the War. Yes, many of us leave now because our power dwindles, and many more will leave in the years to come. But this would also have been true if Sauron had been victorious. The only difference in that event would be that we would not have lingered as long to bid those we love farewell.”

"That is because Elves are cowards! You speak of loved ones, yet you would abandon them to their fate in their hour of need? I scorn your false sentiments!"

Sam yelped in fright as Elrohir rose swiftly, fury in his face, and turned on the Ring. “Desist with your poison, foul thing! You know not of what you speak!”

It gurgled with laughter, forcing Elladan to rise and refrain his brother from any further outburst. “Your anger fuels its strength, Elrohir. You must remain calm if we are to succeed in our Quest.”

They dropped to eye level once more, and Sam watched Elrohir warily as Elladan spoke.

“Do not be swayed by its words, Samwise. Our kindred would not have abandoned Middle Earth so dishonourably. If Sauron had been victorious Elvenkind would have been hunted for wicked purposes that are best spoken of no further: suffice to say that our capture may have brought unspeakable torments to all other peoples. We would not have left you for anything less.”

“My brother speaks truly, mellon nin,” added Elrohir, who, Sam was relieved to see, had regained his composure. “As for our sister: Arwen made her Choice long before you were born. It is difficult for us knowing that she will one day accept the Gift of Men, but long has she awaited the fulfilment of her heart’s desire - accepting her place at Aragorn’s side as his wife and Queen. Your part in Sauron’s downfall helped to make her happiness possible, and we rejoice in that, for she would have faded - even in Valinor itself - if she were parted from him. That we could not have borne.”

There was such depth of passion in Elrohir's voice as he spoke of his sister, such love and affection, that Sam gazed at him in wonder. The fair brothers looked on him without scorn or hate, he could see that now, and his mind grappled with this new clarity.

They keep call me 'mellon nin'. They wouldn’t do that if I were such a bother to them, surely? And if they’re telling the truth, then maybe I was wrong about everything else!

Hope flickered anew in his heart, and a fair golden light began to shimmer into existence around him.

Which incensed his true Enemy.

"You are a fool if you believe them, stunted one! They lie to your very face and you place your faith in them? Where are your so-called loved ones? The family you treat with so much disdain during the wistful preoccupations of your absent friend? Where are his kin to bless you with their undeserved forgiveness? What of your petty ruler, and the rest of your ragtag Fellowship? They are the ones whose presence should matter to you - not these remnant children of a disappearing race!"

At the memory of the hurt Sam had seen on his Rosie’s face when his other self had ignored her approach in Bag End's garden, his newborn hope flickered. What right did he have to redemption when he treated his kin in such a fashion? He didn’t deserve their love or forgiveness. He hung his aching head in despair.

Despair which increased when Elladan rose and departed without a word. The Ring, flushed with its seeming success, began to mock the remaining elven twin.

"You see? Already these feeble ones abandon you! They know the truth when it falls on their pointed ears!"

Elrohir gently grasped his chin and forced his head up. “Do not lose hope, Harthad Uluithiad. All is not as it seems.”

"It seems," hissed their Enemy, "that the Elves hold true to their nature and flee in the face of defeat!"

But Elrohir would not make the mistake of letting it goad him into foolish actions again. Ignored it, he concentrated instead on Sam’s troubled face; the Hobbit was rubbing his patchy scalp as if it pained him.

"Or has your second self gone in search of Isildur’s heir? We may wait a long time for his return in that case!"

Distracted, Elrohir turned his attention temporarily from Sam. “You seem to take a particular interest in the absence of Elessar. Why is that?”

Momentarily thrown by the question, the Ring did not immediately respond. Then:

"I merely wish to impress upon this worthless one the futility of waiting for his King’s assistance! Who are you to question me thus, faint-hearted lover of trees?"

“His King is my brother and I shall therefore question you if I wish. It is my right as his kin. Why do you keep referring to Aragorn?”

"I have already told you why, vermin of Imladris! Do not test my patience any further or I will make you rue your impertinence."

“I do not believe that is your true reason. I believe you are angered that Aragorn is not here because you wish him to watch your victory over his beloved friend. You wish to see him suffer too!”

Sam was stilled by this. Could it be? It certainly made sense; Strider laboured to save both Frodo and himself on their return from the Sammath Naur, hadn't. He wrote to Sam often - even made him a Counsellor of the North Kingdom last year! He wouldn’t have done that if he secretly hated him. And the Ring had been calling old Strider some nasty names, so it must be angry at him too. Angry that he rules what it thinks rightfully belongs to its Master.

"Lies! I do not deny that I despise the one you claim as brother; yet I speak of him only to show the halfwit what a fool he is to place his faith in that particular mortal. After all, does not the Usurper's refusal to rush to aid of his so-called ‘friend’ speaks volumes, witless one?"

“Don’t you speak to him like that,” came the quiet but firm voice of the Mayor of Michel Delving. “I won’t be having it no more!”

Surprised at the intercession on his behalf, Elrohir returned his attention to Sam, and found him wearing a look of silent determination.

This was more like it!

The Ring, too, faltered in surprise.

"What did you say to me, Master Halfwit? I grow tired of your continued disrespect."

“My Gaffer always said respect had to be earned, it’s not to be handed out freely like a cup of tea. You haven’t earned my respect, so if my lack of it upsets you then that gladdens my heart!”

The Elven Lord of Rivendell wanted to sing with joy. Sam’s innate Hobbit sense had finally taken a stance in their battle, and the cheeky gardener had just given one of the most feared items in creation a sound telling-off! It could not be long now before the battle was won!

This hope was reinforced with the return of his brother, throwing the Ring  into further turmoil.

“It is done, muindor nin, whispered Elladan.

"What is the meaning of this, Elf spawn? How dare you show your face here again!"

Sam had missed Elladan's words as the Ring raged at them; he had to put his hands over his ears when it boomed in affront at Elladan‘s reappearance. But the brothers paid it no heed, and he admired their fortitude. Wish I could shut it off so easily, he thought, wincing in pain as its voice spiralled higher still.

Cool hands were laid on his forehead then, and a soothing sensation invaded him, easing the hurts of his head.

“Open your mind, Sam,” Elladan told him with a gentle smile. “Feel the presence of those who love you.”

He didn’t know what Elladan meant. Open his mind? It seemed his mind was already open to anyone who wanted to drop in for a visit; how could he open it anymore? Not that he saw anyone else here anyway, except those already present.

But suddenly he was aware of something. He couldn’t see it or hear it, but he felt … something. It approached him like a great wave and enveloped him completely, making him gasp at its intensity.

And so he finally felt the presence of those who loved him. He saw the love on his Rosie’s face when they married; heard Merry and Pippin’s laughter at his refusal to dress like a ‘dandy-Hobbit’ at an official Mayoral appearance last year; felt Elanor’s little head resting on his strong shoulder when she lost a milk tooth after falling head first on the garden path, and he had promised to save it for a blessing by the Elves. So much friendship, so much love washed over him that he thought he must burst from the joy of it!

His golden glow exploded further from him, entwining with the silver ones of the Elves -of his friends.

He was not hated or despised - he was loved! His family had come for him, Merry and Pippin were here, he could feel them. His hope was replenished and the Ring could hurt him no more!

Elladan and Elrohir rose, each reaching for one of his hands, which he gave gladly. “Let us leave this barren place, Samwise the Stout-hearted. It is not for the likes of you. Your family awaits us and we must not disappoint them!”

Sam’s face glowed with relief and joy. He had found his escape, he was finally going home!

It was the final straw for their common foe: the Ring was undone by the onslaught of happiness, its futile screams at the trio slowly died as it began to fade and they to return to the bedroom of Bag End.

But not before Sam and the Elven Lords heard its parting shot.

"You may have won this battle Master Halfwit, but the War between us is not over. I will always be here. Do not forget…"

*~*~*~*

Sam slowly opened his eyes, and thought his blurry vision was deceiving him upon finding himself in his own bed in Bag End.

What happened? Hadn’t he just went to sleep in Frogmorton? How did he get here?

He tried to move his head, but found it held in place by several large hands. Very large hands.

Confusion reigned. What in all the Shire was going on? Those weren’t his Rosie hands and no mistake!

He blinked a few times, trying to focus his vision so he could at least look up properly and see who his gaolers were, when a distinctly Elvish voice said: “Mae Govannen, Samwise Gamgee. Welcome back.”

His head was duly released, and he saw to his amazement two identical dark heads bending over him. The light of the stars was in their eyes, the warmth of the sun on their smiling lips. He felt an inexplicable kinship with them that he couldn’t quite understand.

Wait a minute, wasn’t I just dreaming about Elves? he asked himself. Mr Frodo would laugh and tell him that were nothing new - if he were here!

Suddenly, the elves moved back as a pack of anxious hobbits descended on him.

“Sam, me dear!” came the anxious voice of his wife; her pretty face shone with relief.

“Sam-dad! You’re back,” was the yell from his golden-haired eldest child, looking as lovely as the flower she’d been named after.

“Samwise Gamgee!” came the stern voice of ... Merry? “Don’t you ever do that to me again! You had me worried half to death! I must have written to half of ...”

But Sam never found out who he’d written to because a green-eyed Thain came bouncing into view, shoving his cousin out of the way. “Oh, don’t mind him, Sam. He just hates it when someone else is the centre of attention!” Pippin’s cheeky remark earned him a glare from the Master of Buckland.

Weak and groggy, he didn't feel up to much of a conversation with so many people. “Water,” he croaked, and Elanor complied with delight, handing the glass to her mother who helped him as he sipped it greedily.

“Not too much at once, Master Gamgee.” He rolled his head slightly to the left to find the smiling elves. “We do not want all our hard work undone by you choking on your first sustenance.”

Sam looked at him rather dubiously. “This isn’t sustenance,” he managed to say. “A nice bowl of mushroom soup and some of Rosie’s fresh baked bread - that’s sustenance.”

“See Merry, he’s thinking of his stomach less than a minute after waking up! He‘s back to his old Hobbit self already!” cried Pippin, laughing with glee.

The others all joined in with his merriment and Sam leaned back, letting them have their moment. He wasn’t sure what was going on, or why he was so drained, but he was relieved to see his kin and his friends. He had the feeling it had been some time since he had seen them last and, as his eyes closed in peaceful slumber, he knew he had some questions to ask when he was fit for the challenge of doing so.

                                                                         XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

 

Mellon nin - My friend

Muindor nin - My Brother

Gwanunig nin - My twin

Harthad Uluithiad - Hope Unquenchable

Mae govannen - Well Met

Author's Note: Two more chapters to go. Some loose ends to tie up, some final issues unresolved. Until tomorrow ….

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc. I have written this story for my own enjoyment.

Credit: www.Tuckborough.net and also www.realelvish.net.

Note: This chapter mercifully updated on 11/07/2012.

Concerning Sam

Chapter 12

Bag End, 1435 Shire Reckoning

Sam awoke late the following morning to find that.the sun was already high in the sky. From the open window he could hear the noise of Bagshot Row’s other inhabitants as they went about their daily lives. He winced as he stretched, unable to remember the last time he’d had such a peaceful slumber.

This is how it should be, he thought. Nothing like a good night’s rest, except waking up next to Rosie.

Come to think of it, where was his Rosie?

He looked around the room, searching for his wife, but instead found a tall, dark-haired, grey-eyed Elf sitting in a snug hobbit chair and gazing at him with a soft smile on his face.

“Good morning, Master Gamgee,” said the graceful Elf in greeting.

Somewhat thrown by the unexpected visitor, it was a few seconds before he recalled the elf had been there earlier, watching over him when he first awoke.

He sat up hurriedly, which made his head spin and drew the concerned elf toward the bed.

“Well I never!” declared the bemused gardener, as his companion helped him to sit upright. “A Rivendell Lord in me own bedroom.”

The elf laughed, a pleasant tinkling sound, before returning to in his tiny chair.

Sam blushed. “Forgive me, my Lord. I’m just not used to waking up in such grand company, except that of my Rose of course.” He blushed again, aware the indelicate remark may have caused his guest some discomfort.

But his elegant companion did not seem to be offended. “That your beloved Rose is the first face you see each day is as it should be, my Lord Hobbit.”

The ‘Lord Hobbit’ shook his head at the formality. “Seeing as you are here, in my bedroom, and me all dressed up in my nightclothes and such, you might as well call me Sam. None o’ this ‘Lord’ or ‘Master Gamgee’ business. Plain old ‘Sam’s’ good enough for me.”

Sam is certainly good enough for us all, perhaps too good. I am honoured that you grace me with such an intimate informality. Allow me to return the gesture and insist that you address me as Elladan.”

The curly-haired gardener mulled this over. “Well, I can try,” he finally announced. “But you’ll have to forgive me if I slip up now and then and call you Mr Elladan or something, as I’m not used to being so friendly-like with such grand folk.” He paused: there was something a little odd about that statement, wasn't there? Elladan’s raised eyebrow confirmed it.

“Oh no! I didn’t mean I wouldn’t want to be friendly with a great lord like yourself, I meant that I’m not used to my betters taking such an interest in what I myself call ’em.” He sighed. “It seems I’m running out of feet to stick in my mouth, we hobbits only have two you know,” he said shrugging in apology.

“Do not allow my brother to vex you so, mellon nin, he knows exactly what you mean,” announced Elrohir, who walked into the room and stopped at the edge of the bed. He wore an expression of stifled merriment. “He takes delight in teasing the unsuspecting and is therefore not your ‘better‘ - a fact your good friend Aragorn would attest to, Master Gamgee.”

Sam,” chorused the others, and all three laughed in unison.

“And Aragorn is hardly unsuspecting, muindor nin.”

“Very well, Sam.” Elrohir bowed at him slightly in acknowledgement and ignored his twin‘s attempt to correct him regarding their foster brother. “How are you feeling on this happy morning?”

“Not too bad all things considering, Mr Elrohir, sir. A bit weak and wobbly perhaps, but I’m sort of sitting down just now so that’s not much of a worry.”

Elrohir nodded in understanding. “It may take a few days for you to recover your strength, but I believe that you will mend in time, given the appropriate care. You will need to eat plenty of that good hobbit food my brother and I have partaken of this day, and drink plenty of fluids.” So saying, he poured a glass of deliciously cool water and passed it to Sam, watching carefully to be certain his orders were heeded.

“Thank you kindly, sir. That did some good!” said Sam, sighing with relief as the soothing liquid ran down his raw throat. “You haven’t seen my Rosie by any chance, have you?”

Elladan answered for his twin. “Mistress Rose has been at your side all night and most of the morning. As your fever has now broken and you were resting comfortably, we deemed it fitting for her to lay down awhile. My brother was only able to coax her away ten minutes ago to ensure she took uninterrupted rest of her own. It would not do for her to overexert herself in her condition.”

“That was the right thing to do then, thank you. I hate to be such a bother to folk and to her - especially when she’s carrying the little ’un.”

Elrohir took a seat by the bed and enfolded Sam's hand in his own. “You are not a bother to Rose or anyone else Sam, do not think such things. It was our pleasure to care for you when you needed it most and we should do so again, if it were necessary.”

“Indeed,” confirmed Elladan. “What are family and friends for but to render aid when it is needed by their loved ones? It would not have been possible for you to recover from this illness alone, and all who are here needed to be in order to allay their own fears and see you returned to health. You would do the same, would you not?”

Seeing the sense in his words, Sam nodded. “I wouldn‘t have been able to stay away I suppose. If one of mine had to go through that ...”

Shivering slightly, he regarded them with clear brown eyes. “Did it really happen? I mean -” Sam paused to collect his thoughts cautiously “- I remember going to bed at the Floating Log in Frogmorton, and then all I know is that I was stuck in Mordor and it was after me - the Ring, that is. It was saying such awful things, showing me awful things. I thought I was going mad!”

“Alas, mellon nin, but it did happen.” Regret was heavy on Elrohir's face. “We would not have wished you to experience such a thing, yet I am afraid it was beyond the power of all to prevent. Had we realised there was such a danger to you, we would have ensured that aid came to you long before now in order to limit its severity.”

“Now don’t you be blaming yourselves! I don’t see’s how anyone could have realised there was a chance of a memory trying to hurt me so. I didn’t and I should know better than most - what with havin’ had care of Mr Frodo after the Quest and all!”

“Perhaps. But watching a friend struggle through such trials, and recognising the symptoms in oneself, is not as easy as you may think.” Elrohir retained his grip on Sam's hand as he asked: “What do you remember of your time in that dreaded place?”

As unwilling as he was to recall anything, Sam found that he couldn’t stop the memories from flooding back to him in all their dark glory. He pressed his eyes tightly closed and swallowed thickly, his throat protesting at the action. However, the gentle squeeze of his hand reminded him that he must no longer suffer in solitude.

Taking a cleansing breath, he opened his eyes.

“When the dream started, I found myself outside the lair of the great spider at Cirith Ungol holding Frodo’s dead body. I heard some orcs and found us a hideaway afore they arrived; after that I knew I had to take the Ring, seeing as Mr Frodo was dead – leastways I thought he was. I put it on and slipped passed the Tower, crossed into the Black Lands. Next came nearly two weeks walking over the Gorgoroth, all the while mourning my poor dead Master. But it wasn’t two weeks, was it?”

The Elven brothers shook their heads.

“Funny how dreams work. It felt like two weeks. I remember what the Ring was saying all those days. I remember every hard rock on my foot, every filthy puddle I had to drink from, the heat off the mountain and the pain of loss …”

“Do not dwell on that now, Sam,” said Elladan firmly but kindly. “It is but a memory that never occurred.”

“You’re right; I shouldn’t dwell on what never was. Anyway, I was just a few days from the mountain itself, or so it seemed, and the Ring had been trying like mad to make me put it on, so‘s it could find its way back to its Master and all. I wouldn’t do it. But I was so tired and sore and thirsty. One day I just fell and couldn’t get back up and it ... it ...”

Elladan now joined him on the other side of the bed. “If this is too much for you, mellon nin, we may talk of it later.”

Shaking his head, Sam composed himself quickly. “No, it’s best I get this over with and lighten my mind. The sun’ll never shine through storm clouds, me old Gaffer used to say, and he knew a thing or two or my name‘s not Sam Gamgee! Though, some folks call me Gardner now, but you know what I mean.” His friends smiled before encouraged him to continue. Taking a deep breath, he did just that.

“Well, there I was trying to get the energy to pick myself up and make myself go on, when the Ring pops up again. But this time things’re different. Its not trying to make me put it on anymore - its trying to tell me that I as good as killed Frodo because I left him. Said he was found by orcs who tortured him to death. It showed me a vision of him in a right terrible state, all whipped and bleeding-like, and said that Mr Frodo died hating me for leaving him and stealing the Ring” It was a difficult memory, and Sam had to swipe away the tears before they ran down his face.

“At the time I didn’t realise I was dreaming: I believed what it said. It kept going on about how I betrayed Frodo. I was so upset! Then I cried out in Elvish and suddenly I saw things how they really happened - how Mr Frodo’d survived and came back to the Shire with me. But then I remembered that he’d had to leave the Shire or else he’d’ve died and I was upset again, thinking I’d failed him after all. Oh, I know now it's not true an' all, but after that the Ring just kept attacking me, saying as that everyone hated me and that I was no good; that Merry and Pippin thought I was trying to take Mr Frodo’s place and that everyone’d rather have him instead o’ me. An’ I wouldn’t blame them if they did! I’d rather he was here, too!”

Sam cried in earnest now, missing his hobbit friends' entry until they were almost upon him.

“Don’t say that!” exclaimed Merry, wounded. “You never hurt us. Why would you think such an awful thing? We’ve never thought it! You might not be Frodo, but he’s not you either. We'd be lost without you! We’re your friends aren’t we? We wouldn’t lie to you about that!”

Elladan tried to appease the agitated Master of Buckland. “Peace Merry! He does not speak of what he believes, only of the deceptions of the Ring.”

But Merry was not to be comforted and ploughed regardless. “You don’t really think that Sam, do you? You must know we love you as much as if you were our own dear cousin?” Big eyes beseeched the gardener imploringly.

Sam composed himself for the sake of his friends. He didn‘t want them to suffer any more than they already had, what with the fright he‘d given them recently.

“I’m sorry Merry. I didn’t mean to upset you. Of course I know you care - and if it’s half as much as I care about the two of you, then I’ll count myself blessed! Anyway, I couldn't ever leave my Rosie or the children.” This seemed to have a positive effect on the elder cousin, leaving Sam relieved that he’d managed to calm him somewhat.

His eyes found those of the Elves'. “I was alone with it for so long; I felt trapped and couldn’t find any way back to my family. I thought I would surely be there forever, trying to escape while it laughed at me.”

Pippin, who had been trying to calm Merry after his outburst, had to be soothed in turn by the Knight of Rohan. Sam continued.

“And then I wasn’t alone no more. You were there trying to talk to me, but I fought you. I’m sorry about that,” he apologised. “I didn’t know any better. Thought you were another cruel trick, see, for I’d seen so many already - false visions and such.”

Elrohir bade him to think no more of it. “The Ring was doing all in its power to deceive you because you would not succumb to it. You enraged it with your constant defiance and refusal to bow to its will.”

“Hah! I‘ve told you before that you were stubborn Sam! But you never believe me,” exclaimed Pippin.

Merry silenced his younger cousin. “Yes, Pip. You’re very clever. Now shut up and let them finish!”

“So,” resumed Elrohir, “It showed you false things in order to convince you that you had been abandoned by your friends. We knew this to be the case before we made the final attempt to retrieve you, and also that you may resist us because of this.”

“Well all I can say is that I’ve never been so happy to see two people in my life! At first it might not have seemed so,” he added sheepishly, "but you wouldn’t give up. You're are more stubborn than any Gamgee I’ve ever met!”

Pippin snorted in disbelief, then yelped as Merry promptly elbowed him in the stomach, but Sam ignored him.

“You didn‘t give me much choice but to believe you, and then when you came back Mr Elladan and brought that wonderful feeling with you ... I can‘t ever thank you both enough for what you‘ve done. All of you.”

Merry and Pippin puffed out their chests.

“It was our honour and our pleasure, Ring-bearer.” The elven brothers rose and bowed, making Sam blush yet again.

Not to be outdone, Merry added; “Well, it was nothing really. Got you away from the old in-laws, eh Pip?”

“Yes, thanks for that Sam! But maybe next time you could just invite me out for an ale instead of collapsing all over the place. I could’ve came up with a convincing excuse to leave the Great Smials instead of ripping up half the garden and leaving Diamond in such a panic! I am the Thain you know, I‘ve an image to preserve!”

Everyone laughed at the thought of Pippin tearing at his plants in a mad frenzy.

“Bet that’s the first time you’ve seen the garden this year,” said Merry knowingly.

“It is not! I’ll have you know I take strolls in it regularly to avoid … I mean to take a breath of fresh air.”

“To avoid whom? The in-laws? Have they really been that bad?” enquired Merry, sniggering at the Thain's rapidly flushing face.

“I believe Sam was expressing his thanks for our timely rescue,” said Pippin regally, turning from his cousin in affront. “It’s rude to interrupt someone when they’re trying to express their gratitude.”

Deciding it was probably best if he saved Pippin any further grief, Sam interceded. “Talking of gardens, Mr Elladan, I picked a lot of athelas to help me sleep better, but it didn’t seem to be working too well those last few weeks. In fact, it barely lasted me an hour or two in the end. Do you know why that was?”

“Tell me, Samwise Gamgee-sometimes-Gardner,” drawled Elladan, in a voice reminiscent of the father who’d chastised him as a naughty elfling. “How long exactly did you require such help?”

The gardener fidgeted uneasily with his bed sheets.

“Well, a few weeks perhaps.”

Elladan raised an eyebrow and Sam suddenly had a vision of Elrond berating Frodo for trying to get up out of bed too soon after his recovery in Rivendell. Elrohir wore a similar expression on his face, and even Merry and Pippin were watching him solemnly.

“Oh, all right then, a few months!”

“A few months! Samwise Gamgee, you foolish Hobbit! What on earth were you thinking to try to keep this from us all this time? Did you think we wouldn’t notice when you dropped at our feet in exhaustion? Do you think Rose and the children don’t deserve to know that their husband and father is poorly? You’re worse than a Baggins!” Merry paced the room, building up a fine head of steam and - Sam noted with some resentment - the others seemed to be happy to let him do so.

“All these misplaced notions of sparing others feelings!” He swung round, waving a finger at Sam in accusation. “Don’t you realise you make it worse for us when we find you in the state we did two days ago? Do you know what poor Rosie and Elanor-lass went through when we brought you in here last night, all fevered and kicking and screaming like some mad thing? To say nothing of the shock I got when I found you lying on the floor back at the inn? You didn‘t spare our feelings much then, let me tell you!”

Sam was flooded with shame as he realised just what effect his reluctance to talk had had on his family and friends. “I’m sorry Merry, Pippin. Forgive me, Mr Elladan, Mr Elrohir, sirs. I didn’t mean to cause you all such worry. It's just, it was difficult to talk about my dreams back then. I had no idea it would all turn out this way. I’m truly sorry!”

“Do not distress yourself. All is well now, mellon nin,” Elladan assured him, and Elrohir nodded in agreement. Pippin even managed to calm his raging cousin; Merry now looked rather contrite after his outburst. Elladan rose to offer him his place, which Merry gratefully accepted.

“All right then, you stubborn old Gamgee,” said the Brandybuck. “Just don’t do such a silly thing again. I know it’s hard to talk about things sometimes, we both do - don’t we Pip?”

Pippin’s head bobbed in agreement. “What Merry’s trying to say is that we’re always here for you. It doesn’t matter if you think we‘ll worry; that‘s our right as your friends. We wouldn’t not want to hear your troubles. It’s never a bother to listen to a friend in need. Or do you wish us away when we talk about our bad times?”

“Of course not!” screeched Sam, mortified at the idea of treating his friends in such a way.

“Well then, that’s no different to how we feel. So what makes you think you have the right to spare our feelings when we know you’d want to hear our problems?”

Merry seemed impressed by this argument. “Very eloquent Pip.”

“Thank you, Mer. I have my moments.”

Sam looked at them with a mixture of fondness and embarrassment at how he had treated them. “All right. I promise that from now on I’ll talk to you - and Rosie - about what’s bothering me before I ever let it get this far again.”

“Excellent news!” announced Elrohir, sounding rather like Gandalf. “I am pleased that matter is settled. Returning to your query regarding the athelas, it is possible that the duration and strength of your nightmares, coupled with the lingering effects of the Ring, may have been hindering you from using it to full effect.”

“Thus speeding you towards the unfortunate confrontation with the Ring,” added Elladan, also in full Healer mode.

“Precisely!” finished Elrohir. He regarded the Mayor seriously. “I cannot impress upon you enough the importance of speaking with your family and friends if such a situation ever arises again. The chances of a second such encounter with the Ring ending so fortuitously cannot be guaranteed if you do not. Indeed, were it not for the fortunate visit of Radagast the Brown, we may have been too late to save you this time.”

“Radagast the Brown?” exclaimed Sam in disbelief.

“Certainly.” Elladan grinned at the look of delighted shock on his face. “It seems you have the ability to charm even the reclusive from their hiding places.” He explained the circumstances of the Wizard’s visit as Sam listened in wonder.

“By all the stars! Radagast the Brown and his birds … and old Mr Gandalf going out of his way like that to talk to him, just to keep a watch over me.” He blessed his good fortune, and promised the Elven lords that he would not be so lax in alerting his family and friends if he ever fell ill again, especially now that he knew of the danger he faced.

“Sam-dad! You’re awake again!” Elanor's happy cry drew everyone's attention, and all laughed in delight as she ran - skirts and golden curls flying - across the room to launch herself at her father.

“Ellie, me lass! Oh I’ve missed you, my little golden flower!”

The others slowly withdrew, leaving Sam and his Ellie-lass to their happy reunion.

Merry and Pippin departed to the kitchen to make Sam a sturdy hobbit meal while Elladan and Elrohir paused at the doorway to watch father and daughter talking and laughing as if there had never been any danger. It warmed their hearts to see such love.

After a moment more, they too left, determined to hunt down a missing tooth and help Sam keep the promise he made several years ago.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Mellon nin - My friend

Muindor nin - My brother

Author’s Note: I wanted to show the memory Ring's 'hatred' of Sam with this story. As it has no physical presence and has been confined to the mind of a major nemesis for 15 years, wallowing at its corporeal destruction, I wondered how it may have tormented/punished him. It couldn't realistically taunt him with visions of lost power (which Sam would shun anyway) or pose an actual bodily or psychological threat to his family or friends. This left me with one option - having it attempt to usurp his confidence in the status his loved ones held him.

I hope the story hasn't come across as being only about guilt, though, but concede the point if it does.

Next: Final chapter! Aragorn & Co. meet the Hobbits and the tying of a loose end.

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc. I have written this story for my own enjoyment.

Credit: www.Tuckborough.net, www.realelvish.net, www.bladesofanarion.net, www.crystalwellbeing.co.uk.

For good or ill, this is the final chapter. If you’re reading it many months after posting, an unexpected review still has the power to make me smile!

Note: This Chapter updated on 12/07/2012 

Concerning Sam

Chapter 13

Late Spring, 1436 Shire Reckoning

It was a beautiful Shire morning. Barely a cloud hung in the bright sky and those that did were bowing out gracefully, as if in honour of the procession beneath.

The Royal Family of Gondor and Arnor had travelled many leagues to see this day. Having taken the Great East Road past Bree the day, they were now on the penultimate leg of their journey from Minas Anor. The Old Forest now lay to their left, filling the air with the heady scent of woodland trees and rain dampened earth. Elessar breathed of it deeply as he recalled travelling through it on occasion in his earlier role as a Ranger of the North. His return now brought him in his true role as a ruler of Men, and it would be mere hours before the company arrived at their intended destination: the Brandywine Bridge, which led to the Shire proper.

He, Arwen and the young Eldarion had been journeying for several months with a contingent of Royal Guards, Gondorian soldiers. Many nobles of the Court accompanied then, including Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, and his wife Eowyn, scourge of the Witchking. The journey had taken longer than it would had he been alone, yet he did not regret it for an instant. The entire company was greatly anticipating the reunion with their Hobbit friends, and the adults had been hard pressed to stifle the growing restlessness of Eldarion and Elboron, son of the Steward.

“Are we nearly there yet?” asked the Prince of Gondor, eyes shining with excitement at the delightful meeting to come. He rode beside his mother, with Eowyn to his right. Faramir rode to the King’s left, carrying Elboron before him on his high mount.

Undomiel smiled at him. “Almost, my darling.”

“You said that ages ago, Nana! We have had one full sleep since then and we are still not there,” the child exclaimed in frustration. Elboron nodded his dark head in solemn agreement: he liked the lady Queen very much, but Eldarion did have a point!

“Will we get there before the next sleep?” Faramir’s son asked hopefully.

“Yes, little Princes. Long before then,” came her slightly exasperated reply. Aragorn hid a smile.

Eldarion eyed his mother doubtfully, wondering if she was just trying to make them be quiet again. “How long before?” he asked in determination. “Before second breakfast?”

Aragorn laughed aloud at his son’s Hobbity remark. “Second breakfast is over, little one. We may miss elevenses, but we should be there in time for lunch. Now, does that satisfy you both, impertinent ones? You are as troublesome a certain pair of knights I am acquainted with!”

He laughed again when Eldarion and Elboron realised who he was talking about and started giggling with delight at his words.

“Really? Like Merry and Pippin?” Elboron bounced happily in his seat and Faramir had to contain him in case his motions confused the horse.

All at once, the king was overcome with a rather Hobbity feeling of his own. Just as Elboron’s father finally managed to calm him, he leaned over and said:

“Indeed. As the youngest you would therefore be Pippin, and Eldarion would then be Merry.” His eyes twinkled as the boy began to bounce in his seat again, and Faramir glared at him reproachfully.

Eldarion was busy extolling to all and sundry that his would make him Prince of Gondor, Arnor and a Knight of Rohan. Arwen had to hush him again, in case his cries of glee alarmed the creatures of the Forest.

Feeling very satisfied with himself, Aragorn settled himself into his saddle once more. He was quite happy to let the others attempt to handle the youngsters, having been left to do it alone last night when they refused to go to sleep without hearing the tale of how he’d first met the Hobbits at Bree - again. Arwen, Faramir and Eowyn had enjoyed an hour of blissful peace at the fire while he had been scrabbling on all fours pretending to be Bill the pony. And hard work it was, too, with two decidedly alert lads taking turns on his back and the normally severe Royal Guards stifling laughter at the sight.

His thoughts turned to the upcoming meeting with the Hobbit representatives of the Fellowship. It would be good to see them again! It had been far too long since they had enjoyed each others’ company and so much had happened. Pippin: brave, inquisitive, mischievous and ever hungry - now married and a father himself. He couldn’t wait to see this! Merry: steadfast, humorous, fearless and as equally ravenous as his cousin - also married and now Master of Buckland. Both of them respectable, responsible members of society! He grinned as he remembered their first encounter. Both Hobbits had been ready to tear him limb from limb because they thought he meant harm to Frodo and now he was journeying to their homeland to see his would-be assassins.

And then there was Sam ….

Aragorn’s smile faltered slightly as the memory of Elladan and Elrohir’s visit to Minas Anor came to mind. It had been a joyous time for all to see the brothers, but they had brought news to him of the gardener which left him with mixed feelings of relief and trepidation. He recalled Elladan’s words:

His dream encounter with the One Ring lasted only a day - just as it did in reality - but although the attack appeared acute in nature and of short duration, the very fact that it happened at all must alert us to the likelihood it could happen again.”

Our brother is right Estel. The determination of Sauron’s instrument to destroy the Ring-bearer will not fade with this defeat. Indeed, it will strengthen its resolve, for the magnitude of its hatred towards Sam is boundless. It will wait as patiently as it did before for another opportunity, another such moment when his defences are vulnerable, and it will attack him again with more fervour. If that happens, it may prove more difficult to revive him. The One Ring’s loathing is as intense as Sam‘s will is strong; his victory over it is an insult to its pride which shall not be easily forgotten.”

Elessar frowned in remembrance. He was aware that Frodo’s own illness had grown in severity with each incidence, and that the accumulated effect of several had almost killed the gentle hobbit, but he had believed Sam to be safe from such harm. How foolish he had been! The Ring had only been biding its time, waiting for the right moment to lash out at the unsuspecting gardener. Elladan’s voice rang in his mind once more.

Its method of destruction differed from that which it employed against Frodo. It did not seem so keen to seduce Sam. Nay, the Ring sought out that which matters to him most and tried to turn him from them, for it knew that without the love of his family or friends Sam would see no reason to hope. And without hope - the very thing that destroyed it - he would have been lost to us all and the Ring would have had its ultimate vengeance!”

And then he had been further shocked by what came next:

The Ring referred to you often, Aragorn. Both during our time in the place it created in Sam’s mind and - from what he later told us - in its fight to keep him trapped in the Sammath Naur of his dreams. It may hate Sam and blame him for its Masters fall, but it despises you only a little less for taking what it believes does not belong to you. It yearned for your presence to watch while it destroyed the last Ringbearer, for it knows you care deeply for him. Its vengeance would have been twice as potent, had that come to pass!”

Sensing Arwen’s eyes on him, Aragorn cleared his head and smiled at her in reassurance. “All is well, herves vuin. I was merely lost in thought.”

“Ill thought, by all appearance. But rest your worries, Estel. We are almost with our friends and shall have time soon enough to banish our troubles once our hearts have been eased by their presence.”

Her warmth and love reassured him instantly. His beloved was as wise as she was beautiful, so Aragorn would think no more on what had happened until after the formal meeting and presentation of the Star of the Dúnedain. Then he would have more opportunity to talk privately with Sam and give him a more personal gift: a gift which may award him some protection from his sleeping foe.

*~*~*~* 

                                                                 

3 hours later

Samwise Gamgee sat at the King’s table in a large airy pavilion, sipping a wonderfully cool ale. The structure had been erected especially for the King and his guests in the clearing to the left of the Brandywine Bridge. Aforementioned King - and his Steward - were temporarily absent, having left to see that the rest of the tents for the large party had been successfully set up, and also to greet some of the many excited Hobbits who’d come to see them. As a result, the Mayor of Michel Delving was enjoying some time alone at his end of the table, collecting his thoughts and mulling over the events of the day so far.

It had been a happy morning for the Shire when the Royal Family of Gondor and Arnor arrived; greetings on the Bridge had been at first official, but quickly turned joyous as all friends embraced, happily exclaiming aloud about finally seeing each other after their long separation.

Sam's head was still spinning from the shock of receiving the Star of the Dúnedain, swiftly followed by the embarrassment of having the grand company bowing at his feet! It wasn’t right and no mistake. He didn’t care what old Strider said!

He’d seen the multitude of Hobbits who’d accompanied Merry, Pippin and himself to the Bridge staring at him in awe after that. Life was going to be a bit awkward for a while when he got back home. Good thing he wasn’t due in Frogmorton for several weeks - Farlibar, the nervous cook from the Floating Log who had assisted with preparation and delivery of the food for the welcoming feast - almost collapsed when Sam approached him afterwards to direct him to the cooks’ tent.

Still, at least Elanor was happy. He glanced at his eldest child, who was sitting by Arwen at the further end of the table with all the Hobbit wives clustered around them. She was gazing at the beautiful Elf in adoration. His daughter, a maid of honour! Rosie had beamed with pride when the lass curtseyed to the Elven Queen back at the Bridge, then presented her with a posy of fresh spring flowers from the garden of Bag End. Arwen, enchanted by the lass with her sweet manners, golden hair and ethereal beauty, promptly claimed her as a companion of the Queen.

He scanned the rest of the tent, wondering what Merry and Pippin were up to. They'd left in quite a hurry after the meal ended, which was unusual for them. Thinking he might have spooted them heading for the tent where the empty platters were being ferried for cleaning, he was instantly suspicious. Farlibar was there ...

“Why the frown Master Gamgee?”

Looking up, Sam saw that the Prince of Ithilien had approach; he smiled at the man, who took the empty seat next to his.

“Hello, Mr Faramir, sir. I was just wondering what trouble the Thain and the Master of Buckland were getting themselves into now. It’s not like them to rush away from any table so fast when there’s even a scrap of food left.” He indicated the remaining apple tarts in front of them. 

The Man grinned. “I see. If it helps, I do believe I saw them entering the cooks' tent a short while ago. Perhaps they are seeking more of those delicious baked mushrooms we had earlier?”

Sam groaned as his suspicions were confirmed. They had gone to tease the poor nervous cook from Frogmorton! “I doubt it, sir. Them mushrooms would’ve been eaten long ago, what with this many Hobbits present. I think it more likely they’ve gone in search of a victim ...”

"Ah. Any victim in particular?"

Running a hand through his still-growing curls, Sam sighed ruefully.

“No one you’ve met yet. And if those two are allowed to annoy him much more, you may never get the chance to.” An image of the cook, flushed and clutching a tray back at the Floating Log came to mind. He’d been sure Farlibar had been ready to take a swing at Merry with it last summer. “Or maybe it's them we'll never see again,” he amended. 

Faramir chuckled. “Fear not, my brave friend. I have come to accompany you to Aragorn’s tent. Perhaps we may rescue this mysterious fellow from his tormentors on the way?”

“Seems reasonable enough. Will the Queen be joining us, sir?”

“Nay. She wishes to introduce the Hobbit ladies to the nobles who accompanied us, though I suspect it is but an excuse to show off a real Hobbit infant - your daughter, Primrose, is captivating.” He nodded towards the end of the long table, where Arwen was holding the babe, cooing delightedly. Primrose giggled as she tangled tiny fists in the Queen's long dark hair.

Grinning, the menfolk rose and headed outside, leaving the ladies behind to their own entertainment. They had barely exited the pavilion when a loud crash from the cooks' tent caught their attention. Alarmed, two heads swung round to find Merry and Pippin rushing out, liberally dusted in white powder. Sam huffed in annoyance.

Trust a Brandybuck and a Took!

“It appears we were too late, Master Gamgee,” quipped the Steward in some amusement; the culprits had spied their approach, and were already attempted to appear nonchalant and guileless.

“What’ve you two been up to?” demanded Sam when they caught up to them.

“Oh, hello Sam, Faramir,” said Pippin casually, nodding at them as he brushed off his fine green jacket.

“We were just offering to lend a hand with the washing up,” his cousin added,  pretending dignity despite his snowy appearance.

“Since when have you ever offered to lend a hand in a kitchen?” snorted the Mayor in disbelief.

Merry looked affronted.

“Technically, it’s not a kitchen. It’s a big tent with buckets of hot water and a lot of dirty plates,” the Thain offered sagely. “Granted, there’s an area for the preparation of food - but the food we ate was already cooked when it got here, so you can’t count that really ...” He faltered at Sam’s glare. “What? Why are you looking at us like that?”

“Did you to go in there to tease Farlibar again?”

“Farlibar who?” queried Merry innocently.

“Oh, you remember him good an’ well Meriadoc Brandybuck. If I hadn’t shut you up he’d’ve clobbered you last summer back at the Floating Log.”

“Oh, that Farlibar. You mean he was in that tent? I didn’t recognise him. Did you, Pip?” The Thain shook his head. “No, sorry Sam. One cook looks much like the next. Anyway, we were only trying to help. It’s nice to be nice.”

“Is it the custom in the Shire for help to be rewarded in such a fashion?” Faramir asked, covering his lips with a hand. Sam frowned at him. Was he smirking? Those two would never learn to grow up if they got such encouragement.

“Not normally, no,” answered Pippin. “We tripped over a sack of flour on the way out, that’s all.”

“Flour? I thought there was no food being prepared in there? You said everything was already cooked when it arrived,” challenged Sam, glaring at them as he stood with arms akimbo.

“It was! So imagine our surprise when we fell over it!" exclaimed Merry in triumph. "Apparently they‘ll be making spiced fruit bread tonight: flour's already arrived, so the cooks are just waiting for other supplies.”

He glanced at Pippin, bright eyes gleaming. “Of course, now they might need more flour, too.”

Sam regarded them dubiously, but - having now cleared most of the powder from their clothing - both stared back in wide-eyed innocence.

“I’ve a good mind to go in there and make sure everything’s like you say it is,” he threatened.

Luckily for the terrible twosome, Faramir interceded.

“I am sure all is well, Sam. As it is, you have not the time to investigate the matter further: Aragorn will be expecting you any moment now and we must not keep the King waiting.”

His ploy worked, for the dutiful Hobbit did not want to test the patience of a monarch so he could investigate a mishap in the cooks’ tent. Throwing one last look at the cooks' tent - and one last glower at his two hoobit friends - Sam conceded Faramir's point. Without further ado, the foursome made their way hastily to the Royal abode (with Merry and Pippin casting the Steward grateful looks all the way).

As they reached the grand white structure, which flew the standards of both Gondor and Arnor, Faramir bade Sam enter and requested that the younger hobbits follow him to procure a change of clothing.

“Oh, Aragorn won’t mind. He’s seen us worse than this. Remember Midgewater Marshes Merry?”

The Knight of Rohan shivered in disgust. “I’d rather not, if it’s all the same to you, Pip. Anyway, Faramir has a point. If Estella and Diamond find out we presented ourselves before the King looking like this, our lives won‘t be worth much, even if he is our friend!”

Grabbing his reluctant cousin’s arm, they followed Faramir. Sam passed the Royal Guard without challenge and entered the King’s tent alone.

Its sole inhabitant rose from his seat to greet him warmly. “Sam, my friend. I am glad you are here.”

The King invited him to take a seat, then returned to whatever task he had been completing. Sam complied, admiring the many beautiful furnishings in the tent while he waited for his friend to join him. He marvelled at the way sleeping and bathing areas were cleverly sectioned to afford more privacy for the occupants.

He was roused from his contemplations by a clink, and his jaw dropped in surprise when the very smug-looking King handed him a very Hobbity cup of tea.

“I didn’t know you drank tea, Strider!” he declared in astonishment.

Aragorn beamed, pleased by his small accomplishment. It was not often that one managed to keep a secret from Sam Gamgee.

“I partake of it now and again, usually during supper times," he informed his guest. "It reminds me of my friends in the Shire, and makes me feel close to you all. Of course, I have found it to slightly more palatable with a dash of milk and honey.”

Sam’s face scrunched in revulsion at the thought of ruining a perfectly good cup of tea in such a manner. Still, at least his friend was making an effort to appreciate the favoured beverage of hobbits. “Well ... er … that’s right nice of you," he commented, trying to be diplomatic. 

He hadn't tried hard enough, obviously, because Aragorn laughed. Oh, well. Perhaps it was good he was a gardener and not a grand official of some sort: his face was an open book.

Taking a sip of his (black) tea, Sam relished the bitter taste. Not as good as his Rosie’s, but not bad. Perhaps there was hope for the Man after all.

“It’s good to see you again, sir. I haven’t half missed you all these years.”

“And I have missed you too, Sam. Where is your lovely wife and the children?”

“Oh, they’ve all gone off to meet the ladies of the court and show off the baby. With your lovely wife, as a matter of fact.”

Aragorn chuckled appreciatively.

“’Course, I expect they’ll put the other little ’uns down for a short rest first; and no doubt try and talk the little princes into joining them. Though if I know young lads, they’ll not be happy about it; not with so much to see an' all.”

“I doubt you not, Master Gamgee,” Aragorn said. "I have found from personal experience that your opinion is always right."

“Usually, perhaps. Not always.”

Feeling the speculative gaze of his friend upon him, Sam distracted himself by drawing a massive sip of tea.

“I believe your Rose is expecting again?”

“That's right, sir. With five lasses and four lads already, Bag End’s getting a bit cramped and no mistake! Still, they‘re good children and listen to their Sam-dad and Rose-mum for the most part. I wouldn‘t be without them for anything.”

So saying, he recalled the events of the previous summer, dwelling particularly on the vision where he’d ignored Rosie to gaze West. It was still hard, remembering the hurt in her eyes. The Sea longing had been part of him for years, but now, knowing it might wound his family ... Well, it was like a hot iron to his heart and no mistake.

“Sam?” He blinked, and found that Aragorn was regarding him with concern.

“Oh, sorry. Just lost in thought for a moment there.”

Strider smiled in understanding. “I know the feeling. I had such a moment this morning.”

“You did? I expect we all get them now and again.”

“Indeed. For my part, I had been thinking about the visit from my brothers late last summer.”

Sam brightened at the mention of the noble Elven Lords.

“They told me they’d be coming to see you before they left the Shire. Did they stay long?”

“They remained until our departure North then accompanied us as far as Rivendell,” Aragorn replied.

“That must’ve been nice. No doubt the Lady Arwen was happy to see her kin again. And no wonder, for they’re two of the best people I’ve ever met - even for Elves!”

Hearing the enthusiasm in his voice, Sam blushed. Aragorn, however, laughed heartily.

“I am certain thay they would be honoured to know you hold them in such high esteem.”

“It’d be hard not to hold them so, seeing as they went to so much trouble on my behalf when I was so ... poorly.” He brought the cup to his lips again, trying to replace the memory of his illness with the taste of the warm liquid within. He was ill inclined to talk about his experience that summer, but after the letters he’d received from Aragorn upon his recovery, and then discovering he’d be coming to the Shire, Sam realised that such a discussion was inevitable. It was probably even why he was here with him. Alone ... 

That crafty Steward!

“Elladan and Elrohir described to me in some detail what occurred during the illness you suffered.”

Maybe I am always right, Sam reflected ironically, looking at Aragorn as the man leaned forward in his seat, elbows on his lap, and hands clasped before him.

“I feel I owe you an apology, Sam. I had known that you may suffer some remnant unpleasantness caused by your time as a Ring-bearer, yet I had no idea you would be subject to such trials because of it.”

The Mayor was disturbed by the admission. “Now, Strider, don’t be saying that! You’ve nothin’ to apologise for. How could you have known when I didn’t even know it myself?”

“Nay, Sam! This is different.” Aragorn stood and began pacing the length of the tent, his face clouded with self-recrimination. After a minute he picked up his chair, placed it beside Sam's, and retook his seat.

“You must understand: all my life I have known what my destiny was. For many years I delayed acceptance of it - not because I feared it, but because I was unwilling to believe that such events would occur during my lifetime. But even though I did not follow my intended path in youth, I still retained knowledge of our enemy and his ways, and had been fully informed by my Ada of the evil of Sauron’s Ring. I knew it was intimately connected with the fate of my own ancestors; of the lure it wielded that drew Isildur to his doom, and might thus force me to one day face the enemy, whether I believed such a thing possible in my time or not. Eventually, I came to see that facing the inevitable with conviction would be more beneficial than trying to deny its likelihood.”

Sam listened, spellbound.

“For years I roamed with the Rangers of the North, trying to find word of the Ring's whereabouts. Then one day we captured Gollum. What a mad creature he was! Hissing and cursing and screaming for his Precious! I knew then what he was referring to: I recognised the lust from tales of old, though I had not seen it before. Gollum had found the Ring, then lost it, which meant someone else could have it. But who? We brought him to Mirkwood for questioning, though he refused to give us any further knowledge of its possible whereabouts. And though we left him thereafter in Mirkwood, he eventually escaped the Woodland Elves’ custody. Later, when I heard word from Gandalf asking me to meet him at the Prancing Pony, I suspected he might at least have word of the Ring. But instead of him, I met four Hobbits, and the One Ring was finally found!

“I was anxious to bring you all to Rivendell as soon as possible, particularly while Gandalf's fate was unknown. Alas! that journey was cursed from the outset! From the beginning, I felt the pull of the Ring, and saw what it did to Frodo; yet where I could ignore it, he could not, Bearer that he was. To witness such a gentle soul tormented by the evil of two Ages! As the weeks passed and Frodo struggles increased my dismay for him grew. I saw also how affected you were by his agony: your despair and helplessness at being unable to intercede on your friend’s behalf - your patience and loyalty to him. I know that you fought as hard a battle as he did, trying to keep him with us and remind him of why he carried on despite his pain. But even though success was finally ours, we lost the battle to keep him with us and you lost your dearest friend. Such was the power of the Ring.”

Unwilling to allow Aragorn to dwell on his dark memories, Sam tried to lighten his mood. “We were all fighting to save him, Mr Strider. And we all did in the end. Just because he’s not here, doesn’t mean we lost. He’s healed and happy now. That’s what we fought for too, isn’t it?”

“Yes, my friend, of course it is. What I am trying to explain, however, is that I knew more than most the power of the Ring and what it could do to any who came into contact with it, regardless of that duration." Aragorn held his gaze steadily, and within his grey orbs the gardener saw regret. "I should have known that you would always live with the threat of its malice.  I should have acted sooner to safeguard you against it; instead I laboured all these years under the false illusion that you would remain well.”

“Please don’t blame yourself! It doesn’t matter what you think you knew, even the wisest doesn’t know everything. Look at Mr Gandalf, for instance. Did he know old Sharkey was really plotting against us all? No. For years he shared information with him, believing he was on our side, and that nearly ruined everything! But you can’t blame Gandalf for that, ‘cos even he can’t be everywhere at once!”

So sincere was his voice, and the plea in his eyes, that Aragorn finally rewarded him with a gentle smile.

“Hannon le, Panthael. You are more forgiving of me than I am of myself, and there is much wisdom in your words. I will try to curb my self-chastisement, for your sake.”

“I’d rather you did it for your own sake, if it’s all the same to you, sir. You have nothin’ to apologise for. And I’m well now, better than well, even! I have my Rosie, and the children, and a wonderful home. I have the best friends in all Middle Earth and no mistake! How could I not be well?”

Aragorn frowned so sternly that Sam squirmed.

“All right then, so I wasn’t very well last summer, but that’s the first time that’s ever happened.”

“I am happy to hear that you remain well - for now. But what concerns me is why the Ring was able to take such a firm grasp of your mind at all. Is it true that you suffer annual reminders of your time with it Sam?”

The gardener nodded reluctantly. “But that’s only nightmares and they’re usually gone in a week or two, so don’t be worrying about that!”

“Still, these would have been ideal times for it to strike at you - the fact that it took so long for the memory-Ring to manifest itself merely demonstrates its patience and cunning. How ready it is to attack you when you believe yourself secure in your environment. Alas, but this means it will always pose a threat to you, so you must always be on your guard. You must not hide your pain from your wife or friends again! That will only serve to make you vulnerable and allow it to work its evil spell upon you again.”

“I know that now, Strider. I won’t keep my troubles inside again. I couldn’t even if I wanted to now because Rosie and the children are always keeping an eye on me. Among others - Merry had us all over at Brandy Hall in March so he could keep an eye on me too. And Pippin brought Diamond and little Faramir-lad over as well, so the place was fit to burstin’ and I couldn’t get a moment's peace!”

“I must thank my friends then, for taking such good care of you," grinned the former ranger. "And I am delighted that Lady Rose will not have the sole worry of ensuring your well-being. But I have something else that should ease your heart further.”

Reaching into his shirt pocket, the King withdrew a silk pouch and handed it to Sam, who eyed it in confusion.

“What’s this then?”

“Open it and find out.”

Obediently loosening the strings, Sam opened the pouch and turned it upside down, allowing the contents to drop onto his hand. On his palm there now rested a small crystal pendant laced through with a mithril chain. The crystal bore the colours of the Shire combined - grass green and summer sky blue - and it exuded a soothing feeling as he held it.

“This is the Astaldomir,” said Aragorn, plucking it from Sam's hand and  placing the chain over his head. “It is a mixed crystal with healing properties that will aid you should you ever need it. It has been further blessed with the protection of both my brothers and Arwen, and I also spoke some words of comfort over it.”

Now that it lay directly over his heart, Sam could feel the stone's effect more keenly. He felt warm, light and clear-headed.

“I don’t know what to say, sir. This is too much. You shouldn’t have went to so much trouble - you’ve already given me that lovely Star of the Dúnedain, and I still feel funny about accepting a thing that should rightly belong to the Rangers. And now this.”

“The Star of the Dúnedain is with its rightful owner, a sentiment which my fellow Rangers agree with wholeheartedly. But that was an official gift of thanks from your King, for your deeds and our deliverance. The Astaldomir is a gift from your friends, to aid you when your own need is great and we are not within easy distance to assist. Its name means ‘Valiant Jewel’ - a fitting title given its stalwart owner. It was crafted especially for you and will ease your discomfort until such time that you must leave us for good, though I hope that day is long years from us yet.”

The Mayor was quite overcome at Aragorn’s thoughtfulness, but then frowned in confusion as the final few words sank in. “What do you mean ‘leave us for good’? You don’t mean…”

“I speak of when you join Frodo in Valinor - I thought you were aware of this. I was led to understand he informed you of such at his own departure.”

Sam’s mind was in turmoil. Would he really have the chance to see Frodo again after all? He knew that most of what the Ring told him during his entrapment was false; that the visions he’d seen were manipulations. But he couldn’t deny the effect his Sea longing had on his family. Was it right to long for his friend if it was at their expense? So torn had he been about this since his recovery, that Sam finally came to the decision to try and stifle it. Or at least to try and ignore it. As he’d never had his right of passage to Valinor confirmed by anyone - and he didn’t like to ask because it would seem like a betrayal of Rosie - then he would accept his life here and try to dwell on it no more. It did hurt, especially knowing that he'd never see his greatest and dearest friend again, but he had to be realistic. His Sea-longing was unfair on those who loved him here.

Anyway, Merry and Pippin had never had the hope of Valinor to cling to and, although they missed their beloved cousin keenly, they managed well enough otherwise. If they could do it, so could he.

Yet now, hearing Aragorn’s words, Sam was confused again and didn’t know what to think.

Sighing, he hung his head despondently.

“Sam? Won't you tell me what troubles you?”

Raising his head, Sam found to his shame that his eyes were hot with unshed tears.

“I’m sorry, Mr Strider! I don’t mean to be ungrateful. I did know. But when I was ill the Ring told me it wasn’t true ‘cos only the Valar could grant it, not Mr Frodo. And then when I got better I thought it might be true because the Ring had lied so much before, and now I don’t know if I can accept such an honour at all because it might hurt my family if I choose Frodo over them!”

Tears rolled down his cheeks. Embarrassed, Sam swiped at them furiously as Aragorn laid a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“You are not choosing one over the other, Sam; you shall have the pleasure of both. The years with your loved ones stretch out before you and you have every right to enjoy them. Your Rose will be with you for the rest of her life; your children will grow in a time of peace and security because of your efforts, and I also believe that you will know the joys of seeing your grandchildren.”

“But I don’t want to wound Rosie any more when I look out West. I don’t want her to feel like I’m just whiling away my time here ’til I leave, it‘s not fair on her!”

“Sam, look at me.”

Reluctantly he complied, ashamed to have wept so openly in front of his friend. But Aragorn's expression showed only understanding and kindness. 

“As you know, I met your Rose at the Bridge, and from what I saw she is not one to begrudge you a moment of contemplation. Surely you know this? Rose is fully aware of what you carried; she is more than familiar with its effects, having witnessed them first-hand on Frodo. She also nursed him when the evil memories of his anniversaries struck! He was her friend too, and that he could not remain in Middle Earth because of his sufferings is doubtless painful for her as well. The thought of you one day being alone and vulnerable to the memory of the Ring without her to anchor you would be most distressing to her. But she is spared that, for you will not be alone should she pass before you. She has the comfort of knowing that you may sail across the Sea to be with the only other person she would trust with your care: Frodo.”

Aragorn drew back, allowing his words to sink in. And they did.

Frowning thoughtfully, Sam withdrew a handkerchief from his breeches and blew his nose. He’d never thought about it like that before. Rosie had loved Frodo, had cooled his brow and mothered him through his anniversaries - fighting alongside Sam to keep him there. But it wasn’t meant to be and she had been upset that her friend couldn’t live with them in Bag End any longer. Of course she wouldn’t like to think Sam might suffer in anything like the same way.

He gave a tentative smile. “I feel a bit foolish now, sir. What you say makes sense. It’s just I was all muddled up by the Ring and it was so convincing sometimes …”

“I regret that you were not spared the ordeal of its lies Sam. The Ring’s one purpose was to destroy your hope, and it would have used any means at its disposal to do so. Yet whatever it may have tried to convince you of, nothing will change the fact that you may sail when your time comes, when there is nothing more to hold you in Middle-earth.”

“So it really is all right then? I mean ... I really will see Frodo again?” The gardener’s voice trembled with hope.

“Of course. I know this, Arwen knows it - and as an Elf she should know better than I. We also discussed the eventuality with Elladan and Elrohir, for they do not know how long their Daerada, the Lord Celeborn, will stay with them in Rivendell. So it may very well be that you have some very auspicious company when you do journey to the Undying Lands. As it is, you can hardly pass the Star of the Dunedain to Frodo if you stay here! No doubt our friend will be as bashful as ever and hasten to stick it in some travelling pack out of sight, as you did before the Lady Rose caught you!”

Aragorn grinned when Sam flushed guiltily.

“Sorry ‘bout that sir, it’s just ... well, you know ...”

“That you are self-effacing to the point of frustration and blush at the mere thought of gratitude? Yes, I know.”

The gardener was now beetroot, though at least he had stopped crying.

“So, my friend, now that we have allayed your fears and soothed your worries, tell me: When are we to expect a visit from you and your family in Annúminas?”

Feeling very much better than he had five minutes ago, Sam fried his eyes, pocketed his hankkerchief, and managed a watery grin. “I don’t rightly know, sir. About the same time that you stop tellin’ me off for bowing at you. And then turn around and bow at me, no less!”

The King threw back his head and laughed at the cheeky hobbit.

“Well then, my impertinent Counsellor,” he said, rising to his feet, “I fear that I may have to enlist the help of both my Queen and my Steward to persuade you, for I cannot promise such a thing anymore than you can stop calling me ‘sir,’ it seems.”

Rising in kind, Sam chuckled as he followed Aragorn out of the Royal Tent. “That’s fair enough then, Strider. The Lady Arwen may still be busy with the noblewomen of the Court, so it’s best if we look for Faramir first. I’ll be happy to listen to his argument. But I'm not making any promises just yet." His brown eyes were clear again and twinkling with mischief; the Astaldomir rested gently against his chest, infusing him with peace.

He had much to be grateful for, acknowledged Sam as they walked. His trials were over; he had not lost his hope, and his loved ones would always be there for him - as he would for them. It had been a hard lesson, but he'd learned that he needn’t pine for Frodo at the expense of his family and was determined never to do so again. He and his kin would have the pleasure of each others’ company until he was very old.

And then he would sail.

Sam set his jaw determinedly as they approached the Steward of Gondor’s tent.

And if that Ring ever tries to make me doubt my loved ones again, it’ll have to try a lot harder ‘cos I know the value of my love now - and the value of theirs. I’ll not let it have its vengeance no matter what, or my name’s not Sam Gamgee!

Or Sam Gardner.

THE END

Nana - Mum/Mummy (or Mom/Mommy)

Herves vuin - My wife

Ada - Father

Daerada - Grandfather

Astaldomir - Valiant Jewel (Made from an azurite-malachite)

Final Notes: The Astaldomir is a complete work of fiction, but I used some artistic (ahem) licence because I thought my Sam could use a little extra help. The name is completely contrived from the (very) little Elvish I know, so if it doesn’t mean what I wanted it to mean, that’s no ones fault but mine!

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all wonderful people who read and especially to those ones who reviewed: Agape4Gondor, Antane, Celeritas, cookiefleck (again), Dreamflower, Larner (also again!), Linda Hoyland, SurgicalSteel.

Those names in bold type sent a review for every chapter and your loyalty humbles me. Some even read this first on ff.net but dropped another review to welcome me here - thank you for that! All of you have made me feel welcome on SoA and your reviews, both compliments and gentle critique, have been much appreciated.

July 2012 Addendum: Most chapters of this fic updated. Mostly sentence structuring and grammar: I didn't want to do a major overhaul in case it ruined the heart of the original story, even though I was dying to. Ye gads, the state this fic was in ...

*shuffles off in absolute mortification*

Kara's Aunty ;)





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