In which Sam delivers unexpected news
Sam Gamgee was sitting with hunched shoulders, staring into his mug of ale with morose intensity. "It's above my head, and that's all I have to say about it," he told the ale.
"Oh, come on now, Sam, the ale's not going to tell your secrets. Out with it!" I said from directly behind him.
Sam leapt up and whirled around, and I thanked hobbit agility that I was not wearing his drink on the front of my shirt.
"Mr. Merry!" he declared with a wild look in his eyes. "You really oughtn't be creeping around behind people like that."
"I was hardly creeping, Sam," I answered with a grin, pleased to have gotten such a satisfactory reaction from the staid Samwise. I took the stool next to his at the bar. "And you're the one who was wanting to meet -- it's not like you weren't expecting me."
Sam was still standing, and I looked up at him. He seemed truly unnerved, and it was starting to trouble me. Sam's short letter, arriving several weeks after I had brought Pippin into my plans, had just asked to meet as soon as possible. I had assumed since it did not say, "Come at once, Mr. Frodo is leaving!" that his news was not dire. Now I was wondering if I had been too slow to respond. "Sit, Sam. Join me for a drink and let's have out with it."
He sat but did not pick the mug back up. "Not here, Mr. Merry. We need to get off where no one can overhear us," he said in a low voice, glancing around the noisy inn filled with ale-saturated hobbits.
Sam Gamgee is not the type of hobbit to make a fuss over any little thing, and I've never known him to be easily alarmed. Sam is that good, rare breed who simply rolls up his sleeves and does what needs to be done without any stir or bother. But here he was, scared and upset, and if he said we needed to talk in private, that's what we needed to do. Now I was truly regretting not getting on a pony and setting for Hobbiton the moment I had received his letter last week.
"All right, then," I said. "Finish that up -- you look like you need it -- and let's slip out. Quickly, though: Pippin stopped outside the door to speak to the Boffin lads, and if he sets foot in here we'll not be out for a good time."
Sam downed the rest of his ale dutifully and we headed out of The Green Dragon. Pippin was still on the threshold, telling the Boffins something that involved grand arm gestures. I caught the edge of his jacket between two fingers and pulled as Sam and I walked past.
"Come on, then, cousin, or we're leaving you," I said over his, "Merry! We just got here!" He followed, however, calling something to the Boffins about peremptory relatives that I'm sure I would have found unflattering had I been listening.
I was too busy watching Sam to pay much attention. He was walking quickly with both fists shoved deep into his trouser pockets, his head down. The knot in my stomach grew a little tighter with each despondent step that Sam took. Despite not looking where he was going, the gardener confidently led us off the road and onto a path, then onto a trail, and lastly to a grassy hill where he thunked himself down. He finally looked up, but his gaze was on the stars, not us.
Pippin had fallen silent after Sam and I had pointedly ignored a number of questions about what was happening and where we were going. I seated myself beside Sam and Pippin plopped down beside me. We waited.
I had just made up my mind to speak when Sam broke the silence. "Aye, I don't see as how it could be worse," he said, eyes still fixed firmly at the night sky. "It's no joke, and it's no grand adventure, and I don't know why it had to come to Mr. Frodo." He turned his head to look at me, and I could see that his eyes were damp. "But at least we're knowing about it, and he's not going to be alone in all this, and I am right grateful for that, Mr. Merry, I certainly am."
"So am I, Sam," I said gently, not comprehending any of what he was talking about. I could feel my heart thudding in my chest, but I forced myself to wait and let Sam find his way around to speaking his bit. Pippin was practically quivering beside me, but he remained silent.
Sam roughly drew his arm across his eyes. "But there I go on, and you and Mr. Pippin not understanding a bit of it yet. There's nothing good to be told, but you're needing to hear."
And so he told us, a halting speech that seemed to choke Sam in the telling. Kings and Elves and great battles. Bilbo and that wretched creature Gollum and a magic ring. Fire-writing and Mordor and a burning mountain.
Pippin and I did not speak as Sam relayed all that he had heard pass between Frodo and Gandalf. I am not certain that I breathed. It must have been the longest speech to come out of Sam Gamgee at one time in all of his life, and when he finished he heaved a great, tired sigh.
"So that's all there is. Mr. Frodo is leaving the Shire, but not on a grand adventure. Evil things ahead and evil things chasing him, that's what he'll get. But not alone, oh no! I mean to go with him wherever he gets it into his head to go, and there'll be no giving me the slip, not after Mr. Gandalf told him to bring me along. But I am afraid, at that." Sam leaned his arms on his bent knees and rested his head upon his limbs, hiding his face from view.
I took a huge, gulping breath and pried my eyes from Sam's face for the first time since he had sat down. Everything about me looked the same. The stars had not shifted position. The hills had not crumpled away. Lights still twinkled at us from Bywater. But I felt as though I surely could not be in the same Shire I had woke in that morning. These could not be the same fields I had played in as a child with no thought of danger ever in my mind. And this could not be my dear cousin Frodo we were talking about, the same one who took me hunting for berries on long, hot summer afternoons in Buckland, and who told me wonderful stories of dragons and dwarves to amuse me when I was ill. How could the same Frodo who had bought me my first ale, and who served tea promptly at four o'clock, and who made the most splendid mushroom soup in Hobbiton, this cousin, our Frodo -- how could the Enemy be looking for him?
Pippin was the first to speak into the long silence that followed Sam's revelation. "But, Sam," he ventured in a quavering voice, "where are we to go? You make it sound as if there isn't a safe place left."
"I don't know that there is, Mr. Pippin," Sam said, lifting his head back up to the sky. "But wherever Mr. Frodo leads, I aim to be right beside him."
"Well, yes, of course," Pippin replied in a tone that I knew meant for not a moment had this dark talk made him think of staying behind safe in the Shire, and my stomach lurched a little. "But I was thinking in terms of an actual direction, with some type of plan as to where we may eventually light. Did not Frodo and Gandalf speak of such?"
Sam gave Pippin a sharp, worried glance. "No, there was no talk of that type. But after old Gandalf got through with his bit -- which was a mouthful, let me tell you -- and they were through deciding what to do with me after pinching me under the window, there wasn't much talk for the rest of the day. I think Mr. Frodo just needed to think on things some after all that."
"I'm sure," I said, finally trusting myself to speak in a steady voice. "But Gandalf is still here, Pippin, and I feel certain he and Frodo will plot a course more definitive than 'leave the Shire.' We shall have to rely on you again, Sam, to be our eyes and ears. Although it should be easier now that Frodo has discovered you, so to speak, and will be including you in his plans. That was nice work in a tight spot with Gandalf, too," I added, jostling Sam's shoulder with my own and smiling at him.
Sam nodded his head once, jerkily, in acknowledgment of the compliment, but he looked miserable, almost ashamed.
"I nearly didn't tell you, Mr. Merry," he said in a voice so soft I could barely hear it.
I felt my way carefully through my response. It had bothered me somewhat to start with that we were going behind Frodo's back, and that was when it was mostly a game. Now the ruse had doubled in both seriousness of deception and importance of success. One hobbit could not bear this burden alone. Frodo would need our help, even if he did not know he had it.
"It's not disloyalty, Sam," I said after a long pause, swallowing hard. "You said it yourself -- Frodo will be fleeing from danger into danger. He will need all the help he can get. I don't know what we can do against the Enemy to protect Frodo, but at least we will be there. It's not disloyalty," I repeated. "It's, it's . . ."
"It's love," Pippin said simply.
"Aye," I sighed in relief, reaching a hand out to rest on Pippin's arm. "It's love."
Sam sniffled a little, but his head was back down and I couldn't see if he was crying or not. "It is at that, Mr. Merry," he said in a shaky voice. "It is at that."