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Hope This Finds You Well by Lindelea
First published at Marigold's Challenge 3, some years back.
Title: Hope This Finds You Well
Hope This Finds You Well
Samwise goes from dream to waking in the blink of an eye. He goes from sound-asleep, warm, snuggly, cosy comfort in the homiest bed he’d known since leaving Number Three to wide-eyed, sitting-up shock and alarm. Gazing about him, gasping for air, he sees the others still asleep. Others? As his eyes light on the silent figure by the window, memory comes flooding back.
He is in Bree, and the others are Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin, now sitting themselves up, blinking sleepily, and Mr. Frodo, of course. The scream of a soul in torment sounds again in the courtyard below. No... no, Samwise, don’t let your imagination run away with you, you ninnyhammer. That’s a horse.
What are they? Mr. Frodo whispers, and Sam is that glad he asked, for he’s wondering the same.
The rough-looking Man by the window meets the hobbit’s eye and speaks in a voice soft with irony... but is there an undercurrent of menace? Sam doesn’t trust him, not as far as he could throw him.
‘They were once men. Great kings of men. Then Sauron the Deceiver gave to them nine rings of power. Blinded by their greed, they took them without question, one by one falling into darkness. Now they are slaves to his will. They are the Nazgûl, Ringwraiths, neither living nor dead. At all times they feel the presence of the Ring, drawn to the power of the One. They will never stop hunting you.’
Sam stiffens at that. Not his master, they won’t. He turns an unfriendly eye on the Man by the window. ‘And what about you, Longshanks?’ he says truculently.
The Man they call Strider smiles faintly, saluting Sam with the long, somehow graceful fingers of his dirty, battered hand. ‘I will help you watch over your master, Samwise,’ he answers.
Sam doesn’t much like it, but what can he do? He glowers at the Man, but at another shriek from the courtyard, Pippin quavers, ‘What if they find us?’
‘They won’t find us, so long as Frodo does not put the Ring on again,’ the Man says with a keen look at the Ring-bearer.
Indeed, Frodo’s hand is creeping towards his breast. Merry seizes it at once between his own two hands. ‘I’ll help you, cousin,’ he says softly, no condemnation in his tone. Frodo shoots him the helpless look of a rabbit caught in a snare, and he holds the hand firmly in one of his while stroking it gently with the other. The older cousin does not relax, however, until the last scream dies away and they hear the blessed sound of receding hoofbeats.
Released from the fear that has held them silent and spellbound up until this moment, the hobbits spill over with questions. The Man holds up a restraining hand, saying only, ‘There is not much left to the night, and a long march to begin in the dawning. Sleep now, talk later.’
‘I’ll never be able to sleep,’ Pippin protests, but Merry soothes his back with a gentle hand and it is not long before the youngster is asleep. Tweens need their sleep more than grown hobbits, after all. They need their sleep and they need regular meals, food in plenty, for they are still growing. What is Mr. Frodo thinking of, bringing a tween along?
Samwise lies wakeful as the others drop off, one by one. Finally he can stand it no more and rises from the bed. Strider seems to be in a light doze himself. In the semi-darkness he looks worn from great exertions. As quietly as a hobbit can, Samwise creeps from the room. As the door creaks the Man whispers sharply, ‘And where do you think you’re going?’
‘They’re gone, well gone, you said, and I’ve got to take care of some business,’ Sam whispers in return. Let the Man think what he likes. As a matter of fact he does feel the need to take care of a private matter.
The eyes bore into his a long moment before Strider nods. In silence, Samwise creeps from the room and down the stairs. Land o’ mercy, sleeping upstairs! The Gaffer would never countenance such goings-on.
Oddly enough there’s a light under the crack of the door leading to the kitchen, and soft voices. Sam pauses outside the door to listen. The voices don’t sound menacing. He pushes the door open a bit, to find Mr. Butterbur, Nob and Bob and a few others sitting around the large table in their nightcaps and bedclothes, sipping from mugs. Mr. Butterbur sees him at once and jumps up, to bend low to address the hobbit. ‘Little Master! Is there aught you’d be needing?’
‘A bit of paper and a pencil would set me aright,’ Sam answers. ‘I want to write a note to my old gaffer, you see.’
‘Going to tell him about...’ the innkeeper says, and shudders. ‘Never in all my life,’ he adds.
‘No,’ Sam says. ‘I just need to tell him all’s well.’
The innkeeper rolls his eyes to the heavens and several of the folk around the table make the sign to ward off evil. ‘All’s well, now that those... those... now that They’re gone,’ Barliman says in a husky voice. ‘I only hope they found what they’re looking for and won’t be back.’
‘I don’t think they’ll have any reason to come back,’ Samwise answers, and adds thanks to Nob, who hands him a piece of brown paper that came wrapped around some purchase from a local dry-goods dealer, and a stub of a pencil.
‘Have a seat, Little Master,’ Mr. Butterbur says graciously, indicating the tall bench on the hobbit side of the table. Sam nods; it’s as good as any and this is the only lamplit room in the inn, at the moment. He climbs onto the end of the bench, a little away from the others, and smoothes the paper while he thinks of what to say. The others politely ignore him, continuing to sip at their mugs and talk in near-whispers. No, they don’t quite ignore him: Mr. Butterbur plonks a steaming mug before him, saying, ‘It’s on the house, it is, Little Master, if you’ve had as great a fright as the rest of us.’
Likely a greater one, Sam thinks to himself, but he thanks the innkeeper for his kindness and takes a sip. Hot mulled wine, it is, with something stronger added along with the spices. If he drinks it all he’ll be muddle-headed in the morning, but a few sips might just let him get an hour or two of sleep after he takes care of this business.
He licks the tip of his pencil and smoothes the paper again. At last he begins to write, slowly, painfully, forming the letters as carefully as Mr. Bilbo taught him, those long-ago days in the sunny garden, or in the cosy study warmed by a cheery fire whilst the winter winds roared outside.
Dear Dad, he writes, and pauses.
All is well. You may hear some funny things but pay them no mind.
He pauses to lick the tip of the pencil again, thinking deeply. What kind of promises can he make, the way things stand?
I’ll be back as soon as I may, he finishes, and looks at the fruit of his labours with a great deal of dissatisfaction. What else can he say?
He sighs and writes, Hope this finds you well, and stops to think. He saw a real letter once, when he’d been sent with a message for Mr. Frodo. It had been lying open on the desk, and his eye had glanced over it automatically, for Mr. Merry had impressed upon him that any news might be of value.
He nods. He’ll do this up proper, he will, for it may be the last word his old dad hears from him.
I remain, as ever, your loving... He stops himself before signing the remembered name from that long-ago letter and shakes his head slightly. Ninny-hammer. Pressing hard, he adds, Samwise and is finished.
He folds up the letter and writes the direction on the outside, slips it inside his shirt, and starts to hand the pencil back to Nob. ‘That’s all right,’ Nob says kindly. ‘You keep it. It’s always good to have a bit of pencil handy.’
‘Thanks,’ Sam says, slipping the pencil into his pocket with a thrill of delight despite the desperate situation he’s in. He’s never had a pencil of his own before! He takes a last sip of hot toddy and jumps down from the bench. ‘Much obliged, Mr. Butterbur,’ he says.
Nob follows him from the room. ‘Beg pardon, Samwise,’ he says, ‘but don’t you need to be sending that off? It looks an awful lot like a letter.’
‘I was going to go by the post in the morning,’ Sam replies, ‘before we depart.’
Nob holds out his hand. ‘If you’re travelling with that Strider-fellow,’ he says, ‘more likely you’ll be off before the post opens. I’ll take it for you if you like.’
Sam looks him in the eye, finding honesty and good nature there. Besides, there’s nothing in the letter to give Mr. Frodo away, even if an enemy should lay hold of it. ‘I’d be that obliged,’ he says, and hands the missive over. ‘Well then,’ he adds, ‘I had better try to wink a bit more sleep if we’re to be off early.’
‘Good-night, Samwise,’ Nob says, putting the letter safely in his nightcap and back on his curly head. ‘Safe journey, and swift return.’
‘Thanks,’ Sam says again, shaking the hand held out to him. He climbs the stairs, eases himself into the room, exchanges nods with the scruffy Ranger, climbs into the bed and soon adds his snores to those of the other hobbits.
About a year later, a vastly different Samwise walks quietly down the stairs after seeing his master off to sleep. Truth be told, he’s feeling a bit restless. Perhaps he can find a bit of something to help him fall asleep.
Though it is late there’s a crack of light under the kitchen door. As he eases the door open to peep through, he’s hailed by the good innkeeper. ‘Master Samwise! Come join us for a night-cap! ‘Tis a bitter night!’
‘My thanks,’ Samwise says, taking his place at the end of the tall bench on the hobbit side of the large table. The lamplight glitters from his mail, now that he’s hung up his cloak. He accepts a steaming mug with a smile and an appreciative sip. Ah, that hits the spot.
Nob hops down and trots out of the room, returning soon with a folded paper in his hand. Blushing, he extends it to Samwise. ‘Here you are, Sam,’ he says, ‘and I’m that sorry to admit I never did get it off. As a matter of fact, the post was closed, that day you left, and the next time I tried there wasn’t nobody going to the Shire, and...’ He gulps and drops his eyes in chagrin. ‘So I kept it safe and told myself I’d see it delivered or give it back to you at the very least.’
‘Post’ll be running between Bree and the Shire again before you know it,’ Sam says easily. ‘The Rangers are back, as Mr. Gandalf said, and they’ll soon set things right hereabouts.’
‘I could wait until the post is running again and send it for you then,’ Nob says hopefully, seizing at the chance to redeem himself.
‘No, that’s all right,’ Sam replies. ‘You’ve done me a favour, keeping it safe all this time, and not letting the wrong folk get hold of it.’ Nob brightens, losing the shame-faced look.
Sam takes the missive from him and tucks it away. ‘I think I’ll deliver it myself,’ he says with a smile that he doesn’t quite feel, for he’s wondering what’s been happening back home whilst he’s been off in foreign parts. Will he find his gaffer still waiting for him in Number Three? Truth be told, he’d welcome a tongue-lashing, even, just to know that all’s well.
‘I’ll deliver it myself,’ he says again, and Nob nods with a tentative smile. He shakes Nob’s hand. ‘Thanks,’ he says. ‘Good night.’
Taking a last sip of his hot toddy, he hops down from the bench with a jingle of mail and takes his leave.
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