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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 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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