Empty by elwen of the hidden valley

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Story Notes:

I don’t own Middle-earth.  I’m not sure I’d know what to do with it if I did.  I’m not making any money from writing in JRR Tolkien’s richly conceived world or in P Jackson’s movie version.  Just as the books inspired the movies . . . so the movies inspired this fanfic.

 

Many thanks to MarygoldG for being my beta for this piece


Sam tugged the large iron key out of his pocket.  In all the tears and shock of Frodo’s leaving he had never thought to ask his friend what was to be done with Bag End.  The home that Frodo and Bilbo had shared for so many years. 

Even after his return from the Havens, Sam had been reluctant to enter and it had been a letter from Merry that had finally prodded him into action.  Merry had reasoned that if Frodo had gone to all the trouble of finishing the Red Book, he would surely have tied up other lose ends in his life too.  Pippin had offered to come over and help but Sam wanted this time in Bag End to himself.  It may well be his last visit, after all.  Merry was right, Frodo was not the sort of person to leave matters to chance, for Bilbo had instilled in him a sense of responsibility about such things. 

Despite folks opinions about Mr Bilbo, Sam and his Da knew that Bilbo’s madness only extended to travelling.  Where his home and family was concerned things were always ordered.  His many run ins with the Sackville Baggins had seen to that.  At least they had been ordered until the last couple of years before Bilbo left the Shire.  Then even Sam had to admit that Bilbo Baggins was behaving oddly.

The key turned a little reluctantly in the lock and Sam made a mental note to bring some oil from home later to loosen and protect it before the winter weather set in.  Sam could at least make sure that whoever was the next owner of Bag End had nothing to complain about in its upkeep.  Mr Frodo wouldn’t like that, him being a gentlehobbit and all.

Of course, Mr Frodo had never been a one to lock his doors.  Sam remembered the Gaffer coming home one night shortly after Frodo had arrived from Brandy Hall.  Sam had overheard him talking to Daisy about how he shouldn’t be surprised at Frodo Baggins telling Bilbo that Bucklanders always locked their doors at night.  They were, after all, a rum lot t’other side o the river.  For his part, apparently, Frodo had been surprised that Bilbo and most other residents of Hobbiton did not lock up.

But then again, Buckland was closer to the border and who knew when some nasty big folk may take a yen to do a bit of burglary. The Gaffer had laughed as he reported how Bilbo assured Frodo that there was honour amongst thieves and Frodo was living with an expert burglar.  In Bilbo’s honour Frodo continued the practice of not locking the door after his uncle left.  He always said that he had nothing that he would be upset about losing anyway . . . only his friends.  The round green door swung inwards silently.  At least Sam wouldn’t have to oil the hinges.

The warm orange tiles of the hallway floor glowed in the early autumn sunshine.  Sam stepped almost timidly across the threshold, his feet slipping unsteadily on a fine layer of dust.  He would have to get a damp mop to those tiles.  Mr Frodo had always liked them to shine.  In fact, there was a fine film of dust everywhere.  Had it really only been three weeks since Frodo left?

Closing his eyes, Sam inhaled deeply and smiled.  There it was . . . the wonderful Bag End smell.  It was a smell that Sam had known since childhood, when he had first stood at the door with his Da.  As a child he had not enough experience to be able to identify it.  He had only known that Bag End didn’t smell like any other smial that he knew.  He took another breath now and tried to separate out the components.

There was beeswax from the fine wood panelling and the many candle sconces.  Sam remembered his Ma saying that Mr Bilbo was a mite too free with his use of candles, but Sam would look forward to coming back up the Hill and seeing golden light spilling from the windows of Bag End on a cold dark winter’s evening.  There were the lovely kitchen smells that all hobbits knew . . . apples, bread, roasted meat and there was the faint hint of pipeweed.  It used to be much stronger when Mr Bilbo lived here but Frodo was not much of a one for smoking.  He would smoke to be sociable, but he didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as his uncle, especially after . . . when they came back.  And then there was the mystery ingredient.  Paper.  Most hobbits of Sam’s acquaintance had no such frivolities as books, probably because most of them could not read.  But Bag End had always smelled of books and paper.

The first time Sam had been allowed a glimpse into the hallway, as a young lad, he had seen piles of books and papers strewn against the walls and heaped on top of every carved wooden chest that dotted the walls.  Hazel eyes, flecked with gold, opened.  There were no heaps now . . . had been none since shortly after Mr Bilbo left.  Frodo had started to tidy away a bit then.  Nothing big . . . just a tendency to move all the heaps into Bilbo’s study, out of sight. 

He had kept the study door closed for several months, along with Bilbo’s bedroom door.  But after a while the pain must have diminished and Frodo would often pop into the study for a reference book.  He even moved into Bilbo’s bedroom eventually.  Frodo never used the study, though.  He would do his writing on the table in the parlour.  When Sam tended the flowers beneath the parlour window, Frodo would often lean out to offer a mug of cider or a bite of bread and jam.  Sometimes Sam would be invited to look over Frodo’s shoulder as the Sindarin scholar showed him a new piece that he had translated.  He knew that Sam loved to hear anything of elves and was more than willing to share his discoveries.

Frodo had been up the Hill for most of Sam’s life and the two had become almost brothers in many ways.  A thing that the Gaffer was wary of but which Bilbo embraced whole heartedly, as he embraced all life.  Frodo it was who had helped Bilbo teach the young and earnest Sam his letters, with the Gaffer’s uncomfortable agreement.  It was not usual for a hobbit of Sam’s social standing to learn his letters but the skill was useful to the family so the Gaffer had permitted it.  Over time Frodo had introduced the lad to Pippin and Merry and the four had become a family of sorts.  It would have been a fine line to tread between servant and friend if Sam and the others had not grown up with it from an early age.  And yet it was a comfortable path they all learned to tread through friendship and tradition.

Bag End had become as familiar to Sam as his own home.  He knew every store cupboard and cellar.  He knew to draw the curtains in Mr Frodo’s bedroom to shut out the sun in the summer so that the room was cool for sleeping when his master went to bed.  He knew that if you did not turn the handle just so on the privy door it would swing open again at embarrassing moments.  He knew that the parlour fireplace had a tendency to smoke if not watched, as was evidenced by the staining on the mantle.  He knew that the study window became overgrown with the wisteria vine outside if it was not trained carefully, reducing the light so that Mr Bilbo would start complaining that he could not see to work.  Then Sam would take the stems back to put in a vase for his mother.

Sam took the three, well remembered foot steps to the parlour archway.  How many times had he stood here, awaiting Mr Bilbo’s instructions for the day? 

Bag End was a grand place that could afford fires in every room.  There was no need for doors to confine the heat to one living area.  Bright shafts of sunlight streamed in through the large round window and its two smaller sentinels, revealing a lazy waltz of dust motes.

The room itself was just as Sam remembered it.  Above the fireplace were the faded portraits of Mr. Bilbo’s Ma and Da.  A large square table stood by the window and a couple of small bookcases flanked the chimney breast.  There was a cream patterned rug by the fire and one easy chair pulled up by the hearth.  A warm woollen blanket was draped over the chair back, evidence of the fact that Frodo had begun to find the winters too cold since his return.  Sam sighed.  He had seen that and yet had not understood.  He had chosen not to notice that Frodo was beginning to look a little pale and tired, chosen not to see him pulling the blanket from around his shoulders whenever folk came to call. 

Sam looked about the room with fresh eyes.  There were no papers on the table.  Now that he thought back, Sam could see the piles of papers slowly dwindle over the past three years, the carelessly scattered books returned to their shelves.  The room had gradually cleared, over a period of months.  Frodo would often be found rummaging through old papers . . . almost as though searching for something he had lost.  Sam glanced at the hearth.  The grate held no wood, but there was a scattering of curled black ashes and the corners of some unburned sheets of paper.  Frodo had obviously decided to get rid of some writings before he left. 

They were probably notes for the book that Sam held beneath his arm now.  He drew it out.  Such an innocuous looking red leather-bound book, yet within its pages the fate of all Middle-earth was recorded.  Sam made to lay it upon the table that had been Frodo’s workplace for so long, and then paused.  No.  The book had not been written here. 

About to turn and leave, Sam wrinkled his nose.  There was a distinctly unpleasant smell coming from the room beyond.  He continued on, through into Bag End’s spacious kitchen.  On the scrubbed wooden table at its heart were a small jug and a mug.  It was from these that the smell emanated.  Sam picked up both jug and mug and tipped their contents into the sink, turning on the one tap to flush away the green and curdled milk and tea with cold water.

Frodo had been all of a rush the day they left to meet Gandalf and Mr Bilbo.  Sam had thought it odd at the time, putting it down to his excitement at seeing Bilbo so honoured.  They would only be gone a few days for the journey to and from the Grey Havens, after all.  But Frodo had been dashing about like a mad thing, straightening things here and tidying things away there.  It was certainly not the tweenage Frodo that Sam had first met, who had to be pushed and pulled by his Uncle Bilbo to go and tidy his room.

Apart from jug and mug the kitchen held no perishables.  In fact, in the last couple of years that Frodo lived here it had never held much in the way of food.  Sam had put that down to Frodo’s natural disinclination to cook and preoccupation with writing.  He had mentioned it to Rosie and she would send her husband up the Hill with pies and loaves of fresh bread most days.  Sam had told Frodo that they were payment for letting him read the books in Bag End’s library.  Frodo had only smiled and accepted the food graciously.  It had not occurred to Sam to check the pantry, but when he did so now he found it empty.  It had obviously been empty for some time, apart from a pale ring on the shelf, exactly the same shape as the base of the milk jug.  You ninny hammer, Sam Gamgee.  No wonder Frodo was so thin.  He hoped that they had common sense enough ensure that he ate, wherever he was now.

Sam rinsed the jug and mug as best he could and left them by the stone sink.  He would come back tomorrow and heat some water to clean the place down properly.  There was still wood piled by the door to light the range.  It was the last thing he could do for Mr Frodo.  He turned from the room and padded down the hallway.

The study door was open and he stepped inside.  Here, too, the grate was filled with the curled remains of papers no longer needed.  And here, too, a blanket was folded over the chair back, a few logs standing ready by the hearth.  Sam had come in here only a few days into September to find a fire blazing in the grate and had paid it little heed at the time.

Frodo had not used the study until they came back from Gondor.  Then he had started by tidying it up.  Sam recalled bringing in some of the new season’s taters and finding Frodo sitting in the middle of the study floor, his sleeves rolled up and surrounded by sheaves of papers.  The fire had been burning that day too, but Sam had assumed it was to facilitate the burning of all the scraps of paper Frodo was feeding it.  Sam had asked him what he was doing and Frodo had glanced up at him from a sheet of Mr Bilbo's spidery scrawl.

“It’s high time I got things sorted out, Sam.  Time to try and pick the threads out of all this mess.”

Sam had gone back into the kitchen to prepare some tea.  When Frodo got involved like that he had a tendency to forget to eat.  His master was getting far too thin and frail looking.

Within two months the study was cleared and organised.  Frodo had even had Borgil Proudfoot over to fit some more shelves on the walls for storage of the now neatly collated folders of papers and books.  Then Frodo had begun his writing in the Red Book.

Sam now laid that book upon the desk, where he had seen Frodo working on it for so long.  It belonged here, somehow.  Not in number three Bagshot Row.  Frodo had given it to Sam to keep but it didn’t seem right to him.  It belonged in Bag End, where it had all started.

As he turned back down the hall to the front door, a large piece of dark blue velvet discarded upon the floor, half in and half out of Frodo’s bedroom door caught Sam’s eye.  He tutted to himself.  Of all of the four hobbits Frodo was the one least often to be seen in the grand cloak that had been gifted him in Minas Tirith.  Yet, on the day of their leaving he had donned it, along with his fine grey velvet suit and silver brocade waistcoat.  When he had seen that Sam, Merry and Pippin were wearing their Lorien cloaks, however, he had run back into the smial, calling something about it probably being the last ride of the Fellowship.  The other three had only exchanged confused glances and the whole matter had been forgotten when Frodo had reappeared, wearing his grey cloak with the leaf clasp.

Sam picked up the heavy, soft fabric and opened the door, laying the cloak reverently across the green counterpane of Frodo’s bed.  He glanced around.  Here too, if he had only the eyes to see it before, was evidence of Frodo’s difficulty in rebuilding his life after the Ring.

An extra blanket was folded at the end of the bed and more logs were piled on the hearth in this room too.  For many years it had been Sam’s job to keep Bag End supplied with firewood, but after the birth of Elanor, Frodo had insisted that Sam should have more time for his family.  So for the past two years Frodo had paid Joe Proudfoot to keep Bag End supplied with firewood, and the young lad would often refill the baskets by the various fireplaces as part of those duties, for Frodo paid him way more than the going rate for his services.  Sam was not completely happy with the arrangement, quite willing to do for Mr Frodo as he had always done, but Frodo could be stubborn when he wanted to be.

There had always been a row of books along the windowsill but they usually lay higgledy-piggledy, with gaps where the odd one or two had been removed and placed upon the top of the wooden chest at Frodo’s bedside.  Now there were no half read books at the bedside and those on the sill were meticulously organised.

The wardrobe door stood open and Sam surveyed the clothes still hanging there.  They were neatly arranged on elegantly shaped wooden hangers.  Sam remembered when Frodo had opened the parcel containing them, received on his last birthday.  The label and the note within had been written in a large flowing script that was clearly not Bilbo’s, although his signature was scrawled at the bottom of the page.  Sam wondered if it had been Elrond or perhaps one of the other elves that had written the note on his behalf.  Bilbo would not have forgotten to send a present but those arthritic fingers could no longer wield a pen with their previous dexterity.

Frodo had always arranged the clothes in his wardrobe with the least used ones to the left.  Over the years of tending his master Sam had learned even this foible.  But it seemed that even this reflected the change that had been wrought in Frodo since they had all returned to the Shire.  To the left of the wardrobe hung suits and waistcoats in the greens and browns of the Shire . . . colours that reflected the fecund life of the land.  To the right hung more recently acquired clothing.  There were suits in greys and deep blues and waistcoats of silver silk or soft grey wool . . . colours that spoke of twilight and mist . . . and water.  How had Sam missed so much? 

All four of the fellowship of hobbits had changed.  They had all seen and experienced too much, too many dark and painful things that should never touch the carefree lives of those around them.  Even the previously irrepressible Pippin was quiet.  They all held too much inside; threatening to spill out and stain the Shire they still loved so deeply.  And each one held his own personal nightmares that he did not want to burden even his fellows with. 

And so, close as they still were . . . Sam had found a distance growing slowly between himself and Frodo.  He suspected that it was more of Frodo’s making than his.  Sam had often found his master staring at the wall as though seeing some other place, his face dark and his hand clutching at his left shoulder, but he would never tell his friend of that other place.  And Sam had continued to change too.  First there was Rosie and pretty Elanor (that Frodo had helped to name) and now little Frodo Lad.

On many a warm summer day, with Elanor picking daisies and Frodo Lad gurgling in his lap, Sam had seen Frodo looking on, pale and wistful, and been torn between caring for his family and caring for his best friend.

Sam drew his thoughts back to the present.  Something else was wrong in the room, and for a moment he could not place what it was.  Turning back to the bed, Sam tried to remember every item that had been on the bedside table and chest top.  Then he had it.  Frodo had brought little with him from Brandy Hall, but one of the things he had treasured was a small pair of oval frames containing the portraits of his parents.  They had been a present to his mother from his Aunt Esmeralda only a year before the tragic death of Frodo’s parents.  It must be one of the few items that Frodo had taken with him to the Havens.   There was an empty hook on the wall above the headboard too, where Drogo’s pipe had hung for many years.  Bilbo had often said that he would get Frodo’s portrait painted but the old hobbit had never got around to it.  Sam wished that he had.  He would have liked something to remember Frodo by.  Memories were all very well but they faded with age and a portrait would have looked grand above the mantle piece. 

Sam turned to the fireplace once more, picking out just the right spot for it, and blinked.  On top of the mantle, right in the centre, was a large brown paper package tied up with pink cord and sealed with red wax.  It looked very official and Sam wiped his palms on his weskit before lifting it down.  To his surprise, it was addressed to Samwise Gamgee, Esq. in Frodo’s firm, clear hand.

Laying the parcel reverently upon the counterpane, Sam pulled out his pocket-knife and cut the cord, sliding the blade between wax and paper to gain entry.  Frodo had mentioned nothing of this.  What could it be?

Sam sat down heavily upon the bed when he recognised the deeds to Bag End.  Folded atop was a document making over the property and all its contents to Sam and his descendants, all properly notarised in red ink by the requisite number of witnesses.  There was also a letter.  Sam took a deep breath and unfolded it.

“My Dearest Sam,

I am sorry that you had to learn of my leaving Middle-earth in such a sudden manner, and I hope that you will forgive me the deception.  Perhaps I was selfish, but I could not bear to see you in pain as we travelled to the Havens.  I wanted our last journey together to be happy, with no shadow to mar it. 

Even as I sit here writing this I am not sure that I will take that final step and travel with the elves.  If I do not you will never see this letter.  Another part of me knows that I must take the ship, for if I do not I will bring sorrow to your life and that is something I never want to do again.  Oh, I can almost hear you denying that last statement.  I know you too well, Sam Gamgee.  You love deeply and that is what I will miss more than anything, I think.

But I will blight your life, Sam dear.  You see, I am dying.  It’s not something that can be helped with medicines, or even love.  If I stay in Middle-earth I will grow weaker and weaker.  The shadow took too deep a hold on me, Sam.  I am wounded by knife, sting and tooth . . . and the Ring.  Oh, Sam.  The Ring darkened my dreams and left me no innocence.   My heart is broken and, if I stay, it will never heal.

Gandalf and Elrond say that in the West I may find healing, or at least peace.  I need peace, Sam.  My nights are filled with evil dreams and my days are numb and empty, even when surrounded by my friends.  I have tried so hard to take up the threads of my old life, but I cannot.  There is no going back because I have been changed too much.  And I have no strength left to go forward in this place.

But you can go forward.  You have Rosie and beautiful little Elanor and Frodo Lad.  (By the way . . . please apologise to Rosie for me.  I’m afraid that I stole one of Elanor’s ribbons and Frodo’s little white bonnet.  I wanted something to remember them by.)  You have more children to come too.  No, that’s not a foretelling.  I see you and Rosie together and children are the natural expression of such a deep love as you share.

If I had stayed you would be torn between your family and me.  You could not have stood by and let me fade away without wanting to help.  And your family would suffer because of it.  I am also a reminder of the past every time you see me and you need to look forward.  If I stayed I would tear you in two and you need to be one and whole for many years. 

I have no life to live in the Shire but you do, and so I’m making you my heir, Samwise Gamgee.  All that I had and that I might have had I leave to you.  Live your life, dear Sam.  Love, laugh and even cry.  Live life to the full and be as happy as anyone can be for as long as your part of the Story goes on.  Enjoy this land that you did so much to save.

Do not feel sorry for your Frodo.  He is going to a place he dreamed of long ago . . . a place of white shores and a far green country.  I can be at peace there until I reach the end of my journey.  And who knows, perhaps one day we will meet again.

Namarie

Frodo.”

 

Sam laid aside the letter and pulled out his handkerchief to blow his nose and blot his eyes.  His master was gone, but his last thoughts had been for his Sam. 

Frodo had been slipping away from them by such gradual degrees that even Sam had not noticed.  Or had he noticed and chosen not to acknowledge it?  After all, what was there to be done?  Merry and Pippin and Sam had cried on the quay but Frodo had not.  He had been dry-eyed throughout all his goodbyes.  Now Sam knew why.  Frodo was going to a new hope and he knew that the others would be all right.  Yes, he was sad to leave but he believed that staying would sour any happiness his friends were to have.  He had sacrificed himself once more.

No.  Frodo had not seen it as a sacrifice.  This was his chance to live again.  He would rediscover peace and happiness.  Sam took a deep breath and let his eyes roam the empty room.

He smiled.  Bag End was not empty.  It was tidy, yes.  But it was not empty.  Frodo was in every piece of furniture, every book, each pot and pan.  And he was in Sam’s heart.  He would never be gone from there.  And Sam would see to it that Bag End was filled with life . . . a life that Frodo could not have in Middle-earth.  Sam would be Frodo’s heir every moment of every day, just by living and loving.

 

END.

 

 




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