A Longer Road by Shireling

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Chapter One of Nine


A Longer Road  by Shireling

 

 

 

 

 

It was autumn in the Shire and the fields and gardens around Bag End had given up their bounty. The harvests had been gathered and the barns and storehouses brimmed with produce for the coming winter. The last few months had been busy for Sam. He was often away from home tending the trees and saplings growing tall under the influence of the benign weather and the elven magic of Galadriel’s gift. The party tree had blossomed, even as Rosie’s pregnancy had progressed, and the birth of his beautiful daughter had crowned his happiness. Only his continued concern for Frodo marred his otherwise settled existence.  Frodo had never really seemed comfortable being back in the Shire. He avoided the company of all but his closest friends and often fell into silent, distracted isolation.  The pain of his injuries a constant dull reminder of his toils during the Quest.  He spent long hours in the study organising and finishing Bilbo’s diaries and completing the account of the Quest.  Merry and Pippin were frequent visitors, but even they could not rouse Frodo from his self-imposed isolation. Sam could offer comfort and companionship on the bad days, days that were becoming more frequent as the months progressed and the summer waned.

 

 

***

 

The afternoon lengthened into early evening. A comforting fire warmed the kitchen of Bag End. The day had been busy for all of the occupants but the bustle of the day faded  into quiet companionship. Sam slipped out to the stables to go and check on the ponies, he had checked the saddles and harnesses earlier but his excitement at the prospect of tomorrow’s journey made him restless.  It was weeks since Frodo had even contemplated venturing out of the burrow, so when he had announced to Sam his intention to visit Bilbo Sam had been delighted. To Sam’s disappointment he couldn’t venture with him all the way to Rivendell but he would accompany him for a week or so until Frodo joined up with other travelling companions.  Sam wasn’t aware of how these arrangements had been organised but he trusted Frodo’s judgement and knew that he would be well looked after.

 

Rosie bustled about the kitchen preparing the supper. Frodo sat in the rocking chair beside the fire with Elanor cradled in his hands.  He was crooning a story to her as he rocked gently. Her bright eyes gradually lost focus as her lids drooped, heavy with sleep. Frodo continued his story, his voice gradually getting softer and softer as she drifted into slumber.  When he was sure that she was sleeping he gently shifted her up onto his chest so that her head nestled unto his neck. He pulled a shawl around her and breathed in the gentle, distinctive baby smell. His breath caught in his throat, as he was overwhelmed with sadness.

 

Rosie looked up from the stove, aware of the sudden silence. Her smile quickly vanished as she noticed the tears on Frodo’s’ cheeks.

 

“Why Mr Frodo, whatever is the matter?” concerned that he might be in pain.

 

“Its nothing Rosie,” he choked

 

“Well the baby has had one bath today, I don’t want you giving her another” she teased gently, trying to ease the tension that filed the silence. “Let me settle her in her crib and then I’ll make you some tea”.  She lifted the sleeping baby and set her down in the crib.

 

Frodo continued to rock, unable to stem the silent tears that ran down his face. He hated to show his weakness, but could no longer contain the emotions he had suppressed for so long. He wanted to escape to his room to avoid Rosie’s’ concerned attention but he found that he lacked the energy to move. Rosie knelt in front of him and enveloped him in a loving embrace. He tried to pull away but she tightened her grip until he resisted no longer and he sank against her, sobbing.

 

“Shush…shush” she soothed as she would have done to Elanor. She held and comforted him for a long time until he stilled against her and his breathing eased.

 

“Can you tell me?” she asked quietly, taking his pale, beautiful face in her hands and wiping the tears from his cheeks with her thumbs.

 

“I’m not sure that you would understand… I’m not sure I understand!” he said shakily. “”You have both been so good to me. I’m so glad that Sam has you and Elanor…. it will make it easier…when…”

 

“When what, Mr Frodo?”

 

Suddenly realisation dawned and she stared at him in disbelief. “You don’t intend to come back, do you?”

 

“There is no coming back from this journey, Rosie. The Elves and Bilbo are travelling to the Grey Havens to journey to the West and I will be going with them!” He turned his eyes to the fire, unable to meet her shocked gaze.

 

“But what about the Shire and Bag End and the people that love you! What about SAM! You can’t do that to him…Not after everything you’ve been through together… you will break his heart,” she whispered “he loves you”.

 

“And I love him, that’s why I have to go” he countered. “I will not stay here and put you both through any more of my suffering. I couldn’t bear for him to see me diminish and fade away, to become feeble and helpless and a burden. You two deserve to be happy and I will not put that in jeopardy. ”

“ I knew when I accepted Sam’s proposal that you and he came as a package and I have never regretted my decision, you are part of his life and hold a large part of his heart and I love him for it.” she said brushing away a  tear that ran down her face.

 

“When do you intend to tell Sam?” she asked, moving away to put some distance between them

 

“Not until we are on the way,” he said. “…I know that it is cowardly of me, but if I tell him before we leave he’ll try and persuade me to stay, and I’m not sure if I am strong enough to resist him…. I don’t want to hurt him,” his eyes pleaded with her to understand and to forgive him.

 

“Are you sure this is the only way?” she demanded, her knowledge of Sam’s pain warring with her compassion for Frodo.

 

“What else can I do? This isn’t an impulsive decision. I’ve known ever since we returned that there would be no happy ending for me here in the Shire, but I did hope to have longer than this. If I don’t go now it will be too late and any chance I have of finding peace and contentment will be lost”

 

Rosie handed him a cup of tea and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

 

“Well then, you had better get yourself off to bed, Sam will be in soon. One look at your face and he will know that something is wrong. He knows you too well to be fobbed off with excuses”

 

“Thank you Rosie…. for everything!”

 

 

Later as she lay in bed Rosie listened to the soft sighing breaths of the baby asleep in the crib beside her, and the gentle snores of Sam. She moved closer and wrapped her arms tightly around his solid, comforting frame. He stirred and nestled against her, murmuring her name in his sleep. She wanted to wrap him in an embrace that would protect him from the hurts to come, knowing that she was powerless. She cursed the fates that had blighted the lives of the two who meant so much to her.

 

 

***

 

Sam was up with the dawn; he dressed quietly and slipped out into the kitchen to make a cup of tea for Rosie and Frodo. As he waited for the kettle to boil he gathered together the rations he would need for the journey and stowed them neatly into his pack along with his pots and pans. He whistled to himself as he worked, his happiness at the prospect of travelling with Frodo for a few days evident on his countenance.

 

“I’m not sure you should look quite so happy at the prospect of leaving me here on my own, Samwise Gamgee!” Sam turned to see Rosie in the doorway, her eyes heavy with sleep. Sam could see Elanor peeping at him from the bundle of shawls in her arms.

 

“Oh, I’m not happy to be leaving you, Rosie love, never think that” he said sheepishly.

 

“I know Sam, I’m only teasing,” she said planting a kiss on his cheek. “Now where’s my tea, this young lady woke me up to demand breakfast and I need something to wake me up proper”

 

“You don’t mind my going, do you? Asked Sam, now ashamed of his eagerness to go travelling.

 

“Of course I don’t mind. Marigold is going to stay with me until you return. We plan to be busy with bottling the fruit and making jam and cleaning through the burrow from end to end. A job that will be much easier without you under our feet!”

 

Sam wasn’t fooled by her brisk tone “I do love you Rosie; what ever did I do to deserve you?”

 

“You fought goblins, spiders and the odd Oliphant from what I heard tell!” She joked, “That’s not bad for starters! Now where’s my tea?” Sam smirked as he put the kettle on the range.

 

“Oh, I survived that and I came home to a dragon!” he ducked around the table to avoid a well aimed cuff.

 

***

 

It was mid morning before they were finally organised and ready to leave. Sam saddled Strider and Bill and they were now waiting patiently, tethered to the gate. Frodo moved from room to room, saying a final farewell to his home, trying to imprint each room into his memory. When he reached his study he checked through the documents on the desk to ensure that all were in order. Finally he took a sealed envelope and a bunch of keys and placed them on top of the large, red, leather bound journal. With a final glance around the room, so full of memories and lost dreams, he closed the door.

 

“Ready, Mr Frodo”

 

“Nearly Sam”.

 

At the round, green door Frodo turned to Rosie. He embraced her and whispered softly “Look after him for me, help him to understand, for he is dearer to me than life itself”, further words were impossible as he fought to contain the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him.

“I will make him happy, for his sake and for yours. It has been an honour to know you Frodo. Go now and find the peace you seek”.

 

“Thank you, Rosie”. With a last kiss he turned and walked to the gate.

 

 

***

 

 

They travelled at a leisurely pace and for the first few hours of the journey they travelled in companionable silence. The sun was warm and the autumn breeze played gently over the grass as they followed the road towards Woody End. Frodo’s face was hidden from Sam within the hood of his cloak, although he looked around as if drinking in the sights as they passed. Sam was constantly surveying the surroundings to check on the state of the trees as they passed and making mental notes of areas that still needed his attention to repair the ravages caused by the ruffians. 

 

As the afternoon wore on Sam suggested that they find a place to stop, he pleaded tiredness but this was merely an excuse. He had noticed that Frodo was sagging in the saddle, his head nodding down to his chest as he rode. They found a sheltered glade in the green hills and camped by a small stream.

 

“Come on now Mr Frodo, let me help you down”. Frodo wanted to resist his help but found he was too tired and stiff to dismount unaided.

 

“I seem to be a bit out of practice Sam, maybe I have been spending too long over my books!”

 

“Never mind that, the fresh air will do you good and get some colour back in your cheeks. You sit here while I light a fire and sort out the ponies”

 

By the time Sam had a fire going Frodo had fallen asleep, curled up in his cloak, his head resting on his outstretched arm. Sam smiled down affectionately at his master “I guess it has been a hard day” he said to himself. He laid out the bedding rolls and prepared some supper.  When all was ready he gently roused Frodo.                     

 

“Come on Sir, I hate to wake you but supper is ready and you need to keep your strength up.” He helped him to sit up and pulled a blanket around his shoulders. “Have some tea first it will help you feel better”. They sat side by side in the light of the fire. Several times Frodo seemed on the point of saying something but each time he faltered and lapsed into silence. Sam placed a hand on his shoulder “Come on Sir, lay yourself down and get some rest, we have further to travel tomorrow”.

 

“Thank you Sam, but you must rest too”

 

“Now don’t you go worrying about me, you just rest. I think I’ll just sit and watch the stars for a while”. Frodo lay down and pulled his blankets and cloak around him. Within minutes he was asleep.

 

Sam looked on the tranquil face of his companion. In the moonlight the fair contours of his face glowed with an inner beauty that tugged at Sam’s heart. As if sensing that their days together were numbered Sam ached to sooth away the cares and the shadow that had blighted the happiness of his dearest friend. With a sigh he pulled his bedroll up close and lay down on his side facing Frodo, he sought for the maimed hand under the blanket and enclosed it within his own. “Good night, my friend, Sleep well.”

 

********

 

Sam was again up with dawn. He washed himself in the stream and set about preparing breakfast and a hot drink.  When all was ready he roused Frodo gently, a mug of tea to hand to ease his friend into the day.

 

Frodo tried to turn over to lever himself into a sitting position, but failed miserably and lay back with a groan.

 

“What is it Mr Frodo?” asked Sam in alarm.

 

“I can’t move Sam” said Frodo with a grimace.

 

“Are you in pain?”

 

“Yes, but it’s not that so much as the fact that my arms and legs don’t seem to want to obey my commands” he added with a wry grin.  “It seems that when it comes to travelling I am more out of practice than I thought!”

 

“Well you have been spending rather a lot of time in your study just recently!” said Sam, “but I’m sure you’ll get back into the swing of things in a day or so”

 

“That’s not much help now though is it?” said Frodo with a flash of exasperation.

 

Sam put down the mug and helped Frodo to sit up.  He moved one of the saddles over for him to lean against and handed him his drink. They finished their drinks in silence. Then Sam proceeded to massage his master’s legs to warm the muscles and bring them back to life.

 

“Thank you Sam” said Frodo struggling to rise to his feet; he limped painfully towards the shelter of the trees. Sam rose to follow.

 

“It’s alright Sam; there are some things I can manage on my own!” He said with a distinct twinkle in his eye. Sam blushed and turned back to attend to the breakfast, pleased to see the flash of humour that had been so rare of late.

 

An hour later they were on the road again. Frodo had decided that he would walk for a while to try to ease the stiffness in his limbs. They walked side-by-side leading the ponies. Frodo was again lost in thought and was rather startled when Sam turned to him, rather hesitantly, and voiced a concern that had been growing in him since breakfast.       

 

“Mr Frodo, meaning no disrespect, but how are you going to manage when I turn and head back to Hobbiton?  It’s obvious to me that you are not strong enough to travel without help.  Much as I would love to see Mr Bilbo and Rivendell again, I did promise Rosie I would be gone only a week or two!”

 

“Don’t fret Sam, for I will be travelling with Elves: indeed, if we are lucky we should meet up with them this evening. I think you can trust them to care for me nearly as well as you would.” Frodo turned his face towards the horizon, guilty that he had still not the courage to tell Sam the real intention of his journey. “Come on, let’s ride for a while and see how far we can get before lunch.” He hoped to change the subject without Sam realising.

 

“It will be grand to see the Elves again” said Sam “I hope Rosie will get to meet them before they all leave for the West”, he continued wistfully. Frodo pulled his hood down over his face so that Sam wouldn’t see the shining rivulet run down his cheek.

 

As dusk fell the two riders came to a road that ran from East to West along the top of a rise.  They could see the road disappearing into ancient forest groves in each direction.

 

“We will stop here Sam, for this is where I hope to meet up with the elves”.

 

“We have been here before, if I’m not mistaken” said Sam, looking around, trying to remember why the glade seemed to evoke such a powerful feeling of familiarity.

 

“Yes Sam, it was near here that we encountered the Black Rider for the first time” said Frodo, looking around apprehensively, as if expecting another of the fell riders to burst through the trees.

 

“Perhaps we should move on a bit further, Sir?” suggested Sam sensing Frodo’s disquiet.

 

“No, it’s alright Sam; those phantoms cannot hurt us now.” said Frodo with a shudder.

 

 

They sat down in the shelter of the trees. Sam produced a cold supper of bread, cheese and apples from his pack and they washed it down with a mug of cider.  Frodo sat, his gaze lost in the middle distance. Sam lay back with his head cushioned on his hands, watching as the first stars appeared in the fading light.

 

“Sam, are you happy?”

 

“What a strange question Mr Frodo. You know I love spending time outdoors, and with you here beside me I couldn’t be happier”. Sam looked across, puzzled by strained note in Frodo’s voice.

 

Frodo flashed a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “That’s not what I meant, Sam. Are you happy with Rosie and Elanor and your life at Bag End?”

 

“Of course I’m happy! When we all got home safely and I realised that Rosie had waited, never giving up hope of our return, well, I thought I would burst with happiness. Of course it was a great shock to come home and find the Shire in such a mess, just when I thought all our troubles were over. But it was soon set to rights and well, … the scars will fade and the sleepy inhabitants of the Shire will settle back into their comfortable ways and pretend that it never happened. Not that I intend to let them forget, even if I have to bang the stories into their heads with my shovel!” Sam paused a while before continuing “Happy, oh yes Sir, I’m happy and now I’m the father of the most beautiful lass in the Shire, what more could I ask for?”

 

“You deserve every drop of happiness, Sam Gamgee, never lose sight of it, for it is very precious!” said Frodo wistfully.

 

They both began to doze as they sat and watched the evening stars brighten in the deepening blue of the night sky. It was as though the very stars were singing a fair tune to welcome the night.  Sam looked west along the road hoping to catch a first glimpse of the Elves. The singing grew louder, but it was not in the west that the faint glow of lanterns appeared.  They approached from the east, and as they got nearer it became obvious that it was a large party.

 

Frodo and Sam rose to their feet and bowed in welcome. Gildor led the party, and amongst the host they saw Lord Elrond and the Lady Galadriel riding either side of small pony who carried a familiar figure.

 

“Why bless me it’s Mr Bilbo!” exclaimed Sam.

 

“Then Bilbo woke up and opened his eyes. “Hullo, Frodo!” he said. “Well I have passed the Old Took today! So that’s settled. And now I think I am quite ready to go on another journey. Are you coming?”

 

“Yes, I am coming,” said Frodo. “The Ring-bearers should go together”.

( JRR Tolkien. The grey Havens, The Return of the King)

 

Sam sat down, his legs no longer able to support him, realisation suddenly dawning. It took a few moments for the full impact of Frodo’s words to sink in. He felt as if his world had suddenly collapsed.

 

“You’re going… you’re leaving and I am not to go with you!” he whispered, grief and pain overwhelming him. He felt sick; he could hear his heart beat pounding in his ears.

 

“I’m so sorry Sam,” whispered Frodo “I wanted to tell you, to warn you, but …I just couldn’t…..please forgive me” he pleaded.

 

Sam looked around at the gathered host, trying to detect anything that could bring him hope. Finally he looked to Lord Elrond and then Lady Galadriel, he saw the sadness and compassion in their eyes and knew then that all hope was in vain. He turned back to Frodo and grasped the front of his cloak. Frodo put a hand out to touch him; to make contact, to do something to ease the pain in Sam’s eyes, but Sam pulled away.

 

“Sorry!...You should have told me. After everything that we’ve been through…. you should have told me” He shouted.  Turning on his heals; he pushed passed the assembled crowd.  “In all the time I’ve known you, I’ve never before known you to be cruel……. how could you do this to me?” he staggered forward and brushing off the hands that tried to stay him, he blundered into the shelter of the trees.

 

“Sam…Please…” begged Frodo, but his words went unheeded

 

Lord Elrond looked about and saw that Frodo was on the point of collapse.  He steadied the trembling Hobbit and, lifting him, handed him to one of the Elves, where he lay silent and heart broken. Lord Elrond announced that they would travel no further that night.  They made camp and while Galadriel attended to Frodo he dispatched Gildor to find and care for Sam.

 

 

***

 

 

Sam blundered, unheeding, into the trees.  The darkness of night now complete. He moved forward, wanting only to put some distance between himself and the travellers. He could scarcely breathe for the pain in his chest; his sight blinded by the tears that poured down his face. He slammed his fist repeatedly against a tree, needing a physical pain to mask the strangling pain in his heart. In the darkness his foot caught on a tree root; he stumbled and lay gasping for breath, his hands clutching at the forest floor. As the pain and grief overwhelmed him he let out a howl of anguish that rang through the silent forest. He was racked with sobs that tore at him until he retched. 

 

Deaf and blind to his surroundings he didn’t hear the Elf approach. He was suddenly aware of an arm supporting him across his chest, he wanted to pull away but he had neither the strength nor the will to resist the firm but gentle embrace. He looked up at the Elf who supported him but the fair being never spoke; he rocked Sam against him as though he were a child. Sam felt the tension flow out of him and he turned his face against the chest of his comforter as his tears flowed.

 

Sam had no way of telling how much time had passed when his tears finally ceased. He pulled away from the Elf and rose to his feet, finally recognising Gildor.

 

“The last time we met in these woods you cared for us and offered us your protection…. It was one of the most special memories I had of our travels…. my first encounter with Elves…yet our dealings with Elves seem to bring nothing but pain…!” his words weren’t an accusation, just an expression of lost hopes.

 

“How can I answer that when your grief and pain are so clear, and yet we share in your sadness even though we cannot prevent it?” said the Elf gently. “Come Sam, for you are cold and weary, let us go and find warmth and comfort while we can”.

 

“Warmth maybe, but I can see no comfort that will bring me ease,” said Sam as he allowed Gildor to lead him back through the trees.

 

 

As they reached the encampment Gildor guided Sam to one of the smaller fires. He sat him down and wrapped a blanket around his shoulders.  He fetched a hot drink and a plate of food. Sam took a long drink but left the food untouched; he shuddered as the warmth settled in his belly.  He gazed into the fire, as he had done so many times on the long dark nights of the quest, trying to find courage and hope within its depths, but now it brought only memories of pain and struggle.

 

“He never meant to hurt you!” Sam was pulled from his reverie by the gentle but insistent tones of Lord Elrond. 

 

“Then why didn’t he tell me”?

 

“Because he was afraid that if you asked him to stay his resolve would falter. He loves you Sam, but he knew that leaving was the only chance he had to find peace and healing. He is going so that he may release you from the burden of his distress…How much longer do you thing he would last if he remained in the Shire?”

 

“I never asked to be released…he was never a burden… Oh, I could see he was failing: getting thinner and weaker with each passing month, but I promised to look after him and to never leave him…and now he is leaving me!”

 

“He will never leave you Sam, for he will always be in your heart: a love as strong as yours doesn’t just fade away, it strengthens as the bad memories fade and the joyful ones remain to shine forever”. Sam wiped his sleeve across his face. He swallowed down the tears that threatened to fall.

 

“What must I do?” he asked quietly.

 

“You must be brave, for Frodo needs you to be strong for him.   However hard this parting is for you, it is far more painful for him.  He is leaving behind all that he holds dear; his home, his family, his friends and all of the hopes and dreams that he had for his future. Be strong for him now, for your anguish can only cause him more distress. You kept him going through the darkest hours of your journey. It was your love that helped him to endure when no other help was at hand.  I know that your grief is raw and your heart is breaking…be strong for him for a few days more, care for him as you have always done.” Lord Elrond turned, and clasping Sam’s hands within his own, he continued “I give you my solemn vow; that when you give him into my care he will receive all that my kin and I can give to aid his recovery and his search for peace and happiness”.

 

“He told me long ago that I too could take a ship to the West,” declared Sam with a piercing gaze rarely seen on his normally tranquil countenance. “If I decide to take that road I will hold you to that vow and call you to account. My judgement will be harsh if I find you wanting!” 

 

“I will not fail you!

 

Sam allowed Lord Elrond to attend to his injured hand. The knuckles were bruised and swollen. He cleaned the wounds carefully and applied a soothing salve before applying a light bandage.

 

“Where is Mr Frodo?” he asked quietly.

 

“He sleeps over by the large campfire close to Bilbo. I gave him something to help him rest and to sleep without dreams”.

 

“I must go to him, I would not have him wake and find that I am not at his side”.

 

Sam moved soundlessly across the clearing. Few of the Elves were sleeping although some had settled down to the open eyed resting that Sam had become accustomed to seeing from Legolas during the time they had travelled together.  As he approached the largest campfire he saw the two sleeping Hobbits swaddled in blankets.  His own bedroll, supplemented with extra blankets was laid out next to Frodo.  He edged it closer and taking one of the blankets to wrap around him, he lowered himself down and, sitting cross-legged, he began his sleepless vigil. When Frodo stirred he crooned to him softly, tenderly brushing the hair from his brow. Sam tucked the blankets closely around him and rested his hand on his chest.

 

“Sam….!”

 

“Shush now… your Sam is here” Sam rocked himself backward and forwards, forcing down the tears that were so near the surface. The beauty and stillness of his master cutting like a knife to his heart.

 

***

 

* TBC*




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