West
by Laura Mason

 

He'd been searching for the gates for over an hour, and Sam was beginning to believe they were hidden to any save elves.

"You promised," he choked, almost ready to cry. The fog only thickened around him. "Leastwise I took it as a promise, Mr. Frodo." Sam couldn't hear the waves anymore. He felt as if he were being sent back toward the Shire, though the pony hadn't moved.

"Lady Galadriel, please. I carried the Ring--" A wind blew in his face and Sam could see the shore ahead and once more hear the murmur and sigh that had been in his heart for 60 years now.

"Thank you," he whispered, then chuffed to his pony and steered him toward the gates now revealed to him. "Still there," he breathed as Cirdan opened the portal.

"Master Gamgee."

"Gardner," Sam automatically corrected as he stiffly dismounted, weary and cold. "Beg pardon, sir. I've been traveling a piece and my brain's right scrambled. Please call me Sam, Lord Cirdan."

"As you wish, Ringbearer. You come seeking the Havens?"

"Yes sir." Other elves took his pony and the small knapsack as Cirdan led him within. Sam stopped to give them the last apple from his pocket for Hap. "You'll send him back to the Shire?"

"If that is your wish, Master Samwise. Are you certain you do not wish to join him on that trip? There is no return once you set sail, and I know you are honored in the Shire, where your family still dwell."

"All save my Rosie," Sam sighed. "But it's time. I was promised this."

"No one questions your right, only whether you wish to leave this land forever. You have always loved Middle Earth."

"As did others gone these 60 years, Lord Cirdan. Mr. Frodo is my family, too. I miss him as much today as I did the day he sailed."

"The Uttermost West may not be as you expect, Samwise."

"Is Mr. Frodo still there?" Cirdan nodded assent. "Then that's where I'm going."

"He, too, may not be as you expect, Samwise. He has changed."

Sam paused for a moment, considering these words. "I'll change, too, I expect. He's still my Mr. Frodo and that's that."

Cirdan nodded again, holding Sam's eyes with his own. "As you wish."

They led Sam onto the ship, larger than he remembered it. The crew were like shadows, moving around him but difficult to see. The ship itself felt solid under his feet, yet fragile as a leaf -- or the wind that drove it. The sails were raised and with a final wave to Cirdan and the other elves, Sam slipped away.

He stood on the deck, feeling sick from the endless motion despite the drink someone pressed on him. The journey was longer than he expected, and the movements were tiring. Not a steady up and down, like his pony, but unpredictable and wild. They didn't just sail on the water, sometimes they seemed to fly over it, or duck under it.

The ship felt less real with each hour spent on board, and Sam knew he was journeying in some other fashion, but his mind held on to the idea of a ship. If it hadn't, Sam supposed he might have gone insane. He closed his eyes, miserable, then heard the whisper of a familiar voice.

"Welcome, Ringbearer. The Lords of the West honor you."

His eyes flew open, but there was nothing to be seen. He was in a mist, colorless yet full of every color in nature. He moved his toes cautiously, and felt earth-but-not-earth, nor sand. It was smooth, warm and alive beneath him, yielding yet firm. He took a few steps and felt delight in his legs, felt strength flow up into him from the living surface below him.

"Lady Galadriel?" he whispered, and she appeared out of the mist, as beautiful as he remembered. No, more beautiful, because the sadness he'd sensed in Lorien, the torment of her ring, was gone. She was smiling without shadow or loss in her eyes, and when Sam smiled back she laughed aloud, clear and joyous.

"Samwise Gardner, it gives me great joy to see you again."

"My Lady." He bowed deeply. "Thank you for this grace."

"You do not need to thank me, Sam. Thank the Valar, and your own great love, for they are what brought you here."

Sam stood with her, glancing around him, wondering why he'd thought there would be singing. Well, he'd never before been any place with elves where there wasn't singing. The thought had barely crossed his mind when he heard voices, song and music and laughter.

"Like Rivendell," he whispered.

"You begin to understand, I see." Galadriel led him off, and the mists cleared before them. There was a road, a path very like those near Bag End. Then hills and trees formed out of the mist, and it began to seem like he was back home again.

"My Lady?"

"We see what we love, Sam, and what is familiar. But they are illusions. The Blessed Land is not like Middle Earth, though we are allowed the comfort of our memories."

"I don't suppose the likes of me can understand it here, then."

"You will learn as you come to love this place. I know your heart, Samwise. You will make a home here."

"Begging your pardon, but I'll be at home as soon as I see Mr. Frodo, Lady. He's all the home I need."

"Indeed." Galadriel paused, looking at Sam, then turned and led him toward a familiar hill.

"Bag End! But..."

"Bilbo's memory of Bag End. He kept Frodo with him, as before. When Bilbo grew and went traveling, Frodo remained."

Sam breathed deeply and felt his body revive. At last. Frodo was here.

"Sam, please sit with me."

He turned and saw the Lady of Lorien settle on the lush grass cross-legged, like a hobbit lass. He laughed, and the air around him shimmered, sparkling. The illusions all wavered briefly, then settled.

"Oh, my. Is that what it is really like?"

"A little," she smiled. "Your joy already leads you toward truth. But I must tell you about Frodo..."

"You sound almost sad now. Is sadness even possible in this place? I can't imagine it. "Sam twirled, too excited to sit, feeling about 25 years old.

"There is no decay here, Sam, as you are feeling. No age or physical pain."

"So Mr. Frodo's wounds don't pain him now. I'd been hoping that all these years, Ma'am."

"But some things within us cannot be healed. Frodo came here seeking forgetfulness. He did not wish to remember the evil..."

"Of course not! It changed him so, my Lady, you don't know. You'd never seen him at peace, back in the Shire, before his travels. But it hurt him to think of the world being like that, full of nasty things..."

"Please, Sam, I'm trying to tell you what the Eldar gave Frodo. It is only what he asked for. But you may not understand." She breathed deeply, taking Sam's hand. "It was not the evil of Sauron that pained him here, but the darkness within himself.

"Already you feel the joy and peace granted here. But Frodo could not. He struggled so long, Sam. Until, at his request, true forgetfulness was granted him.

"Frodo does not remember Middle Earth. Not its joys nor its evils. He does not remember his other life at all."

"He doesn't remember -- me?" Sam sat down, feeling his full age again. The sky overhead darkened, reflecting his mood.

"It was the only healing he could find, Sam. We may watch those left behind..."

As she said the words, Sam saw all his children, wherever they were, in the wink of an eye, just by thinking of them. It was so quick, but he knew everything about them, what they were doing and feeling.

"Frodo could not stop thinking of you, Sam. Your happiness, your sadness -- he felt it all, and it dragged his thoughts into darkness. He was not healing while he remembered you."

Sam burst into tears as the illusions around him vanished, replaced by the soothing mists. Galadriel held him as he wept.

****

His tears had not yet stopped when he heard the familiar voice.

"Sam, causing trouble again? You haven't changed a bit."

"Gandalf?" For that is who it was, though he was much changed. Gandalf no longer wore the disguise of frail humanity.

"Yes, it's me." As in Ithilien, when Sam first saw him after Moria, Gandalf glowed with white light. Sam realized that such a light would have blinded him back home, but here it seemed perfectly right, blending with the other lights and colors of the Blessed Land.

"It's wonderful to see you, Gandalf."

"And you, Sam, though it grieves me to see you weep." Tears were still creeping down his face, Sam realized. "It does not seem right that Frodo's healing is your wounding."

"No, sir, I'm not weeping for that. I'm glad to hear he's found peace here, truly. I only feel sorrow that my ... how you just said, sir. What healed me back home in the Shire only wounded him more. I saw it happening, before we left. But I never thought it would continue once he was here, honest." He sobbed once, then drew his arm across his eyes. "I never wanted to hurt him."

"No, we understand that Sam. There is no blame."

"But I love him, and all I ever seem to do..." Sam couldn't finish the sentence, because immediately he knew it wasn't true. Memories of Frodo laughing with him, smiling at him, kissing him softly -- they all flooded his mind, not allowing any self-deception. Sam hadn't *only* hurt Frodo; they'd loved each other, helped each other, and hurt each other, too. But it was all part of the love, and Sam saw that clearly.

"Gandalf will take you to meet him, Sam, if you still wish it." Galadriel rose, and she looked less like her former self now, too, and more like the shimmer of sunrise on a lake.

"I'd like that very much, if it won't harm Mr. Frodo."

"I don't believe it will Sam, but I fear it may hurt you." With a gentle touch to his face, instantly refreshing his eyes, she was gone.

"Is she correct, Samwise? Are we giving you pain? Would it be better, perhaps, if you too forget your former life and live here as Frodo does, in forgetfulness?"

Sam opened his mouth to quickly say no, his thoughts flashing to his children so quickly it was overwhelming and wonderful. But then he was standing at Rosie's grave, and somehow seeing his sister's row of tiny stillborn graves, and so many things lost that were never regained. He gasped with the pain of it.

"You begin to understand this, too, I think."

Sam nodded, breathing deeply, watching the shimmer of the illusions around him. It was still Hobbiton, but not entirely. There were more varied trees, a forest that never existed in Middle Earth nearby filled with paths for walking with Frodo. There was a waterfall, like the musical waters in Ithilien, where the tiny creek in the Shire would be nearly dried-up on a summer day like this. And Frodo was there, within almost-Bag End. Sam felt him there without seeing him.

"I think, Master Gandalf, that one of us should remember. I don't mind it being only me, neither. I left Mr. Bilbo's Red Book with my Elanor, so that those in Middle Earth would remember what we did. You understand? It might be good if someone here remembers it all, too."

"We all remember, Sam."

"But you weren't there, begging your pardon. Only me and Mr. Frodo can really remember how it was." Only me, Sam realized, feeling heavy again. The clouds drew close overhead, but he shook them off, glancing once again to where he could feel Frodo's glow.

"Frodo doesn't need the illusions, does he?"

"No, Sam. He remembers no other life. But Bilbo was happiest at Bag End, so Frodo lives half in that world. You are not seeing what he sees, if that is what you ask."

"Can I meet him now, please?"

Gandalf led him to the door, but his polite knock merely moved the door aside and they stepped in. It *was* Bag End as it had been long years ago, yet not. There was Bilbo's pipe stand, and his walking stick. The rocker Sam remembered by the hearth. But there was no earth overhead, not really. The sun, moon and stars were above them, their light clearer than the forms themselves.

But the brightest light came from Frodo, sitting at the kitchen table, papers scattered about him covered with light and form and shape and color.

"Frodo, I've brought someone for you to meet." His head popped up, eyes clear and bright, instantly distracted from his task.

The sight of Frodo's face, unlined and free of sorrow, took Sam's breath away. He smiled and watched the walls waver and shine.

"Hello, Gandalf." Frodo launched himself into the wizard's arms, free as a hobbit lad and merry as an elf child. "You don't visit enough."

"You don't get out enough, but I'm hoping Sam here will change that. Sam, this is our Frodo."

"Hello, Sam." Frodo was hugging him then, kissing his cheek. Sam thought his heart would stop with joy, but Frodo's eyes were still those of a polite stranger. "You're like me, aren't you? I thought Bilbo and I were the only Periannath in these lands."

"I just arrived today, sir."

Frodo's laugh was so beautiful the entire horizon was nothing but light for a moment. "Don't call me 'sir,' please. I'm Frodo, and you're Sam. I think we'll be friends very soon."

"I hope so, Frodo." He swallowed the 'mister' before he uttered it.

"Have some nectar, Sam, and honeycake. Sit with me. Gandalf, would you like to join us?"

"No, I'd best be on my way. Thank you, Frodo."

Sam looked up in a panic, but Gandalf smiled reassurance at him and Sam just knew, as clearly as if he'd said it aloud, that Gandalf trusted he would not do or say anything wrong or hurtful. Then the wizard was gone, though it seemed to Sam that he was still aware of him and could still feel his loving concern.

Sam relaxed and watched as the glow from Frodo increased -- in response to his feelings? It was beautiful, whatever the reason.

"Of course we don't need to eat, but Bilbo always told me it was a good way to relax. And he enjoys the taste of my concoctions, so I hope you will, too." Frodo looked very young as he filled two goblets, finer than those Sam had seen at Aragorn's court, and prepared a plate of sliced cake. Then Frodo moved his papers off the table, humming as he worked.

Sam felt as much like singing as speaking, himself. He thought of Eleanor and the boys, glimpsed them quickly and knew they were well, though more time than the few days since his departure seemed to have passed. Thoughts of them only added to his joy at being with Frodo again.

He realized Frodo was staring at him thoughtfully after a moment of silence.

"You're quite lovely, Sam, though you're very different from Bilbo. He's firelight, while your aura is sunshine, I think, but warmer than Lady Galadriel's. I don't know the words for it, but when Bilbo returns he will tell us."

"Really?" Sam took a sip of the nectar, which tasted like fine home-brewed ale and the miruvor of the elves, somehow mixed together. Like Frodo himself, Sam thought, who'd never been like other hobbits. Here it was easier to understand how different things could combine to become something -- or someone -- truly fine. Sam wondered if the honey-cake would be like one of Rosie's birthday cakes mixed up with lembas.

"Oh, yes. Bilbo is truly a bard, gifted with words and music. He writes poems and songs, though he says his melodies do not compare to the elves'. But I love Bilbo's songs, and they're quite easy to sing and remember. "

Frodo sat beside him at last, taking a mouthful of cake with a grin that made the horizon bloom. Sam saw flowers and vines instead of brick walls, less like Bag End of old but a wonderful place to sit and talk.

"I expect Mr. Bilbo is quite an adventurer. When will he be back?"

Frodo laughed again. "I never do know that. He's been gone for many cycles now, but I'm not concerned. He makes friends everywhere, and he loves to roam."

"But aren't you..." Sam stopped himself. He didn't know if loneliness was possible in these lands. Perhaps Frodo felt Bilbo near him, despite any distance. "What do you do each day?"

"I have a ... garden, that's Bilbo's word. Where things grow." Sam nodded. He was seeing it even as Frodo spoke, different than the flowers he remembered from home, but alive and becoming. Sam was aware of the life in everything around them. "And I try to catch how they grow on these papers." The papers covered in beautiful colors and shapes, mixed in with elven writing, were art. Art that left no ink stains on Frodo's hands, not here. It was art made from light, from his essence. "You understand, don't you? I see it in your eyes." Frodo sparkled with delight, his bright eyes brimming with friendship, almost as Sam remembered them so long ago.

Sam smiled at him, watching what remained of Bag End quiver and fade, leaving only beauty and hope. "I used to have a garden myself. Can I help with yours, do you think?"

Frodo's return smile blazed so bright it shattered the remaining illusions, leaving them together in the glow.

 

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