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Playing History  by Galadriel Gardner

Author’s note

Many lines are directly quoted or adapted from The Return of the King.

This story takes place in S.R. 1434, about two years before King Elessar’s visit to the north in 1436, or years 13 and 15 of the Fourth Age, respectively. It assumes that the Gamgees have already become known as the Gardners. I have used Dreamflower’s age equivalent system for all of the children in this story. Their ages and approximate human equivalents are as follows:

Elanor: thirteen (eight human years)

Frodo: eleven (seven human years)

Rosie: nine (five and a half to six human years)

Merry: seven (four and a half to five human years)

Pippin: five (three human years)

Goldilocks: three (eighteen to twenty human months)

Hamfast: two (thirteen to fourteen human months)

Daisy: one (about eight human months)


“I want to be Dad,” said Frodo-lad, sitting on top of the toy chest in the nursery.

Elanor turned from rummaging through the big old wardrobe where cast-off clothes, fabric scraps, and other oddments were kept for the children to play with. “You can’t.”

“Why not?”

She laughed. “Because your name is Frodo, silly!”

Frodo swung his feet. “But I look more like Dad than you, and besides, you’re a girl!”

Elanor put her hands on her hips. “So? Mr. Frodo isn’t a girl, and neither is Dad.”

Frodo rolled his eyes. “What’s that got to do with it?”

“Well, somebody has to be him, and it’s got to be either you or me.”

“Well, I still want to be Dad.”

Elanor sighed. “All right, I suppose since I’m oldest, I’d better be Mr. Frodo anyway.”

Frodo’s solemn, round face split in a triumphant grin. “All right! Which part are we doing?”

“Hmmmm …” Elanor gazed thoughtfully toward the window, watching raindrops chase each other down the pane in constant succession. “It would be fun to do all of it, but that would take about a week, and it might stop raining this afternoon so we can go outside.”

“Can we do the part with Faramir? I like that bit best.”

“But who’s going to be Faramir? The others are too little. He has too many words they can’t remember yet.”

“Oh,” said Frodo, crestfallen.

“Ooh … I know what let’s do!” Elanor lowered her voice dramatically. “Let’s do the scariest part, with the really big spider and the Orcs and then all the way to the mountain.”

Frodo squirmed. “That part is scary, Ellie,” he said, round-eyed.

Elanor put her hand on his shoulder. “Yes, it really is. But it’s all right, you know. We’ll just be doing it for pretend. There’s no more Shelob really.”

Frodo still looked anxious. “But there’s lots of words in that, too. And Dad said lots of them. What if I don’t remember?”

She gave his shoulder an encouraging pat. “You’ll remember.”

Frodo sighed. “No, I won’t. You’re the one that’s good at remembering all the words to things.”

Elanor thought for a moment, pacing about the room and staring down at the swirling colors in the carpet under her feet. She tugged at a stray curl, winding it more and more tightly around her index finger. Then she smiled at her brother and snapped her fingers with a lift of her chin and a sparkle in her eyes. “I know what I’ll do. You get some biscuits to be the Elf-bread, and get our cloak blankets and stuff. I’ll be right back.” She whirled around once in excitement, then ran off down the hall.

The study door was closed. Elanor pressed her ear to it for a moment and heard the scratching of a pen inside. Most days, her father liked to be outdoors in the garden, and Frodo loved to help him. But today the rain pitter-pattered softly and steadily on the windows. Dad had said this morning that today was a good day to attend to what he called ‘mayoring business.’ Elanor was relieved. She would never have dared to touch the Red Book without permission. She knocked gently on the closed, round door.

“Come in.”

She pushed it open, slipped inside, and closed it behind her. The room was warm and cozy with firelight. She came to her father’s side and waited while he finished writing.

After a moment, he looked up from his work, smiling, and put his arm about her. “Hello, Elanorellë.”

She smiled tentatively back, pressing and twisting her hands together in front of her. She was suddenly very nervous about what she was about to ask. What if she had to explain about her and Frodo’s new favorite game? What if Dad didn’t like it and said they had to stop?

Sam wiped the ink from his fingers and cupped her soft cheek. “What is it, Ellie? You look like the cat that’s got the cream and is sorry about it.”

She giggled. “Gem and Jewel are never sorry about it, Dad.”

He chuckled too. “No, you’re right there. They aren’t. But what’s got you worrying today?”

She wrung her hands harder and took a deep breath. “Dad, can I — I mean, may I — please look at the Red Book in here with you? And may I please have a bit of paper and a pen and some ink?”

Sam slowly lifted his eyebrows. “Why?”

Elanor bit her lip. “Me and Frodo — I mean, Frodo and I want to learn some of it off by heart, like we do our lessons.”

Sam blinked at her, then smiled and got up to pull a footstool and small table over to the large stand where the tall, heavy Red Book always rested. As he rummaged for paper, pen, and ink, he said, “Just remember the pen’s for your own paper, not the book.”

Elanor nodded, wide-eyed. “I would never write on Mr. Frodo’s book, Dad, I promise.”

Sam handed her the supplies and ruffled her hair. “When you’re older, all grown up, you might just have something to write in it, lass. But not yet.”

“Yes, Dad.”

He opened the heavy cover for her and turned over some of the beginning leaves. “What bit do you want? I’ll help you.”

“Oh.” Elanor felt her face growing hot. the book was so very big. Dad could always find anything in it as quick as quick. It would go lots faster if she let him help. But she was old enough, now, to know what a dreadfully bad part of the story that was for him. She thought quickly, searching for something less dreadful but still near the spot she needed. “The place where your song is,” she said.

“My song? You mean the one about Tom and the Troll?”

She shook her head. “Not that one.” She softly sang the first line. “‘In western lands beneath the Sun, the flowers may rise in spring …’ That one.” She glanced anxiously up into her father’s face. “Is that all right?”

He looked back at her with thoughtful surprise, but nodded and turned over large sections of the book, pausing to read a line or a paragraph here and there. Elanor watched his lips shaping the words he read. Finally he stopped and pointed to a few smaller blocks of graceful text set among larger, longer paragraphs. “There it is, that song.”

Elanor looked at it and smiled at him. “Thanks, Dad.” She touched the letters gently. “I hope I have writing as pretty as Mr. Frodo’s someday. But I hope mine doesn’t get all spidery when I get old, like Mr. Bilbo’s.”

Sam chuckled. “Mr. Bilbo’s was spidery before he got old, lass. Now then, do you have all you need?”

“Yes. Thank you.” Elanor clambered up onto the footstool, knelt on it, laid her writing implements on the table beside her, and leaned toward the large book. She carefully copied the words to her father’s song on one side of the paper, blew gently on the ink to dry it, then turned it over. She cast a surreptitious glance at her father to be sure he was engrossed in his work again before softly turning the pages to find the other parts she wanted.

Sam watched her out of the corner of his eye. She was concentrating so deeply that she was humming and muttering as she scrawled notes on the paper he’d given her, turning the pages of the book backward, then forward again. When she had filled the blank side, she turned it over again and wrote more notes in the empty spaces around the lines of the song. While she was busy writing, he glanced at the book, and his eyes landed directly on Frodo’s declaration, “‘The Ring is mine!’” Risking a glance at his daughter’s notes, he saw the same words amid other haphazardly copied dialog. What was she about? It was on the tip of his tongue to ask, but he bit back the question. It must have had to do with whatever she’d been so nervous about when she came in, but he couldn’t imagine what mischief a child could do with such words. Elanor wasn’t generally inclined to mischief anyway. He decided to wait and see.


“Where’ve you been? I thought you weren’t coming back!” Frodo was sitting on a barrel in their secret cellar, holding a few knobby bundles in his lap. He gave his sister an aggrieved look as she reentered, triumphant, clutching a piece of paper in her hands.

“I had to write down lots of words for you. It took a long time. Here.”

He took the paper and looked at it. “But i can’t even read all these words!” he said, despairing.

“I’ll help you with the hard ones,” Elanor soothed.

“That’ll spoil it all,” he complained. But he kept looking, skimming over the paper to pick out the easy words he could read. “I don’t say ‘The Ring is mine.’ Mr. Frodo says that. I mean, you do, because you’re going to be him.”

“Oh, so I do.” She sighed and shook her head. “Sorry, Fro. I was so nervous with Dad sitting right there, I forgot I was writing down your words, not mine.”

“Why were you nervous?” He frowned. “You don’t think he’ll be cross, do you?”

Elanor bit her lip and shrugged.

“But we play other stuff all the time,” Frodo persisted. “Family in a smile, and market, and mayoring, and being rangers, and King’s city, and Dwarves and all. How’s this different?”

Elanor shrugged again. She had no explanation for her uneasiness. She felt, somehow, that the story of Mr. Frodo and the Ring was sacred. She couldn’t remember him, except sometimes in dreams, and she couldn’t be sure that was proper remembering at all. The others hadn’t even been born yet when he went away over the Sea. But Dad was a little protective of him even now, and kept all his things carefully, and the Red Book most carefully of all. She wasn’t at all sure how Dad would take to their playacting the great story. Oh, but they did love it so! They did so like to play it and imagine they’d been there.

“Well, I got the Elf-bread,” said Frodo, “and our cloak blankets, and look what else!” He jumped up, reached into a pocket, and pulled out a delicate silver ring on a chain.

Elanor gasped. “You went in the treasure box? Frodo Gardner, did you ask Ma?”

“Of course I did! I’m not a ninnyhammer! I just told her you wanted it. She said not to lose it. I promised, so you mustn’t really throw it anywhere, or anything.”

Mr. Gimli had sent the ring to Elanor for her tenth birthday. Now that she was thirteen, it only fit on her little finger. The chain had been another gift, this time from Mr. Merry just this past Yule. She was allowed to handle her ring and its chain whenever she liked now that she was in her teens, but she was always very careful of them. Her feelings were a little hurt that Ma would let anyone else, even responsible, reliable Frodo, handle them. But it saved time now.

She tossed her head with mild scorn in response to her brother’s warning. “I wouldn’t do that! Besides, that’s not what happened. It’s just what was meant to happen, and there’s no Gollum to really bite it off and fall into the Cracks of Doom.”

“Fro! Where are you?” Small, pattering feet followed Merry-lad’s call.

“Oh, no!” groaned Frodo. “He wants to follow me everywhere, and he always finds me.”

Elanor giggled. “Just like you’ve always done me, you mean?”

Frodo stuck his tongue out at her. “I don’t want him now. He’s too little to play this.”


“Down cellar, Merry!” Elanor called back.

“What’d you do that for?” Frodo demanded.

“It might be good to have Gollum, don’t you think?”

Frodo rolled his brown eyes. “He can’t be Gollum! He’s too little and he’ll be afraid.”

Little Merry came down the few steps into the cellar, peeked around the doorway to be sure there was light, then ran across the crowded space to his brother and sister. “What are you doing?”

“Playing, but it’s for big Hobbits,” Frodo said loftily.

Merry pouted. “I am a big Hobbit. What are you playing?”

Elanor was more inclined to be friendly. She smiled at Merry. “It’s a secret. Can you keep a secret, Merry-lad?”

He nodded, eyes round with eagerness, and came closer to her. “What is it?”

Frodo cast her one more disapproving look, but she ignored it and said to Merry in a loud whisper, “We’re playing Frodo and the Ring. Look, we even have a ring.” She showed him the silver ring on its chain before hanging it around her neck.

“But it’s not gold,” said Merry.

She shrugged. “Oh well. It’ll do. So, do you want to play with us?”

“Can I be Mr. Frodo?”

Frodo laughed suddenly, and Merry cast him a reproachful look. Elanor remained composed and ruffled her little brother’s hair. “No, dear. I have to be Mr. Frodo because he has too many words, and you can’t read yet, and Frodo-lad is going to be Dad, only we’ll call him Sam while we play. But you can be Gollum.”

She expected protests, but to her surprise, Merry’s face split in a wide grin. “So I get the ring at the end?”

Frodo burst out laughing again, and Elanor couldn’t help giggling herself. “Well, maybe just for a moment, but you mustn’t really bite my hand!”

Merry opened his mouth and pretended to chomp the air, making a hissing sound like the one Dad made when he read Gollum’s bits in the Red Book.

“I mean it, Merry Gardner,” Elanor said more sternly.

Merry giggled. “I won’t, I won’t! Hurry up, let’s play!”


When Sam had finished the draft of the letter he’d been writing, he put away his materials, stood, stretched, and wandered out to the kitchen. As usual for Bag End, it was a hive of activity. Rose was there, slicing vegetables into the big pot, which was already simmering on the stove and filling the air with a delicious smell of beef and vegetable soup. Rosie-lass sat on the floor with little Goldilocks and Hammy, rolling a brightly-colored ball for the little ones to toddle after. Baby Daisy slept in the cradle in the corner, and Pippin-lad hung on his mother’s leg. “Can I please have a mushroom, Mama, please? One more?” he wheedled, hopping excitedly from foot to foot.

Rose ruffled his hair, picked up one of the mushrooms waiting to be added to the soup pot, and popped it into his mouth. “Now go over there and play with your sisters and brother.”

“I want to play with Merry.”

“But I want you here where I can keep my eye on you.”

“Can I go out in the rain and look for worms?”

Rose laughed. “No! You can go out after the rain stops and look for worms. That’s the best time to find them, anyway.”

Sam laughed from the doorway, and all four children swarmed around him. He spent a few moments playfully tossing and whirling them in the air, eliciting shrieks and giggles, which woke the baby. Rose pretended to frown at him, but her lips were twitching.

“Sorry, love,” he said. He went over to the cradle, scooped little Daisy out of it, and rocked her against his chest. “There now, Daisy. There you are. We’re sorry we ruined your nap with all our carrying on, aren’t we?” He looked at the other children.

Rosie-lass came over and reached up to stroke the top of Daisy’s downy foot. “Yes, very sorry. Don’t cry, Daisy dear,” she said in her soft little voice.

“Baby!” crowed Goldilocks, toddling across the room to join them.

Sam knelt down to hold Daisy at his other children’s eye level. Pippin and Rosie-lass softly patted and stroked wispy curls, and Goldilocks leaned in, puckering her lips. “Gently, Goldi,” Sam reminded her. “Soft kisses.”

Goldilocks offered gentle but sloppy kisses. Hammy was less impressed by his baby sister’s ruckus. Becoming bored with all the fuss over her, he ran across the room again. “Ba!” he cried, picking up the abandoned ball and readying to throw it.

“No-no, Hammy, we don’t throw balls inn the kitchen,” said motherly little Rosie-lass, hurrying to take it from his hands.

Hammy wailed in protest, and Goldilocks ran over to join them. “Pay ball!” she shouted.

Daisy’s crying hadn’t diminished in the slightest. If anything, the noise of the others was agitating her even more. Sam straightened up again and walked her about the room, shushing and swaying. “Here, you lot, go off into the second sitting room with the ball. There’s plenty of room in there, and you can throw it all you like.”

“But mushrooms!” Pippin protested.

“There’ll be plenty of mushrooms in the soup at lunch,” said Rose. “Go on with you.”

Rosie-lass took Goldilocks by the hand, and Pippin put his arm around Hammy. “Be careful, don’t knock him down, Pip,” said Rose.

“I won’t.” The four obediently left the kitchen.

“Bless me, but I wish the rain would clear off so they could all play out,” said Rose with a sigh.

Sam went to her and put his arm around her, still cradling the fussy baby against his shoulder, and kissed the top of her head. “Don’t worry, love. I’ll get Daisy back to sleep and give you some peace. Where are Ellie and Frodo and Merry? They ought to be in here helping.”

Rose turned to him and kissed him, then reached up to rub Daisy’s back. “Playing down cellar, I reckon. They’ve been a sight of help the last few days, and I said they could play this morning. Fro came in here a bit ago, wanting biscuits for some game they’re playing, and said Ellie was asking for her little trinkets out of the treasure box. He and Ellie are careful enough, so I let him have them.”

“I’ll go look in on them in a bit, when this one’s settled,” said Sam, resuming his swaying half walk, half dance with the baby. He kissed the top of Daisy’s head and then rested his cheek against it. At first he hummed, then found himself singing.

“In western lands beneath the Sun

The flowers may rise in spring.

The trees may bud, the waters run,

The merry finches sing,

Or maybe there ’tis cloudless night

And swaying beeches bear

The Elven stars, as jewels white,

Amid their branching hair.

“Though here at journey’s end I lie,

In darkness buried deep …”

He trailed off. Immediately, Daisy’s sleepy eyes, which had begun to droop, popped open, and the little head came up. “Shhhh,” he said, and picked up the tune. But he hummed only. There was no need for those words today. That journey was long since ended, and the darkness had passed away. He closed his eyes as he swayed.

Rose’s warm hand rested on his back and rubbed. “Is it the rain?” she asked softly.

Sam blinked and turned to look at her. “No. No, no, I’m all right. It’s just Ellie came into the study a bit ago and wanted to copy that song.”

Rose furrowed her brow. “Funny. I’d think she’d know it off by heart, the way she remembers things.”

Sam nodded. “Funny, it was.” Briefly he told of watching Elanor’s activity while carrying on with his own.

Rose frowned a little. “Maybe you’d better go see about them now. I’ll take Daisy. She’s probably wanting to be fed again anyway, or will be soon.”

Sam kissed his daughter again and passed her into her mothers arms, then went quietly down the passage toward the cellar where Elanor and Frodo particularly liked to play. He came close to it in time to hear his eldest son’s voice uplifted as if in anguish. “Wake up, Mr. Frodo! Wake up! Don’t go where I can’t follow!”


Sam’s heart leapt into his throat. He very gently pushed the door ajar and peeped in. Elanor lay upon the floor, perfectly still with eyes closed. Frodo knelt by her, his head in his hands.

“Now you have to take it from me,” whispered Elanor.

Frodo gave a sniff and lifted his head. To Sam’s relief, he saw no actual tears on his son’s face. He smiled in spite of himself, beginning to have an idea what this was about. His pounding heart returned to its accustomed place.

Frodo slid an arm under Elanor’s head and, lifting it, reached to undo something that shone at her neck. After struggling for a moment, he whispered, “It’s stuck. Don’t move.”

“Ow … ow… ow!” she whispered. Then the unconscious hero sat bolt upright and impatiently yanked at the chain entangled in her long, thick curls.

“You’re supposed to be dead!” Frodo hissed.

“Well, it hurt!” Elanor lightly tossed the ring and chain into his lap. “Here. Now then.” She flopped backward again.

Sam felt wild laughter rising up in him and pressed his knuckles to his lips. If only poor Mr. Frodo really could have sat up and complained about the Ring being taken, it would have saved Sam Gamgee Gardner a sight of trouble with those Orcs!

Frodo-lad put the chain over his own head and gasped. “It’s so heavy!” he cried, bowing forward almost to the floor.

Sam folded his arms over his chest, fighting the instinct to run in and lift his lad up in his own arms. Shocked as he was, he wouldn’t ruin their game.

“Now fix me, and then you go on and Merry can be the Orcs,” whispered Elanor.

“You talk a lot for a dead person,” Frodo muttered. But he slowly straightened up, took his sister’s hands, and folded them on her chest with a gentleness that touched his father’s heart. Then he staggered to his feet and walked slowly away across the cellar, head bowed.

A shadow moved in the corner, and Merry emerged from behind a sack of flour. “Ha ha, what’s this?” he said in a growling voice, bending over Elanor.

“Say it’s a spy,” Elanor whispered.

“A spy! It’s a spy!” Merry growled obediently. Then he whispered, “Ellie, I don’t want to be an Orc. They’re scary.”

Elanor sat up and hugged him. “It’s all right, Merry-lad,” she said. “We’re only pretending. Just pretend you’re taking me away.”

Merry frowned, but grabbed her legs as she lay down again and pretended the drag her off. Elanor scooted herself a little way along the cellar floor with her arms.

Sam turned away and walked back up the passage, torn between laughter and tears. A moment later, he heard young Frodo’s voice, tremulous and faint at first, then growing in strength, singing the words he’d just sung to baby Daisy. He leaned against the wall as the tears won.

“No, you can’t!” Frodo’s annoyed voice broke into his heavy memories. “There’s Gollum at the end, remember?”

“No! I don’t want to anymore!” wailed Merry.

“Hush! You’ll get us into trouble,” said Elanor. “You can go, Merry, but you’re not to tell. Do you hear?”

“Yes.” Merry sounded on the verge of tears himself.

“Promise,” Elanor insisted.

“I promise … Now I’m tired of playing!”

A moment later the cellar door opened, and Sam heard the approach of Merry’s steps. He dried his own face on his handkerchief and turned in time to catch Merry in his arms. The child jumped, then blushed.

Sam smoothed the hair back from his sweaty forehead, smiling down at him as Merry raised round, guilty eyes to his face. “Rosie and Pippin are playing ball with Goldi and Hammy,” he said. “Pippin was asking for you.”

Merry’s face brightened. “All right. Is it almost lunch?”

Sam grinned and put a hand on Merry’s shoulder, shepherding him toward the room where the other children were playing. “Almost.”

Merry’s arrival was hailed with happy shouts. After seeing that all was well there, Sam crept back toward the cellar door, which Merry had left open. He found Rose, the sleeping baby in the sling across her body, standing a few feet away from it.

“What are they doing down there?” she whispered.

“Playing they’re me and Mr. Frodo.” Sam’s own whisper wavered. Again he was torn between amusement and waves of sorrow.

Rose gave him a long look. “Well, that was bound to happen, wasn’t it?”

He blinked at her.

“Oh, Sam, you’ve been reading that book to Ellie — pieces of it, anyhow — since Mr. Frodo went. Now all the bigger ones listen. Playacting, that’s how young ones get to remembering things and learning about them.”

He nodded slowly.

She stepped closer and put a hand on his cheek. “You look like you’ve had a right shock, though, and I don’t wonder. I’ll talk to them.”

He shook his head. “No, no … no need of that. They’re not meaning any harm, are they? Just getting to learning and remembering … and that’s good and proper. I’ll keep an eye on them, be sure there’s no mischief.”

Rose leaned in to kiss him, smiling softly. “You mean you’ll play right along with them, Sam Gardner.”

He grinned. “Only if they need any help.”

She laughed a little as she walked back toward the kitchen, leaving him to oversee the end of Frodo’s and Elanor’s adventure. He crept back to the open door and peered in.

“Now, the steps will be the mountain,” said Elanor from where she lay prone at their foot. She gasped a wheezing breath and began to crawl forward.

“No, Mr. Frodo, wait! I’ll carry you!” Frodo dropped to his knees. “Come on, now, Mr. Frodo dear. Up you get!”

Sam stiffened. Quite apart from the emotion welling within him again, he was concerned for the children’s safety. It was evident, as Elanor held out her arms and Frodo put his around her, that he was really going to try to lift and carry her. Without a second thought, Sam sprinted down the steps past the children, who stared at him with round, startled eyes.

“Dad!” gasped Elanor, going red and then pale. Suddenly she felt horribly ashamed and really, truly afraid of what might happen now.

Sam bent and scooped her up in his strong arms. “Right, stand up, Frodo,” he said with total calm.

Frodo stood up. Elanor was as rigid as a statue. Sam held her close and kissed her shining hair. “Easy,” he said to her. “Relax, or this won’t work. Now, put your arms and legs round your brother … That’s the way. But lean on me. There we are. Steady, Fro.”

Frodo looked back at his sister clinging to his back as he started up the steps. “There are two Sam’s now,” he whispered.

A short, hysterical giggle burst from Elanor. She couldn’t believe what was happening! She was even more surprised when she felt the rumble of her father’s warm chuckle in his chest as she leaned her head back against him.

“Are we stopping to rest halfway up, the way we really had to?” Sam asked on the fourth step.

“Yes,” said Elanor.

“Let go, then.” He gently eased her down onto the step.

She looked up shyly at him. “Thank you ….” she said.

He nodded.

Frodo knelt by her and pulled the paper Sam had given her from his pocket. “You’re supposed to say ‘Help me, Sam! Hold my hand!’ now,” he whispered.

Elanor blushed painfully at the sight of the paper and motioned frantically for him to put it away.

He sighed, took her hands anyway, and pressed them between his own.

“I can’t,” Elanor whispered.

“It’s all right. I’ve got you,” said Frodo. “I won’t let you put that old ring on.”

She impatiently freed her hands from his and covered her burning face. “No, I mean I can’t do the rest!”

“Looked like you were doing a fine job to me,” said Sam from behind them.

Elanor stared up at him again, her face, neck, and ears bright pink. “I’m sorry, Dad. It was my idea. It wasn’t Frodo or Merry. It was me.” Her face crumpled, and her eyes overflowed with tears. She’d been so sure that if Dad knew, he would be cross. Having him take it so calmly entirely wrong-footed her.

Frodo shifted uncomfortably. “That’s not true. I wanted to do it, too. But you and Ma never mind when we playact.”

Sam sat on the step and pulled Elanor into his lap. “My dear, my dear,” he murmured, hugging her to him.

She sobbed. “I’m sorry!” She felt like a silly baby. She was a great girl now, thirteen years old, too old to cry like this. But suddenly the dreadful sadness and desperation of what had nearly been the end of Dad’s and Mr. Frodo’s story struck her, and her tender heart overflowed.

Sam raised her face and kissed her cheeks and forehead. He felt his own eyes stinging again. She touched the tears on his face, and her own redoubled.

“Good gracious,” Frodo said uneasily. “Should I ask Ma for tea?”

That brought Sam up short, and he laughed, pulling out his handkerchief to wipe first Elanor’s face, then his own. “No, lad. Your ma’s busy enough to be getting on with.” He put an arm around his son and hugged him to his side.

“You’re not cross?” Elanor asked tentatively.

Sam shook his head. “Of course not, lass. You did give me a start, both of you. Specially you, Frodo, ‘Don’t go where I can’t follow’ and all, and Ellie lying there as still as she could be!”

The children smiled nervously. “It’s really all right?” asked Frodo.

“It’s really all right. Mr. Frodo wrote the stories for people to remember them. You children — you and Mr. Merry’s and Mr. Pippin’s children — well, you’ve got to be the ones to remember it all, and tell it to your children someday, so they can tell it to theirs. Why, when I was a little lad and Mr. Merry would come to visit, many’s the time we played at adventuring like old Mr. Bilbo. And Mr. Frodo, he’d help us and play with us, even though he was a great big lad in his tweens then.”

“He did?” Elanor beamed.

Sam nodded. “Sometimes Mr. Bilbo did, too. Once he pretended to be the dragon. Scared us out of our wits, he did!”

Frodo laughed. “Maybe we should try a dragon adventure sometime.”

Sam grinned. “Maybe. Now then, are we getting rid of this ring, or aren’t we?”

Elanor stared at him. “Really?”

“Well, you’ve started. You’re nearly there. You might as well finish.”

“But our Gollum’s gone,” said Frodo.

“And I don’t want to say it’s mine,” Elanor said quietly, hanging her head.

Sam regarded her in silence.

“Why did that have to happen, Dad?”

Sam sighed. “It had its hold on him. There was nothing of him left by then. But as soon as it was gone, he was all right again… at least for a little while.”

Elanor frowned. “How can it have a hold on you? I don’t understand, Dad.”

“I didn’t rightly either, for a long time,” Sam said sadly.

Elanor fingered the ring on its chain. “Well, if that’s how it happened, then…” She stood up. “Farewell, Sam!” she cried, and ran up the rest of the stairs.

“I’ll be Gollum, I suppose,” Frodo said glumly, “and you can be yourself, Dad.”

“I’d offer to change places, but I can’t be Gollum,” Sam said grimly. “I just can’t, even in playacting.”

Frodo shrugged. “Well, then, I have to fight you now.”

“Come off the steps.”

They climbed to the top, then play wrestled while Elanor watched. “Down, you creeping thing!” she cried. “If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast into the fire of doom!”

“You already went into the place with the Cracks of Doom,” Frodo reminded her, falling onto the ground at Sam’s feet.

Sam mimed raising a sword, then sighed and pretended to put it away. “Oh, be off, you miserable creature!” he said. “I don’t trust you, not as far as I could kick you, but be off!”

Frodo sat up and scrambled back down the stairs.

Elanor stood irresolute in the hallway, clutching the silver ring and chain in her hand and pacing.

“Mr. Frodo!” Sam called softly behind her.

Elanor looked around in panic. “I forgot the words!” she whispered.

Frodo ran up again and handed her the much-abused paper. Then he retreated to the bottom of the steps again, where he lurked in waiting.

Elanor glanced guiltily at Sam, then fixed her attention on the paper and read haltingly from it. “I … I have come. B-but I do not ch-choose now … to do … what I came to do. I w-will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!” And she slipped it onto her finger.

Sam stood behind her, placed his hands on her shoulders, and rubbed. It struck at his heart to hear those words on his little daughter’s lips and to see her trembling.

Frodo crept up behind them. Sam spotted him out of the corner of his eye and saw doubt in his own face. He wondered if he should have encouraged them to finish this. Frodo touched his back, and Sam pretended to fall. He kept his eyes open as Frodo and Elanor pretended to struggle over the ring. Then she relinquished it into his hands, and he mimed holding it up and dancing in triumph with cries of, “Precious! Precious! All my precious!” until he tumbled over the imaginary precipice to his end.

Sam lifted Elanor again and carried her a few steps down the hall. But when he made to set her down, she clung to him, leaning her head on his shoulder. “The ring’s gone now,” she said softly. “Let it be the end. I wish I could really ride an eagle, though. Do you remember it even a little bit?”

He smiled at her. “Not even a little bit — and I’m glad!”

“Why?” asked Frodo, standing up and joining them.

“Because I didn’t even like being up in the Elves’ trees in Lothlorien. I don’t want to remember being flown by an eagle!”

“Ooh! Frodo, after lunch, we should play Elves instead!” Elanor said eagerly, wriggling in Sam’s arms.

He set her down and smoothed her hair, smiling. Mr. Frodo had often said she had an Elvish air in the last months before he went away. One day Sam would tell her so, but not now.

“Sam! Ellie! Frodo! Lunch!” Rose’s cheerful voice called to them from the kitchen.

Frodo ran in that direction, but Elanor took Sam’s hand and squeezed it. “Thanks, Dad,” she said.

He looked down at her in surprise. He often played with the children, as his dear old Gaffer had never done. “Well,” he said, “I reckon if you ever have your own adventure, you’ll know more about what to do than I did.”

She grinned up at him. “I hope so. I hope I’ll have some real adventures someday.”

“I think you will, Ellie. But I hope they’re all nice ones.”

She nodded. “I hope so, too.”

“Sam? Elanor?”

He smiled. “Coming, Rose,” he called in answer, and they hurried up the passage to the warm kitchen.


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