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I Can't   by Antane

A/N: Some parts of the Red Book are quoted rather extensively here. There's a little movie verse too which is quoted from as well and some from the BBC Radio adaptation and some from the London musical, though I've changed that a bit in order and who sang what. My dear harrowcat has been waiting a long time for a story of Frodo teaching Sam the stars in the Shire sky, so this first part is dedicated to her in thanks for her patience!

Frodo and Sam lay down their blankets on the ground one warm autumn evening for a night of star-gazing. "Oh, Sam!" the tween sighed. "This is the most perfect night!"

"Yes, Mr. Frodo, it is!" the ten-year-old lad agreed.

The two lay next to each other for a long while, just staring in wonder at the heavens. "There's so many of them," Sam breathed. "I can't think how anyone could name them all."

"But they have, my Sam," Frodo said. "I don't know them all myself, mind you, maybe only the Elves do, but I did tell you for our adventure tonight that I was going to tell you some of them. And maybe when we meet some Elves, they can tell you more."

Sam sighed. "Do you think we ever will meet them, Mr. Frodo?"

"Of course we will. Bilbo sees them often enough and I saw one myself from a distance. You can't mistake them. It's like they carry starlight and moonlight with them."

Sam looked at his beloved friend, the one he already considered brother, though he would in time be master as well. What Frodo had just described Sam had always thought could fit Frodo himself. When he confided such to Mr. Bilbo, the old hobbit had smiled and said, "That's our star and sun-kissed lad, Sam. He's been blessed in a very particular and unique way and I have long wondered what it all means. I asked Gandalf, but wizards love to be secretive so I didn't learn anything from him. One night when Frodo and I were out camping, one of my Elven friends came and looked in wonder at Frodo for a long time. He was already asleep and of course, had that glow to him, and so I boldly asked my friend what he thought of it. But I should have known better for the conflustergated Elves are even closer than wizards when it comes to divulging any useful information and he didn't say anything, though I could plainly see he was definitely thinking something about our boy. I can't wait to find out!"

"Neither can I, Mr. Bilbo, sir!"

"Then we shall just have to wait and find out together, shan't we, since no one else who may know is going to tell us a thing!"

Sam had nodded vigorously. Since then, he had spent much time laying awake at night when he should have been sleeping, but instead thought of Mr. Frodo and his light and beauty and how much he loved him and how special he was and how Sam wanted to spend his whole life at his side. He thought about it again now, but then focused his attention on Frodo's voice as he spoke of the stars.

"See, that's Remmirath, Sam, the Netted Stars, and there's Borgil, glowing like a red jewel. And...oh Sam..." Frodo's breath caught and he grabbed his friend's hand. "There, see, just as he's climbing over the rim of the world, the Swordsman of the Sky, Menelvagor with his shining belt."

The two watched in awe as the stars danced above them. Their hands tightened around each other without even knowing as they lay in perfect contentment and union with each other and all the created world.

"I love the darkness," Frodo said in an hushed tone, "because you can see the stars so bright."

Sam could not have been happier, for he loved any time he had his Mr. Frodo all to himself.

* * *

Frodo was reading a primer on Elvish grammar that Bilbo had made for him and in the chair where his uncle normally sat and wrote, was twelve-year-old Sam practicing his writing. The lad was concentrating very hard, but Frodo could see that he was also very frustrated and didn't want to say anything. He laid down the book and came to stand at his friend's side.

"What seems to be the trouble, Sam-lad?" he asked.

The child looked up into his friend's warm, bright eyes that always twinkled like there was sunlight living right inside them. "I'm sorry, Mr. Frodo, if I disturbed you, it's just...just..." He began to slide off the chair where his feet had been dangling. "I should be getting home. I'm sorry... I just can't get it."

Frodo stopped him from getting off the chair and smiled. "It's not always easy to learn new things, is it? But it will be worth it, my Sam, I assure you. Whole new worlds will open to you when you can read and write. Think of it that way, as an adventure."

"But it's not like the adventures in books, begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo. Those are fun, leastways fun to read, safe in your own bed or parlor and none of those terrible things that happen can hurt you. I don't know if I'd be liking to be in such myself as it seems so dark sometimes."

"It's the dark ones that provide the most light, my Sam. Haven't you discovered it so? Those are the ones you remember. Now, let's start our adventure right here. You'll be ever so glad."

"All right, Mr. Frodo," the lad said and readjusted himself, though he had doubts of his ability to continue on. Why did writing have to be so hard?

Frodo stood over his shoulder and gently put his larger hand over Sam's smaller one and guided his hand over the paper to make the letters that he was having so much trouble with. Sam watched the letters come out so much clearer and neater than his own childish scrawl had made it.

"You write so beautifully, Mr. Frodo," he breathed in awe.

"That's you writing, Sam, I'm just guiding you along a bit, just as Bilbo guided me. You should see my early efforts!"

Frodo laughed then and Sam's heart almost melted from the joy of hearing such a musical sound.

"Now you just keep practicing a bit more and that will be enough for today. Be patient with yourself. I wasn't and you should have seen the mess I made with all the crumpled pages I threw away. You couldn't even see the floor at times!"

Sam smiled at his friend. With new hope and confidence, the lad reapplied himself and at the end, felt quite a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment as the letters were actually legible.

Frodo patted him on the shoulder. "Very good, Sam! Can I keep what you've done so I can show Bilbo all the progress you have made?"

The child blushed, then he implusively and tightly hugged his friend. "Oh, thank you, Mr. Frodo, for showing me. I didn't want to be a bother, but I do so want to learn!"

Frodo hugged him back and kissed his head quickly. "You are learning, my Sam. Now I hope to see you again tomorrow afternoon and we can have another adventure."

"Yes, Mr. Frodo!" the lad said enthusiastically, then scooted off the chair. He rinsed out the ink from the quill and patted it dry as Mr. Bilbo had shown him, then he put it back in its holder and capped the ink. Frodo smiled as he watched the conscientious lad.

* * *

Frodo stood on the river bank, the Ring and its chain held in his open palm. He was weeping with the grief and strain of the choice before him. I can't go on alone, but alone I must. I can't lead anyone else to death. Gandalf has already fallen and because I chose to go that way. Boromir has fallen because the Ring is too close. I can't bear to think of Sam or Merry or Pippin being twisted. I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

The voice of Gandalf came to him then. So do all who live to see such times but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.

The will hardened in Frodo. He closed his hand around the Ring and put it on his pocket, then he pushed the boat into the river and jumped in, resolutely ignoring Sam's voice calling after him. But he could not harden his heart fast enough. He turned back when he heard splashes and watched in horror as Sam's head disappeared under the water. "Sam!"

I can't let him drown! I can't!

He frantically turned the boat around and reached down to his friend. "Up you come, Sam, my lad!" said Frodo. "Now take my hand."

"Save me, Mr. Frodo!" gasped Sam. "I'm drownded. I can't see your hand."

Frodo's hand grasped Sam's and he felt his friend's fingers close around his, reassuring as it always from many tramps in the Shire, as though it had always belonged there and always would. What was he thinking trying to leave Sam behind? He did it out of love and Sam followed out of love. There was nothing Frodo knew that he could do to reward such devotion. It was going to cost Sam his life and a bit more of Frodo died inside to know that. They reached the shore again.

"Of all the confounded nuisances you are the worst, Sam!" he said, frustration, grief, anxiety and love all mingled in his voice and heart.

"Oh, Mr. Frodo, that's hard!" said Sam shivering. "That's hard, trying to go without me and all. If I hadn't a guessed right, where would you be now?"

"Safely on my way."

"Safely!" said Sam, amazed, scandalized and horrified that his beloved master would ever think such a thing was even possible without his Sam looking over him. "All alone and without me to help you? I couldn't have borne it, it'd have been the death of me."

"It would be the death of you to come with me, Sam," said Frodo, "and I couldn't have borne that."

"Not as certain as being left behind," said Sam. "It's just like you used to say, Mr. Frodo. The best adventures are the dark ones and you aren't going to be on all by your own self."

"This one will be very dark, my Sam. I didn't want to lead you into it because we won't be coming back from it. This is no there and back again like Bilbo had. And I seem to recall that you once said that you wouldn't want to be in such adventures."

Sam was not about to be dissauded. "That was before I knew you were going to get away yourself. I'm sure there were times Mr. Bilbo didn't think he'd be coming back either but he did. Just you sit tight, Mr. Frodo, and let me take care of you and everything's going to turn out the way it's supposed to, just as the Lady said."

"What if it's supposed to have a sad ending, Sam? This road we are taking leads nowhere but into black night."

"Then it will be as you said when you taught me the names of the stars - we'll be able to see them better in the dark. If it wasnít dark, we would miss out on all their beauty. And just because we are going forward into darkness, donít mean that we can't turn around when the job is done. It's going to lead back home in the end."

"I can't dampen your spirits, can I, Sam, even though you are soaked everywhere else?" Frodo asked with a small smile.

Sam looked at his beloved master square on. "No, Mr. Frodo, you can't."

Frodo took his gardener and guardian into his arms and hugged him tight. "I'm glad, Sam, I cannot tell you how glad."

* * *

The beleaguered Ring-bearer propped himself, half-sitting, half-collapsed in a defeated slump, against the stone in Osgiliath where he had only moments before held Sting as his beloved friend's throat. The blade had fallen from his nerveless fingers. How could it have come to this? I knew it would be the death of Sam to come with me, but I had never imagined it may come by my own hand.

"I can't do this, Sam," Frodo said in a tone wearier than Sam had ever heard him and he knew it was not physical exhaustion that was causing it. That terrible thing around his neck was getting into him in ways Sam could not protect his dearest friend from and that broke his heart more than anything.

He sat up, freed from being pinned down by his master. "I know," he said with tears in his voice and eyes. "Itís all wrong. By rights we shouldnít even be here, but we are. Itís like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, like we've always said. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didnít want to know the end, because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened?

"But in the end, itís only a passing thing. This shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines itíll shine out the clearer. Those are the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now, folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didnít. They kept going, because they were holding onto something.

"What are we holding onto, Sam?"

Sam pulled his master up. Frodo was a dead weight in his arms. They looked at each other for a long time and it was only there in Sam's loving, forgiving eyes that Frodo found any light or strength left.

"That thereís some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and itís worth fighting for."

* * *

"I wonder what sort of a tale we've fallen into?" Sam wondered as they rested on the stairs of Cirith Ungol.

"I wonder," said Frodo. "But I don't know. And that's the way of a real tale. Take any one that you're fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don't know. And you don't want them to."

"No, sir, of course not. Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that's a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it - and the Silmaril went on and came to Earendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We've got - you've got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we're in the same tale still! It's going on. Don't the great tales never end?"

"No, they never end as tales," said Frodo. "But the people in them come, and go when their part's ended. Our part will end later - or sooner."

"And then we can have some rest and some sleep," said Sam. He laughed grimly. "And I mean just that, Mr. Frodo. I mean plain ordinary rest, and sleep, and waking up for a morning's work in the garden. I'm afraid that's all I'm hoping for all the time. All the big important plans are not for my sort. Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We're in one, of course; but I mean: put into words you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say, 'Let's hear about Frodo and the Ring!' And they'll say: 'Yes, that's one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn't he, dad?' 'Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that's saying a lot.'"

"It's saying a lot too much," said Frodo, and he laughed, a long clear laugh from his heart. Such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth, and it cheered Sam's heart to hear such a wonderful sound and not only once but twice. It seemed to him that even the stones and rocks were hungry to hear by the way they were listening and leaning in over them.

"Why, Sam," Frodo said, "to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you've left out one of the chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. 'I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn't they put in more of his talk, dad? That's what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn't have got far without Sam, would he, dad?'"

"Now, Mr. Frodo," said Sam, "you shouldn't make fun. I was serious."

"So was I," said Frodo, "and so I am. We're going on a bit too fast. You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point, 'Shut the book now, dad; we don't want to read any more.'"

"Maybe," said Sam, "but I wouldn't be one to say that. Things done and over and made into part of the great tales are different. You'll see, Mr. Frodo, there will be tales if we do our part right, just as those earlier did their part right."

"But will we ever hear those tales ourselves?" Frodo wondered. "I suppose it doesn't matter. All that matters is that we do what we can to make sure tales can still be told."

"I would dearly love to hear this one though," Sam said, "after all is said and done and we're all safe and sound, back home, by the fire, having a smoke."

"I would dearly love for you to be able to hear it, too, my dear Sam. I hope your wish comes true. I can't wish anymore myself. I have no wishes left, except to make it to the Fire and there lay aside my burdens."

Sam looked at his beloved master, pained in his heart. He hadn't missed that Frodo had said, burdens and not burden and he feared for him. "You can't stop dreaming, Mr. Frodo. If you do that, you'll stop living." He opened his arms. "I'd be dearly glad to see you have a sleep and you can dream then, good dreams of green grass and warm sunshine and a cool glass of lemon water on a hot day. I'd keep watch over you; and anyway, if you lay near, with my arm around you, no one could come pawing you without your Sam knowing it. Lay your head in my lap."

Frodo yawned and lay down and felt Sam's arm fold around him, keeping him safe and sound, the one oasis of peace in his soul that was being riven by the burden he carried. He was able to dream then, not of the Fire and the Eye that increasingly filled his heart, but of the love that had held him close and dear for so many years now.

* * *

Drawing a deep breath they passed inside the stench-filled tunnel. In a few steps they were in utter and impenetrable darkness. The air was still, stagnant, heavy, and sound fell dead. They walked as it were in black vapour wrought of veritable darkness itself that, as it was breathed, brought blindness not only to the eyes but to the mind, so that even the memory of colours and of forms and of any light faded out of thought. Night always had been, and always would be, and night was all.

After a time their senses became duller, both touch and hearing seemed to grow numb, and already blind, they kept on, groping, walking, on and on, mainly by the force of the will with which they had entered, will to go through and desire to come at last to the high gate beyond.

How much more of this would they have to endure, or could they endure? The breathlessness of the air was growing as they climbed; and now they seemed often in the blind dark to sense some resistance thicker than the foul air. As they thrust forward they felt things brush against their heads, or against their hands, long tentacles, or hanging growths perhaps; they could not tell. And still the stench grew. It grew, until almost it seemed to them that smell was only clear sense left to them, and that was for their torment. One hour, two, three: how many had they passed in this lightless hole? Hours - days, weeks rather. Sam left the tunnel-side and shrank towards Frodo, and their hands met and clasped, and so together they went on.

The tunnel forked or so it seemed. "For the life of me, I can't tell which is the wider way," said Frodo.

They had not gone more than a few yards when from behind them came a sound, startling and horrible in the heavy padded silence: a gurgling, bubbling noise, and a long venomous hiss. They wheeled round, but nothing could be seen. Still as stone they stood, staring, waiting for they did not know what.

The bubbling hiss drew nearer, and there was a creaking as of some great jointed thing that moved with slow purpose in the dark. A reek came on before it. "Master, master!" cried Sam. "The Lady's gift! The star-glass! A light to you in dark places, she said it was to be."

As the Phial of Galadriel shone brightly in the great darkness, the coming menace was unmasked at last. Monstrous and abominable eyes they were, bestial and yet filled with purpose and with hideous delight, gloating over their prey trapped beyond all hope of escape.

Frodo and Sam, horror stricken, began slowly to back away, their own gaze held by the dreadful stare of those baleful eyes; but as they backed so the eyes advanced. Frodo's hand wavered, and slowly the Phial drooped. Then suddenly, released from the holding spell to run a little while in vain panic for the amusement of the eyes, they both turned and fled together; but even as they ran Frodo looked back and saw with terror that at once the eyes came leaping up behind. The stench of death was like a cloud about him.

"Stand, stand!" he cried desperately. "Running is no use."

Slowly the eyes crept nearer.

"Galadriel!" he called, and gathering his courage, he lifted up the Phial once more. The eyes halted. For a moment their regard relaxed, as if some hint of doubt troubled them. Then Frodo's heart flamed within him, and without thinking what he did, whether it was folly or despair or courage, he took the Phial in his left hand, and with his right hand drew his sword. Then holding the star-glass aloft and the bright sword advanced, Frodo, hobbit of the Shire, walked steadily down to meet the eyes.

They wavered. Doubt came into them as the light approached. One by one they dimmed, and slowly they drew back. No brightness so deadly had ever afflicted them before. Still it approached, and the eyes began to quail. One by one they all went dark; they turned away, and a great bulk, beyond the light's reach, heaved it huge shadow in between. They were gone.

"Master, master!" cried Sam. He was close behind, his own sword drawn and ready. "Stars and glory! But the Elves would make a song of that, if ever they heard of it! And may I live to tell them and hear them sing."

Too late did they discover though that they had not defeated their adversary, an evil thing in the shape of a monstrously large spider. She came upon them again and stung Frodo before Sam could stop her and wrapped him around in cords, from ankle to shoulder, and with her great forelegs began half to lift, half to drag his body away.

Sam did not wait to wonder what was to be done, or whether he was brave, or loyal, or filled with rage. He sprang forward with a yell, and seized his master's sword in his left hand. Then he charged. No onslaught more fierce was ever seen in the savage world of beasts, where some desperate small creature armed with little teeth, alone, will spring upon a tower of horn and hide that stands above its fallen mate.

The terrible enemy was defeated. Sam crawled back to his master.

"Master, dear master," he said, but Frodo did not speak. He lay now pale, and heard no voice, and did not move. No stir of life could Sam find, nor feel the faintest flutter of the heart. Oft he chafed his master's hands and feet, and touched his brow, but all were cold.

"Don't leave me here alone! It's your Sam calling. Don't go where I can't follow! Wake up, Mr. Frodo! O wake up, Frodo, me dear, me dear. Wake up!"

Despair and rage and grief filled Sam to overflowing while a black night swallowed his broken heart and cast the shards into the deep darkness that overwhelmed him and he sat long, lost in the abyss. I can't go on alone, I can't...

He took his master's hand and held it for a long time, unable to let go, as he held court with himself and pondered how to continue now or if to continue at all now that the light which had sustained his life and hope had been quenched. You're right, Mr. Frodo, as always. At this point, I would say, close the book, I can't bear to hear anything more. What good could come out of this now?

But then Sam's will hardened and he knew what he had to do. He gathered together the pieces of his broken heart and laid them on top of his master's heart and then placed Frodo's hands on top of them. "You've always held my heart, master dear, and now I need you to do so again. For I must go on and there's no place for my heart other than with you."

He kissed his treasure's forehead and then gently took the Ring from around his neck, noting how his light shone even in death so he retained his Elvish beauty beyond the end.

"Good-bye, master, my dear!" he murmured. "Forgive your Sam. He'll come back to this spot when the job's done - if he manages it. And then he'll not leave you again. He'll watch over your heart just as you are watching over his. Rest you quiet till I come; and our tale ends, and may no foul creature come anigh you! And if the Lady could hear me and give me one wish, I would wish to come back and find you again. Good-bye!"

* * *

The darkness was so deep. Frodo lay on his side, shivering in the cold of his prison cell. He had been so glad to wake and escape the terrible dreams that had trapped him since he had felt the cold sting against his neck. Foulness had reached up to choke him then and he had fallen headlong into black night. But he soon found waking to be no better than restless sleep. The orcs had beaten and threatened him as they interrogated him over and over and over. Their whips had fallen against his tender, unprotected flesh and he had screamed and spit out blood when he could not hold back any further, but he had told them nothing. He welcomed the physical pain that a raw torment inflaming his entire side for it was almost enough to mask the worse agony that came screaming from his sundered heart and soul. He had woken and everything had been taken from him, everything, even Sam, even the Ring, and his heart cried out for the loss of both and to his everlasting shame, he could not tell for which it cried out the more. There was but one voice in his head, crying out for them both, and hearing nothing in response. He longed to close his eyes and forget everything, but he dared not, for he knew or feared he knew what could happen if he did. Sometimes he wished the orcs would hurt him enough so he would die, for there was nothing else to live for, all was destroyed.

I can't go on.

Yes, you can.

He didn't know who that second voice was. It sounded like Sam's but not at the same time. It refused to let him give up and sustained him against all his agony. He remembered the tales he and Sam had gloried in while safe and sound in the Shire and they longed for their own adventures. It was not for naught that he said he wished he didn't want any player in a tale to know the end of their Road. If I had known, I would not be laying here now, awaiting the worst and hoping death will come instead. At least then, he would not be taken again by the one who had already violated his soul beyond what he could thought he endure. Even as despair overwhelmed him, he still held on, held on for Sam, because that's what the players in the great tales did. They held on, even when all seemed helpless and doomed, they held on, and Frodo did not want to disappoint his Sam, did not wish to spoil the tale. Where are you in the story, my Sam? Are you even still in it?

* * *

Sam stared up at the dread Tower of Cirith Ungol where the unconscious body of his master had been taken by the enemy. Terror filled him, but love filled him even more. "I'm coming, Mr. Frodo!"

He was stopped at the entrance by an invisible force, but the Phial of Galadriel that had defeated the terrible spider also defeated the monstrous Watchers who sat there cold and still, revealed in the light in all their hideous shape. For a moment Sam caught a glitter in the black stones of their eyes, the very malice of which made him quail; but slowly he felt their will waver and crumble into fear.

He sprang past them; but even as he did so, thrusting the phial back into his bosom, he was aware, as plainly as if a bar of steel had snapped to behind him, that their vigilance was renewed. And from those evil heads there came a high shrill cry that echoed in the towering walls before them. Far up above, like an answering signal, a harsh bell clanged a single stroke.

"That's done it!" said Sam. "Now I've rung the front-door bell! Well, come on somebody!" he cried and began his desperate search for his beloved master.

* * *

I can't have come all this way for nothing! Sam thought as he came to an apparent dead-end after a long climb up the stairs. There had been no sign of his master, but for a scream he had heard above that spurred him on. Whether that had come from Frodo he could not tell, but fear, grief, love and rage gave him new courage to continue on. But was there now no way left to go? He sat on the step and bowed his head into his hands. It was quiet, horribly quiet. The torch, that was already burning low when he arrived, sputtered and went out; and he felt the darkness cover him like a tide.

I can't go on.

Yes, you can.

Sam raised his head. The voice sounded enough like his master to bring new hope to his heart and fresh tears to his eyes, but it was deeper and richer and he did not recognize it. He longed only for his master, for one sight of his face or one touch of his hand. He felt his heart begin to beat again and though he was terrified of discovery, he was more terrified of never seeing Frodo again. A song came to him instead of the despair that threatened to crawl up his throat. It wouldn't be able to crawl if he sang and didn't those in the tales sing at times? His voice sounded thin and quavering: the voice of a forlorn and weary hobbit, but it was grew stronger and he felt strengthened by what he did not know. He only knew that the voice he had heard did not abandon him as he sang to his missing master.

"But still I sit and think of you;

I see you far away

Walking down the homely roads

on a bright and windy day.

It was merry then when I could run

to answer to your call,

could hear your voice or take your hand;

but now the night must fall.

And now beyond the world I sit,

and know not where you lie!

O master dear, will you not hear my voice

and answer ere we die?"

He was ready to begin again when he heard a faint reply.

* * *

"Frodo! Mr. Frodo, my dear!" cried Sam, tears almost blinding him. "It's Sam, I've come!" He half lifted his master and hugged him to his breast. Frodo opened his eyes.

"Am I still dreaming?" Frodo wondered as that dearly loved voice and face filled his vision.

"You're not dreaming at all, Master. It's real. It's me. I've come."

"I can hardly believe it," Frodo said, clutching him.

Sam smiled through his tears and stared down at that dear, fair face. "I'd given up hope, almost. I couldn't find you."

"Well, you have now, Sam, dear Sam," said Frodo as he looked at that smile and beautiful face. He lay back in Sam's gentle arms, closing his eyes, like a child at rest when night-fears are driven away by some loved voice or hand.

Sam felt that he could sit like that in endless happiness, but it was not allowed. He kissed Frodo's forehead. "Come! Wake up, Mr. Frodo!" he said, trying to sound as cheerful as he had when he drew back the curtains at Bag End on a summer's morning.

It seemed to Sam that Frodo was wrapped in flame the way the red lamp shone against his skin. His light was still there, but it was the light of fire now and Sam knew in ways he hadnít before that his beloved master was being consumed. While the younger hobbit grieved at that, his love and admiration and awe of his master grew in commensurate leaps and bounds. And that changed the way Sam saw the fire that burned his beloved from within. It was the fire of love that Sam saw now, the love his master had for every living thing that he was suffering so to save. He laid aside any wish now to close the book. He wanted to learn how this tale would turn out.

* * *

As they were ready to leave the Tower, now disguised in armor of the enemy, Frodo and Sam were brought to a stand. To move an inch further was a pain and weariness to will and limb.

Frodo had no strength for such a battle. He sank to the ground. "I can't go on, Sam," he murmured. "I'm going to faint. I don't know what's come over me."

"I do, Mr. Frodo. Hold up now! It's the gate. There's some devilry there. But I got through, and I'm going to get out. It can't be more dangerous than before. Now for it!"

Sam drew out the elven-glass of Galadriel again. As if to do honour to his hardihood, and to grace with splendour his faithful brown hobbit-hand that had done such deeds, the phial blazed forth suddenly, so that all the shadowy court was lit with a dazzling radiance like lightning; but it remained steady and did not pass.

"Gilthoniel, A Elbereth!" Sam cried.

"Aiya elenion ancalima!" cried Frodo behind him.

The will of the Watchers was broken with a suddenly like the snapping of a cord, and Frodo and Sam stumbled forward. Then they ran. From the watchers there went up a high and dreadful wail. Far up above in the darkness it was answered. Out of the black sky there came dropped like a bolt a winged shape, rending the clouds with a ghastly shriek. In terror, Frodo and Sam fled down the road.

* * *

"Itís no good, Sam," Frodo said after their escape. "I canít manage it. This mail-shirt, I mean. Not in my present state. And whatís the use of it? We shanít win through by fighting. Look here, Sam dear lad. I am tired, weary. I havenít a hope left. But I have to go one trying to get to the Mountain, as long as I can move. The Ring is enough. This extra weight is killing me. But donít think Iím ungrateful. I hate to think of the foul work you must have had among the bodies to find it for me."

"Donít talk about it, Mr. Frodo. Bless you! Iíd carry you on my back, if I could. Let it go then!"

Frodo flung away his orc-mail and fastened the brooch of Samís Elven cloak about his shoulders instead. "Thatís better!" he said. "I feel much lighter. I can go on now. But this blind dark seems to be getting into my heart. As I lay in prison, Sam, I tried to remember the Brandywine, and Woody End, and The Water running through the mill at Hobbiton. But I canít see them now."

"Then let me tell you of them," Sam said, and so regaled his Frodo long with everything he could remember about the Shire and their life there. Frodo listened quietly and said not a word, but Sam watched in wonder and joy as a smile spread slowly over his master's face and transformed it. At the end, long after Sam had thought he could speak no further for his mouth was parched, Frodo squeezed his hand and held it and kissed his cheek in thanks.

Sam held his masterís hand for a long time, grateful for the warmth and the weight of it in his hand, even though both were less than he thought they should have been, or leastways Frodoís hand was thinner than he had ever felt it and that couldnít be good. But his masterís hand was curiously both hot and cold, as though the fire continued to burn but a frost was invading also.

"If only the Lady could see us or hear us, Iíd say to her: ĎYour Ladyship, all we want is light and water: just clean water and plain daylight, better than any jewels, begging your pardon.í"

He added silently to that prayer, the one he had been making unceasingly since he had met the Lady. And keep watching over my master. Just keep watching. And keep watching over me so I can keep watching over him.

* * *

Sam wished his master was awake to see this wonder of a star above the cloud-wracked heavens. He listened to Frodoís labored breathing and was glad he was resting, but still the beauty smote his heart as he looked at it and remembered the better times before and he knew it would cheer Frodo if he could see it, but he dared not disturb such slumber as his master could find. Seeing the star refreshed Sam and reassured him and he thanked the Lady for all her gifts. It gave him hope that this tale wouldnít have the sad ending Frodo was so sure it would. True, it might still come to a sad ending for us, Sam thought, or what would seem to be sad, but the tale itself will go on, even if we leave. He lay down by his masterís side, took his hand, laid it against his cheek and surrendered to slumber, knowing his prayers to the Lady had been answered.

* * *

Sam and Frodo looked upon the vast armies of the Enemy that stretched between them and their goal.

"Itís no worse than I expected," said Frodo. "I never hoped to get across. I canít see any hope for it now. But Iíve still got to do the best I can. At present that is to avoid being captured as long as possible."

"Then we must take the road, Mr. Frodo," said Sam. "We must take it and chance our luck, if there is any luck left in Mordor. We might as well give ourselves up as wander about any more, or try to go back. Our food wonít last. Weíve got to make a dash for it!"

"All right, Sam," said Frodo. "Lead me! As long as youíve got any hope left. Mine is gone. but I canít dash, Sam. Iíll just plod along after you."

"Before you start any more plodding, you need sleep and food, Mr. Frodo. Come and take what you can get of them!"

He gave Frodo water and an additional wafer of the waybread, and he made a pillow of his cloak for his masterís head. Frodo was too weary to debate the matter, and Sam did not tell him that he had drunk the last drop of their water, and eaten Samís share of the food as well as his own. When Frodo was asleep Sam bent over him and listened to his breathing and scanned his face. It was lined and thin, and yet in sleep it looked content and unafraid. It was growing ever more beautiful, the light within growing stronger and purer than ever and so grew the love and admiration in Samís heart. He felt at times a vague thought or awareness that whoever had put Mr. Frodo forward was blessing him and filling him with light as one would fill a pitcher with water. And the more Frodo struggled to go on, the more he was being blessed and the darkness could not touch such light. He wondered if his master was aware of his own light or whether it was only Sam himself who was being sustained by it. Wouldnít that be terrible if he couldnít see naught but the black night?

Sam went off in search of water and drank deeply from what he found and then brought back some for his master who he woke gently. "I reckon it isnít safe for us both to sleep together, and begging your pardon, but I canít hold up my lids much longer."

"Bless you, Sam!" said Frodo. "Lie down and take your proper turn!"

"Thereís a bottle full of water. Drink up."

* * *

"Come on, Mr. Frodo," Sam said as they faced their new peril of being surrounded by an orc troop.

"Sam..."

"Take my arm!"

"Sam, I..."

"I'll help you along."

"I really can't take another step, Sam."

"There's no need to, Mr. Frodo. Look! We're almost there."

Frodo looked up wearily. All this time he had been entirely focused on the ground, trying to remain hidden, trying not to think of what would happen once they reached their destination, trying simply to stay on his feet. It was all more than he thought he could bear. "Where?"

"Oh, I don't know. Wherever it is, we won't be walking."

"Halt!" cried the orc captain. "I said halt, you slugs! Now, then! This here is Udun. And when we get inside the camp, you're to - hey! Now, then! Now, then! What's all this?"

"It's them other orcs, trying to push in front."

"Wait your turn!"

"Get down, Mr. Frodo! Get down!"

Frodo groaned.

"Now, crawl!" Sam pleaded desperately. "Come on, Mr. Frodo - we've got to crawl! Come on, Mr. Frodo, come on."

"I... can't..."

"Yes, you can! One more crawl and we can get off the road."

"No, Sam, please... just let me be," Frodo begged and to hear it broke Samís heart.

"No!" Sam said, bodily dragging Frodo away. "Just a bit further. And then you - you can lie still. There!"

* * *

Four days had passed since they had escaped from the orcs, but the time lay behind them like an ever-darkening dream. All this last day Frodo had not spoken, but had walked half-bowed, often stumbling, as if his eyes no longer saw the way before his feet. Sam guessed that among all their pains Frodo bore the worst, the growing weight of the Ring, a burden on the body and a torment to his mind.

Now as the blackness of night returned Frodo sat, his head between his knees, his arms hanging wearily to the ground where his hands lay feebly twitching. Sam watched him, till night covered them both and hid them from one another. They had found some muddy water in a cistern, but perhaps only half a bottle was left with no way to get more and still perhaps many days left in their journey. They had walked 55 miles in four days with hardly any water or food. It was the lembas bread that sustained their wills now. They would have perished without it.

* * *

In the morning, Sam stood beside his sleeping master and he knew he must set Frodo's will to work for another effort. At length, stooping and caressing Frodoís brow, he spoke in his ear.

"Wake up, Master!" he said. "Time for another start."

As if roused by a sudden bell, Frodo rose quickly, and stood up and looked away southwards; but when his eyes beheld the Mountain and the desert he quailed again.

"I canít manage it, Sam," he said. "It is such a weight to carry, such a weight."

Sam knew before he spoke, that it was vain, and that such words might do more harm than good, but in his pity he could not keep silent. "Then let me carry it a bit for you, Master," he said. "You know I would, and gladly, as long as I have any strength."

A wild light came into Frodoís eyes. "Stand away! Donít touch me!" he cried with sudden, terrible energy. "It is mine, I say. Be off!" His hand strayed to his sword-hilt. But then quickly his voice changed and grew weary again. "No, no, Sam," he said sadly. "But you must understand. It is my burden, and no one else can bear it. It is too late now, Sam dear. You canít help me in that way again. I am almost in its power now. I could not give it up, and if you tried to take it I should go mad."

Sam nodded. "I understand," he said. "But Iíve been thinking, Mr. Frodo, thereís other things we might do without. Why not lighten the load a bit? Weíre going that way now, as straight as we can make it." He pointed to the Mountain. "Itís no good taking anything weíre not sure to need."

Frodo looked again toward the Mountain. "No," he said, "we shanít need much on that road. And at its end nothing."

Frodo tore off much that remained of his gear. "There, Iíll be an orc no more," he cried, "and Iíll bear no weapon, fair or foul. Let them take me, if they will!"

Sam watched his masterís light flare up for a moment at such a defiant declaration and the gardenerís love for him grew ever more. He remembered thinking of how much he loved him while watching Frodo sleep in Ithilien, a lifetime ago, it seemed, yet that was nothing compared to the tenderness and reverence that stirred in his breast now.

"Do you remember that bit of rabbit, Mr. Frodo?" he said. "And our place under the warm bank in Captain Faramirís country, the day I saw the oliphaunt?"

"No, I am afraid not, Sam," said Frodo. "At least, I know that such things happened, but I cannot see them. No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or star are left to me. I am naked in the dark, Sam, and there is no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I begin to see it even with my waking eyes, and all else fades."

Sam went to him and kissed his hand. His eyes were full of tears and he wished more than ever that Frodo had been able to see that star that had so strengthened the gardenerís own heart. It broke his heart that his master had nothing left to strengthen him or give him a reason to go on. Yet, still he went, because he knew he had to. Sam would have been tempted to again close the book on this tale because it kept breaking his heart, but he couldnít. He had to honor his masterís sacrifices, he had to keep going himself because thatís what those people in the other tales had done, and he had always admired that and wished he could be that strong himself. No, itís not time to walk away yet. Only at the end, after the job is done, if even then. I canít give up hope now.

* * *

Sam dreamed of warm mud between his toes and the Bywater Pool where he used to swim with the Cottons. "But that was years ago," he sighed, "and far away. The way back, if there is one, goes past the Mountain."

He could not sleep and he held a debate with himself. "Well, come now, weíve done better than you hoped," he said sturdily. "Began well anyway. I reckon we crossed half the distance before we stopped. One more day will do it." And then he paused.

"Donít be a fool, Sam Gamgee," came an answer in his own voice. "He wonít go another day like that, if he moves at all. And you canít go on much longer giving him all the water and most of the food."

"I can go on a good way though, and I will."

"Where to?"

"To the Mountain, of course."

"But what then, Sam Gamgee, what then? When you get there, what are you going to do? He wonít be able to anything for himself."

To his dismay Sam realized that he had not got an answer to this. He had no clear idea at all. "The Cracks of Doom," he muttered, the old name rising to his mind. "Well, if Master knows how to find them, I donít."

"There you are!" came the answer. "Itís all quite useless. He said so himself. You are the fool, going on hoping and toiling. You could have lain down and gone to sleep together days ago, if you hadnít been so dogged. But youíll die just the same, or worse. You might just as well lie down now and give it up. Youíll never get to the top anyway."

"Iíll get there, if I leave everything but my bones behind," said Sam. "And Iíll carry Mr. Frodo up myself, if it breaks my back and heart. So stop arguing!"

The last stage of their journey to Orodruin came, and it was a torment greater than Sam had ever thought he could bear, though he knew his masterís agony was worse. He was in pain, and so parched that he could no longer swallow even a mouthful of food. Breathing was painful and difficult, and a dizziness came on them, so that they staggered and often fell. And yet their wills did not yield, and they struggled on. Before the daylong dusk ended and true night came again they had crawled and stumbled to its very feet.

With a gasp Frodo cast himself on the ground. Sam sat by him. To his surprise, he felt tired but lighter, and his head seemed clear again. No more debates disturbed his mind. He knew all the arguments of despair and would not listen to them. He wondered what terrible voices his master heard in his head and dreams. He knew Frodo hearkened to them for what else could cause his heart to sicken with despair, but they hadnít touched his will. That had remained strong and so would Samís. Only death would break it and again Samís love and awe increased as he knew his master labored under a much heavier burden than he did and struggled on without hope or memories or anything else that Sam would have considered essential and impossible to go on without. He took his beloved master into his arms to try to comfort him, to calm his trembling, to warm him and remind him that even if everything else had been stolen from him, he was never going to lose his Sam.

* * *

"Now for it! Now for the last gasp!" said Sam as he struggled to his feet. He bent over Frodo, rousing him gently. Frodo groaned; but with a great effort of will he staggered up; and then he feel upon his knees again. He raised his eyes with difficulty to the dark slopes of Mount Doom towering above him, and then pitifully he began to crawl forward on his hands.

Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. "I said Iíd carry him, if it broke my back," he muttered, "and I will!"

"Come, Mr. Frodo!" he cried. "I canít carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and heíll go."

As Frodo clung upon his back, arms loosely about his neck, legs clasped firmly under his arms, Sam staggered to his feet; and then to his amazement he felt the burden light. He had feared that he would have barely strength to lift his master alone, and beyond that he had expected to share in the dreadful dragging weight of the accursed Ring. But it was not so. Whether because Frodo was so worn by his long pains, wound of knife, and venomous sting, and sorrow, fear, and homeless wandering, or because some gift of final strength was given to him, Sam lifted Frodo with no more difficulty than if he were carrying a hobbit-child pig-a-back in some romp on the lawns or hayfields of the Shire and so began their climb up the mountain.

He so longed to ask if Frodo remembered the times he had carried Sam so, either in races during the Free Fair or the times he had pretended he was a pony for Sam to ride, but the gardener knew what his master would say and more tears he had no strength or water to shed stung his heart. Still he remembered himself how Frodo had joyfully exhausted himself those days of the Fair, because not only would he be pony for Sam, but for Merry and Pippin also. Frodo shone brighter than the sun then and his laughter was ever tumbling musically from his lips, and when at last they tired of pony games, they would spend some quiet time away from the others, under their favorite tree and Frodo would recite Elvish poetry and Sam would close his eyes and listen to Sindarin with a Shire lilt and be transported into such joy that he could have easily died from the delight. Other times he would read to Frodo, though in Westron, carefully pronouncing his words and every time he looked up, he would see Frodo looking at him with a warm, loving smile that made him melt inside. It was the memory of such times that sustained Sam now in the terrible dark, amid the thirst and the agony of their journey. How it broke his heart that his beloved master had been robbed of such sweet things. If he had any strength left, Sam vowed to himself that he would speak again to Frodo of these things, and maybe see that smile again, but he had no strength for it now. By the end, he was crawling like a snail with a heavy burden on his back before his will and limbs gave way and he laid his master gently down.

"Thank you, Sam," Frodo said in a cracked whisper.

They had walked over twenty miles in two days without any water and were too parched to eat what little food they had left. Sam had carried his master a mile up the mountain.

* * *

Frodoís hand sought the chain about his neck.

Sam knelt by him. Faint, almost inaudibly, he heard Frodo whispering: "Help me, Sam! Help me, Sam! Hold my hand! I canít stop it."

Sam took his masterís hands and laid them together, palm to palm, and kissed them: and then he held them gently between his own. "Oh, now, there, there. Itís all right."

And somehow it was.

Again he lifted Frodo and drew his hands down to his own breast, letting his masterís legs dangle. Then he bowed his head and struggled off along the climbing road.

* * *

"Well, this is the end, Sam Gamgee," said a voice by his side. And there was Frodo, pale and worn, and yet himself again; and in his eyes there was peace now, neither strain of will, nor madness, nor any fear. His burden was taken away. There was the dear master of the sweet days in the Shire.

"Master!" cried Sam, and fell upon his knees. In all that ruin of the world for the moment he felt only joy, great joy. The burden was gone. His master had been saved; he was himself again, he was free. Sam reached out to touch his cheek and stroke it. Frodo smiled at him, took his hand with his own and kissed it. It was the maimed and bleeding one that held Samís in his own.

"Your poor hand!" he said, clasping it. "And I have nothing to bind it with, or comfort it. I would have spared him a whole hand of mine rather."

Though any pressure on his hand hurt, Frodo clasped Samís hand tighter. His blood mingled with Samís own and Frodo knew as never before that such a union was completely unbreakable, even by death. "I am glad you are with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam."

The pain subsided the longer Frodo's hand was in Sam's gentle grasp. "Yes, I am here with you, Master. And youíre with me. And the journeyís finished. But after coming all that way I donít want to give up yet. Itís not like me, somehow, if you understand."

"Maybe not, Sam, but itís like things are in the world. Hopes fail. An end comes. We only have a little time to wait now. We are lost in ruin and downfall and there is no escape."

"Well, Master, we could at least go further from this dangerous place here, from this Crack of Doom, if thatís its name. Now couldnít we? The journey may be finished but not the tale. Come, Mr. Frodo, letís go down the path at any rate!"

"Very well, Sam. If you wish to go, Iíll come."

* * *

After days of celebration and Frodoís joy that his Samís dreams had come true and they had listened over and over again to the Lay of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom, the Ring-bearer sought time to begin writing down his tale as Bilbo wanted. He needed Samís help and everyone elseís for those times he either wasnít part of it or couldnít remember. But it was hard going for he had to learn to write again after the loss of his finger. He pushed himself too hard sometimes and his hand would cramp up. He sought relief from Sam then whose gentle touch soothed so many of the wounds in his heart, soul and body.

He asked many questions from the reunited Fellowship, but answered few of his own. He needed time to assimilate everything that had happened to him and there were many spots in his heart that were too tender to press upon. He wondered if they remain so as the memories overwhelmed him at times and other times left him feeling hollow. He did not speak of his journey, not out loud, though he feared he had retained his unconscious habit of talking in his sleep. He often woke with someone holding his hand, normally Sam or one of his cousins, sometimes Gandalf, Aragorn or Faramir. Once it was even the Queen. He wondered what, if anything, he had said, but never had the courage to ask and they never said anything themselves. But each would brush at his curls and kiss his head and that was all any needed to say. They had passed beyond the needs for words in many instances.

* * *

One day Sam was walking by the rooms they had been given in the Citadel and heard the crumpling of papers and Frodoís exasperated voice. Sam walked in and Frodoís dangling feet were nearly covered in discarded paper.

"I canít do it, Sam!" the frustrated Ring-bearer cried. "Itís just too much."

Sam smiled tenderly and sat down on the bench beside his master and without saying a word, covered his masterís hand with his own and guided the quill across the page just as Frodo had done for him so many years previously. They practiced like that for some time, writing out letters and simple words until Frodoís confidence began to shakily return.

"You write so beautifully, Sam," he said.

"Thatís you, my dear," the younger hobbit said. "Just keep at it and it will come back. You have lived a great tale and it should be heard for years and years."

Frodo smiled at his beloved guardian. "I wouldnít even be here, if it wasnít for you. You can be sure, my Sam, that while your dreams are going to come true and you will have your tale, my dreams are going to come true too and I will make sure that everyone has their fill of the brave deeds of Samwise the stouthearted as well. No one is going to complain that too much of his talk was left out!"

Sam blushed, but Frodo smiled wider and Sam's heart nearly burst with joy at that. They held each other for a long time on that bench.

"Oh, thank you, Sam, for helping me," Frodo sighed. "I didn't want to be a bother, but I do so want to learn again! Thank you for being with me."

Sam kissed the side of his beloved master's head and held him tighter. "Yes, I am with you, me dear, and you are with me and the journey continues."

* * *

I can't go on.

The words echoed over and over in Frodoís mind as he clutched the white gem Arwen had given him. If your hurts grieve you still and the memory of your burden is heavy, then you may pass into the West, until all your wounds and weariness are healed. When the memory of the fear and the darkness trouble you, this will bring you aid.

I can't go on.

Yes, you can.

That last voice sounded like Samís, but Frodo had hid as much as he could the suffering that lingered, the emptiness that remained that could not be filled by returning home, so he wasnít sure he trusted that voice was Samís and certainly it was not his own.

How many tramps Frodo had made, either alone or with his Sam or cousins, trying to replant himself, only to discover there was not enough of himself left. How many he had stared up at the stars and tried to find comfort in them, only to have his thoughts drift to wondering what stars could be seen in the West. He couldnít really imagine finding that to be home either.

"Where shall I find rest?"

* * *

Sam came into the study where Frodo was and saw a big book with plain red leather covers; its tall pages pages were now almost filled. At the beginning there were many leaves covered with Bilbo's thin wandering hand; but most of it was written in Frodo's firm flowing script. It was divided into chapters but Chapter 80 was unfinished, and after that there were some blank leaves. Under the titles Bilbo had written and discarded, Frodo had written:

THE DOWNFALL

OF THE

LORD OF THE RINGS

AND THE

RETURN OF THE KING

(as seen by the Little People; being the memoirs of Bilbo and Frodo

of the Shire, supplemented by the accounts of their friends and the

learning of the Wise.)

Together with extracts from Books of Lore translated by Bilbo in

Rivendell.

"Why, you have nearly finished it, Mr. Frodo!" Sam exclaimed. "Well, you have kept at it, I must say."

"I have quite finished, Sam," said Frodo. "The last pages are for you. And I wouldn't have kept at it if you hadn't helped me in so many ways. You can be very sure that if I ever doubted that you are far my superior, it has been dispelled by writing down all your brave and loving deeds. I have given you the full credit you deserve that I am even here to write it at all."

Sam blushed, but Frodo smiled and the younger hobbit's heart leapt at that for he so loved that smile and it was so rare since the Quest.

Frodo hugged his beloved. "My dearest gardener and guardian," he murmured, then softly he began to sing, "Sing me a story of heroes of the Shire, muddling through, brave and true. Year after year, they persevere, now and for always. Tell us an old tale we know. Tell of adventures strange and rare, ever to share. Stories we tell will cast their spell, now and for always. Sing me a tale of the greatest of them all, comrade and guide at my side. Stouthearted Sam wouldn't let me fall, holding my life in his hands. True to the end, no finer friend, now and for always."

"Sing me a story of Frodo and the Ring," Sam sang in reply, "fearless and bold, crossing a miserable land, wouldn't retreat, just follow his feet, now and for always."

They held each other for a long time, then Frodo kissed his Sam on the head and let go. He would continue to follow his feet. But Sam, oh Sam, if you knew where that was going to lead. Yet I hope your feet will follow mine in time as they always have.

* * *

"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."

"Where are you going, Master?" cried Sam, though at last he understood what was happening.

"To the Havens, Sam," said Frodo.

"And I canít come."

"No, Sam. Not yet anyway, not further than the Havens. Though you too were a Ring-bearer, if only for a little while. Your time may come. Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot be always torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do."

"But," said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, "I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done."

"So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved. But not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger. Someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you - you are my heir! All that I had and might have had I leave to you, Sam. And also you have Rose, and Elanor; and Frodo-lad will come, and Rosie-lass, and Merry, and Goldilocks, and Pippin; and perhaps more that I cannot see. Your hands and your wits will be needed everywhere. You will be the Mayor, of course, as long as you want to be. You will be the most famous gardener in all history! And - and you will read things out of the Red Book and keep alive the memory of the Age that is gone, so that people will remember the Great Danger, and so love their beloved land all the more. And that will keep you as busy and as happy as anyone can be... as long as your part of the Story goes on. Oh, Sam..."

Frodo and Sam both collapsed in tears as they held each other tight.

"Mr. Frodo, Mr. Frodo! My dear, my dear..."

Samís world came crashing down and he nearly collapsed under the weight of it, though part of it still stood. It sagged under the weight of what had fallen, but he braced himself against it and knew Frodo was leaning against it too so it would not collapse utterly. What joy it had been to see his master returned to the Shire, to have Bag End restored to him, to watch him every day try to sink his roots back down into the fertile soil of his home. Now Sam saw all the warning signs he had missed or not understood previously. His master had not been able to return after all. There was a void in that dear heart and neither he nor the Shire could fill it. It was a terrible thing for them both to realize and he knew now that Frodo had realized it far sooner and had held that wound secretly inside where Samís love could not touch it. Too deeply hurt. The words kept echoing over and over in the gardenerís heart, but no more tears came. Yet Sam also knew, even if love had not reached that spot, it was not entirely void for hope dwelt there, and it was with that hope that Frodo left, and it was with that hope that Sam prepared to say farewell to his beloved treasure. It was very fragile, yet the gardener did what he could to nurture the tender shoots, just as he had sought to strengthen his master on their terrible journey. How could he do anything else? And in so doing, it strengthened in his own broken heart.

The two spent the nights on the way to the Havens wrapped up in each otherís arms. Sam did not sleep much then. He spent the long hours looking at his beloved master, the one who had become so more: his brother and child, mentor and model, his hero. He watched the light softly glow within that treasure of his, and in so watching, had, deep in his heart, a breath of a thought that Frodo was treasured by more than he, and that he was going just where he needed to be healed. Thin, silvery tendrils of peace wove themselves among the pieces of his own heart as he looked upon the beauty of his masterís features and had an inkling of an understanding where that beauty came from, not enough for him to make sense of, just a thought there were other Powers in the world watching over his master and better than he could. He stroked those dear curls and deeply breathed Frodoís scent in: tea and ink and linen, and laden with torment and sorrow, but also threaded through with that desperate hope. Hope he had not had since their terrible journey, yet he had it now. Sam was moved to tears by that. He told Frodo softly over and over again how much he loved him and thought sometimes Frodo heard, for he would hold Sam tighter or breathe the words back to him. Sam would kiss his head then and wipe at the tears that streamed down his masterís cheeks and then near dawn, would surrender to a little sleep.

At the Havens, Frodo kissed the three brothers of his heart farewell, and went abroad; and the sails were drawn up. As the wind blew their tears away, it seemed to the three that the wind was Frodo's last caress through their curls and against their cheeks. Slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost. And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise. He breathed in deep and hope stirred stronger in his breast as he clutched the Lady's phial in one hand and the queen's gem in the other. Home, I'm home. The Story goes on. Oh, Sam... More than ever Bilbo understood the nature of the light within his beloved heartson as it flared as if in response to the brightness of the land ahead.

But to Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West. There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart. He held onto that sound with a jealous possessiveness for it was all he had left now of his master, besides a myriad memories. Oh, my Frodo...

* * *

I canít go on.

Sam wasnít sure if the voice was his own or an echo in his heart of Frodoís. So long he had lain awake at nights sometimes and listened for that voice. He didnít think it was his own. It wasnít like him to give up like that and he hoped it was not Frodoís for how could he comfort it if his master was so far away? He reached out his arms to do so anyway.

"Yes, you can," he murmured and he still wasnít sure who he was speaking to. "Iím here and Iím not going to leave you."

He felt comforted himself and he thought the other voice, if it was another voice, was soothed too.

The next day, it was the 22nd and his masterís birthday. Each autumn, he set out with Merry and Pippin for the Havens, so they could be there for the anniversary of their parting. They spoke little on the way, and while Merry and Pippin always ventured out as far as they could into the water, just to be a mite closer to their beloved cousin, Sam never stuck so much a toe into the water, no matter how much his heart tugged him to do so. He knew if he did, he would helpless against it and would keep going, so he held himself firm. The day would come, but it hadnít come yet. He had a happy life and many joys with his Rose and their ever growing brood, yet still, at this time of year, the longing to be with his master was fierce. He whispered it to the Sea, in the hopes that Frodoís heart, ever united to his, would hear and respond. He had no doubt that their hearts remained firmly knit together for he had felt much pain, then slowly healing begin to start and take firmer hold. He fully celebrated it so Frodo would know also that he was healing as well. So it was that, when his longing was at its worst and he thought he would die from such a split heart, that he would feel the spray of the water leap up and kiss his cheek. He had to at first hold onto the ground with white knuckles to keep from surrendering to the longing to go splashing his way until the waves utterly took him. Instead he chose to surrender to the ecstacy of that contact, for he knew it was not the water, but his beloved masterís touch. He would reach out and kiss his damp fingers and close his eyes and thank Frodo. It was then he would be strong enough to wait another year.

His part of the tale was not over. And neither was his Frodoís. They were writing it separately now and Sam knew Frodo could feel the joy of his life as much as he could feel Frodoís and there was much joy to celebrate on both sides of the Sea. No, their story was going on still and until they could weave the strands back together and walk together again under the same sun and same stars, they would live out their lives in honor of the sacrifices made and make this part of the tale as worthy a read as the rest.

* * *

I can go on.

Yes, you can.

This time Sam knew the voice was his first, then Frodo's and it was welcoming him at last across the Sea. Rose had passed just weeks ago and the pain had crushed Sam at first and he had lain awake many nights in a bed too big for just one. He had come out to the garden at times during those long nights and sat by his belovedís grave, sometimes sleeping by it and that would be the only way at first he could find a measure of release. Other times he stared up at the stars and named each one silently to himself, remembering how he had taught them to each of his children and how they had nights spent under the stars as he and Frodo had once spent. They gave him peace as nothing else could for he remembered also the star he had seen in Mordor, how dark things had been there and how he had been able to go on because he had seen that single light shining victoriously against the darkness that could not consume it.

He thought he saw the night he decided to leave that same star as it twinkled high in the heavens and smote his heart just the same as before, It gave him the same peace and hope and he was able to breathe again. He spent the rest of the night in peaceful slumber.

It was the day of his master's birthday that he set out to answer at last the call of his heart to settle once more with its other half. One half lay in a new grave and one half lay across the Sea. He could not live separated from them both.

He slept one last night by Roseís grave, kissed the headstone, and by a soft voice that could have just been the wind, but maybe not, knew he had her blessing. So it was after goodbyes to hearth and kin that Sam sailed home.

* * *

It was morning when he came at last to a shore unbelievably white and bright. He blinked against it, nearly blinded, but did not close his eyes. He wanted to see every moment. He clutched to his breast the journal he had kept all those long years, his part of the tale that had gone on, with its joys and tears, laughter and grief, every single thing.

At long last the boat docked and he didn't need any urging to run as fast as his aged limbs could carry him into the arms of the shining being who stood waiting for him, a book in his hand.

"Oh, Sam, my Sam!" Frodo said with a shower of joyful kisses. He held his guardian tight against him then and breathed deep. "Gandalf said so long ago the Road may wind much, but here at last, by the shores of the Sea, it has led you back to me. Welcome home, dearest heart, welcome home!"

"Yes, I am with you and you are with me," the gardener murmured, "but the journey is not finished."

"No, the Road goes ever on and on. I think this tale will have a happy ending after all."

* * *

Frodo and Sam lay down their blankets on the ground one warm autumn evening for a night of star-gazing. "Oh, Sam!" the elder hobbit sighed. "This is the most perfect night!"

"Yes, my Frodo, it is!" Sam agreed.

The two lay next to each other for a long while, just staring in wonder at the heavens. "There's so many of them," Sam breathed. "I can't think how anyone could name them all."

"But they have, my Sam," Frodo said. "I don't know them all myself, mind you, only the Elves do, but I did tell you for our adventure tonight that I was going to tell you some of them."

And so Frodo did and the two watched in awe as the stars danced above them. Their hands tightened around each other without even knowing as they lay in perfect contentment and union with each other and all the created world.

"I love the darkness," Frodo said in an hushed tone, "because you can see the stars so bright."

Sam could not have been happier, for he loved any time he had his Frodo all to himself.






        

        

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