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The Gardener's Tale

The Silver Bow

How long he sat there, lost in a dark dream, Sam never knew. But at last he raised his head and noticed that even here, in this forbidden land, day was yielding to night. The cloudy sky, all blotched with grey and yellow, was growing dark and a red glow came from the West. A wind, gritty and smelling of smoke and gas, stirred his hair. Once again he looked down at his master, Frodo, held tightly in his arms, as if he could still protect him, even now he was dead….

‘I’m sorry to disturb you, Gaffer…’ said Bilbo, and Mr Gamgee, peering out into the summer evening was surprised, even shocked, to see his employer standing on his own humble doorstep, holding a lantern that spilled light on the worn and scrubbed stone step. Moths fluttered around it, and above in the deep blue sky the summer stars were beginning to twinkle…

‘Why Mr Bilbo, there was no call for you to come ‘ere!’ said the Gaffer, ushering his social superior into his hallway, hoping that there was no bundles of kindling or half-empty buckets or dirty garden tools left carelessly where they could trip up such an august guest. He was half glad Mrs Gamgee was off visiting her sister, who was poorly….

‘You could ‘a sent word, and I would have come up…’

‘Yes I know, and I’m most terribly sorry to disturb you, Mr. Gamgee…’ said Bilbo, and now he was inside in the light of the large tallow candle, the Gaffer saw that this most gentlehobbitish of hobbits was very nervous indeed, so much so that the Gaffer forgot his own unease and with a bow said;

‘Pray put your mind at ease, Mr.Bilbo; my home is your home, whenever you want to visit…’

Bilbo looked as if he was anything but at home, but he smiled as if this statement reassured him, and clearing his throat he said;

‘There is going to be a bit of a change at Bag End, Mr.Gamgee. I just wanted to let you know, it would not be polite if you learned it from someone else…’ …like the Sackville-Bagginses, thought Bilbo grimly to himself.

‘Won’t ‘ee step into the parlour, and we can talk about it in comfort?’ said the Gaffer.

Bilbo raised his hands and shook his head. ‘Thank you so much, Mr.Gamgee, but I don’t have a lot of time, and must get back directly. You see, I am not alone in Bag End any more, and I wanted you to know, so you don’t run my nephew off thinking he is a trespassing young hobbit, or stealing apples or something….’

The Gaffer Gamgee stared in surprise at Bilbo. ‘Nephew?’ he said, half to himself. Then his face brightened, like the sun coming out after a rainshower. He had heard of this nephew; Frobel or something he was called. His parents had drowned, a shocking accident, but hobbits should avoid boats, unless they were Brandybucks, and what did it matter if anything happened to a Brandybuck anyway….?

‘That be Frobel?’ he asked.

‘Frodo’ corrected Bilbo, with strained patience. ‘he is only a lad, and he has been staying away for a while, with relatives. But now he has come to live in Bag End with me, permanently as it were. So if you see him climbing the chestnut tree don’t shout at him….’

The sound of voices had roused the rest of the hobbit-home by now, and small faces were peering out of doorways and the open kitchen arch. A round, red-cheeked boy with long, curly, fair hair and an expression of frowning mistrust did not bother peering; he walked up the hallway to stand beside the two adults, looking from one to the other as they spoke. The Gaffer said out of the corner of his mouth.

‘Sam! get you back to the kitchen…’

Sam looked even more unhappy, but obediently turned to go. Bilbo stopped him.

‘Actually, Mr.Gamgee, if it is not too late, I wouldn’t mind your Sam lending a bit of a hand. There are some bags to be taken into the house from the cart, and Frodo is tired after the long journey. I wouldn’t bother you, it is so late, but perhaps Sam there….’

Sam was tall and strong for his age and had started to accompany the Gaffer on his work round, as the old gardener was growing stiff and slow. But The Gaffer kept his Bag End duties almost jealously to himself, and Sam had never been inside the Baggins home. Bilbo thought that in time it would be Sam who would do all the gardening for him, but he dared not ever say that aloud to the Gaffer….

‘I’m ready!’ said Sam, stepping forward boldly. It was late, and he was sleepy, but the thought of catching a glimpse of this young relative of the mysterious Mr.Bilbo Baggins was simply too enticing. A nephew, moreover, who had gained an aura of tragic mystery by losing his parents (not that Sam did not sometimes dream of losing his own, especially when the Gaffer gave him a box on the ear for forgetting to water the cuttings….)

‘Just show me what is to be done, Mr.Bilbo…’

The Gaffer frowned; he knew his son was fascinated by Mr.Bilbo and his adventures. But adventures were not for hobbits. They would end in tears, sure as pie-crust. The same went for teaching hobbits to read.

‘Have you never thought of teaching Sam to read?’ Mr. Bilbo had asked him one day.

‘Nay, Mr.Bilbo’ replied the Gaffer. ‘What would come of reading, but trouble? What could a gardener want with a book, anyway?’ But the Gaffer did not wish to show any disrespect to Mr.Bilbo by forbidding him to teach Sam. He neatly got round the problem by keeping Sam away from Bag End…

‘Just help us unload a few things from the cart, Sam’ said Bilbo, turning to the door, relieved to be on his way. ‘and stable the pony and give him his feed….’

They set off down the lane, Sam eagerly offering to carry the lantern. Its yellow light made the hedges loom and waver like stalking dragons. But there were no dragons here, it was the Shire….

‘That was a terrible accident that happened to Master Frodo’s parents, Mr.Bilbo!’ said Sam, with the tactlessness of extreme youth.

‘Hmm?’ said Bilbo, woken from his thoughts. ‘Oh yes, yes, very terrible, Sam. But it is all a long time ago now..’

Sam fell silent. Life in Hobbiton could seem dull to the very young, like Sam, and even an old disaster was better than none at all. But Bilbo was unwilling to speak of it and Sam had manners enough not to insist.

Bilbo preferred not to think back to the weeping and wailing; he did not like displays of grief, and avoided funerals whenever possible. But this time he had been forced to attend. And it was in his sister-in-law’s house that he had first seen the orphaned hobbit boy, red-eyed and shivering, looking from face to face as if searching for an explanation. And without fully understanding it himself, he had offered to take him in….

‘An old bachelor like Bilbo!’ snorted Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. ‘What on earth possessed him to adopt?’

‘Never mind the motive!’ snapped her husband Lotho. ‘Think of the inheritance! Now this Frogo or whatever he is called will be Bilbo’s heir. Lobelia, my dear, we won’t get so much as a brass penny…!’

They were nearing the gate of Bag End. It was dark now, the warm, scented dark of a midsummer night. Over the hill a new moon had risen, a silver half-circle like an Elven bow shining at the bottom of a deep blue lake, lost after some ancient battle. Sam pushed one hand into his breeches pocket, looking for his lucky penny. When he found it he turned it over and over. Wish on a new moon and turn your money in your pocket, he thought, and your wish will come true….

‘I wish I could see an Elf!’ he said to himself. He made the same wish every time he saw the new moon.

The cart was still standing at the gate, the pony turning to look at them. The poor beast was tired, thought Sam, running to unhitch him. But Bilbo said;

‘Finish unloading first, Sam. There isn’t much left to do…’

Sam nodded and clambered nimbly up onto the cart and seized hold of a wicker casket. The lid was tied down with string, and there was a large label on it with writing in a childish hand;

‘FRODO BAGGINS, BAG END, HOBBITON’

Sam stared at the label, and a flutter of excitement stirred his heart; Frodo would be living here now for good, his neighbour and his master’s heir.

‘Come on, Sam…’ said Bilbo, picking up a small wooden box. ‘Take it into the house, like a good lad…’

Sam nodded and hurried through the gate with the casket, which was light and easy to carry. The front door of Bag End was open and the firelight from the parlour was streaming down the garden path. Then someone stepped into the light, framed by the round doorway, just as Sam reached it…

Sam put down the casket and straightened up, brushing down his waistcoat and breeches. He looked at the young hobbit before him, curious and unafraid…

The hobbit lad was older than Sam, almost in his tweens, but so small and light of build that Sam and he seemed a pair, equal in size and age. Frodo wore a patched and worn velvet jacket of russet velvet, almost outgrown. It was an elegant and unusual garment for a young country hobbit, but somehow quite suited Frodo. The young hobbit resembled his uncle Bilbo in stature, but there was about this youngster a frail quality, a wavering, diffident way of standing in the doorway as if he was not sure where he belonged. Yet when he saw Sam’s broad, friendly face he smiled shyly, and held out a hand in greeting.

‘Hello!’ he said. ‘You must be young Samwise Gamgee, the Gaffer’s lad. My uncle said he was going to ask you to help unpacking the cart. He didn’t think I was up to it…’

The last words were spoken ruefully, and the young hobbit shrugged as he said them. Then he added;

‘I am Frodo.’

He smiled, yet his blue eyes were sad. Sam remembered what his Gaffer had said; ‘Desperate sad, uncommon sad! To lose both parents! He’ll never be right, poor lad….’

‘And I am Samwise Gamgee..’ said Sam, remembering his manners at last. ‘At your service and that of your family’s…’

And Frodo took Sam’s hand and shook it warmly, then behind them came the sound of a box falling with a crash, and Bilbo calling for Sam. And the two young hobbits looked at each other and suddenly laughed.

‘Samwise Gamgee.. ‘ said Frodo, and in the dark porch the starlight reflected in his blue eyes ‘…..I am very glad to meet you...’

Sam reached up and gently, with trembling fingers, he closed Frodo’s eyes. He had no hope left that his master would awake, and he could not bear his fixed, unseeing stare. Yet when he had done it, he knew that Frodo was truly dead.

Sam was now past tears. A terrible rage filled his heart, and roamed about it looking for foes on whom to avenge his master’s death….

Gollum! for a long time Sam could think of nothing else but this miserable creature’s treachery; he had led Frodo into this trap; he had sown disagreement between him and Sam. But as suddenly as his rage blew up it blew away;

‘What good will killing Gollum do?’ he thought ‘It won’t bring Frodo back, nor help me finish what I have to do….’

‘Stay with your master!’ the Elves of Gildor had said to him. ‘Never leave your master….’

‘But they did not foresee this!’ said Sam aloud in grief. ‘No-one saw this….’

And then, with a blinding flash of memory, Sam remembered that he had indeed seen all this; in the Mirror of Galadriel he had seen Frodo asleep below a great dark cliff.

‘Not asleep!’ cried Sam, realising at last. ‘Dead, dead….’

He bent his head and would have wept again, but a strong feeling of impending danger prevented him. With a sigh, he laid Frodo down, for he had cradled him all this time in his arms. Now he placed him on the rough stone ground, and arranged his arms and legs as best he could, so that his master, so dear to him in life, would lie like one just asleep in death….

Sam had never seen a battle, nor witnessed how great warriors or kings of men or Elves arrayed their dead. But he was determined to attend properly to his master, as if this duty was to be his last, the duty of a loyal esquire to his fallen lord…

He crossed Frodo’s hands on his breast. His master’s hands were white and thin, and cold in Sam’s own, brown, weatherbeaten hands. A tear fell on them and Sam rubbed his eyes angrily. Then he took his old sword and sheathed it in Sting’s empty scabbard.

‘Sting I must keep, Frodo…’ he said aloud to his master. ‘For I have need of him. But a warrior must have a sword, so take you mine…’

He then wrapped the grey Elven cloak round Frodo and fastened it with the Elven brooch of Lothlórien, Galadriel’s parting gift.

‘If the Elven cloak has any power to conceal, even in this dark land, let it do so, my dear Master..’ he said. Then he put the Starglass into his pocket.

‘I know the Lady gave it to you’ said Sam apologetically ‘but she would understand I have need of it now. I hope you do too, Frodo…’

For a while Sam sat beside the body of his master, gazing on the still white face, and pondering what to do next.

‘Would that I had been slain with you’ he said softly. ‘Or better still, instead of you.’

But fate had decreed otherwise, and now Samwise thought hard on what he should do. The Ring was still around Frodo’s neck. If he left it there, it would almost certainly fall into the hands of any enemy who found his master’s dead body.

‘But I cannot take it….can I?’

Sam’s mind went back to the Council at Rivendell; how he had sneaked up to the terrace where the great lords of men and Elves and Dwarves all sat debating the future of their realms. But in the end, it had been a hobbit, the least of races, who had taken the doom of all upon his shoulders. Not just any hobbit, but Sam’s beloved Frodo. It was enough to break his heart; he had stormed from his hiding place…

‘You’re not sending him off alone, surely….?’ he had cried to the assembled lords.

Sam shook his head. That was why he had been allowed to go. Not to keep his master company, and share his burden. But in case Frodo was slain.

‘So they would have another Ringbearer’ said Sam under his breath. He smoothed back a stray lock of Frodo’s dark hair with a calloused hand.

‘In case anything happened to you…..’

Now a great wave seemed to roll over Sam’s heart; till that moment, when he realised he must take the Ring, he had not fully accepted that Frodo was dead. But now, as he gently lifted his master’s head with one hand and passed the thin chain with the Ring on it over his dark curls with the other, he knew that Frodo was beyond completing his great task. For he did not stir when his fatal burden was at last removed; not a flicker of his closed eyes nor a shudder through his cold, stiff body. At last Sam knew that Frodo was indeed dead…

A tear ran down his cheek as he laid his master’s head back down on the ground. He bent and kissed him on the brow. Frodo’s skin was cold and he did not stir.

‘Farewell, master’ said Sam, unable to speak Frodo’s name. Then he got to his feet, closed his eyes and passing the chain over his head Samwise Gamgee, son of Hamfast, put on The Ring…