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The Gardener's Tale

3

'It's no good!' Said Sam to himself. 'I'll have to pack it all over again.'

He put down the knapsack into which he was carefully folding Frodo's clothes and looked up with a sigh. It was so beautiful here. Across the valley the sun brought out a hundred hues in the woods on the far slopes. Above them the autumn sky was clean and blue with wisps of cloud trailing away to the West. Away to home, far in the West.

Sam sighed again. He was desperately homesick. He did not admit it to the others, but he wished for the Shire with all his heart. He looked at the woods, and at the snow on the Eastern peaks. He had yearned often to see something like this, to go to some fabled place of the Elves such as Rivendell. Now he could only think of home. He wondered about the garden at Bag End; it must be overgrown now and the hedge up past the windows. Maybe the Cottons had looked in and done some tidying up....Sam put these thoughts firmly aside; it was best not to think of it, it only made things worse. He wasn't going anywhere until Mr Frodo did.

All his life he had wanted to see Elves, but it had not turned out as he had dreamed. They had arrived here in fear and flight, that terrible night with Frodo hurt and the others tired and anxious. Tall Elves standing around like statues, their bright eyes reflecting the fire of the torches, piercing him with their stern gaze, beautiful but and unsmiling. Sam felt he had entered a world where he did not belong and could not stay for long.

The Elves were kind to him, even more as the days went on and they got used to hobbits. At first he had little dealings with them, he was at Frodo's bedside night and day. But word went around about his devotion and he found himself shown many little kindnesses by the Elves, and when Frodo was better enough to be left Sam wandered about the gardens and the Elves showed him rare and special plants and answered his questions about them, laughing in their clear silvery voices at the Shire names he used.

When Frodo was strong enough Sam showed him about the gardens himself, taking care he did not tire himself too soon. Under the warm golden October sun Frodo looked thin and pale, like a ghost. His eyes were ringed with shadows and his clothes hung on him. Walking behind him Sam felt a stab in his heart as Frodo moved with care and effort even a little way. 'He'll soon be as well as ever!' Sam told himself, but when Merry and Pippin came to see him he watched that they did not hurt his wounded shoulder with their bear hugs.

Wandering through the great mirror-floored hall and leaf-strewn gardens Sam was enchanted, but deep in his heart uneasy, wanting home. Yet home seemed as far away as ever.

'Well, Sam Gamgee, be ready for the journey anyways, you never know when the call will come...' But every time he packed the knapsack he remembered something or decided to arrange it all some other way, so he just could not seem to get the job finished. It wasn't easy putting everything in his own pack yet making it look as if he had put the same into Frodo's almost empty pack. He didn't want Frodo to protest, but he could not carry anything heavy, not for a long time, so Sam squeezed all he could into his own pack.

Footsteps made him turn around. Crossing the wide courtyard was Elrond, accompanied by his sons and some of his household. Always regal, he was dressed today in especially fine robes, a deep amber and tawny coloured velvet gown with gold embroidery on the wide silk sleeves and hem. On his brows was a silver circlet. He looked stern and worried, exchanging some words with his companions. Sam stood up as if to attention, not thinking the Elf lord would see him, but just before going up the steps to the music gallery Elrond suddenly looked over his shoulder at Sam, with a strange half-smile. Sam nodded awkwardly and said to the already out of sight figure; 'Morning, your lordship...'

What is going on? thought Sam. Some meeting or other. Misgivings stirred in his sturdy breast; a premonition grew. He gave up any attempt at packing, shoved the packs under the stone bench that ran along the balcony and sat down to think. But hardly had he done so than more steps echoed across the courtyard, Sam looked over and Saw Strider walking quickly towards the steps. He was not in his tattered Ranger's clothes, but to Sam's surprise looked almost aristocratic in silver grey velvet with a silver belt and chain. His hunter's glance swept the courtyard and he saw Sam and smiled warmly. 'Hello Sam!' Sam self-consciously stood up and said 'Good morning, Mr. Strider.' Sam had not got off to a good start with old Strider. His temperature still rose when he thought about him seizing Frodo in the Inn at Bree. But even Sam had to admit he had redeemed himself since. He remembered Weathertop, and Strider fighting off the Wraiths. Standing in this sunny peaceful courtyard that all seemed like a nightmare recalled on a summer day, but it had really happened. Frodo had a cold white mark on his shoulder to remind him and Sam. Strider had borne Frodo himself until they got help and reached the Ford of Bruinen. without Strider, Frodo would have died. Sam reluctantly admitted to himself that Frodo had become fond of Strider and trusted him....

Sam shook himself out of his reverie. Strider had vanished up the steps. Sensing rather than hearing someone Sam looked around and saw an Elf crossing the courtyard soundlessly. He was not of Elrond's household. Not only had Sam not seen him before but his clothes and manner were quite different. He wore a short tunic of colours like woodland light and shade, warm earths and cool mossy greens. Sam felt he could blend into shadows in a forest and be invisible. His clothes were not especially fine and were well-worn and weather-stained. Only a little gold thread embroidering the collar and a shirt of fine lawn stitched with silver like moonbeams showing under his jerkin indicated he might of high rank. He moved softly like a cat, raising his bright head to look about like a deer or a fox. His face showed joy at being in Rivendell, but also an inherent cautiousness that reminded Sam of Strider. He saw Sam at once and paused to study him, his smile lingering. Few Elves had seen a hobbit before and Sam was used to that look. Then he nodded to Sam and went on into the hall, as if satisfied that Sam posed no threat.

As Sam looked after him he heard firm purposeful footsteps and coming after the Elf was a man, richly dressed but with his long black travelling cloak stained with much journeying. His clothes were likewise marked with mud and wear but were embroidered in a strange fashion and with intricately worked silver fastenings of ancient design. He wore a silver collar with a white jewel and a great hunting horn engraved with silver. He was tall and fair of face with bright hair to his shoulders, but hurried along with barely suppressed impatience. He was in such great haste he did not see the hobbit.

A group of dwarves now approached the hall steps. There were many of the guests who had been at the banquet Frodo and Sam had attended. There was that rather splendid dwarf Glóin and a younger dwarf who could have been his son. They were talking in low tones and looked far from happy and in no mood to be trifled with.

By now Sam was getting very worried indeed. What was going on? He had a servant's sixth sense for when the great ones were up to something, and he feared that it would concern his Frodo. As if in answer to his thought, he saw Frodo coming, with Bilbo. They were walking slowly and talking together. They did not see Sam and for a moment he observed his master without being noticed. It seemed to Sam Frodo was looking pale and cold but cheerful. There was a chill breeze from the valley but he was listening to something Bilbo was telling him and seemed rapt as always when hearing one of the old hobbit's tales. Sam, however had a feeling that the time for tales was nearly over.

A bell rang and Frodo went up the steps and Bilbo walked slowly away, his hands clasped behind his back.

Sam sprang up; what should he do? He never wanted to be away from Frodo but he had told Sam he wanted to talk with Bilbo. Now what should he do? Perhaps he didn't want Sam with him now. What was he going to do with all those great folks? The Ring! A black cloud covered Sam's sky. That nagging feeling that they would not be going home. He looked up the steps and without thinking further hurried up them unnoticed and uninvited and entered the hall of music.

They had gone through the hall onto a terrace looking out over the valley and surrounded with fragrant shrubs and mountain ash saplings. There were statues of elf maidens playing music, dancing and singing. Their dance was frozen in stone and their music the endless sound of the waterfall below. Their heads were entwined with wreaths of stone and living vines. Sam had been here before but did not pause to admire the beauty. He moved quickly behind a pillar and settled down under the low balustrade that separated the terrace from the gardens. Now he could watch without being seen.

The meeting had started. Elrond was making a speech. Frodo was sitting beside Gandalf. All the others, Elves and dwarves and men, were listening intently. Then Frodo got up and walked over to a marble table set in the midst of the terrace and placed the Ring upon it. Sam's heart leaped up with hope; so it was all over! Frodo had finally rid himself of the cursed thing! Sam felt a wild joy. He thought Frodo would leave then and there, but he didn't. He returned to his seat and the talking went on. Sam paid attention for a short while. Then his attention wandered. He could not follow all the strands of the speech. A warm band of sunlight fell through the trees and across him and he found himself daydreaming. Soon he was dozing. Then he fell asleep.

He woke with a start. There were raised voices. Sam looked round the edge of the leafy sill under which he sat and saw the tall man with the fair hair had stood up and was pointing at Strider. Then the stranger Elf Sam had seen before the meeting jumped up and stood beside the man, arguing. Sam was astonished and not a bit taken aback. Great ones arguing! His heart sank; this boded no good for the hobbits and their return to the Shire.

The tall man turned away from the Elf and walked back to his seat. In a voice even Sam could hear he said to Strider; 'Gondor has no king; Gondor needs no king'. Sam had no idea what he meant but was sure old Strider would stop this impertinence, make some answer. But he did not even stand up, even though the man favoured him with a hostile and contemptuous stare. Then he swept the whole company with the same piercing look. Sam was sure he could see him through the leaves and shrank down. That man was even more frightening than Strider had been in the Inn. Strider, meantime, was breathing hard and gripping the armrests of his chair with white knuckles. Then Gandalf said something, and so did Elrond, and the dwarf Sam thought was Glóin's son suddenly took up his axe and brought it down on the Ring with great force.

There was a tremendous crack, more like thunder than metal on stone. The axe shattered and shards flew everywhere. One piece shot past Sam's ear. The dwarf was thrown backwards onto the ground. But Sam hardly noticed. He was looking at Frodo, who was holding his head in his hands as if he had been struck by the axe and not the Ring. Sam got to his feet. He wanted to go to Frodo but dared not interrupt. He could see sweat on Frodo's face and knew he was in pain. Gandalf put his hand on Frodo's arm and that was some comfort to Sam, but he was anxious and desperately wanted this meeting to end and Frodo to come out of it.

As he was watching Frodo he missed something that was said and the next thing the whole meeting was in an uproar; everyone on their feet arguing and shouting. Sam was appalled. His betters behaving like a bunch of unruly hobbit children. It was as if some madness had gripped them. He could make out Gandalf's voice trying to calm them down but no-one was heeding him, and the Elves and the dwarf who had got knocked down were ranting at each other like bitterest enemies. That stranger Elf was trying to hold back his fellow-Elves and Aragorn was sitting looking dejected. Sam looked from one to the other as the row wore on then suddenly his keen ears caught Frodo's voice. 'I will take it!' No-one had heard him, but Sam had, and his heart sank into his woolly feet. Visions of returning to the Shire receded into the distance then vanished. It was no consolation that Frodo was being ignored by the crowd of noisy, angry delegates. Sam knew Frodo meant it.

'I will take the Ring to Mordor' louder this time and every word a hammer beating nails into Sam's heart. The voices died away; they had heard him. They all turned in amazement, no-one could speak and there was silence while Frodo said; 'Though I do not know the way.'

Others began to talk then, Gandalf among them, but there was a roaring in Sam's ears, and he had to hold the stone sill of the balcony to steady himself. Mordor! So this was it, then, the end of it all. For the briefest second he thought of how he would never now see home again and had pity for himself but it was soon swallowed up in a rush of compassion for Frodo, stading so small amongst those great ones, pale and uncertain. Dimly he was aware that they were pledging their help to Frodo. A wild sense of panic seized him; were they going to take Frodo away? Not let him go with him? Someone else to take his place at Frodo's side? He could not bear that. Not caring if he was seen he jumped up and struggled through the screen of shrubs. He elbowed his way under Strider's arm and stood next to Frodo. 'Mr. Frodo's not going anywhere without me!' A ripple of laughter came from the meeting. Sam folded his arms stubbornly and kept his eyes down 'You at least will go with him' said Elrond. 'It is hardly possible to separate you when he is summoned to a secret council and you are not.' The laughter grew louder. Behind them Aragorn was chuckling. Sam risked a glance at Frodo. He was not laughing. There was a sad smile of resignation on his face. 'So be it...' said Elrond.

Sam raced down the steps to the garden, his face, even his ears burning red with shame. 'Sam! Wait for me....' It was Frodo, trying to catch him up. He was still weak from his wound and was panting and leaning on the balustrade. Sam was struck with remorse and hurried back to him and took his arm to support him. Under the clothes he was so thin he was only bones and he winced as Sam's strong weather-beaten hand gripped him. Sam cursed himself and took away his hand. He noticed Frodo's clothes were damp with sweat. 'This has all set him right back' he thought in agitation. Then Frodo spoke to him. 'I wish you hadn't done that, Sam.' Sam lowered his head; it was what he wanted to say to Frodo, but it was not his place to tell Frodo what to do. 'I don't know what you mean, Mr Frodo' said Sam stubbornly. 'Oh yes you do' said Frodo. 'I don't want you to come. You could go home, back to the Shire, or stay here safe in Rivendell...' 'Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo' interrupted Sam almost angrily 'I can't go home, least ways not without you! And I can't stay here, letting you go on alone.' 'But I won't be alone, there are others coming with me. Strider! I'll be safe with them....' 'No, Mr Frodo!' Sam's voice had risen. Frodo looked exasperated. 'You don't understand, we're going to Mordor. Don't you ever listen properly when you eavesdrop?' Sam ignored the remark. 'Yes I do know where you're going. And I'm coming too!'

Frodo was getting tired. There were tears in his eyes. 'Sam' he said barely above a whisper 'We might not be coming back.' 'Well' said Sam stoutly 'If you don't come back, neither will I.' Frodo said nothing, just gazed at Sam. 'And with all respect to Mr. Strider and all those other folks, they don't know how to look after you!' Frodo laughed. 'And you do?' 'Yes I do' answered Sam.

Just then there were footsteps behind them on the stairs. It was Merry and Pippin, fleeing from a stern Gandalf and an even sterner Elrond. Before they got into earshot Frodo took Sam's arm and said; 'Thank you, Sam...'