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by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

5 November 1419sr continuing...

Lily found herself standing at one of the front windows. She hadn’t meant to keep a vigil, but she couldn’t tear herself away. Daisy had seen Frodo and then Sam head out toward Hobbiton and had called her to the window.

Lily was sure they were headed to Bag End. She whispered to herself, forgetting her sister was there.

“I hope he’s all right.”

Daisy laid a gentle hand on her arm. “He will be. Sam’s with him.” Lily looked at her older sister for reassurance, and received a kiss on her brow and a smile.

Lily kept her vigil until the late afternoon sun made the air appear almost golden. She wondered why there were no long shadows on the lane, and then remembered there were no trees anywhere in sight. She sighed heavily.

Even if I see him, what shall I say? she thought. Lily didn’t know what to think when at last she spotted Sam walking up the lane, alone. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart seemed to stop beating. Tears welled in her eyes.

Unbeknownst to Lily, Daisy had been looking in on her from time to time. She had not heard the sharp intake of breath only a moment before, but she did note her sister’s now-rigid stance. She looked out the window with her.

“Lily, what is it?”

“Sam is alone, Daisy; Sam is alone!” The tears spilled over her cheeks.

She did not see her sister’s determined look.

“Lily, I’m sure he’s all right. You could simply ask after him. That’s not chasing him.”

Lily nodded slowly, only half-listening to her sister’s suggestion. Frodo had told her she could ask Sam about the adventure he had been on, the journey, and after supper would be as good a time as any; really a perfect time, since Frodo would be away...

She wondered if she were being a coward by not going over there this moment, but reasoned with herself. Waiting would give Rosie and Sam a little time together, and Rosie had waited over a year for her Sam to return.

She felt considerably better, and as she and her sister prepared the last meal of the day, Lily wondered what sort of task could possibly take anyone more than a few weeks to complete, outside the Shire. What more was there, beyond the Shire, and Bree? She had heard tales of the Old Forest, and something about Elves... Frodo tried to tell her about them all those years ago at the Fair. He would not have lied, and he was not teasing her. It would be good to find out what lay behind all this.


When Lily arrived on the Cottons’ doorstep, she hesitated before knocking. She had brought along a fresh loaf of seed cake and hoped it would be enough to explain why she was there. Then she calmed herself and decided to be honest; it felt better. The seed cake was something to share, and a way to show her gratitude for Rosie’s kindness.

Lily knocked on the door. She was grateful and relieved it was Rosie who opened it. How would she explain to Farmer Cotton her wanting to speak to Sam?

Rose smiled brightly. “Lily! Please, come in. Oh! And you brought some of your wonderful seed cake. Have you eaten?”

Lily lowered her eyes, suddenly feeling terribly shy. “Yes, thank you. Rosie, would it be all right if I talked to Sam for a while? There are some questions I would like to ask him.”

Rosie tried not to show any surprise. Why Sam? She studied her friend carefully and wondered if this had something to do with Frodo; probably.

“I’ll get him. He’s still in the kitchen, nibbling on this and that. I've never seen him so hungry as since he's been back! I know they must have fed him something on that trip!" She smiled and showed Lily to a chair in the parlour.

Rosie and Sam returned to the parlour together. Lily looked at both of them for a moment, thinking how right they looked together...

She shook her head ever so slightly to clear it, and decided there was no point in putting it off any longer.

“Sam, if it’s all right with you, there are some things I would like to ask you about. May I?”

Sam’s tone was kind. “About what, Miss Lily?” He had a new appreciation for Lily. For now, she brought light and happiness to Frodo, no matter what might happen in the days ahead.

Lily looked down at her clasped hands in her lap and then back at Sam. “Mr. Baggins -- Frodo -- said it was all right if I asked you about...”

She started over.

“The other night, I noticed his hand, but whenever I asked him about what he has been doing, he calls it... he refers to it as the ‘hand story’, and says all the other stories are part of it... In truth, he told me I should ask you, and that you could tell me.”

Sam sighed deeply and sank into a chair. He looked suddenly worried, and tired, in a way even Rosie had not seen before.

“Where do I start?”

Rosie turned to go, unsure if she should remain, but Sam caught her hand and drew her to him. He reached for a chair and set it close beside him. “I -- I’d like you to hear this too.”

Lily and Rose gave him their complete attention, their eyes full of concern. Sam found it a little disconcerting.

“I’m not much good at storytellin’, but I’ll try to keep the facts straight as I can. It was over a year ago now...”

His eyes clouded over. “I don’t know if I can tell it...”

Rosie took his hand in hers. “Start at the beginning, Sam.”

“The beginning... that’s just it, the very beginning? -- or where it starts with us? With me and Mr. Frodo? Though I don’t rightly understand the real beginning.”

Rosie gave him an encouraging smile. “Then start with you and Mr. Frodo.”

Sam pursed his lips and nodded. “I overheard Mr. Gandalf talking to Mr. Frodo one day...”

He stopped and turned to Rosie. “I don’t know if I can, what with Mr. Frodo not being here and all. I may not get the story right.”

Rosie knew her Sam well enough. “Sam, Mr. Frodo asked that you tell Lily the story for him. He must have had some reason...”

Pain crossed Sam’s face. “He doesn’t like sayin’ anything about it at all.” He sighed again, heavily. “All right. Mr. Frodo had...” For a moment, Sam found himself unable to say it. “He had something that belonged to a dark lord.”

Fear leapt in Lily’s heart. “What could Frodo possibly have that would belong to... to someone like that? A dark lord; an evil lord?”

Sam nodded and turned his worried gaze to Lily. "His Uncle Bilbo gave it to him."

Lily’s eyes grew wider. “Why would his uncle have given him something -- ?” Her voice trailed off.

“He didn’t know what it was all about. Nobody knew, not even Mr. Gandalf, until just more ‘n a year back. By the time he knew, it seems almost everybody knew, and Mr. Frodo had to get It out of the Shire, quick-like.”

Lily’s voice lowered. “What was it he needed to get out of the Shire?”

Sam hesitated.

Rosie squeezed his hand. “What was it, Sam?”

“The Ring.”

Lily gasped and covered her mouth. “The hand story... it’s like that because of the ring.” Tears sprang to her eyes.

Sam’s eyes widened. “How did you...?”

Lily tried to breathe evenly. She moved her chair closer to Sam and Rosie. “I don’t know how; not yet. Please, Sam, tell me whatever you can.”

Sam’s eyes filled with tears, but they did not spill over. “He was going to go alone, but I couldn’t let him do that. He needs someone to watch out for him, if you know what I mean.”

Rosie’s eyes closed. “He didn’t ask you to come.”

Sam looked at her, confused. “No, the truth is, he wanted to leave me behind, though Mr. Gandalf told him he should take someone with ‘im as he could trust. Well, I knew that was me, even if Mr. Frodo didn’t. Though we did pick up Merry and Pippin along the way, but they didn’t know anything about doin’ for Mr. Frodo. He needed me, whether he wanted to say it or no.”

Sam shuddered. “We weren’t on our way a day and we found ourselves hunted by the Black Riders.”

Lily and Rosie both felt the chill. Lily prompted, “Black riders? Who are they?”

Sam’s expression became dark, but he was no longer focused on either Lily or Rose.

“What are they... They were servants of the Dark Lord. Sent to get the Ring from Frodo. They chased us from the time we left Bag End until the end...”

The room suddenly felt much colder.

To their surprise, Sam turned an excited smile to Rosie; but it was a forced smile, as if he were avoiding the telling of something far more difficult. “Our second night out, we met up with some Elves! They let us travel with them and then they fed us the most wonderful food and gave us a place to bed down. We were safe from the Riders that night...”

“Elves,” Lily said wonderingly. “Frodo said you know all about them.”

“I don’t know as I could say that,” Sam replied thoughtfully; but then he shook his head.

“If I tell you the story day by day, we’ll still be here next week. We left the Shire by way of the Old Forest.”

Lily and Rosie’s eyes widened; they knew the stories of the Old Forest. Lily had to ask. “Is it as bad as they say?”

Sam slowly nodded his head. “Worse. We wouldn’t have made it out at all if not for Tom Bombadil.”

Rosie looked at Lily, and back at Sam who paused so long she asked, “Who is he?”

“Tom Bombadil. He’s... Him and his wife Goldberry live in the Old Forest.”

“Is he a hobbit?” Rosie asked.

“Tom?! No, no, he’s not a hobbit. He’s a Man, but not like other Men. Well, he’s Man-size, but he doesn’t care about the things Men do... It don’t matter, excepting that he saved us more than once, in the Old Forest and then again in the Barrow-downs.”

Sam shuddered all the way to his toes. “If Mr. Frodo hadn’t remembered the rhyme to call Tom to us, our story would have ended, right then and there.”

“What are the Barrow-downs? ...where are they?” Lily asked.

“Out beyond the Old Forest, out East of here and West of Bree, where the Barrow-wights live -- or should I say, died? It doesn't matter... now they try to trap any body, Man or hobbit, that goes past ‘em.”

“What happens if you are trapped?” Lily was afraid to ask, but found herself compelled to do so.

“You die there,” Sam finished simply.

As if with one consent, the three hobbits drew closer together.

“After Tom saved us, we went on to Bree, where we were supposed to meet Mr. Gandalf at the Prancing Pony Inn, only he wasn’t there when we got there. But he had this Ranger, named Strider, waiting for us. Though we didn’t know he was waiting for us, particular. Mr. Frodo trusted him right off; not me. But it was probably good he did. The Black Riders almost caught up to us in Bree. They tore our room apart, trying to kill us... to get to the Ring.”

Lily had covered her mouth again, trying not to cry out. She closed her eyes. Rosie only stared at Sam, sitting very still in her chair.

Sam’s eyes grew wide. “We weren’t in there! Strider made it so it looked like we were sleepin’ in our beds, when really we were in another room all along.”

Lily looked up, her face reflecting what little relief she felt.

“Please go on, Samwise,” Rosie urged; in her heart, she was afraid to hear another word.

Sam turned to face Rosie. “Even our ponies were run off. All we could find was a sad little pony, my Bill. He went with us all the way to the Mines of Moria.”

Rosie asked, “You went through mines, Sam?” No hobbits had ever mined.

Sam’s brows drew together. “Sorry, that’s a bit out of order, we got to Rivendell before that, but there’s Weathertop first...”

He bit his bottom lip as tears sprang to his eyes.

“The Chetwood was a nice enough place. The Midgewater Marshes was miserable. But Weathertop...”

Sam’s gaze turned very far away, and his voice seemed to go with it. “They finally caught up to us...”

Sam paused for a long while. Finally, he took in a long shuddering breath, but he did not speak.

Lily hesitated to interrupt his thoughts, but she needed to know; a part of her was certain she already did. Her voice was almost a whisper.

“It was the -- riders... Samwise?”

Sam turned anguished eyes to Lily, and his words came out in a rush. “Yes, the Riders. Did I tell you they’re Ringwraiths? They aren’t even really alive, Miss Lily. They’re -- they’re tall, they’re so tall... I can’t tell you what they look like... too big... Bigger than Men, they were, with long, long swords... in shrouds, black shrouds... they don’t have faces. They don’t have bodies... only the black shrouds... they gave out some sort of evil so strong, it froze us in place... Gandalf told us later it was the black breath... it put terror in our hearts; I can’t tell you, I can’t describe it... I’m sorry...”

Sam’s voice trailed off, and he looked to Rosie for some sort of help; what help he didn’t know. She reached forward and put her hand on his once more.

“We tried to protect Mr. Frodo, but it was like they didn’t even see us there... They went straight for him."

Tears began to slide down his cheeks. He looked into Lily’s eyes. “They stabbed him, Miss Lily. In the shoulder, they did. He cried out in Elvish. We were so afraid he was going to die... and he would’ve if we hadn’t gotten him to Lord Elrond in time.”

Lily’s face, too, was now streaked with tears. “It was this Lord Elrond who was able to save him?”

“Yes, though I think he still feels the pain sometimes. Now and then he rubs his shoulder when he thinks no one’s looking.”

Lily closed her eyes. She remembered him at the burial yesterday morning; he was in pain then. Was it this wound he was feeling then, or something more? Her tears began to fall in a steady stream.

Her voice was soft. “Go on.”

“Well, in Rivendell -- that’s where Lord Elrond lives -- ”

Rosie interrupted; she sniffed and cleared her throat, but tears could be heard in her voice. "Samwise, please, who is Lord Elrond?”

“He’s an Elf; an Elf lord. He’s a healer and the leader of the Elves in Rivendell. He called a big meeting to decide what to do with the Ring. I wasn’t supposed to be there, but I knew it had to do with Mr. Frodo, and I could only take care of him if I knew what was happening, so I found me a quiet spot where I wouldn’t be noticed.”

Sam’s eyes grew round as he realized what he’d just revealed; he blushed deeply.

Lily was gaining a new appreciation for Samwise Gamgee. It was plain he cared very much for Frodo.

For the first time, the horror on Rosie’s face was replaced by a gentle smile. She quickly kissed Sam’s cheek, and he blushed again, to his toes.

Lily was afraid to ask her next question, but there was nothing for it. “What happened at this meeting?”

The worry returned to Sam's face. “They decided they had to destroy the Ring. But it could only be destroyed in this fiery place where it was made. It has a lot of names, but the easiest one to say is Mt. Doom... It was a mountain, but with fire in it; I never knew there was any such thing on this earth... it was full of fire, and the rocks glowed red, and they melted. Then the fire, and the melted rock, moved like rivers, down the side of the mountain. It burned everything it touched to cinders...”

Terrible anguish crossed Sam’s face, causing both Rosie and Lily to wince.

“Why did it have to be destroyed?” Rosie asked.

“If the Dark Lord got hold of it again, he’d rule all of Middle-earth... over all of us. Forever...”

The enormity of his statement filled their hearts with dread; Sam's heart was not spared it. There was silence for a time.

“And he'd have got us all killed, or worse...” He remembered Galadriel's Mirror.

“We might've all been slaves. What that Sharkey and old Lotho did here was nothin’, nothin’ to what would've happened...” His own voice trailed away, once again, to nothing. In his mind's eye he saw the Mirror.

A thought occurred to Lily, but Sam looked so stricken... “Sam? Can you tell us more?”

“Yes,” Sam replied, but again he sounded reluctant. The cheerful Sam they were so accustomed to was gone.

Lily continued. “But what had it all to do with you and Frodo -- this meeting, and -- Mt. Doom?”

Without any warning, a tear slid down Sam’s cheek. “They started arguing and bickering...” Another tear, and then another, slipped down his cheeks.

In sympathy for Sam, tears came to their eyes as well. Lily struggled not to choke.

Sam continued almost in a whisper. “They didn’t hear Frodo the first time...”

“What did he say, Sam?” Lily asked.

Sam met her eyes and held them; he steadied his voice as best he could.

“As long as I have breath, Miss Lily, I will never forget his words that day, never. ‘I will take it,’ he says, though no one was listening, excepting me, so he repeats it, only louder.” Sam’s voice rose. “‘I will take it.’”

He paused. “They finally all shut up and listened, so he ended it up with, ‘I will take the Ring to Mordor, though I do not know the way.’” Sam looked hard at them both; his voice now held some anger.

“He was standing there alone, so small next to all them big folk, and he was the only one brave enough to speak up.”

Frodo’s courage did not surprise Lily at all, but Mordor -- she had heard terrible stories about a place called Mordor, but they were tales, children's tales... told on dark nights to frighten each other.

“Mordor? It’s real?” she asked, stunned.

“Oh, Miss Lily, I wish it wasn’t, but it’s real. Mordor’s where Mt. Doom is; it's the land of the Dark Lord.”

Sam’s tears began anew, but he kept his mouth shut tightly, trying to hold in some of the pain; every time he wept, Rosie and Lily wept as well, and he wanted to spare them if he could.

Rosie wiped her eyes with the corners of her apron and stood up.

“Samwise, I -- please let me bring some tea in... I need to stop for a while. Please... please?”

He stood and took Rose into his arms, holding her tightly, so tightly she almost could not breathe.

“Oh, Rosie; I’m sorry. This is awful, I know. It’s awful. I don’t know when I was ever going to tell you. I don’t know how.”

He released her gently and turned to Lily, who sat with her face in her hands.

“Miss Lily?”

She looked up at Sam, her eyes tired and full of grief. Sam spoke softly to her.

“I’m glad you came here tonight. Rosie needed to know this too... this was as good a time as any... better, because when I’m done, it’ll be off my chest, if you take my meaning.”

He turned back to Rose and kissed her cheek, lightly. “But Rosie, hurry; I need to tell it, now. There’s so much more, and I want to get it overwith...”

Rose returned the kiss, but did not miss the urgency in his tone. “All right, this will only take two shakes. The kettle’s on the boil, anyway. I’ll be back shortly.”

Lily got up. “Rose, let me help you.” She started to follow her, but Sam spoke first.

“Miss Lily, if it’s all the same to you, could you stay? Rose? You don’t mind, do you, love?”

Rose turned back, “Not at all, Samwise,” and then rounded the corner to the kitchen.

“Please, Miss Lily, here, sit down again.”

They both sat down, and Sam looked at her with worried eyes.

“I’m sorry, truly I am,” he started.

“It’s all right, Samwise,” she spoke, nearly whispering. “I asked you to tell me... I asked. I just didn’t know...”

“How bad it would be? No one’ll ever really know that, truth be told, Miss Lily. No one but me and Mr. Frodo... and Mr. Frodo most of all. He carried the Ring for so long. I may never get the story just right. I’ll never have a story in my whole life as hard to tell as this. I hope -- I was hoping Mr. Frodo might be able to write it down someday. I don’t want to have to tell it again, if I can help it, and no mistake. Because I won’t lie to you, Miss Lily; the story keeps getting worse.”

Lily closed her eyes, as if to shut out his words, and bowed her head a little. Then she looked up at him again.

“And I wouldn’t want you to, Sam...” She gave him a little half-smile, the best she could manage. She felt ill. “Thank you for all this. Now that I hear it, I -- I can see why you wouldn’t want to tell it again... and why Frodo didn’t want to.”

“Oh Miss Lily, it wasn’t that he was afraid to tell you. There’s no one braver in Middle-earth than Frodo Baggins! And I know you’re a brave lass. He just -- I think he can’t find any words for it. Not yet, anyway.”

“I understand, Samwise. At least, I think I do.”

Rose came back with the tea and set the tray in front of them, pouring for all three. She handed a mug to Lily, then Sam, and took one for herself.

“It’s hot,” she said, and none of them ventured to sip at it. Rose smiled faintly at her Sam.

“Please, keep going, dear Samwise. I can tell you want to get this off your chest.”

Sam looked at his love with a smile, then turned to Lily. “She can read me like a book, Miss Lily.”

“Better than that, I think, Samwise,” Lily smiled; but they all became serious once more, as Sam’s face fell. He clearly wanted to get on with it.

“Where was I? Oh. The big meeting, the Council, in Rivendell. So Mr. Frodo showed them all up, he did, offering himself to take the Ring.”

Sam paused again, and then sighed heavily. “Mr. Gandalf told him he’d help him. And then Strider said he’d come, and protect him by his life or his death. Then Legolas, an Elf, and Gimli, a Dwarf, and Boromir, a Man; they all said they’d come and help.

“And they weren’t leaving me out, so I had to make myself known,” Sam stated clearly. His voice was stronger now. “He wasn’t going anywhere without me! And then Merry and Pippin insisted on goin’, too. Though I got the feeling Lord Elrond was none too happy about that, but it was neither here nor there, there was no stopping ‘em; not that I could blame ‘em.”

Sam looked down at his tea but did not drink it. As he continued to tell the story, it seemed to them he was reliving it rather than simply telling it; he seemed less aware of them.

“We set out, and traveled for days and days, and then things got ticklish. The way we planned to go, turns out it was being watched by an evil wizard, Saruman. So Mr. Gandalf decided to take us over the biggest mountain you've ever seen, Caradhras, it’s called. We nearly froze in the snow. There was no going that way, so we had to go through the Mines of Moria.

“Now, Gimli -- ” Sam finally looked at them again, but only momentarily -- “the Dwarf, you remember... he was quite happy about this, but I think he was the only one. His kinfolk used to live there. And all the time we were being hunted by this or that creature, outside the place and inside. Then I had to let Bill go. Strider said the mines were no place for a pony, and I knew he was right, but Bill had come so far with us... well, he’s home now.”

Rosie could not resist adding, “Just like you.”

Sam gazed into her eyes, barely smiling, and nodded, but he did not continue.

Rose knew Sam was trying to protect them. She exchanged a glance with Lily.

Lily spoke for them both; they needed to know what really happened on the Quest. “Please, Sam, tell me -- tell us the rest.”

Sam looked again at Lily as though seeing her for the first time that night. He seemed awakened from some private reverie, or nightmare.

“Oh, o’ course, beggin’ your pardon, Miss Lily...”

He squared his shoulders, as if to give himself more resolve.

“The Mines of Moria... what a mistake that was... but I had the feeling no matter what we chose, it’d be wrong. It was the beginning of a change for Mr. Frodo. We almost lost him to the Watcher in the Water at the gates -- at the opening -- of the mine. With all us to choose from, it picked him to try to eat.”

Lily looked ill, and set her tea mug down. Rose looked so worried, Lily nodded to reassure her. Sam had not explained what a Watcher was, but neither of them wanted to stop him, and as it was, he continued quickly.

“Boromir and Strider were able to change its mind, so to speak, but it brought the outer doorway down. We were trapped in the mines, then, so we had to keep going. There weren't no other way.

“It was dark, and it went on and on. I lost track of the days. I think it was four days, all told. We all lost track, except I think Legolas... but he’s an Elf... Then we were attacked by orcs and a cave troll -- ”

No more creatures! Lily thought.

“Sam,” she began, and he stopped. He looked at Rosie first, before realizing the question came from Lily. His eyes look strange.

“What are -- ‘orcs’, I think you said -- and what is a cave troll?” she asked.

Trolls were only in children's tales. In fact, she remembered standing at the back of a group of small children at Bilbo Baggins’ grand party, hearing a story about trolls, or goblins? -- turning to stone.

She looked over at Rose, who for the first time was beginning to look ill herself. Rosie is strong to have held up this long, Lily thought.

Sam jumped back into the tale. “Oh, orcs, they're horrible, they're nasty vile creatures... they don't love nobody or no thing, not even themselves... they hate everything. They're vicious. All they want to do is kill anything they see and eat it. Even each other. And they like t’torture a body, for sport. And they smell.”

He sighed, heavily. “And cave trolls... Rosie, the cave troll wouldn't fit in here, he'd not fit in a place five times again as big as this room. He was half as tall as the Party Tree is -- or was, I should say -- ”

He stopped, for sorrow, putting his face in his hands, but only for a moment. Memories of the battle began to fill all his thought. Rosie and Lily were horrified, as he went on; but he did not see them.

“Mr. Frodo was in the battle with the rest of us, and making a fine stand, and then that cave troll took to him and he had his hands full trying to stay out of its way. Strider tried to help him... Mr. Frodo... I saw -- I saw him thrown against the cave wall, just like a hobbit lass’s doll bein’ thrown in a fit -- ”

“Oh!” Lily gasped, and covered her face. The thought of it caused her physical pain; she was beginning to ache, everywhere. Rose touched her arm. Sam was in the memory, unaware of anything else. Lily looked once again at Sam as he continued, his eyes glassy. Her own were welling again with tears.

“Then --” Sam choked down a sob. “ -- then it stabbed him with a huge spear. I watched him slide to the floor. I thought he was dead for sure.”

The horror in Lily and Rosie’s eyes was unmistakable. Tears were sliding down Lily’s cheeks, and she struggled to control them.

Sam sighed, and a strange look of wonder shone in his eyes.

“He was all right, though! It was a miracle, and no mistake. He had on his hard mithril shirt, the one Mr. Bilbo gave him, and it pushed the spear point aside... ‘I’m all right,’ that’s what Mr. Frodo said... ‘I’m all right; I’m not hurt!’”

Lily froze, and she felt more ill yet. These words had come to her on Tuesday night... when Frodo found her. She picked up the tea mug and drank some to distract herself. It had turned cold, but she did not notice.

“That battle was over, but we weren’t out yet. It seemed that every time we cleared a hurdle, another got in our way. I hope never to see any more battles again.”

Lily was struggling to keep up with what Sam had said. “But Frodo was truly all right?”

“Yes, Miss Lily, he was bruised bad, and a bit sore, but all right. That pain was nothing at all to him compared to what was coming.”

Lily closed her eyes and told herself, do not faint here, not now.

He saw her face turn white. “Miss Lily, I think we should stop.”

She opened her eyes again, glanced once at Rose, and then looked Sam in the eye. “No, it’s all right. Please, continue.”

Sam eyed her dubiously, but went on.

“Well, there was another beast in the mines more dangerous even than a cave troll. Mr. Gandalf called it a Balrog; it was an ancient evil thing. It was made of fire, and black smoke, and it had a sword and a whip made of fire...”

Sam began to plead with Rosie, although she had said nothing, her face immobile, her eyes full of misery.

“Oh please, Rose, don’t make me tell you more!” Sam cried, but he immediately continued, as though compelled.

“It was bigger than anything... it made the cave troll look small... It chased us to the bridge that led the way out and would have followed us if Mr. Gandalf hadn’t stopped to face him. He used his sword and staff and felled it, into the pit, deep down in the earth, below the bridge... but the Balrog dragged Mr. Gandalf down there with him.”

Rosie caught her breath. “Mr. Gandalf is gone? But Sam, why haven’t you told me this before?”

“Well -- I -- he was only gone for a time -- for a few weeks. He came back, stronger, and changed. But we didn’t know that then; Mr. Frodo didn’t know that. For all we knew, he was dead. Mr. Gandalf has been like an uncle or a grandfather to him, and losing him, especially that way -- it took a terrible toll on him.

“Lothlórien, that’s another home of Elves, that brought him some comfort, but not much. Y’see, we got to look into a magic mirror the Elf Queen had. It showed us what would happen to the Shire if Frodo failed... it was worse than anything that’s happened here, if you can believe that... it’s true. It was worse than all that’s happened here...”

“Oh, Sam! -- ” Lily cried softly, trying not to break down again. There was so much she did not know about Frodo; about any of this.

“Sam, how long had Frodo known Gandalf? I didn’t -- was he more than just a magician, then? He did more than fireworks and conjuring? I didn’t think -- are there real wizards, ones with true power?”

“Oh, my word, yes, Miss Lily! I thought you knew; I really thought you knew. Beggin’ your pardon, please... I -- Frodo and Mr. Bilbo too, had been as close as can be to Mr. Gandalf, at Bag End. They go back years, since... since before Frodo was born, I think, yes indeed. And as for the other -- ” Sam sighed again. “Yes, he was always real, and powerful as anything you’ll ever see, or my gaffer ain’t the best gardener in the whole Westfarthing. And since the Quest, he’s even stronger, if you take my meaning.”

“I do, Sam; I do,” Lily whispered softly. She wondered how much else she did not know. How could she help Frodo if she did not know these things about him? She looked to Sam once more.

“Thank you... please do go on, Sam, and forgive my interruption.”

Sam nodded and smiled for her, and paused to gather his thoughts. He tried to remember where he was in the story.

“The Ring was wearing on my master something terrible... It’s evil, you see, and after a while, you don’t feel or care about anything else... only the Ring...

“When we left that place, Lothlórien I mean, the Elves gave each of us a magic cloak with a leaf clasp. The cloaks made it harder for the enemy to spot us.”

Lily thought briefly of the cloak Frodo had wrapped around her. Things were fitting into place, like puzzle pieces... horrible puzzle pieces. The cloak was a bright spot, surely. But she could not dismiss another thought which came to mind. “Sam, you speak almost as though the -- the Ring were a living thing.”

Sam’s eyes grew wide. “Oh, forgive me, Miss Lily, I got all caught up in the small bits of the journey and then didn’t tell you what really matters. The Ring was a living thing, with a will of its own, like a person. It had power of its own.”

Rosie now battled the fear swelling in her breast. “You speak as if you know, Samwise?”

Sam bent his head and whispered, “I do. But please don’t ask me about that part. Maybe later...”

He closed his eyes, and shook his head, then he got up and went to Rosie, standing behind her chair and placing his hands on her shoulders. Lily could see Sam’s spirit now; he was in pain, something like Frodo’s pain. He was staring at nothing.

Absently, Sam began to knead Rosie’s shoulders with his strong hands. Lily saw her tears start to fall, as Rose put her hand over one of his, but Sam did not seem to see or hear. He took up the story again.

“After we left Lothlórien, Frodo finally decided he had to go on alone, or the Ring would entrap all us members of the Fellowship. Boromir, the other Man, he... well, he decided it. Mr. Frodo almost left me behind, but I was onto him and didn’t let him get away. He wasn’t going nowhere without me. We went on alone into Mordor.”

Sam paused and frowned. “We were on foot, lost, climbing over hills that cut our feet. There’s no point to complaining about it... a creature...” Sam sighed again, heavily. He stopped kneading Rosie’s shoulders. He started again, as if forcing himself to speak.

“We had an unsavory creature following us; he used to be a hobbit, of sorts, five hundred years ago...”

“Five hundred years!!” Rose turned part way in her chair and looked up at Sam. “No one lives that long, Sam... it must be a mistake...”

Lily said nothing, but listened. She believed every word. Only something this horrendous, the events of this Quest, could have damaged Frodo’s soul so terribly. She needed to know as much as she could bear to hear.

Sam came round to the front of Rosie’s chair and stooped down, taking both her hands in his. “You have to believe me, Rose. If you don’t believe me, no one will... the Ring did it to him, to Gollum. It does that to a body. You live longer and longer and get more and more wretched... you don’t ever have happiness again. It eats at you. This creature, this thing... he was named Gollum; well, that wasn’t his old, real name -- it doesn’t matter -- he was our guide, or we’d have been lost forever; I hate to say it. I didn’t trust him any further than I could throw him, and not as far as all that. If it weren’t for him, though, we’d still be out there now, but it’d only be our bones... we’d have died of starvation, and no mistake. And there wasn’t any water. Rose, tell me you believe me.”

Rose touched his cheek with her hand. “Yes, Sam, I believe you. I do. It’s hard... it’s hard to understand. I believe you.” She looked over Sam’s head, to her friend. “Lily does too.”

“All right... I -- that’s good. Where was I?” His strength was flagging.

Lily spoke, slowly and softly, in an effort to control her emotions. “There was a creature; he was your guide...”

Sam got up and took the chair between them once again. “Thank you, Miss Lily. It’s been a long day, I reckon... Gollum, he -- he got enslaved to the Ring a long time ago, and he wanted his ‘precious’ back. He called It over and over again, his ‘precious,’ until I thought I’d scream... Mr. Frodo showed him kindness, where I would’ve gladly done away with him, but there you have it. Mr. Frodo knew the wiser way. ‘Twas Gollum saw the deed done.”

Lily did not grasp Sam’s last words. Weakly, she said, “Samwise -- I -- the night I spoke to Frodo, the night we met, I said my mother... I said she was precious to me... Frodo -- something came over him. Something horrible. I don’t know what I did to him. Sam, what did I do to him?” Her voice reflected her exhaustion; yet she sounded almost frantic.

Rose got up and coaxed Lily to sit near her on the settee. Lily acquiesced silently; it was good to lay her head on Rosie’s shoulder. And Rose put an arm around her, like her mum used to do... like Daisy... I have to stay alert, I have to stay awake, Lily thought. She sat up straight, and blinked.

“Do you know what it was I did to him, Sam?” she asked again, afraid of the answer.

“I don’t rightly know, Miss Lily, not for sure. It must’ve brought back some of his bad memories. He’s got enough now to last the lifetimes of a score o’ hobbits. No, that’s not right either, because no one in the Shire faced what we faced. And he had it the worst. He carried the Ring. That was the hardest job of all. I helped him keep going when he thought he couldn’t take another step. Sometimes he couldn’t walk at all. The Ring felt like a dead weight, it got heavier and heavier, and with no food and no water... Ilúvatar must have wanted us to live, is all I can think.”

Lily searched Sam’s eyes. “Sam, what happened when he could no longer walk?”

A tear slipped down Sam’s cheek. “I carried him.”

Sam put his head down, but quickly raised it again, determined to keep more tears at bay. He cleared his throat.

“But Miss Lily, don’t blame yourself for the other night. You didn’t know. You couldn’t know. Merry and Pippin, and Gandalf, and you know... you two know now... but no one else knows. I don’t have the years it would take to convince these hard-headed hobbits of it... I reckon I won’t try. It doesn’t matter anyway, if you take my meaning. But please don’t feel badly about the other night.”

Lily nodded weakly.

Rosie didn’t want to hear any more; she had a feeling, as Sam had said, that the worst was yet to come. But then she looked at Lily, and knew she must stay. Lily needed to know, and she needed not to be alone.

Sam is growing more weary by the moment, Rose thought.

“Go on, dear Samwise, if you can. We are listening,” she coaxed.

They were unprepared for his next words, hoping against hope the worst of the tale was over. Sam was now speaking like someone in a trance.

“We made it into Mordor, but only after Gollum led us into a trap... Mr. Frodo was stung by Shelob. She was a giant spider. Evil, evil... like everything there. She was as big as the cave troll... no, bigger,” he said matter-of-factly.

He was talking to himself, it seemed to them. “I gave her a belly full of steel.” He clenched his teeth and slowly released a deep breath. “I thought she’d killed him. I thought she’d killed my master! I hated to leave him there! What have I done...?”

“Sam?” Lily touched his arm briefly. After a few moments, he opened his eyes again, returning from his memory.

“I thought he was dead, so I took Sting, his sword, and the Ring, and then I found out later he wasn’t dead at all, but by then he was locked in a tower by the orcs and had to be freed.” Sam again began to weep. “They whipped him...”

Lily covered her face once more, unsure of how much more she could stand to hear. Rose held her more tightly. She held one of Lily’s hands in her free one.

Sam wiped the tears from his face with his sleeve and took a deep breath. “I had to rescue him... it’s too long a tale... we got away and after -- after -- please don’t make me tell you all of this. We both... Frodo suffered so...”

“Just tell us the very end, Samwise. It’s all right,” Rose said gently.

Sam tried to find the words. “We got to the mountain; Mt. Doom. The deed was done; the Ring was destroyed, and now here we are home again.”

Sam looked at both of them, exhausted. Lily sensed great relief in his spirit, along with the terrible weariness he felt.

She knew he had left a great deal out; she did not feel she could ask more, but still she did not know...

“Sam, I -- I -- I am sorry to press further. I beg your forgiveness... I need to know what happened to his hand?”

Again, the tears cascaded down Sam’s face.

“It’s all right, Miss Lily... it’s just hard to tell it...” He took a very deep breath, and told the rest of the story as quickly as he could.

“It was too much for Frodo, the Ring took him over, like It wanted to all along, and he claimed It for his own, but Gollum wanted the Ring no matter what. I’m sorry, Miss Lily, the creature bit that Ring right off his hand, finger and all... and then he fell into the fire. He lost his balance while he was dancin’ around, happy with that thing...

“Mr. Frodo thinks he failed, but I don’t see it so. Frodo told Gollum once, ‘if you ever try taking It, I’ll command you to throw yourself into the fire.’ Stupid Ring, didn’t know the finger wasn’t attached to my master anymore, thinking he’d never destroy It, and It obeyed his command. Now you know the hand story.”

Lily stood up to go and had to sit down again. Rosie quickly got her some water and helped her drink it.

“Thank you, Rosie. I’m sorry to be such a bother...”

“Lily, it’s all right; Frodo told you to ask, and you did. I’m not sure I would ever have had the courage, though I can see now... I needed to know.” She turned adoring eyes to Sam, who blushed and looked at his feet. His eyes were red and swollen; Rosie knew they all looked the worse for wear.

Lily stood again and was relieved she was now a little steadier on her feet. Sam stood as well.

“Miss Lily, pardon me for sayin’ so, but you don’t look well. I’m walking you back to Will’s, and I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” He smiled, weakly, but Lily knew he meant every word. She nodded in reply.

Then she kissed Sam’s cheek, knowing with Rosie present, it would be all right. “Thank you, Sam. You are wonderful. Frodo could ask for no better friend.”

Sam blushed again, and shrugged his shoulders. Then his face became almost expressionless, for fatigue was overtaking him.

“I just remembered -- I haven’t told a single bit of the rest of the tale. There’s Merry and Pip’s tale to tell, and Aragorn’s... Legolas and Gimli... there’s so much more. There’s Gandalf... and Boromir!...”

Lily interrupted him; her voice was as tired as the rest of her. “Dear Samwise, that won’t be necessary tonight. I really needed to learn what I could of your part of the Quest -- the journey you and Frodo took. Perhaps he can tell me of those other things. Do you think he could?”

Sam looked at her gratefully. “I do believe he could, Miss Lily. It’s a different thing, telling someone else’s story and not your own. Thank you, then. I don’t think I could’ve said one more word of it.”

Rosie saw them both to the door. She embraced Lily warmly.

“Thank you again, Rosie -- for everything.”

Rosie smiled and shook her head. “It was nothing, Lily, and you know you’re welcome here anytime.”

After Sam dropped her off at Will’s, her body and mind crying for rest, Lily still tried her best to memorize everything Sam told them. Sleep would be elusive tonight.