23rd September 1421 S.R.
The light carving through the trees never looked aught like this before. A pale gold breaking on black, and all the trees and the ragged hills in the distance are its teeth. Sam looks down at his feet. He's standing on the very edge of the morning that will swallow him, whether he takes another step or no. But close on the ground grow clumps of heath; they've caught a bit of colour to them, a brown shade of rose, and that's a comfort for the moment.
There won't be another morning such as those he knew. Dawn will always be this cold paleness, this – waiting.
And it's never seemed so far neither, that biting edge of the sky. If he does take another step forward, he'll fall, for he can't keep his eyes on the breathless gold and his feet at the same time. He'll have to stay in his place then, frozen to the ground that's warmer than aught inside him. There's not a choice no more.
The frost of it crawls up his legs, and it can't breathe out of the soil, not at this time in the year. And not after such a glory of late summer and early gold, as if the mallorn
sapling had reached a spell across all four Farthings and the season entire. Ofttimes when he stood underneath those fine boughs and leaves, it seemed to Sam that he could look across the land with different eyes. As if a haze were blown aside by a sharp wind, leaving everything bright and rare as glass. But it also made him feel a stranger again, setting his feet tense and awkward where the soil were raked with hatred out of the Black Land. As if that
followed in his footsteps and overtook him on the road home.
His hands are in fists. How can he give up now, when he didn't through all the hard months? Always sure that this stretch of earth wanted him back, even if he might not see it again. These days, he'll look over his shoulder to be sure, and never is. Just not now, not now.
At his back lies only the drowsy forest, cut in ribbons by the longer shadows. It's still easier to look afore him than to think on going back by the same road, though by the time he does –
The chill in him breaks a moment, and he feels its teeth inside, just below his breath. Right in the middle where he'll be sundered, but it's not done yet, and it's enough thinking on the steps he'll take, one after the other. There and back again.
They've not even crossed the Shire's borders, but those old borders have all changed their place, seemingly. And this light that's blown over the horizon changes the season, freezing the trees winter-black, and the leaves and grass too. They're the colour of his sleep now, if he could fall into it.
Sam hasn't tried. He lay down when the company stopped for a short rest, with eyes closed while there were still movement and voices round him, soft as mere sighs of wind. They did him a kindness when no-one asked if he wanted a bite or another blanket, and he's grateful for all such mercies. He still doesn't know what will come when he has to speak again. The silence and the dark were a comfort, thin and hard as the forest ground on the slopes. He didn't open his eyes again till the moon was blotted out, for in the pitch black he couldn't guess at the small, endless space between himself and –
Sam knew he'd come, just as the morning will rise bit by bit. But just as this morning won't warm him, the slight rustle of Frodo's steps can't be coming towards him now. And so he's still startled when they falter nearby.
It wasn't Mordor,
he wants to say, this is the end of all things, here.
"I was wrong." Frodo's voice slips out of those shadows into the nearing light, as if he's there and not there at the same time, and Sam can't turn. "I have seen so many things, and few of them clearly. Not as clearly as I wished, not until..."
He stands so close that Sam can feel Frodo's breath against the nape of his neck, warmer than his own skin. It must curl up like a shining mist before it scatters.
"Sam..." So soft, his voice, and it wraps round Sam, drawn about in a close circle. "This is as hard and as perilous a step as any that we took when I had no hope left. I trusted you to guide me then. Now, will you trust me?"
His breath trembles, and it loosens Sam's own into a hard, choking gasp. The horizon's swimming, running over with the tears he'll be crying later and in that dreadful moment he knows –
"I am not leaving you." Frodo's voice is quieter still, but straining as if everything's gathered into it, all the things Sam can't see, every breath drawn over many months. Frodo looks over his shoulder with those clear eyes, and just to know –
"There must be a place..." A whisper that could belong to either of them. For a heartbeat and another, Sam isn't sure, for his eyes are closed, and the space between them is mere shadow filling with Frodo's warmth behind him. Then it's everywhere, as if it's passed through him, and Frodo's hand lies on his shoulder.
"In Rivendell," he says more steadily, "they reopened my wound, and not even Elrond could predict if I would live."
I was there,
Sam thinks, and the hand on his shoulder moves as if cradling the thought. And I didn't stop them neither, for there weren't a choice.
"It has to be that way for both of us." A strange clarity lies in Frodo's tone, sharp with choosing as it was when he took up the Ring in Rivendell, and soft with hoping as it never was since that day. "You cannot leave behind what you haven't quite found again. Your
But there his voice breaks hard. His fingers grip into Sam's jacket, trembling and seeking, and Sam's heartbeat stumbles up to meet that touch. The world is a blur before him, brighter now, and with each breath it runs deeper in his chest. The sudden heat in those colours. And if that's what Frodo sees –
"I will be there.
Every morning that comes. Sam, look..."
There's enough movement in him now to dip his head a bit, and he feels in Frodo's breath a thin measure of relief. They've made do with less though, and now he understands why Frodo didn't speak sooner. They had to come here first.
The silence folding about them is a kindness too. It keeps them alone in the world, together, though Elrond's company can't be too far. Somewhere under the forest eaves, they're watching over a moment that must be a mere blink to them, but for Sam it's wider than the Sea, and stretched out into brimming gold.
The Ring-bearers should go together.
It's what Frodo said the day before, when they'd turned from the Woody End, but Sam takes a different meaning from it now. More than one, many as the paths they've wandered and those that they haven't – but his mind stops there, and he's left with the feel of earth between his toes and Frodo's breath close to his skin.
"I've so often gone before you, and I shall, again. But here, will you not–?"
Sam knows now what he's asking, and how hard it will be, and he's answering what wasn't said, too.
"Aye." His voice is rough as if he'd not spoken much longer than a day and a night. It drops into a silence as will last longer still, but now it holds a promise like a seed buried deep in frozen ground.
He takes a step, and without looking, he knows that Frodo is beside him, walking in that same light.
* * * * *
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.