“Then Ilúvatar said to them: ‘Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been awakened into song.’

Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void. Never since have the Ainur made any music like to this music, though it has been said that a greater still shall be made before Ilúvatar by the choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Ilúvatar after the end of days. Then the themes of Ilúvatar shall be played aright, and take Being in the moment of their utterance, for all shall then fully understand his intent in their part, and each shall know the comprehension of each, and Ilúvatar shall give to their thoughts the secret fire being well pleased.”

J.R.R.Tolkien, The Ainulindalë


“It is one with this gift of freedom that the children of Men dwell only a short space in the world alive, and are not bound to it, but depart soon whither the Elves know not... But the sons of Men die indeed, and leave the world; wherefore they are called the Guests, or the Strangers. Death is their fate, the gift of Ilúvatar, which as Time wears even the Powers shall envy. But Melkor has cast his shadow upon it, and confounded it with darkness, and brought evil out of good and fear out of hope. Yet of old the Valar declared to the Elves in Valinor that Men shall join in the Second Music of the Ainur...

J.R.R.Tolkien, Quenta Silmarillion


“And the Doom of Men, that they should depart, was at first a gift of Ilúvatar. It became a grief to them only because coming under the shadow of Morgoth, it seemed to them that they were surrounded by a great darkness, of which they were afraid...”

J.R.R.Tolkien, Akallabêth


THE GIFT OF ILÚVATAR
Author: Elenya
Genre: Slash
Pairing: F/S
Rating: NC-17 for sexual content.
Disclaimer: I make no money from these stories. These beautiful characters are sadly not mine; I merely borrow them because I love them. With grateful thanks to JRR Tolkien for providing us with such a richly imagined world to play in.

Acknowledgement: My grateful thanks to Ghyste and Mariole for many useful suggestions and comments, and to Aliena for her very thorough grammar beta.

Although the theme of death as the gift of Ilúvatar is explored in this story, it is not a death fic. I have used the mythology that Tolkien created for Middle-earth. For those of you who hold that there is no life after death, remember that this story, like The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings, is a work of fantasy. It forms an epilogue to my story All That I Had, and at the beginning briefly follows the fate of characters from The Adventures of Tom and Barard. If you haven’t read the latter, it really doesn’t matter; all you need to know is that Tom is Tom Gardner, youngest son of Sam, Barard is the youngest son of Pippin; their friends, Catos and Faros, are Haradrim lords. The idea of a telepathic bond between Frodo and Sam is explored in All That I Had (see notes for chapter 19) and continues in this story. Ninquelótë is an elf both unassuming and highly regarded, who befriends Frodo on his first arrival in the West, and plays an important role in his healing.

This story is dedicated to Aliena and to Annwyn, in memory of lost loved ones.

Ithilien, 120Fourth Age

Legolas straightened from his work and laid aside the plane he’d been using to smooth wooden planks to a fine sheen. He stretched his fingers, easing the strain, and sighed at the sight of his visitors. It was not that they were unwelcome, but in the aftermath of Elessar’s funeral he was finding it harder to bear the ageing of his mortal friends. It was not until he had laboured and lived with men, hobbits, even dwarves, that he had understood how fleeting their lives were. It was like watching tall saplings that grew straight and true become gnarled and misshapen in the span of a year, to fall to storm or wind, their music lost to the shores of Arda.

He stood waiting on the jetty, his hair whipping around his face in the breeze that had sprung up with the turn of the tide. Not that the tide reached so far up the great river, but Legolas knew that, out on the sand banks and mud flats around the mouths of the Anduin, the wading birds were retreating before the flood. It was in his bones now, this knowledge of the sea, and with the death of Elessar, he wished to answer the call of the gulls that wheeled overhead even here in Northern Ithilien. The boatman shipped his oars and tossed a stern-mooring rope to Legolas. As Legolas threw two half hitches around a post, the man pulled the small craft in close and leapt nimbly up onto the jetty to secure the bow warp. He held out a hand to help his passengers alight.

Only the first ashore could be described as young, but even his face had lines that spoke of both middle-age and frequent laughter. He was a tall man, of commanding appearance, and with something of the air of having misplaced his horse. He smiled a greeting to Legolas, his teeth white against his dark skin, and reached out to lend his aid to those with less agility.

The small figure he helped ashore grumbled at him in Southron, even as he accepted the outstretched hand. Tom Gardner grinned up at Legolas, his face as round and wrinkled as an apple stored through the winter packed in straw; his red cheeks and unruly thatch of white hair only enhanced the comparison. ‘Hello, Legolas. We’ve come to see how you’re getting on with your boat. Catos thinks we can’t do anything without his help.’

‘Do not make listen,’ said the Haradrim lord. He grasped another small hand in his and landed Barard safely. ‘Hobbits are trouble. You know this, I think.’

‘It’s the first thing I learnt about them,’ agreed Legolas.

‘What? What’s that?’ Gimli, it seemed, was still having trouble making out the strongly-accented Westron of Lord Catos. Legolas took the opportunity to offer his hand to his stocky friend.

‘Hobbits are trouble,’ he explained.

‘Yes, yes,’ said Gimli, dismissing this self-evident truth. He stamped his way over to the hull of the boat, nestled in a cradle of wood. ‘Hmph, is this it? It looks very small.’

Legolas shrugged. ‘There is plenty of room for me. What more is needed?’ He caught the bright gleam of Gimli’s eye, like the glint of sunlight on an axe blade, but his attention turned to his last guest being helped ashore with great consideration by his younger companion. ‘Lord Faros. Welcome to Ithilien.’

The elderly statesman bowed to him, Gondorian fashion. ‘Thank you.’ He straightened and smiled, having nearly exhausted his knowledge of Westron. Not as tall as Lord Catos, although still tall as men were reckoned, he carried his years lightly; his hair was still mostly black, interspersed with both silver of age and the gold adornment so beloved by his people, and his shoulders were unbowed. His face, though, was even more lined than the hobbits’, despite the fact they passed him by some score or more of years. Speaking of which...

Legolas went down on one knee to hug Barard, glad to feel a little more flesh on him after his illness in the winter. ‘Barard! Happy Birthday! You’re looking well.’

‘Nothing wrong with him,’ said Tom firmly.

Barard coughed, and winked at Legolas as Tom was there at his side in an instant. ‘Yes, I’m fine. Tom, stop fussing. I told you: we’ll go south next winter.’ Barard looked around, and reached out for the parcel the boatman held. ‘I have a present for you, Legolas.’

Legolas smiled down at Barard. The best present was seeing the sparkle back in those green eyes. He did look well, but still too thin for a respectable hobbit. The prominence of his cheekbones brought back memories of the aftermath of his captivity in Harad, and cast a chill of mortality over Legolas. It was time to go; of that he had no doubt. He could not bear to think of their merry voices silenced forever. He thought of Merry and Pippin, their bodies laid in state beside Elessar.

Barard prodded him with the parcel. ‘You’re not supposed to look sad, Legolas. What you do is open it, and say thank you very much, and pass it on to some deserving great-aunt at the earliest opportunity.’ He coughed again, this time leaning into Tom’s encircling arm as he hacked and hacked, his free hand clenched at his chest. ‘Ow! Bugger. What are you waiting for, Legolas? Open it!’

Legolas was tempted to ask Barard if he were all right, but his asking would make no difference and would just get him a cross or sarcastic reply. He took the small parcel in his palm and pulled on the ribbon that tied it. His forbearance was rewarded by a wide smile and a nod of encouragement from Barard. The soft tissue fell back over his fingers to reveal a dial, something like a small clock but encircled with letters, not numbers; across its face a single hand swung back and forth, pivoting around a central point.

‘It’s, er, lovely. Thank you very much.’

‘Don’t be silly, Legolas. Just admit you haven’t a clue what it is,’ said Tom.

‘Hold it very still,’ Catos advised. Faros spoke in Southron, probably saying the same thing as he accompanied his words with a mime of holding one hand steady with the other.

‘It’s a compass,’ explained Barard. ‘The needle always points north. I don’t know why. Some sort of wizardry.’

Sure enough, the wild swinging of the hand slowed until it came to rest pointing towards Cair Andros. Legolas raised an eyebrow in query. He could see no practical use for it, although the background was painted a pretty blue, and a chubby-cheeked sun blew a cloud of wind from the east. He wondered briefly if he had a great-aunt, deserving or otherwise.

‘Look,’ said Gimli in his talking-slowly-and-carefully-for-Elves voice. He took the contraption from Legolas and turned it until the N on the face lay beneath the needle. ‘Now that’s north, so here is West, you see.’ Legolas’s other eyebrow climbed after its partner. Gimli rolled his eyes. ‘Yes, yes, I know you know that is the West, but out at sea, with no sign of land? If the sun is hidden by thick cloud? How will you know then which is West?’

Understanding dawned. ‘Barard, thank you! How did you come by it?’

Barard smiled up at Lord Catos, and Legolas felt the affection between the hobbits and Haradrim men like a surge of warmth in the air about him. It was Catos who answered. ‘They are made in lands south of Harad. Very much mountains, lot of mists; very easy to get lost with no such help. The... how you say?...needell is from a star that fell.’

‘Fell?’

‘Like this.’ Catos raised his arm and brought his hand down from on high in a long arc. He spoke quickly to Tom, his hands emphasising his words, and Tom explained.

‘The iron has to be heated and allowed to cool pointing north to south, and then it remembers.’

Gimli wanted to know more, but Tom had moved away to show Faros the finer points of the boat; Catos and Barard were either not up to the intricacies of the translation or did not know the answers to the dwarf’s eager questions. Legolas offered consolation.

‘You could travel there yourself to learn more.’

Gimli gave him a sideways glance. ‘Hm. Well. There’s another journey I have a mind to make.’ He stalked after Tom and Faros, and stared at the boat in gloomy silence, leaving Legolas to wonder where Gimli had a mind to journey, and why he looked so dwarvishly grumpy about it. He shrugged. The best way to find out was to appear indifferent. Sooner or later, Gimli would tell him.

It was not until after the noonday meal that Legolas found enlightenment. The meal was a lengthy one, accompanied by much merriment. The Elves of Ithilien loved the hobbits, and they tolerated the Haradrim for their sake. Gimli, of course, was welcome at any time. Tom interpreted back and forth between Sindarin, Westron and Southron for the benefit of all, and skilfully managed the difficult feat of preserving jokes in translation. It seemed that the men and hobbits had not just come to see Legolas; they were on their way to pay their respects to Prince Barahir, and from there visit the great caves at Henneth Annûn. It reassured Legolas that Catos would be present in a party of otherwise elderly mortals. During his closer association, particularly with men, he’d come to recognise the increasing frailty of their bodies as they aged. He’d never managed to come to terms with it. Tom must be, what? Nearly one hundred years old? It was nothing, and yet to many mortals, it was everything.

Legolas watched Tom and Barard lean in close together, their eyes closing with the soporific effects of food and wine. Faros’s head nodded, and Legolas remembered that the Southron way was to rest in the early part of the afternoon. He called for bedding to be laid out in a secluded clearing amongst a thicket of olive and bay, juniper and myrtle. It was sheltered from the wind, and the short grass was fragrant with herbs. Even better, it was well out of hearing. No doubt the men were well used to the hobbits’ lusty habits, having travelled with them on many occasions, but Legolas found their ways incontinent. Surely it was not necessary to couple so frequently and so noisily? At least in the undying lands, he would be spared the sudden sight of a rutting hobbit’s bare arse. He was still traumatised from the sight of Tom, breeches around his ankles, happily pinning Barard up against a bulkhead in the ship which had carried them back from Harad many years before.

Gimli walked with Legolas back to the outer shell of the boat. The dwarf poked around it, getting in the way as Legolas smoothed planks for the decking. Legolas was glad when Gimli sat down, but even then he was a distraction as he picked up discarded chips of wood to throw in the water. His demeanour was so morose that Legolas finally gave in and asked him outright what was the matter. He was taken aback by the answer.

‘You’re leaving.’

‘Yes. You’ve known that for years.’

‘You’re always saying you’re going, but you never have done.’

‘I’ve talked about it for a while -’

‘A while? Over a hundred and twenty bloody years!’

‘That is only a very little while.’ Legolas put aside his plane again and sat beside the stocky figure. He patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. ‘All right, it isn’t so short a time to you. Do you want the truth? Apart from the fact I have a great longing to go, I need to go: I cannot stay to see another friend buried.’

‘Well, if it’s truths we’re sharing, I can’t bear the thought of this land without you.’

‘I’m sorry.’ What else could he say?

Gimli chewed the end of his beard in an absentminded way, and they sat together in silence, watching the first swallowtail butterflies of the year dance over the reed beds. It was Gimli who broke the silence.

‘Is there room for two in that boat of yours?’

‘There could be.’ Legolas’s answer was wary.

Gimli looked up at him, the deep frown back. ‘Would you consider taking me?’

‘What? No! There is no possibility. I’m not going on some day trip along the coast. A dwarf would not be permitted - ’

‘Why not?’

‘Gimli! Because you’re not an Elf, that’s why not!’

‘Neither were Frodo or Sam or Bilbo.’

‘That was different. They were Ring-bearers.’

‘No. Frodo was the Ring-bearer. You told me yourself, the other two hobbits were allowed to go out of their love for Frodo.’

‘Of all the stiff-necked Dwarves, Gimli, you are the worst. For whose love would you be allowed to go?’

‘My love for the Lady... and for you.’

Legolas realised his mouth had dropped open and hastily shut it. ‘Er, for me?’

‘As a friend, Legolas! As a friend! I think you’ve been around those hobbits far too long!’

‘Oh. Thank you. I, er, have a great affection for you as well, but I don’t think that is enough -’

‘And what is the worst that can happen?’

‘You would probably die.’

Gimli shrugged as though to say, ‘Is that all.’ He picked up another chip of wood and threw it moodily at the water. ‘It’s time I went on another adventure. I’m getting too set in my ways.’

‘But you could have another hundred years, if you live as long as your father.’

‘Ninety. Anyway, that’s not the point.’

‘If it’s adventure you’re after, go south to find the compass-makers.’

‘There are no Elves in the south.’

Legolas laughed. ‘If you were surrounded by none but Elves, I fear you would soon sicken of us, but that is all moonshine, as Tom would say. You would not be permitted.’

‘I would rather take the risk than stay here when you are gone. Tell me, would there be any risk for you?’

‘Possibly. I might be denied the Way if accompanied by a mortal. Manwë or Ulmo might take against me, overthrowing my small craft in a tumult of water and wind. Maybe I would land in safety, but you would die. I think it most likely that I would be unable to find the Straight Path into the uttermost West, that I would be doomed to sail within the circle of the world.’

‘And if you drowned, what then would be your fate?’

‘If the choice were allowed me, and I can see no reason why it should not be, I would be reborn as an Elf. When I came to the fullness of my growth, I would remember my past life and grieve for my friend, my dearest friend, Gimli the dwarf.’

Gimli made a noise that sounded like harrumph! The tip of his nose had gone rather pink. He appeared fascinated by a line of bubbles travelling fast upstream.

‘It is an otter.’

‘I know that well enough.’ Gimli looked Legolas in the eye, and the gleam was back. ‘So, if you were denied the way, we could sail back to the Havens or any landfall where you could put me ashore and try again? And if you drowned because of me, then you would suffer some inconvenience, but all would be well in the fullness of time? I cannot see the problem.’

‘The problem is you may end up dead.’

‘As I will also end up if stay here until my dotage. And maybe I too am weary of burying my friends. Tom and Barard will be next, and there are no others of their kind adventurous enough to live outside the Shire. A world without hobbits seems a cold and dreary prospect. It’s true that they’re randy little buggers, but their gaiety is infectious.’

Legolas raised his eyebrows. Did Gimli not know how the word “gay” was currently understood in Minas Tirith? The idea of their gaiety being infectious was a worrying prospect if he and Gimli truly were to be confined together in a small boat. He cleared his throat and decided to take the assertion at face value. ‘They are full of fun and mischief, even now. Just the other week -’

But Gimli was not interesting in hearing Legolas’s hobbit anecdote. He interrupted, with a wave of his hand that gave Legolas to understand that he’d heard it all before. ‘Yes, yes, but what about my coming with you? If I die, that’s my lookout; no doubt it will be an interesting experience.’

Legolas stared out at the sun, now set on her course into the West. Could he take a dwarf with him? Was there any reason he couldn’t? Gimli was very persuasive, but he’d known that ever since the dwarf’s eloquence and reverence over the beauty of the caves at Helm’s Deep had moved him almost to tears. It was probably a foregone conclusion, but he would leave himself room for manoeuvre. ‘It will take time to finish my boat. I will think about it,’ he said.

‘Good. When do we leave?’


The answer was that Legolas hoped to leave on the Ringday - Cormarë - which seemed an auspicious time. Luck should not play a part in success or failure - the presence of a dwarf was more likely to influence the outcome than exactly when he set out - but some of the superstitious nature of boatbuilders and mariners had worn off on Legolas. He worked long hours through the summer months and managed to finish the boat in good time. By then, he had somehow come to accept that Gimli would be sailing with him.

In mid-Yavannië, the boat slid down the slipway looking awkward and ungainly, but once in her natural element she floated gracefully. Her curved prow turned into the current as she tugged and fretted at her mooring. Legolas slipped on board and ran his hands over the oiled smoothness of the mast. This was his creation, his boat, and he felt a swell of pride. He seated the rudder securely on its pintles, and waggled the tiller to feel her respond. He couldn’t resist patting her in reassurance. Soon. The first thing was to sail down river to the Harlond, get used to how she handled, and then provision her for the voyage. He set the jib, hauled up the peak and throat of the gaff - where was that dratted dwarf when he would be useful? - and backed the sails to push her head away from the jetty. He was horribly aware that he had a critical audience, and there were a few minutes of frantic activity before he sheeted in and felt the boat settle on her course. There was definitely something to be said for having a companion to sail with him, although out at sea there would not be this hasty scrabble to tack as the far river bank rushed to meet him. Back and forth she flew, a white bird against the blue sky: Nimaiwë.

He attracted another audience when he arrived at the quayside of Harlond. Not only were the hobbits and Gimli waiting for him, but several large boats were moored there, and - as Legolas soon found out - there are none so disparaging of the efforts of others as an idle sailor. Tom was kinder.

‘I think you did well. The wind eddies around here, and really, it was only a little bump.’

Gimli stamped on deck and looked at the untidy mainsail, dropped in a rush. ‘Hm. You do know how to sail, don’t you?’

‘Don’t be silly, Gimli,’ said Barard, following behind. ‘Of course he does. He handled her beautifully. Well-known fact that everything goes shit-shaped when you get in amongst other boats with wind and tide playing havoc.’ Legolas could have hugged Barard at this salve to his bruised pride. He hadn’t seen his small friends for a while, and he was delighted to see that Barard had filled out, with a sprightliness to his step that had been missing in the spring.

Tom nodded at Barard’s words. ‘You followed the first two rules of sailing, Legolas.’

‘And those are?’

Gimli looked at Legolas quickly in disbelief, his eyebrows raised. He obviously didn’t recognise this as some mischief of Tom’s and appeared concerned by Legolas’s apparent ignorance. Legolas knew the hobbits better.

Tom grinned up from where he stood on the quayside. ‘Rule number one: look cool and collected at all times.’

‘And rule number two?’

‘When everything goes what Barard so charmingly refers to as shit-shaped, revert to rule one as soon as possible.’

Legolas bowed gravely at this lesson in seamanship. ‘I will remember that. Thank you.’

‘My pleasure. Is there room there for me?’

Legolas held out a hand to help Tom aboard and smiled to himself as Tom joined Barard in stowing the jib. The hobbits didn’t have to be in physical contact with each other, but he’d noticed over the years how they liked to be within close proximity. They moved more slowly and with less ease than in their younger years, but something that never changed was the love between them. To Legolas, there was a radiance about them when they were close together, and its absence in Tom - when Barard had been captured - had caused the elf great grief. To him it seemed like only yesterday; he had to remind himself that it had been more than forty of their years since Barard’s rescue. And further back? Further back he had seen the same radiance between Tom’s father and Frodo, the same reliance and trust. How had they managed their long separation? Had Frodo even survived it?

‘Hmph! What are you dreaming about, Master Elf?’

Legolas jumped, not pleased to be poked out of his reverie by a dwarvish finger. He pitched his voice low, relying on the age of the hobbits to dull their hearing. ‘I was wondering if Sam found Frodo. If they were ever reunited.’

‘What?’ Tom’s head came up. ‘What was that?’

‘He said he wondered if Frodo and Sam were ever reunited,’ explained Barard. So much for the hobbits’ being hard of hearing.

Tom nodded. ‘We’ve often wondered that.’ He cocked an eyebrow at Legolas. ‘Maybe we could come, too.’

‘Now just a - !‘

‘That’s a great idea, love.’

‘But - !’

‘I do have them sometimes, you know.’

‘It’s imposs -’

‘Maybe we could set up a trade route: there and back again?’

As the realisation that they were joking dawned on Legolas, the hobbits leaned against each other, wheezing and crying with laughter. The Elf turned away from them in exasperation. ‘Stop laughing,’ he snapped at Gimli. He wasn’t quite sure why he was so angry. He wrestled the lowered mainsail into submission, and rolled it between the boom and gaff. A small hand touched his hip, and he looked down, blinking back tears, to find Tom holding out the sail ties.

‘I’m sorry, Legolas. We didn’t mean to make you...’ The hobbit hesitated, holding Legolas’s gaze, assessing him. ‘Erm... cry.’

‘The sun’s in my eyes.’ Legolas took the ties and finished stowing the sail, and suddenly he knew why he was upset. He knelt down, drawing Tom into a hug. ‘I will miss you, both of you.’ Life would not be the same without hobbits. He reached out an arm to Barard, and the next moment, he held two small warm bodies pressed close to his. ‘I do not know if Sam ever found Frodo, whether either still live, but I hope so.’

‘Wherever they are, they’re together,’ said Barard with conviction, and Legolas felt rather than saw Tom’s nod of agreement. He looked over their heads to Gimli. The dwarf had a moist look about his eyes. Tom and Barard only knew Frodo through legend and reminiscence; Legolas remembered him as clearly as though they sat again at the Council of Elrond.

“Here, my friends, is the hobbit, Frodo son of Drogo. Few have ever come hither through greater peril or on an errand more urgent.” And quietly, unobtrusively, another hobbit had slipped into a corner, where he sat on the floor, hugging his knees and chewing anxiously on a callused finger. “It is hardly possible to separate you from him, even when he is summoned to a secret council and you are not.”

‘I believe you are right, Barard,’ said Legolas quietly. ‘Wherever they are, they’re together.’

The harsh cries of the gulls wheeling overhead filled the silence that was ended by Tom. The old hobbit eased away, his cheeks wet. ‘We’ll miss you, too, Legolas. What was it Pippin used to say? “The only elf to unbend enough to hug me.”’ He and Barard linked hands, their fingers intertwining, and they spoke almost as though one voice flowed into the other, as though they were of one mind.

‘Will you and Gimli join us for supper tonight?’

‘We have a favour to ask you.’

*


It had been a good supper, and Legolas remembered it lovingly as he tacked up the coast. He watched the mainsail critically, wondering if he could point Nimaiwë a little higher. He tried easing the tiller towards himself, but the flutter along the luff of the sail told him he was already sailing as close to the wind as possible.

‘Ready about,’ he called, and smiled as Gimli reached for the jib sheet. He might make a sailor of the dwarf yet. He pushed the tiller hard away. ‘Wait, Gimli. Wait a little longer.’ If the jib were let fly too soon, they would lose some of the momentum carrying them round. ‘Now! Yes, good. Mind your head! Sheet in on the other side!’ The boom came across with a thump, Gimli quieted the flapping jib, and Nimaiwë heeled on her new course. If this kept up, they would have a fair wind once they started West. Legolas glanced over his shoulder at a wide estuary fading into a faint mist that hazed the land. He raised his voice again. ‘That is the Baranduin, which the Hobbits call the Brandywine.’ He didn’t add “I think.” It was better for his crew of one to have confidence in his navigation.

Gimli planted his feet wide and held onto the starboard stay with one hand as he shielded his eyes from the sun with the other. He nodded, but looked disappointed. ‘I hoped that we would see something of the Shire.’

‘Even if we could sail close to the shore, the Ered Luin divides us from Eriador.’

‘Oh. Yes. The Blue Mountains.’ Gimli chewed his beard in embarrassment at forgetting this dwarvish outpost. ‘What about the Towers that Tom and Barard speak of?’

‘We’ll only see those if we sail into the Mithlond, and the wind is against us for that. We would find it hard; I’d much rather not.’ It was tempting to land at the Havens, and perhaps see Elanor the Fair at firsthand, but she was very old and frail from Tom’s account, and the meeting would most likely pain them both. Everything was so transient, even the land. It was strange to think they were sailing over drowned Beleriand. He watched Gimli stump awkwardly down the companionway to the small galley to return with bread - only a little stale - cold beef and apples. Soon they would fall back on dried meats and fruits, cheese, nuts and seeds, and when that failed, lembas. They ate in companionable silence for a while, listening to the sound of the water foaming beneath Nimaiwë’s bow, their bodies moving instinctively to the dip and rise of the sea-swell rolling under her. A gust of wind ruffled the water, and the boat heeled over, her leeward gunnel dipping into the bow wave. Legolas eased out the mainsheet to spill the wind, and stuck out his foot to stop the apple that rolled across the deck. He did not have a hand free to help Gimli up from where he sat looking surprised on the deck. The dwarf struggled to his feet, grumbling and blustering as he resumed his seat.

‘So, how do we find the Straight Path, Master Elf?’

Legolas laughed; he recognised a ploy here. ‘You would, I think, point up my failings, to detract from your loss of dignity. I will tell you again, I do not know.’

‘The hobbits sang, “West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”’

‘A poeticism, no more. We will sail west from the Havens, the rest I leave to fate, but after noon we will be “West of the Sun”, will we not? As to the moon, he rises and sets to his own rhythm.’

Gimli nodded. He collected up crumbs and apple cores and threw them overboard on the leeward side. A lesson learnt. Legolas had warned him at the outset to only piss over the leeward rail; the soaked breeks when Gimli forgot had let the advice sink in.

‘Now what are you laughing at?’ asked Gimli suspiciously.

‘Nothing. Nothing. Just remembering how well Tom and Barard entertained us before we left.’

‘Do you think they will really live permanently in Harad?’

‘Yes, I think so. They have many friends there. Catos will make sure they come to no harm and that they receive honour after death. He and Faros seemed very distressed at the idea of the Houses of the Dead.’

‘They will give them a heathen’s pyre. The fate of orcs and other servants of Sauron!’

‘They will give them respect, and they will call upon the Valar. I do not understand the fate of men. Buried bodies rot in the ground - it cannot be the earthly form that stands in the Halls of Mandos, but the essence of one’s being.’

‘But what if that essence is burnt?’

‘If you ask my opinion, the essence flies at the point of death; all else is for the comfort of those who remain. I have seen many deaths - we both have - and it is obvious when the spirit within has fled. There is a flatness in the eyes, a loss of some spark of life.’

‘Yes, that is true.’


Late in the day, as the red sun was setting into low trailing cloud that blurred the horizon, they came close enough to the land to see a wide break in the mountains where, in ages past, the sea had flooded in. Legolas could just make out the narrow gap in the sunset-tinged cliffs that marked the entrance to the Mithlond. From here, Elves had always set out into the West. Gimli was fulsome in his praise, but Legolas knew it was more by luck than judgement. He tacked again and let out the mainsail and jib to run before the wind. After a moment, he asked Gimli to bring the jib over, so they sailed goose-winged across the darkening sea. As the last rim of red disappeared before them, Gimli nudged Legolas and pointed astern. In the East, the moon rose full above the land, turning their wake into a path of gold. Ahead of them, the gold shivered over the water, stretching to the horizon. It was a good omen. Instinctively, Legolas eased the tiller so that they sailed on the path laid out. Gimli clutched his arm, pointing to the water that foamed around them. The swell had died, and beyond their own bow wave, the sea’s surface was like a mirror reflecting the stars. Legolas glanced up. The brightness of the moon hid all but Eärendil, sailing high above. He looked down again. The myriad stars winked back.

‘We’re on the Path,’ he whispered, as though they might be noticed if he made too much noise - noticed and turned back. ‘Those stars are below us!’

Gimli nodded, stricken dumb at the wonder of it. Legolas could see the sea below, still with the swell they had ridden, curving away as they sailed on. He moved the tiller and felt Nimaiwë respond. It was reassuring to know they were still sailing, but he must beware an accidental jibe. He had a sudden horrible image of the boom crashing over, sweeping Gimli from the boat, the dwarf tumbling helplessly from their great height, arms flailing. He shivered and laid his free arm protectively along the side of the boat behind Gimli’s back.

‘You’re cold. I’ll fetch your cloak.’

‘No, I’m fine.’

Gimli touched his hand. ‘You are cold. Why do you always have to prove that Elves are more stubborn than Dwarves?’ He stood, bringing their eyes almost on a level. ‘So, how long before we get there?’

‘You sound like Pippin after we left Rivendell. Either sit down, or go below and get some sleep; whichever you do, keep your head below the level of the boom.’

Gimli muttered something indistinct and guttural. “You sound like my father,” was Legolas’s best guess, but that was based more on the roll of Gimli’s eyes and the tone of his voice than any knowledge of the actual words. Legolas accepted the cloak and the lantern that Gimli fetched, and was pleased when Gimli opted to sit with him. He lit and hoisted the light, but the moonlight outshone it, casting dark pools of shadow that stretched over the sea. His thoughts ran both ahead and back - hoping again that they would find Frodo and Sam, find that they had been reunited - and also recalling his first discovery of their love. ‘Do you remember?’ he asked.

‘What? What am I to remember?’ Gimli pulled his own cloak closer and turned to lean his back against Legolas, his feet on the wooden seat, his knees hugged tight. ‘Is this some Elvish riddling game?’

‘Do you remember coming upon Frodo and Sam in Ithilien?’

‘Oh, that. Now that was an eye-opener and no mistake, if you take my meaning.’

Legolas laughed; the mimicry of Sam was plain to hear in Gimli’s voice. ‘Yes. That. It was...’ He stopped, embarrassed.

Gimli twisted his head to look at Legolas. ‘Enjoyable, I seem to remember. You had a silly smile on your face for days after.’

‘It was very loving - beautiful - not like... not like...’ He stopped again, the memory of Tom’s bare arse and Barard’s language making his face heat. It was like the difference between Elvish music - each perfect note flowing into the next - and the wild, restless anarchy of the Haradrim drum circle.

‘Legolas, don’t be such a prude.’

Legolas stiffened in indignation. ‘I hardly think you can comment. You didn’t see Tom and Barard -’

‘Hmph. That’s what you think.’ Gimli settled back more comfortably against his elven backrest.

‘You weren’t there!’

‘No, that’s true, but I remember hearing some strange cries echoing around Aglarond and going to investigate. Randy little buggers.’ His voice was tolerant and affectionate. ‘And look at all those hobbits Pippin sired. It’s not the dwarvish way, but it seems to be the way of Halflings. They have a lust for life, don’t you think? No matter if it’s eating or drinking, smoking or shagging, they don’t do it by halves. Anyway, I don’t think you can accuse Tom and Barard of not being loving.’

‘I didn’t mean -’

‘But that’s what you said.’

‘You irritating dwarf. If you’re going to keep interrupting me, I might as well just throw you overboard now. I can’t think why I let you persuade me to bring you along.’ Legolas shifted slightly, to stop the dwarf’s shoulder blades from digging into him, and laid his free arm along the side of the boat again, so making a more comfortable support for his friend. It was a wonder to him that Gimli’s presence had not kept them from the Path, but he was glad. He laughed suddenly.

‘Now what?’

‘I was thinking of the strangeness of my being glad you’re here with me, when you are so very annoying.’

The noise Gimli made sounded like, “Huff!” Legolas ignored him, looking back into the past. He skirted around the edge of his memories of the younger hobbits, Tom and Barard, avoiding too clear a recall of their lusty coupling. That was the difference. He could see again Sam’s diffidence, his gentleness, and Frodo’s reliance on him. He - they - shouldn’t have watched as long as they did, but he had been worried about Frodo, concerned by the tears and the weariness. The very air around their small Ring-bearer had a dullness and drabness, and that despite the sunshine fanning through the trees, lighting the clearing in Ithilien into a shimmer of green and gold.

Legolas heard again a sharp cry of fear that halted him in his tracks, his hand raised to stop the dwarf’s inconsequential grumblings and heavy bootfall. ‘Shhhh!’

‘What do you mean, “shhh”?’

‘What do you think I mean?’ hissed Legolas. ‘Listen!’ There it was again, wild and fearful.

Gimli cocked his head. ‘Over there.’

Legolas nodded, and together they slipped through the trees. Gimli loosened his axe from his belt; Legolas nocked an arrow. Not far ahead came the sound of someone gasping to draw breath. A lightening of the wooded gloom told them of a clearing. Carefully, with no need for discussion, they crept to a large bay tree that offered more cover than the surrounding larch. Legolas kept his arrow ready as Gimli slowly drew down a branch of the bay. At the sight of Frodo cradled in Sam’s arms, they surveyed the area quickly for any sign of an enemy’s attack. Seeing none, they lowered their weapons, reluctant to step out. Frodo’s face was wet with tears, and they had no wish to embarrass him. Firewood lay scattered close by, as though thrown down heedlessly.

‘Hush, me dear. Hush, now. Your Sam’s here. It’s naught but a dream.’

‘Sam?’ Tentative and unbelieving, then stronger. ‘Sam!’ Frodo clutched at Sam’s arm, the knuckle of his left hand whitening as his fingers dug in. His right hand held on more clumsily, the jarring gap puckered with new scar tissue. Blankets tangled around his legs. Close by, blackened stones encircled the ash of a spent fire.

Legolas and Gimli looked at each other, still hesitating; neither wanted to intrude, and yet leaving was not an option. Frodo looked sick, his face drawn into lines of pain, and they might be needed, if only to carry him back to the Ring-bearers’ refuge in Northern Ithilien. What was Gandalf thinking, to let these two small heroes wander out alone?

Sam pulled Frodo closer and freed one of his hands to stroke his master’s face; his words were almost inaudible even to Legolas, murmurs of love and comfort. Frodo relaxed, his eyes closing, face tilting as one would to the warmth of the sun. As they watched, Sam bent to him, cupping his head as their mouths met. Legolas’s own mouth fell open, and from beside him came a grunt of surprise. Sam’s head was hidden by a falling disorder of raggedly cut hair, but it was obvious that Frodo’s mouth was open to him, jaw and throat working in a slow rhythm. The clutching hand relaxed and opened, palm and fingers sweeping up to wrap more naturally around Sam’s shoulder. As the two hobbits parted, Frodo smiled, his eyes still closed, and laid his head against Sam’s shoulder. Sam shifted slightly, settling Frodo more comfortably, and kissed his forehead.

‘Sam.’ Soft and comfortable, Frodo’s voice was full of love.

‘There, me dear. Is that better? It was another dream, nothing more. I’ll get us a fire going, and make you some breakfast, and then you’ll be as right as nine pence.’

‘Don’t go.’

‘I’m not going anywhere. Just lighting the fire -’

‘No, I mean, don’t go and light the fire. Not yet. Lie with me. I missed you in my sleep, I think.’

There was a moment of stillness, and Legolas could almost hear Sam’s thoughts debating the matter - whether to do as Frodo asked or whether he would better serve his master by insisting that he eat and drink. Legolas had not travelled long miles with the hobbits without knowing that Sam’s first care was always what was best for Frodo. At first, it seemed he had decided against Frodo’s wishes; he eased Frodo down into the nest of blankets and stood over him, but just as the thought came to Legolas that he and Gimli could show themselves once the fire was built and lit - claim they had seen the smoke and come to investigate - Sam flicked his braces from his shoulders and pulled his shirt over his head in one fluid movement. Frodo pushed back the blankets that were still caught around his legs, and Legolas realised - with a flush of heat - that not only was Frodo naked, but that Sam soon would be. He had seen them naked often enough in the days of the Fellowship - wherever there was clean water deep enough to bathe in - but the intention here was unmistakable; to lie and offer comfort did not require nakedness. The way the hobbits held eye contact, the way Frodo swallowed, their quickened breath, all declared them to be lovers.

Very quietly, Legolas turned and waved a hand in front of his mesmerised companion’s face. Gimli blinked and looked up; he scowled as Legolas indicated back the way they had come with a quick jerk of his head. Retreat seemed the best option, but in this Legolas had reckoned without the dwarf’s indifferent woodcraft. The snap of a dry branch under Gimli’s heavily-booted foot made them freeze in their tracks. In the clearing, Sam paused in the act of stepping out of his breeches and looked straight towards them. Only the green and brown hues of their clothes, and the thick growth of the bay’s branches, hid them from his searching eyes. Sam paused a moment, alert and watchful, then turned back to Frodo, discarding his breeches with an unfamiliar carelessness. Gimli very slowly lifted his foot away from the broken talebearer, and shrugged apologetically. They did not dare move after that; to be caught now would be to admit they had been watching. Legolas sighed and tried to convince himself that his small friends needed guarding, that it was right and proper he should stay. He watched as Frodo reached out his good hand to Sam to draw him into his embrace, and was struck anew by the thinness of their bodies. He had known they were near starvation when found, but seeing the prominence of bones that should be covered by the soft rounding of flesh was a harsh reminder of how much they had suffered. He averted his eyes, wondering whom he was fooling in pretending that was all he noticed about their bodies.

Studying the larch-needle strewn ground - the iridescence of a black beetle, a trail of ants - Legolas was still aware of Sam’s slow gentle movements, aware of him pulling a blanket snug around himself and Frodo. The familiar calls of goldcrests high in the trees interwove with soft exclamations and breathless gasps, worlds known and unknown colliding and mingling for the edification of Legolas the Elf. It was not as though Gandalf had not warned him: one could know hobbits for a hundred years and yet still be surprised. What hope was there for him, who had known them for only a few months?

A loud cry from Frodo brought his head up and round in worry; surely Sam would not - could not - hurt his master. Frodo was on all fours now, his head hanging down so that Legolas could not see his expression, but one hand opened and closed convulsively on his bedding. Beneath the blanket it was obvious that Sam covered him with his body, held him close with one arm wrapped around him, thrust against him. Frodo cried out once more, his forearms giving way so that he collapsed down onto his elbows, rocked by Sam’s movement.

‘Me dear; oh, me dear,’ murmured Sam, and there was no doubting the tenderness and love contained within the words.

Legolas turned his face up to the sky, framed by the towering larch that were clothed in the new green of spring. To the east, the early sun had still not risen above the trees, and the sunlight filtered down in broken shafts that made the air shimmer with a golden light. High above, small white clouds drifted on a wind that did not disturb the woodland; already the day was warm. He could look away, but he could not block out the sounds and cries, the panting breath that quickened and then caught on a series of deep moans and Sam’s name cried aloud. From the corner of his eye, he caught the quick movement of collapse, and even with the soft glow of the morning light, he was aware of another light - like the pale translucency of the full moon in a sunlit sky. Against his will, it drew his eye. The blanket had fallen away now, and the hobbits lay panting in a heap of tangled limbs. Sam part-covered Frodo, part-wrapped around him, and from beneath the devoted gardener, light welled in pale defiance of the daylight. It was such a contrast to the former drabness around Frodo that Legolas blinked back tears and smiled foolishly at Gimli. Trust Sam to know what he was doing, to know what Frodo needed.

At the memory, Legolas smiled foolishly again. He nudged Gimli to get his attention. ‘Do you remember Frodo’s light? Like starlight or... or the palest shimmer of moonlight? That was a wonder all in itself.’

‘What? His star-glass, you mean? His gift from the Lady?’

‘No, I mean his own inner light, that Sam drew forth.’

‘Is this some elvish euphemism for rollicking good sex?’

Legolas frowned. ‘No, I mean... Didn’t you see how he glowed like a faint star-glass? But only after... after...’

‘Nothing to see. You’re making it up,’ muttered Gimli. He yawned. The weight against Legolas increased, and the dwarf’s snoring was something felt as well as heard. There was no point in protesting that he was not making it up, that he remembered Frodo’s light as clearly as if he were there again. The snores in the present were met by those in the past, as the small bodies of the hobbits lay utterly relaxed, and Sam’s snores rumbled across the clearing.

Legolas’s annoyance with Gimli could not keep his smile from returning. He had always felt there was something intrinsically elvish about Frodo, had known that Gandalf’s and Elrond’s trust in this seemingly unlikely hero must have some basis in real knowledge of his inner character. In that clearing, Legolas had seen not a small Halfling of the Shire, maimed and broken, but a being of grace and hidden power.

Frodo stirred as Legolas laid a blanket over them. He murmured Sam’s name and burrowed into the arms that held him close. Held him safe.

*

As Legolas and Gimli sailed on and the days passed - mostly in dwarvish boredom - Legolas came to think they too were safe. The beauty of the Veil left them bereft of speech: a pearly mist that parted around them and drew them on, the light rain touching their uplifted faces like gossamer thread strung with dew across an early-morning path. They were unprepared for danger.

As the mist cleared, a violent wind seized them and flung them across a sea that was suddenly banked in mountainous waves. All Legolas could do was keep his white bird running with the wind behind her, swooping down into the troughs and riding the peaks in her headlong flight. He desperately wanted to reef the mainsail, but he could not leave the tiller. Gimli was no help: white and shivering, he clung on to the boat in wretched misery, convinced he had brought this calamity upon them. The storm-dark sky darkened further into a night where their world was defined by the howl of the wind, the crests of the waves that were just visible as white foam curling beneath the hull, and the pitch and heave of their suddenly frail-seeming craft. The compass showed that they ran to the south of west, but whether there would be landfall, Legolas had no idea. He rather hoped not: to be driven onto a lee shore would be the end.

Dawn found them still running down the wind, but at least Gimli became more confident in Nimaiwë’s ability to ride the storm. He crawled into the galley and returned with food. With some persuasion, he held the tiller while Legolas struggled to reef the main sail, and they followed on the course forced upon them under shortened canvas. Wet and tired, they lost count of the days; there was only the wind and sea buffeting them, and the need to remain constantly alert.

As Legolas feared, the land was their undoing. It was another dawn, three or maybe four exhausting days later, that the seas steepened, and Legolas heard the unwelcome boom and low angry growl of high-running surf crashing against land. Some current ran fast here, pushing Nimaiwë off her chosen course, further towards the unseen shore. All changed in a moment as the wind no longer filled the sails from dead aft. The boom swung over with a crash that threw the boat onto her beam ends, and a mountainous cross-sea completed the disaster.

Legolas was rolled and tumbled in the water in a flurry of bubbles, until he could not be sure which way was up nor how far down he had plunged. He stopped fighting - this was an enemy that could not be beaten, only survived - and his natural buoyancy carried him up and up until he broke the surface. Gasping for breath, he shook hair from his face and rubbed water from his eyes. There was little to be seen. He sensed a deeper shadow, rising and falling over the dark back of a wave, and struck out for the upturned hull of Nimaiwë. His mind was in a state of shock from the sudden cold immersion and from his fear for Gimli, but this frantic race did not seem to need his conscious will. His hand caught a trailing rope, and somehow - he had no idea how - he hauled himself onto the clinker-built hull and grasped the keel.

Around him, the sky lightened into a cloud-wracked dawn, and the wind seemed less wild. As the wreck of Nimaiwë crested the next wave, Legolas searched the expanse of water for any sign of a bobbing head, but there was nothing. Nothing. He looked towards the white foaming line of the shore and could make out low land fringed with dark trees. The lack of cliffs was encouraging, a sign that there were no rocks to be dashed against, but he was not safe yet and wasn’t sure he wanted to be if Gimli were lost, as seemed likely. Was this the cruel answer to the question of whether Gimli would be allowed to land? But then why had they been permitted to find the way and cross the Veil? He bowed his head as tears came, and thumped the wood beneath him in anger.

The next moment, he jumped and nearly lost his hold as something closed tightly around his ankle. He let out a yip of surprise and looked down on the frightened features of a waterlogged dwarf, just discernible between hair and beard. Tightening his hold on the keel with one hand, and ignoring the pain of muscles stretched beyond their means, he reached down with his other hand to haul Gimli to relative safety. Gimli clung to him, choking and crowing for breath, as Nimaiwë rose and fell on the waves.

‘Wh... what now?’

‘I don’t know. We’re being driven on the shore, wind and current together. I’m not sure whether we are better with or without the boat in the surf. If she goes broadside to the waves and breaks up, we will be in greater danger of being struck unconscious, and we have no way to keep her pointing straight for the shore.’ Legolas considered the problem, his mind racing so that a thousand thoughts rose between one wave and the next. The weight of their bodies had rolled Nimaiwë a little, so that the gunnel under his feet was pushed down under the waves. If they could right the boat, they could steer her. He clambered around, urging Gimli to join him at the point where her keel was deepest. Gimli seemed to have recovered a little, at least enough to grumble, but he did as he was told without question and heaved with a will. Their combined leverage was not great enough, and they collapsed shivering and panting back against the hull. Already it was getting harder to care what their fate might be.

‘I’m sorry,’ croaked Gimli.

‘Don’t be. And we still have a chance.’ The light was growing enough to see sand dunes fringed with pine trees. ‘There seems to be some sort of sandbank ahead where the waves break and then run on through the shallows beyond. I think we should leave the boat soon and take our chance of being washed up there.’

Gimli looked at him, weary and resigned. ‘Now?’

‘Yes, now.’ They let go, kicked themselves clear, and felt the wave beneath them start to steepen - steepen and curl into a foaming breaker. For a moment they were rushing down the flowing face of the wave, and then with a roar the world was blotted out in a whirling tumult of fear that masked pain. Legolas grabbed at sand, lost his hold, tumbled in desperate need for air and found himself suddenly in a lull as the sea ran back past him. He coughed and spluttered, and pushed himself up to gasp in mist-drenched air. The retreating wave tugged at him, and he hurriedly threw himself further onto the submerged bank, dragging himself until he could stand knee-deep in the water. For the second time, he looked around in panic for Gimli. All he could see was an unmoving mound close by.

‘Gimli! Gimli!’ He scrabbled through the water, unbalanced by the rush and tug of the waves and by the sand slipping away from beneath his feet. Foam washed over Gimli as he lay face down, the waves lifting and floating his body further onto the sandbank; the feeble coughing as the sea receded was music to the elf’s ears. He hauled Gimli to his feet, and supported him as they staggered and splashed over the shifting sand. Between the bank and shore the water deepened again, but the ebb and flow here were gentler, the force of the waves having been spent upon the shoal. Gimli was soon floundering out of his depth, but Legolas kept the dwarf’s head above water and towed him to land. They made slow progress. Legolas was forced to swim part of the way while trying to soothe Gimli’s panic, but eventually they clambered out onto the sandy beach in the cold light of dawn. The strand, pale in the early light, swept inland to marram grass and rising dunes. The view was bordered by tall pines that bowed before the onslaught of the wind. Beneath the trees, all was in darkness.

Legolas shivered. They were both water-logged and losing heat rapidly in the strong onshore wind that swirled sand into the air in a blurring haze. At least the wind was behind them as they struggled over the shifting surface. The boom and growl of the breakers on the sandbank rose and fell but was never absent. Overlying that - a higher-pitched staccato - was the sound of wind-wracked sand thrown against their backs in the harder gusts. Ahead, the wind in the trees added a more constant muted roar that was at least familiar to Legolas, although he had no intention of seeking shelter there yet.

The dunes formed a series of grass-covered ridges, and through them wound a path leading almost immediately to a sheltered sandy hollow. The path continued on, but Legolas and Gimli sank down gratefully into sudden calm and relative quiet.

‘Where are we?’ asked Gimli.

A good question, which Legolas could not answer. He shrugged and pointed to evidence of footfalls within the sand. ‘Someone has been here.’ Any firm print or indication of size had been lost in the trickle of sand grains; even their own prints were blurring before their eyes.

‘Would we be better off amongst the trees?’

‘In this wind? No. We’ll wait for it to abate a little, and for more light.’

Gimli squeezed out his hair and beard, scattering water to pockmark the sand. ‘There’s nothing here to weight our clothes with, to stop them blowing away. There doesn’t seem much point in taking them off to dry.’

Legolas peeled off his own tunic, his voice muffled as he pulled the sodden cloth over his head. ‘I don’t think the wind will catch them here.’ He wrung salt water out at his feet. ‘We can’t stay here long - there’s nothing to drink, and we need to find proper shelter and food when there is more light - but even a little drying is better than nothing.’

‘Hmph! I suppose you’re right.’ Grumbling, Gimli shrugged off his leather jerkin and glared at the white stain of salt that was already forming on it. ‘That will never be the same again!’

Legolas forbore to comment on their luck at being alive. It was just the dwarf’s way, an outlet for his anxiety. ‘I wonder who -’ he began, and then broke off, turning his head to look full at the trees. A movement of light had caught his attention, a bright golden glow spilling from under the dark canopy of leaves like a full moon low in a night sky, but travelling fast along some hidden path.

‘What is it?’ asked Gimli, following Legolas’s gaze.

Legolas shook his head. ‘I don’t know; someone is running, I think, but the light is brighter than any lantern or torch.’ The movement of the light slowed to a halt, or maybe turned away from them, and was lost to their view. Legolas hesitated, then made up his mind. ‘I’m going to take a look.’ He reached for his discarded tunic.

‘I thought you said we should stay here until it was lighter.’

‘I’m not going far into the wood, just a reconnoitre. You can wait here.’

‘Not a good idea. We need to keep together.’

The path led them exactly where they wanted to go. They climbed a steep dune of sand, and found their way dipped and rose again under the eaves of the trees. Despite the higher ground ahead, they could see diffuse light - daylight - through the dark boles: it was a thick belt of woodland rather than a wood or forest. As they entered the trees, another sandy path crossed their way: no doubt the track followed by their quarry. There were many prints, mostly blurred by the shifting sand, but even the clearest appeared small. As Legolas cast around, hoping to find more signs to read, they heard a sharp cry rising above the wind in the treetops.

‘I wish I had my axe,’ muttered Gimli. ‘Was that something in fear or pain?’

Legolas laid his palm against the bole of a tree. He could sense no disquiet, rather a deep joy. ‘I don’t think it was anything bad.’

‘It sounded bad to me!’

‘Shhh. Let us see what we can see. It sounded close.’ Legolas ran lightly to where the path crested the rise and dipped away again before him. Ahead, the trees changed to silver birch, rowan and green-hued beech. Legolas hardly noticed. He had been so sure that he would never have to see such a sight again. How had they managed to stow aboard? He was torn between fury at their presumption and relief that they had survived the shipwreck. He held up a hand to halt Gimli below him on the slope, and only then realised his mistake. This was not Tom lustily nailing Barard to the bole of a beech tree. How many times had Legolas told Tom that he was his father’s son? How many times had he glimpsed a memory of Frodo’s Tookish ancestry in Barard’s face?

The scene before him was feral in its urgency. Clothes had been part-discarded, part-disarranged, so that Sam’s shirt fell open over the bare legs wrapped tightly around his body. Only Frodo’s face was visible - eyes closed, lips parted on a moan - and the intensity of his expression was almost painful to watch. Legolas began to turn away, suddenly warmer than he was comfortable with, when he was half-blinded by light. Such was the brilliance that flared up around the hobbits that he wondered the branches above did not ignite, to be fanned by the wind into a great conflagration. The fear that the danger was real - to himself, as well as to his long-missed friends - kept him rooted to the spot. As he watched, the light faded into a soft glow that spilled around Sam’s body. Lit from within, Frodo’s face was beautiful, all tension released. Legolas heard a soft sigh, and watched mesmerised as Frodo blindly captured Sam’s face between his hands and sought his mouth. Slowly they kissed, the gentleness of the movements contrasting with the roughness that had gone before. Legolas blinked as his tears fragmented the light before him. This was not the Ring-bearer he had last seen in Isengard at the ending of the Fellowship; this Frodo - quite literally - radiated happiness.

Lost in his memories, Legolas did not at first realise that Frodo had lifted his head and opened his eyes.

*


Frodo was not sure how long he had been away from Sam, but by any measure of time, it was too long. He grew restless in Ninquelótë's house, pacing around. He wanted Sam’s presence, and he was unhappy about the tensions that had arisen at the news that a dwarf - Gimli! - dared to approach the Undying Lands in the company of Legolas. His friends were somewhere on the Straight Path, and he had no idea if they would even be allowed to cross the Veil. Unperturbed by his frustration and anxiety, Ninquelótë sat cross-legged on the floor, a position that brought him down to hobbit eye level.

Frodo stopped pacing and glared at his friend. ‘Why are they so... so pigheaded! I did not really expect my word to sway them, although I hoped to remind them of the grace which has allowed Halflings to be welcomed here, but they will not listen to Lord Elrond or the Lady Galadriel. A plague on the stubbornness of Elves!’

‘So nothing has changed? What does Olórin say?’

‘That it is no longer his task to order the affairs of others.’ Frodo sighed as he remembered Gandalf’s words. ‘He only stays here for my sake, you know.’

‘And for Panthael’s?’

Frodo laughed at that. ‘As I said, for my sake.’ He took Ninquelótë’s outstretched hand and sat cross-legged before him. ‘If Gimli is allowed to pass the Veil, I would have thought the rest should follow, but his welcome is still doubtful here on the Tol.’

‘There is much bitterness between Elves and Dwarves. You know this. It is the discord engendered by the spite of Morgoth, and woven by him into the Great Song of Ilúvatar to echo down the Ages.’

‘But there are those on the Council who speak of the Dwarves as though they were one entity, ignoring the good and bad that run through all the peoples of Arda. Gimli is an enemy of the darkness, an elf-friend!’

‘Iorhael, you do not have to convince me.’

‘I... I know. I’m sorry.’

‘No need to apologise. Come. Meditate with me.’ Ninquelótë took Frodo’s other hand, and Frodo gladly closed his eyes and let go of tension within his body, relaxing in preparation. There was a pattern that at first he’d struggled to find. Trying too hard had led to frustration and failure; success had come only as Ninquelótë taught him not to strive, but to surrender himself to the unknown. First came a greater awareness of self in a darkness that heightened sound. His heartbeat and slow breathing became everything - and then nothing, as they faded into oblivion. He was cocooned in darkness, falling out of time. Initially, it had taken all of his trust in Ninquelótë not to fight back to here and now in fear that there would be no turning back, but now he knew what lay beyond: the light and high beauty. Meditating with his master was always a richer experience, as though Ninquelótë allowed Frodo’s mind to soar higher, and heightened his awareness of the glory of the Song that sang through the heavens. Almost, he could believe he was one with it - like, and yet unlike the joy he felt when his own song found unity with Sam’s in their lovemaking. The thought of Sam pulled him back, grounded him in his body. As usual, the peace he felt was tempered by a sense of loss and longing, but this time the longing had a focus. He wanted to return to Sam.

‘Tell me,’ said Ninquelótë quietly.

Frodo opened his eyes, feeling mildly disorientated. It was a moment before he could focus on the calm grey of the elf’s eyes. Ninquelótë rubbed his thumbs against Frodo’s skin, reminding him that he was there holding Frodo’s hands. ‘Tell me,’ he said again.

‘I miss Panthael, which is foolish when it is no time at all since I left him.’

‘He is part of yourself.’ Ninquelótë's left thumb wandered over the scar on Frodo’s hand. ‘Such a loss is felt straightaway. The length of time that you are parted does not influence how you feel; it is enough that you are apart. Before he came, it was as though a shadow lay on your fëa. Your mind was healed, but still I was afraid for you. Then he came, and I saw you completed, made whole.’ He smiled at Frodo, his face lit by the soft glow of Frodo’s own light in the darkening room. ‘I felt as I did when my daughter was born: full of joy.’ The gentle smile faded, to be replaced by sadness. ‘I cannot imagine how I will feel when you set your fëa free: glad for you, that is certain, but I will have lost a dear friend. I imagine that if the choice were yours alone, you would have followed Bilbo in seeking your mortality.’

Frodo dropped his gaze to their joined hands, discomforted by the elf’s perceptiveness. ‘Panthael is not ready.’ It was hard to admit this, hard to admit that they were not of one mind. He raised his eyes again, searching his friend’s face. ‘How did you know?’

‘You reach out to the Song with such yearning, but the call of your Sam draws you back.’

‘I promised him, when he first came, that we would take that journey together. It is no hardship. I’m... I’m not even sure in my own mind. We don’t argue - ‘

Ninquelótë interrupted Frodo’s earnest defence of Sam. ‘I never imagined that you do. Even within one’s own mind, one may hold debate as to what course of action to take. When I walk from here in the morning, I may be undecided as to which path to set my feet upon. That is not arguing.’

‘He fears losing me. It is an old fear that has never yet been fully laid to rest.’

‘But if you go together?’

‘I think he fears that our awareness of each other will be diminished.’

‘And what do you think?’

‘That we cannot know, but that it is called the gift of Ilúvatar.’

They sat in comfortable silence, each wrapped in his own thoughts, until they were called to supper. Frodo was tempted by Ninquelótë's offer of a bed - especially as his weariness from a long, frustrating day had been compounded by the effects of the wine he’d drunk with the meal - but Sam’s portrait hung in his room, and he was in the mood to relieve his frustrations.

It was a moonless night, and the stars shone brightly in the dark sky as Frodo walked to his own house. Once there, he opened the shutters to ease the stuffiness in his room. The heat in the city felt oppressive, the air seeming to bear down upon him, and he moved with languid slowness as he stripped off his clothes. He paced around the room naked, lighting candles beneath the portrait and releasing his hair to fall in loose curls around his shoulders. It was something Sam always did, since he loved to run his hands into Frodo’s hair as he made love to his body, and just that small act kindled Frodo’s desire now. He stroked up his shaft, holding the rigid heat close with one hand as he plumped cushions against the headboard with the other and climbed onto the bed.

‘Sam?’

‘Mmmm?’

‘I’m missing you.’

‘Are you, now?’
The amusement was clear, and was an echo of the expression in the portrait. ‘Give me a few minutes, and you can tell me just how you’re missing me.’

While he waited, Frodo’s thumb lazily stroked the loose skin that folded around the head of his shaft. ‘You’re not in bed, then?’

‘The hunters are here; we’re still sitting out in the garden after supper. Let me just yawn a bit, and make it seem natural.’
The hunters were good friends and a constant source of fresh game, but they delighted in gently teasing the hobbits, especially over the intimacy of their relationship. Frodo smiled to himself, understanding Sam’s wish to cover his real intent.

‘I’m naked, Sam.’ He could almost feel the hitch in Sam’s outward composure, the quickening of his breath, but he got no reaction for several long minutes. He spent the time running the palm of his free hand over his body, down over taut muscles, fingers combing through short curls to slide between his sweat-dampened legs and massage his aching balls. He gazed upon Sam’s painted likeness, imagining his Sam undressing for him in the flickering candlelight, imagining those capable hands gathering him close. Instead, it was Sam’s voice in his mind that caressed him and fanned his need.

‘Do you know how hard I am?’ A flash of humour - as good as seeing Sam laugh - made Frodo smile again. ‘You do know, don’t you? That was deliberate. Wait you, until you’re in company and - ‘

‘I’m stroking myself, Sam. I want you.’
He rolled his foreskin back and rubbed his thumb to and fro across the weeping slit, feeling the need within heighten as he tensed his thighs, clenching muscles in an almost-thrust. ‘I wish it were your hand on me.’ Frodo closed his eyes at the thought, his head rolling back against the pillows, his hips canting up. ‘I wish you were here. I miss you.’

‘I love you, me dear. Feel me now.’

The pace faltered between them a moment, but only a moment, until they caught the shared rhythm. It was an intense sharing, only slightly dulled by distance, but at the end it left Frodo longing for more. He wanted the weight of Sam’s body collapsing onto him, the sweated smell of his skin, the slow sweep of his broad hands, the sweetness of his mouth. He wanted to curl into Sam’s arms. Instead he sighed and rolled onto his side with naught but a pillow to hug.

‘Will you be home soon?’ The wistful longing in Sam’s thoughts mirrored Frodo’s own.

‘I don’t know. There is no news of our friends, and no expectation of their being welcome. Maybe... maybe you could join me?’ Frodo knew he was asking for the impossible. Campanula was the best of their goats, and even had she been the worst, Sam would not leave her when she was due to kid. ‘No, don’t answer that, Sam. Forget I even thought it.’

‘How long will you stay? If there’s no news?’

‘I don’t know. I’ll speak to Gandalf in the morning.’

‘Goodnight, me dear.’

‘Goodnight, Sam.’

Frodo sighed again. It was some time before he slept, but he still woke early, to find that Gandalf also wished to speak to him.

‘My dear hobbit, good morning to you. The weather has changed.’

‘Uhhh?’
Frodo was not sure whether this was some metaphorical reflection on the views of the Council, but as he lifted his head, he realised the weather had indeed changed. The heaviness had gone from the air, and he could feel the gusts of wind. He pulled himself to his feet and wrapped his bedcover around his naked body to pad over to the balcony. Even in the half-light of dawn, the sky was dark with lowering clouds. The strong wind whipped dust and debris into the air and wound tangled chaos into his hair. The sea was running high, battering the shore with angry green-grey waves, and Frodo could imagine the masts of the moored boats at the quayside, swaying back and forth in wide arcs despite the protection of the harbour wall.

‘Gandalf! What of Legolas and Gimli? This is not the weather to be sailing!’

‘They will not be able to make Avallónë, that is certain.’

‘What!’

‘So I think you may as well go home.’

‘But, Gandalf, what about Legolas and Gimli?’

‘Their fate is not in my hands, little one. We must hope for the best.’

Frodo gazed out to sea, his heart filled with anxiety for his friends. ‘Are you sure I can do no good here?’

‘You have spoken your mind most eloquently, and we must hope your words and those of Gimli’s other friends will, with time, move minds that seem obdurate.’

‘It is of no consequence what they decide, if Legolas and Gimli perish at sea.’

‘Maybe not.’

‘I will have to walk.’

‘The wind will be behind you, and even if it weren’t, it would not prevent your returning to Sam.’

Well, that was no more than the truth, and having convinced himself that he really could do no more in Avallónë, Frodo did not waste any time. His pack was on his back when he stopped at Ninquelótë's to say farewell, and there were ten leagues behind him when he stopped for the first night in the welcome shelter of a cave. He avoided the trees as much as possible, but even so, small branches and twigs strewed his path. He was constantly alert for the ominous creak that might be his only warning of danger, and he was careful to find a place of safety each night. On the third day, the rocky cliffs gave way to the dune line closer to home. He tried walking on the beach itself, but the wind had veered round more easterly, and the blown sand stung his face. The sandy path under the trees was much easier going. He pushed on late into the night, knowing how close he was to home, and needing no moonlight or starlight to show his way. The second time he tripped and stumbled over a tree root that straggled across his path, he realised that he was falling asleep on his feet. He found a sandy dell, where any falling tree was likely to span the hollow if it fell, and curled into a depression in the ground. He fell asleep to the booming of the surf and the roar of the wind in the trees, and woke early after only two or three hours of sleep. He stretched, brushed himself down to shed the sand that clung to his clothes, and broke his fast with a little lembas and water. Sam was still asleep when Frodo set out, but as dawn lightened the cloud cover to the east, Frodo knew that he stirred.

‘Where are you, me dear?’ It was a sleepy question, but Frodo’s answer snapped Sam fully awake. ‘What? I’ll be... just let me... I’m coming to meet you.’

Frodo could imagine the scrabble for clothes, could imagine Sam almost tripping in his haste to pull on his breeches and be out of the smial. He laughed aloud and broke into a run, racing along the path in a blaze of light.

By the time Frodo reached the crossways and turned inland, Sam had already climbed up from the garden on the same path. They flew into each other’s arms with glad cries and wild kisses, and pulled apart only enough to gaze into each other’s eyes. Their mouths came together again in a deeper, slower rhythm.

‘I missed you, I missed you, I missed you.’
The words flowed between them, their thoughts in harmony, and they were laughing and breathless as they parted again. Sam’s shirt - more reminiscent of the Shire than Frodo’s tunic - was fastened askew, and instinctively Frodo reached out to slip the buttons undone as a prelude to fastening it anew.

‘You are in a hurry, me dear.’ Sam’s soft growl made the words true: suddenly Frodo was in a hurry. He let the shirt hang open while he shucked off his pack and let it fall unheeded to the ground. His shaking hands went to work on Sam’s breeches, pushing them down to find that Sam’s hurried dressing had not included any underwear. He dropped to his knees, hands curling around Sam’s hips, and paused, just enjoying the sight of Sam’s nakedness and the familiar sleepy-morning smell. There was no doubting that Sam was very pleased to see him.

Frodo could feel the pent-up restraint in Sam. He made lazy circles against Sam’s skin with his thumbs, while Sam’s hands at the back of his head loosened his hair and urged him down. Frodo didn’t obey immediately. He swirled his tongue over the full and eager crown, lightly teasing at the slit, and tilted his head to smile up at Sam.

‘You!’

‘Mmm?’
A soft nibble.

‘Are.’

‘Yes?’

‘The most provoking...’
Sam’s hands shook as his fingers carded possessively through Frodo’s hair. As Frodo stopped teasing and gave his full attention to loving Sam, the fingers gripped hard. ‘Oh, yes. Yes! I mean, no! No! Stop!’

‘Stop?’
Frodo pulled back a little to suckle, loving the smooth texture of Sam’s cockhead beneath his tongue and the rhythmical pressure against the roof of his mouth. The taste of Sam’s precome was a sweet promise. Frodo knew exactly why Sam wanted him to stop, and he was hard and aching at the thought of Sam taking him, here, now, in unpremeditated haste. Frodo closed his eyes and bowed his head at that thought as heat flared through his body in a deep longing. His breathing took on a ragged edge. Their loving was always a joy, but had maybe become a little predictable of late, in time and place. It was a long while since they had recklessly swept everything aside on the kitchen table in their rush for a closer communion.

‘Frodo?’ It was the first word spoken aloud, and that a whispered entreaty. ‘Love?’

Frodo opened his eyes and lifted his head to meet Sam’s gaze. This was a sharing he never tired of, and satisfying on a deeper level than their shared thoughts. The warmth and love and undisguised lust in Sam’s eyes made him tremble in the knowledge of what was to come; he was grateful for Sam’s hands helping him, pulling him to his feet and supporting him when he got there. There was a moment when they stood motionless, still holding each other’s gaze, then Sam’s fists bunched in Frodo’s tunic. The breath flew from Frodo as his back thumped up against a tree; the kiss that followed was hard and hungry. Their fingers tangled together, trying to free Frodo’s trousers at the same time. Frodo let Sam complete the undressing - it was something he did so well - and instead, he furled one hand around Sam’s shaft. It took but a moment to kick his trousers away. He gave a hum of pleasure as Sam’s tongue delved deeper into his mouth, followed by a soft noise of protest as Sam’s fingers locked around his wrist; he didn’t want to let go of the hard heat beneath his hand, even though he wanted so much more.

‘I don’t think you know what you want, me dear.’

‘I... want... you.’

‘Then... then you’d best help me. You ain’t as light as... as you used to be.’

Frodo smiled into the kiss as each twist of his hand brought an answering stutter to Sam’s thoughts, but he really did know what he wanted. He slicked weeping fluid over the thick crown of Sam’s shaft: lacking any oil, it would... ‘Ohhhh.’ Frodo folded against Sam as he was given the same attention. He broke the kiss, needing more air as Sam’s fingers slid into him. Yes, it would do. His body was so used to accepting Sam’s entry that the burning sensation dimmed almost immediately into a flare of intense desire. He twisted his arms about Sam’s neck. ‘Now!’

Time was when Sam would have asked, ‘Are you sure?’ Instead, his fingers slipped free - a loss that was only bearable as a prelude to something better. Muscles bunched across Sam’s shoulders as he lifted Frodo up, and Frodo wrapped his legs tightly around Sam. There was no real need for thought as they worked together. Frodo cried aloud as Sam entered him, an expression of the wonder that never dimmed; he felt the hesitation as Sam worried about the lack of oil, and he let his own weight take over. He was so aroused that the brief flare of pain was gone in an instant, and there was only the intense joy of feeling Sam deep within. He gave vent to his feelings with another sharp cry and clung to Sam, unwilling yet to move.

‘Frodo?’

‘I’m fine, I’m fine... I love you.’
Frodo bent his head, and they kissed again - an “I love you” kiss, rather than “I want you”: slower and gentler, a lull in the storm of their desire. They were sheltered here, although the rushing of the wind in the high branches of the trees and the boom of the breakers on the shore were a constant background noise. They rested forehead to forehead for a brief moment, but their needs were still unmet. Sam pressed in, pinning Frodo hard against the tree just long enough to slide his hands down to support him better. Frodo’s soft moan at the whisper of weathered palms down over his flanks turned into a gasp as fingers curled beneath his thighs and boosted him up. He tightened his arms around Sam’s neck and took the momentum as his own. He paused, holding Sam just within, before sinking down to impale himself on Sam’s thick shaft and deepen the bond. Frodo was stretched and filled, lost in his need for harder and faster. While he was able to - before he closed his eyes and gave himself up to his body’s longing - he held Sam’s gaze: held the love shining there and returned it in full measure.

Usually when they made love, they eased into the sharing, so that they were not overwhelmed by the intensity of it as they gradually opened their minds to each other, but the effort of this coupling did not allow for a slow teasing. Instead, their feelings rushed together, blurring the distinction between taking and taken as Sam thrust forcefully into him. Time slowed into a perfect moment where they were one in body and song, poised on the brink of some great change, and then release took them together in an unstoppable blaze of light.

‘Frodo!’

‘Sam, oh my Sam.’
Frodo leaned back into the support of the tree - head bowed in surrender, eyes still closed, heart racing. He was drenched in sweat; he felt warm and limp and loved. Sighing softly, he blindly captured Sam’s face in his hands. He rubbed a thumb across Sam’s lips, finding him in the dark of their own world, and bent his head to kiss him. It was another gentle “I love you” kiss, but - short of breath as they were - it could not last, and Sam’s legs were shaking.

‘Begging your pardon, me dear, but I don’t think I can hold you up much longer. I think we’re lucky not to be a tangled heap in the leaf mould already.’

Frodo opened his eyes and met the warm brown of Sam’s. ‘Bath and bed, I think. I want...’ A movement caught his attention, and he stopped in shock. ‘Legolas!’

‘What?’

‘He’s here.’
Frodo extricated himself from Sam and slithered to his feet. Bloody bollocks! He glanced down at their nakedness. How had he managed to make quite such a mess of both himself and Sam? Silly question, but his pack was out of reach and... He looked up again. Legolas had vanished.

‘Frodo?’

‘I can’t have imagined it. He was standing right there!’ Frodo made a grab for his pack, swore softly as he wrestled with the contents, and pulled out a tunic. It wasn’t clean, just free of embarrassing damp patches. He shrugged out of the one he wore and used it to hastily wipe his chest and belly before unceremoniously dumping it in Sam’s hands. He pulled on the fresh - fresher - tunic, getting tangled with one inside-out sleeve, and hopped on one foot in his haste to don his trousers.

Sam meanwhile was looking from Frodo to the place he’d indicated and back again, making no effort to rub himself down. He was clearly of the opinion that he really had shagged Frodo senseless and this was the result.

‘He was there!’ Frodo snatched back the soiled tunic and set to work cleaning Sam up, trying to imbue him with some sense of urgency. ‘He was all bedraggled, but it was him! Here, put on your breeches, we must go and find him.’

‘All right, all right, but if it was Legolas, then I’m not sure I’ll be able to look him in the eye.’

Frodo kept a straight face. ‘Not a problem; you’ll be at crotch level.’

‘And that’s supposed to help, how? And anyway, what about Gimli?’

‘We won’t find out by standing here in embarrassment, will we?’ Frodo pushed away his fears for the dwarf’s safety as he turned and ran up the slope. The cloud cover must have broken, judging by the low sunlight filtering through the dark pine trees in slanting bands of gold, and the wind had undoubtedly dropped. He paused on the rise of the hill, the still brisk onshore breeze whipping his loose hair back from his face. Beyond the dunes, the sea was grey and foam-flecked. High waves - curling almost to breaking point before running on into deeper water - showed where the rising tide had covered the outer sandbank. An upturned boat rose and fell on the swell, waiting to be carried over the bar as the tide reached full flood, and already a flotsam of cordage and spars nudged at the shoreline, to be sucked back again by the retreating waves.

Frodo turned his attention to the sandy path dipping down before him and gave a glad cry at the sight of Gimli puffing up the path towards him, shielding his eyes as though he were trying to see against a low sun. Like Legolas, the dwarf looked sodden and dishevelled, his beard and hair loosened from the constraints of their normally severe plaits.

‘Sam! Gimli’s here!’ Frodo turned his head to find that Sam stood at his shoulder, a wide smile on his face.

‘Aye, I can see that, and Legolas, as you said. What are we waiting for?’

Whooping and hallooing, they leapt down the path. Gimli’s answering cry of ‘Samwise Gamgee! Sam!’ gave Frodo pause. Below him, the dwarf stood his ground, feet widely planted to withstand the onslaught. ‘As I live and breathe! Samwise! If this doesn’t beat all!’

‘He doesn’t see me,’ thought Frodo sadly as Gimli enfolded Sam in a crushing hug that lifted him off his feet. Legolas, at least, was fully aware of him, although this was most evident in the elf’s discomforted demeanour. He caught Frodo’s eye and then averted his gaze, finding much to interest him in the trees and grass. Frodo was not prepared to let his own embarrassment mar this meeting. He ignored Gimli for the moment, slipping past as the dwarf set Sam back on his feet.

‘Legolas, my friend, I’m glad to see you.’

Legolas gazed down at him a moment, then dropped to one knee and held out his arms. ‘Frodo! This is a joy unlooked-for.’

That was better. Frodo threw his arms around Legolas and burrowed in against him. It was indeed a joy unlooked-for, and the joy sang back and forth between himself and Sam, until awareness of a chill - seeping in wetness through his tunic - reminded Frodo that his friends had been wrecked upon the shore. As he pushed away, Legolas caught him by the shoulders.

‘I’m sorry, Frodo. Just now...’

‘Don’t apologise. It was hardly your fault. You must forgive us, and we’ll make it up to you with a hot bath and a good breakfast.’ He glanced over his shoulder and almost laughed aloud at Gimli’s expression of stunned bemusement. He freed himself from Legolas’s embrace and turned to face the dwarf. ‘Gimli! Welcome to Tol Eressëa!’

Gimli’s approach was wary. He squinted sideways at Frodo, moving his head from side to side. ‘Frodo?’

At his back, Frodo was aware that Legolas had stood, even before the elf spoke. ‘Of course it’s Frodo. Who else would...’ Legolas cleared his throat. ‘Who else would be with Sam?’

Frodo held still as Gimli reached out a tentative hand. He allowed his face to be mapped by fingers that seemed unsure of where he truly was: one moment the touch was featherlight, the next, painfully hard. Gimli’s expression slowly eased from bemusement into wide-eyed wonder, before settling on jubilant. He grabbed Frodo by the hands and danced him around with such disregard for Legolas that his friend was obliged to jump sideways to avoid injury. He hugged Frodo close, a hitch in his laughter building into tears.

‘I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it! You’re here! Sam found you. You’re...’ Gimli closed his eyes, as though he trusted the solid feel of Frodo’s body to tell him the truth where his eyes struggled to do so. ‘You’re here!’

‘Mmmpf. Yes, we’re here.’ Frodo’s voice came out muffled against Gimli’s chest, his own laughter and tears rising to meet those of the dwarf.

Gimli released him, peered at him again, and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. ‘It’s like looking into the sun,’ he complained gruffly. ‘Makes my eyes water trying to make you out. Now what was that you said about a hot bath and a good breakfast?’

‘This way. You couldn’t have been washed up closer to us if you’d tried.’

‘There’s the boat.’

‘We’ve got a few hours of rising tide. Did the hunters stay the night?’

‘Yes.’

‘I’m sure they’ll help.’

The hobbits led the way in outward silence, all the time planning out between themselves what needed to be done to feed and house their guests and salvage the boat. They smiled happily at their friends’ delighted first reactions to their garden and home, which added a new awareness to their own deeply-rooted love of the place.

The steeply-cut rock face bordering the courtyard was lit by the probing clarity of the early-morning sun, with dark shadows starkly defined amidst a profusion of plants that were there both by design and self-seeded opportunity. The former climbed up or rambled down over the natural wall in a seemingly careless manner, while the latter clung to small accretions of soil in nooks and crannies. The kitchen itself was awash with sunlight and overhung with flowers that blurred the boundary between excavation and construction.

Frodo cut short exclamations and questions with the promise of plenty of time to talk later. With difficulty, he denied his own curiosity as he led Legolas and Gimli out through the door at the back of the kitchen and along the paved way to the bathing cave. He lit candles and set out towels and soap, gathered up wet clothes, and left his friends to the bliss of warm water on chilled and aching muscles. Sam had breakfast well in hand, so Frodo rinsed the clothes in the stream and hung them to dry in the sun; that done, he milked the goats. By the time he’d finished, he was looking forward to his own breakfast; a bath would have to wait until after the boat was salvaged.

The hunters had risen by the time he returned to the kitchen, and they greeted him warmly. They were willing to help with the boat, but unwilling to delay their departure, so with only corners filled with oatcakes and honey, Frodo set out with them to return to the beach. They carried hemp rope slung over their shoulders in coils. The wind had further abated, but still raised goose bumps as they stripped and swam out to the bar. The tide was high enough that the stricken boat had almost floated over the sandbank. They guided her into deeper water with little effort, although there was much elvish laughter when Frodo lost his footing and came up coughing, spluttering and treading water. They knew his watercraft too well to be concerned for his safety, and called him little elf with affection.

Not until the boat was righted, part-baled and secured with ropes running up the shore to the trees did they take time to admire her sleek lines. Even wallowing deeper than she ought in the water, with her shattered remnants of a mast and tattered rigging, she was a thing of beauty. Frodo scrabbled down into the cabin, splashing knee-deep in water, and opened lockers to find belongings still secure. He brought up waterlogged packs and well-sealed oilcloth packages, passing them to the elves to carry to dry land. He looked thoughtfully at barrels marked with Shire brand marks, but they could wait.

Back on shore, he squeezed out his hair, pulled on his travel-weary clothes, and slung one of the smaller packs up onto his back. He yawned, suddenly tired; he had slept little, and so far it had been a busy day. His body felt well used, and the soreness from Sam’s entry gave him a warm afterglow that left him wanting to curl into Sam’s arms and sleep. ‘We’re on our way back, Sam.’

‘There’s mushrooms.’

Tiredness vanished. Frodo hitched the pack more securely onto his back, gathered as many smaller packages as he could carry and hurried up the beach. He was aware that the elves followed more sedately, carrying the rest of the wrecked mariners’ belongings, but his thoughts were full of the double delight of Sam and edible fungi. He arrived in the kitchen out of breath, with his tunic clinging damply to his body. Legolas and Gimli sat at the table wrapped in towels, part-empty plates before them, while Sam smiled at him from his place by the fire.

‘You’re a fine sight, Frodo Baggins.’

‘Mmmm.’
It was an absent-minded reply. Frodo unburdened himself of the salvage he carried and stood behind Sam, one hand at his nape; he rubbed small circles against Sam’s skin with his thumb as he peered into the pan where mushroom juice ran dark. Normally he would have added a kiss, but he felt constrained by Legolas’s earlier embarrassment; instead, he let his thoughts caress Sam. ‘I love you.’

‘Go on with you; it’s the mushrooms you love. Sit down. They’ll be ready soon.’

Frodo’s lips quirked into a smile. Belatedly, he remembered his guests and his manners. He turned and slipped into his accustomed seat. ‘I hope you’re feeling better for a hot bath. We were worried about you. When the storm blew up -’

‘You knew we were coming?’

Frodo nodded. ‘I’ve been in Avallónë, waiting for you. Trying to persuade the Council to allow your landing.’ He laughed at the neatness of it. ‘Gandalf sent me home. I suppose he knew you would fetch up here.’

‘So Gandalf is here?’

‘Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel.’ He looked with satisfaction at the plate of mushrooms, eggs and sausages that Sam set before him. ‘Is there enough for the hunters? They’ll be here any minute.’

‘Of course there is. Take a look at Gimli, me dear. Do I ever look that besotted?’
Gimli had laid down his knife; his eyes were shining, while his face had taken on a rather imbecilic expression as he stared into the middle distance. Clearly the mention of Galadriel was having its usual effect.

‘Always.’

Sam snorted with laughter, which brought a puzzled frown from Legolas and a start from Gimli. ‘What? What did you say?’

The arrival of the hunters and the necessary introductions carried them over that awkwardness, but other difficulties soon appeared. Frodo was reminded of stiff-legged greetings between strange dogs. The hunters were doubtful of Gimli, especially as he did not speak their language, while Legolas’s Quenya was archaic and formal, giving the impression of superiority. Frodo, who knew the woodland elf better, detected nervousness and embarrassment at being clad only in a towel, and rather a small towel at that. He was glad when the hunters took their leave, and they could relax into Westron speech. It was the language he and Sam used in their thoughts, and there was none of that hesitation from disuse that had so disconcerted Sam when he first arrived.

‘You’ll have to learn Quenya, Gimli.’

‘But you can have a sleep first,’ added Sam, making Frodo and Legolas laugh. ‘I’m wanting to hear all the news you can tell us, but if we get started now, I reckon we’ll still be talking at star opening. So, rest first, news later. But I’m curious as to what year it is in Shire Reckoning.’

Legolas and Gimli exchanged confused looks; it was Legolas who spoke. ‘I’m afraid I don’t know how your Shire Calendar runs, but it is one hundred and twenty years of Men since Frodo sailed from the Grey Havens, nearly sixty years since you followed him.’ He sorted through the sealed packages rescued from his boat, opened one and looked relieved to find the contents unharmed by submersion. He handed it to Sam. ‘Tom asked me to bring you this.’

With a shaking hand, Sam took the thick folded and sealed letter offered to him and clasped it to his chest. ‘Frodo!’

It was a plea, and Frodo responded by taking Sam in his arms and drawing him close. He knew how Sam felt, having experienced the same feelings when Sam first arrived with news from a Shire that had moved on from his memories. Joy and loss had mingled then, and now a sharp pain caught at his heart with the realisation that Elanor had most likely lived out the span of her years and died. ‘Sit down, love. I’ll show Legolas and Gimli where they can rest, and then we’ll read the letter or take a bath first, whatever you prefer.’

‘A bath first.’

‘Good.’
Frodo’s skin felt tight with the effects of the sea water, and his hair was gritty with sand; a bath first would be his choice, as well. He wanted to be neat and tidy when he read Tom’s words from across the Veil. Partly it was the pleasure of anticipation, and partly it was from a sense of occasion, but first, he had obligations as a host. He guided Sam to sit, held his gaze, and hesitated as he realised how close to tears Sam was. Sam patted his arm.

‘Go on. I’m fine.’

‘Sure?’

‘Just don’t be long.’

‘I won’t.’
Frodo kissed Sam on the forehead, and turned to smile at Legolas and Gimli. ‘Let me show you where you can rest, and - as Sam says - we can share all our news later.’

It was only a short step to the rooms where guests could sleep, and both Legolas and Gimli looked around with satisfaction.

‘I’ll say it again: you have a lovely home here, Frodo,’ said Legolas.

‘My father always said a hobbit’s home meant comfort,’ added Gimli.

‘I hope it doesn’t need saying that you’re both welcome to stay with us as long as you like - for always, if you want,’ said Frodo. ‘Our home is your home. Help yourselves to anything you need, and poke around to find it if we aren’t about. The clothes you were wearing are drying on a line in the garden; we’ll get the salt washed out of the rest later.’ A yawn caught him before he could suppress it. ‘I’m sorry.’

Legolas bowed him out. ‘Do not apologise. You’ve, erm, had a tiring morning. We’ll all feel better for a rest.’

As Frodo walked away, he heard Gimli’s voice raised in wonder. ‘I’d never have thought a hobbit could look so elven; he shimmers like sunlight on water, so that it’s hard to see him. He and Sam don’t talk to each other, though, have you noticed?’

Frodo didn’t hear the reply. He slipped quietly back through the courtyard and leant against one of the pillars to watch Sam bustling about drying and stacking plates, as yet unaware of his presence. His hair was tousled from the effects of both a hurried awakening and the wildness of the wind, and his shirt was rumpled. As he moved with easy grace, reaching to hang up the tea towel, his muscles stretched the fabric of the shirt, smoothing out the uncharacteristic creases. Watching Sam always gave Frodo a warm feeling of love in his heart and a weakness in his knees. For the moment, the need for a deep physical contact had been salved, and the ache of longing he felt was far simpler: a need to hold and be held. He didn’t move, though; he never had long to treasure these moments of quiet observation, and now was no exception: there was no hiding his hum of contentment deep within. Sam turned with a wide smile that deepened the lines around his eyes.

There was no real need for words. Sam’s love was there, his song interweaving with Frodo’s own, the harmonics almost seeming to make the air between them vibrate. To say “I love you” was not to tell the other something unknown or doubted, but to give release to an intensity of feeling that was hard to bear. The movement into each other’s arms was without thought, like breathing: a slow exhale as they came together, a wrapping around and a holding close. Frodo, a little taller than Sam, bent his head so that his lips brushed Sam’s ear, and he felt the moist warmth of Sam’s breath against his cheek. The whispered words were spoken in unison, in Quenya and Westron - not driving desire, but melding the two hobbits together into a deep relaxation. It was a state of well-being that Frodo had come to associate with the first stage of meditation, but Sam - after a few failed attempts in the past that had left him restless and anxious - always shied away from any suggestion of more. Frodo had learnt not to force the matter; instead, he just let this moment be. He thought he’d succeeded, but it was not so. Sam withdrew first, extricating himself to hold Frodo by the shoulders and gaze into his eyes. Even before the words came to him, Frodo knew Sam was going to apologise.

‘I’m sorry, me dear, that I can’t let you go.’

‘I promised, Sam. There’s no “letting go.” I promised we would go together. The time is
our choosing, not mine; until then, my heart sings to be with you here.’

‘And after?’
There was Sam’s fear of loss.

‘After? I do not believe “you” and “I” will have any meaning.’ Frodo rubbed his palms over Sam’s back, wanting to reassure him, but Sam sighed and lowered his gaze.

‘See, that’s what I don’t like to think about.’

Frodo released Sam, but only to take his hands and tilt each one palm up to press a kiss there. ‘No “you” or “I”, because there will be only “us”.’

‘You can’t know that.’

‘No. I can’t.’ A light kiss on the lips. ‘Come to bed, now, Sam. A bath can wait.’ Frodo smiled as he saw that he did not need to spell out the subtext: Sam would only need another bath after being bedded by him.


They dozed with Frodo moulded to Sam’s back, not really sleeping, but enjoying the almost-sleep that never quite broke the awareness between them. Frodo’s light faded, and as Sam’s anxiety dissipated, their breathing slowed naturally into the same rhythm. The contact of their naked bodies was warm and comforting, very welcome after sleeping alone. Frodo lay with one hand splayed open across Sam’s chest, holding him close. He loved this position, but it could be bettered. Only half-awake, he slid his hand down to furl his fingers around Sam’s shaft, drifting on the edge of arousal. Sam burrowed back against him, and his soft sigh of contentment was an echo of Frodo’s own. The need for more came slowly: breath catching on a whimper of desire, softness hardening into want.

Frodo rolled Sam face down beneath him and groped blindly on the bedside table as he nuzzled and bit at the back of Sam’s neck. He couldn’t find the cut glass bottle that he sought; instead, he fumbled against an open jar, found that it contained something greasy, and searched no further. There was a faint smell that Frodo characterised as green, possibly something herbal, and certainly not unpleasant.

He put it to good use as Sam writhed beneath him, begging with his body and moaning into the pillow as Frodo entered him. Frodo stilled, nearly brought to completion by Sam’s urgency; he closed his eyes, finding a centre of focus. Sam liked hard and fast, but not that fast. He slid his free hand over Sam’s shoulder and on down his out-flung arm, interlinking their fingers. He loved covering Sam like this, even though it meant he could not see his face as he came, and even though he could never hold back for long. Sam tried to lift his hips, but Frodo pressed him into the mattress: a wordless warning to be still or risk a very hasty conclusion. Sam laughed, a breathless huff of air.

‘So, we’re just going to lie here?’

‘I can think of worse things to do.’

‘But we...’
Another breathless laugh. ‘We haven’t got all day; there’s a lot as needs doing.’

‘Samwise Gamgee! Are you telling me you’re lying there thinking about -’

‘I’m laying here thinking as how tonight we’re going to take our time, until you’re begging... Oh!’

Frodo had eased back just enough to allow a little teasing, and then very slowly penetrated deep. Their bodies arched in unison, their fingers curling tightly together, and Frodo’s soft cry was echoed by Sam’s as they slipped into the sharing. Frodo’s other hand was still trapped beneath them, wrapped around rigid heat. As their hips lifted, he stroked down, tightening his fingers as he dragged back the loose skin. He rubbed his thumb around the crown’s rim, making them both whimper. Two more long slow penetrations, and Frodo’s need exploded into urgency. Hard and fast, they peaked together, crashing over the edge with an intensity that was undimmed by their earlier union. They lay limp and panting, sticky from sweat and seed, taking time to come back to themselves. Frodo flopped sideways, allowing Sam to turn into his arms, and they soothed each other back into the here-and-now with soft kisses and slow-moving hands.

They lay in a quiet sharing of their euphoria, reluctant to move - but Sam was right: there was a lot that needed to be done, and they were wasting daylight. They rolled from the bed, their groans partly voicing their wish to stay where they were and partly due to sore muscles protesting. Frodo picked up the jar of ointment and examined the elvish script. He raised an eyebrow.

Sam shrugged. ‘It’s very good for rough hands.’

‘Yes, but... udder cream?’

‘I’ve got no complaints.’
Sam took the jar from him, set it aside, and kissed him. ‘Though a bath might stop us smelling like a herbalist’s storeroom.’

They allowed themselves a little time to wallow in the warmth and steam of their hot spring, washing each other with gentle hands. They dried and dressed, smiling at each other with slow lazy smiles of contentment.

In the kitchen, they found Legolas standing with arms wrapped around his chest, gazing out into the sunlit courtyard. He looked less drawn than earlier, but there was a worried frown on his face as he turned to greet the hobbits. He watched Frodo and Sam set out goat’s milk and oatcakes on the table, and sat with a sigh.

‘We’re not really welcome here, are we?’ he said.

Frodo and Sam looked at each other in consternation; it was Frodo who voiced both their thoughts. ‘Legolas! Of course you’re welcome here! I know we can be a little... insular, but you are truly welcome!’

‘My dear hobbits! I am sorry, that is not what I meant. I did not mean here, with you. I meant here, on this island.’

‘There are some who close their minds against a dwarf’s coming,’ admitted Frodo. ‘But there are many who welcome your arrival and look forward to meeting you both, and not just those from Rivendell and Lothlorien.’

‘That is good to hear; your friends did not seem pleased to see us.’

‘And yet they laboured hard to rescue your boat and have promised to provide for a welcoming feast in your honour. They just like what they know. In a little while they’ll accept you. I’ll ask them if you can hunt with them.’

Legolas nodded and relaxed. ‘Thank you. I’d like that.’ He gestured towards the letter that still lay on the table. ‘What does Tom have to say for himself?’

Sam picked it up, turning it over and over in his hands. ‘We haven’t read it yet.’ He looked at Legolas curiously. ‘Did you know my lad well?’

‘Yes, I had that honour. Very like you, in many ways.’ The elf’s mouth quirked with amusement. ‘Stubborn, loyal, brave. Barard says he is a chip off the old block. I do not fully understand, but I gather it means he takes after you, and I can vouch for the truth of that.’

‘So Barard...?’

‘Is alive, if not as well as his friends would like. He and Tom only waited for us to sail before heading south for Barard’s health.’

Frodo had sat quietly through this exchange, only knowing the hobbits under discussion through Sam’s tales of them, but he felt a warm glow at the thought that Tom was so like his father. Now he spoke. ‘Before you left from the Grey Havens, did you call at the Towers?’ Did you see my Elanor? Does she still live?

Legolas shook his head. ‘We sailed down the Anduin from the Harlond.’

‘Oh.’ Frodo was confused. ‘But you said Tom and Barard went south after. There is very little south of the Harlond - except Harad.’

‘They went to Harad. I do not think they will return.’

Sam jumped to his feet, horrified. ‘What! And the king let them go?’

‘They went with King Eldarion’s blessing. They have many friends there, and are greatly honoured; they will come to no harm.’

Very slowly Sam sat, his expression stunned. There were hints of many tales in those few words, but one outweighed all others. Frodo took Sam’s hand, and they bowed their heads in sorrow. Somehow, amidst all the news of loss they had expected, they’d not considered Aragorn’s death.

‘Do you remember how surprised we were to find he was the king?’

‘I wasn’t surprised. He was of Isildur’s line.’

‘Poor old Strider.’

‘Poor Arwen. It will be hard for her to bear, now that she has come to the bitterness of loss.’
Frodo sighed, remembering again the Courtyard of the White Tree, the beauty of Arwen as she sat with her lord by the fountain, and the gift that she had bestowed upon him. He raised his head again to consider Legolas. ‘If Eldarion now rules, how fares Arwen Undómiel?’

‘The light went from her eyes when Aragorn died, so that we grieved the more for Aragorn’s death,’ said Legolas with sadness. ‘She bade farewell and left for Lothlorien. I told her of my intention to build a boat and sail west, offering her passage if she so desired, but she told me that she would not fail at the final test. She said that she would not be bound by the circles of the world, for beyond was more than memory.’

‘Yes, I believe it is so,’ said Frodo quietly. He rubbed his thumb against Sam’s hand, acknowledging Sam’s doubts as to what that “more” might be.

‘You should know that Aragorn’s rule was long - as reckoned by the Men of Gondor - and happy,’ said Legolas. ‘He was a loyal friend and a just ruler, and the realm that Eldarion inherits is secure in its peace. Harad, also, is at peace, although the Khand still occasionally cause trouble. Tom did much to bring about trust and understanding between the lords of Gondor and Harad. If Tom has not told you that tale in his letter, it will be my pleasure to do so. He told me he felt a little foolish in his belief that you were together and still alive - considering his own old age - but he said if he were wrong, I would be the only one to know. He is not a natural scribe, and Barard offered to write it out fair, but Tom wanted it to be in his hand. He said you would forgive him his poor penmanship.’

Frodo tightened his hold on Sam’s hand, stilling the tremble he felt there. He could feel Sam drawing in, protecting his memories, as the implication of so many years passing since his departure came home to him: the letter would most likely bring news of the deaths of many, if not most, of his children. Frodo himself was a little hazy as to how old Tom might be. He asked the question aloud; it was Legolas who answered.

‘He’s ninety-nine. Very fit. I was led to understand by his close friends, the lords Faros and Catos of Harad, that great celebrations are planned for his hundredth birthday. Now that I see you again, Sam, I am struck more than ever by the resemblance between you.’

‘We’re both grey-haired old gaffers, you mean?’

Legolas coughed apologetically. ‘Well, his hair was black, and now it is white.’

‘You’re hair isn’t grey, love. It’s the colour of purest ithildin in moonlight.’ Frodo smiled at the glow of pleasure his words produced in Sam. He must remember to pay him more compliments - tonight, when he had him naked. He changed the subject to Merry and Pippin, as a further way to prepare Sam for more tales of loss in the letter, and was surprised at the pain he felt. He had known they were long dead, but knowing was not the same as hearing it said. The thought of Pippin hobbling around on sticks was a hard one to bear - but Pippin, it seemed, had borne it with good humour. Legolas told them stories of both the Captains that made them laugh, and there was a sweet sadness in hearing that they had been laid with honour beside Aragorn.

‘Pippin always envied me this knowledge,’ said Legolas, gesturing with his hand. ‘That I would come to know what happened to you, Frodo, and whether Sam ever found you.’

‘Poor Pippin. He always hated not knowing what was going on,’ said Frodo, remembering his own affectionate exasperation with Pippin on many occasions. ‘Merry could be inquisitive, but only when he thought there was a need to know. Pippin always wanted to know for the sake of knowing, and sometimes paid dearly for his curiosity.’ They all three smiled at that, having a mutual understanding of the likelihood of Pippin dropping a stone down a well, or stealing a seeing stone from a sleeping wizard.

‘He grew into one of the best of hobbits,’ said Sam.

‘He always was one of the best,’ answered Frodo. ‘He and Merry.’

Gimli joined them then, yawning widely, and as the sun rode high in the sky, they talked of old friends. It was with regret that Frodo brought the reminiscences to an end. ‘We must move your belongings from the strand, my friends, and make sure your boat is secure as the tide starts to ebb. There will be some trees down with this wind, and there’s sure to be one we can use for a new mast. I have friends who’ll help, or who can lend you the proper tools, and there are sailmakers amongst the Shore Folk. The surf will run high for a few days; when it calms, we can bring her to a sheltered mooring.’

‘I’ll help any way you like, as long as you don’t ask me to go on a boat again,’ said Gimli with feeling.

‘So Bilbo always said.’ Frodo spoke lightly, knowing how concerned Sam became at any sign that he missed the old hobbit. He caught the glance between Gimli and Legolas at the past tense; no doubt they’d wondered what had happened to Bilbo. It was probably easiest just to tell them now. ‘Bilbo died not long ago. He said he was beginning to feel spread thin all over again. He said he’d been vouchsafed so many new beginnings in his life that he’d like to try a new one. He said -’

‘That we didn’t need him anymore,’ Sam finished quietly. ‘But he only meant he could go with a clear conscience, nothing more.’ He stood to place the unopened letter from Tom in a safe place. ‘We’d best get on.’


The sun had past her zenith, but was still high in the sky as they stepped out from the kitchen, and the courtyard was sunlit and warm. A chaffinch hopped forward expectantly, tilting its head back and forth as it watched them with bright eyes; it was rewarded by a scattering of crumbs that Sam must have carried for that purpose. There were so many things that Sam did that just seemed to make the day brighter; his care of small creatures was just one of his many, many endearing traits. Frodo smiled at Sam’s unconscious back, his expression softening, then realised that Gimli in turn was smiling fondly at him. He cleared his throat and studied his neatly-combed feet, but when he looked up again Gimli just smiled more broadly and patted him on the shoulder.

‘It’s good to see you two together. It’s good to see you looking so well and happy.’ The dwarf’s voice was gruff. ‘And you feel solid enough, for all your shimmering.’

As they climbed the hillside towards the trees, the wildness of the waves could be heard as a muted rush and ebb of sound, although the sound of the wind in the treetops had died away to a soft soughing. They emerged from the shelter of the trees to find that the wind had moderated to a fresh breeze, and the sand was no longer blown in a deceptively soft haze across the surface of the beach. The waves still rolled in, white-crested and tall, to steepen and topple in a cloud of spume, but Nimaiwë lay high on the strand, unconcerned by the restless water.

Legolas’s first care was to inspect the boat as she lay tilted over on her beam end where the retreating tide had left her. Her lower gunnel was a mere hobbit’s height from the sand. Frodo joined him, while Sam cast a professional eye over the ropes. Legolas was well satisfied with what he found, and after they had drained the last of the water from inside Nimaiwë, they started on the arduous chore of portaging her stores, stacking barrels and other salvaged goods in the shelter of the dunes. Frodo had not told Sam of the nature of the barrels, and he had the pleasure of Sam’s surprise and delight at the Shire marks. He watched Sam trace the familiar runes that marked the contents: wine, beer and pipeweed.

‘A present from Tom and Barard,’ explained Legolas. ‘For you,’ he added. ‘I believe it comes from family farms, although the details escape me.’

‘Gandalf, bring your pipe. There’s weed here from the South Farthing.’

‘My dear hobbit, I’m already on my way. Good friends must share at a pinch.’


The hobbits were happy to share, within reason. The drink they served at the welcome feast a few nights later was all fermented locally. Lanterns hung from the trees, casting pools of light that accentuated the darkness between - a kindness, given the wind-damage that Frodo and Sam had only partly set to rights in their garden. Laughter drifted across to where Frodo stood quietly savouring the taste and scent of pipeweed; he drew deeply on his pipe and exhaled with a soft sigh. It was good to see so many friends gathered together, although Elrond and Celebrían were notable by their absence. Their sadness at knowing their daughter was mortal had been eclipsed by their grief at hearing the loss was complete.

As for the bearers of this news, Legolas looked more at ease for having hunted with the indigenous elves, while Gimli seemed both too tired and too happy to care if there were those who looked at him askance. The dwarf had worked hard over the previous days, turning wind-fallen trees into fuel, and now he sat at a low wooden table, a rather foolish smile on his face. Frodo was not sure whether Gimli’s bright eyes denoted inebriation or infatuation, but he had no need to follow the fixed gaze to know where Galadriel was. He tucked his pipe into the corner of his mouth and filled two cups with wine. Gimli looked up as Frodo joined him, focusing slowly on the offered drink.

‘Thank you.’ His gaze wandered briefly back to Galadriel, then settled on Frodo as the hobbit sat on the bench opposite him. ‘I suppose you think me foolish?’

‘No, not at all. I think you’re very lucky to be here...’

‘But?’

‘Does there have to be a “but”?’

‘I hear one.’

‘I can’t imagine living here without the company of my own kind.’

‘And I can’t imagine any other dwarf wanting to come here. I have always been, hrm, my own master, followed my own course, and there are many of my kind who think me a little touched by moonshine.’ Gimli laughed as Frodo nodded in sympathy. ‘Yes, you understand me. I realised that I would miss Legolas, who is my truest friend, that I would like to look upon the Lady Galadriel once more before I die, and that Gondor would be a sad place without the merry voices of hobbits.’

‘And yet you are not old, as reckoned by dwarves.’

‘No, and what if I waited until I were? Hmmm? How then would I have journeyed here? If I die of boredom, so be it, but I don’t think that will be the case. Tell me, how have you passed your time? Apart from once more embarrassing our good friend Legolas?’ Gimli waggled his eyebrows. ‘He thought he’d left all that behind.’

Frodo marshalled his thoughts - his life here had been full and satisfying - but as his mind caught up with Gimli’s words, he sat up straighter, his face warming. ‘Once more? And what do you mean, he thought he’d left all that behind?’

‘Oh, hrm, hrm, Tom and Barard, you know, were always at it, anytime, anywhere, and Legolas is easily shocked.’

Frodo raised an eyebrow. ‘But you said “once more”, as though it were Sam and I...’

Gimli blustered a little before saying, ‘In Ithilien, if you must know, soon after the feast of Cormallen.’

It took some thought, since Frodo had not been blessed with the gift of memory as Sam had, but after a moment he laughed. ‘I remember waking and finding that our fire had been tended and food left ready for us.’

‘Yes, that was us.’

‘Us?’

‘Hrm, Legolas and, hrm, me. We heard you cry out - a nightmare - and, hrm, stayed to make sure all was well.’

‘Oh.’ The memory was clear now, of the loving and the calm sleep that had followed.

‘We were pleased to find you had this bond with Sam,’ Gimli said, his voice gentle, his eyes kind. ‘Legolas told me you shone with an inner light, but I couldn’t see it. Not then. There’s no doubting it now.’

There was no answer to that, so Frodo bowed his head in acknowledgement. ‘Thank you for the fire and food that day. They were very welcome.’

‘Probably no more welcome than food and a warm bath after our mishap in that wretched boat.’ The dwarf sat back, appraising Frodo; he slapped the table and laughed aloud, drawing looks from many of the elves. ‘And the most welcome sight is you, looking so... so... I don’t know; I’d say hobbit-like, if you didn’t look so elven. I always grieved that the burden was laid on you, Frodo, when all was over and the cost clear to all of us who loved you; yet here you are, looking no age at all and full of life.’ He drank deeply and beamed at Frodo. ‘And Sam is with you. Ha! Cause and effect. That hadn’t occurred to me before.’

Frodo smiled up at Sam as he slipped in beside him. Full of life? Yes, Sam made him feel like that. Full of life and love, until the mundane tasks of keeping body and fëa together seemed unnecessary. How much simpler to just let their music fly free, bound together for all eternity. He was glad that Sam could not actually read his thoughts, although he knew his mood would become clear if he allowed himself to dwell on this. Luckily, Gimli unwittingly provided a distraction.

‘So, Sam. Have you read that letter yet?’

‘No. Not yet. We... we’re...’ Only the sun-browned colour of Sam’s face saved his blush of embarrassment. Frodo came quickly to his rescue.

‘There’s a certain anticipation, you know, and once read that will be gone. We never expected to have news from beyond the Veil. You must forgive us if we prefer to savour the moment.’ He smiled brightly at Gimli. If he and Sam found the idea unsettling, that was their business, to be shared with Gandalf and Ninquelótë, maybe. However, he must have allowed a defensive note to creep into his voice, because Gimli was quick to apologise.

‘I’m sorry. You must forgive me for being inquisitive. It’s only that I see Tom’s face when he gave us the letter, not knowing whether it would ever come to you, but hoping so. It meant a lot to him, to have this last chance to speak to his father.’ The dwarf shrugged: another apology. ‘The truth is, I’m curious as to what he has chosen to tell you.’

Sam leant forward eagerly. ‘What would you choose to tell us about him?’

‘That he is brave and wise, apart from where Barard is concerned, when he is overly protective - Frodo? Are you all right?’

Laughing at the wrong moment, Frodo had inhaled his wine; he couldn’t speak for the anxious back-thumping Sam was subjecting him to. He answered Gimli’s concern by nodding his head and waving his hand.

‘Well, good.’ Gimli cleared his throat. ‘Erm, where was I? Yes, overprotective of Barard, but then Barard has often given him cause to worry.’ He told them small stories of Tom and Barard, and as he spoke, Frodo took Sam’s hand in his. Funny or poignant, or just downright bawdy, the stories were full of insights into two hobbits in a world of men, and - clear, but unspoken - Gimli’s affection for them was woven through his tales.

‘Tom sounds like you.’

‘Overly protective, you mean?’

‘Brave, stubborn, loyal... loveable.’

They smiled at each other and leaned closer together until Gimli’s silence drew their eyes in his direction. He regarded them over the rim of his cup, his eyes bright and full of merriment. ‘They are as in love with each other as you, I would judge - do all hobbits love as deeply? - but there is a difference.’ He set his drink down, looking suddenly serious. ‘They’re as full of chatter as a flock of starlings, but I’ve not heard one word pass between the pair of you since we arrived.’

‘And yet I know that Sam has just come from checking on Columbine, who has still not dropped her kid.’

Sam nodded. ‘And I’ll gladly add my thanks to Frodo’s for the fire and food, long ago in Ithilien.’

Gimli looked from one to the other in amazement which turned quickly to doubt. ‘You are cozening me. Sam, you were lurking close by and heard my confession.’ He nodded sagely, as one who has seen through the smoke and mirrors. ‘And of course, you would not have returned to the feast if Columbine were indeed, hrm, kidding. Still, I’m surprised that you know each other so well that you have no need of speech. That must be rather boring.’

Frodo sighed. It was not something they had ever had to explain to Elves. ‘We aren’t making game of you, Gimli. We speak to each other in our thoughts.’

‘You’re serious? No, don’t answer that. I can see you are.’ Gimli waved his hand at the groups of Elves around the garden, their voices and laughter mingling into the indistinct background noise of a good party. ‘They’re all talking.’

‘It’s only Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, and, err, us,’ said Frodo, feeling as though he were setting himself up amidst exalted company. ‘But all the Elves -’ He hesitated, not sure how to explain how Elves could share at a deeper level of feeling, could conjure images from thoughts or a precious lock of hair, but he was spared the need by Gandalf and Legolas joining them with more wine. The conversation turned naturally to the days of the Fellowship, the subsequent fate of Gondor and the king, and shared memories of Merry and Pippin in their younger days.

Much later, as Frodo slowly undressed Sam in their room, running his hands over Sam’s warm skin and drawing him close, he found those memories of their long-dead friends were still in Sam’s thoughts.

‘Do you think that we will meet them again?’

‘Who, love?’

‘Merry and Pippin. Rosie.’

‘We can’t know, can we?’
Frodo smiled that Sam should raise this, just as he was thinking how much he would miss the physical warmth of Sam’s body moving against his, the sweetness of Sam’s arms around him. ‘I don’t think it will be like this reunion with Legolas and Gimli, but I like to think we’ll recognise their songs amidst the greater glory, that they will welcome us.’ He slipped to his knees on the thick pile of the goats’ skin rug that sprawled across the floor between the bed and door, and freed Sam’s trousers with a soft sigh of anticipation. He released Sam’s shaft, already heavy with want, and nuzzled into the familiar smell, teasing a little with hand and tongue.

Sam widened his stance, his feet planted firmly on the ground as though to anchor them to this place, while his fingers curled into Frodo’s hair, urging Frodo to take him where he would. The conflict resolved into a clear thought. ‘Glory and splendour, but I love you.’

The intensity of the thought left Frodo breathless and aching. He slid lower, to rest his cheek against Sam’s inner thigh, fingers of one hand still wrapped around hard heat. With his free arm, he hugged Sam’s leg to him, turning his head to kiss the warm sweat-dampened skin. Sam stroked down over his head with a shaking hand.

‘Can... can we do this in bed?’

Frodo didn’t answer with words; he lifted his head slowly, tracing a path up Sam’s inner thigh with light kisses until he could run his tongue over Sam’s balls, rolling and lapping and very gently sucking. It wasn’t that he disliked the idea of bed, it was just that the teasing was so very, very good, and that his knees were too weak with love and lust to get up and do anything about it.

‘Frodo! Please!’

Pleading was good, and although Sam was showing some resistance to being served where they were, he was making no effort to actually drag Frodo to his feet. In fact, from the tilt of his hips to thrust into Frodo’s hand, his body seemed to be in some doubt as to what he was pleading for. Frodo closed his eyes and pressed in, his hands busy with his answer. Bed... could wait.

Sam moaned, lost in the moment, and gave up all pretence that he wanted comfort over Frodo kneeling at his feet. His fingers wound into Frodo’s hair, begging for more. They knew each other so well that actions were like a second language, learnt through the sharing of their thoughts, and finely nuanced over the years until no thoughts were necessary. They did not even need to tell each other that tonight, now, they would hold their minds apart, enjoying what each could give without the sharing. Eyes still closed, Frodo shifted to take Sam’s weeping cock deep into his mouth, and the rush of love he felt pierced him deep within. He drew back to lick and lap at the crown, taking his time and not needing the sharing to know what he was doing to Sam; he felt the tension building, felt the tremor in Sam’s legs, felt the throb of blood beneath his fingers. He suckled a little more on the crown, his mind full of the texture and taste, before plunging deep again. No longer needing his hand to hold and steady the full shaft, he groped and kneaded the clenched muscles of Sam’s buttocks, pulling him closer as he opened his throat to take him even deeper. Filled and possessed, he moaned as he felt the first flutters of Sam’s release; he used his tongue to good effect and was rewarded by the warm pulsing of Sam’s seed spilling into his throat. He took it all, pushing Sam to the limit as he continued to milk the last drops from him, knowing how sensitive Sam’s cock was after his release. He only pulled back as Sam collapsed down into his arms, shaking and incoherently crying his name.

Still kneeling, Frodo sank back onto his heels and pulled Sam to him. He was close to coming himself just from having Sam in his lap, straddling his thighs. He pressed his lips to Sam’s forehead, eyelids, mouth and neck, sublimating his own needs until Sam was ready to meet them. Sam clung to him as though he were drowning, his breathing ragged, his pulse pounding, and Frodo opened his eyes, wanting to see what he had brought Sam to. His own light suffused Sam’s skin with a golden glow, throwing shadows over the soft planes of his face, so that Frodo had only one thought as he gazed at him.

‘You are beautiful, my Sam.’ He was answered with a huff of laughter.

‘Would you be after something, by any chance?’ Sam’s fingers curled at his nape and drew him into a kiss. It was short - a reflection of Sam’s lack of breath - but oh, so sweet. ‘Now - will you come to bed?’

‘If you get off me; otherwise I might have my way with you here.’
Frodo’s words were bantering, but - the curb on his own desires removed - he was close to doing just that. The smallest shift in their positions and he could enter Sam. As Sam moved, he rubbed against Frodo’s cock, and it was Frodo’s turn to fold against Sam, clinging and pleading as his need coiled within. He choked back a cry of protest as Sam moved away, then moaned aloud as Sam returned to straddle his thighs again and wrap a well-oiled palm around his cockhead. So good, so... intense. They kissed again, deeper and rougher, not breaking the kiss as Sam knelt up. He held Frodo’s shaft as he rubbed his body against the tip, transferring oil to further ease the way as he slid into position. Frodo’s whole body jerked as Sam impaled himself, and the kiss ended as they both cried out at the sudden union.

‘Sam!’ Frodo clung to Sam, balls-deep in his love and held in soft heat, ringed by tight muscle. Sam wrapped his arms around Frodo, and they rested a moment, forehead to forehead. Gradually, Sam’s breathing slowed as he rode the burn and sting of such a sudden entry. Frodo knew that feeling well, having done the same himself so recently. When Sam did move, it was with aching slowness, holding Frodo on the edge, refusing his desperate cries for harder and faster, until Frodo was too far gone to plead. Lost in darkness, his head bowed in surrender, he abdicated his will to Sam’s, until he was not even aware of Sam’s movements. There was only the music that sang in his blood - the music of creation, where all love honoured Ilúvatar who had blessed his children with this gift. It was too much, too much; Frodo came crashing over the edge, pulsing deep within Sam, feeling Sam’s joy rush to meet his own.

Spent in mind and body, Frodo flopped against Sam, too boneless even to cling as his arms dangled limply at his side. Sam would hold him safe. Sam always held him safe. He was aware of Sam moving to lever himself up, but he was still wrapped in his dear love’s arms, and he made no protest until he felt the loss of that haven.

‘Shhh, shhh, love. I just need to get you into bed. You can’t stay here all night. Come now, up you get. Lean on your Sam.’

Frodo had no idea how he reached the bed, although he was aware of Sam pulling covers over him and sliding in beside him. He sighed as Sam took him into his arms again, and he pressed against Sam’s body, his heart still beating fast in the aftermath of their lovemaking. There were no words, just the soothing movements of Sam’s hands, the light touch of his lips, the sleepy satisfaction of his song. Frodo sighed again in drowsy bliss and was asleep before he knew it.


When he awoke, he knew it was late, despite the darkness in the room. The depression in the bed beside him was cool to touch, so Sam had been gone some time. He rolled onto his back, his arms flung wide, recalling their loving. Could it get any better? Well, maybe if Sam were still here at his waking. With a sigh, he pushed up and scrambled from their bed. He couldn’t remember when he had last slept in like this.

‘Sam?’


‘Good morning, love. I’m thinking you must have drunk a lot last night, you were sleeping so soundly.’

‘No. No, I don’t think so.’
Then, more emphatic, ‘I wasn’t drunk last night, Sam.’

‘Well, it was a shame to disturb you, and there’s plenty of hands to make light of work this morning.’

‘Where are you?’

‘With Columbine: the lazy hussy has finally decided to drop her kids. All’s fine. Two little does. They’re a bit wobbly, but up and suckling.’

‘I should have -’

‘Don’t worry about it. Go and get a bath; I’ll get you some breakfast ready.’

Frodo sighed again, but for different reasons. He knew better than to protest that he could get his own breakfast: after so many years, Sam wasn’t about to change. He did as he was told, and had to accept some ribald comments from the hunters as he emerged from his smial so late in the morning, looking - in their view - thoroughly shagged out. Only the appearance of Ninquelótë with his daughter, Laurëalotë, saved Frodo from detailed speculation as to how he had spent the night. He escaped while he could, bathed, and returned to the kitchen to find that Sam did indeed have his breakfast well in hand. All the detritus of the party had vanished; the table had been freshly scrubbed, plates cleaned and stacked, and the floor swept. He could hear many voices in the garden, but apart from Sam, only Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli were present. It gave the kitchen a family feel, reminding Frodo of long-gone mornings in Bag End with Merry, Pippin, Fatty and Folco. The difference was that then Sam would never have given him that come-hither smile, and Frodo would not have responded with a hug and a long, lazy kiss, to say good morning and express his appreciation of Sam’s many talents. Well, more fool him, and thankfully he had been given the chance to remedy that; he made the most of it, and was rewarded with a warm hum of approval.

‘Mmmm. Good morning to you, too, me dear.’

They separated and smiled at each other, cocooned for a moment in their own world. Gimli, clearing his throat as only a dwarf could, made them jump. When they looked at him apologetically, he gave them his deep rumbling laugh. ‘Don’t mind me, don’t mind me.’ He nudged Legolas, seated beside him. ‘And it’s no good pretending you’ve just been admiring the garden. Why don’t you admit that you like watching them, eh?’ He laughed again and winked at the hobbits as Legolas mumbled something indistinct and studied his hands.

Gandalf blew out a smoke ring. He contemplated the hobbits, then tapped out his pipe. ‘I will be leaving soon, my friends. I would welcome a quiet word with you, Frodo.’

Sam spoke first. ‘You’re going? We hoped you’d stay a while.’

‘It’s always a pleasure to stay here, Sam, but I am going to see Elrond and Celebrían. I may only be able to offer small comfort, but small or not, it is mine to offer in friendship.’

Legolas nodded. ‘I will come with you, Gandalf, if I may.’

‘Good. I think they will welcome the chance to hear what you have to say about Arwen.’ Gandalf turned from Legolas back to Sam. ‘So, if you can spare Frodo...’

Sam answered with a roll of his eyes, and turned away to rescue Frodo’s breakfast before it spoilt from overcooking. Frodo laughed, but he was thoughtful as he sat. ‘What do you need to talk to me about, Gandalf?’

‘My dear hobbit, the need is yours.’

Frodo remained quiet and thoughtful as he ate. He extracted Sam from the dirty pans by threatening celibacy if Sam dared to wash up, and took over that task himself. Only after all was neatly stowed away did he fetch his pipe and walk out with Gandalf. They stopped by the goat-shed first to admire the new kids - not yet in full control of their gangly legs, but already possessing rounded milk-filled bellies - and were stamped at for their pains by Columbine. Choosing discretion in the face of her mad goat stare, they wandered through the garden and turned their feet to the path that led up the hill, towards the dunes and the sea. Where the silver birch fringed the woodland, they sat and gazed down at the garden below them. Some fussing over their pipes followed, but once those were drawing well, the silence lengthened between them. Frodo shifted to get comfortable and glanced at Gandalf, only to find the wizard regarding him with a keen eye.

‘Are you going to tell me what is bothering you, Frodo?’

‘Everything and nothing.’

Gandalf laughed. ‘My dear hobbit, you’ve been living with Elves too long. Am I supposed to deduce that you are worrying over something that you don’t believe you should be, or need be, worrying over?’

‘Partly. And, well, I... I’m having trouble knowing my own mind. I feel...’ Frodo struggled to find the words, while Gandalf waited patiently. In the end, his approach was tangential. ‘Once, in the Shire, I sat by the Pool and watched a dragonfly emerging from the husk of its water-nymph.’ He closed his eyes, remembering. ‘It was green, even the wings that were moulded to its body, but pale and dull. I don’t know how I noticed it against the blade of sedge-grass. As the wings slowly unfolded and spread out to the sun, they seemed to harden and gain translucency, and its body turned iridescent.’ He opened his eyes again, knowing Gandalf would let him ramble his thoughts into order. ‘It suddenly took flight, like a jewel flashing in the sun. It was an amazing sight, and I remember wondering how it knew that it must fly, never having done so before, and then further back to how the nymph knew it was time to crawl from the water and become a creature of the air. How did it know?’

Gandalf didn’t ask what this had to do with everything and nothing; he drew deeply on his pipe, his enjoyment of the long-missed weed evident. ‘It seems to me there is a time and a season for things to happen. How do the swallows know when it is time to gather for their migration? Maybe the knowledge sings within them. Yet for them, at least, it seems there must be a consensus, and the first to feel the urge to leave must wait on those who come to that knowledge more slowly.’

Trust Gandalf to understand. ‘I am healed, Gandalf. All my wounds and weariness are past. Arwen gave me this gift to that end.’

‘So, is it that you feel you ought to go? That if you stay you are like a greedy child, snatching more than is offered?’

‘Yes. No. I don’t know, Gandalf. I feel that what I have here with Sam is perfect, but to live day after day, year after year, in perfection, surely that will dull into something less with time. I feel a longing within, and there are no words that I can find to express it; at times I feel I’m wavering on the edge of something greater, and at others I wonder how I could possibly choose to lose the physical intimacy I have with Sam.’

‘Yet your relationship with Sam transcends the physical.’

‘Yes, yes it does, but recently I find I need and crave greater contact. I feel diminished when I am away from him.’

‘You refer to when you were in Avallónë.’

‘Here, now, I feel lessened by Sam’s absence. There are times when our songs flow together in such perfect harmony that I never want that moment to end. I feel that we could fly free and be as one for all time.’

‘And Sam?’

‘Doubts that, and does not feel the need.’

Gandalf held Frodo’s gaze, searching deeply. ‘So you wait.’

‘Yes, of course.’ That didn’t need saying. ‘But the point is, if he suddenly changed his mind, I... I am still... To give up what we have...’

‘In other words you are once again torn between two choices, to go or stay. I will repeat what I said once before: it is your choice, Frodo - or rather, yours and Sam’s. I cannot tell you what will happen, this way or that. When the time is right, I think you will find the path is laid out before you, and all you have to do is follow it.’

‘I don’t like the idea that everything I do has already been determined.’

‘Determined? My dear hobbit, no! I know you too well to believe for one moment that you would try to twist this gift into immortality, so there is no doubt in my mind that sooner or later you will take the way that is offered. There was a time, when you were small, when you took your first step: there was no doubt that you would do so, but when was of your choosing. You did so when the time was right - when you felt the need, and when your body was ready.’

‘But I do feel the need.’

‘But maybe your body is not yet ready to let go and take that final step.’

Frodo sighed in frustration, hazing the air before him with smoke. They sat in silence, the muted rush of the waves on the shore mingling with the faint music of elven voices in the garden below them. Frodo could see Sam barrowing litter from the goats’ stalls to his compost heap. With the exception of Columbine, all the goats were out in the pasture, where Shadowfax - white against green, like a Rohirrim banner - deigned to keep them company for the sake of the good grazing. With the mellow taste of pipeweed making its own small song of comfort, Frodo’s thoughts turned easily to another horse, cut in white chalk against green downland turf in his beloved Shire. The pang of loss was familiar but remote, deadened by time. If any hobbit there still remembered him, it was not through knowing him, but through tales of his deeds. He was one hundred and seventy-three years old, and only Sam could understand how impossibly old that made him feel. He felt Gandalf’s eyes upon him, and looked up to meet the wizard’s keen regard. With a sudden shift in perspective, he felt suddenly very, very young.

‘I’m sorry, Gandalf. I must seem very childish to you.’

‘You are one of the Children of the world, but you are not childish. Even the Maiar do not see clearly what Ilúvatar intends for his mortal children. The Song of his creation was marred, and so he made a new song of the heavens. Nienna laments for those who come to the Halls of Mandos, but her lament is for those who do not hear the Song calling them home, for those who remain in the shadow of their thoughts.’

‘Will Sam and I go to the Halls?’

Gandalf smiled down at him, his eyes warm and gentle. ‘I think you know the answer to that. For you, the time of waiting is here and now. You already hear the Song of Ilúvatar. Even I, who came into being before the making of Arda, before time had any meaning, do not know how that Song will end. It is said that a greater music will be made before Ilúvatar by the choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Ilúvatar after the end of days. Then there will be no trace of discord, and only then will we fully understand his intent.’

‘Who are the Ainur?’

‘The Ainur are the first and greatest offspring of Ilúvatar’s thoughts. With him, they created the music that fashioned this world in the void, and some remain with him beyond the confines of the world, and some descended into it for love of his Children.’

‘The Valar!’

‘Yes, the Valar. They have bound themselves to Arda until it is complete.’

‘And you?’

‘I am their servant. When my time here is over, I will dwell with them in Valinor, and - in a time I cannot foresee, when the full majesty and glory of Ilúvatar is revealed - I will rejoice to know your song again.’

Frodo set his pipe aside and stood to hug Gandalf. ‘Thank you for staying with us. Thank you for your patience and... and wisdom. You always make me feel wiser than I really am.’

‘My dear friend, hobbits have been the greatest joy of my life; my staying here is very selfish. Patience, you say? I am not aware that any has been required. You are both wise hobbits, and I have always had every faith in you.’ Gandalf wrapped his arms around Frodo, pulling him close to kiss him on the forehead. ‘You know you can talk to me at any time.’

Frodo nodded and stood back a little to give Gandalf room to stand, but kept close enough that the wizard could use his shoulder as a support. He much preferred Gandalf real and present than talking at a distance, although - near or far - the wizard always seemed to search out his innermost thoughts and help him craft them into words. He felt at ease in a way that he hadn’t for a while.

Back in the garden, the only sign of Sam was his barrow leaning neatly against a wall. Frodo closed his eyes for a moment: he didn’t need to ask Sam where he was; he just had to listen for the warmth of his song. He left Gandalf talking to Ninquelótë and headed unerringly for the kitchen, where Sam handed him a plate of biscuits straight from the griddle.

‘Here you are, me dear. Talking to old Gandalf is tiring work.’ He held Frodo’s gaze and smiled widely. ‘You’re better for it, though. Gimli’s decided to go with Gandalf and Legolas; tell me what Gandalf said later, when they’re gone.’

Frodo placed the plate on the table where Gimli was already seated. ‘So you’re going with Gandalf,’ he said as he pushed the plate towards the dwarf to urge him to help himself. Gimli took one of the proffered biscuits.

‘I suppose I’ll get used to you two chatting away without any outward sign.’ Beneath the grumble, the dwarf sounded amused. ‘Yes, I’ll go if Gandalf doesn’t mind: I’d like to see Elrond and meet Celebrían.’

‘And then you’ll come back?’

‘You’re very welcome to make your home here with us.’

‘Legolas as well, of course.’

‘If you’d like to.’

Gimli looked back and forth between the hobbits as they spoke. His deep rumbling laugh made them smile, even though they were not sure what was so funny.

‘My dear hobbits. I can’t answer for Legolas, not having the advantage of reading his mind, but I would be honoured and delighted.’


Later, after Legolas and Gimli had left with Gandalf, the hobbits gave consideration to accommodation. Sam tentatively suggested that Gimli could have Bilbo’s old rooms: the dwarf would be happier underground. When Frodo baulked at the idea, Sam drew him close.

‘It’s my opinion Bilbo would approve. You could make a new entrance, straight onto the courtyard.’

‘I know you’re right, it’s just...’
Frodo tailed off, not quite sure what his objection was. If he wished to speak to Bilbo - a one-sided conversation - he was not troubled by where he did so. He carried his memories within, and did not need a special place to commune with the dead.

‘Do you remember how long you took to move into the master bedroom at Bag End after Bilbo went away?’ Sam’s hand cradled Frodo’s jaw and his thumb traced over Frodo’s lips. ‘Seems to me, you didn’t want to admit he’d gone. I had the same trouble over your room when you left me, but needs must, and the family was growing.’

Frodo kissed the callused thumb. ‘Just give me some time to get used to the idea.’ He was well aware that Sam already understood that. ‘I can raise the ceilings, and make an entrance lobby so the door is set back into the hill.’

That was in the future; for now, there was plenty that needed doing. Frodo left Sam working with Ninquelótë to deal with wind-damage in the garden, while he made a number of small repairs, checked all was well with their bees, milked the goats and foraged for edible fungi in the woods. As he searched, he made a pile of broken branches and twigs for kindling, and noted the imprints of narrow paired slots where the ground was muddy from the recent rain. Some venison would make a welcome change. He had long ago come to terms with the fact that he was not prepared to hunt, but happy to eat game supplied by those who were. Fishing was a different matter; he had no qualms over laying out a night line or spearing the flatfish that lay in the muddy creeks.

As he emerged from the wood, Frodo glanced up at the sun, sinking low in the western sky, where even on a clear day, a haze of cloud seemed always to obscure the land of Valinor. It was too late to take advantage of the falling tide to walk out over the marshes to the cockle-rich sand flats, but there would still be enough water in the creeks to row out to his mussel beds and harvest the blue-black shellfish for supper.

He enjoyed rowing, letting his mind drift with the rhythmical stretch and pull. Sam always told him that he thought too much, but for now he was happy to just be, without worrying as to their future. It would happen as it happened. The call of the oystercatchers, the clarity of the light, and the soft splash of his oars filled him with a quiet joy.

Back in the garden, he scrubbed the mussels - discarding any that didn’t close as he tapped them - removed their beards, and rinsed them in the stream. The fungi could keep for breakfast; the mussels were for now, to be followed by whatever Sam could conjure from the party leftovers. Apart from Ninquelótë, the elves had either left with Gandalf or were camped a league away at one of their woodhalls; there was just the three of them to feed. The hobbits worked together in the kitchen, their fingers tangling as they reached for the same knife or chopping board. Sam’s song was accompanied by an audible hum of contentment, and whenever Frodo looked up, he found Sam’s gaze on him, a soft smile on his face.

Wine, milk, garlic, onion and fennel all went into the pan with the shellfish, and that accomplished, Frodo poured some of the wine into three cups. He sat with Ninquelótë in the courtyard, enjoying the sound of cicadas as the sun gave way to star-opening and the beginning of a new day. Ninquelótë seemed unperturbed by the departure of his wife and daughter; in the time frame of an elf, the separation was hardly to be reckoned. It had amused Frodo to see Laurëalotë so taken with Legolas, and amused him even more that Legolas had not even noticed.

It was not long before Sam joined them. He lit candles to supplement Frodo’s soft radiance, and they ate outside in the warmth of the evening amidst the flickering shadows of moths that had been drawn to the flames. Above, the sky darkened to a night-blue that was bright with stars. Frodo tilted his head to gaze up at them, aware of his own insignificance; he was a small and passing thing, but he felt no self-pity that this should be so.

‘Light and high beauty,’ murmured Sam. ‘Forever beyond our reach.’

‘Beyond our reach?’ answered Frodo, turning his head to look at Sam and reaching out to take his hand. ‘No, I don’t think so. They feel much closer here than in the Shire, and when I meditate, I feel as though they sing to me. I feel... I feel as though I am part of their song, or my song is part of theirs. I’m sorry, I’m not explaining very well, am I? It’s very beautiful, very... reassuring.’

Ninquelótë nodded, giving them his wide smile. ‘I find it reassuring,’ he said. ‘It is good to know, to understand, where your mortality will take you. Tell me, Panthael, why do you fear it?’

‘I don’t fear... I... it’s not that.’ Sam ducked his head, and within Frodo’s encircling fingers, his hand tensed. ‘I don’t like the feeling of darkness, is all. It reminds me of the Barrows, pressing in on me and suffocating me.’

‘When you try to meditate?’

Sam nodded. ‘I can’t get past that. I know...’ He looked up at Frodo, a frown drawing deep lines between his eyes. ‘I know I should trust you when you say... I do trust you... it’s just...’

‘There was a time when Iorhael could not let go,’ said Ninquelótë, breaking in gently. ‘He tried too hard and became frustrated, or panicked that he would lose himself and not be able to return. I think he has almost forgotten how hard it was.’

‘Yes, that’s all true.’

Ninquelótë stood and held out a hand to Sam. ‘Will you come and sit with me?’ At Sam’s anxious frown, he hastened to reassure. ‘No, not to meditate - although I hope you will try with me sometime soon. I would like to know more about the Barrows of which you speak.’

Sam did not look very reassured. He took Ninquelótë's hand and allowed himself to be guided to an open space where Ninquelótë folded into a seated position with easy grace, and smiled up at Sam. Sam glanced over his shoulder to where Frodo still sat at the table. At Frodo’s nod of encouragement, Sam sighed and sat more awkwardly, bending to take his weight on his free hand, before easing down into a cross-legged position. Ninquelótë reached out for Sam’s other hand, holding both lightly resting in his palms with his slender fingers curling protectively over them. ‘Will you tell me?’

It was clear to Frodo, as Sam spoke, that his many hesitations were more to do with reluctance than with marshalling his thoughts. Darkness seemed to flow from Sam to Ninquelótë, and the image that rose between them left Frodo feeling cold and clammy. He shivered despite the warmth of the evening, wanting to cry, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ - but that would only have served to break Sam’s bond with the healer, and he knew what Sam’s answer would be: least said, soonest mended.

For Frodo, the Barrow had represented a small victory amongst his many failures. His realisation of his love for Sam in the immediate aftermath of that misadventure had done more than the sun to warm him. So many other things had happened subsequently - had left him helpless, wounded, defeated - that the Barrows were almost a good memory. He wanted to hug Sam close, but he waited patiently. When Ninquelótë's quiet questions drew Sam into sunshine and laughter, Frodo quietly stood behind Sam, his hands lightly resting on Sam’s shoulders. Very gently he changed the image into his own memories: Sam running naked on the short-cropped grass, and his own awakening into love. He kissed the top of Sam’s head and knew that Sam smiled. Ninquelótë looked up at Frodo as the image shimmered and disappeared: sunlit Downs dissolving into Eressëan night.

‘I cannot imagine a time when you did not know that you loved Panthael, my friend. The seed must have always been there, I think, to flower so suddenly. You once told me of seeds in the Shire that must be chilled and warmed before they could break dormancy.’

‘Cowslips,’ said Frodo in Westron, not having a Quenya name for them. He felt Sam relax further at such a homely memory.

‘I didn’t know you knew they needed a good frost,’ said Sam, not quite managing to hide his surprise as he twisted his head to look up at Frodo. He followed Ninquelótë in standing and turned into Frodo’s arms.

‘I never knew how much knowledge I’d absorbed from you over the years until I came here,’ said Frodo. ‘I think it soaked into me like rain into the ground.’ He hugged Sam, releasing him to fetch figs and yoghurt, bowls and spoons. Food was a hobbit’s answer to any emotional upheaval, and Sam’s goats-milk yoghurt was an ideal accompaniment to the sticky sweetness of the purple figs. They talked of gardening, of Legolas and Gimli, of Ninquelótë's family, and of Elrond and Celebrían, until tiredness drew forth yawns and lengthened the silences.

At last, Ninquelótë stood. ‘I will wish you goodnight now, but I am hoping you will have no objection to my staying here with you.’

‘We’d be honoured,’ said Sam.

Frodo nodded his agreement. ‘Stay as long as you like.’

‘I was thinking, for as long as you are here.’ Ninquelótë's smile was as wide as usual, but Frodo detected sadness lurking beneath. ‘You are both very dear to me, and your friendship has enriched my life. When the time of our parting comes, I will grieve for myself even as I rejoice for you.’ He bent to kiss Frodo on the brow, then Sam. ‘Sleep well, my friends. I will see you tomorrow.’

After Ninquelótë had left them, Frodo collected up their bowls, rinsed them, and stacked them to drain. Sam remained seated, staring down at the table, not even offering to help. Frodo dried his hands and stood behind Sam, kneading at his shoulders. He wasn’t surprised to feel the tension there again. ‘Don’t worry, my love. The time of parting isn’t yet. Come to bed. It’s late and you’re tired.’

Sam tilted his head back, looking up at him. ‘And you’re not?’

‘A little. Not too tired to give you a massage. Come to bed.’



In their room, Frodo undressed Sam with unhurried efficiency, his goal nakedness rather than arousal. He nudged Sam onto the bed and reached for the oil.

‘You’re wearing too much.’

Frodo laughed; that was soon rectified. He stripped - watching Sam watching him, a mutual appreciation - and folded their clothes tidily so as not to make Sam fret. ‘Now, lie down and roll over.’ He knelt over Sam, the smell of almond oil filling the room, and laid his hands palm down on Sam’s back. Closing his eyes for a moment, he let their breathing flow together until he felt Sam respond and his song ease into a slower rhythm. Frodo was happy to work quietly, kneading and digging into tight muscles, but despite his tiredness, Sam was in a mood to talk.

‘So what did Gandalf have to say?’

‘That we’ll know when we’re ready go.’

‘But you’re ready now.’

‘Shh, shh.’
Frodo bent over Sam to kiss the back of his neck. ‘That’s not quite true. I suppose you could say, I’m open to the idea. I’m not sure I’m ready to give this up yet.’ He demonstrated with a slow glide of his hands down Sam’s back. When he reached the swell of Sam’s buttocks, he kneaded lightly, slipping his thumbs between to lightly stretch and tease. ‘Gandalf helped me to understand that there is a time when the mind might want to achieve some goal, but the body is not ready. He likened it to a faunt taking its first steps.’

As he hoped, this image appealed to Sam. ‘Our children were all different, you know. Elanor was determined to crawl, well before she was strong enough. She was always pulling herself up to stand though she’d no hope of taking a step; very forward, she was. Now Frodo-lad, he was so different that Rosie fretted and worried that he wasn’t right. He sat wherever he was put, never bothered to crawl, just suddenly stood up and started walking one day. Rosie said it was a waste of a good worry. She never bothered ‘bout the differences after that. They could shuffle on their bottoms or roll across the room, whatever took their fancy.’

Frodo smiled at this memory, all the while stroking Sam lightly - not enough to arouse, just enough to keep a hum of contentment in his song. ‘I wonder how Gandalf came to be wise in the ways of small children?’

‘He’s been around a long time.’

‘Since before time, he said.’
Frodo released Sam and eased off him to lie beside him, one arm thrown lightly over his shoulders. Sam turned to face him, and they moved without conscious thought to find the best fit between their bodies.

‘How can there be a time before time?’

‘I don’t know. I’m just telling you what he said.’
Frodo gave his own hum of contentment as Sam worked a hand between them and folded his fingers around both their shafts, holding them together. ‘He likened the feelings I have to the swallows gathering on the barn roofs in the Shire. There were always a few who seemed more...’ He searched for a word and came up with the one that Sam had used of Elanor. ‘Forward. But they only fly when all are ready.’

‘So you’ve stopped worriting about it?’

‘I’ve stopped worrying that I don’t know my own mind clearly. The swallows gather and twitter, and when the time is right, they go.’

‘So we’re twittering?’
Sam sounded amused, so that was good.

‘Yes, or rather I am.’

‘And in a bit, I’ll join you, and we’ll both be at it.’

‘Something like that.’

‘And when we’re done twittering, we’ll go?’

‘Yes.’

‘So in the meantime, we can just enjoy this?’
Sam twisted his hand as he pulled up against their shafts, drawing a moan from Frodo.

‘I thought you... were too tired.’

‘Aye, well, you thought wrong.’
Sam rolled Frodo onto his back and covered him, supporting himself on one forearm. Between them, his other hand still held rigid heat pressed to rigid heat. They kissed with a gentleness that matched the slow stroking of Sam’s hand and the slide of their bodies, while Frodo’s hands roamed lightly over Sam’s back and shoulders. It was a simple loving, building with aching slowness. All the desperation of the last few days had gone, and in its place an easy acceptance flowed between them. Frodo closed his eyes, his awareness heightened by the darkness, until he lost himself in the rhythm of Sam’s hand and body. Suffused with heat, moaning into each other’s mouths, they slipped sweetly into the sharing, love overwhelming them as they came together.

They lay panting a little as Sam’s weight slid down on top of Frodo; Sam wrapped an arm beneath Frodo’s shoulders to draw him closer, while his other hand - broad and warm and slick with their come - swept down over chest and flank to cup and caress Frodo’s hip. Their scent hung on the air, bringing memories of past loving welling up. Frodo tangled his fingers into Sam’s hair, knowing Sam would shift soon and wanting to keep him where he was.

‘Frodo?’

‘Mmm?’

‘I’m ready to read Tom’s letter.’

‘What? Now?’
Frodo tried to laugh but his own breathlessness and Sam’s weight on his chest made him cough instead. He pushed at Sam, meaning to get up and fetch the letter if that was what Sam wanted. Sam rolled to one side, concern writ large upon his face.

‘No, of course not now. I’m sorry - I didn’t mean to crush you. Stay there, I can reach the towel.’

Frodo smiled as Sam stretched over him. He kissed Sam’s chest and submitted to being rubbed down; there was, after all, no point in saying “I can do that”. How had they managed to spread the result of their loving so very thoroughly? He pulled Sam back down into his arms. ‘I like your weight on me. Are you sure, not now?’

‘Sure.’
Sam yawned and compromised by lying half on Frodo, one arm across his chest. ‘In the morning’ll be fine.’ They relaxed together, their breathing slowing into sleep.

When a dream of Elanor woke Frodo in the early morning, he found his lashes were wet with tears. He scrubbed his eyes with the back of his hand and slipped from beneath Sam’s arm. Milking the goats was a soothing task, and there was time to ponder the sadness of his dream. They had many friends, but no family to root them in the past and give their lives a sense of time and place. They were living outside of time, and he had a strange feeling that this was the dream. What had Gandalf said? For you, the waiting is here and now. He understood Sam’s reluctance to break the seal on Tom’s letter; in the wider world, time was flowing on without them, and death was the natural order. He sighed, and then smiled at the realisation that this was really just another version of swallow-like twittering.

Once the goats were out to pasture, Frodo took the milk to the cool room, decanted some for their breakfast and left the rest for Sam to make into yoghurt and soft cheese later. There was no sign from Sam yet, which pleased Frodo; he would surprise him with the fungi for first breakfast, fried with garlic and shallots from their store and sprinkled with sea salt. Ninquelótë had already lit the cooking fire; he smiled a greeting to Frodo and glanced towards the round door of the smial.

‘It is not like Panthael to sleep so long.’

‘He’s fine, just tired.’

‘Remembering can be tiring work.’

‘Yes. Yes, it can. I didn’t realise...’

‘His fear of the darkness? It explains in part why he is not yet as ready as you to embrace it.’

‘I thought he knew it’s a small and passing thing. That beyond...’ Frodo paused, struck by the memory of Sam’s words. ‘Oh. He believes the Light and High Beauty forever beyond his reach.’ He looked up at Ninquelótë. His teacher and friend had played a quiet and unobtrusive part in his healing; Gandalf had probed, while Ninquelótë had guided. Who had done this for Sam; who had even known Sam needed any such healing? ‘I thought... I thought he was only worried about losing me.’

‘I believe that is still a great part of it. I feel at fault here. I believed that all Panthael needed was your presence, and he has always seemed well and happy.’ Ninquelótë suddenly laughed. ‘Don’t look so worried, Iorhael. He is well and happy - you don’t need me to tell you that - but his perception of mortality is perhaps tainted by his experience, and since he has often feared losing you, now he fears losing you to the dark. You told me as much in Avallónë.’

‘So what must I do?’

‘You must be patient. You are not even decided in your own mind, but if you were, Panthael would follow you without question. You only have to say the word.’

‘Yes, I know, but I don’t want him to have to do that. I promised him he wouldn’t have to do that. It’s just... If there were any way to show him that there’s nothing to fear...’

‘When he is ready, he will see.’

Frodo had to be content with that. He sliced the mushrooms and shallots, and crushed the garlic cloves under the flat of the knife’s blade, all the while aware of Sam’s sleepy morning song. By the time he had the olive oil heating in a heavy-based pan, Sam appeared, looking as sleepy as his song sounded.

‘You should’ve woken me.’

‘No, I shouldn’t. Sit down, love. These’ll be ready in a minute.’


‘They smell good.’

‘Mmm.’
The smell of the fungi, and Sam’s sleep-tousled appearance, were a happy combination. Frodo glanced briefly to where Tom’s bulky letter lay tucked amongst packets of carefully collected and labelled seeds, the son’s writing juxtaposed with the father’s. He hoped Sam would forget about it until after he’d enjoyed his first breakfast, but - brief as his glance had been - Sam followed the turn of his head and reached for the letter, turning it over and over in his hands. Frodo sighed and set the pan aside. Very gently, he extracted the sealed papers from Sam’s grip and set them on the table. ‘Eat first, then we’ll read it.’ They had, after all, waited this long. He rubbed a hand over Sam’s back and repeated his earlier words, this time aloud. ‘Sit down, love.’

As Sam obeyed him, Frodo turned back to rescue his cooking and laughed at the sight that met his eyes: Ninquelótë - hunched down over their low cooking fire with the frying pan in one hand and a hobbit-sized wooden spoon in the other - was a comical sight. The elf waved Frodo away, dished up the food and brought it to the table. He smiled his wide smile at the hobbits’ amusement.

‘I know. I am too tall.’ He laughed in his turn as Frodo and Sam hastened to apologise, and pushed the food towards them. ‘If there is any reason that I would wish to visit Middle-earth, it would be to see a whole Shire-full of hobbits enjoying such simple pleasures as this. I will break fast with you and then leave you to your pipes and your news from beyond the Veil. Later, I will help you in any way my help is needed.’

Despite the hobbits’ protests, Ninquelótë only took a small share of the fungi, promising to join them for a more substantial second breakfast. He left them lighting their pipes out in the courtyard. There was a soothing ritual in filling the bowls with the finely shredded weed, lightly tamping it down, coaxing it alight and nurturing the slow smoulder into fragrant smoke. Frodo gave a few quick pulls on his, and then settled down with the bowl tucked in the sheltered curve of his hand. He slowly filled his mouth with the rich taste, and just as slowly exhaled with a deep sigh of satisfaction.

‘I wish we could thank your Tom.’

‘And Barard.’

‘Yes. Are you going to break the seal?’

Sam shifted the mouthpiece of his pipe to the corner of his mouth, clamping it firmly in place with his teeth, and slid a finger under the seal. He unfolded several sheets of paper.

‘Is it all from Tom?’

‘There are some pages in a different hand - a family tree. One, two, three, four... five sheets.’
Sam spread them on the weather-roughened surface of the courtyard table. The letter was temporarily forgotten as the hobbits leaned together, poring over the delights of the Fairbairn and Gardner family trees laid out in a small neat hand. Sam’s finger traced down the generations, slowly placing them.

‘Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren.’ His finger came to rest on a name and date added in a different hand: Frodo, 1541. ‘Your great-great-great-grandchild.’ There was awe in his voice. The ancestor for whom the baby was named tapped his finger on another crowded sheet.

‘You have two. Twins by the look of it, born last year. May and Marigold, 1540.’

Sam followed the matriarchal line back to his daughter Rosie, tweenage motherhood a recurring trait. The genealogist had only added dates of birth, not death. It was likely that most, if not all, of their grandchildren were still alive - the oldest was Elfstan, twelve years younger than his uncle Tom - but what of the rest of Tom’s generation? That was far less certain. With a shaking hand, Sam unfolded the letter and gazed at it unseeing. Frodo noted the absence of any movement of Sam’s eyes scanning the page, and touched his arm.

‘Sam?’

‘Eh?’

Sam’s jump of surprise told Frodo that his mind had been far away. ‘You’re wool-gathering, love.’

‘I was just trying to picture Tom as an old hobbit with white hair. I can’t seem to do it, nohow.’

‘I’m not sure that it matters. Inside he’s still the same Tom. You said once yourself that being old in the Shire didn’t seem so different on the inside, apart from some aches and pains, and a wealth of experience.’

‘His spelling is still as, erm, erratic as ever. Shall I read it aloud?’

‘Yes.’
Frodo folded the sheets on the table and weighted them with a stone before settling comfortably beside Sam again. He knew without being told that Sam was reading the words that Tom had meant, and he felt Sam’s warm rush of love as he recognised his son’s blindness for the rightness of a word’s true spelling. Frodo nursed his pipe, tuning in to the movement of Sam’s chest and the rumble of his voice: feeling as well as listening to the spoken words. As he listened, he let his mind form an image of Tom that shimmered before them, insubstantial in the bright sunlight.

‘“Dear Dada,”’ Sam read, ‘”I feel a little foolish writing these words, but I remember your belief that time runs differently in the Elven lands. Even if you never read what I have written, I feel as though I am speaking to you and sending you my love. I hope that you found your heart’s desire beyond the sundering seas, and that you are still together.

“It will come as no surprise to you that I have no children of my own, but I know that a parent always hopes their children will be happy and find their place in the world. You already know that all of us were settled and content with our lives before you left, so all I can add is that you have left a fine legacy to the Shire in your grandchildren and beyond. I have enclosed a family tree, drawn up by your great-grandson, Harding of the Hill, who has been elected Mayor now that his father, Holfast, has retired. The Thain and the Master of Buckland you know, even if you’d not recognise them: your grandsons, Paladin and Léodoc. Elfstan the Fair is now Warden of Westmarch. Of my brothers and sisters, only Elanor and Bilbo still live. Bilbo is in good health, but we have said our good-byes - I will not return to the Shire again. Elanor is very frail, as beautiful as ever, but near her end. She encouraged me in my intention to write to you, and asked me to send her love to you and to Frodo of the Light.

“As for me, I have Barard at my side, and that is all I need to be happy. I lost him for a while: by misadventure he was imprisoned in a far land and treated cruelly. If you have this letter, then Legolas has travelled safely and can tell you the tale. The experience taught me how terrible it is to lose the one you love. I thought of you and took heart from you, even when I despaired of being able to live up to your example. I have always tried to remember the lessons you taught me - lessons of mercy and compassion - and I remembered your thoughts in the Red Book, when you looked upon a fallen enemy and wondered if he was truly bad.

“It will surprise and maybe grieve or worry you to know that we are leaving Gondor to live in Harad, but I assure you good has prevailed in that land. We have friends there - the best of friends - who shape the laws of the land, and who you have influenced through my intermediacy. Barard says this is the word I am searching for, so I trust he is right. We have traded with the Haradrim for many years, and know the country and its people well. Barard suffers now from a cough when the weather is cold and damp, and then his health declines. In Harad it is only cold at night and never damp, and so we retire there to live out our few remaining years.

“The last thing we will do before leaving Minas Tirith is to visit the statue of you and Frodo. I have often sat on the plinth and thought of you, and hoped you are together and in good health. If you have ever wondered the same about us, I will say now that we have lived and loved, and if we have feared death, it is only in that it separates us from those we love for a little while. In the end, we must all take that journey, whether or no.

“Will we meet you again? I hope so. I remember the words you had for dear Ma when she died, and I whisper them to the night when the stars seem to sing in the heavens.

“Tenn’ enomentielva, Dada.

“Tolman Gardner, written in Minas Tirith this 20th day of Halimath, 1541SR in the first year of the reign of King Eldarion.”’

Sam fell silent, his head bowed over the letter, his song a quiet lament. Through the sadness threaded a strand of guilt - hardly audible, but Frodo knew Sam too well to miss it. The letter said so little, missed out so much - but then, what did one write to a father who had left sixty years before? Frodo felt that dilemma as though he could see Tom carefully choosing his words. He threaded his fingers through Sam’s hair - imagining Barard doing the same as Tom wrote - and examined his own thoughts before presuming to intrude more overtly on Sam’s. His Elanor was still alive, although he had no idea if her husband was; the title of Warden might be like the Thain - an hereditary title - or elected like the mayor. He was glad she was still alive, and so could empathise with Sam’s sadness that ten of his children were not. He leaned in to kiss Sam on the temple.

‘Tom must be a remarkable hobbit, if he hears the stars sing - and self-effacing, I think. Legolas said he did much to reconcile Gondor and Harad, yet he gives the credit to you, and I love him for that.’

‘He doesn’t give the credit where it’s due, though, since I learnt from you.’

Frodo smiled. He kneaded briefly at the back of Sam’s neck, then slid his arm around Sam’s shoulders to draw him closer. ‘In that case, the trail leads back to Bilbo and Gandalf, maybe further back to Nienna. That’s not the point. He took what you taught him and wove it into his life, and into the life of the Haradrim, if I understand aright.’

‘I wish he’d told me more about the family. There’s so much I’d like to know.’
Sam’s thoughts were wistful.

‘He would have needed a large book to tell all the stories.’ Frodo tapped his pipe-stem on the sheets of paper on the table. ‘Look how many names there are. Tom is right. All we need to know is that we’ve left a fine legacy. I wonder if Fastred is still alive, and whether Elfstan is called “the Fair” because of his appearance, or because he deals fairly with the hobbits of the Westmarch.’

‘There, you see?’
Sam laughed, the wistful note almost gone. ‘I’m not the only one as wants to know more. From what I remember of Elfstan, I‘d say both. He took - takes - after his grandfather.’ He turned his head, his eyes warm, laughter lines etched deep. ‘That was deliberate, wasn’t it?’ He kissed Frodo: a warm pressure of soft lips that caught and teased and pulled away.

‘A little. But I do understand.’

‘You know, Frodo-lad was so like me, it was sometimes like looking into a mirror - or into the past. Rosie-lass, now; she had a quick temper as a tween and was best left alone to come round to whatever me or Rosie wanted her to do. Getting cross back at her just made her more stubborn, but leave her, quiet-like, and you’d find she’d done whatever it was you’d wanted her to.’
He rambled on, reminiscing about each of his children in turn, and Frodo let him, although Sam’s sadness was back with the memories. ‘Tom was such a tear-away; you’d not have credited how well he turned out if you’d only known him in his teens.’

‘Oh, I think I would.’
Frodo’s memory might not be as good as Sam’s, but childhood memories were some of the easiest to recall, especially when they came with the terror of Farmer Maggot’s dogs.

‘There were some as said I should separate him from Barard, but I could see that would never do, even before I realised what they meant to each other - and anyway, I liked Barard. I sometimes thought I was wasting my breath, but it seems... it seems I wasn’t.’

Sam tried to school his face into some semblance of control, but he couldn’t hide his reaction from Frodo, and Frodo wasn’t even sure why he needed to try. He pulled Sam’s head down to rest on his shoulder, soothing his fingers through Sam’s hair as Sam finally gave in to his tears.

‘I keep thinking of them as babies, and... and at birthday parties...’ Sam spoke aloud, his words interrupted by hiccup-like spasms. ‘And... and the scrapes they got into... and... and them marrying and having babes of their own. I... we were so proud of them, and now they’re gone, or... or soon will be.’

‘It brings it home, doesn’t it?’ said Frodo quietly. ‘We guessed it was the case, but it’s different, knowing it.’ He got rid of his pipe so that he could hold Sam enfolded in his arms and gently rock him.

‘And... and Tom’s right!’

‘Howso, love?’

‘I did say that to my Rosie when she died - Tenn’ enomentielva: until we meet again. And that was... that was sixty years ago...’

‘Waiting sixty years isn’t so bad, love.’ Frodo meant to reassure, to assuage that theme of guilt, but Sam’s response was immediate and contrite.

‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry you had to wait so long, and I didn’t mean to imply that I’m just marking time here waiting to join Rosie. You know that’s not the -’

‘Shhh, love. Of course I know. I doubt time has much meaning beyond this life. We don’t understand what Gandalf means by “before time”. How can we hope to understand “after time”? It’s like peering into a deep well of water and hoping to see the bottom, or looking out of a window in the dark when the sky is thick with clouds. All you’ll see is your own reflection. Your own perception.’

‘But you
do understand, don’t you? At least in part.’ Sam lifted his head and straightened to hold Frodo’s gaze.

‘A very small part, I think.’
Frodo released Sam, but only so he could wipe Sam’s tears away with his thumbs. He leant in to softly kiss Sam’s mouth, the taste of salt mingling with garlic and pipe-smoke. ‘I believe what I experience when I meditate reflects that which truly is, or will be, but I can’t be sure.’

‘Frodo?’

‘Mmm?’

‘I’d like to meditate with you.’

‘Of course. Ninquelótë hoped -’

‘No, I mean
with you. Sharing with you.’

Frodo sat back and considered this. They constantly spoke to each other in their thoughts, and could always sense how the other was feeling, but they usually only shared at a deeper level when physically sharing their love. The intensity of it was one reason - normal mundane tasks of their everyday life couldn’t compete with such overwhelming sensations - but there was also a wish not to take such a precious gift for granted.

‘I’m not sure. It’s not as though we see through each other’s eyes... or hear what the other hears. Would it help?’ He caught an echo of disappointment, quickly suppressed, as Sam shrugged in answer to his question. He hastened to make his thoughts clearer. ’I’m willing to try, I didn’t mean I wasn’t, but I think we should discuss it with Ninquelótë.’

‘Good.’
Sam’s eyelids were still tear-reddened, but he seemed happier. He reached for his pipe, coaxed it back into life, and stood. ‘I’m going to cook second breakfast, then spend some time in the dairy.’


While Sam worked in the dairy, Frodo’s morning was also busy, harvesting olives with Ninquelótë. The harvest would continue for several weeks as the olives ripened; for now, there was no point picking more than they could press that day. The oil was important for cooking and lighting - a supplement to their beeswax candles - for making soap, and for other uses that concerned only himself and Sam. As he worked, he was aware of the recurring theme of sadness in Sam’s song, a muted background that nevertheless dulled the brightness of the day. His fingers nimbly picked out the ripe olives, while his mind was with Sam, offering comfort and listening to his reminiscences. Ninquelótë worked beside him in silence, bending to the gnarled olive trees that were pruned for a hobbit’s convenience.

‘Frodo, have you asked him?’

Frodo sighed and pushed his wide-brimmed hat back from his forehead to allow the light breeze to dry the sweat that had gathered there.

‘Ninquelótë?’

‘Ah, there you are, Iorhael.’ The elf spoke without any sarcasm. ‘You wish to ask me something?’ He straightened from his task, his expression attentive as he waited for Frodo to continue.

‘You know that Panthael and I share feelings, as well as thoughts?’

‘Yes, of course,’ said Ninquelótë when Frodo’s continuing silence called for an answer, but he managed to convey that he’d thought such a self-evident question to be merely rhetorical. ‘If he is sad, as now, then you are sad.’

‘It can be more than that. Sometimes... sometimes, when we choose it, we can feel...’ Frodo floundered a little, trying to differentiate awareness of a mood from their more intimate sharing, without actually mentioning how intimate it was. ‘We... I... If I touch him, I feel the touch as though it were given to me.’ He realised that he was blushing, and could just imagine dear Pippin saying, “We’re talking sex here, are we?” He hurried on. ‘Panthael wants to meditate with me while our minds share that... union.’

‘And what do you think?’ Ninquelótë did not appear to notice Frodo’s discomfiture.

‘I don’t know. I’m not sure if it will achieve anything, and I’m not even sure if I can... if I would be able to meditate if I were so closely bound to Panthael.’

‘I told you once before that Panthael is a part of you. Your fëa is interwoven with his. I have never seen that before. It may take some practice - on his part, as well as yours - but I think you will find the way. Is it something you would like to try?’

‘If Panthael wants it? Yes. Yes, I would.’

‘But you don’t want it for yourself.’ Ninquelótë's statement was edged with a surprise that did not show in his face. He sat cross-legged and reached for the waterskins they had brought with them to the dry terraced hillside. Frodo unslung the bag he carried and placed it carefully on the ground. Ninquelótë was right: it was time for a break. He sat and accepted the water his friend proffered. If he would seek advice, then honesty was the only way, but he felt himself blushing.

‘There are times that I feel my fëa could fly free if I allowed it. When I meditate with you - that is one time.’

Ninquelótë nodded. ‘Your love for Panthael calls you back.’ He propped one elbow on his knee and rested his chin in his hand, contemplating Frodo with a piercing gaze that was reminiscent of Gandalf. ‘And I will wager that you also feel this when you make... union with Panthael.’

It was Frodo’s turn to nod. He rubbed his nose self-consciously; Ninquelótë was poking gentle fun at him, mimicking his hesitation. ‘I know meditating with him will not be the same as... as that, but what if there were nothing to call me back?’

‘Forgive me, but is that really a problem? Where you go, Panthael will follow.’ Ninquelótë's puzzled expression cleared before Frodo could answer. ‘Ah, I see. It is again a question of your going together by mutual consent.’

‘Yes.’

‘Then I will say that Panthael speaks his own mind, and will make his feelings clear. I believe you worry needlessly.’ Ninquelótë's wide smile was back. ‘If I may quote Panthael, I will say that you think too much. Is this not what you wished for: a way to show him there is nothing to fear? Come, we need to gather a better harvest than this.’ He nodded towards the part-filled basket that stood in the shade, and glanced at the sun as he stood. They worked through until she was high in the sky, then emptied their last bagfuls of olives into the basket and carried it to a hollow carved into the rock, where the first crushing would be done after lunch.

Their noon meal was a simple one of cheese and salad, with Sam’s chutney to add a spicy flavour, and oatcakes to nibble to fill up corners. They drank only spring water, cold and refreshing, wanting to stay clear-headed for the afternoon’s work, but sat in idle chat for a while to digest their food and let the heat of the day abate. Had Frodo and Sam been on their own, they would have retired to the cool of their smial, stripping to lay together, to love or not as the mood took them. Instead, they lit their pipes again and laid out the family trees to show Ninquelótë. Frodo smiled at Sam, glad to feel his sadness lift; no doubt it would return on and off for some time, but there was a distance to this news that mellowed the pain more quickly. At Sam’s request, Frodo wrestled with Tom’s idiosyncratic spelling to translate the letter into Quenya for Ninquelótë.

Later, as Sam and Ninquelótë dealt with the morning’s olive harvest, Frodo collected a light spear and went hunting flatfish before the tide arrived in the salt creeks. He came back muddy but successful, with not only fish, but also samphire and sea-kale. After washing off the worst of the blue-black mud from his legs, he brought the goats in from the pasture for milking, and then joined Sam and Ninquelótë in the hot spring to soak away the day’s grime. They spoke little, enjoying the swirl of water that welled from the rock. Tired muscles relaxed in the warmth, and Frodo caught himself nodding off. His head jerked up as he blinked open his eyes. He yawned and stretched his arms above his head.

‘I’d better cook the fish before I fall asleep,’ he said. ‘You stay there. I’ll call you when it’s ready.’ He didn’t really expect that to work, and wasn’t surprised when Sam followed him out of the pool with a lot of splashing and puffing. He held out his hand to give a final heave, and steadied Sam on the wet rock. ‘Mmmm. A fine sight.’ He laughed softly as Sam’s cock jerked under his admiring gaze. ‘Very fine. I suppose we’ll get used to the fact that I can’t lust after you any time I want to.’ A quick glance towards Ninquelótë showed Frodo that the elf was lying back in the water, his eyes closed, paying them no attention. ‘Come here, love.’ He pulled Sam close and kissed him as the water runelled down their bodies and pooled at their feet. They parted and smiled at each other. Frodo reached for a towel to dry Sam. ‘You seem happier; did you talk to Ninquelótë?’

‘More likely bored him with stories of our families, though to be fair, he did seem interested.’


‘I’m sure he was. I think we should go elsewhere to finish off drying, so he can stop being so studiously uninterested now.’

They padded back to their room, leaving a trail of wet footprints, and took their time drying each other. Frodo threw the towels aside and ran his hands down over Sam’s body in a loving exploration of warm skin. His gaze followed the flow of his hands in the candlelight, while Sam’s fingers stroked through his damp hair, teasing out tangles.

‘Frodo?’

Frodo raised his head and met Sam’s worried frown. His hands stilled.

‘What, love?’

‘Do you really believe we’ll be as one?’

‘Ninquelótë says our fëa are intertwined.’

Sam nodded and pulled Frodo close. ‘Good.’

They both smiled at the understatement of that. They shifted their feet to make the best fit between their bodies and pressed together, wrapped in each other’s arms. A small tilt of their heads - an involuntary movement that needed no thought - and their mouths came together, love without words flowing between them. They sighed softly as they parted and gazed into each other’s eyes. Reluctantly, they reached for fresh clothes.

‘I suppose we should -’

‘- cook supper.’


By the time they’d prepared and eaten the meal, it was after star-opening. They strolled out into the garden with Ninquelótë, breathing the night air scents. The evening wasn’t chilly, but a little cooler than of late, with a light breeze from the east. Sam’s sadness was back as he gazed up at the star-filled sky; Frodo could hear the lament winding its way into Sam’s song as he mourned and remembered his children. The stars above gave a faint light that barely raised a shadow, while Frodo’s own light was nothing more than a pale glow, dimmed as it was by Sam’s mood and his own introspection. They climbed the path that led towards the shore, but turned west before they reached the dark mass of the trees, following the slope of the hill over the smial. The grass that clung to the thin layer of topsoil over the rock was never lush, and it had been cropped even shorter by the wild goats. Here and there a rock rose higher in a tumbled outcrop, a seeming black hole in the surrounding darkness. One such stood with a west-facing aspect that was both wide and smooth, making a comfortable resting place where the hobbits often sat to watch the sun set. Now the sun was long gone; there was nothing to be seen of the land spreading out into salt marshes below them except a faint shimmer on the water. It was very peaceful; only the occasional call of a curlew, eerie in the darkness, broke the silence.

Frodo found Sam’s hand more by instinct than sight. He lowered himself onto the whispery-dry grass and pulled Sam down to sit between his legs. The fall of the land meant Sam was lower than Frodo; as he leant back into Frodo’s arms, Frodo kissed the top of his head and drew him close. They were sheltered from the light easterly breeze here, and the rock behind Frodo’s back still retained the memory of the sun’s heat.

‘Do you remember, me dear?’

‘What, love?’


‘Sitting like this, other way about, above the Grey Havens?’

‘My faithful Sam. Yes, I remember.’

‘You said then we’d pass on together when the time of waiting was over, to take the gift of Ilúvatar. You said the Elves envied us the journey and the gift, that it’s not to be feared. You said “our love has achieved so much, surely it will not fall at the last.”’

‘Did I?’
Frodo remembered much, but not the exact words.

‘And Arwen said something similar. What was it Legolas said? She told him that she would not fail at the final test.’

‘She said she would not be bound by the circles of the world, for beyond was more than memory.’
That was easier; Frodo only had to reach back a few days for Legolas’s words.

‘Will you show me?’

‘I’ll try to, but you know Ninquelótë said it might take practice.’

Ninquelótë's voice came softly out of the darkness, almost as though he knew what they had been thinking about. ‘Will you meditate with us, Panthael?’

‘Yes. I’d like that.’ Sam slid his hands over Frodo’s, and they linked their fingers together as they sometimes did in their lovemaking. It wasn’t difficult in the darkness to find that intimacy of thought. They slipped easily into the sharing, and sighed together at the completeness of it. The rush of love Frodo felt was reflected back by Sam, welling between them and bringing tears. His awareness of Sam gave him such joy, but to succeed he must lose awareness of even himself. Over the years he had become adept at this, but now his mind was filled with Sam’s presence, making it hard to let go. Unsure whether he could do this, he closed his eyes, allowing the boundaries between them to blur and lose meaning. What had he said to Sam? There will be only “us”. As he listened to their breathing blend into one, he felt the truth of it. He let go of the idea of “self” encompassing only Frodo, and from there it was a small step to surrender this new self to the darkness. He felt Ninquelótë's soothing presence, and then there was only the glory of light and song.

Slowly the joy faded, and Frodo sighed as he became aware of Sam in his arms, separate from himself. He felt limp and drained, but in a good way. He had a fleeting wish that he and Sam were in bed, so they could curl into each other’s arms and drift into sleep. Sam was soft and pliable in his arms, as relaxed as he was.

‘Frodo?’ The thought was as much a caress as a question.

‘Mmm?’

‘I love you.’

Frodo opened his eyes and bent down to kiss Sam’s temple while their fingers tightened together. ‘What was it like for you?’

‘Exhilarating and peaceful all at the same time, for all that I could only hear a faint echo of that song you like so much. It was like being swept up by the eagle, and swimming in the roughest sea, and making wild love to you, all at the same time. It was like when our songs blend together, and I come deep within you.’

‘Yes.’

‘And we fall asleep together, and I can’t tell you how... how precious that is to me.’
Sam stumbled over that Gollum-twisted word, and Frodo kissed him again to show his understanding and agreement.

‘It’s precious to me, as well. To have you and to hold you.’

Their immediate surroundings were illuminated by Frodo’s glow - fading a little now, but still bright enough to see by. A soft cough made Frodo turn his head, tilting up to meet Ninquelótë's gaze. The elf’s eyes shimmered with reflected light, sad-tinged and full of loss.

‘I have never envied you the gift of mortality before,’ he said. ‘Ever since you came, you have given me much to think about.’

‘Gandalf says that all the Children of Ilúvatar will join together in the music that will be after the end of time,’ said Frodo. It was the only thing that he could think of to say.

‘Does he? I will speak to him. Panthael?’

‘Mmm?’ Sam’s drowsy hum made Frodo smile.

‘I would very much like to understand what you experienced, but not now. Go to bed, my friends.’

In Frodo’s arms, Sam yawned and half-turned to burrow into him, getting more comfortable. Frodo nudged him gently. ‘He’s right, meldarinya.’ He got no response except for a soft sigh. ‘Sam-love, come to bed with me.’

‘I don’t know of anything else as would persuade me to move.’

They left Ninquelótë gazing up at the stars in the wide-eyed sleep of his kind, and stumbled home almost too tired to walk. Their bed welcomed them, soft and yielding as they nestled together in a drowsy contentment that deepened into sleep. Frodo knew when he woke that Sam’s sadness was gone. He stretched beneath the exploration of warm, broad hands, enjoying his own happiness as it met and blended with Sam’s. Neither of them felt the need for anything more than slow caresses and light kisses, and they spoke little as they rose to meet the new day.

Having taken their sharing outside their lovemaking, they were in no hurry to break that deeper bond. Their varied tasks meant that they were physically apart for much of the day, and yet their awareness of each other was almost unbearable in its intensity. Frodo no longer felt diminished by Sam’s absence, but whenever their work brought them together, he lit up in response to Sam’s soft smiles and shining eyes. During those times, they touched frequently: a hand sliding from shoulder to arm, fingers brushing sweat-damp hair from heated face, a palm pressed to the small of the back in passing. It was as though the contact released a building tension, like a lightning strike flashing from earth to sky. Frodo found himself glancing out to the horizon, expecting to see the sky darkening with storm clouds rising from the sea, but the blue was tranquil: air and water merging imperceptibly into a light haze. It was not an oppression in the air that had tightened his chest and made it hard to breath.

‘Sam?’

‘Yes, me dear?’

‘Nothing.’
Working the land was not something that could be put aside on a whim. What was it Sam always said? There is a season for all things. Frodo sighed. Gandalf had said the same thing, and this was the season for their olive harvest. If they let the olives over-ripen, the oil would be poor. This was not the time for ploughing Sam into the ground, although his body was clamouring to do so. Sam’s laughter was warm and knowing as he wrapped his arms around Frodo from behind.

‘I’ll look forward to “nothing” later, then.’

Frodo leaned back, letting Sam take his weight; his whole body sang as Sam nuzzled at his neck, and one of Sam’s broad hands slid slowly down his belly. All it would take for Frodo to lose himself in the moment would be for Sam to bite him; he stretched his neck in offering. ‘Wh...where’s Ninquelótë?’

‘Not here, evidently.’
Sam’s fingers slipped beneath Frodo’s waistband, aided by Frodo’s indrawn breath. Frodo shivered as Sam set his teeth lightly into the skin of his neck, and his eyelids fluttered closed.

‘He’ll be back anytime.’

‘No, I don’t think so. He’s talking to the hunters
. Let me do this now.’

The moan on Frodo’s lips turned into a huff of laughter. ‘Am I trying to stop you?’

‘Relax, then, me dear. I have you.’

Frodo still half expected to open his eyes and see Legolas’s startled face blushed with red, or the hunters leaning against each other, weak with laughter and quick with ribald comment, but Sam did indeed have him - in his arms, on the edge. Frodo let the tension he felt flow away on a long slow exhale. His head fell back against Sam’s shoulder, and he gave a soft cry as Sam freed his shaft from the constraints of cloth and wrapped his hand around to squeeze and stroke. There was no teasing: the movement of Sam’s hand was swift and sure, and Frodo didn’t even try to hold back. He came in an unstoppable rush, overspilling Sam’s hand and liberally spattering the baked earth. He slumped back into the blessedness of Sam’s embrace for a moment, then raised Sam’s hand to slowly lave it clean with his tongue. Sam shivered as Frodo lapped at his palm and thoroughly licked each finger.

‘Keep that up, me dear, and you’ll have to worry about Ninquelótë finding more than you with your trousers open to the breeze.’

‘Do you want me to -’

‘No. Second-hand is as good as the real thing - better, maybe, seeing as it’s such a pleasure to feel you come.’
The sated fulfilment in Sam’s song gave the truth to this assertion. ‘But we’ve got things to do, so you’d best stop before I change my mind and ravish you in broad daylight.’

Frodo released Sam’s hand reluctantly and adjusted his disarranged clothing. That accomplished, he turned his head to rub his nose against Sam’s cheek. ‘Thank you.’

‘Aye, well, there was obviously not going to be any peace until I’d given you a good seeing to, but I’m still looking forward to tonight and that “nothing” you were so busy thinking about.’

‘You know that story you like to quote, the one about the ant and the grasshopper?’

Sam tightened his arms around Frodo again and shook with laughter. ‘What? What are you on about? How did we get from you shagging me into eternity to bugs?’

‘I... We’re still giving thought to tomorrow, next month, next year. The harvest here, for instance, and getting the ground ready for planting. Cutting and stacking wood.’

‘So?’

‘It shows that my desire to take the gift is not that strong.’

‘Oh, is that what you’re twittering about.’

It was Frodo’s turn to laugh. ‘Yes.’ He twisted his head further to meet Sam in a kiss that was deep, slow and appreciative. Elvish voices drew them apart, but Frodo worked through the remainder of the day feeling relaxed and wrapped in a warm cocoon of Sam’s love.


In the evening, they ate supper sitting around the cooking pit. When on their own, Frodo and Sam never used the pit, but now they shared venison with not only Ninquelótë and the hunters, but several of Frodo’s friends from the quarry in the north. The latter were eager to meet Gimli, but had arrived too late to welcome him at the feast. Sam assured them that the dwarf would return soon, and Frodo joined his voice to Sam’s as he invited them to stay. Laughter and merriment, songs and tales, the evening spun out beneath the stars. Sitting together, Sam wrapped in Frodo’s arms with his head resting on Frodo’s shoulder, the hobbits heard tell how Aulë, of all the Valar most beloved by the stonemasons, created the dwarves from the very substance of Arda. They in turn told tales of Gimli and his eloquence over the Deeping Caves of Aglarond. Frodo idly ran his fingers through Sam’s hair. He had no thought of taming the unruly locks, he just enjoyed how much Sam enjoyed it. The weight on his shoulder increased. He tucked a wayward curl behind Sam’s ear and kissed the top of his head. ‘Bedtime, Sam.’

‘Mmmm. You say the nicest things.’

They left the elves talking and walked slowly hand in hand through the garden to their smial. Their room had suddenly become their sanctuary, a place where they could trust in no interruptions and - at least until Gimli returned - not be overheard if their appreciation of each other was loud and vocal. There were patterns in their interactions that wove through their days, gestures and mannerisms that were often repeated, and now, as Frodo closed the door on the world of Elves, he felt Sam’s hands on his shoulders. He stilled and bowed his head, his breath already quickening as Sam’s fingers worked at the strip of leather holding his hair back. He shivered as fingertips brushed at his nape, easing tangles free and releasing his hair to fall in loose curls around his shoulders. It was a small thing, a small prelude to their loving, but it made Frodo’s heart sing with happiness. He heard a soft sigh and felt Sam’s answering contentment, even as he felt the warmth and pressure of broad hands return to his shoulders.

Slowly, Sam turned him so they faced each other; his smile was warm as he cupped his hands around Frodo’s face, thumbs slowly stroking over his cheekbones. He leaned in, his breath whispering against Frodo’s lips. ‘You are so beautiful, my own.’

Frodo wrapped his arms around Sam and pulled him closer, pressing their bodies together as slow gentle kisses flared into rougher demands. Sam ground back against him, rubbing their shafts together through restraining cloth, while his hands found their favourite havens: one pressed against the small of Frodo’s back, the other at his nape. His fingers tightened in Frodo’s hair, pressing him deeper into the kiss. Their breathing grew more ragged, until they parted with little after-kisses that pulled and teased at each others’ lips. Their shaking hands tried to deal with the barrier of clothing that separated them, and - in their haste to be naked - they made small desperate noises that only drove their urgency and made them more clumsy. Their fingers hampered each other, until Sam grasped Frodo’s wrists tightly and pushed his hands away. There was no need to say “be still”. Frodo shifted his feet a little and obeyed the unspoken command, although it was hard to do so with Sam’s fingers slipping beneath the open edges of his tunic, to rub over his nipples and lightly trace a teasing path across the curve of his belly. Frodo’s head fell back with a moan as trousers pooled at their feet in a whisper of linen, and his cock sprang free against Sam’s.

Sam laughed breathlessly and took the invitation of Frodo’s taut neck as the starting point for kissing his way down the offered body. Frodo tried to fold his fingers around Sam’s rigid shaft, but Sam took his wrists once more and forced them to his side; the tightness of his grip was gauged to perfection: arousing with just a hint of pain. Frodo moaned again, louder and more needful as Sam dropped to his knees at his feet; he widened his stance and canted his hips to beg. His hair fell forward as he gazed down, narrowing his view. There was only the sight and sensation of Sam - framed by the soft fall of his open tunic - nudging and licking at his balls. His knees trembled, and his cock jerked hopefully; it was not what he’d planned, but his plans so often went astray when it came to loving Sam, and the result was never a disappointment.

‘Sam!’ It wasn’t that he wanted to spill in Sam’s mouth - although he could be persuaded - but he wanted to thrust into the warmth of that haven. He wanted to feel Sam’s knowing tongue furl around him and suckle against him. He wanted... ‘S...Sam! Please!’

Sam looked up at him, his eyes dark with a desire that was echoed in the wildness of his song. His hands - still locked around Frodo’s wrists - trembled as he rubbed his face against Frodo’s shaft; he inhaled deeply, taking possession of Frodo’s scent, and his eyes fluttered closed. Frodo pushed against him, silently begging now, but Sam burrowed in against Frodo’s thigh, his breath warm and moist against his skin. As Sam’s hold on his wrists relaxed, Frodo cradled the back of Sam’s head and pressed him close. He took a deep breath, his whole body aching for more, and blinked back tears as their love sang between them.

‘You... are a cock-tease, Samwise Gamgee.’

Sam raised his head and smiled, laughter lines deepening around his eyes. ‘And a very fine cock it is, too, me dear.’ He furled his fingers around the object under discussion and slowly slid his lips down over his own thumb. Frodo whimpered in frustration at the sight. He tightened one hand in Sam’s hair, while the other sought the head of his neglected shaft. He rubbed his thumb briefly over the weeping slit, enjoying the intensity of the sensation, and offered the result to Sam.

Sam gave a deep hum of approval, and shifted his hold so as to be able to suckle Frodo’s thumb alongside his own. For such a simple thing, it was intensely arousing. Watching was good, but Frodo’s eyes slowly closed as he gave himself up to Sam’s ministrations, teetering on the edge of an urgency that was close to overwhelming him. He was aware that Sam was also fondling his balls, but it was a background theme to the warm slide and furl of Sam’s tongue around his thumb, and to Sam’s fingers tightening around the base of his shaft to hold him in check. He jerked and cried out in relief and anticipation as Sam’s tongue ran up the underside of his erect shaft - a warm and wet exploration. Sensation swirled around his crown, jolting through him as Sam probed into his slit; he moaned Sam’s name, clutching him more tightly in an effort to make him come down on him, but Sam just lapped at the sensitive ridge of the crown’s rim with provocative slowness. With a huge effort, Frodo opened his eyes to gaze down at his tormentor.

Still kneeling at his feet, Sam leaned into him, his hair dishevelled by Frodo’s clutching fingers, his breathing rapid. His skin seemed to glow with an inner light that met and blended with Frodo’s. It was an instinctive gesture for Frodo to tuck a stray lock of curling hair behind Sam’s ear. Sam pressed a kiss to the tip of Frodo’s shaft and tuned his head to look up at Frodo. They gazed at each other in a moment of calm that belied the intensity of their emotions. Sam swallowed and pushed upward, his body and cock rubbing up against Frodo’s. Their mouths came together again, hungry and demanding now, as their tongues contested their roles; it was a chance to define their own needs, and after a moment, Sam readily allowed Frodo to take the ascendancy. The kiss was deep and wet, with an urgent rhythm that was echoed by their roving hands, until their need for more overwhelmed them. Frodo pushed Sam roughly back across the room and down onto their bed, loving the way Sam lay offering himself, loving the flushed heat that suffused Sam’s body, and the rapid rise and fall of his chest. Frodo knelt on all fours over him, his open tunic brushing lightly against Sam’s skin; he knew exactly what his being part-clothed did to Sam and was happy to indulge him. Rocking back slowly onto his haunches, he trailed his tongue in a wet glide down Sam’s body to lick and circle at the dip of his navel. He ignored the richness of Sam’s cock - two could play at that game - and gave his balls only passing attention before nudging them out of the way.

Sam knew just where this was going. He drew his thighs up tight against his chest, inviting Frodo to follow the hard ridge of muscle back to where it disappeared. He gasped as Frodo licked around the sensitive opening, then swore as Frodo withdrew his tongue to lightly nibble his way across a rounded buttock instead. ‘Nál vanya,’ Frodo murmured against warm skin; he was trembling with the effort to slow the pace once more. Beneath him, Sam’s whole body shook with sudden laughter.

‘So, it’s my bottom you find beautiful.’

Frodo brushed his lips lightly downwards; he kissed the dimpled skin at the base of Sam’s spine, and licked his way back up the exposed cleft to his goal. ‘Mmm. There is no part of you that is not beautiful.’

Sam shuddered and jerked again in a much more needful way as Frodo probed with his tongue.

‘Frodo! I... Oh! Yes! Y-yes. I... I want... I want you. Oh! Please... now!’

Frodo came up for air and reached over Sam, pausing on the way to share a kiss. He groped blindly with his hand and came upon the same jar that he had used before. Most of his mind was full of the lingering musky taste of Sam, and the anticipation of sheathing himself in soft heat and tight muscle, but a small corner registered the fact that Sam must have left the jar uncovered deliberately, knowing Frodo’s haste when it came to lubrication. He supported himself with one hand against the back of Sam’s taut thigh and used the ointment to great effect, loving Sam’s writhing and pleading. They both cried out at the moment of entry, from the meeting of their needs and the shared joy of their union. Frodo thrust in hard, riding the rush of intense pleasure that being balls-deep in his Sam always gave him, and then eased back to give Sam what he craved. They both moaned at the rightness of it as his cockhead found the swelling within and rubbed slowly against it.

Sam’s head rolled back on the pillow, and his gaze lost all focus. It was an expression that Frodo loved, knowing exactly how intense the feelings were that went with it; he took a deep breath, steadying his urge to pound Sam into the mattress. He had no doubt that Sam would enjoy the rushed incontinence of it, enjoy his loss of all control, but Frodo knew he could give Sam more. Helped by his earlier release, he willed himself to take his time, to slowly bring them to the edge together. Beneath him, Sam met and welcomed Frodo’s entry at each thrust, opening to him and tightening around him, drawing him in. Lost in the beauty of their loving, they gave and received in equal measure, while their songs intertwined and soared to a high pure note that could not be sustained. Instinctively, Frodo shifted his weight so that he could wrap a hand around Sam’s shaft, and at the same time he let go of all restraint. Eyes closed now, head hanging low, he thrust hard and fast, his breath driven from his body in wordless grunts of effort. Three long, rapid strokes, and he stilled, caught on the brink of his release. So close. So... close.

‘A tulë... a tulë,’ whispered Sam, a breathless catch in his voice, and Frodo thrust again, dragging his hand up against Sam’s shaft as he did so. They came together in a great rush of love, crashing over into the wonder of fulfilment.

Panting and almost moved to tears, Frodo sank down into Sam’s kisses. His tunic clung damply to his flushed and heated skin, his body sweat-drenched with the exertion and exhilaration of their loving. Between them, Sam’s seed was warm and wet. They whispered quiet endearments to each other between their breathless kisses, and their hands translated the words into loving caresses. Frodo would have happily lain there all night, but Sam needed space to stretch cramped muscles. He shifted so they could lie more comfortably with arms and legs entwined as gradually their breathing slowed.

‘Frodo?’

‘My dearest Sam.’

‘You’re right.’

‘Hmm?’

‘We should think about taking the gift.’

Frodo opened his eyes in a surprise that was muted by his post-coital somnolence. ‘What’s made you change your mind?’

‘Everything.’

Everything?’
Frodo freed an arm and pushed himself up enough to smile down at Sam, amused by such an all-encompassing answer. Sam didn’t smile back as he reached up to stroke Frodo’s face, but the softness of his expression was full of love.

‘Well, I trust you, for one, though there’s nothing new there, me dear. I just needed Ninquelótë to bring me to understand that I trust you in life
and death. You’re so much wiser than I am. You understand things that I only dimly perceive.’ Frodo opened his mouth to refute this aloud, but Sam forestalled him with fingers pressed to his lips. ‘No! Don’t deny it. You’re my own star-glass, shining a light into dark places, and I trust you to be there when all other lights go out.’

Frodo blinked as tears welled in his eyes, blurring his sight. He was touched by Sam’s faith in him. ‘I don’t think we will ever truly be in the dark.’

‘Maybe not. Meditating with you was an eye-opener and no mistake. I might not have been able to see what you see, but I felt your joy, maybe greater than what we’ve just shared. There’s naught to fear, and you must forgive your Sam for being so foolish.’

‘Believe me, Sam, there’s nothing to forgive. You are not foolish. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, and there’s no hurry to come to one.’

‘There’s Tom’s letter to remind me that my family are maybe waiting for me.’

Frodo dipped down to kiss away the worried frown between Sam’s brows. He settled back into his arms and reached for one of the towels that was always kept handy, to wipe them clean and make sleeping in each other’s arms a comfortable proposition. ‘I don’t think you need worry about Rosie and Tom and the rest,’ he said gently; he thought he’d laid that worry to rest already, but it obviously needed repeating. ‘I can’t imagine that time has any meaning in death, and if that’s the case, there’d be no sense of waiting, would there?’

‘Maybe you’re right, but see, that’s what I mean: it’s beyond the likes of my understanding.’

‘It’s truly beyond all our understanding,
meldarinya.’ Frodo discarded the towel and laid a hand palm down against Sam’s chest, feeling the solid thump of his heart and the steady rise and fall of each breath. Sam was so alive and so very much his own heart; how could any gift better this? He burrowed into Sam’s solid presence and yawned, suddenly very tired, but Sam hadn’t finished with his ruminations.

‘I suppose it would be rude to go just yet.’

‘Hmm?’

‘I mean with Legolas and Gimli just having arrived, an’ all.’

Frodo gave a quiet huff of laughter. He only had one useful thing to say before he drifted into sleep. ‘I love you, Samwise Gamgee.’ He felt Sam’s arms tighten around him.

‘Always and forever, Frodo Baggins.’

* * *


Legolas hitched his pack on his back and followed Gimli down the path. The elm trees towered above them, their leaves on the brink of turning to autumnal orange. The canopy dimmed the light, shutting out the heat of the day. It gave Legolas a feeling of home. He didn’t speak until they were out of hearing of their hosts, then he cleared his throat to bring Gimli out of his reverie.

‘So. What did you think of Celebrían?’

‘Oh, hrm, she’s very... hrm...’

Legolas kept a straight face, not wanting his voice to betray his amusement at Gimli’s sudden incoherence. ‘She’s very like Galadriel, isn’t she?’

Gimli halted and turned to look up at Legolas, his face pensive. ‘Yes. But sad. I can’t say I’m sorry to leave: I’m glad we went, but it was hard to know what to say.’

‘I don’t think it matters; I think it’s just important that we went.’

Gimli nodded, and they walked on in a silence that lasted until the light began to fail. They climbed up to a flet, with only a token grumbling from Gimli, and spoke quietly together long into the night, until Gimli’s words faded into snores. The leaf cover was still dense enough to shut out the moonlight, but it was not darkness that Legolas saw as he sat cross-legged beside his sleeping companion. One question and answer in their conversation dominated and directed his visions of the past.

‘Gimli, what did Galadriel say to you before we left?’

‘Hm? Oh, that I would not be granted a longer life than that allotted to my kind. I didn’t expect anything different; I told my lady that’s not why I came.’

Against a background of annoying snores and the soothing rustle of leaves above and around him, Legolas relived his first meeting with the young dwarf, and his own distrust and inability to see beyond his father’s prejudices. He sighed quietly, and settled into a state of waking dreams, following the path of his own acceptance of, and love for, his unlikely friend. It was a friendship that had been forged from mutual respect and reliance, and tempered by their fierce protection of the hobbits, and by their unwavering determination to rescue them at whatever cost to themselves. They were bound by their refusal to succumb to the allure of the Ring and by their willingness to sacrifice their lives, if that were the currency needed to buy Frodo more time. Legolas stood once more before the great gate of the Morannon and witnessed the tokens of mithril shirt, cloak and sword that meant the sacrifice would be in vain. As he stood beside Arod, head bowed in pain, Gimli snorted in derision.

‘Ha! He knows not of the greatest token of them all, or we would have been crushed long before now. I cannot believe he holds either hobbit captive. It is all a ruse to make us despair. Come, Master Elf! I like not this black tide of orcs. Let us ride back to a more defensible position and then you shall set me down to wield my axe without fear of cutting off your head!’

The image wavered into the present as Legolas blinked in the early morning sunshine, filtering through the trees in fine lines of golden light. Dappled shadows dipped and flowed over Gimli as the leaves swayed above them. For a wonder, the dwarf had rolled onto his side and stopped snoring. It seemed a pity to disturb him, but Legolas shook him awake. Ignoring the dwarvish muttering, he climbed down from the flet to wash his face in the stream that flowed in a rocky bed nearby.

After breakfast they travelled on, following the stream. The narrow path - and their consequent single file - limited conversation until they emerged from the dim woodland light into sunshine and wind. The blue above seemed bluer for the dazzling white of the clouds that lazed their way across the sky, while ahead, cloud-shadows patterned the close-cropped grassland in shades of green. Now they could walk abreast.

‘Where do you intend to live?’ asked Gimli suddenly.

‘For now? I’m going to take our small furry-footed Halflings up on their offer and enjoy their company while I still can. You?’

‘Need you ask? It’s such a delight, seeing them together. I never considered...’

‘What?’ Legolas looked at Gimli curiously.

‘That we never knew Frodo before the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He was so grave and serious. Even when he was amused by some antic of Pippin’s, it was all on the surface; deep down he was worrying that he’d be the death of that young prankster - the death of us all. He disappeared further and further into himself...’

Legolas touched Gimli’s shoulder as the dwarf fell silent, his head bowed. ‘It’s good to see that he is happy, isn’t it?’ he said gently.

Gimli’s eyes were overly bright as he looked up and nodded. ‘Happy with Sam.’

‘I’m not sure it’s all Sam’s doing. Celebrían has high regard for their friend Ninquelótë.’

‘Ninkwee... Oh, you mean that elf with the white hair. He smiled a lot. I thought he looked rather foolish.’ Gimli was dismissive.

‘And yet he is named with honour, after one of the two trees of Valinor, and he is reputedly a great healer. You look a little foolish, my friend, when those around you speak only Quenya.’

‘No, I don’t.’

‘Yes. You do.’

‘Humpf!’

‘And his hair isn’t white.’

Gimli didn’t follow this diversion, but made his own. ‘His daughter likes you.’

‘What!’

‘His daughter likes you. She couldn’t take her eyes off you. Frodo was very amused that you didn’t notice. I thought her very beautiful. Not Galadriel-beautiful, you understand, but still... What does her name mean?’

Legolas felt his face heat. If he blushed he’d never hear the last of it. He answered Gimli’s question as nonchalantly as possible. ‘Golden blossom, but I think that is probably an affectionate pun on her father’s name and her own golden head of hair, and not the name she was born to. She takes after her mother in looks.’

‘Ah, so you did notice her.’

‘I... well, of course I... She...’

Gimli crowed with unsuppressed glee. ‘Legolas! You’re blushing!’

‘I am not!’

‘Yes, you are.’

They had come to a halt while they argued the point. Legolas mustered as much dignity as he could. ‘I think we should walk on if we wish to get home before dark,’ he said.

‘Home! I like that.’

Legolas was glad that Gimli dropped the topic of Ninquelótë's daughter, although the occasional snort suggested that Gimli might still be laughing at him. Swallowing his irritation, Legolas adjusted his pack and led the way across the rock-strewn grassland. Carrying no wider map in his mind, he followed the outward path they had taken alongside the stream, although instinct told him there was possibly a more direct way if they struck out for the eastern coast. They passed through the woodhall not far from the hobbits’ smial late in the afternoon, and descended down to where the stream met the wider waters of the salt marshes.

Entering the kitchen through the back door, they found a quietness suggestive of a deserted smial, which slightly spoilt the sense of homecoming. Legolas let Gimli precede him - surely the stomping and puffing would alert Frodo and Sam to their return, should the hobbits be... if they were... not absent but, erm, unaware and otherwise engaged. He needn’t have worried. The only danger was falling over Gimli as his friend stopped with open-mouthed surprise in the courtyard.

‘They’ve made... they’ve dug... they...’ Gimli’s words were incoherent, and his eyes were overly bright as he turned to look up at Legolas. In the courtyard, where there had been none before, an archway opened into the cliff face in the dwarvish style. There was a thick layer of dust over the paving stones, and - heaped to one side - carved-out blocks and rubble. Legolas could see a glimpse of a lobby area and a room beyond.

‘I think it’s for you.’

‘I don’t know what to say. How have they managed to do so much in so little time?’

‘I’ve no idea.’

‘Where do you think they are?’ Gimli stepped into the opened smial. ‘Hello! Anyone there?’ A resonance to his voice, like tiny echoes, was the only answer. They wandered out into the garden leaving dusty footprints as they went, but it was equally deserted.

Legolas stood still, listening to faint sounds. ‘There are voices and laughter coming from the shore,’ he said.

‘I can’t hear anything.’

‘Nevertheless, I can.’

Gimli gave him his “don’t be so irritating” look and stumped off towards the path that led up to the line of trees. It was late enough in the day that the low sun gave the trunks a warm reddish glow, but there was no hint yet of a welcome coolness in the evening air. It was not until they emerged from the wooded shelter that they met a refreshing onshore breeze.

On the beach, dark-haired elves were busy around Nimaiwë. The trunk of some tall tree lay on supports, roughly shaped into a new mast, while close by - laid out like a jigsaw - the salvaged remains of her old mast formed a pattern from which the elves worked with callipers and measuring rods. Legolas could not recognise individuals, but these were the Shore Folk, the Teleri. Beyond them, low waves rolled up the beach, obliterating footprints in the sand, and here was the source of the laughter. Fair-haired elves sported in the sea, calling to one another as they shook water from their hair. Legolas was sure he had never seen them before, that they had not been at the feast. Amongst them, rounded heads in mottled shades of grey and brown rose to watch their antics with inquisitive dark eyes.

‘What are those creatures?’ asked Gimli.

‘I believe Frodo calls them sea-hounds, but the Teleri call them Iorhael’s sea-shadows.’

‘Iorhael? Oh, yes - Frodo, you mean.’

‘You will have to get used to it.’

Gimli just nodded. ‘Where are the hobbits, anyway?’

Legolas pointed to light welling up through the calmer water beyond the waves. ‘There, I think - oh!’ The exclamation was one of delight as Sam broke the surface and threw back his head in a shower of water that danced and shimmered in his light. Almost immediately, Frodo followed, spiralling around Sam, until Sam caught him in his arms and the water closed over their heads again. They came up spluttering and laughing, and struck out for the shore.

‘Legolas!’ Gimli’s exclamation was a husky whisper.

‘Yes, I see it.’

The hobbits pulled themselves from the waves and stood naked and dripping on the shore. Sam pushed Frodo’s hair back from his face, gathering it at his nape to wring it out, while Frodo’s hands chased water from Sam’s body. As they turned to walk hand-in-hand across the sand, Frodo was the brighter of the two, but there was no doubt - Sam glowed with his own inner light. Something had wrought this change, had brought Sam even closer to Frodo, and - as Legolas saw Ninquelótë step forward with towels to wrap around the hobbits - he wondered if the healer had played a part.

Gimli nudged Legolas. ‘They’ve seen us.’ The dwarf half-ran, half-slid down the steep sandy path, digging his heels into the shifting surface to stop himself from losing his footing. Legolas followed more slowly, watching the unknown elves gather around Gimli and give him respectful greeting. He trusted that any elf who was a friend of Frodo’s and Sam’s would be friendly towards Gimli, but it was only later, sitting in the garden while their evening meal cooked, that he realised these elves were kindred spirits to the dwarf; for them, digging and delving were an art form.

After supper, Frodo translated between Quenya and Westron, struggling sometimes to find the right word as the talk became more technical. Gimli grew more and more animated, until Frodo threw up his hands and begged for a reprieve. He patted Gimli on the shoulder.

‘I have always wished that you could meet the stonemasons here, Gimli. I never dreamt it would really happen. You and Legolas should go and visit them in the north.’ Frodo glanced at Legolas and laughed. ‘Don’t look so dismayed. I’m sure they won’t only talk about quarrying and carving. I lived with them for a long time, and sometimes they even stopped for meals or noticed the weather.’

Sam settled in beside Frodo. ‘Don’t listen to him, Legolas. They will make you very welcome.’ The hobbits smiled at each other, eyes warm, and Legolas guessed that words passed silently between them. Frodo set his pipe aside and pulled Sam closer into the fold of his arm; he turned his head so that his lips lightly brushed Sam’s temple. In the failing light of the closing day, their own radiance blended together in a soft glow that seemed to set the air around them shimmering with faint colours. Their eyes closed as they leant together.

After a while, Legolas would have thought them asleep were it not for the continuing light that welled from them, and the lingering intimacy of their smiles. Love and sadness pierced him like a knife’s blade: he had thought to escape the loss of more friends, and yet here were two very dear to him, who seemed to hold to the living world by the most tenuous of threads. He looked away and met Ninquelótë's gaze.

‘It is not a sight I ever tire of,’ said Ninquelótë quietly. ‘Do you see the beauty in the air around them? I believe we see something of Ilúvatar's blessing upon them.’ He laid his hand lightly on Legolas’s arm and indicated the garden with a movement of his head. ‘Will you walk with me, Laiqualassë?’

The garden was no more than dim shadows as they wandered the paths, but Legolas’s memory filled in the details. He breathed deeply: the air was full of a sweet scent that reminded him of Ithilien. Moths fluttered around white flowers that appeared almost blue in the brightening moonlight, while small scurryings and squeakings told of other unseen creatures. Legolas himself remained silent, waiting to see why he had been invited to accompany the healer. Was this to be a warning away from his daughter? If so, Legolas felt the unfairness when he had not encouraged her by so much as a look: she was too young as yet, anyway...

Ninquelótë cleared his throat. ‘You must forgive my being intrusive, but I recently found that I had failed to notice that Panthael...’

Legolas suddenly realised his mouth had dropped open. ‘Sam! I mean Panthael! I mean...’ The thought that Sam might have been warned away from Laurëalotë seemed unbelievable in so many ways that Legolas stumbled into silence; he did not wish to make a complete fool of himself before this elf, whose presence seemed to fill the whole garden.

‘I failed him, because I did not understand that he, too, needed healing, beyond that of Iorhael’s love. It was a small thing, easily made right, but it had prevented his fëa from reaching out to the light, because the way lay through darkness that he feared.’

Legolas was glad that he had not voiced his misunderstanding. ‘And so that is why Sam now radiates light? That is your doing?’

‘No, indeed. I simply showed the way and let Iorhael do all the work - a bad habit of mine, but he is so often successful in unexpected ways. The light was certainly not what I expected; I believe it is because their fëar are so inextricably bound together.’

‘Is that possible?’ Legolas had never heard of one fëa being bound to another; his doubt sounded rude in his ears, and he hastened to apologise. ‘I’m sorry. You have walked a path of wisdom long before I was born...’

Ninquelótë gave him a warm, wide smile. ‘I truly believe that the more I learn, the more I become aware of my ignorance. You have your own wisdom, Laiqualassë; do not belittle it. I would be honoured if you will teach me more about the ways of trees, and I will also be honoured if I come to be counted among your friends.’

‘And the dwarf, Gimli?’

‘Iorhael has spoken very passionately in his defence, and I have no prejudice against him, but there is a barrier of language and culture that I think will take time to overcome. I hope to learn what help I can give him in time - should he wish it, that is; I do not know of any who have arrived here from Middle-earth who did not need some healing, even when I have been slow to recognise that need.’ Ninquelótë regarded Legolas with a keen eye. ‘I do not wish to make that same mistake again.’

‘So you wish me to guide you? I don’t know of any healing that Gimli needs; he always seems very robust and, err, cantankerous to me, but that’s just his way.’

‘You misunderstand me. That is a journey your friend and I must take together. I speak of you.’

‘Me?’ Legolas was quick to dismiss the suggestion. ‘I am fine; you don’t need to worry about me.’

‘And yet, as Panthael did, you fear the darkness, but in your case, you fear the loss of your friends. The thought brings you great pain, and mars your joy at seeing Iorhael and Panthael so happy together.’

Legolas bowed his head. Ninquelótë did indeed have a keen eye. ‘It is hard, living with mortals,’ he mumbled.

‘Especially when you love them.’

Legolas mutely nodded. He was suddenly close to tears. ‘They will go soon, won’t they? Die, I mean, and I feel bereft already. Those merry voices silenced... ’

‘If you will meditate with me, and with our small friends, you will learn what fate awaits them: the wonder of the gift that the father of us all bestows. You will need patience, I think, but you will find the effort rewarding.’

‘Barard - a halfling...’ Legolas looked at Ninquelótë, who nodded.

‘Yes, I have heard of Barard.’

‘He told me recently that wherever Iorhael and Panthael were, they would be together.’

‘That is as true in the future as it is now.’ Ninquelótë spoke with a conviction that was reassuring.

‘Thank you.’

‘My pleasure. Now, let us go and enjoy the halflings’ company for just a little longer.’

Legolas froze in the act of rising and stared in dismay. He had said the hobbits would go soon, but he had meant from an Elvish perspective; Ninquelótë sounded as though he meant in no time at all. The healer cupped his hand around Legolas’s elbow and guided him upright. He smiled at Legolas, this time apologetically. ‘I think you do not always fully understand my Quenya. Did you see their faces as we left? I don’t think it is difficult to predict that soon they will be yawning in mock tiredness and leaving us in favour of their bed.’

They returned to the gathering and found the stonemasons trying to teach Gimli a few practical words of their trade. As for the hobbits, Sam had burrowed in closer against Frodo’s body, and Frodo’s hair had somehow escaped its bonds to fall in loose curls around his face and shoulders. They appeared to be in a world of their own, and had maybe even forgotten that they were not alone. Sam’s fingers wound into Frodo’s hair as Frodo cupped Sam’s face with his free hand and bent his head. They kissed with a slow thoroughness, and their light did indeed seem to shimmer around them. The hunters nudged each other and grinned. The stonemasons caught the movement, so that all heads turned to watch. Softly exchanged comments turned to open laughter and good-natured ribaldry. Frodo’s lips curled into a smile within the kiss; eyes still closed, he removed his hand from Sam’s face, and flapped it in their direction: an unmistakable imperative to go away.

The indigenous elves drifted away, still laughing, but Legolas hesitated, held by the love that welled in golden light from the hobbits. His heart was touched with a longing he had never known before. It was like the sea-longing that had been called forth by the mewling of the gulls, but this was another long dormant desire, a desire for a mate. He jumped and looked down as Gimli poked him in the ribs. With a jerk of his thumb, the dwarf indicated that they should leave; already Frodo’s hand had wandered down to rub over the prominent bulge in Sam’s trousers. Legolas blushed and nodded. He had no need of another demonstration of just how well-endowed hobbits were in relation to their size.

Together, he and Gimli followed the path that lead through the trees to the dunes, where they sat looking out to the east. Below them, the restless sea ran up the beach in small waves, while further out, the great expanse of water reflected back the moonlight in gold-tinged ripples.

Gimli chuckled as he brought out pipe and pouch. ‘Randy little buggers,’ he said, the phrase sounding well-used. Legolas nodded and leaned back into the dune, easing his shoulders between the sharp blades of marram grass. He had not put aside his sense of loss when contemplating the mortality of his friends, but - with time - he trusted Ninquelótë to teach him acceptance. In the damp night air, the scent of pipeweed mingled with the resinous smell of pine and a faint hint of seaweed. Gimli was a dark shadow above him, silhouetted against the moon.

Legolas tucked his hands behind his head to make a more comfortable pillow. ‘Ninquelótë says Frodo and Sam are bound together, for all time.’

‘I don’t doubt it.’

Legolas gazed up at the moon that dimmed all stars except the brightest - Eärendil foremost amongst them. Faintly, he thought he caught an echo of music that sang in the heavens. ‘No, neither do I,’ he said softly, and for the first time since the death of Elessar, he felt at peace.


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