Between Two Lights by Lbilover


The above photo by Sylvain Clapot has haunted me ever since I found on the Internet. It immediately put me in mind of the Straight Road to Valinor, with Mt. Taniquetil in the distance, and finally I had to try and write a story around it. Yes, it is a fanciful take on Sam’s journey to the Undying Lands, but after I found this quote at, I felt I might be forgiven: "And the voice warned him not to attempt this peril; for his strength and skill would not be able to build any ship able to dare the winds and waves of the Great Sea for many long years yet. "Abide now that time, for when it comes then will your work be of utmost worth, and it will be remembered in song for many ages after." "I obey," Cirdan answered, and then it seemed to him that he saw (in a vision maybe) a shape like a white boat, shining above him, that sailed west through the air, and as it dwindled in the distance it looked like a star of so great a brilliance that it cast a shadow of Cirdan upon the strand where he stood." The History of Middle-earth, vol. XII, The Peoples of Middle-earth: "Last Writings - Cirdan," p. 386

When the grey ship left her mooring at the Havens, Sam experienced no small measure of dread. Beyond the smooth glassy water of the harbour he could see white-capped waves under cloudy skies, and he was no sailor accustomed to the pitch and roll of the deck. Frodo had braved the same crossing, and to be with him again so would Sam - but not gladly. Boats were for Brandybucks, not Gamgees.

They passed slowly between the twin spits of land thrust out like protective arms on either side of the harbour, into the open sea and the buffeting wind that awaited them. The sails were quickly and expertly unfurled, billowing out like great curtains as the ship tacked and the wind, fresh and keen, filled them.

The Elven ship leaped eagerly forward; faster and faster she sped across the water with a swiftness Shadowfax might have envied. The rigging creaked and hummed with the strain and the deck vibrated beneath Sam’s bare soles, and he marvelled at her speed even as his heart took up lodging in his throat. The Elves had raised their voices in song and it seemed to Sam that the ship responded as much to their song as to the strength of the wind at her back.

Just when Sam thought she could take no more and beams and planks must surely split asunder from the strain, he felt the deck shift, tilting upward as the gracefully curved prow of the ship rose.

The tilt wasn’t steep enough for Sam to lose his balance; nevertheless he was alarmed, especially when the ship did not settle to the surface again but continued gradually to rise. His plain hobbit-sense told him to retreat to safety below deck, but he held tight to the gunwale as one spellbound and stared over the side in mute astonishment.

Already the front half of the ship’s hull, dripping wet, was clear of the churning waves and Sam realised with a thrill that she must soon take wing, like one of the blue herons he had sometimes seen in the early morning flying with solemn, stately majesty out of the mist over the Water.

‘What is happening?’ he called to the ship’s captain, who stood proud and erect behind the wheel. ‘We are ascending to the Straight Road,’ said the Elf . ‘Have no fear, Master Samwise. You are safe.’ The captain’s head was held high, his long dark hair streaming out behind him like a banner. A joyful light was in his sea-grey eyes.

Sam was bewildered. ‘But does not the Straight Road cross the Sea?’

‘It does cross the Sea, but we travel between two lights, above the clouds and beneath the stars.’

And then he joined his song to those of the other Elves and the ship rose higher and higher, until the ocean was far below, an endless sheet of wrinkled iron-grey dotted with thin white lines. Sam stopped looking down, the sight making him dizzy, and instead turned his eyes to the sky.

He’d wondered sometimes what it must be like to be that heron, rising ever higher into the sky, and now he knew. He felt at one with the ship, her eagerness becoming his, and his heart soared as she did, right up to the clouds which parted before her cleaving prow like white sea-foam.

‘Oh,’ Sam exclaimed as the clouds, cool and damp, closed in on either side. He stretched out a hand and his fingers threaded through the thick ghostly mist, leaving shredded trails behind. Never in his wildest imagination had he thought that he might one day touch a cloud, though goodness knew when he was a lad his old dad had scolded him times enough for going around with his head in them. Then he laughed aloud, for it appeared that life still had new marvels in store for Sam Gamgee, and at his age that was saying something, and no mistake.

Then the ship burst through the clouds, where depthless blue skies and golden sunlight greeted their arrival. The clouds swiftly filled in the hole left behind by the ship, shutting out the ocean far below, and she levelled off. Beneath her keel was a sea of cottony white, as dazzling in the midday sun as the stone walls of Minas Tirith, and the Elves sang a new song as they climbed effortlessly in the rigging adjusting the set of her sails. This song sounded quieter to Sam’s ears, more content and less yearning. The difficult part was done, seemingly; now they were setting a course straight for Valinor.

‘Master Samwise,’ an Elf said at Sam’s elbow. Sam started and looked up; bowing slightly, the Elf said, ‘If you would like to come forward, we have a lit a brazier where you can warm your hands, and there is mulled wine to drink and hot food.’

‘Thank you,’ Sam replied, and followed the Elf. He moved stiffly after standing so long in one spot, but had the Elf not interrupted his reverie, he might have remained there unmoving for countless hours.

It was cold above the clouds, shockingly so, despite the brilliant sunshine and the protection of his Elven cloak, and the air felt thin and fragile. Sam held his chilled fingers over the glowing coals, welcoming their warmth, and gratefully accepted the cup of hot spiced wine he was offered.

‘If you grow too cold, we have prepared a cabin for you below deck,’ the Elf said.

Sam thanked him, but wild horses couldn’t have dragged him away. He might have no stomach for sailing on the ocean, but to be a sailor on the clouds? Aye, that he could stomach. Besides, he was being vouchsafed an honour that only two other hobbits had been granted, and he was dead certain that neither Frodo nor Mr. Bilbo had missed a single minute of it.

They’d set sail in late morning, but the sun soon began to wester, turning the cloud-sea from white to the vivid sunset colours that Sam had so often admired from the garden at Bag End. Only down was now up and up was down, and he wondered at the topsy-turvy sight. As the sun sank lower it set the clouds aflame so that the ship might have been skimming across a great lake of fire.

Then at last the sun slipped below the horizon and night swiftly gathered and the clouds slowly darkened and faded from sight. Lanterns were lit and the stars sprang into life, and if Sam had been enraptured before, it was nothing to his state then. For never had he seen such stars, not even on the clearest night in the Shire. They crowded in the midnight sky so thick and so near that he felt he might reach out and gather them in clusters like grapes from a laden vine at harvest time.

As the ship sailed silently on through the deepening dark, the Elves’ song changed again, and such was the joy in their voices as they sang of Elbereth that tears started in Sam’s eyes, for here were no exiles on the wrong side of the sundering sea, but those returning to Elvenhome. And Sam thought of Frodo awaiting him at journey’s end, and the hot tears spilled over and ran down his cold cheeks, for in a very real sense he, too, was returning home after long exile from that he loved.

He stood there, transported, and perhaps his feelings were manifest to the Elves for they spoke no word to him but left him in peace as they went about their work. Thus the enchanted hours passed as the ship sped westward, swift, straight and true as an arrow, until the sky began to lighten once more, suffused with the tender pale gold of the awakening day instead of the fiery red of its dying.

‘What is that?’ Sam asked of a passing Elf, and his voice, unused for so many hours, sounded strange to his own ears, as if he were no longer the same Samwise Gamgee who had boarded the ship at the Grey Havens - and perhaps he was not after the wonders he’d seen.

He pointed ahead of him, where golden pools of light showed among the clouds as if they were lit from within by great lanterns.

‘They are the lights of Avallonë, Master Samwise.’

Sam stared in amazement. ‘You mean we’re almost there? But I reckoned it would take days to arrive.’

The Elf smiled. ‘So it has, but time passes differently here in the world between two lights. Look, can you see? Already Mount Taniquetil shows its snowy head in the distance.’

‘I’ve not the eyesight of an Elf, I fear,’ Sam replied, but straining his eyes, he thought he could just catch a glimmer of sunlight glinting on a snow-capped peak far, far away.

Rapidly the ship drew nearer to the golden pools among the clouds and the stars slowly faded as the sky lightened from black to midnight blue, but then a sight wondrous even amongst so many marvels left Sam gasping. Shooting stars streaked into view, dozens upon dozens, criss-crossing the lightening sky with their blazing yellow trails. The Elves cried out in wonder.

‘We’ve not seen their like since we sailed with the Ring-bearers Bilbo and Frodo,’ the Elf Captain said. ‘Great is the rejoicing in Valinor at your arrival, Master Samwise.’

Sam was abashed, and knew not what to say. Such an honour seemed far beyond his deserving, and besides already the ship’s prow was edging downward, and he could make out Mount Taniquetil clearly in the distance. Soon, very soon, he would be reunited with Frodo, and there was no room in his mind and heart then for any other thought or emotion.

The clouds parted before the ship, pulling back and dispersing to reveal a fair green isle under a swift sunrise, and a beautiful city of white stone surrounding a wide harbour. The ship dove gracefully downward to settle light as a falling leaf upon the sea once more, and sailed smoothly into the dock in Avallonë. Thus it was that Samwise Gamgee, last of the Ring-bearers, came to the Undying Lands and into Frodo’s welcoming embrace.


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