Still Round the Corner by Lbilover

Helps (but not essential) to have read the unpublished epilogues in Sauron Defeated

22 September, S.R. 1482

Frodo rose before the first grey light of dawn was even a pale hint in the eastern sky. Quietly he dressed and made his way through the silent smial and out the back door into the garden, striding swiftly across the frosty grass.

He’d planned for this moment for some days now, that he might get away early and unnoticed- by one in particular. The stable lad was waiting in the Hill Lane as arranged with Frodo’s grey pony saddled and bridled, and had one hand cupped over the pony’s nostrils to prevent him from whinnying at the sight of his master.

Frodo took the reins from the youngster and pressed several coins into his palm. With a whispered ‘thank you’ he mounted and rode away, keeping to the grassy verge so as to silence the sound of the pony’s hooves. Behind him, the lad melted away into the darkness, returning home for some well-earned rest.

By the time dawn arrived, Frodo had travelled past Hobbiton and Bywater on the East-West Road, in the direction of Michel Delving. He reined in his somewhat bewildered pony on a quiet stretch of road outside the village, and dismounted. He led the pony to a patch of grass and tethered him, then settled on a moss-covered tree stump and possessed himself to wait in patience.

Patience was a virtue that he had been taught early by his father, and had cultivated as he would some tender plant, for of all things a gardener must learn patience; but Frodo suspected that in this case, he would not have long to wait. Though he hoped against hope that he would be proved wrong, and that his patience for once would go unrewarded and his wait be in vain.

Wrapping his cloak about him against the cold, Frodo listened to the full-throated song of a wood thrush as it welcomed the sun’s rising. He wondered if the one he awaited was also listening to the birds, and what emotions he was feeling. Regret? Sorrow? His mind whispered another word: happiness? There was a lump in his throat as he peered into the mist that had been raised as the warmth of the sun met the damp chill the night had left behind. No sign yet, but it was early still.

The mist obscured both sight and sound so that the approaching pony and rider were upon Frodo almost before he knew it. At the muffled clip-clop of hooves, he jumped to his feet and strode into the middle of the road. Surrounded by a misty halo of golden light, the rider loomed larger than life, like some kingly figure out of old legends told around the fire on a cold winter’s evening, and Frodo felt a thrill of apprehension run through him.

But as the rider drew nearer, he dwindled into an elderly hobbit sitting straight-backed but stoop-shouldered on a placid chestnut pony with a long flaxen mane and tail. The hobbit’s curls were nearly pure silver-white, only a random gleam of gold giving a hint of their original colour, and they were spangled with diamond droplets of moisture, for though he wore a grey cloak with a hood, his head was uncovered.

Despite the chill dampness that must have caused discomfort to one so old, the hobbit was humming softly and contentedly under his breath. It was a tune that Frodo recognised. A faded worn pack with a coil of rope, a frying pan and a rolled blanket attached to it was secured to the cantle of the pony’s saddle, and the tip of a battered leather scabbard could just be seen beneath the trailing edge of the cloak. Other than that, the old hobbit carried nothing with him.

Frodo’s pony, recognising a friend in the chestnut, whickered a welcome, and the rider, surprised, drew rein. His brown eyes, rheumy with age but still remarkably sharp, fell upon Frodo, and a small huff of dismay escaped him. It was followed by a rueful chuckle, and he said, “So you’ve found me out.”

Frodo strode up to the pony and took hold of its bridle, just above the bit. “Did you really think I wouldn’t, Father?” he asked. “You have not been either careful or clever enough, as Uncle Pippin once said.”

Sam Gamgee considered his eldest son, who looked so very much like a younger version of himself, right down to the earnest expression on his face. A reluctant grin spread over his features. “Let that be a lesson to me: a father oughtn’t ever underestimate his son or forget his own past. But I’m sorry you tumbled to the truth, Frodo-lad. I’d hoped I could make good my escape without you knowing. I wanted to save you- all of you- the pain of good-byes.”

It was more than simply that, however. For in his father’s eyes, Frodo could see impatience, remoteness even, as if in his imagination he was already standing on the deck of a great Elven ship and sailing away from Middle-earth, from his home, forever. As if he saw a future in which his family played no part, and was so anxious, no eager, to reach it that any delay was irksome.

“Well, we’d best talk it out. I can see you’re fair bursting with things to say to me. I'm glad at least you'd sense enough to come alone and not bring the entire ragtag and bobtail with you.” With a sigh, Sam swung his leg over the back of his pony, his slow, laborious movements those of one whose joints agree to bend, but only grudgingly.

Frodo moved to assist his father, reaching for his elbow, but Sam shook his head, though he gave a low grunt of pain when his feet touched the ground and he held tightly to the stirrup leather. He walked about briskly for a few minutes to loosen his cramped limbs, and spoke no words. But he faced his son squarely when he was done, as he had faced every challenge in his long life.

“You mean then to leave us. Father, how can you?” Frodo could not keep the bitterness of reproach from his voice, though he had privately determined that he would make no scene, but reason with his father calmly and rationally and convince him to return home before his absence was noted.

“It’s time, Frodo-lad. With your dear Mother Rose gone, there’s a promise I’m ready to keep.”

“To Frodo of the Ring?”

“Aye, to Frodo.”

The way he said that name, so softly, with such reverence and love… and in a way completely different from any he’d used when speaking Frodo’s own name over the years. It bit deep at that moment, the knowledge that this other Frodo occupied a place in his father's heart that no one else, not even his mother, did; that even after being gone from the Shire for so many years, the Ring-bearer’s hold over Sam Gamgee had not diminished.

It was an honour to have been named after the one his father revered so greatly, the one who had saved the Shire, indeed all of Middle-earth, from darkness. But there had been times Frodo wished he had not been the one to receive such an honour. For who could ever live up to the deeds of Frodo of the Ring? Certainly not one Frodo Gardner.

His father was watching him, waiting with his gardener’s patience for him to speak. Frodo mustered the first of the arguments he meant to make. “Father, have you taken into account how old Frodo would be now?”

“Aye, one hundred-fourteen years old, and this very day as is,” Sam said. “It’s hard to believe, ain’t it? Sometimes it seems like only yesterday we set out from Bag End, me and Frodo and Pippin, with no real notion, even Frodo, of what we were getting ourselves into.”

There was a far-off look in his father’s eyes, a look Frodo had noticed increasingly often in the weeks since his mother’s death, as if Sam Gamgee was seeing things beyond the ken of any save perhaps his fellow Travellers. Fear drove Frodo to speak more bluntly than he originally intended: “You may arrive in the West to discover that he’s already died.”

Sam was silent, his thoughts a thousand leagues away. Then he smiled, his face settling into the creases that years of smiling and laughter had lovingly carved into it. “If that's the case, well, I reckon it won’t be long before I follow him to the Halls of Mandos and meet him there. But I believe he’s still alive, Frodo-lad.” He touched his breast above his heart with fingers gnarled as the roots of the trees he’d planted in the long-ago days after the Troubles. “I’d feel it in here if he’d gone before me.”

“Even though he’s over Sea?”

“Even then,” Sam said with absolute surety. “There are bonds that time and distance can't sunder, and Frodo wouldn’t take that final journey without me, not after telling me that my time would come and that we’d not said farewell for good.”

“But you don’t even know if there will be a ship waiting for you at the Havens. It has been so many years since he spoke those words. What will you do if the harbour is empty?”

“Be sorry I never did learn how to swim, I reckon.”

“And even if there is a ship,” Frodo forged on in despite of Sam’s attempt at humour, “the Sea journey will prove hard for you at your age. Maybe too hard.”

Why couldn’t his stubborn father see that his remaining years should be spent at home in the loving care of his family, not in a foolhardy attempt to fulfill an old promise that might lead him in the end only to heartbreak or death?

“I ain’t so frail as all that, my lad,” Sam retorted with energy, a glint in his eyes. “There’s some strength left in this old body yet. Don’t you go a-putting me in my grave before I’m ready.”

“I’m not trying to,” Frodo hastily apologised. “But you’ve always been afraid of boats, and as you just said, you never learned how to swim. What if you were to fall overboard and drown?”

Sam threw back his head at that and laughed, long and loud, the sound echoing through the mist. “Oh lad, you’ve thought of everything, ain’t you? Maybe I ought never to have read to you from the Red Book, so you wouldn’t find out all my weaknesses and throw them up at me.” His voice gentled. “Now, do you have any other daft ideas to propose for what might happen to me? Or will you trust your old dad, and believe that he knows exactly what he’s doing and where he’s going and that he’ll get there in the end, safe and sound?”

Frodo, abashed, had no answer. He searched his father’s face intently for any sign of weakening and found none. But then, had he honestly believed that he would? There had never been a stronger or more determined hobbit in all of Middle-earth than Samwise Gamgee… save perhaps Frodo of the Ring.

“I see there is nothing I can say that will sway you,” he admitted, and swallowed hard against a constriction in his throat, and then the selfish reason he wished his father to stay, the reason that he had vowed not to voice aloud, tumbled out in a rush: “But oh Sam-dad, I will miss you so.” Unconsciously, he reverted to the name he had called his father in childhood.

“As I’ll miss you, Frodo-lad.” Sam’s eyes were suspiciously bright. He held out his arms, and Frodo stepped into them. They closed about him, warm and secure as they always had been, and at that moment he felt indeed once more a child, not a hobbit full-grown with children of his own. He buried his face in his father’s shoulder, against the softness of the beautiful Elven cloak that had once sheltered the Ring-bearer in Mordor, and his own shoulders began to shake as he realised that this was finally and truly good-bye.

“There now, there now, don’t take on,” Sam soothed gently. “Such partings come to us all in time, one way or another. Be happy for me, as I’ve been happy for Frodo, for I’m going at last to where the elven light hasn’t faded. I’ve finally earned my reward and rest, and I’ll see Frodo again and no doubt talk his ear off, nattering on about my family and the Shire and all our doings.” He held Frodo away from him and smiled. “He’ll be right glad to hear how his namesake has borne his name with honour. Though I ain’t said it so often as I should maybe, I’m proud of you, Frodo-lad, as proud as any father could be of his son. I can leave with a quiet mind, knowing Bag End's in the best of hands.”

Frodo wiped his streaming eyes on his coat sleeve. “But I’ve done no great deeds, Father, nor gone on any quests.” He summoned a shaky laugh. “I never even got that dwarf axe I wanted so badly as a child. I’m only a gardener, when all’s said and done.”

“So was I when I was swept up into matters that I never imagined a Gamgee would be, and so I still am. There’s no ‘only’ about it,” Sam chided, and then added with a hint of sternness: “Frodo sacrificed all that he had so that you and your sisters and brothers and your children and children’s children would have no need for great deeds, but could live in peace and safety here in the dear Shire. There’s naught that will make him happier than to know you never had cause to raise a sword or even,” and a smile grew on his face, “an axe.”

“I always did like the stories about Gimli the best,” Frodo said, smiling back through his tears. “That is, next to the stories about my Sam-dad.”

They embraced once more.

The chestnut pony, growing impatient with standing about, stamped his hoof and snorted, jingling his bit, and Sam said in a gruff voice: “Well, time’s a-wasting and I’ve many miles yet to ride today. Elanorellë is expecting me in a week, and she’ll fret if I’m over late.”

“Ellie is expecting you? Then she knows you’re leaving?” Frodo was surprised, for his sister had never breathed a word of it to him.

“Oh aye. She’s known for many and many a year that this day would come.” Sam went to the pony and gathered up the reins in his left hand. “I’d not say no to a leg up, Frodo-lad,” he said with a touch of rueful humour.

“Of course.” Frodo hurried over. He bent and cupped his hands for his father to step on, and then boosted him up gently into the saddle. “I could ride with you to the Towers, Father, if you like,” he offered, touching his father lightly on the leg as Sam settled himself and arranged his cloak. “So you needn’t travel alone.”

He knew the answer, even before Sam shook his silver-white locks and replied, “You’d best get home to Bag End: that’s where you’re needed now. And I won’t be travelling alone, Frodo-lad. I’ve got Bill the Fourth here and I’ve got my memories- a mort of them, too: enough to keep me company to the Havens and beyond.”

“But you will be careful, won’t you?” asked Frodo anxiously.

“Aye, I will.”

“Please give Ellie and Fastred my love.” Frodo hesitated. “And Frodo of the Ring when you see him.” Not if, but when: for he could no longer doubt that his father and Frodo would indeed be reunited in the West, and sudden gladness filled his heart, imagining the joy of their reunion, and he was happy, even as Sam had wished.

“I’ll do that,” Sam assured him. The light of eager anticipation was sparkling once more in his eyes, and now Frodo felt no bitterness at the sight.

Father and son looked long at each other in a last, wordless good-bye. Then Frodo stepped back from the pony, and with a nod, Sam set his heels to Bill the Fourth’s sides. He rode away without another word or a backward glance, and before he’d gone a hundred yards, he’d started softly to sing.

Frodo stood watching as pony and rider vanished into golden mist that was slowly starting to disperse as the sun climbed higher into the sky. “Farewell, Sam-dad,” he whispered, and lifted his hand, though he knew his father couldn’t see it.

And as if in answer, a breeze sprang up and carried to him the words to the song his father sang, the same one he’d been humming when he’d appeared to Frodo like some legend stepping out of one of the great tales:

Still round the corner there may waitA new road or a secret gate;And though I oft have passed them by,The day has come at last when IShall take the hidden paths that runWest of the Moon, East of the Sun.