‘I wish I’d remembered to bring my spare spectacles, Sam,’ Frodo said, ‘instead of leaving them in Rivendell. The arms of this pair are quite bent and the lenses are scratched. I can hardly see to thread this needle.’
‘Ah, but I packed them in with my gear, Mr. Frodo. I thought you might be needin’ ‘em at some point.’
‘Why Sam, you are a marvel,’ Frodo exclaimed, and smiled as Sam blushed. The smile felt odd, tugging at his lips. Since the breaking of the Fellowship, and especially his last encounter with Boromir, smiles had been few and far between.
‘Give me a moment to finish buildin’ the fire, sir, and I’ll find ‘em for you.’
‘That’s all right, Sam. I can get them myself. Keep on with what you’re doing.’ Frodo set aside needle, thread and torn shirt, and crouched beside Sam’s sturdy canvas pack. In truth, he welcomed the distraction, and he was rather curious to see inside Sam’s pack. During the weeks of their journey, he had on numerous occasions mentioned some small item he’d forgotten, only to discover that Sam had remembered it for him. It wouldn’t surprise him to find the Bag End kitchen sink inside or, if he were really lucky, his beautiful feather mattress and pillows.
Frodo found neither sink nor mattress nor pillows, but he did uncover several embroidered handkerchiefs with his initials, his spare tobacco pouch, a bare handful of pen nibs, his pocketknife, and his toenail trimmer. He was torn between amazement and amusement at these discoveries. Even more, however, he was touched at this further evidence of Sam’s care and devotion.
His spare spectacles were hiding near the bottom of the pack. They were wrapped in a protective layer of thick cotton wool, and tucked into the folds of a nightshirt. Frodo gaped. He recognised that nightshirt, though he’d certainly never expected to see it again.
He lifted it carefully out of the pack; it spilled across his lap, a waterfall of pale ice-blue silk that shimmered in the golden evening light. There was something so incongruous about the contrast between the exquisite fabric with its subtle, intricate design and his own travel-stained and worn attire. And how long ago it seemed since he’d awoken in that great bed in Rivendell to find Gandalf sitting there with his pipe and a smile in his grey eyes beneath their bushy brows. He blinked back sudden tears at the memory.
‘Sam,’ Frodo said, ‘what is this?’
Sam glanced over and raised his eyebrows. ‘Why, ‘tis your nightshirt, Mr. Frodo,’ he said. ‘The one as the Elves gave you in Rivendell.’
‘I know that, Sam, but what I mean is, why did you bring it? You had to know I’d never have occasion to wear it on the Road to,’ he lowered his voice, ‘Mordor.’
Sam poked at the fire with a stick. Frodo didn’t think it was his imagination that Sam looked suddenly uncomfortable, and the tips of his ears had turned rather red.
‘Maybe not,’ he said quietly, ‘but I couldn’t bring myself to leave it behind. If I outlive the old Took by a hundred years, I’ll never forget how you looked that day, Mr. Frodo, sittin’ up in bed, awake and well again after I’d feared…’
His voice trailed away, and Frodo had the feeling that Sam was the one blinking back tears now. ‘Sam, my dear Sam, but this is far too grand a nightshirt for a simple hobbit,’ he said, hoping the jest might ease Sam’s distress.
But Sam did not laugh at the jest. Clenching the smouldering stick in his right hand, he faced Frodo and said with surprising force, ‘Never say it, Mr. Frodo, never say it. You looked… why, you looked fairer than any Elf when you was wearin’ it.’
They stared at each other across the short distance that separated them, and there was no mistaking the fire burning in the depths of Sam’s hazel eyes or what it signified. Certain truths that Frodo had had buried deep forced themselves to the surface of his conscious mind like a sprouting seed striving for the light of the sun. It seemed he was not the only one who burned. Time hung suspended; it was Frodo who dropped his gaze first. Lowering his head, he carefully refolded the nightshirt, tucked his bent spectacles inside it, and replaced it in the pack.
‘The time may come, Sam,’ he said, ‘when you will have to leave it behind.’ His heart ached with sorrow and regret for what might have been had fate been less cruel. The Ring felt suddenly heavier, dragging at his neck, mocking him with its power. Frodo steadfastly raised his head, refusing to let it cow him.
‘Aye, I know that well enough,’ Sam replied soberly, but then he smiled.
Frodo looked at him inquiringly. ‘What?’
Sam patted the pocket of his weskit. ‘I’ve a bit of the fabric here in my pocket, for safekeeping like—it cost me a pang to cut the nightshirt even a little, but I reckon if I do have to leave it behind, Mr. Frodo, I can have the Elves make you a new one when we get back.’ He returned to his fire building, humming softly under his breath.
When we get back? Oh Sam, Frodo thought, blinking back yet more tears. Then he put on his new spectacles, and with steady hands and a lighter heart, threaded the needle.