With many thanks and hugs to Adrienne, Astra and Irene, without whom... :)

The Calling Cover Calling

The thin end of a sunray touched the doorstep, sieved through the crowns of apple trees. When Sam opened the front door, it edged the pale flagstones and cradled a small object in its white gleam. Crisp morning air washed up Sam's arms as he bent over the thing that had not been there when he'd shut the door on nightfall. It was a sea-shell such as he'd only seen once before. Wrapped in the day's first radiance, it shone pearly and white, shaped as a cleaved heart and speckled pale blue over the sides.

Sam breathed out carefully. The door stones were cold under his feet, crammed with the shivers of coming autumn, but a wilder frost spilled through him. The shell filled his hand perfectly. For long moments he held it, till it grew warm and a little damp against his skin. He willed himself to lift it to his ear. When had his movements grown so slow? From the hollow rose steady whispers, like a rushing of wind and waves. Of blood.

Somewhere in the distance trilled a warbler, and wooden shutters creaked a bit of a ways down the Hill. A salty whiff breathed off the shell, tingling in Sam's nose and eyes as he listened and listened into the secret cupped over his ear, till all others sounds backed away, and the rush went through him head to foot. Was this all, all the calling he would have? Just this --

A thread of singing unwound then, from a tangle of silken voices. Sam closed his eyes, all heed bent into the faint harmonies so he could be sure. Sure he'd not been taken by a mere spell of memory and foolish wishing.

But this wasn't a remembrance, it was a melody he'd never heard before. One moment it sang strange and fierce, and the next it seemed strung together from the kernels of songs that ran familiar through the years. His heart beat more strongly against his ribs, roused into the music, and it made him feel -- made him feel --

young.

He slid his thumb across the cleft lip of the shell as if to catch the sound to his skin. Excitement trembled up his legs, and over his back ran a chill deeper than the morning air. Now at last he could -- how would it be when--? His thoughts spun on a storm of soon and maybe.

For a spell he just stood there, taking deep gulps of the morning scents he'd breathed all his life, such sweetness as he'd leave behind for the harsh airs over the Sea.

Oh but the waiting...

He couldn't think on it now when it flared and pulled so tight, sparked to a new heat from the crush of years. He retreated to the study and set the shell on the empty desk. On the window sill stood the white roses he'd placed there in celebration of Mr. Frodo's birthday.

Sam looked around, from the shelves to the mantelpiece to the smoke-darkened pictures on the wall. Bit by bit, the quiet of Mr. Frodo's old study crawled up inside him. Here he'd watched through the long nights of sixth October and thirteenth March, one year after the next, recollecting how Mr. Frodo had paced off the hours without rest, till he could hear those steps again. Determined, fearful, angry. Afraid of the shadows wanting to burrow beneath his skin. But where Frodo was now, none of it could reach him. The sounds and anguish of his pacing had stayed behind, shed like autumn leaves into the hush of his old home.

Bag End was very quiet, and not a whisper of noise stirred from the bedchambers. It gave Sam an odd feeling, as if the smials had shrunk about him like an old garment. He'd locked the bedroom he'd shared with Rosie and from then on took his rest in the big chair by the hearth. There he'd slept this last night, for some fitful hours, wrapped in one single thought. I shall set out tomorrow, call or no call.

"Now what've I forgotten?" His voice fell dry into the room's stillness. He should be in a flurry to leave instead of idling over matters as had long been settled. All ready, his travel pack held every item needful on such a journey, and some well-loved trinkets too.

Sam placed it on the chair, cradling the smooth backrest between his thumbs. Its auburn gloss hadn't aged a day. Only his hands showed the wear of years, and they locked so tight now that the veins stood out blue under the brown. It was time. He wrapped the shell in a piece of soft cloth and set it inside his pack, a sudden trembling in his fingers. It fit in next to his pipe and several carefully tied satchels filled with flower-seeds.

His next stop was the kitchen where he took his provender out of the breadbox; enough of it to last him the full stretch of the way, not counting such apples and berries as he might collect on the road. He laced his bundle tight when a soft rustle crept over from the doorstep.

"Dad." Frodo, his hair sleep-tousled and his eyes too bright, paused in the door. "There's nothing I can say to stop you, is there."

It wasn't even half a question. Sam dropped his pack on the table, to meet the troubled look forthright. Outdoors, the sunlight and birdsong had strengthened and poured richly into the kitchen. Bag End looked its finest in this fresh shine, and so did the gardens.

"I'm leaving it all to you." His hand fluttered and fell to his side when he recognized the words, and the jab of pain flinching across his son's round face. So like me. And not so. "Frodo-lad..."

Already, the name had a different taste on his tongue, culled up through years with a terrible ease. His son's brown eyes searched him up and down and lastly found a hold on his face, fixing him with an unsure smile.

"You know where I'm going," he said, suddenly wearing a smile like a foolish tweener, and though Frodo shook his head at him, it was a yes.

The distance was lightly crossed, his arms around his son, and his breast filling with something more solid than air. A soothing murmur crept into the folds of Frodo's shirt when his hand found such tension in the lad's spine.

"If it brings you happiness, I haven't a wish to stop you." Frodo's cheeks were in a flush of coming tears.

"I thank you, my lad." Sam brushed a hand over his curls. "That I'm leavin' don't mean I--" His voice thickened, almost refusing him. "Nothing shall stop me from keeping you in my heart."

"As we'll keep you," Frodo answered, and tears spilled free, coursing down into a stubborn smile. "As you've kept him" -- it was a whisper then, a thing not ever spoken between them -- "all these years."

Sam closed his eyes and nodded.

~~~

By noon, he'd passed Tuckborough and set about climbing the White Downs on the north side. Halfway up the slope, Sam stopped the pony, patting her flank as he looked back one last time. The air shimmered all the way up to the Three-Farthing Stone, and the fields lay brimming in the glow of Halimath. So clear was the weather, he fancied he could see a glimpse of his mallorn tree, a cool gold sparkle out of deep greens. He'd had the good luck to see all of the Shire prosper in his years as Mayor, and what small troubles wanted to stir up were soon dealt with.

Sam gathered up the pony's reins and wrapped them round his hand. He'd been preparing to leave for a while. Instead of tearing off in a hurry, he took the time for neighbourly visits and a last night in the Green Dragon. A merry evening it had been, save for Sandyman's ugly croak and drunken ramblings. For a moment there, Sam had half a mind to tell him where he was off to.

Before his sight gathered many faces, though none lingered for long. The Gaffer, now many years gone, Rosie, his sons and daughters, Merry and Pippin... and it seemed that all the love he'd been given fell like a bright blur over the land.

Sam turned and led the pony straightways up the path. His goodbyes had been made in good time, but now he wondered at all his ambling and shuffling of his feet. There was none of the joy he'd expected. Leaving brought him to a fret and so much unfledged wishing, just as it had when he'd followed Mr. Frodo out of the Shire. And the trail he took to was many years cold.

Up on the ridge, he climbed on the pony's back, and they worked their way down into a wooded dale, the first of many more. The gentle purling of a brook hovered on the air. It put Sam in mind of the Water swelling with rain this last winter, so he could hear it at night, driven through the dark and hurtling out away into the West. Till its wildness raced louder than his heartbeats.

He shook his head and looked up, wanting to keep all the sights that showed forth along the road. The shapes of trees he wouldn't ever see again, the mild weaving of the poplars and the alders' bushy shelter. But they were as they'd always been, one after the other, and barely gave a nod to his passing.

In a little while, he crossed the brook in a shallow spot, where bent alders dropped their boughs towards the wet. Sam blinked against the light darting across leaves and water. These trees now, they wouldn't mind him gone.

He nudged the pony into a quicker trot. 'Tis when you spend more time lookin' back than looking afore you, his Gaffer had used to say, in between sucking on his pipe, mark you, that's how you know you've grown old. But Sam had never stopped looking ahead, not for a day in his life.

~~~

In two days, he'd gone round Michel Delving and several miles forward across the West March. To the north and west rose the green backs of the Tower Hills, casting their humped evening shadows. He was treading paths he could find in the blindness of night or a blizzard, if needs be, but they stretched weary and grey before him. All the while, he was looking for a road that would greet him.

Sam rode another hour into dusk, before making his camp in a hawthorn-ringed dell. Dry twigs and branches littered the grass, and he had a fire started in no time. When he huddled down beside it, the night-chills were rising from the hard ground.

Everything was perfectly still. Not a sigh of wind in the boughs, and for miles around, the plain stretched away into coming darkness. Only the fire breathed and crackled. Sam shifted uncomfortably, his stiff joints and aching bones too familiar with the comforts of padded chairs and feather-beds. Not for the first time, he wondered if there were a cure for age in the Blessed Lands. And for wants far worse.

With a quick toss, he fed his campfire another tumble of dry hawthorn. The riding had left him sore, and tired besides, more than it ought to. He unwrapped his provender, a loaf of bread and a white radish, and took out the sea-shell, too. But he wasn't in the mood now for its proud music.

When he'd first travelled these roads, years ago, all his dreaming of Elves had faltered in the sound of their singing on the way to the Sea. His fingers closed tight about the shell. There weren't a sense in him for turning back, nor for holding on to all the Shire's blessings, but something else turned over in his breast -- a thing so cold and scathing that he couldn't bear to touch it. He watched the fire where it flickered green at the heart, amid the pale yellow and orange.

In some days, or weeks at most, he would --

And when he reached that far shore, Mr. Frodo would be --

Frodo... Sam drew a strong breath. Here was a place and time for recollecting, and unlacing those pockets of memories he'd fastened up tight in years past. There'd been long stretches of months when he'd not touched them at all, for fear they'd dull and fade. Or that he'd go out like a fire with naught left to burn on. Only --

hope

-- and what it had done to him, carving at his bones betimes, then again wrapping him up safe, like a blanket.

But no memory came, save one. A star on the water that glimmered and dwindled, when all other lights had gone out.

Sam glanced down at the shell. Flush with firelight, its curve nestled into his palm. But where ever it came from, it weren't a message from Mr. Frodo, nothing he'd held in his own hands.

Sam set it down on the folded blanket and reached for his knife to cut a slice off the radish. In a moment he had to snatch his hand out of the blade's path, near cutting himself.

He left me behind.
And don't you know why, Sam Gamgee?

With a distraught breath, Sam dropped the knife. His hands were failing. Had failed, a long time ago, and nothing he did could amend for it.

All the life he'd given. His children. The young trees he nurtured in all the scarred and blackened places after the war. At times he rode out before dawn to make sure the nightwinds hadn't ruined tender shoots and blossoms, and when wild sows tore up the roots, the hurt of it ripped through him. Every tree that died was a lost hope, and there weren't many, but he remembered them each.

For a while after he'd come home, the Shire seemed fairer than before, and nigh on the same as could be; but then, with years come and gone, he tired and thought that maybe he wasn't. Mayhap he couldn't be -- all the things that Mr. Frodo had foretold -- one and whole -- how could he be?

Life grew away from him, and though the past turned to stories and songs, they never let him forget how nothing could heal Mr. Frodo.

Oh but if I could have tried, if only he let me! Sam rubbed his cold fingers. It wasn't his place to be asking such questions. Outside the fire's shine, the trees stood black on black like the worst of it. The pressing long years.

And what if he's --

He thrust a branch into the fire and stirred it to furious sparks. The flames leapt and quivered, like a fear. He'd not been told about the ways of the Blessed Realm, where Elves went for endless light and song. Where Elves lived for ever, but hobbits --

It can't be. Sam hunched forward, but the little heat couldn't take the cold out of him. It squeezed round his ribs and chilled him like no winter ever did. What would they be calling me for? He's healed and whole now, he must be.

Surely time passed right slow on the other side of the Sea, slower than ever it had in Lórien, if it moved at all. Mr. Frodo would be unchanged, save for the laughter back in his eyes, and all the hoping --

To find him again. Sam listened to the sound of wood snapping in the flames. "Mr. Frodo," he murmured, tasting the name as it crept over his lips and drained into silence. "Frodo..." But he were gone from reach so many years. And I'd never know how... The trembling in his fingers had grown right bad. Perhaps he'd used up all his wishing.

He tugged his blanket fast around him and watched the branches smoulder to bright ash till his lids sank. Till the world around him blurred softly into dreams.

...all the lands lay empty as if swept by a great wind. But from the dip and roll of green rose white trees, white limbs washed in sunlight and too fair to touch. Gold scattered through blue and brown, the colours so sharp they made the air tremble.

His hands went into the damp earth to unbury what was hid deeper. Shades of winter, milk-white and inky black, and a soft blush sliding through silken brown.

Frodo... He couldn't bear to look.

Everywhere. And warm, so warm in the melting light that made his world whole; here, in the wet green, the brightest blue sparkling down at him.

He lay open under the sky, shivering in the rivers of colour, and thought he would never rouse again. But the vast blue sky breathed into him with the softness of Frodo's mouth, and the light hurt in his eyes.

He woke to the brittle sound of his own breath and the white of it in the cool morning air. Behind the short row of hawthorns, the world was grey, wreathed in a damping mist.

Sam wrapped his arms tight round his middle. A faint, familiar scent lingered about; warm and drowsy and spiced with lavender soap, and he could almost feel...

Frodo, half-curled against his back, as they'd slept at times.

A helpless sound stifled in Sam's throat. Heat stung in his eyes, on his cheeks. He was overrun with memories that had been left in the raw, memories that he thought had been long washed out of him, under the prodding of years. The lightest touches waking anew on his skin. The start of Frodo's smile turned caress against his fingers, and a bewildered breath rushing out to meet it. His smile... He could cry for the sheer beauty of it.

But if he turned round now, there'd be nothing, only the wind on the plain.

Sam reached for the shell, and its song swelled so keen, the grief and longing scored him through every limb.

I had everything, all the happiness you wished for -- but I never had --
Is it enough now?

He could hear it now, beneath the music, like a shout coming back through the years, caught and broken within the song.

Don't go where I can't follow.

The heat of his touch had clouded the shell. He pressed it to his mouth till it was full of his breath and warmed up from inside. Frodo. Each breath asking his questions.

Did I keep you waiting?
How could you leave without ever saying?
Did you wish me to come, do you now?

He wiped the wetness off his cheeks, though the tears wouldn't stop. Better if he did his crying now, instead of crying all over Mr. Frodo.

But he reckoned he would cry again anyways, and for joy this time. His fingers knew the shape of Frodo's face again, all the tender curves and fine angles, and the knowing lurched in his chest. How it felt when his name were called so soft in the night, another heartbeat stumbling through his own, and the hope he'd carried for them both.

Sam rose to his feet and untethered the pony. There was a haze on the air, the sort that promised a kindly spell of rain. He felt lightheaded when he set out again.

~~~

From the Tower Hills, he continued on foot, making a steady pace up the course of the River Lune till it widened into the Firth. He'd left the pony with Elanor so the poor beast wouldn't have to go plodding back all on her own.

Through a day's march, he was alone with the sun glancing off the river and the water's voice that gushed louder towards the Sea. He walked through the memory of Elanor's tears, the book caught protectively to her chest.

Leaving the book had lightened his pack, as he felt clearly, and giving it up had seemed strange only for a moment. He could still trace the yielding of the pages under his touch, the rough seams and the thin marks of the quill. And so Elanor would touch what he wrote, from now on, and keep it safe.

She had known the longest, and never doubted that her dad would go and live among the Elves. And she'd never questioned what he'd be doing there neither. When she was a little lass, she'd wanted to come with him, and now that was a fond dream, a comfort that made her tears fall brighter and harder.

Oh dad, I wish --
I know, my sweet.

But what did he know? Only the surging of such things inside him as weren't spent, weren't at rest, hastening his steps. He couldn't think what his place would be at the end of this long road. Every thought was swirled about with questions, so many questions that wanted answering, but he could wait this much longer. He cleared his throat and began humming a song. The words followed easily, from countless walks across the Shire.

And there are many paths to tread
through shadows to the edge of night...

The shadows had grown long for sure, across the seaward bluffs. Sam climbed a last ridge and halted where the wind tore at his clothes. The sun was setting over the open West, against a sharp horizon. He thought, if I take one more step... half-expecting to splash after a boat steered by invisible hands, and he would be across in a blink.

Before him opened the Sundering Seas. For a moment he was sure that just the hope and the waiting could tear him in two, and only for spotting the tall mast of a ship.

His breath flew on a sudden laugh, so young a voice as he didn't remember having, and the Sea flared so bright that he couldn't see. The blur and sting in his eyes turned to shivering colour, turned to wishing. Instead of the maybes, there would be --

always.

He reached both hands into the reckless blasts.

East of the Moon, West of the Sun, it whispered in his mind, on the evening wind. So many voices. And one among them, at last --

A breath that might have formed his name, or might not, brushed warm and soft against his face. So close, he could nigh catch it in his hands.

I'm here, Frodo.
Where he'd always been.
It wouldn't be long now.

* * * * *



Toward another
he has gone
to breathe an air
beyond his own
toward a wisdom
beyond the shelf
toward a dream
that dreams itself
...
from the forest
from the foam
from the field
that he had
known
toward a river
twice as blessed
...
beyond it all

PATTI SMITH: About A Boy

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