Sam could never describe in words, nor picture clearly to himself, what he felt or thought that night, though it remained in his memory as one of the chief events of his life.
The Fellowship of the Ring: A Short Cut to Mushrooms

For Ellen, who steered me there.

If He Climbs to the Moon
by Cara J. Loup

In the morning, they'd left bread and berries. Laid out on the old stump of a tree on a spread of linden leaves, the berries gleamed in dark red and blue. Sam's heart jittered a bit at just the sight, and his blood fair leapt in his skin. He felt light-headed as if he'd slept a whole week through, and every glimpse and scent of the morning gave him a joyful start.

Are they still near? He wouldn't have dreamed of asking aloud as he stood on the edge of the wood, just leaning into the quiet that ranged out at his back, a deep, wistful hollow lined with birds' twitters, losing itself far among the trees.

Though many of them had sat in the glade last night, there'd not been a trace left among the wintergreen ferns or in the thick grasses as covered the floor under the trees. Only a soft mound of wood-ash remained, cupped in a shallow bowl of earth.

Wide awake with the first touch of dawn, Sam had strolled about for a time, wondering if he might spot bent twigs or crushed leaves somewhere - wondering, too, whether his recollections would fade or soar if he did - but he'd found none. The closer he looked though, the more an endless quiet laced about him, out of the soft, cool shadows under the trees. The morning chill spread in his chest like the most startling thing in the world and the most familiar; like water drawn up fresh from the well, carrying a taste of sleeping earth.

He could guess then, too, why there wasn't a trace to be found. Light-footed though they might be, they were bone and blood, and strong as the hills, but the grass had to know them and how to keep the secret of their steps.

Edging back from the glade, he'd turned to the day's growing light that played through a birch coppice with hanging twigs as fine as hair. From the mist in the low lands, the sun climbed amid tattered clouds, but out on the east-facing slope, the light lay crisp and unchanging, catching on the dipping heads of slender brome. It was there, on the brink of day, that they'd left their farewell gifts.

Sam crouched down beside the stump and took in the mouth-watering smell of the bread, cut into thick, white slices. The sawn ring was wide enough to serve as a table for a hobbit, its top black with age. Two deep cracks ran out from the centre, but it bore no signs of rot nor decay otherwise, although the trunk must've been cut many seasons ago.

Sam laid his fingertips where the rugged bark stood off a bit from the heartwood. What he was searching to find, he couldn't've said, but the slight damp of the wood soothed it, wrapped it up like the wordless clasp of a hand touching his. The leaves set out so careful atop the stump were dry, yet soft from the sap still loose in their veins.

His recollections of the night before were like that, a lively flow running here and stirring there, cut off from its source as it might be. But now that he thought on it, one picture sprang up to his inner eye, and that was the sight of Mr. Frodo's right foot. Whenever Sam had chanced a look through slitted lids while pretending to doze, he could see Mr. Frodo's foot in the flattened grass beside him, and the small snips of moss caught in the dark curls that thinned to fine strands over the knuckles of his toes. Every now and then Mr. Frodo would tap his heel with a bit of impatience or puzzlement, or he'd curl and stretch his long toes in the measure of his thoughts.

Sam chuckled, shaking his head. At that moment, he heard Mr. Pippin's footfalls edge through the silence. Sam turned to see him come through the birches that sprinkled his head and shoulders in a quick shower.

"Good morning, Sam!" Mr. Pippin raked a hand through his curls, shaking out wet glitters. "It is a good morning - marvellous, in fact."

"Like none other." Listening to their own voices was odd for a moment, as though the sound were pushing through mist from afar, and then settled like the latch of a weather-beaten gate. Sam scratched behind his ear and seated himself more comfortable by the stump.

Mr. Pippin joined him there, patting at his rumpled jacket and beaming out into the morning as he rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. "Frodo is still tucked under like a hedgehog at Yule," he reported. "I suppose he stayed up the longest and deserves it, but it was hard to resist pinching his toes."

Sam dipped his head, although it wasn't Mr. Frodo who'd been last to find his bed for the night.

"I slept through quite a bit of this meeting, didn't I?" Mr. Pippin's mouth curled with an amused sort of regret while he took the air in long sniffs. "Well, at least I didn't miss too much of the food and song." He bent to grab some berries, his eyes closing as he popped the first into his mouth. "Mmmm... delicious!"

Watching him set Sam's stomach growling in a sudden clench like a laugh dropped too low. He rolled some blackberries into the hollow of his hand.

While Mr. Pippin munched his first mouthful standing, he soon sprawled on the turf near the steeper side of the slope, as if he might catch himself another nap. Morning it was, but such a morning as didn't call for aught save watching it rise over the world.

The quiet lay along the grassy shoulder of the hill like a mantle draped there, trailing into a soft mist some fathoms below. Through it, to the left of them, peered the brown humps of two or three thatched roofs. Fast asleep, Sam thought, nestled into a wholesome rest as though it were flung about the village overall. And for a moment it seemed as if he could look inside those drowsing cottages, to the beds where heaped blankets scarce stirred with the sleepers' breathing, from the wood piled into wide-mouthed hods by the fireplaces, across the sooty iron of pokers and grates to the cold water-kettles.

A longing stole up on him then, soft as the sweetest breeze. Only to touch these familiar things, to feel the stout curve of a clay-pot, the soot-crusts and the plaited wickers, to gather up every bit of remembrance that he could from the touch, as though he might never again. As though day might never reach in and lift the deep twilight covering it all.

The sudden fancy gave Sam a queer little jolt, as if he'd walked too near the brink of the hillside. But then it made him think of the Gaffer who'd surely be up and doing at this hour, feeding the kitchen fire from the large stack of chopped wood that Sam had left him...

"We'll see rain today." Mr. Pippin got up again and tipped his head back. "But with luck we'll have our feet propped at the Golden Perch by that time."

Sam nodded, running his fingers through the grass that lay against the slope in short, combed ripples. Like most of the Tooks, Mr. Pippin had a good sense of the weather; he must've caught the whiff of a damp western breeze. Sam looked up to see him reach for another piece of bread.

"We'd ought to leave some for Mr. Frodo."

"Well, yes, I suppose so." Mr. Pippin winked at him and licked the side of his thumb. But there was something else in his eyes for a moment, something in the cut of his face that struck Sam like the glimpse of a hawk swooping down in headlong flight.

"I shall always remember their voices," Mr. Pippin said, and with so much surprise that Sam could nigh feel it like a stone's fall inside him.

He couldn't have stopped listening to their voices no more than he could stop his own breathing. And he'd known - from the first whisper on the evening air - he'd known it was them, if only by the sharp wonder falling open in his breast. Perhaps it was the way that the air carried their voices, he thought now, how the lightest breeze held each note so that no distance could swallow it. The sound had chased the shadow off the road, and it'd swept a look of sheer relief over Mr. Frodo's face.

They don't live in the Shire, he'd said, his hand close on Sam's shoulder to stay him from dashing forward, but they wander into it in Spring and Autumn - and though Sam had listened with less than half an ear, he didn't wonder now why that should be so. They'd moved through the woods like the change of season itself - belonging there and not meant to stay, both. Leastways that was as near as he could put it, and still short of the mark.

"I won't forget neither," he said, too low for Mr. Pippin to hear, "not in a day as I live." But the remembrance was like a murmur in his veins, and coming within the circle of their voices naught like any kind of listening he'd ever known. He'd never dreamed that he could be so near and yet so far away -

"Here you are."

Mr. Frodo's voice came from a short ways behind, but Sam found that he couldn't turn to look on him. All in one breath, the sound rang up echoes seeming to deepen the shape of woods and hills all about.

O Elbereth Gilthoniel...

More than echoes or memories, their voices stirred under the moving airs like water running belowgrounds to well out again in an unexpected spot. He couldn't turn.

When they'd reached the glade, he'd sat like that at first, still as a stone in a thicket of shadows joining a slow nightfall. From every direction, the murmur of their voices was blown about like that of leaves in tall, ancient beeches. Rising under the sky as clear and untroubled as those dark silver limbs would reach up and up through the years. Starting down from the back of his neck, the sound gave him thrills that drummed like music in the pit of his stomach. He'd shivered to think how tall they were.

They weren't though.

When he dared to glance up at the last, they moved about the glade with a purpose, their bodies long as shadows at moonrise, but firm in their step and no taller than Mr. Gandalf was.

"-have your breakfast!" Mr. Pippin's cheerful tone startled Sam like a call from across the Water, when the words lose their shape on the wind. "The bread tastes almost as good as it did last night. I did not want to leave you any, but Sam insisted."

Sam glanced down at the blackberries in his hand that he'd still not eaten, cupping them as he might rare flower seeds. It was only when Mr. Frodo sat down next to him that he managed a late "Good morning, sir."

"What is the plan for today?" asked Mr. Pippin.

Mr. Frodo reached across and helped himself to the remaining bread. "To walk to Bucklebury as quickly as possible."

His tone said that he wasn't in a talking mood either, but from the corner of his eye, Sam caught the quick smile Mr. Frodo sent his way, darting past the thoughtful look as he wore. Surely he remembered how Sam had near flung himself into the road, all his intent to be watchful clean forgotten. Elves, sir! But that was about the last thing he'd said till the night was waning, all notion of speech swept far from his head.

On the road, their voices travelled the air like bats at dusk, swift and sure in their flight, each swirling about the other without ever brushing. But when the starlight roused them to song...

Sam swallowed as the night's fullness poured back into him, each moment bursting with sound and the spray of stars overhead as keen and awake as they'd never seemed before, twining with the song till they seemed one, brought together and sundering again like strings of silver rain. All the wide, dark earth about them might have been water, asway in slow ripples.

As the hours drew on and he sat with his eyes shut, his heart speeding, it was Mr. Frodo's voice as gave him a hold, closer than the ground beneath him. Their song rolled in every beat of his blood, till the listening grew to be a kind of seeing -

"Do you think we shall see anything of those Riders?" asked Mr. Pippin, twiddling stalks of brome between his toes.

"Yes, probably." The trouble of it didn't tell in Mr. Frodo's tone, but it showed when he broke off a piece of bread, his fingers slow and stiff. "I hope to get across the river without their seeing us."

That didn't stop Mr. Pippin from launching one question after another though, as if he were tossing sticks after a crow in the cherries. Plain to the eye, he was itching to move about, and maybe meet his memories of the past night in the wind slapping his face.

Sam could hear the growing impatience in Mr. Frodo's replies, braced though it was in caution. He wasn't telling all he knew, nor speaking his worries, so that he wouldn't frighten Mr. Pippin out of his jolly mood.

"And now leave me in peace for a bit!" he said finally, with a snap in his voice that Sam recognised well enough. "I don't want to answer a string of questions while I am eating. I want to think."

"Good heavens! At breakfast?" Mr. Pippin turned on his heel and flung a wink backwards as he went, while Mr. Frodo breathed out a long sigh.

Sam waited a moment and smiled to himself when Mr. Frodo made no apology for his bit of temper. He didn't need to explain aught to Sam at such a time. The quiet that lengthened between them like the afternoon shadows in Bag End's parlour would soon grow restful and agreeable.

Mr. Frodo's eyes must now be following his cousin, Sam was sure, over to the green turf that sprawled at the feet of young elms. And he might wish to be moving like that himself, but he couldn't. Not yet.

Sam remembered feeling the same, the night before: the want to leap up hot and taut under his ribs, so strong that he couldn't stir at all. Every now and then in years agone, he'd noticed something of the sort in Mr. Frodo, but never so clear as this last spring, when Gandalf had brought him to the point of leaving.

There'd been full days when Mr. Frodo was strung like a bow, when the spring in his step was reined in tight, as if he couldn't trust his own feet. But he'd learned how to gather the need inside himself, Sam often thought, and how to set it loose when time came, as though he were following a tune no-one else heard. Now he settled back in the grass with the slightest of rustles, all his attention turned to his breakfast.

Sam picked a berry from the small pile in his palm, setting it slowly between his lips. The sweet scent filled his nose and ached at the back of his mouth, but when the taste burst on his tongue, all the memories swarmed out again, like glow-worms in the mulberry trees. Like the torches that'd lit the glade last night, glittering on the outer edges of leaf and branch.

We were walking with them, he thought, every bit as dizzy as he'd felt then, walking in their middle... It wasn't like a dream at all, and yet more so, a wonder as went beyond dream and waking thought alike. How they'd sing to the stars and knew they'd be heard - how all the world were listening, even if they heard not a sound, only the silence running so deep in the woods.

O Elbereth Gilthoniel...

And the silence, too, had its shape and colour, growing pale as dew late in the night. Only thin tongues of firelight were left washing the grass, and a chill seemed to breathe up through the earth.

He'd wanted to run after Mr. Frodo, when he got up to seek his bed at last, but he couldn't. He'd had to wait for a call, or a stirring inside himself, a need that steered his feet past the long arches and banks of shade, the hall of trees stretching endless before him.

Then he stood and gazed into a bower made from a birch's hanging boughs. Within it lay Mr. Frodo, already asleep.

Looking down, Sam startled so fierce, he hardly dared to breathe. For he seemed to be watching now from a far height, the crown of a hill or the stern branches of an elm tree, save that there was nothing firm beneath his feet. Like a hawk maybe, held in the wind's palm, alone under an arching sky.

It wasn't as if Mr. Frodo's face were dim or distant though. Of all the lights as had spread through the glade, warm as hearthfire and white as the full moon, only starlight pooled on his features. Soft and piercing it was, even as it wavered and danced with the slip of a breeze in the twigs. Here and gone and here again, in a quick flow like recollections - of moods and words and smiles - all washing back and forth over the stillness lying below. Waiting.

Sam watched with a slow-spreading thrill in every limb, taking the sight closer than aught he'd ever looked on. Clear and unchanged from all the years that he'd known him, Frodo's face wouldn't ever seem the same again, of that he was certain.

A faint breeze touched his forehead, dark with scents of leaf-mould that had to waft up from the valley-bottom, perhaps even from the banks of the Stockbrook. Mr. Frodo sat with his hand wrapped about one raised knee, his posture wound and taut to the line of his neck.

Sam wiped his empty hand on his breeches. How long his eyes had been resting on Mr. Frodo's face, he didn't know, but he couldn't look away neither. A small crease stood between Mr. Frodo's brows as he chewed his bread slowly, tracing a line of thought that Sam wouldn't see the end of, but it wasn't for him to break it with a question.

Where shall I find courage? Mr. Frodo had asked when the night failed, and the tense quiet in his face said that he was wondering still.

Within another moment though, he looked up sharply, straight into Sam's eyes as if he'd felt him watching.

"Well, Sam!" he said, his cheer sounding a bit forced. "What about it? I am leaving the Shire as soon as ever I can..." His voice lowered with that, sinking towards the doubt that must've vexed him the moments before. "In fact, I have made up my mind not even to wait a day at Crickhollow, if it can be helped."

"Very good, sir!" Sam answered, bracing up for the question that Mr. Frodo would surely ask him next. But he felt ready for it now, readier than he'd ever been before.

Mr. Frodo's eyes narrowed slightly. "You still mean to come with me?"

"I do."

"It is going to be very dangerous, Sam. It is already dangerous. Most likely neither of us will come back." The clear searching gaze Mr. Frodo laid on him told of all the choices that he bore, and the fears as went with them, and it reached Sam with a sharp little knock in his chest.

"If you don't come back, sir, then I shan't, that's certain."

As if to bring some relief, soft airs carried the sound of Mr. Pippin's singing from the other side of the slope. After a moment more, Mr. Frodo glanced aside, drawn back to uncertainty, it seemed to Sam. But what more could he say?

He looked across the hillside, to the tree-tops below, where bold red tinged the sycamore leaves, crawling inward along their veins. The wind stroked a soft pattern through them, begging for the silence to give way, and if he bent all his mind on it, he could still hear -

Don't leave him, said a voice very near by, or was it many? The sound made a soft ripple through him, and as it rose and went he was trying to find his own voice that'd have to come out sounding like the croak of a jackdaw from bare branches.

It didn't though.

Leave him! he answered, in a laugh or a shout, or so it felt passing his heart, slipping his mouth, if it did, in a soft murmur. I never mean to. I'm going with him, if he climbs to the Moon...

His breath leapt as he said so. And they were listening to him - that he could feel through every limb, in the shivers of the air about him. Listening to his words as though they were following them backwards along the swell of his blood. They knew too, in ways past knowing, where Mr. Frodo was off to, and what it might mean.

A chill seized Sam like the black of night, and he caught his hands in fists. If any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they'll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with.

They laughed. Or he thought they did, leastways it was a sound he recognised, washing about him like a bright flurry of midsummer smells, but in its wake came a deep rush that ran on and on, like the wind passing over an endless forest.

O Elbereth Gilthoniel...

The sound of their voices alone filled him with laughter, with a rootless kind of surprise running wide as grief, and all he could think was, I can't turn back now.

"...they'll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with," he repeated, but now the words stood out lonely like the stump in the weaving grasses, as though he'd spoken them only to himself, if he'd said them at all. "They laughed."

Mr. Frodo shook his head, a curious spark in his eyes. "Who are they, and what are you talking about?"

"The Elves, sir. We had some talk last night; and they seemed to know you were going away, so I didn't see the use of denying it."

They knew, just as they see to the heart of everything... Such joy sprang from the knowledge that Sam's chest went tight with it. "Wonderful folk, Elves, sir! Wonderful!"

"They are," Mr. Frodo said softly. "Do you like them still, now you have had a closer view?"

But how could he answer that? "They seem a bit above my likes and dislikes, so to speak..." Sam waved a hand about, feeling heat rise up his neck as he picked each word like a thorn from his foot. "It don't seem to matter what I think about them. They are quite different from what I expected - so old and young, and so gay and sad, as it were."

He stopped there, for his words ought to take on their own colours, from the deepest silver to a shining blue. And if it were possible, he'd have wrought their sound from the night's living shades, he'd have culled the scents of fern and grass and moss, mingling them with the fine chill that fell in the long hour before day, with all as he rememberedů save only for the fear.

Before him, the leaves had stirred, and the twigs as formed such a light curtain had fallen closed over the bower where Mr. Frodo lay. That broke him loose from his wildered state.

Sam crouched down, reaching a hand into the drooping tangles to push the curtain aside. All the leaves were young as spring, and he could see their green leap out of the dimness as though morn had struck the sky in a wink. His fingers trembled hard.

Do not be afraid.

Sam looked back over his shoulder at that, and there wasn't a body near save Gildor that he could see.

Or maybe he couldn't.

In the space of a breath, the sky and the land widened out, growing vast and dim about the frame of the Elf who remained like a standing stone, grey before the dark brow of a hill that was crowned with a single keen glint. The sight of it pierced him like an arrow.

Sam blinked, for maybe a first clouding of sleep had troubled his sight, though it seemed the very opposite, a wing of shade now falling before his eyes.

You did not choose this way that you came, but there may come a time when you must. Gildor's lips scarce seemed to be moving, and Sam shook his head, or he didn't, answering no and aye all at once. But it didn't matter, for something in the words sounded as though they were part of an unfinished rhyme, or a tale wound through countless tellings, not meant for him to grasp nor answer. Not yet.

He bent his head and crawled inside, careful to keep quiet as he moved, leftways of Mr. Pippin's mild snores, towards the long, even draw of Mr. Frodo's breathing.

Sam crept on to a third nest of grass, so heavy with sleep that he didn't think to tug the blanket from his pack or pull his cloak underneath him, so that he wouldn't wake damp and cold from the morning dew. Surely he'd find himself wrapped in slumber in no time.

But he didn't.

Curled up in the green hollow, he felt that he was sinking through its quiet shade that opened on a breath, sinking and sinking, and naught could hold him where he was, till the dark grew vast like a mountain crumbled over him.

Don't you leave him. Was it his own voice warning him?

But why would I? Had he ever tried, in unknown times or within the crook of a dream that he couldn't now remember? He lay beneath the darkness, his body taut to his fingertips and his own breaths so loud that he couldn't hear Mr. Frodo's where they ought to be.

O Elbereth Gilthoniel...

There was a wind coming, blown over a far ridge, weaving through the trees above. And he knew he was waiting for it, harking to the sound with such a yearning as he'd never felt before. If he could turn and look up, there'd be stars in all the branches.

Sam breathed out slow, from a tangle of fear with joy, each akin to the other in ways he couldn't have named. The wet smell of grass surrounded him, heady with the remembrance of first growth and spring-rains. He curled his fingers through it, thankful of the sprightly green.

Lower down the slope, dogstail and bristling oat-grass stood tall and bleached in the wake of a bountiful summer. His recollections were growing loose and spare in the daylight, running in the grass like narrow footpaths that wound out beyond the valley.

The silence didn't seem long till Mr. Frodo spoke again, in a quiet voice as though he'd been waiting patiently for Sam to say more.

"Do you feel any need to leave the Shire now?" he asked. "Now that your wish to see them has come true already?"

It was a different sort of question, too, one that sought him out past all the plans and decisions as tied Mr. Frodo's mind.

"Yes, sir." Sam strove to answer as plain as he could, aware that Mr. Frodo was watching him as if the very air carried his gaze. "I don't know how to say it, but after last night I feel different. I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way." He met Mr. Frodo's eyes again, and it struck him then that Mr. Frodo had only the faintest notion of where they were going, while all they were leaving behind lay within plain sight.

"I know we're going to take a very long road, into darkness," he went on, "but I know I can't turn back. It isn't to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want." Mountains... Sam paused, for such words seemed fuller than ever before, and their taste heavy on his tongue. He shook his head. "I don't rightly know what I want, but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me."

"I don't altogether." Mr. Frodo smiled, startled and frank about it as only he could be. A slight flush of colour was rising to his cheeks. "But I understand that Gandalf chose me a good companion. I am content. We will go together." He stuck the last piece of bread into his mouth and chewed it with a healthy appetite.

Sam's face grew warm again too, but with glad relief and a sense of all things moving towards their proper place in time. The sunlight laid a firm touch to the top of his head and tickled his throat where his shirt's collar stood open. As his breath went in and out, all that he might've thought or felt during the night seemed to be seeping away from him, but he couldn't feel sorry for it.

The voices of the Fair Folk had filled the dark, and there they seemed to belong - with the white glint of stars that they brought down to earth, travelling onwards with the moon's watchful round.

He'd not seen a sliver of the old moon though, Sam remembered, but the waning sickle were grown thin as a needle, rousing not long before dawn. Perhaps he'd been asleep by then.

He stood up and walked a few steps to where the hillside was steepest, jutting above the sycamores and chestnuts and the hazel brakes deeper in the valley. When he turned his eyes to the village of Woodhall again, the cottage-roofs seemed small as pebbles in the waning mist. Mr. Frodo was watching him still, he knew without looking.

Where shall I find courage?

In unlikely places, Gildor had answered, offering the kind of comfort that might grow with time, when you no longer expected it to.

So wide was the world. When he looked towards all the unknown country in the east that he couldn't imagine, Sam felt afloat above it, as if he'd filled his chest with too much air. He'd never even imagined a place such as this, the glade that now lay behind him, in the very midst of the Shire.

Almost noiseless, Mr. Frodo got up and crossed over to him, a question in his eyes that he didn't need to speak. Sam nodded and stretched his toes into a thick tuft of clover. Aye, he was ready now to start out again, and a hum took up inside him like a whole swarm of bees when they left their hive after snow-melt. They both turned round in one motion.

"Pippin!" When there was no answer, Mr. Frodo tipped his head back and laid both hands to his mouth, making a show of repeating his call. "Pippin, where are you?"

So strong a cheer rang in his voice that Sam chuckled to himself. Even if he didn't know it, Mr. Frodo had all the courage as were needed, he thought with a sudden tenderness that spread wide in his chest.

Brighter daylight dipped the trees' crowns in fleeting gold and dappled the ground where they'd been sitting. As Mr. Pippin sauntered up, Sam bent to touch the splay of leaves on the stump one last time, barely grazing with his fingertips. The leaves were empty now but not yet wilting.

And maybe they wouldn't.

Sam let his breath fly with the notion, even though he'd never find out for certain.

When he straightened, the other two were looking at him. Mirth quickened in Mr. Pippin's eyes, but something else lay in Mr. Frodo's gaze - a wish maybe. Or a hope against hope, to return. Sam held that look as steadfast as he could. Then he went to fetch his pack.

* * *

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