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And What Happened After

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“Well, Sam Gamgee, you’ve done it this time,” he said softly to himself. Sam was perched on a large rock on the empty shore, watching the dark waves breaking into white foam. Behind him stretched the great quay of the Grey Havens, and beyond that the gates of Mithlond stood open to the hills and the East Road. He had seen no one all morning; there was sand in the deserted streets and some of the structures seemed to be vanishing altogether, sinking back into seaweed and driftwood and salt-scoured stone.

“Too late!” he said to himself again. “Of course you are, you tom-fool, you didn’t expect that the Elves were going to wait for you? It was a pretty piece of cheek coming here in the first place!” But although he upbraided himself in round terms, in his heart stubborn hope was striving with cold grief. He could not quite bring himself to believe that he had come here in vain, and so he made no motion to turn back toward the Tower Hills, though the morning wore on to noon. The sun climbed the heavens. The waves slapped at the ancient piers. The wind hissed through the sedge-grass on the dunes, and the seabirds wheeled overhead with chill and piercing cries.

“Come along,” he said to himself at last. “What’s the use in waiting? As if there was anyone going to come back for you!” This was the sound practical hobbit-grandfather speaking, the voice that was very much his own gaffer’s. But he made no move to get up from the stone.

“I wonder how hard it is to build a boat?” said a very different voice in his mind, the dangerous voice that had always whispered to him of daring and adventure and other things most unsuitable to hobbits.

“Stop with your nonsense, now!” he told himself sternly. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and you certainly can’t teach it to build ships.” He recognized the foolishness of the thought immediately, but he also knew in his heart that he could not bear now to turn his back to the sea and that one way or another there was no returning for him. Then it came into his mind that as it would be told in the Shire his story would end the same way regardless: old Master Samwise setting out for the sea, never to be seen again.

“None of that!” he said, aloud this time, though he saw no one to hear him on the lonely shore. “I was called. And I’m coming.” As if to underscore his own commitment to the world, he took some biscuits out of his pack and munched them defiantly, throwing the crumbs to the gulls.

He could not be sure of what he heard at first, for the sound blended with the melancholy rhythm of the waves and the high cries of the birds. But it grew louder and clearer, and just when he was certain that what he heard was music, he saw, unmistakably, a white sail rounding the edge of the firth. A small craft came slipping swiftly into the harbor, and Sam scrambled off the stone, waving his arms and hailing the unknown mariner.

The little ship was nothing like the great deep-drafted vessel that he had seen depart with his master, and Gandalf, and the last of the Exiles, so many years before. Its pilot, singing as he steered and maneuvering skillfully - although with something strange in his motion - among the sails and ropes, brought it up directly onto the sand, and came up toward him through the surf, answering his hail.

He was certainly an elf of some sort, Sam thought, peering at him. He had the height and the grace of the Eldar, and certainly the beauty of voice, although he found him curiously difficult to look at directly; he seemed to keep slipping out of the center of his vision. But meeting a stranger was hardly a time for personal remarks, and so Sam bowed low and greeted him with all the well-honed ceremony of the Shire, which the newcomer returned in kind, adding a few courtesies in the Elven-tongue.

“I hope you have not been waiting long,” he said. “The Shipwright told me that I would not be departing alone, but I did not guess – nor did he see fit to tell me! – that my shipmate was to be one of the Secondborn, and I know that even the shortest of times is much to you.”

“The Shipwright!’ Sam exclaimed. ‘So there is someone still here! I was that downhearted when I saw how empty the place was, I was afraid that everyone had left for good.”

The stranger laughed, a soft, musical, wild sound like the speaking of the sea. “Not yet. The dwellers here are few, but not yet none. Cirdan and his people are faring out along the coast, and I was voyaging with them, to learn the touch of this craft.” He gestured to the ship, and Sam saw with an unpleasant shock what it was that had made his movements on board the ship seem slightly off. His right hand was withered and blackened, useless for grasping or for fine work. He noted Sam’s attention, but ignored it, and went on. “It is newly made and nameless, but it seems to answer well; it will bear the last voyage.”

Sam sat back down on the rock; despite his age he was stout and hale of body, but the elf seemed to be settling in for the long conversations that his people favored and Sam saw no reason to tire himself out. “And it will bear us, seemingly,” he said. “At least, it had better! I should warn you, I’m not likely to be much use on a sea-voyage, but I’ll do my best.”

He inclined his head. “We will muddle through, as your people say. Yes, I know something of your kind, Master Hobbit, and I know that you are not the first of them to make this journey, which was once forbidden to those much higher than you!” He looked out seaward. “I know something of what it is that summons me at last to the place that I cannot yet call home. But what is it that calls you, and why now?”

Sam considered, pleased to be asked but uncertain of how to answer. “I don’t want to say, it sounds so strange – but there now, perhaps it’s not so strange to you. I had a dream,” he said. “Or something very like a dream anyway.

“So my wife, Rosie that was, bless her, passed on about Midsummer this year, and I knew that was the end for me of my time under the Hill.  I waited until the Birthday, because it seemed right somehow, and then I went away. I didn’t say so at the time, not even to myself, but I knew I was leaving like Mr. Frodo had left, and Mr. Bilbo before him, so I took the Book with me, and my old traveling gear, and I rode till I came out to the Westmarch, where my lass Elanor lives with the Fairbairns of the Towers.

“My lass I call her, and so she’ll always be to me, but her golden head is halfway silver now, and she’ll be a grandmother herself before long.  Very Elvish she looks though. Always did. And she has an Elvish heart to her, too. She came traveling with us away into the South once, and served the Queen, the Lady Arwen herself in her great court in Gondor. Now of course we don’t have queens ourselves here, hobbits don’t hold with such things, but I think if you asked the folks of the Undertowers, they’d say that Elanor is what we have instead. She’s the keeper of the old stories and the new ones, she makes the guests welcome, and folks come to her for when they need things settled between them or settled in their own minds.”

Sam was telling his tale in the fashion of any elderly hobbit – indeed, restraining himself from adding the sort of judicious proverbs and genealogical notes that would have made it a proper story in the Shire. The elf beside him listened without impatience, as one accustomed to storytelling in many modes.

“Of course Undertowers is new, well, new as a town. There have always been a few stray families out there on the downs, but since the King in Gondor added the Westmarch to the Shire, and since the Thain named Elanor’s goodman Warden, it’s become a fine and busy place, with the three White Towers overlooking it all.

“It used to be thought the Towers were haunted, but then there were plenty of our folks who didn’t rightly know the difference between Elves and ghosts, begging your pardon, sir. Now, I’ve seen one thing and another and I think I can tell when a place is evil and when it ain’t.  The Elves may not come there any more since they took away the seeing stone, but I thought they might have left behind some of their wisdom, and maybe some of their sadness too. I asked Elanor what she thought about living so close, under the shadow of the towers.

‘Folks here aren’t scared of them the way they are in the Eastlands, Dad,’ she said, ‘but they do think of them as queer places. They’ll look up to them, and smile, but they’ll leave them alone.’

‘Have you ever climbed them?’ I asked. She laughed.

‘What do you think, Dad? Of course I have. And I’ll take you too, this very evening.’ She knew right away what was in my thought, and maybe what I hoped to see again.

“So about sunset we went up into the tallest of the Elven-Towers, right to the very top. Of course it was empty, but it seemed even to me – and I’m not really the one to have an eye of this sort of thing – that the whole place still yearned. It echoed with longing. And so I looked out westward, and far over the hills I saw the sea, and the sunset on the water, and the evening star at its rising. Elanor must have slipped away very quietly down the stairs, because the sun sank, and the stars came out, and the sea glittered, and I was quite alone.

“I don’t know how long I stood there, staring out that window as if I could see right beyond the sea itself into the uttermost west. But as I watched it seemed to me that suddenly the distance rolled away before me, and I saw an island, a beautiful island, in the West under the stars. The lights on the shore, and the voices on the wind – it went right through me, just like the voices did the first time I heard the Elves singing in the Shire at night, and I knew that I had to follow. But then I looked up, and beyond the island I saw the mountains.

“Now I come to talk of them I see I must have been dreaming, because those weren’t like any mountains I’ve seen – and I have seen mountains, you may believe me, some more terrible than others. But these? If the whole world were drawn up into mountains, maybe, if everything that is or was decided to leave off being rivers and plains and hills and cities and came together to be mountains instead, that might come near it. And I seemed to be rushing straight at them, most dreadfully fast, and I couldn’t see how I wasn’t going to be dashed to bits. But there must have been some kind of gap or pass or something, because then the mountains were behind me, and I was looking down over a wide and beautiful country, all silver under the stars. And all the while there was distant singing, and the sound of bells on the wind.

“It went on and on, but at last I saw in front of me a garden, and – you know how it is in dreams – then I was right there inside of it. Well! They call me a Gardener, but that was a Garden, if you like! The streams and the lakes, the willows in the starlight, the night-blooming flowers and the trees with their leaves furled for sleep! And it felt familiar, if you know what I mean. Well, of course everything in dreams does. But I felt as if I had been there forever, and not just that, but that around the corner on those paths, I might meet anyone, any of the people I’ve been longing to see again.

“And of course I did. There he was, pacing back and forth across the crown of a green hill, just as he was the day he left the Shire, save for the light in his eyes. Such a light as I haven’t seen even among the Elves, sir, unless it might be the lady Galadriel herself.

‘Frodo, Mr. Frodo!’ I cried, and though it was a dream I will swear that he heard me, yes, for he turned and looked straight at me, and his face lit up just like he was as glad to see me as I was to see him. ‘Sam!’ he started to say, but that moment I woke up sitting on the floor of the tower, nodding against the wall, and certain I had just heard someone call my name.

“Well, I’m an old hobbit – though nothing to old Mr. Bilbo – and I sometimes find myself asleep when I don’t expect it, but this was different. I got to my feet, feeling younger than I have in years, and looked back out the window. I couldn’t see the island, or the mountains, but I could see the sea, and I knew where I had to go, if you understand me. Even when I came down those winding stairs and I couldn’t see it any more, I knew where the sea was, same as a river knows, or the same as a bird knows where to go when the winter comes.

“My lass was waiting for me at the foot of the tower. She saw at once that something was changed, but she always understood me very well, did Elanor. Quick-hearted, as we say in the Shire. ‘You’re going, aren’t you,’ she said to me, and it seemed that she was sad maybe, but not a bit surprised. ‘Going away over the Sea. Like the Elves. Like Mr. Frodo did, long ago.’

“I put my arm around her. I was sorry to cause her pain, but I had to go, I felt it straight down to my bones. ‘I’ve been two people for a long time, Elanor my dear,’ I said, ‘but my story’s almost done and now it’s time to be Sam Gamgee one last time.’

‘But you haven’t though, Dad,’ she said, and she put her head on my shoulder just as if she was still our little bright-eyed girl all hungry for stories of Elves and Dwarves and Wizards. ‘Do you think that Mayor Gardner of the Shire, our Dad and Granddad, isn’t the same person as the one who stood before the Cracks of Doom in Mordor? Because I think you’re the same person, and I think you always have been. It’s not everybody that can see it, because it’s not everybody who can really believe in both of those things at once.’

‘You can?’

‘I never forgot what you said to me, Dad, about the Road. You looked at it running down from the door of Bag End, and you said that was the road that once led to the Enemy’s land, and then led back again. And I thought about everything that you’d seen on the way – the Dwarvish caverns and the Elvish woods. The glorious parts, like the King’s city, and the terrifying parts with the spiders, and the parts that I didn’t quite understand back then, with Mr. Frodo and the Enemy’s Ring. And yet it was all one road...’ She gave me a hug. ‘And it’s still one road, for you. It’s still going on. Straight over the sea.’

“It seemed like as good a time as any, then, so I gave her the Book, and she helped me pack a few things for the last journey. She offered to come with me to the Havens, or to at least send a few of the younger ones to bring me to the coast. Now Hobbits didn’t used to have any truck with salt-water, but seemingly living in the shadow of the Elven-Towers will change that.

‘Why, some of our people even take to the sea now,’ she told me. ‘Our Firiel is quite a sailor herself.’

‘Oh now, don’t tell me that,’ I said to her. ‘That’s not natural in a hobbit! I may be going over the sea myself, but I will fret terribly if I have to think about my little granddaughter messing about in boats!’ But I laughed, and she laughed, and the next day I said goodbye to everyone and went on my way, quite alone. It seemed right, somehow. And, well, here I am.”

Having brought himself up to the present, he turned his attention back to his audience and voiced the concern that had been at the corner of his mind throughout his story. “Excuse me, sir. Can you stop that moving about? I’m not as young as I was, and my eyes can’t get a fix on you.”

The elf, who had been standing beside him while he told his story, inclined his head again. “I’m not young either, Master Hobbit. You see me dimly, but it may be you see all that there is. The world begins to lose its grip on my body, and I begin to lose my grip upon the world. Indeed, if I were not to take ship, I might fade to no more than memory; there might eventually have been little left of me but a voice on the wind.”

“What? Well, all I can tell you is that you had better stay more than a voice on the wind if we are to get across the Great Ocean!”

Again the sea-voiced laughter. “Why, yes. We should be off at once. Today, if you like.”

“All right!” Sam eased himself back down off the rock. “Best set about our preparations now-ish, then.” He looked at the boat doubtfully. “That doesn’t look like it can hold very much. Are we going to lay in some provisions?”

“No, no provisions. Where we are going, we shall have no need of them.”

“Hold hard there, Master Elf! I won’t have you talking like that. They say those sorts of things in the Shire. ‘Oh,’ they say, ‘going west over sea’, with a wink and a nod, as if to say ‘Well, we know what that means!’ But going over the sea to find the Elvish country is not the same as going into death, and I wouldn’t believe it even if you were to tell me yourself, sir!

“No,” he added meditatively, “he wouldn’t have taken them into death. Or not just into death, anyway.”

“Have it your way!” said the stranger lightly. “We’ll make a raid on the storehouses of the Sea-Folk.” He did not make to secure the boat on the shore, but instead spoke to it softly, and then turned to Sam, gesturing back up the dunes to the low buildings of the Grey Havens.

The place felt, and even looked, much less deserted now that there was someone at his side. Buildings that he had believed abandoned were merely empty, and his fellow-mariner moved through them with the ease of long familiarity. He packed, one-handed, into a pair of light waterproof chests, a variety of dried items Sam did not recognize. Dried fish, he supposed, and dried fruits and dry sea-vegetables, and something that looked like lembas but was much darker in color. “No chance of a proper meal till we reach the other side, I see!” he thought to himself, for although he had brought his most beloved pans with him for old times’ sake, he could not conceive of any way to use them in the small craft.

The one who had evidently been appointed for him as a traveling companion on this last voyage had a quiet, assured manner, though he still seemed somehow blurred around the edges, like a stone tumbled in the surf. There was something about him that reminded Sam of Elrond, though he could not have said precisely what it was. It came suddenly into Sam’s mind that he gave an impression of greater age even than the sea-worn buildings of the ancient Havens, and as they emerged back into the open air bearing their provisions, he spoke to him again,

“Excuse me – you may have said this already, but I’m not so young as I was, and my memory may be failing me. But just what is your name? You greeted me fairly enough, but I don’t remember you saying who you were. Shouldn’t you be oh, so-and-so of the house of such-and-such?”

There was a low and musical sigh, blending with the notes of the sea and the wind through the sedges. “Yes, I suppose you have a right to know who you travel with. I have left many names behind me; I have been nameless through many a long age. And until I pass beyond the seas I am houseless; my house has perished from Middle-Earth.”

“First the boat, now you!” Sam exclaimed. “That doesn’t seem right. I’ve never known Elves to go nameless. You said you were with the Shipwright’s people; surely they call you something.”

“I see you are not to be put off,” the stranger said, and he seemed to be faintly amused. “Saerlind1 the remnant at the Havens call me now, since I came singing among them. My old name would be still more bitter to them than my songs.”

“What? Why would that be?”

“Because that was the name I bore when I slaughtered their kin.”

Sam set down the sea-chest and stared at him, and meeting his eyes for the first time he seemed to see him clearly. There was strength in his face, and beauty, and the faint light of the ancient world, but loss and long sorrow, the shadow of ill done and suffered, was worn there as well. Sam wondered whether to be afraid.

“Kanafinwë I was to my lost House, Makalaurë my mother named me in the vanished years before the sun, Maglor they called me in the tongue of this shore before the lands were drowned.” He watched Sam to see if this meant anything to him.

“Well now, there’s something familiar about that. You say that like it’s something I might know, and it seems to me I do, but I can’t place it.”

“I was the second, and am the last, of the self-cursed sons of Fëanor.”

“Fëanor, now I know I know that name –“

“My father, whose hand wrought the stolen Silmarils, whose words shaped the will of the exiled Noldor when we fled the Blessed Realm with fire and sword to find freedom and war in the lands of Middle-Earth. We bound ourselves, my brothers and I, to our father’s revenge and to the recovery of those jewels in which alone lived the lost light of Aman. We bound ourselves in words that should not be spoken, we bound ourselves to the end of the world and beyond it.”

His voice was now lyrical and resonant, he was almost singing. “On us and through us the Oath worked utter ruin. For its sake we lifted up our swords against our kin in the Thousand Caves of Doriath. For its sake we stained our hands with innocent blood at the Havens of Sirion. And it brought us all to nothing in the end; the Silmarils are lost to us in the air, the sea, the depths of the earth.”

Sam was deeply unsettled by this. He knew the tales of the wars and strife of the Elder Days, but he still found it difficult to picture Elves fighting other Elves.

“Well!” he said at last. “I’m sorry I don’t know your story better. I must have heard it at one point. I do dearly love to hear the old tales, but I liked the ones with the happy endings best. Beren One-Hand and the quest of the Great Jewel. Fingon the Valiant saving the Prince from the Old Enemy’s tower...”

“That was my brother,” put in Maglor, “and it was really more of a cliff-face than a tower.”

“But I know well enough that not all stories are happy ones. Your brother. Gracious. So of course he was another one of the ones who...” Sam looked down at the shore below and searched for words; everything that he could think of seemed like a meaningless platitude in the face of such age and such grievous deeds.

“Knowing what I am,” said Maglor after a while, “do you still wish to travel with me?”

“You’ve done no wrong to me,” Sam answered slowly, “It’s hardly my place to judge someone like you! If the Lord of the Havens sent you to me, well, it seems that he ought to know best. You are – you are allowed to go back?” he added cautiously, for he remembered something from the old stories about the banishment of the Exiles, and that there seemed to have been some doubt about Galadriel’s own return.

“It seems I am.” Maglor looked out past the empty horizon. “I know the Lord of Waters well by now. He comes to me in dreams, wearing the faces of the dead. Our dead. Their dead. Alqualonde. Sirion. And so in a dream I was walking by the shoreline, and he rose from the waves, the water running red from his hands.

‘Are you mourning yet, Kinslayer?’ he said to me. ‘Do you mean your voice to outlast the voice of my waters?’

‘Blood?’ I said bitterly. ‘Still?’

‘In your thoughts, at least,’ he replied. ‘But though you fouled my clean Sirion more that day than the unholy hordes of Morgoth, the wounded waters do not scar. Blood may be washed away.’

‘Waters may not scar,’ I said, ‘but we do.’ And then, strangely, it seemed to me that water was flowing from my hands as well, clear and cool, and the pain in my hand began to ease at last.

‘There are great changes stirring in the world,’ the Lord of Waters said to me. ‘Have you not felt it?’

And I had felt it, I had felt it as you feel the tritone strain toward resolution in a piece of music, as you feel the strands of a story being gathered and know the end cannot be far. I do not know what it means, exactly, but I know that the way West lies open to me, and that the time has come to depart, for the Lord of Waters himself now calls me home.”

“The Lord of Waters!” was all that Sam could say, for this was a figure that occupied approximately the same status as oliphaunts and dragons, on the edge of pure legend to the folk of the Shire.

“Yes,” said Maglor, hefting his sea-chest and starting downward to the shore. “We will travel at his sufferance.” His voice took on a lighter tone. “And you will guard me against wild Ossë forgetting his promises of peace, for if I traveled alone it is possible that his rage would overwhelm his reason and I would be drowned before I set foot on Valinor.”

“Wild who? Guard you? I don’t know enough of your ways yet, Mr. Maglor, to tell if you’re having a joke or not, but I can tell you that I’m coming along for my own reasons and in my own way and not as some kind of good-luck charm!”

Maglor sobered. “Of course not; forgive me, Master Samwise. Still, this is a voyage that neither of us has the right to make. We make it by mercy, or by grace, or perhaps by need –“

“And yet we are making it, evidently,” said Sam, who had already noted his companion’s tendency to embroider on his points. “So let’s get on with it!”

They made their way back down to the shore, each bearing a chest of provisions. Sam retrieved his pack from beside the rock where he had set it down and took a long and deeply mistrustful look at the boat. Its wood was a light golden brown not yet weathered to gray, and though it had seemed small when skimming into the harbor, it now looked far too large to be comfortably approached, and there seemed to be no way to get into but an undignified scramble over the side.

“No need to wet your toes!” Maglor was laughing at him now, waist-deep in the surging waves. “I’ll bring this round to the fishing dock, there on the far side of the great quay.” He gestured. “Leave your pack! I’ll load it for you, then meet you there. Then out sails, and call for a generous wind and yielding water!”

This did not sound altogether reassuring, and Sam must have shown it in his face, but he trudged up the dunes, across the great quay where the huge seafaring vessels boarded, and made his way down the little stone steps that led to a low dock on the far side. The boat came gliding up to it, and its pilot held out his good hand to him.

“Are you ready to go?” he asked Sam. “Have you any last farewells to make, any last songs for your old country and your home?”

Sam considered. “No,” he said, “No, I reckon I’ve said all that needs to be said. And I am coming home now myself, after a fashion, though it sounds conceited to say it. But look,” he added, taking Maglor’s hand and gripping very tightly as he made his way with great care down into the boat, “If you’re coming home, it must be by your right name. I don’t know much, but I know that at least.”

“Do you say so?” Maglor seemed surprised at his firmness, but not offended. “So be it! Then let this nameless vessel have my name. Saerlind now will be the boat, and I will come back to my country under the name I bore away from it, stained though it now may be.”

Sam crouched in the bow of the boat, clutching the rails on either side with both hands as Maglor moved deftly about the deck, fixing the sails. Then, balanced in the stern by the tiller, he began to sing.

As far as Sam could tell, the song was in the High-Elven tongue and the words were strange to him, but images rose in his mind nonetheless: the rising of wind and the rushing of waters, land sinking from sight behind the horizon and the glitter of sun on the shoreless sea. And a wind sprang up behind them and the sails were filled, and the ship was soon running before it, out of the harbor over smooth and quiet waters. So absorbed was Sam in the music that he forgot his discomfort and his fear of the sea, nor did he even notice the moment when the land was left behind. The ship hummed with the sound of the song as if it were itself an instrument, making its own wordless music with the winds above it and the water beneath it.

When they were well out to sea, with the grey skies and the grey waters of the shoreline giving way to deep blue, Maglor ceased his song, tied the tiller, and came to join him at the front of the boat. Sam stared at him in wonder and admiration.

“I’ve never seen anything like that, sir! Nor heard, I mean to say. Was that what you meant by calling the wind? I thought you were just speaking poetry.”

Maglor nodded. “I do much of my sailing by voice.” He held up his withered hand. “This serves me little among sail and line. And after a hundred lifetimes on the sea’s verge, I could hardly call myself a singer if I had not learned something of the music of water and air.”

Sam looked about him, and from horizon to arched horizon the world was entirely ocean. Such vast expanse of water and sky had been beyond his imagination; indeed, he was not entirely prepared to accept the fact of the sight itself. Far in the north he saw the slanted shadows of rainclouds, but westward along the track of the sun where their own path lay, the skies were clear and the seas smooth. He turned from the immeasurable distance back to the boat, and he felt both strangely young and unwontedly shy. “Is it, well, far?” he asked his companion.

“Very far,” said Maglor, “but it won’t take long.”

 

The night on the open ocean was, if anything, more dazzling than the day. The dome of the stars seemed to touch the edges of the world, and not even on the clearest summer night in the Shire had he seen so many of them, or so bright. There was a low sheltered space beneath the hatch where he might have slept out of the open if he chose, but Sam felt little inclination for sleep, and little desire to leave the light of the stars. Only the dinner (which had been, as he had prophesied, dry and rather tasteless) left his heart anything less than satisfied.

“Are you glad to be going home?” he asked after a while, not taking his eyes from the heavens. “After being gone so long?”

There was no answer for a while, but then he caught a shadow against the stars out of the corner of his eye. Maglor had come to sit down beside him where he lay looking up at the sky.

“I lost the right to call it home,” he said, “long, long ago. I am coming back to the country I helped to injure. But I darken your thoughts with this talk. You are from an innocent land.”

“Well, now,” said Sam slowly, “I don’t know about that, exactly. You seem to know a good bit about us, but surely you didn’t miss what happened to the Shire sixty years or so ago, during the War of the Ring?”

From his blank look, it seemed that Maglor had indeed missed this period in the Shire’s history.

“Why, for more than a year Saruman, him that was one of the good wizards but went bad, was running the Shire, or as good as! The trees were cut down, and folks turned out of their homes, and it was all rules and reports and ruffians out of the Southlands running about. A great deal of harm was done, but even more would have been done if the Shire hadn’t risen when it did.”

“Then I am glad you did! It would have been a small wound, but a grievous one, to see your little country darkened.”

“But it wasn’t Saruman I was thinking of, when you were talking about coming home, and innocence and all that.

“It was Afteryule of 1420,” he began, “before we knew all the good that year would bring us. Everything was still at sixes and sevens from Saruman’s mischief in the Shire. We were all working day and night to pull down all the shoddy works of Sharkey’s Men, and to build up some new and decent houses, and to sort out the frightful shambles that had been made out of field and garden all over the Shire. There’s no warmth like working, of course, but there were dozens of families still homeless, and though we all shared what we had I can’t say I didn’t worry for the spring and for our stores running low.

“Mr. Frodo was Deputy Mayor then, and he spent three days a week in the offices down at Michel Delving. Of course I was there and everywhere those days, there was so much to be done. Hands needing work in one corner, and work needing hands in the next, and the ground all frozen and torn, and families needing food, and families needing fire. But I made sure to come and see him as often as I could.

‘How are you getting on, Sam?’ he said to me.

‘Oh, we’re managing,’ I said, ‘if only just. I’ll be easier in my mind when this cold lets up. But wouldn’t I like to get my hands on those villains that cut down the trees! I wish they were hanged on them!’

“He looked at me, troubled. ‘Don’t say such things, even in jest; that’s orc-talk.’

“I was instantly sorry for it, and was going to tell him so, but there came a commotion outside the door, and bursting into the office came Tom Cotton, who was the new head of the Shirriffs. ‘You’d better come quick,’ he said. ‘There’s been bad trouble out in the Southfarthing, and I’ve – well, come see.’

“The Southfarthing had had some of the worst of the troubles, for that was leaf-growing country, and it had all been dug up and reorganized and somehow there were only two or three huge plantations where before there had been hundreds. Some families had sold their fields and early, it seemed, but for most of them – they couldn’t quite say how it happened – there had been new tools, and new seeds, and loans, and all of a sudden they found themselves working their own land like hired hands. Only it wasn’t their land any more, and there was precious little hire, for somehow it always worked out that after the rent and the interest and the food – because none of them had their own gardens to tend now – that instead of wages they got further marks against their credit.

“And now outside the Town-Hole were half the small-holders of the Southfarthing, and with them, riding backwards on a donkey, they’d brought old Athanaric Lefferts2. He was of a good family, one of the best in the Southfarthing, and I don’t mind telling you it was a nasty shock to see him hooted so. The crowd was roused, and very angry, but eventually Tom brought them round and we got the story out of them.

“He had evidently been named Inspector General of Production Control and Management under Lotho’s administration, and he’d been responsible for enforcing all the regulations and the by-laws coming down from Central, as they called it. I dare say he’d thought himself very important, because to hear them tell it he jumped at every chance to turn in reports and so increase his standing with the Big Men. For a time anyway.  It seems they kept him jumping higher and higher, for soon he was griping and squeezing and making faults where he could find none, just so he could have something to report. Seems that he knew he was next for the chop if he slacked.

“This was as much as we got out of them before they began to murmur again. A farmwife was weeping and shaking her fist. ‘Old Gran Greenbank might be alive today if we’d had aught but your poor leavings to feed her when she took sick that winter!’

‘Where is Till Penniworth?’ another one shouted. ‘He turned him in for sowing vegetables in his own garden, for theft of Shire property, if you please!’

‘Till’s here,’ Tom Cotton broke in, ‘getting his strength back after the Lockholes-‘

‘Gripe in your guts and stones on your bones, Aric Lefferts!’ cried another. ‘And may you never sleep sound again, for my children cried for hunger and we had nothing to give them!’

“Well, things looked like they might get ugly, so Tom got him down off the donkey as best he could, and hustled him into the hall all sniffling and shaking. The crowd jeered and shook their fists at him.

‘Report him! Turn him in! Write him up!’ they shouted. ‘To the Lockholes with him! Send him to the Lockholes!’ But they seemed content enough to see Mr. Frodo take him down the hall and into the office. He shut the door and looked at all of us, Tom and old Aric and me.

‘Well, Tom,’ he said, ‘what do you make of this?’

‘They have the right of it, Mr. Mayor,’ he said. ‘It’s the Lockholes he deserves, or worse.’

‘The Lockholes will never hold anything but goods and stores again,’ said Frodo, ‘and you know that, Tom.’

‘Then send him over the border, right out of the Shire. They won’t have him among them, not after what he did.’

“At this the old villain stumbled forward and made to throw himself at Frodo’s knees. ‘Mercy! Have mercy!’ he shrieked. ‘Don’t send me away! It will kill me, sir, indeed it will, and my blood on your hands!’

“I was ready to haul him off right there, but Mr. Frodo only looked at him. He could go quite cold at times, and he was cold now. ‘Be quiet!’ he said to him. ‘Send you away? You left this land the minute you chose to destroy it. Take him out of here, Tolman, but don’t give him back to the crowd. Sit him down in the archive room or something, and keep an eye on him.’

“Tom frog-marched him back out into the hall, but the minute they were out the door Frodo slumped down at the desk with his head in his hands.

‘This is horrible, Sam,’ he said. ‘I’m no one’s judge; not anyone’s and certainly not his. And Shire’s not a place for locked doors. We never had prisons before.’

‘The Shire never had people sneaking on their neighbors before,’ I said, and I pulled up a chair beside him. ‘Nor cutting down trees, nor fouling the waters, and all.’

‘No,’ he said, ‘but now we must all learn how to deal with those who did. Aric won’t be the last, and probably not even the worst. We want to believe it was all Sharkey’s Men, but it wasn’t; it couldn’t have been. They’d never have gotten a foothold if it weren’t for us – for ordinary hobbits, I mean, with nothing worse in their hearts than maybe a little meanness, a little greed, or a little fear. Maybe no hobbits actually did violence to their neighbors, but they certainly made it possible for violence to be done. And how do we live with each other now we know that?’

‘They cut down the trees,’ I said, under my breath, ‘that seems like plenty of violence to me.’

‘We can’t send him away. He is right, it would kill him, and that would mend nothing. And if we send him away, where does it stop? The under-bosses? The old Shirriffs? Anyone who took Sharkey’s coin or ate Sharkey’s bread?’ He got up from the desk and began to pace back and forth, looking at the great stacks of papers left over from Lotho’s misrule. ‘I don’t suppose I can find some work for him here?’

‘You can’t go filling the Mayor’s office with every sniveling sneak-thief in the Shire,’ I said, for I had a sudden picture in my mind of him doing just that.

“He almost laughed. ‘No, I suppose I can’t. That would create quite the wrong impression!’ He sighed. ‘And we mustn’t have any more appealing to the Mayor. The Mayor isn’t supposed to do anything more than make speeches at banquets and keep the Post Office open. I was only appointed to this miserable office because I have less to recover from than anyone else here, and I suppose because I can read and write.’

“This seemed to give him an idea. ‘How about this, Sam,’ he said. ‘We don’t have judges yet, nor courts, and even now we may not need them. Why don’t we start giving folks their say, let them set down everything that happened – and everything they did, if it comes to that. Maybe then we can avoid trouble like this in the Southfarthing.’

‘You want a record of everything that passed while we were gone? Are you sure that’s a good idea? It’s nothing folks want remembered. Least said, soonest mended, as my Gaffer says, and there’s so much mending left to be done. And what about the ones like Robin Smallburrow, who might want to marry one of these days, having it writ down that they rode with Sharkey’s men?’

‘But it happened, Sam. We can’t change that. So would it be better for people like young Robin to have it linger in whispers and side-glances, or to have it set down but have set down beside it that he worked all winter, without hat or gloves, building the New Row?’

‘Now you’re talking like we need something besides memory,’ I said, ‘and I think you’re right. Even when people are as angry as the cotters of the Southfarthing, I don’t believe that they do want their neighbors cast out, not forever anyways. They’d rather be able to look them in the face again.’

‘Well, no one knows the repair work better than you do, Sam, and you know where hands are needed. You’re right, that’s the other part of this, if people want to come back. If they worked to harm this country, let them work to heal it.’

‘We’re all working to heal it,’ I said.

‘Well, yes. That’s the point. True accounting on the one hand, and honest labor on the other. It’s the best I can think of, anyway. Perhaps it will be enough.’

‘All right then!’ I got up from the chair. ‘But you have enough to do without filling your days with the sorry stories of all the wrong that was done over the last year. I’m ranging up and down the Shire anyway, and you’re not the only one who can read and write!’

‘Sam!’ he said. ‘You’re run off your feet as it is!’

‘Well, it’s a good thing I’ll have a staff!’ I said. ‘I’ll tell Tom that if he runs into trouble like that again, to send whoever it is to me, and if anyone has a bad conscience on them, to send them to me as well. I can’t say as I’ll take any pleasure in hearing whatever it is they’ve got to say, but I can set it down at least, and set them to digging, until their neighbors can stand to look them in the face again.’

“He pressed my hand. ‘We can’t forget,’ he said. ‘We mustn’t. But the Shire wasn’t Mordor long. Perhaps we can still come back.’

“So that was what we tried, and I think it did come right in the end. Some people just wanted to move on with the rebuilding, but some wanted to talk. Whenever it came out that someone had a grievance against their neighbor I offered them the chance to join the Under-Gardeners. Before long there were more than two dozen of them, and a sorrier pack of sinners you never saw. The young ones and the fit ones and the ones without their letters I set to planting trees, the old ones and the ones with a bit of learning I set to writing down everything their neighbors felt like saying about what had happened over the last year, and Mr. Frodo gathered them all together into a book. The Book of the Black Year, it’s called, and it’s still in the Mathom-House in Michel Delving for anyone as cares to read it over. That old wretch Aric was my secretary for nearly a year, if you can believe it, and he did go home in the end though I don’t know if he was ever really happy about it.

“Well, I called that group the Under-Gardeners, but everyone else called them the Mayor’s Men. Some of them were useless, perfect villains that I was glad to see the back of, but some of them turned out to be among the best I’ve ever worked with, and they worked for me again when I came to be Mayor myself. And it seemed that they loved the Shire better for having come so near to losing it, and losing themselves with it.”

Sam sighed and stretched.

“I don’t know why I told you all that,” he added, “but it seemed like it might make sense to you.”

 

The days and the nights passed swiftly under the circling heavens, and Maglor’s art kept off all but the occasional rain. In Sam’s mind the sea had always been a vast blank space, more nearly a void than the star-dappled skies, but now he was actually upon it he found it to be rich in its particularities; a thousand shifting landscapes all at once. Maglor made as companionable a fellow-voyager as he could have asked for, under the circumstances, for he had an enthusiasm for the telling of stories nearly as boundless as Sam’s for hearing them, drawing both from history and from the shapes of his own thoughts.

Despite Sam’s entrenched opinions on old dogs and new tricks, and his even more firmly entrenched opinions on the fundamental incompatibility of hobbits and boats, the curiosity and the practicality of his disposition could not be denied, and he learned a great deal of the basics of sailing from Maglor. The dozens of small modifications to the ship that made it possible for Maglor to sail it one-handed served Sam well even though he did not have Maglor’s strength or stature or command of the elements. Maglor, for his part, delighted to teach him, and taught well, without pride or impatience, and after a few weeks on the water Sam’s own granddaughter would have been astonished at his newfound skill.

Eventually Sam quietly assumed all of the cooking duties in the ship after Maglor showed him the charcoal camp-stove and its use. The food was rather more comforting and satisfying after that, though to Sam’s mind there was still an excessive amount of fish in their diet, and everything had a briny sort of taste that he thought he would be just as glad to be done with.

The water never ran low, and after days at sea the water tanks seemed to be as full and as fresh as the day they set out. This was a mystery to Sam, until one morning he found Maglor kneeling beside the storage vessel. Its lid was off, and he was trailing his good hand just beneath the water’s surface. He was chanting something in a low voice, his eyes closed and an expression of intense concentration on his face.

As Sam watched, he ended his song and, swaying slightly, opened his eyes and got to his feet. He drew his hand out of the water; it was white with salt.

“There!” he said, noting Sam’s interest. “That should be as sweet now as the waters of the earth. Will you draw me some? I need to catch my breath.” He sat down heavily, braced himself against the ship’s railing and began bending and flexing his fingers to crack the salt crust off them.

Sam filled a mug and brought it to him. “Others of my family might have approached such a task differently. Lenses, panes, cooling and heat... But the waters know me. They received at my hand the light that hallows them yet, and so they will heed my voice. And even if I had the use of both hands, I would still exercise words rather than tools, art rather than craft. But either way,” he said, taking the cup in his salt-dusted hand and leaning his head back against the rail, “it takes a good deal of energy.” Through all of this activity, his right hand had been resting useless at his side, but now he lifted it to his lap.

“Now,” Sam began, “you’ve been in the war.”

“Some of them,” Maglor agreed.

“Does it hurt you very much?” Sam nodded at the blackened fingers.

“Yes,” he said simply.

“What happened to you? If you don’t mind my asking. I’ve never seen one of your kind injured like that. It must have been powerful dark magic, if it left a wound not even Master Elrond could heal.”

Something that he could not recognize passed across Maglor’s face. “Dark magic?” he said at last. “No. This is not an injury left by the dark. And there is no one in Middle-Earth I would have asked to heal it, for I earned this at the end of our quest.”

Sam had by now, from Maglor’s stories, pieced together the outline of the events of the War of the Jewels and of the dreadful deeds of the Sons of Fëanor in pursuit of their oath, but this was the first time that Maglor had spoken of its conclusion. It seemed he was ready to speak of it now, for his voice took on the timbre and pace that he used for the telling of stories, and Sam would not even have heard the raggedness at its edges if he had not grown deeply familiar with Maglor’s voice over the days and nights of their solitary voyage.

“The Battle was over,” he began, “the Great Enemy defeated. The victorious hosts of Aman were camped in the wreckage that remained of the lands that we had loved.  In my memory all is darkness, but I had not seen color, nor breathed clean air, nor heard any sound of music or of song or even of friendly voice, for years. The Oath had worn it all away. I could not remember the faces of my children, of my lost brothers. There was only the weight of what we had to do.

“Only two of us remained, and our war was not over. I will not speak of the last debate between my brother and me, but at the last we took up arms and struck by stealth against the hosts of our homeland, the foes of our great Foe. There in the heart of their encampment we came at last to the Silmarils, to our father’s greatest work, prised by others from the iron crown of the Enemy. We had no need to search for them. They shone in our thoughts, a light that beat against our minds as the fire of the sun beats against closed eyes.

“We killed the guards. Perhaps they also had been people we once knew. I seized the Silmarils in the coffer where they were kept. There was no more need then for secrecy, and we heard the alarm ringing through the camp, the muster of men and the drawing of weapons.

“My brother had not sheathed his sword, and he once more made ready to fight, but he bore himself lightly now, and in his face was something closer to relief than I had seen in years.

‘Come!’ he said to me as I stood holding the case. ‘We will both fight one-handed now. It’s done. We will die with our oath fulfilled.’ And he flung the tent’s hangings aside, and we both strode out together ready to fight and ready to be struck down.

“But I knew, I had known from the instant I picked up their case, that the host of Valinor would lift up no hand against us, and why. After so many years of needless death, the deaths of the guards had been doubly needless. They would not keep the Silmarils from us. They did not have to.

“We were surrounded. There was fire, torches flaring in the darkness, flashes of faces, the glitter of arms and of armor, the clamor of many voices, but no hand was raised against us.  The crowd drew back, not for us but for someone behind them. We had been crouched back to back, now we stood side by side and awaited the Herald of the Valar.

“He faced us then, warlike and beautiful. He was yet newly come from strife with the dark, and he wore his glory hardly veiled, trailing plumes of light coruscating in the smoky air. The eyes of all that mighty company were turned to him, but his were fixed upon us. He lowered one shining hand, and all around us the host lowered their weapons. Beyond him the path lay open, out of the camp, into the nameless and broken country beyond.

“My brother looked him in the face, and perhaps he read his purpose there, pardon as keen and merciless as a knife-edge. He opened his hand and let his sword fall to the ground, then reached out for me and the burden I carried.

‘Don’t-‘ I said, or maybe it was only a thought, but it was useless and I knew it, and I dropped my weapon as well and opened the case that held the holy jewels. Even in that lightless place they shone; clear, undimmed, but somehow remote.

“My brother said nothing, and he closed his hand around the Silmaril.

“He made no sound, but I felt the shudder run through his body and the breath catch in his throat. I took up the other one then, and that jewel that would suffer the touch of no unclean thing burned in my hand as the oath had burned in my thought.

“I believe that was the last thing I feared,” Maglor said slowly, “the knowledge in the body of what I knew already in the spirit. After that fear and desire were ended together... But my brother’s eyes never left the Herald’s, and the Herald was the first to drop his gaze.

“We walked out of the camp. No one stopped us. No one spoke. We had come to the end of all that words could do, and nothing remained but to flee.

“Though we moved quickly, driven by the pain that we could not escape, we could not travel fast. The war had ripped the very earth to pieces. I could not have said exactly where we were, or what that ruined country had once been. Nothing was growing anymore; the ground beneath our feet was mud and ash and stinging sharp-edged dust. The air was thick with smoke and choked with fumes. Here and there great rents in the surface of the earth showed the raw and ancient stone beneath. Some were filled with water, some with fire, and from time to time the ground shuddered and groaned. It was hard to keep our footing.”

There was something about this that seemed unpleasantly familiar to Sam. The boat swayed beneath them.

“And all for the sake of that oath you swore?” he asked.  “Why didn’t you - Well, I don’t know what good it does to ask this now, of course, it was so long ago even for you. What’s done’s done, and can’t be undone, nothing to do but be done with it, as my gaffer used to say. And I know it’s a powerful wicked thing to break a promise; more wicked even for you than for us, seemingly. But surely it would still have been less wicked to break it and chance the consequences, if this is what happened when you kept it!”

Maglor almost laughed.

“Maybe I’m being ignorant,” said Sam, “and if I am, I’m sorry for it.”

“Not ignorant,” said Maglor, “nor are you the first to ask that question. The oath was ours, we wrought it and we chose it, although in some ways it was the last choice that we ever really made. It was our father’s oath,” he added, “but I helped him write it.”

Sam looked at him, astonished.

“In truth there was nothing of my own addition in those terrible words, but in darkened Tirion long ago, my father called me to him to hear the oath that he purposed to swear before our people, and to help him ensure that in beauty and in power it would body forth his purpose.

‘Words, Kanafinwë,’ he said, ‘words, my strong-voiced son, to make the gods tremble. Words stronger than the world, to sear our will into the skies and root it to the earth, so that the skies may fall and the earth crumble but our oath will still stand.’

“And so we swore to set our right higher than all fears or powers or bonds of any kind, and for failure called upon ourselves a judgement which the Valar themselves have no authority to enforce. We bound ourselves to the Everlasting Darkness. We bound ourselves by the One whose name should not be uttered; by the one who hears and does not speak, by the living fire at the heart of the word, by the head and source of language itself. Fair and dreadful that oath seemed to me then, and in fair and dreadful words we stamped our will upon the world.

“Yet by those words our wills were all destroyed. In the torchlit darkness of Tirion, we little thought of lifting up our swords against mothers and children, of pursuing not Morgoth but his foes, of killing our own people first in desperation and then in anger and then in cruelty and then in stealth. And yet the Oath brought us there both late and soon.

“In horror and heartsickness we would – some of us – have renounced it if we could, even at the price of the Everlasting Darkness. But our will had gone forth from us and we could not call it back, it was woven into the fabric of the world.

“And so we reclaimed what we had claimed so long ago,” he went on, returning to his story, “and that claim was rejected by the jewels themselves, who perhaps alone within the world had the right and the power to reject it.

“Long ago, the Lady of the Stars had hallowed them, binding them, as we later bound ourselves, to that which is beyond the reach of anything within the world. That light was holy and could not be made unholy. And so all the darkness of everything we had done for their sake could not dim their living radiance. Rather in that light we were the ones who withered.

“The anguish of the oath fulfilled was worse, after all, than the anguish of the oath unfulfilled; pain as various, and almost as beautiful, as the light that was its source. It splintered and seared, it scoured and scourged, it burned us away and broke us apart, and if it had been in our power we surely would have died of it. It was unbearable, and so we did not bear it but were borne by it. We were running, stumbling, driven by light into darkness and yet unable to escape.”

“For pity’s sake!” Sam burst out, “why didn’t you just put the confounded things down?”

“Our past behind us, our oath within us, our deeds around us, our father’s works in our hands at last. We could not endure them, we could not cast them aside. I did not know where we were running. Where was there for us to run to? But we ran, from darkness to darkness.

“It may have been a long time. There was no light of sun nor moon; dawn did not pierce the clouds and the thick darkness of the smoke from the destruction wrought by the war, nor were the stars visible behind that veil.

“A violent tremor in the earth threw us both to the ground. There was the roar of stone moving, and the scream of breaking rock, and the land ahead of us was split apart by a great chasm. Dust rolled upwards in choking clouds, lit by the fire beneath.

“I did not get up. It came distantly into my mind that perhaps the earth might swallow us up, or the hills fall on us, and so make an end. But I knew that hope was vain; the Doom was upon us and so we could hope for no mercy from chance.

“So I lay on the broken ground where I had fallen. I could see no reason to rise. I knew already I would never use my hand again.

“But my brother got to his feet, slowly, as one carrying a great weight. He stood there in the darkness, and his hand was burning, and my thoughts flew back to our father at his end, the deadly light under his skin, the flames that flickered along his fingers while he constrained himself to speak. But my brother looked at his hand, and saw that it was burned black by the touch of that hallowed light, and he was thinking of someone else.

“Then he began to sing. He sang softly, almost tunelessly. But I caught the words and even in that tumult of darkness and fire they froze my heart, for this was the song that his friend had sung when he sought him beyond hope in the Enemy’s lands.

‘Light of the world poured into us,
true mirror of the hidden fire,
we lift our voices loud in praise,
our hearts to hope3 –‘

“I had no breath to sing, scarcely breath to speak, but he smiled, and I saw that the light in his eyes was utterly quenched, as one whose spirit has already departed. He looked at me as if I were very far away, but I do not know if he recognized me.

‘There never was any hope,’ he said softly. ‘Not really.’ And perhaps he did know me, for he knelt swiftly and kissed my forehead.  For a moment it seemed that I could see again that face that had been so dear to me, before the Oath had turned even love to bitterness in our hearts.

“Then his voice was gone altogether, but I saw his lips moving. ‘Be he foe or friend, be he foul or clean...’

“He straightened and walked away and did not look back. There was nothing before us but the chasm. I saw the light of the Silmaril as he lifted it, and his body black against the glow of the fire, and he was gone.

“There were no words left to me, for memory or for pain or for anything else. Within me the oath itself was burning away. I did not know what it was I held, or even who it was that held it, but it seemed to me that someone was weeping. After a while I got up, and I too began to walk.

“I was burning, but I walked away from the fire. I walked until the air began to clear above me in a storm of wind from the west. Around me was the rushing of water; the sea was pouring in and cleansing the ruined earth.

“I might have stayed where I was, let the sea cover me as it was covering the broken land. But I did not. I climbed to the highest promontory I could find and watched the waters swell. When the cliff where I stood had become the rocky seashore and the waters were lapping at my feet, I opened my hand for the last time and cast away the Silmaril into the ocean.

“For a long time I wandered along those new shores, and slowly things began coming back to me. Sorrow came first, and the feel of the water, and the salt scent of the air. Then I found that I could recall the faces of the ones that I had lost, and of the ones that I had killed. Eventually the world grew clear to my eyes, and finally again I heard music, the music of the waters. I lifted up my voice in answer. I have been singing since.”

Sam drew a long breath. “Well!” he said at last. “I’m glad it all came right in the end, at least.”

“It all – what?”

“Well, you didn’t have that dreadful oath anymore, did you, breathing down your neck?” Sam refilled him the water-cup. “And the Great Jewels all found their proper places, and you came back to yourself, and now you’re coming home at last, to see if things can’t be set right with everybody.”

Maglor seemed genuinely speechless.

“Set right?” he asked, in a tone quite unlike the confident and sonorous voice with which he had shaped his story. “We all chose destruction; my brother chose it finally and wholly. There is as little hope for him as for my father, whose pride and anger will bar him from return until the world itself is healed.”

“It’s a lot to come back from,” Sam went on, “but what are we doing right now, I’d like to know, if not coming back? And I know death isn’t the same for your kind as for ours. Why, I myself once met someone who’d died, died fighting a fire-demon, if you can believe it, and seemed no worse for it! Well, two people,” he added, reflecting, “but Gandalf doesn’t count. Why shouldn’t you see your brother again, when we land in the Elven-country beyond the sea?”

“I must be fading farther than I knew,” murmured Maglor into the cup, “if I have failed to convey even to you the depth of the darkness that we called upon ourselves.”

“Now, don’t say that! I’ve known people hurt bad by the Darkness, hurt within and without, if you see what I mean, and they went to be healed from it, and I’m going to see them again. And I don’t believe for a minute you’re more frail than we are. While there’s life there’s hope, as we say in the Shire. And this is life,” he added, now addressing more the imagined chorus of doubters back in Hobbiton, “Ocean or no Ocean, Last Voyage or otherwise!”

 

On the day that they left the world he knew, Sam saw nothing to distinguish the day from any of the other days, the sea from the sea as he had come to know it over their fair and tranquil voyage. But Maglor, recognizing something in the time or the place, or perhaps simply responding to an unheard call, was seized with a strange vitality. He called Sam to help him about the ship, setting the sails and securing the lines. When all had been made fast, he took his place in the prow, and raised both hands to the cloudless skies. Sam looked about him curiously. Then Maglor began to sing.

As before, Sam did not understand the words, but he understood the longing in his voice. Loss was his song, and cureless sorrow, and long years of regret, but Sam also heard, or believed that he heard, words that spoke of hope. In that music, he seemed to see the world as it had first appeared to the eyes of the speaking peoples, dark beneath the stars. He heard a clear summons and saw then a land lit by living radiance, silver and gold, beautiful beyond the compass of his thought. But the light failed, and all was darkness, and he saw, or perhaps heard, the discord that marred the music. By turns great and terrible, theme answered theme as the beauty of the original faded and was lost. Yet it did not perish altogether, for here and there he caught echoes of its rippling notes, as something half-remembered or glimpsed in the uncertain distance. Then the music changed: it spoke of the heart of the exile yearning towards home, of the burden of slow centuries in strange lands and of the transformations wrought by time and change.

Quite unexpectedly Sam found himself cast back in his mind to his own days of wandering, and to his own love for the home to which he could not yet return, a love that pierced and sustained at once. That love rose again in his heart as Maglor sang. He clung to the railing, looking out past the horizon, and he did not know whether it was tears or the salt spray stinging his eyes. There was a rushing noise in his ears, of air as well as of water, and he felt a drop in the pit of his stomach as if he were falling, or perhaps rising very quickly.

Nothing appeared to have changed around them – the sun shone high and bright, the waves glittered silver and green and blue-black. But Maglor ended the song and lowered his hands, breathing deeply. “We have left the bent world behind us,” he said, “and now sail the straight road home.”

That evening Maglor, staring into the setting sun, gave a loud cry; he had glimpsed land on the horizon. Sam peered in the direction he indicated, but could see nothing, and the glare hurt his eyes. Still, after the sun set, he thought that there might indeed be something before them – lights that were lower and fainter than the stars ought to be, homely in that wilderness of water and starlight.

By morning it was evident even to him. The horizon was sharp-edged with mountains, which he recognized immediately although he had seen them only once before, and that was in a dream. Beneath them was a low green island rising out of the sea.

Although it was little more than a blur to Sam’s eyes, the sight of the land filled him with something great and solemn which he supposed must be a sort of joy. But Maglor sprang lightly up on the forward railing and gazed out at the island. Although the boat swept and swayed with the sea’s motion, he balanced on its edge with no more effort than if he were standing on a promontory of rock.

He had been standing so for some time when he suddenly gave a half-choked cry and dropped back onto the deck. Sam, supposing that he must have hurt himself, quickly made his way to his side, but Maglor was swaying on his feet, wonder and blind incomprehension on his face

“Perhaps I may have steered us wrongly at the last,” he murmured, dazed. “Was this what the Lord of Waters meant when he spoke of blood being washed away? I am sorry, friend Samwise. But I do not understand how this can be unless we have passed indeed into death. None of our songs speak of death as an ocean...”

“Our songs do,” said Sam, “but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we’re not sailing into death, poetry or no poetry, songs or no songs. Whatever are you on about?”

Maglor groped for Sam’s shoulder and seemed to find his solidity reassuring. “If I live and if I wake,” he said, “and yet see such visions as these – I do not understand how this can be unless perhaps we have come to the end of the world and all things are to be made new.”

“The end of the world? Well, it is, isn’t it? Or near enough, anyway, it’s not like there’s a world beyond that.” Sam nodded at the mountains that were growing larger against the horizon. “Oh, but you meant something like the Last Battle, when the wolves eat the Sun and the Moon and the mountains are flattened?4” He nodded to the peaks again, pointedly this time.

“I thought I saw my father,” Maglor said in a low voice. “My brothers. My - others as well. They are waiting for us on the shore.” He looked back towards the island. “We’ve been sighted. Can you not see? They’ve lit the beacons at the mouth of the Eastward Harbor.”

“I can’t see a thing at this distance,” said Sam, “and either way, there’s no help for it until we get there. So let’s for goodness sake get there as fast as we can, and clear it all up once we’re safe on land!” He did not say it, but at Maglor’s mention of others a hope even stronger than the wind behind them had sprung up in his heart, and he was impatient to arrive.

Nor was his hope disappointed, for as the Saerlind drew into port at last he saw among the people crowding the edge of the dock – most of whom were very tall and very animated, quite unlike the solemn and stately assembly he had been picturing – a small figure among the great. Then there was Frodo’s hand reaching for his, and Frodo’s arms around him as he pulled him up onto the shore, and at once he was again the sturdy young hobbit who had leaped after his master into the Great River without knowing how to swim.

Around him the sound of weeping and laughter and song, shouts of joy and cries of welcome, all blended into a clamor like the ringing of the bells of a whole city. But his old friend, sound and whole and thoroughly alive, his face unshadowed and his eyes alight, was before him, and Sam found that he had no words at all, nor any need of them.

“Sam!” Frodo said at last as they broke apart. “Best of friends, dearest of hobbits! I had not dared hope to see you again.”

“Indeed he had not,” broke in Gandalf, coming up behind them.  “He would hardly believe it even from me when I told him to expect you. He’s been sorely lacking your influence on him, Sam, I think, because even after so long on these shores he has apparently not learned to come out and ask for what he wants, still less to expect it!”

“But you were so much at home in the Shire,” said Frodo, helpless, “and, well, you never liked boats, and –“

“I should have liked to see anyone keep me away!” said Sam indignantly. “You called me, didn’t you? And I came.”

Frodo looked at him strangely. “So it wasn’t just a dream, then?” he said, as much to Gandalf as to Sam, but the wizard raised his eyebrows and said nothing.

“You see, Sam, I thought it might be that you were the one who was calling me. I was dreaming, and it seemed to me that I was walking over the Blessed Realm at night, and I had come to the gardens of Lorien. I was quite alone, but then I thought I heard someone behind me, and there you were. You looked just as you do now. I was afraid that it meant you – well, that you had died, back home at Bag End, and that this was the last that I would see you. I heard you call me, and I woke suddenly and –“

“Death again!” exclaimed Sam. “Why does everyone keep jumping to that as an explanation? You wouldn’t believe the job I had convincing Maglor there that he hadn’t somehow taken a wrong turn and steered us into the land of the dead, when he caught sight of these folks on the shore. Even though he’s the one who’s supposed to know about boats,” he added. “And about poetry.”

He turned to the group beside them, who were still embracing the wanderer and crying out to each other, the liquid syllables of the High-Elven tongue flowing over each other like leaping waters. “This is his family, evidently,” he said, by way of explanation. “Do you know them?”

“Know them!” Frodo laughed aloud. “They are my – well, not my family, of course, but they’ve become my, my hosts. We got the news at the same time, that they should come to meet him, and I should come to meet you, so we came here together -”

“Yes, Mr. Gamgee, your peace-loving master has moved in with the most notorious family of murderers in Aman,” said Gandalf. “I suppose I should apologize to you for taking my eye off him.”

“Stop that!” said Frodo. “Sam’s just gotten here; give him a few minutes to get his feet before you start trying to knock him off balance again! But you do know the house of Fëanor, Sam? I thought that over the voyage Maglor might have told you the story, at least.”

“Dozens of them! Stories, I mean, although it looks like dozens of people as well,” Sam eyed the crowd doubtfully. “But he seemed to think they were all dead.”

“Well, they were.” Gandalf seemed to be enjoying himself. “And not even the wise looked for Fëanor’s return, until none other than your Mr. Baggins here comes wandering out of the woods one day, bold as you please, with the mightiest of the Noldor in tow. You could have knocked me over with a feather when the first words out of Fëanor’s mouth were in the Common Speech, in a perfect Shire accent no less.

‘Gandalf!’ he said to me when I came to see him – and that would have been astonishment enough, since I have never borne that name in these lands – ‘It seems I owe you my thanks!’

‘The thanks you owe is to Frodo, if anyone,’ I said,  ‘And I owe him thanks as well, since without Frodo you would have kept me waiting on your doorstep for years just like one of those innumerable linguists and mathematicians and smiths.’”

“Slow down!” cried Sam. “Are you saying it’s Frodo who brought back Maglor’s father?”

“I really had very little to do with it-“ Frodo began, but Gandalf was nodding toward the group on the shore.

“Indeed. Fëanor. That’s him there.”

Sam was about to object to the vagueness of the description, but looking at the tall and joyful figures, many of whom seemed to share so much of form and feature that they had to be very close kin, he found his eye drawn to one in particular. He was not set apart by richness of garments or by any other token of authority, but in his bearing, and perhaps the bearing of those around him, as a king might be recognized without his crown. Yet it was not kingliness exactly that he bore about him, but power of another sort. It was a bit like looking into a strong light, and Sam found his eyes watering.

“Yes, that is Fëanor, returned at last!” said Gandalf, “And I couldn’t be better pleased. The injury done by and following on the theft of the Silmarils was as deep as any ill in Arda, and if that is amended at last, then the healing of the world has begun sooner than even I thought to look for it. Besides,” Gandalf added, “the world is better off for having him back in it. Don’t let on to him, though, it wouldn’t do for him to get prouder of himself than he already is.”

Fëanor had clearly heard him perfectly well, for he shot the wizard a glare. But Sam, in looking at the group surrounding Maglor, had recognized another one of the figures, and now sprang forward with a cry of surprise and delight.

“Why, Elrond, Mr. Frodo, it’s Elrond!”

Elrond caught his words and glanced toward them. “It is indeed, Master Samwise!” But the attention called to him had hushed the others, and now Maglor, disheveled with the embraces of his brothers, turned toward him as well, and he was frozen at the sight, pinned between joy and grief.  But Elrond, looking him in the eyes, swiftly stepped forward and took both of his hands in his, and if Maglor’s injury pained him at this, he gave no sign.

There they remained for a moment, studying each other’s faces. Then Elrond spoke, in the ancient mode of their ancient language and in a tone Sam had never heard him use, and though Frodo later translated their speech in full, Sam found that the import of their words was piercingly clear.

“My second father,” he said. “Second in time, but not second in heart. Too long you have been lost to me.”

And Maglor, to whose voice words came flowing and strong, struggled to speak. “My child,” he said at last. “My dear one. I have no right to call you my son.”

“No right,” said Elrond, and Sam could not tell if it was a question or not. “Between us there is no question of rights. You are my father, and I am your son, and you have come home to me beyond the world.”

And then they were in each other’s arms, and Maglor wept and Elrond with him, and yet it did not seem that they grieved. They broke apart at last, and looked at each other, and laughed. But Sam was still struck with amazement.

“Wait, do you mean to tell me Maglor is Elrond’s father? But I thought Elrond’s father was, was –“ He could not immediately recall the name, but nodded toward the sky.

“No, you are quite correct, Master Samwise,” Elrond replied in the Common Speech, turning to him again.  “Eärendil sired me, but it was Maglor and his brother who raised me. I have had more of fathers than any one person might expect, and yet I have always had less of them than I could want.”

They had drawn together in speaking, and Sam found himself, with Frodo and Gandalf, among the Elves in the heart of their company, giddy with his own delight and with theirs. “O starlight and sunrise and springtime!” he cried, making no sense even to himself, but feeling that poetry was called for. “And all the sorrow’s done at last!”

His outburst caught the notice of Maglor’s brothers. “Do our guest some courtesy!” cried one of them, “and let us speak in the Common Tongue!” The murmur of their speech changed immediately; while it lost little of its music Sam found that he could understand what was being said and that in fact their speech had more of the sound of the Shire in it than he had ever heard among the Elves.

“Brother, have you also brought one of the hobbits?” asked the tallest of Maglor’s brothers, looking from Sam to Frodo and back again.

“Is this the new order of the world?” inquired another with mock gravity. “Will all our returning kindred bear with them one of these Shire-folk?”

“Well, I know why I have one, but not why you do,” replied Maglor, “And yours seems to know mine! I have been long away – long away – but I had not thought to see any of you in the world again, and still less in such company!”

“But if your companion is a hobbit, he must be hungry – and all the hungrier for having had to cross the sea with no one but you for company.” Sam assumed that the dark-haired speaker must be yet another of Maglor’s brothers. “I must beg your forgiveness, small elf-friend!” he went on. “For if you have had no better cheer than my brother’s cookery you must be hungry indeed. Unless long ages of exile have mended his skills.”

“I can’t imagine they have,” put in the sharp-tongued one who had spoken before.

“Now, is that any way to speak of your brother?” Sam said, the hobbit-grandfather in him responding almost automatically.

“He did do most of the cooking himself,” said Maglor over him, “but I am sure he would be glad of something that did not taste of the sea – “

This seemed to be taken as a general call for everyone to adjourn. A woman in the party, who seemed to be in a position of some authority, called to the harbormaster’s people to find anchorage for the Saerlind. Then, moving slowly, for there were a good many of them and none of them seemed in a hurry to get anywhere, the group left the long pier with its colored beacons and began making their way from the docks.

Maglor’s younger brothers jostled to walk at his side – doing nothing for the speed of their progress – and eventually Sam saw him between two whose build and appearance were so similar he was not entirely sure whether he was looking at two people or merely suffering one of the peculiar effects of vision that seemed to be common when looking at the elves. They were red-haired – nearly half the group seemed to be; a trait Sam had noted among hobbits but never among the Eldar. He realized, with a thrill that seemed to shake the years from him, just how very little he knew about the Elves, and how much this strange country had to unfold to him.

He had not the least idea where they might be going. The city around them was built of stone, white and gray and dusty rose, and lined with fragrant trees. The buildings and streets rose steeply up the slope of a hill at whose summit stood a glittering white tower, but the group of Maglor’s kin seemed to be staying close to the shore rather than heading into the city’s heart. Sam had never seen a city built right up to the edge of the ocean like this, though he had heard tell of such things in the south of Gondor. He looked around him with attention, but the island was so large that he had no sense at all of where the other side might be, save that in the western distance the mountains of Aman rose, snow-capped and unthinkably huge.

“There are other ports on this side of the Sea.” One of Maglor’s brothers, the same one who had addressed him earlier, had noted his interest in their surroundings. “Avallonë  does not have the wild and glittering beauty of Alqualonde of the pearls, but I’m sure you see why we might not have chosen to greet you there. But look around you! There is some of the oldest work of the Eldar here, mingled with the art of later ages.” Sam was not entirely certain he could distinguish between different periods of Elven architecture but he endeavored to appear suitably impressed nonetheless.

“Avallonë, is it? Very nice. Who rules here?”

“No one at all. This is one of the in-between places: both of Aman and Arda. It belongs wholly to neither world, and for this reason the island is called lonely. It’s a ship-haven now, that was itself a ship in the days of the Great Journey. Many of the returning Exiles live here, for a time at least. Then, if they wish to take up their places in the realms of the Eldar on the shores of Valinor itself, they may go on. Some never do. The Harbormaster and her people tend the havens and light the beacons, but otherwise this place has no need of rulers.” This seemed like a surprisingly Shire-like arrangement to Sam, and he approved.

“These are the wanderers’ halls,” his host went on, indicating the low buildings they were approaching, which overlooked a series of grassy, tree-shaded terraces descending to the sea-wall. “Where we lodged awaiting you, and where you will lodge with us, unless your friend or your wizard has other plans for you.”

With a great deal of noise and in a tangle of swift motion, the brothers moved the voyagers’ small belongings into the houses and began moving the makings of an excellent feast out of them. They threw coarse-woven cloths over the grass, unfolded low tables of beautifully carved wood, brought out light metal plates and heavy glass cups, and Sam shortly found himself seated among the elves on the short grass underneath the ancient trees, enjoying the hospitality of the Undying Lands, which took the form of as fine a picnic as he had ever enjoyed on a summer’s day in the Party Field. The food and the wine went around to all, and then there were the questions, and the news, and two ages of the world worth of stories and explanations and apologies to be had all around.

At Maglor’s halting request, backed by Fëanor’s demand, Frodo got up and recounted to the whole company all the strange story of how he had come unexpectedly to the Halls of the Dead and how he had returned in the company of Fëanor, whom all the Eldar had believed lost to them. Sam and Maglor listened to this with astonishment while Fëanor visibly restrained himself from making commentary. As soon as he had finished, Maglor, slipping back into the High Speech, his strong voice nearly cracking with pain and wonder, demanded further explanation – and, it may have been, apology - from the father he had not seen since the days before the sun. But Frodo came back to Sam’s side, and they sat together with Gandalf under the trees, perfectly content.

“Well, Sam Gamgee!” The wizard looked at him thoughtfully, but with deep affection. “So here you are at last. You haven’t brought any pipe-weed with you, have you?”

“I was waiting for you to ask, Gandalf. Yes I have indeed! I hardly smoke at all myself any more, but that means the stock’ll last all the longer. It’s with my things, back up in the house. Oh! And I brought something for you as well, Mr. Frodo. Wait for me!”

He trotted back up the hill to their guest-quarters and rummaged about until he found his small chest. There was little enough inside. He had brought nothing with him more than a change of clothes, and his pots and pans, and right at the bottom, a package double-wrapped in brown paper and oilcloth, labeled, in his strong blocky lettering, “FOR AFTER”.

He brought the package back to Frodo and Gandalf, and after a good deal of fussing with the knots, drew out a large pouch of the Southfarthing’s finest, which he handed to the wizard. Gandalf declared that Mayor was too poor a title for one who had so clearly shown himself a lord among hobbits, produced a pipe from somewhere in his sleeve, filled it, lit it and began blowing smoke rings, to the intense interest and mild consternation of the company. But Sam turned to Frodo with the other contents of the treasure he had carried with him from the other side of the world.

“This I brought for you, though,” he said, unwrapping it carefully to reveal a handful of wrinkled brown lumps. “It’ll be a little time yet until you can enjoy them, but I thought, well, time’s not a problem in the Elvish Country...” Frodo looked at him curiously.

“Do you mean to tell me you don’t know a tater when you see it? Why, they’re seed-potatoes, and a fair job I had too, to keep from cooking them up on the voyage across when there was nothing but dried vegetables in a fish sauce, or fish in a dried vegetable sauce, nothing that sticks to your ribs. I didn’t know if they’d have potatoes here, you see, and I thought I ought to bring some sort of gift, bring something of home to you now we’ve left Middle-Earth for good...”

Frodo was really touched by this. “Oh Sam, carrying those all this way? But every kind of plant grows here.”

“Not this one, begging your pardon, sir! This is my own variety; I bred it myself in the garden at Bag End. Five seasons it took, but now it’s the pride of the gardeners of the Shire.” He held a withered potato up and patted it affectionately. “Deep yellow flesh, rich buttery taste, good for frying or mashing or roasting with a few herbs. Always manages higher yields than you expect, too. Mad Baggins’ Gold is the name they gave this strain in Hobbiton, so you see why I had to bring it.”

Frodo laughed in delight. “Sam, you are a marvel. When we get home, we’ll plant them by the Sarnaherion and show all of these Elves what a proper Shire meal tastes like.”

“By where now? I may have walked into a song – it certainly feels like I have – but I can’t be expected to keep track of all the names of everything. Especially not when everybody seems to have three or four just to start off with!”

“Of course – I’m getting ahead of everything, Sam, but it’s only that I’m so glad to see you again. The Oromar Sarnaherion are Nerdanel’s halls. That’s her there, between those two with the red hair.”

Sam looked at the elves; the two he had last noted flanking Maglor as they walked were now on either side of a woman whose hair shone like copper in the sun. As if she had heard Frodo’s remark, or felt Sam’s gaze, she looked over at them and smiled.

She had none of the remote, glorious, almost frightening beauty of the queens of the Eldar, but she carried about her something of the same quality that had made Fëanor instantly distinguishable among his mighty kindred. There was wisdom in her face, and a settled power, quiet attention and deep understanding.

Sam liked her at once. “Their mother, yes?” he said. “Well, someone’s mother, anyway?”

“I should say so! Most of these people are her sons; Fëanor’s her husband, and I’ve been living there with them for – it must be years now. Dozens and dozens of years.” He was looking at Sam, trying to calculate, without much success, how much time must have passed since he saw him last. “Back in Valinor,” he went on, “and so we’ll be heading over there – oh, after a while, I dare say; nothing moves in a hurry here.”

“Wait, Valinor? I thought – isn’t this Valinor?” He waved his hand vaguely at the island around them, the flowering trees and the stone city.

“Well, yes and no. This is Tol Eressëa; it’s the main island off the coast of Valinor itself. This is the island that the Númenóreans used to gaze at, in the stories, and tell themselves that they were seeing all the way to Aman. But Nerdanel’s home, our home, is in Valinor proper, right behind the mountains.”

His voice dropped and softened, as if he were reading from a work he had written. “It’s a remarkable place, Sam; the whole country is remarkable. The Oromar Sarnaherion’s built by a river, in a shallow valley by the foot of the mountains. It’s the country of the smith-folk of Aulë, and it’s where the domain of the Maker meets that of his mighty spouse, the Lady of the Earth.” He had been looking off into the distance, the motion of his hand tracing the shape of the country he described. But he saw Sam looking at him questioningly, and he came back to him with a start.

“Everything – everything grows there. I think you would like it,” he said anxiously. “Do say you will come with me, at least for a little while.”

“Mr. Frodo,” said Sam with great formality, sounding (and looking, if he had only known it) a great deal like his old tutor Bilbo, “if you think I have come this far to find you, if you think that I have crossed the entire world and then some, if you think that I have spent all that time on a boat, only to let you go off somewhere by yourself again – well, you must have spent your years in the Elf-country asleep and dreaming!”

Frodo started to speak, thought better of it, started to speak again, then simply reached over and closed his hand over Sam’s, with the potato resting in his palm. “We’ll plant them together,” he said, almost entirely successful at keeping the tremor out of his voice. “And when we have our first harvest, we’ll send for Bilbo down from the mountain, to come and feast on his gold.”

Of all of the wonders that Sam had seen and heard that morning, this was the first that really took him by surprise. “Bilbo?” he said. “You don’t mean - Old Mr. Baggins? He that left with you, so long ago! Then it is true what the stories say about this country!”

Frodo smiled, but Sam was deeply alarmed. “I know I’ve been saying how none of this – not the Sea, not the ship, not the Elvish Country – means death. But do you mean to say we won’t die at all? Oh, now, I am not sure that is a good idea. I didn’t come here to die, not a bit of it! But I didn’t come here to – well, to not die! Not natural, that is, and me with Rosie gone before me... No, no. A good length of years, a quiet life, and a peaceful death, that’s all I ask.”

“You have asked for, and received, a great deal more than that, Sam Gamgee!” put in Gandalf, pausing in his blowing of smoke rings. “But be easy. Not the Powers themselves can take away the Gift of Men. Though they may give their own gifts besides – or receive them, if it comes to that...” And he told him all the story of the strange fate that had befallen Bilbo Baggins, and Sam listened in amazement.

“But yes,” Frodo added by way of explanation, in case it had been lost in Gandalf’s tale of the shadowed halls of Mandos, the eagles of the Elder King, and the audacity of the Burglar in Valinor, “we are still mortal, of course we are, bound to leave the world altogether eventually. But we die in our own time and – I think – by our own will. As far as I learned from Bilbo anyway, we just know when we are done, and take our leave. And he says he will leave some day, and for good this time. ‘Once the old fellow seems like he can get on without me,’ he said – referring to Manwë himself, if you please! ‘But I’m sure I don’t know when that will be. Do you know, Frodo, he doesn’t seem to know what fear is? I’ve been all week explaining to him why I might be nervous about eagles no matter how highly I think of them in general!’

“But you’ll live, Sam, live here, with us, exactly as long as you like. Time won’t chase us out of the world. Not here.”

Sam looked attentively at Frodo. The years seem to have passed him by altogether, though there was something, whether in his look or in his bearing Sam could not decide, that reminded him more of elves than hobbits. Like them, he seemed hard to place in time, neither old nor young, or perhaps both at once.  “The Elvish country seems to have agreed with you, at least,” he said. “And Gandalf - bless my soul, Gandalf, are you getting younger? I do believe I am now the oldest of the lot of you!”

“Age is hard to reckon here,” said Gandalf with great tranquility, gazing at the curls of smoke from his pipe. But Sam turned again to Frodo.

“Seeing all of these great ones, together like this – “ he began, waving his hand vaguely at the gathering, “I can’t say I ever really thought of Master Elrond as having a father, much less a grandfather!”

“It is strange, isn’t it?” Frodo agreed. “I had trouble getting used to the idea myself. Of course I think Elrond refers to Fëanor as Grandfather partly just to watch people trip over themselves trying to keep their composure. He’s almost as bad as Gandalf in that respect, though you’d never guess it to look at him! Nerdanel, on the other hand, he calls Grandmother and means it. He’s been to visit us at her halls several times, although he’s built his own city now. I dare say he’ll tell you all about it, once he gets done quizzing Maglor on everything he knows about the doings back in Middle-Earth.”

Frodo leaned back on the grass and looked thoughtfully at the group. “But I think that’s why they can seem so young to us – so old and so young at once, that is. It’s not like it is with us, where by the time our children are having children, our grandfathers are only a memory. Speaking of children’s children, what was your and Rosie’s final tally?”

“We passed your guess by seven, Mr. Frodo.”

“Wait, my guess? What are you talking about?”

“I remember every word you said to me that day,” said Sam, with a note of reproach in his voice. “The Shire does too; it’s in the last pages of the Red Book. You gave me the names of five more children besides little Elanor, and they all came, just as you said, and then another seven.”

“Thirteen children? Great heavens above, Sam, how did you and Rosie find the time?”

“Well, I don't know - is it so different from this family? They’re – well, there’s more to them somehow, like being in the midst of the stars laughing or the rivers quarreling. But once you get used to that, it’s not so different from my own family when we all got together in Bag End, the noise and all the merry bedlam, with the food and drink flowing and everyone talking at once.”

“I suppose you’re right!” Frodo laughed. “I’ve been with them for years now, and it’s rather like living in the inside of a fireworks display, even when all of them aren’t home together. But look, Sam, let’s get you properly presented to everyone.”

“So I’ll at least know who’s talking, if not what they’re talking about,” muttered Sam under his breath. But Frodo pulled Sam to his feet, and led him before the elves.

All the company on the hillside introduced themselves in turn, at a length and with a degree of ceremony that satisfied both his hobbit sense of propriety and his dearest expectations of Elvish poetry. None of them seemed to have less than three names, even leaving aside their lineage and titles, and his head was spinning by the end of it.

“Here!” said Maglor, seeing his confusion. “My mother, my father.” He pointed out Nerdanel and Fëanor where they sat among their children. “My brothers.” He chanted a few familiar lines in the Common Speech, indicating each of them in turn. “His sons beside him, the seven kinsmen / the Morgoth’s foes unflinching and fell / crafty Curufin, Celegorm the fair / Maedhros left-handed, leader and lord / Amrod and Amras and dark Caranthir – now do you know us?”

“Is that one of the songs of Men?” demanded the one that Maglor had just named as Curufin.

“Do you mean they somehow got hold of the Lays of Beleriand?! No, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know how they wound up mangling it.”

“I don’t see why I’m always dark,” grumbled Caranthir, flushing. “Men did call me other things, you know. Is there some reason I couldn’t have ended up as Caranthir the high lord or open-handed Caranthir?

“It doesn’t scan -” Maglor was clearly ready to launch into a short treatise on Westron prosody.

“It could be worse, I’m always and Amras,” put in one of the twins.

“But you have left out a line.” The speaker was Maglor’s older brother, Maedhros; tall, quiet, and grave-faced he sat at his father’s side. “Shouldn’t there be something like ‘Maglor the mighty, sea-voiced singer’? And besides, your song is not true.” He held up his right hand, and Sam saw tears start again in Maglor’s eyes.

“You have left out more than a line,” put in a dark-haired woman with bright eyes and sharp, graceful features. “Some of us were left out of the songs altogether. Or come into different ones, like my son.”

“A different song?” Sam asked, curious. “Which one would that be? I’ve heard so many of them now, mind you, I couldn’t promise I’d know it.”

She looked surprised at his question. “But it is your own song, or at least its prelude.  My son is he who wrought the Rings of Power in the Second Age, Tyelperinquar Curufinwë, the third of his name.” Hearing himself named, he turned toward them, as if waiting for Sam to speak. But Sam, suddenly realizing what was meant by your own song, could find nothing to say that he considered fit for decent company.

“No, Sam!” said Frodo hastily. “It’s all right! We’ve – we’ve worked it out between us.”  Sam’s face had darkened alarmingly and for a second Frodo was afraid that he might launch himself bodily at him. But Celebrimbor of Eregion looked thoughtfully at Samwise of the Shire, and Sam, who had borne the Ring for a brief and bitter time, recognized the loss in his eyes, and the shadow of old pain and old grief, and when it came to it, he found he could hold no real anger toward him, though courtesy stuck in his throat. “Oh, very well!” he said. “Don’t think this means that I’ve forgotten, though!”

This seemed to remind Maglor of something, or possibly he wished to draw Sam’s mind to kinder things. “Master Samwise. Did you not tell me that of all the tales of the First Age, you loved the tale of Fingon’s rescue of the prince?” He called across the group. “Findekano! You have an admirer, valiant cousin!”

“You have nothing but admirers, valiant cousin,” shot Curufin.

Fingon sprang to his feet and came over to Sam at once, and Sam, exceedingly self-conscious, bowed a number of times and pronounced various formalities about it being a great honor. He attempted to summon up all of the dignity he had acquired over several decades as mayor, but found it altogether overwhelmed by a delight like that of boyhood, almost as good as the moment when he had first learned that the Elves were more than figures out of children’s stories. But Fingon, who had evidently learned something of Shire customs, sank to one knee and shook his hand.

“But you are yourself a warrior of renown,” he said.

“Oh, sir, no need to make fun,” Sam protested.

“Not a bit of it!” Fingon seemed almost hurt. “Your friend has told us of your deeds, and if your enemies erred in naming you an elf-warrior, still they were right to flee before you. Valor, and hope unquenchable, and courage in the dark places – we carried the light of Aman in our eyes, but you carried it your heart and in your hand.”

Such praise, and from such a source, left Sam quite flustered. He looked to Frodo for help, but Frodo seemed to agree. “Have you forgotten in what high honor you are held, beyond the Shire?”

Now the language of the gathering had shifted again to the Common Speech and their notice had been called again to Sam. “I’m pleased to hear another native speaker of Westron!” said Fëanor, looking at him with the sort of attention that made Sam feel uncomfortably like he were a book someone was about to make notes in. “There are many of our kindred here who are fluent, of course, but there’s a particular value to someone who speaks it as a mother-tongue.”

“Yes,” put in Curufin, “and there are a number of recommendations we have for improvements to it.”

Flustered, Sam looked back to Frodo again. “Oh, dear me. I’m certainly not the hobbit you want for that; I’m afraid you must have gotten rather a different picture of us – we’re not all authors and scholars like Mr. Frodo or Mr. Bilbo. I’m only a gardener.”

“But are not gardeners the great ones among you?” said Fingon, who was now, Sam noted with profound alarm, sitting by his feet.

“That is true both literally and figuratively,” Frodo said, with the air of someone for whom explication on linguistic points had become a deeply ingrained habit. “Gardner, which is a contraction of his occupation, is the name of his House, and it will be one of the greatest names of the Shire for... well, for as long as there is a Shire.” Sam had thought he was too old for blushing, but he felt his cheeks reddening at the words.   

“Besides, Sam,” said Frodo, the scholastic air dropping away, “you’re an author yourself, aren’t you?” Sam looked at him, puzzled as to his meaning. “The Red Book, Sam – did you ever... did you ever finish it?”

“How you do talk. As if there ever was any question of that! You gave it to me, didn’t you? The last pages. Didn’t I tell you the Shire remembers your words? I wrote of you leaving, going over the sea, and coming to this country at the last.  And so our story is in Elanor’s hands at the Towers, and in the King’s halls in Gondor, where it’s been translated, if you’ll believe it, into as many languages as are spoken there – though,“ he added hastily, seeing Curufin about to frame a question, “don’t ask me how many that might be, for I have no notion.”

Seeing he would receive no assistance from the newly-arrived hobbit, Curufin contented himself with explaining his proposed Westron modifications to Maglor, who dismissed most of them, countered others, and gave grave consideration to a few, citing lines of song or story from a memory that seemed to encompass most of the major works of the three ages of the world. Fëanor followed their disputation with an attention alternately fierce and amused, occasionally seized on these quoted lines, demanding their history or their context.

Around them the group settled down again, for another round of food and drink and news. “I know it’s a lot at once, Sam,” said Frodo, “and probably more than you bargained for – but do you feel like you have a sense yet of who everyone is?”

“I think so! I mean, your Fëanor and those other two might as well be the same person for all the difference in their looks, and I could swear that either two of the others gave me the same name when introducing themselves, or one person gave me the same name twice, but I’ll catch up, I’ll catch up. Time for it, of course. Nothing but time, now.” He leaned back on the hillside, expected to feel the ache in his back and the stiffness in his aging limbs, but instead felt only the short prickly grass, and the touch of the light buoyant wind, carrying the mingled scents of the salt of the sea and the spice of the flowering trees.

Something occurred to him, and he spoke in a low voice to Frodo. “I don’t feel quite right asking him,” he said, nodding at Maglor in an attempt to be surreptitious, “but you know this family and so you could probably tell me. Didn’t Maglor have a wife? Is she – did something happen to her? Why didn’t she come to meet him?”

Frodo considered. “She must have known he was coming home. Gandalf tried to be very coy about it with Elrond – ‘Someone you might want to meet will be coming soon,’ or some such elliptical nonsense – but he didn’t try any of that with me when he told me you were coming, and all the family worked it out in less time than it takes to tell. But Maglor’s wife... I think she’s waiting for him to come to her. At least, if her logic is anything like Nerdanel’s.”

“That would be -” Sam sifted through the tangle of names in his head. “Maglor’s mother, right? Your Fëanor’s wife? Oh! And the one whose house you’re living in, unless I’ve got everything backwards?”

“No, you have it! And I haven’t even told you how we came home yet, have I, once Fëanor and I left the Halls of the Dead?”

It was a day for long stories, and so after downing another glass of the cool, pale-green draft that the Elves made from citrus and herbs steeped in the sun, Frodo began. “After we left the Forest,” he said, “and after we met Fëanor’s brother on its edge – that’s the one who’s the High King in Tirion – Fëanor and I rode together across the plains of Aman, toward the mountains.”

“Those same mountains there?” Sam twisted his head to look behind him, away from the empty ocean and towards the shores of Valinor itself.

“Yes, next to them hardly anything else can be called a mountain! Even now –“ Frodo looked up at them where they towered high and far above the heights of Tol Eressea, their scale skirting the edge of comprehension, “even now it’s hard to really look at them. They’re – awful, somehow. Well, awe-inspiring. Like they belong to some other sort of world... I don’t know if I’m making any sense.”

Sam peered at them, squinting against the brightness of the day and against the blinding whiteness of the peaks. “I know what you mean. It’s hard to believe I’m seeing them. They seem altogether too large for my thoughts even, too large to fit inside my head.”

“The Mountains of Defense,” said Frodo, “the Pelóri. Do you know, they weren’t always like that? When we had gotten properly out onto the plains, Fëanor looked up at them, and then down at his own shadow on the ground, and did some sort of calculation in his head. ‘It cannot be a trick of the distance,’ he said. ‘Those mountains are taller than they were.’

‘Indeed they are, or had you forgotten that the Valar took thought for the guarding of this land once murder and plunder had been set loose within it? They labored much to keep things outside their realm.’ Fingolfin, the King, was still with us, and though he has a very calm manner, careful and evenhanded, you might say, he can show a great deal by his restraint.

But Fëanor is only subtle when it suits him, and it didn’t suit him then. ‘The Valar are at times altogether too obvious to be understood! Did they mean to earn in their fear the name which I bestowed in my anger, the name of cage?’

So that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains,’ Fingolfin said, his voice cold as he quoted the words that the Valar had spoken when the Noldor first left this land, so long ago. All at once I remembered that he also had led his people into exile, and a really chilling thought occurred to me.

‘You don’t mean those mountains were raised up against you?’ I stammered.

‘Yes,’ said Fëanor, and ‘Not exactly,’ said Fingolfin, at once, so that wasn’t really an answer. But it stayed with me, and now I see it when I look at those mountains. The world being split apart like that, the Powers withdrawing themselves. Hiding, and fleeing, and defense... It seems a dark thing, here in these unshadowed lands. And I don’t want to believe that’s how it has to be. Can there be majesty without threat?”

He shook himself. “But I’m straying from my story! Anyway, the King went back to Tirion, but Fëanor and I crossed the plains and found ourselves in one of the loveliest lands I’ve seen in this country of loveliness. The one I was telling you about, the garden-country by the foothills of the mountains. Cultivated and uncultivated woven together, plowed lands and rice fields alternating with small forests of red pine, oak, and bamboo.

"We were bearing for the place where Nerdanel made her home; she had gone back to live among her father’s people after she and Fëanor had quarreled in the morning of the world. She didn’t come with him into the Exile, you see, though they had been so close before.”

Sam looked over at her again, and found her looking back at the two of them with a half-smile, following Frodo’s story among the threads of conversation. Frodo himself did not seem to notice that his audience had expanded; he was calling the events before his mind and seemed to be lost in them.

“The closer we got, the more Fëanor spoke of her,” he said. “Not of their parting, nor even of their life together before strife came between them, but of the person herself. You know the way the Elves are whenever they speak of anything that moves them deeply – very beautiful language, but not always the easiest to follow. And the Noldor are the worst of all for this, I’ve found. Think of what we’d think of as a love-song; we might bring in comparisons to, oh, flowers or birds or springtime or whatnot. Well, Fëanor was going on about equations and optics and astronomy, comparing his wife to the diagonal of a square and to a prism splintering light, and I couldn’t tell if he was elated, or nervous, or both. He’d been talking about the old bitterness and the old grief, but he didn’t seem sad, exactly. It was as if sorrow had no more hold on him, or had been swallowed up by something else.

“I asked him, at last, what kind of welcome he expected. ‘None at all,’ he said. ‘I have forfeited expectation. And welcome too, to speak truly.’ Still, he did not seem cast down. ‘It may be she will turn me away, as is her right. Yet if I returned to the world only for this, it would still have been well done: that I might stand before her once again to lift the name of untrue I laid falsely on her. We began our partings long ago. We have left each other so much and so thoroughly that perhaps – who knows – we may come back to each other again.’

“So we passed the crest of a hill, and found ourselves looking down into a wide shallow valley at the foot of the mountains. It took my breath away. That’s true of so many things in this country – there’s more beauty here than any mortal heart can quite handle - but here it wasn’t just beautiful, it was busy, full of work and the evidence of work.

“Built up around a great central hall on the far side of the valley were houses and towers of wood and stone. It wasn’t a city, exactly. There seemed to be no clear distinction between indoors and outdoors, paths and dwellings and sculptures. Walkways sprang from the mountainside in slender bridges of stone, fountains played on rooftops and ran down through gardens.

“Up the slopes of the valley were terraced fields fed by intricate streams and springs, and a broad canal ran through the center of it all. People were at work in the fields and in the workshops. Smoke was rising from some of the outbuildings, and the singing of women came from the banks of the canal, where they were unloading great blocks of stone from a barge.

“Well, I was dumbstruck, and even Fëanor seemed surprised. ‘This is no estate!’ he said.  ‘This is a domain, this is a stronghold, this is a realm!’ Then he laughed. ‘And what else should she have done, indeed? It was never her way to gnaw at herself in idleness.’

“As we came down into the valley I saw runners going ahead of us; the news of our arrival was spreading. But Fëanor didn’t pause for greetings or even inquiries. He seemed to know exactly where he was going: to one of the outer fields where a woman was setting seedlings in the fresh dark earth.

“She did not pause, or even look up, when Fëanor leapt down off the horse. He turned to me then, to help me down, and I caught his eye, and I think that was the closest to fear I ever saw him, before or since. But he did manage to face his wife, and she finished setting the seedling, straightened, looked back at him, and waited, calm and searching.

“From the way that Fëanor had been going on, I had expected someone – well, someone beautiful.  Of course, the Elves are all beautiful to us, but you know what I mean. She was wearing loose, practical garments of sun-bleached linen, the wide sleeves stained with water and soot and dust. But as I looked at her, all at once I saw what Fëanor meant when he compared her to language and to light.

“Steadily, deliberately, she set down the basket of seedlings she was carrying. She didn’t move, just waited there as Fëanor met her eyes, and she kept waiting while he began to walk toward her. He stood before her, waiting in his turn. At last he reached out his hands, and she took them, and there they stood, hand in hand, unmoving, contemplating each other.

"Someone touched me on the shoulder. I jumped – I hadn’t realized I had been holding my breath. Two young men were standing behind me, so like each other that they had to be twins, and so like Nerdanel that they had to be her sons.”

“Twins?” broke in Sam. “I thought that was it, but then I was afraid that my eyes were playing tricks on me. So there are actually two of them!”

“Well, sort of, though they both go by the same name when they’re at home. They say that they can be told apart by their hair – one of them is just slightly darker – but they never made it entirely clear which one of them is which, and I think they like it that way. Conversing with them is a little unsettling – they each pick up the other one’s thought before they’ve quite finished speaking it. And I’m virtually certain they can see out of each other’s eyes, whenever they take a mind to. But I only got to know all that later. At the time I just guessed they had to be the youngest sons that Fëanor had spoken of so fondly as we were walking in the forest.

‘Come, stranger!’ said one of them. ‘We’ll leave them to their reunion.’

‘This could take years,’ agreed his brother.

‘But we have not forgotten our duties to our guests, even if they have.’

‘The way they’re taking on, they’ve forgotten three ages of the world.’

‘And their own names.’”

There came an echoing peal of laughter that rippled back and forth between the two youngest sons of Fëanor; conversation had gradually faltered and Frodo’s audience had expanded still further as he spoke. Though Ambarussa laughed to hear their own words retold, Frodo did not seem to be disconcerted at all. He looked up at them, and went on, “It wasn’t actually years like they threatened, but it was definitely long enough to make things quite awkward – at least for me, because I am only a hobbit after all, and I had figured the business about spending whole seasons gazing into each other’s eyes was just poetry.

“At last, one fine morning, when the two of them had finished sounding the depths of each other’s souls, or whatever it is that the Eldar are doing when they look at each other like that, they came into the great hall, hand in hand, looking positively light-hearted. They laughed more than they spoke, and they spoke a good deal.

"But Ambarussa – “ he nodded to them, “- had been perfectly content to welcome me to the halls, and to show me around, in the meantime.”

“The Oromar Sarnaherion!” said Ambarussa, picking up the thread of the story without a pause. “The Halls of the Stone-Women. Not that all our mother’s guild are women, of course, though most of them are. And not that all our mother’s works are stone, either! So officially the story is that the name is because of the columns on the house.”

“The great porch of the central hall,” his twin continued, “one of the wonders of the Blessed Realm, and the first of its kind, though the style was picked up all through this land. All the supports of the house are women, carved in white stone and bearing up the weight of the roof.” As he spoke, an image rose suddenly before Sam’s mind and it seemed as if he saw the place they spoke of and the mighty stone figures beneath the roof of the wall. They were all different, and all graceful, but some of them appeared to be almost dancing beneath their burden while others strained to bear it up.

“A mighty work,” said Fëanor softly, turning to his wife.

“Do you say so? I did greater works before it; I have done greater things since.” And for the first time even Sam could see the darkness of the past still threaded through the brightness of the company.

Her voice was low and resonant, vibrating with three ages of tears shed and unshed. “You know what it is to have the greatest works of your hands torn from you,’ she said. ‘What about the greatest works of your body? You did not leave me even one, Fëanaro, even a little one.”

One of the twins made as if to rise, but his brother laid a hand on his arm.

“There is only one thing I would have claimed to the world’s end, and I knew that I could not. I could not bind your wills to mine. I loved you then, as I love you still. For the sake of that love I left you once, for the sake of that love I watched each of you leave me.”

Fëanor bowed his head. “There is nothing that I can change about what is past,’ he said, ‘and little that I would. But I am sorry. O my second person, my incommensurable one, that I should ever have done my Enemy’s work of breaking the trust between us, I am sorry. The one who spoke so has gone; he fell to ashes in the darkness of the Ered Wethrin.”

“I know he did. As I knew when one by one my children perished; in the teeth of their oath, on the swords of their kin.”

“I thought that not even an echo of our lamentation came over the mountains?” Celegorm’s voice was lazy and dangerous.

“I am no Vala,” she said fiercely, “who can choose to turn away. I am your mother. I could not shut you out. Slain ye may be and slain ye shall be, by weapon and by torment and by grief... They spoke no such doom to we who remained, but people did die. People died, here in the Undying Lands, after the Exile, when they learned what it meant to be sundered from the ones they loved, sundered from the better part of our people, sundered, as it seems, beyond hope of repair.” The eyes of all the company were on her now, but she was looking into the vanished past. Her hands gathered and creased the cloth that rested in her lap, folding it and refolding it into forms that appeared and were lost again.

“They came to me,’ she said, “for portraits of their lost kindred. For a long time I refused. For many years of the new Sun I would do no work at all that showed any of the Noldor. It twisted my heart to think of them gazing at those unmoving faces, speaking to them the words that their beloved ones now could not hear. Sorrow wears away the spirit as water wears away stone. But it is through the wearing away of stone that images are revealed.”

“I suppose that is more blood to be laid to my account, then.”  Her husband set his long graceful hand on her square, capable one. “But you endured, and death has never touched you.”

“Tell me the fate of my husband,’ she said, ‘and tell me what became of all of my children, and then look me in the eye and tell me whether death has touched me.”

Fëanor met her eyes, and the air between them seemed to tremble, and for a moment Sam wondered if they were going to fall into one of those weeks-long stretches of contemplation that Frodo had just been speaking about. Celegorm evidently feared the same thing, for he hastened to divert the conversation.

“And you, brother?” he asked of Maglor. “In all the ages of the world you have never trodden the lonely paths from Mandos, never paced the darkened Halls of the Dead. What would you say? Would you say that death has touched you?”

Before Maglor could make any kind of reply to this, Curufin cut in. “Leave the poetry to the poet, brother. No one paces the Halls of the Dead, not even you.”

“No?” Their long ages of separation had not entirely effaced Maglor’s ability to talk over his brothers. “Shall I tell you of the paths that I trod? Shall I tell you of the slow centuries that beat and broke against the shores of Middle-Earth, while kingdoms rose and fell, powers came into being and passed away, and the world itself was cracked in two? Death has touched me. Death has touched Arda. Death is at work within it even now.”

“Excuse me,” Sam broke in, “what kind of talk is that for a reunion? Death at work indeed! All of you look perfectly healthy to me, even if some of you, as you say, have been dead at some point -”

“Some of us?” Celegorm laughed, showing his teeth. “No, almost everyone here! Except Elrond, and Maglor, and our mother herself – and you mortals, I suppose.”

Frodo was nodding. “It’s true, Sam. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can see it directly.” Sam cocked his head and looked at them, searching for evidence of his words.

“See it?” asked Caranthir, noting his interest. “Even you mortals? Tell me, Guest, what of death do you see in us, whom death cannot sever from the world?”

“Well, it’s in your faces, of course,” said Frodo, “but not just that, the way you move.” He scanned the company. “Even to my eyes, those ones who’ve died stand closer together, and there’s nothing on earth like their stillness at rest. Altogether they seem brighter, if you know what I mean. I think it’s the contrast: the darkness of the Halls against the light of memory.”

“Returned from the dead!” said Sam. “Well, thank goodness that part isn’t talked about in the Shire. As if they needed any more trouble distinguishing between Elves and ghosts! Not that anyone who’s seen your folk could mistake them for ghosts. Indeed,” he added, peering at the company, “it’s more I feel like a ghost myself by contrast.”

Even Maglor, who on the shores of Mithlond had seemed faint and hard to see, seemed now to reverberate with life. The years seemed to be falling from him, the sorrow of the ages evaporating like dew in the morning sun.

“That’s something to do with Middle-Earth itself,” said Frodo, “its age and its marring, and, I think, the loss of the elves themselves. I don’t think in this land it’s possible to fade.”

 

The afternoon wore away to evening on the slopes of the Lonely Isle, and the sinking sunlight skimmed over the water, crowning the dark blue waves with orange and gold. And still there the company showed not the slightest inclination to disperse, and still there was more to be told of the doings on both sides of the ocean. Elrond was hungry for news of his daughter, and Sam was pleased to be able to retell, at considerable length, the account of Elanor’s time in Arwen’s service.

Afterwards, reclining on the hill, Sam drifted off into a doze, in which the sounds of the voices of the Elves and the warm presence of his old friend at his side all blended together like the surging of the quiet sea against the wall below. He woke to find the rising, for once, better than the dreaming. It was full dark now, though he had no idea how far the night was gone. Someone must have come along and strung paper lanterns from the trees, for above them globes of soft light swayed in the night breezes. The evening had turned cool, and the feel of the air had changed. The flowers of the night-blooming trees had opened, and their scent, stronger and sweeter and wilder than that of the blossoms of the daylight, came to him on the night-breath of the island. He found himself wrapped in a blanket; someone had covered him as he drowsed.

He sneezed, and rubbed his eyes, and sat back up. The conversation continued unabated around him, mixed with snatches of song and the occasional heated argument followed by rounds of embraces. Someone had modeled an entire contour map of Aman into a cleared section of the sandy soil. The food was still not exhausted, and one of Maglor’s brothers had brought out little charcoal braziers and was brewing a sweet pungent tea in iron pots. Sam surveyed the scene for a while, in deep contentment, before he spoke.

“You know,” he said to Frodo, who had not left his side, “the way Maglor was talking, I don’t think he expected to see anyone here at all. But I’m glad to see that perhaps things weren’t so bad as he made them out. Everyone seems – well, happy. Sound.”

“It does seem like that, doesn’t it?” It was Gandalf who answered. “But everyone has come a very long way to be here, and, if you can believe it, your strong-voiced voyager isn’t the one who’s come the farthest. There’s distance of the mind and heart, you know, as well as distance over sea.”

Frodo seemed to agree. “And I’ve been meaning to ask you, Gandalf, how did you find out about Sam and Maglor coming anyway? Not that anything you know can possibly surprise me anymore, but I was curious.”

“I get my news from a variety of sources,” the old wizard replied, “and I can’t be expected to give away all my secrets.” He could not, however, make any sustained effort toward maintaining an air of  mystery, and continued after only the barest attempt at sinking back into an inscrutable silence.  “This particular news I got from my old master Irmo. If people are going to be passing messages to each other in dreams, you may be sure that he has had something to do with it, and he is an incurable gossip.”

“Your old master?” Sam found it impossible to imagine Gandalf as anything other than the oldest and wisest of any company he found himself in.

“Indeed yes, Master Samwise. I began as a gardener like you, though my fireworks are better than my vegetables ever were. I tended Lorien’s gardens when I was younger than you are now, and though I have been in the Elder King’s service for most of the ages of the earth, there’s always a place for me with the younger Master of Spirits. I find him more congenial company than his brother; I have always had more to do with what might be than what must be.

“And of the things that might be, the restoration of Fëanor’s fallen house is one that even the wise did not dare to look for. But there is more in you – in all of you, I mean, in the Children of the One – than any of us are quite capable of comprehending.”

Fëanor himself, hearing this part of the conversation, made his way over to them and sat down between Sam and the wizard. “Do you say so, Gandalf? You seem to have better comprehension than some higher than you.” He looked out over his sons, warmth in the scintillant light of his grey eyes. “In truth, though the work of restoration is long, I returned to find the greater part of my labors had been accomplished, or at least begun, by my sons. Ambarussa had toiled for slow centuries in the harbors of Alqualonde the Swanhaven; Maedhros had sued for pardon before Elwing the White, Tyelkormo rode again in Oromë’s train with Nimloth’s murdered children. They have lightened my toll beyond my desert, but much work remains -”

Maglor, though, had caught on one of his words. “Elwing?” he asked, with a quick glance from Elrond to Maedhros and back again. “You mean - she was willing to speak with you?”

“In the end, she was,” said Maedhros slowly, looking off into the night sky as if searching for one star in particular. “She refused our brothers, one by one and then all together, as was her right. When I returned to the world, last of the sons of Fëanor, to face among the living the crimes for which I had chosen death, I sent to her as well. She had not suffered the least by my deeds, and I sought to acknowledge before her the evil I had done.”

Even those of his brothers who had heard his account before were listening, and Fingon quietly changed places so as to sit beside him. Maedhros’s eyes did not leave the sky.“I did not expect a reply,” he went on. “But after much time had passed, I received word back from her. She would hear me, she said, and no more. And so I came to her tower by the sea, empty-handed, as I had once come in arms.”

Elrond looked at him sharply. “I heard nothing of this.”

“No? She has not spoken of it to you, then? I’m not surprised, I suppose; she has, in her way, farther to travel than the Mariner her spouse before she can see you with eyes unclouded. Murder, and theft, and the homes she could never return to… Well, there is healing in Aman, or so it is said anyway. But healing’s neither an easy process nor a comfortable one.” He glanced at his foster-son under his brows. “As you have more cause than most to know.”

“She did not wish to look at me, at first, and so I waited before her while she looked out at the ocean. At last she turned to me, and in her face I saw the shadows of old terror, and the pale light of a hatred that had never grown old.

“I don’t think, though, that I was quite what she was expecting. She had seen me before, of course, but that was long ago, and…” He considered for a minute, but then thought better of adding anything to the description of the last time that he had encountered Elwing the White in the burning Havens at the mouths of Sirion.

“‘Are you changed, Kinslayer?’ she said to me.

‘Changed?’ I said. ‘Yes. I will never be free of my deeds, though I am free of what drove me to them. If I am to return living to this world, it cannot be as I was.’

‘So you propose to make amends?’  

‘There is no amendment I can make for the wrongs that we have done you,’ I said. She turned away from me with a high harsh sound, somewhere between a laugh and a scream, like the cry of a sea-bird.

‘You slaughtered my parents,’ she said, looking out at the ocean, ‘and stole my children. That you should live in the world at all is an injury, that you should walk free in this holy land is an insult. Why do you think you have the right to speak to me?’

‘Because, Lady,’ I said, ‘I too know what it is to have chosen my own destruction.’

“The anger that burned in her then was like fire on the seashore, cold wind and searing heat. She did not deny it; she could not, and I perceived that it was not for me alone that she carried her hatred. I am the only one of the whole race of the Eldar to have slain myself - as Mandos keeps reminding me - but I am not the only one to have tried.”

There was a quick movement and a low stifled sound from Maglor, but his brother went on. “That, I think, was why she had agreed to see me, even if she could not yet say it even to herself. It is a grievous thing to confess, and a still more grievous knowledge to bear alone.  

“And so, I think, there was something like relief in her voice when she spoke again. ‘My husband does not know my anger, nor does he understand it. How can he? It was not his parents who lay in their blood in Doriath, not his brothers who starved in the forests. He chose the sea for love; he left his children lightly and in the hope - in the hope of return -’

‘You abandoned your children and killed yourself for the sake of the Silmaril,’ I said. ‘I know what that means. I did the same thing.’

‘I do not want your pity, Kinslayer.’

‘Is it my judgement that you want?’

"Dior’s daughter turned to face me with cold fire in her eyes. ‘Do you dare to compare your deeds with mine?’

‘May the mercy of the Valar save you,’ I said, ‘from ever having deeds to compare with mine.’

‘It already has,’ she said, and turned back to the ocean.

"I came to stand beside her at the window; she flinched but did not send me away.

‘The holy light has blinded me,’ she said at last, ‘and I do not have the darkness of Ilmen, as my husband does, nor the darkness of Mandos, to clear it from my eyes.’

"We watched together as the night wore away, as the Evening Star moved through the heavens and turned again to the earth and towards us.

‘The star returns,’ she said, ‘and it is time for you to go.’ I do not know whether she did not trust me in the presence of one of the Silmarils, or if she wished to spare me what she thought would be a source of pain.  ‘I do not forgive you,’ she said as we parted. ‘But perhaps one day I will thank you. For the care that you took of the children that you stole. If there is not world enough for reconciliation, is there world enough for anything?’

"And I have thought of her words often,” said Maedhros, “in the years that followed. I do not believe that she has forgiven me yet, but she has not chosen despair. Still, Maglor, you owe her a visit as well. She will not, I think, refuse to see you now, for the sake of her children and the son who has been restored to her.”

“In the end,” said Elrond, and it seemed to Sam that he was not speaking to anyone present, “love endures longer than anger.”

“So we must hope, at least.” Fëanor shook himself; the whole company had fallen silent while Maedhros spoke.

“Hope?” retorted Maglor. “I assure you that on the far side of the sea, there is general agreement among the Wise that your own anger would outlast Arda itself. If there is something stronger than anger that pulled you back to the world, that is hope indeed, and more than hope; perhaps Arda may be restored after all.”

“Though some people seem have gotten quite the wrong idea about what restoration means.” Celegorm added, shaking his head.

“The lost Eldar being gathered to these shores? Fëanor returned from death?” Ambarussa seemed to find the whole thing amusing. “Uncle Nolofinwë had his hands full persuading some that the End of the World and the Final Battle were not at hand. He nearly had to get the Valar themselves to attest to it.”

“Some even seemed to be expecting you to lead the armies of Valinor against Morgoth returned,” Curufin added. “Why they should think of that as a good thing, given your record as a leader of armies, I’m sure I can’t say.”

“There are others who hope that your return means something else, you know,” said Caranthir, with a glance at Elrond where he sat beside Maglor. “That you can do something about the fading. The disconnect. The way that we grow weary of the world we were meant to inhabit.”

“Surely that’s not a problem here, though?” Sam broke in. “Maglor, you were talking about fading, back on the other side of the sea, but isn’t that something healed in Aman? Why, I think I can already see you better. Though that might be my eyes, not you.”

Maglor shrugged. “We will end with the world, we say. Certainly we cannot wholly end before it; its limits are ours.”

“Its limits are ours,” echoed his father, and began to sink into an abstraction. But Sam was still chewing over the talk of fading and of disconnect.

“That’s not right, though,” he said slowly. “Ending with the world, I mean. At least, that isn’t how it looks to us who live in it! Why, I recall the tears on little Elanor’s face, when I first explained to her that Master Elrond from the stories was gone, and the Lady Galadriel too, and that all the Elves were leaving the world forever. I dried her tears, and I told her of the Queen in Gondor, and the light that still lingered, but I can’t say as I didn’t want to weep with her in that moment. But then I suppose you know all about that,” he said hastily, suddenly embarrassed at the recollection of Elrond’s own parting from his daughter.

“Yes,” said Elrond dryly, “but having spent time with the House of Fëanor, I think, gives one a good deal of perspective on what can and cannot be cured within the circles of the world.”

“And so we who shaped Middle-Earth and were shaped by it must leave it at the last,” Maglor seemed almost to be testing out a line of verse. “We must leave home for home, for the land of long memory.”  But Elrond was not following his words, but rather the motion of his hand.

“Some wounds may be cureless, but this –” he took Maglor’s injured hand gently in his own, “– this is not beyond my art. Why did you never come to me for healing?”

Maglor looked away.

“I looked for you,” Elrond said quietly. “I looked for you for years.”

“I know. I did not wish to be found.” The air between them seemed to change, to grow heavy and charged as with a shift in weather, and Sam recalled that the Eldar were said to speak at times without voices, one mind to another. He looked at his side for Frodo, but found that he was gone.

No one seemed to have taken any notice of it – conversations, and the people in them, were continually shifting and recombining – but Sam thought of the drift of the speeches he had heard and came to a pretty shrewd idea where Frodo might have gone. He picked himself up off the ground, and quietly slipped out of the lantern-light and down towards the water.

As he had expected, he found Frodo sitting on the sea-wall, looking out Eastwards across the empty water.

“Are you all right?”

“Oh yes.” Frodo made no move to get up, but indicated with his hand the wall beside him, and Sam, not without some protest from his aging knees, took the seat.

“Do you know,” he said, “I believe you are. I never doubted it, of course, when Gandalf called you away with him. But it was hard, it was. I tried to picture you as you might be in the country of the Elves, whole and sound again, but I didn’t know what it was the Elves might do for you.

"They always seemed so much stronger than us, what do they know of what it means to, to...” He trailed off and tried again. “But then Maglor was telling me, on the journey over, of their oath and how it ended. Such a terrible thing it seemed. Reminded me of such things as I wouldn’t want to speak of. I didn’t know such things could happen to the Elves. He didn’t seem to think it was something that they could come back from, but they did, you did, and everyone’s come home, even here across the Great Ocean at the very end of the world.”

“We have been nearer linked with Fëanor and his kin than we suspected, and for longer than we knew,” Frodo said. “Before your voyage; even before the star-glass.” He looked out at the sky, where the evening star blazed above the horizon. “Fëanor’s grandson, do you remember, made those letters on the gates of Moria so long ago –“

“And that wasn’t all he made!” Sam exclaimed, his face darkening at the recollection. “You said, back there, that you had worked it out between you, but I’m very curious as to what he could possibly have said or done that would have made up for what he set loose in the world.”

“Made up for? No, that wasn’t it at all. He – well, I’ll tell you the whole story.” Frodo settled into the familiar story-telling mode as the waves washed against the sea-wall, and the lights of the gathering flickered in the distance behind them.

“I didn’t meet him until I had been at the Sarnaherion for some months. He had been travelling, I learned later, into the heart of the mountains, where the Lord Aulë has his halls. There’s been a long estrangement between Fëanor’s house and the Power who favored them for so long, but Celebrimbor had been at work to repair it. He and Aulë seem to have some kind of understanding between them. It wasn’t until I put some thought into it that I realized just where that understanding might come from – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

“I had no notion he was coming until he walked into the library one cool evening, dusty from the road. He was looking for me; someone must have told where I was. But at first, though, I think he was almost as taken aback to see me as I was to see him. It didn’t make him any less gracious to me, but I don’t think he was expecting to be – well, to be recognized like that, any more than I was.

“I knew him at once. Not just because he looks so much like his father and his grandfather, but – well, you saw it too, didn’t you? When you met him? I think no one who’s borne any of the Rings can help but see it.”

Frodo looked down thoughtfully, dangling his feet above the spray of the waves. “I found it very hard to be in the same room with him. I felt partly like I wanted to run away, and partly like I wanted to strike him. He made me very uncomfortable.”

“I should think so!” Sam interjected, the long miles of Mordor rising again in his mind, the terror and the thirst, the fiery distance in his master’s eyes, the creeping fingers of Gollum. “After what he did! And I don’t care if he did make the Lady’s Ring, not for all the good it did. You may say that it was worth it, but you’d have to be a bigger person than me, or a greater one anyway, to say so!”

“No, it wasn’t that. I’d forgiven him for all that, years ago, before I even crossed the ocean. How could I not?  And I don’t want you to think that forgiveness was some sort of effort on my part; it seemed to puzzle Fëanor, but you must know what I mean.”

“You always had pardon readier to hand than I could be quite happy with, if that’s what you’re talking about.”

“Does it seem like that, to you?” Frodo looked at his hands and then back at Sam, his face sad and almost stern. “But the idea of forgiveness is one thing, and the practice of it quite another. I’d spoken very grandly of not holding anything against the Ring-Maker, but when it came to meeting him face to face, I... I wasn’t uncomfortable because of who he was, or what he did, or even because of what I did. I think it was because he was so comfortable himself. Does that makes sense? He carried himself easily, lightly even, in spite of everything.

“Well, I was standing there, tied in knots, courtesy forgotten, trying to think of what it was I ought to say, to do. This didn’t surprise him in the slightest.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I’ve...” and I ran out of words, which would be embarrassing enough among the Eldar, but I was too distressed even to feel the embarrassment.

‘I can see it, and I’m sorry,’ he said ‘You’re not the only person I have that effect on, if that helps. I can go away again, if you’d like.’

‘No, don’t,’ I said. There was no help for it; I had to go on, straight to the end of whatever it was that had been set off.

“It was... it was just that I recognized him so clearly. That intelligence, that fire, was the kind that created the Rings, and I could see just how much of him was in it. Yes, even in the One. What I saw in him was the Ring itself, and its lord. That part that wasn’t – that wasn’t lying when it said it was precious.”

Sam started at hearing Frodo speak so directly of the Ring, but he held his tongue.

“And that was what was so hard to bear. Do you know how long I have been trying to purge that out of myself? I had to believe that it was nothing but lies, even if I surrendered to those lies in the end. Yes, the Ring was precious to me. But you need only look at Smeagol to see the final effect of that love. It leaves you gibbering in the dark, whispering your own name to yourself... And knowing that, I did not have the strength of soul to look at my own heart without disgust.

“Yet there he was, neither poisoned nor consumed. He wasn’t trying to scour that out of himself. He didn’t seem to feel the need to.

"So I sat there before the fire, and I said nothing. He sat down beside me, so much like Fëanor that I might have been back in the forest under Mandos’ walls. I looked at him, and he looked at me, and we knew each other far better than either of us had any right to, and all at once we found ourselves laughing, Sam. Laughing, if you can believe it, because it was all so perfectly absurd. What should the greatest craftsman of the Second Age have to do with one of the Bagginses of Hobbiton? And it wasn’t as if our mutual acquaintance was in any position to introduce us! ‘Ah, I see you know my friend and collaborator Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor...’

“He was the first to catch his breath. ‘I have been waiting to meet you,’ he said. ‘When I heard you’d come to these shores, I wanted to seek you out directly, although Elrond told me I had better hold off.’

‘I can see why!’ I said, sobering again.

‘I wanted to thank you. To apologize. And I wanted –‘ He paused. I think he was trying to gauge if he could say this to me or not. ‘I wanted to know what happened to him.’

‘So it’s true. He was your friend.’

He said nothing, but bowed his head in assent.

‘You miss him.’

‘I do.’”

Sam nearly choked on his own indignation, but Frodo was calm, somewhere between reflection and deep relief. “Well,” he said, “there it was. I might have asked him why, or even how, given how dreadful an end everything came to with the forging of the Rings, but I found that I didn’t need to, and after a minute, unprompted, he began to speak of it.

‘He was... generous, once,’ he said. ‘Proud, and beautiful. A mind like the core of the sun. He looked out on Middle-Earth – once – and saw what I saw: a place that might be healed and strengthened and made whole. And we lifted up our hands together to that work.

‘How can I recount the first glory of what we wrought together? The secrets of the world unfolding before us.  Gazing into the hidden fires at the heart of creation, drawing beauty and strength out of even the marred world. Valinor itself in its noontide could have been no more blissful than Eregion in those days.

‘O my city!’ he said softly. ‘O my friend!’

I saw that I had come upon something quite deep and dreadful, and I was rather afraid of what I might end up saying. All at once I missed Bilbo desperately.”

“Well, of course you would!” Even at Frodo’s account of the memory of distress, Sam felt himself distressed too on his behalf, and he felt, not for the first time, the unfairness of the whole thing. “These quarrels among Elves, and higher than Elves – how did we ever end up mixed up in them? It’s not natural for us hobbits. You wanted someone of your own kind, someone who understood you.”

“I wanted someone who didn’t understand me quite so frightfully well! Even the wisest ones – Elrond, say, or Galadriel – they’d never seen Sauron as anything other than an enemy. But Celebrimbor turned to me again, and there was wonder on his face. ‘I did not expect to find pity for him from one such as yourself.’

‘I did not know what he was,’ I said, ‘and I don’t expect I ever will, not really, not like you at any rate. What do I know about the hidden fires at the heart of creation? But I did see something of what became of him.’”

Sam scowled. “Yes, and so did half the Armies of the West, evidently! But look, I don’t see what business he had dredging up that terrible time, not when he could have asked anyone coming from over the Sea how the War ended!”

“Oh, I wasn’t talking about that at all! You’re right, everyone does know about the fall of the Dark Tower. And that wasn’t what I told him about. No, I told him about Smeagol. Gollum, I mean, because that was what Gollum was, on the inside. Gollum had almost nothing left of him but the Ring, and you know what, you know who the Ring really was. Not the power and the majesty that the it promised, not the soul-stripping terror of the Eye or its servants, but that creeping, whining, muttering anguish, at once lust and poisonous hatred; precious, in the end, to no one but himself. The darkness, the gnawing hunger, and the endless self-justification – do you recall Gollum’s story of his birthday-present? It seemed to strike Celebrimbor, at any rate.

‘Gifts?5’ he said, more to himself than to me. ‘Still?’ Then he sat quietly for a long time before he spoke again.

‘It grieves me, but it does not surprise me. There was no other end to the path that he chose the minute he poured himself into that ring.’

“I had wondered about that – not for Sauron, I mean, but for Gollum. If there could have been some other end to the path that he chose. That was the other part of the story I told: the way that in spite of the Ring, in spite of everything, there was still something left of Smeagol. Something that was fighting to come home. I know you never trusted him, but –“

“And I was right about that, too!” broke in Sam. “No, but I was sorry for him in the end, miserable old slinker that he was.”

Frodo looked at him seriously. “I am glad to hear it,” he said. “And do you know, even there, Celebrimbor seemed to see some kind of echo of... of the person he’d known?  ‘He tried to be something more than he had been,’ he said. ‘Perhaps it was a weak repentance, driven chiefly by fear, but there may have been something in him that was not wholly beyond cure. Even if that cure did not succeed, and the healed person who might have been was lost altogether... And pity’s all that’s left, at the last. Pity for him, and pardon for yourself.’

‘The pity I had for Smeagol did not save him,’ I said.

‘No. Pity alone cannot save,’ he said. ‘I believed there was a chance for him, the partner of my labors, the friend of my heart. It was not, in the end, a chance he took. The hand I reached out was broken by what it sought to grasp. And I went to my death knowing that he was gone beyond recall. He took everything from me but the mercy that I offered.’

He held out his hands - which are uncannily like his grandfather’s, even more so than their faces – and looked at them, in the flickering light of the fire.

‘Don’t be too hard on yourself!” I protested. ‘He never did touch the Three, and that was thanks to you, as I understand it.’

“He smiled sadly. ‘I asked Elrond about that too, you know, when I went to ask him about whether I should seek you out. Poor Elrond, he kept saying how good it was to see me well; I got the impression that he was surprised to see me returned to the world at all. The last time he’d seen me was under rather unpleasant circumstances, and he wouldn’t be the first to assume that the bitterness of my defeat and everything that happened after would keep me in Namo’s darkness for many long ages of the world.

‘But I asked him about the Three, since Vilya had come to him, and he had always been one to turn his hand to the work of healing. And so Elrond told me that their powers were fading from the world with the destruction of the One. He carried Vilya with him still; he had it there with him and I had not known it, for now it was indeed only metal and stone. Fair, but powerless. Memory and no more.’

“Celebrimbor looked away from me then, into the fire, and I know the look of a person who is remembering other fires and fiercer ones. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘He hadn’t, after all, been lying when he told me they contained more of his art than mine.’

“He told me then a little of what it had been like in Eregion, after Morgoth – the Old Enemy – had been cast down, and those who stayed in Middle-Earth were left to rebuild. Sam, do you remember those Elvish ruins that we passed on the way to Moria? At his words I saw them as they had been at the dawn of the Second Age, fresh-built and shining, gates flung open, echoing with the sound of song and the sound of hammers, and many tongues of Elves and Dwarves and Men.  And do you know what it reminded me of? The Great Year, Sam, 1420, with you and the Mayor’s Men mending and building up and down the Shire, and the trees springing up like flowers, and the wounds of war bound up and healing.

“Fëanor’s grandson saw, I think, that my heart rose at the sight. ‘I repent nothing,’ he said fiercely. ‘No, not though it ended in fire and ruin. As fair as Aman, we said, for we love this Middle-Earth, and we were right to say it, to set aside secrecy and defense, fading and regret.I believe now what I believed then: we are made for more than memory. But...’

“And his thoughts dissolved into a tangle of images: I saw the gates shut and the towers broken, fire and steel, blood and ashes, and a ring gleaming on someone’s hand.

‘The goal we grasped for was right,’ he said, ‘but our means were wrong – perhaps fundamentally so. Almost at the end he reproached my tears, and he mocked me, saying that from the beginning, the One had been the only possible end of the work that we had set out to do. And he did not lie in saying so; we chose the path of power and paid the price of that choice, and others paid as well.’

‘If that was true, if it was flawed from the beginning,’ I said – and I would never have had the nerve to ask this, but there was no room between us to spare our feelings – ‘then why do you mourn him? What is there to mourn but your own loss?’

‘I asked myself that,’ he said, ‘in the long darkness of the silent Halls, and that question burned in me when everything else had burned itself out. Had he come to us bent on nothing but deception? Had there never been anything else in him but the will to see us corrupted?’

“He sighed. ‘That was certainly the choice that he made: he decided that this had been his plan all along. That was his choice, but it is not mine. Even if he had come to us with evil in his heart, his works were beautiful. Friendship may be feigned, good will a pretense, but not creation itself, no, nor joy in creation. No matter what violence you have done to your nature, if you have that, you still have something... He made nothing beautiful, you know, after the One, but there was beauty in the work we made together, and in the art that I learned of him.

“And so I say that there was once good there, that there was hope, and I will not cast that good aside because it was mingled with evil. I am the last one left within the circles of the world to have seen that good in him. But that doesn’t mean that it should be forgotten. It is all the more reason not to forget it.’

“And I knew just what he meant. It was the same with Gollum, at the other end of the Ring’s history. If ever he could have been healed of what it had done to him, of what he’d done to himself, it could only have been where he was. With us.”

“With you, you mean,” said Sam.

“With someone who knew what the Ring was. What it meant to carry it...” Frodo straightened. “But there was only ever a slim chance. And somewhere, it slipped away.

‘So you saw the Ring destroyed,’ Celebrimbor said to me. And I did not fail to notice he did not make the elision which practically everyone – deliberately or not – makes: you destroyed the Ring. I asked him about that, and he was surprised I even found it noteworthy. ‘Of course you didn’t destroy it!’ he said. ‘Not even its maker could have chosen to destroy it, and a creator can always unmake his works – though the price of doing so may be his own life.’

“His father – another Curufinwë, just to make things even more confusing – arrived at the hall a few days after him, and he seemed to really take to me once he learned that I’d been involved in Sauron’s defeat. I mean, my own opinion differs on who defeated whom, but he paid that no attention whatsoever. ‘Is that evildoer gone? And were you involved? Then I fail to see what else you consider relevant,’ he said. Well, he didn’t say evildoer, exactly – I got Fëanor to attempt a translation of the word he did use, and it lasted for five minutes and very nearly set my hair on fire.”

Thank you!” said Sam. “He seems to take a very sensible view of things, and I’d shake his hand, if he were here and I could be quite certain which one he was.”

Frodo laughed and drew his feet up. “Shall we go back to them?” he asked, nodding up the hill. Then he paused, looking into the darkness. “No, wait – bless my soul, they’re coming down to us!”

Sam heard them before he saw them, their fair voices carried on the night wind, and then their forms passing swiftly from shadow to sheen in the shade of the trees and the light of the brilliant stars.  Then suddenly springing out of the tangle of the strange sweet sound of the High-Elven tongue, he heard Fëanor’s voice raised in the Common Speech and it did not occur to him until much later that this was because he was speaking to him.

“Yes,” he was saying, as he came over the grass toward them, his wife at his side and his sons behind him, “some things there are that cannot be repaired. But what is there that cannot be remade? Ask Arda about the injury lodged within it, and then ask the weeping Powers if what is marred is wholly ruined, and what is wounded thereby destroyed? No, do not ask them, they know nothing about it. Ask the Secondborn, perhaps, who carry their death with them all their brief days, whether that has destroyed them, or whether they do not still raise their eyes to the light.”

Sam looked up at him. “Well –“

“Do your children grieve for our kind,” Fëanor went on, “over the Sea?  Do our people mourn here fruitlessly the loss of the world we loved? But on this night I do not think that anything is ended forever.”

He came to the edge of the sea-wall and stood between Frodo and Sam, looking out at the empty sea and the starlight glittering on the waves, and he seemed suffused with a kind of a brightness of thought, fire just beginning to catch.

“No, we are for the world,” he said, “and it is for us. Do you not see it? Elrond Half-Mortal, do you not see it? There, across the waters!”

“I see what is no more,” came Elrond’s voice from behind the hobbits, and Sam heard in his voice the age he had never seen in his face. “Númenor that is lost to men, and Middle-Earth that is lost to us.”

“Lost? So I said once of my children. So I said once of the works of my hands. So I said once of my own self, if it comes to that.  Light of the world poured into us,” he sang under his breath. “No, that is an old song. Let a new theme be joined to it; the time has come to give back the light that we were given.”

He tapped out a pattern with his thumb against his hand, softly muttering fragments of phrases. The two hobbits stared up at him, Frodo bewildered but Sam with dawning recognition. “To give back the light you were given?” he said. “Do you mean -”

“I do not mean that what has been will be again.” Fëanor paused in the flow of his thought. “Arda Healed is not Arda Unmarred; the Great Trees will not grow again and the Great Jewels will not be broken. No, it is a third thing; I mean the world will not be divided forever. There is a work before us, Mortal and Guest and Gardener, worthy of my kindred and of yours.”

 

***

 

It was not entirely true, as Sam had thought at first, that the Undying Lands knew no change of time or season. Harvest time came at last to the country behind the mountains, and in a time of warm days and cool nights, slanting golden sunlight and rustling golden leaves, he lifted the first crop of his Shire-bred potatoes, whose yield, as he had predicted, surpassed even the most generous estimates he had made at the planting.

He could not restrain his pride in his harvest, and proposed that they might get together for a celebratory supper with some of their old friends that they had known on the other side of the sea.  This idea was taken up with enthusiasm among his acquaintances, and before he quite knew what was happening, Elrond had organized not just a dinner but a feast; a First-Fruits festival to be held in his new-built halls, on the slopes of the Calacirya.

Sam privately decided that this was a good a time as any to celebrate Bilbo’s birthday, and Frodo’s, and, not without some trepidation, sent out a very nice formal invitation to Bilbo, and entrusted its delivery to Gandalf. The reply came back almost immediately, and though couched in innumerable pleasantries in the usual hobbit fashion, could be condensed to its first sentence and to its final post-script: Thank you, I shall certainly come, and I hope it will be all right if I bring a friend.

The feasting-hall was built over a branch of the mountain river. It ran straight through the middle of the hall, bridged with dozens of small graceful footbridges, then poured down just outside it, under the floor of the curving wooden balcony. Elrond’s mansions were crowded, both in the feasting-hall and elsewhere, his own people mingling with his guests. Frodo’s hosts had come up from their halls in the North, and Fëanor and his wife sat in the  hall while the brothers made their way to the kitchens, competing with each other over the preparation of dishes from the potato harvest.

“I never expected a crowd like this,” Sam confided to Frodo, the two of them having found a corner suitable for ducking out of the way until everything had been made ready for the feast. “Apparently Elrond invited his whole family.”

“What, all of them?” cried Frodo. “There’ll never be enough potatoes!”

“So I said too, but it seems he doesn’t expect them all to come. ‘And a good thing too,’ he said. ‘I have asked everyone very firmly to refrain from shedding the blood of their kin, but though the healing of the world may have begun, I don’t know if it’s gotten far enough yet to keep all them from each other’s throats.’ I hope he was joking, it’s so hard to tell with the Elves, and with Elrond especially. But I don’t think he’s half so serious as he seems, and he seems less grave here than he ever did back home in Middle-Earth.”

“It’s not any of Elrond’s family that I’m worried about, though,” said Frodo, dropping his voice still further, although this was a perfectly useless gesture among the keen-eared Eldar. “It’s him. Bilbo’s friend. There are plenty of people in this company who I wouldn’t expect to be able to hold a civil conversation with him.”

There was no need to indicate who he meant by him. Though Manwë Súlimo, Lord of the Breath of Arda, wore the dimmest of his shapes, wrapped in blue robes and in the form of a mortal man, his power burned through it like the sun through clouds. He sat at the table’s head at Elrond’s hand, and the currents of air and of attention in the room warped around him; he seemed at once too large and too bright to be contained in the hall.

“Brr! Yes!” said Sam, looking slantwise at him. “Still, I don’t suppose he’s actually going to set anything on fire?”

“No, that’s not his way. Try to avoid looking him full in the face, though; there’s only so far they can veil their nature and the effects can be unpredictable.”

“Speaking of setting things on fire,” said Bilbo, coming up to them, “keep an eye on the Fëanorians, can’t you?” He squeezed himself into the alcove beside them, laughing and pressing both their hands. He looked up toward the high table. “Or - no, it’s too late for that now. Dear, dear! The Lord of the West and the mightiest of the Noldor, sitting at the same table and glaring at each other like Sackville-Bagginses when someone mentions the word inheritance.”

If either of the hobbits had hoped to avert a confrontation between their hosts, it was now too late. Fëanor was on his feet before the Elder King, and though he bore himself tall and proud, he seemed suddenly small before him, like a spark caught by the wind. Silence fell in the hall. The flames of the torches all leaned toward the table as if drawn by a draft.

“Let us speak plainly,” Fëanor was saying. “If you mean to say that you and your kind have more power than me and mine, I will never deny it. If you mean to say that power gives you the right to rule us, I will never admit it.” He drew a breath, and stepped back. “But this is ill spoken, when we are both guests in one hall. Lord Elrond, I trespass your hospitality, and I ask your pardon.”  But Elrond had been watching both of them, his face immovable. Fëanor pulled his chair back, and sat down.

“Lord of Arda,” he said more quietly, “we have both come here among those who might, if they so chose, urge grievous claim against us. The words that I spoke once in darkened Tirion laid waste to the labors and the kingdoms of my kin. I labor now to heal the world I injured. You, on the mountain you raised against us, on the far side of the world that you sundered, why have you descended among us now?

Manwë looked back at him, long and searchingly, and when he spoke, his words unfurled before the speakers like a tapestry. They seemed more like a picture than a speech, like something seen all at once and from many sides.

“Son of Finwë,” he said, “long ago I chose this world over the unmediated and immediate presence of the One who dwells beyond it. I am bound to it, am bounded by it.

“Why do you think we raised the mountains so high? Why do you think we stood apart from Middle-Earth for so long while the people we loved suffered and died? And why do you think Earendil, bearing your jewel, could pass the way that was barred to so many before him? We could do nothing against him while he wore it; that would have drawn your oath upon the Powers themselves. That you and all the Noldor did not fear to lift up your hands against the Valar, you had proved in your bitter strife with Angband. That you and your sons could not be restrained by the bonds of law or righteousness or duty or kinship or even by your own hearts’ will, you had written in blood in Alqualonde and Doriath and Sirion. If I could have loosed your oath, I would have. But I could not risk drawing it upon us and on Aman and seeing the world made altogether dark.

“And so I learned what I had not understood though the One himself had shown it forth to me: his Children were beyond our authority and beyond even our power. We could not protect both you and this land.”

His voice was very quiet now, a summer wind in the tree-tops, but it echoed in the ears of every hearer in the hall. “Do you know how we loved you, when we first heard you raise your voices in song to the stars?’ Manwë said quietly. ‘Through your eyes we saw anew the beauty of all we had made, and we knew that it was all for you. You know what it is, Fëanor, the act of creation... As you poured yourself into your jewels, so we had poured ourselves into Arda, and in the coming of your people we saw at last the crown of all our labor. We wanted to give you everything, we wanted to see the splendor of the world we had shaped refracted again in the light of your eyes. We wanted to shelter you and nurture you and teach you everything we knew, but perhaps in our perilous love, we forgot one thing.”

“What was that?” The speaker was not Fëanor, but Elrond.

“To learn from you. In you and in you alone are the new thoughts of the One revealed to us, for you are his children, and not ours. We are not your parents, after all, nor even your rulers. We are, if anything, your brothers. Oh, Finwë’s son,” he said, “may we not say we begin to understand each other?” Sam saw Frodo stiffen in alarm, but after a moment Fëanor inclined his head, and a breeze rippled outward across the table.

“Well. I would not go so far as that,” said Fëanor, but the tension was broken, the hall breathed again, and as one of Elrond’s people sounded the call for the guests to be seated, Bilbo slapped Frodo’s knee.

“Bless my soul, so the old fellow really has been listening! That’s one of my own bits, you know, to learn from us.

“Really?” said Frodo, genuinely surprised. “What do you suppose they think about Fëanor’s plan to reunite the worlds again?”

“To what?” Bilbo blinked at him. “Well, I should hope they’d learned their lesson about stopping the Elves from doing anything, after how everything turned out in the First Age. And I don’t know – I can’t speak for them, bless me, but I think something has changed in them, after all. Or, no, not changed in them, but in the world. It is our world too, you know, as much as it is theirs, and they know that now, even if they still haven’t the least idea what to do about it.”

“Indeed not.” There was no room in the small alcove for anyone else to sit down, and so Gandalf stood before them, a shield for the moment against the eddying motion in the hall as the guests began taking their way to the tables. “You have always managed to surpass my hopes for you – yes, you too, Sam.” He saw Sam open his mouth to protest. “Do you think I am speaking in flattery? Believe me, all of you, I know the limits of your natures! You inhabit a corner of the world so small that it would scarcely account for a footnote in the history of your world, and your ambitions mingle potato-breeding and altering the nature of the cosmos without taking note of the difference!”

He cast his piercing eye over them. “But weak as you are, ridiculous as you are, you are the clearest view we have into the heart of creation itself. You did hear what Manwë said, didn’t you, about where you came from? Which means that if we want to know more of the Great Song, we could not do better than to follow your lead.”

Sam found his voice. “The Great Song? Why, I remember that story. But I thought that was just poetry?”

“Just poetry?” Gandalf exclaimed. “Why yes, it is just poetry; this world is just poetry, everything that you have ever seen or touched or known is just poetry. To deal in words and in music is to deal in the very stuff of creation itself.”

“So it’s true, then! The music, and all the world within it - But you were there, weren’t you?” He caught himself, remembering just who it was to whom he was speaking.

“I am there, Mr. Gamgee. I was present at the creation of the world. I am present as it is being created even now.”

“Created?” Bilbo broke in. “Do you mean that there is still – well, still work to be done?”

“Of course there is! Why do you think it’s fallen to this pack of kinslayers and oathbreakers to heal this injured world? For healed it will be, mark my words, though the labor be longer than that of the making or the marring. Now come sit down, or we will be missed, and I shall be reproved for keeping you from this company.”

 

The feast was begun, the potatoes praised, and the food and drink, the speech and the song, went round through the evening and into the night. Long before the Elves showed any sign of wearying of the feasting, Sam slipped away. Frodo and Bilbo both seemed entirely acclimatized to the customs of the Elves, but he was tired, and feeling the need of air and a bit of quiet.

Sam went out onto the balcony. Below him, the cataract poured down over the great dark rocks, and by the starlight he saw, perched on one of those rocks, another figure who had escaped the feasting, and at once he knew the shape. Maglor sang to himself and to the water, a song that Sam had never heard before from him or from anyone else.

He heard Maglor’s voice rising and falling, occasionally going back over a sequence of notes or adjusting a phrase or a turn of words. He watched him a long time before calling down to him:

“What is that you’re singing?”

Maglor looked up. “I did not see you there, Sam. I was lost in the music. Here it is in the Common Speech:

O Lords of Song,6 who ere the world was formed
within the vast abyss did body forth
the breathing world, join now your voice with mine;
For higher yet my song intends to soar
and overleap the mountains of the gods...

Or something like that,” he added, suddenly self-conscious. “I haven’t had the time to translate it properly yet.”

“It sounds lovely, anyway.” Sam leaned both his elbows on the carved wooden railing. “What are you going to call it?”

“Call it? Why, it is the Noldolante, the great epic of our people.”

“The Noldolante?” Sam recalled the name, and indeed portions of the song itself, from their long voyage.  “But I thought that was finished! It's a very famous song, isn't it?"

He heard Maglor’s soft laughter in the starlit darkness. "No more finished than the Noldor are finished, nor the story of their deeds. The first canto is the best known, of course. But the third has not been written." And he lifted up his voice again, beside the voice of the waters.