It was a long summer’s evening, warm and breezy, and Sam was walking westward down the road from Long Cleeve to Gamwich, on the northernmost borders of the Shire. The light was fading, but there was nothing to fear in these woods, and Gamwich was only about an hour from where he was, he calculated, so he did not hurry, but paused to watch the sun set in the West, clouds lighting up with bright colours and slowly fading.
As he walked, he tried to remember the tales he’d heard from Master Bilbo Baggins, all about Elves, sailing off into the West, where there was a land of peace and joy, where the sun was always radiant, and the gardens never affected by bugs. However, thinking of that turned his mind to the recent problems he and his father were having in their own garden with a bug that liked to eat cucumbers before they could be harvested, and what they were doing to try and get rid of the little pests.
He’d walked some minutes in contemplation before he realised that there was a light in the trees, to the north, a strange and mysterious silver shining in the dark. Northaway was beyond the borders of the Shire, if only just, but Sam was curious now, and walked toward it. As he came closer, he began to hear ethereal and heartbreakingly beautiful harp music, soft and gentle, but no less powerful for that.
He shivered in delight. Was it an Elf he would see at last? He’d always wanted to see Elves, and now he would be able to compare stories with Master Frodo, who had seen Elves before, and Master Bilbo, who had travelled far and wide, and met Elves, Dwarves, skin-changing bears, and Eagles.
The music grew louder as he approached, but also sadder and sweeter, aching and full of pain and grief. Whoever it was who played, they were both extremely good at it, and very sad and alone. For both reasons, Sam couldn’t turn back now.
A figure, shining with silver light, sat on the ground underneath a tree some distance away, a harp in his hands. It was definitely an Elf, only one. He was clearly tall and beautiful, with long dark hair sliding down his back. He lifted his eyes, and Sam could see in them ancient grief, pain so deep it could not be measured. And at last the Elf began to sing, slow and sad, voice rich with remembrance, and Sam stood still, unable to move for the beauty of that voice and the light in those old, old eyes. The song was in the Common Speech, strangely accented, but understandable, or so at least Sam heard it that way.
“In Western lands beneath the Sun
The flowers may rise in spring,
The trees may bud, the waters run,
The merry finches sing.”
The Elf paused briefly, seeming to struggle with keeping back sobs. So close was the song to what Sam had idly been thinking about that he nearly called out. But the Elf began to sing again and he went still.
“Or there maybe ’tis cloudless night
And swaying beeches bear
The shining stars as jewels white
Amid their branching hair.”
Sam was lost in a dream, a vision of the land over the sea, or perhaps it was a memory, of a time and place long ago. He seemed to see in his mind two Trees, tall and fair, with golden and silver lights mingling together. And then darkness fell, as the singer went on, voice full of pain, almost breaking.
“Though here at journey’s end I lie
In darkness buried deep
Beyond all towers strong and high
Beyond all mountains steep...”
The voice broke at last, and Sam could see a tear running down the face of the Elf, who visibly gathered himself together, staring off into the West at the last remnants of the dying Sun, before going on. His voice gathered strength as he sang this next part.
“Above all shadows rides the Sun
And stars forever dwell.”
And, now, defiant, fierce, but also somehow hopeless and lost, the Elf finished the song as the last light of the day died in the West.
“I will not say the day is done
Nor bid the stars farewell!”
Overhead in the dark, the stars seemed to blaze up, shining more brightly than Sam had ever seen them. The Elf shone too, alight with silver defiance for a brief moment. Then the light abruptly faded, and the music with it. All that Sam could hear was a quiet sob in the near dark, and without thinking, he moved forward, into the open. The Elf’s eyes caught his and both stared in surprise. Then Sam blinked, and when he looked back again, the light was gone completely, and the Elf with it.
“Well, bless me!” he said to himself. “Either I’m cracked, or I’ve just seen an Elf in the north woods. Won’t Hal laugh when I tell him?”
Turning, he made his way back to the path, and down towards Gamwich once more, the words of the song fading from his memory, though the tune lingered.
This was the last journey he would ever make. The Red Book of Westmarch was finished now; it had been handed over to the Fairbairns in their white tower, and the only home he had left now was far away and across the Sea, with Frodo.
The sea-longing, a summons as much as anything else, came as no surprise. Frodo had told him long ago that when it was time, he should come to the Havens, and a ship would be waiting for him there. After Rosie’s death, it descended upon him, tore him limb from aching limb with the need to hear the waves and feel the salty air. And now he was hurrying as fast as his old bones could take him, alone, along the road to the final harbour bar.
He crested a small hill, and for the first time caught a glimpse of it, blue and calm in the distance. Breathing in, he felt now that a weight was lifting from him and that soon his journey would be done.
Further along the road, much nearer the sea, he could see a figure, tall and dark, with a harp in his hand. Sam’s eyes narrowed with recognition. So many, many years ago, and at last. Him.
The Elf was heading away from the sea, head bowed, and suddenly Sam knew what he must do, knew the rightness of it and the need for it. He walked on, intent on meeting the mysterious stranger.
Eventually, they drew nearly level and he called out. “Why leave the Sea behind, Elf, when it calls to you as it does to me?” The Elf stopped short, in surprise, glancing at Sam with amazement and faint puzzlement.
“Why do you speak to me?” he said, not walking forward. His hand touched a small dagger at his side, but the movement was purely a reaction rather than a threat.
Sam looked up, very far up. “Because, once, if you remember, you gave me a gift.”
The Elf shook his head. “What gift would I have given you, little one?” His voice was soft and sad.
“You gave me a song.” Sam lifted his chin. “It saved my life, once, when I was in a very dark place with little hope. I wish to thank you.”
The Elf looked confused, still. It was such a strange thing to see a look of confusion on an Elf’s face that Sam nearly burst out laughing.
“If I have done such a deed, I do not remember it,” he said at last.
“I still have to thank you,” Sam said, “and this is how I’ll do it: come with me.”
“Come with you!” The Elf repeated, startled. “Where are you going?”
“To the Havens, across the Sea.” Sam reached up and tugged on the Elf’s sleeve. “Come along.”
“Wait - what? Why?” The Elf hadn’t moved.
“You feel it too, the sea-longing, I see it in your eyes,” Sam said. “So come with me.”
“I cannot!” The Elf drew back, pulling the sleeve out of Sam’s hands. “I can never set foot on the shores of the West, I am a Kinslayer, I am abandoned. You know not to whom you speak.”
Sam made an exasperated noise. “Oh, I’m too old for this,” he said, and grabbed the sleeve again, pulling the Elf a couple of steps forward.
“You’re too old!” The Elf exclaimed, almost stumbling in surprise. “You mortals, you live barely a hundred summers! I was born under the Light of the Trees, I survived the sinking of Beleriand, I’ve thrown a Silmaril into the Sea! Do you even know what the Silmarils were?”
“Yes,” Sam said steadily, remembering stories from long ago, and the light of a star, caught in a glass and shining on Frodo’s sleeping face. “You and I have this in common too - we both had the good sense not to keep the shiny jewellery that would have destroyed us. So come on, Maglor.”
Maglor arched an eyebrow. “You do know the old tales, then, little hobbit. But I’m afraid I do not know yours.” He was following Sam now, slowly, drawn by curiosity.
“I’ll tell you all about it on the boat,” Sam said, not looking back and marching steadily onward.
As they approached the harbour of Tol Eressea, Sam could see a small figure on the quay, and behind it a taller one. He rushed to the edge of the boat and waved furiously and the small figure waved back. As they got closer, he could make out Frodo’s face, older now, but peaceful, and now alive with a smile that stretched from ear to ear. There was a matching smile on his own face.
No sooner had the boat fairly docked than Sam was off it, in Frodo’s arms before he could blink. Laughter and tears sprang up in them both together and for a little while there were no words, just a warm embrace. “I’m here, Frodo,” he said at last. “I’m here.”
He looked around, slightly pulling back from Frodo, but keeping one arm around him. On the boat, a tall figure was rising from its seated position, and Elrond, standing a few feet away, suddenly went pale.
“Ada?” he asked, almost like he was seeing an apparition, like it could not truly be his long-lost foster father. Maglor walked toward him, not hurrying but not slowly either, head held up, silent. Sam and Frodo watched as Elrond all but leaped forward, grabbing the tall Elf and clinging to him as though he feared he was made of mist and would vanish. “How?”
Maglor did not answer, just held onto Elrond, burying his face in his shoulder, all the remnants of his pride vanishing. It looked suspiciously like he was sobbing with relief and joy.
“I brought him, sir,” Sam called out, and Elrond looked over at him.
“Again, I ask, how?” Elrond said.
Sam grinned. “What do you think, sir, I dragged him bodily onto the ship!” In Elrond’s arms, Maglor dissolved into sobbing laughter.
“’Tis true, he did indeed!” he said, between giggles. Elrond smiled.
“Samwise the Stouthearted once again I name you,” he said. “For you have done once more what all the Wise could not. This fool,” he stroked Maglor’s hair, “refused summons from Eonwe himself, refused to listen to me, or Gandalf, or Galadriel. We thought he would never return, not until the end of Arda.” He took Maglor by the shoulders, holding him away a little, a fond grin on his face. “You’re far too thin. And these clothes - how many years have you been wearing them now? And I’m not even going to start on your hair, it looks like you dragged it through a bush.”
Maglor laughed again; it appeared that last was an old familiar saying between them, but quickly sobered. “Where shall I go now?” he asked, in the quiet, yielding voice of one who surrenders all.
“Where you belong,” Elrond said. “With me, in my house, where you should have always been.” He wrapped an arm around Maglor’s waist. “Come with me.” They walked off the quay together, and Frodo turned back toward Sam, their arms still around each other.
“Samwise the Stouthearted!” he said, smiling. “You do have a tale to tell. But come, let us seek food first!”
Sam took Frodo by the hand, and together they left the Sea behind them, and crossed into the fair island of Tol Eressea, hearing finches singing in the swaying branches of the trees. The sun shone bright upon them, and Sam laughed, pausing.
“In the end,” he said, almost as if to himself, “the Shadow was only ever a small and passing thing. This was always here - light and beauty forever beyond its reach.”