In August of 1422 (by Shire Reckoning) a spate of summer 'flu spread about East Farthing. No one was dangerously sickened, but the sneezing and sweats were very unpleasant, and so Rose Gamgee and her healer's kit were in high demand. Rose rode about the country on her pony, Pepper, steeping white yarrow for the flu and red clover for the fever and mixing it all into new milk to be drunk thrice a day. She was away from Bag End for two whole weeks, and made it home on the last day of the month.
Everyone had expected her to hang up the kit when her first baby came. But - she considered, as she climbed the hill to home - there was still a part of her that itched to travel. A part that loved to meet new people and solve their problems and sleep alone in inns after a hard day’s work. A restless part that marriage and motherhood had not silenced. She would give it up, if pressed. Should give it up - according to her Ma and the Hobbiton gossips. But that was not how they did things at Bag End.
The other part of her felt terribly guilty. For though she knew Sam and his Frodo would care wonderfully for Elanor, it was still two whole weeks away from her girl. When she opened the door, Elanor tumbled across the hall excitedly, steps more confident than when she'd left. “Mama!” And when Rose swung her up on her hip, she was heavier.
Frodo kissed her cheek and then shut himself in his bedroom - his and Sam’s when she was not there - to give them space. He was thoughtful like that.
“This girl is up much too late,” Rose said to Sam, who grinned and kissed her deep.
“We wanted to stay up waiting for you,” he said. “But we can put her to bed now. Come on, me loves.”
Elanor dropped off quickly, her energy spent, and Rose stood in the circle of Sam’s arms and looked at her as though she could make up for the missing weeks in a few minutes’ time. “She learned a new word,” Sam said, a smile in his voice. “‘’Do’, for Fro do .”
“’Do and Da,” Rose said quietly, and tucked a curl of downy hair behind Elanor’s ear where she lay in her crib.
“And Ma,” Sam said, squeezing her all warm and reassuring as though he could sense the twist of guilt.
What if we tried to have everything , he had said to her, nearly three years ago when she’d realized that she would always love him, and Frodo would always love him too, and Sam loved them both. The three of us. We could have everything we want, together .
Typical Sam, who believed truly and completely that love could accomplish anything. He believed it so strongly that it was often true.
So that was what they were doing; but sometimes she worried how long the balance could last. If it was truly right to love and do what you wanted, to have a family the way you wanted, when no one else’s house looked like yours.
The night was warm and so they left the window open as they lay in bed, talking and tenderness easing into sleep. But when she woke in the middle of the night, suddenly, the night air was cold where it breathed across her face.
She eased herself out of bed and closed the window. Bag End was quiet, but something had woken her. She pulled on a robe - Sam’s, too big, frayed sleeves dangling past her wrists, familiar comforting smell - and stepped into the hall.
Elanor’s room was next to theirs and the door was half-open. She could hear a faint murmur coming from within, along with an odd shining light. Not candlelight. She might have thought it was moonlight, but it was a new moon and besides it was too bright. Heart beating perhaps more quickly than necessary, she stepped into the room.
“ A wanderer escaped from night ,” Frodo was singing, quiet where he sat in the rocking chair next to Elanor’s crib. There was a glass phial in one hand that glowed with cool gentle light. Elanor sat on his lap, her head resting on his shoulder, her plump fingers dreamily tracing the glass.
Rose stayed quite still. Frodo had not seen her. In the light he looked old and mystical, skin finely-lined and translucent, reflections in his dark curls like stars. And Elanor looked more Elf than hobbit, her hair blazing gold in the dark room. The two of them might have been something out of a tale.
“ To haven white he came at last, to Elvenhome the green and fair,” Frodo sang. “ Where keen the air, where pale as glass beneath the Hill of Ilmarin, a-glimmer in a valley sheer... ”
Rose was a little afraid of Frodo. She loved him, of course, because her Sam did and because he was kind and good and because she had cared for him when he was at his weakest. But she was afraid of him; because he was so far away from what she understood, and because he held her love’s heart. Because sometimes his eyes seemed to look at things that were not there.
Because one day he would leave and take part of Sam with him.
“ The lamplit towers of Tirion are mirrored on the Shadowmere, ” Frodo finished.
“Is that where you’re going,” she said into the room without quite meaning to, and Frodo flinched at the sudden sound and the light seemed to flicker and dim. Elanor turned to look at her and smiled sleepily.
“Ma!” she said, and Rose walked in quickly and knelt next to the chair, just needing to put her hands on Elanor’s head, be reassured that she was still her daughter and not some fairy child.
“Rose,” Frodo said, pulling away a little. “I - she was crying. Didn’t want to wake you two. She’s been getting nightmares.”
“Have you been getting nightmares, my love?” Rose asked, touching her forehead to Elanor’s.
“Mmph,” Elanor said. “But ’Do has a star.” And she pointed to the phial, which brightened at her touch.
“I’ll go,” Frodo said, who seemed like if he could have vanished on the spot he would have.
“Don’t,” Rose said, and squeezed her eyes shut. Several feelings fought within her. “What is that glass?” she asked, to avoid saying any of them.
“A gift from the lady of Lothlórien,” Frodo said. “The light of Eärendil. It has - it has helped me in dark places. It still does.”
“Like the writing on Sam’s arm,” she said. She had only seen it a few times; elven words that shone under starlight.
“Yes,” Frodo said, and looked at her thoughtfully. She wondered how she appeared in that magical, un-hobbitish light. “Does it bother you? That he is - that I - I marked him, in that way?”
Rose blinked, settling back on her heels and easing Elanor more comfortably into her arms where she dangled, half asleep and sweetly heavy. “No,” she said, and then, “Yes. But not because, oh, because I’m jealous or afeared of the way people talk. Not really.”
She looked up at Frodo, who was chewing on a fingernail. He would bite them until they bled, sometimes, and not even realize until his fine white shirt-cuffs were spotted with blood.
“You and he just shared so many things,” she said finally.
“Terrible things,” Frodo murmured, and Rose nodded.
“Things I will never understand. And that is what frightens me,” she said. “More so because Sam doesn’t show it the way you do. Over and done , he says, and no point dwelling on the past . Sometimes I wonder if you’re the reason he can feel that way. If all his bad memories, all his pain, is stored up in you.”
Frodo looked down at his lap and didn’t speak.
Elanor made a sleepy little sound, curling inward, and Rose hugged her tighter. “I shouldn’t have left,” she said, guilt twisting again. “I’m her mother, I should be here when she has bad dreams.”
The silence was tense and her worry flared again. That by looking too closely at the delicate balance of their household, she would topple it.
“Bilbo was sometimes gone,” Frodo said eventually, with that way he had of sounding a hundred miles and a thousand years away. “When I lived with him and I was too young to go traveling. He’d leave me with the Gamgees, but I’d sleep up here, alone - and before that, well, I hardly remember my parents, and after them there wasn’t anyone for quite a while. Anyone looking out for me, you understand, anyone who cared to sit up if I had nightmares.”
He frowned, seemed to return to himself, as Elanor’s body grew heavier against Rose’s shoulder. “Um. I’m not explaining myself correctly.”
He looked at Elanor, smoothed the sleeve of her nightgown. “Bilbo left sometimes, but he loved me so much. He made sure I could never doubt it. And he would come back with the most marvelous tales. So with Elanor...well, I don’t think it’s bad for her mother to go a-traveling as well. To come back with tales. Especially because she has someone to sit up with her during her nightmares.”
“So you carry Sam’s grief,” Rose said, tucking her nose into Elanor’s sweet-smelling curls. “And you carry Elanor’s fears. And we have built our family around you, Frodo Baggins - but sometimes you seem like a glass that is about to break.”
He actually laughed at that, which surprised her, and leaned forward and took her hand. “My dear Rose. I promise, I have carried much heavier burdens.”
He caught her gaze, those odd blue eyes that Elanor, impossibly, shared. As though a part of Frodo had gone into Sam, and then into their daughter.
“The place from the song - you’re right, that is where I’m going. Soon, I expect. But until then…if I can spend my days giving what love I can, to those who will have it, I count myself lucky.”
She looked at his hand in hers - thin fingers, one missing, nails ragged - and then his face. The light had not changed, but he no longer seemed mystical and unknowable. He was just a hobbit, tired and wounded and sweetly earnest. A hobbit who would bear the heaviest of burdens for the sake of others, and never ask for anything back. This was who Sam loved, who Elanor knew.
“We’ll miss you when you go,” she said, eyes suddenly wet. “ I will miss you. Frodo.”
He lowered his head, smiling, and kissed the back of her hand very lightly. “We are all marked by the people we love and those who have loved us,” he said. “I venture to hope that even when I go, parts of me will stay here. In Sam and Elanor. Maybe even in you.”
He looked out the window where the sky was just beginning to lighten, tactful, as Rose wiped away an errant tear. He was thoughtful like that. “But for now, I think this babe will not be bothered by any more nightmares. Though I’ll leave this here in case.” And he put the elf-glass on the windowsill and stood.
Rose tucked Elanor in and took Frodo’s arm. “Come to bed,” she said. “Just for tonight. It’s big enough - don’t think I didn’t notice you gave us the largest feather-bed.”
Frodo laughed and ducked his head. “Guilty.” So she led him into the bedroom.
Sam half-woke when they came in, and smiled sleepily. “M’dears,” he said, and at a nod from Rose Frodo climbed in and fitted himself against Sam’s chest. Rose got in next to him, reclaiming the trapped warmth of the quilt, and put an arm gently across his back.
“Is aught wrong?” Sam mumbled, struggling to wake up.
“No,” Rose said. “I just missed my Frodo as well, you know.”
“Hmm,” said Sam, and promptly fell back to sleep, snoring lightly.
“Thank you,” Frodo said, very quietly. She kissed the back of his head in answer and burrowed deeper into the covers.
It was good to be home.
Inspired by this drawing I did a while ago: