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The Passing of Mistress Rose - by Shayne Parkinson

It was mid-summer, but the day seemed left over from spring, with a soft warmth in the air and a freshness on the breeze. The light that filtered through the lingering golden flowers of the Mallorn lent a glow to Rose's face, overlaying her pallor with a pretence of health. The gift of the Lady Galadriel gave everything within its shade a trace of that loveliness now lost to Middle-earth.

Sam sat on a stool beside Rose's chair and took her hand, smiling a dismissal at the two young hobbits who had carried her outside. Elanor's youngest boys had quietly moved into Bag End a few weeks before, when Elanor had decided that her father could not be left to manage on his own. Golden-haired like their mother, and with her piercing blue eyes, they were a fine-looking pair.

Sam and Rose sat in companionable silence for some time, Sam stroking her hand and listening to her breathing, trying to decide whether or not Rose was dozing. Lately she seemed to drift in and out of sleep with little warning.

A gentle pressure on his hand told him that she was awake. "Are you comfortable, love?" Sam asked solicitously. "Have you got enough cushions behind you?"

Rose nodded her head slightly. "Yes, I've all I need," she said after a moment, as if she had had to gather her strength to answer. A few moments more and she opened her eyes to look straight into Sam's as he bent over her.

Her eyes were a faded blue, like a gown that had been washed too many times. Once they had been the deep blue of early twilight, twinkling above rosy cheeks as bright as her name. Sam remembered her eyes aglow as the two of them had danced on the day of the long-expected party; half-expecting that he might choose that day to propose, as she had shyly confided later. Oh, she could dance! Light as an elf-maid, he had told her when they danced once again on the lawn at Bag End on their wedding day. And as beautiful, he had insisted over all her delighted protestations.

She had always been lovely in his eyes. Not the remote loveliness of the Lady Galadriel or Queen Evenstar, but a loveliness like that of the Shire itself. In the darkest days of his journey into Mordor, memories of Rose had helped him remember that there was a world of light and life; of sunlight and flowers; of cool water and sun-warmed earth. Child-bearing had thickened her body, and now the wasting illness had left her thinner than a hobbit had any business to be, and had stripped the last of the brown from her hair; but the faded eyes that looked into his still recalled those of the hobbit-lass he had fallen in love with so many years before.

A sudden breeze set the golden flowers shivering, and one fluttered down to rest on Rose's lap. Sam picked it up and placed it on her open palm. "The flowers have hung on well this year," he remarked. "It's a good thing this one won't lose its leaves till spring. The leaves on some of the ordinary trees are colouring up early this year. It might be a hard winter."

He squeezed her hand as he said it, not voicing the fear of what a hard winter might do to Rose. As if she had guessed his thought, she shook her head slightly.

"You don't have to worry about the winter, Sam," she said calmly. "I won't be having any more winters."

Sam clutched her hand hard, feeling the thin knuckles bite into his palm. The protest died on his lips at Rose's clear gaze; there had never been any deception between them, and there would be none now.

"I don't know how I'd manage without you," he said when he had got his voice back under some sort of control. "It wouldn't seem worth going on."

"Of course you'll manage," said Rose in her matter-of-fact way. "You've got the children to keep an eye on, and all your friends to visit. Why, you could stay in a different hole every night for a month without doubling up."

Sam shook his head. "There's only one place I want to be, and that's here with you, Rosie."

"You could go and visit the King and Queen if they come north again," Rose went on. "That's not so very far to go. Not like going all the way to Gondor." Her eyes grew distant for a moment with the effort of recalling the memory. "It's like a dream now, Gondor is. Just think of us having gone all that way! I didn't know the world was that big. And that grand city with the great tower! It was like living in a story."

A much gentler part of the story than he had lived through with Frodo, Sam reflected. Forty years later, the memory of the year he had spent there with Rose and Elanor had dimmed, but he could still call to mind some of the glory of the restored Kingdom. He and Frodo had seen the wounded city of Minas Tirith; he had returned to find it once again worthy of its old name: Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun. The restored Annúminas was a fine place, fit indeed for a king, and overwhelming for Rose on her first visit there, but it was nothing compared to Minas Anor. Gimli and his fellows had laboured as prodigiously as only Dwarves could, with all the willing assistants they could have wished, restoring the ruined stonework and directing the building of many new dwellings for the swelling population. And Legolas had seen to it that every corner of the city had the loveliest of gardens and sparkling fountains, with so many of the flowers unfamiliar to Sam that Legolas had laughed at his seemingly endless demands to learn their names and their habits, which Sam carefully recorded in a notebook that he carried everywhere. When they had finally returned to the Shire, they were laden not only with the many gifts that the King and Queen had pressed upon them, but also with a great quantity of cuttings and seeds.

It had been the one great journey of Rose's life, and Sam could only wish that it had had a happier ending. After she had got over her awe of Annúminas, itself much further from the Shire than she had ever dreamed of going, Rose had thought herself up to the long journey to the great city of Gondor when the King had suggested they might accompany him south. Rose had had her doubts over being away for a whole year, especially since it meant leaving the younger children behind, but Elanor's pleas had eventually won the day. Elanor had delighted in her time at Annúminas as a maid of honour to the Queen, and the thought of visiting the much grander palace at Minas Tirith was irresistible to her. She had had the sense to focus her appeals on her father, and Sam had found himself, as ever, unable to resist her.

So with some gentle urging from Sam Rose had overcome her doubts, weaned baby Tom months earlier than she would have liked, and left the children in the capable hands of Sam's sister Marigold. The baby had smiled and gurgled at his aunt when Rose had placed him in Marigold's arms, but Sam would never forget the pain in Rose's face when she turned away from the sight and set off with Sam to meet the King's escort at the Brandywine Bridge. Somehow she had kept up a brave face all the rest of that day, till the two of them were alone on the first night of the long journey.

They had been made much of in Minas Tirith, installed in their own suite of rooms in the palace, and with maid servants assigned to them. Elanor had bloomed, delighting in the luxury as if she had been born to it. In the pleasure of spending time with old friends and of seeing Elanor so happy, Sam had been slow to notice that Rose was unhappy.

She had been careful not to show it, determined not to spoil Sam's pleasure, but he had gradually become aware of how quiet she was. When he asked if anything was wrong she had insisted that she was perfectly well, and roused herself briefly to show something of her old brightness. All she would admit to was a little homesickness. Sam had felt increasingly helpless as the weeks turned into months and Rose grew quiet and pale.

It was Arwen, Queen Evenstar as Sam always thought of her, who had finally given him the resolution. She had taken to having Rose sit with her in the late afternoon in the courtyard of the Tree, a small chair for Rose set close to the Queen's tall, carved chair as the two of them worked fine embroidery, and it was there that Sam had found them on a spring day eight months after their arrival in Gondor. He had been startled to see that Rose had been crying; though her eyes were dry, they were still red from weeping, and she was clutching a handkerchief tightly.

He had crouched beside her and put his arm around her, but before he could say a word, Arwen had spoken, her voice low and suddenly reminiscent of her grandmother's.

"Do not fear for Mistress Rose, Master Samwise," she said, and Sam was startled to see that her eyes were even brighter than usual, brimming as they were with unshed tears. "The storm is over."

She smiled at him, and Sam stood to face her, one hand still firmly on Rose's shoulder. "Your Rose will only bloom when she's planted once more in her own ground, Master Samwise," she told him. "It's time you took her home."

And how right she had been, Sam thought gratefully. Arwen had seen the same changes that he had, and had seen the longing and fear behind them. It had taken only a few weeks to arrange their return journey, with the hardest part being a storm of protest from Elanor. For the only time either of them could remember, Sam had actually raised his voice to Elanor, shocking her into meekness. If there was a hint of sullenness in that meekness, it had soon disappeared in the excitement of another long journey. Just as Arwen had predicted, Rose had been quickly restored to her old self once she was reunited with her children and back in her beloved Shire.

"Like a story," Rose echoed faintly, recalling Sam to the present. She smiled ruefully at him. "I wasn't made for stories, Sam. I like things plain and simple and hobbit-sized. Grand castles are all very well for grand folk, but they're not for the likes of me."

"I know, love," Sam said. "Stories are best told around the fire in your own parlour, when all's said and done. I just wish I'd had the sense not to keep you away so long," he added, a twinge of guilt pricking him at the thought of Rose's months of unhappiness and his own blindness to its cause.

"You weren't to know," Rose said, giving his hand a tiny squeeze. "It was me who wouldn't say anything about it."

"Queen Evenstar saw it clear enough," Sam said, and Rose's eyes brightened a little at the name.

"Well, there's no one walking this earth like Queen Evenstar, is there?" Rose said softly, love and awe mixed in her voice. "She looks at you and it's like she sees right into your heart. She sees what's hurting, and it's like it hurts her too. And just looking back at her you feel the hurt lift a bit, and it's as if…oh, I don't know how to say it," she said with a small shake of her head.

"I know," Sam said. "She always saw things clearer than other folk. Like with Mr Frodo, when she gave him that jewel. She knew what he'd be needing before anyone else did. She saw there'd be no peace for him here. She knew he'd have to go away."

"And she knew she'd be staying," Rose said softly. "The King's here, and that's all that matters. Oh, she loves her children right enough, but with him… he's her life. It's as if the very breath in her comes through him. I hate to think…" she broke off, and a small shadow passed over her face.

She saw the concern in Sam's eyes and roused herself back to the present with a visible effort. "Maybe you could go and visit Elves again, Sam." She smiled faintly. "You could go on another adventure. You wouldn't have to worry about me missing you this time."

Sam smiled back at her. "Believe you me, lass, I had my fill of adventure when I was a young fellow," he said. "I wouldn't fancy my chances against any giant spiders these days! A quiet life suits me just fine."

"Well, you wouldn't have to go running up mountains after giant spiders," Rose persisted. "Just sit quietly and listen to the Elves singing. You'd like that."

"Not as much as I'd like to sit in my own garden and listen to you talking," Sam said. And the Elves have gone away, he added to himself. They've sailed away like Mr Frodo.

He was aware of Rose studying his face, as if she could read his unspoken thoughts there. "What was it you told me Mr Frodo said to you when he went away, when you thought he was only going to Rivendell? When you told him you felt torn in two, between going to Rivendell and staying here?"

"He said," Sam struggled to dredge up the exact words that he had heard more than sixty years before. "He said I'd be healed. He said I was meant to be solid and whole, and I would be." And then he went away. He stroked her hand. "And so I have been."

Rose kept her thoughtful gaze on him. "Well, you're solid enough. I'm not so sure about the rest of it, though. About being torn. I know if it hadn't been for me-"

"If it hadn't been for you I wouldn't have had a life!" Sam burst out. "It was the thought of you kept me going in the dark places!"

"If it hadn't been for me you'd've had a different life," Rose said, her voice firmer. "You've had two lives, Sam. Me and the children and the Shire, and your grand life with the King and Queen and elves and all. Well, you've given me sixty years. I've kept you in the Shire long enough. It's time you went off."

"I never wanted to be anywhere but with you," Sam said, but Rose shook her head.

"Yes you did," she insisted. "The trouble is, you needed to be two places at once. I've kept you here because I couldn't go where you wanted. Now you'll be able to. Wherever you want." She paused for a moment, then spoke gently. "I know you've never stopped missing Mr Frodo. Maybe you could find him again."

A sudden fierce hope flared up in Sam, and as abruptly faded, leaving him shaken and bewildered. "I… I only want you," he said, his voice quavering. "I only want to be wherever you are. I do!" he cried, as if he could make it true by vehemence.

Rose said nothing, and Sam felt a pang of fear at her stillness. "Rosie?" he asked anxiously.

Her voice was faint. "I'm tired, Sam. So tired. I'll sleep for a bit now."

She lay very still, breathing shallowly. Sam kept hold of her hand, while the thoughts churned in his mind. For years he had believed himself to have everything he could possibly want, and now Rose's words had stirred up feelings that had seemed dead and buried. Find Frodo again? Was it possible? Had he any right even to think of such a thing?

Frodo had told him he needed to be whole, and he had believed himself to be. But now he felt torn in two all over again as he remembered that last parting from Frodo, the pain like a stab wound as the ship slowly faded out of sight. Turning away from the sea had felt like twisting a knife in the wound.

And he had come home to the Shire, and Rose had been there waiting. Just as she had been waiting all those years before, trusting him to come back to her. She had always been there; in his heart even when she was not by his side. That was one thing that he had never written in the Red Book, the thing that was too precious and personal to share with anyone but Rose. Only once had he spoken of it even to her, and he had made her shy with his fervency. Within the very walls of Mordor, when despair had hovered near, when the memory of Galadriel had come to him he had seen Rose's face and heard Rose's voice.

That was what the Lady had seen in Lórien when she had searched his heart, and what she had helped him to see: that he loved Rose. He always had and he always would. Rose had made him whole. She had healed all his wounds – or so he had thought. The deepest wound of all was opening again..

More of Frodo's words came to him then: "And I can't come," Sam had said on the road to the Havens, when he had first understood that Frodo was leaving Middle-earth.

"No, Sam. Not yet anyway, not further than the Havens. Though you too were a Ring-bearer, if only for a little while. Your time may come. Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do."

The words had meant little to him then, with his heart full of grief for Frodo, but the blessings Frodo had foretold had come to pass. He had been mayor, and he had had the far greater blessing of Rose and all the children. His life had been full, and he had the quiet satisfaction of knowing he had made a decent job of the tasks that had come to him. Now he allowed himself to dwell on those words again, for the first time in years: on the hope carried in that "Not yet".

Rose startled him out of his reverie when she gripped his hand suddenly. Her eyes opened wide, and Sam sensed that she wasn't seeing their familiar garden. "Look, Sam! All the flowers!" she said in delight. "I've never seen such colours!"

Sam stared at Rose, waiting for her to speak again. It took him some moments to realise that the hand he still held had gone slack. Her face was peaceful, the marks of pain smoothed away and a slight smile playing over her mouth. Sam gently closed her eyes and kissed her eyelids, then he took up her hand again and settled himself on his stool. He would not move until he had to; he would not waste this time spent alone with Rose. He knew that soon enough others would come and take over; they would quietly organise matters, determined to take all burdens from him.

He sat on in silence, made aware of the passage of time only by the slow sinking of the sun towards the west. There was a new wound now. There was no shock this time, not like it had been when he had realised Frodo was leaving him. He had known this was coming, but that did not make the pain any less. Awareness slowly came over him: this loss was worse. The hollow left by Frodo did not yawn as large as this one did. He could not be whole again, not without Rose.

He looked around himself, bewildered at how dull the world had become, as if much of the colour had faded away. There were plans to be made, arrangements to make. Rose would have wanted him to leave a tidy estate behind him, with no loose ends to give their children vexation. Bag End would go to young Frodo, of course, but Sam would make sure that the other children were properly provided for. All the papers would have to be drawn up and properly witnessed. All the proper farewells would need to be made. "Two months, more or less," he murmured. The ghost of a smile softened his face. "That'll make it around Mr Frodo's birthday. A good day for journeys."

He still held Rose's hand, the warmth of his flesh keeping the chill from creeping over that one small part of her. "Rosie lass," he said softly. "There's another trip I've got to make. A longer one this time. I have to say all my goodbyes proper like. I know you won't mind waiting a bit – you've always been one for doing things properly.

"I came back to you that other time. You told me you knew I would, even when those ruffians were making all that trouble. This time you've gone on ahead of me, and I'm going to take a long way around. I'll be a while getting to you, lass, but you're used to waiting for me. I'll find you, Rosie. I don't know the way just yet. But I know where I can learn it."

As he raised her hand to kiss it, a faint murmur sounded in his ears. He knew the sound from his dreams. It was the Sea.

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