In November 1419, after Sharkey's band was defeated, Frodo and Sam stayed at Farmer Cotton's home for a time. While the Cotton boys had gone to Bywater for the Battle, Rose had gone far and wide to spread word rousing the Shirefolk. It was two more days before Rose got back.
All was quiet at the Cottons' when Rose came in. She was soaked and spattered from the autumn rain so she took her things off in the entrance and silently padded down the burrow to the bath room. Never had she felt so filthy, and it seemed to take forever to get the water heated but finally the tub was ready and Rose sank gratefully into it. The waves of hot water washing over her as she rocked slowly soothed her away from her previous frazzled state though she hardly felt less miserable. When she finally dried off (after a second tub full), she felt like one of last year's wrinkly apples that she had cleared out in September to make room for the new crop. After checking a mirror to see that she hadn't missed any spots, she slipped on a nightshirt, hid the ruined clothes in a drawer, and went to bed.
Later that night in the next bedroom, Frodo woke up with a start. The room was not quite dark but silent. Was that a noise? Or another frequent nightmare from Mordor? No. Those always left him in a cold sweat. What? There was a noise again. Something barely audible from the room next door. Sam? No. His room was on the other side. Frodo got up and went to the wall.
"You... hhrrr... how.... grrr...unh...urnh!" Rose Cotton's long forgotten voice came through the wall. Frodo stood there trying to decide whether he should be listening at all. Obviously Rose had come home. Maybe Sam was already aware of that fact.
"Nooo!" Something about that cry was so anguished and forlorn that Frodo immediately ran out into the hall and he threw open Rose's door. She was alone after all. The faintest light of dawn was creeping in and he could see her sitting up with her head in her hands.
"Rose! Are you all right? Do you want me to get Sam?"
Frodo walked over to the bed and sat on the edge. "Are you all right?" he asked again. "Did you have a nightmare?" He could see she was shaking and crying.
Rose straightened up. "It's over. I'm fine now," she said grimly. Frodo moved to brush a tear off her cheek. Rose snatched his hand away from her face. "Don't touch me!" Then she looked down, embarrassed. "I'm sorry Mr. Frodo. I'm not myself just now. Don't tell Sam." She clasped Frodo's hand in both of hers and smiled sadly. "Well, the day will begin soon and I don't think I can get back to sleep now. If you don't mind, Mr. Frodo, would you tell about what you've done since I saw you last?" She glanced at the maimed hand that she had heard so many rumours about. "Start with a story about the Elves. I think we both need something happy right now. Then I'll make you an early breakfast."
Frodo smiled. It was good to be back among hobbits who could still brush off a bad dream or misfortune and get right back to life's simple rhythm. "Where do I begin..."
By the time she got up to make breakfast, Rose had indeed been delighted and awed by the Elvish stories Frodo told and she shed some tears too when he also told of Gandalf's fall. She knew the stories about Frodo and Sam's later travels would have to wait. For now she was satisfied to know that Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin were all right.
The weather improved the next day and after a couple of sunny days the soil had dried enough to make outdoor work possible. Sam started preparing to survey the Shire. He didn't relish the thought of seeing all the the damage wrought by Saruman. He paused to think of the choice he had been faced with at Galadriel's mirror. It had seemed hard at the time but he knew he had made the right one. That didn't make his task now any less heart wrenching.
"Sam, why don't you take Rosie with you today? I'll wager she can help more than I could", said Frodo.
"That she might. If she could bring herself to get her hands dirty. The Rosie I know wouldn't dig up a potato if she was starving." Sam thought back to the last party he had seen her at before the Journey. She looked almost too perfect. As the only Cotton girl among four brothers, she had been expected to help inside the house but never outside. Her hands were never stained with soil or sun. She had also been spoiled with admiration as the fairest young hobbit lass around. Sam had had a crush on her like so many others but right now he couldn't remember anything else remarkable beyond her beauty. So many hobbits still didn't fully appreciate how much the world had changed outside of the scouring of the Shire; how much sacrifice had been made. How could Rose possibly understand?
"The Rosie you knew wouldn't. But give her a chance anyway. You've been so busy with planning how to restore the Shire, you haven't seen that she's not a tweenager anymore."
"I'm so glad you noticed." Rose arched an eyebrow as she came into the parlour. "You're right, Frodo. I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty any more. I'll just see about borrowing Ma's cloak and we can be off."
True to her word, Rose took a lively interest in restoring the greenery of the Shire. She spent at least part of every day helping Sam. Only if it threatened rain would she not go. She was out again one morning when she decided to ask about something that was growing on her mind.
"Sam? Is there something wrong with Mr. Frodo? He's been up at night a lot."
Sam looked up from the branch her was cutting. "What do you mean, a lot? I'm afraid I've been so tired an oliphaunt couldn't wake me. This morning I found him curled up on my bed and I never even felt him climb on."
Rose leaned on her shovel and thought a moment. "So that's where he went. You see, I've been waking up a lot lately myself, almost every night, and sometimes we'll talk a little. Mostly about beautiful things like Elves and the ocean but it never really cheers him up. I think he needs to talk to you but he doesn't want to disturb you."
"I see. Thanks for telling me, Rose. I can't stand for him to be unhappy. He needs his Sam and I haven't been there. I'll talk to him after dinner."
"You'd better. Does he know you are moving back to your gaffer's place next week?"
Sam frowned as he picked up his saw again. "No."
That evening Sam volunteered himself and Frodo to clean up after dinner. Sam reluctantly told of his impending removal back to the Gaffer's home but Frodo was all in favour of it.
"The quest is long finished now and we are safe in the Shire again. It's time you stopped worrying about me and concerned yourself with your own happiness. You have to be whole, with or without me. Gandalf told me once that he believed dear old Bilbo would not be permanently harmed by the Ring because he finally gave it up of his own accord." Frodo's face clouded over as a phantom pain niggled at him. "You alone know that I claimed it for my own and it had to be taken by force. I fear the Ring claimed me and it is like I fell into the Cracks of Doom with it."
"Oh Mr. Frodo! Don't say that! You are here with me." Sam clutched Frodo's hand and his tears fell on the maimed stump. "All of you that matters. I couldn't have borne it if you hadn't come back."
"Dear Sam. I would not have come back if it weren't for you. I doubt not that you will be with me to the end of my days in Middle-Earth." Frodo could not bear to tell Sam he also didn't doubt that those days would be far too few.
Rose stopped on her way home as she passed Bag End to watch Sam and Frodo talking outside. It was a rare winter sunny day and they had been taking full advantage of the chance to work on restoring the hobbit hole to its former condition. Sam was gesturing out a map of the new garden. Frodo's smile was framed with smudges of paint and sawdust. They looked happier than anytime since they had come back to the Shire. The sight made her own heart lift higher than it had in weeks.
As Rose regarded them, she thought back to the Sam and Frodo she had known less than two years ago. Sam had been one of many lads calling upon her and she had come to think of him as her future husband but never had he spoken the three words she wanted to hear. To be honest, she hadn't felt ready to say them herself. Frodo she really hadn't known personally at all but now he had become a dear friend.
She had an interesting choice before her: a nice simple life with Sam or a life as the wife of the richest hobbit in the Shire. Her mother had pointed out that either was possible. And which she thought was the better choice. Rose could certainly love Frodo but in her heart she knew he would always need her more than she needed him. She often caught him with a sad faraway look in his eyes, like he was watching a dream fade away. On the other hand, everything about Sam felt like spring bursting forth. His garden, his laughter, his way with his little nieces and nephews. But did his devotion to Frodo leave any room for her?
Rose sighed. She could wait a little while longer. Either way.
Sam looked forward to Sunday mornings. Rose would come over to make bread for the Gamgees and their neighbours. He could see her through the kitchen window as he wheeled topsoil around to where he was preparing a new herb garden. Usually by the end of the morning she would end up looking as ghostly as a barrow-wight from all the flour she would stir up into the air. On Sam's next trip he dropped his jaw, then the wheelbarrow. In the hot kitchen, Rose had taken off her blouse and was now wearing just her sleeveless underblouse, the hem partially hanging out above her skirt. Sam watched fascinated as she pummeled the dough, he had never realized how strong she was. Soft shadows flickered every time she leaned on the squishy mass of flour and yeast; little ripples of muscle in her cheek, her arms, her chest above the neckline...
"Sam, if you need a break please come inside for a cup of tea. You can hardly rest standing up."
Sam whirled his head to see Frodo coming up the path. He opened his mouth to say something but found himself just gasping for air as he had forgotten to breathe. He could feel his blood rushing to his face but didn't want Frodo to see why. "I... I just set down to rid myself of a bothersome midge. Here now, let me show you the new herb garden." He awkwardly bent down to get the wheelbarrow again and hurried around the side of the house.
Frodo watched Sam's strange new waddle with a barely contained laugh as he pondered wickedly whether to tell Rose about it.
Yule celebrations were bigger than ever that year for most everyone, but Sam craved something more peaceful than an inn packed with rambunctious hobbits so he invited Frodo and Rose to spend the evening at the Gamgee home. They were still talking long after Sam's Gaffer had gone to bed. Rose went to make more more tea but when she got back she found Frodo asleep against Sam's shoulder and Sam looked ready to nod off himself. She set the tray down quietly and sat opposite them.
Sam became fully awake as the china rattled slightly. He found Rose staring intently at him, her face unreadable. Sam blushed slightly. "That's not very polite of us to fall asleep and leave a lass without any company. I bet we look like an old Gaffer and Gammer who always sleep through the end of the party."
"Mm hmm. Don't wake him. Just go tuck him into a spare bed here and then you can walk me home."
A little while later they were on their way back to the Cotton home. The night was clear and cold.
"Do you miss sleeping under the stars, Sam?" asked Rose. "I used to think it sounded so romantic until I was finally allowed to and then I woke up with a swarm of midge bites. It was many years before I wanted to do that again. It often seems that reality is much harder than the adventure we imagined."
"That it is. I don't miss the fear and the cold and the hard ground. But I had a job to do with Mr. Frodo and I never felt so needed in my life. I miss him in a strange way even though he's right here."
"He will always need you, you know. Even if he had a staff of ten at Bag End. He knows how valuable a friend you are. I hope someday I will be thought of that way."
"You will. You are. I've seen how much you care about him. It's like you understand what we went through. Most Shirefolk don't. I thought of you many times on the long road back." He looked at her as they strode along and wondered how he ever thought she might be nothing more than a pretty face. "But with you, the reality is much better than anything I imagined." He reached out for her hand and was gratified when she laced her fingers through his. They walked on in silence.
At the door, Rose reluctantly let go of Sam's hand. "Goodnight Sam. You'd better hurry home before your Gaffer notices you are gone."
"All right. But not before I get a kiss goodnight for Yule." He pointed to his right cheek. Rose stood on tiptoe and gave a small kiss but as she put her heels down she pressed her forehead to Sam's face a little longer. She heard him sigh.
"No sense in leaving a job half-done my Gaffer always says," chuckled Sam as he pointed to his left cheek. Rose blushed and smiled. As she reached up, Sam turned his head so Rose found her lips not on his cheek but on his mouth and he kissed her.
"Oh!" She almost fell over backwards but Sam caught her by the shoulders. She looked up to see a smile tugging at one corner of his mouth. His eyes were gently amused. Rose wanted to say something but her mind was momentarily blank. She just stared wide-eyed at him as her heart thudded so hard it seemed there was no room left in her lungs for air.
Sam kissed the curls on her forehead then made her close her eyes by kissing each one. When he kissed the tip of her nose she tilted up to kiss his chin. Then their mouths found each other. Sam's hands slid up hold her face. Rose felt the fine hairs on her neck begin to stand up until she couldn't suppress a little shiver that broke their kiss.
"That's not how you kissed me when we played spin-the-bottle at your birthday party two years ago."
It was a busy winter that year. Comings and goings between Hobbiton and Buckland kept all the Travellers as close friends as could be. In the midst of all these happy gatherings though, Rose and Sam found little time to be alone together.
Sam smiled as Rose kissed him. "Keep that up and some lad might want to marry you some day."
Rose pushed him away none too gently. "That's hard, Samwise Gamgee. I've already waited more than a year you see. My Da's started inviting a few lads over for dinner and still others for supper. It isn't right to be put up for bid. The auction block feels like a chopping block, it does. If you don't want me then I'd rather be alone."
"Rosie! You know how I feel." Sam blushed right down to the follicles on his feet.
"But you haven't clearly spoken, if you take my meaning. Da obviously isn't convinced of your intentions. Now that you've moved back in with your Gaffer, we see Mr. Frodo more than we do each other."
"Now Rosie, that isn't fair. I'm working with him on Bag End. Besides that, I can't just abandon him now after everything."
"Of course. I don't begrudge you that. You are his dearest friend. That's one of the things I love about you. I'm just saying...I wish...you...Will you marry me, Samwise Gamgee?" Rose clapped her hand to her mouth. "Oh! I'm sorry. That's not proper of me to ask. Forget I said that. I'll leave you be now." She stood up and quickly turned to go in order to end the awkward moment.
"Yes." Rose froze. Sam put a hand on her shoulder and turned her around. Rose searched his eyes for any hint of uncertainty or resentment. She didn't mean to ask first; to put him on the spot. "I'll marry you, Rose Cotton. I love you." Then Sam held her face and kissed her. Feathery touches mixed with more needful explorations drove any doubt of sincerity from her mind.
As the winter of 1420 in the Shire waned, Sam eagerly spent much time traveling about checking on the plantings he made using Galadriel's gift of magic dust from Lothlorien. On the early local trips Frodo, or sometimes Rose, would usually accompany him. Frodo was often quiet but he drew happiness from sharing in his best friend's delight in growing things. When Rose was along, Sam found himself talking about events on the Journey that he never told anyone else in the Shire about. Rose listened attentively but she knew better than to press him when the memories became too dark.
Soon Sam had surveyed the whole Hobbiton and Bywater area and he had to go for days at a time to see the farther towns. So it came that Sam was away alone in March. He never knew how badly he was missed one morning as Rose had her hands full of unusual goings on at the Cottons'.
"Da! Can you see where Mr. Frodo is? Second breakfast is almost ready and we still haven't seen him today. Tell him Ma made a bacon and mushroom omelette specially for him."
A few minutes later, Farmer Cotton came into the kitchen and said, "Rosie dear, Mr. Frodo is not well. Would you go see what you can do for him?"
"Sure Da. Are you going for the healer?" asked Rose.
"I don't rightly think there's aught the healer can do. Now get along and see to him, dear."
"Mr. Frodo?" Rose knocked on the door. "Are you all right?" No answer. She opened the door. In the dim light of the drawn curtains, she could see Frodo on the bed, one hand clutching something to his breast. As she approached, she could barely see the white gem of Arwen Evenstar through the gap made by Frodo's missing finger. "Mr. Frodo, what's wrong?" Still no response. Worried, Rose touched his arm. She was relieved but not really comforted to hear a slight whimper.
She laid her hand over his to comfort him, but he jerked away and sat up shouting, "It was mine! You thief! There's nothing left now!" Then he struck her with such surprising force that she fell down. Frodo didn't seem to notice that he was now leaning completely off the bed and he fell like a stone facedown on the floor beside Rose.
She was aghast. She had never seen Frodo angry or violent. The pain in her temple paled beside the pain in her heart as she looked at his prostrate form. She picked up the white gem and its broken chain from the floor and tucked it into Frodo's hand, then placed his hand by his breast. She stroked his hair from his face and cried to see how his face looked like death itself. "Oh Mr. Frodo! Don't you leave us. Not like this."
Frodo gagged and coughed and scrabbled at the floor until he opened his eyes and found himself back in the Shire. Shelob was dead, Gollum was dead and he...
He wept. Rose gathered him to her and held him until the sobs longer racked their bodies. Then she kissed his face and hands and curled around him on the cold hard floor. They slept dreamlessly until almost sunset, then Frodo was himself again. When Sam got back twelve days later on March 25th, Rose's bruises had healed and she said nothing about it.
"Sam, you were a ringbearer for while. Do you miss it like Mr. Frodo does?" Rose asked one day as they stood in the Cotton kitchen waiting for dinner to finish cooking. "Will it grow on your mind as the years pass?"
"I don't rightly know about the future but I sure don't miss it now and I hope I never do."
"You know I would do anything for you. Yet when I see what it did to Mr. Frodo I fear I am not enough to protect you." She toyed with her apron as she hesitated. "And that is on top of the usual concerns a lass has about getting married."
"Ah, Rosie!" His put his hands on her waist and pulled her in closer. "I love you. You could never disappoint me." He kissed her deeply before trailing off to the tip of her ear where he knew she liked to be nibbled. He traced the ridges and folds with the tip of his tongue until he felt a shiver go through her. "I love feeling your heart beat when we are
Rose's face grew hard. "Samwise, I love you too but you're not the only thing that can make my heart pound. Just like I'm not the only thing that makes your breath stop. I know or can guess enough about what you've been through." She buried her face in his collar and sighed. Sam wondered at her cryptic words as he wrapped his arms around her. But for Rose, for now, the world melted into a safe place again.
"There now. Enough gloominess. We've got a wedding to plan."
In April, Sam was busier than ever trying to finish fixing up Bag End and plan a wedding but Rose was happy because the latter meant Sam almost lived at the Cottons' for a while again. Rose sometimes insisted that Sam was too tired to walk home at the end of an evening if it was very late or the weather was wet so he would sleep in the spare room he had used in autumn.
"Sam? You awake?" whispered Rose. "My dear brother Nibs broke a pane in my window while painting the frame but he didn't fix it yet. You know I can't stand the rain but it's blowing right in and I can't sleep. Can I climb in with you?"
Sam blinked in the dark, not sure if he was dreaming or awake. "Um, sure, Rosie. But why don't you go sleep with Nibs? It's his fault."
"Oh, he hasn't let me sleep with him since he was about twelve. Said he was getting too old. I think he's just silly. Who would turn down a warm cuddle on a cold night?" Rose walked around the other side of the bed and slipped in, nestling up against Sam's back. "This is nice," she murmured and then she was deep asleep.
Sam just smiled down at the loose fist Rose had wormed around his chest and remembered. Yes. This is nice.
Shortly before dawn Rose was dreaming. She'd had such dreams before but this time was different. It was more tangible; she could feel Him with her. She let out a little moan.
Beside her, Sam had been staring at the ceiling thinking about how quickly a proper wedding celebration could be arranged when he heard a sound from Rose. He rolled over to face her. The pre-dawn light made her curls seem like a halo around her still-shadowed face. He smiled at the thought of waking up like this every morning and decided to wake her with a kiss. As his lips brushed hers, he felt an explosion in his groin. Rose's knee had come up hard against his morning fullness. Then Sam felt strong fists slam into his chest, knocking out what little wind he had left after the first assault on his body. Rose kicked and growled until an incapacitated Sam was on the floor.
After sucking in a couple of deep breaths to recover from the shock, Sam peered over the edge of the bed. Rose was sitting up straight gasping for air.
Rose turned her head with unseeing horror in her eyes. "Where is he? He wants... he tried...hn...Sam?...Is he gone?"
"Is who gone?"
"Him. He..." Rose shook her head trying to clear her thoughts.
"You've had a nightmare." Sam climbed back onto the bed and kneeled beside her. "It;s over." Rose just clung to him as the tears leaked out. Sam felt an ache in his heart as Rose trembled in his arms. He was reminded of all the times he had held Frodo like this when he tried to shut the Red Eye from his mind. He stroked her hair and whispered, "Rosie love. Your Sam is here. Come back to me."
At last Rose sat back and hung her head down as a few sniffles escaped. Sam cupped her chin with one hand and wiped away her tears with his thumb.
"Can you tell me about it? A burden is easier carried by two than one, mark me," said Sam. He took her hands in his and held her eyes in his with total acceptance.
Rosie closed her eyes so she wouldn't have to see that acceptance turn to disgust or horror. "I was dreaming about last November. It was the night I came back home but I came in after everyone was in bed." She paused gathering courage. "I had walked around for ages trying to forget that nightmare but it haunts me still. There was a man..." The Southron Man who found her in the woods. His hand covering her mouth; the waves of alcoholic breath. Rose let go of Sam's hands and curled into herself, her nightshirt wrapped like a shroud. "He tried to rape me," she whispered. She remembered her knee in His groin, then His dropped knife in her hand, then eight almost crushing her as He sprawled. Striking again and again, the rain becoming warm and red. Red as wrinkly old apples. She barely managed to choke out, "I killed him." She waited, not knowing what to expect.
She could feel Sam shift on the bed. He's leaving, Rose thought. But then Sam picked her up and set her in his lap and wrapped his arms and legs all around her. He kissed her hair and nuzzled her ear.
"Oh my dear brave Rose. How terrible. That oughtn't have happened. I won't never let anything bad happen to you again."
"Don't make promises you can't keep, Samwise Gamgee. You couldn't always protect Mr. Frodo either but you always loved him and in the end you saved him. We can never know what's around the next bend. Just promise you will always love me, too."
The rain settled in for the rest of the day. Rose slept through first and second breakfast but Sam got up as soon as he was sure she was asleep. When he poked his head in the kitchen, Mrs. Cotton grabbed him and shoved him into the pantry.
"Your wedding is in a week! Just couldn't wait, could you? I suppose now you'll be breaking it off because you got what you wanted without going through all that bother."
Sam was stunned. "I'm not breaking it off with Rosie. I love her! What's this all about?"
"You know very well, Samwise Gamgee. Rosie always helps me make breakfast but this morning I find she hasn't slept in her bed. I peeked in your room while you were at the privy and there she is in your bed. Her eyes were all puffy like she'd been crying. How could you do that to her?"
"I didn't do nothing, Mrs. Cotton. She came to me because she couldn't sleep with the rain blowing into her room. She got in and was fast asleep a moment later."
"What about the noises I heard this morning? I thought she was having one of her dreams she won't talk about so I figured she'd want to be let alone. I didn't think anything more about it until she didn't come to help me this morning."
"That WAS one of her dreams. That's what she was crying about. We talked about it a while after that and then she went back to sleep."
"Why would Rose talk to you about things she won't even talk to her own mother about?"
"Begging your pardon but she knows her own mind and it ain't my place to tell you about it."Sam took a deep breath before continuing, "I'll be wanting a good long talk today with her. In private." Sam's voice softened a little. "I'll suggest she have another talk with you and Mr. Cotton after that but it's her choice."
Mrs. Cotton looked long and hard at Sam and saw that he would not be moved on this. Though still deeply troubled, she had not seen any sign of guilt or deceit in Sam's manner. She waved him back into the kitchen. "At least put Rose into the other spare room then you can help me finish making breakfast. I'll take care of explaining Rose's absense to Mr. Cotton."
Sam went back to his guestroom where Rose was still sleeping. Her eyes were indeed still a little puffy but she looked at peace. He slowly folded the covers back and it seemed she had never looked so small to him. Yet everywhere that she was exposed by the twisted nightshirt he saw her strength too. Little had he known all those weeks ago when he watched her making bread that he would be ever so glad Rose wasn't as soft and refined after all as some hobbit lasses.
Leaning over the bed he lifted her shoulders first and settled her head against his own shoulder then scooped up her legs. Rose nuzzled into his neck and settled back into the slow breathing of deep sleep. Sam felt the warm air ruffle through his open collar into his chest hair and, it seemed, all the way to his heart which began beating so loudly he feared it would wake up Rose up. Quickly he tucked her into bed in Frodo's recently vacated room and hurried back to his own guest room.
Oh, bother! Get a hold of yourself, Samwise Gamgee. One week. Mrs. Cotton didn't mean to put ideas in your head.
By the time Sam got back to the kitchen, there was naught to do but set the table. The meal was eaten virtually in silence. Second breakfast, too, was a quiet affair until they were almost done. Finally Mrs. Cotton said, "Tom dear, I want you to come to the market with me this morning to look at some things for the wedding."
Mr. Cotton scowled at Sam, then at Nibs and said, "Certainly, love. I have to pick up some glass so Nibs can fix Rosie's window. I hope there isn't too much damage in the room from his laziness." Nibs's ears turned red with embarrassment over disappointing his father. "He can come along too so he sees just how much it's going to cost him if he breaks something again."
The Cottons had gone and Sam had started preparing elevensies before Rose finally appeared. She was so famished that she started nibbling bacon right out of the pan even though it burned her fingers to do so. Sam gently swatted her hand away, saying, "Good things come to those who wait." A moment later, Rose was puzzled to see a blush engulf Sam's face.
Rose polished off her plate of food in no time. "Too bad it's raining or I would be out picking fiddlehead ferns. I'm that hungry." She proceeded to steal one of Sam's biscuits.
"Rose, when did you start to hate the rain?"
The biscuit stopped in front of her gaping mouth. "What?"
"I remember catching a nasty cold a few years ago because you loved to walk in the rain. I recall thinking that was your plan all along so you could nurse me back to health." Sam put his hand on her arm and asked again, "When did the rain turn from friend to enemy?"
Rose's appetite failed and she put the biscuit down. "You know when."
"Aye. I think you should tell me more about that night. Did...did he hurt you? You said he tried but...well, you got away and I hope it wasn't...too late. You can tell me, no matter what."
Rose feigned fascination with cutting a bit of potato into ever smaller crumbs on her plate. Suddenly her concentration was broken by the knife slipping out of her shaking fingers and clattering onto the floor. She gripped the edges of her chair to steady herself and took a halting breath before starting.
"It was a rather dark afternoon when I was coming home though the forest and a man jumped out into the road. My pony startled and I fell off. He quickly put one hand over my mouth and the other grabbed between my legs and he picked me right up like that. He said something about wanting to enjoy a little tidbit before leaving the Shire. He took me back into the trees a way then threw me down. He was on me again before I could get away. He was huge. He had a knife. He said, "No one will hear you out here. Be still and
you might enjoy this." That's when I looked down and knew exactly what he wanted."
Rose shivered and looked around the room to reassure herself that she really wasn't back in the forest. "Rape. I had never thought about what the word really meant. I remembered Ma saying it was better to die fighting than to let it happen. I just kicked up with all I had right between his legs. He gasped and fell over a little, letting go of his knife. I grabbed it and stabbed him through the neck."
Sam's heart wrenched as clear images began to fill his mind but he held his tongue and let Rose continue.
"I hate to think of what battle must be like. So much blood came spurting out of him, it stung my eyes. I could feel him clawing at me and I just kept striking until he stopped. He was so heavy, I could hardly crawl out from under him. I just left him there and started for home. I found the pony but left it in Bywater because it was getting lame. I walked the rest of the way, hoping the rain would rinse off the last of the blood. I thought I would never get clean. I destroyed the clothes later." She fell silent.
"And you never told anyone? Why did you keep it to yourself?"
"At first I just wanted to forget, after all that Man wasn't going to bother anyone else. And everyone had so many worries of their own after what Sharkey did to the Shire." A tear rolled down Rose's cheek. "And later I started to worry you wouldn't want me anymore if you knew."
"No. You're my Rose. That's never going to change." He pulled her into his lap and kissed her hair. "You did what you had to." He turned her face to his and kissed her long and slow. "I think you should talk to your Ma and Da. They've been worried." He smiled. "I got quite an earful from your Ma just this morning."
The wedding was held on a beautiful spring day beside the Mallorn tree in Bilbo's party field. Frodo, as Deputy Mayor, presided. After their kiss to conclude the ceremony, Sam and Rose grabbed Frodo and sandwiched him with a kiss on each cheek. The celebrating went on until the following afternoon. Frodo kindly arranged for so much entertainment that Rose and Sam were hardly missed when they slipped away after sunset.
The next morning Sam came into the kitchen and found Frodo making his breakfast tea. A few broken notes of singing drifted in from the party field. Frodo still had on his official sash and he looked even more tired than Sam felt. "I thought you'd learned your lesson at Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday party and would make sure to send everyone home before midnight."
"Are you kidding? I didn't want you listening for me snoring on your wedding night."
Sam blushed redder than the roses outside the window. "You don't snore. But just in case you start in your old age, we've moved into the far end of the burrow." He chuckled. "Maybe by then we will have some little ones in the room next to yours and they will drown you out."
A couple of months later, Rose confirmed Sam's threat by announcing there would be a new little Gardner the next spring. Frodo barely contained his urge to smother her in a hug and settled for a kiss and a squeeze of the hand. "Mr. Frodo. I haven't turned into glass, you know!" Frodo didn't hear because he was already spinning Sam around the room.
As summer deepened, Frodo became preoccupied with his writing and began to retreat from Shire doings. By September, Rose and Sam felt an old worry appear again. One night, after her regular late meal (Sam had started calling it "twosies"), Rose saw a light under Frodo's door. She knocked and heard a flat "What?" from the other side.
Inside the room she found Frodo sitting on his bed with his traveling pack in front of him. "Mr. Frodo, what's wrong? We hardly see you these days. Now you look like you are going on a trip that you haven't told us about." She looked at the dark circles on his pale face. "Are you having those dreams again?"
Frodo fingered his white gem and said, "The road goes ever on and on. My journey out of Mordor still isn't finished, Rose. Someday I will have to set out again though it be even harder than leaving Rivendell or Lothlorien."
Rose stared intently into his eyes. Seeing that he was not muttering dream words, she said, "You can't leave. It would break our hearts. Sam's especially."
He put his hand on the slight bulge of Rose's stomach. "He can't be torn in so many ways and he can't be whole so long as I am not. Someday I will heed the call to go oversea for healing. You will have to look after Sam. I can't."
"I will but you can't go yet." Rose knew Frodo was right but it was a bitter truth. "You at least have to stay until the baby comes. Does Sam know you are going?"
"No. Don't tell him. He is too close to me and he can't see what has to be."
Rose wiped the tears from her eyes and grabbed Frodo's hand, pulling him down the main hall to their end of the burrow. "Go on. Get into bed. There's room enough for all four of us. Try not to wake Sam."
In the morning, Sam woke in a comfortably crowded fog, not quite sure if he was dreaming. He seemed to be remembering a scene from the Journey. There was Frodo, pale and worn out, and himself fervently trying to provide shelter. Only it wasn't himself.
"Rose?" Her eyes flicked open instantly.
"Shhh. Don't wake him." She reached over to take Sam's hand. "I told him he's welcome anytime he can't sleep. Do you mind?"
"No." Sam smiled at the two people he loved most in the world. "Just so long as he knocks first."