Silver Velvet

A Christmas inkling by Varda

It was a summer morning and the clear sky promised a bright day, but even as the birds started to sing and before the sun rose on his wedding day Sam’s first thought on waking was for Frodo.

‘I’d better make sure he has his breakfast and lay out his clothes for the day, before all the madness starts….’ thought Sam, bustling round the kitchen at Bag End and poking up the glowing embers on the hearth. Even in summer he kept a fire going, for he noticed Frodo always felt the cold….

He approached his master’s bedroom door but before he could raise his hand to rap softly on the wood, Frodo had opened it. There was a look of reproach on his face.
‘Sam!’ he said ‘Why are you here? You have a lot to take care of today, get going…’
‘Now, Mr.Frodo…’ replied Sam, planting his feet and lowering his head in that stubborn way Frodo recognised so well.
‘We’ve talked about this. Me and Rosie getting hitched makes no difference to my looking after you..’
‘I don’t need any looking after!’ said Frodo laughing. ‘I am fine, and quite able to prepare for a wedding on my own. Go now, and get ready yourself. ‘
He stopped laughing, and merely smiled.
‘This is your day, Sam. Yours and Rosie’s. I will be content just to be there…’

‘Not just there’ protested Sam, still looking unhappy.
‘You are the guest of honour. You made this possible, you have allowed Bag End to be our home…’

But Frodo would not be thanked. He waved his hands and shooed Sam down the hall.
‘Nonsense, what else could I do? Now, away with you, and think not on me this day, this is your wedding day….’

Sam turned and allowed himself to be pushed on out the door into a dewy summer morning, still looking deeply unhappy. Torn, as he always knew he would be….but Frodo gave him no more opportunity to protest;
‘Go on, and be happy, Sam. This day was meant for you….’

The corners of Sam’s mouth twitched and tears shone for a moment in his eyes as he went down to the little gate and out into the road, quite forgetting what he had to do….

Frodo watched him go then went back into his bedroom and sat on the side of the bed. The light was grey, but soon the summer sun would flood through the windows of Bag End as they had for so many years. Memories flooded back too, and Frodo thought of his childhood in these very rooms, and Bilbo shuffling about the kitchen or buried in books in his study.

‘Frodo! Drat it boy, why don’t you ever answer the door..?’

Frodo smiled, and wondered how Bilbo was faring in Rivendell; when he had seen him there on his way back from the coronation he was frail and his mind was beginning to wander. Frodo sighed; of all the guests at the wedding that day, he most desired to see one who would not be there, Bilbo.

Then, as if trying to shake off his gloomy thoughts, Frodo got up briskly and walked to the wardrobe. He reached up for the small oaken knobs and felt a twinge in his wounded shoulder, like a sliver of ice running down a nerve. He winced.
‘You will never be rid of that, you know…’ he thought. The pain often struck him, and seemed to be growing more rather than less. But he did not tell Sam, or anyone….
‘It is just an old wound, such as soldiers have had from the first war ever waged on earth…’ he thought philosophically. But in his heart he knew it was a far more deadly wound, and the hurt was not a passing twinge…..

He opened the wardrobe doors and looked along the hangers. Sam kept his things neat and tidy, but the fact was Frodo had few clothes. When Lotho and Lobelia took over Bag End they threw them all out. The richly embroidered red brocade waistcoat Frodo had worn to Bilbo’s Birthday Party had been rolled up and thrown on a bonfire. Frodo made a face. So much had been lost….

‘Oh stop that!’ he scolded himself, and almost as a reward for trying to be optimistic his hand fell on something silky and fine, cool to the touch at first then warm, like the best material…he took hold of it and drew it out into the rosy light of dawn…

It was a waistcoat. Hobbits favoured waistcoats, both working and for leisure and for ceremonial wear. The material used in their making ranged from plain homespun with horn buttons to fine satin with silver buttons and often a silver watchchain was stretched across the ample hobbit paunch. But the waistcoat that Frodo took out of his dresser on that fine summer morning was not made in the Shire…

When Sam and Frodo woke after their labours on Mount Doom they found themselves in new clothes; the old ones, little better than rags, had been removed and set in a hallowed place to be relics of great honour and reverence for ages after in Gondor. In their stead, the hobbits were dressed in well-made clothes and Merry and Pippin retained their livery, as esquire of Rohan and Gondor respectively.

But these clothes were not made for hobbits; they were made for men, only smaller, and Frodo and Sam were glad to get home and find proper hobbit garments again.

When they passed through Rivendell however, Elrond had given them gifts of clothing which, as well as being fine and splendid, fitted perfectly. Frodo thought that perhaps making clothes for Bilbo, who would not have left them in the dark if they had not fitted him perfectly, had allowed the Elves to know how to dress a hobbit….

They had given to Merry a waistcoat of yellow silk, to replace the one he had worn to shreds even before he gave it up for the leather armour of Rohan. To Pippin they had given a silk scarf, which seemed in one light to be of green, and in another to be of blue, shot through with darts of red and yellow, like an autumn sunset. Pippin wore it all the time, and in summer it was cool, and in winter it was warm….

But to Sam and himself the Elves had given waistcoats. Sam’s was of green silk embroidered with a leaf design, but Frodo’s was of what appeared to be brocade but on closer examination was of silver-grey velvet sewn with silver thread and tiny river-pearls and diamonds. The buttons were of silver, and they shone even in the half-light like moonlight on a secret stream.

Frodo sat on the bed and ran his hand over the soft material. To his mind sprang a vision of the waterfalls and terraces of Rivendell, and he found himself yearning for a place that was not the Shire….yet was not Rivendell. He wished with all his heart he could see Elves again, as once, he recalled wistfully, Sam had wished to see them…

He shook his head and stood up.
‘Well, I can’t sit here all day, better look out a shirt to match, and make sure it is pressed….’

For once in Sam’s life Frodo that day was just another face in the crowd, smiling and clapping, wishing him well. Never happy to be the centre of attention, Sam lived a day he had once thought he would never see, and hoped Frodo was as happy as he was. Yet only once, when he caught his master’s eye, he thought he saw a look of infinite sadness….but then it was gone.
‘And he is wearing Elrond’s gift, the silver weskit!’ he thought to himself. At the banquet table later on he turned to Rosie to point it out, but someone intervened and he did not get the chance again….

Merry and Pippin were guests of honour, and led the dancing, as they had led the feasting and singing. At the table they bore themselves as befitted their new eminence in the Shire. But once Pippin saw a little hobbit-lad steal under the table and knot a Bracegirdles breeches to the breeches of a Chubb sitting beside him. Pippin smiled, and remembered a certain prank involving fireworks, and another young hobbit or two…he turned to Merry and whispered;
‘It’s a nice feast, Merry my lad, but I miss the fireworks….’

Merry nodded with a wistful smile.

Sam wanted to find Frodo at the feast, to make sure he was not alone or feeling out of it, but there was no chance. Rosie had never looked so beautiful and even the food and ale seemed to matter not at all to Sam….and as evening fell and the stars came out over the Shire he lost sight of Frodo altogether….

‘He might have gone for a bit of a walk to get a rest from the noise…’ thought Sam. ’He lives so quietly now….’

Frodo had in fact gone down to the stream to clear his head. Not from the effects of the ale, but the babble of hobbits enjoying themselves was strangely wearing to him these days….he laid his arms on the top bar of a gate and watched the moon rise over Hobbiton.

This was a sight he had yearned for all those long days on the quest, worn and harried and in pain; the lights of the Shire twinkling from hill and dale, and the lanterns of the wedding feast glowing like fireflies in the glade where Bilbo had made his extraordinary speech.
‘I think my time here will not be much longer….’ He thought sadly….

Suddenly he heard running footsteps and he took his arms off the gate and turned round quickly. For a moment his hand went instinctively to his side, where he once bore Sting. Then he chid himself; there was no longer peril in the lands of Middle Earth; there was a King in Gondor again, and anyway, he had given Sting to Sam and bore a weapon no more….but then a little hobbit lad, panting hard and with unbuttoned waistcoat and shirt flying, came dashing along the path from the high road….

So great was the panic in the boy’s face that Frodo, alarmed that the youngster might disturb the wedding feast, stepped in front of him and deftly seized him by the collar before he could run past….
‘Softly does it, my lad! What is the hurry? What is amiss….?’

The youngster, whom Frodo recognized as a distant cousin of Sam’s, looked up at him and seemed unable to speak. But he pointed to the road.
‘What? Something on the road?’ asked Frodo, remembering once before when a great peril had pursued them on a road….
‘Men, men in the Shire….’

Frodo straightened up and let the boy go. He stood regaining his breath, looking up at Frodo with wide eyes. Frodo, however, was lost in thought and memory. Men! He must go and see…he looked at the youngster and smiled.
‘It is quite all right; I will deal with this. You run back to the party, and tell no-one what you have seen!'’
The little lad stared at Frodo with astonishment then ran off as fast as his short legs could carry him. Frodo smiled as he went, then turned and hurried quickly but quietly up the path to the road….

It was the road that led to Bywater and if any strangers would venture into this part of the Shire, this was indeed the way they would come. But men! Frodo shook his head. Most likely some trick of the moonlight on the poor little lad’s eyes.

Frodo reached the road and walked out into the middle, and looked up and down, and sure enough, there they were.

At once Frodo knew these were not men; they wore long grey cloaks with hoods pulled up over their heads. But in the shadow of the cloaks their grey eyes shone with a light of stars; they were Elves.

Frodo started towards them, joy in his heart. They turned towards him at once, and before he could speak one put down his hood and laughed.
‘Mellon!’ he called to Frodo.
‘Legolas!’ cried Frodo with delight, and ran up to the tall figure who bent and embraced him eagerly.
‘Legolas!’ said Frodo again. ‘In the Shire! I am so happy to see you! And on Sam’s wedding day….’
Legolas laughed again.
‘I could not let such a great day pass without greeting one who has the favour of Queen Galadriel herself!’

At the mention of Galadriel Frodo’s eyes shone. He looked his old friend up and down, noticing he wore a silver circlet on his fair head, set with a single gem that sparkled in the moonlight. Then he looked curiously at Legolas’s companion, not as tall as Legolas, watching them with a quiet smile, his grey eyes shining.

Legolas said;
‘I have brought a friend, and you will soon understand why….but bring me to Sam, that I might greet him and wish him all joy….’

As Frodo led the two Elves to the banquet he wondered what effect their appearance would have on the hobbits, not used to even men as visitors….but when they reached the party the two Elves slipped through the crowd to the bridal party without speaking, and seated themselves at the bottom of the table, pretending not to notice the silence that gradually fell as people realised they were there….

Sam was talking to Rosie, and to her father, Mr Cotton. At last he noticed Pippin winking furiously at him and he looked around.

At first he thought it was the ale, although he had hardly wet his lips for excitement all night. Then he thought it was some spell, but magic was not to be found in Middle Earth so much these days. At last the stranger at the bottom of the table smiled and Sam exclaimed;

The Elf rose and slipped past the row of seated and bewildered hobbits to bow to Sam, who hesitated then embraced his old comrade. But before he could question Legolas, the Elf put his finger to his lips. He bowed to the host seated there and bowed again to Rosie and said;

‘From the Elves of the Forest realm of Mirkwood, a gift is sent to the wedding feast of Samwise Gamgee, Elf-friend and lover of trees. For you and for your fair one, a song….’

Then the other Elf who had remained seated stood up and walked to the centre of the meadow in the middle of the circle of garland-decked tables. He took off his grey cloak and revealed a tunic of green sewn with a leaf-design in silver, and a shirt of white silk. Unlike Legolas he was a dark Elf, his long black hair bound with a circlet of silver set with a single sapphire. But more than that, under the cloak, slung on his back, was a harp of carved black wood.
‘This is Líofa’ said Legolas, ‘A harpist of King Thrandúil….’

Líofa bowed and smiled. The hobbits, even the smallest and noisiest toddler, sat in utter silence and awe. Into the quiet, broken only by the flaring of the torches, came the silver sound of an Elven harp….

The sound caught the noise of a clear, cold stream running over mossy stones in the mountains, or the wind rushing in great trees deep in a vast forest. There was birdsong in it too, blackbird and thrush in summer, the sad song of the curlew over frozen meres in winter. To the minds of the hobbits listening enthralled it brought back the joy of spring and the excitement of winter with fires and frost. But most of all to Sam it brought back the sound of Lothlórien, the mallorn trees clad in silver and grey foliage all year round, the singing of the Elves in their dwellings high in the great trees. He looked at Frodo, who was lost in thought, and he knew that his master could hear the same. The Elven harpist had a fair, pale face; he was but a youngster of his race yet his features were lined as if he had undergone great trials and sadness. As Sam studied his face he remembered his own words to Frodo so long ago….
‘Elves! I dearly would love to see Elves….’
‘And so you shall, Sam, so you shall….’ Frodo had replied.

Then Líofa began to sing……

‘Your cloak is grey and your coat is green
The trees are in your care. The summer ever
And the spring will find you in the Shire
Among the flowering and the fair
And all you have begun.

So take your prize and one so fair
Now lead to peace and joy
And blessings of both men and Elves
Take with you on this day,,,,’

The sounds of the Elven harpstrings, clear and sweet as nothing the hobbits had heard before, faded slowly away into the sound of the breeze on a summer night. Líofa, like any great harpist smiling at the magical effect of his playing, bowed low to Sam, then to Rosie and then to the company, and drawing his cloak round himself and his harp he made his way out of the throng and into the night. Legolas stood before Sam and bowed and embraced him.
‘I will not tarry, Samwise the Brave. This is the time of your people. Eat and drink, and live in joy, for one day we will see you again….’

And without explaining himself Legolas turned and vanished into the moonlit grove after Líofa.

The hobbits all began to talk at once, exclaiming in surprise, babbling in wonder for a while then taking heart and food and ale, forgetting their Elven visitors, save only for the song, which lived on in their hearts….

But Sam sat for a long time in thought. The beauty of the song had wounded his heart as well as warmed it. And he wondered at the parting farewell….then he turned to Rosie and said;
‘Well, ain’t that one to tell our grandchildren, Rosie my girl!. An Elf to sing at our wedding…..’