The September day dawned fair and fine, a brisk breeze skipping down from
the hills behind Hobbiton. Rose was up even earlier than usual, she had the
tea brewed and breakfast started long before anyone else was even awake.
Sam came in when he smelled the bacon frying, he was yawning and rubbing
his eyes with one hand. He had the baby on his hip and little Daisy crowed
when she saw her Mum. Sam handed her over, kissing Rose on the cheek. “I
changed her nappy, love,” he said. “My word, you’re up early, aren’t you?”
“Oh, Sam, have you forgotten already? The girls and I are going blackberrying today, remember? You haven’t forgotten I need Bill and the cart, have you?” She sat the baby in her high chair and set her breakfast down in front of her. Daisy picked up a bit of egg in her fat little hand and managed to get some of it into her mouth.
“Right,” Sam said. He was pulling on his boots and as he bent over, little Daisy dropped a handful of yolky egg on her Dad’s hair. “No, no, Daisy,” Sam said, laughing “That’s not how you feed Dad! It won’t reach my belly from there, my girl.” Sam picked up a strip of crisp bacon to munch on and took the milk pail from the hook by the door. “Do you need the milk this morning, love? Or shall I give it all to the calves?”
“I’ve enough till this evening, Sam. Mind you give some to the chickens, won’t you?” Rose poured herself a cup of tea and sat down. “I’ll send Elanor out to do the eggs, though. You hurry back for your breakfast.”
Soon all the children were up, some dressed and tidy, some in their nightshirts and still half asleep. Elanor was neat and tidy, of course, her pretty golden hair already braided, her pinafore strings tied in a careful bow. She kissed her Mum and the baby and began to set the table, squabbling good-naturedly with her brother Frodo and letting little Goldilocks carry the spoons. “It’s just us girls, isn’t it Mum? We’re not taking any of the boys, are we?” she asked.
“Just us girls,” Rose answered. “Your Dad has plans to clean the hen coop and the byre, he mixed up the whitewash last night. So the boys will be busy enough not to drive him distracted! Except for Hamfast, of course. He’s coming along with us, aren’t you my pet?” She scraped some egg from his round little cheek and held a cup so he could drink some milk. “How much of that egg did you get in you, dearie? Here, here’s some toast and jelly. See, Elanor? This is the last jar of blackberry jelly! It worked out exactly right, didn’t it? How clever Mummy is,” she joked.
When Sam came back from milking the boys were finished their breakfast. “Frodo, my lad,” Sam said, ”you trot on out and get old Bill in. See he gets a bit more oats, he’s doing heavy duty today, hauling your Mum and these great fat sisters of yours up to the downs.” Little Rose flew at him, laughing that she wasn’t fat and Sam caught her up in a bear hug, rubbing his cheek against hers.
Just then Sam’s sister Marigold came in the back door, carrying two huge baskets, her curly head covered with a broad-brimmed hat. “Hullo, all!” she sang out. “Are we ready to go? It’s going to be hot, Rose.”
She picked up baby Daisy and smiled in a general way at all her nieces and nephews. Rose set a cup of tea before her, and a slice of toast and jelly.
“Nearly ready, Marigold. Come, boys, you get these dishes dried up while Elanor goes and does the eggs. Step lively, now. Merry! Don’t snap that towel at Pippin! Honestly. Sam, are you sure you can manage? These boys are just full of ginger this morning!”
“Manage? Of course I can, Rosie love!” Sam scowled at the boys. “Hey, you lot! Get them dishes done up, we’ve got work to do before we can go fishing.”
Merry whooped and threw dangerously near to the ceiling, catching it deftly as his brother Pippin stared aghast and admiringly. “Fishing! Yay, fishing!” Merry whisked the towel over the rest of the cups, touching nearly half of them, then he tossed them one by one to Pippin who hung them helter-skelter on the hooks.
Rose did not look. She tried very hard to be grateful that the children did their chores so willingly, and though it grated on her tidy soul, she did not go behind them and do their little jobs “properly”. She tied her hat strings under her dimpled chin and set the baby on her hip. Just then Elanor came in with a basket of eggs. “Put them in the cooler, Elanor, and we’ll deal with them later. Come along, my loves. Does everyone have their hat? Does everyone have their basket? Even you, Hamfast? Now, now, mind the step! Oh, Marigold, will you pick that boy up? He’s tumbled down again and I can’t do it when I’m holding Baby.”
Soon they were all more or less packed into the awkward old cart and Bill the pony turned around for all the world as if to say, “Can’t you pack one more in? Look, there’s an empty elbow…” Frodo had taken an old straw hat and cut out holes for Bill’s ears and plunked it on the good-natured old fellow’s head and even Daisy seemed to get the joke.
Rose decided to walk, saying she would rather ride on the way home when she was tired. She seldom took a step without a child on her hip, and it was pleasant to step out as she had done before she was married, swinging her basket and enjoying the breeze that lifted the curls from her neck. Bill plodded along beside her and Marigold, holding the baby, was leading the children in singing some old Hobbit walking songs. It would be hot later, but now the air was still cool and fresh. The road wound along through the fields of golden corn, purple Asters were blooming along the side, Rowanberries glowed scarlet in the trees. Crows quarreled in the distance, and a Hawk soared high, searching for his breakfast. The late summer sky was intensely blue and cloudless, the greenery was beginning to think about turning into the browns and golds and reds of autumn. Harvest had begun. Here and there were Hobbits swinging scythes in the fields, moving steadily along in their line, the sharp steel swishing through the stalks of the corn.
Late in the morning they reached the blackberry patch. The great looping brambles climbed over and around an abandoned farmstead, the upland soil here was poor and the farmer had long ago moved down into the vale. The Hobbit hole was blocked up, and the byre and outhouses were crumbling away under the berry canes. The old orchard straggled up the hill toward a rocky outcrop; ancient gnarled pear trees hung with little golden honey pears, leaning apple trees still bearing crisp crunchy apples that would sweeten with the first frost. Every year Sam came up here toward the middle of October, when there was blue haze on the horizon and a chill in the air, to pick a few bushels of the old-fashioned apples for Rose’s pantry. They were good keepers, staying firm until well after Yule, and were as good to munch on as they were cut into the Yule mincemeat, or made into pies. Sam and Rose had a nice, tidy orchard at Bag End, with rows of carefully pruned and trained trees bearing pretty, uniform fruit, but these apples, half wild and all uncared for, were their favourite. They had come here when they were courting, Rose remembered, sitting cuddled together under the mossy old trees, dreaming of the day when they would have a home of their own.
Elanor helped Rose unhitch Bill and they turned him loose to graze on the silvery-gold grass, burned by the long dry summer. They left the hat on his grizzled head, he didn’t seem to mind it, and it discouraged the flies. Aunty Marigold tied pinafores and hat strings and took little Rose and Goldilocks to the spot where brambles grew down over the stone wall of the old byre. Blackberries hung in great clusters like grapes, even the fat little fingers of Rosie and Goldilocks could pluck the shining berries. They began by eating at least one for every one they dropped into their little baskets, their lips stained purple, and somehow they got purple juice on their pinnies, too, giggling at each other and asking Aunty to “look, Aunty Marigold, look how many I’ve got already!” Marigold dutifully admired their plunder, her own quick fingers moving like lightning, her first basket soon full.
Rose spread an old faded quilt in the shade and put baby Daisy down. She made sure the baby’s bonnet was tied on securely and she began to pick the berries that were nearest. Hamfast toddled around chasing grasshoppers, then he got some berries from Goldilocks and sat mashing them onto his dimpled knees. Elanor laughed and sat down and drew him onto her lap and popped berries into his mouth like a bird feeding her nestlings. They stopped for lunch. They had sandwiches and sweet Ginger water, crisp slices of cucumber and raw carrots sweet as candy, finishing with slabs of Jam sponge. Daisy and Hamfast soon nodded off, drowsy from the cart ride, their lunch, and the warm sun.
Elanor took Goldilocks and little Rose “exploring” nearby, and Marigold and Rose settled into serious picking, intending to fill every basket and bowl they had brought while the children slept or played. Rose took her basket and picked her way around the great spreading thicket. She could hear the murmur of voices from the other side, but she was day dreaming a bit, her hands working automatically, drawing the brambles toward her, mindful of the thorns, the berries so full and ripe they nearly fell of their own accord. Spiders had spun webs everywhere, and Rose always felt a little qualm when she broke the silver threads. Cobs, she thought, old Bilbo always said Cobs. The spiders bustled away; somehow their indignation at the disturbance was plain to Rose.
“That’s odd,” she thought. “I don’t remember that Quince tree being there….” She set her basket down and walked across the remaining cobbles of the old dairy yard. Quinces were hard to come by, and nothing made prettier pink jelly. She felt a pang of disappointment, for there was no fruit to be seen. Then she saw, with a shock of fear, that there were Eyes in the tree. For a moment wild thoughts of Orcs or some other terror from the old days tumbled through her mind. She pressed her hand to her breast and stifled a cry, and thought of her precious babies, only steps away. She backed up, shaking with fear.
Someone said, “Don’t be frightened.” A gentle voice, very low and sad.
Rose drew an uneven breath. “Where are you? Who are you?” she managed to say.
“Here,” the voice said. “Right here, my dear.”
Rose saw the Quince tree take a step toward her, lifting its branches like arms. “Oh,” she said. “Oh. You are an Ent.”
There was a rueful laugh. “No, no,” the Quince tree said. “I am an Entwife.”
Now Rose saw for sure that it was not a tree, but a Being, and she recalled Merry and Peregrine and their tales of the Ents. She looked into the eyes, and they were as the Travelers had described, deep and flickering with ancient knowledge, green and changeable as running water. Rose put out her hand, stained with blackberry juice, and the Entwife took it gently it hers.
“I am Rose Gamgee,” Rose said, thankful that her voice was no longer shaking.
“How do you do, Rose Gamgee,” the Entwife said. “I am Cydonia.”
They stood thus for a few long moments. The lazy breeze scented with heather and heat swept over the sunburned downs, sighing in the leaves of the ruined orchard. The Entwife Cydonia swayed slightly.
Rose’s soft heart pulsed with sorrow. She saw that Cydonia was tired and frail and with her quick compassion understood that the Entwife was worn with the long lonely years. She covered the Entwife’s rough hand with hers, looking up into the strange eyes. “Why, Cydonia,” she said. “They are still there, the Ents. They are still in Fangorn!”
Cydonia sighed. “Oh, yes,” she said. “ I suppose they are.” She drew her hand from Rose’s and turned away. “But Fangorn is so far, Rose Gamgee, and I am so weary.”
Tears stung Rose’s eyes. “My husband could have someone take a message, Cydonia! The King has returned, and all the ways are open again.”
“You are very kind,” Cydonia murmured. “But it is no use. And it is better as it is. The King has returned, you say. But our days are over, we who were wakened by the First Born, so long ago.”
“But they are still longing for you! The Ents still love you!” Rose cried.
“I never doubted that,” Cydonia said. “But all that is over now.”
“It needn’t be! Where are the others? The other Entwives?” Rose asked.
“I don’t know that there are any others, Rose,” Cydonia said sadly. “I have not seen any of my sisters for a very long time.” Cydonia moved with her strange swaying steps to the corner of the old byre and Rose saw with horror that she needed to lean on the wall.
“What can I do for you?” she asked, and her eyes stung with tears.
“Nothing,” Cydonia said. “Now, Rose, don’t cry. Everything comes to an end, you know. Even love cannot change that.”
“Am I to just leave you here to die?” Rose whispered.
“This is a good place, Rose. I like the old place, the old orchard. There are still bits of the old garden, there, see? The Currant bushes, and the Raspberry row? The sort of place I used to love….” Cydonia’s voice was drowsy and slow. She turned her Ent face to the Sun, and closed her changeable eyes. “Perhaps I was wrong,” she said, “to speak to you. But it was so long since I had spoken to anyone, you see.”
Rose stood perfectly still. There were tears spilling down her face, and her heart ached. At last she moved, picking up her basket. She did not want to leave, but there seemed no use in staying. She hesitated, and then said, “Goodbye, Cydonia.”
She almost thought that the Entwife had not heard her, and after waiting a little, she turned to walk away.
“Rose?” Cydonia asked. “Rose? Maybe your husband could send a message, after all?”
“Of course he could! Of course! What shall he say?” Rose, in her eagerness, spilled some of her berries.
“Just this, Rose. Now, you must remember it exactly?”
“I promise, Cydonia.” Rose said.
“Say just this: In the willow-meads of Tasarinan we will meet in the Spring.” Her voice faded, and she said no more.
Marigold was a little surprised when Rose said it was time to go, but they had actually picked a lot of berries, and the day was wearing on. Rose seemed tired. Most unlike herself she sat and let Elanor and Marigold hitch Bill up to the cart. She said little on the ride home, she held both Daisy and Hamfast on her lap, and now and again she would turn and look back up the winding road. There was nothing to see except the little dust their wheels stirred up.
The babies were fed and tucked in and the older children had had their story and a cuddle with Sam and the boys tumbled like puppies about her feet. They had caught enough fish for everyone’s supper, and they had blackberries and thick cream for dessert. Rose kissed each little sunburned cheek and hugged each little night shirted body. Sam chased them all to bed, they shrieked with terrified laughter, even Elanor, as he roared like a dragon down the long hallway. Rose took her teacup and sat on the broad, shallow front step, and watched the first star rise where the blue sky darkened to black over the far away hills.
The children fell asleep as quickly as their heads touched their pillows and soon Sam joined Rose on the step. He had drawn a mug of Rose’s home-brewed for himself, and he took some time filling and tamping the Pipeweed into his pipe.
“So, Rose-love,” he said. “Are you going to tell me all about it?”
That fall Sam went up to the old farmstead to pick the sweet old-fashioned apples on a day when the crisp cool wind came dancing over the downs and through the vale to the far off sea. There was a blue haze on the hills and the air smelled faintly of smoke and heather. He filled several bushel baskets, setting them in the cart. The last wasps droned over them, already the weather was cool enough to slow them into torpor. Many of the leaves had left the trees already and they scudded across the old paving stones before the quickening wind. The old Quince stood, seemingly where it might have stood a hundred years, by the corner of the tumbledown byre. The wind stirred the dead leaves, but they did not fall.
Sam bowed, his hat over his breast, as he had once bowed to the King. He wanted to say something, but the words would not come. At last he said, “I sent the message, Lady. They know you’re waiting for them.”
He then bustled about getting Bill backed into the shafts, and he chirruped to the old pony to start him on the homeward road.