Then Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and went aboard; and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel the Frodo bore glimmered and was lost. And the ship went out in the High Sea and passed into the West,…
But to Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West. There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart. Beside him stood Merry and Pippin, and they were silent.
The elves who stood beside them on the quay were silent as well, though many grieved, and a few wept openly.
Then Círdan came to them, and said, “Come and rest. I have prepared a room for you.” He led them to a chamber lined with soft beds along one wall, and curtained windows in the wall facing them.
“Will you delay your journey for a day?” he said, “I would speak more with you.”
Sam nodded, and Merry and Pippin bowed in assent.
“Sleep now, and in the morning I will wake you.”
So they cast themselves into bed, and soon fell fast asleep.
When Círdan woke them, the sun was already up. They washed and breakfasted, then Círdan instructed them to pack their things, and join him with their ponies in the yard.
“We will ride a way down to the shore,” he said. “On our return, I will set you on your way farther along the road.”
The hobbits mounted their ponies and Círdan his horse, and they set off on a narrow road that led at first up away from the harbor, winding through the hills between tall, dark pines and other trees showing now red or yellow, now almost leafless. As they rode, Círdan asked them about their lives and families, and of tales of the Shire. So they spoke of their friends, and the doings of the Four Farthings.
Then he told them stories of the woods they rode through, and of the people who had lived there long ago. “Many have lived here, then followed their hearts across the sea, never to return.”
“But,” said Pippin, “if they sail away, surely they can sail back, I mean, unless they get shipwrecked or something.”
“The Straight Road leads only one way. Those who sail upon it are not permitted to return to Middle-Earth,” replied Círdan.
“So our friends, Frodo and Gandalf and Elrond and poor old Bilbo, are gone forever, as if they were dead,” said Merry.
Círdan sighed. “Yes. That is why it is such a hard choice for most. Many leave behind people and places very dear to their hearts, and not easily abandoned.”
They rode on in silence, and after a while, the road began to descend. Soon they came out from the trees to a wide, stony beach where the waves loomed higher and crashed more loudly than the gentle waves they had seen at the harbor. The steady wind brought the cries of the sea birds and the sharp tang of the brine. They looked up and out between the rows of hills lining the firth, to see the endless ocean reaching to the far horizon. For a long while they sat their ponies, gazing without speaking, and listening to the constant boom of the sea.
Then Círdan stirred, and led them to an open-walled pavilion under the fringe of the woods. Nearby was a small paddock where they unsaddled their ponies, and turned them loose. They walked down by the water, and Círdan told them of the fish and other creatures that lived in the depths or near the surface, out in the open ocean or near the shore. At the very border of sea and sand he showed the small pools of water with strange plants and fish, and told how most of the plants were really animals, and explained the tides and their rhythms and seasons.
When the sun began to set in the sky to the West, Círdan had the hobbits gather wood, and they lit a fire in a stone circle well above the line of sea-wrack that he called the “tide-mark”. They sat on stones or driftwood before the fire, and looked out at the waves as the sun sank in the sky. The hills on either side turned red in the light of sunset, and the clouds high above them glowed orange and pink.
He cautioned them not to look straight at the sun, but to watch the horizon carefully as the sun slid below the waves. As the last red curve of the sun vanished, a brilliant emerald light flashed out from its crescent. It glowed for but a second and vanished.
“What was that, Master?” asked Sam.
“I hoped we would be fortunate enough to witness it. It is considered good luck by many. Some say it is the last gleam of the Sun shining on the green hills of Aman.”
They sat by the fire as the light dimmed. The sunset faded, and the sky grew dark, and the stars bloomed bright and close, closer it seemed than in the Shire, or even on their journeys in Wilderland. Círdan spoke of the elves who lived in villages near the sea, tending fields between the hills, and sailing out for fish in small boats.
He told them the tale of Eärenwen, the Sea-Maid.
The Story of Eärenwen
A fair elvish maiden lived on these shores. She loved to walk by the sea. She would bind up her hair, and swim through the waves. Over time, the dolphins came to know her, and stayed beside her until she returned to land. They would swim and play together far out to sea. The dolphins taught her their language, and how to hold her breath, and to dive under the water
A young elf also lived in the village, and his heart yearned toward Eärenwen, but she did not return his love. When she walked by the water, he would follow her until she drove him away, saying, “No man can take the place in my heart that the sea fills. Turn your love to some other maiden who loves the land.”
Eärenwen began to spend more time in the ocean, and to grudge every moment spent on land. When the dolphins swam south for the winter, she grieved until they returned with the spring. She lived thus for many years, growing ever more distant from her family and friends.
Her hair was long and dark, and when it grew past her knees, she would cut it to her shoulders, and put the braid of hair away. One day, she looked at the braids of many years and sighed. She knew the task before her would be long, and keep her from the sea many months. She reached for her spindle, and began to spin.
She spun from early dawn until the light failed after sunset, then spent the evenings walking along the shore, gazing out at the water. She spun the threads of her hair with care, putting into them all her love and knowledge of the ocean, knowing that each must be perfect and fine.
After many months, she had enough thread to warp her loom and begin weaving. She bent eagerly to the new task. Once again, she worked with great care, often unraveling the weave if she felt the least roughness in the fabric. The task was slow, and she longed to be in the water with her friends and playmates. Into the cloth she wove her love of the dolphins and the deep water, she wove into it her love of the water against her skin and the stars shining on the ocean, of the crashing waves and wild sea storms.
At last, one spring morning, when the dolphins were returning from the summerlands, the cloth was ready. With shaking hands, she removed it from the loom. She walked slowly and with great joy through the village, bidding farewell to all she met. The young elf who loved her felt a great pang of sorrow, and followed some distance behind her, his heart filled with dread.
Eärenwen walked straight to the water’s edge, to a place where a large rock jutted as a cliff into the sea. There, she removed her shoes and her gown, and carrying the dusky cloth of her hair, she climbed naked onto the rock and looked out over the sea. In the water below, her friends leaped and splashed, waiting for her to join them. Then she unrolled the cloth, and springing from the edge, she flung it about her as a cloak as she fell.
But no maiden dived into the sea; instead, a grey dolphin clove the water. Then all the dolphins turned away from the shore, and without looking back, Eärenwen swam with them, to the wide ocean forever.
Behind her, the young man gave a shout of grief as he watched her fall from the cliff to the water, from maiden to dolphin. Then he turned and walked weeping back to the village.
“They say that sometimes, on summer nights, one grey dolphin swims close to the beach and casts back her cloak to walk for a while on the shore, before returning to the ocean,” said Círdan at the close of the tale.
They talked late into the night, and when the fire died down, they walked back up to the pavilion, and spread their bedrolls on the smooth floor. Círdan bade the hobbits good night, before returning to the shore. Merry and Pippin were soon sleeping, but Sam lay awake some time, thinking about Círdan, and their speech with him. He wondered what Círdan had wished to say or to hear, for they had spoken of nothing important, he thought. At last, he, too, fell asleep, with the sound of the ocean rolling through his dreams.
In the morning, they breakfasted by the water, calmer now under the early sun. Círdan had lit the fire again, and he and Sam sat before it looking out to sea, while Merry and Pippin wandered along the shore. Sam saw small white sails glowing against the horizon; they were the fishing boats returning from the open sea with their early morning catch.
Then looking at the boats, Sam’s heart flamed up with the desire to take ship and sail West, not just to follow Frodo, not even mostly to follow him, but to pass over uncharted waters and by unknown lands. “How do they bear it,” he cried, “Day after day they go out to sea. How can they bear to turn back to the shore each time?”
Círdan turned to him with a smile. “Most of them do not feel it. For them this harbor, this water, even the open ocean, are enough. The ones who do feel the sea-longing come to me at last, and take ship for the West.”
“But how do you bear it,” asked Sam, for now he saw that Círdan, too, felt the same longing.
“It is not always so sharp or painful as you feel it now,” replied Círdan. “And I have a task to do. I must remain until the last ship sails.”
“How long, how long,” stammered Sam, and stopped, thinking of the countless years that Círdan had dwelt by the ocean, waiting for the last traveler.
Círdan turned away, and gazed across the water. “Elves do not count the time as mortals do, but it is still very long,” he said, and was silent.
Then Sam thought he knew why Círdan had brought them, no, just himself, Samwise, here to the ocean’s edge. “When the time comes, will there be a ship for me?” he asked. “I am just a hobbit, but, well, Frodo thought I could follow him, and I would, oh, I would.”
Círdan turned back to him and took his hands. “Indeed, I brought you here for that very purpose. Oh, not to send you on a ship today, but to see if you could bear to leave Middle-Earth.”
In a corner of Sam’s mind, a picture of Rosie and Elanor glowed small and bright, wrenching his thought away from the sea. “Not yet,” he whispered, feeling wretched. “Not yet, but someday.”
“No, not for a long time,” said Círdan with a smile. “But one day, return to me, and you, at least, will be able to fulfill your sea-longing.”
They sat together, looking down the strand.
“Your friends have no sea-longing, it seems,” said Círdan. Pippin was balancing on a piece of driftwood, while Merry tried to keep him from toppling into the surf. “I had to be sure, though.”
“No, they sure don’t seem to feel it,” said Sam. A little, he resented them their blithe ignorance of the tug of the sea.
He glanced at Círdan, and saw a flash of ruby on his finger.
“Gandalf’s ring!” he exclaimed. “Why … how? I thought the Three Rings lost all their power and were going across the sea.”
“Yes,” said Círdan, “this is Mithrandir’s ring, Narya the Ring of Fire, which he returned to me before he left. He gave it back in the same place I gave it to him when first he arrived, long ages ago.
“’This Ring is now almost powerless,’ he told me, ‘but not quite. It may still have the power to sustain your heart in the long task ahead. May it also help you to read the hearts of those who seek your aid.’
“I believe it will. After I set it on my hand again, I saw in you the unawakened fire that you feel now.”
“Why did you bring me here,” cried Sam bitterly. “Why didn’t you leave it alone?”
“Do you really wish not to know?” asked Círdan. “Would you rather return to ignorance?”
And no, Sam thought, he really didn’t want to forget. He just wished it didn’t hurt quite so much.
“Come,” said Círdan, rising. “Your pain will fade. You have a whole and busy life waiting in the Shire, and it will fill your thoughts and heart. You and your friends must return there now, but one day I will see you again.”
So they called to Merry and Pippin, and returned to the pavilion where they packed their things and saddled their ponies. Then they turned away from the sea, and as the sound of the ocean swells faded behind them, so did some of the sorrow Sam felt. As they wound up away from the shore, Círdan again asked them questions, but now he steered the talk to Frodo and Bilbo, and the hobbits’ many memories of their friends. He urged them to remember, and fear not the grief, but accept it with the comfort of recalling their stories. They rode through the trees under the sun climbing high in the sky, up over the hills, and then, when the sun was westering, they came down again to the Road.
There on the grassy verge, they sat with Círdan and spoke long with him before taking their leave. Then Círdan bade them farewell, and mounted his horse. He rode toward the sunset while they watched in silence, seated on their ponies.
At last the three companions turned away, and never again looking back they rode slowly homewards; and they spoke no word to one another until they came back to the Shire, but each had great comfort in his friends on the long grey road.
(15 years later)
[Rose and Sam] went in and Sam shut the door. But even as he did so, he heard suddenly, deep and unstilled, the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-Earth.