The Sound of Roses
Author’s Note: I don’t own any of the characters or settings. They all belong to JRR Tolkien and I stand in awe at the breadth of his work. This is a non-profit fanfic.
“All those weeks we stayed here last autumn and I don’t remember this wall.” Frodo ran his hand over crumbling stones. It was obviously one of the older parts of Imladris and had seen much weather in its long life.
Sam frowned, rubbing at some of the many fine hairs on the wall and Frodo did likewise. “Whatever is it, Sam? Some strange plant growth?”
Sam smiled, pointing triumphantly at what appeared to be the remains of an ancient, gnarled bush pressed hard against the stonework. “It’s a plant, alright. Leastwise it was. But there’s nothin’ strange about it. It’s what’s left when you pull down ivy.” He bent to examine the stump, peeling back a tiny sliver of bark to expose the bright green beneath. “They’ve not killed it. Probably just wanted to tame it a bit. It’ll grow back fast enough. My Gaffer says there’s nothin’ worse than ivy on a stone wall,” he added sagely.
Frodo continued to examine the white hairs. “But what are these?”
“They’re what the ivy uses to hold on to the wall. Make a terrible mess. They gets into the mortar first then they dig into the stone.” He moved on a few paces. “Maybe the elves are gettin’ ready to replace the mortar. When we were here last it would have been all green. That’s why you didn’t know it.”
Frodo brushed the remains from his hands and followed his companion, nearly bumping into him when Sam stopped suddenly. “There’s a gate down there, Mr Frodo. Let’s see what’s the other side.”
Frodo smiled as he fell into step at Sam’s side. All that they had been through together in the past year and still Sam insisted on calling him, Mister. The doorway turned out not to be a doorway but a gate and when they reached it both could only stop and stare.
Summer was winding down into autumn and most of the flowers and shrubs in the surrounding gardens were dying back, but what they saw through the elegant wrought iron gate left them speechless for long moments. Beyond the flimsy barrier was a walled rose garden in full and glorious bloom. His movements almost dreamlike, Sam reached up to press the latch and swing wide the gate. The pair stepped onto a gravel path and into an image from one of the childhood picture books Bilbo had sent his young nephew many years ago.
Sam’s eyes grew misty, mouth falling open as he turned on the spot; trying to cram the whole scene into his memory. Rose bushes stood in beds, divided by gravel paths and edged with lavender. Roses clambered along the walls and up and over the trellising of a covered walkway. Roses smothered an elegant pavilion. Their colours ranged from white, through pastel pinks, lilac, peach and yellow to blood red, sunset orange and gold, with every shade between.
Frodo cupped a huge pale pink, yellow edged blossom, in his hand, burying his face in its depths and inhaling deeply of cloves and honey. Indeed the air was so filled with perfume that he felt as drunk as the many bees who were droning lazily from flower to flower, collecting the last of their bounty to store for the winter.
Sam finally spoke. “Well I never. Mistress Lobelia’s got some pretty roses in her front garden but she don’t have nothin’ like this.” He performed another slow turn. “It must take an army of gardeners to look after.”
“Not too many. The flowers are generally very well behaved; although we did have to become a little assertive with the ivy of late,” offered a wry voice.
Upon completing his turn Sam found himself, face to silver buttons, with a large expanse of beautiful grey embossed velvet. Not that Sam would have known to call it that. He only knew that it looked more elvish than ‘hobbitish’. He followed the row of buttons up and up until he was looking into the smiling face of Lord Elrond.
“We was just explorin’ a bit, sir,” Sam offered weakly, still a little over awed by their host.
He was relieved to feel Frodo’s hand upon his shoulder. “Good afternoon, Lord Elrond. I hope we are not intruding upon a private space.”
Elrond stepped around them, beckoning his guests to follow him down a path to the heart of the garden, where a venerable apple tree stood, surrounded by a circular wooden bench. “Please be seated, gentlehobbits. You are very welcome to share the garden. My lady would be delighted to see your obvious enjoyment of it.”
Frodo sat, his feet dangling several inches from the ground. Sam waited for Elrond to be seated before joining his master. He estimated that the garden was hardly bigger than the ones at Bag End but where the smial sat upon an exposed hill this garden was protected by high walls. They blocked most of the breezes and the stones soaked up the sun’s heat, radiating it back. Years later he was to describe it to his children as “like sitting in the middle of a big warm hug”.
Elrond leaned back against the bole of the tree, obviously at ease. “Celebrian and I planted this together,” he inhaled deeply, “Before your beloved Shire was birthed.”
His comment piqued Sam’s attention. “You planted it?” His eyes widened as he looked about. “You’re a gardener?”
Frodo tried to hide a smile. He, too, was having difficulty imagining the intricately robed Elrond with muddy knees, soil beneath his fingernails and a trowel in his hands.
Elrond must have guessed at their thoughts for he laughed softly. “When I can make the time, yes. I find the occupation soothing.”
Frodo gave up trying to stifle a giggle when the mighty lord bent closer, adding in a conspiratorial whisper, “When I was establishing the house I also helped build some of the walls, but I try not to let any dwarven visitors know that. Their eyes are too critical.”
At that moment a stray breeze managed to slip into the garden, lightly stirring the branches above their heads. Both hobbits looked upward as they heard a high, delicate ringing, as a spoon being struck lightly against a fine crystal glass. Elrond followed their confused gaze, tilting his head a little to listen.
All they could see were dusty leaves and some apples, not yet ripe enough for eating, but Elrond satisfied their curiosity by the simple expedient of raising his arms and parting the branches. There was a flash of light and then they saw fine, silver tubes, suspended from a delicate ring of webbing, beneath the perfect representation of a running horse. At their centre hung a multifaceted clear crystal that swayed gently from side to side with the movement of air. Each time it touched one of the tubes there was a clear sweet ringing.
Sam’s eyes grew wider. “Is that some sort of elven magic? Does it do . . . something?”
Their host released the branches but they did not move back, leaving the pretty chimes in full view. Sunlight splintered on crystal. “Do? It simply, is,” came a typically cryptic elven response but when he noted Sam’s brow furrow Elrond took pity. “It is intended only to be decorative, although in distant southern lands there are legends which suggest that it is capable of chasing away evil.” He shrugged.
Frodo listened to the sweet music and imagined that it could do just that. The fine chiming blended seamlessly with birdsong and the distant falls, filling his heart with peace. He wished he could stay in this garden forever, and yet the need to see his home tugged.
All three sat in silence for some time, lost in the wholly natural magic of this beautiful garden. Then Elrond stood, pausing to touch the bole of the tree. Sam and Frodo watched as the branches moved back, once more concealing the wind chimes. “Please excuse me. I have duties to attend to. But do remain here for as long as you wish and return as often as you may.” As he glided almost silently away Elrond’s heavy robes brushed the lavender borders, blending their sharp sweet scent with the subtler fragrance of the roses.
Frodo made time to return to that garden each day throughout the remainder of their brief sojourn in Imladris. Though he longed to return to the Shire he wished that he could carry home just a little of the peace he had found in this garden.
When Frodo arose from his sick bed at last that morning, Sam handed him a small, beautifully carved wooden box. He said it had been left upon the doorstep and curiosity brought Rosie to join them as Frodo released the fine catch and opened the lid. Inside, nestled in blue velvet, was the set of wind chimes.
They hung the finely crafted gift in the old apple tree and stood back to admire the delicate silver beauty, enchanted anew by their shimmering sound. This early in the year they were easily visible among the budding branches but Frodo suspected that in summer they would be hidden, only the sweet sound of their ringing and the occasional flash of light hinting at their presence.
When Sam and a very gravid Rosie returned to the kitchen Frodo looked about Bag End’s comfortable plot. It had none of the grandeur of Elrond and Celebrian’s rose garden and apart from the old tree, even with the Lady Galadriel’s gift its new planting was still young and sparse. Yet it was beautiful in its own gentler way.
Above him a breath of air stirred the chimes, filling his heart with light and peace; holding at bay for just a little while the empty darkness gnawing at his face.