The Choice of Healing
He had been having trouble staying awake since the preceding spring. When approached about it, Lord Elrond had examined him briefly, and then sat down to talk with him with mixed amusement and mild grief.
“It is only to be expected, little Master,” the Elf had explained. “That which kept you from aging normally is gone. Yes, you have aged since you gave It up; but still you carried It long in the reckoning of mortals; and as long as It remained It would still have some effect, even at a distance. Even Gollum knew continued life, vigor, strength, and endurance after It came to you, and he sensed he would die only with Its destruction.
“Your body is having to adjust, for now it is your own native vitality alone that sustains it, not power from afar. And, it is the nature of those in extreme old age among mortals to need more sleep ere the end.”
He was alarmed. “I don’t wish to leave before he can come back. I must be here, my Lord. I must. It would destroy him to come to find he was too late. And then there is my vow to outlive the Old Took.”
The Lord of Imladris sighed. “It is foolish to make a vow one cannot fulfill voluntarily.” He gave Bilbo a sharper look, and one corner of his mouth quirked just slightly. “Although there is the fact you are a mixture of Baggins, Took, and Brandybuck beyond reason, with the stubbornness and endurance of your kind. Perhaps your will may indeed bring you to it.” His face suddenly became solemn as he added, “After all, look at what he managed to accomplish, and under greater duress than almost any mortal has ever suffered. I can think of few even among Elfkind who could have endured it.”
“That’s why I must remain for him, Lord Elrond. I would not have him feel I gave up under so much less than he did. And I will not have him believe I either lost faith or abandoned him--not now. He still will have recovery to go through.”
The Elflord turned from him, leaned on the windowsill. “Yes, he will have recovery to go through--” and his voice dropped “--if he ever truly recovers.”
Bilbo had barely heard the last, for it was spoken in such low tones, and again the Hobbit was beginning to drift away. He startled awake, annoyed that it had caught him again. Yes, he realized, he had managed to drift away completely, for although the Elf Lord was still with him, he’d moved from his former position at the window, was kneeling before him, looking on him with that detached expression of examination he gave to his mortal guests. Seeing him awake again, Elrond rose. “I will do my best to aid you, Bilbo, but I can guarantee nothing. You are ancient even in the ways of your own kind. If you, a Hobbit, wish to live to the age of an elderly Dwarf, then you must accept that your body will need frequent sleep, or you will find the deeper sleep to come will take you.”
Arwen had begun to help him pack for the trip to Minas Tirith, but at last, when he’d awakened for the tenth time in little more than twice that many minutes, he shook his head. “Leave off,” he said with resignation. “Face it, my Lady, I am simply too old to go so far. If I even try, I will most likely fall off my pony before we get twenty leagues down the road to the Southlands and break this fool neck of mine.
“If you are to make it in time for Midsummer, then you must leave me behind. Otherwise I will slow all down horribly, and then very probably won’t make it after all. No, I hate to miss your bliss and that of the Dúnedan’s, but if I am to see him again, it will be best if I remain here. I do not wish for him to see me arrive only to be placed in one of those stone tombs of theirs.”
He’d managed not to weep at the disappointment, but only just. She knelt to embrace him in comfort, and then he’d once again slipped into slumber. Not, of course, that slumbering in the arms of one of the two most beautiful of womankind in all of Middle Earth did not have its compensations. He again startled awake, looked up at her, his eyes twinkling at one of those strange, perverse thoughts that will cross an old being’s mind at the most untoward times. “You had best let me go, my Lady Arwen, or I will be forced to confess to Aragorn that I slept with his wife before she came to his marriage bed.”
Shocked into laughter, she had settled him back into his chair, leaving him chuckling in the warmth and comfort of his room as she went to see about those of her own goods she would take to her marriage in Minas Tirith.
He’d been waiting for the word that they were coming, intended to go out to the great door to welcome them--to welcome him. He’d given strict orders for those who had lingered to care for the place to advise him of when they were within the Vale, and they’d followed through. He had risen and put his shawl about his shoulders, then found his legs trembling, and sat to let them recover before he tried for the door even of his room, much less the main entrance to the Last Homely House. He might as well have just admitted defeat then and laid himself decently in his bed to sleep, for slumber had claimed him after all. He awoke to find them about him, concern and shock at his appearance and increased frailty in their eyes, most strongly in his eyes. Oh, my dear, dear boy, he thought in grief, seeing the fear in Frodo’s expression, I am trying so hard to be here, to be strong for you. Oh, my dear lad, my beloved son not born of my body--what have I done to you?
For Frodo was not as he had been before. He was thin, not dangerously thin now, but still far too thin for a Hobbit, making his slenderness as a tween appear robust by comparison. His complexion, which had always been fair, was now that of porcelain, the pink of cheeks and lips from the exposure to the winds of autumn he’d known already paler than that of Merry, Pippin, or old Hamfast’s lad, and that color was fast receding as the old Hobbit watched. His eyes were deeply shadowed, and lines of pain were visible on his face, lines, Bilbo realized, he’d successfully hide before the others if he felt they were looking for them.
Bilbo had found himself, since leaving the Shire, still reaching into his pocket to fiddle with It. Finally he had consulted the Lord Glorfindel as to what to do, and the Elven Lord had suggested he find something else, something that pleased him and reminded him of the Light, to carry there in Its place. In his early days in the Vale he’d often gone down to walk along the River Bruinen, to marvel at the many waterfalls that fed the stream, and had picked up oddments that caught his eye. One day a flash of light under the rushing waters of the Ford caught his attention, and he’d waded in to seek out its source, had drawn out a pebble of clear quartz crystal, polished by ages in the stream of the Bruinen, and had taken that for a worry piece in place of It. He would find his fingers seeking It, and would find the pebble instead, and it would soothe him, relieve him of the hunger--the hunger for It.
He’d been shocked after Frodo’s awakening last fall to see him doing the same, reaching for his pocket. However, that did not continue. The Ring had been placed on a strong silver chain and hung about the younger Hobbit’s neck while he was still ill. They had tried to keep It from him, but realized this caused marked distress, even when he was so near death--or wraithdom, or whatever one called such a state as he’d been entering. At first, even when unconscious, he’d kept reaching for It, looking for the pocket that was not there. When he was too weak to move he would still keen for It. Lord Elrond had been highly concerned as to what It was doing to him, how It might be augmenting the effects of the splinter still deep in his shoulder, but at last he’d given in to Gandalf’s advice, had had the chain forged, surrounded by as strong of Elvish protections as was possible to try to isolate the Ring’s evil.
Oh, at first on his awakening Frodo had reached for his pocket; but within a few days he had stopped that, had begun fiddling with the buttons of his shirt’s placket instead. The spells placed on the chain appeared to allow him some relief--at least at first--from the Ring’s draw, sufficient that buttons replaced It between his fingers. But Elrond had admitted to Gandalf, Aragorn, and Bilbo himself that in time, as Its fell master called more strongly and as Its will continued to waken and respond to that call, he would again seek It out, need to touch It with his hand, need that awareness of Its physical presence.
Now the Ring was gone, yet Frodo still reached to his chest, where It had lain for so long, wakened and seeking to ravish his very soul. But just as Bilbo still found his pebble, Frodo now found the Evenstar gem, a healing gem gifted to the Lady Arwen at her birth by the Lords of Gondolin, and now given to Frodo for his easing.
Few others save Gandalf and Elrond appeared to note how often that jewel was between Frodo’s fingers, but Bilbo could see it. He was not always dozing as he sat with his eyes nearly shut, after all. Merry, Pippin, and Samwise might think his wits were beginning to wander in his extreme old age, but this was not true. Bilbo remained as intelligent as ever, although it took far longer for a decent thought to make it through the still sharp mind than it used to do, particularly as the constant slumbering continually interrupted the flow of his thoughts. But he could see what Merry, Pippin, and Sam could not see--Frodo was still in deep distress. Nor would he willingly let them know this. Bilbo found himself watching Frodo with understanding. Frodo had been like that when he came from Brandy Hall, refusing to allow anyone else to see his frustrations or anger or grief or pain. Call it pride or the display of an extraordinarily private nature or unwillingness to burden others with his problems--it all came to the same thing--Frodo Baggins for the most part refused to allow others to see him as anything other than capable, cheerful, self-contained.
Self-contained my eye, the old Hobbit thought. The fact was that for all the Tookish interest in the outer world and the Brandybuck competence he carried, Frodo had the full measure of his Baggins heritage of stubborn clinging to appearances; and never willingly would Frodo Baggins appear less than what he believed was expected of him. And, although he no longer cared for the opinions of such as Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, he did care for those of his friends. They so deeply desired for him to be well, to be recovered, to be himself again, and Frodo was bound and determined to give them that appearance.
Of the four Hobbits around Frodo now, only Bilbo consciously realized that Frodo was still far from recovery, physical, mental, or spiritual. Oh, Sam knew it was true deep down in his heart, but he was consciously pushing down that knowledge, clinging to the belief that Frodo was fine, that he was healing nicely thank you very much, perhaps in hopes that the strength of his desire for Frodo to be well would make it so.
During the days they lingered in Rivendell, the rest had begun to relax, hoping the nature of the place would soothe Frodo as it had before. Frodo and Bilbo, however, recognized this was a false hope. With the power of Elrond’s own ring cut by the destruction of It, there was little left in the air of Imladris which could get through the hollowness in Frodo’s heart caused by the scouring of the Ring.
There was a core of strength which had begun to return, particularly there in Minas Tirith where the power of Aragorn augmented by the Elessar Stone he bore assisted such recovery, helped to screen out the pressures of daily life. Frodo had begun to know a return of his humor and his quick wit. He’d begun to write again, to draw again, to rejoice in learning again. But this could not be sustained indefinitely. He tired more quickly than before, and had constant difficulties with his stomach. Often he’d eat a simple meal of far less than normal Hobbit proportions, and yet a few hours later he’d lose it again, looking almost exactly as it had looked when he’d eaten it first. He would become cold easily, and often wore his cloak from Lorien when the others had shed their own more for the warmth it provided than for the more pleasant and restful memories it sparked. And the nightmares had continued, and had grown worse as they traveled. In the company of Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel he’d realized that he could surreptitiously draw on their presence to allow him to face those dreams as the illusions they were. However, what would happen when he was back in the Shire once more and they were in their own lands, the Powers alone knew where that would lead.
All of this was becoming obvious to Bilbo as he sat and watched under his almost closed lids. Frodo himself often drowsed in the warmth of Bilbo’s fire, and as he slept he would often whisper in his sleep. Bilbo was shocked at what he learned in these sessions, of the nature of the dreams, of the depth of Frodo’s hatred for what he’d done in allowing himself to be taken by It at the end, for his claiming of It, for his continuing hunger for It. Bilbo learned also of his mourning for the loss of innocence he’d known, and the realization he was not only changed from what he’d been before, but that he was continuing to change in ways he did not understand and that left him terrified he would cease to know himself in the end.
Bilbo wished he could discuss this with Gandalf and Elrond, but recognized the chances were small unless they came to seek him out, which they’d barely done as yet. But if there was anything he could do to help Frodo....
He started awake, roused from his doze by a sound. Drat old age, he thought. It was as uncomfortable a situation as he could imagine, never being able to count on his body to do what he wanted it to do, having all these conversations interrupted by the intermittent dozes. The younger Hobbits were still convinced he was in his dotage now. He thought Frodo recognized this wasn’t quite true, not as yet; but he also realized that Frodo was on the verge of despair that he was losing his beloved oldest cousin along with everything else. This was the real reason Bilbo didn’t want to give over now. He’d realized that seeking to pass up the Old Took was as vain an ambition as had ever been devised by the minds of mortals of any kind; but he knew Frodo needed some sign of permanency, something to hang onto while his own person was still in turmoil. Bilbo straightened somewhat, tried to shake himself more awake, trying to figure out what had wakened him. Then the sound came again, from the chair opposite him, which had been turned somewhat away from Bilbo, more directly toward the fire now. Frodo sat in the chair, and he was clutching at his chest, what little Bilbo could see of his expression indicating pain--physical pain. He saw Frodo raise his chin, his eyes squeezed shut, biting on his lower lip.
Bilbo was shocked into actual physical activity by this, managed to stand, lean over Frodo, take his right hand, which had been digging into the padded arms of the chair in which Frodo sat. He let Frodo squeeze his own hand, felt the pain as his brittle fingers were wrung, finally saw the relief begin to show in the sweating face, felt it finally reach the hand which had been clutching so at his. Frodo had grasped the gem with his left hand, and it was soothing him as Imladris itself could no longer do.
As soon as he was eased sufficiently to speak, Frodo began to automatically apologize. Finally Bilbo cut him off.
“Do not insult me by thinking your pain inconveniences me, best beloved. You are the one who is hurting, not I.”
Frodo gave a grim bark of a laugh. “And you mean to say it doesn’t bother you, Bilbo, doesn’t make your heart ache for me, make you want to find some way of helping? You can’t, you know. No one can, and believe me, they have tried. Aragorn has left business that ought not to have waited to come to my easing. Gandalf has insulted great lords of the realm by breaking off and hurrying to my side. Sam has bought out three years’ harvests worth of mint and ginger and other herbs to try to ease my stomach. Merry and Pippin have gone through their full store of comic songs and stories trying to get me to laugh. Healers have poked and prodded and offered draughts and potions until I find myself sweating with disgust at the sight of one of their tumblers. Lord Elrond and the Lady have both sung over me repeatedly on our journey, usually when they thought me asleep. It helps--it helps some; but the help never stays with me.
“Oh, Bilbo, I am so very tired of the pain!”
“Hiding it will not help it be eased, Frodo.”
“Showing it certainly hasn’t helped.”
Bilbo could see the frustration Frodo was experiencing, and the real fury that this insult to his body and self was still going on and that he was helpless against it.
Finally Frodo whispered something Bilbo grew cold to hear: “I so wish I had died out there at times; I wish I were dead rather than go through this day after day.”
How he managed it he could not say, but Bilbo managed to drag Frodo erect, and got him into Bilbo’s own bed. Shakily Bilbo disrobed, leaving his clothes in an uncharacteristically untidy heap on the floor and got into it with him, wrapped his arms about the younger Hobbit, and began to rock him gently from side to side until Frodo finally began to relax and finally slipped into an exhausted sleep. Bilbo lay trembling with fear and grief for some time before he himself was overtaken by still another doze of his own.
Bilbo awoke frequently in the night, but the fit of pain appeared to be gone. Frodo looked so very quiet, almost as he’d done as a small child when Bilbo would visit him in Buckland. He had managed to turn half on his stomach, and had his fist to his mouth, a position he’d often taken when he was younger, but in which Bilbo had not seen him since he came to live at Bag End.
Near dawn Bilbo slipped into a deep sleep of his own, then woke to realize somehow Frodo had managed to crawl out of the bed without waking him. He noted, as he sat up and looked about the room, that Frodo had picked up his discarded clothing and had folded it neatly, laying it on the bench where Bilbo usually laid it at night. The chair was also again at its usual angle to the fireplace. Bilbo sighed with frustration--another sign of Frodo’s intent to apologize and make things all right again, he realized. What was he going to do with the boy?
Frodo came in with the other three as Sam carried in breakfast for the five of them, and in contrast to last night appeared cheerful and carefree, almost as if last night had not happened after all. But Bilbo could not fight the slumber, though he certainly tried to do so, and when he came awake again he was alone.
Pippin finally looked in to see if he wanted some elevenses, and Bilbo used him to send a message to Gandalf to please come talk. He then dozed off again.
“Well, what can I do for you, dear Bilbo?” asked Gandalf when he came awake again.
“Well, if you have a spell to keep me awake long enough to carry on a decent conversation, it would be appreciated,” Bilbo answered.
“You were awake long enough last night,” the Wizard said dryly.
“What do you know of that?” Bilbo demanded.
Gandalf gave a deep sigh. “All too much, Bilbo. All too much. Do you truly think Elrond and I are unaware of how he is feeling?”
“Isn’t there something you can do?”
“We have done, Bilbo, we have done. But it is as he told you--nothing can be done to make it as it was before. He’s been too badly hurt, and for too long. Even if the Elven rings were still at the height of their power anything we could do would be only temporary.
“He was feeling much better when we left Minas Tirith, but even though we have gone as slowly and gently as we can, he has still felt the strain of the journey. We have sung the songs of healing over him repeatedly along the way, but their effects do not endure. Elrond has not been able to get him to accept his draughts, which in truth could not afford him healing--only temporary easing.
“We cannot afford to delay here long, however. Evil is happening in the Shire, and if these don’t get back there soon all may end in worse tragedy than there is now. And Frodo must be a part of it, part of the halting of it, if the Shire is to heal properly. However, we dread sending him into it, for it will tear his heart open again with the grief of it, and we know it well.”
“Isn’t there anything which could be done for him, Gandalf?”
“One thing only, but it must be of his own choosing to accept it, if we can manage to gain the grace to begin with. Arwen originated the plea, and both Galadriel and Elrond have supported it, as have Glorfindel, Celeborn, Gildor, Thranduil, Legolas, and I cannot begin to name all the rest.”
“And what is that?”
“To be granted the grace to enter the Undying Lands.”
Bilbo looked at him in amazement. “Would the Valar even consider such a thing?”
Gandalf smiled. “I am glad to say that it is being considered, has been being considered for some time, even.” The smile faded. “But he must choose to accept it, Bilbo. He must choose, and no one may compel him even to consider it. It must be his free choice, or all will be for nought.”
“He deserves healing, Gandalf,” the old Hobbit whispered. “He deserves to feel joy unbridled again. He deserves to be free of the pain.”
“I know, Bilbo, I know.” The Wizard gently stroked Bilbo’s hair, and finally set his hands on the Hobbit’s shoulders. “We need you to be strong as well, for as you told Elrond before all rode for Minas Tirith, just the realization you are yet alive helps strengthen his resolve to continue to live day by day. Unfortunately, that means you must continue to endure the frequent dozes, which will become even more bothersome before the end, I’m sorry to say.”
“I know,” Bilbo said, yawning. “It is all I can do to stay awake long enough to speak with you now.” He dozed, but was grateful to realize it was but for a very short time. He looked up to see Gandalf patiently waiting. “He is much better this morning.”
“Yes. Elrond brought a special cup of tea to him this morning brewed from herbs that ease the heart and mind; and I was able to put the memory of your conversation into the back of his mind, as if it were but part of a dream. He knows it did happen, but it is distant to him, and the rage has been eased. It helps that all else is much better for him this morning as well.”
Bilbo nodded sleepily. “Just let me know what I need to do, Gandalf, and for how long at a time.” He again drifted off.
“We will, dear Bilbo, oh, we will,” Gandalf murmured as he blessed the old Hobbit, kissed his hair, and drew a blanket over him as he drowsed.
He awoke with his plan in hand. The only way that they had come upon in Frodo’s youth that had managed to allow him to express his discomforts--his angers, his frustrations, his confusions--had been to coax him to write it out. Master Tumnus, lessons master at Brandy Hall when Frodo was a youngster, had been the first to realize this. He had presented Frodo with a journal one day about a year after his parents had died, and had told him that a part of his educational requirements from that day forward was that he was to write in his journal for at least fifteen minutes a day. The first entries had made Tumnus share them, laughing, with Bilbo at his next visit.
Master Tumnus says I must write in this for fifteen minutes. How boring.
I am writing in this journal. I am writing in this journal. I am writing in this journal. I am writing in this....
And the sentence had been copied repeatedly seventy-six times, although after the fiftieth repetition apparently Frodo had become bored, and had begun experimenting with how he presented the letters; embellishing some with serifs and flourishes, others with capitals and lower case letters reversed, several of them written right to left instead of left to right, some in increasingly smaller lettering, and the last two with letters so large that it took an entire page per sentence.
The second entry had included the words to three very crude drinking songs he’d learned from Merimas Brandybuck. The third started with a description of Master Tumnus from the mole on his cheek which sported two long hairs to the fact his foot tapped incessantly when he was reading, as if he were tapping out the rhythm of the words had they been spoken. This led into a discussion of how unfair he was to bore his students with meaningless drivel such as this.
The fourth was an imagined dialogue between Master Tumnus and his wife about whether or not they would prepare a flaming pudding for the Yule feast, a dialogue which had been quite witty. It was in the eighth entry that Frodo began to write out his anger at an older lad who’d called him an orphan in such a tone of voice that it was plainly meant as an insult and accusation of sorts, and after that his entries became more expressions of how he was feeling on any particular day. He had also written some character sketches of particular individuals within the Hall, several of them distinctly unflattering, others quite sensitive and thoughtful.
Tumnus Brandybuck had managed to find where the lad hid this journal and read it from time to time, stopping only when Bilbo threatened to take the matter up with Master Rorimac. But he insisted that Frodo was less troubled when he wrote in the journals, as they gave him an outlet for his feelings, and he kept up his insistence the lad continue to do his writings as long as Tumnus remained lessons master. Frodo had been presented a new journal about once every eight months or so during Tumnus’s tenure; after that Frodo had begun buying replacements at the Bridge Market when they were needed. But when he left the Hall he’d been found by his cousin Saradoc Brandybuck burning his last journal, declaring he never wished to cause ill feelings through what he wrote; and he’d brought none away with him to Hobbiton and Bag End.
Bilbo had realized this might be a useful ploy to use on Frodo again, and so about a year after Frodo came to live in Bag End he’d purchased the stationery box and its attendant pieces that had sat on a desk in Frodo’s room, and had insisted he use them, allowing him a means to ensure privacy. It had proven difficult on more than one occasion to resist the temptation to tamper with the relatively simple lock, but Bilbo had managed to school himself, realizing that if he was to trust his ward, Frodo would need to first accept he could trust his guardian. It had paid off handsomely, giving Frodo a needed outlet for his feelings in keeping with his nature, and the tween had managed to get through the rest of his transition to mature Hobbit with a measure of grace which had delighted his nominal uncle.
Would a similar ploy work now? Bilbo found himself wondering. He rather thought it might, and certainly the reasons for presenting the idea to Frodo were more than sufficiently valid, not to mention obvious. He’d hoped to be able to write down the story of his younger cousin’s adventures himself, not fully admitting to himself till he saw Frodo again that so much of it had been sheer torture. If he could convince Frodo to write it out himself--might that not assist Frodo to get it out of his system somewhat? It had helped him in dealing with Lobelia and her gossip mongering and lies well enough--not that her nastiness was more than the palest of shadows of what Frodo had just survived.
He’d snapped back to wakefulness to hear Sam commenting that it looked as if Bilbo was unlikely to finish writing the story of their experiences, had at first felt insulted, then upset to realize this was true, but finally realized this was the perfect moment to suggest Frodo do it instead. He realized he was laying in on a bit thick, playing on the drops into sleep to make it look as if his wits were also somewhat affected as well, but it had worked. Now, if only the dear lad would actually follow through and write it out.... He found himself praying to the Valar they would find ways to bring this about.