“They’ve done it, and done it well, with a measure of grace I’d not have expected--but then, he was with them to keep reins on the fury of all.”
Bilbo felt relief wash through him as he looked at both Gandalf and Elrond where they sat across from him before the fire. “Praise Eru,” he whispered.
“Indeed,” replied Elrond. Both looked to the Wizard, waiting for him to continue the tale.
Gandalf’s face held a mixture of gladness and grief, pride and concern. “He almost didn’t make it past the Fords, though. The memories hit him there with full force, so badly his heart seized. He barely made it through the water, Elrond. He couldn’t sort it all out--which was memory and which was happening as he rode.” He drank from the mug he held, then sighed. “Aragorn had warned Sam this could happen, once something managed to trigger them. Somehow the movement of his pony as it paused just this side of the water did just that--brought him back to the moment he was sitting on Asfaloth looking across at the Nazgul as they willed him to stop, as they sought to will the splinter into his heart itself. And that sparked the further memory of when he was stabbed at Weathertop.”
“You are certain his heart seized?” asked Elrond.
With a great sigh, the Wizard replied, “Positive. But he sought to master it, and rode on. He would not allow us to help him, not till I got him out of sight of it. He did drink from his waterskin, though.”
Elrond sighed and closed his eyes in relief. “Good,” he murmured.
Bilbo eyed the Lord of Imladris. “What was in it?”
“A weak infusion of athelas and willowbark mixed with other herbs to aid his heart and mask the taste some. I told him it was a tea.”
“Well, he got ongoing doses of it as we rode. Did you tell Sam the making of it?”
Elrond shook his head. “Of course not. Why?”
“He found some athelas growing along the way, and added a leaf to the tea he brewed for him that night.”
“He’s a gardener, Elrond--he has an affinity for plants. He saw the plants Aragorn started in the herb garden by the Houses of Healing--helped tend them. He already knew the kingsfoil plant before he came away on the quest, even. I had chosen to camp near the ruins of Boros, and he found some growing in the remains of one of the garden plots. He culled the leaves and dug up some plants to add to the various starts he was carrying from Minas Tirith and here. He remembered Aragorn using it on the road from Amon Sul, and you using it here in cleansing the wound. He decided if it was good enough for the two of you....”
“But he bears no blood of our lineage to spark its full effects.”
Gandalf shook his head. “He has an affinity for plants. He may not carry the gift of Lúthien and Eärendil, but plants will give him what he needs of them. Plus he was using the Invocation.”
“He knew to use that?”
Gandalf gave a small laugh. “No, he didn’t know to use it--it turns out he read a translation of it as a child in an herbal Frodo was copying for Bilbo to send to Menegilda Brandybuck, liked it and learned it by heart. He told me he just felt it fit somehow.” He drank from his mug again and added, “He didn’t sing it, but whispered it in Westron.”
Bilbo was fighting the drowsiness hard, and recognized he couldn’t fight it much longer. “I swear the Creator was preparing him, Gandalf.”
The Wizard smiled, the care fading from his face. “I believe you are right, Bilbo. There was a reason Sam reasoned out Frodo’s mind at Amon Hen. I suspect he’s been intended as the staff to Frodo’s feet from the beginning.”
As his eyes closed, Bilbo muttered, “They’re brothers of the heart, you know--the three of them.” He slept.
Elrond considered the dozing Hobbit, then looked at Gandalf. “The three of them?”
“Frodo, Sam--and Aragorn.”
The expression on the Elf’s face softened. “The Light of Sam’s Being is quite different from that of Estel and Frodo--but it is very bright.”
“Just as bright, as is this one’s.” The two of them looked at the sleeping form in the third chair.
Suddenly Gandalf went quite still, and the cloak fell away from his own Light. Elrond watched in wonder and growing reverence. For some moments the Maia, barely clothed in the flesh of what appeared to be aged mortality, communed with that within himself that came from the Blessed Realm. When again he assumed a merely terrestrial identity, his face was filled with a solemn surprise that caused alarm in the Elven Lord.
“The decision has been made? Frodo can enter Aman?”
Temporarily unable to speak, Gandalf shook his head.
“Then what is it, Mithrandir? They have denied him?”
Again the Wizard shook his head, and looked at the Lord of Imladris with a slowly revealed joy the depth of which moved Elrond to even greater awe. “No, he is not denied. He will be admitted, if he so chooses. But he is not the only one, Elrond. All three of the Ringbearers are granted this.” He sat still for another minute, then added, “And your sons--they may linger past your going, to the comfort of their sister when that time comes. They may linger till they themselves make the decision to take ship.”
For some moments Elrond sat, stunned to speechlessness by the news. Finally he asked quietly, “The Valar have granted this--that the three of them, Frodo, Bilbo, and Samwise, each has the right to enter the Undying Lands?”
“No further than Tol Eressëa--but, yes. Yet the decision came from beyond the Valar. He filled them with the Lights they bear, and He would have them back in His Presence, but not with that Light wavering or weakened. He has no worry for Aragorn, for he has been tested through many years already, and will not waver now. But these three--He would have each soothed and strengthened. Much evil sought to take them, and each resisted it strongly; yet they were sorely hurt. They are precious to Him.
“Mostly, of course, it is Frodo who raises the concern. But he will not willingly agree to anything that draws him from at least the promise of the companionship of these other two and, in the end, Aragorn.”
“Yet it must be his own free will which brings him to accept the choice. We cannot even compel the contemplation of the choice.”
“That is true, Elrond.”
“How will he be brought to that choice, then? You have seen him--outwardly, most of the time he denies he is anything but nearly whole again.”
“Where we cannot compel through authority, I fear we must beckon with love.” Gandalf sighed, looked at the sleeping Hobbit, and then turned to his host. “How long can this one linger?”
Elrond looked at Bilbo with concern. “I am not certain--no more, I think, than a year or so at most.”
The Hobbit lifted one eyelid and looked at the Elf seriously. “I will live as long as I have to. How long can he linger ought to be the question.”
“How often do you do this, sit in feigned sleep and eavesdrop?”
Bilbo snorted. “Eavesdrop? Now, I ask you! I find I have a choice--appear to be asleep and at least hear half the conversation, or take part and miss most of it because I fully doze off.” He straightened. “Now, will you answer my question? How long can he linger?”
“We don’t know, but I doubt it will be more than two years."
“That would give me the chance to pass up the Old Took. It would give me that as an excuse, at least. And given the right to go to Aman--” He thought for a moment, then smiled. “It would be quite the adventure. If it would help draw him to the healing he needs, I’d go, I think, to Mordor itself.”
Gandalf shook his head. “Do not say any such thing to him--it would drive him mad with anxiety for you, and reawaken even more of the evil memories.” He turned again to Elrond. “Arwen spoke to him of the possibility as he prepared to leave Minas Tirith.”
“As I did as you were departing. And I warned him that it might not be much longer that Bilbo would be able to linger, that we would seek to bring Bilbo home in the fall of the year--” He looked to Bilbo and found he’d once more drifted off, and sighed. “He will accept the dozing for Frodo’s sake.”
Gandalf looked off toward the west. “The coming fall I doubt he will be ready. It may take a time for him to make the decision. He will need to fully accept that his body is failing him as well as his spirit before he will choose.”
Elrond sighed as he nodded agreement. “You have the right of it. But then he will need support on the way himself, or he will most likely not survive to reach the Havens.” He thought for some minutes, then sighed. “I will delay my own going two years--I will not be able to support it myself past that, I fear, Gandalf. I will go with him to help him, as best I can, to survive the journey. For, I fear, otherwise he will not live to reach his destination, if he even makes it onto the Grey Ship.”
The Istari nodded solemnly. “I will go on that Ship with you then.”
Elrond looked up to search his eyes. “It will cause Estel grief to not have you at hand.”
Very quietly the other answered, “I cannot do more, or I will merely take my brother’s place, Elrond. I ought to go to Círdan now, even. But, I, too, will delay, for Frodo’s sake.”
“You may stay here as long as you need.”
He felt the awareness from south and east across the Misty Mountains, felt the additional offer: Here, too, you are welcome, Olórin. And I, too, will go with you--with him, will stand by him with the two of you.
The Maia smiled gently. So be it, Lady, he replied. That will ease him as well.
Both felt her smile.
Bilbo startled awake, looked up at them in inquiry for what else had been decided as he’d slept. His host looked down to him and indicated the cup which had sat during the interview on the arm of his chair. “Well, little Master, if you insist on passing up the Old Took, then I suggest you drink that.”
Bilbo eyed it with suspicion, took it up and sipped at it, then gave a surprised and pleased smile as he looked down into it once again. “This is even pleasant,” he commented.
Elrond gave a soft laugh. “At last, one draught we won’t need to fight to get you to drink. Yes, it is pleasant. And if Samwise has indeed come to the awareness of the athelas draught to aid his master, Frodo will find it pleasant as well--hopefully even more pleasant than you do, for it is even more palatable when it is prepared with love.”
As Bilbo finished the contents of his cup, the three of them looked to the west toward the Shire, straining their awareness to seek intelligence of how Frodo was faring.