Grace to Wake
Bilbo looked at the high bed with its wide ladder rungs leading up to it with amusement. “This is what was prepared for me? And how is he to be getting into such, may I ask?”
Elrond laughed. “Both of you will be assisted. We were not certain he would accept until the last moment, and Círdan sees this as accommodation. I do not think he believed the reports of your nature--he was told you were smaller than Elven children, and so he apparently assumed you would have the agility of an Elven child as well.”
“I see. Has he come down as yet?”
“No, stubborn Baggins as he is, he stands yet at the rail with the Phial held high so that Sam will be assured he is well.”
“He’s not--even I can see that.”
“Sam can see that, also. He is no fool, Samwise Gamgee.”
“But he will cling to hope.”
“When that is all he has, then he can do no other.”
“I’m surprised I’ve stayed awake this long.”
“Don’t be. The healing begins here, you know.”
“You, too, were a Ringbearer. You cannot receive a new lifetime, but you can know renewed vigor until you are ready to receive the Gift, or your body suddenly lets you know it can go no longer. But it will take a bit of time for it to return, and will be perhaps a false comfort to you.”
“I thank you for the warning. All I ask is strength to be awake when he needs me, until he is ready to stand on his own once more. I don’t need full vigor again. After all, I am now approaching what you called the age of an elderly dwarf--although Gimli would take exception to that, I think.”
Again the Elven Lord laughed, surprising even himself. He’d almost forgotten the humor this one had brought to his home for so long before he began to fail.
Then he straightened, listening. “It has begun--he collapsed at the rail--Gandalf carries him to his quarters.” Together they raced to the room prepared for Frodo, Bilbo struggling to follow after the tall Elf and keep him in sight.
Gandalf carried Frodo, limp and pale, in his arms; the Lady came behind. Together they laid him on the high bed, stripped him gently, got him between covers. Elrond at last went forward and leaned over him.
“Frodo, come back to us. This is not your time yet.”
“What is happening?” demanded Bilbo.
Elrond touched the mind of the Hobbit before him, straightened amazed. “I do not understand--never have I seen a mortal respond thus! It ought simply to have allowed him to draw strength!”
Gandalf sighed, “He is not as he was, Elrond. The Becoming apparently has continued.”
Bilbo protested, “He cannot go before me! I won’t allow it! He deserves the chance to know happiness again!”
Elrond looked down on his long-time guest with compassion. “Would you put off your own leaving, Small Master?”
“For his sake, of course!”
Elves looked to one another and to the Maia. Finally Gandalf addressed him. “Now, I think, has come another time when we must beckon with love. Come, Bilbo. Will you allow the indignity of me lifting you to look down on him?”
“That is no indignity, Gandalf--if it is necessary, it is necessary. We shall need to talk to Círdan before he crafts the ship Sam travels upon, though.”
The idea of the Hobbit seeking to advise the Elven shipwright on his own business struck the Elves as humorous, and Gandalf smiled as he lifted the old Hobbit high enough to look into his cousin’s face. Bilbo looked down into the pale face with shock. He looked up into Gandalf’s eyes with grief. “There is so little of him left, Gandalf!”
“What do I say to him?”
“What argument of love would best induce him to stay with us?”
Bilbo thought for a moment as he looked down into the still face. “Frodo Baggins,” he called. “Frodo, come back. Your mother never raised you this way, you know. What would your mother think, to know her son is considering spurning a gift before it is even properly opened? Frodo!”
At long last the breathing deepened, and the blue eyes opened. There was regret in them. Frodo whispered, “I am ready, Bilbo.”
“No you are not, you silly lad. You have happiness to be able to appreciate again before that.” But Frodo had slipped off again.
The calling went on for several days. Frodo would awaken for a few moments, or would seem to, then drift away before any could catch him quite into consciousness. But at least he did respond to Bilbo. They forced fluids into him, different draughts and broths. They cleansed him, changed his bedding, his pillows, his nightshirts. For days the brazier was kept lit, basins of athelas steeped in water steaming over him. He lingered, lingered most for Bilbo. Finally, once again Bilbo, now standing on a stool provided from somewhere about the ship, looked down at Frodo again. Bilbo had begun to be able to follow Frodo somewhat, now saw where Frodo stood, looking with longing on the Way before him. Finally the old Hobbit had had enough. He entered the field, approached Frodo, put his hand on his shoulder. “Look at me, Frodo Baggins!”
Frodo turned, looked down on him, his eyes distant. “No, I said, look at me. Look at the love I have for you, Frodo.”
The expression began to focus. Again Bilbo decided to invoke the memory of Primula Brandybuck Baggins.
“Frodo Baggins, come back now. What would your mother say to you spurning a gift before you’d properly received it?”
Frodo awoke in his chamber on the grey ship, looked up into Bilbo’s eyes. I have done all I can, Bilbo.
Now, how in the name of the Valar had he learned that Elvish trick? Bilbo looked over his shoulder at the Lady Galadriel and gave her a suspicious evaluation, then realized Frodo was slipping away again.
“No, you haven’t. There’s a great deal left to do. Now, awaken. Frodo! Waken and be done. The Shadow is gone.”
The eyes opened again, seemed more present this time. “You are awake,” he whispered.
“Yes, I’m awake--for a time, Frodo. For as long as you need me, dear one, I’ll be by you. I’ve been granted that grace. So you’d best seek to recover, lad, so I can take my last steps on my own journey. I’ve delayed enough as it is, insisting as I did to be allowed to pass the Old Took, foolish as I was.”
“I’d be there to welcome you....”
“No! No, don’t try that reasoning on me, Frodo Baggins. I have lived a full life, while the last twenty years of yours have been dominated by That Awakened--That and Its legacy. You deserve more, and deserve healing, deserve to be able to appreciate the love that all have tried to give you without the separation enforced by the Pain. Now, I demand that you awaken and stay with me at least until we reach Tol Eressëa. Do you hear me, Frodo?”
One last time Frodo tried to slip away, but Bilbo glared at him with the full force of the Old Took’s legacy. “Do you hear me?” he demanded. Reluctantly Frodo nodded. “Good,” Bilbo said, “and I’m accepting your word as a Baggins.” As he slipped off the stool to allow Elrond to take over, he muttered to Gandalf, “That will keep him here, you know--that appeal to the dratted Baggins honor.”
Gandalf could be heard laughing softly.
It did take time, but the healing came. The Morgul wound’s scar began to glow as Frodo’s Light shone through it. The knuckle glowed, and one could see the whisper of light outlining where the finger ought to be. About his neck where Its chain had lain was a white shining line. The scars on his legs where he had been bound by the orcs and where he’d fallen in Mordor glowed, and the same for his wrists. Even the sucker marks from the tentacles of the Watcher in the Water had a faint, clear glow to them, could be clearly seen. The whip weals were fairly shining.
Frodo Baggins alone had no idea that his Light was becoming more and more noticeable as his abode became the small summer house on the edge of the Gardens of Tol Eressëa. As his heart finally strengthened, a clear light could be seen there, pulsing with each beat. As the tight muscles began to loosen, one could see the light increasing in arms and shoulder, legs, knees, hips. As his digestion healed his abdomen began to glow. Bilbo was amazed and amused and delighted. As for his eyes--they were a marvel.
On the back of the neck, however, darkness and light were still in contention. The bite of Shelob was stubbornly clinging to its supremacy. Aboard the ship the Elves and Gandalf were able to control its effects, but no more than that. And for the longest time a large patch of reddened flesh remained on his chest that the Light could not break through, although it was being worn away by the Queen’s gem he still wore.
Soon, Bilbo told himself, soon he will be ready for me to go on.
“His light is subdued today, Gandalf.”
The old Hobbit looked up at the Maia who had once been a wizard and smiled. It was always enjoyable whittling away at Olórin’s attempts to say as little as possible about Frodo’s business. Of course, he realized also Olórin enjoyed drawing out the story as long as possible and driving an old Hobbit mad with evasions, so each was equally enjoying these exchanges, of course.
Except--this time the Maia did not look particularly happy; nor was he looking at Bilbo in anticipation of what tactics his friend would try this time. His eyes were distant. Bilbo chose to remain silent this time, hoping in time some enlightenment would be given. Finally Olórin said, quietly, “He appears to believe he is responsible for everything evil to have befallen anyone in Middle Earth since the Ring came to him. All too often he cannot appear to tell where his choices leave off and another’s begin. It does not help that he appears to have been born with an extraordinarily strong share of the King’s Gift.”
“And what, may I ask, is the King’s Gift?”
“The King’s Gift is an awareness of the health of the land and people around one. In Men it tends to be seen primarily in those who are of the Line of Kings, the descendents of Elros. It is an expression of the Elven awareness of the life in the living things around them.”
“Like the ability to communicate with the trees and so on?”
“Yes. Faced with damaged land and the life on it, most Elves will seek to heal the wounds they perceive, for the pain that is suffered by the living plants and creatures that have been injured in the wounding can be communicated to them. As the Gift was shared with the descendants of the Edain, it became more closely attuned to the people for whom the kings and high lords were responsible. One tends to care far more for the welfare of ones people when one experiences the effects of want, privation, hunger and thirst, grief and horror known by their least subjects.”
“I see. Does the Dúnedan have the King’s Gift?”
“Yes, to a greater degree than Gondor has seen since its earliest kings, although for the most part Arnor was more fortunate. As Elrond’s fosterling Aragorn received training to increase his sensitivity to the King’s Gift on the one hand while learning to recognize when and how he should ignore or otherwise deal with that which he cannot affect. He was also taught to balance his life as well as possible so as to keep his very Gift from dragging him down into despair--much as you did with Frodo by teaching him to write out his frustrations and anger at the same time you made certain he had outlets also for his joy, and plenty of opportunities for experiencing pleasure and fulfilment.
“The land sense of the Hobbits is mightily akin to that of the Elves, save that it tends to be focused more on cultivated land rather than the wilderlands favored by Elves. But in many it is expressed in the awareness of the people round about in one way or another. And in Iorhael it is--now--as strongly expressed as in Aragorn. Once the Ring became aware of the King’s Gift in Frodo, It began using it to seek to suborn him, showing him every least act of torture and degradation effected by Mordor and Isengard. As Aragorn was trained to do, Frodo had learned over the years to recognize when a grief he felt was nothing he could affect; and as a Hobbit now in the heart of the Shire once you took him to Bag End, he was for the most part surrounded by the peace and content common to the lot of your people, which gave him plenty of chance to find balance. As he weakened on his journey, however, the Ring presented him with the conceit that he was the cause of much of the grief he saw, for by refusing to surrender It to Sauron he was inciting the Dark Lord’s wrath and leading to these; and by refusing to surrender to It he was denying himself the chance to help those being tortured.”
Bilbo shuddered, closed his eyes briefly and swallowed, then looked with compassion back toward the summer house. “And you are seeking to set that conceit right now?” he asked.
“We hadn’t intended to as yet, but find we must in order to heal the deeper hurts.”
“No wonder the discussions go on so long!”
A single flower was laid in Iorhael’s lap as he sat on the edge of his couch, his face to the wall. “A blossom for your thoughts, Frodo,” Bilbo said softly.
“I am feeling once more I don’t belong here, Bilbo.”
“Of course neither of us belongs here, Frodo. We are mortal, after all, and this land was not designed for such as we. But we are welcome guests anyway.”
Today the patch of skin on his chest where the light did not shine through seemed larger and more somber. “That’s not what I mean.”
“Frodo--what was the name of that fool that hurt the Appledore girl, who used to give the folk at Brandy Hall so much grief?”
“Ah, yes--that was the one. We were spending a good deal of time there in Buckland that year, weren’t we?”
“Yes--and I was there a lot on my own. It was the year Merry broke his leg and was having to spend so much time in bed, so I was staying there so he wouldn’t have to be alone--or at Pippin’s untender mercies.”
“Ah, yes--Peregrin Took as a small child--quite the bundle of energy he was.”
“Yes, couldn’t sit still for a moment, and kept jarring the bed and the leg and causing it to hurt again.”
“Did Smallburrow ever try hurting you?”
“He tried, but I figured out how to evade him well enough.”
“A big, rather muscular brute, if I remember.”
“That was the summer Merimac taught you that punch of yours, wasn’t it?”
“What led to that?”
“I caught Tolman teasing a smaller boy, and beating him. I was about to step in, which would have led to my being beaten black and blue, when Merimac caught him at it and sent him on his way. I then asked him to teach me how to--do something effective.”
“You learned it quite well.”
“I had--motivation. He made me promise, Mac did, not to use that blow without having ample reason.”
“Ah--the same reason Elrond made Aragorn swear not to draw his sword lightly.”
“It’s not the same thing, Bilbo.”
The old Hobbit drew himself erect. “You think not, do you?”
“He had to learn to fight, to protect those weaker than he.”
“And how is that the least different from learning to throw a single, well-placed blow to protect the smaller Hobbits of Brandy Hall from the likes of Tolman Smallburrow?” The two looked deeply into one another’s eyes for quite some time.
“The need to offer protection as one can was the same for him as for you,” Bilbo finally continued. “Now--in the battle before the Black Gate, Pippin found himself killing a troll in order to protect Beregond of the Guard. Why wasn’t Aragorn there doing that? It was his duty, was it not, to protect those he led?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Bilbo.”
“Was it your fault that Smallburrow hurt the Appledore girl?”
“No--of course not.”
“But if you’d only been there you might have been able to stop him--you stopped him from pawing at Pippin, after all.”
“How do you know about that?”
Bilbo smiled mysteriously. He’d seen Pippin looking delighted when Tolman Smallburrow showed up for breakfast sporting quite the bruise, and had himself been rubbing Frodo’s suddenly sore hand to ease it the preceding evening--it had taken little to get the small Took to tell him the story. “Never mind how I know, you irascible young thing. If you’d been there you could have stopped it, couldn’t you?”
“Perhaps--but even if I’d been at Brandy Hall, he didn’t do it there--he caught her near her father’s work shed, and I had no reason ever to go there--not even curiosity.”
“But you could have?” persisted Bilbo.
“What in Middle Earth do you expect--that simply because I knew Tolman Smallburrow was a perverted, mean-hearted wretch, I ought to have spent every waking moment following him to protect the Shire from his doings? There were sufficient in Hobbiton to keep me busy, you know, between Lotho and Ted Sandyman.”
“Even there you allowed them to bully Sancho Proudfoot.”
“Uncle--they did that about every waking moment, and not just to him, you know. When I caught them at it, I did warn them, and even stopped them a time or two. But I certainly wasn’t allowing them to bully Sancho--they did that in spite of the warnings of half the village, and you know it!”
Bilbo smiled. Frodo’s light was shining more clearly, and the patch where it didn’t shine through was growing smaller. “You mean you couldn’t be responsible for every action someone else took in those days?”
“Did you not spend hours reassuring me this was so?”
“Then why, once that awful thing I wish I’d taken to Mordor myself to spare you Its burden awakened, did you convince yourself that you were responsible for every single ill Sauron did? Were you responsible for the things he did before you got the Ring?”
The eyes had grown distant. “No.”
“Are you responsible for those who do evil in the world now?”
“Well, think on that before tomorrow’s session, then. Now, go out with me to the White Tree. I want to feel the Dúnedan’s presence tonight.”
Dutifully Frodo rose to follow him.
“We’re done with him--for the moment, Bilbo, and I’m taking him to the sea for a bathe. Wish to come?”
“I don’t think I can, Gandalf--am feeling my years especially tonight. I’d go now--except I know he still needs me. There is one more crisis coming--I can feel it.”
“What kind of crisis?”
“I don’t know--something that we’ve forgotten for the time, I think. But something is coming. I hear the warnings in my heart.”
“I’ll remember that, Bilbo. When He speaks to the heart it is with reason.”
He awoke in the grey of pre-dawn, smiling up toward the dimly-seen rafters of the room. In Rivendell he’d barely keep awake, while here he barely slept. He lay breathing in the sweet scents of the wakening flowers without the windows, the cleansing fragrance of the athelas plant that grew on Frodo’s windowsill, and smiled. It was a gentle ending for a full life. He would speak about it with Frodo today----
The sudden twisting of the room was shocking. What is happening? he wondered as he sat up abruptly, stared with consternation at the other sleeping couch. Frodo had gone rigid with shock and pain, his Light sparkling with drops of red almost like blood. Bilbo fled across the room to look down on Frodo’s face, the wide eyes, the open mouth, the agony reflected there. He grasped at Frodo’s hands, realized they held onto the blankets under which he slept so tightly they almost tore the fabric. He was trying to speak, but the sounds that came out were meaningless.
Sam! his mind was crying out; Aragorn! Stay away! Watch for the spider!
Did he hear Frodo’s thoughts correctly--spider? Bilbo hurried out the door, through the summer house, out into the Gardens, scurried up to the nearest Elf he saw, who was staring at the house with shock of his own, pulled at his robes. “Please,” he said, “summon Lord Elrond for me--it’s urgent!” The Elf looked down at him with surprise, and Bilbo added, “If you honor my Frodo’s Light, please!”
Realizing the Perian was serious, the Elf gave a single nod, and gave that vacant look they often showed when communicating across distances. In an instant his attention was back. “He is already on his way--he felt the twist in the fabric of the Gardens.”
Elves and Maiar were converging on the small house, lighting up its exterior walls with the Lights of their Being, and three of the Great Elves to whom he’d been introduced who had chosen to live on Tol Eressëa entered in with one of the Maiar. Soon after Olórin and Elrond arrived as well. Together they sang over the body of Frodo, who’d been stripped to the waist and laid face down with pillows under him so he could breathe. There was a great deal of darkness within the wounds where the spider had bitten him, and Bilbo could see all were concerned and focused. At last the Elves stepped back, left the room, and it filled with Maiar. The tone of the song they sang changed, became one which sounded to Bilbo like a battle song.
Finally the darkness in the wound began to fade, and Bilbo noted Frodo felt some relief. All but two of the Maiar and Olórin now slipped out of the room, and Elrond came back in with a steaming basin of water and set it near Frodo, then went to the plant on the windowsill where he whispered to it, and accepted the leaf it gave to him. Bruising the leaf, he slipped it into the water, singing with a power even greater than Bilbo had heard him using on the Grey Ship. His wife Celebrían entered after him, bringing clean cloths. Bilbo came closer, saw that the area around the wounds had become swollen with infection. Elrond carefully lanced it, and began cleaning it as pus flowed from it. Olórin appeared to be in silent communication with someone, and at last turned to Bilbo and beckoned him outside.
An Elf appeared from the kitchen with a mug of the draught which Bilbo drank daily, and he accepted it with a bow of thanks and turned to his friend. “What is it, Gandalf?”
“We will question him when he has rested and is able to answer. We have to be certain this is not one last trick of his own mind, still clinging to illness as a means of keeping himself tied to his feelings of guilt and his identity as one who was giving himself for all.”
“He did give himself for all, or at least meant to if necessary,” Bilbo pointed out.
“Yes, but he is no longer the tragic hero and must not cling to that past. However, I don’t believe that this is the effect of his own mind and imagination--I believe there is a darker evil here. Shelob, after all, is own daughter to Ungoliant.”
“The one--the one who with Morgoth poisoned the Trees?”
“Yes.” Bilbo shivered. The Maia continued, “If what I fear has happened is true, then we must have the aid of the Valar themselves, and that is perilous for mortals. I believe his Light is strong enough to withstand it, but--but there is always a chance this may be his release, Bilbo.”
Bilbo forced himself to deliberately finish his mug and set it down carefully beside him. “I see--in which case, he will be there before me to welcome me, most like.”
“Would you like to accept the Gift before we take him to the Fanes?”
“No, in case he does survive. It will strengthen him to know I wait for his return.”
“Yes, that is true.”
Bilbo found himself weeping, then felt his friend reach out to hold him close in comfort. “What did I do to the lad, Gandalf?” he whispered.
Suddenly he was being held at arm’s length and was looking into the eyes of one he still only partly knew well, eyes that examined him with humor, compassion, love, and concern. “Do not do as he has done, blaming yourself for all he has borne. False guilt becomes you as ill as it does him.”
Bilbo dropped his eyes in contrition, then felt the warmth of the Maia’s love surround him. “I think he will do well,” he felt whispered in his ear and spoken into his heart at the same time.
Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrían sat by him throughout the wait, and after two days they were joined by the Lady Galadriel. He was visited daily by some of the greatest of the Elves he had ever heard tell; and at least one Maia was by the small summer house at all times. There were many songs sung, many more silent prayers offered. Finally they felt a sigh move across the island, and fill the house; then after a moment of balance, all realized the battle was won, and that Iorhael would indeed live. Elrond lifted Bilbo up into a deep embrace of thanksgiving, and the Hobbit realized that the great Elven Lord was weeping with relief.
That night Olórin came, briefly, to bring word. “I do not know that any heard tell of what precisely became of Ungoliant after she fled Aman; what little we have learned was that she followed her chosen lord to Middle Earth and hid herself away there, frozen now in the shape of a great spider as she’d been when she poisoned the Trees.
“Where she found her mate we do not know, but find him she did. Shelob was her child, whom she treasured. We have learned at last that when she was grown Shelob consumed her mother, took her spirit as well as her shape inside her, became one with her. It was Ungoliant’s own spirit that was injected into those wounds, not just the paralyzing poison to keep the prey still for the wrapping. She has sought to consume him from the inside out from time to time, at which times the wounds would open and drain. She allowed the skin to heal stronger once before, but Sam and Rosie lanced them then, and again she lost. Since he came here she has stayed quiescent, but thought to perhaps escape and wreak her mischief throughout Aman once more--but she could not do so without it being made manifest in him. The Valar have vanquished her, and she is with her master now, outside the Gates of Night.
“He will return, but needs further healing yet. Can you bear to linger nine days more, do you think?”
“For him, yes. Will he be ready to let me go?”
“I believe he will. He has told Nienna he will remain for Sam’s arrival.”
Bilbo gave a relieved smile. “Good--for Sam has ever embodied his hope.”
That night he sat out under the White Tree, watching the stars, and the Lady Galadriel sat behind him, her hand always on his shoulder.
Lord Elrond stood behind him, now his hand on Bilbo’s shoulder, as they stood in the Gardens before the summer house, watching for Frodo’s return. Then they saw the advancing Light--cool but illuminating the dusk, walking slowly but easily alongside the Light of the Maia who accompanied him, the distinctive blue of Olórin a counterpoint to the clear Light of the small figure by him. The Light was now even throughout him, and the patch where the Queen’s jewel lay shone equal to the rest. But now it did not outline the missing finger, stopping where now the physical body stopped, accepting the results of his choices, the chances of his life.
Bilbo realized, “He’s still unaware of how much of his Light is visible to others, isn’t he?”
Elrond answered quietly, “That is true. He still is unaware that the Becoming is continuing.”
“He becomes more extraordinary by the day.”
“Yes, he does.”
“I pray he is ready for me to go now. I’ll go fulfilled myself because he is.”
“I believe he is ready, Small Master. Set your heart at rest on that account.”
Bilbo Baggins filled his heart with the sight of his lad, so long and so well loved, and felt peace encompass him.
“I won’t ever be far from you, you know, Frodo. I’ll always be there near your right shoulder, by your mum and dad and Rory and Gilda.”
“And who will be at my left shoulder, then?”
“Who else? Your Aunt Dora, puffing like a dragon but with the heart of a mallow, as always.”
Frodo laughed in spite of himself as he looked into the eyes of his beloved Uncle Bilbo. Bilbo’s eyes shone with a special light this night, as they stood together and watched the stars for a time before they went into the small summer house one last time together.