Fearing to Say Goodbye
Frodo Baggins had last actually said “goodbye” to another on a summer’s evening in Brandy Hall. That goodbye had been addressed to his parents as they indicated they were going to go out on the river in one of the Hall’s rowboats. They’d not come back that night. The boat and his mother’s body had been found the following morning; his father’s a day later. For him the word always brought back the horror of those two days, of finding that in the space of an evening’s pleasure on the Brandywine he’d been robbed of both parents.
In writing his farewells he had found that he could not bring himself to write the word, either. He didn’t want to commit it to paper, wished he could just disappear completely without anyone knowing until it was too late, with people just realizing he’d left and then leave it at that. He knew, however. that after the last leaving that would simply be too unutterably cruel. He did his best to try to explain, but in looking at these last efforts he was afraid he’d only managed to do a botch of it. However, he knew he had no time to write better, and finally put each letter into a separate envelope and prepared it, then put the envelopes into the final packet to be entrusted to Brendilac Brandibuck with orders they were to be sent out on September twenty-fourth.
The Took coach rolled up to the main doors to Brandy Hall, and Paladin Took emerged from it with Eglantine, signing to the coachman and their escort of one to take the coach on to the stables and then find their way into the Hall to their own quarters. Esmeralda was already at the doors waiting for them. “Sara is out in the kitchens seeing to his duck,” she explained. She drew them in and hugged both, saw to the disposal of their wraps and light luggage, and led them to the private Master’s and Mistress’s parlor where they could sit and talk for a time. Merimac was already there with wine and ale, and they relaxed and spoke of the new gossip about the Grubbs family for a time.
“Grabo was simply inspired to consider setting up such an enterprise,” Paladin commented admiringly. “It was a thought worthy of Frodo. Wonder why he didn’t think of it first?”
Merimac laughed. “You think it was worthy of Frodo, do you? Well, I remember seeing the two of them in conversation in the ale tent at the Free Fair for quite some time last summer.”
Esmeralda joined his laughter, shaking her head admiringly. “It would be just like him, wouldn’t it, to let Grabo have both the idea and the credit.”
“I suppose I’ll have to ask him about it when we see him next,” Paladin smiled.
They all looked up as Saradoc entered. “Well,” he said as he accepted a mug of ale from his brother, “the duck will be superb if anything will.”
“We were discussing Grabo’s new service removing much of the remaining downed trees in the Westfarthing and reducing them to firewood lengths, with a third going to the property owners, a third for sale, and the last third to the nearest head of family for the needs of those who can’t obtain their own, and thinking of how this was just the type of enterprise which Frodo would have thought of.”
“I agree,” Saradoc said. “Gives Grabo and his lads something to do, serves to finish up the last of the downed trees, gives them and the property owners both firewood to sell, and provides for the poorer and older folk at the same time. Wonder if Frodo thought it up for him?”
“Wouldn’t be the least surprised,” the rest agreed.
“Well, Paladin,” Saradoc went on, “want to ride over to Crickhollow in the morning to invite the lads to go with us on the jaunt to Bree? It will give us all a good chance to talk away from here, and Butterbur certainly made it plain he is looking forward to seeing them again. Plus Lord Halladan indicated another of the King’s kin will be available to stand witness to what they did down there. I was amazed at how well-spoken he is, by the way. Butterbur was not too certain of providing a private parlor for discussions between Rangers and Shire Hobbits, but commented that the Rangers certainly tended to look much--cleaner--these days, unlike the looks of that Strider when they set off along the Road East with him.”
“It certainly ought to be enlightening,” Paladin said. “Yes, we’ll go over first thing in the morning and fetch them away. Will give them the realization--the realization I’m not just going to dismiss what they say any more. I’ve been fighting it so hard for these last two years.”
When they got to the house at Crickhollow, however, it was to find it empty, with every sign it had been hastily abandoned. The kettle had boiled dry in the kitchen, and the kitchen fire had obviously burned out. Plates had been in the process of being set out on the table and then left hurriedly. Newly sliced bread had gone dry, and a small block of cheese still stood on the counter, along with the tea caddy. Drawers were open and clean clothes swiftly sorted through in the bedrooms, and their saddlebags were missing. Each had apparently taken his grey-green cloak they’d worn by preference, as these no longer hung from the pegs by the front door.
Paladin sank, white-faced, onto the bench in the entranceway. “They can’t have done it again--just up and disappeared again like this.”
Saradoc wanted to sink down by his brother-in-love when there was a knock at the door, which he automatically answered. A messenger of the post stood there, tipped his hat, and presented letters. “Hello, sirs--these were sent for your sons.”
“We’ll take them,” the Master said, and with another touch to his cap the messenger handed them over and turned to complete his rounds.
They’d both been addressed by Frodo, but the hand was not firm this time. Saradoc handed the one addressed to Pippin to the Thain, and in a moment they had them open. Saradoc read the one in his hand with growing grief and understanding.
Dearest Merry--When I went to see Aragorn and the Lady Arwen to tell them I felt we must leave for home, she had a quiet word for me, although I know she’d discussed it with him. She told me that if all grew too difficult for me, she was working to obtain the right for me to sail in her place with her father when her father chose to abandon Middle Earth at the last--and that I deserved the right to know the peace and healing offered there after the tortures inflicted on my very spirit by the Ring.
I have resisted the offer mightily, although none has urged it on me--I think they are forbidden to do so. Yet they have managed to see to it I was reminded the offer was there. In the end it was confirmed, and made open to the three of us that bore It. Bilbo, from the moment he knew of it, accepted it. I only accepted it a few days before I met with your parents last week. Sam has not been told as of the time I write this--I will tell him along the way to the Havens. Sam will not allow me to slip away, so will go with me that far, but I wish him to return to Rosie and life, since I cannot live here further.
Please forgive me for not telling you already, but I have always preferred facing my own fears alone, not letting others see how terrified I am--for I am terrified to go on the Ship, that I will lose myself altogether, no longer be able to recognize myself.
At times I wish Strider hadn’t called me back--it would have been so much easier.
Yours with love,
“The thoughtless little fool!” he heard Paladin Took exclaiming. “After all the four of them have been through together, he wouldn’t tell them he was leaving? That stubborn--Baggins! This will tear their hearts in two, not being allowed to say goodbye to him!”
Saradoc raised his stricken eyes to those of his wife’s brother, and nodded his agreement. However, after a moment’s thought he added, “He has been very close to dying, Paladin. I suspect he has chosen this way so that none of us will have to deal with his funeral.” He looked about the room, as if to seek confirmation of what he now suspected, then spotted it. On the floor lay a green leaf wrapped around something. Leaf and contents had been trodden on in the hurry and left lying. He bent down and lifted it up, found it contained a type of bread he’d never seen before. He broke off a corner and ate it, then smiled, did the same for Paladin and offered it to him. Paladin straightened, surprised. Together they examined the strange packet.
“Elven?” suggested the Thain.
“I think so. I suspect someone came to tell them, to give them word so they could get there in time to say goodbye anyway.”
“What is this, do you think?”
“I suspect a travel bread of some kind. Someone brought them supplies of food they can eat along the way that will keep and is light to pack.”
Paladin was examining the leaf, then smiled. “It is from the type of tree that Sam planted in place of the Party Oak, Sara, and it’s like their cloak brooches. This is from the Elven Lands, then!”
Both felt relief. They went through the house again, trying to figure when they’d have left, then when they were likely to return.
They returned to the Hall, much concerned but much lighter of heart. A letter, they learned, had come there, too.
Dearest Aunt Esme and Uncle Sara,
When you receive this, I will be gone, on my way with Bilbo. I could not tell before, and I hope you will forgive me.
When I was there at the Hall last, Aunt Esme, you said something that shocked me, shocked me because it is true. I would deny--on my deathbed--that I was anything but whole. I am shamed to find this is within me, but cannot change it now.
I am leaving Middle Earth--one way or another--soon. I am on my way to the Havens, I suspect, as you read this. It has been offered me as an alternative to living as I have done this past two years, and I have accepted it. Perhaps I have accepted too late.
Please stand by Merry and Pippin--they will need your love right now. I feel I have betrayed them. They do not know. I will not draw them after me again.
Know how deeply I love you, how much I appreciate your care for me over these past many years. I only wish I’d been more worthy of that care.
“Where are they?” asked Esmeralda.
Thain and Master described what they’d found, the suggestions someone had brought news of the departure to Merry and Pippin and that they’d gone to say their goodbyes.
Eglantine was pale. “They wouldn’t try to go with him, would they?”
Saradoc shook his head. “I don’t think so--the letter says only Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam have been offered this. But they would not allow him to slip away, not our two lads.”
All agreed to this.
Narcissa Boffin’s hand shook as she reread the letter she had received:
I so grieve that I could not return your regard as you so deserved. Now that I perhaps could do so, now that It no longer rules me, I still can do nothing.
When I was young, there was nothing I wished for more than to marry and raise a family. Now Sam’s children are the closest to children of my own I may know--and soon I will lose even that.
I so wish you joy, Narcissa. Please forgive me for any pain you have known as a result of having cared for me.
I hope you will go to see the King when he comes North once more. He is well worth the loving.
Enclosed with the letter was the leather packet containing the small portrait of the King. It was years later that Narcissa realized finally that Frodo himself had drawn it.
Isumbard Took was going through one of the day rooms of the Great Smial when he came across Ferdibrand, standing, white faced, facing the West as if he were straining his eyes that way.
“Ferdi, what is it? What’s wrong?”
“It’s Frodo--he’s left the Shire again!”
“How do you know?”
“His Light--I’ve been following his Light. The day before his birthday he left Bag End, heading North. Then I thought he’d go East to Buckland, but instead he went West.”
“How do you know this?”
“I told you--I can see his Light--it’s almost the only thing I can see, his Light.”
Isumbard was totally confused. “I don’t understand....”
Ferdibrand shook his head. “How can I explain? For years I’ve been aware of--some folk by the Light they seem to give off. Old Bilbo had a warm white Light around him, and Gandalf the Wizard had a distinct blue one. Fortumbras’s was a dull purple, rather unpleasant. But Frodo’s is very bright, a bright and shining silver-white Light, very pure--always has been. Since his return I’ve been aware of it, can see it. When he led them down to rescue us, I could see him coming, and in his hand was another light, as I remember starlight being, but brighter--or perhaps just closer. He must have been carrying his starglass when he came down into the tunnels.
“At first I’d only look for his Light when he was nearby, but over time I’ve learned I could see wherever he was in the Shire. Now he’s left the Shire, heading West.”
“But there’s no place people go to the West of us. The only ones who go West are Dwarves going to the Iron Hills.”
Ferdibrand stopped, thinking furiously, then obviously stopped to consider one possibility. When he finally spoke again, his voice was very sad. “Elves go that way, too. That’s the way to the Sea, to the Havens. He’s going to the Havens.” He turned again west, as if focusing that way. “Bilbo and Gandalf--their Lights are with his, and those of others--very different. He’s traveling with Elves, Bard, going west. There’s one other besides him and Bilbo who isn’t an Elf, someone who has a golden Light--it’s familiar, but I never paid it any attention before. But that’s where he is going--to the Havens.”
At that moment Pimpernel came into the room carrying the day’s mail. She saw where they stood and smiled. “A letter has come for the both of you, from Frodo--’To be opened by both together,’ it says.”
Isumbard was pale, looked at Ferdi and said, “If what you assume is right, he’ll have written Paladin and Eglantine as well.” He looked to his wife’s younger sister. “Is there one there for them also?”
“Yes, there is. Why?”
Isumbard held out his hand for the envelope she had slipped out of the bundle, took it. “It is heavy--has something in it as well as any letter. The writing--it’s weak, Ferdi.” He tore the envelope in spite of the care he was trying to take, finally slipped out the pages it held, dropping to the floor a carefully wrapped packet that landed with a distinct clink on the stone flags underfoot. When he started reading it aloud, his voice began to shake.
Dearest Ferdibrand and Isumbard,
There are few to whom I have been able to speak of much that happened to us during the time we were gone, and those very few include the two of you. Mostly, I think, it was because you just listened during moments when I simply had to tell at least part of the tale. I cannot begin to tell you how glad I was that the two of you were willing to listen. Neither interrupted, neither judged, neither tried to twist the conversation elsewhere. Nor did either of you turn away from what I said. Aunt Eglantine kept wanting to make it a story in which her child was protected from the evils we faced; Uncle Paladin didn’t want to accept that the evils even existed; others, faced with almost the entire facts of the story, refused to put them together. The two of you, on the other hand, simply listened and accepted.
Thank you for listening, for accepting, and letting it be.
I have had to accept that I will not live much longer unless I accept an offer made me before I left the Queen’s presence. Finally I have accepted, although it may be too late. However, in accepting this offer, I must away, and I will not be able to return.
I’ve not told Merry and Pippin that I am leaving. They, too, are receiving letters, probably today. Please, for my sake, stand by them, come to know them well, learn to respect them. Forget they are so much younger than you are--remember only that they have been forced into circumstances that tried their souls, and they have triumphed.
Aragorn sent me three of the King’s coins, and they will not be needed where I go. I was told to bring with me only that which worked to express the love others hold for me, that will help me to accept the healing offered me. I take with me the coin Lobelia returned to me, as this reminds me that even such as Lobelia Sackville-Baggins could change, and so there may be hope I can indeed find healing for my heart as for my body. I ask that you each accept one of the others. Aragorn is a most special person, whether he were King or just a vagabond from the wilderness as he appeared to be when we first met him in Bree. When he comes North, greet him for me, bear him my respects.
Ferdi, you have been my friend for so long; Bard, you and I might have been better friends had chance favored such. Thank you both for all you have done, and may the Valar protect you.
Ferdibrand found the small packet that had fallen to the floor, stood up, opened it carefully. He held out the two coins. “I give you first choice, Bard,” he said quietly. Pimpernel, who still stood by stunned by what she’d heard, saw that her husband was weeping silently as he stood there, waiting for Isumbard to choose one.
Similar letters had been delivered elsewhere, saying only that Frodo regretted to tell he was leaving the Shire for good, and he hoped they would understand. There was no mention of where he went or why, although many who had seen him realized his health was far more fragile then he would admit. He expressed admiration and thankfulness for their regards and past kindnesses, and offered best wishes for a happy future.
The handwriting told more than the letters did, for although it was still clear, it was not confident or as graceful as was usual with Frodo’s writing. These letters were written by someone who was finding himself quite weak, weak and most likely quite ill. The gossip throughout the Shire was that Frodo Baggins had gone away to die.
From early October fifth Saradoc Brandybuck and Paladin Took stayed in Crickhollow awaiting the return of their sons. They had ridden hard and arrived very late in the night of the sixth. Their fathers were there to greet them, understanding in their eyes. Their beds were ready for them, the fires lit, a late supper ready, food for breakfast already set for the morning. They slept for a few hours, woke to find their mothers about them with word that Frodo had arranged for his will to be read on the morrow. They were loaded into the coach with sufficient clean clothing for a few days, and all were on the way to Bag End. And as they rode, sons and parents talked as they’d not talked in the past two years.