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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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52
52: Wedding Guest

52: Wedding Guest


Frodo stood in the portion of the circle closest to the Court of Gathering, facing Elrond, clearly able to see his face. Gandalf had chosen to stand somewhat behind the Lord of Rivendell, behind him and slightly to his left, leaning on his white staff, where he could focus his own attention on the faces of bride and groom. As Elrond first named the Valar, however, Frodo had one of those moments where he felt himself to be standing just out of touch with his own body, and he saw several faces looking through the Wizard’s eyes all at the same time. Frodo’s own face, although he didn’t realize it, had become distant, his mouth slightly open in awe. He seemed to see a visage of a great Lord, of a pale-faced Lady whose own eyes, as with those of the Lady Galadriel and the Lady Arwen, shone with the Light of Stars. One who looked through Gandalf’s eyes laughed, one wept, although the tears were now tears of joy and healing. All watched the marriage of Arwen and Aragorn, all watched intently and with a level of triumph.

Then Gandalf turned his eyes briefly to Frodo, and the Hobbit felt the weight of that attention focused on himself, felt the pride, the compassion, the love, the joy they felt toward him. He stood transfixed until they turned their attention back to the marriage.

At the moment Elrond offered his quiet blessing, Gandalf lifted his own hand, as did those who watched through him. Frodo could clearly see the Light of Being for husband and wife and he who had been as father to both, as well as the Tree before which all stood. As the Wizard raised his hand, however, an even brighter Light shone upon all, and Frodo felt himself taking in a deep breath as it illuminated him and shone through him, then enfolded him in a comfort of the spirit he didn’t quite understand but which he embraced greedily.

Those who were capable of perceiving the Light of Being found themselves amazed by what they saw, particularly as the Light of Stars surrounded Lord and Lady being wed and shone also about the form of the Perian Frodo Baggins, who with it about him appeared to stand almost as tall as Aragorn himself. What surprised them more was that a golden Light surrounded Samwise Gamgee, and he also appeared to stand tall and regal, and with as much authority as showed the twin sons of Elrond Halfelven.

When the bells began to ring throughout the city all seemed to be taken by surprise, and all laughed and rejoiced with sheer pleasure. When at last husband and wife pulled back from one another, they turned toward the company gathered to watch, and found their attention caught by Frodo and Sam, seeing clearly the joy each reflected, the pleasure, the fullness of them. And it seemed to both that the two who watched were not Hobbits but Men--or at least it seemed that way for a moment.

Aragorn was startled to a stillness of recognition, for there was one other moment when he had perceived Frodo as being a Man, in the brief moment during the Battle before the Black Gate when all had frozen into stillness as the Ring had gone into the Fire and they’d seen the shadow of Sauron standing over them shaking its hand toward the West, before the West wind came to blow it to naught and the might of Mordor was swallowed up by the earth itself. Then, just for a moment, it had seemed that Frodo had come behind him and laid his hand on Aragorn’s shoulder, demanding to know if indeed all was over, if Barad-dur had indeed fallen. He’d turned and seemed to see Frodo there, not a Hobbit, but a tall and princely Man, white and wounded and ready to collapse. Then the vision had faded as rapidly as it had formed.

Now he saw again the princely figure he’d seen then, tall and slender, fragile but strong of purpose nonetheless. Aragorn felt himself tremble with awe and with a longing that went further into his past than did his desire for Arwen, for all his life he’d longed for a brother, had dreamed of having two, one a twin and one slightly younger. In the figure there of Frodo as a Man he recognized the twin brother he’d dreamed of so frequently, whom he’d imagined so clearly, and he was shaken.

Small brother, had he called Frodo? Brother indeed! And if the figure he seemed to see of Samwise Gamgee was any indication, there, too, was one recognized, the younger brother to himself and his imagined Gil-galadrion. Light of Stars and Light of Anor surrounded them, and for a moment he felt ready to embrace them both--and again the vision faded, save this time Frodo and Sam remained, remained as they’d been born, two Hobbits, one of extraordinary beauty and determination, and one of extraordinary sense and responsibility.

Aragorn took a deep breath to steady himself and looked to his bride. She, too, was looking intently at the Hobbits, and took her own deep breath before she returned her attention to him--and thoughts of imagined and longed-for brothers were lost behind the wave of tenderness he felt for her. As the choir began to sing a hymn to Elbereth, the vision was almost forgotten completely.

There was need to do one more thing. He held out his hand to her, and she took it. Together they walked toward the crowd in the Court of Gathering, and those in the circle of attendants gave way to allow them through. Those in the court pulled to either side, squeezing to give Lord and Lady room to make their way to the end of the keel of the rock. There the King and Queen of Gondor and Arnor showed themselves to those in the lower city who had been unable or unwilling to come up to the level of the Citadel, and from below they heard cheers and shouts of praise, and music from the lower circles of Minas Tirith.

After several moments there, they returned to the White Tree, to the table which stood beside Elrond on which the Presence Candle burned and the marriage contract lay. Arwen signed it first, Aragorn next. They then looked at those who’d stood as attendants and primary witnesses, and with a gesture Aragorn summoned Frodo to sign first. He surrendered the quill to Sam, who dipped it into the bottle and swiftly wrote his unadorned signature, and he gave it over to the Lady Galadriel, blushing furiously as he did so, ducking his head like an errant schoolboy. She smiled in amusement as she took it and signed her own name in Tengwar lettering. Once all had signed, Elrond took and rolled it, binding it around with the cord and knotting it carefully before holding it out for bride and groom to grasp, his hand one side of the cord and hers on the other.

Elrond’s words to them were quiet and obviously intended to be private. Then he reached out to draw the two of them to him, kissing each on the top of the head before letting them go, then drawing his daughter apart and holding her tenderly to him, murmuring in her ear while Halladan began pounding heavily on his cousin’s back until the Lady Mirieth forcibly drew him away.

Finally Aragorn was able once more to capture his bride’s hand, drawing her to the White Tree, where both bowed respectfully and laid their hands upon it’s slender trunk. The Queen’s smile of delight could be seen by many, as well as the look of satisfaction on the face of the King. Frodo looked overhead at the cry of a great bird, and saw that once more one of the great Eagles circled over the Court of the Tree and those who stood in it.

Those who’d come up to attend the wedding now came forward in file to go past bride and groom and offer them their greetings and congratulations, then hurried down the ramp to join the festivities each on his own level.

Frodo was reminded of the Free Fair held at Midsummer in Michel Delving as several activities were now going on at once. Tables had been set up in the outer gardens covered with a light repast and drinks for the wedding party and all who served in the Citadel and their families. The King had ordered several bales of straw opened and formed into a hill within the training grounds, and children were led there by Gimli to search through it for the coins and small toys scattered through it on the King’s orders. Songs were being sung in one area, dancing took place in another. The wedding pastry was cut by bride and groom together and was shared. And then the Lady stood with her back to the group of unmarried women and girls who gathered from among the guests and staff of the Citadel, throwing the sheaf of flowers she’d held over her shoulder to them; all applauded when they were caught by one of the servers, Airen daughter of Geril, whose solemn face was lit by delight at her prize.

“I’ve not yet had the chance, Estel,” Arwen murmured to her new husband, “to see the quarters in which we will dwell, and I wish to see to unpacking some of what I brought with me.”

“I think we can slip away now,” Aragorn whispered back, kissing her ear gently afterward. He looked to catch the eyes of several, including those who’d served as his attendants and some of his kinsmen and Belveramir and gestured for them to come near. “Be ready to stand interference,” he commanded them, “for Arwen and I are going to seek to retreat to our quarters.”

In a few moments bride and groom had managed to disappear, and Frodo watched after them with laughter on his lips and some longing in his heart. Not long after he indicated to Sam and Lasgon he wished to go down to the guest house to retrieve the gift he had ready. Sam took a deep breath and shook his head somewhat. “I must suppose as the gift of foresight’s involved here somehow. Useful thing, that.” Frodo laughed, and together the three of them made their way back down to their residence.

The great bowl, carefully wrapped, sat upon the table in the dining room. Frodo examined it and realized that there was something else within, and guessing what it was sighed and then laughed. “Master Celebrion appears to have sent me a personal gift as well as the one I purchased for Aragorn and the one coming,” he commented. Carefully Lasgon lifted it out, and at Frodo’s direction took it to Frodo’s own quarters where it was set on one side of the desk. Then with the boy carrying the larger wrapped bowl, they returned back up the ramp.

Elladan met them at the top of the ramp. “Our adar sent me to assure you were well,” he explained. “And what do we have here?”

“My gift to bride and groom,” Frodo explained.

“Who have managed to disappear from the wedding party, although at the moment few appear to have noticed or to care much. However, considering how long the two of them have awaited this day I cannot blame them if they find they wish to begin on forging their marriage somewhat early in the day.” He gave a somewhat twisted smile. “It is hard to think that my beloved sister is now Queen of Gondor and Arnor,” he said quietly, “and that she will share the bed of our small mortal brother from now on.”

Sam started to chuckle, and Frodo began to laugh outright. The Elf looked down at them perplexed. “And what have I said that is funny?” he demanded.

“Your small mortal brother?” Sam asked. “And you say that in front of us? He’s the tallest Man in both Kingdoms from what I can tell, and quite looms over us Hobbits!” Lasgon, who’d been holding in his own chuckles, now began to laugh as well.

Elladan found himself smiling. “You must remember, my dear pair of Ringbearers, that Elrohir and I always will remember how very small Estel was when he came to live with us.”

“And for all that you’ve been fighting at his side for the last seventy years or so, in your minds he’s still somewhere between two and fifteen?” hazarded Frodo.

“Precisely. Now,” the Elf said, taking the package from the page, “I’d best carry this and allow this young Man to laugh more freely, or he will either stifle himself or drop it.”

“We can’t have that,” agreed Frodo.

Already there was a table set to receive gifts to the royal couple. The Lady Galadriel stood by it for the moment, and watched as her grandson carried up the large circular object he held, Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee beside him, followed by the boy who appeared to attend on them. “What is this?” she asked.

“It is a gift I saw created yesterday, and which I wished to present to your granddaughter and Aragorn,” Frodo explained.

“It is almost as large as you yourself,” she commented laconically.

Frodo laughed. “Perhaps,” he agreed, “but it is quite one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and I wish them to have it.”

She smiled. “Then I am certain that they will truly love it, Ringbearer.” She examined him as she’d not had full chance to do as yet. “Come walk with me,” she suggested, nodding a dismissal to the boy.

Together they began to walk about the company, subtly working their way toward the gate to the inner garden, for she saw that Frodo was beginning to tire. Seeing a table where two great bowls of drink stood she approached it. “Is one of these just of juices?” she asked.

The girl who served at it, whose face was alight with the joy of the day, gave a curtsey as she answered, “Oh, yes, my lady,” and indicated the bowl on the left, quickly filling three cups with it. Galadriel took two and Sam the third, and she led them through into the inner garden where they found a low bench where she carefully sat, inviting the two Hobbits to sit beside her. Gently she surrendered one of the cups to Frodo and watched as he sipped at it.

Elladan had followed them carrying a goblet of wine, and he gracefully sat in the grass facing them. The Lady looked down on her grandson and smiled deeply. “You look magnificent, Elfling.”

Elrond’s son examined her with an expression of affront, then turned to Frodo. “You see how it is,” he said with an elaborate shrug. “I have been in Middle Earth for three thousand years, and yet she still speaks to me as if to a child. Can you not see how it is that I speak of my ‘small brother’?”

Frodo had been sipping from his cup and almost choked in his laughter. Galadriel quickly took the cup and set in on his other side while Sam was producing a handkerchief from the hidden pocket in his surcoat for Frodo’s use. After wiping his face and the spots of juice on the mantle he wore Frodo pulled his knees to his chest and continued to laugh freely. “Ah,” he finally said. “I see why Aragorn loves all of you so. It is so hard to think of him as small, particularly when he is almost twice my own age as well as twice my height. And I am hardly young any more, although we Hobbits age more slowly than Men--or at least most of them.”

Galadriel now saw clearly the weariness Frodo felt. For all his apparent lightheartedness for the moment, the quest had cost him most dearly. And her grandson was already well aware of this, was examining Frodo as a healer well acquainted with the Perian’s condition. Frodo was ignoring the soft ache in his chest and the more constant ones in his shoulder and right hand, and the Lady of Lorien found herself admiring his desire to live in the moment.

“Tell me of your life here,” she invited, and Frodo and Sam indulged her, speaking of mushrooms found in an empty yard, the children growing in the next house, those who crept up to spy on them, the finding of things to do, the visits by Frodo to those in the Houses of Healing and the work Sam did in the gardens, the comfort of Aragorn’s presence, the meals lately which had been built about one specific food or another, the skill Merry and Pippin had gained with their weapons, their explorations of the city.

But more and more it was Sam who spoke, and it could be seen Frodo, now he’d sat down, was finding it harder to hold off the feeling of weariness. Not exhaustion, she noted; but he clearly would do well to rest. A quick unspoken exchange with Elladan, and the healer in him came fully to the fore. “I think, small Master, that if you wish to attend the wedding feast tonight, you would do well to rest now. Now, if you will allow me to accompany you to your quarters here.”

Galadriel followed them with curiosity, and looked in approval at the quarters Aragorn had ordered made ready here in the Citadel in case he could convince the Hobbits to remain here. Frodo was soon divested of his finery, his circlet of honor set in its box, the blue mantle gifted to him by Faramir that morning carefully hung on a stand, and Frodo lay down to rest and was swiftly soothed to sleep by Elladan, the remains of his juice set on the table by his bed.

The two Elves and the gardener returned to the garden bench. “He is better than he was,” Elladan commented.

“Mostly,” Sam said quietly. “Mostly, but not as much as he lets on. When he’s tired his shoulder’ll ache and he’ll be rubbin’ at it. Then his hand will ache as well. Let him get upset, and his stomach will act up, and he’ll have a time keepin’ things down. Many days it’s as if food don’t taste all that good to him. On the few when it does, he can eat too much and then he’ll just lose it all. He has dreams of what we saw there, of what he members of it all. Won’t speak of it usually, he won’t, but he can’t help memberin’.

“But he’s able now to go through most of the city, if he keeps it slow. His naps is shorter. He won’t panic if water isn’t always by him. He’s more easily distracted from his moodiness. He smiles more, and it’s not as forced.”

“That’s good,” Elladan commented. “He is growing stronger--slowly, but steadily.”

“Don’t know about steadily, but yes, he’s gettin’ some better, at least.”

“And you, Master Samwise?”

“I’m gettin’ better, too. Much better. But, when the memories hit me, it’s like as I was hit with a hammer, I swear.”

“Yes, I would suppose it would feel like that.”

After an hour Frodo came out again, straightening his surcoat. “Master Belveramir has said he can clean the spots off the mantle so I can wear it tonight.”

“It is very becoming on you, Ringbearer.”

He shrugged. “We Hobbit’s don’t often wear blue,” he commented. “But it appears a color which is well liked here.”

“Did you have the chance to speak with my granddaughter and her new husband?”

Frodo smiled. “No, Lady. Pippin was doing a wonderful job of making certain none disturb their privacy, even refusing entrance to Belveramir, who came bearing a bottle of fine wine. He was forced to leave it on a tray outside the door.”

Galadriel laughed. “Ah, bless the young Hobbit!” she said. “And I cannot say that I blame them for wishing to do what they can as soon as they can, for it has been a very long betrothal, particularly for a mortal.”

Frodo’s expression grew more solemn. “That he loves her deeply is so plain. He will never willingly hurt her, I’m certain.”

Galadriel nodded, her own smile softening.

Not long after it was time to prepare for the wedding feast, and Belveramir and Lasgon came to assist Frodo and Sam, brushing clothing, settling Frodo’s mantle again about him, making certain their circlets of honor were in place.

“Wonder how often we’ll be expected to wear these things,” Sam muttered to Frodo.

“Aragorn appears intent on making certain we remember we are nobles now,” Frodo sighed. “I suppose we have no choice but to indulge him.”

They could hear the Man and boy chuckling as the two stepped back and indicated they were now ready to attend the feast.

Merry and Pippin entered, also now dressed much as they’d been for the Coronation. Frodo smiled broadly. “Meriadoc the Magnificent,” he declared. “You even stand now more like a Rider of Rohan.”

Legolas followed them into the room. “As if you didn’t stand like a prince, Frodo Baggins,” he commented. “All four of you are becoming accustomed at last to protocol, I think.”

Pippin shrugged. “I must suppose with me it’s the hours spent standing before Aragorn’s throne or whatever door he’s behind, or behind his chair or wherever. Had anyone told me before we left the Shire I’d be spending so much time standing still I’d never have believed it.”

“I can barely believe you do it now, and I’ve seen you do it,” Merry said.

“Now to see if Aragorn and the Lady Arwen will agree to leave their rooms. They have been in there for quite some time, you know. Where is Gimli?”

“Having a rather prolonged conversation with my father,” Legolas said. “Adar was apparently shocked to hear from our people of my friendship with one of the children of Aulë, and decided to sound him out. Learning that Gimli’s father was one of those we so lamentably hosted against their will at first appeared to add to the strain, but I think he’s softening now. It’s difficult to remain aloof from Gimli for long, he’s learning.”

Frodo tried to suppress his amusement, but Pippin laughed out loud. “You say that, after all the pointless bickering the two of you did between Rivendell and Moria?” he demanded. “You had even Aragorn annoyed at times, you know, and poor Boromir kept a wary eye out, certain the two of you would eventually employ white knife and axe instead of mere words.”

Legolas answered with one of the magnificently lazy shrugs that Elves appeared to be masters at, and smiled loftily. “If you say so.”

“I do indeed, my Lord Prince Elf,” Pippin replied in a creditable imitation of the tone Aragorn had used at times as they approached Hollin.

The rest laughed and moved out to the receiving room. The door to the Royal Chambers, before which Berevrion now stood, finally opened, and King and Queen emerged, their eyes fixed on one another tenderly. “It appears,” Merry commented in extremely low tones, “that the two of them have been very intent on exploring the more pleasant aspects of marriage.”

Frodo gave him a look of warning and jabbed him with an elbow, and as they approached the Lady Arwen was blushing, but held her head high. The Hobbits bowed deeply, and Merry murmured, “I’m sorry, my Lady. That was not tactful of me.”

“Not tactful,” agreed the King somewhat severely, “but an educated supposition. And why do you bow?”

“We do it in honor of our King and Queen,” Frodo responded formally, “both of whom we respect and love deeply.” The four straightened, noting the amusement that couldn’t be quite masked behind Aragorn’s stern expression. “And the two of you are sights to behold.”

Aragorn and Arwen both were garbed in dark blue spangled with silver stars, Aragorn wearing over his long robes a formal mantle of silver. The King wore the Star of Elendil on his brow, and Queen Arwen the woven net of gems she’d worn at the feast held in Rivendell when Frodo had awakened from the Morgul wound. Sam gave a slight shake of his head in admiration. “You brought these with you, Lady?” he asked, his voice slightly husky. “I’d thought as this one couldn’t look more Kingly if he tried, but it appears as I was quite wrong. Both of you are quite the most royal as I’ve seen you.”

Legolas’s face had softened markedly. In Sindarin he said with finality, “Ah, sweet Undomiel, if ever thou hast looked every inch thy name, it is now. We must grieve thou shalt not now be with us ever as we’d once thought, but cannot deny thee thy bliss.” He held out his hands to take hers, then gently kissed her cheek. He turned to Aragorn. “We trust you, brother, to give her no reason to ever regret her sacrifice,” he continued in Westron.

Aragorn looked at his friend solemnly. “Only one time do I expect to disappoint my lady, and over that I will be able to exert only a small amount of control, when the time comes. But I will be there beside her when it is her own time to follow after me.”

Arwen examined his face closely. “You expect to precede me, beloved?”

He gave the gentlest of nods. “I have known all my life I must expect my own death at some time. At most I expect to live little more than another hundred years, if I am not slain else. I do not believe you will think to go, however, until I have shown the way, and you will follow after. I only hope that when the time comes you will not regret your choice and your sacrifice. The leaving will not be difficult for me, for I will know from my life with you what greater joy to expect; I hope it is the same with you, but doubt you shall see it as I do, for you have not lived ever in this awareness as I have done.”

She pulled her hands from those of Legolas to take his, and he drew her to him with the fervency of one who knows that the current joy must be savored fully while it is yet possible. “I have received the Lady Evenstar as my wife,” he whispered to her, “and never shall I dwell in hopelessness with her light to surround me.” He pulled away. “Are you ready, my lady wife, to face the noble guests who await us?”

She laughed somewhat tremulously. “I believe so, my husband.”

At that word Aragorn shone with joy, and laughing he turned her toward the way to the feast hall, turning after to hold his other hand out to Frodo, wanting so to share his own delight with him while he could as much as the Hobbit could receive it.

*******


Galador stood waiting in the private entranceway for the King, Queen, and their personal guests, clutching at his withered hand with his good one, his expression relieved as he saw them coming. “My Lord, my Lady Queen,” he said, bowing deeply. “I hope you find all as you would have it be this night.”

“The one from Dunland is not to sit with us again, is he?” asked the King.

“No, my Lord. He was satisfied to accept the invitation of one of the folk originally from his land who dwells here permanently. He is truly unaware of how much respect he lost last night from his behavior.”

The King shrugged. “I do not blame you for him having decided that Frodo’s seat was intended for himself. Some there are who simply cannot appreciate that they do not stand at the center of the universe. Have Eldamir and Mistress Linduriel accepted our invitation to join us this time?”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“Then I can see no reason to be disappointed with your ability to arrange this feast with your usual skill, Master Galador. And we thank you ever for your service to us.” He held out his hand to the Master of Protocol for the realm, who was so surprised to see this he automatically held out his in return, looking up into the King’s eyes with awe before he was totally overwhelmed and pulled his hand free, bowing deeply to cover his feelings of confusion. But the King still smiled at him when he straightened, and with greater confidence he gave a more formal bow, and with a nod went out into the hall to tell the heralds and ushers that the King and Queen stood ready in their place.

The door behind them opened again, and they were joined now by the nobles from Imladris, Lothlorien, the Great Forest, Gildor Inglorien, and Gimli. Aragorn and Arwen joined the Hobbits in bowing deeply to those joining them. “Adar,” Aragorn murmured, reaching out to embrace Lord Elrond as he straightened. “I cannot fully express how much joy this day has brought to me.”

Elrond’s solemn expression softened markedly as he examined his foster son’s face. “I can see this is so.” He kissed Aragorn’s brow, then looked deeply into his daughter’s eyes, seeing the deep, abiding happiness there as well, and sighed. “To see you thus, sell nín, makes all worth it. I pray you ever rejoice in your choice.”

“Oh, Ada, how can I not rejoice?”

The Elven lord’s face smiled as he held her, although the loss could still be seen.

The meal was more elaborate than last night’s, and there was much laughter throughout the room, for the joy of Lord and Lady was infectious. Frodo ate sparingly from each dish served, although he certainly wasn’t stinting himself. Aragorn laughed often and with sheer joy, and the Hobbits responded in kind, Frodo smiling at Master Eldamir and Mistress Linduriel where they sat by him. Eldamir was pleased to be able to speak again with Elrohir and Elladan, and was deeply honored to meet Lord Elrond as well. Mistress Linduriel seemed somewhat bemused to find herself sitting amongst the Elves, but responded to their courtesy and interest by appearing to blossom before all.

Many from Gondor looked up at the shining company seated about their Lord with a deeper awe than they’d ever known, even at the unexpected return of the King. For generations beyond count Gondor had been a land which had known only Men and Orcs, with some trolls from time to time. Elves had not openly visited Gondor since the days of Ondohir, and before that had come infrequently at best. Now there sat about the King and his lady Queen the company of the greatest Elves remaining in Middle Earth, save for Círdan who alone of the great Elves had not come.

Mithrandir came somewhat late, but was obviously greeted with respect and welcome by all among whom he sat, and his own laughter was frequently heard throughout the hall. He sat by the Dwarf Gimli, and the two of them along with the Prince Legolas were the source of many quips and jests, keeping all in good humor.

Lord Rustovrid of Harad sat with his people just down from the Wizard and Dwarf, looking on the face of the Lord of this land with interest. His embassy had arrived at a time which was perhaps inopportune in many ways, for with the arrival at much the same time of the bride for the Lord King the government of Gondor wasn’t precisely in a situation to deal with his errand; but at the same time it afforded the Haradri the chance to see for himself the extent of the King’s alliances. Elves, Dwarves, Wizards, and the odd small folk of the Pheriannath sat close to the King of Gondor and his new Queen, who indeed was herself one of the fabled Fair Folk. He knew he’d been greatly honored to attend the wedding earlier in the day, and that this day of all days the King of Gondor would not hold to himself memories of enmity between his land and Harad. Hopefully this would give his errand greater chance for success when at last it came before the King’s attention.

One thing was certain--he was being granted all respect and courtesy, far more than the King’s embassy might expect in Harad. The rooms his party had been granted in the Citadel were most comfortable, and they’d even been given the carved wooden head rests of their own folk rather than the cushions for the head preferred by those of the Northern realms. They’d been included in both the feast last night and the marriage feast offered tonight. The food was exquisite; the atmosphere was congenial, the company truly brilliant. He had a feeling that as joyful as the Lord King of Gondor was at this time, he would accept Rustovrid’s messages with far more equanimity than might otherwise be expected.

Cakes and fruit finished the meal, and at last the King rose. “The Lady Arwen Undomiel and I greet all who this night have come to share in our joy as husband and wife this day joined. Long in the reckoning of Men have I labored to bring this day about, and now I receive the gift of her love with thanksgiving to her, to those who have agreed to allow her to join with me, and to Valar and Creator who have granted this day might come.

“I am descended through many fathers myself from the Peredhil; that to me might be granted as was given to Tuor and Beren to rejoice in a union with our Elven kindred was a grace I did not dare hope for when I was a young Man. Yet the wonder has been fulfilled, and I am humbly grateful. And to all who join us in our joy, welcome and may you always continue to rejoice with us.”

All stood to applaud the King’s words. The King stood to lead his wife to the far end of the room, and he prepared to lead the first dance. Tonight, however, perhaps because his attention was more fixed on her than on his own lack of grace in dancing, he did well, the fullness of his delight in his partner adding lightness to his feet, and all sang.

Laughter of joy and delight surrounded them. Frodo stood where previously he’d sat at feasts, and together he and Sam listened to many discuss the changes for the better which had been seen in the realm since Aragorn had accepted the Winged Crown.

A long table had been set near the dancing floor, and on it sat the two golden carriers for the Rolls of the Kings of Gondor and Arnor, Guards of the Citadel standing nearby in honor for them. At last Halladan and Faramir moved to the table, opened the carriers, and carefully unrolled them. Aragorn followed them, and having checked the quill provided made the necessary annotations, that on the day before Midsummer he had received the Sceptre of Annúminas from the safekeeping of the Lord Elrond Peredhel and had been acclaimed as King of Arnor as he was already King of Gondor; and that on the day of Midsummer the Lord King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar of Gondor and Arnor had taken to wife the Lady Arwen Undomiel of Imladris and Lothlorien, rejoicing she had agreed to leave her own people to the strengthening of the race of Mankind and the needs of Middle Earth once her own people had quitted the hither shores.

Gently he sprinkled the drying sand over the rolls, then shook it off upon the parchment from which it would be returned to its box. Then he carefully rerolled each of the rolls, returned them and the lesser rolls each to its own holder, then surrendered each to the appropriate Steward. He then turned again to the company. “Now,” he declared, “is all done in accordance to law and custom of both realms. Rejoice with us, friends!”

And all rejoiced.

Elven musicians joined with their mortal fellows, and the music became more complicated and joyous as the evening continued. Then, during one of the breaks in the playing Pippin approached the musicians, admiring some of the instruments the Elves had brought. He was soon trying several, laying bow to viols, plucking strings of gitterns and harps, and finally accepting the offer to blow upon a flute. He began to play some of the songs of his own land, and Sam, Frodo, and Merry began to sing to the delight of all. Some of the songs that Aragorn had learned from Bilbo he joined them in, but many of these were songs with which he was unacquainted. He saw the joy in Frodo’s face, and rejoiced in it as much as he’d done for the pleasure he’d seen in that of she who was now his wife.

When the Hobbits had finished the last of a series of songs, some of those who stood by called out asking if they could be shown a dance of their people, and on looking at one another, Merry commented, “The dancer among us is Frodo. Do you feel up to dancing now, Cousin?”

Frodo looked at the King and Queen, and standing straight with that singular grace which was his, laughed. “Yes,” he said.

Pippin looked at him. “The Husbandmen’s Dance?”

Frodo glanced quickly at him. “Why not? I’ve not danced it save to teach some of my younger cousins for years, but I certainly can’t have lost the touch of it, can I?” He unfastened the mantle he wore and removed the circlet from his head. “Wouldn’t do to wear these while I dance,” he commented. “Sam, will you keep them for me?”

He moved to the center of the dancing floor, and all others took positions where they could watch. Pippin began to play the introduction, and Frodo set his hands on his hips and prepared to dance.

All watched with amazement as Frodo Baggins danced the Husbandmen’s Dance before the King and Queen of Gondor and Arnor, turning and swaying, his feet moving in the complicated steps, slapping the palm of his hand against the sole of his foot, stamping and spinning as the forms dictated. Then the music quickened, and so did the steps. Again the music quickened and the dancing quickened in response, the smile of the Hobbit brightening as he kept in cadence. In the fourth repetition Merry began to sing the words to accompany the tune, and in the fifth repetition both Elven and human musicians joined in.

And so it went to the end of the seventh repetition, when with a crash of tones the dance finally ended, and Frodo stood, straight and proud, his head high, pale but shining, and all broke into applause.

But Sam saw that Frodo was winded as he’d never been before when he’d danced this before the folk of the Shire, and that there was a sheen of sweat on his brow. He moved quickly to his Master’s side, and under the pretext of embracing him in congratulation he allowed Frodo to lean on him for support.

Why must I have support to stand? It’s never been like this before!

Never? Was it not thus when you danced at the first feast?

But I’m stronger now!

Stronger, yes, or you’d never have finished all seven repetitions. But you are not likely to ever fully recover, as you’ve long recognized. Rejoice for the grace to do what you have done, Iorhael. It is more than enough for the joy of all.


But Frodo could not help feeling disappointed as he moved through the room turning aside the words of praise for his skill and grace while barely hearing them, eventually aided by Legolas to escape for a time to a small room intended to offer respite for those overcome by the excitement of a feast. There was a couch there, and the Elf helped him onto it and draped him with a light cover. Gandalf came carrying the mantle and circlet he’d taken from Sam when Sam had moved forward to support Frodo, and he’d set them on one of the chairs which stood there. Gimli brought him a cup of water. And, when he could get away, Aragorn came to lay his hand on Frodo’s brow, offering all he could of his own strength and the power of the Elessar to his friend. Frodo smiled up at him, but a part of his joy was gone, now he realized he’d not dance again as he’d danced tonight.

When he returned at last to the company, he was more sober than he’d been, and many there were who recognized it and mourned with the Hobbit.

Frodo refused to remain in the Citadel for a second night, and he and the rest of the Hobbits and Gimli had gone back down the ramp to the guest house in the Sixth Circle. Aragorn had watched after with concern. Elrond, the twins, Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel, King Thranduil and his sons, Lord Gildor, and Gandalf accompanied King and Queen back to their chambers.

Celeborn looked with concern at his granddaughter’s husband. “The Cormacolindor will fade, Estel.”

“I know, Daeradar. And I can do little for him beyond being there at the times of pain to heal as I can. But I cannot cleanse away the damage wrought in him.”

Galadriel commented, “I have never seen a mortal as graceful as he in dancing.”

“He won’t agree to dance again,” Aragorn said with grief, “not after what he felt tonight when he was done. I’d been told how gifted he was, how graceful, and we’ve seen hints the two times he’s danced at feasts. But he feels stripped of yet another pleasure by the Ring, and I can’t give that back to him.” His tears fell unheeded. Arwen laid her hand on his shoulder, and he lifted his to cover hers.

Finally he spoke again. “He wishes to return to the Shire, and I know he must do that soon, and that their own people need the return of all four of them. But I fear that once he leaves here the Sea Longing will grow stronger for him, he who was sustained so by the lembas. And to know that that longing cannot be assuaged as he is mortal is a further wound to my own spirit.” He looked up into Galadriel’s eyes. “I myself feel it at times, I who have bound myself so strongly to Middle Earth by accepting the rule of Gondor and Arnor. How much stronger it will be for him and Sam, who were dependant on lembas just for life as they labored through the Black Lands! Even Gimli, child of Aüle as he is, feels it, particularly when he sees it calling to Legolas, whom he’s come to love as a brother.”

Legolas dropped his own gaze to his lap, and the pain he also felt was clear to those who looked on him.

“What would you have us do, Aragorn?” asked Thranduil.

The King of Men shook his head. “What can I ask of anyone save for the Valar and Iluvatar Himself, that he be allowed easing for his body and spirit, that he be allowed to know joy once more? But I fear that cannot be given him this side of the Gates of Death.”

He sighed. “He is most likely to know disturbed sleep once more,” he murmured, “and tonight I cannot go out to him to ease it as I have done in the past few weeks.”

Elrond laid his hand on Aragorn’s arm. “We will go out and ease him as we can, if he will allow it, ion nín. Let your heart be calmed for that.”

“Thank you, my Lord Elrond.” Aragorn turned to look up at his foster father, his own expression as solemn as that of the Peredhel’s, his bearing appearing even older for the moment. The two clasped arms, and then Aragorn moved into his adar’s embrace. “Thank you, Adar,” he murmured.

Galadriel examined the figure of the woman escaping from the form of the tree, and looked at her granddaughter. “Do you feel like that, child?” she asked.

Arwen shrugged. “Perhaps in ways, Daernaneth. I have entered the world of mortals now, and at least for the moment I do not regret it.”

“Then I will pray that you never do, Undomiel.”

Celeborn asked, “Has he done well in trying to prepare for your coming?”

Arwen’s smile was full and unforced. “Oh, yes, Daeradar, full well indeed. I can ask no more from anyone. Come and see!” And she rose to show them through the chambers and all Aragorn had done to prepare for her coming.

*******


He stood in a barren place with the Light behind him, and he knew he could not fully return there again. Too much had he lost to stand there freely once more. Before him was a place where the Light shone on a patch of time, and he saw that Pippin, Merry, and Sam were emerging into that Light with Sam leading the way, Rosie Cotton’s form clearly before him, beckoning him out of the darkness. But he could not follow, for there wasn’t enough Hobbit left in him to go all the way back into the Light there.

He followed to the area of dusk between dark and Light, and looked on Sam’s recovering happiness. Sam was smiling at him, assuming that he could finally cross over all the way given time, sharing with him what Light he could to strengthen him.

He was grateful, but felt compassion for Sam, realizing that in time Sam must accept that for Frodo Baggins there was no full healing, no full return to the Light, not that patch of it, at least.

He looked slightly to one side and saw there Aragorn and Arwen standing, smiling in their own Light, reflecting it on realms throughout Middle Earth, and he rejoiced that this was so. But he’d left them and couldn’t return there, either.

He looked West, saw there waiting for him, just ahead of himself, Elrond and Galadriel, Gildor and others of their people he’d come to know, saw the Light there which surrounded them and led them further to the Light proper to them, the Light that lay over the Sundering Sea, the Sea which they would soon cross so that it sundered them no more from their proper place but from those who must remain behind. He ached to follow after them, to find the peace he couldn’t know here on white shores and under golden and silver boughs.

One tall and robed in turquoises and blues stood by his side. “They would take you with them if they could,” that One told him.

Frodo shrugged. “I am a mortal. That way is not for me.”

A shining hand caressed his head, and he looked up into a glorious visage.


He woke, feeling restless, hearing the crying of gulls come far inshore, away, he’d been told, from storms upon the Sea. He ached for Legolas. If he felt this way, how much more strongly must the Elf know that same desire, now that the Sea Longing had been awakened in him as well?

When he couldn’t return to sleep Frodo rose and dressed himself, pulling the Elven cloak about him, and sought to slip out through the bathing room to walk alone in the night. But Sam sat upon a couch in the day room, a book in his lap. He’d been drowsing, but awoke as Frodo came down the hallway. “Feelin’ like walkin’ off the dreams, Frodo?” the gardener asked.

“Yes, I think so.”

“Not bad dreams this time?”

“No, just dreams of wanting.”

“Wanting what, Master?”

Frodo shrugged.

Sam rose and came out into the hallway, pulling his own cloak from Lorien about himself. Together they slipped out into the night, walked to the ramp and up it to the Court of the Tree.

They were joined by others, for Elrond, Galadriel, Celeborn, Thranduil, and Gildor had been standing out on the keel of rock, looking Eastward at the clear skies over what had been Mordor, rejoicing as Frodo often did at dawn that the Shadow no longer lingered over the place. As Frodo settled himself under the Tree they settled around him, and when Sam began to yawn and pinch himself to keep awake Thranduil insisted on conducting him back to the guest house that he might rest, assuring him Frodo would do well with the company about him.

The White Tree rejoiced to hear about it clear voices singing Elven hymns, thrilling as it felt echoes from its ancestor so far away. And it offered what comfort it could to the small figure resting under it, letting the light of the stars fall on Frodo, Frodo’s own Light shining in response.

He rubbed at his hand, as he’d been doing since they settled there. Galadriel looked on him. “It hurts you, Ringbearer?” she asked.

“It throbs some,” he admitted, somewhat grudgingly. “It’s not as bad as it has been and can be, though, for which I’m grateful.”

“Let me ease it for you,” she offered, and she took it and ran her hand over it fully, finally running her finger around the outside of his hand from base of thumb to the base of the little finger beyond the gap. She looked at Elrond, offering her own observations to him. He nodded, moved to take the hand from her, gently did the same. Finally he moved his hand to grasp the hand just below the severed joint, gave a slight pull, and a slight click could be heard. Then he held the hand between his own, and his own Light encircled it, and Frodo felt a peculiar warmth surround the place, and he sighed in relief. At last Elrond surrendered the hand back to Galadriel, who held it as the night remained, rubbing it gently with her thumb, often returning to rub the gap where the ring finger was now gone. He slipped into a trance, and then into full sleep, resting with his head pillowed in her lap, his face turned up to catch the starlight through the branches, leaves, and flowers of the Tree. After he awoke the pain in his hand was gone, to return only during the days in March he was to experience in the coming year, and when the shadow lay deepest on him.

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