“Will you ride out to meet the Rohirrim?” Merry asked.
Frodo shook his head. “No, for I’ll get enough riding all too soon.” He examined Merry’s form, as he fastened his sword belt about himself. “You look every inch the Rider of Rohan today.”
Merry smiled. “Thanks, Frodo. This time tomorrow we’ll be off home at last.”
Frodo nodded. “At last.”
“Strider wants for you to wear the mithril as we travel, Frodo, the mithril and Sting. He wants for folks to give us a wide berth if they see us in the wild. Pippin and I now know what we’re doing, at least, as you know Gandalf does as well. But once we leave Rivendell it will be just us five, you understand.”
“Yes, I know.”
“You’ll agree to wear it?”
Frodo shrugged. “If he wishes.”
“Good.” Merry was glad he could carry this report to Aragorn, but was concerned that Frodo had given no argument. He was worried when things went too easily with Frodo Baggins. A Frodo who was this compliant was either depressed or had another worry he was seeking to hide, and it was impossible at the moment for him to figure which was true.
After Merry left, Frodo was the only one left in the lower story of the guest house. Pippin was on duty today, and would ride out with Aragorn; Gimli and Legolas had indicated they, too would accompany the King. Gandalf had left the house early, and Sam had claimed an errand in the lower city. Frodo had given some of Master Celebrion’s beads as a gift to Mistress Loren, and a book on animals of Harad to Lasgon, who’d found it fascinating; those two were upstairs preparing the quarters for the last night of occupation by the Fellowship. Now he found himself restless, and decided to walk one last time down to Master Iorhael’s shop.
As he started for the Fifth Circle, however, he remembered that Master Iorhael wasn’t there, for it was his son’s birthday and all were riding to Lossarnach for the day. Not wanting to return to the quiet guest house, he turned about and went up the ramp instead, heading now for the White Tree. Lady Galadriel was already there.
He was almost reluctant to join her, and he couldn’t say why. He paused, considering his options. She looked at him, apparently amused, and beckoned him closer. “Come, Ringbearer,” she said. “We’ve seen little enough of you in the last several days.”
“My Lady,” he said as he finally moved to answer her summons.
“You are restless?”
He shrugged and turned partially away. “I suppose I am eager to set off home at the last.”
“Estel and my granddaughter were most pleased with your gift.”
“I am glad.”
“And all were delighted with your gift of dancing.”
What little animation he’d shown completely fled his countenance as he looked down at the hands he held clasped in his lap, the left closed around the right. “Thank you.”
For some time they sat thus, the Lady examining him, Frodo contemplating his hands. She reached out a single shapely finger and tipped his face up toward hers. “And so,” she said softly, “you have found another joy It robbed you of.”
Finally he gave a very slight nod, slowly adding, “What joy is it to dance if I know that I may not finish the whole, and if I manage it I am so drained I can hardly move?” He straightened and pulled away. “And so it is, Lady Galadriel, with almost everything. Each time I begin to forget myself and reach out in pleasure again I am brought up short. I cannot eat freely or I will become ill. I tire so easily; and although I am clearly better than I was when I awakened I still have no endurance, and can neither walk nor dance in sheer joy any more. Suddenly, for the first time since It came to me, I can see the beauty of one such as the Lady Éowyn or the glassblower’s daughter or your granddaughter without the--without the urges It sought to teach me, and I know that I cannot look to ever take such a one for myself. It is not just my finger I was deprived of.”
He turned himself, looking Southwest toward the distant gleam of the Sea. “I am restless, as you said, but cannot tell you for what I seek. I have been emptied, and cannot be restored, not in Middle Earth.”
She could see the tears that slipped from his eyes. “I will return to the Shire,” he continued, “but it will not be the same, for I am not the same. A shadow lies on me still. I look at Sam, and I find myself almost hating him, for although he, too, was hurt, yet he can look forward to living again. He will go back to the Shire and will ask Rosie to have him, when he believes all is well with me, and he will take her to wife and be able to rejoice in it, and they will bring forth their children, and all I will be able to do is to watch. Pippin will return and finally reconcile with his parents, and will go on to be the greatest Thain the Shire has known, and I will sit in my study and write about it but not be able to do. Merry will resume his responsibilities as the Master’s heir and will breed fine ponies and race them, and I shall sit as guest at his table and nod my appreciation, and that is all. And the longing I know and that I can barely describe will lie on me, and I will not have the strength to go in search of what it is that calls me.”
“Is that why you have avoided us?”
“Tell me your dreams.”
He gave a ragged laugh. “Dreams? The images Sam saw in your Mirror, only worse. There is evil besetting our home--I can feel it, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it at the moment. And what if that evil teaches my people to become like those we have seen who know only fear, anger, suspicion, and the desire for vengeance?”
She remained still, and at last he continued. “I still have dreams of being sought by the Eye, but they are confused now where when I actually had It they were clear and straightforward. When there are storms I seem to hear the clash of arms in the orc tower and imagine my friends are trying to rescue me and are being slaughtered. When a shadow of a cloud falls on me I almost expect to feel again the pain of the spider’s bite and the poison being forced into my neck again. When I awaken and hear voices it is as if I just awakened again from the poisoning, and I think the ones talking are the orcs arguing over the mithril shirt once more. If the wind strikes me at just the right angle on the side of my face it’s as if I were in Mordor again, and if I turned my head I’d see the Mountain or the Tower in the distance. When the wind blows just so between the houses in the Sixth Circle I hear Sméagol calling ‘Precious!’ as he fell.”
He turned to look at her. “I have to have water with me always. Did they tell you?”
“Yes, they did. But are all your dreams of darkness and loss?”
He shrugged and turned slightly away again. “No, not all. I see the curtain of rain roll away and the light of the rising Sun falling on white sand touched by blue water, smell flowers growing I cannot name, hear songs being sung I seem to recognize, though I’ve not heard them before.”
She sat in quiet for some time. Finally she asked. “When did these dreams begin?”
He sat still, not seeing the distant horizon, she realized. Finally he said, “Long ago. I’ve had such dreams off an on all my life, but the first time it was definite was....”
His voice trailed off. Unwilling to sift his thoughts, she waited for what he said next, certain it would be about the time they left Lothlorien and he’d begun to consume the lembas. “The first time it was definite,” he resumed after a long pause, “was just after we left the Shire, when we spent the night in the house of Tom Bombadil.”
It was all she could do not to show her startlement. He’d had the Sea Longing for so long? And it was definitely not due solely to having been exposed to lembas! Just what was it that Iluvatar had wrought, allowing this one to be born into the body of a Hobbit of the Shire?
She reached out and caressed the dark curls, and he looked back at her, and she saw the grief for what he’d had revealed to him and knew that he, as a mortal, could not have.
As they stood waiting to be called to their places in the Hall of Merethrond, Éomer looked after Frodo, who was being ushered to his own seat at the table. “The Ringbearer is one of the most solemn of folk I have ever seen, brother,” he commented quietly to Aragorn.
Reluctantly Aragorn nodded his agreement. “His heart had begun to lighten markedly until the evening of our wedding feast,” he explained. “He danced an exhibition dance of their people for us, and it was marvelous. But when it was done he almost dropped from exhaustion and he realized he will not dance again. He’s been like this ever since.”
“He danced again? I wish I’d been here to see.”
“You cannot be everywhere at once, brother Éomer. But it was the most wonderful dance to see. Never have I seen any save Elves dance as well, and the Elves of Middle Earth have not danced freely for many years.”
Éomer nodded, and returned his attention to the face of the Lady Arwen Undomiel, the admiration he felt for her plain on his face. “And to see such a one as your Queen, my friend--I would envy you, were I such a one to draw such love to myself.”
“You will yet draw a worthy love to yourself, Éomer, one to sustain and delight you.”
“I would hope so. But now I understand the fascination that the Dwarf Gimli knows for the Lady Galadriel, for I feel it myself, but toward your Lady; although I find there is no hint of desire in the worship I would offer. It is a strange realization to find such in myself.”
Aragorn laughed. “I had felt such fascination toward several of the Ladies I met in Adar’s house when I was a youth, but never desire until I saw Arwen for the first time. I did not understand what desire could be until that day; from then I have never been free of it, and always fixed on the same object.”
The King of Rohan examined his friend’s face. “It is still a wonder to me to see the legends of our childhood shown to be not legends after all, and to find Elves indeed perilous, but not in the manner to which we’ve been led to suppose.” He again looked beyond his friend to the Queen of Gondor and Arnor. “Greatest beauty has been granted to you. I see it and honor and even, as I have said, worship it; but I do not find myself coveting it. Nay, it is best bestowed on you, my brother, for you understand best how it is to be cherished.” He looked out at where Frodo’s face could now be seen, looking up at the one who’d led him to his seat, listening, apparently to a question. “Now, if only that one would accept proper cherishing.”
Aragorn nodded his agreement.
As Éomer himself was being led to his place he found his attention caught by the young woman who was to sit by himself, just this side of Prince Imrahil, an auburn-haired woman with eyes of clear grey-green, and he again smiled. Aragorn saw and sighed, then set himself to searching the room for Galador. It appeared that his Minister of Protocol was once again playing at matchmaking. Galador himself was peeking through the door from his own office, and seeing the expression on the face of the young King of Rohan he smiled with satisfaction, and sipped at a goblet of his own wine in self-congratulation.
During the feast, Frodo sat by Elrond, who sought several times to engage the Hobbit in conversation. Frodo, however, spoke relatively little, shrugging frequently and then asking his own questions of the Lord of Imladris, many of them of Bilbo, for Bilbo had not come with the party from Rivendell. He learned that once the Ring was destroyed Bilbo had begun to show signs of rapid aging, and spent much of his time fighting the urge to slumber. “However,” Elrond said with a shrug, “other than that he is well enough, and waits for your return.” He did not speak of Bilbo’s frustration that his frequent naps disrupted conversations and his grief that he had not been able to stay awake long enough just to pack for his intended journey here to the wedding, seeing the concern in Frodo’s eyes that appeared all he wished to reveal of himself tonight.
Frodo ate lightly, and refused the rich dessert offered. After the meal Aragorn and the Lady Arwen again led the dancing, the first of which was relatively slow. The Lady Galadriel looked down at Frodo, by whom she stood. “Will you join me in the dance, Ringbearer?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No, Lady, for I’ll not dance again.”
She looked at the resigned expression in his eyes and sighed.
Frodo took his leave early, pleading the need to rise early to travel the next morning, and all watched after him with concern.
Soon Merry and Pippin went back to the guest house with Sam, while Legolas and Gimli stayed behind with Gandalf at the side of the King and Queen, discussing with Éomer the arrangements for the coming days. Elphir, Erchirion, and Lothiriel of Dol Amroth would travel to Rohan with their mother and her ladies and selected Swan Knights to represent Dol Amroth at the funeral of Théoden King and the handfasting of the Lord Prince Steward Faramir of Ithilien to the Lady Éowyn of Rohan, for one of the three greatest Lords must remain in Minas Tirith for the administration of the realm according to the law, since they had received official warning of a potential assault on the realm. Aragorn saw the look of appreciation on his brother king’s face at this announcement and the way Éomer’s eyes followed the young Lady Lothiriel with admiration. Aragorn and Arwen exchanged glances. Was it possible that a second active tie between Rohan and Gondor would soon be forged?
Once again the time spent in the Hall of Merethrond was cut short in deference to what would happen the next day, and lords and ladies took leave of the King and Queen and their guests and returned to their homes. The past two and a half months had been markedly exciting as they’d seen the Kingship restored, their new King married, and the coming of so many parties from Northern climes to the capital. How dull it would seem with the King and Queen leaving the realm for Rohan for a time, and many looked to count the days between tonight and the King’s return, praying that he would not take it into his head to disappear back into the Northern wilderness from which it was said he’d come.
Galadriel walked out upon the keel of the great stone with Celeborn, Glorfindel, and Gildor, and together they looked North, East, and finally South toward the distant hint of the Sea. “It calls to me strongly,” she said with a sigh, “and at last I am allowed to respond. I will go when the ship Elrond has commissioned from Círdan is finished and return to Valinor once more. Will you come with me, my husband, or linger yet a time?”
Celeborn shrugged, remaining silent, his hands fixed on the stone balustrade before him. Finally he spoke. “I was born here, my lady wife, and so far miss little that is in the Undying Lands. It would be a great wrench to lose all of the beauty of Middle Earth with which I am so familiar just when it might once again flower without the threat of the Shadow overlying it.”
The Lady sighed. “Lothlorien will begin to fade, beloved. The mallorns will continue to live for several more centuries, perhaps; but without the power of Nenya to sustain it I can no longer partially withdraw the Golden Wood from the time of Ennor nor keep it hidden. Our daughter is there awaiting us, as are so many whom I once loved dearly, who must anticipate my return now that it is at last permitted.
“I will go before you, then, and ready all for when you must at last follow. Know this--that I will anticipate that day, awaiting the time I might introduce to my family the one who finally won my heart.”
His expression softened, and he placed one of his hands over her near one.
Gildor looked at the two by him with thoughtfulness. “I will take ship also, now that the danger to Middle Earth is over. For too long have I fought the Sea Longing, fearing that without us the lands would fail to bloom. There is less need for our guard. I only pray Men will not destroy all of beauty in their desire to shape the world to their own purposes.” The others nodded their agreement.
“What of the Ringbearer?” asked Glorfindel.
“What would you seek for him?” asked Gildor.
“All of Ennor owes its freedom from that great fear to him. What shall he know of reward for his service to all?”
“He does not easily accept the honors granted to him,” Celeborn sighed. “The lordship bestowed on him embarrasses him. He has avoided us much of our stay, and the weakness of his body causes him distress with the knowledge his time is even more limited than is common to mortals.”
“Yet he does not fear his passing,” the Lady noted. “Instead he knows a quiet rage he must be lessened from what he was before it is proper for his kind.”
A shifting of light from the distance of the Citadel drew their attention that way, and they saw that Aragorn and Arwen were walking out to join them, accompanied by their adar and brothers, Mithrandir, Gimli, and Legolas. All remained still while the King’s party drew near.
“Estel,” Celeborn greeted the husband of his granddaughter. “Do your other guests sleep in their own quarters?”
Aragorn shrugged. “Éomer and his party have withdrawn to their own chambers for the remainder of the night, at least. Whether or not they sleep I will not speak to, as you can more easily discern that for yourself than can I.” The two exchanged soft smiles that faded away all too quickly. He looked out at the world from the height of the city, then looked down at the Sixth Circle below him, the concern he knew clearly discernible to the eyes of all who surrounded him.
“You worry for him?” asked Galadriel. There was no reason to speak Frodo’s name.
Aragorn nodded. “He grows quiet once more. Each time his body reminds him he is less than he was it deepens his grief; and he realizes he continues to change and cannot see to what he will come.”
“You foresee his nature changes, youngling?” Celeborn seemed surprised.
Aragorn looked at his wife’s grandfather sidelong. “After spending so much of my life in Imladris, do you think I could not tell, daeradar? I know the intent of the Morgul knife--to convert his Light of Being to the Dark Fire and deny him the Gift, tying him ever to the Shadow World as a reluctant lesser slave to the holder of the One Ring. But, as Sauron could not create but only twist the laws and processes and creatures of Eru from their intended purposes, I must question what form of transformation Sauron and his dark servants twisted to form the evil magic used in empowering the cursed blades.” He looked down at the darkened houses below again and sighed. “Not that he is likely to live long enough to know its benefits. No, he fears the changes he perceives. After all, he saw to what the Ring brought Gollum, and was but steps from wraithdom when at last Adar found and removed the shard of the Morgul blade.”
Gandalf loosed a soft breath. “He will not come to evil, Aragorn.”
The Man turned to examine the Wizard. “You think not? What if he seeks to destroy himself?”
Gildor was shocked. “You think the Cormacolindor would even consider such an act, Elessar?”
Arwen answered for her husband, “Yes, my Lord, he would indeed consider it.”
Galadriel examined the eyes of the others. “You, young Leaf,” she invited Legolas. “What say you?”
The son of Thranduil sighed. “I fear this is true,” he agreed. “What he has known has been almost more than any could bear, much less a mortal such as Frodo Baggins. He is currently less than he was, and knows not enough any more of Iluvatar to appreciate that he might well become more if he has patience--and sufficient endurance and time. His time in Middle Earth grows short, and this he must appreciate. That he might live long enough to finish the changes now begun and see to what he comes in the end even I despair of.”
They were surprised when Gimli spoke up. “Is there any way in which he might--might go with you, my Lady Galadriel? To know the great beauty of that land, whose loveliness he must respond to, would ease his heart and help him greatly to accept his end. He has not a warrior’s heart, to find death in battle an acceptable way to pass from Middle Earth.”
“Yet he would have leapt from the stone of the Sammath Naur into the Fire, had the Ring allowed it,” Elrohir noted.
“He did not appreciate that such an act would have destroyed Samwise as well, or that it would not have spared Sméagol,” Elrond said, shaking his head.
“Still the deaths of those three would have achieved the same end for the Ring,” his son pointed out.
“Iluvatar sent him means to know the grace of rescue,” Elladan noted. “That the Creator would grant him the ability to appreciate that his nature has begun to change and yet not the realization that he does not diminish in it but that he will be fulfilled in the end does not seem consistent with Eru’s own nature.”
Gimli persisted, “Is there no way in which Frodo might be granted the chance to go with you, perhaps know sufficient time to learn to be grateful for it?”
Arwen smiled solemnly at the Dwarf. “I have petitioned the Valar to allow him to go in my place to Tol Eressëa,” she told him.
Galadriel’s eyebrows lifted. “When did you do this, sell nín?”
“Some days ago.”
“How did you place this petition?”
“I asked Gwaihir to bear it before Manwë.”
Celeborn shared a glance with his wife before fixing his gaze intently on his granddaughter. “And he agreed to do so?”
Aragorn answered him, “Yes, although he cautioned us that he could guarantee no specific answer.”
Gandalf’s lip began to twitch, and suddenly he began to laugh and threw back his head in delight. “And all believe we of the Istari seek to bend the Valar or the world or both to our own wills! Ah, daughter, you have done full well--perhaps better than you have realized. And you have given him the gem you’ve worn all these years for his easing as well.”
Elrond straightened, his eyes surprised. That he’d not noted his daughter no longer wore the pendant she’d worn for most of three thousand years shocked him. “I will not begrudge that gift,” he said with an even deeper respect for her, “nor the petition you have tendered. But that you ask it for a mortal....”
“Does the fact that such petitions were offered for your own father as well surprise you?” Gandalf interrupted.
“They were?” asked Elrond. He considered. “Yet he was of the Peredhil before the choice was laid on us, his sons. Was it as a result of those petitions that in the end the choice was offered to Elros and myself, and then my children?”
Gandalf weighed his words before answering deliberately, “Yes, in part that is what inspired the offering of the choice.”
“I see.” Elrond looked at the Maia consideringly. Finally he straightened a second time. “Then I ask you to inform the Valar that I make the same petition as has my daughter.”
Galadriel and Celeborn exchanged glances and an unspoken question, both knowing their answers were identical. “We ask the same,” Celeborn said with quiet determination.
Legolas began to laugh. “I, too, beg this of the Valar,” he stated.
Gildor lifted his head proudly. “So do I.”
Gimli straightened purposefully. “I know the desires of a Dwarf may well count for naught,” he said, “but I add my own petition to those of the others.”
All turned to Glorfindel, who throughout almost all had remained quiet. He examined the face of each with neutral interest. Finally he gave a small smile of satisfaction. “Then it appears the fact that I have already made my own plea for him is supported by all of the rest of you.”
Aragorn smiled as he bowed low to the rest. “I, too, have asked this, although as one who was born mortal and has accepted it cannot be otherwise for myself I have perhaps no authority to make such a plea.”
Gandalf glanced all about the group gathered there. “You all ask this, then?”
“Yes,” Elrond declared, “so we all ask.”
Gandalf fairly glowed with satisfaction. “I, too, would desire such a gift for Frodo, and add my own name to the list of petitioners.”
Legolas nodded, adding, “Then I will inform my father and brother and our people and ask them to make known their will as well.”
And so it was that the plea offered the Valar for Frodo Baggins was made, and seconded by all among the Firstborn.
Meanwhile the proposed beneficiary of that plea knew a surprisingly restful night, rising near dawn for his last look on the now familiar eastern view of the Mountains of Shadow under a clear sky and a glorious sunrise. And his heart seemed lighter somehow this morning once more, knowing that it would be so often thus, unlike how it had been for so very long.