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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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57
57: Farewell to the Southlands

57: Farewell to the Southlands


Their stay in Edoras was not long. The most difficult time was the day that the Lord Elrond and his daughter went up into the mountains surrounding the city to speak their goodbyes. Aragorn’s face was solemn and filled with unspoken grief, for he understood as well as any mortal might how difficult this separation would be for his foster father; even though Arwen had spent many years apart from her father in Lorien, yet there had always been the knowledge that the separation was not permanent, that soon she would return or her father would come to her. Now there would not be another reunion until the ending of Arda.

Long Aragorn stood outside the gates of Edoras, looking after the way they had gone. Frodo and Sam went out after him while Pippin stood on guard; but although he smiled on them and gave them a few words, his attention was given to the distance for the most part. Finally Frodo went apart. He’d found himself wanting to write down the words to a song he’d heard sung at the feast, and Sam had proudly brought out paper and drawing sticks out of his pack. Frodo had smiled and was now busily writing out the words when he looked up and found his attention caught by Sam and Aragorn where they sat together now on a great log. Frodo looked at it and wondered from where it might have come, for it was far greater than any of the trees he’d yet seen in this land. Then he looked at Sam and Aragorn, saw that at last the Man was speaking intently. Their attention was fixed on one another, their expressions soft. Aragorn was, he realized, beginning to weep gently, and Sam produced one of his ever-present handkerchiefs and gave it to the Man. They turned back to look out at the distance in the direction that father and daughter had taken, and moved to sit close together, their arms around one another in comfort. Frodo was moved, and taking a fresh sheet of paper he drew what he saw, the image of these two he felt toward as brothers, and entitled it “The Greatest of the Great.”

They were soon bidding goodbye to the King of Rohan and his sister and her new husband. There had been joy as well as grief here, and the stark beauty of a land of fields and great herds of horses led Frodo to think tenderly toward it. The Lady Arwen would remain here, having already taken her farewell from her father. Her brothers intended to return to her before they left Middle Earth; her father had made it clear he would leave Rivendell again only when he went to the Grey Havens to take ship. He offered her his last blessing and kissed her forehead, then turned away to leave Rohan.

Arwen watched after her father with carefully controlled grief, then turned her attention to Frodo as he approached to take his leave. “Ah, small brother,” she said gently, and he smiled to hear Aragorn’s title for him from her lips. “I pray all goes well for you. Remember that this will aid you if you will allow it,” and she gently touched the gem she’d given him. “And remember that if it is allowed I would have you go with my father and grandmother and find the healing that cannot come to you here. It will be difficult for my beloved, for his love for you is deep; but he would have you know that peace.”

Frodo wasn’t certain how he could respond. He held her hand and kissed it gently, then murmured, “I thank you for the wish,” and turned away.

Aragorn took gentle leave of his lady and entrusted her care to young Amrothos, and after offering his blessings to Faramir and Éowyn he led those who continued on out to their horses. They rode now Westward once more until they came to Helm’s Deep where they would spend the next two nights.

“Welcome,” old Gamling said as they rode up the causeway. “Our Lord Éomer sent us word you should be here today, and asked we make things ready for you. We have prepared rooms where all should feel safe and comfortable.”

The room prepared for the Hobbits, however, did not achieve either end. Built on the third floor of the tower, although it was comfortably appointed it was totally contrary to the usual accommodations for Hobbits; and considering Frodo’s last experience with a room in a stone tower, he found himself feeling tense when he entered it and growing worse as the night progressed. Finally he could bear it no longer and rose and left it near midnight, Sam waking immediately, throwing on his own clothing, and following after as swiftly as he might.

Legolas stood outside the tower singing softly, and didn’t appear surprised when he was quietly joined by the two Hobbits. He merely continued the song he’d been singing until he finished it, then held out his hands to them. “You are abroad late,” he said quietly.

Sam laughed, “And the same could be said for you, too.”

“As an Elf I need less sleep, and stone towers aren’t our preferred resting places any more than they are for Hobbits. Shall I tell you of the battle that was fought here?”

They were joined by Gandalf as Legolas recounted what he remembered of the battle, and they walked about the fortress as he described what had happened where. Now and then Gandalf would ask for some specific clarification, but listened to the Elf’s tale as avidly as did the Hobbits. Gamling’s grandson was on guard, and told of what he’d seen; and near dawn they were joined by Aragorn and Gimli, who added their own stories.

Frodo found himself seeing the entire battle as if he had been there himself. “I’d never thought to understand the tactics so clearly,” he commented.

“It was a complicated enough fight,” Aragorn sighed, “and as with all such fights it was chaotic enough at the time. But the general goals were simple enough--for us to live through the night if possible, and for the enemy to breach gate or wall if they could, both of which they finally managed. But dawn brought a new day as we rode out to mow them down and Gandalf arrived with Erkenbrand’s forces and the Huorns of Fangorn Forest to threaten them from the rear. And so, just at the moment when Saruman’s forces felt they had the upper hand, they were thrown into confusion and were defeated.”

A morning meal was served in the hall, and after Legolas and Gimli went down into the depths of the caverns to explore their beauties Aragorn spoke quietly with the four Hobbits. Neither Merry nor Pippin appeared much more rested than were Frodo and Sam, and at their admittance that they’d felt uncomfortable in the tower room, and seeing the slightly haunted look Frodo’s eyes showed at its mention, he withdrew to speak with Gamling. And so that afternoon a tent was raised inside the walls and fitted with four low cots, and the Hobbits slept there that night far more deeply than they had in the tower room the previous one.

As they traveled onward Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas told the Hobbits of the rest of the war against Saruman’s forces, and even Gandalf told far more of what he’d done and what he knew than was his wont. Gandalf also described the battle of the Pelennor Fields in more detail than they’d heard so far, Pippin adding his own descriptions and then Merry describing the ride of the Rohirrim and the charge on Sauron’s army from behind. Frodo listened intently, beginning to understand better how the battles had been planned and lost by the Enemy. The information that he was eventually to use in describing the battles in the Red Book he was now learning.

Two days after they left Helm’s Deep they arrived at Isengard. Frodo found his first look at the tower of Orthanc breathtaking, and mostly because he’d dreamt of it when in Tom Bombadil’s house and had seen it again in the vision in Galadriel’s mirror. But in neither had he seen it as he did now, with the beauty of a clear sky shining down on it standing as on an island in the midst of the lake that now filled what had once been the Vale of Isengard, surrounded by trees which Pippin had quietly warned him were most likely Huorns who’d colonized the Vale on the suggestion of the Ents.

Aragorn had begun explaining how Orthanc had been originally built by the folk of Anárion and Isildur when Frodo suddenly had a vision in which he saw the Vale with groves of flowering trees about it, then with the trees pulled down and the ground riddled with rifts and shafts, gantries and workshops, no trees or trace of grass left to give any hint of beauty. The evil will he sensed behind that last vision was especially frightening for he’d sensed it focused at the Shire in his dreams of his homeland. But how in Middle Earth could Saruman threaten the Shire? He’d know of it, of course, for Gandalf had long been interested in it; and he knew of Gandalf’s habit of smoking pipeweed and frequent visits. Suddenly he seemed to see Merry and Pippin poking through the flotsam floating on the dreary waters that had first covered it in the wake of the Ents’ assault on the place, a barrel of Longbottom Leaf held between them. He stood, transfixed by the vision, then was jerked back to the present.

“Frodo? Are you all right?” Merry’s voice was concerned, but not quite to the point of being truly worried as yet.

“There’s nothing wrong--merely taken by a thought,” he said; but he had the realization that neither Wizard nor Lady was reassured by his words.

“You’ve had more than your share of ‘thoughts’ in the last few months,” Pippin grumbled, “each accompanied by you usually going white as linens as if you are seeing some great evil.”

Gandalf gave the Took a sidelong look. “Certainly your cousin has had his full share of awareness of just what evil can do, Peregrin Took. And he’s heard enough of the treachery of Saruman to look on his lair with concern.” He turned to go forward, looking for Treebeard.

“He’s not here,” Frodo murmured quietly to Pippin. “Saruman’s gone, I think. I don’t feel ill will here now.”

Merry looked about, considering. “I doubt the Ents would let him escape,” he pointed out.

Sam just looked at the black tower with suspicion. He’d had more than his share of reason to distrust such places and those who dwelt in them.

Frodo shook his head. “It feels wholesome enough now. There’s power there, yes; but no will to direct it toward evil; and without that it has turned once more toward good.”

Galadriel looked on him with consideration.

“There he is!” exclaimed Pippin, his attention diverted by having spotted Treebeard’s approach. “And over there--I think I see Quickbeam!”

Several Ents came close enough to observe the party that had come from Gondor and the small escort from Edoras. Frodo could tell that they held deep respect and reverence for the Elves and Gandalf, tolerance and amusement for himself and the other three Hobbits, a respectful surprise toward Gimli, and suspicion toward the party of Men, although they were most definitely keeping that suspicion in check. As Aragorn spoke courteously to Treebeard, however, their attitude was relaxing and was becoming more that of honor. Even the Ents, he realized, sensed that in Aragorn was a deep center of grace worthy of the same respect commonly given the Firstborn; and the knowledge that Aragorn’s own honor kept that of the other Men to the fore was recognized by all. Suddenly Frodo was intensely proud of his friend, feeling deeply responsible for him.

Only briefly did the Ents turn their attention to the two new Hobbits, and Frodo realized that they felt toward Sam and himself a respect bordering on awe. The one Pippin had identified as Quickbeam appeared to be examining him thoroughly, and after Treebeard drew Merry and Pippin apart the younger Ent came forward to speak to the rest of the party. “Ringbearer?” he asked Frodo.

Frodo gave a nod, then with a bow he introduced himself, “Frodo Baggins, at your service.”

Sam followed suit, “And Samwise Gamgee, Master Ent.”

An indulgent smile played around the Ent’s features as he bent low in return to Sam. “One who loves growing things, I sense.”

“Yessir,” Sam said, flushing. “I’m a gardener by trade.”

“By trade and nature,” Quickbeam noted with approval. “It is an honor.” He looked between the two Hobbits. “We wish to thank the two of you. We feared the withering of all forests had finally come, but we see it is not to be--not now, and due mostly to your endurance and great will and faithfulness.” He noted as Frodo’s face paled but the two spots of color appeared in his cheeks. “No matter what you feel toward your own doings, Lord Frodo,” he said quietly, “yet still you persevered and so were in a position that the Creator of all could intervene on your behalf and for the good of all. We must honor that. And again we thank you and bestow on the two of you our respect and best wishes.”

Frodo bowed again, murmuring thanks, but drawing back. Quickbeam turned to Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and Celeborn. “Long has it been since we have been blessed by the presence of the Firstborn, and Middle Earth will be the poorer for your leaving, for even if one or more of you chooses to remain for a time, yet I sense that it shall not be long in the reckoning either of Elves nor Ents. May I speak quietly with you?”

Together they pulled away from the remainder of the Elves and the party of Men, Aragorn watching after them with controlled curiosity and the rest with respect. Quickbeam gave Aragorn a long look, then turned back to the Elves. “I’ve not seen such as he since Elendil, Isildur, and Anárion returned to Middle Earth,” he said in Sindarin.

“That is so,” Elrond said.

“You did not pause in your Southward journey to speak with us. What of your daughter? She does not return to Imladris with you?”

“She remains in Gondor and in Middle Earth.”

Quickbeam returned his attention to Aragorn, then looked back to Elrond. “She has made the choice of Lúthien, then?”

“Yes.”

The Ent examined the determined face of the Peredhel, his controlled grief. “It will be long and long, then, Lord Elrond, ere we all meet together with her in the Presence. But he will not allow her to languish long. He will be by her in spirit when it is her turn to follow him. He will show her the way.”

“I know he will, but still this is a great loss to me now.”

They paused, and Quickbeam again looked at those who waited, and suddenly realized, “He understands us--the Ringbearer.”

Galadriel laughed. “Ah, yes, he does--and he understands Quenya as well. He was well taught, far better so than any of us realized.”

Elrond’s somber mood had lifted. “His teacher, after all, was Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo made certain he was well prepared and far better educated than most Men. Both he and Master Samwise are almost as well educated as Estel himself.”

Celeborn was smiling. “Even the Lord Samwise understands us, you will find, although he is less apt to allow others to know than is his brother.”

“Brothers, are they? Yet they do not look overwhelmingly alike, even for mortals.”

“Brothers of the spirit they are, the three of them, Frodo, Samwise, and Aragorn, for all that they were born of different parents and of two different races.”

They pulled further away from the party. Quickbeam looked at Gandalf. “What is to be done for him, the Ringbearer?”

“The Valar have been petitioned to allow him special healing. How did you know that Frodo and Sam had been ennobled?”

“Gwaihir and Radagast have let us know. We approve. What they did was of as much benefit for us and our trees as for all other races. Whatever petition for special healing has been made for him, we support it, Mithrandir.”

Gandalf smiled. “I will let this be known, my friend.”

Again Quickbeam looked back at the rest of the party, his eyes resting on Frodo briefly before turning to Legolas and Gimli. “And there is another odd pair of brothers of the spirit. A sign of the good of the times, or so I take it.” He smiled. “Hoom, Mithrandir. We will miss you when you return to your place.”

“My tasks are all but done. But Radagast will remain for a time, seeing to it that plants and animals are again flourishing ere he returns West.”

Treebeard, Merry and Pippin could be seen returning. “You must go upon your way,” Quickbeam said with a sigh. “May the Valar watch over your party.”

“And may your woods grow strong,” Gandalf returned. All bowed to the younger Ent, then returned to where the rest waited. At last with their final goodbyes spoken they resumed their mounts and rode North.

“I like it not,” Aragorn said quietly to Gandalf, “that the serpent and his creature are free in the wilderness.” Frodo looked from the King’s face to that of the Wizard.

“There’s nothing to be done about it now, Aragorn, save to be wary and prepared. I suspect he has a tooth left still in his mouth with which he might indeed do some damage in a mean way. But at least he can no longer cast his poison across all of Middle Earth.”

One last afternoon they rode with the King’s party, and Frodo found himself staying close to Aragorn’s side as much as possible. He dreaded leaving the King’s presence. Finally the Man looked down on him. “Are you determined, Frodo, to make yourself my shadow?”

“And why not, Aragorn? Would I even possess my own soul if it were not for you?”

“The same could be asked of you, and by all, small brother. I will grieve to have to remain behind this evening

“No more so than we to leave you.”

“I will be coming North in a few years, for there will need to be conferences between the various peoples of Arnor, both of Eriador in the West and Rhovanion in the East, of those who remain of Elfkind, of Dwarves, Men, and Hobbits.”

Frodo looked away. The probability that he would linger for such conferences, he knew, was small. He finally said quietly, “I had a dream the other night, Aragorn, of Bag End. It was much as it was, but also quite different. There were many, many small changes--repairs to woodwork and walls; walls painted just slightly different colors; the tiles of many of the floors had been changed to slate; the carpeting was distinctly changed. Yet it seemed familiar for all that, as if it had been thus for some time. Sam and Rosie sat in the parlor with several of their children about them, and Sam was sitting in the Master’s chair, the one that was Bilbo’s and then mine. For all his happiness with them, there was the grief in him that I was gone.” He looked up at Aragorn. “I won’t live all that long now.”

Aragorn felt his heart twist at that bald statement, and he had to hold back his tears.

Elrohir and Elladan came near to ride on either side of them. Aragorn smiled up at them solemnly. “At least I can look to see you again before you go.”

Elladan looked to his brother, then back to Aragorn’s face. “Yet we find ourselves reluctant to go just now, when we could see how well you and Arwen and young Éomer and so many other might order your realms.”

Elrohir added slowly, “And, muindor nín, there will come the time when you must go. Who will stand by our sister then, when you take her Light and her heart before her?”

“You also foresee I will precede her?”

Elrohir gave a solemn shrug. “How can it be elsewise, brother? It will be by fading she will leave this world, I fear.”

Aragorn gave a small nod of affirmation. Frodo lifted his hand, and the Man reached down and took it, held it tightly. After a time Frodo drew away and fell back with the rest of the Hobbits for a few minutes. Aragorn turned to watch. Once he was certain Frodo was too involved in his conversation with Pippin to hear he said quietly in Quenya, “I fear I shall never see him again, not in Middle Earth.”

Elladan looked down at his hands. “I fear you are correct, Estel. He is strong enough now, but although I see the others by your side at different times and sometimes together, I see this not for the Ringbearer.”

“He sees himself gone all too soon from the Shire.”

“May he choose to go by way of Tol Eressëa, then,” Elrohir said.

Aragorn gave a look behind him at where Frodo was stayed from his return to the King’s side by a question by Sam, and he nodded. He held out his hands to his brothers, and for a few moments they rode, the three sons of Elrond together.

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