Frodo hadn’t been able to eat much at a time for the remainder of his stay in Budgeford, and the evening he spent in Budge Hall with his Uncle Odovacar and Aunt Rosamunda, Freddy and Estella, was most uncomfortable. He was anxious and distracted, and he ate next to nothing. Odovacar had tried to draw him out, but Frodo would just shrug and make noncommittal answers, and finally explained that he was suffering from a terrible headache and wished to return to Freddy’s place and go back to bed. Certainly he was remarkably pale even for himself, and the look on his face when at last he was back in Freddy’s guest room showed so much relief that Freddy and Budgie both felt he’d not been dissembling about the headache.
Early the next morning he indicated he was returning to Hobbiton, and seeing the stubborn set to his jaw Budgie went to the stable to see Strider saddled and bridled and prepared for the journey. Frodo had to use the mounting block, but once settled, he’d quietly offered his thanks for their hospitality and turned decidedly toward home.
Sam heard the approach up the lane to the steps to Bag End, and hurried out to take Strider’s bridle as Frodo, rather heavily, dismounted. One look was enough to show Frodo had been ill but had no intention of admitting the fact.
“Did you have a good visit, Master?” Sam asked for form’s sake.
“The birthday party was wonderful,” Frodo answered, which Sam figured was likely to be true; but that he didn’t go on to say the same of the rest of the stay Sam found enlightening. “I’ve decided,” Frodo continued, “to work more steadily on my book. Bilbo--Bilbo won’t be around that much longer to be able to read it, of course. And I did promise.”
He did go into the study to write regularly every day, but Sam was still concerned. Budgie had sent a bottle of his own draught of which Frodo indicated he was to take a spoonful mixed in water twice a day, and he was to drink as much water as possible. Frodo followed these directions faithfully enough, but that was, from what Sam could tell, all he was doing. Having been convinced by Budgie that Sam’s tea wasn’t particularly efficacious, Frodo had stopped drinking it. He tried eating, but even small amounts he found he couldn’t keep down, and by the fourteenth of October he wasn’t even trying to eat. He was suffering from chronic headaches, and his shoulder ached abominably. His dreams were beyond disturbing--they’d become full of images of death and despair and destruction, and once again as had happened while he’d borne the shard of the Morgul blade his vision seemed blurred as if a grey mist stood between himself and the rest of the world. Frodo became obsessed with the idea of hiding his condition, and even had himself convinced he was doing so successfully.
For Sam and Rosie, however, it was obvious things weren’t well with the Master. Rosie would bring Frodo small plates on an hourly basis, and he’d smile distantly and accept them, and return the plates empty--and Sam discovered the contents had been hidden in the vase on his desk, thrown out the window into the garden, or otherwise disposed of. On the fifteenth he found an entire bread roll filled with roast beef had been secreted in the pocket of Frodo’s jacket, while he had carrot strips stuffed in beside his pocket watch and apple slices hidden between the bottles of ink on his desk.
Sam and Rosie changed tactics, and began presenting small mugs of broth instead of solid food. From the sixteenth to the twentieth he’d drink them, and then he stopped accepting even that.
“What’s bothering him so?” Rosie demanded.
Sam shook his head, peering down the passage from the kitchen toward the study as if he could see not only through the closed door but into the hidden portions of his beloved Master’s brain. “It’s the anniversary, I think,” he murmured. He looked briefly at the confusion in Rosie’s eyes and tried to explain. “It was on the sixth of October, two weeks after we left, as he was stabbed by the Black Riders at Weathertop. The shard of the Morgul knife was in him seventeen days. Afore he left to go to Mr. Freddy’s, he was rubbin’ at his shoulder as if it was aching, and I’m certain as he thought as that was as much as it was goin’ to hurt him that day. I know as I thought as that would be it, as he was so cheerful when he left, you know. But apparently we was both wrong.
“I suspect as he’ll just keep gettin’ worse till the twenty-third, which was the anniversary of when Lord Elrond was able to get the thing out o’ him.”
“He can’t go on as he is, though, Sam--not eatin’ and all.”
Sam looked off toward the study again, and shook his head. “You’d be surprised, love, to know as what he can bear with. He’s a stubborn Baggins, after all, and he’s already done far more than he’s doing now.” But the concern in his eyes didn’t lighten.
On the evening of the twenty-second the crisis came as Frodo collapsed in his study, falling against the door and making it supremely difficult for Sam to get to him to extricate him and get him to his bed. Finally that night he agreed to accept some broth and a mug of Sam’s tea in exchange for Sam taking him up to the top of the Hill. The night was clear and cold, the stars particularly bright. The anxiety Frodo had been under for the past sixteen days finally broke, believing that he’d reached, in one way or another, a day of reckoning. Sam had brought a heavy rug to lie on to protect Frodo from the coldness of the earth, and three blankets, and he lay down beside his Master to see him through the night; but it was well worth it, he felt, to feel the tension finally ease, to feel the relaxation as Frodo finally let go of the fear.
On October sixth Elrond looked up into Elladan’s face. “Why do you wish to ride out tonight of all nights, ion nín?” he asked.
“I know the report Mithrandir gave of the Ringbearer’s reaction a year ago, Adar. I would go to his side. He is in distress.”
“Elladan, it must be his decision.”
“I know--but I would not see him let himself die before he has the chance to appreciate what the choice means to him.”
“You cannot deny him the right to accept the Gift when he wishes.”
“And if he believes he wishes to accept it for the wrong reason?”
Elrond sighed, seeing the determination in his son’s eyes. “And for whose sake do you do this?”
“As much for Estel as for Iorhael himself--I admit that freely.”
The Lord of Imladris gave a small nod. “Go then, and may the Valar light your road.”
Elrohir waited in the hall. “He has granted his permission?”
“I’d have gone had he not done so.”
“I know that, muindor nín. Shall I ride with you?”
Elladan looked back over his shoulder. “No, Elrohir--bide by him. I would not have him feel we leave him ere he is ready to go from us.”
His brother nodded. “Go then, and may the stars shine upon you. Bear my blessings to him as well.”
As Elladan led his horse out into the court Glorfindel emerged from the Last Homely House. “You go to the Ringbearer?” the golden-haired Elf asked.
“I will let your sister know, then, that she may reassure Estel. Iluvatar guide you and Frodo.” He reached out and clasped the younger Elf’s arm. “Ride well, youngling.”
Aragorn had been quiet much of the sixth of October, and when the business of the day was over wrapped his grey cloak about him and, after kissing his wife tenderly, slipped out of the Citadel, down to the Sixth Circle, and having gained access to the Rath Dinen went through it to the secret gate and up to the King’s Hallow. There he remained through the evening and the night, coming down only after the Sun rose over the walls of the Ephel Duath.
Arwen awaited him before the White Tree, which stood a good fourteen feet high now.
“My beloved,” he said, moving into her arms.
“Elladan has ridden to be by him.”
“He has? I am relieved.”
“He may not choose to linger, Estel.”
Aragorn sighed. “It must be his decision,” he said quietly. “That these days reawaken the worst of his memories and hide the best of them is not fair. Not--” he added, “--that life tends to be fair.” He held her close to him, taking comfort in her presence.
Frodo woke, blinking, trying to identify where he was. He was lying by Sam, and had Sam’s arm about him. He was lying under the stars. He could smell Sam’s scent, and healthy soil quieting for the winter. The breeze on his face was cold, but the rug beneath and the blankets about the two of them were warm and smelled clean, fresh. It was the odor of the Shire at the end of fall. He was safe--not in Mordor--not lost along the road. His heart was laboring, and he knew it. Was--was it time to let go?
May the stars shine upon you, Ringbearer.
The thought was not the one he’d become accustomed to hearing, and yet was familiar. He turned his head slightly, not enough to waken Sam, looked up through the haze. A shining form knelt near him, was smiling at him. He was able to focus.
“My Lord Elladan,” he whispered, knowing somehow which brother it was.
Sam has done his best to surround you with protection, with the intent of healing and strengthening, with the delight of beauty.
Frodo carefully focused his own thoughts: And with love.
The Elf kneeling beside him smiled. Yes, he has indeed done his best to surround you with love. Elladan gently brushed Frodo’s forehead, laid his hand upon Frodo’s shoulder near where his neck joined it, felt the pulse, let his fingers feel deep....
Frodo closed his eyes again and felt warmth spread out from the Elf’s fingertips, and from where he lay against Sam. He knew that somehow Sam’s being had been waiting for this to release that warmth through him, to reflect it through his body, to enlighten his spirit. He took a deeper breath, a freer one than he’d known in days. I needed to be beneath the stars. If I must go, I want to do it beneath the stars.
And you have determined it is time for you to let go? Frodo considered that question. Finally Elladan’s thought continued, Do you wish to go now? To accept the Gift at this time?
It seemed difficult to finish the consideration he was giving the questions set him. Finally he responded, I’d like to see at least Sam and Rosie’s firstborn.
Elladan straightened, and Frodo sensed relief in him. It must be your choice, Cormacolindo.
Did Aragorn send you?
He is undoubtedly relieved I did come, but he didn’t send me or think to ask.
Elladan reached into the bag that lay by him, brought out a wafer of lembas. He quietly broke off a corner of the wafer and placed it in Frodo’s mouth. As Frodo finally swallowed it Elrond’s son smiled again. The Elf shifted his attention to Sam’s face, and his smile changed, grew warm. He is of great heart, Frodo.
I wish I were more like unto him.
Amused grey eyes met Frodo’s blue ones. You would have Middle Earth know two of him at the same time? Is it ready for such a concentration of will? Frodo felt himself again under consideration. Nay, an unfair question. Your own will is as great as his or greater, and has ever been so, although it is expressed differently. You have ever needed such as he to balance you, to keep you grounded. You two and Estel make quite the trio. With such as the three of you born among mortals, Middle Earth will ever be able to weather what evils it must face, even after we have left it to your descendants.
Frodo grew solemn. I leave no children of my body, he thought.
Perhaps not; but the children of your spirit will be beyond the count of the Children of Iluvatar.
Frodo felt hope fill him, the first hope he’d felt in days. He smiled up at the Elf, then turned his head back toward Sam, smiling,
“Rest and know peace, Ringbearer,” he heard Elladan murmur over him as he slipped back into sleep.
After Frodo returned to his room the following morning, he opened the square of parchment that he’d found slipped into his hand when he awoke in the light of dawn. In Bilbo’s spidery scrawl was written, I love you so, my boy. I am so proud of you. Frodo smiled and held it to his lips.