“Yes, he has chosen at the last,” Galadriel told her companions. “He saw me as if I were still in Lothlorien, and the two of us walked through the forest until we came to a glade of his imagination, then lay down to look up at the stars and talked. He vaguely still realizes he is--changing and does not understand what it means, but at the last has apparently accepted he will not lose himself in the process--or perhaps he merely has not the reserves to care as much should that happen.
“His primary concern, however, is that he has been so emptied by what he has been through, and despairs of ever finding ought to replace that which the presence of the Ring stole from him.”
Elrond looked over from where he rode his horse, one hand on the head of Bilbo, who rode, drowsing, on a pony between them--quite a placid beast. “What argument did you use with him?” he asked.
“I compared his situation to that great bowl he gifted to Undomiel and Elessar for their wedding,” she said quietly. “I asked him to imagine it stolen by the Enemy and then left abandoned on the side of Orodruin itself after the war was over and Sauron gone, and to imagine the state of the fruit it contained at that point, and then what must be done to cleanse that bowl ere it was ready to return to the King’s table and filled anew.” Suddenly she was clearly amused. “When I asked him if, in the refilling of the bowl it was needful to fill it with fruit again he suggested mashed potatoes or mushrooms instead!”
Elrond laughed. “Ah--he has the heart yet of a Hobbit as he was born at the last.”
“So, Elrond, you believe he bears indeed the spirit of the child of Gilraen who was lost to us ere he was born?”
Elrond gave a sidelong look at Bilbo. Is he truly drowsing, he wondered, or just listening again? “From the description Gilraen gave of the three sons she would bear for the needs of the Dúnedain, I believe so.” He quoted from the record Aragorn’s mother had made in her journal of the vision she’d had: “Three brothers did I see, two of them twins, but not almost identical as are the sons of the Lord Elrond Peredhel. The older two will be dark haired, one with the grey eyes of the Dúnedain. the other with eyes the color of the summer sky. He with the grey eyes will be the heir, and to my beloved lord husband I must give the naming of him as is right for the heir of Isildur and Arvedui. But I will name the others, and for the second I have chosen the name Gilorhael, for he will reflect always the wisdom of the stars. He shall have laughter where his brother shall know the burden of leadership. He shall help his brother to know delight. He shall hear the voice of Iluvatar within his heart. He will help his brother to come to the Kingship.
“The third will have lighter hair, similar to that of my cousin Rahael. And he will be the anchor to both his older brethren, the one to bring their awareness away from the lure of the evening to the joy of day. An old soul do I see in him, my third son to be, solemn but full of the joy of life nonetheless. I will call him Anorhael.”
Galadriel smiled. “And so it appears that the two who were lost to the Dúnedain were indeed born as Hobbits of the Shire.”
Elrond nodded. “So it appears.”
Bilbo opened one eye and looked up at his long-time host. “After the talks the Lady Gilraen and I had in the gardens of Rivendell, I recognized who and what Frodo was from the moment Drogo first brought him out of the bedroom to show me, as family head, the newest Baggins born within the Shire. I recognized the Light of Stars about him; and even Drogo saw it and the Light of Anor about Sam when he was but an infant. Used to call Frodo his Star-child, and after seeing Sam the one time he did described him to me as a Sun-lad. Drogo from the first clearly recognized Frodo as a special gift entrusted to him and Primula. And I always had wondered what influenced Hamfast to name Sam as he did. Half-wise my eye.”
Galadriel suddenly laughed. “And now these two precious souls are entrusted to us to cherish in the end.”
Mithrandir, who’d ridden by them quietly listening, looked down at Bilbo smiling merrily. “And so, Bilbo Baggins, it looks as if you will indeed be accompanied as we sail West. And he will not be alone at the end, either.”
“Did you advise Merry and Pippin?”
“Advise them of what?”
“That he’s leaving.”
“They will know.”
As he drifted back into a doze Bilbo yawned, “If you’re certain.”
The Istari looked at Elrond and Galadriel. “He’d not dare seek to sneak away from them again.”
He saw a Rider at last from a distance. This Rider obviously saw him and his horse and paused for a time examining them, then turned and rode away again. He’d have been angry if he didn’t know the Man was most likely reporting to the chief of his eored before approaching him. An hour later the Rider reappeared accompanied by a second one who rode a familiar animal and led another. There was no rope about the neck of the second horse, and by his great size and grey coloring and pace it was obvious this was one of the Mearas, lords of horses. Had one of that fabled lineage chosen to bond with Éomer, then?
He stopped his travel across Rohan and waited for the two Riders to approach him. At last the King of the Mark came abreast of him, his eyes amused as he looked down on the one who traveled once again across his lands on foot.
“And what is this, Swiftfoot my friend?” Éomer said, half laughing. “You would think to lead Roheryn across the width of Rohan?”
Aragorn looked up at his friend and brother-ruler, squinting against the Westering sun behind the Man. “It is not by my choice, Éomer King,” he said, “although I will admit it is perhaps by my own fault this has happened. I was making haste, and so we did not realize that a mole had chosen to break its tunneling directly in the midst of the Riders’ way in precisely the place where Roheryn would place his hoof. The leg was not broken, but the muscles were pulled and I dare not ride him lest he go fully lame and not recover. He is a fine horse indeed--too fine a steed with too great a heart to ride to ruin.”
Éomer saw that the King had bandaged the horse’s leg appropriately and that Roheryn didn’t appear to be in any distress. “He could perhaps bear you now,” he said reasonably.
“Perhaps, but the muscles are not fully healed as yet. I would not mount and have him be able to bear me but a half a day’s ride.”
“Yet you tell me you rode in haste, which indicates your errand is urgent. Nor do I see any riding with you. How is it the Lord of Gondor rides with no escort?”
“I had no time to wait for another, and Hardorn lay in the Houses of Healing when I must leave, having swollen like a prune in boiling water after being stung by a wasp. The Man has ridden through blizzards and darkness, has fought with broken limbs, has been wounded countless times--yet I must nearly lose him to an insect no larger than my wife’s eye.”
“Who cares for him?”
“My beloved Arwen, who after all has labored at our adar’s side far longer than I ever did learning the healer’s craft. He was rapidly on the mend when I left Minas Tirith, but not so far advanced I would take him from the care of the other healers.”
“How long has your errand been delayed, my friend?”
Éomer gave a low whistle. “You, who ran on foot across my land in three days to the eaves of Fangorn, have taken far longer this time, caring for your horse. I have a proposition for you: this--” he indicated the great animal who followed him, “--is second son to Shadowfax, and never showed any inclination to allow either my uncle, my cousin, or me to ride upon him. Yet he has several times come near to the walls of Edoras since you rode through our lands escorting the Holbytla to the beginning of the road North. Three days ago he came to me as if he had a purpose of his own, and although he will not allow me to touch him, yet he clearly wished me to accompany him.
“And so we are here, for I believe he has chosen for himself the one who will ride him--you, my friend. And if you will not begrudge my introducing Roheryn to some of my mares, we will gladly host him until you return from your journey and see to it his leg is properly tended and that he is fit when you return.”
Aragorn was amazed. “You would let one not of the folk of Rohan ride upon one of the Mearas?”
Éomer shook his head. “It appears that in this time the Mearas are choosing for themselves whom they will bear. Shadowfax, after all, chose Gandalf Greyhame, and I believe this one has chosen you. I am not shortchanged, after all, for Shadowfire has allowed me to ride him frequently since I took my uncle’s place, and the younger foals of the Mearas crowd about me when I come amongst their herd, all seeking my touch.”
Aragorn considered. He dropped Roheryn’s reins and moved apart from the stallion, until he stood in a place where he could be circled by the great grey steed who had followed the King of Rohan here. He held out his arms to the side and looked at the grey horse. “Well, mellon nín,” he said, “here I am.” In Rohirric he asked, “Would you indeed have such as me ride you, brother?”
The horse approached him, circled him and examined him from all sides, sniffing at his back and his left arm as it moved about him. Finally it paused before him, then dipped its head to nuzzle against his chest. Smiling in pleasure and surprise, Aragorn raised his hand to stroke the horse’s muzzle, then to fondle his ears. The horse pushed more forcefully, clearly demanding more. Aragorn looked again up at Éomer, who was nodding as if this had been precisely what he’d expected.
“He has chosen you, brother,” the young King of Rohan said. “And he’s been much quicker about it than was Shadowfax with Gandalf--the Wizard admitted he had to follow Shadowfax for several days to gain his acceptance.”
At last the grey stallion stepped back and turned slightly away from Aragorn, then looked over his shoulder in invitation. Aragorn looked between the horse and his friend, and at last shrugged. This was a much taller horse than was Roheryn and than he’d ever ridden before. He calculated how much of a leap he must make, moved back slightly to give himself a proper approach and hoped in his heart the animal didn’t take it into its head to move at the last moment and leave him lying face down on the ground. Horses, he’d learned over the years, often exhibited such a sense of humor....
But the grey held steady, and Aragorn made a great steed leap onto its back, settling into the proper place and finding it surprisingly comfortable. At the unaccustomed weight the horse sidled, looked back and sniffed at Aragorn’s knee as if making certain it was indeed the proper person in that place, leaving Aragorn clutching suddenly at the horse’s mane. Then he settled once more, a ripple of muscles moving along the great back.
“I believe,” Éomer said in Rohirric, “that I was correct. He has indeed chosen you. And, if I read his heart correctly, he will go wherever you would take him.” He switched back to the Common Tongue. “Where is it you were headed in such haste?” He and his companion dismounted to go to Roheryn’s side, the brown clearly surprised by this turn of events, backing and sidling in jealousy. They quickly had the brown settled and were removing saddlebags and the great sword from where it was tied to the pommel of Aragorn’s saddle as well as the personal bag, hunting bow and quiver that the horse had carried as Aragorn began explaining his errand.
“I am going North, North to the Shire to come to Frodo as soon as I can.”
“He has become ill once more?” Éomer asked, his expression concerned.
“He is leaving Middle Earth.”
Éomer paused, the saddlebags in his hands, as he looked up at the Man who sat atop the great grey, his eyes stricken. “He leaves us--so soon? Yet he is yet young for his kind....”
“He carried that great burden across Middle Earth and through Sauron’s own lands, It awake and tearing at his mind and spirit the whole of the time. He has never properly recovered, as you saw when we rode from Minas Tirith back to Edoras for the funeral of Théoden and your kingmaking, Éomer. He has weakened, although he has continued to defy his own body, even.
“Yes, he is near to death, but the leaving is not that--or so I hope. The Valar have granted him and his kinsman Bilbo the right to enter the Undying Lands, to find peace and healing there that when they do indeed leave the bounds of Arda their spirits be restored before they return to the Presence. He has only recently chosen, and I hurried to come to his side, to be by him and offer him the power of the Elessar stone I bear to strengthen him as he must go. Adar can do much yet, perhaps; but he has not the strength to fully aid Frodo in this, I fear. The Elessar was never bound to the One as were the tokens of power held by the great Elves, and he has shown he can draw on it.”
“Plus, you would have this last time together,” his friend noted, thoughtfully.
“Yes, brother, for he also is one I count among those whom I love most dearly.”
Éomer handed up the saddlebags, which Aragorn settled across his knees, fastening the ties to his own belt. He then handed up the sheath of Anduril, which Aragorn hung from his belt. Again the horse snorted and looked back reproachfully. Aragorn held the animal’s eye steadily. “If you would have me ride without saddle or bridle, brother,” he said in Rohirric, “you must bear with the bump of the sword against your side, for it is a part of me.”
The horse gave another disapproving snort but turned its head away, apparently in acceptance. The other Rider handed up quiver and bow, which Aragorn settled on one shoulder, and then personal bag which was settled on the other. Éomer had gone to his own horse and was unfastening a bag and extra water bottle there which he handed up to Aragorn. “We’d brought extra supplies, but won’t need them if we do not go to Gondor at this time,” he said. “Take them and be welcome, and may you come in time to the Ringbearer. Take with you my prayers and blessings for him, such as they are.”
“Thank you, my friend,” Aragorn replied. Then he asked, “What is this one’s name?”
Éomer looked at the horse consideringly. “My uncle never bestowed a name on him. Théodred had thought to call him Brego, but he always snorted and drew away when he was called by that name. No, he’s a wise one more than a kingly one, or so it appears.”
Aragorn smiled as he leaned forward to pat the horse’s neck. “Wise, is he? Then, let us give him the wisest name we know. Tell me, my newest brother with four legs, how does Olórin strike you?”
The horse looked back again and sniffed at his hand, dipped its head slightly and pushed against it briefly, accepting a pat, then turned its head back forward.
“Well, I must say that such appears to be accepted by him,” Éomer said. “And what means this name?”
Aragorn smiled sadly. “It was one of the names borne by Gandalf, long ago before he came here to Middle Earth to serve among the Istari.” He sighed. “He, too, leaves us, Éomer. He is going back to his proper place again.”
The younger King felt better at that news. “Then if Frodo goes with them he goes well guarded and accompanied. Go then, brother, that you arrive hopefully in time.”
“Thank you,” Aragorn said, then looked at Roheryn, “although I do expect a pick from among the foals this one gives you as a stud fee.”
Éomer smiled broadly. “We will seal the bargain when you return, my friend. The Lord of Gondor shall always be well horsed, you know!”
They exchanged nods in farewell, and Aragorn leant forward alongside Olórin’s neck. “We must ride, brother,” he said quietly. “We must ride swiftly, West and then North and along the way, if we are to come in time. Let us go now.”
The grey dipped its head, then paused to touch its own nose to that of Roheryn. The brown calmed completely, dipped its head, then turned to watch as the grey readied itself and sprang away.
Frodo sat in his study with the last packet from Freddy in front of him, and carefully opened it, found inside the final chapter. There were a couple spelling errors noted by Freddy, and a brief letter.
I cannot believe what you, Merry, Pippin, and Sam endured. I find myself more than ever wishing I’d been there at that feast. And your Aragorn Elessar sounds more wonderful than I can imagine. I so wish I could meet him--I feel as if I know them all--the King, Legolas, Gimli, the Lord Boromir. And what has been accomplished here in the Shire since you returned cannot be calculated.
Budgie and I will leave here the morning of October 4th, and should be there sometime around noon. We will be there by you, Frodo. You won’t be alone when the memories return again.
Your cousin Fredegar
That was right--he’d not yet managed to find time to advise Freddy that there was a change in plans, and that he didn’t need to be there on the sixth after all. He’d have to write a letter, send it perhaps the twenty-first before he left so that there’d be no time for Freddy to hurry to come to his side before he was gone. Much as he loved all his cousins, he did not want them to come between now and when he left--none of them. It would be hard enough to face Master, Thain, and their ladies tomorrow night. He still had more to do, and he was so weak....
He relaxed more deeply into his chair and laid his head back, closing his eyes.
Aragorn rode swiftly along the road coming North, his face solemn, his eyes ranging over the lands about him. It was not Roheryn he rode, but another horse, almost the twin to Shadowfax.
Aragorn stood, his face saddened, on a hillside looking into the sunset.
Aragorn stood by a small figure, not a Hobbit, not a child, one with a fine face on an oversized head for his stature, whose arms were abnormally short while his hands were abnormally large--indeed, almost as broad across the palm as Aragorn’s own. This one’s hair was dark, wavy but not curly as was that of a Hobbit; and he wore a small, neat beard. In Aragorn’s arms lay an infant, a girl child with hair of dark gold, similar to that of Sam, her face with the clear, Elven beauty of the Lady Arwen. Aragorn and his companion stood together near the end of the keel of rock at the far end of the Court of Gathering at the top of Minas Tirith, and they looked out together at the Ephel Duath.
Sam sat beside Aragorn in the feast hall of Merethrond, looking up into the Man’s eyes, talking, obviously joyful to be there with his friend, and yet both faces held the indications of a grief never fully assuaged.
Brendilac Brandybuck stood with a green wreath upon his head, turned to look behind him where Narcissa Boffin, accompanied by Fosco Baggins, paced to come to him, she crowned with flowers and with a spray of them in her arms. Waiting beyond Brendi stood Aragorn, a marriage cord draped over each arm.
Frodo’s breath quickened with delight--delight and relief. He awoke smiling. A plan, he found, was taking shape, one which answered several needs and desires.
He drew a sheet of the paper off his stationery box and composed a letter, then took a second sheet and wrote still another. The first he folded carefully, then opened the lowest drawer of his desk and took out a finely carved box of soapstone, opened it to reveal the black velvet lining, and carefully slipped the folded one inside it. He then went to his bedroom and took his one remaining pipe off the mantel and carefully set it also into the box and replaced the lid, then opened the kist from Gondor and searched through the top layers till he found a small wooden box, highly carved, and the silver-blue shirt he’d worn under his blue surcoat at Aragorn’s coronation feast. Carefully he wrapped the stone box in the folded shirt, folded the second letter and laid it atop the cloth before settling them into the wooden box, then found a small box that contained a ring given him by Erchirion of Dol Amros--one he’d never worn--and managed to fit it also into the box at one end of the one holding the pipe, and at last fitted the lid into place over it. He then took it to the old cold room and slipped it into the box intended for Brendilac himself.
As he knelt by this box he thought quietly. Once he had owned quite a collection of pipes, a collection he’d mostly disposed of before he left Bag End the last time by sending them as birthday mathoms to various of his friends and relations. He’d kept only four of those he’d once owned, and on his return to Bag End he’d given three of those remaining to Sam, Merry, and Pippin. The one he’d held on to was the first ever given to him, one carved of black and white stone with black birds inlaid into the white bowl and a ring of silver about the rim. Bilbo had had it made for him by the Dwarves, and had given it to him the morning of his twenty-fifth birthday, the day on which such gifts indicating impending maturity were traditionally given. Frodo had contemplated taking it with him, had contemplated giving it to Sam, had considered leaving it to Ferdi. He’d always intended to give it to his own first son--the one he now knew he’d never have.
He’d even thought of giving it to young Fosco, although it was years yet before he’d be considered old enough to use it. He didn’t wish it to sit on the mantel in Fosco’s room waiting for the day when his young cousin was thought to be old enough for it--he didn’t wish it to be just a keepsake. But, if the vision he’d seen was true--and he rather thought it was--then Brendi would be there when that day came, and could be trusted to place that pipe into the hands of the newest Baggins family head. It would mean a great deal to Brendi to be able to pass a part of Frodo’s own life into the hands of Fosco, once he realized just what Fosco and Forsythia had come to mean to Frodo.
He’d have to consider what he’d leave to Forsythia for that same time, then smiled. He’d leave his mother’s jewelry and shawl to Narcissa, and he knew that most of what he left to her she would pass onto Forsythia when the time came.
Yes, he left those well cared for.
He returned to the study to copy the last chapter into the Red Book.