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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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99
99: Life's Story and Summoning

99: Life's Story and Summoning


On the twentieth of September, about an hour before sunset, Frodo left Bag End to walk one last time down to the turn in the lane. He was warmly dressed, although the day had been comfortable, and he had his Elven cloak about him. He sat down on the bench Sam had placed there for his use, sitting and looking down at the mallorn tree in the Party Field. Its leaves were beginning to turn golden--as golden as the flowers it bore in springtime. It stood almost thrice the height of an average Hobbit now, and it eased his heart to look at it.

He felt slightly adrift, for he’d finished almost all he had to do. He thought he might have forgotten some items of business; but he found that immediately after he received his draught he tended to feel somewhat light-headed and was easily distracted; he could not be certain what it might be that he’d missed at this point.

The last few days he’d mostly sat writing letters and directions, checking the boxes in the cold room, and sorting one last time through what he’d take with him. In the end that last had proven little enough; three outfits of clothing (at Sam’s insistence), a light scarf, riding gloves, and some items he wished to take with him. Elrond had written, There will be little need for much, as I suspect you know already. But do bring those small items that sustain your hope and reflect your loves, for they will assist you. He therefore packed mostly very small things that brought to mind moments that had been happiest for him or that represented to him those he loved most dearly. After consideration he’d decided not to take his windrods, or the glass bird that hung in the study window--let them bring enjoyment to others, he thought. But he feared they were too long on the one hand and too fragile on the other to carry with him on the journey. As close as he was to the end, he found he wanted but little.

He’d been sitting there for some time before he felt a touch at his knee and realized he’d almost drifted off to sleep. He opened his eyes to find the greyness crowding in as it seemed to do when he had been dozing, and that Cyclamen was standing there.

“Hello, sweetling,” he said quietly. “Are you the only one this time?”

“Yes,” she said. “Pando’s gone to Overhill with Da, and the Chubbs lads went to Woods Hall to see their gammer.”

“I see.” He reached down and took her into his lap, and she came willingly enough, snuggled against his chest, and, as she often did, took his right hand in her own, gently rubbing her thumb over his palm and the gap where his finger was missing.

They sat quietly for a time, and then she asked, “When you die, do you really go to a great banquet where all the Hobbits that ever were sit together and eat and laugh forever?”

He was startled. “I’m not certain,” he said. “Do you think you’d like such a thing?”

He felt her shrug against his chest. “I dunno,” she said. “Oh, I like to eat, but I’d like some time alone, too, not always with everybody else.”

“I see,” he responded. “I don’t always like being with everyone else, either.”

“I know,” she said. Then, after another time of quiet she asked, “Will you have your finger back? Is it waiting for you, do you think?”

This took some thinking, and he found himself almost smiling in spite of the subject, for it was so much like those questions he himself had asked when her age. Finally he answered, “I’m not certain, for I don’t know if when we go there we’ll look as we do here. Perhaps, but I don’t suppose I’ll miss it if it’s not there, for I almost never even think of it any more.”

“Do you think it was sad to die before the rest of you?”

“Perhaps.” He felt a sigh working its way through him.

“I bet it was proud to go so the rest of you didn’t have to, though,” she added.

He straightened and looked at her, barely realizing that the last of the haze was dissipating. Her eyes were clear and bright and very earnest. “Why would it be proud?” he asked her.

“Because it knew that you’re a wonderful person an’ everybody loves you, and it wanted the rest of you to have the chance to remember that.”

Frodo sat, thinking on what she’d said.

From the mouths of bairns often comes great wisdom, Iorhael, the Voice commented, apparently amused.

Perhaps she’s the one who ought to have been named “Wise One,” then, he responded. There are so many times I feel anything but.

He held her tighter to him, and after some moments she asked, “Will you tell me a story?”

“About what?” he asked.

“Tell me your story,” she said.

“Why mine?”

“’Cause I’d like to hear it all the way through, just once.”

“The one I’ve been writing?”

“No, that’s just part of it, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Start when you was born.”

“Oh, dear, but it’s not always a happy story.”

“The best stories aren’t always happy, are they?”

Frodo thought of the day during the quest when Sam had commented that the important tales were often dark and full of danger, and he felt tears threatening to fall. Finally he said, softly, “I’d rather tell a happier story.”

“But I want to hear yours,” she answered him.

“If you will,” he said at last. He took a deep breath and composed himself.

“Just over fifty years ago a tiny bairn was born at Number Five, Bagshot Row, in Hobbiton.”

“I was born there,” Cyclamen commented.

“Well, you weren’t the first and neither was I; and you aren’t likely to be the last, either,” Frodo smiled gently. “His parents were very happy, for they’d tried twice before and went on to try twice more, but all of the others came much too soon and couldn’t remain. This one was also early, but once the midwife had him convinced to take his first breath he decided to stay, to the delight of his mummy and daddy and his older cousin he came to call ‘Uncle.’

He was a happy child, and had the sweetest, prettiest, and most clever mother in all of Middle Earth, and the handsomest, most thoughtful, and most caring of fathers--but that is true of all happy children, I think.

They so loved their little lad that they found they wanted another, for if one bairn was so delightful, or so they told him later, then how much more fun would two or three be?

So they tried twice more, but these came too soon, also, and the healers and the midwives told the mummy she oughtn’t to try again, so she didn’t. By the time the last one came their little lad was old enough to be aware, and it frightened him terribly, for he didn’t fully understand what was happening, only that his mummy was sick and full of grief for the bairn who didn’t live. He almost got sick himself, even.

But growing up he was happy as happy, even when they decided to move out of Number Five, Bagshot Row.

They moved to Buckland to a hole near the Brandywine River, and it was very beautiful there, and they could see the river sparkling in the Sun’s light from their windows. Only it was too close to the river, and one year when it rained a great deal the water in the river rose, then rose and rose and rose some more until it entered their hole, and they had to go out of it. So they waited until the Sun came out and shone in her glory on the lands, and the earth dried out and the hole dried out and they returned to their beautiful hole by the river--until, a few years later it happened again, and they realized they really needed a new hole further from the river and higher up. So they moved to Whitfurrow.

But the little lad’s mummy missed her family in Buckland, and they often visited there, and sometimes at the Great Smial.


“Did they ever visit in Hobbiton?”

“No, not after the lad turned seven, for there was one person in Hobbiton who made his mummy cry, and he told his daddy he didn’t want to ever see his mummy cry like that again, and his daddy agreed.”

“Who was it? Was it Missus Lobelia?”

He just gave her a sad smile and continued on.

Then, when their little lad was twelve they were visiting Brandy Hall and a terrible thing happened. The mum loved two things very, very much--the Brandywine River and stars. And one thing she loved to do was to go to a certain place on the river with a rowboat, and get into the rowboat, and push out into the current, and then float down the river to a place where the river turned and there was a bay into which the boat would float with her lying on her back looking up at the stars while she held her husband’s hand and they talked. Once they reached the bay they could row to the shore or even get out and wade and pull the boat to the shore, and then they’d walk back to the Hall. The mummy said it was oh, so romantic. The little lad wasn’t certain what romantic meant, but he knew it made his mum very happy, and that it made his dad happy to see his mum happy, and it made him happy to see his dad and mum happy, so that was all right for everyone.

While they lived by the Brandywine his parents did it several times; and then after they moved away they did it every time they visited Buckland when the weather was nice. And because they did it so often and it was always, oh, so romantic nobody worried about it any more.

When the lad was twelve and they were visiting the Hall his mum and dad wanted to go out in the boat one night, and so they talked with him and laughed with him and saw him into his nightshirt and saw him to bed and kissed him--kissed him goodbye. And he didn’t think anything would be any different than it ever was.

He tried to stay awake until his mum and dad came back, but it didn’t work. The more he tried to stay awake the more tired he got, until he fell asleep with his book in his hand. And when he woke up he saw the lamp had burned out, and the water wasn’t warm in his pitcher as it usually was when he woke up because his mum usually saw to it that there was fresh, warm water in his pitcher first thing in the morning to wash with. He had to get a stool to get his clothes out of the wardrobe, for the hooks were too high for him to reach, and usually his parents would have reached them down for him by now.

He went to the dining room, and there he saw his cousin Brendilac. “Brendi, have you seen my mum and dad?”

“No, I haven’t. Ask Merimas.”

“Merimas, have you seen my mum and dad?”

“No, I haven’t. Ask Merimac.”

“Mac, have you seen my mum and dad?”

“No, I haven’t. Ask Saradoc and Esmeralda.”

“Uncle Sara, Aunt Esme, have you seen my mum and dad?”

“No, we haven’t. Let’s ask Rorimac and Menegilda.”

“Uncle Rory, Aunt Gilda, have you seen my mum and dad?”

And they sent people out to look along the river.

They found the boat and his mum some time later. The boat was upside down, and his mum had died. She had a lump on her head, and she’d drowned after coming up under the boat and hitting her head.

They found his dad the following day, way down the river, his body caught in the limbs of a fallen tree. He had drowned, too. Unlike the lad’s mum, he’d never learned how to swim properly. They tried to keep the lad away, but he wouldn’t stay inside away from it all, and he came out, and saw his dad’s body, and he fainted away.

Now he lived with his older cousins he called Aunt and Uncle, and he felt lost and not certain what he should do. There’s no question they loved him, but they had an odd way of showing it at times. They gave him what he needed and a fair amount of what he wanted as well, and knew how to say “no” to what he ought not to have and when he wanted too much. When they realized he was intelligent and curious they saw to it he had the best teachers, and he was allowed books and information about any subject he had curiosity about. He was allowed to continue drawing and was encouraged to write and share the stories and knowledge he gained with other children. He had been taught to swim well by his mum and had loved to do so with her and other children, and he was encouraged to continue doing so to help him keep from becoming fearful and because it was one form of exercise it had been advised would be good for him. Over time it was found that here was one form of responsibility he delighted to have, and as he grew older he became the lord of the swimming parties--he helped teach younger children and watched over those who were swimming and made certain none did ought to endanger themselves or another. He even saved a few when they came close to drowning. And he was encouraged to help take care of his younger cousins and to help clean up around the smial.

But he was not allowed to do much of what other lads his age were allowed to do. He was not allowed to play roughly outside; he was not allowed to run freely; he was not allowed to ride, or freely explore. He was discouraged from doing much that might be strenuous, and as he grew up he wasn’t given the responsibilities usually given to lads his age. Many of the other lads thought there was something wrong with him, and so he was ignored by some and teased and disparaged by others.

Mostly, however, he hated feeling as if he weren’t giving to his family as was proper for one his age. He felt useless and stifled, and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to do what most others were allowed to do, for he could do most things as well as any others his age.

His foster parents, as had been true of his own parents, had tried several times to have a child of their own; and when at last they, too, had a tiny son born to them alive they rejoiced. He was glad to have this new cousin, one he thought of as his own little brother, and he cared for his little Merry and loved him dearly.

When he turned sixteen, however, he finally couldn’t stand the rules around him; he began to defy his foster parents and ran with the other lads his age and planned many of the raids on the farms in the Marish, until at last he was caught by Farmer Maggot and chased off his property by the farmer’s dogs; then at last he stopped. He found himself again bounded around with rules and limits, and he feared he would die of the love that surrounded him and kept him from doing anything possibly strenuous.

His oldest living cousin was the only one who didn’t say no to him, the only one who insisted he try doing things, the only one who insisted on hearing why he was so sad and then encouraged him to follow through on what he’d like to do. At last his cousin, who was his family head, insisted on taking him back to Hobbiton to live with him, and adopted him as his heir, and insisted he do whatever he felt he wanted to do, no matter how difficult it might be. The sadness that had surrounded him since his parents died finally fell away from him, and his other aunts, uncles, and cousins began visiting him at Bag End, and he would visit them in their homes, and he and his Uncle Bilbo would walk all over the Shire. And he came to know Dwarves and Elves and a Wizard, and dreamed of adventures in far places.

When he came of age he was left as Master of Bag End and almost all his Uncle Bilbo had ever owned, including a gold Ring he was warned not to wear. So he kept the Ring in his pocket and didn’t wear It at all, but It worked at his imagination and his heart, and he didn’t understand.

Then he was told the Ring was dangerous, so he left the Shire to take It far away to keep his land and people safe from Its danger, and he went to Rivendell with It, followed by two of his beloved cousins and his best friend. And when he realized he must take It away elsewhere to Its destruction they insisted on following him then, too, and he feared for them.

Then all was done, and he realized one of his new companions was one of the most wonderful of people he’d ever known, but in the end he wanted to return to his own home and people. So he did.

But bad things had happened in the Shire, and he was certain all was his fault, so he did his best to see all put right. And then he came to know and love several children, including some of his youngest cousins, and he knew some level of comfort once more.


“And is that the end?” Cyclamen asked.

“Not completely, but that’s as far as it’s gone.”

“I love you, Cousin Frodo.”

“I love you, too, Cyclamen.”

For a time they sat, quietly, him holding her in his arms, the two of them watching the sunset fall over the Shire and the glimmering of the young mallorn tree below them in the Party Field.

Finally she said, “Will you go away again?”

He shrugged.

“If you do, will you always remember how much I love you, Cousin Frodo?”

At last he said quietly, “I can’t ever forget that, Cyclamen, no matter how very far I might have to go.”

“And every time I look at the mallorn tree I’ll remember you forever.”

He closed his eyes and held her. His saddlebags were packed. Tomorrow he and Sam would ride away from Bag End, and this time Sam would return home, alone. He loved Cyclamen, and was glad she wouldn’t have to see his end.

Finally he kissed her on the top of her head. “Your mum will call you soon to dinner,” he said. “Rejoice to have her and your dad by you, dearling.” Reluctantly he opened his arms and let her go, watched after her as she ran, freely and happily as only a child who knows she is loved by all, can run.

Then she paused by the gate, looking back at him, smiled and waved.

He sat, watching after her in the gathering dusk, until Sam came down to check on him, at which time he at last rose and returned to his own hole.

Then, as he sat after supper in the study, he leaned back in his chair. It was his last night in Bag End. He would see no more of his relatives; he would not tell the stories to young Hobbits. He wouldn’t see any more from the Fellowship save Gandalf until--if he still lived when that time came--Sam chose to follow after him to Tol Eressëa. At least he’d have Bilbo by him--and Gandalf, and Elrond, and the Lady Galadriel. His eyes closed, and he seemed to see the journey to the Havens as if he was sitting above looking down on those riding through the Shire and the Marches to the West to Mithlond.

He roused, that dream or vision still on him, and he one last time reached for the paper on which he’d written his drafts for the Red Book, and wrote down one last chapter--then set it aside and laid his will and the deed to Bag End on top of it, took his keys out of his pocket and slipped them into the large envelope that held the will and deed, and blew out the lamp. One more detail finished.

*******


The party of Elves, Wizard, and one Hobbit had almost reached the Woody End when they were met by Gildor Inglorion and those of his people who went with him as well as by Erestor, who’d remained watching until the party from Lothlorien and Rivendell joined them.

Gandalf gave a great sigh, seeing how many would be leaving at this time. “And how about Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin?” he asked. “Are they coming?”

“The Cormacolindor are on their way and will meet with us on the morrow,” Erestor told them, “but from what I can tell the two who came with them before have not been advised that Frodo purposes to leave the Shire at this time. I saw in his heart the intention to protect others from that knowledge.”

Gildor also shook his head. “If they were to come, they ought to have arrived by now,” he said. “But the last of our party to join us came from the Eastern borders of the Shire two days ago at sundown, and saw the Hobbits Meriadoc and Peregrin approaching the house where they live at present from the South. There was no sign they intended to come this way at all.”

“But he wouldn’t do that to Pippin and Merry!” the Wizard objected.

Bilbo straightened from where he sat his pony by Elrond. “I tried to tell you, Gandalf. Frodo has always preferred to slip away unnoticed. He can’t bear leave-takings--each time he must do one it tears at him and reminds him of when he last bade farewell to his folks. He wouldn’t tell them, and if there’d been any way to avoid letting Sam know he was leaving, he’d have slipped away there, too. I’ll wager he’s not told Sam as yet where it is he’s going, even--bet Sam thinks he’s going to Rivendell.”

Erestor caught Gandalf’s eye. “Master Bilbo is right. Lord Samwise does think Lord Frodo’s going to Rivendell.”

Gandalf straightened, stretching tall in his consternation. “How could he be so selfish?” he demanded. He looked back at Bilbo. “You’re certain he’d not tell Merry and Pippin?”

At Bilbo’s nod the Wizard shook himself. “Well,” he said, “I’ll see about that. They have been through too much together to be denied the right to see him before he leaves, to know where he goes and why.” He looked at the others. “I must ask you to take him more slowly than we’d discussed. But we must give them the chance to catch up.”

“If he is as weak as his letter indicates than that could be serious, Mithrandir,” Elrond advised him. “The longer before he takes ship and is upon the Sea where Lord Ulmo can offer him easing, the less likely he is to survive when the memories threaten to take him once more.”

“I’ll not allow Frodo Baggins to avoid a proper leave-taking of these two who love him so dearly solely to spare him the pain of it,” Gandalf insisted. He gave a sigh. “I’ll be as quick as I can, but even ponies from Rohan cannot go so swiftly as this party would be able to travel. Try to delay to the twenty-ninth, at least. That will put us a week at Sea to his strengthening before the sixth.”

Elrond gave a reluctant nod as the Istari turned Shadowfax back eastward. But as he started to pass Galadriel she held out a bag to him.

“What is this?” he asked her.

“They will need it if they must travel light and swift,” she explained. “And it is not as if they have not had to rely on lembas before.”

Gandalf gave another great sigh, took the bag and slung it over his shoulder, and turned to ride back toward Buckland.

Few noted his passage through the Shire as he rode through the night along the Road back toward the Brandywine Bridge. It was an hour after dawn that he drew near to it, and there he found his way barred.

“What are you doing within the Shire?” demanded the young Bounder he found himself facing. “The Master and the Thain have told us that Men are not allowed within the Shire!”

“I’m not a Man,” Gandalf tried to explain. “I entered the Shire three and a half days ago with a party of Elves....”

“Elves are permitted free entrance ever to the Shire,” the Hobbit interrupted, “but not Men.”

“But I am not a Man!”

“Elves don’t have beards, but Men do. The Master’s heir himself told me.”

“And even among Men not all wear beards; Dwarves do have beards--do you mistake them for Men on that account?”

“But we’ve all seen Dwarves,” the Bounder argued. “You certainly don’t look like a Dwarf.”

Gandalf was growing tired of the argument. “Enough of this, for I must reach Crickhollow and Merry and Pippin as soon as may be.”

“Do you think we’d allow Men to approach the heirs to Master or the Thain? Think again, old Man.” He turned to his fellow. “This Man is within the Shire and can’t account for himself and is arguing he isn’t a Man after all. I think we’d best take him and hold him for the Rangers when they come near again.

“This is ridiculous. The King’s Men will know who and what I am and tell you that Gandalf isn’t to be bound by the King’s own edict. Let me pass--I need to tell Merry and Pippin----”

The Hobbits weren’t listening, and others were coming armed with bows. Frustrated, Gandalf turned Shadowfax Northward, and he raced along the way along the river toward the Buckleberry Ferry, where he hoped to be recognized and allowed to cross unimpeded.

Even at the ferry landing he was delayed, however, for the Ferry was on the Eastern side of the river when he arrived, trying to take on an oxcart. The oxen, however, were not cooperating, and it took some time for the team and cart to be settled and secured and the heavily laden ferry finally to be poled across the way.

Once on the Western bank the oxen again tried to balk, but Gandalf’s patience was exhausted. He approached the animals and caught their eyes, said something to them in Elvish, and suddenly their rebellion was quelled and they pulled the cart off the ferry with no more argument and were on their way, a shocked but relieved farmer peering back at the Wizard as Gandalf led his great steed onto the barge in his place.

The ferryhobbit looked at Gandalf and Shadowfax with interest. “It’s been quite a time, it has, Mr. Gandalf, sir,” he said. “And where ye be off to today?”

Gandalf was in no mood to chatter, however, and the Bucklander realized it, quickly going silent to devote himself to getting the Ferry back to the Eastern shore as quickly as might be. Once arrived, Gandalf’s worry lifted somewhat, and the coin he tossed to the Hobbit was of far more value than he might have expected to have received from a local fare. In moments the Wizard was astride and Shadowfax was speeding toward Crickhollow.

*******


“Mum was certainly being mysterious,” Merry commented as they entered the house and set down the food gathered from the pantries of Brandy Hall. “I wonder what she and my dad have planned now.”

Pippin shrugged. “And neither she nor Mac would tell us what Frodo told them while they were at Bag End.”

Merry nodded thoughtfully. He followed his younger cousin down the passage to the kitchen and pantries where they began putting food and such away. “At least we could tell her there were no serious threats in the Southfarthing.” He opened a package to check its contents and smiled. “Oh, she gave us a wonderful roast. Did she give us any chicken as well?”

As soon as all was put away Pippin laid a fire in the stove and set the kettle over it to heat while Merry put a block of cheese and a fresh loaf of bread out to slice for tea. “Black tea or spice?” Pippin asked.

“Spice, I think,” Merry began, busy with his slicing when the pounding began at the door.

Automatically the two took up their swords from where they lay on the bench in the entranceway, and Pippin concealed himself behind the door before, at a mutual nod of readiness, Merry finally drew the bolt and opened it. At the sight of the White Wizard’s form on the other side of it and his obvious agitation Merry lowered the tip of his sword but couldn’t hide his own surprise. “Gandalf? What is it? Is anything wrong--or anything serious, that is--with Frodo?”

“You recognize that Frodo is in precarious health?”

“Well, of course, not that he’d admit it. He’s become even more secretive than ever in the past year.”

“And he didn’t tell you he was leaving?”

Pippin was stepping up beside his cousin to look up into the Wizard’s face. “Leaving? Where? Has he agreed to go to Rivendell, then? Oh, that’s a relief! We’ve been hoping he’d do that, but he’d not agree to discuss it any with us.”

“That selfish, dear Hobbit!” Gandalf said, leaning down to enter the place. “Get your things--enough for about two weeks, I think. Even if Frodo doesn’t wish to bid you goodbye, Sam will need you desperately when he realizes just what Frodo’s planning now. He’ll be devastated.”

Chivvied ahead of the Wizard, the two Hobbits were grabbing their saddlebags and going back into their rooms, emptying out the items they’d carried through the Southfarthing and quickly going through their chests for clothing appropriate for a hasty trip. Now it was Merry who was asking over his shoulder, “But where is he going, if not to Rivendell? His health has been so delicate, no matter how he’s tried to hide it.”

“He’s going to the Havens.”

Both stopped completely, Merry already in the process of gathering clothing from the drawers in his chest, Pippin coming back to the door to his room to look at Gandalf in consternation. Pippin asked, “He’s going where?”

“To the Havens. Then he didn’t tell you at all that he was considering leaving the Shire?”

“No, not at all--only told us in a letter that he was going to spend his birthday with a relative, and that he wanted us to come to Bag End I think it was the eighth of October.”

“For the reading of his will, I must suppose.”

The faces of both Frodo’s cousins were white. Merry asked, his voice very controlled, “Is he dying, Gandalf? He won’t tell us anything.”

Gandalf took a deep breath to calm himself. At last he said, “He is close to it--probably too close to it. He’d not expected to live past October sixth.”

“The anniversary of Weathertop,” Merry breathed. “We were going to go to Bag End to be with him on that date, to try to help him through it--we’ve seen him afterward, and last year it hit him much harder than he’d admit. He didn’t want us to come, you know--has never wanted others to see him when he’s bad.”

Gandalf was nodding. “Yes--he’s been weakened each time, and it’s been a strain on him--especially on his heart.”

Pippin went even paler. “His heart? Is that why he’s lost so much weight again?”

“It’s a great part of why he looks as he does, Pippin.”

“But isn’t it too late to take him back to Gondor, even by ship? He’d never make it to the Mouths of the Sea by October sixth, much less up the river to Minas Tirith,” suggested Merry. “I’ve seen the maps, and Aragorn’s described voyages he made when he was younger.”

“He’s not going to Minas Tirith, Merry.” The Wizard’s voice was soft, even consoling. He looked down, then back into Merry’s eyes. “There is no power within Middle Earth to meet his needs, physical or spiritual. But young Arwen----”

“No power to help him?” No one could mistake the pain in Pippin’s voice. “Then why take him away? Is he hoping to hide from us while he dies, Gandalf?”

Gandalf reached out to place his hand on the younger Hobbit’s shoulder, and knelt to look into his eyes. “We hope to see him helped, Pippin, but it cannot be done properly here in Middle Earth. He must go where those who have the power to aid him are.”

Merry stood, still as stone, gripping a pair of trousers in his hands. “You say we. Who are we?”

“Elrond, Galadriel, Gildor Inglorien, many of the folks of each, myself, Bilbo.”

Merry took a deep breath, his lower lip trembling, although his gaze held steady. “Then--then you’re taking him to the Undying Lands, where only the Elves can go?”

“There have been a few--a very few exceptions to that rule, Merry,” the Wizard answered him, turning his gaze from Pippin. “And the Valar have agreed to allow four more mortals to enter those lands, although they may not go farther than Tol Eressëa--Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, and Gimli. Each may come when he wishes--but if Bilbo and Frodo don’t go now, they will not live to take another ship.”

“Not Sam, too!” protested Merry. “Frodo would never condone that, and Rosie--Rosie would be devastated. Frodo wouldn’t wish Sam to come now.”

Gandalf nodded. “Erestor came to Hobbiton a few days ago to bring herbs sent by Elrond that could help Frodo do what he needed to see done before he left and hopefully see him through the journey to the Havens. When he met with us last evening he brought the news that Sam believed Frodo was going to Rivendell. I never dreamed that he wouldn’t have told the truth to Sam before now, nor that he’d not warned you. Bilbo tried to tell us days ago that Frodo would be this way, but I didn’t believe him. Frodo knew the choice was granted to Sam from the beginning, but apparently has withheld that knowledge so as to keep Sam from choosing to go with him now and preparing for that.”

“How long has he known?” Merry demanded.

“Arwen begged this grace for Frodo’s sake while you were yet in Minas Tirith. The answer was made known not long after Aragorn returned from the battles with the Haradrim. Arwen sent the message explaining the grace offered with a packet of clothing, and coins Aragorn sent from the first striking of the King’s coinage.”

“He’s known he was going for almost two years?” Merry was almost furious.

“No, no--he refused to answer the invitation, Merry--he would not decide one way or another until a few weeks ago. What little we could discern from afar indicated he intended to refuse, that he felt such a choice was not proper for a Hobbit of the Shire. Glorfindel was returning from the Havens with messages from Círdan to Imladris in August apparently just as Frodo rather precipitously left Brandy Hall; Glorfindel found him in acute distress and helped guide him through what appears to have been another seizure of the heart; even then he refused to speak about the choice before him. It wasn’t until the end of the first week of September that he finally decided.”

Now it was Pippin who took up the questioning. “You said another seizure of the heart. When has he had them before?”

Gandalf shrugged. “He appears to have suffered one as we crossed the Bruinen, and perhaps at least one last year in October as well. He was experiencing what appears to have been small seizures of the heart or at least serious pain during Sam and Rosie’s wedding according to the Elves who observed it from hiding, and the collapse last summer was not due solely to the heat. It is likely he has had other episodes he either refuses to reveal, doesn’t remember, or didn’t recognize at the time. He’s realized his heart has been actively failing at least since last spring.”

Pippin nodded, then returned to his room and rapidly filled his saddlebags. “What will we need to bring in the way of food?” he asked.

“I brought a supply of lembas with me,” Gandalf answered. “I left them in the entrance.”

“Some fruit and nuts, then; perhaps some dried meat if we have it,” the Took decided.

Merry, who was now rapidly filling his saddlebags as tears slipped down his cheeks, nodded. “I’ll fill the waterbottles from the pump in the kitchen,” he said. Then he muttered under his breath, “Oh, Frodo, why is it in trying to protect us you tend to inflict the deepest hurts?”

Once all were assembled again in the entrance Gandalf opened the bag which held the packets of lembas and began handing them to the Hobbits to be distributed between saddlebags and pockets. Pippin’s hands were trembling as he stowed a few packets in the pockets of his trousers; one packet dropped on the floor unnoticed. “I don’t know,” he commented to Merry, “if I can see to ride even.”

“If Ferdibrand can ride, we can, even if we have to just tell Jewel and Stybba to follow Shadowfax,” Merry answered him. “We’re going to be there to say goodbye to him, at least,” he insisted. Once all available space was filled they donned their swordbelts and their swords, and at last their cloaks.

Then they were following Gandalf out into the sunset, hurrying to the paddock by the byre where the ponies stood, watching the patient form of Shadowfax with interest. In moments their own mounts were saddled and bridled, and their saddlebags tied on properly. Then they were swinging up into their saddles; Gandalf opened the paddock gate and closed it behind them, and the ponies were hurrying forward to greet the Wizard’s steed with recognition and respect. Once Gandalf had also mounted he called, “To Kingsbridge--probably quickest by the Road, although you might need to talk with the young Bounder on duty. Refused me the right to cross the Bridge earlier in the day--accused me of being a Man.”

Merry nodded solemnly. “I’ll settle him, I will,” he promised.

The talk with those on duty at the Bridge was intense as once again the same young Bounder tried to keep Gandalf from crossing the structure. Merry gave a snort of disgust as he rode forward, followed closely by Pippin.

“Beldin,” Merry said with authority, “if the Creator had given you the brains to know Men from wraiths you could be dangerous. Gandalf is not a Man, although I’ll give you he looks to be an elderly one. He’s a Wizard; and as such he’s been in Middle Earth for much of the last age, far longer than any living Man, who for the most part don’t tend to live as long as we Hobbits do.

“Now, let us pass, or I will tell my father you have hindered us when we must ride quickly.”

“But Men----”

“That is true of Men, not the Istari!”

At that Pippin came alongside Merry. “Shall I summon the Master and the Thain to teach you the difference between Men and Wizards, Beldin Oatbarrow?”

Taken aback by this call on higher authorities, Beldin at last gave way, and the great horse led the two ponies Westward.



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