The great horse Olórin slowed as three mounted Men came into view from the North. Aragorn examined them as well as he could from the distance and sat up straighter, at which the grey slowed even more. “Two errand riders from Minas Tirith and one of the Rangers of Eriador,” he said. “These are my own folk, mellon nín. They may be carrying word from my adar and Frodo.” And at a more sedate pace they continued on the way North until they came within hailing distance.
He smiled as he recognized the one cloaked in grey. “Berevrion--Halladan has sent you South?”
If surprised to recognize his Lord Cousin riding alone along the Greenway, Berevrion didn’t show it. “Aragorn, we bear letters from the Shire and Rivendell, and the Steward felt I should bring them to you myself. But I suspect you already know Lord Frodo plans to leave Middle Earth, or you wouldn’t be here now.”
Aragorn nodded and held out his hands to receive the missives. There were three from Frodo, one each from Elrond and Galadriel, one from Sam, and one in writing he didn’t recognize immediately but which he suspected was from Gandalf.
He opened the one from Sam first.
Dearest Lord Strider,
Apparently at the last my beloved Master has chose to remove to Rivendell with Mr. Bilbo. I’m to ride with him a good ways, although he intends me to turn back after a week’s journey. I’m so relieved, as he’s been growing weaker pretty steady. I hope as you’ll be able to come North to see him there in the next few years, although I don’t know as he’ll remain with us all that long even if he does get better for now.
I’ll miss him something fierce, but better to rest in Rivendell than to remain and die so very soon as I suspect is likely, the way things is. And at least I’ll be able to come to him from time to time--maybe once a year.
Little Elanor is standing up regular now although she’s mostly hanging onto things, and took her first step for Frodo in August. Hard to think of one so small as her doing so much, but she loves him dear, as he loves her. Being away from her will tear at his heart something awful, I know, but I know as he’ll at least have the chance of seeing her grow to the point of membering him.
Please give my love to the Lady Arwen.
Yours with love and respect ever,
The next he opened proved indeed to be from Gandalf.
Well, my beloved friend and King of Men, the time has come at last to bid you farewell. You have proven an apt pupil as well as a worthy one, and I know relief knowing I leave the leadership of the Men of the West to such as you’ve become.
As you’ve suspected, you shall be basically the last of the Kings of the Eldar Days, although there will be some Elves remaining in Middle Earth even through the reign of your son, who himself ought to be as great a King and leader of Men as yourself. I go back to my own folk to take my proper place in Arda once more. I am flattered you’d think to have me remain to offer you guidance, but first you have grown to the point you must be responsible--fully responsible--for your own choices and decisions, which you cannot do if you seek ever for others to indicate you have done rightly or wrongly. Second, as I told you, if I were to remain I would likely come to simply take the place of Sauron in the end, becoming more and more certain of my own plans and aims as time passes. True, I would be more likely to be benevolent than Sauron ever was, but a tyrant is a tyrant still even if he cloaks his tyranny in pleasant words and sunny rooms. In time the pleasant aspect of my rule over others would wear thin, as happens ever with tyranny.
I leave you my blessing, and my assurance we will all watch over Frodo and offer him the support we can during the voyage. I hope we will be well out to sea before October sixth comes, for he has endured great distress in the last two years on the anniversary of his wounding at Weathertop. Lord Ulmo will allow the aid of the rest of the Valar to reach him once we are indeed underway.
Again, Aragorn Elessar, I am proud of you, and rejoice that such as you and Arwen, Éomer, Faramir and Éowyn, Sam and Rosie, Merry, Pippin, Thorin, and young Bard are left to rule among the peoples of the West, and to know that your own example of nobility has managed to inspire those who have leadership in Rhun and Harad as well. May the Valar continue to look on you with favor, and when your time comes may you come before the Presence in all joy, and may you be reunited with so many who will have left the bounds of Arda by that time. And I am relieved that to Elrohir and Elladan has been granted the right to remain to the comfort of their sister when that day must come. Live with her so that she has the faith to follow you when that day comes, my beloved friend.
The letter from Galadriel was fairly short:
Well, Elessar--the time has come. You have come to your own lordship even as I have surrendered my own, as is right and proper. I leave to your caring my beloved granddaughter, and I charge you to see to it she does not regret her choice. I do suspect that at the last she will find the Gift of Iluvatar difficult, for it is not a truth she has lived in expectation for all her life as has been true of you. But do so surround her with your own love that she will seek it and through it find her way beyond where we cannot come while Arda remains.
In return, we will do our best to compass the Ringbearer about with caring so that he can come to his own fulfillment at the time proper to him.
I leave to your friendship my own beloved husband. Remind him when he will allow you that I will await his coming with anticipation. And do allow young Lord Samwise to know that it will be acceptable to remain here in Middle Earth until his responsibilities to his people and yours are fully met. We will do our best to sustain Frodo to his coming.
Yours in caring,
Galadriel of Lorien
He opened the letter from Elrond next.
Ah, ion nín, I send you my final greetings and farewells.
To you I have entrusted my dearest treasure within Middle Earth, and I beg you to continue to cherish her that she never doubt that love ever encompasses her. Hold her close to your heart in token as much of the love borne her by my beloved Celebrían and myself as your own.
Always I have rejoiced to foster, teach, and cherish the descendants of my brother. Of all I have had the honor to know, however, none have I loved as much as I love you, and it is my great joy I have been allowed the honor of bringing you to the fullness of your promise. May you end your reign and your life as you have begun them; may you ever show the nobility of your breeding and training, may you continue ever to reflect the greatness of the greatest of your ancestors, and most particularly that of Elros. And when you come at last to his side, bear him my greetings and the knowledge of how deeply I have missed his presence, how I look forward to perhaps one day being restored to his companionship when the world is made anew.
You recognized that Frodo Baggins was fading even when he dwelt near you in Minas Tirith. The degeneration has continued, and it has come to the point that if he remains further he will die. This is a grief to all who know and love him. That you offered your own prayers for the grace granted to him helped to obtain that great gift; and I rejoice he has indeed chosen at the last to accept it for the sake of my beloved Undomiel. I know how deeply this wounds your heart, to have him go where you cannot come to him, but at least I will be able to assure him that you also requested this for him that he be restored to fullness of spirit before he must leave the bounds of Arda at the last. His Light is a wonder, and the moreso because it so reflects your own. When at the last you come to stand by his side how greatly the Light of both of you will shine before Eru.
I leave you my blessing, my respect, my love. And I beg you to remind Samwise that, if he survives the voyage, his beloved Master will most likely remain there in Tol Eressëa, awaiting his coming, for as long as Sam chooses to remain in Middle Earth. He need not hurry. I will not seek to hide from you, however, that the condition of the Cormacolindor is fragile, and he may not make it all the way to the Lonely Isle. If this should come to be, you at least will know he was not alone ever, and that it was not for want of love and support but merely because his body could no longer sustain his great spirit.
I will hold the memory of you before the Valar ever, Estel, and rejoice my sons have been granted the grace to remain to the comfort of their sister and to your own companionship that you not feel totally abandoned by those you have known longest and have loved deepest.
Master Bilbo also sends his love and respect, and assures you he will stand by his beloved younger cousin and former ward, and will do his best to encourage him to remain to his fulfillment.
Yours ever before the Valar,
Your adar, Elrond Eärendilion
Aragorn was now weeping openly. Berevrion and the two from Minas Tirith watched their Lord King in his grief. Now at last Aragorn opened the three letters from Frodo, scanned each for its date, and arranged them in sequence.
August 12, 1421 S.R.
Ah, tall brother, how deeply I miss you.
I have been busy seeing to the last of the claims for reparations given into my hand, and it appears most of the evil left by my cousin Lotho has been made right at the end.
Elanor pulls herself to her feet now, and smiles whenever she hears my voice. It so fills my heart when I see her smile and when I hear her quietly babbling to herself. Often if I lie down to rest in the afternoon she will take her nap with me, and it is so comforting to feel her warmth against my chest and her soft curls against my cheek. She is such a beautiful child, and so like the daughter I have envisioned one day for you, although she is more fair in coloring. Sam sings to hold her, and laughs so with sheer pleasure to have her follow after him with her eyes. One day soon she will walk freely after him, and then he will rejoice indeed. To see his great heart so filled with delight is a joy for me. His wife and his daughter ever sustain him, and I give thanks they are here by his side.
There is still more to be learned of how Lotho and his cousin Timono Bracegirdle came to pass so many flawed and crooked contracts upon the folk of the Shire, and I fear in the end Timono and his fellows will come before Lord Halladan or possibly even yourself for judgment. My one concern is that what they did to so many is not done to them in return, and I seek to find how that is to be avoided.
I so wish I might see you again. May the Valar bless you ever and give you reason ever to rejoice.
September 1, 1421 S.R.
Oh, my brother Aragorn,
I miss you so very, very much, and fear I shall never see you again. No matter what might occur, let you remember how much I love you and how grateful I am that I’ve been allowed to know you and to receive your caring.
I don’t know how much time is left to me, for my heart is failing. My cousin Fredegar Bolger and his friend and healer Budgie Smallfoot have sworn to come to my side for the anniversary of my wounding at Weathertop, and they will seek to help me ease my way, and to soften the loss for Sam afterwards. I would not have him find me fled, nor to see me in the act of fleeing. However, I must say that this will be a relief.
Remember me to those I know and love there in Minas Tirith, and thank your lady wife for the gift she offered me. However, as a Hobbit of the Shire, it is not right that I should accept it.
My love ever,
Bag End, Hobbiton, the Shire
September 18, 1421 S.R.
Oh, beloved tall brother,
At last I have chosen. I grieve so that I cannot see you one last time, but at the same time I am relieved. To have to face so many partings has been difficult, and has torn at my heart so often.
Please stand by Sam, Merry, and Pippin. They will be so good for both the Shire and the realm, and will so need the reassurance of your love.
Forgive me, please, for the pain I have caused.
May the Creator bless you ever, and hold you in the palm of His hand.
Berevrion looked at his cousin and King with compassion. “Do you hope to see him ere he leaves Middle Earth? I’m not certain you will be able to catch up with the party, for they entered the Shire eight days ago and indicated they would meet with Lord Frodo upon his birthday. That is several days past, and we left Bree four days ago.”
Aragorn took a deep breath. “I will do my best nevertheless. I might have been here sooner save Roheryn went lame in Rohan. Olórin here was brought to me by Lord Éomer and has borne me from near the eaves of Fangorn; but I was much delayed before he came to me.”
“Do you need aught in the way of supplies, my Lord?” asked one of the errand riders. “We have a couple extra bags of rations which Lord Halladan insisted we carry with us.”
The two bags were quickly surrendered to the King. He addressed Berevrion as he settled them about his shoulders and gave the now empty bag he carried to the errand riders to return to Éomer as they passed through Rohan, “Will you continue with them or return to Halladan’s side?”
“I will go on to Gondor, for there are other matters Halladan would have me brief you on once you return.”
“It is possible I will overtake you upon the way, although I plan to take a few days in Rivendell to see my brothers before I return South.”
“So it shall be, then. It is possible we will arrive before you, I suppose. Well, if so, then we will have all in readiness for your return.” And with mutual bows Aragorn again urged Olórin to full speed.
A new track led Westward toward the Sarn Ford South of the borders of the Shire. Late on the second day Aragorn took it and hurried toward the Marches and Mithlond. It was September twenty-ninth. Would Frodo still be on the way? Would he not have reached the Havens by now? Yet he continued steadily on his journey.
It was on the evening of the third day from the Greenway that he finally came to a bluff looking Westward in clear sight of the Havens. The quay was empty, and he saw no movement among the structures of Mithlond, and no sign of ponies on the Road going East back toward the borders of the Shire. They were come and gone, then? How had Sam felt when he learned the truth, and that Frodo went where he would not have Sam follow him until his time as Rosie’s husband was at an end? Had he told Merry and Pippin? From what he’d seen of Frodo it was likely the stubborn Baggins would have tried to hide his leaving from them. Certainly the three letters recently given into his own hands had been held until it was too late for Aragorn himself to have come to Frodo’s side had he received them in Gondor.
...So many partings...torn at my heart.... The words in Frodo’s own letter told the tale clearly enough. It had not escaped the King’s notice how uncomfortable Frodo had been in his leave-taking when he left Gondor for Rohan and his own lands again; how when he broke from the rest of the Fellowship Frodo had slipped away and that this had been foretold by Sam: “If he screws himself up to go, he’ll want to go alone. Mark my words!...For he’ll screw himself up all right, as sure as his name’s Baggins.”
It grew darker and the longer Northern twilight at last faded away, and Aragorn sat his horse in the deepening dark and looked out at the faint glimmer that told of the Sea, and the growing number of stars overhead. Oh, Adar, muindor nín, I did try to come to you, to be by you, to give you my final farewells. May the Valar receive you, strengthen you, bring you knowledge of how deeply both of you are beloved. Ah, Gandalf--I would so have loved to look one last time into the wisdom and laughter of your eyes! My Lady Galadriel--the succor and comfort you have given me. Middle Earth is the poorer for your going, each and all of your number.
He watched, and suddenly felt a twist in his heart, and knew that the grey ship that bore them away had left Middle Earth and entered onto the Straight Path. He looked up and saw a brilliant glimmer to the West, and had a sudden image in his mind of Frodo as he’d last seen him as the Hobbit had ridden Northward toward Tharbad, Bree, and the Shire, his face set but pale, the intelligence, the perceptiveness.
“Ah, small brother, go in peace, recover, be well and find your happiness and joy once more. And know I love you, will love you ever. Eglerio, Frodo Baggins. A laita te.”
On October eighth, after Frodo’s will was read at Bag End and many of those whose relationship to Frodo was lesser had left, Sam, Rosie, Esmeralda and Saradoc, Eglantine and Paladin, Pippin, Merry, Fredegar Bolger and Budgie Smallfoot sat about the dining room table with Brendilac Brandybuck. The faces of all were grief-stricken, and several were still weeping. Marigold had taken Elanor down to Number Three for an hour’s time while those still in the smial further up the Hill talked out the events of the last few weeks.
“We wanted him to go to Rivendell,” Pippin was saying. “We wanted him to be with Lord Elrond and his sons and Bilbo, or at least with his sons and Bilbo when Elrond left Middle Earth. We had no idea of the offer.”
“He mentioned it to me last summer,” Freddy said, “but he thought it was too late, and didn’t think he should accept it anyway. When we arrived here the fourth and we found him gone and the house empty, Budgie and I were certain he’d already--already died or something. Budgie calmed first, I think, and got me calmed down, too, or I’d have likely had another seizure of my heart myself.
“He was so taken last year by the memories, there at my house when they hit as he was preparing for bed. His expression then was so horror-struck. And then when we were here in March last spring--it was even worse. He swore us to secrecy, forbade us to tell you, Sam, for he didn’t wish you afraid for him. He knew this fall would be likely worse yet, and he didn’t believe he’d survive the sixth again. He didn’t want you to have to see--see him taken like that again. He didn’t want you to have to see him die, for he was certain he would. He did agree that we could come and be with him on the sixth--I’m not certain what pretext he would have used on you this time, but I’m sure he’d have somehow sent you off or kept you busy elsewhere until--until it was over.”
“We were going to come,” Merry said. “We were going to come anyway, Pippin and me--probably would have arrived about the same time as you--if Gandalf hadn’t come to Crickhollow and thrust the lembas at us and drawn us off to the Havens with him. As it was we arrived at the Havens just in time.”
Esme’s face was white, her tears long since spent. “He did come to Brandy Hall to say goodbye, as he could. But he couldn’t tell me, couldn’t admit it to me. He told me in the letter he sent us that I was right--that he would indeed deny on his deathbed he was anything but whole, and he couldn’t change that. He was telling me as he was able, I suppose. Instead he fled the room and hid until the trap came and he left.”
Paladin nodded at his sister. “While he admitted to us that he was often in a great deal of pain, and Willigrim warned us he might have a seizure of the heart or a brainstorm at any time. But he insisted it wasn’t that bad--until he left the room.”
Sara sighed, “And think of how he was the afternoon we came here for early dinner--insisting he was only cold sometimes--and then he all but collapsed at the table.”
Sam looked at Brendi. “What did he say to you, sir?”
Brendi shrugged. “He finally admitted most of it to me--most of it. I only learned he was going with the Elves to Elvenhome the last time I came--I know that before that visit he was concerned about his health and--and how long he might continue to live, and that he didn’t think he’d survive October. He swore us to secrecy, also--Oridon and Ordo and me. But can they truly aid him there, there in the Elven lands?”
Sam thought before he finally nodded. “Yes,” he said, slowly. “I was able to speak some with Lord Elrond, after he was restin’. Not certain if he was properly sleeping, if you take my meaning. Once at sea Lord Ulmo could begin by allowin’ the aid of the rest of the Valar near to him, help easin’ the strain on his heart, you see; help soothe the stomach. If he survived two days ago, then I suspect as he’s truly beginnin’ to recover at last. I only hope as they’re able to help with that nasty bite on the back of his neck. So far none has been able to do nothin’ for that.”
“I’m not certain how he stood it all,” Eglantine sighed. “How was it he could come back even, as hurt as he truly was?”
“Baggins stubbornness,” Sam muttered. “Sheer Baggins stubbornness.”
Paladin asked, “Can you bring that book of his out here? I’d like to hear some more of what he himself did and went through. I mean, he read the parts about Merry and Pippin to us.”
Sam nodded, rose stiffly, and went into the study to fetch the Red Book. He came back with not only the Red Book but the set of draft sheets Frodo had written the last night he spent in the smial. Freddy looked up at them with interest. “Is that his last chapter?”
“Apparently,” Sam said. “Was sittin' below where the envelope with the will and deeds and all was until this mornin’. Haven’t read them yet, though. But then he’s not shared a lot of it with us. But it looked like those chapters as he’d send you, Mr. Freddy, so I brought it.” He sat back in his chair after setting the Red Book before the Thain, then began examining the sheets he held. After a moment they could see his mouth working, and silent tears again beginning to slide down his cheeks. Paladin had opened the volume and had been examining the title page but now paused. “What is it?” he asked.
“He’s written the journey to the Havens, almost just as it happened,” Sam said in a husky voice. “Very short--him singin’ and then us hearin’ the Elves comin’, themselves singin’ the hymn to Elbereth as they love, Elrond with a harp in his hand and the Lady lookin’ splendid, and Bilbo on his pony, and me realizin’ just where it was as they all was goin’--it’s almost all just as it happened. Then him explainin’----” He began to read:
“‘Yes, I’m coming,’ said Frodo. ‘The Ring-bearers should go together.’
“‘Where are you going. Master?’ said Sam, though at last he understood what was happening.
“‘To the Havens, Sam,’ said Frodo.
“‘And I can’t come.’
“‘No, Sam. Not yet anyway, not further than the Havens. Though you too were a Ring-bearer, if only for a little while. Your time may come. Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot be always torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy, and to be, and to do.’”
And so he continued to the end of “Come now, ride with me!” at which time he stopped. “It’s almost exactly what was said,” he said quietly, “almost exactly.” He looked up to catch Merry’s eyes. “He’s had foresight afore, of course; but I’d not expected it here in his writing. But that’s what was said, and it’s almost the last as he said. Course, he doesn’t write as how pale he was gettin’ nor as how the Elves prepared a bed for him and Mr. Bilbo under a linden tree, very late in the night, nor how Lord Elrond was preparing him draughts and all. He was growin’ more and more distant, fixin’ on Mr. Bilbo much of the time.”
He sighed and set the pages down, then reached to take the Red Book from the Thain. He quickly found the chapter on the Council of Elrond and read the section to them where Frodo accepted the quest to take the Ring to Mordor; then the assault by Boromir and Frodo’s decision to go on alone followed by Sam’s insistence he would accompany his Master; and finally the finding of Frodo atop the tower of Cirith Ungol after the attack by Shelob.
All were quiet afterwards as he closed the book. Finally the Thain asked, very respectfully, “When you have read the whole thing, Sam, may I read it next?”
Sam gave a solemn nod of his head. “Gladly, sir, for I think as you and Missus Eglantine need to more fully understand as what exactly was done by all.”
Pippin asked, “Did he copy that chapter into the book yet, Sam?”
Sam looked to the end section, and sighed. “No,” he said, shaking his head sadly, “He’s written up to him namin’ Elanor and me sayin’ as it was the perfect name.” He skimmed backwards a bit. “He writes as he was hidin’ just how ill as he was, not wantin’ to distract me from Rosie and the comin’ bairn. Nothin’ of how we went to the farm for the thirteenth or the burn or how I realized as he lay on the sofa in the study as to how weak he was. Certainly nothin’ about the trip to the Great Smial or--or the troubles of late May, early June.”
“What happened then?” asked Freddy. When Sam just shook his head he asked, “Was that when he--he considered suicide?”
Sam looked up sharply at him. “He told you, did he?”
Freddy gave a grimace. “Yes, after the trip to Crickhollow for Merry’s birthday. I’m glad he didn’t--didn’t finish it then.”
Sam closed the volume before him and folded his hands upon the red leather covers. “He was havin’ terrible dreams, and wasn’t hardly sleeping at all. And he was havin’ a fair number of headaches, and was rubbin’ at his shoulder a fair amount. He’d remember and clutch at the jewel as he was give when we was in Gondor and feel easier; but the pain was still pretty bad much of the time. Enough to drive almost anyone more than a bit mad, I think.”
Freddy thought, and then agreed, “Yes, I think it would. He sacrificed so much for all of the Shire, you know. I only hope that he receives the healing he deserves, for no one should be asked to have to give up almost everything as he did.”
“He loved the Shire, he did,” Sam said. “He loved every inch in it, and every soul as it contains. He considered it an acceptable sacrifice, I suppose.”
“Now, lad, I have something to show you--something I’ve learned. Come here--no, don’t hang back! Come here--the White Tree won’t bite you, you know!”
“I know that, Bilbo--it’s not as if I’d not seen one before, you know. There’s one before the Citadel in Minas Tirith, after all.”
“Yes, I do know, Frodo Baggins. Come here, my boy, and touch its bark. It’s about now that--aha, there it is! Do you feel it? Yes, I see you do. See? He’s there--there beneath his White Tree, there in Gondor!”
And Frodo’s pale face brightened, color coming into it in his excitement and pleasure, and his Light shone forth clearly, causing the older Hobbit distinct satisfaction.
Those you love are there ever for you, Iorhael.
Oh, yes--so I see! Ah, Aragorn, I’m well, I’m recovering! Thank you--thank all!
And in his heart he felt a moment of recognition from Aragorn. Small brother--are you there? Do you rejoice once more? Are you learning once more how to live fully? At last! Eglerio, Frodo--eglerio!
Ah--yes, tall brother. I’m learning at last--the greatest Sacrifice of all is to live to the delight of Eru.
And once more Frodo felt as if a warm hand had been laid on his shoulder, and he felt compassed around with Light and Love. Yes, Frodo--this sacrifice indeed is acceptable.