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3: The Road Home

3: The Road Home

For as long as they could see the light of the Phial of Galadriel in the distance, the three Hobbits remained there on the quay. Then, after the movement of the distant waves and the curve of Middle Earth hid that light at the last they continued to strain their eyes, and particularly Sam.

All three had found themselves giving Frodo tremulous smiles as he turned back to look at them as he stepped onto the deck of the ship, for they saw the relief just that act gave him--not a great deal of relief, perhaps, but the strain of decision lifted at last and there was a notable smoothing of his brow; and the look of wonder as he looked up at Gandalf had itself been worthwhile--it seemed so long since they’d seen such an expression on his face. But it was the dawning expression of hope which had truly caught at their hearts, for it had been even longer since they’d seen hope there.

Now, however, as the grey ship disappeared to the West they again were grieving--grieving for the loss of Frodo, Gandalf, the Lord Elrond, and the Lady Galadriel, as well as those others who went with them. Middle Earth would be the poorer, for with these of the great Elves went much of the wonder which each had known during their lives, knowing that in secret corners dwelt such beings.

They were weeping as they watched into the darkness of the night, and found themselves watching that way until at last behind them the stars began to fade and the sky go grey with the false dawn.

Círdan came near and drew Merry apart for a moment, giving something into his hands. Merry examined it, spoke softly with him, then nodded and returned to Pippin’s side. Immediately, automatically, Pippin’s hand had reached out, gone again about Merry’s shoulders. Sam noted this with a part of his awareness he railed against within himself. How could he note such expressions of comforting in others when his own world had just been turned utterly upside down, when his very heart had just been taken from him--not raw and bleeding, he realized, but neatly, surgically, with a minimum of fuss or mess, for the blood had been seeping out of it for so long now....

He heard Pippin whisper, “What did he give you?”

“Something for Brendi and Will. Legal papers, I suspect. Something Frodo had forgotten earlier, apparently.”

“He’d know, wouldn’t he--Brendi, I mean?”

Merry was looking out to sea once more. “Yes, I suppose he would. And he can’t say a word, either--Frodo would have sworn him to secrecy.”

Sam was just aware of the small nod Pippin gave as he settled that bit of information and speculation into the proper corner of his mind. For all the tousled covers and cushions askew and items left lying in his wake, Peregrin Took’s thinking was quite neat and precise, Sam knew.

And then the large hand of the shipwright lay on Sam’s own shoulder, and Sam reluctantly looked up into eyes as constant and changeable as the Sea itself. “When you are ready, sweet Lord Panthail, there will be a ship waiting for you, you will find. You need not hurry yourself. If he survives the voyage the Valar will aid him to wait for your coming.”

“Pretty big if there,” Sam replied softly.

Círdan smiled. “Already he has shown far greater endurance than we have learned to look for in mortals. He has his elderly kinsman there by him to help keep him grounded in Arda. I do not believe he will give over as easily as he had once thought to do.” The Lord of Mithlond’s expression sobered. “Know this--they will not allow him to go without a struggle. Olórin, Elrond, Artanis--they will do all in their power to see to it his spirit and his body both are allowed to know full healing ere he accepts the Gift.”

Sam found that reassuring. He gave a small smile up into the tall Elf’s face--the one bearded Elf he’d ever seen, he realized; then he looked back to the Sea once more.

The Sun was rising indeed when at last they turned away and left the quay, wandered for a time along the graveled shore, now and then speaking, mostly quiet. Then, without words, they returned to the harbor to fetch away the ponies, Sam leading away Strider, who kept trying to turn about and go back to fetch his beloved master.

“He’s not there, Strider,” he said patiently. “He’s gone on now. He can’t come back, you see. He can’t come back.” And as he explained to the pony he felt the words seeping into the raw places in his heart, somehow easing the pain there. “He’d of died if’n he’d stayed. He’d only of died. Now at least he has hope.” One last time he looked West, then he resolutely swung himself up onto Bill’s back and turned East once more, back to the new day--the new day without Frodo. Rosie was waiting for his return. Elanor was waiting for his return. He kept in his heart the knowledge that he needn’t have returned after all, that he could again have followed Frodo, helped keep him further grounded, seen him find easing, seen the Light cleansing away the last of the nightmares, seen the healing air which carried the breath of the Valar themselves cleansing away the ache in his shoulder, the guilt from his heart.

But it was Frodo Baggins who had married Sam to Rosie, who had made certain Sam realized that his marriage to Rose Cotton superseded all previous commitments, that he was not to put family or friends between himself and her and whatever children they might give birth to. And it was Frodo who had begged him, just before they mounted for the last of their journey to the Havens, to live--to live for the both of them. “And I’ll do that, Mr. Frodo,” he promised fiercely in the depths of his heart. “I will live for the both of us!”

Peregrin Took’s eyes were not seeing the road he traveled--they were seeing Frodo and Gandalf--Frodo and Gandalf looking at one another over Bilbo’s china and silver which were being used to form byres and paddocks for Pippin’s wooden farm animals, back when he was a very little one; Frodo smiling up into the Wizard’s eyes as Gandalf explained an obscure point in one of the books on the history of the First or Second Age; Frodo talking with Gandalf at The Party; Frodo walking by Gandalf’s side through Hollin; Gandalf sitting by Frodo’s bed in the guest house in Minas Tirith, the two discussing the effects of the Ring; Gandalf reaching down his hand to accept Frodo’s as Frodo approached the gangplank onto the grey ship; Gandalf standing by Frodo at the rail as the ship pulled away, his hand on Frodo’s slight shoulder....

They were both gone, Frodo and Gandalf, and he would see them no more during his lifetime. There would be no more of Frodo’s chicken baked with mushrooms, no more quiet moments of advice or encouragement, no more stories told in the common in Hobbiton, no more walking trips across the Shire, no more sitting by him atop the Hill, watching the stars. There would be no more laughter shared with Gandalf, no more looking up at him atop Shadowfax, no more repetitions of “Fool of a Took!”, no more reassuring glances or comforting touches from those large hands, no more questions to be answered or ignored. How was he going to survive without those two?

Then he glanced sideways at Merry, seeing how pale Merry’s face was--almost as pale at the moment as Frodo’s own. If it was bad for himself, he knew it must be twice as bad for Merry. Frodo had always been there for Merry, and now he wouldn’t be any more. And Frodo had tried to slip away without them knowing! Did Frodo realize how deeply that would have hurt Merry, had he succeeded? True, Frodo was barely there, hadn’t been able to speak with them. He’d been so pale, almost ghostly. He’d been thinner than ever when they’d embraced him, and his eyes had shown such weariness.

He wouldn’t have survived the next anniversary, he thought. Both he and Merry had known that, had discussed it, had planned to be there for it to hold his hands so that he would know that at the end he wasn’t alone.

Which would have been worse--Frodo dead, or Frodo gone where he went now, with them knowing at least now Frodo had the chance to heal, knowing that now Frodo could laugh again, knowing that Frodo would be surrounded by those who knew what he’d done and who would fully honor him for it, knowing that Frodo would be surrounded there by the beauty his soul required? No question--I’d far rather see him gone to Elvenhome than dead, he realized. And with the realization Frodo would now be able to heal came a surge of joy he’d certainly not expected to feel.

He’d stood by Aragorn often enough now to know the tune and the words of the Invocation to Healing the Man had sung so often; now he began singing it, dedicating it in his heart to Frodo. Merry turned his head to look at him, amazed Pippin could sing at a time like this--until he listened to the words and realized what he sang, and then he joined in it.

O Manwë, come near, and guard this one who requires your aid; let your shining sword keep away every danger.

Lord Ulmo, let your cleansing waters wash away illness and infection and uncleanness; let them soothe and ease the pain and fevers.

Lady Estë, grant this one healing and ease; ease the pain of the body, the heaviness of the soul.

Lady Elbereth, allow your stars to shine upon this one, to ease the fears of the darkness; send Eärendil to show forth hope and to guide the way.

May all of the Valar compass this one about with healing; may all seek to guide along the way.

And, having begun to sing, they continued. Frodo had written a song about Gandalf while they were yet in Lothlorien and had shared that song with Sam. Sam had written it down and had shared it with them, and had sung it for them one day while Frodo was gone with Aragorn to a hot spring where the two had gone to soak away the bruising Frodo had sustained on his chest and in his heart. Now Merry and Pippin began to sing it.

In evening when the Shire was grey,

his footsteps on the Hill were heard.

Before the dawn he went away

on journey long without a word.

And when that one was done they sang others--walking songs, bathing songs. They sang for Frodo, Gandalf, and Bilbo, who’d gone with them. Bilbo might not be able to remain with them long, but at least he’d be there by Frodo while Frodo began his healing, would remind him that he was a Hobbit of the Shire.

Merry’s heaviness of heart began to lift as he sang with Pippin, something he’d never thought would happen--certainly not now, today. But Frodo wasn’t going away just to die, but to live again. Gandalf and Bilbo were by him, would see to it Frodo was kept grounded, would see to it he remembered ever how deeply he was loved--in the Shire, in Gondor, throughout the free lands of Middle Earth.

As they sang one of Bilbo’s walking songs, Merry could see in his minds eye Frodo, dressed not as a Hobbit but in a silver robe, walking a silvery path through great trees and by shining flowers.

Around the corner there may wait

A standing stone or secret gate....

Find those hidden paths, Merry thought. Find those hidden paths and explore them, Frodo. And know that my heart will follow you ever as it has always done, though I can’t come to you while life remains. But I’ll come to you in the end, you know. I’ll come to you when all is over and you shall show them to me.

And so the three of them rode back to the borders of the Shire, Sam silent, Merry and Pippin singing, each dedicating it to Frodo.

It was midday when they at last stopped, exhausted. Once the ponies were stripped, rubbed down, and hobbled, Pippin solemnly shared a wafer of lembas among the three of them, and Merry poured a bit of the wine from the wineskin pressed into his hands by Lord Gildor into the battered cup he carried with him, and they shared it in turn.

“They feed you well on the journey to the Havens?” Merry asked Sam.

“Don’t even member eatin’,” Sam said, “although we must of done it. I member the draughts as Lord Elrond was fixin’ for Frodo, all along the way, though. Him and Mr. Bilbo both was gettin’ draughts. He even give me one once, I think.”

“Did he tell you ahead of time?” Pippin asked.

Sam shook his head. “No. Left me thinkin’ as he was goin’ to Rivendell, he did. Not till we met with the Elves and I saw as Mr. Bilbo was with ’em and they was headin’ West did I understand. And here I was busy plannin’ on how we was goin’ to convince Strider to come up and see him while he was there. Didn’t think as he’d live all that long even if he went there, but at least as he could perhaps linger a few years without needin’ to be laborin’ none, surrounded by beauty and learnin’ and all.”

The others nodded their understanding.

After a time Sam said quietly, “Was surprised as you was singin’ at first; but they was the right songs, they was.”

Pippin nodded solemnly, then murmured, “Thanks.”

Another time of silence, and at last Merry whispered, “At least he’s not dead. He has hope.”

They undid their bedrolls and set them around their small campsite. For a time they sat on their blankets and looked at one another, then got up and moved the bedrolls together, side by side, and together lay down where they could touch one another, and let their exhaustion take them.

Sam roused first, and sat up, looking about him for Frodo, then remembering. They weren’t alone--one of the Elves that had accompanied Gildor Inglorion sat nearby, and had kindled a small, neat fire, and had hung a pot over it from a small tripod constructed of dead wood. It was late afternoon.

“Welcome back to awareness, Lord Samwise,” the Elf said quietly.

“I thought as you was goin’ West with the rest,” Sam observed.

A graceful shake of his head and the Elf replied, “Not all of us wish to leave at this time, although we accompanied our lord to the Havens to bid him farewell, as you did with the Lord Frodo. No, there will remain a remnant of our people here on the hither shore for a time yet--until after you have left it, I suspect. If you will allow me, I would be honored to take the same ship as you do when you go to rejoin your Master.”

“It would be a great honor,” Sam said as Pippin and Merry awoke and stretched.

They went back slowly, and as they reached the Woody End a few days later at last they parted, the Elf turning back to the Elven woods hall where he was to meet with others of his folk, Sam headed South toward Hobbiton, Merry and Pippin continuing Eastward toward Buckleberry. Not long after he found himself alone Sam came to one of the groves he’d replanted. He dismounted from his pony and examined the young trees, awed at how much they’d grown in little more than a year and a half, at last sitting in the midst of them, hearing the song of their growth sung in his heart, until at last he rose heavily and headed on foot back toward Hobbiton, followed by Bill and Strider.

Dusk was falling as he reached Hobbiton and took Strider and Bill to the Ivy Bush’s stables and saw them in their stalls, unharnessed, groomed, fed and watered. It was dark as he at last turned homeward and saw the green door open to let the light held within escape to welcome him, as he saw his wife’s bright smile of joy, and he was drawn in and pressed down into the Master’s chair in the parlor--for he was the Master of Bag End now, he realized. He was Master; Rosie was Mistress. A family at last lived in Bag End, and would fill it before they were through. The family Frodo himself had desired was there. Frodo might be gone, but not the family he loved, hoped for, wished to fulfillment. And as he accepted his daughter into his arms Sam looked up into his wife’s loving eyes and murmured, “Well, I’m back.”

After they left Sam in the Woody End, Merry and Pippin rode sedately for a time. Another bout of solemnity had taken them, until at last with an inarticulate cry of grief Merry drubbed his heels into Stybba’s sides and the pony broke into a gallop. A few moments later Pippin was giving chase, a cry of challenge on his lips.

So it went for the remainder of the day, the ponies alternately cantering and galloping, catching their masters’ shifting moods. None challenged them when the reached the Bridge and crossed it; on the East side of it they turned North into Buckland. Some saw them in the gathering dusk and hailed them, but they didn’t answer. They passed the doors to the Hall, and at last reached the turning to Crickhollow. Merimac stood at the gate, opening it for them and drawing it closed behind them. Light shone behind the curtains, and the door opened as they approached, the Master of Buckland greeting them and drawing them in and bringing them into the parlor where they were made to sit down.

“Mac will see to Stybba and Jewel,” he assured them. “Pal is filling the tubs now for you to bathe. We cleaned the kitchen for you, and Esme sent out fresh bread and new cheese and butter to replace those you left out when you hurried away. The kettle’s on the boil--would you like some tea--or would you prefer a mug of ale? Lord Halladan sent in a barrel from the Prancing Pony for the two of you.”

Pippin seemed to be in a haze of shock; he went with no fuss when his father came in and took his hand to lead him to the bathing room where two of the three tubs Merry had made certain were made available for the house already emitted steam scented with lavender oil. A few minutes later Merry was joining them, apparently as much at a loss to understand how this had come to be as was Pippin. The two fathers left them there, and the two younger Hobbits were left to strip themselves and get into the tubs and bathe. After a time Paladin came in with a tray. Using his foot he hooked a stool between the two tubs and set the tray upon it, smiled proudly at the two of them, then left again.

The tray held sliced cheese and roast beef between slices of bread, cress and sliced pickle; plates of baby carrots, broccoli, and slices of cucumber; mugs of tea and glasses of rich buttermilk, mushrooms dipped in batter and deep fried. Merry and Pippin each ate and drank what they could, then soaped themselves and their hair, finally rinsed themselves and got out, dried themselves, emptied the tubs into the drain, and then set them against the wall with the other one. At last they donned their nightshirts and dressing gowns, finally quitted the chamber.

Paladin sat in the parlor with a book in his hand, looked up as they peeped in. “You two look about done in,” he said simply. “Your beds are turned down. Want to sleep for a time?”

Pippin looked at his father sitting there in his shirtsleeves, the strength of shoulders that used to carry lambs and lads with equal ease; at the eyes that had watched countless dawns as he fed his stock and fought to keep his crops from being taken by drought, pests, and floods; at hands that had wielded hoes and pens. The disquiet he’d seen in his father’s eyes over the past two years was gone--it was as if the Thain was gone and the farmer was back--the farmer and the father.

“Da?” said the King’s smallest Guardsman. He was feeling very young at the moment, and very vulnerable. He didn’t want to invite more criticism. But he did want--so wanted--his da.

Paladin Took was up and out of the chair, dropping the book unheeded on the cushions as he rose. He stepped forward to take his son in his arms. “It’s all right, Pip,” he murmured into Pippin’s ear. “I’m sorry, sweetling. I’m so sorry. I fought it so long, but I can’t any more. Oh, my son--again I almost lost you, and this time due to my own stubbornness and foolishness. Oh, Pippin, I’m so proud of you--so very, very proud of you.” He held the younger Hobbit away from himself for a moment. “And look at you--the youngest Captain, I’m told, in the King’s service. Lord Halladan just went on and on about how skillful you are----”

“Lord Halladan?”

“He was coming to the Prancing Pony, and we were going out to talk with him; but then they were advised about Frodo, so he came here instead. Sara had him admitted to the Bridge Inn and we spoke with him there. If your Aragorn is anything like his cousins, I can see just why you honor him so.”

“Frodo’s gone. He went to the Undying Lands with the Elves and Gandalf.”

The Thain was back, but not with the suspicions. “Gandalf is gone, too?”

“Yes--Gandalf, Gildor Inglorion, Lord Elrond, Lady Galadriel, Frodo, Bilbo....”

“They took Bilbo, too? Lord Halladan said he’d come with the Elves.”

“For what little time he has left. I suspect it’s mostly to help Frodo keep anchored while he recovers. He’s been so very close to dying, Da. His heart, I think, mostly.”

Saradoc had come from the kitchen, and had his arm around Merry. “Willigrim had warned Pal and Lanti that Frodo was in fragile condition.”

“He’s not truly been well since he recovered in Gondor,” Merry said. “He’s not allowed us to tell anyone, although he couldn’t truly hide it no matter how he tried. He’s even tried to hide it from us! We were planning on going to be there on the anniversary, though. We weren’t going to let him go on alone as he’d planned.”

“What anniversary?” his father asked.

Pippin explained, “Of when he was stabbed at Weathertop. The first anniversary we were coming home--had just left Rivendell and were crossing the Bruinen--and his face looked like it had when the Black Riders were there facing him across the ford. It was all he could do to make Strider carry him across. But he seemed to get better, although Gandalf slowed down our going. That was when Sam started making his tea for Frodo. Then in March he apparently got sick again, just at the time of the anniversary of when the spider bit him. He didn’t go to work in Michel Delving for two weeks, and he lost weight. Then last fall it happened again, and again last spring. Each time he’s gotten worse. You saw him at the Free Fair--he’d not have survived another bout.”

“He even sent Sam off for the thirteenth of March last spring,” Merry said. “Had Freddy and Budgie there instead so Sam and Rosie would agree to go to the farm for a few days.”

Pippin added, “At least he has a chance now. At least he has Lord Elrond by him, and Gandalf and the Lady and Bilbo. If they can’t help him get through the sixth, no one can.”

Sara asked softly, “What did he say?”

Merry was shaking his head. “He didn’t speak. Sam told us on the way home he’d not really spoken more than a few words at a time since the birthday, there when they met with the Elves. Said he was getting quieter and quieter, mostly focusing on Bilbo.”

“He was surprised to see us, but was mostly relieved we came in spite of his care taken to spare us the parting,” Pippin said. “He held us, kissed us goodbye, but he didn’t speak. He was so thin--so very thin--and almost transparent, if you understand me.” Pippin was weeping again. He reached up to wipe his eyes with the sleeve of his dressing gown.

Pal and Sara looked at each other, and then at Merry. He, too, was weeping once more. A mutual nod between the fathers, and they led their sons out of the parlor, across to the bedrooms, took them in and saw them into their beds, sat by them, saw them asleep.

They heard the quiet opening and closing of the door, and went into the parlor to find Mac had sat down on a settle. “Ponies are taken care of. Looks as if much of today they’ve just been riding, riding steadily. They had a bit of food and more of that Elven bread, although only a few wafers left.” He indicated the saddlebags where he’d laid them over an ottoman.

Sara went into the bathing room and gathered the discarded clothes, checked their pockets, and dropped them into the basket for laundry. He brought out what he’d found there--Pippin’s pen knife; a carefully tied coil of twine from a bale of hay; two pebbles; a few coins--one of them a silver penny of the King’s coinage; a cork; and some of the leaves and the careful wooden skewers used to fasten the packets of lembas closed. A note he’d written to Merry reminding him of a planned meeting with certain farmers from Buckleberry; a marble Frodo gave his cousin when he was just a lad; more coins; a stick of graphite wrapped tightly in thick paper to keep it better protected but with the point protruding; a button pulled from Merry’s waistcoat; his striker; his new leather wallet for his pipeweed; his pipe; a thick packet of papers. He set these on the table between their chairs.

Pal had gone to the kitchen to prepare it for the morning. Then they went with Mac to the paddock to retrieve their own ponies, and headed back for the Hall, prepared to assure their wives that the lads were back and in good condition.

Esme met them at the door as they arrived. “There’s a letter from Brendi,” she said. “He’s gone on to Hobbiton with Oridon and Ordo Goodbody. He’s confirmed what he said the other day--we’re to be at Bag End day after tomorrow at eleven for the reading of Frodo’s will.”

“This is cutting it very close indeed,” Sara sighed. “But we can do it, I think. We’ll take care of things here. Can you and Lanti go to Crickhollow very early and get them up and here as shortly after dawn as possible? We’ll put them in the coach with you lasses, and lead their ponies. I don’t think they should ride far again so soon. They were all but falling down tonight from the grief and exhaustion.”

And so it was that at first light the two Travelers were awakened by their mothers and Berilac, very rapidly dressed and fed, enough clothing for a couple days placed in Pippin’s pack, and hurried out to take their readied ponies to the Hall where they were shifted into the Thain’s coach and they were on their way, still not completely certain how things had been managed quite so efficiently.


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