“Ah, there you are, Iorhael.”
The one addressed slowly turned his head and smiled. Olórin. You have been seeking me?
The Maia smiled down at the shining figure before him, seated on a low bench in the gardens where he’d been engaged in watching as the children working at weeding, an infant held gently in his lap, it, too, solemnly watching the weeding.
“You aren’t helping them?”
A slight shrug. I was helping also, but began to tire and so was made to sit down and mind the baby. Then after a moment of keeping his thoughts private he added, At least this time it is my age indeed to blame, and I find I don’t resent it as I did before. And I was able to do more than I did even as a tween at Bag End. He indicated a full basket of weeds lying at his feet. Gilmir has agreed to take my basket and see them replanted on the south side of the island.
“I was sent to bear you an invitation.”
“To a woodland feast in the mallorn grove on the southwest corner of the island. They tell me that it won’t be a worthwhile gathering without your presence.”
Iorhael gave his gentle smile. I am amazed to hear that, for I always fall asleep shortly after my first glass of their wine now.
“I’ve been promised they will offer you mostly juices until you are ready to sleep that you miss little. Will you come?”
Since they ask it of me. The blue eyes were again focused on the work being done before him, and after a moment he added, It reminds me of my youth, sitting and watching Sam in the gardens about Bag End. Even then I could do only so much before my knees would begin to ache and I would have to sit on the bench and read to him. Over time I was able to do more and more, but never could I keep up with Sam.
An elleth turned her lovely face up to look at the two of them. “Tell us again about Lord Samwise,” she asked. “What is he like?”
Iorhael’s smile lit the grove. Almost as tall as I, strong and enduring, his hair a deep golden brown like dark honey in the comb, his eyes like brown pebbles lying in a stream under dappled sunlight, his hands strong and capable, a smile to melt the heart of the one lass whose opinion mattered--his Rosie, a great deal of love to share with all. Then, after a moment of contemplative silence he added, He must feel quite empty with her gone from his side.
“You know this?” asked the Maia.
There was a slow, barely perceptible nod of his head. A few days ago he was working about the mallorn tree in the Party Field, and I could feel the emptiness in him. I had to leave the White Tree that I not call him to me.
“But if he is free to come....”
I wish it to be his choice, Gandalf. It is our way for the one remaining to follow when the time is right, and lie beside the spouse in gladness. He has that right, and I will not tempt him to do otherwise. They have been husband and wife for so very long, after all.
“And what of your own desires?”
All these years I have felt how strongly his heart has been bound to mine, and indeed that is part of why I chose to leave. He had married Rosie, and needed to cleave first to her. The quest was over, and I needed to choose to live my life for my own sake, and not for the sake ever of others, no matter how much I loved them in return. I feared he would follow me yet again if I remained there to die, or the grief of seeing the horror of my fleeing the memories would destroy his ability to know joy as he has ever known. I was so very ill, my friend.
“Yes, I know that--and who better save Elrond and Sam himself--or Aragorn?”
Young Livwen approached and stood over Iorhael.
“Ah, so you again have been given this one to watch?” she asked. “My sister knows well whom to approach when she would be busy about other things to see to it my nephew is well cared for.” She scooped the child up into her own arms. “And how are you, Nabúhuril? Have you been keeping my friend company?”
His hands freed, Iorhael turned to the small lump of clay that lay beside him, taking it out of its oilskin wrapping and examining it as he worked it between his hands. Briefly he slipped slightly sideways out of himself into that other region he could now freely visit without fear that he would lose himself within it; then he was back in his own body, his eyes closed, his concentration and Light intent as he shaped the clay and brought what he wished to it--and it was done. Now there lay in his hand a figure of a black bird with patches of red on its wings, one that he knew to be a sweet singer that lived near the margins of pools.
Livwen and Nabúhuril between them gave identical gasps of delight. “How beautiful!” the Elf maiden murmured, settling the child she carried on her hip and reaching out a single finger to touch the figure of the bird. “Finarfin taught you well during his visit.”
Slowly Iorhael nodded. That he did. And to think that for so very long I was afraid of entering that place, remembering how it was the will of the Shadow I be enslaved there. How was I to appreciate how there I could so join in the Song? He turned to offer the figure to the Maia. Did I catch it rightly? he asked.
Olórin took and examined it carefully, a look of distinct pleasure in his eyes as he turned it in his hands. “That you did, my gifted friend. Ever have you shown an eye for beauty beyond the norm.” The figure now appeared to be the finest of colored bisqueware, as if it has been shaped and fired by a master sculptor of clay. “I envy you your ability to create such things.”
Eyes still a vibrant blue smiled up into the eyes of his friend. And what of your fireworks? You, too, have ever been able to capture beauty beyond the norm, you know, and to thrill others with it.
He who had been known in the north of Middle Earth as Gandalf smiled. “Ah, the praise of an artist of note such as you are is ever pleasing, Frodo Baggins.”
When is this party?
“Tonight, if you believe you can make it that far.”
There was a spark of the old mischief in the glance Iorhael favored him with. One thing I can still do is to walk with the best of them. I’ll be there.
He who’d once been known as Frodo Baggins arrived some time after sunset to find the feast already in progress, the Elves formerly of Lothlorien looking up in gladness to watch his arrival, calls from all sides joyful as they watched him come.
“Well, Iorhael--you tarried long enough!” called one who’d once been a border warden alongside Haldir and his brothers. “Come and join us!”
There was much of beauty to see along the way, was the answer. The night fair sings with anticipation.
“Anticipation of what?” asked Livwen from where she sat by her sister Lordeth and her husband Beril and their infant son.
I’m not certain, the Hobbit returned. However, the entire air of the island is full of it and has been teasing me with hints of a glory to come.
Olórin considered, but on opening himself he found the answers weren’t yet being given him. “Whatever it is, mellon nín, we will be shown when the time is right, I must suppose. Come and join us.”
More guests arrived after Iorhael, and a few surprised those who dwelt here, for their long-time lady and her daughter and the Lord Elrond had also come to join them from Aman proper.
“Lady Galadriel!” they heard from several quarters. “Lord Elrond! Lady Celebrían! Welcome indeed! Now we are most blest, that the three of you and Iorhael and Olórin should all share our feast with us. Come and sit.”
Their Lady folded into the grass beside the Hobbit. “Ringbearer,” she acknowledged him. “It is ever good to see you.”
And you, Lady, he replied. He reached into the scrip bound to the rope belt he wore about his robes, bringing out the bird he’d formed earlier in the day. Now I know for whom I was moved to shape this earlier, he commented as he offered it to her.
Galadriel took it with great pleasure. “This is the work of your own hands?” she asked. “My father did well to show you how to enter that space. I regret I never thought to do so, for your artistry has so much more scope for expression since he taught you.” She turned it. “One of the black birds with flashes of red. I almost expect him to open his beak to sing his sweet song.” She looked at him. “I suppose we will have to make do with your own voice instead, although I’ll admit it is sweet enough.”
He gave a sigh. Not so sweet as was Pippin’s, he expressed to her. He had the fairest voice, I think, in the whole of the Shire, although my cousin Forsythia was a match for him. She sang for me the last time I was with her, there before I came away.
“You miss your own people?” she asked.
He gave a graceful shrug of a shoulder. I ever miss them, and particularly now. He nibbled at the fruit he had before him.
“Then you must give us a song of your people,” suggested Beril. “I’ve heard few enough of them.”
With encouragement Iorhael stood, and turning West he began to sing.
Galadriel and Olórin contemplated him as he sang a bathing song Bilbo had written. There was so little left of Frodo Baggins the Hobbit, for his mortality had been steadily burning away since before his arrival on the Lonely Isle. There was yet a body, but it was now but a fragile shell that barely held in it the bright Light of his Being. He still ate some, but mostly he ate fruit or light breads, on rare occasions cheese, almost never any meats. He on occasion accepted wine, but more than a sip or two appeared capable of pushing him into sleep.
He hadn’t spoken aloud now for some years, although he still sang. That his voice had changed, that it was no longer that of a Hobbit but an emanation of Song Itself he didn’t appear as yet to appreciate. Yet it still held within it the lightness it had held when it was merely the voice of a small mortal being; and all who heard it were entranced by its beauty and unique timbre.
Galadriel looked to Olórin, appreciating that this night he held about him the reflection of long grey beard, bristling brows, and gnarled yet capable hands he’d exhibited in the years he’d spent as one of the Istari in the mortal lands. There was a great gentleness in his visage as he looked on Iorhael’s singing, a pride, a gathering grief, a longing. She sighed. He has not long left, does he, old friend? she asked in his mind.
He briefly glanced at her, then quickly returned his attention to the singer. No, Artanis, not long now by any count of days. The wife of Samwise has quitted Arda, and Sam will not linger long after her, I fear. And when he allows himself to follow her, this one will let go at the last, for there will remain nothing to tie him to mortality.
Does not Samwise come here to join him?
There was a slight shake of the head. I have not been told whether or not he has chosen to come. And even if he should, yet I’ve been allowed to know that he himself is weakened by age--that his heart is near to failing.
As was true of this one when he accompanied us hither.
After a short period of mutual consideration she commented, And so, even if he comes, both would leave us soon enough.
Soon enough, he agreed.
And neither will regret the leaving.
There was a barely perceptible shake of his head.
There was dancing and more singing. When he danced, all danced the more gracefully and with more pleasure and skill; when he sang all lifted up their voices in gladness. But as the evening progressed Iorhael was increasingly silent, listening rather than joining in; watching rather than dancing himself. At last he accepted a small glass of wine, and soon after had fallen asleep where he sat under the mallorn. As they did when this happened, they laid his slight body out comfortably, brought a light blanket to tuck about him and a small pillow for under his head, and continued on more quietly in deference to his sleep.
Livwen looked down at him as she prepared to leave the grove with her sister and her sister’s husband and child. “Does he realize we gathered to celebrate his birthday?” she asked Olórin.
“No, I don’t think he does,” the Maia answered her. “He knows only that all gathered to feast, and it was enough for him.”
She leaned over the sleeping figure and looked long at him, realizing that she would see him rarely enough from this time forward. “Sleep well, mellon nín,” she said quietly. “May you be sent dreams of joy.”
And indeed this wish appeared to be granted, for his face was calm and beautiful, a faint smile apparent.
Three days later Olórin returned to the grove in search of his friend, for Iorhael hadn’t returned to the summerhouse. Those who greeted the Maia were surprised, for he appeared excited and even a bit impatient. “I think,” one advised him, “that he remains in the glade in that direction,” and he indicated a path toward the heart of the isle. “He often spends time there amongst the butterflies when he visits us. My wife took him a light meal earlier, although I doubt he’s eaten much of it.”
A number of butterflies fluttered about the glade, and the pleasure Iorhael took in contemplating them was obvious. Nearby, one of the small herds of deer that shared the forest grove with the Elves from Middle Earth grazed, and a fawn of about eight months lay eating what remained of the roll of bread brought earlier off its plate, lying by the small mortal while Iorhael absently stroked its head. Three of the children of the dwellers in the grove sat under the mellyrn, watching their guest with interest. One, a sturdy youth, looked up at the Maia with a smile. “He is shining very brightly indeed today,” he said quietly. “He told us a story earlier, and then wanted to sit by himself and know the beauty of the glade.”
Olórin nodded, then quietly entered the open space himself to stand somewhat to Iorhael’s side, looking down at his face. There was great peace reflected there, and a gentle smile as he watched the dance the butterflies gave as they hovered over the remaining blossoms of elanor and the clusters of goldenrod that now bloomed in profusion. The Maia sank down to sit by his mortal friend, and at last Iorhael smiled up into his face. The butterflies of this glade are among the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere, he shared. And the deer, who used to warn me away, now accept me as one of their own. He gave a look around the two of them. I’ve known peace here, and once was granted a vision of Aragorn, the first time I visited it. His face was nowhere as grim as it once looked, and he was dressed all in a white robe such as I’d never seen the folk of Gondor to wear. The Elessar stone shone at its neck, and the Ring of Barahir sparkled on his finger. His spirit was at peace.
“That is good to hear.”
Then after a time of quiet companionship Iorhael turned to look up into the other’s face. He comes then? he asked. The trees have whispered that this might be so.
“Apparently, Frodo. They ride now to the Havens.”
Iorhael’s Light flared with joy, although his face still appeared quiet enough. Perhaps, then, I should return home and prepare for his coming. How long will it be?
“They will leave the Havens probably on the twenty-ninth, as happened with us when we sailed. Perhaps a month to six weeks. Can you manage to remain patient?” But even as he asked it, Olórin knew it had been asked needlessly. As with Aragorn, Iorhael had in the hundred fourteen years of his life learned much of patience. No, he wouldn’t lose the peace of his spirit now.