Gilmir and his younger sister Pelmirieth found Olórin near the quays speaking with the harbor master. They waited patiently for the two to finish, and when the Maia was free he turned to them. “You wished to speak with me?” he asked.
“Please,” Gilmir explained, “we wished this to be private.”
Amused, Olórin walked away down the white path toward the beach. “And what is this matter that needs to be considered privately?” he asked when the three were assured no others were within hearing.
“We want to understand something--something about Iorhael and Panthail,” the ellon said. “The two of them, as they work with us in the gardens, are often discussing how other people both of them knew have died, might have died, or will die.”
“Yes, this is a common topic for discussion for mortals at their time of life, my children.”
Olórin smiled at this so-common question of children of all races. “Because they know that soon enough they will come to their own deaths, and it is common to consider how many they will possibly be reunited with once that comes. It is often reassuring to them to anticipate the reunions.”
“What do they mean by ‘the Presence’?”
The Maia’s smile became more solemn. “They refer to coming face to face with Eru.”
Pelmirieth asked, “What does it mean to die? Is it bad?”
Olórin sighed. These innocents had not seen death in the Children of Iluvatar before, and had been trained from earliest childhood to look at even plants needing to be weeded from a garden as deserving to live elsewhere. Their mother could perhaps have answered their question, for her brother even now waited in Namo’s Halls for re-embodiment at some undetermined future time. But for now, how could he explain?
Finally he sank down to sit on a log drifted in from the sea. “Look at this log. Do you know what it began as?”
“Yes,” Pelmirieth answered swiftly as she and her brother sat down on the shingle before him, “it used to be a tree.”
“How did it go from being a tree to being a log?”
The child considered the log for quite some time, and finally answered, “I don’t know.”
Examining the remains of its root system at one end, the Maia said, “It is probable that when this was a living tree it grew at the top of a bluff overlooking the sea. The storms washed away the soil that supported it, and eventually it fell into the ocean below. With its roots no longer able to bring the tree food and water, the tree died, and its spirit fled Arda. Now it is a log, and might be cut up into wooden planks with which to build a house or a boat or a bench.
“When there is no longer the ability to support life, a living thing dies, or when its physical form is no longer great enough to enclose its spirit. Here in Aman almost always when death occurs it is due to either accident as with the death of the tree this log came from, from harvesting, or from the physical form no longer being able to support the spirit, as when simple plants, having come through their sprouting, flowering, and seeding, then die back and become hay, for their purpose has been fulfilled--to bring the plant to seeding.” The elleth gave a nod, now having come to understand.
“With the creatures of Iluvatar there is a season to be born, to grow and know the joy of life, to mate and give birth to their younglings, and then to die. For you who were born to the Eldar, your life is bound from conception to the life of Arda itself, and although your physical body might die, your fëa will not go beyond Arda’s bounds until the world is remade. At some time your fëa will be expected to be rehoused, when it is ready for such an experience.
“For mortals, however, once their spirits leave their bodies usually they are not rehoused; and even in those rare cases where such happens they must begin again as newborn infants, usually with different parents. Usually their spirits leave the bounds of Arda to enter the realm appointed to them, which it is often believed will be sufficiently close to the Presence of Iluvatar to allow them at some point to come into that Presence. And, as with the lesser creatures that populate the Undying Lands, it is expected that when they have grown, mated, raised their children, and had time to learn what must be learned in this life, they will accept their time is come and will accept the Gift of Death.
“Most of the children of Iluvatar have laid on them a limit as to how long their lives may last. For most Men it is near the century mark for the longest lived, but relatively few live longer than seventy years. For most Dwarves it is around three hundred to four hundred years. For the Dúnedain, the descendants of Lord Elrond’s brother Elros, those of unmingled blood commonly live now to a hundred fifty, although if he doesn’t die otherwise the Lord Elessar Telcontar will most likely live to the age of two hundred or slightly beyond. For Hobbits the longest living members of their race--to reach that age at least somewhat naturally--were Gerontius Took, and Bilbo Baggins, who came here with Iorhael, Lord Elrond, Lady Galadriel, and myself. He was a hundred thirty-one when he accepted the Gift here on Tol Eressëa.”
“So,” Gilmir said consideringly, “Iorhael and Panthail are coming to the end of their term of life naturally.”
“Yes.” After a time of silence Olórin added, “Among mortals there are many illnesses that may occur, particularly as the mortal ages, that may somewhat speed the leaving; and as their bodies are rather fragile they tend to die more readily of injury than do those of Elf-kind. In times of drought or flooding, extreme heat or extreme cold or when their crops may fail, it is likely that their youngest and their eldest will not survive the time of trial, much as it is with lesser creatures here. Those that live most isolated from others of their kind will often fail in such situations.
“When he left Middle Earth, Iorhael was very near to death, for he underwent terrible trials in the fight against Sauron, and the health of his body and spirit were both weakened. He was restored, but even had it been possible for him to return to his birthplace of the Shire he would not have been able to live there, for he had not enough left of his mortal frame to support his spirit and the Light of his Being there in the mortal lands. Even here he is approaching the limits of his physical life, for his mortal form has been converted through the Becoming increasingly to the Light of Being, and there is very little left capable of supporting his life. He will, when the time comes that the last of his physical integrity falls away, rejoice, I think, in his release.”
He paused, aware that a caterpillar crawled along the trunk of the log toward him, and he held out a shining finger, onto which it gladly climbed. “You know, do you not, how caterpillars become butterflies?”
“Yes, for Iorhael has shown us how it is done, that the butterfly grows within the caterpillar, and at last its outer body must become a crysalis case from which the butterfly springs forth. Usually it will wind itself with silk to protect the coming crysalis when this happens. He says it happens with all true insects, but that not all will wind themselves with silk as will butterflies and moths.”
The Maia smiled. “Yes, Iorhael has made himself an expert on metamorphosis. Well, what you have known in your friend is his crysalis; and what you see now in Panthail is his crysalis form as well. The Light of Being that fills both will soon enough need to be freed, for the bodies have fulfilled their purposes and their spirits are ready to return to the Presence.” His smile again grew more solemn. “I know that I will miss them very much when that happens, for they have become dear to me; and I suspect that you will feel the same.”
He looked at Pelmirieth. “You asked if death is a bad thing. No, it is not bad at all; but often when it comes untimely it sends the fëa onwards before it is quite ready, or stops the individual from doing what he or she is meant to do in life. This is why those who seek to kill others are almost always given for judgment. Had Frodo died before it would have been a relief for him, for he was in great pain. However, there was much he was intended to do and to perhaps teach those such as you here on Tol Eressëa that he would not have been able to accomplish had he died earlier when he’d thought to do so. Do you understand?”
Slowly the elleth nodded. “Yes, I think so.”
He laid his hand on her head. “Few mortals have ever come into the Undying Lands, child. Rejoice that you will have seen some of the greatest and most unique of them.”
He straightened. “Have the two of them been discussing how and when they will accept the Gift?”
The children looked at one another. “Some,” Gilmir said, “but nothing specific. Only they keep repeating that they are elderly or old now.”
“I see. Well, do not worry. I suspect that when the time comes for them to leave us, all will know.”
“Midsummer?” he asked Samwise a few days later. “Why would you wish to be made aware of when Midsummer comes?”
Sam shrugged. “That’ll be the anniversary of when my Rosie left me, and I want to member her that day. And it’s the anniversary of the day when Strider and the Lady Arwen was married as well as the time of the Free Fair in the Shire. Midsummer’s always been special for us Hobbits, you know. Maybe my Master’s been here long enough as he’s stopped tryin’ to keep the anniversaries and holidays there; but I’ll admit as I’m more’n a bit set in my ways. I just want to be able to know when the day comes. If’n Mistress Livwen hadn’t of invited us into the city to celebrate midwinter, we’d of not known when Yule was.”
“Well, when the time comes for Midsummer there in the Shire and Aragorn’s lands, I’ll definitely let you know.”
Sam gave a nod as if ticking something off a list of tasks to be accomplished. Then he looked down. “I’ll be missin’ his visit north this summer, and I’m sorry. I only hope as he forgives me for not writin’ him and explainin’ ahead of time. It was an awful way to treat one I think of as a brother.” He sighed. “I think my Frodo-lad and Elanor will explain, though.” There was the hint of tears when he looked back up at the Maia. “I do miss him, I find. It’s rare enough that we stop by the White Tree here and note him at the White Tree there, you know,” he added in Quenya. Then he smiled and the hints of somberness fled. “It will be the more joy when we meet there.” And he turned away to go seek out Frodo, who was teaching some of the children how to dance the Husbandmen’s Dance near the gardens and the summerhouse.
Livwen found Olórin attending a conception-day celebration for a friend in the city. Iorhael and Panthail had both come to the celebration as well, and were seated in the courtyard for the home in the sunlight, laughing at stories being told. The Maia sat almost hidden in a corner so flooded with light his own didn’t appear to show. He was watching the two Hobbits with what Livwen thought of as a patient pain in his eyes. “What is it, Olórin?” she murmured into his ear. “Will they leave us during the dancing?”
The Maia shook his head. “No, not today, but soon enough.” He turned to look at her intently. “So often I’ve taken mortal creatures into my heart, and each time I must see them leave me it is an intensely painful joy. And for these two....” He went quiet and looked back to watch them. At last he continued, “They don’t know how they were awaited the first time, how painful was their loss. Then when I thought they lay dying upon the mountainside, having just known the most intimately grievous pain life could give them but without having had the chance to have lived fully, I determined to see them saved if I could. And for what did I save Frodo? To see him stripped of dignity and health and happiness? To see him reduced to a quivering bundle of illness and pain? He went from the responsibility of having saved all Middle Earth to the new responsibility of seeing the Shire renewed, and he never sought to shirk it. But what it cost him!
“But he was granted the grace to come here, and accepted it at the last. Now look at him, shining with joy. He knows his time comes soon and he is delighted. His spirit grows confined within the crysalis of what is left of his mortality, and anticipates spreading those great wings of Light that it will show forth so very soon. He is eager to accept his release, and his pleasure in the thought causes him to shine forth the more.
“And then there is Sam. She who ought to have been his mother described the son she foresaw as possessing an old soul; and certainly Frodo himself has seen the same. But instead of having been born the prince intended he came forth a gardener, one as dedicated to growth and beauty as Iorhael himself. Iorhael was almost an adult when they came together, and Sam still a child. And the youth helped shape the child, as the child helped shape the developing adult.
“And Sam also fairly aches for the freedom to come--yet always methodical, he approaches it step by step, his Light also growing brighter by the day!
“And there in Ennor remains the one who came to his own promise only because these did so, who knows now what they were intended to be and stands in awe of the compassionate and devious nature of the Creator. When the day comes that all three of them stand together before Iluvatar, how bright will the Presence be!” He sighed. “I wish I might accompany them,” he said softly. “I wish I might stand in the reflected glory when that time comes, seeing the three Lights of Being coming back to the Source in all delight. But I do not begrudge having bound myself here, and helping to polish their Light.” She saw the love reflected in the ancient eyes, one who’d bound himself to support all the Children of Iluvatar but who’d especially come to cherish those among the most delightful of mortals.
Welcome, Olórin. And how do the Cormacolindor fare?
The former wizard bowed deeply as he faced Estë. “At the moment they do very well as they make their plans for their release.”
They will seek to leave us at the same time?
The Maia smiled sadly. “Not again will Sam agree to being left behind; and Frodo recognizes his own time is come, and that this time there will be no reason to linger further. He is grateful and takes with him a fullness of memory of delight.”
They have confided this to you, Olórin? asked another who entered the court where Valar and Maiar typically came together.
Again Olórin bowed low. “No, Lady Nienna, they do not confide in any at this time. We are dealing here with Frodo Baggins, who has made a habit of avoiding saying ‘goodbye’ since the death of his own parents when he was yet a child. I could not have spent so much of Iorhael’s life at his side without learning much of his nature. Again, he will not bid farewell or accept those of others if he is not forced to it.”
Do you have any idea as to when they will seek to take their release? asked Lord Ulmo as he came in, trailing the scent of the sea with him.
“As I stated, they have confided in none as to this matter. I suspect, however, that they will do so at Midsummer, probably after sunset when the stars are brightest and Eärendil’s bark can be seen. Before when he thought to die Frodo begged to be allowed to lie under the stars and find his release there.”
The court was lit brightly with mithril light as the Lady Varda entered in. I find that most flattering, that he would find such light reassuring.
“Ever has he found your stars beautiful and reassuring, and in time the same became true of Panthail as well. The sight of a star from Mordor aided him to complete the quest, gave him heart to bear his Master up the barren mountain side.”
The greatest Light of all filled the court with glory as Manwë himself entered. If you are certain they will seek to leave us at Midsummer, we would offer them an honor before they pass from our company. But what would give them greatest pleasure?
He felt Gandalf fill him once more, and his Masters and Mistresses looked on the transformation with amusement and interest. “I can tell you that Samwise would most love to see fireworks once more, and that Frodo would love almost anything to do with dancing and stars.”
Varda’s amusement grew greater, along with her personal joy. Then I grant you permission to order my stars for that night, if you think it would give them pleasure.
Gandalf bowed most deeply. “That you would entrust them to my care and ordering is the greatest of honors, Lady,” he assured her. He looked at Estë and Nienna. “And I myself offer the two of you thanks for all you have done for both of them during their stay, for the healing offered to body and spirit, and particularly for that offered Iorhael. He has known great relief to be allowed to weep for what was lost and then to put it behind him that he could reach for the gifts of joy and delight offered to him.” He turned to Ulmo. “Your cleansing, refreshing waters, from the river that took his parents yet supported himself to the gentle Water beneath the Hill where he knew fulfillment as a Hobbit of the Shire to the protection offered by the Bruinen and the trickle in Mordor that sustained the two of them to the final sweep of waves bringing him from his old life to his new one--ever have you succored him, and his honor of you is great.”
He looked to Aüle and Yavanna. “The strength of your hills has thrilled them both, and the richness of your soil both here and in the Shire of their home, as well as the way that even the devastation Sauron sought to wreak yet enhanced the fertility of the fields and orchards and could be used to bring forth great beauty by such as the glassblower known in Minas Tirith. This knowledge has helped Frodo keep the depredations of my failed brother in perspective, and to recognize that Sauron had not the power to do more than rattle spears in the end.”
Now he looked to Namo and gave a deep bow. “Although on a time Frodo hoped to hide himself in a corner of your Halls in hopes he might one day recover enough to seek the further Gardens, this time I do not believe he will give them a glance. He has found his healing not in the peace of death but in the pleasure of life fulfilled. But I thank you that you offered your halls when he felt he could have no other chance for renewal.”
I rejoice that he does not require my services, Olórin, the Vala of the final Healing assured him. It is ever reassuring to see that my aid is not always required by those of mortal blood. Although I would have cherished them both as they would have allowed me.
Again Gandalf bowed deeply and with thanksgiving. “I know, my Lord. When he comes, their brother will enter in that he leave a record of himself for those who come after, but I doubt he will long linger there in more than memory, for he will be eager to come to these once more and to return to his Lady Wife her Light, Love, and Heart, which, after all, are one and the same thing and have been entrusted to him since their marriage.”
To host at least one of the three, no matter how briefly, will be a great honor. I therefore entrust his guidance to you. I doubt these two will need it.
“No, for our Lord Himself has ever led their steps. Having found their way across Mordor without the need for guidance by others, they will not falter when it comes to finding their way to the Bridge and across it."
And they have no part in me, I fear, the great Huntsman said, shaking his helmed head. Yet, for the love of my creatures both have shown I respect them. Bear them my greetings, Olórin.
“That I will.” The Maia at last turned to Manwë and Varda. “Your own Lights have filled them as well as guided them; and so it is that Sam’s Light has led Frodo and Aragorn to rejoice in the day, while Sam has been led by his brothers to delight in the coolness of night as well. With the gift you offer them they will find their release greatly enhanced, I believe. For the great love I myself hold for them, I thank you.” Once more he bowed deeply, then accepted his dismissal.
A moment only Nienna stayed him. Great will be your own grief when they have at last left you. Come to me once they have gone, faithful one, and together we will know the fullness of the loss and the relief.
Thank you indeed, my Lady, he returned. I will miss them very much, but rejoice that they are so restored ere they leave us at the last. And with a final inclination of his head, he left the court.
They stood together on the headlands looking west to Aman proper, looking at the shining of the continent in the dim echoes of a magnificent sunset. “Now,” Sam said reverently in Quenya, “if that wasn’t a wonderful sight! It was beautiful past telling, it was.”
Iorhael, his form glowing more brightly as darkness flowed around them, nodded gently. Yes, very much so. And soon I will be able to pass over some of those lands and see their beauty more closely as I go on my way. Livwen and Olórin both turned to look at his face, saw the pleasure of his smile. I know now what Bilbo meant when he declared he felt he was quite ready for another adventure.
At last they turned and walked back toward the center of the island. A small owl ghosted by them in the starlight, and a vixen could be heard barking to call her kits to her. For a time they walked in quiet. At last Sam broke the silence. “I was memberin' the letter Lord Elrond received from Strider, and in it Strider mentioned as he’d been given his mother’s journal.” The Maia nodded, not speaking. “I hadn’t known as his mother also had a tendency to lose her bairns as did Frodo’s mum or Missus Esmeralda.”
Olórin was quiet for a time, but finally he said, “It’s not so much that she had a tendency to lose children as much as the influence of the Enemy. He’d been warned that the heir of Isildur would possibly see his end, and so he did all he could to see to it that said heir was not born. There are several diseases that tend to cause miscarriage, and waves of such illnesses passed through Eriador and through the Dúnedain villages.
“At the time Gilraen married Arathorn son of Arador, she herself knew a foreseeing, seeing that she would bear her new lord three sons, all three of whom together would see the ending of Sauron if it could be done. Then she conceived for the first time, and realized she bore twins. It was the one she foresaw would be born second to whom she was already devoted. However, a few months after she conceived she became ill--a relatively minor illness yet still affecting her pregnancy; and she lost one of the two babes she bore. She was fortunate that the children were not identical and did not reside in the same sac within the womb, for if that had been true she would have lost both. As it was, she lost the one intended to be born second. Then, two years after her first living child was born she conceived again, but told no one save Elrond. A pestilence swept through Eriador just after her husband left to lead a patrol along the Misty Mountains, where orcs were beginning to breed and mass heavily. Her husband was lost in battle with a band of orcs.”
I believe Aragorn said that he was killed by an orc arrow through an eye, Frodo commented.
“Even so,” Gandalf agreed. “She became seriously ill, and again lost the child she bore. She was prostrated with the double loss, and Elrond came to the hidden fortress in which she was living at the time both to aid her and to aid her folk in dealing with the epidemic. Aragorn himself became ill with the pestilence, so much so they almost lost him. When one of the women attending on his mother thought that the child had indeed died and ran from Gilraen’s private chambers crying out that the heir of Isildur was no more, Elrond and Gilraen’s brother Halbaleg conceived a perfect protection for the child--that they would take the boy and his mother away to Imladris, and raise the child in secret there.
“A bundle the size and weight of the small boy was readied and wrapped in a shroud such as was used by the Dúnedain at the time. To contain the spread of the disease Elrond and his sons had ordered that the bodies of those who’d died were to be burned as soon as was possible; there were three others who’d died in the village, and they were burned with the bundle that most believed contained Aragorn’s body. That Gilraen, herself only just recovering from her illness and believed to be devastated by the loss of both husband and son, would choose to remove herself from her people and go into seclusion in Rivendell was fairly easy for most to accept. The Dúnedain don’t tend to remarry any more often than do Elves, with whom the number of such remarriages could be counted on your two hands, Frodo.”
Iorhael gave a slow nod.
“There were a very few who were allowed to know that Aragorn in actuality had survived, including Halbaleg and his wife; Lord Berenion, who dealt mostly with the training of new recruits to the Rangers; Gilraen’s cousin Rahael; and Arathorn’s cousin Gilthor and his wife, Lord Gilfileg’s parents.”
Sam asked consideringly, “Witnesses, then, that he was indeed the proper heir?”
Olórin smiled. “Yes, you have the right of it, Sam.” He sighed, then continued. “Aragorn was slipped out of the fortress while most of those who lived there and in the nearby village were attending the burning of the bodies, and he was taken to a remote shepherd’s hut for a few days until his mother, now sufficiently recovered to travel, publicly left with the Elves, obviously without a child. When they were certain they were hidden from observation by any others a signal was given, and Elladan, who’d been caring for the child as he recovered from his illness, joined them and they retreated to Imladris.
“There were two villages at the time not far distant from the boundaries of Rivendell. In one of them a boy of similar age to Aragorn was left orphaned when his mother, who’d been widowed about a year previously, died of the same epidemic that Gilraen and her son had suffered. This child was taken for fostering in Rivendell for a time; he was soon after sent to his grandparents in the other village, just before they joined quite a different village far to the north and west. The very few who realized that a child of Men now resided in Rivendell would be told that Elrond had accepted an orphaned child from the first village as a fosterling; none appeared to give the matter any further consideration.”
And you were party to the deception?
“Me? Oh, dear me, no. Certainly not! I’d not been in the area for about six years at the time, and didn’t visit Rivendell again for ten years after that. And so I had no idea whatsoever of the situation. The first I became aware that Elrond had a fosterling in the vale was when Bilbo and I were returning from the Lonely Mountain. I never even noticed him during the outbound journey.”
Did Bilbo know about him?
For several moments Olórin didn’t answer, although his lips, which were suddenly strongly resembling those of Gandalf, twitched in amusement. Finally he gave a nod. “Of course he found out. However, he took to heart the warning that he must not speak of the matter outside the vale, or with anyone other than Elrond himself. But his romantic nature was quite taken with the idea that Lady Gilraen had conceived three children but lost two; and that it was now foretold that the lost ones would be born elsewhere to other parents truly caught at his imagination. That was when he began steeping himself with the stories of the end of the Second Age.”
“Strider told me he’d had two imaginary brothers when he was a child, and that he’d pretend to hunt great hunting cats and boars and the like throughout the gardens around the Last Homely House when he was a child,” Sam noted.
“Yes, so I was told later by Elrond, the twins, Erestor, and Glorfindel,” Gandalf answered him. “Did he ever tell you what he’d named them?”
Sam shook his head. “No, he never did. The time as we went there for the conferences for Arnor he fetched back a picture of hisself as he’d done as a child, hisself and his two brothers. Then, when Rosie and Elanor and me went to Gondor for the year we did, when our Tom was born, there was a painting as he told us Master Ruvemir’d done for him of hisself as an adult with his two brothers also as adults. Said as he’d always imagined that the one with dark curls and no beard was his twin, and the one with the dark gold hair....” Suddenly he flushed furiously.
Iorhael’s face was intrigued. What about the one with the dark gold hair?
Sam was looking intently at the face of the Maia, which was studiously innocent in aspect. “Said he’d always imagined as the one with the dark gold hair was about two years younger.” He remained silent for a time, growing increasingly stern in aspect as the amusement Olórin wasn’t trying fully to hide grew. Finally he demanded, “All right, so what did he name us?”
Confused, Iorhael asked, Us? What do you mean by us?
The Maia didn’t answer the question immediately. “I learned from Elrond that Estel had always imagined his younger brother as one who would understand the growth of plants and who would delight in the wild places and would gain knowledge of the animals that lived in the forests and plains. He would have about him a Light of Being as golden as the Sun. His twin, on the other hand, would be the most Elvish of the three of them, with the natural gift of languages and poetry, with the special grace of the Firstborn, with eyes blue as summer skies. He’d remain beardless and have long, dark curls similar to those seen now on the son of the King and Queen. As Aragorn has watched his son grow and mature he must be well pleased and humbled, feeling that in Eldarion his lost brother is reflected.
“The odd thing about it is that the Lady Gilraen also saw her lost sons identically.”
Gandalf watched as Sam shook his head in disbelief while for a moment longer Iorhael simply looked confused. Suddenly the older Hobbit’s Light flared brightly, almost white with wonder and surprise, then growing more silvery again with amusement and delight. What??! When did he realize?
“According to what Lord Celeborn has told me since his arrival, not until they were at the conference in Imladris, just after the unveiling of the memorial to the four of you in Minas Anor.”
Iorhael began to laugh, his Light flaring wonderfully as his amusement lit the field they were crossing. He stopped and turned to Sam, clasping his arms about his friend’s neck. Almost brothers have we called one another? Dearer than brothers? Oh, the humor the Creator shows!
The stern attitude Sam had taken relaxed, and soon he, too, was laughing with abandon, and all about the two of them was lit up as brightly as the day. Livwen, whose eyes had followed the conversation from one to the next throughout, fairly shone with humor herself as she joined in the laughter along with the Maia. Frodo broke out in song, a song in which Sam, not consciously certain what the words meant, joined.
At last the laughter calmed, and Frodo straightened, looking up, a great smile on his face. Praise to Eru!
A familiar voice in his heart responded, Ah, child, it is good to know your joy.
Olórin smiled as he caught the echo of that Voice. He looked at the two mortals shining still before him. “There was one more aspect of her most beloved lost child the Lady Gilraen listed--that he would ever hear in his heart the voice of Iluvatar,” he said gently.
Again Iorhael’s Light grew brighter.
“What names did the Lord Elessar give his imaginary brothers?” asked Livwen.
Gandalf smiled at her. “Gil-galadrion for his twin, and Anorahil for the younger one. And the Lady Gilraen had intended to name them Gilorhael and Anorhael. One of starlight and one of sunlight.”
Frodo stilled, a tear in his eyes. Then what was intended in time came to be. Did Bilbo know? At Olórin’s nod he bowed his head. So, there was good reason to teach the two of us the history of the Elves and that of Númenor and the Last Alliance. And reason indeed to tell me, over and over again, about the breaking of Narsil.
“When I first saw the two of you there in Bilbo’s study, both alarmed and your Lights flaring in your uncertainty, and realized what I was seeing I was so taken by surprise! And I knew I couldn’t speak to Bilbo about it outside Imladris. I had no idea what he knew about the situation. Nor could I speak of it with you or even Elrond. None at the time had any idea of what it was that must be done to see Sauron’s end, nothing save that it had been foretold that the three of you each had a part to play. And, of course, there was always the chance that I was wrong, somehow mistaken in my identification of you. After all, you were both so very much Hobbits of the Shire!
“I knew I must let the knowledge I had fade from my conscious mind lest I forewarn the Enemy, and so I did my best to ignore you, but was drawn ever back to see you both and Bilbo again and again. And there in the Shire you two grew up, maturing into two of the finest mortal souls it was possible to be, drawing to you such as Fredegar Bolger, Folco Boffin, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took, inspiring each to be the absolute best he could be.
“I never before knew what it was that drew me to so esteem Hobbits, only that your people refreshed my spirit and your land eased my worries. That the Creator would ever use your land and people so was simply nothing any could have imagined ahead of time. I only know I have been honored ever to have known all I have come to love among your folk, from Bucca of the Marish to the four of you who came out of the Shire to such fame.”
At last Iorhael asked, rather carefully, Had we indeed been born Aragorn’s brothers, would we possibly still have ended up having to go through Mordor?
“It is probable, my friend.”
“Yes,” Sam said, “it would still need to have been done.” He took a deep breath and held it, then resumed the walk back to the summerhouse.
“And where is Panthail this morning?” the Maia asked. He’d entered the summerhouse to find Iorhael busy in the kitchen in spite of the early hour, being aided by Livwen.
Yet asleep. He was awake long last night speaking with those who designed the gardens here by us. Thank you for telling me last evening that today is Sam’s birthday. For once I’ll see one of us know a proper one.
The smell of a baking cake filled the room, as well as the scent of the herbs to be added to the eggs for breakfast and the food being prepared for the party to come. In moments Olórin found himself aiding in the preparation of a great salad while Iorhael prepared all for a great pot of stewed mushrooms and Livwen worked on the batter for seed cakes.
“Are there to be presents for all?” Olórin asked at length.
I fear not at this time. But he knows none here expect such things. And, as I was the one who asked to be advised of his birthday and not him, I suspect he’ll not be aware until he wakes anyway.
In time Sam emerged from the bedroom, straightening his braces and yawning. “And what’s happenin’ today?” he asked, as he sniffed appreciatively.
Just never you mind. Set the table for breakfast for the four of us, won’t you?
It was as the cake was removed from the oven and set to cool that Sam appeared to realize just what was planned. “It’s not, is it?” he asked.
The elleth smiled at him. “And if it is, Panthail?”
“But I’ve no presents!”
Olórin laughed as he spooned the eggs onto the plates and reached for the cheese Iorhael preferred and began slicing it. “No one will want for any gift more than your presence. That is pleasure enough for the day.”
On the doorstep already lay wreaths and sheaves of flowers and a few potted plants, and Sam was soon set to decorating the summerhouse with them. Around noon the first of the guests arrived, bringing with them more food to add to the small feast, and one of the Maiar who came brought small candles of beeswax to light Sam’s cake.
A table was brought by some from the city and set near the small garden patch Frodo himself had kept about the summerhouse’s foundations; chairs and benches appeared as if by magic. Celeborn and Galadriel came from the mainland; Livwen’s sister’s family arrived and soon Iorhael was kept busy minding Nabúhuril, now on his feet and eager to explore everything his small hands could reach. Sam watched after his companion with satisfaction. “I’d help him if’n he’d ask,” he confided to Lordeth, “for havin’ raised thirteen I know well enough how to handle bairns; but he’d enjoyin’ hisself so much!”
And soon Frodo had the small child in his lap, and had gathered about himself still others and was busily telling them of Bilbo’s first encounter with Smaug.
The joy of the day was tangible; and when four more visitors arrived from the mainland as Elrond, Celebrían, the Lady Elwing, and her husband joined the party in the early afternoon, all were overwhelmed.
Never had Sam thought to see the Mariner in person; had the encounter occurred in the Mortal Lands he suspected he would not have survived it. But now, looking on the meeting between former Hobbit and former Peredhel, Sam understood just what Frodo might have come to had he not been so very mortal.
“They’ve met before?” he whispered to Gandalf in Sindarin.
The Maia gave a small nod. “Yes, some years past. It is their second meeting.”
Certainly Frodo’s own Light grew to rival that of the master of the Vingilot, and the two of them seemed to be sharing so much in a very short period of time.
I look to the time when at last I will see you on your way, the Mariner confided to Iorhael as Sam overcame his shyness and approached. I grieve I may not accompany you all the way as yet, but rejoice that I have known you here in this place. He turned to Sam and bowed low. And to meet you, beloved Lord Panthail, is a very great honor indeed. So brightly the two of you illuminate where you are.
Sam bowed in return, feeling that for a Hobbit of the Shire this was far greater honor than he deserved, but he’d learned in a hundred three years to accept respect and to return it properly where it was due.
Soon enough their bright guest left them. I wish only I might take you upon my ship no matter how briefly, he shared with Frodo. How brightly the two of us might light the night then!
Since that cannot be, I yet thank you for your attendance, my Lord, Frodo returned. And perhaps one day in the Presence we will meet again.
So I hope, the Mariner answered him. One more thing--when you come to my other son, the one who chose to take your way, carry to him word of how deeply I still love him, and how very proud I have been of both my sons. And tell him how glad I was he chose to allow me to guide him on his way at the end.
“Will you do the same for Strider?” Sam asked.
The shining head slowly shook. My heart tells me that, for all he himself is lit also by the Light of Stars, yet it is your own Light he will choose to follow in the end. He dwells now in the Tower of the Sun, and embraces both sunlight and starlight now. My ever-so-great grandson and my granddaughter--soon enough they, too, will seek their way, following the two of you who are sons of my spirit. And with a gesture of blessing on the two of them and a last embrace of his son and his son’s wife, Eärendil left to prepare for his evening’s duties.
It was late when almost all the guests had left, and Frodo sat upon the ground, his knees drawn to his chest, his arms embracing them while Sam sat on the bench by the doorway, nibbling at a fish cake brought by one of the Teleri who’d attended. Elrond smiled in satisfaction as he sat embracing his wife on one of the low couches that had been brought out of the summerhouse. I’d not expected to meet with your adar yet once again, Frodo shared.
“Deeply has he desired to see you once more ere you leave us, Iorhael. It is so rare the chance for him even to see a mortal, much less one in whom his own Light is so reflected. He’s found the mere fact you resided here on Tol Eressëa comforting, and treasures the memory of your last meeting.”
Sam smiled. “I’ve never seen such a sight before, and I’ll wager such will never be seen again in Arda,” he said in Sindarin. “I’m certainly glad I had the chance to be here for it, though.”
From where he stood on the other side of the door Olórin looked on the two Hobbits, himself laying up a treasury of memories to sustain him over the coming ages of Middle Earth, ages in which he was reasonably certain he would not have further chance to consort with any of the Periannath.
Tell me, Sam, did you enjoy your birthday?
“Very much so, Master. And you appeared to have been enjoying yourself thoroughly. It was such a joy to see you dancing once again.”
It was so freeing to find that I could dance again. With a significant look at Livwen Iorhael added, And that one was my first partner when I tried it for the first time since Aragorn and Arwen’s wedding. I was so childish to insist that if I couldn’t dance freely without exhaustion I’d not dance at all. I wanted so to dance at your wedding, but didn’t dare even try.
I was doing my best to hide it so, but I was very ill that day. My heart, I think. I should never have tried walking to Buckland afterwards. I didn’t make it all that far--stayed in an inn and bathed with one of your leaves in the tub. How much of a Baggins I was--trying so hard to keep up appearances. I caught a ride with a farmer headed east for a good deal of the way, even.
“You should never have tried to hide it.”
It was your day--yours and Rosie’s. I’d not detract from it, Sam. And I delighted to see the two of you dancing together.
“I’ll say one thing of that day,” Sam said at last, “with you conducting the marriage I felt we were truly married. Ruvemir said much the same of his marriage to his Elise with Strider celebrating the wedding--that he would never question that they were now one in the sight of mortals and immortals both.” He stretched. “How Rosie would of loved today,” he added, switching again to Westron. “She’d of been in her glory, seein’ to it all were served and happy. She, too, came to love bein’ among Elves.”
“A most gentle one, the Lady Rose,” agreed Celeborn from where he sat watching his daughter and her husband’s embrace with a smile. “A worthy match for you, Lord Panthail.”
Lord Elrond, began Frodo rather tentatively, were you aware of the foreseeing known by the Lady Gilraen, and of the two children she lost?
The former Lord of Imladris straightened somewhat and looked at the shining form of Iorhael from under his brows. “Yes--how could I remain unaware of it? I attended their wedding as I’ve done for the heirs of Isildur over the past age, and was there when the last child was lost. There was an epidemic running through the countryside, one that I believe even caused considerable loss of life in the Shire as throughout the rest of Eriador, and I’d gone on the report that both Gilraen and Aragorn were seriously ill with it. To arrive and find her in the midst of a miscarriage was a shock.
“The fact that it was foretold that the son of Arathorn would be the heir who would see the end of Sauron if it could be done had been widely repeated throughout Eriador; that it was foretold that the brothers to Aragorn would somehow bring him to the throne was less well known, and yet somehow the word appears to have come to Mordor in spite of all.”
“Gandalf said as the waves of illnesses were all of sorts to cause miscarriages, whether they was likely to kill or not,” Sam commented.
Elrond nodded. “This is so. The first time she lost the one child, but managed to retain the second. The second time she was not as seriously ill as was her living son, but she lost the child she carried then, and many were convinced that Aragorn had indeed died, which made the concealment in Rivendell easier. But we were on the watch for where the children might be born elsewhere. Gilraen foresaw they would be born, but to a different people and to different parents, but that they would come to know and love one another, and felt assured they would be properly educated in the histories of the First and Second Ages.”
When did you realize we were the ones foretold?
Elrond looked back to Iorhael. “After I was able to remove the shard from your shoulder. Suddenly I could see your Light as you lay there freed from its influence. And then as Sam leaned over you I could see his Light as well. That Iluvatar would send you to be born among the Periannath was something for which none of us was prepared.”
“And Bilbo knew?”
“Yes, Bilbo knew, and kept your secret well.”
But you did not tell us or Aragorn himself, and Bilbo never did so, either.
“True. To do so would have led to more confusion in the end, and could have led all of you to seek to force emotional ties that were already building naturally. We had only to see the three of you together at Estel and Arwen’s marriage to see how the three of you were bonded, the three of you shining like Sun, Moon, and Stars together, the two of you appearing tall and princely before all who had eyes to see.
“Even had you been born to Gilraen and Arathorn, you two could not have been closer to Aragorn than you have become; and it is still probable, Iorhael, that you would have left Middle Earth as you did and for the same reasons. Indeed, it is likely that had you been born a Man rather than a Hobbit you would not have been able to be called back to yourself, and you might still be hiding in the quiet dark place you would have constructed for yourself in Namo’s Halls and healing slowly until at last you were ready to leave that place and pass West.”
The Lady Galadriel, from where she sat at her husband’s feet, looked across into Frodo’s eyes. “And I, my friend, completely agree with Elrond. You have been a stubborn one, a trait which has been both your bane and your redemption.”
And it is likely I would not have known my parents, whom I loved dearly, for they were Hobbits of the Shire and not of the Dúnedain. They’d already been born before Bilbo left with Gandalf and the Dwarves.
“This I’ll tell you, Frodo,” Olórin interjected, “even they could not have loved you more than would have Gilraen. Her grief at having lost the son she intended to name Gilorhael was beyond measure.
“However, since the two of you were born Frodo son of Drogo and Samwise son of Hamfast, to face you with might-have-beens would have been unfair, and would have strained your identities as you were born. I would not have done so. The fact is that you were born to the Shire; and having been born to the Shire, that was the truth that kept you tied to yourself in the times the Ring sought to deprive you of all else. Would you wish for the Ring to have had that additional information with which to torment you in addition to all It used in Its attempts to destroy your will?”
It was a thought that needed pondering, and Frodo sat for some time, considering. At last he shared slowly, No, you did rightly. We weren’t born Aragorn’s brothers, but certainly consider him ours and have done so since shortly after we met him. I’ll blame you for nothing. But somehow learning this now is reassuring. Indeed, the Creator has a most interesting sense of humor. We must have been quite the shock to Sauron, realizing he wasn’t brought down by sons of Númenor but instead by the least of the Children of Iluvatar!
“The least?” Gandalf asked. “Oh, hardly that, Frodo Baggins. No, never mistake simplicity with unimportance in the eyes of the Creator.”
Frodo rose and stretched. I think I’ll go out to the White Tree tonight, and would like to be alone there for a time. I’ll wish you all a blessed night, and may Elbereth’s stars shine upon all of you. He gave a deep bow and left the group.
Sam watched after him. At last he said, “It’s so good to see him havin’ found hisself at the last, and to feel himself whole again. And I’m right proud to think as we might of been born brothers indeed, and with Strider as well as one another. But you’re all right--had we been born as brothers indeed it would of changed nothin’ in the end. And it goes to show the lack of sheer imagination as Sauron suffered from, never dreamin’ that those as never sought power might be the best to deal with his Ring.”
Livwen rose and began helping Sam gather dishes and cups and utensils, a chore that was soon being joined in by the rest of those remaining. All was quickly cleaned and tidied away, and once all was in order the remaining guests also began to take their leave of Sam. At last only Livwen, Galadriel, and Olórin remained.
Again they went out into the spring night. Above them shone stars beyond count, and it appeared the Star of Eärendil was brighter than normal. “A fair night,” Sam said softly. “And a good birthday in spite of not havin’ proper gifts for those as come.”
He leaned back against the wall of the summerhouse and contemplated Livwen for a time. “I want to thank you for the friendship as you’ve give him all these years. Once old Mr. Bilbo left him he must have felt alone a good deal of the time.”
“How could I do otherwise, Lord Panthail?” she asked. “I was drawn toward his Light from my first awareness of him as he came off the ship--his Light and the fragility of his nature. And yet I learned the fragility isn’t quite the truth of him, either. There is a hidden core of great strength to him that keeps becoming obvious. I have come to love him deeply, and only wish I could ever hold him beside me.”
Sam considered her, then gave her a sad smile. “So many lasses have wished that for him, you know. You’re not the first.”
She gave a nod of her head. “So I’ve learned. I only hope that one day I will meet an ellon I can honor as much as I honor him--and now you as well. And, if I don’t, I doubt I will feel deprived.”
Sam rose and approached her, taking her hands. “You’re a sweet lass, Livwen, and a wise one. And havin’ known the measure of one as you could of loved, I think you’ll be better prepared for when you find the right one. And I’m certain as you will find him when the time is proper. After all, it’s not for you as it is with us--you have all the time remainin’ in Arda to do so.”
She leaned forward and kissed his forehead, then straightened. “Sleep well, Lord Sam,” she murmured to him. “I’m glad you are by him at last.” So saying she gave her goodnights to the others and left.
Galadriel watched after her. “I do think that when he comes I may seek to direct the attention of Haldir her way,” she commented. “A fine and loving wife she will be when she finds the right mate.” She looked back to Sam. “You have come far from the day in Lothlorien when you’d hoped to see some Elf magic, Panthail.”
He shrugged. “Perhaps. But, then, I’m a good deal older now, after all, and have been across much of Middle Earth and through a good deal of Mordor since then. That will change a soul, I’d think.”
She laughed. “Indeed, Sam. Well, I, too, rejoice that you have come to be by the Ringbearer. He is fulfilled for it.”
She, too, leaned forward to kiss his forehead. “A joyful birthday to you, my lord.” Then she, too, left.
Sam sat on the bench. At last he said quietly, “Almost I wish as I’d brought my pipe, although I’ll admit as I’ve not smoked for some years. Never have smoked as much as I used to do afore we left the Shire. But it feels like a night for it.” He looked about at the stars overhead. “This has been the right place for him,” he said in Sindarin. “The right place for him. I wish Telcontar was here with us, too; but I’m glad we were able to know him. And he did start out living among Elves. I think he has some understanding of what this has meant to my Master.” Then, after another time of quiet he continued, “When they finally cleaned out the bite on the back of his neck, what was in there?”
Olórin gave him a searching look. At last he told him.
When he was done, Sam was pale, his face set. “So, that was it.” He looked to meet the Maia’s eyes, reverting to Westron “So, one of them as followed Morgoth and was exiled was hid out there, and was finally found out? What is it about Frodo that seems to draw such? Was that horror in the pool outside Moria a Maia, too?”
Olórin shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Sam looked away. “Strider had the pool drained some years after we was there. It was empty then. Never figured out where the Watcher come from to begin with, not exactly, any more’n they’re certain as where it got off to after. Thought is it was imprisoned neath Caradhras along with the Balrog or close enough nearby that as the Balrog finally was able to escape due to the deep diggin’ by the Dwarves it, too, was able to get loose. Maybe it was the get of some Maia, same as Shelob was, if’n it wasn’t a failed Maia to begin with. Or maybe it’d started as a simple creature as was twisted and blown up by Sauron, what shrunk down to nothin’ again when he was gone.”
“Have the Dwarves returned to Moria?”
Sam shrugged. “Oin’s son Nordi went there with a small party a few years back. Went in on the east side, and managed to bridge the chasm as where you fell. Found their way to the door to the chamber as where Balin’s tomb had been at last. Took them some weeks to clear it out, but they did it at the end. They redid the tomb, they tell me. But I don’t know as any has chose to live there again. Too much memory of grief and loss, and they’re not certain as the search for mithril is worth it. They ended up in a fight with some of the orcs as still was lingerin’ in the place, although the orcs give up right quick, or so the report went.
“Far more went to Minas Tirith to help there, and then on into the Glitterin’ Caves at Helm’s Deep with Gimli. He’s never married, and most likely never will. But none as has followed him has ever regretted it.”
“No, I’m certain none would.”
Again they were silent for a time. At last Sam rose. “I think as I’ll go join my Master now.” He smiled, then turned and set off for the Garden of the White Tree, Gandalf following behind.
They heard Frodo singing before they came around the last stand of lesser trees to see him seated against the Tree’s trunk. Sam approached and sank down to sit beside him. Frodo didn’t quit singing, merely reached out to place his arm about Sam’s shoulders. When at last he left, Olórin’s last sight was of the two Hobbits together, their lights pulsing in rhythm with the stars they watched.