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15
15: Souls Passing West

15: Souls Passing West


The Lady Melian, Princess of Gondor and Arnor, firstborn to their beloved Lord King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar and his shining wife the Lady Arwen Undůmiel, woke early, about an hour before dawn. She had the run of the Royal Wing on her own, for her parents, brother, and sister had gone north to Annķminas for the warmer months, and she was not to join them until Midsummer. Prince Elboron of Ithilien, Steward of Gondor since his father surrendered his office at the New Year, would be much back and forth between Minas Anor and Emyn Arnen for the next few weeks at least, for the health of Prince Faramir was uncertain at best. Heíd had a number of spells that the King had identified as small brain storms over the past several months; if he were to suffer a major one it could possibly leave him incapacitated, and Elboron was justifiably worried.

In the meantime, until Prince Elphir and his son Anorahil could come north in late April, Melian was serving on her fatherís behalf. It was more than enough to assure her sheíd done right in renouncing her claim to Winged Crown and Sceptre in favor of her brother. Sheíd already dealt with a deputation from Umbar, one that had hurried to the White City once it was known the King would be in the northern kingdom for the warmer months and that the southern Steward would be delayed in Ithilien, hoping that dealing with a woman would perhaps be easier than seeking to negotiate in the favor of Umbar with either the Lord Elessar or his already formidable son. Melian had seen them back on their ship, returning down Anduin for their own land, late yesterday afternoon, the emissaries from Umbar having had ample experience that this princess of Gondor was even more acerbic than her brother, and fully as wily as her father.

She sighed as she rose from her bed and pulled about her a robe that hid her nightdress. As was true of her father, she often felt restless within the Citadel of the city, and passed out through the doors into the royal gardens, breathing in the scents of the opening flowers and her motherís roses. For a time she sat upon a bench and listened to the quiet burbling of the water in the fishpond her father had installed, a pond where great carp lazed in sun and shade and competed for attention and food from those who visited the gardens. However, she still felt restless, and at last went out the gate. Followed by one of the guards whoíd stood at the garden gate, she walked about the Citadelís grounds until she finally came out before the great facade, seeking the comfort of the White Tree as so often her father did.

The Tree was tall and shining under the early spring sky, and its blooms had begun to open the preceding day. Her father had told her that both the White Tree and the mallorn of the Shire were said to open their blossoms on April sixth, the birthday of Samwise Gamgee, and certainly the White Tree of Minas Anor had followed that time table this year. She looked up at the circles of white blooms here and there upon its branches, rejoicing to see how beautiful it was under the starlight and moonlight of the night. She approached the tree and laid her hand to its trunk....

She realized that the Ringbearer was under the White Tree of Tol EressŽa. The feeling when this was true was quite distinct, and over the years sheíd come to recognize his presence. She smiled as she felt his quiet happiness. He was, she realized, pondering something, and she thought he might well be singing. Then the awareness was caught, and she had the feeling he was looking up to see one approaching him....

"Uncle Sam?" she breathed as she felt the gardener join her fatherís friend at the Tree. Suddenly she realized--Samwise Gamgee Gardner was not in the Shire--heíd joined Frodo Baggins on Tol EressŽa sometime in the last year. But why hadnít he advised her father?

Lady Rose had died last summer, that she knew. Lady Rose had died, and at the last Sam had apparently accepted the grace offered him and had taken ship to rejoin his Master, to spend the end of his life on Elvenhome.

She felt the joy of the two Hobbits as they sat together under the White Tree, and as Frodo continued to sing. And she felt something else, a gentle weariness in the two of them. They still lingered for a time, but, she realized, not for long. She wondered how she ought to tell her father....

*******


Meliangiloreth, formerly of Imladris, had settled with her grandfatherís people in a village on the southern coast of Tol EressŽa. Sheíd been invited to both the parties held for the Hobbits, and had enjoyed herself at each; but past the first few weeks of her stay sheíd not come to visit them on any regular basis.

Three days after the birthday party for Lord Samwise she decided to make a pilgrimage to the White Tree of the island, setting out early in the morning. It was late afternoon when she arrived at her goal, and she found that she was not alone. Lords Iorhael and Panthail were both kneeling near the flower beds, Iorhael deadheading a flowering vine and Sam carefully cultivating around a newly planted rosebush. As was usual Iorhael was communicating directly to his friend, but with no attention to the possibility another individual might join them; and Sam was speaking in the short, rather cryptic phrases common to old friends and family members.

"....Near the mallorn. Lots of room there." A silence: "Well, of course. Always have."

Then both stopped and looked up to see her enter past the stand of lesser trees. Welcome, lady.

"My lords," she returned in Sindarin with an inclination of her head. "I do not disturb you, do I?"

"No, Mistress Meliangiloreth," Sam assured her. "We were only doing a bit of gardening. It appears I trained him well when he lived there in Bag End." His smile was openly proud. "Did you come to see the White Tree?"

"Yes," she answered him. "It is good to see the two of you. Does all go well with you?"

"Certainly. And has all gone well with you and your grandfather?" Sam asked her.

"Very well. I am beginning to feel restored once more. To find a part of my family once again has been heartening. And you, Lord Samwise--your heart has not troubled you?"

"No, although Iím finding the weariness beginning. But, then, neither of us is a young Perian, after all. It is nearing time." He switched back to Westron. "When the time comes Iíll be fully ready." He smiled.

The elleth couldnít help but respond to the confidence in his smile, and noted that Lord Frodo also smiled as fully.

Throughout the rest of the Elven spring the two Hobbits appeared to keep very busy, working in the gardens, visiting in the city, walking by the sea, attending a woodland feast in the mallorn grove, telling stories to children. All thrilled to hear Iorhaelís bright laughter and Samís throaty chuckle in return.

Then in early summer Livwen arrived to find Iorhael sitting on one of the low couches in their living room, his attention apparently fixed within. His glance flickered briefly to her in acknoweldgment, then went back to whatever it was that had caught his thoughts. At last he gave a sigh and looked to Sam. We do well to consider Midsummer, he shared at last as he rubbed briefly at his left shoulder. Sam gave a thoughtful nod. Frodo took up a small block of clay and considered it. Then he looked at her. What would you like me to shape?

Livwen gave him a long look of her own. Finally she said, "Iíd like to see a portrait of you, Iorhael."

He glanced a moment at Sam, who shrugged and said, "Well, I can understand that, Master. You did one of yourself when you was young, liviní in Brandy Hall; you did your hand; and the ones of yourself as a Gollum creature and as an orc." Frodoís Light went somewhat white, and Sam was reminded of how, when he lived in Middle Earth, Frodo would go pale and the small spots of color would come in his cheeks to indicate embarrassment or anger and such. "Iíd also like to see you do a proper self-portrait."

Frodo sighed and looked away, then back to Livwen. You wouldnít wish a more worthy figure?

"And what would be unworthy about a portrait statue of you, Lord Frodo Baggins?" she asked in perfectly accented Westron, raising her chin.

He began to laugh, for sheíd caught his own expression perfectly. But I have no idea what I look like from behind, he gave as a last explanation; but as she refused to waver in her examination of him he sighed. I suppose I could try, but donít be surprised if it looks perhaps more like Pippin than myself, he cautioned her.

Sam watched as Frodo slipped out of himself, and this time he seemed to somehow linger as an echo of himself just a bit behind and slightly to the his own side for at least a few minutes before he fully entered the border realm. At last he returned to himself and again examined the block of clay, worked it a bit, and finally began his shaping.

It seemed to take longer this time, and he appeared to need to watch the shaping take place under his fingers more than Sam had seen him do before. At last, however, he bowed his head, closing his eyes, and applied the final force of will, and it was done. He examined it curiously, looked somewhat embarrassed once more, and held it out to Livwen. Here, since you insisted.

The elleth accepted the figure, and gave an audible intake of breath in delight. "Yes," she murmured. "You must indeed have looked like this when you were younger, Iorhael." Her face softened in a gentle smile. "Thank you--thank you indeed. This is for me, is it not?"

Yes, for you named the subject, although you could have had something far more beautiful.

Sam gave a snort. "Listen to him, as if he hadnít been one of the most beautiful of mortals as was ever born. Just ask Pearl Took or Narcissa Boffin--or his own mum and aunts."

Sam! Iorhael protested. No, Iíll show you one of the most beautiful! And off he went to fetch more clay. This time the working went much more quickly, and when he was done there was a perfect figure of Sam as heíd looked on his wedding day, his arms about Rosie Cotton as a bride, both glowing with joy. When at last he was done he smiled. Now, this is what truly beautiful Hobbits look like.

Before sunset came, Meliangiloreth arrived bringing a basket of cherries the likes of which Sam had never tasted before. She greeted the younger elleth cordially and examined the figures Iorhael had wrought with interest and surprise. "These are you and Lady Rose!" she said with a look at Sam. "How marvelous!" Then, examining Livwenís figure of Frodo himself, she said softly, "Yes--how true this is to how you looked the first time you came to Imladris, after youíd begun to recover from the Morgul wound. And it even glows somewhat as you do, as you did then."

Iorhael dropped his eyes. Did I truly? I still wasnít aware of that at the time. He looked up into her face. Do you think Lord Elrond would appreciate a figure of Bilbo? After all, Bilbo lived with him for so long.

She laughed. "Oh, indeed, Iorhael. I can think of few things that would please him more."

After a time Frodo indicated he wished to speak with her alone, and went out onto the covered porch with her. Livwen watched after, then looked back at Sam. "I am so very glad I could have known the both of you, Panthail. I have come to so honor and cherish Iorhael, and only wish I might hold him by me forever. And since you arrived he has become so much more than he was, something Iíd not thought possible. His laughter is full; his pleasure is enough to bring joy to the entire of the island. You have helped him to fulfillment. I am so very grateful you were able to come before he must leave us. If only the two of you didnít have to go."

"But we must, lass. Itís the way of things, after all, with us mortals. A few months back, afore my Rosie must leave me, I felt resentful I must diminish afore the end; but now Iíve learned as thatís not quite the truth of it. Had I stayed in the Shire Iíd of died soon enough, but thatís not changed none--not enough to matter, at least. But Iím not sad to go--havenít been sad to think of goiní since she left me. Iíve learned as cominí here was the right thing after all, and Iím glad to of done so, for beiní with him at the end has helped fulfill me and make me even more ready for whatís cominí then."

He gave her a keen evaluation. "Youíre not the first lass as has had her heart took by Frodo Baggins, but as I said afore, itíll make it better for you when at last you find the right Elf as is meant to love you. Heís taught you to open your heart to cariní as itís given to you, and to see beneath appearances. And when you find the right one youíll know it and will love and care for him fully. Iíve seen it afore.

"And Mr. Frodo--heíll be right glad as when that day comes, Livwen. Heíll be right glad, and will dance with joy for it."

Her eyes were swimming slightly, but she smiled brilliantly through her tears. "Then I will look forward to that day, Panthail. And I hope that your reunion with your Rosie will be all youíve hoped and more."

Frodo and Meliangiloreth returned, and Sam noted she had resumed her role as healer. "Iíll prepare a mild--tea--that you should find--refreshing, Lord Frodo," she was saying. Sam looked from one to the other, one eyebrow raised. Iorhael pointedly ignored the expression.

Thank you, Mistress Meliangiloreth, he returned. I think I will--enjoy--your tea.

"Serve it to him from a teapot," Sam muttered under his breath, shaking his head.

*******


Iorhael appeared to be remaining closer to home, and twice a day drank the tea suggested by the healer. He was doing more figures and pictures, and some writing.

Then came the day when it appeared he was satisfied with what heíd done, and together he and Sam enlisted Olůrin to accompany them across the island to the mallorn grove, carrying a basket of seed cakes and another of the strawberries that ripened near the White Tree. Many came from the business of the day to share in the gifts, and they laughed beneath the silver boughs and golden leaves and blossoms.

Not long before sunset they left their hosts and Frodo brought them to the butterfly glade. Sam, as he watched the butterflies in their fluttering display over the abundant blossoms of elanor, cried out in pleasure. "Now, if this donít beat all!" he exclaimed. He turned to share the delight in Frodoís own eyes. "And youíve been able to visit this afore?"

Oh, yes, one of the most beautiful sites on the entire island. When Iím here I canít help but delight in the Creator and the gifts offered us by the Valar. I can remember when we walked on Cerin Amroth with Aragorn; and feel as if I held small Elanor in my arms once more, here surrounded by her name flower. He looked about himself with satisfaction. How glad I am to see you, too, love this spot.

They returned to the summerhouse under starlight, and now Sam looked about at the plethora of fireflies that swarmed about them, tracing elaborate figures across the sky. "Theyíre drawn right to you, arenít they, Master?" he asked.

I remember seeing their cousins in Gondor and as we rode across Rohan, Iorhael agreed, and thinking there could be nothing more strange and wonderful. But these are truly magnificent. Itís too bad that they donít live in the Shire, but I suppose itís too damp and cool for them.

"You have it aright, Iorhael." Olůrin looked about them with pleasure. "Itís even a bit cool for them here, I suppose; but they are truly beautiful throughout the Undying Lands."

At last they approached the summerhouse, and found Livwen lingered there with Frodoís evening tea. "Well," the Maia said, "I leave you in excellent hands, I see. Oh, by the way, Panthail--tomorrow is Midsummer in the mortal lands--you did ask me to let you know."

Samís golden Light flared brightly. "Oh, and I thank you, Gandalf. Thankee kindly." He and Frodo shared a pleased glance. "Itís the anniversary of Striderís weddiní day and the loss of my Rosie, and the children are all busy, I hope, about the fair grounds in Michel Delving. And, who knows? Maybe Eruhael Baggins tonight is thinkiní to invite my young Lily into the grove for some kissiní!"

Frodo laughed in delight.

There appeared to be more than the usual number of offerings of flowers left on the porch of the summerhouse, as Frodo and Sam puttered about putting things in order. Once more they walked through the gardens, and sat for a time surrounded by children to whom both told stories of how two Hobbit lads once had explored the woods at the bottom of the Hill, and had brought home water worms and caterpillars and watched them live their lives, build their elaborately simple homes, and then transform into flying creatures to delight those who watched.

Olůrin was busy that day, consulting with the Mariner and going much further afield than he usually did. At last, as sunset neared, he returned to Tol EressŽa, hoping he was anticipating things properly. As it was, when he and those who sought to see Iorhael and Panthail on their way found them, they were already in the garden of the White Tree, Frodo leaning back against the Treeís trunk and Sam lying back nearby, their smiling faces softened as they offered back their lives and awaited the moment when the offerings were fully accepted. Iorhael sighed as once more his desire to slip away unnoticed was dashed, but as the honor offered for them was presented he forgot about his reluctance to bid others farewell in sheer wonder and joy.

Ešrendil watched for the signal, the spirits of the other stars about him in readiness. When it began, in response to a song offered by all the Valar on this side and by the Ainur on the other, the spirits of the stars began to dance, turning and twisting, circling, rising and falling, weaving elaborate figures. Across Aman the fireflies appeared to join in the splendor of the heavens, and the entire population of the Undying Lands came to watch the points of Light on the Lonely Island that indicated their mortal guests were at last taking their leave.

Elves and Maiar joined in the Song offered; and throughout Gondor and Arnor and elsewhere in Middle Earth millions watched in awe and joy as the remnants of the Elves and mortals of all sorts came out together to marvel at the strange portents. A few were terrified by what they saw and could not understand; but all of good will found themselves suddenly light-hearted and singing.

And in the grove by the grounds for the Free Fair in the Shire, lovers paused at the unprecedented shining of stars above them and walked out together, arm in arm, to look up as the two great comets rose; and in Annķminas Eruhael Baggins and Lily Gardner moved to one anotherís side, watching as the Lights of Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee at last quit Arda.

*******


Welcome, my children, the Mariner greeted them as they left the dancing. Iíd so hoped youíd come my way no matter how briefly. Will you come aboard and I shall carry you to the Uttermost West?

Anorhael answered him. Why not indeed?

And with Gilorhael laughing by him, the two passing souls stepped aboard the Vingilot.

Why not?

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