They stood at the beginning of the Way. There’d been no need to pause at the Gates, no need to cross even the meadow of flowers both had seen before. Before them stood the wonder of the Halls of Mandos, not that he who’d been Frodo Baggins gave the great edifice more than a cursory look. His attention instead was fixed on the shining path that led through the gardens and beyond to the deeper Gardens--the ones beyond the bounds of Arda. Oh, he was ready now to go there, across the silver bridge.
He who’d been Sam looked up at the building, smiling in recognition. We’ve been nearly here before, Master.
His fellow turned and looked at him seriously. I’m not your Master, not now, and not here. I’ve not been for decades, even. Let us use the proper term for one another--brother.
Brother. Yes, you’re right, as usual. All right, brother it is. Do you wish to go in?
Whatever for? Do you feel you need to go in?
No, but it might hearten some if they found reminders of us here.
He who’d been Frodo gave a snort. Those who know and love us--truly know and love us--will know I, at least, will want to go on. He took a step down the Way through the gardens, and he smiled broadly as the shining form that had awaited them reached out to embrace him at last. Oh, Bilbo, I’m ready to go on--to go on now, and not wait.
Of course, my boy. However, you will find that time is an illusion.
Nonsense! I’ve waited over sixty years....
Oh, have you, now? But what is sixty years in Arda compared to the eternity you will rejoice in within the Presence? So saying, he who’d been known as Bilbo Baggins but who certainly didn’t look anything like he’d appeared during his lifetime in the Shire and Rivendell and on Tol Eressëa, turned to accompany them along the Way.
Before they’d quite reached the silver bridge, however, singing and music could be heard in what appeared a summerhouse off to the left, and as they approached Sam gave an inarticulate cry, hurrying forward unheeding, for one of those who’d sat within at the great table had risen and was now hurrying to meet them. “Rosie! Oh, Rosie! At last!”
“But I’ve only arrived myself and sat down, Samwise Gamgee! Is Master Frodo with you? Where...? Oh, never mind. Oh, Master--there you are! Come and join us at the Feast! So many have been awaiting you, you know.”
I don’t wish to stay....
She laughed. “Not stay? But you won’t have to stay! It’s but the memory! And what will the Feast be without your sweet voice adding to the singing and without you joining in the dancing? And how can our Lord Elessar join us without you?”
Well, my dear boy, are you or are you not going to accept the invitation?
He who’d been known also as Iorhael turned to look at his beloved cousin. How can Aragorn enter the feast? He’s not even entered the Shire.
“Not entered the Shire? There you’re wrong, Frodo Baggins,” said Saradoc Brandybuck as he rose from the table and came to join them. “First time I saw him as King, there at the Brandywine Bridge, I recognized one who’d ridden through the Shire years earlier on his great horse, leading his Men along the Road, seeking out the quickest way to come against enemies to the west to protect us all. A worthy one, your Mannish brother. Now get over here and join the feast or I’ll have Esme and your mother come have a word with you.” Merimac rose laughing, and together the two of them dragged a protesting Frodo to the table, where he sat between Sam and his father, his eyes shining as a plate of rolls was set before him and laughter and song rose about him.
“No you don’t, Aragorn!” he suddenly heard, and looked up laughing at something Rorimac had been saying to Gerontius to see Pippin and Merry approaching, dragging a laughing Man between them, Arwen, highly amused, following behind the three of them. “Frodo!” Pippin continued, “come here and tell this one that he’s under no edict here--not even his own!”
And Frodo Baggins of the Shire, glowing brightly mithril silver with pleasure, rose from the table to come take one of his Mannish brother’s hands. “You heard him, Strider--no edicts here save to rejoice, you know,” he advised his captive.
Yet he paused not at all, but accompanied by Sam and Bilbo he crossed over the Bridge, entering the further gardens, finding children in need of nurturing and offering it, yet going on further to follow the bright Way to the Presence. And waiting to greet him as he entered in was Olórin. He searched the eyes that were at one and the same time ancient and youthful, wise and laughing, and this time he saw no hint of relief--only joy.
It’s only right, you realize, he shared with the Maia, that my first greeting within the Presence should be by you. He looked up sideways to see Aragorn and Arwen on his right and Sam on his left, his arms about the shoulders of each of his brothers, and amended that: It’s only right that our first greeting should come from you, Gandalf.
And shining himself with joy, Olórin turned to accompany them, looking across at the Teacher’s shining visage. Well, my beloved friend, we’ve managed to bring them through.
And he who’d lived to be the oldest Hobbit in the history of Arda laughed as he reached out to take the hand of Elrond, who stood by his own brother. “That we did--that we did.”