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20
Fledged

A sequel to "Light Thought Lost."


~~~

Fledged


When she found him, he was kneeling by his cousin’s grave, patiently and carefully weeding it, using the tools given him by his Elven hosts as deftly as ever had his friend and mentor in matters pertaining to gardening from his days living in Bag End in Hobbiton, far away in Ennor. She studied him for a time, watching the play of emotions crossing his face--sobriety, humor, sadness, nostalgia, fondness. He had loved the old Hobbit, she knew, and sometimes missed him dearly. During the moments when he cared for the small garden cultivated over Bilbo Baggins’s final resting place, he who had been known in the mortal lands as Frodo Baggins would relive his memories of being with his nominal uncle; and he’d explained to her it helped him realize just how little the death of the body meant in the larger scheme of things. Even though she’d been sent to fetch him, Livwen was reluctant to interrupt such moments as these in her friend.

At last he stopped and set his tools down on top of the plants he’d removed during his labors and stretched, closing his eyes and breathing in the aroma of the gardens, listening in his heart to the song of joy that the breeze evoked as it played amongst stems and blossoms surrounding him and the branches and leaves of the trees that shaded the small plot during the hotter hours of the day. His head turned slightly to his left as if listening to comments being quietly murmured into his ear, his lips parting in a smile of appreciation, and he raised his left hand as if to cover the hand of another laid on his shoulder. Then he gave a soft laugh. "Yes, Bilbo," he whispered, "I’ll wait."

Livwen came forward then. "Iorhael?" she called gently. "Iorhael! Olórin sent me to call you to him. He says that visitors are coming, visitors who would like to break their journey here on Tol Eressëa and see you before they go on. Will you come?"

His curiosity was plainly piqued. "Of course," he said as he rose and dusted the knees of his silver robes. He then reached down and caught up his gardening basket, now filled with plants weeded away and his gardening tools, then turned to follow her down the graveled path that led back past the small summerhouse where he dwelt toward the west of the island. As they passed by he set the basket on the edge of his low porch, and continued to follow the young elleth westward.

As they walked the Hobbit looked at his young friend among Elves with curiosity. "Why west?" he asked.

She smiled mysteriously at him. "That you will soon see."

He shrugged, eyeing her sideways, having jogged forward to come even with her as they finally left the gardens behind and began crossing a great meadow. As they went forward they heard excited yaps from the kits from the fox den that bordered the path as the small animals poured out of their den to greet them. The young creatures leapt and gamboled around them, now and then venturing forward to nip at exposed toes or ankles, two fixing their milk teeth in the hem of the Hobbit’s robes and then digging in their small feet to allow themselves to be dragged forward. Frodo laughed freely as he watched them rolling and playing together in mock battle, dancing nimbly to the side as his feet were threatened, occasionally brought momentarily up short as small paws managed to make momentary purchase on tufts of grass. The vixen came out of the woods with a fieldmouse in her jaws, paused, then laid down her burden and hurried forward to join in the welcome given the two who sought to cross their meadow, striding easily in the midst of her kits, her tongue lolling in pleasure as she also rolled and leapt to amuse the Elf and Hobbit, occasionally nipping at a small tail when she judged one of her babes was being too forward at threatening the toes of their guests. As they crested a small ridge she paused, however, pulling aside and flaring her nostrils at the unexpected scent of blood. She gave a bark of command, and the little foxes broke away from their play to come to her side. There beyond them they finally had come upon Olórin, the Maia having taken the form of Gandalf today and standing by the body of a slain sheep.

Livwen could feel how her companion was halted by the sight, and how he pulled into himself, startled and somewhat dismayed. He had increasingly withdrawn from eating flesh since Bilbo’s death, having stated he would not have any creature need to die to support his life. On rare occasions he would join in a Teleri-sponsored feast of fish and shellfish; more rarely when he attended a festival in the City he could be coaxed into tasting one of the meat dishes prepared by others. He accepted no meat within his home, however, and his desires were honored. That the Ringbearer would forswear the benefits of the deaths of other creatures for himself all felt to be reasonable, particularly considering how the Ring had tortured him ever with visions of death and destruction, insisting he himself was responsible for it all.

Gandalf watched the Hobbit pause and saw clearly his unease. It was still not all that long after their arrival here on the island, and there were still times when the Hobbit was drawn back to the memories of Frodo Baggins as he was tormented by the Ring or observed with growing anxiety his own mental, spiritual, and physical deterioration. Frodo had chosen life for himself at the last, but it had been all too often such a near thing. The Maia had known well enough how the Ringbearer was likely to react to this situation, but it was time for those feelings to be at last put to rest.

"Come forward, Frodo," he said quietly, "and I will tell you her story. She offered herself for this service, you see."

Frodo looked down at the sheep’s body, then looked up into Gandalf’s eyes, took a deep breath, and finally came over the ridge to stand before his friend, his eyes fixed on the former Wizard’s familiar blue ones and gentle expression. Glad to see the trust mixed with the challenge reflected in the Hobbit’s own features, Gandalf explained:

"She chose to come forward when the flock was approached. Her one joy in life has been to give birth to fine lambs and see them grow, and that she knew is now done with for her. The one ram she has ever mated with died of age a year ago, and she did not wish to accept a younger, lesser one--or so she had come to see the newer rams in her flock. Nor did she wish to leave the flock she knew already to join another far away from the ranges she loved. And so it was that when we learned visitors were determined to come here before going on to their final destination, visitors who would need to eat well before continuing their journey, she offered herself. She saw it as going forth to find her beloved mate, and coming to him still fair, strong, and desirable." At the Hobbit’s expression of surprise Gandalf laughed. "Yes, fair and desirable. Does it truly surprise you, Frodo Baggins, our beloved Lord Iorhael, to learn that even sheep have their own vanities?"

Frodo gave a short laugh, and then grew more solemn. He knelt by the sheep and gently stroked its recently shorn pelt, his eyes a bit sad and filled with compassion. "She gave herself," he said softly.

"Yes."

Frodo looked up into his friend’s eyes. "But who...?"

A shrill cry from high to the east drew his attention, and from the bright clouds hanging over the distant Sea materialized four great flying forms....

Landroval eyed the young Eagle who flew slightly below him and to his left with pride. His son Gilroval had finally been judged by Gwaihir ready to present himself for recognition by the Powers before taking upon himself the traditional service offered by their kind; and that he himself would be allowed to accompany the two initiates and their lord to Aman was another great honor given him. Gilroval had done well in the long flight, and had weathered the transition from the airs of the mortal lands to those over the Undying Lands well, far better than had young Endorval who accompanied them.

The path on which Gwaihir led them was more southerly than he remembered taking in the past, and he wondered about it. However, he trusted the chief of his kind and knew that if this flight took them by a different route there must be a reason for it. And as they began to drop lower over the Lonely Island he saw and recognized just what that reason was.

Food had been brought for them, food much needed after the days the journey had already taken them; and standing tall and shining by the body of the sheep stood a familiar form, for Olórin himself awaited them, two others by him--a child among Elves, and a third figure that although also small was yet shining with a totally different Light than he’d ever seen before in Aman. In fact he’d only seen that particular light about three individuals--the returned Lord Eagle of the Star of the world of Mortals, his wife Arwen Undómiel since she accepted mortality to dwell as mate to the Eagle of the Star, and one other, the very small, slight figure he’d carried away from the destruction of the Enemy’s mountain forge.

Could it be--? Had indeed he been granted the right once more to know the presence of the Ringbearer?

And then Gwaihir began to sing, a song the three Eagles with him joined in gladly.

Rejoice, Children of Iluvatar and all His creatures,
for the Cormacolindor, who sought to offer themselves for all others
have each chosen Life,
each in his own aerie.
Rejoice and be glad,
for Light of Varda’s stars and Light of Sun
shine yet among us
for as long as they deign to remain with us.
Rejoice and sing in gladness,
for they, too, know Joy!


Gwaihir touched down lightly on the green sward first; then Gilroval with a grace that did his father proud; then Endorval a bit heavily, yet with dignity; and finally Landroval. Elf, Hobbit, and Maia were all bowing in deep respect to them. "We welcome you all," Olórin said, "and ask you to refresh yourselves."

"It is we who are honored this day," Gwaihir answered. "Yes, it is we who rejoice to see again the one who sought to offer himself that all others might live as freely as it is given to us to live. To see you here, Frodo Baggins, formerly of the Shire and now of all of Arda, the Lord Iorhael, adds that much more joy to our arrival. To see you shining again before all of Eru’s creation has given worth to our service."

Landroval remained quiet, examining this one. Small he still was, and still covered with but light folds of cloth and neither proper plumes nor even fur, save yet the tops of his feet and the top and back of his head. But he had yet fledged, in his way, and stood with the full dignity proper to all of the Children of Iluvatar. His eyes were now bright with intelligence, curiosity, compassion, and the knowledge of self only the greatest of trials could bestow. And Landroval recognized that when the day came he at last sloughed off the form he currently held, he would follow this one as it, too, flew free, upheld by great wings of Light as they together with the one who held the Light of Anor within him sought out the greater Light of the Presence.

Landroval laughed within himself to think he’d once thought of carrying this one to the heights of the nest he shared with his mate, of seeing it strengthened and coming to fulfillment alongside Gilroval. Nay, others had sheltered it and seen it fed and seen its plumage purged of the ash of the Shadowed One’s fall, and here at last the small one knew the freedom to spread his wings as he could, preparing himself for that day of proper flight offered to two-legs. He bowed his head before the Cormacolindor, rejoicing to realize that as small as it was this one was yet fully grown and could only continue to increase in dignity and wisdom to the end of his days.

Frodo paused, surprised, as the great Eagle who’d landed closest to him bowed its great head before him, the beak and crest of feathers atop its majesty brushing lightly against his chest. And without thinking he reached forward to caress the great bird’s shoulder, feeling the smoothness of the feathers, the softness and integrity of the fibrils, the strength of the underlying muscles. Then he heard a crooning he half remembered, a soft tone he knew he’d heard murmured over him before as he’d been held safely wrapped in protection, and realized the Eagle was murmuring to him as it must have done with its own eaglets. Tentatively the Eagle stretched forward and very gently ran its beak through the curls atop Frodo’s head. Then it stretched out its great wing and gently, lovingly enfolded it about him, drawing the Hobbit into the sheltering warmth of the Eagle’s body feathers.

Yet there was no sense of being overpowered or crushed to the great form--only that of love and caring expressed. And he began to understand the soft sounds the Eagle made.

"Ah, small one, little fledgling that you were, now you are indeed well and almost ready to fly. I will wait for you, wait to follow you the day you at last fly free, honored to accompany you as you return to the Presence. How glad I am you have at last found your own proper nest."

And the Wizard rejoiced to behold yet another reunion, one that he knew eased the heart of the great Eagle.

At last Landroval lifted his wing, and with his head gently urged the small shape he’d been at last allowed to cherish once more out into the open, seeing with satisfaction the great shining of it as the Ringbearer smiled up at him, murmuring, "Thank you."

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