“It will be Bilbo’s birthday on Thursday, Sam,” Frodo said quietly as he set the letter Sam had brought him, slipped back into its envelope, on the desk. “And he will pass the Old Took. He will be a hundred and thirty-one.” He looked thoughtfully out the window, his expression pensive as he rubbed at his shoulder. Sam noted the rubbing, for it had become more frequent again lately. Yet his Master didn’t seem to even notice as he did it any more--it was just something that was now part of him.
“So he will,” Sam responded automatically. “He’s a marvel!”
Frodo turned his head slightly to look somewhat sideways at his companion, giving a slight smile. “Well, Sam,” he began, “I want you to see Rose and find out if she can spare you, just for a few days, so you and I can go off together. It won’t be too far, or for too long--no more than a week at most, I’d imagine,” he added a bit wistfully as he turned his eyes back to the view through the window. “I know you can’t be gone from her for long at a time anyway, not any more,” he murmured.
“Well, not very well, Mr. Frodo.”
“Of course not. But never mind--we won’t be gone all that long, after all. And you can tell her we’ll be safe enough.”
“Where will we be going?” Sam asked. “To Rivendell, perhaps?”
Frodo turned to face Sam more fully. “In a week’s time? No, we go to meet guests to the Shire, is all, and then back home again. Did you wish to go to Rivendell, my Sam?”
Sam took his courage in both hands, deciding the time had come for frankness. “It’s not that I want to go there, Master, as much as I wish as you’d decide to go there and stay, retire there, like, and be with Mr. Bilbo and Lord Elrond and his sons and all.”
Frodo continued to rub at his shoulder as he digested that. At last he answered, “I fear the time for that is past, Sam. I’m sorry. I hope you’ll understand.” He became quiet again as he searched his friend’s face. “I’ve managed to tear you in two so often, Sam, in the past few years. But the time for that is almost over. But you will be healed. You were meant to be solid and whole, and you will be.”
“He won’t be havin’ the party this year for the Birthday, then?” Rosie asked once more.
Sam shook his head. “No. Instead we’re to go off. But you heard him at the dinner when Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin’s parents came--said as he’d be spendin’ his birthday with a cousin as he’d not seen for a time. I’m not certain, but I suspect as it’ll be old Mr. Bilbo. I think as the Elves might be bringin’ him back to the Shire at last.”
She nodded. “Do you think as I ought to fix up a spare room for him? Or should we sleep in a different room, do you think? Ours was his, after all.”
“Maybe just fix a spare room, Rosie-love,” he suggested. “I doubt as he thinks of this as his no more, not after twenty years of bein’ gone.”
Again she nodded, then they found themselves holding out their arms and embracing one another. If it was Mr. Bilbo coming back to the Shire, there were two possible reasons why:
At a hundred thirty-one he was ancient indeed, and was undoubtedly ready to give over soon. It was very likely the old Hobbit had wanted to be back in his homeland with his Frodo at his side when that day came; and with Elrond’s likely knowledge of just how tenuous Frodo’s own health had become he’d likely understand that Frodo was in no condition to travel as far as Rivendell in time.
Or, with Elrond’s likely knowledge of just how tenuous Frodo’s own health had become they might be bringing Bilbo back to sit by Frodo as the younger Hobbit himself gave over. That was quite likely, considering how the memories seemed to hold sway over Frodo Baggins on the anniversaries. Considering how long it had taken Frodo to recover from last spring’s bout, there was far too strong a probability he wouldn’t recover from what he was likely to experience on October sixth, the anniversary of the night on which he was stabbed with the Morgul blade.
Of course there was a third possibility--that they were bringing Bilbo here so that the two Bagginses could each comfort the other as he prepared for death, and so they might accompany one another as they could. As Sam considered just how likely that was to be true he shivered, and he buried his face in the hollow of Rosie’s shoulder, beginning to weep at the thought of it. She just held him close, whispering encouragement and comfort as she could, her own tears slipping gently down her cheeks.
Two days later Sam started into the study with Frodo’s luncheon to find his Master sitting at his desk, the great book lying closed before him, the steel pen with which he’d been writing sitting forgotten in the open bottle of ink as he stared blankly, again rubbing at his shoulder absently.
Frodo turned, his face clearing slowly, blinking repeatedly as if his vision was bothering him some. At last he looked up. “Sam?”
“I brought you somethin’ to eat, Master,” the gardener said, doing his best to bring his friend’s mind back to the moment, now, here in the study in Bag End.
“Oh, thank you, Sam. Just set it there,” he added, gesturing at a clear place on the desk’s surface to the left of the book.
Sam set the plate down on the indicated spot, thinking just how much that space seemed to reflect Frodo’s own gradual withdrawal over the past several months. Once this desk’s top had always been full of papers and books of reference and notes and lists of words in Sindarin or Quenya and their meanings, diagrams of insects or animals, maps of this place and that.... Now it was bare of almost all, save for the tidy pile of documents there along the rightmost edge, and the book, and Frodo’s writing materials, lined neatly across the back of the desk.
Frodo sighed and gave a shake to his head, then reached out and took up the great red volume, turning to hand it to Sam. “Here,” he said softly. “This is the first thing you’ll be responsible for.”
Sam opened it and read the title page, his mouth twitching into a wry smile as he looked at all of old Bilbo’s attempts to find a proper title for it, then smiling more naturally as he read Frodo’s most apt resolution of Bilbo’s dilemma. He riffled through the pages to the back, catching a phrase here and there, or a quick description of a scene he recognized. “Why, you’ve nearly finished, it, Mr. Frodo,” he said with pleasure. “Well, I must say as you’ve kept right at it.”
“I’ve quite finished it,” Frodo replied, sitting there with the mug of tea Sam had brought held between his hands as if he were warming them. “The rest is for you.”
The older Hobbit continued to sit there unmoving for another moment, then lifted the mug and sniffed at it without drinking from it. At last he set it down and again turned to look up at Sam, saying with decision, “Sam, I wish you to brew up some of your own tea, just as you’ve always made it, and add some to this. I find the herbs in this that Lord Elrond sent--they appear to--to distract me. It’s harder to focus. It’s helped till now, but his letter indicated this draught may begin to react differently if one--if one relies on it for too long a time.” He took up the mug again and handed it to Sam.
“I see Master,” Sam murmured as he replaced the Red Book in its place. “Well, I’ll go off and take care of that right away, I will. I’ll be back as quick as I can.”
He was as good as his word, and within fifteen minutes he was back. The pen Frodo had been writing with had been carefully wiped, and it lay across the hollow of the inkstand, and the bottle of ink was now capped and set alongside the box of drying sand with its miniature sifter at the back of the desk. The Red Book had been shifted to the left, and now several of the documents and a heavy envelope from the stack to the right lay in the center. “I’ve signed over Bag End to you, Sam,” Frodo said without preamble, taking up the envelope. “The deed and document of reconveyance are in here.” He passed it to Sam, who accepted it reluctantly. He watched until at last Sam opened the clasp and withdrew the papers within, examining them quickly, then returning them speedily to the envelope as if doing so would somehow manage to undo them or erase their intent.
Frodo took up the mug and again sniffed at it, this time giving a slight nod as if satisfied, and sipped from it, then drank more deeply. He set it down. “When I was in Michel Delving I had my will registered by Will Whitfoot, and saw to several other pieces of business. The relevant documents are mostly here, and you may look through them if you wish. My personal lawyer will have the rest ready--when the time comes, of course.”
Sam took a deep breath in through his mouth and held it, finally letting it out again but saying nothing. Frodo continued, “We’ll be leaving tomorrow morning and riding--riding slowly, I think.” Sam gave a nod of understanding. “We’ll camp out tomorrow night, and then ride on. We’re to meet near sunset of the Birthday at the latest. We’ll remain with them for a time, then return.”
And why won’t you go with them? Sam found himself wondering. You could, you know. You belong with them, Master--not here, not no more. But again he spoke nothing aloud.
Frodo accepted the envelope back and set it aside, then went through a few other papers, describing each briefly; and indicated the notes he’d made for the appendices. “Most of these Bilbo wrote, but I hadn’t time to add them all in. I suspect you’ll have to copy them all over again, then bind what you have to copy onto blank sheets into the original.” He paused, looking at them with his head slightly cocked, then looked up at Sam solemnly. “I’m sorry I couldn’t finish all that, but I’ve done what I could with--with the time given me, Sam.”
The gardener didn’t trust himself to speak. At last Frodo finished his cup of tea, rose stiffly, excused himself, and absented himself to his room, leaving Sam standing forlorn in the study, looking at the pile of papers and documents he’d never wished to have to examine--certainly not now. A wave of fury flowed through Sam, fury at a Creator who’d asked too much of one of the best of all individuals ever born in Arda--surely the best to have been born in the Shire, at least. Fury at the Valar who hadn’t done enough to see to it Frodo didn’t lose most of himself when he lost the Ring. Fury at a world in which all was so unfair. At last he couldn’t stand it any more, and turned and hurried down the passageway, past the parlor where Rose sat with her sewing, Elanor’s cradle at her feet, looking up in surprise to see his haste and distress, before he shouldered through the green door and went hurrying down the Hill and into the ragged woods at the bottom. There he leaned again against a tree within sight of the small stream that caught the sparkle of sunlight as it sifted through the still green leaves overhead, watching as a few, turned yellow a bit early, drifted down to float within sight briefly before drifting away with the current.
It was past tea time when he returned, and he barely ate what Rosie had set out for him. Afterward he and she quietly filled his pack with what provisions they’d need, and he one last time filled the water bottles and two small stone jars with Mr. Frodo’s tea.
The stable Hobbit had Bill and Strider ready when Sam arrived at the Ivy Bush, and with an absent nod of thanks Sam accepted them and led them back up the Hill to the lane below the entrance to Bag End. Frodo was slowly coming down the steps, his saddlebags over his shoulder, and Rosie followed behind with Elanor in her arms.
“That’s not a great deal for you to bring, Mr. Frodo,” Sam commented.
“Other than my blanket-roll, what more will I truly need, do you think?” Frodo asked simply. “We won’t be gone all that long, after all.” He fastened the bags to the saddle, and rather stiffly and clumsily (for Frodo Baggins, at least) swung himself into his saddle while Sam went in to fetch his own bags and pack, the water bottles, and the blanket-rolls. He soon had Frodo’s roll tied to the crupper of Strider’s saddle and had handed Frodo one of the bottles to sling over his shoulder. He soon had his bags and roll fastened on, carefully slipped the straps to the other water bottles over the saddlehorn, made certain his pack was properly adjusted on his shoulders, and at last turned to look up at the Hobbit mounted on Strider’s back, now cradling Elanor in his arms, murmuring to her in barely audible Sindarin.
“You ready, Master?” Sam asked as Rosie approached him to hug him goodbye. Frodo gave a slightly delayed nod, then leaned his face down to give the bairn a gentle kiss on her forehead. Sam watched as Frodo held the child close to him, then turned to Rosie, noting the sadness and acceptance in her eyes. “We’ll be back as soon as we might,” Sam whispered to his wife, and as she indicated her understanding he pulled her tightly to him, kissing her deeply, the two of them clinging to one another.
Then she was going forward to reach up to take Elanor from Frodo, kissing his hand and holding it to her for a moment before finally letting it go. He smiled gently down at her, and let his hand rest atop her head briefly before he pulled away at last, chirruping to Strider and leading the way down the lane toward the main way to the Road.
They rode mostly in silence, although now and then Frodo would look around at the young trees and smile as if in satisfaction as to how much they’d grown in the past year. “They have done very well, don’t you think, Sam?” he asked as at last he indicated he was ready to stop for elevenses.
“That they have.”
Neither ate much, and soon they were remounted and continued on their way.
They rode slowly and easily, stopping frequently for their sparse meals and to allow Frodo to stretch his legs. They were quiet most of the way, although Sam often heard Frodo humming to himself and occasionally singing brief snatches of songs, some Bilbo’s, some traditional Shire favorites, a few from other lands far from the Shire. When at last they stopped for the night Frodo helped with the setting up of the camp, but he seemed to need to pause all too frequently for Sam’s comfort. It was yet early, still a good half hour or better before sunset; remembering that first leaving of Bag End together, three years ago, Sam couldn’t help contrast the two, how then they’d traveled under the stars and had managed to get further than this before they’d stopped, sometime near the middle of the night.
They lay near one another, their feet to the fire, Frodo looking up at the stars, singing softly the song Sam had sung during his search for Frodo in the Orc tower. When he was done, he turned his head and gave Sam a deep look, and smiled before finally slipping into slumber. When Sam woke at dawn, he realized Frodo was holding onto the gem he wore, and he had the Lady’s starglass in his hand. Sam was surprised, for he’d not realized Frodo had brought the phial with him. There was still a soft smile on Frodo’s face, although that groove between his eyebrows that had deepened so in the last two years could still be seen. Frodo woke soon after, and was blinking furiously and shaking his head as he rose, carefully stowing the phial in the inner pocket of his vest. He ate what Sam served him for breakfast without a word, took the dishes to the small stream near where they had slept and scoured them with fine sand, then stacked them neatly and returned them to Sam before accepting the mug Sam offered him and drank it down.
Sam saddled both ponies, and soon Frodo was by him, stroking Strider’s muzzle and speaking softly to him in Sindarin, then checking the cinch and the fit of the bridle as Sam finished tying on bags and rolls. When both were at last mounted, they turned toward the Woody End.
Frodo was setting the pace again, and again it was slow and ambling. They stopped near noon and Frodo ate sparingly, then indicated he needed to rest for a time. Sam kept a watch, humming the tune to Aragorn’s invocation for healing, noting that again Frodo took out the phial and held it in his left hand while he fingered the gem with his right until at last he slept again.
It was late afternoon when they finally set off once more, and the stars were twinkling merrily in the sky when they heard the hymn to Elbereth. At that Frodo paused Strider, his right hand on the pony’s mane, as they waited for the Elves to emerge from the forest and surround them. Sam noted the presence of Elrond and Galadriel, Gildor and Lindir, and others he’d met in the train of each. But Frodo’s eyes were drawn immediately to Bilbo, who rode on a stout pony at Elrond’s side, apparently drowsing. He barely seemed to note the greetings offered by Elrond or Galadriel, his eyes taking in the sight of the elderly Hobbit, apparently noting just how frail Bilbo now was as the old fellow opened his eyes. “Hullo, Frodo,” he said. “Well, I’ve passed the Old Took today! So that’s settled. And now I feel quite ready to go on another adventure. Will you be coming with us?”
But Frodo was shaking his head. “No, Bilbo--I’ve chosen to remain here as a Hobbit of the Shire.” And at the old Hobbit’s look of distress he added hastily, “I want for you to go, Bilbo, please. Go and represent to those who dwell there the best from among us. Let them see just how wonderful and witty and endearing and funny we Hobbits are capable of being. But, it’s too late for me, Bilbo. Once again I’m dying by inches, and I have only one or two left at most.
“You told Gandalf that the reason I didn’t leave with you last time was because I was still in love with the Shire, the fields and woods and little rivers and streams. Well, I still am. I left the Shire before to protect all those and our people who inhabit this land; and now I’ll stay because I belong here and want to finish what is left to me as a Hobbit of the Shire. I don’t know what all has been happening to me, deep inside, but I find at the last I would prefer to remain myself, even if it is but a short time. Perhaps I could be refilled there, but I don’t want to lose what little there is of me as Frodo Baggins. Writing our story has served to remind me why I left our land and why I wanted to return to it.”
“But Frodo--you don’t belong here now. You’ve changed too much!” Bilbo began, but Elrond leaned down to set his hand on his companion’s head.
“No, Bilbo, this must be his decision, and no one else can take from him the right to decide as he wills. It would be a great blessing for him to accompany us as one of the Ring-bearers; but Eru can bring blessing to him as easily wherever he chooses to end his days.”
The company made a camp there where they’d met, and spent that night and the following day with Frodo and Sam; and while Frodo sat, leaning back against a tree, drowsing himself as Bilbo slept with his head pillowed in Frodo’s lap, Elrond, the Lady, and Sam talked.
“But I don’t understand as why he doesn’t want to go with you!” Sam repeated for at least the fifth time. “He could find healing there--know joy and happiness there again. Even if I never saw him again, the thought that there he was able to be truly alive once more would heal my heart.”
Gildor looked over his shoulder at the drowsing pair under the linden tree. “I suspect a good part of it, Lord Samwise, is that he does not wish to abandon you before he must. He’s known your companionship for so long, and has rejoiced in the closeness of your love and that of your family. To be separated so from you before he comes to accept the Gift--I think he finds the prospect terrifying, terrifying and unacceptable.”
“Has he told you that the offer to go to Tol Eressëa is open to you as well as himself, Bilbo, and Gimli?” Elrond asked him.
Sam grew pale. “No, he’s not. Would I have to go now?”
Galadriel glanced at Frodo and Bilbo, then looked back at him. “No, Master Samwise, it is not required you should go now. You may go when you choose.”
He nodded, obviously thinking furiously. “He didn’t want me to go with him, then, should he have chose it--not now. He wants me to stay with Rosie, since I’ve married her and all.”
Lindir gave a soft nod. “Yes, I suppose that is a good part of it, small Master.”
After another pause Sam asked quietly, “If’n--if’n I was to go--now--do you think as he’d change his mind?”
“Do you want to go now?”
“No! I’ve a wife ’n’ daughter awaitin’ for me, I do, there at Bag End. But I don’t want him just to die, and so soon as it seems will happen, just for my sake, just as he don’t want me to leave them, just for his.”
“Then,” Galadriel said gently, “I doubt he would agree, not even if he were to attend you to the quays of Mithlond and see you go aboard the ship and the ship set sail. As he wishes you to remain here for what time is given you with your family, he would choose to remain even more strongly to keep your ties here for as long as possible. As has been repeatedly pointed out to us, he is a markedly stubborn Baggins.”
“That he is and no mistake!” Sam fumed. He gave a deep sigh, staring at the place where the two Bagginses rested together. “Can I try to reason with him?” he asked. “You stopped old Mr. Bilbo, after all.”
The Elves exchanged glances. At last the Lady spoke. “We may not say anything, for fear of influencing him to make our decision and not his. However, as he has obviously chosen to make your decision for you, or to postpone it for as long as possible, I suspect none will take it amiss if you do question him. However, I wish you well with it.” She laid her hand on his head as if in blessing, and as she withdrew it he gave a brief nod, took a deep breath, and rose to approach his Master.
He sat down beside Frodo, at which time Frodo’s head, as if only awaiting his coming, slipped sideways onto his shoulder. He felt some of his righteous anger slip his grasp, and wondered briefly if this might have been deliberate. No, he decided, such a view was beneath him, so he resolved to wait until his master at last awoke.
Before that happened, however, he realized that Bilbo was once again alert, looking up at him with those faded blue eyes of his. “Are you angry with him?” Bilbo murmured, seeking not to disturb his former ward. “He didn’t intend to cause you further grief, you know.
“I know,” Sam whispered in return with a sideways look at the head on his shoulder. “But he oughtn’t to of tried to hide it all from me. I’ll never stop lovin’ him, whether or no, of course; and it’s only natural I’d not want to leave my Rose and our Elanorellë right now, not to mention the others as will be born. But if it’s his decision to choose for him, then it’s mine to choose when for me. Not, mind you, as I’ve made up my mind as I’d even go. But for him----”
“The decision can’t be for his sake, Sam. It has to be for you, and for you alone,” Bilbo warned him.
“I’d like to be able,” Sam said after a moment, “to think of him able to be happy again, happy and fulfilled. To go there and be surrounded by that beauty, to be able to learn o’ history from them as lived it, to be accepted as one of the most wonderfulest of folks as was ever born of any race--he deserves that. He deserves to have the sunlight awaken him of a mornin’ without fear of the shadow of the darkness he still feels now. He ought to be a part of the singin’ again, and able to dance once more. He’s not been for a swim for ever so long, you know. If he could know healing there....”
Frodo stirred against him, looking up into his eyes. “Nothing is certain, Sam, not even there in the Undying Lands. And my heart is here.” He turned his head on Sam’s shoulder. “My heart is here, here in the Shire,” he murmured as his eyes closed once more.