Budgie and Sam both kept watch from the wing chairs in Frodo’s bedroom that night. Sam set athelas leaves to steep in the kettle he hung over the hearth, and placed a freshly brewed mug of his tea on the table by the side of the bed. Throughout most of the earlier evening Frodo’s breath was labored, but at last it eased, and the color to his face was less blue.
Sometime in the early morning hours Sam noted Budgie had fallen asleep; and soon after he, too, slept. He snapped awake as the sky outside finally lightened, suddenly frightened as he didn’t hear Frodo’s breathing. But when he looked at the bed, he saw it was empty, as was the mug of tea. He was on his feet in an instant, and set off to search the smial.
The bathing room was empty, as was the privy. He heard a noise in the kitchen, and that was where he found his Master, paused in the midst of preparing breakfast to cough. “It’s Freddy’s birthday today,” he said when he could talk again, “and I wanted to do something special for him....”
Sam felt weak-kneed with relief. “Well, at least let me help you some. I suspect as you oughtn’t to be up, even. But, stubborn soul as you is, that won’t stop you, will it?”
Frodo was sitting at the table where he’d been shaving slices from the slab of bacon. “What does it--does it matter, Sam? It’s not for that much longer, you know. No need trying--trying to put off what can’t be stopped.”
Sam nodded his understanding. He placed a large bowl on the work table, then fetched eggs and began cracking them into it. Once he’d put in four for each one present in the house, he brought the bowl and the whisk to Frodo to do the mixing, and he took over the slicing of the remaining bacon.
Once the bacon was cooking he set Frodo to toasting the bread, settling him into Rosie’s rocking chair near the fire with toasting fork and a sliced loaf of bread by him while Sam set to preparing the batter for the special iron the Dwarves made so long ago for old Mr. Bilbo.
Rosie was the first one into the kitchen, and didn’t appear to be remarkably surprised to see Frodo at his task. “Don’t want to stay abed, do you, then?” she asked.
“I told them I won’t be more of an invalid than I am,” he said stubbornly, and she laughed.
By the time the rest began to straggle out of their rooms breakfast was ready, and everyone noted a package lay by Freddy’s place at the table. He opened it, but didn’t show it to anyone else, reading the small square of paper he found in its wrappings and stowing both the square and the item in his pocket with a smile he shared with Frodo.
“So,” Budgie said as he cut up his waffled cake, “you felt well enough this morning to get up, did you?”
Frodo nodded. At last he said, “I woke from--from a dream, and couldn’t sleep again. I often feel better--for getting up and doing--doing something worth doing. And I was hungry.”
“I’d suppose you would be,” Saradoc noted quietly, “having lost your supper and eaten nothing afterwards.”
Frodo shrugged and gave a soft smile. He rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand.
Frodo tried to help after breakfast, but couldn’t stand long. At last he was settled again in Rosie’s chair and allowed to dry dishes as they were rinsed and to stack them neatly on the table for Sam to put away. He was then aided to the study where he settled on the sofa. Budgie brought him several of the pillows from his bed and set them behind him, and with the over-large shawl over him he at last admitted he was comfortable and agreed to rest, and that he would speak with only one or two at a time. Merry carried in a couple of comfortable chairs from a bedroom or two, and all at last appeared satisfied.
Sam and Brendi were the first he asked to have come to him. “I wish as you’d gone with the Elves and Gandalf and old Mr. Bilbo,” Sam said as he sat in Frodo’s desk chair, avoiding the two softer ones Merry had brought in.
Frodo shook his head. That question had already been settled.
“Why did you want me’n Rosie to have Bag End?”
“You’re my heir, Sam--I adopted you as it. Everything--everything I’ve had and--and might have had, been and might have been, I leave to you. You’re the--the husband I’ll never be, the--the father I’ll never be. You will fill this hole with the family it deserves and that--that you and Rosie deserve. The Hill will be--will be alive, and the Shire will be alive--alive and happy, too. You’ll read from the Red Book, and keep--alive the memory of--of what was lost. You’ll be the most famous gardener there is, and you’ll--you’ll be Mayor, for as many terms as you wish.”
He coughed. “You love Bag End--as much as I do, don’t you? Isn’t it--isn’t it as beautiful as it is--because of you? Don’t you deserve it? Didn’t you--didn’t you manage not--not to be taken by It? Didn’t I do--do what I did only because--because you were with me?
“You’re the closest of--of the brothers not born to me--you, Aragorn, Merry, Pippin, Freddy, Folco, Brendi, Ferdi. You’re far more the one--the one who--who keeps Bag End alive than I do.” Frodo closed his eyes and laid his head back. His breathing finally calmed. He made a gesture at Brendi.
Brendi looked from his cousin and employer to Sam. “He has every right to do what he’s done, and as one who’s ever done whatever you could to assist him however you saw he needed it, I doubt there are more than two or three in the whole Shire who would question his judgment, certainly not his closest cousins or anyone here today. Griffo Boffin signed the adoption papers, after all, as one of the witnesses, and did so only because Daisy had agreed.”
Sam nodded his understanding.
They were quiet for a time until Frodo murmured, “I’m thirsty.”
Sam helped him sit up, and Brendi helped him drink, after which he suffered a bout of coughing that left him breathless and trembling. As Sam finally eased him back against the pillows, he smiled tremulously up at them both. “Did I--ever tell--tell you--how much--I love you both?” he asked. He turned his face toward the window, sighed, closed his eyes, and drifted off into sleep.
Sam slid his chair into the corner, and nodded at Brendi.
It took much of the day for Frodo to speak with each of those in the smial. He accepted his draughts, and by afternoon was able to make it to the privy and back unaided. He often dozed off, reminding Sam of old Mr. Bilbo both the last time they’d seen him in Rivendell and during the meeting in the Woody End, but he was always aware of what had been said.
Others came from the inns to speak with him in the afternoon and early evening, by which time he was seated in one of the comfortable chairs Merry had brought. Had they not trusted the words of those who had seen him the previous evening and much of the day, many wouldn’t have believed the reports of just how ill he was.
That night Merry and Pippin made it plain they would be spending the night with Frodo, which made him smile. It was after midnight when Sam slipped into the room to find Merry and Frodo deeply asleep while Pippin lay on his back, soundlessly weeping as shown by the reflection of his tears in the light of the stars from the window. He turned his head only enough to acknowledge Sam’s inspection, and reassured, Sam left them to it and went back to his own bed, where Rosie awaited him and embraced him, and the two of them found themselves reaffirming their commitment to their love for one another and life itself, and for the shining soul preparing to leave the smial and life both.
The next morning Frodo rose early, seeming almost well, certainly happy and assured. He accepted his draught and drank it down with his customary grimace, washing it down with a sweetened cup of Sam’s tea.
There was little coughing, and his speech, although it was rather slow and precise even for him, didn’t show the hesitation it had acquired as his health had deteriorated. There was even color in his cheeks.
He insisted they walk to the Green Dragon for luncheon. He didn’t eat much while they were there, but he was there, and alive and aware and obviously happy. Many of the more regular patrons watched the tables where his family were congregated surprised, for it certainly didn’t appear Frodo Baggins was indeed failing as had been reported. Not until they were on their way back did Frodo show any indication of discomfort, for he suddenly stopped and clutched at his shoulder as if it pained him.
“Another seizure, Mr. Frodo?” asked Budgie.
Slowly Frodo shook his head. “Just--just shadows,” he said, straightening some. “Not the other--not yet, and not--not a seizure.”
But that stop was also seen by some of the folk who’d been in the Dragon for their own luncheons, and they realized that perhaps Mr. Baggins wasn’t as well as he had appeared inside.
A tureen of soup had been accepted by Mac, who’d stayed in Bag End while the others were gone, watching Drogo and little Elanor while their mothers went with the rest. Frodo had some of it, and indicated he would take a nap. Elanor, who reportedly had been fractious and refused to nap while the adults were gone, now settled happily down to sleep beside him, although neither slept more than an hour. Then Frodo was up, the over-large shawl about his shoulders as he sat in his desk chair in the study and spoke with those who’d come from Buckland, Michel Delving, and elsewhere over the space of the afternoon, a mug of soup and a second of Sam’s tea or juice ever by him.
At one point Paladin Took opened the door to the study to allow two young Hobbits, a lad and a lass, to enter. Frodo’s lips parted. “Fosco? Forsythia? You came?”
“Mr. Oridon and Gander Proudfoot brought us, Iorhael,” the lad answered as the two hurried to hug him.
“Oh, children--how glad I am to see you!”
“We--we thought you’d go by the ship, Iorhael,” said the lass. “Why didn’t you go with them?”
“How do you know about the ship?” Frodo asked, a distinct flush to his cheeks.
“They told us, the Elves who sang at the Free Fair. They said you’d have to leave by ship or grave.”
The lad asked, “Why--why did you decide to die?”
Frodo shook his head. “We’ll all die someday, Fosco. It’s part of being alive, knowing you’ll die someday. If I’d gone--it would have been almost the same as if I’d died for--for those of you who stayed behind. And I suppose it would have been that way for me, too, for I’d never have been able to come back. I still would never have seen you again.
“But I’m a Hobbit of the Shire, Fosco, and a mortal. If I’d gone there, I wouldn’t be a Hobbit of the Shire any more. I don’t know what I’d be there, but I’d change. And in the end I’d still die, even there. It might not be for years and years, but I’d still die. I decided I’d rather stay here. I love the Shire, and I want to stay a Hobbit of the Shire for whatever time I’m given. I know it’s not long now, but then none of us is guaranteed how long we’ll remain.”
He straightened and looked at both of them. “I don’t want you to be here--when it happens. I’m afraid--afraid it won’t be easy--when it comes. It will be memories that kill me, you see. Bad memories.”
“Memories of when you took the bad thing away?”
Frodo nodded. He looked at the lad. “You’ll be the Baggins after me, Fosco, and--and I suppose you’ll be Lord Baggins after me as well. Sam’s my heir within the Shire. You’re my heir outside of it, for he’s a lord in his own right. Do you understand?”
Frodo sighed, then laughed. “That’s all right. I’ve never seen much sense to it, myself, you must realize.” He hugged them once more. “Remember me gently, children. And live for as long as you’re given as fully as you can. I’m only glad I can take the memory of you with me. It will help me to fight the bad ones.”
After they left, Sam asked, “Those are related to you, then?”
Frodo, looking after them, nodded. “My cousins. Daisy’s much younger brother and sister. My uncle Dudo remarried later in life, and these two were born just before he died. I’ve visited them a few times a year since a couple of years after their mother died, when they were six.”
“You never told me.”
Frodo leaned back in his chair. “There’s not many I have told. But not even you know everything there is about me, Samwise Gamgee.” He rubbed at his shoulder, then reached for his mug. “It’s aching again.”
At suppertime, after all of those from elsewhere had gone back to the inns, again Frodo sat at the table, still wrapped in the shawl. Estella looked at it with a sigh. “I don’t know how you can bear that, Frodo.”
He looked surprised. “Why shouldn’t I like it?” he asked. “It’s warm and soft and just the right size to keep me--keep me comfortable and wrapped around with--with the realization of love. And I love who gave it to me.”
Estella blushed. “I was so young when I knit it for you, and I didn’t know how to cast off, and it seemed to go on forever.”
His smile lit the room.
Only when the meal was over did his energy appear to flag. “I think perhaps,” he said, “perhaps I should go back to bed. Again I’m very tired.”
Esmeralda and Eglantine went with him this time, shocked to realize, once they were back in the bedroom how suddenly the last of his strength seemed to be failing him. Lanti came out and fetched Sam. “I think we need your help,” she said quietly.
He nodded and came back with her.
Frodo’s shirt was off of him, and Esme was holding it, staring aghast at the stain across the neck and back of it.
“Orcs and spiders!” Sam exclaimed, looking at where Frodo sat on the wooden chair for the table by the window, clutching at the seat with his hands. “It’s infected again?”
Frodo gave a small nod, his face white.
Sam sent Eglantine off to fill the kettle and have Pippin fetch some fresh athelas from the garden. Folco brought in a basin and soap and cloths, while Merry brought towels and Budgie bandages. It took time to drain the wound and see it dressed, after which Sam washed the drainage from Frodo’s hair and wrapped it in a towel, then left Esmeralda to finish bathing Frodo as she could. Saradoc came to help get Frodo into a clean nightshirt, and between Brendi and Narcissa they got his hair dried and brushed. Finally Pippin and Merry lifted him into his bed, with Viola placing the cushions and pillows.
The rest had gathered in the dining room, each with something by them to drink. Esmeralda took a large sip of wine to steady herself. “He was so much better today....” she whispered.
Budgie looked from face to face before he answered her. “It’s not--not uncommon in those who are dying--the last shining of the candle’s flame before it’s totally spent.”
All looked stricken.
At last Viola came out. “He wants to see Elanor and Drogo once more,” she said simply.
Elanor insisted on sitting up by him on the bed, and Drogo lay by him and fell swiftly and, to judge by his face, quite happily, asleep. Frodo kept a hand on the infant’s head, and turned to watch and listen to Elanor in her babbling. Then his eyes closed and he drifted into a doze, and Elanor leaned to touch his cheek gently. “Fo,” she said, very quietly.
Sam lifted her up. “Your uncle’s very tired now, sweetling. Very tired. I suspect as he won’t be gettin’ up with you tomorrow, he’s so tired.”
She nodded as if she understood, and turned her head to bury her face against his shoulder. Then she looked up at him, murmuring, “Da?”
Tears of mingled joy and grief poured down Sam Gamgee’s face as he held her close. “Yes, dearling, my dear one, I’m your da.”
At Budgie’s suggestion the children were taken down to the Proudfoot’s hole at Number 5.
It was near nine when Frodo’s eyes opened again. Sam sat on the wooden chair, and Saradoc and Paladin had the wing chairs while Merry perched on Frodo’s footstool and Pippin sat on the floor and leaned back against the wall near the fireplace. Budgie sat on a chair from the dining room set just inside the door. The kettle over the hearth gave forth the scent of athelas, the scent of the sea tonight, mixed with the scent of the garden of Bag End in May. “Sam?” Frodo whispered.
Immediately Sam was up, then leaning over the bed, taking Frodo’s maimed hand in his own. Frodo smiled faintly. “Take me----” Frodo whispered. Outside, under the stars.
Sam turned toward Saradoc Brandybuck. “In the wardrobe there, on the shelf--the roll with the rug and the blankets in it.” With no question, Sara was rising to fetch them as Sam pulled the blankets away, pulling the top one from the bed and wrapping it tightly about Frodo.
He looked to Paladin Took. “Bring as many cushions as you can carry, and the same for you two,” he said to Budgie and Merry. He looked at Pippin. “Bring the kettle, and the starglass,” he directed as he lifted Frodo in his arms.
“Where are you going?” demanded Budgie.
“Out--atop the Hill. He wants to be under the stars.”
Pando Proudfoot was sitting outside the door, and at a quiet word from Sam he ran to the dining room to fetch the others. A strange procession they made as Sam led the way out the back door and turned toward the back of the hill and the blue stone steps to the top.
Saradoc unrolled everything, and between them Esme and Lanti spread the rug. Sam sat down on it, still holding Frodo in his arms. Sara carefully tucked the blankets over Frodo. It was then the memories hit. Frodo gave an unearthly wail of terror and pain, and all could see them take him.
For two days Beligard Took followed the strangers he’d admitted to the Shire before he lost them. At that time he cursed and set himself to riding as fast as he could to Bywater, where he took his pony into the stable at the Green Dragon.
“He might share a stall with the Thain’s pony,” the stablehobbit told him, “but there’s no other room to be had.”
“Pal’s here then, is he? At Bag End?”
“What you been doin’ to this pony?” the stablehobbit demanded. “He’s exhausted! Needs a good walkin’ out.”
“Bounder business, it is,” Beli answered him. “There are strangers in the Shire, and I thought as I’d best let the Thain and the Mayor know. We been ridin’ hard the last day, we have, Pilsner’n me.”
“Mayor’s stayin’ with Griffo and Daisy Boffin,” he was told. “Thain’s at Bag End. Word was Frodo Baggins was fadin’, but he seemed well enough when he come in here at noon, he did. Though there’s them as says he had an attack of some kind on the way home.”
“Thain’s the one I really want to see,” Beli told him. “Set a lad to walkin’ him out for me. I need to get to Bag End.”
But no one seemed to be in the smial once he got there. Where in Middle Earth did they get to? he wondered. And then he heard the worst cry he’d ever heard, almost right over his head. Shocked, he looked up. Someone must be getting killed, right there atop the Hill! But who, and how? And how was he to get up there to see?
Beligard Took began running around the hill, climbing the rough slope where the hedge met it on the south side, trying to find the best way up the hill. He passed an outcrop of rock and tripped, rolling forward and down, down into the orchard. That horrible wailing was continuing, up there, right at the crown of the Hill. Then he saw a bright shining before him, further through the orchard, and he saw three bright, steady glows and one, silver as the distant stars, that pulsed as the stars do, tall, Man-like shapes headed up the Hill as fast as they could go. Scrambling to his feet, Beli hurried after them and the one more solid, normal shadow, still big and hulking for the Shire but wonderfully familiar for all that, that was already scrambling noisily after the silent shining ones.
One of the ones with the steady glow went first, leading the way. The wailing stopped from time to time for breath, then continued, then was abruptly cut off. Then he heard, very loud and clear, a single word, “NO!” The shining ones were rounding the north side of the Hill, and then going more quickly upward, as if there were steps there to give them purchase. As he finally turned after them, Beli realized there were steps there, and he was grateful for them as he followed, a stitch aching in his side, the last of the way up.
His question as to where the folk of Bag End were was now answered. They were gathered in a rough circle around two who sat and lay upon the ground, and all eyes were now turned toward the shining forms who’d paused outside their bounds.
One of those on the ground was Frodo Baggins’s gardener, Samwise Gamgee, who breathed a sigh of relief. “Strider!” he cried. “Strider! You come! Hurry--the memories--they’re tryin’ to take him.”
The one who’d been a normal shadow, if bulky, proved to be the Dwarf, and the three shining ones with the steady glow were unquestionably the three Elves. But it was the one with the pulsing, silver Light that went forward, the crowd of Hobbits opening readily to let him through, going forward to kneel by Gamgee, who could now be seen to be holding another Hobbit in his arms--Frodo Baggins, Beli realized. Never had he seen such an expression on anyone’s face in his life, and it shook him to the core, that look on Frodo’s face, that look that could be seen in the Light emitted by the one now kneeling by him.
This one was a Man, a far taller Man than Beli had ever seen, even as familiar as he had become with the King’s kinsmen. Like the Rangers, he was dressed in riding leathers under that cloak of his, rough and worn, if once fine looking. Like the Rangers he wore a swordbelt, its sheath splaying awkwardly behind him. He had a short beard and hair to his shoulders. He looked rough as if he’d been doing nothing for riding for days. His forehead was drawn with concern. But there was a competence there--competence and authority, as he reached forward to lay a beringed hand on Frodo’s forehead. The ring on his forefinger glowed green in the starlight, and something else caught the same glow, apparently a far greater jewel the Man wore at his throat.
“Frodo!” he said, a Command. “Frodo--they are but shadows and have no strength but fear. You know how to fight that fear. Turn from them.”
Frodo’s eyes, that had been open and staring and unfocused, turned up toward the face of the Man. “The--pale king. Spider----” Fear could be seen there.
“Lord Iorhael, your King commands you to attend to him. Turn from the Shadow and heed it not.”
There was another expression battling with the terror that had filled Frodo’s face. Gradually the other expression began to win out, and the terror faded. There was hope there.
“Good, you have fought well, the terror, the memories. You have fought and now you win.”
“Spider,” breathed Frodo. “Neck--hurts.” The next breath was shuddering, but something else was easing. “Elessar....”
“It is at your command, Frodo. Use what you need of its power, its strength.”
A slight shake of the head. “You, Aragorn.” The words were so soft, yet all heard them. Frodo fumbled his hand free of the blankets around him. He was grasping something--then let it go, a jewel of some kind that glowed pure as starlight against the coverings. The Man set his own hand over Frodo’s.
They were all three glowing now, the Man, Frodo Baggins, and the Hobbit who held him in his arms. Frodo’s glow matched that of the Man. It had been pulsing quickly and somewhat erratically, and now that pulse was slowing, slowing to match better the pulsing of the Man. That of Samwise Gamgee was golden, and its pulsing was also slowing, although it had been steady throughout, Beli realized.
Peregrin Took stepped forward, bowing deeply, clutching an ordinary kettle in his hands. “Athelas, my Lord King,” he said, setting the kettle down by the Man and removing the lid.
“Who set it to steep?”
The Man smiled and leaned his face over it, breathing deeply. He shifted to sit on the ground and held out his arms. Reluctantly Sam gave over the form he held, the Man taking Frodo’s body gently into his own sure grasp.
One of the Hobbitesses present had cloths with her, and the Man accepted one, dipped it into the kettle, gently wiped it over Frodo’s face and hands. He pulled back the blankets and shifted the neck of the nightshirt Frodo wore, then looked up.
“It’s draining again?” he asked Sam, who nodded. “It’s time to end that,” he said quietly. “Frodo, I’m going to probe this. I don’t think it can do much more harm at this point, but I’ll not have you continue with whatever is in there now. Are you willing?”
A soft whisper: “Yes, Aragorn. The spider--wants--wants removing.”
He looked about, saw the cushions and pillows held there. In moments they were placed in accordance with the quiet directions of one of the two dark-haired Elves while the other was aiding the Man to remove the nightshirt and the bandage.
The golden-haired Elf and the Dwarf were clearing a space, and a lad was sent down the hill to fetch kindling and firewood. Soon a blaze was going in the improvised firepit.
“I’ll need light,” the Man said.
Pippin was pulling something out of his pocket that glowed somewhat in his hand. “The Phial of Galadriel,” he advised the Man.
The Man--Aragorn? the King?--smiled and nodded at the gardener. “Let Sam hold it--it will glow brightest for him, after Frodo.”
The Dwarf was slipping a red bag off his shoulder, setting it by the King, who opened it and reached in, finally bringing out a heavy roll of cloth, one he unfastened with one hand and flicked open with a practiced movement to lie flat on the blankets. The firelight shone on bone handles and steel instruments.
Merry and Pippin were taking Frodo from the Man and laying him, face down, on the cushions, a gap allowing him room to breathe. The Man searched among the instruments, finally choosing two, a fine pair of tongs and what appeared to be a knife of some sort with a very thin blade, pulling them a bit more than the others from the pockets where they lay to make them easier to grasp when they were needed. A blanket was laid over Frodo’s back, then a second.
At last the Man chose his place, then looked at Sam. “Bring the Phial, and kneel there.” As Sam did as was directed, he was asked to move his hand holding the glowing Phial first here, then there as the Man tried his own hand at various attitudes, finally leaving it steady when the Man said, “Yes, that is right. There.”
What appeared to be a fine glass bottle such as scent was sold in was in Sam’s hand, and as he held it the light grew steadier and brighter as he murmured words, the only one of which Beli could hear clearly was “Eärendil.”
The Man was now holding out his hands as one of the dark-haired Elves poured water over them from the kettle; then the Man took the kettle and poured some of the liquid over the revealed wound on the back of Frodo’s neck while the golden-haired Elf accepted a cloth from the Hobbitess and dried away what flowed toward the pillows. At a word from the King one of the stranger Hobbits, one who appeared to be a healer himself, came forward, had his hands cleansed with the water from the kettle, then knelt at Frodo’s head to hold his hair out of the way.
“Frodo, I’m going to have someone hold your hands, one out to each side, to help you hold still. Do you understand?”
There was a murmured word, and Merry and Pippin came forward on each side, to take Frodo’s wrists and pull his arms out straight.
“Now someone will kneel by your hips to help keep your back from bucking. I fear this might hurt. But the power of the Elessar is there for you to use as you need. You know that--I’ve never withheld it from you.”
“I know.” Beligard heard that clearly enough.
It was the Master who came forward to lay his hands on Frodo’s waist to help steady him.
Then there was a quiet as the Man bowed his head, his lips moving. He reached down and slipped the tongs out of their place, then held them in the flames till they glowed red, at which time he handed it to the Elf. Then he did the same with that odd knife....
The two dark-haired Elves began to sing, a tune with an odd cadence--repeated notes but with words of different lengths to them. The golden-haired Elf joined the song, then Peregrin Took and Sam Gamgee. The light in the gardener’s hand grew brighter, and it no longer pulsed as the Man leaned over Frodo’s neck and applied his blade. His hand was sure and steady, and at last he gave a wordless cry, letting the knife fall to one side as he accepted the tongs from the Elf who held them, reached into the wound and probed, and brought out----
He brought out what appeared to be a--a spider?
There was a cry of disgust and fury from the golden-haired Elf, and a look of greater fury on the face of Gamgee. “Shelob left her get in there?” the gardener said harshly.
The Man examined the form caught in his tongs with dispassionate interest. “No, not precisely her get--rather, her dam, who apparently has been trying to form a new shape for herself using Frodo’s own substance. No wonder the wound kept reopening and the seepage was so foul!”
The shape writhed and seemed to swell, but at a quiet word from the Man Sam lifted his hand so the light of the glass bottle he held fell squarely on it. Yes, definitely a spider. Beli could see both dark-haired Elves rise and draw back with looks of absolute loathing and righteous anger on their faces.
“Ungoliant herself,” one of them murmured.
“We deny you a new form,” the Man said. “By Elbereth the Fair and Manwë Lord of Winds, by Ulmo of the Cleansing Waters and Estë, Lady of Healing, and by all who sit enthroned in Aman, we deny you and defy you and give you to the same end as he who brought you to your downfall!” So saying, he flung the foul thing into the fire.
There was a cry as horrible as that Frodo had given earlier in his own agony, and a shape went up in the smoke, the shape of a woman, beautiful and enticing and utterly horrible; and it rose high as if to obliterate the Stars themselves. Only the Lights of the Man, Samwise Gamgee, and Frodo himself, who’d twisted his torso as if to see, his hands having been dropped by the two Captains, shone to overmatch the Darkness of the shape, and overhead Eärendil also shone to match the light in Sam’s hand, while the glow of the Elves also became almost unbearable. At the Man’s throat the green gem also glowed, a clean, clear, healing green that further illuminated the Shadow shape, illuminated it--illuminated and undid it. A fresh breeze from the West almost languidly blew the smoke away, dissipated it, unmade it.
With the shadow gone, attention was turned back to Frodo, the wound quickly cleansed and bandaged, his body turned over and once again wrapped, loosely but protectively, with blankets. Cushions and pillows were rearranged, and Frodo laid back on them. His eyes were now closed, and his breathing rather harsh and ragged. At last he opened his eyes. “Aragorn....”
“I am here, small brother.”
Frodo smiled, and that smile seemed to reach right into Beli’s heart. “Thank you.” The words were whispered, but clear. Then, after a pause, he whispered, “Free now.”
“Yes, beloved one, you are free now. You may stay or go as you wish.”
“Can’t--can’t stay. Not enough--left.” The eyes, as clearly blue in the unearthly yet comforting Light that shone in that circle as they were in plain daylight, searched the face of the one who knelt over him, smiling easily. He sought to lift his head, and immediately Merry was there to support him. He looked about the circle and smiled. “Love you--all.” His eyes were clear, fully aware. There was some pain, but much peace. He closed his eyes, and Merry let him lie back against the pillows, and the dark began to return, a normal, autumn night in the Shire, as Sam set down the starglass on the rugs by Frodo’s shoulder and its light faded.
After a time Frodo said, “Hungry.”
One of the Elves pulled out of a satchel he carried a flattened bread, broke off a small piece, and gave it to the Man, who held it gently then placed it in Frodo’s mouth. The other dark-haired one had brought out a small flask, and after uncorking it gave it to the Man, who lifted the Hobbit into a sitting position and gave him a sip of it.
After swallowing both, Frodo was quiet again. “I never thought,” he said at last, “I’d truly appreciate the taste of--of lembas again. I was wrong.”
There were smiles and some soft chuckles amidst the tears.
“Hold me again, please.”
Sam settled himself by Frodo and held him in his arms. Frodo smiled up into Sam’s eyes, then looked at the Man for quite a long time. At last he said, “I can see them behind you, tall brother.”
“Who? Who do you see behind me?”
“The others--your fathers, all of them, Kings, Kings and--and Chieftains, back--all the way back, to Elros and beyond.”
Beligard looked, and he, too, seemed to see shapes behind the King, each shining, some more brightly than others, although their shapes seemed to disappear as the one at the very back came forward and down, a great, shining shape that passed through the Man to stand before the King. Frodo’s eyes were shining in awe and delight and--and eagerness.
Well done, you last three Sons of my Spirit. Well done indeed! the shape seemed to say, looking at the Man and the two Hobbits between whom he stood. Then its eyes fixed on Frodo’s. Vingilot awaits. I will gladly carry you where you would go, child.
Frodo’s smile grew wider, and he reached out his hand----
A shining shape lifted away, joined the Light that stood in their midst, and together they began to pull away further, away and upward. The gem lying on the Hobbit’s breast shone as bright as the Star of Eärendil overhead, and the green gem at the Man’s throat flared in answer, and the Light of Frodo’s body was gone, nothing left, and then all once again became normal--only a circle of Hobbits and three Elves and a Dwarf about a Man who sat on the ground and Samwise Gamgee, who held all that was left of the mortal remains of Frodo Baggins in his arms.