Having kissed my wife, I slip out of our quarters. I still feel as if living within these stone walls is new to me, although this is not the first time I have lived within the city or must stay for months at a time within the Citadel. There was that time of crisis when Ecthelion was Lord Steward and came to believe--rightly--that assassins had been sent from Umbar to slay his son and Denethor’s wife Finduilas, who had just learned she had quickened with their first child. That time I remained within the guest quarters within the Citadel for four months, watching for signs of Umbar’s agents, helping in the end to unmask them and see them spirited away, never to return to their patrons. This time I have dwelt here less than three months, yet it seems so very much longer; and at times I feel the oppression of dwelling within walls of stone surrounded ever by more of the same.
I leave the Citadel, and find myself shadowed, most discretely, by Orophin of Lothlórien. This has been Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel’s gift to me while they remain in the city--the loan of their folk as personal guard at night that I do not require being followed ever by guards of the Citadel when I would walk abroad in the top two levels of the city. There is more of a feeling of freedom, knowing that those who see to my safety are not bothered by my own restlessness in the depths of the darkness. For I am often sleepless, and have been so for so long it is hard to say when it began. Certainly the great journey we made from Bree to Rivendell and then south on the quest did nothing to help me sleep more easily. Once Frodo was injured ’neath Amon Sul I barely slept for the two weeks it took to reach my adar’s home, and certainly I slept little enough until the shard was finally removed from the Hobbit’s shoulder. Then after, we were again on patrol, seeking for signs of the Nazgul and their steeds, watching for movement of other creatures of the Enemy.
So often we traveled and travailed for days and nights on end, ever on watch, particularly in those final weeks before we arrived at last to complete the breaking of the siege of this city. And often when I sleep the memories of the worst times will come upon me, as they will anyone who has been forced to survive by slaying.
The gardens behind the Citadel are beautiful beyond telling, but they are not enough this night. Instead I find myself, as I’ve so often done since it was planted by the fountain, heading for the White Tree. I can see it, there, shining in the darkness of the night, catching the least starlight as well as the Light of the ones who sit beneath it. Legolas and Frodo rest there, and at the moment it is hard to say which shines the brighter. Ah, my small brother of the heart--how it was you were given the heart and soul of an Elf or Dúnedan when you were born a Hobbit of the Shire I cannot say. As is so often true of your people, you have had a core of sheer steel. However, even the strongest steel can become brittle and break, should it be tried sufficiently; and like the blade I have carried at my hip since last winter, your core has fractured.
Is there a fire here within Middle Earth, I wonder, sufficient to your reforging, or a Smith to see you remade?
I see you turn toward me, but tonight you do not smile at my approach. Your eyes are solemn, thoughtful, and when you speak your voice quiet.
“You do not stay by your bride this night?” you ask.
“Nay--this night she preferred to await the attentions of her daernaneth and the Lady Mirieth,” I say as I sink to sit by you.
You search my eyes as well as you might. “You can’t have quarreled.”
I feel myself laugh. “Oh, no, small brother, there has been no quarrel. It is only that since I began worshiping her with my body, the rhythm of her own has begun to change, and she has begun her courses.”
You appear puzzled--I do not believe you have heard these matters described so; or perhaps having been raised by Bilbo, an unmarried male, you are unaware of the ways of womanhood. But then you understand, as you now do so readily much that is uncommon to your people’s customs or manner of speech, as if the Enemy’s weapon had given you lessons in the ways of Men that need but small reminders for you to bring stray facts to understanding. When you speak next your voice is tight with embarrassment, and I am certain that were there more light to see I would note your face had gone pale save for the apple of your cheeks, which must be quite flushed. “Then it--it is different for those of Elfkind than it is for mortals?”
“Somewhat, or so I understand. But it is more than that--now that we are joined and our fëar have become bound with the sharing of our hroar, it is now confirmed that she has made the choice of the peredhil, and so the song of her body begins to reflect that choice. So long might a maiden among Elves remain unmated that ellyth do not always have moon-cycles--not until they are wed, and even then only when they feel themselves ready to bear children. I am not fully certain if she will continue to have regular courses from now on, or only until she has given birth for the first time, or until she feels she has borne all we can devote ourselves to properly. I must suppose that time itself will show us the answers to these questions.”
Even in the darkness I can tell the flush of your cheeks is more full. “I have no experience with these things,” you say delicately. I can tell by the very solemnity of Legolas’s expression he is doing his best not to laugh aloud and embarrass you further. “I was too young for my mother to speak of such things with me, and my aunts never thought to discuss what--it was like with lasses. Bilbo was quite frank with me about the--changes I was experiencing; but I fear the little I know about womankind I learned from Bilbo’s library.”
Legolas can no longer contain himself, and seeks to cover his amusement with a fit of coughing. You glare at him, obviously aware of the ruse. I give him my own stare. “Remember, my prince,” I say, “that in the yeni you have known there has been far more chance for you to learn how it is with ellyth than there has been for him to learn how it is with Hobbitesses, particularly as he has not lived with such as members of his household for so long. During the time he lived among his Brandybuck kin I suspect he was sufficiently young and innocent that what he did hear had so little meaning for him that he gave it no heed, much as I did when I was a child.”
There is sufficient relaxation in your shoulders that I realize that my last statement relieved you. So wise and learned do the others think of you, does it distress you to admit that there are subjects of which you are ignorant so much that it is a relief to realize others also have been similarly lacking in knowledge? I continue, turning to you, “Because I was training as a healer, my adar insisted I learn how it is with women among Men. Certainly he would have me observe when such were brought to him concerning difficult pregnancies or common ailments associated with womanhood. But for Arwen--although she has assisted Adar herself often enough in the near three thousand years of her life, still to know this in her own body is strange and, I suspect, somewhat frightening.”
You nod, storing away the new information in that great archive that is your mind, and we sit now in more companionable silence. At last Legolas comments quietly, “If Aragorn intends to sit by you, Frodo, then I think I will leave you, for I wish to go down to the gardens of the Houses of Healing to be with the trees there. This one is young yet, and is more concerned with the two of you than with me.”
“Thank you, Legolas,” you say. “Sam would agree to remain in the guest house and sleep properly only because he knew you were with me.”
Legolas smiles as he rises to his feet and lays a single, shapely hand to the bole of the White Tree in farewell. “Rejoice,” he says to the Tree, “for your rightful Lord is with you this night, and the Ringbearer.” He looks to the two of us. “And so it does rejoice indeed, finding it comforts the both of you. Frodo, Aragorn.” He gives a profound bow as he has taken to doing at times, and then withdraws, exchanging a quiet greeting with Orophin as he passes.
We sit alongside one another, still not speaking for a time. One of the Guards of the Tree, in his ancient garb and helmet, shifts slightly from one foot to the other, while another stifles a yawn. There where he has seated himself, Orophin begins to sing softly, a song of Telperion and Laurelin at the mingling of the Lights. I am surprised, for he sings in Quenya, and most Silvan Elves of Middle Earth would rather be caught unclothed and weaponless than to admit they know the ancient tongue; yet the fact remains that their Lady has, for the past how many centuries, been a daughter of the Noldor. Your head turns as you listen, your pale face shining the more brightly as you soak in the music, the words, the meaning, the beauty of it. I can see the faint echo of your smile, and an aching pain. I know now that what I’ve suspected for so long is true--that you do feel the Sea Longing within you, and strongly--far more strongly than you realize as yet. When the day comes--if the Valar grant our request for you--I suspect you will be ready to go to Eressëa yourself. I only pray that there you find the rest and easing for your gentle spirit you so deserve.
At last, when the song is done, and Orophin now has turned to humming softly, I say quietly, “You have been avoiding us.”
At least you do not deny it when at last you answer, “I find myself somewhat disheartened, Aragorn. Each time I begin to feel somewhat better and more--myself, I learn that I do not recover properly after all. I walk more freely about the upper levels of the city; but tire so easily and so suddenly. I cannot dance any more, and have such difficulties sleeping so many nights. My hand is better, and for that I thank your adar, but my shoulder continues to ache almost unceasingly at times, and at times my neck also disturbs me. There is not much in the way of true pain or aching; but suddenly I will feel a burning sensation, or it will tickle and itch almost unbearably, as if the muscles were hurt and starting to tingle as they heal.
“I am more impatient with others, and some of those who come to present petitions before you should not need the intervention of the King, for they know fully well what they ought to do without you needing to tell them.”
“I agree,” I say, and I feel the smile again. “But they are very like small children whose minder has been dismissed, who suddenly find that their father is now there to care for them instead, all competing for his attention. At times I am impatient with them; and at others I find I feel very sorry for them, but love them for the very trust they show that I will do the best possible by them.”
You shift without thinking about it, closer to me. I am relieved, for all too often you hold yourself aloof from others, even from Sam. You have been so isolated for so long by your adoption by Bilbo, by your role as Master of Bag End, by your role as Ringbearer, by your combination of continued discomfort and Baggins insistence that you must be seen as nearly well when it is most likely you will never truly recover from what was done to you as long as you linger in Middle Earth. Sam has confided how often as the two of you journeyed he must hold you in his arms that you might feel sufficiently comforted and protected to allow yourself to sleep; now you need the comfort of that touch so deeply at the same time you hold yourself from it that you not leave him thinking he must devote himself wholly to you. Merry and Pippin so often walk shoulder to shoulder, their arms about one another; and at last Sam realizes he has the right to walk so with them and they delight to include him in their friendship and companionship; but you, not wishing to inflict your weakness upon them, withhold yourself from joining them too much of the time.
That you feel more free to allow me, as you would a brother, to comfort you with touch pleases me--pleases and humbles me.
Perhaps, small brother, it is not just this people who delight to have me reassure them with my presence as they would a father--or older brother.
I take your damaged hand and feel the changes there. My adar Elrond is more powerful than I in healing, and has even greater appreciation for the manner in which the body functions than I do. No longer do the muscles spasm within the hand, pulling on the flesh pulled over the stump of the lost finger; there is peace now where there had been distress since you awoke in Ithilien. I am grateful that here, at least, he was able to set all things to as much right as possible for one who has lost a finger so violently. I only wish that one of us could do more for the rest of you. The wound where the great spider--Shelob, Sam has said they called her--bit you, that is not healed, either, any more than where the Morgul shard lay within you. The scars where you were beaten and bound do heal, but still I fear others will be able to see the remains of them for as long as you live. But it is the scars upon your very soul that worry me the most. I was raised a warrior, knowing I must kill if others were to live; you were not. I am yet disturbed by memories of what I have seen and have had to do myself to protect those under my guardianship; for you, who were raised in peace, where warfare was only alive in imagination and was shorn of its terrors and ugliness--how the reality of brutality and sheer hatred and envy has torn at you and continues to tear at you, along with the guilt that clings to you for not having been able to complete your task unaided as you’d intended.
I feel the Tree seeking to reassure you. Here, under this Tree as has happened a few times when I was within Lothlórien, I know the Elven gift of communication with such creatures. I have heard many even without aught of the blood of the Eldar who have spoken of feeling the pulse of this Tree, of being aware of the current of its life. I feel it respond to me as I approach it, as if it were a cat or dog lifting its head when one beloved approaches the house in which it has been sleeping. And with you beneath it, the Tree all but purrs aloud, so pleased it is to shelter you, rejoicing its flowers bloom while you may see them, joyous to share its sweet odours with you. And you shift closer still, pressing slightly against me, your warm, gentle presence relaxing more. I feel your shoulders ease, and your breathing slow and deepen.
You raise your eyes to peer at the stars through the boughs and leaves and blooms of the Tree, and you smile again. “This reminds me of going atop the Hill, lying beneath the roof tree, as I did so often growing up. There is no real roof tree on Buck Hill as there is there in Hobbiton--some low shrubs here and there along the ridge of it. Throughout most of the Shire it is expected that there be a roof tree to prove that the hill into which smials are dug is viable and solid, and not hurt by housing our folk within it. But the feel to the White Tree--it is even more comforting, somehow, than our faithful oak at home above Bag End.”
“As I’ve said before, the Tree recognizes you and delights in your presence.”
“I don’t fully understand why. I don’t have the blood of the Sea Kings in me as you do.”
“Perhaps it is merely that you have been the Ringbearer, and have known the personal blessings and protection offered you by Valar and Creator that you needed in order to accomplish what you did. But, as a Hobbit you are more in tune with growing things and the rhythms of the earth itself than are most Men. It is very likely that it responds to that. When Sam approaches it I can feel it pull itself to attention as if to show him how well it does as he inspects it. But with you it--it rejoices to have you near it, as if you were one born to be sheltered by it.”
“How was it you found it?” you ask.
As I tell of it I feel you listening, and picturing it within your mind. “And there is a special Hallow, there, up high on the flanks of the mountain?” you ask, turning and peering about the bole of the Tree toward where the mountain rises behind its knee where the city was built. “Is it similar to the hallow of Mount Meneltarma at the heart of Númenor?”
“Similar, but not quite the same.” I feel solemnity take me, and you return your attention to me, sitting up and turning to examine my face in the starlight. “The Hallow there was fully sacred, and there only the King spoke, offering up the First Fruits, and the prayers of thanksgiving, and the prayers of petition in times of distress; but all might go there for quiet contemplation and communion. The Hallow here is more a place set apart where the heart of the ruler, so often subject to the distress of others, might find peace and know the quiet needed to hear the voice of Iluvatar the better.”
“And that was the first time you have been there?”
I shake my head. “No. The first time I went there was shortly before Boromir was born. There had been rumors that certain lords from Umbar were seeking to destabilize the realm of Gondor by sending assassins against the Steward’s heir and his wife.”
“But if Boromir had not yet been born----” You stop, realizing your mistake. “Oh, but that is right--you served here not under Lord Denethor, but his father.”
“Yes, small brother. It was Denethor and his wife Finduilas who were threatened. The rumors proved true, and I helped forestall the planned murders. At my suggestion the assassins were not executed publicly, but instead were sent secretly out of the city. I arranged for Thengel to accept them and place them as house carls within the keeping of certain lords in Rohan. One only recently died of old age; the other sought to escape many years ago, and managed to end up captured by orcs come from the Misty Mountains into the White Mountains south of Isengard. By the time Thengel’s Men tracked his captors into the valley where they’d taken shelter they’d already killed him--rather horribly, I was told.
“At any rate, once it was certain that the assassins had been caught and the plot forestalled, Ecthelion, before he allowed me to return back to my duties with the army, took me up to the King’s Hallow himself.”
“He’d guessed who you were, then?”
“Yes. Both he and Denethor believed me to be Isildur’s Heir by that time.”
Your voice indicates how shrewdly you think. “But where Ecthelion thought perhaps to welcome you, Denethor didn’t?”
I nod. “Ecthelion hoped that by showing me that place he could convince me to declare myself and my claims openly, there and then. But had I done so, I would have known the open opposition of Denethor, and of those lords of the realm who opposed change in government and return to the sovereignty of the King. As for alliance with Arnor once more--most here still believe that we in the north are little better than barbarians.”
You laugh, and that laugh is good to hear. “And had they seen you as we first did, the epitome of vagrancy, they’d have been the more convinced of that, you know.”
I laugh with you. “Yes, so it would have been.”
“At least you clean up well enough, and have proved surprisingly wholesome under all the deliberate layers of travel dirt and sweat!”
You relax even more fully and lie down with your head pillowed on my right leg, looking up straight through the limbs of the Tree at the stars. You smile, but then, without warning, there is a spasm in your shoulder. I feel you tense with it, see you rubbing at the scar of the wound. I reach down and lay my hand over it, and you gladly move your own away. As I open myself to feel deeply I feel you reaching out for the power of the Elessar stone I wear, and feel it give of itself gladly and easily enough. Between us the spasm is soothed and the ache lessened. It is a frustration that I can do no more than that for you; but, alas, there are some wounds that go too deeply for the Hands of the King to fully ease, much less to heal.
“That is better, tall brother,” you say at last, and once more you set yourself to relax. After a time you murmur, “That is another thing I cannot fully understand--how it is that I can touch the power of the Elessar like that. Again, I have no Elven blood in me....”
“But isn’t it said that the Fallohides were the clan that consorted with Elves, there in the valley of the Anduin? How do we know that your ancestors have no Elvish blood? After all, it is plain that there is a strong strain of Fallohide running through your makeup. The Tooks were supposed to have been mostly of Fallohide descent, or so Bilbo told me. And he has always insisted that the Brandybucks were at least as much Fallohide as they were Stoor, and that they’ve been interbreeding with the Tooks since they came into the Shire. Some of the wandering Elvish tribes of the upper Anduin valley were decidedly individualistic, you know. I can easily see some Silvan maiden seeing the beauty of the fëa of a charming Fallohide youth and losing her heart to him....”
You stare at me openmouthed. “An Elf? With a Hobbit?”
“Why not? After all, there is supposed to have been a Fairy Wife amongst the Tooks, is there not?”
You shake your head, not quite able to accept that I am as much in earnest as I am teasing you. I go on, perhaps a bit relentlessly, “Elves and Hobbits, after all, have more in common than Elves and Men, particularly in your sharing of love for the land itself and all that springs from it. Why is that harder for you to accept than that Elves and Men might come to marry?”
You look to my own eyes. “Perhaps because I’ve seen the latter.”
“And in you and Sam I believe I see results of the former.”
“Sam? A Fallohide? He believes himself the most common of Harfoots, I think.”
“With his height and curiosity, and his instinctive appreciation of the most right thing ever to do? And his lighter hair and appreciation for beauty? Nay--Bilbo’s always believed that he has his fair share of Fallohide as well.”
“Perhaps from the Goodchilds,” you return. “But then they are all particularly deft-handed and devoted to beauty, the Gaffer and Mistress Bell’s children.” Again you smile and look back up through the Tree’s branches, but in time your expression becomes thoughtful. At last you say, “I must go home--and soon. The Shire needs us. I feel it in my heart.”
“I wish you could remain here ever, Frodo. I will miss you so once you have gone back to the Shire.” I do not say, I fear that when I bid you farewell, it will be until I myself must turn my heart westward at last.
“You will come northward in time, and will see those you love among us then.” You do not continue, but I fear I will have gone on when that time comes, whether or not I accept the gift of which the Queen has spoken. But after a time of thought you admit, “I do not truly wish to leave here and go back, although that is where my heart lies also. But I am not worthy to remain here.”
My heart twists within me. “Do not say that, Frodo Baggins. It is a misrepresentation of yourself. Eru loves you so deeply, and who am I to go against His estimation of you?” You look at me, and I see unveiled the pain I’ve known was there, hidden behind light words and isolation. “You are worthy of the love and respect we all would give you. Come with me now--I will take you to the King’s Hallow and let you feel the peace of it, and let Him speak the truth into your heart where you can hear His words plainly. Rise up, small brother, and come with me.”
But you shake your head, and I see distress rise in you. “No, Aragorn--I am not ready--for that. Please, tall brother, don’t make me! What if what He says is----”
When you do not continue, at the last I finish it for you. “What if He says, You are not worthy? I do not believe there is any danger of that. And know this, my sweet, beloved small brother--all that was less than worthy in you was lost with your finger. A contrite heart and willingness to serve others as you can, even to the offering of your life if it was necessary, says more to your true worthiness than anything else about you. After all, when it comes to being perfect, none of us is, yet He loves us all the same. Please, Frodo--rise up and go there with me. Let Him speak peace into your heart.”
But I see the grief and stubbornness of your expression. “I do not need to go there to hear words spoken in my heart, Aragorn. Too many words have I heard there, and they echo still.”
“Then listen to the ones, Frodo, that speak of how well you have served and of how you deserve happiness. I know those have been repeated there.” As you give a shake to your head, I feel a sigh of exasperation escape me. “Ah, my small, beloved brother, how can you so fall to the conceit that you are unworthy? It was the great Eagles themselves that insisted first that you and Sam were to be named lords of all of the Free Peoples, and you know Whose servants they have ever been, if you know of Mount Meneltarma.”
“But I do not believe I would be able to complete the climb--certainly not on my own.” Your words are so low I must strain to hear them.
“Then I would carry you, and gladly.”
You set your jaw--that I can tell, and once again stubbornness takes you. I feel even more distressed. “Oh, my dear Frodo, Sam has told me how he had to carry you up the side of Orodruin at the end, and how he found you no burden at all. Do you think I would not delight to carry you up this more beneficent mountain, and to a place not of dread but peace?”
Your jaw relaxes some as you seek to search my eyes. At last you give another shake to your head. “You do not understand, Aragorn--I do not need to go up the mountain to find peace--not when I am able to feel the caring of the Tree and the warmth you hold toward me at the same time. It is peace enough to be here, and I would not have you think you must carry me elsewhere for what I find now, without moving. I would never be a burden to anyone again if it can be helped.”
I brush my hand across your brow, pushing a lock of hair away from your eye. “Nay, it is you that does not understand--you bore more than any mortal should ever have borne for far too long; and with that burden you bore me with you--me, my hopes and dreams, my destiny, even. Certainly you bore about your neck the one chance there was I might reach my true desire--to take Arwen as my wife and know that completion. You did that unknowing, as you bore the chance for the hopes and dreams of all who have survived this horrible war to know completion. Never can I hope to recompense you for what you gave of yourself, any more than any other here within Middle Earth could do the same. To lead you there, even if I were to need to carry you all of the way there and back, would be no burden at all, but the greatest, most humbling of delights for me.”
You search my face still, and then suddenly you smile--smile that so wonderful, brilliant, sweet a smile of which only you appear able to give, and it fills my heart. “I say again, gwador nín, I am at peace now, here and now, able to be by you, and it is all I wish at this time. When I am able to do so all on my own feet, I will walk with you up to the Hallow; but I cannot do so now, and I know it. Let us stay here, and let us merely be the brothers we dream ourselves--for tonight at least.”
“Then of what would you have us speak?”
“I think you know far more about my childhood than I’d ever wish anyone outside my family to know, knowing as I do how Bilbo has undoubtedly told you tales and tales I never wished to share. Tell me of your own childhood, Aragorn.”
“If you wish.” And so I begin to speak, telling of loneliness and the desire for brothers of my own, of an age with me, I knew then; of white cats and my mother’s companionship; of hunts for lions through Adar’s gardens, of lessons and practice with bow and sword.
But as I speak I know that the day will never now come when I might, in the flesh, lead you to the Hallow, for once you leave Gondor, I will never see you again in this life. So it is that the next time I go there myself, I must bear you indeed, in my memory and prayers where I would have rather have borne you in the body.
Yet I can tell that for you, this is enough, and my grief is lightened by your laughter and the peace that deepens about you as you listen.