At the Gap of Rohan they were met by Éomer King and his household guards. The King of Rohan rode one of the Mearas, a second following alongside him. These turned to ride behind them, following them as a guard of honor as they made their way swiftly through the land of Rohan.
On the last night they did not stop, but paused only long enough to allow all to relieve themselves, refill their water bottles, and continue. Once they turned southwards past Amon Dîn Sam seemed to feel nothing but the misery of the long, hurried ride, even the anxiety he felt toward his Master’s condition overwhelmed for once by the exhaustion that had overtaken all three Hobbits. The two Elves rode side by side with Gandalf riding ahead on Shadowfax. “I’m thinking,” Merry called across to Sam, “that I’ll never again consider such a journey as this, not even for Frodo or Aragorn’s sake.”
“Give me--give me time to recover, maybe I’d do it again--or--or maybe not!” Sam called back. He could not be certain, but he had the impression that Lord Glorfindel was amused.
At last they crested the final ridge, and they could see the White City beginning to gleam under the light of Anor, who was just lifting her head above the Ephel Dúath. “At last!” Sam breathed, and he could feel Glorfindel’s arm squeeze gently in agreement. Gandalf leaned forward and spoke to Shadowfax, who tossed his head before heading down the ridge toward the Rammas Echor. Sam could feel Asfaloth beneath him bunch his muscles to follow, and Elladan’s steed also launched itself into the final effort.
“The White Rider!”
“They come--the Lord Perhael comes!”
“Mithrandir has come at last!” Sam wasn’t certain how it was he heard these cries, but there was no question that he did so as those manning the openings of the outer walls of the Pelennor pulled aside to allow them through, the Rohirrim barely keeping up. Only Éomer himself, this time riding Shadowfax’s son Shadowfire, was able to truly keep pace.
“The Ernil i Pheriannath...the Nazgul’s Bane....”
“One of our Lord and Lady’s brothers, do you see?”
None stayed them as they followed the road to the barrier where the gates hopefully would stand again soon. Gimli and Legolas waited there on Arod’s back. “Good!” Gimli called out. “He’s been holding on for you!”
Legolas, however, was looking beyond them, toward the Harlond. “One of Lord Círdan’s ships comes!” he exclaimed. “Does it come for him?”
Sam could see the expression of relief on Gandalf’s face. “Good,” the Wizard sighed, stretching. “If we have all arrived in time....” He turned to look through the still empty gateway. “One last lap, my friends,” he said as he nudged Shadowfax, who passed the hastily withdrawn barrier and started up the ways of the city. Éomer paused to give orders to his Riders, then followed them accompanied by Éothain.
“How is he?” Pippin asked Gimli.
“Better, I think, but still very weak. He was able to rise yesterday briefly, but was soon back in his bed. What is worst is that he can barely keep food down him.”
“Aragorn sent a carriage to the Harlond an hour back--I must suppose that they will bring Master Bilbo and Lord Elrond to him as soon as can be managed,” Legolas added. “But to have the four of you by him will hearten him most greatly, I believe.”
The talk stopped as they wove their way up the main streets of Minas Tirith. Guards saluted them, and the citizens of the city came out to watch the short procession of great horses pass. Now and then a woman or older child would hurry forward to offer flowers or sprays of greenery. “Mae govannen!” they heard frequently.
“Please--carry to the Cormacolindo my prayers for his recovery!” a woman begged of Sam as she thrust a spray of woods orchids at him.
In the Fourth Circle the Hobbits recognized the master glassblower and his daughter who had befriended Frodo during their stay in the city. They came forward with graceful vases filled with late flowers and greenery. “They said you were coming,” the Man explained as he handed them up to Merry and Pippin. “Tell him we think of him constantly.”
In the Fifth Circle a young Man came forward with a sheaf of late roses and peacock feathers and handed them solemnly to Sam, who nodded his thanks, trying not to weep at these expressions of concern. At the gate to the Sixth Circle they were greeted with deepest respect. “They await you at the stable, my lords,” they were told. “Master Frodo is within the Citadel, where Master Eldamir and Mistress Ioreth attend on him alongside our Lord King and Lady Queen. We were asked to advise you that his condition is stable, but guarded.”
At the stable grooms stood waiting for them. Sam and Pippin were all but weaving with stiffness as they were aided to the ground; in but a moment the other horses were stripped of what little tack they might carry, and at a word from their masters had turned to follow the grooms into the stalls prepared for them. Merry looked after the spare horse that had followed Éomer, and finally commented, “I’d thought you had brought him to switch off to, but you didn’t.”
“He is one of the Mearas, and is second son to Shadowfax, brother to Shadowfire here whom I rode this time. When I knew we must ride such a distance quickly again, I made the decision to use Shadowfire; his brother simply followed after and would not be dissuaded. He will allow folk to groom him; but has never suffered any to ride upon him--not to this date, at least. I have a suspicion he has set his heart upon making himself my brother Aragorn’s second steed, although how well his Roheryn will accept such a rival I could not say.”
Merry nodded, accepting back the vase taken from him before he dismounted. Two Guardsmen came forward to take what luggage had been brought, and as soon as all indicated readiness they headed for the ramp to the Seventh Level.
It proved that Frodo was not in the Citadel; a low cot had been brought out under the White Tree, and there Frodo rested. “It’s like it was when we awoke in Ithilien,” Sam murmured. “He rests the better, I’ll wager, with starlight and sunlight able to fall on him.”
Not trusting himself to speak, Merry nodded before leading the way forward, Pippin and Sam not quite a half-step behind him on either side. Aragorn sat on a low stool beside the cot; the Lady Arwen rose from a nearby bench and came to greet them. She exchanged glances with Gandalf, her brother, and Glorfindel; but it was to the Hobbits she spoke first. “He was growing restless last night, and expressed the desire to be under the stars and the Tree. If it will grant him ease, Estel will deny him nothing. They lit the beacon at Amon Dîn to herald your passing; word that you would be here shortly after the dawn caused him to smile, although he worries that you are yourselves near exhaustion.”
“The grey ship from Mithlond has arrived also,” Glorfindel informed her. “Your adar ought to arrive shortly.”
She nodded in return, reaching out to embrace her brother. “Welcome, Elladan,” she murmured as they held on to one another. “If together we might give him any aid to remain--perhaps reach Tol Eressëa--with Adar and Daernaneth beside him--he might still find healing.”
“It is to be hoped, my sister,” he murmured in agreement, holding her closely a moment before reluctantly releasing her to lead the approach to the low cot, the Hobbits pressing close to him as he knelt by it, opposite Aragorn. He gave his sister’s husband a nod of acknowledgment and turned his attention to Frodo.
“He drifted into a sleep some minutes ago,” Aragorn whispered.
“So we see,” Pippin murmured, his eyes searching the quiet face of his sleeping cousin hungrily. His face was thin, but peaceful. He lay back at an angle, his torso lifted to ease his breathing. His hand lay atop the coverings, and all paused. That first look in over two years at the gap where Gollum had bitten off the ring finger of Frodo’s right hand seemed to take the breath of all three Hobbits; and there was something--something about the left hand that seemed--decidedly odd.
Sam came around the cot to stand at Aragorn’s side, and reached out to take that left hand. “Not truly cold,” he said softly, “but not quite right.”
Gandalf had followed the gardener around the cot himself, and reached over Sam’s shoulder to touch Frodo’s wrist before looking into the King’s eyes. “Then it’s continued--my vision of him becoming like a vessel filled with Light.”
Arwen answered him, “Yes, Mithrandir, so it’s been. Each day his Light of Being has become more obvious, even as he has fought to remain as he was.
“He’s worked so hard to remain a child of Middle Earth, even as he’s continued to become otherwise and as the memories have sought to overpower him. We weren’t truly certain that the memories so took him until last spring. We’d thought so last fall, on the anniversary of when he was stabbed with the Morgul knife; but until the illness of last spring, remembering when the spider bit him, he did his best to be as awake and aware and--alive as he could be. He’d finally managed to increase his stamina to go up and down through the city without tiring; he’d forced himself to dance once more. It was all as much out of the need to defy his mortality, I think, as to bring himself back as much to life as was possible. But in the spring he was badly hit. He still tried to hide it all, but could not do so effectively, and fears the changes he perceives within himself. On the day of the New Year he was quiet throughout the morning, and at about the hour in which the Ring went into the Fire he suddenly collapsed in the midst of the ceremony of remembrance, and afterwards kept murmuring of how much of him had been lost with It. It was evening before he came quite to himself once more; and he was weak afterwards. Slowly over the summer he’s once more worked to bring himself back.
“The night this happened he appeared to be quite cheerful and fully himself once more, laughing and joking as together he and Estel prepared a meal in the smaller kitchen of our wing, when suddenly he stopped, as if surprised. ‘I feel odd,’ he said as he stepped toward the rocking chair Estel had set there for him--he sat heavily in it, then gave a cry of pain. Estel had only just set athelas to steep for him as a tea as we’ve learned such helps him greatly; now he added willowbark and honey and other herbs to strengthen and ease the heart. It helped, but could not halt the attack. He’s been slow to recover, and without the promise of your coming I fear he would gladly have allowed himself to die. He is not at all afraid of dying, we find; but we fear that to continue to have to live, almost totally diminished now and so subject to the memories, causes him a great deal of distress.”
“What they’ve said--about the Elven ship that’s come--will that give him the chance to live--truly live a proper, full life again?” Merry asked, his own face almost as pale as that of the Hobbit sleeping in the cot. “If we--encourage him to--to go with the Elves...?”
Aragorn spoke at last, his voice still with his own measure of grief. “We hope it will be so, Merry.”
Pippin was reaching down to take Frodo’s maimed hand in his, and he was weeping. “I’m sorry, Frodo--I shouldn’t have insisted you stay--we should have had you come home with us.”
Frodo’s eyes opened slowly, and with a bit of puzzlement at first, then a gentle smile of gladness. “You--you came,” he whispered, his voice barely discernible. “At last you came. But you need rest--you all need rest. It was so far to come--so swiftly.”
“You foolish, beloved, dear, caring Hobbit, you,” Gandalf smiled through his own worry. “We may be tired, but that can be mended quickly and easily enough. However, we did not ride as swiftly as we have to merely fall exhausted into our beds when we’ve but come to your side. None of these will be truly willing to rest until he is certain you are yourself on the mend.”
Frodo’s look was direct as he searched the Wizard’s eyes. “On the mend?” he whispered. “I’m past that, Gandalf. I’ve--hung on--to see you when--you arrived. It’s time.”
Arwen leaned over him. “Even now, Frodo, Bilbo is coming up through the city with my father.”
Frodo’s expression was alarmed. “You brought Bilbo with you?” he asked Glorfindel. “How could--how could he bear it?”
The ancient Elf leaned down to stroke Frodo’s cheek. “Nay, he came not with us, sweet Iorhael. He has come by ship to fetch you away, if you will agree to go. Yea, it is indeed time--but perhaps it is not time for you to die, not just yet, at least. You were advised the gift was offered you, the chance to heal at last. Will you accept it, for your sake and for his? But wait and see him when he comes, and then decide.”
Frodo looked at each of them--Kings, Queen, Elves, Dwarf, Peredhel, his cousins, Sam. His eyes fixed on Sam’s, and he smiled in spite of himself, fumbling his hand free of Pippin’s to brush his index finger across Sam’s cheek. “Oh, my Sam--how I’ve missed you since you’ve been gone. How I wish I’d gone with you--seen you married--held little Elanor.” He looked back at where Merry stood. “O Merry mine--and Pippin. I should have stood by you.”
“Oh, Frodo--it’s probably good you weren’t there to have to face that Sharkey, or to see what Lotho’s Big Men and he made of Bag End.” Tears were falling from Merry’s eyes. “As for Uncle Pal and Aunt Lanti--they’ve been so stubborn they’d have driven even you to distraction. They won’t believe Pippin--not at all! And Mum and Dad have been just as bad with us as they ever were with you, trying to protect us from about everything; although I must admit they at least believe what we can bring ourselves to say.”
It was growing darker as clouds rolled in from the southwest. Aragorn looked up with concern. “We need to take you back inside, small brother--I won’t allow you to become chilled.” He signaled to two Guardsmen who stood nearby, who came forward at once and with great care lifted the cot and carried it within the Citadel, then back through the Hall of Kings to the living quarters, back to the room that had once been prepared for Frodo and Sam to share. Here Healer Eldamir and Mistress Ioreth awaited him, and soon were seeing to his comfort while Aragorn and Arwen led the others to the reception room at the end of the hallway where they’d often met during the months the Fellowship had remained in the King’s city, while Belveramir and Iorvas brought trays of herbal drinks and juice and sweet morning breads for them all.
Aragorn was embracing Éomer. “It is a lightening of my grief to see you once more, my brother in duty,” he said. “All is well in your land?”
“Aye--and I believe one of those whose welfare I am to protect wishes to offer himself to your service, if you will have him and if he is certain once he sees you. But of that we will speak later, for he waits in the stables of the Sixth Circle, I believe for when we go down once more through the city.”
“You allow him so much freedom?” Aragorn asked, intrigued.
“Ah, but he is a willful one, and he has indicated he will seek his own master.”
Gandalf laughed, and Aragorn shot him a look. Éomer touched Aragorn’s shoulder to recall his attention. “Brother, how is it Frodo has come to this condition? When we saw you at Midsummer he was, to all eyes, well.”
Aragorn, however, was shaking his head. “He would appear well, my friend, but that has not been true since he was rescued from the ruins of Orodruin. Nay, too deep and pervasive have the scars remained to allow for that. Not here in Middle Earth could he ever know true healing.”
“Then he must die? And these have come to ease his way?”
Aragorn’s shake of the head was slightly delayed. “Nay--he has been granted the right to go with his elderly cousin to Tol Eressëa for what remains of his life, a life once more in hope of promise and not diminishment. The Valar can at least somewhat approach him there, and offer him the healing we cannot give him here. It is to be hoped that there he might be able to dance once more in delight rather than in defiance of his weakness, that he might sing in joy rather than in longing. And there he will be able to come to appreciate rather than fear the changes he perceives within himself. I do not fully appreciate what this becoming means; but apparently it is the process perverted by Sauron that allowed him and his Nazgul to reduce those wounded by Morgul knives to wraiths. More and more his Light of Being is being made visible to those who behold him, and there is a growing transparency to him at times. Here his body cannot appear to fully support what is occurring. I would not have him die betimes and so fail to realize that this is perhaps a most blessed of states.”
“And there he will live as do the Elves?”
“For what time is granted him--we hope the full count of years common to Hobbits. For the Valar cannot--and I trust will not think of seeking to deny him the Gift of Iluvatar when it is by rights time for him to receive it. But it will undoubtedly be when it is indeed a time of his own choosing, when he is fully ready.”
Sam looked back at him from where he’d laid the sheaf of roses and feathers. “So--that’s what’s been offered him, is it?”
Aragorn nodded, then added gently, “I don’t know if he’s told you as yet, for he didn’t wish for you to be long separated from your wife and child, but it is offered you, also, but at a time of your choosing. If he does not go now--and if Bilbo does not go now--then the probability is that neither will survive until the next ship is ready to sail.”
“And so--so I could perhaps come to him, there, afore the end?”
“And we could--could go on together?”
“If that is what you desire to do.”
Sam nodded, slowly and thoughtfully. “My dear, dear, stubborn Master,” he sighed.
The Man came to him and knelt, and then the two of them were clinging together, holding each other in comfort and promise.
It was some time later that they were admitted into Frodo’s chamber. He’d been shifted into a larger bed, although still quite low. “I had it made for him,” Aragorn murmured to them as they stood in the doorway, “that I might remain by him for a time on the nights when he was most disturbed by the nightmares. I now better understand how it was that the four of you would seek to sleep so close to one another along the way when times were darkest. For you Hobbits so much comfort is known as you touch one another, even more so than is common amongst Men. Now that I share my bed with my beloved wife, I so understand how long I remained alone and how difficult that was for me. It is so much easier to lie by another, I find.”
Pippin nodded. “I’m so glad, Strider, that you’ve been able to be by him. We shouldn’t have forced him to stay behind, perhaps; but at least he’s always known that you were there by him when we couldn’t be.” He, Merry, and Sam again carried the flowers and greenery given them along the way.
Eldamir sat in the chair on the other side of the bed. “He’s been bathed and given what he could receive. Perhaps you can coax some more broth or cooked meal into him.”
“We’ll do what we can.”
The healer rose to surrender the chair to Sam, who was soon seated by Frodo’s side. Merry and Pippin set the vases on the tables that sat on either side of the bed, and Sam placed the roses he bore in a vase brought in by Ioreth before turning his attention to the tray of food that sat there. “There was several as sent their best wishes to you along the way,” he commented. “They’re hopin’ as you’ll do your best to recover. They’d not wish to see you dyin’ afore your time. Do you think as you could swallow some of this gruel, Master?”
“I’ll try,” Frodo said, but it was soon obvious he was barely able to swallow much. “Give me a few minutes,” he murmured, “and tell me what you can of--of your homecoming. When did you--realize--Saruman was there?”
Sam looked at Merry, who’d sat himself cross-legged on the bed, while Pippin had laid himself on his stomach, his chin propped on his hands. Merry nodded, and said, “Well, the first we were aware Saruman was heading north was the fifth day after we said goodbye to Strider, near where Pippin had looked into the Palantir. He tried to curse the Lady Galadriel, but I rather think it just bounced off of her--she didn’t quite laugh in his face, but it was plain she wasn’t impressed. He was rude to everyone, particularly Gandalf and us Hobbits, and totally ignored Lord Halladan. I was going to give him some pipeweed, but he stole my whole pipeweed wallet. I think he was disappointed not to see you; but his looks at Pippin and me were downright poisonous, while the expression he gave Sam--I’m not certain what to say about it, except it appeared that for some reason Sam seemed to frighten him.”
He went on to describe the journey back to the Shire, the prolonged stay near the road to Caradhras where the Elves and Gandalf had indulged in their last, voiceless conference; the talks with Lord Halladan and his folk; the arrival at Rivendell. Every few minutes Sam would press one more swallow of gruel or broth or tea on Frodo; and in this manner he was able to see to it Frodo managed to get rather more food into him than he’d been able to stomach for days. Then there was a knock at the door, and it opened to admit Bilbo and Lord Elrond.
“Now, this is a fine situation,” Bilbo observed as he was led forward and seated in the chair that Sam had been occupying. “You can’t quite seem to find your full strength, can you, my boy?”
“Oh, Bilbo--I’m so sorry I didn’t come back to see you again.”
“I understood, my Frodo-lad. Do not worry, dear child--I understood. It left you so wounded, much deeper than It did me. Stars know that was deep enough!”
Frodo nodded, closing his eyes as he swallowed.
“I was telling of our journey home, and had just come to our arrival there in Rivendell,” Merry explained.
“I’m rather glad you didn’t see me then,” Bilbo said as he examined the cup of tea. “I couldn’t keep awake for anything. It’s been much better since I got aboard the grey ship, you know. Most interesting, that. I look forward to seeing you find your strength again as well. Could you take a swallow of this, do you think?”
Merry continued, “We stayed there some time, for the Birthday. Bilbo was rather disappointed not to be able to share it with you, although he kept saying he was glad you were by the Dúnadan.”
“And that I was,” Bilbo commented. “Now, can you manage a sip of broth?”
“It was pleasanter taking the road home instead of going through the Midgewater Marshes,” Pippin added. “Now, that is one part of our original wanderings I’d never wish to repeat, and I sorely regret going through them to begin with.”
“Be glad as you didn’t have to follow Slinker through the Dead Marshes,” Sam yawned from where he’d laid himself at the foot of the bed. “That was worse, if’n it’s possible.”
“Then at Amon Sul we turned north to visit Annúminas, to see where the northern capital is being rebuilt,” said Merry. “It’s a beautiful place, and Frodo, you’d love the lake. It was while we were coming back south toward Bree that the weather finally broke, and we were drenched when we got to the Prancing Pony. Pippin woke the next morning there with the sniffles, so we stayed four days, then headed back home. They warned us of the gate Lotho’d erected as we left Bree, and Gandalf left us to go on by ourselves with the warning it might be closed before we got there if we didn’t move quickly. By the way,” he asked, looking up at where the Wizard now stood inside the door, Aragorn on the other side of the doorframe, “how was your visit with Tom Bombadil?”
“Most restful.” Gandalf’s eyes shone at the expression of curiosity on Pippin’s face, but he’d say no more.
“I still think we could have used your help facing down Sharkey,” Merry commented.
“It seems to me you did well enough on your own,” Gandalf returned. “It’s no longer my business to guide those who inherit the stewardship of the mortal lands, you see. As I said then, you’ve all grown up, amongst the highest there are. And once his staff was broken and he was cast from our order, Saruman became no more my exclusive charge.”
“When did he enter the Shire?” Frodo asked.
“Apparently just around your birthday--came in at the Sarn Ford, from what we learned later, him and that Worm creature. As for what we found....”
Frodo listened with interest to the description of the climbing of the gate and the confrontation with Bill Ferny, and the pony Bill’s reaction to his first sight of his old master. He almost laughed at the description of the forced march from the Bridge toward Hobbiton, and the admonition for the crowd of Shiriffs to follow after as they could.
“You’d not believe the courage of those who came to stand by us,” Pippin recalled. “As for Rosie’s dad--a truly remarkable Hobbit indeed. Sam’s so lucky to have him as a father-in-love. He stood there, warming his hands over the fire as the Big Men arrived, and drew them into the gap--and then we had them. The Battle of Bywater will be remembered forever, I think. But to find ourselves fighting the final battle there in the center of the Shire itself was something I’d have never thought to see.”
“What happened to the Men?” Frodo asked.
“Here, take a bite of this toast,” suggested Bilbo, and Frodo did so, his attention fixed on the others.
“Almost all of them were killed--all the ones who were half-orcs certainly died,” Pippin admitted. “A few of those who were true Men laid down their weapons, and those we saw to the borders of the Shire and turned loose. But the half-orcs--we couldn’t let them go. They were so vicious!”
Merry went on, “Then we marched up to Bag End intending to face down Lotho, and found ourselves facing Sharkey himself instead. He was trying to goad me into killing him, I think, and something stayed my hand. It was as if I heard you, whispering into my ear not to let him force me into becoming a murderer. When he tried to stab Sam, though, that was more than anyone else could take, and the Took archers shot both him and Wormtongue. I’ll tell you the truth--after what the Lady Éowyn told me of how he’d treated her while her uncle was bespelled, I was glad to think of him dead, also. But at the same time I was appalled, for it was as if I could see what he might have been like had he not been caught by Saruman.”
“And Uncle Pal and Aunt Lanti--they aren’t believing you?” At Pippin’s suddenly grim expression, Frodo sighed.
“No, they refuse to believe in the Ring or Black Riders, and they treat me as if I were twenty instead of almost thirty. If they could get away with it, they’d still have me wearing the clothing I wore before the quest, Frodo. And Da’s furious that I won’t stay in the Great Smial with them more than a day or two at best.”
Frodo nodded, absently accepting another spoon of the gruel. He looked up into Aragorn’s eyes as he finished swallowing. “Can you arrange for--for Lord Halladan--to go with them, to the Great Smial--confront the Thain and his Lady? They have to believe.” He leaned back tiredly. “If I’d gone--maybe--maybe I could have convinced them. Whether I die or--or accept the Queen’s gift--it can’t go on, them not believing.” He closed his eyes, his lips thinning somewhat.
“The headache again?” Sam asked.
Frodo gave a small nod and grimaced, keeping his eyes closed. “Yes--they are worse--at times.”
“We should go--let you sleep,” Pippin suggested.
Frodo gave a faint smile. “No--you need to rest, too. Stay by me, but let--let us stay quiet for a time. I’ll be--well enough. You came--that’s all I need for now.”
Lord Elrond aided Bilbo onto the bed, where he lay close to Frodo on one side; Sam came to lie on the other side; Merry and Pippin arranged themselves on the outside, guards of honor, perhaps, to their beloved cousin. Frodo looked at them, smiling once more. “Merry mine, Pippin, my Sam, Uncle.” He settled himself more comfortably, and the rest save for Lord Elrond and Eldamir left them to it.
Merry was the first to awaken, and slipped quietly out of the bed to come out to join Aragorn where he sat in the reception room with his wife beside him, facing Elladan and Glorfindel. Legolas stood near a window, looking out into the gardens, and Gimli sat where he could look easily from his friend to the rest of the company. Glorfindel sat with a harp in his hands, plucking single notes from it. Gandalf stood on the other side of the window out which Legolas peered, leaning on his staff. The Lady Galadriel sat to one side, her eyes on her granddaughter.
The Hobbit peered out the window. “It’s what--a couple hours after midday?” he asked.
“Yes, about that. Is Frodo still sleeping comfortably?”
“Yes, he seems to be.”
Elladan said, “I’ve brought certain herbs that our adar wishes to use on him, as we hope that they will help him gather more strength and endurance as he considers what he will do. I do think, however, that just your presence appears to have offered him the greatest easing.”
“And no matter what,” Merry said softly, “we must lose him--either see him aboard the ship, or--or perhaps see him buried soon.” As this was not truly a question, the others merely remained quiet. At last he asked, “Has he been happy here, Strider?”
“As happy as has been possible to him. He has been one of my most beloved counselors. All of those on the Council listen to him with deepest respect, and will actually follow his suggestions when they will question me.” He looked up as Faramir came down the hallway with his wife on his arm, the two of them accompanied by Éomer. “Ah, Faramir, Éowyn. You’ve come in good time.”
“He remains with us, then?” the Steward asked.
Aragorn nodded. “Yes, and he appears heartened to have those he loves by him. Now he must decide what he will do.”
Éowyn asked as she accepted a goblet poured for her by Arwen, “The ship, there at the docks--it has come for him?”
“If he will agree to go. I think he is still uncertain in his mind if he should accept this grace.”
She nodded, and turned to greet Merry. “Welcome, sword brother,” she said softly. “I only grieve we must be reunited when you face this sorrow.” She laid her hand on his shoulder.
“I’m glad to have you beside me, my sister,” he answered her. “It will hearten me to accept whatever comes.”
“And if he goes, when he is fully healed, will he be able to return?” she continued.
Aragorn shook his head. “Nay--when the ship leaves, those who sail upon it will not be able to return to Middle Earth. If he goes with them, he will not return again. He will live--and in time--die there, but hopefully at the proper time for one of his kind, and not untimely as he will should he remain here.”
“And you wish him to go?” she asked.
“Of course I do not wish him to go,” Aragorn said. “But it does not rest on my wish--we will lose his presence all too soon no matter what we should wish to have happen. Let him be cleansed ere he leaves Arda of the pain and scars that the Ring has left him with, at least.”
“And this is what you truly wish for me?” asked a voice from the hallway.
All turned to see Frodo, wrapped in a dark blue robe over the nightshirt he’d been wearing, coming toward them, leaning heavily on Sam, Bilbo following, supported by Pippin. Behind the Hobbits came Elrond and Eldamir, the Peredhel’s face solemn.
Aragorn’s face showed equal parts grief and pride. “Of course I must wish this for you, small brother.”
Frodo entered the reception area and took a seat on a lower couch that had been placed there for his use, leaning back with obvious relief. He looked at Arwen. “My Lady Queen?” he asked.
“I begged this grace for you that you know fulfillment and not need to end your life in regret and pain, Frodo.”
He looked to the Dwarf. “And you, Gimli?”
Gimli cleared his throat and rubbed his chin. “I’d rather this decision need not be made at all. But since it must--I’d rather think of you able to be fully happy again, even if it must be so far away from those of us who love you so.”
Frodo looked to Legolas in question. The Elf sighed. “It is the right place for you,” he said, “although I ought to say nothing, I suppose. You cannot make this decision for our sakes, but for your own.”
“But you will go there, one day. The Sea Longing is strong in you.”
“One day I will indeed take my own ship westward, but not until Aragorn has left Middle Earth. And I pray that Gimli will accept the grace to accompany me when that day comes. And it would bring me joy to know that you had been there and had seen what I see when I come.”
Frodo gave a nod, and looked at Gandalf. The Wizard shook his head. “I may not speak to this,” he said.
“Nor may we,” advised Galadriel with a flickering glance toward Elrond and Glorfindel.
Bilbo looked his former ward directly in the eye. “Well, I will speak to it. I would have someone to share life there with, one who will see it with similar eyes.”
Sam, who’d sat by Frodo, took his right hand. “If’n you don’t go, then it’ll be the harder for me, when my own time comes. I won’t come as long as Rosie is by me, and maybe it’ll end up as I’ll die afore her. But there’s a part of me as won’t never be filled less’n I know as you’re able to be whole and happy.”
Pippin’s eyes were fixed on Frodo’s. “All I’ve ever wanted for you, Frodo, was for you to be safe and whole.”
Merry came to stand before his cousin, and took his hand from Sam. “I never wanted to leave you here, but I knew there was a better chance you’d find healing here than if you went back to the Shire with us, Frodo. You’re too young to die--you’re only fifty-three years old today. The Ring took so much from you--you deserve to be refilled once more, you know. It would be the one birthday gift I’d want from you.”
Éowyn said, “Whatever you choose, we will miss you very much.”
The King of Rohan merely nodded his agreement with his sister.
Faramir examined Gandalf’s face, then turned to Frodo. “It is your decision; but aren’t you curious to know how it will all come out? You will never know if you choose to remain and die.”
At last Frodo looked at Eldamir, who shook his head sadly. “I am a healer, born and bred, I suppose. I must wish you see the chance to know healing, even if it is not my own gift or skill that brings it to you.”
Frodo sighed, leaned his head back again, and closed his eyes. At last he said, “And so the choice comes back in the end to me.”
“Yes,” Aragorn agreed, “as it has been yours all through the time since the grace was granted.” He accepted a smaller goblet poured out by Arwen and pressed it into Frodo’s hand.
Frodo sipped from it, then handed it back. At last he looked at Pippin. “Did you bring all the documents Brendi got ready for me?”
The others looked curiously at the Took, who studiously fixed his attention on Frodo. “Yes, I did. Lobelia’s will left Bag End to you directly, along with most of her other property as well, the rest to make reparations for the damage Lotho’s actions caused. Brendi’s set up a trust to hold the money and property, and under Merimac has set up a committee to examine claims and see to it they are properly dealt with. He saw to it your will was written as you’d directed, and has made certain with Will Whitfoot, Old Bernigard, and the Thain that Merry, Sam, and Bilbo may sign as witnesses, along with whomever else you might ask from here in Minas Tirith. And he has the other papers you asked for written as well. They’re all in my pack.”
Frodo took a deep breath and held it, then let it out. “It appears,” he said quietly, “that I have some reviewing and signing to do. Faramir, would you assist me with it? I think you would understand it best....”
So saying, he rose, assisted by Sam, and then retired to his room, accompanied by the Steward of Gondor and Pippin, who went to fetch a large bundle of documents and travel ink bottles from his pack and took it all into Frodo’s room.
A meal was brought to the Royal Wing for those gathered there, and Arwen bore a platter for Frodo and Faramir into the bedchamber. After a time Faramir came out, the concern he felt not completely schooled out of his face, to request Elrond come in. Elrond indicated Elladan should go with him, and they disappeared down the hallway. Soon after, the younger Peredhel came out again and beckoned Aragorn to accompany him to the small kitchen for the wing. When the King returned to the reception area his eyes were troubled. “He felt more pain, although they will not say whether or not it was indeed another seizure of his heart. Adar had Elladan prepare a draught for him--quite a powerful one and one I’ve never been able to properly reproduce.”
Two hours before sunset Faramir came to call the others into the room. Elladan was moving stacks of papers onto a small table while Elrond felt the pulse at the Hobbit’s throat. “Your heart is stable, Iorhael,” Elrond said quietly, removing his fingers and turning toward the tumbler sitting on the nearby table.
Frodo nodded. “It’s been some time,” he murmured, “since I’ve done such a concentrated study.” He accepted the mug and drank from it. “This is not as bad as some of the draughts I’ve had to drink,” he commented.
“Nay, it is not as bad to the taste as many, although it is not good to use this for any prolonged period of time. But as you needed to finish a fair amount of work quickly, this was called for, I thought.”
“I thank you, my lord,” Frodo said as he lay back again. He gestured to the table. “Sam, there are a few documents there you cannot witness as they concern you specifically, although I do wish for you to serve as witness to the codicil I wrote regarding my will--there are two young Bagginses who were orphaned some time ago that I must plan for, should a time come when their current fostering situation becomes untenable. I’d thought to take them into my house and make them my wards, perhaps adopt them as my heirs as Bilbo did me, once I returned home--but as I never returned home....”
Bilbo examined the younger Baggins with interest. “Two more Bagginses? And who were they?” Then he paused. “You don’t mean Dudo and Emerald...?”
Frodo smiled. “Two years after you left the Shire. But it’s a long tale, Bilbo, and a rather sad one, I suppose, and irrelevant to what needs to be done now.”
Merry, Pippin, and Bilbo sat down at the table and began reading the documents while Sam sat by the bed, holding Frodo’s hand. Frodo’s eyes were closed, and the Lady Arwen brought a cool, damp cloth to put over his brow while the various documents were dealt with. At one point Frodo said, “I hope, Merry, you don’t mind being appointed my proxy. I’ve used both your dad and Cousin Mac as such in the past, and your father has been my primary proxy since I left the Shire.”
Merry nodded. “Yes, he told me, Frodo. He said he took great pleasure in telling that to Markos Smallburrow when he came as Lotho’s representative to present the scheme for gathering and sharing he’d come up with to steal as much as he could from everyone.”
Aragorn, where he sat in one of the few taller chairs present at the table so as to better sign the documents when needed, looked up with interest. “Gathering and sharing? What is this?”
Sam explained what they’d found when they arrived back in the Shire, and how “gathering and sharing” extra foodstuffs and other goods had been used as an excuse for plundering holes and impoverishing the Shirefolk. “Much of what they took was found in the deeper storage holes in Michel Delving or the quarries in the Brockenbores or on some o’ Lotho’s properties here and there throughout the Shire. The upper storage rooms they used as a prison of sorts for those Hobbits as stood up to Lotho. Will Whitfoot we found in one; and Mr. Freddy, your cousin Fredegar Bolger, Mr. Frodo--you wouldn’t believe as what he was like when we found him--thin as a lath, he was, and quite ill. He’s a partial invalid now--not well at all, he isn’t--left his heart weak, too. And old Missus Lobelia! Even she was locked up there by the Big Men--better shape than most as was found there, maybe; but then she’d only been there about a month when we found her. Don’t think as Lotho was dead yet when they took her, but no question as Sharkey was givin’ the orders by that time.
“After they begun to find wheres the Big Men had hid the extra food and grain as they’d took, Gordo tried to see as it got out to folks; but he’d send it off all over the place to this village or that with no plan as to what was best. Good deal of it got spoilt, sendin’ it off in open wagons just afore it started rainin’, and most of it seems to of got no further’n Michel Delving isself. I arranged to have many holes redug and houses rebuilt, although Gordolac sometimes thought of it as me takin’ responsibility as was his, and he’d interfere at times. Will finally told him to stop, but your cousins Folco and Ivy--they was havin’ to live in an old hand’s hole on their farm for over a year afore we got a new place built for them.
“We’re not certain as what led Missus Lobelia to leave Bag End to you, and certainly that Bartolo Bracegirdle as was her nephew and lawyer was anythin’ but happy it was--wanted it for himself, I suspect.”
Frodo nodded thoughtfully. “He’s a difficult one, but was always honest as the day was long.”
Sam gave a small shrug, obviously not wishing to argue the point. “We’ve done our best to redo the hole, but it’s not quite as it was, of course. And most of your furniture an’ all is back now, just in case....”
Frodo looked at him sadly. “Dear old Bag End,” he murmured. “And I’ll now never see what you did with it. It shouldn’t remain empty, you know.” He looked sideways at Pippin, who’d just had Aragorn sign one of the papers with the red ink. “Is that one finished, Pip?” At the young Took’s nod, he closed his eyes briefly as he straightened. “Good. And what do I have to do again?”
“A coin. I see.” He turned back to Sam. “Sam, do you have a coin?”
Confused, Sam delved into his pocket, finally bringing out a copper, and giving it to Frodo. Frodo held it tightly in his hand and smiled. “There--it’s done. Give it to him, please, Pippin.”
Peregrin Took brought the documents Aragorn had just signed over and placed them in Sam’s hands. “Mr. Gamgee, you are now the proud owner of Bag End in Hobbiton.”
Sam sat, shocked. “But....”
Frodo added, “And you are my primary heir. Young Fosco will be the Baggins after me, considering what you’ve all told me of the health of Ponto--he’ll not be up to it, and Iris wouldn’t accept it if he can’t. Fosco will have to do family business under Will, I suppose, but with his sister’s help he’ll do well enough. But you, Sam, are the one who will--who will always be what I haven’t been and can’t be now. And I swore in one way or another--one way or another, I’d give you Bag End’s gardens for your own. And now I have.”
Sam looked at his Master, his eyes filled with both joy and dismay, grief and delight. “You want me to have it?”
“You and your Rosie--and Elanor and Frodo-lad to come, and Rosie-lass, and all the rest who’ll follow after. You’ll be the most famous gardener in the whole of the Shire’s history, and Mayor as many times as you wish. It wouldn’t have been home to me if it hadn’t been for you and the Gaffer, you know. And when you get home, Merry will be seeing to it that the holes along the Row go to their residents. So, the Gaffer will be the owner of Number Three. And with the King himself as the one to countersign to the change in title, I doubt anyone--will give you any grief about it.”
Sam was weeping now, standing and leaning over the bed, and Frodo was reaching up to draw his head down to lie on his breast. “Oh, my Sam,” the older Hobbit was saying, “my Sam. Be happy for me--I’ve chosen to go, Sam. Be happy for me, and it may be--one day--we’ll see one another again.” Frodo was also weeping, and at last his hands fell away. He lay back against the cushions that supported his torso, breathing deeply and holding the Queen’s gem. Aragorn arose and stood over him, lifted his other hand to touch it to the Elessar brooch he wore, and in time Frodo calmed, some color returning to his face. He relaxed now, smiling slightly, his eyes still closed. “Tall brother,” he murmured.
“We’re all here for you, Frodo,” Aragorn said softly, and Frodo squeezed his hand.