“What is with you, my dear boy?” Bilbo asked. “The way you’re looking about it’s as if you expect a great hammer to fall out of the heavens onto you at any second. If I’d known you’d be so anxious I would never have suggested this ramble.” The last few days had been increasingly close, and Frodo had become increasingly--intense--as each passed.
Frodo gave a mild shrug, although the furrow didn’t disappear from between his brows. “There’s going to be a storm,” he said as if that explained everything.
Bilbo paused, looking more fully as his beloved younger cousin. “And since when are you worried about storms?” he asked. “Aren’t you the one I had to pull off the top of the Hill more than once because you were fascinated by lightning?”
“That was before,” Frodo answered, not needing to say any more.
“And that was then, Frodo Baggins,” Bilbo corrected. “If you look only for bad memories, I fear that will be all you’ll find.” He turned and led the way around the hill ahead of them, wisely avoiding going up at a time when such a storm as was promised might fall.
On the other side of the ridge they found a headland looking out over the sea, and not far away stood the home of an Elven family, surrounded by gardens of both flowers and vegetables, an ancient orchard of fruit trees beyond it, fully leafed as summer settled over the island. As the clouds rolled in from the northern coast Bilbo first glanced up, and then back to his cousin. “We’ll seek shelter there,” he decided. “I have no intentions in Arda of allowing myself to depart by way of a cold and the lung fever. Come!”
Frodo gave a slight nod and pulled the cloak from Lothlorien more fully about him, following closely in the older Hobbit’s wake. The air was becoming even closer, and personally Bilbo was looking forward to the storm to ease the feeling of lowering awareness.
The door was opened at the first knock, and an elleth who was clearly Teleri in heritage stood in the entrance, apparently somewhat bemused to find two Hobbits on the walkway before her home. “Yes?” she asked in Quenya.
“My nephew and I--well, we’ve been doing a bit of a walk-about, and it’s apparent a storm is due to hit at any time. Might we take shelter in your apple shed?”
“The Cormacolindo?” she asked, apparently finally recognizing who they must be. “But for the Cormacolindo and his kinsman--not for the likes of you or any the apple shed. Nay, we have room and to spare! Enter and be welcome! I am Rhysellë the Orchardist, wife of Tedril the Sailor. Welcome to our home!”
She showed them to a sleeping room, and pointed the way to the room of refreshment and bathing chamber beyond that they might ease themselves and bathe. “I shall have our evening meal prepared soon,” she promised. “My daughters are completing their later chores, and even now my husband returns to us--as Lord Ossë allows, that is. It appears that this evening he chooses to sport right below our home.” She gave a rueful smile and shrugged and left them to their ablutions.
Both took advantage of the bathing room, and Frodo set aside his Hobbit garb to wear one of the silver robes he’d been gifted with on his arrival on the island. Bilbo produced a silver-backed brush from his pack and saw to it the hair on their feet and heads was properly groomed, and with a final look in the mirror at himself at last pronounced them both ready for polite company.
Frodo was smiling at that. “You think, then, that Aunt Dora would approve?” he asked.
The old Hobbit laughed. “Other than the fact she’d find your garb outlandish she’d approve thoroughly,” he assured him. “Dear Dora--the world is a poorer place for her going.”
“She was devastated when you left the Shire, you know,” Frodo sighed as his elderly cousin returned the brush to his pack. “I don’t think she ever recovered from it.”
At that moment there was a knock at the door, and the two turned to see it open and a young elleth look in. “Ama wished me to tell you that the evening meal is ready,” she said, then paused, her eyes growing wider with recognition. “Oh, but I know you,” she said. “I met you at the winter solstice feast in the city!”
“You danced with me,” remembered Frodo, and once more his smile could be seen. “I found it good to be able to dance once more.”
“I’m certain you did,” Bilbo said, laying his hand on his younger cousin’s shoulder. “However, right now my stomach is reminding me that I am a Hobbit, and a hungry one at that! Move on, move on my lad! Don’t keep your elders waiting when a meal is ready!” Laughing, the two of them followed the young elleth to an inner courtyard where a table was laid on a covered porch, and an older elleth brought a basin of scented water with which to lave their hands as well as a linen towel ere they took the seats indicated by their hostess.
The meal was excellent, although Bilbo saw that Frodo ate little of the fish laid before him. However he attacked the vegetables and fruits with obvious pleasure. He’d eaten less meat since his return from the Fanes than he’d been accustomed to consume, although he didn’t appear to take any ill effects from this choice. He accepted cheese gladly, and praised its savor, and Bilbo relaxed, reassured by Frodo’s obvious enjoyment of the meal and the courteous praise he offered.
“I should entertain--Hobbits--more often,” Rhysellë commented, her smile filled with humor. “I’ve not received this much praise for my cooking for at least a yeni or two.”
“Oh, we Hobbits take our food very seriously,” Bilbo responded, “and a good cook is a treasure to be praised and cherished in our eyes.”
They all laughed.
A wind was rising as they finished their meal. There was a gap in the structure of their home that looked to the Sea, and Rhysellë often glanced that way as if searching for signs of her husband’s return. At last she sighed. “Ah, it appears Tedril has turned back toward the mainland and will take harbor there. It is never wise to intrude upon the Lord Ossë as he dances in the winds and waves. It has been long and long since I’ve seen him on this side of the Straight Path. I wonder what it is that brings him near the shores of our lands, as he generally favors the waters surrounding Endorë, or so my husband has told me.”
Frodo looked up at the growing cloud cover with concern. “I hope that the wind and rain do no damage to your home, garden, and orchard,” he said, although Bilbo sensed that his true concern lay in what he would experience as the storm actually hit.
“Ah, but our home is sturdily built, and Lord Aulë’s folk saw to it that the stones of it were well laid and the slates properly placed. And if we were to lose a few tiles in the storm, what of it? They can be replaced, and obviously require it should they break loose, after all. At least he has been sufficiently thoughtful to wait until the blossoms were set; and the fruit is sufficiently small little will blow from the branches. Some of the blossoms in the flower gardens might be lost; but more will bloom afterwards, and the sweeter for having been well watered. Would you like some more wine?” she asked.
They were abed soon after the setting of the Sun, a tray of sweet buns covered with a fine cloth and mugs of juice of some fruit Bilbo didn’t recognize lying on a table beside the bed the two Hobbits shared. Bilbo sat up reading for a time until he was certain that Frodo slept before he put out the lamp that he’d been provided with and slid more deeply under the light blanket. He gently laid a hand on his heir’s shoulder to feel it moving gently in time to his breathing, offering a silent prayer of thanksgiving that Frodo had known what healing he’d been given. He was smiling as he fell asleep to the sound of surging waves and winds through trees and the eaves of this house....
The hammers of the Dwarves were loud as they pounded out war axes and swords. “It is true that for the moment we are at peace,” Gloin told him as he showed Bilbo the forges of Erebor, “but how long will that last, do you think? Nay, the storm is yet building, and it will do no good to take no thought of shelter until the last moment. Thranduil may receive our gifts of new weapons reluctantly, but he ever finds hands ready to learn to wield them. Much as we Dwarves and the Elves hold one another in suspicion, it will do no good to allow that to come between the alliance needful to continuing to stave off the Shadow. Now, over here my son Gimli is working on a fine throwing axe....”
Another crash of thunder, and Bilbo awoke to find himself alone in the bed. Frodo! Where had his beloved lad gone? Was he cowering somewhere in a sheltered corner? Fearful, the old Hobbit rose and searched through the room. No proper dressing room in this house for Frodo to take shelter within, and no wardrobe, either--merely wonderfully worked hooks upon the wall to hold extra clothing should they be required. He worked at the too-high latch to the door until he managed to open it, and went out to check the room of refreshment as it was known here and the bathing room--Frodo was not in either. There was no one in the day room, and none in the small but delightful library they’d allowed him to visit after the meal. He wandered back to the hallway just outside the main day room when a flash of bright lightning drew his attention to the fact that the front door was blowing back and forth upon its hinges as the wind of the storm raged. The door was open? Had Frodo in his fear and confusion fled not to shelter but out into the very storm that tore at the sea and land, waves and trees?
“Frodo! FRODO!” he called as he made it to the doorway. But his calling was thrown back in his teeth as a great roll of thunder followed the distant lightning strike, and a closer strike crashed down nearer the shore, its accompanying peal of thunder almost immediate.
He was no longer alone--Rhysellë and her daughters Lordeth and Livwen had also come out of their chambers. “What is it?” Rhysellë asked him. “How is it the door is now open? I know that I fastened it well that Ossë’s rain not enter the room....”
“I fear my young cousin was roused at least partly by the storm, and has fled out into it,” Bilbo explained. “He was badly damaged by the final war there.”
“Ah, yes--so we have been told by the Maiar and those of our folk who came with you,” she answered him. “So many when first they come here to Tol Eressëa startle at storms or sudden noises of any kind. Lordeth--go and fetch Master Bilbo’s cloak--he must not go out into the storm unprotected. Livwen--fetch mine from my room, if you will. Bless you, my beloved daughter. We will go out to seek Lord Iorhael. You two will remain here lest he return, and prepare a soothing draft and warm towels and blankets against our coming. And fasten the door behind us--I fear Lord Ossë has little regard for overturned possessions or dampened fabric.”
Soon the two of them were out in the storm. She led them first to the apple shed, which was still properly fastened with the bar in place on the outside of its door. Still she opened it and they went within, but nothing was there save a sleepy pair of pigeons sitting their nest near a ventilation window. They did not find him in the orchard, nor in the well house nor the small structure in which the tools for working the farm were stored.
“Would he have approached the Sea?” she asked him, having to shout over the wind. Another flash of thunder lit their surroundings, and they looked toward the bluff as the thunder rocked them and the wind and rain tore at their garb----
----And saw him, there on the headlands some distance away. They ran that way, then realized that they were not the only ones hurrying to come to him as Olórin appeared from the west. In moments he was by their side.
“It’s the storm, Gandalf,” Bilbo shouted. “I fear it frightened him--it’s too bad, really, for he always loved storms when he was younger.”
They were almost upon Frodo when the Maia held out his hand to stay them. “Afraid?” he breathed, although they yet heard him. “Afraid? Ah, but I think our Iorhael is anything but! Behold!”
And they could see that Frodo was dancing, there upon the headland--dancing in delight and joy as lightning fell upon the waves below them and thunder rolled about them. The wind blew his hair about his head in a ragged halo as the glancing light fell upon it, and the silken nightshirt Sam had sent with him for his journey that he’d carried in his light pack and worn that night was plastered to his form by the rain. But they needed no lightning now to see him, so brightly did his own Light of Being shine about him!
As he turned their way in his dancing and saw them he called out, “Bilbo! Oh, Bilbo--come and dance with me!”
Totally confused, the older Hobbit came nearer, seeing the joy in Frodo’s face. “You’re all right, my star-kissed lad?” he asked.
“All right? All right! Ah--yes--all right and more, my beloved uncle! The fear is gone, Bilbo--don’t you understand? I’m free--free at last! And the storm--isn’t it marvelous?” And he reached out his hands to take Bilbo’s, drawing him to join in the dance. And as the wind danced with them they performed the Bounder’s Jig together, the rain falling instead of the coins of copper and bronze usually showered upon the performers of this dance back within the Shire, the lightning making each drop as bright and rewarding as any offering ever tossed by delighted Hobbits.
When at last the storm calmed, the clouds swiftly dissipated and the sky grew lighter. As morning approached the stars gave their final shimmer of joy, as if they took their light from the shimmering form of Frodo Baggins, who now stood in a more quiet transport of delight to look up at them. Olórin held out his arm--Bilbo saw that the Maia held Rhysellë protectively to him on the other side. The older Hobbit accepted the sheltering embrace gladly, suddenly feeling cold as his sodden nightshirt weighed on him--he saw that somehow he’d lost his cloak, which lay nearby upon the sward.
From the Sea below them a light arose, and to his own delight and satisfaction Bilbo saw at last the form of Ulmo’s greatest vassal manifest before them all, the face of his wife Uinen beside him, obviously amused. Ossë examined the party upon the headland with interest. I must say, small mortal lord, he said with deep respect, that it was an even greater delight to dance within the storm with you to keep me company. Shall we consider doing so again in a year or two, do you think?
And all present laughed in mutual delight.