For Queen Galadriel for her birthday. With thanks to RiverOtter for the beta.
Elrond found the Ringbearer in a secluded portion of the far gardens, seated on a stone in the midst of other stones, staring down into the rushing stream of the Bruinen. If he hadn’t been sensing the Hobbit’s fëa he doubted he would have seen him at all, as still as he was, and wrapped in the cloak given him by Galadriel. Plus, he realized that Frodo Baggins hadn’t wished to be found.
The peredhel approached quietly, and seated himself on a nearby stone, politely following Frodo’s own lead and looking down into the water, watching as a trout suddenly propelled itself from between two of the boulders that lay within the stream. Perhaps if he remained quiet for a time the Hobbit would share his concerns.
They’d sat so for quite some time before Frodo spoke, not looking up. “Now that the Ring is gone, Bilbo is aging rapidly.”
There was no need to reply to that--it was merely a statement of observed fact.
After a time of contemplation, Frodo continued, “I looked into the mirror, there in the room you gave me. The last time I looked into it I thought I appeared perhaps twenty-seven or so again. This time----” He sighed. “I have silver on my temples, and etched lines. And I am so desperately thin.”
Elrond turned to examine the Perian. “You no longer have the weight you bore before you left your own place, or so consideration of your clothing on your first arrival told me.”
The Hobbit gave a mirthless bark of a laugh. “I no longer have the weight I bore before I left here the last time, my Lord Elrond. My own folk will again believe I am sickly.”
The Master of Rivendell forbore from observing that his companion no longer knew the robust health of his kind he’d enjoyed before being stabbed by a Morgul blade and making his desperate journey through Mordor carrying the Ring. He again surveyed Frodo from his hair-covered feet to the crown of his head. There were strands of silver hairs throughout his dark curls, although they were most noticeable at the temples. He was surprised to realize just how much Frodo, in his way, resembled Aragorn, for Estel’s hair had begun greying in the same way in the last few years. Certainly the expression in Frodo’s eyes was much the same as that of the son of his heart in such a thoughtful mood. As for the set of his mouth--it was rather like looking at a younger Aragorn in his early manhood, before his beard finally began to grow in. Robbed of his innocence by his experiences of the last year, Frodo Baggins had become solemn, withdrawn, wary, and introspective, much as Estel had become once he began taking on the responsibilities thrust upon the Chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain and the Heir of Isildur. There might still be laughter within Frodo Baggins, but it was difficult for it to escape from the depths of a scarred spirit, a spirit walled about with pain and evil memories, many of which were themselves still suppressed.
At last the Elf responded, “Perhaps they might, my friend. But I deem you shall ever manage what responsibilities you might accept upon yourself. You are, after all, a most stubborn Baggins, as Bilbo has ever assured me to be true.”
Frodo softened somewhat, smiling slightly. The sadness and acceptance came back, however, as he returned his attention to the water. “Dear Bilbo,” he murmured. “I suspect he has greater faith in me than I have in myself at the moment.”
He returned his attention to Elrond after a time. “I shall have to let him go, and probably all too soon,” he said. “How could you do that with your daughter?”
The peredhel felt the pain of that separation twist once more in his heart, although he did his best not to allow it to be mirrored in his expression. “I am not--unpracticed in letting go, small master. I have had to do so all of my long life.”
Frodo became paler, save for the center of his cheeks, which became pink with embarrassment. He looked uncomfortably away again. “I’m sorry--that was a thoughtless question to ask of you--your parents--your brother....”
“My foster father, his brother I thought of always as my uncle, my Lord Gil-galad, who was as another father to me. I was by him as his fëa fled his body, you see. Elendil--even Isildur and so many, many others of my brother’s descendants. Amroth--Nimrodel--those who accompanied my wife back from her parents’ land.”
The Hobbit gave a slight nod. “And I’ve not truly lost so many, I suppose. My parents, of course. Uncle Rory and Aunt Gilda, my Brandybuck grandparents, most of my mum’s sisters and brothers. I don’t quite count Uncle Dudo, for he had little enough to do with either Bilbo or me after his wife died. I do count Aunt Dora, though.” Again a slight smile as the embarrassment slowly slipped away. “Dear Aunt Dora and her decorum and her letters and letters of advice, and her washing and ironing and mending....” He straightened, his eyes on the water but his thoughts many leagues away. His hand lifted to his chest, and for an instant there was a glimpse to be seen of the anxiety he still seemed to feel at not finding there the Ring, although it was immediately replaced by an expression of relief as his fingers closed about the gem Arwen had given him. Had he learned yet how to fully call upon the gem’s healing properties? wondered Elrond Halfelven.
“I suppose,” Frodo sighed at last, “when the time comes to let Bilbo go I will do so well enough, for after all what other choice would be given me?”
“If only he could go with you when you leave Middle Earth,” Frodo said, turning to face his companion again. “He would so love to see Elvenhome.”
“And you? I know that when my daughter gave you that, she told you she was ceding her own place on the ship now being built to you.”
The Ringbearer was shaking his head. “But does she have the authority, Lord Elrond? Don’t the Powers and the great Elves already there have to agree first?” He looked away again. “And I am not an Elf, after all, but a mortal--very much a mortal.” There was a note of finality in his voice. “The Undying Lands were not intended for such as I am. And does it not say in the lore that Ar-Pharazôn was warned that should he set foot on Aman it was likely he should die the quicker, as a mortal unable to bear the purity and Light of the air there?”
Elrond laid his long fingers on the Hobbit’s shoulder, and Frodo looked again up into his eyes. “You would undoubtedly never be allowed to cross to Aman proper, but could perhaps find your place on Tol Eressëa rather. It was, after all, originally a part of Middle Earth. But you have been much changed by what you have endured. I suspect that in the end you would find more comfort there than even amongst your own people. After all, you have admitted to me that it will not be the same, returning to the Shire, for you are not the same.”
Frodo nodded, looking away again. He returned to his watching of the water, where a second trout held its place against the current alongside the first, both with a level of defiance facing the water that would sweep them away if it was allowed.
Elrond saw the same defiance in the small figure there beside him. He was glad he’d given the Ringbearer some thoughts to consider. Time should not take this one away before he found his healing.