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12
Home Again


Part XII: Home Again

Nights, going into the bedroom to retire, and no kindly wrinkled face and twinkling eyes looking fondly at me as I told of the day’s doings…no grandfatherly little figure sitting out on the balcony with me looking at the stars as we smoked our pipes and chatted and joked about whatever came up and tried to see who could make the best smoke-ring…no one beaming proudly over my accomplishments, however small they might be…no one to tuck in and kiss good-night, no comforting snores from his side of the room….

I was made doubly aware that I was alone, the last of my family had been torn from me. That I was, in fact, the only one on the Island now who would someday die. It was a very strange and overwhelming feeling, despite my brave words at the funeral, and even though if Someone were to come down and offer me the gift of immortality, I would not take it. But I could not imagine what the future held for me now. I could no longer feel joy in the mere presence of the Ladies. It was no longer enough just to be able to see and talk to them and move in their light and beauty and vibrancy. I was alone; no one would come after me, no one to beam at in pride and delight…it seemed everyone here had all that or would have, except me. What would I have? A house of my own, to be sure, and work I loved, and plenty of friends, and the promise that the dearest person on earth to me would someday join me…I should be content with that, I told myself, and once I had thought I could be so.

I admit crying myself to sleep at times. I rarely had bad dreams any more, and those I did have, were forgotten after waking. But on the second night after the funeral, I dreamed I saw Sam standing on the opposite bank of a wide stream. The water was full of bad music and steam and roaring, and I got into my boat to try and cross to him, but could not get it into the water. I shouted at him not to try to cross, but he waded into the water, and it swept him away screaming, and I cried out his name over and over, and saw Gollum standing in his place, taunting and pulling faces….

“Frodo, Frodo, wake up!” I felt a hand on my shoulder, shaking me into wakefulness. And I jerked awake, and saw Gandalf beside me, stooping down beside my bed, in the faint soft light of my glass. I gasped and sat up.

“Gandalf,” I whispered, rubbing at my head, which ached a little. “I…I was dreaming,” I said as if he couldn’t have figured that out. “H-How long have you been here?”

“Not very long,” he said. “I decided to come over and stay a few days. You won’t mind terribly if I camp out in your room?” He indicated a long padded chair that stood beside my bed.

“Not at all,” I said, and managed a little, grateful smile. “It’s hard without him. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it.”

“I know,” he said. “But, for you, it will get better, eventually. I think it will not take as long for you, as it will for me, to get used to his absence and yours. I sometimes think when you are gone, the Island will be in perpetual twilight once more. But, enough of that. Shall we go sit out for a bit? The northern lights are especially beautiful tonight.”

I slid out of bed and he fetched my robe from the back of a chair and put it around me, and we went out to the balcony. It afforded a view of the entire City, since the Palace was atop a small hill. I could see the street-lamps glowing everywhere, with haloes of soft color around them, golden domes glistening atop of buildings, windows full of light, trees shining greenly, streets in a soft white sheen like moonlight. I could see the White Tree stretching heavenward, catching some of the colors of the aurora, which was spattered in streaks of bright green intersected with flaming pink, dark red, pale blue and orange, fluffy clouds of light gold, zigzags of scarlet. And the sky above tinged with a crystal blue-green and the stars gleaming silver-blue and ice-white on the clear dark canopy. There was even a crescent moon, looming very large, and a big bright star was at one horn, gently pulsating.

I leaned on the rail of the balcony and rested my chin on my folded hands, gazing at the vast panorama before me. Gandalf stood behind me, one hand resting on my shoulder. Neither of us spoke. The beauty and wonder of the night was beyond words.

“Come, get dressed,” Gandalf said finally. “Let’s go out for a bit, shall we?”

It was a crazy idea; it must have been close to midnight. But I put on the clothes I had been wearing the previous day, and followed Gandalf out to the stable where Shadowfax stood still wide awake as though he were expecting us. Gandalf put me on the horse’s back and then climbed up behind me, and we went out into the night, down the hill through the Palace gate, and out into the City of Light.

I had not been out in the City at night before, except early in the evening. There were restaurants and ball-rooms, taverns and galleries, theaters and concert-rooms, and many of them stayed open well until dawn. Gandalf left Shadowfax in the vast Garden of the town-square and we wandered about on foot. Street-bands played on many corners, and dancers and acrobats performed on the walks. We paused near the edge of the Gardens where a musician played a three-stringed fiddle and a young girl danced blind-folded among eggs that had been laid out at her feet. She was only a little taller than I and probably not so old, and she wore a short dress of blazing colors, and her night-black hair shimmered blue and purple in the glow of two street-lamps, with ribbons and beads worked into it. Her feet were bare as she stepped and capered and whirled with such nimble grace among the eggs, not so much as touching a one of them. The musician—her father, I thought—was in an odd-looking rakish suit of black and white patches with a scarlet cloak, and he played with such lilting spirit and gaiety that I felt like dancing right along with the maiden. If I’d had a couple of mugs of ale under my belt, I probably would have joined her, but I was not so bold, and figured with my great feet I’d probably make a horrid mess of the eggs and they wouldn’t even be fit to make omelets.

When her dance was done the maiden stripped off her blindfold and curtseyed and blew kisses to the cheering small crowd. When she saw me and Gandalf, she positively glowed, and dropped to her knees before us. I was much taken aback, and after a moment remembered myself and reached a hand to raise her, and at my touch she looked up in wide-eyed delight. Her beauty nearly left me gasping, but I just told her how much I enjoyed her dance, and expressed my astonishment that she had not so much as moved an egg. She wore several bracelets, and she took off one of them and held it out to me. I hesitated, but Gandalf nodded to me that I must not refuse her gift, so I took it and thanked her with a big smile. It was a little gold band with a red stone, and I held it and looked at it a long time as we walked away.

“What sort are they?” I asked Gandalf after we were out of hearing distance.

“Dark-elves,” he said. “Like Ríannor. I think the girl is a mute. They, too, were prisoners of Sauron. The fellow is her brother. I don't know their names.”

I was dumbstruck, myself. Sauron had made prisoners of children? Then again, why should that have surprised me? I began feeling much better about myself.

“Surely something can be done for her,” I said. “I shall take it up with the Queen and Lord Elrond. I think I will have her dance for my orphans, if she wants to. They would love it, I’m sure.”

And we walked through the City streets, taking in all the sights and sounds and smells, talking with various Elves who liked to inhabit the City’s night-life, exchanging opinions about the Mysteries of the Universe, singing, watching performers, tasting samples of sweet things, until finally we had had enough for one night, and turned back to the Garden to fetch Shadowfax. And I looked at the mosaic beside the Tree, and felt so put together, so alive, and so…so necessary. I was a Prince and this was my city, my domain, my meeting place. I felt (and I suppose I sound a bit like Seragon here) as though I were composed of fragments of richness and sorrow, broken up and assembled into patterns of startling light and color and glaze, a mosaic of myself. I was where and what I was meant to be, I was home and not alone. And once back in my room, I could feel Bilbo’s presence, somewhere between the sleeping form of Gandalf and myself, his hand resting on my forehead as I settled into peaceful dreams.

~*~*~*~

When I had been at the Palace for nearly two months, I began to find that I was getting tired more easily, and had less appetite and vigor, and I knew it was time to go home.

I sent word by a page to Galendur that I was coming back; then the next day Gandalf and Elrond helped me pack my things. Lord Elrond and the Ladies crowded around as we made ready to leave early in the morning, and I wished I could tell them all that was in my heart but could find no words, and could only hope they would hear it without my telling them. I think they did. They told me to come visit any time I wished, and they would see me in the Temple soon. As we rode through the streets, a crowd of people lined them—word that I was leaving must have gotten around. Some of them gave me flowers and some gave me small baskets or jars of food. I saw my egg-dancer and pulled back my sleeve to show her the bracelet, and she smiled and threw me a kiss. As we came to the edge of the City, I took a last look back, smiled and waved to the crowd in as princely a manner as I could, then looked up at Gandalf over my shoulder.

“Bear me away!” I said dramatically.

It was good to see the cottage again. I could see flowers heaped on the terrace, bouquets of them set in jars, wreaths hung all about, garlands strung across the railing, garden-flowers and wild-flowers, inside the house as well, in every room. And in the main parlor, there was a banner that read WELCOME HOME, IORHAEL! in intricately decorated letters. There was food set all about, something cooking on the stove, even—mushroom soup! And a kettle hissing and dishes—a new set of them, Ríannor’s work obviously, on the table, white ones with gold swirls and curlicues on the edges, gold roses painted on the cups and pitchers. Bottles of wine were set about. And I saw that baskets of oranges, dates and nuts had been set down in the fruit-cellar, along with bananas and pineapples and pomegranates, and more bottles of wine. The spring-house had been stocked as well. And garlands of flowers and palm-fronds had been draped around it too.

Even the peacock spread his fan for me. He had come to me after I moved here, for he didn’t seem to want to go to the Palace and Gandalf found him annoying, and he seemed fond of me, so now he was mine. Shire-folk have roosters to awaken them in the morning; I had a peacock.

I had never felt so visible before.

And then I heard the sound of cheering. And some chatter and giggling, and then singing, as elflings began to appear, slipping out from behind trees and bushes and hedges and big rocks, dozens of them, some holding still more flowers, some wearing flowers in their curled hair, and more of them appeared and the singing grew louder:

Welcome, welcome, welcome home
Savior, Prince and friend
We’ve missed you sore
and hope you’ll no more
stay away so long again.

Welcome, welcome, welcome home
We are so thankful you are here
There is none fairer
than our Ring-bearer
joy we wish you and much cheer!

And I could see Tilwen and Galendur outside the circle of singing elflings, and Niniel and Seragon with Lyrien perched high on his shoulders wearing her prettiest dress, he holding her ankles as she waved wildly with both arms, then scrambled down and came running, fairly knocking me to the ground as she flung herself at me.

~*~*~*~

The celebration went on all day. There was clam-baking and fish-frying and dancing and games and races and singing and fireworks on the beach, and some of my orphans were there as well, and even the egg-girl turned up in the evening—seemed she did not like to come out much in the day-time. I fetched some of the eggs someone had left in the spring-house for her, and this time I joined her in her dance, though I was not blindfolded, and although I was a bit tipsy I only crushed two eggs. But when the music ended I deliberately stomped on several, just to give the smallest children an even bigger thrill.

As more and more stars came out, some of the older Elves indicated to the younger ones that I must be getting tired. Gandalf asked if I wanted him to stay with me. I thanked him and said I would manage, for I sensed he really wished to go with Ríannor, who was looking even lovelier than ever in a gown of cobalt-blue embroidered in silver-green. She would always wear dark colors, but they became her splendidly. She was as a queen of midnight, perched in the curve of a crescent moon with a star attached to one horn.

Long after the merry-makers had departed, I sat on the beach, not wishing to go in yet. Then I noticed something bulging in one pocket, and took out my glass. I remembered the night Lady Elwing had put a few drops of sea-water into the phial. It is stronger now. Watch and wait and pray. I looked at it for a long time, then I found myself talking to it once more.

“Sam,” I said, “I wish I could see you just for a moment. What are you doing now? Something quite ordinary, I imagine. But I wish I could see. I can feel our hearts speak to each other in the night, can’t you? I think I know the exact day Frodo-lad was born. I think you are mayor now. Imagine that: once I was mayor and you were a gardener; now I am a gardener and you are mayor. It’s wonderful, truly. I wish I could see you now if only for a few minutes….”

And the phial began to glow goldenly, a faint pale light at first, but to my delight and wonder, it grew brighter. Then I made out a shape, vague and shadowy at first, and my breath seemed snatched away as the shape grew more distinct and large. I felt entranced as the air around me turned to gold and green and white, and I could see the shape of Sam, standing as though on another shore, holding a child with golden curls perched on his hip. I saw him point to something in the sky, and then I think he became aware of me, for his face changed in a way that is hard to describe. It filled with a sweet light and sunny beauty, and Elanor looked at him in wonder and spoke, probably asking what was happening. What a beautiful child, with round pink cheeks and large bright eyes; how proud he must be! I could see what a tremendous comfort she was to him. And he spoke. I could not hear, but I could make out the shape of his words. It’s Mister Frodo. He can see us now. He’s watching. Can you feel it? I saw her nod and smile and take on his light, and I felt deliriously sleepy. I fought for a few minutes to stay awake, not wishing to lose the vision, but it finally overcame me, and I slept.

I must have been asleep for quite a while, because I suddenly awoke to find myself being carried to the cottage. I thought it was Gandalf at first, then saw it was Galendur.

“All right, old chap?” he said. “You shouldn’t fall asleep on the beach like that, you know. The tide was coming to snatch you away. I got a bit worried and came down to check up, and good thing. The water was licking your toes.”

“In that case I must thank you,” I said smiling. “I was having the loveliest dream. I dreamt I saw a dolphin leaping through the waves, and it turned into a beautiful maiden just my size.”

“Oh damn,” he said, “and I interrupted? But you’d have been permanently interrupted if I hadn’t come along, you know.”

“It's no matter,” I said. “I was to the point where…where I always awaken.” Is it possible to blush in the dark?

“Oh,” he said knowingly, “so you, erm, clapped to, right in my arms and all? Do me a tremendous favor, old chap, and don’t tell anyone, what? My reputation has taken enough of a pounding as it is.”

I laughed so hard it hurt. It felt as though all the stars were laughing with me.

“You’re daft,” I said when I could get my breath. “You can put me down now. If anyone were to see you, your reputation would be in shards, and mine too.”

“Almost here, and there’s no one else about,” he said as he mounted the terrace steps. “I say, you’ll be sweeping up dead petals for two weeks after this.” He reached up to brush a flower out of his hair as he took me inside. “Got that light of yours handy?”

I fetched it from my pocket. He set me down on a chair, found a nightshirt hanging on a hook and tossed it to me. I stood up and he helped me off with my vest and shirt, and I pulled the nightshirt on, covered myself with it and then slipped off my breeches as he turned down the bed-covers.

“Now let’s tuck you in all nice and cozy like your mummy,” he said as I got in and he spread the covers over me. “Must get in some practice, don’t you know.” He lifted his eyebrows significantly.

“You mean…” I looked up at him in delight as what he meant dawned on me.

“Precisely,” he said and it seemed a soft glow suffused him all over. “Squinkles has ordered us to make it a boy, and to name him after you. I think the little wench fancies you.”

“That’s wonderful,” I said smiling until I felt my face might split. “I think you’ll make a corking dad.”

“I bloody well hope so,” he laughed. Then he looked down at me with eyes that were anything but steely as he slowly stood up. “I’ll leave you to your dreams now. Perhaps your dolphin-girl will come back for second helpings. Probably she’s perched on the reefs now, drumming her fingers and waiting for me to bugger off. Want me to kiss you good-night?”

“Oh please, no,” I said in mock horror and he laughed uproariously.

“Very well then,” he said. “I’ll be in the big people’s room if you need anything. Til is at her mum’s, and I told her I’d be here, so that’s all good and well. G’night, Ring-bearer…and thank you for everything.”

“Thank you for giving Bilbo more time,” I said impishly. He looked at first as though he were going to pretend he didn't know what I meant, then grinned.

“My pleasure,” he said. “Pleasant dreams, my dear Baggins. Your reward is coming very soon now, you know.”

“I know,” I said softly. And he and I smiled at each other as only two beings could smile who were both about to receive their heart's true desire.

After he went out, I smiled and dimmed the light to a soft glimmer and closed my eyes, waiting for sleep to come creeping up on me again. Although it was not likely that I would catch a wink, for I knew now that my dolphin-lady was no dream, and that she would be waiting for me in reality in the morning, running her fingers through her hair and humming, her eyes full of sunlight and mischievous joy.

***Finis***




~~~




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