It is a beautiful spring night. Bilbo doesn’t want to play chess any more. Instead he asks me to play my harp for him. I take it out and sing some songs we both know, songs he wrote and songs I wrote, and I sing a hymn or two. I can hear a nightingale in the distance, echoing in the forest and cliffs, and the waters seem to be singing and the stars tinkling like tiny bells in the sparkling heavens. I can smell the blossoms from the orange-trees and the honeysuckle twining around the railing as an incredibly gentle breeze wafts the fragrances toward us. I hear a frog going chur-rump from the pool made by the waterfalls.
We had many visitors earlier today. Several of the children came over, and Gandalf and Dûndeloth too, Lord Elrond and the Ladies, and Galendur and Tilwen later on. And Salmë and Rûdharanion and their lads. And to our surprise, Amras and Laurewen and Mirimë came as well. Amras taught the elflings a new game, in which you throw horse-shoes at a stake driven into the ground. He brought a goodly number of horse-shoes with him, that he had made himself, and left many with me so the children could play with them when they came to visit. Seems his arm has healed sufficiently now, although it still is not what it once was. But it is coming along nicely, he assured us. Mirimë was so happy, she sat for the longest with me and Bilbo talking with us, but unable to take her eyes off her son. Rûdharanion told us many funny stories on the boys as we watched Galendur show the two older ones some of his fencing moves. We had a regular clam-bake, and the others brought the food so we didn't have to fix any. The children greatly enjoyed playing horse-shoes, even the girls, and so did I, for that matter. Everyone seemed uncommonly happy. There was much laughter and singing and shouting and yelping and splashing, and the Ladies sang well into the afternoon. Yet as it came time for everyone to go home, Lyrien ran to Bilbo and embraced him hard, and I thought she was crying a little as she and Marílen kissed him good-bye....
“I wish you could see yourself now, lad,” Bilbo says after I finish the last song, one called “Waiting for the Morning.” “You’re the fairest thing I ever saw, you are. Like a white gem full of the star-light. Like that thing that hangs around your neck, only bigger and brighter and fairer.”
Finally I can play no more, so I lay the harp aside and sit down in the long chair with Bilbo. I lay my head on his shoulder and pull his throw over us both.
“Look,” I say pointing northward. “The Light is uncommonly bright tonight.”
“So it is,” Bilbo murmurs sleepily. “It’s not usually so bright, is it.”
“No. Not that bright.”
“How long has it been there, lad?”
“Two years, Bilbo. Exactly two years, I think.”
‘Maybe that’s why it looks so bright. It’s an anniversary.”
“Perhaps. I don’t remember exactly the day it first lit, but it may have been this day. It hasn’t gone out since.”
“Do you remember when you first came to live at Bag End?” Bilbo sits up a little straighter. “It was in the spring, wasn’t it.”
“I don’t remember the exact day, but yes. I do remember it was in the spring.”
“That was the happiest day of my life. Don’t know if I ever told you that before, Frodo-lad. But it’s the day I most fondly remember. You lit all the lamps in Bag End, just as you lit that one.”
“I do remember lighting the lamps now. I asked you if I could do it, and you said yes.”
Bilbo takes my hand and holds it to his cheek. “You do remember. You looked so happy. And you made up the fire and fixed tea and everything. You fairly took over the place that night. Do you know, little Samwise once asked me if you were a prince. The first time he ever saw you, after you’d gone, he asked me that.”
“And you told him I was, didn’t you, Uncle?” I feel tears starting in my eyes, even as I chuckle.
“I told him you were my prince, and that was plenty good enough. He fell in love with you at first sight, you know. You were his prince too.”
I snuggle closer. “I wish I could see him now.”
“So do I, my dear boy. So do I.”
“I wish it every day,” I say. “But most especially now.”
“You’ll see him someday,” Bilbo says very softly. “It will be a long time…but he will come. I wish it could be sooner, but wishing won’t make it so. I’ll content myself with knowing he will come when it’s his time.”
“You’re sure of this?” I take his hand in both mine.
“As sure as I am that you’ll come to me,” he says kissing my hand, “when your time comes. What was it like, Frodo-lad? When you crossed over? Do you remember?”
“You mean…to the Other Side? I remember a great light…I could never forget that. There was light, everywhere. It was like standing in the sun, only it didn’t hurt my eyes. I remember passing through a dark tunnel with that light at the end of it. It wasn’t just light, it had a personality, it had…humor. Yes. I passed through a splendid hall made of crystal or jasper, it seemed, with very tall windows laid with gems, and the floor was all shiny gold. Then I saw my parents, standing in the most incredibly beautiful garden—more so than here, Uncle. And they looked so young and beautiful, themselves. I could see fountains, and streams and grass, trees and flowers, pools with lilies and swans and tall graceful grasses all around…and the Light, everywhere. And I was so happy…and then I was told I must go back. It was a little like if someone handed you a wonderful gift for Yule or something, just exactly what you wanted, then suddenly tore it away from you, telling you that you couldn’t have it. And I reached to my parents begging them not to send me away. But they said I had a very important mission to perform, and could not be spared yet, but they would wait for me. And then suddenly I found myself back in my bed at Bag End. Where I most definitely did not want to be, as you well know.”
“And this was not a dream, then?”
“No, it was not. It was over 30 years ago, yet I can remember it as if it were last week. Often I’ve longed for that place, and wondered why it is we must abide for such a time on this earth. Yes, I know…it’s so that we might make ourselves worthy. If we lived there always and never here, I suppose we would never be…complete, or something. We would be just happy little animals, with no greatness and music in us. We would know nothing of love or hope or courage or forgiveness or sacrifice or making families or helping others…and in order to know of these things, there must also be suffering and evil and growing old and choices. Otherwise we would be just nothing. Happy little children playing in fields of flowers. Although, admittedly, there have been times when I thought I’d like nothing better.”
Bilbo chuckles. “I know what you mean,” he says. “Well. It all sounds grand. I just hope it won’t get dull eventually. At the moment, I feel nothing could be better than just sitting with you like this, looking out on all we’ve got and what we've accomplished, thinking back on the good times, enjoying the beauty all around us and being with our friends. I can’t imagine what could surpass all that.”
“That’s because you’ve not seen the Other Side, Bilbo. Before I left the Shire, I couldn’t imagine any place I’d rather be. But now that I’m here, I’d never want to go back, unless for a brief visit…and I can just see myself there, longing to be here with all my being.”
Why did I say that? Why don’t I tell him, no, nothing could be better than here, so stay a while longer? But what should I do? I can’t very well persuade Galendur to lose another horse-race. It wouldn’t work this time, anyway. His time is drawing near, and I can no more stop it than I can stop the tide from going out. There’s not a day goes by now but I don’t wonder: will this be his last? Will he see the morning? Will he go off without telling me goodbye?
“And that’s how you think the Other Side will be?” he says.
“Yes. It will be…an adventure. Only it will not make you late for supper.” I manage to grin a little. “And the more good you do here, the happier you’ll be there. You won’t find it dull, Uncle, I promise you.”
“I’ve seen so many beautiful nights here,” he murmurs, settling back against me as he looks out toward the western sky once more. “So many. I wonder how it will be not to have any more nights. Not to see the stars, the moon, hear the nightingales, watch the jasmines open in the twilight, see the sun sink into the waves. There’s just one thing. Will we have memory there, or will that all be swept away?”
“I can’t tell you that, Uncle. I had only a glimpse, really. There are many memories I’d be more than glad to part with. But I didn’t let them go when I had the chance, because then I would have had to lose the wonderful ones as well. But maybe even our good memories won’t be of much consequence there. Perhaps it’s like falling in love...you don’t know how wonderful it is until you actually do it, then everything that came before seems of little account. When you’re in the arms of your bride on your wedding night, you’re not likely to be thinking back on all the good times you had with your friends.”
“Never had a wedding night. But I see what you mean.” He laughs, then yawns.
“Nor did I. But I think the bad memories will just fade away like scars and be forgotten, while the good ones will blossom into wonderful fruits. We won’t lose them, I’m certain, or what would have been the point of being here?”
I feel strangely calm now, although deep down I know this is to be his last night here and today's picnic was really a send-off party. It is almost a relief, in fact. During the reprieve that Galendur’s ill-fated horse-race provided for us both, I have been garnering strength inside, gradually finding the courage to let him go. Not that it will be any easier for me. But I believe this period of grace has been given me to learn to say good-bye, to make beautiful things of the days left to us and the memories that are ours, and set them up and let them shine in our light and make admiring and weighty comments over them and smile and laugh.
But will they give him a light over there so he can talk to me through it?