Sam had to wonder how the crowd got there. Anemone said all she had to do was speak to Tilwen about a picnic, and Til had only to speak to her mother, and soon the word was out within the space of an hour.
Mister Frodo sat in his usual canvas chair, covered by a light blanket. Sam sat on one side of him, Anemone on the other. Sandrose’s eight daughters, the Gem-stones as they were more or less affectionately known, had sung a song in tribute to their great-granddad, to start things off. Now some of the youngsters were wave-riding, and Mister Frodo seemed to greatly enjoy watching them, commenting on their skill, laughing when they clowned on their boards, reminiscing about past riding incidents. Some of the others were playing the feather-cork game, still others tossing horseshoes, some building sand castles, some swimming and diving, some showing off, some playing merry music while others danced. Youngsters ran up from time to time to show Mister Frodo things they found, among them a huge sea-turtle, at which Rosie would have fainted, most likely, but Anemone grinned in obvious admiration and held it for a moment before giving it back to the finder.
And seemingly from out of nowhere, there was a showing of many white dolphins, that leaped high into the air and did amazing flips, all in formation, while all watchers squealed in delight.
And of course, there was a great deal of food.
“Ionwë,” Mister Frodo said as they watched the dancing, “Calathiel looks lonely. Why don’t you go ask her for a dance?”
Ionwë jerked his head from the sight of the dancers, where Calathiel was dancing with her sister and looking ravishing in a scarlet ankle-length skirt and white blouse with short lacy sleeves, then looked guiltily toward Mister Frodo.
“I don’t think…” he hedged, whereupon Anemone sprang to her feet, grabbed him by both elbows and steered him toward the dancers, pushing him practically into Calathiel’s arms. Mirwen looked disgruntled until one of the younger lads tapped her on her shoulder and held out his hands to her. Sam and Mister Frodo laughed heartily.
Then one of Anemone’s grandsons, Young Amonost, asked her to dance, and Frodo nodded his consent, smiling. As the two whirled off, Frodo watched a little wistfully, then glanced in the direction of the two little girls Doriel and Limwen, who were wading in the shallows, looking down at something that had attracted their attention in the water. Narylf sat on the sand watching them. Bragohil stood nearby talking to Elrond and Celebrían. Arkenstone and Little Iorhael were trying to initiate Sadron into the joys of wave-riding. Sam remembered that Dark-Elves did not have a great love for the water, and could well understand the lad's hesitancy.
On the other side was Amras, whom Mister Frodo had called back from the dead so long ago, with his wife Laurewen, watching their two sons and their daughter playing in the surf. And the three adopted sons of the poet Rûdharanion and his wife Salmë, and their little daughter by birth, who was now sitting on her daddy’s lap…and he could scarcely have looked any happier. And Salmë’s great-granddaughter Aredhel and her husband Alcandor and their daughter and son. And the poet Dûndeloth, with his son and daughter-in-law and his many descendants…one of whom seemed rather sweet on Mister Frodo’s granddaughter Evenstar, who was the daughter of one of the twins, Sam couldn’t think which one at the moment, but Miss Evenstar was pretty as a picture and a bit of a flirt….
And young Dínlad, who’d portrayed Mister Frodo in the plays, grown up now but still unmarried, and yes, he’d brought the Horn, and had blown it for Sam...and there was his sister Marílen with her husband Dairuin and their beautiful little daughter Lëandreth, just eight months old and attracting quite a circle of admirers already, including her own cousin Perhael and Fairwind’s son Meriadoc....Ah, Sam remembered now, Dairuin had played Merry, or was it Pippin? in the play. Pippin, Mister Frodo said, and Sam nodded. Edrahil his twin had played Merry…and he was hovering nearby with his betrothed, Fëariel, who was also cousin to Dínlad and Marílen and was admiring baby Lëandreth with chirpy delight, and the little one smiled and then shyly hid her face on her mum's shoulder, at which everyone laughed sympathetically.
So much life abounding, and Mister Frodo sitting apart from it, about to take his leave…what was going through his mind now, Sam wondered.
“I was just thinking,” Mister Frodo spoke up just then, as though he had read Sam’s mind, “of how Beleg and Raegbund must be faring. How they will feel the day before their execution, knowing it’s to be their last day of life. Will they feel regret for what they’ve done? Or will they fell put-upon, that they were not truly responsible for their actions? Or will they be terrified, knowing they’ll be held accountable for their deeds? How will they feel knowing that no one will throw a picnic for them, and all will rejoice when their sentence is carried out?”
“Now M--Frodo,” Sam remonstrated, “you’re surely not feelin’ sorry for the likes of them? I know it’s your way, but still, they did bring it all on theirselves.”
“Yes, I know,” Frodo said. “They chose to do what they did all knowingly, and deserve worse than what they will get. Still I can hardly help but wonder what will go through their minds, when they know it is their last day of life, and there will be no turning back for them. Most people don’t know when their last day will be, but when theirs comes...they will know it.”
“Mister Frodo,” Sam said after a thoughtful pause, turning over in his mind what his former master had said, “you’re not havin’ fears and misgivin’s, are you?”
“Only for those who will be left behind,” Mister Frodo said. “I look forward to what is to come for me, yet I feel as though I should not, because of the grief that will be in its wake. It’s just the same as when I came to the Island. I rejoiced to be there, but was in sorrow for those I had left to grieve behind me. It seems one cannot have it two ways. So I do not fear for myself. The very thought of my destination fills me with ecstasy. It will be a wonderful thing when I’ve climbed that stairway and crossed the portal. But I cannot help but think that halfway up those stairs my head will be turning back to look at the rest of you. Not so much at you, Sam, for I know you will join me sooner or later. And Anemone also. But the others...my family, and Gandalf, and Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrían, and the rest. And Galendur, I worry especially about him. At least he will still have Northlight, besides his family, and Tilwen will have Raven, after Anemone comes to join me, but...”
“You know what I said before,” Sam said, “that I’d go with you if you’d like. I know you said you didn’t want me to go until I was ready, but the offer still holds.”
“I know, Sam, but you are not ready yet. I want you to remain behind until your time comes, and live out your life among my people. Time will soon ease your grief if you will open yourself to it. I am not afraid to go by myself. It’s just what everyone else does when their time comes, and if they can do it, why shouldn’t I be able to do the same? And when your time does come, I will be there waiting for you, and even if it be many years from now, it will feel short to me, I know. I can see it now…I’ll be standing up there at the top of the stairs, while you come trudging up…perhaps your head will turn to look back a time or two also…but then you’ll look up and there I’ll be, and I’ll smile and wave, and you’ll come up running, and Rosie will be standing beside me, and your parents and mine, and Bilbo and Merry and Pippin…then we’ll embrace you with joyful arms and dance and sing and laugh…and I’ll tease you about being a slowpoke, and Rosie will chide you for calling everyone Mister or Miss…and Bilbo will regale you with silly stories about what’s been going on while he’s been here—I know he’s kept the place jumping with his antics, and it will not be dull with him and Merry and Pippin around….”
“You make it sound most invitin’, Mister Frodo,” Sam said. “So much so, I should be willin’ to follow you right away, if not go with you. But you’re right. I’m NOT ready. I know it. And I’m much obliged to you for understandin’ that, and biddin’ me stay till my time has come. Maybe there are still things here that need puttin’ to rights and I’m the one to do it, silly as it seems for me to think that. And your family has made me feel like one of ‘em, that I won’t feel like I don’t belong with ‘em, like I thought at first. It feels like your family and mine is somehow married, if you know what I mean.”
“You will see things I will not,” Mister Frodo said. “Raven will bear another child. I think she is pregnant now, and does not know it yet. I hope so, for then her grief at my passing will be eased all the sooner. I'm sure Northlight wants a son, while Amaryllis will hope for a little sister, and Raven will not care which it is, as long as it comes. And that's not all you will see, my Sam.”
It was not quite dark when the picnickers finally broke up and started going their way. Many came to hug and kiss Mister Frodo and some cried as they did so. Mistress Lyrien came and held him the longest, and he hid his face against her shoulder and when he lifted his head, there were tears all over his face as well as hers. Galendur and Tilwen, with their children behind them, held him both between them, caressing his hair, whispering things to him that Sam couldn’t hear, and he discreetly stepped away, thinking maybe what they were saying were for Mister Frodo alone, and stood between Anemone and Northlight with his arms about their waists, Raven on the other side of her husband, and Sam hoped what his former master had said of her was true. Then it was Mister Gandalf’s turn, and he fairly enfolded Mister Frodo in his red robes. Then Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrían and Lord Celeborn and Lady Elwing and young Lúthien, and then the Queen herself. And lastly, there were the many, many members of Mister Frodo’s family, and they gathered like butterflies around the sweetest possible flower, and the waves behind them seemed to grow quieter and gentler, as if shushing one another in respect for the ones who would soon shed enough tears to fill the entire cove, and their music was of stairways and treasures and divine gifts.
When all had departed, Northlight bore Mister Frodo up in his arms and they all walked slowly back to the cottage in the dusk, and Northlight laid his ada very gently on the long chair and kissed the top of his head and pressed his face down on the silver curls. Sam sat in the chair beside Mister Frodo while Amaryllis sat very quietly close by. Raven asked her if she were all right and she nodded without speaking. All sat for a while talking of the picnic and who did this and that and how well it had gone, no serious accidents or bickering amongst either old or young.
When it began to grow dark, Mister Frodo asked to be alone with Northlight and Raven for about a quarter of an hour, and so Northlight took him inside and Raven followed, softly closing the door behind her. And then Amaryllis began to weep openly.
“Granddad’s dying, isn’t he?” she said and Anemone took her in her arms and stroked her hair and held her tightly. Tears seeped from Sam’s eyes also as he heard the girl’s sobs. Then he went and held her for a while also until Northlight came out again with Mister Frodo in his arms, and set him back in his chair. Mister Frodo called Amaryllis to him, and she laid her head on his shoulder, then motioned for Northlight and Raven to come closer. He told them they were all he could ever have wished for in a son and daughter and thanked them for all the joy and pride they had given him. And he held Amaryllis in his arms for a long while and caressed her dark locks and laid his face on top of her head.
And finally Northlight and Raven and Amaryllis turned for home with hands linked, looking back from time to time with wet faces in the dusk, and Mister Frodo watched them until they had crossed the bridge, three glimmering lights in the violet air of evening, and the Beacon began to lend its brightness in the distance, and the aurora began showing itself a little earlier than usual. Anemone pulled the blanket over Mister Frodo and asked him if he and Sam wished to be alone together.
“No, my love,” Mister Frodo said. “We wish you with us, don’t we Sam?”
“Indeed we do,” Sam said sincerely. “We wouldn’t think of not havin’ you, Mistress Anemone. Please sit yourself down with us, I think there’s room for three.”
Anemone smiled a little, hurtfully, and settled herself on Mister Frodo’s right side. It was a tight squeeze, but she insisted she was comfortable. They slid their arms under Mister Frodo and he worked his right hand out and took Sam’s left hand with it, and with his left hand he took Anemone’s right.
“This is exactly the sort of night I was hoping for,” he said smiling. “All full of stars, and the aurora, and the fragrance of all the flowers hovering over. This is Midsummer’s Eve, isn’t it?”
“I think so,” Anemone murmured, her small voice trembling. Mister Frodo kissed her hand, then Sam’s, and held them to his cheeks.
“Midsummer’s Eve was always my favorite day of year,” he said. “Such life and color and richness in it. Since I’ve had my family here, it’s felt as though it were Midsummer’s Day all year round. So many beautiful and new things happening, so much laughter, so many unexpected happenings, so much growth and wonder…it’s felt as though each day were the beginning of my life. As if I were reborn each morning, yet with memory of the previous days. As if I had been given a magic chest in which to place all the treasures I found or was given along the way, and no matter how many I put into it, the chest was never full, there was always room for more and more. And each time I acquired a new one, I wondered how I ever did without it.”
Sam noted how much clearer his voice sounded now. Almost as it had been in his youth. And his light was brighter now, seeming to overtake all he was, so he seemed made more of brilliance than of flesh, as though he had drunk the contents of his glass, and had become the glass itself. His hands felt warm and strong, his body all of warmth and rising energy and new firmness, and as Sam glanced at Anemone’s face, she looked perhaps as she had been when Mister Frodo had first met her, all rose-gold beauty and radiant maidenliness. She appeared as if the little statue in the grotto had come to life. He had to wonder how he himself looked, and as his eyes met Anemone’s, he had his answer. He saw himself as he had been in his youth, felt his flesh firm and taut, his hair taking its original sandy gold, and then he looked to Mister Frodo, and his hair looked its former rich brown and his face smooth as a youth’s, the eyes as merry and blue as in his boyhood.
And all three lay transfixed in the brilliance, as the tide seeped out little by little, until it was no more, leaving tiny gems like colored tear-drops in its wake.