I’m not sure what I expected. We received word that Mistress Rose had died in the spring past, sent by the Lady Elanor; but though I sent messages to Sam, I received no word in reply. When we arrived in the North in early April to sit at court here in Annuminas, I hoped that when we stopped at the Brandywine Bridge I would see him there, but not only was he not present, no one would speak to me of him. Only the Thain told me that the Lady Elanor Fairbairn had hoped to attend my coming but had been delayed, but that she had sent word she would come with her family to the Court within the month.
They arrived yestermorn, attended by Merry and Pippin. She is still as beautiful as ever, small, delicate in appearance--far more than is usually seen among the ladies of the Shire. Her hair still shines like spun gold in the sunlight, although I saw silver there near her temples. She came with her husband Fastred and their children and at least one grandchild, and with her brother, Frodo.
Frodo Gardner is unlike his namefather, for he is fairhaired where my Frodo was dark, and his skin has the pleasant golden glow of his profession that his father bore, not the porcelain I knew and cherished. He is not as broad as his father, but more plump than my Friend. His eyes are hazel, not blue as my Frodo’s were nor brown as his father’s. His features are finer than Sam’s, closer to those of his Aunt Marigold, whom I’ve met at the Bridge. He has his father’s sense of responsibility, but more refined. His speech is also cultured, little given to the rustic usages affected by his father--there, at least, he does resemble his namefather more. His expressions resemble those of his father, but come more, I think, from his mother. But that responsible stance--that was pure Sam. Ah, it is so very long since I last saw him.
I’d forgotten how formal the Shirefolk can be when the mood is on them. They looked to be uncomfortable when Arwen and I rose to greet them, as if they’d been denied the requisite bowing and curtseying that they feel due to those in Authority (that makes the visits at the Bridge take a good long time, I’ve found). I could see Merry and Pippin watching their discomfort with that glint of mischief that still lurks within them, as venerable as they’ve become. But the youngest of them were too busy looking at us with eyes wide with wonder to be awed or uncomfortable, and when I looked down at one of the little ones, she came up to me quite close and asked in a solemn whisper if I was truly her Gaffer’s Friend and King, and when I said I was she turned about and exclaimed, “Then this is the right room at last!” And Pippin and Merry’s laughter filled the hall as my courtiers looked scandalized--but the formality fell at last--almost.
The Lady Elanor had prepared a speech given by herself and her husband welcoming me back to the Northern Lands and forwarding the respects of all those who live in the Marches. And then her brother stepped forward to ask if we might meet privately, to speak of their parents.
Once the formal audiences were over and I’d given proper greeting to the Thain and the Master, I gave word that they were to be brought to us in the herb garden once they’d been allowed time to be refreshed, for I thought, rightly, that Sam’s Frodo would be most comfortable there. He actually was there before my own arrival, sitting on the curb of the fountain, evaluating the plantings just as his father would have done, recognizing old friends and discovering some surprises. Arwen and Eldarion and Idril were also there before me, sitting on a bench, allowing our guest to have a quiet chance to become comfortable.
He was dressed very formally, in what Frodo had once described as “the Master of Bag End” fashion, much as Bilbo chose to wear most of the time in Rivendell. A chain reached across his chest, and from it dangled a silver key, much worn. As he sat, he fiddled unconsciously with whatever it was that lay in the right pocket of his vest, and there I found myself seeing, at last, Frodo Baggins--as well as Bilbo--reflected fully. So often on our journey between Bree and Weathertop had he sat thus, as he’d done that first night in Barliman’s parlor. Only later did I learn that this was where he and before him his uncle had usually carried the Ring to that time, and that it had become a habit to touch and roll it between their fingers as they sat; and the habit had continued in Bilbo for as long as I’d known him, rolling then instead a smooth stone he’d drawn once from the Bruinen and that he carried with him always.
Beside him on the curb of the fountain sat a wooden chest with a tray atop it and a drawer beneath, as well as a large packet wrapped in brown oil cloth and tied with a fine cord. I paused, not wishing to break his quiet, which was very unlike that seen in his gentle mother or his father, for this quiet, too, reminded me of my Frodo--a comfortable relationship with stillness. And I could see now in his eyes the traces of a healing grief.
They were leading in now Elanor and her husband, and Frodo rose to greet them, and then all saw me, where I stood in the archway from our quarters, and all turned my way, now sure they’d failed to fulfill their duty by acknowledging my arrival, and I wanted to laugh.
“Please,” I told them, “sit and be comfortable.” Frodo resumed his seat by his chest while his sister and her husband sat on the bench nearby. A guard appeared with my garden stool, and I realized that it was Pippin--it would be he, I realized. Must have bullied the Captain into allowing him to take up his duties immediately, as he did when he was with the court. He then withdrew to stand at guard toward the archway through which the others had come as if to give us privacy, but not far enough, I noted, to avoid hearing our conversation. I gave him what was supposed to be a royal look of disapproval, and found myself instead smiling into eyes still impudent in spite of the age reflected in the wrinkles surrounding them. A servant came in with the wine and the pitcher of ale I’d ordered, and with goblets and cups, and set the tray on a table carried by a second servant, while another came bearing a plate of seedcakes such as I’d learned Hobbits love. I noted I’d need to talk to young Druinen about not stinting our guests--few here for many years have had first-hand experience with the appetites of Hobbits, and although the number of cakes on the plate would have been sufficient for twice as many Men, even this small group of Shirelings would have it gone in a few moments, I knew. My wife, son, and younger daughter now came near us, and dropped gracefully to sit in the grass at my feet, Arwen leaning back so I could run my fingers through her hair. And, after I’d determined the preferences of each and urged themselves to accept a drink, I gestured that they might begin.
“Your father did not reply to my last letter,” I said, and waited.
It was apparently Frodo’s story to tell, for they looked at him to respond.
After a moment he finally spoke. “You know that our mother died last spring,” he said, “for Elanor sent the letter, I know. Da started to write, several times, but then would leave off and feed what he’d done so far to the fire. Then one night he retired to the study and closed the door, and I thought at last he’d found the words to send to you.
“The next day he began to meet with lawyers and bankers and the Master and the Thain and the new Mayor, and I realized he was clearing up his affairs, setting them in order. He allowed me to ride with him at the end to the Road, but no further, said he needed to do the rest alone, although I don’t believe he was actually alone--I am certain I saw an Elf watching from the border of the wood there, and he bowed to me as if to say he’d watch after my father. I’ve not seen any Elves for so long, not since I was a young lad, but I’m certain I was not mistaken.”
“And that was when?”
“Last fall, sir.” He fell still again. Finally he resumed. “He arrived at Elanor’s a few days later, apparently alone. He gave her the Red Book, and told her he had chosen, and that he was going to accept the offer to go on one of the Grey Ships, and he was going to follow his Master. Said he’d made that decision long ago, in fact, but that he’d vowed not to go while our mother was living.
“On October eighth his lawyer and his banker of discretion arrived, saying they’d had direction to come on that date to do the reading of his will.” He paused again, and drank deeply from his mug. “I’d already been given the Deed to Bag End and the keys and many other documents, but this reading was quite formal, confirming what I already knew, that I am now Master of Bag End. And he had had made for me this suit and another, and left this for me in a box tied in old but beautiful ribbon.” And he pulled out a gold disk from his pocket, a dwarf creation they called a watch, such as old Bilbo had always carried. It hung from the chain that stretched across his chest. “He always carried this, my Lord, always carried it and treasured it. When the Dwarves came to call they would care for it for him, cleaning it and checking to see its workings were in order.”
“Dwarves called on you, Frodo?”
He nodded, as did Elanor. “Master Gimli came from time to time, as did a younger Dwarf named Dorlin. I found that my father had known Dorlin from his own childhood, and that it was Dorlin who made for him the gardening tools he loved the most.”
Again he drank from his mug and then looked at the cakes, which I indicated he should feel free to take part in. Immediately the others, feeling this had given them permission as well, reached forward with relief, and Arwen accepted one as Elanor held out the plate to us.
As he ate, Frodo continued to contemplate the watch, and at last he slipped the chain from its fastenings and handed it to me to examine. “I learned that this belonged to my Uncle Frodo, and that Mr. Bilbo had had it made for him before he left the Shire, in token of the fact he was then Master of Bag End. It was presented to Da when Uncle Frodo’s will was read, and he left it to me in the same way.
“The key belongs to this, sir,” and he indicated the chest. “It held stationery on his desk in his room, and when he was angered, he would go into his room and shut the door and write. And, when he was done, he’d slip whatever he’d been writing into the drawer and lock it up. We always rather feared this drawer, and wondered what secrets it contained, but then I realized that he’d go in after his anger was finished or he’d solved a problem, and he’d take out the papers he’d put there, and usually he’d then burn them, although one time he used them to wrap fish in before he disposed of it--that was when he was Mayor and had been having to constantly deal with a family in the Eastfarthing that appeared to be always in difficulties of their own making.” I found we were all beginning to smile, and glancing at Pippin, I saw him nodding his head as if he knew what the matter had been about.
“Da had a cloak, sir, which he said you’d given to Uncle Frodo, but it had been too wide across the shoulders for him. He said Uncle Frodo always joked it had obviously been originally intended for either yourself or Da. He’d wear it for formal occasions, although I know he preferred to wear the other one, that beautiful grey-green cloak from Lorien with the leaf brooch.” I nodded--I, too, preferred my own cloak from that time.
“Did he leave you that, too, Frodo?”
“No, sir, he didn’t. He wore it when he left.” I felt the tears gathering in my throat, and nodded again, glad, somehow. He continued, after refilling his mug, “Uncle Frodo left that cloak draped over the back of the chair to Da’s desk, left it for him. I found the same thing when I arrived back home after seeing him off--the cloak across the chair. I couldn’t bear to move it for several days, and when I finally did, I saw the stationery box was on the floor under the desk.” He untied the cord on the bundle, and I leaned forward to examine it.
“Unusual fiber,” I commented, and he nodded.
“He twisted it himself, my Lord. When I was a lad he and I went down to the woods near the foot of the Hill, and he gathered, of all things, nettles--said he’d always wanted to try something old Mr. Bilbo’d mentioned as when he was a lad.” I smiled as I heard Sam’s own voice reflected in that of his more cultured son. “He beat out the fibers, and twisted them into the cord.”
I remembered his talk from Lorien, that ropemaking was in the family. I’d quite forgotten till now, and found myself slipping it free and running it between my fingers. Meanwhile Frodo was bringing out a stack of paper and fitting it into the tray on the top of the chest, a golden paper with green glints in it. Still in the cloth was a green-bound volume lying atop some documents.
“This is the way the box has always been, sir. Like this.” He straightened an edge. “This is the way I found it. Naturally I decided to solve the mystery of the drawer, so I opened it.” He held out his hand for the watch, which Eldarion had taken from me when I reached for the cord, took the worn key, and unlocked the drawer. “Inside were these, and another key, the key to the drawer in the desk in the study which was always his and his alone.” He handed the chest to me, and indicated I should open the drawer. I looked at his hands as I accepted the chest--they were the hands of a gardener, but finer than those of his father, more slender, more similar again to his namefather.
Eldarion twisted around to watch as I slipped the drawer open. Inside were papers--poems and drawings, mostly; and I recognized the handwriting on the poems. Frodo’s graceful script. I took one out and found it was in Quenya, and was a praise to the beauty of the Lady Arwen Undomiel. I read it as the tears fell, then handed it to my wife, who looked at it with wonder. I heard her intake of breath as I looked over the rest. Another was addressed: To the King’s son, and it was a description of me, as Frodo had seen me. I glanced through it and handed it to Eldarion.
“He apparently wished you to know me as he did,” I said, my voice thick.
Idril had stood and come behind me, looking over my shoulder into the drawer. When I nodded she slipped out a few of the drawings, and stopped as she found one of me. I had no idea Frodo was an artist as well as a writer, but the likeness was wonderful. She examined it carefully, then handed it to me, and I passed it on to Arwen to see, and I saw her smile with recognition.
“The day of the Council,” she whispered. “I remember how formal you looked that morning.”
Idril was going through more of the pictures, when suddenly she stopped and her face paled. She held the picture still, then held it out to me. It was the Eye--several renditions of it, against a black background. I realized what this was--it was one of the evil dreams that had recurred frequently as he lay in healing sleep, one that Gandalf and I had repeatedly reproved. I looked at my Friend’s namesake, and he answered me, “Yes, I have looked at all of them, my Lord. That one appears to be of his memory of being sought after by the Enemy.” I could only nod.
The drawings and paintings were of many subjects, and most were of Sam or of Sam’s flowers, or Bilbo, or his cousins. Pippin had come forward, and was looking at each picture as Idril revealed it. He held out his hand for one done in ink. “I remember that parchment and Frodo doing that, in Lothlorien.” He took it. “Sam, and that must be him looking into the Mirror of Galadriel.” Then he looked at the next one Idril was examining, and paled. “Oh, no,” he said.
I took it, and my hand shook as I read the inscription. His writing on it was--violent: For your hand’s fairer without it. Arwen reached for it, and I saw the compassion fill her face.
There was such a contrast between the fair pictures and the ones which reflected his black memories.
And then I saw the worst of all--Gollum--except it was not Gollum, not when you looked closely. For the brow line was different, the chin cleft, the eyes with a malevolent intelligence to them beyond what Gollum could command. I took a deep breath before I faced Arwen with that.
“May the Valar ease him,” she whispered as she saw what I saw.
“What’s wrong, Aragorn?” Pippin asked. “That’s just Gollum, isn’t it?”
I shook my head, took it back and passed it to him. It took several moments before his face paled, and I thought he’d collapse. “Eru preserve him,” he finally said in a shaky voice. “Is that what he saw himself becoming?”
Frodo was looking at us with consternation. He was holding the green volume in his hand as he searched our faces. “What is wrong?”
Pippin looked at him with grief filling his features. “This one is Gollum, but it isn’t, Frodo.” He drew a shaky breath. “It’s himself as Gollum.” The younger Hobbit’s face paled, as did those of the other two.
I poured another cup of ale and handed it to Pippin, who drank it off as he handed the picture back to me. He wiped his face. Elanor took the picture, and I saw pity fill her lovely eyes with tears. “Poor Uncle Frodo,” she whispered.
At the bottom of the stack of pictures Idril held was a letter, and this one was not written by Frodo, but by Sam. I took it.
Dearest Strider, my Friend and my King,
You have heard that Rosie is gone, and by the time you get this, I’ll be gone, too. Not dead, but over the Sea, after my Master. They told me as I could go, when we were at the Havens.
I’ve tried to write so many times, but it wouldn’t come. But I think you should know what it was like for him at the end. It weren’t very good, not as good as I’d thought when I saw you on the road to Bree that time as you came on Olorin.
After I saw you, I found this. He left it for me. I thought you would need to see, some day. But I couldn’t show it to you, couldn’t show you the good nor the bad. I was selfish, but I was also trying to protect you, too. Don’t know why as I’d try to protect you, for you have seen far worse than me, after all--you looked into that palantir when He had the other one, and wrenched it from Him, and Gimli said you looked like you’d gone right near Death yourself.
He loved you very much. sir.
Please forgive me I’ve waited so long to give this to you.
I have a book there, too, as I’d like you to see. I wrote it long ago, the spring after he left. I had to get it out, for it was eating my heart away. But one thing I didn’t write out, was when I looked again at the picture of Gollum, and saw what he’d really done, what he’d really drawn. And, when you look at the picture of the orc and the one of the bones....
I can’t stand it, Strider, that he’d see hisself like that.
Know this, I’m happy. I’m old, and I’ve had the best life I could have. Had to--he begged me to live for him, too, and now, the Powers permitting, I’ll be able to tell him about it--if he’s still there, of course, and if I can still see him.
Tell Lady Arwen how much I will miss her, and I’ll let her Adar know how she and the children are faring. Don’t know how long I’ll be able to stay, for I’m now an old Hobbit, after all, but I’ll try to give her folks joy of her, and of you.
My love and respect always, my Lord Strider.
I passed the letter to Eldarion, who read it, whispered, “I’m glad, Adar,” as he passed it to his mother, who began to smile through her tears.
“May I see?” asked Fastred from his place beside Elanor.
Idril turned to me. “Do you think, Adar, that I should summon Master Meriadoc?” I nodded, and she slipped away to fetch him.
Elanor sighed. “I hope the older children will keep the younger ones in line, my Lord, for Merry had agreed to watch them as we came here. But, he should see this, I think.”
I looked at one of the writings, and found it was in Sindarin but was not a poem. It was simply words, mostly dark words, painful words, although as it turned over to the back side the writing, which had been labored, eased, and more pleasant words appeared, ending with King, friend, Elanor, Sam, and Elessar. Merry arrived, and Pippin whispered quietly into his ear as Fastred poured a cup of wine and handed it to him. He sipped, then began to examine the drawings. When he got to the one of the hand, he paused.
“Sweet Valar,” he said, paling. “What Tom Bombadil said to him, Pippin!” Pippin nodded. I looked up.
Pippin explained, “When we were going through the Old Forest and stayed two nights with Tom Bombadil, Tom asked to see the Ring, and placed it on his finger, and it disappeared, but he didn’t. He gave it back to Frodo, and after a bit Frodo slipped it on himself and tried to creep away. But Tom could see him, and he said that to Frodo, and Frodo took it off and put it back in his pocket.”
Pippin reached into the drawer and took out the rest of the drawings, then stopped at one of an orc with a whip, then said, “Oh, no!”
I took it and looked, saw nothing at first--then saw the face on the orc was again Frodo’s but distorted, and that lying beyond him was Sam. Then there was one of a pile of bones--but the bones, I realized, belonged to me, for lying over a thigh bone lay the sheath of Anduril, and beside them the Elfstone.
I remembered the closing words of his will, and shuddered.
At the very bottom of the stack was a message, again in Quenya, addressed to me. It said simply, I am sorry, Aragorn Elessar, my friend, my healer, my liege and my King--I can no longer find joy in the gift you tried to give me. Forgive me.
I hurt so.
I love you so, my friend.
On the backside, in Sindarin, was a note.
I am sorry I wrote what I did yesterday. I almost killed myself. The pain was too great. Please forgive me, if you ever see it.
Under that, in a weaker hand and in different ink,
Tell the Lady Arwen I have finally chosen. Thank her for me.
It seemed to me this paper smelled of athelas. I handed it to Arwen, who took it, read it, smelled it, then smiled.
Frodo took up the green volume that he’d set down beside him as we went through the last of the papers, pictures and writings, and handed it to me. “The markings Da put there, sir.”
I opened it to the furthest marking, and read about the letter. Then I backed up to the next-to-last one, and found myself reading about a dinner with the parents of Merry and Pippin. I stopped, and said, “This concerns you,” and read it aloud.
Merry nodded. “My Da told me about it.”
Pippin sighed and helped himself to the last seedcake. “Frodo told me he’d sort out the Thain, but I didn’t realize how it drained him.” He stopped, looked at the cake he held in his hand, then broke it in two and handed half of it to his cousin.
Arwen had reached into the cloth wrapping and took out the top paper. It was a painting, a portrait of me, unfinished. Underneath were copies of Frodo’s will and Sam’s, and then Bilbo’s. Then a formal letter thanking me for the gifts I’d made to the founding of the Shire schools, again unfinished. And a picture of Bilbo facing Smaug, a droll thing, full of humor, with a poem around it about the Little Hobbit fooling the Big, Bad Dragon. I remembered a picture Bilbo had hanging on the wall in his chamber at Imladris, one he’d said had been given him by Gandalf, very similar, of Turin and the Dragon surrounded like this with a fragment of the lay, and realized at last whose work it had been. I’d always thought Turin looked quite like the old Hobbit.
At the bottom was a framed painting. I wasn’t sure what it was, although the colors were lovely. I looked at Frodo, but it was Elanor who anwered my unspoken question.
“Uncle Frodo did that for our dad, before they left the Shire to meet you. They used to get water worms out of the stream in the wood at the bottom of the Hill, and the worms build shells for themselves out of twigs or gravel, and they’d take away the shells and give them different things to build new ones of. That’s of a few that Uncle Frodo gathered, and gave them chipped stone to work with. Da hung that in the study, and kept their collection of the shells they left when the worms turned to flies there, in a box Gimli gave him.”
Frodo added, “Da wanted you to have it, sir.” Then he brought out what he had held in his pocket. In a small crystal box was the original for the painting, and he gave it into my hand. Something quite other than that which Frodo had fingered, so long ago.
I am back in my own rooms. I look to the wardrobe where my old leathers hang, and I long to take them out and ride throughout Eriador until I can shake the grief. I rejoice that Frodo accepted Arwen’s Gift, although I realize it wasn’t exactly hers to give. But I thank the Valar they granted that one this Gift, granted Arwen’s plea for him.
We read the book together, Arwen, Eldarion, and I, all through the night, taking turns. Eldarion read the most, for my voice was often stopped with grief. At the back was one more picture Frodo had done, one which I recognized. I’d not thought he’d seen us, when Sam and I talked in Rohan as my beloved Arwen and her Adar took leave of one another, but he apparently had, for it was of Sam and myself, looking off to the West, my arm about Sam, Sam’s spare handkerchief in my other hand. It was inscribed in Sindarin, My Friends, Greatest of the Great. I will give the book tomorrow to the Thain of the Shire to share with the Master of Buckland and the Warden of the Marches and the Mayor.
Tell him for me, Sam, how much I love and miss him, and scold him for not giving me the chance to say goodbye--yet, if he’d lingered, he probably would have ended before I arrived, anyway.
Frodo Baggins. My friend. My brother. My Light in the Darkness.
And I look at a picture that stands now on a chest, a picture of water worms that build a shell for themselves until they change to winged things and are ready to fly away, their wings sparkling in the Light.