“Frodo? Frodo!” The voice was becoming insistent, commanding.
I did not wish to waken, to come back from that Place where the herbs allowed me to retreat. It was so beautiful there, so quiet--almost like being in Lothlorien again; and from it I could glimpse the open Way to Beyond, and that was so inviting. It had been inviting for quite a while, except before the Way had been barred with gates that could only be opened by paying with intense pain, or blood--or, more like, with both. Here there was no barrier I could see, and I’d been slowly approaching the Way, examining it, contemplating it.
I’d seen it before, but at that time I had paid the price and the gates had swung open. I’d been almost through the Way when the King called after, and at last I’d returned, and the gates had closed behind me as I turned about, went back to a body I barely recognized, so much had it changed during the time the Ring had held me. But now--no gates. I could pass through at any time....
I could hear murmurs. “What is happening?”
“I do not understand--never have I seen a mortal respond thus! It ought simply to have allowed him to draw strength!”
“He is not as he was, Elrond. The Becoming apparently has continued.”
“He cannot go before me! I won’t allow it! He deserves the chance to know happiness again!”
“Would you put off your own leaving, Small Master?”
“For his sake, of course!”
Then I ceased to listen, moved even closer to the Way, suddenly hopeful of entering in at last.... And the voice called after me, called my name. I ignored it.
Then a different voice called me, one which I had once been conditioned to obey, although my obedience had been commanded not by fear or mere authority, but by love. “Frodo Baggins, come back now. What would your mother say to you spurning a gift before you’d properly received it?”
I awoke, opened my eyes to look up into the faded eyes of Bilbo, who leaned over me. For the first time since Sam and I had joined the Elves on the way to the Havens, his eyes were clear and present, and he appeared to have almost a full measure of the vigor which had always marked him. Over his shoulder stood a shining presence that I thought was Gandalf, although my vision was clouded. I’d not told Sam that my vision had begun to fade at times--had told no one. I could see some things so clearly, others only as faded blurs. It was not as it had been when I had worn the Ring--then all had been distorted, limned with black fire that reflected the red Fire of the Eye. Now things simply were not clearly seen, not unless I needed to see them or looked with care. And I apparently needed to see the eyes of Bilbo now, for I could see them--the love, the caring, the concern they communicated.
I lay on some kind of bed in a chamber lit by a brazier which hung by chains from the ceiling, the brazier swaying gently with the gentle rolling of the ship. I could see the brazier, beyond Bilbo’s head, beyond the vague brightness that was Gandalf. There must be a door, I thought, and I started to look for it, and found myself starting to drift away, back to the Place where I’d been, and glimpsing it I turned more quickly, wanting to hurry back. But Bilbo called again, and reluctantly I returned.
I did not remember coming here to this room. I’d stood on the deck, Galadriel and Gandalf beside me, holding up the Phial for as long as I could, wanting Sam to see it, wanting to reassure him. Then the coldness had started to return, and Elrond had come to me with the herbal drink, and I’d drunk deeply. I know when I drank it along the way I’d felt distant from my body, as if it took me halfway out of it. On the ship it appeared to be more potent, although I do not believe the strength of it was as much as he’d given to me the first time we’d paused our journey to the Havens. I felt a lightness I’d not felt for many, many years; and a heaviness of the weight of life I still longed to relieve myself of. I sighed, looked again into Bilbo’s eyes, felt his love enfold me. I blinked several times, seeking to clear my vision.
“You are awake,” I whispered--I’d not the strength to do more.
“Yes, I’m awake--for a time, Frodo. For as long as you need me, dear one, I’ll be by you. I’ve been granted that grace. So you’d best seek to recover, lad, so I can take my last steps on my own journey. I’ve delayed enough as it is, insisting as I did to be allowed to pass the Old Took, foolish as I was.”
“I’d be there to welcome you....”
“No! No, don’t try that reasoning on me, Frodo Baggins. I have lived a full life, while the last twenty years of yours have been dominated by That Awakened--That and its legacy. You deserve more, and deserve healing, deserve to be able to appreciate the love that all have tried to give you without the separation enforced by the Pain. Now, I demand that you awaken and stay with me at least until we reach Tol Eressëa. Do you hear me, Frodo?” Reluctantly I nodded. But I could not remain awake--I turned my head away and drifted into sleep, a nearly dreamless sleep. But this time I did not seek that Place from which I could see the Way.
I awoke to find Elrond was setting a basin of metal on a ring over the brazier. This obscured the light of its flames; but the room seemed brighter, for I could see the Light which filled the Elven Lord, which now shone from him clearly. I realized that when I’d awakened earlier a similar Light had shone from Gandalf, but different in quality somehow. Once the basin was settled, he turned to look at me, and noting I was awake he left his work to lean over me.
“How do you feel, Frodo?”
I tried to assess myself. “I’m not sure. Maybe more--more...present?”
He examined my face, touched my brow. “You are more sensitive to the herbs I used on you than Bilbo is, Frodo--almost too sensitive. You reacted as would an Elf, not as normally would a mortal within my experience.” He lifted my eyelid, had me open my mouth and examined my tongue and gums, took my hands and examined the nails, held my wrist. I could smell the distinct moistness of steam, apparently rising from the basin over the brazier. I looked toward it, and this drew his attention back to it. He glanced back at me, smiled, then rose and took up something green that had been lying on the stand that stood beside where I lay. I looked at it curiously.
“Athelas?” I asked, and he nodded. “May I see it, sir?” He paused, then gave a large, soft leaf into my hand.
I easily recognized it, for it was now growing in several places on the Hill and had done so since soon after our return from Gondor. “So,” I said, “that is what is growing outside my window and in a ring about the new oak atop the Hill.” I laughed, the first--normal--laughter I’d enjoyed in some time. “My dear, dear, practical Sam!”
He took back the leaf and breathed on it, rubbed it between his hands, and that now familiar scent filled my room, but stronger than I had become accustomed to. As he dropped the leaf into the basin, he sang, sang the prayer Sam has murmured in Westron so often as he’d done similarly. And the odor of Spring in the Woody End filled the chamber, filled me and lifted me up, away from the burden and the emptiness. I murmured, “You know, this is the first time I’ve actually known I was looking at athelas. I know it was used on me, but I’ve always been so distracted by pain and illness, or was simply not conscious--so ill that I couldn’t care to examine it.”
He smiled down at me, came and knelt again by my head, caressing my brow. “Sam wrote me that he gave you packets of the leaves to take with you when you traveled throughout the Shire.”
“Yes, but I didn’t always remember it, and Budgie Smallfoot didn’t like to trust to an herb whose properties he did not know. And I never knew it was athelas until Pippin noted it when I gave him some of the tea before the dinner with his parents.”
He sighed, then opened the nightshirt with which I found myself clad to examine my shoulder, placed his hand upon the scar there, bowed his head, and again sang, but a different song this time, one that filled me with the Light of his being. It filled the wound as had the cold of the splinter of blade which had once been left in it, and then the Light spilled over, warming me, relaxing me, and I drifted away. I saw the Place, started toward it--then his hand took my shoulder, turned me back.
“No, Frodo, not yet--you promised Bilbo, remember?”
I nodded reluctantly, then once again drifted into sleep.