I awoke at last and felt like rising, and found a light robe had been left for me. As I fastened the knots that were plainly intended to hold it closed and looped a sash about my waist, there was a knock at the door, which I saw was beyond the brazier, which was now cool and unlit. I called out, "Please, enter," and it opened to admit Gildor Inglorion, who smiled as he approached.
"Ah, you look very well in that, Iorhael," he told me. I felt my face flush, for very rarely had anyone ever used the Elvish form of my name when addressing me--only Bilbo a time or two when I was still a lad at Brandy Hall, and at first when as a tween I came to Bag End to live with him. "I came to show you the ways of the Ship, and to bring you to the others, if you wish to join us."
I do not know how long I explored the Ship, guided by him, before I finally indicated I was ready to see my companions. I felt strange to myself, somehow, almost as if this robe I wore allowed a different Frodo to become manifest.
He led me to a large chamber, and I saw that windows at the far end of it lit part of the room, but that they were silver with rain. Lamps on the near side filled it with a soft glow, a glow enhanced by the company that filled it. For each Elven presence was surrounded by a distinct aura, each a different color such as I’d never seen before, all pleasing but at the same time bewildering. And dozing in a chair in the corner to my right, a mug on a shelf suspended from the wall beside him, sat Bilbo. On the other side of the shelf sat Gandalf--and the Light emanating from him was the greatest of all. I could now see him clearly, the smile on his shining face, the core of Joy that filled him, barely held in place, it seemed, by the body which contained it. And I hurried to him, almost as I’d once hurried to welcome him to the Shire when he’d come to visit Bag End when I was a tween, hurried to him, knelt, and put my head in his lap. I suddenly felt overwhelmed, finding myself surrounded by beings that shone with inner Light, being dressed as I’d never been in all my days, traveling on a construction so large and alien to my people, going to a place where I knew no mortal had been permitted before. I was overwhelmed by the strange, conflicting feelings that filled me and fought for dominance, and by the confusion of feeling at one and the same time both stronger than I’d been for some time, and yet weaker. In spite of the changes I saw in him, Gandalf was familiar, comforting. He stroked the back of my head, then reached down and lifted me into his lap, as if I were just a lad once more and he were an uncle come to call--just as Bilbo had done when I was small. He held me close to his breast and rocked with me in his arms, murmured soothing words I barely heard, and I clung to him, my face to his chest.
I felt a hand touch my ankle, and realized Bilbo must have wakened. "Dear boy," I heard him say, "my dear boy."
"I’m sorry," I said at last. "I don’t know for certain what has come over me, to find myself clinging so." But when I would have straightened, Gandalf simply held me to him.
"No need, Frodo; just stay still now. You have been ill for quite some time, and healing will not be a simple matter. Nor will it be always easy to adjust to the changes in your surroundings. You are not an Elf, after all, and this ship was built for their comfort and needs, not for those of Hobbits."
I was aware of the Light increasing behind me, realized that the Lady and Elrond were approaching. I felt the now familiar touch on my thoughts, remotely examining the dreams, the visions. I felt Elrond touch the back of my neck. Then Gandalf rose, and still carrying me, he left the room, turned into a smaller chamber nearby, sat down again. When I turned my head to the left, I saw there was only one window in this room, and that it was small and round, which for some reason I found reassuring. I turned further, and saw Elrond and Galadriel and Bilbo had followed us, and now stood facing me as I huddled in Gandalf’s lap. Bilbo’s face was worried, Elrond’s, as he placed on hand on my uncle’s shoulder in comfort, concerned, the Lady’s calm and sad.
"So, Ringbearer," she said softly, "you have seen that the Way to the Halls of Mandos is open for you, unbarred now, and you are greatly tempted to follow that path."
I nodded. "Yes, my Lady," I said, ashamed. I looked down. The door opened, and three Elves entered quietly from the passage, bringing in what proved to be folded chairs, and a small table, which they now set up for the others, placing cushions on one for Bilbo and assisting him to sit in it before they left. Then others came, with a basin, with flagons and goblets of fine gold, and a plate of some form of cake or bread which they set down on the table. Elrond and Gandalf acknowledged their service with thanks, while Galadriel continued to look at me with an expression that was at one and the same time both sad and serene, and Bilbo looked at me with compassion. Bilbo’s face was now aware, but pale. I remembered him along the way to the Havens, the sleep which had held him so much of the way, the frailty. That frailty was still there, although he now seemed better able to remain awake. I closed my eyes and turned back to Gandalf’s chest, hid my face.
Another opening, then closing of the door; more soft footsteps, the sound of something placed on the table. Then the newest footsteps retreating, one more opening and closing, the sound of a liquid being poured. Then the hand on my shoulder, Elrond’s voice speaking my name.
"Frodo," he said a second time, "turn and drink this." I sighed and complied at last, turned to see he held a small cup in his hand, held it for me to drink. When I reached to take it, he waved my hand away. "No, small one, I will hold it for you as you drink."
It was not what I’d been given before, although I could tell it had had athelas steeped in it when the liquid was warm. Now it was cool and somewhat sour, but not unpleasantly so. Yet it seemed to be difficult for me to drink it, and it was some while before the cup, small as it was, emptied. I felt at last the voice of Gandalf echoing in his chest as my ear lay back against it.
"You are a difficult one to keep with us, Iorhael. But you do not deserve to take that Way still burdened by guilt and the memories of a shame that was not earned."
"I am a mortal, Gandalf," I whispered. "I must take it one day, and to see the gates closed again for me would be a great grief." I swallowed, felt tears on my face--I hadn’t realized I’d started to weep till now. "To be allowed at last to lay down the Burden with the knowledge I would never be forced to take it up again...."
Bilbo gave a deep sigh. "Frodo, the Burden was lifted from you long ago."
I felt Gandalf shake his head. "No, not completely, Bilbo. The shadow of it has remained with him, and as he has weakened it has acquired almost the same weight for him as the Burden itself. And you know well that the desire of It remains long after It has gone from your possession."
Elrond was examining my eyes. "How long has your vision been dimmed, Frodo?"
"I’m not certain. I first noted there would be times when things were dimmed perhaps a year ago, after the anniversary of Weathertop. But then it would clear, usually almost as soon as I noted the dimming. But in the last three months, since I sickened going between the Great Smials and Budgeford, it has been worse, the dimming lasting longer at a time, doesn’t seem to withdraw as it did. I can see what I need to see, it seems. But...." I shrugged as words failed me.
Bilbo rose and came to me, reached up to stroke my hand. "The feeling of being overwhelmed seems to be past," he said after a time.
"The room glowed so with the Light of the Elves in it, and with Gandalf’s. And the windows and the rain as silver glass upon it...I felt as if my own skin were tightening around me, then as if it were becoming--insubstantial--somehow. It was too much, Bilbo. It was too much, and I felt the need to hide my eyes from it before I lost myself beyond recall."
Elrond nodded, sighed, and withdrew to sit on his chair to my right.
I asked, "Why did that room seem so large? I saw the ship as we came to it, as we came aboard--the room is twice the width of that of the ship, I’m certain."
Bilbo gave a laugh. "Frodo Lad, you must remember this ship was wrought by Cirdan himself, and that you travel with the greatest Elves of our Age--and with Mithrandir as well, who was the White Wizard at the last. If you think they cannot make--adjustments for their own comfort...." The laughter resumed, and was joined by Gandalf’s. I looked up into his face, saw the humor there, the shining of him, then saw him turn suddenly solemn.
"Frodo, can you forgive me for laying the Burden on you to begin with?" I could only look up into his face. "If I had not been concerned for Bilbo, I would perhaps have allowed him to take it with him at the end--but I became so fearful as I saw him apparently being taken by It."
"Did you know--did you know what--It--was, Gandalf?"
He shook his head. "I’d suspected, but couldn’t bring myself to believe it, not till I had unquestioned proof. If I were wrong, much evil could have come of it; and if I were right...." He shuddered, and I felt it against my body. "And I was right," he sighed. "Oh, I was right, and almost too late to do anything about it. And when it was proven Saruman himself had been lost just through the idea of it being somewhere within his finding, and that the Nine were abroad in search of it--my fear almost overcame me." He looked on me with grief in his eyes. "I tried so hard to find proof of what it was, but also to find proof it was not what I feared. When Bilbo told me of what it was like for him when Dol Guldur fell--I should have accepted the truth of it then. But what he told of his experience in wearing the thing did not exactly tally with what had been told by others who know the effects of the Great Rings, much less with my own experience," and he raised his hand to look at the Ring upon his own finger. "I had not taken into account that It was still more than half asleep, that it would not awaken until its Master was threatened, and only then would vision be totally changed. I should have paid more attention to Bilbo’s description of how it appeared his vision was almost totally obscured at only one point of time while within the dwelling of Thranduil."
I shook my head, looked to my cousin. "When did you tell him that, Bilbo? I never heard tell of it."
"No," Gandalf said, "you did not, for you were at the inn with one of your Took relatives at the time. However, Sam could have told you, I believe."
I thought for a moment. "Ah, Samwise Gamgee and the windows of Bag End," I ventured, and again Gandalf smiled.
I looked to Galadriel, and thought of a question that had troubled me from time to time but which I’d never had the courage to ask. "When I put--It--on my finger, or Bilbo, or even Sam--we all became invisible. But I could see your Ring upon your hand, and all could plainly see you as you wore it, although you told me that only because I carried It could I see your Ring. Why, if the Great Rings make their wearers invisible, could we see you then?"
Her laughter was like the song of the stream of Nimrodel, melodious and swirling with sheer delight. "Ah, Iorhael, I was strong in my power ere Nenya came to me, and it never mastered me--from the start I mastered it. So it is--those strong enough to master the Great Rings could use our own mastery over them to hide or to display them at will--but they could not hide us unless we chose."
"So, my claiming It was futile."
She smiled now again with gentle sadness, leaned forward over the table. "I am sorry, but yes. You had perhaps the strength in one way, for your endurance was beyond belief. But...your spirit was not intended for such a form of domination as that one demanded for mastery."
"Oh." And I felt an odd sense of relief fill me. "But why did I not see the Rings on the hands of Gandalf or Lord Elrond?"
"Did you look for them, Ringbearer?"
I shook my head. "No, in reality, I never did."
Elrond smiled at me. "Do you think you can manage a little food? For a Hobbit you are most unusual in the small amount you’ve required to sustain life for some time, I fear."
"Must have learned the trick of it in Mordor," I found myself saying, and his smile broadened, though it was somewhat grim.
He broke apart one of the cakes and gave me a part of it. Its taste was similar to lembas, but also different, somewhat. I ate it slowly, and he poured a small amount of wine into a smaller goblet for me. Bilbo retreated to his chair and lifted himself into it, and accepted a portion from the Lady. Gandalf set me down at last beside him, near to Bilbo’s chair, and I realized this was a narrow couch covered in red leather. He reached to the right and lifted up a soft blanket and draped it gently over my shoulders, and I was reminded then of Sam, how he would note always when I grew cold and would do the same for me. And a feeling of loss filled me at the thought of him, going home to Rosie and little Elanor, and of the thought I would not see Elanor again in this life. I reached out to the table and set the remainder of my portion of the bread back on it, leaned back, drew the blanket around me. Bilbo reached out to take my hand, and I gripped his gratefully as I closed my eyes.
Gandalf put his left arm around my shoulders. "Sam is not the only one to know the anguish of having his heart torn in two, is he?" And I shook my head.
It was some time before they could coax the rest of the bread down me, and to then get me to drink. It was not miruvor, but again similar in effect. Then Elrond filled the goblet from the other pitcher, and I realized this was simple water he offered me, and I accepted it, drank it more quickly. He nodded his satisfaction.
"We cannot give you the herbal mixture I gave you at first, Frodo, for your reaction to it, as I told you before, indicates you are too sensitive to its effects. Sam had the right of it in relying primarily on the athelas. But your weakness at the end was such that it was not enough to aid you to complete your preparations to leave--it could sustain, but not renew your strength as you needed.
"Do you remember much of our journey together to the Havens?" I shook my head. "You drank the draught, but ate but little." I nodded. "The first time the draught as I gave it to you was quite strong, and you responded as I expected--the feeling of lightness, a slight intoxication, an easing of the pain in your heart and in your breathing. But then I realized you were withdrawing, that you saw green fields which mortals should not be able to perceive. But as your strength apparently improved I thought little of it, although I weakened the strength of the mixture. To find you were seeing and approaching the Way toward the Halls of Mandos--that should not have been." I looked into his eyes, which showed a deep well of compassion. "You are a puzzle to me, Frodo Baggins."
"I have been a puzzle to myself long enough," I said. And I felt Gandalf’s hand tighten on my shoulder.
"I can imagine," the wizard said.
The door opened softly, and an Elf entered with a bowl of fruit--brambleberries, I noticed; and suddenly the memory of Sam’s mother and her recognition of how I loved such berries filled me with a feeling of the pleasure of remembering along with a portion of sadness that she’d not lived long enough to see how great her son had grown to become. A few were set on a small plate for me, and a spoon placed in my hand. I managed to eat them all, and I set down the spoon, grateful to be finished. Elrond again filled the goblet with water and gave it to me to drink, although I found this time I could do little more than sip at it.
Finally Galadriel spoke again. "You need not come into the salon if it overwhelms you. But you do need at times to leave your cabin and to be with others. At such times we will gladly meet you here. And be warned we will be watching you and watching over you, Ringbearer. You deserve to be able to know sheer joy once more ere you take that Way." And Elrond took me back to my room. The brazier was once again lit, and as he helped me disrobe and put on again the nightshirt, a knock at the door heralded the arrival of Gildor once more, this time carrying the basin of water and a packet of athelas leaves. As I readied myself for sleep Elrond again set the bowl into its place in the ring over the brazier, breathed on one of the leaves and bruised it, then dropped it gently into the now steaming water as he sang the Invocation over it. He then aided me into the high bed and settled the coverings low over my chest, opened the shirt to examine my shoulder, then had me sit up higher so he could look at the place on the back of my neck which still had the ability to make Sam blanch, and sighed. He place his hand upon it, and sang over it. As he sang, Gandalf opened the door and entered, placed his right hand over Elrond’s, and joined the singing. This time Light did not fill me, but instead it felt as if some of the darkness which had begun seeking to engulf my body and soul was being forced out of me, and relieved I finally lay back and sighed, then closed my eyes and let sleep take me.