I awoke to again find Bilbo standing over me, a cup in his hand, his eyes filled with concern. "Well, at least you fulfilled your promise, Frodo," he commented as hefelt my brow.
I was on a different couch than the one on which I’d fallen asleep. This was lower, softer. Across the room now stood the one to which I’d been led. Bilbo followed my gaze, smiled. "It would seem Gandalf had tried to have a proper place prepared for us, but as all wanted to have us in the midst of them and to give us honor, they’d done so high in the city, surrounded by their houses and mansions, a house three stories high." We both shuddered, and he laughed. "Apparently when he learned of the quarters and their situation, Gandalf objected such a house would be most unsuitable for our nature, so they have spent the last several hours bringing such furnishings as Gandalf felt would be appropriate for us here, instead." He looked about, obviously pleased. "A very pleasant situation, Frodo Lad." He drank from the cup he held, then asked, "Would you like something to eat?"
An Elf maiden entered with a low table she set by the couch, then went out and came in again with a bowl of fruit, green vegetables, and a soft cheese and bread. Again she left, returning this time with two pitchers and goblets of fine glass. She brought then a low chair for Bilbo and drew it up to the table for him. Last she came back with a few plates and bowls, a knife, and a finely carved spoon. Bilbo gave me a portion of each item, filled my glass with water, and after a moment here mentally I kept the Standing Silence, we ate without further speech.
A young Elf came after the meal and showed me the room for refreshment and explained how to use the articles it held, and then the hot spring bathing pool. Together Bilbo and I bathed in the pool, he happily exploring its bounds, I just lying in the shallow place along the edge where my head was pillowed by a rise in the stone lip. And he got out after a time, then brought me more bread and fruit, a glass of milk, and a cup of the healing drink.
I cannot say how many days I kept to the house with Bilbo, strengthening as food was brought to me, the herbal draughts administered. The windows were unglazed and the eaves broad, shielding out all but the worst of rain. I could scent the green smell of Elvenhome about me, the sweet perfume of flowers which brightened the view from the windows, the tang of herbs, the richness of green grass. I was eating more at last--not much per meal, but at least several small meals a day. I was drinking much water, and the water here was clear and sweet as the richest sweet wine of Dorwinion. I heard fair voices singing in the Gardens by which our house was built, saw the glow of Elven forms in the twilight and at the dawning of the day.
Finally came the day when I ventured forth. I did not go far, that first day. I found a low bench near the front to our house, and sat there, looking about me. And those who frequented the Gardens drew near, but not too near, greeted me and accepted my responses, and at last a young Elf brought me a flowering plant growing in a dish--and I saw it was athelas, but a more beautiful version of that gentle, homely plant which Sam had grown about Bag End and the Hill to strengthen me. And I took it with thanks, and carrying it tenderly I brought it into the house and to the window near my couch, and set it there to grow. And when the breeze brushed over the plant, it brought to me the scent of Love, the scent of Home and Caring, and of Sam.
At last I emptied my saddlebags and brought out the little I’d brought with me. One of the shells built by the water worms, made of red sand and beads; the baby cup Bilbo had given my mother at my birth; my first top; a carved bird Sam once gave me; a straw braiding given me by the Lady Éowyn, which she told me was meant for the easing of the heart of sorrow; my Elven cloak from Lorien and its brooch; a ribbon that once fell from the curls of Pearl Took when I thought perhaps one day we would marry; and a book Sam had written for me the first Yule I’d known him. Oh, there were a few other items, from Aragorn, from Legolas, from Gimli, from my cousins, from Brandy Hall, but only a very few. And a poem that I’d hidden inside the book Sam had made me, the lament I’d written for Gandalf in Lorien, with the addition Sam had made about the fireworks, and the poem he’d created of the Stone Troll. I wanted that one with me, too. And one thing more--a lock of Elanor’s golden hair tied in a white ribbon, given to me as I left by the Lady Rose. I set by them the Phial of Galadriel, and continued to wear Arwen’s gem.
As always, Bilbo wore the Shire clothing to which he was accustomed, but they seemed to insist I wear robes more similar to that worn here by the Elves. At first they seemed to be taken aback by the fact neither Bilbo nor I wore shoes, and often those who served us would look on our feet with awe and interest. And each day brought us flowers on the doorstep, laid there by quiet hands, and lookings-on from afar by those who came in pilgrimage to glimpse the Periannath in their remote house.
The house was small by Shire standards, although the rooms were at the same time larger. We shared the same chamber for sleeping--two low couches now, a brazier and chairs, a wardrobe cupboard for each, and a large chest we shared. In the main room were groupings of the padded wooden couches, tables and chairs, and, near the windows, a desk for each of us flanked by shelves of books. The room of refreshing and the stone bathing pool. A kitchen whose amenities we did not really understand how to use, although it proved Bilbo had brought his favorite kettle and teapot and mugs. And a porch with comfortable chairs and benches.
Bilbo had begun to go out briefly each day almost from our arrival. I cannot say how long it was before I began to go beyond the bench nearest the door--cannot even say how long it was ere I went there at all, for that matter. But at last I began to explore as my strength returned, and at last I found the Garden of the White Tree at the heart of the island, and felt I was once more home at last. For here was the Tree from which the White Tree of Gondor was sprung, and as I put my hand against its bark I felt the life of it, the life of it shared with its child so far away in the mortal lands, and I again felt reassured, knowing Aragorn was safe indeed, and King of a growing people. And I stayed by the Tree all that day, and through the night I slept by it, and the next day Elrond came to find me, to assure Bilbo I was all right. And as he saw me sitting, smiling, leaning back against its trunk, he, too, smiled, and sat with me for a time.
And the next evening we were brought into the city for a celebration, long put off, to rejoice in our arrival. Bilbo was delighted, and I sat back and watched, joined from time to time by others who stood by me in comfortable silence. There was dancing, which I’d never seen among the Elves of Rivendell or in Lothlorien, although I must admit when we were in Lothlorien I never went up into the high flets of their halls to seek such out. And in the dancing I saw that among the most graceful was a couple who proved to be the Lord Elrond and his wife Celebrían, and I could see the joy of their reunion after so long a separation, and the love that had blossomed anew between them, and I was glad for them, that their waiting was over at last. And in the midst of it all a shining form approached me, one of the Maiar, and I realized that this was Gandalf, although he was much changed. His face was no longer bearded, and he looked at once aged and young as spring, his face full of joy and delight tempered by experiences I could not begin to fathom. And he smiled down into my eyes, lifted my face to look into his, and the joy of him filled me once more, although this time not to the point of being overwhelmed.
"Welcome again, Iorhael," he said in his voice that now was young and old at once, rich and joyful. "You strengthen at last, are finding your feet again, your curiosity once more."
And I nodded. I reached to embrace him, then commented, "You no longer smell of pipe weed--or at least only of the faintest echo of it."
He laughed, "No, for this form is not truly fit for it, you know. But, then, neither do you, my friend."
"I’m not sure--it seems that although Frodo may have once indulged, the same is not true of Iorhael." He laughed again, held me close, turned around to see the dancing. He watched with delight the dancing of Elrond and Celebrían, and smiled broadly. And at last he beckoned to a young elf maiden, a child, I thought, and suggested to her she take me out as her partner.
I’d not danced in years, although I’d loved to do so when younger, before It came to me. But when the music began again it filled me, and I found I could follow the steps, move through the forms, and easily keep pace with my partner. And when the dance was through she smiled joyfully at me and thanked me before I had the chance to do so for her, and when I came off the floor I found myself by Bilbo’s chair, where he sat with a goblet by him and several Elves with whom he’d been speaking, and he smiled with pleasure. "Ah, dear lad," he said. "It does my heart good to see you able to dance once more. You will be well enough now, I think." Then, as I became alarmed, he continued, "No, not right now, Frodo, but soon enough I must go. I am happy, but already I’ve been far stretched beyond our kind."
And I felt shamed, to know he lingered only for me.
The next day Olórin came to out dwelling, and begged leave to enter. And we rejoiced to entertain him. But it appeared that this was not just for reunion, but that he felt I was now ready for my next phase of healing. And he began to question me about my experience with the Ring, each moment, each interaction, each time I’d put it on, what I’d experienced, what pressures I’d felt, what grief it had given me.
I cannot say how long this went on--it may have been days, or months for all I could tell. Here it was harder for me to keep track of time, I found, than it had been in Lothlorien. I know that after the first day he did not come alone--he would come accompanied by Elrond, Celebrían, Galadriel, and others from the Island. And each time I tried to blame myself for what had occurred they’d show me that it was not my fault; and when I tried to put responsibility for what happened onto It I’d be shown I could not avoid taking responsibility for my own choices and actions. I was often in tears, and always such would be wiped away and comforted; and at last, at long last, after we’d been through the whole long seventeen years, it seemed we were done.
Then they took me out and about the Island, and I came to love the sound of the sea, the smell and the constantly changing beauty and majesty of it. And Olórin himself led me in for my first swim in it. I was amazed--I’d loved to swim as a child, but this was so different from the Brandywine or the Water. This water was alive and filled with a power one could only glimpse hints of in the largest of rivers. And I rolled with the waves, felt the movement of currents and tides, came to rejoice in it. And I felt much of the old fears wash away.
Then came a day when I awoke to find I was in pain--the back of my neck felt as though fire burned it, as if red-hot wires were being jabbed into my flesh. And Bilbo, rising, looked down on me in consternation, and in hurrying out the door found an Elf and begged him to bring Lord Elrond, at once.
Elrond, Galadriel, Celebrían, and Olórin came together, and together they stood over me as I lay, naked to the waist, face down on my couch, their hands over the place where Shelob had bitten me, and they sang. I cannot remember the words of that song; only the power of it that slowly drove out the pain, slowly drove out the agony and the darkness. When at last they finished, Elrond took me and bathed me, cleansed my hair, set athelas to steep by me--a leaf begged with entreaty from the plant I’d been gifted and which it had graciously given to my respite. And after I rested I was asked if I’d known what day this was, and I could tell them, no, I had had no idea. And Bilbo agreed, and the next day they took me to the western side of the Island.
I cannot tell anyone exactly what happened there, for my own memories are hidden from me, but I believe that some of the Valar themselves came to me, came to my aid--Estë, Ulmo, perhaps Nienna. But I was cleansed as I’d never been cleansed before, my whole soul examined and set right by the hands of the Powers, my guilt seen and acknowledged, my innocence affirmed, my weakness reproved, my strength rewarded. It was as if a purifying fire had been used to purge my spirit, followed by sweet water to cleanse and refresh. And at last I was laid on a green couch of living grass, surrounded by the green smell, and left to recover. And I woke to find Olórin sitting by me, his hand on my brow, his eyes deep and sad, but relieved for my own relief. "There, that’s done, at least," he told me.
"How long have I been here?" I asked.
"How is Bilbo?"
"Impatient to see you."
"He wishes to go soon."
After a pause he answered, "Yes. If he does not go soon of his own will, his body will take him perforce. He cannot emain much longer."
I sighed. "Then I must bid him go." And he agreed, and took my hand and held it.
The second night I was home I finally asked him, "When will you leave?"
Bilbo asked me, "You are ready now, dear one?"
"I don’t wish you to go, but I know you must. I can bear it, Bilbo. And I want to be here when Sam comes."
"Then you have accepted the gift?"
I held him gently. "Yes, Bilbo, I have accepted the gift."
Together we walked about the island, ending at the White Tree, and he stood a long time, looking up at it, his hand against its bark. "To know the Dúnedan has this ones descendant growing before his home makes me feel closer to him, closer to Middle Earth and the Shire tonight. I’ve had a good life, and a fulfilling one. I’ve faced my own weaknesses and strengths here, and to know that I helped you grow to be the best Hobbit you could possibly be has made it all worthwhile. Frodo, I am so very proud to have known you." He held out his arms to me, surrounded me with his love, gave me his blessing.
After we returned, I fixed him a cup of tea--that I could do in our kitchen; and he bathed himself, and prepared himself for his rest. Olórin and Elrond and Celebrían arrived as I finished the preparations, and all joined Bilbo in our chamber. He accepted his tea, sipped from it as all gathered to wish him a good journey. He laughed and joked, listened as stories were told of his days in Rivendell, and he took my scarred hand in his, smiled up at me, then closed his eyes. And I felt him slip away, followed after. I found myself in the Place, saw him walking toward the Way. He turned suddenly, looked at me, smiled, then turned back, went on, and I stayed, watched him go, then finally turned back.
Olórin was holding my hand, looking into my face as I returned. I smiled sadly. "I just saw him on his way, Gandalf; no more," I sighed. "I promised him I would remain for Sam, if I am allowed." And he held me to him, until I fell asleep in his arms.