White Shores and a Far Green Country
I strengthened day by day; and as I did so, Bilbo smiled more, and let himself sit back and relax more and more. He and I often sat in the smaller chamber off the salon of the windows, sometimes speaking, sometimes dozing together. Then I realized he was once again sleeping most of the time, and I knew that for him the stay would not be long once we arrived at Elvenhome. And that grieved me, for once he chose to leave I would be left alone, the only mortal left amongst the Elves of Eressëa. But this time I did not withdraw, although the temptation was there.
I finally was able to reenter the salon of the windows, and there I would look out in wonder at the sea beneath us and the wake we left behind, and listen to the rejoicing of the company and their songs and poetry.
When one morning Galadriel asked I accompany her onto the deck of the ship at dawn, I agreed, although earlier attempts to go out into the wind had driven me back, for it was deep autumn and the wind was often cold and accompanied by rain. It was raining again now--but of a wonder the rain was gentle and warm; and I found myself straining to see through it, past the swan head of the prow, realizing we were finally approaching our destination.
Then the silver rain curtain pulled back--and I saw it at last as I heard the singing of the Elves aboard the ship answered from afar with a deeper, more joyful song that struck deep into the heart of me; and for the first time, it seemed, in an age I could breathe deeply without any hint of pain as that song filled me. And I watched in wonder as that far green country came closer, closer still, and our ship slowed and others gathered near me, joyful and full of contained excitement as we came to the quays of the shining city.
With the Lady’s hand on my shoulder I stood on the deck, breathing deeply of the green smell--that had been what Legolas had called it, I remembered, in the description he’d given me while we were in Minas Tirith, of his appreciation for the scent of growing things after the bleak winter we’d spent traveling from Rivendell. Yes, if odors could indeed by pictured with colors, this was indeed a green smell, alive, fulfilling. I closed my eyes to focus on it, to hear the sound of growing things again after so long upon the Sea.
I looked up into the face of the Elven Lady above me, which was shining with joy, and asked, "My Lady, may I ask a question?" She looked down and gave a contained nod of permission. "Why did the Lord Celeborn not travel with us as well?"
She smiled gently. "He will follow when the time is right, Ringbearer. But for him it was more wrenching to leave Middle Earth than it proved for me." Looking at the further question I did not voice, she continued, "For me, mellon nin, this voyage has been a dream I long thought I had no chance of achieving, for I was long ago banned from returning to Aman after following my peoples out of it to enter Middle Earth after the Kin Strife." She looked back at the land before us. "I thought to prove myself, become great in a place where there would be few to rival my exploits and accomplishments, and for my defiance of the Powers I was punished." She gave me a smile that spoke of many emotions. "But then I met my match in discernment in you, small one, and you offered me the Enemy’s treasure. And in so doing, you gave me my one chance to receive pardon."
I shook my head. "I do not understand."
"Do you remember what I told you my choice was?"
"You said that you would diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel."
Her smile lit the still-shadowed deck around us. "My pride in my own power and strength to bring about my own plans and designs, to use any means possible to gain my own realm and rule it as I willed, earned me my banishment. Only the realization that in grasping at further power I would destroy not only the good I’d achieved but would lose me myself as well, for in doing so I would simply have taken the place of Sauron and continued the line of Morgoth’s successors, gave me the right to return. Do you understand now?"
"But because of me, Lothlorien will fade--is fading now, even."
"Lothlorien, the Dream Flower, it had already become, Iorhael. But it was merely the dream of the Lorien that flowers in truth here in the Undying Lands, the Lorien that cannot fail while Arda remains. I have been able to keep alive a memory of here in the mortal lands, for a time, Frodo Baggins of the Shire; but that time is now ended. Had you failed, far more than Lothlorien would have fallen. Better to give it up willingly than to see all caught in the destruction, for that would have been the end to which accepting It from you would have brought."
"And had I remained in the Shire, I would have died, died sooner rather than later, and to no good purpose, and very like at my own hand, I fear."
"Which would have been the greatest ill you could have done yourself and those who loved you." We were quiet as the ship slowly sidled to the quay, as ropes were thrown and caught and the ship was drawn closer in. "It would have destroyed Sam to have found you that way, you know."
"I know, Lady," I agreed. "That was what kept me from doing it, for I did consider it, and more than once. But I knew that he--or perhaps Rosie or even Elanor--would most likely have been the one to find my body. No matter which one it was, it would have caused him the worst pain of all." I closed my eyes, remembered. "The last time I was so very close to accomplishing it. I’d planned to make it look like an accident--a hot bath, a blow to my head, a slip under water--I thought it would ease their minds to have me gone. But then--" I swallowed, "but then I remembered seeing my parents’ bodies brought in, already swelling.... I couldn’t have let them find me like that." She looked down in pity. Finally I went on, "And I considered hanging myself, too. It would have been what I deserved, I thought, for my failure. I even had the rope, the hithlain rope Sam carried all the way from Lothlorien, that he took from the lines provided with the boats. I went deep into the woods to find a tall enough tree that Saruman’s Men had not chopped down--but I could not get the knots to hold. I could get only one knot at a time to stay tied--as soon as I tied the second knot, the first would come undone. Then I remembered how when Sam pulled on it in the Emyn Muil, the knot came undone just when he thought it would have to be left behind. Then I knew it would never agree to being party to such an act, and--and I begged its forgiveness and returned it. I don’t think Sam ever realized I’d taken it."
"And why did you feel you deserved such a death?"
"I failed, Lady. I failed to protect my cousins or Sam. I failed to leave the Fellowship in time to protect Boromir from his growing obsession with It, and he fell to Its lure. Gandalf fell to protect me. I failed to bring Sméagol back." I stopped, licked my lips, which had gone dry. I whispered, "I failed at the end--It took me, and I failed to destroy It. I let It take me, and when I knew I must at least throw myself into the fire to destroy It, I failed then, too. And I cursed Gollum with death."
She looked on me with compassion, and I turned my gaze toward the city before me. "I know, Lady, that most of this is not true--I know I could not protect my cousins or Sam, that I did not cause Gandalf to fall, that I could not keep It from taking me at the end, there in Orodruin where Its power was strongest. But, at the times when the physical pain was greatest, when my sleep was constantly filled with nightmares and terrors, when I heard Its whispers echoing again in my soul, when I found I could no longer walk into Hobbiton, when it was difficult to rise from a simple bath, when my breath ran short and my heart raced, when I felt that I was being stripped of all dignity, all control over my own life--" I swallowed, took a deep breath. "When such things happened, I found it all too easy to wish I could simply make an end, and swiftly."
"I see," she said softly.
The growing dawn was further brightened as Gandalf joined us, my saddlebags in his hand. I’d grown used to the glow of him, but now he fair shone with glory, a Light which penetrated the dimness of vision which I still experienced to a degree and which had deepened as I’d spoken, burning it away so that the beauty of the city before us appeared even clearer, and I stood in sheer awe. Even when I closed my eyes could I still behold it, white, shining with the glory of simple beauty, making the magnificence of Minas Tirith seem both overworked and stark by comparison. In Lothlorien I’d felt as if simple colors were new and delightful, as if the shapes of trees had been newly revealed to me. Now I saw that the Lady had spoken truly of her land being but an echo of here. I did not think I could of my own will leave the Ship. This place was not for the likes of me....
I felt gross, poorly executed, weak and unworthy, and I pulled back, only to have my retreat stayed by Gandalf’s hand on my other shoulder. I heard Galadriel’s sigh and a determined bark of laughter from Gandalf. "No more of that, Iorhael," he murmured in my ear. "Think of it in terms of the mushrooms of the Marish, if you will--this is a gift long prepared for you, one which is given you freely by those who love you, one given even by Sam for your easing when he’d have far rather kept you close to himself for cherishing. It is a legitimate pleasure. Partake in gladness." And he compelled me to go forward. Only at the gangway did he drop his hand, finally giving me the right to choose. I paused, and the world stopped with me, contemplating me, awaiting my decision. I was aware that if I refused now that somehow this place would cease to exist in the way it was designed to know--my presence in some way fulfilled it. I took a deep breath, a breath of an air I could no longer deny myself, closed my eyes, took the step....
...And I was welcomed. I felt an embrace not of my body, but of my very spirit. And as tears poured down my face from the lingering weakness and the terror of mere joy, I knew the feeling of homecoming I’d missed even in the Shire.
Gandalf was behind me again, his hands on my shoulders, strengthening me, supporting me. And about us were Elves--hundreds of Elves come to meet the Ship or to do other business at the wharves--and there were three more, three more that were more than Elves, come to meet Gandalf. The glow of them dazzled the eyes, but it was now a familiar glow--for Gandalf, for all his old man’s shape, was filled with it. And at last I had it confirmed--Gandalf was indeed a Maia.
They bowed to me, greeted me with honor, and I was filled with the Light again, filled so I could do no more, and I do not think I was quite present. I could not move, nor speak, nor respond. Finally I heard--somehow I heard it, for the words were not strictly spoken--I heard Gandalf explaining, >It is almost more than he can bear. His body is very weak, very near dissolution, in fact. He is, after all, a Mortal, and one who has been far too close under the Shadow. During the voyage came again the anniversary of when he was struck with the Morgul blade, and he almost chose to leave us then, for he saw the Way to the Halls of Mandos and that it is open to him as it is to the Eldar, and he had to be called back through Love. He has not been able to eat properly for his kind for over a year of his people, and he came with us more, I think, to spare those he loved the finding of his body once he’d flown it than to find the healing he is offered here.
>Ah, Olórin, one replied, >we see this is true. A fair house has been prepared for him, high in the City.
>No, Gandalf responded, >he would not be comfortable in such a place. A simple house on the outskirts of the City would be best for him and his kinsman, preferably one near the Gardens.
They looked to one another, and to the great Elves who had come to greet the Ship, and all considered the request, but without spoken words. And at the end one of the Elves led us to the right, to the north of the city and about its bounds, till we were brought to a building near one of the gardens, and I was brought inside, although I cannot say whether I walked or was carried. A graceful, padded wooden bench stood in an inner room, and to it I was led, and Gandalf assisted me onto it, and someone came to me with a cup of drink, similar to that Elrond gave me in the small cup in the chamber off the salon of windows on the Ship, and made sure I drank all of it. And then Gandalf aided me to lie down, and a fair hand was laid over my brow and once again I slept.