As Frodo turned for home, autumn finally broke. Rolls of deep grey clouds filled the sky, rank behind rank, and a fine cold rain fell. All at once the leaves seemed to have become old and brown. They came down in waves, carpeting the ground, the rain pattering loudly on their slippery surfaces.
Frodo felt the warmth of his friends’ presence draining away. His shoulder ached dully. Even Círdan’s gentle touch had brought but a respite. Círdan. His image brought a little smile to Frodo’s lips. He considered the Elf lord’s masterful understandings of ships and sailing, and of the arts of healing – and much else besides, and the remarkably understated and respectful way he used that knowledge. It was odd, but having known Círdan for only a few days, already Frodo felt more comfortable confiding in him than in almost anyone else.
“But Sam already knows, does he not?” Círdan had said.
Frowning, Frodo had countered, “Yes – in a way – yes. In Mordor – I’d never have gotten to the end. But he’s pushed that away. He has to. He’s happy – delighted, really – with Rosie, and eager for the children who will come. Were he to face – were I to force him to face this, it would consume his happiness: it would divide him as it has divided me. That I would not have. I must go, but alone.” Then he added softly, “And hope.”
“You would choose a very hard road, but one of honor,” replied Círdan. “You would wait, though nothing vouchsafes his journey. Perhaps he feels not the love you do. Perhaps he will forget in the passage of the years.” He paused, looking with pity upon Frodo, yet wishing him fully to understand his decision’s consequences. “Or perhaps the chances of the world will take him from you forever.”
Frodo returned his gaze steadily, tears welling.
“But this you should know,” Círdan opened his eyes wide, “though you assume – in hope – that it is so: the way is open to him, should he choose to take it. One will come to bear him across the Sea.”
Frodo trembled, reaching out to Círdan, burying his face in his shoulder. Círdan embraced him, rubbing his back slowly. “And you, Frodo, though you would choose to wait far from the one you love most, need not wait alone. I will accompany you, and Gildor, and others of your friends also.” They were quiet for a time, then Círdan began a song: a slow wistful melody in an ancient tongue:
To see apart, the rising Sun,
Though coupled we would be,
To take our roads: alone, not one;
To know a sund’ring Sea.
To miss your hand, so slender-fair,
Your face is lost to me,
Your eyes of blue, your flaxen hair:
Too thick the mists must be.
A time will come, perhaps: hope well,
A place of comfort won,
A path that winds through tree and dell:
Rejoined in the West’ring Sun.
A sudden thought came to Frodo. When Círdan had finished his song he asked, “Then you, also, wait for someone?”
“I do,” he replied, pulling away. His grey eyes were hard, his breath slow. There was a long pause. It seemed as if he strove to hold off a phantom.
“Will you say no more?”
“Long, long ago it was, there was one whom I loved. But evil took him from me.” Pain lined Círdan’s face. “He lives now in the care of Mandos.”
“I am sorry,” Frodo stroked his hand. “I did not mean to grieve you.”
“No. It is long since I have spoken of him. I have much to consider. Later, I think, we might talk more of this.”
Frodo nodded slowly.
Goldberry stumbled on the slick leaves, bringing Frodo back to the present. “Shh, it’s alright. Slow and steady you are. A good pony.” He fondled her ears as she tramped along the forest path, descending now from the forest highlands into the Water’s valley, the valley in which he had grown from an unruly lad into the master of Bag End, and from the master of Bag End into, into...he could not say what.
The rain lessened as they began passing the first farms, though the sky promised more to come. In the evening they returned finally to Bag End. Its windows were dark. Frodo heaved a relieved sigh: Sam and Rosie had not yet returned. I don’t know how I’d explain this to Sam, so it’s that much better that I don’t have to. He led Goldberry back to her paddock. Her companion – Sam had named him “Tom” – greeted them curiously, nickering and sniffing both as thoroughly as they would allow. Frodo checked their shed and replenished the oats, as the stable-lad seemed to have forgotten the day’s visit. Then, giving each pony an apple, he trudged back up the Hill.
Bag End seemed musty. Frodo got a fire going in the kitchen, and another in the study, and opened a few windows a crack. He felt surprisingly energetic, given how the day had started. “There is something in his touch, as in Elrond’s. But more so. And in the touch of his mind,” he mused. He organized the study to give the impression that he’d been working: he unbound some maps, took lore-books from the shelves, and opened his manuscript to somewhere in the middle. Then he had some tea, drew a bath, and, clean and warm, went to bed.
Sam and Rosie – and Pippin – arrived the next morning. Briefly Frodo considered hiding when he heard the young Took’s voice; he had hoped for rather more quiet, and rather fewer questions, than seemed likely. But whether for reasons of his own, or because he perceived Frodo’s wish, Pippin was less boisterous and more thoughtful than usual. “Greetings, cousin Frodo!” he exclaimed bright-eyed, but his embrace was gentle. “Sam dragged me along with a promise of some of the Gaffer’s special ale, so I had to come,” he joked.
“I didn’t do no such thing!” rejoined Sam from the front hallway. Frodo’s heart leapt at his voice, but he did his best to hide the feeling – from himself as well as the others.
Soon Rosie and Sam entered. They hugged Frodo together, as was their custom, then sat before the fire, hands clasped. After some time there was a knock upon the door. It was Merry, gold and red autumn leaves in his hair and a cheery look upon his face. He carried a big pack. “Hullo Frodo! I was just in the neighborhood,” he winked, “and thought I’d better come by to keep an eye (or two) on that rascally Tookish cousin of mine, lest he disturb your restful holiday.”
They embraced. Always Frodo had felt a special affection for the adventurous but level-headed (and perceptive) Brandybuck, and the more so now, when he felt specially needy of stability – and of friends. He hugged him tightly. Merry tousled his hair, whispering low, “We’ll talk, just the two of us.”
Frodo whispered back, “Please.” Then, more loudly, he said, “Welcome, welcome! What have you there? Crickhollow’s entire kitchen, ready for the eating?”
“Not quite. But, as usual, you’ve guessed near the mark. I’ve brought some particularly excellent cider fresh from Brandy Hall! Better even than Sam’s, I daresay,” he winked again, this time at Sam. Everyone laughed.
Then they joined the others before the fire, and Merry sat beside Frodo, and put his right arm about his shoulders, and began a story. “So on the way here, who do you think I met?”
“What’s left of the Sackville-Bagginses?” asked Pippin.
“Not even close.”
“That Ted Sandyman?” put in Sam.
“My, what nasty thoughts you’re all having today! But, fortunately, it was no one of the sort.”
“An Elf?” suggested Rosie.
“Not quite. Rounder than that,” said Merry, looking upon them slyly.
“If it weren’t slightly disrespectful to say so, I’d have to guess Mayor Whitfoot,” Frodo said, chuckling softly.
“Right kindred, wrong person,” laughed Merry.
“Could it be Farmer Mag–” began Sam.
“Really?” asked Pippin. “He rarely leaves the Marish. Did you visit him?”
And so they talked late into the afternoon, a companionable warmth filling the room. But Frodo felt cold, bitter cold, except for the touch of Merry’s arm and hand. He looked at Sam and Rosie and tried to rejoice in their happiness, but felt only a lonely void, a desolate sad emptiness. “If only it could be,” he thought, closing his eyes. “If only we might –” But when he tried to visualize what his life might have been like had Sam not refused him, the images he conjured held little savor. He felt entirely miserable.
“I think this has been too much for cousin Frodo,” said Pippin, pointing at him with his chin. “He looks all done in.”
“Why, I believe you’re right, Pip,” agreed Merry in a low voice. Frodo had fallen asleep, his head upon Merry’s right shoulder. “Shh! Let’s tuck him in bed before we make some supper.”
So they carried Frodo gently to his bed, and placed the blankets about him, and built up the fire. Merry stayed behind a moment, his hand soft upon Frodo’s forehead. “Something’s too much, or I’m no Brandybuck,” he thought. Then, gazing intently at Frodo’s face, very quietly he said, “Cousin, cousin, there’s something you haven’t told me. You’ll say what it is, won’t you?”
And so autumn passed into winter, and winter into spring’s joy. And upon spring’s cusp, when the trillium were blooming but the trees had not yet leafed, Rosie bore a child. And she and Sam named her Elanor in memory of the small fair flowers that studded the grass upon Cerin Amroth in Lórien.
“Hold her!” exclaimed Rosie, beaming.
Frodo took up Elanor carefully. She gazed upon him calmly, her wide curious eyes seeming to pierce the world of light to see that which is beyond.
“I think Elanor’ll be mighty well-learned, like you,” Rosie commented. Sam nodded approvingly.
“I hope so!” said Frodo, stroking her golden curls. She gave a little yelp of delight. “Ooo!”
That summer, like the one before, was particularly bountiful. Sam had placed grains from Galadriel’s little box from one end of the Shire to the other, so the fields were ripe with corn and peas and beans and carrots and taters, and the trees with peaches and plums and apricots, and the creeping plants with strawberries and blackberries and grapes. And Frodo sat under the maple-tree outside Bag End and ate peaches and wrote of his journeys in a big red book. But the empty place in his heart was not filled, nor were the wounds of his Quest healed, and ever and anon, when he spied a gull flying high in the western sky, the sea-longing would wake within him, and he would ponder the words of Círdan and of Gildor.
Little of this escaped Merry, who hung about Bag End a great deal that summer. “He’s not told me everything. He still hurts, the poor hobbit! But he wouldn’t do a thing to injure Sam, not even if he were dying. And dying he is. And I have no idea what to do,” he thought.
“I might go off for a few days, perhaps to Buckland,” said Merry one July evening. He thought he might ask help of the Elves (if he could find them), or of Tom Bombadil, or even of Gandalf (if he were exceptionally lucky).
“Do you good!” grunted the Gaffer. “More family, less strangers. And beer from home.” He raised a mug.
“And peach-pies from home!” added Fatty Bolger, who was visiting for a few days.
“And – more importantly – blackberry tarts from home!” put in Pippin. Everyone laughed.
Later Merry stood upon the hilltop taking in the cool night air. Stars filled the clear sky. Frodo lay nearby, staring into the vastness through unfocussed eyes, taking comfort in the stars’ mild light. After a time he asked softly, “Merry?”
“Come sit with me.”
There was something in his tone that Merry didn’t recognize. An unaccustomed distance, perhaps; or a coolness that he’d not felt before. A bud of apprehension swelled in his stomach. But he lay beside Frodo, the thick grass cradling him, the crickets chirping their soothing song.
“I’m here. Always, cousin.”
“Merry – I’m –” began Frodo hesitantly. Then, gathering confidence that he was doing the right thing, or perhaps merely glad to share his burden, he added very quietly – but with resolution – “I’ve got to go. I’m leaving.”
Merry sat up abruptly. “You’re what?” he exclaimed before he could restrain himself.
“I’m leaving. I’m going – into the West.”
Merry stared at him open-mouthed, finding nothing to say for long moments.
“You’re – you’re going over the Sea?” finally he stammered out.
“Where the Elves go?”
“Where – where I can’t come?”
“No, Merry,” Frodo whispered. Then, holding him close, he added with a gentle shake of his head, “Not ever.”
Grief overcame Merry. He buried his face in Frodo’s shoulder and shook with the pain of his loss.
“It’s too hard, then?” asked Merry the next day, as they hiked the green hills.
“It is, it really is, Merry. I’m all empty inside. When the Ring went into the Fire – you can’t imagine.”
“To let It go – I – I couldn’t do it!”
Merry looked up, surprised. He did destroy It, didn’t he? But he said nothing.
“That’s right: I couldn’t do it! I hadn’t the heart to tell the truth before, Merry, but I will now. I didn’t put the Ring on to hide from Gollum: I put It on to claim It. Yes, to claim It for my own!
“I stood on the very brink of the Fire, and held the Ring in my hand, and thought, forced myself to think, of dropping It, ending It forever. I tried to recall all the evil that had been done with Its power, and to imagine what the Dark Lord would do should he regain It. I felt an overwhelming revulsion and hatred. I began to turn my hand to let it fall. But, just then, It sang to me. Oh, Merry! It was a song like none I’d ever heard, a song pure and clear and deep and beautiful. Yes, beautiful – surpassingly so, heartbreakingly so. It was like the gold of afternoon sunlight against the clear blue sky, like the new grass in springtime, like the twinkle of joy in the eyes of a friend: but beyond all these. It was as if I had stepped through a high window into the Blessed Realm itself!
“Frodo?” stammered Merry, amazed.
“I couldn’t let It go. I held It tight against me, and then – then – I put It on!”
“In the Mountain? Great Gerontius!”
“In the Mountain. And I saw Him, and He saw me. My heart nearly stopped. And then something grabbed me from behind. ‘Wicked! Tricksy! False!’ it spat. Gollum.”
“And he bit off your finger?”
“He tried to take It. And I couldn’t fight him off. He bit off my finger, and the Ring with it. And then he took It, and held It up, and gloated upon It, prancing wildly: ‘Precious! Oh my precious!’ he shouted. Too wildly, for he fell – into the very Crack of Doom.”
“Great Gerontius!” Merry repeated. “I had no idea!”
“And It fell with him, and went into the Fire, and ended forever,” continued Frodo. “At first it was a relief, a tremendous relief: I had done what I’d set out to do, or, rather, it had gotten done in spite of me, and the terrible weight was gone, and the Eye was extinguished. The Mountain convulsed around us, but I was at peace; I could die in peace. But I didn’t die. And though I was happy to have been able, for one thing, to see your face again, I soon found that something was – missing.
“Missing, missing, and I don’t even know what it is! But I no longer savor my time as I once did. Everything has become a weariness. I can put it no more plainly than to say that I feel as if – Merry, my friend, indeed my friend of friends – as if I’m merely waiting –“ his voice sank to a whisper “– to die.”
Merry opened his mouth to speak, then, perhaps thinking better of it, closed it silently. Instead he took Frodo’s hand between his own and held it gently. Together they turned and gazed back the way they had come.
“I don’t want to leave, Merry,” said Frodo after some moments. “Especially I don’t want to leave you and Sam. I can’t bear the thought. But I feel so old, so empty. The things of life don’t make me happy like they should, like they once did. Not three years ago I might have stood on this hilltop for hours, drinking in everything about it: the grasses’ whispering, the crickets’ trills, the scents upon the wind, the sun’s play upon the tree – and I would have been filled and content – happy. But it’s different now. A numbness has seeped into my bones, Merry, and nothing will dislodge it.”
Merry looked at him with pity, drawing a long, shaky breath. His eyes glistened. “It’s a long way, I’ve heard, over the – over the Sea. I don’t know the right kind of thing to say.”
“Then don’t say anything. Maybe we don’t need to.”
They clasped hands again, gazing upon the western sky as the Sun sank and disappeared. They spoke again only when the gloaming had faded, giving way to a clear dark star-filled sky.
“There’s something, Merry, that I’ve got to do before I go,” began Frodo. “And I’d be so happy if you’d help me with it.”
Merry thought he knew what he had in mind. “Of course I will. Anything.”
“It’s not going to be long now, I think. You’ll look after Sam?”
“Not that he needs looking after, but yes.”
“Since when have I not kept both eyes on him?”
“Since you’ve been keeping them on me?”
Merry grinned, chuckling softly, “And you’d prefer that I didn’t?”
Frodo shook his head no.
“Good. But I hope you’ve got someone to look after you when you – go over the Sea.”
“That’s what I want you to help me with.”
“Hmm?” asked Merry in surprise.
The next day Merry and Frodo took off, ostensibly to visit Buckland for a few days. They went east, following the very path Frodo, Pippin, and Sam had taken during the Quest. It seemed like a lifetime ago to them both. They came to the forests before Woodhall on the second day’s twilight, walking side by side in summer’s bright pale gloaming. Thick grass ran beside the cart-path and deep brakes of hazel covered its embankments. A faint song seemed to float upon the light breeze, swelling almost to where it could be understood, then fading to inaudibility.
“Then you won’t tell Sam you’re leaving?” asked Merry.
Frodo said nothing, but with his maimed hand took Merry’s chin and looked into his eyes, then dropped his gaze and shook his head irresolutely.
Later the song upon the air became clear, as the world’s sound returns to a waking sleeper. Sad voices sang in an ancient tongue, unaccompanied by instruments.
The twining trees and golden hills,
The fruits in garden, fish in rills,
The friends we’ve made and friends we’ve lost,
Who can name the nameless cost?
No place at all is right to roam,
Not here nor there is truly home,
But far away we turn our gaze,
‘Cross the Sea, to Anor’s blaze.
The song ended and some dozen Elves walked slowly into view around a bend in the Road. Frodo saw Gildor, and Larith, another elf of his company, and with them his special friend Círdan. Turning to Merry he said, “These are some of the friends who will guide me over – over the Sea. I’ll be very well looked-after, as you’ll soon see. Come now and meet them!”
They joined hands and walked into the Road and towards the group. Before they could speak Gildor recognized them. “Hail Frodo! You are late upon the Road. And who may be your friend?”
“Gildor! Círdan!” exclaimed Frodo.
“Yes, it’s us – and more besides,” said Círdan, bending gracefully to embrace him.
Frodo felt like he was coming home. He closed his eyes and smiled, snuggling into Círdan’s embrace. Drawing back, he took Círdan’s hand, and Gildor’s, and led them both to Merry.
“And here is my dear friend, and brave companion on my Quest, Meriadoc Brandybuck. And Merry, here is Gildor, whom Pippin and Sam and I met on the Road, and Círdan, master of the Havens.”
“Welcome!” they said, “Walk with us awhile. We go once more to Woodhall, this time with lighter hearts and better hope.”
“And better food,” added Gildor.
“I’d be honored,” said Merry. He felt overwhelmed, even after his time at Rivendell and at Lórien, and his journey with Legolas. Something about the Elves (and especially the Exiles) touched him most deeply. “I’d be honored,” he repeated. They walked then in silence, eastward into the night, the trees whispering and the sky slowly filling with Elbereth’s stars.
Some weeks later, not long after Frodo’s birthday, Sam and Merry and Pippin stood upon a dock at the Havens. They had said their last good-byes to Frodo, who stood now in the stern of a two-masted white ship, looking back at them with an expression of relief – but also apprehension, joy – but also sadness, and love – but also guilt and regret. So intent was their gaze upon him, and his upon them, that both realized only slowly that the mariners had raised the ship’s sails, and that she had slipped from her moorings, and was now sailing westward through a long firth towards the open Sea. Then it felt to Frodo that he was standing still, and that Middle-earth was sailing away from him; but the others saw only the ship receding, and her lights becoming faint and indistinct, until she was lost in the grey night.
Frodo gazed steadily into the gathering darkness, but only when his friends were lost to sight did he come fully to understand his decision’s import. His eyes filled with tears, and sobs racked his slender frame. “Sam! I’ll wait for you!” he called, though Sam was miles past hearing. Frodo hoped beyond hope that he knew, that he would come; yet he felt, in his heart of hearts, that his hope was vain.
Círdan gave the helm to another and descended into the stern. Gently he laid his hand upon Frodo’s shoulder, singing words of Elvish in a deep, rich voice. At this Frodo broke into fresh distress, his tears streaming, his voice lost in an agony that was like swords. Círdan stood by him a long time. The wind freshened, blowing now abeam from the north. Sea-spray flew from the ship’s bow, and still he sang as Frodo’s grief spent itself, his tears running down his face to be caught by the wind and swept into the salty Sea. Finally he stumbled in exhaustion, and Círdan caught him, and cradled him in his arms, and lay him upon a bed, and tucked a blanket about his shoulders, and sat beside him upon the ship’s grey deck. Later Gildor joined Círdan’s vigil, silent under the stars.
Frodo woke suddenly just before dawn, just as the ship bore them past Forlindon’s soaring cliffs and into the open Sea. He glanced at Círdan and Gildor, and at Bilbo who slept nearby, and then beyond them at the clouds shining stark white and red-orange and rich purple about the Blue Mountains’ rugged peaks. His eyes became bright and sad, but he said nothing.
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