The Water’s Music


“You’re sure now? It’ll be home-like, Sir. No big parties, nor no relatives hangin’ on the bell, as Mr. Bilbo didn’t like,” Sam urged. “Just you and Rosie and me and Merry and Pippin, all snug and happy in Crickhollow. How could you say no to that?”


“I’m sorry, Sam. I know it would be good for me to go, but I have to work on my book, and do some thinking, and my little study here is just the perfect place for that,” Frodo countered. “Besides, I think you’re looking forward to a little time away,” he hesitated, “without needing to worry about me,” he added in a low voice.


“If you insist, Master,” said Sam, his face falling. When Frodo used that certain tone, Sam knew that whatever it was he wanted was beyond debate. And, in truth, Sam really did want some time away, a change of routine. But it’s certain as certain that I’ll still worry about you, he thought, then asked aloud, “You’ll eat regular-like, won’t you? Me and Rosie’ve laid in enough and to spare!”


“I will, Sam. Give my best to Merry and Pippin!”


So Rosie and Sam set off at an easy pace down the hill and eastward toward Buckland, driving the pony-trap they’d borrowed from Farmer Cotton. The morning was fine and warm and clear, and honeybees were about in the sweet clover and the goldenrod and the asters, but the sun swung lower than before, and the leaves were turning.


Frodo hung about, unable to decide what to do. In the late afternoon he went out to the garden and sat under the big maple, looking first close by and southward toward the Tookland’s hills and streams, then much farther abroad and south-eastward toward Minas Tirith, and east-southeast toward Lórien, and eastward toward Rivendell. As he gazed toward each faraway place, a tiny, clear image came to him: in Minas Tirith of Strider and Arwen, hands linked, looking at the Sun’s last rays upon the Mountains of Shadow; in Caras Galadon of Galadriel kneeling upon the grass before her fountain; and in Rivendell of Elrond instructing young elves in horsemanship. But, while the others had seemed unaware of his gaze, Galadriel had looked up suddenly, and smiled a small smile but warm, and had said: Not much longer.


That night Frodo dreamed – but, for a blessing, not of dark things. A song ran through his dream, sung by a clear joyous voice and backed by a strange rhythmic rushing sound. Forward and back something surged, making little hissing or spattering noises as it advanced, then retreating with a sigh. Cries of birds strange to him there were also, and a faint, deep booming underlay it all.


He woke feeling warm and refreshed. Early sunlight slanted in to touch the western wall, partially lighting a portrait of Bilbo. He had had it made some months before he had left for Rivendell, but had not presented it to Frodo personally. In the understated way he usually dealt with those whom he loved, Bilbo had left it – accompanied by a note and wrapped in a beautiful warm quilt – for Frodo to discover on his own: stashed in one of the closets used for blankets and such.


“I don’t remember this,” Frodo had thought when he found the quilt. “Though it seems just right for these chilly nights. I wonder where it came from?” He took it from the shelf, surprised at its solidity and weight. “Hmm, Bilbo must have wrapped something in it.” He lifted it onto the bed to unfold it. He gasped, then squealed like a hobbit-child at the special gift. “Oh Bilbo, it’s perfect!” he had said to the portrait, and to the room, and to the echoing hallways.


Frodo rose to look more closely at the piece. The artist carefully had captured Bilbo’s image, from the warmth of his half-smile and crow’s feet, to the worry on his forehead, to the odd mixture of longing and hope in his eyes – and even the weary set of his shoulders. Briefly Frodo wondered who had painted it – “G. B.” didn’t convey much – then he noticed something he’d not seen before. Below the attribution there were, faintly inscribed, a few characters of Elvish. To travel is to arrive, they said.


He spent the day – a fine warm one – in the garden and about the Hill. Sam had harvested the apples and pears and most of the vegetables, but there were some late squashes, plump and striped in green and orange, left to be got in. These he stowed in crates near the root cellar’s entrance, knowing that Sam would find the best place to put them for the winter. “Sam knows what I need,” he whispered. Then, turning from the cellar’s earthy damp darkness back to the light, he added, even more quietly, “But not always.”


In the afternoon Frodo rested near a little spring that chirped and chattered down the Hill to the Water below. It ran in a shallow, rocky channel, its borders still green with cresses, even in mid-autumn. The Sun glittered upon its surface pleasingly, and he stared at it a long time. And somewhere in the blended melody of light and sound, he sensed – a voice. Not that he would have said that it was really a voice that could be heard with the ears, only that he understood what it said as if it had been a voice.


Images came to his mind unbidden of other waters: some clear and cool; some brown and warm and slow-moving, flecked with willow-leaves; some locked in crystals clear or white or faintest blue; and some blue-green and foaming, hissing on pebbly beaches or tossed by huge waves beneath storm-writhen skies.


Suddenly he felt cold, and his left shoulder ached. He reached for the white gem that hung about his neck, given him by Arwen, Queen of Gondor. Grasping it he sighed, and the images shifted, becoming those of ships whose kind he never had seen in waking life: tall masts they had, and silver-grey sails, and all silver-grey were their decks and hulls, and flags flew from their stays. A great desire came on him to board one of those ships, and to sail in the restless blue-green waters, and to find something that he could neither name nor clearly describe.



The next day Frodo woke early, just as the Sun’s first rays touched the Hill, and before they crept down the wall to illuminate Bilbo’s portrait. He had a small breakfast, then put on a pack. It seemed too large for him. Going outside, he closed and locked Bag End’s big green door, and walked quietly along a hedgerow until he came to a paddock housing two ponies. They trotted serenely to the fence and nuzzled Frodo’s face. Giving an apple to each, he led the smaller from the enclosure and, mounting, rode back the way he came. Cresting the Hill, he made off northwestwards towards the Bindbale Wood .


The day became fine and bright under a clear autumn sky. Frodo kept to the fencerows and woods, and so met no one, though sometimes he saw farmers harvesting late squashes or pressing apples for cider. About elevenses he began passing the Wood on his right, and saw the Water gleaming far below to his left. Bearing now a little more west, he skirted the Wood, which jutted out towards him in ridges of red and gold and russet. He took lunch on its borders near a little stream, letting the pony – Sam had named her “Goldberry” – stray among its fresh grass.


About an hour after noon Frodo got underway again. Soon he came under the Wood’s eves. Dismounting, he walked Goldberry for a time, following a clear trail floored with crunchy brown leaves and bordered with blueberry plants. After some hours the Wood came to an abrupt end, its last shallow slopes reaching northward and downward toward a panoply of small lakes, the westernmost of which lay before his feet. In the distance he glimpsed a line of tall hills, and a river – the upper reaches of the Brandywine – glittered far away to his right. Another river, exiting the nearest of the lakes, spilled over a little fall not far from where he stood .


Frodo lay upon the rocks, using his pack for a pillow, taking in the late afternoon’s sunlight. A gentle north-west wind ruffled his hair and sang in his ears, whispering of the summer departed, of the harvests almost past, and – ever so quietly – of winter’s approach. “Oh, Sam. Is it possible?” he asked of it. But the wind flitted on unheeding, unchanging, rippling the lakes and pruning another year’s leaves from the trees, as always it had done.


After a time Frodo noticed something moving on one of the lakes: a tiny grey craft it was, with a mast amidships and bearing a single sail, golden-hued in the Sun. It ran with the wind – towards him – its sail full and its boom flung wide to port. He thought he saw two figures aboard, but of what kind he could not tell.


Soon the craft approached and made for a sandy landing just east of the falls, beyond a natural rock outcropping. The crew lowered the sail, flaking it onto the deck, then raised the rudder and centerboard, and drew the craft onto the sand. To his great surprise, Frodo found that he recognized one of them.


Leaving their craft on the beach, they disappeared from view beneath the rock-shelf upon which Frodo sat. He wondered whether they knew that he was there, and whether he should greet them. While he thought, they came back into view, now walking towards him.


“Hail, Frodo!” said the one whom he knew, tall and dark-haired, bright and wise of face.


“Gildor!” cried Frodo joyfully, running towards them.


Gildor kneeled and opened his arms to Frodo, who embraced him heartily. “I thought I’d never see you again,” was all Frodo found to say.


Gildor pulled back and eyed Frodo mock-seriously. “Indeed?” he asked, but his eyes smiled.


“It cannot be doubted that you parted as friends,” said Gildor’s companion. As a mortal man he seemed: tall and bearded, with fine, straight grey hair pouring over his shoulders and down his back. But his eyes were those of Elven-kind.


“I am remiss,” said Gildor, rising. “I have not introduced you, as I ought. Frodo, this is Círdan of the Havens, a well-known shipwright. And Círdan, this is Frodo Baggins –” he winked, “a wayward hobbit who once I met upon the Road. Near Woodhall it was, if memory serves.”


Círdan kneeled and extended his hand, palm upward. “Greetings, Mr. Baggins,” he said. Frodo met his eyes, and immediately was held. A vision he had of a faraway shore, rocky and surmounted by pine-woods seething in a stiff wind. Then he felt himself lifted, and he saw that it was the eastern shore of a large island. Over a grey, wind-whipped Sea a great mountain stood in the West, its flanks shrouded in scudding clouds and its peak glimmering silent and remote above the storm-wrack.


The vision melted, and Frodo found himself again looking into Círdan’s eyes. “I, I am honored to meet you,” he stammered, laying his hand upon Círdan’s.



“Will you not sail with us?” asked Gildor. Frodo raised his eyes, and his brows too. “Ah! Skeptical, I see. I was too, long ago . But that was before my friend here (he pointed his chin at Círdan) tricked me into a little craft, very like this one. He raised the sail before I knew what was happening, and there I was, trapped on a little piece of wood that seemed likely to sink any moment.” He paused, and a little smile crept over Frodo’s face. “But it didn’t sink, much as I would have preferred that at the time.” Círdan stopped inspecting the craft’s sail for flaws, and glanced over at them. He seemed to be trying very hard not to laugh. “What it did do was skip across the water like a wild horse chased by Uruk-hai. Naturally I was petrified with fright, so I seized the nearest thing – which happened to be Círdan’s leg – and wouldn’t let go. Not letting that deter him,” Círdan failed completely to suppress a laugh, “he tortured me for hours, executing every maneuver known to Elven-kind, if not also every one known to Lord Ossë.” Círdan’s self-control was slipping rapidly now. “But I had my revenge, and a painful one at that. If I recall rightly, he was digging my fingernails out of his calves for weeks afterwards.”


They all laughed heartily, Frodo most of all. “How dreadful!” he said after a moment.


“Indeed. But it did something to me – that is, aside from frightening me more than I’d been frightened since seeing Morgoth himself. It wasn’t a week later that I was at the dock, begging him to take me out again.”


“And I, of course,“ began Círdan, “would not do so. Not until he had dug out his fingernails himself, and sworn an oath never even to think of fastening himself to me in that way again.”


“I swore it, and gladly,” interjected Gildor.


“And became a barely passable sailor by the third centu....” But Círdan didn’t get a chance to finish. Gildor tackled him cleanly, caught him in his arms, and made off for the boat at a run. It happened so quickly that for a moment Frodo doubted that he had seen it. But Gildor stood halfway to the boat, Círdan in his arms, both of them nearly gasping with laughter.


“Gildor!” cried Frodo. “All right, yes, yes! I’ll come with you! Just put him down!” He chuckled in spite of himself. “And don’t, well, even think of treating me the same way!”


So they walked to the little boat, and Frodo climbed in and sat in the stern, and the Elves pushed her into the water and boarded themselves. It was a fine clear day with a light warm wind, rather unusual for mid-autumn. Gildor put down the centerboard and rudder, and Círdan raised the mainsail, tying its halyard to a cleat near the mast. He loosened the mainsheet, and then they were sailing: smooth and slow with the wind in the left eye.


Frodo felt quiet and at ease, watching the trees on the far shore and listening to the wind’s gentle thrumming in the sail. It seemed almost dreamlike. But as they sailed farther from shore the wind strengthened, and little boat began to heel away from it, and to leave a clear wake behind her.


“What are all these ropes for?” asked Frodo.


“Lines,” said Círdan. “But there aren’t that many. This one – he tugged the mainsheet – controls how tight the sail is. Right now the wind is well off our left side, so I’ve let the sail out. If we were to head into it more, I would have to tighten it up, or we wouldn’t go anywhere, because the wind would just slide along the sail, rather than pushing against it. Gildor steered the boat closer to the wind. The sail started flapping and the boat slowed. Then Círdan tightened the mainsheet by drawing it more tightly around a cylinder of wood. The sail filled and quieted, and the boat resumed its steady progress.


“There’s a lot to understand about this,” observed Frodo.


“There is, but such is true of all worthwhile arts. Come, take the tiller for awhile and steer us,” said Círdan.


Frodo looked at him quizzically. “I won’t break something?”


“We won’t let you!” exclaimed Gildor. He stood so that Frodo could slide forward and take the tiller. “Now hold it firmly, but not too tight. Try to keep us headed towards that big tree.” He pointed at a superb chestnut tree on the lake’s northwest shore.


Frodo took the tiller. Its end fit his hand well. Briefly he wondered why that was, but soon the little boat began to heel uncomfortably, and he forgot the thought. “Steer back into the wind a little!” said Gildor. Frodo pushed hard on the tiller, and the boat righted itself, but the sail flapped vigorously. “Too much! Steer back, but just a little at a time.” Gradually the sail filled and stopped flapping, and the boat heeled again, but not excessively. “Good!” said Gildor.



They arrived at the tree just after sunset, having tacked and jibed their way about the lake for hours. Frodo felt tired but relaxed, and not the least bit seasick. He disembarked and flopped onto the long grass, laying spread-eagled as the evening sky filled with stars. “This feels right,” he whispered to himself. Then, moved by a sudden feeling of kinship that he did not understand, he asked, “Tell me, Gildor: is the grass in the Blessed Realm so soft and cool? Is the sky so clear and filled with stars? What is it like to live – there?”


Gildor glanced up from their fire, inclining his head and casting Frodo a quizzical look. But his eyes were sad. There was a silence, then he spoke softly. “It is said that we of the Eldar do not forget, but for us, as for you, memory fades with time: just more slowly. Long ago I left Valinor. Not, as many of my kin, to avenge the Trees that Morgoth slew, nor yet the Silmarils that he stole. Rather, I wished to see Middle-earth’s wider realms, and to decide my fate myself, rather than permitting the Valar to rule me, however wise and gentle their regency. No part did I have in Fëanor’s wickedness, yet I left in his train, and so fell under the Curse of Mandos.


“And thus I love Middle-earth as the home of my choice, yet ever I ache for the home of my birth: for its power to preserve unsullied life’s keen sharpness: to make me wonder anew at each discovery, be it so large as the sky’s breadth, or so small as the tiniest leaf’s green veins. And now I miss it the more, and the time of my abiding here is short indeed.” Tears crept from his eyes, and he bent his head into his hands.


“Yet perhaps,” he said at length, looking again at Frodo, “you yourself will learn whether the Blessed Realm’s grass is suitable for lying upon, or its stars fit for viewing by hobbits’ eyes.”


Frodo looked up suddenly, then stared at Gildor, open-mouthed, for long moments. “The–then Galadriel’s song...that she sang as I left Ló’s true?” Maybe thou shalt find Valimar sh–she sang.” Gildor nodded. “But I thought it was only a lament, a song of things lost and never to be recovered....”


“But you forget!” exclaimed Gildor. “Did not the Lady Arwen choose to join the kindred of Men? And did she not grant you passage in her stead?”


Frodo’s head swam. “But how – but I – I took her gift as a comfort, as the love of a heart that yearns to give what it cannot, not as something that truly might be. Is it possible? Is it permitted? Will the Valar...but only Eärendil...being Man but also equally of the house of Finwë....”


“You know your history well!” observed Gildor. ”Yet I think that Galadriel saw clearly, and that what Arwen gave was hers to give. And we," he rested a hand upon Círdan’s shoulder, "also perceive that there is a place for you over the Sea. Does not the spirit of Ulmo run in all Arda’s waters, even as Tuor perceived long ages ago? And did you not hear His call? Or how came you to this place, in all the vastness of Arda, just now?”


Frodo was silent, his heart needing time to open itself to this unforeseen news. He considered the oddness of his life: the strange unfocused longing that welled up, like water through sand, whenever he was alone – and the unexplained hurt that came with it, insistent yet refusing the succor of tears. Often he had felt a stranger, a visitor, one who didn’t belong. The others were content to do what ever had been done; but he was restless, waiting for he knew not what. The others, if they dreamed at all, dreamt of fields and planting and ale and children (though not necessarily in that order); but he dreamt of mountains and forests and seas vast beyond imagining. And Elves, singing in the starlight. So when Gandalf had told him about the Ring, the Quest, grim as it was, had felt almost a relief: Now I know, he had thought. Now I understand.


But he had not understood.


“Am I to go alone, then?” Frodo asked. “What –” He lapsed into silence, his face troubled.


No one spoke, but after some moments Círdan, his voice deep and clear, softly sang:

Alone we walked down branching years,

Upon this farther shore,

Looking, searching, finding not,

But spending Elven tears.


Morgoth chased for Silmarils,

And Menegroth we built,

Rings of Power: wards, we thought,

Stronger than the hills.


But nothing said and nothing done,

Prepared us at the last,

Nor did the least to end our grief,

And sorrow for those gone.

“It is difficult both to stay and to go, and the decision is yours, much as it was on a September night but two years past,” said Gildor.


Círdan glanced at Frodo. “Yet this is clear: you would ask of someone besides yourself, whether he would go with you?”


“I –” Frodo began. But he felt overwhelmed, both by Gildor’s revelations and by Círdan’s insight, and could not continue. Silently he blinked back his tears.


“It is too soon,” said Círdan, comfortingly. “Rest now. We will be close by, and nothing will trouble you.”


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