The breeze drifting by did little to ease the heat of July in the Shire, where Frodo sat with Gandalf high on a hill overlooking Hobbiton and Bywater far down below. The tree they sat under was one of the few very large ones not cut down during Saruman's Scouring, but it had axe blade marks. Its spreading branches provided shade at least with a huge canopy of deep green. Shadowfax and Strider the pony lazily grazed nearby, also under the tree. Gandalf sat smoking, staring intently at the little villages; but then, Frodo reflected, that was how Gandalf looked at everything.
"What do you see?" Frodo asked. He rested his arms on top of his knees and gazed into the distance. Hobbiton and Bywater rippled in the hot air.
"See?" the wizard repeated, not moving. "Why, many things. What do you see?"
"I see the villages trembling in the heat, a bright blue sky and no hope of rain for at least a week."
Gandalf laughed. "That is all? You have not learned much, then!"
"Well, if I keep looking I think I could see more, but.... it takes effort."
"Effort, my dear Hobbit, is the reason things get done. What you put into a thing is what you must live with."
"I know, but this heat is making it difficult to concentrate."
Gandalf looked at him. Frodo felt his gaze and tried to smile. "Is it that or something else? You have not been concentrating lately and I suspect the summer has little to do with it."
"I've been thinking...." Frodo said slowly, still looking out over the landscape. "Are the Elves expecting me this fall for certain?"
"I passed on the message that you intend to join them on the road to the Havens. And Bilbo will be with them."
"Yes, he will." Gandalf noted the slight frown on Frodo's face. "He doesn't have any second thoughts about it."
"What are your second thoughts, Frodo?"
"Well, I.... well, I'd like.... that is I think I would...." How to say it to Gandalf, so old a friend who he hadn't told before? What would he think? "I'm not quite ready to go."
"They will not wait for you. Time is flying. Who is holding you here?"
"Me, I suppose." No use in trying to be delicate. "I've met an old friend, down in the Southfarthing, and I think maybe I'd like to spend more time with her since I'm still here and if I leave I can't come back so I should take advantage of the opportunity." He flinched inwardly, realizing how silly he'd just sounded.
"And what is the name of this noble Lady so favoured by the Ringbearer?"
Frodo peered up at him and saw his smiling eyes twinkling. He looked away again, still embarrassed. "Lily Gamwich."
"Ah! A relative of the Gamgee family I believe. Your friends are ignorant of this new concern of yours, I take it?"
"Well, only because I haven't sorted it out myself yet! I still feel very tired, and worn, and like disappearing altogether might be a good thing. And yet.... I met her many years ago and we became good friends. It was just before I moved to Bag End. Her parents inherited the family Longbottom Leaf farm and so she moved there and we lost touch.
"But when I was in Oakleaf with Sam, I just met her again by accident and it felt so good to talk to someone who didn't know me as the Ringbearer. She knew about my parents. She thought of me as me. She told me, before I left Oakleaf, that it hurt her to let me go. At the time, I believed there was no other way for me but to leave and sail into the West.... I believed there was no other way for me to heal. But Gandalf, isn't that what love is for, to heal?"
Gandalf looked at his innocent face and saw once again the guileless young Hobbit of some two years ago. Frodo still trusted him for guidance. The wizard smiled and hugged him briefly.
"Frodo, you don't need me to tell you. You have grown wise enough to answer your own questions."