Here I am, in Oakleaf all by myself. Well sort of, the villagers still ask what I'm going to do as Mayor. I keep telling them I'm only Deputy Mayor but that point doesn't seem to matter much. I suppose things might be worse, after all I might really be Mayor for good!
I've had lunch with Lily, Iris and Torold yesterday and today. There has been much delightful conversation, and time to enjoy the view from the back of their house. The hill slopes down immediately and widens into the Longbottom fields, then rises again into smaller hills. Trees more or less cover these smaller hills. Lily tells me that often, after the summer rains, a rainbow gleams just beyond those mounds. I should like to see that. I can picture a sunny day sitting there, the smell of Leaf on the fresh air and the white clouds beginning to break up. I can picture the rainbow falling between groves of pines.
[Frodo sits back, eyes closed; the scene before him seems clear enough to be real. He can feel a breeze just touch his face. No, well, that was a tear. He sweeps it away and bends back to his writing.]
Sam, Pippin and Merry left the inn early this morning. I fear I have mistreated my closest friends but they insist they have taken no offense. I only meant I would like a bit of time to do a few things on my own, without anyone worrying over me. Sam is so serious about me, bless him. But he will lose his years to come if that is all he does. Rosie needs him. He and Rosie have a future. Merry and Pippin too. Pippin will become the Thain and Merry the Master of Buckland. I will come back to Bag End, in a few days. I want to see that bright smile of Rosie's and the glint in Sam's eyes whenever they greet each other.
I had no idea Leaf needed so much care this late in the year. Torold and his men have spent all day, since early morn, putting fences up all round the edges of the fields, to keep the rabbits out. After the snow falls the twigs and branches turn into rabbit food. I've seen some about already.
Since Yule is not far off I have decided to spend it here. Lily invited me to the village celebration. The last I heard of the restoration at Bag End was that it might be ready in late winter so I may as well stay here for just a bit longer. I am looking forward to seeing the old house. I know great care is going into all the grounds. I'm also looking forward to seeing the roses blooming again. The weather is somewhat milder here too, and I've seen some wildflowers blooming in the gardens. And that little silver nut Sam planted where the Party Tree was... what will that look like when the sapling shows itself? Spring will be a grand season in the Shire I think!
Lily asked if I would like to go riding further into the countryside. She says there are still some great willows on the banks of the Shirebourn I might enjoy seeing. It would indeed be pleasant to see some trees that have escaped the troubles, especially the old ones.
I wonder if I could live here? I wonder if living here would make anything any different. I wonder how it would feel to live in a different house. Would I miss Bag End's furniture and gear? Would having it make anything any different? No I suppose not. Going back to Bag End will not change anything now. Even if the Party Tree were put back in its place, and all the trees along the Row, nothing would be the same. A house in Oakleaf would look like Bag End. If Bilbo came back to live with me nothing would be the same.
Must it be? Must I see everything so differently? Would being with Lily make it brighter somehow? Somehow, somewhere, there must still be something I recognize. I should have insisted that Sam and Merry and Pippin stay. I have spent many a year with them and can still see their hearts. They are wiser and stronger than they used to be but still Sam, Merry and Pippin. Well when they turned onto the road northward I didn't watch them go. Sam, my poor dear Sam, still had tears in his eyes. As soon as the ponies stepped away I turned and walked to the inn. I did not look back. I did not feel Sam's tears. How could this be, when I owe him so much more than I ever could repay? Somewhere I must find something I recognize.
Today Lily and I took a slow ride to the Shirebourn. There are indeed many willows standing there, looking rather sad now, stripped of all their leaves. They lean over the water as if studying their reflections. When we went down to the water's edge, we found many little stones bright as stars, all along as far as we walked. She was much enchanted by them. I have never seen such stones before in the Shire, I would greatly like to know how they came here. [Frodo sets his pen down, remembering.]
"What a pretty necklace these would make," Lily says as she tumbles the stones from hand to hand. "I wonder if I could somehow fasten them onto dresses, or cloaks...."
"I admire your imagination! The Elves sometimes do that with their gems, but I never could see how they were fastened."
"Elves! It's a pity I can't ask one how they do it. These tiny ones remind me of the beautiful one you wear."
Frodo pulls out the star-stone on its silver chain from beneath his cloak. "Yes, there is a bit of resemblance. This was given to me by Arwen, daughter of Elrond, Lord of Rivendell. She married King Elessar."
"Oohh... my! A gift from the Queen! Frodo, what are Elves like?"
He laughs a little. "Elves can't really be explained in words! They are special, they are more serene than the moon, they are wise... they seem to be almost like mist, not quite here." He looks at Lily. "Sometimes, something about your eyes reminds me of Arwen."
She blushes. "Oh, Frodo! I can't look anything like an Elf!"
"Well your eyes do, once in a while. And with your dark hair. I think the Elves would like you. I bow to you, Princess! Princess Liliel!"
Frodo bows low and Lily laughs. "This princess has work waiting for her back home, I suppose Elf Princesses do not make their own clothes!"
[Frodo drains his cup of tea. He can still see Lily's deep, intense eyes.]
So we brought back a pocketful of these stones for her to work on. I think I will take some back for Rose Cotton, she might like them. Rose is not the sort to wear much finery but if they could be made into a necklace, I think she would look splendid.
Lily brought our lunch along in a basket and we ate on the bank of the river. The gentle splashing was a sweet sound. I would like to go back there before I leave. It seems so pleasant here, I am not sure if I miss Bag End or not. The village is about the same size as Hobbiton. There is nothing in Hobbiton I couldn't get here. Sam of course would be beside himself if I moved here. If I asked him to come with me, he would have to choose between me and Rosie. I doubt if she would agree to move so far from her family, and anyway it would hardly be fair of me to expect her to.
But what if I stayed here for a few months? Maybe go back in spring? I could give Bag End to Sam, there is no one I would rather give it to.
Sometimes, I wish I didn't have to think about anyone else. Sometimes I would like to spend all day without seeing anyone. That is rude of me isn't it! My dear friends have done so much for me and here I sit thinking such rude things. Gandalf would have plenty to say to me about that! Well now that I think of him, I would like to see him. He has not visited us since we've come back to the Shire again. I wonder what he's up to! I suppose I shall never know. If I see him, I might ask if he would like to go riding with me. He might know where these little stones have come from.
Yesterday and today were too chilly for lunch at the river so we simply stayed in, and sat by the fire afterwards. Iris asked about Elves so I tried to talk about them but it's difficult. It's a little easier to describe Lothlórien and Rivendell, somewhat. Both ladies were quite attentive. It's pleasant to talk about the beautiful things but often my mind strays. The Elves and Lórien will be gone one day and even the memory of them. To write about them, to talk about them, no one will remember anyway. As the leaves fall in the dying part of the year and are forgotten, so will all these things pass.
Wasn't I thinking about Gandalf just the other day, and he showed up today. Sam sent him on from Bag End. Gandalf was worried about me, and even said so, which I actually felt comforted by. He wanted to meet Lily, and Iris and Torold, and they were quite impressed by Gandalf the White. He set aside his own cares while we were visiting and was the jovial wizard I knew in Hobbiton. He told stories about Dwarfs as well as Elves well into the evening. I enjoyed it even though I've heard them at least dozen times. It felt so much like home, sitting by the fire listening to Gandalf. Even as I write the word I can't quite say what I mean by 'home'. Is it Bag End, is it simply the Shire, is it something else? Gandalf must know something of my thoughts, I saw him many times looking at me the way he does. He never asks me what I'm thinking when he looks that way, but I can feel it.
Before I even brought it up, he asked me if I was going to stay here. I said I didn't know, and I don't. I asked how Sam was getting along and he told me Sam's gaffer was something like Bilbo is now, he needs a certain looking after. Of course there is still much work at Bag End and that's keeping Sam busy too. But he didn't say how Sam is really doing. I don't know if that is his way of telling me I should go back, or if he just doesn't want me to forget about Sam. I asked what he thought about me living here and he looked at me hard and said, That is up to you.
I should have expected that! I explained that I knew Sam wouldn't be at all happy if I wanted him to stay at Bag End, with me here, but if I asked him to come here he would have to choose between me and Rosie, because I couldn't expect Rosie to want to move so far from her family. He was still no help. He only told me that I am not an ordinary Hobbit. Well that will do nothing for my problem, except perhaps make it worse! Even with most of my things still back at Farmer Cotton's, I don't feel especially in a hurry to leave here. I know Sam will be worried but I will send him a letter tomorrow. Merry and Pippin have their own families and I think they will be content there. Sam said he would wait for me to come back and I will take him at his word, I know he will not show up here asking me to come back.
I would still like to spend Yule here. Lily tells me the whole village gets involved in celebrating and it truly sounds delightful. Lily's parents have been visiting cousins in Buckland and will be back the day after tomorrow. They have decided to take the first part of the journey by boat down the Brandywine; she asked if I would like to come along when she meets them. I would indeed like to meet Hobbits not Bucklanders who would take a boat!
A pounding and much loud calling on the front door startles Lily and Frodo, who are cleaning up after lunch. Iris and Torold are in the village, taking care of farm business. Frodo follows Lily to the door at a distance, wondering who would be causing such a racket.
"Marcho!" she exclaims. "What in the world--"
"Oh Miss Lily!" Even from behind Lily Frodo could see the man wringing his hands and shifting from foot to foot.
"Well what is it? Why aren't you at the dock waiting for my Mother and Father?"
Marcho dissolves into tears. Lily takes his hand and draws him inside the house. He doesn't notice Frodo coming up. "Miss I don'no how to tell you... I can't say it..."
Lily sees Frodo's questioning look. "Marcho works for my parents," she says. "He was supposed to meet them when they left the boat and bring them back to Long Cleeve... Marcho, you must tell me!"
Marcho tries to steady himself, taking many long, deep breaths. "Miss, there was an accident with the boat... we don'no what happened yet... the river got wild and they couldn't hold the boat... we couldn't find nobody, Miss, we--"
"What!" she cries. "What do you mean! Where are they?"
"Miss we tried, we tried! The river- the river took them--"
"No Marcho no! They've been on the river before! No no..."
Marcho grasps both of Lily's hands and looks into her eyes. "Miss we tried. The river even took the boat. Nobody's seen the water like that ever before. Miss Lily, it bursts my heart but there's no more to be done."
For several seconds Lily meets his gaze, then hides her face in her hands and sobs. Marcho looks at Frodo. "Sir do you know where Mistress Iris and Master Torold are?"
Frodo hears himself answering. "They've gone up to the market for supplies."
"Sir, will you take care of Miss Lily? I've got to find Mistress Iris."
Without waiting for a reply, Marcho runs out. Frodo blinks and can't stop his own tears. He touches Lily's shoulder and she collapses against him, sobbing.
"I am so sorry," he whispers. "Lily I am so, so very sorry." If there was anything at all that would have prevented this from happening, Frodo would have done it. This lovely girl doesn't deserve this. The moment feels warped, as if one second is expanding forever and yet not moving at all. Her sobs echo through him. He clings to her. "If I could take this away from you, I would! If I could do anything at all that would make a difference, I would!"
"Why did this happen!" Her voice is muffled and shaky. "They've been on the river before... why!"
"I wish I knew. I wish I knew something! No one deserves this pain, Lily. At least you have Iris and Torold. You won't be alone."
"What am I going to do, I miss them! What am I going to do!"
"I don't know. But you won't be alone. You will never be alone."
Iris and Torold, bursting in some time later, find them still standing there. The sisters cling to each other and shed new tears. Torold tries to comfort them. Frodo backs away. He wishes they hadn't come home yet. Lily understands now. It is a horrible way to come to it, but she understands now.
[Frodo writes in his journal that evening] I've been scarcely aware of things. Lily, poor girl, is even worse off, of course. I seem to keep thinking of holding her as she wept. She utterly gave herself up to it. What grief was in her heart consumed her. She will always carry that with her. If I could have done something to stop it, I would have!
And yet, when Death comes, it does not ask permission. Some flowers come back in Spring, some do not. Only the Elves may see eternal Spring, should they not be cut down. None of us will stay here. Why should we expect Death to come only when we are ready? The seasons change as they will, waiting for nothing. For all of us will come one final sunset. Why some see it suddenly and others see it when they are old and longing for it is not the essence of life. We are here, we die... we accomplish deeds for our children to live easier. When we have done that, the time to leave is at hand. Lily will live missing her parents but she will live, here in the Shire where the Sun shines again.
I hope everything up at Bag End is going well for you and your gaffer. I'm well here, the innkeeper continues to provide good food and a clean room. Of course it's nothing like when you look after me! I miss that.
The thing is, Sam, we've had some bad news. Lily and her sister Iris have lost their parents. This puts them in a bad way, as you might guess, and Lily could use some comfort. I hope you don't mind- much anyway, I know you want me home!
[Frodo pauses, wondering how much more it would be right to tell, and how much more he can bring himself to write. He decides that if he explained how Lily's parents were lost, Sam would fret over him and march right down to Oakleaf. And certainly that wasn't called for.]
It was an accident and so close to Yule, it's having quite a bad effect. I really think if I stayed till Yule it would help them both. Lily finds she is feeling very lost. I've settled that sort of problem for myself and I would like to help here. Sam, you've taught me much about friendship. If I left now I would be no friend at all but something worse. I have you to go back to- Lily has no one like that. I do hope you understand. Please tell Pippin and Merry, if they ask about me. I do think about all of you often.
Before I forget, thank you for sending Gandalf over. He spent much time, the one day he was here, telling stories to all of us. He seemed to be in a cheerful mood, more like he used to be. I suppose it has been a long time since he was able to enchant innocent Hobbits with his tales! It was good to talk with him.
When I come back, I shall go straight to Bag End. If it isn't ready I'll go on to Farmer Cotton's gladly enough. And Sam...
[Frodo pauses again, not quite sure how to put into words what he wants to say. He holds up the white gem that Arwen gave him, watching how the candlelight is caught within and explodes into thousands of stars. The light that comes from it is soft and soothing. He thinks about Elves and Rivendell, Lórien and the time spent there after Gandalf's loss in Moria. Peace was found there, in some measure.]
Sam, I'm very grateful for you going on home without me. I know I hurt you by asking it, and I know it hurt you to do it. I never meant to hurt you. Some time here is good for me, I can't exactly explain why or how. I think of you and Merry and Pippin every day though. I hope you can forgive me, dear Sam!
Much love, Frodo
Yule is in five days. Lily and Iris left for Long Cleeve this afternoon. I will miss having lunch with her. Torold did not go, there is too much to see to here, and it is plain in his face he loathes letting his wife go without him. She asked him to come anyway then changed her mind. I asked if there was anything I could do here for them, so Torold could go, but they were adamant that would be expecting too much of me. Actually I suppose there is little I could do, except answer the door. I still wish I could change this somehow or at least make it hurt less. It's hard for most knowing that Death comes as it will. Lily clasped my hand while the ponies were being readied. Just before they left she said Thank you for being here and looked at me. Her eyes showed that odd otherworldly cast. It is something I saw in Arwen's eyes but not Galadriel's. I'm not sure what it is. I'm not sure I want to know.
I wrote to Sam yesterday, I hope he understands why I don't feel I can leave here yet. I've always been glad of his friendship, but he has given more of himself for me than I ever expected. I am enriched beyond measure for seeing the power of his devotion. I couldn't leave here now, when Lily needs comfort much as I did. It's the way Sam befriended me years ago, and the way he committed himself to me all over again, that tells me I should stay.
It's sad to think how Lily and Iris' lives will be different now. Theirs is a loss nothing can much ease. Maybe I can help them see that this is simply the way life is. We aren't able to choose the time, for ourselves or anyone. Death does not care if we weep. They have both lived a happy life and are not aware of its true nature. Somehow we must all accept it. The world is changing and I suppose Death will show itself more often. So much of what I see all around me will be gone and forgotten.
[Frodo leans back, pressing his hands against his eyes. He feels old. He feels tired and has not even the slightest inclination to get up from his chair. He feels as thin as mist, spread out wide and yet tenuous, not far from disappearing altogether. Dropping his hands, his gaze lands on the remains of his supper nearby. He seizes the knife and slashes the edge across his arm. A shallow cut, but it allows the blood to form droplets. He begins to feel a sting from the cut. Out loud, he says, "So I am still alive."]
In the quiet hour before sunset, Frodo wakes, heart pounding. Abruptly he sits up and looks around. Weren't there.... shadows of some kind? Wasn't something watching him? His right hand throbs painfully and instinctively he clutches the white jewel still hanging around his neck. No, that didn't happen, that wasn't real. He is breathing fast. But something was here, or maybe it was himself who was somewhere... In the dimness he can see the furniture well and does not notice anything moving. He tries to slow his breathing. It sounds very loud. His hand still hurts. He crosses the room in the dark with certainty. From the basin he throws water on his face. He catches his breath then begins to breathe more easily.
'Where am I?' he thinks with dread creeping in the back of his mind. 'I know this place but cannot remember it. I know I am alone but I wasn't always so. How long have I been here?'
Going to the nearest chair, he sits while still looking around. Memory comes back with an almost physical impact. He remembers waking this way many times. His painful hand begins to ease but he does not loosen his grip on the jewel. Without any haste he washes and dresses, then leans against the window frame. The landscape is bathed in a sort of misty light. Hills and roads stand out in odd shades of grey. He knows that once the sun rises further things will look more as they should. He is becoming used to seeing things in this "light".
'Two more lives gone, and not even the work of orcs. Two people who will never come back to their homes. An absurd loss, an accident. A loss that had nothing to do with the Great Darkness. Or perhaps it did, perhaps that Darkness is the source of all loss. Whither do we go, when our bodies die? Do we vanish into that Gloom and disappear like the snows in April? Does our agony remain, making us ever aware of our failings and losses? The Elves have their place of unending peace but how shall the rest of the world fare? Those who simply were taken away in a moment, having no crime on them then, whither will they go? And if we will disappear, what then is the use of living? Is that not a victory for the Darkness?'
The white jewel emits a delicate glimmer through his hand. Frodo looks at it, turning the gem around. It feels slightly warm and almost soft, as if it was part Elven cloth and part stone. 'The Light of Elbereth... the Light of Arwen Evenstar. If we do not disappear, perhaps we become part of the Light. Perhaps we are really meant to live and ease the way of others. The Shire is safe now, I said that myself. There is a King in Gondor again. My friends have years ahead of them, they still have the Light inside themselves and do not need to search for it. As for me, I think I will need to hold this to see it.'
Later, Frodo decides to visit Torold to see how he is getting along. Torold has sent a few of his men along with Iris and Lily so Frodo volunteers to help take care of the cows. Some were sold before the fields of Longbottom Leaf were planted so there is less work here than there used to be, Frodo is told. He actually does little work, he mostly listens to Torold talk about how he met Iris and what the Gamwich family has been up to in Long Cleeve. He describes his and Iris' early life together, how hard it was to get enough land and cows. He never wanted to take anybody's money to help him so he did everything around the farm with hardly any help, at first. Gradually he got a reputation as a fair man to deal with who would cheat no one. Iris trusted him to make a good living and so he worked hard at it.
Torold fixes lunch and sets the table. In the stillness both Hobbits look at each other.
"Well!" says Torold, reaching for the bread. "Help yourself, Mr. Baggins! It's not as fine a meal as Iris or Lily would make, but nobody's ever been sick from my cookin'! And I might add a thank-you, you've been mighty kind to be helpin' me today."
"You're very welcome. I don't feel I did much, though."
"Oh indeed you did! The cows always need some lookin' after and sometimes, sometimes it gets to be lonely work, the cows don't usually talk to me." His gaze wanders around the table and the kitchen. "This farm is what Iris and I wanted. We have some good things. But when something like this happens, you just think about it, and you wonder. You wonder why you have all these things because you could die tomorrow, and that's the truth."
Frodo lets a small smile pass across his face. "Torold, it's the truth, but if you didn't have this farm and you were still waiting to die, you would be a lot unhappier."
"Ha! Mr. Baggins, you have it! What would be the point of sittin' around waitin' except that the grass I'd be sittin' on would turn brown and die, and then I'd have to find another spot! Yes, that's it.... For a young Hobbit you use your head."
Frodo smiles again, a little wider. "Torold, please call me Frodo. And I'm quite sure you would have thought of the same thing soon. Just now I think you can be allowed some sober thinking."
"Frodo then. You're generous! If you don't mind me saying, Lily seems to think so too. She talks about you quite a lot during supper."
"Is that so? I hope I haven't said anything offensive!"
"That you haven't. She's pleased you spend time with her. As a matter of fact, when she came to stay with us two weeks ago, she said she couldn't be here long."
"She was supposed to have left by now? But she didn't tell me that!"
"That's my point, Mr. Baggins - er, Frodo. I think she's fond of you."
"She told me she still thinks of me as her friend, and I appreciate that. It had been so very long since we saw each other last, I'm still surprised she remembered me so well. Lily has always been thoughtful."
"She's been giving you a lot of thought, I daresay! Frodo, never mind. I shouldn't be gossipin'."
Lunch continues but Frodo keeps thinking about Lily and what it's been like staying in the village. Finally he sits back. "Torold, since you know Lily well, what do you suppose she would think if I said I was going to stay in Oakleaf for a few months?"
Torold smiles. "I think she would be right pleased! You're a likeable fellow, if I might say, and Iris and I wouldn't mind at all seein' you around. I shouldn't be surprised if Lily's been wondering if you'd stay."
"Thank you. I haven't decided yet, mind you. There are details to settle if I do decide to stay. But Oakleaf is a peaceful place where I might find some contentment after the War."
"It's a good place, it is! If I might ask, Frodo, what's wrong with goin' back to Hobbiton?"
"Not really anything wrong, it's just... It's hard to explain. It doesn't feel like home the way it used to. It's not just the damage that was done, that's been repaired, but it's the feeling. I've been through so much... Maybe what I need is to be somewhere new. This is still the Shire, I couldn't live outside the Shire, but Hobbiton isn't the same. I'm not the same. This might be a better place, at least for a while."
"Well, we'd all be pleased as hens with new chicks if you were to stay. Take your time. None of us here are in a hurry. Why, Frodo, did you cut yourself? I hadn't any idea! You should speak up! Don't want that to get infected!"
"It's hardly anything...." Over Frodo's protests Torold goes into another room, saying he won't be but a minute. Frodo sighs, feeling the cut. 'I think I would rather see it for a while...I need the reminder.'
Torold bustles in with a small bowl of water and an injury kit. The cut stings when the wet cloth is brushed over it. Torold wraps it with a soft cloth and advises Frodo to have the bandage changed every day. With a weak smile Frodo thanks him.
The afternoon passes with some additional work around the farm. By the time Frodo returns to the inn for supper, he is genuinely tired. He expects to have a few aches tomorrow but that should be of no particular worry and in fact may be welcome.
When he wakes the following morning, he keeps his eyes closed. If only he could go back to that blessed dark place where he is unaware of anything.