The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

Volume II
Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 12, Part 42
The Light Across the Sea
(December 12, 1451)

Frodo found the desk and chair in his room sawed down to just the right height for his comfort, with quill and ink set out for him, and paper awaiting in the drawer. A few stars still lingered high in his window's view, but he could see the sunrise color reflecting off of that thin thread of silver in the distance as he picked up his pen and wrote, "December 12, 1451" and laid the pen back down. How could he ever put it all in words?
"I had the queerest dream last night, Papa," he wrote. "I sailed in this enormous boat--a ship, I believe you would call it, with indoor and outdoor parts and sails as high as towers, big enough to hold several large hobbit families (and coming from a Gamgee, that's saying something.) But in my dream the ship held elves, and a man with a long white beard, and a painfully old hobbit, and me."
He shook his head, frowned, and took a bite from a piece of toast beside the paper. The elves on that voyage seemed miles beyond any he had met in waking life, but he couldn't capture how, exactly, on the page. Maybe he wasted his time even trying. But he lifted the pen again, anyway.
"Let me start over. Have you ever had the kind of dream that takes a grip on you like nothing else can? Like you seem to live the vividest year of your life in one small night, and you're never going to forget that dream for as long as you breathe? Of course you have, being you. This was that kind of dream." He frowned, pausing over the page. "Only more so. And I know without asking that you've had true dreams from time to time, of things that really happened, like your Mordor nightmares. I had something like that, not all strange and symbolic like the dreams I've told to you before--at least not strange in the usual way, if that makes any sense. But this was different from your dreams, too, Papa, not quite like your memories of Mordor. I think I dreamed something true that I never saw awake, and never will. I'm not even sure I was me, though people called me Frodo."
He paused a long time, staring out the window, ignoring his breakfast, before he put the pen back to paper and wrote, "I saw my hand resting on the gunwale, Papa. I was missing a finger."
He ate a couple of forkfuls of cooling eggs then, rereading what he wrote. "It all seems so strange, now, but so natural then. I kept worriting about the elderly hobbit--and I mean he was a pitiful sight to see! Worn down, he was, more than you'd think the flesh could bear." Frodo paused a moment. "And yet beautiful, too, in his own way, like worn things sometimes are. Years and years of kindliness and laughter had shaped his face. Big, smiling curves of wrinkles, laugh-line after laugh-line, framed his mouth like petals on a rose, and more lines radiated from his eyes like light from stars, and the creases on his forehead etched the history of how by habit he would arch one brow in amusement at his cockeyed viewing of the world. You had to love a face like that, and how bravely it had held on to its good humor, throughout the weary years and all the little labors without end."
Frodo toyed with his breakfast, frowning, trying to reconstruct the dream before it all escaped him. "I remember this one elf who took care of that other hobbit. You could be forgiven a lot more readily for mistaking this healer for a man than you could Legolas, for he had broader shoulders and a sturdier build than the average run for the Eldar, and big, muscular hands as strong as any man's--but sensitive nonetheless, so very tender as he cared for his old friend. But he carried hisself with the kind of majesty that mortals can't begin to imitate, not even the King."
Frodo hesitated a moment before he confessed, "Actually, one part of me kept wishing that the elf-man would leave well enough alone, and let the poor old gaffer die--out here in the splendor of the sea, with the salt spray on his weary face and rainbows dancing on the prow!" Frodo stared at the page and almost crossed that out. "But another part of me knew that the healer had to do everything in his power to try and keep the hobbit alive at least to the end of the journey--even though the poor fellow had long outlived his proper days, and something felt kind of wrong about him being so old in the first place--wrong like a sickness. If the phrase 'terminally alive' could make any sense, it would if applied to him."
Frodo ate a sausage and drank some tea. He hoped to heaven that this letter didn't disturb his father too much--he'd already written enough upsetting matters in his letters as it stood. Then he shrugged and decided that there wasn't a burden in the world he couldn't share with Papa, and went back to it.
"Well, we did get to the end of our voyage with the old hobbit still very much alive. Do you remember in the Red Book where my namesake spoke about a dream of his in the House of Tom Bombadil? It looked exactly like that--the rain parting like a curtain of crystal beads, a white shore, a green land--but no words can do it justice, Papa, nor capture the life-rich scent of the air. Even now, within the hour of waking from that dream, the beauty fades from my mind like the sunrise colors fading in my window, because I'm just plain too small to hold it in my head for long--you can't hardly even imagine it apart from dreams.
"And speaking of the Red Book, from what I've read and from what you've told me, I think I guess who everybody in that boat might have been, but I don't dare say it, I don't dare name them. I could be wrong. It seems almost presumptuous to suppose I'm right. I can only describe them and let you figure it out for yourself.
"Anyway, upon sight of that shore, the most magnificent elven woman you could ever dream of (and she had golden hair like a cascade of sunlight) dimpled up like a merry little girl and cried out to me, 'Frodo, you must visit my home, where I grew up, where I played and beat the boys at all their games!" I mean I could not have imagined stranger words from so queenly a presence. "My parents may still be there," she told me--and her so ancient I'd never even thought of her as having parents. "You shall have to meet them!" Then her face clouded as she said, "Oh, how they must have wept for me!" And then she brightened again, gasping with delight to see a boat rowing out to meet us.
"Papa, radiant persons rode in that boat. You think elves are something marvelous? They are hobbits next to this other kind! Oh, you cannot imagine! And yet you've seen, Papa--seen and not known it, maybe. Because the old man with the white beard, if he's the one I think he was, the one who held Legolas by the hair over the fiery crevasse in my other dream, he turned out to be one of them, too! I looked at him, and he just sort of shed oldness like a worn-out cloak and became radiant like the others, young and healthy and strong! And so I had hope for the elderly hobbit, too. But the gaffer didn't shed his age, though he revived considerably, and did not seem sick anymore.
"As they drew nearer I saw that these radiant beings belonged to a loftier order than our once-aged companion, even. The elf-woman cried out, "Yavannah! Aule! Dearest of teachers!" and she leaped from the ship's high deck, just abandoned herself to the fresh salt air, her robes all a-flutter about her and her hair like a golden cloud, right down into their upstretched arms where she embraced them both at once, crying up a storm and all the more beautiful for it, and so help me the radiant beings wept too, their tears like drops of light and all for the joy of having her back.
"I climbed down by a rope ladder, myself, and everybody made much of me, but I felt ashamed--a fraud! I held in me some terrible secret that I could state flat-out and still, it seemed, no one would get it. How could all these fine folk treat me like some kind of hero when I'd done something so bad that it shriveled up my heart to a burnt-out shell? Didn't they know? Hadn't I made myself plain? I did not deserve such honor--least of all from beings so great that I could barely look at them!
"But then one of the radiant beings leaned to me, dark-haired like a storm-cloud, with lightning-flashing eyes that wept like the rains of all the world; she took me by the hand, seeming to dwindle to my measure, and I saw that she knew my heart, and that she wept for me. 'You have shown mercy to others, Frodo,' she said to me--so heart-melting gently I cannot tell you. 'I have come for you, to teach you mercy for yourself.' And then the no-longer-old man put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Listen to Nienna. She is the best of teachers.'
"I did not mention before that I felt kind of frail, myself, throughout the whole voyage. In fact I believe I recall that I had a really bad spell early on--horrible, horrible pain in my shoulder but an even deeper pain in my soul, like every memory of what had passed for joy shriveled up like a garden in a drought, till you'd find it hard to believe that anything ever grew from such cracked clay, even if you'd seen it for yourself once, long, long ago. On that day the elf-man had bathed me in kingsfoil-water and took care of me like an invalid, just like he did for the elderly fellow. And every day of the journey, too, he would give me a tiny glass of a fresh-tasting cordial that tingled in the mouth--one every morning and one at night--and that seemed to help some.

"But when the dark-haired lady took my hand I felt a shock like benevolent lightning had struck me, and a surge of healing ran all through me like I had kingsfoil tea in my veins! So I burst into tears all of a sudden, myself, and those tears washed so much pain out of me! I knew I still had a ways to go, but I had found at last the way out of something dreadful that I'd grown so accustomed to it was almost a sin."
Frodo listened to birds singing outside his window. As he finished his sausage and eggs he checked once more to count his own fingers (ten) just to be on the safe side, and noticed that his hands trembled on the silverware; a glance at his letter showed him just how shaky his writing had turned out, too. He shrugged. Papa could still read it anyway.
"The old hobbit climbed down the rope ladder with no trouble whatsoever. His face crinkled with laughter and he did not seem near so old any longer. 'My friend! My friend!' he cried. 'It has been too long since we should have met! Well met now, and at last!'"
Frodo stopped once more. He closed his eyes and felt the tears trembling on the edge of release. Then he swallowed and forced himself to write.
"That friend he referred to turned out to be one of the radiant beings, dark-haired like the lady who greeted me. He looked pleasant enough in his features, though he dressed all in black which only made his pale face look paler. Even so, he grinned like a boy, yet with eyes so tender I've only seen the like in Mama gazing down on me, that time when I had the fever and you folks got so scared for me. Anyway, it was like a dam burst and the old hobbit started to tell his new friend his entire life story right there on the boat. I should have listened--you'd have added whole chapters to the Red Book if he was who I think he was, but I was too busy telling my own story to the lady who had greeted me. And I have to admit that now I don't remember much of anything I said, either. I get the sense that I shouldn't, that I didn't just forget, but that those memories were taken from me. It would have been indecent to keep them past waking, if you know what I mean. They weren't mine, at least not waking-me."
When Frodo sighed he touched his hand to his breast and felt something hard there. What the...? Then he remembered. May's lens. He had made a cord for it last night--surprisingly light and comfortable for horsehair. So light, in fact, that he must've forgotten he had it on and went to bed wearing it.
He gave the lens no more thought as he wrote, "We came to a shore that sparkled with gemstones scattered across the sand, and traveled beyond to a cottage amid the lushest gardens and forest this gardener ever saw, where fair quarters had been prepared for us. It seems funny to say, but I saw nothing too magnificent about our lodging-- plain stone, ordinary wood--nicely carved, mind you, obviously elvish work, and lovingly made like everything they do, but all of the same stuff you'd find in the Shire. Wool blankets. Clay basin and pitcher. Ordinary things. Yet extraordinary, too, like I could see their beauty glowing about them in ways I can't describe. That's why my hands shake so much writing this letter, Papa, because I've got a little of that sight left over from the dream, so that I marvel at this pen in my hand, I marvel at the creaminess of paper, I marvel at this desk and the knowledge that somewhere a man put time and effort into making it, and before that a tree put time and effort into making wood. I woke up this morning with the world so full of marvel that I can hardly function!"
Frodo closed his eyes and waited yet again for the trembling to abate to manageable levels. He picked up the last of his toast and tasted ripening fields of grain, with the butter on it rich with the golden sunlight pouring down on peaceful cattle grazing in the hills. He felt like he had drowned in Barliman's Wizard Brew and wondered that he could still sit upright.
"I found in my room a closet full of clothing, well-made and comfortable, all in my favorite colors and all my perfect size. I went to see the other hobbit's room, to see what presents he might have, but I when I saw that they had made just one day's set of clothes for him a chill passed through me. I heard him laugh behind me, looking over my shoulder. He said, 'Isn't it perfect?' And then I knew what I dared not tell myself.
"It seems strange to say that I dreamed of sleeping, but I did--more deeply than I ever had in my life, more peacefully than I'd ever thought possible. I 'woke' to a perfect morning, and that's no exaggeration. You'd think that after such a dream-waking that real waking would pale by comparison, but for some reason it doesn't work that way. I feel..."
Frodo took a deep breath before he wrote, "I feel overwhelmed." He rose, walked about the room, touching things--wood, stone, wool, linen, porcelain, brass, wax. Exactly the same as over there. Exactly. Except...
He sat down at the desk again. "After a very companionable breakfast between us two hobbits, in which the elder seemed more sprightly than he had in years (and I felt like I had known him dearly my whole life long) his new friend came for him and took him hiking all over the place. I would get glimpses of him now and then--waving at me from a beach, or a peek of his bright-colored cloak flapping through a forest, or high up where the black-clad one helped him, step by step, to climb a mountain. No matter how far he and his companion went, I could see them together--and he kept up a pace that quite exhausted me just to watch him!
"But oh, what a lovely countryside they traveled through! Again, it seemed made up of the same stuff you'd find anywhere--trees, flowers, rock, grass, birds on the wing, clouds in the air--but a light shone on them and through them to make them unbearably beautiful. No, that's not quite right--they already were. The light revealed to me what they truly were. It didn't make them anything else."
What they truly were. He gazed out the window at the plains beyond the citadel, and the hint of ocean on the horizon. He could still feel it--all that incredible beauty, though he couldn't quite see it anymore, the way the mind remembers and fills in the fullness of colors not clearly seen by candlelight. He took a deep breath to steady himself, but the scents of breakfast and soap and the fresh air from the window only intoxicated him the more.
"Meanwhile, I sat in a garden beside a fountain, with my own companion. She said that I would have time enough to see everything my kinsman saw--later, once I'd allowed myself to heal. Allowed myself? I thought, and she caught my thought as though I had spoken it aloud. Yes, she told me--of all her griefs, nothing moved her so much as my inability to forgive myself for not being perfect, without help, all by myself."
Frodo threw the pen down, stared at the page awhile, then blotted up the spilled ink, and made himself write. "Oh heavens, Papa! I don't want to say anything to hurt you. You didn't do nothing wrong helping--you did everything right. The fault lay in him--me, in the dream--and if it hurts you to hear that, it needs said anyways. The one thing he could've done better was to ask for more help, and he had to face that, and stop blaming hisself for failing to throw the Ring away all on his own. (Yes--I do know who I was!) If our heroes were perfect, there wouldn't be much point in looking up to them and trying to emulate them, now would there be? As well try to be a mountain or a sunrise!
"Anyway, in my dream I spent the day with her, talking, crying sometimes, letting her drain the poison from my thoughts. At some point the person I'm sure was Gandalf in some form or other showed up and joined us, and I felt relieved that he confirmed everything the dark lady said to me, for I knew that he knew me on a level that maybe no one else could reach. Then he left again, and the lady and I got into some really personal discussion that I mercifully cannot remember now.
"Finally we rejoined the old gaffer--oh, why not call him Bilbo?--and his friend for dinner. The four of us talked--oh how we talked, the entire night long! Our two friends had become quite gay, surprisingly enough, as Bilbo and I reminisced about old times together, and my lady's tears turned to tears of delight that we could remember these fond memories at all--it astonished me that I could have forgotten so much that had been good in the world. The other (whom I now perceived as her brother) kept the old hobbit's glass filled from a black bottle; he did not serve the rest of us whatever it was he poured, but the mere scent of it would make my head reel whenever it wafted my way. Bilbo just kept getting merrier and merrier, and finally sleepier and sleepier, till he very softly fell over onto his companion's lap, with the sweetest smile upon his dear old face.
"The dark one picked him up and carried him in his arms like a baby, with such tenderness as I had never seen before, like I didn't know the meaning of tenderness till then. And he smiled like Mama smiled when my fever finally broke so many years ago, saying, 'Welcome home at last, dear little friend--my halls shall be honored to guest you for awhile, before the final journey.' With that he carried the hobbit away, and I knew that Bilbo had not just fallen asleep, and I knew the radiant one's name.

"I turned to my friend--Nienna--and the tears ran down her face in rivers, like my own flowed down my cheeks, and she stretched out her arms to me, and so held me tight as we both wept hard for grief--but a clean grief, a flood of letting go, of accepting that 'home' no longer meant the same thing for Bilbo as it did for me, and would not for some years yet. Then somehow--and I can't explain this--my grief turned into the most piercing bliss. The closest I can come to it is the feeling you get when you hear the final twist of a story so stirring that it makes your head spin, the kind of story that dominates your thoughts for days after and never fully leaves you. In the end she released me, and I felt stronger for having wept, I felt glad and sad all mixed together, like the two could never be at war."
Frodo sipped at his tea, lost in thought. Then he picked up the quill for a final time and wrote, "I'm not sure if I can ever be afraid again, Papa, Mama. If you could have seen the kindliness on Mandos' face! I mean, I would be ashamed to visit him too soon, with my work undone (whatever that might be) so I will take every precaution not to make a mess of things and die before my proper hour--but fear? No, I don't see any more reason to fear. I can face Mordor now. I can face anything."

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