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Moments in Time  by Larner

Particularly for Fiondil, in return for many hours of reading recently--although I don't quite see some things precisely as he does.

My thanks as always to RiverOtter for the Beta.

Judgment and Healing

            I am Frodo Baggins of the Shire.  I am Frodo Baggins of the Shire.

            The repetition of this declaration of his identity had been all that the Hobbit could find to fully hold to as Maiar and the Great Elves of Tol Eressëa had surrounded him, doing battle with what lay, now nowhere as quiescent as it had been for the past three years since Shelob had bitten him with her mandibles and injected her poison--and a bit more--into the back of his neck.

            I am Frodo Baggins of the Shire.

            A special compress of athelas leaves and other herbs and substances he’d not recognized had been placed over the reopened wound, and had been held in place by specially wrapped bandages.  At least seven Maiar surrounded him as Gandalf--Olórin--carried him across the island.

            Why do you not merely remove yourself and the little one to the Fanes with your thought, brother? asked one of those who served as escort.

            Olórin was shaking his head.  “Nay, gwador,” he answered aloud.  “He is mortal and has been under the shadow of death too many times, and although he is much recovered his state is yet very fragile.  He could not bear such an experience and still hold to his hröa; and should he lose that, he would, I believe, leave the Bounds of Arda completely, before he has known all he was intended to know here upon Tol Eressëa.  Would you see him leave us ere the Becoming is complete, and before he appreciates all that it means?  He yet fears he will lose himself, much as he’s feared since he first began to appreciate just what it was Bilbo had left to his stewardship.”

            Frodo turned his head away, feeling sick and lost, much as he’d felt when he sat atop Asfaloth, turned to look back in defiance at the Nine ranged across the Ford of the Brúinen from him, and saw them ride into the water and the river rising in wrath to sweep them away.

            I am Frodo Baggins of the Shire, he repeated once again within himself, the litany that helped keep him tied to himself.  He felt the stirring within the wound and felt his stomach again roil, although he’d not been able to keep anything down since the attack on his identity and body had begun that morning.  The Maia holding him paused, dismayed by the returning nausea.

            Hold to yourself as you can, Frodo, the Hobbit heard in his heart.  We are with you, and we will fight for you.

            Perhaps you should let me go.  I am not afraid.

            Not of death, perhaps, commented a different Maia, one in the costume of the hunt, his face stern and proud.  Merely allow us, dear one, to remove completely the threat to peace that abides within your neck, and know yourself whole and inviolate once more ere you leave us.  You have come too far to go without fighting this last threat, and without knowing the fullness of what you are meant to be.

            Frodo closed his eyes.  And what is it I am meant to be? he asked himself as much as the Maia.

            To learn that, beloved child, you must choose to remain.

            Not to evil, my friend, came the more familiar thought of Gandalf.  Never to that--not here.

            Frodo was not aware that he smiled faintly, although the former Wizard saw it and took heart from it.  He held the Hobbit slightly closer to his breast, sharing what strength he could.  He knew that if Frodo were to let go now he would be safe enough with their Atar; but he wished for his small friend to know more--to find fulfillment at last in the life granted to him here in Aman so that when he did indeed find his way to the Presence it should be with his Light shining freely in joy and delight, not shrouded in defeat and memories of weakness and regret.  If only he could have known the joy and pleasure of marriage and fatherhood, Olórin thought.

            And would you have had me leave a wife before she was certain what that meant? Frodo’s thought replied.  He again shifted slightly in the Maia’s grasp.  “Gandalf--set me down--I’m going to be ill,” he whispered, his face even paler.

            The Maia paused, and knelt, helping Frodo to kneel also as at last Frodo lost control of his stomach, although all he could bring up was some bile.  Other Maiar appeared with cool, damp cloths to wipe his face and brow, and with water to help cleanse his mouth and a light wine to aid in the settling of his stomach.  Then Olórin helped him stand, wrapped the Elven cloak from Lorien once more about his body and then accepted a light blanket to protect him as well, and at last lifted him again into his arms, turning again westward to the Fanes.

            I hate feeling so helpless, Frodo thought, giving a sigh and turning his head toward the Maia’s chest.

            “There is no reason, Iorhael--none at all.  You have been weakened by this latest insult to your integrity, but that shall be soon mended.”

            After a time Frodo stirred again, and Olórin was surprised, for he’d thought the Hobbit had drifted into a doze.  He looked upwards toward the Maia’s face.  “I--I might not--survive this?” he asked.

            “The ties between hröa and fëa have been weakened, Frodo.  I will not lie to you about that; and it is no simple thing for one who is mortal to be in the presence of the Valar.  But I suspect you will come through this--if you desire it.  Just remember, my beloved friend, that Bilbo wishes that he be the one to greet you when at last you travel where we are bound not to follow as yet, and not the other way around.  He has bound himself not to go on until your choice is decided.”

            And will it be merely my choice? Frodo’s thought asked.  I am not as strong as I was when I was younger, after all.  And do not seek to convince me how young I am--however the Ring preserved the illusion of youth, you know as well as I do how much the carrying of It aged me and weakened my body.

            There was no reassurance that the Maia could give to that, merely held his beloved burden closer and hurried his pace toward the grove that was now visible, marking the entrance to the Fanes.

            A pavilion had been raised to house the Hobbit, but Gandalf stopped short of it--and Gandalf indeed he appeared at that moment.  The Hobbit appeared further reassured by the scents of pipeweed and horse and long journeys that now emanated from his bearer, and closed his eyes, breathing deeply.

            “No, no pavilion, nothing that shuts him from the sight of stars and Sun and Moon,” Gandalf admonished them.  “Not for this one at this time.  He will not rest comfortably without natural light at most filtered by leaves able to fall on him--this we learned as he lay in healing sleep within Ithilien.”

            The Elves who tended the Fanes paused, nonplused by this rejection of their preparations; but one of Nienna’s Maiar, after looking deeply into the face of the Hobbit, nodded her agreement.  So be it, she confirmed.  Remove the pavilion, and let the Ringbearer lie amidst the natural world he so craves.  She looked at one of those who followed the Lady Yavanna, one who’d also been close to Lord Aulë.  He is one closely tied to the earth, to richness and fulfillment.  Can you think of a place within the Fanes where he will be best able to know peace and accept the attentions of our Masters and Mistresses?

            I can think of such a place, came the return thought.  Bring him, gwador.

            Turning, the new Maia led the way through a copse of mellyrn and willow to a natural bowl, one Frodo seemed to see as doubly encircled by great standing stones capped with equally great lintels.  The memory of the similar ring lying between the Old Forest and the Barrowdowns swept through Frodo, and he gave a barely suppressed whimper as Gandalf brought him between the stones toward the center of the ring.  There he saw a blue stone lying, cold and as unyielding as had been the slab on which the barrow-wight had laid him, and it was toward this they advanced.  Over the slab towered a silver monolith, its sides polished and reflecting back as it were the light of the moon, its top appearing tipped with gold.  As Olórin made to lay him down Frodo sought to hold tightly to him, and it took another, clad in indistinct grey, to gently loosen his grip and help place him on the stone--not that it felt precisely like stone once he was lying upon it.  But now those memories were sweeping him, and he found himself lost within them, until he pulled in on himself and closed down his awareness of it all.


            Iorhael!  Iorhael!

            Frodo ignored the call, sitting with his knees pulled up to himself, his hands holding tight around his knees, his face pressed against his arms.  He continued his mantra:  I am Frodo Baggins of the Shire.  I am Fro----

            He felt a stirring behind him, felt a great hand reach down to caress the back of his head.  A sweet morsel you’ve been, a cold voice spoke in his mind.  Ah, such a sweet morsel.  Too bad you drew me away from your little land when you did--I could have enjoyed myself fully there--drawn all lives into myself, sated myself on them.

            That caused him pause, as he looked up at a face--a face of a fell beauty, a ruined, glorious visage that smiled lasciviously down at him.  Without thinking he rose, and as he rose, without realizing it he changed.  The figure that had seemed small and vulnerable was now tall and shining--still too spare, but its will as hard--and sharp--as if it were a sword cleaved of adamant.  Leave the Shire--the land I’ve loved all my life--at your questionable mercy?  I think not, lady, he assured her, and his tone was as cold as her own.  Nay--if I would not leave the tool of your Brother’s Will there to cause even more ruin, why do you think I would leave you there to destroy land and people at your leisure?

            And you would think to successfully oppose me?  He could easily see the mockery in her glance, the hunger in her eyes.

            And how long have you sat, helpless to go further, in the tiny cell in which you’ve been imprisoned these past three years? he asked.  He could not realize the strength of his defiance that shone forth in his gaze, the clarity of his thought as opposed to the murky appetite that obscured hers.

            Neither noticed the others who came to surround the two of them, as the shining forms of Maiar came closer to encircle them, and as greater, brighter forms approached outside that circle.

            She shrugged, and the whole world seemed to lurch with her shoulders.  Perhaps I am no longer able to take the foolish folk of your land, but certainly you are more than enough to give me strength to once again take for myself a bodily shape, and so confront those who’ve hunted my Master and myself for these past ages.

            Perhaps.   His eyes did not flinch from hers.  But you have not been able to leave the prison formed for you by your daughter, have you?  And if I, a mere Hobbit, can manage to contain you without meaning to do so, how can you believe your fellows will be easily bested?

            She paused, uncertainty for the first time showing in her alluring, repulsive face.  Then she straightened.  I will have you, at least.  Your gardener friend is no longer beside you to succor you.

            I say to you what I said to Sauron’s Nazgûl--if you want me, you must first come to take me.

            Without moving he yet now stood facing her across an abyss, one that moments before she’d reached across to touch him, but that now divided them beyond the length of her arm.  For the first time she looked about her, and saw on all sides the Maiar on guard and those who stood beyond their circle.  She licked her lips uncertainly.


            See the fire lit and blazing brightly, he heard, and he felt Gandalf on one side and the one in the hunting costume on the other, supporting him, while a female Maia knelt behind him as he sat crouched, his head leaning forward against his knees.  The Maia who’d led them to this place knelt in front of him and was holding his hair up and out of the way.  He felt a cool blade laid to the wound where Shelob had bit him, poisoned him....


            She could move easily across the abyss--or at least at one time she would have been able to do so.  She was herself a Maia, after all.  However, it had been a long time since she’d attempted to move about unclad in hröa, and she was no longer certain she’d regained all of her abilities.  This form of imagination that he’d imposed upon her as he sat naked within the realm of Possibilities in which the two of them had found themselves, here to where he’d fled the terror of the memories of the barrow of Tyrn Gorthad, was close enough to what she’d once taken to herself when she clothed herself in likeness to the Children of the One, she realized.  Her hands were perhaps not as shapely as she’d made them look, but were serviceable.  She gave him a fell smile as she started forward----

            ----and realized that if she moved any more she would fall.  She stopped, dismayed and even more uncertain than she’d been.

            Those who ringed her stepped forward, and the one facing her stood even taller, his expression stern and totally denying her the physical reality she wished.

            He felt as the blade cut into his flesh, although he felt no pain from it.  I will probe the wound.  Hold the mirror to shine the light onto and into it.  Then, after a pause, I am surprised he sits so still and does not complain.

            Olórin gave Frodo a piercing look.  I do not believe his fëa is currently all within his hröa.  He straightened some, and Frodo felt the fingers tighten on his shoulder.  Our Lords Manwë and Tulkas have sent many of their servants to follow his fëa.  They are warding him about.

            The Elven healer who’d leaned over Frodo’s neck paused, removing blade and fine tongs, eyes fixed on the Maia who’d served so long in Ennor.  “Not in his hröa?  How is it his fëa has gone free?  And where is it gone?”

            The Maia went very quiet, as if listening.  Finally he murmured, “The shadow realm.  No!  Not as the shadow realm--he sees it this time as the realm of Possibilities it was intended to be.”  His Light began to shine more brightly as he grew more excited, then it sharpened as he grew more alert.  Our masters and mistresses are there, also, on guard.  He faces an enemy.

            An enemy?  There was disbelief in the thought expressed by the Elf.

            “Quickly--you must find the focus of the infection and remove it!”

            The Elf gave a nod and bent over the Hobbit’s neck, using the fine blade to press open the side of the wound, then gently inserted the tips of the tongs.  The second Elf manipulating the mirror adjusted the angle to best illuminate the wound.  “Something moves here,” the first said aloud.  She reached her tongs further in, then suddenly gave a small lunge, closing the tongs on something black, bringing out----


            Elves and Maiar straightened, and at the pressure on her hröa Ungoliant snapped back within the form she’d been building, even as in the realm of Possibilities Eonwë stepped forward, a stern look on his shining face, a great sword of Light in his hand.

            We deny you, Ungoliant.  We deny you our company.  We deny you your prey.  We deny you further place within Arda.  You have spent your Light, have turned from the Song, have sought to steal the Breath.  Here is the End of it!

            Again she licked her lips, raising her hands as Eonwë raised the sword.  Within the circle of stones where Frodo sat with his hands clutching his knees, the Elven healer lifted up the black spider held within her fine tongs, a look of disgust in her eyes as she examined it, then casually cast the form, its legs writhing, into the fire that burned nearby.  And the Hobbit turned his head to watch----

            ----as the shining Prince watched as the sword of Light was brought down on the shape of the fallen Maia----

            ----and with a scream of mixed fury, disbelief, and terror, Ungoliant was no more.

            It is time, beloved child, Manwë informed the spirit he saw before him, for you to return to your hröa.  And it is to be hoped you will fight for the right to live.

            Must I?

            Would you go on ere you knew the pleasure due you, best beloved?  Before you learn all your hungry heart would know?  Before you know the fulfillment prepared for you?  For you will be fulfilled--we promise it.

            A shining figure came beside her spouse, and the shining soul straightened in recognition and that special awe and delight he’d ever held for starlight.  And would you have your friend come and find the abode prepared for you lying long emptied, finding you’d already fled this life?  He will come bearing great gifts for you, you know.

            That argument reached deepest into the spirit’s awareness.  It bowed deeply.  He could not allow Sam to come vainly....


            And he found himself back--back wholly within himself as a compress of steeped athelas leaves was pressed to the wound on the back of his neck and once again clean bandages were wrapped to hold it in place, and he was eased back again to lie down once more--but it was not on the unyielding surface of stone he lay, but on the cool springiness of thick grass that clothed a mound of earth itself.

            And as he looked upward the great monolith that towered over him was changing from mithril stone with golden tip to become a mallorn of great size and majesty, and the air about him was scented with the glory of growing things.  As Olórin released his head it lolled slightly sideways, and he saw they were not surrounded by a double circle of standing stones topped with lintels of more, but by great linden trees whose branches intertwined, with a circle of rowans beyond them, white with blossoms.  He breathed deeply of the cool, scented air, smiled, and relaxed.  A good place to be, here at the end of all things.  And he smiled as he let himself go, glad somehow it was sunlight shining on  him, although he’d always thought to leave this life under the glory of the stars.  But this reminded him of the steadiness of his Sam.... 

            His eyes rolled up as his body went slack.


            And what do you do here, in the shadows of the very Gates once more?

            I’d thought to let go and be done.

            And have you forgotten already that you live not only for yourself, but for the hope of the one to come?  The face of the Vala of the Final Healing looked down on him with stern gaze.  Now is not your time, Iorhael.

            I am Frodo Baggins of the Shire----  But he felt disappointment--and yet, at the same time a degree of relief--as the Gates were closed against him, and he once more felt about him the confines of his fleshly body.  He felt that body take a deep, shuddering breath....


            “He’s returned to us.” 

            Frodo heard in Gandalf’s voice the same relief he’d seen in the eyes of the Wizard when he’d awakened in the grove in Ithilien, there near the Field of Cormallen.  Ah, he thought as he took yet another breath, it appeared that once more he was doomed to live....

            And is it such a bitter thing, Frodo Baggins of the Shire? he heard within his heart from the Voice that had been with him ever since he’d been freed from the enthrallment he’d so long known to the Ring.  He took comfort in the Voice.

            “He’s smiling,” he heard the healer Elf murmur as he slipped into sleep.

            “He’s realizing he was never truly alone,” Gandalf said, and now Frodo could hear the echoes of Olórin within Gandalf’s voice.  The last words seemed to reach him as if he were listening from deep under water.  “Our Atar is with him.”

            He slept.


            They slipped a soft, white blanket woven of silk, velvety and light, over his body as he slept.  Now and then they’d lift up his head and press him to drink, much as he and Sam had been given fluids as they’d remained in healing sleep under Aragorn’s care in Ithilien after their rescue.  When this happened he’d approach awareness, then slip away again, smiling to remember his tall brother of the heart, then grieving for the distance between them.  Now and then the blanket was lifted, the bandages changed, his body cleansed.

            His position was being shifted regularly, and he was being checked for bedsores and the like.  His skin was anointed with a gentle oil, and now and then he’d taste broth on his lips as he unconsciously licked them.  He heard the songs of Elves about him, and the deeper, more primal songs of Maiar; and in the times of quiet as stars and Moon illuminated the circle within which he lay, the distant joyful, mithril songs of the stars themselves.

            He was coming to awareness when he heard a new debate.  “He is not particularly strong of hröa, my Lady.”

            This we know, but he cannot wait longer.  It is time now for us to take over the care of this great one.

            “And if he cannot bear the glory of you?”

            Do you believe, our son, that his fëa will ever be in danger?

            His eyes opened to see Olórin bowing low before a shining Lady.  “Nay, my Lady Estë--indeed the only time I truly feared for him was when my brother’s tool took him at the last, ere It was taken from him.  And I still offer thanks to you for his release from that.”

            It was not wholly due to our intervention, Olórin.  Although he could not hear the Voice of our Atar within him for the interference of the Ring, yet he was not truly alone even then.  She turned then from the Maia to look down on Frodo, and Frodo felt his body take a sharp breath at the beauty of her visage----

            ----just ere he fled.


            “And what do you do here?”  The voice was filled with amusement.

            He looked away from the distant shining of the Sea, rolling in its great dance between shore and sky, singing its Song in glory, to see who it was that had come beside him.  She sat herself by him, dressed in a gown of soft green the very color of the spring burgeoning forth all about them.  At last he answered, “I’m not quite certain where I am.”

            “No, I must suppose you are not.  Well, child, you sit upon the lower slopes of Taniquetel, looking out at the beauty of the Encircling Sea.”

            He nodded slightly.

            At last she continued, “Why did you flee me when I came to you within the Grove?”

            He shook his head uncertainly.  “I’m but a mortal....”

            She smiled, and he could not help but respond to the joy of that smile.  “Mortal in body perhaps, but your fëa has ever been immortal, you know.  I cannot tell you precisely what Iluvatar has prepared for the fëar of such as you once you’ve cast off the hröa that clothes you ordinarily here within Arda, for that knowledge was taken from us as we entered within Arda to rejoice in the company of the Eruhini.  Of one thing am I certain, however--it will delight you once you come to it.”

            He nodded as he turned to look again at the Sea.  The Sun was sinking now, and the western sky was beginning to show forth all colors, rejoicing to welcome Arien back to its embrace.  He took a deep breath of appreciation, then paused as he felt her touch his shoulder, his breathing suddenly abated.  She sighed.  “Ah, child, but how very deeply you have been hurt.”  Compassion filled her voice, and her fingers were cool upon his neck as she gently probed the place where the wound had been.  “And even when the thrall ring of our fallen brother was taken from you, your flesh yet held her imprisoned.  I must suppose it was good you bore her back here, that she not escape and seek to make herself the next tyrant over what she could take of Endorë,” she murmured.

            He turned to look at her.  “I’d not thought,” he began, then paused, uncertain what to say.

            “She sought to stir frequently enough,” she sighed, examining his eyes.  “And each time she awakened and sought escape, you would dream of her, did you not?”

            “Mostly I’d dream other things--how Aragorn was coming to rescue me, only the orcs of the tower in which I was imprisoned fell on him and those with him, slaying the rest, wounding him, seeking to take him prisoner also.  Or I’d see the Ring all about me, mocking me with my inability to deny It at the last.  Or----”

            She laid a single shapely finger against his lips, stilling him.  “I see.  Well, that is behind you now.”

            They were quiet for a time.  At last he whispered, “I could not save Sméagol.  Nor Saruman.”

            “You reminded them of the promise of redemption; saving them was beyond the likes of you, however.  And do not believe that you failed in your responsibility toward them.  What you did was enough for them to accept or deny what was offered by those far greater than you.  In the end it was their responsibility to choose, not yours to choose for them.  Or would you become as our brother became, or as Sauron allowed himself to become--or Saruman at the last?”

            He shivered.  He turned his attention back to the sunset, and watched in delight as the sky shone forth its colors, then began to darken.  He was aware of a great glory behind him, and he turned, just in time to see a great Ship rise from the slopes above him.  He stood and straightened to watch it rising up, shining brightly in the growing dusk.  He could feel the light of it fill him as he watched Eärendil begin his nightly journey.  “Ah!” he breathed, feeling almost drunk with the glory of it.  He felt her hand tighten on his shoulder in agreement.

            “He sees you as a child of his spirit, and hopes one day to meet with you in person, when you are stronger.”

            Again he nodded, smiling.

            “Do you think that now you could return again to your body, for of what good is it to heal the hröa if the fëa does not deign to return to it?”

            He turned to look at her again.  Although night had now fallen, he could still see her as if the brightest of daylight lay on her alone.  At last he smiled at her, gave a bow, and----


            ----and found himself back within his body, Gandalf again leaning over him, the Wizard’s beard tickling his throat.  There was joy in the Maia’s face as it at last reverted back to that of Olórin.  “So, our Lady Estë found you, did she?”

            “Yes,” the Hobbit whispered, and he felt himself smiling in reaction to that of the Maia.

            Estë tended to him throughout the night; and near dawn she was joined by her consort.  Irmo smiled at him as he again bathed Frodo’s body.  You have ever been open to dreams, Iorhael.  Now let those engendered by our brother’s equally fallen lieutenant no longer trouble you.  I will show you far more profitable ones....

            In the midafternoon he woke from a doze to find a different Valië bending over him, dressed in silver grey, her hair an ashen color, her eyes as grey as those of any Dúnadan.  He realized he was weeping, and that she wept with him, her compassion helping to ease much of the regret he still bore.  She, too, was bathing his body, and he wasn’t certain whether it was with water or with her tears, but realized it wasn’t particularly important to discern which.  She smiled at him at that thought, and it was as if the clouds parted to allow in brilliant sunshine.

            Indeed, Iorhael--it is not important which.  The cleansing is what is important.  She gently touched his brow, and again he drifted down into sleep, a sleep as healing as any imposed on him by Aragorn.  At the memory of his tall brother he smiled, wishing he could be by his friend’s side.

            Aragorn stood by the White Tree, the minstrel Faragil with him.  “It grows so tall now,” the King was saying.

            “Indeed.  If only Frodo were here to see.”

            Aragorn sighed as he nodded.  “So I would wish it also, did I not know he knows there an even greater Tree yet, the daughter of Telperion.  May he rejoice in that vision!”

            And the minstrel began to sing, signing a hymn to Yavanna he’d learned from the Lady Arwen, in which the Man by him joined.  Frodo felt himself glorying in hearing his brother sing yet again....


            He awoke in the grey before dawn.  The air was rich with the scent of blooming flowers and ripening fruit, and over him knelt a glorious form, rich with delight, crowned with cherries and strawberries in a wreath of woven vines, purple grapes as a stole over her shoulders.

            Your tall brother sees your people as especially my children, even as my consort is thought the Father of the Khazad.  A quaint yet delightful fancy, and with more than a hint of truth to it, I must suppose.

            He smiled up into her face, and felt the comfort of rich earth beneath him, smelling the tang of the earth from tilled fields or a newly dug smial surround him as Aulë joined her.

            So, this is the one whose iron will saw him further even than that of Elrond or Isildur, is it?  A delight to see you, child.

            The eastern sky was brightening, and he watched with regret as the last stars faded, then turned again to look on the Smith of the Valar.  Aulë was leaning over him, gently straightening the gem that he still wore, the Queen’s gift to him, to lie over his heart.

            And the products of Nerdanel’s forge have reached the ones who needed them, the thought came to him.  We must rejoice in that.

            She also wishes to come to know you, child, Yavanna assured him.  Are you hungry, best beloved?  Could you accept some fruit?

            She assisted him to sit, and carefully fed him a single grape, then a cherry, then held to his lips a goblet filled with the juice of the orange fruit.  Pomegranates and pears did she feed him, bite by bite, and the seeds she took away in satisfaction.  We will see them planted near your abode, Iorhael, to delight you and feed you in the future.

            Others came to him at various times, Valar and Maiar, seeing to his needs, tending his healing wounds, cleansing his body and his spirit both.


            The sky clouded, and when sunset came it was muted.  He lay, slightly tense, knowing that soon he must leave here, and either pass through the Gates for certain or--or return to the land of the living yet again.  Although Bilbo lingered there, waiting to see to what choice he would turn to at last.  And if he were to leave now--what would Sam find on his arrival?

            There was a flash of lightning, illuminating the grove about him, causing the mallorn over him to shine in golden and mithril glory.  Rain swept down, and he sat up, drawing up his knees as the drops sheeted over him.

            Fitting weather, I suppose, commented the Lord of Mandos, for the night’s business.

            Indeed, my beloved Husband, agreed another voice Frodo didn’t recognize.  He turned to see a Lady, distaff in hand and a steel hook for woolwork tucked negligently over her ear, who stood by Námo’s side, looking down on him.  Knitting needles were pushed through her hair to hold it in a carefully braided bun, out of the way of her work; a tapestry needle already threaded with golden floss was pinned to her sleeve, and a shuttle of green thread was thrust through her girdle.

            Others were gathering about them, and soon Frodo found himself standing upright upon the mound, rain running down his form, as they regarded him.

            Manwë examined him.  Are you ready, son of Primula and Drogo?

            “Ready for what?”

            To be judged.

            And so it began.  He saw his life playing before his eyes--the birth in Number Five, and his welcome by parents and aunts and uncles and--and by Bilbo!  The childhood first in Hobbiton and then in Buckland.  He saw the mischief and the learning, the curiosity and the delight--and the tempers!  Ah, he’d never thought of himself as having a marked temper, but it appeared he had possessed such a thing in spite of his fantasies of himself.

            There were the tricks he’d played on those who’d taken advantage of him in the past, or who’d insulted himself, his parents, his state as an orphan, Merry, or Bilbo.  There were each and every time he’d taken advantage of others, using their own weaknesses against them.

            Was indeed love of dogs a weakness, Frodo, or a delight in bread pudding?

            That question gave him pause.

            There were the floods that managed to drive them from their lovely hole by the Brandywine; the losses of the small son and daughter his mother had known since his birth.  I didn’t even realize she’d lost a child then, he thought as he looked on the events surrounding the loss of that unborn son.

            You were very young, most likely far too young to appreciate it, Iorhael.  But your mother and father took comfort in the fact they at least had you, and lavished that much more love on the one child that did survive.

            One of the hardest things to watch was the time surrounding his parents’ deaths.  He felt the grief and horror of that time--then felt divorced from it, as if he were being shielded from the worst of it.  He saw how he’d used his relatives’ compassion toward him at times to get his own way or to avoid rightful punishment, and then how others had seen his sensitivity to the loss of his parents as a weakness to exploit for their own purposes. 

            He grieved for the young person he’d once been as if it were another, and he felt Nienna holding him, weeping with him.  He saw the isolated soul he’d become for a time, what with the strictures wound about him by his aunt and allowed and even abetted by the rest of his relatives in Brandy Hall, as he’d not been allowed to take part in strenuous activities or to suffer what they saw as discomfort.  He tasted the anger and frustration again, and then the joys of when he was able to overcome those limitations, when he was able to escape around the borders of the restrictions and find joy and fulfillment in spite of them.  No, he’d never received the pony he’d wanted as a child; but he’d found joy in walking and feeling the grass and earth beneath his feet.  He’d not been allowed to play at battles of snow balls; but he’d drawn them, and had dipped deeply into the histories of other battles fought long ago and elsewhere, and had seen beneath the glamour of glory woven about them by bards and minstrels to the harsh reality that sometimes such things were necessary but not desirable for themselves.  Early in his readings of the histories shared with him by Bilbo he’d begun realizing that each time someone within the story had died there were those who’d loved them who’d suffered that loss as he’d suffered from the loss of his own parents.  Nor had he seen much in the reasons for war that was commendable.  Certainly the actions of the sons of Fëanor in attacking Sirion had been inexcusable--save for the succoring of the children Elrond and Elros.

            He paused, looking up at the Valië who still held him.  “Was that Maglor’s chance to redeem himself?” he asked.

            One of several.  He acquitted himself well there.  But this is your judgment, not his.

            And so it continued.  Although he often wept, he never cried out or sought to discontinue the experience.  He saw how easily Pearl’s regard for him had captured his attention and self-conceit, and how he and she had both come to mistake fascination for love.  He saw how, once she’d realized she didn’t love him after all, considering how easily she’d been convinced any future children they might have could easily be weak and die early, he’d been hurt and even furious, but had done his best to turn his fury into grief as being easier to bear.

            And then the memories focused on the others who had captured his attention at one time or another.  Why was it that you never explored the possibility of a marriage with Narcissa? he was asked at one point.

            “At first....”  I didn’t see or recognize those who saw me with desire for so very long, not until I was certain I loved Pearl and she showed me.  I was flattered--and aghast, I think, to realize how many lasses saw me as desirable.  And then--then there was the Ring.  It was seeking to make me into Its image.

            The rain was stopping, and the cloud cover was slowly lifting, moving steadily eastward.  Now it was the period that he held the Ring that was being examined, and he became cold inside, seeing how It had brought him to isolation once more, how he’d pulled in upon himself, often feeling anger at being imposed upon by the very relatives he’d always loved.  He saw how his restlessness had grown, and how he’d fled from his growing awareness of the temptations laid in his way by going out on his walking tours, by suddenly leaving Hobbiton to travel to Brandy Hall or to tramp through the Binbole Forest or to explore distant parts of the Northfarthing.

            “It wanted me to--to take, to force change, to seek to mold others.  It wanted me to be masterful.  I couldn’t be that way--to destroy what already was well made and served adequately in the imagination I was actually making things better; to seek to force a lass to love me by mastery rather than through caring.”

            Only when he saw his life after the Ring was destroyed did he approach being distraught, as he saw how weak and pathetic he’d become, as he saw his actions as being too little too late....

            Are you so very certain you were so ineffective?

            “I could have done more....”

            Are you omnipotent?

            That startled him.  “Of course not!”

            Were you at your greatest strength?

            He shook his head.  “I was so very weak by then.”

            Perhaps it wasn’t for you to redress every wrong that had been wrought.  Perhaps it was for others to do as well as you.  You led the way.  Is that not enough?

            And so it went.

            At last it was done.  The storm was long past now; the sky was clear, and the stars shone down on him in brilliant glory.  He was still weeping, and Vána held for him a cup.  Drink, child of Eru, and know peace.

            So he drank, and at first it tasted--well, not bitter, but tart.  But the drink was soothing, and he needed it after all the tears he’d shed during the long night.  And when it was finished, the taste it left in his mouth was----

            Sweet?  Wholesome?  Joyful!  But how a drink could be joyful he could not say, then realized he did not care.  It was enough that he felt more than comforted.

            My cup runneth over, he heard in the depths of his heart.  Yes, that was it--his cup was running over.

            Now, Vairë noted, to see you properly clad.  And the others drew back, allowing her and her handmaids to do their work.  After her Yavanna saw to the dressing of his hair, and Aulë set a circlet of finely wrought mithril about his brow, while the Lady Varda herself settled his now clean cloak from Lothlorien about his shoulders and clasped it.

            At last he was allowed to sit upon the mound, and most of the Valar withdrew, leaving him at last alone with one.  Námo considered him gravely.  At last Frodo spoke.  “Do I come with you now?”

            Are you so desirous to give over the burden of your hröa, beloved child?

            “No, not really, not now.”

            Are you in any great pain or discomfort?

            Frodo found himself taking stock of his body, then suddenly smiled.  He shook his head.  “For once, no.”

            Then I don’t need to take you in charge?

            “No, I suppose not.”  He was still for a time, then said, “The one thing I miss most greatly is my innocence.”

            And were you given nothing in return?

            He thought for a time, and without volition he heard himself whisper, “The Voice speaks again within my heart, as it did when I was a child.”

            And do you know what voice it is you hear?  The Vala looked genuinely curious.

            Frodo finally said softly, “Wisdom?  Of--of Eru Himself?”

            The Lord of Mandos shone out with splendor, and although he didn’t realize it the Hobbit responded in kind.  Wisdom indeed have you come to know and accept, although your name was always well given.  And your compassion has been multiplied many times over what it was.  Just as all creatures must offer up their virginity if they are to take their place in the dance of reproduction, so one must offer up innocence to truly hold proper authority, wisdom, and compassion.

            For a time the two merely sat together.  At last Frodo’s thought reached out.  I am not truly fully healed, am I?  If it were possible to return to Middle Earth, I would not live long.

            That is true.  Does it bother you?

            Frodo shrugged.  “No, I suppose not.  It’s enough, I think, that I am given time to appreciate what is here.”

            Námo smiled.  Indeed, my blessed Lord Iorhael, I must agree.  Now it is time, perhaps, to rest.  Tomorrow you must return, for your Bilbo is anxious to be about his own business.

            Frodo nodded.  “Yes--he’s passed up the Old Took and has been able to sate himself with Elves.  Although he’s been wanting to show me some of the sights he’s found in his own journeys about the island.”

            He felt the laughter in the Vala’s heart.  Indeed!  He’s been pointedly ignoring the summons to come to me for years!  I suppose we can afford to wait a bit longer, and let him give his last bit of instruction to you.

            “I will miss him--but I won’t hold him longer.”

            The Vala helped him lie down, and produced a light blanket to lay over him.  After Frodo slept he summoned Olórin.  At last he is ready to return--when he is rested.  The last of his fear has been cleansed away.

            We never heard him cry out.

            No--your brother’s artifice already showed him far greater terrors than he’d known ever on his own.  His endurance is perhaps the greatest we’ve ever seen.

            And now he is well--truly healed?  But the expression of compassion on the face of the Vala told its own tale.  “Then--then it is possible he might reach the end of his strength and leave us at any time.”

            Indeed.  Then what will you do--seek to protect him?

            “Is this yet another test of my resolve, my lord?  Protect him?  We’ve already seen what that kind of treatment brings him to!  Nay--not protection.  Cherish him we all will, for whatever time he might remain with us.  But to seek to protect him will only drive him from us that much the sooner.”

            Then cherish him, and let him cherish in return.  He’s found his peace.

            With that the last of the Valar left the Grove, and Gandalf sat cross-legged upon the ground as he’d done so often during his time within Middle Earth.  And as he waited for the Sun to rise he sang softly to himself snatches of songs he’d learned over fifteen hundred years.  And as at last the Hobbit awoke it was to hear,

            “Around the corner there may wait

            A standing stone or secret gate....”

            Frodo smiled as he stirred and pushed himself up on his elbow, rubbing at his eyes, the mithril circlet slightly askew.  “Good morning, Gandalf.  What’s for breakfast?  And how long am I to wear this foolish thing?”

            Olórin’s laughter shook the limbs of the surrounding trees.

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