The breeze drifting by did little to ease the heat of July in the Shire, where Frodo sat with Gandalf high on a hill overlooking Hobbiton and Bywater far down below. The tree they sat under was one of the few very large ones not cut down during Saruman's Scouring, but it had axe blade marks. Its spreading branches provided shade at least with a huge canopy of deep green. Shadowfax and Strider the pony lazily grazed nearby, also under the tree. Gandalf sat smoking, staring intently at the little villages; but then, Frodo reflected, that was how Gandalf looked at everything.
"What do you see?" Frodo asked. He rested his arms on top of his knees and gazed into the distance. Hobbiton and Bywater rippled in the hot air.
"See?" the wizard repeated, not moving. "Why, many things. What do you see?"
"I see the villages trembling in the heat, a bright blue sky and no hope of rain for at least a week."
Gandalf laughed. "That is all? You have not learned much, then!"
"Well, if I keep looking I think I could see more, but.... it takes effort."
"Effort, my dear Hobbit, is the reason things get done. What you put into a thing is what you must live with."
"I know, but this heat is making it difficult to concentrate."
Gandalf looked at him. Frodo felt his gaze and tried to smile. "Is it that or something else? You have not been concentrating lately and I suspect the summer has little to do with it."
"I've been thinking...." Frodo said slowly, still looking out over the landscape. "Are the Elves expecting me this fall for certain?"
"I passed on the message that you intend to join them on the road to the Havens. And Bilbo will be with them."
"Yes, he will." Gandalf noted the slight frown on Frodo's face. "He doesn't have any second thoughts about it."
"What are your second thoughts, Frodo?"
"Well, I.... well, I'd like.... that is I think I would...." How to say it to Gandalf, so old a friend who he hadn't told before? What would he think? "I'm not quite ready to go."
"They will not wait for you. Time is flying. Who is holding you here?"
"Me, I suppose." No use in trying to be delicate. "I've met an old friend, down in the Southfarthing, and I think maybe I'd like to spend more time with her since I'm still here and if I leave I can't come back so I should take advantage of the opportunity." He flinched inwardly, realising how silly he'd just sounded.
"And what is the name of this noble Lady so favoured by the Ringbearer?"
Frodo peered up at him and saw his smiling eyes twinkling. He looked away again, still embarrassed. "Lily Gamwich."
"Ah! A relative of the Gamgee family I believe. Your friends are ignorant of this new concern of yours, I take it?"
"Well, only because I haven't sorted it out myself yet! I still feel very tired, and worn, and like disappearing altogether might be a good thing. And yet.... I met her many years ago and we became good friends. It was just before I moved to Bag End. Her parents inherited the family Longbottom Leaf farm and so she moved there and we lost touch.
"But when I was in Oakleaf with Sam, I just met her again by accident and it felt so good to talk to someone who didn't know me as the Ringbearer. She knew about my parents. She thought of me as me. She told me, before I left Oakleaf, that it hurt her to let me go. At the time, I believed there was no other way for me but to leave and sail into the West.... I believed there was no other way for me to heal. But Gandalf, isn't that what love is for, to heal?"
Gandalf looked at his innocent face and saw once again the guileless young Hobbit of some two years ago. Frodo still trusted him for guidance. The wizard smiled and hugged him briefly.
"Frodo, you don't need me to tell you. You have grown wise enough to answer your own questions."
On the ride back to Bag End, Frodo determined to tell Sam that very day what he had decided. Actually, there was a good deal more to be decided, but he had come to one conclusion at least. Gandalf had gone on his own way. The ride was quiet and even peaceful. The westering Sun began to throw shadows across the landscape. Birds in great flocks flew overhead, on their way perhaps to a last meal of the day. Frodo paused to watch them. He had realised months ago that he ought not to take anything for granted, even the birds, for what would come tomorrow no one knew. And it was good to see life in the Shire continuing as it always had.
He came inside quietly, still in a thoughtful mood. He was grateful for the cooler air here in the Hobbit hole, being underground. As he approached the kitchen Rosie came out.
"Why, Mr. Frodo! I wasn't expecting you back yet, how was your ride?"
Frodo had given up trying to convince Rosie she didn't need to address him that way; she insisted that he deserved the respect. "It was hot but a good ride. Poor Strider began drinking the moment he got to the water basin! Have you seen Sam?"
"He's out tying up some of the sunflowers, they're getting droopy now. Will you be wanting dinner, then?"
"Oh, there's no rush, when ever you're ready to start it will be fine. And Rosie, as soon as I find Sam I need to talk to both of you, just for a bit."
"Of course, Mr. Frodo!" She smiled her bright smile and went back to the kitchen.
Frodo went outside, toward the back of the hill. The gardens were their usual riot of color and he enjoyed looking at the blooms as he went along. He found Sam standing on a short ladder, tying the top of one sunflower to a pole. "Sam! You're very ambitious in this heat, you've got almost all of them tied already."
"Hullo Mr. Frodo! And they've given me some trouble with their height. But I've been managing. D'you want me to see to Strider?"
He was already off the ladder and ready to go. "No, I've done that. He's quite enjoying his drink. If you have a moment, though, I'd like to see you and Rosie."
"I'll take that as a reason to go inside," Sam said, and so they went back. They went to the sitting room, which had an East facing window letting in some cool air. Rosie had gotten some tea and put ice in it for them.
"I'm going to Oakleaf soon," Frodo began. "I don't know how long I'll be gone. If the heat holds I expect I'll travel slowly. The reason I'm going is, I want to see Lily again. Truth be told I miss her."
Rosie beamed. "Oh Mr. Frodo, that's the best news I've heard since Sam asked me to marry him! I wish you all the very best of everything! I'm as happy for you as I could be!"
"Well, now," Sam said, "Don't be rushing Mr. Frodo, Rosie! There's nothing unusual about wanting to see a friend."
"Sam!" Rosie exclaimed. "You're blind as stone! Lily isn't just *any* friend! Why do you think Mr. Frodo would be going all the way to the Southfarthing when he could write her a letter easier?"
Sam looked from Rosie to Frodo and back. Frodo sipped his tea. Rosie eyed Sam. Sam's entire expression suddenly changed and he slapped his head. "You're right, Rose! I'm blind! Mr. Frodo, how– when–"
Frodo tried not to laugh. "It's like I said to Gandalf, love is for healing, and watching the two of you everyday over these past many months has made that even clearer to me."
"Oh...." Sam's eyes widened. "You'll be *back*, Mr. Frodo, won't you? I mean, will you stay there?"
"No no, I seriously doubt it! But I need to find out if I can be healed without having to go even farther away." He grew more sober. "You see, I've been meeting with Gandalf on most of my rides. He's been letting me know about the Elves' plans to sail over the Sea. Elrond will be going this fall, and I told Gandalf to let Elrond know I'd join him."
Sam jumped up. "Oh Mr. Frodo! You've been planning to leave all this time? Without telling me?" He dashed tears away. "That Gandalf! You've been planning that all along?" Rosie quietly stood by him, putting an arm around his shoulders.
"It was the only thing I could think of that would bring me any measure of peace. Being here with you and Rosie has been a blessing, Sam, I would have left long ago if not for you both. But– with the wounds I've received, I'm no longer myself. You see with your own eyes how the Darkness still grips me sometimes. I believed I had one last task to do and then I could leave. I'm still working on the Book. I still believe it is my last important thing to accomplish for others. The more I think about sailing into the West, though, the more I think about what I would be leaving behind.
"Leaving you and Bag End and Merry and Pippin would be bad enough. I've been still trying to reconcile myself to that. And then I remember Lily, and that makes the thought of going even more difficult." Frodo went up to Sam and set his hands on his friend's shoulders. "You've given me nothing but friendship and loyalty. I could never have stayed here this long without you. I thought to spare you the long months of anticipation if I didn't tell you I was leaving until the very last moment. Today I realised that maybe, I can even stay here for good. It's worth a try."
Sam still looked unhappy. "But.... how could you still be so hurt, if you liked living here?"
Frodo shook his head. "It's hard to put into words. I simply haven't felt like myself, even here. Despite everything here my heart and soul have been so changed I was certain I would never be truly happy again. That does *not* mean you failed me! You did everything in your power to help me, more than you should have, and it is to your great credit that I am alive at all and able to complete the Book. Please believe me, Sam, there is nothing more you could have done. What in fact you should be thanked for, is living your own life and showing me that perhaps I was giving up too soon. The devotion you and Rosie show to each other is wondrous."
Rosie smiled, kissing Sam's hand. "See, my heart. Even without trying you serve your master."
Sam blushed and Frodo laughed, embracing him. "I won't go until I talk to Pippin and Merry. I'm rather afraid of their reaction but they deserve to be aware of what's happening."
"Afraid?" Rosie said. "Why, they adore you."
Sam snorted. "I know what he means. And Mr. Frodo, maybe you should be afraid!"
20th July 1421: Well! What have I gotten myself into! Today I sent notes to Merry and Pippin asking when they would be traveling in this area next, because I'd like to see them, and yesterday I told Sam and Rosie about going to Oakleaf. It's something I need to do, before I leave and then regret that I didn't try. Gandalf, that wonderful friend, gave me some confidence in the matter. I fear I might displease Elrond, when he hears that I have changed my mind and have not after all decided firmly. But my biggest fear is Bilbo.
Bilbo, of course, will go with the Elves into the West. He has made that clear. He will not wait for me. If I do stay, I will lose him. There is no returning from the Undying Lands. How can I do that? Bilbo, of all people! Well of course if I go, I will lose Sam.... but Sam has Rosie and a full life before him. Losing Bilbo is the hardest thing, perhaps, I will ever do. Certainly if he is to go anywhere, the Undying Lands are where he would go. I can hardly wish to keep him from there. Yet, to be truly without him.... to be unable to ever hear his voice again.... I don't know. Would it be worthwhile to lose Bilbo but gain Lily? With her would be time full of happiness, I hope, and many unknowns. With Bilbo would be sweet memories, an understanding between us that goes to my very core and a life among Elves in a place where Sadness does not go. What if Lily says no? What if she decides I'm too much trouble, changing my mind after telling her I would not? Then surely Elrond will wonder what has become of my mind, first saying yes to him then maybe not then yes after all. He and his company cannot wait for me either. And the Lady Galadriel will be leaving, the great forest of Lothlórien will be silent before too long.
Yes, the world is changing, even I feel it. I just don't know if this change is something I can bear. Losing Sam doesn't seem as bad since I know he has a wife now. Is is fair to Bilbo, to draw away from him now, at the end of his life here? To expect him to go on and not worry about me, left here in a world fast losing its Magic? But he will be among the High Ones, why should he even think about me? Because he still loves me..... as much as I do him. Ah, the answer to this must be at hand, I simply don't see it!
[Frodo got up and tossed some water on his face from the basin nearby. He didn't bother to towel off, the breeze as he walked was cool on his damp skin. ‘Does it get hot there, across the Sea? I would expect not, just as I suppose it never gets too cold. I could leave even weather unpleasantness behind. But those are the things, sometimes, that remind me I am still alive...' He drew a very deep breath and let it out. ‘Across the wide Sea, Gandalf tells me, there will be no real sadness. I must decide. Perhaps I should wait to see what Pippin and Merry have to say, they may be young but they are wiser than they used to be.' He sat back at his desk.]
So I will do that, I will tell those two impish friends of mine and see what they say. I might bring the full weight of their jesting on myself for doing so but that may be the price!
It is also after much thought that I've decided to change the way I've been dating my entries. It serves as an obvious attempt to find some familiarity in my life. The months and days do not have any more meaning today than say, half a year ago, but I feel that if I can make more of an effort to find more well-known things in everyday life I may have a better chance at feeling like myself, and therefore someone Lily would *want* to spend time with. The first time I wrote the current date I couldn't think of it at all, and then noticed that while my hand remembered how to spell it my mind didn't really understand it. What is the difference between ‘March' and ‘July'? Between the start of the week and the end? Is there a difference?
But this is the sort of thing that I can't explain to anyone. Why should Lily want to be with someone so confused? Therefore– I've resolved to use dates and times and pay attention to all those details. I thought about staying Mayor for a while longer, but Will Whitfoot is healthy now and would be quite lost without his title. I thought it might give me more to do. In truth, the sorts of things the Mayor does do not keep me focused much on every day. Plus it involves some travelling and I need to stay either at Bag End or in Oakleaf if my mind is to concentrate on anything.
Is this the right decision? Is it fair to Lily and everyone else? Well.... Gandalf feels I can make my own decisions and I do want to try this. I hope that by surprising her with my return she won't have too many expectations. I must be sure that she understands I may still decide I cannot stay here. She is so sensible that I think she will realise that, but if I somehow break her heart again I don't think I could live with myself. This is my last chance but it should not be hers.