#6

Sitting up on the slope in the morning, Frodo watched birds flit in and out of the great Tree that sheltered him.  They seem frantic, sometimes, rushing from branch to branch then off again to find food or a drink.  He wondered if they even slept fast.  They spent their lives hurrying from one task to the next without stopping to enjoy anything.  Well, perhaps some did; robins seem to enjoy singing.  Crows even seem to play with each other, now that he thought about it.  He'd seen them many a time in a field or in a tree diving at each other then veering away.  It did resemble children playing.  A wind came through the branches, sending the little birds into chittering.  One fluttered clumsily to the ground and sat there, peeping loudly.

"Lost your grip?"  Frodo said to it.  It seemed to look at him and peeped again.  From the branches came stronger peeping.  The little one flapped a few times then flew back up.  "Good for you!  Now hold on tight."  Frodo shook his head, wondering why he was talking to birds.  He sighed and looked out over the country.  It gradually fell away toward Hobbiton and Bywater, sitting comfortably in the arms of the land.  That bird is home, where it should be.  It didn't worry about where to go.  Its family is here to take care of it until it could do so itself, but even then it wouldn't stray far from where it was born.  Then there were the ones who flew away every fall and came back every spring.  Where they went no one knew but they always came back.

‘I've gone far and come back, but I can't continue from where I used to be.  Everything looks the same but feels different.  I want to be myself again.  I want to do the things I used to, I want to *feel* like I used to!  Sam seems to be getting along well.  He's not showing any ill effects.  Maybe because he's got Rosie with him every day.  He seems happier since they married.  I can't help but think there is some way for me to recover at least in part, if I just find it and accept it.'  

He stood and stretched.  Strider his pony lifted his head and neighed loudly, looking across the hill behind them.  Frodo didn't see or hear anything.  He walked up to the pony and stroked his mane.  An answering call came on the breeze.  Over the hill came a tall figure in white on a majestic silvery-grey horse.  Strider called again and again was answered.  Frodo smiled and walked toward Gandalf.

"I thought you were off on your own business," he said as the wizard approached.

Gandalf dismounted.  "I have been having this feeling, dear Frodo, that you are not at ease.  When you are not at ease I am concerned."

"You are the best of friends!"

They walked a little ways, horse and pony following at a distance.  "It's Bilbo," Frodo began.  "He is the one aspect I can't settle.  Sam, Merry and Pippin are continuing along wonderfully.  I'm no longer worried about how they'll get on whether I leave or stay.  But Bilbo, if I stay here, I will miss more.  And how can I stay behind, knowing he'll worry about me?"  

Frodo stopped to watch another young bird in the grass, flapping its wings.  Its parents were in a bush close by, calling.  It made an attempt to fly but only got an inch or so above the grass and landed again with much beating of wings.  The parents continued to call.  The young bird tried again, at last gaining enough altitude and speed to reach the bush.  The calls changed to chirping.

"I wish I could talk to Bilbo, but there isn't much time before he'll be leaving Rivendell.  I would rather not surprise him with this on his way to the Havens."

Gandalf had been watching the birds as well.  "Frodo, I think I have an answer."  Frodo couldn't believe his ears.  Not only did Gandalf speak bluntly but he might be able to help!  "You must understand, I cannot promise this, for I must appeal to Gwaihir."

"Oh.... the Great Eagles!  Gandalf, if only I could see Bilbo and explain to him, and ask him!  I am already indebted to the Eagles but this one last favour I would ask!"

"The Eagles do not grant boons lightly, even for the Ringbearer.  Come back to this place tomorrow and you will know."

"Thank you for trying, Gandalf!  And please tell the Eagle thank you, too, even for listening to the request."

"You may be certain that I shall.  Now go home, and rest.  Prepare for whatever answer you will receive."

Frodo smiled brightly and called Strider.  The pony came at once.  Frodo got on and gripped Gandalf's hand in gratitude before riding away.  The wizard smiled too.

***

#7

31st July 1421: I can hardly contain myself, Gandalf is to ask the Lord of the Eagles if he or one of his brethren would bear me to Rivendell to talk to Bilbo. I shall find out tomorrow. If it happens, I would be presenting Bilbo with something rather outside of our relationship. I don't know what he would think. I know, as Pippin and Merry said, that he wants me to be happy but he also worries about me. Will he be satisfied that I'll be safe, if I do not join him at the Havens? Will I be satisfied?

I suppose I am making too much of this.... that sounds like what Bilbo might say. What if he's been looking forward to going with me? What if this news disappoints him dreadfully? What if he asks me to go with him anyway? No, he wouldn't do that, he wouldn't say much about how disappointed he is.

I've come to only one more conclusion, and that is, I will not know any of these answers until I talk to him and it is pointless to worry about it all now. I have the most generous friends in the world, surely, to support me so much! What if Lily came with me to see Bilbo? But then I don't want to be a nuisance to the Eagles by asking to take both of us. Ah, for the wisdom of the Elves and wizards!

I'm surprised Merry and Pippin were so serious. I can only assume something is coming later. I remember them teasing Sam about Rose. Well, I did some of that too, didn't I! If it had occurred to me back then that I might be on the receiving end some day I would have been more lenient. I suppose that's part of it all, though.... Rosie teases Sam too. What is it like, I wonder, to have such feelings for someone for years and know that she feels the same? I've never, until meeting her again last year, thought of Lily as anything other than a friend who understood some of the difficult emotions I had round the time of moving into Bag End. I never thought she had any other opinion of me. What is it that makes me think this way now? Is it simply the prospect of leaving the Shire forever, and not quite wanting to? Do I not want to go because of the feelings for Lily? It seemed so easy when Gandalf first approached me about leaving. I didn't need more than a few days to decide I was ready to go. Somehow, after making that decision, something changed even though I haven't heard from Lily since I was in Oakleaf.

Well, I have the impression many people don't know why they decide to marry when they do. I'll be interested to hear Lily's opinion on this. Since she knows me fairly well she might have an insight or two that's escaping me. It's been so long since I've been this uncertain about myself. Decisions are easier when I don't have to think about me! I never realised that before. I remember, many years ago, wishing something exciting would happen. I have learned that wishing for things is dangerous..... I am going to try to just let things happen!

While I'm thinking about it, I need to explain to Sam and Rosie that I might be going to see Bilbo. If I do go, it might be for a few days and they need to know that. I should, perhaps, ask Rosie what her opinion is. She has ideas that neither Sam nor I can have. Even Sam has been around women more than I, and he's been fond of only Rosie for years! What is it about women that makes men think about them so much, sometimes? It isn't simple companionship for men have deep friendships among themselves. Is it only that women bear children? Surely that's not it. What is it in the presence of a woman that can be so compelling..... they can be just as understanding as men, they can be just as senseless, so I'm told. This seems to be a question I ought to have a notion about before meeting Lily again.

For that matter, why does Lily feel so strongly about me? She did say she is happy providing for herself and she does have her own home. Why does she want to be around me? What does she find in me that she cannot find elsewhere? I must ask her that. There is no particular honour in being a Ringbearer, I cannot even claim to be the one who destroyed the Ring. I failed at that though it was done. I will gain no title or riches. There is no obvious reason why she should choose me over anyone else. Now Sam, for example, has an endless list of qualities that would attract many. I may have brought the Ring up Mount Doom but it was Sam who got me there. He is the very best friend anyone could want and I can see that he dotes on Rosie and little Elanor. But me, I'm a terribly plain person, not even sure what I want to do with myself. I'm often not even especially wise.

The next question therefore is, why do I want to be with her? She knows me well, but Sam probably knows me better. She can make me laugh and smile, but so can Merry and Pippin. She has beautiful eyes, but so does Arwen, and certainly Arwen is no more to me than a friend; a High Elf Lady who chose to give up her chance to live forever among her people so she could wed the man she loves. She knew I was troubled and gave me this gem to help me. The Lady Galadriel has more than merely beautiful eyes, there is so much in them I can never hope to explain. But she too is no more to me than a very wise Elf friend. For all the time I spent with Fatty Bolger and his sister, I never grew fond of her. And, why didn't I fall for Rosie? Sam did. Well that's easier; those two are very like each other and fill in each other's gaps, so to speak. They are both very rooted people. While Sam enjoyed coming with me when ever I took him wandering, he was always so glad to get back home. He worried so about the gardens and sometimes his gaffer. He is concerned about the same details in life that Rosie is.

That being the case it looks like Pippin and Merry are right, this will not be simple! And yet, if both our lives can be enriched by being together, I think that should make up for the complexity.

***

#8

Riding his pony Strider at a trot, Frodo thought about Sam and Rosie and Bilbo and Gandalf and Lily. He had told Sam and Rose the previous evening that he might be visiting Bilbo and if so, he wasn't sure how long he'd be gone from Bag End. They both wished him well. Sam told him that if he couldn't go, he was sure it would all work out somehow, and Frodo had to believe him. He said it with such certainty. Yet, without that important conversation, Frodo didn't know how things could work out well. Merry and Pippin had showed up, somehow, to wave him off. It was really remarkable how, when he felt the most insecure or troubled, his best friends were always there to cheer him even if he didn't know how they got there.

The morning sun made it difficult to see clearly, but as Frodo neared the high hill he thought he could see something at the top. Yes, that seemed to be Gandalf standing, but what..... it must be an Eagle! Frodo's heart beat faster. An Eagle, a dark brown Bird with pale markings across its head and down its neck. Never had he seen so majestic an animal. Shadowfax was nowhere to be seen and Frodo wondered if the grand horse was also in awe of the Eagle. He urged Strider to go faster. As the land began its gentle slope upwards, the Eagle's great Eye cast its gaze on Frodo, and the Hobbit was deeply struck by the intelligence there. He felt he was being measured, analysed for any deception or shallowness. Frodo hoped none would be found; under that stare, however, he was almost ready to throw himself to the ground and ask for mercy.

Strider slowed then stopped some distance from the Eagle, anxiously shifting his weight. Frodo dismounted and patted the pony. "Strider," he said quietly, "I don't blame you.... I wonder if I should go any closer myself."

"Of course you should," Gandalf said, loud and clear. Frodo started. "How else can you speak properly to your guest?"

The Eagle stood still, its head high above even the wizard's, one huge brown Eye turned down to watch. The tawny feathers running along its neck shimmered slightly and the deep brown of its body gleamed in the sunlight. Frodo moved very slowly, expecting the Bird at any moment to either fly away in disdain or tell him that the mighty Eagles were above such ridiculous requests. But neither thing happened. The bird simply stood staring at him. Frodo eventually felt too self-conscious and looked away.

"Well," Gandalf said, "I think Fanyarheru likes you."

"Really?" Frodo asked, daring to glance up at the Eagle then at the wizard. "How can you tell?"

"He tells me that after reading your mind he finds nothing distasteful, and that is unusual for an Eagle to say about the lesser folk.... although I have long maintained that you are far from ordinary."

Frodo looked up slowly, astonished that so High a being could find him likeable. Gandalf laughed.

"That is exactly why he likes you. He has agreed to bear you to Rivendell and back. He knows Elrond well and will be welcome there. As for you, Bilbo will be very pleased indeed to see you. Be assured that you may stay there as long as you like. Are you ready?"

Frodo blinked at the huge Bird. Its wings lifted slightly. "But what about Strider?" Frodo asked.

"I will return him to Sam and tell him you went off safely. You must understand one more thing, my dear Hobbit: even though Fanyarheru has agreed to this and in part because of who you are, the Eagles allow no one but those they consider to be their equals to ride them. He will bear you gently. Prepare yourself."

Frodo drew a breath and released it quickly. "I do want to say thank you," he said, addressing himself to the Eagle. "This is something I hardly dared to hope for. I do not know how to properly express gratitude to you but I hope that will do. I don't know what I could possibly do, but if ever I can be of any service to you or your kin, I would gladly do so."

"An oath well made," Gandalf said. "May your doubts be resolved."

The wizard moved away. When Frodo saw one of the Eagle's talons move, he shut his eyes. The first time he'd been picked up by an Eagle, from the slope of Mount Doom, he hadn't seen the Bird coming and he had a feeling that was the best way. He gasped when he was clutched up. There was no pain at all but the feeling of something closing tightly round him then lifting him up was disorienting. He knew that physically he would be able to breathe without difficulty but flying was a thing Hobbits didn't do, and the sensation made him breathe sporadically. The wind tearing past him also made it a little awkward.

He could hear, somewhat, wings beating. Wind was the loudest sound. He moved with every slight shift of the Eagle's body. He felt so small, wrapped in talons the size of trees. He was only a little afraid. He trusted that this magnificent being, whose kin had carried him before, would keep him safe. Along the way, he tried once to open his eyes. Pressure from the wind made it a struggle but when he could look, he saw tiny green patches that he knew must be small forests and strange wrinkles and bumps in the land. This was like absolutely nothing he had ever imagined. During his first trip with an Eagle he was half in some other world and thought he might be dreaming it or that this might be what it was like to die. Now, there was nothing to distract him. He could make almost no sense of what his eyes showed him so he shut them again.

How long the Eagle carried him he had no idea. He could feel when they began to descend. He was anxious to be on the ground again. The descent seemed to take a long time. The enormous wings beat slower and slower. Frodo felt the Bird's leg move forward; he hoped he wouldn't hit anything.

"Meadow," came a whisper in his mind. He felt his feet touch something. The Eagle's talon loosened, his knees bent and he fell into sweetly scented grass. He rolled over before stopping. He sat up and at once felt lightheaded. He closed his eyes again. He heard wings flying away and a voice nearby say, "Welcome back to Imladris, Frodo. Bilbo is asking about you."

***