Frodo opened his eyes to find Elrond extending a hand toward him. He let himself be pulled up. The Elf Lord smiled at him.
"It is good to see you again. You have fared well, I trust?"
"Yes, I have. And thank you. That was quite a ride!"
"Fanyarheru rarely consents to mingle with the lower races but you are no longer the simple Halfling of earlier days. Perhaps, as Mithrandir says, you never were. Come, be refreshed, enjoy your time here."
As they crossed the meadow Frodo smelled the delicate fragrance of Rivendell's pure air. Apart from seeing Bilbo, being here again made him feel light and unconcerned with any troubles. It was a pity that Elrond was planning to leave... perhaps, if he stayed, this might be the place where he could find healing as Bilbo had. But there again, he was thinking "if". That habit ought to be broken!
When they entered the great house, an Elf approached Frodo with a silver cup full of clear liquid. The cup was, as everything in Rivendell, elaborately carved. This one was in the shape of a conch shell. Its pedestal was in the form of a wave. Pearls of varying sizes ornamented it. Frodo couldn't help but admire it. It was not heavy despite its size.
"Welcome, Ringbearer," said the Elf in a musical voice. She bowed her head as she offered him the cup. "Be refreshed and revived. Know that you will always have a home among us."
Frodo drank of the cool water. It almost seemed to be washing over him. It tasted sweet in a way he could never describe to someone who hadn't been here. When he handed the cup back, he had to admit that he did feel refreshed.
Elrond asked if he wanted to rest before seeing Bilbo but he said no, he'd come to talk to his cousin and he'd might as well get to it if Bilbo was awake. Elrond assured him that since Bilbo had heard Frodo was going to be visiting, he'd been wide awake and even excited. So they went on to Bilbo's rooms and found him at one of the windows, staring out quite intently. He hadn't heard them arrive and Frodo stood for a moment or two, cherishing the sight of Bilbo with a thoughtful expression and holding a pipe. This was like many years ago. His hair was whiter but it was still him.
"Bilbo, someday you ought to ask for a ride with one of the Eagles," Frodo said, entering.
Bilbo turned and smiled, his face lighting up. He hurried to greet the younger Hobbit. "Oh, I think I am too old for that sort of adventure! How are you, Frodo? You look very well."
"I am. I've missed you! Bag End is quite in order but it isn't really the same without you."
"Ah, well, the Elves here take such good care of me you know, I couldn't disappoint them by living somewhere else. I hear you want to talk to me! Well have a seat and let's begin, then."
Frodo followed him to a long bench by a table. There was a silver ewer on the table with two cups beside it. They were all made in the shape of flowers, each one different but similar. As he sat, Frodo noticed that the ewer had small insects carved onto the leaves and there were even silver droplets of dew. Frodo picked up the cup nearest him; it was shaped like a waterlily.
Bilbo watched him turning it over in his hands. "What's troubling you?"
"It's hard to explain, really. I know I said I'd be coming with you to the Havens, but now I may not be coming, at least not yet."
Bilbo seemed to slump in his chair a little. "Not come? Why not?"
"Well, there's someone I want to spend more time with.... Do you remember Lily Gamwich?"
Bilbo eyes took on a faraway look. "Gamwich? Relative of Sam's?"
"No, no. Just before I came to live with you I met Lily and she lived in Bywater for a time. I think you met her once or twice."
"Oh, but maybe I do recall. There was a young friend you went to visit, or visited you. Her name was Lily? I thought her name was Lilac."
"It was Lily. I've met her again recently.... well, last year. We were good friends when we were younger and last year we spent a bit of time together, and, well, now I don't feel ready to leave anymore. Not yet. She seems to know me well. When I saw her last, she wanted me to stay. Whenever Gandalf talks to me about leaving, I remember her, and I feel quite torn. I don't want to lose you, but if I stay, that's what will happen. I don't know what to do."
He dared to look up at Bilbo slowly; he'd been studying the cup while speaking. This subject was one brought up between them so rarely it was probably the only one Frodo was unsure how he would react to. There simply hadn't been the need to discuss it before. Now, Frodo saw something he was surprised at: a wide smile.
"Frodo, don't distress yourself over me. I have all the Elves round me anyone could want. None of them look like you of course but they do make for wonderful company. Of course I shall miss you, but haven't I been here for an age, not Bag End? I never thought I'd see the day when you finally decided to think about yourself. Do you think you owe anybody anything? Why no! Except yourself." Bilbo leaned closer, his eyes bright. "You already know that my time here is at an end... I'm older than the Old Took! But you, if you have a reason to stay, then don't come just to watch over me. I'm quite sure that would become boring."
Frodo sat back. "Boring! Bilbo! How I ever become bored with you! I know we've been apart for some time, but this is different. I have no idea when I'll see you again. I've known you're in Rivendell; I could still get news about you. With you across the Sea, we won't be able to hear about each other. It will feel..... much more like I'm alone."
"Frodo, my dear Hobbit!" Bilbo stood slowly and embraced him, then looked at him with a piercing gaze. "Haven't you realised yet that everybody wants you to be happy? I don't want you to live your life round me. When I leave, you'll have friends and even a lady to keep you company. It is my choice to go with the Elves. My life is woven with theirs. Yours is still in the Shire, for now. If you have a reason to stay, then do so. There is nothing else to be said."
‘But', thought Frodo, ‘If you leave me, I won't be able to reach you....' He clutched Bilbo's arms. Bilbo saw the trepidation in his eyes and eased himself free, then stepped back.
"It is your time, now. Every child must find his own way. You have done splendidly so far. You are a Baggins, Frodo– always remember that. But I should be very pleased if you would not rush back just yet, and perhaps spend a day or two with me."
Frodo embraced him tightly, not caring when a tear escaped. "Bilbo, whatever would I have done without you!"
"Exactly as you did. Now, let us put aside all of this for the moment, and imagine we are back at Bag End in the summer, when Sam ties up the sunflowers and it rains enough for a week in one day."
Bilbo took his seat again and poured some water for both of them. He raised his cup high to Frodo, and drank deeply.
8th August 1421: I don't know what to say, really. I spent almost a week with Bilbo and it was one of the best times we ever had. We did a lot of talking and walking, the woods there are so beautiful. I felt a little sad thinking that I would be missing the same sort of surroundings by staying in the Shire but then Bilbo assured me I could join him any time. In fact, just before I left, Elrond looked at me the way he does and said Frodo, there will be a Ship in the Havens waiting for you, when ever you decide to board it. Be it years or months.
And I was sad leaving Bilbo, but I feel so much better about it than I did. I have an appreciation for what Sam must have felt when I told him I'd been planning to leave, the loneliness, the abandonment of friendship. I still feel that I'll go, someday, but that day is not now. Bilbo even said he's proud of me for taking care of myself after having taken of everyone else. It still feels strange, in a way, having so many people tell me not to worry about them. If I didn't care about these people I wouldn't be concerned. That's how one helps those he cares about, to be concerned and try to do things for them. Well, since I'm staying here for the time being, I suppose there will be opportunities to do for my friends. I even thought of asking Sam and Rosie if they'd like to go away just for a bit, maybe even visit Rivendell themselves. There's still time for that. They'd miss Elrond and Bilbo, but not all the Elves are leaving right away.
I have therefore decided to leave for the Southfarthing tomorrow. The farmers tell me they don't expect the weather to turn too hot or rainy before I get there. It's not a very long journey, by land, but it will be one of the longest I have ever made. I don't know what Lily will say to me. She could tell me anything. If she tells me it's best that I go with Bilbo after all, I'll be unhappy indeed. I won't try to change her mind, she'll know what's best for her. As I think about this, I feel my age. The passage of years has not ever much concerned me; now it seems like I ought to try to slow them if I can. Even without Lily, I might like to go travel about the Shire again.... I haven't after all seen the replanting results myself. If she would like to come with me, I might enjoy it more. One of the very many things I have been learning recently is what joy there is in sharing. One of the main reasons Bilbo and I always got on so well was that we were interested in the same sorts of things, and could share them. He always listened to what I had to say after wandering, he always asked questions and told me he was glad I was doing something that was important to me. Well, many times it was only a way to pass the time, but I did manage to enjoy myself nevertheless. And Sam and I have been sharing thoughts and adventures ourselves. In fact, perhaps the only thing Sam and I have not discussed much is his relationship with Rosie.
Not that I should expect him to, certainly. And not that I feel any less his friend now that he's married. But sometimes I don't see more of a glimpse of him for days, and that's most unlike the old times. Now that Rosie lives here one or the other of them always fixes tea or starts a meal, so I don't feel left to "fend for myself" by any means. With a little one around I don't know how they manage to get everything done for Bag End, themselves and me.
[Frodo got up and stretched, then sat down. As he looked across the study his gaze fell on a toy of Elanor's on the floor, a doll made of soft cloth. It didn't resemble a person much, except for having a head, sewn on arms, and eyes and a smiling mouth stitched on. It was somewhat worse for being a popular toy; it's ends were ragged and he knew one of the arms had been sewn back on at least four times.
‘Life is different with a child here, as well,' he reflected. ‘I'm sure Bilbo wouldn't be able to keep up with Elanor. I've watched Sam with his daughter, there is no happier man anywhere. So much joy to be had from sharing life so closely with someone else. What about a child of my own here someday, what would that be like? Would I have any idea how to help such a simple and trusting creature move through the years? I've had many of my ideas and hopes dashed so savagely. What would I do with a young child looking up at me, asking for help and advice? What do I know about anything? For all the times Rosie and Sam have had reason to be frustrated with Elanor, they love her more than anything. Sam even told me he's looking forward to more children. Well...... I am having enough trouble with the thought of Lily, no point in making things more complicated!']
Here I am, then, about to start a journey whose end is not even as clear as Mordor was. I cannot see where I will fall, I only know that surely I will. I cannot see what hands there may be to help me rise again, I must hope that they will be there if I need them. Nor can I see what blossoms or restful places I may find along the way. Here I start out alone, wondering if my road will take me to places too strange to be happy in or places that will rouse me from the Shadows I have been living in.
It was almost the middle of August. Like many Augusts, this one was hot but unlike others rain came every few days. It watered the vegetables and flowers and kept the fruit trees happy. Frodo enjoyed the trip to Oakleaf; from the road he could see fields full of corn and wheat as well as pastures with cows munching dreamily. He felt good knowing the Shire and its people were prospering. It was for this that he and his friends drove out Saruman and his minions. This, he reflected with a smile, is the way things should be.
He arrived at Torold and Iris's in early afternoon. They were both at home and very pleased to see him. They welcomed him in and offered tea with biscuits and jam before letting him say much beyond Hello. Iris told him Lily was at her own house, but it's already afternoon and wouldn't he really prefer to stay here until morning when he could start off early? Frodo knew protesting was out of the question so he took up a place at the table and started on the tea and treats.
It was in fact a lovely afternoon and evening. Iris agreed to go with Frodo to watch Torold and the men feed the cows but insisted that he was not a working guest. Still, Frodo was sure he recognised a few of the animals and went out to pat them on the back. They were more interested in eating than in someone petting them but one or two did look at him. The young ones were bustling among the group and were too skittish to be petted. Iris said that she was pleased and relieved that business was doing so well. Between the animals and the Longbottom Leaf expenses seemed to increase more often than decrease. Torold was giving more control of the cows to one of his men so he could spend more time with the Leaf. He was hoping to expand that part of the farm.
After a wonderful dinner he sat with Torold and Iris behind the house, facing the fields of Leaf. Cool drinks were at hand along with a breeze. The first stars came out. Iris asked Frodo if he was planning to stay in the Southfarthing long.
"That depends on Lily," he answered.
Iris smiled, patted his arm and leaned into Torold's embrace.
It took another two days to reach Lily's village. Iris's directions to her sister's home indicated a pool at the base of the hill that the house was built into. Frodo found it without difficulty. After pulling the bell-pull several times he went around to the back and saw her pony, still wearing the saddle, tied to a fence. That was very puzzling. Shouldn't she be here, if her pony still had on the saddle? He went up to the pool, thinking. She certainly didn't seem to be in the house but she wouldn't leave her pony this way. He faintly heard footsteps behind him but before he could turn around, something crashed into him, sending him into the pool, splashing all over.
"That should teach you!" he thought he heard before he went under.