Frodo Sails Belegaer the Great - Two hobbits sail into the West
And so it was. Yet trouble would always find the men of Middle-earth, because the lies and treachery Morgoth had sewn could never fully be eradicated, and men would always find reason to strive with one another. Also he had many servants and slaves, and many of these yet lived in the deep places. But the threat of annihilation or domination by the Enemy was ended forever, and in any case the fate of Middle-earth was in the hands of men now, and the elves gave little thought to it in their rejoicing.
Frodo, however, did not feel much like rejoicing at the moment. He was leaving his home, friends, and everything he had ever known behind for an uncertain future. He felt oddly nostalgic now about Middle-earth and especially for the Shire, lands and people for which he had suffered and sacrificed so much. Most of all he missed Sam, his best friend. It comforted him to know that someday the final Ring-bearer may come over the sea, but that wasn't a certainty, and anyway it could be many years. Frodo knew he would never see his other friends again, and it saddened him.
Elrond nearby also wore a grave expression, though no one noticed it. He likewise had his gaze fixed steadfastly on the receding shoreline. Had anyone noticed, they would have seen his knuckles were white as they grasped the railing; his mind in turmoil. Elrond's departure from Middle-earth was by far more excruciating than Frodo's, because of who he had left behind, but in his mood Frodo paid Elrond no mind. Finally Elrond withdrew silently below.
Gandalf noticed, but was for a moment silent. He returned his attention to Frodo.
"Yours is not the only separation both bitter and sweet, Frodo," he said finally. "Nor the hardest to bear. And yet I know well what troubles you."
After a pause, he added softly, "It is for the best."
" I know. And perhaps when we reach... What is it called again?"
"Valinor," said Bilbo.
"Yes, Valinor. Perhaps when we get there things will seem less gloomy. But now I wish I could stay in the Shire, content."
Bilbo thought he knew how Frodo felt. He had felt that way himself at times on the long walk from Bag End to Rivendell. But his departure had seemed less final, and even Bilbo was now sorry to leave his home. And Bilbo's friends were for the most part with him on Cirdan's ship, or else long dead. There was another thing bothering him, too.
"A ship is no place for a hobbit!" he said sourly. "A fine pair of Brandybucks we have become, my lad! Not just paddling about in a clumsy canoe, mind you, but sailing! Sailing across the wide sea! What would Lobelia say?"
Frodo smiled thinly. It was comforting to have another hobbit to go with him on this final adventure, and none better than Bilbo.
Gandalf tried to comfort his friend. "I think you will find contentment in the end, Frodo, and sooner than you think. For in Valinor no sorrow or sickness can long endure."
Bilbo was eyeing the deck of the great ship with distaste, as it rose up and tilted to and fro.
"Then can we not sail faster!" he said. "Much more of this and I'll wretch."
An Elf near at hand heard this, named Lindir.
"Faster? Perhaps if we were all to blow upon the sails together, or if your stout arms were set to an oar we might reach Valinor an hour sooner in a journey of many weeks. Or perhaps we should snap our fingers and summon the Lord of Waters himself?"
"Hmph" snorted Bilbo, but said no more.
"How long does it take, Lindir, to reach the far shore?" asked Frodo.
"Who can say? Since the World was remade no Elf has sailed into the West and then returned to tell. But no other ship in all of Arda, were it built in Alqualonde by Olwe himself, could carry you faster than this, the flagship of the Lord Cirdan. Argaerroch it is called, Great Horse of the Sea. See the foaming at the bow! Do you hear the straining of the masts against wind and rigging? Do you feel the wind and sea-spray in your face? Nay, you could not have found yourself upon a finer ship than this." And he patted the bulwark as he stared at the horizon. But the Elf had quite forgotten himself.
"Even fine ships find themselves at the mercy of wind and wave, Lindir," said Bilbo thickly. "And yes, I have indeed noted the straining and the foaming (or should I say churning?), although it is in my stomach. And if I wanted to get soaked I suppose the proper place would be a bath. Sailing holds no allure for me, I'm afraid."
Bilbo was making light of his sickness, but Lindir saw through that easily enough. Anyone could clearly see that Bilbo was a very uncomfortable hobbit, and Lindir had grown close to Bilbo at Rivendell.
"Are you ill already, master Periannath? Middle-earth lies still above the horizon; we have far yet to go." But Lindir was not smiling. Others nearby watched and did smile, although they tried to conceal it, meaning no cruelty. It had been told that mortals might suffer from sea-sickness and yet the Elves did not understand it themselves. Nevertheless most had come to love and revere both hobbits, even though the pair knew it not.
"Try a bite of this, Bilbo. It may help." Lindir pulled out from his pouch a wafer of lembas, which Frodo recognized at once. Bilbo reluctantly nibbled a few bites, and he seemed better at once, if not quite himself.
"It does indeed! And yet it doesn't seem to stick to the ribs if you take my meaning. Not the same as a proper supper. Nevertheless it certainly has some quality, and I thank you. Now if all you great folk do not terribly mind, I shall retreat to my rest."
Bilbo retreated to his cabin and after a private chuckle Gandalf went in search of Elrond, leaving Frodo alone. When a few more minutes had passed, the shoreline of Middle-earth grew thin, and Frodo could no longer discern the figure of his friend Sam. In that moment inspired by he knew not what Frodo took out the phial of Galadriel that he still wore about his neck and held it high. The jewel caught the sinking sun and seemed to magnify its light many times. Middle-earth faded from sight and still he held the jewel aloft, in farewell to his greatest friend. He knew it not, but Samwise Gamgee beheld the light of the gem amidst his tears, and was comforted.
Gandalf found Elrond in his private cabin, alone as he expected. He rapped lightly on the door and was welcomed inside. He found Elrond seated in the room's only chair, his head bowed.
"Would you care for company, Elrond?"
At that Elrond lifted his gaze to meet Gandalf's, and gave him a knowing smile, but his cheeks were wet with tears. He held in his lap a small music box, but it was not singing.
"I thank you, my friend, for the gesture, but I see through you. Nevertheless I will not begrudge it now. Even Elrond may welcome pity in need."
"I came to offer comfort, not pity."
"Call it what you will. You know what it is that troubles me, yet there is nothing you can do to change matters," said Elrond. "Nothing anyone can do. Elves are immortal and quick to heal, but alas! there is no healing a broken heart."
"It is said that time heals all wounds. She made a choice," said Gandalf after a pause. "Love is a power with which even the Valar may not contend. Arwen is strong-willed, and no child."
"I gave her this when she was," and Elrond looked at the music box and winded it. Music filled the room and for a moment both were silent. Finally Elrond said, "I have heard it said among men that it is a terrible thing for a parent to bury a child. This is worse. For I have abandoned my Arwen to death, alone."
He paused, then said "Olorin, I have seen too much of death in all my years. The Gift of Men is something that neither race understands, but I begin to see that death is a gift of sorts."
"Hmmm. Life is a cycle, yes. It begins and eventually ends," said Gandalf. "Such is the way of things. But your tale and the tale of countless others is not the way things were meant to be. Whether you choose Morgoth, or Feanor, or Fate to blame, it changes nothing. This endless War was not supposed to happen, and to face such foes in Middle-earth, where mortality and death hold sway, it is no surprise that after such long exposure and personal loss you should become weary of life. But in Valinor it is not so! Take comfort, Elrond. You fear that even there your weariness for life and sorrow over Arwen will vex you. It will not. She did not choose to remain because of any lack of love for you. It is a hard thing and I will not pretend that kind words will make things better, but in time perhaps you will come to better understand her decision. What would you have not done for Celebrian?"
At that Elrond shot Gandalf a positively venomous look, but it quickly softened. "Do not remind me of other woes. I am twice denied the love and company of the women from which it is my due. Nay, mine is a bitter cup and I wish to brood over the bitterness a while longer. I could not make Arwen understand. Would that I could take her place!"
"If you wish for that then perhaps she understands better than you know. Arwen will be happy, if I am any judge, as happy even as those of us living amongst the blessedness of the Valar. For she has Aragorn, and is a Queen of a great people, and will soon have her own children to look after. She will miss you, but unless my wisdom is diminished, she will not regret her choice. And do not forget, Elrond, two other children you have, aboard this very ship."
For Gandalf spoke of Elladan and Elrohir, and at the mention of them Elrond's brow furrowed as in new thought. For a moment he was silent..
"Good night, my friend" he sighed. It was all he could say.
Gandalf bowed and retreated.
When the White Towers were finally lost to sight and naught but water could be seen in any direction, Frodo also skulked to his cabin, which he shared with Bilbo. He felt quite alone, as alone as he had felt since that dreadful day near the Falls of Rauros. When he entered he found Bilbo still awake, and as usual willing to talk.
"What do you know of this Valinor, Bilbo?"
Bilbo was lying on his bed and still somewhat uncomfortable, but his love for idle hobbit-talk was unabated as ever. "Well, it is a marvelous place. Home of the Valar, you know, whom men call the Gods: those alike in nature to the great Enemy himself, only good through and through. And it is the ancient home for all the Elves. They were supposed to all come there, long ago, but something has kept many of them in Middle-earth for a long time. I think it has something to do with our adventures. Although why any Elf would choose to stay and struggle against the Great Powers in Middle-earth instead of sailing away to peace and eternal contentment is quite beyond me. Still, it should be a place of fair gardens and high towers, grand cities and sweet music - if the lore of Rivendell be true. The undying lands, they call it."
"Undying? Whatever does that mean?" asked Frodo.
"It means that those who dwell there never die. In fact there are Elves there now that have been there for many thousands of years! Even older than Master Elrond, or the Lady Galadriel, if that is possible. Older, and yet no less majestic, and perhaps even wiser! And yet the greatest of the Elves is but a hint at the measure of grace, power, and wisdom of the Valar. How I do hope we are quite ignored by all these great folk, Frodo my lad, for we are not the only mortals to sail into the West. I cannot recall much from my talks with the Dunadan, but there apparently was some trouble over that long ago. I wonder what all this means for us?"
"And I as well," said Frodo. "Do you think we are to live forever in Valinor, as the Elves do?"
"Forever is a long time, and right now I wouldn't want to, and if this confounded floor doesn't stop heaving I shall throw myself overboard and hope to drown for relief," said Bilbo in true hobbit -fashion.
"Let us hope it doesn't come to that!" replied Frodo. "Perhaps there is something Master Elrond can do for you. He is a great healer, and I should know."
"It doesn't seem right, somehow, for a hobbit to be caught up in all these great affairs, among lords and warriors and kings and Gods," continued Bilbo, "Imagine, two hobbits going to live with the Gods! Scarcely conceivable, that. For me I only hope for a warm place by the fire, and for someone to sing, and for pipeweed and second breakfast and all that. Oh dear, but I shouldn't think about food at the moment!"
"Well, uncle, is that all? Perhaps Gandalf can arrange for the Gods themselves to feed and sing to you!" but Frodo was laughing. And Bilbo laughed too, and the laughter for the moment comforted Frodo. "I don't suppose there are any suitable hobbit-holes in Valinor, so I shall just have to build one. No doubt it will be the grandest ever!"
"You will certainly have the best help, and plenty of it. No doubt the Elves will find it amusing. I wonder if an Elf has ever been in a hobbit hole? But now don't you let these high and noble folk persuade you into building anything too fancy. There shall be noble halls and all that a plenty, and we'll need something to remind us of the Shire. A hobbit-hole shouldn't be a palace."
And they both laughed again. Bilbo's company had already done much to cheer up poor Frodo, and they talked late into the night. It was while Frodo was relating to Bilbo again what had happened in the Shire after his return that he noticed Bilbo had nodded off to sleep. Frodo made sure his uncle had a blanket, then turned in himself.
The hobbits slept late into the morning, and were both awake yet still in their bunks when there was a gentle rap on the cabin door. Gandalf came in.
"Sleeping late, aren't we?" and he laughed. The sound of Gandalf laughing was like listening to a waterfall - it was delightful and one could listen to it for hours. "Well why shouldn't you? When you two are quite ready you are asked to meet with Elrond, Galadriel, and myself. You will find us on deck."
"And what about breakfast and all that, Gandalf?" asked Frodo.
"Gandalf? Gandalf?" the Wizard seemed for a moment quite perplexed. "Ah, but that was one of my names in Middle-earth. I am going home to the West, and memory returns as we travel thither. You should call me Olorin. But my dear hobbit, when we reach our destination there will be food enough to content even you, although we are presently on a ship at sea, and rations are less plentiful. Still, you may find a bite in the galley. I will take you there, if you like."
"We would indeed!" said Bilbo.
So the hobbits dressed, and led by Gandalf found the galley. There Frodo drank tea and broke his fast on apples, cheese, bread and butter. But Bilbo would only drink water and nibbled on a little bread. The healing effect of the lembas was quite worn off.
"Alas! It is a sore trial for a hobbit to be unable even to eat a proper breakfast!" After Frodo finished they made their way on deck. It was a sunny day with a blue sky and fresh breeze that greeted them. Elrond and Galadriel waited near the stern, and Cirdan was standing near the helm. He made no sign but his eyes greeted them warmly. As usual, many elves were making merry on the bow. Gandalf led the hobbits towards the stern.
"Greetings, Ring-bearers," said Galadriel, "will you talk with us for a while? There is much you should know, and you may have many questions that we may answer: where we are going, what we shall find when we get there, and what it means for you."
Frodo was for a moment speechless, for it seemed to him that the lady had grown in beauty and majesty since even the day before, and Elrond likewise. Bilbo noticed it too, or perhaps his upset stomach prevented him from speech. His gaze was cast downwards.
"Truly we have ourselves thought on these very things, lady, and should be delighted to share in any wisdom you might have," Frodo said, but it was wearisome for him to talk in this manner, trying to sound elegant and worthy of this great company. Suddenly his true nature and his love for Bilbo overcame him.
"Master Elrond, sir, you are a healer and no mistake. Is there nothing you can do for poor Bilbo here? It is bad enough for me; hobbits don't like boats or water as a rule, begging your pardon. And here we are miles away from solid ground with nothing but water to see and forced to trust of a things, a boat! But he suffers also a sickness from all this constant motion. Is there nothing you can do?"
Frodo was surprised to see the grave concern that came over Elrond's face. He did not know of Elrond's reverence for Bilbo (or himself) and if he did would have considered it quite misplaced.
"Elves do not suffer from the sea-sickness, but men do, on occasion, and I am not unlearned in even this small matter. I will do what I can." And straightaway Elrond called for his servants to bring herbs and medicines, and he gave these to Bilbo and spoke softly into his ear. After a few moments Frodo noticed that color had returned to Bilbo's face, and that he breathed more deeply.
"Well, that's better!" Bilbo said at length. And then he seemed to notice his companions again for the first time. "Master Elrond! But what are we doing here? I thought we were walking in a fair garden in Rivendell, or fairer. But that was a dream. Hullo, Frodo! Ah, it is all coming back now. These great folk were going to tell us all about Valinor, and about our future there, although I can guess at that - hardly to be noticed, and quite out of place."
Gandalf, as ever, seemed amused. "Hardly to be noticed? Indeed! You do say the most absurd things, Bilbo Baggins. You are the Ring-bearers, which is why you have been given leave to join us. Never has a mortal being been granted liberty to dwell in the Undying lands, and maybe you won't now. But you shall most certainly be noticed - by more powerful and majestic beings than you have imagined in your wildest dreams, or worst nightmares. But have no fear! For you go not into peril, but towards judgment. Judgment as to whether you may stay in Valinor, or must be sent back to Middle-earth."
The hobbits seemed to despair somewhat then, for they thought that all such decisions were behind them, and were resigned to leaving behind the things of Middle-earth.
"Judged? I do not wish to be judged," said Frodo. "Least of all by a terrible God with eyes looking through me..." Frodo shuddered. For a moment he remembered the gloating Eye of Sauron that had beheld him when he wore the Ring. Gandalf sensed this.
"No one wishes judgment upon themselves, but sometimes it is required. You both shall be examined quite closely, but you need not fear. You are going to be judged by Manwe himself, I deem, King of the Valar and of all the Earth. There is no greater being in power or majesty in this universe save One, and perhaps one day we will all be judged by Him as well. But for the moment you need only know this: that Manwe is of an order higher than Sauron, and he is chief of that order. Yet Manwe does not seek dominance, or slavery, or to gloat over lesser beings. You go not to a trial, and you have many witnesses on your behalf." Gandalf laid his hand on Frodo's shoulder.
"But what will he ask of us?" asked Bilbo.
"Who can say?" answered Galadriel. "For who can perceive the mind of Manwe? The Undying Lands, so Valinor is called. Is that because only immortals have ever lived there, or because the land itself is so blessed as to render immortality? I know not. But it may be that you will not be the only ones who are judged. Indeed even Galadriel, and many others of the High Elves may be judged. For we all have long lived under the Doom of Mandos, and chose not to accept the pardon of the Valar after Thangorodrim was broken. Will the pardon be extended? I know not, but I long to return to fair Tirion, and gaze again at Galathilion, oldest remaining seedling of Telperion."
"Doom, Gods, Judgment and perils beyond which even the Lady Galadriel seems subject to! And so many names - of places and people! We are sailing into a new world, Frodo, and we have much yet to learn," chuckled Bilbo. "We shall have to become proper Elves before it is all over, no doubt."
"Indeed it may take all the years afforded by Aman for that to happen", answered Elrond. "Listen now, and learn your first lesson on this journey. For I will tell you of the three houses of Elves, and of the two orders of the Ainur."
And in that hour Elrond spoke to the hobbits of the Vanyar, the Noldor, and the Teleri. He spoke mainly of the ancient days of the First Age, when Elves first awoke by the pools of Cuivienen, of how they were found by the Valar and invited into the West. And Elrond also told them of the Valar, and the Maiar, and named those in the Aratar - the royalty among the Valar. Long before he was finished both hobbits were quite bewildered, and as it is a hobbit trait to learn family trees and understand everyone's place, quite frustrated.
"My goodness, Master Elrond! That's a mouthful and no mistake! Now we better have it all again, and this time I'll need to take notes," said Bilbo.
Elrond and Gandalf shared a look. Gandalf raised his eyebrows over a smile as if to say: "I told you so."
"You really must learn to pay attention, master Perriannath! I am not your muse. It is not important to remember all that I have said, but only to have an understanding of who and what awaits you."
"I do not," Frodo said, "but I suppose I won't until we get there, if we ever do. What do these Maiar and Valar look like? Will I recognize one? No doubt it will be a terrible fright just to stand near one."
"Would it indeed!" laughed Gandalf. "But you are standing next to one now, and have trod many miles and shared many perils with one."
And when Gandalf saw the perplexed expressions he laughed again, but said no more. Finally Frodo understood.
"You!? Gandalf you are a Valar?"
"Vala. And no, I am not. I am a Maia, and not the only one you have seen. All the Wizards: Saruman, Radagast, the Blue, and I are (or were) of that order. As was Sauron, and the balrog."
"Well! I see you have been keeping many things to yourself, Gandalf, as is your wont. But this is altogether too much to think about on an empty stomach. I am for second breakfast, and then maybe a smoke," said Bilbo.
And so the two hobbits continued to refer to Olorin as Gandalf, and he permitted it, out of love for his two friends. It seemed proper somehow, for the hobbits to use that name, not only because they had known him by it for so long, but also because it was less high, and seemingly more fitting for a hobbit's use.
"Goodness! We shall be eaten out of our rations long before we reach the hither shore, at this rate," smiled Galadriel. "But perhaps some lembas can be spared."
At that Frodo groaned, remembering his long diet of the stuff on the way to Mount Doom. Then all at once Frodo's heart positively sank.
"Why did I not think of it before! Mr. Bilbo, I hope you brought a lifetime supply of pipeweed! No doubt the high and mighty have no time or inclination for such simple pleasures, but it will be a hard test for a hobbit, with no weed and maybe no beer!"
Bilbo seemed almost to quail, but Gandalf reassured them somewhat.
"My friends, you have indeed laid your finger on a problem I foresaw some months ago. But fear not! For even in the most perilous of times I have ever given thought to seemingly small things, and now that the peril is removed I can dwell even more on these matters. For on my way to the Havens I came through Bree, and spoke one last time with Barliman. I tried to buy some seed of grain and barley, but he wouldn't hear of it, and gave the stuff to me freely, along with his recipe for beer."
"Well! That's a relief!" said Bilbo. "My dear Gandalf, however can we repay you?"
"With a moment's peace so I can finish my thoughts, thank you" he said testily. "For that is not all. I also came by way of the Southfarthing, and purchased a great amount of seed from Sancho Hornblower himself. I do not doubt that under your tutelage and the blessed earth in Valinor that we shall have no shortage of beer or weed."
"Bless you!" said Frodo, and he could think of no other words.
And so the days and weeks passed. The hobbits spent most of their time together, and walked the deck and breathed the air and felt the sea spray. For Bilbo did not suffer any uneasiness again, and almost the hobbits could understand the Elves' love for the sea. On October 6th Frodo's shoulder was in pain, and he didn't feel well. And yet in truth he felt less pain and less ill than he had in the previous two years. On the next day he was quite himself again. And they listened to the Elves sing, and sang some Shire-songs when asked, and they continued to learn from Gandalf and Elrond and Galadriel. As the journey continued all the Elves seemed to grow more beautiful, and more delightful, and especially Elrond and Galadriel, and Cirdan and Celeborn. Even Bilbo seemed to grow younger, or have more energy.
One fair day while on deck Bilbo and Frodo were leaning on the bulwark, and for once they were quiet, each lost in his own thoughts, when suddenly Frodo thought he heard a cry, far above in the air.
"Look Bilbo! Up there in the clouds! It looks like an eagle, a great eagle like in your adventure!"
"I think you are right, Frodo," said Galadriel coming up from behind the hobbits. With her keen Elven-sight she saw clearly the great bird. "It is a messenger of Thorondor, I would guess; the King of Eagles, messenger of Manwe himself. I think our coming will not be unlooked for." But she would say no more.
And so finally after a night of rainfall Frodo smelled a sudden freshness to the air, and heard the sound of singing that was familiar but did not come from his ship. And as the sun rose he beheld a white shore and a green country beyond, with low mountains and one great tower not unlike those at the Grey Havens. They were come to Tol Eressea at last - the Lonely Isle.