I had been leaning over the ship’s rail all morning, but not because I was seasick. We had been at sea for three days, and I could walk around pretty well now without lurching or falling, even when it became mildly stormy. Our captain, Orobar, even let me steer a bit, although I could barely see over the wheel.
Bilbo probably thought I had gone daft. Marine life fascinated me. I could see a huge variety of fishes, the like of which I’d never known existed, some grotesque, others very beautiful, in flaming gem-like colors. The first time I saw a whale, I nearly fell overboard from excitement. It rose all shiny black and silver, as big as the ship, spurted a huge stream of water, leaped a few feet above the waves, then fell with a splash that sent water flying over us in a salty shower, creating a wave like a small hill that lifted our ship far into the air then cascading downwards like a leaf in a sluice. It knocked me right over on my backside. I got a mouthful of water from shouting with glee, poor old Bilbo falling right into my lap.
Much later, some other creatures appeared, like the whale but much, much smaller, of a silvery white overall with a blue-green tinge around the fins and tail. I took them for sharks at first, but as they surfaced, I could see they looked too friendly for sharks, slender and shimmering and graceful, and I could feel my eyes starting out of my head at the sight of them, dozens upon dozens, perhaps hundreds, everywhere around us, almost as if they had decided to provide us with an escort over the sea.
I looked around at Bilbo and at Gandalf and Lady Galadriel and the others. They all looked as delighted as I felt.
Lord Elrond was not on deck, however. I had seen very little of him since we set sail, and I was worried about him. Just yesterday evening I had gone down to his cabin to see about him, and found him sitting looking at a scrap of blue silk he held. He smiled vaguely as I appeared in the doorway after knocking, and motioned me to come in. I offered him the pendant Lady Arwen had given me, although it tore a large piece of my heart out to part with it, and I had a feeling it would not really console him. But I resolved to try nevertheless.
He held it and looked at it for a good long time. I could see the lustrous white stone reflected in his brilliant dark eyes…so much like hers. After a moment I looked down, thinking I should not be looking directly at his face when so much emotion was going on in it. My throat tightened and I wanted to tell him it had gone very hard with me to leave her also, and I knew it must be that much harder for him, but it seemed unnecessary to say so. He was the sort who could read your thoughts without you speaking them, unless you didn’t want them read.
Then I felt the familiar, soothing coolness of the silver chain on the back of my neck.
“You keep this, Frodo,” he said softly. “It’s connected with you somehow, and will bring something wonderful to you someday.”
“You think so?” I touched the jewel, and had to admit it was a vast relief to have it back. “What will it bring me, sir?”
“I cannot say just now, and even if I could, I think I would not,” he said with a kindly twinkle in his eye, laying a hand on top of my head. “But I have a feeling it would be well for you to keep it.”
I thought of him now as I watched the beautiful sea-creatures, and wanted to run down and get him. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and there he was.
“What are they?” I asked him, and he replied, “Dolphins. It has been thousands of years since I’ve seen them.”
Thousands! “Are they friendly? They look it. Do they eat…people? Like sharks?” I asked. I heard Gandalf chuckle.
“No,” Lord Elrond smiled down at me. “They are quite friendly, just as they look.”
“Please, Lord Elrond,” Gandalf laughed, “don’t go putting ideas into his head! I think he’s dropped about thirty years since we set sail.” He looked down at me dotingly. Little did he realize I already had an idea in my head.
Suddenly I broke away and dashed over to Captain Orobar, yelling, “Please, Captain, stop! Stop the ship!”
“What ho, Frodo?” He looked down at me squinting against the sunlight. “What is it, my lad?” He was very tall, as all Elves are, tall and laughing, his silver-gold hair blowing straight back in the warm wind, along with his grey cloak. The weather was really warm and equitable for autumn.
I explained my desire to swim with the dolphins, pointing out the creatures as though they were not in plain sight. I was a little afraid he would laugh at me, but I have come to find that Elves are not like that.
“I have never seen so many of them at once,” he said thoughtfully. “‘Tis a strange occurrence. Seemingly they know this to be the last ship out of Middle-earth. I wonder if they will accompany us the entire way to the Blessed Realm.”
I looked up at him much the way I used to look up at my mother when I was a little lad and wanted something–or so I was told later. I was even guilty of clutching at his cloak.
“May we stop?” I pleaded. “Just for a bit? For half an hour perhaps?”
Perhaps I really had dropped thirty years. I wondered if that were part of the cure.
Then I started as Lord Elrond’s voice spoke up from behind me: “Yes, Orobar. Let it be done.” I looked up at him gratefully, and saw his face shining in the sun.
I immediately began stripping down to my underdrawers. The pendant I carefully took off first and lovingly tucked into a shirt pocket. Then I stood at the rail as the ship began to draw to a stop, quailing for a moment. That water was cold, I knew from when the whale splashed us. And the breeze was not as warm on my bare skin as it had been when I was clothed. And I knew the sea was frightfully deep, even though I was a good swimmer.
But I couldn’t change my mind now. Even if the Elves were not the sort who would have laughed at me if I did. It was a simple matter of pride.
I am sure Bilbo hadn’t realized what I was up to until then. He came tottering along the deck, calling my name, as I climbed up onto the rail. I looked down, shut my eyes, and took a wild dive.
I was showing off, it was true. Perhaps I was not so tall and graceful and beautiful and wise and skillful at many things as Elves were, but I could do something, at least. I could dive.
I paid the price for my brazenness when I hit the water. It was even colder than I thought. The shock made me dizzy, so that I inhaled a mouthful of the frigid, salty water. I began to flail about helplessly, kicking, gagging…was I going to drown before we even got there? Why had I been such a fool??
Then I felt something knock against me. My arms grabbed around it tightly, so as to choke the life out of it, but it rose quickly up, up, up, until my head was above the water and I was blissfully aware of the sunlight once more. Whatever had effected my rescue slipped out of my arms as they loosened their hold and was gone, as far as I could tell. I coughed and sputtered, shaking the wet hair out of my face, retching up a lungful of water. I could hear anxious voices calling my name, and so I decided to pretend what I’d done was deliberate, both to allay their fears and to keep myself from looking a complete fool. My eyes were still too full of water and stinging to see anything but bright light, so I smiled and waved in what I thought was the direction of the ship…only to realize that the ship was behind me. I rubbed my eyes until I could see again, then turned and waved once more. I could see Bilbo waving his arms at me and blustering at me to get back on deck this minute.
But the dolphins were still leaping and diving all around me, and I stayed where I was, treading water. It was well that I was a good floater.
“Whichever one of you saved my life, I thank you kindly,” I said with a choking laugh. Then I dove under the surface and began swimming with them, coming up from time to time both for air and to assure those on deck that I was all right. I was thankful for the way my senses had been so acutely heightened, so that I could see so far below the water, things even more incredible than I had seen on board ship. Fishes as big as I was, and bigger, of a deep bronze-gold color with markings on their backs similar to those I’d seen on some butterflies. Small fishes of a brilliant ruby red, others of a vivid blue like cobalt, still others a dazzling pale green like jade or spring leaves. Some black with spots of flashing color here and there like the feathers of a raven. I could seen their eyes, like dream-jewels, black and gold and crimson, looking straight at me as though trying to figure what I was, this strange being the like of which had never even seen the sea water from afar, let alone plunged beneath its waves….
And I could see something white drifting far below. It was no fish, but exactly what it was, I could not discern.
I wished I might catch one of the dolphins so that I might ride upon its back, but they were having none of that! I might swim among them, fine. They could perform their tricks for me; that they did, seemingly with gladness. One even leapt right over my head! One of them brushed against me, a very young one, and I can swear it did so deliberately! I reached out to try and catch it, but its mother came between us, and I’ve a feeling she was not going to allow any such nonsense! I did not try further. However gentle these creatures might be, a mother is ever protective of her young, and one does well not to incur her disfavor.
But how white and luminous their skin was in the sunlight! Like new snow laid over with a thin crust of sparkling ice, changing colors as they moved this way and that. I was reminded of how Gandalf described the robe of Saruman changing colors as he moved, but the way he told it, it had not sounded attractive at all, but rather shameful, a disgrace and a blotch on the Order. However, on these animals it was breathtaking: sometimes a silvery blue, sometimes a pale rose, then a foamy green, then it would all melt together and turn a dazzling white once more. It was akin to what I had seen in some jewels…like the one I wore myself.
I felt as though I were inside of that gem now. As though it had expanded itself into a vast bubble and swallowed me up, owning me, surrounding me with music and rainbows and fountains and laughter. I found myself singing. I did not even feel cold; far from it. I was not sure what I was singing; a prayer of some sort, I think. Probably of thanks and a wish for blessings on all those I had left behind….
But they were calling for me; my half hour was over. I swam back to where Gandalf was lowering a rope over the side of the ship. It was then I noticed that Lady Galadriel and the other Elf-women were looking the other way. Puzzled, I looked down and saw I was lacking my drawers!
That, no doubt, was the white thing I had seen. They must have been torn from me by the impact of the water when I hit.
Well, as Sam would have said, there was nothing for it; I had to climb the rope ladder naked as I was born, my face burning. Gandalf hauled me precipitously up and Bilbo wrapped my cloak around me, toweling me vigorously with it and scolding all the while: “Of all the tomfoolery…did anybody ever see such…going to catch your death…look at you shivering…wait until I get you below, young whipper-snapper….” He padded along behind us as Gandalf picked me bodily up and carried me downstairs to the cabin we three shared. They tried to get a nightshirt on me but I protested I didn’t need a nightshirt in the middle of the day. They insisted–naturally! on my getting a hot bath. I was soon plopped into one; they must have been heating the water all the while I was swimming in preparation. Bilbo brought my lunch to me, right there in the tub, still telling me what he thought of my exploit, but I could see his eyes twinkling all the while, until I had all I could do not to burst out laughing with my mouth full.
He and Gandalf wanted me to go to bed at once, but I would have none of that. You would have thought I was a mere sixteen, at most. When I finally emerged on deck again, dried off and dressed, everyone cheered me heartily. I was the hero of the day, or so it seemed.
But the dolphins were gone.
A/N: Wasn’t sure which species of dolphin would have been native to this part of the world, so I just invented one of my own *g*
Thanks to Shirebound for the idea of the dolphins!