“She was not completely innocent,” said Lord Elrond. “Far from it. Her first husband was an ally of Sauron. She was vain and ambitious. She aided Sauron in many of his campaigns, and even practiced sorcery to further her ambitions for her son. She even conspired to assassinate Isildur in order to get the Ring from him. But someone else got there first.”
“And she was still allowed to come here?” I said wide-eyed.
We were in a small room on the northern end of the house. It was here I took council with the Elf-Lord for an hour each evening, and any other time I felt the need for it and he was free. The room had the same air of restfulness and purity as the entire house. It had but one very large window, which I noted was perfectly round. Before it was placed a velvet couch on which I lay or sat, while he sat across from me in a large chair with a writing-desk across his lap. I never saw what he wrote, although he would have showed me if I had asked, I think. There was a tapestry on a wall depicting a dancing maiden. And a few unique and elegant works of sculpture, some lovely pottery, and a couple of unusual plants. Candles burned in ornate sconces, casting about a soft light and sweet fragrance. It was late in the evening, and through the window I could see dramatic streaks in the northern sky, pale green and rose and scarlet and blue-white, mingled with the stars above silver mountain peaks.
“She turned from Sauron in the end,” he explained quietly. “And after six or seven years in his prisons, I would venture to say she is more than sufficiently punished. I suppose you have wondered why she has not come and spoken to you?”
“I think I know why,” I said. “She wants to be invisible.”
“Invisible?” Lord Elrond raised an eyebrow.
“Yes.” I laid my left hand over my right. “She wants to disappear–to be a shadow. I know the feeling, because I wanted it myself. I wanted to fade, to recede into…I don’t really know how to explain it exactly.”
“Like in your poem?” Lord Elrond said. I jerked my head up. “I’m thinking that perhaps your poem, in which you depicted yourself as being ignored, grew out of a secret desire to be invisible, as you say, to recede back into the place of your origins. At first I thought your fondness for bathing grew out of a feeling of having been besmirched, and wanting to come clean, but perhaps there is more to it?”
Just then came a tap on the door. It opened a crack, and Lady Celebrían’s musical voice spoke: “May I interrupt for a moment? I wouldn’t, but you two have been at it an uncommonly long time, you know. Is everything all right?”
“Yes, my dearest, fine. What have you there?”
She opened the door wider and I could see she bore a small basket, which she came over and set on a small table beside my couch. Mushrooms!
“I’ve been told you love these,” she said with just a suggestion of a giggle, “so Elwing and I went out this morning and picked a bunch of them! You were napping when we came back, so I put them down in the fruit-cellar, and then, silly me, I forgot all about them. It’s the strangest thing–I’ve walked through that meadow hundreds of times and never saw a single mushroom before…and then, just the other day, there were hundreds! All over the place, and so many colors! It’s as if they were waiting just for you, Frodo!”
I looked at the basket in delight. They were a different sort than I had ever seen before, but I knew nothing poisonous could grow on this island.
“Thank you so much, my Lady,” I said smiling. “They look and smell wonderful.”
“We picked at least three baskets full,” she said radiantly. “We had a lark of a time. We saw a flock of deer feeding, and Elwing brought some seed in her pocket to feed birds and she had them eating right from her hands. You know how she is about living creatures.”
I sometimes wondered if she were aware that her daughter was not coming back. I had found out that yes, she knew; Lady Elwing had told her, long before Lord Elrond came back. She had known in that way she knew about such things, and had prepared her for a long time. I had yet to find out how she had come to terms with the loss. Looking at her now, I could hardly believe that anything terrible could ever have happened to her.
Lord Elrond smiled–really smiled, this time. It was such a rare thing to see, that it always startled me greatly when it happened.
“Yes, I know well how Nana is,” he said. “I wonder how she manages without her bird tower anymore.”
I knew that Lady Elwing had moved out of her tower when Lady Celebrían came to the Island, and had become a priestess in order to aid her the more fully and quickly with her healing. Her tower, I was told, was still standing, and she had offered to show it to me when I was strong enough to get out. I was still trying to figure a way to decline. I didn’t want to go near it, even in her company. I’d had enough of towers to last me for two lifetimes, thank you!
“Well, I shall let you two get back to what you were doing,” Lady Celebrían said with a little laugh. “I had better go help Mother in the kitchen. She’s throwing a fit. Tilwen just smashed a jug of cream and made a terrible mess. She’s getting married soon, you know, and simply cannot keep her mind on what she’s doing. I hope we shan’t have to get another maid-servant after the wedding! Just look at those lights, aren’t they beautiful tonight?”
She gave me a little peck on the forehead, smiled at her husband, and flurried out. The room seemed much darker without her. I offered Lord Elrond the bowl of mushrooms. He took one, just to be polite, I suspect.
“Well, where were we?” he said. I was rather hoping he would say that was enough for tonight. We had been at it for a rather long time, without realizing how late it was getting. And I didn’t think I liked where the conversation was heading. While there was some part of me that actually wanted to go in that direction, the rest of me dreaded the very thought of it. Of course, he knew it. I couldn’t fool him for a minute. I very rarely even tried.
“Lady Ríannor,” I said softly. This was one of those rare times. “Why did she turn against Sauron?”
“He killed her son,” Lord Elrond said. I lifted my eyebrows. “She had three sons, and one is thought to be living still. One fell in battle, and the eldest, Arasirion, the son of her first husband, was her favorite. She was rather insanely devoted to him. No one is quite sure why Sauron had him killed. Most likely her second husband–Helkhatil was his name–had something to do with it. I should imagine that he was jealous of her love for his stepson, and of her popularity with their people. I think she rather imagined herself the consort of Sauron, in some twisted way, although she had no actual love for him. Both her husbands were preoccupied with their dominions, and paid little heed to her; she was merely an ornament to them and a means for producing heirs. So they had no idea what was really going on in her mind. She felt hidden, shut away, dammed up. So she did what she could to put herself and her son in full view. She even took a notion to obtain the region of Parin, which had been lost in a war with Rhûn, for Arasirion, and many were needlessly killed as a result. Arasirion was murdered quite horribly by orcs and his head brought to her on a spear. Of course she fairly went out of her mind with grief. She denounced Sauron repeatedly and promised his downfall. I suppose that is when Helkhatil betrayed her. He was just biding his time, waiting for the right moment.”
I looked out the window once more, trying to take it in. I had even forgotten about the mushrooms. Then I reached out to take one, just to try and drive the thought of Ríannor and Sauron’s prisons out of my head, but it was a feeble attempt, and I didn’t even bite into it. Shamefully, I found myself wishing that this unfortunate Lady had never come here. I touched my forehead and found that I had broken out into a light sweat.
“Did Lady Galadriel know her before all this?” I asked just by way of stalling off the inevitable, absently breaking the mushroom in half.
“Not really. They were enemies, of course, even though Helkhatil was a descendant of Galadriel’s brother–I guess I told you that already. I don’t even know how she recognized her among the refugees. The poor creature was skin and bones, of course, and her hair was all white and she had almost none of her own teeth left. Galadriel and I took her to Rivendell and nursed her back into some semblance of health. If she had been mortal, she would have died, of course.”
“It’s very kind of the Lady to take her in,” I said, crumbling my mushroom onto the front of my shirt. My hands were shaking. There was a silky throw lying at one end of the couch and I reached over and pulled it over myself, although it was not really cold in the room. I heard, rather than saw Lord Elrond lay down the writing-desk. I don’t think he had written down a thing.
“Frodo,” he said softly. I didn’t look up. “Frodo, have you ever considered talking with Celebrían about what happened to you?”
“No,” I said, in some surprise. “Why would I? I mean…well, I know why. I mean, I know what happened to her. And I would not make her remember such a thing.”
“Nor would hear of it yourself?” he said not unkindly. I looked up at him.
“No, I would not,” I said. “The very thought of it sickens me. I do not see how she lives with the memory of it. She–she went through worse than I did.”
“You think so?”
“Yes, of course.” I looked up in surprise. “They had her much longer than they had me. And they…you know what they did to her. And then she had to leave. And…”
“How long did they have you, Frodo?” he asked. I realized he knew very little about my imprisonment.
“I’m not sure,” I murmured. “A day, or less, I think. I was unconscious much of the time. And, and in the morning…there was Sam. I…” My voice trailed off. I balled what was left of my mushroom in the palm of my hand.
“What did they do to you?” he insisted. “Frodo, believe me I’m not trying to torment you to no purpose. To make all this go away, you must confront it first. I thought perhaps it would do you good to talk with someone who had been through it also.”
“What is there to tell that you don’t know already?” I spoke just above a whisper. “They stripped me, they beat me, they kicked me, they, they asked me things, they threatened me…they put their hands…on me…” I was shaking all over, and I pulled the throw more over me. I think I even had a notion to put it over my head.
“Did they intrude your body?” he asked gently.
“No…except in my dreams. But…what they did, what HE did…was worse, I think. I saw him, and he…he intruded me then, it was like, like a burning pitchfork thrust right through the middle of me. He opened me up entirely, I was, I was utterly exposed to him, skinned alive. I don’t know h-how to explain it exactly. I guess only in a dream it could happen, b-but there it was. And I, I can’t make it go away. I…”
I found that I had drawn up my knees to my chin, compressing myself into a tight ball. It had been a long time since I had done that. “I forced myself never to think of it again. I locked it into a dark closet in my mind, and told myself never would I open that door again. Sam said yes, that was the best way, but of course it crept out at night like a horrible phantom and got into my dreams….”
Lord Elrond rose from his chair and came to sit beside me. I shrank up even more. I didn’t want him to touch me. I never wanted anyone to touch me again. I thought of Sam, when the dreams came and he would come into my room and hold me until I fell asleep again, the way my mother had done when I was small, and he would never do that any more because I had left him without explaining why I had to disappear, left him wondering why he could not help me, why my visibility would amount to madness ultimately.
“I miss Sam,” I said and my eyes puddled up and overflowed. And I heard Lord Elrond apologize to me, not in words, but rather in a kind of invisible veil that fell between us. The veil apologized for his not being Sam just as I had once apologized to him for not being Arwen. He put his arm around me and I let him do it, and I even put an arm around him too, in a gesture of apology, both for not being Arwen and also for his not being really able to comfort me. The embrace was incomplete because of the veil, and yet he held me for a long moment. Then he fished a handkerchief out of my shirt pocket and dabbed at my face, and I don’t think my mother’s touch was ever any gentler. Then he guided my hand to the pendant that I still wore. I grasped it so tightly it hurt my hand, at first, but finally I grew calmer inside.
The veil was still there, however.
“Is this why you want to disappear?” he asked me at long last.
“I guess so,” I murmured. “It’s like something Sam told me when he put on the Ring. He said he didn’t feel he had disappeared–rather, he felt horribly visible, he said. Gandalf told me that if you put it on too often you would fade until you became invisible…well, I think the opposite happened.”
“But you’ve done well here, Frodo,” Elrond pointed out. “You’ve filled out, there’s color in your cheeks, and light in your eyes. And you haven’t as much grey in your hair, if you’ve noticed. Your scars are fading. And you’ve seemed happy. Have you been? Or do you think it was all falseness?”
“I have been happy,” I said. “Very. But then I had to go and ask…about her. I was afraid to ask before, I think, but finally I had to do it. Now it seems the shadow has come back. It’s like a box I was not supposed to open, but I did, and the shadow flew out and caught me by the throat.”
“Do you want me to send her away?” he asked. “There are places she can go. The Lady will go with her, of course. She–”
“No, don’t send her away,” I said, almost reluctantly, at first, but after a moment, I found that I meant it. Somehow, I wanted her there. Not because I thought I could help her–I knew better than that. I had some absurd notion that she was my shadow, and to remove her would rend me in half somehow.
Lord Elrond rose, took the throw and settled it over me. I relaxed a little and lay back on the couch, hugging one of the embroidered cushions to me as though it were a toy, sniffling childishly. I felt grateful I didn’t have to explain why I didn’t want her sent away, that he knew the reason even better than I did. I was abashed to look up at him and see that look again, that he was not taking on my counseling just because he felt responsible for me, that I was here because he had failed to make Isildur destroy the Ring. Had he been successful, I would never have gone through any of this; I would have been just another hobbit, living peacefully in the Shire doing hobbit things with none but the usual cares, and when I died I would have been only a name in a book, remembered only by my closest kin until were gone too; then none would remember me at all and I would have passed into oblivion.
That would have been wonderful, truly.
But, of course that was not what had happened, and he felt responsible. Yet I could see in his eyes that there was more to it than that. He could look straight at me and know me for what I really was; I could not hide anything from him. In some wise it was as Sauron with his fiery spear in my dream, piercing me through, turning me inside out, and yet exactly the opposite; he could see all I was, and yet in his eyes there was no condemnation or mockery or rage, only love and concern and perfect understanding.
“Frodo,” he said, “I didn’t speak of this before, because you seemed to be doing very well. But there is a way to make it disappear. We can empty your memory entirely, wipe it clean. You would remember nothing. It is an extreme measure, and one I do not recommend. But if you cannot shake off the Shadow any other way, it can be done. You would be as a child again–you would still have ordinary skills, language, feeding yourself, the usual things. But of all that passed in Middle-earth–that would be obliterated from your mind. It would be as if you had always dwelt here.”
I stared up at him. He had taken his chair once more, but looked at me intently. Forget everything that had happened to me?
“But I would forget Bilbo,” I said, “and…”
“Sam,” he finished for me. “Yes, as I said, extreme measures. It could be done for Bilbo and for Sam as well, and naturally, as the only hobbits on the Island, you would be still drawn to each other. It would be a simple matter of getting to know each other all over again. I didn’t tell you of this in the beginning because I feared you might accept it too hastily. Do not decide all at once, and difficult as it may seem, do not make any hasty decisions tonight.”
“Did Lady Celebrían take this treatment?” I asked. If she had, it would explain her seeming untouched-ness, although on the other hand, she had latched onto Lord Elrond very quickly!
“No,” he said with a smile. “It was offered her, of course, but she said she did not want to forget me, or her children. As I said, my mother undertook her counseling, and came to love her as a daughter.”
“And so she has forgotten what happened to her?” I asked hopefully.
“Not forgotten exactly. It’s more as you said, the memory is locked away where she cannot see it any more. But it cannot escape and haunt her. It’s more like a corpse than a phantom. It simply rots in the ground and has no power over her.”
“She’s very brave, isn’t she?” I said with the bare beginnings of a smile. “So that is how it will be with me? If I do not agree to being…erased?”
“Yes, although you must work at it. It does not happen all at once. Of course, it takes a long time and you are mortal, as she is not. I cannot say how long exactly; it varies which each person. You may take all the time you wish about deciding.”
“What about Lady Ríannor?” I said. “Shouldn’t you offer that treatment to her?”
“We have,” he said, “and it is being done, but it also does not happen all at once, and I think she is resisting it.”
“Why would she?”
“I’m not sure. Perhaps she believes she does not deserve it. Perhaps she does not want to forget her sons. Or maybe there is some inner chain that binds her yet. I dare say she is not even aware she is resisting. I have never seen any person who has been `erased’ thus; I only know it is sometimes doneIf you choose it yourself, come to me and I will prepare you. But do not choose hastily. Try to distance yourself from what you have told me tonight.”
“I have already decided,” I said. “I do not choose it. I will never forget my dear ones, or any beautiful memories I have. And I shall not give Sauron the satisfaction.”
It seemed Lord Elrond sat up much straighter, although he was sitting straight, as he always did, already.
“You’ll not, will you?” he said, and I can swear there was more light in his face.
“No. He will not make me disappear. He thought he could take all from me, empty out everything I was, down to my very bones, but I will not let him. He shall never have me.”
I think Bilbo and Gandalf would have been proud of me at that moment. A pity they would not know of it, since Lord Elrond had long ago given me his word that nothing I told him here would ever go past this room without my leave. Yet, somehow, I felt, they would know, even if they did not hear it.
I wish I could describe the look on Lord Elrond’s face. He appeared as one who had scored a long-awaited victory, and could lay his burden down at last. And I thought I heard a very soft, faint tearing sound. Like a veil being ripped wide open, perhaps.
“But you wish it for Ríannor,” he pointed out. “You would have Sauron take all from her then?”
“It’s different with her,” I said. “I think she gave to him willingly, while he took it from me by force. She has the shame of that. I had shame too, but it was shame that was thrust on me. But she can triumph over him by emptying herself and becoming filled up again. Filled with pure light for all to see.”
I felt strangely weightless and steady as I entered my room to find Bilbo hunched over in a chair with a book. Something told me he had not read a single word the whole time I was gone.
I said I would go and bathe, and would he come with me, assuring him I was allowed to walk out there now and he could ask Lord Elrond if he didn’t believe me. We got our nightshirts and robes and I took my glass, and we walked out to the bathhouse. I pointed out the northern lights, and Bilbo said yes, they were very lovely, but I think he wasn’t really seeing them. The bathhouse was built in an octagonal structure of rosy marble, with high oval windows of crystal glass. The tub was sunken in the floor and was fed by a warm spring, which came in by means of two pipes in the sides that could be opened with a metal wheel, and also through a statue of a nearly nude marble maiden holding a silver pitcher tipped on her shoulder. The water poured out of the pitcher and you could soap yourself all over and stand under the shower of water until you were all rinsed off. At first I was shy of the maiden, her expression was so mischievous, and I would bathe behind her back, and Bilbo laughed at me about it, but I noticed he stayed behind her most of the time also. There were several flowering evergreen plants all round the tub; you could pluck leaves and drop them in the water to raise a spicy and soothing fragrance. There were candle sconces all around on the walls under each window, and if you lit them at night, they would cause the windows to sparkle like giant stars, but tonight my glass was enough.
Bilbo was strangely quiet as we washed ourselves. He remarked that I had been in with Lord Elrond for a mighty long time and if Gandalf had let him he would have slipped upstairs and eavesdropped. I said something to the effect that, well, these things took time, which was true enough. He looked at me and I felt uncomfortable in the silence, but then a softness fell over his face, and he said, “My lad, just look at you. You’re a fair sight. Glowing like a candle you are.”
After we were done, we dried off, put on our nightshirts and robes, and headed back to the house, and I remarked about how good it was to be able to go back on my own two feet, which was also true enough.
Then suddenly we halted. I could see someone in the garden, sitting on a bench. It was Ríannor.
“It’s her,” Bilbo said, as though I didn’t know already. I noticed something else strange about her: she had no light.
I quivered inside. An Elf with no light was like a hobbit with no shadow, I thought.
“Bilbo,” I whispered, “go on inside, please. I’ll be there in a little while. Take this.” I handed him my glass and told him to be careful not to trip on the terrace steps.
“Frodo-lad,” he protested softly, “I–”
“Please, Uncle,” I said firmly. He sighed, and said all right, but if I didn’t come back soon, he was coming to get me. I laughed at him and said all right.
After he had gone in, I slipped about the rose-trees for a minute or two. Then, making my footsteps silent as hobbits know how to do, I crept behind Ríannor and saw she was looking at her left wrist. In the soft dim lamps that lit the garden, I could see there was a mark of some kind on the white skin. A number, I thought with a strange and inexplicable horror. I almost turned back, until I heard something like a faint sob. Then I went to her and laid three large, perfect golden roses in her lap.
She didn’t start. She had Elf-ears after all, and was probably aware of my presence all along. But she turned her head and looked at me. I saw a face of uncommon beauty even for an Elf, tears glittering like tiny stars on her thin cheeks. Whatever I had planned to say to her, I could not for the life of me remember now. So I just looked up at her a long moment, then stammered that I must go back now, and turned back toward my room. I glanced over my shoulder, just once, at her before entering, and saw her holding the flowers and looking at them.
I expected Bilbo to make some teasing remark, but he did not. After I had climbed into bed, he came and sat down beside me, just looking down at me for a few moments.
“All right, Bilbo,” I said, “say whatever is on your mind. You will, sooner or later.”
“Frodo my lad,” he said, taking my hand in both of his, “I’m old, but I’m not stupid. There’s something very bad happened to you that you haven’t told me, isn’t there? I know you think you’re protecting me by not telling me, but I swear to you I would rather know about it, no matter what it is, than just have to keep wondering. It’s connected to that woman, isn’t it? Were you taken prisoner?”
“Uncle, I needn’t tell about it twice in one day, must I,” I said with mock testiness. “Can’t you just let me go on protecting you?”
“What did they do to you?” he insisted. I put my other hand over his, the maimed one. The one I usually tried to hide. In turn, he ran one finger down my left side. I jumped as though he had touched a sore place. It was where the whip scar was…or had been. It was nearly gone now. I had never even supposed Bilbo could see it, although his eyesight had improved, along with his hearing, since we had arrived.
“I’ll tell you only if you promise not to blame yourself,” I said. “You always blame yourself for everything that’s happened to me after you went to Rivendell, and I want you to stop it right now.” I deliberately took the tone he had used with me on the ship.
“But…if I had only taken It with me,” he said pitifully, and I held a finger to his lips.
“If you had taken the Ring with you,” I said, with a smile, “the Enemy would have gotten it, and unspeakable things would have followed. And there is no possible way you could have known what would come of it. You know that as well as I do, dear silly hobbit.”
“All right then,” he said after a moment. “I promise not to blame myself. Now tell me.”
I sat up and told him about the tunnel, about Sam’s battle with the spider-monster, and his finding me in the Tower. I left out the worst parts, hoping to make it sound an entertaining adventure. But, even as Bilbo said, he was not stupid. I saw his face grow grey and very old indeed, and my heart sank to think all the vigor he had acquired since coming here might come to naught, and every wonderful thing that had come to us, would be all undone.
“Well…” he said after a long moment, when I had finished my account. “Well. I never. I…well. My stars. To think that…how long did they have you, did you say?”
“A few hours, I think,” I said untruthfully, shrugging. “I was so groggy from that creature’s poison, I didn’t really know what was going on most of the time. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, Uncle.”
I prayed that I sounded convincing. Bilbo stood up, drew the curtains over the terrace, then got into the huge bed beside me. I asked him to hand me my glass, which was on a little table on his side of the bed. He gave it to me and I re-lit it, then put out the lamp on my side of the bed. We both lay looking at the silvery glow of the phial.
“That Gollum,” he growled. “And to think I spared his miserable, mangy hide, the stinking little toad-faced–if I ever get my hands on him, I’ll, I’ll…”
“He’s dead, Uncle dear,” I reminded him. “And it’s well that you spared him, you know. I’ve already told you about that.”
“Yes yes, that’s so. But if he was alive, and I had him here, I would just…well, he’d jump in the fire just to get away from me, so he would.”
I laughed out loud: “He would, I’m sure.”
“I always knew Sam loved you dearly,” Bilbo said thoughtfully, “but…well. I never heard such a thing. I scarcely know what to say.”
“That’s very unusual, for you,” I grinned. “I should mark it on the calendar.”
I set the light on the table, dimming it to a candle-like glow, then rolled over and laid my head on Bilbo’s shoulder. He slid both arms around me and kissed my brow. Then as sleep crept on us both, from outside I heard a few silky notes from a gold harp, then the creamy tone of a flute, and along with that, another instrument, which was laid in the lap and played with a bow, such as I had never seen in Middle-earth, but it had such a rich and poignant timbre that it both gladdened the heart and brought tears to the eyes. This was Lady Elwing’s instrument. Lady Galadriel played the harp, of course, and Lady Celebrían was likely to change her flute for a tabor at any given moment, or a smaller harp, or to sing with her own silvery, clear voice. The music rose as a heavenly mist, drifting with all the colors of the aurora, and it found me as the hands of a mother, covering me with all possible beauty and recognition under the stars.