“You were not in time to bid them farewell?” Arwen asked of her husband as he stripped out of the worn, green riding leathers he’d donned once he knew that so many of those he loved were readying to sail West at last and that he’d worn on the desperate ride northward, hoping against hope to arrive in time to see them one last time ere they left Middle Earth.
He shook his head, his exhaustion plain. “No. Roheryn lamed himself as we rode through Rohan, and it was not until Éomer found us and gave me leave to ride one of the stallions from the Royal Herd that I could go at speed once more. But they had arrived in the Shire while I was still days south of the Sarn Ford, and had reached Mithlond ere I could turn west. When at last I came within sight of the Havens the ship was already several days at sea. But I felt it as the ship found the Straight Path and left the bounds of Middle Earth, and I saw the light shining in the western sky.”
He sighed as he pulled his shirt off over his head and threw it toward the basket set to receive his garb. “Now,” he continued, “we must trust others to care for them. It will be the Valar and their Maiar that will receive them and sustain them now. It will be the reunions they know with those already on Tol Eressëa and elsewhere in the Undying Lands that will restore their souls and assure them that they are where they are now meant to be. It will be the beauty of Valinor that will fill their senses and prepare them for the new lives set out for them to know.”
He held out his arms to her and drew her close to him. “They each left letters for me, Vanimelda—Adar, your daernaneth, Gandalf. They have entrusted you to me, and have charged me to be an example so that when your time comes to leave the Bounds of Arda you will trust enough to find peace even as I expect to find it. They have given me to know that they trust me to love you as deeply as they would, were they here to show you each day how much they still adore you. They trust me to love you enough that you do not languish now that they are gone.
“Our adar, the Lady, Frodo, Gandalf--they have entrusted Middle Earth to our care. Let us do as well by it as they have hoped we should, as they prepared us to serve both lands and peoples. Together I trust that we can do much to restore the Mortal Lands to the pattern they were designed to fill. Now, can you trust yourself and me to follow the paths set out for us to travel together, to fulfill the purposes set before us now?”
She smiled up into his eyes, although he could see traces of tears in her lashes. “With you by my side I will go forward indeed in trust. I will always miss them. But I trust that with Naneth by his side my adar will find enough joy to help him sustain the loss of my company, and that my daernaneth will be glad to return with these beside her to the love of her own family. Yes, beloved husband, I trust that we will accomplish at least most of what we might hope to achieve.”
Then she straightened. “Now, my husband, I trust that the bath I ordered has been drawn for you, for you will not be fit for gentle company until you have rid yourself of the sweat of days in the saddle. Go now, and return to me clean and fresh. I trust you can accomplish that?”
Laughing, he kissed her deeply, and turned toward the bathing room, trusting their attendants had set out suitable clothing for him to wear ere they went to dine.
Gandalf stood with his hand on Frodo’s shoulder as the grey ship bore them westward, toward the mouth of the Firth of Lhûn where it would bear them out across the Sundering Sea until it reached the Straight Path. “You may lower the phial now, Frodo.”
“No,” Frodo responded, his face set with the fullness of Baggins stubbornness. “I will not lower it, not until there is no chance they might see it longer. They fear for me. I would not have that fear consume them with doubts. They want for me to heal, to be renewed. Maybe that will happen, and maybe it won’t.”
He took a deep breath, raised his gaze to meet Gandalf’s, and forced himself to speak again. “This light is from the Star of Hope, correct?” At the Wizard’s nod, he looked back eastward and continued, “Let them hope, then. Let them have faith I will be healed. Let Sam trust that when he follows, I will be waiting for him.” And then he whispered, “I love them so, Gandalf! I love them so! I didn’t want to leave them! But—but I have no hope left for myself right now. If I’d stayed—if I’d stayed, I could not have remained much longer. I know it. They saw it. I loved them so—loved the Shire, loved all of Middle Earth. Loved Aragorn, his Queen…. I have had to give it all up so they can have it, keep it safe. I tried! I tried so hard!”
The tears ran down his face, and Frodo’s arm trembled as he held the phial aloft for those left on the quays of Mithlond to see.
There was enough power left within Narya for Gandalf to invoke it to strengthen the light emitted by the phial Frodo bore to kindle hope in the hearts of the three Hobbits who watched after them. Frodo had given almost all there was within him out of the love he’d held for his people and homeland and that had come to encompass of all Middle Earth. Now that Frodo had been scoured of almost all he’d ever been or known, the Maia within the Wizard’s form knew that the Hobbit he embraced was sustained only by the hope that the others’ hopes for him strengthened them to go on in his absence.
Please, Atto, he prayed within his heart, help him heal indeed. Let this small one also be refilled by hope, sustained by love, know faith again as he did when young. Let him learn to trust not just others, but himself as well once more.
And he felt the touch of Ilúvatar’s hand upon him in benediction. His own faith enhanced, he held the Hobbit’s shoulder more gently, allowing that Love to strengthen the Hobbit’s arm to hold the phial steadily, and for the light it gave to shine out the more clearly Frodo’s love for those he’d left behind.
Ivorwen sat upon the battered stone windowsill of the remains of the King’s House within the ancient keep of Fornost, holding her swaddled grandson close to her breast. He lay still enough within his blankets, his infant eyes staring up at her face as if fascinated by the wrinkles to be seen in her cheeks and brows.
“Ah, Ari my child, mine own! How large thine eyes! How clear they are, these eyes that have looked upon the world for less than five hours yet! How perfect thy form, little one, sweet one. Oh, but do not further fight sleep, little Ari, for thou dost need thy strength. Such a life thou shalt have! There is so much that we shall need to teach thee—to ride, to hunt, to wield bow and knife and sword and spear, to read and to write in a fair hand, to speak the tongues spoken by the Children of Ilúvatar, to use just judgment….
“Valorous Lord has thy father named thee, and valorous indeed may thou prove when thou shouldst come to manhood. But, for now, thou art but a babe in my arms, the fruit of thy mother’s womb and the love borne for her by thy father. The Hope for the Dúnedain art thou, the Hope not only of Men but of all of the free peoples—Men, Elves, Dwarves, and—yea, even for the Hobbits, though such people know not that they need such Hope as you embody.
“Ah, dearest child, sleep, and may the Father of us all speak to thee of justice and mercy and the means to maintain Hope in the breasts of all who desire to live free of the Shadow, who stand against Evil, who wish to see all free to seek happiness and fulfillment without the tyrant’s yoke upon their shoulders and his noose about their throats. Sleep and grow strong, and may wisdom ever dwell in thy heart, wisdom and Hope to sustain thee through all that life may seek to put in thy way to accomplish. Then shall the Hope you embody sustain all others.
“Yes, little Aragorn son of Arathorn, sleep and be at rest. For now thou art safe, here in my arms as thy mother rests from the travails of thy birth. Rest, for there is so very much thou shalt need to do ere thou comest to the time in which thou might leave the bounds of the Circles of Arda to account for the life thou hast lived.”
The infant yawned and stretched as well it might, and she rose and returned to the pallet on which his mother lay, not quite asleep but eased after her long labor to bring this child out into the light of day. Ivorwen smiled reassurance to her daughter as she laid the baby within the circle of the younger woman’s arms. Here in the remains of the ancient stronghold of the Kings of Arnor had it been judged only right that this child should be born. Ah, how she prayed that their tiny Ari might indeed grow to be the Man all of them had foreseen he was intended to be, the one to restore the world to the Creator’s will, if but for a time. Hope filled her as she looked down at Gilraen embracing her child and bringing it to her breast.