4. The City
Rosie walked with them a ways, to show them the path to the city. Frodo watched her covertly, holding back a chuckle. She was like a lass barely out of her tweens, dancing along between them holding their arms, bubbling over with exuberance.
"I'm that glad you've got here at last, Frodo," she said, "and I just wonder where Sam's got himself to! Which one of us will he stumble on first, do you think?"
Frodo laughed. "Well, whichever one it is, must take him in hand and come find the other! Agreed, Rosie? I know where you live now, but will you be able to find me, if he comes to you first?"
"No trouble about that, Frodo Baggins. You can't lose the people you love, not here! I'll find you right enough."
She left them where the path wound up the hill. "Mind you come right back, if you find him!" she said sternly. Then she spoiled the effect by laughing, turning back toward her smial, looking over her shoulder to wave at them.
"No more 'Mr. Frodo'," Pippin observed.
"No, I noticed that. I don't know why she dropped it, but I'm glad she did."
"Something about the air here," Pippin said thoughtfully. "I can't imagine that anyone is better or more important than anyone else – except Him, of course. Everyone else must be like – cousins, maybe. Family.'
They reached the top of the hill, nicely invigorated by the climb. Frodo turned and looked back the way they'd come.
"Oh, Pippin, look!" he breathed. They were high up now, high enough to see over the tops of the trees. Far in the distance the river wound away in grand, generous curves, and even from where they stood it glittered like diamonds. There were other hills far off, sharply outlined against the blue of the sky, and a crystal clarity to the air that made everything seem –
"It's more real, or something," Pippin said. "I don't know how to say it, exactly."
"It's as if the whole world we were used to, was only a dream, or a reflection in a mirror. Now we see the reality." Frodo's voice was soft with wonder, and he sat down in the grass on the brow of the hill. "There's no hurry," he said apologetically, and Pippin sat down cross-legged beside him.
They never could remember how long they lingered there, trying to take in the beauty and the startling immediacy of the scene before them. It was so quiet that they could hear each other's breathing, and then there was a step behind them and there was someone else there, a pair of arms around their shoulders. Pippin leaned back against the arms without looking, chuckling.
"Merry. Oh, Merry! I knew you'd find us."
But when they turned to greet him, Merry was smiling through tears. He knelt by them, wrapping his long arms around both cousins at once, and all he said was their names, over and over, till Pippin twisted free and gave him a push, toppling him over on the ground.
"No crying, Merry! Help me, Frodo – we'll have to tickle the tears right out of him!"
"No! Stop it, Pip!" Merry was laughing now, trying to fend off his cousin's hands, rolling to one side, rising up to catch his wrists. He wrestled Pippin to the ground and held him there, laughing in his face.
"Are you done, you fool of a Took? Will you behave?"
"I always behave, Merry." Pippin sounded aggrieved, but his eyes brimmed with mirth, and in another instant he threw off Merry's restraint and jumped to his feet.
"Come on, we're going into the city to find Sam. Where did you drop from, Merry?"
They started along the path again – it was widening into a road by now – their arms around each other with Merry in the middle. It seemed natural, somehow, to want to hold on to each other, and they didn't even talk for awhile, basking in the happiness of being together again.
There began to be houses along the way, set back from the road and sheltered by trees and bushes, surrounded by gardens. The road itself changed from white stones to smooth paving blocks.
"How did you get here, Merry?" Pippin asked again.
"Came in the gate," Merry said, then stopped, standing in the middle of the road. "That's not much of an answer, is it? How did I get here?"
“Do you remember anything?” Frodo asked. “All I remember is the river. I was in Tol Eressea with Sam, and then I was wading. Nothing in between.”
“We were in Gondor,” Merry said slowly. “I had a message from King Eomer, that he wished to see me again, a Knight of the Mark, before he passed to his fathers. So we went, Peregrin and I, and we were there when he died. And then we went to Gondor.”
“I remember that,” said Pippin. “The city was beautiful, all restored; Gimli and Legolas had brought their people to repair the stonework and plant gardens everywhere they could possibly fit one, and little Bergil had grandchildren as big as he was when I met him! He took us round the city in the daytime, and at night we sat with Elessar and Arwen….”
“Yes,” Merry said softly. “Until you fell sick, Pippin, and couldn’t leave your bed…..”
“I don’t remember that.”
“But I do. And one morning you didn’t waken; I couldn’t rouse you, no matter how I tried. Elessar came then, and tried to comfort me. They carried you to the Silent Street, to Rath Dinen, and laid you to rest among the great ones of Gondor.”
He turned and gripped Pippin’s shoulders, as if to reassure himself that Pippin was really there with him, alive.
“Oh, Merry. My poor Merry.”
“And I wouldn’t leave you. I sat beside you, there in the quiet, and I promised myself I wouldn’t leave, not unless they dragged me away. I suppose I fell asleep. And – the next thing I remember is standing outside the gate this morning. There was a child there, playing with a little dog, and I asked her where I could find someone who looked like me. I didn’t think she would know about halflings, but she said, ‘Oh, the hobbits live down by the Trees of Life. Follow that road till it ends and go on down the hill.’ So I did, and there you were.”
He leaned his forehead against Pippin's and closed his eyes. "There you were," he repeated. Pippin pulled him into a hug and Frodo stood as close to them as he could get, massaging both their backs, and finally just holding them.
“Here we all are,” Pippin said at last. “And all’s well that ends well, as Sam would say.”
Frodo laughed and pulled away. “Yes, that’s exactly what Sam would say! But where is he? What did you call those trees, Merry? Trees of Life? I didn’t pay much attention to them. I wonder if that’s where Sam is.”
“Well, it sounds like where he’d be, unless he's found a garden to ramble around in,” Pippin said, “but we didn’t see him there. Rose will tell him where we’ve gone, Frodo. He’s bound to turn up on her doorstep eventually.”
“I hope so. I wouldn’t want him to think I left him again.”
They had started walking once more. Pippin reached over and lightly thumped the back of Frodo’s head. “He’s not going to think that. He’ll find you – he always does.”
“I don’t think you’re allowed to worry here, Frodo,” Merry told him, sounding only half in jest.
“I wonder what the cure for that is?” Pippin mused. “If you ask me, I think you woke up naked to teach you not to be ashamed, so what would cure you of worrying?”
“I don’t want to know!" Frodo said hastily. "I’m not worried! Sam will turn up – look, isn’t that a hobbit up ahead?”
They were well into the city now, the street lined with houses and crowded with people of every size and description. Most of them were taller than the hobbits, but there were a fair number of children, even babies who looked too young to be out of their mothers’ arms, running in and out among the adults, playing. They bumped into people sometimes, but no one seemed to mind – in fact, there was a holiday atmosphere to the whole scene, and many people were walking arm in arm like the hobbits, or clustered in little groups that looked like reunions of long-lost friends, laughing and crying in each other’s arms. Under the sound of laughter and voices there ran a current of music, jubilant, wordless, as if all the birds that ever were had formed a choir and begun to sing in harmony.
Up ahead where Frodo pointed, a short, rather stout figure was moving with the crowd. As they watched, he was joined by a woman of like stature, who took his hand with casual familiarity. For a moment her face was turned toward them, and Frodo gave a cry and took off running.
“Mum! Dad! Mum!”
He caught himself just before he crashed into them and threw his arms round them, trying to encompass them both in one hug. It was impossible; they were both of far stockier build than he was, but they gathered him in, the way a hen tucks an errant chick under her wing. He disappeared into their embrace in a confused murmur of “Dad!” “Frodo! Little Frodo!” while Merry and Pippin stood leaning against each other, shaking their heads and grinning.
“Right,” said Merry, “well, we won’t see him again for a while. Come on, Pippin, I want to show you the gate. You won’t believe it; the new gates they made for Minas Tirith are nothing to it! I don’t suppose they have anything like it even in Avallone, over the Sea.”
“There’s another thing they haven’t got in Minas Tirith, Merry – I don’t know about Avallone. Have you looked at what we’re walking on?”
They halted and looked down, Merry rubbing his toes back and forth over the pavement. “It’s so smooth,” he said. “Smooth and cool. It’s nice to walk on.”
“It should be. It’s gold, Merry! The street is paved with gold!”
Merry looked blank. Gold? He stared up and down the street, tried to count how many streets they had already wandered down. He looked at the houses alongside, set all about with flowering trees. The houses appeared to be made of the same material as the pavement, and he remembered the Golden Hall of Meduseld. But the streets?
“They can’t be. Look around – there isn’t that much gold in all of Arda! It must be something else, something that just looks like gold. Anyway, nobody would pave a street with it!”
“Well, somebody did. They don’t pave the streets with it in Minas Tirith, but I saw enough gold there to recognize it when I see it. And what makes you think we’re still in Arda?” He looked sideways at his friend. “We’re dead, Merry; you realize that, don’t you? We’re right outside the circles of the world. We don’t know where we are!”
Merry’s arm tightened around his shoulder.
“No, we don’t know where we are. But we’re together, Pip. And there’s an air to this place – I don’t know. As if no one could ever do anything cruel here, or underhanded…. It’s like the Elves, only much more so. Noble, if a place can be noble.”
They went on, winding their way through the crowd, two little figures hardly to be noticed among the tall people around them. And not just men and women – there were other, even taller beings, strange and luminous, as if they were made of light. They were substantial enough, however, as Pippin found out when he bumped into one. The force of the collision knocked him to the ground. Before Merry could help him, the stranger had lifted him right up, brushing him off and setting him on his feet with tender care.
“Forgive me, Master Hobbit! My mind was wandering, and I forgot to look down.” The voice was deep and musical, the words kind, but for all that, the hobbits drew back in alarm; they could not have said why.
The shining stranger laid a hand on each of their heads. “Do not be afraid, small ones. I am a Messenger of the Most High, whom you call Iluvatar. You are newly arrived, are you not?”
“Yes,” said Merry, screwing up his courage. “Only today. Or – ” He wondered suddenly. “I think it was today. Pippin? When did you get here?”
Pippin didn’t answer. Today? A week ago? He had no idea. He had found himself standing by the river, watching the play of light on the water. Someone had come behind him, wrapping arms around him, and he had relaxed into the embrace without thought or fear.
All the dark memories he had hidden even from himself, ever since the Quest, had arisen in his mind, and with the arms around him he had felt strong to face them at last. And the memories had peeled away, one after another, like the layers of an onion. Peeled away and vanished, until the solid core was revealed: the stolen palantir and the encounter with the Dark Lord, and then he had trembled and been afraid – but the core of darkness shrank and shrank away to nothing at all.
Lightness, dancing lightness, had filled him, and the Man holding him had grabbed his hands and swung him in a wide circle, around and around, till his feet left the ground and he laughed aloud, and the Son laughed with him, for that was who it was. At last the glorious spin had slowed and stopped, and the Son steadied him on his feet and pointed to the water.
"Go down and get Frodo for me," He had said, and Pippin had waded in on the instant, never thinking that he didn't know how to swim, eager to do as he was bid.
Now he looked up at the Messenger who stood awaiting his reply, and shrugged helplessly. The bright one laughed and took him and Merry each by the hand. “Come, I will take you to one of your own kind. Bilbo will make you at home.”
“Bilbo! Is Bilbo here? But he went with the Elves…… no, wait, Frodo did, too, and he’s here.” Pippin was beginning to feel very muddled.
“Can you tell us where we are, sir?" Merry asked. "Frodo and Sam went to the Undying Lands, and we stayed in Middle Earth, yet here we all are. And you say Bilbo is here, too! But where is ‘here’?”
“It has many names, Master Hobbit. Some call it the Celestial City, or the Land Beyond the Sunset. It is the long home of mortals, the goal of all your journeying. This is the place prepared for you.”
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.