1. A Way Home
Lifting his head in surprise, the figure looked at the small bird and a secret smile played on the corner of his lips - lips that had almost forgotten how to laugh and were now slowly relearning their former cheerfulness. The bird chirped again, tilting its head to the other side before it flew across the green sward surrounding the fountain and was gone.
Frodo Baggins looked west, to where the bird had disappeared, and sighed heavily. The last light of the sinking sun was warm on his face as he watched some clouds shimmering golden and violet in the evening sky. Longing filled his heart and soul. Though the festivities were finally over, he was still unable to find the peace and quiet for which he longed. He wanted to go home, to smell the fresh air of the Shire again and to return to the life he had led in what seemed ages ago.
Yet he was unwilling to depart, knowing that he would have to leave some of his friends behind. Aragorn would remain in his kingdom and Legolas and Gimli would not follow them either - not further than Fangorn, anyhow. But there was another thought that troubled him, a fear lingering in the depths of his heart. He wanted to go home, but what could he expect?
He wanted to be home, to live just as he used to -- and yet he knew that he could not. It would never be as it was, for he had changed. It was not the dreams that troubled him most, or the images that sometimes haunted him during the day -- images of darkness and dust and the remembrance of the pain he had endured. What troubled him most was the fact that he still longed for It. At times he would grow aware that his hand was feeling for the chain and the trinket it had carried. Then he would scratch his neck or ear to cover up what he really intended, and smile at his friends to make sure they did not suspect anything. Could he ever go back to his former life?
He looked at the sapling of the White Tree through the gap between the fingers of his right hand. Frodo of the Nine Fingers indeed - a part of songs and tales that would be told to future generations to honour him and the quest he had accomplished. The wound had healed well and he did hardly feel any pain, but it would always remind him of what he had gone through. A mark that was now part of him and of a future he did not yet know.
Whatever plans there had been, they had been scattered and still they had reached the end - but where to go now? He could return home and fulfil his heart's desire, though it would not seem the same. Still, he could at least pretend that it was. Perhaps, if he pretended long enough, it would suddenly be just as it had been.
Frodo shook his head, sighing heavily. He knew it was a childish thought and that he betrayed himself by thinking it, but he could not prevent his mind from doing so. After all, not everything was lost yet. Before going back to the Shire he would go to Rivendell and see Bilbo. Bilbo surely would be able to show him his place again. Bilbo would dry the tears he shed at night and would show him the right path - the way home.
A shiver ran through the small body that had endured so much. Aragorn watched Frodo who gazed at the sapling of the White Tree through the remaining fingers of his right hand. He had watched him for a while now, unnoticed by Frodo. The hobbit seemed deep in thought and Aragorn did not want to disturb him.
In the light of the fading sun and beside the great fountain Frodo looked fragile and small with his feet dangling from the edge where he was sitting. But he was the Ring-bearer, the saviour of Middle-earth who had accomplished what others could not. Aragorn owed him all he had, and it grieved him to see Frodo sitting all alone. It should not be that the one who brought joy into his life should now find his own heart burdened with grief and sadness.
A soft wind brushed through the green grass of the sward surrounding the fountain as Aragorn slowly approached the hobbit. A mop of brown hair turned in surprise to face him. Seeing who was coming, Frodo hurriedly jumped down from the fountain. "Please, stay," Aragorn told him, raising his hand.
Frodo stood still, nodding his head in greeting as the King sat down on the edge of the fountain and gazed at the blossoming sapling. "It is beautiful here, is it not?" Aragorn cast a short glance at the hobbit. "It fills my heart with joy to see the White Tree blooming again."
"Being here allows me to hope," Frodo answered quietly, sitting down beside the King. His face shimmered golden in the evening light.
"It is only because of you, Frodo, that we can hope again." Looking gravely at the hobbit, a sad smile crossed Aragorn's lips. Frodo lifted his head, sad eyes looking into the keen grey eyes of the King, and Aragorn's heart was grieved at their sight. He remembered when he had first noticed those eyes in Bree when Frodo had travelled under the name of Underhill. Wary they were, but nonetheless there had been a light shining within them like a secret flame. That flame had grown weaker, and had now gone out entirely. "What troubles your heart, my friend?"
Frodo immediately cast his gaze away and shifted uncomfortably. He did not want to bother any of his friends with his fears. They had gone through so much for him, he could not ask for more. This time he had to find his way alone.
"Do your wounds pain you?"
Frodo managed a wry smile. Slowly he lifted his head to look into the King's eyes. He remembered feeling uncomfortable when he had first been looked at by those keen eyes. Somehow he had already known back then that he could not hide anything from them. He sighed, turning his attention to the fountain and gently circled the fingers of his right hand in the water. "If I tell you, will you promise me not to tell my friends? They will worry needlessly, especially Sam will be troubled and I don't want him to worry even more than he already does."
"I give you my word," Aragorn nodded. He made himself comfortable on the edge of the fountain, knowing that Frodo took his time in talking about things that troubled him. It was not easy for the hobbit to forget what he had been through - something that would not be easy for anyone - and seldom did he reveal what was going on in his mind. He once mentioned dreams about darkness and despair, and Aragorn wondered if there had been new dreams of late.
The light faded swiftly while the two friends sat together in the courtyard of stone. The day was dying, and just as Aragorn thought Frodo would remain silent nonetheless he noticed unshed tears in the hobbit's eyes. Another shiver ran through the small body and Frodo's hand almost slipped from the edge of the fountain.
"I feel lost, stranded," Frodo suddenly said, his voice barely a whisper. "I am standing alone in the midst of a forest, surrounded by trees, grass and bushes and do not find a path to lead me out. I have lost my way. I don't know where to go." He paused, eyes resting on the sapling of the Tree as if he could gain new strength from it. Frodo took a deep breath. "I'm afraid of going home, frightened of what I might find there. It is such a long way to return."
Aragorn knew that Frodo was not speaking of the way back to the Shire, but of his own journey that would lead him away from the quest and allow him to forget the pain, the sorrow and the despair he had gone through. When another shiver ran through the already trembling body of the hobbit, Aragorn removed his cloak and wrapped it around the Ring-bearer.
"You have wandered long in darkness, my friend, and for a while I was unsure if I had the power to bring you back. I know there are wounds deeper than the ones we already cured, but even they can be set at ease. You don't have to find your way alone, Frodo. Your friends will support you, you only need to allow them." Aragorn looked at Frodo for a moment. The hobbit had cast his eyes down and his face was hidden in shadow. "I know you fear you have changed too much to return to your home. You do not need to go just now if you are frightened of what will await you in the Shire. You are welcome in Minas Tirith for as long as you desire it. Yet you should not delay too long, for I know where your heart's desire lies. You should not worry too much, Frodo. The Shire will welcome you warmly and with open arms after mourning losing you when you set out for the quest."
Frodo had not looked up but had returned to circling his right hand in the water of the fountain. The sun had now set, and it was dark on the courtyard. When Frodo finally stopped the smooth movements and lifted his head, Aragorn could clearly see the sadness reflected in the once bright eyes. "I am not who I used to be since I have been the Ring-bearer, but even a Ring-bearer I am no more. Who am I now?"
"You are Frodo Baggins of the Shire, son of Drogo and Primula Baggins -- and that you will remain, no matter how much you change." Aragorn smiled and rose to his feet while Frodo remained seated looking at him in surprise.
The thought had never occurred to him. He was still the same person who had set out from the Shire - different, perhaps, but still Frodo Baggins. He whispered the name as if he had never heard it before and a faint smile appeared on the corner of his lips. Jumping down from the fountain, Frodo handed Aragorn his cloak. "I guess I know now where I am going from here."
"Home?" the King asked, putting on his cloak and smiling at the hobbit.
"Yes, I shall try to find my way home."
Aragorn nodded, relieved, as they made their way back to the White Tower. If he could not cure Frodo's wounds he could at least ease them -- and showing him a more hopeful view of the future was a good beginning.
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.