1. Frodo's Healing
Frodo Baggins sat on the ground, his back against the trunk of a massive tree. It towered over him and surrounded him in deep shade, and some of the great branches hung nearly to the ground, so he felt he was in a green and silent room. But through the leaves he could look out at a world of bright sun, for the tree stood alone in a wide field of tall grass and wildflowers. Bees hummed lazily among the flowers, and a blue butterfly dipped and swooped over the field. The air was hot and hazy.
Frodo stared out unseeing, absently picking at the thin grass under the tree. “I miss Bilbo," he whispered. "I miss Bilbo. Even here, we're mortal after all. Not like the Elves. It's lonely without him, even with Galadriel and Elrond and all the rest. I wonder if Sam will ever come here. Are there ships any more, sailing from the Havens?"
He fell silent, fingering the white jewel that hung from a fine chain around his neck. Bilbo's death had been peaceful, gentle. And the old hobbit had become so tired and frail, even amidst the beauty of Tol Eressea -- Frodo couldn't truly grieve for him.
When first they came, Bilbo had roused from the sleepiness that had been creeping over him during the last years in Rivendell. Almost he seemed young again, and they had tramped far and wide together through woods and fields fresh as the first day of creation. They’d come home at day’s end, tired and happy, to toast cheese over the fire and talk far into the night. Some nights they had not come home at all, but slept out under the stars, peaceful and unafraid. They had listened to hours and days of songs and ancient tales, rejoicing in the fair company of the Elves, till their own hearts sang and their minds stood wide in wonder.
And Bilbo had healed. The subtle mark of the old accursed Ring had left him. But gradually the sleepiness had come over him again, and he stayed close by the home fire, yet still happy and content. At length he lay down to the last, good sleep, whole and clean, however frail. Frodo couldn't begrudge him that last sleep.
But he missed him. And now, with Bilbo gone, he wondered if he himself had truly healed. If he would ever heal. He looked at his hand lying on the ground beside him, maimed and scarred, and sighed.
"You've found a cool shelter from the sun, my friend," said a voice from just outside the perimeter of the tree's branches.
Frodo jumped, startled out of his reverie. A tall stranger peered in at him through the leafy walls of his refuge. A man, not an Elf. Now that was odd. When had he ever seen a man here in Elvenhome? Even Gandalf.... when he had stayed here.... he wasn't really a man, though he appeared like one.
"May I come in?" the man asked. "It's a bit warm for hiking over the field in the afternoon sun."
"Oh, of... of course," Frodo stammered. He got to his feet courteously. "Of course. Come in where it's shady. But -- if you will not think me ungracious for asking -- who are you? I am Frodo son of Drogo, at your service."
The stranger ducked under the branches and came in, laughing a little. "Oh, I know who you are, Frodo Baggins. You are well-known here, you understand. Ring-bearer."
Frodo's polite smile of welcome faded, and he sat down again, regarding his visitor a little warily. The tall man sat down before him, not leaning against the tree but directly in front of him. Looking at him.
"You are not glad at that title, Frodo," he said quietly. "Yet that was a great Quest, and you did well to fulfill it." His voice was mild, but there was that in his face which forbade evasion, and Frodo could not meet his eyes.
He fidgeted, playing with the jewel at his throat, sliding it back and forth along its chain. Memories crowded in. Finally he flung himself face down on the ground, his head on his arms. "It was a great Quest. It was fulfilled. But that was not my doing," he said hoarsely to the ground.
The stranger was silent. A little wind rustled in the branches overhead, and out in the field a bird called. The silence under the tree grew and grew until it was a presence, waiting.
"The Ring conquered me," Frodo choked at last. And with that bald statement, the dam broke. Sobs shook him, and burning tears. Shame and sorrow and regret: he had given his whole being to the Quest, all that he could give, and it had not been enough. In spite of all that he could do, the Ring had conquered, and he had fallen. If not for Smeagol! Smeagol who had taken the Ring -- and his finger -- into the fire. He was no better than Smeagol after all. He was only luckier. Or not. For even now, even now, the fiery Ring haunted his dreams at times. Especially now, with Bilbo gone.
He wept until he felt drained, washed out, and his breath came in long gasps. When, when, had this little Eden, Tol Eressea, been witness to such a storm of sorrow? As his sobs quieted, he became aware that a hand was stroking his hair, very gently. He reached up his maimed right hand and caught at those caressing fingers, as he might have caught at a lifeline. Rolling onto his side, he stared up into the stranger's face.
"Who are you? Who are you?" he asked shakily.
"I am a physician, Frodo," the man said softly. "I have come to heal you."
Frodo searched his face. It was a young face, and strong, and full of gladness. But the eyes, though they sparkled with aliveness and joy, held depths of wisdom and .... suffering? Suffering? Frodo looked down at the hand he held in his, and gasped. It was wounded, a raw unhealed laceration that pierced it right through, from palm to back. He looked up into the face again.
"You are wounded," he said, wondering.
"I also fulfilled a Quest. These are the wounds of my Quest." He held out his right hand for Frodo's inspection. It was pierced through like the other.
Frodo sat up and took the stranger's other hand in his own. He looked at the deep, raw wounds, and shuddered. Tears started to his eyes again, but he blinked them away and stared into the man's face. "Tell me," he said. "Tell me of your Quest."
The stranger's voice grew pensive. "You journeyed far, Frodo, and suffered much, to destroy Sauron's Ring. But though the Ring is gone into the fire, evil has not departed from Middle Earth. Sauron was a servant only, of a Master yet more evil than himself.
"But my Quest is to root out evil itself from my children's hearts, and make my creation clean again. For I am the Son of the One, Iluvatar's Son."
A light shone from the stranger's face, and suddenly it seemed that the dimness under the tree had become brighter than the sunlight field beyond. Frodo gazed at him in awe, and slowly terror took him. He let go the wounded hands and hunched over, shielding his head with his arms, as if expecting a mighty blow. He trembled and shrank into himself, making himself as small as he could.
"No, Frodo, no!" the voice said urgently. "I have come to heal you, not to punish you. Look at me!" Hesitantly Frodo obeyed, and found to his astonishment that the bright face before him was wet with tears. His own maimed hand was taken gently by those two hands with the terrible wounds, and held, warm and comforting.
"You have done well, little one. You have fought the good fight. Do not be afraid. For what you did not do is atoned for, and whatever you did amiss, is forgiven. Will you trust me for this?"
The eyes of the man before him searched his own, probed into his heart and mind and will, till Frodo felt that a clean wind was blowing through him, and all the dark thoughts and memories were swept away. A joy kindled within him and he laughed softly.
"Yes, oh yes, lord!" he whispered. And the joy welled up and grew inside him till he could hold it in no longer, and he laughed aloud and sprang up and danced a little on the thin grass under the tree. But the Son of Iluvatar still held his hand, and ducking under the branches, he led him out into the sunlight.
"Soon you must come home, Frodo," he said. "For your time in Eressea was for your healing, and you are healed now. And the long home of mortals is not here, whether men or hobbits. But you shall not come alone."
Frodo looked at him, a question in his eyes.
"Samwise left the Havens ten days ago," the Son said, and the smile on his face danced in his eyes. "He has not forgotten you, Frodo. Will you go down to the shore and welcome him?"
"May I? And will you come with me?" And now Frodo understood what Sam had felt, long years before, torn between two yearnings.
"I will walk with you a while. Indeed, I have been with you on all your journeys, though you did not know it." Frodo looked at him in wonder, as understanding dawned.
"Always? Truly?" he murmured.
Even as they walked, he clung to the wounded hand in his. But as they came to the top of the last hill and looked out over the sea, a grey-sailed ship was putting into harbor, and among the tall Elves on her deck was a short, stocky figure leaning far out over the rail, his hand shading his eyes, searching the shore. Frodo broke away running, laughing and shouting as he ran.
"Sam! Samwise Gamgee! Over here! Sam!"
And Sam heard his shouts and looked up to see Frodo pelting down the long hill to the harbor, his face shining with joy.