1. A Last, Reluctant Trophy
This is a work of fan fiction. The characters and setting, except where noted, belong to J. R. R. Tolkien.
August, 3021 T. A.
A gentle knock came on the door of Bag End. Sam looked up from the babe in surprise. Who would be knocking at this hour? Dawn would not come for two hours yet, and all respectable hobbits (except those with infants) were asleep. Unless, of course, they had to deliver news of the worst kind. He passed Elanor over to Rosie and opened the door.
At first Sam saw only two cloaked midsections. Then, looking up, his shock turned to joy. "Lord Celeborn!" he murmured, conscious of the hour.
"Master Samwise," the Elf Lord nodded. "We would not have knocked at this hour, but we saw the light within and heard your voice. Is all well?"
Sam tried to recover his composure. "It's just my daughter - they wake at all hours when they're very young." He eyed the other Elf. Very like Legolas, yet not - this one had hair of deep rather than pale gold and was broader of shoulder.
The Elf smiled at Sam. "It is an honor to finally meet you, Master Samwise! I am Thranduil Oropherion."
Sam reddened. The Elven King at his door and he in his bedclothes! "King Thranduil..." the hobbit stammered, not knowing whether to bow or kneel, settling on an awkward compromise.
Legolas' father laughed. "Come now, Sam. None of that. I know what keeps you awake at this hour. Our children are little different than yours in their first year."
Sam stood dumbstruck for a moment, as the Elves waited. Finally he came to his senses. "Come in, come in! Rosie will have my hide if she finds I left you on the doorstep!"
"Thank you," the Elves responded and ducked through the round door. Thranduil chuckled quietly as he hung his cloak on the post. "I suppose this is the same that Thorin and Company used when they acquired their burglar!" He had never been in Bag End before. Except for the scale, the dwelling appeared most comfortable. The Elves entered the parlor. Eyeing the chairs, they sat on the table.
"Is there aught I can do to help with the babe?" the King asked, "I am fond of children."
But her first sight of Elves had left Rosie speechless.
Frodo entered. Overhearing the conversation, he had hurriedly dressed and fetched a snack for unexpected guests, as befit the Master of Bag End. Putting on appearances had grown all too familiar, as had light sleep.
"Welcome to my home, my Lords. Have some tea and biscuits - you have come far!"
The offer was accepted. For a moment they ate and drank in silence, the Elves uneasily eyeing Frodo's thin body and the torment he could not hide from their eyes. Frodo saw something in Thranduil's eyes he had never seen in Legolas', a pain that reminded him of his own. Celeborn's face was guarded.
Thranduil interrupted the reverie. "I should be able to find suitable words for the one who saved the lives of my son and all our people. But I can think of nothing better than 'Thank you'. It goes without saying that anything you would have of the Elves of the Greenwood that is within our ability to grant is yours."
Frodo bowed. It was nice to be appreciated by folk other than Sam and his own cousins. Nice to be called a hero. "And equally I say to you, O King," he mustered his best formal Sindarin. "that but for your son's valor, the Quest would have failed, and return your offer - though I fear I have less to grant!"
The King smiled, then (for he knew how much of his native tongue Sam had learned), spoke rapidfire Quenya: "Frodowehaveheardnewsthatisofconcerntous. CouldyoupleasejoinusforawalkunderVardasstars?"
The Hobbit merely nodded and headed towards the front door. "Sam, I'll be back before long. Try and get some sleep. Certainly don't wait up for me!"
Though the night was warm, to ward off curious eyes, the three donned their cloaks before stepping out. Sam was concerned, but he knew that if anyone could help his Master, these two could, so he soon fell asleep.
Ringbearer and Elf Lords wandered towards the Party Field, the nearest quiet open spot where they could be sure not to disturb anyone. Celeborn broke the silence. "Frodo, we hear that you are planning to sail with Gandalf, Elrond, and my Lady."
Frodo wondered for a moment how Celeborn could know this - he had not told anyone. Then Celeborn's thoughts appeared in his head - "So it is true. Can you not guess my source? No hobbits have betrayed your secret, I assure you." The Lord of Lorien looked slightly amused.
Ah. Of course! Frodo nodded, "Yes, that is my plan, if it is allowed."
Both Elves looked pained. Celeborn spoke with surprising urgency. "Frodo, I implore you not to do this!"
The Ringbearer was astonished. "But why not? It is a grace granted to me by Lady Arwen herself. I cannot imagine a higher honor. And I am not well, my friends. There are some wounds that time can not heal. It seems that I had to lose the ..."
"Shire in order to save it," Thranduil finished disgustedly. "Such are the words of Mithrandir. Rubbish! We are more than grateful for his role in defeating Sauron, but do not make the mistake of thinking that Mithrandir is flawless or his wisdom infallible. He has been saying such things to our warriors for most of the last Age, and they have been found to be untrue."
Frodo was taken aback. Never had he heard such words spoken of Gandalf. "But I am dying, Thranduil. Where else could I find healing other than over the Sea?"
"I would not call what you would find there healing, Frodo. You will no longer feel physical discomfort, that is true, but what sort of life will it be away from your home and all those you love?"
To this Frodo had a ready answer. "I will not be alone. Bilbo is also sailing."
The Elves frowned. Had Mortals, even the greatest ones, no understanding of the Blessed Realm at all? And had no one told Frodo of what was to happen? The silver haired elder delivered the truth. "Frodo, listen to me. Bilbo is going, yes, but he will not last more than a year or two, even there. None but Eru could change that, and He is most unlikely to do so. The Undying Lands they are called because of those who dwell there, not because there is no death."
Celeborn continued, "I would not suggest that Bilbo remain here, because for him it will be only a brief visit. But your experience will not be such. You may dwell there long - perhaps even a half-yen. But I must tell you that I doubt it will be as you think. If you go, you cannot return, you understand? Healing of a sort you may find - but not from loneliness."
"Indeed, my people hold that sailing into the West is itself a form of death. 'The Undying Lands' is the Sindarin rendering, but in the Silvan tongue they are 'The Lands of Undeath'." Thranduil followed.
Frodo leaned wearily against the Tree. "You would have me remain and die here then?"
"Yes!" both Elves added in unison.
"But first we would have you live here. Why are you so sure you cannot be healed here in Middle-earth? You are scarred, yes. But you are not the only one to have suffered in war. Two thirds of my father's army died on the Dagorlad, including most of my friends. One fourth of my own died in the recent battle before you cast the Ring into the Fire." Thranduil responded. "So many of my people lost all that was dear to them, but do you see us departing?"
Celeborn continued. "I will sail into the West, one day. But it will be to reunite with my family. There will be no such reunion for you in Aman, Frodo son of Drogo. I guess the type of healing you seek, but that can be found only through the Gift of the One. For that you need no ship. For that we envy you mortals."
"You would have me end my own life then?"
"Why should I want that?", came the indignant reply. "Do not say such things!"
"What do you want of me, then?"
"For you to find the healing you need, which is not the same as that you seek. What else would we want?"
Seeing the Hobbit's confusion, Thranduil, who had dealt far more with Mortals than his older kinsman, took up the argument. "At this point, others who have suffered wounds like to yours and are commanded to 'heal!' by Elves always say that they have not the life of the Quendi, it is too late for them, and a lot of other wistful nonsense. Again, why have you not tried harder to find healing here? You have many friends throughout Middle-earth, as you would find if you would only avail yourself of them."
The King of the Greenwood now wore all of his authority - no crown was needed. "Live, man! Only cowards give up. Such we hold all those who purposefully leave Arda before their time. Even Elrond can not heal you, you would say? No wonder! He is but a shadow of his former self, worn down by his own Ring and his many sorrows. But he is not the only great healer in these lands. Have you forgotten Iarw.. Bombadil? Radagast? Have you ever even heard of Nestalinde? Or Thilevril?" he said, nodding at Celeborn.
"Or Fangorn." Celeborn added. "Have you not seen what his waters did for your cousins? What you endured was indeed far worse then they, but you owe it to the Shire to at least try every option. You are far too young to do otherwise, unless you would fail in your duty."
Now it was Frodo's turn to be angry. "Duty! Haven't I done enough?"
"No, Frodo, you have not. The Shire may not want your wisdom, but it needs it. And I say to you again, ware if you sail! You will receive all due honor over the Sea, no doubt, but you will also be looked on as a curiosity. Even as we already are when we visit Gondor, to say nothing of other Mortal lands. They honor us, yes, but it is not pleasant to be stared at as a legend sprung to life. For we do not live in a tale. We live here, in Ennor. It is our home." Celeborn's voice was hard with barely repressed bitterness.
Confused anger also shaded Thranduil's voice. "I do not understand why so many are leaving now, in the wake of victory. Galadriel and the others who were born in the Blessed Realm, or those whose entire families were slain and have now perhaps been released from Namo's Halls, I understand, but those who were born here and still have family here? They spout Warg dung about the time of the Elves being over, and in their grief, would take away more than is theirs. Perhaps the time of our dominion is over, but do they forget that we .... I am sorry, Frodo, I stray. I intended to say that you would effectively be sailing into exile, which hardly seems a proper reward for your heroism. Continue, mellon nin."
"No, you said it well, Oropherion." Celeborn replied. "I merely would add that those who encourage you to sail, though they mean well, may be thinking more of their own troubles than of yours. The Uttermost West is no place for a Mortal, especially not one whose life might be barely half over here in Ennor. It is not a question of honor. Do not make overmuch of this 'grace' granted to you. I deem the idea that it would be better for you, than the truer healing you might find here, or, failing that, the Gift of Illuvatar, a conceit of ... certain high personages."
Thranduil concluded. "Will you not come to my Wood and see Nestalinde before you make any final decision? And if she cannot help you, Radagast will also aid you in any way that he can. You need only ask him."
Celeborn finished. "As for the Galadhrim, unfortunately our realm is in great disorder now. Our chief healer, Thilevril, rides to the Havens even as we speak. But my heart tells me that her greatest student, Hithriel of Imladris, will remain in these lands for some time. And of course there are Bombadil and Fangorn. So, Ringbearer, we offer you alternatives. It is the least we can do."
Frodo nodded, near tears, but could say nothing.
Celeborn, looking both sad and angry, turned and departed without a further word, but Thranduil remained a little longer.
"Celeborn left first because if he heard the last thing I had to say, his honor would require him to be insulted on behalf of both his Lady and his former Queen. I hope these will not be my last words to you, Frodo Baggins, but someone needs to say them. Do not put your trust in the Noldor and the Maiar in this matter. The 'crafts' they brought to Middle-earth are the reason the One Ring was created in the first place. Do not be their last trophy." Thranduil knelt and embraced the frail Ringbearer, singing a faint song Frodo did not understand, and the Hobbit felt a surge of life within him.
"See? I am not even accounted a healer. You belong to Middle-earth, just as we do, or that would not have helped. Farewell for now, mellon nin! If you wish to visit us and wish for riders to speed you on the journey, you know how to send the message."
Frodo at last managed a response. "Thank you ... I cannot say what I will do, but I will have to decide very soon. I had not thought of Bombadil or the others, and now I wonder why. Perhaps our paths will cross again, but if not, may the Greenwood and the Silvans endure forever!"
The last King of Elves in Ennor bowed deeply, then turned away, already grieving. Frodo had replaced the words "be ever merry" in the traditional farewell with "endure forever". This hero, the greatest Elf-Friend now living, was indeed in great need. Why had he, Thranduil, not come earlier? Why did he always wait until it was too late?
Thilevril is borrowed from Marnie's wonderful "Battle of the Golden Wood." Nestalinde, as far as I can tell, is the 'fanon' chief healer of Thranduil's realm.