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Title: Comfort and Joy
Frodo stopped at Gandalf's side, and gazed upward. The Tower of Avallónë was every bit as tall as the Tower of Ecthelion in the Citadel at Minas Tirith-- and it was white. But there the resemblance ended. This tower was smooth as glass, and though it was day, it gleamed like moonlight. There was an arched door of finely grained wood, and the grain had been matched to created a pattern. The lintels of the door were carven in an intricate design of twining vines and leaves. And at the very top, the tower was pierced by four windows--each facing a different direction. Other than that, it was completely smooth and featureless. It was a marvel of Elven design, and though he had been here once before, it still amazed him.
"Come along, Frodo, do!" said Gandalf impatiently, sounding much as he had sounded during the days of the Quest. Frodo hid a smile, nodded, and followed the wizard to the door.
Gandalf placed the palm of his hand squarely in the center of the beautiful door. It silently opened wide. He followed Gandalf over the threshold. They were in a small hall, and in front of them a spiral staircase rose up through the center. The staircase was fashioned of some dark metal that had a greenish sheen to it.
"It is a shame that Bilbo would not come with us," said Gandalf.
"He said once was enough. I think it embarrassed him that you had to carry him most of the way last time."
"I daresay," Gandalf replied, and he began to mount the stairs. Frodo followed him. It was a long and exhausting climb to the top, yet he felt a certain amount of pride that he had accomplished it once-- he knew that this time would be easier. His stamina and health had improved immensely since their arrival on the Blessed Isle.
He had much time to reflect as he climbed, just two stairs behind Gandalf. In the weeks since arriving here he had come to feel so much better than he had been feeling before leaving the Shire. He and Bilbo were comfortably set up, in an apartment within the dwelling of Elrond and Celebrian, very similar to the sort of quarters Bilbo had inhabited during his years in Rivendell, but suitable for two hobbits, not just one. He had come to feel so much better just in his voyage to these Western shores.
And then he had encounters: with the Mistress of Sorrows, Nienna, and with the Lady of the Stars, who had somehow helped him to see just what it was that the Quest had meant.
Most of all, he had found a friend in the Lady Celebrian, and her understanding had helped him to feel cleansed finally of the taint of the Ring. He knew that already he was well on his way to healing, if not fully there yet.
But something was yet missing for him. He had wondered for a while if he was even a hobbit any more. Bilbo, of course, had ways of reminding him that "yes, he was still a hobbit", even if no longer of the Shire. But there was so much here that, while beautiful, was alien.
And he missed other hobbits. What, he wondered, would be Sam's reaction to this Tower? Or Merry's? or Pippin's? So often he would encounter something, and think "I must show this to Pippin!" or "Merry would love that!" or "I have to tell Freddie about this!" He held tightly to the promise that someday Sam, at least, would get to share some of this with him...
His calves were beginning to ache. They were nearly to the top now. Frodo wondered what he would see this time?
The staircase came to an end in the centre of a large room filled with sunlight, pouring in through the four large arched windows. It was paneled in a golden wood, and carved beams met in the middle of the arched ceiling. A plinth of white marble stood a few feet from where they entered. A cloth of deep blue silk covered the round item set in its top. This was the Stone that had been brought back from across the Sea. Behind him, he knew, from his previous visit, stood another similar though larger plinth, in which was set the Master Stone. Gandalf walked past the marble column to the window on that side, the one facing East. Frodo followed, and they gazed out.
Their view was unobstructed for miles and miles; below was the shining city, beyond that the fields and woods of the Isle--and beyond that, nothing but Sea, vast and seemingly endless. And yet, Frodo knew, it did end, and at the other side of that Sundering Sea were his friends and kin-- those with whom he would never speak again-- save one. He felt a brief and sharp pang of regret-- soon lifted, for he knew that if he had stayed he would soon have been lost to them anyway. He felt Gandalf's hand upon his shoulder, an unspoken question: was he ready?
He nodded wordlessly, and turned. The two of them went back to where the Stone was set, and Gandalf reached out and lifted away the silk. Frodo moved in front of it, and gazed into its opalescent depths, Gandalf's hand a steadying and comforting presence. The fires within the Stone sparked and writhed, and then seeming cleared to show the view from the window-- save it seemed to draw them out and through, over those fields and woods, high above the City and then even higher.
They soared above wisps of cloud, looking down upon the wheeling gulls and the whitecaps of the waves. They saw the leaping of dolphins and the spouting of the large whales. They moved more and more swiftly, until they began to see the sails of boats, and then the faint line of the sea-strands of Ennor. There was the beautiful harbor of Mithlond, and beyond the moors and rolling hills and the Towers.
And there was the Shire!
Frodo felt his heart leap with joy at the sight: the green hills dotted with trees and sheep; the glittering streams; the chalk-downs; Michel Delving...they paused only briefly at the Great Smials. Frodo expected that next they would find themselves overlooking and then looking into, Bag End, as they had upon his last visit, when he had caught a glimpse of Sam and Rose and baby Elanor. But no, they continued on, there was the Woody End; the Marish-- and Frodo spared a smile and a thought for old Farmer Maggot and his kindness--there was the Ferry! Were they going to look in on Merry and Pippin at Crickhollow? he wondered, as they seemed to slow, going in lower and lower.
But no! The destination seemed to be Brandy Hall! Small patches of a recent snowfall lingered in the shady spots of Buck Hill. He grinned at the sight of the Hall, lightly dusted with snow and a perfectly huge wreath of holly and ivy, festooned with scarlet ribbon, that hung from the large round door at the main entrance. Of course! Gandalf had told him that it was Yuletide in the Shire, and where else would he be at Yule but Brandy Hall?
It was early in the day it seemed by the light. Perhaps just after elevenses? To his surprise, he saw himself looking into a room that was familiar, yet different than he remembered. It was the apartment set aside for the Son of the Hall, the one in which he had lived for many years with his Uncle Saradoc and Aunt Esmeralda and little Merry. Merry had lived in it very briefly, after he had come of age but before the Quest, and his cousin had made some changes. But there was Merry, getting dressed in his best finery, and with him-- Sam! So that was why they had not stopped at Bag End! The Gamgees had gone to visit the Brandybucks. He laughed aloud, so delighted was he about it.
He couldn't hear what they were saying-- the palantíri were never meant to do that. But he watched as Sam apparently made some jest. Merry laughed, but then his face grew sad and wistful for a moment-- so did Sam's. But then Pippin entered the room abruptly, grinning, carrying a bottle in one hand and three tankards in the other.
Sam looked briefly disapproving, but joined in as the three of them drank to some toast that Pippin made.
It seemed to Frodo that he had moved into the room with them, standing right at Merry's side along with Sam. The door opened again and he smiled to see his Uncle Saradoc, summoning them. Perhaps to the Yule festivities?
He followed them through the winding down-sloped passages, and then into the large main dining Hall--
And laughed again! Had Gandalf known?
Uncle Saradoc stood at the front of the room, near the hearth beside him stood Estella Bolger, a bridal wreath upon her head!
Pippin went to stand by his father, in the front row of those assembled, and Sam! It was Sam! accompanied Merry to stand at his side as witness! In the midst of his joy, he realised-- that would have been his own place, had he been there. Merry had always taken it for granted that Frodo would stand witness at his wedding. He was so pleased that his cousin had chosen Sam. His own words to Sam echoed in his ears: "...all that I had and might have had I leave to you..." Merry could have chosen Berilac or Freddie, but he had chosen Sam. It made Frodo feel even more present.
He watched as Sam spoke the words of witness for Merry, and the signing of the contract-- including Pippin as an eighth signer--"clever Merry", he thought, remembering Sam's wedding and how he had contrived Pippin's signing for Sam and Rose. He laughed once more as Merry soundly kissed his bride-- the two of them broke away, looking slightly dazed.
How long he and Gandalf stood there he did not know, but he watched the dancing and the Feast and, though he could not be heard, he joined his voice in as they sang the newlyweds off back the the little apartment, where the door was firmly closed. But the Yule festivities continued, joyful singing and dancing, welcoming the New Year in. Then he felt himself fading back. He felf a bit dizzy with the abruptness of the change, but he stood once more by Gandalf's side, in the room where the shadows before his feet had lengthened. The sky through the window facing East had dimmed to violet at the horizon, where a few bright stars were sprinkled above an indigo sea.
He looked up at Gandalf, blinking away tears of joy. "Gandalf, did you know? Did you know that today was Merry's wedding?"
Gandalf's dark eyes twinkled. "Did I know? I know much that only the Wise know," he intoned sententiously, startling a hoot of laughter from Frodo. "But no, Frodo, I did not know that. I just felt that it was very important for you to witness this Yule. I am quite pleased that I, too, was a guest at Meriadoc's wedding to the fair Miss Bolger."
Frodo reached out to impulsively hug his old friend-- something he'd not felt free to do in a long time. Gandalf patted him on the back briefly, and then they began the long trek back down the staircase. Frodo felt light and happy. "I can't wait to tell Bilbo all about it! He will be sorry to have missed it..."
In Brandy Hall, Samwise Gamgee and Peregrin Took shared a companionable pipe and an ale in the comfort of the Master's study.
"You know, Sam, it seems odd, but I felt as though Frodo was with us today. I didn't miss him nearly so much as I thought I would. It was like he was standing right by us. Do you think I sound daft? Am I cracked?"
"Not at all, Mr...-- er, I mean, Pippin. 'Cause if you are cracked, then I am too. Once tonight, I almost turned to speak to him, I felt him that near."
Pippin nodded. "I hope Merry felt it too, Sam."
"I'm sure he did! I really am..."
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