My apologies for the delay in posting Chapter 20, but my ff.net "upload access" was unavailable for the past week. I hope you enjoy this final chapter!
Words cannot express my amazement and joy at how much this story has taught me, and how stupendously wonderful all of you have been. I'm more grateful than I can say for your support and encouragement.
What I will be writing, as a sequel, is a partially-AU story that will track the hobbits and Aragorn from Bree to Rivendell. What would that journey have been like, if the storyline and relationships in "Quarantined" had already been set up beforehand? I believe that the experiences at Bree, Weathertop, and Rivendell would have been much more emotionally charged, and perhaps even quite different, had Aragorn felt not just duty toward the Ringbearer, but love for his "little one".
I'm also slowly working up the courage to start a new AU story I've been thinking about for awhile. Here is a tentative and incomplete summary, subject to change (as I haven't written a word yet): The story will take place during the time the hobbits, Gandalf, and the Elves are riding north from Gondor, back home towards Rivendell and the Shire. Frodo discovers, to his dismay, that he has acquired an ability no one but Galadriel guessed was possible. (Canon-wise, this could actually have happened to him.) But before he can even begin to understand it, the Company is overtaken by Saruman. Still obsessed with the Ring and its former bearer, and no longer sane, the wizard still has one power left --- the power of his voice to persuade and coerce. (Characters: Frodo, Pippin, Sam, Merry, Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, Saruman, Gríma, Elrohir, Elladan)
Whenever a new chapter (of anything) is posted, I'll announce it at my LiveJournal (see my bio page for the URL).
Special thanks to two authors, whose stories were an enormous influence on "Quarantined":
Chapter 2 of Claudia's "A Simple Trip to Bree" (at her website, "Strange as News from Bree") beautifully describes how the first meeting between a hobbit lad and a Ranger might be for both of them. I'm convinced that reading that chapter gave me the initial idea for this story.
Frodo Baggins of Bag End's "Shadows in the Darkness" (here at ff.net) is a wonderful tale of Bilbo and Gandalf's tender care for a sick, tweenaged Frodo. I wallowed so blissfully in all the loving, devoted attention given to Frodo in that story, I wanted to write something with the same 'feeling'. Thank you, FeBoBE --- you've taught me so much.
Alexis Endebrock: I do my best to avoid slang (although my early stories include words such as "okay", about which I'm mortified), but I don't try to write with archaic or formal language; I prefer a more informal dialogue style. My writing no doubt lacks some of the more Tolkienian "flavor" of other authors, but I do try to capture the "essence" --- valor, friendship, hope, love, endurance, and unquenchable spirit. (And thank you for the birthday greeting!)
Budgielover: Do I write emotions well? I'm so glad! (I like writing dialogue and relationships, but I'm still not as comfortable with the very things at which you excel: description and action.)
endymion: Thanks for all your comments; they were fun to read! To answer your question, Frodo knew about the name "Aragorn" in chapter 18 because that's how he was introduced to him in chapters 1 and 2. The name "Estel" arrived late in the story, in chapter 11. And I appreciate your encouragement; I'm embracing my Muse so tightly, he/she/it may never get free.
Insane Pineapple from Naboo: Another reader camping out on my front lawn and singing? How about an Elvish drinking song?
Ka-Dalun: I hope the delay in posting chapter 20 allowed you to get some of your schoolwork finished! Thank you for your comments, and I hope you like the sequel description above.
kete: SOMEday I might be brave enough to tackle the Grey Havens and the Undying Lands. I need to decide if I have anything to say on that subject that hasn't already been said… hmm…
Kit: What a terrific concept --- it's an honor for someone to be called Elf-friend, but why not a similar (or greater) honor to be known as Frodo-friend (or Sam-friend)?
Lady of Ithilien: My proofreading mother, who enjoys reading the story reviews, is always amused that readers worry about the characters "as if they were real". Aren't they?
LegyLuva: I have no idea if this story has "the world record for most reviews"! What I do know is that I'm thrilled and grateful that so many people enjoyed it. I certainly enjoyed writing it.
MagicalRachel: Many thanks for the new Sindarin word; maybe if I learn a word a week… or one a month…
Meethril: No Elves in "Quarantined", sorry sorry! But the AU story I'm thinking about (detailed above) will most definitely have Elves in it. (As for your Elvish phrase, I admit that I had to do an Internet search to help me translate it!)
P.D-Chan: Even I don't have my stories all printed out. Soon you'll know them better than I do!
Rain Minstrel: You don't know how happy your comment makes me (that you think I "make everything come together so perfectly"). I tried very hard to make this story a coherent 'whole'.
TrinityTheSheDevil: You wanted updates every 5 seconds!!?? "Quarantined" would have been over in less than 2 minutes! (This way was much better, don't you think? No? Oh well, you can always cover that grey hair…)
AUTHOR NOTES: In S.R. 1391, Bilbo is 100 years old and Frodo is 22 (just barely into his "tweens"). AU story; however, what was Frodo's early life with Bilbo like? How did he meet Gandalf? Why was Aragorn so dedicated to the safeguarding of the Shire? Perhaps this tale can give possible answers to those questions… I hope you enjoy it.
My thanks to the FrodoHealers website and its members for inspiration; additional thanks to Llinos and Marigold, for advice and encouragement.
PLEASE NOTE: I am not a medical professional and do not claim to be. This is a work of fiction. No medical treatment or description of illness in this story should be taken as anything more than the author's own opinions and plot devices.
DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.
For those who haven't read the books: Throughout the trilogy, Frodo has dreams of great clarity, which either allow him to see what is happening far off, or give a glimpse into the future. The dream Frodo has at the beginning of the movie "The Two Towers" is one example.
(I recommend re-reading Chapter 11 before reading Chapter 20)
Chapter 20 – Epilogue: The Gift of Belonging
S.R. 1392, March 20
Frodo stood at the window gazing out at the garden, which had been dusted lightly by a late winter's snowfall. Behind him, Sam sat in front of the fire, laboriously reading a simple sentence to Bilbo, who sat beside him on the floor. It was nearly dinnertime --- almost time for Sam to head home.
"He ran," read Sam slowly. "It… it…"
"Remember?" Bilbo prompted. "Like young Peregrin's name?"
"Took!" Sam said triumphantly. "It… took… all day."
"Excellent, Sam-lad," said Bilbo warmly. "That's wonderful." He noticed Frodo at the window, silent and still, and walked over to join him.
"He's learning faster than I did," said Frodo quietly, without turning around.
"There's nothing like individual attention," replied Bilbo. "it works wonders for children. Frodo…" He put his hand on Frodo's shoulder. "…is everything all right?"
Frodo turned to face Bilbo, who saw that the lad's eyes were filled with tears.
"Bilbo, what would have become of me had you not…"
"Had I not adopted you?"
"My dear boy," said Bilbo. "When you lived in Buckland, what did you think lay in your future?"
"I thought…" Frodo frowned. "I loved teaching things to Merry. I thought I might become a teacher for the little ones, if they let me."
"They would have been fortunate to have you," said Bilbo softly. "You've helped me so wonderfully with Sam."
Frodo closed his eyes. "I didn't really have a place, Bilbo. I didn't know where I belonged."
As Bilbo guided the pony cart up the lane, Frodo could see Bag End just coming into view. Just then, Bilbo brought the pony to a halt and turned to the boy seated beside him.
"Frodo," he said softly, "Before we go in, there's something I want you to know." He dropped the reins and gently pulled the lad against him so they could both look at Bag End. "This is your home now, Frodo. You're not here for a visit, or to see if I like having you around. You're not here until the first time you drop a dish, or spill flour all over the kitchen. This is your home, as much yours as mine. Do you understand?"
Frodo's eyes filled with tears, and he leaned his head against Bilbo's chest. He nodded.
"By the end of the week, I expect you to know this place as well as I do," Bilbo continued, "every closet, shelf, drawer, and pantry. Explore everywhere. You don't need to ask permission to make a sandwich, or open a jar of peaches, or take down a book and read it. This is your home." Bilbo felt the boy start to shake.
"Are those unhappy tears?"
"No," sobbed Frodo.
"Good," murmured Bilbo with a smile. He handed Frodo a handkerchief. "Now, there are a few rules you should know about. My study is my private place, Frodo. If there's something in there that you need, please ask me first. And your bedroom is your private place. If you're not home, I won't go in without your permission, unless it's an emergency. If you want to move things around in your room, just do it. You don't have to ask." Bilbo saw that the boy already needed a fresh handkerchief, and handed him another.
"As you know," Bilbo continued, "there are some souvenirs around Bag End, of a journey I went on long ago --- one of them a very sharp sword, hanging in the parlor. I considered locking it away, but you're a tweenager now and I trust you to stay away from anything dangerous. If you want to see it, we'll look at it together. Agreed?"
"I think I'm the luckiest hobbit in the Shire," whispered Bilbo, tightening his arms around Frodo. "I love you very much, dear lad."
"Me too," Frodo whispered back.
"Ah yes, one more thing," Bilbo smiled. "Call it a birthday present."
Frodo looked up at him, puzzled. "You already gave me a present for your birthday, uncle."
"This is special." Bilbo took a key out of his vest pocket and placed it in the boy's hand. "A key to our front door."
Frodo looked at the key, then raised his head to gaze at the round green door in front of them. His front door. He took a deep breath, pushed the key into his pocket, wiped his face, then gave Bilbo the most beautiful smile the old hobbit had ever seen.
Bilbo smiled back, and handed Frodo the reins. "Take us the rest of the way home, Frodo-lad!"
Frodo opened his eyes. "I'm so happy here," he whispered. He looked around the warm, comforting home, and then back at his uncle. "I'm so happy here, Bilbo," he repeated. A single tear slid down his cheek, and he buried his face in Bilbo's shoulder.
"Frodo," murmured Bilbo. He put his arms around his boy and held him close. "You don't have to worry anymore about what 'might have been.' This is where you belong. And your future will be whatever you make of it." He pulled back and smiled at Frodo. "All right, now?"
Frodo nodded and smiled back.
"That leaves just one bit of unfinished business," said Bilbo seriously.
"What do you mean?"
"The lunch dishes are still unwashed. How could that be possible?"
"Those pesky trolls," said Frodo with a grin.
"Every troll in Middle-earth must be living here at Bag End," said Bilbo dryly, as Frodo headed towards the kitchen. "I cannot imagine where they're all hiding."
Frodo paused, and looked back at Bilbo.
"It's been so cold this winter --- I hope Estel is all right."
"Why don't you write him a letter? In Elvish?"
"Soon," smiled Frodo. "I'll be able to do that soon."
"I can write to him too," piped up Sam. "Soon."
"Come, Samwise," Bilbo said, turning to the lad, "time to be getting home."
Sam carefully closed the book, then scrambled to his feet. "Mr. Bilbo," he whispered urgently.
Bilbo smiled at the boy's bright, joyous face. "What is it, Sam?"
"I can read!"
Aragorn dismounted and strode eagerly to the campfire, grateful for the warmth on such a cold night.
"There's hot stew in that pot, if you're hungry."
Aragorn nodded his thanks at Gandalf, seated comfortably by the fire, and ladled a portion of stew into the wooden bowl the wizard handed him.
The two friends, who hadn't seen each other for months, talked of many things, glad of the other's company. After awhile, their conversation turned to the Shire and, as usual, Frodo.
"I never told you about the dream Frodo described to me, on that day we spent together in Bindbale Wood." Aragorn looked at Gandalf reproachfully. "Yet another unusual ability of the hobbits about which you told me nothing."
Gandalf leaned forward with interest. "You learned something new?"
"They travel far in sleep," Aragorn said. "They dream true."
The wizard frowned. "What did Frodo tell you?"
"He described houses the likes of which he could not have seen in the Shire, and children who… children I know, who are familiar to me --- the children of the Dúnedain. He also dreamed of a woman --- a human woman, in long russet skirts and grey tunic. He said she looked not young, and seemed 'noble but somewhat sad.' "
The wizard was staring at him intently. "Your mother," he muttered.
"Yes," agreed Aragorn. "I am on my way now to visit with her. She lives amongst several families. She helps teach their children."
Gandalf was silent for a moment. "I was not aware that this gift was to be found among the hobbits, Aragorn. Bilbo and I traveled a long way together, and he never mentioned or seemed to use any knowledge from a dream. Through many years, I have met and known a great number of Shirefolk, and have heard of no others such as this."
"Frodo may be unique," said Aragorn.
"That is a special lad, indeed," the wizard mused, "as I suspected. I shall have to keep an eye on him."
"When you do," smiled Aragorn, "I would not mind accompanying you." Just then, Arthad came closer and nudged his pockets. "On the other hand, perhaps it would be best to let some time pass before I once again visit Bag End." He chuckled and reached up and stroked his horse's nose. "Arthad has already picked up bad habits from the hobbits, and is now forever in search of food!"
"I have not seen Gilraen for many a year," said Gandalf. "How does she fare?"
"As ever." Aragorn shook his head sadly. "She loved but once, and has been alone for so long…" He looked wistful. "Her love --- my father --- I wish I remembered him. He is as much a legend to me as any of my ancestors of old."
Gandalf gazed at him thoughtfully. "Do you remember the gift I gave Frodo --- the faces of his parents forever clear in his memory?"
Aragorn sighed. "You strengthened a memory for him, Gandalf, but I have no such recollection of my father for you to awaken. I was barely two years old when he died."
"You do not have an image of him," said the wizard softly, moving closer. "But I do." Before Aragorn knew what was happening, Gandalf's hand was before his eyes. "Arathorn, son of Arador," the wizard murmured. He heard Aragorn gasp, and by the time he lowered his hand, the Ranger was close to tears, staring straight ahead of him at something --- or someone --- only he could see.
Gandalf busied himself with the fire for some time, then sat down quietly and filled his pipe.
It was a long time before Aragorn spoke.
"Thank you for that wonderful present, Gandalf," the Ranger said softly. Slowly he smiled, turning to the wizard with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "Is today your birthday?"
** END **