The Story Behind the Epilogue:
In April 2003, before "Quarantined" was finished (and before I ever thought about writing this sequel), reader (now phenomenal author) Gentle Hobbit sent me a mighty gift -- an epilogue. It wasn't quite right for "Quarantined", but I hope you all agree that it makes an intriguing ending for "By Chance or Purpose". I have expanded this gift into a chapter that brings the story to a close, and ties everything back to "Quarantined". (I am most humbly grateful, Gentle Hobbit -- thank you a thousand times.)
The decision made by Gandalf, revealed in this chapter, could have occurred anytime between Rivendell and Moria; therefore, if I'm ever moved to write a sequel, the door has been left open.
I thank all of you so very much for coming on this fascinating journey with me. I plan to start writing a new story in January.
Aemilia Rose: Oh no, I hope you don't need more tissues before the end! (Please be assured that not only could I never injure Frodo without there being healing, I will never write a story which involves the death of any hobbit. I can hardly bear to read those stories, and wouldn't feel comfortable writing them.)
Aiko-chan: Although it's not 'canon', I do love portraying Aragorn as 'human' as possible! Thank you again for all your enthusiasm throughout this story.
Ailsa Joy: Everyone is so courageous! How could Sauron ever imagine that such strength and resolve would lie in the hearts of so many?
aprilkat: I agree that LOVE is at the very heart of this Tale.
Arabella Thorne: I do enjoy bringing out the love and protectiveness other characters feel toward Frodo -- it mirrors how I feel about him!
Aratlithiel1: This does rather lead toward "In the Keeping of the King", doesn't it? I think I've been in love with a warm Frodo-Aragorn friendship since I started writing "Avalanche", and I haven't stopped writing about it since!
AshNight2: Congrats on winning a poetry prize! How thrilling! My goodness, how could I get annoyed, knowing that so many folks are enjoying my stories? (And believe me, I have my critics. There's no way an author can please everyone -- all we can do is write from the heart, and tell the stories that demand to be told, and try to keep growing and learning.)
Baylor: It's the little, unregarded moments (like… when and how did Merry and Pippin learn about Frodo's decision?) that can really ignite our imaginations.
Bookworm2000: I'm ambivalent about conclusions, as well! When I've said all I have to say in a fic, I bring it to a close, but it always feels very strange. On the other hand, I get to start something new, which feels very wonderful.
Budgielover: "These scenes surely must have taken place." Budgie, I think that's one of the nicest compliments I've ever received.
Cantora: It is fun to write Sam/Gandalf scenes! I enjoy putting unlikely folks together and seeing what happens. As you'll see, I did find a place in this last chapter for 'little one'… just couldn't resist.
ClaudiaofBree: I love your enthusiasm for Aragorn's concern about Frodo! They're so sweet together.
Coneflower Adams: I'm so happy that you like 'my' hobbits! And I'm excited that you got a story idea from Chapter 18 -- how cool!
Coolio02: Thanks, Coolio! I posted this (last) chapter as soon as I could!
endymion2: I imagine that every author could come up with their own reasons why Frodo volunteered to take the Ring, but I had to figure out why this Frodo -- the childlike yet strong Frodo of "Quarantined" -- would do I. It was an interesting challenge.
Erisinia Gazelle: I'm sad, too! Frodo really has a lot to live up to, as Bilbo Baggins' heir. That line from the movie, when he says, "I'm not like you, Bilbo," just breaks my heart. No one is like Bilbo, but he's quite a role model, as you say. For the sympathetic Boromir you're after, check out my story "Whispers of the Dragon", which is one of the first stories I wrote.
Firnsarnien: Merry and Pip really did give up everything to follow Frodo, didn't they? What an incredible example of self sacrifice and love. I'll start writing my next story as soon as I can, I promise! Thank you so much for your support and enthusiasm.
Gentle Hobbit: It wasn't easy coming up with a motivation for this Frodo to take the Ring. Please do ponder it, and I eagerly await whatever Rivendell story you come up with. (Somehow I just feel that there will be one, and won't we be lucky to enjoy it…)
GirlsDontCri: Oh, you're so very welcome! I hope you like this last chapter.
Grand Theft Author Otaku: I'm so glad the Aragorn-Gandalf confrontation rang true -- it was very interesting to write.
Hai: Thank you so much. I hope you find the ending to be an interesting one!
hobbitfeet13: I'm so happy to hear that the story has been "fun"! I certainly had fun writing it.
Hobbit Lily Baggins: Many thanks, Lily. Perhaps this story will inspire others, in many different directions.
Insane Pineapple from Naboo: We come to the end of this story, but another is on its way. Thanks for all your enthusiasm!
Ivy: I'm sad this is coming to an end, too! I have several more stories demanding to be written, and I'll get one of them started very soon.
Kit5: Wow, that's quite an AU scenario! Maybe someone will be brave enough to write it, someday.
LilyBaggins: I love 'tender' Gandalf, too -- Chapter 5 of "Quarantined" let me show him at his very cuddliest! Understanding the gravity of the upcoming Quest, though, had to have made him very resolute, and determined to see it succeed.
Lindelea1: I agonized over why Frodo (this Frodo) would volunteer to take the Ring; being present at such an incredible moment for Bilbo seemed like something that would tip the scales for him. (And whew! Bill forgives me!)
MagicalRachel: I always wanted to write about what went into Merry and Pippin's decision to go with Frodo -- glad you liked it! (Please know that Aragorn's rather emotional reaction is not canon -- it's how I imagine that 'my' Aragorn from "Quarantined" and this story would have reacted, under the circumstances.)
mali2: If you're hungry for a tale about Frodo and Aragorn after Frodo and Sam are rescued from Mt. Doom, I did write one; it's called "In the Keeping of the King", and a warm Frodo-Aragorn friendship is at the heart of it.
Meethril: We're back on solid ground! Whew!
Meldewen Ilce: You sweetie! I hope someday to have time to write all the stories and sequels I have in my fevered brain (including, perhaps, another chapter of "Sing Me Home").
Michelle Frodo: I adore it when people quote lines they love -- they're so often the same ones I also love, or lines on which I worked very hard to get the wording "just right".
Mish: I do love the Frodo-Aragorn friendship! I've now written many stories based on that theme, and I'm sure there will be more. I agree -- good fanfics help expand our thoughts and perceptions about Middle-earth the same way the films give us new ways of looking at our beloved characters. What a wonderful fandom we've fallen into, Mish!
Mistoffelees: I do love the teasing, as well -- when it comes with love and gentleness. (Hee hee -- the last line of dialogue in your review had me chuckling!)
Mysterious Jedi: If there's ever a sequel, it won't be right away -- I need to write a few stories that I've had "on hold" for awhile. Thank you so much for being so enthusiastic.
Namarie02: Oh, I'm so glad Aragorn's anger seemed on target; given the history of "Quarantined" and this story, it seemed a logical reaction.
Nilmandra: I'm so glad that the characters' motivations have come through clearly. I agree that love is at the very heart of this Tale. And dear Nilmandra, thank you especially for being the very first reviewer for the very first chapter of this story. An author's first review is incredibly important, and so encouraging.
Obelia medusa: Obelia! I missed you! I'm so happy to hear that RL is smoothing out a bit for you. And thank you from the bottom of my heart; to be able to add something to "Tolkien's universe" is such an honor, I can hardly grasp it.
Pearl Took: Thank you, dear Pearl. And yes, it is the strength of the hobbits (inside and out) that we love so much.
Rachel Denise Martin: Anytime a reader checks in and says "I'm enjoying your story" is useful, believe me! This story is coming to an end, but another one is already in the works. Thank you for your kind words.
Rosa Cotton: Thank you for trying to hard to review, Rosa! I work hard to make the dialogue as believable as possible, and I'm happy to hear that you enjoyed the Merry-Pippin conversation so much.
sabercrazy: You're right! "Until the king comes back" won't be a cute little Shire saying for much longer, will it?
Salsify: It's so wonderful to hear from you! Thank you for letting me know you're enjoying the story. There certainly is another on its way after this one. And another and another…
SapphireMeriadocTook: "Duty and love" -- there we have it, in a nutshell.
Strider's Girl and Taraisilwen: If there's ever a sequel, it won't be right away -- I need to write a few stories that I've had "on hold" for awhile. I'm sorry to make you sad! I feel the same way when fics I love are ending!
tree: I love how you say that! Through the fans and fanfic authors, "these races and peoples will continue to live and thrive." Sigh.
DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.
Notes for Chapter 25: For those who haven't read the books, 'broken crockery' refers to Frodo and Aragorn's first meeting in the common room in Bree. This chapter references "Quarantined" chapters 2, 3, 10, 11, 14, and 19.
BY CHANCE OR PURPOSE
Chapter 25 --- Epilogue
Aragorn looked down at Frodo and Sam as they lay sleeping. It was almost a fortnight since the Ring had been destroyed, and the two hobbits, barely alive, had been brought out of the fire. They slept on, unaware of his scrutiny. Cuts, bruises, and burns had all but healed, their labored breaths through seared lungs now deep and even, their sleep peaceful.
Aragorn knelt between the two and smoothed Sam's hair away from his forehead. The vicious gash had healed quite well, and only a faint scar would remain. He smiled to think that Sam would soon be up and wanting to cook his master some breakfast -- but there would be no cooking for the faithful gardener while he was in Gondor, for there were those who would beg for the honor of serving him.
His gaze then fell upon Frodo, who slept as quietly as Sam. It seemed that, any moment, Frodo would awaken as casually as one might on a gentle Shire morning.
It came clear to him how dearly he held Frodo in his esteem and affection. Since he had first met the seemingly careless and accident-prone hobbit after he crashed to the floor in a heap of broken crockery, the road travelled by both of them had been longer than by the simple standards of time. Truly, Frodo was more dear to his heart than many who had been with him through far longer travels.
Aragorn caught his breath as the ghost of a feeling suddenly flashed and was gone. As he gazed at Frodo before him, another, younger face superimposed itself in his mind. A younger Frodo? But as he searched Frodo's visage looking for he knew not what, the image faded.
A hand descended upon his shoulder.
"You are deep in thought, my friend," Gandalf said.
Aragorn frowned. "For a moment, I thought that I could see Frodo, much younger, in my mind. But it was fleeting. No sooner did the image appear before me, it was gone." He stood and faced the wizard. "It is strange, but suddenly I felt as if I had known him for much longer than I had thought."
Gandalf said nothing, but looked down at the two hobbits.
"How long have you known Frodo?" Aragorn suddenly asked. A wistful feeling rose in him.
"I met him a year or two after he came to live at Bag End with Bilbo," the wizard replied.
Aragorn sighed. "I wish that I could have had that chance -- to know Frodo before he took on the burden and was untroubled by the Ring."
"Aragorn," Gandalf said quietly. Aragorn looked into Gandalf's eyes, and the wizard looked back, with a deep and penetrating gaze. Suddenly, it seemed to Aragorn as if a curtain lifted, allowing him to see a clear picture -- where before there had been only darkness. Laughter, discovery, kindred spirits…
Startled, Aragorn sank to his knees and peered closely at the hobbit lying in front of him, his mind and memory suddenly ablaze with light and clarity. Young boys, camaraderie, caring. Nestled underground rooms, cramped but full of love… little one… It must have been the trolls again, Bilbo… campsites in the woods… You're supposed to be protecting hobbits, not eating them, you silly Ranger… trust… such courage… love gives us strength and courage when we need it most… Will you remember me? I will never forget you, Frodo; I cannot imagine that anyone ever could. Remember me…
Aragorn gasped and faced the wizard, his eyes flooding with tears.
"What did you do?" he cried in shock. "By what right did you steal such precious memories?"
Gandalf looked at him gravely. "I ask pardon, that I am only returning them to you now. I took something dear to you -- to all of you -- for a reason I believed necessary."
"And what could that be?" Anger stirred within the Ranger. "I have never known you to intrude on my very thoughts."
"How much do you now remember?"
"Enough to know that Frodo had been dear to me, as if he were my own son." Aragorn laid a hand to Frodo's cheek, and then upon his brow. Resentment welled within him as he saw, with new understanding, the gentle lad now grown and touched by the hurts and evils he had suffered.
"Then tell me, Ranger of the North, heir of Isildur and Elendil, would you have let this hobbit, dear to you, walk into Morder bearing the One Ring? You knew the possible dangers ahead of him: hunger, fear, imprisonment, torture… would you willingly have let one as precious to you as your own son go forth to such a fate?"
Shocked, Aragorn bowed his head. "I would not have done so willingly. But whether I could have done so at all -- that I do not know."
"Then give an old man some leeway, in understanding what letting Frodo go to Mordor would have done to you, and in wishing to spare you the anxiety and guilt."
"But that did not give you the right to meddle with my thoughts!" Aragorn turned away, anguished.
"Did it not?" The wizard's voice was sharp. "There was a war to be won, peoples to be safeguarded from slavery and Shadow. You could have not have accomplished all you did, had Frodo and Sam not been permitted to walk willingly toward what awaited them. Aragorn, you believed your bloodline, the failings of your ancestors, to be your weakness. But he was your weakness! A weakness that could have brought ruin for all."
"But you let him go forth! He was not a weakness to you! And yet you could not trust my judgment." Aragorn's words were bitter, yet he could not withhold them.
Gandalf wearily sat by Frodo's side. "I knew that he was our only hope. Forgive me, for I know that I have erred, in your judgment."
"I will forgive you, my old friend. But I will not forget," Aragorn said. "This is the last time that I shall be protected from anything. I cannot be king and have my motives and decisions disregarded by one of my trusted counsellors."
"That is as it should be," Gandalf agreed, "for soon I shall leave; my time in Middle-earth is coming to an end. You have come into your birthright, Elessar, and it is no longer the time when wizards should meddle in your affairs."
"You clouded my memories," Aragorn murmured, "and that of the hobbits, as well. All of them."
"Yes," Gandalf said simply. "For all of you, your time together began that night in Bree, when you met and traveled as strangers."
"Will Frodo remember when he awakens?" Aragorn asked suddenly.
"That I will leave up to you," Gandalf said thoughtfully. "This same ability lies within you, Aragorn; do as you deem best for both him and yourself."
After the wizard had left, Aragorn gazed for a long time at the fair face still lost in sweet forgetfulness, weighing all that he had heard. Then, for the second time, his hand covered the pale brow. He closed his eyes and reached out, gently parting the darkness that shrouded Frodo's memories.
"Come back now, little one," Aragorn called softly. "It is time to awaken."
And he opened his eyes to a smiling face, blue eyes wide with wonder and joy.