The Crossing

by dien alcyone

Rating: G

Summary: The grey ships sail to Valinor. But at least one passenger finds he still has doubts and wounds that will not go away. Perhaps only speaking with one who might understand can give him the healing he seeks.

(Frodo and Elrond, no slash unless you want to hunt for it deeply, you can read in F/S or not as you please)

Takes place more in book-verse than movie-verse, though no doubt there's elements of both.

Thanks to Kenovay and Joe for listening to me ramble about this fic.

***

For a long time, he stood watching the figures on the quay grow smaller and smaller, receding into first miniatures of themselves, then vague shapes, then only dots of homey colour on the grey docks of the Havens. Sam, he knew, would be the last to turn and walk away, on the long journey back to the green and pleasant lands of the Shire.

Frodo drew a deep breath, a breath of sea air, and realized only then that his cheeks were wet. Salt spray, he told himself absently, because he knew that tears were something that had been drained out of him in the parched ashen land of Mordor. So he was not crying.

Not all tears are an evil. Turning, Frodo looked from the east, and from the indiscriminate grey that was the harbour of the Elves, back towards the deck of the ship, his eyes seeking the wizard. While he knew, truly, that leaving Middle-Earth had been the only course left him, if he wished any solace... still, he had not expected it to hurt so much. But Gandalf-- Gandalf, wisest of wizards and friends-- Gandalf would know the words to say.

The wizard was in deep, if silent, conversation with Galadriel, Frodo realized with a sigh, seeing them standing together at the prow of the boat, staring together into the West. The stiff sweet wind that blew whipped their long hair, shimmering gold and tangled old white, around their faces, and Frodo smiled a brief wry smile, lifting a self-conscious hand to his own much shorter curls. Glancing further round the boat, his eyes caught the form of his beloved uncle. Bilbo seemed heartened by the sea-air, strengthened; if he was not exactly younger, then he was at least more lively, hobbling animatedly around the deck of the ship. Next to him, slowing his own pace to that of the elderly hobbit, walked the elf-lord Elrond, occasionally bending to hear one of Bilbo's animated exclamations, a gentle smile playing on his features. Frodo watched them for a moment, then let his gaze slip away.

That accounted for all the ship's company whom he could name, he realized with a sigh, looking at the unfamiliar, beautiful elven faces of the others who were on deck at the moment. Soft voices murmured in Sindarin, one to the other; and he let the words wash over him without translating them, content to hear the musical, soothing lilt.

Every one of the faces of those he shared the deckspace with looked to the West, he noted, sadly, and suddenly felt a surge of resentment. Even Bilbo, who like him had loved the Shire-- hadn't he? Even Bilbo thought nothing of leaving it behind.... Was he, Frodo, always going to feel the odd one out, then? The journey into the West, over the calling waves, had promised solace. It had promised forgetfulness and an easing of the pain that the Shire now brought him; a healing of the wounds that prevented him from ever again feeling truly at home there.... but now, here on the ship, with the known world dropping away behind them, Frodo suddenly felt his first unease about the trip.

Would things truly be better, on the far side of the Sea? Surely for everyone else, yes... but for himself? Memory haunted him, and was not washed away by the wake of the ship, the wake that seemed to wash everyone else's cares and troubles away.

Frodo still remembered, in his dreams, the stench of the sulfur of Mt. Doom. The waves of heat that assaulted the skin like a battering ram. The lingering, awful moment in which he had held the glistening, shining ring over the river of molten fire, when it had seemed that all the world focused and distilled into that bright, perfect ring of gold. And the moment to follow, even more terrible, when he had taken the circle of blazing metal and heard his own voice say words that yet haunted his dreams. And he had put the Ring on.

Sam's despairing cry, Gollum's mad wrath, the tangible fear and malice of Sauron, and his own hunger and weakness-- these things hung in his mind like dead weights, like echoes. Would he never be free of them?

For the duration of the journey to the Black Land and the Cracks of Doom, Frodo remembered telling himself that at journey's end, with the Ring destroyed, the subtle darkening of his soul would be lifted. The weariness would pass. The voice would cease its hideous soft whispers. ....then, the Cracks had come, had been triumphed over-- though not by him-- and, as he had recovered in the days spent in Gondor, he had told himself that when he once more returned to the Shire, then he would truly heal. There it would happen, the return to himself.

They had gone back to the Shire; but it was not the same either. They had fought for it; and the Shire, too, had been triumphed over-- though, again, not by him-- and yet.... The peace had not come. The voice no longer whispered of the beauty of gold, but instead, of his own failure, at the very test of all they had worked for. If it had not been for Gollum--

Frodo shook his head and sighed, looking from the stump of his finger, where his hand rested on the railing, back towards the east. With a start, he realized he could no longer perceive the line of the shore. The wind was swift indeed.... Should he then, also, turn his eyes to the West? To the promised respite and solace he would find there?

...and what if, the voice whispered, at the end of this journey, that peace also proved to be a lie? What if the darkness in his own soul followed him even to the end of the earth?

With a heavy heart, Frodo kept his eyes to the East, and the darkening waters behind them.

***

Elrond Peredhil let his feet carry him around the smooth planed deck, eyes raised to the vastness of the heavens. The vault of the stars was timeless beauty, a solace he had oft lost himself in over the ages, and it seemed that their light shone ever clearer and stronger as they drew nearer the Blessed Shores.

A still-steady wind drove their ship on through the night, a wind from Ulmo himself perhaps, Elrond mused as he strolled the deck, trailing a hand lightly over the polished railing. Soft in his ears came the sounds of the waves lapping against the hull, and he smiled slightly, as he remembered Bilbo Baggins' delight with the ship, and the waves, and the journey, as expressed earlier in the day. The old halfling was asleep beneath deck, now, and with the cool night air, many of his kin had also retreated into the ship. The deck was his own, it seemed...

Bilbo Baggins was a constant source of amusement to him, and again the Half-Elven smiled at the thought of the diminutive figure, shuffling about the ship. As his own race counted it, Bilbo was old; yet that childlike delight in the world had never dulled or faded in him. When walking with the hobbit, Elrond felt almost as if he, too, could recall what it was to be young; or at least see it in another's face. A joy, that was what it was that Bilbo possessed, he thought-- an active joy in the world, an active joy in the art of living.

Something he himself wondered if he would ever truly feel again. It had been.... so very long... so very many years.... since he had been young. It seemed that much of his long life had consisted only of battles, or preparing for battles, or the aftermath of battles... and of course there had always been duty. Always and forever that mistress, calling easily to him; he had never refused her advances. Duty to his chosen race, duty to his kin and family, duty to his long-dead High King, duty to the free peoples of Middle-Earth... Here, at last, on a ship into the West, it ended.

Elrond let out a long slow exhale of breath as millennia of responsibility finally began to slide from his shoulders. Lifting one hand so that the light of the brightest star caught it, he looked upon the timeless beauty of Vilya-- Vilya, that had for so long seemed as much chain as gift. The light of Eärendil danced over its surface, igniting the sapphire with a heaven-sent glow, and Elrond smiled softly.

"Indeed, Father," he murmured to the shining star in the sky. "It is time to take this off, and set all burdens aside."

Elrond slid the ring off his finger slowly, closing his eyes as he felt his hand free of its presence. Though the Three had never been tainted by the evil of Sauron, they were a burden of their own.... He slipped the precious Ring into a pocket of his loose robes and smiled a brief, melancholy smile. So much was ended now; so much was over. But then, the way of the world was to change, even if it was not the way of his people to do so.

Turning to resume his slow walk around the night-sailing ship, Elrond paused as he registered that he was not, indeed, alone on the deck. A small figure stood hunched over the railing at the stern of the ship, Ithil's silver light full upon it.

It was, of course, Bilbo's nephew... the one who had been the Ringbearer, for the harsh journey into the Black Land. Elrond cocked his head as he regarded Frodo Baggins silently, gentle concern playing on his features. The halfling looked back, towards the East, and Elrond remembered he had seen him doing so earlier in the day, as well. Indeed, Frodo Baggins had seemed somber indeed, his face settling into worn lines that left one hard-pressed to believe he was related at all to the cheerful Bilbo.

The Halfelven made a noiseless way to the stern, to place his hands gently upon the rail near Frodo's, and cast his own gaze back across the sundering sea. The distance between themselves and their former shore was now too great to be crossed by sight, but the moon seemed to lay a glittering path down across the black waters, back towards Middle-Earth.

"It is a beautiful sight," Elrond said softly.

The hobbit stirred, turning a shadowed expression briefly to Elrond before staring back at the water. "Yes. It is," he replied tonelessly.

Elrond was silent for a long moment, feeling the sweet sea air entering his lungs as he considered his next words. "But you take no pleasure in it."

"I take pleasure in very little, these days," whispered the halfling's quiet voice. Elrond nodded slowly. "You were sorely wounded, in body and in spirit... Healing takes time, Frodo. For you, the night was very long; and you cannot yet let yourself believe that the dawn will come. It is understandable."

A pair of haunted eyes sought out his face again, though this time did not look immediately back towards the East. "It is? Understandable?"

The elf-lord nodded. "Of course. It is not a cause for despair. Some of us here, on this same ship, may also know your grief, Ringbearer."

The halfling's face, which had been momentarily open and unguarded, closed again; the curly head bowing for a moment in silent pain. "I doubt that," Frodo murmured in a tight voice.

Elrond blinked slowly, watching the bowed head without speaking; until at last Frodo raised his head at the silent scrutiny. "Everyone-- here-- looks always to the West," he said in a dejected whisper. "Do none of you wonder if.... you made the right choice? Do none of you regret leaving that--" a gesture, back towards the East, "behind?"

Elrond bowed his own head as he strove to find a suitable answer. After a moment, he said, "...We are elves, Frodo. For us, this is not so much a leaving as a homecoming; even for those like myself who have never yet seen the Blessed Shores--"

"But even Gandalf and Bilbo do the same!" Frodo interjected, his tone sounding hurt and wounded. "Even Bilbo..."

"And you had hoped to not be alone, here," Elrond said gently, beginning to understand. Frodo nodded despondently, and the elf-lord smiled sadly. "I cannot offer you a perfect understanding, Frodo Baggins. But to continue answering your question-- yes, we do regret. We are a people... in whom the knowledge of bowing to the inevitable is a fine art. And yet, we do regret."

Elrond took a deep breath, looking across the glittering road of moonlight. "I shall regret-- the music of the cool breezes through the arches of my home... the soft play of moonlight over the merry and laughing stream... the sight of the faces of my sons, and also that of my daughter. I shall regret not being there for the birth of her first child, or her second or third. I shall regret the autumn, when it brings a blaze of colours and fire to the trees; and I shall regret the winter, when all slumbers beneath a soft fine blanket of snow, wrapped in peaceful dreams. And the stars, turning heaven into a glory and a wonder. ...these things, and more, I will miss," he breathed. "And what will you miss, Frodo of the Shire?"

Frodo's eyes, fixed on the distant east, closed briefly, and a tear made silver in Ithil's rays slipped down his cheek. "Autumn, as you say. The crunch of the leaves under my feet, when I walked down the lanes of the Shire with Sam, and Merry and Pippin. The broad, honest, dull faces of my neighbors. Potatoes-- I somehow doubt they grow potatoes in fair Valinor," he said with a sad half-laugh. "...pipe-weed, I suppose. Walking to the Green Dragon on a cold evening, stepping into the light and the warmth and the noise, being handed a great mug of rich dark ale. Snowball fights with the children of Hobbiton."

Frodo let out a deep sigh and wiped at his face. "But.... all these things, Lord Elrond... all these things are things I missed before we set foot on the ship."

"Ah," said Elrond in comprehension. "Then it was the ideas, and the memories, of these things that you truly missed. And what they represented."

"...what?" said the hobbit in confusion, looking at him strangely. Elrond smiled slightly and rested his elbows on the ship's stern railing, leaning forward as he returned his gaze to the shining water-road. Softly, he explained, "It was not the things in and of themselves that you missed, Frodo. But rather, what they symbolized to you. To you, these things were peace, and happiness, and the souvenirs of a simple and fairly carefree life. The life that you knew... before you took the One Ring as your burden."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Frodo wince, at the mention of it, and make an aborted movement towards the scarred hand.

"Does it yet pain you, then?" he murmured.

The halfling let out a slow measured breath, eyes shut, and nodded. "Yes. My hand, and other wounds besides."

"The blade of the Witchking?" Elrond mused. Again the smaller figure nodded. Then, in a voice low enough that even the elf had to listen carefully to catch it, Frodo added, "But not all wounds leave marks the eye can perceive..."

A shadow of remembered pain crossed Elrond's own ageless features, his brow furrowing slightly. "Yes. That is very true. It is... a painful thing to accept, that there are injuries I cannot treat or cure; though I call myself a healer. Perhaps Iluvatar, in his wisdom, created us in this fashion so that even those who are considered Wise would know they have limitations," he said with a bitter half-smile.

"Or so I philosophized to myself, after she left for the Undying Shores..."

"Who?" Frodo asked, and Elrond blinked guiltily, for a moment lost in his own memories.

"My wife. Celebrían. Arwen's mother, and the twins'. She-- she preceded me on this journey by some years. But I doubt that she looked back towards the East, as we do now. By the time that she left, she took no pleasure in the moonlit and starlit lands of Arda."

Frodo was silent for a moment, distracted from his perusal of the ocean by his contemplation of the elflord. The noble features were etched with a deep tragedy and grief. The halfling had counted himself knowledgeable about the elves, certainly knowledgeable about the history of an important a figure as Elrond Peredhil. But he realized now that while he had heard of Celebrían, he knew little of her beyond her name and that she was the daughter of Galadriel and Celeborn. Surely an account of the wife of Elrond, the daughter of Galadriel, should amount to more than that--

"I fear her story was not made into any lay or song, Frodo," Elrond said quietly, as if reading his thoughts. "I... did not wish any of my kin to sing of her, when she had left; the pain was too great. Celeborn and Galadriel may have felt the same, among their golden trees. In any case it would have been a sad song, and my people have enough of those without adding to their number."

"Would you tell me what happened, Lord Elrond?" Frodo asked calmly, finding himself deeply interested to hear of whatever had made Celebrían choose the same route to peace he himself now took. Elrond sighed, seeming more approachable and even... frail with that gesture than Frodo had ever seen him. The hobbit reminded himself that even the figures of dusty history and lost legend were people too, with griefs and joys, loves and losses.

"Celebrían.... had been in Lothlorien, visiting her kin there.... Upon her return journey to Imladris, however, a party of orcs attacked. Her escort was overwhelmed and slain, and-- and my wife was taken captive. The... spawn of Sauron held her for days. Eventually, Elladan and Elrohir uncovered their trail, and she was found alive. Barely.

"I healed the wounds of her body, Frodo; a task for my healing skills greater than any I had yet been given. Only you-- struck low by the foul blade of Angmar's curséd king-- have ever called for a greater effort on my part. It took days of setting bones and mending flesh, applying the most potent herbs and calling upon all my knowledge, before I even knew if she would survive," Elrond continued, his voice low with remembered pain. "But I did indeed heal her body.

"Better I had not, perhaps," the elf said heavily, after a pause. "As we said, the wounds of the spirit are beyond the healer's power, unless that healer be Iluvatar himself. Though her flesh mended from the... torments and violations... that those creatures visited upon her-- her heart was not to be so restored.

"Celebrían could take no joy in the lands of Arda, whether they were Imladris's water-carved valley walls or Lothlorien's golden branches. She spent the lesser part of a year with us, after those nightmarish days; but I do not believe my wife ever woke from that nightmare. Neither starlight nor moonlight nor the light of the faces of her children could rouse her from that pain.

"And so... she determined to journey to the West. The Havens, and then the long ships, across the sundering sea. She hoped the Undying Lands would bring her the peace she sought. ...I do not know if they did so. We hear little, on this side of the Sea, of what transpires across it. I suppose I will know soon enough," Elrond sighed. "I hope that she is happy. I hope she found what I could not give her, what I failed to give her."

"You didn't fail," Frodo said quickly, into the silence that followed the elf's last words. "You must not hold yourself accountable. You did all you could, Elrond."

"Ai, but it was not enough," the elf said with a sad smile, turning his head to look at Frodo, his grey eyes gleaming with the sheen of unshed tears. "One cannot but help think, of what one did wrong. How one failed, when it mattered more than anything else to come before or after it. ...is that not the case, Frodo?"

The halfling breathed in sharply, and shot his glance back to the shifting waves. After a pause, he smiled humourlessly and murmured, "You are rightly called perceptive, Lord Elrond. Is my guilt that transparent, then? For I know Sam-- faithful Sam-- would not have spoken of my failure to any."

The elf arched a surprised brow. "Your failure, Frodo Baggins?"

The hobbit took a breath, straightened his shoulders, looked out grimly over the waves. "I have not spoken, yet, of everything that transpired in Mordor. Of why I lack a finger."

Elrond's other brow climbed to join the first. "I had been told the creature Gollum had bitten it off..."

"Yes. Yes, he did. But-- we did not say why..." Frodo said bleakly, eyes trained on the horizon. He gathered the energy that it took, to continue, to confess.

"I took the Ring as my own, at Mt. Doom. I did not have the strength to destroy it. ....After all of it, the torturous journey, the wasted lives of Boromir and the thousands of Men of Minas Tirith and Rohan, the injuries my companions all sustained to help me achieve the quest-- the sacrifices all had made-- after all of it.... I could not destroy it. I wanted to keep it. I wanted to use it. I wanted to s-see--"

Frodo broke off sharply, clutched his hands together as if to grab at a phantom ring and finger.

"See what, Frodo?" Elrond asked gently.

As if the words were being torn from him, the hobbit answered, "See... everyone... every living thing... bow to me. To me, as ruler and god of the world. I would have... destroyed Sauron... and Saruman... but I wouldn't have stopped there. No. I would climb the Black Tower, and with the Eye deposed, reign from on high. I could see it all, Elrond-- Aragorn knelt before me and I crowned him King of Gondor-- but King under me. All the kings and lords of all the lands, from thousands of leagues distant, came to present themselves before the wheel of fire, that hovered on my hand, and to pledge fealty. ...you were there, and Galadriel, and you gifted me with the keys of the Elven kingdoms. And the wizards of the Council spoke as I wished them to, at my command only.

"All... all of you who were accounted Wise, and who had unfairly set me the impossible task of destroying it-- all of you came to me, to serve at my pleasure, to bow before my wisdom and might. Your minds were opened to me, all your knowledge and lore, offered as freely as you offered the wealth of your kingdoms.

"I could see into the hearts of Men and Elves and all other races... I could perceive their hidden thoughts... every secret of the heart was laid bare before me, as well as the secret things of the earth, the hidden lore of the air, the mysteries of fire and of water. I spoke in any language I pleased, even the tongues of dragons, who flew at my whim and obeyed me.

"And the Shire was set aside, for ever and ever, as inviolate and mine. I put to death any who entered that land and troubled my people without my leave. All the earth knew of Frodo, the Halfling, the Lord of the Rings," he finished softly. "And they all worshipped me."

He could feel Elrond's gaze upon his face, could envision the judgment and condemnation in the elf's stern countenance.  Frodo closed his eyes and bowed his head. Speaking the words aloud had seemed to ease the heaviness inside his chest, a fraction; but they had also made it all that much more real. The memory of the moment clung and crawled over him like a bloated and hideous spider.

"I lost myself to the Ring and its lies. Had Gollum not struggled with me, and bit the finger and Ring from my hand, then if would yet remain, for I would not have destroyed it. It was precious to me," he said in a bitter mocking tone.

"So, I am no better than Isildur or Gollum was, in the end. No better.... and yet, everyone proclaims me the saviour of Middle-Earth, and I am granted passage into the West, instead of death by orc-arrow or fire. How do I then deserve this? It is a fine reward for failure," Frodo whispered.

A touch brushed against his shoulder, and the spider on his skin recoiled from the contact. Frodo opened his eyes to see Elrond's hand laid on his shoulder, fingers pale in the moonlight.

"You did not fail, Frodo. You carried the ring for the space of a year-- the One Ring, the instrument of corruption itself. None could have stood above the fires of Orodruin and willingly cast it in. You judge yourself by your inability to do the impossible, halfling? Then you judge yourself harshly indeed...

"I hear you compare yourself to two figures-- Isildur, King of Men, and Gollum, Slave of the Ring. I cannot speak for the latter, for I did not know the creature. But I did know Isildur. And I also stood in the heart of the mountain, and watched him succumb to the power of that damnéd circle of gold. ...fear not, Frodo, that you are the same as him. In the space of less than an hour, the Ring became his master. You fought the Ring's growing power for a year, and brought the Ring back to the heart of the mountain, to undo Isildur's folly. There, the conflict played as it was fated to play, as it was written by greater hands than ours.

"Fire is a crucible, Frodo. A tester of metal, and also of mettle. You passed through the fire, and you were perhaps darkened by the soot, tarnished by the smoke. But the pure alloy beneath--" Elrond's hand left his shoulder, to gesture up at the sky, and the full pale moon overhead, "is rendered as shining and luminous as Ithil's light."

"I had thought you would despise me," Frodo whispered, feeling a strange wetness on his cheeks. Tears? But Mordor had taken all his tears... "You, of all people, who were there the last time someone was too weak to destroy it. You do not judge me? For the thoughts I had, deep in the heart of the mountain; and for my weakness in believing them?"

"Do the stars pass judgment on the moon, when clouds obscure his shining face? No, Frodo. For the wind, the sweet wind from the West, will drive those clouds away, and then the stars shall rejoice that Ithil shines all the brighter. I do not judge you, or condemn you."

Frodo found that he could still cry, then; and did so. Tears of relief, of exhaustion, of healing, streamed down his face. He gripped the railing tightly and drew in shuddering breaths of the cool sea air, letting his eyes fall shut. As from a great distance, he was aware that Elrond's hand had returned to his shoulder, steadying him, giving him an anchor. A great calm came over Frodo; not the somnolent lazy peace he would once have associated with calm, but a steady equilibrium such as the ship itself maintained; moving swiftly but surely through the seas, towards an anticipated destination.

He leaned his head back to draw in another breath of clean, sweet air, marveling at the way it filled his lungs and sung through his body. Opening his eyes, he felt his mouth drop open at the sight of the stars.

They filled the heavens with brilliance, with innumerable points of radiant light. Frodo was sure he had never seen half this many stars in the Shire's night sky; he had to search for familiar lights, and new constellations filled the dome of heaven.

"The stars-- they are so beautiful," he whispered. "And so many..."

"The air grows clearer as we approach Valinor," Elrond said quietly. "The stars are less hidden from our eyes. As I have been told it, the nearer we come to the Blessed Shores, the greater their light will grow, in the daytime as well as in the night, until we can no longer discern the blackness between the stars. And so it is that Valinor dwells always in the light of the heavens..."

"A land without shadows," Frodo quoted softly, or he thought he must be quoting, for it seemed he had heard the words before. He felt rather than saw the elf nod, his eyes fixed unwaveringly on the panorama of the starry heaven.

The bands of pain loosened from his chest, and he felt as if a great mist had been cast off, or left behind, like rumpled bedclothes on rising. Slowly, Frodo lowered his gaze to the shining trail of water behind them, feeling a wistful smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I wish Sam could see this."

"Samwise will follow, in time," murmured Elrond. "He, too, was a Ringbearer, and one day he too will board a gray ship, and see the stars come to life over his head--"

"No, you misunderstand me," Frodo said lightly, his smile growing. "I wish he could see... me, right now. He worried about me, very much, when we returned to the Shire. I think he could feel my unhappiness, my pain. Poor Sam-- always caring so much for others... I think it would do him good, to know that I am... healing."

Elrond smiled in kind, looking back towards the East. "I think he knows, Frodo."

"Perhaps. Perhaps he does. I hope so." Frodo paused, then felt a slight melancholy steal over his face as he returned his thoughts to their earlier thread of conversation. "...was it... I suppose it was... a sort of foolish pride, then. I did want-- very much-- to be the one to actually fling the cursed thing away. A pity Gollum got to do it, really."

Elrond laughed quietly, startling Frodo, before he too smiled and started to chuckle, sadly. "Yes, I suppose it was a rather arrogant thing to wish for. And foolish."

"No; no, halfling. Not a foolish thing to dream at all. I laugh only because... something occurred to me, just now." Elrond slipped a hand into his loose robe and drew it out again, opening his fingers to show the gleaming ring he now held. Frodo stared at it wordlessly.

"Vilya, the Ring of Air," the Halfelven said gently. "Once, the most powerful of the Three. But now it is little more than a very pretty trinket. All Rings fade now, relics of a passing Age. ...would you like it, Frodo?" the elf asked, in all seriousness.

The hobbit looked upon the circle of gold, similar and yet dissimilar to the one he had carried for so many leagues. After a long moment, observing how the sapphire set in it blazed with the moon's light, casting blue shadows onto Elrond's palm, he shook his head. "No. No, I don't think I would."

Elrond's grey eyes, transmuted into silver by the moon's alchemy, watched his intently. "Are you certain? It was never touched by Sauron. It is not a curse or an evil."

"I am certain," Frodo said in a quiet voice. "It is no evil-- but neither is it a freedom. Any ring becomes a shackle, if worn too long. Any ring becomes a burden."

The elf smiled warmly at him, approvingly. "Yes. You understand very well. Hold out your hand." Frodo did so, and the warm hands cupped his briefly, dropping Vilya into his hand and then closing his fingers about it. Questioningly, the halfling looked up into the taller figure's face, but Elrond was now looking back towards the waters.

"We must learn to let go. I carried that ring for... millennia, at the behest of my King. It kept my people safe... but all things pass. I am more than ready to give it over to another; in this case, to the keeping of Ulmo." Elrond turned a serious face back to Frodo, who was feeling the cool weight and solid shape of the ring with his fingers. "It is not your Ring. But it is a ring. Do you wish to 'fling' it away, Frodo?"

Frodo blinked as he realized what Elrond was offering him. "May I?" he breathed, one hand gripping the railing for support. The elf nodded.

Frodo took a deep breath and lifted the hand holding the ring. It seemed to take a long time to move his fist over the railing, out into open space, over the stern of the ship. Slowly, he opened his fingers, revealing the glittering Elven ring once more. Blue refracted light danced slowly on his fingertips, and the ring shone in the moonlight. Was this, then, what it felt like to hold a star?

"It is very beautiful," he whispered, feeling that even the night wind held its breath.

"It is," Elrond agreed. "But its time is past. We set our burdens aside now. We will bring no shadows with us, when we come to Valinor."

Frodo nodded. "Let the sea take, then, what we could not bring ourselves to leave on the further shore," he said, and tilted his hand. The ring slid easily off, flipped over, and sparkled through the air. It met the silver waves with the tiniest of splashes and was gone.

Frodo smiled, peaceful and beatific, his brow clear of all worries. "Thank you. I think... I think I shall sleep without dreams of Orodruin, tonight."

"Then even in being discarded, Vilya accomplished a useful thing," the Halfelven replied graciously. Frodo's smile grew a fraction.

"May your sleep be as untroubled, Elrond. And if you should recall the wounds of your wife, and feel pained that you could not heal them all... then take comfort in knowing that tonight, my own wounds have healed and closed thanks to your words." He bowed, deeply, to the elf-lord, then straightened.

Elrond was looking at him with a faraway, lost expression in his eyes, that slowly changed to realization and peace. Eventually, the Halfelven returned the bow, and murmured, "I... shall do so... and... my thanks to you, as well. It appears the line between healer and healed may become blurred indeed. Be well, Frodo of the Shire. Know that you are not the least among those who are counted Wise."

Frodo only smiled at this, and before turning to head beneath the deck, glanced back once more towards the East. The moon's path, on the water, glittered as brightly as before; bathed the ship; and continued, he mused, towards the West. Frodo turned his gaze to the bow of the ship, and imagined that he could see rainclouds, perhaps, coming towards them; and that he could smell a sweet and wild fragrance, as unnamable as something in a dream, borne along the wind.

***

"...until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing coming over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise."

--Return of the King

"And the sea will grant each man new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home."

--Christopher Columbus