This will be a gentle story, containing minimum angst and maximum love -- and is independent from any other 'universe' I've written. The original versions of Chapters 1 and 2 were inspired by challenges previously posted to the Waymeet community on Livejournal.

DISCLAIMER: Professor Tolkien's wonderful characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.

xxxx

Farmer Maggot's quote is from The Fellowship of the Ring

THE PATH TO HEALING

Chapter 1 -- In the Meadow

"It is difficult to keep awake here, until you get used to it," said Bilbo. 'Many Meetings,' The Fellowship of the Ring

xxxx

Frodo sighed peacefully as the wisps of dream faded and released him. He slowly opened his eyes. Bilbo sat by his bedside in a comfortable, hobbit-sized chair, and Gandalf stood just behind him. Both had gentle, happy looks on their faces.

Frodo sat up slowly, trying to get his bearings. "Hullo, Bilbo. You..." He stared in amazement. "Why, you look eleventy-one again!"

"I feel eleventy-one again. There must be something in the air here."

"There certainly is," Gandalf agreed. He sat on the bed and took Frodo's hand. "How do you feel, dear boy?"

"I feel wonderful." Frodo took a deep breath as the last of the cobwebs cleared from his mind. "I remember leaving the ship, and greeting Lady Celebrían, but... not much else. How long have I been asleep?"

"A few days... weeks, maybe..." Bilbo looked uncertain. "It's worse than Rivendell, isn't it?" He turned to Gandalf. "How long have we been here?"

"You will find that 'how long' no longer matters as much as it did in Middle-earth," Gandalf replied. "We were uncertain how the transition would affect you, and indeed, some wondered whether you and Frodo would wake at all. But Irmo and Estë sent healing dreams, and slowly your bodies and spirits grew accustomed to the more gentle flow of time here on Tol Eressëa."

"Tol Eressëa," Frodo murmured. He smiled as a great joy filled him, then stretched and looked around the small, beautifully-furnished room. "Is this home? Is there a kitchen, by chance?"

"Indeed there is!" Gandalf laughed, a sound like the pealing of bells that Frodo had heard all too seldom in recent years. "And you will find garments awaiting you, many prepared by Celebrían herself. You will see where Lady Arwen learned her skills." He indicated a nearby wardrobe and several chests -- both as intricately carved as the chair in which Bilbo sat – containing hobbit-sized clothing woven of soft fabrics and gentle colors.

"Hurry and dress, my lad," Bilbo said, as Gandalf took his leave. "I'll show you around, then we will prepare a feast fit for a Baggins. It is many years since the two of us cooked together, is it not?"

"Oh Bilbo," Frodo sighed. He took deep lungfuls of the fragrant air. "I can scarcely believe it."

"And you should know that there are more than garments and a meal awaiting you," Bilbo smiled mysteriously. "But perhaps I will save any further surprises until later."

"Still keeping secrets?" Frodo smiled happily. "You haven't changed in that regard, have you?"

"Goodness, I should hope not!" Bilbo snorted. "What good is life without a bit of mystery and adventure?"

Frodo and Bilbo lingered over luncheon (if that's what it was) talking fondly about what had been, and wonderingly over what might yet be. When they at last rose from the table of their bright and airy kitchen, Frodo realized that it was, indeed, nearly impossible to count time in this magical realm. Had one hour passed, or many? He wondered how long it would take him to cease thinking about the passage of time altogether.

They went outside, and while Bilbo wandered about one of the many gardens, humming a tune, Frodo turned a corner of their new home and happened to look up. He gasped, utterly dumbstruck.

He had never given much thought to what an island in the Blessed Realm might actually look like, vaguely assuming that anything named "the Lonely Isle" was probably rocky, small, and rather isolated. But this...

"It's really quite breathtaking, isn't it?" Bilbo asked, coming to his side. Frodo nodded, still speechless.

The hobbits' cozy home was cunningly built into a terraced hill, above a forested glade with a sparkling stream flowing merrily through the trees. It afforded a spectacular view of the northeast coast. Sweeping before them, as far as the eye could see, were white shores, grand peaks, and magnificent forests. The air smelled of flowers, and the Sea sparkled and danced with colors Frodo couldn't even begin to name. Small islands they had seen from the ship dotted the horizon. Everything seemed fresh and sharp, as if newly painted.

"Tol Eressëa is larger than the Shire, or so they tell me," Bilbo said quietly. "What do you think of the place?"

"Gorgeous," Frodo breathed. "How I long to explore everywhere. It will take years."

"And that," Bilbo said with a smile, "brings us back to your surprise. Are you ready?"

"I suppose so," Frodo said, reluctantly tearing his eyes away from the view. "Why do you sound as if you've been awake and planning things for days?"

"Because I have been." Bilbo began to lead Frodo toward the nearest settlement of homes, about a mile away. "Elrond thinks that my long residence in Rivendell prepared me somewhat for the 'transition', as they call it. It took you a bit longer to adjust, my lad, that's all."

"Bilbo?"

"Yes?"

"Don't ever stop calling me that."

"I promise," Bilbo said, wrapping his arm around Frodo's shoulders. "My dear lad."

xxxx

Galadriel greeted her guests. "Good afternoon, Bilbo. Frodo, I am overjoyed to see you so recovered."

Frodo bowed deeply. "I am grateful to be here." He looked up at the simple dwelling. "Is this your home?"

"It is." Galadriel was dressed in a plain gown, and looked most unlike the proud Queen of Lórien. "I am content."

"How many people live on the island, Lady?"

"Many Elves make this island their home," Galadriel said. "My friends, do not be dismayed if you at first are approached by only a few of your neighbors. Your arrival is confusing to those who are unfamiliar with -- or wary of -- the Secondborn."

The hobbits nodded thoughtfully.

Galadriel smiled at Bilbo. "Shall we show Frodo his gift?"

"What further gift could I possibly receive, in such a place?" Frodo asked curiously.

"Come," Galadriel said, leading the hobbits toward a large meadow. "You need not accept her company, Frodo, but I hope you will give her a chance."

"Her?"

"Frodo..." Galadriel stopped, and sat for a moment in the grass. "Do you know the story of Huan?"

Frodo nodded. "He was a mighty dog, born in Valinor. He travelled to Middle-earth with Celegorm – your... cousin?"

Galadriel smiled. "Close enough."

"Huan saved Lúthien and Beren from many perils, and died after performing great deeds. He could speak, but only a few times."

Bilbo beamed proudly at Frodo.

"That is correct," Galadriel said softly. "The hounds of Oromë the Hunter are magnificent animals -- intelligent, courageous, and loyal."

"Hounds? There were more than one?" Frodo asked.

"Indeed there were. And there are still." Galadriel stood up and faced the meadow, calling out in a high, sweetly-pitched voice. From afar, Frodo saw what appeared to be a small horse galloping toward them. Only when it grew closer did he realize that he was seeing a dog -- a larger dog than he had ever imagined, sleek and wild looking, with fur the color of ripe wheat.

The dog stopped its eager approach a few yards from where Frodo and Bilbo stood. She looked at Frodo with what could only be described as an adoring gaze.

"She will only come closer when you are ready, Frodo," Bilbo said, facing his astonished cousin. "She is yours, if you wish it."

"Mine?" Frodo's voice cracked a bit. "A dog?"

"She looks a bit intimidating, I agree," Bilbo laughed, "but is gentle as a lamb. And you'll find that she already loves you dearly."

"How... how could she?"

"We have brought her to visit while you slept," Galadriel explained. "She sees your spirit, Frodo – your fëa – as all perceptive creatures may, and has already bonded with you quite strongly. She wishes to remain with you while you dwell amongst us."

"I don't understand," Frodo murmured.

"The hounds of Valinor, a few of which dwell here on the island, choose their own masters. They do not speak in words, as Huan did, but I do not believe you will have any difficulty understanding one another. This one has chosen you, Frodo, of her own free will. She will not harm you, nor allow harm to come to you. She will journey with you, teach you much, and, I believe, enrich your new life in many ways."

"At least say hello to her," Bilbo said with a gentle smile.

Frodo took a few hesitant steps forward, not entirely sure the enormous hound before them wouldn't suddenly leap forward and gobble him up. Farmer Maggot's long-ago words echoed in his memory... "See lads, next time this young varmint sets foot on my land, you can eat him."

Frodo took a deep breath and kept walking, stopping a few feet from the huge dog. She slowly sat, then lay down, never taking her eyes from Frodo's. The intelligence in those eyes held him captive, and he ventured a bit closer. The dog scooted forward by inches until she was lying at Frodo's feet.

"A dog," Frodo marveled. "She's very different than those I have known before. So quiet and--"

He stopped, puzzled, as the dog, still lying on her haunches, turned herself, presenting her left side to Frodo.

"You may ride her, if you wish," Galadriel informed the astounded hobbit. "She honors you greatly by allowing this, Frodo; I doubt she will let anyone else on her back – even Bilbo – unless there is great need."

"Oh," Frodo whispered. He reached forward hesitantly and touched the hound for the first time. The dog's great tail wagged happily, but she made no other sudden movements. Emboldened, Frodo petted and scratched the soft, thick fur, and was surprised to find himself smiling. Vague images came to him of running with a gold-colored dog, riding, adventuring... Had his long sleep included dreams of this dog? Is that why he felt so suddenly at ease, this gentle creature growing more familiar by the moment?

"I saw you," Frodo whispered to the dog, whose tail began to thump more vigorously at his words. As if in a dream still, he carefully seated himself astride the massive dog, who rose slowly to her feet. Frodo found himself even higher off the ground than when he rode a Shire pony. He sank his small hands into fur almost as thick as sheep's wool, finding it easy to hold on. He felt a thrill of fear and excitement as the dog began to walk slowly, then quicken her pace a bit, trotting in a wide circle.

Unbidden, Frodo's mind filled with the vistas awaiting exploration on this island. The peaks and valleys and sparkling shores... When standing with Bilbo earlier, he had thought wistfully that it would be marvelous to have a pony, and travel swiftly through such a landscape. Now...

"Lady," Frodo called out, "what's her name?"

"That is for you to say, Frodo," Galadriel said with a smile.

"Perhaps Mellon. Do you like that, girl?" Without breaking her stride, the dog turned to look back at her rider, her eyes sparkling. She began to trot faster, her strong muscles bunching and relaxing as she loped around the meadow.

Galadriel lay a gentle hand on Bilbo's shoulder as Frodo's laughter and joyous whoops echoed across the meadow.

Bilbo's heart swelled with joy. He had fervently hoped that Frodo would accept the companionship of what he had come to realize was a very intelligent and loyal animal. He, Bilbo, did not know how much time he still had to live, and his boy would need a loving friend to see him through whatever lay ahead.

"Everything will be fine now, my lad," the old hobbit whispered in satisfaction. "You're going to be all right."

TBC