Thank you, everyone, for reading. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the beginning of Frodo's "path to healing" in the West. There may be an epilogue or even a sequel to this story sometime in the future, if the muse is encouraging.
THE PATH TO HEALING
Chapter 7 -- Letting Go
"For he gave it up in the end of his own accord: an important point." Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring
The only time Frodo ever heard Mellon bark was when she was trying to get his attention – or when there were gulls to be chased. As the white bird approached, he called for the dog and touched her gently, whispering for her to be still. But no such warning seemed to be needed; the majestic hound apparently sensed that something unusual was occurring, and sat quietly at his side.
"Frodo lad," Bilbo murmured, "did I ever tell you about Lord Elrond's mother?"
"Yes," Frodo whispered. They both watched, awestruck, as the bird landed gracefully. There was a shifting of the air, a strange, blurred shimmer, and there before them all stood a slender and beautiful Elf woman, clad in a gown of silver-white. Her hair was dark as night, and sparkled as if dusted with gems. She ran to Elrond, who enfolded her in his arms. They were both weeping, murmuring soft words to one another that no one else could hear. After a time, Elwing stepped back and took Elrond's face in her hands.
"It has been so long, my son," she whispered. "There is so much in my heart, I cannot express it." Holding his hand, as if unwilling to let him go, she turned to the others, wiping her eyes. "Greetings, Olórin, Galadriel, Celebrimbor..." Elwing then looked at the hobbits and smiled at them.
"Lady Elwing, I am Bilbo Baggins," Bilbo said, bowing low. "I am at your service." He was so excited, he could barely contain himself. Meeting the mother of his beloved friend Elrond was wonderful enough, but she was also... a shape shifter. Ever since encountering Beorn so many years before, he had longed to speak further with one who knew that art. This evening, as always, he felt the most fortunate of all hobbits His thoughts tumbled delightedly.
To experience the air as a bird, what could that be like? The fall of Númenor... did she and Eärendil watch it occur? Does she know she has grandchildren, and that Arwen is now Queen? Does Elrond resemble his father? We must have her to tea. I wonder if...
"Frodo Baggins, at your service." Frodo was saying, and he bowed, as well.
"Ringbearers, your deeds are known; speaking for my husband and myself, we bid you welcome to the Western shores," Elwing said to the hobbits. She peered curiously at Frodo. "Frodo Baggins, I sense something of a Silmaril about you; how is this possible?"
"I bear this, Lady," Frodo said, pulling the phial from his vest pocket. "Galadriel captured the light of your husband's gem within this crystal; it was a light to me when all else went dark."
Celebrimbor stared at the crystal in awe; this was the first time he had seen it.
"When Frodo arrived here," Elrond told his mother, "he offered this treasure for the benefit of the Trees -- not knowing that they were beyond aid."
"And yet," Galadriel continued, "even after this selfless act, and all he has done, he continues to feel a sense of failure and loss."
"I understand those feelings very well," Elwing said softly. She felt Elrond clasp her hand more tightly.
"My healing has already begun, Lady," Frodo said gratefully. "I sense it in many ways."
"Frodo, it is my hope that you will further benefit by what we will accomplish this evening," Celebrimbor said, stepping forward. "Lady Elwing," he said respectfully, "I thank you for your assistance in sending the Three to their final homes – Nenya to water, Narya to fire, and Vilya to the sky."
"It is our pleasure to do so," Elwing said. "As soon as you are ready, Celebrimbor, I will take the rings to my husband."
"To Eärendil himself?" Bilbo gasped. "What will he do with them?"
"Each ring to its own destiny," Elwing said. "Celebrimbor contacted us, through Olórin, and explained what you wish to accomplish. As Eärendil sails the skies, he will drop Nenya into the Sea, far from any shore. Narya he will consign to the fires that dance beyond the Void. As for Vilya..." She smiled warmly at her son. "Your father wishes to wear it. Its final home will be amongst the stars, on the hand of a father who is most proud of his son."
Tears began to flow afresh from Elrond's eyes, and he brought his mother's hand to his lips.
"It is I who will be most proud," he murmured.
Celebrimbor drew from his waist a pouch on a long cord, containing Vilya and Nenya. He came to Frodo, and knelt before him.
"Frodo, it is time."
Frodo reluctantly drew Narya from his pocket, and sighed. "I don't wish to give it up," he admitted.
"Nor do I," Celebrimbor said gently. "But do you recall what I told you when we met? An object of power was taken against your will. In order to move on, I believe you must give something of power, in full agreement and joy of heart, and see it gone. This act will help you to understand your strength of spirit and will, and aid your healing; only thus can the influence of the Shadow that lingers in your wounds begin to fade. The rings have been through great journeys, and accomplished much." He motioned to everyone there. "We send them onward together. As we discussed, most great deeds are accomplished with others of like heart."
Frodo saw Bilbo smiling at him. Through the years, he had often wondered where Bilbo found the strength, on his own, to give up the Ring... and had regretted faltering, where Bilbo had not. But now a new thought occurred to him: Bilbo had not been totally on his own, after all. Gandalf had been there to encourage, and aid him in his decision. Frodo was slowly accepting the fact that he could not have relinquished the One Ring freely, so close to the place of its making; and its strength had overcome him only at the last. But this ring he could relinquish, and he would. As fond of it as he had grown, did he really need a ring, or anything else, to feel Gandalf's presence? He looked down at Narya and smiled. Like Bilbo's pocketwatch, it was time to put it aside.
"Ringbearers, all," he heard Galadriel's words echo in his mind. All here, save Elwing, had been ringbearers; and all had given them up -- some, more than once. He, too, stood in this company, among whom the title of "ringbearer" meant also "guardian" – someone who could see a job done, then release their hold on that which they had safeguarded.
With no further reluctance, Frodo handed Narya to Celebrimbor. The Elf had waited patiently, making no move to take it from him.
"That's my lad," Bilbo said proudly.
Celebrimbor gave Frodo a look of warm regard, and placed Narya into the pouch with the other two rings. He rose to his feet and started to hand them to Elwing, but suddenly hesitated. It was now he who felt reluctant to hand over the Three, the creations of his heart. It had been difficult enough the first time...
Unexpectedly, Frodo took his hand. "You can do it," he said encouragingly.
Celebrimbor took a deep breath. "I can," he smiled. "We do this together." He gave Elwing the pouch. She nodded gravely, and hung it about her neck.
"I will return as soon as I may," she said to her son, embracing him before bidding the others farewell. "We will meet again, my friends," she smiled at the hobbits. There was another blurred shift in the air about her, then a white bird was taking to the sky, soaring toward a brilliant star low in the northern skies.
"That was amazing," Bilbo whispered.
The group stood quietly for a time, each alone with his or her thoughts. Suddenly the phial, still in Frodo's hand, flared brilliantly for a long moment -- before fading to its usual gentle radiance.
"Let us go," Elrond said at last. He was smiling joyously, as was Celebrimbor.
"Indeed, dear Bilbo is nearly asleep on his feet," Gandalf said. Elrond mounted his horse, and Gandalf lifted Bilbo gently and handed him to the Elf Lord.
"Ride with me, Frodo," Gandalf said, mounting Shadowfax. "I would not wish you to fall from Mellon's back halfway home."
"Why would I..." Suddenly Frodo yawned hugely, and realized how sleepy he was, as well. How long since we arrived up here? he wondered vaguely. Time in the West passes so oddly... Celebrimbor lifted him up to sit in front of Gandalf, and the party began its slow ride back down to the hobbits' home.
"It was hard giving up your ring, Gandalf," Frodo admitted.
"I am very proud of you, my boy; hobbits are amazing creatures, as I have often said. How do you feel?"
"Very peaceful." Frodo yawned again.
"You and Bilbo will be home soon. Lean back against me, and relax."
"Where's Mellon?" Frodo asked, his eyes closing.
"Walking next to us," Gandalf replied softly. "She is at your side, and always will be."
"Is Bilbo all right?"
"He is fine," Elrond responded. "Sound asleep, and no doubt dreaming of a certain Mariner and his ship."
"I'm so happy for you that you saw your mother, Lord Elrond."
"Thank you, Frodo."
"Gandalf," Frodo murmured after awhile, "time really does pass very strangely here."
"Does it disturb you greatly?" the wizard asked, concerned.
"Not at all. I was just thinking..."
"When Sam comes, perhaps Bilbo will still be with us," Frodo said hopefully.
"Considering all I have yet to learn about hobbits," Gandalf smiled, "I wouldn't be a bit surprised."