As the Fourth Age dawns, three unusual visitors bring blessings to Bag End and provoke a fateful choice. (A (slightly) late birthday present for Imhiriel)
The three visitors who approached Bag End were invisible to most eyes, for they had veiled themselves in moon-dappled mist this spring night. The lane was quiet, the trees barely stirred at the touch of wind. Life stirred noisily within the dwelling but not without.
The old clock on the mantelpiece chimed half past midnight as the visitors came to the windows and peered inside the hobbit-hole. No glass or shutter could bar their sight. As the tallest among them doffed her hood, light seemed to leap from her shining eyes upward to the thousands of stars overhead.
"Now is the time," declared the Kindler. "The new Age begins."
The celandines in Bag End's garden frantically pushed open their buds as the second visitor walked through them, casting a pale golden shadow. She sighed at the grasses' caress of her bare feet. "New trees, new life, in this Fourth Age of the Sun," agreed the Giver, tossing her mane of golden hair.
"So shall it be marked," spoke the quiet, cool voice of the Weaver, third of the visitors. "The Children shall not agree on the exact hour and day of beginning, but that does not matter, for we have seen Time pass from the Third unto the Fourth Age." She bowed her white head slightly, and silvery strands of light streamed out from her fingers like threads from mighty spindles.
The three Valier peered into the comfortable hobbit-hole that had sheltered three generations of Baggins. Through the circular window, they could see the well-appointed sitting room where three hobbits were gathered. The master of Bag End, Frodo Baggins, sat in his favorite armchair, a warm shawl draped around his shoulders and a patchwork quilt around his lower body. His face, pale with the weariness and illness that were slowly destroying him, held a tender smile; his arms held a tiny baby. The infant's father, the gardener Samwise Gamgee, who had fought so valiantly to fulfill the quest of the Ring, now stood bedazzled by the sight of his beloved master cradling his firstborn child.
"So she is the first?" Yavanna asked.
Varda looked away from the window, up at the stars through which she saw the rest of the universe. "The first in Middle-earth. Others are soon to come; a male child in the far south of Harad and a girl in Laketown will be born before the dawn, and mothers will bring forth more children in Rohan, Bree, Lossarnach and Khand by twilight. Two Orcs will be born later this day, poor things. But this one, the daughter of Samwise, is the first child born in the new Age." She turned to the Giver of Fruits and the Weaver. "Which of you arranged it?"
Vairë raised a frosty eyebrow at the Queen of all the Stars. Yavanna's golden glow brightened as she smiled smugly; and a nearby rose bush fairly wriggled with Kementári's pleasure. "I did nothing but assure that the desire of Samwise and Rose for a baby was granted. Not that they really needed much in the way of help, hobbits are resourceful and Samwise has always been such a clever gardener. Did I not say he would prove his worth on the quest of the Ring, while you, sister-Queen, complained that it needed more Elves and less hobbits?"
Vairë rolled her eyes and stared down the other two Valier. "Peace, my sisters. It was ordained that this child's birth should begin the Fourth Age. Now, we must accomplish our purpose here and leave the hobbits to their celebrations. What shall we give the first child of the Fourth Age?"
The Star-Kindler inclined her head very slightly, and gazed again through the window to look upon the baby in the Ring-bearer's arms. "I give her the love of learning, and the wisdom to use well the knowledge she gains from it."
The Weaver looked into the window and smiled serenely, raising her arms from which the threads of light spooled outward, around the mound of Bag End and beyond: "I give her the love of the old and the thirst for the new; that change will be to her a blessing instead of a sorrow."
"She shall have a kind heart," said the Giver of Fruits tenderly. "She will be filled with joy and give that joy back to the world. Ah, did you hear? They have named her Elanor, after one of my fairest flowers. And she is well-named, for the child is the prettiest little bud that ever flowered among hobbit-kind."
"'Elanor' is an Elvish word for sun-star; so she is also named for my lights of heaven," Varda remarked somewhat smugly.
Vairë cleared her throat. "Elanor Gamgee is not a thing to be squabbled over, sisters; she is a baby. She was named fittingly, with care, and has already increased the love that flows through this dwelling. Perhaps we should go; before they see or hear us, for we must not interfere with their mortal contentment."
"Just a few more minutes, sister;" Yavanna retorted peevishly. "I want to watch them! Look how sweetly the hobbits care for the child, she is wrapped so snugly and lies so happily."
"And the Ring-bearer as well," Varda said softly. "See, he is swathed against the cold; warmed by the fire and the loyalty of Samwise and Rose."
"Their spirits overflow with tenderness," Vairë observed. "The Ring-bearer adores that baby, though she is not his; while the child already knows the feel of his hands and bears as much love for him as so young a heart can hold. And Samwise is overcome with the joy of fatherhood. The Ring-bearer and Elanor are cocooned in love as well as shawls and blankets."
Yavanna clapped her hands lightly, setting off golden sparks. "Like butterflies; to arise in beauty."
Varda smiled sadly. "Little Elanor will arise whole and fair in this place, but Frodo Baggins can flourish only in our own lands. Here, he withers in his wounded mortal form."
The other two Queens made sympathetic noises. Varda's eyes focused more sharply on the weary master of the house as Samwise said something about fetching tea and left the room. Frodo Baggins smiled as the baby sleepily sucked on his finger, then his dark-circled eyes widened and he turned his gaze to the window. Someone is out there. The Ring-bearer spoke only in his own thoughts, but Varda reads the hearts of all who see the stars.
Not a Wraith, nor any foul thing, the Ring-bearer pondered. But fair, very fair. Can it be Elves? They'd surely knock at the door. It is someone even greater than the Lady Galadriel. Could it be? No, I must be dreaming. Elbereth?
The Queen of the Stars took pity upon this so very beloved son of Arda, and spoke her answer to him alone. Yes, Frodo, I am here, outside the window. My sisters and I came to bless the child whose birth begins the Fourth Age of the Sun. Yet is you and Samwise who made sure that this Age began in peace, free of our fallen servant's Shadow. We cannot come into Bag End, but we would wish you well.
The yearning in the hobbit's heart surprised her with its strength. Lady of the Stars, can you not help me? I want to stay and watch Elanor grow, and the new trees, and see the Shire recover!
I can help you Frodo, but not here. The powers that must be unleashed to make you whole again are too strong for these mortal lands to endure. But you have a place on the next ship that sails into the West, with the bearers of the Three and your kinsman Bilbo; if you want it. You would find true healing, strength regained and the chance to live out your mortal life in peace and joy, in Aman.
Frodo Baggins sighed heavily. Don't mistake me, Lady: You honor me greatly and I've been grateful since I first heard the offer from the Lady Arwen. But it's so hard to think of leaving my land, my home, behind forever.
Varda found the minds of most mortals sadly small, but this one worked with a clarity and perception that reminded her of her favorite High-Elves. Yet Frodo Baggins was so much younger, and never had seen the Light of the Two Trees. Why he had only walked the fields of Middle-earth for a mere five Valian years! All the more reason, Varda believed, that the Ring-bearer should spend the rest of his mortal span in the beauty of the Undying Lands. She remembered Yavanna's words.
Consider the butterflies, she advised the hobbit. They are content to lie in their soft cocoons, but then the cocoons open and they crawl out and discover a greater world. And they take pleasure in living unfettered. If you leave Middle-earth, you will fly free; free of sorrow, free of pain; free of harm. You will know such wonders as you have only dreamed of!
If you stay here, she added; you will enjoy your home and hearth and friends only a little longer. And then, my poor hobbit, you will die.
The hobbit sighed again, more quietly, and fingered the white star-shaped gem that hung from his neck. Varda recognized the jewel as the Evenstar's gift. Frodo stood up slowly, leaving the baby drowsing on the armchair in a nest of coverlets. A tear trickled down his face as he reached out a hand toward the window, toward her, in a motion that seemed to take all his strength.
My labors here are nearly finished, Frodo Baggins told her. Just a few pages of the Book remain; and they will be done soon. I thought that I'd written my part of it for scholars among the Free Peoples, and for dear Sam. But I only realized this night that I wrote the history for her as well; for all the children of the Shire; but most especially for her, for Elanor.
I hope she will read the Book when I have sailed, he finished. He managed to smile. Yes, Lady Elbereth; I will take ship into the West. Only forgive me that I grieve to leave so many of those I love. Frodo took up the baby again, and sat down; drawing the quilt around both of them.
There is nothing to forgive, Frodo; Varda answered. And fear not that you will be forgotten here. Samwise shall teach your precious red book lovingly to his children. Elanor will read the Book on her father's lap, treasuring its words and your memory, as long as she lives. She is the daughter of Samwise and Rose; but she is also the daughter of your spirit. Varda knew the heart of the gardener who had watched her stars with reverence even from the depths of Shadow. As for the child, well; she could envision enough of the future to know just how great a lady this little Elanor Gamgee would become.
Thank you. The hobbit was tired.
It is you we thank, Varda said. Good night, Frodo; until we meet again. And may the stars shine on your dwelling.
May the trees grow tall in these gardens, Yavanna interrupted.
They shall, as will the sons and daughters of this house, Vairë assured; for it was her wont to have the last word. Varda was uncertain whether Frodo had heard her sisters; for he made no sign and indeed appeared to have fallen asleep. His chest rose and fell gently; while the four fingers of his right hand stretched out before curling around Elanor's downy golden head.
Samwise returned, carrying a tray laden with teacups, a steaming kettle, and warm cakes. At that, Varda motioned her sisters away. Their errand was done; and she had stars to tend.
After a last look through the windows of Bag End, they joined hands. Slowly, the three Valier stood up on their toes, and then lifted skyward, rising on unseen winds. As they rose, the stuff of their mortal forms dissolved into hundreds of tiny silken pieces, falling down through the air to land in the branches of New Row's seedlings and enrich their nascent buds. Yavanna laughed and willed a final blessing on the gardens. Vairë gave a last fond look at the mound of Bag End, now dwindling beneath them. Varda reveled in the strength of her true form and the surge of its power. As she and her sisters soared free, Varda spared a hopeful thought for the hobbit who would soon follow them. Flying faster and faster, beyond any speed that mortal thought could conceive, the three reached the Sea, then slipped the bounds of Middle-earth as they took the Straight Road home.
Thank you, Linda Hoyland, for editorial assistance and moral support (this is not the sort of story I usually write). And thanks also to Elena Tiriel for invaluable research assistance.
There are conflicting dates for the beginning of the Fourth Age. But Gondor reckoned its start on March 25, 3021, the anniversary of the downfall of Sauron. It is also the day of Elanor's birth.
Valier is a title for the seven queens of the Valar - Varda, Yavanna Nienna, Estë, Vairë, Vána and Nessa.
I have endeavored to translate most of the Valier's thoughts and words directly into English; since I am unfamiliar with their own language, which would have pre-dated all the lovely terms used for them by the Elves and later Mankind and other races.
A Valian year is the equivalent of ten years of Middle-earth.
Kementári is a title of Yavanna, meaning 'Queen of the Earth'. She is also known as 'The Giver of Fruits'.
"Kindler" is an early title of Varda.
Vairë's name means 'Weaver', and 'The Weaver' is also her title.