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And What Happened After

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No songs are sung of the Eldar in Middle-Earth after the Third Age ended and the last of their greatness passed over sea. But all voyages have an end, save one, and the white ship that left the Havens drew to port at last beyond the confines of the bent world. Many songs there were in after days sung by the folk of the Blessed Realm of the return of the last of the Exiles, and of the strange burden that their ship brought to the shore.

Many songs too were sung on the day of returning itself, for the rumor of the ship’s arrival had spread through the land, and the elves gathered to welcome it. They sang as they watched the white sails growing in the distance, and the mariners heard their clear voices over the voice of the sea. Then the ship was drawn up on the white sands, and the voyagers descended. Many of the great ones among them wept as they set foot on the shore of the home they had heard of, but never seen, and as they greeted friends and kin from whom they had last parted in battle and bitter sorrow.

In the crowd that had assembled on the shore to meet them was Celebrian, Elrond’s wife, and with her Galadriel’s father and mighty brothers, and great was the joy and the wonder, mingled with grief, at their reunion.

Frodo and Bilbo stood a little apart, with Gandalf, unwilling to intrude on such high meetings.  But presently there broke off from the assembled company one arrayed in blue, who bore himself like a king. In his eyes it seemed the light of Aman was blended with the shadows of Middle-Earth, and the wisdom of the ages was in his face. He approached the travelers beside the ship, and to their amazement he bowed low before Gandalf.

“Olórin!” he cried, “In a glad hour you return to us. Dark had been all the news brought by our kindred fleeing Middle-Earth, and we grieved, for it seemed to us that all our work should perish and come to naught at last, and the land of our birth would be left broken and darkened, an open wound in Ea. But I see in your face this is not so, and I name you Calanyar, for you bring us good tidings of the passing of the shadow.”

The voice of the Elven-King was grave, but Gandalf roared with laughter. “The world is changed indeed,” said he, “if I am to be named a bearer of good news! But you are right, of course. I do bring good news, and more than news. I bring you my friends.” And Bilbo and Frodo bowed, with great solemnity, still not speaking a word.

“I see. Great indeed must be the friendship that brings a mortal to the Undying Lands, and for your sake they shall be made welcome. Have your friends our speech?” the King added quietly to Gandalf, for though he greeted the travelers with courtesy, he was filled with amazement at the sight of the two hobbits.

“We have,” replied Frodo in the same tongue, “though I ask your indulgence that I speak it imperfectly, as a scholar only and as not one for whom the words are as living thought.”

Bilbo blinked in surprise, parsing his words. “Fairly spoken, nephew! If I do say so myself,” he added. Then, turning to the king, “We thank you kindly for this welcome to your lands, Lord Nolofinwë. I am Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, and this is my nephew Frodo. The blessing of the Valar upon your days!”

“And on yours,” replied the King, smiling. “But this realm is not mine, though these people, for the most part, are. Will you not come up to the city? We shall see you well bestowed, as fits your rank and your... nature.” And he nodded to some of his men, who began to gather the cargo from aboard the ship.

“Come,” chided Gandalf. “Surely you have earned the right to speak what is in your heart. You want to know what my friends are, and you are trying to figure out how to ask without throwing them quite out of countenance. I shall tell you. They are hobbits. They are mortals, they are small, they are ridiculous, and they shall be held no less in honor than the greatest among you. And knowing them, they are also probably hungry, so let us find them some lunch without delay!”

“Of course. Bring them to my house, and we will dine together, and you shall tell me all your story and the deeds that bring you and the last of my people and your mortal companions out of Arda. Its enemy has passed away, but how? And what has become of the world that we left so long ago?”

Gandalf laughed. “Oh, there will be time and more for the telling of tales, and if I so much as begin, my friends will never get their lunch. But the news is good! The dark tower has fallen, the King has returned among Men, and the last of the Exile is ended.” On the shore behind them, the reunions of the travelers with their long-parted kin continued, and the sound of their joy carried to them.

“Your history was dark,” said Gandalf, “but its ending is not so. The shadow passes, the hurts are healed, and everyone comes home.”

“Not everyone,” said the King of the Noldor, and Gandalf bowed his head. They turned away from the shore and began to take their way up toward the city.

“How did you know who he was?” Frodo demanded softly as he and Bilbo followed their train. “I guessed, but I didn’t have nearly the courage to risk being wrong.”

“You have not been reading my books with the attention they deserve!” replied Bilbo. “I recognized the crest, of course. You didn’t see – on his chain of office? I drew it myself when I was illustrating my Translations.”

So they went up together to the white-walled city, and so it was that for the first time in the long history of the world, two hobbits set foot on the Undying Lands. And when the night had come a great feast was prepared, and the singing began again with the voices of the exiles joined again to those of their kindred. Through numberless days and nights, the stories of the mighty ages of the past were retold, and the glad news of the White Ship added to their tale. For, as it seemed, the time of high deeds was ended, and the time of long memory had begun.

 

The two hobbits made their home where they were first welcomed, in Tirion of the Noldor. Bilbo dwelt in a white tower overlooking the water, treated with high honor (and not a little bafflement) by the folk of the Blessed Realm.

The elves in the city and beyond often came to their house, first in curiosity and then in friendship, delighting to hear their stories. They seemed to have as much appetite for Tookish children’s stories or herb-lore as they did for tales of adventure and great deeds, and Bilbo took great pleasure in recounting them. In turn he made great friends among the Loremasters, and delighted to question Rumil on the finer points of orthography. They called him Eldandellë, or Small Elf-Friend, and his house was bright with laughter and loud with song. He taught them recipes from his home kitchen at Bag End, and was doubtless the one responsible for a fad for tea-drinking among the Eldar that was observed taking hold in the city.

Bilbo and Frodo both took a keen interest in the languages of their hosts, and progressed rapidly in their ease of speech and writing. Bilbo, however, had little interest in the wonders of craft of the Noldor city, save for the hot running water. He marveled over this at every opportunity.

 “Of course you are welcome to settle wherever you like,” Gandalf told them, a few weeks after their arrival, over tea and cakes in their quarters, “provided you don’t disturb anyone – or anything - that happens to be living there already. The elves are not so sour-faced as they used to be regarding strangers tramping around in their lands, but it’s a courtesy to ask, or to wait to be asked, before moving into someone’s city. Your fellow-voyagers are all starting to disperse all over this land. But if this suits your taste, I would call Tirion a fine place for you. The Noldor know you, and know what they owe you.”

“Please, don’t speak of debt,” said Frodo in a low voice. Gandalf looked at him keenly from under eyebrows that had grown still more exuberant in their flourishing. “Indeed,” he said. “You’re quite right, for a change. Between kinsmen and friends, neither debt nor desert. And your hosts are your friends – perhaps even your kinsmen, if you take the longest of possible views about it! I met a young fool in the mead-hall1 yesterday who was grumbling about how the last time Men set foot on these shores a continent was shattered and the shape of the world was changed, and how they were inviting the wrath of something-or-other by letting the Common Speech be heard in these hallowed so-and-so.”

“Well, what did you say then?” asked Bilbo curiously, for it was in that language that the three were conversing.

“Say? I took him by the ear and dragged him to the balcony. ‘Look at that!’ I said to him, holding him face out to the city. ‘If this city is fair, if your land stands at all, it’s thanks to the labors of these and people like these, and if you fear inviting wrath, you had better fear inviting mine unless you mend your tongue!’ But I don’t think he speaks for any but the witless; once it gets out that you’ll be staying here permanently you’ll both be even more plagued with loremasters and singers and historians and sight-seers, and people who will just want to you to talk so they can make notes. A nine days’ wonder here can last for centuries. You’ll be right at home.

“Well, I’m off. I myself have friends and kinsmen (in the long view) that I owe a good long visit, for the last time I saw them I was naked and in a terrible hurry. Goodbye, and take care of yourselves. If I don’t hear Shire drinking songs echoing in the white streets of Tirion when I get back, I shall consider you both remiss!”

He was nearly out of the house when he paused in the doorway. “Actually, you at least should come with me as far as Valmar, Frodo. The healers have made their halls there, and I think there’s a good chance they can give you some relief from that old injury you had from the Witch-King and from the poison of Ungoliant’s unpleasant granddaughter.”

“Well, I don’t want to leave without -” Frodo looked back at Bilbo, but the old hobbit waved his hand. “No, no, you go on! I have settled in here quite comfortably already. The King’s people have seen that I don’t want for anything, if that were even possible in this country. And you really ought to get yourself seen to.”

“All right then! I will see you when I get back,” said Frodo, going to the closet where he kept his traveling things. “Gandalf? Is there anything in particular that I should bring with me? Or that I should know before we set out?”

“Oh, certainly nothing that you need to bring,” said Gandalf, “but have a care! Their arts are deep indeed, but they are not accustomed to caring for mortals and their medicines may be too strong for you. I’ll speak to them, or arrange for someone to, but keep your wits about you. Healing’s no simple matter, but it ought to be embarked upon at once.”

Bilbo watched them go from his window. “There goes Gandalf taking people off on adventures again!” he said to himself. “I hope this sort is less uncomfortable than his usual kind! Still, I think my traveling days are done, or almost, and that’s just as well.”

 

The stream of visitors continued, just as Gandalf had said, and Bilbo never found himself in want of company. The elf at his kitchen table was clearly one of the older ones, with the light of the ancient world in his eyes and a generous and open face. He had been conversing with Bilbo eagerly on the history of the Shire, demonstrating a nearly Hobbitish appetite for genealogies, and so Bilbo felt some slight embarrassment that he couldn’t remember his name. “Well, if it comes to it, I suppose I can just give him one,” he said to himself, “names never seem to comes amiss as gifts here.”

“And how are you finding the Undying Lands?” his guest asked him. “It has been a long time since I’ve seen one of your kindred, and I certainly never expected to see one in Aman. There were some of our sages who thought that mortals would be bound to wither and perish in the pure light of this unmarred country. Do you find yourself withering? You seem withered, but your kind does that anyway.”

“Quite the opposite! I was nearly spent altogether when we arrived - that’s me and my nephew - but I’ve found myself much clearer of mind, and lighter of heart too, since our voyage began. I can’t believe that Gandalf would have brought us here if he thought that these lands would be for us nothing but a place to hurry up and die in peace in. Not that there’s anything wrong with dying in peace, you understand, for someone of my age, but I’m certain that he was hoping that my nephew at least could find some sort of healing.”

“Your nephew, that’s the one with Sauron’s Ring? Between the two of you, you have brought more of death to these shores than has been seen here in many a long age!”  

“Well, he doesn’t have the ring anymore,” Bilbo pointed out. “You seem to have put some thought into these sorts of things, so perhaps you know this. Was there some good reason we couldn’t have brought the Ring here? There are so many great ones dwelling in these lands. Begging your pardon, but the ones here brought down the Enemy of the Elder Days, didn’t they?”

His guest seemed shocked at the very suggestion. “The Valar would never suffer this clean land to be polluted by the presence of such a thing! They have taken a great deal of care to preserve the purity of this place - the height of the mountains, the depths of the sea, and whatever it was they called down to bent the world away from it, so that there might remain in this marred world something good, which evil things could not touch.”

Bilbo was not entirely content with this answer, and poured out more tea while reflecting on it. “See here,” he said finally, “there’s strength in purity, to be sure. I’ll never deny it. But I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say that’s the same thing as goodness. Look, the Dúnadan – him that’s King in Gondor now, bless him! – used to give us endless grief about how the only thing that kept that the Shire safe at all, safe for our gardens and parties and petty squabbles, was the cold and thankless labor of those whom we never thought to inquire of, much less to thank. I don’t see how this is any different.”

His guest nearly choked on the tea. “Are you seriously implying that the Blessed Realm owes its blessedness to you?”

“Oh not to me personally, good heavens no! Though it certainly owes something to young Frodo, not that I expect he’d say anything about it. But you talk about the Valar preserving things, the goodness of things. They’re not the only ones through whom that’s preserved, though I dare say they’re the most powerful.” He considered again. “Of course - going back to my people again, back home in the Shire, we hardly knew about you, the Eldar I mean, still less about the Powers. I wonder if they knew about us?”

“Of course they did. Weren’t you just telling me about your encounters with the Eagles that are Manwë’s servants?”

“Hmm. I suppose you’re right. Still, it seems hard that there should be no one to speak for us before the rulers of the world. The Eagles are certainly very impressive, but they don’t make for very comfortable - or very reliable - mediators!”

“No one to speak for you? What about your Gandalf? He was a being of might beyond your comprehension and indeed beyond mine, and though I have yet to hear his whole story from his lips - he seems to have left in a great hurry - surely he undertook the care of Middle-Earth? He must have loved your kind; he died fulfilling his commission towards you.”

“So he tells me! A nasty unpleasant business it sounded like, too. All right, so the voices of the Powers reach us, even if we do not recognize them. But do ours reach them?” He shrugged. “Anyway, these matters are much too high for me, but it seems like a point someone ought to make. More tea?”

 

So Bilbo passed his days, and some of his nights, in conversation with the figures out of the legends he had once translated in the peace of Elrond’s house at Rivendell, and he found as much delight in speaking with them as he did in writing about them, although he did not always find their thought much easier to understand in person than he had on the written page.

It was a quiet moonlit night, well past midnight. Bilbo, who found himself needing sleep both more and less than he used to, was sitting on the balcony wrapped in a blanket, watching the play of the light on the water and thinking of nothing in particular. He heard the soft sound of feet padding up the stairs, then the click of the latch and the rustling of the heavy door-curtain being pushed aside. Peering backwards into the shadow of the rooms, he made out Frodo setting down his pack and trying to make as little noise as possible. His nephew caught his eye, and seeing him awake, hurried forward.

“You’re back already!” Bilbo exclaimed

“Already? I feel like I’ve been gone for months! But if you want me to go away again –“

“Don’t be ridiculous! Only if I’d known you were coming I’d have put the kettle on.”

“I’ll put it on myself – no, don’t get up!” Frodo began rummaging along the white stone shelves in the pantry, and had soon assembled a plate of odds and ends to pass for a midnight snack. He banked the fire in the beehive stove, and set the kettle to boil, then drew up a chair beside his uncle on the balcony and set the tray between them.

“Back already!” said Bilbo again, peering at him closely as if to ascertain whether the shadow had seen on his nephew were lifted or not. It was  impossible to tell, in any event. Everything in the moonlight was silver and shadow, flattened like an illustration in a Sindarin book. “Did the Healers say you were fit to travel?”

“Fit to travel? Indeed, I’m fit for little else at the moment.”  

A pure, sonorous chord resounded through the house. “The kettle!” cried Frodo, jumping up, as it began to add urgent harmonics to its note. “That’s new. Noldorin make, I suppose?”

“Yes, that fine young fellow, what’s his name, the smith. Oh dear, I suppose they’re all smiths, aren’t they? Very Dwarvish, for elves, don’t you think? Anyway, I was reading them my book, and I suppose he really liked the phrase about the kettle singing. You know how the ones here only hiss. He brought me this one, and I was quite startled the first time I heard it go off. Leave it to the elves to make a chorus out of a whistle.”

Frodo brought out the tea in a little stone pot, and then went back for cups and saucers.

“They haven’t done anything for your poor hand, I see,” Bilbo observed as he poured the tea out. “What a pity!”

“What? Not in the least; it doesn’t trouble me at all. I don’t know what they could have done for it, and I’m not sure I would have wanted them to even if they could. It sounds strange,” he added, “but it was almost a relief to me. Back there. Back home. When the – the Shire began blossoming again, and everyone started going about their business, the neighbors in their gardens and the children on the lawn, the books in the study and the road just smiling in the sunlight, it was a reminder to me that everything had really happened. And that was a torment, of course it was, but it was better than knowing it had happened and being unable to... to prove it? Never mind; I’m not making sense.”

“No, I think I know what you mean, or I can guess, anyway. But go on. What did the Healers do? What happened after you and Gandalf left?”

“So we set off toward the interior, traveling along the river meaning to cross through the gap in the mountains. Then we picked up Elrond along the way.”

“Good old Elrond! How is he? And where is he? I haven’t seen him about.”

“That’s because he’s building a hall – well, he says it’s a hall, but it looks like a small city – halfway up the slopes of the Calacirya, where the snowmelt comes down in a great waterfall. He’s got hundreds of people with him now, all twining branches and quarrying stone and carving out terraces. They come from all over Middle-Earth, it seems, and it’s very interesting to listen to them. We talk about this place as if it’s home for the Elves, and I suppose it is, but there are plenty of them who had seen it no more than we had, and could hardly be said to know any more about it. Anyway, they’ve been flocking to Elrond, and he’s as happy as I’ve ever seen him.

“Gandalf persuaded him to leave the work to his friends for a while and come along with us. He wanted him to come and talk to the healers.  I think he was honestly afraid that without Elrond’s advice the healers might break me purely by accident. ‘Elvish medicine is strong,” he said, “and mortals require so little encouragement to take leave of their bodies. I’m sure I don’t know what I would say to your uncle.’”

Bilbo laughed. “That was a good piece of thinking by Gandalf, then. Elrond’s got experience caring for mortals; he knows them. He nearly was one himself, you know.”

“We went on together, and once we were past the mountains we could see the city of Valmar on the other side. That’s where the bells are – the ones you can hear at sunset sometimes when the wind is right. The city is beautiful, Bilbo. It’s like nothing I’ve seen anywhere, nor like anything I’ve heard described. I wish you could see it.”

“That’s why I have you to tell me about it! If I have earned nothing else from my small part in the great deeds of this age, I think I have earned the right to be a Baggins for a while and have other people describe to me wonders while I enjoy my tea in comfort.” And he took a long and contented sip from his cup.

“Very well! It’s a city like a song. I don’t mean a city like one in a song, but as if a song were a place you could walk into, and live inside. You see it everywhere around you. The pillars and the walls, the gardens and the statues and the fountains, they all – they all harmonize, they all answer each other. And would you know what I meant if I said that the city appeared to be held together by its own cooperation? As if, by sweet persuasion over numberless years, the stones themselves have had life poured into them, or coaxed out of them, and rejoiced to bear each other up. Outside the city, I heard songs rising from the streets within, and now I wonder if it weren’t the streets themselves that were singing. The Powers walk there, or so I’m told, and that might account for it. I didn’t see any of them myself.

“We didn’t linger in the city, though. We passed straight through and went out the Western gate. The Healers’ Hall is built all up the slopes on the far side of a high green hill, and all at once I realized where we were.”

Frodo paused while Bilbo worked it out. “That means they’ve decided to settle their Healers on... They wouldn’t!”

“They did, evidently! I don’t know whether they mean this as a sort of defiance, or as a reminder of the limits to what can be healed.”

“It’s the Elves,” said Bilbo, “it’s probably both. But did you – well – see?”

Frodo set down his empty cup. “I saw the trees where they stand at the summit of Ezellohar, consumed and poisoned and dead. But it’s not a place of ruin, somehow, not anymore. You can feel the weight of the tears that were shed there, and they’ve cleansed the place, if they didn’t suffice to heal it. One of the healers told me that they send up there the people who can’t weep, in the hopes that the tears of others might do them some grace.

“They are an extraordinary lot, the healers, and the Hall is an extraordinary place. It can be hard to face. So many of this great folk so grievously injured in body and mind. All of the wounds there are of the kind left by slow poisons, or the injuries that leave the body altered and heal without restoration. Some of them don’t speak at all. The really serious cases they send onwards to what they call the Gardens; I suppose they mean Lorien. I don’t know what happens to them there, other than that they can sleep without dreams.”

He paused and tried to collect himself, then went on with some reluctance. “There are many of them who were held prisoner during the war, by Sauron or by his forces. And you can tell immediately, when you look at them; it’s like some horrible language you share and you wish you didn’t. I hadn’t thought of how many there must be. I should have thought of that. You know that – at the end, there – I saw everything. I saw the towers falling. I saw the prisons broken and the captives going free. Free! Well.

“I was afraid, Bilbo, I was so afraid that they would recognize me. And of course they did.”

Bilbo reached out in the dark for Frodo’s hand and took it in his. After a moment Frodo went on in a lighter tone.

“But they only deal with the worst problems there in the halls; I suppose most households here have healers who can deal with the ordinary accidents of life! I met there healers from the people who walked the forests of the Drowned Lands long before they were – well, drowned – and it seems they know just about all there is to know about spiders.

“The Vanyar seem to run the place. At least there are more of them than anybody else; there isn’t really a management as such. It’s authority over illness that matters, not really authority over other people. But there are healers there from every Elf-kindred I could name, and some I couldn’t. From every Age, too.  I learned that for the warriors who wish to return, apparently it’s encouraged for them to spend some time laboring for the healers before they go home to their kin and their lords. I saw ones among them, grinding herbs and scrubbing pots as meekly as you please, who would have been more at home at the head of armies.

“Yes, there are a number of the Returned among the healers too. Not all, by any means, and probably not even half, but they seem to be prized for their counsel and for their imperturbable peace. They’re grave-faced – you can tell by their eyes that they’ve seen the Halls – but I believe they were the lightest of heart in that company.

“Elrond fit right in at once, and I sat through some really interminable lectures he gave the other healers about the proper aging of herbs and the efficacy of song-distillation versus steam-distillation of root-extracts when treating mortals, before I realized I wasn’t actually expected to have to listen, and could roam more or less where I pleased.

“You know the way things go here. For a long time nothing at all seemed to happen, though I can’t say I minded. I must have told them my story from beginning to end three times, and they asked me any number of impertinent questions about who and what hobbits are. They had me in their reference library adding in notes about the Shire to their works on Middle-Earth, and I began to wonder if I would be annotating Second Age histories for the rest of time. Then everything happened at once.

“Elrond came to fetch me just after full dark one evening. ‘Get up, Mr. Baggins!’ he said. ‘We’ve reached as much of an agreement as we’re likely to get, and the Healers will be singing tonight.’ He led me right into the center of the complex, where there’s a circular courtyard. It seemed like half the healers in the place were there already, sitting around the edges and looking very solemn. It occurred to me, as I sat there, that I had heard none of the usual evening songs that night. We waited there in silence until Luinil rose, and then the Healers stood up all at once and began to sing.

“We’ve heard some fine singing since we came here, but this was like nothing I’ve ever heard before. The words were strange enough, for they sang of matters I didn’t understand.  It started out as something about invasion and defense, battle and war, kingdoms rising and falling, and then moved without any change of tone to what I can only call a dance, and then it seemed to be about books being edited and knowledge restored – I know it sounds absurd – and then I lost the thread of the song altogether.

“I seemed to hear it with more than just my ears, if you understand me. It buzzed in my bones and hummed in my blood. I felt quite suddenly as though I might be taken apart and remade into something different – a leaf, or a root, a wave of the sea or a handful of dust. I wanted to run away.  The courtyard was full of moving shadows, and the healers – they were terrible to look on. I don’t mean that they were changed exactly, but it was like catching a glimpse of the sun in a mirror, straight in your eyes. Only it wasn’t light, it was... Anyway, there was no help for it there, so I set my teeth, fixed my eyes on the stars, and tried to hold on.

“That was no good either. They skittered and spun, as if time were speeding up; they seemed first too far away and then too close, and then it seemed that they were part of me – or perhaps I of them, and I had to keep them all wheeling through the unimaginable depths. I could do it, but only just, and everything kept going faster.

“It went on and on. It must have gone on all night, because the next thing I remember clearly, I was being carried down a long colonnade by one of the healers, a woman moving very fast. Elenwe, I think her name was; one of the older elves and one of the Returned as well. It was just sunrise.

‘Put me down!” I said. ‘I can walk. It’s all right.’

‘That’s right!’ she exclaimed, setting me down and taking me by both shoulders as if she were congratulating me for something. ‘Open your eyes, and keep them open! Talk, and keep talking!’

“I thought that I could walk, but I found my legs were so shaky I could hardly stand. The Healer helped me over to a bench and gave me something out of one of the bottles that she had hanging from her belt, it stung on the lips but was cold and soothing on the throat.  I asked her what it was that had just happened.

‘We’ve been singing the void out of you. At least that’s how my people would describe it; others would give it another name. But that’s the way we understand the injuries left by the dark: void lodged in flesh, which will slowly consume it away if given enough time.

How is it with you now?’

‘Now I know how a clock feels when it’s been taken apart and cleaned and put back together again!’ I said. I couldn’t tell whether I felt better or not, my head was swimming so dreadfully. All I wanted to do was to sleep.

‘Are you tired?’ the Healer asked me.

‘Yes,’ I said, then ‘No. No, I’m not. I thought I was, but I believe I could walk straight from here back to Tirion in a single night without pausing for rest, once I can stand up properly.’

‘Then don’t sleep,’ she said. ‘Now is not the time for sleep.’ What she meant by that I’m not sure; half the time the Elves will say one thing and intend for you to take three or four meanings from it.”  

“Well!” said Bilbo sleepily. “That was real Elvish magic, if you like!”

“That’s not how they’d describe it, though. Think about the Vanyar you know. They seem frightfully – well, magical – to us, but I think that’s only because they’ve lived at peace here with the world so long. When they tell the world how to be, it listens. All they have to do is find the right way of asking.

“So I sat beside her on the bench, trying to collect myself and watching the Western sky lighten slowly. I asked her if many treatments of this sort were usually necessary, for I thought, though I didn’t say, that now I had a notion of what they entailed, I was not sure I could summon up the nerve to face it again.

‘For you? I doubt it. It is possible, I suppose, but it seems that Elrond knew your kind well when he called you hardy. No, with old wounds,” she said, “often the wound itself is the least of the trouble. It’s the way that body and spirit remember the shape of the wound long after it’s gone. Strength is hard to accept after you’ve gotten good at weakness, and we often re-injure ourselves by the customs of injury.’

‘Then there is no healing!’ I burst out, for I was still feeling shaky and it was too horribly like the doubts that have been with me from the moment I woke up in an eagle’s claws.

‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ she said – just like that, in the Common Speech, in the most absurd Vanyarin accent. I suppose she must have learned that phrase from Elrond or maybe Gandalf, ‘Healing isn’t something you do, it’s something you do.’2 Seeing I was trying to parse this, she tried again. ‘It’s not something you make, it’s something you grow. It’s not something you accomplish, it’s something you practice.’

‘It is not the least unhappy paradox of this unhappy world that the stronger we are to endure, the longer it takes us to heal,’ she said, ‘but as long as either the body or the spirit wants to be made whole, we have something to work with. Keep awake!’”

 

The Healer’s injunction brought him back to the present, and he turned to his companion, whose hand was still resting on his own. “Bilbo?” he asked. “Are you asleep?”

The old hobbit made no answer, but drowsed on in his chair. Frodo smiled, and set his uncle’s hand back in his lap. He tucked the blanket in around him, then sat back in his own seat and spoke on quietly.

“She spoke to me again, the next day – after they had a chance to observe me, I suppose, and verify that I was not going to suddenly burst from the effects of the Song, or anything like that.

‘I am not sending you away!’ she said. ‘You are always welcome here, as often as you like, for as long as you like, and for whatever reason you like. The pain may return, but I don’t think it will. I do think, though, that you have found here all that you are going to find.  For the damage done to body and spirit, we can provide rest and restoration. But for an injury done to the will, by the will, there is only forgiveness, which can be neither compelled nor provided from without.’

“I felt my own - ingratitude? on me like a great weight, and I thought that I owed it to her to speak what was in my heart. So I twisted and turned within myself, trying find some way of making the truth something that could be spoken. She waited; they’re used to that sort of thing. Finally I said to her what I thought was too ill to be spoken to anyone who was listening.

‘I do not want to be healed.’

‘There,’ she said, ‘is that such a terrible thing to confess? If you wanted to be healed, you would have no need of healing.’

‘What should I do?’ I asked.

‘I do not know,’ she said. ‘But I do not think it is time to despair. You will know your own need when you see it in the face of another.’”

 

Frodo spoke no more about the matter in the morning, and he stayed for a time with his uncle in Tirion, enjoying the company of his guests and helping him with his endless and terminally disorganized translation projects. Bilbo seldom walked abroad, though when he did walk, it was straight-backed and unsupported, save for a simple cane that Frodo had brought for him on the journey over the Sea. But Frodo was often alone, ranging through the woods and fields of Aman. He met with few and spoke with fewer, and the undispelled shadow that seemed to hang on him was the only thing that troubled the brightness of Bilbo’s waning days.

After a time – how long a time would have been hard to count, since the old number days differently from the young, mortals from elves, and the years of the Blessed Realm are not the years of Middle-Earth - Bilbo sent out neatly lettered invitations to a group of particular friends, informing them that he would be hosting a farewell gathering in his quarters and would be honored by their presence. The wind up the river from the mouths of the sea was cold, and the little rock-flowers were blooming in the wall gardens of Tirion, when his friends gathered to see him off. No one came in a hurry; Bilbo had left them plenty of time for the journey. The Loremasters left their libraries, Elrond came from the halls that he was building on the slopes of the Calacirya, and from their city beyond the Mountain of Defense came his friends of the Vanyar, who had perhaps the least of idea of who and what he was, but loved him no less for it.

Frodo, who had some notion of what was coming, had been lodging at home with him to help put things in order. The curtains at the end of the room were drawn, and the sun was beginning to sink behind the mountains. Bilbo had seldom risen from his bed in recent days, and it was from his bed that he turned to his assembled guests and addressed them in the Common Speech.

“My Friends!” he announced, and his voice was weak but perfectly clear. “First of all, I wish to thank all of you for coming! You’ll find tea and cake on the sideboard, and there are pies in the pantry.  Not what you’d call a feast, of course, and not even what I’d call a proper late afternoon tea, but I don’t mean to be long. I am sorry Gandalf couldn’t be here – that’s Olórin Calanyar to you, you know – but that’s his way, and I suppose he hates scenes. But for all of you, you deserve to be better known no less than I desire to know you better, and I’m more pleased than I can say to see you here. You have made an old Burglar very happy.”

At this he saw a few of the younger elves whispering to each other about “burglar”, trying to figure if they’d heard right.

“Secondly, I see some of you screwing up your faces trying to follow my speech, and I’m sorry! Perhaps a host should be more considerate of his guests. But this is my own language, the tongue I was born to, and I am old enough to have earned a few indulgences. Yes, old, Master Rumil, though I see you laughing! You saw the first stars kindled over Middle-Earth, but I have well outlived my span of days, and there is not an Elf among you that can say the same.

“I had prepared a longer speech – my notes are all there if anyone would care to take on the challenge of reconstructing it – but now it comes to it, I find that I don’t want to bother with it after all.”

At this there was something like a sneeze from his nephew, which might have been a suppressed sob or a muffled laugh, since this was possibly the first, and certainly the last time in Bilbo’s life that he would voluntarily give up the opportunity to make a long speech. Bilbo shot a glance at him and continued.

“I know that it may run counter to the – er, the general trend of things here, as I’ve heard you tell it, where light passes and day is done, and even the world renewed is never the world as it was,” he said, “but I have found my stay here to be most marvelously restorative. Your counsel, your song, the very airs and waters of this living land, have brought back the light to my eyes, and, which was the more appreciated, the light to my mind. I could see again, really see, and hear, yes, clearer than I ever did before. This land has eased the bitterness of age, but it can’t undo the fact of it. I think it’s beyond even your art to make time itself run backward, and I am come to the end of mine.

“When I set out from the Grey Havens, I thought that was the longest voyage, and the last one, that I should ever take. But you know, as I do, my friends, that isn’t the truth. I must go, and I am going, beyond the circles of the world, where all your wisdom cannot guide me. Farewell.”

By now even those of the company who had not already guessed the purpose for which they were summoned had grasped what was going on, and there was again some murmuring among the guests. But Frodo spoke out, now speaking seriously and with some difficulty.

“Uncle – please – I don’t mean to turn you from your purpose. And I have no right to ask anyone not to leave. But as long as we are suffered to stay... don’t you see, there’s no doom on us that we have to go? Age here can come without weariness, years without weight. And there’s so much that remains for you here. To learn, and to teach –“

Bilbo regarded his nephew thoughtfully. “You are getting more elvish all the time, Frodo my lad,” he said. “’Uncle’ indeed! You’ll be calling me Master Unquesamno the Hole-Builder in your Histories before long, and I won’t be around to stop you! But my dear boy, you of all people know that I’ve given up greater things than this – and less willingly too! Besides –“ he nodded weakly westward past where the sun struck fire off the slopes of Taniquetil– “it’s only over there, and this is faster than walking.”

“It is at that!” said Frodo, and he laughed though his voice was thick with tears. “And if you leave me anything like the kind of trouble you left me last time you went away, I shall tramp over there myself and demand an apology!”

But Bilbo spoke no more, and soon the sun set behind the black bars of the Pelori. From the city below came the sounds of the evening hymns of the Elves, and the company left in silence. But Elrond lingered, and came out to the balcony where Frodo was standing and looking out bleakly at the starlight on the dark water.

“My brother did the same thing,” Elrond said at last.

“I thought it must have been like that.” Frodo did not turn around. “It seems – well, ungrateful to be sad, since he lived just as he pleased, and died just as he wished. But I am now altogether alone in this land, and I will miss the old fellow dreadfully.” He sighed deeply. “Your kind call death a gift to us, and he certainly seemed to take it as one.”

“Indeed,” said Elrond, and he sat down on the edge of the stone railing, where it met the wall. “So it was for the Men of Westernesse of old, and for those who leave their lives without bitterness to go beyond the circles of the world. But we who are part of the world itself know loss of a different nature. Mortals seldom live to see the end of anything, but we shall see the end of all the works of our hands.”

He looked far into the distance, out seaward, where the lights of the Lonely Isle could just be glimpsed low on the horizon. “And beyond that, drowned Numenor once stood,” he said softly. “I came out to it for the last time to bid farewell to my brother, nearly in sight of the Undying Lands. That parting seemed very bitter to me at the time, and it has lost little of its sting though it is now one parting among many. I do not grudge mortals their gift, though under such circumstances it may be harder for us to receive than for them. They may depart the world at will without being forced out of it by age or sickness or the working of death in the mortal body.”

Frodo looked back at him then. “Still,” he said, “it seems a dangerous sort of ability. I would think that only the very happy and the very good – or perhaps the very cowardly – would not be tempted to misuse it.”

Elrond rose, the heavy folds of his robe rustling against the stone. “Tempted to misuse it? That is not how most mortals would see it, I think. You left the healers’ halls by withered Ezellohar, and they told me that your body was sound. How are you faring now?”

Frodo said nothing.

“You are still within the world, but you are not at peace with it, or so it seems to me.”

“How can I be?” His voice was low and without expression. “You do know what I chose to do to the world, don’t you? Oh, I know they don’t phrase it like that in the stories, but I knew what I chose when I chose the Ring. How can you look something in the face after having chosen its destruction?”

“Do you ask me this, Frodo, because I can still look at you?”

There had been no such thing in Frodo’s thoughts, and for a moment he was deeply taken aback. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t what I meant at all.”

“I know that,” said Elrond. “But you would be within your rights if you did. You knew when you set out that you would not return.”

“I did. I believe you knew it too.”

“Of course I did. It was not the first time, Frodo, that I have seen someone take up a burden he cannot bear and cannot cast aside.”

The sound of song was fading in the city below, and the evening lamps were being lit. Life and activity in the white city of the Noldor continued with quiet energy both day and night, and people moved about the streets as gladly beneath the stars as beneath the sun. But Elrond looked out at the city without seeing it; he was gazing into distant reaches of time on the other side of the sea.

“Still,” he said at last, “if mercy was to be shown, I am glad it was shown to you.”

“Was it? I wonder.”

“Do you dream?” Elrond asked him suddenly.

Frodo considered. “Not of the worst parts. Not anymore. But now...” His voice trailed off, and after a moment he began again. “I dreamed of coming here, you know. Long ago. Long before I quite believed this place was real. But in those last months, when I knew we would be leaving, I began to dream of it again, and the dream has not left me. I sleep, and it seems to me that I’m here, that I’ve come to these shores at last after long searching. But it’s empty. No, not empty, exactly; it’s full of people, but I can’t see them. I can’t hear them. And they can’t hear me, though I call and call... And I wake cold, and the emptiness does not leave me.”

Elrond looked straight at him, and compassion was in his face, and a tempered sorrow. “The world is not empty, Frodo.”

“No. It isn’t.” The lights gleamed in the streets, and the more distant lights on the water. “Perhaps one day it won’t even seem so.” He shivered. “Shall we go in? It’s growing cold.”

In the days that followed, Frodo was surprised, and rather touched, by the depth of feeling that his uncle’s departure evoked in the city. Bilbo’s friends among the Vanyar were thrown into confusion and deep grief at his passing, for though they knew of age and death, death visited them seldom and old age not at all. They mourned for him, and in their mourning was the echo of their grief for the light of the Two Trees, for the peace of Eldamar broken and for their kin who forsook the world, and for all things lost that do not return again. His friends among the Noldor, though, and the other kindreds, mourned his death with practiced ease, if no less feeling. But after efficiently and quietly making the necessary funeral and administrative arrangements Frodo left his uncle’s papers and possessions untouched, and set off again into the interior of Aman, wandering the trackless woods and speaking to no one.

 

It may or may not have been quicker to arrive at the Halls of Mandos on foot, for when Bilbo opened the eyes he no longer had, he had little memory of how he had arrived there. He had a confused and fading impression, slipping away like a dream, of wandering down the front hallway of his own home at Bag End in the dark, not bothering to light a lamp because he knew the way so well. Had he heard someone calling his name, someone he knew well and would be glad to see? No, it was gone altogether, and he was in the silent halls of the Dead, on the borders of the world.

Form, or something like it, returned with memory and purpose. The spirit remembered the shape of the body, and as long as he didn’t think too hard about it (as one on a mountain pass does well to keep from looking down) he found that he could manage well enough. As he took shape, the shadowy halls took shape around him. It seemed to him that he was in a vast, dark space with cold smooth floors, standing near the foot of a flight of broad stairs. The walls, where he could discern them in the distance, appeared to be of the same black stone as the floor beneath him. The great flat central hall itself was so huge and empty it hardly seemed like an interior space at all, but along the walls he had an impression of pillars and arches, alcoves and balustrades, and broad stairs leading both up and down into the darkness beyond. It was a stern place, like a fortress or a temple, but not without a somber grace in its lines. The darkness was not complete, for illumination came from faint distant lights far overhead.

“The stars!” Bilbo exclaimed softly to himself. Then he thought that couldn’t possibly be what he was looking at, for the stars that wheeled and burned over the Blessed Realm were strange to him in their patterns, but these were the dear familiar constellations of a summer night in the Shire: the Warrior, the Net, the Burning Briar. Neither did they move, but were fixed above him, and he realized at last that he must be looking at the domed ceiling of the great hall.

As he turned his attention away from the vault above him, he found that he was not alone. Perhaps he was becoming accustomed to the shadows, but with a little concentration, he could discern, ever more clearly, that the hall was filled with people. Human figures, men, women, and children, were continually entering the hall, coming up or down the stairs at its edges. They did not seem to see each other – certainly they did not react as if they did – but neither did their paths cross; they avoided each other as if by instinct. Around the edges of the hall – the shadows grew ever clearer to his sight – there were people gathered, waiting and still.

As sight grew sharper, so did hearing, and the silence of the hall was changed to a faint diffuse murmur, as of many conversations conducted in a whisper. The only time he had ever seen anything like so many people gathered at once had been at the foot of the Lonely Mountain just before battle was joined. Bilbo gathered his courage and his curiosity, hopped off the last step of the staircase where he had been standing, and set off across the great hall toward the ones who were waiting.

They seemed no more conscious of him than they were of each other, for most were sunk in contemplation. They leaned against the back wall or sat on the long benches set against it. Many seemed to be sleeping. Some wept. Some bore the shadows of many wounds. Some of them he could hardly make out at all, for they seemed blurred and faint even among shades. All sorts and conditions of men were gathered there, young and old, men and women, and kindreds of men unknown to him. Here and there in that silent host, he even caught a glimpse of a hobbit, but nowhere a face he knew.

“The world is wider than I knew,” he said softly to himself, “and stranger than it seemed. Who would have believed it?” No one heard him. He hardly heard himself; his murmur was lost in the murmuring hall.

As the silence was not complete, neither was the solitude in the great crowd. Every now and again, as he padded along the hall, he saw two or more of the Dead in conversation, or standing hand in hand, aware of each other if of nothing else. Although Bilbo passed quite close to some of them, his presence troubled them not at all, nor could he quite make out what it was they were saying to each other.

As he watched, from time to time he saw a spirit rise from their silent thought. Some rose slowly and deliberately, other started as if at a summons. They took their way across the great floor, direct and purposeful as if they knew precisely where they were going, and passed beneath one of the archways leading outward and away. A surprising number of the Dead took their departure in groups: lover with beloved, father with children, enemy with enemy. Though he peered carefully after them as they threaded the corridors outside the great hall, he found it hard to determine where exactly it was they were going. As it seemed, at the far end of the passage they would pass through a door that had not been there moments before. From shadow they passed into deeper shadow, and they were gone.

Cautiously, he followed into one of the corridors. But as he approached the place where he had seen the shade of a stern-faced woman draw open a door and vanish through it, he found himself facing a wall of the same dark smooth stone as the rest of the halls. His hand hesitated against the wall for a minute, then he turned around and set off back into the hall, aiming his path up the stairs back in the direction he might have come from.

The stairs brought him to something like a gallery, from which he could look down on the great hall and its inhabitants. Despite the continual flow of people through the space, the endless stream of entrances and exits, the overwhelming impression was one of an imperturbable stillness. Moving, the Dead moved without haste or regret; waiting, they waited without weariness, like carven images in stone. “Or books on a shelf,” he thought. “A library of living books. Some new, some of great age, some treating of matters of great moment, others trivial, but all of them holding worlds within.”

“Well, not living books,” he corrected himself as he came to an archway in the upper gallery, and paused an instant before turning away from the great hall. Beyond the archway, it was deserted, and nearly pitch-black. Neither sight nor sound nor sense had anything to catch onto in that darkness; no breath of air clean or foul stirred from the space beyond.

He stood on the threshold, peering into the darkness of the inner halls of Mandos. “All right then!” he said to himself at last. “I have been in dark places beneath the trees, and dark places beneath the earth, and even in some dark places of the mind and heart, if I don’t speak too bold, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen darkness like this. It’s not evil, no, but it’s uncanny, and I don’t like it. Still, I suppose I had better get on with it.” And he turned, leaving the hall behind him and set off down the corridor.

It is an uncomfortable thing to move silently through darkness and feel watched, but it is still more uncomfortable to feel the absence of any watchers at all, to be so far out of thought and time and fellowship that there is no one but the self to testify to its own existence. This reflection was troubling to Bilbo, and he attempted to put it out of his mind. He lifted up his voice and sang his old song. “The Road –“ he began, but he fell silent almost at once, the words swallowed up by the stillness of the halls.

“’All your wisdom cannot guide me’, indeed!” he thought to himself as he groped along, keeping one hand braced against the corridor wall. “Well, if that won’t teach me to sacrifice a fine turn of phrase to good sense! Maybe no one can guide me beyond the circles of the world, it’s true, but I could at least have thought to have had a good heart-to-heart with someone who’s been in these Halls before. Frodo’s kept company with some of those shadow-eyed Returned; I’m sure one of them could have been persuaded to draw me a map!”

 

Long he crept through the darkness, guided only by the feel of the wall beneath his hand, and a sort of remembered hobbit-sense that points toward home even under the earth, even when the home is someone else’s. He traveled a great time, and a great distance, for within those halls time seemed to flow like water – now swift and smooth, now swelling and slow, breaking here and there into little eddies and backwaters. At last, somewhere ahead of him, as if through a crack in the wall, shone a sliver of pale light, and he felt for the first time really startled by how far he was from life and the laws of the living. For where the eyes of the body would have been dazzled by even the faintest light after such long darkness, here the light was merely a quiet fact quietly accepted. As he approached it, he felt, and then saw, that the stone of the walls had given way to something heavy and yielding, and that the only thing that separated him from the light was a curtain. He shifted the heavy cloth aside – it hardly moved, but hardly needed to, to admit his passage – and stepped into the room beyond.

It was not a room exactly, for it was not enclosed; it stretched out to the limits of sight to his left and his right. The long curving walls before him and behind him were lined with hangings, and it was from behind one of these that he had emerged. He seemed to be standing in a sort of alcove, facing a high wooden frame, on which was fixed a tapestry showing a grotesque and distorted chaos of forms.

“You’re looking at the back of it.” They were the first words he had heard clearly in the Halls, and he did not hear them. The voice echoed inside his mind; it was not sound but as if he were reading a line of text. From the other side of the loom stepped a woman, and she ran her long fingers down the fine threads of the tapestry.

“Yes, it’s backward to you, and sideways. It looks shredded, doesn’t it, with the threads hanging down?  But that’s how tapestries are worked. Even we who weave them cannot see them otherwise until they are complete. But I see you are a stranger to this art, as you are to this place.”

Bilbo found his voice and mastered his astonishment. “You can see me? Forgive me, Lady, but I can hardly see myself.”

“I have seen you before, and I know your face.” Again her words sounded without sound; he was not even sure in what language she was speaking. “Yes, I know your face well, for I have worked it into the threads of the world. No mind knows what is not in it, and so the Dead see only those they know, unless they have eyes that can see through the shadows. And such a one are you; the Unseen has touched you and you shall in part be always at home in darkness.”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” Bilbo protested. “I dare say you’re referring to that business with that Ring I had for a while, and I won’t deny I’ve had more practice than some at being invisible. I don’t mind being invisible – not anymore, anyway. I thought I might, but I don’t. But I was groping in the dark just the same, for ages and ages, back there.” And he gestured behind the curtain.

“Were those passages dark to you then?”

“Dark! I couldn’t see a blessed thing, and I suspect there wouldn’t be anything to see even if I could! Your lamps – they are yours, aren’t they? – are the first proper ones I’ve seen since I got here, and we could certainly do with more of them. If you’ll pardon the suggestion.”  He looked more closely at the lights which were fixed to the wall between the heavy hangings. They had seemed at first like candles set in suspended glass globes, but though the globes contained a dim flame, the fire did not flicker nor did it seem to have anything to consume.

“These are the lights of memory,” the woman said, noticing his attention. “Or the memories of light, if you prefer. Perhaps the whole of the Halls may one day be lit by memory, if memory is strong enough. Perhaps it is already. In truth, I do not see darkness as you do, here or elsewhere.”

“You see far, then?”

“To the ends of the earth. The darkness of distance is no darkness to me. We watch history’s pattern as it is woven, and we weave it again in recognition and in answer. Those who dwell here may behold these weavings, learn from them the momentous events of the world, and perhaps learn to discern their part in the larger design. But will you not look on the front?”

He followed her around to the front of the great upright loom, cocked his head on one side, and saw the pattern show clear that had been tangled and confused on the reverse. Although unfinished, the tapestry showed two trees in blossom, one of silver and one of gold. At first he assumed this referred to the ancient joy and grief of the Blessed Realm, but then he saw that the silver tree stood by a fountain in a stone court, while the golden one, though unfinished, spread its branches over a green field.

“Is this a momentous event, Lady?” he asked. “From what you said I was expecting – oh, kings and queens, battles and voyages, that sort of thing.”

“If that is what you seek, well, history spreads both forward and back from where we stand, and you can find as much of such things as any mortal heart can bear, and more.” She gestured along the curving hall. “But the blossoming of trees can be a matter of as much moment, in the great tapestry, as the fall of towers. Perhaps we do not measure notability as you do.”

Impulsively Bilbo stepped toward her, took her long graceful hand in both of his, and bowed. “No, that’s precisely how I would measure notability. And though I do not know where I will be at the end of the day, whether or not further darkness lies before me, it has heartened me right to the core to hear one of your kindred speak so.”

She smiled. “You are courteous but imprecise; days have no meaning here. And I cannot see the future, only the present.  It is for that purpose we are working this pattern here and not elsewhere.” She touched the loom again. “Not all our weaving is done in these halls, but sometimes to see the present clearly you must look through the eyes of the past.” As he turned his attention to the completed tapestries on the surrounding walls, he saw they were plainly done in an earlier style. The tree motif was repeated, but this time it clearly showed the Two Trees standing in the Noontide of Valinor.

“Here begins the Count of Time,” she said. “On this side, history; on that, story alone – from which history springs, and to which history will in time sink back. I do not know your future, Mortal and Guest, but I think I know something of your purpose, and there lies your way: backward and still back.”

Bilbo bowed and thanked her, and set off down the tapestried hall. Then a thought which had been nagging at him since his sight of the unfinished tapestry suddenly found its purpose and shape, and he rushed back to the loom.

“It  is – it is the Party Field!” he cried, tilting his head and looking once again at the green ground on which the golden tree was worked. “There’s the edge of the Hill, and that must be Bagshot Row, of course, though they’ve got the holes all wrong. Bless me! The Party Field here. I suppose that must mean they’d cut down the Party Tree,” he added sadly. Frodo had never said anything about it to him, but he had learned enough of the troubles in the Shire to be able to guess. “Still, what a glorious tree to have in its place. I wonder what else is growing there now?”

He looked about for the Lady with whom he had been speaking, but she was gone, and after a minute – and after running his fingers fondly over the golden blossoms – he continued on his way.

 

Down the long curving hall he went, the tapestries under the dim lamps unfurling farther back into the reaches of the past. The designs grew stranger and more unsettling; lands fell and rose and fell again, seas boiled and froze. Now and again among the scenes he glimpsed great figures that seemed to grow less human the farther back he went: mountain-tall, ocean-liquid, with too many arms or too many eyes. Then the patterns lost all resemblance to things he recognized, and showed only spiraling geometries of frightening complexity and appalling beauty, and before he realized it, the hall had ended and he was stumbling into a courtyard, large and round and open to the sky.

Above him wheeled the stars, clear and distant in the night. The floor was rough raw stone, and in the center of the courtyard on an unadorned black throne there sat the one that he had come to see. To living eyes he wore a form like a tall man, deep-hooded and clad in grey, but to the eyes of the dead, which could perceive reality unmediated by fact, there in the seat and the heart of his power, Mandos had a face like stone, or the law of gravity, and to look upon him was like working out a mathematical proof.  His garments were woven of the laws of man and nature, and he was robed in shadow, as if light itself were obliged to slow down and pay homage to his rule. He looked like unmovable boundaries, like sickening certainty, like justice untempered by mercy, like the hungry darkness of the onrushing future and the flensing light of unclouded memory. As strange and terrible as his aspect was, he was deeply familiar, for Bilbo, trembling, recognized him from every consequence he had ever suffered and every judgement he had ever feared.

Slowly the Judge of the Valar raised his head. When Bilbo met his mirrored eyes, he saw for an instant himself reflected in them, and it seemed that he was swallowed in a vision of depthless darkness. Through that unmeasured void tumbled the world, infinitesimal and falling, always falling, toward an end it never reached. Within the world and upon the world all was fading and ending; stone wore to dust, dust became men, men sank back to dust again. Still the world fell, through where the light of the stars themselves failed, and all was night, and he did not know if he looked upon the past, or the future. Then he saw himself again, glinting back from Mandos’ eyes. This was too much for him, and he fell upon his face.

Then Mandos spoke, and his voice was hardly less dreadful than his gaze. It was a cold voice, not loud, but solid in a place of shadows. If that voice were lifted in judgement, it would be heavier than the world; it could sink through time and distance and the soul itself. “Creature of dust,” said Námo Mandos, “smallest and least of the Children of the One, how come you here?”

Bilbo made a tremendous effort, lifted himself from the floor, and faced the Judge, taking care to avoid directly meeting his eyes. “My dear – Lord Mandos,” he squeaked. “You of all people should know that! I came here in the usual way, of course.”

“You are out of your appointed place, Mortal and Guest. Truly do they speak who name you Burglar, for you have stolen your way here.”

This stung a bit, and Bilbo found his fear beginning to fade. “Well, if it comes to appointed places, I’ve spent more time out of mine than in it. And as for stolen, you can see for yourself that I came here with nothing and I don’t plan to leave with anything more. I’ve picked no locks, tricked no guards – I haven’t so much as seen a NO TRESPASSING or STAFF ONLY sign. But yes, I have found my way here. I wanted to see the management, begging your pardon.”

“My pardon is not lightly granted, nor is begging the way to it,” said Mandos. “Speak plainly, and tell me what it is you want.”

“Want? Oh, I wouldn’t say that. Don’t want anything, really. No complaints. Only... well, I do have a few suggestions. If you are going to be running what amounts to a way station, couldn’t there be a little more cheer and comfort for the travelers? I’ve seen people weeping here – with joy as well as with grief, I grant you – but none laughing. And couldn’t there be a little more light? Let me put it this way. I’m a hobbit, and though my people are mostly overlooked in the great doings of the world, at least we know how to build underground and still have light and warmth and coziness. And you must have somewhere around here the great ones who helped to build the underground cities of legend - well, what I’d call legend, anyway. As long as you’re keeping them here – and I’m not questioning your judgement; you know best, I’m sure – why not open the place up a bit?”

He felt rather than saw the Vala’s gaze upon him, cold and heavy and intrigued. “These halls are open, Bilbo – open to the sky above, and to the sea and the land around, and to realms beyond the world of which I may not speak even if you were capable of hearing such words.  If there are walls here, they are of your building, and of the building of every spirit who comes before me. The walls are all that the spirit throws up between itself and everything outside it – they are fear, they are hate, they are pain unassuaged and desire unfulfilled, no less bitter than iron and no less durable than stone.  I am not the builder of walls, I am the opener of doors.  

The minute a spirit has the strength to walk through it, the door stands open. Here there is no distinction between the metaphorical and the material, and for this reason my brother and I are named, and truly, for the lands we inhabit and the place we are.

“I am the Judge of the World, but I am not your judge, for you are not wholly of the world. Your fate, and your judgement, lies elsewhere, as you shall find when you pass through the door that opens to you. But though I do not deal your spirit’s doom, some discernment yet I have, and I tell you that you did not come here only to give me advice on the construction and adornment of these my halls.”

Bilbo shuffled his feet, and the memory of anxiety did its best to replicate in the spirit the sense of dryness in the absent mouth and chill in the vanished fingers. “Well, I did have something to say, in fact. To you, and to all the Powers, really, but since you are the one who’s seen most of us, seen all of us, I thought that you might actually be the one best placed to understand. I say “us”, but I don’t just mean us mortals. Meaning no disrespect but I’ve lived among the Elves for a while now, and I’m speaking of all the Children of... of Ilúvatar.”

He drew a deep breath. “We have learned much of you, and yet so much more remains, both in the past and in the unimaginable stretches of the future that – forgive me – I don’t know if the whole sum of the ages of the world would suffice to learn it all. But, my dear Mandos, you must also learn of us! If you are to judge our souls, shape our world, tell our stories, put your own twists into our small fates, then learn of us! Not just when our tales are done, not just when we come before you houseless and alone, but in our lives, in our homes, in our loves and our hates. Our lands, our homes, the dreams we dream - Can you who are infinite imagine how vast the finite looks to finite eyes?

“In fact,” he added, reaching instinctively for pockets that he no longer had, “perhaps you’d like to hear a song that I’ve written about it? I was going to bring it with me, but of course... well, if you have a pen and paper I could write it out again, or –“ But he stopped, for over the mighty Vala’s iron face, which had wept but once and smiled never, crept an unknown light, brighter than stars and clearer than memory, the light of mirth. Mandos opened his lips and laughed, and the sound was like the rending of the earth in the birth of mountains, or the roar of the sea overwhelming field and tower. The Halls shook, the Dead trembled, and in the Blessed Realm song faltered and work was stilled at the laughter of the Doomsman of the Valar.

“Well then! All right!” gasped Bilbo, quite flustered, but Mandos interrupted him.

“I see I am never to live down the incident of that song while the Ages run. Many there are in these halls who plead consideration for themselves or for their kin, and many who rehearse their grievances and long for vengeance. But mercy is only ever shown in the measure they can receive it. And you have come to plead not for yourself, but for us? You are a curious thief indeed. But speak yet again, and tell me truly if there is not something that you would have of me, for you have the attention of the Master of Spirits, and that is something that many seek, and dread when they find it.”

Bilbo considered. “Well, now, perhaps there is something that you can do for me. It’s my nephew, you see. He’s a good lad – the best fellow anyone could ask for, and a better one than anyone deserves. You must have heard of him; there are only the two of us. He was mixed up in that last unpleasantness about my Ring, you see. Right in the thick of it, in fact. I thought that surely here of all places he could find – well, healing. Here all weariness can find rest. And he is healed, Lord. The wounds of his body trouble him no more. But in his spirit there is burning still the spark of a distant and terrible fire. Will he – can he find life again, before he comes to these halls at last?”

Again he felt the weight of Mandos’s regard, and the weight of his voice falling like stones through water. “I have no comfort for you,” he said.  “I do not deal in comfort. You are impatient, Burglar. There are in these halls those who will never be made whole before the healing of the world. They are world-poisoned; the world and its marring have entered into them and they have become a part of it. You demand of me something beyond my power, as you stand here beyond your appointed place.”

“The word you’re looking for ‘confounded nerve’,” said Bilbo. “There now, I’ll go. I dare say you have a door for me somewhere in this rabbit-warren. Perhaps even a round one, so I’ll know it’s mine.” And he bowed, suddenly light-headed and weak-kneed again. “But thank you all the same, sir. I appreciate you hearing me out.”

“Stay!” said Mandos, in a voice like the falling of great gates. “If you will.”

“What choice do I have?” cried Bilbo, staggering.

“All the choice in the world. But you came here to speak, Burglar, and I say to you that you have been heard and even now your words are at work. Stay, if you will, and see them in their effect.”

He paused, and all was still. Then far above in the night sky came a sound like the rising of a wind. Lifting up his head to look through the open courtyard roof, he saw dark shapes circling overhead against the bright stars. They rapidly grew larger and darker, and he stumbled back as they came dropping into the courtyard with a thunder of wings, and a great wind blew through the still halls. But Mandos merely sat back on his throne, and watched unmoved.

The immense birds folded their wings and preened their pinions, their claws clicking on the stone floor as they settled themselves around the courtyard. Their glance was sharp, and their talons sharper, and among them walked like a torn cloud on a moonlit night a figure like a man.

“The Eagles!” Bilbo said softly. “The Eagles! Well, bless me.”

“I have,” said Manwë, “and do, and shall.” The Lord of the Breath of Arda looked at him, a mild gaze full of power without terror. His face was kind and nearly shadowless, his eyes as changeable as the sky and now the blank midnight blue of the night overhead.

“You know me, sir? I feel I know you; surely I must have seen you before. Your face is familiar. Well, no, not your face, begging your pardon, but -”

“You have seen me before.  If you have seen authority exercised for the general good and not for private gain, if you have seen the lonely determinations by which the weal of many is protected, if you have seen lordship in city and mountain and forest, you have seen me. If you have seen responsibility held in trust – as all responsibility truly is – you have seen me. And if you have seen wisdom and good will brought to ruin and bringing ruin with them, there you have seen me also. And I have seen you, ever a small figure in the company of the great, and ever to be found where least one such as you would be expected. And I have protected you; among my cares you especially have been my care. From you and such as you come such salvation as we could not and cannot foresee.

“But we will speak more of this. First, let we who know each other make ourselves known. I am named Manwë Súlimo, and other titles might be added to those, but I stand here in a realm not my own.” Here he turned, and bowed to Mandos, who inclined his head and said nothing. “Tell me then who you are.”

“Oh! Well,” said Bilbo, who had been tremendously heartened by the sight of the Eagles, and by the gracious speech of one who had been for so long no more than a name in story, “My own name is – or was – Bilbo Baggins of the Shire. But now I have more names than I had buttons on my waistcoat. I never knew such a folk for names! Here they call me Ingolmica, and Eldandellë, and Quendil, and Pityapilon, and they think I don’t know what they mean by Lapattë but I do. 3 And your friend here keeps calling me Burglar, which I think is very uncivil.”

“To these names I will add one more,” said Manwë, and the wind stirred in the hall again. “Manya I name you, which is my own name, the Blessed, and blessed you are among the Children of Eru. For I have heard your voice from the heights, and your cry has come before me on the breath of the world –“

“My... well, I don’t know if I’d call it that exactly. You do mean what I was saying to Lord Mandos just now, about how you, the Powers I mean, the Holy Ones, have need of us? Well, it was a piece of impudence,” he said, “but if you’re here to call me to account for it, I stand by it all the same.”

“I am glad that you will stand,” said Manwë, and he smiled. “I am come to summon you to see your words fulfilled. Come with me. In Ilmarin upon Taniquetil you shall sit by my side and speak to me of the ways of the Children of Eru until the world is renewed.”

Bilbo blinked at him several times, attempting to fathom what it was that had just been said. “I really don’t think that would be possible. Not to put too fine a point on it, sir, but I am mortal, I am dead, and while I would not presume to teach you the ways of your own world, I think I’m correct in saying – am I not – that when I leave these halls, it will be out of the world altogether?”

“We may return you to the world you left, living and in the body,” the Elder King replied. “We have done it before, and good was brought from it. You have not left the circles of the world, from which it would require authority higher than ours to call you back. This needs no change of fate, no reshaping of the world, only our assent and yours that this should be. So long as a life is mortal, the span of that mortal life matters little to us.”

He saw Bilbo overcome with astonishment and struggling to formulate speech. “Come! Or did you propose that our teacher should be some other? Warily should they speak, who speak to the Judge of the Earth!”

Mandos said nothing, but his eyes glinted out of the darkness.

“Answer without fear,” said Manwë, “and without restraint. None shall hinder you.”

Bilbo found his tongue at last and began to stutter and shake. “O most noble Lord of the Holy Ones, gracious and glorious,” he began, “to whom every thought is open, all knowledge clear, and before whom no desire can be concealed –“

Out with it!” cried Manwë in the Common Speech.

“You cannot possibly be serious!” he exploded.

This was more forward than even Bilbo would have been quite comfortable with being, but he was greatly perturbed in mind, and hearing the Elder King address him in his own language had loosened his tongue altogether.

The night-blue gaze regarded him with quiet attention, as the Lord of the Valar appeared to realize that the hobbit was addressing his knees. With a swirl of his sky-colored robes that sent little breezes eddying through the courtyard, Manwë sat down on the stone floor. His eagles all cocked their heads as their eyes followed him, but no longer towering over the one he had come to speak with, he held out his hand in an invitation for him to continue.

Bilbo was still troubled and astonished.“You don’t mean to send me back again,” he protested. “I am far too old to undertake new adventures at my age!”

“Is this not to your will? Not to your liking?”

“Well, no, not that – it’s ... I am entirely the wrong person for the job. To teach you about us? To speak to you of the world? My knowledge of the world seems frightfully broad to me, but I was born among people for whom mountains are a children’s tale and who counted themselves great travelers if they went to the next town twice in a fortnight. I don’t want to say you’ll be disappointed, sir, but there really isn’t all that much to know about us. You’d be much better off with one of these great ones –“ But as he spoke he became aware that he was contradicting himself, and he started on another tack.

“No, back again? And after having taken all that trouble to say goodbye? Letting those good folk among the Deathless all tie themselves in knots on my account, and just to come sauntering back without a by-your-leave? A nice fool I shall look! And my nephew, poor fellow, he’s got enough work to do sorting through my papers without me coming back and telling him how to do it. But I suppose you mean I would be staying with you, right up there on the top of the world. The Mountain itself – I should dearly love to see that. But no, it is all very well to find myself in the inside of the songs and the stories, but this is farther in than I can fathom.”

Manwë dropped his gaze, and there were clouds in the clear skies of his eyes. “I came,” he said, “as I thought, in answer to your demand, not to bid you undertake something against your will. No one shall send you anywhere, save at your own choosing.” Behind him in the shadows Mandos on his throne inclined his head very slightly.

“No, no, I don’t say against my will. Nor with it. I don’t know! Don’t you see? This is not a decision I can take!”

And as they paused there in the Halls of Waiting – Fate on his throne in the shadows, Authority seated on the floor beneath the night sky, and the hobbit very far from his home, there came from beyond the courtyard the sound of footfalls more substantial than anything in those halls had the right to be. A light in the corner of his eye, and Bilbo turned to find Gandalf, staff in hand, walking briskly into the courtyard. Gandalf bowed to Mandos, noted with a raised eyebrow the sight of the Lord of the Valar sitting cross-legged on the floor, and broke into a great smile when he found Bilbo standing among the Eagles.

“Olórin!” Manwë raised his head, but did not rise. “You are unbidden here, but not unwelcome. Indeed we could have summoned no better counsel.”

“It was from you, Lord, that I learned something of the art of turning up when called for,” he replied. “But between your laughter, Námo – what was that? – and the descent of your Eagles, Manwë, I’m not sure there’s anyone in Aman who doesn’t know that great deeds are afoot in the Halls of the Dead. I dare say in some quarters they’re already arming themselves for the last Battle of Battles. I claim the ancient privilege of my Lady, so I come and go here as I please. And Mr. Baggins, I might have expected to find you in the thick of it!”

The sight of his old friend had made Bilbo nearly faint with relief, and it was only his sense of decorum that kept him from running straight to him crying Thank goodness you’ve come! “My Lord, and you, my Lord,” he stammered. “Might I have just a minute? I am dazed with high words and dazzled with promise. Will you not give me leave to speak with my friend?”

“No leave of mine do you require,” said Manwë, standing back up, “nor need you hurry in your counsels. Take all you will of time and fellowship –“ But Bilbo was already hurrying over to Gandalf.

“High King, a word with you,” said Mandos from his seat. Manwë went to him then, and they conferred together, thought passing between them like lightning from cloud to cloud. But Bilbo clasped Gandalf by the hand and sat down with him at the edge of the courtyard.

“Gandalf! How glad I am to see you! These heights are too much for me. I have been a small person in the company of the great ever since you started your meddling in my life, but the Holy Ones are a caution. You know how it is with – oh, with horses and such, with very big creatures, where you have to have your wits about you since they could crush you with a careless move? You have only to catch the eye of the Lord Mandos to feel that with a careless thought he could destroy you – unmake you - wipe your very name and memory from the world itself.”

“That description is both true and accurate, Bilbo Baggins!” said the wizard, “and it’s a good thing for you that Námo hasn’t had a careless thought in all the ages of the world. But if you have lived a lifetime and a half and you still have no more sense than to look one of the Powers in the eye, then I don’t know what I am to do with you.”

“You know what they have asked me, I suppose? I don’t mean Mandos; all he asked of me were things like what I mean and what I want – and a fine lot of trouble I seem to have gotten myself into by answering that! But the Elder King, he’s telling me I can come back from this, come back from everything, to serve him in his halls as something unspecified. He seems to think of it as a kind of tutor, though you must know better than I how absurd a proposition that would be. Now I think of it, he reminds me of you, a little. Nothing like so warm, you understand, though he seems to mean well enough.”

“Well enough? Mean well enough? You are speaking of one whose whole mighty being has been bent upon the well-being of the world for ages longer than you are capable of fathoming, Mr. Baggins.” His eyes flashed and he seemed on the verge of anger. Then he laughed, a little sadly. “And yet ‘well enough’ hardly approaches the mark, for in this world it is never enough to mean well. Not for your kindred, nor, alas, for mine. Not even the highest and holiest among us can ever mean well enough to be spared from doing harm or suffering it. Mercy is all we can hope for, when we fail... Yes, I heard your conference; spoken words carry in these silent halls. You were building up a very fair speech to Manwë just now – every thought open, no desire concealed – but I think you might have been getting carried away.  If every thought were truly open to him, the woe of the world might have been less than it was.

“So, whatever else you may think of the offer he’s made you, do not believe that his wisdom has no need of you! I’ll tell you what I told your nephew not so long ago: even the very wise cannot see all ends. Elrond – who is, incidentally, most likely the wisest person you will ever meet, and I am using ‘person’ in its most expansive sense – is forever cautioning about the limits of wisdom. And who, save perhaps your nephew, knows the truth of that better than you?”

“Elrond! Now there’s a good point, Gandalf, surely he’s much more suitable for this sort of job than I am.”

“Elrond may one day have much indeed to say to the Powers. Or perhaps not, that’s for him to settle in his own heart. But for now, his work and his calling are all before him: building a city where the scattered kindreds of the Eldar in Middle-Earth can find hospitality and home. Your work and your calling are before you, but it is up to you whether you take them up. Do you want to?”

Bilbo put his head in his hands. “That’s just it. Want to? Of course I want to! Can you imagine? The stars, Gandalf, to live where the stars were made... In my Translations I wrote about it all, but to see it for myself, not filtered through another’s words? To approach those mysteries I’ve only glimpsed half-seen through the darkness of distance and memory? And to know that I could speak and would be heard? You could not offer me anything I like better. Adventure and talking, Gandalf! I’m dizzy with the longing for it. But I am sorely in doubt. No, I am afraid. I might do something terribly wrong. I might prove simply terribly insufficient. You brought me here, and I don’t want to seem ungrateful. It’s been more than I deserve to come to this land at all, and I could – and did – die happy just having seen it.”

“My dear Mr. Baggins, you cannot possibly imagine I have brought you across the boundaries of the sundered world, bending every law of gods and men, over land and over sea and through the fathomless heights, for your health? Well, I did, of course I did, and I’d do it again. But it was not for your own good only that I brought you here. I have been on this world a very long time, Mr. Baggins, and if there is one thing that I have learned about the Wise and the Great, it’s that they benefit from the company of hobbits, and it’s the wisest and greatest who have most need of them.”

“What?” cried Bilbo. “Do you mean to tell me that this was your idea? Was that why you couldn’t be bothered to show up to my farewell party? Have you been planning this all along?”

Gandalf laughed again. “No more than you have, you with your prepared speeches! Were you really going to try and sing to Mandos? You’ll have to sing that song for me, if so. But in truth, ever since I saw your two young kinsmen dispatched to the courts of kings, it came into my heart that one day I should see a hobbit standing in the highest court I knew, in the uttermost West. If you are really finished with the world, no one can say you haven’t earned a rest. But if it is only your doubt that hinders you, cast it off, and take my certainty instead: you will be good for Manwë. Indeed, you’ll be good for the world, as it for you.”

Bilbo sat in silence, intending on a long period of reflection. But all at once there rose within him a thought like music, like song and the memory of song. He saw sun on green hills, and snow on far mountains, and he remembered the first time he came home to find it all the same and not the same, and in his mind he found no trace of fear.

He sprang to his feet and turned to answer Manwë, but he fell silent as he saw him still with his attention bent on Mandos, for they were deep in urgent conversation.

“I am no jailer, save at great need,” Mandos was saying. “The door stands open, but he will not walk through it. The offer is useless, request worse than useless, command impossible.”

Manwë bowed his head as in agreement. “It is an enduring grief that the people I love, come to the end of their road at last, should remain sundered from the one who set them on it.”

“Three things were asked of me before my throne,” said Mandos slowly. “One I have answered, one you have answered, and one lies beyond my power and beyond yours, the matter of your Burglar’s unhealed kinsman. Yet do we not have such a case always before us? It may be that the one may answer the other, to the benefit of both. It is my counsel then that they should be brought to speech together.”

“When he comes to you at last? Slow and uncertain would such a course be.”

“No; they are world-poisoned, let them converse in the world or not at all. The voices of the living do not reach the Dead, but that is by custom not by rule, and may be suspended.  I will send my brother to bend the lands around. He shall come living before my gates, though he may not enter within. What may befall next is in the Freedom of Eru, and nothing of which I am permitted to speak.

“But there is one who waits to speak to you,” Mandos added, for his eyes missed nothing in the shadows of the hall. “Well, Burglar? You asked and you were answered; is the answer one you can accept?”

“Of course I’ll do it,” Bilbo said. “Lord King! I’ll do it, and may you have no cause to regret it!”

There was a rustle of wings among all the Eagles, as Manwë turned from his conference with Mandos, and came swiftly to the two of them.

“Yes, I’ll return living with you to the living world,” Bilbo said, “to learn and to, er, teach. Certainly I’ll speak to you of the Children of Eru, until you’re quite tired of hearing about them, I dare say. But mind! I don’t mean this to be a permanent post. I was born a mortal, and a mortal I will stay; I’m not giving up my birthright for all the bliss of the Blessed Realm. So I will see you again, sir,” and he nodded cautiously to Mandos, “or at any rate return to these halls one day, and then I will take the more usual way out. Beyond the world. But for now? I am at your service.”

Manwë accepted his answer and his service with fair and courteous words. From that time on, as he promised, the hobbit would be accepted as one of the Elder King’s household, to dwell in his high halls on the Holy Mountain and to enjoy his favor and protection as long as his life should last within the circles of the world.

“So, well, what happens now?” Bilbo asked. “I am afraid that while I left my body in a better state than when I first came to these shores, it will hardly be good for anything should I return to it. And while I don’t mind being invisible now nearly as much as I thought I might, it seems discourteous somehow in the living world.”

“Clothing a spirit in flesh is simple; we do it at a thought – though I understand that with you long habit makes alteration of form impossible. It is the act of leaving itself that houses you again, and your body will draw the pattern of its existence from the memory of your spirit.”

“Well, then I can expect to be tolerably younger. For in my memory I will always be the fellow who ran out the door after you, Gandalf, on a fine spring morning. The first time I really did something worth remembering. Well, that’ll be another shock for anyone who’s gone to the trouble of getting to know me the first time around!”

Gandalf spoke up. “Oh, they’ll get used to it. So will you; it will be good for you. Dying is an educational experience, Mr. Baggins; take it from me. Though I don’t know what you will do when you can no longer get out of your duties by claiming that you are too old and tired.”

Manwë laughed like the spring wind in the trees. “You’re a fine one to talk, Olórin; you were pleading your advanced age while you were yet a beardless gardener in Irmo’s lands. I don’t believe you were ever so pleased as when we clothed you in age as a mortal to send you forth in the world. ” The clouds again passed over his night-sky eyes. “What was it about mortals, Olórin, that drew you to them? We lavished our care on the Firstborn, and that led to great sorrow. We stood apart from the Secondborn, and that led to sorrow no less, as their hearts were turned away from the gift that should be theirs. And yet they remain mortal, they continue coming into being and passing away, though all their days be haunted by the fear and sorrow they have no time to understand, much less master.”

Gandalf straightened then, and spoke gravely. “If you can love this Arda, this tiny needle’s-point in the deep vastness of Heaven, deeply enough to descend and dwell within her, is it so strange that they should love it enough to dwell in a moment in time, a particular place, a needle’s-point within a needle’s point? Not all that is beloved endures; there is no endurance but love. But I am no longer the one you should be asking about this!”

So they made ready to depart from Mandos. Not without some trepidation, Bilbo agreed to be carried by one of the Eagles. Houseless spirit or not, he was still not keen on heights, and did not entirely like the look of their huge sharp beaks. Still, after the endless vertiginous depths he had glimpsed in the eyes of Mandos, he told himself that he could certainly face a short flight, and Manwë saw him securely settled on the great bird’s back. Mandos himself said nothing, as he would see them both again and the time to him would not seem long. But Gandalf surveyed the scene and smiled, and chanted a snippet of song:

He came unto the timeless halls
Where shining fall the countless years
And endless reigns the Elder King
in Ilmarin on mountain sheer-

Do you remember that, Mr. Baggins? You sang that on the other side of the world once, when you had not the least idea what you were talking about.”

“Of course I remember it! I remember all my verses – well, most of them anyway, if I have my notes. But I’m rather flattered that you do as well. If I’d had any notion where you came from I should have asked your advice about it to see if I’d gotten my description right! I know I’m not like you, Gandalf, not like the Elves. This isn’t my home; I wasn’t coming back when I came to this shore. But I recognized it. I knew it. I’ve seen it, somehow, all my life. Can home be a place where you have never been?”

His perch on the back of the Eagle brought them very nearly eye to eye, and Gandalf looked straight at him with deep affection and something that might have been pity or might have been admiration.

“You sang of this land before you saw it, Bilbo, and having seen it, you’ve chosen to sing still. Go then, and behold your music!”

Manwë gave Gandalf a very sharp look, but the Wizard only smiled and stepped back into the archway as the Eagles opened their wings to take flight. With piercing cries and with a great noise of wings, they rose up through the open roof of the round courtyard and into the starlit sky.