Whenever Frodo talked with Bilbo, he observed how his uncle's mental state improved as they approached their destination. Bilbo's wits still tended to wander, and he dropped off into naps at unexpected moments, but his conversation was more coherent. Frodo began to feel as if he were seeing glimpses of the old Bilbo he'd known so well in his boyhood.
"And what about you, Frodo?" Gandalf asked him when Frodo climbed into the front of the cart during Bilbo's next nap and reported these promising signs.
"You mean, is my health improving as we move toward the West? I don't feel any better--nor worse, thank goodness." His hand went to his heart; Gandalf's eyes followed the gesture.
"You still feel the effects of the Ring?" the wizard asked.
"I have my bad spells."
"Are they so bad as they once were?" Gandalf had seen one of his spells, his very worst one, at Minas Tirith.
"No. I've been able to endure them much better since I began to wear the gemstone Queen Arwen gave me. The pain has become bearable."
Gandalf then asked the same question Sam and Frodo's cousins were waiting for an answer to: "Will you go with your uncle into the West, Frodo?"
Frodo could only give him the same reply he'd given his friends: "I don't know. I haven't made up my mind yet."
The wizard was silent and thoughtful for a few minutes before he spoke again. "In matters of life and death, one rarely has a choice. But you do, Frodo. You can pass into the Undying Lands whenever you are ready."
"How can I be sure whether or not I'm ready?" Frodo asked him.
"The right time to go is when you find you've done all you wish to, and have no reason nor further desire to remain in Middle-Earth. Elves usually choose to leave when they feel very old and weary of their lives here. How old are you, Frodo?"
"Forty," he answered, knowing that to someone of such incalculably vast age as Gandalf's, this was barely the blink of an eye. Even by hobbit standards, he was only just past his first youth.
Gandalf didn't say this, but observed, "That's an early age to be weary of life."
"I'm not weary," said Frodo. "Not all the time. And I am still interested in life. I have my work, my family, my friends." He was thinking of more than Sam, but Sam was foremost in his mind, for Sam would grieve the most at their parting. They hadn't discussed the matter again since they'd left the Shire, but Frodo could feel how distressed Sam was at the possibility of losing him; he saw it in Sam's eyes whenever his friend looked at him, and felt in the way Sam held him so closely when they slept each night. They hadn't kissed since they'd stood on the Bounds, nor anything more--how could they when they were never alone, night or day, and there was no retreat but into the frozen countryside?--but that was in Frodo's mind too. Sam was right; he would miss their intimacy, the kisses and little touches, the love-making, the games. Could he give all that up?
"Then why do you think of going now?"
"It's Uncle Bilbo," Frodo answered, and glanced over his shoulder into the back of the cart; Bilbo was still asleep. "Lord Elrond thinks the Ringbearers ought to leave together. He may be right about that. Besides, I don't like the idea of sending Uncle Bilbo off into a strange world alone."
"He won't be alone," said Gandalf. "He'll be among friends, and he will be his old self again. I think he'll enjoy the adventure of seeing a strange new land. You needn't worry for him. And, Frodo, if that is your only reason to go at this time, then it is a poor one."
That evening, when they left the large tent after dinner, Frodo took Sam by the hand as they walked to the tent they'd been sleeping in the last few nights. Merry and Pippin were there ahead of them, smoking and talking softly and seriously together; they stopped and looked up as the other pair came in.
"Gandalf said we'll be there tomorrow," Merry said to Frodo, bringing him into the conversation. "You promised us that if you were going away with him and Uncle Bilbo, you'd tell us so. If that's what you mean to do, you at least ought to give us fair warning, so we can give you a decent farewell."
"With all of us sleeping in the same tent every night, even Sam hasn't had the chance to give you one," Pippin added.
Frodo didn't answer Merry, but did reply to Pippin, "That's what I'm hoping to have tonight, if the two of you will be kind enough to leave us alone for a little while."
"But it's freezing out!" protested Pippin.
"Just for a half-hour or so, please? Go for a walk, and finish your pipe. As you say, it's our last night before we reach the Havens."
His cousins looked disturbed at this last statement, but they put on their cloaks without further argument and took their pipes outside. "Well then, Sam-" Frodo turned to him and found that Sam, instead of being pleased at this opportunity to give him "one," as Pippin had put it, was regarding him with horror.
"Is it to be our last night. Frodo?" he asked in a choked voice. "Truly?"
Only then did Frodo realize how Sam and his cousins had taken his request. He still hadn't come to a decision; since tonight might be their last chance to be together, he was merely looking to find comfort and perhaps a resolution in Sam's arms--but they had understood it as a declaration of his final intentions. They thought he was saying goodbye. "Oh, Sam- no- I'm not- That is, I don't know-"
Sam burst into tears. As he sank down onto the nearest pallet, sobbing, Frodo crouched down beside him, cradled Sam's head against his chest, stroked his hair, and tried to explain, but couldn't soothe him. No words would console Sam, except the reassurance that Frodo would stay... and Frodo couldn't promise him that. He couldn't make that decision until tomorrow.
"What d'you mean, not `til tomorrow?" Sam asked, lifting his reddened, tear-streaked face.
"I'll know what to do then, when I have the answer to the Lady's puzzle."
"What's that got to do with it?"
"Perhaps nothing, Sam. Perhaps everything."
Sam didn't understand, and when Merry and Pippin returned from their walk, he was still weeping while Frodo held him.
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