They arrived at the Gray Havens at the following midday. At the southern bank of the River Lune, they did not cross, but followed the course of the river downstream to the point where it cut into a cove between steep cliffs, then opened out into a wide bay.
"Is that the Sea?" Pippin asked at his first sight of this expanse of water.
"No," Gandalf answered, "that is the Gulf of Lhun. But look there, through the opening in the cliffs ahead. The Sea lies beyond."
A small city was built around the cove; buildings crowded either side of the cleft and quays extended into the water, but most had been abandoned long ago. Only one Elf lived here now, Cirdan. He was waiting to welcome the travelers, for he had been expecting them. A ship with golden sails was moored at the end of one pier; this ship, Cirdan informed them, would be ready to sail at the setting sun, when the tide was ebbing from its highest point. Until that time, the party were welcome to enjoy a few hours of rest and take some food. Those who were about to leave Middle-Earth had time to make their last farewells.
The hobbits chose to have luncheon first, then explored the city. In spite of their wonder at the sad and magnificent sight of what must have once been a important port for the Elves, Merry and Pippin, and especially Sam, regarded Frodo with anxious expressions as they wandered the streets and stared up at the tops of the tallest towers. They were all aware that they'd finally arrived at the end of their journey.
"You may have noticed we haven't been bothering you with questions, Frodo--I know you wouldn't tell us what you've decided 'til you were ready anyway," Merry said to his cousin as the foursome headed down an empty boulevard lined with silver-leaved trees back in the direction of the quay. "Will you tell us now what you're going to do?"
"I will, when I have decided," Frodo replied.
"Haven't you made your mind up? I suppose you're going to wait `til we're on the dock and the boat's about to sail."
"I suppose I am," Frodo admitted. "It isn't an easy choice for me to make."
"It ought to be," Sam said sullenly.
Frodo whirled to take in the three of them. "Oh, let me alone, all of you, please!" he begged. "I can think about it better if I'm not pressed. There's isn't much time left."
Merry looked contrite at this explosion. "All right," he agreed. "We'll see you at sunset." He hugged Frodo and gave him a quick kiss on the temple before leaving him. Pippin also gave him a hug and followed Merry.
Sam lingered a few minutes longer until Frodo insisted, "Sam, please!" then he too retreated with a pained and worried look.
Alone, Frodo went down to the water's edge below the breakwater. Walking along the shore of the Sea was something he'd only dreamed of doing before today. This bay wasn't quite the Sea, but it would do. When the party had arrived earlier in the day, there had been a broad, dry strip of sand; now, the water was rising steadily in wave upon wave. This must be the tide that Cirdan had spoken of, coming in. In another hour, there would be no beach left. The water was surprisingly not cold, and the sensation of waves lapping over his feet and drawing his toes into the wet sand rather pleasant. As he walked, he thought about Uncle Bilbo, sailing into the West without him. He thought about the Ring, and that ache unhealed in his heart. But there were other heart-aches too, when he thought about Gandalf's advice, and Sam's tears last night. He couldn't deny that his friends' emotional pleas were persuasive. He thought of Bag End, of Elanor and little Frodo, and the children not yet born who would grow up in his home. He thought of the books he had written, the investigations he had conducted. He thought of Sam again, and how long it might be before he had the arms he wanted most around him again... perhaps a sixty years, or perhaps never. And he considered his answer to Galadriel's riddle, for that would play an important part in his choice.
When the sun had sunk low over the westward cliffs and the tide had come in to wash against the foot of the breakwater, Frodo waded to the steps and went up to find that Bilbo had been left sitting alone on a bench overlooking the pier where the ship was moored.
"What do you think it's like?" Bilbo asked him.
"What's like, Uncle?" Frodo asked in response.
Bilbo's eyes were fixed on the gap between the tall cliffs at the far end of the gulf and the glittering water that could just be glimpsed beyond. "Where we're going, my lad. Out there. The place across the Sea where the Elves come from, and only the Elves can go to... except for you and me." The old hobbit smiled. "What a sight it must be, Frodo! What an adventure!"
Frodo smiled. This was just how Gandalf had said Bilbo would feel about it. He wasn't looking back at the world he was about to leave; the one ahead interested Bilbo far more. "I may not be going today, Uncle," he said cautiously as he sat down. He hadn't spoken to Bilbo about his indecision before--it would only confuse and upset his elderly uncle--but Bilbo seemed more able to understand it now.
"Not going?" Bilbo repeated, surprised. "How you can miss such a chance, my boy? Don't you want to sail upon the Sea, and see what lies beyond it?"
"I do," said Frodo, "but I don't think I'm ready to make that journey. Once we go, we can't turn back, you know. You've been away from the Shire and everyone you knew there for so long, it doesn't matter to you. I still feel bound to them. It would break my heart as much to go as it would to stay. And I feel as if have a part of my life left to live. I can go later on."
"Can you? Isn't that the last ship, waiting to take us?" Bilbo nodded to the ship. Gandalf was standing at the end of the pier, speaking with Cirdan and Celeborn.
Frodo shook his head. "As long as there are still Elves in Middle-Earth, there will be others. I've been promised my passage. Here, see, Uncle Bilbo--I have a token." He reached into his shirt and pulled out the gemstone on its chain. He'd always thought of the gem as being pure white, but now that he held it up for Bilbo to see and the sunlight shone through it, he observed that at its heart lay an elusive gleam of green.
"Now that's a pretty thing!" Bilbo's eyes brightened as he reached for it--Frodo almost recoiled, recalling a similar moment when Bilbo had grasped for the Ring--but the old hobbit only took the jewel between his thumb and forefinger and bent his head closer to examine it. "Very pretty, indeed. It's of Elven-make. I know their work well. Did the Lady give this to you?"
"No, her granddaughter, Queen Arwen. She says that it will allow me to cross the Sea into the Undying Lands in her place, whenever I wish it."
"Well, that's a comfort, at least." Bilbo nodded, as if he understood not only what Frodo had told him, but something more. "Thank you for showing it to me, Frodo-lad. I can go more easily now, without that weight on my mind."
At the sound of his name, Frodo looked up to see that Galadriel was standing on the quay beneath them. She was smiling at the two hobbits, and that smile confirmed to Frodo that the solution to her riddle he had arrived at yesterday was correct. "It's nearly time," she said. "Are you ready to give your answer?"
Frodo tucked the jewel back into his shirt. "I'm ready, my Lady."
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