For Dreamflower, Tari, and Leianora for their birthdays, and in memory of Violet.
Bilbo followed Elrond as he entered one of his workrooms, the Hobbit ignoring the generally respected privacy ordinarily offered the Lord of Imladris when he took refuge within the room. Elrond walked to a table on which sat nine bottles, each apparently filled with water, and set the tray he carried down to the right of the line.
“And what are you going to do with those hairs?” Bilbo asked.
Elrond lifted his head briefly to examine his companion. “And why did you follow me here?”
Bilbo indicated the tray. “I saw you take those hairs from Frodo’s head and put them with that cleansing cloth with which you wiped away his blood when you probed his shoulder. I know that you have hairs here from each of the others who will go with Frodo upon the quest. Frodo is my beloved ward and heir, Merry and Pippin are my kin, and Sam is the son of my honored gardener. Gandalf is my friend, as is the Dúnadan. Gimli is the son of my companion Glóin, and I used to steal Prince Legolas’s honeycakes off his trays when I was caught within his father’s stronghold. The only one I don’t feel I know is the Gondorian, Boromir. Still, I feel responsible for all of them as none of them would be preparing to leave the valley as they do were it not for that ring I brought away from Gollum’s lake. If you are preparing to do a working that will offer them protection I wish to help as I can.”
Elrond found himself smiling. “We have wrought runes of protection into the silken shirts and inner linings of the cloaks each of them wears, and into the insoles of the boots worn by those who wear such things and the braces worn by the Hobbits. What I seek to do now is not so much to offer additional protection as it is to allow us to judge the wellbeing of each member of the Fellowship from afar. We will not be able to follow the movements of the party—that is part of the purpose wrought into the runes of protection, to make them, as much as is possible, invisible to the eyes or spells of others. But with these phials we should be able to know if any of the nine Walkers is seriously ill, injured, or in particular danger.”
“Even though we can do nothing from here to aid them?” asked Bilbo.
“We will be able to offer prayers for whosoever is in danger,” Elrond countered. “Do not underestimate the power for good inherent in prayers to the Powers and the One, as well as the strength that can be shared with them even from afar as a result of our continued love and caring.”
Bilbo pondered the peredhel’s words thoughtfully as Elrond prepared his materials and the hairs he had brought obtained from each member of the Fellowship.
He soon saw that there were cloths associated with each of the Walkers as well as hairs, and for each race a different substance. One of the phials apparently had known use before, and by this one was laid a longer dark hair, a thread of some sort, and a thin sliver of wood. By another was set a shorter dark hair, one of the cloths such as the one that had been used to wipe the blood from Frodo’s shoulder only less stained, and what appeared to be a similar sliver, but this time of white stone. “The Dúnadan and Boromir?” Bilbo guessed.
Elrond smiled. “You are most astute, mellon nín,” he responded. He contemplated the sliver of wood. “This came from the ship on which Elendil sailed as the Faithful returned to Middle Earth. The stone is from a shard of marble Estel brought with him from the walls of Minas Tirith, the city in which Boromir was born and of which he is the Warden. Last week Peregrin managed to nick one of Boromir’s fingers as they sparred, and so I managed to obtain some blood on one of the cloths used in cleansing wounds.”
“And this thread?” Bilbo asked.
Elrond’s expression grew rueful as he looked upon it. “Too many times over the years have I needed to stitch up wounds endured by my beloved fosterling, not because he was ever of a reckless nature, but simply because one who fights against the Enemy’s creatures as he has all of his life must suffer wounds from time to time. I have retained some of those threads to use in such works.”
“So, this is not the first time you have filled a phial for Aragorn, then?”
“Indeed,” came the reply.
Bilbo wasn’t surprised to see four curly hairs ranging from auburn to so dark a brown as to be nearly black set one by each of four of the phials, each with a grain of dirt and another of wheat beside it. It was no difficult feat for him to identify them. “Pippin, Sam, Merry, and Frodo,” he said, no question in his voice. “And how did you get even a drop of blood from Sam?”
Elrond smiled with satisfaction. “He assisted in the pruning of the roses in the garden, and managed to prick his finger. I brought away his handkerchief with which he bound up the finger until the bleeding stopped, informing him I would see it laundered, and Arwen provided a replacement for it instead.”
Bilbo peered up sideways at his patron. “And for Merry and Pippin—I know each of them has managed to suffer minor cuts during weapons practice, much as happened with Boromir.”
It was no trick to recognize a long golden hair taken from the head of Legolas of Mirkwood or the coarser ginger hair that came from Gimli the Dwarf. Elrond set the former by one of the phials along with what appeared to be a piece of bark. “Legolas agreed to allow such a phial as this to be prepared to be taken by his companions back to his father, so I merely made certain that I took two hairs rather than one, and the same sample of blood will do for both phials. Gimli, during the preparation for the reforging of the shards of Narsil, had added a few drops of his own blood to the barrel of oil in which the renewed blade was to be tempered, and I kept the cloth with which he staunched the cut afterwards. And the grey stone shard is taken from a small crucible one of the Dwarves of Erebor wrought for Mithrandir for his used in creating fireworks. Realizing I would wish to do such a working as this, the Wizard freely gave me two shards, as well as a sample of his own blood and one of his own hairs. The two shards shall work equally well for the Wizard and the Dwarf. And the bark I brought away from Mirkwood some yeni past.”
Bilbo asked, “The soil and wheat?”
“That wheat plant you brought away from the Shire with you—do you not think it would provide me with what I would need?”
The Hobbit’s face glowed with satisfaction as he understood how the Lord of Rivendell had come by his elements.
“The water that fills the phials is from the Brúinen, which each of the members of the Fellowship has crossed at the Ford. And the glass of the phials is from sand brought from Mithlond, and so has been blessed both by Aulë and by Ulmo, as well as by the Lady Yavanna. I work now by the sunset light of Arien, which will give way in time to the light of Elbereth’s stars and Tilion’s glow. And as you are kin to three of the members of the Fellowship and were patron to a fourth as well as friend to Gandalf, Aragorn, and Gimli’s father, not to mention your past devilment of Legolas, I would rejoice to have you by me, if you think you can stay awake during much of the night.”
There was a knock at the door, and at a word from Elrond Gandalf entered, followed by Glorfindel. The door was closed and sealed, and a circle drawn about the table by the Wizard using the point of Glamdring, wrought so long ago in Gondolin. Bilbo was set to the west of the circle, Glorfindel stood to the north, Elrond to the east, and Gandalf to the south, and after a few moments spent by the participants in centering themselves the work was begun.
When it was done, at midnight with the full Moon shining down through the skylight above the table, the room was further illuminated by light emitted by each of the phials. Two shone as bright as mithril, Aragorn’s pulsing steadily and slowly, the other associated with Frodo more quickly. The phial holding Sam’s hair was an unexpected gold, while those of Merry and Pippin were each a different shade of green. That of Legolas was a steady golden green similar to the color of a linden tree’s leaf, while that of Gimli was the clear glint of light reflected by blue steel. Boromir’s was red as blood, while that of the Wizard----
It shone like the flame of a torch, with a decided edge of blue such as if often seen at a flame’s tip.
Glorfindel blotted out the circle once the working was done.
“Those of the mortals pulse, while that of Legolas is true and steady. But yours, Gandalf----” Bilbo’s voice faltered as he peered up with uncertainty at the Wizard.
The light in the final phial flickered, also as does a flame.
Each phial now was fitted with a stopper of ground glass bound into place with fine strands of mithril wire. Only after the Fellowship left the valley at last were the phials brought out and set up along the mantel of the fireplace in Elrond’s private dining room. Bilbo ate more regularly with Elrond and his family, later with Elrond and Arwen, Glorfindel, Lindir, and Erestor once the twins left to go south with the Grey Company to fight in the final battles against Sauron. Each time he entered the room he paused, as all seemed to do, to check the light given off by each of those nine bottles.
The red light from the phial of Boromir varied most in color, from a clear, purposeful red to a darker color.
“The Ring works at him?” Bilbo hazarded.
Elrond’s mouth was set grimly as he nodded his agreement with the Hobbit’s assessment of the situation regarding the Gondorian.
Then, as they entered the room for luncheon one day about three weeks after the departure of the Fellowship, all noted that the phial associated with Frodo barely gave forth any light at all for a time, although it soon resumed its usual brightness, then surpassed it. The lights of all the phials were now brighter and pulsed far more quickly. The meal was all but forgotten as they watched the phials, only Bilbo eating anything as he anxiously watched the four bottles associated with his fellow Hobbits in particular.
“What kind of danger assails them?” he demanded, but the others within the room merely shook their heads, for none could say. The only certain thing was that all were threatened equally.
The torchlight that illuminated the phial associated with the Wizard suddenly flared brilliantly, and the lights in the other phials seemed almost to dim by comparison. Bilbo had to shield his eyes against it, so brilliant was it now. It suddenly brightened even more as if in triumph—and then its colors went white and blue as if in a shock of surprise while the lights of the others grew brighter, not with power, but apparently in dismay.
The family barely left the dining room for about ten days, or so it seemed to Bilbo Baggins. The Wizard’s phial flared and fluttered, much as does a torch in a strong wind. In time it began to weaken, but still it stubbornly burned on as if in defiance, until the day it suddenly flared one last time, shone as if in a second triumph----
----and then flickered out and the phial went dim.
None had the heart to remove the Wizard’s phial for days, and when at last it appeared Arwen was ready to take it away Glorfindel stayed her. “No,” he said. “Let it remain. He was of a nature that cannot truly fail. The Powers and the One may not be willing to allow his Light to remain extinguished. Behold!”
And by peering closely, Bilbo could see, in the center of the phial, a single point of blue light.
That small ember of blue light remained and became perhaps more discernible. Or was it that having now recognized it Bilbo could simply see it more clearly? He could not say for certain. But he began coming into the room at odd hours just to check it and the Lights of the others.
Those of the other phials strengthened and settled, although he judged they were somehow more sedate than they’d been. The pulsing of those Lights associated with the mortals now beat steadily and in a common rhythm, as if all rested and took comfort in one another.
When one day Bilbo commented, “Am I mistaken, or does anyone else note as I have that the Lights associated with Gimli and Prince Legolas seem closer in color with one another?”, the others looked at him in surprise before they returned their attention to the phials he’d pointed out and realized he was right! All were so taken by the realization that Elf and Dwarf were now in harmony with one another that no one gave Gandalf’s phial additional notice.
Then one evening the common rhythm broke somewhat. “They are now on their way again,” Erestor announced.
Elrond nodded his agreement with Erestor’s assessment of the situation with the Fellowship.
Bilbo’s eyes, however, were fixed upon Gandalf’s flask. “Look!” he whispered, his finger shaking as he pointed to it. “He’s alive again!”
And all turned their gaze to follow Bilbo’s finger.
The Wizard’s phial once again glowed, now the color of a white-hot flame.
Arwen’s mouth trembled, and she wept with relief as she pressed her hands to her face. “He has returned!” she agreed.
Elrond and Lindir appeared shocked by the realization that Gandalf had returned, while Glorfindel, who’d been delayed, entered at a run. “You remember,” the ancient Elf declared, “that a great light was reflected off the clouds to the south some weeks back, just before Mithrandir’s flask went dark? A new light shines there now, white and clear!”
Elrond pointed to the phial associated with the Wizard. “I am not surprised!” he said, his voice husky with emotion.
Glorfindel’s face grew bright with joy. “The One be praised!” he murmured.
All could see the growing turmoil in the red flask associated with Boromir, and none was particularly surprised when one day both Boromir and Frodo’s flasks flashed in conflict with one another. Then Frodo’s dimmed alarmingly, and something like black fire could be seen staining the mithril purity of Frodo’s Light.
“He’s put on the Ring!” Bilbo murmured. “He’s hiding from Boromir!”
But now the other flasks were also flaming, save that of Gandalf, which had been growing ever clearer in brightness as the days progressed. For a brief time Boromir’s flask appeared muddy before it cleared and grew brighter, its color now a definite ruby hue. Then it flared brightly, after which Aragorn’s grew brighter as Boromir’s gently but steadily dimmed, then at last failed. No ember of any sort could be seen within the flask at all. “He was not merely injured,” Elrond said, pain clear in his voice. “He is indeed passed beyond the bounds of Arda. He will not return to us. But he died redeemed.”
Merry and Pippin’s flasks were much in rhythm with one another, as were those of Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas. In time the black fire faded from Frodo’s flask, although it was not entirely gone from it. Sam’s golden Light now was in rhythm with Frodo’s. As day followed day Sam’s Light began to strengthen as the black fire waned and waxed within Frodo’s flask. A grey tinge touched both their phials, and it was as if Sam’s Light grew brighter in defiance of it while Frodo’s grew somehow more uncertain. Each time the black fire grew stronger, Frodo’s would briefly flare before growing just a bit dimmer than before.
One day the Light of Gandalf suddenly flared for the first time since his phial had brightened, and the Lights of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli flared along with it.
“They are reunited?” Bilbo asked.
Glorfindel smiled. “I would say that you are correct, Small Master,” he responded.
Elrond’s sons were now long gone on the road southward, for they’d left with a company of Men from Aragorn’s people hoping to come to their Chieftain’s side to fight by him in the final battles with Mordor. Elrond’s face grew still as he and Glorfindel set what protections and guards they could around the approaches to the hidden valley, for none could now guess whether or not any of those now gone southward would ever return, nor how long those within Elrond’s land would themselves survive whatever evils might be sent their way.
Bilbo spent much of his time within the private dining chamber devoted to Elrond’s family and his closest companions, noting that somehow Pippin and Gandalf were now together, Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli were still side by side, and Merry was now apparently alone and uncertain—and terribly frustrated from what the quality of his Light might say of his emotions.
Sam’s Light continued to strengthen, while Frodo’s was a marvel of conflict as Frodo apparently fought daily against the dark flames that Bilbo was certain indicated the influence of the Ring. It was as if the Light of Frodo was coalescing into a single rod that grew increasingly intense as the dark flames sought to contain and smother it. The greyness continued to draw on Frodo’s Light as well, until a day came when both the greyness and the dark flames seemed to withdraw from the phials for both Frodo and Sam. The Lights of both bottles grew stronger and more alert, until, after about a day, both flared with alarm and determination. Suddenly Frodo’s flamed with much the same intensity that they’d seen in Gandalf’s flask before it had failed, and all darkness drew back from it. But once whatever danger it had flared in response to appeared over and both Lights faded to more normal levels, suddenly a different sort of darkness could be seen encircling Frodo’s Light, as if it intended to drain Frodo of his Light completely, and once again the dark flames could be seen clearly, more noticeable, as if they rejoiced to see the other darkness. Frodo’s Light was obscured, although it did not totally fail. As had happened with Gandalf’s flask, they could discern within Frodo’s phial but an ember, but it was not steady, and it pulsed increasingly more irregularly and more weakly as the hours passed. But then—then it began to increase as the second darkness began to dissipate. But the dark flames were still there.
Only they were now within Sam’s phial as well as in Frodo’s.
The days had been growing darker in the outer world, and Sauron’s power grew greater and greater as his war progressed. The Elves of Rivendell did not quail, however. No, they grew in resolve even as the clouds grew thicker and more oppressive overhead. The songs of the Elves, which long ago Bilbo had considered as bordering upon being silly, were now louder and filled with images of Light ranged against the darkness intent on covering all. And he found himself singing the songs of his own people in his personal defiance of that darkness, and saw Elrond and his closest advisors and the Lady Arwen all smiling on him with approval. Until the moment the darkness flagged, and for a day or two west winds tore away the unnatural clouds that had sought to darken the whole of Middle Earth.
Frodo was apparently free of direct danger, and once again his Light and Sam’s were in concert. Except—except that now it was more often Sam’s Light that directed and augmented Frodo’s rather than the other way around as had been true before the advent of that second darkness. Frodo’s Light and the dark flames were more equal within Frodo’s phial, and the dark flames were growing steadily stronger.
But that rod of Frodo’s Light that the darkness could not touch might have been growing more slender but also was continuing to grow in intensity, although the level of intensity was not rising as rapidly as had been true before.
Outside the House of Elrond the days again grew darker, and the light of torches shone from edges of drawn swords and shining arrow tips.
Only Bilbo was within the room when Frodo’s phial again flared, and he saw the battle between dark flames and Frodo’s Light, and it appeared that this time the dark flames would triumph----
But at the last the tinge of greyness returned, and unexpectedly took the dark flames to itself. The greyness thrust itself away from Frodo’s Light, and in a confusing morass of dark flames it fell, touched a great red fire, and—and was gone, along with the dark flames, all consumed by the red fire!
Arwen entered the room just as the grey tinge reappeared, and swiftly stood behind Bilbo, clutching at his shoulders and supporting him, although her grip of her fingers grew painful as the flask reflecting Aragorn’s Light flared in defiance, as did those of all other remaining members of the Fellowship!
Frodo’s Light and Sam’s grew brighter for a time, pulsing more and more together, then slowly but inexorably began to dim. Pippin’s Light also began to dwindle. The dark flames were gone, and they knew that Sauron had been defeated, that his Ring was destroyed. But what had been the grey tinge they’d seen, and how had it managed to take away the dark flames?
Elrond was kneeling beside Bilbo, whose eyes were dimmed with tears and who felt all through himself a shocking weakness such as he’d not known since he’d been struck senseless during the Battle of Five Armies. “It is done, Bilbo,” Elrond was murmuring into the old Hobbit’s ear. “It is done! The Ring is destroyed, and the power we have known is now shorn. Frodo has survived, although I cannot tell you how. But he may not choose to remain. Can you deny him his desire to rest, should he choose to leave the Bounds of Arda?”
Bilbo could not answer, and at last he turned away from the sight of Frodo’s phial, and wept into Elrond’s robes, feeling the peredhel’s answering tears dampen his scalp.
Frodo’s Light did not fade away altogether, although the embers at the heart of his phial and that of Sam pulsed and nearly died several times over the first few days. But both responded to the Lights of Gandalf and Aragorn, as did the dimmed Light of Peregrin Took. When he was awake, Bilbo rejoiced to see these three Lights strengthen day by day. But the magic that powered the phials was weakening. He knew that Frodo, Sam, and Pippin yet lived, but as Arwen prepared for the departure of her bridal train it was less and less obvious what might be occurring wherever it was that the Fellowship now gathered. Bilbo found himself constantly drifting off into increasingly frequent dozes. He had to recognize that he’d been much supported to this time by the power of the Ring, no matter that he’d given It over into Frodo’s keeping so long before. The great weariness that now took power over him upset him not because he feared it, but because he did not wish to fail Frodo.
In the end he chose to remain behind as Arwen and her father set off southward to Gondor. The phials had been removed to Bilbo’s bedroom, and on Midsummer Day he saw a clear shining of Light in all the phials, but especially those of Aragorn, Frodo, and Sam as Aragorn and Arwen were married.
Several weeks after Elrond, accompanied by Bilbo and the Lady Galadriel, headed westward toward the Grey Havens, at nightfall Lindir came at last into the Hobbit’s former rooms to begin seeing them cleared. The nine phials stood on Bilbo’s mantel where they’d remained since Arwen left her father’s house, and all were now apparently empty of Light. But, as he approached the mantel he saw three of those flasks suddenly shine anew—those associated with Sam Gamgee, Aragorn son of Arathorn, and Frodo Baggins. That last shone with the greatest brightness it had ever displayed, and Lindir realized that the ship that bore his former Lord away from Middle Earth had just found the Straight Path, and that soon Elrond, Galadriel, Bilbo, and Frodo would be in their new Home.