West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
The Willow Spring
Frodo enjoys a picnic by the Brandywine
The mast rises high into the hard blue sky, a white pinnacle bound with gold. There is no sound in the world while its sails loft upwards, no sound but that of the wind rippling through the canvas. Suddenly that sound seems old, older than anything he knows. A sound that must have been heard as They first came down into the world.
Every year in the early spring, the willows of the Marish would awaken. One day a sharp breeze would ruffle their long, lacy branches, and the sunlight break through between the leaves as if for the first time. The high, flickering quality of this light would last about three weeks, until the Sun began to turn gold and warm on its way toward summer.
On this bright day in Rethe, along the path down to the Brandywine, a butterfly stopped on a bowing grass stem to preen. Its wings as they opened and closed caught that light in a flash of blue, and Frodo pointed it out.
"Look, my dear," he said. "The color of your mother's bodice." And he took advantage and kissed his wife's neck as she turned to look. She gasped and batted at him with her hands, laughing.
"Oh, you! Yes, it is, I see," and her smile told him he was not forgiven. He bit the inside of his lip delicately, anticipating. A sudden squealing shriek from up the path attracted their attention, and the girls came running back, giggling and talking all over each other about the waterside.
"It's just over there, Dad. Past the next turn of the path," Ruby said, pointing helpfully.
"Yes, I think I know my way, wise lady," he said gravely, and they laughed and ran off again.
It is a strange thing to travel so quickly. The endless little waves race by at dizzying speed. The ship sometimes seems like a bird suspended in the rushing wind. The miles spin out behind them, all the better for vanishing quickly. There is no reason to tarry now.
The day was bright, the first day of settled warmth, but the river still ran quite cold, so only wading was allowed. However, the excellence of the packed lunch made the company very forgiving, and the girls contented themselves with making daisy chains and hunting for grasshoppers, occasionally squealing when they caught one.
Lily sat back on the grass, licking butter off her thumb, and smiled. As Frodo began twisting the cork off a bottle of wine, she leaned over and kissed him. Frodo hummed.
"You're as sweet and jolly as the day we met, my pretty," he purred, and then went back to his bottle. A bright little pop and the wine swirled dark and cool in their glasses. His wife allowed as how she'd stowed away a pair of apple blossoms for the two of them, and dug in the basket for them.
"Here you are, sir." Frodo turned his head, and the hobbit sitting next to him was not his wife. A stranger, dirty, seeming tired and footsore. Perhaps a beggar who'd been wandering by. He held out a bowl, and the smell of meat broth filled the air where it had not been a moment before. Frodo looked down, and saw the hand holding the bowl was strong but unhappy, with skin chapped and nails ragged. For a moment, he wondered why this hobbit was so far from home. How far could home be to cast a hobbit into such a state?
"Frodo?" Lily asked, and her smile was puzzled as he looked into her eyes. She held out the plate. "Don't you want one?" He blinked, the odd image dissolving. Oh dear, that saucy quirk of her lips. He'd better say something or she'd not let him sleep tonight. A little knot twisted down below, and he started to turn a bit wicked himself.
"When haven't I wanted one, missy?" He bent to kiss the line of her jaw when a flicker of light stopped him. From a silver chain hung cradled between her breasts a little white jewel, throwing colored needles of light. He brushed his lips against his wife's skin, and whispered, "Where did you get that?"
"What? This?" She touched the chain and looked at him, raising an eyebrow. "From your mother, silly."
"My mother? When?" By the riverside, Ruby's laugh rang out high on the breeze. Frodo was captivated by the jewel. Its light played on Lily's fingers. He felt sleepy.
"When the girls came, of course," Lily answered. "She said I should wear it for you, remember? That you ought to see it now and again." She fingered the little drop of light.
He smiled at her and sighed, then settled back in the grass, wondering as he drifted off what else he hadn't noticed about the day.
All the buildings are white here, tall and airy and full of sunlight jubilant and commanding. It occurs to him that the air itself must keep the land clean somehow. An odd thought. The founts and rolling waves of flowers over walls and turrets bring life to a porcelain country.
The wizard's face reveals nothing, and the town is full of clean, white steps that throw the sunlight into his eyes, dazzling him.
The soft rustling of air through the willows ran like a current of the Brandywine, from a murmur to a hiss. It almost seemed as if a voice hid there, at the outer edge of hearing, whispering secrets to itself. Frodo pulled deliberately out of the breeze's seductive embrace, and sat up. "We should be going," he yawned. "I promised Esmeralda we'd come by this evening."
Lily flopped over onto her back and groaned. "I know," Frodo smiled. "But she's my aunt and we can't avoid her forever."
"How can your mother be related to her?" Lily asked. "They're nothing alike." She laughed suddenly and caught him around the waist. "I'm so lucky I didn't marry Merry!"
Frodo joined in her laughter. "That'd be robbing the cradle, rather. You're not as young as all that, you know. Time does fly."
She giggled as she let him go and turned to pack up the basket. "It's not how much time you have, but what you do with the time that is given to you."
He froze, afraid without reason. "Why did you say that?" he asked after a moment. The light reflecting off the leaves danced on the grass around him.
"Isn't that what Gandalf told you?" This time the strange hobbit's back was turned, and Frodo had a moment to feel real fright before the kindly smile turned his way again. The hobbit laid his head to the side in a quizzical way, and in that movement he was younger and yet older than Frodo, and seemed to know him.
Frodo's heart began to race. Who are you? What do you want? "Gandalf?" he stammered.
"Yes, Gandalf," the other replied, with an exasperated huff. "Are you going to open that or not?" Then his lips were brushed with a plump, warm kiss, and his hands gave a last twist. Pop.
He stared down at the bottle in his hands, then at the shine of butter on his wife's mouth. "Oh!" she said, "I tucked away a pair of apple blossoms for us," and turned away to rummage through the basket.
Panic gripped Frodo, and his hands shook. "Why are you saying that?" He looked around wildly, moving up onto his knees, and gave a strangled cry when his foot brushed against the pair of dead rabbits on the ground next to him.
"Eat them!" the hobbit rasped, his eyes gone ancient in a grey and wasted face. "They are nice, they are fressssh!" Bony fingers prodded the carcasses, and Frodo scuttled back from the creature.
"Who are you?" he cried. "Leave me alone!" Pulling himself in, he covered his ears to block out the hissing and muttering, but the moment he closed his eyes heat descended all around him. There was a burst of flame, and he fell.
Light. Sunlight, clear and full of the gentle movement of air. White walls, carved into unfamiliar lines, and white sheets. He was in a bed. But where? The shadowy height of the ceiling made him dizzy. So did sitting up, sliding out, taking steps, the whole so stunning and strange that he could not think. Next to the bed a balcony, and pale marble slid cool beneath his feet, as if he were stepping on water. The view was wide over a city both white and full of color.
Frodo began to shake, his breath quickening. Where am I? The buildings and lanes stretched out before him, everything so tall. The window frame stretched high above him, cool beneath his hands, and he cried out when he saw that one of the fingers of his right hand was missing, an ugly stump of scar.
He stared, unable to look away. "Lily?" he called out, terrified. "Where are you?" His fingers whitened as he gripped the ledge, and he almost fell when a soft, deep voice spoke his name.
Next to Frodo he knelt, tall and luminously strange. He was nothing Frodo had ever seen before, and his beauty that might have comforted only sent the hobbit into tears. "Where am I?" he sobbed. "What is this place?"
A long, cool hand took his, and tugged him gently back toward the bed. "Come, Iorhael," the voice intoned, at once formal and kind. "You should rest again."
"I was with my family," Frodo ventured. "Where are they?" At the sad look in the large shining eyes, he gripped the hand in his own. "Where are they?" he demanded.
The being sighed in seeming resignation. An elf? Is this an elf? It must be. So beautiful, and the very opposite of a hobbit. Why am I in a city of elves? Frodo thought desperately.
"You will return to them now," the elf said, and after a moment's struggle for calm, Frodo allowed himself to be settled back in the soft white nest, looking about apprehensively. The cool hand closed his eyes and settled on his brow. Then it seemed as if a draught of warm water poured itself from the top of his head down in a wave to his toes, floating him above the soft warm bed, into the soft bright air, and he slept.
Time in the elf country passes differently, and from what they tell him it seems Frodo began his dreaming many years ago, though here it had not been nearly so long.
"We could not heal him," they say. "His life caused him too much pain. In the end, this was all we had to offer, and he accepted." He has not long now, they believe, and will go soon. The ship came just in time.
"Yes," they tell him, "his dreams seem happy."
The breeze was cool on his face, and a tickling little touch along his nose made him sneeze, then open his eyes. The petals of a daisy caressed him, twirling, and Lily's face loomed over him, her hair unbound about her shoulders. Frodo blinked up at her, relieved.
"Wake up, sleepyhead," she laughed, tickling his nose again. He reached up and touched her face.
"I had the strangest dream," he murmured. "I dreamed I was in a city, a white city of elves." She raised an eyebrow, and he went on. "It was so bright, it was frightening. I was alone and..." He trailed off for a moment, and his brow furrowed as he looked at his fingers. "Something about my hand," he whispered. .
"Well, you're awake now," she said gently. "And only proper hobbits here."
"Mmm." Frodo smiled and ran his hand along her arm. "May I stay here with you?" He stroked the inside of her wrist lightly, making her breath catch. "Forever?"
His wife lowered herself onto him, pressing delightfully against him from tip to toe.
"I believe that's what you promised me," she murmured, and her kiss was deep and warm and full of the willows' light.
By the candle glow, the song of a night-bird tiny and far away, Sam cradles his master in his arms. Frodo's face is fair and sweet in sleep, and the faint smile that wreathes his lips is all that is left of home, and all that is needed. His breath comes high and light now, and his face flickers as a breeze moves through the room. Sam rocks slowly back and forth, humming a lullaby of the vanished Shire, and waits for morning to come.
Author's Note: This fic was inspired by the teleplay "Dreams For Sale", by Joe Gannon, which aired as an episode of The New Twilight Zone in 1985.
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