All stories must come to an end, and celebrations can’t last forever.  Thus, although the hobbits set out with a kingly entourage, their company gradually dwindles to just the four of them and Gandalf.

But the Queen Arwen said: ‘A gift I will give you. For I am the daughter of Elrond. I shall not go with him now when he departs at the Havens; foe mine is the choice of Lúthien, and as she so have I chosen, both the sweet and the bitter. But in my stead you shall go, Ring-bearer, when the time comes, and if you then desire it. If your hurts grieve you still and the memory of your burden is heavy, then you may pass into the West, until all your wounds and weariness are healed. But wear this now in memory of Elfstone and Evenstar with whom your life has been woven!’

And she took a white gem like a star that lay upon her breast hanging upon a silver chain, and she set the chain about Frodo’s neck. ‘When the memory of the fear and the darkness troubles you,’ she said, ‘this will bring you aid.’

It’s interesting how the fimmakers took this gem as a symbol of Arwen’s immortality and milked it for all it’s worth…and then didn’t even bother to have her offer it to Frodo.  It’s understandable, considering that they ended up cutting so much of these last few chapters, but still a little sad that they didn’t portray one of the few things that Arwen actually DOES in the book proper.  I also find it interesting that she stops short of saying that Frodo would live in the West forever, only until his wounds were healed – perhaps we’re meant to infer that he would eventually move on to the realm of the mortals’ afterlife, as distinct from Valinor, the resting place of the Elves, which is technically a part of the physical realm of Middle-earth.

Frodo is anxious to be heading home, mainly because Bilbo didn’t come with the wedding party and he wants to visit him in Rivendell.  But soon enough Éomer arrives to take Théoden’s body back to rest in his own land, so the whole Company sets out with him, plus all the Elves and such.  But first, Éomer and Gimli have a little score to settle.

‘Gimli Glóin’s son, have you your axe ready?’

‘Nay, lord,’ said Gimli, ‘but I can speedily fetch it, if there be need.’

‘You shall judge,’ said Éomer. ‘For there are certain rash words concerning the Lady of the Golden Wood that lie still between us. And now I have seen her with my eyes.’

‘Well, lord,’ said Gimli, ‘and what say you now?’

‘Alas!’ said Éomer. ‘I will not say that she is the fairest lady that lives.’

‘Then I must go for my axe,’ said Gimli.

‘But first I must plead this excuse,’ said Éomer. ‘Had I seen her in other company, I would have said all that you could wish. But now I will put Queen Arwen Evenstar first, and I am ready to do battle on my own part with any who deny me. Shall I call for my sword?’

Then Gimli bowed low. ‘Nay, you are excused for my part, lord,’ he said. ‘You have chosen the Evening; but my love is given to the Morning. And my heart forebodes that soon it will pass away for ever.’

Now that they’ve begun their homeward journey, there’s an increasing air of melancholy as they bid farewell to their friends one by one, and an increasing awareness that even though Sauron is defeated, it wasn’t without a cost.  And the first parting comes when they bid a final farewell to Théoden at his burial.

Out of doubt, out of dark, to the day’s rising

he rode singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.

Hope he rekindled, and in hope ended;

over death, over dread, over doom lifted

out of loss, out of life, unto long glory.

But Merry stood at the foot of the green mound, and he wept, and when the song was ended he arose and cried:

‘Théoden King, Théoden King! Farewell! As a father you were to me, for a little while. Farewell!’

But after mourning comes celebration, as they first drink to King Éomer, and then he announces the engagement of Éowyn and Prince Faramir.

Then Éowyn looked in the eyes of Aragorn, and she said: ‘Wish me joy, my liege-lord and healer!’

And he answered: ‘I have wished thee joy since first I saw thee. It heals my heart to see thee now in bliss.’

This is just too perfect.

Before the company leaves, Éowyn presents Merry with an ancient horn, an heirloom of Rohan, partly as a reminder of the Battle of the Pelennor, but mostly because he refuses to accept any money for his great deeds there.

None saw [Arwen’s] last meeting with Elrond her father, for they went up into the hills and there spoke long together, and bitter was their parting that should endure beyond the ends of the world.

As the characters bid farewell, I’ll try to include pertinent information from the Appendices so you don’t have to read through all that! I’ve mentioned before that I really like how The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen was incorporated pretty naturally into the films – they even quote from it verbatim in several scenes, if in slightly different contexts.  Obviously Aragorn does eventually die (after a hundred years or so), and at that point Arwen leaves her children to spend her last days in Lothlórien, which had otherwise been abandoned, because the only way she could ever see Aragorn again was by living and dying as a mortal and going on to that afterlife – separated forever from Elrond and all the rest of her family.

Anyhow, the entourage stops next at Helm’s Deep, where Gimli delivers on his promise to give Legolas the grand tour of the Glittering Caves, after which Legolas is eager to get to Fangorn to try to best him in words.  And so they arrive at Isengard, where they get a little news from Treebeard.

‘[These] foul creatures were more than surprised to meet us out on the Wold, for they had not heard of us before; though that might be said also of better folk. And not many will remember us, for not many escaped us alive, and the River had most of those. But it was well for you, for if they had not met us, then the king of the grassland would not have ridden far, and if he had there would have been no home to return to.’

‘We know it well,’ said Aragorn, ‘and never shall it be forgotten in Minas Tirith or Edoras.’

Never is too long a word even for me,’ said Treebeard. ‘Not while your kingdoms last, you mean; but they will have to last long indeed to seem long to Ents.’

The implication here (spelled out in the Appendices) is that Mordor and its allies assaulted many places at once, including Lothlórien at the very least.  That’s actually the (retconned) reason why Gandalf was so keen on helping Thorin & Co in The Hobbit, because it’s always nice to get a dragon out of the way when you’re anticipating a war.  Another awesome thing that’s barely even implied in the book proper is that, far from content merely to defend Lórien, Galadriel led an army against Sauron’s stronghold of Dol Guldur and personally broke down the gates.  I’m still slightly shocked that they didn’t include such an epic moment for Galadriel in the films.

But Treebeard also has some slightly worrisome news, as he admits that he let Saruman go a week before, having deemed him “harmless” and not quite having the heart to see such a pitiful creature caged (read: Saruman worked on him a bit).  He is certainly mostly harmless, but he has plenty of motive for revenge, enough to be troubling even for a normal person.

Then Treebeard said farewell to each of them in turn, and he bowed three times slowly and with great reverence to Celeborn and Galadriel. […] ‘It is sad that we should meet only thus at the ending. For the world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air. I do not think we shall meet again.’

Legolas and Gimli take their leave at this point to explore Fangorn.  They naturally keep their promises to Aragorn and begin a great commerce between their peoples and Gondor, but in the end they set sail TOGETHER for Valinor. Interspecies bromance for the win!

Shortly after Aragorn departs, they run into Saruman the Dingy and his pet Worm.

‘Saruman,’ said Galadriel, ‘we have other errands and other cares that seem to us more urgent than hunting for you. Say rather that you are overtaken by good fortune; for now you have a last chance.’

‘If it be truly the last, I am glad,’ said Saruman; ‘for I shall be spared the trouble of refusing it again. All my hopes are ruined, but I would not share yours. If you have any.’

For a moment his eyes kindled. ‘Go!’ he said. ‘I did not spend long study on these matters for naught. You have doomed yourselves, and you know it. And it will afford me some comfort as I wander to think that you pulled down your own house when you destroyed mine.’

Evil hasn’t been eradicated, and there is still plenty of sorrow in the world.  The Elves built their kingdoms with the power of the Three Rings, and that loss is a legitimately devastating blow – not to mention that they like, the Ents, aren’t really growing as a race.

But before he leaves, Saruman begs/steals some pipeweed from the hobbits.

‘Well I like that!’ said Pippin. ‘Thief indeed! What of our claim for waylaying, wounding, and orc-dragging us through Rohan?’

‘Ah!’ said Sam. ‘And bought he said. How, I wonder? And I didn’t like the sound of what he said about the Southfarthing. It’s time we got back.’

[…] ‘But alas for Saruman! I fear nothing more can be made of him. He has withered altogether. All the same, I am not sure that Treebeard is right: I fancy he could do some mischief still in a small mean way.’

But Frodo’s still determined to visit Bilbo in Rivendell, and so they prepare to part with Galadriel and her people in Eregion, where the Rings were first forged long ago.

Often long after the hobbits were wrapped in sleep they [Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf, etc.] would sit together under the stars, recalling the ages that were gone and all their joys and labours in the world, or holding council, concerning the days to come. If any wanderer had chanced to pass, little would he have seen or heard, and it would have seemed to him only that he saw grey figures, carved in stone, memorials of forgotten things now lost in unpeopled lands. For they did not move or speak with mouth, looking from mind to mind; and only their shining eyes stirred and kindled as their thoughts went to and fro.

Then they arrive in Rivendell and spend a couple weeks in Bilbo’s company, although he doesn’t write much anymore; he eventually bequeaths that responsibility to Frodo.

‘Now where were we? Yes, of course, giving presents. Which reminds me: whats become of my ring, Frodo, that you took away?’

‘I have lost it, Bilbo dear,’ said Frodo. ‘I got rid of it, you know.’

‘What a pity!’ said Bilbo. ‘I should ave liked to see it again. But no, how silly of me! That’s what you went for, wasn’t it: to get rid of it? But it’s all so confusing, for such a lot of other things seemed to have got mixed up with it: Aragorn’s affairs, and the White Council, and Gondor, and the Horsemen, and Southrons, and oliphaunts – did you really see one, Sam? – and caves and towers and golden trees, and goodness knows what besides.’

His age is finally showing, but he’s also clearly at peace for the first time in quite a while.

The Road goes ever on and on

Out from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

Let others follow it who can!

Let them a journey new begin,

But I at last with weary feet

Will turn towards the lighted inn,

My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

Next time: Homeward bound…

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