King's Commission, The
12. Finding Frodo Baggins
Finding Frodo Baggins
The next day they repacked the rest of their goods; and with the help of Jape the barman and a couple of others hired for the day, the chests were remounted in their places on and in the carriage, and early the following morning they set out for the Shire. The road was bare again, and it had become cold enough the road was half frozen. Sam rode on the box beside Ririon, driving the team while Ruvemir, Miriel, and the Mayor rode inside, the extra three ponies trailing behind. It took until after sunset to reach the gate at the Brandywine Bridge, and finally they turned toward Buckland and Brandy Hall. The two knights had gone before to prepare folk for their arrival, and it was with relief they saw the door open and golden light spill out as the coach came to a welcomed halt. Merry helped Ririon and Samwise down, Pippin assisted the passengers from within, and once their personal goods and the one chest of clothes were handed down Pippin clambered up and drove the carriage to the stable yard while Ruvemir, Miriel, and Ririon were led into the Hall with the rest.
They were given two rooms in the guest wing, interior rooms that were nevertheless quite comfortably airy and warm. They were then shown the bathing rooms, and soon, warmed and changed into fresh garments, they were shown into the dining hall for the next meal.
They quickly garnered glances from all over the room as folk took in their outlandish dress, stunted arms and legs, apparently oversized heads, unusual gait, and Ruvemir's bearded features. Miriel's hairstyle of braids twisted into a knot at the back of her head was being closely evaluated, as was her embroidered shawl over her simple yet rich-looking gown, so different from the knit or crocheted shawls, multiple petticoats, and full skirts of the Shire ladies. And the hints of her shoes from under her floor-length skirt drew the eyes of both sexes, it seemed. Ruvemir could see how pale she was, and yet at the same time she held herself with great dignity, and he was immensely proud of her and took her elbow protectively. Ririon walked on the other side, his hand on Ruvemir's shoulder, listening intently, trying to get a feel for the room and the people in it. There were a couple of tables which seemed to hold young hobbits, not children any more, yet definitely not adults, either, while young children appeared to eat with their parents.
The food served was already familiar as it was similar to that served at the Prancing Pony, but with even more choices. Many of those present had already started eating before the Master and his Lady took their places at the head table to which the guests were being led, and as they were being shown their chairs the two knights entered and slipped into chairs side by side. A moment later the Thain entered with the Mayor and Lord Samwise, and Ruvemir tapped Ririon on the shoulder and they rose respectfully, which drew both surprise and appreciative glances from the others. Well, Ruvemir thought, apparently their manners were being noted positively.
Lord Sam gave a glance to the two knights, who rose, and the three turned to the West for the Standing Silence, which Ruvemir, Ririon, and Miriel joined, as did the Master and his Lady after a brief pause. All others quieted but watched them with curiosity, only the Thain lowering his own eyes with still an air of respect.
As they resumed their seats the Mayor looked at them with curiosity. "One of these days," he commented in his high, pleasant voice, "someone is going to tell me what that means."
Lord Samwise gave him a surprisingly (from Ruvemir's perspective) indulgent smile. "You could of asked Mr. Frodo or any of us at any time, Will," he said, "and we'd of told you. It's the Standing Silence, in respect for those as are in the Undying Lands."
"The Elves?" asked Master Whitfoot, apparently surprised.
"The Valar," corrected Sam, "though there's many among the Elves as deserve all honor, too. And Mr. Frodo," he added, almost under his breath. Apparently the two knights had caught that comment, too, as they gave quick nods.
Then Sir Merry rose as a pretty young Hobbit lady approached the remaining empty chair to his right, and they embraced and briefly kissed. "My wife, Estella," he said by way of introduction. "These are Mistress Miriel and Master Ruvemir of Lebennin in Gondor, children of Master Mardil, and their young ward Ririon, who's apprenticed as a carver and sculptor." Once courtesies were exchanged all round, she turned briefly West, then sat down. That she had adopted the Standing Silence impressed the sculptor, for what he'd seen of Sir Meriadoc was not indicative of one who would impose his own observances on another. No, if she kept the Standing Silence it was to both honor her husband and the Valar, he sensed. He wondered how long the two of them had been acquainted. "All right, my Love," Merry said, "and how goes the wooing of the fair Melilot?"
"The question just popped out of him yesterday," she said with satisfaction as she served herself from a bowl handed her. "I think only Melilot was not surprised when it happened, for he turned several shades of pink."
"Will she have him?"
"Oh, yes. Oh, give my brother a few more months, and he will be most definitely married."
"Good for Fatty," he said. "You know, it is so long since he was truly 'Fatty' I don't know why we keep calling him that."
She smiled. "Sam never has, nor did Frodo. And I think if he were to try to reclaim his former title properly Budgie and Viola would clap him back in the Lockups to lose it all again. Budgie says his former weight was not good for him, you know, and that it's good he doesn't carry it now."
"And how does Budgie feel about him marrying?"
"Seems to think it will be the making of him. Says it will undoubtedly add years to his life."
Sir Peregrin smiled with satisfaction. "Good, then. If Budgie says it's good for him, I'm all for it."
"And now we're waiting for you, Pippin. When are you and Diamond going to announce?"
"Hmm. After the way you three badgered me and Rosie," Lord Samwise commented, "it's about time we returned the favor. Or, should I start proposing to her as he--" with a jerk of the head toward Merry "--did with Rosie?"
Sir Pippin gave him a considering look and said, "Oh, but I don't think Rosie would take too well to a second Mistress of Bag End, though she might agree to Diamond setting up in Number Three." He turned to the Mayor and the Thain. "Tell me, Will, Da--would it be legal for Sam to take a second wife?"
And with similar good-humored talk the meal continued. Miriel was apparently surprised at the easy manners, and as the meal and talk continued began to giggle, which Ruvemir noted with satisfaction. Ruvemir suddenly realized that Sir Peregrin, who sat to Ruvemir's right, was quietly assisting his ward, asking if he'd like help cutting his meat, telling him where on the plate food sat, serving him with the cider provided as a drink, and yet all the while keeping up his part in the often outrageous commentary that kept all of them laughing. Even the stolid Lord Samwise was unbending, far more than he'd done in Bree.
Mistress Estella was examining Miriel closely, and during a lull asked, "Mistress Miriel, I was wondering who did the embroidery on your shawl, for it is among the finest I've ever seen."
Miriel colored prettily, Ruvemir thought, and admitted, "It is my own work, Mistress Estella. I am a master embroiderer among my own people."
"Well, with such as a sample, I can see how it is you have earned your rank. Are those flowers from your homeland?"
And now at last Miriel was being drawn out, which also pleased Ruvemir. The Master's Lady, who was belatedly introduced as Mistress Esmeralda, was also interested in the workmanship displayed on the clothing of the three guests, and soon the three ladies were obviously planning projects to decorate gowns for the Midsummer festivities. And the rest of the meal passed pleasantly.
After the meal Miriel, Ruvemir and Ririon rose politely and with bows and curtseys thanked their hosts, who again seemed pleased and flattered at the courtesy shown by their guests, and it was suggested that they go into one of the more private parlors to continue the talk. Miriel and Ruvemir agreed, but noted they needed to fetch their work from their rooms, and so Merry agreed to accompany them and show them the way, and all parted, bowing agreeably. As they walked back through the room Miriel was more relaxed and less self-conscious, and again Ruvemir was pleased.
The parlor was well appointed, although it had more furniture and decorations than a similar room would have carried in Gondor, Ruvemir thought. The chairs were comfortable, although deeper than Ruvemir would have had built for himself. They were offered wine, which Ruvemir accepted, and pipeweed, which he did not. Miriel was given a chair under a lamp as it was noted she carried her embroidery, and Mistress Esmeralda took the chair on the other side as she had brought lacework, and soon the two of them were talking companionably as they worked, soon joined by young Mistress Estella and her knitting. Ririon had brought his serpent carving and his dropcloth, and Ruvemir carried his sketch booklets. For a time the talk of harvests that had been going on from their arrival continued, but at last all fell silent and looked to the Master as host.
Ruvemir had said little so far, but had been sketching steadily, now and then giving quiet instruction to his ward. Now he paused and watched the Master, who was clearly unsure how to begin. Finally the sculptor decided perhaps he ought to lead the discussion.
"We thank you for your hospitality to us, strangers from the Southlands. And we thank you for honoring the request of the Lord King Elessar, allowing us to enter your land and meet with you and learn more of our proposed subjects. I know Lord Samwise--" he noted the flush "--has not been exceptionally comfortable with being so immortalized, but has graciously agreed at the King's plea. And I tell you that each I have spoken to who remembers you in Minas Anor and along the way has agreed this is a project full worthy of completion, and all remember all four of you with greatest respect and honor.
"Sir Meriadoc, Lord King Éomer of Rohan sends you this, and his sister Lady Éowyn this." And he held out two small packages.
The knight flushed as he accepted them, and opened them eagerly. Both held horsehead brooches, the one from the Lady Éowyn finely modeled. He read the note enclosed with that one and smiled, then handed brooch and missive to his wife. "This is intended for my bride," he explained, and she accepted it with delight.
Two gifts there were for Sir Peregrin, also, from the Lord Steward and the King--a small dagger and a velvet box containing a fine chain from which hung a White Tree wrought from mithril, covered with blossoms of diamond. Sir Peregrin's mouth opened with awe, then he looked suspiciously at Lord Samwise. "You told him! You told him about Diamond!"
Sam shook his head. "Did not! Oh, I might of mentioned you was keeping company, but I swear that was all!"
Sir Meriadoc stood to look more closely at the pendant and said, "He's right, Pip. I saw the letter before it was sent. Think we're seeing the results of his family's gift of foresight, myself. Dwarf and Elven workmanship, both. Gimli and Legolas also were cooperating with this one."
The Thain took the box and examined it with respect. "Magnificent!" he said at last as he handed it to the Master. "Now at the wedding she will look doubly glorious, you know. For if you don't ask her soon, I'll take her myself alongside your mother!"
"Not fair!" The young Hobbit turned in appeal to Ruvemir. "They are ganging up on me!"
The artist smiled. "May serve you right for teaching the children of the Row how to carve turnip lanterns," he said, watching the further consternation on the other's face with amusement. The three women laughed openly, then gasped as the box was handed to them.
Three packages were there for Lord Samwise. The first held a finely wrought brooch in the shape of a rose, carefully enameled. He smiled tenderly. "Lorien work," he said, and his friends nodded. "For my Rosie."
Next was a pair of riding gloves of black suede, embroidered on the back with the White Tree. Miriel looked at them with surprise. "But I embroidered those a few months ago. A special order to embroider the White Tree on a pair of gloves made by Master Glover Enril. He received the order from Dol Amroth!"
"When the King was there, I wonder?" Ruvemir mused aloud.
Sam smiled broadly and opened the third package, which held two small books. "For children," he said, opening them and looking inside. "Elvish tales!" And suddenly he started to weep. "Bless him," he said through his tears. "And wrapped in a pair of handkerchiefs! He knows me too well!"
Pippin put his hand on Sam's shoulder. "Well, he certainly owes you a few. How many have you lent him he didn't give back? Use one of them, for pity's sake." And he embraced Sam until he regained his composure.
Mistress Esmeralda cleared her throat delicately. "Tell us, Master Ruvemir, how can we help you?"
"All agree the studies made by the artists of Minas Anor were not adequate. They were stiff, mostly did not reflect Halfling proportions well, and failed to capture personality. And the ones made of Lord Frodo were the worst, for they were monumentally severe and regal, or totally expressionless." Merry and Pippin nodded, and Sam gave a grunt of agreement as he dried his eyes. "I've done several studies of him based on the memories of those who knew him there, but the King was still not fully happy. He hoped you would help me know him more."
"I see," she said. "May I see what you've done?"
Once she saw the studies he'd done she began to talk, telling of her friend Primula, who was much younger sister to her late father-in-law, and her marriage to Drogo Baggins, the early birth of their only surviving child, the doting of the parents, their deaths when he was twelve. He saw she had gone back to the picture of Frodo laughing, and had that open before her as she spoke of learning of the whispers in his heart, the attempts to protect him, the transformation of the happy child to the quiet, despondent youth, the turning to reading and study, the caring for the younger children, the boredom, the healer's fears, Bilbo's concerns, swimming.
Her husband described the devotion to his younger cousin, the beginnings of rebellion, the raidings in the Marish, Farmer Maggot and his mushrooms and his dogs.
Merry explained about the feelings of isolation expressed, the summers on the river bank, the reprimands of the teens and tweens who ought to know better, the awareness that there were a few, always a few who taunted and teased, and the realization the only reason Frodo himself was not a bigger victim was because of his position as fosterling to the Heir and his Lady, of his being taught how to throw a punch that mattered by his cousin Merimac and his vow not to use the skill unless it mattered (here Lord Samwise, Ruvemir noted, looked up with surprise and interest, as if this answered some questions he himself had held), of Merry on occasion being part of the diversions for the raidings in the Marish, of Frodo's discovery he could draw and the secret cache of pictures Merry had found in the rooms where his parents had stayed when they visited, of the confessions of anger and frustration that he was not allowed to do things, of Frodo's secret campaign to help in spite of the restrictions set on him, of his fears expressed when it was learned his cousin Bilbo had decided to exercise his option as head of the Baggins family to take Frodo as his ward.
Pippin told of the marvelous stories Frodo always told and his protection of the younger children in Hobbiton and Bywater. He also told of the Yule when he was five when his family and the inhabitants of Bag End had all come to Brandy Hall for the holiday. An older farm tween who'd stolen a bottle of brandy had found Pippin alone in the school room and had tried to paw at him, only Frodo had been searching for him and heard Pippin cry out, came in and suggested the tween stop. The big tween had answered he would if Frodo was willing to substitute himself for the child, saying he was a pretty enough boy, and Frodo had agreed. Then, as the bigger and more muscular tween tried to paw at Frodo there had been one single blow delivered which had felled the lunk and left him lying on the schoolroom carpet. Frodo had simply straightened his jacket, made sure Pippin was all right, and conducted him back to his parents.
Even Sir Meriadoc seemed surprised at that story. "You never told me about that one, Pippin. Why not?"
Sir Peregrin looked as if it were the most logical thing in the world when he answered, "Well, Tolman Smallburrow deserved it, you know; and Frodo asked me not to say anything; so I didn't." Ruvemir looked to catch Lord Samwise's response, and noted he had a small smile and was nodding as if this was not an unusual occurrence.
Mistress Esmeralda shook her head in wonder. "I knew several of the smaller children feared Tolman, and now we learn why. And that explains the bruised cheek that he said was due to him hitting a door. I always had wondered who'd fought with him and why, and now we know." To which her husband nodded.
The Thain looked furious. "Whatever happened to Tolman Smallburrow?" he demanded.
Master Saradoc answered, "When Lotho tried to take over, he joined the Shiriffs and became an informer. But one day he gave an answer one of Lotho's Big Men didn't like, and the Man killed him."
"One of your farmworkers went to work for Lotho Pimple?"
"He'd not been one of our farmworkers since shortly after that Yule. Remember the Appledore girl?" When the Thain indicated he did, Master Saradoc continued, "He was the one who hurt her, and we finally got her to tell us who'd done it. That was the last he worked for the Hall, and you can be certain the word was passed to all the farms in the Marish he could not be trusted around pretty lasses. But this is the first I've heard tell of him pawing at children--or a lad." He turned to his son. "Go ask Merimac to come in here, please."
A few moments later Ruvemir was being introduced to the Master's brother, who was asked to explain how he'd come to teach Frodo how to throw a punch. He looked surprised and a bit sheepish. "It was not long after we took on that lout Tolman Smallburrow. He was what--nineteen, I think? Yes, nineteen. At first Frodo was one of his favorite targets to taunt, but Frodo had become adept at avoiding him. Then he started on a younger child, Holden, Porto's boy. Frodo tried to protect the boy one day and I came along just in time to stop him being beaten badly and to put the fear of the Powers into young Tolman's heart, or so I believed at the time. Once I'd sent him about his business Frodo asked me to teach him how to strike a proper blow, so I did. We took the scarecrow into the old mill building, and I taught him how to strike best to stop someone else before he realized he was under attack. He got very good at it, very good at it. I made him promise not to strike anyone unless he deserved it, and he agreed. Otherwise, I was afraid he might just seriously hurt someone. He learned quickly."
Pippin was impressed. Then he suddenly chuckled. "Too bad Strider didn't realize what he'd been trained to do. He was almost a failure with a sword, you know--if he'd thought to strike that one blow maybe he'd have felled that Black Rider who stabbed him. Or the cave troll!" And he and Merry both laughed, while even Sam gave a broad grin.
Ruvemir then asked them to think of one stance they felt was representative of Frodo Baggins, and after much discussion all agreed on him telling stories to the smaller children. He had Mistress Esmeralda describe it first, and asked her if she could copy his posture. Then all tried it, and all agreed Pippin could copy it best. So Pippin sat in a chair before the others for a time while Ruvemir worked on getting the posture down on paper. Then he had them all try to reproduce the expression Frodo would have on his face, and Mr. Merimac was agreed to be able to do it best. It was now his turn to sit before the others while Ruvemir drew. Then he asked whose hands looked most like Frodo's, and suddenly the group grew silent and just looked at one another. Finally Merry said, "It's hard to think of his hands as they were when he was younger--the memory of them with the missing finger keeps interfering, and that we don't associate with the stories."
Pippin nodded. "When he was younger he would gesture a lot as he told stories. But not afterwards. And afterwards his stories changed, too--they were gentler, more in hope or in sadness where before they were in delight."
Merry sighed, and put his hand on his cousin's shoulder. "So much of him was lost in Mordor--more than just his finger." He turned to the artist. "As Frodo grew up here, he began to lose his joy, winter by winter with little to do, no feeling of purpose. He didn't really want to leave and go to Bag End, although he truly loved Bilbo dearly, for he loved us also at the same time he was getting closer and closer to hating us to the depths of his being, and many of the stories about Bilbo, even though he knew they weren't true, he'd heard enough to begin to wonder about them. He barely remembered going to Bag End as a small child with his parents, before his mother refused to go near Hobbiton any more for the vileness of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. He half believed the place was left to fill with dust and crumbs and all, all the stories Lobelia would tell to those who came to Hobbiton who would be willing to listen to her tales."
"Pardon me, but who is this Lobelia?"
The others exchanged embarrassed looks. Mistress Esmeralda answered. "The Sackville-Bagginses were cousins to Bilbo and Frodo, the one remaining Baggins family still living in the Hobbiton area, other than Drogo's older sister Dora, who never married. You've heard of Lotho?" At his nod of assent, she continued, "Lobelia and Otho were his parents. The first time Bilbo left, they thought that they finally had their chance to become the head of the Baggins clan, so after a year and a day they had him declared dead and began to auction off those of his belongings they didn't want to keep for themselves. When he showed up shortly after the auction began with a pony and a couple of chests filled with treasure from the dragon's hoard in Erebor they were shocked--shocked and very frustrated.
"When he disappeared the second time and they learned he'd legally adopted Frodo as his heir, they were breathing fire in frustration."
Merry snorted. "Breathing fire is putting it mildly. I've never seen anyone in as high a dudgeon as Lobelia that day. When Merimac caught her stealing from Frodo's room and we shook out her umbrella and found all the other things she'd taken as 'mementos' of the cousin she'd detested all her married life, it was with great pleasure we trotted her out the door and dumped her on the stoop. She lived only, it seemed, to tell as vile a tale as possible about our Cousin Bilbo, and then, after he came to Bag End, Frodo as well."
His mother continued, "At least once Frodo was there, Bilbo regularly invited the rest of the family over to see him."
"And how many times before he took Frodo did he invite us, and we never went, for fear he would insist on doing his duty by Frodo?" Merry asked her.
She had the grace to lower her eyes in shame. "I didn't want to lose him, Merry. You know that. I thought I was doing right by him."
"I'm just glad the healer wrote that letter and sparked Bilbo into action at last." And all nodded agreement. He then looked at Ruvemir to see if he'd heard that part of the tale and saw he hadn't. "Marko Longbottom, who married our cousin Bluebell Brandybuck and came here to live afterwards as auxiliary healer, was insistent that Frodo wasn't getting proper exercise, particularly in the winter; and he saw how despondent Frodo was getting and how it got worse year by year, and he finally wrote letters to my father, the Thain, and Bilbo, as head of the Baggins family, insisting Frodo had to have changed circumstances or he would start actually fading from sadness and lack of worth. That was when Bilbo decided at last to defy us and demand to become Frodo's guardian."
Saradoc sighed, "Here we were, trying to spare his heart, and going about it all the wrong way." He shook his head. "At least he recovered quickly once he got to Bag End. When we saw him there after only three months and saw how different he was, how he'd filled out and his eyes were beginning to shine again, how his sense of humor was back--we had to accept that Bilbo and Marko were right all along and we were wrong. Guess Frodo wasn't the only one who was coming to half-believe Lobelia's stories told us second-hand."
Soon after they agreed it was getting late, and they watched with interest as Ruvemir returned his drawing things to his tube, then watched to see that Ririon folded the drop cloth from the corners to contain the sawdust and finally lifted it, and then Ruvemir went to take Ririon to the front door so the cloth could be shaken out outside. Merry again accompanied them to show the way, and brought them back to see that while they were gone Miriel had finished packing her own work away back in the linen bag in which she carried it and picked up the card of embroidery thread. Merimac had been examining Ririon's sculpture, and on his return commented, "This is as fine a piece of woodcarving as I've ever seen. If when you're through you want a buyer for it, I'd be interested." Ririon was surprised, and Ruvemir was both amused and grateful. With muffled words of thanks, Ririon accepted the figure back, and Merry and Pippin both accompanied them to their rooms.
Morning brought a knock at the door and the announcement through it that breakfast would be served in half an hour, and Ruvemir sat up, a bit disoriented, and saw by the light of the rushlight left lit as a nightlight that Ririon was huddling deeper under his covers in the other narrow bed. After a moment he realized where he was, and registered there was no window to this room. How odd, he found himself thinking, to be in a room with no windows at all. He rose and lit the other candles, stretched, and set about preparing himself for the day, then finally went over to his ward, pulled down the blankets to which he was trying so hard to cling, and suggested that if he wanted to eat he'd best be up and out of bed and dressed by the time Ruvemir got back from the privy. Ririon gave a great yawn and groan, but began to comply, and by the time Ruvemir returned was dressed and ready to be shown the way himself.
Miriel was waiting for them at the passage to the dining hall, smiling happily and carrying her linen bag and folder of threads. "Mistress Esmeralda is going to introduce me today to the women who do most of the sewing for the folk of the Hall," she said as they walked down the passage, "and I think I will gather some new patterns. Will you be working with the family again?"
"I hope," her brother answered, "to work with them one or two at a time today. Although I got some wonderful impressions of Frodo last night."
Ririon commented, "Ruvemir, why did Lord Frodo change so much?"
"At what time?"
"While he was away. It sounds like he used to have a lot of fun, but that after the War he was very different. Almost like they didn't quite recognize him when he came back."
"Sounds to me like each time his circumstances changed, he changed, too. He sounds as if he were quite different as he grew up here than he was before his parents died. Then, when he went to live with Master Bilbo he changed again."
"Did he have to be an apprentice, too, do you think? I mean, what did he do for a living?"
"Master Bilbo appears to have been fairly wealthy, so Lord Frodo doesn't appear to have needed to do a great deal in order survive. The King told me he was a scholar, but that he also had business interests of some kind that appear to have given him an income. I'm not sure he was ever apprenticed to anyone."
"Frodo?" asked a voice behind them, and Merry caught up with them.
"Good morrow, Sir Meriadoc," Ruvemir and Miriel said together with a quick bow and curtsey, while Ririon also stopped and bowed.
Merry looked quite uncomfortable. "Please," he said, "you don't have to do that here in the passages. Here I am Merry the Traveler and the Master's Heir, and that's quite complicated enough. And, please, just call me Merry. When people call me Meriadoc I start looking around to see what trouble I'm in this time."
Miriel stifled a giggle, and Ririon grinned. Ruvemir, however, tried to explain. "It is hard to think of you as simply Merry, sir, as the honor in which you are held by those in Gondor and Rohan is so very great."
"We finally have some esteem here, too, but it will all go to naught if folks catch you bowing and scraping every time one of us comes into view. It's different in the Shire--they don't think well of those they think are trying to be above themselves. So, please, while we are here, keep the bowing and curtseying down. And please, please call me Merry."
Sighing, Ruvemir agreed.
Merry brought them to the same table as last night,
"Sir Peregrin is not yet awake?"
"Pippin? No, he won't rise till second breakfast, probably. Had one of his bad nights."
Merry took a deep breath. "We all have them, Sam, Pip, and I. Not as bad as Frodo would have, but bad enough. You can't go through being pursued by Black Riders from Hobbiton to Rivendell, seeing your beloved cousin stabbed by a Morgul blade, almost freezing to death on Caradhras, seeing Gandalf fall off the Bridge of Khazad-dum with the Balrog, seeing Boromir shot full of arrows at Amon Hen and being taken prisoner by Saruman's Uruk-hai, watching the Ents destroy the Circle of Isengard, going through the ride in the dark to Minas Anor from Dunharrow, stabbing a Ringwraith and almost dying as a result, seeing your beloved cousins and friends all almost at the point of death and all you can do is to be there with them and talk to their unresponsive bodies, and then coming home to find out that while we were gone the War had come here anyway--you can't go through all that without having occasional nightmares."
Ruvemir looked down in embarrassment, then looked back into the Hobbit's pain-darkened eyes. "I beg your pardon. I did not mean to sound as if I were prying or belittling your experience--although I didn't realize all that you went through. But when you list all that, I know more than ever the respect my people wish to give you is well deserved indeed."
The pain lightened slowly, and finally Merry said, very softly, "Thank you, Master Ruvemir."
The Master and his wife appeared, accompanied by the Mayor and the Thain. Merry looked around. "Sam already out at the glass houses, then?"
The Master nodded. "Had an early breakfast and headed out to them. Says he wants to get some ideas for the one he's commissioning at the herb garden at the Three-Farthing stone." He turned to Ruvemir. "Sam can't seem to stay away from plants, no matter where he is or what he is doing. Understand that while they were in Rivendell he spent a good deal of the time in the gardens there, and that in Minas Tirith he and Frodo both helped in the replanting of gardens there."
Ruvemir nodded. "So the King and those who served them there tell me."
Merry smiled. "Even in Lothlorien he was often in the gardens, and the Lady Galadriel took him and Frodo down into her private garden where her Mirror was. Then as her gift to him she gave him soil from that garden, which is the primary reason many of the trees you will see as you travel around the Shire are growing as well as they do. Almost as many folk now call him Sam Gardner as they do Sam Gamgee."
The Thain agreed. "First time I rode through the Shire after Sharkey was dead and his Big Men defeated, I was horror-struck. They killed trees everywhere."
Merry commented, "I think that was partly aimed at us, but at least equally intended to be a revenge against Treebeard and the Ents and Huorns of Fangorn Forest for their destruction of the Ring of Isengard and the defeat at Helm's Deep. Once he was far enough away to not risk their vengeance, he took it all out on the trees of the Shire. Good thing for him he didn't try that in the Old Forest, though, although it might have made things simpler if he had. The trees there would never have stood for it."
Estella appeared, leading a small Hobbit child by the hand. "Young Arto is going to join us this morning. His mother is feeling very nauseous with her pregnancy, and his father is on duty with the Bounders this week." She indicated a chair, and the child slipped into it. The rest then turned to the West to do the Standing Silence, and then took their seats.
"You were wondering about Frodo being apprenticed?" Merry asked.
"Well, Ririon was asking, really."
"It wasn't a formal apprenticeship such as those who are preparing for a trade go through, but in a way I suppose you could say he was apprenticed to Bilbo. After returning from his travels, Bilbo became a scholar, and recognizing a like mind in Frodo he set Frodo on that path, too. Frodo had beautiful writing, while that of Bilbo's was often cramped and spidery, so he would have Frodo do much of the copying he needed done of books he'd borrowed from Rivendell or were intended to be copied for this library or that one. We have several here in Brandy Hall Frodo copied and bound, if you'd like to see them.
"He also taught Frodo Sindarin and got him started on learning Quenya. After Frodo came of age and Bilbo left, he began studying on his own, also. There were a few Elves in Rivendell and later in Lothlorien who spoke both languages, and he spent a good deal of his time there learning what they would teach him." He paused. "I suppose that is aiding him now. Or, at least I hope it is."
During breakfast Ririon, who was sitting today beside Arto, got to talking with the child, and afterwards went with Mistress Estella and the lad to explore the Hall. Miriel went with Mistress Esmeralda to meet with the seamstresses and embroiderers for the Hall while Ruvemir walked out with Master Saradoc to help bring in the other trunks from the stables. Ruvemir went back to his room to collect his cloak and cane, and a sketch booklet that he stowed with his tube of drawing sticks in his personal satchel, and met the Master at the main door to the Hall.
As they walked slowly around the hill to the stables area, the Master described daily life in Buckland and pointed out many features of the property. Then they were quiet for a time as the Master leaned on a fence near the stables, looking out into a paddock where several blanketed ponies pulled at the brown grass or sniffed at the air. As Ruvemir came forward to stand beside him, Saradoc Brandybuck turned to look at him gravely.
"After what we said last night, you must think we treated Frodo horribly. And in many ways we did, although it wasn't as bad as all that. The reading masters were in awe of him. He came to us already knowing how to read and write, and his parents both said he just seemed to know exactly what to do from the time he first picked up a quill. Figuring was also easy for him, and his curiosity about the world was insatiable. We had a hard time finding folks to engage to keep his mind and his capacity for learning fed. It helped that Bilbo was sending so many books to us--he had plenty of chances to find new subjects to learn about. He wrote some poetry as well, although nowhere as much as did Bilbo, of course. But he would write simple stories for the children, and was often kept busy helping to copy texts for new students in the Hall School.
"Esme and I had no idea what to do with him at times. He was so different than the other children. There was the condition of his heart to worry about, his keen intelligence, his quietness after his parents died. He was so eager to please, and yet so----. I don't know what to call it, I guess. He didn't lose his temper often, but when he did there was no facing him. He'd go stark white, and just look at you, and you knew he saw right through you. His gaze could be so intense, and it frightened Esme--and, to be honest, me as well. We were in over our heads with him, and we knew it. But Esme was certain him going to Bilbo would do him harm, what with Bilbo's reputation as odd and unstable. Lobelia wasn't the one who first named him 'Mad Old Baggins,' but once it was given she certainly repeated it often enough."
He turned back to the ponies. "We didn't keep him cooped up all the time, and after a while he simply began going out in spite of us and would be gone for hours. We found he would go to the old mill, or to visit his parents' grave, or a few other places here and there. Or we'd find he was in a field, weeding. That was after he quit raiding the farms of the Marish.
"I got a new hoe for one of the farmers, and it disappeared as soon as I got it home. Finally I had to get another new one. Then I began to hear from the farmers here and in the Marish that they'd go to weed the beans and find it was already done. Or the corn. Or the squash. Or the turnips. They'd go out to bring in the cows for milking, and they'd find them already in the barnyard, with often the first to be milked already in the stanchion. The day Frodo left with Bilbo that hoe was found in the stable with the other tools, well used." He turned to look at the artist again. "It was like he felt honor bound to try to make it up for all the food he stole. But when we tried to talk to him about it, he'd just close up and go away inside himself, and it was no use trying to say anything. Only one who could deal with him when he did that was Bilbo."
There was a silence for a time. "No question Bilbo Baggins doted on that lad. One reason we saw so much of him, for he came over at least once every couple months just to check up on him. Brought him a wooden flute. Sent him books by the shelfload. Sent him paper. Sent him ink. Sent him quills and a steel pen and pen knives. Bought him clothes from time to time, but Frodo usually would wear them only when Bilbo was there. And he'd take Frodo out on his walks. Big one for going on walks, Bilbo was. First time Frodo came back after meeting a Dwarf I thought he'd never settle down, he was so excited. But first time he saw an Elf--he came back in awe. Couldn't get a word out of him for days. That was when he started drawing, I think, trying to draw that Elf.
"He kept a journal, but the night before he went with Bilbo he burned it. I caught him at it. When I asked him why, he said it was so he'd never hurt anyone with what he thought. It was the only time I could get him near admitting he was unhappy and often angry.
"We couldn't believe the change we saw in him when we went over to the birthday party the first time after he went to Bag End. He didn't appear apologetic any more. He was straight out smiling most of the time. He was standing so much straighter, and was tickled pink to show us the work he'd been doing for Bilbo with the copying of books and documents and all. He was wild to see Merry again--he'd doted on Merry from his birth, in fact; but he was just as obviously devoted to young Samwise Gamgee, who was just a child of ten at the time. Merry was eight, Freddy Bolger was ten, and Pippin was just three months short of being born. The four of them and Folco Boffin were often inseparable once they got older, after Bilbo left. Merry would come in and announce he was off to Bag End as if he were just heading for the river bank; he'd saddle his pony and he'd be gone, just like that."
He straightened, and commented, "I wish we'd let him go to Bilbo years earlier, really. Ready to see about your chests?"
After they returned Merry and Pippin helped carry the box of tools to Ruvemir's room, after which they headed back to the dining hall for second breakfast. Ruvemir accepted a cup of tea, but watched with awe as the roomful of Hobbits ate as if they hadn't eaten yet all day. Then the two knights asked if he'd like to go see Crickhollow, where Frodo was to have lived but in which he spent only a single night as its master. As they assured him it wasn't far, he decided to ride, a decision he was regretting by the time they arrived at the isolated house. They took him in and Pippin quickly lit a fire. Seeing the obvious pain on the artist's face as he rubbed his hip, Merry and Pippin directed him into one of the bedrooms ("This one has the hardest mattress," Pippin commented), had him remove his cloak and lie down on the bed, and Merry first massaged the hip and then both assisted him in doing the exercises.
Then they helped him up and gave him a brief tour of the house, and Pippin told him briefly of the one night they'd spent here, the three bathtubs ready when they got there, then the uncovering of their conspiracy. Merry told him what his cousin and brother-in-law had told them about the assault on the house by the Black Riders, and together they examined the place where the doorframe had been damaged when a spell had been used on it to force the lock and bar. Ruvemir found himself shivering as they looked at the place. "Nazgul, here in the Shire," he commented. "I never saw one, although those who fought for Minas Tirith and before the Black Gate all tremble when they are named."
Merry looked very grim. "And rightly," he said. When he looked up into Ruvemir's eyes, his face was grey, his eyes dull with painful memories. "And rightly. They were terrible. Only thing worse was the Enemy himself." At which Pippin visibly shivered.
Merry rode on ahead, leading the two other ponies, leaving Ruvemir and Pippin to walk back, Ruvemir having admitted the King had told him he should avoid riding for a time yet. And as they walked they were silent for a time, and then Pippin began to sing under his breath. Ruvemir recognized a marching song sung often in Gondor, and guessed that the Halfling at his side had learned it marching toward Mordor. Then, after he'd finished, he began to sing again, what with surprise Ruvemir realized was an Elven hymn to Elbereth. His voice was clear and high and, the sculptor had to admit, beautiful, and the depth of feeling he put into the words he sang was easily felt. Once he'd finished, there was another silence.
Finally Ruvemir commented, "I'd never thought to hear that song here. I've only heard it once, sung by the Lady Queen Arwen the night before we left Minas Anor."
It was a few minutes before Pippin spoke. "I first heard it here in the Shire. First Elves I'd ever seen, in the Woody End. We had seen at least one Black Rider as we went through the woods, probably two or possibly even three. One was following our scent toward us when a group of Elves led by Gildor Inglorion came by, singing that. At the name of Elbereth he backed off, mounted his horse again, and left as quickly as he could. I heard it again, several times, while we stayed in Rivendell, and other versions of it in Lothlorien.
"Gildor is gone now--left on the same ship as Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, the Lady Galadriel, and the Lord Elrond."
"Then the Ringbearer did go to the Undying Lands?"
Pippin nodded, examining his face. "Didn't Strider tell you?"
"Not outright, athough I'd guessed it. Did you tell him?"
"The Queen told him when she realized Frodo had chosen to go, and he tried to get here in time to say goodbye, too, but he arrived too late. Accidentally lamed his horse in Rohan. He went to Rivendell to see the sons of Elrond, then together they came past Bree, to across the Road from the Barrowdowns. He sent in word, into the Shire, and we rode out to see him, Sam, Merry and I. We told him."
"You saw him go?"
"Yes, but no thanks to Frodo. Was going to try to sneak off without us knowing again, silly old Hobbit. Didn't even tell Sam he was leaving Middle Earth altogether--let him believe he was going to Rivendell to live with Elrond and Bilbo. Sam was so shocked when they met Elrond and Galadriel and Bilbo and Gildor and many of their folk heading west. Then he knew. Cried most of the way to the Havens, I suspect."
"How did you find out?"
Pippin unexpectedly chuckled. "Gandalf, bless his soul. Merry and I had just gotten back to Crickhollow from a ride in to the Hall and were deciding what to fix for a bedtime snack when there was a smart rap on the door, and we both instinctively grabbed up our swords and went to peer out. And there stood Gandalf with Shadowfax behind him, and he was ordering us to get our packs together, and shoving packets of lembas into our hands. Told us if we didn't get a move on and get headed off toward the Havens we'd miss Frodo altogether. Said he'd just learned Frodo had not warned us he was leaving, and that this was not fair to us or Sam. He rode with us a good part of the way, then left us the last day and said he'd go on ahead and hold things up till we arrived. We had no time to worry or grieve or anything--unlike poor Sam, who'd been living with it for the past few days. We were just hurrying as fast as we could to get there in time, trying not to lame Stybba or Jewel along the way." Again he was quiet for a time. "I didn't realize Gandalf was leaving, too, until I saw him on the quay. I guess Shadowfax had already been led on board--didn't see him when we arrived. Sam was standing there almost alone, looking so small and stricken. Felt we were coming to his rescue. And Frodo's face--first real feeling we'd seen from him for a while--frustration and relief to see us. Relief to be able to say goodbye face to face. He'd sent us letters, which arrived after we left. And much of the pain he felt seemed to be already falling away, although that may have been the effects of the draught Elrond had been feeding him along the way. Sam told us about it.
"If he'd stayed only a few days more, he'd probably have died. He was fading quite quickly. We're not sure if he survived the voyage, in fact. But it--it doesn't feel like he's gone. I think we'd know, if he didn't make it. I think we'd feel him die. Aragorn certainly felt when the ship left the confines of Middle Earth. But then, he's kin to the Lord Elrond through his father's line as well as through his marriage to the Lady Arwen.
"Our parents were fit to be tied when they realized we'd just left everything and taken off, left the fire to die out and the kettle for tea had boiled dry. They were here when the letters came, and they opened them. Once they realized we must have been warned somehow, they realized where we'd gone, and figured out when we'd get back. Da and Merry's Dad were both here when we arrived, and all they did was hold out their arms to hold us. Didn't say a word, just held us while we cried--again. Then they tucked us in as if we were little lads and left us. Had the kettle ready to go on the fire, the teapot ready to be scalded, the caddy out, cheese and hard bread sliced and ready to toast, my favorite strawberry jam...."
He stopped and his eyes were squeezed shut. Finally he opened them again, and they went on, and now he was deliberately telling humorous stories of the trouble he and Merry would get into as children, here, at the farm in Whitwell where he spent much of his summers, at the Great Smials, and at Bag End. They were both laughing uproariously over a prank pulled on Gimli and Legolas in their quarters in Minas Tirith when they came in sight of the Hall, and then Merry came forward to meet them, telling them if they didn't get a move on they'd miss tea.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.