The Blind, the Deaf, the Crippled

King's Commission, The

20. Budgeford and Bag End

Budgeford and Bag End

            The next morning Miriel and Ruvemir and Ririon brought a number of small packages to the breakfast table.  Those seated there already looked up with surprise.

            "Since we won't be here for Yule, we wanted to leave these for you," Ruvemir explained as they carefully placed each gift before its intended recipient.  Along the way Miriel had embroidered a number of shawls and kerchiefs, which had become a staple item for the fairs to which her father took her wares over the summer and fall, and she had provided these for the Thain's Lady and the daughters of the Smial and for Pippin's bride-to-be, while Ririon and Ruvemir had done carvings and pictures for the fathers and sons.  Ferdibrand examined the lumpy package he received with curiosity and asked if anyone minded him opening his now, and exposed a carving Ririon had done, which after speaking with the blind Hobbit Ruvemir felt was one he'd appreciate. 

            "A flame," Ferdibrand said, obviously pleased.  "A flame caught in stone!  Thank all of you!"

            Soon all the Tooks were looking at their gifts, and the Thain was holding the small sculpture of his son in his hand with obvious pride.  Diamond and Eglantine and Pippin's sisters seemed overwhelmed with their shawls, while Pippin's niece Pansy examined her kerchief with delight.  "It will certainly outshine anything Daisy Grubb has to wear," she commented, and all the rest laughed. 

            Pippin opened his package to show a colored picture of Aragorn seated on his throne with Arwen standing beside him, and his eyes misted.  He looked up at the artist and smiled his thanks through his tears, as words failed him.  For Isumbard and Pervinca's husband there were small wooden animals Ririon had carved, for Pearl's son a wonderfully carved and elaborate spinning top created by Ruvemir, and for Piper a wooden flute which had been carved by Mardil of Lebennin but which Ruvemir had never mastered.  He'd heard the boy singing as he walked through the passages of the Great Smial, and thought it would be better disposed here.

            Ruvemir had been surprised when Miriel had announced she had a gift chosen for Folco Boffin, and he watched with interest the look on her face as she set it before him, and the look Folco returned as he accepted it, then opened it to reveal a soft, golden tunic with a finely embroidered yoke and placket.  His eyes shone with awe and a growing delight as he held it up to examine it, then looked at her.  "You decorated this, Mistress Miriel?"  At her shy nod, he smiled into her eyes.  "It is the most magnificent garment I've ever owned.  I thank you!"  And the delight, Ruvemir noted, seemed to be contagious as he saw Miriel's eyes sparkle.

            There was a bundle for Merry to take back to Brandy Hall with him, but as he explained he was carrying Pippin's gifts to his aunt and various cousins there this would add but little to his load.  "One of the problems with being born so close to Yule, I find--trying to get away for Pippin's birthday is often difficult for them."  But Merry agreed to open his gift, and was delighted to find the book of Rohirric tales Ruvemir had bought in Minas Anor, inside which Ruvemir had slipped a picture he'd done of Frodo wearing his Elven cloak from Lorien, a book in his hands, a slight smile on his face, which was turned as if he'd just heard someone call out to him.  Merry looked at it for several moments, his face soft with memories, then looked up and smiled.  "Thank you, Master Ruvemir," he said, smiling.  "Both book and picture mean a good deal to me."

            "We thought that as we will be staying with you for Yule we'd give you yours at that time," Ruvemir said to Sam, who smiled good-naturedly.

            "Well, as we'd decided the same, we can't complain, can we?" Sam agreed.  "Who's to drive your carriage?"

            "I'll be driving it," Folco answered, rather quickly, the artist noted with amusement.  "Of course, that is if it's acceptable to you.  I live not far beyond Hobbiton in Overhill, after all, so it's not out of my way at all.  We'll be stopping at Fatty's for a few hours along the way, though, which will allow the children time to enjoy their naps before we arrive."

            "Ah, yes, you will be seeing Mr. Fredegar, then.  That is right--I'd forgot.  Give our regards to him and Master Budgie and Missus Viola, won't you?"

            An hour later the carriage was ready and standing at the main door, and again members of the kitchen staff brought the filled food chest and placed it again inside the carriage.  Folco looked up at the high box with interest.  "Designed for Men, then?" he asked.  "A bit high, but I'll manage." 

            "I climb up there all the time," Ririon said.  "Shall I show you how I do it?" 

            "Oh, I think I can make it, young Master Ririon.  But I thank you.  Would you like to join me, Mistress Miriel?"

            Ruvemir watched his sister flush with pleasure.  "I'd be glad to join you," she said.  Ruvemir was amazed--his shy sister who hated being cold was going to gladly join Folco Boffin on the box of the carriage?  Was the world going to exchange places with the sky as well? 

            In a few moments Miriel was wrapped in her warmest cloak and up on the box, and Ruvemir and Ririon were in the carriage, and they were ready to go.  Ririon asked his guardian, "Does Miriel like him, do you think?"

            "Apparently.  Have you noticed them speaking together while we've been at the Great Smial?"

            "When you were ill the other day he came into the room where she was sewing and talked with her while she worked.  And there was the other night in the parlor."

            The ride to Budgeford wasn't particularly long, and they came to a long, low house where the carriage came to a halt.  A couple came to the door, followed by a taller Hobbit with an intelligent face, whose eyes held a hint of pain not quite forgotten.

            "Folco!" the taller Hobbit called.  "And do you bring us guests?"

            What Folco called back couldn't be heard clearly, but swiftly they were being helped down from the carriage and shown into a comfortable smial and introduced to Budgie Smallfoot, his wife Viola, and Fredegar Bolger.  Ruvemir gave them Sam's greetings, and noted to himself there was little to identify Fredegar now as having once been known as Fatty.

            "I've been looking forward to meeting you," Fredegar said, "for tales of your coming have spread throughout the Shire.  Master Ruvemir, Mistress Miriel, welcome to Budgeford.  Have a seat, and in a moment we will have some tea or mulled wine or cider to warm you."

            A surprisingly modest (by Hobbit standards) repast was set before them along with steaming drinks.  Ririon came in with Folco from seeing to the needs of the team, and was shown into the kitchen where he could wash before joining his guardians.  As he entered the parlor, Miriel looked at him critically.  "I see it is time," she said, "to begin making you new clothes already.  Your breeches are already well above your boot tops.  And how do your boots fit?"

            "A bit tight," the boy admitted, reflexively looking down toward his feet.  "Am I really growing that quickly?"

            "Definitely," Ruvemir affirmed.  "It looks as if you are well fitted to follow the King in height at this point."

            "Wonderful," the boy smiled, accepting a plate of vegetables and cold chicken and a mug of mulled cider.  "Our Lord Elessar is gloriously tall."

            "He looks quite pleased with the prospect of reaching the King's height," Fredegar said.  "Is he truly that tall?"

            "Oh, somewhat over twice my height, which is tall for a Man," Ruvemir said.  "Not that I am all that tall compared to most Men."  He flipped through the second of his sketch booklets he'd brought in and displayed a picture he'd done of the King with the Lord Steward Faramir, the Dwarf Gimli and Elf Legolas standing near.

            "So," Fredegar said, taking the booklet and examining it closely, "this is the Lord King Aragorn.  He has a face that speaks of authority and humor as well as competence.  And these must be Gimli, and Legolas.  Wondrous fair indeed!  Is this the Lord Faramir?"  He turned the page, and found a picture of Frodo done in colored pencils, of Frodo telling stories to children, and his eyes softened.  "It appears you have managed to capture his image."

            "Yes, at last I feel I know him.  I am told that you three were among the few who knew how his heart was failing him."

            Budgie Smallfoot nodded as he took the booklet from Fredegar and looked at the picture.  "He was on his way from Buckland to the Great Smial, and was overtaken with weakness.  He managed to make it here, helped by Merry and Pippin.  They thought it was only the heat that ailed him.  However, he had already recognized he was fading, that he was dying.  He did not wish the others to realize this, to focus so on his dying that he would not be allowed to live as he could."  He looked at the picture with a slight, sad smile.  "As he weakened, he still did his best to live."

            "Did he tell you of his decision to go into the West?"

            "Not to me," said the healer.

            Fredegar considered before answering.  "He told me that both the Lady Arwen and Lord Elrond had spoken to him about the possibility of him being offered the right to go to the Undying Lands, but that he was as yet uncertain first that the Powers would permit it, and second that he wished to be separated from his friends and kin.  However, as he weakened he found the nightmares were beginning to be a constant feature of his sleep, and the pain of his wounds was also becoming more and more continuous.  Also, he was increasingly reluctant to allow Sam to see his end.  When Sam thought he'd died in the Pass of Cirith Ungol, Sam was totally overwhelmed with grief, and Frodo feared he would react similarly and do himself an injury if he were to find Frodo dead in his bed or the study, or if he were to find him actively dying.  As weak as Frodo was becoming at the last, he was finding himself uncertain he would survive to see the next dawn, even.  He was also fearful that the end might come when he was within sight of the children of the Row, of whom he'd become quite fond--or before Elanor.  The idea he might die before the eyes of children quite horrified him."

            "Yes," Ruvemir said, "we've been told of his love of children and his dedication to protecting them from harm or distress."

            Fredegar continued the tale.  "The first year he was home he apparently corresponded with Bilbo, and some with the King, but none with Lord Elrond of Rivendell.  However, apparently once the Ring was destroyed Bilbo began to age and weaken rapidly, and there came a time when the return letter was written not by Bilbo but Elrond, explaining he should not expect more letters from Bilbo as he was unable at the time to concentrate enough to make coherent replies, and it would probably take several days for him to compose just a simple sentence.  Frodo apparently did not show this letter to Sam, but did tell me of it. 

            "He was stabbed with the Morgul blade by the Lord of the Nazgul in early October, October the sixth, only two weeks after his fiftieth birthday and the day he left Bag End.  He was poisoned by the great spider Shelob on March 13, five months later.  They had just left Rivendell for home when the first anniversary of the stabbing occurred.  He said he had been feeling unsettled since he woke that morning, and when he found himself facing the Ford of the Bruinen where the race with the Nazgul ended, suddenly the whole memories of that time, which had almost faded completely from memory save for in his nightmares, hit him.  He said he had a waking nightmare which combined the stabbing at Weathertop with the crossing of the Ford when he was aware of all nine focusing their wills on him, willing him to stop and turn back to them so they could take him prisoner and make sure the splinter he still bore completed its work.  He said the dual vision was very, very vivid, and the wound on his shoulder where he was stabbed was burning as if it had just been administered.  He was in intense physical pain, and he found it difficult to focus on what was really going on around him, as a glance toward Sam would show him Sam on the pony the King gave him at the same time he saw the white form of the pale king walking toward him at Weathertop and the black horses with their ghostly riders he saw at the Ford the last time he'd been there.  The sounds of those two days also echoed in his ears along with the real sounds of the day he was really in.  He said he could feel his heart suddenly begin to race, and he felt intensely weak and nauseous."

            Budgie sat up.  "Neither you nor he told me these symptoms.  He may have had a seizure of his heart that day, then, and that may have been the beginning of the failure of it."  He and Fredegar looked at one another for quite some time before Fredegar dropped his gaze. 

            Finally the taller Hobbit continued.  "On March thirteenth, on the anniversary of being poisoned, he became ill again.  He was staying at the Cotton's farm while the restoration of Bag End was being completed, and Farmer Cotton found him huddled in his room, obviously ill that morning, and murmuring about the world being bleak now the Ring was gone from it.  He then did his best to hide how ill he was.  Rosie had been left with some athelas leaves by Sam, though, and added one to his bath water, so that may have helped.  However, he was distracted and off his food for some days after.  He was unusually quiet, I thought, on the day of Sam and Rosie's wedding.  He officiated, as he was acting Mayor at the time, and he was obviously quite happy for them, but later I found him sitting inside with a goblet of wine when I'd have expected him to be outside basking in their happiness. 

            "He'd almost completely recovered after the first bout of the memories within a few days, although they came back again when they actually came within sight of Weathertop, which was on the anniversary of the day he'd crossed the Bruinen.  However, he was mostly back to normal when they got home to the Shire.  The second time, on the anniversary of the spider bite, he said they mostly continued until the anniversary of the day the Ring was unmade.  However, afterwards he felt weaker, somehow, and it took several weeks before he began to feel truly himself. 

            "He was here when the next bout hit him on the next October sixth, and he was obviously quite ill.  It was then that Budgie began to suspect his heart was failing."

            The healer nodded.  "I didn't say anything then, but he was obviously not doing well.  I treated him as I could, and he responded well enough; but I decided I'd try to keep an eye on him."

            "What treatment did you use?" asked Ruvemir.

            "Draughts of hawthorn, nettle, and a small amount of foxglove to rid the body of excess fluids and ease the swelling about the heart, along with several glasses of water and cups of green tea each day."  He thought for a moment.  "I wish now I'd spoken with Sam--the combination of my treatment and his together might have eased his heart far more readily, perhaps aiding him to have the strength to fight the effects of the memories."

            "What treatment was Sam trying?"

            "Athelas steeped in teas, steeped for vapors, and in his baths, as had been used on all of them by the King as he drew them back from death."

            "Where did he find the herb?"

            Fredegar answered, "It now grows on the Hill and outside the window of what was Frodo's room in Bag End, and in several other gardens about the Shire, including here and at the Three Farthings Stone.  Sam brought plants back from their journey; he'd found it growing along the way from the Ford of Bruinen.  Later the Lord Elrond sent seeds for it to Sam after Sam wrote asking for them.

            "Sam and Gandalf both were concerned for Frodo's health when the first attack happened.  However, Gandalf was bound by the strictures laid on him not to give more than mortal aid to ease him.  Sam tried to help him as he could.  The next day after the attack Sam apparently found some kingsfoil plants somewhere, and began adding it to Frodo's tea.  I know that Aragorn had told them it could be found near where the Northern Dúnedain had lived, so I must assume they'd camped near the site of a former settlement.  This seemed to help.  Except Frodo didn't know what plant it was--Sam had only told him it was an herb the King had told him of.

            "Sam relied heavily on the athelas leaves for easing Frodo, apparently adding one to his bath water any time Frodo was stressed, steeping a leaf in boiling water for vapors when he was having nightmares or was in pain, and making a tea of it with willow bark, chamomile, and honey, which he'd administer any time Frodo appeared ill or weakened.  He even sent the leaves with Frodo when he traveled through the Shire, such as when he visited here, with directions they were to be added to baths or a tea made with them if he seemed off-color.  He also filled water bottles with the tea he made, and I know Frodo would drink that, at least while traveling, if he felt uncomfortable."

            "Master Budgie, did you administer the leaves as suggested by Lord Samwise?"

            The healer shook his head.  "I thought the tales of kingsfoil's healing properties were old wives tales, and knew of no serious healer who used them for more than a mild restorative for someone recovering from a long illness or to ease headaches or the sadness.  They are sometimes made into teas or steeped in boiling water for vapors for these purposes.  That they were actually easing Frodo I wasn't seeing.  Yet now several people have told me that Frodo would be obviously quite weak and pale, would drink the tea or breathe the vapors--or both--and would obviously be eased.  The signs of pain would lessen, his color would begin to return, he would become better able to focus on what was going on around him.  And certainly the use of the willow bark in the tea would ease him if there were blockages in the vessels of the heart, although if overused it can also cause bleeding."

            "The gem the Lady Arwen gave him appeared to help ease him as well," Fredegar added.  "He would finger it, and gradually the pain would be relieved.  He wore it constantly.  Perhaps the fact he was wearing it increased the effects of the athelas for him."

            Viola sniffed.  "You are missing one important thought," she said, "that the leaves may have been more likely to work simply because Sam was the one adding them to the tea or the vapor or the bath."  When all looked at her, she tried to explain.  "Sam has a marked affinity for plants and growing things.  It's almost as if he and they can talk.  When he stopped here last spring he went out to my herb garden to look at a basil plant that was refusing to grow where I'd planted it, and he knelt over it for some time, digging his fingers into the soil as if he were touching the roots.  He finally straightened and told me the plant didn't like where it was growing, as it was too close to another plant it didn't like much.  He dug his fingers into several places in the garden and went back to the basil plant several times before he finally indicated where it would do well.  I carefully transplanted it as he'd suggested, and within two days it was putting out new leaves."

            Fredegar considered this.  "I know from Frodo's book that when administered by the King the athelas leaves gave out great virtue in their vapors, and the scent of them was different for each person he healed.  Perhaps Sam has sufficient of the same nature as Aragorn that they work for him more strongly than for others."

            Budgie shrugged.  "I no longer doubt athelas is a powerful healing herb at times--I've begun to hear and read of too many cases when it apparently aided people who were unresponsive to other treatments.  And having been treated with it by the King, it is likely Frodo was then sensitized to its virtues."  He became thoughtful.  "There are some ancient folk tales told in the Shire of marvelous cures having been wrought through the use of kingsfoil, but I'd never heard anyone confirming the stories.  Of course, in most of the folk tales the person using the kingsfoil is the King of Arnor, to whom many strange powers were ascribed.  And from what Sam has told me since Frodo left, I am beginning to believe those tales now.  It appears the Lord Strider has inherited his ancestors' gifts."

            Ruvemir thought for several moments.  "I wonder if he used it in my case," he said softly.  Then he began to recite:

            "When the black breath blows

            and death's shadow grows

            and all lights pass,

                 come athelas! come athelas!

            Life to the dying

            In the King's hand lying.

            "So has the ancient rhyme of lore of the King been quoted time out of mind."  He sifted through his fragmented memories of his own time under the King's care.  "I vaguely remember waking to the scent of my favorite place on our family farm--a  hollow under the larch trees, halfway to the River, which bordered the estate on one side."  He smiled.  "Yes, I suspect he did use it on me, too, then."

            "The King was called to care for you?" asked Budgie.

            "Yes--chills and fevers, the lung fever, and a disjointed hip."

            "Quite a combination of ills!"

            The sculptor smiled and shrugged.

            Fredegar finally continued on.  "Each attack he would grow weaker, and could do less after.  As a tween with Bilbo he walked probably every inch of the Shire, and when he went to visit he preferred to go on foot.  Gave him a better chance of meeting or at least seeing Elves and Dwarves.  Certainly they walked most of the way to Mordor, and it was only as they were approaching that land and later going through it that he began to flag.  After the last attack he could barely make the walk into the village, and at times the trip back to his own door from the place at the turn of the lane where he met with the children of the Row was almost more than he could manage.  As he weakened, Sam increased the use of his teas, and he was apparently more soothed than previously, although it did little to strengthen him.  From what Sam told me after, it appears at this time he was beginning a serious correspondence with Rivendell, and it appears that the discussion of the going into the West was again broached, although he spoke of it to none."

            "When did you learn he was to leave?"

            "Not until after he'd gone.  We were to go to Bag End to be with him, we thought, for the end.  As weak as he'd become, we four--we and Frodo, that is--recognized he'd probably not survive it.  But the Summons came, and he finished his preparations as quickly as he could, and was gone before the anniversary.  It was Sam's hope that the presence of the Lord Elrond and Gandalf and the other great Elves with him would protect him on the voyage.  He left Bag End the day before his birthday, his and Bilbo's, and Sam tells us he was very glad to be reunited with the old fellow when they met in the Woody End.  But it was quite a shock for us to arrive at Bag End and find it empty.  We had no idea where they'd gone."

            "No one was there?"

            "None responded to our knock.  When we tried the door, it was not locked, so we entered.  We--I was beginning to be frantic, and Budgie was becoming as worried about me as about Frodo.  We began searching the smial--no one was there, no hint as to what had happened.  Then Budgie thought of looking for Frodo's saddlebags, and they weren't there, nor were Sam's; and I thought to check to see if the Lady's phial and the small book Sam, when he was a child, had written for him were gone, for he would not have left those behind.  We'd begun to hope that word had come to him that he'd been allowed to leave--or perhaps that Sam had talked him into going to Rivendell for help.  They were indeed missing from the chest by his bed, and I began to hope.  Then Rosie came in carrying Elanor.  She'd been down at Number Three visiting with Marigold and the Gaffer, and saw us going by, up the Hill, and had followed behind as quickly as possible, to let us know what had happened."

            Budgie continued, "When Mistress Rose came in, she called out to us, and we came out of Frodo's room, and I, at least, felt very guilty for going through Bag End without permission.  She told us that less than a week before Frodo's birthday Lord Erestor of Rivendell had appeared near the Hill, bringing to Samwise a bundle sent by Lord Elrond, and that it contained letters and books and herbs, including herbs to be added to the special tea Sam had been brewing for Frodo.  Rosie said that almost immediately after he drank the new draught Frodo felt stronger, strong enough to go to Michel Delving, and to come home two days later and begin preparing to leave."

            "Rosie," continued Fredegar, "had been entrusted with a letter to us that Frodo had not had time to send.  She'd simply not thought to send it to us through the quick post, though--had merely held on to it till we arrived--they knew we were coming, after all, though not why.  It was very brief, for he was very rushed.  He said merely that he had received word to meet with them along the way to the Havens if he wished to go with them, and that he'd already made up his mind at last to do so."

            Ruvemir asked Fredegar, "I am told your heart, too, was weakened by your ordeal during the Time of Troubles."

            "Yes.  But my condition was different from his."

            Budgie added, "Frodo's heart was failing, while that of Fredegar here is merely weakened.  A serious shock could possibly cause another seizure of his heart, but it is not actively failing."

            "Not yet, at any rate," Fredegar commented.

            "And with your upcoming marriage to Melilot, that should not come for quite a long time.  A happy marriage has strengthened many a weak heart."

            "About time, too," Folco said, setting down his tankard.  "She's a dear lass."

            "I know," Fredegar responded, smiling.

            Then Fredegar asked well informed questions about Gondor and the King, and Folco asked them about what their home was like in Lebennin, and Ruvemir and Ririon found themselves describing to Budgie their treatment in the Houses of Healing and what it was like to be under the care of the King, and Viola was exclaiming over the work Miriel was doing on the surcoat she was embroidering.  Suddenly the cry of a waking child rang out, and Viola hurried out of the room to bring out her son Drogo, a still sleepy toddler of two years of age.  During the last half hour they spent with their hosts, Ruvemir sketched quickly, doing a quick study of the four inhabitants of the house and Folco Boffin as they talked.

******* 

            The sight of Bag End was welcome, for during the last hour of their drive the air had cooled markedly and clouds loomed overhead.  Sam and an older Hobbit identified as Sam's brother Hal helped them out of the carriage and into the smial and brought in the chests, and then Hal and Ririon took the carriage on to the stables at the Ivy Bush.  Even Folco Boffin was feeling stiff with the cold, it seemed, and he was the first sent into the bathing room to warm up, as Miriel had, at Budgie's insistence, ridden inside with her brother and ward for the last lap.  He came out dressed in clean trousers and the tunic Miriel had gifted him and a smile that was shy and hopeful, and all exclaimed over the workmanship and how distinguished he looked, which he did.  Miriel had come to appreciate the subtleties of the taste of the various teas they'd been served, and she was praising the taste of the tea Sam had himself blended and now had offered them; and even Ruvemir had to admit it was well worth drinking.  Sam, meanwhile, was flushed with pleasure, and suggested she prepare to follow Folco's example. 

            Folco was very quick to volunteer to go with her to show her how to fill the tub, and as Sam started to object that as host it would be his duty he received a sharp jab to his ribs from his wife, who was watching the glances Miriel and the bachelor Hobbit were exchanging with satisfaction.  Sam gave his wife a questioning look, but quieted and looked after the two guests bemused.  As they passed out of hearing he said in a low voice, "Now, there's a match for the books!"

            "Folco's not been sweet on anyone since he was a tween and thought Miss Estella Bolger was the most beautiful lass in the Shire," Rosie laughed.  "But now he is most definitely smitten, and I think it's well past time; and there is no question she returns the regard.  Let's invite him to spend Yule with us, Sam.  You know Master Frodo would be well pleased to see his cousin happy.  I'll take her some extra towels."

            As she followed down the passage Sam looked after her with a resigned smile.  "Married lasses always seem to be trying to help matches along," he commented.  "If'n they're not happy in their own marriages it seems they want others to share the misery, but if'n they are, then they're insistent all others will be as happy or more."  And he turned to share a wide grin with Ruvemir.

            Ruvemir sipped his tea, then cast a glance down the passage.  "I can't get over how Miriel has opened up on this trip.  She was always painfully shy as a result of the teasing we received as children, the only mannikins in our area.  I've met more in my travels to do commissions, but she's never had the chance to do so, for she wouldn't leave our home farm if she could help it.  But there is no question she is returning Folco's attentions."  He laughed.  "And I'll swear that she had originally intended that tunic as my own midwinter gift, although I certainly don't regret it.  To see her enjoying herself and finding regard and perhaps even love...I am well pleased."

            "Wonder how a love match between a Man and a Hobbit will work out?" Sam mused.  "Seems to work out fine between Men and Elves, after all.  No problem with children or nothing like that."  He sipped at his own tea, then continued.  "Looks like we'll be in a position to find out, doesn't it?"

            And Man and Hobbit smiled at one another.

*******

            Elanor appeared fascinated by Ruvemir, and quickly overcame her shyness to clamber into his lap and investigate his straight hair and short beard.  "Funny," she said, a bit solemnly for the word.

            Ruvemir smiled.  "It's just a difference between mannikins and Hobbits," he said.  "We menfolk among mannikins can grow hair on our faces while you grow it on your feet."  She looked down at her own feet, and then at his, then appeared fascinated by his shoes.  Her eyes quite large, she looked back into his face.  "No, those are not what my feet look like," he explained.  "They look much like yours, but without the curly hair on them.  Would you like to see?  It's just that we must protect our feet, for their soles are not as thick as yours are."  And at her nod, he reached down and eased his shoes off, then his stockings.

            "Always wondered about the cloth between, myself," Sam commented as he lit his pipe.

            "Called stockings.  They keep the leather from rubbing too much against the feet and legs and developing blisters," Ruvemir explained as he rolled his together to keep from losing them as easily.  "Now, my lady, you can get down and examine them as you please."

            Elanor smiled and slipped to the floor, and sitting cross-legged she began to rub his feet gently with her finger.  Finally she commented in a soft voice, "Do too have hair on your feet, just short." 

            Ruvemir looked down at his feet with interest, and commented, "Well, I must say that you are correct.  But the hair on your feet is much prettier."

            She looked up and smiled at him, then contemplated her own feet again for a few minutes.  Just then the front door opened, and Hal and Ririon entered.  "You can hang your hat over here on the hooks over the hall settle," Hal said as they shook out their cloaks.  He called out to his brother, "It's starting to snow.  Not too slick as yet, but soon will be if it keeps up.  I'd probably do well to head back down the lane to the Gaffer soon, but first I want warming up.  Some tea, little brother!" 

            Ririon found an empty hook and hung up his hat, and Ruvemir called out to let him know which direction the parlor was.

            "I can see the firelight," Ririon commented.  Sliding his walking stick on the floor, the boy made his way. 

            "Settle to your right on the wall near the fire," Sam directed, and seeing his guest find a place he rose with a last sip at his own tea, and headed off to the kitchen for a fresh pot.

            "Welcome to Hobbiton, Master Artist," Hal said.  "Hadn't had the chance to say it afore I took the coach off to the stables."  Fluffing his hair away from his head, he smiled.

            "Do you live in the village?" asked Ruvemir.

            "No, in the Northfarthing.  But the missus and me are visiting our dad, as it looks like this may be one of his last Yules."  His expression sobered.  "Gettin' on, he is.  Just glad he's settled back in his own place again afore the end."

            "Did someone force him to move away?"

            The Hobbit gave a curt nod, remembered anger in his eyes.  "Yes, during the Troubles.  That fool Lotho decided the old holes along the Row was too old, so he had the Big Men to make the folks in them to move, and he dug 'em out.  Moved 'em closer toward Hobbiton in shacks them fools built.  Drafty and ugly and ready to fall back down, but they said they was modern and better than smials, only they wasn't."  He shook his head.  "Sam helped rebuild the Row, and there ain't no question these holes is better.  But it ain't quite the same as the hole as we grew up in, don't you know.  Sam would bring the Gaffer here, if he'd come, but he loves his own place."  Hal looked around the smial and shook his head.  "Who'd of ever thought as a Gamgee would become Master of Bag End?  Not that it's quite as it was neither--the Big Men gutted the place, too.  Sam did his best to restore it, though.  Did a fair job of it.  Was able to give his Master back the feeling of home, at least--for a short bit.  But he were fadin' and like to die.  Decided to leave with the Elves, I guess.  Too bad, for he were a right gentle soul, and he always felt as Sam was as his little brother.  Sam will miss him till he dies hisself, I think."

            "So, you think the Lord Frodo is dead now?"

            "Don't know for sure about how it could be where he went, but it's hard to think he'd make it this long.  He was thin as a wight, he was, and right pale last time as I seen him.  Movin' slower'n the Gaffer now.  Still aware, though, still watchful.  Loved the children as he'd always done--would walk down to the turn in the Lane, sit on the bench and tell 'em his stories.  Little Cyclamen Proudfoot would sit on his lap and hold his hand and rub as where his finger was gone as he told them tales.  And he'd smile at 'em all.  Always was a great one for stories, Master Frodo.  Like his uncle there."  He smiled at his niece, sitting on the floor, playing with Ruvemir's shoes.  "And he did love his little Elanorellë, he did.  Would sit and talk Elvish at her for hours, he would.  If he's still alive, bet he misses her something awful."

            "I bet he does," Sam said from the passage as he carried in a tray of tea and small cakes.  "Suspect, though, he's tellin' his tales to Elflings now.  Wonder if he does drawings for them?"  And he gave Ruvemir a significant glance.

            The artist and the gardener looked at each other for several moments.  Finally Ruvemir admitted, "Yes, I've seen the pictures the Lord Frodo gave to Lasgon."

            Sam gave a slow nod.  "You didn't tell Strider, did you?"

            "No, I haven't; although I'm not sure why it's to stay a secret now.  It's not as though he were able to make the Lord Frodo sit down and design his own memorial at this point."  He watched as Sam set his tray on the chest and poured his brother a cup of tea.  "Nor am I sworn to keep the secret of his skill as you are."

            Sam looked over his shoulder.  "No, I guess not."  His face had again gone solemn.  Hal shared a look of concern for his brother with Ruvemir.

            Ririon asked, "Why did he not want the King to know?"

            "He didn't feel he was worthy of such a memorial," Sam said, "and really we all thought it was rather a fool idea."

            "But not any more?"

            "He needs to be membered.  What we all did was important.  But he got It to the mountain, and nobody else could of done that."

            "Was it bad?"

            "Which--It or the quest?"

            "Getting to the mountain."

            Sam was quiet as he put the teapot back on the tray, held it with both hands, kept his eyes focused on it.  Finally he said in a soft tone, "Yes, it was bad.  Real bad.  Almost killed us both."  He looked at the boy sadly.  "I don't know what Mordor is like now--probably just dead and dry.  Then it was worse.  The Enemy filled it with his creatures and his own malice.  The air itself was a poison, full of ash and grit and vapors from the mountain.  Bad enough for me--I wasn't carrying that--that thing.  I wasn't hearing It all day and all night, lying, cajoling, twisting, accusing.  Except for the brief time I carried It, It didn't bother with me.  I didn't feel the weight of It, see It as a wheel of fire, feel It calling always to him, to Its Master, to see It and the one who carried It.  He did.  Drove him mad."

            "Why did he go away, Master Samwise?"

            Sam looked away at the fireplace.  When he spoke, his voice was very low.  "At least partly 'cause he didn't want me to see him dead again.  I'd already seen him so--thought him so, at least, after the spider bit him.  I went a bit mad myself with grief, then.  Was crying, calling out to him, shaking him.  Then I stood up and started shouting and shaking Sting about, threatening the world.  Was a right fool, I was."  He paused, then confessed, "I thought of killing myself, even."

            Ririon said, "It must have been good to realize he was really alive after all."

            Sam nodded slowly, then said, "Yes, it was.  But mostly to be shut of the Ring, when he took It back.  Although I'd fought It as I carried It, I don't know as how long I'd of been able to continue, especially after we actually got into Mordor itself.  It was bad afore--once we was there--"  His face twisted with pain.  "And he just kept on, puttin' one foot afore the other, just kept going.  Crawled when he couldn't stand no more."  He looked down at his hands.  "He didn't want me to see him die, really die, after knowin' what it did to me there in the Spider's Pass."

            "How did he know?"

            "I told him.  He asked, and I told him."  Again they were quiet.  Elanor, who had sat quietly through the whole discussion, listening intently, quietly rose and approached her father, climbed into his lap, and he held her tenderly to him as she put her arms around his chest.  At last he said, "Also, only in the West, in the Undying Lands, could there be a hope of healing for him.  He wasn't scared of dying no more, but he didn't feel really alive no more, neither--or just in bits and spurts he did.  We all wanted for him to be able just to be happy again.  But, it's hard to be happy when you feel your whole insides is scooped out and withered."  He shook his head.  "The Ring had been putting out his Light, and left him scarred--scarred more inside, in his heart, than in his body.  Only the Valar could help clean away those scars."

            "Like the King did with my eyes.  The scars were too thick, and I could see hardly anything.  He cleaned them away, and when the light's right I can see pretty well."

            Sam seemed intrigued by this description, and a small smile started to return.  "Yes," he finally said, "I guess it would be a lot like that, only I hope even better.  I think the Valar are better at healing even than the King."

            At that moment they heard Rosie coming up the passage, speaking to Frodo-Lad as she came.  "Now, we'll get your da and your sister and our guests and we'll eat our supper, shall we?"  And as he heard his wife's voice, Sam's smile broadened and the memory of pain diminished.  Ruvemir saw the transformation, and suddenly felt very glad that Sam had this blessing.

 *******

            Folco seemed overwhelmed by the invitation to stay in Bag End for Yule, but accepted gladly.  Hal gave his brother's wife a kiss, and another to Elanor and the baby, then patted Sam on the shoulder, nodded his head to his brother's guests, and took his leave.

            They were quite a ways through the supper when Ruvemir decided to ask the question that had been forming in his mind about Folco.  "Why weren't you involved in the quest, Master Boffin?"

            The bachelor sat thinking for a few moments, then looked up apologetically.  "I guess mostly because of my mother," he said.  "She'd been doing poorly for about two years at that point, and needed some care.  I think Merry thought a time or two of approaching me, but when he asked how things were at home when we met at the Green Dragon and I told him how ill Mother was and all, he decided I couldn't truly be spared.  Oh, I helped with the removal to Buckland, but didn't stay.  Our neighbor agreed to watch Mother while I was gone for five days, but she couldn't do more than that.  As it was, the hole was in a terrible state when I got back, and I don't think she'd brought Mother regular meals--maybe only three a day."  He sighed.  "I felt horribly left out when I learned they'd all left the Shire.  And then the Troubles started; and because I was a cousin, Lotho seemed to have it in for my mother and me.  I was very glad my dad wasn't alive to see us thrown out of our own hole and it dug up.  They couldn't really dig it back again after, as most of the hill was torn down by the digging out.  Sam organized my neighbors to help build a house where it used to sit, a good, proper Hobbit house and not one of those horrid things the Big Men used to build, and Frodo helped refurnish it.  At least Mother was able to be in her own home again for a year before she died."  He stopped to eat a few bites, then added, "I sometimes think he dug out Bagshot Row because Sam's family and the Proudfoots were there, and he knew how much they'd mean to Frodo."

            "Who are the Proudfoots?"

            "More cousins.  One of our Baggins aunts married a Proudfoot, so Sancho is a cousin of ours, too.  Frodo became quite close to little Cyclamen, his daughter, before he left.  Sancho and his family had moved into the old Baggins hole at Number Five."

            Sam nodded.  "Yes, where Mr. Bungo was born and raised.  He dug this smial higher on the hill when he was getting ready to marry Miss Belladonna Took.  Usually a Baggins lived in Number Five.  Mr. Drogo and Missus Primula, Mr. Frodo's folks, lived there for a while, too, till after Frodo was born.  Then they couldn't stand being so near the Sackville-Bagginses no more, and I certainly couldn't blame them.  Any sane Hobbit would want to stay as far away from that lot as possible."

            Folco smiled at Sam.  "Oh, but Sam," he said in a tone of mock-mourning, "you cannot mean that you have ill memories of the Sackville-Bagginses."

            "Can't I?" Sam replied.  "I certainly can!  I'll never forget the first meeting between Missus Lobelia and Mr. Frodo.  Oh, but the sparks fair flew that day!  Not to mention the fact perhaps Mr. Frodo might of been able to know the happiness of marriage if it weren't for her interference."

            "Except had he married, most like he'd have left wife and children bereft once the Ring came to him."

            Sam thought about that for a moment.  Then he nodded reluctantly.  "The Ring didn't accept no rivals," he replied soberly.  "Would of been most unhappy to rest in the hands of someone with a love.  Would have ruined the marriage, I suspect."

            "Perhaps you're right," Folco commented.

            Sam sat thinking for a few moments, then suddenly looked into Ruvemir's eyes.  "If'n you'd like to know about Mr. Frodo's youngest years, the Widow Rumble as lives in Number Four could tell you.  She were their neighbor, after all, and her old mistress from when she had thought to become a midwife delivered him as a babe."

            Ruvemir was indeed interested.  Then talk turned to the house and property Folco owned.  "I own a farm just beyond Overhill.  My cousin Rimbo lives on it and does the greatest part of working it, although I generally work alongside him most of the planting and harvesting seasons, and take over completely one month of growing season so he and his wife can go to see her family in the Marish.  Or, so it used to be.  Now her younger brother has moved nearby and assists as much as I."

            "How about the house?" asked Miriel.

            He shrugged modestly.  "It's a fine enough place--not so fine, perhaps, as the old smial was, but fine enough for now.  Five bedrooms, dressing room, airing cupboard, two parlors, dining room, fine kitchen, two larders and three pantries, storage rooms, cool room and large root cellar, study--not so fine a study as the one here, of course.  But we were able to save the books when Lotho threw us out of the old hole.  He doesn't appear to have realized just how valuable the books we all had were, or they'd have all been 'gathered for sharing,' too by the Big Men along with the foodstuffs and much of the other valuables of the Shirefolk.  By the time Sharkey came, most of the books of the Shire had been hidden away.  Sharkey was most unhappy not to find any.  Seems he was certain many books of importance to him had to be hidden here in the Shire.  By the time he got here none of his folk could get into Buckland, so Frodo and Bilbo's books and things were safe in Crickhollow; and they had no access to the libraries in Brandy Hall or the Great Smial.  Mum and I were living in a worker's hut on our farm, and we'd stored most of our valuables and all the books in the old storage pit under the main barn.  The Bolgers had a stow hole near Budgeford where they put most of their most valuable possessions and their books, and no one ever betrayed it to the Big Men.  Lot of folks in Budgeford shared in the secret and hid their most valuable things there, too.  But it wouldn't have done to try to hide food there, as the Men would have noted had folks come and gone too often from a single spot, by the time they had established themselves.  Most of the other villages had similar stow holes.  Men had no idea what to look for, and no one had ever shared the knowledge of such places with the likes of Lotho Pimple.  Here in Hobbiton and Bywater, however, there was little time to use such places.  A few managed to do so, but only a few."

            "What did Sharkey want books for?" Ririon asked.

            "We didn't know then, but Frodo told us he'd once been a wizard, like old Gandalf.  Many of the best books we had then had been copied from the library of Lord Elrond Halfelven or even the ancient library of the King of Eriador, for old Gerontius and Bilbo and even a few leading Hobbits from days before them had developed relationships with Elrond and received gifts of knowledge from him.  It is likely he sought the secrets of the great Elves or the Northern Kingdoms they might contain."

            "How do you know what kinds of books there were?"

            Folco considered for a time before answering.  "My dad was close friends with old Bilbo, and used to visit him often.  He'd bring me with him when he came here to see him, and it was Bilbo who taught me to read and write, like he did so many of our cousins.  That was before he brought Frodo to Bag End as his ward.  He was corresponding with Lord Elrond of Rivendell, who would send him books, and he'd copy them and send them back.  He had asked for information on the founding of the Shire, so Elrond had sent him copies of his own journals, how his people found our ancestors traveling through the passes from the east into Eriador, brought many of them to Rivendell, how he counseled them and brought them to the King of Arthedain, who granted them this land.  But that was not all he wrote about in those journals.  As time passed Bilbo was translating the journals and ended up having me copy much of what he translated, as I had a clear hand and wrote swiftly and with few errors.  I'm certain some of what Elrond had written about the Enemy and his ways, particularly what he wrote about the making of the Great Rings, would have been of interest to a wizard.  I didn't understand most of what I copied, but got enough from it to understand some of this was possibly dangerous information.  And I was reading a fair amount of Bilbo's books, too, while we were here.

            "I did a lot of copying for Bilbo for about a year, and then Dad died."

            "What did he die of, Master Folco?" asked the artist.

            "He'd just finished plowing the grain field on our farm when he suddenly stopped, clutched his chest, and fell.  He lingered for about five days before he finally died.  I'll admit that we Boffins have a history of developing problems with our hearts, and he appears to have been that kind of Boffin."

            "Budgie did his prenticing with one of the healers as used to work with the Boffinses," Sam observed.

            "Yes, my cousin Otto Boffin was one of the folk he worked with as an apprentice.  We have such difficulties with our hearts many healers work with the Boffins in order to learn more about how to recognize and, hopefully, heal or control the disorders.

            "Mother didn't have anything really against Cousin Bilbo, but neither was she particularly close to him.  After my father died, she'd take me frequently to the Great Smials, where she tried to curry favor for me from Thain Ferumbras, and he didn't like Bilbo at all.  And if he said, 'Have nothing to do with Bilbo Baggins,' then my mother would follow suit--at first, at least.  Not until after Frodo came to Bag End was I allowed to begin visiting again, mostly with Fatty, for our Bolger cousins didn't give two pins for the Thain's opinions on much of anything, and in the end Mother found she preferred their good opinion to the Thain's.  He and his mother Lalia were both seen by many as grasping souls, and many disliked them, including, at last, my mother.  But Mother didn't want me copying things for Cousin Bilbo any more, for fear it would waken the Took in me I have from my father's side."

            "I'm afraid I don't understand that last statement."

            Sam laughed.  "The Tooks are the most unpredictable Hobbits in the Shire, and If'n any Hobbit were to go off on anything so disreputable as an adventure, you can count on him havin' a fair amount of Took blood in his veins.  No one would've questioned Pippin goin' off on an adventure sometime--but until Bilbo come along no one expected to see such in a Baggins.  But then he and Frodo both have a good bit of Took in 'em, being grandson and great grandson to the Old Took hisself."

            "Oh," said the artist, "I see.  Yes, I do think Gimli and Pippin tried to tell me something of all this."

            "I don't doubt we have taught that Dwarf more'n he ever wanted to know of Hobbit ways," Sam grinned.  "Merry would go on for hours as we walked.  Bet Gimli can tell you precisely how many times removed those three are as cousins, too."

            "How about you, Master Samwise?  Do you have any Took blood in you?"

            "Not that I know of.  Nor any Brandybuck nor Baggins.  And certainly no Stoor background.  No, think I'm just solid workin' stock."  He shrugged.

            "Then what led you on your own adventure?"

            The gardener looked him over for several moments, his face now solemn.  Finally he said, "Just love for my Master, nothin' more.  Couldn't let him go alone, not to the outside, and certainly not to the darkness Gandalf spoke of."

            The rest of the meal they spoke of other things, Ruvemir purposely not questioning anyone at this point.  Not until they were all done eating and Miriel began helping Mistress Rose to clear away did he say anything more.  "Are you sorry you left the Shire, Master Samwise?"

            Sam thought about it, and finally answered, "No, I'm not.  If'n I hadn't, I'd not have met Strider nor Legolas nor Gimli nor Boromir, nor have learned as much of Gandalf as I did.  Nor would I have been like to see Elves, and I so dearly wanted to see Elves."  Then, in a quieter tone, "And, if'n we hadn't gone, it'd be worse than the Time of Troubles for the whole world, and not just for the Shire.  I've seen Elves, but I've also seen orcs and trolls, and we certainly don't need that what breeds such ruling Middle Earth."  He rose and gathered more of the dishes from the table, and Ruvemir decided to follow suit.  Folco, who'd been feeding root biscuits to small Frodo-Lad, watched them.  Elanor slipped out of her chair, carrying a cup with her,  and Ririon picked up a tureen from the table and found his way to the door and turned after to the kitchen.

            Seeing the number of menfolk now filling the kitchen, Rosie laughed.  "Are you going to wash the dishes then?"

            "Be glad to, Love," Sam said, kissing her as he set the dirty dishes on the kitchen table.  "You can go get a rest, you can, and put your feet up for a while, and sing our son to his sleep."  He gave Ruvemir an inquiring look, and asked, "How about you, Master Ririon?  Up to cleaning a kitchen?"

            "I certainly know how," the boy responded.  "Did it for enough years."

            Sam straightened, and commented, "Ah, yes, you worked in an inn.  Well, Rosie Lass, off you go, then.  We'll do what's needed here.  You, too, Mistress Miriel."

            In moments Ruvemir had an apron protecting his surcoat and was carrying the last of the dishes from the dining room to the kitchen.  Ririon took over washing dishes while Sam dried and put away, and the sculptor found himself cleaning surfaces and refilling the firebox for the stove.  "Cold nights like this, we need to keep a small fire going," Sam explained.  Finally all was clean.  Elanor had sat on the small settle in the corner, singing softly as she played with a doll, and suddenly Ruvemir realized she was singing a lullaby in Sindarin that his own mother had sung to him as a child.

            "Where did she learn that song?" he asked Sam.

            "Mr. Frodo used to sing it to her, and she seems to of membered it.  We used to hear it in Minas Tirith.  The folk as lived in the next house to ours, who worked in the Citadel and the Houses of Healing, had little ones, and the mum would sing that to them.  Felt right funny, being that close to the next house and hearing what come out of it.  I mean, our homes here is close together, too, the ones on the Row, at least.  But we don't hear things from inside them like one does in the city, not less'n you're right under the windows like."  He smiled at his daughter.  "She's amazing, our Elanorellë.  She members most of what she hears, and although I don't think she members her Uncle Frodo's face, she members what he used to say to her and sing to her.  He'd sit on that settle with her in his arms, singin' that to her, tellin' her all kinds of things in Elvish."  Then he said to her, in unaccented Sindarin, "Tell our guest what your uncle used to say to you, Elanor."

            She stopped her singing, looked up shyly through her lashes, and said, also in Sindarin, "He told me I was the most beautiful child in the Shire.  He said I was his beloved Elanorellë forever."

            "And you are, dearling," Sam responded, still in Sindarin. 

            Ruvemir was strangely moved, and remembered the maid from Minas Tirith who'd served the Pheriannath when they dwelt together in the capital, and her surprise at Sam's knowledge of Sindarin.  "I thought you told Mistress Loren you were not much good at speaking Sindarin."

            Sam smiled.  "Begun to study it some more, 'cause I help teach it to the children in the school.  Old Mr. Bilbo had a book on pronunciation and grammar and all, and he had Mr. Frodo studying out of it, although Frodo didn't speak all that much when we left--we'd not had that much chance to practice it, after all.  But he understood a fair amount of what he heard said about us, and while we was in Rivendell, Lothlorien, and Minas Tirith he had folk speak a lot of Sindarin to him so as he could practice more.  Now I'm using that book.  Glad as he didn't send it to the Shire library, although I'm having a copy of it made so as they can have one in the library, too."  He looked about him, then spoke to Ririon.  "You've done a fine job, youngling.  Want a bathe afore you go off to bed?"

            "All right," Ririon said, surprising his guardian. 

            And a moment later Sam was leading the way to the bathing room and filling the tub.  "Want some lavender oil or rose oil in the water?" he asked.  "Soothing after a journey."

            "All right," the boy said, again surprising Ruvemir.  "But I need to get my night robe." 

            Seeing to it that the tub wouldn't overflow before they got back, Sam led the way to the guest room where he'd placed Ririon's things.  "The clothes chest is in Master Ruvemir's room though," he said, as Ririon looked things over.  He then led the way further down the passage to a room on the side open to the outside, and together they entered and opened the clothes chest, and Ririon quickly found his night robe and clean garb for the following day and a pair of soft slippers.  "Can you find your own way back to the bathing room?" he asked.

            "Yes," Ririon said.  "I can certainly hear the sound of the water, at least, and smell the oil."

            "Good," Sam said.  "Well, off with you."  After the boy had left, Sam turned to Ruvemir.  "This was Frodo's room.  This was the room old Mr. Bilbo give him when he came to Bag End, and where he stayed after.  From what I could tell, Lotho's Big Men seem to of avoided using it.  There was a lot of damage, but no one stayed in it, or if so not more'n a night or two.  Mr. Lotho put his bed and all in the master bedroom as was old Mr. Bilbo's as long as I can member.  But Frodo wouldn't change rooms, not ever."  He pointed to the fireplace.  "The mantel and facing was all torn up, so I had to have it all done over again.  Put a hob in it so as I could hang a kettle for steam over it."

            Ruvemir stood breathing the air of the room.  "Smells of the Sea, somehow.  Are we that far west?"

            Sam shook his head.  "No, that's the scent of athelas as it come out for him, almost all the time.  Seems to be different for different folk, whatever makes them most soothed, I've found.  When Strider'd put it near me, it always smelled of garden soil and the wind off the Water.  And Éomer King said as when Strider set it steeping for the Lady Éowyn it smelled of wind off the snowfields of a tall mountain.  But for Mr. Frodo it always smelled of the Sea.  When I did a basin for Elanor when she had a cold last month it smelled of puppies, so I fear she'll be one to have dogs one day.  Who'd of thought she'd find puppies soothin'?  And for Rosie it's the smell of bairns."

            "Do you always call the King Strider?"

            He laughed softly.  "Yes, I do.  Told him in Rivendell I'm not good for changin' names for folks, and he said as he'd be honored if I continued to call him Strider for as long as I wanted."  He looked around the room, then back at the sculptor.  "I hope as you'll find it comfortable."

            "I'm honored you allow me to use it."

            "Suspect this will be Frodo-Lad's room when he's older.  But for now, it's pretty much as he left it.  Will you be wanting a bathe after young Ririon?"

            "Yes, that will be nice."

            "Oh, and shall I help you with the exercises for your hip?  Don't think as you've had much chance to do them, what with the ride and all, and I noted you're limping more."

            "Mostly that's because I'm not wearing my shoes.  The thick sole of the one helps keep me from lurching as I walk.  But, yes, it is aching some.  I take it you used to help Pippin with his?"

            "We all did, one time or another."

            After finishing with the exercises, Sam said, "I'll go back to the parlor for a while.  Want to come?"

            "I'll follow in a few minutes.  Need to get my booklets and a change of clothes."  And with a nod Sam disappeared back down the passage.

            But Ruvemir found the lure of the room itself was so strong he couldn't resist opening doors, drawers, and cupboards.

            Clothing still hung in the shallow dressing room off the bedroom, and linens and underthings still lay in the drawers.  The clothing hanging in the dressing room was typical Hobbit garb, from what Ruvemir could see--the short trousers, linen shirts, waistcoats, jackets; all of fine but sturdy materials and well made, much of it decorated with subtle embroidery often done in threads of much the same colors as the basic garment.  The more worn older clothing was in browns and greens and golds; the newer garments, which showed little sign of wear, in greys and silvers.  Underthings were of linen mostly, with a few garments of silk which Ruvemir was certain must have come from Minas Tirith.  A heavy mantle of Gondorian style in a deep blue hung in the corner of the dressing room--it looked as if it had barely been worn; nearby hung a heavy but supple knit scarf in dark green wool, and a woven one in gold, with two pairs of mittens nearby, made to match the scarves. 

            He found sleep shirts such as Hobbits wore at night in a drawer, again several apparently of Gondorian fabrics and stitching; and hanging inside the door to the dressing room was a soft and well worn dressing gown woven with stripes of blues and greens.  Studs for shirts cuffs lay in an old glass dish, and a cloak brooch of woven silver which appeared to be of Dwarven make lay in a finely carved wooden box.  Several boxes of folded kerchiefs for his pockets sat on a shelf inside the dressing room, each box decorated distinctively.  He got the feeling that such were probably commonly given gifts here in the Shire.

            A small clothes press of Gondorian make stood in one corner, and his curiosity still strong he opened it to find several shirts, tunics, and surcoats of Gondorian patterns and fabrics, clothing Frodo must have worn when in Minas Tirith, protected by sachets of balsam and cedar.  He lifted them out, and at the bottom found a packet wrapped in the same close-woven material as had protected the similar package sent to him by the King via the Elf Legolas.  Carefully he brought this out, set it on the bed, then carefully refolded those items which had fallen open when moved and replaced them in the press.  He carefully unfastened the cords, and exposed folders such as he'd seen in Minas Tirith, and inside were pictures and some writings.

            Frodo had done more portraits of his companions, but also scenes from the daily life he saw around him while he was in Gondor.  There was a picture of a woman seated inside the window of a dwelling, holding an infant to her breast, that peculiar smile common to mothers with nursing babes on her face.  There was a scene of three Guards of the Citadel seated on benches outside an inn, enjoying mugs of ale during a break in their service.  There was one of a young soldier sparring with Sir Pippin; another of Sir Meriadoc standing the honor guard for King Théoden of Rohan.  There was a lovely young woman in a market stall, selling glass beads, and an elderly man reading a book.  There was the face of a man lying asleep in a familiar bed--he realized this man was lying in the Houses of Healing, and that his face, although now calm, showed signs of grief not yet forgotten.  Could this be the raving man the Lady Ioreth had told him of?  And there was one of an Elven Lord in rich robes speaking intimately with the Lady Arwen, and he realized he was seeing a portrait of Lord Elrond of Imladris.  Then there was a joint portrait of another Elven pair, a man and a woman, both wondrously beautiful and grave, their hair fair rather than dark, their clothing graceful and regal, elaborately woven circlets on their brows.

            The writing was of several kinds, some in Tengwar script, others in Westron lettering, but not always in Westron.  There were lists, brief notes on discussions held, copies of poems as well as quotations from histories, and a few pages that described people Frodo had met.  Several of these appeared to be Frodo's draft copies of evaluations he'd written for the King.  And there were notes such as "Ents similar to families of trees" or "orcs from Moria had protuberant eyes while those of the great Uruks tended to be squinted and Manlike" or "The fields of the Pelennor much denuded; many trenches in which obviously fires burned; ground torn up from tread of the Oliphaunts and cavalry charges."

            One such page felt oddly thick, and he realized two pages were actually stuck together.  The bottom page, once he managed to free it, was written in a hastier hand, but clearly Frodo's writing, and it appeared to be part of a description Frodo had written of bad nights spent facing nightmares.

            The dreams were bad last night.  Again and again I was in the tower of Cirith Ungol, the orc standing over me, his whip in hand, demanding to know why I was entering Mordor.  My left arm and shoulder felt cold and numb, as they did after I was stabbed with the Morgul blade; my right hand was in intense pain.  I felt dizzy and in shock.  I was certain Sam had been taken by the great spider, and that the Ring had been found and was on its way to its Master.  I kept begging him to finish it.  My back was burning as it did when I was beaten.  I could hear the cries I heard when they were fighting one another, although in my dream, as had been true when I was there, I thought Aragorn had followed us and tried to bring a troupe of soldiers to our rescue and that the orcs were slaughtering them.

            I was feverish, and finally Sam just crept onto the bed and pillowed my head in his lap, seeking to comfort me as he did in Mordor.  He held my hands, rubbed them.  He must have sat so through most of the night and a good part of the morning.  Gandalf returned to find things so, and he sent for Aragorn, who laid hands on me and sent me into a deep and dreamless sleep for a few hours.

            I hate it when I have such nights, when the others want to sit by me and lose their own sleep.

 *

            I saw the Balrog in my dreams last night, saw Gandalf facing him, saw the bridge break and Gandalf swept off to his death.  I felt myself being lifted up and carried away to safety.  Why should I be safe when Gandalf had been killed?  Why should they care for me when one so much more worthy was lost?  I hated them all for caring for me and letting Gandalf die.  I hated myself that Gandalf died to save me from such a thing!  Why didn't I die then?

            Then Gandalf came, touched my brow, woke me, showed he had been sent back, assured me the fall had not been my fault, finally held me to his breast.  Sam stood by, his face white with worry.  Pippin brought me tea; I could not keep it down.

 *

            Pippin woke us all calling out the name of Faramir, crying, "He will burn him if we cannot find him!"  He calmed as I held his hand.

 *

            Sam woke looking more exhausted than when he'd gone to sleep--said he spent the entire night running up stair after stair after stair seeking me, never reaching the top, hearing my cries of pain, unable to find or save me.

            I am unworthy of such devotion.

 *

            My shoulder aches; am trying to spare Sam, as he had another bad night last night.

 *

            Merry is trying to convince us there's nothing wrong, but I know....

            There the writing stopped at the end of the page.  Had he written more and burned the rest of the pages?  Ruvemir rather suspected that was true.

            Then Sam appeared in the doorway and looked in, started to speak but went silent as he saw the focus of the artist's attention.  He came in.  His face paled, and he looked at the pile of folders and the paper Ruvemir was reading.  He took it up and read it through, then sighed. 
            "Always was certain we suffered more than him, which was plain foolish.  He had the worst time of all, plain and simple.  Where'd you find this?"

            Ruvemir indicated the clothes press, and Sam nodded, looking at it with an evaluative stare.  "Never got up enough courage to open it after he left, then plain forgot about it, I did.  Suspect there's not much of this sort in it."

            "No.  Only reason this one was there was because something was apparently stuck to it, causing it to cling to the page placed on top of it.  He must have thought this was a single sheet."

            Sam nodded.  "He was doing some notes for his book he was to write for Mr. Bilbo, not that he needed such, really.  Probably most of it is poetry about Gil-galad and Elendil fighting Sauron afore, notes about the city and Ents and such, I suspect; and perhaps stuff about folks as we met he might want to put into the tale." 

            "Yes, that's about it."  After a moment of silence, Ruvemir added, "I'm sorry that I let my curiosity get away from me.

            "Oh, I suspected you'd want to look at his things, get a feel for him.  I expected you'd need to make the statue of him truly him, if you take my meaning.  I'm not offended.  It's why I put you in this room."

            "Thank you for your understanding."

            "To do what you do, it indicates you're interested in what makes other folks what they are; got to be curious, or it wouldn't work.  Anyway, wanted to let you know your bath is ready.  When you're done with these, will you take them to the study and put them on the desk for me?"  And when the artist nodded, he said, "Thanks, then," smiled sadly, and went off toward the kitchen.


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.

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Larner

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Rating: General

Last Updated: 04/25/08

Original Post: 12/05/04

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