10. Questions and Answers
Sam was still away quite a bit in different parts of the Shire, helping set right the damage done by the ruffians. The inns and that had opened again right after the Battle, but even this spring there was a lot of work still to be done – Sharkey's men had amused themselves smashing things, tearing up orchards, anything they could destroy. There were plenty of willing helpers, but that was part of the problem – they kept getting in each other's way without someone to oversee the work. So Sam got into it, going round the Shire making sure they had the materials they needed at each job, and that someone reliable was in charge. It turned out he had a knack for getting things organized and making the work go smooth. And of course he was still planting trees.
Sometimes he'd be gone three or four days at a time, and it got lonely then. Mr. Frodo came up from the cellar one evening with a mug of beer, and found me crying into the sink as I did the washing up.
I sniffled, ashamed to be caught acting so silly – Sam was only out to Scary, for pity's sake, not in Gondor! I peeked at him from the corner of my eye, wondering if I could pretend I had a cold.
"You're missing Sam, aren't you? Poor lass, what a honeymoon you're having! Bag End can be a gloomy hole when you're all alone at nightfall – that's why I wanted you and Sam here with me! Wait, Rose, I've got something that might cheer you up."
He hurried out of the kitchen and came back carrying a book, not the history he'd been reading to us from, but his red book he was always writing in.
"The whole first part of this is Bilbo's diary of his journey. I know Sam has told you some of it, but I don't think even Sam ever heard how it all began, and it's an amusing story."
So I finished the dishes and set the bread sponge for the next day, while Mr. Frodo read to me about how the Dwarves came to tea at Bag End, and old Mr. Bilbo got hired on as their Professional Burglar, whether he would or no. I laughed till the tears ran down my face – what a trick Gandalf had played on the poor bewildered hobbit! After that, any evening that Sam had to be away, Mr. Frodo sat by the kitchen fire and read to me from Bilbo's diary.
One night Marigold was there with us – the strawberries were just getting ripe, and she'd come to spend a few days helping me make preserves. Sam was away again and Mr. Frodo was reading the story of Bilbo's meeting with Gollum, and how he found the Ring.
"It's funny," I said, when he closed the book, "but Mr. Bilbo's adventures aren't near as frightening to hear about as yours and Sam's, and yet he went through all kinds of dangers, too. I wonder why?"
"Well, Mr. Bilbo didn't go to Mordor!" said Marigold.
We all laughed at that, even Mr. Frodo. He had a nice laugh, and I remember wishing we heard it more often.
"No, Marigold, he didn't. And I wouldn't wish him there, but if he had gone, he might have done better than I did. Bilbo had a way of turning danger on its head that was all his own – the Dark Lord himself might have found him slippery to handle!"
"But it's more than that," I said, still thinking it out. "I mean, if Mr. Bilbo hadn't come back, it would have been terrible – but the Shire would have gone on just the same. But if you and Sam hadn't come back –" I hugged myself, shuddering. It didn't bear thinking about, and I was sorry I'd brought up the subject.
"If they hadn't come back, the Shire would have been destroyed," Marigold said. "It wouldn't have just been us, grieving for Sam – and you, too, of course, Mr. Frodo. It would have been the whole Shire ruined."
"It might have been even more than that. If the Quest had failed, it would have been all of Middle Earth fallen into darkness, and the Dark Lord over all. There was more at stake this time, than there was when Bilbo went adventuring. There was everything at stake."
Something in his voice struck me, as if his customary gentleness was a curtain suddenly drawn back, and behind it was passionate intensity.
"That's why I'm writing it all down, so we won't forget, in a few generations, how near we came to losing it all. We hobbits have forgotten too much of our history, but we need to remember this."
"But Mr. Frodo," I protested, "the Dark Lord is gone! You destroyed the Ring, Sharkey is dead – I don't mean we shouldn't remember, but you sound as if you expect it to start all over again!"
"I know, Rose. That's what everyone thinks. I saw the Gaffer when I was out walking today, and he shook my hand as if I were running for election. 'All's well as ends better, Mr. Baggins,' he said. 'All's well as ends better!'"
He sighed, rubbing his forehead. "Only I keep remembering what Gandalf told me long ago. However many times the Shadow is defeated, it always takes another shape and grows again."
He was sitting with his elbows on the kitchen table, his hands wrapped around his mug. My eyes went to his scarred right hand, the gap of his missing finger. That hand of his had made me cringe when I first saw it, but I'd got used to it now. Suddenly I felt tears stinging my eyes: I guessed things hadn't "ended better" for Mr. Frodo.
"There's something I don't understand," Marigold said into the silence. "Captain Merry and Captain Pippin, now, they still look like warriors, like they're ready for a battle any time. You know, riding around with their shields and swords, wearing those mail shirts – but you and Sam, you don't never wear your swords anymore, and you dress just like you always did."
I had never thought to wonder about that, but she was right. True enough, Sam would find it inconvenient wearing chain mail, digging and planting like he did -- and a sword hanging at his belt would be sure to get in his way! But Mr. Frodo's mithril shirt was folded away in a bureau drawer, and his sword was hanging over the mantel in the parlor. And they were still at Bag End only because Sam had protested so, when Frodo wanted to send them to the Mathom House in Michel Delving.
"You keep them here where you can get at 'em if you need 'em, Mr.Frodo! There's any number of chances in this world, and who'd a thought we'd see battle right here in the Shire, or a murderer waiting for us at Bag End! I've never been so relieved in my life as I was when that knife of Sharkey's slid off your mail like it did."
Frodo had smiled and given in, but he never wore the mithril shirt, and I dusted the sword every week with a lambs-wool duster, when I cleaned the parlor. It hadn't been down since Sam hung it there.
He smiled at Marigold now, and there was tenderness in his face. "My unquenchable cousins! I'm not sure why Merry and Pippin are still wearing chain mail, except that they're young and full of life and spirit, and they're not quite ready to let go of their great adventure. And of course it goes over well with the lasses; I'm sure that doesn't hurt! There's no other reason for it at present, that I know of. Sam may be right, though, that it's wise to keep our swords close at hand, however peaceful things may seem."
He got up and set his mug in the sink, then ducked into the pantry and came out carrying the half of a rhubarb pie that had been left from dinner.
"Do you lasses want to share this with me? No?" We shook our heads and he settled down to finish it off, right out of the pan. I thought, not for the first time, that for all his thinness Mr. Frodo had a healthy appetite.
"What I don't understand, and maybe you can explain to me," he said between bites, "is how Lotho got such a hold on the Shire. It sounds as if we'd no more than gone, when he began buying up everything he could get his hands on and throwing his weight around. Why didn't anybody stop him, right in the beginning?"
I'd heard my Da ask that question often enough at the dinner table, that whole dark year of the Troubles. Asking himself, he was, for none of us had an answer for him. How had we gotten to such a pass, that an upstart like Lotho Pimple, not even the rightful Thain, could take over the whole Shire without anyone lifting a finger to stop him?
"It was so sudden," I said slowly. "I mean, he bought the Mill and the Ivy Bush, and folk didn't like it, but he had the money, he had a right to buy, if the owners were minded to sell. It wasn’t till he was putting them out of Bagshot Row that he was breaking the law, and then they called for Mayor Will, and nobody thought Lotho would dare stand against the Mayor. When they took Will and put him in the Lockholes, it was like everyone was just shocked, they couldn't believe it had happened! Lotho had a gang of ruffians by then, and no one knew what to do, and we were all afraid."
"Fatty Bolger tried to get hobbits together, to throw the ruffians out, but he never could get enough," Marigold said. " And you know, Fatty was brave and all, but he had an awful lot of near misses, before he finally got smoked out of the Brockenbores. He'd go against a few ruffians on the road, and it'd turn out there was a whole lot of them in a barn or a house or something right near-by, and then the rebels'd have to run for it. There was some that would've followed him, but they said he was too reckless." I nodded – I had heard that about Fatty, too. Brave, but not smart.
"And the Thain, he kept them out of the Tookland, but that's all. It was like he didn't know, or didn't want to know, what was going on in the rest of the Shire."
"What about the Master, out in Buckland?" Frodo's voice was very low, and I remembered suddenly that he was from Buckland himself, long ago. The Master was his uncle, now I thought about it.
"I don't know, Mr. Frodo. I never heard what the Master was doing. He never come to help us, anyways."
"So everyone depended on the Mayor – and when the Mayor was put out of the way, the other rightful leaders of the Shire, the Thain and the Master, sat on their own lands and did nothing. The only one who stepped forward to lead was Fatty – and he had the courage but not the ability."
"No one knew what to do, Mr. Frodo," I said again.
"I understand, Rose. Nothing like this had ever happened in the Shire before – and the Shire knows next to nothing of what goes on in the outside world, where such things do happen. Lotho probably wouldn't have even tried it, if he hadn't been trading with Saruman and come under the influence of his servants. But 'not knowing what to do' was very nearly the death of the Shire!"
He gave a deep sigh and got up, setting his empty pie pan in the sink. "Well, I'm off to bed, girls. Good night to you."
"Mr. Frodo?" I had one more question, and suddenly I had to know right now, not put it off till the next time we got to talking.
"Sharkey – Saruman – he was like Gandalf, wasn't he? I mean, in the beginning? He was supposed to help hobbits, and Elves……"
"That's right. He was the head of Gandalf's Order, actually, the one Gandalf went to for counsel. But he had been corrupted, he had made alliance with the Enemy."
"But why, Mr. Frodo? What corrupted him? Why did he want to destroy the Shire?"
Frodo's face changed, his eyes turned inward.
"Why, indeed?" he murmured. "Gandalf said he'd been studying the lore of the Ring, until at last the desire for it overcame him. He betrayed his Order and himself, in his madness to possess it. You could even say that's what killed him in the end – and yet he never so much as touched the thing! Just thinking about it was enough to corrupt and destroy him. Just -- thinking about it –"
He turned and walked down the passage as if he'd forgotten we were there, and I shivered, wishing I had waited and asked Sam or Mr. Merry. Anyone but Mr. Frodo.
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.