28. Sweet Herbs and Barley Broth
Mr. Frodo slept late the next morning, and I was thankful for it. I told Sam he’d had a nightmare and fallen out of bed, but that was all.
The things he’d spoken, in his sleep and after – Sam didn’t need to hear that. I wondered if he had talked the same way, the times Sam had woken him out of nightmares, but I wasn’t going to ask.
Sam helped me wash up from breakfast and went out to dig up the vegetable patch – it was pretty near time to plant potatoes – and I dragged a quilt into the parlor and went to sleep in one of the deep-cushioned chairs there. It was bright sunlight woke me up – mercy, but I’d gone and slept the morning away, and here it was time for lunch and not a thing on the fire!
I flung off the quilt and hurried to the kitchen. Cold ham, we had some of that, and cheese. I could stir up some pancakes quick and roll them around apple preserves. It would be a pick-up sort of a meal, but Sam wasn’t fussy, nor the master neither. I was lucky in my menfolk.
But the kitchen was full of savory smells and the table was set already, set for four, and an enormous mushroom pie right in the middle. As I stood wondering in the doorway, Marigold came out of the pantry carrying a crusty round loaf on the breadboard.
“Surprise!” she said with a laugh. “Go wash the sleep out of your eyes, Rosie, and comb your hair – you look like you slept in it. Then see if you can find Mr. Frodo, will you? I’ll call Sam. Everything’s ready.”
“Marigold, you’re a lamb! I don’t know how you got here, but I’m glad as glad you did!”
We gathered round the table, and Marigold had done herself proud. It was a meal fit for a birthday feast, and Sam was in his glory, proud of his sister’s cooking – as well he might be – and pleased with himself because he’d thought of asking her to come help out. The mushrooms were moving steadily from the pie dish to Sam’s plate, one generous serving after another.
“I came in for second breakfast and you were sleeping so sweet, I couldn’t bear to wake you, Rosie. I know you haven’t been sleeping much at night. So I just nipped down the Hill and got Marigold. She’s going to stay now as long as we need her – till the baby comes and a week or so after, aren’t you, Mari?”
“If that’s all right with Mr. Frodo,” she said, glancing over to where he sat at the end of the table, close to the fire. He didn’t answer, and Sam looked sharp at him. I realized suddenly that he’d hardly said a word since we sat down. He wasn't eating, neither, just sitting there fingering that jewel he always wore round his neck, sliding it back and forth on its chain.
“Mr. Frodo? Are you all right?”
It was a moment before he answered. “What did you say, Sam? I’m sorry, my mind must have been wandering.”
“Marigold is here to help out till after the baby comes, sir. You don’t mind, do you?”
“What? No, of course not! I’m glad you could come, Marigold.” He looked like he was going to say something more and we waited, but he just sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. Then he saw us all staring at him, and he kind of half laughed.
“I’m sorry,” he said again. “I still feel a little groggy from sleeping so late. I think I’ll get out and walk a bit; the fresh air should wake me up. I’m glad you’re here, Marigold. It will be good for Rose to have some help.”
He got up and left the kitchen, and Sam looked worried.
“I hope he’s not coming down sick,” he said to me under his breath. “He don’t look right, Rosie, nor he don’t sound right, neither.”
I didn’t say nothing, remembering that bad day back in October. Sam said then it was his old wound from the Morgul blade hurting him, but I thought it was more than that. He hardly ate at all for several days, and I woke one night to hear him prowling around the smial in the dark, up and down the passages.
And the first spring after they came home – Mr. Frodo had been staying at the farm then; Bag End was still being repaired. Da had been really alarmed about him; I remembered him and Mum whispering in the kitchen. Sam was away then, planting trees in the North Farthing, and Da thought they should send for him; maybe he would know what to do for Frodo. They had talked a long time, but Mum had calmed his fears.
“Now Tolman, how many childer have I raised, and brought ’em through the fever and the flux and whatever else was going round? Mr. Frodo’s wore out, is all; he’s that run down from all he’s been through. Let me get a good strong broth into him, and some fragrant herbs on the fire to soothe his mind and help him sleep. No need to worry Sam.”
I waited till Sam went back out in the garden; then I sat down and wrote a note.
Dear Da, I hope you are well and all the family. Will you ask Mum to send me up a packet of the herbs she used to help Mr. Frodo sleep when he was staying with us? And I need to know what she put in the broth she made for him that time. Will you ask her and write it down for me, please? We are all well and Marigold is here to help me. The baby isn’t due for three weeks yet, so don’t worry. With dear love from your Rosie.
“Marigold, do you think you could find one of the village lads to take a note to the farm for me?”
Mari looked up from where she was washing dishes, doubt in her eyes.
“A note, Rosie? Writing, you mean?”
Oh crumbs, I’d forgotten how strange this would seem to her.
“That’s right. I need for Mum to send me some things, you see.”
“What things? Besides, Rose, your Mum can’t read, can she?”
“No, but Da can read it to her.”
“Well, but what do you need, all of a sudden? You have everything for the baby, don’t you?”
I chewed on my lip. I was hoping Mari hadn’t noticed how odd Mr. Frodo was acting, or that she’d chalk it up to oversleeping, like he’d said. Mari is my oldest friend, but -- well, it’s natural for people to talk. I didn’t want rumors running through Hobbiton that Frodo was ill, or something worse.
“Some herbs,” I said finally. “I haven’t been sleeping well, you know. And a recipe she has for a strengthening broth.” If necessary, I’d drink some of that broth myself, and steam the herbs on my own fire at night, as well as Mr. Frodo’s! It couldn’t do me any harm. The main thing was to get him the help he needed.
Mari put away the last dish and dried her hands.
“I’ll take it for you myself, Rose, how will that do?” She dimpled into a smile. “Maybe Tom will bring me back in the pony cart.”
“Perfect! Just flutter your eyelashes and he’ll follow you anywhere. Thank you, Mari!” That’ll be a match one of these days, mark my words, and I couldn’t hope for a sweeter lass for my big brother.
She was eager to be on her way, with Tom as the lure. It didn’t take her more than half an hour to comb her hair, which was already in perfect order, and try on three dresses before she decided the one she’d been wearing in the first place was the prettiest after all.
I made up the spare room bed for her, then sat and knitted on a baby blanket while she fussed, and I tried not to laugh too openly – I could remember getting all flustered like that, when I thought I might run into Sam somewhere.
Marriage changes things, for true. You can’t be looking your best every hour of the day, nor be on your best behavior, neither. You think you know another person, and then you get married and find out all the things you didn’t know.
I guessed I’d found out a few things about Sam, but nothing that made me love him any less. He’d always seemed so big and strong, when we were children – of course, he was four years older than me. Well, and he was strong! And brave, too, fighting the ruffians like he did, and bringing Mr. Frodo safe home from Mordor. But his heart was soft as butter, and I was worried about him now.
Mr. Frodo’s words the night before troubled me badly. This was more than the terrible memories that Sam had talked of – I didn’t know what to make of this. He was blaming himself for not destroying the Ring, that was plain. And more than that, it was like he was haunted by the thing -- even though it was gone, he couldn’t let go of it.
I wasn’t sure how Sam would feel about that, if he knew. Sam was like a weathervane for whatever was good – just stick him up in the wind, and he’d point straight to the thing that’s good and clean and true. Well, Mr. Frodo was good. Mr. Frodo was noble and true, but he was tormented, too.
It was the Ring, Rosie, I reminded myself. He carried that thing for so long, and it was just pure Evil, that’s all it was. It’s like it burned a scar into his soul, and it torments him and there’s nothing, nothing at all, he can do to stop it. And what Sam would make of that, loving Frodo like he did, and hating anything evil….
I didn’t think sweet herbs and broth would be enough to heal Mr. Frodo, but they were all I had to work with. That, and our love for him.
He didn’t take at all kindly to the herb kettle steaming over his fire that night, but I shushed him.
“I’m hanging one over my fire too, Mr. Frodo. We didn’t neither one of us sleep good last night, and there’ll be a baby here soon enough to keep us all awake. You better get your sleep while you can, Master.”
I gave him a hard look when I said that, and he hushed. I didn’t often call him Master.
“Thank you, Rose,” he said. There was a quirk of a smile at the corner of his mouth, and I took that for a good sign.
I made the broth the next day, and I made a whopping big pot of it. I knew I’d never get Mr. Frodo to eat it if he thought it was just for him, so I threw in some barley and called it soup.
“It’s a special recipe from my mother, to keep us all healthy this spring. I don’t want anyone getting sick with a new baby in the smial, and change of seasons is the sure time for somebody to catch something.” I passed bowls of it round the table. “And nobody gets a bite of those pickled mushrooms till your bowl’s empty,” I said, scowling fiercely at everyone impartially.
Sam threw back his head and laughed till the tears came to his eyes.
“My word, lass, I’ve heard you best not get between a mother bear and her cubs, but I think Mama Bear could take lessons from you! Well, I’ve got no objection to being healthy, so dig in and eat hearty!”
It was pretty good soup, for all it was meant as medicine, but it had an unusual flavor. Mr. Frodo tasted it, then looked down the table at me like he knew when he’d tasted it before. I just smiled at him, innocent-like, and he lifted one eyebrow.
“I like it better with the barley, Rosie,” was all he said, and he cleaned his bowl.
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.