16. The Bathing Room
The Bathing Room
One of the most unusual predilections to which Hobbits were prone, Ruvemir found, was their love of bathing. It was with shock he'd first seen the men's bathing room there in Brandy Hall on his arrival, to see a room full of several tubs, all fed by an enormous boiler with pipes leading off in several directions. He had learned even children here appeared to like to bathe. Nor did there seem to be a great deal of modesty, for as he'd been bathing the previous day he'd seen a group of men enter talking, who each chose and filled a tub, disrobed, bathed, and then dressed and left together, still continuing on with their discussion on how many acres of barley would be necessary in the coming year to fill the needs for the breweries their fields served. He'd stayed a bit longer than necessary due to their arrival, in fact, being unused to dressing before others.
After a large dinner he'd spent another two hours with the family, and then went to his room to write a letter to the King. Having sealed this communication, he decided to take a late bath, hoping to find the room unoccupied. He was dismayed to hear voices as he opened the door, until he realized whose voices they were. He went in and saw, to his surprise, that these three were looking at the door with the same dismay he'd felt the day before. Sam had his jacket and vest off, and had pulled down the straps used to support his trousers, which Ruvemir had learned were called braces, and was looking over his shoulder with a distinct air of discomfort. Merry was down to his underthings, and Pippin had frozen just stepping into his tub. Deciding to act as if communal bathing were a thing he was accustomed to as well, the sculptor entered the room and chose an empty tub, hung up the robe he'd brought with him, and began the ritual of filling it. Not facing the others, he began to remove his own clothing and hang it on the provided hooks. He turned around at last with a feeling of defiance as he prepared to climb into his own tub, and found the three of them examining him with interest. Sam had removed his shirt and trousers, while Pippin had finally settled himself in his own tub and was peering at him over its side. Merry blushed to be caught staring so at his guest, and said, "Please don't be offended. Sometimes we forget we aren't the only ones who may not be happy to show our bodies to those we don't know and trust very, very well."
As Merry turned to hang up his underthings, Ruvemir saw scars on his back, buttocks, and legs, scars from one or more whips. And on the back of his right wrist was another scar, indicating he'd been so tightly bound the rope had cut into his flesh. Sam displayed a similar pattern of scars on his legs and buttocks, he noted, and indications, as he turned, of wounds on his lower legs from the knees on down as if he'd fallen on or crawled over cruelly rough ground. Both Merry and Pippin, he saw, had the nicks he'd expect to see on the arms of a swordsman, although these scars all seemed to be the same age.
Sam settled himself in his tub, ducked under to wet his hair, then brushed the hair back from his face, revealing two overlapping scars on his forehead, and when he leaned over to pour more water over his hair, another scar near the right temple could be seen. Ruvemir found the knowledge these did not like to display their scars somehow heartening as he now stood, his own physical imperfections, uneven hips and shoulders, disproportionately short arms and legs, powerfully developed arm and shoulder muscles looking decidedly odd on his strange body, his own scarred nicks from slipped chisels and hammers, now revealed.
As he climbed into his tub, Ruvemir commented, "I can appreciate your desire for some privacy, at least. I hope I have not embarrassed you."
Pippin gave a short laugh. "Embarrassed? No. But we don't like displaying the scars. You wouldn't believe how long it took for us to begin to talk openly of what we went through, and much of it is still a mystery to even our own families. At least you understand how very bad the war was, how devastating it was on people and even the land. For all their experiences with the Troubles, our folk simply cannot fathom most of what we saw or did, and it still hurts to talk about much of it. You saw Merry when I talked about stabbing the Ringwraith. Almost any time it is mentioned his right arm seems to feel numb and cold. And when someone comments on the knots on my chest where the ribs healed, I feel as if I can't breathe, as if that troll were still lying on me. And I won't allow anyone in the Great Smial to carry as much as a riding crop, and I ordered the stock whips burned. And believe me, Sam feels exactly the same way." To which the gardener nodded.
After a moment, Sam added, "Mr. Frodo was the worst hurt, and it were all he could do as to let anyone see the scars. I could bathe them, but he hated even for Rosie to see them. And now and then the scar where Shelob bit him would open and drain, I guess letting out more poison, and I'd have to clean it, and you could tell as he was hating it, every moment it were exposed to view. It were a powerful sign of just how bad he felt that he let Master Saradoc help him change into a nightshirt that time just afore he left."
Ruvemir gave a grim smile. "You then can appreciate, perhaps, my hatred of stairs. It's hard enough to remove my shirt before others. To let someone see how difficult it is for me to climb them--" He shrugged eloquently, and they nodded.
After a few moments of quiet, Ruvemir asked, "I'm told that as a child Lord Frodo loved to swim. Did he swim after his return?"
Sam shook his head sadly. "No, he never did." He looked off into the distance as he soaped his hair. "Afore, even as an adult he'd go swimming--not as often as when he was a child or teen or tween, but he'd still do so from time to time. But, once he got back--he didn't even want to bathe with no one else, or where anyone else could see. When we was ill and the King and the healers was caring for us, if anyone was to try to touch him other than Strider or Gandalf or me, he'd grow tense."
Pippin said, "He hated for even us to see him without a shirt, even though we knew what he'd been through--as much as anyone can, that is, other than Sam, of course."
"Nobody could know what he went through, not even me. I know a bit of what it was like to carry that--that thing, but not what it was like for him. The brief time I carried It, It--It did things, lied to me as to what I could do with It. Even Mr. Frodo couldn't of mastered It, but It was telling me as I could?"
Ruvemir looked at him with shock as Sam took the dipper to rinse his hair. Finally, as Sam finished and handed the dipper to Merry in the next tub, he asked, "You mean that you carried It--that thing--too?"
Sam's face was sad, although the look hardened to something else. What? Regret? Anger? Hatred? Desire? All--all, or something else entirely? Finally, he answered. "Not long, but all too long, anyway. It was after the spider, that Shelob creature, poisoned him. We was running out of the tunnel at the top of the stairs. We'd found one of her webs, and Mr. Frodo had to cut it apart with Sting. My sword, for all the Dúnedain, Strider's own ancestors, made it, wasn't enough. The Elves forged Sting, though, and Sting could cut through her web of shadows."
He paused, looking off into his memories. "He got through, then gave Sting to me, started to run ahead. You can't imagine how awful it was in that dark place, full of her stench. He'd already given me the Lady's Starglass to hold as he was cutting the web, and now he give me Sting to use. Only as he run ahead, Shelob come out of a different crack, between us, and afore I could get there, Gollum come out of the tunnel behind me, grabbed me, tried to choke me. I got away, but by the time I did it was too late--the spider had bit him, had him all wrapped up in her cords.
"I fought her, fought her with Sting. She couldn't get to me to poison me as she'd poisoned Frodo, and at last she tried to crush me with her body. Couldn't do nothin' else--I held Sting up, and she drove herself down on it." He shuddered. "Drove herself on it, and the gore fell all over me, all green ichor. It stank and burned me. But she finally as had enough, crawled away into a crack so small I don't know as how she folded herself into it.
"I ran forward, and cut the cords from around him. But he didn't wake up." He looked down. "I called him, held him, shook him, begged him not go where I couldn't follow. Finally I thought as he was dead. When I took the chain with the Ring on it from him and he didn't move at all, I were sure he was dead. I knew that if he was alive, he'd of never been able to bear it. But I had to take It, had to! I thought as I was the only one left. I had to take it on to the Mountain. I took Sting and the Starglass, put my sword by him, promised to come back when I was done, prayed the Valar keep him till I could come back. And…and I started for the pass.
"But then the orcs came, and I put...I put It on, to make myself invisible so as I could get by. But they saw Frodo lying there, and I could hear them saying as he weren't dead, just poisoned, and when the poison started to wear off he'd wake up.
"I'm not sure how long it was afore I could get to him to rescue him. May have been a full day, for all I know. The orcs took him to their tower, then took all he had. And they fought over his mithril shirt as Mr. Bilbo'd give him, and almost all killed each other. One got away, with the mithril shirt and my sword and his cloak from Lorien and his clothes and all, took it to Barad-dûr. Another was all that was left alive in the tower when I finally got to him. He was beating Mr. Frodo with a whip when I finally found the way to him, there at the top of the tower. And when I come up with Sting he was so surprised, he turned and fell through the trap door, and broke his neck.
"He thought they'd took the Ring, Mr. Frodo did, only I had It. He grabbed It away from me, thought as I was an orc, sent to torture him with the sight of It in my hands. The Ring had took him that far at the time. Then he were in grief. I hated to have him take It from me, and at the same time it was such a relief."
Then he shook his head. "Oh, I bore It. Any time was too long for that thing."
Ruvemir lowered his own eyes, then lifted them to look into those of Samwise Gamgee. "I'm sorry, Lord Samwise, sorry you had to bear with that."
"I'm no lord, Master Ruvemir. I'm a gardener, and Mr. Frodo made me Master of Bag End. But I'm no lord."
"And your Master also felt he was no lord, and no hero. And he felt he was unworthy of the honor given him."
Sam looked away and said nothing.
Merry rinsed his hair, got out and wrapped a towel around himself, came over to Sam's tub and said, "I'll wash your back, Sam." Ruvemir realized suddenly that Sam was weeping, as he turned and buried his face in Merry's shoulder. The artist could see a wide scar high on Merry's face, up under the hair that ordinarily fell over his forehead, a bit more dramatic than that on Sam's.
Then he heard Sam's muffled voice, "He deserved every bit of honor he got and then some, every bit. And he never believed it." And Merry rubbed his friend's back. Pippin quickly finished cleansing himself, and wrapping himself as had his cousin, got out and came to the other side of Sam's tub, and wrapped his arms around him as well. Finally Ruvemir found himself doing the same, found himself embracing the damp gardener, too, breathing in the odors of steaming water, soap made with lavender oil, clean skin. Finally Sam straightened, and the three of them pulled away. Ruvemir looked up to see the saddened brown eyes now examining him. They were eyes that had seen too much, and he realized that the Ring had cost him almost as much as It had Frodo. Finally Sam said, quietly, "You didn't wash your hair."
"No, I guess I didn't. I did wash it just yesterday, though, and I'd really wanted mostly to soak my hip, and that I did do."
Sam smiled softly. "Yes, I guess you did that. The ride today too much for it?"
Ruvemir nodded. "It still has some of the colors of the bruises on it. And the King didn't really want me riding this soon."
"So that's why you walked back from Crickhollow."
Sam nodded at Pippin. "Well, he knows all the exercises, I think. Strider was good at making sure he did them, too."
For a time they said nothing. Pippin and Merry emptied their tubs and pulled nightshirts they'd brought with them over their heads and pulled on dressing gowns, and Ruvemir went back to where he'd hung his clothes and pulled on his own worn, comfortable robe, drained his own tub, gathered his clothes. By the time he was ready to leave the room Sam was attired similarly to Pippin and Merry, and courteously they waited till he was ready and all left the room together. And as he walked back to the room he shared with Ririon, Ruvemir realized they'd accepted him now as one who understood, at least in part, what they'd been through, as one who, like them, knew what it meant to be set apart.
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.