3. Roots and Seeds
Though the whiff of frying sausages and bacon was enough to coax Sam to start up from his pillow and kick off the sheets, the flash of memory for whom breakfast was being fried sped the process. For if Rosie kept to her morning ritual of dressing, fixing her hair, fire-stoking, readying his washing things, laying out his shirt, checking the children's rooms, and starting breakfast, it was 8 o'clock and he, Sam, the host, had overslept. That was terrible. He had thought he could make it to the post-office and back by breakfast. But as it was – he pushed his right arm into his sleeve – he would hardly make it – he snapped secure his breaches – to the first skillet of bacon.
Then, he remembered, sighing at his image in the looking-glass as he buttoned his favorite green vest, Frodo-lad needed to be dealt with. Guests needed to be kept entertained. He felt that it was not proper to subject them too much to the children's whims.
He took a deep breath to compose himself and left the bedroom. The hole was quiet, except for the chatter and laughter emanating from the dining room.
There they all sat: Gimli and Merry cocking their heads back and laughing, Legolas holding Elanor, Rose-lass, and Pippin captive with some story, Ham hiccupping on Rosie's lap. And sitting at Gimli's left side, now being warmly addressed by the dwarf, was Frodo-lad.
Sam started, deciding after a quick pondering to say nothing. He gave Rosie's cheek a peck and took his chair. Legolas-dog had the reign of the under-table and needed to inspect Sam's toes before he was permitted to relax them.
"Morning, Master Samwise," boomed Gimli.
"It is an excellent morning, Master Dwarf," Sam agreed.
"Daddy!" cried Elanor. "Mr. Legolas says mellyrn" – she pronounced the Sindarin carefully – "came from over the sea, from the Elves, and from the Elves to the men on the island Westernesse. And now we've one, the only one, in Middle-earth, except in Lórien."
Sam turned to Legolas with attention.
"The mallorn that grows here is blessed!" said Legolas. "I have tried to grow them in Ithilien without success. I thought perhaps the climate there is ill-suited. But I wonder if there is another piece that I am missing. It is said that the High-king Gil-galad received seeds of mellyrn from the Men of Westernesse. When they did not sprout in Lindon he gave them to Lady Galadriel. From her comes this one to you – am I right?"
"Oh yes, dear Legolas! The Lady gave me a box of soil from her garden, you remember? When finally we came home we found that Saruman's men had cut and burned many of the most beautiful of the Shire's trees, even the Party Tree! It makes me mad as a hornet to remember, even now!
"Well, I was torn up, and thought no-one of my children or grandchildren would ever see the Shire as it ought to be. And that is when Mr. Frodo reminded me of the Lady's box. I opened it, and there, in the soil, was also a single silver seed. We planted saplings for all the trees lost, and to help them along, I sprinkled a pinch of the soil on each of them. The Lady knew what she was about – the saplings took off and are growing beauti-fuller still than those before! Last of all I planted the silver seed where the Party Tree once stood. And there it grew into the finest mallorn-tree. Magnificent as any I'd seen in Lórien, if I may say so." He could not keep pride from his voice. "But it is a pity she cannot do the same for you," he added solemnly. "She went on the ship with Mr. Frodo and Mr. Bilbo."
"I see," said Legolas. Sam thought he seemed downcast. "But her gift found a more worthy receiver in you, who asked for it not. I want it only for my own delight. You shared it with the Shire. And now a mallorn grows here, where before Gil-galad failed. Happiest of gardeners are you, Samwise! For you prosper over even Gil-galad, last high-king of the elves east of the sea. And here in the very land that was once a province of his kingdom!" This thought seemed to amuse him, and his good mood rekindled. Sam, on his part, was blushing.
"Oh! Elves lived here?" breathed Elanor. "When was that?"
"Very long ago, in the Second Age. (Yes, before even my time, Lady Elanor). The kingdom ended when Gil-galad died by Sauron's hand, in the same battle, as you know, that Isildur claimed the Ring."
"I remember hearing songs about Gil-galad and the age before the Great War, from Mr. Bilbo and the elves in Rivendell. They hinted that this once was elvish land, never containing a great city or anything of the kind, but always a sort of pass-through place, a place for farms and great gardens, where folk might rest before heading toward the White Towers," said Sam. "Begging your pardon, Legolas, you seem more concerned with lore than you once were." He recalled Legolas had been a practical fellow, more knowledgeable in battle and surviving in the wilderness than in old tales and wisdom outside the Northern Wood-elf sort, certainly less than Master Elrond or some of the elves in Rivendell.
"Now that I have sworn to lay down my bow, I need new pursuits. Lore-gathering would be one. Aragorn desires to gather all the knowledge and lore he can and record it in writing. To this end he plans to build a great library in the White City and have the ancient tomes in the Steward's library translated, available to anyone who cares to peruse them. The brothers Elladan and Elrohir have moved much of the written lore from Rivendell. Queen Arwen has been deciphering Adûnaic script."
"Oh, Daddy," exclaimed Elanor. If her eyes could shine more, they would be suns. "We must finish a copy of the Red Book for King Elessar."
"Well, Ellie," said Sam. "I think your script is near up to the task!"
"Aragorn would prize a history of the Shire people. On the history of Dúrin's folk I have been interviewed by one the king's lore masters, for Gimli is too often too occupied in his caverns…"
Gimli stirred himself from a deep discussion on magic doors with Frodo-lad to say, "I will get no more involved than I am! It is Legolas and Aragorn's pet venture."
Legolas, ignoring him, said softly, "What is there to know about dwarves?" And louder, "What is there to know about elves? I found that perhaps I knew just as little about both. So while we are here so far west, we shall collect what lore we can. Especially fruitful, I hope, will be Mithlond, where Lord Círdan is said to still dwell."
"He was there twelve years ago," said Sam. "I hope you will find him there still!"
Legolas was silent, but his eyes sparkled.
"We're still gonna see your horse, Mr. Legolas. Right? Are we?"
"Merry, chew and swallow before you speak," said Rosie.
Merry tried to obey.
"Fear not, Merry." Legolas winked. "Directly after breakfast!" Legolas piled his plate with fried tomatoes, biscuits, and sausages. Gimli, not to be outdone, piled his too.
Sam pushed back his plate well before the elf and dwarf. He excused himself and fetched his hat and the three letters for Pippin, Merry, and Ordin Burrows. As he touched the knob to the front door, he felt a wet bump against his back. There panted Legolas-dog, beseeching with round brown eyes. "Very well, very well, come along," said Sam, holding open the door for the hound.
Now almost nine o'clock, the last mists were shredding over the Water. The storm had left the air smelling damp and earthy and the ground rife with mud-holes, some already drying and cracking under the sun. It was hot for a May morning and sweat trickled down Sam's neck as he marched down Hill Lane to the Hobbiton-Bywater post-office. Watching Legolas-dog dart his nose from rock to shrub to stick made Sam pant for breath.
Old Farmer Maggot had, while Mr. Frodo was still living with them, sent a generous basket of mushrooms each autumn. This tradition continued 13 years on. When Mr. Frodo left, Maggot had taken especially to the younger Frodo, and on his eighth birthday the farmer had given the lad one of his hound's pups. Rosie had been alarmed at first as the already massive animal grew into a monstrous fanged creature, but now Rosie never went to the market without him padding at her side. He was useful for keeping away the majority of unwelcome visitors, though anyone who knew the Gamgees well knew Legolas-dog was harmless. Kittens, an old scar on Sam's right hand protested, were more dangerous.
He entered the post-office, bidding the postman good morning, and handed him his three letters. He was startled by an Oi! and there, behind Sam, holding a thick packet on which Sam could read sideways Mayor Gamgee, Bag End, huffed Ordin Burrows.
Legolas-dog gave Ordin a slobbery greeting. He had come by the Gamgee household enough times to be a Familiar.
Ordin brushed past the dog impatiently. "Mr. Mayor! Listen, you must listen this time!"
"What must I hear that you haven't told me already?"
"The old Chubb is up to no good – I am telling you."
"As I have told you before," said Sam in the commanding tone he had once reserved for Gollum. "Family quarrels are not my concern."
"As I have told you," countered Ordin in his own authoritative voice. "This may well be beyond a quarrel."
The postman, discomfited and rubbing his hands together, looked from one bristling hobbit to the other. "See now, gentlehobbits, take this outside so I can see to the other customers."
There were no other customers, but Sam and Ordin took the hint.
Once outside, Ordin took up his case with renewed passion. He hopped and flushed as he spoke.
"Come with me, then, to the old man Chubb! I'll show you. Just speak with him, and you'll be convinced as me that something queer is up!"
"I have guests today and cannot be away long," said Sam.
But still, to get the young hobbit off his back was tempting. Ought he? Martimus Chubb was not too far; it would take them under an hour to walk there, talk (if the old hobbit would even talk), and come back.
Ordin's imperious manner melted, and desperation took its place. "Please, Mr. Mayor! It will not be long! Just come talk to him. If you're right, you're right! If not…"
Sam then began to wonder whether he really was being thick-headed in ignoring the youth. If there were indeed some queer goings-on he would be culpable for having refused to take action. He exhaled. "All right, then, Mr. Burrows. Lead the way."
They walked down Bywater Road in silence. The sun had baked the damp air into a stifling blanket. The grass on the wayside wilted into the road. The few insects remaining above ground chirped half-heartedly. Sam wiped his brow with his handkerchief and shook his head in wonder at the energy of the dusky-colored hound, who bounded all over the path ahead. Only when they got about up to the mailbox of Martimus Chubb did the creature pause to growl at some rabbit in the hedge, and then quickly padded on after the two hobbits.
Sam tucked the handkerchief back into his right pocket. He felt something bump his leg. He looked around expecting to see Legolas-dog's snout. Instead he spied at his feet a mottled yellow lump.
"Is that… a potato?" he asked.
He was answered with another small tuber on his thigh. Ordin took a radish to his chest.
They finally rounded the rose hedges enough to see a late middle-age hobbit, with a scowl like a ditch dug in his features. He sat on a battered wooden chair on the porch before his front door. A basket of tubers sat at his feet, in easy reach.
"Hello, Mr. Chubb! I am Mayor Gamgee. I hoped to have a word…"
A potato dropped from Martimus' hand. He settled back into his chair and grunted, one eye on the wolfish hound.
"Well, go on, have your word."
Sam took two steps forward onto the stone footpath. Legolas-dog sat at his side. Sam then noticed Ordin was nowhere to be seen. All this trouble trying to get Sam to come and he vanishes! And Martimus had evidently not seen him. In spite of his annoyance over the young Burrows, he kept talking with a pleasant face.
"Your roses are getting on fine this year, Mr. Chubb."
An impatient grunt.
"Fond of rose hedges, I am, easy to keep and pretty too."
An ambiguous grunt.
"How's the leaf trade?"
"Been better years, been worse."
"Ah, well. Weather this month has been spotty, but there's room yet for a good season. I have not heard much from your son of late. Is he here?"
"Inside. Sick. Down with a cold."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Wish him well from me."
An indifferent grunt, followed by a moment of stilted silence.
"Well, Gamgee, I've work to be gettin' on."
"Of course. Good day, Mr. Chubb!"
Martimus did not reply in kind, and the interview was over. Sam and Legolas-dog turned back down the road toward the Hill. Sam looked at the saplings he had planted – saplings no longer – their full boughs dipping as though to acknowledge an old friend. He felt his mood rise. At a quarter of the way, the dog woofed and bounded with a happy whine onto Ordin, who had crashed out of the weeds and stumbled into the road.
"Where have you been, Mr. Burrows?" said Sam, pulling the jubilant animal back.
Ordin brushed stickers from his sleeves. He was flushed as much from running as from excitement. "I had a look in Adulfus' room while you kept the old Chubb distracted."
Sam coughed, too dumbfounded to speak.
"And it is just as I feared. Adulfus has not been in the house, and from the dust and staleness of his room, not for some weeks. He has vanished, and the old Chubb knows where!"
"First," said Sam, regaining his voice. "First, you must know that I am disquieted by your behavior, to enter another hobbit's home like some thief!"
Ordin puffed up to protest.
Sam held up a hand. "But I let it pass this time, for Martimus Chubb is assuredly the most impossible hobbit in the West Farthing to deal with, and left you with little choice."
"Then anyway, Mayor, you now know that I have never gotten the truth for the many times that I have asked and asked to see Adulfus, and of his health and his whereabouts. You must convince him to speak now."
"My suspicions still rest on the likeliest answer: Adulfus ran off and his father is too angry and ashamed to let word of it out."
"Adulf would not run off, not without telling me," Ordin cried. "And when you hear the rest of it, you'll agree the business is darker than that. Aldulf and his father argued often over the old Chubb's alliance with Lotho. Adulf told me he would get angry something fierce, his father worse. There may have been a time that the old Chubb got angry enough to … to …" Ordin would not finish.
"I do not believe that," Sam said sharply. "Even in those days no hobbit killed another hobbit, and that will not start now."
"Well, yes, I suppose. But I have still one more theory… Ted Sandyman, the old miller, you know, was ruined after you Travelers returned and brought peace back. (I was just a lad, but I remember!) His wife was the old Chubb's sister and their only child Lily inherited nothing from her destitute father after his death five years back. But she is next in line for her uncle Martimus' substantial assets, after Adulf. She might have blackmailed him somehow… convinced him to break with his father, so the inheritance goes to her…"
"That is just as absurd," Sam asserted. "She is unpleasant, but not scheming."
They had come to the crossroad of Bywater Road and Hill Lane.
"I will have the truth out, Mr. Mayor," said Ordin. "The old Chubb or Miss Sandyman knows it. And it is not pleasant, I'll warrant. And no matter the reason, it remains that Adulfus is unaccounted for."
They parted ways.
It was near ten-thirty now. Sam was sticky with sweat and looking forward to changing his clothes and sitting down to a late second breakfast, for he had worked up an appetite.
He was not in the least prepared to deal with Miss Lily Sandyman.
She was panting down the path from the Hill, evidently from Bag End itself.
"Mr. Mayor!" she said in a tone a queen might use to address her footman. She wore a yellow dress cut in the latest fashion and carried a sun-umbrella, as yellow as her dress. If she were not so unpleasant, with a frown that never curled upright, she would be pretty. "Mr. Mayor, I must speak with you."
"What is it you need, Miss Sandyman?" said Sam. He kept the hound firmly in check.
"It is about Ordin Burrows. That one is a great busy-body and fabricator, and I advise you to use discretion when listening to the tales he tells."
"I use discretion where I believe discretion due," said Sam.
"I am glad, then."
"Good day, Miss Sandyman."
But she lingered on. "There is one more matter, Mr. Mayor. A most serious one. There is word that a Big Person was sighted in Hobbiton. The Shire's laws need to be upheld. My best wishes as you investigate." And she walked on past him, without a further word.
Sam was thoughtful the rest of the way home. He came to Bag End's white gate before he knew it.
Above on the hill, the mallorn shimmered in a light breeze, its golden leaves dappling the silver bark with iridescent shadows. The rustling of leaves sounded like a thousand soft chimes. The tree never failed to take Sam's breath away. He was indeed fortunate! It was too great a gift for him. He really believed the Lady meant it to be shared. If he had kept it and all the soil to himself in a secret garden, and let no one ever see, he doubted the tree would have prospered. Legolas' words at breakfast fortified that inkling.
He entered his home. The hound padded down the hall, Sam suspected, in search of Gimli's stockings. The master of Bag End's first stop was the kitchen, where he found Rosie and Elanor scrubbing potatoes. The sight of the roots made him smile.
"Anything left from breakfast?" he asked.
"I saved a biscuit and a few rashers of bacon," said Rosie. "Oatcakes and preserves will be for elevenses and chicken and greens for a cold luncheon."
"I may wait for elevenses, then, for I can never have enough room for your oatcakes."
Rosie looked down to the potatoes, but Sam could still see her pleased smile.
"What will these be for?" he asked of the potatoes.
"For dinner. To be diced, boiled, and coated with butter, garlic, and rosemary," said Rosie.
"My favorite," said Sam.
"Will I be allowed in the kitchen tonight?"
"No, dear Samwise, you stay with your friends." She firmly pressed him out. "But you may make breakfast tomorrow," she added slyly.
Both loved the kitchen, and the greatest strain on their marriage was who would cook when. Had circumstances been less extraordinary this would have been his day to prepare the afternoon meals.
Sam exited the kitchen just as Legolas entered the hall from the direction of the cellar.
"Legolas, you need to be more careful," said Sam, smiling to show he joked. "You were seen by someone."
Legolas stood silent for a thoughtful moment.
A little explosion transpired behind the elf. "Mess, all over, Dad! Hay everywhere!" shouted Merry, thrilled beyond containment. He ran around the elf to his father and tugged his arm, hopping all the while.
"Someone was searching your stables," said Legolas. "I do not think anything was taken, nor any beast harmed. Come see!"
Rosie heard the excited voices and came in to investigate, followed by Gimli and the other children. She gasped at their news. "Someone was prowling about the stables?"
"Do not worry, Mistress Rose," said Gimli. "We will investigate and have the matter settled. Legolas, Sam, and I have dealt with worse." The dwarf could call forth the most comforting voice, and soon she calmed enough to return to her tasks.
Sam told the children to stay inside, silencing Merry's protests with a look, and followed Legolas and Gimli around the yard, to the back of the hill, where stood a small stable, just large enough for six animals and a wagon. A fence enclosed the pasture behind it.
Hay was flung about in chunks, as though someone had expected to find something underneath it. Sacks of oats were sliced open and buckets lay on their sides. If the animals had been distressed, they did not show it now. Gimli's long-haired pony and Legolas' dappled grey horse nibbled at the mess in content. Old Bill, who was truly quite ancient and shrunken, stood silent and sleepy.
"Why would someone bother to search in here? And what for?" Sam muttered to Bill. The venerable pony gazed with drowsy affection at Sam as the hobbit rubbed his muzzle. Those two know more than they're letting on, he added to himself, and decided to force it out of them before the day was done.
Gimli sighed, as though he had heard Sam's thoughts.
"Our culprit is a woman." Legolas led Sam around to the pasture. Several footprints were pressed neatly in the mud. "They are too large for the children, and I do not believe Lady Rose stood here since the rain of last night?"
Sam shook his head. "No, she would not have come out here. But then, who could it be?"
He kicked at some tussled hay and stood still. "Not… Miss Sandyman…"
That made no sense. Was she so bold that she would approach Sam after digging around in his stables? (And for heavens knew why!) She had mentioned Big Folk. Had she seen Legolas' horse and made the inference? Perhaps he was wrong and Ordin was right, and she was the blackmailing type after all. And her message was that he should stay off the case of the vanished Adulfus Chubb.
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To be continued…
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