Two days later Frodo went back to Michel Delving to go through papers which had never been filed. He was met by Will Whitfoot’s nephew Gordolac, who brought his uncle’s keys.
“Did any of the Big Men enter here?” Frodo asked.
“The one called Sharkey did, but after looking at the room he turned and left again,” Gordo answered. “He laughed to see it all.”
Once the door was opened, Frodo saw quickly what there was to laugh at. Hobbits were very formal with their documents and records. Formal documents usually required a minimum of seven witnesses affixing their signatures in red ink, and the wording was often complex and verbose. A simple sales document requiring one to two pages in Gondor would easily run to seven to nine pages in the Shire; a certificate of birth or death which again in Gondor would run a single page at best would run a minimum of five pages in the Shire as all progenitors through five generations needed to be listed on the former; while certificates of death required that all living relatives within six generations and five degrees of cousins, their ages, addresses, and occupations needed to be listed as well. Wills were often bound in volumes; property sales needed to have each boundary marker individually verified by at least five witnesses, each on its own sheet. The room was stacked full of documents of all sorts, none of which could be filed without the signature of the Mayor.
Frodo looked at the room and took a deep breath. “Could you find me a representative of the Took family, please?” he asked. Pippin was already at the Great Smial, presenting his dispatches from the King to his father, after which he was to travel east again to Buckland to do the same to the Master, at which time he would join the patrols going through the Shire and keeping watch on the borders.
Gordo shrugged. “Should be fairly easy to do now,” he said. “I’ll go and see if I can find one. Is there anything else I can do first?”
Frodo nodded as he removed his cloak and hung it on an elaborate hall tree just outside the office door. “First, please bring me a large mug of water.”
An hour later Isumbard Took entered the office. He was filled with a strange excitement--he’d always admired his cousin Frodo, although the two had seldom done much together, particularly since Pearl and he had married. The news that Frodo had come to the end of his money had raised his suspicions. He and his uncle Paladin had probably more awareness of the extent of Frodo’s business dealings than most, as Frodo had interests in many of the farms in Tookland. When Frodo disappeared with Meriadoc Brandybuck and the Thain’s heir in tow the resulting explosion in the Great Smial must have been heard throughout the Shire, and probably at least halfway to Bree besides. The arrival of Pippin demanding a group of Tookland’s best archers to clear the Shire of the Big Men had certainly not gone unnoticed, to say the least. So serious was Pippin’s attitude that his father had simply given the required order and watched his son’s almost immediate departure with amazement. However, when Pippin went home again, Isumbard suspected things would not be either as abrupt or without incident. Paladin Took was still upset at the lad going off without permission to unknown foreign parts, and would undoubtedly have a good deal to say and to demand of his son. As for Frodo’s part in the situation--well, the letter the Thain had received from Pippin had indicated that Frodo was the instigator of the disappearance. There would be no matter of simple forgiveness of Frodo’s behavior by Paladin Took.
Isumbard searched the room--the desk was stacked with documents as were the various tables, but no one sat in the chair. Where was Frodo in this confusion? he wondered. He heard a noise on the far side of the room beyond the table there, made his way through even more stacks of documents on the floor, and finally found his cousin on the other side of the table there sitting on a hard wooden chair, leaning sideways on the tabletop going through the pages of a marriage contract, running his left hand through his hair, his expression intent and absorbed. Isumbard stood quietly, allowing Frodo to finish his study before interrupting him. Looking on Frodo, he was shocked. Always slender compared to the average Hobbit, Frodo was only a few steps, Isumbard felt, from emaciation. His eyes were deeply shadowed as if he had been desperately ill, his jaw set in a manner which had not been common to him before. And, then there was the hand----
Frodo’s right hand lay on the tabletop, the fingers as slender, long and shapely as ever--except for the ring finger, which was missing. The skin over the stump of it had been carefully drawn over the knuckle apparently by a skilled surgeon, and Frodo did not appear to be in any pain as he leaned on the hand. But there was no question that the ring finger was gone, and that the slightly exposed wrist was scarred, as if Frodo had been tightly bound.
Suddenly Frodo was aware of him, of the focus of his attention. He did not color, but paled, a rather ghastly effect on a visage already pale by nature. He straightened abruptly and dropped the right hand beneath the table, pulled the sleeve down. The expression he gave Isumbard was at one and the same time studiously neutral and defiant.
“Are you well, Frodo?” Isumbard asked quietly.
“As well as can be expected,” was the reply, and the Took had the idea this was the only reply he was going to get on that subject.
“We have missed you.”
“And I’ve missed the Shire.”
“It is good to have you back.”
Frodo looked about distractedly, then up at his cousin, his expression somewhat bereft. “I wish I felt it was good to be back, Bard. All during the time I was gone, I held onto the idea that home was waiting, safe----” He briefly looked as if he were about to weep. Then he said in a low tone, “I couldn’t even manage to draw the evil away properly.” A brief, very brief spasm of pain crossed his face, was schooled and gone before Isumbard had the chance to be quite certain he’d seen it. Again Frodo’s face was studiously neutral as he looked up. “Are you the Took Gordo summoned for me?”
Isumbard smiled. “Yes, although if you want me for what I think you want me for, I doubt I’ll thank you for it.”
Frodo sighed. “I don’t ask you to thank me for it, only to find a few more to help in setting all this in order. I don’t think that Will filed anything from the moment I left Bag End.”
“Well, as he was seized and imprisoned not long after you left, I doubt he had the chance to do much. Where did the four of you go?”
Frodo shook his head, then suddenly looked up, his face again paler, almost grey. “You don’t wish to know, Bard, believe me. We ended up in Minas Tirith, the capitol of Gondor, and I will tell you only this--there is a King again, one to renew all else. Uncle Paladin will have received the dispatches already, I think.”
“What?” The expression When the King returns had come to be synonymous with In a pig’s eye and Never. To hear that there was a King again.... Isumbard examined his cousin’s face, saw the lift of pride and even a bit of relief to it. “You’ve seen him?”
Frodo’s face softened markedly, became more that to which Isumbard was accustomed. “Yes. He’s a fine Man, Isumbard. The finest.” His smile lit up his features. “His name is Aragorn. He’s the last of the line of Kings, North or South. He reunites Gondor and Arnor. His throne name is Elessar. He is--he is marvelous, Bard. Marvelous.” Unconsciously he reached for his throat, touched a jewel Isumbard suddenly realized he wore there, as if assuring himself it had not gone missing. The smile remained as he reached out to take up a mug that stood there and drank a sip from it. He then straightened, looked around, became businesslike. He took a deep breath and sighed. “Will has made me Deputy Mayor, and this, apparently, is the first thing to be done, getting all of this in order. If Buckland were closer I’d have sent for my own lawyer for aid, but since it’s not....” He gave another sigh. “Can you get me about six sufficiently versed in the law to help me sort this mess out and review it all before we file it?” He looked again. “We will need to find all the documents Lotho has submitted in especial, for they will have to be examined most closely. We’ll even have to check the archives for what had been filed as long as three years back at least. I’ve set Sam to setting the quick post back in order and organizing the reconstruction; Pippin, as King’s Messenger, will be notifying all family heads of the new order as well as delivering the dispatches sent by the King to Master, Thain, and Mayor--oh, sweet Valar, that’s me for the moment, isn’t it? Oh, well, at least I don’t have to read it.”
Frodo smiled. “I helped Aragorn draft it, after all.” He laughed, and it was nice to know that he was still able to do so. “One advantage to having spent a couple months at his side before returning home.” Then the bleak look returned, briefly. “I will need to go over it with Will. Anyway, Pippin, after he’s done with the King’s business, will then assist Merry in the hunts to sweep the Shire and secure our borders from more brigands, although since Saruman’s death I doubt many will remain or seek to enter in again.”
“Saruman--Curunír--Sharkey--all the same person in the end.”
“He is definitely dead, then?”
“No question, Bard.” There was a look of deep sadness on Frodo’s face. “He fell so far, so far. Even the Valar wouldn’t have him back.”
Isumbard had no idea what was meant by that, but knew the solemnity was back in Frodo, and he felt grief for it. “I’ll see to having Tolly finding you a good half dozen, then.”
“Thank you, Bard, thank you.” Frodo was already turning his attention back to the document he was reading, and Isumbard Took realized he’d been dismissed.
An hour later he came back to tell Frodo that there were two more who would be joining them at any time, but as he approached the partially open door he heard voices within and didn’t wish to interrupt. One was definitely Frodo, and he suspected the other was Samwise Gamgee, although he and Sam had barely ever spoken with one another. What, after all, would one of the scions of the Tooks have in common with the gardener of Bag End? Except, of course, Pippin had always liked Sam and referred to him as his friend. Isumbard stopped just outside the door, but didn’t open it further or turn away, listened.
“You need to drink it, Frodo.”
“I told you, Sam--I am sick of draughts.”
“Then don’t think of it as draughts--it’s tea and I made it special for you.” After a moment, he continued, “It’s the only thing so far as has eased your stomach. You didn’t eat much more than a bite this morning afore you left.”
“I couldn’t have kept it down.”
“Then drink this, and maybe you will be able to.”
“I was drinking of it yesterday....”
“Yes, you was drinking of it yesterday--but only a sip at a time. You need to drink more than that for it to do much good.” Then, exasperated, “Oh, for pity’s sake, Mr. Frodo--you don’t have to ration yourself no more. It’s not like we was still in the Emyn Muil or in Mordor!”
Isumbard straightened in shock. He’d never heard of that first place; but--Mordor? What was this about? What in Middle Earth had happened to his cousin?
Frodo’s voice was soft, and the Took at the door couldn’t hear what he said. Sam sighed, and answered, “I know, Master--it’s hard to realize it’s over, and maybe you don’t feel as it’s over, neither. But it is. We’re here in the Shire and you don’t need to stint yourself no more. Now, drink it. Drink it slow if you have to, but drink it all. Strider’ll have my head if he looks on us with that stone of his and sees you looking like this again.”
Frodo laughed, again, an unexpected sound. “I doubt it, not the head of the Lord Samwise, he won’t.”
“Now, don’t you go teasing me.”
“I’m not teasing you, and you know it.”
There was another moment’s silence. “That’s better,” Sam said. “Just get it down you. That herb as the King showed us seems to do you the best good.”
“Then why didn’t he use it on me in Minas Tirith?”
“He used it on you, but you was more than a bit distracted at the time. You wouldn’t even member it.”
“Then how do you know of it?”
“You think Strider’n me didn’t talk?”
Isumbard could hear Frodo’s sigh. “I know you did, Sam. As if there weren’t more profitable subjects of conversation.”
“He loves you, Frodo, he loves you dear. And so do I. He called you back, and you need to know some peace and happiness afore you go that way again. We’re agreed on that.”
Then before Frodo had a chance to argue about that, Sam changed the subject. “Now, what are we to do with all this?”
“We, nothing. You will have your hands more than full helping with the quick post and the rebuilding of the Shire, the replanting of the trees and gardens and all. Isumbard is summoning some help to get it all sorted.”
“What are you trying to do?”
“Well, I suppose the first order of business is just to sort the documents into kinds--wills, certificates of death, certificates of birth, marriage contracts, property
sales, business sales, partnership documents, apprenticeship indentures. But anything that Lotho did we need to set aside so we can do a thorough examination of just how he became so powerful so fast. I want to see if this is a conspiracy within the Shire, for if so there are likely to be others infected with the Dragon sickness as well, and they’ll need special help or it will all happen all over again.”
Isumbard had never heard of Dragon sickness before, and wasn’t certain what it meant.
Sam was saying, “I suspect there was a few like Ted Sandyman who saw Mr. Lotho’s actions as just fine; but most like he used a number of different lawyers so as no one of them realized just how many properties and shares as he was buying up.”
“I suspect you are correct, but we need to be certain.”
“Well, I brought you a hamper there. And don’t go thinkin’ as you need to eat it all in one sitting--it’s all things as can be eaten cold, so you can just eat a bit now and then so as not to overload the stomach again.”
Frodo’s voice was very gentle. “Thank you, Sam. You have always cared for me better than I deserve.”
There was a sound of pain in Sam’s voice as he said, “Oh, Master....”
Isumbard realized that if Sam were to come out now he’d realize that the Took had been listening, so he reached for the door and opened it as if he’d only just come. “Oh, Frodo--I’ve sent Hildibrand off to the Great Smial, and he ought to return within a few hours with the four more. But Tolly and Eldred ought to be along any moment now. Now, just how are we to organize these?”
Samwise Gamgee was pouring a liquid from a waterskin he carried into the mug that sat by Frodo, and a fair-sized hamper sat on a cleared space on the table. He didn’t interrupt his actions to do more than nod a greeting and say, “Good day to you, Mr. Isumbard.”
“Oh, hello, Samwise. It’s been quite a time since I saw you last.”
“Yes, not since the Free Fair last year, I think. Good to see you, sir.” Having poured the last of the contents of the skin into the mug, he corked it. “There’s the last of your tea, then, Mr. Frodo. You be certain to drink it all.”
“Yes, Sam, I promise.”
Sam’s expression was concerned. “I’ll be membering that you made the promise, mind. Don’t disappoint me. Now, I’m off to the Northfarthing to see Hal. I just wish as our children would see the Shire as we knew it, stead of only seeing new trees all just coming up.”
“We can only do the best we can, Sam. Give my regards to your brother and his family.”
“I will. We won’t be planting much now--best to do that in February, you know. But we can see where the most of the cutting was done and plan for then, at least.”
“Good idea, Sam.”
“And I have a number of them as has lost the most pulling down the brick buildings those horrors put up, and saving the bricks of them. We can use them in rebuilding houses as was torn down and fixing up the new holes as we dig them.”
“Good idea. Are you going to do much the same as you go through the Shire?”
“Yes. But my guess is that the most as was dug out will be those close to Hobbiton. It was most, I think, to punish us, to hurt you. He always was jealous of you, after all. All three of them was.”
Frodo sighed, “I know, Sam.”
Sam gave Frodo a searching look. “You stand steady till I get back, Mr. Frodo. I won’t be gone long.” He placed a strong hand on Frodo’s shoulder, then with a nod turned away, touching his forehead and giving a brief nod of farewell to Isumbard as he left.
Isumbard looked after him, then turned to Frodo, who was sipping at the mug Sam had filled for him. “He has become more confident, I think.”
“Sam? Yes, he has. And with reason. Now, about these documents....”
Tolly and Eldred arrived soon after, and soon the three Tooks were sorting the various documents into new stacks. Once Hildibrand and the four he’d brought arrived, the business went much faster, and it was not long before midnight that they had the materials pretty much organized. Frodo had been eating food from the hamper off and on all afternoon, and local goodwives had been bringing in meals as well for all. His color was now definitely improved, although he was now looking very weary, as all of them felt by this time. “This is all we can do right now, I think. Shall we meet in the morning, then, to start examining the documents and make certain all are in order so I can sign them and we can actually get them filed?”
With nods all round, the group began to disperse.
As they walked out and Frodo locked the door behind them, Isumbard asked, “You aren’t going to ride back to Hobbiton now, are you?”
“I’ve been staying at the Cotton’s farm in Bywater, actually. But, no, Will and Mina have let me know I’m to sleep in their extra room tonight.”
Frodo reached for his cloak--not the one he’d worn out of the Shire, Isumbard noticed, but one of a beautiful weave, silver-green in the low lantern light of the passageway, secured with an enameled brooch of a green leaf done in silver filigree. Nearby hung another waterskin, and Frodo carefully settled it over his shoulder.
“You need a water bottle to walk from here to Will Whitfoot’s house, Frodo?”
Frodo’s smile faded. Finally he said, quietly, “I like to keep something to drink by me, Bard. I had to go without for a time--makes one more appreciative of it after, I’ve found.” He looked at his cousin, his face again neutral. “I wish you a good night, Bard. And take my greetings to Ferdibrand and all else there.” He turned away and walked alone to the Whitfoot place. Isumbard looked after, feeling frustrated.