Sam arrived three hours later with a pony cart. Frodo was obviously much recovered, but appeared grateful for the change from his pony. Sam looked at the mug and noted it smelled of his tea, and smiled at Isumbard. “You gave it to him, then?” At the Took’s nod, Sam said, “Thank you. It will help.” He looked at the bag and smiled more broadly. “So, Strider sent him something as well, did he?” He looked at the coins. “What are--oh, I see. The new King’s coinage, then.”
Frodo managed a smile up at him. “Two of them are yours.” And at the expression threatening to cover his gardener’s face he added, “I have the letter he sent directing me to give you two and Merry and Pippin each one. Am I to disobey my King?”
Sam’s expression softened and he laughed, then he picked up two of the coins and carefully put them into an inner pocket. He went to fetch the silver-grey cloak and wrapped it carefully around Frodo, who walked with him out the door, through the passage, and into the twilight.
Isumbard and the others put out the lights and went out, locking the door behind them. Down the road on the way toward Hobbiton and Bywater they could see through the continuing drizzle the pony cart in the distance, two figures seated side by side, Strider the pony walking placidly behind. After stopping to tell the Whitfoots the news of the day, the four Tooks headed back to Tookland.
That night Isumbard and Ferdibrand joined the Thain in his study, and the former described what had happened in Michel Delving. The Thain had also received a letter from the King, thanking him for the list of concerns he had sent, advising him they would be considered seriously, and that when Lord Halladan came south in a few weeks’ time they would be thoroughly discussed. Included with the letter was another of the new coins, also a gold one, with a note that this was the form all future coins of the realm would take, although local communities were to be allowed to use their own coinage as they saw fit within themselves. Paladin watched moodily as Ferdibrand turned the coin over and over between his fingers, examining it thoroughly.
“So,” the Thain said, “that is the new King, is it?”
“Apparently,” Isumbard agreed. “I must say I am getting confused, for they appear to use Strider and Aragorn interchangeably when speaking of him.”
Ferdi smiled as he reached forward to lay the coin at last on the desk. “Telcontar means far walker or strider. That is part of his throne name, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar.”
Ferdi thought, remembering back to a book on Elvish sent by Bilbo Baggins years ago. Finally he said slowly, “Elfstone Renewer Far-Strider. An interesting name to take. And if I remember correctly the prefix ar- indicated the individual was the King of Númenor. That was why Arvedui was named as he was--many of the Kings of Arnor had the royal ar- as part of their names.”
“History lessons!” muttered Paladin Took.
“What does he look like?” Ferdi wanted to know.
Isumbard described the profile of the King, the short beard, rounded ears, high brow, mixed expression, indication of a smile. Ferdi smiled himself. “He sounds as if he were a good person to know, then,” he commented. “How is Frodo doing?”
“He seems to be doing much better, but the loss of the coin with the seal on it and then finding he’d just purchased Bag End with it appeared to be a shock to his system. And I must say that Bartolo was quite rude.”
“Probably had thought he’d inherit Bag End himself,” Paladin said.
“I suspect you’re right,” Isumbard replied, thoughtfully. “Otho and Lotho and Lobelia aren’t the only ones with odd ambitions in that part of the family.”
“A Bracegirdle in Hobbiton? The Valar forbid!” Ferdi said, shaking his head.
“Well, they did have Lobelia there much of her married life.”
“True,” the blind Hobbit sighed, then reached for his mug.
Automatically Isumbard directed, “More to your right.”
“You say the King sent him a gift?” asked the Thain.
“Yes, a very formal and beautifully embroidered suit of clothing--quite the most exquisite work I’ve ever seen. He says it is the Queen’s workmanship.”
“I see. Have you seen Pippin today?”
“Yes, he and Merry came to have a consultation with Frodo.”
“He’s giving them the Crickhollow house to live in together.”
Somehow Paladin Took wasn’t particularly surprised. “I’d wondered if it would come to that.”
“Yes, it did. But the reason appears to be to give them time to come to terms with what has happened to them. Whatever they did, it has changed all four of them.”
“Is Frodo moving in with them?”
“No, doesn’t seem to want to leave the Cottons’ farm.”
“It would be awkward, traveling to Michel Delving three days a week from Buckland, I suppose.” Isumbard agreed.
Finally the Thain sighed. “He sent me a note the other day that he’s coming to meet with me about the King’s dispatches next week.”
“Good. But if you have him for a meal, fix something light and easy to digest, and don’t be offended if he can’t eat it all.”
“His stomach has become delicate.”
“Never was before.”
“Well, it is now. It is a matter of concern to the King, apparently.”
“A matter of concern for the King?”
“Yes. The King even had him eating rice for its digestibility.”
“Rice?” Memories of wars with Eglantine many years previous over rice came to mind.
“Yes, although he says he’d only eat it if the Queen made a special sauce for it and mixed it in with the meat and vegetables so it didn’t taste like rice any more.”
“I see. Well, as the Queen isn’t here, I’ll advise Eglantine to order something other than rice.”
After a time Paladin added, “I’m glad he didn’t grow to an unprecedented height. He ought to be able to sleep in the room he used to use.”
Ferdi added, “If you can convince him to stay.”
“Yes, there’s that.”
Ferdibrand asked, “Are you going to ask him again what happened out there?”
“I’m going to try, not that I expect a great deal out of him.”
Isumbard said softly, “From what little he’s said, he did indeed go to Mordor. He spoke of the smoke and ash and fumes from the volcano, of nearly starving there. He said he was certain he would die.”
After another period of time, Paladin sighed again. “It seems I’ve lost my son. I’d hate to have lost Frodo as well.”
The next day they heard the news that Samwise Gamgee had added the restoration of Bag End to the works he was directing. He showed up in the late afternoon to talk to one of the Tooks who did much of the maintenance work at the Great Smial about whom to approach regarding having panelling replaced, and Paladin himself went through storerooms with him, putting aside sheets of panelling for Sam to fetch back to Hobbiton when he could obtain the use of a suitable wagon. Sam then went on to Budgeford to speak with the Bolgers about obtaining stone and slate from the family quarries to replace flooring.
In three days’ time the work had commenced. Sam himself led the cleaning out of the filth and removal of the remains of Lotho’s furniture, assisted by Sancho and Angelica Proudfoot and their son Pando. By the time Frodo arrived at the Great Smial to meet with his older Took cousins, most of the smial had reportedly been cleansed. Some of the original Bag End furniture was salvageable, but most of it would need to be replaced. All this was discussed with Frodo as they sat in the private parlor which was the private domain of the Thain and his immediate family. Only Paladin and Eglantine were there, for they realized that Frodo wouldn’t be willing to talk before many folk, and if he refused to talk or said something about their treatment of Pippin they didn’t want the humiliation of it being said where it could be widely reported.
Frodo wore the outfit he’d worn home from Gondor, which was quite appropriate, Eglantine had to admit. “The workmanship on your clothing is particularly fine,” she commented.
“Thank you, Aunt,” he replied. “The King had it made for me, that I not appear odd when I returned home.”
“What happend to the clothing you took with you?”
“We lost part of it in the Barrow Downs, and had only a little with us from there. In--in Cirith Ungol I lost the rest of my baggage and my clothes--had to wear--had to wear borrowed things from there on until I couldn’t bear it any longer. Then Sam dumped them down a fissure.”
“Where is Cirith Ungol?”
Apparently Frodo had decided to answer their questions as best he could, to force himself to talk of it. “It is a pass in the Ephel Duath, the Mountains of Shadow. It was the way Sam and I entered Mordor.”
“Why did you go to Mordor, Frodo?” asked the Thain.
“We had to.”
“But why did you have to?”
Frodo looked away, his face sad. Finally he said, “You’ve heard the stories Bilbo used to tell of finding a magic ring that made him invisible?”
“Of course we’ve heard it! He is my cousin, after all.”
He looked back at his hands, then at Paladin Took. “They were true. He told me of it not long after I came to live with him. Gandalf was worried, for he knew that such a ring was a great rarity, particularly as he became convinced that the power of this thing was assisting Bilbo to remain looking young.” He remained quiet for some time. “We had to get rid of the thing, and I agreed to take it back where it was made. So, I went to Mordor.”
“And Merry and Pippin went with you?”
“We were with them until we got to the borders of Gondor on the River. I was worried, for already there were signs that the company was being corrupted. I finally decided to go on by myself. Sam found me out, went with me in spite of what I wanted. We both thought at the end we would die. I didn’t want that for them, not for Merry and Pippin and the rest. It was already taking Boromir when I left. We left them behind, again hoping to draw the evil after us, keep them safe.” His voice dropped. “Worked about as well as leaving here to keep the Shire safe.”
Eglantine fastened on the idea that the younger two Hobbits had been left behind to keep them safe. “Oh, so nothing horrible happened to them, then.” It was not a question.
Frodo looked up at her. “I never said such a thing, Aunt. I hoped they would be safe, but there, so close to Mordor, there were no safe places.” He swallowed. “Orcs came....”
“They were chasing after you and Sam?”
“They were looking for me, but they didn’t find me. They found....”
“Why didn’t they find you?”
“Somehow they missed me on the hill, and I was wearing--It--to make me invisible so I could get by the rest of the Fellowship and avoid being seen by enemies. They never saw me and never found me. They killed Boromir....”
“Who was that?”
“One of the Fellowship. He was the heir to the Steward of Gondor. He died there at Amon Hen, protecting Merry and Pippin....”
“Oh,” Eglantine said. “Merry and Pippin knew about it?”
“Of course they knew about it, Aunt. They saw it, saw him pierced by arrows.”
“Then they got away.”
“They didn’t get away until later, Aunt, after they’d been brought to the eaves of Fangorn Forest. Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli....”
“Who are they?”
Frodo gave a sigh of desperation. His cousin was not going to allow him to tell the story, was going to hear only what she wished to hear. He closed his eyes. “Aragorn son of Arathorn is now our King. He was chieftain of the Rangers of Eriador, chieftain of the descendants of Númenor in the remnants of the Northern Kingdom, heir of the line of Kings. He was our guide from Bree to Rivendell, and became one of the members of the Fellowship. You’ve met the Dwarf Gloin, Uncle Bilbo’s friend?”
Eglantine nodded. “Yes, we’ve been introduced. He was one of those who was there when Bilbo left, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, he was. Gimli is his son. Legolas is the son of King Thranduil, the King of the Elves of Mirkwood. The last member of the Fellowship was Gandalf, but we lost him at Moria. We all thought him dead, and I suppose he was. But the Powers sent him back to see the end of the business. He’s the White now.”
This was too confusing for his nominal uncle and aunt to understand, so both chose to ignore it. Paladin asked, “How did you lose your finger, Frodo?”
“It’s not important, Uncle Paladin. Be glad it’s gone now.”
Paladin Took looked shocked at his younger cousin. “I don’t know what to think of this, Frodo!”
“Of course you don’t. You weren’t there--hopefully can’t begin to imagine it. I don’t want you to imagine it. I don’t have to imagine it--but I wish I were doing so.” He took a deep breath. “Please,” he finally said, “I don’t wish to speak of it further. I’m supposed to discuss the King’s dispatches with you.”
“Yes. I suppose so. So, how did this Aragorn son of Arathorn become our King?”
Frodo gave a deep sigh. It was going to be a long discussion, he realized, and they were not going to understand more than one word in ten he said.
By the time the interview was over, Frodo had a raging headache. They wanted him to join them for tea, but he shook his head and begged off, explaining he was fatigued and only wished to lie down. Eglantine led him to his usual room and saw him into it, and he gently kissed her cheek before he closed the door and fell into the bed.
He woke to realize the room was dark--he’d left the rush light burning, but apparently it had burned out. He realized he was not alone, and suddenly was frightened until he heard Ferdibrand speak. “Oh, so you are awake now?”
“How do you know?”
“First, the whispering stopped, and then your breathing changed. I might have said I saw your eyes open, also, I suppose, although I didn’t.”
“You couldn’t. The rush light is out, so there’s no way you could see anything. What whispering?”
“Pippin cries out with his dreams--you whisper.”
“Oh, I beg to correct that misconception. Yes, you do.”
Frodo lay for a time quietly, then asked, “What did I whisper?”
“That there it was, the Chamber of Fire--there was the door, you could be free of It at last. You were relieved that Sam was kept busy and that he wouldn’t see--and then you woke up.”
“Yes, I often wake up at this point.” He thought for a moment, then added, “I’ll warn you--I often will call out in my sleep as well--just in case you sit by me when I sleep again.”
“I’ll remember the warning. Where is this Chamber of Fire?”
“Mount Doom in Mordor.”
“Did you really go there, Frodo?”
“What didn’t you wish Sam to see?”
“I was planning to leap into the volcano, into the fire.”
“I couldn’t think of any other way to destroy It. I knew by that time I couldn’t give It up voluntarily--It had taken me too deeply. I thought that was what I’d have to do.”
“I’m glad you didn’t.”
Frodo didn’t answer.
Finally Ferdibrand asked another question. “Why was Sam busy outside?”
“Gollum caught up with us again, had attacked me, and Sam had attacked him with Sting.”
“Uncle Bilbo’s sword, Sting?”
“How did he get that?”
“Bilbo gave it to me, that and the mithril shirt, before we left Rivendell the first time, on the way to Mordor.”
“So, he took them, did he? I’d wondered.”
After a few moments of quiet, Frodo added, “As we were entering Mordor I’d given Sam both the starglass to hold and Sting to use--briefly, and I ran ahead. I was caught by the spider, though, was bitten on the neck and poisoned.”
“There is a great spider in one of the passes into Mordor. Sauron used her as a watch beast, apparently.”
“Like the spiders Bilbo told of in Mirkwood?”
“Yes. I think she may be their mother, in fact.” He could feel Ferdi shudder.
“What is the starglass?”
“A gift I received along the way, from the Lady Galadriel. It is a small glass phial full of water in which the light of Eärendil has been captured. It will shine brightly when I hold it--everywhere except the Sammath Naur itself, or so Sam has told me.” Why he felt comfortable telling all this to Ferdibrand Took, Frodo could not say; but somehow, sitting there in the dark together, it just seemed the right thing to do. Finally he went on. “Sam thought I was dead, so he kept Sting and the Phial and took the Ring, thinking it was now his duty to take It on to Its destruction. By the time he learned I wasn’t dead and came and found me, helped me escape, I’d been completely stripped. He had to give me back the Ring, but I gave him the rest. I wore only his Elven cloak at the end--and Its chain.”
“What is It?”
“The Enemy’s Ring.”
Frodo could feel Ferdi straighten. “The Enemy’s Ring? You mean the one Isildur lost when he was killed?”
“You know about that?”
“I’d always loved the stories about Númenor, better than the stories about the Great Elves, if you remember. And I remember reading the story of Isildur in one of Bilbo’s books repeatedly. He’d sent it here to the Smial when I was a lad, and I almost made it mine.”
“I didn’t know.”
“I don’t think I ever discussed it with you. He sent a book on Elvish, also, and I used to read that one, too.”
“Too bad he wasn’t welcome here under Fortumbras, for he might have adopted you.”
Ferdi was going back to the original subject. “How did you come by the Enemy’s Ring?”
“It’s the one Bilbo found in Gollum’s cavern, the one he put in his pocket.”
“How did It come there?”
Briefly Frodo outlined the history of the Ring as learned by Gandalf, and Ferdi sat considering it in silence for some time. “So, that’s how he made himself disappear at his party?”
“Did he know what It was?”
“Not till shortly before we got to Rivendell, apparently.”
“When did you learn It was the Enemy’s Ring?”
“The spring before we left. There was one test Gandalf learned could tell us, and he tried it, and the Ring was found out at last.”
“So, you had to carry It to Mordor?”
“I am sorry, Frodo.”
“No more than I am.”
“You put It on at the last?”
“Yes. It took me completely, there in the Sammath Naur. I put It on and claimed It for my own--not that I could have used It.”
“Is that how you lost your finger.”
When he finally answered, Frodo’s voice was almost lost completely. “Yes. Gollum leapt on me and bit the finger off of me. He fell with It into the volcano himself.”
“Oh, sweet Creator.”
“Sam got you out of there?”
“Do you remember all of this?”
“Bits and pieces of it. Sam told Gandalf and Aragorn and me. That’s how I know most of it.”
“No wonder you have nightmares.”
“I remember one year when I was small, Bilbo telling a group of us children at the Free Fair about the Riddle Game and the ring in his pocket he’d found. I’d always wondered how it got into Gollum’s cave.” Ferdi thought again for a time. “Did you tell this to Eglantine and the Thain?”
“They never gave me the chance, not that I could have told them, I think.”
“Kept interrupting you, did they?”
“You know them well enough, then.”
Ferdi laughed, reached out and touched Frodo’s left shoulder, reached down and found his hand, held it. Frodo squeezed his back. Finally Ferdi asked, “Do you feel like going to dinner? It will be soon.”
“I suppose so.”
“Isumbard has warned them you can’t eat much, so they are doing their best to follow his advice.”
“I’m glad. Today’s one of the days when my stomach is pretty upset.”
“I can imagine. You said the rushlight is out?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Shall I open the door for you so you can see a bit, then?”
“Yes, thank you.”
A few moments later Frodo was going to the Thain’s dining room with Ferdibrand, and took his place at the long table with the rest of the family. He stood for a moment facing West before he sat down. Conversation was deliberately light. Finally Ferdi asked him about the King, and Frodo was grateful to him as he began describing Aragorn’s coronation before the broken gates of the city of Minas Tirith. This time they did not interrupt, and listened intently as he spoke. Finally Eglantine asked, “Was Pippin there for this?”
“Yes--we were all present.”
“What happened to the gates?” asked Pervinca, fascinated.
“The Enemy had had wrought a great battering ram in the shape of a wolf, and they used it to destroy the old gates. The chief of the Nazgul started to ride into the city to take possession of it, but Gandalf sat on Shadowfax within it, and defied him. Then they heard the horns of the Riders of Rohan as they arrived to break the siege, and the Nazgul turned away, went back to fetch his fell beast and direct the fight against the Rohirrim.”
“Were you there then? During the fight, I mean.”
“No, for Sam and I had gone east by then. Pippin told us of seeing this, for he was there in the city when it happened, saw Gandalf’s defiance.”
“Where was Merry?”
Frodo smiled. “He was among the Rohirrim, and helped to break the siege. They are both heroes, you know, Merry and Pippin.”
Pimpernel sat by Ferdibrand and watched the progress of her son Piper’s dinner. “Hard to imagine Pippin as a hero.”
“Well, you can believe it. He saved the life of the Lord Faramir that morning. And Merry saved the life of the Lady Éowyn of Rohan, alongside whom he fought on the Fields of the Pelennor.”
Eglantine was horrified. “They were fighting?”
“Aunt Eglantine, they were caught amidst a war. Yes, they fought. We were each fighting Sauron as we were able.”
“But it wasn’t our fight....”
“It was our fight, too. Don’t you understand? Had he won, Sauron would have destroyed the Shire as well as Gondor and Rohan and Arnor and the lands of the Elves and Dwarves. That was what he had come to from his three ages’ dedication to acquiring power. That was why they suborned Lotho, he and Saruman--to take power over our land, to prepare us for anihilation.”
“But why would they care about Hobbits?”
“Aunt Eglantine, when Arvedui died, we helped his wife and heir escape from the Witch King of Angmar--and he was the chief of the Nazgul. It was his troops who raged over the Shire then, until the forces of Gondor came to the North Kingdom’s aid and defeated his army and he fled back to Minas Morgul on the border of Mordor. This time we committed a worse offense in the eyes of Mordor--we were alive and well and thriving--and Bilbo and I had some--something Sauron and Saruman both wanted very much. I might have left the Shire with It, but they would destroy the rest of the Shire to avenge themselves against me.”
Paladin looked at Frodo reprovingly. “You appear to be pumping yourself up very large in all this.”
Frodo raised his eyes to the vaulted ceiling. “Oh, I did that, too.” Pimpernel saw there were unshed tears in Frodo’s eyes. Frodo set down his knife and fork, and looked down on his plate. “Please forgive me--I cannot eat any more. I must go lie down again.” He rose, bowed to the company, and left. He stopped by the room where such were kept and obtained a new rush light and had it lit, and went back to his room.
An hour later Paladin Took looked into Frodo’s room, found him lying asleep, clutching at the jewel he wore on a chain about his neck, still in his clothing for the day, his face pale and reflecting pain. Paladin entered, carefully pulled the sheets and coverlets over Frodo, stroked the hair away from the pale face.
Frodo rose early in the morning and went to bathe before any others were likely to be abroad, changed his clothing. He came to the dining room for breakfast, but barely spoke. When asked how he’d slept, he simply said quietly “Well enough, thank you for asking.” All ate in relative silence. He finally thanked them for their hospitality, went and fetched his things, and was gone again shortly after.
Ferdibrand knocked at his father-in-law’s study door later in the morning and was bidden to enter. He found a chair and brought it near the desk, set down the tankard of ale from which he was drinking.
“He was not pumping up his own importance, Paladin,” he finally said.
“You would think he was the sole reason Sharkey came here.”
“From what he told me yesterday, he was probably right.”
Paladin Took examined his youngest daughter’s husband for several minutes. “What do you know of it?” he finally asked quietly.
“Too much for comfort,” Ferdi answered. “He’s not really well, Frodo isn’t.”
“I know,” the Thain sighed.
“He went through a great deal to try to save and protect us. It must have torn him apart, realizing it was mostly in vain.”
“Lotho had already sold us out before he left--we just didn’t know it yet,” Paladin noted.
“Yes, I realize that.”
“He went to Mordor--he really went to Mordor.”
“Yes, he did. It almost killed him.”
“I still don’t understand why.”
“As he said, he was fighting Sauron the best way he could, seeking to destroy the one weapon that would have granted Sauron total victory.”
“What weapon was that?”
At last Paladin said, “I don’t understand.”
Ferdibrand sighed, drained his mug, rose and started to leave. “I suggest you do some reading of history, Uncle Paladin,” he said gently before he closed the door behind him.
After a time Paladin Took left his office and went to the library. After looking over the books for some time, he finally took out a volume Bilbo had sent many years before, one which told the history of Gondor and Arnor. He started reading it, but found himself upset as he read on, finally put it back on the shelves. But he was to take it out and read snippets of it for months, finally to read it all the way through two years later, at last understanding the entire story. But by then it was too late to make it up with Frodo.
The healers were concerned for Fredegar Bolger. “He was badly deprived,” explained Drolan Chubbs, the healer from Hobbiton whose grandmother and parents had served as healers to Bilbo and Frodo for many years before he took over the service for much of the village. “His heart has been damaged as a result. He needs quiet exercise, good food, and a good deal of love to heal properly. But he will tire easily probably for the rest of his life, and a serious stress may lead to another seizure of his heart.”
Frodo and Fredegar began to spend much of their time when Frodo was on the farm together, talking quietly about their experiences, discussing their nightmares, discussing hopes and dreams. Mostly, Frodo let Freddy speak. When Estella Bolger came to the farm to tend to her brother, Fredegar hoped that Frodo would be drawn to his sister, but it did not happen. He was polite to her, would talk with her and even, as time went on, tease her; but never more than that. It seemed Frodo’s interest in lasses was as lacking as ever, Fredegar decided as he watched Frodo at Yule, sitting quietly in the corner, watching Estella dancing with Young Tom and then Jollie. As for Frodo, who used to be the best dancer in the whole of the Shire, he would not stand to dance at all. When pressed to do so with Rosie, his face paled, in fact. Fredegar began then to wonder if perhaps Frodo might not be at least equally ill as he was, but if so Frodo refused to admit it.
On second Yule Merry and Pippin arrived with gifts--from Pippin’s birthday and for Yule--for all and extra clothing for Frodo from his wardrobe in Crickhollow.
“You ought to have come to my party, Frodo,” Pippin admonished his cousin.
“I couldn’t stay away from Michel Delving that long,” Frodo had returned. “But I heard that it was a highly enjoyable time. Ferdibrand and Pimmie were both glowing in their reports.”
“You saw them?”
“Yes, they stopped by the Mayor’s office on their way back to Tuckborough. It was good to see that Ferdi has decided not to allow his blindness to keep him confined.”
“You will come to see us in Crickhollow in the spring, will you not?”
“I’ve already promised,” Frodo said, smiling. “I will take a real holiday and do a walking trip--the first I’ve done since my return. But, if you don’t mind, I’ll stay in the Hall. I----”
“We understand, Frodo,” Merry said. Then he looked at the lass who came offering a mug of mulled wine, and said, “Oh, hullo, Estella.”
“Hello yourself, Meriadoc Brandybuck,” she replied. “Would you like a drink?”
During the dancing this day, it was to be noted that Estella Bolger was escorted to the floor several times by Merry, and it was quite obvious that he was quite smitten with her. Again, however, Frodo did not dance, but sat in his corner, usually nursing his drink, his face glowing to see his cousin’s happiness. He retired early, but when Sam checked on him he was quietly reading the book that was Merry’s Yule gift to him, and did not appear to be in any distress at all. Sam smiled and wished him a good night, and Frodo replied with a smile.
Before the Travelers left the next morning, Merry gave Frodo the letter he had intercepted for him from the Gate--a letter written and addressed in a familiar spidery hand, and Frodo’s face lit with delight. He opened it gladly, and was soon reading bits and pieces to them all. “He says he still has difficulty staying awake, but that he’s doing well enough. Lord Elrond has given him a cane, which helps him actually get to the dining room on occasion. Oh, he’s asking about progress with the book.”
“What book?” Freddy asked.
“He was going to write out our experiences during the quest, but wasn’t able to do so. He can barely stay awake enough to do much of anything any more. So he made me promise to do so.”
“Well, I must say that sounds interesting. Have you done any work on it as yet?”
“Oh, I have a good number of notes and all, but I’ve done no real writing. Hasn’t really been time.”
“Well, I’d certainly love to read it--will serve as your editor, in fact. In fact, I insist on it. With all the hints I’ve had of what you did, I’m eager to hear more.”
Frodo’s face was thoughtful. Pippin looked at him critically. “I know that you don’t wish to relive it, but you did promise Bilbo, you know; and if you don’t start it soon, he is likely to be gone before you get it done.”
Frodo went a bit pale at the idea, but nodded his understanding. He then turned back to his letter, and read a bit more aloud about a story told the old Hobbit by Lord Glorfindel. Then as he read a bit more to himself, his face went quite still. Sam looked at the expression with surprise. Frodo was suddenly more alert as he reread the passage, surprised, hopeful, a bit shocked, eager, reluctant....
“What is it, Mr. Frodo?” Sam asked.
“Oh----” Frodo looked up almost guiltily, then shook his head. “It’s nothing really, I suppose. It’s just that Bilbo has received--received an invitation of sorts he’s entertaining thoughts of accepting. He wanted to tell me of it.”
“Is he finally going to go down and see Strider and the Lady Arwen then?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
Merry sighed. “I know you were quite unhappy not to see him at the wedding, and Aragorn was equally disappointed.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Frodo answered, hastily folding the letter and putting it in the inside pocket of his jacket. But of the nature of the invitation he would not speak further, changing the subject.
Restoration of Bag End was going fairly swiftly, although not as swiftly as the reconstruction of the Row. Sam was often there throughout December and January, seeing to the removal of damaged woodwork and flooring, then finally seeing the carpenters, as they left the smials of the Row, coming here to begin replacing panelling and a few support beams, rub rails and cupboards. The tile floors which had been cracked and broken were to be replaced by slate; and when at last Gimli arrived driving a small covered wagon, he brought with him carpeting sent from Lothlorien along with the clothes presses and other items that had been sent from Minas Tirith. He stood within Bag End with a mixed expression on his face, fury at the signs still evident of the savagery with which the hole had been treated, and approval of the workmanship he saw being used in the reconstruction. He himself did some of the stonework needed in Frodo’s bedroom and the parlor and kitchen, and if the Hobbit workman were surprised to find themselves working alongside a Dwarf they didn’t feel so for very long. He remained in the Shire for a week, staying with Marigold and the Gaffer, spending evenings with Frodo, and recognizing that Frodo was working to hide that his health was not good. He saw the pain reflected in the Hobbit’s eyes when he thought he was unobserved, the number of times his hand reached for the jewel he wore. When he went back to Minas Tirith, it was with a sad report to make to Aragorn, who bowed his head to receive it and who then went up to the hallows on the mountain where he offered up his grief for his friend.
It was in February that the serious planting began of new trees, and now Sam was much out and about the Shire, planting most of the trees himself. It had been Frodo who had remarked that each grain of dust in the small wooden casket given him by Galadriel must have a special virtue, and each time Sam placed a grain of it into the roots of a tree as he placed it in the ground, he could feel the vitality of the tree begin to reach, already sensing the nutrients contained in the soil being carefully laid around it, already seeking what it needed to grow and prosper.
During his brief visits to Hobbiton he would stop in the garden and turn over a few spadesful of dirt, and realized that many of the plants were still there, that they’d not been dug up but instead only trampled down. Now, with the realization of his presence they were beginning to awaken and tremulously reach up tentative shoots which grew stronger and more vibrant as they were assured the old order had been restored. He again dug a single grain of the dust from Galadriel’s garden into each bed, at the roots of the lilacs, where the roses had bloomed. Each time he returned he saw more and more plants returning, more life, more vitality, more renewal. Tears of relief filled his eyes at this sign of restoration, prayers of thanks were quietly offered.
When it was done, he knew, Mr. Frodo would feel he’d indeed come home.