Spring Ills and Joys
The growth of the new trees was beyond belief. Sam went throughout the Shire and saw the small saplings he’d planted already springing up far taller than they ought to be, their trunks already thickening, their leaves burgeoning about the boles. Avenues were renewed; orchards were in full blossom; the young fruit trees he’d planted on the back of the Hill already promising a full harvest; the young oak planted atop it rising up as if singing; and a silver shoot had already risen up in the Party Field near where the Party Tree had stood.
He was off planting more trees in the Northfarthing when March 13th came, and Farmer Cotton found his remaining guest huddled in his bed, white and shaking, muttering about all being bleak and forsaken as he clutched openly at his jewel, at first not recognizing anyone was with him.
Fredegar Bolger had left at last the end of February, returning to the restored home of his parents for a time, accompanied by his sister. Now it was only Mr. Frodo who remained, quiet and thoughtful, so very grateful for every kindness shown him. He’d taken to preparing breakfast on the Highdays, and did a competent job at it. But this day, although he appeared to recover fairly rapidly, he did not want to eat, and barely sipped at the tea brought to him. Rosie, having been warned by Sam what to do if his Master seemed off color, drew Mister Frodo a bath with an athelas leaf in it and insisted he relax himself, brought to his side some of the tea she’d brewed according to Sam’s specifications, and watched. Certainly he seemed better when he was finished and dressed again; but he did not feel up to going into Michel Delving for almost two weeks, saying only he felt exceptionally tired. She saw to it each day that he got his tea, and made certain he drank it. On the twenty-fifth he was late rising and appeared markedly listless in the early hours of the day, recovering his spirits only after noon had passed.
He went to Michel Delving the next day, and Will Whitfoot, who was now able to get up and about some, was shocked to see that again Frodo Baggins had apparently lost weight. When asked how he felt he would say only that he had felt a bit off for a few days, but he appeared to be recovered; but Will had his doubts, while Mina was flatly concerned.
“No Hobbit should look so pale!” she insisted.
Isumbard had been taking care of things during Frodo’s absence, and now looked at his cousin in consternation, although he did not dare say anything aloud to him. He saw Frodo to his desk, made a report of work done while he was ill, then once Frodo was busy reading a new deed he excused himself and headed quickly to the Whitfoot residence. Quietly he made his suggestions regarding how meals ought to be handled, and Mina, once she realized his explanations were valid, agreed. She appeared at the office a half hour later with a custard and some milk for the deputy Mayor; an hour later with a cup of soup and juice; and hour after that with a few stored apples and some tea; later with a small portion of ham and cheese between slices of bread and a mug of light ale. Throughout the day it went on, something small each hour, something which Frodo accepted with surprise and thanks, something he could accept and not overload his stomach. By evening he was beginning to look better, and when he arrived for supper he was able to eat a serving of potatoes and lamb, then with thanks for their hospitality he repaired to the room they’d given for his use and went to bed. He strengthened day by day, and by the time Sam returned he almost looked himself again. Sam examined him, quietly questioned Rosie, and saw to it that a fresh supply of his tea was at his side daily. But it was some time before he realized the meaning of the date on which Frodo sickened, much less the date on which he appeared finally to be recovering.
“Now don’t you peek, Mr. Frodo,” came the warning as Frodo Baggins, his eyes blindfolded, was led in through a doorway. He knew where he was, of course, knew that this was his homecoming; but Sam and Rosie and Marigold and the Gaffer had wanted him to get the full effect, and had insisted on this. He’d given in easily enough, smiled as they blindfolded him and led and gently guided him into the cart for the return to Hobbiton, as the cart had trundled the familiar lanes, as they helped him out, led him up the stairs and into the smial. The smell was different--he smelled new wood, plasterwork which had not yet been seasoned by years of living, an odor of stone where before there had been ceramic tiles underfoot. But he also smelled the odor of the chair which had been Bilbo’s during the first eleven and a half years of his habitation here, and then was his the next seventeen. He smelled the fire on the hearth, sweet with applewood and holly. He could smell the familiar odor of the garden outside the hole. He smelled the odor of the oil Sam had always used on the furniture and woodwork, the faint memory of pipeweed, the odor indicating a mug of ale was near at hand. He felt Sam behind him, felt the blindfold released, and blinked as he looked--blinked, and smiled.
“Oh, Sam,” he said in a voice that trembled only the smallest bit. “Oh, Sam--I’m home! I’m home at last!” It was almost overwhelming, the feeling of homecoming--and yet, he realized, something was missing as well. He was home, and yet, at the same time it was as if this had nothing to do with him at all.
Not all was as he remembered it. Most of the furniture he’d sold to Lobelia and Lotho was now gone, had needed to be discarded completely. Some of the furniture now had memories of far longer ago, of his childhood in Buckland and Whitfurrow, and a couple items of his years in Brandy Hall. The pegs in the entranceway had mostly been replaced, and the long bench had been totally refinished, yet still showed some signs of the misuse left by Lotho’s Big Men. So it was throughout the smial.
Only in his own room was all the furniture that to which he was accustomed; but the fireplace was almost totally new. It seemed so odd to see walls that looked new and without the patina of years of living by Bungo and Belladonna, Bilbo and Dora and her siblings, Frodo himself. The curtains were new, many of the windowpanes also. But it was his home.
He looked into the study, realized that the desk was there, set up just as he’d left it last, the study sofa neat and clean. Shelves had needed to be replaced, but the books stood on them as they’d always been ordered, even the small ornaments back in their places.
On the low table that stood beside the desk stood a large box that Frodo had not seen for years. His father had carved it with the figure of a Hobbit leading a pony, one reminiscent of but still not Bilbo. It had always been in his mother’s private parlor when he was a child, and had remained in one of the storage holes in Buckland since he and Bilbo had sold the place in Whitfurrow. He’d not wanted that memory in Bag End before; but now it was somehow reassuring. Gently he caressed it, smiling, then looked up at Sam and gave his small nod of acknowledgment that this was right--now.
Over the next few weeks Merry and Pippin came with more wagons of furnishings, and finally all was as it ought to be--not exactly as it once was, but as it ought to be.
But the greatest pleasure was finding the garden was there, growing much as he remembered. The lilacs were in full leaf, although smaller than he remembered, and beneath them the Elven lilies were beginning to show their faces. About the study window, around the new trellis, the honeysuckle vine was beginning to grow. Nasturtiums were already beginning to bloom by the doorway, and he saw that sunflower seedlings were starting to grow nearby. Below the window of his own room and near the back door, however, there were new plants he didn’t quite recognize, although the leaves seemed familiar. Most of the rose bushes had been replaced, he realized; but he realized that was to be expected. He looked again into Sam’s face and smiled. “I am home, Sam--you’ve given it back to me.” So he spoke aloud, although in his heart he found himself adding, for a time, at least. He had begun to admit to himself, after his last illness, that he would most likely not remain long. It was taking longer this time to recover, and his body felt fragile even to him. Well, he thought, he would not let this stop him--he would continue to do as much as he could for the time given him.
He wrote a letter to Bilbo, gave it to the quick post messenger in Hobbiton; a week later sent letters to Minas Tirith. But in none of them did he indicate he would accept the offer given him.
Then came the letter from Hardbottle, accompanied by a copy of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins’s will, both forwarded to Michel Delving. Frodo looked up at Isumbard after he’d read both through, and held up the special bequest to himself alone--a small package which contained a single gold coin with a black seal upon it, marking the first coin struck of the new coinage for the outer realm. It had come back to him, along with the letter containing Lobelia’s apology for all she’d done and said and and wished ill for him over the years.
Sam’s dilemma when he wished to marry was almost funny, and Frodo found himself suppressing the desire to laugh. His delight when he wed Sam and Rosie knew no bounds, but after a time he found himself suddenly feeling weak, slipped inside with his glass of wine, felt the uncertain beating of his heart with consternation. When Fredegar Bolger came to seek him out, he tried his best to pretend nothing was wrong, but he knew that Freddy knew better. He found himself wishing he had some of Sam’s tea with him. Instead he sat quietly for a time.
He’d planned to leave on his walking trip to Buckland after the ceremony, allowing Sam and Rosie some privacy for their wedding night and the week following. Isumbard and Tolly, he knew, had matters in Michel Delving well in hand, and would see to it everything was ready for his return. His pack was already prepared. It was a new one, of course, as the old one had been destroyed by the orcs of Cirith Ungol. This one had been a gift from Sam at Yule, again a physical embodiment of Sam’s wish that he would recover and know life as he’d known it before.
When the last guests had left, he went into his room and removed the Queen’s gift and carefully hung the outfit back in the dressing room; then, dressed in clothes he’d always worn on such jaunts, with the cloak from Lothlorien carefully wrapped around his bedroll, he took his leave of bride and groom, smiling sincerely into their eyes and wishing them the joy of the next few days as they grew accustomed to being husband and wife. Rosie kissed him, and Sam carefully settled two freshly filled waterskins over his shoulders, pressing a packet of leaves into his hands. “You have any bad dreams, Frodo, prepare a hot bath and put one of these into the water; or put it in a basin of hot water beside your head as you rest.” As he hugged Frodo, he whispered into his master’s ear, “If only you could of known such joy, too.”
Frodo realized how deeply Sam wished this for him, and was deeply moved. “I guess I’m just an old bachelor now, Sam. I’ll be all right.” He leaned forward to kiss Sam’s forehead, then turned and set off, hiding his own tears as best he could. He didn’t think Sam had seen them.
He didn’t get far that night, found himself unrolling his bedroll only an hour after he left Hobbiton behind him. He drank a quarter of one of the waterskins, and sought to rest--except he found that it was hard to sleep out here in the open. He lay long looking up at the stars and at last felt relieved and heartened, finally sleeping near midnight. He woke stiff and cold, rose and got a fire going, fixed himself bacon and tomatoes, finally started again on his way.
Two hours after he started walking he lost his breakfast. He had to sit and rest after that for a time, finally was able to stomach some dried apple, and went on. He was beginning to realize perhaps he ought not to have chosen to walk after all, and was alarmed to find himself feeling cold long after the sun had dried the dew. When a farmer in a passing wagon offered him a ride, he accepted gladly. He accepted the roast beef wrapped in bread the farmer shared with him, spoke of the doings in Hobbiton and close about, and drank slowly from his waterskin, praying he could retain the food he’d just eaten. He ended up well into the Eastfarthing by nightfall, and decided to sleep this night in an inn rather than along the way. He asked for a bath to be brought to him, and once he was alone with it set one of the leaves in the water, stripped and climbed in with it, feeling the relief in his body as the effects of the leaves made themselves known. He slept deeply, rose and bought a small breakfast, paid his bill, and went on.
Most of the day he did well enough, but in late afternoon as he recognized he was near Farmer Maggot’s place, he became ill again. The pain started in his chest, went into his arm. He felt the coldness where he’d been stabbed by the Nazgul, and felt nauseous once more as he realized he could barely feel his left hand. He’d stopped and was leaning against a tree when the farmer himself came by with one of his sons and found him, recognized a much slenderer Mr. Baggins than he remembered, and sent his son to get the cart to carry Mr. Baggins to the farmhouse.
“You look mighty ill, Mr. Baggins sir,” Maggot said as they waited.
“I’m all right--it’s only I was ill not that long ago, and haven’t walked so far for some time. I suppose I ought to have ridden my pony instead of walking.”
“Perhaps so,” Maggot said, privately certain that Mr. Baggins ought not to have left his home at all the way he was right now.
Once in the farmhouse, Frodo was settled on a sofa in the seldom-used parlor with a knit shawl over him, and he slept for a short time, waking to find himself ravenously hungry. He drank from his waterskin, and after a time went in search of the privy, then walked slowly into the familiar kitchen, where he was greeted warmly by the family and settled into a corner seat with cushions about him. He ate some of the mushrooms pressed on him by Missus Maggot as her husband and sons scattered to finish afternoon chores, listened to her talk of the troubles of being the only lady among all her menfolk, of the coming wedding of their eldest in a month’s time and the relief it would be to have another Hobbitess to speak to....
The family came in for tea, and he accepted small portions of each item offered, tried to feel out his body to see if he would be able to go on.
“But you are far too thin, Mr. Baggins!” his hostess complained as he turned down a second helping of taters.
“I know--but I simply cannot eat as much as I once could. Believe me, this is so good if I could eat more I would. But if I did, it would make me ill. I have had too much experience to think otherwise.” He was not certain why he was being so honest with the Maggots--perhaps because he realized he was unlikely to see them again soon.
The farmer looked into his face, realized Mr. Baggins was only telling the truth, and signed to his wife to desist. “I’m sorry, Mr. Frodo, that things are not as well with you as we’d like to see them.”
Frodo sighed. “No more so than I. However, this is what it appears I have come to.”
At that moment there came a halloo from the yard, and Maggot went out to see to it, came back a moment later to tell Frodo that Master Saradoc had come searching for him and had brought an extra pony. “You get yourself ready, and I’ll tell your kin that you’ll be with him in a moment.”
As he went back out the door, Saradoc asked, “You say you found him leaning against a tree?”
“Yes, pale as a sheet and clutching at his shoulder. I don’t think he was up to making this trip after all. He’s tried to tell me that he’s all right, but in the end has admitted he can’t eat much at a time or will lose it all. He’s had a short sleep and looks much better now--I think he’ll be able to make it to the Ferry all right as long as he don’t try to walk the whole way. But you’d best make certain he don’t overdo things, you want him to be able to visit again.”
“I was concerned when Merry and Pippin told me he planned to walk alone, but hoped he’d walk slowly and not press himself.”
“I don’t know how much walking he did--mentioned that yesterday he accepted a ride with Londo Twofoot to near by the Woody End, and said he stayed in the inn at Woodhall.”
“That’s not a particularly long way from here.”
“I’ll make certain he rests, then.”
“You do that, sir.”
At that moment Frodo came out wrapped in his grey cloak, accepting the basket being pressed on him by Missus Maggot. One of the younger sons carried Frodo’s pack. “You rest well, and when your stomach will accept them, have some more of those mushrooms, you hear?”
“Yes, my lady. I promise. And thank you once again for your hospitality and your generosity to a wandering soul.”
Frodo looked to be fairly well as he swung up into the saddle of the pony, and held the basket of mushrooms protectively enough. If he hadn’t heard what Maggot had to tell and known he was one of the most honest Hobbits alive, Saradoc Brandybuck would not have believed Frodo was less than in decent health.
Esmeralda Brandybuck felt all wrong at what she was doing, but the letter she’d received from Isumbard had been pretty straightforward--he’d described what he’d witnessed and the conversation he’d finally had with his cousin, and what they’d begun to do in Michel Delving since Frodo’s illness in March to assist him in being able to retain what he ate. She wanted to fill up his plate and insist he eat it all, but instead she was giving him small portions of food, slipping up to him between meals with an extra apple from last fall’s stores, offering him cups of soup, a half a sandwich, an odd serving of mushrooms sauteed in butter and wine with a little beefsteak, a single potato with a little cheese and crumbled bacon....
Certainly he seemed to not notice he wasn’t being fed strictly in the dining room, and he seemed to be doing well with the diet he was getting.
Then came the night after he rode over to the house at Crickhollow where Merry and Pippin were throwing a party. He ate more, drank a few mugs of ale, laughed a good deal, finally rode back to the Hall, and became ill about an hour after his return. Saradoc found him at it, realized what must have sparked the bout, supported him as he lost the last of his meal, helped him rinse his mouth, got him to his room where he’d insisted on undressing himself, and after a half hour brought him some broth and dry toast. Frodo eyed it unhappily, but accepted it, accepted the applesauce brought him a half hour later, the curds and whey after that, and finally was asleep when Esmeralda thought to bring him a bit more after another half hour. She sat by his bed, watched him sleep, and remembered how much they’d worried about him when he was a child. Then it had been his heart; now his stomach. Would he ever be truly well? she wondered. At last she left him and returned to her own room, and she and Saradoc gently held each other as they worried for the young cousin both cared for so deeply.
Merry and Pippin showed up the following morning, and Esme took them into her own sitting room to speak with them, explained about the letter from Isumbard.
“Well, if he isn’t being a busybody....” began Pippin, until his aunt described how Frodo had been found by old Maggot on the edge of his farm, and what Frodo had admitted to the family regarding his stomach.
“Sounds as if it’s happening again, then, Pip,” Merry said with a sigh. “You know how Aragorn insisted he eat in Minas Tirith.”
“But he didn’t eat that way on the way home.”
“I know, but you know that even then he was eating a good deal less than we were at meals, and that Lord Elrond was constantly slipping him fruit or small bits of dried meat as we rode.”
Pippin sighed. “I suppose you are right.”
Esmeralda continued, “Last night about an hour after he got home he became violently ill, and Saradoc said it looked as if the food hadn’t been digested at all. We got a few small items into him as he rested last night, and to our knowledge he kept them down. But it appears he has to be very careful what and how he eats.”
They found him in the day room, sipping at a mug of soup. He looked at them, and saw they’d been advised of his bout the night before. “It’s not your fault,” he sighed.
“We know, we know. But we didn’t even think it might be happening again.”
“It isn’t this way all the time. Just now and then--except now appears to be one of those now and then times.”
He rode home with Merry and Pippin, and they rested several times along the way. He swung his way off the pony lent to him at the door to Bag End, hugged them both, and quietly made his way up the steps into the smial. He set the pack on the bench in the entranceway and went back into his bedroom and lay down. Sam, coming in from the market in Hobbiton with Rosie, saw the pack and went looking for him, found him sleeping. He saw the paleness of his skin, the transparency of his hands, and sighed.
A week later Isumbard Took came to Brandy Hall and asked the Master if he had a coin. He produced a Shire penny from his pocket, which Isumbard took from his hand while handing him the deed to the house at Crickhollow. A few days later similar transactions were taking place in the smials along the New Row as their former landlord gave full title of their homes to the Chubbses, Daddy Twofoot, the Gaffer, and the Widow Rumble. Title to Number 5 would wait a bit longer, until Sancho and Angelica Proudfoot came officially of age.
Midsummer came, and Frodo resigned as deputy Mayor. He’d refused to stand for election for Mayor, and all were surprised, for he’d certainly done an excellent job in the several months he’d served the Shire. He went to the Free Fair, made a speech for reelecting Will Whitfoot, and sat down. Well, if Frodo Baggins was sufficiently ungrateful to not stand for election, the Shire wouldn’t push him. Will won almost unanimously.
At sunset all gathered to hear the acceptance speech by old Flour Dumpling, which was followed by the recap of the happenings in the Shire and elsewhere over the past two years, last year’s Free Fair having been canceled by the self-proclaimed Chief.
“As you know, the Time of Troubles came to a close in October with the return of the Travelers,” Will began. All cheered. “They have been to far places, and have brought us the news that there is again a King over Arnor, one who has reunited the two kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor under one rule. He is a Man, and apparently a good Man at that. He is the Lord King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar--I certainly hope I pronounced all that correctly. He was born here in Eriador, and is the last in the line of Kings for both realms, descended from Arvedui who was the last King we acknowledged, and from the Kings of Gondor as well.
“He became King after the final defeat of Mordor, which was witnessed by our Travelers--and somehow or other we are assured the four of them all had a part in it all.” All cheered. “They also witnessed our King’s marriage to one we are assured is among the most beautiful of women in all of Middle Earth, the Lady Arwen Undomiel, a year ago today.” Another cheer.
“The outer world has changed a great deal in the past two years, for Mordor is no more. The land of the Shire also has changed--we have seen one of our own seek to emulate Sauron and turn our own land into a miniature version of Mordor. We have known his death at the hands of another, and that one’s death at the hands of one of his own. We have realized that we must stand together against those who would destroy our way of life, and that we are more than strong enough when we do so to stand up to brigands, thieves, and bully-boys.” Now all sat upright and proudly.
“We have stood together, and have begun rebuilding our land. Outside our borders there is rebuilding as well, as the King’s peace is beginning to make itself felt. There will continue to be troubles from time to time both within and without our borders, but we now know that we Hobbits can withstand them, and that we have allies and friends.
“I’ve seen the letters sent by the King Elessar, and he lets us know how deeply he honors the Shire and its inhabitants. He wishes all to know that we are always welcome in Gondor or Arnor, that we may freely travel to Minas Tirith or Annúminas to visit his court at any time. We are invited to take part in the growing trade with the other parts of the realm, and are asked to offer our advice on how best to insure the peace.
“Now, the Travelers have asked to share with us some of the songs and lore they have learned as part of their journey, that we may appreciate the outer world to which we are now more closely allied.”
The songs sung that night were certainly different from the comic and drinking and walking songs most commonly sung in the Shire, as well as being the usual ones heard from Meriadoc Brandybuck and his cousin Peregrin Took. These songs were beautiful and haunting, with names and references that spoke to the ancient tales which most had heard in their childhoods. Elven lays, the lament for Théoden of Rohan sung at his burial, a hymn to Elbereth, the Lay of Gil-galad--all spoke to them of an older world, a different world, deeper griefs and higher joys.
Then the sons of Elrond appeared and greeted all, spoke of the honor afforded the four Travelers by the outer world, and then spoke of Frodo Baggins, of his titles, of his friendship with Dwarves, Elves, Men, and particularly the King, of the great sacrifice he had offered for all of Middle Earth; and they sang in Sindarin the Lay of Frodo of the Nine Fingers as the one most honored by that song sat weeping quiet tears in the midst of the communications they had brought to him from Gondor, Arnor, Rohan, Erebor, Eryn Lasgolen, Rivendell, Lothlorien, and Ithilien. Nearby sat the other three Travelers, also weeping.
But most of the rest, though they’d been moved by the music and the singing, although they appeared to see images brought about by the singing of the Lay of great armies, horrible creatures soaring overhead, small figures escaping fantastic beasts, willingness to sacrifice self for others on all sides, and the triumph of the moment when something great and terrible and wonderful happened and the Black Land was swallowed up by the earth itself, and great Eagles bore small burdens to safety beyond all hope--yet they looked at Frodo in confusion, uncertain what this all had to do with him.