Writing in Earnest
“Well, when are you going to finish the next chapter so I can read it?”
“I’m not sure, Freddy.”
“You’d best get a move on, or Bilbo will never be in a condition to read it.”
“I don’t know if he’s in any such condition now. His letters are rather rambling.”
“The other question is, when are you coming to see my new house?”
“I’m not certain.”
“You’ve been saying that for months, Frodo Baggins. I’ll tell you what--you are coming for our birthday party, October sixth. Mine is the fifth, and Budgie’s is the seventh, so we are combining them.”
“And if I don’t?”
“I’ll come over here and drag you over. You and Strider can get that far--it’s not that far from Michel Delving. Viola is dying to see you again--is so glad you married her to Budgie, you know. You have made quite a conquest.”
“Oh, just what I need--another person desiring what I cannot give.”
“Who is doing that now, at this late date?”
Frodo was quiet, then said, “Narcissa Boffin.”
“You mean she has never gotten over her infatuation with you?”
“It’s more than infatuation, Fredegar Bolger. She’s loved me for so many years.”
“You never led her on, Frodo.”
“Before I got--It, I could have loved her, Freddy. I still dream of her, but not as a lover or wife--just as someone else I have to leave.”
“What a curious thing to say.”
Early on October sixth Sam carried a mug of his tea into the study where Frodo had been writing a letter to Bilbo to find his master sitting back, his face a bit pale, clutching at his shoulder.
“What is it, Mr. Frodo?” he asked.
Frodo sighed as he rubbed his shoulder and looked up apologetically at him. “It’s nothing, Sam. It’s only--only that I’ve been wounded by knife, sting, and tooth, and it will never really heal, you know.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Frodo.”
Frodo smiled, that sweet smile Sam so treasured, and said, “I’ll be all right, Sam.”
“Yes, I know you will.”
An hour later Sam brought Strider from the stable at the Ivy Bush already saddled, helped to fasten on the saddlebags that Aragorn had had made for him, then slipped the packet of leaves into one of the bags and refastened it. After seeing Frodo mounted, he went into the smial and brought out the two water skins he had ready, handing one up to Frodo and fastening the other to the pommel.
“Now, you use those if you need them, hear?”
“Yes, Sam, I promise.”
“I’ve written a letter to Budgie Smallfoot as well. Make certain as he gets it.”
“Don’t Samwise Gamgee me, Frodo Baggins. You go stay with a healer, he ought to know that some things have helped you soothe.”
“All right, Sam, I promise I will give the letter to Budgie.”
“As soon as you get there?”
Frodo sighed and said, “I promise.
“Good. Take care, Mr. Frodo.”
“I will, Sam.”
The trip to Fredegar’s house was uneventful, and he was singing much of the way. He’d been able to eat a full breakfast--albeit slowly; the day was a wonderful fall day, the air crisp, the leaves a delight in golds and reds; nothing hurt for the moment; he’d not had a nightmare in a week. He was going to see Freddy’s new house and be away, and enjoy himself.
The birthday party was wonderful, and he was even able to eat a proper portion of cake and drink an ale. Freddy had given him a new steel pen and a pen wipe, and was joking about how he looked forward to copying out the Red Book one day. Frodo laughed. He went to his bedroom happy, automatically pouring out some of Sam’s tea into the mug he’d brought with him.
He was just stepping out of his trousers when the visions hit him. Budgie and Freddy heard the resulting crash and looked at one another, and raced to the bedroom. Frodo had fallen over, knocked over the wooden chair that stood near the bed, lay in a tangle of wood, legs, and trousers.
Budgie and Fredegar got him into bed. Frodo was digging for the Ring, found the jewel, clutched at it for dear life. He began to calm, asked for his mug. Budgie smelled it and said, “This isn’t water. I’ll go get you some of that.”
“No--give it to me--please!”
Against his better judgment Budgie did, and watched with concern as Frodo drank it, spilling much of it on his shirt. Budgie then got him to lie back, opened the shirt, listened to the chest. What he heard frightened him, although he didn’t dare say anything to the two of them.
“I know my heart is racing,” Frodo whispered.
“I’ll get you a draught that should help.”
“The leaves in a bath--they seem to ease me.”
“No time for superstition now, Frodo. Now you rest. Freddy, get his shirt off of him--it is wet, and we don’t want him chilled.”
When Budgie got back with the draught Frodo’s shirt was off, but Fredegar Bolger was quite white. Frodo lay back, his face pale and drawn as he held onto the jewel.
“Freddy--what’s the matter?”
“His back, Budgie, and the back of his neck!” Fredegar Bolger was whispering.
“Help me sit him up.”
Between them they got Frodo sitting up, and Budgie saw scars on the thin Hobbit’s body he’d never seen before. “What in Middle Earth...?” he said. He looked at the inflamed scar just below Frodo’s left shoulder and the collarbone with shock. Freddy indicated the back. Budgie saw the whip weals and blanched, realized his hand, supporting the back of Frodo’s neck, was touching something, moved it down to the shoulders and looked. About the neck was a single scar as if something had been dragged deep into the skin on the back of his neck and the top of his shoulders. On the right side of the back of the neck were twin marks, as if Frodo had been bitten by something with two teeth. There were black holes there that were weeping a foreign fluid of some sort. “We need to get this cleaned,” he said. “Fresh water, warm, and clean rags that we can throw away after.”
“Sam cleans it for me,” Frodo whispered.
“Sam’s not here, so Freddy and I will have to do it this time. What caused this?”
“Shelob--the spider.” This was said so softly he could barely hear it.
“No spider did this, unless you found one thrice the size of a Hobbit.”
“Oh, we did--on the borders of Mordor--only she’s thrice the size of a tall Man, I think.” He gasped in pain. Freddy hurried off to the kitchen.
“While he’s getting the water and rags, drink this, Frodo.” He held the draught to Frodo’s lips, made him sip it slowly. He didn’t dare let him lean back, not while the neck was draining so. Finally Frodo had it all down.
Viola came in with warm water and the cloths, and looked at Budgie with consternation. “What is happening? It has Mr. Freddy in quite a state. I made him sit down and gave him his draught.”
“Thanks, love. I will need several pillows, for I have to have him lie face down so I can clean this.”
She looked at the weeping wound and looked grey. She hurried off and soon was back with five pillows. Budgie got them placed and helped Frodo turn over, chest and forehead supported by pillows so he could breathe while Budgie cleaned away the effluent. At last they appeared to have it emptied, and he bound it with gauze against it. Frodo looked better, but was still clutching the jewel with his right hand as they helped him out of the bed and into the straightened chair so Viola could change the linens. Suddenly Budgie realized one of the fingers was missing. He looked at Frodo critically. “What happened to you, Frodo Baggins?”
Frodo, his face still pale, said, “You don’t want to know. You can’t help all that much, even. I was too badly wounded--knife, sting, tooth, whip....”
“Does this drain often?”
“Once every couple months. Hadn’t thought--of this being the--time Sam usually cleans it.”
“What caused it?”
“Shelob--spider--I told you....” He was feeling dizzy.
“A spider as big as a horse bit you?”
“I think--bigger than that.”
“I was poisoned. Couldn’t move, see, hear, think. She wrapped me in cords. The orcs called her Shelob. Sam thought I was dead.” He had to work to stay coherent. “They found me--the orcs. Took me away. Sam found me--don’t know how long--day, maybe two. Woke up--orcs. They beat me. But--it’s my shoulder that’s cold. Hand is numb. Hurts so--like he just stabbed me.”
“Who stabbed you?”
“Pale king--wraith--Morgul blade.” He shuddered. “It hurts. Aragorn!” He squeezed his eyes shut.
“What did he call out?” asked Viola.
“The King’s name, I think.”
Viola got the bed changed quickly, and then together they got Frodo back into it, warmly covered. The left shoulder and arm were deadly cold, and Budgie could barely find the pulse in the left wrist. He ordered warm packs, and she brought them. Carefully he wrapped them around the arm and shoulder, although they seemed to cool down unnaturally quickly. Freddy returned, helped change the packs. Finally Frodo seemed to ease. “I think I’ll be all right now,” he whispered. “Sam’s tea, please--water skin.”
With a sour look Budgie poured some into the mug, gave it to him. This time Frodo drank it more slowly, finally gave the mug back to him. “Thank you,” he said. “Between the bite and--the date--it’s a bad day.”
“What has the date to do with it?”
“Two years--Weathertop,” he said. His head dropped back. “I’m very tired.”
“We’ll let you sleep then.”
Frodo awoke an hour later to find Freddy sitting by him. “Hello,” he said.
“Want to tell me what that was about?”
“I don’t want to tell anyone, Freddy.”
“Tell me anyway, or I’ll send for Sam.”
“Some threat.” He sighed. “Two years ago, the Black Riders caught up with us at Amon Sul--a hill between here and Rivendell. Also called Weathertop. Used to be a watchtower there and--and one of the Seeing Stones, I think. Ruins now. There were five Nazgul there, one the pale king. I thought to hide from them by wearing the Ring--but it didn’t hide me--not from them. I could see them as--as distortions of what they were just after the Nine came to them--kings given to evil, taken by their rings. The pale king--he was Witch King of Angmar, Aragorn and Gandalf told me. Their leader. Had a Morgul blade--bewitched to force me into the wraith world with them. Blade broke off in the wound--tried to work its way to my heart. Almost made it. Elrond got it out of me, said it was almost to my heart. They melted it, Elrond, Aragorn, Glorfindel.”
“I think you are going to need to write this down to make it truly coherent.”
Frodo nodded. “My arm was numb--my left arm and shoulder--hurt horribly. The athelas helped some, and I think he’d sing over it. Elrond sang, too. After they got the splinter of blade out, they sang to close the wound.” He sighed. “I hope I’m not sick the entire seventeen days.”
“What seventeen days?”
“I carried the splinter seventeen days--before they could get it out. Both Aragorn and Lord Elrond said most would have succumbed sooner.”
“This is the second year?”
“Yes--two years ago today. Last year--we--we were just leaving Rivendell--got to the Fords, where they almost caught me--it hit me then.”
“What is it like when it hits you?”
Frodo sighed, then described the overlapping visions of reality, the stabbing at Weathertop, and the turning at the Fords with all Nine trying to will him to stop, to will the splinter into the heart. “Combined with the return of the cold and the pain, it was awful. And I felt another pain, too, in my chest, down the arm and back. I was nauseous, also.”
“Was it like that this time?”
“Saw the Witch King over me, the Morgul blade in his hands, felt it pierce my shoulder. My heart was beating so fast. Like I was back there at Weathertop again.”
Fredegar asked, “Does the neck hurt, too?”
“Only like an open sore, when it drains. On March thirteenth and the twenty-fifth, though, it was different. It ached horribly, and I felt--totally--totally empty.”
“What happened on those dates?”
“The first--Shelob bit me--poisoned me--there. The second----” He swallowed. He whispered. “That’s when It--took me--and I lost It.”
“You mean the Ring?”
Frodo nodded weakly. He closed his eyes. “Please, I don’t want to talk about it any more. My arm is going numb again, like Merry’s does when we mention the Nazgul.” He gave a weak laugh. “The--the Witch King stabbed me, and Merry stabbed the Witch King--and we both feel cold and numb at times--the arm, hand, shoulder.” He turned his head away. “Is there any more of Sam’s tea?”
He barely ate the following day, but awoke and dressed himself and went into breakfast the next morning. Viola looked at him with concern from the stove, Budgie from where he was reading at the table. Frodo gave it a glance. “Herbal?” he asked.
“You know about herbals?”
“I’m Bilbo’s adopted heir, remember. He had me copying things like that from the time I came to Bag End.”
“I didn’t know.”
Frodo shrugged. He sighed. “I probably won’t be able to eat much this morning. Very small portions and close intervals.”
“Who told you that?”
“Aragorn, after I woke in Ithilien. Sam and I had almost starved to death, and had had no water for almost a day before we got to the Mountain, and only swallows then.” He sighed. “I’ve been that way on and off ever since. I think it’s another on and off day.”
“This King of yours sounds like a healer.”
“He is a healer, Budgie.”
“I thought he was a King.”
“He’s the Dúnedan, the heir of Isildur and Elendil. He is almost ninety years old, looks to be a mature Man but no more, is a healer as well as a great warrior. He’s a scholar--and an herbalist.”
Fredegar came from his bedroom, and smiled to see Frodo there in the kitchen. “You look better this morning.”
“I still feel a bit shaken, but decidedly better.”
“I would hope so.”
“What happened the other night,” Budgie said slowly as Viola set plates before them, “could be very serious--for your health.”
“I am aware of that.”
“I’ve been reading the herbals about this leaf of yours, and they don’t say much about it. Commonly used for headaches and the sadness, and to refresh after a long illness. Oh, there are some other stories about it, but--but they are just that--stories. Nothing definite.”
“I see. I know it helps me when Sam gives me it as tea, and it has soothed me in my bath.”
“There’s no harm in it. I’m going to fix you up with a draught I wish you to take for the next two weeks. It ought to help with the weakness you’ve experienced. How are your arm and shoulder today?”
“Tingling a bit, but no longer cold and numb or in agony.”
“How many people have you told about what you experienced when you were hurt?”
“Other than Freddy yesterday morning, I think probably only Gandalf and the Lord Elrond truly understand it, although Aragorn probably has a good idea--and Sam, of course.”
“You have discussed this with them?”
“No, not really, except in general terms. But I know the Lord Elrond can--can touch my thoughts; and I think Gandalf can, too. As for Aragorn--I think he just knows.”
“He knows more of what has happened to me than I do--he was there even when I was unconscious. He hears me crying out with my nightmares, and the--the times I whisper, too, I suppose.”
“You whisper when you have nightmares?”
“Sometimes--my cousin told me so.”
“You need to get these memories out of you--somehow. For some people it helps to talk about it.”
“I can’t do that--not really--or not often.”
“You could try writing it out.”
Frodo sat quietly for a moment. “So it doesn’t eat my heart away?” he asked finally.
“Bilbo used to say that--that I needed to--get it out of me so it didn’t eat my heart away. He made me write. My lessons master at Brandy Hall did, too.”
“Wise folk, Bilbo and this lessons master of yours. Well, if you can do that, write it out, it will probably help, at least some.”
“So, it is healer’s orders I write?”
“Healer’s orders. Yes.”
“I see.” He looked up at Fredegar. “Maybe you’ll get your chapters faster than you thought.”
When he got home, Frodo announced he would be writing the book for Bilbo, and working on it daily. “He’s still with us--I’d best get it written before he’s not, I suppose,” he said softly.
Sam nodded. “You drink your tea there?”
Sam was already emptying the saddlebags, found the bottle of the draught. “What is this?”
“Budgie wants me to try this--help me deal with--deal with the nightmares. Only for a couple weeks.”
He didn’t think Sam quite believed him, although the gardener’s only reply was, “I see, sir.”
That evening Frodo began seriously writing his drafts for the Red Book.