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The Choice of Healing
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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14
Spring and Summer

Spring and Summer

Dear Frodo,

I write this to let you know that I do not believe you will receive further letters from Bilbo. He will start a letter and fall asleep before he can get three words written, then waken and not be able to remember what it was he was trying to write. We had, you know, thought to bring him home to the Shire last fall; but as he has chosen he will remain here until the time comes.

He has two determinations now--to outlive the Old Took, and to travel to Elvenhome when the ship now being built sails in the coming fall. It is his hope not to be the only mortal there, for he would like one of his kind, who understands his end, with him when it comes, as it must--and, I fear, soon. He is already aged beyond the usual span of the lives of the Periannath.

He loves you very much, speaks of you as the son he could not father. He is grateful you have kept by you Samwise Gamgee and his family, whom he realizes love you very deeply. However, he knows how guilty you feel for imposing, as you see it, on their love, how you fear the demands of your own health tear Sam’s heart in two.

Sam has not written to me since the birth of his daughter Elanor, and then spoke only of that. I fear he has accepted the truth and cannot yet bring himself to share it. I can say only that the healing is offered, but cannot be given here in the mortal world of Middle Earth.

Look for us in the woods of the Shire in the fall of the year--for it is now the autumn of our time within Middle Earth. I find that I have no griefs for the leaving, save the one.

Yours under the Valar,
Elrond of Imladris


Frodo reread the letter, then finally carefully refolded it and placed it with the others in the drawer of his desk. He then reached for a sheet of paper, not of the white paper on which he wrote his drafts for the Red Book, but the golden paper which still filled the tray of his stationery box, and began to write. He did not write to Elrond, but to everyone and no one. Finally he finished, calmed somewhat, and took out his watch and the key, opened the small drawer, and set what he’d written in it, locked it again, replaced watch and chain in their place across his jacket. He then rose and walked to the entranceway, sighed, put on the Hobbit cloak that hung there, took up his walking stick, and set out for Hobbiton to do the marketing.

An hour later Sam found him, sitting on the bench at the turning of the lane, pale and shaking. “I can’t do it, Sam!” he whispered. “I can’t even make it out of the lane!” Sam supported him back to Bag End, helped him back to his bed, finally left himself to do the marketing. As he heard the front door close behind Sam, there in the distance of the smial, Frodo turned and wept bitterly but silently.

He began to force himself to build back up his strength and endurance. After three weeks he finally made it into Hobbiton, which was a victory, of sorts. However, after he’d had a small meal at the Ivy Bush and had made his purchases, as he was walking home he lost what little he’d eaten alongside the road. He crept behind bushes, and lay down for a time to recover, again weeping with rage and frustration.

On his next visit to Hobbiton a week later, he went to see Violet Sandybank, who, like Drolan Chubbs, was a healer. He explained he’d had difficulty sleeping and asked what she suggested, indicating warm milk and chamomile might assist him to sleep at first, but could not keep him asleep long. He also spoke of recurring headaches which were severe--which were not feigned. She spoke of several ideas, but what interested him most was the idea of poppy juice. She gave him a small amount, explaining it was dangerous if used to excess or too frequently, but safe enough mixed with wine or water on occasion. He thanked her.

He began to study the herbal which he’d once copied for his Aunt Menegilda, looking to see if there were another herb that might serve, but finally decided that this was the best, would ease the way the most. Sam grew poppies in the gardens and on the Hill, but Frodo had no idea as to which variety would produce the juice properly, nor the manner in which it was gathered. No, if he wanted more, he would need to visit other healers.

In early May Pippin was complaining so about the continued problems with his father that Frodo agreed to go to the Great Smial to see if he could sort things out. The interview went a bit better than the last one, but was still ended with Paladin and Eglantine interrupting more than listening, and by the time he was through Frodo again had a raging headache, and sought out one of the healers for the place. Giving him a look and seeing the brow furrowed with pain, he gave Frodo a small amount of poppy juice mixed in wine and saw him to his bed, and then went to the Thain to explain he could not tax Frodo as he did--that the stress was not good for him. In the morning the Thain and his lady were both solicitous and gentle, far more as he remembered them from the days on the farm in his own youth, and when he left, Frodo thanked them kindly. Instead of heading directly home, however, he went into Tuckborough where he sought out the local healer and obtained another dose of poppy juice--against the next headache, he explained--and this one he did not take but carried home with him. He did the same in Michel Delving as he passed. With three doses hidden away in the drawer of his desk, he planned his next move.

After a night on which the nightmares had been particularly bad, when Sam, Rosie, and Elanor were going to the farm at Bywater for two days, Frodo prepared things as best he could. The bath was very hot and relaxing, and laced with oil of roses and lavender. It would appear normal, he knew. He poured the three doses into a goblet, mixed in the wine, took it to the bathing room, undressed, slipped himself into the tub. He began sipping at the wine. His plan was simple enough--he would drink all the drugged wine, stand up, and let the doses do their work. There would undoubtedly be a bruise on his head somewhere that would explain it.

He sipped at the wine, which had a slightly bitter taste. He’d not noticed the taste in the wine he’d been given in the Great Smial, but then it had been but a single dose, not three. He had heard that drowning was a simple death, a gentle one. He wondered how those who said this knew. That had been told to him in an attempt to comfort him after his parents’ deaths, he remembered. How could it be all that simple? he wondered as the poppy juice and wine freed his thoughts, suddenly not being able to breathe, to find the air? He forced himself to take another sip, then another. He was beginning to feel slightly dizzy. He took another sip, looked around the room. Better than three quarters gone. An open book face down on the bench near the tub, towels lying there and on the floor where he set them always. Yes, it would look natural enough, he thought as he took one more sip, leaned back and closed his eyes.

The image that came to him when he did this was horrible. It had taken over a day to find his father’s body, far downstream in the Brandywine. He’d come out when they carried it in, had seen it in spite of Menegilda’s shrill insistence they get the child back indoors. It had been swollen and bloated, hardly recognizable as his father--a strange, grotesque Hobbit that resembled his father, wore his father’s ring on a bleached finger.

Terror filled him. It might be Rosie that found him! Sam could bear it, he thought, was already looking to find his master had fled his body during the night. But, Rosie? Or for either to see him that way, as his father had been! The water was hot, and would remain warm for some time. He could look--like that--when they found him. No! He tried to set the wine glass on the edge of the tub, and it fell onto the towels lying folded on the floor. He tried to stand up, but started to slip. He held on to the side of the tub, pulled himself to a kneeling position. He slid himself out of the tub, lay for some moments on the fallen glass and towels. It hadn’t broken before, didn’t break now, either. Somehow he made it to the privy where he vomited up part of the wine, then staggered into his room, fell onto his bed. When he was able he got the covers over himself and slipped into a dark sleep.

*******

“You get Elanorelle settled, love, and I’ll check on the master,” Rosie said as they entered Bag End the following afternoon. Sam smiled as he settled his infant daughter on a blanket laid on the parlor floor, put the silver circle that delighted her so by her tiny hand. He didn’t need it, after all, not here in the Shire where such things had no meaning. He placed by her also the wooden stick on which metal rings had been threaded which gave, when shaken, a delightful sound, and the new doll that had been Lily’s gift to her granddaughter. For several minutes he knelt over her, cooing and talking to her, the nonsense words doting dads had lavished on their infant daughters in the Shire for centuries.

Rosie came back, almost laughing, but with concern also apparent in her voice. “He’s in bed, snoring like a roomful of sots. Sounds like Tom when he’s spent too much time in the Dragon, he does. Odd, I’ve never seen him drink to get drunk afore, Sam.”

“I’ve seen him drunk less than a handful of times since he come of age,” Sam commented. “Although I must say he deserves it as much as the next Hobbit.”

She shrugged and laughed, and went out to bring in some of their baggage. He joined her, and they emptied the cart they’d hired.

Pando Proudfoot appeared, eager and pleased. “Would you like me to return it to the Ivy Bush, Mr. Sam?” he asked.

Ordinarily Sam would do no such thing, but he knew that Pando knew how to handle a team--his da was a carter, after all; and in spite of his spying through the hedges Pando was a good lad.

“All right,” he allowed, “you can this time. And here’s a penny of the King’s coin for your trouble.”

Thrilled, the lad turned the team and took them on into Hobbiton, clutching at his prize. “He’ll never spend it,” Rosie said, watching after. “He’s been fascinated by the King since you Travelers got back.”

“Don’t matter if he does or not,” Sam said. “He has the delight of it either way.” They smiled at each other.

He looked himself into the bedroom, heard the snoring, went farther and found Frodo hadn’t even bothered to put on a nightshirt, was lying naked under the tumbled sheets and comforter. That was not common for him at all. His face was pale, almost grey, not the paleness of porcelain that usually marked his features. His breath didn’t stink particularly of wine, although there was an odd odor there. He straightened the covers over him, went on to the kitchen. He could hear Rosie in the parlor, sorting through the clothing for the laundry before she put those things that had not been worn back into the chests. He saw the bottle of wine on the sideboard, neatly corked, only about enough for a single glass missing from the last time his master had drunk from it, about a week earlier when both had enjoyed a glass after dinner. He went on into the bathing room. Things here were not as usual. A spilled glass lay on stained towels on the floor; none of the towels appeared to have been used, even. The tub smelled of rose oil and lavender, which was common enough in this house, but also was still full, which was uncommon with his master. The book had fallen from the bench and lay, partially stained, on the wine-drenched towels. He emptied the tub, picked up the book and wiped futilely at it, set it aside. It was not one of those his master treasured, he noted, nor was it one which Sam particularly favored.

Had he had another attack of some sort? the gardener wondered.

When he went to take out the dust bin, however, he began to wonder about that. Lying therein were three small vials of a sort Sam had never seen before, and the glass seals which had been broken off them. He pocketed them.

Frodo woke late in the evening and appeared dull-eyed and even a bit confused. He looked up at Sam as the heavier Hobbit stood over him, and a look of relief came to his eyes. “Oh, Sam, I am so glad you didn’t have to----” Then he looked alarmed and closed his mouth, and wouldn’t answer questions as to what had happened the preceding night in the bathing room.

The next day Sam went into Hobbiton to do the marketing, and made a point of stopping at the home of Drolan Chubbs. He showed the three vials to the healer, and asked, “What’s these?”

Drolan took them, dampened the tip of a finger and touched it to the lip of one of the vials and then tasted it. “Poppy juice,” he said. “The master been having bad pain or something?”

“Yes--has been having terrible headaches,” Sam allowed. “Can you tell as where they come from?”

“This one came from Tuckborough. Herbalist there uses that kind of bottle and seal. Both these was put up not far from here. Old Missus Tunnely fixes it up for a number of us healers. But she sells to several from Michel Delving to Overhill. Could have come from most anybody.”

“You sell it to him?”

Drolan shook his head. “No, won’t come to me, he won’t. Not since you four got home, he hasn’t.”

“I’ve been giving him herbs as the King give him, there in Gondor and Minas Tirith. They seem to help him.”

“What are you giving him?”

“Mostly willowbark, chamomile, and athelas--kingsfoil.”

“Those would be better for headaches than the poppy juice, I’d think. Poppy juice is dangerous you use too much, and can make things worse, not better, if you use it often. Not many use kingsfoil, but my gammer swore it would help many as wouldn’t respond to much else.”

“It’s the King’s own herb, I learned.”

“Is it? I’d like to meet with him one day, you know. Never heard of a King as was a healer, too, before.”

Sam thanked Drolan, finished the marketing, and went back to Bag End.

He contemplated hiding the knives, but decided finally not to do so. No, if Mr. Frodo was contemplating that, he’d not want to do it in a way that was--messy. Wouldn’t want for others to be horrified.

A week later Frodo had a series of bad nights, and after the fourth one he got up and announced he was going to take a walk. A time later Sam found his pack he’d carried to Mordor and back on the table in the storage room where it was kept. He looked in and noted only one item was missing. He took a deep breath, settled his fear. He didn’t think it would allow it if Frodo was thinking of what he thought he was thinking of. He had to force himself to stay calm, to wait what came.

Late in the day Frodo came back, gave a quiet greeting, went back through the smial. He then came into the parlor and sat, lifted Elanor into his lap, kissed and spoke with her quietly, then announced he was going to bed early. Sam found him asleep already when he went to check on him, got the kettle filled and heating, put a leaf of kingsfoil in it. Then he checked the storage room, saw the pack was back on the shelf as it always was, all where it belonged. He stroked the hithlain rope and gave it a word of thanks.

Before he went to bed himself, Sam took another look into Frodo’s room. He was whispering in his sleep. Sam went forward to listen, heard a one-sided conversation, apparently with--with the Ring. Sam’s heart was torn. Gently he lifted Frodo’s hand, laid it on the gem he wore, and the whispering stopped, the face eased. He renewed the water in the kettle, slipped in another leaf of kingsfoil, and the whole body relaxed more. Sam found himself invoking the entire number of the Valar as he looked down on his Master’s sleeping form.

*******

“Has he chosen, one way or the other?” Aragorn asked over breakfast.

His wife, her face solemn, shook her head. “No, not yet.”

The King bowed his head, grief apparent on his face. “He should not face such pain as he bears.”

“This all know, which is why the offer was made. But we cannot compel the choice.”

“I understand.” Then, after a time of quiet, he asked softly, “What of Sam?”

“He, too, will be given the choice, but will be given also the choice of when he sails.”

“He gets a choice of when, but not Frodo or Bilbo?”

Her eyes were deeply compassionate as she explained, “Beloved, for the two of them there is no more time. If they do not take ship with Ada, neither will live to take any other.”

Oh, my beloved Frodo, twin to my own Light, how deeply do I mourn for thee. Thou shouldst know bliss, but instead knowest pain and the degradation of thy body, the memory of guilt unearned. Oh, little brother, I would take on thy burden if I could. Canst thou not see, though, that thou art worthy of the offer made thee? Canst thou not see that after the separation comes the reunion, after the loss the finding again? It is a gift freely given, given for thy delight, for thy restoration.

I cannot even speak of it, appear to compel even thy contemplation of the choice. Yet I would have thee there, well and whole, to lead me into the Presence when my own time comes.


Again Aragorn went up to the Hallows with his love, grief, and concern for his friend. Whether Frodo accepted the offer or not, he now knew, either way Frodo would be lost to him for the remainder of Aragorn’s life. He prayed that if he must lose him, it would be by the way of Tol Eressëa that Frodo might know the easing of the pain and burdens that he carried before he followed the other Way all mortals must take.

Dearest Frodo, my Friend and Brother,

I send my greetings and best wishes this day from the Southlands. I so wish I might come to you, spend some time with you. If it were permitted I would give up all else to be by your side, but some burdens, once taken up, may not be relinquished until the time is right. as you well know.

Always I think of you, small Brother, and wish only the best for you, for your cherishing and for the easing of your burdens. May the Valar assist you toward fulfillment once more.

Bilbo has sent me word by way of Adar that he must leave Middle Earth soon and that he is content. I offer him gladly to the Valar for ease along the way.

My love always,
Aragorn son of Arathorn


It was all he dared write. Could Frodo, usually so discerning, read between the lines that Aragorn wished the same for him as he did for Bilbo?

*******

“No, Mr. Frodo, I won’t be leaving you home all alone--not when we’re off to the Free Fair. We have the wagon hired, and if you need as to lie down along the way you can; and we’ll be sleeping out under the stars as you love. And I’ll be aside you as much or as little time as you need once we’re there.”

The truth was, Sam was still afraid of what Frodo might do to himself if he were left alone. He was, Sam knew, in considerable pain much of the time, and the burden of his heart was as great as that of his body.

Frodo finally assented, but more because he hadn’t the strength to fight it further than due to acknowledgment of either Sam’s arguments or his concerns. He was carefully assisted into the back of the wagon where he might look down at the resting place Sam had prepared between the bundles of clothing and blankets for the rest.

He’d been experiencing feelings of lassitude for the past week, and had little interest, little motivation to do much of anything. What changes in his body this might presage he had no idea, but at least it was not open pain for a change, and he almost found himself welcoming it. As they drove off from Hobbiton he said, “I cannot sing this year.”

“I understand, Mr. Frodo. Don’t feel a lot like it, neither.”

When he tired, Sam stopped the wagon so he could assist him to lie down, assisted him to drink some of his tea, and Frodo thanked him and swiftly fell asleep. Sam had Rosie drive that he might watch over his master for a time as he slept; but as this time the sleep appeared restful and Frodo even smiled gently as he dreamed, at last he crawled over to sit on the bench, lifting a now awake Elanor out of her basket, finding himself cooing to her in Sindarin, singing a song he and Frodo had both learned in Gondor. Finally, when she slept once again, he laid her down beside her uncle, saw Frodo protectively curl his arm around her, the smile deepen although he did not waken again.

Frodo finally awoke as they approached Michel Delving, his eyes peaceful. Sam drove now, and Rosie was nursing her daughter as the wagon rolled through the village and beyond to the fairgrounds. Frodo sat up in the bed of the wagon with an arm on the raised side of the bed as he’d often done when a child, coming there with his parents and later in a wagon full of Brandybuck children.

Rosie and Sam conferred as they drove, then Rosie turned. “How about we let you off there near the Glade, Master Frodo, where there’s a bench and shade, and you can wait there and watch Elanor while Sam cares for the ponies and I take the pies and jellies to the judging tent?”

“That will be fine, Rosie.”

“Where’d you like to sleep tonight, Frodo?” Sam asked.

“How about the other side of the Glade?” Frodo suggested. “It’s close by, and fairly private.”

“Except for the young ones wanting to sneak in there for some cuddling,” Sam said, with a side look at Rosie.

Frodo laughed. “I remember when it was you two.” Sam and Rosie smiled at that--he so rarely laughed any more, they felt it was a small triumph of sorts.

Sam halted the wagon near the glade and helped Frodo out, brushed him off a bit, then placed Elanor in her basket. When Frodo went to take the basket, however, his arms started to tremble, at which time he pulled back, gave a sad shake of his head. Sam gave a small nod of understanding, and with him carrying the basket the two of them walked side by side to the bench. Frodo sat on the bench and Sam set his daughter beside him, laid his hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“Do you have the coin I gave you to pay old Pease to care for the ponies, Sam?”

“You know I do, but I already had enough saved up, Frodo.”

“Oh, I know; but--it’s little enough I can do for you any more.”

“You done all you ever needed to do, long ago. We owe you more than we can repay, and I’m speakin’ of afore we left the Shire.”

With one last look at his friend, Sam went back to the wagon to drive it around the glade and to care for the ponies as Rosie, two large baskets in hand, set out for the center of the Fair Grounds. Frodo looked down into the basket. “See what you do to me, little one? Now, you play with your rings there and let your Uncle Frodo read his letter.” He looked at the stick with its rings. “Nice rings, rings to make music.”

He pulled the letter from the King out of his pocket. Aragorn was speaking of the offer, he knew that. Bilbo had chosen to go, and in the letter Aragorn was--was giving him permission to leave with his old cousin. He was tempted....

“Frodo?”

He turned to see who had addressed him. “Hello, Narcissa.”

“I saw you sitting there....” He was looking at her without the wariness he’d shown before. She examined him for a moment. “You are thinner than ever. Still having difficulty with your stomach?”

He shrugged. “From time to time. I just can’t seem to get my weight back. I look a fright.”

“No you don’t--you’ve always been exceptionally good looking, Frodo, and you grow more so over time.” Why she said this she wasn’t certain. “You look more tired than anything.”

“I’ve been having difficulties sleeping nights.”

“Bad dreams?”

“Yes.”

“Would it help if you spoke about them?”

“Narcissa, you yourself are too beautiful a Hobbit to face such evil images.”

She was startled. Never had he said any such thing to her. “This is Sam and Rosie’s baby?” she asked finally.

“Yes, Elanor.”

“A lovely name.”

“It’s a small yellow star flower that grows in Lothlorien, an Elven flower. The Lady sent starts of it to Sam--he’s planted it beneath my window and on the Hill.”

“You truly have been among the Elves.”

He nodded solemnly.

She saw the paper in his hand. “You have a letter?”

“Yes, from Aragorn. From the King.”

“I hope to see what he looks like one day.”

“When the world is more at peace, he hopes to ride back into the Northern Kingdom again, to the court of Annúminas. He was born here in Eriador, after all, and the Lady Arwen in Rivendell. He will come to the Brandywine Bridge to greet us and show himself to us. But if you wish to know what he looks like....” He pulled out of his pocket the gold coin with the black seal on it, and a flat leather folder that he’d obtained in Rohan. He handed them to her. “This is a picture of him, and one of the new King’s coins.”

She examined the coin with interest. “What’s the black wax on it?”

“It’s his seal--to mark that this is the very first coin struck.” He looked at it and smiled. “And so far it has been blessed.” She finally finished with it, returned it, and he held it against the letter.

She opened the folder, looked at the portrait it contained. “So, he has a beard, but not like Gandalf’s.”

“Yes.”

“He has kind eyes.”

“Yes.”

“What did he write to you?”

He was not certain why he gave it to her. She looked at him in surprise, read it, then looked at Frodo with pity. “So, Bilbo is--dying. I am so sorry.”

“He is very old. He’s now as old as the Old Took--wants to make it to his birthday to pass him up.”

“And I’m certain as he’ll do it,” Sam said as he returned. “He’s a stubborn old Baggins, after all, and as perverse as the Old Took hisself. And after all this time I count myself an expert on Bagginses and Tooks.”

Frodo gave another laugh. Narcissa handed the letter to Sam, who took it, surprised, then looking a question at Frodo, finally read it. He looked up into Frodo’s eyes. “I thought as the Valar had only to do with Arda.”

Frodo said, slowly, “The Halls of Waiting are under the guardianship of Mandos.”

“But do they have to do with Hobbits?”

Frodo shrugged. Sam gently folded the letter and respectfully handed it back to Frodo, then accepted the folder, smiled at the picture it contained, closed it, returned it to Frodo also. “Good likeness.”

“As he was the day beneath the White Tree when the--when I went to tell him we must return home.” Sam nodded.

“He obviously loves you very much, Frodo,” Narcissa said gently.

“Yes, I know.” He stood as he slipped letter and coin into the folder and put it back in his pocket. “If you will excuse me....” He turned away, walked slowly toward the fairgrounds.

Narcissa looked after him, then at Sam. “He is getting weaker,” she whispered. He nodded slowly, not taking his eyes from his master’s back. “He--he said I was too beautiful a Hobbit to burden with his nightmares.” Again he nodded. “Sam,” she said at last. He finally turned to look at her. “Why did he never say anything like that before to me?”

He looked down, considering how much to tell her. Finally he met her eyes again. “You need to understand, Miss Narcissa--what he carried for so very long, since Mr. Bilbo left at his party--It stole that from him--the ability to love as a lad loves a lass. It wasn’t nothing you did wrong, nor nothing odd in him. He couldn’t see any lass as a lass, once he got it--just as another Hobbit. Now he can--and he feels there’s not enough left in him to do more than admire. And I fear he’s right.”

He looked down into his daughter’s basket, picked her up in his arms, buried his face in her dress. Finally he said, not lifting his face, his voice somewhat muffled, “When he was younger, the thing he wanted most of all was to have a family, be a father, raise his bairns, love his wife. It stole that from him. Now It’s gone, yet he still can’t have his dream, and it’s getting to the point it don’t even hurt him no more, for other things hurt worse.” At last he raised his eyes to her, and she could see he was weeping. “After Pearl Took threw him over, it took so long afore his heart finally healed; and just as he was beginning to look around--It came to him. Strider hates It with his whole heart, even if It is gone now--hates It for what It stole from Frodo. Frodo gave every bit of hisself getting through Mordor to destroy that--thing, and no one can help him fully heal.” Finally he said, very softly, “I fear that when as old Mr. Bilbo leaves Middle Earth, he won’t go alone--or will be followed almost immediate after.”

Narcissa Boffin nodded her agreement.

*******

“Hullo, Frodo,” said Isumbard Took. His arms were about his wife Pearl, for he’d just lifted her from the cart they’d driven from the Great Smial.

“Hello, Bard, Pearl,” he said, giving a small smile. “This is your daughter Pansy? She’s quite the young lady now.”

“Yes, and our son Isumbrand.”

The young lad looked up in awe at Frodo as Frodo looked back at him. “Hello, young Isumbrand,” Frodo said, with a bit of a bow. “It is an honor to see you again. I think the last time I saw you, you were in your high chair dropping peas all over the floor.”

“No, I wouldn’t,” the lad protested, then looked up at his mother for assurance he’d never done anything so--common.

“I do seem to remember that was true,” Isumbard said, causing his son’s face to redden with embarrassment.

Frodo leaned down carefully, said quietly into the young Hobbit’s ear, “He just doesn’t wish you to know he used to do the same, although--” he gave the lad a serious look “--don’t tell anyone, but I was worse.” He nodded to the child, smiled solemnly at his cousins as he slowly straightened, then went on his way.

“Sweet Valar,” Pearl said to her husband with grief evident in her voice as she watched Frodo Baggins proceed slowly through the activity of the Fair, “he’s so thin, so pale, Bard.”

Isumbard, finding himself unable to speak through the lump in his own throat as he looked after his cousin, merely nodded in response.

*******

Will Whitfoot looked at where Frodo sat alone at a table in the ale tent, and was shocked. His former deputy Mayor was paler and thinner than ever--it looked as if a stiff breeze must knock Frodo to the ground--or possibly blow him away. He watched as one of the Grubbs family joined him, spoke with him for quite some time. After a time of questioning his companion--Will thought it was Grabo Grubbs, Frodo finally leaned his chin on his hands for a few moments, and at last made what was obviously a suggestion. Grabo considered the suggestion for a few moments, then opened a further quiet discussion, and finally he got up, shook Frodo’s hand, and headed west. Frodo looked after with a nod, sipped again at his mug of ale, finally dropped a coin on the table and left. Will crossed to the table and looked at the mug--it was slightly more than half full.

*******

Sam found Frodo in the Council Hole in the banquet chamber. He had brought one of the chairs over in front of the great sideboard there, was sitting, holding a glass of wine, a look of reminiscence on his face. He looked up and caught Sam’s eyes, smiled gently.

“I remember when my Dad was working on this. It took him almost two years to complete all the carving. As he’d carve he’d tell me stories about the people he carved into it.” Frodo indicated a cluster of Hobbit farmers seated on benches, pipes and mugs in hand. “These were the Underhill brothers that lived near Whitfurrow, worked a farm there. They were wonderful farmers, but refused to plant beans anywhere on their land. No one could understand why not. Everyone knows that somehow beans can increase the health of the soil, so almost all farmers will plant beans once every few years, or even alongside other plants that seem to weaken soil. They relied completely on manure.”

He sighed. Finally he said, “He carved me and my Mum here, too.” He pointed to the carved representation of a river, a Hobbit lady holding hands with a wee lad as they waded into the water. Then he pointed to a representation of Bag End, at the gentlehobbit standing at the open door: “And there is Bilbo, and the Gaffer there in the garden.” Sam smiled as he leaned forward to look at the small figure that represented his father. Frodo pointed further down the Hill to a representation of the Row. “And there, there are your mum and you. You’d just been born when he carved that one, although of course I had no idea it was you.”

Sam leaned forward to look at the Hobbitess in the door yard near the potting table, a bairn in her arms.

After a few moments, Frodo commented, “Dad used to still come to Hobbiton from time to time, would stay at Bag End with Bilbo. Mum wouldn’t come, of course, or let me anywhere near Lobelia--there she is, by the way.” He pointed to a remarkably faithful depiction of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins standing near a window of a smial in Hobbiton proper, her head tilted as if listening. “As I said, he saw you a few days after you were born. He came home and told Mum that there was a golden flame in you, called you the Sun-Lad. He used to call me his Star-Child. That carving of your mum and you was one of the last ones he did before he put it all together for the Council Hole and they came to carry it away. They didn’t even have time to pay him for it before he and Mum drowned. The Mayor put the money away in trust for me, for when I got married.” Frodo shook his head, then gave a crooked smile to Sam, rose to finish his wine, left the glass on the sideboard, and together they walked out of the hole.

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