Narcissa was sitting at the tea shop in Bywater where she used to sit with Gaffer Gamgee a few days later when a gentlehobbit approached her and asked if he might join her. She looked him over--one of the Goodbodies, she noted, Oridon Goodbody who was married to Mattie Longbottom. She nodded. After a moment the door opened and a Brandybuck entered, looked around the room, saw them, and came over and asked if he, too, might join them, and she nodded, now suspicious. Once they had all given their orders and were sipping their tea, the two menfolk looked to one another as if deciding between them which ought to start. Finally Oridon cleared his throat and began.
“We’ve been commissioned, as those who were Frodo’s banker of discretion and lawyer, to approach you today about the codicil to his will that was added just before he left the Shire. This codicil is focused on his two younger first cousins, Forsythia and Fosco Baggins, the children of Dudo Baggins by his second wife Emerald Boffin, born late to the two of them, not long before Dudo died in Westhall.”
Narcissa was surprised. “I had no idea that Dudo had any children other than Daisy,” she said.
“We know. Fosco and Forsythia have been quite the surprise to all who knew Frodo. About the only one who has been aware of their existence from the beginning was Frodo himself. Did you know that while in Westhall Dudo became close to the partners who owned the farm in which he owned shares?”
“I think I’d heard something about it after Daisy moved here to Hobbiton with Griffo into Dora’s smial.”
The pasties and pastries they’d ordered came. When the server left, Oridon continued. “Erdo Gravelly’s son Emro and his wife, who was Lilac Banks, became very close to Emerald that last year. Dudo learned just after he helped Daisy and Griffo move into Green Hall that Emerald was pregnant. She was herself born quite late into her parents’ marriage, and so it is perhaps easier to understand how such a thing would happen to her. Everyone was shocked to learn she carried twins, who were born some weeks early. A few weeks later, Dudo died suddenly in his sleep.” Narcissa nodded.
Oridon was quiet for a time as he finished his tea and refilled his mug. Finally he continued. “Lilac Gravelly had learned she couldn’t have children of her own, and was apparently envious of Emerald’s pregnancy. Emerald had asked her to post letters to Frodo and Daisy about the pregnancy, and later about the bairns. She hid them instead, made Emerald believe Daisy was angry about them. So Emerald named Emro and Lilac to foster them in her own will.
“Gander Proudfoot let Frodo know about the bairns, Dudo’s death, and Emerald’s death. Gander is headman for Westhall and related to Frodo and Bilbo. He’s always reported Baggins business to one or the other as family head to the Baggins family.”
Again, Narcissa nodded her understanding. Family heads were supposed to keep track of all with their name within the Shire, which could become difficult when the family was prolific. That Frodo would have such sources of information about family members who lived more distantly was understandable.
He continued, “Frodo regularly sent gifts to Emerald and the bairns during Emerald’s lifetime. Once the Gravellies began fostering them, however, they no longer accepted his gifts, but returned them. After two years he went to Westhall himself to see how they fared, and took my son and me with him. We checked out the entire situation and went through Dudo and Emerald’s smial and found Emerald’s will, made a copy, and brought it away. Frodo met with the children and saw that they were well taken care of, although woefully ignorant of their family ties. He decided to leave the situation as it was unless he found in the future signs of abuse.
“He saw them regularly until he left the Shire; after his return he didn’t see them until the Free Fair. He then arranged a meeting with Daisy and Griffo to find out why they had never tried to see her sister and brother, and we learned she’d never known of their existence. Griffo and she arranged to go to Westhall to meet with the Gravellies, and while they were in the village they also managed to meet with the twins. It was the first time they’d met their sister, and they learned the truth about the situation. That night Forsythia apparently searched the house while her parents were meeting with Gander, and found the letters Emerald had entrusted to her to post to Daisy and Frodo.
“A special meeting was set up in Michel Delving, and Will oversaw the writing of a proper fostering agreement. Part of the agreement is that the children are to travel throughout the Shire one month during the summer, in the company of a member of the Boffin family, to learn about our land. Last summer they did this with Griffo, but he cannot get free to do it this summer.”
She looked at the two of them. “So, this summer you want me to do this?”
The Brandybuck nodded. “This was desired by Frodo. Apparently as he was leaving the Shire in the company of the Elves he realized he’d not included anything in his will regarding the disposition of the title of family head for the Bagginses or the responsibilities he still owed these two during their minority. He appears to have dictated his desires to one of the Elves, and then signed it. There are the requisite signatures of witnesses in red ink, and Merry tells me it includes some of the greatest names among the Elves of this time, although which were going on the ship with Frodo and which might only be accompanying them to the Havens we don’t know. The seventh signature is one I’d not thought to see on a legal document at this late date--it was that of Bilbo Baggins.”
Narcissa looked at him in shock. “Bilbo?”
“Yes, for he apparently was also granted the grace to enter the Undying Lands until his end comes. He, too, carried that which Frodo carried out of the Shire for, apparently, a very long time.”
“What was this thing? No one has ever said, not to me.”
“Apparently it was the great Ring of Power Sauron himself made to try to control all the peoples of Middle Earth. It was found by a fisherman in the shallows of the River Anduin near the Gladden Fields near where Isildur is said to have perished. The fisherman was murdered by a kinsman who then took the Ring and in time fled to the caves beneath the Misty Mountains, where he finally lost it. There it was found by Bilbo, and he brought it away with him back to the Shire. He left it to Frodo on the night of his party.
“Gandalf helped identify the thing at the last, and Frodo left the Shire because he feared that as Sauron had again awakened and was seeking again to make himself lord of all that he would send his servants here to seek it. Sauron did just that, and they pursued Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin out of the Shire and all the way to Rivendell. They wounded Frodo the first time between Bree and Rivendell.”
Narcissa looked at the Brandybuck with dawning understanding. “Then, that is what he couldn’t bring himself to say.”
The lawyer nodded. “The trip was all too often terrifying for all of them, and all were badly hurt and scarred by their experiences. Our family healers, having finally heard more of the details, assure us that considering what the four of them went through, they all came out of it remarkably well, even Frodo, although his health was steadily deteriorating almost the entire time he was home. All seem to agree that Frodo’s condition was the most serious, and that it was unlikely he would have lived much longer had he remained. At the time he left for the Havens, he himself apparently expected he wouldn’t live more than an additional week or two, in fact. He’d been at the point of death several times during the quest, and felt he had only been granted sufficient time to settle his affairs and to accept either death or the grace offered him so that he might find healing for his body and his spirit at the end. Sam tells us that he only accepted the right to go on the ship with the great Elves at the very last moment.”
Oridon continued the tale. “So, here we are with the codicil he wrote to his will at the last moment before he left the Shire. He also dictated this letter to you, as well as letters to young Fosco and Forsythia.”
He handed her a folded missive which had been sealed with a drop of what appeared to be bees wax. It was addressed in an unknown hand, Narcissa Boffin of Overhill, the Shire. She carefully wiped away the wax and unfolded it. The writing was in the same hand, a woman’s hand, apparently, one that was especially graceful.
Again, I grieve that I could not return your love as you deserved. Had I not received from Bilbo that which he bequeathed to me when he himself left the Shire, it is very possible I would have done so. Certainly, when I have thought of the women of the Shire, your face has ever been one of those I’ve seen.
I have realized that it was your love for me that kept you from accepting the attentions of the others who have realized just what a special Hobbit lass you are, and so you, as has been true for me, have been denied the marriage and children you so dearly desired. Always in order to know the joy of family I have had to make do with my cousins, and perhaps at the last I can, in a way, give you the same pleasure I’ve been able to know.
As I look at the end of my time in Middle Earth, I have realized I neglected to make provision for my youngest cousins bearing the Baggins name, Forsythia and Fosco Baggins, the children born to my Uncle Dudo at the end of his life by his second wife, Emerald. As family head, it is my responsibility to assure that these are not left neglected should something happen to their current foster parents, who are Emro and Lilac Gravelly of Westhall. I ask that you accept responsibility for them, and that you visit with them at least twice a year until they come of age. I also ask that you accompany them during their summer trips around the Shire intended to prepare them for the time when they, as adults, hopefully will assist in the interactions between the folk of the Shire and the people of Bree and the rest of Arnor. And I ask that you accompany them outside the Shire when at last they venture out of it, as I am certain they one day will.
Fosco is named family head at my leaving, for the only other male of the Baggins name who would usually be eligible would be Ponto, who is too weak to serve adequately as of the time I dictate this. I have directed my banker of discretion, Oridon Goodbody, and my lawyer, Brendilac Brandybuck, to keep Fosco apprised of the few Bagginses of the name who remain in the Shire. It is not likely our family will rise to prominence again, but it is possible that in time its numbers may once again rise somewhat.
I’ve come to care deeply for these two over the years, and I hope you will find them as intelligent and charming as I have. Perhaps you will find them a means of knowing the delight of assisting young things to come to maturity as I had hoped to do.
My body has become very weak, and I am uncertain whether I will live to reach Elvenhome. Lord Elrond, the Lady Galadriel, the Lord Gildor Inglorien, and the others with whom I travel are doing their best to bring me through first to the Havens, and then, they hope, to the Undying Lands. If I do not live to make it, at least I will have done the best I can to live as fully as I am able, and I am content.
Please forgive me that I must dictate this. Even on this journey I have known some level of distress, although they have eased it for now.
Thank you for your kindnesses toward me, and for reminding me that I might have known the fulfillment of marriage had the chances of my life been different.
Yours with much regard,
Narcissa looked at this letter for some time, looking at the familiar signature which had been affixed at the end. Finally she looked up at the two who shared the table with her.
“Have you read this?” she asked.
They shook their heads. Brendilac Brandybuck said, “No, although he indicated in the codicil that he would ask you in his final letter to you if you would accept the role of independent guardian for these two until they come of age.”
She nodded, then sighed as she carefully folded the letter and slipped it into her reticule. At last she said, “I will accept this, for his sake.”
Oridon looked relieved, while Brendilac smiled broadly. “That is good,” the banker of discretion indicated. “I think you will find them very charming and interesting. Certainly they are well behaved and polite, if at times willful--willful as only Tooks and, recently, the Bagginses appear to have become.”
Suddenly, Narcissa found herself smiling at this description. “Willful, are they? That is a laugh, considering how willful he could be.”
Ivy looked up as Narcissa returned to the smial. “You look thoughtful. What happened?”
Narcissa sat down opposite her mother. She slowly opened her reticule and drew out the letter she had received that day. “I just received one more letter--from Frodo.”
Her mother looked shocked. “But I thought he left the Shire last fall.”
“He did,” she answered, “but he apparently wrote one last letter to me as he was leaving,” She looked at the letter she held. “It appears that he had two younger cousins who still have the Baggins name, and he has asked me to serve as one of their guardians until they come of age.” She held the letter out to her mother, who took and read it.
“Are you going to accept?” Ivy asked when she was done.
Narcissa nodded. “I already have. I’m not completely certain why, but I have.” She looked at the ring she wore, the one that had belonged to Primula. “It’s little enough, Mum, that he ever asked of me.”
“Why hasn’t anyone heard of these two before?”
Her daughter shrugged. “I suppose I will find out.”
Ivy gave Narcissa a long, searching look. “It isn’t going to just reawaken the pain again, is it?”
Narcissa rose and went to the window. “The pain has never really gone away, Mum,” she finally said. “I’m living with it--after all, what choice do I have? Perhaps this will, in some way, help it.”
“It’s possible,” Ivy said. “I’d once thought you and he might marry, and I would have been very glad had it happened.” She looked once again at the letter, refolded it and set in in the center of the table. “Why did they wait this long to give you this?”
“He apparently asked that they wait until I’d had a chance to--recover from the shock. I knew he wasn’t well, Mum. I saw him at the Free Fair, and I was able to talk to Sam a bit, and Sam was already--accepting that he was probably dying. Certainly that’s in line with what--what he wrote there.” She sighed. “He had a letter from the King, and it sounded, from the way the King worded it, as if he knew about the offer, and hoped he would accept it. Or, that’s the way it seems now that--now that I know where he chose to go.”
She turned to her mother. “Could you imagine leaving Middle Earth, Mum? Going with the Elves and Bilbo to Elvenhome to live for the rest of ones life?”
Ivy shook her head. “If he was dying anyway, though, it’s as well he did, I would think. Whatever happened to the Travelers out there in the outer world, it hurt them all, and changed them all as well.” She looked again at the letter. “I wonder, though,” she continued, “what he did to earn that gift.”
Narcissa came back to the table and looked down at the letter also. “I suppose that, in time, I will find out just what.”