Narcissa, who’d never been further than Michel Delving in her life, now looked at driving alone to Westhall. Ordo Goodbody had offered to drive with her, but she refused his company, although she did accept his directions. She arrived late in the day and took a room at the inn and enjoyed a light supper, then went to bed.
She had come to the dining room to have breakfast when the two she’d seen at Daisy and Griffo’s hole approached her table, and she nodded to them in invitation to join her. The lass set her brother’s hand on the back of a chair, then sat down herself in one of the remaining two that sat by the table. Fosco pulled the chair from the table and sat down, then scooted it closer to the table himself. Narcissa looked on him with interest.
“Your vision is--” she began, but he interrupted her.
“I’m almost blind,” he said. “Although I can read things and see things clearly when they are here by me close.”
“Oh, I see.” Narcissa sipped at the tea she’d been brought.
“Gander told us you were coming and should have arrived last night, so we decided to meet you at breakfast. We can afford to pay for our own, by the way,” the lass said. The server approached, and she and her brother each ordered a substantial second breakfast, and then, once she was gone, the lass continued, “Your name is Narcissa?”
“Yes, Narcissa Boffin.”
“Our grandfather was Hugo Boffin of the Frogmorton Boffins,” Fosco said.
“So I understand. And your grandmother was Donnamira Took, daughter to Old Gerontius himself.”
They nodded. Narcissa examined them both. Yes, they were Bagginses, Tooks, and Boffins rolled into one--no question. Fosco again was wearing the studs that had been Frodo’s, and the lass--her name was Freesia? No, Forsythia--yes, that was it--Forsythia wore the stickpin, which was a single star done in white crystals.
“I never met your mother Emerald,” Narcissa continued. “Do you remember her?”
They nodded in an identical manner. Forsythia smiled as she recounted, “We were, after all, six when she died. She had very dark hair with a slight reddish tint, and eyes of a dark green with a blue ring about the outside of the colored part. She was never plump as Mum is, was always rather slender. Her hands were very white and always cool to touch.”
Fosco considered. “Yes, I remember that. And she always smelled of carnations, it seemed.”
“I see,” Narcissa said. “I understand that Frodo sent you letters written while he was on his way?”
“Yes,” Fosco said softly. “We saw him leave with his friend Sam. He was very pale, but sat his pony well--from what I could tell.”
“It was a very, very nice pony, a gelding, I think, a lovely bay,” Narcissa added. “You could tell it liked him, and was a quiet steed.”
“I only saw Strider a couple times, but I agree, he is a nice pony.”
“He named the pony after the King?” asked Fosco.
“You know that the King was known as Strider in Bree?” Narcissa asked back. At their solemn nods, she shook her own head. “He does appear to have confided a good deal in you.”
“It used to be he’d come here to Westhall two or three times a year, and we’d see him for a day and a half at a time at least. The last two times we saw him, other than when we saw him at Michel Delving and when he rode away, were at the Free Fairs the last two years. We talked to him in the Council Hole, by the great sideboard his father carved.”
She considered. After she’d seen him that last time at the Free Fair she’d herself gone to the Council Hole to the room reserved for Hobbitesses, where the lasses always gossiped and fixed their hair after the dancing. And he’d been nearby talking to these two while she had sobbed her heart out.
Forsythia asked, “How are you related?”
“Frodo and you and I are all second cousins once removed on the Took side, for my father’s mother’s father was Isembold Took and his mother’s mother was Isembold’s younger sister Mirabella and yours was Donnamira. My father’s father was your mother’s father’s second cousin twice removed. Hugo was one of the Frogmorton Boffins; my grandfather Guido Boffin was born and raised in Hobbiton.”
“Oh, I see. How long did you know Frodo?”
“From the day I was born. That’s fifty years now.”
There was quiet for a time, and the server brought them their breakfasts. Finally, Fosco said quietly, “You were in love with him, weren’t you?”
“I can hear it in your voice.”
“I wasn’t the only one.”
There seemed no answer to that one. Finally Narcissa asked, “Where did you go last year?”
“We went to Whitwell and Whitfurrow and Michel Delving and Tighfield. Griffo had business dealings there, with other farmers and nurseries and suppliers of manure for his fields.”
“I see. Was it boring?”
“I liked it,” Fosco said. “We got to talk about planting and grafting and all. Griffo has a wonderful orchard on part of his farm. I love fruit trees. I think I’d like to put an orchard here on Da’s farm some day.”
Forsythia straightened. “I prefer raising animals, myself. I’d have rather visited dairies or pony farms.”
“She loves ponies, and wants to raise them. We only have Bet and Dot, who pull the plow and the harrow,” Fosco explained.
“They’re not even ponies--they are oxen.”
“You don’t even have a wagon?” asked Narcissa
“Bet and Dot pull the wagon as well,” Forsythia said.
“Da says they’re slow but dependable. I don’t think he likes to go fast.” Fosco took a bite of his bacon.
The rest of breakfast they discussed the farm where the children had grown up, and then the one Narcissa’s dad and uncles had worked. “Our cousin Rimbo works on it with Cousin Folco. Folco loves working on the farm. We have a few head of dairy cattle, three teams of ponies and one of oxen, and a good number of chickens; but mostly we raise root vegetables--potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, radishes. Uncle Bilbo and later Frodo had shares in it.”
“We raise mostly leaf vegetables,” Forsythia said. “We also raise ladybugs and the types of wasps that kill caterpillars and cutter worms.”
“That’s a good idea.”
Fosco sighed, “Except the wasps will sometimes decide we are threatening their nests when we just didn’t realize they’d made new ones. I hate being stung.”
Once they were done eating, the twins offered to take Narcissa out to show her Westhall. She found herself enjoying the small village, and loved walking through the fields with them. The two had been raised working the land alongside their foster father, and obviously loved their home. They’d grown up with the types of chores that needed to be done on the farm. Yet they’d also been given a reasonable amount of freedom.
The Baggins smial was comfortable. “I come over once a week and air it out and dust it,” Forsythia explained. “I’ve had to replace some of the cushions, but mostly things are fairly much as they were when we lived here before our mummy died.”
Narcissa looked at the library with interest. “I see several books that Frodo copied here,” she said. “He both copied and bound them. Uncle Bilbo taught him how. He and Uncle Bilbo both loved giving books as presents.” She spotted one that was familiar, and took it off the shelf. “Oh, he gave you the copy of Joco and the Cornfield, did he? Uncle Bilbo gave it to Frodo when he was tiny, then he sent it to me one year for Yule, and I gave it to Folco, who gave it to Merry, who gave it to Pippin, who gave it back to Frodo to find someone else to give it to.”
They discussed their teacher from Tookland, an elderly Took named Orimbras whose father had been a nephew of the Old Took. “His great love is the genealogy of the Took family,” Fosco said, “and he has us spending hours at a time copying out family trees. But we do learn some odd things. Two of the Old Took’s sons went off on adventures, and one never came back; and one of his brothers ended up settling in the Breelands, although he changed his name to Oversmial so as to not shame the family too much. His name was Peregrin also, but I don’t think anyone ever called him Pippin.
“Orimbras is the first besides Iorhael to tell us much about the Sea Kings, though. He has one of the books he says the Old Took put into the library that he received from Lord Elrond that tells about the founding of Númenor. Iorhael had told us about how Lord Elrond’s brother was the Lord Elros and how he chose to become a mortal while his brother chose to live the life of the Elves, and the book tells how he led the chosen of the Edain to Atalantë and became their first king, Elros Tar-Minyatar. The new King Aragorn Elessar is descended from him through Elendil the Tall and Isildur. Iorhael loves the King Aragorn Elessar.”
“Yes, I know,” Narcissa said. “So do the others. You mention his name to Pippin, and he just straightens up as if he were getting ready to start his duty, which I understand is to stand on guard before the King’s throne itself. He is quite proud of the Lord Aragorn.”
“I wonder what he looks like?” Forsythia said.
Narcissa sat quietly for a moment, then said, “Just a moment,” and opened her reticule. Carefully she pulled out a tooled leather folder and handed it to the lass.
Forsythia looked at it, carefully opened it, and examined the picture. “This is the King?” she asked, raising her eyes to Narcissa’s.
“Yes. Frodo sent it to me as he was preparing to leave. He’d shown it to me once before. He always carried it with him, that and the first gold coin struck of the King’s coinage.” Narcissa watched as at last Forsythia handed the picture to Fosco, who looked at it out of the side of one of his eyes, smiling as he examined it. “My dad knew him before he was King, when he was still just the leader of the Rangers of Arnor. Strider and some of the other Rangers would escort him when he drove or rode alone from the Brandywine Bridge to Bree and back. My dad loved to hear him sing, and he said he was an excellent teller of tales as well. That is one skill he shares with Frodo.”
“We miss Iorhael,” Fosco said as he reluctantly closed the folder and returned it to Narcissa. “We saw him leave, but didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to him.”
“Yes, I know.” Narcissa sat quietly, opened the folder and looked at the picture herself. “He seems to have preferred just slipping away.”
They discussed where they would like to go this summer, which parts of the Shire they would wish to see, and it was decided they would go to the Southfarthing this time. Narcissa thought of her cousins whom she could count on offering the three of them hospitality, and said she would start the planning.
At last they left the smial and Fosco locked the door behind them, and the three of them walked back to the Gravelly’s farm. Lilac didn’t appear any too happy to meet her, but did politely invite her to share elevenses with them, which Narcissa accepted. Talk at the table was focused mainly on the various Boffin relatives the twins shared with Narcissa. Afterwards she accompanied them around the farm to watch them do their chores, and assisted in cleaning Bet and Dot’s stalls. Finally, just before luncheon she bade them goodbye and went back to the inn.
At the Free Fair Fosco hung about the dancing ground, and when the Husbandmen’s Dance started Narcissa, watching his alert posture and the way he had his head tilted, was reminded of the interest Frodo had shown for this, and the wager he’d won from Isumbard and Lotho. There was a place in the lines of the gentlehobbits who performed the dance that was empty, there between Isumbard and Reginard and in front of Folco Boffin, and Narcissa realized suddenly that this place was there in honor of Frodo, that these three intended to see that the Shire remembered his skill and grace. She was grateful to them, although she found herself with tears slipping from her eyes.
It was Sam Gamgee who sat on the ale barrel that year, and the tale he told was of the trip through the Mines of Moria by the Fellowship of the Ring. It was a tale none had ever heard, and all sat in rapt attention. Narcissa had never heard of the Fellowship of the Ring before, and wondered where on his journey Sam had heard the tale--until she heard him speak familiar names--Strider, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Merry, Pippin. He didn’t mention Frodo by name, she realized, and he spoke of another Man besides Strider named Boromir. He barely mentioned himself at all, but it was plain he’d been part of it, she realized.
Merry and Pippin had come upon the tale in progress as Sam reached the part where they slept in the guard room. “There was a chamber where all allowed as they’d feel more comfortable sleeping as it was more cozy and protected feeling and all. Two of the Hobbits wanted to rush right in and find the most comfortable places to settle, but was held back by the others, who had more experience in adventures. Good thing as they did, for when Gandalf entered and the light at the end of his staff filled the room, they could see as there was an open well there--had they gone rushing in it’s like as not one or the other would still be falling to this day, waiting for the splash or the splat at the bottom.
“That open well fascinated Pippin Took, and he wouldn’t take his eyes off it. Finally he found a loose shard of stone, and when no one was looking....”
Narcissa found herself looking at Merry and Pippin, and saw that Pippin’s face was red with embarrassment while Merry was stifling his laughter. Yes, this had happened, and it was indeed Pippin who had dropped the stone. Then after describing the sound it made as it finally hit bottom and the startlement it caused, Sam paused, then described the tapping of the hammer in the distance. He was leaning forward, and the children and those adults who were listening were leaning forward as well, all intent on the story, aware of the fear and consternation this tapping had caused in those who were within the chamber. All were in sympathy with the young Hobbit who had to stand the first watch as penance for indulging his curiosity in this way, and were relieved when Gandalf sent him to bed early, unable to sleep himself.
But it was the part about the chamber where Balin’s tomb had been found that caught at their hearts. Sam’s expression had become solemn, and he looked into the distance of his own memory to describe what he remembered, the terror of knowing they were going to be attacked by orcs in a moment, the sweat as they clutched their weapons which they barely knew how to handle at that point. Then, the moment when the first of the enemy burst through the doorway, the chaos as they found themselves fighting for survival.
“It’s hard to describe what its like when you realize that this piece of metal as you’re holding onto so tight is what stands between you and death, that these aren’t any as you could reason with or even wish a good day to. They was coming to kill those who was within that chamber, and they already knew how to do this, probably had lots of experience. Suddenly the practice Boromir made us do just clicked, and we was using them swords as they was intended to be used, and we was killing orcs, protecting ourselves and each other.
“Only one as didn’t actually kill any of the orcs was the Ringbearer, although he managed to stick Sting into the foot of the cave troll as they’d brought with them--not that it seemed to lame him much if any. The rest was busy, Legolas with bow and white knife, Gimli with his axe, Strider and Boromir and Gandalf with their long swords. Anduril was a flame of steel, shining in the light of the torches as we’d dropped as Strider killed orc after orc after orc. Both Sting and Glamdring, the sword as Gandalf carried, what he’d found long ago in the mountain trolls’ den near Rivendell, glowed blue with the light as was put into them to shine with when enemies was near, and Gandalf was using both staff and sword against the enemy. When we could us Hobbits was throwing stones, but now and then we had to use our swords. Merry and Pippin was magnificent, while Boromir fought like six warriors all by hisself. All did as we could to stand between them and the Ringbearer--but we was beat off; and suddenly an orc thrust a spear at him, took him right in his chest, and we thought as he was dead as he fell....”
He spoke of one of the group scooping the Ringbearer from the floor of the chamber, the retreat down the east stair, Gandalf remaining behind to try to put a closing spell on the door, the startlement of all when suddenly the Ringbearer spoke and allowed as he was still alive after all, Strider’s insistence that the spear ought to have skewered him like a wild boar....
Then they were running before the threat of the shadow and the flame--the dark flames of an ancient demon, freed from his prison under the mountain by the singleminded pursuit of mithril by the Dwarves who had carved Moria from the stone of the mountain itself. When he described the stand Gandalf made against the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-dum, no one else made a sound, and Narcissa saw that tears of remembered grief were pouring down Merry and Pippin’s faces.
“He lifted both staff and sword, cried out, ‘You shall not pass!’ and brought them down on the bridge afore him, the might of his will shining through him. The Balrog spread its wings of shadow like smoke and seemed to fill the chamber--it stepped forward, and the dark fires that filled it shone around it with an eldritch light, and it shifted its weight--and the bridge broke apart, just there afore where Gandalf stood, and the Balrog fell--fell into the abyss, the shadow of it engulfing all, the flames startled with its fear and fury. It swung its whip as it fell, and the tip caught the ankle of Gandalf, caught him off guard, dragged him off the bridge, released him but too late. Gandalf held on for a moment, cried, ‘Fly, you fools!’ and--and he fell.”
He bowed his head and was silent for some time. Pippin’s eyes were squeezed shut, but he stood straight, his hand on the hilt of the sword he wore. Merry’s hands were wringing his cloak, his tears still shining on his cheeks, his jaw clenched with the pain of the memories. Finally Sam continued, but softly. “We fled, Boromir and Aragorn making certain as we followed Gandalf’s last command. We fled up the stairs to the gate, out onto the mountainside, and there we stood under the light of day, finally having a moment of safety to take stock of our loss, our grief, the knowledge the greatest force for good as was in Middle Earth at the time, was gone. We lay on the ground, clutched at one another in our grief, sat on the stones and wept, walked off alone in shock and horror and loss. The Ringbearer stood alone, his grief more than he could bear, more than he could speak of.
“But we couldn’t stay there, and Strider commanded us to stand up, move off, afore all the orcs in the Misty Mountains came out to attack us. We headed down the mountain slope, headed for the safety of the Golden Wood of Lothlorien, the realm of the Lady Galadriel and the Lord Celeborn. Only when we found ourselves by the water of Nimrodel did we stop again, and we learned the mystery of as how the Ringbearer survived the spear thrust at him--under his clothes he wore the mithril shirt old Mr. Bilbo had brought back from the Lonely Mountain when he helped the Dwarves win back their old realm from Smaug the Dragon. No way could the spear pierce that. We give thanks the old Hobbit had thought of this protection for the Ringbearer, and that he’d agreed to wear it.
“Then we moved on, for we still wasn’t completely out of danger.”
Narcissa saw the nods of acknowledgment from Merry and Pippin. Sam stood up then, gave a brief bow, scooped up his daughter Elanor from where she sat before him, and the story for the day was over.
The Fellowship of the Ring--they were from that Fellowship, he and Merry and Pippin--and that left--that left Frodo--Frodo Baggins--as the Ringbearer. Suddenly a great deal of what he and Pippin and the rest had said and not said over the past three and a half years made horrible sense. Narcissa looked to where Forsythia and Fosco Baggins stood, and saw both faces were almost as pale as had been the face of their cousin.
Shortly after, Narcissa sat down near where Sam was sitting in the ale tent with little Elanor beside him, just as Merry, Pippin, and Merry’s new wife Estella approached and joined them. Sam glanced to the side to see who had come to share the table, gave a slight nod, then looked back at his hands, which sat on the table in front of his mug of ale.
“I was a bit surprised to find you’d chosen to tell about the quest, Sam,” Pippin said gently.
“Thank Ted Sandyman.”
“Sandyman? How did he lead to this story being told?”
Sam gave a snort, reached out and took his mug and took a fairly decent drink from it, then set it down again, folding his hands once more. “This morning, just after we got here, he was telling stories of the Time of Troubles, how awful it was for those as lived in Hobbiton, so close to Lotho and Sharkey once he came, and how many was so close to starving there.”
Merry’s eyebrows raised. “Ted Sandyman was bragging about how bad he had it then? The same grimy but well-fed soul we found propping up the walls of the new mill, pleased as a pony in new clover to be allowed to polish wheels and cogs where his father had been miller in his own right?” His snort of derision was louder than Sam’s had been.
Sam looked up at him from under his eyebrows. “Yup--that’s the one, him and his horn to call for the bullies to save him from a mere tonguelashing. Anyway, there he was telling as how bad it was and implying that he was among the worst off, a course, and then he sees me. So, he says, really loud and impressive, ‘Course, there’s some hereabouts now as don’t know as how bad things can get.’ Imagine, him trying to let on as how we had no idea of what real terror is.”
“I’d have liked to see what he’d have done in three days’ journey being waylaid across Rohan by Saruman’s Uruk-hai,” Pippin said, shaking his head.
Sam gave a humorless laugh. “Imagine him if he’d been approached by one of them Nazgul? Don’t think he’d of been up to stabbing one of them behind the knee to save the Lady Éowyn.” At a noise he looked up, then said, “Sorry, Mr. Merry, didn’t mean to start the numbness again.”
Merry was rubbing at his hand and wrist, his face twisted in remembered pain. “It’s all right, Sam.” After a moment he said, “I’d have loved to see him facing that spider you fought.”
Sam nodded. They were quiet again, the three of them. Finally Pippin said quietly, “He certainly wouldn’t have lasted an hour carrying It into Mordor. It would have driven him crazy or to putting It on before he got out of sight of the orc tower where you rescued Frodo. Much less making it all that way on crumbled lembas and what little water you found.”
Again Sam nodded, not taking his eyes from his folded hands. Finally he said, “It’s the terrible weight of the thing as I member most. How he bore It I don’t know, especially there at the end. He was that close to dying, he were so very weak.” Narcissa saw a tear land on the table by his arm. After a moment he said, “The grown ups don’t want to listen or know, but the bairns, they’ll know, have some idea at least.” He looked up at Pippin’s eyes. “They’ll know what was give up that they might be safe now. They’ll have some idea of what true courage and dedication is.”
Estella reached across the table, laid her hand on Sam’s, and he looked up at her, still weeping silently, but obviously grateful.
The trip through the Southfarthing was to start the next day, so the Gravellies had brought baggage with them in the cart they’d hired to make the trip to Michel Delving in, and the twins transferred it from that cart to the small carriage lent to Narcissa by Griffo and Daisy. Lilac looked resentful but resigned, and when Forsythia and Fosco kissed her and Emro goodbye she was fighting down her tears. At last she and Emro turned away, mounted their own pony cart and left for Westhall while the twins climbed up on the box of the carriage with Narcissa and she coaxed their team into movement, headed back to her home in Overhill for the night.
The visit south proved more interesting than Narcissa had anticipated. They visited several of the pipeweed plantations and farms, a couple of vineyards, three farms where they bred ponies, and one where they bred prize beef cattle. The twins were fascinated with everything they saw. The farmers they met found the interest shown by these young tweens flattering, and their wives found their courtesy and willingness to help however they could during their stays endearing. That they knew how to work and would assist as necessary brought them respect, and their ability to discuss many topics and dance well made them popular at the parties they found themselves attending. When one evening Fosco admitted he had even learned to dance the Husbandmen’s dance from his cousin Frodo Baggins, Beslo Hornblower, who was their host at the time, became excited.
“That’s right--as Bagginses you are related to Frodo, aren’t you?” At their nod of assent, he asked, “Want to dance it with us now? We have about three in the room who dance it regularly at the Free Fair.”
Fosco was surprised, but agreed to stand with the others, and came forward as the musicians who were playing for the dancing struck up the introduction, and Fosco set his hands on his hips....
Narcissa seemed to see a similar form when a young Hobbit, but twenty years old, stood up with Isumbard and Reginard and Ferdibrand Took, Lotho Sackville-Baggins, Brendilac Brandybuck, and several others behind the ale tent at the Free Fair, remembered that only two made it through the entire seven rounds, and only one without a single stumble or error, remembered the look of pleasure and triumph at the end--not triumph he’d won the wager, but triumph that he’d danced the dance. Again a few tears slipped free, but she was smiling with pride--remembered pride for Frodo and current pride for his young cousin as once again a young Baggins performed all seven rounds with grace and competence.
At the end the entire gathering was applauding wildly, and Fosco seemed to have to shake himself back to the present, and then blushed to accept the praise, handclasps, and claps to the back of those present.
“You’ll be up there yourself next year if I have anything to say about it all,” Beslo promised. “Frodo taught you himself, then?” At Fosco’s nod, he smiled broadly. “Don’t know why I thought to question it, for you’re as good as he ever was, as good as both Frodo and old Bilbo as well. Frodo’s own dad taught him when he was but a lad, and Drogo was certainly up there until he died. Remember seeing him when I was a lad. Never understood why his brother Dudo wouldn’t join in, too. Saw him dance it once when he was visiting down here in Pipestown a year before he married Camellia. Just as good as his brother, he was; but I guess he felt dancing it alongside the others would be sort of competition or something.”
Afterwards as they were going to their rooms for the night, Fosco whispered to Narcissa, “I can do something my dad did! Oh, I’m so glad!”
Forsythia hugged him proudly before she and Narcissa went into the room they shared, and Fosco cheerfully slipped into his own room.