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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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10
10: Guilt Assumed

10

Faralion found Frodo the next day in the enclosure that had served the two Ringbearers instead of a proper tent. He was lying back atop the bed which had been brought there for him, his left hand holding his right. There was a book beside him, lying face-down on the pillow--a small book for a Man’s hands; a good sized one in the hands of a Pherian. Frodo looked over and smiled wanly as he entered.

The minstrel bowed. “Before he went off with the cooks’ foragers again, Lord Samwise told me I’d find you here and that your guard would not deter me.”

“Yes. My shoulder was aching abominably this morning, and Aragorn eased it a good deal; but he again advised me to rest as much as possible today in preparation for tomorrow. He’s concerned that it will tax me overmuch.”

“So he said last night.” The Man looked at the Hobbit, whose face wasn’t as troubled as it had been the previous evening. “You will pardon me again--knowing what and who he will be to us as of the day after tomorrow, it is hard for me to think of the Lord Elessar as simply Aragorn.”

Frodo arched a brow. “He was introduced to us in Bree as Strider; and although I learned that day his real name was Aragorn son of Arathorn it was three weeks later before it struck me fully what that name meant, for all he carried the Sword that was Broken with him.” He looked up at the branches overhead and shook his head. “Sam was so suspicious of him, and taken aback completely that this one was out wandering the wilds with a broken sword. He and Aragorn apparently came to an understanding in Rivendell, and he still refers to him predominantly as ‘Strider,’ ‘Mr. Strider,’ and the last few days as ‘Lord Strider,’ all of which Aragorn simply responds to as he has always done.”

“I was amazed how well he sings.”

Frodo sat up and examined his face with curiosity. “Why are you surprised? He’s the descendant of Elros Half-Elven, and was raised in Rivendell. He grew up hearing the singing of the Elves. Bilbo told me he’s a wonderful poet also, and has helped him on many of the songs and poems he’s written.” He gave a wry smile. “Bilbo thinks the world of him.”

Faralion was considering the Ringbearer’s earlier words. “You say that when you met him he carried with him the shards of Narsil?”

Frodo nodded. “It was just before we left Rivendell that the Elven smiths there reforged it, with Aragorn aiding them.”

“Why would he carry it?”

“I think to convince me that he had an interest in what became of the Ring. Bilbo had already told him I’d studied the histories of the descendants of Númenor, and I certainly ought to have fully appreciated the significance of the Sword when he first showed it to me. But I couldn’t quite believe such tales had meaning today, three thousand years later.” He shook his head. “I was being so stubbornly skeptical. I didn’t truly understand and fully believe until Elrond told the full Council gathered his name and lineage. Then at last it sank in that this was indeed Isildur’s Heir, so I tried to give the Ring to him.”

The musician was shocked. “You’d have given the One Ring to the one who was born to be King?”

“If he would have accepted It. But it appears no one I offered It to really trusted themselves with it--not Aragorn, Gandalf, or the Lady Galadriel. And Lord Elrond could barely stand to look at it--he wouldn’t touch it himself. I don’t know who took it from my pocket and hung it on a chain around my neck while I was so ill before they got the shard of the Morgul blade out of me--they probably had Sam do it, as the Elves were afraid they’d be overwhelmed by it.” He looked away. “And with reason,” he added in low tones.

After a moment Faralion asked, “You and Lord Samwise are already packed?”

Frodo shrugged. “And what is there to pack? I’ve hardly anything of my own save what little Aragorn has given me here. I lost everything else along the way, including my clothing, dignity, health, innocence, and honor, while Sam came out of it with little more. Although at least his honor is intact.”

“And how has your honor been compromised, sweet Master?” asked Faralion. “Because your will was overcome by that of the Ring? All I have spoken with have said that It would have overcome them ere they got into Mordor. At least you were able to make it as far as the Sammath Naur itself ere It took you. Remember, It overcame Isildur and paralyzed Lord Elrond before, and I am told both were individuals of greatest personal will. And you yourself have stated that this time Lord Elrond, having felt Its power before there in that place, would not even look at It if he could avoid it, knowing how swiftly It overcame him the last time.”

Frodo sighed, looking down at his hands lying folded in his lap. Finally he said quietly, “I may know this in my mind; yet my heart blames me.”

Faralion continued, “And as for innocence--few make it long in life with that intact. But I see that your own understanding of what you could have fallen to has increased your compassion for others. Do you not realize that such is the better quality to have in the end? I suspect our yet uncrowned King can tell you much of lost innocence, if you can convince him to speak of it.”

“I suppose so.” Then he gave a small laugh. “I know so, for he’s told me a tale or two already.” He looked up under his brows and caught the expression of curiosity on the face of the Man. “No, I won’t tell on, for they’re his tales to tell and not my own.” He straightened. “It’s more than enough trying to keep my own life in some kind of order.” Again he sighed. “I wish now only to come to Bilbo before he must leave me again, and to go home to the Shire and see if ought can be made out of the life remaining to me.”

“As for me, now that I have wrought your tale into a lay, I wonder if there is anything left for me to do that is greater than that,” the minstrel said.

“You have Aragorn’s tales to tell,” the Pherian answered him. “He will be a great King, you know. Wise, experienced already, compassionate. Healer, ruler, diplomat, scholar, singer, loremaster, a great warrior....”

“There you tell it aright,” Faralion replied. “All who fought alongside him speak of his skill and ability to weave strategy and to order his forces, his endurance and ability to foresee what the enemy will do next. He came at the one moment when the armies of Minas Tirith and Rohan needed him in the Battle of the Pelennor. That one so comparatively young----”

“Young? You think eighty-eight is young?”

Faralion looked with surprise into the eyes of the Hobbit. “Eighty-eight?”

Frodo gave a slightly twisted yet amused smile. “Yes, eighty-eight. You mean you didn’t know? Bilbo told me while I was with him in Rivendell. Aragorn was yet a child when Bilbo first came there when he was on his own adventure. Aragorn has done much in his life already, has traveled throughout the known world and beyond it. I’m not certain how many languages he speaks fluently, but I know it reaches beyond my paltry Westron, Sindarin, Quenya, and smattering of Adunaic. Bilbo hinted Aragorn has already been into Rhun and Harad. He spent time in Gondor when he was young....”

“Gondor?”

“He is the Dúnedan.”

Faralion considered this, his face a study in perplexity. He searched the Hobbit’s face, and realized that this was no mere tale to confound, but the truth as Frodo knew it. He suddenly laughed. “I wonder if he knew the Lord Captain Thorongil, then?”

Frodo shrugged, smiling wryly. “I didn’t ask what he did here--I only know Aragorn told me himself he’d served here; and Bilbo explained many among the Northern Dúnedain have come South at times to serve in Gondor’s forces. If there’s anyone anywhere with the will and skill to worm out anyone’s stories, it is Bilbo Baggins.”

“I wish I could meet him.”

Frodo nodded. He sighed. “And tomorrow we go to Aragorn’s crowning. He has awaited this all his adult years. Bilbo was most intent I make good notes to bring him, for it is something he has hoped for since they first became friends when he removed to Imladris.”

“I will make a copy of the words of the Lay for you to take him as well.”

Frodo’s face became solemn and he looked away. “If you will.” Then, afraid he’d insulted his guest, he added, “I thank you, for Sam’s sake. It was his last wish, when we thought we were dying, that we might be put into songs and tales.”

“But not yours?” Faralion’s expression as he searched the Pherian’s face was shrewd.

Frodo looked away again, giving a rather elaborate shrug.

The Man suddenly gave a bark of a laugh. “You remind me of my own master’s tale of composing an ode when he was yet a young Man to the Lord Captain Thorongil. One of the younger Ladies of Lamedon was most enamored of the mysterious Captain and wished to earn his favor--she thought--by commissioning an ode in his honor--only the good Lord Captain appeared most embarrassed by the whole proceeding and indicated he’d do far better by writing such a thing in honor of Lord Denethor instead.”

Frodo laughed. “This Lord Captain Thorongil sounds quite interesting. Eagle of the Star,” he mused, then smiled. “I wonder.... Did anyone ever know where he came from?”

“No, never for certain, save that he came to Gondor from Rohan. But he was no member of the Rohirrim, my master told me, for he was quite clearly one of the Dúnedain, with his grey eyes and and high cheekbones and his dark hair.”

“I see,” Frodo commented. An odd smile played around his mouth for a moment. Then he looked up into the Man’s eyes as he returned to the original subject. “At any rate, I find being put into songs and tales uncomfortable, and find myself wishing I’d never been called upon to leave my own lands.”

After several moments the minstrel sighed. “I can see why. You have paid dearly for the fame you know.”

The Hobbit’s face had gone quite serious. “What is worse is that too many others have had to pay. If I had to come away, I’d far rather have come alone. I’d prefer not to have had them suffer. They all almost died, and they should have stayed safe at home.”

“Are you certain they would have been safe in your own land?”

Frodo looked away, his eyes haunted again. “Evil hasn’t touched the Shire as yet--not the kind of evil we’ve faced outside it, or at least not by the time we left it.”

Faralion considered. “Yet, by your own admission Sauron had become aware of your land, enough to send his Nazgul there in search of you. You have no idea what might have passed there in your absence.”

The Pherian’s face had gone white. “If evil has come there due to me....”

Faralion wished he’d not spoken that last thought aloud. “My dear Lord Frodo--and don’t go denying the title, for you have earned it dearly as I said--if evil has come there in your absence, you cannot blame yourself. Nor does it do any good speculating on what might have happened while you were gone while you are yet away. There is sufficient pain in the day about you now to deal with without looking for ills elsewhere to take responsibility for. You have paid your dues; let you enjoy the rewards that have come of them that you be better refreshed in body and spirit for whatever ills you must face next. After all, facing ills is simply a part of life for all who breathe the air given our lungs by the Creator.”

The minstrel stood up from the chair which sat between the two beds. “Know this, Master Frodo Baggins, you are not responsible for the choices of others, only for your own. You chose to fight the great Enemy of our time as you could, and you continued to do so until at last you were overcome by his weapon. Yet you held off that moment until at least you had brought It into the one place where It could be destroyed, and so it was done.

“Any evils done by those who are enemies are still the works of those who committed them. You’ve done nothing to provoke others save to protect as you can. Blaming yourself for what another does, and especially for what another might have done, is a lie unworthy of you.”

Frodo looked down and gave a small shrug. Faralion sighed.

He left and found Pippin just coming off duty with the King, who was in meetings now attended by his kinsmen from the North. The Northern Dúnedain were extraordinarily serious, quiet folk from what he could tell, and all were apparently as competent as warriors as was the Lord Elessar. They spoke a form of Sindarin and, apparently, Adunaic, often speaking the latter among themselves for purposes of privacy, although most also spoke fluent Westron. They had ridden South behind the Lord Elessar’s cousin Halbarad and his brothers. Lord Halbarad had fallen on the Pelennor, he knew, although the other two remained, both rather sober individuals hardened by years of fighting against the orcs and trolls who bred in the Northern wastes and the Misty Mountains as well as facing the enmity of the remnants of the folk of Angmar to the North and the folk of the Rhuadar to the South. It was only natural, the Minstrel thought, that the King should draw for his personal guard on these whose skills he’d known for most of their years.

Pippin was speaking with the one the Lord Elessar had made head of his personal guard, one known as Hardorn. “Then you wish me to go before Aragorn as we approach the city gates?”

“Yes.”

“I’m not certain how good a guard I’ll be, for I’ve not been able to practice with my sword since I was wounded before the Black Gate.”

The Dúnedain warrior smiled. “I saw you fighting before the Black Gate for a short time before I was too engaged to watch the fighting of those on the other hill. You are competent enough. And you can believe that once my Lord Cousin as healer has released you to full duty again you will take part in training sessions with all the rest of the Guards of the Citadel.

“As for our approach to the city gates, you will not be the only one on duty, of course. We have determined that those attending on him shall be drawn from all the peoples who are sworn to his service, and now you are the only representative from the Shire.”

Pippin took a deep breath, then nodded. “Yes, my Lord Captain,” he said, saluting. The tall, dour Northerner saluted in return and turned and reentered his cousin’s tent as Pippin watched after, then turned and smiled to see the minstrel. “Well,” he said, “I’m to serve as one of the guards for Aragorn at his crowning. It’s quite an honor. Have you seen Frodo?”

“Yes,” Faralion sighed. “And I become more and more frustrated with his concern that he is not worthy of any honor and his constant feelings of guilt. Was he ever thus?”

Pippin’s face became clouded as he looked about, then indicated they should leave the crowded area around the Lord Elessar’s tent. Together they walked southeasterly until they were in the clearing where they’d spoken the previous evening. Pippin indicated the Man should sit on the fallen log while he hitched himself up on the rock where the King had sat.

The Pherian sat looking down at his lap, playing with the seat of his sword in its sheath. The Minstrel sat watching him expectantly. Finally Pippin looked up at him. “You asked if Frodo was always the way he’s acting now. No, he wasn’t. He’s always been quieter than most Hobbits and more private, for as long as I can remember. But as I remember him as I was growing up, he was also always very warm, loving, caring, and delighted in everything. He could laugh and have fun, sang Bilbo’s comic songs, would plan the most elaborate jokes on us, and had to be the most graceful dancer you can imagine. He’s always been the most responsible and thoughtful individual you’ve ever seen, and he’s certainly tried to teach us to be that way, too.

“Aunt Esme and Uncle Sara, Merry’s mum and da, however, have spoken in front of me of the time when Frodo lived as their ward in Brandy Hall, before Uncle Rorimac died and Uncle Saradoc became Master of Buckland. Before his parents’ deaths they say he was always a happy child, bright and curious and full of delight in everything. The first year after the boating accident that killed them he was quite shaken by his loss, and was prone to being quiet and remote. For some reason they treated him as if he were sickly, although neither they nor my parents have ever explained why. He’d be happy enough in the summertime, but would become quiet and withdrawn in the winters, getting worse and worse each year, except for the two or three years he was always in trouble, it seemed.

“At last Uncle Bilbo had enough, and as family head to the Bagginses he announced he was going to take him as his own ward. He felt that the way they cosseted him just made it worse for him, apparently. I know that my parents and Merry’s all swear that in the first few months he was in Hobbiton living with Bilbo in Bag End, Frodo changed completely, putting on weight and getting color back into his cheeks, smiling freely and laughing again. He was so obviously happy that they all would say it was too bad they hadn’t let him go to Bilbo much earlier.”

“What gave Master Bilbo the right to take Frodo as ward?”

Pippin shrugged. “Frodo’s da was Drogo Baggins, and was one of Bilbo’s second cousins on that side, while his mother Primula was a Brandybuck on her father’s side, being Uncle Rory’s youngest sister, and granddaughter to the Old Took on her mother’s side. That made her Bilbo’s first cousin, for his mum was Belladonna Took and was older sister to Cousin Primula’s mother Mirabella. So Frodo was both first and second cousin, once removed each way, to Bilbo. And he was a Baggins.

“The family head is the one who is to see to the needs of all of the family name, and the families of those daughters who make claims on family ties. Our cousin Folco Boffin, for instance, was also a great grandson of the Old Took on his father’s mother’s side as well as through his mum, and his mum tried for a time to make claims on Thain Ferumbras before giving it up as a bad job. The Tooks have always had more wealth to share than any of the other families in the Shire, after all; but Cousin Ferumbras wasn’t one to squander our resources on those he considered poor relations whose own families of their name could have easily helped them.”

Faralion was becoming rather confused with the tale of relationships, and Pippin, seeing the expression on his face reddened. “Sorry. I’m a Hobbit and a Took and so have the tendency to get too wrapped up in family trees for you poor outsiders. I’ll try to be briefer.

“Frodo and Bilbo were cousins on both sides, and both Bagginses, and Bilbo was family head for the Bagginses and thus had the obligation to see to Frodo’s final situation. Is that clear enough?”

Faralion nodded. “If it was Bilbo’s final responsibility as head of Frodo’s family of name to see to his situation, how did he end up as ward to Sir Meriadoc’s parents?”

“Well, he was Uncle Sara’s cousin, you see; and Drogo and Primula had lived mostly in Buckland since Frodo was three, and then the Eastfarthing about midway between Hobbiton and Brandy Hall; and they died during a visit to the Hall. Uncle Rory and Aunt Menegilda just took possession of Frodo because that was where he was when he was orphaned. Also, they were concerned Bilbo’s reputation as old Mad Baggins who’d run off when he was fifty to have an adventure outside the Shire would end up hurting Frodo.”

He sighed and looked off following the small river as it chattered its way to the Anduin. “I suspect Bilbo also worried that his reputation would work against Frodo. He wasn’t in the least bit mad, of course, but he enjoyed playing up his eccentricities and sometimes twitting his relatives around--especially Otho and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, who were his closest kin of the name.

“Otho was an odd duck himself for a Baggins, very miserly and grasping; and then he had to marry a Bracegirdle, of all things. The Bracegirdles have to be the most unpleasant family in the Shire, and nowhere as respectable as the Bagginses--or at least as the Bagginses were before Bilbo went off with thirteen Dwarves and a wizard to the Lonely Mountain. I think that at one time Lobelia had the idea of becoming the child bride to Bilbo himself, then she set her bonnet for Drogo, and finally settled for Otho. They always wanted to live in Bag End and be recognized as the Bagginses, you know.

“They were always jealous of Bilbo’s close relationship with Drogo and Primula when they lived in Hobbiton until a few years after Frodo was born. I think they were afraid Bilbo would make Drogo his heir and family head when he was gone, myself. Lobelia started telling horrible tales about Primula, although my parents would never tell me what they were, and at last Primula insisted they move away from Hobbiton. Can’t say I blame her, as Lobelia was always the bane of Bilbo’s existence and later of Frodo’s as well. Certainly Ponto and Iris have no use for her.”

“So, Master Bilbo was close to Lord Frodo’s parents?”

The tall Hobbit nodded solemnly. “And in the end he adopted Frodo as his heir. He was always close to Frodo, you know. Was there when he was born in Number Five, and visited him several times a year after they moved away and then after Frodo was taken into Brandy Hall.”

He sighed. “I was but a lad when Bilbo left, and even then I was afraid Frodo would forget how to laugh. We spent most winters in the Great Smial, and I hated it then, when Ferumbras was Thain. He knew my da was his logical heir and he insisted we spend the winters there so he could see to Da’s training as Thain and the Took; but they didn’t get along that well. All that winter I kept running off. I’d slip into the stables and take a pony and ride off to Brandy Hall or Hobbiton, and I got to know all the back ways. I wasn’t supposed to ride alone, of course, but didn’t care much. Frodo took to leaving the front door unlocked for me and my guest room always made up for me to crawl into in case it was after dark when I got there, for no one could convince me to stay in the Great Smial. It’s a good thing that winter was fairly mild and we didn’t have much rain or any snow that stuck, or I’d probably have frozen to death.”

Pippin shook himself. “But he didn’t forget how to laugh--not then. He became quieter, but he didn’t forget how to laugh.”

Merry appeared from the camp. “Oh, so here you are, then. Master Faralion, it is a pleasure.” He gave a bow which ought to have been comical, considering his short stature, but which instead proved most graceful. He looked from one to the other. “You out here discussing Frodo?”

Pippin answered him, “Yes. He says Frodo’s guilt is driving him to distraction.”

Merry sighed. “Yes, it does do that.” His expression was most solemn and sad. “He’s always been very responsible; but now he can’t seem to appreciate that no one is responsible for everything!”

Faralion commented, “He said he wished the rest of you hadn’t come with him.”

Pippin nodded. “He tried to slip away from us, but Merry was on the watch for it. Merry, Sam, Fatty, and I set up the Great Conspiracy to watch out for him trying to sneak out of the Shire. Then, when we realized he really was going to try to do just that we fixed it so we three would go with him. The poor old Hobbit was spied upon almost every hour of the day and night.”

“After Bilbo left when Frodo came of age,” Merry continued. “I could tell that Frodo would follow him one day--go looking for him. I couldn’t let him go alone--not Frodo. Bilbo--Bilbo would be all right--we knew that. And, after all, he left the Shire both times accompanied by Dwarves, so he didn’t exactly go alone. Bilbo appreciated his own limitations.

“But Frodo--when he went, it would be more out of longing than for desire for adventure, and he’d go alone. Wouldn’t let anyone know or take anyone with him,--he most likely wouldn’t even ask the Dwarves if he could accompany them.

“Oh, he’d have it all planned out--he’d be taking old Bilbo’s maps; he’d have the Ring to make him invisible if he heard trolls or anything like that, plus he’s a Hobbit and can hide easily anyway; he’d have gold and silver with him, and well hidden; and no one knows how to find edible mushrooms and berries and wild onions and cress in the wild better than he does--no one save Sam. But he’d not get much in the way of fresh meat after his stores of jerked meat he took with him or bought in Bree ran out, for he hadn’t the heart to snare conies and kill them. He could catch fish and would have no qualms about killing or eating them, and no one can cook better in the wild than he can--except Sam, of course; but he wouldn’t take Sam with him.

“He would have gone alone, and he’d have never believed it would be the death of him.”

“You are certain he’d have gone alone?” the minstrel asked.

“Positive.” Merry’s expression was in no doubt. “He’d not have taken Sam or me or Pippin because of our families, who’d have been up in arms if we went with him; and Pippin was too young, anyway--he’s still not of age, you see, and there will be the piper to pay when we get home again with Uncle Paladin and Aunt Eglantine. Aunt Lanti will most likely seek to skin Frodo alive, taking her bairn out into the world as he did--and never you mind that Frodo had no intentions of doing any such thing.”

“They’ll probably confine me to the Great Smial till I come of age,” Pippin said gloomily.

“He’d not have taken Folco because of his mother--his mother is partially invalided; when he helped us move Frodo’s things he had to arrange for someone to care for her while he was gone; and I’m certain he fretted for her comfort the whole time. He’d think of taking Fatty only because old Fredegar was frightened to go--the couple times he went on walking trips with us before he about drove the rest of us mad with his worries about what that noise was or when we’d get to an inn so he could get a good meal and some ale. I mean, they don’t call Fredegar Bolger ‘Fatty’ for nothing, you know. Frodo would have been perverse enough to take him only because he knew Fatty is afraid and Frodo thinks the only way to fight fear is to face it. And there is no way I can think that Isumbard would go with the one who’d been his rival for Pippin’s sister Pearl; and Ferdi is too newly married to Pervinca.”

“Lord Frodo loved your sister, Sir Peregrin?”

Pippin shrugged. “He did when they were younger. Pearl threw him over years ago, though, and he never seemed to get over it. Some rot about him not being well, if I remember what she told Vinca. That if he got too stressed he’d have a seizure of the heart or something. Rot.”

“Well, he was starting to get over it at Bilbo’s party,” Merry said. “He danced with about every lass there, you know, and Narcissa Boffin was absolutely thrilled.”

“She’s always fancied him, Merry.”

Merry smiled sadly. Then he looked at Faralion. “After Bilbo went away he didn’t look at lasses any more, and I now think the Ring is the reason. I think it didn’t like its bearers to love anyone--not that way.”

Faralion considered that for a time, then asked, “Is there anything he truly loves? Besides you and his family and your land, I mean.”

“Stars, birds, the wind, music, dancing.” Merry’s face showed grief. “Always was one for walking trips, and standing on hilltops with the wind in his hair, watching the stars or birds. Would suddenly break out into an Elvish song, often one of the hymns to Elbereth Bilbo taught him. And when he danced....” His face softened with the memory.

“Why did you want to go with him?” the Man asked.

Merry glanced downward, then looked back into the minstrel’s eyes. “Frodo used to talk of when he’d go off on an adventure, back when I was a little one and he was a teen, and he’d see how upset I was and talk about how I’d go with him, of course. But when it came to it, he didn’t want to take us with him, and especially after he knew what the Ring was and all. Once he knew he was in danger and that danger would follow him because of It, he decided no one was going with him--no one. Then Gandalf insisted Sam was to go with him, but Pippin and I weren’t going to let that happen. He needed us to--to keep himself together. He wouldn’t tell us--he’d just slip away when no one was looking, like he’d always try to do when he left after a visit to Brandy Hall. He hated saying goodbye.”

Pippin looked at his cousin. “Yes, he hated saying goodbye. We’d catch him trying to slip out quietly and be there saying goodbye to him, and he’d just look embarrassed and do all he could to say anything but that.”

The young Hobbit looked up at the scudding clouds. “I still can’t fathom, though, why on earth he sold Bag End to Lobelia and her son Lotho. Otho died a few years ago, still bitter that Bilbo had adopted Frodo and left him Bag End and as family head. Frodo made out he’d run out of money, and I know that’s not true. He sold them Bag End and moved to Crickhollow in Buckland, and then we left the Shire through the Old Forest. We wouldn’t let him go alone. And I was afraid again he’d forget how to laugh.

“He’s not forgotten that, exactly; but he’s not really laughed properly since Moria. The quest has about scoured the heart out of him. And Strider truly hates the Ring for what It did to him.”

Faralion sighed. “I’m sorry. He’s apparently lost his sense of perspective.”

Merry nodded his agreement. “The Ring just kept working on him until now he thinks he’s to blame for everything.”

When Faralion returned to his own tent to pack up his own goods, he realized he, too, hated what the Ring of Power had done to Frodo Baggins. But he had a plan for that evening.

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