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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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46
46: Bathing in Strawberries and Cream

46

Strawberries and cherries flooded the markets from Lossarnach and Lebennin, and the Hobbits appeared desirous of eating each and every one of them. Those who sold produce in the Fourth and Fifth Circles were amazed at the amount of the fruits the Pheriannath seemed intent on consuming; and those who brought in milk and cream from the dairies of near Lossarnach found that each morning a Pherian awaited the opening of their stalls to buy the first of the thick cream.

Pippin was the worst, and the morning Frodo insisted that Pippin seemed intent on literally fulfilling the Hobbit adage of bathing in the fruit and cream he’d given his elder cousin a markedly considering look.

Frodo went up to the Citadel with Aragorn after they left the Houses of Healing. Aragorn was trying to distract himself by taking thought on how he would deal with the folk of the Shire and the Breelands, and he wanted to learn as much as he could about the social structure of the Shire before he crafted the documents he would send to them. They did a good deal of work in Aragorn’s personal study off the vestibule to the Hall of Kings, assisted part of the time by the Lord Faramir. When Aragorn was called away to speak with Gimli and Gloin briefly about the amount of stone they’d decided was needed to provide for the repairs to the walls of the First Circle, Faramir watched after him with interest.

Finally the Lord Prince Steward looked back at the Hobbit. “Does our Lord King have a woman he favors?” he asked.

Frodo shrugged. “He’s very like an Elf in that he says very little about his loves or his family when they are not with him. He’s certainly said nothing of any woman to us. I’ve seen him with so few--by the Lady Arwen, who is his foster sister as her brothers Elrohir and Elladan are his foster brothers; by the Lady Galadriel of Lothlorien--save she is very decidedly married to the Lord Celeborn; by the Lady Éowyn here--and that is all.”

Faramir sighed, thinking. “I know that when first she saw him Éowyn thought of herself as being in love with him, although he apparently did not return her regard, and rebuffed her gently when she declared herself at last to him. But he speaks not of what he himself desires.”

“He has never done so, save to say he has a great hope which could not be granted to him until he’d become King of Gondor and Arnor.”

“And he was indeed raised among the Elves of Imladris. So odd a thing.”

“The Lord Elrond told me he has ever fostered the heirs of Isildur, the descendants of his brother who chose mortality; but that of them all only Aragorn did he feel toward as a father toward a son.”

“Well, I can tell you this--there is for him somewhere a woman, and he longs for her deeply. How can I not recognize in him what is true for me as well?”

Frodo looked toward the door with increased interest.

“And was there ever one for you, Master Frodo?”

The Hobbit returned his attention to his companion. He considered the Man’s face, and finally answered, “Once there was, when I was yet a lad, before I came of age. Nothing since.”

“She chose another?”

“Yes.”

“You regret it?”

Frodo looked away. “I certainly do not regret I had no love by me while--while I held that. But I do regret not to have married and to have fathered children. I was orphaned so long ago, and wanted ever the love I saw in my parents for one another, wanted to hold my own little ones to me as my parents used to hold me to them, as my aunts and uncles have ever loved my cousins.” He looked back to meet Faramir’s eyes. “The Ring destroyed my ability to love as a lad loves a lass, my Lord Prince. Perhaps I would have found another--the day I came of age I think I was beginning to respond to the love held for me by my cousin Narcissa; but once I had It in my pocket....” He looked away again, shuddering. “Domination and enslavement only did the Ring understand, and I would not be that way.”

Faramir sighed and placed his hand gently on Frodo’s shoulder. “No, and I rejoice you are not of that kind. No wonder it was so difficult for It to catch ahold of your soul.”

The Pherian’s expression became hard. “Yet it did so at the last, and almost to the destruction of all. Do not think too highly of me, Faramir.”

At that moment Aragorn returned, and the subject of the relationship of Shire to Crown was again under discussion.

Pippin did not have duty that day, and so Frodo had not seen him since he left the guest house early that morning at dawn. When he came to the house again he was very tired, although pleased with what they’d managed to accomplish so far. Pippin sat in the day room, an expression on his face that indicated he was pleased with something and was looking forward to the reactions of others. He looked up with a level of satisfaction at Frodo. “Ah, so you are home at last, are you, Frodo? Was the day productive?”

Frodo came in and sat briefly on the chair that the others had tacitly agreed was his alone, wrapping his cloak more firmly about himself. “Yes, very productive, I think. But I’ve spent altogether too much time in Aragorn’s office today, and the cold of the stone of the walls of it has seeped right through me, I think. And what have you been up to?”

Pippin couldn’t hide a smirk. “I’ve been marketing, and finally managed to get all I required, although I had to go all the way down to the First Circle to find the last of it.”

“And what were you purchasing?”

“You will find out soon enough. Will you be wanting to bathe? I lit the boiler a bit ago in case you should wish a bath.”

“Yes, I do. Thank you for lighting the boiler for me, youngling. This old Hobbit is getting as creaky in his joints as the Gaffer himself.”

“Frodo! Don’t you dare consider yourself old! You’re only fifty, after all!”

Frodo shook himself as he rose. “Is it only fifty? It seems an age ago we went walking out from Bag End. I feel at least twice that right now.” His expression had gone solemn and sad, and Pippin was disappointed.

Frodo went off to his room where he finally divested himself of his cloak, laying it across his bed. The fire here, he noted, had been lit, for the clouds were moving in for another rain, although this didn’t have the look of storm that had accompanied the last one. He walked into the bathing room, intent on setting the plug in place and filling it from the boiler. Then he realized that, contrary to what Pippin had said, the fire beneath the boiler wasn’t going at all, and the wood there looked freshly laid. He straightened, looked at the tub, and froze. “What?” he cried out in amazement. The door to the hallway creaked open and he heard guffaws of laughter from Pippin and peals from young Lasgon.

The boy was clinging to Pippin, both of them there in the hallway just beyond the door laughing fit to burst. “You were right, Captain Peregrin!” the boy managed to gasp out. “He has been taken by complete surprise, hasn’t he?”

“I only neglected to say,” Pippin said between his own bouts of laughter, “that it is the boiler upstairs I lit. I don’t think you’ll truly wish to bathe in that, although you’re free to do so if you think you can manage it!”

The bathtub was filled with strawberries and cherries--full almost to the rim; and beside it sat several tins of thick cream. Frodo stood looking at it in amazement, until he, too, began to laugh, his laughter growing louder until he, too, found himself clinging to Pippin and Lasgon for support.

“What in Middle Earth?” he heard from the doorway, and Merry came in, leading Sam and Legolas, who’d been working in a parkland area on the fifth level of the city. The three of them looked at the huddle of two hobbits and the boy with total consternation, then Sam went beyond them into the bathing room to look in amazement at the contents of the tub.

Sam turned at last toward the three in the hallway. “Mister Pippin--did you do this?”

“Of course!” the Took declared proudly. “It was worth it--truly worth it!”

Elf and Brandybuck pushed by to see, and both joined the laughter.

“Well, I never!” Sam said with respect. “Who’d a thunk to do such a thing?” as his own rich chuckle joined that of the others. “Bathing in strawberries and cream!” he chortled.

“I couldn’t get enough strawberries alone to do the job, though,” Pippin pointed out, “so I had to mix in a good number of cherries. Hope you don’t mind, Frodo.”

“Jars and bottles and such we need now,” Sam said. “Can’t let all this go to waste, can we? Is any of them markets still open, do you think?”

Merry and Pippin and Lasgon were sent off to the market in the Fifth Circle where there was a potter who specialized in pots for preserving fruits and vegetables, and Legolas hurried down to the Fourth Circle with instructions to bring back any apples or dried apple peel he could find and as much sugar as he could purchase.

Frodo went up to the bathing room on the upper level to have his bath, drawing his dressing gown around the softer shirt and trousers he drew on afterwards, then came down to the lower floor once more, wondering what was to be done with his young cousin’s decided sense of mischief.

They started before dawn the next morning, Frodo sending Lasgon to the Houses with a note that he’d found he had other pressing business he needed to deal with that morning and wouldn’t be able to meet with the King as usual. Gandalf had absented himself again for two days, and no one had any idea where he was or what he was seeing to, trusting him for the moment to be preparing what was needed for Middle Earth.

Frodo hadn’t slept well, but appeared calm enough, and he was certainly intent on seeing the fruit preserved. They worked all through the morning. Gimli watched the Hobbits at it and shook his head. Stone and metals and gems he understood; this need to preserve food was beyond his kenning. When Sam looked intent on pressing the Dwarf into stirring the bubbling fruit Gimli shook his head, pleading a prior commitment to meet with his father, and he hurried out of the house and down through the city as fast as he could go.

At noon, once the day’s audience was finished and King Bard indicated he and those with him would be preparing their goods for their departure back to Dale on the morrow, Aragorn decided to go down to the Sixth Circle to find out what it was that had kept the Hobbits so busy. His cousin Hardorn attended on him today, and with bow in hand he followed his Lord Cousin down to the guest house, expecting he would stand as he often did before the door in idleness. Aragorn knocked and entered, and suddenly the former Ranger heard his cousin give out a great shout of laughter. The front door of the house behind Hardorn opened. “My beloved cousin--forget the pretence of guarding me today--we need you within.”

Intrigued, Hardorn turned and went in, and was almost overwhelmed by the odor of cooking fruit. Aragorn himself took his kinsman’s bow and leaned it and the quiver against the hall tree, and Hardorn was sent into the bathing room to pull fruit out of the great tub there into a series of three bowls--one for cherries, one for strawberries, and one for fruit going rotten. Hardorn shook his head. He’d managed to evade his cousin’s gardening, but it appeared he’d not evade the Hobbits’ canning. How on earth had Aragorn’s minister of the Privy Purse and captain of his personal guard managed to get roped into making preserves?

*******

Mistress Linduriel leaned back against the cushions and pillows piled up at the head of her bed, looking down with intense pleasure at her youngest child where he lay beside her on the blankets. It was still a wonder to her to realize the two of them were indeed alive and growing stronger by the day. Tomorrow the midwife and her husband had both assured her she might rise and go downstairs for a time; today was another day to laze and look on her wonderful infant with delight and listen to his brother and sister in the distance as they argued as to which would bring her the next tribute of flowers. She dreaded seeing the plants she’d so carefully nurtured about the edges of their back garden; she was positive no blossoms would be left upon them. Yet, in the end what did that matter when compared to the wonder that her child lived?

She heard the distant knock at the door, the steps of her mother as she went to answer it, the murmur of voices, then the sound of feet on the stair, her mother’s slightly uneven steps followed by the heavier tread of a Man, but not her father or Eldamir. A visitor, apparently. She was glad her mother had brushed her hair for her and that she wore a quilted bed robe over her night shift.

She looked up as her mother appeared in the doorway. “Beloved, it is the King and the Esquire to the King’s Friend.” She watched with awe as the tall form of the Lord King Elessar entered her bedroom carrying a vase of flowers, followed by the much shorter figure, short yet solidly built, of Master Samwise carrying a basket.

The King smiled. “Mistress, it is good to see you looking so well. And how is the child?”

“He does well indeed, my Lord,” she answered. “Come and see!”

The King gave her a brief bow of courtesy and accepted her invitation, and she heard his measured tread, and the bare whisper of sound that accompanied the movement of the Pherian who followed after him.

Master Samwise paused near the bed. “We thought as you’d like some preserves, so we brought you some,” he explained, setting his basket on the bed near her knee. It contained six pots, the cloth over the mouths marked half with an S glyph and the rest with a C. “Some is cherries and some strawberries,” he added.

“I see, and thank you,” she answered.

The Lord Elessar set his vase of flowers upon the stand by the bed, then leaned over the small, blanket-wrapped bundle that lay beside her. His face was gentle as he delicately opened it to look down on the infant who lay loosely swaddled within. The baby shifted slightly, turned its head, opened its milky eyes to peer upwards. “Ah, small one, you almost chose not to remain with us,” the Man said quietly. “Well, the Ringbearer sends his greetings. And I, too, rejoice to see you with us yet for a time. A blessing on you.” He looked up at the child’s mother. “What have you chosen to name him?”

“Terevamir,” she said, reaching down to stroke the downy fuzz of hair upon the tiny head. “Do you think he will like that name?”

“A fine name for a fine child,” the King answered. “And you do well, Mistress?”

“Very well, my Lord. I’d not have minded going on, I think, but am glad to see my children grow, and I rejoice this one is well and healthy now. Eldamir would have been torn apart to lose the both of us as he almost did, I think.”

“Yes,” the Man responded, “that is true. For his sake alone I am glad you came back. We cannot stay long, but wished to greet you this day and bring you these gifts. Rest and strengthen, my lady, and in time I hope to see your children playing in the gardens of the Citadel.”

Samwise stepped forward and peered at the child. “So,” he said, “it was you as was the source of all the fuss and bother the other night, was it? Well, I’m glad to see you, and hope as you’ll have a pleasant life here. Your mum and dad and sister and brother are all pleasant enough folk. I think as you’ll find it well enough, you know.” He reached out and gently stroked the child’s cheek. “Fine lad you have there, Mistress,” he said. “I wish you a good day.”

“The Ringbearer did not come?”

“Not this time, Mistress. He’s been busy the whole of the mornin’, and now he’s restin’ a time. But he sends his greetings.”

“Bear mine in return, and thank all of you for your gift.”

The King bestowed his blessing on mother and child, then left them, taking with him his friend.

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