The dreams hit that night, as Frodo had dreaded might happen, considering the discussion with Pippin and the thoughts he’d entertained. He woke sometime after midnight and couldn’t sleep again. At last he checked to see all others were asleep, then went to the bathing room, lit the boiler, finally filled the tub with steaming water, stripped himself, and eased himself into it. After a time he dozed, then fell fully asleep.
Mina woke also, felt restless, rose, and as she’d done when Fenton and Aster had been children, peeked into bedrooms to make certain all were well. Dianthus slept in the small bed in the room which used to be the nursery when Fenton and Aster were bairns. Dorno and Cando lay on opposite sides of the bigger bed in the guest room. Aster and Bucca lay snuggled against one another in the room in which Aster had grown up. Then she peeked into Fenton’s room to see the bed empty, the blankets and sheets all rumpled, and no one in the room at all. She checked the privy, but it was empty. However, a light shone around the door to the bathing room.
She ought not to have looked in, with a gentlehobbit not from the immediate family probably trying to ease himself in a hot bath of the tightness that he must be feeling; but she did so anyway.
A couple of candles had been lit, and a couple of clean towels lay on the stool by the tub; an exceptionally fine nightshirt hung from one peg alongside a well-worn dressing gown, striped with blues and greens.
She could tell that Frodo had fallen asleep in the tub from the angle of his head, could hear his gentle breathing. The tub was too short for him to be in any danger of slipping under the water, so she started to close the door when a flickering of a candle flame sparked a reflection from a chain he wore about his neck. Then she saw something else, a red line of a scar near where the chain lay. She quietly entered the room and looked closer--yes, there was a scar about his neck as if that chain had been dragged so hard into his skin it had cut him; and there were other scars as well, there on his back. She’d never seen such scars in her life, and she stood, transfixed by the sight of them.
Finally she realized she was trembling, and that this was anything but seemly behavior. Quietly she withdrew and closed the door, leaving Frodo with no idea his scars had been seen.
Will roused and turned as she got herself back into bed. “You there, Mina?” he asked sleepily.
“Yes,” she whispered, and she rolled into his arms and held him tight. He was startled, and held her in return, shocked at how she trembled.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Don’t ask, Will. I’m not certain what it is.”
Not sure how to take that statement, Will continued to hold his wife until at last she stopped trembling, relaxed, and finally fell asleep in his arms. Not long after that he heard another door nearby close softly, and was certain it must have been the door to Fenton’s old room.
In the morning Aster and Bucca got up early and fixed first breakfast, then knocked at the doors to tell all to rise and come to the table so that the food would still be hot when they got there.
Frodo came out fully clothed, his eyes shadowed. He sat in the corner seat at the back of the table which he’d taken for every meal, but he didn’t eat all that much. He was quiet throughout the meal, then said he needed to go to work and politely took his leave, the leather water bottle over his shoulder.
Aster took over a meal an hour later, and Frodo thanked her as he looked up from the will he was reviewing with Tollie Took; when she went back after another hour to fetch the dishes home again she found that once again he’d eaten hardly anything other than the roll and the fruit.
He didn’t come home for elevenses, so Mina took him sliced roast lamb and cheese between the halves of a bread roll; not even a quarter of it was eaten when Aster again went to fetch the plate.
He came home for luncheon, then went into his room to lie down, for he indicated he had a headache. After about an hour Aster was going by the room when she heard a voice within, as if Frodo were having a quiet conversation with someone. She cracked open the door, and saw he was alone, apparently asleep, lying in the bed, his arm over his eyes. She realized he was talking in his sleep.
“No!” he murmured. “No, you shan’t have him. I won’t let you. Leave him alone! Leave him alone with your filthy lies and suggestions. You shan’t cozen him as you have me, you filthy thing!”
Then his mumbling became muddled and incomprehensible. He shifted his position in his sleep and went quiet. Almost she closed the door, and then he suddenly whispered, “Sam, don’t tell Aragorn. I don’t want him bothered by it. No more draughts--I don’t want them.” Again he went quiet. Then, after a long silence he sighed, “The White Tree,” as if that were the answer to a question. She closed the door at that, embarrassed to have been spying on her parents’ guest.
A half hour later he awoke and came out, fastening his shirt studs. Aster looked at him. “Do you feel better, Mr. Frodo?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Some better,” he said.
Dianthus looked up at him. “We’re making tarts. Would you like one?”
“I don’t know if I could eat it, Dianthus.” Then, as if it were being dragged out of him against his better judgment, he asked, “What kind of tarts?”
“Brambleberry ones. We had lots of them on the edges of our farm last year, and not even Lotho’s Big Men could take them all.”
He smiled a twisted smile. “I’m glad they couldn’t take them all.” The smile faded. “I’m so sorry I was convinced to sell him Bag End,” he said. “It’s like that he saw as permission to try to make himself King of the Shire--but his idea of what a King would be like was so horrible.” He sighed. “At least Aragorn shows what a real King should be like.”
“What does he look like? Does he look like Lotho’s Big Men?”
“Well, not at all like any of them I saw. He’s much taller, for one thing, tall and slender, with dark hair and grey eyes, clear and thoughtful and perceptive.” He sat at the table, and Dianthus brought over a cooled tart on a small saucer and set it before him. As he continued to speak he’d pick it up from time to time and nibble at it. “He can look pretty rough, or he can look quite noble. His cheekbones are high. He is well muscled and finely balanced on his feet. His hands can wield a sword, offer healing for those wounded in body and spirit, soothe a frightened or nervous horse, caress the hand of his lady wife, admonish he who has done evil, or uplift those in need of his support with equal ease.
“The first time I saw him I had no idea who he was, but knew he was more than but a vagabond from the wilderness. He wore at his hip that time the old sheath for Narsil, the sword of Elendil his ancestor that had been broken when its lord fell in death at the hands of Sauron, so long ago. Only one had wielded it after Elendil’s death, when Isildur took up the hilt with the remainder of its broken blade and used it to cut from the hand of Sauron his Ring of Power.” Frodo’s face had gone from warm to stern. “He was close by Orodruin, and should have destroyed the Ring then, but----” His voice began to falter. “He should have destroyed It then, but could not, there, there where Its power was greatest. It overwhelmed him, and claimed him, and he claimed It and bore It away. At least he did not put It on his own hand there--or perhaps because Sauron had fallen and was still too confused for the Ring to respond to, It could not think to force him to do so.” For a moment he looked thoughtful.
Finally he continued. The lads had come in and were standing on either side of the door, afraid to interrupt him lest he stop telling his tale, and Aster had to admit his ability to tell a tale was as great as when she would crowd to listen to him at the Free Fair or when he’d speak in the Common during his visits here to Michel Delving. “He wore the sheath of Narsil when we met him, and spilled it out for us to see. I’d heard the tale of how the Sword had broken--Bilbo used to read it to me at least two or three times a year while I was growing up and after he adopted me. I never knew why he seemed to favor that story so. That I would meet Narsil’s bearer I never dreamed.
“When he spilled it out it did not seem to shine as in the ancient tales, yet I found myself responding to it. Apparently Bilbo had assured him I knew the story of Narsil, and he thought seeing it would tell me who and what he was.”
Dorno couldn’t keep from asking, “But how would Bilbo Baggins be able to tell him about you?”
Frodo smiled. “When my Uncle Bilbo left the Shire he first went to Rivendell, as he had when he left the Shire the first time with Thorin and his twelve companions. Then he and the Dwarves who accompanied him went over the Misty Mountains to Erebor, the Dwarves’ kingdom under the Lonely Mountain, where he’d gone before when they went to try to get their treasure back from the dragon Smaug. That time Bilbo had tricked Smaug into getting so angry he went out and flew over Laketown, and Bard the Bowman drew his bow and sighted on the one spot on Smaug’s chest that was vulnerable, where one of the gemmed things he’d attached to it as armor had fallen off and was thus bare. Bard hit that spot, and Smaug fell into the lake and died, and the lands around the Lonely Mountain were freed from the terror of his fire. Now Bilbo went back and saw many of those he remembered from his first journey from the Shire, and he saw how in sixty-one years the lands around the Lake and the Mountain had changed, how the trees had grown, how much happier all were, how Erebor had once again become a place of wealth, prestige, and skill.
“But when he decided the time was come to come away, he went back over the Misty Mountains to Rivendell, and the Lord Elrond invited him to stay there in the hidden Vale of Imladris, in the Last Homely House. And there he stayed.
“The Lord Elrond when he was born had a twin brother, the Lord Elros. As I said last night, both were the Peredhil, the Half-Elven, sons of Eärendil and Elwing, both of whom were themselves Half-Elven. During the War of Wrath Eärendil sailed from Middle Earth to find Valinor, to beg the Valar to come aid in the fight against Morgoth, taking with him the remaining Silmaril wrested from Morgoth’s crown, which had been given by his grandfather Beren to his great grandfather Thingol as bride-price for his daughter Lúthien Tinúviel, the first of the great ladies from among the Elves to marry a mortal Man, and who accepted mortality as the price of taking as husband the one she had come to love. Eärendil was not permitted to return to Middle Earth to his sons or to his people, and instead the Valar set his ship to sail the Seas of Night with him to steer it, the Silmaril bound to his brow, as the evening and morning star, the sign ever now of hope for those of us who live in the Mortal lands.
“Elrond and Elros were but children when their father sailed his ship Vingilot away from Middle Earth, and their mother, who could change her shape and become a great sea bird, flew after him to bring him the Silmaril to aid him in his quest. To them was granted the great choice--to either live as one of the Elven kind such as their foremothers Lúthien and Idril had been born, or to live as mortals as were Beren and Tuor. If they chose mortality, they chose it for their descendants to the ending of the world. If they chose to live as Elves, the same choice was given to their children, save once the father chose to leave Middle Earth his children must choose then, or remain in Middle Earth to die a mortal’s death, to know the Gift of Iluvatar.
“Elrond chose to live as an Elven lord; Elros chose to live as a mortal, and he was made the first King of Númenor. Our Lord King Aragorn is his descendant. Since the Star Isle sank beneath the Sundering Sea and Elendil and his followers returned to Middle Earth, Elrond had cared for those of his brother’s descendants who dwelt in the Northern lands, especially those who have been the heirs of Elendil and Isildur. He has fostered each for a time in Rivendell, and has always cherished them.
“Aragorn is the latest of these, and the Lord Glorfindel tells me he very much favors the father of Elrond and Elros, and that he also very much favors Elros, who was much like unto his father.”
“But how would someone now know what Eärendil looked like?”
“The Lord Glorfindel is one of the greatest of all Elves, and he was there when Eärendil sailed for Valinor, and saw Elros as a Man. And, of course, the Lord Elrond remembers his own brother well.
“Aragorn’s father Arathorn died when he was little more than a babe in arms. Sauron sought him, for it was foretold that this child was the one of the descendants of Elros and Elendil who would, if possible, see Sauron’s end; and he sought to destroy him that the prophecy should not come true. A pestilence went among the Northern lands and the small child Aragorn became ill with it and almost died, and his mother and her brother and Elrond told all he had indeed died, and then brought him early to Rivendell for his fostering. He lived there eighteen years as if Elrond were his father, until he came of age as is done with Men, who mature more rapidly than do we Hobbits. At that time he was at last told his true name and lineage, and learned the name of his father, and was given the care for the Shards of Narsil.
“I don’t know if Bilbo saw Aragorn when Aragorn was a child, the first time he went to Rivendell, for neither told me and I never thought to ask. But I know that after Bilbo returned there they became friends, for both have told me of that; and so Aragorn, when he met us in Bree, knew a great deal about us we had no idea he could have known, and particularly about me. I understand that Bilbo used to boast about me to Aragorn, and to everyone in Rivendell; but after all, he’d adopted me and helped raise me, had loved me since the day I was born. I suppose that’s only to be expected.”
“So, the King knew who you were, but you didn’t know who he was.”
“Yes, that’s right. And even if Bilbo did meet him when Aragorn was a child, he wouldn’t have been allowed to tell me, for I’m certain all who knew of him were sworn to secrecy save within the Vale of Imladris itself.”
“How old is the King?”
“He’s eighty-eight years old. The Dúnedain, being descended from Elros Tar-Minyatar, live longer than common Men. He will most likely live to be about two hundred years old. He was around ten when Bilbo went to Rivendell the first time.”
He straightened some and gave a small stretch. “So, he showed us the Sword that had been broken, but I couldn’t quite believe it was the one Bilbo read to me about so many times. Then he recited part of a poem I later learned Bilbo wrote for him:
All that is gold does not glitter;
Not all who wander are lost.
The old that is strong does not wither.
Deep roots are not touched by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken;
A light from the shadows shall spring.
Renewed shall be blade that was broken.
The crownless again shall be King.
“Then Barliman Butterbur gave us the letter Gandalf had written me, and the same poem was quoted there, too. I began to believe, but still held off truly believing until we got to Rivendell and at the Council Elrond told us openly. Then and then only did I truly understand. I was being terribly foolish.” He smiled.
“You like the King?” asked Dianthus.
“Oh, yes, I love him very much. It’s almost like he were my older brother, and Sam was our younger one--except sometimes Sam acts older than both of us.”
“I wish I could see what the King looks like.”
“You really wish to see?” Frodo asked.
“Just a moment.” Frodo disappeared back toward the bedrooms and came back out with half a sheet of paper torn from the end of a report and a drawing stick. He sat down, took up the drawing stick, and began drawing.
The children crowded around him and watched as Frodo brought Aragorn son of Arathorn to life on the paper: the clear, direct gaze; the broad brow; the dark, shoulder length hair; the rounded ears barely seen; the short, full beard; the well-shaped, strong hand as apt to healing as to warfare.
“None of Lotho’s Big Men looked like him,” Cando said with authority.
“I know. None of the ones I saw were remotely like him, although some were distinctly orc-like. The rest of the Northern Dúnedain look much like him, though, as do many we saw in Gondor as well. Not all have as dark of hair as he does, though. And the folk of Rohan for the most part all have golden hair.”
Frodo sighed. “Well, I’d best get back to the Mayor’s office or they will think I don’t like them any more.” He went to take the rest of the paper and the drawing stick back to his room, leaving the picture on the table.
When he came back Dianthus asked, “What will you do with the picture?”
Frodo shrugged. “In Edoras in the market there I found a leather folder a picture can lie in. I think this picture will fit in the folder, and if it does I’ll keep it in my pocket to remember him by.” He went to the cool room where he kept his extra water bottles and brought one out with him, went to get his Elven cloak and looked into the parlor to say goodbye to Will and Bucca, then let himself out to return to the Mayor’s office.
Bucca helped Will into the kitchen where all sat down together to share the berry tarts. Then Will announced his knee was aching and he wanted to lie down for a time and sleep and see if it felt better when he rose again, and Bucca was implored by Dianthus to take her to the Mayor’s office so she could take Mr. Frodo a few more of her tarts.
“All right, lass, we’ll do that, and then we’ll be over to the shops to see if I can find some good leather reins for the pony and some fabric for your mum to make her a new dress.”
Soon he and the children were gone, and only Aster and Mina were left. Frodo’s drawing of the King now stood on the shelf, leaning against the wall, where they could all see it. Aster found her eyes drawn back to it once more. “It’s a wonder to me how Frodo Baggins can draw such a thing,” she said. “I expect him to speak to us, and I can almost hear it. I bet his voice is rich and full.”
Mina nodded. “He was always drawing when he was a little one, he was. Primula had their smial all full of his drawings. And he’s just got better as he’s grown. I wonder if he had to work to get it back after he lost his finger.”
Aster stopped, for she’d not noticed any finger missing. “He lost a finger? How’d he do that?”
“I don’t know, for he won’t say. Doesn’t like for folks to notice, and will hide it if he catches you staring, it and the scars on his wrist.”
“Scars on his wrist?”
Her mother nodded. “I don’t know what happened to him, for none of them will speak of the bad times. But he for certain was very bad hurt. He can barely eat at times, I’m learning. At first I thought as it was my cooking, but it’s not that at all. He’ll eat some and he’ll be obviously so glad of it and the taste, but then he can’t eat any more and he’ll stop and look frustrated. And in the letter he wrote to the King he mentioned some kind of cake with fruit and rich cream he loved but couldn’t eat much of that the woman who was housekeeper for the place where they stayed would make.”
“I certainly don’t remember him like this, Mum--one moment lighthearted and the next closed up inside himself.”
Mina nodded. “I know. The others are all protective of him, too. Sam always sends this special tea for him, and Merry says it helps him. And sometimes he’ll just start rubbing at his shoulder like it’s aching something fierce, then hold onto that gem he wears, and eventually he’ll start looking better.” She sat and looked at her lap. Still looking away from her daughter, she said quietly, “Last night he apparently woke in the night, still upset or something, so he went in to take a bath. I woke up and looked in on all of you----”
“As you always have,” Aster said, smiling. “And as I do, too, when I’m home.”
Mina nodded. “I found him in the tub, and he’d fallen asleep. He has terrible scars on his back.”
“You saw?” Aster was scandalized.
Mina nodded. “I should have just left him, but--the candle flickered and I saw it. I don’t know what happened to him, or to any of them, but he definitely was very, very bad hurt.”
After a few minutes Aster said, “I’d like to know.”
Mina sighed. “I’m not sure,” she said slowly, “I could bear it proper if I knew it all.”
The two of them looked at the saucer on which Dianthus had presented her berry tart. “Well,” Aster commented, “at least he could eat all that. Took him a time, it did, but he ate it.”