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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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67
67: Family Heads

67: Family Heads


Three or four times a year the family heads of the major families in the Shire would meet, either in Michel Delving or the village hall in Hobbiton, usually. They would mostly meet to discuss which harvests had been most successful and where folks would be short and what trades could be set up to make certain no area was left wanting basics in the way of food, ale, pipeweed, cloth, and provender for animals. They also exchanged news and gossip, and information on upcoming weddings and impending births and deaths.

The meeting at the end of November was heavily attended, and took place in the banquet hall in the Council Hole in Michel Delving. Even heads for small families where there were few males of the name came, eager for news and to see the heroes of the end of the Time of Troubles.

Even Orimbard Took came from Long Cleeves in the Northfarthing as family head for the North Tooks, and it took a powerful draw to bring the old Hobbit out of his home, much less out of his home territory. For the Sackvilles there was Roto Sackville, one of the remaining two of his name left in the Shire, family head by default now Lotho was dead. Odo Proudfoot looked on all the minor family heads and those who usually didn’t bother to attend at all and shook his head. “Can’t wait to ogle our lads, can they?” he asked of no one in particular.

Frodo was among the last to arrive alongside Will Whitfoot, who’d hobbled outside for the first time since he was freed from the Lockholes, and Samwise Gamgee. Most were surprised to see Sam present, for not only was his Uncle Andy family head, but the Gamgees had always been considered a family barely worthy of a book. In fact, their name hadn’t even become stable until the last two generations, for they’d been Gammidges and various other names over the years. Sam stood proudly enough, dressed tonight in one of his Gondorian surcoats of green and gold over a shirt of a soft green linen, although he was heavily flushed. He carried what was clearly his family book in his hands, bound in gold and green calfskin. Frodo appeared tired and rather pale, but each time he looked at Sam he smiled, his expression both pleased and amused by his friend’s situation.

Pippin and Merry had come with their fathers, and intrigued by the presence of Sam they slipped away from Thain and Master to approach the Mayor and deputy Mayor. Pippin examined Sam carefully. “What’s happened to you?” he asked. “I haven’t seen you this flushed since the Field of Cormallen.”

“It’s ’cause of that as I’m here,” Sam said with a shake of his head.

“I thought your uncle was----” Merry began, but Sam interrupted.

“Oh, yes he was, and my cousin Anson ought to be after him. But Anson told his dad several years back he don’t want nothin’ to do with bein’ family head, specially as he can’t read nor write and won’t be bothered to learn.”

“Did something happen to your Uncle Andy?” asked Pippin.

“No,” Sam said, shaking his head and flushing again. “No, he’s fine. But while I was in Tighfield I told him what happened on the Field of Cormallen, and he says as I’m now so important I should be family head stead of him. And Uncle Halfred and the Gaffer both agrees, along with Cousin Halfast and Auntie May. What’s worse, Hal and Ham and the girls all agree, too. It seems everybody agrees, ceptin’ me, of course, but it seems as I’ve got no more choice in the matter than Strider give me.” When Merry and Pippin began to laugh merrily he flushed even more. “It’s not funny! I’m not supposed to be family head, you know! But Will says if Uncle Andy wants to give over to me he can, specially as Anson’s said he won’t have it no how. And Uncle Andy insists I write somethin’ in Elvish by each one’s name, too. Seems real impressed I can read and write Sindarin, he does.”

Will looked at Sam. “What’s Sindarin?” he asked.

Again Sam turned red. “It’s one of the Elvish languages. Mr. Frodo, he can read it and write it better’n me, and he can read and write Quenya, too, and a bit of the Silvan language as Legolas and his people use as well. And he knows Adunaic, though that’s a Man’s language and not Elvish.” He turned to Frodo. “And did you learn any Rohirric while we was there?”

Frodo smiled. “I don’t read or write Adunaic well at all, and I have to concentrate when I do come across it to make certain I’m properly understanding what I read. And I doubt I have any more Rohirric than you do. After all, we were pretty equally around the Rohirrim.”

Merry sighed. “I suspect I’m the only one of us to know than a few words, and yet even for me it’s just a smattering. Why Gondorian dress?”

“Marigold insisted, she did. Said as I’m ennobled and all....”

“What got all this started?”

“Well, while I was in Tighfield Anson’s little lass Clover was goin’ through my pack and found the box with our circlets. Seems Gandalf put them in there while we was still in Rivendell, and I didn’t even realize--put it in there down at the bottom, he did, just over the rope and Captain Faramir’s pans, and I’d not got down that far. And this surcoat and shirt was just above the box. We was in the parlor, and I’d never thought the little thing would find anything too odd or whatever there in my pack, I didn’t, so when she started goin’ through it to amuse herself I just let her. I mean, she’s but four year, she is. We was all sittin there in the parlor, Uncle Andy and Anson and Auntie Wren, Hal and Ham and their wives, Uncle Halfred and his lad Halfast, Auntie May and my sister Daisy and her husband Moro, and they was havin’ me tell them what we’d done while we was gone.

“You know as how hard it is to tell what happened to us and what we did.” At their nod he continued. “I was tryin’ to tell them, and they was doin’ the best they could to understand. Then Clover pulled out the box and opened it up, pulled out the velvet bags, and opened them up. The sound o’ the mithril clinking on the floor caught us by surprise, and we all looked to see what it was.

“I don’t think what I’d told them got through to them, but somehow seein’ the circlets did. Daisy made me explain what they was and what they meant and how they was given us, and then Uncle Andy just started laughin’ fit to bust. Said as I was now so important he was making me family head, and the others said they’d not let me back out of it.

“Ham’s come back with me, and he told Marigold and May and our dad, and so when I come to the meeting Marigold made me wear this. I feel so strange, dressed up like this here in the Shire, you know.”

Will was confused, but shook his head. “I don’t understand but one word in four. What’s a circlet?”

“Something Aragorn gave Sam and me to embarrass us,” Frodo declared. “So, Gandalf made certain they got here, did he? I hid mine under the drawer of my desk, but it appears he found it anyway.”

Merry began laughing. “You did what? Oh, when I tell Aragorn....”

“Don’t you dare, Meriadoc Brandybuck!”

“Then I will,” Pippin warned him. “And you, Samwise Gamgee, look magnificent, my Lord.”

“I’ll tell your da about a certain stone and well in Moria,” Frodo warned.

“Go ahead. It will only confirm what we all know anyway, that I’m a fool of a Took. He’d be more concerned if I hadn’t dropped it in, you know.”

Frodo threw up his hands dramatically and went over to take a seat at the table. Pippin and Merry followed him over, Sam hurrying to catch up so as to sit by Frodo for moral support. Suddenly Merry stopped, looking at the barely visible bandage Frodo wore under his collar. “It’s draining again?” he asked.

Frodo looked up at him warily. “Of course--just about every two months so far.”

“You mean it drained again in September?”

Frodo looked away, shrugging. “Yes, while we were in Rivendell, the end of September, first of October. Elrohir tended it for me.”

“You didn’t even take it to Lord Elrond?”

Frodo looked back. “You heard him, Merry, on the way to Edoras. What can he do about it? As long as it just drains regularly it doesn’t appear to cause any other problems, and he was afraid to do anything for fear of causing serious damage.”

“Is that what’s been making you fussy the last couple weeks, though, Frodo.” Pippin asked, “it building up again?”

Again Frodo shrugged and looked away.

“Who’s caring for it here?” Merry asked.

Frodo turned to look at him in annoyance. “Sam.”

“He’s no healer.”

“He’s as good for me as any healer other than Elrond or Aragorn, and even they could do nothing about it except make certain it’s allowed to drain and kept cleanly bandaged. So let that be the end of any discussion of it. No one can do anything about it, it’s not doing anything permanent to me----”

“--Nothing you know about, anyway,” muttered Merry.

“----and I refuse to dwell on it. I have far too much to do to sit and worry about a boil on my neck.”

Will didn’t hear all of it, but enough to realize that Frodo had a recurring boil and the others were concerned it might be serious. He wondered why they’d be concerned.

The rest were taking their own places around the table, and the servers were set to bring out the dinner which had been prepared. All went quiet, looking forward to those sitting around Will for the next move. Frodo looked also at Will, who gave a laugh. “No you don’t, Frodo Baggins. I’m on holiday, recovering still from my time in the Lockholes. No, lad, you’re not relieved from duty as deputy Mayor yet. Start the meal and the meeting, then.”

Frodo gave Will a look which couldn’t be fathomed. He’d not thought to bring the Mayor’s gavel, so he took up the large spoon that sat in front of him and rapped it smartly on the wood of the table. All went quiet.

“I welcome you to this meeting of the family heads, although first we’re going to have a meal--I suppose a private banquet for us to be glad we have our families yet to head.”

There was a murmur of agreement from all around the chamber.

“I am sorry that apparently my gesture of selling Bag End to Lotho appears to have given him the impression he therefore had the right to make himself the tyrant of the Shire....”

“He didn’t wait for you to start it,” Dormo Gravelly pointed out. “Several of the contracts as I’ve had to examine were written and signed and acted on afore he bought Bag End from you, last year, year afore. He’d already slid, and was fallin’ fast while you four was creepin’ out of Hobbiton and the Westfarthing.”

That was hard to argue with. “That is true,” Frodo said.

“And the wagons full of food and leaf started going South last year,” Largo Hornblower added.

Paladin Took nodded his agreement. “No, Frodo, can’t blame yourself for this situation. You never introduced Lotho to this Sharkey’s agents, did you?”

“Well, as I’d baredly heard of him until we reached Rivendell, no.”

“Who told you about him?” asked Saradoc Brandybuck.

“Gandalf had mentioned him, I think maybe once, before we prepared to leave the Shire. But that was before anyone realized he’d fallen. I had no idea who he was other than a name Gandalf mentioned of someone far down South. Gandalf still thought of Saruman as his ally and superior. He went there when he left the Shire to ask for aid and advice, only to be imprisoned instead. He managed to escape, but not before he’d been there for quite some time, and wasn’t able to meet us in Bree as we’d planned. He reached Bree after we’d left, then managed to get past us, as he was going on horseback by road while we were going cross country on foot.”

“So, Gandalf was the first to realize this Sharkey’d gone bad, then?” asked Endero Tunnely.

“Yes. The news was treated with shock and surprise when he told those of us gathered in Rivendell, for most of the rest knew who and what he was and what he was supposed to be doing. But it was only as they faced the last battles they became aware Sharkey had been trading with the Shire--they found a barrel of Longbottom Leaf in one of his storage rooms when Isengard was overrun by the Ents.”

“Who did?” asked the Thain.

“Merry and Pippin.”

“How did they find it?”

“The Ents brought Merry and Pippin with them when they made their attack on Isengard. Saruman had been killing their trees to fire his furnaces, and was getting more and more imperious and uncaring. The word he’d imprisoned Gandalf and had tried to capture them and was attacking Rohan made them realize they had to fight him or he’d end up destroying the whole of Fangorn Forest. They didn’t dare leave Merry and Pippin in the forest by themselves, so they brought the two of them with them.”

Dormo Gravelly looked at Meriadoc Brandybuck. “That right?” he asked.

“Yes,” Merry affirmed. “Treebeard brought Pippin and me with them, and so we were able to watch the entire assault by the Ents on Isengard. After it was over and the Ents had won and had Saruman trapped in his tower, Pippin and I went through what was left of his storage room by what had been the main gate and found a fair amount of food and the barrel of pipeweed. We suspect now he had far more, but the Ents weren’t very careful when they pulled down the walls of the place to make certain they weren’t destroying more storerooms. Ents don’t eat what we do, after all; once we’d left with Gandalf and Aragorn they just brought all the walls down and destroyed anything they found they thought Saruman might possibly be able to use against anyone else.”

“When was that?” asked Largo.

Pippin answered, “Around the end of February or first of March, best I can figure. It was hard to be certain of dates much of the time, we found, until the end of the war.”

“If this Saruman was locked up----”

Frodo interrupted. “I think before we go any further, we should start the meal,” he said. Pippin immediately rose and turned West, and Merry and Sam did the same, followed by Frodo. The four sat back down and Frodo indicated to those serving to start bringing in the supper.

As they ate the questions continued. Sharkey had been held imprisoned in his own tower until August? How had he managed to get to the Shire before the four of them? Bilbo Baggins was still alive? How? Where? Had he had anything to do with all this? Would he return to the Shire?

Finally Frodo was able to steer the conversation to what needed doing now. “We need to fully understand how Lotho got so much done so quickly once I, as family head for the Bagginses, was no longer there to question what he was doing and how he was doing it. We need to know when he started these illegal and abnormal contracts. We need to know when he started buying up the pipeweed plantations and how folks were convinced to sell. Same with the inns and taverns and the mills especially.” He turned to Dormo. “You say the first contracts you saw were two years ago--why didn’t you bring them to Will’s attention then? Did Gander Proudfoot know, or any other village heads in the areas where the Gravellies have their farms and holdings? Who were they with? Why didn’t anyone approach me as Baggins family head about these contracts?”

The focus of the meeting sharpened. All family heads were to speak with village heads in the areas where their families were concentrated, and all were to begin compiling lists of what illegal and questionable contracts and acquisitions had been identified. They were to determine:

Who was involved? Which were possible co-conspirators with Lotho, and which were victims?

What properties had been targeted and when, and what tactics had been used to acquire them?

Which of the new Shiriffs had been forced to join or to remain as Shiriffs after the changes had been wrought in their expected functions, and which had joined willingly intent on loot and power?

Who had taken part in the gathering and sharing besides Lotho’s Big Men?

Who was consistently benefitting from Lotho’s activities during the occupation?

They were also asked to get their folks to list what was known to have been taken in the raids, particularly descriptions of family jewelry, heirlooms, books, furniture, and so on. Those whose homes had been dug out or torn or burned down were to be asked to describe the warnings they’d had and tactics used to force them out, and what had been lost in the destruction of their homes.

Berilac Brandybuck was taking notes, and by the end of the evening his book was full of comments and questions and the types of reports requested by Frodo. Frodo had his own notes before him; and although they weren’t as extensive they were much to the point.

Sam went to Will’s house with Frodo after the meal, and apparently, from what Will could tell, he saw to the further cleaning of the boil on Frodo’s neck. He asked for permission to set a pot of water to boil, then took it into Frodo’s room along with his pack. When at last he came out, Will had gone to bed, and Mina was fixing a last cup of tea for herself. She looked up and smiled as the gardener entered the kitchen. “Would you like some tea before you go?” she asked.

“Yes, Missus Whitfoot,” he said. “That would be nice.”

She fixed it for him, and he sat heavily at the table. “That’s quite the outfit you’re wearing,” she noted.

“Thanks.”

“Got it in those foreign places you visited?”

He nodded. “Strider had it made for me in Gondor. It’s the kind of clothes as is worn there. Good cloth, it is.”

“Frodo doesn’t wear any such things.”

“No, didn’t bring back most of his, he didn’t. Was afraid of lookin’ odd.” He sipped at his tea. “Suspect Gimli will bring a good deal of what he left there when he comes in the spring.”

“Gimli? Is that a Dwarf?”

Sam nodded. “Yes. His dad Gloin was one of the Dwarves old Mr. Bilbo traveled with so long ago. I met his dad a few times when he’d come to visit Mr. Bilbo, and then he come to Rivendell about the same time as we got there, concerned about messages and threats as was sent about Mr. Bilbo. Gimli and a few other Dwarves had come with him, and when it was decided what we’d do, Gimli was chosen to go with Mr. Frodo.”

“Where all did you go?”

Sam sighed. “Mr. Frodo had to get out of the Shire and hopefully to Rivendell. We headed first to Bree, and Gandalf was supposed to meet us there, only he didn’t. Didn’t find out till later he’d gone to see one of his own kind, one who was supposed to be above him, and didn’t realize it was a trap. Got held there for a time till he could finally escape. We met Strider, as is King now, instead. We was goin’ to slip out of Bree in the morning with our ponies and ride for Rivendell, but in the night the inn was attacked and the stables was raided, and all our ponies was gone. Finally bought my Bill from a local Man what was mean to him. But Bill is a fine beast, he is, and I love him dearly. Always loved ponies and wanted one for myself, and now I have two.” He smiled. “We left Berry and the pack pony in Bree. Mr. Merry said as he’d see to it they was sent for, although I don’t know as he’s had time to see to it yet, what with all the fuss and huntin’ of ruffians.”

“So you went to Rivendell after you left Bree?”

“Yes. Strider took us, he did.”

“What happened there?”

Sam shrugged. “After Frodo was better they had a council, and everybody learned what Gandalf had found out about--about somethin’ old Mr. Bilbo had left to Frodo long ago, somethin’ as turned out to be dangerous. It had to be destroyed, and Mr. Frodo volunteered to take it where it had to go, ’cause there was only one place as it could be got rid of proper. They knew by that time as I wouldn’t let him go without me, and Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin wouldn’t let him go without them, neither.

“Quite a number of folk was there in Rivendell, worried about what was goin’ on in the world: Men from both sides of the Misty Mountains and one all the way from down South in Gondor, Boromir son of Denethor, the Lord Captain of their armies, he was. Elves from Mirkwood and the Grey Havens and the wanderin’ companies as well as those as live in Rivendell. Dwarves from the Lonely Mountain and the Iron Hills and the Northern Misty Mountains. And Gandalf. He got there just afore we arrived, and told us all what Saruman was up to, betrayin’ all.

“Nine of us was sent South and East to see to what needed doin’ with the--the thing as was bad--us four Hobbits, Gandalf, Gimli the Dwarf, Legolas as is an Elf from Mirkwood, Boromir, and Strider. We had a time of it, we did--tracked by spies from the Enemy and Saruman, attacked by wolves. Tried to go over the mountains but the pass got blocked and we had to come back, and didn’t dare go South to the Gap of Rohan ’cause of Saruman’s treachery. Finally tried to go through--through the remains of an old Dwarf kingdom. Made it, but it was terrible. The Dwarves as had come back to it, hopin’ to open it back up, had all been killed, and turned out there was too many goblins and--and other things there, nasty things. Lost Gandalf there, we did, and the other eight of us went down the East side of the Mountains to the Elf kingdom of Lothlorien.”

Mina listened as Sam briefly described Lorien, the boats on the river, the stop at Amon Hen, a quarrel between this Boromir and Frodo that made Frodo decide to go on alone.

“We got to where we had to decide if we’d go one way or the other, and--and then it gets sort of muddled. Mr. Frodo knew as what he needed to do, but was afraid to go alone. Mr. Boromir tried to make him go with him, and finally that helped Frodo make the break, and he decided to leave the rest of us. I knew as he’d try this, so I tracked him down and got to him just afore he took off across the river to the Eastern side and made him take me with him.

“The rest got attacked, and Boromir was killed defendin’ Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin. The ones what did it was Uruks--great warrior goblins, or orcs as they call ’em elsewhere, what was sent by Saruman. They was told to find Halflings and bring them to Isengard. Well, they found Halflings, Merry and Pippin, but they wasn’t the right ones. Ones Saruman wanted was Mr. Frodo and me, but what is orcs goin’ to know? By the time Strider, Legolas, and Gimli got to Boromir it was too late--he was dyin’, the Uruks was gone West, and Mr. Frodo and me was gone East. They had to decide, and Strider decided to let us go do what we had to do, and the other three went chasin’ after the Uruks, once they set Boromir’s body adrift in one of the Elven boats over the waterfall and down the River.

“By the time they caught up with the big orcs they’d got all across Rohan, almost back to the Gap of Rohan. Maybe we ought to of come that way after all and saved a lot of wear and tear on Merry and Pippin.” He shared a grin with Mina. “King of Rohan was a Man named Théoden. Merry came to think the world of him, and certainly everybody who’s told me of him speaks highly of him. His nephew Éomer heard tell as there was a group of orcs headed across Rohan to Isengard, and he defied the King and took his Men and attacked the Uruks. In the fightin’ Merry and Pippin managed to get away into Fangorn Forest, where they met Ents, what’s the shepherds of the trees. What Merry and Pippin told them made them realize how dangerous Saruman was, so the Ents decided to attack Isengard.

“We thought as Gandalf was lost in Moria, but he was sent back, only now he was sent back as the White, and now he was Saruman’s boss where afore Saruman had been it. He was in the forest when Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli got there to search for Merry and Pippin, and he took them to Rohan where they had to break some kind o’ spell Saruman had put on King Théoden--don’t fully understand it yet. Then they all helped the folks of Rohan to fight Saruman’s army.

“They managed to win the battle, and they went next to Isengard to try to reason with Saruman, but he wasn’t goin’ to be reasonable. So they left him there and the Ents watched over him and his Worm creature what had come to join him. That’s when Merry and Pippin came back with them again. They was on the way back to the capitol of Rohan when Mr. Pippin did somethin’ plain dangerous, and Gandalf had to take him and go ahead to Gondor to warn them of an impendin’ attack by the Enemy. Then the Grey Company came with words from the Lady and from Lord Elrond, and Strider realized as he had to go through the Paths of the Dead to get the help as he needed to fight the Corsairs of Umbar afore they brought their black ships up the River to attack Gondor’s forces from the rear. That left poor Merry with the Rohirrim. King Théoden was goin’ to leave Merry in Rohan with his niece Éowyn, but neither she nor Merry was goin’ to be left behind. She dressed up as a Man and a Rider, and slipped into the army headin’ to Gondor to help in the battle, and she brought Merry with her.

“The battle was hot and heavy. The Rohirrim arrived at just the right time to help, and then Strider arrived in the black ships as he’d won from the Corsairs of Umbar, and they managed to win that battle.”

Mina was fascinated by the description of the decision to take a combined army East to attack the Enemy. “It was a big gamble, it was, for if they come too soon it could be all for nought; if they come too late--well, it would be too late. They wanted to open the way for us, for Frodo and me, to get where we had to go. And it worked. At the sight of the army comin’ the Enemy called all his own armies to the gates, and few was left to guard the way. We made it--barely in time. But it cost us heavy, Mr. Frodo and me. He almost didn’t--didn’t do what had to be done, and--and our guide finished it. I got Frodo out of there, and we finally gave in, now it was all over, or so we thought.

“Gandalf and the Eagles found us, got us out of there, back to Strider and his brothers, and they helped us--helped us recover. They took us to Minas Tirith and Strider was crowned King, the Lord King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar. Never seen a crownin’ afore, and it was--it was marvelous, Missus Mina. Now and then with Strider you see--you see the King in him, pure and simple, powerful, filled with Light and purpose, the Valar watchin’ over him, even. And we saw it that day.”

“So, you stayed for a time?”

He nodded. “Mr. Frodo still wasn’t recovered enough to go home again, and Strider wanted us to be there for when the Lady Arwen come, so we could see them get married.

“At last the Riders of Rohan come back for King Théoden’s body. He’d been killed in the battle afore the city of Minas Tirith, and they laid him in the tombs there until Éomer King could return from straightenin’ up things in Rohan to see a proper burial for their King. It took a couple weeks to go back to Edoras, where it took three days for Gandalf and Pippin to ride that way to Minas Tirith in Gondor and five days for the Riders goin’ to war. But we had wagons this time, and us Hobbits on ponies, and had to stop at times. They wasn’t goin’ to rush us any.”

“Sounds tedious.”

Sam shrugged, but smiled. “It were worth it, I think.”

“Then, after the funeral for King Théoden you finally came home?”

“Yes, but we stopped off in Rivendell first to see if Mr. Bilbo was still all right. Got there for the birthday, and he’s now a hundred twenty-nine, and Mr. Frodo’s fifty-one. They wanted to make certain as we was ready to go on, so we stayed a couple weeks to rest afore the last leg. We stayed two nights in Bree once we got there, then came home--to find Sharkey’d got here first. I don’t know what all Gandalf knew about what Saruman might do, but next time as I see him I have a few questions to ask, questions what needs answerin’.”

Mina asked, as carefully as she could, “Sam, Frodo’s not quite well, is he?”

Sam looked down at the table top. “He doesn’t like folks to talk about his health none.”

“We rather realized that, Sam.”

She waited, and finally he admitted reluctantly, “No, he’s not as well as he was. It was right hard on all of us, but specially on him. But he’s makin’ do, and won’t let it stop him none.”

“What happened to his finger?”

He looked squarely into her eyes. “It’s not mine to say.”

“How’d he get scars on his back?”

“How you know about them?”

She flushed, but wouldn’t let him look away. Finally he shook his head. “He’s got scars--but we all have scars. Just don’t let him know as you know, for he hates them and doesn’t want folks to see or ask about them.”

“Why not?”

Samwise Gamgee sighed deeply. “He thought as we could come home and it would all be over, all the bad left out there, only it wasn’t. While we was gone those Lotho’d invited in came and brought all the evil as he was tryin’ to draw away in here anyways, and we had to do one more fight. Well, he wants at least the Shire to heal. Doesn’t want for it to become like much of what we saw out there. He wants to rebuild, and Mr. Merry, Mr. Pippin and me--we want it, too. He wants it all over, and for him all over means we forget what happened to us out there. I’m not so certain, however, as that’s goin’ to prove possible.”

“Not if he’s been ill.”

Sam gave an odd look, then finished his now cold tea.

“What’s the recipe for your tea?”

“It calls for certain herbs as aren’t common. I brought starts with me, and have some in planters at the Cotton’s farm. Wherever we end up livin’, I’ll plant them there so we’ll have plenty.” He sighed. “I have a couple leaves. If he’s particular tired or upset, drop one into a bath for him, and it’ll help him calm--or so I’ve found.”

“How come you have your family book?”

He looked down at where it sat before him on the table. “Uncle Andy--he give it to me, he did. Made me family head, and everybody else wants it, too.”

“Congratulations.”

“For what? For gettin’ still more responsibilities?”

She smiled. “I have a feeling, Sam, that you are up to whatever you need to get done. You’ll make a wonderful family head, I’m certain of it.”

He sighed. “If you say so.” He rose and fetched his pack and rummaged through it, finally bringing out a parchment packet. “The leaves is in there. His neck was drainin’ but that seems to be over.”

“What happened to his neck?”

“Spider bite,” he said tersely. “Gets infected now and then, and drains then seems to heal. Nothin’ to be done ceptin’ to keep it clean while it’s drainin’--Strider, Lord Elrond, and the King’s brothers all say the same, and they’re the best healers in Middle Earth.”

“Shall I keep an eye on it?”

He laughed almost bitterly. “You keep an eye on it? Not likely as he’ll even admit to you he has it. And it shouldn’t open again for another couple months, it keeps on as it has. Seems to be just over two months between drainings.”

“Thank you for telling me what happened.”

He looked down. “What I could tell you.”

“Hopefully as it’s enough to help me understand--at least some.”

“Some,” he agreed, and he took his pack and headed for the stables.

When she looked into the room, she saw Frodo lying on his side, plainly asleep. As usual the curtains were left open, and it seemed the thin starlight was somehow reflected from his pale face, which tonight seemed quite peaceful. She smiled and closed the door.

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