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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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68
68: Where Among Women...?

68: Where Among Women...?


Frodo called in all of the Shiriffs, and questioned each one himself. Village heads for the regions each was assigned to came in to speak to him of what certain Shiriffs had done, and sometimes he’d send for Hobbits that had suffered especially from the attentions of this one or that.

Folks who had complaints to be made began to appear in the Council Hole at all hours of the day, and Hillie was being kept very busy taking statements, some of which were so bizarre he realized he needed to have someone investigate them to see if they could possibly be true.

“Who do you think would do to check out some of these stories, Frodo?” he asked one day as he set four that were particularly unlikely before his cousin on the surface of the Mayor’s desk.

Frodo picked up the first one. “This Man stole her drawers off the line where she’d hung them to dry?” he asked, totally confused. It was a behavior he’d never heard tell of before.

“Yes, hers and her daughters, and each laundry day three weeks running. Unlike most of Lotho’s Big Men he didn’t call them things like ‘ratlings’ or ‘childers’ or ‘imps’ or ‘maggots,’ but he definitely appears to have had a fascination with the small clothes for lasses.”

Frodo shuddered at the mention of the word maggots, so commonly used a term for one orc by another. He looked back at the report. “I’m not certain what we can do about this, as the Men are all out of the Shire now and can’t be made to give the clothing back.” He rubbed at his left shoulder. “Have any of the places the Men stayed in around her home been gone through as yet to see if there were such items found in them?”

“I don’t know,” Hillie answered. “That was where? Oh, the Southfarthing. I’m not certain who’s been seeing to checking the Men’s places down that way.”

Frodo added that to his list of assignments yet to be made and tasks to do, and looked over the next complaint. A Hobbitess had lost a sheep a week for six weeks until all were gone, and when she’d tried speaking to the Shiriffs they’d just turned her away. Then she’d heard sheep as she was walking by a house where some of the Big Men near Pincup had been sleeping nights, and peeking in through a gap in the wall she’d found herself looking into a room in which there were three sheep, two of which she was certain were hers, one of which had been kitted out in what appeared to be a Hobbit lady’s drawers. Frodo read it twice, looked up and commented, “Perhaps we have found Missus Goodloam’s laundry.” He looked at the third one, then the fourth, said, “What?” and shook his head.

He closed his eyes, then opened them and focused on the far wall. “I agree--we need someone to determine what’s true and what isn’t, although again those involving individual Big Men who did odd things aren’t likely to be to be settled to the satisfaction of those making the complaints, as we can’t go out and hunt through all of Eriador to find all the ruffians and then ask each ‘Were you the one who did such and such?’ until we find the right one. It could easily be one of those who died, in fact.”

Hillie nodded. “I thought as some Hobbits could do some very odd things,” he commented, “but between what some felt free to do under Lotho and what some of these Big Men appear to have found amusing I am alternately amazed and appalled.”

“I’ll speak to Brendi when he comes again,” Frodo said. “Maybe he can think of someone in the Southfarthing we could trust to go through the places the Big Men stayed. He has more ties down that way than I do.”

Some of the jewelry was never found; but Fenton’s feather quilt was recovered from the bed of Alyssum Smallburrow, Bedro Bracegirdle was wearing Will’s shirt studs when he was taken by the Master’s folks, and Mina’s wedding bracelet was found in the jewel box in what had been Lobelia’s room in Bag End. Timono had taken bags of jewelry with him, and these were found to have come from across the Shire. Frodo recognized some pieces that had belonged to Wisteria Boffin and Iris Baggins and Odocavar Bolger; and a number of items taken from the homes of Marco Smallburrow and Fred Oldbuck’s dry goods store were also recognized and prepared to be returned to their former owners.

Timono Bracegirdle sat in the second cell finished in the new lockholes, while Bedro Bracegirdle had the third one. As Frodo had foreseen, Timono had been found in the drying shed on the second Hornblower plantation, and he’d been a pale ghost of what he used to be like.

Marco Smallburrow looked through the window in the door of his cell and called out to Pinto Longsmial, “I want to make a complaint to the deputy Mayor.”

Pinto looked at the lawyer with a jaundiced eye. Ever since his second day, Marco had done nothing, it seemed, but complain. This was but his sixth day, but Pinto was getting very tired of it all. “What’s wrong this time? Bathwater not the right temperature?”

“I’ve not even been able to take a bath as yet. And that’s what I want to complain about.”

“You’ve already been told--you can have a cold bath any time you wish, but a hot one only the day before the High Day. And you had the chance that day, but you decided not to take it then.”

“But I wish one today.”

“Then take a cold one.”

“It’s not fair!”

Pinto glared at the Hobbit. “Mr. Smallburrow, sir, life isn’t fair.”

“Where is Frodo Baggins? He gets a warm bath whenever he pleases.”

“He’s been in Bywater the last few days, and only come back to Michel Delving last night.”

“Then call him in here.”

Pinto had had enough. Maybe Frodo could get through to this fool. He went out to the Council Hole, and Smallburrow smirked.

A few minutes later a tall, slender figure wrapped in a grey-green cloak appeared in front of the cell. Marco was startled, for Frodo Baggins had always tended to be more silent than most Hobbits and appeared to have perfected this art even more since his disappearance. Frodo examined Marco as if he were a highly interesting-looking insect he intended to order Samwise Gamgee to poison because it was eating the rose leaves. Finally Frodo asked, “You desired to see me?”

“You took your time coming.”

“I am not at your beck and call.

“You locked me up here--you owe me.”

“I owe you?” Frodo appeared amused, and started to laugh.

“Of course!” This wasn’t supposed to be happening this way, Frodo laughing at him. He was supposed to be contrite, fawning, apologetic.

“Who was it presented a feather quilt to your mother?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“Because she wanted one, and one was available.”

“Where did you get it?”

“The gatherers and sharers brought it out----”

“Out of where?”

“Out of a home where it wasn’t needed. ’Twas on an extra bed.”

“So, your mother, who has an entire closet full of blankets, rugs, quilts, and comforters both according to her and the Shiriffs who searched her home, needed a feather quilt in especial? Those who had kept that on the extra bed, who had only three spare blankets, could make do?”

“It was especially beautiful. My mother deserved it.”

Frodo continued to examine him as if he were now eating his way across the lilac bushes. Finally he said, “My mother deserves also to live in luxury, Marco Smallburrow. And I can afford to do so without stealing from others.”

“Then do so.”

“There is but one problem--she’s been dead for thirty-nine years. You see, Marco, I could do what I please for her, but she’s not here for me to do so. Life isn’t fair. Funny thing--I’ve been going through your partnership agreements, and you could do what you pleased for your mum without stealing, too, much as I could do now. You’ve had a sizable income coming in. Why didn’t you have a feather quilt made for her?”

“Why should I pay?”

“Perhaps because that’s what folks do, pay for things so they can have them or give them to others.”

“And how much was given to you?”

Frodo’s face grew stony. “Far more, perhaps, than I deserve; but I’ve not deserved the title of thief since I was a teen. And at least what I was given was given by those who came by it honestly, folk who didn’t lie, cheat, misrepresent, cozen, or steal to get those things.”

There was something in Frodo’s eyes that drew those of Marco’s, and suddenly the lawyer wanted to look away and found he couldn’t. Finally he said, “But no one’s put you in prison.”

“You think not? You don’t know what’s happened to me outside the Shire.”

“Who’d put you in prison?”

Frodo looked into the cell through the small window in the door. “Let me see--you have a comfortable room, dry and clean. You have a bed--perhaps not the height of luxury, but a real bed with a real mattress, sheets, pillows and blankets, and even a rug by it. You receive four good meals a day, which is appropriate for one who is not laboring each day. The air here is fresh. You have a proper privy. You face only a locked door.

“Let me remember the appointments of the room I was held in--stone tower, hundreds of feet tall; a large room of freezing cold stone with an unglazed window allowing the drafts through. I was stripped naked and bound so tightly hand and foot my wrists and ankles bled. I was given rancid meat of unknown origin and a foul drink so bitter I wanted to vomit it forth as soon as they forced it down me, but I couldn’t. I watched them destroy my pack, take my clothing, rip my water bottle apart. I lay on the stone floor on the rags ripped from the bodies of those who had preceded me in this room, and with nothing to cover me. I was beaten repeatedly, and threatened with worse. I was promised----” Frodo shuddered. He closed his eyes to compose himself, and when he opened them his gaze was as relentless as it had been before.

“This cell has been constructed on the site of two of the small storage rooms which Lotho’s and Sharkey’s folks converted to prison cells. In the first one we found Will Whitfoot. When he was thrown in here his kneebone was cracked, and he was in constant pain whenever he must move it. He was given a pan of water from which he must drink like a dog and which was refilled, when the gaolers were feeling generous, once every two or three days. Each day he was given one or two meals of bread, usually quite dry, and occasionally dried meat or a vegetable. He was dragged out and questioned about possible conspiracies with Hobbits from quite different parts of the Shire, and beaten because he couldn’t answer them. He has the whip scars on his back and shoulders. He had lost over half his weight from what he’d been when they took him and brought him here. He was given no bed, only a single blanket that was more holes than cloth when they closed the door on him. He had no privy but must use a bucket--a bucket in which on occasion they would take to empty and bring back filled with the water which he was expected to drink.

“And the crime for which he was imprisoned--going to protest to Lotho about Lotho illegally taking control of the Shiriffs and naming himself Chief Shiriff.”

“Why were you imprisoned?”

“For the crime of having been bitten by a spider--a poisonous spider.”

Somehow Marco realized that Frodo was not lying or exaggerating.

“Then there was the prisoner down the passage from here, aged Hobbitess, was brought in a month before we returned, taken on the street for the crime of wanting to complain to Sharkey about his Men putting up still more sheds in her garden without her permission. Was given a large cup of fresh water daily but meals the same as was Will Whitfoot; and got out to learn her son had been murdered. Her son, also, had wanted the best for his mother; at least the hole he bought her he paid good money for, although had the one he bought it from known where he got that money he’d not have sold it to him.”

“Who was she?”

“You haven’t figured it out, Marco? Lobelia--Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.”

Frodo looked again at the room through the window. “I spent a good deal of time discussing prisons with the King. Those imprisoned in the Citadel of Minas Tirith would love to have a room this comfortable, although they aren’t deprived, either, of anything more than the freedom of which they’d taken unfair advantage.” He turned his eyes back to those of Marco Smallburrow. “I suggest that you stop complaining, or it is likely that we will take you to the cell in which Lobelia was imprisoned. I doubt you would find it to your liking, though.” One last time Frodo examined the room, looking at the cushioned chair provided the prisoner. “For you the Time of Troubles was more a time of plenty; now that time is definitely over.” Frodo turned away, and on the back of Frodo’s neck, beneath the collar of the shirt and the grey cloak he wore, Marco would see part of a bandage, mostly hidden by his clothing. He wondered why Frodo Baggins needed a bandage, and if he’d truly talked to this new King.

Pinto Longbottom watched as Frodo left. He’d heard what Frodo said to Marco and was shocked. But as he watched the thin Hobbit readjust his cloak on his shoulders as he left and saw that the rumors were true and Frodo had indeed lost a finger on his right hand, he was willing to believe that Frodo, whose honesty in what he said was legendary, hadn’t lied to Marco. But where in Middle Earth might one have wanted to imprison a Hobbit? And how had Frodo gotten there? Suddenly he thought he might be better off not knowing.

The next time Marco started to complain Pinto called for aid, unlocked Marco’s door, and the three Hobbits marched the former lawyer down the passage to show him the cell in which Lobelia had been kept. “Would you really prefer to be housed here? I have the deputy Mayor’s permission.”

The complaints stopped.

Frodo was kept busy writing reports to the Thain, Lord Halladan, and the King as well as working on the dwindling mountain of documents that had been built during Will’s imprisonment. Tolly and the others now began searching the archives for documents detailing Lotho’s activities over the past three, then five years. Then they found themselves looking at just Timono’s contracts, many of which had been written with small biting clauses added that it turned out had been enriching him and a few of his other basically Bracegirdle clients for years. Most of the victims of these clauses admitted they’d been angered when they’d found they’d been written into their contracts and they’d not noticed when they signed them; but had been too embarrassed to complain.

Brendi came a second time just after the meeting of the family heads. He brought with him Frodo’s last will, which Frodo had asked him to bring, as well as a few other documents Frodo had entrusted to him. As they walked to the newly reopened inn for lunch he asked, “How was the meeting the other night?”

Frodo shrugged. “First time I’ve had to chair a meeting or host a banquet, although I’m certain all felt the banquet was more than a bit sparse. But I can’t allow family heads to feast freely when lesser folk are left to go hungry.”

“Did they complain?”

“No, actually. And I was amazed at how easily they agreed to examine what Lotho and Sharkey’s folks had done in their own families and areas.”

“Uncle Sara tells me that Sam is now family head for the Gamgees and Ropers.”

Frodo smiled. “Yes, and it was a good decision on the part of his Uncle Andy.”

“He was quite impressed by the garb Sam wore that night, said it was very becoming.”

“Yes, Aragorn and the Lady Arwen are both good at choosing good fabrics and colors for others.”

“I’d love to see you in some of yours.”

Frodo looked highly embarrassed. “I left almost all of it in Gondor, and the rest of it in Bree. I’m a Hobbit of the Shire, Brendi, not a Man of Gondor.”

“Actually, Merry said something about you now being a Lord of all the Free Peoples....”

Frodo went pale. “That Brandybuck! Why did he tell you that?”

“Is it true?”

It took some time before Frodo finally answered, “Yes.”

“So the King arranged this?”

“Actually he didn’t start it, although he did see to its execution.”

“He said it was true for both you and Sam.”

“Yes.”

“Why don’t you tell folks?”

“Brendi--that’s true for out there, not here in the Shire.”

“Nonsense, Frodo Baggins. Aren’t Hobbits part of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth?”

“Part of what makes us Hobbits is that we’re not given to having lords and such.”

They entered the inn and were shown seats at a table near the fireplace. “One good thing about the Big Men being gone--there aren’t those odd rules about how much wood you can burn.” Brendi sighed. “Lotho told us that it was to save wood, and then they went out and cut down all those trees, then forbade anyone to do anything with the wood.” Brendi slipped off his cloak and draped it over his chair, then noted Frodo was wrapping his more firmly about him. “Are you cold, Frodo?”

Frodo sighed. “Yes, I get cold all too easily any more.”

“You’ve put on a few pounds since I saw you last. Your face doesn’t look quite as thin.”

“It’s taking time, though.”

They gave their orders, and Brendi looked at Frodo with concern. “That’s barely enough to keep body and soul together, Frodo Baggins.”

Frodo looked at him levelly, then finally said, “It’s hard for me to keep food down much of the time, Brendi. I must eat only small amounts at a time. Aragorn and the other healers tell me it’s not that uncommon for people who’ve----” He stopped, then shook his head. “Anyway, I’m to eat more smaller meals. Tell me how things are going in the Hall. Did you stay there during the Time of Troubles?”

Brendi told him about how he’d stayed as long as he could in the smial he’d shared with his father since his late wife Merilinde’s death many years earlier, and how then they’d hidden most of the valuable items and joined many others in Brandy Hall. “I was able once to slip into the Shire proper and take a message to the Great Smial, but when Ferdibrand Took tried the same thing a few weeks later he was taken by the Big Men. I’m not certain how they caught him, except I suspect that one of the Shiriffs helped them.”

Frodo nodded. “Ferdi’s said the same.”

Frodo was able to eat most of what was brought to him and his mood lightened as he heard some of Brendi’s stories. At last Brendi asked him to tell of those with whom he’d traveled, and Frodo looked off thoughtfully. “Let me see--Gandalf, of course; Aragorn; Boromir, the son of Lord Denethor, Steward of Gondor; Legolas, son of King Thanduil of Mirkwood; Gimli son of Gloin from Erebor, the Dwarf kingdom from under the Lonely Mountain; and the four of us. Boromir must have wondered how in Middle Earth he’d come to travel with such an unusual group. The people of Gondor know of Elves, of course, but I doubt they’ve seen any for thousands of years. Actually, I think that as Aragorn explained it, the last ruler of Gondor to have seen an Elf was Eärnur, and the last time an Elf had visited Minas Tirith was when Elves accompanied Arvedui there when he made his claim for the Winged Crown. That would make it at least a thousand years since most in Gondor would have seen such a one. And I think it was longer since they’d seen Dwarves. Gimli commented he was the first of his people to go South of the Misty Mountains in over fifteen hundred years. As for Hobbits--Eärnur’s folks carried home stories after the death of Arvedui Last-King, but the people of Gondor didn’t really believe them. They thought we were just part of the old wives’ stories to amuse children. Although once they saw Pippin they knew precisely what he was and started calling him the Ernil i Pheriannath, which means Prince of the Halflings. He was terribly embarrassed at first, but after we came he’d occasionally try to order us around when we were in public. You know Sam--he’d do about anything any of us asked; but if Pippin would try it with Merry or me we’d just sit on him and tell him to get his princely fingers doing it for himself. One poor woman in the Fifth Circle was most aghast.

“Anyway, here was this most prosaic of Men in the midst of the oddest company one can imagine--grumpy old Gandalf; Aragorn, who then was so accustomed to being by himself he could at first go for days barely speaking to us except for necessary directions on what we should be doing and how we should do it; a fascinatingly handsome Elven Prince who moved like a cat and could melt into the trees in a heartbeat; a taciturn Dwarf who resented having to travel with the Elf and with whom he’d trade barbs that could at times draw blood; and four witless Hobbits, only one of whom appeared to be any good for anything.”

“And which of you was that?”

“Sam, of course.” The two laughed, and Brendi signaled to the server to bring more tea.

“As I told you last time, while we were in the Old Forest we met Tom Bombadil.”

“The one of whom Maggot used to tell tales?” Brendi asked.

“Did he?” wondered Frodo. “I didn’t know.”

“You left before you had the chance to become properly acquainted with him,” Brendi said, stretching. “After Bilbo adopted you Maggot made a point of making friends with many of us who had formerly deviled him.”

“So I gathered from Pippin’s comments.” Frodo smiled up at the server who brought him his tea. Once the server was gone Frodo continued, “As we were going through the Barrowdowns, Tom gave each of us a sword. Mine was broken when I fell off Lord Glorfindel’s horse, but then when we were in Rivendell Bilbo gave me Sting, the sword he found in the trolls’ cave. The problem was that none of us had the least idea how to use a sword. Strider tried to give us some instruction on the way to Rivendell, but I didn’t even get down the proper manner of holding it, I don’t think. Not, of course, that while we were going through the Midgewater Marshes and the small forests and along the ridges we had any real time to practice. Then I was wounded and we all forgot about the idea of learning to use our swords, for all were too intent on trying to get me to Rivendell as quickly as possible, before the--the shard made its way to my heart and I was lost.

“They had to have something to keep Merry and Pippin from going mad with terror and concern for me, so apparently one of the Elven warriors took them out to begin teaching them proper swordcraft. Sam just wasn’t interested, and while I was so sick they couldn’t have pulled him away from me with a team of oxen and a span of his Uncle Andy’s rope, they tell me.

“Once I began to recover, Bilbo gave me his old mithril corslet and the belt and, as I said, his Elven sword Sting, for he’d taken them away with him when he left the Shire. We all received schooling at least on how to hold our swords properly and how to do a few basic defensive moves, but I was just never very good at it, and Sam was too busy being generally useful to work at it, either. Once Boromir arrived he took an interest in Merry and Pippin’s progress and began working with them--said it reminded him of working with his younger brother when they were lads--boys.

“After we left Rivendell to head South we would sometimes stop a day or two while Aragorn or Legolas would scout the trail ahead, or occasionally to do a quick laundering of clothing and selves in a stream--and I’ll tell you doing so in January is quite an experience. I don’t recommend it.”

Brendi laughed aloud and Frodo smiled, his eyes twinkling as he paused to sip at his tea. He set down his mug again and continued. “Whenever we’d stop, if we had time Boromir, and sometimes Legolas and Aragorn as well, would work with us and our swords, and mostly again with Pippin and Merry. It was wonderful to watch, particularly if someone managed to hurt Pippin, for he’d just drop the sword and retaliate by tackling his opponent’s legs and knocking him to the ground, and then he’d begin tickling him, often with Merry’s aid. It’s almost impossible not to end up with bruises and even cuts and nicks during such practice--it was good Aragorn was a healer, although we didn’t truly appreciate just how good he was until we got through Moria.”

“Moria? The old Dwarf Kingdom that was supposed to have been destroyed by an evil demon of some kind?” Brendi asked, shocked. “Just how many legendary places did you go through?”

Frodo’s face grew solemn. “Too many,” he said. He shook himself slightly. “We had to get East of the Misty Mountains somehow, but with the news that Saruman or Sharkey had fallen to lust for--for It and had become corrupted, we knew we couldn’t go too close to his fortress of Isengard and the Tower of Orthanc where he lived. Aragorn insisted we try the high pass of Caradhras, but we couldn’t make it. There were terrible snowstorms on the mountain, and an avalanche of snow and ice. We were driven back. Gandalf suggested we go through Moria--and I agreed. It--it was terrible.”

He sighed, his expression full of grief. “They were right, the old legends about the demon in Moria. We saw it.” He went silent.

“Why did you need a healer after you left Moria, Frodo?” Brendi prompted.

Frodo gave a small shrug and drank some of his tea, then looked into his teacup. “It took us four days to get through Moria. Gimli was looking--looking for signs of his kinsmen who had come there some years back to try to recolonize it. You remember Bilbo telling of Balin?” At Brendi’s nod, he continued, “Balin decided to go to Moria and reopen it. Moria is the great source of mithril in Middle Earth, and those who went with him were hoping to reopen the mines. I understand that the first few years those in Erebor received word from the colonists, but that then all went silent. They had heard nothing for years and were afraid they were all dead.

“The first three days we saw and heard very little. But going through the dark like that with only the light of Gandalf’s staff and then some torches we found was wearing--very wearing. On the fourth day we reached one of the upper halls in the part of the great Dwarf city of Khazad-dum where the greatest population used to live, and there are air shafts and light shafts there. We saw a smaller chamber off to the side where the light was stronger and Gimli went that way first, drawn by the extra light. We were all starving for sunlight by then. This was called the Chamber of Mazurbal, and I understand it used to be the room in which the records for Khazad-dum were kept.

“Balin’s folk had brought a great journal with them in which they began keeping their own records of the colony, and we found it in that chamber, and--and Gandalf read from it to us. At one point they even found a vein of mithril ore. But then the orcs reentered Moria, and--and other evil creatures. We--we saw a few of them. Slowly at first they appear to have begun killing members of the colony, then more rapidly. Balin himself was killed one day after he went out the East door to look into the Mirrormere where the Dwarves can see reflected the constellation of stars they call Durin’s Crown. It is sacred to them.

“They had made a tomb for Balin and placed it in the Chamber of Mazurbal, and Gimli wept to kneel by it, grieving for his kinsmen. Until then, he and Legolas were always at dagger points with one another--but now it began to change as Legolas began to realize why the Dwarves still honored the memory of their lost kingdom, as we all began to appreciate how beautiful it must have been in the days of its glory. It takes a good deal for an Elf to appreciate underground places, although the Dwarves of Erebor, I believe, helped to carve out Thranduil’s own halls in the great stone hill in which they are placed to aid in protecting his folk from the assaults from the great spiders and evil creatures from Dol Guldur.

“While we were in that chamber we began hearing drumming in the deep, which was quite eerie, as it began immediately after Gandalf read what appeared to be the last entry in the journal, in which Fili wrote that they heard drumming in the deep, followed by the very last sentence, They are coming.

“There were two doors to the room, and the orcs were coming by the main one, so we prepared to drive them back sufficiently so that we could get out the other door and down the stair beyond it. They came--the orcs, the orcs and a cave troll. Aragorn and Boromir were trying to force the door closed, and closed it on the cave troll’s foot, and--and I stabbed the foot with Sting and it drew it back. But we already had some orcs that had been able to get past the door, and we had to fight.

“I was hopeless. Gimli was fierce, Gandalf was a blur as he fought with Orcrist and his staff, Boromir was grimly efficient, Pippin and Merry realized they could fight together and between them kill our enemies more easily, Sam was simply determined to do the best he could, and watching Aragorn and Legolas was fascinating, for it was like watching a deadly dance. Then Aragorn, having taken Boromir’s measure, began fighting in concert with him, and the orcs began to fall in earnest. The cave troll broke in and it took all of us to bring it down. But then--then I was hit with a spear directly in the chest. It ought to have killed me.

“Bilbo had told me to wear the mithril shirt under my clothing and not to tell the others. It turned the spear, but the force of the blow forced all the air out of me, and I fell stunned. I couldn’t even breathe for some time. The rest were certain I was dead. One of the Men scooped me up, certain he was carrying only my corpse, and they hurried out the other door and down the stair. When at last I was able to start breathing again and stirred and told them I was all right I shocked everyone. Aragorn was going on as to how that spear could have skewered a wild boar even as they set me down. I couldn’t hamper their swords--we were still being pursued, and we knew it.

“Sam had managed to kill at least one orc--maybe two, but I think just one. He had a fairly shallow gash on his forehead which still bled a fair amount. The others were unhurt save for perhaps some bruises. Once we--we were finally outside and running down the mountainside Sam and I began to fall behind. When we could stop safely for more than a moment Aragorn wanted to see how I’d managed to survive. He pulled the shirt off me, and then the mithril shirt as well, laughing with delight and satisfaction, and praising Bilbo for his forethought.

“He told me much later that he was amazed I got out of it with only a dent in my breastbone and the deep bruise, and that usually he’d have expected me to have had a few cracked or broken ribs as well. He treated the bruise, then laid his hands on it and it was much relieved. His is not as great as the healing power of Elrond or others of the great Elves, and is different in feel. He did not have sufficient power to heal the Morgul wound or even to ease it much; yet Lord Elrond believed that the fact he was by me helped me to hang on as long as I did when I had the shard of the Morgul knife in me, although both he and Aragorn insist they felt my own will and stubbornness and Hobbit resiliency served best at seeing me through that. He cleansed Sam’s forehead as well and again laid his hand on it, and it began to knit almost immediately. There was barely a scab, even, and it needed no stitches.

“The most remarkable change, however, was in the relationship between Gimli and Legolas. After seeing the greatness of what we saw of Khazad-dum and Gimli’s grief at the loss of his kinsmen and having fought by his side, Legolas began to accord respect to Gimli, which he accepted with remarkable dignity. Then we entered Lothlorien--and poor Gimli was lost.”

“Lost? What do you mean?”

Frodo smiled. “For the first time Gimli began to see the glory in growing things, for the land of Lothlorien was a reflection of the Undying Lands here in Middle Earth. You cannot believe how beautiful it was, and the great majesty of the mallorn trees, much less the ethereal beauty of the city of the Galadhrim in the boughs of the mallorns, for they build their halls on platforms high in the branches of the great silver trees with the golden leaves. And then----” His smile softened. “Then we met the Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn, Lady and Lord of that land. The Lady Galadriel has the ability more strongly than in most Elves to look into ones heart and thoughts, and what she saw of honor and love of beauty in the heart of Gimli caused her to offer him deep respect. Meanwhile, what he saw of the respect and honor she offered him caused Gimli to come to love her.”

“But isn’t she married?”

“Oh, yes; but I don’t believe he has any feelings of desire for her, and he would never dream of offending either her or her husband. But I doubt he will ever marry now, for where among the women of his own people will he find her like?”

“And you, Frodo--did you feel the same?”

“I now have a love for her--but it is not the same as what Gimli feels--not for her. But there in Lorien she frightened me as much as delighted me.”

Brendi’s curiosity was piqued. “Then there is one for whom you feel much as Gimli does?”

Frodo’s cheeks grew slightly pinker. “Three, I suppose--none of whom, of course, is suitable for me--the Lady Éowyn of Rohan, who is now married to the Lord Prince Steward Faramir of Ithilien in Gondor, a girl named Linneth whose father is a glassblower in Minas Tirith, and the Lady Arwen Undomiel, our Queen and bride to Aragorn.”

Such was the softening of his voice as he named the Queen of Gondor and Arnor that Brendi realized that here was a new reason why Frodo might not look among their own people for a possible bride; where among the women of his own people would he find her like?

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