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The Acceptable Sacrifice
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71: Bag End Returned

71: Bag End Returned

Rosie Cotton did her best to stand by Mr. Frodo when he returned to the Cotton’s farm, particularly during the times when Sam was out and about the rest of the Shire, examining damage wrought, seeing how many young trees were available in the nurseries, helping to clear away the rubble of destroyed homes, evaluating whether hillsides would accept new smials, looking at the charred ruins of gardens and fields and occasional copses of trees.

She kept Frodo’s room readied, and saw to the drawing of his baths. She laundered his clothing herself and brought him all that arrived for him through the Quick Post. She repaired his clothing and saw to his meals when he ate separately from the family, and made certain he drank the tea Sam left for him.

Her parents watched her activities with interest. They knew that she did this primarily for Sam’s sake, but that as time passed more and more for Frodo’s own sake as well. Always had Frodo Baggins been a very responsible and generous individual; now they saw how he was indeed driven to do all he could to see the Shire restored. All were drawn more and more to honor this slender Hobbit and his dedication to the Shire’s needs--their people’s needs.

In Michel Delving Frodo Baggins met with family heads and lawyers and members of the Shiriffs and village heads and delegations from the four Farthings and Buckland about surpluses and deficits. On the farm he was approached by small farmers and owners of small businesses, by individuals whose homes and livings had been stripped from them, by those who had no idea what had become of family members.

Fredegar Bolger was also staying at the farm, and in November he was joined by his sister Estella to take primary care for him. All had seen what Lotho’s folks and later Sharkey had done in Hobbiton, Bywater, and Overhill; the tales of how the Bolgers had been driven from their home and Estella sent into hiding among the Tooks and how family heads in many places had been displaced and demeaned or imprisoned were listened to by all with a horrified fascination. The Gaffer and Marigold also were staying with the Cottons; but Frodo saw to it that all families who hosted those who were dispossessed received extra rations to compensate from the foodstuffs found in Michel Delving, the Brockenbores, and other caches the Big Men had set up throughout the Shire and Buckland.

By the end of two weeks construction had begun on new smials in Hobbiton and throughout the area about the Hill and the Water; early in November the folks of Overhill had cleared away the collapsed hill into which the home of Wisteria and Folco Boffin had been dug, and now a proper Hobbit house was being erected in place of the lost smial. Some had new homes by Yule; most were taking possession of their holes or houses by the end of January or first of February. By the end of February the last of the inns were reopened, and malt and barley from the Brockenbores was being shipped by wagon throughout the four Farthings and Buckland.

Frodo was often cold and tired when he arrived on the farm, and Rosie would have a bath waiting for him, dropping one of Sam’s leaves into it just before Frodo entered the bathing room. If his sleep was disturbed she would rise with him, and often speak with him in the parlor until he was ready to return to his bed. She listened with interest to his stories of the new King so far off there in Gondor, and what Frodo would tell of their long journey--which was little enough. And watching how Sam, Merry, and Pippin looked with caring on Frodo Baggins, she realized that, of the four of them, his had been the hardest duty and had brought him closest to having been lost.

And she was the one who found the picture that Frodo had drawn one night when he’d been unable to return to sleep and had lit a candle and had sat at the small table in his room to deal with his nightmares as he could. It was the image of a great beast with wings, almost like a cross between a bat and a flying lizard, a terrifying black shape mounted on its back. She’d awakened the night before and looked into Frodo’s room when she realized that he had a candle lit, and had seen the Hobbit sitting at that table, drawing with purpose, his posture stiff with barely contained emotion. He had several sheets by him, as if he’d been drawing for some time. The next morning showed that several sheets of paper had been burned in the small fireplace that night; after he’d dressed and left for Michel Delving she’d found this one which had fallen behind the table to lie against the wall.

Rosie took it, hiding it in her room in her wardrobe. Now and then she would take it out and examine it, trying to learn of it. Finally when Sam came in one day, returned from the Southfarthing, she brought it out and showed it to him. “What is it?” she asked.

He looked at it with eyes filled with silence. “It’s one of the horrible flyin’ beasts the Black Riders rode on once they got back to Mordor,” he said. He pointed to the mounted figure. “That’s one of the Black Riders there. He’d hear ’em with their horrible cries and would cower down in terror. Course, all who heard them would cower down, truth be told, even me. None of us wanted anything to do with them. No sane person would.”

“Mr. Frodo was afraid of them?” she asked.

He gave a small nod. “Like I said--any sane person would be. They was evil walkin’, they was. He stood up to ’em on Weathertop, not that it did any good. The leader stabbed him in the shoulder with a Morgul knife.” He looked into her eyes. “We almost lost him, we did. If’n we hadn’t of been with Strider, we would of lost him.” He looked back at the picture. “They was ridin’ horses, black horses, when they followed us here in the Shire and across to Rivendell. But when we got down South, they’d been back to Mordor and come back out ridin’ on these. Rode on ’em as they looked for us, along the River, into the Dead Marshes, through Mordor. We’d hear their call or feel the shadow of the wings over us, and we’d hide, hide as low as we could go. They never found us again, but it wasn’t for want of searchin’.”

“Why’s he drawin’ them, if’n they’re so awful?” she asked.

Sam looked at the picture once more. “It’s his way of dealin’ with the memories,” he finally said slowly. “Some can talk of what scares ’em. Mr. Frodo--he’s always been one to write it out, or draw it. Surprised he didn’t burn it.”

“This one fell behind the table--missed it when he burnt the rest.” When he nodded in response, Rosie asked, “You have nightmares too?”

He looked at her, his eyes looking far too old for his thirty-nine years. “Oh, yes,” he finally said, “I have them too, at times. We all do, when somethin’ triggers the memories. Can’t of gone through what we’ve done and not have nightmares. Strider admits as even he has ’em at times. But he’s been fightin’ the Shadow far longer’n we ever did. Got far more to member.” He sighed and returned the picture to her. “Don’t let him know as you have that,” he advised. “He don’t want none to know as just how awful it was.”

Rosie hid the picture again in her wardrobe, and redoubled her concern for her Sam’s Master. Anyone who’d had to hide such as that needed carin’, she decided.

As winter approached she decided what she wished to do for Sam for Yule, and she approached Frodo on one of the days he was home and Sam was off in the Northfarthing. Frodo had gone out to the stable to groom Strider, and afterwards sat on a fence rail, wrapped in his Elven cloak, looking across the lower fields at the back of the farm and across at the remains of the woods surrounding Hobbiton. The sky was that odd white it could get when the clouds covered all but allowed enough light to get through to offer illumination to a landscape of blacks, whites, and greys. His cloak looked grey today; and his dark hair seemed to give the one bit of color to the day, as warm a brown as it was. “Mr. Frodo,” she began, “I was hopin’ as you’d do somethin’ for me for me to give to Sam for my gift, you know.”

He turned to her, his expression becoming more present. “What, Rosie?”

“I was wantin’ to do matched pictures, you see, one of him and one of me, and put ’em in a frame together. That is, if you think as he’d like such. He’s still not asked.”

Frodo sighed and stretched. “No, I suppose he hasn’t asked as yet, Rosie--not until he’s certain as to what will become of me. He shouldn’t keep putting me first, ahead of his own happiness. But I’d be glad to do the pictures for you.” He rose and together they went back into the house.

Frodo brought out his drawing sticks and paper, and soon was working on the portrait of her, mostly concentrating on the drawing, now and then pausing to examine her face briefly before returning his attention to the paper before him. As he worked, she finally asked, “You said as he was now famous, out there in the outer world.”

“Yes, he is.”

“What’d he do, Mr. Frodo, that got him so famous?”

Frodo smiled, his face lighting up. “What didn’t he do? Let’s see--he helped drive evil things into a raging river to see them washed away; he killed an orc in Moria; slept on a platform in a tree; looked into the Mirror of Galadriel and chose to remain at my side anyway, although he ought perhaps to have returned to you then to your protection; he rode in a small boat down the River Anduin; he managed to survive the heights of the Emyn Muil and the marshy paths of the Dead Marshes; he fought a giant spider and another orc; he brought me out of the mountain to where we could be found.... He earned his title of Lord Samwise, earned it fully.”

“And didn’t you earn your title, too?”

He didn’t answer immediately. “Marigold told you that, did she?” he finally asked.

“Yes, she said as you both is Lords of the Free Peoples. Isn’t it true?”

He continued working on the picture for some minutes. Finally he said, “Yes, Rosie, it’s true.”

“Did you do pretty much the same as him?”

“We went together, so both of us were given the same title.” There was something in his voice that told her he wouldn’t say much more than that.

“But Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin didn’t go all the way with you?”

“We were separated along the way. No, they didn’t go all the way with us. They ended up going first to Rohan and then to Minas Tirith in Gondor where they helped fight the enemies of the Free Peoples alongside Men. They are deeply honored for what they did, too.”

“But they wasn’t made lords.”

He gave a small smile. “No, neither of them was made a Lord, although both are deeply beloved by Kings and people of all races.”

They were quiet for a time. Finally she said, “Getting my Sam into a boat--that must of taken some doing.”

He nodded, smiling more fully. “Yes, it did, but he handled it well enough. He spotted when we got to the rapids, and warned us so we didn’t end up having to try to travel them in the dark. Even then he was helping safeguard all of us.”

She smiled with satisfaction. He continued working, then began singing softly as he drew. When he was done she asked, “What’s that song about?”

He paused and looked at her, then smiled. “It’s the wedding song they sang for Aragorn and Arwen when they were married.”

“Sam thinks the world of Lord Strider.”

He nodded. “And the Lord Strider thinks the world of Sam in return. The two of them would talk together for hours, or work together in the gardens of the Citadel.”

“He has a garden, the King does?”

“Yes. There was already a great flower garden behind the Citadel, Now there’s an herb garden as well--healing as well as cooking herbs. Sam would help him with it.”

“Not you, too?”

“Well, I’d start helping them, and then they’d make me stop if they felt I was getting tired. And after the Lady Arwen came the three of them would work side by side. Master Galador, the Minister of Protocol, was totally confused, for he’d never thought that the King Returned and one of his favorite Lords would so enjoy gardening that they’d weed the herb garden themselves. Then, to have the Queen kneeling beside them picking off bugs--he had no idea what to think of that. He was used to Lords and Ladies that allowed all others to do for them instead.”

She laughed aloud. “Comin’ from the North as he did, King Strider does things his own way, then?”

“Definitely. Weeds his own garden, will go down at times to the lowest stable to groom his own horse, runs many of his own errands when he has time, works alongside the healers. The day Master Galador came to find the King sweeping up broken glass when he’d accidentally dropped a vase I thought he’d have a fit.”

“What? He’s not supposed to clean up his own mess?”

“Apparently not. And he was totally taken aback to come upon Aragorn cooking one evening.”

“Is he a good cook?”

“He’s definitely a good cook, given a decent kitchen to work in. So is the Lady Arwen.”

“So they both like to cook.”

“When they have the time. And her needlework is beautiful beyond telling. I’m not certain what any in Gondor imagined the King might be like, but all deeply love what they’ve received, it seems. A Lord and Lady to sing the Sun and Stars into the sky, and for whom the White Tree loves to grow and bloom.”

He finished the picture of her, drew a dragonfly as a pin on her collar, and set it before her. Then he took a second piece of paper and began to draw Sam. He worked largely in silence, working swiftly and skillfully, the picture taking shape on the paper rapidly. He drew Sam in Gondorian dress, White Tree embroidered on his surcoat, his face alight with humor and love, a spray of small rose blossoms in his hand. She watched, her lips parted in delight, her eyes sparkling. Again he finished, added in a dragonfly flitting over the spray of flowers, and presented it to her.

Having started, however, he obviously wanted to do one more. He looked at the third sheet of paper, and his pencil hovered. Then he began to draw. His smile had become more serious, his eyes more intent. The strokes were stronger now, his head slightly tilted. Finally he finished, and turned the sheet to show Rosie, suddenly realizing the room was now filled with folk, for Old Tom, Lily, Young Tom and Nibs had come in while he worked, and caught by his air of concentration had remained quiet. Nibs looked over his sister’s shoulder, then to Frodo’s face. “That our new King, is he?” he asked.

Frodo nodded. “Yes, that’s Aragorn.”

“But he’s a Man.”

“Not like those as come into the Shire, though,” Lily noted.

“No, nothing like those who came into the Shire,” Frodo confirmed. “Nothing at all like them.”

“What did you do a picture of him for?” Nibs asked.

“This will be my Yule present to Sam,” Frodo said. “He’ll be glad of it.”

“I wouldn’t want a picture of a Man in my room,” Nibs muttered.

His father commented, “Well, what I’ve heard from Sam, he’ll be right pleased with it. He can’t speak of the King without his eyes glowin’ with pride.”

Frodo smiled, and Rosie realized the same was true of this guest as well.

Freddy and Estella had gone with Jolly into Bywater to the Green Dragon, and returned shortly after. Freddy examined the three pictures with approval. “Obviously your skill wasn’t lost with your finger,” he commented.

Frodo’s expression closed up, but when he answered he spoke reasonably enough. “No, it wasn’t, although I had to work to get it back.”

Estella asked, “Does it hurt--your hand?”

Frodo shrugged. “It did at first, but no longer--or at least very rarely now. What do you hear from your parents?”

“Budge Hall is almost ready for occupation again. They ought to return there the week before Yule, in fact. We’ll go to join them early in the new year, I think. Much of what had been taken, that which hadn’t been destroyed, they found on one of Lotho’s farms outside Budgeford. But the random damage they did throughout the smial--it was beyond belief.”

“Oh, I’d believe it,” Frodo said solemnly. “I saw what they did to Bag End, remember.”

“Pippin says they did all but collapse the Hill into it.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” Frodo said, his face closed.

Sam arrived early the next day, and Frodo’s mood lightened. They walked to the Green Dragon together, but didn’t stay long. Frodo was rather pale when they got back, and Sam chivvied him off to bed early. “What’s wrong?” Old Tom asked him quietly.

“Ate too much too quick, and had too strong an ale. Lost it, he did.”

“That happen often?” Tom asked.

Sam nodded. “Not as often as it did, but any is too often,” he answered.

An hour later he took a mug of soup and a cup of milk to Frodo; and an hour after that an apple and a cup of juice. Frodo was sleeping deeply, so Sam left it by the bed. When he checked in the morning both apple and juice had been finished, and Frodo came in to eat his morning meal quietly. Jolly and Sam rode alongside him a good part of the way back to Michel Delving, then took leave of him when Frodo insisted he could do the rest of the way on his own. “You don’t push yourself too much, you hear, Master?” Sam insisted.

“I promise, Sam,” Frodo said.

Early on the next afternoon Frodo was due to come back Sam received a small packet through the Quick Post, and shortly after that one of the Tooks rode hard into the Cotton’s yard. “Is Sam Gamgee here?” Tollerand Took asked.

Sam came out. “Somethin’ wrong with my Master?” he asked.

“Had quite the shock to his system, it appears. Bard sent me to fetch you--thinks you ought to come bring Frodo back here, he does.”

“What kind of shock?” Sam demanded.

“It was Lobelia.”

“That old bat? What did she do this time?”

“Gave him back the deed to Bag End.”

Sam stopped stock still, his mouth fallen open in shock. “She what? She give him back Bag End, you said?”

“Yes,” the Took answered rather smugly. “It appears that in her old age Lobelia Sackville-Baggins has suddenly developed a conscience!”

“How’d she tell him?”

The Took shook his head, admiringly, Rosie, who watched from the doorway, realized. “She sent Bartolo Bracegirdle with the deed, and I must say Bartolo looked anything but happy about his errand. Marches in and asks Frodo if he has a coin. Well, as fate would have it, he did--had one right in his hand just at that moment.”

“What was he doing with a coin in his hand?” Sam asked.

“Well, that King of yours sent him a packet and it had just arrived--had a wonderful suit of clothes he says as the Queen made for him, and a small black leather purse with a number of great gold coins in it, including one which had a black seal affixed marking it as the first coin struck of the new King’s coinage, or so he says.”

“And that’s the one he had in his hand when the Bracegirdle come in?” Sam guessed shrewdly.

“You have it,” Tolly answered. “Announces he’s there to do something for Frodo, asks if Frodo has a coin, takes the gold coin with the black seal on it right out of Frodo’s hand and thrusts the deed to Bag End at him. Goes out as abruptly as he come in. Frodo was in a right state when Bard sent me to get you. Just sitting there, his face terribly white, not quite taking it all in, between the snatching of the coin and the throwing down of the deed.”

Sam hurried back into the house. “Tom,” he called to the farmer, “may I take the light cart to Michel Delving? Need to go fetch the Master. A bit taken by surprise, and it’s apparently thrown him all out of his reckoning.”

“Of course, Sam,” Old Tom answered. “Nibs, go help Sam get the pony hitched to the cart.”

Sam left at quite a speed with the Took beside him, and returned much more slowly some hours later. Estella and Fredegar Bolger watched as their cousin climbed stiffly out of the cart, throwing back the hood of his cloak. Frodo’s face was still more pale than usual, his eyes still with an echo of the shocks of the day in them. But there was a hint of rising hope in them as he went to the back of the cart and lifted out the wrapped shape of his saddle, which Jolly quickly took from him. “You get your Strider, Mr. Frodo,” the young Hobbit suggested. “I’ll take this and put it away.”

Water droplets from the drizzling rain glistened on Frodo’s face as he unfastened his pony’s lead rope and turned to lead him toward the barn and the stall given to his use. Nibs came out and took Frodo’s saddlebags and the canvas bag Frodo had brought with him into the house, and Rosie took them from him into Frodo’s room, where she set them on the small table.

They were all in the house sitting at the table some time later while Frodo tried to explain. “So many things today,” he said. “First I gave Merry and Pippin the use of the Crickhollow House. Uncle Pal and Aunt Eglantine are not only trying to force Pippin to say he was never in any real danger, but now they’re treating him as if he were still in his late teens rather than his late tweens; and although Uncle Sara and Aunt Esme are better about believing what they can get Merry to tell them, they are doing what they used to do to me and treating him as if he might just break if he trips, and it’s quite driving him to distraction. Hopefully if they can get away from being treated as if they were fragile or infantile the two of them will be better able to recover.

“Then there was the packet from Aragorn and the Lady Arwen, and the letters. Sam, you remember that just before we left the envoy came from Harad with word some of the lords of that land were intent on continuing the war with Gondor?”

“Yes. Did they attack?”

“Yes, down in a border area near a trading station called Poros. Gondor’s troops won, of course. The Lady Arwen is becoming very popular among the people of Gondor, and has begun having special audiences twice a week for those in need. She’s accepted the Lady Lothiriel as her first official Lady in Waiting, and apparently the Lady Éowyn is quite happy as she’s determined her brother is much attracted to her.”

“A good alliance, Prince Imrahil’s daughter and the King of Rohan. Will make it nicer for Faramir and Éowyn, havin’ her brother and his cousin married, too. Makes for a cozy family.” Sam looked meaningfully at where Young Tom sat close by Marigold and smiled. Marigold flushed, and Tom put his arm around her shoulders. “Did the Lady Arwen send her own note?”

Frodo’s face went paler and his cheeks pinker. “Yes, although it was quite--quite personal to me.”

Sam’s brows raised, but he let the subject be.

Frodo asked, “Did you receive a packet also?”

“Yes--a letter from Strider sayin’ as he was sendin’ a longer one to you and you’d share it with me, and a jacket as the Lady Arwen sent me, and a quick note to me sayin’ as how much they love me and how they’d managed a blessin’ for me but you’d share it with me when the time was right.”

Frodo went a bit pale. “She told you that? They’d have me say? Well, the time isn’t right--not now it isn’t.”

“What’s this about coins, then?” Fredegar asked.

Frodo finally gave a wan smile, and brought out of his pocket a black bag of fine leather with silver drawstrings. “The first gold coins of the King’s new coinage, just as he promised--although the very first one was taken by Bartolo Bracegirdle.”

Freddy looked at his cousin with growing curiosity as Frodo shook a few coins out of the bag and held them out for others to examine. Freddy took one and looked it over carefully. There was no question the Man on its face was the one pictured in the portrait Frodo had drawn during his last stay at the farm. “Why did Bartolo take it?” he asked.

“Bard tells me that you can’t just give property to someone else--except when it’s left in a will. Otherwise money must change hands. Bartolo asked me if I had a coin, and I was still looking at that first coin, the one Aragorn marked with his own seal on black sealing wax. I held it out, he took it, and he gave me the deed to Bag End and left.”

“Bag End?” Young Tom asked in amazement. “Missus Lobelia’s give it back to you?”

Solemnly Frodo nodded, his eyes still reflecting his own continuing surprise. “Yes, she’s given it back to me. I own Bag End again! I can’t believe it!”

The Gaffer, once this had been repeated to him four times, smiled. “Then it’ll all be as it ought,” he smiled. “Row restored, you as the Baggins in Bag End again. All’s well as ends better, as I always says.”


Freddy woke in the night from a dream in which he was back in the Lockholes, with the sound of water dripping down the wall. He realized it was the rain on the window of his room he heard, and he rose and pulled the curtain closed to muffle it some. Unable to go back to sleep, he went out into the passage to the privy, then came back, pausing by the door to Frodo’s room, hearing a muffled voice. He opened the door and went in. Frodo sat up, his eyes blank and he cried out against his own hand pressed against his mouth.

“No, Aragorn--no, don’t come! Go back! Go back! No--they’re killing them, killing them!”

Freddy went in and sat on the side of the bed, placed his hand on Frodo’s left shoulder, and was amazed at how cold it felt. “Frodo?” he asked.

“No! I don’t have It! I don’t have It! I don’t know where It is! Don’t let It go to him!”

Freddy was frightened as he put his arm about his cousin. “Frodo, it’s just a dream, just a bad dream!”

The door to the next room opened, and as quietly as he could Sam came out of it and into Frodo’s room. “He havin’ one of his nightmares, is he?”

Freddy looked up at Sam and nodded. “Appears to be. His shoulder--it’s cold as ice.”

“It’s the weather, I suspect. Would happen that way in Minas Tirith--rain, particularly storms, would bring this one on. Good thing the Gaffer is near deaf--at least he’s not bein’ woke up.” Ah, yes, that was right--Sam had been sharing a room with his dad.

“Why’s his shoulder so cold--his shoulder and his arm?”

“Where he was stabbed. Go get me some water boilin’, if you don’t mind, Mr. Freddy--please.”

It took but a moment to get the fire stirred up and the kettle filled from the pump and then set over the flames. Freddy limped back to Frodo’s room and went in. Sam had taken the quilt from the wardrobe and had it wrapped about Frodo, was sitting there on the bed holding him, murmuring to him in a different language, one the Bolger recognized as one of the Elvish languages. Freddy looked at the small fireplace and knelt to stir up the embers in it, fed in some of the kindling, then larger wood until the fire was burning merrily. Sam looked at him with thanks in his eyes, eyes which Freddy realized were themselves burdened by dark memories.

“Were you having your own nightmares?” Freddy asked in a low voice. “I was.”

“You was? Yes, guess as you have reason for your own, don’t you? Well, yes, I was havin’ my own. Had just woke up when I heard your voice in here, and realized he was havin’ one of his own. Doesn’t cry them out as loud as he used to much of the time,” the gardener added.

“Had his hand over his own mouth,” Freddy explained.

“I see.”

“It’s all right,” Frodo whispered. “I’m awake now.”

“Havin’ the dream of the tower room again, Master?”

“Yes. Were you dreaming of searching for me?”

“No, fightin’ old Shelob this time, and chasin’ after that Gollum, wantin’ to strangle him with my bare hands.”

“He couldn’t help himself, Sam.”

“Don’t matter, no more than in your dream it matters that what you heard wasn’t really Strider comin’ to save you and gettin’ murdered.”

“What was yours, Freddy?”

“Lying in the dark of my cell, with the water dripping down the walls into a pool in a dip in the stone floor. I hope they haven’t really kept anything of any worth in that room for a long time.”

“You ever dream of the door at the Crickhollow house bein’ broke in?” asked Sam.

Freddy shuddered. “Oh, yes, I do, and peeking out the shutters to see them out there in the garden, three dark shadowy figures creeping toward the door.”

Frodo shuddered in Sam’s arms. “Don’t speak of the Nazgul! Don’t mention them! My dream started out with one of them flying over me, and I was cowering down into the soft mud in the midst of the Dead Marshes.”

Freddy sighed. “At least that’s all they are now--bad dreams.”

Frodo nodded. “Yes.”

“Your arm was so cold.”

“It gets that way sometimes, when something brings the memories back.”

“I’m sorry, Frodo. I’ll go see if the water’s boiling.”

Sam soon had a basin of hot water in Frodo’s room, and after dropping a leaf into it was wringing flannels out in it and layering them around the arm until it grew warmer. Finally he removed them and wrapped a towel warmed before the fire about it, and Frodo smiled sleepily. “Thank you, Sam. I feel much better. I’ll sleep now. Go back to bed.”

“You rest then, Master.” Sam rose and drew Freddy out of the room and closed the door. “Won’t let hisself go back to sleep till he thinks we’re back sleeping,” he whispered.

“What are these Dead Marshes?” the Bolger asked.

“Marshlands lying outside Mordor, near the battlefield from the Last Alliance. It’s crept over the old burial grounds as where they buried the dead--Men, Elves, orcs. You look down and see the faces of them as died, lyin’ in the pools. Gollum said as they wasn’t real, though. He’d tried to get to them--maybe he’d thought as he could eat ’em, but couldn’t touch them.”

Freddy realized he was shivering. “That would be a horrid thing to remember,” he murmured.

“Yes, it is. But there’s worse places--or at least there was then. You go build up your own fire and get back to sleep.”

“You, too, Sam.”

“Thank you, sir.” Sam went back into his room and closed the door behind him. Taking a deep breath, Freddy did the same.


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