Sam was able to hire several to help clean out the filth from the devastation of Bag End. Sancho Proudfoot was one of those who oversaw much of this, and he quickly found he had to wear cloths bound over his mouth and nose while working in the place, as all was, at first, so foul. Bilbo’s mother’s carpets had been hacked to pieces and unspeakable things worked into the fibers of them; ceramic tiles in entranceways and the hallway outside the bathing room and in the kitchen had been purposely broken; wooden beams had repeatedly had knives thrown into them or had been hacked with axes. What furniture there remained was, for the most part, beyond recovery.
Each time Sam passed through he found himself pausing for an hour or two in the gardens, poking through the ground, and finding to his surprise that many of the perennials remained and were lying just under the surface of the soil, waiting for spring’s arrival to begin poking their heads up. Could they be coaxed back to life? Time, he knew, would tell.
Frodo went to the Great Smial to discuss Aragorn’s dispatches with his uncle and aunt, and came back to the Whitfoot house in Michel Delving white and shaking, looking nearly sick, saying only he’d been suffering from a headache almost the whole time. He went to the Mayor’s office briefly, then left Bard, Tolly, and Hillie in charge and went back to the Whitfoot’s afterward and retreated to his room with a cold compress over his eyes.
Not long after he gone to his room Samwise Gamgee arrived, asking after him. When Mina, herself concerned, described the condition Frodo was in, Sam sighed as if it was only what he’d anticipated.
“They’ve been drivin’ poor Mr. Pippin almost to distraction, not wantin’ to believe what he says and all, tryin’ to boss him about as if he weren’t much more’n a bairn. They’re not goin’ to of allowed Mr. Frodo to of said that much more. Bet he was fit to be tied more’n once while he was there. Can you put some water on to heat? I’ll use the King’s herb on him--hopefully as that’ll help.”
Mina could hear a murmur of voices from the room, then Frodo’s went quiet, and she could hear Sam singing softly. She smiled as she brought the boiling kettle and a shallow pan to the door and knocked. “Come in,” Sam called softly, and she went in.
Frodo’s saddlebags still hung over the footboard of the bed, and his cloak had been hastily thrown over the back of his chair. The weather outside was growing tempestuous, with a windstorm gusting heavily against the windows and rattling the panes, sending one loose shutter banging open and shut. “I’ll take care of that as I leave,” Sam said quietly as he looked at the window. “Otherwise it’ll just worry at him.”
Frodo’s face was still far too pale, and he still clutched the compress to his eyes. Mina looked at the window. “Shall I draw the curtains?” she asked.
“No, please,” Frodo said in low tones. “I couldn’t bear being shut in the dark, not after being at the Great Smial.”
“You felt closed in there in your old room?” Sam asked.
“No, not particularly, not even when the rush light went out. But Ferdi sat by me and held my hand and helped soothe me.”
“Had your nightmares?”
“I’m sorry, Master.”
“Nothing for you to be sorry for. But I gave Merry and Pippin the Crickhollow house none too soon, I see.”
Sam set the pan on the table by the bed and poured the water from the kettle into it, then opened one of his parchment packets and took out a couple of the leaves he’d shared before with Mina, rolling them between his hands and dropping them into the water. He looked up at Mina. “May I please have a couple flannels?” he asked.
“Certainly. I’ll go get them,” she said, and she hurried off to the airing cupboard to fetch them.
Sam dampened one and carefully removed the cold compress and wiped Frodo’s face, then switched to the other. Then he took one and wrung it out and laid it over Frodo’s eyes, sent Mina out with the compress to wring it out in cold water again, rolling it and placing it over Frodo’s forehead when she brought it back. Sam then held a water bottle to Frodo’s mouth, squeezing a small amount into it and allowing him to swallow, then a small amount more. At last Frodo lay back on the pillow and signed it was enough. “The willowbark is helping,” he whispered.
“Good enough, then,” Sam said quietly. “Shall I sit by you a time and sing to you?”
“If you would, Sam. It’s comforting.”
Sam sang softly in a tongue Mina didn’t know, and she saw Frodo finally give a small smile behind his compresses. His breath slowed, deepened, and she realized he was slipping into sleep. Mina shared a smile with Sam and left him. After a time he joined her in the kitchen and accepted some tea she’d just brewed. “He ought to be better when he wakens,” he said with a sigh. “Wish as it was possible just to make folks smarten up by just givin’ them the Look.”
“What did you sing?”
“A part of one of the hymns to Elbereth he favors most,” Sam answered. “He loves the stars, and the hymns to Elbereth soothe him.”
“Elbereth? Isn’t that one of the Powers?”
“Yes, the Lady what kindled the stars. Mr. Bilbo’d sing that to him, back when he first come to Bag End, when he was so sick and almost died. He was delirious, but that song’d calm him. Mostly Mr. Bilbo’d sing his own songs, but when Frodo was sick it was the Elvish hymns he’d respond to.”
“Where did Bilbo learn them from?”
“He learned them in Rivendell, in the Hall of Fire of the evenin’s. They sing many songs of the Blessed Realm there. Mr. Bilbo loved the Elvish languages and the Elvish songs, and got folks there to tell him the words and help him write them down. When we was there and Frodo well enough to go to the Hall of Fire at last, he’d sit there all evenin’, listenin’ and takin’ it all in, fairly shinin’ in response to the songs. He has an Elvish bent to him, Frodo has. Always has had.”
“So you learned them.”
“Yes. I love Elvish, too. That one’s Sindarin, but I learnt a couple in Quenya from the Lady Arwen and the Lady Galadriel.”
“It’s so odd to know someone who knows Elvish languages.”
Sam shrugged. “Mr. Frodo was learnin’ them from Mr. Bilbo when he come to Bag End. I’d be there for my own studies, learnin’ to read and write and figure, and I couldn’t help but pick up on a lot of it. But then after my formal lessons was over we’d read and discuss the stories and all, but didn’t have no one to practice the languages with, and I forgot a good deal. He kept readin’ in Sindarin and Quenya and even Adunaic, but I read mostly translations either him or Mr. Bilbo’d done. Didn’t remember enough when we heard Lord Gildor’s Elves in the Woody End singin’ to understand more than one word in twenty, I think.”
“He’s said that before, that there were Elves in the Woody End, here in the Shire.”
“Yes--some of the wanderin’ tribes have woods halls here. I’m afraid, though, now most’ll leave Middle Earth, now as Sauron is gone and there’s no need to keep the watch on him no more.”
“How is it that Sauron’s gone now, Sam?”
Sam sighed. “Only reason as he could come back afore was ’cause his Ring of Power wasn’t destroyed after he was laid low. Isildur cut It from Sauron’s hand, but It took him and made him carry It away with him. Once that Ring caught hold of a heart and mind, It didn’t let go. Well, now It’s truly destroyed for good and all.”
“How do you know?”
“Mr. Frodo and me--we was there when It went into the Fire. Oh, It’s gone now, and Sauron can’t come back no more’n Morgoth can, save we let them into our hearts.”
“But how did It get into the Fire?”
But Sam was shaking his head. “It’s his story to tell, and he ain’t ready to tell it yet. Not yet. Maybe someday.”
“He was bad hurt.”
“Yes, awful bad hurt. We was all awful bad hurt, but his was the worst of all.” He looked up. “I’d best go. Must go by Hobbiton and see as how the smials of Bagshot Row is comin’, then back to the Cotton’s place. I’ll see to that shutter afore I leave, though.” He slipped another packet of the leaves out of his pocket. “Next time as you draw a bath for him, if’n he lets you do that, drop one of these in it for him.”
“Will do, Sam. And thanks for being there for him today.”
A week later Frodo found himself preparing to perform his first wedding, between a Took and a Brandybuck. They’d not been able to decide between Thain and Master, and didn’t want to have both up there; so they’d chosen to have the Mayor perform the ceremony.
“Will, I can’t do this!”
“And why not, Frodo? You know the ceremony--I know you do. After all, when you young ones would play at weddings at the Free Fair when you were younger, you were always the one to be the Mayor, for you were the one who knew the words.”
Frodo flushed, but there was no way out of it. Soon Mina was bundling him off to the banquet chamber in the Council Hole, and he found himself standing, shivering, in the center of the room, Merry and Pippin standing by him.
“I don’t know what you’re so worried about, Frodo Baggins,” Pippin said. “You stood up by Aragorn at his wedding, after all.”
“But I didn’t have to say or do anything for him--just walk in the circle around him to the bower and Lord Elrond. He was the one who was nervous.”
“Him and his cousin Halladan,” Merry laughed. “Lord Halladan looked almost ready to faint away until Elrond began the ceremony itself. Then he went from nervous to proud.” As Frodo gave another shiver, Merry shook his head. “Calm down, Frodo--it’s not as if you hadn’t done this before.”
Pippin looked at the two of them with interest. “And when has Frodo ever performed weddings?” he asked.
“When I was a little one--whenever someone wanted to play at weddings, they’d call for Frodo to play the Mayor or the Master, for he knew all the words. He’d do it even when he was a tween and would come to visit with Bilbo.”
Frodo’s cheeks grew still redder. “It’s not the same!” he protested.
Merry laughed. “Dad said you knew it letter perfect the time you did it for Estella Bolger and me, you know.”
“That was the last time I ever did it--imagine, a great lad like me, almost an adult, still playing at weddings?”
“Well, we begged you for--for how long? Must have nagged at you for three days before you finally agreed. It wasn’t your fault Dad and Bilbo found us at it.”
“And what was worse was when your dad didn’t even interrupt, but came up afterwards all solemn and congratulated bride and groom as if it were serious, and asked where you two would be living, whether in Budge Hall or Brandy Hall. Acted as if the wedding were valid. He even examined the wedding contract as if it were properly done.”
“It was properly done. I’d had Brendi write it for us, you know. I still have it somewhere about the Hall.”
“You had Brendilac Brandybuck write that contract? Merry! I had no idea.”
“Well, you weren’t the only one Estella and I nagged. He was needing to practice, after all.”
“So he practiced by writing a marriage contract between two teens? My stars--I’d never have imagined you’d hook him in, too!”
“Well, you’ll do fine between Sapphira and Oderiadoc.”
Then the Master and Thain entered with bride and groom, followed by the two families, and it was too late to do anything but see to the marriage. Merry whispered into Frodo’s ear, “Just pretend it’s me and Estella again, Frodo--you’ll do fine.”
The two of them approached, and Frodo took a deep breath. “And why, Oderiadoc Brandybuck, do you come before this company?” he asked. Merry, watching, smiled with satisfaction. Frodo performed the wedding not only properly, but with a measure of grace that none had expected, his attention focused on bride and groom completely and with true concern that they both understand the serious nature of the relationship they now entered. Sapphira Took looked at him, then at her groom with even more consideration in her eyes, and her words were no mere repetition of formula but were heartfelt, as were his. Then it was all over, and Frodo stood there as if held in the midst of a great calm as he gave them their first greeting as husband and wife, and all three seemed to glow in the joy of the moment.
Pippin whispered to Merry, “Mer--do you see? Not as bright as at Strider’s wedding, but----”
“Yes, I see. Do you think he has any idea he just truly lights up like that?”
“I don’t think he does.”
And then followed the surge as the wedding guests came forward to kiss and embrace the wedding couple, and Frodo was able to take refuge over at the side of the room. Saradoc was the first to approach him. “Well, Frodo--that was as beautiful a wedding ceremony as I’ve ever seen. Even more moving than that of Merry’s and Estella’s when they were little ones, I think.” His smile was gentle. “You did fine, Frodo, truly fine.” He held out his arms and embraced his younger cousin, holding him tightly, aware of how thin he was compared to how he’d been before. “You did fine, Frodo. I think they are most well and truly married, and more aware of what that means than they’d have been had Pal or I performed the wedding. I’m proud of you. All that practice was worth it, I think.” He didn’t want to let Frodo go, not then. He wanted to keep him safe in his arms for as long as he could.
“I just never thought, back when we were young ones and playing at weddings, I’d ever be called upon to do it for real, you know,” Frodo murmured into his ear.
Saradoc just continued to hold Frodo in his arms, so glad he’d come back. From what Merry had been able to tell him, it appeared such a close thing, that Frodo had nearly died out there, very, very nearly. He found himself thanking the Powers that Frodo had been allowed to return to the Shire for whatever time was left to him.
Then he realized how his mind had phrased that--for whatever time was left to him. He realized then that his heart recognized that Frodo might not be able to linger long.