Gimli drove away from the Shire feeling both satisfied and disturbed. He’d arrived at the Brandywine Bridge to find Merry awaiting him, and he’d stayed that night at the house at Crickhollow where Merry and Pippin lived together. That the two of them were living separately from their families was a surprise, particularly as neither seemed disposed to explain precisely why. The next day Pippin accepted the dispatches Gimli had brought with him and saddled Jewel to accompany him to the central Shire.
They’d gone first to the Cottons’ farm in Bywater where he was able to see Frodo briefly before he must set off for Michel Delving. Frodo was so happy to see him--and yet he was distracted at the same time. He was frequently rubbing at his shoulder, and there were fine lines of pain on his face that would appear more obvious when he was deep in his own thought. Let him become aware anyone was examining them, however, and he’d suddenly become charming and seek to hide them away. He was decidedly thinner than he’d been when Gimli saw him last, although Sam, during their brief visits in Hobbiton, informed him Frodo had actually put on quite a few pounds from what he’d weighed on their arrival.
It was obvious to the Dwarf that Frodo wasn’t particularly well.
Gimli stayed with the Gaffer and Marigold in the new Number Three on New Row, and he was highly impressed by the work and craftsmanship he saw put into the place. His father and the others who’d gone to Erebor with Bilbo had so obviously admired Bag End, as had Dorlin from his visits when Merry and Pippin were so much younger. It was obvious from the work put into the reconstruction of Number Three that Hobbits prized comfort, warmth, and food, and spent a good part of their efforts making certain their homes were apt to all three.
As a Dwarf Gimli was accustomed to a subterranean life; he was given an inner bedroom which nevertheless had a cozy hearth that drew well; it had more than adequate ventilation; and the bed and accommodations were extraordinarily comfortable. Paneling and brickwork lined the walls; floors were of brick overlaid with comfortable carpets, with wood planking laid down in the bedrooms. The kitchen and the several pantries and other storage rooms were lined with skillfully hung cupboards and shelves, and the round doors were marvelously hung.
His first look at Bag End had, therefore, come as a distinct shock, for it had clearly been nearly destroyed. The vaulted ceilings were higher in this smial than in those in the Gamgee home, and it was obvious to Gimli that Gandalf would have been able to stand upright in the rooms, although he would have had to have leaned over or crouched down to make it through many passages and doorways.
It seemed nothing had been left unmarred. The floors had been removed, showing the gravel and sand on which they’d been laid, now being carefully leveled preparatory to the new flooring being set into place atop them. Most of the original paneling had been removed completely and was being replaced; a few of the support beams had also needed total replacement as well. There wasn’t a single beam or ancient root from the great oak tree which had once stood atop the Hill and through whose root system the smial had been dug that didn’t show signs of hacking with a variety of edged items, from knives to swords to axes. Most of the hacks had been carefully filled and smoothed; in some places it had been necessary to remove whole sections and splice in new woodwork to fit. The patience and skill of those who worked on this was obvious.
The state of the room which Sam explained had been Frodo’s own bedroom was beyond belief, for the fireplace and wainscoting had been attacked with what appeared to have been a heavy maul of some sort, and all the panes in the intricately designed window had been smashed. A young Hobbit lad introduced as Frodo’s young cousin Pando Proudfoot rose from where he’d been carefully gathering each sliver of stone, wood, and glass to greet Gimli courteously, then knelt to continue his patient work.
“From what we can tell, the chimneys themselves wasn’t hurt none, and all draw well. Have some chimney pots to replace; but mostly it’s just the facing here as needs to be redone,” Sam explained.
“I see,” Gimli said. “Well, I’ll be glad to redo this myself.” He sniffed. “Still smells only of Frodo in here,” he commented. “So, no one else stayed in here after he left the place?”
“Not as we can tell,” Sam answered. “I’m not certain as which had the room destroyed, that Sharkey or Lotho--both hated the Master, after all.”
“Well, that Saruman was no better than he ought to have been,” sniffed the Dwarf. “No wonder the Valar sent Gandalf back as the White, supplanting the fool.”
In short order Gimli was working laying the floors, gladly allowing young Pando to assist him. In the center of each room’s flooring where the stones were placed he would set in a great eight-pointed star he carefully pieced together of white marble and quartz; the rest of the floor was the black slate.
“What’s the star for?” Pando asked.
“Well,” Gimli said, pausing briefly to look at the young Hobbit whom he judged to be in his early teens, “the eight-pointed star is one of the signs of the Dúnedain, or the Men of the West, from whom the rulers of Gondor and Arnor are descended. As such, the stars are also the signs of those who serve those lands, and there’s no question that Frodo Baggins has done that and continues to do so.”
“How did he serve the lands of Gondor and Arnor?” asked Pando.
“He was willing to give himself to see Sauron thrown down,” Gimli answered. “He and Sam both were willing to do that for the sake of the whole world.”
“Do you know the rulers of Gondor and Arnor?” asked Pando.
The Dwarf asked, “Know him? Lad, I’m one of the King’s Companions, as are Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Peregrin Took, and Meriadoc Brandybuck--and a pestilential Elf named Legolas, and the Wizard Gandalf.”
“You don’t like Legolas?”
Gimli looked surprised. “Not like him? What ever gave you that idea? No, Legolas and I have become brothers, to the amazement of our own folk, for Elves and Dwarves haven’t ever gotten along well together throughout the history of Arda. That we are now so close appears to have taken all by surprise. But there’s no denying that he remains an Elf for all he now appreciates Dwarven sensibilities, and he takes fine delight in bating me when he can. Of course, though, I bate him back.”
Pando shared the Dwarf’s grin.
As he worked Gimli would often sing songs in Dwarvish under his breath, and occasionally one of Bilbo’s walking or drinking songs as well. Pando would join in when he knew the song, and the clear voice of the Hobbit child and the gruff one of the Dwarf would rise together, making the rest of those working to restore the smial laugh and smile at the oddity and yet undoubted beauty of the combination.
On the last day of Gimli’s visit he worked on the fireplace in Frodo’s room, carefully redoing the entire facing in white marble he’d brought with him from Gondor, for the Lady Arwen had advised him before he left to bring such with him. Once all was in place he took out his carving tools and carefully carved a tree on each side of the mantelpiece in low relief, with the mantel itself apparently comprised of intertwined branches. Pando watched him with amazement, his eyes growing wide with delight as he watched the shapes form under Gimli’s chisels.
In the very center again Gimli carved a single eight-pointed star, setting a piece of clear crystal in its center. Then he went into what had been Bilbo’s room, where Lotho had slept during his tenancy, and there did the same on the mantelpiece there with trees and star. “Let those who come after know the Ringbearers rested here,” he grunted as he finished.
Then he had Pando and his father help him unload the carpeting sent from Lothlorien by the Lady Galadriel, and carry it inside.
Several of those who’d been working on the plastering had stopped to admire the finished stone work, and a few had gone into the two bedrooms where the carving had been done to examine that. Bolo Proudfoot looked at the carpeting with interest. “You don’t want that laid now, do you?”
Gimli shook his head. “No, not until you lot are all done, and the plaster’s set and been painted.” He now stopped to examine the work they’d been doing in return. “It’s almost ready now,” he commented.
“Almost,” Bolo said, “but the plaster needs to set several days to cure properly before we can paint it all. Then we’ll see to the laying of the carpets and the replacement of the curtains and the rehanging of shelves and cupboards and the bookshelves in the study. The first loads of furniture are due in three week’s time.”
“That’ll do well enough,” Gimli grunted. “Just as long as everything’s proper by the time Frodo’s ready to return here.”
“Are you one of the Dwarves as went with old Bilbo?” Bolo asked.
“No,” Gimli smiled. “My dad traveled with Bilbo. No, I went South from Rivendell with Frodo and the others, and with the Lord Aragorn. I was one of the Ringbearers’ companions.”
“That one of the titles for the new King as they keep speaking of?” asked Bolo.
Gimli laughed outright. “Aragorn--a Ringbearer? No, not he--not he at all. No, not Aragorn son of Arathorn.” He wouldn’t say anything further, but soon took his leave, returning back down to Number Three.
Gimli had tried to tell the Gaffer what all his youngest son had accomplished, but wasn’t certain as to how much the old Hobbit had heard, much less understood. There was no question that the Gaffer was largely deaf nowadays, for he’d suddenly interrupt in the midst of one of the more exciting bits of whatever story Gimli was telling to look around the room with satisfaction and relief and say, “You know, I’d wondered if’n I’d see my own place again. And it’s been given back again, you see. That Mr. Frodo--a real gentlehobbit as ever was, he is. A real gentlehobbit.”
How much Marigold understood of what she heard couldn’t be told--not for certain; but she kissed Gimli warmly as she gave an enormous hamper of food into his arms as he finally set his pony cart for his return South. Grinning somewhat foolishly, the Dwarf gave her and Young Tom and the Gaffer his final salute and set off down the lane, preparing for his trip back East to Bree and then South once more to the King’s side. He detoured to the Cottons’ farm to bid farewell to Frodo there, and found him sitting, wrapped in his Elven cloak, on a low fence rail looking off across the Shire, a few silver hairs now clearly showing at his temples. He had a book with him, but it was closed in his left hand. His face was sad and tired, and his right hand fingered the jewel the Lady Arwen had given him.
“Well, Frodo,” Gimli said quietly, “I’m off again.”
Frodo turned and smiled, again managing to hide the lines of pain and the tiredness he’d shown so shortly before. “You are? Will you take these letters with you?” he asked, reaching inside his cloak for wherever he’d pocketed them. “I’m sorry you must go so quickly, for I’ve barely been able to see you.”
“It’s been only a short time I could stay,” admitted the Dwarf as he alit from the cart and accepted the letters and stowed them into his pouch. “But I can bring back a fair report to Aragorn and Arwen, for I can see how hard all are working to restore the Shire, and especially you.”
Frodo’s smile died away. “And what have I been able to do? I tried to restrain many of those who would have fallen on the ruffians in vengeance and hatred, and I’ve tried to make sense of the mass of paperwork left in the Mayor’s office. But they just don’t understand--not even Merry--why I hated seeing Hobbits take up weapons. And the investigation of Lotho and his cronies has shown so much pettiness and vindictiveness and sheer lust for power over others. I’d never in my life expected to see such in the Shire.
“And what the Men did--I’ve found signs of at least seven murders, and I am loth to tell the families that this is what has happened to their missing kin. Saruman and Wormtongue admitted Lotho is dead, but we can’t find what was done with the body, although Saruman indicated Gríma might even have been induced to eat him. Why would anyone stay with someone like that, who demeaned him for so very long, who reduced him to a crawling worm indeed at the end? It was as bad....” He stopped, his face going whiter, spots of color only on his cheeks.
“As bad as what the Ring tried to do to you?” asked Gimli gently.
Frodo turned away and shrugged.
Gimli placed his hand on Frodo’s shoulder, then moved to take his right hand between his own. “It’s hard to see anyone demeaned so. But you didn’t want to fall, Frodo Baggins, and so you’ve been able to come back.” He sighed, pondered what he wanted to say. Finally he made his decision. “Bilbo sent me a letter at Yule, telling me he was being granted the right to go to Aman when the next ship is finished, and that he was going. I don’t know--I don’t know if he’s aware I’ve been granted that right as well.” Frodo looked into his eyes, amazed. “Yes, a Dwarf had been granted the right to enter the Undying Lands, Frodo Baggins, although I’m not certain as yet I’ll really go. Oh, I suspect in the end I will go--but not now. If I go, it will be after Aragorn and Arwen have gone before me, and it will be with Legolas. He won’t leave until after that.”
Frodo continued to look at him with such an odd expression on his face. At last Gimli said, “I hope you’ll accept your invitation also, Frodo Baggins. If anyone ever deserved it, it’s you, far more than me.”
Frodo continued to examine his face--never had he seen a look on the Dwarf’s face that was so tender. Suddenly he found himself breaking into tears, and Gimli was pulling him close, holding him tightly to his chest. “It’s all right, laddie,” Gimli murmured into his ear. “It’s all right. We only want to see you able to know full easing and joy once more. We all love you, you know, you stubborn Baggins.”
At last, when the brief bout of weeping was spent, Gimli loosed him, smiling into his eyes. “You take care of yourself, Frodo,” he said, once again holding Frodo’s right hand between his own much as Sam often did. “You take care, and the stars continue to shine down upon you.” He kissed Frodo’s hand, then turned away abruptly to climb back into the cart. “You think carefully, Ringbearer,” he said as he gave a last salute; and then he was turning the ponies back out of the farmyard, and was at last on his way.
Now as he crossed the Brandywine Bridge and saluted those who watched at the gates, he remembered that last look from Frodo. Would he accept the right to go on the ship? He hoped fervently the Valar would bring that to be. Otherwise he judged Frodo probably hadn’t two more years left to him.
It wasn’t uncommon for Mr. Frodo to sleep through first breakfast, and occasionally all the way through to elevenses. But on March 13th he hadn’t come out even then, so Old Tom knocked at the door. “Mr. Frodo?” he called. But instead of the call he expected, he seemed to hear murmuring. Concerned, he opened the door and peered in.
Frodo had moved the chair from in front of the fireplace to near the window, and he’d been sitting in it last night when Tom had looked in to say goodnight, fully dressed, but wrapped over his clothing in a blanket as he looked out at the brilliance of the stars. Now he lay huddled in his bed, his face pale and drawn as if with pain. He was clutching the gem he wore on the chain around his neck, pulling hard at it from what the farmer could tell. The chain must be dragging deeply into Frodo’s neck and shoulders, he thought.
“It’s gone now,” Frodo said, looking blankly at the Farmer. “It’s gone now, and all is dreary and empty without It. I’m so empty, don’t you see?”
“Mr. Frodo--are you all right?” Tom asked, deeply concerned.
Frodo shook his head. “A year it’s been gone, almost a year. And I’ve been so hurt.”
The farmer entered the room and knelt to look into the other Hobbit’s face. His eyes were still distant, and the lines of pain were deeper, more obvious, undeniable--and then suddenly Frodo seemed to see him, looked at Tom’s with surprise, and he looked startled. With a supreme effort of will Frodo shook himself, then stretched. “I’m all right,” he whispered, then more loudly insisted, “I’m all right, Mr. Cotton. Just had some--some disturbing dreams is all. What time is it?”
“A half hour afore luncheon,” the farmer told him. “You’ve missed both breakfasts and elevenses.”
“I have? Fear I’ve lost--lost track of the time. I’ll be out in a moment.”
Still unsure, Old Tom left Frodo in the room and retreated to the kitchen where Rosie was already setting the table. “Is he up?” Rosie asked.
Tom nodded. “He is now, but it's as if’n he was lost in some dark thoughts, it is. Not certain as what’s goin’ on in that head of his.”
Frodo joined the family at the table, and Lily watched him closely. He was particularly pale today, and seemed to be working hard at appearing normal as possible, she later thought. He ate very little, drank some juice, and listened politely to what the others said, not saying much himself.
Afterwards he put on his cloak as if he were going out to groom Strider, but when Jolly went out to see to the rest of the hay nets he found Frodo sitting on the floor of the barn, leaning back against the door to Strider’s stall, clutching at his leg.
“Mr. Frodo,” Jolly called, kneeling by the older Hobbit, “are you all right?”
“I fell,” Frodo answered in a distant voice. “I fell. Think--I think I twisted my leg.”
Jolly found Nibs, and together they got Mr. Frodo back into the farm house and into his room. His ankle was a bit swollen, and their mother, having made certain he could move his toes, indicated that Frodo would be well soon enough and chased them out of the room, calling for Rosie to help her in poulticing the ankle. “No need for a healer, I think,” she said, “and those lads would worrit the wings off a fly, given the chance. You, lass, is there hot water in that kettle?”
“Yes, Mum,” Rosie assured her as they she set it and a basin on a table.
Lily checked the herbs that Rosie had brought with her in the basin and nodded. “Those’ll do well enough, I think,” she said. “Now go and fetch the arnica.”
Rosie nodded and slipped out of the room while Lily called for Jolly to bring her another faggot of wood to build up Mr. Frodo’s fire, then instructed Mr. Frodo to remove his trousers and get under the covers if he could, waiting outside the door until she heard the muffled indication from their guest he was indeed in the bed. Once all was to her liking and the fire had been built up some, as last she uncovered the injured leg and reached for the first of the cloths she’d had steeping in the basin with the herbs, then paused before actually applying it, examining the dim scars she could see on his ankle. She’d occasionally thought she’d seen scars on Frodo’s ankles, but had held herself from asking after them. Now she looked up into Frodo’s face and saw the wariness he was barely hiding, and decided now was not the time to ask. “It’s a bit swollen, but nothing serious,” she said, which was honest enough. “We’ll keep it poulticed today and tonight, and tomorrow it ought to be much better, I’m thinkin’.”
“Thank you, Lily,” he said, softly.
He remained in bed much of the day, eating almost nothing, although he was drinking a fair amount of water and the tea Rosie brought him. Near dusk Rosie came in to tell him she’d drawn him a bath. She slipped one of Sam’s leaves into the water, and when he emerged from the bathing room he appeared more relaxed. Lily renewed the poultice, and they left him to sleep with a cup of Sam’s tea and a plate of fruit-filled biscuits by his bed. When Rosie came to call him to breakfast he’d drunk the tea, but had only nibbled at the biscuits from what she could see.
Frodo used his ankle as an excuse, but Lily and Rosie were both certain that what bothered him was more than that. When it was time to return to Michel Delving he sent word that he wasn’t able to ride properly, and remained the rest of that week and the next on the farm. By the fourth day he was able to remain up long enough to see to Strider, and he fixed first breakfast on the High day as he often did; but he spent most of his time in his room. On the twenty-fifth they woke to find him gone. A note on the table indicated he’d been restless and had decided to go out for a walk as he used to do when he lived at Bag End. He returned after noon, but where he’d gone no one knew. Jolly was certain he’d actually gone to the stables and had nestled down in Strider’s stall, but the rest weren’t so certain. However, there was no question that when Rosie went to brush his Elven cloak for him she found straw and hay clinging to it.
Gimli accepted the mug of ale offered him by Aragorn and Arwen and sat back, comfortable for the first time in five wet days when he’d hurried the ponies across Rohan and Anorien. “Yes, they’re well enough, or so they seem--except for Frodo. They tell me he’s put on weight since his return to the Shire--well, if so then he must have become ill during the last leg of the journey, for he’s much thinner than he was when we left you at Orthanc.”
He could see as Aragorn’s jaw clenched, and that Arwen’s face became solemn. Aragorn asked, “What of the damage Sam spoke of--the trees cut and all?”
“There are signs of stumps having been grubbed out everywhere I was within the Shire, all along the West bank of the Brandywine, along the Road, and especially about the area of the Hill and the Water. Sam’s been very busy the last month, out and about the entire Shire, replanting and all. I saw him briefly when I first arrived in Hobbiton.
“I was brought into Bag End itself and shown the place--you’d not believe it at all, Aragorn.” He shook his head with remembered amazement. “It was savaged. It was such a shock after having just been taken into Sam’s father’s place where I was to stay--I remember being told by my father and the rest how comfortable Bag End was, how filled with light it was for all of over half of it being under ground, how warm and elegantly appointed. Number Three had only recently been finished, and as much like the old one as possible they say, although the floor used to be mostly laid planks they tell me and now had a good deal of quite fancy brickwork to it. Beautiful workmanship. They said that most of the wainscoting and paneling and interior woodwork had been removed entire, and so they were able to replace it almost perfectly. The plaster work was marvelously finished, and the walls warmly painted and the woodwork polished. Most comfortable place. Hobbits are able to do the most wonderful ventilation systems, you see, and make the rooms even furthest in feel airy.
“But Bag End--they left the hole, but did their best to destroy the place nonetheless. Walls scored, woodwork hacked and stabbed and pounded, mallets apparently used to crack the tiled floors, mauls used on the fireplace in Frodo’s own room. Sancho Proudfoot, a cousin of Frodo’s who lives in one of the redone smials on the Row, tells me that in some rooms it appeared the Men had just urinated on the walls, and the carpets were purposely ruined. He said that the woodwork in what had been Bilbo’s room and later Lotho’s was stained with what he feared was blood--it had to be completely redone. He said that food was purposely dropped onto the carpets and ground into them, as well as other things. He’d never dreamed anyone could do what had been done there. He said it was easier looking a the gravel pit they’d made of the Row than the horrors of Bag End.”
“And Frodo saw that--what had been done to his home,” Aragorn said, his face grieved.
Gimli nodded reluctantly. “Yes, he saw, when they first came back to the Shire. He hasn’t been back to Hobbiton since, and won’t do so until it is redone, for he couldn’t abide being there as it was. But it was nearly ready for the carpets to be relaid when I left, and they said it was about three weeks’ work before all would be in readiness for his return.”
He sighed, then added, “From what I can tell, the four of them cannot tell fully what happened. Both Frodo and Merry have a difficult time trying to even explain what happened to them and what they did, and Merry’s folks at first seemed to see only that he was hurt and began overprotecting him. Pippin’s folks can’t begin to understand and don’t want to hear the details, for they are more than they can accept. Sam’s folks have been told a fair amount and understand that Sam is seen as a Lord in the outer lands, but they just don’t know enough to understand. As for Frodo’s own folks--they just don’t understand. They see the paleness, the frailty, the reticence, and they don’t understand. They see the determination and are glad of it, but don’t quite understand that, either. But they do care--they care a good deal for Frodo.”
Aragorn sighed. “Maybe if I write to the Thain and the Master....”
Arwen also sighed and placed her hand on his. “If they won’t accept it from their sons, will they understand it from a stranger?”
He looked at her unhappily. “I don’t know--I just don’t know, my beloved.”