He woke on April 4th with a feeling of unreality, for the bed was oh, so familiar; the mattress was familiar and gave in just the right places; the sheets and blankets had so familiar a feel; the way the sunlight entered from the window was so familiar and yet subtly different. Yet although the odor of the bed was familiar, that of the room was not. There was a scent of new wood in the floor planks; the odor of stone was unusual; the plaster and paint both had the scent of newness to them. He sat up in his own room--and yet it was not as he remembered. The walls had been painted the same colors, but they were not faded by all the years he had lived here, here in this room. The fireplace was beautiful with its hints of tree trunks and intertwined branches, and the Star of the West in the center; but never had he had such decorations, much less a hob in his bedroom. There was his dresser, his wardrobe, his pipe sitting on the mantel, his own cheerful rag rug lying by the bed, the door to his shallow dressing room. There were the shadow pictures of his parents over the mantel, the small wooden box with a dwarven cloak brooch Bilbo had given him as an adoption gift, his silver backed brushes lying on the dresser.
The clothes kist from Gondor was new, of course, as were the wind rods hanging from his bedroom window frame. Only the small desk and its chair were missing, and he decided he didn’t need them here. Sam would need them, Sam and Rosie--and he began to smile for he had decided how things would be made right in what had been Bilbo’s room--when Sam and Rosie married they would have it.
He’d done four more weddings, three in February and one in early March. He almost hoped Sam and Rosie would ask him, and he almost hoped they’d ask the Thain or Will. Marigold and Young Tom had asked him, and he’d marry them in May. Could he bear to see those expressions he’d seen in others in the faces of Sam and Rosie, with him indicating the marriage was made?
He had to admit it--he was jealous--jealous of his Sam, jealous that Sam had left the Shire knowing that, if he returned, he could hope to claim Rosie Cotton, he could hope to marry her and know her love, accept it as his due and give his in return, could hope to have children by her, build a family. The Ring had stolen that hope from Frodo, for if he’d ever claimed that kind of love It would have taken great delight in twisting it into something quite other than he’d ever hoped to have, and instead of love from his wife he’d have known fear and loathing or utter obedience--most likely both. Instead of loving their dad, his children would have trembled each time he came into view, either cringing away from him or clinging to him in fear of a world that must be worse than the life they knew.
Now that It was gone--what had he left to offer a wife? A comfortable home, a plentifully filled series of larders and pantries and cold rooms, a beautiful garden, and an alliance with a Hobbit stripped of the ability to know full joy, unable to love freely, filled with feelings of guilt and haunted by memories of destruction, stripped of even the identity he’d known for the past year, one who could go from laughter to pain far faster than he could go from pain to laughter. One whose hand kept lifting to find something that was no longer there, who kept listening for whispers that were gone--save in his dreams, who couldn’t fill the resulting emptiness even with work or purpose, and who had no real use for pleasure any more.
Sam had his own nightmares, but he could set them aside at need. He had his scars, but they didn’t define him. He wasn’t filled with pain constantly, had no great failure to remember. He’d completed his mission to get his Master there and back again. He’d been able to use his sword effectively when necessary, to use his wits when necessary, to use his Hobbit ability to hide when necessary. And now he accepted the love offered him and returned it.
The smile at the thought of Sam and Rosie having Bilbo’s old room had long since faded, and he shivered as he sat in his bed, looking about his restored room and rubbing at the ache in his shoulder. Then his gaze fell on the star in the center of his mantelpiece, and he took a deep breath, forcibly putting the envy behind him. No, he refused to allow that envy a place in him. He owed Sam far, far more than he envied him. He closed his eyes and composed himself, and finally rose, intent on examining the whole place to see what was the same and what was different.
The old cold room was almost identical to how it had been, for here apparently the Big Men had not bothered to come. There were the shelves along the wall, and the extra packs, some of the chests in which clothing had been carried, and various cartons were stored--and, he saw with a smile, Sam’s pack. The pantries and larders had all been redone with new cedar paneling behind fruitwood to discourage mice and insects. The newer cold room had been scrupulously cleaned, and the shelves replaced. The kitchen had all new surfaces on the counters, new shelves for the dishes, the cushion for the kitchen settle had been redone, the two work tables had new tops, the pump handle had been replaced. The kitchen table with its benches along the sides and the chairs at head and foot was the same, at least, brought back from Crickhollow. Again new cushions in a cheerful red had been made for the benches and chairs and tied on carefully. He stirred up the kitchen fire, added in some kindling and finally some larger sticks of wood, and at last set the familiar kettle, polished to a brilliant shine, over it. The pump worked even better than it had before and apparently had been properly primed. He suspected the leather had been replaced as well.
It was the floor here which was decidedly different, being black slate instead of the familiar cheerful tile; and in the center again was the Star of the West. He smiled to see that star, the work of Gimli as had been true of that on the mantel in his bedroom. He went back to the cold room to fetch six eggs and set them to boil, then went down the passage to examine the rest of the chambers. Again the passage was now floored with black slate with the Star of the West in the center of all, although Sam had told him there was a runner intended to lie over the stonework.
The furniture in the dining room hadn’t yet been brought, and so it remained yet empty. The study, on the other hand, was almost as he remembered it, although the carpet was definitely different, obviously Elvish. He closed his eyes and sniffed deeply, smelling odors from Lothlorien, clean and fresh beyond the scent even of the Shire. He opened them and saw the desk with its slanting face, to the side his stationery box Bilbo had given him, his box of inks, his box of drying sand with its silver sifter, the blotting paper. It was given back--his life; given back, but changed, as he had returned, but changed. Some of what was here in Bag End had been patched, some repaired, some replaced, some yet the same--even as it was with himself. He caressed the surface of the desk, missing the information his third finger would have told him, knowing in his memory what it was. He turned and left the room, went on down the hall to the entrance. Lamps had been replaced; their ropes and chains all new. Some wall sconces were original, others made to match or chosen to complement.
The door was the original door, and the outside had been carefully smoothed and repainted the familiar green, just as the Gaffer and later Sam had repainted it each spring as long as he could remember. A rope had replaced the familiar bell chain, although the knob on it was the one he remembered. The bench on which he’d sat beside Bilbo for an evening pipe was there, the top slat replaced but the sides as they’d always been. The window boxes had been replaced, but then they’d been replaced at least four times since he came here to live anyway.
He went back inside, closing the door behind him. The parlor was different. His chair, which had been Bilbo’s before him, was there, but the table that had stood beside it was gone--sold to Lotho. The sofas had been sold to Lotho, too; and only one of the small tables he remembered remained to the right of the fireplace. But the portraits of Bungo and Belladonna were there, as well as the portrait he’d done of Bilbo that Ham had framed which stood on the right end of the mantel; and the mantel clock Pippin had once dismantled ticked solemnly as it had always done, there between the pair of silver candlesticks Balin had given Bilbo during his last visit. The sight of those candlesticks brought back the memory of the Chamber of Mazurbal, and the tomb there, and he moved forward to touch them gently, knowing his uncle’s friend had now been dead for many years, and his tomb itself had been desecrated by troll and orcs, and was buried now under rubble.
He went back up the hallway, looking at the second parlor, which no one had ever really used since Belladonna’s death, the first of the guest bedrooms and then the rest in turn, most of them empty now, for their furniture had been sold with the smial and had been destroyed. The only room that hadn’t been damaged or its furniture destroyed was the room opposite the master bedroom, that in which Lobelia had slept; the furniture here was hers, the bed hers, the chairs hers as well. Why Sharkey and his Men had left the room untouched was one of the many mysteries of their time. Its door had been locked when they first came to seek Lotho, but the key had hung in its place in the first pantry where the keys to all the rooms had hung. Why had no one unlocked it after Lobelia had been drug away to Michel Delving until he’d come here with Pippin, Merry, and Sam? Frodo shook his head, then shut the door again.
Bilbo’s room was much as it had been, save the walls and floor had all needed to be redone. As in his room the planks laid for the floor were all new as well as the wainscoting and the paint on the walls. But it was the familiar big bed that sat there now, what had been Bungo’s and Belladonna’s bed, then Bilbo’s, the bed long enough to allow even Gandalf a nearly normal sleep, as long as he slept on his side and had his knees bent a bit.
Frodo paused as he looked at the mantel and saw that here, too, Gimli had left his mark, the tree trunks and branches, the Star of the West. Tears slipped down his face, yet he was somehow reassured by that change, although he couldn’t have said how or why. He left it and went back to the kitchen again, took the eggs and poured off the boiling water, cooled them under the pump. He set out butter and knives and plates and forks and spoons, then a pot of currant jelly--May’s currant jelly that he’d always liked--then sliced bread and was toasting it when Sam entered the back door. He looked up, smiling to see his friend enter.
“Do you feel up to a second breakfast?” Frodo asked.