Among the last to arrive for the wedding were Folco Boffin and his cousin Narcissa and her mother Ivy. They found themselves standing rather back in the crowd of onlookers, and could see little enough of the principals. Narcissa looked amazed at Merry and Pippin, and whispered, “How tall they’ve grown while they were gone!” into Folco’s ear. “What happened to them, do you know?”
He whispered back, “They say that they met some kind of tree folk in a great forest who had some kind of magic drink that helps the tree folk to grow--or maybe it helps their trees to grow--I’m not completely certain how it works. Merry and Pippin drank it, not realizing how it would work on Hobbits, and they found they were starting to grow again until they’re now even taller than Frodo.”
Narcissa thought the comments about “Lord Samwise” were some odd kind of private joke between Frodo and Sam, and privately found them rather in poor taste for a wedding. That Rosie also used the address confused her, but then she forgot about it as now they were all using just “Samwise” as was proper. The addition of the bit using the multicolored cord in binding the hands she found she actually liked, finding the language used here odd yet moving. And certainly what she could see of bride and groom indicated they were at ease with this, and that they were indeed rejoicing that the day of their marriage, so long anticipated throughout the region of the Hill, had finally come. As for their kiss--it was beautiful, as was the three-Hobbit hug that followed it. That there was a special friendship between Frodo Baggins and his gardener had long been recognized, and was now officially acknowledged by all.
But she couldn’t see Frodo clearly until he’d moved to the table where the marriage contract apparently lay by a flickering candle in a glass jar. She wondered at the inclusion of the candle on such a bright day, then again forgot about it as at last she focused on Frodo.
She was shocked, for he was very pale and far thinner than she remembered him being. Yet he stood with the same grace she’d always known in him, and once again she found her heart stirred by the mere sight of him. She’d known him all her life, although until he moved to Bag End she’d seen him rarely enough. She’d loved him since the year before he came to Hobbiton from Brandy Hall, from the first time she saw him dancing with the other tween lads behind the ale tent at the Free Fair at Michel Delving.
After the wedding was finished all moved down to the Party Field. Sharkey had ordered the Party Tree cut down, and it had lain there, its leaves going limp and dead, for three weeks before the Travelers returned from their journey. Now a strange young tree grew there where the oak had stood, one with silver bark, golden-green leaves, and golden blossoms. Many went forward to examine it curiously, and she heard Sam explaining it was a mallorn tree, a special Elven tree which grew only one other place in all of Middle Earth, in the hidden Elven land of Lothlorien where the Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn ruled.
More interest, however, was given to the tables of food and drink, and then to the dancing. She danced with Folco, then looked around for Frodo, and saw him sitting at one of the tables, watching the others dance with what seemed to her to be a look of longing in his eyes. She wondered that he didn’t break down and ask one of the lasses to dance with him--he was well known to be among the most gifted of dancers the Shire had ever produced, after all. But before she could go to him Berilac Brandybuck had asked her to dance, and when she looked again Frodo had disappeared. No, he wasn’t among the dancers, and she wondered where he’d gone.
She finally turned down an invitation by one of the Cotton lads, and spotted Fredegar Bolger sitting in the shade of one of the pavilions. She was amazed to be able to recognize him, for he certainly could no longer be referred to as “Fatty,” as slender as he now was. He now looked much like Frodo had looked before he mysteriously left the Shire. He was, she realized, a fine figure of a Hobbit, far finer than she’d ever thought to imagine hid within the fat he used to carry. She made her way to him and flopped beside him as if exhausted by the dancing she’d already done. “A beautiful wedding,” she murmured.
He nodded his agreement. “Indeed, not that I’d expect any less from a wedding conducted by our cousin Frodo,” he commented.
“He certainly lost a good deal of weight,” she continued.
“Yes, and unlike me, he could ill afford to do so,” he replied.
“Do you know why?”
He shrugged. “Apparently where he and Sam ended up going they had a difficult time finding proper food and water.”
“Then why did they go there?”
He shook his head.
“Do you know where he’s gone now, Freddy?”
“No, I didn’t even notice him leaving. I’ve been looking for him during the last dance, but he’s apparently slipped away.”
“Would you like to dance the next one with me?” she asked him.
He slowly and sadly shook his head. “I can’t dance any but the slowest dances,” he admitted. “My heart was damaged by the near starvation I suffered, or so the healers tell me. Oh, I’m not really ill,” he hastened to reassure her, “but neither am I as I was before I was imprisoned, and they tell me I must never allow myself to gain so much weight again, or it would likely kill me.” He sighed. “I actually find I don’t really mind as much as I’d once thought I would. I find I can move more easily now and have actually more endurance for a number of things than I used to, although I am not to work strenuously or allow myself to grow very upset. Some days, though, I think the constant reminders not to let my emotions run away with me are more upsetting than allowing myself a good fit of anger.” He smiled at her, and she found herself returning the smile.
Then Brendilac Brandybuck was approaching her and asked if she’d dance with him, and with a nod to Freddy she joined Brendi in the area set off for the dancers. Merry was dancing with Estella Bolger, and now Beri was dancing with his cousin Melilot, while she noted that Freddy’s eyes seemed fixed on Melilot and was watching her with admiration. Then the swirl of the dancing moved her further away, and she saw Sam dancing with Rosie, his expression filled with a single-minded tenderness of focus. Both Rosie and Sam seemed to be positively glowing with delight, Narcissa thought.
It was late afternoon before she saw Frodo again, now walking slowly down the steps from the smial to the lane, then to the Party Field again, in conversation with Brendi and Freddy. Then he was being drawn aside by the Master and the Thain, and she could tell both Saradoc and Paladin were as concerned by the extreme slenderness of their younger cousin as she was. He was apparently fending off their questions and inquiries as to his well-being, however; and she saw him next on the other side of the field, sitting in a chair which had been procured from somewhere, watching the party, his eyes sad again, although he was clearly watching the dancing with admiration and appreciation for the skill of dancers and musicians.
Then Pippin had borrowed a flute and began playing a lively song Bilbo had written, and Frodo joined Merry and Brendi and Isumbard in the singing of it. The next tune Pippin played, however, was quite different, and after repeating the first few measures, Frodo and Sam began to sing the words, the clear voice of Frodo Baggins and the deeper one of Samwise Gamgee filling the waning afternoon with wonder. They weren’t singing in the Common Tongue, and she found herself wondering what the song was about. Something about growing things, she finally decided, although she couldn’t say exactly why she thought that.
Soon after, the guests began taking their leave, and her mother was indicating she wished to return home before sundown. They took their leave of bride and groom, and finally she found herself close to Frodo.
“Good night, Frodo,” she said, and he looked at her and paused a bit, as if remembering something.
“It was good of you to have come, Narcissa, Cousin Ivy, Folco,” he said. “Give my love to your mother, Folco. I’m so glad she appears relieved to have a home once more.”
“I will, Frodo,” Folco told him,
And then they were going through the gate into the lane and turning toward home in Overhill. She looked back and saw Frodo standing, still and shining in his garb of dark silver with the soft blue shirt. She sighed. He had always been strikingly good looking--now, in spite of his thinness he was somehow even more attractive--to her, at least. She wished she’d had the chance to speak to him for any length of time.
After Narcissa was drawn away by Brendi, Fredegar Bolger had set off deliberately to find his cousin Frodo. He finally determined that Frodo was no longer in the Party Field, so he went up the lane to Bag End and went in, finally finding Frodo sitting, of all places, in the second parlor, which had almost never been used by either Frodo or Bilbo. He sat in one of the stiff chairs which stood there, his face markedly pale and almost colorless, rubbing at his shoulder.
“Are you ill, Frodo?” Freddy asked.
Frodo looked up, startled. He started to deny it, then looked away. “It’s nothing--just my shoulder again. It hurts often enough.”
“You could have danced. Narcissa was so hoping to have at least one dance with you, you know.”
Frodo looked down at the floor and shrugged. “I can’t really dance any more,” he said in a soft voice.
“You can’t have forgotten how,” Freddy insisted.
Frodo shook his head, glancing briefly sideways at his cousin before returning his attention to the floor again. “No, I haven’t forgotten how--I--I just can’t--can’t sustain it any more. I’m not as strong as I was,”
“Have you danced since--since what it was you did?”
Frodo’s nod, when it finally came, was reluctant. “Yes, in Gondor. But it was enough to show me I’ve not recovered, and am not likely to ever recover enough to dance as I used to do. I danced the Husbandmen’s Dance for Aragorn and Arwen at their wedding feast, and afterwards I almost collapsed.”
For a time Freddy thought on that, then said, “I’m sorry--you were always the best one to dance that, you know.”
Frodo lifted one shoulder, and turned his attention further away. Finally he said, his voice almost grudging, “It’s probably best I didn’t stay down there in the Party Field, for I’d have terribly disappointed Narcissa. She deserves a partner who can keep up with her.”
“In the old days it was hard to find any lass able to keep up with you, Frodo.”
Frodo’s expression was somewhat twisted as he looked into the wine glass he took from the small table beside which he sat. “As you said, that was in the old days. Well, the old days are gone, and much of me with them.” He turned to look directly at Freddy’s eyes. “I was almost scoured out, Fredegar Bolger. Almost completely scoured out.”
“Pippin says--says that you almost didn’t come back.”
Frodo again lifted a single shoulder. “We all almost died out there, you know. I, however, was the one who kept practicing to do it for real. I didn’t quite believe, when I awoke, that I was alive, you see. It was a bit of a shock to find I had survived after all.” He sighed and finished the small amount of wine still left in the goblet. “I suppose I should go down to be there when the guests leave.” He rose slowly, and together they walked out of the second parlor.
“So that’s where you’ve been,” Brendilac Brandybuck said as they entered the hallway. “I remember Bilbo used to say that the only ones who found that room comfortable were the stiffest backed old hens the Shire produced. You still not feeling good, Frodo?”
Frodo sighed. “I take it Uncle Sara sent you to search me out?”
“And if he did?”
“Well, I think I could face just him; but at the moment he comes paired with Uncle Paladin, and much as I love him and Aunt Lanti I am still trying to keep from being cornered by the two of them.”
“Neither is willing to listen, or to try to fill in for themselves what we can’t quite say. Uncle Sara and Aunt Esme would be willing to do that, at least, although they do have the habit of trying to protect those they love nearly to the point of smothering.”
Brendi found himself laughing. “They do tend to do that at times, don’t they? Although they aren’t quite as bad as Merry might make out. But there was a reason why my father decided we’d move outside the Hall.”
Frodo looked at him with interest. “There was? After me were you and your dad their next intended infants?”
“Well, you remember how Dad slid down the bank to the Brandywine and broke his leg so nastily? They kept folk with him twenty-four hours a day until he was ready to crawl into a storage hole to escape the unwanted forced company.”
Frodo laughed. “I’d wondered.”
“Maybe,” Freddy suggested, “you should accept the extra coddling and go to Buckland in one of the wagons, though.”
“I’m not helpless--I merely pushed myself too much yesterday and as a result my shoulder is aching today. It’s been aching for a year and a half, and not even Aragorn or Lord Elrond could ease it much when it was insistent on hurting. And I’m not going to push myself at all. I intend to walk only until I am tired, and then I will camp. I wish to have a bit of time to myself--just to myself. So far I’m never completely on my own--there’s always Mina or Bard or the Cottons or Sam there to keep an eye on me, although I must say they do try to remain discrete about it so I don’t feel totally swaddled in wool batting.”
“And who was it insisted Sam and Rosie move in with him so he wouldn’t be alone here in Bag End?” asked Brendi shrewdly.
Frodo shook his head, but gave a laugh anyway. “But I have a trip through the Westfarthing I hope to take soon to see some of my less notorious kin. I need to build myself up to it.”
“By walking clear across the Shire?”
“It’s not as if I hadn’t done that before, particularly after walking so far across the whole of Middle Earth.”
“But when you returned from that trip, you did it on pony back. I note that healer King of yours didn’t want you walking back. How long did it take you before you could walk from the center of his city to the outer gates?”
Frodo’s cheeks flushed, while the rest of his face went paler. By this time they were over halfway down the lane to the Party Field, and Saradoc and Paladin together were approaching them, intent on making their presence felt.
He was pleased when Pippin borrowed the flute and began playing Bilbo’s drinking song--one of his more lively and suggestive ones. Many eventually joined in with it, and Sam flushed as he laughed. Then Pippin played the hymn to Yavanna that the Queen used to sing when she worked alongside her husband and Sam in the gardens, and Sam and Frodo found themselves singing it together. It was marvelous to sing it once again. When they were done Frodo went to the edge of the field to nod to the departing guests and accept their best wishes for Sam and Rosie, who were just returning to the hole, and suddenly there were Folco, Narcissa, and Ivy.
For a fourth time since the destruction of the Ring, Frodo Baggins felt an immediate attraction to Narcissa Boffin, one which was different from that he’d felt for Linneth in Minas Tirith or the Lady Éowyn or the Lady Arwen Undomiel. What he felt for them was, he knew, a fascination for the purely beautiful and exotic (for Hobbits, anyway), and the unattainable. This was a deeper thing, a completion of sorts of the stirring he’d begun to know years ago when he’d finally gotten over his love for Pearl Took and had noticed the love in Narcissa’s eyes and had found himself responding to it--until the next time after Bilbo’s leaving when, with It in his pocket, he found himself tempted to do quite ungentlehobbitly things to her. Shocked at those feelings, he’d found himself wanting to cringe away from her, a reaction he knew would hurt her deeply. Instead he had carefully schooled his features to a correct expression of cool disinterest, a response that in time became his standard reaction to lovely Hobbitesses who tried to catch his eye, or who had done so unwittingly. He’d remained unaware of the fact that this disinterest had hurt her also, a situation the Ring Itself had found amusing.
The habit of responding in this fashion he found, to his shame, lingered; but what interest could he show her now, after ignoring her for so long, and considering the state of his health both mentally and physically? No lass should have to deal with his feelings of guilt, his swift changes of mood, his physical weakness....
One more time the Ring, though It was now gone, triumphed at stilling desire for that kind of love in Frodo Baggins; and when he finally started on his walking trip to Buckland Frodo found himself purposely putting thoughts of the beauty of Narcissa’s smile from his mind, forcing himself to attend instead to how much growth the trees and flowers Sam had planted were showing along the way.
Mina had followed the wedding of Sam and Rosie with deep interest. That Sam and Rosie had agreed to the changes in the ceremony for the King’s sake was interesting, and she found the Gondorian elements fascinating, from the binding of the hands to the holding of the rolled and tied marriage contract. She heard the tenderness of Frodo’s voice, saw the fascination in Rosie’s eyes, the gentleness in Sam’s expression as he looked between his bride and his friend. And she caught, in a moment of distraction as Ivy Boffin drew her daughter after her, a moment when Frodo looked after Narcissa with a look of distinct longing--a look he rapidly schooled away.
For over twenty years Frodo Baggins had danced the Husbandmen’s Dance yearly at the Free Fair in Michel Delving, until at last a frustrated Ivy Boffin demanded he not be allowed to dance again considering how his lack of response to the love her daughter showed him--or any other lass, for that matter--apparently left those roused by his skill and grace heartbroken. Mina had been angry for her cousin’s son; but as she had watched him walk about the Shire apparently blind to the attempts of any lass to catch his eye after Bilbo left him master of Bag End, she had to agree Ivy had a point. Eventually the other Hobbitesses gave up even trying to draw his attention, but it had appeared Narcissa’s heart was totally focused on Frodo to the exclusion of all others.
Frodo now stood at the gate to the Party Field, for Sam’s sake making many variations on the theme of Thank you for coming. He was particularly pale again, she noted, and she sighed, for she suspected he was going through another of his bad patches. But as she and Will made their own farewells she privately made up her mind to speak with him when he returned from his walking holiday to Buckland.
Lily Cotton was watching Frodo as well, and as had Mina she realized that, in spite of his obvious joy at officiating at Sam and Rosie’s marriage, this was not a particularly good day for him. Lily had known for years that Samwise Gamgee had pledged a good portion of his large heart to the young Master at Bag End; now that Frodo had spent so long on the Cotton farm she began to realize why. There was something about Frodo that drew love and caring, which made folk desire to stand by him and protect him as they could.
It was not as one-sided a phenomenon as it might have been, she realized, for Mr. Frodo gave the same consideration to others as well. He was aware of the most minute interests and needs of those he was about, and often he had paused to speak with young Nibs, only to have the young Hobbit confess to him hopes and longings he’d not confided to anyone else, not even his adored older sister, much less either of his parents. When Frodo came to stay at the farm, Young Tom had been reserved at first, a reserve that was much based on a level of envy Tom felt for the unique relationship his best friend shared with his master to the exclusion of all others. By the end of the second week, however, Tom was going out of his way to draw Frodo’s smiles of approval, and he’d appeared much steadied by the older Hobbit’s attention and advice. Jolly was quickly drawn to do more of his crafts work in Frodo’s presence, and the deputy Mayor’s appreciation of Jolly’s talent and skill was unfeigned. As for Rosie--her growing regard for Frodo Baggins had come to rival Sam’s own, in spite of the concerns and hurt she’d felt when Sam had left the Shire without warning, following Frodo into unknown dangers.
Lily and her husband had always liked Frodo, but had recognized a level of reserve in him that bordered on a shyness both found surprising and somehow endearing as well. Before the Travelers left the Shire he’d come to the farm with Sam on occasion, would pitch in with a will at the harvests, would do anything asked of him with full willingness and a quiet competence; and his grace at dancing and his attractions as a storyteller had been greatly honored and appreciated. On the return, however, he’d proven the most changed of the four, obviously recovering from deep hurts, willing to tell almost any tale except for the darker ones of what had caused him so much pain while he was gone. He was weaker than he’d been, and tired so easily, was often withdrawn and, Lily had come to understand, in great pain he made efforts to hide from others that he not burden then with his own discomfort.
She realized that Frodo managed to somehow bring out the best in her children, her husband, in Sam, and in herself as well. She found herself in awe of this apparently unconscious talent in him. Only two things disturbed her about him--his increasing hiding of his pain and weakness, and his continued lack of response to the specific awareness of him many of Rosie’s female friends and other Hobbitesses showed him as an available and attractive gentlehobbit who ought to be finding a love of his own. She, too, intended to speak to him of how unfair he was being to himself and particularly Narcissa Boffin, who’d loved him so for at least three decades.
Yes, she thought, the next time she had occasion to be alone with him she would have more than a few words with him.