“I suppose,” Will said slowly as he and Mina reentered their house after finally leaving the fairgrounds, “I ought to of listened to Saradoc.”
“He tried to warn you,” she agreed.
Frodo had nominated Will for another term of office as Mayor, and Will was shocked and felt terribly let down. Almost all had been offended by Frodo’s refusal to accept proper election, and he’d not bothered to explain why he’d decided he didn’t want to continue serving as Mayor. He didn’t appear to have discussed it with Merry, Pippin, or Sam, either, for the expressions on their faces were as saddened as those on the faces of everyone else when he announced he was giving the office back to Will Whitfoot, the best Hobbit for the job, as he’d declared.
Almost as soon as the murmuring began once it was understood that Frodo was refusing the honor being granted to him, Frodo had disappeared. Mina had looked for him, and finally had seen him in company with a couple of teens, a lad and a lass, two who she thought lived somewhere out by Westhall if she remembered correctly. She’d noted them during the last Free Fair, two years past, drawn to them by the realization the lad was half blind and by the resemblance between the two of them and Frodo. They were back this year and were obviously familiar with him. Suddenly she had an odd thought--could the reason Frodo didn’t pay any attention to the lasses of the region near the Hill be because he’d developed an attachment elsewhere--say, in Westhall? She decided to try some discrete inquiries, if she could find out specifically who they were and if they lived in Westhall itself or one of the smaller villages round about.
Gander Proudfoot, village head for Westhall, was staying in Michel Delving another night, so Mina went after supper to the inn to see if she could talk to him.
“Frodo?” he said, once Mina began her questions. “Well, of course I know him--we’re distant cousins, in fact.”
“Does he visit Westhall much?” she asked.
“I’ve not seen him anywhere but at the Free Fair for a few years,” he said carefully, “but he has visited Westhall on occasion. He does have kin there, after all.”
“I noted a lad who appears almost blind,” she said.
Suddenly he looked amused. “Oh, you mean Fosco. Quite a bright lad he is, too, him and his sister Forsythia both, really. Very bright indeed. They’re Emro and Lilac Gravelly’s young ones, you know.”
She was surprised, for she’d never seen two children who looked less like Gravellies than those two. “What happened to his vision?” she asked.
“Was born quite early, and there was worry they’d lose him. I understand that when bairns come too early it’s not unusual to have damage to the lungs or the eyes or the heart. In his case it’s his eyes. He can see some, and can read if the writing’s clear enough. Does a fair amount of carving, and helps about the farm well enough. Quite a capable and determined lad, and his sister does all she can to make sure as he gets what help he needs but no more. Emro and Lilac worship the two of them.”
“Frodo seemed to know them.”
“Well, yes, he does. They’re kin to him, you see.”
Again she was surprised. “Since when have the Bagginses been kin to the Gravellies?” she asked.
He shook his head and laughed. “I’ve said as much as I can about them two,” he said. “Emro and Lilac guard their privacy, and Frodo’s much the same with them.”
After that Gander continued to keep his silence.
Will was asked to come, three days after the Free Fair, to Griffo and Daisy Boffin’s place in Hobbiton to meet there with Frodo and some others. Mina was surprised. Daisy was Frodo’s first cousin, daughter to Dudo Baggins, who’d been Dora and Drogo Baggins’s younger brother. After his wife Camellia’s death when Frodo was quite young, Dudo and little Daisy had moved out of the Hobbiton area, out to----
Mina paused, thinking. Dudo had taken his daughter and moved to Westhall, where he held part interest in a farm--a farm owned by--by a Gravelly family.
“That sly lad!” Mina said aloud. “That sly, sly lad!”
Now, did he have a lass there? If so, he’d never said. If he had known a lass there, she must be dead by now or the Frodo she knew would be there with her--or more like would have her in Bag End with him. The children had been young enough they’d have had to have been born after Bilbo left the Shire, so Frodo would have been of age, she thought. But she simply couldn’t imagine Frodo Baggins with a lass he wouldn’t marry; and he’d not have cared much as to whether or not others might see her as a suitable bride. Yet, neither could she see him married to a Gravelly--Gravellies simply weren’t a family given to intellectual pursuits or book learning. And definitely Gander had indicated young Fosco could read.
On the day of the meeting she waited with bated breath for Will to return, and when at last he came in through the door she immediately came forward to question him. “How did the meeting go?” she asked.
He shook his head. “You won’t believe it, Mina. I’ve never seen such a situation in my life, and as Mayor for the Shire for so long I’ve seen my share of odd situations.” He hung his jacket on the peg in the hall and together the two of them went back to the kitchen where she had a light meal ready for him. He ate half of what she served him before finally setting down his fork for a time. “You know that Frodo’s uncle, Dudo Baggins, moved to the village of Westhall after his wife and their newborn son died?” At her nod he continued. “Four years later he remarried Emerald Boffin, daughter of Hugo Boffin and Donnamira Took as was.”
Mina was surprised, for rarely did widows or widowers remarry in the Shire. She vaguely remembered hearing about Emerald Boffin, but had not thought of her for years and years. “What does this have to do with those children?”
“I’m coming to that. About the time old Dora Baggins died and left Daisy and her husband Griffo Boffin as her heirs, Emerald learned she was pregnant. She had twins.”
“Twins?” Mina asked, half unwilling to believe what he was telling her. Twins were extraordinarily rare among Hobbits.
“Yes, twins--a lad and a lass--Fosco and Forsythia. A few weeks later Dudo died. Emerald remained in their hole in Westhall, and with the aid of the Gravellies, who owned the farm they had part interest in, she raised the children until they were six. This is where it gets complicated--for some reason as no one understands Emerald never let Daisy and Griffo know about the pregnancy or the bairns. Frodo knew only because he had Gander Proudfoot reporting any changes in the family as they happened--as family head for the Bagginses he had the responsibility to know, after all.”
Mina realized her romantic notions of a love for Frodo in Westhall were no more than that. “So, he knew, but not Daisy?”
“That’s right. Frodo had sent gifts to the family regular, and so Emerald appears to have known as he knew about the children, but she appears to have become angry at Daisy for some reason no one understands. When the bairns were six she became ill, and Emro and Lilac Gravelly became the foster parents for the two of them when she died. I’ll be checking tomorrow to see if there’s a copy of any wills for Emerald and Dudo in the archives. I don’t remember any wills being executed, but I do seem to remember them being written and signing them.” He picked up his fork and ate some more, then set it down again and continued.
“Frodo kept sending gifts, but they were always sent back once Emerald died. When the children were eight the Gravellies brought them to the Free Fair, and Frodo recognized as who they must be. He left here and went directly to Westhall to see them. After that he visited with them two-three times a year until he left the Shire. He made a point of seeing them elsewhere than in the Gravelly home, and told the children to call him by his name in Elvish so as Lilac wouldn’t realize he was seeing them. He had hoped to visit with them after the trip to Buckland, but was too ill.”
“He told me he only got ill at Merry and Pippin’s party,” Mina protested.
Will sighed. “You know Frodo--hates to admit as he’s not well. Anyway, he saw them at the Free Fair, and for the first time realized they had no idea they had a grown sister. Today we learned Daisy and Griffo had no knowledge of their existence, either. Daisy and Griffo are going to see them if they can in Westhall.”
“This is about the oddest story as I’ve heard in a long time, Will.” Mina scratched the side of her nose. “So, today Frodo admitted he’s been too ill to go back to Westhall and see the two of them again, did he?”
“Yes,” Will answered, his expression solemn. “Today he didn’t even bother trying to hide the fact he was not well. His neck is draining again, and he was exhausted. Fell asleep sitting up on a footstool, of all things.”
“That poor, dear lad.” Mina sighed, then reached across the table to take her husband’s hand.
Not long before the Free Fair there had been another of the meetings for the family heads, this time in the village hall in Hobbiton, and on an evening when Frodo had just returned from Michel Delving. Once he was home, however, Frodo had determined he wouldn’t go after all. The last week had been focused more on reviewing the atrocities committed by the Big Men, and Frodo had been sickened by what he heard. All he wanted that evening was to crawl into his bed and sleep and put out of his mind what Men were capable of doing. Knowing that such minor families as his own would be staying away from this meeting in droves, neither had Sam chosen to attend. At the ring at the bell Sam had gone to the door to find that Benlo Bracegirdle, head to the Bracegirdle family, was there with more of Lobelia’s deeds for the reparations fund, so he admitted the guest and led him back to the kitchen where Frodo was now sitting, having just awakened and come in for some tea and the light cakes Rosie had baked that day.
Frodo showed no animosity of any kind toward Benlo, and even appeared pleased to see him. Yet Benlo still managed to unwittingly leave Frodo upset--when he indicated that Will was nominating Frodo to stand for Mayor at the Free Fair, and that Benlo was all for it. Sam saw Benlo out, explaining that he wasn’t certain his Master had made up his mind as to what he desired, then returned to the kitchen.
Frodo hadn’t spoken of what he would do if Will nominated him as Mayor, and Sam, who privately thought that this was the best thing for both Frodo and the Shire, refrained as much as he could from pressing the matter. As Frodo hadn’t spoken to Will by the day the Free Fair opened, however, Sam thought that he’d finally decided to go along with it.
The last two days before the Free Fair Frodo was restless and obviously uncomfortable, and the morning of the fair Sam had heard an exclamation from Frodo’s room which brought him running. He found Frodo, clad only in his drawers, looking with consternation at the nightshirt he’d just removed.
“What is it, Master?” Sam asked.
Frodo looked up at him, his eyes concerned. “It’s the bite again--it apparently opened in the night.”
Sam was surprised, for it hadn’t been anywhere near two months this time since the last time it opened.
The pillow and the sheet, however, were plainly stained, as was Frodo’s nightshirt. “It was sticking to my back and neck, and I never dreamed--never dreamed it was the bite opening again this early.”
Not only had the bite opened, but in trying to remove the nightshirt Frodo had managed to pull part of the skin around the wounds away, and there was a fair amount of blood. Sam took the nightshirt, grateful it was one of the Shire ones and not a silk one from Gondor Frodo had been wearing the preceding night, and took it to the kitchen to soak it in a pan of cold water, setting the kettle to boil over the kitchen fire.
He went out to the herb garden where he culled a couple athelas leaves with a word of thanks to the plant, then taking a bit of aloe as well he went back inside where he set what he’d need on a tray. He drew out the recipe he’d copied from Menegilda’s herbal, and soon had a draught brewed which would help fight the infection. Rosie watched with interest as she worked at preparing breakfast. “His neck again?” she asked.
“Yes, and weeks earlier’n the last time,” he said. “Just what he needs just afore goin’ to the Free Fair.”
“Has he decided yet whether or not he’ll accept standin’ for election as Mayor?” she asked.
“Not as I can tell. I hope as he does, for he’s the best Mayor as we’ve had ever, from what I’ve heard from all.”
She nodded her agreement. “He certainly deserves to be elected proper,” she said, “but I’m still not certain as he really wants to serve longer.”
Soon after that the bite was cleaned and bandaged, and Sam made certain Frodo drank the draught intended to fight infections. He’d made up Frodo’s tea the preceding day and had it ready in the three water bottles they were taking. After seeing to it Frodo’s hair was washed and he was properly dressed and groomed, they walked down to the stables where the grooms already had Strider, Bill, and Berry ready for the three of them.
They rode steadily enough, and Sam saw no sign Frodo was in undue distress as they traveled. However, Frodo was obviously deep in thought, and several times he’d reach up and gently touch the gem at his throat--not so much as he did when he was in pain, but just a light touch as if to assure himself it was still there and not--not the Ring instead--or so it seemed to Sam.
Frodo was indeed thinking. He’d had contradictory thoughts about the idea of standing for election as Mayor--frustration that Will would make the decision to nominate him and not ask; a desire to continue as he’d started and see it through; annoyance at the idea of being so at the beck and call of the entire Shire; concern he’d not be able to keep up for the entire term; satisfaction that Will saw him worthy of the honor and responsibility. But after touching the bandage at the back of his neck and feeling the tenderness at the loss of the missing skin, Frodo wasn’t so certain standing for election would be a good thing. By the time they arrived he’d made up his mind.
Pease accepted the three ponies at the paddock and helped see them relieved of their tack, and the three of them went into the fairgrounds.
Sam was shocked when Frodo stood up after Will and indicated he wanted to return the office of Mayor to Will, and that he wasn’t willing to stand for election after all. Frodo had tried to speak on, to explain his health was probably not up to him fulfilling an entire term, but Odo Proudfoot had begun the heckling, upset at Frodo’s apparent lack of respect for the honor being shown him, and it was quickly obvious no one was likely to hear his explanations, so Frodo had merely bowed and slipped away as quickly as he could.
Frodo had hidden out much of the day, and Sam hadn’t been able to find where he’d secreted himself. He’d finally been found sitting near the ale tent as dinner time approached. After the announcement that the vote had indeed gone to Will Whitfoot, the singing had begun. This Frodo had discussed with Merry and Pippin and Sam over the previous weeks, and that night the four of them stood to sing some of the songs they’d learned in the outer world, reminding all that the Shire was part of that outer world now, and they’d best accept it.
Then Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond of Rivendell, appeared and indicated they wished to sing as well, and had sung the Lay of Frodo of the Nine Fingers in its mixture of Sindarin and Quenya with its smattering of Westron and Rohirric; and Frodo sat, his head erect, his eyes running with tears while the rest of the Travelers sat by him with the same tears in their own eyes, reliving the events of the year they’d been gone from the Shire.
When at last the Elves had gone Frodo indicated he wished only to go home, and reluctantly Sam agreed. With Merry and Pippin riding alongside their cousin as if they were guards of honor, the five of them rode through the night to Hobbiton. Pippin took responsibility for the ponies, removing their tack and seeing them cooled and quickly groomed and then releasing them for the night into the paddock at the one end of the Party Field where they could graze and drink from the small creek that ran through it to the Water, then followed the others back up to Bag End. Sam was leaning over panniers of cuttings and packets of seeds he’d found on the bench outside the smial--Elladan and Elrohir had come here, apparently, before following them to Michel Delving, bringing with them the seeds and starts Sam had requested from Lord Elrond and the Lady Galadriel.
Near dawn they rose to find Frodo’s room empty, and they went up the Hill to find Frodo sitting there, leaning against the stump for the old oak tree, weeping soundlessly as he looked out over the Shire and watched the coming of the new day. Sam sat by him and placed his arm gently about Frodo’s shoulder, mindful of the still draining spider bite, realizing that Frodo’s decision not to stand for election had been a considered--and painful--one.