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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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87
87: Too Long and Too Deep

87: Too Long and Too Deep


“Will you be inviting Narcissa to your birthday party?” Pippin asked Frodo.

Frodo gave a prolonged sigh. “No, Pippin--I’ll not start raising hope in her heart for what I cannot give her.”

Pippin gave a snort. “And what could you not give her? You have a wonderful hole, an excellent reputation....”

Now it was Frodo’s turn to snort. “An excellent reputation as one who refused to stand for election as Mayor? Who’s managed to insult three-fourths of the Shire? Who knows more Adunaic then he does social graces any more? Who avoids his own older cousins because he can’t answer questions?”

“How about the ability to make the person you’re with feel as if he--or she--is the most important person in the universe? How about the ability to bring out the best in everyone you’re around? How about the fact that she makes certain she is there every time you go to Hobbiton or Bywater so she can just watch you and listen to you tell your stories to the children? And how about the fact that you’ve been wanting nothing but a wife and children of your own since you yourself were a bairn?”

Frodo rounded on his younger cousin in exasperation. “And what about the fact I might not be able to linger to see a child I might father born, much less grow up? And then there’s the question as to whether or not I could even father a child.”

Pippin had gone quite still. “You’re not ill again, are you, Frodo?” he asked quietly, his eyes searching Frodo’s.

Frodo shrugged, looking down. “No, I seem to be mostly all right for the moment, other than the neck draining every couple months or so. I’ve put weight back on again, and I’ve been able to walk all the way to Overhill and back a few times. My shoulder aches from time to time, but it’s not been bad since midsummer. I’ve been into Michel Delving four times over the summer to consult with those who’ve continued the investigations about Timono and his folk and to see to the continuing claims for reparations, and haven’t had bad problems with my stomach since the Free Fair.”

“Then what gives you the idea you might not live to see a child born to you grow up?”

Frodo looked up into Pippin’s eyes, knowing he couldn’t tell his cousin why he felt he didn’t have all that long. Finally he shrugged. “Forget I said that,” he suggested.

“And how,” demanded the young Took, “am I supposed to forget a question like that, Frodo Baggins?”

But Frodo just set his jaw stubbornly and went out of the hole. Pippin followed after him. “Frodo, stop!” But when he got outside the door and looked about for his cousin, he couldn’t find him.

Frodo saw her when he went into Hobbiton to do the marketing the next day, saw her keeping a surreptitious watch on him. He knew she still loved him, and knew she was one he could love in return. He thought on Brendi’s words the afternoon the two of them had spent on top of the Hill, and knew Brendi was right. After all, he himself had counseled Brendi to make the most of Merilinde’s last few months of life that they not regret what hadn’t happened.

But he still felt this was different. He’d not admitted to Pippin that he had nights on end when he couldn’t sleep for the knowledge that when he closed his eyes the nightmares would start. He’d not admitted that there was a pain in his chest that came and went, although admittedly he’d not felt it in a bit better than a month. He’d not admitted that his dreams when he didn’t have nightmares were increasingly of waves and white shores, and that in one recurring one he was running, running to get to a jetty to find he was too late, and that the grey ship was well out into the harbor as he arrived, its lights twinkling in the twilight, and he was left behind, alone on the quay, his heart pounding as he watched Bilbo’s ship disappear into the West without him.

But I don’t want to leave my identity as a Hobbit.

You are more than just a Hobbit, Iorhael. You are a Lord of all the Free Peoples of Middle Earth.

But I belong to the Shire!

Why do you not accept a marriage with one of Hobbit-kind who loves you in return, then?

But I won’t live that long.

None is guaranteed the next day, or the next after that, not even those of Elf-kind. A successful marriage is not dependent on the length of time it lasts, but on the joy shared while it lasts.

I don’t wish to leave her bereft when I must leave her.

Usually one or the other must go first. The Lady Arwen will know grief when her chosen Lord goes before her, yet it has not stopped her from accepting the joy of the present.

But she will be able to know a hundred years with him ere that time comes.

If he is not slain facing the enemy, or by an assassin. Such have been common enough endings for his kind.


*******


When the Birthday came, he spent it quietly. Paladin and Eglantine came from the Great Smial with Ferdi and Pimpernel; Freddy came with his personal physician and friend Budgie Smallfoot and Budgie’s wife Viola, the two of whom had married in June with Frodo officiating; Estella Bolger came with her friend Melilot Brandybuck; Merry and Pippin arrived from Crickhollow with Merry’s parents and Merimac and Berilac; the Cottons came also. Frodo had sent gifts to Aragorn and Arwen, Mistress Loren and Lasgon, and to Master Iorhael as well as to Rivendell. The Maggots had received a book of Bilbo’s poetry he’d recently copied out and bound; one of the two cases of peaches sent him from Gondor he sent to the Whitfoots in Michel Delving to share with Aster, Bucca, and the children; to Brendi, who had a commitment to meet with clients in the Southfarthing, he’d sent a book on the history of Gondor he’d ordered through Master Iorhael; to Narcissa he sent a book of poetry he’d received from Aragorn; to Daisy and Griffo he sent a basket of apples from the replanted orchard; to his young cousins Fosco and Forsythia he sent family trees for the Boffins, the Bagginses, the Bolgers, and the Tooks; to the folk on the Row he sent baskets of breads made from recipes from Gondor, with the picture he’d done of Aragorn newly crowned to young Pando, who’d become fascinated with the tales Frodo told of Gondor and its new King and Queen.

He wore the blue suit he’d had made in Minas Tirith and which he’d worn there to a couple of feasts. He’d left it in Gondor, not having room in his saddlebags for all the Shire outfits he’d had made; Mistress Loren had taken all of his clothing and sent it, putting those items which were clearly Gondorian in nature in the kist he’d used in the guest house, carefully packing the rest in a heavy canvas bag.

Even though blue wasn’t commonly worn by menfolk in the Shire, Rosie loved this suit and told him repeatedly it flattered him, and saw to it he wore it frequently, including on his birthday. Merry and Pippin smiled to see it on him, and told the tale of the feast in the Citadel to which he’d first worn it. Paladin and Eglantine kept their questions under control and were quite gracious, and Frodo found himself glad he’d agreed to invite them.

The Tooks and Bolgers didn’t remain the night, leaving a couple hours after sunset for the ride to Michel Delving where they were to meet with other major family heads the next day; Frodo soon after wished his remaining guests a good night and retreated to his bedroom, followed immediately by Rosie, who’d announced that day she’d learned she and Sam were expecting their first child in the early spring. The rest of his guests continued to talk in the parlor for a time before they, too, retired.

Saradoc had gone to the privy and was returning to the room in which he and Esmeralda were sleeping when he paused, listening, trying to locate the source of the sounds he now heard. He realized it was the master bedroom, and that there were muffled cries. Suddenly Frodo’s door opened, and Frodo emerged, knotting the belt of his dressing gown as he hurried to Sam and Rosie’s door.

“Frodo? What’s wrong?”

Frodo turned to look at his older cousin, and Saradoc could see that his face was concerned. “I think Sam’s having one of his nightmares,” Frodo said. He knocked at the door. “Rosie, it’s Frodo. Can I help soothe him?”

Rosie, her hair tousled and her own eyes worried, opened the door. “Do, Master Frodo. It seems to be the one where you two was havin’ to march with them orcs this time. At least it’s not the one as where he’s climbin’--that one always leaves his legs achin’ the next day.”

After Frodo disappeared inside, Sara went back to the kitchen. He knew Merry often had bad dreams, and Paladin had spoken of the ones Pippin had apparently had. That even Sam, who was one of the most well-grounded and stolid of individuals the Master had ever known, also had them concerned him somehow. Frodo was looking decidedly better than he’d been when he’d visited Buckland in May, although he’d not been back since. He’d spoken of possibly visiting in the winter.

Frodo had always valued his privacy, and had equally valued his ability to simply slip his pack on his back and head off across the Shire pretty much whenever he pleased. The first year he’d spent at Bag End had mostly been spent in the Hobbiton area; after that there were generally at least two trips to Brandy Hall a year, a visit at Paladin Took’s farm in the spring and one to the Great Smial usually not long after Paladin’s family would remove there for the winter or for Pippin’s birthday just before Yule, with other jaunts Bilbo and Frodo would take at odd moments throughout the year. Now Frodo seemed to be becoming almost reclusive, particularly since the debacle of the Free Fair. Sara missed the visits, and found the apparent need to come to the center of the Shire in order to see Frodo disturbing.

He went to the kitchen, and after a short time he was joined by Sam’s wife. She paused as she saw him there, a mug of tea he’d brewed himself before him. “Mister Saradoc, sir,” she said with a bob of her head. “Is there ought I can get for you?”

He smiled and shrugged. “No--just wasn’t sleeping well, and was startled to learn Sam has nightmares.”

“They all do, from what I can tell,” Rosie said. “Sam’s isn’t as frequent as Master Frodo’s, but they do come from time to time.”

“What was this about marching with goblins?”

“It was while they was in Mordor--was tryin’ to take the easy paths, and got caught by a troop of orcs bein’ sent to the Black Gate ’cause the Army of the West was headin’ there. The leaders thought Sam and the Master was ones as was tryin’ to run away, and got them into the line and forced them to march. Sam still gets right heated when he members how they beat Master Frodo to make him march faster.”

Saradoc Brandybuck was taken equally aback by both the story and the matter-of-fact way in which in which Rosie stated it, as if it were precisely the way in which she expected the situation to have run. “How did they escape?”

“Well,” she answered, “as they come to a waymeet another troop of orcs and the one they was in got there the same time, and in the confusion Sam drew Master Frodo down to the ground, and they crawled away while the fightin’ was still goin’ on. Sam says as that that’s the way with orcs--if’n they don’t have proper enemies to fight with, they’ll fight amongst themselves.”

“You say this happened in Mordor?” Saradoc asked.

“Yes. That was where my Sam and Master Frodo went after they left the others. Mr. Boromir wanted them all to go to Minas Tirith, and Master Frodo knew as that wasn’t no good for him, for that was where Sauron was goin’ to send his army anyways. No good tryin’ to get to the Mountain from there if’n they had to hide from all the forces of Mordor along the way. And he knew as he had to get away from the rest so as It didn’t break ’em all.”

“Where were Merry and Pippin?”

“They went another way. After Master Frodo broke away and Sam followed him, the rest was attacked, and Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin was carried away toward Isengard, which is the other way from Mordor, and Mr. Boromir was killed tryin’ to protect them. Lord Strider, Mr. Legolas, and Mr. Gimli followed after them, not bein’ certain as to if’n they was alive or not. Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin was took to Fangorn Forest, where they managed to escape when the ones as took ’em was attacked by the Riders o’ Rohan, and went to hide in the forest, and that’s where they met the Ents as give ’em the drinks as made them grow so.”

“Where was Gandalf?”

“Well, from what my Sam says, he was dead.”

Saradoc was startled. “Dead? A wizard can die?”

“Well,” she said slowly, “apparently their bodies can die as well as any other’s; but the Powers and the Creator wanted him back here, so they sent him back, and this time they made certain as it was obvious as he was the chief of the Wizards. That Saruman, as they called Sharkey when he come here, he used to be the chief, or the White as they called it. But he fell and needed to be bested. The Ents knew as how to best him, they did--marched on Isengard where he’d holed up, waited till his army marched away to attack Rohan, and then they tore the place up and trapped him inside his own tower until the war was over and Sauron gone, and then they let him go. Had no idea as he’d do what he did here. Merry and Pippin got to watch it all, they did. And they think as part of why once he got here he had his folk cuttin’ down so many trees was perhaps ’cause he was still angry at the Ents, them bein’ tree folk and all.”

“The Powers and the Creator sent Gandalf back?”

“Yes, they sent him back--redid his body or some such--no one’s certain as how they did it, only he told the rest that he was dead for a time, and then he was sent back and woke in his body again on the mountainside where he’d died.”

“Did the others know he’d died?”

She nodded. “They saw him fall with some kind o’ demon, down a ravine.”

Somehow that didn’t make sense. “He fell down a ravine, but he woke on a mountainside?”

“The ravine was in Moria, the haunted Dwarf kingdom under Redhorn Mountain. There’s a lake at the bottom, Mr. Gandalf told ’em, and him and the demon fell in that; and the two of them was fightin’ the whole time they fell. They got out of the lake and the demon run from him till he come to a stair, and Mr. Gandalf followed him, all the way up the stair to the lookout tower as is on top o’ the mountain, and then they started fightin’ again. Finally Mr. Gandalf was able to kill the demon, but it had took all he had in him, so he finally died. Then he was sent back to his body, and the Great Eagles was sent to carry him to Lothlorien, and then from there once he was certain as he was alive again to Fangorn. He was there when Lord Strider arrived there with Mr. Legolas and Mr. Gimli after they’d tracked Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin there.”

“It was a shock to all of us, when each of us saw him the first time,” Frodo said from the passageway to the bedrooms.

Sara looked at him, a bit startled, for he’d not heard the approach. “When did you see him first?”

“After our rescue, when Sam and I finally awoke in Ithilien. He was standing over me as I woke. I thought it was proof I was dead. To learn we were both living was--was a bit of a shock.”

“I can imagine.”

Frodo looked at Rosie. “He’s sleeping again, and I don’t think he’ll dream of it again--not now. Now I’m going back to bed as well. Good night to both of you.” So saying, Frodo turned and disappeared back down the passageway as quietly as he’d come, and Sara watched after, frustrated, for he’d have loved to have learned more, had Frodo only lingered.

He finished his tea, and at last made his own way down the passage, then heard talking in Frodo’s room. He looked in to see Pippin there, standing over Frodo, who sat on the edge of the bed. “You can’t fool me, Frodo Baggins,” he was saying.

“So I was having one of my own. It appears one of the nights for them.” Frodo looked at the window where the curtains swayed in the gusts of wind that managed to make it around the frame. “So, which one were you having?”

“Seeing Merry’s face with the blood on it, just before they poured the orc draught down him. Which one for you?”

Frodo shrugged. “Having It on and having the five--the five of them coming at me.”

“Weathertop, then.”

After a moment Frodo nodded. Pippin reached down to set his hand on Frodo’s shoulder. “What a way to celebrate the end of your birthday--a windstorm setting us all off.” He straightened. “I’ll give a look in at Merry, make certain he isn’t having one, too.”

Saradoc stepped back, then turned toward the room that was Merry’s here in Bag End, gently opened the door and went in. Merry lay on his back on the oversized bed Paladin had sent for this room. He was apparently awake, staring at the ceiling, his face pale in the light filtering in from the rushlight in the passage. He turned his face to look at the one coming in. “Pippin?” he began, then paused. “Hi, Dad.”

“Hello, son. Just overheard Pippin saying he would look in on you in a moment, but thought I’d beat him to it.” The Master of Brandy Hall and Buckland made his way to the bed and sat on the edge of it. “So,” he continued, “windstorms can set the nightmares off, can they?”

Merry nodded. “But lightning storms are worse for them. And they affect Frodo the most of us all.”

“I see. What’s an orc draught?”

Merry shuddered. “Nasty stuff, and I hate to think what might be in it. Burns as it goes down--but it revives you, believe me. Must be some alcohol in it.”

“Where’d you taste that?”

Merry looked away toward the window and visibly shuddered again. At last he murmured, “In Rohan, I think, although it might have been still in Anorien. I’m not certain precisely what route we took.” He turned back to look again at his father. “Did one of us wake you up?”

“No--I wasn’t sleeping all that well myself, and had gone to the privy and was on my way back when I heard Sam crying out, and then----”

“And Frodo was hurrying to check on him--probably waking from one of his own.”

“Apparently you all had them tonight. Can I get you some tea or something, Son?”

Merry finally sat himself up. “No,” he said thoughtfully. “I have some water here, and I think that’s all I need.”

“What kind of nightmare did you have?”

Merry shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about it.” He looked back at his father. “Pippin dreamt of the orc draught, I suppose?”

“He said he dreamt of your face with the blood on it, just before you were given it.”

Again Merry shuddered. “Awful stuff,” he murmured. His hands were shaking slightly as he reached for the carafe of water, and Saradoc took it and poured the small tumbler full himself. “Thanks,” Merry murmured as he accepted it and drank. He set the glass down on the bedside table. He grimaced. “Even in memory orc draughts are nasty. Thanks for checking on me, Dad.”

“What else are fathers for?” Sara asked. “Sweet dreams, Merry.” He’d have liked to ask more, but still didn’t feel comfortable, knowing how Merry hated feeling probed. He rose and leaned over his son, gently kissing his brow. “Love you, Son,” he said softly, and he saw Merry smile before he turned to leave the room.

Pippin stood waiting in the passage. “He have one, too?” he asked.

Sara nodded. “Wouldn’t tell me what it was about, though.”

Pippin gave a small nod. “No, he and Frodo are alike that way. I was surprised Frodo told me tonight. I thought you might have heard us.” He gave a stretch. “Well, I’ll be back off to my own bed, then. Night, Uncle Sara.

“Good night, Pippin.”

*******


A week later Freddy was back, having spent a few days in Overhill with Folco. Wisteria Boffin, Folco’s mother, had died three weeks previously, and Folco was beginning to sort out her clothing and such and seeing it properly disposed of. Freddy, knowing how upset Folco was likely to be, had decided to be there to help as needed, and provide a shoulder to cry on should his cousin need one. It was the first time he’d been anywhere on his own in months, and he was feeling rather proud of himself.

“Folco was sorry to miss the party, you know, but----”

“I understand,” Frodo said, his expression sad. “Ponto is still hanging on, but it’s difficult for him, being bedridden most of the time. But he’s much better since their furniture and most of their possessions were restored. Milo, however, is actively beginning to fade. Peony’s death shook him terribly, coming so fast on the realization she was the one who let Lotho know I was selling Bag End and thus giving him the means to take possession of the deed to Ponto and Iris’s place.” He sighed, glancing toward the window. “So many of the older ones are finally getting ready to leave us,” he said softly.

“What do you hear from Bilbo?”

Frodo remained quiet for a time. Finally he said softly, “They were going to try to bring him home this fall, but have changed their minds.”

“Why?”

Frodo shrugged, avoiding Freddy’s eyes. “He’s a hundred thirty, after all. He seems determined to survive another year so as to pass up the Old Took.”

“Were they--were they going to bring him back so----”

“So he could die a Hobbit of the Shire?” Frodo finished bluntly, looking at his cousin at last. “I suspect that was it.”

“But he decided not to come back after all?”

“There’s something else.” But what that something else was Frodo wouldn’t say, and the set of his jaw indicated he wouldn’t tell no matter what.

“Well, I insist you come to our place next week, Frodo.”

“Why?”

Freddy gave a sigh of frustration. “Look at you, Frodo Baggins--you’ve never spent so much time home alone in your life, and you know it. You need to get out and do some visiting and get back into life again. You rode to Michel Delving not long ago, so I know you can make it to Budgeford. I insist you come for our birthdays, Budgie’s and mine. Mine is the fifth and his is the seventh, and we’re having a party on the sixth of October for both of us, combining them.” The coaxing went on for the rest of the evening, and finally Frodo agreed.

The morning of the sixth he woke, feeling restless and uncertain, remembering what had occurred two years ago the coming evening. But, he thought, that had nothing to do with now. He was past that now; he was recovering. But when Sam looked into the study where Frodo was gathering together the next chapter he’d written of the story of their adventures to take to Freddy, who was reading and offering criticism as it went on, Frodo was looking off through the window with a distracted expression on his face, holding onto his shoulder, which was aching in spite of the beauty of the clear fall day. “It’s nothing, Sam. It’s only--only that I’ve been wounded by knife, sting, and tooth, and it will never really heal, you know,” he commented as he rubbed his shoulder and looked up apologetically at Sam; then he purposefully straightened and finished his straightening of the room before returning with the manuscript to his bedroom where his saddlebags lay waiting.

Sam had been to the stable at the Ivy Bush and had brought Strider up to the door of Bag End. Once Frodo was mounted, the gardener looked up at him. “I’m thinkin’, Master,” he said, “of puttin’ up a proper stable of our own for Strider, Bill, and Berry, down there near the paddock at the corner of the Party Field. Then we wouldn’t have to board them no more.”

Frodo smiled. “And then you’d be able to visit Bill daily and groom him yourself?” he suggested.

Sam shrugged, flushing gently. “Well, there’s that, too. I find I do like the idea as to havin’ ponies of my own.”

Frodo laughed, and Sam’s concerns about Frodo going to Budgeford on today of all days gave way.

Frodo had enjoyed himself thoroughly during the party for Freddy and Budgie, and all had appeared fine until Frodo went to bed, at which time all had become terribly frightening. Last year as he’d ridden through the Ford of Bruinen, Frodo had been overwhelmed with combined images of the Nazgul stooping over him in the dell beneath Weathertop and the Nine all gathered on the other side of the Ford when their combined will had been enough to force him to stop Asfaloth and turn and face them across the water. Yet last year he’d been able to keep on going, and after a day or two had apparently recovered. This time there was no ford to bring the images back into his mind, and he’d not thought of Black Riders or Morgul wounds since he left Bag End that morning--only to be completely felled there in Freddy’s spare bedroom. What sparked the images he had no idea; only one moment he was removing his trousers, leaning one hand on the back of a chair; the next he was on the floor in a tangle, lost in the memories, feeling he was back there, back in that dell, having the Morgul knife thrust into his shoulder once more.

“What was that?” Budgie asked his employer and friend, hearing the crash.

Viola looked into the parlor from the kitchen. “I think as Mr. Frodo must have fallen or something in his room,” she said.

Freddy and Budgie were already rising and hurrying to the room given to the use of Freddy’s cousin.

Frodo lay in a heap with the chair on which he’d been leaning, one leg almost but not quite free of his trousers leg. His face was completely devoid of color and he was digging at the neck of his shirt for something. Between the two of them Budgie and Freddy got him onto the bed, and finally Frodo clutched at that gem he wore on the chain about his neck. His heart was pounding, racing; he was fairly gasping for breath. Budgie was shocked and appalled at what he heard in their guest’s chest; Freddy was terrified at what they saw once they got Frodo’s shirt off him, for there was a pair of black, weeping, open wounds on the back of Frodo’s neck, and scars the like of which he’d never seen on Frodo’s back and shoulder.

When at last Budgie had a draught intended to ease the strain on Frodo’s heart down him, the wounds on the back of his neck cleansed and bandaged, a clean nightshirt on him, and Frodo finally asleep in a freshly made bed, he, Viola, and Freddy retreated to the kitchen. Freddy had been so shaken he’d needed his own draught to ease his heart, which all knew had been compromised by his time in the Lockholes.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Freddy was repeating still once again. He looked at Budgie. “You say that the ones on his back have to have been from him being beaten?”

Reluctantly Budgie nodded. “One of Sharkey’s Big Men liked using a whip, and beat several young Hobbits around my village until their backs were flayed open. Who did that to your cousin Frodo?”

“It had to be during their travels,” Freddy said. “All four say that Frodo and Sam were separated from the rest for a time.”

“Does Sam have such wounds?”

“I don’t think so,” Freddy said. “He took his shirt off one time when I was there over the summer and he was replacing paving stones about the well, and there were a few scars that looked as if they might have been due to burns, but nothing like that.”

“Burns? What makes you think they were due to burns?”

Freddy loosened the cuff of his shirt, exposing an old scar on his wrist. “I did that when I was about nine, not using a glove when I went to take a tray of cakes out of the oven. I know what burns look like, Budgie.”

“Well, there are some scars on your cousin Frodo as looks as if they, too, might be due to burns. Those there on his back, though--those are due to being lashed. But how would someone like Samwise Gamgee get burned on his back?” Budgie shook his head and reached into his trousers pocket to bring out the envelope Frodo had given him on his arrival. He slit it open with his thumbnail and pulled out a letter and a parchment packet. He looked in the packet first. “Kingsfoil?” he asked.

Viola looked at him with curiosity. “What about kingsfoil?”

“Sam sent leaves of kingsfoil--admittedly large ones, but still kingsfoil.” Budgie unfolded the letter, and his expression darkened somewhat. “It appears that Frodo’s Sam has become convinced that kingsfoil is a sovereign remedy as far as his master is concerned, and has sent him a couple waterskins of it made into a tea, and some leaves to put into his bath if he appears to be weak, especially tired, sad, or has a headache.”

Viola gave a sniff. “Our village healer suggested the same--the kingsfoil leaves in a bath for the same reasons, and it made into a tea with willowbark for headache or women’s troubles,” she commented.

Freddy considered. “He did specifically ask for Sam’s tea as if he is accustomed to it helping him.”

Budgie, however, was shaking his head. “Kingsfoil is but a superstition,” he insisted. “My master when I was doing my apprenticeship said it had never helped his patients. But just believing something might work can help a person feel better at times.”

“But you advised me that not all herbs work the same for everyone,” Freddy pointed out. “Perhaps Frodo is just one of those for whom kingsfoil is particularly good?”

Budgie shrugged. “I’d like to know how the wound was done to the back of his neck.”

“He told you--he was bitten by a great spider.”

The healer again was shaking his head, an indulgent look on his face. “You don’t believe in giant spiders, do you?”

“Budgie, Frodo isn’t given to lying.”

“But he also admitted he doesn’t fully remember what happened to him,” Budgie pointed out.

“I doubt he’d forget a thing like that,” Freddy responded.

“And how did he lose his finger?” Viola wanted to know.

“He won’t say,” Freddy said. “It doesn’t seem to hurt him, or keep him from writing or drawing.”

“What I know,” Budgie said slowly, “is that your cousin has been very badly hurt and appears to know a great deal of pain from whatever happened to him. Do you have any idea what caused the scar on his shoulder?”

“He was stabbed there by the Black Riders. One had a--a cursed knife or sword or something. He’s told me he was advised it won’t ever properly heal.”

“A cursed knife?” Budgie’s voice was completely skeptical. “And why should I believe in these Black Riders?”

Freddy was beginning to feel angry. “Perhaps because I’ve seen them, as well as Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo--not to mention Farmer Maggot and Gaffer Gamgee!”

Budgie paused at that, realizing that perhaps he ought not to be so skeptical. But believing in all he’d heard of the experiences the Travelers had done did stretch his belief beyond the breaking point. Giant spiders and magical draughts that made Hobbits grow more than any of their kind ought to?

Viola persisted, “And why do you insist kingsfoil wouldn’t really help? It certainly helped my Gamma, who was given to headaches as would about tear her apart at times.”

Budgie was wary, for this was one subject on which the two of them had quarreled at times. Just seeing his expression, however, was enough to let her know how his thought was running. Her own jaw clenched. “Just ’cause gentlehobbits don’t have such headaches as much as lasses and ladies do doesn’t mean they’re naught but in our imaginations, you know. Menfolk don’t have a corner on ‘real’ illnesses, after all.”

“I didn’t mean that it’s not real....”

But she cut him off. “Really, Budgie Smallfoot, you can’t limit what you’ll believe is true only to what you’ve seen and known yourself, you know. There could well be a great deal out there in the world which you haven’t had the chance to experience. Just how many have you known besides Mr. Frodo and them as have been even to Bree, much less beyond it?”

In the end Budgie had to admit she had a point, but he still had his doubts. As with every healer worth his salt, Budgie knew that belief something would help symptoms was sometimes enough in itself to aid the individual to feel better. Imagination and belief and attitude all were as important to healing as rest, proper exercise and food, water, and appropriate herbs. Certainly if Sam and Frodo were both convinced kingsfoil helped Frodo, not letting Frodo have his kingsfoil tea could possibly cause the symptoms to get worse.

What Budgie had noted and been reluctant to speak openly was that Frodo’s heart appeared heavily burdened, and that its beat indicated he’d probably had a seizure of his heart, but leaving different damage than that experienced by Fredegar Bolger. Looking at the still rather extreme thinness of Frodo Baggins and other signs, Budgie believed that the Hobbit’s heart was near to failing due to prolonged stress. Whatever Frodo had experienced, Budgie felt it was a miracle the Hobbit was alive at all. There was hidden scarring there that had left Frodo’s health very precarious--of this he was certain. And so he began concocting a draught he hoped would help the Hobbit, although he feared that the damage had gone on too long at this point to be fully remedied. Too long and too deep, he thought, not realizing that in Minas Tirith and in Rivendell that night other healers more familiar with Frodo’s condition were also worried about too long and too deep.



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