The Thain asked Sara and Esme as well as Merry and Pippin, Folco and Freddy and Frodo to come to the Great Smial for Pippin’s birthday and Yule; but Frodo begged off. The spider bite on the back of his neck had become infected once more, and this time had built up painfully until at last it was lanced. Frodo was very uncomfortable and refused to leave Bag End until it finally healed; only when Merry and Pippin showed up with Folco and Ferdi on second Yule and found Frodo’s neck bandaged did Merry and Pippin finally realize that Frodo hadn’t just been practicing self-effacement when he’d tried to avoid the banquet. He was no longer angry with them, though, being truly glad of their presence, and accepting the gifts given him by his cousins as well as their thanks for the books on the history of Minas Tirith and Osgiliath Frodo had sent them for Yule and Pippin’s birthday.
Rosie was just calling them to dinner when they heard the sound of more ponies in the lane, and Pippin went to the door to see who it was who’d arrived.
“Who is it?” Merry called.
Pippin laughed, extraordinarily pleased. “Father Yule!” he called back. “Father Yule in the person of a Dwarf! Hoy! I do believe it is Dorlin, Dwalin’s son!”
Dorlin had visited Bag End years before as well as accompanying the party from Erebor to Gondor after the Lord Elessar’s coronation. Dorlin had been the first Dwarf Pippin had met personally, and as a child visiting at Bag End at the time had followed him closely out of fascination. Later Dorlin had returned with his father and Gloin for Bilbo’s great party, and had been the Dwarf who’d done the most to comfort Pippin once the young Hobbit lad realized that Bilbo was intent on leaving the Shire that night and that Frodo would henceforth dwell alone in Hobbiton. It had been largely due to his former fascination with Dorlin that Pippin had immediately extended his friendship to Gimli once it was known he would be in the party which would leave Rivendell with the Ringbearer.
Dorlin was quickly admitted into the smial and introduced to Rosie, Ferdi, and Folco while Merry took the pony cart, once it was empty and a quick dinner had been eaten, into Bywater to the stable at the Green Dragon, returning some time later with a small keg of ale on his shoulder. He entered to find Dorlin was sitting in Frodo’s chair in the parlor, describing the work done over the summer and fall on the walls and gates of Minas Tirith.
“I’ll be doing much of the carving of the figures for the gates,” Dorlin explained. “Much of the summer was spent in removing what remains of the figures from the shards of the old gates and planning how the new gates will be constructed. Gloin and others of those working on the gate leaves themselves have come up with a design which will make the gates supremely simple to open and close, and to seal closed when necessary far more quickly than had been true of the old gates. You see, the counterweight for the two leaves will be built into the leaves themselves beyond the pivots....”
As he explained the construction all listened avidly, for his descriptions were such that those listening seemed to see before them just how all would be accomplished.
“So,” Merry said slowly, “there aren’t hinges as such, but instead pivots at the top and bottom of each side? And the leaves will be forged of steel sheathed in mithril? How will the figures be affixed, then? And what will the figures be?”
Frodo was fascinated by the talk, and both Merry and Sam noted that somehow he was taking comfort from the presence of the Dwarf. He remained with the rest of the company until quite late, Sam later telling the others that since October he’d usually retired about two hours after dinner.
Dorlin had brought gifts from Gondor and Rohan, and as he’d passed through Bree had been entrusted with gifts being forwarded by Lord Halladan and from Rivendell as well. Again there was a case of the orange fruits and others similar to them for Frodo, a cask of wine for each of the Travelers, a painting of the White Tree of Gondor from Master Iorhael, a cloak of a dusky rose color woven by the Lady Arwen for Rosie with a cloak brooch of a rosebud done in silver, seeds of several flowers and herbs for Sam and of several healing herbs for Merry....
As each gift was received all examined it with pleasure. But the one that seemed to mean the most to Frodo was a small, silver volume filled with poetry in Quenya sent by Lord Elrond, inside of which was tucked a short note from Bilbo: May it lead the way, my dear boy. Sam noted how gently and thoughtfully Frodo stroked its clothbound cover.
“What’s it’s title, Frodo?” he asked.
It was just a moment before Frodo answered, “The Gift of the Mariner. Bilbo appears to have picked it out for me.” What he didn’t tell them was that these were hymns of the Blessed Realm.
Dorlin was shown the repairs on the smial and the stonework done by Gimli, and when he left two days later it was with baskets of winter apples and potatoes and a finely cured ham, a warm scarf about his neck knit by Rosie, a warm cloak crafted by Moro and Daisy, a keg of ale from the Green Dragon, and other gifts of the Shire’s bounty to take with him on his return to the Iron Hills where he was to spend the remainder of the winter. But he took with him also the report of how much weight Frodo had lost, how gently he caressed the silver volume, and how often his eyes would stray westward.
Brendi arrived shortly after Dorlin left, closely followed by Merry and Pippin heading to the Great Smial; and Frodo and he walked, quite slowly, Brendi noticed, into Hobbiton to the Ivy Bush. Frodo was plainly tired when they arrived and sat quietly for some time before they spoke.
“You looked anything but your best at the banquet.”
“I know. The--the spider bite became infected again, and this time it didn’t open on its own, but had to be lanced. I was--uncomfortable.”
“Old Odo was certainly being obnoxious.”
Frodo gave a small shrug. “He was only saying aloud what all the rest thought, you’ll find.”
“Well, it was uncalled for. And I’ve never seen Benlo Bracegirdle give one of his own such a glare as he did Bartolo.”
Frodo looked at the mug of light ale he’d accepted, holding it between his hands. “I wish Will hadn’t told the entire Shire I’d returned my salary.”
“Odo was just being contrary, insisting you thought you were too good to accept the pay. Had he been told you’d accepted it, he’d have been just as critical, insisting you should have given it back.”
“Odo’s always been that way. Remember at the Party, him putting his feet on the table and correcting Bilbo, ‘Proudfeet!’?”
Brendi laughed. “How could I ever forget?” He looked at Frodo and saw that he, for the moment, was also laughing. But the laughter didn’t last, and his expression rapidly became solemn. “Frodo, why did you lose weight again?”
Frodo sipped from his mug and looked down into it as he set it back on the table. “I--I was ill again in October. Then there was that cold--which, of course, I caught.”
“At least this time it didn’t go into the lung sickness.”
Frodo gave a small nod.
“And then the infection again?”
“And you’ve not been out much since?”
Again the small nod.
“Are you in pain now?”
A small shrug. “My shoulder aches much of the time again.”
“What has Drolan said?” Brendi asked, meaning Drolan Chubbs, whose family had been healers for the folk of Bag End for several generations.
Frodo breathed in deeply. “I haven’t seen him.”
Frodo lifted his eyes to look deeply into those of his cousin. “What will he know of how to deal with Morgul wounds or the bites of giant spiders, Brendi?”
“He could perhaps help with the pain....”
But Frodo was shaking his head, rather fatalistically, Brendi thought. “Aragorn, his brothers, and the Lord Elrond are the greatest healers in all of Middle Earth, Brendi, and they truly understand better than any others could what these wounds are like. If they can’t do more than momentarily ease the pain and give me---” He stopped abruptly.
“Give you what, Frodo Baggins?”
Frodo looked toward the far wall. Finally he answered softly, “The illusion of being normal.”
Without looking at Brendi Frodo nodded. “We don’t know how in the long run these wounds will affect me. No one--no one has ever survived such wounds before, after all. Oh, the spider bites--but the ones who bit the Dwarves were quite a bit smaller than Shelob, and they received a much smaller amount of poison from what anyone can tell. Add in the damage wrought by--by the Ring, and I present a unique case.”
“Have you talked to Narcissa?
“Once. And she’s always here or in Bywater when I come into the villages--to hear the stories I tell the children.”
“But you’ve not pursued it?”
They didn’t remain much longer. Brendi put his arm about his cousin as they walked slowly back to Bag End.
By the middle of February it appeared Frodo was finally recovered from the ills of the winter. He was often out in the gardens of Bag End as the weather began to clear, helping in the preparation of the flower beds, and he was again going into Hobbiton and Bywater on market days. He was much more slender than he’d been before he’d left the Shire, and more quiet as well; but there was no question he was in better spirits than he’d known since early in October, and was looking forward to the birth of Sam and Rosie’s first child as eagerly as the expectant parents themselves.
Sam and Rosie had wanted to spend a few days on the farm with her parents before the baby came, but Frodo was reluctant to accompany them. He was the one who suggested that Freddy and Budgie come to stay while they were gone to keep him company; and in the end Sam agreed.
They left on March twelfth and were gone for a week. Frodo, Freddy, and Budgie walked into Hobbiton that afternoon to have a bite and a drink at the Ivy Bush, and they left early. Narcissa Boffin saw them as they left the village together. There was no longer the free grace in Frodo she’d remembered in him when he was younger--he walked a bit stiffly, although he was smiling at his companions easily enough. It was the last time she saw him for better than a month.
“You are not to tell them, Budgie.”
“But, Frodo, you have been very seriously ill!”
Frodo looked down at the floor, then he lifted his head and closed his eyes. “Yes, I’ve been seriously ill,” he finally said, looking back at Budgie. “And it will come again-- and probably again after that as well. That’s simply the way it is and the way it’s going to remain from here on out. And every time I go through another--relapse--it just tears at his heart that much the more. He’s expecting his first child in a matter of a few days to a week. I won’t have him worrying overmuch over me. I won’t tear his attention from his family--not now. He can do nothing for me. I ought to have moved out by now and found somewhere to live where he’d not have to spend so much time trying to care for me....”
“He loves you, Frodo, and doing such a thing would tear at his heart even more than having you at hand and seeing you weaken day by day does.”
Frodo searched Budgie’s eyes for some time, and had to recognize this was the simple truth. At last he said quietly, “I just don’t want him told now. He’ll recognize all too soon it’s happened again. But let his attention remain with Rosie for the moment.” He looked away. “After all,” he said in a near whisper, “it’s not for that much longer a time anyway.”
Frodo was therefore fully dressed in the outfit he’d had made for the banquet back at Yule when Sam and Rosie returned from the Cottons’ farm with their new kitten. Frodo was surprised, for Sam had never struck him as the kind to introduce kittens into Bag End, although his family had certainly had their share of the animals over the years. Because he loved coming and going so much Bilbo had never agreed to keep a pet, knowing it would inevitably be cared for mostly by the Gamgees as he couldn’t just waltz into the Great Smial with a dog at his heels or carry a cat between Hobbiton and Brandy Hall. This had been one grief Frodo had known, not having an animal at hand in the last years of his growing up, and was part of the reason he’d made so many bird houses over the years and had them hung out all over the Hill, wanting to be able to feel somehow part of the life of other creatures.
Well, he might not linger long, and he might not keep a cat or dog himself, but now, finally, there was a kitten in the smial, and one that quickly learned there was one lap it could claim at almost any time of the day, and one Hobbit who knew by instinct where the best places to scratch a cat were. The orange kitten easily shared itself between Rosie, Sam, and Frodo, and during the day began to spend a good deal of time with the Master, although it slept at night in a basket in Sam and Rosie’s room.
The first day and a half after the return of Sam and Rosie, Frodo did his best to make certain all was cared for. But as he was preparing elevenses the second day he burned his hand on the stove in the kitchen. He’d been moving the kettle when suddenly he lost his balance and he’d been forced to stop his fall--by putting it against the hob, which was quite hot. He’d not been able to stop the cry of pain, and Sam had come running. The blisters told their own story, and Sam had immediately taken Frodo into the cold room and began pulling up bucket after bucket of water from the well there and pouring it over his hand, then filled the bucket with water and had him sit on the well head and hold his hand in it. This well was surrounded by a good deal of lime and had a distinct taste to it that wasn’t pleasant, unlike the water from the well in the garden. But the water from the well in the cold room was itself particularly cold, which somehow added to the coolness of the room for purposes of keeping food cool and unspoiled longer.
“Now, Master, how did you burn yourself?” Sam asked.
“I lost my balance,” Frodo said.
“Well, with that burn you oughtn’t be about the stove any time soon. I’ll see if Tom can spare Goldie for a few days, just until after the bairn’s born and all is calm again, and have her here to make certain as meals get fixed and all.”
It worked out well, for Tom was preparing to make a business trip down to the Southfarthing for the next ten days, and he was well pleased to have his wife spend the time he must be gone with her brother and Tom’s sister.
Marigold took the room in which Lobelia’s bed and furniture had been placed, finding a perverse pleasure in sleeping in a bed that the old Hobbitess would never have thought of in terms of accommodating the gardener’s youngest lass. Between her and the Widow Rumble coming up in the late afternoon they were able to keep things running smoothly, which proved fortuitous as Rosie experienced several false alarms as her body prepared to deliver her first child. The midwife and Drolan Chubbs were both into the hole several times during that week, although Frodo made certain to remain hidden where Drolan wouldn’t catch sight of him. He strongly suspected that if Drolan saw him he’d insist on doing an examination, and the troubles of the past two weeks would come out just when Sam needed to focus on his wife.
Frodo began to realize just how much he’d come to rely on Sam’s tea and his insistence he eat at least something by the third day. Sam had brought him a cup of tea early in the afternoon, and then was running into the village to fetch the midwife. Frodo had drunk part of the mug brought him, then focused on a portion of the writing he was doing. He barely noticed when Marigold came in to check on him, noted the cold cup by him, and bore it off to bring him a fresh cup of tea. The regular tea was pleasant in many ways, but it didn’t offer him the easing Sam’s did. The cold meats and cheeses Sam had brought to him earlier in the day and he now looked to enjoy were gone, too; and no one had thought to bring him fresh. But when he went into the kitchen to perhaps find something, all were busy with pots of boiling water and so on, and fearing he might get into the way he retreated to his bedroom. There he fell asleep, and when the next meal was ready Missus Rumble hadn’t the heart to waken him for it. Not realizing because she’d been busy with the midwife that Frodo hadn’t yet eaten, Marigold saw the untouched plate Begonia had left and assumed it had been intended for Rosie and took it to her once it had again become obvious the bairn wouldn’t be born that day after all, leaving nothing for Frodo when he awoke and came looking for something. He managed to get a couple apples and a slice of cheese, so he didn’t starve completely; but that was much the pattern of things until the twenty-fifth when at last the labor was for real.
Frodo had gone into his study to write, and ended up lying down on the sofa. He wasn’t feeling well at all, but was afraid to let anyone know. Sam was so worried about Rosie’s condition that Frodo was amused, amused and stubbornly determined not to distract him from Rosie’s needs. Sam had left his morning tea and he’d had a few sips before he’d dozed off; when he awoke it had been replaced.
The dreams had been difficult the last couple nights, mostly filled with images of the dreadful journey through Mordor. His memories of much of that time were fragmentary at best, but the look on the face of the orc with the whip who’d forced them into line when they’d been overtaken the day they tried the road kept coming to mind every time he closed his eyes. The spider bite had opened during Freddy and Budgie’s stay, and had drained fairly quickly and closed by the time Rosie and Sam returned; he was glad he didn’t have that to worry about today. But today that area ached, and he felt drained and empty.
“Get up you slugs! Into line with you!”
*You see how it is, halfling? The orcs care nothing for your breeding, your manners, your education. To them you are a slug and a coward and a deserter.*
But they are only mistaken as to what I am. I certainly don’t want them realizing I’m not another orc, after all!
Intense pain on his legs where the slavedriver’s whip caught him. “Get a leg on, you maggot! Slow again and you’ll get more--plenty of lashes where that one come from! I’d lash you now within a hair’s breadth of your life, if I didn’t know you’d be getting a skinful coming in late as you are. Move, slug!” A clear look at the ugly, leering countenance, the hatred, the exultance that Frodo would soon know extreme pain.
“Master, let me hold you up!”
“You can’t, Sam--they’ll realize we aren’t orcs. If I fall, move out of the way so they don’t tie you to me.”
“Don’t you dream of thinkin’ as I’d leave you to die while I escape, Master!”
“Master, are you all right? You havin’ more bad dreams?”
He roused to find Sam leaning over him. “Sam? Are you safe?”
Sam sighed as his question was answered. “Are you awake now, Mr. Frodo?”
Frodo straightened and shook himself. “I think I am, Sam.” He listened, heard the quiet in the distance of the smial. “Is it again a false alarm, then?”
Sam’s face split into a great grin. “False alarm? Oh, no, not this time, Frodo--no, the bairn’s born. And--and it’s a lass! I can’t believe it--a lass? For us?” He took up Frodo’s old mug and set down a fresh one. “You drink that one up--I need to go check Rosie’s all right. Can you believe it, Frodo--a lass!”
Frodo watched his friend disappear back out the door and down the passage, humming a bit of an Elven song as he hurried to the kitchen and then back toward the master bedroom. He heard other voices raised now, the pleasure of welcoming a new life into the Shire and Bag End in especial. He felt greatly relieved and grateful to the Powers for granting Rosie such an easy time of it, unlike his own mother or his Aunt Esme, both of whom had delivered only one child who’d lived from several pregnancies.
Oh, thank you--thank you for my new little niece!
She will grace Bag End for her childhood, and then help to open more lands to the Shire. And she will keep alive the memories of what was given up that the rest may know peace and fulfillment.
Frodo drank down half of the tea in the cup, then lay down again, smiling, as he slipped again into a drowse.
“I choose not to do what I came to do....”
*Now I have you, halfling. You truly thought you could hide your intentions from me?*
The face of the one who would have denied him the Ring was strangely familiar, and was all the more hated for that. Anyone who would deny him this--bliss--was deserving of being blasted from the face of Middle Earth. He examined the features as he considered the alternative methods available for killing the pathetically weak creature. A blow to the side of the head, and he could be casually swept into the fire--quite a neat solution really. But was that sufficient deterrent for the others who would deny him? The tall Man who would be Lord of Mortals in opposition to himself? The Elves who had intended the Ring be destroyed? The Dwarves who had ever fought the power of the Ring, even those intended to be dominated by It when they had worn their own Rings? Nay, they must see that he would not fail to--punish--even those whom he had once professed to love.
“No! You won’t hurt him!”
Now where had that thought come from? Were there yet vestiges of integrity left in the corners of the being of the one It had just taken? *Well, halfling, we know how to quash such independent thought.*
“No--I won’t let you hurt him! He would do ought I tell him! He could be--useful.”
He didn’t see the other coming--just was surprised when the one who would deny him was felled, and he felt the physical weight hit him as he was leapt upon.
“No! You shan’t have It! I’ve claimed It!”
And which of them had said that--himself or Gollum? Sam was forgotten by all as the struggle for the Ring claimed the attention of Ring, Frodo and Gollum all three. How could he be so strong? It had played with him--with them both, seeing both weakened, both depleted, both come to the brink of death so that at the last moment the rightful Master could simply sweep them away and take It back--bring the two halves of the Master’s being together once more. But the desperation of mortal things at the brink of dissolution was proving remarkably enervating, and the Ring had simply failed to take that into Its calculations.
The pain of the loss of the finger and the greater agony as It was torn away fully from his mind and possession shook him.
*You would think to claim me, craven thing? Did you not hear Master’s command should you touch him again?*
“NOOOOOO!!!!” And it appeared that cry was from both the Ring and Frodo as what would follow inevitably occurred, and Gollum danced too close to the edge, teetered....
Then there was the wailing yet triumphant cry of “Preciousssssss!” followed by--by nothing more than an instant of shock as It fell into the fire, only realizing at the end It had doomed Itself.
NOTHING! There was NOTHING! Where had It gone? He’d always known he wasn’t alone, for there had always been that awareness of another mind touching his since he came of age. It had been the one thing that sustained him as the rest of the smial had been emptied when Bilbo had abandoned him. Without Bilbo’s presence he’d once again been left alone--only then there had followed the realization he wasn’t alone--wasn’t ever alone--as long as It lay in his pocket. As unwilling to remain there as It had become as time passed and he, like Gollum, like Bilbo, had shown no hint of leaving his security, yet he wasn’t alone. He’d sewn the loops into the pockets and commissioned the chain with which he secured It that he be not alone, not abandoned by It as had occurred with Gollum. He’d not be deprived of the surety he wasn’t alone.
But with It gone--once again he was alone.
A deep sigh felt but not truly heard.
But, child, you are not alone, not now, not then, not ever.
He awoke, panting, sweating, felt the emptiness, and knew as he’d known on the side of Mount Doom that this was needful, for what that which was now void had contained had become infected, inflamed with corruption, the infection of the Ring as It had tried to twist all his loves and pleasures, as It had sought to isolate him from friends and family, as he lost his health and all his identities. Better to have none than for them to be corrupted. Better to remain alone than to find himself making the one who accepted him hate him. Better to remain childless than to have his children look on him with fear and distrust rather than love. Better to hold no authority than to see it resented or to abuse it.
Frodo sat up, felt how weak he was. The mug was full--it had been changed for normal tea again! He sighed in frustration, then felt the catch in his chest, the pain as it radiated up to his shoulder and down his left arm. Frightened, he sat still. Then he heard the door open, saw Sam peering in.
He managed to keep his focus as Sam indicated the problem facing him and Rosie as to the proper name for their unexpected daughter. Both had been so certain it would be a tiny lad, one they could name for him....
“Elanor.” Sam was smiling as he tried the name, tasted it in his mouth, heard it echo from the walls of the study, considered it in terms of the beauty of his babe, his firstborn. “Yes, Master,” he said, “the perfect name!”
Again he hurried off, and finally, after another delay, came again with the bairn in his arms, wrapped in the blanket sent by Aragorn and Arwen that had been received a month prior. Frodo was lying down again on the sofa, but his pale features lit with joy as he looked at the tiny thing, and it was laid in his arms, as love sparked immediately between the thin hobbit and the little lass he held.
She is the closest I’ll ever know to a child of my own, he thought.
A second father she will ever think of you as, Iorhael.
Even if I am far away?
Have you ever thought of your own parents as anything other than that, in spite of their deaths when you were so young?
Frodo held the infant, ran his index finger along the palm of Elanor’s tiny hand, counted the fingers and saw with relief all were present and accounted for.