9: In the Mayor’s House
Aster hadn’t fully understood why her mother had insisted she, Bucca, and the children return in early October, for they’d been there in Michel Delving such a short time before. Today, however, as she stood on the doorstep and watched her father walk slowly across the square from the door to the Council Hole she thought she understood. She hurried to meet him, let him put his arm about her shoulder, and supported him as he limped. “The knee bothering you today, Da?” she asked him.
“Not just the knee,” he said quietly. “I’m feeling more than a bit worn is all. I’m getting too old for being Mayor, I think.”
“Frodo Baggins is gone, then?” she asked.
He turned his head to look down into her face. “You knew?” he asked.
She shrugged and looked away from his eyes. “He begged us not to talk about it, Da.”
He sighed. “Yes, I suppose as he would. Been a private one for years, Frodo.” He looked at where Bucca now stood on the doorstep, watching their approach. “I’m all right, Bucca,” he said when they were close enough not to need to yell. “Would you go over to the stable, the section where the traps are kept? There’s a case on the back of the one I drove today, and I need for it to be brought in.”
“Course, Will,” Bucca said. “Good to see as you’re back safe from Hobbiton.” With a nod he set off to fetch the case.
“Hello, Ganda,” said Dianthus as they entered. She was coming from the kitchen to the parlor carrying a tray with mugs and the teapot under its cozy, along with the sugar bowl, cream pitcher, and honey pot. She paused to let him enter first, then followed after and set the tray she carried on the table by her grandmother.
Mina looked at her husband with compassion in her eyes. “Frodo’s will was executed today?” she asked.
He nodded. “Last time as he was in,” he said as he sank into his chair and put his foot up on the padded stool Cando hastily set before him, “he brought it in, along with other documents. He purchased Aramos Millpond’s library hole there near the Three-Farthing Stone from Bachelorbutton, to be a gift to the entire Shire, and he’s set up an endowment to open free schools for the children of the Shire, to start with one in Hobbiton itself for the children in the region around the Hill. He bought a field there, too, in which to set up a healers’ herb garden and library. Wants to see a guild for healers started here in the Shire to improve the training for healers and herbalists and all. Wants Sam and Budgie Smallfoot to help organize the garden.”
Aster looked at him with interest. “Who’s Master of Bag End now, Da?” she asked.
“Samwise Gamgee--him and his wife Rosie. Sam was made Frodo’s primary heir. Adopted him, he did.” He took a deep breath. “Left his outside interests to those twin cousins of his in Westhall, then asked that Narcissa Boffin be made their independent guardian.”
“Did he die, Ganda?” Dorno asked, his face pale.
Will shook his head. “No,” he said quietly. “He’s not dead, or at least no one thinks so. Decided to leave the Shire, he did, like old Bilbo did. Left with the Elves.”
Dianthus looked up at him with an uncharacteristic solemnity. “Did anyone see him go, Ganda?”
He nodded. “Meriadoc Brandybuck, Peregrin Took, and Samwise Gamgee saw him go, were there as he went aboard the Elven ship. They tell me as Lord Elrond went with him, too, and that Wizard Gandalf, and--and old Bilbo.” He looked to catch his wife’s gaze. “Can you believe it, Mina? Bilbo’s still alive! Who’d of believed it? He’s a hundred and thirty-one now.” He sighed and rubbed at his left temple with his fingertips. “They tell me as Lord Elrond is the greatest healer in all Middle Earth, and that he’ll be by Frodo’s side until he’s restored.”
“Gandalf went, too?” Mina asked. At his nod, she looked at the mug she’d been holding in her hands. “Then he has a chance. Do you want sugar or honey, love?”
“Honey this time, I think,” he answered her.
She added two dollops of honey to his cup and a small measure of cream and stirred it, then handed it to him.
Cando asked, “Then, he’s been ill?”
Dianthus looked from him to their grandmother. She turned back to her brother, answering, “He said it wasn’t like a cold, but that he was empty.”
Will sighed, looking between Dianthus and Cando. Finally he said, quietly, “Budgie Smallfoot said that it was more than just that. His heart has been failing him. If he’d remained--if he’d remained, he’d of died.”
Mina looked at her grandson. “From what he told me, and what the others told us, that year they were away fighting the war he was bad hurt. Like Dianthus said, he felt it emptied him. Then he got back and found the war had come here, too. Frodo and the others found they had to fight here, after the war was over everywhere else.” Bucca entered with the case and set it down.
“But Mr. Frodo and Mr. Sam didn’t fight. They don’t even have swords!”
But Bucca was shaking his head. “I saw them riding down the road behind the shiriffs, comin’ to confront Lotho’s Big Men, son. They all had swords--all four of them. And I know as Reginard Took told me that Frodo kept them from killin’ those as laid down their weapons. Said he didn’t understand why--not then. Made the Tooks and the others hold their fire, hold their weapons. Made them treat those as give up decent, give them food, water, what healin’ as they might need. Made them take them to the borders and let them go.
“He wouldn’t let them treat the bodies of the dead bad, neither. Had them treated as gentle as the bodies of our own folk, set into the sand pit where they was laid gently, buried decent. Made them as was buryin’ them act like Hobbits, not like the ruffians themselves.
“There’s fightin’ and there’s fightin’, son. Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin, they fought alongside the armies of the King against the Enemy, fought with their swords, and they’re heroes out there as they is here. But Mr. Frodo and Mr. Sam, they fought the Enemy, too, but didn’t do it with swords. Instead, they fought with their wits and their courage and their ability to stay low and quiet, and they’re the ones as brought him down. They’re bigger heroes out there than Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin. You ask them you see them again, and they’ll tell you.
“Mr. Frodo Baggins, when he come back here, you’d best believe he was fightin’, too. He was fightin’ to keep us from becomin’ like the worst he saw out there, he was. Then all four of them had to keep workin’, settin’ things right. Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin, they’ll keep makin’ certain as our borders are kept safe, and to make those as who’d come in and steal what we have or hurt us as they can stay out. Mr. Sam, he saw to it the trees and the gardens was replanted and the homes redug and rebuilt. But Mr. Frodo was workin’, too.”
“But he didn’t do nothing!” Dorno protested. “Just sat in Ganda’s office and sorted through papers. Anybody could do that!”
Will was stung. “You truly think so, Dorno Sandheaver?” he demanded. “Maybe you’d best think again, child. Even I couldn’t of made sense of what was in the office when Sharkey was gone and the Big Men were thrown out. They had to examine all as was there, sorting out the honest documents from the ones intended to cheat and steal. They had to determine which of those as presented some of those lying documents were forced and which enjoyed what they were doing.
“If Frodo had been strong enough in the body to help replant fields and orchards, you can bet as he’d of been out there doing that instead of spending precious days examining papers, finding patterns, uncovering villains. He was never trained to read legal papers, Frodo wasn’t. But he learned, and I couldn’t of done nearly as well had I been able to go right back to work.”
“But what do legal papers have to do with Lotho’s Big Men?” Cando demanded.
“That’s how it started--cheating folks through crooked contracts and unfair agreements and unequal partnerships. That’s how Lotho started getting control of property and lives, and how he was getting much of the money to bring those Big Men in here. He started by corrupting our laws, and that led to corrupting the land and the hearts of our people.”
The two lads looked between their father and their grandfather, both of whom were equally steadfast in their gaze. Bucca finally broke the silence. “You want to destroy a person, start with what he believes and holds dear. Take that away from him, and you can do the rest easy. But what we believe we know in words. Twist the words and get others to repeat them and accept them twisted, and they’ll lose the truth, and then you can get anythin’ past them. Lotho’s folks--that’s how they started, twistin’ the words.”
Dianthus looked sideways at Cando, then looked back to her grandfather. “Then he really did go away on a ship?” she persisted.
“Yes, he really did go away on a ship, on an Elven ship,” Will assured her. “I don’t understand what he did out there, but I do know he’s been getting weaker and weaker since he got back, and he needed healing. They say as he can get better going with the Elves, and all I can do is hope as they’re right.” He looked back at the lads again. “And the Shire would be in a world of hurt if he hadn’t been able to figure out who was part of Lotho’s plans and who was forced to do what they did.”
Cando looked thoughtful, then apparently decided to change the subject. “What’s in the box, Ganda?” he asked.
“What Frodo left us.” He signed for Bucca to bring it over by his chair, and together he and Bucca leaned over and untied the straps used to hold it closed. Inside on top of everything else was a large box addressed to Mina containing a fine porcelain bowl Drogo Baggins had once brought to his wife from a trip out to Bree. Under that lay a bolt of silk fabric with a square of paper pinned to it indicating this was intended for Aster. For Cando there was a book of tales from Númenor, for Dorno one on the Founding of the Shire, for Dianthus tales of the Elves of Middle Earth. Will received a portrait of his wife done in charcoal, surrounded by part of a poem extolling the virtues of good wives, mounted behind glass with carefully preserved leaves framing the picture. Bucca received a bag of seed for fine hay and a large ale cup from Erebor. At the bottom was another book addressed to Will--The Planning and Management of the Shire Farm by Goodson Oldbuck. And inside the book were a portrait Frodo had done of Primula Brandybuck Baggins (a picture Mina claimed immediately), and a note to Will suggesting he discuss the book with Sam Gamgee, who was intimately familiar with the chapters on establishing kitchen gardens and working with root vegetables.
Dianthus was paging through her book, and midway through the text found an illustration of a great ship tied up to a pier, a number of beautiful personages waiting to go aboard. She held the picture out to her grandmother. “What’s this story called?” she asked, for she could barely read as yet.
Mina took it, realizing as she did so that this was a book Frodo himself had copied out and probably one he had bound as well. She paused at the picture and examined it thoroughly, realizing these must be Elves. Carefully she paged backwards until she came to the beginning of the chapter. “It’s called Sailing to Elvenhome,” she said.
“Can you read it to me?” Dianthus asked.
Mina looked at the rest of her family. Aster had taken the portrait done of her mother by Frodo and was working her way through the fragment of the poem that encircled the figure, her eyes soft; Bucca looked up from his proud examination of the mug he’d received; the lads looked up from their own books and Will from his examination of the book on farming; Dianthus already was watching her in anticipation. At a shrug from her husband and a nod from her daughter, Mina cleared her throat and began to read.
Those of the Eldar die not, save they are slain or come to grieve mightily for some great loss, for their lives are bound from birth to the remaining time given to Arda itself. Yet, in time they may easily come to know great weariness of spirit, especially when they realize they must again see the loss of much they had come to love and cherish in the lands in which they have chosen to dwell. For such is the nature of Time in the mortal lands that through its offices there must come at intervals either long or short great changes that lift up some lands and cast down others and completely change the features and feelings of others still.
At such times particularly the Sea Longing will come upon great numbers of those of the Firstborn, and they will seek to take passage to the Undying Lands, the great landmass where dwell the Powers themselves and the greater part of all Elves born in the world of Arda. This is not a decision lightly made, however, for those who make that sailing must accept that once the ship upon which they sail enters the Straight Path, they may no longer return to the hither shores of the Mortal Lands, and all they have known before and all folk they have loved who remain will be lost to them from that time on. Only if those they love are of their own kindred and choose in their turn to answer the Sea Longing and sail themselves to Aman will they see aught they have abandoned again.
So it has been since the great breaking of the world when the mighty lord of Men Ar-Pharazôn of Númenor sent his great armada toward those shores, seeking to bring war against the Valar Themselves, mistakenly believing that mere entrance into the Undying Lands would confer immortality. Yet in this was he, who had been so advised by Sauron the great Deceiver, terribly wrong, for mortals may not live easily in those lands where the Light is unfiltered and the Air itself rich with the Breath of the Valar. Even before that time, when Aman and Ennor lay yet in one plane, from the time of the Revolt of the Noldor against the Valar, return from the Undying Lands to the Mortal Lands was forbidden to the people of the Elves.
As she read she saw a growing understanding in Dianthus’s eyes as she began to realize where it was Frodo had gone and why it was he had said he might never return.
Between the last two leaves of this story was tucked a sheet of Frodo’s personal stationery. All listened intently through the whole chapter, and when she was done and removed the single folded sheet of paper Frodo had placed there they remained silent.
“Dearling,” she said, addressing her granddaughter, “Frodo left for you a note, here at the end of this story. Shall I read it to you?”
“Please, Gamma,” the lass replied.
With a nod and the preparation offered by a deep breath, Mina unfolded the sheet.
Long ago when I was newly come to Hobbiton to live with my beloved Uncle Bilbo, he was involved in translating this book of stories lent to him from the libraries of Imladris by the Lord Elrond. Once his translation was complete he had me copy the stories over to make a book, and he taught me how to bind the pages together into a proper volume. I made three copies of this particular book, two of which Bilbo retained in his own library. This was the last of those, and as I copied it I was moved from time to time to draw illustrations, usually drawing scenes I saw in those dreams brought about by the stories I was copying.
By the time I drew the picture for this chapter I had myself met Elves from among those who from time to time will stay for a few days or a season in the wilder parts of the Shire or who travel between the Elven Lands of Rivendell, Lothlorien, and Mirkwood and the Elven Havens at Mithlond. Many of those I had seen I used as models for the pictures I drew. I have no idea if the piers of the Grey Havens are as I have drawn them or if they are different; but I drew them as I saw them in my imagination. I had no idea I would ever find reason to seek out that harbor myself, much less ever consider taking ship there.
Unto only a very few with mortal blood has been granted the right to sail West to the Undying Lands. They tell me I may dwell there for a time, on the Isle of Tol Eressëa, until the proper time for my death according our kind must come upon me. I may not return here to the Mortal Lands; I may not go further to the mainland of Aman itself. It is unlikely I will ever see the faces of the Valar. I will dwell mostly among Elves who dwelt for some time here in the Mortal Lands, Elves who have chosen to remain there on the threshold of Aman for a time. I grieve that I must bring reminder of the losses they saw here in the Mortal Lands before them once again, and the understanding of what death means before those who have never seen such an occurrence. Yet this is where I must go.
At least I know that I will one day see you again, after I have passed from the bounds of Arda. Perhaps that time will come soon, or perhaps it will be delayed by some years yet. Yet I know it will come in time, and that knowledge itself is a relief for me. I find I don’t envy the Elves their immortality, for I will be reunited with those I love most truly soon enough.
Know I will carry with me the remembrance of your love, and I hope it will hearten me to remain for a time within the bounds of Arda.
Your cousin Frodo Baggins
As she finished reading the letter she saw acceptance and understanding in the eyes of Dianthus and Cando, and the beginnings of it in Dorno’s eyes as well. Bucca was nodding as if he realized this was right and proper; Will appeared simply confused, but somehow reassured even if he didn’t understand it all.
Mina carefully refolded the paper and slipped it back between the two pages where Frodo had originally placed it. Then she returned the book to her granddaughter, realizing Dianthus would treasure this always, and her children would come to look on it as a precious heirloom.