After second breakfast the next morning they went out. A wind was still blowing, but it was considerably warmer than they’d seen in some months. The clouds had mostly blown away eastward, and the sky was now almost completely clear, with scudding clouds here and there against a washed blue.
Many stood on the rise outside the main doors to Brandy Hall and looked westward toward the river, and saw what appeared to be a great lake spread across the land on both sides of where the river ought to be. Bard could see the rise of the hill into which River Place had been dug, and the lower one on which the alders and the willow grew where Frodo had met them two days earlier. “They look like islands,” he commented.
“For the moment they are,” Bilbo answered him, young Frodo lifted to his shoulder as he ran an experienced eye over the waterscape below them. He turned to look at where Primula stood, Drogo’s arm securely about her, slightly behind him and to his left.
“I suppose it will have drowned the garden again,” she sighed.
Drogo nodded reluctantly. “The one good thing is the rich silt it will leave behind, if it’s anything like the last time,” he said. He turned to look down at her. “We could go back once it’s dried out again, love, but we know it will only happen again--and probably again after that. I think we’d best look at moving again, don’t you?”
“You’re right, Drogo,” she said sadly. “I don’t really want to do so, but I think we have to be realistic.”
“I see why Gart called it River Place, with the river moving into it on occasion,” Drogo said, looking back at the hill with regret. “However, from now on in my mind at least it will be known as Drogo’s Folly.”
Primmie laughed. “It’s as much mine as yours, love.” She shook herself. “I think I want to go in again,” she said.
Over the next two days Primula appeared cheerful enough, although Bard realized it was somewhat forced. Drogo, whom Bard learned was a carpenter and joiner, went through many of the rooms in Brandy Hall seeing to it that wardrobes and dressers were solid and renewing the glue for some older chairs and benches, intent on having some employment for his hands while they waited for the waters to abate.
Merimac had been down to the abandoned smial the first afternoon, reporting that the water had risen slightly better than a foot from what he could tell. On the third day, the water of the river almost all drained back within its proper banks, Drogo, Bilbo, and Bard, accompanied by an irrepressible Frodo, walked back down to River Place to examine the damage for themselves.
Two of the shutters on the river side of the hill had been lost to the storm, and one of the windows was gone. Tree branches lay in the garden on that side, left behind from the detritus carried by the racing flood.
The missing window was to what had been the room in which Bilbo had slept, and all within it appeared to be covered with mud and was still totally soaked. “Looks as if we got out just in time,” Bilbo sighed. Drogo nodded.
The lowest drawer of the dresser in the dining room was water stained, but they couldn’t see signs of warping, although that in the kitchen hadn’t gotten off so lightly. “I’ll have to redo the lowest drawer, the legs, and the bottom,” Drogo said. A chest in Frodo’s room and the blanket chest in the main bedroom had managed to keep out the water, and again there was staining, but no apparent need to do more than let them dry under controlled conditions and see then restained and put back to use.
Bard went back out into the garden where Frodo had stayed while the older Hobbits checked inside the smial, looking into one of the puddles which remained. The child looked up at his older cousin with a preoccupied air. “Come and look,” he invited. “There’s a great fish here!”
The child was right--in the puddle a large trout had been stranded. Bard smiled. “Would you like to have trout for dinner?” he asked.
“Could we?” Frodo asked.
In answer Bard went to fetch one of the stouter sticks from the other side of the smial, and catching it in the fish’s gills he lifted it out of the puddle just as the older two Hobbits emerged from the hole, bringing with them a couple chests of clothing for the family for the time being.
“What have we here?” asked Drogo.
“We caught a fish,” his son explained. “Can we eat it tonight, do you think?”
“Why not?” Drogo asked, smiling at last. “At least one good thing come out of the flood.”
And with somewhat better cheer they headed up to the Hall again.
On the fifth day they returned to the smial in the low hill by the river, accompanied by Esmeralda and a few others, all intent on seeing to it the place was fully cleaned. Primula, Bard noted, was constantly being returned to the parlor and made to sit down; but the moment eyes were taken off her she would slip into one of the rooms to clean up silt or sort through linens and clothing or take down curtains. Bard and Bilbo helped as they could, and by nightfall all were satisfied that the hole could be lived in again by the next day.
But somehow the knowledge that the flood had occurred dampened the pleasure of knowing it was again habitable. It was as if, having allowed the water to enter, the smial wasn’t quite trustworthy any more. And Bard noted after they’d returned to stay there the next day that Cousin Drogo was now examining paneling and plaster as well as lower cupboards and shelves, concern in his eyes. “This will have to be done all over yet again,” he said, “if we were to stay, that is.”
“I know you love the place,” Bilbo said. “I’ll gladly help if you’d like me to.”
“But it would only need to be done again in a few years time,” Drogo objected. “No, we’ll stay a few months until I can arrange for us to move. But I’m not certain where we’ll go.”
“How about Whitfurrow?” suggested Primula from where she sat in her chair in the parlor, working rods through the recently cleaned curtains so they could be rehung. “It’s about midway between the center of the Shire and here, and we’ve both liked it, after all.”
“It’s an idea,” Drogo admitted as the rest of the group joined her.
“What family do you have there?” Bilbo asked.
“Some from Dad’s mum’s side,” Primula said. “And a few Goolds by marriage.”
“And some from my mother’s side as well,” Drogo added. “It’s not as if we had no ties there at all. We’d be less than a day’s journey from anywhere we’d want to visit. Who knows--perhaps we’d be able to convince my brother and his family to actually visit us there--Camellia isn’t particularly fond of traveling all the way here, after all. And maybe we’d even get Dora to visit there as well. She refuses to travel here as she hates staying at inns along the way. Never has quite approved of inns, my sister. And, I think, the Brandywine frightens her.”
“Since we moved here to Buckland you’re the only Baggins who comes to see us, Bilbo,” Primula said. “Not even Ponto and Iris will come this side of the Brandywine ‘where folks are so strange’.”
“Plain foolishness,” Bilbo grunted. “They’re no more strange here in Buckland than anywhere else I’ve traveled, and that’s saying quite a lot. Save, of course, for the Brandybuck enjoyment of swimming, mind you.”
“As if,” Primula laughed, her eyebrows raised, “you didn’t enjoy a swim yourself from time to time.”
“Just don’t tell Dora,” Bilbo cautioned. “She already is half convinced that Lobelia’s right about me, you know. If she knew I swim on occasion she’d be in no doubt.”
Still laughing, Primula added, “Lobelia Sackville-Baggins doesn’t know the half of it about you, does she? Talking to Men and Elves and Dwarves as well as dragons....”
“She certainly knows about Dwarves,” Bilbo said, shaking his head. “They continue to visit me from time to time, after all. Received a letter from Balin not that long ago, you know. Quite a decent chap, Balin son of Fundin.”
“And they say we Bucklanders are strange,” Drogo laughed. “Yes, I’ll admit it--I’ve become somewhat of a Bucklander at last.”
“He only refuses to learn to swim properly is all,” Primula said, smiling fondly into her husband’s eyes.
The door opened and Frodo came in accompanied by another small Hobbit child his age and what appeared to be the child’s mother. Drogo smiled at the Hobbitess. “Carnation! Thanks for bringing our lad back down to us. Has he been giving you any problems?”
“No,” Carnation answered. “Both Frodo and Brendi have been examining the areas where the water stood deepest.” She looked back at where Frodo was trying to get the door to shut properly. “What is it, Frodo?”
“It won’t shut, Aunt Carny. It’s sticking.”
Drogo went to examine it. “I think it’s just the door frame’s a bit wet,” he advised his son. “When it dries the door should open and close properly. If not, it’s not much to sand it back into shape. And what have the two of you been doing? Have you been staying away from the river bank?”
“Yes, Daddy,” Frodo answered him, while Brendi nodded and echoed,
“Yes, Cousin Drogo.”
Frodo continued, “We’ve been looking through the mud and things the water left behind. I found an old pot that was mostly broken, and inside it was this.” He reached into his pants pocket and brought out a green stone disk with a hole in the center of it, handing it to his father to examine. “What is it, Daddy?”
Drogo examined it with interest, then handed it to Primula, who in turn passed it on to Bilbo. The older Hobbit turned it over with curiosity, then held it down where the two little ones could look at it more closely. “The stone is one the Dwarves told me is called aventurine. They use it for some fine beadwork, boxes, and the like, and carve it into small ornaments,” he said. “Look here, how pale a green it is, and how the light shines through it, and the tiny black speckles.”
Frodo’s face was lit with pleasure as he reached one finger to gently stroke the disk. “Do you think Dwarves carved this?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” Bilbo said, turning it to look at it from several angles before passing it to Bard to examine. “Doesn’t have the feel of something Dwarves would carve. Nor does it have the delicacy of Elven work. No, I suspect that this was shaped by Men.”
“Really?” Frodo looked up at Bilbo with deep interest, his cheeks growing quite pink.
The older Baggins nodded. “It has a solid feel to it that I’ve come to associate with Men.”
“What’s it for?” Carnation asked.
Bilbo shrugged. “Hard to say. Perhaps just an ornament, or it might have been worn on a thong or ribbon about someone’s neck. According to the old stories, rounded stones with holes in them were considered good things to have, for it was believed that when you looked through the hole in the center you would see things as they are and not as they only appear to be.”
“So, they’d be useful to see past glamours,” Primula commented.
“What’s a glamour?” Frodo immediately asked.
“A sort of spell to make something appear to be somewhat different than it actually is,” Bilbo explained.
Bard, who was still holding the stone disk in his hand, lifted it to look at Frodo through it. “Well,” he said decisively, “apparently there’s not a glamour on you, Frodo Baggins, for you still look like a small Hobbit who’s full of questions, even through this.” He turned it toward Bilbo, then paused, for through the isolation of the hole somehow the old Hobbit appeared taller, more noble. But when he dropped the stone and looked at Bilbo directly he looked as he always did--slightly shorter than average, his eyes bright and clever, his expression hiding jokes and secret thoughts. He looked again at Frodo through it, and saw the intense interest reflected in the expressive eyes, the delicacy of the face, the strong character already making itself clearly seen. Again he dropped his hands away from his face, looked once more at the disk, then handed it to the other child to examine.
Brendi wasn’t quite as tall as Frodo, although he was built much like him and with hair almost as dark as Frodo’s own, but with more of a reddish tone to it. His eyes were a darker blue-grey than Frodo’s, but his nose and brows were distinctly from the Brandybucks. The expression on the child’s face was as intent and curious as that on Frodo’s, Bard realized. Brendi looked through the hole in the stone disk first at Bilbo and then Frodo, then paused and pulled it away. He rather quickly handed it back to his younger Baggins cousin, then turned to Bilbo. “You think Men made it round like that?” he asked.
“Yes, I suspect they did.”
“But how did it get here?” Bard asked. “Men don’t live in the Shire.”
“Not now, but that wasn’t always true,” Bilbo explained. “After Elendil the Tall of Númenor and those from his ships blown here to the northern coasts of Middle Earth created the great Kingdom of Arnor, they filled all of the lands west of the Misty Mountains with their descendants, to the point that the time came when there were so many people living in Arnor it was split into three kingdoms. Here where we live was called Cardolan; and although not that many Men appear to have lived in the lands west of the Baranduin, as they called the Brandywine, there were a fair number who settled here on its eastern shore. When the Brandybucks built the old mill, they built it on the foundations of another one, one which had been built by Men; and in many of the fields farmed by the folk of Buckland the foundations of old houses, barns, and other buildings can be found.
“King Argeleb the Second of Arthedain granted the lands of the Shire west of the Baranduin to Hobbits from the Breelands that desired lands of our own. These lands were largely empty at the time, but only because first warfare and then a great plague had killed most of the Men who once lived here. Those who survived of the Dúnedain mostly moved either north toward Lake Evendim or east into what was once the portion of Arnor that was called Rhuadar. Then the Oldbucks chose to move east of the Brandywine, as it was now called. and they changed their family name to Brandybuck and called the new lands they claimed Buckland.
“This area used to be the part of Cardolan that was inhabited by their royal family, according to what I’ve been able to garner from the information Lord Elrond has given.”
Frodo looked impressed, and examined his find even more closely. “Then a prince may have carried this?” he asked.
“Yes, or one of the royal descendants of Elendil and Isildur themselves who served as King of Cardolan,” Bilbo smiled. “Although we must also accept that it might have been kept by a man-at-arms or a royal cook, or even a chambermaid. Perhaps one day you will be able to ask Lord Elrond himself and find out.”
There was a musty smell to the hole that appeared to bother all of them, and on their third day Primula came down with what appeared to be a severe cold. Drogo was most concerned, and spoke of returning to Brandy Hall for a few days while the smial was aired out, but Primula refused. Drogo finally went up to the Hall to consult with the healer, while Bilbo went out to walk with Frodo and Brendi along the river bank, looking for more treasures from the days when kings of Men lived in what was now Buckland. Bard stayed in the smial with Cousin Primula, bringing her mugs of chicken broth, cider, and herbal teas and stacks of clean handkerchiefs. She was doing a fair amount of sneezing when suddenly she went stark white. “No!” she cried aloud. “No! Not now!”
Bewildered, Bard paused in the doorway and turned to look at her. She looked at him, her eyes stricken. “Run, Bard--run and fetch Drogo and the midwife--hurry, lad. Mistress Menegilda, too. Tell them----” She was taken with what appeared to be a great cramp in her stomach, and what she’d intended to say was lost. Bard suddenly recognized what must be happening, and he turned to run through the smial for the side door, which was closest to him, and pelted toward the front door of Brandy Hall.
Drogo was on his way back, accompanied by Mistress Menegilda and one of the healers. The three stopped momentarily to see his break-neck career for the Hall, then hurried forward to come to him. “What is it?” demanded Drogo.
“She sent me to the Hall, bade me call you, the midwife, Mistress Gilda!” Bard panted out. He needed say no more.
Mistress Menegilda paled. “Go on to the Hall, have them send Mistress Poppea down to River Place as soon as she can get there,” she said. “We will go now.”
“Where’s Frodo?” demanded Drogo.
“Out, walking along the riverbank with Cousin Bilbo. I took her some more handkerchiefs. She was sneezing----”
The three nodded. “Go, then,” Mistress Gilda commanded; then turning, she lifted her skirts and began running down toward the sunken smial by the river.
By the time Bard, accompanied by Master Rory and cousin Esmeralda, returned to Primula and Drogo’s home, about a half hour later, it was already over. Primula Brandybuck Baggins had lost her child, and she was prostrated by grief. Mistress Poppea had done her best to stop further hemorrhaging; Menegilda was carrying out heavily stained sheets and blankets, and the healer carried out a small, covered basket that held what was left of the hope for a second living child.
Bilbo and the two children hadn’t returned yet, having taken sufficient food with them to allow them to explore past luncheon. On speaking quietly with the burdened healer, the Master and Esme gave their own cries of grief, then Rory turned to hurry into his younger sister’s home. Esme paused to turn to Bard. “It would have been a daughter this time,” she said. “Do you have any idea which way Bilbo went with the lads?”
“Downstream, I think,” the young Hobbit answered her.
“Go after them and fetch them back. It will help her hang on to have her son at hand, I think.”
Bard thought on that, then nodded and hurried on the new errand. He found them within moments, already returning back along the river bank. Bilbo paused as he saw Bard’s approach, and put his hand on Frodo’s shoulder, halting his progress. Once their Took cousin had come even with him, he appeared to divine what had happened by the expression on Bard’s face. “She miscarried again?” Bilbo asked simply. Bard merely nodded. Bilbo gave a gasp of breath that sounded like a cry bitten off, then gave a nod to his own head. “We’re coming, then.”
Yet he didn’t hurry forward right away, instead turned Frodo toward him. “Lad,” he said gently, “while we were gone there was a--an accident--with your mother. She’ll be all right, but for now she’s very shaken and upset. She’d so hoped to be able to give you a new little sister or brother, but it appears it won’t be so after all.”
“A daughter,” Bard gasped out. “She lost a daughter, the healer told us.”
Bilbo’s face went paler. “A new sister it would have been for you, Frodo my lad. But she came far too soon, before she was ready. Your mummy will need you by her, to help her with her grief. Do you think you can be brave for her?”
It was obvious Frodo didn’t understand it all, but he nodded, and then they were hurrying onward. As they approached the gate Bilbo signed for Bard and Brendi to remain outside. Then, a few moments later, Esme, paler than she’d been before, came hurrying out. “Go to the Hall, and fetch Master Beldir back again,” she said. “Frodo’s fainted right away.”
Drogo and Primula were moved that afternoon back to their quarters in the Hall, Master Beldir and Mistress Gilda both having declared the mold found growing since the flood in the walls of the smial by the river unhealthy for all. An additional week Bard and Bilbo remained in Buckland, and both Dudo and Dora Baggins came with Dudo’s family to the comfort of their brother and his wife.
Within a few days both Frodo and Primula were recovering, but there appeared to be a good deal of concern shown the small lad.
Bard saw the family next at Yule when all came to the Great Smial for the feast. Frodo was taller, and was definitely the tallest of those of nine years present. His family indeed had moved to Whitfurrow in the Eastfarthing, and his description of the new smial was lyrical. But there was a gravity to the child Bard didn’t remember from the previous spring, although that began to relax as he made friends with young Reginard Took, who was but five months younger than his Baggins cousin.
The news a few years later that Drogo and Primula Baggins, during a visit to Brandy Hall, had drowned in the Brandywine shook the entire Shire. Bard and many others from the Great Smial and the Tooklands attended the funeral, including Cousin Ferumbras himself. There were rumors Frodo wouldn’t attend the internment, but he came nonetheless to the graveside accompanied by Bilbo, who kept protectively at the lad’s side throughout all.
Gossip indicated the lad was sickly, but Bard could see no sign this was true. As pale as ever--yes; sickly, no. Slender, yes; but composed and with a marked dignity to his bearing as he faced all his relatives and greeted them properly and accepted their compassion and scrutiny.
After that the rumors continued to circulate about the Baggins lad--he had a weak heart; he was a terror throughout Buckland and the Marish for his pranks and raids on the farms and dairies; he was a strong swimmer who’d saved three fishermen caught in a flood; he was likely to die if he did aught stressful. Then came the news that at the last Bilbo Baggins had taken his courage in both his hands to face down Rory and Menegilda Brandybuck, taking Frodo as his own ward, removing him from Buckland to come to live in Bag End in Hobbiton, above the smial where he’d been born; and that was when Bard’s sympathies toward the younger lad died, for by then the two of them were rivals for the affections of Paladin and Eglantine’s oldest daughter Pearl.
And now all that was past, also, for Isumbard Took, one of the legal minds of the Great Smial and an advisor to the Thain himself as well as his son-in-law as Pearl’s husband, had found himself giving over his envy of Frodo Baggins during the months Frodo had served in this office. Every individual now within the Mayor’s office grieved equally for Frodo’s absence from the Shire.
It was Brendilac Brandybuck who reached out for the green disk Sam had set atop the Princess’s childish pictures. He held it in his hands and shared a look with Meriadoc, heir to the Master of Buckland and Knight of Rohan. He smiled as he held it. “The morning he was to leave Buckland Frodo slipped away alone from the Hall, and Merry and I went in search of him. We guessed he’d have gone to the old mill building, the one left dry when the stream which had powered it had shifted its bed. He wasn’t sad to be leaving--not really. He was keeping his growing excitement and all pretty closely contained--he’d become good at that during the last few years, for any time he grew greatly excited or upset Mistress Menegilda would watch him so carefully as if she feared he might fall down at any minute.
“He’d decided to leave certain things behind. He didn’t take his journals, and I’d heard Cousin Sara telling how he’d been found the night before burning the last one.” Saradoc Brandybuck nodded in confirmation. “Now he was leaving this behind him, for he said it was a part of the Brandybuck Frodo he wouldn’t be any more. He used to carry it everywhere when he was a lad, and said it was his lucky piece. Now he said he didn’t need that lucky piece any more; and as it perhaps had come from the household of the King of Cardolan he was leaving it in the remains of what had been as much the King’s mill as it had been the Hall’s mill for so long.” Brendi looked up to catch Sam’s eyes. “And that’s where you found it?”
Sam nodded. “Yes, that’s where I found it. Mr. Merimac took me there, to show me part of where it was as he’d loved most there in Buckland.”
Brendi smiled, lifted it up and looked at the smooth, translucent stone. “Bilbo said the Dwarves call this stone aventurine, but that he thought it had been shaped by the Men of Cardolan, one of the three kingdoms Arnor had been divided into during the days our land was as heavily populated by the descendants of Númenor as was Gondor. He said that such stones were believed to be useful in detecting glamours, for if you raised it to your eye and looked through it you’d see not what something appeared to be but what it actually was.” He peered through it at Sam, and smiled. He then passed it to Bard, who also peered through it for a time, before returning it to the Brandybuck. As he replaced the stone on Sam’s desk Brendi’s smile widened. “An interesting superstition, don’t you think, Mayor Samwise?”
Sam’s eyebrows lifted. “Yes, indeed an interesting superstition. I’ll have to keep that in mind.”
A time later Brendilac Brandybuck, Fosco Baggins, and Isumbard Took left the Mayor’s office together. Finally as they approached the inn’s door Brendi said quietly, “When I looked at Sam through it I seemed to see a great lord, his eyes keen and discerning.”
Bard nodded. “I saw the same.” Then, after a moment, he added, “It was much as I saw Bilbo, so many years ago.”
The two of them looked at one another, and smiled. Brendi opened the door to the inn and gestured for Bard and Fosco to precede him.