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7
Heart Breaking

Heart Breaking


When those in Bag End rose from their luncheon, they found Frodo had left the parlor. A cool draft led them to the discovery the door was slightly ajar, and a harsh, persistent coughing indicated Frodo was now outside.

“Has he caught a cold?” asked Estella, concerned.

Budgie Smallfoot’s face was set as he explained quietly, “No--that’s a part of the failing of his heart.”

“It comes and goes, usually worst when he wakes up or has been exertin’ hisself,” Sam commented, “although it happens more often now, it seems.”

Budgie nodded. “It’s a sign things are getting worse.” Grief and a sense of inevitability could be seen in his expression.

“Why is he so certain,” Estella asked in a near-whisper, “he’ll be dead by the eighth?”

Sam’s throat was tight as he answered, “It was three years ago as he was stabbed by the Lord of the Black Riders. First year we was comin’ home when the memories hit him, and he went white but kept on anyways. Second year--last year, he was hurtin’ some that mornin, but went on to Budgeford to the birthday party for your brother and Mr. Budgie here, and it was worse that evenin’, I understand. Has been ill in the springs on the anniversaries of when the spider poisoned him as we entered Mordor, too. He’s weak enough now, and what with his heart givin’ out, he don’t think as he’ll make it through this bout comin’, and Lord Elrond and Gandalf agree.”

“As do I,” Budgie added, his own voice tight.

“But how does this memory thing figure in? How can someone become ill on an anniversary of when he was hurt?”

Merry gave a deep sigh, and glanced around the room. When he spoke, it was obvious he felt uncomfortable discussing the topic. “For him there are several things that can trigger the memories and all. Rainstorms seem to affect all of us, especially if there’s lightning and thunder--we’ll all have nightmares, and feel very uncomfortable even when we’re awake. If the wind blows a cloud just so between the Sun and me I’ll tense up and expect to see the--Nazgul approaching on that winged thing he rode. If someone mentions Nazgul or--or Black Riders my right hand goes cold, and if I’m already upset it will ache.

“Frodo doesn’t like to talk about what he feels or his nightmares, but I know it’s worse than what Pippin and I know, which can be bad enough. He was warned that the wound to his shoulder won’t ever heal, and it often aches. I know red lights bother him--he’ll cringe if he sees one. He won’t agree to wear a ring, and can barely bring himself to touch one, even; and at the sound of a cringing voice he’ll tighten up. But for him, apparently on the anniversaries of----”

“On the anniversaries of the worst woundings I relive the whole thing,” Frodo said from just inside the door as he pushed it shut behind him. “It is very confusing, for the memories overlap.” He came in further and sat in his chair. He wore his Elven cloak, and was holding onto the pendant jewel, Sam noted.

“That first time--we were crossing the Bruinen at the fords, and I found myself reluctant to encourage Strider into the water. Suddenly----” He stopped, his chin raised and his expression became distant. He swallowed. “I could see them, all nine of them, and the pale King riding forward before the others, raising his sword. But I was also in the dale there below Amon Sul, slashing at him and catching his black cloak, then he was advancing on me--and--and stabbing my shoulder.”

His lips were going almost blue, and Sam worried for him. “That ought to be enough for her to begin to understand, Mr. Frodo, sir,” he said. “Don’t worry about tellin’ more, not now. No need to relive it afore it comes. She was only wonderin’ why it is as you have the memories hit on the anniversaries in especial.” He turned to Estella. “For the longest time Mr. Frodo’s memories of what happened there after the Emyn Muil was almost lost to him, and our Lord Strider told me as it happens that way, sometimes. Says often the worst is hidden away for a time, only it can come back on one, and nobody can say for certain as what’ll spark the memories. Just talkin’ about what happened can put me back there in that brown dark time, and I almost taste the dead ash in my mouth, I do, or hear the orcs screamin’ at us. A sound, a flash o’ light, a movement...you never know as what’ll spark it.”

Viola turned curiously toward Pippin. “Are there things that bother you, too, Mr. Peregrin?”

The younger Hobbit looked about, then shrugged. “Yes,” he admitted. “The weather. Since I got back I can’t go near the flames of a bonfire, and when someone burns a roast it can make me feel physically ill. A large bird flies overhead and I start wanting to duck down, as if I were a rabbit hiding from a hawk. And certain movements by others....” He looked questioningly at Merry, who nodded.

“Yes, I know. Anything that moves like an orc.” Both shuddered.

“We didn’t know,” Estella said softly, her eyes meeting those of Merry. “There was no way we could know.”

*******


Viola fetched a mug of the soup and a half a roll liberally spread with butter for Frodo, and set herself to watch him eat what he could take, and Brendi saw to it he had a mug of Sam’s tea by him. The lawyer then set himself to describing his recent journey to Hardbottle to the company, who all laughed at the descriptions given of Bartolo Bracegirdle’s obvious rage at having been supplanted by Brendi as personal lawyer to the Bracegirdle family head.

Frodo drank most of what had been brought to him and ate the roll, his expression thoughtful. “I hate to see Benlo treat Bartolo that way,” he said. “Bartolo’s extraordinarily honest and painstaking, and in spite of his tendency to speak out precisely what’s on his mind, he’s actually a very good Hobbit and a wonderful father and husband. Delphie and their children plainly adore him.”

“It’s mostly due to the way he’s spoken out about you, Frodo,” Freddy pointed out. “I don’t know that Bartolo Bracegirdle has had a decent thing to say about you in his lifetime.”

“Perhaps before you were born he might have,” Merry joked.

Frodo shrugged.

“We were a bit surprised to see you gone from the parlor when we came back in,” Merry told him. “You looked to be dozing fairly peacefully.”

“I appear to have slipped sideways, and was quite uncomfortable when I woke up. I was having trouble breathing. I thought perhaps the air outside might be easier to breathe.” He rubbed at his eyes. “Perhaps I’d feel more rested if I just went properly to bed,” he said. “If you’ll excuse me....” He rose and carefully removed his cloak, surrendering it to Rosie before heading off down the passage toward his room.

“Rosie my love,” Sam said quietly, “you’ve not been out in days. Why don’t you and the other lasses go off and spend the afternoon elsewhere--give yourselves a time away. He’ll be all right for now.”

“Merry and I will do the dishes for you,” Pippin offered.

“And Sam and I are perfectly capable of preparing tea,” Freddy added.

“And we’ll all see to Elanor,” Brendi promised.

With further coaxing from Viola and Estella, Rosie at last agreed. Once Elanor was installed on a blanket on the floor with some of her favorite toys, Rosie and the other ladies gathered their own cloaks and went out.

Soon after, the doorbell rang, and Begonia Rumble stood at the door with a large pot of chicken stew. “I’ve just seen young Pando, and he’s most upset,” she said quietly, “although he’s controlling himself well enough. He says as Mr. Frodo’s not well at all. Is it true?”

Sam took a shuddering breath. He knew Frodo didn’t wish for the entire region to know, but what was he to do? Pando Proudfoot had eyes to see, after all. “No, Missus Rumble, I’m sorry to say as he’s not doin’ well at the moment. However, he don’t want it noised all about Hobbiton and Bywater.”

“I understand. But the family’s gathering, like?”

Another one with eyes to see and a heart to understand, Sam noted. “Yes’m, they are.”

She sighed, her eyes infinitely sad. “I see,” she said. “I’ve some calves foot jelly put by--I’ll send it up, too. He may find he can stomach it better’n other things.”

“Thankee so much for your thoughtfulness, Missus Rumble, mum.”

“And I’ll be certain to keep an eye on your dad for you, Master Samwise.”

Sam flushed brightly. Widow Rumble had known him all his life. “I thankee, Missus Begonia, mum,” he said. “It has been a bit hard to get away these past few weeks. Glad as Daisy and Moro is keepin’ by him, and May and all.”

She took her leave. But an hour later Daddy Twofoot’s daughter-in-law was up with several loaves of fresh bread and three pots of assorted jams; then one of the Chubbs lads with the promised calves foot jelly and a number of fresh-caught trout from the Water, followed by a Boffin from the village with a pot of beef broth.

Elanor had played for quite some time and had giggled as she was passed from hand to hand, bounced on knees and thrown into the air. Finally, sleepy and needing changing, she was returned to her father, who gave Pippin a suspicious glance while the Took returned his most endearing and innocent smile. Once the child was cleaned and changed, Sam slipped into Frodo’s room, and laid his daughter by his Master. Frodo roused a bit with a questioning expression, blinking and giving a cough, then smiling as he realized Elanor was at his side. He drew her closer, his expression gentle as he murmured in soft Sindarin to her, and she rolled against him and, with one fist to her mouth, she fell asleep. Frodo’s eyes closed, and with his other hand gently holding the Queen’s jewel, he dozed again.

*******


Rosie sat by him when Frodo woke again. He blinked to clear his eyes, coughed a bit, and pushed himself up higher against the cushions, noting that Elanor was still asleep. “Hello, Rosie.”

“Hullo, Master Frodo. Brought your tea for you, I did. Feel up to drinkin’ it?”

He nodded. She leaned over him and helped him sit up, waited until the coughing was over, then finally held the mug for him while he drank. “Thank you,” he said as he leaned back against the pillows again.

“Looked as if you was havin’ a nice dream,” she commented.

“I think I was dreaming Bilbo’s rescue by the Eagles,” he said. He listened. “It’s very quiet throughout the hole.”

“They sent us ladies off to get away some hours, and did well by the place while we was gone--I’ll give ’em that. So now it’s their turn. Takin’ a walk down along the Water. We’ve some fresh fish if’n you’d like some.”

Frodo was surprised to realize he was quite hungry. “Yes, but I’ll come out for it. I won’t be more of an invalid then I have to be. Thank you so much.”

He rose and redressed himself, ran a quick brush through his hair, and gave another cough that quite woke Elanor. “Now,” he said, “so you’re awake also, are you? Well, we’ll get you changed and take you to your mum. I’ll bet, my Elanorellë, you also are quite hungry, for you’ve been asleep for quite a time yourself.”

He carried her to the nursery and quickly had her cleaned up and changed, then walked to the kitchen with her. Rosie was sitting in her rocking chair with her own mug of tea to hand while Estella and Narcissa saw to the tea dishes and Viola saw to peeling potatoes for supper. He looked at the unfamiliar pots and bowls set on the kitchen dresser and on the work table and stopped. He looked at Rosie, dismayed. “They found out? How?”

“No one in the village knows the extent of it, Master Frodo,” she explained as she rose to take Elanor from him, “but it ’pears as some has figgered it out, sir. You have this many come, and some go and then come back again, and it’s hard not to realize as some’un’s failin’.”

Frodo sat down in his chair at the head of the table. Narcissa caught up the plate Rosie had prepared and set it before him and fetched him some cider. The fish was excellent and obviously quite fresh; the vegetables good, the mushroom sauce wonderful. He ate more than he’d been able to take in for a time, and sat back, sighing. “It’s hard to realize they care,” he said quietly. Rosie was seated again in her chair, a light blanket offering some privacy as Elanor nursed.

“Of course they care,” Narcissa said, turning from the shelf where she was putting plates away. “Really, Frodo Baggins--even if few in Hobbiton or Bywater have a great deal to do with you socially, they still care about one of their own. And who is it who usually sends food to anyone who’s reported the least bit under the weather almost before the other folk on the street know he’s ill if not you?”

Frodo shrugged. He drank his cider thoughtfully, looking up as Pippin swept into the kitchen with Rosie’s cat on his shoulder. “Found this one down on the Row, Rosie, stalking a bird. Now--what shall we do with--” he checked, “--her?”

“Nasturtium--what are we to do with you?” Rosie asked. “Always after the birds, she is, although she’s not brought any home, at least. Mice and rats and voles and all--yes; but not birds as yet.”

“We’re going to have a last pipe before we come in and finish that game of draughts Merry and I started earlier. Want to come out with us, Frodo?”

Frodo smiled. “Let me see this washed, and I’ll come after you,” he said.

He rose and took up plate and mug and started toward the sink, only to have Estella take them from him. “The other lads did the dishes earlier,” she said. “It’s our turn now. You can help after supper if you like.”

With all of them watching after him there was little he could do, so he nodded and went out, taking his cloak from the peg in the entranceway and donning it as he followed Pippin.

Budgie eyed him as he came out. “Sleep well, Frodo?” he asked as the Baggins sat down on the bench and accepted the cat from Pippin.

“Yes, actually, and I appear to have eaten well, also--for me, at least. And did you find anything wonderful down along the water?”

“There was the largest stork I’ve ever seen,” Pippin said, “Standing in the water and catching fish as they swam around his leg. It was quite fascinating, really.”

There was a sudden sparkle of light in the garden as a number of butterflies, predominantly yellow and blue in color, suddenly swept past the last flowers to dance in the westering sunlight before the door of Bag End, some lighting on the last nasturtiums and Sam’s gold and silver dahlias, the rest fluttering close to Frodo as he sat on the bench.

Sam noted that Frodo’s fascination with the sight communicated itself to the cat, for Nasturtium was sitting quite still on Frodo’s lap, one leg raised, frozen as it had been when she started to lift it to lick her paw, her attention also fixed on the sparkling curtain about them.

Unconsciously Frodo lifted his right hand, and one particularly shining one came closer, finally lighting on his finger. Frodo shone with delight and pleasure. Sam glanced at the cat, afraid Nasturtium would strike at it and ruin the moment, but she didn’t, even when a second one landed on her raised paw, although her eyes were fixed on the butterfly to the exclusion of all else. Several fluttered down to light in Frodo’s hair.

“Merry,” breathed Pippin, “do you see?”

“Yes,” Merry answered in a breathy whisper. “Almost like a living circlet!”

Frodo raised his eyes to meet Sam’s, and Sam thought of the times when he was but a little lad and Frodo nearly a Hobbit grown that he’d shone in just that way as he looked to share a moment of awe--when they’d watched a heron chick break out of its shell down by the Water, when they’d examined the shell-like constructions created by the water worms from the stream out of tiny beads and colored chips of stone, when they watched the surface of a pupa casing split open and a dragonfly emerge--youthful and full of delight at the beauty of life and the wonderful ways in which it was expressed.

“He doesn’t even know they’re there about his head, does he?” murmured Freddy.

“No, I don’t think he does.”

“Shh!”

“Neither does Sam realize he has them, too, I think,” Pippin added.

Frodo didn’t seem to hear. “Look Sam--here, hold out your hand....”

And as Sam did so, the butterfly crawled from Frodo’s finger to Sam’s fingertips, and Frodo’s Light flared more in satisfaction at this blessing shared.

*******


“What do you mean you can stay only three days, Uncle Paladin?” Isumbard asked.

“We have to go back, Bard. There’s only time to see to whatever can be attended to quickly. But we can’t stay away longer.”

“But why come all this way from Buckland only to turn around and go----”

“Not Buckland, Bard--Bag End. We’ve been there since the twenty-fourth.”

“But I thought Frodo wasn’t going to be home for his birthday and wouldn’t be throwing a party this time?”

“He wasn’t and didn’t. That’s not why we went there, for any party. We’ll need a couple sides of beef sent there, and perhaps a half a hog and about ten plucked roasters.”

“What?”

“I want to be prepared for whoever might come. We’ve lived too much off of Frodo’s bounty this last week. Oh, and a half a hundredweight of potatoes--we’ve been eating what Sam and the Gaffer had on hand, but they’ll need something for the winter, Sam and Rosie and those on the Row. And we’ll need to take Yellowskin with us.”

“But why--?” But the reason finally hit home. Bard felt sick with a combination of grief, fear, and anger. “Not Frodo?”

Paladin Took hesitated briefly, then gave a nod. “He’s finally coming to it, Bard. Gandalf came to bid goodbye.”

“When did he die?”

“Not yet--he’s not died yet, but he’s very close now. A matter of days, probably.”

Bard sighed, straightened to his full height--until Pippin’s return from parts unknown he’d been the tallest Hobbit in the entirety of the Tooklands--and prepared to see to the Thain’s orders. “May Pearl and the children and I return with you?”

“You’ll have to stay at the Dragon, I fear. Bag End is almost full now, and will be near the bursting point when we return. Mac should arrive about the time we do, and Sara wants him there at hand when--when it comes. I rode ahead--the carriage should be here shortly.”

The word swept through the whole of the Great Smial in moments, or so it seemed. By the time the Thain and his lady were ready to leave on the afternoon of the fourth there were several who were ready to go with them--Bard, Pearl; and their two children; Pimpernel and Ferdi and young Piper; Pervinca and her husband Maligar Bolger; old Bernigard and two of his pupils; Everard, Tolly, Hillie, and others who’d helped in the Mayor’s office during Frodo’s days as deputy Mayor. The wagons of goods had been sent before them, along with a bullock and several chickens being sent to the best butcher in Hobbiton.

As they reached the Road they were joined by a party from Michel Delving--the Mayor and his wife Mina and a few others. They turned eastward toward the turn to Hobbiton....

*******


Oridon Goodbody and Gander Proudfoot didn’t turn from Emro Gravelly’s glare or Lilac’s shrill denial. “I’m afraid as it’s not the sort o’ invitation as you can turn down for the twins,” Gander said, shaking his head. “They’re needed, and on Baggins business.”

“But they’re not Bagginses!” Lilac cried.

Oridon sighed. “Their dad was, and that makes them Bagginses. You were allowed to foster them, not adopt them, you know. Fosco will be family head for the Bagginses soon enough, you see....”

“I ain’t leavin’ my farm,” interrupted Emro.

“You’re not expected to, and the children won’t be leaving either,” Oridon replied. “Fosco will be family head, not Master of Bag End.”

“He won’t?” Lilac asked, startled out of her hysterics of a moment before.

“No, he won’t. Fosco will be family head, but Frodo’s chosen a different primary heir.”

“But what other Baggins is there as he’d adopt?” asked Emro.

Gander and Oridon exchanged glances. “Fosco and Forsythia already are heirs to their parents’ estate as well as heirs to that portion of your estate you’ve promised them, as well as the farm shares they own from you and their real folks and what they’ll probably inherit from Daisy and Griffo Boffin when that time comes--hopefully not for some years yet. They don’t need Bag End, too, and don’t particularly want it, either. And Frodo Baggins is certainly entitled to choose his own heir, isn’t he?”

“So, all right, what’s this about? Why does Baggins want the children there?” Emro demanded.

“It’s Baggins business,” Gander repeated. “I’ll be a’takin’ them to Hobbiton, and I’ll bring ’em back when it’s done with.”

There was nothing else the Gravellies could do. Forsythia was already coming back to the door to the farmhouse from the corridor to the bedrooms, leading her brother, each of them carrying satchels of clothes necessary to see them through about a week. Sythie kissed her foster parents, and Fosco gave each a hasty hug, then the two of them climbed into Gander’s trap for the trip to Hobbiton. And when Lilac searched for the letters Oridon had brought for her foster children so she could figure out what the to-do was about, she realized they’d taken those letters with them, too.

*******


They were sitting down to supper when the wagons rattled up the lane to Bag End. Sam went out, surprised.

“We were told by the Thain to bring these,” said one of the carters. “Where should we put them?”

Sam watched as sides of beef and packages of pork and several cured hams and slabs of bacon and several cleaned and plucked chickens were brought in and installed in the cold room; and as bags of potatoes, turnips, and parsnips were taken through to the old cold room. He showed them where to put a couple of bushels of beans and another couple of baskets of peas still in the pods; and watched in surprise as boxes of wrapped eggs were also unloaded, along with two sacks of walnuts and hazelnuts and a case of jars of preserves. At last it was all neatly and carefully stored away, and the carters and their helpers were politely and most respectfully taking their leave. As Frodo stood, leaning against the door to the dining room to find out what the fuss was about, they each paused by him, quietly murmuring their respects before they let themselves out, then turned to take their ponies and wagons back to the Tooklands.

Sam went back to his interrupted dinner totally flustered, looking across at Frodo, who’d returned to his own seat with a shrug.

But the carters, when they returned home, carried the tale of the Thain’s cousin standing, leaning against the frame of the door, his face pale as porcelain, his eyes shadowed, a pale image of himself from the days the sight of Frodo Baggins rambling through the Shire was common.

*******


The Thain and Master and their parties returned to Bywater at sunset, and together walked up the Hill to Bag End about an hour later, having taken their meal at the Green Dragon. Frodo was seated on the bench with Merry and Freddy flanking him, Pippin, Folco, and Brendi and the Hobbitesses seated on the ground as Sam stood, leaning against the door cutting as he described the wedding feast for Lord Strider and the Lady Arwen. Now and then Merry or Pippin would interrupt him to add a detail, and the newcomers stood, watching and listening, as the tale progressed.

“Now, the pheasant as was served--never tasted the like afore,” Sam was saying.

“And to see the vegetables with a wine sauce and chopped nuts over them--I would never have thought to put a wine sauce on turnips, but whatever it was Aragorn’s cook did to it, it was superb.” Merry’s face was alive with the memory.

“Was it really so very good, Frodo?” Freddy asked.

“I don’t know, for I was given rice and a special sauce for it, with lots of finely diced beef and vegetables in it. I learned later that the Lady Arwen herself visited the kitchens and prepared it just for me, believing I could eat it. It’s the only sauce I’ve ever seen that made rice palatable.”

Eglantine Took was shocked. “You ate rice, Frodo Baggins?”

Pippin laughed. “Mum--what was he to do? His own personal healer had indicated he should be served it whenever he could be convinced to eat it; and when your healer is also your King, it doesn’t do well to try to say no to him.”

“I’d only eat it with the Queen’s own sauce on it, though,” Frodo sighed. “I was served a good deal of sauce of apples and curds and whey, so much so at times I felt I couldn’t bear to eat more of them. But I would eat them anyway in preference to rice.”

“Most of the time he’d just pick out the meat and vegetables and eat those and leave the rice,” Merry added, watching down the lane as two more figures came up it. “Who’s that?”

As they turned up the steps to Bag End and came through the gate to the hedge, it became obvious these were Griffo and Daisy Boffin. Daisy stalked up the steps so stiffly her steps could be heard, and all watched her with amazement. She looked about at the company gathered, spotted Frodo on the bench, and resumed her stalk until she was before him, at which time she went down on her knees to look him in the face. “What in Middle Earth is the meaning of this, Frodo Baggins?” she fumed, shaking a letter in his face. “Sun and Moon, you couldn’t let me know in a proper manner--you have to send me a letter to invite me to your funeral? And it takes Rico Clayhanger and Will and Mina Whitfoot to tell me that you, my own cousin, are dying?”

Tears where streaking her face, and Frodo closed his eyes. “Oh, Daisy--I didn’t want you to worry for me....”

“Worry for you? Yet you appear to have told half the Shire!” she said, waving at those who stood about the stoop.

Merry stood up. “Calm yourself, Daisy--he told only Freddy, Budgie, and Viola, and he swore even those to secrecy--oh, and Brendi, also. The rest of us either figured it out or were told by someone else, or came to find out what was going on. Gandalf hunted Pippin and me down and made us come. Frodo didn’t even tell Sam and Rosie until he couldn’t help it--not that they hadn’t figured it out already.”

Griffo stood stiffly and warily behind his wife, his eyes worried and sad. “Then, it’s true, Frodo?”

At last Frodo nodded. “I haven’t much time left. This--” he lifted the mug beside him, “is a special draught sent home with us by Elrond himself. It helps a good deal, but it can’t sustain me indefinitely.” He took a deep breath. “It’s likely that--that when it comes, it will strike quickly. I doubt when that happens I’ll be able to do much for myself from that point on. I may or may not be able to talk. I--I don’t know what precisely to expect. I’ll undoubtedly fight it for as long as I can, until--until I can’t any more. Then I’ll--let go. I hope the worst of the--the painful part will be over by then.”

The anger had drained out of Daisy, and she leaned forward and buried her face in her hands, crying. Frodo set the mug down, slipped from his seat with a quickly stifled gasp of pain, and reached out to draw her to him. “It’s all right, Daisy. I swear, it’s all right. I’ll get through it--well,” he said with a wry smile, “I suppose--I have no choice at this point.” Then he began saying things to her in Sindarin.

“What’s he saying?” Bard whispered to Sam.

“That he loves her and leaves only because he has no choice, that he’s glad as he could come back and see her home and happiness restored afore the end,” Sam said quietly.

A spasm of pain crossed Frodo’s face, and he stiffened. Daisy, shocked out of her grief, also went rigid in his arms, fearful she might have triggered the very shock of which he’d just spoken.

Budgie was immediately on his feet, hurrying forward to lay his finger along the pulse of the throat. He looked across at the Thain and Master, both of whom were also white with shock. “Another small seizure of his heart. Get that draught into him if he can take it,” he directed over his shoulder to Sam. The gardener nodded as he leaned over Merry to fetch the mug.

Frodo couldn’t accept it, however. Instead he began to retch, and Budgie roughly wrenched Daisy away as Merry knelt on the other side of Frodo to support him while Sam dropped the mug unheeded to place his hand on Frodo’s near shoulder. “It’s all right, my dear,” he said as steadily as he could. “It’s all right.”

Brendi went hurrying into the hole, back to the kitchen, to fetch Sam’s own tea, and Bard was keeping a reassuring hand on Ferdi’s shoulder, leaning forward to tell him what was happening. At last the retching was over, and all Frodo had eaten for dinner was lost. He knelt, weak and shaking, supported by Merry and Sam, Rosie slipping her apron off to wipe his face with it.

At last Budgie looked away from Frodo to Brendi, who’d come out with the teapot and a fresh mug, his hand shaking as he filled it. Frodo’s hands were shaking too hard to properly grasp it, so Sam took it and held it to Frodo’s lips. “Drink it slow, Mr. Frodo, sir. Drink it slow and steady.”

Frodo gave a weak nod, and sipped at it, rinsed out his mouth with it, then spat it out. Then and only then did he begin swallowing it. When he indicated he couldn’t take more, Sam nodded and pulled back.

Sara and Pal came forward. “We’ll see you into bed, Frodo. After a seizure such as this you need to rest.”

“Yes,” Frodo whispered, although it took Merry to get him to his feet, at which time the two older Hobbits each put a shoulder under an arm and took him back into the smial.

Griffo and Narcissa were supporting a white Daisy between them. Only when time had been given for Frodo to be taken back through the hole to the privy and the bedrooms did the others enter Bag End themselves, gathering in the parlor. Daisy was pressed into Frodo’s chair and Narcissa spread the laprug over her knees. Several faces were as pale as hers by this time.

Estella was shaking her head. “Then it is true, then.”

“No one was lyin’ to you, Miss Estella,” Rosie assured her.

“So I see,” Eglantine said. “This is what he almost came to, there in May, in the Great Smial.”

Freddy answered, “Yes. He definitely had at least one small seizure of his heart last spring while we were here--possibly two or three, Budgie told us.” He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then released it. “And last summer--the heat--his heart was laboring so--didn’t quite have one, but came so close to it.”

Bard was shaking. “He lost what he ate after he left your private parlor, Aunt Lanti. He was almost as bad as this then. I’ve seldom seen Willi so grim.”

Pippin was wiping away tears. “I’ll get a bucket of water--wash away where he was sick.”

Merry, who’d drawn Estella down to sit beside him on the wooden settle in the far corner of the room, gave his younger cousin a nod of approval. “Thank you, Pip. I’m a bit shaken myself. When I can stand again I’ll come help.”

Narcissa stood with her hands wrapped about her. “So, we’re getting closer, are we?”

Esmeralda put her arm around the younger Hobbitess’s shoulders. “So it would seem, dearling.”

*******


It was quite some time before Budgie came out. “He’s over the worst of it. Master Samwise, when you have time, if you could make a half portion of the draught for him. I fear to give him more than that right now, as I’m not certain how much he retained. Some of those herbs, if given more than what has been ordered, are very dangerous.”

Sam nodded. “I’ll go and get it started now, then,” he said as he rose and headed for the kitchen.

Only when Frodo had swallowed it and the water brought to wash away the taste did Budgie indicate the others might come, no more than one or two at a time, to reassure themselves that Frodo was recovering.

Sam knelt by the bed while Paladin went out to convey the healer’s words to the rest of the company. “You feelin’ any better, Master?” he asked.

“Yes,” Frodo whispered. “Don’t be afraid for me, Sam.”

“I suppose as it’s easier for you to say than for me to do, Frodo.”

Frodo smiled and his eyes closed. “Dying----”

The thought filled Sam’s mind, Dying isn’t an easy business, apparently.

After a moment of quiet, Sam asked, “Is it hard for you to talk, Mr. Frodo?

A weak nod. I wish I could explain it to you.

“Explain it to me?” Sam repeated aloud.

Frodo’s eyes opened with surprise. “You--you know what--what I’m thinking?”

“You thought that, Master?”

Another nod.

“What----How?”

Like the Lady--in Lothlorien, or when they were speaking mind to mind, there in Hollin...? Frodo took a breath and winced.

“I’ll leave and let the others come.”

“No.” Please stay by me Sam.

“Stay by you, Master?” Sam asked.

“Please.”

Budgie finally agreed, but had Sam sit in one of the wing chairs in the corner.

None stayed long. It was plain Frodo was quite weak, and most of them restricted themselves to holding his hand and wishing him well, his aunts leaning over to kiss his forehead and glad to see him smile back.

Daisy and Griffo were among the last. “I’m so sorry, Frodo,” Daisy said in a small voice.

“You--you couldn’t help it, Daisy. And--and it wasn’t really you. It--it was coming. Worse is coming. I’m sorry--sorry I hurt--I hurt you.”

“I was so foolish. I should have realized what might happen if--if I distressed you. You--you warned me, there in that foolish letter.”

Frodo held her hand, and she felt the fear leave her, realized, as weak as he was at the moment, Frodo truly didn’t blame her or wish her to feel guilty.

“I love you, you foolish Baggins, you. We need to go back--the twins should be here tomorrow, I think.”

He gave her hand a weak squeeze and let go. He looked up at Griffo.

“This was perhaps not the best way to break the news, Frodo Baggins.”

Frodo surprised them all by letting out a weak laugh. “Maybe not,” he whispered. “Thank you, Griffo--for--for everything.” Again his eyes closed. By the time the Boffins were gone and the next two entered, Frodo had fallen asleep, and his troubled breathing could be plainly heard.

Sam watched as the few left to come through did so, realizing Frodo was no longer awake, but leaning over to kiss his brow gently or squeezing his hand. Then he went to find some more pillows and help Budgie set them behind Frodo’s torso to lift him up higher.

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