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10
Laid to Rest

Laid to Rest


The ceilings of the rooms within of Bag End were among the highest Bartolo had ever seen in a private home within the Shire, but the only two places in which the King could stand truly upright were in the dining room and the parlor, and toward the centers of those chambers. He had to bend low in the passages, and watch his head for sconces, beams, and chandeliers. Bilbo had kept chairs fit for Big Folk, for Gandalf had certainly visited the smial often enough; and Barti soon learned such chairs had been set in those two rooms, along with a small folding table with long legs fit for one so tall in the dining room, one Gandalf had used often when he was writing within the smial.

The Man stooped to enter the dining room, straightened with a sigh of obvious relief, and sank into the tall chair. Several of those already within the room had risen at his entrance, and now seated themselves anew now he did so.

He looked around the room as those who’d attended the preparation of Frodo’s body filed in and found places to sit or stand. At last, when all had gone quiet, he spoke. “I greet you. I was born Aragorn son of Arathorn, who was in his own time chieftain of the Dúnedain of Arnor and heir of Elendil through his older son Isildur and their descendants Valandil and Arvedui and all between and after. Two and a half years past I became King of Gondor and Arnor and was granted marriage to the only one I had ever desired, largely through the offices of Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins, for it had been foretold that should Sauron, the Enemy of all the Free Peoples, be overthrown then and only then might I make claim for both the Winged Crown of Gondor and the Sceptre of Annúminas, making me the first King of both the southern and northern realms since my ancestor Isildur himself. And as a result I finally knew the joy of marriage to the one woman I had ever desired, for to no lesser personage than the King of the two realms reunited would her father surrender her, to know from our marriage on a mortal's life and a mortal's ending.”

“But I don’t see as how Hobbits of the Shire could of done anything to bring about the end of that one,” said Will Whitfoot, who was only now beginning to approach the weight he’d carried before his imprisonment by Lotho’s Big Men and Sharkey’s folk.

“Through constancy, dedication, and a marked stubbornness and loyalty rarely seen here in the mortal lands,” Aragorn said. “I am certain you have all heard the tales told by Bilbo Baggins of his journey long ago with thirteen Dwarves and one Wizard, and how he found a ring of invisibility.” At the indication of assent (and in a few cases some disbelief) he continued, “I, too, have heard them, for after he left the Shire Master Bilbo went first to revisit the Lonely Mountain and his friends among Dwarves in their home, and then returned back over the passes to Rivendell, where he dwelt among the Elves of that land at the invitation of Lord Elrond until a month past, when he accompanied many of the great Elves through the Shire westward, having been granted the grace to accompany them to Elvenhome. It was to meet with them and bid farewell to his beloved Uncle Bilbo that Frodo left Bag End and Hobbiton the day before their birthday. During my visits to Rivendell before the final battles with the Enemy and his creatures Bilbo befriended me, and told me often the stories of his own journey and those traditional to your people, and of those he knew and loved here in his homeland.”

“But why didn’t he come back here?” asked Griffo Boffin, whose hair was now going decidedly grey, Barti noted.

“That Ring Bilbo found was more than It appeared; and the fact he’d found and carried It so long made it very dangerous for him to stir out of the protection offered him by the Elven lands. Had he been found in the wilderlands, alone and unguarded, by any of the Enemy’s creatures he would have been captured and transported to Mordor, and imprisoned in the Enemy’s dungeons, then tortured until he told all he knew of It and of Imladris, Lord Elrond, myself, and of your own land and the current Ring-bearer. And had he remained here with the Ring in his possession It would have destroyed him, and would have drawn the Enemy’s most fell servants here the quicker.”

“Did you know what It was?” asked Paladin Took.

“Certainly. From my childhood I was educated--thoroughly--about Sauron, Mordor, the nature of evil and its creatures--and the Ring. Why do you think I never agreed to touch the foul thing, sir? Frodo offered to give It to me, you know, once he understood--or rather, believed--who I was, since my ancestor Isildur cut It from Sauron’s hand and claimed it as his own and bound those of us who have been his heirs to It, as weregild for the deaths of his brother and father. I would not have it.”

After a few minutes of quiet contemplation, Saradoc Brandybuck asked, “Did Bilbo know, when he left It to Frodo, what that Ring was?”

“No. No one was certain what it was--not until the April before Frodo left the Shire. Gandalf managed to learn the one way by which to test the Ring Bilbo left Frodo, and that test showed that this was indeed the One Ring, the one cut from Sauron’s hand.”

Isumbard Took asked, anger and resentment clearly reflected in his voice, “Why did he let Frodo keep the thing? Why didn’t he take It?”

It was Sam who answered. “You don’t understand, Mr. Isumbard, sir. Gandalf couldn’t of took It, for he was too strong of hisself. Those as was strong, It could take them more easy than those as was thought of as weak. My Master--he wasn’t a warrior or a ruler or a lord of wide lands such as the Ring was made to take and control and--and turn bad. He was just a Hobbit of the Shire, and that was about all as he wanted to be. He wanted for the folks as he dealt with to be the best as they could be, and for all to be thoughtful of one another. He didn’t want to be able to tell others what to do or how to do it--only to encourage others as he could.

“Captain Boromir o’ Gondor--he was a warrior born ’n bred. He was used to usin’ weapons, and the Ring worked easiest on him, It did. Just afore we left the others, he tried to take It from Frodo, and Frodo had to run away from him. Was sure as he could use It to fight Sauron and protect his land and city, not realizin’ as the Ring was workin’ on him, and as It would of just betrayed him had he got It and tried to use It hisself. Here in Bag End Gandalf refused to touch It--said as he needed more strength, and had he got It he’d of ended up tryin’ to use It to do good, only all as anyone would try to do with It would turn to bad, for that’s what It was made to do--to betray folks, overwhelm them, turn ’em over to the Dark Lord.”

Aragorn nodded his agreement. “It called to each and all of us, but It ever worked most easily on those who were accustomed to wielding power, whether the power of magic or intellect or command or weapons or combinations of these. But those who listened to Its whisperings in their hearts were ever betrayed by It, and fell in one manner or another.”

“Did It call to you?” asked Narcissa Boffin.

“Yes.”

All went quiet at that. Bartolo found himself wondering what this Man, this new King of theirs, thought of being in this small land. He examined the face, the expression of patient grief and compassion, the intelligent eyes, the keen understanding, the hint of an underlying humor, the awareness of the fact this one was all too often alone and isolated by his very identity and office.

The Dwarf entered, and then Merry and Pippin came in, their faces drained. Pippin was wearing his sword, and he now stood at the door, at quiet attention, while Merry came to stand behind his father’s chair, asking quietly, “Has any decision been made as to where and how he’s to be buried?”

Esmeralda repeated, “It’s not right he should be taken outside the Shire and buried there.”

The others exchanged glances, and finally the Thain gave a decisive nod. “No, we wouldn’t agree to such a proposal, and I truly doubt he would have wanted such a thing.”

Barti found himself saying, “In the letter he sent me, he said as what he truly wished was that all be as simple and straightforward and quiet as possible, but as he didn’t think as that would happen, not with so many important folk all wanting to see things done right.”

The King sighed. “He was aptly named, and knew us all well enough, after all.” He looked at those ranged around the table, those seated and those standing, ending with Samwise Gamgee. “I’ll leave it to you, then, Sam. Where would he have been happiest to rest?”

Sam paused looking about the circle himself, then licked his lips. Finally he said, “Up, on top of the Hill, there where he died, where the light of Sun and Moon and stars would shine on him most easy.”

“Not in Buckland, there near where his parents are buried?” asked Esmeralda Brandybuck.

But her husband was setting his hand on her shoulder. “No, lovey, Sam’s right. It was here he was happiest. This was his home.”

Slowly the rest exchanged glances, and gradually all nodded.

The Dwarf added his own agreement. “I was just up there with Legolas, Aragorn. He says he can feel Frodo’s love for the place, and the love of the land and tree and shrubs for him. I could do a proper tomb for him....”

The Man, however, again examining the surrounding faces, shook his head. “No, tombs are not part of the way for this people. He would want but a grave.”

The Thain straightened, then agreed. “Yes, this is so.”

“Do your people use coffins?”

But Rosie was shaking her head. “We’ll use coffins, but he wouldn’t of wanted such a thing,” she said. “A shroud burial would be all as he’d of wanted. Wouldn’t of wanted to be shut away from the feel of the soil of the Shire.”

Again there was general agreement.

Bartolo Bracegirdle, who’d kept aloof of approving the decisions so far, considered Sam. “But would you feel comfortable, knowing as there was a grave atop the smial? It’s not a proper burying ground, after all.”

Sam’s eyes met those of the lawyer steadily. “What’s to fear, havin’ his grave there? What little as might linger there would wish but the best for those as live in the smials of the Hill, and Bag End in especial.”

The King again indicated his own agreement. “So it is,” he said quietly. “And as Frodo was a special one, to lay him in a common place does not have a proper feel to it--not for him. Nor would evil find itself able to corrupt such a placement as is proposed, not with the strong bond of love between him and this place, and those who live here.”

Griffo Boffin commented, “There isn’t room up there for all of the village to observe the burial, though; and although Frodo hasn’t been all that active in village life since his return, still all have been touched by his concern and generosity. They’ll want to be able to pay their respects--at least to view the body. However, to have them all parade through Bag End wouldn’t be practical or particularly restful for Rosie and Sam and their guests.”

“Yes, Mr. Griffo, sir,” Sam agreed, “you have the right of it.”

Merry suggested, “Could we raise a pavilion there in the Party Field, there near the mallorn, and have his body lie there on a bier until the burial? Then all could see and offer respects, and at least most would feel the proprieties were being met.”

Griffo looked at Merry thoughtfully. “The pavilion used by the folk of the Dragon at the Free Fair would do, don’t you think?”

A general lightening of the mood could be noted in the company as this suggestion met general approval. Griffo indicated he’d go over and see to its acquisition and placement, and set off immediately with a party of others.

Within an hour tent poles were going up, and under Gimli’s direction all was soon ready as carefully measured blocks were set up to receive a bier. Meanwhile the proposed bier was being constructed by the King and his Elven brothers using materials Sam had available.

*******


Those gathered in the Party Field watched matters go forward, and all went quiet as the door to Bag End opened and a party of Hobbits, preceded by Meriadoc Brandybuck in his Rohirric livery and Gimli son of Gloin carrying a torch, carried the bier solemnly down the steps to the pavilion, followed by Mayor, Master, and Thain, each with his wife, Samwise Gamgee and his family, then the rest of those who’d been within Bag End that day. Many found their attention caught by the two young Hobbits who followed Sam with Griffo and Daisy Boffin, for the resemblance of the lad to Frodo Baggins was quite pronounced.

The bier was carried by Brendilac Brandybuck, Folco Boffin, Fredegar Bolger, and Bartolo Bracegirdle, that last causing widespread comment amongst those watching, for Bartolo’s dislike for Frodo Baggins was generally recognized. It was noted that the Thain carried Yellowskin, the record book for the Tooks; that the Master carried the Sword, an heirloom of the Brandybucks said to have been given to Bucca of the Marish by the son of Arvedui Last-king that was traditionally carried and displayed at Brandybuck weddings, funerals, and other ceremonials; and the lad who so resembled Frodo carried the blue-bound volume that was the family Book for the Bagginses.

Behind the line of mourners walked Captain Peregrin Took in full mail and livery, his helmet on his head, his sword unsheathed and carried across his arm, as he walked before four exceptionally tall figures. All eyes found themselves drawn to the one who followed immediately behind Pippin, for he was plainly a Man, and a majestic one at that, clad in black trousers, an embroidered shirt of a rich wine color with a green gem at its neck, black boots, and a silver fillet set with a single white gem about his brow, a grey-green cloak about his shoulders, a long sword in a rich black sheath hanging at his side. There could be no doubt this was the King all had heard tell of. Behind him walked three Elves, the one in the center with hair of shining gold, and the other two with dark hair and eyes of grey, all three of whom wore elaborately wrought silver circlets about their brows.

All watched as the bier was borne under the roof of the open-sided pavilion and set on the waiting blocks. When those who had carried it stepped away to join the other mourners, Merry, who’d taken a place at the foot of the bier opposite the Dwarf at its head, unsheathed his sword and took a step forward to face those gathered.

“Hear, all present; here is come our Lord King, Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, Lord of Arnor and Gondor, High King of the Western lands, descended from Elendil the Tall of Númenor, Isildur, Valandil, and all subsequent Kings of Arnor and Arthedain to Arvedui Last-king; descended also through Ondoher from Meneldil and Anárion of Gondor. Let all give him reverence.”

At that, Merry grounded the tip of his sword and went down on one knee, extending his hands, joined on the sword’s pommel, toward the King as he bowed his head; and the Master followed suit. Led by Paladin and Eglantine Took, the others in the party bowed or curtseyed deeply, save for the Elves, who yet inclined their heads in respect. Uncertain, those gathered as witnesses found themselves doing likewise.

The Man stood tall and straight, his face solemn. After a moment he spoke, his voice carrying clearly to the furthest reaches of the field. “In light of the horrors perpetrated on your land and people during what you know as the Time of Troubles, I had laid a temporary ban against Men entering or passing through the Shire, including my own folk. In normal circumstances I would not think to break that ban myself, but I was summoned into the Shire to be by the side of one I have loved deeply and who was beloved and honored by all lands and races who have stood against the tyranny of Mordor--Frodo Baggins, the Lord Iorhael of all the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, Cormacolindor, Cyllgor, the Ring-bearer, Bronwë athan Harthad, Iorhael na i·lebid.

“Few here within the Shire appreciate what Frodo did to safeguard all of Middle Earth. He left your land to carry out of it a token of greatest evil, uncertain if he would ever be able to return. He accepted the commission to see that token destroyed, although to do so he was forced to travel to the devastation of Mordor. He was most grievously wounded several times, and was almost lost to us more than once. He and Samwise Gamgee accomplished their goal and that token was destroyed, this time nearly at the expense of the lives of both. Had they not done so, all of Middle Earth would now lie under the shadow of Mordor, and if I were not slain I would be even now in the dungeons of Barad-dûr, suffering the most inventive tortures to be devised by the Dark Lord himself.

“The Ring was destroyed, but not without cost; and Frodo Baggins returned to the Shire yet wounded in body and spirit. In the last several months his health has failed him, although he sought to hide that fact from all. Once it was made known to me that his time was upon him, I left my duties as King and the company of my beloved wife to hurry here, although I’d not fully thought what I should do, as I had no intention to break the ban I myself laid on those of my own race.

“However, it was made plain to me that the Creator and Valar did not wish for Frodo to leave this life without the comfort of my presence at the last, and so I entered here as one of the Sons of Elrond, for so I was raised to think of myself, having been fostered in Rivendell since the death of my father until I came of age and was finally returned to the Dúnedain to take up my proper role as their Chieftain and prepare for the day when the Enemy might be brought down. And it proved to the good of all that I did so, for in seeking to relieve Frodo of one last burden, I managed to avert one final great evil intended to lay waste once again to this land. So it was that, with that last pain relieved, Frodo was able to pass from this life in great peace, reassured that the continued happiness and contentment of the land he so loved would not be disturbed.

“For he did love this land more than you can know. I had hoped perhaps he might remain by me in Minas Tirith that I might comfort him when illness sought to reduce him, but he would not stay. The folk of Rivendell wished him to remain with them when he broke his return journey there, and that he might live there alongside Bilbo to the comfort of both and that full honor for what he’d done might ever be shown him, but he came away from there. He was granted the greatest honor that the Valar might show him, and was told he might take ship with those among the Great Elves who in these latter days would leave these shores to travel to Tol Eressëa to finish his days surrounded by the great beauty of the Lonely Isle and the company of those among Elves and Maiar who most appreciated what precisely he accomplished and what it cost him, but he chose not to accept that great gift, for he would not leave the land that bore him.

“I served as his guide during his journey from Bree to Rivendell, and as one of his companions and guards as we went south and east together, until, reminded of the corrupting nature of what he carried, he broke from the rest of our company to spare us the temptation to fall he’d already realized was working amongst us. I was one of those who labored over him to effect his recovery when his task was accomplished and he and Sam were found at the edge of destruction and were rescued and restored to us, both so close to passing through the Gates of Death. He took part in the ceremonies that reestablished the Kingship of Gondor and Arnor, and stood by me as I took the hand of my beloved Arwen, now at last my most treasured wife. I closed the wound after his finger and the evil that enclosed it were taken from him, and comforted him often when he knew night terrors and pain and the frustration of a body already less than what he’d known before he accepted the quest for Mount Doom. And at the end I probed the final wound that would not heal and was able to remove the seed of further great evil that had lain there hidden for two and a half years before I saw him leave us at last.

“You have known him as the son of Drogo and Primula Baggins, the ward of the Master of Buckland and his son, the young Master and then full Master of Bag End, the adopted heir of old Mad Baggins, the eccentric but caring family head to the Bagginses, the one who inexplicably sold the home of his heart to Lotho Sackville-Baggins, the one who led those who entered Lotho’s Lockholes to release and restore those imprisoned there, the deputy Mayor who restored the integrity of the law of the Shire, and at the end the reclusive soul who inexplicably was fading away as you watched. For me--he has become the shining example of courage and endurance beyond hope as he is now named by the greatest of the Elves, and I see him as one of the brothers I had ever wanted but who were never born to stand at my side.

“He will be laid to rest atop the Hill, above the home he loved, his grave overlooking the Shire he loved so deeply that he refused to leave it a second time, no matter how deeply he needed healing. There is not room for all to come to see, and so we ask that those who wish to offer your final respects do so now, for we will lay him to rest shortly after tomorrow’s dawn.”

With that he stepped aside, and Saradoc Brandybuck rose. “He was my much younger cousin, still a child when I married, my beloved Aunt Primula’s son. It was decided Esme and I should foster him when his parents died, and I rejoice that was done; but in spite of the great love we held for him we could not give him all he needed, and withheld the freedom to express himself and to offer service to others he had the great need to offer. When Bilbo at last was moved to demand to exercise his right and authority as Baggins family head to foster him as a fellow Baggins we didn’t wish to let him go, although I'm glad we did. Here in Hobbiton he knew the freedom to try all things he might try, and he was encouraged to help any and all others as he saw needed it in whatever manner he could, and within a few short months he was blooming fully. Until the day that great sense of responsibility he ever held inside himself led him to leave the Shire to protect it as he saw was needful we never regretted the fact Bilbo had overruled us.

“Now I will see the burial of one I loved as if he were my first son, and my heart is torn, for a parent ought not to have to take part in the funeral of so well beloved a child; but I rejoice he died in peace at the end, and even in the throes of great joy, for there was apparently granted him a vision of great delight, and even now the traces of that joy hang about his face. He may have been the Rascal of Buckland and Master of Bag End and the Ring-bearer, but he has ever been one of the lights of joy in my heart, and I’m glad I was granted the chance to cherish him while he remained with us.”

The Thain now stepped forward. “When my son disappeared with Frodo, Merry, and Samwise Gamgee I was terrified. Through it all Eglantine and I harbored many fears, and far too vivid imaginings of the horrors that might be facing the four of them, and particularly our son. When they returned we tried desperately to put those imaginings from us by further imagining now they’d not truly faced any great dangers, and Frodo came to us and sought to make us see how foolish we were, and how we were in danger of losing our son by the very act of denying what he’d endured and accomplished.” His face twisted with grief and the irony of it. “And this from the very one who sought to keep his own part in the whole affair most private, fearing to frighten us with the knowledge of how very close the entire length and breadth of Middle Earth came to falling once again under the Shadow.”

He took a great breath. “We have now heard the truth of all that endangered us, and what the four of them did in the company of this individual who is now our King, and what further they each did while they were separated from the others. Each was a hero, along with countless other heroes throughout the battles being waged on all sides against the Shadow’s forces. And even here we had heroes in those who stood up to Lotho and the Big Men, and later Sharkey, for ours has proved to be the final battle of that war that ravaged the whole of Middle Earth.

“And they came back to us, our lost four, and helped, each as he could best do, to restore the peace and integrity of our land. And I thank you, our Lord King Aragorn Elessar, for helping each to survive and for sending them back to us ready to each show the strengths he had to face what had been done here and to lead in the restoration of our integrity.

“As for Frodo’s part in that battle--it is true he didn’t strike a blow--not with his sword; but to keep us from learning bitterness, to restore and strengthen the integrity of our body of law, to see to it justice is tempered with mercy and understanding, and to do what he has so quietly done to see individuals here and there given the chance to reach their full potential, much as he’s always done--Frodo has done far more than most dream to restore the beauty and peace of the Shire. I rejoice to honor him this day, although I grieve----”

The tears that had been threatening finally broke loose. He took out a handkerchief and held it bunched to his eyes until he at last could speak again, at which time he blew his nose and restored it to his pocket.

“I grieve to have lost him, particularly when I only now begin to fully understand just how truly marvelous he was.”

He stood quiet for a moment, then added, “I have been given to understand just how deeply each of these four, and especially Frodo, have come to be loved and respected outside the Shire, and so I’ve sent my folk on fast ponies to the Brandywine, the borders on the western marches, and the Sarn Ford with orders any Men in the cloaks of the Dúnedain of Eriador or the black and silver of Gondor and those who might accompany them are to be admitted and escorted here with all speed and honor that they might also pay their respects. I had no idea at all just how far Frodo’s influence reached until now, and I will not deny any who came to love him the right to bid him farewell.”

At that he stepped back, and the King laid his hand on his shoulder and smiled down at him.

Barti had rejoined Delphie once he’d seen his current part in the ceremonies surrounding Frodo’s death served, and she immediately placed her arms about his waist. Persi, who’d come down earlier to Number Five to let those there know what had happened, stood on the other side of his mother, and smiled his pride at his father. Rikki moved to press himself against Barti’s side, and looked up, a surprisingly mature smile on his face, while Pet and Gonya with Alyssa moved forward on either side of the family.

“I never dreamed,” Gonya said with surprising solemnity, “just how important what Cousin Frodo Baggins did out there was.”

“How were we to know?” her mother answered quietly.

*******


Near nightfall a party of Dwarves appeared from the west and joined the lines of those who entered the pavilion, many of them laying small crystals or tiny objects carved of stone by the body on its bier. A few hours later a party of Men and Elves reached them from the Brandywine Bridge, and they too passed by the bier, all of them going to one knee or bowing deeply to show their respect. Single blossoms and sprays of leaves or evergreens were laid around the bier. Merry had taken the duty of bearing the torch from Gimli at sunset, and now one in the grey cloak of a Ranger of the North took it from Merry as midnight approached.

The residents of Hobbiton and Bywater brought tables and benches, and each contributed dishes to offer refreshment to those who came from much further afield, and the butcher who’d received the great bullock and poultry sent from the Tooklands brought out the resulting meats and helped to see them prepared. Those who had free access to the Grange Hall and the kitchens of the Ivy Bush and the Green Dragon brought plates, cups, and flatware, and both inns donated barrels of ale and casks of wine and cider.

Barti and Delphie at last followed Geli and Sancho back into Number Five and sank gratefully down to sit together on the narrow sofa that sat on one side of the room. Angelica looked at her daughter, who reached up to be taken into her lap. “He looks so peaceful,” she said softly, “and as if he were happy.”

Barti nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

“Where did the blue garment he wore come from?” asked Sancho. “Did they tell you that?”

Barti nodded. “The King’s wife made it for Frodo, and embroidered it for him with an eight-pointed star in blue and silver--it’s one of the signs of the lords of the King’s folks, both here in Arnor and south in Gondor. Merry Brandybuck said he’d worn it both at the King’s coronation and at his wedding.”

“It was beautiful upon him,” Geli said.

“What about that circle thing he wore?” asked Pando. “What’s that?”

Persi answered. “Master Samwise explained it to me--it’s a circlet of honor. When they first awoke, almost recovered, after--after Mordor was defeated, they were brought out before the armies that had fought before the Black Gates, and they were named Lords of all the Free Peoples of the West for what they accomplished. The Dwarf who stood there with the torch made circlets for each of them as tokens of that great honor. They’ve never shown them to anyone here. Sam said Frodo tried to leave his behind in Gondor, even, but Gandalf wouldn’t let him.”

“Why isn’t Gandalf here now?” asked Delphie.

“He was here--he left a few days ago,” Angelica said. “He was to sail with the Elves who left Middle Earth--and with Frodo, but Frodo refused to leave the Shire.”

Bartolo sighed and rubbed at his chin. Finally he looked up to meet Sancho’s eyes. “You were up there?”

“They sent the two bairns down here--Sam and Rosie’s daughter Elanor and Budgie and Viola Smallfoot’s son Drogo. So Pando and I went up to see to what we might be able to do. Pando waited outside Frodo’s room to run errands, and I went in to see as the kitchen was clean and tea was kept brewed and to fetch ale or wine or whatever. It was little enough as we could do.”

“What was the wailing they tell about?”

Sancho shivered. “Frodo tended to suffer from bad memories of the--of the worst bits, and on the anniversaries of the worst woundings he’d almost relive them in his mind, from what we’re now told. They’ve been worse and worse each time, apparently. This time, with his heart failing him anyway, he was in a good deal of pain as well. And when the memories hit--he cried out. It was awful, not being able to ease it. Sam was so shaken! We all were.”

“But that was over, and he was actually happy when he died?” Delphie asked.

“Yes.”

Barti asked, “What about this last great evil the King spoke of?”

“I don’t quite understand, but he pulled a spider out of Frodo’s neck.”

“A spider?!”

Sancho nodded. “Then he threw it in the fire--and----” He shook his head, unable to retell the horror of seeing the shape that had risen. “All of them,” he continued at last, “the King and the Elves, said as it was truly wicked and would have done a great deal of damage to the Shire if it had gotten out after Frodo was dead. Once it was gone he was at ease, and glad for the King to be there. He spoke a bit, but not much.” He straightened as he tousled Pando’s hair. “We’d best get to bed--the dawn will come too early.”

*******


Before dawn Sancho knocked on the door to the room given Bartolo and Delphinium, and Barti rose and swiftly dressed in the good clothes Delphie had brought for him. She kissed him after seeing to it his collar was straight, and at last they went out to take a light first breakfast with the Proudfoots and to go out into the field.

Merry and Pippin, both in full uniform, stood nearby, their arms about one another in comfort; while Narcissa Boffin and her cousin Folco stood near the bier, Folco’s arm around Narcissa’s shoulder. Bard Took was much the same with his wife Pearl, who once had been thought likely to become Mistress of Bag End one day, their children quietly standing before them as they waited alongside Ferdibrand Took and Pimpernel and Pearl and Pimmie’s sister Pervinca and their families.

The number of children who’d come out this morning was surprising, in fact, and many stood together with Pando and the Chubbs lads, softly asking questions and listening intently to the answers.

A Man in black and silver livery similar to Pippin Took’s now held the torch, and a number of Dwarves came with Gimli from an open camp they’d made themselves at the far end of the Party Field. At the same time a number of Elves emerged from the woods at the north foot of the Hill and followed Legolas onto the field where he advanced to speak to Gimli, and then the two of them went to join those who gathered close to the pavilion.

Barti gave his wife a last squeeze and also pulled away to go to the pavilion. Two of the Elves had lifted Frodo’s body while two others laid a length of fine cloth over the bier, then gently settled it once more, seeing to it the mithril circlet was properly in place. Then the loose end of the cloth was brought up over the chest like a coverlet and folded back, revealing only the peaceful face with its soft smile. Barti looked at it, surprised to no longer feel the anger and envy he’d once known.

Then it was time, as the King and the remaining family descended from Bag End. Once more Bartolo Bracegirdle set his shoulder under the bier and lifted it as the Dwarves began to play upon drums and tambours and viols, and as Elves played upon harps and sweet bells, and a song of mourning and hope was raised.

The slow walk up the steps to Bag End seemed like a dream, as did that down the path through the gardens and on either side of the blue stone steps at the back, much too narrow for this procession. A grave had been dug atop the hill, away from the trunk of the young oak that now served as roof tree, and two more blocks lay there to receive the bier. Barti found himself almost reluctant to let go, but he did so and stepped aside, watched as between them the King and Samwise Gamgee, now dressed in a golden overshirt embroidered with a great tree, a shining belt of some silvery metal set with innumerable crystals from which a fine sword’s sheath hung about his waist, together brought the folded material up over the head, then brought up the last length of cloth at the head end of the bier down over the front, carefully tying the ties set here and there to keep the cloth from coming loose.

At last lengths of rope were set under the body, and Barti came forward to take the end to allow him to do his part in lowering the now shrouded body down into the grave. He felt the tension slacken as the body at last rested on the bottom, and he gratefully let go his end so Folco could pull it free on his side, coiling it loosely as he gathered it all into his hands.

The song raised from the Party Field at last was finished, and the King stepped forward to stand with one hand on Sam’s shoulder, looking down into that lonely yet peaceful grave. “Rest well, small brother,” the Man murmured, and as those present came forward to each cast in their handful of earth, he began to sing one last hymn of praise to the Lord Iorhael. And for the second time the folk of the Shire heard the Lay of Frodo of the Nine Fingers raised in their land....

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