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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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42
42: Visions of the Shire

42: Visions of the Shire


On the third day after the trip back up through the city, Aragorn took Sam and Frodo down to the Fourth Circle, where in a fine building some distance off the main Way of the Circle they were to arrange for the management of the estates and properties within Gondor which had been granted to them. A property manager was chosen, fees were settled upon, and tokens chosen and recorded to identify those authorized to access the funds gathered and the records of business done for each of them--the emerald ring commissioned by Aragorn for Sam that, while they remained in Gondor, he wore on his right hand, and a stick pin whose head was a five-pointed star made of clustered gem stones about a great central diamond for Frodo, who would not agree to wear or carry any ring.

The days were settling into a routine. On those mornings when Aragorn couldn’t meet Frodo at the Houses of Healing he would send Eldamir with Frodo’s morning draught; and whenever the Hobbits were in the Citadel the kitchen staff saw to it that food and juice and tisanes and goblets of water were at hand for them, particularly for Frodo and Sam, at all times. Mostly all seemed to relax and heal, although there were days when Lasgon or Sam would come to summon Aragorn when the hand cramped or Frodo would be found, quiet and clutching at his shoulder, huddled into his chair in his room.

All had bad dreams from time to time, it appeared. A youth fell from the walls and almost died; Merry was one of those who helped bring his body from the Fourth Circle to the Houses of Healing and sat by him after the healers and Aragorn were finished with him and he lay in healing sleep. That night Merry woke all calling out for Éowyn be beware the Nazgul, and his hand was cold and numb until Aragorn bathed it.

Pippin stood on guard one day when the case of a Man who’d been abusive toward his wife and children was brought before the King. Ordinarily local disputes were brought before the tribunals set for each circle of the city; but this case was sufficiently heinous that the magistrates for the circle in which the family dwelt sent it before the King. The father had become furious when their newest babe had awakened him from his nap, crying out in pain for the colic it suffered; he’d shaken the child in his fury and ended by throwing it against the wall, and it had died.

The wife had healing bruises on her face and arms where she’d been repeatedly struck; one older child had a badly twisted arm where a broken bone had set improperly, and all also had bruises; while the oldest girl showed symptoms of worse things done to her by her father.

Aragorn had questioned the Man long and relentlessly, forcing him to admit to the abuse given, forcing him to uncover the core of fury the Man held and to reveal how he imagined all others deserved what he did to them. When he was sent to the prison, informed he’d so angered the King himself he needed some time to allow his own temper to cool that the sentence passed be appropriate and no harsher than the situation demanded, the Man was shocked.

The wife and oldest daughter were admitted to the house within the Houses of Healing where damage to the spirit was addressed; the boy with the twisted limb was also admitted, for the arm would have to be broken again and reset to heal properly. The other children were taken to the house in the First Circle where children without parents were housed, and a gentle woman whose own beloved husband had died in Osgiliath took them under her care, lavishing on them the love they deserved but had been denied by their father.

After he’d escorted the children down to the House of Children, Pippin had been quiet and withdrawn. That night he’d had his own nightmare, and Frodo had come to sit by him, to offer him the chamomile tea Sam brewed and to hold his hand while he finally returned to sleep, this time the dream more calm, if still somewhat disturbed.

The next night Sam had a dream of seeing the spider standing over Frodo’s body, and of fighting it off with Sting. What had sparked it he couldn’t say afterwards.

As for the High King of the Men of the West--whenever he could manage it, he would slip out of the Citadel down to the guest house in the Sixth Circle to join his friends, although he found he couldn’t manage to do so alone--his cousin Hardorn saw to it there was always one to serve as personal guard at hand, which both frustrated and amused Aragorn.

Children frequently came to spy on the Pheriannath and their fellows in the guest house, a situation that Merry found annoying, Pippin found flattering, and Sam and Frodo found amusing.

“They’re out there again, Master, hiding behind the wall.”

Frodo laughed. “One day, Sam, I’ll understand the fascination I seem to hold for younglings. At home in the Shire it was my cousin Pando hiding in the hedge about the garden--here in Minas Tirith the children come up in droves to spy on us all.”

“I know. I was out helping Mistress Loren to hang out the clothing to dry, and there was three watching me then, all giggling. And there was two of them across the way, peepin’ over the wall about the empty big place there, watchin’ Mr. Pippin as he stood on guard outside while Lord Strider was in here the other evenin’. How many was there the other mornin’ when you was havin’ problems with the stomach again?”

“Five--two lasses and three lads.”

“Well, at least they mean no harm.”

“No, they don’t appear to mean any.”

Sam found himself glad for the children’s interest, particularly on those days when Frodo’s stomach would be bothering him, for Frodo would be distracted by them, usually would tell the ones caught spying a story, and then would feel better afterwards.

Frodo continued his visits to the Houses of Healing where all the healers began to treasure the time he spent with their patients, while the patients themselves would begin to look up in anticipation when small shadows could be seen passing in the hallways. Let them catch sight of the small Pherian come to visit, and pain and boredom would be forgotten, grief and fears would lift. He would sit by beds and listen to the renewed hopes expressed, and could be prevailed upon to tell stories from far away or long ago which amused or thrilled or enlightened.

Master Faralion would come to visit at least once a week, bringing gifts of fruit and breads and an occasional bottle of wine, carrying a lap harp or a gittern or lute, eager to learn the songs of the Shire and sharing the songs of Gondor and his own creations, listening to the tales of the Pheriannath and sharing his own stories in return. In the evenings the other companions would often be present as well, Legolas often with his brother and on occasion other Elves from the delegation from Mirkwood, which was being renamed Eryn Lasgalen once more, Gimli with his father and another Dwarf named Dorlin who was known to the Hobbits from visits to the Shire years before, Mithrandir with his laughter and keen eyes. The love all showed to one another, and particularly to Frodo, was so obvious to him; and the songs they would share with him were often surprisingly touching.

All conspired to make Frodo smile and laugh, and he was beginning to hear the most unusual tales as a result. The Hobbits spoke of the days when they were young and of elaborate tricks played on one another, of days spent working the fields or watching among the shepherds, of walking trips about the Shire and the usually fruitless searches for visiting Elves, of orchards and fields raided and secret feasts on stolen provender, of fishing and swimming in either the Brandywine or the Water. They remembered Bilbo Baggins and his tales of Great Granfather Gerontius, also known as the Old Took, the foibles of each, the wisdom each had shown and their mutual dismissal of convention when it was found to get in the way of living. And the Hobbits and Gandalf reminisced on the Party--a celebration which obviously still was fresh in their memories even seventeen and a half years later. All laughed at the stories, but behind the laughter Faralion could still see the memories of loss and pain Frodo bore to this day.

It was not that unusual for the Lord King to either be present when Faralion arrived, or to arrive shortly after Faralion’s own admittance into the household. At times he would bring with him either Lord Bard or Prince Faramir (or both), and they would find themselves pressed into service peeling potatoes or cutting fruit into pieces, or perhaps stirring a pan filled with mushrooms being cooked in one manner or another. Lord Bard often appeared bemused to find himself aiding in preparing meals or snacks; but both the Lord Elessar and the Lord Faramir appeared to relish being so involved. Faralion soon learned the King was himself as excellent a cook as were the Hobbits. Mistress Loren, if she lingered yet, would watch, awestruck, as the king took eggs, cheese, diced meats and vegetables and herbs and mushrooms and would prepare omelets light as clouds and fully delectable; or he would slice meat marinaded in a sour, salted wine thin and prepare it with oil of sesame and green onions, thinly sliced carrots, mushrooms, and celery, and serve it over potatoes or rice in a dish all seemed to love, although Frodo would never eat the rice.

A couple weeks after the coronation the King examined Sam and Pippin and announced that, from what he could tell, they were recovered enough to again smoke their pipes, and both quickly took advantage of the permission granted to go out upon the balcony and fill their pipes and light them. Frodo accompanied them, but soon withdrew, coughing and choking, his pale features rather grey in distress. The King took Frodo back to his bedroom, and after a time came out to tell them quietly Frodo was now asleep, and apparently could no longer tolerate pipe smoke when it was right around him.

“Then we’d best smoke downwind of him, as we do with Legolas,” Merry said.

The King nodded. “That would be wisest. It is possible that in time he will tolerate it better and better, and perhaps one day he’ll smoke again; but for now when he breathes it in it brings back the time on the side of Mount Doom again.”

“We certainly don’t need that,” Sam said with some fervor. The others agreed.

There was a lower bench now on the balcony, one better suited for the four Pheriannath than the two which had been there from their arrival, and Sam explained this had been a gift specifically intended for him by Frodo, and that apparently it had been put together by a joint effort between Frodo, Pippin, the King, and the healer Eldamir who lived in the next house. Frodo’s eyes sparkled when Sam told this, then went off into the kitchen at the call of Mistress Loren to tell her what kind of icing he wished used on the cake she’d prepared. Sam looked after him as he left, then confided, “There’s some story about that bench as none of them will tell, but sometimes just looking at it he’ll start to smile, as if just rememberin’ ’em puttin’ it together brings it back to mind. And sometimes when Lord Strider’s here he’ll look at the bench and then Strider and will chuckle a bit. I’m just glad it brings joyful thoughts to him, meself.”

During the day Frodo was often gone from the house, usually visiting in the Houses of Healing, on one of his walks intended to improve his stamina, or up in the Citadel, usually attending on the King. Faralion often saw him at the public audiences, which the King had indicated would be held four days a week. The Lord King usually met with the Council of Lords at least once a week, and the Lords of Gondor were much surprised when they realized that Lord Frodo and Lord Samwise would be asked to attend as often as not, and that King Bard, Lord Halladan, and others of the Northern Dúnedain were welcome also to attend and comment on what was being discussed, as were any Elf or Dwarf who cared to accompany the King. Faralion would hear comments on such subjects in the dining hall, and often saw Master Galador roll his eyes as he listened to the description of the latest Council meeting. Obviously the King cared nothing for protocol for such things as his Council.

The news that the King had taken up gardening and was himself planting an herb garden behind the Citadel swiftly made the rounds, and it was not unusual for a Lord come to consult privately with the King to be brought there to find the great Lord Elessar, wearing sturdy trousers and a dark shirt and gardening gloves, often with a hat on his head to keep off the Sun, kneeling down to plant or to weed and examine his prizes. What was odder was that often those who found themselves meeting with him there would find that he wasn’t working alone, but had Prince Faramir and Lord Samwise and often the Ringbearer working alongside him, with the Elves often laboring there as well, sometimes sharing stories as they worked, occasionally discussing the business of the realm. The number of great Lords who found themselves holding the end of a string being run down a row to offer support to specific herbs or helping in the weeding grew each day. Even Galador had found himself pressed at times to aid in the King’s labors for his garden. Faralion himself found the Master of Protocol’s confusion at such a turn of events humorous, and privately thought it would be the making of the Man.

*******


One Highday Faralion came up to the guest house in the Sixth Circle and was admitted by Mistress Loren. “The rest have gone out riding with the King,” she said. “But Master Frodo came back early, for he was tired.”

“Then he is resting?”

“No, he’s not resting now, Master Faralion. Master Iorhael came up from the Fifth Circle and is with him, back in his room. Shall I take you through to them?”

A few moments later and Faralion was being led through Sam’s parlor room to the study in which Frodo slept. The housekeeper knocked at the door. “Master Frodo? Master Faralion has come.”

“Oh, how pleasant. Do come in!” Loren opened the door and allowed the minstrel entrance.

Frodo sat at a desk just inside the door, an elderly Man with a pleasant expression beside him. Frodo’s face appeared somewhat tired but happy enough. “Have you met Master Iorhael, Master Faralion? He is an artist, and has a shop which sells papers and art supplies in the Fifth Circle. Master Faralion is a minstrel of the realm.”

“A great pleasure,” the elderly Man said, his face beaming. “I’ve heard your song the Call of the Fool. Very clever--very clever indeed! And how are you this day?”

“Shall I bring you some ale, Master Frodo?” the housekeeper asked.

“Oh, yes, thank you--a light ale for myself. Master Faralion, would you like some ale? We have a fine golden one from the Dimmed Star and a dark ale from the Wounded Drum, and a light ale which Aragorn has sent us here as I can stomach it better. I think it is from somewhere in Lossarnach.”

Master Iorhael accepted a mug of the lighter ale, and Faralion requested one of the darker stuff. Mistress Loren gave a curtsey and left to return to the kitchen again, and the artist, musician, and Halfling were left in the room. Faralion pulled a stool up near the desk, looking at pages of writing spread across its surface. “I promised Bilbo I’d make notes about the trip,” Frodo explained, “so I was writing about the earliest days, of Gandalf’s testing of the Ring in the parlor fire, of realizing Sam was listening, beginning to ready ourselves to leave the Shire. I’ve just come to where we arrived at Crickhollow, at the house I’d purchased from my Brandybuck relations at the edge of the Shire.”

“Why did you purchase this house?” asked Master Iorhael.

“I’d let it be known I’d spent the last of the treasure left me by Bilbo, and that I hadn’t sufficient income to keep me longer at Bag End. So I----” He stopped, his face suddenly disturbed, his gaze going distant, his coloring going an unexpected grey.

The minstrel and the artist were both taken aback, and Faralion took Frodo’s left hand where it lay on the surface of the desk and began to chafe it. “Master Frodo? Master Frodo! What is it? What is wrong?”

“What is he doing? What is that fool Lotho doing to the Shire?” Frodo whispered. “What is he allowing to be done to Bag End?” He was beginning to shake.

Faralion rose, letting the hand go, and looked at Iorhael. “I will go see what help I can find for him. He appears to be lost in a vision.”

The older Man nodded. “Go then. I’ll keep by him here.”

Faralion found his way to the kitchen, where Mistress Loren was carefully placing three tankards on a tray with a large plate of cut vegetables along with ham and cheese between slices of bread, cut into quarters. She looked up at the disturbed expression on the minstrel’s face. “What is it, Master?” she asked. “Has he had another turn for the bad?”

“He has gone suddenly distant and is shaking. I don’t understand what he’s speaking of, for he’s not speaking to us. Does this happen often?”

“He has frequent nightmares of what happened to him,” she said. “And on occasion his hand or his shoulder where he was wounded will become intensely painful, and his attention is drawn away as if he were back there where he was hurt.”

“What is done for him?”

“Usually we summon the King. But the King is not here--he’s outside the walls of the city today with the rest.” She paused to think. “We must call Master Eldamir from the house next door--I do not believe he is on duty now. He’s a healer who often sees to Master Frodo’s draughts.”

“I’ll go, then,” the Man said. “If you could go to be by him and Master Iorhael until I can return....”

A few moments later he was out the front door of the guest house and before that of the house where the healer dwelt with his wife, son, and his wife’s parents. An elderly Man opened the door at Faralion’s frantic knock. “Yes, may I help you?”

“Master Eldamir?” Faralion asked. “Are you Master Eldamir?”

“No, Eldamir is upstairs in his room. He worked through the night in the Houses, and is fatigued. Do they need his return?”

“It is Master Frodo, the Pherian.”

Steps could be heard overhead, and a moment later a younger Man could be seen descending the stairs. “What is it, Ada Garvarion? Do they summon me back to the Houses again?”

“It is Master Frodo, Eldamir.”

“I see. I will be down directly.” He turned and hurried back up the stairs, and almost immediately was back again, slinging his healer’s kit over his shoulder. “I thought Master Frodo had gone out riding with the Lord Elessar earlier,” the healer commented as he came out of his house.

“He apparently tired and came back.”

“What symptoms?”

“He stares into the distance as if he sees what we cannot, speaking of evil things happening to his home.”

“That is a new one,” Eldamir sighed. They hurried back to the door which Faralion had left open and inside, closing the door behind them.

Frodo had been moved to the low armchair and a blanket wrapped about him. The tray with ale and plate of food stood on a cleared place on the desk. Mistress Loren was leaning down to light the fire while Master Iorhael sat on a low stool, clasping Frodo’s left hand. All three looked up as Faralion and Eldamir entered. “I am all right,” the Hobbit protested. “It was only--only a momentary thing.”

The Healer snorted. “My beloved Master Frodo--I doubt anything about you is but a momentary thing. You saw evil about your home?”

Frodo gave a deep sigh. “Yes,” he said resignedly. “I felt as if I looked at my home, save it’s not mine now--I had to sell it before I left the Shire. And Lotho, my cousin who bought the place, had allowed the garden to be trampled, dug up, and built over. Marigold was both terrified and furious, and Pervinca and Pearl and Pimpernel are all filled with fear and grief. Then--I was back in my self once more.”

Iorhael looked at the healer with interest. “Do you think it is a true seeing?”

Eldamir knelt before Frodo and placed his hand to the Pherian’s neck to feel the pulse. “I know not. Is the ability to see what goes on elsewhere widespread amongst your people, Master Frodo?”

Frodo shrugged. “I have my share of Took blood, and the Tooks are known for odd knowledge at times.”

“Have you had such experiences before?”

Reluctantly, Frodo answered, “I’ve seen and dreamed things before they happened before, again at odd times.”

“It’s not that unusual a gift among the Dúnedain,” Eldamir commented as he turned the Hobbit’s face to look into his eyes. “Your eyes are clear, your pulse a bit rapid but steady and strong and slowing properly; your breathing sounds clear from here. Were you speaking of your home?”

“Yes, I was telling them of the writing I’d been doing for my elderly cousin Bilbo--I promised to do a journal of sorts for him; I’d been writing of what I’d done before I left the Shire and the purchase of the Crickhollow House, and was thinking with regret of leaving Bag End--and had the--the vision. It was much like seeing it with my eyes. It was unsettling.”

“I can imagine. You sold your home?”

“The home I inherited from Bilbo, where I’ve lived since he brought me to live with him and adopted me as his heir--yes.”

“It must have been quite a wrench.”

“Yes.”

“What is the one who bought it like?”

“Lotho? As unpleasant a soul as possible.”

“Why did you sell it to him, then?”

“I never meant to do so--I offered it to quite different cousins, but somehow Lotho found out--undoubtedly Ponto told his sister Peony, and she would have told Lobelia, Lotho’s mother, right away if she knew. It must be how he found out. All I know is that Lotho was on the doorstep offering me cash for the place for just what I’d asked Ponto and Iris. I couldn’t keep up the fiction I was out of money if I didn’t accept his offer.”

Eldamir nodded his understanding. “Would he tear up the garden?”

“Who knows what Lotho Sackville-Baggins is capable of? He’s mostly Bracegirdle in his breeding and personality, and they tend to be--difficult. I wouldn’t think he’d want the garden trampled and built over, for it’s part of why all admire the place, its gardens. Sam, his father, and their uncle have kept the gardens the glory of the Shire for well, well over a century.”

“I see. Can you stand up for me?”

Frodo stood, a trifle shakily at first but quickly that was well under control. The healer laid his hand on Frodo’s chest, feeling the heartbeat. Faint color had come back into his face, not a great deal, but at least he no longer looked grey.

“I do not believe you are ill. But certainly you have more than your fair share of fearful memories and reasons for worry. What you’ve described I’ve seen often enough among certain of those with strong Dúnedain heritage; and it sounds as if your own family has an equivalent talent.” He looked at the tray. “That is light ale?”

“Yes--Aragorn ordered it for me.”

“If the Lord Elessar has allowed it I suspect it will do no serious ill--but no more than a mug at this time.”

“I know.”

“I will go, then. At least you didn’t waken me--I was already preparing for my next shift.

“Know this, Master Frodo--what you saw may or may not be true. You know already that the Enemy’s device has prepared you to see ever the most evil and fearful of eventualities, and it can be difficult to change from such expectations. And even if it is true--you can do nothing from here to change things. Those you left behind must see to their own difficulties, even as they could not assist you to cross the Dead Marshes or find your way through Gorgoroth. You are still not quite recovered enough to travel so far; and even if you were, it would still take over well over a month to make the journey for one on a steady horse with a clear road. You cannot seek to take responsibility for that which you cannot touch. Do you understand?”

Frodo nodded, reluctantly acknowledging the healer’s logic. “Yes, Master Eldamir. Thank you for coming.” He sank back into the chair as Mistress Loren accompanied the Man to the door.

During the rest of the visit Frodo was quiet, although at last he brought out a portrait he’d done of Aragorn and Samwise kneeling together in the herb garden behind the Citadel, looking at a small plant they held between them. “They were like this two days ago while we were visiting with Aragorn up there,” he commented. “They are kindred spirits when it comes to coaxing things to grow.”

Faralion’s heart was moved by the picture. “How much like both our King and your friend it is,” he said, taking it into his hands and examining it carefully. “I am not certain I’d ever taken thought to what a King would be like for us; but I’d never have considered he might be one to take to gardening.”

Frodo gave a short laugh. “You never followed him throughout the wilderness of Eriador and the ruins of Hollin.”

“Hollin?”

“What was Eregion. We spent many days traveling through what had been its lands. Aragorn knows the lands there well and clearly loves the place. He and Legolas between them could wax quite poetic about it. It is full of holly trees, for Gandalf indicated that was their badge. The monster that watched in the waters before the West gate of Moria destroyed the last two which framed the doorway as it sealed the gate behind us, once it was foiled in its attempt to capture me.” He shivered slightly. “I wonder if it is still there?”

“There was a monster there?”

“Yes. Gandalf indicated it was probably a creature of Sauron’s, or perhaps one left from Morgoth, one which either hid or was imprisoned beneath the mountains for thousands of years before the Dwarves inadvertently freed it. We were told in Lorien that after the overthrow of Morgoth at the end of the First Age this was the fate of many of those Maiar who’d fallen to Morgoth’s blandishments and were then frozen in shapes of horror. It was how a--a Balrog came to be there.”

Faralion looked with shock at the Hobbit’s saddened face. “A Balrog was there?”

Frodo nodded slowly. “Oh, yes. I hope I never again have to see such a thing.”

“You saw it and lived to tell of it?”

“We all saw it, Master Faralion. Gandalf fought it, and fell with it into the chasm beneath the Bridge of Khazad-dum. He fell to his death, but was sent back by the Creator and the Valar to complete his task. It is why today he is the White and no longer the Grey.”

Faralion realized that Frodo was speaking the full truth, and felt the hairs on the back of his head rise. The terrors the Pherian had known, he realized, had begun well before arriving before the walls of Mordor. “I had no idea,” he said.

Frodo nodded. “Aragorn grieved for the loss of the trees, as Gandalf did. He’d not wished to go into Moria at all. He’d been there once before, although he would not tell us when or why. All I know is that he appeared to have known through his own foresight that if Gandalf entered there again he faced his doom, but that as Gandalf was willing to lead us he would go to support him as he could. His horror and grief when Gandalf fell was as great as my own. He mastered it as was needed; but it must have been a joy and wonder when Gandalf was restored to him. But I do believe that the holly tree he planted the other day in the Fifth Circle he planted to the memory of Hollin and entering Moria.” He looked at the way in which Faralion held the picture. “Would you like to keep that picture?” he asked.

“Yes, I would.”

“Take it and be welcome.”

“Thank you, Master Frodo.”

And when Faralion went back at last to his quarters in the Guild Hall, he took the picture with him. He had it framed soon afterwards, and ever after the picture of the King and the gardener hung in his own chamber wherever he traveled throughout Gondor.

That night Frodo had another night when his sleep was frequently disturbed by bad dreams. Sam heard noises in the study room and peered in to find Frodo pacing it restlessly; then at his suggestion they dressed and went out walking, dressed in their cloaks from Lorien. At last they settled in the grass in the gardens for the Houses of Healing, Sam leaning back against the bole of a tree, Frodo finally falling asleep with his head pillowed in Sam’s lap. Aragorn spotted them there as he came to the Houses the next morning, and sighed as he looked down at the two of them. Frodo woke as the Man leaned over them, looked up and smiled.

“Good morning, Strider,” he murmured.

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