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Second Mum
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After eating a light luncheon, Esmeralda Brandybuck, Dowager Mistress of Brandy Hall, sat in her favorite chair in the Master’s parlor, taking her granddaughter Melody onto her lap. “And what would you wish right now?” she asked the faunt. “A story? A poem? A song?”

At that moment the door opened and Melody’s older brother Periadoc led his mother into the room. “Gramma,” he said, “may we look in this box and will you tell us about it? Mummy looked inside and says she’s certain it has things about Uncle Frodo in it.” He was pointing at the small chest, carefully mended long ago, that Estella carried rather tenderly in her arms.

Melody looked at it with interest. Uncle Frodo was but a name to her, but a name spoken ever in reverence and with signs of grief. That he’d been real enough to leave behind things needing to be kept in a box--that was exciting. Esme looked down into her face and noted how pink her cheeks had become, and thought how that trait so brought to mind the one to whom this chest had belonged. She looked up to meet Estella’s eyes, and realized that the thought of examining reminders of Frodo both disturbed and excited her, too. Her brother Freddy had been so close to Frodo for a long time himself, after all, and she’d often been part of visits and games and parties over the years. But Esme was experienced enough to know that some such memories needed a bit of prodding to open them briefly that the hurt might escape and the good memories remain, so she decided to chance it. “All right,” she said. “I’ll have your mummy open it and hand me one thing at a time, and we’ll look at it and talk about it some. Then we’ll set it aside and look at the next thing. Is that all right?”

Perry looked up questioningly at Melody in Gramma’s lap, then nodded. “Yes, let’s.”

“First, the chest itself,” Esme began. “Uncle Frodo’s dad made that years ago for Frodo’s mum to put the family silver in. It used to hold two crystal steins from Erebor, the Dwarf kingdom under the Lonely Mountain, with silver tops. Cousin Bilbo, who went to Erebor twice, once on his own adventure and once to visit afterwards, said they weren’t much compared to things he’d seen the Dwarves there make for themselves, and were designed merely as trade goods. But Cousin Drogo loved them and treasured them. However, they were stolen some time after he and Cousin Primula died, before we went to bring most of their things back here to keep for Frodo. We kept the chest, and Frodo used to keep it in his room to store important papers and letters in until after his things were moved to Crickhollow and the Black Riders broke in the door, when we found that chest cut apart. Your dad says it was cleaved with a heavy sword; and the papers were all torn and scattered throughout the room.”

“With a sword like Dad’s sword there?” asked Perry, pointing at where Merry’s sword hung above the mantel. “Or like the Sword in his office?”

“Like neither,” his father answered from where he had paused in the doorway to listen. “It was cleaved by a great blade at least as long as that carried by the King, if not as ancient or shining or blessed. The Nazgul were Big Folk, after all.” He entered the room, closing the door behind him, and settled himself on the hearthrug, lifting Perry into his lap. “So, you’ve kept that over the years, did you? I’d wondered where it got to.”

“Sara had it repaired for Frodo, but Frodo wouldn’t have it back, not with the further reminder of that visit by the Black Riders.”

Merry nodded. “Neither of us responded well to such reminders for years,” he said softly.

“Why did they cleave it?” asked Perry.

“I suppose frustration because he wasn’t there and they wanted to take out their anger on someone or something--so the poor box was cleaved instead of someone’s head.”

At Esme’s nod Estella opened the box, and carefully extracting a folded throw she handed it to her mother-in-love. “Frodo’s mum Primula made this for him when he was a babe in arms, and he’d sleep with it when he was little. See the dragonfly on it? He took the dragonfly as his own signature sign for his art work when he was older. And that silver cup there--that was the bairn cup Bilbo had his Dwarf friends make for him to give as a birthing gift. There’s Frodo’s name in several scripts, in the runes used by the Dwarves and in Tengwar script used by the Elves and in Westron.”

“In Tengwar it says Iorhael, which is his name in Sindarin,” Merry explained as he accepted the cup and presented it to his son to examine.

Perry smiled as he nodded, running his finger along the inscriptions.

Slowly each item was removed--a spinning top and a fetch back and a jack-on-a-stick carved by Frodo’s father; a Ranger on a horse that Merry, examining it now, was certain was patterned after the Ranger chieftain Strider who was now King. There was a Naming-day garment; a golden waistcoat with a red handprint on it.

“That was Bilbo’s--he wore it when Frodo was two or three. Frodo used to be fascinated with Bilbo’s ink, and one day he was able to get his bottle of red ink and pour it out onto the floor and paddle on it....” She told the story of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins and her ruined dress, and both Merry and Estella found themselves howling with laughter. “I took the waistcoat and had promised to try to clean it, but decided to keep it instead and had a new one made for Bilbo to replace this one.” There was a fine pair of shirt studs. “The King had those made for him, and he wore them proudly. But he didn’t take them with him the last time he visited here.” There was a small booklet with a picture Frodo had drawn of Minas Tirith, and another of Caras Galadhon in Lothlorien, and a portrait of the King and his wife, and one----

“That’s you and Gramdad,” Perry said.

“Yes, as Frodo knew us then. And that’s your great-grandmother Menegilda and great-grandfather Rorimac when he was Master. And that’s Bilbo himself.”

Perry stopped, awed by this look at the famous Hobbit adventurer.

There were a couple letters and a poem, a number of other items, a silver pendant of a flower set with a sapphire--“Frodo brought that back to me from Gondor as a gift. When she’s old enough it will be Melody’s.” A couple pen knives. “He won those in a wager, the year before he went to Bilbo--he danced the Husbandman’s Dance all seven times through and didn’t make a single mistake, or so he told me afterwards.”

Merry smiled. “I remember--he wagered seven silver pennies. He won those from Isumbard and Lotho Sackville-Baggins.”

A box with a pair of pearl ear drops. “He’d planned those as a promise gift for Pearl, only she threw him over first.” A crystal box containing a carefully preserved narcissus blossom. “I don’t know when he did this, but I suspect it was around the time of the Party, when he first realized how he was beginning to react to Narcissa Boffin.” Another small crystal box with an odd shell made of tiny green glass beads. “His water worms made that one, and I begged it from Sam. It was always my favorite one.” A small wooden box with a dried cocoon in it. “The moth or butterfly never broke free of this one--I remember him grieving over it.” A small nesting box made from a gourd. A wool-work ball. “He and your dad when he was small would roll and throw that back and forth for hours at a time.” Jewelry that had belonged to Primula and Drogo that had been given her and Saradoc as remembrances.

And at the bottom, a small wooden box over a framed picture of Frodo Merry remembered having been given her by the King’s sculptor. Perry smiled at the picture as he looked at it. “So--that’s what Uncle Frodo looks like.” Then he looked up, obviously putting pieces together. “The statue at the Free Fair--that’s Uncle Frodo, too?”

Merry smiled. “Yes, but don’t tell anyone, for Frodo wouldn’t want most of them to know. He was a wonderful one for such jokes, you realize. One day we’ll go out and see the other statues to his memory, especially the one in the King’s own city itself.”

Perry smiled. “All right, Dad--I promise I won’t tell most folks unless they ask directly.”

“That’s a good plan, dearling. And the one little statue I have in my room and the picture in my office--those are of him also, also done by the King’s sculptor.”

Perry’s smile widened as he turned his attention back to the picture he held.

Inside the small box was a carefully rolled letter tied with a silver ribbon, and the remains of what appeared to be a dried crown of violets. Merry looked at it in confusion. “This appears ancient indeed,” he commented. “Why did you keep this?”

“I found it carefully set over the boundary stone for the Hall lands one time as I was returning from Crickhollow, just before he left to go to Bilbo and Bag End. The violets were gathered in a dingle----”

He interrupted, “The dingle near Haygate Farm?” At her nod he indicated his understanding. “The earliest butterflies, very simple white ones, would gather there, I remember. Frodo showed it to me first when I was about eleven, I think. He loved it. He said the youngest lass from the farm would make up stories about fairies who loved the dingle.”

“Yes, he told me that, too. I overheard old Ellis Maggot speaking with two Big Folk about having seen him there crowned with violets two days before I visited it. Apparently the lass had woven it for him, declaring him the prince of the fairies.”

“But he took it off before he came home?”

“Apparently. He would have been tormented by Gomez had he worn it to the Hall.”

Gently Merry touched it with one finger, not lifting the fragile thing out of the box. Melody asked him, “You miss Unca Fwodo, Daddy?”

He nodded, his eyes filled with memory. “You can’t begin to know how much, dearling. He was like my own brother, and none could have been dearer to me, not even your Uncle Pippin or the King himself.”

“Why did he go away?”

Merry shrugged. “He had to. He was dying by inches, and needed healing.”

“He come back?”

Merry’s eyes were solemn as he looked back into hers. “No, he can’t come back, although you may dream of him now and then. But he’s never left my heart--never.” Gently he shifted his son onto the floor and rose to his knees.

“Nor mine, dearling,” his mother said quietly, her eyes misty as she gazed at him.

Merry reached out and took her hand, and together they remembered. “He loved you as much as I do, although he never would agree to call you Mummy as I did.”

“I never wanted him to--he remembered his own mummy rather too much.”

He lifted her hand to his cheek, then kissed it. Together they shared a look that spoke of so many memories cherished. Then he set the box on the table by her, stood, and turning to his daughter lifted her up. “Now, my fair beauty,” he said in a mock growl, “it’s time to see you returned to your nurse so that you might get your nap, and you, young Hobbit,” he said, looking down at Perry, “have lessons to do. Off with you now.”

He leaned down and gave a kiss to the top of the lad’s head as he scampered toward the door and the lesson’s room, then smiled at his mother. “I’ll return in a moment, Mum,” he promised.

She smiled, and watched him go. Then she looked at the carefully rolled letter with its silver ribbon and lifted it out, looking at it thoughtfully, and gave the tug that would release the bow. She carefully unrolled it, and after unfolding the sheet inside once more, ran her fingers over the remarkably graceful lettering, smiling as she read it one last time. Then she leaned her head back against her chair, remembering when she’d received that letter from the King’s city, and let herself drift away, not realizing a single tear was slipping unnoticed down her cheek in spite of the smile on her lips. As she drifted away the heaviness in her chest twinged, and then....

“Mum?” Merry began as he reentered the room. He saw the single tear beginning to dry, and then he saw something else, and grew frightened.

“She just drifted off to sleep,” Estella began, but her husband was shaking his head, his face white.

He leaned over her, setting his hand to the pulse point on her throat. He straightened. “She’s more than drifted away, dearling. She’s gone to join Dad at the Feast, I think.”

He saw the letter falling free of her hand, took it before it could drift to the floor, and after examining it for a moment paused, his mouth working. “It’s from the Lady Arwen--about Frodo.” He read it quietly, finally reading aloud, “You ask what you can do for Frodo. You can do no more than you did before--to love him both in the cherishing and in the letting go.” He went on quietly, “She loved him as much as she did me, although it was quite a different love. So, she let him go--twice--to find healing.”


She found herself looking down at the room, surprised to see Merry and Estella leaning over that poor figure sitting in the chair there. She realized both were upset and grieving, and then Merry was taking the letter from the figure’s slack hand. He was reading it, read aloud what the Queen had written about needing to let Frodo go free. Then he paused, and for a moment she realized he saw her. She felt the joy of that recognition fill her. “It’s all right, lad,” she tried to tell him. “Oh, it’s more than all right! I can hear your father, and your grandparents. You stay for now--Estella and the bairns--they need you so. I’ll take them your love.”

And she turned away, seeking them, and saw the way ahead of her, heard Sara’s voice laughing in joy. “Oh, my dearling--how we’ve waited for you to join us! And our Merry and Estella--they’re both happy? Grandchildren?”

She was speeding toward him, filled with the joy of it, and his hand was reaching for hers--and then she paused, and both looked down.

Frodo was below them, surrounded by children. Oh, not Hobbit children, but what appeared to be the children of Elves, all of them shining brightly as they gathered about him. She realized he was teaching them to dance, and they were laughing, and he was laughing, too--laughing and shining most brightly of all as he looked up at one lad and sought to correct him--then froze as he caught a glimpse of her and Sara reaching for one another’s hands, and she caught the perfect delight that flared through him as he smiled up at the two of them.

“Aunt! Uncle! How wonderful to catch a sight of you! I wish you Joy!”

“And you, our first lad--we wish you the same and more!”

And then her hand touched that of Sara, and the vision was past--past, but not lost.


All the items had been restored to the chest save the small box, and somehow Estella wasn’t surprised to see it in her husband’s left hand as he stood over his mother’s grave, set between that of Saradoc Brandybuck and the one that held the double coffin that held the remains of Drogo and Primula Baggins. He leaned on the Sword with his right hand on its pommel as he spoke her eulogy, then when at last each had flung in his or her handful of dirt and flowers, once the older sons of Sam Gamgee helped to fill in the grave and set the headstone in place, he gave the Sword over to the keeping of Berilac, prised open the small box one more time, and removed the dried wreath of violets.

He looked at his mother’s grave for quite a time. “For you, Mummy,” he whispered before he turned to drape the dried but still fragrant wreath over the stone that marked the resting place for Primula and Drogo. “From his second Mum,” he murmured as he bowed toward the grave. Then he closed the box with its rolled missive restored to it, and turned away, setting his hand on Pippin’s shoulder, Sam walking on his right as they returned together to Brandy Hall.


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