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32
A Bad Cold

A Bad Cold


Sam caught the cold first, having stayed overlong out in the rain trying to make certain he had the last of the bulbs planted and enough straw about the rosebushes to see them through any early freeze that might happen. He was reasonably sick for four days, and glad that Rosie didn’t appear to have been more than mildly ill, and that cleared away swiftly enough.

Neither of them allowed Frodo to come near the master bedroom while Sam was abed; and for four days it appeared he’d be spared the illness himself--but on the fifth he started to get up when Sam came to call him to second breakfast, then sat back down heavily on the bed, obviously light-headed. His face abnormally pale even for him, Frodo rolled up in his sheets and blankets. “I think,” he said rather weakly, “perhaps I ought not to get up today. Sam, could you send a message by Quick Post to Michel Delving and let Will know I’ll not be able to come for that meeting he’d wished me to attend?” He’d barely gotten that out before he began coughing almost uncontrollably.

Within an hour he was terribly congested, and Sam had the fire in his room well stoked with the kettle over it, mint and leaves from the south called eucalyptus being steeped in it to release the vapors throughout the room. Rosie brought Frodo a clean stack of handkerchiefs and a tisane of rose hips, and as much chicken broth as she could get him to drink.

He was still coughing heavily on the third day, and now he was bringing up wads of phlegm from his chest. “I don’t like this, Master,” Sam sighed as he picked up a basket of used handkerchiefs to take out for Rosie to launder and examined the basin he’d brought earlier for Frodo to use. “If’n it were to go on much longer, I fear as it’ll go into the lung sickness. I suspect as I ought to send for Drolan Chubbs.”

“But I don’t want to call Drolan, Sam. He’ll want to check my chest--and what will he think when he sees the scars there? Or the ones on my back? I’ve known him----” He stopped to cough.

“So, you’ve known him since him and you was lads?” Sam objected once the coughing was finally over. “So what? You think as he can’t understand as folks as get caught up in wars get wounded? Here, Master--take this and cough that stuff up into it,” he added as he held out the basin. “And I don’t see what the difference is atween him seein’ the scars on your back and Mr. Budgie seein’ ’em--you admit as he helped clean that spider bite while you was there at Mr. Fredegar’s.”

“I couldn’t help that, Sam! It’s not like I could clean it properly myself.” Frodo’s voice was rough from coughing.

In the end Frodo agreed for Sam to approach Drolan as to what might best to do to deal with the congestion in his lungs. But once Sam got to the Chubbs place he found that Drolan himself was sick. “Caught it from little Dahlia Boffin, we think,” Mrs. Chubbs told him. “She was coughing and sneezing fit to bust, her mother told me. Next day, he’s down with it, too. Upper lungs are pretty congested and he’s coughin’ up great wads of stuff.”

“How are you dealin’ with it?” Sam asked.

Once she’d told him, he nodded. He had most of the herbs she told him of in his own garden; and she sold him a couple of tinctures to add to Frodo’s tea. “If it won’t break up you might have to do a mustard plaster, although that’s sometimes hard on one. But keep it in mind if it doesn’t get better.”

He thanked her and headed off for Bag End again.

As he headed up the hill Marigold hailed him from Number Three. “I come over to check on our dad,” she told him. “Widow Rumble sent for me this mornin’--seems the Gaffer has caught a cold. You know him--is insistin’ as there’s nothin’ wrong, o’ course. But he’s deafer than ever with it blockin’ his ears. Don’t seem too terrible bad, though.”

At that moment Geli Proudfoot came out of the end smial along the Row, heavily wrapped in a warm shawl. “Your dad’s got it, too? Both Pando and little Cyclamen have it, and Sancho’s only been up a day or two. Hacking up stuff still, he is. Hope I don’t get it! So far it’s not too terrible bad with the bairns, at least--not so bad as it was for Sancho.”

The tinctures and herbs served to keep Frodo’s congestion from getting worse, but although he felt much better in a few days, the cough continued on for another week and a half, and he kept bringing up more phlegm. Not only that, he simply couldn’t seem to regain his endurance properly, and his appetite had fallen to nearly nothing, or at least it seemed so to Sam. Yet he asked that Sam and Rosie send what food they could to those they heard of who also had the nasty cold that was making the rounds of the region of the Hill; and when word came that Angelica Proudfoot had finally caught it, too, Sam and Rosie began making up more chicken broth to send down to Number Five.

*******


Bartolo came in from his visit with Gammer Alma to find Delphinium sitting in the parlor with an open letter. He recognized the handwriting and frowned. “What’s that Sancho writing you about?” he asked.

“Geli’s pretty sick,” Delphie answered him. “It appears that she’s caught that nasty, nasty cold that’s been going round, and is the last one in the hole to get it. Cyclamen and Pando are well over it, at least, although Sancho says he’s still coughing up stuff, although he says as it’s much better than it was. The Gaffer was sick for most of a week, apparently, although he appears to be well now; but Frodo appears to be having difficulty throwing it off. Seems as the children are up there every day now, helping Mistress Rosie see to him. Sam was called away northwards to Gamwidge and Tighfield to help family in the Northfarthing and to consult on replanting some groves there that weren’t done last year, so Mistress Rosie’s doing her best to care for Frodo and apparently half of Hobbiton and Bywater as well.”

Barti looked on her with concern. He knew what she really wanted to do was to go to Hobbiton herself, and he knew that this was what was demanded by the ties of family. But he didn’t really like the idea, in spite of it all. However, if she truly wanted to go....

“Well, are you going, then?” he asked rather abruptly.

She looked up at him. “You have to be in Pincup for three days, and then are supposed to be to Needlehole and then Threadneedle. Persi’s in the Great Smial, and you know Lavinia is planning to take the younger children again. I’d be here all by myself.”

He nodded.

“I think I will,” she finally said. “It’s not as if I’ve been able to do much for my sister. I couldn’t be there when Cyclamen was born--I feel as if I really ought to go this time, Barti.”

“Good enough,” he said. “I’ll ride Spotty, and leave Dottie to pull the trap.” However, he couldn’t hide the fact he wasn’t particularly happy that she was going to Hobbiton.

Not to mention, thought Delphie, that he was the reason I wasn’t there when Cyclamen was born and when Sancho’s brother and his wife died, leaving them the hole and Pando.

*******


“Twice in less than a few months? Oh, Delphie, you’re going to spoil me!” Geli said as Sancho, grinning, led his sister-in-love back into the main bedroom. Geli was sitting up in bed with a stack of clean handkerchiefs by her, a mug between her hands.

“Oh, that smells wonderful!” Delphie said with an appreciative sniff. “Chicken soup?”

Her sister nodded. “Mistress Rose makes the absolute best chicken broth and soups, and keeps us well supplied. I think as she’s probably made enough in the past few weeks to keep the whole region o’ the Hill floatin’ in them, in fact. O’ course, Cousin Frodo’s always seen to it as whoever’s ill is provided for. When Pulgo and Lyssa were so ill, there just before they died, he saw to it that we didn’t have to cook. I just wish as I could send more things up to him, too.”

“I’ve been sendin’ up ginger biscuits,” Sancho said, as he stood, his arms crossed, leaning on the doorway. “Cousin Frodo--he always liked ginger biscuits.”

“Is he still sick?

“Not quite sick, but not quite well, neither, what Pando tells me. Can’t seem to shake the cough, and is weak and not wantin’ to eat enough to keep a bird alive. What about Mr. Bracegirdle--where’s he?”

“Off to see his clients all around the Shire, and Lavinia’s insisted on taking hers and our younger ones for a week. I have no intention of being bored in Pincup for three days, so announced as I was coming here. Barti realized it would do no good to argue, so didn’t try.”

Geli asked, “How’s Persi doing in his apprenticeship?”

“He’s doing very well, although he says as Master Bernigard insists he not use as when he means that, and he’s finding that a struggle.”

Angelica giggled as she glanced at her husband. “If Dad were to hear how I’ve sunk to talkin’ he’d have a right fit, I’m thinkin’. Probably a good thing as he didn’t live to see me now.” She grew pensive. “I’m only sorrowed as he didn’t get to know Cyclamen. He’d have loved her, I’m certain. She’s such a dear thing, she is, and it’s certain as old Odo dotes on her.”

“Where is she?”

“Up at Bag End with her brother and the Chubbs lads. They’re all fascinated by Frodo’s stories--it’s one thing as he hasn’t lost the touch of--tellin’ stories. Did you know as they actually saw an oliphaunt--him and Sam Gamgee? And he says as Pippin Took and Merry Brandybuck saw more of them during the great battle as they were caught in. Said as the Enemy’s folks brought them all the way from Far Harad. It sounds almost too much to believe, you know. Frodo’s done a drawin’ of the one as he saw for the children, and they’ve been studyin’ it. The Chubbs lads have sort of taken over a book as Mr. Sam says the King sent Cousin Frodo as is full of pictures of strange beasts that live in the far south, or so the book says. There’s pictures of oliphaunts in it, and they look just like Frodo’s picture. The one he drew had a sort of saddle on it, an’ attached to the saddle is a sort of tower so several Men could ride on it way above everyone else--I understand Merry says it made it easier for them to shoot arrows down on everyone else, but harder for folks on the ground to shoot up at them.”

Delphie found herself shivering. “It sounds awful.”

Sancho added, “I think as Mr. Sam would like to have an oliphaunt for his own. I asked him if’n he’d really seen one, and he said as he had. Got rather excited about it--said as ’twas one of the things as he really liked about their travels, even if a good deal of it was pretty awful. Said as they saw it in a place called Thilien or somethin’ like, a great wooded place east of a great river. Said as they come back to the same area later, and he looked for the oliphaunt, but no one ever seemed to of seen it. Seems to think as it was a great pity.”

Once she’d cooked a roast and she was certain that her sister and her family wouldn’t want for anything if she were to be away for a time, Delphie considered going up to Bag End to visit her cousin. “Well,” Geli commented consideringly, “we do need the bairns to come home and eat--with Frodo ill he ought to get some time to himself to at least rest without having to tell stories or answer questions as go on forever. You could go up and send them, and stay to visit for a time if you wish. And perhaps he’ll eat some of the roast--do take some to him.”

“I’ll do that, then,” Delphi agreed, and kissing her sister’s forehead she headed up the Hill, a covered plate of roast and a second of more ginger biscuits in hand.

*******


“I’ll get it!” sang out Cyclamen at the sound of the doorbell, and she bounced off the padded settle where she’d been sitting by Frodo, looking at a book, to run to the door to see who had come to call on her cousin. She had some difficulty as always with the latch, but managed to get it open, and looked up to see her aunt standing over her. “Oh, hullo, Auntie Delphie. You came to call, did you?”

“Yes--I heard as your mummy was ill, so came to help as I could, and brought something up to our Cousin Frodo, as is polite.”

“We brought up some more ginger biscuits,” the faunt explained. “They’re all gone now, for he had us share.”

“That was most polite of your cousin and you as well. Your mummy and daddy wish for you and Pando to come home now, though--your mummy said I was to tell you.’

“Then who’ll sit by Cousin Frodo? Missus Rosie’s gone to her parents’ farm t’fetch some more milk ’n’ eggs as they put by for her.”

“Do you think she’d mind if I was to sit by him?”

“Can you fix tea for him if he wants it?”

Suppressing a smile at the solemnity of the question, Delphie assured her, “I do believe I can--I fix it for your Uncle Barti when he needs it, you see.”

Reassured that her older cousin wouldn’t go wanting before Missus Rosie returned, Cyclamen gave a serious nod. “All right, then. Pando! Mummy wants us t’come home now. Auntie Delphie’s t’stay with Cousin Frodo for her turn!”

As Delphinium entered and closed the door behind her, Pando rose from where he sat over another book in the corner with three other lads. “If Mum Geli’s calling for me,” he said to his companions, “then yours will be calling for you, too.”

The others nodded as they stood up also. One closed the book and stretched to set it atop the shelf on the far side of the mantel before the children all gathered about Frodo. “You’ll be all right, Mr. Frodo?” asked one of the Chubbs lads.

“I will, and thank your mother for the pottage.” Frodo smiled. As Delphie, who’d hung her cloak upon the pegs in the entry, came in with her plates, she could see that Frodo’s eyes had dark circles beneath them as if he’d slept little recently. “Did you find more fascinating beasts to learn about in the King’s book?” he asked.

“Ooh, yes--pards. They seem to be a kind of cat, and will sit upon tree limbs until their prey walks under them, then will drop on it. Sounds eerie, it does.”

“Yes--very eerie--and rather practical for a cat of some kind. Well, go on with the four of you, then--I don’t wish for any of you to be in trouble for being late.”

No matter how dark the circles under his eyes, his smile was as sweet as ever, Delphie thought as she watched the children take their leave; and as he watched after them there was that hint of longing there. Once the door had closed behind them he looked at her. “If only,” he said quietly, “I still had both their energy and innocence.”

She nodded as she brought a chair near the long, heavily padded settle on which he lay, an oversized shawl wrapped about him. “So, you don’t appear to be getting any better,” she said as she sat by him.

“Oh, I think I am, but it appears a longer process than I’ve known before. If I stay up very long I appear to become rather lightheaded and very tired, so I find I need to sit or lie down most of the time, which becomes tiresome. I’m only glad that Angelica and the Chubbses have allowed the children to visit me so long and often, for it helps me bear with being housebound this----” He didn’t finish the sentence. He examined her face. “You look to be very well.”

“I had a day of sniffles early on, and that appears to be all the bad I personally took from the cold as it came through Hardbottle. Ricki appears to have suffered the worst of the four at home, for he was down for two and a half days; and Barti doesn’t appear to have felt he had time for ‘that kind of nonsense’ and hasn’t had so much as a sneeze.”

Frodo laughed outright. “Oh, yes--I can imagine even a cold accepting having been dismissed by Bartolo Bracegirdle,” he said as he shifted his position to lie on his back.

Once he was comfortably situated again, she took his hand. He looked a bit uncomfortable at this, and she realized this was the one missing its finger, but she refused to let it go as if it disgusted her. “I brought you some roast beef and some more ginger biscuits. Knowing children as I do I am suspecting most of the ones they brought up earlier went into their own stomachs.”

He shrugged. “Perhaps, but then they’re growing and need the food.”

She examined the hand she held. “But you need it, too, Frodo Baggins. You can’t go on losing weight the way you’re doing, you know.”

She was surprised to see his face cloud with anger as he pulled his hand free of hers. “And what am I supposed to do about it, Delphinium Baggins Bracegirdle?” he demanded. “Do you think I’m unaware of how much weight I’ve lost? Do you think I like being skin and bones and little more? Do you think that Aragorn and Elrond and Budgie Smallfoot and every other healer with whom I’ve come into contact in the past year and a half hasn’t tried to hammer home I must eat what I can to allow me to appear once more a proper Hobbit?”

He turned his head away from her. At last, he said, his face still looking at the wall behind the settle, “After Lalia died and we were criticizing her and Ferumbras for allowing her to become so enormous, the Thain became very upset. He said we just didn’t understand--she’d been trying to lose much of her bulk; but once she’d gotten so fat, no matter how much she cut down what she was eating, her body continued to pile the weight on, particularly once she could no longer easily move by herself. And Pearl confirmed to me that Lalia hadn’t been eating anywhere as much as the rest of the folk in the Great Smial for the last while before her death, but continued to gain in girth anyway.

“Now I know why he became so upset. No matter what was done, once she’d come to a particular point, they could do nothing to change the body from taking all food and converting it to fat. With me--with me, it’s the opposite.”

“You mean, you can’t gain weight?” she asked.

He shrugged, and then finally turned back to look at her. “Oh, I’ll regain some weight, but then lose it again. Aragorn has told me that--that the last part of our journey was so difficult that it affected my stomach, so that it’s likely I’ll always have difficulties digesting my food from now on. Certainly he’s proven right so far. I regained a fair amount of weight while we were in Minas Tirith, although not as much as I’d lost on the way to Rivendell; then lost a good deal of that during our journey home, in spite of us taking it in fairly easy stages. And each time that boil comes back----”

“You have a boil?”

“Well, I do now--one that keeps coming back on the back of my neck. I was b--wounded there, and they suspect that there might be something deep in the wound that infections keep building around. However, so far no one’s been willing to probe it to seek to find out what might be in there, as they tell me the neck is a particularly delicate area. So, when the wound drains Sam cleans it for me and keeps it properly bandaged until it heals up again.”

“Does that have to do with the headaches you’ve had?” she asked. “Like the ones you had at Midsummer?”

“It seems to make them worse,” he admitted.

“And it affects your stomach also?”

He nodded. “Yes, it appears to. It’s not bothering me now, though--it drained early in October, and probably won’t do so again for another few weeks, or so I hope.”

“What do the healers here say?”

“Budgie Smallfoot won’t believe----” He paused briefly before continuing, “He doesn’t believe it would be safe to probe it, either. He agrees with Aragorn and Elrond and the healers from Minas Tirith.”

“I thought the Chubbses were your healers--Auntie Laurel and Drolan.”

Frodo shrugged and looked away. “There’s not a lot that Drolan could do for me, Delphie.”

“Who is this Budgie Smallfoot?”

“Fredegar Bolger’s friend and personal healer.”

“You’re still friends with Freddy?”

“We’ve always been close, since shortly after I came to live here in Hobbiton with Bilbo.”

“Why didn’t he go with you, too?”

“He was afraid to leave the Shire. He was to stay and convince folks I was in the Crickhollow house for as long as possible so no one would realize we were on our way to Bree and Rivendell. He had no intention of finding himself in danger, too.”

“But he led the rebels!”

Frodo nodded, looking back to her. “I know. We were so surprised to learn he’d done that. But he found he had a good deal more courage than he’d thought, once he saw what the Big Men were doing to the Shire.”

“He was telling me at the Free Fair what a coward he was--how he’d been frightened by the first of the Big Men to come--the ones all dressed in black.”

She was amazed when Frodo began shivering almost uncontrollably. “Those weren’t Men,” he whispered. “No, they weren’t Men--not any more, they weren’t. Any sane individual would have been terrified by them!” He clutched at his shoulder. “Even the Elves faced them with a level of fear.”

“You saw them?” she asked, fascinated.

His eyes appeared haunted as he murmured, “Oh, yes, I saw them.” Again he turned his face away.

The ensuing silence grew increasingly uncomfortable. At last she asked, “Would you like some tea, Frodo?”

He forced himself to look back at her. “There ought to be some of Sam’s tea left in the cool room--it’s in a blue earthenware pitcher. Even cold it appears to help.”

She rose. “Then you bide here for a moment, and I’ll bring you some.” She paused before leaving the room to stir up the fire and add another couple logs.

She found the pitcher, carefully covered with gauze. She poured some into a mug she found warming by the kitchen fire along with a pot of chicken broth, fetched another mug to pour some broth into, and taking them with a couple of smaller plates and needfuls she returned to the parlor. “Here’s both some tea and some warmed broth, Frodo. And do you think you could handle a bit of roast beef? I’d prepared it for Geli and the family, and she and Sancho insisted I bring some up to you.”

He sat up rather carefully. She moved a small table before him and saw to it he had a small serving of everything. After fetching napkin, fork, and spoon and seeing all set up properly, she sat back with a small plate for herself as well and began to tell him about life in Garden Place in Hardbottle. As he listened she saw his expression lighten and some color return to his face. As she told him of the conkers competitions between Ricki and the Greenman children who lived next door he was smiling. “Did you ever play at conkers, Frodo?” she asked.

He gave a small shrug as he finished swallowing some of the roast. “I did when we lived in Whitfurrow, and when we would visit at Brandy Hall or with the Tooks,” he admitted. “But once I was living there after my parents’ deaths I fear I was discouraged. Aunt Menegilda saw conkers as a frivolous pastime at best, and certainly wasn’t going to cheer me on in competitions. I think I played more of it here after Bilbo adopted me than I did in Buckland. Now, Pervinca was a very competitive conkers player.”

“Pervinca Took? Peregrin’s next older sister?”

He nodded. “She and Merry taught Pippin all they knew of the game and of strategy. But he could rarely beat her. Did your daughters ever play at it?”

“Gonya wouldn’t think of doing so--she’d feel it wasn’t ladylike enough, I fear. Pet did play at it at times, and will sometimes play with Enrico even now. Alyssa isn’t interested, however.”

“Did Bartolo ever play at it? No, I can’t see him unbending enough.”

“Actually, he was a very good player when he was a lad, and two summers ago gave both Persi and Ricki some stiff competition and pointers. It rather gave both lads quite a different perspective on their father, to realize he had himself been young once.”

Frodo laughed delightedly, and she felt her heart lift at the sound of it. “To know that Bartolo Bracegirdle once was a conkers champion is wonderful!” he said.

“You do love children, don’t you, Frodo?”

He gave another shrug and grew solemn once more. “Pearl and I’d planned to have at least five.” He looked about him. “Now at last Bag End will be filled with the family it was built for. Sam and Rosie will have quite a few, you see.”

“And how do you know that?”

He gave her a mysterious smile. “Oh, I know. They’ll have at least a dozen.”

“And you’ll be as their beloved uncle?”

He nodded, but the smile was now but a memory. “Yes, they’ll think of me ever as their Uncle Frodo. He stands in place of the brothers I lost, along with Merry, Pippin, and Aragorn.”

She raised her eyebrows. “You feel as a brother to our new King?”

He nodded, and she saw the warmth the thought of that gave him as unconsciously his smile returned. “Oh, yes--Aragorn is as a brother to me. Quite a tall brother, though. He’d always wished for brothers and perhaps a sister or two as much as I ever did.”

“It was too bad your mum lost the other children.”

He nodded as he looked at her in a speculative manner. “Yours, too,” he said thoughtfully. “Look at how many little lads your mother lost.”

She sighed. “When Albro died, I thought Mum would follow him. Certainly I was grieved. As for Dad----” She shook her head at the memory of that loss.

He reached across the table and took her left hand. “I’m so sorry, Delphie. None of ours lived anywhere near that long.”

“Save you.”

He shrugged and looked away again. “Save me,” he agreed. “And is Barti looking after the children now?”

She gave a slight shake of her head. “No, he’s off about the Shire doing lawyerly things, you know. Lavinia has them--she loves to have ours with her, even though we live just across the village from one another. I rather think she wishes she’d been able to have four or five more than she does.” She ate a bite of roast as she thoughtfully examined him. “Albro was born a year and a half before you,” she said thoughtfully. “Had he lived, I’m certain you and he would have ended up playmates.”

“I barely remember his funeral--it must have been his funeral, what with the flowers and the somber folks. Just before----” He gave a wry expression as he left the statement unfinished.

“Just before Lobelia started spewing that poison about your mum and dad and Bilbo?”

“Yes, and then we moved to Buckland.”

“How did you know about the others?”

“I am the family head for the Bagginses, you know, and keep the Book of Baggins.”

“Ah, yes. That was so wise of Bilbo, to cut out Otho and Lotho that way. With Lobelia as his wife, Otho would have been just as bad a family head for the Bagginses as he proved for the Sackvilles; and for Lotho to have succeeded him!” She shivered. “Perish the thought!”

He poked his fork aimlessly at a bite of roast. “Although there were times I wished Bilbo hadn’t decided to adopt me, even if I did agree at the time.”

“Especially when you were out wandering the wild, hoping to find your way to Mordor?” she asked.

He gave her a glancing look, then turned his attention back to the plate. “Yes,” he finally said in a tone that put an end to that line of discussion. He set down the fork and picked up the mug of broth and drank from it.

At last, after she’d seen him eat about a quarter of the slice of roast she’d set before him, she asked, “Do you know the Queen anywhere well?”

He nodded as he finished chewing on the bite he’d just taken, and set down his fork. At last he answered, “I don’t know her anywhere as well as Aragorn, of course; but she’s easily amongst the most beautiful of women of any race within Arda. I can see how it was that Aragorn became enchanted by her the first time he even saw her, the day he came of age.”

“Take another sip of your tea, Frodo dear. So how did they meet?”

He dutifully drank from his mug, then described what the two of them had told him of that meeting during a dinner about a week after their wedding. “It’s strange--I saw Aragorn by her that first evening after I awoke in Rivendell, dressed in Elvish armor and standing by her in the Hall of Fire, and I never realized why he looked so happy, or why he sat the morning before we left with his head bowed in grief. And when the Lady Galadriel gave him the Elessar stone brooch it never occurred to me that this was her granddaughter’s promise gift to him. I knew Arwen wore a ring on a chain about her neck--I saw it when we met to speak in Rivendell. It wasn’t until she returned it to him after their wedding to continue to serve as the sign of the heirs of Elendil that I realized it was the Ring of Barahir she’d been wearing then. And this after Bilbo had me read of Beren and Finrod Felagund with Sam, in a story where that ring was described in detail.”

“And he loved her the first time he saw her?”

He nodded.

She noted the expression in his eyes, and realized, “And you felt the same way when you saw her, then? Oh, Frodo!”

His face grew paler, although the tips of his cheeks flamed. “I had no idea her heart was already given,” he murmured. “Although I knew that there was nothing to be done about it--I mean, a Hobbit and Elrond’s daughter? But I understood better how it was that Gimli’s heart was lost to the Lady Galadriel the first time he looked deep into her eyes and saw not disparagement but respect. He knew there was no hope further than that--she was already well married to Lord Celeborn, after all. But he’ll never seek among his own people for a love, I fear.” He straightened and his chin lifted. “I doubt I’m quite that besotted with our Queen as he is with the Lady, however. I have found myself--looking again--now that I can.”

“There was a time when you couldn’t? When you had--It?”

He searched her eyes. “Did I hold It, or did It hold me?” he asked. Again he went silent. “I didn’t wish anyone else who didn’t have to know to learn anything about It,” he finally continued.

“No one told us--but as I told you before, we couldn’t help learning I suppose more than you wanted us to while we were in Bree. None of us is precisely foolish, you realize. The--the Ring went into the fire and Sauron’s power was ended; and you were the one who went to Mordor and returned so changed.” She paused, then asked, “Why did you tell Bartolo--whatever it is you told him about it?”

He shrugged as he picked up knife and fork and determinedly cut the remaining roast into bites. After carefully chewing and swallowing another piece of meat, he said quietly, “He was almost thinking I was some great and shining hero there, and I had to let him know it was nowhere as glorious as that.” Again he set down his fork and wiped his mouth with his napkin. “We read,” he continued, “of shining battles--but they don’t speak of the horrors of war. They don’t tell us that war so often brings out the worst in us--the most brutal and horrible tendencies that hide in the dark crevices of our souls.”

“And they also bring out the best in those who must fight as well, don’t they?” she asked. “I can’t imagine, from what we’ve seen of the King’s kinsmen and what we’ve learned of him, of many of his own folk allowing themselves to continue slaying once the battle’s won, just because their blood is up.”

His expression softened, as if that observation was one that hadn’t occurred to him. “You think so?”

“Look at you, Frodo. You came back and spoke of rescuing Lotho--one of the Quick Post messengers who was pressed into the Shiriffs and who listened to you in your talks with the others after you’d just returned to the Shire told me that he’d heard you say that, and that Merry was shocked at the thought of it. No matter what--It--did to you while you still carried It, you came back better than you were before you’d left. I can’t imagine you before you left thinking of rescuing Lotho from a mess he’d caught himself in.”

His eyes dropped to his plate, and he gave a shrug.

“And you wouldn’t let them shoot at that Sharkey, even after he’d tried to stab you,” she pointed out. “You told him again he could heal, I understand.”

“I’d hoped he could return--return to what he’d been--before he became a Wizard, I mean. But for that he needed time.”

“As you needed time to recover from what your journey did to you,”

Again he raised his eyes to meet hers, although he didn’t speak.

Finally she suggested, “Drink the rest of your tea and broth, at least, Frodo.”

Suddenly he smiled, and it was as if a bright star filled the room with a silver light. “Yes, Mum,” he said. As he picked up the mug of broth he added, “You did sound just like her right then, you realize.”

Delphie began to laugh with delight, and after a moment he laughed, too. He’d recover, she realized as she set a couple of ginger biscuits before him.

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