With thanks to RiverOtter for the Beta. Written for the LOTR Community Father's Day Challenge. And with special thanks to Andrea.
“Why not now?” said Sam. “It’s not much more than six o’clock. And I want to see my gaffer. D’you know what’s come of him, Mr. Cotton?”
“He’s not too well, and not too bad, Sam,” said the farmer. “They dug up Bagshot Row, and that was a sad blow to him. He’s in one of the new houses that the Chief’s men used to build while they still did any work other than burning and thieving: not above a mile from the end of Bywater. But he comes around to me, when he gets the chance, and I see he’s better fed than some of the poor bodies. All against The Rules, of course. I’d have had him with me, but that wasn’t allowed.”
The thought of his old dad being forced out of his comfortable, cozy home and into a brick monstrosity such as he’d seen along the Road as they’d come west from Lotho’s gate and the Shiriff House just inside it made Sam’s blood boil.
“I knew,” he muttered to himself as he beckoned Jolly Cotton, Robin Smallburrow and one of the Boffin lads to him, “as there was mischief a-goin’ on here. Lord Elrond--him all but said, and I did see him with a bit of his things in a barrow, there when my Mr. Frodo ’n’ me was lookin’ into the Lady’s Mirror. Well, let my Gaffer be hurt, and that Chief of theirs’ll find hisself in bad straits come mornin’!”
He caught Mr. Frodo’s eyes on him, all concerned, and realized that his Master had heard every word--but then, that had been true of him most of the time since he’d been stabbed by that Morgul knife--seemed to of sharpened his hearing, it had. He gave a shrug and what he hoped was a reassuring nod to Frodo, who gave a brief, slightly worried smile in return.
Frodo stepped toward him. “Go quickly, Sam, and meet with us at the Cottons’ farm. I doubt that any of these Men or whatever else they might be can reach your father before you can, and I think they will think twice ere they seek to face one of us who carries a sword. But I do not wish for your father and Marigold to remain unprotected through another night any more than you do.”
“Will do, Mr. Frodo, sir. Will do. And don’t you go pressin’ yourself too hard with me not by you to see to what you need, hear?”
Frodo’s smile shone forth briefly. “Thank you, Sam-my-lad.”
Somehow hearing his master echo one of the Gaffer’s names for him gave Sam greater heart, and he gave his Master another nod before turning away to go seek his father.
Saruman rose with a sour feeling in his stomach, although he’d not allow that to show to those under him. He found Gríma sitting hunched on the pallet that served him as a bed in the main room of this shed Saruman had taken for his own, and Lurtz, his primary lieutenant here in the Shire, was seated at the small table. The former Wizard would rather have stayed within Bag End itself; but it would take considerable cleansing before it was fit again for habitation. Why the Men and half-orcs he’d sent to Lotho Pimple’s side had taken it into their heads to befoul the place as they had he had no idea. Well, actually he did know--the last word he’d sent into the Shire ere his arrival was to make certain that this precious Chief should begin to realize he was nowhere as much in charge as he’d thought; and his Men had, after all, been chafing at the idea they must answer to such a one as this for some time. And so they’d done; and since the removal of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins to the Lockholes they’d turned to defacing Lotho’s precious hole with a vengeance. Until he managed to have the place cleansed, this shack would have to do, he supposed.
He looked on Gríma with distaste. Since they’d been turned out of Orthanc the former counselor to Théoden had allowed himself to deteriorate markedly, and no longer stood up to his suggestions at all. The former Wizard wasn’t certain whether of not he approved of this, although it effectively reduced the number of arguments he had to deal with. “What news?” he demanded of Lurtz.
Gríma glanced over his shoulder, then turned his attention back to the unglazed window out of which he’d been staring. Lurtz gave the former counselor to Théoden a disparaging stare before answering, “This morning--word from the Bridge. Apparently the four Hobbits what went south come back, and set the Shiriff House there in an uproar. Sent all the Shiriffs from ’round here to arrest them at Frogmorton.”
“Too soon,” Saruman muttered. “They ought to have remained on the road at least another week--then things would have been too far advanced to allow them to undo them easily. Curse them! Did Gandalf come with them?”
Lurtz shook his head. “No one come but four Hobbits.”
The former White Wizard thought. “Who are closest to this Frodo?”
The Man shrugged. “Ones closest to him went with him--his cousins and his gardener. There are two cousins supposed to be close to him still here within the Shire, one in the Lockholes and the other in Overhill. Pimple had that one’s home dug out--him and his old mum live in a run-down hand’s cottage on the farm his cousin runs. The Bolger cousin’s family’s living in misery in an old storage hole on the edge of Budgeford.”
“What of the families of the three who accompanied this Frodo?”
“Those’re Meriadoc Brandybuck, Peregrin Took, and his gardener, Samwise Gamgee. We’ve not yet been able to get into the Tooklands or Buckland successfully. There aren’t no boats to be found along the river what’ll carry any of our folk across; and those Shiriffs who’ve tried to get into Buckland for us have all been caught and sent running, beat or covered with honey or offal and garbage or something like, while those of our folk who’ve managed to get past the pits in the road’ve never got back. No idea what’s become of ’em.”
“I’m told it draws hornets. Last one to come back was sick with stings.”
Saruman’s eyebrows rose. “Ingenious. We shall have to remember that.” He thought. “And so far all we have been able to do is fire those fields on the borders of Buckland and the Tooklands.”
“Yeah. Our folk’ve caught two Tooks recently--one’s dead, and the other’s in the Lockholes.”
“Yes--I know. I saw him yesterday while I was there.” He shivered, for what had been said to him by this Ferdibrand Took had been disturbing, particularly when the Hobbit, and the former Istar was certain he was now blind, had nevertheless informed him that his Light was spent. What did a mere mortal know of the Light of Being? And how could one who could no longer see even detect it? “Tell me what you have been told of the Tooks and the Bucklanders,” he directed.
Lurtz shrugged. “The Brandybucks and Tooks are the two biggest families here in the Shire. They’re related--I’ve been told by Pimple and the Bracegirdle what works with us they’ve always married each other. It’s said the Tooks have Faerie blood, whatever that means; folks think them’s hard to predict, though they’re canny enough, I suppose.
“The Brandybucks of Buckland are a stubborn bunch, and right independent. So far all attempts to take anyone what lives in the Hall’ve failed. Bill Ferny and Harry Goatleaf from Bree advised our folk not to try and get into Buckland from the east through the Old Forest; none what’s tried’s been seen again, neither. We’re told the trees are aware and hate all with two legs.”
His expression sour, Saruman examined the pitcher than sat upon the table, identifying its contents as cider. Having little choice in the matter, or so he judged, he poured a measure into a waiting mug as he thought on what he’d just been told. “Another wakened wood? I wonder if Iarwain remains there? He will need to be dealt with eventually.” He sipped at the cider, deciding it wasn’t very good. “And the parents of this Frodo Baggins and his companions?”
“Baggins’s folks drowned when he was a child, and there’s no brothers nor sisters. Merry Brandybuck’s got no brothers and sisters, and his closest folks beyond Frodo Baggins all live in Brandy Hall; while the sisters of Pippin Took are holed up with their folks in the Great Smial and we’ve not been able to get near to any of ’em. Merry Brandybuck’s the son of the Master of Buckland. Peregrin Took’s the son of the Thain and family head for the Tooks.”
“And we cannot reach family members for either one to use to influence this Frodo Baggins or his companions?”
“What about the fourth--the broader one, the one who didn’t follow Gandalf to Orthanc?”
“Samwise Gamgee--Baggins’s gardener. Sandyman says his mother’s been dead for years, and his dad used to live in one of the holes Lotho Sackville-Baggins dug out at the base of the Hill.”
“And where is his father now?”
“Don’t know--Lotho Pimple had those what lived in the base of the Hill run out so’s he could dig out the holes there--decided to wipe ’em away. Some of the others might know. They say his brothers live in the Northfarthing, while his sisters live somewhere in Hobbiton, though I don’t know where. This changing of names when they marry makes it too confusing. None of the Hobbits I’ve talked to’ll answer questions on where such folks are--not since----” He stopped speaking, and shrugged elaborately with a considering sideways glance at Wormtongue.
Not since Worm here killed their precious Chief? thought Saruman, and his lip curled. Although they don’t know for certain--not yet!
Aloud he said, “Find out where this Samwise Gamgee’s father lives, and let me know. We will undoubtedly be able to use him.”
Lurtz rose and gave a salute and left, pointedly ignoring Gríma. After a moment the Dunlending-cum-Rohir said, “I’d advise not trying to seek to hurt the Ringbearer or the one who accompanied him.”
Saruman sneered, “And what would you know of it?”
Wormtongue turned to look at him. “He carried Sauron’s Ring from here to Mordor. I suspect he is much stronger than he looks.”
“He is weak and sickly. And he is merely a mortal, after all.”
“And you are so much more, now your staff----” He had no chance to finish the question, for Saruman had risen and struck him across the side of his head.
“You know nothing about anything!” he hissed. “Not all was lost with my staff! And I still have this!” He held up his hand to show the ring he’d wrought for himself, decorated with serpentine runes. “The Grey Fool had forgotten about this, after all!”
Gríma shrunk inside himself, clutching the place where he’d been clouted and cowering against the wall. But he wisely kept his mouth shut.
Saruman turned toward the ill-fitting door. “Not all was lost with my staff,” he repeated. “I still have untapped power. And I will make this Ringbearer rue the day he returned to the Shire--I swear it!”
It took much of the day to find one of the lads who knew what had become of those moved out of the holes that had once lain at the base of the Hill. “Them?” asked a former Dunlending named Erzant. “Pimple had us build houses this end o’ the road from Bywater--said as none’d take him serious should he leave’m homeless.”
“Why’d he dig out the old holes anyways?” Lurtz asked.
Erzant shrugged. “Wanted the whole o’ the Hill fer hisself, first. An’ those what lived there was still this Baggins’s tenants--was still payin’ their rents to Baggins’s banker o’ discretion, what he could learn. Was furious when him realized Baggins hadn’t sold him them holes along wi’ the big’un. Didn’ wan’ any beholden to Baggins livin’ that close to him, seems like. Then, him was certain as them’d dig upwards from their holes into his--steal all his and his momma’s riches--such’s them was. Foolish one, Pimple.”
“Surprised as he’d have you lads a-buildin’ houses for Shire-rats.”
“Hoped as it’d keep us busy an’ out o’ trouble with the rest o’ the Shirelings, I s’pose. Them was already watchin’ us, them was.”
“Know as which one’s the Gamgee?”
“Yeah--what of it?”
“Sharkey wants ’im.”
“Use ’im, o’ course. Plans to use ’im ’gainst the four what come back, should they get this far.”
“Tell ya what--shouldn’ o’ sent them fool Shiriffs to Frogmorton--should o’ sent us instead. We know how to deal wit’ them what thinks them can stand up ’gainst Sharkey.”
“Well, too late fer that. You show me where them houses are--wasted all day a’lookin’ fer this ’un on me own. We needs t’ get holt o’ this Gamgee ’n’ get him back t’ Sharkey double quick, we does.”
There were three rows of shoddy houses built cheek-by-jowl over the site of a former common garden place. “Firs’ row’s the one what the imps what was dug out o’ the bottom o’ the Hill’s livin’ in. Fine places,” his fellow said with a laugh. “Winnows as don’t open er close right, good pumps in ’em--Pimple insisted on that, him did. Didn’t say as them should be set in any wells, though.” He laughed again. “Sof’ fool, that Chief o’ theirs. Good thing’s we don’ have t’ lissen t’ him no more.” He examined the houses across from him. “Not sure’s which one has Gamgee ’n’ his daughter in’t.”
“Daughter? Thought as all his childerns was married an’ moved off savin’ this Samwise.”
“Nah--there’s a daughter still at home, too--skinny li’l thing her is. On’y pretty thing ’bout her was her clothes--them was right pretty--till them was all took by those Gatherers ’n’ Sharers o’ Pimples--his orders was the Gamgees was to have all took from them. Wanted t’ punish ’em fer that Sam goin’ off with the Baggins upstart, er so’t seems.”
“Then what’s the chief o’ the Gatherers ’n’ Sharers, then? He could tell us!”
Erzant smirked at him. “Him’s leader o’ them Shiriffs what was sen’ off to Frogmorton, him was.”
“In the name o’ the Eye!” spat Lurtz. “These rats won’ answer me when I asks ’em anything!”
“You ’spect sommat differnt?” Erzant asked him, shaking his head.
Just then another of Sharkey’s folk spied them and came running. “Lurtz,” he gasped out, almost out of breath. “Boss wants you double-quick.”
“But I was just fetchin’ that Hobbit what he wants!” Lurtz objected.
“Too late fer that--them Hobbit’s what got the ones at the gate all hot ’n’ bothered--them jus’ rode in off the Road into Bywater, bold’s brass, and sent Brankin an’ five others runnin’. The Boss wants’em dealt with--now!”
“How many o’ our chaps have we got?”
“’Bout thirty, mebbe.”
“Where are they exactly?”
“There near the new mill. That lout Sandyman raised the alarm.”
Sighing, Lurtz gave Erzant a look. “Well, ’pears as we’re needed, then. Go round up clubs fer ever’one.”
Erzant nodded, and together they turned away from the row of houses lying in the growing shadow of a late autumn sunset.
Within his own house, the Gaffer watched through the gap that had formed between two rows of bricks, breathing a sigh of relief they’d gone. He’d sent Marigold off to Daisy’s place earlier in the day, having a feeling that things had been too quiet since the last visit from the Gatherers and Sharers. No, ’twouldn’t of done had them two of Lotho’s Big Men actually come a-calling. He wondered what had drawn them away, and again whispered, “Ah, Sam-me-lad----’tis time t’come home, don’t ye know! Hurry, son--don’t know as how long we c’n continue t’hold them fools off!”
An hour or so later the Gaffer, who’d retired in the face of wood and candle restrictions, heard another row outside--voices of Hobbits, raised in spirited discussion. He couldn’t tell precisely what they were saying--it was all he could do to admit even to himself that his hearing had decreased a good deal in the past year. Most likely it was due to living in this drafty hovel rather than in a properly snug hole, he thought. That cold he’d had last winter hadn’t done him any good, he knew.
“Over there--fourth house in!” he heard. Sounded like Jolly Cotton.
Shivering, the old Hobbit got out of his pitiful bed and grabbed up a club he’d been provided with by one of Daddy Twofoot’s lads, and set himself behind the door. The door couldn’t be properly locked, they’d learned, and he refused to wedge a chair under the knob each time he went to bed--well, the actual fact was that he couldn’t seem to remember to do that each time. Well, let them come--he was ready! But the thought that it was young Jolly who’d led them Big Men here hurt, it did!
But it was a more familiar voice that called out, one he’d almost despaired of hearing. “Gaffer! Dad! You in there? You doin’ good?”
“Sam!” he breathed, and the club fell and clattered on the laid-brick floor. He scrabbled at the door, trying vainly to pull it open. “My Sam! Sam-me-own--if’n you ain’t but the most blessed ninnyhammer as I’d never thought t’see agin!” Finally the door fell open, and he saw his youngest son’s relieved face and foolish smile once more, as Sam stood there, weak with relief, peering into the darkness. The older Hobbit threw himself on Sam’s neck. “Come, lad--where’n Middle Earth you been? Nah, don’ mind me, lad--just you couldn’t of come at a better time. Them Big Men o’ the Chief’s--they was thinkin’ o’ takin’ me earlier, I’m thinkin’.”
Sam pulled back, alarmed. “You sure about that, Dad?”
“Reasonable sure, son. There was two of ’em, right over there, with those awful boots o’ theirs an’ cudgels to hand, lookin’ at the houses an’ mutterin’ atween themselves. Then another ’un come ’n’ called ’em aways.”
“Must of been couple of them as we just captured.”
“Captured?” The Gaffer straightened, and looked--really looked at his son. “What’s this ’bout catchin’ folks?”
“We’ve come home, Gaffer--Mr. Frodo, Mr. Merry, Mr. Pippin and me, and we’ll be gettin’ all these Big Men out of the Shire. We didn’t go all the way to the Mountain and back to see half-orcs and ruffians in charge here. Mr. Frodo--I’m not goin’ to let what he did be for nothin’--you watch and see.” The look in Sam’s eyes was steely--determined and steely. Never had Hamfast Gamgee seen such an expression in his child’s eyes, and he was half afraid he might have had quite a different Samwise Gamgee come back to him. “Black Riders from here to Rivendell and beyond, orcs in the Misty Mountains and all the way to the Mountain, and then these fools here in the Shire when we get back Just ain’t fair! Good thing as Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin’s soldiers now!”
“Black Riders? You mean them black folk what come askin’ questions ’bout the young master the night as you lads left Bag End?”
“Yes, I mean them. They won’t be back, though. What we can tell, them’s all destroyed now, once the Ring went into the Fire there at the Mountain.”
“What’s this ’bout mountains?” He realized that his son didn’t feel quite right in his embrace and pulled back to examine him. “Them’s right strange clothes, lad. Since when you started wearin’ metal weskits?”
“That’s where we went, Dad--to the Mountain in Mordor--Mr. Frodo--him had to get rid o’ the Enemy’s Ring. And this is what lots o’ folks wear there, outside the Shire--have to, to keep’em safe. Too many enemies out there. Well, come on--we’re goin’ to the Cotton’s farm tonight.”
The Gaffer felt a pang of alarm. “Can’t do that, lad--the Chief--him don’t ’low folks t’be away from their places at night--don’t like them wanderin’ about even in the daytime.”
Young Jolly answered, “Don’t think as the Chief’s much able t’object, Gaffer--not with a sizable lot of his folk captured. We’d best get goin’, though, as it’s gettin’ darker, and we don’t know as how many of the Big Men didn’t fight but is lingerin’ about the edges, if you take my meaning.”
“What’d him say, son?” the Gaffer asked, who’d not understood more than three words of ten of what Jolly had said. “And how’d anyone manage to catch any o’ them Big Men?”
“It was Mr. Merry as done it, Dad. Him and Mr. Pippin, they’re soldiers now.”
“And how did Mr. Brandybuck an’ Mr. Took get hold of any soldiers? And where’s them goin’ t’put them?”
Sam sighed. “Dad--we can discuss this later--let’s get you out of here. It’s awful! Don’t the privy work?”
“Privy? Nah--ain’t worked right since we was forced t’come here. And that Lotho--if’n him didn’t ruin my taters!”
“Let’s get some clothes for him,” Sam said to Jolly and Robin.
“Don’t hardly have nothin’ left--them Gatherers an’ Sharers took almost ever’thin’ as Marigold an’ me had.”
“And where is she?”
“With Daisy an’ Moro--sent her off. Somethin’ just felt off today.”
He saw the further relief and approval in Sam’s face. And somehow that pride made him feel warm all over.
In moments they’d gathered what clothing and possessions they could find and were headed off toward the Cottons’ farm, the Gaffer leaning hard on Sam’s arm. As they walked Sam tried to explain where he’d gone with Mr. Frodo and his cousins, but the Gaffer just wasn’t taking it all in. “Ye don’ say?” he kept saying. “Fancy that!”
Sam sighed again. “We’ll talk of it once we’re there and settled in,” he said. “My Mr. Frodo--he’ll help get it all sorted out, he will. The King’ll stand ahind him, too.”
“What King?” asked Robin Smallburrow.
“The King--our own Strider--he’s the King now--we went south with him, and was aside him when they give him the Crown and Sceptre. Haven’t you been listening? The King’s come back, and we know him!”
“Who knows him?” demanded Robin.
“We do!” Sam said. “Mr. Pippin, Mr. Merry, Mr. Frodo and me--we all know him! There’s a King again, and I’ll tell you as he’s well worth the honorin’.”
The Gaffer looked at his Sam, standing so straight, his face with a pride that lit him up like a home at Yuletide, a smile that the Gaffer had only seen before in relation to Mr. Frodo. He found himself shaking his head with the wonder of realizing there was one more that his Sam loved as he did his Master. And then Sam was shaking himself. “Ah--time now to be gettin’ on--I want to check on my Master, and I want to see Rosie--make certain as she’d really here, waitin’ for me!”
Then they were at the Cottons’ door, and it was opening to accept them. The Gaffer’s eyes widened at the sight--the farmhouse was as brilliantly lit as it had ever been; the fire on the hearth burned defiantly bright in the face of the growing chill of the early November night; the smell of a rich stew and fresh-baked scones filling the kitchen.
And there at the table sat the son of the Master of Buckland, somehow much bigger than he remembered him. Why, Mr. Merry must be a-sitting on cushions, considering how much taller he sat than Master Frodo, who’d always been amongst the tallest of Hobbits the Gaffer had ever known. As for Master Frodo----
He’d lost weight, for one thing--looked much as he’d looked when he first come to Bag End back when him was but a young tween, slender and somewhat wary. And there was a crease there atween his eyebrows, one as told of worry and probably some pain. For once, Hamfast thought, Master Frodo looked very near his proper age, and he wasn’t quite certain as he liked it. Didn’t seem right--not for this Hobbit of all Hobbits in the Shire. But in spite of the thoughtfulness of his expression, his face still lit up when they were admitted to the kitchen and were escorted to the table. “You found him.” But then worry crossed Mr. Frodo’s face again. “But Marigold? Where is she?”
“With Moro and Daisy, Dad tells me,” Sam assured him.
“I saw her just afore we joined the fight,” young Tom told him from his place at the table. “I asked Moro t’stay with’em, you see, with Daisy and Marigold. The way this Sharkey is, I’d expect almost anything from him. I doubt as he’d think twice about usin’ those as you love against you as he could, Sam. He’s a vicious one, and the Big Men will do about anything as he suggests.”
“Good evenin’, Mr. Baggins,” the Gaffer began. “I’m glad enough to see you back safe, but I believe as I have a bone to pick with you, in a manner o’ speakin’, if I might make so bold. Now, what fer did it ever enter yer head to sell Bag End to that Lotho Pimple?! That’s where the problems all started, I’ll have you know. And while you been trapessin’ about, chasin’ Black Riders up and down mountains from what my Sam tells me--and I don’t half understand that fully, I’ll have you know--they been and dug up Bagshot Row and ruint my taters!”
Mr. Frodo grew pale, although the apple of his cheeks became quite decidedly pink, and the Gaffer realized that he’d made the young Master fully appreciate the enormity of his decision to allow Pimple and his detestable mother to take possession of Bag End. Almost he was sorry he’d said anything, seeing the distress in the Baggins’s eyes, but at this point he decided it was best all this was out in the open.
He could see Mr. Frodo considering how he should answer. “I’m very sorry,” the proper Master of the Hill finally said. “But now that I am back I shall do my best to make amends.” And looking into those blue eyes, he knew that Frodo Baggins would do his best to do exactly that--Frodo was not merely seeking to placate him, but had just pledged himself to seeing the Shire renewed and things put back right as much as was possible. Well, he knew well the value of the word of a true Baggins like Frodo or Bilbo Baggins, and he felt a good deal of relief in his heart.
“Well,” the Gaffer responded magnanimously, “you can’t answer fairer’n that. Mr. Frodo Baggins is a true gentlehobbit, as I’ve ever said, no matter what’s true of some others o’ the name, beggin’ yer pardon, sir. An’ I hope as my Sam’s behaved hisself and given full satisfaction?”
He noted the relief in Mr. Frodo’s face, and the growing pride--ah, how proud Mr. Frodo had ever been of the Gaffer’s Sam and the special friendship between them. “Perfect satisfaction, Mr. Gamgee,” he said with a special smile at Sam. “Indeed, if you will believe it, he has become one of the most famous of people of any race in all the lands, and they are making songs celebrating his deeds from here to the Sea and to beyond the great River!” He turned to look the Gaffer full in the face so that the old Hobbit could be of no question as to the truth of what he would say. “He helped to save all of Middle Earth, sir, and the King himself is proud to call him friend.”
His Sam was flushing at the praise, but was also grateful to his Master, the Gaffer noted, as all noted how Rosie’s eyes were shining.
“It takes some believin’,” the Gaffer said, “although ye can see as he’s been mixin’ in some strange company. But where’s his proper weskit? I don’t hold well with wearin’ ironmongery, ye see, whether it wears well or no.”
Sam flushed even redder, while Mr. Meriadoc broke down into a fit of helpless laughter, and even Mr. Frodo was choking on the swallow of drink he’d just taken and had to have his back pounded upon. At last the Brandybuck rose, and the Gaffer realized he hadn’t been sitting on anything, but had truly grown taller--unprecedentedly taller--than any Hobbit ought to be. His face was filled with glee. “I’ll have you know, Mr. Gamgee, that the King himself requested that mail given to him, and it was made originally for the son of a great King, long, long ago, or so I was told when we returned to Minas Tirith. When my cousin tells you that the King himself is proud to call your son his friend, he’s speaking the full truth--our Lord Strider loves and honors your Sam more than almost anyone else in all of Middle Earth.” His laughter was gentling into a glowing pride. “He’s known as ‘the Faithful’ and ‘the Steadfast’ and ‘the Hopeful,’ your Samwise, and his wisdom and courage and determination are honored by Men, Elves, Dwarves, Ents, and Eagles. Goblins fear him, and evil folk quail at his look of displeasure.”
The Gaffer feared that if his poor Sam managed to flush any more his hair would turn red! “Now, Mr. Merry, you needn’t say that----” he began.
“You know how embarrassed you made that Lord Wasnior from Umbar, Samwise Gamgee.”
“Well, him was bein’ right foolish and you know it!”
“As you made clear. He’ll be very careful with what he says should he meet another Hobbit, you can believe. You all right now, Frodo?”
Mr. Frodo was still struggling with his choking. “I’m all right,” he finally managed. “Oh, that was so funny! Thank you so, Mr. Gamgee. Indeed, Sam wears the mail of princes, and no one deserves it more!” And the Gaffer noted that the great love the young Master had ever borne for his son had deepened during their long absence. “I’m proud to think of your son as the brother of my heart, even as is true of the King himself.”
And with that thought the subject was dropped, and all turned to filling empty bellies--all, he noted, but Mr. Frodo, who ate heartily enough at first, but quickly was reduced to pushing food about his plate with bread and fork rather than truly eating. And soon after that old Tom was showing Frodo to a room in the large farmhouse where he might sleep the night. Ah, yes--his grandparents had boasted a family of ten children; at least there was no dearth to rooms in which to house the guests they’d accepted. The Gaffer watched after with concern to match that on his son’s face.
He and Sam were given the same room, one old Tom Cotton had once shared with his brother as they'd grown up here among their still-young aunts and uncles. The large bed was comfortable, and the hastily produced linens and thick blanket were luxurious after so long sleeping beneath the one thin coverlet left him by the Gatherers and Sharers. “I’m surprised as them thieves left you any extras,” he commented to Lily Cotton as she finished tucking in the blanket.
“One good thing about livin’ on a farm--there’s places and places to hide extras at need; and it’s obvious most of the Big Men don’t appreciate Hobbit sensibilities. Not what we was hit as hard as some. They’d take extra food from us, but left most of our goods alone, although they took my promise ring as Tom gave me years ago. Anyways, you two ought to be comfortable enough.”
Sam asked, “Might I be free in the kitchen a mite afore I go to bed, Missus Cotton? I’d make up some of the tea as I brew for my Master. Seems to help him sleep better when he has it in him.”
“Of course, Sam--you’re free to do whatever you please. He’s lookin’ rather--peaked, if I might make so bold.”
“Him went through a long bout of it, Missus Cotton--a long bout of it. But now as we’re home I intend to see him built back up, if’n it can be managed. What they said of me--how the King loves me as a brother--well, it’s even more true of him, you see--the King loves him even the more. But it came at a price--a high price. I’ve learned--it ain’t easy to become a hero, and it can scour you right out, it can.” And with that he went out for a time, following Lily back to the kitchen. At last the Gaffer could hear Sam’s voice in the next room, answered by Mr. Frodo’s higher, clearer one, both soft. Then he heard the closing of a door, and at last the opening of the one for this room. “You awake still, Dad?” Sam asked quietly.
“Yes--still wakin’, I am. And yer Master?”
“He needed the tea tonight, I’m thinkin’. I hope as he’ll sleep deep, and without dreams.”
The Gaffer watched as Sam undressed, carefully slipping the metal shirt over a chair. “Yer not plannin’ on continuin’ to wear that?” he asked.
Sam considered it thoughtfully. “Until all these Big Men is gone--yes, Dad--I’m goin’ to wear it. These folk ain’t like Strider and his kin or the Men of Gondor--these is footpads and thieves and worse, and will undoubtedly knife you as easy as look at you. And I’ll see to it as Mr. Frodo wears his mail, too.”
“But him wasn’t wearin’ no metal weskit, lad!”
“Oh, but he was--under his clothes--that Dwarf mail as Mr. Bilbo brought home years ago--the mail as he’d kept in Michel Delving’s Mathom House till he left the Shire. Mr. Bilbo--he gave it to Mr. Frodo when we found him in Rivendell--yes, Dad, he’s still alive, livin’ amongst the Elves, he is. He gave the mail and his old sword to Mr. Frodo, and he’s carried them ever since. But it’s thinner and can be fully hid under his clothes, so that’s where Mr. Frodo wears it. And until I’m certain as the Shire’s safe again, Mr. Frodo’s goin’ t’wear it, he is, same as me and Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin.”
It was that foolish Brankin who first stood with five others to threaten the four newly returned Hobbits, and who’d insisted on leading the thirty who’d marched into Bywater. Lurtz had finally agreed to let the dolt have his way, although he sensed that these four Shire-rats weren’t likely to be easily cowed and indeed were heartening their fellow Hobbits to stand effectively against them. So it was that Lurtz stood back and watched as Erzant followed Brankin into the ambush within Bywater, and he was a witness to just how poorly this group had read Hobbits of the Shire. He was shocked and disturbed--these Hobbits could win against them--Saruman’s own folk! And he was determined this wouldn’t happen. He’d get that Samwise Gamgee’s father so he could be used against the four newcomers if it was the last thing he’d do.
But when he reached the three rows of shoddy brick houses at the end of the Bywater Road he realized once again he was too late, as he watched three Hobbits, one with a sword worn negligently at his side as if he were long accustomed to its presence, bring out a fourth, worn with years yet still lively. He was, he realized, too late to give Sharkey that advantage. No, they’d have to rely on proper weapons and their size now--these Hobbits had always been intimidated by the sheer size of them as Men.
With that thought in mind he headed to the farm toward Waymeet where that group was likely to come. They had established an armory there of sorts....
When, the next day, he found himself amongst the captured, Lurtz wasn’t certain how it had happened. He had walked right into another ambush, had been caught on the side of the head by a farmer’s hoe and had an arrow in his shoulder, and was now being treated by a Hobbit healer who was being advised by one of the exceptionally tall Hobbits who’d accompanied the Ringbearer.
“You’ll have to break the shaft, then pull it through,” the tall Hobbit was saying. “With that head you’ll not be able to pull it back without doing significant damage, you see--he might even lose the use of his arm if you were to try, or so Aragorn explained it to me.”
Uncertainly the healer nodded, and soon had it out of him, then was packing the wound with healing herbs and bunched cloth, then was winding it with proper bandages. “I’m not so certain just why we’re even trying to help them,” the healer commented as he finished tying off the cloth.
The tall one was looking sideways at the one identified as the Ringbearer, who wore typical Hobbit garb as opposed to the warrior’s gear worn by the two tall ones and the Gondorian surcoat over his gilded mail worn by the Hobbit he’d seen the night before as he’d escorted his father to safety. “Frodo’s demanding it,” he said quietly. “I don’t properly understand it, either; but then Strider did much the same, apparently, after the battles he was engaged with--once folks laid down their weapons he saw to it they were treated mercifully and better than they deserved, and then he had those who wished to return to their homes escorted to the borders of their lands, while those who didn’t wish to do so--usually those who’d been injured whom he’d treated himself--were questioned and finally settled in places where they had the best chance of living good lives afterwards. Now, we’re in no position to see any of these escorted all the way to Dunland, and certainly Strider won’t wish them to return to Isengard; but we will show them our borders. Should any of them seek to return to the Shire, however, I suspect even Frodo won’t be upset should we shoot them outright, although I suspect we’ll give most to those of the Rangers who will soon resume warding our borders. Although I’d relish sending a few through the Hedge, myself--see what Old Man Willow and the Barrow-wights make of them!” He gave Lurtz a very serious look.
Lurtz lay back, and a Hobbit woman came by and laid a blanket over him, one he found himself hugging to his shoulders as he turned on his good side and closed his eyes. Then he felt a gentle hand on his brow. “You awake enough to drink somethin’?” he heard a voice say. It was the golden Hobbit, the one with the broadest form of the four who’d returned.
He sat up with some difficulty, and the Hobbit held a large mug, such as Hobbits used when drinking ale, to his mouth. It was some kind of herbal drink, and one that both slaked thirst and heartened one as it was swallowed. For some reason he couldn’t fathom, once he’d drunk Lurtz murmured, “Thank you.”
The golden Hobbit’s expression immediately grew less stern, even approving. “Well--then your mum did seek to teach you some lessons--once upon a time. Good enough then. It’s time, don’t ye think, as you went back home to her again--saw to her welfare for a change? I don’t think as Saruman’s in much shape to offer you much of a life from now on, if’n he’s the one as saw you here. We’ll be sortin’ out the Boss and the Chief today, you see. King Arvedui the Second give these lands to us, the Hobbits of the Shire; and the King Elessar’s confirmed that gift once again. We Hobbits as live here gets to decide who stays and who goes, not ruffians and footpads and fallen Wizards. You understand that?”
Lurtz nodded. Just then the Ringbearer himself approached, a basket of bread in his hand. “All well in hand here, Sam?” he asked, his voice cultured and musical.
The one called Sam turned, an unconscious smile crossing his features. “Yes--and I found one as has some true manners, even.”
The Ringbearer’s eyes searched Lurtz’s--and he felt both frightened and then heartened beyond what he’d ever felt before. The Ringbearer might be slight compared to the rest, but there was a level of authority to him to which that put forth by Sharkey was but a pale copy. “Manners in a former enemy? Good--may they continue to stand him in good stead as he goes forth to seek a new life for himself.”
A benediction? He’d been given a blessing by one of these Hobbits--one of these ratlings? It was at that moment that Lurtz found himself turning fully away from what he’d been, however; and his life once he left the confines of the Shire became something of which he could feel proud.
On awakening the first morning there in the house on the Cottons’ farm, the Gaffer gave Mr. Frodo a good look over before they left for the village proper. He couldn’t see as the Baggins was wearing any mail under his clothes; but he had to admit it had been years since he’d seen Mr. Bilbo’s mail shirt, and he couldn’t rightly remember as just how thick it might be. However, Frodo did, at Sam and Merry’s insistence, wear the swordbelt and sword the Gaffer remembered from the days it had hung over Mr. Bilbo’s study fire.
Sam wasn’t happy that the Gaffer had decided to follow those who went into Bywater and later to Bag End, but at Nick and Nibs’s assurance they’d keep an eye on the old Hobbit he finally agreed. So it was that he was there to see the Battle of Bywater and then the confrontation between Mr. Frodo and that Sharkey, and realized that all four of the Travelers had recognized the villain. But it wasn’t until Sharkey started to leave and passed by Frodo Baggins, suddenly stabbing at him viciously with his hidden knife, that the Gaffer realized first the full hatred felt by this one, whoever and whatever he’d been, for Mr. Frodo; and then that what Sam had said was true--that Frodo did indeed have that fine metal mesh under his clothing, for as he turned to face Sharkey again the Gaffer could see it shimmering through the new rent in his clothes. And as Frodo spoke, the Gaffer could sense the strength of the authority in the old-young Hobbit--authority and compassion. Even Sam, whose sword had been held at this Sharkey’s throat for what he’d tried to do to his beloved Master, stood up and withdrew his sword at Frodo’s word.
“No, Sam--do not kill him, even now. For he has not hurt me. And in any case I do not wish him slain in this evil mood. He was great once, and of a noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against. He is fallen and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him, in the hope he might find it.”
What it was Master Frodo could see in the eyes or heart of this great ruffian Hamfast Gamgee could not imagine. Sharkey got to his feet slowly, his eyes fixed upon those of the Hobbit with---- Well, the Gaffer was certain he saw a number of emotions in that once-fair face: hatred and envy, respect and frustration--and weariness--a great, overriding weariness--a wish to set aside what he’d been doing to return to something quite different.
Afterwards the Gaffer was to think often on what the strange ruffian said to Frodo Baggins; of how wise and compassionate--and cruel he was. How compassion could be cruel the old Hobbit wasn’t certain, but he’d noted that Master Frodo had denied none of it. He’d noted also that Frodo Baggins had failed to protest the words promising him neither health nor long life--and realized that this was a truth Frodo had already accepted for himself. The very fact he didn’t protest only seemed to increase the ruffian’s fury toward him, until he lashed out at that Worm-creature who’d followed him into the Shire, releasing all the pent-up resentment on him.
One of the Took archers stood near the Gaffer, Nick, and Nibs, and when the Worm-creature snapped at Sharkey’s taunts he automatically raised his bow and let the arrow nocked to the string fly before the Gaffer could protest. And so the Man died, a shadow of what he must have once been; and all watched the grey pillar of ash appear to rise above the body of the one he’d slain, only Master Frodo and Sam appearing to appreciate what they saw happening.
Little was left of Sharkey--a shrunken form; a pile of rags; a single ring that was picked up with a grimace by young Pando Proudfoot, and swiftly hidden away by Sam in an old salt-cellar brought out from Bag End, one that must have been Lotho and Lobelia’s, as the Gaffer had never seen it afore.
They returned to the Cottons’ farm then, and Master Frodo appeared unable to eat at all, at last pleading a headache and retreating to his room. Sam sighed, then set himself to brewing some more of his special herbal tea for his Master, then took it to him, closing the door as he went in.
The Gaffer followed his son at a distance, and once the door was shut he approached and laid his ear to the wood. “I do not think I could keep it down, Sam,” Master Frodo was saying.
“You need somethin’ in your stomach, at least, and this may help ease you at least some, Master,” Sam responded.
After a time, Frodo said quietly, “And did you see--the pillar of black cloud--like what we were told was seen when--It--went into the fire? I was right--he and Sauron were of the same sort originally. But it was so--pathetic, Sam! He was a great one--one of the servants of the Powers--and all he could come to in the end was--that?”
“He’d spent his Light, Master,” Sam said. “’Twas next to nothin’ left of him. All as was left was what darkness as he’d gathered to hisself, and even that was little enough compared to Sauron. He’d become puny--little and petty, a spirit of malice, gnawin’ at isself for it couldn’t reach out to truly capture the Light of anyone else, not the way Sauron had. You heard Strider, tellin’ as how Sauron had learnt to make altars to hisself and grow on the lives of them as was kilt for him.”
“At least he’d not progressed to that, or at least I hope not; although I suspect he was on the verge of it when he was captured by the Ents.”
“Now you drink the rest of that, Master, and sleep awhile. I’ll be nearby in case them nightmares strike you--don’t be too proud to call for me, understand?”
“Yes, Sam,” he heard the Master say. Then he added, “Aragorn and Gimli were right, you know--naming you Fully Wise.”
“Now, Mr. Frodo----”
The Gaffer often had difficulty hearing conversations going on around him, yet he never questioned he’d heard every word between these two. Well, he had a thing or two he wished to say to the young Master, once his Sam was gone. He retreated to the bedroom given him and Sam, and waited until he heard the door to the next room open and then close, at which time he himself went out to knock on Mr. Baggins’s door.
“Enter,” he heard, and the Gaffer smiled as he turned the knob and went in.
The jacket, waistcoat, and shirt Frodo had worn had been removed, and the silvery corslet had been arranged over the back of a chair. Frodo wore now only a quilted shirt of some kind, one of a style such as the Gaffer had never seen before. Seeing the direction of the older Hobbit’s attention, he said, “Aragorn had this made for me to wear under the mithril shirt. We don’t know what became of the leather padding that came with it after it was taken from me in Torech Ungol.”
“I’m glad as ye was wearin’ it today.”
“As am I--I would not have relished dying as a result of murder committed by a former Wizard.”
“Wizard? Him was a Wizard? Like Gandalf?”
Mr. Frodo turned his head away, nodding slightly, and closing his eyes. “Yes--and intended to be the greatest of the five. But he fell from his wisdom, and we all saw to what he came in the end.” He rubbed his eyes with his hand, and for the first time the Gaffer noted that there was a finger missing from it. “Alas, Saruman. What you might have done and become had you been faithful!”
They remained still for a time while the Gaffer considered the missing finger and lost weight, and the silver to be seen at Master Frodo’s temples, and the echoes of pain in his face and very posture. At last he asked, “You said as they call my Sam ‘the Faithful’ and all. What do they call you?”
The younger Hobbit’s eyes opened and he dropped his hand into his lap, suddenly aware that the loss had been noted, his eyes apparently focused on the gap where the finger was gone. At last he answered, “Frodo of the Nine Fingers.”
Finally deciding that was all Frodo intended to say, the Gaffer asked, “And that’s all?”
Frodo shrugged. “Oh, there is a good deal more, I suppose. Not that the rest of it matters any.”
“You lied to us folks of the Shire as to why you was leavin’ Hobbiton, didn’t you?”
“Not really. I just did not tell everything.”
“And Sam wasn’t goin’ with you to take care of the gardens at Crickhollow.”
“No--he went with me because he was caught spying on Gandalf and me, because he could not let me go into danger on my own. And the others went for the same reason.”
“And you brought him back.”
At that Master Frodo’s eyes lifted to those of the Gaffer. “No, Master Gamgee, I did not bring him back--no, instead he brought me back. He kept on by my side even when I ordered him to stay back, I hoped safe. But now I have learned that even had he remained here in the Shire he would not have been safe. They would have tried to use him against me--Lotho and Saruman--this Sharkey as you knew him. Not even going away kept the Shire safe--and that is why I left in the end--to keep the land I loved safe. I failed in that.”
“And how could you goin’ of kept the Shire safe?”
“Saruman--Sharkey--and the Black Riders--they were all after the same thing, and would have destroyed the Shire to find it. Although I suspect the Black Riders and--and their Master--would have been far more--efficient--about doing it than Sharkey and his Big Men proved. At least by taking It away I was able to draw the Black Riders after me.”
“Then you did manage to save the Shire after all,” the Gaffer suggested. “I’ll admit as I didn’t like them Big Men, but none of ’em made my skin crawl like them Black Folk. At least the Big Men was proper folk, mean and selfish as they was.”
At last Frodo nodded, although he didn’t add anything to what he’d said.
After more consideration the Gaffer said, “I wanted to say somethin’ to ye, Master Frodo. You know as I’ve always thought as my childern ought not to of mixed with you, as my Master’s kin. It don’t do in most cases for those as work fer a livin’ t’tie their hearts to those as is meant to be their masters, after all. But I couldn’t stop it with my Sam.
“I don’t know as yet as what went on out there, but there’s a good deal more to my Sam now than there was when you lot disappeared as you did. I’m not certain as to what all it means, nor if I like it all as yet. But there’s no question as he honors you as much as you seems to honor him, and I’ve seen now as how Mr. Merry and even Mr. Pippin listen to him as if they know he knows things.
“Mebbe my Sam saved yer life as you say, and mebbe him’s truly the wise one ye call him; but him’s bigger, I think, ’cause he’s been by you and learnt all as ye and Master Bilbo have ever sought to teach him. I doubt as he’d of been half the Hobbit he is t’day if’n it hadn’t been for you. And I thank you fer that--and fer seein’ to it as he’s come home again.”
There were tears in Master Frodo’s eyes, and he was wiping at them with the back of his hand. At last he said, his voice slightly broken, “Thank you, Gaffer. Thank you for raising such an extraordinary son.”
And when that night Sam came to join the Gaffer in the big bed, the old Hobbit sat up once Sam had slipped away into sleep, watching the face of his youngest son as he dreamed, seeing the serious, responsible Hobbit he’d become. Yes, he thought, a most extraordinary son he’d raised. Master Frodo was fully right on that score.
Some of the dialogue was taken directly or adapted from that given by the Master in “The Scouring of the Shire.”