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23
Easing his Heart

22. Easing His Heart


Mr. Frodo would walk out every day, but not like he’d done afore. He was treated with respect by those as lived in Hobbiton and Bywater as always, but now they’d look at his maimed hand and search his face for the reason, and he couldn’t speak of it. And they’d look into his eyes and see the changes there and ask if he felt well, and he’d declare he was well enough and turn the talk to themselves. And the children would come and sit at his feet in the marketplace, and he’d tell them tales, but now they were the softer tales--no more would he tell of spiders and dragons and shining swords, but instead of small folks whose courage was stronger than spears and whose steadfastness more important to life than the courage of great warriors. And he described Lothlorien and Rivendell, the beauty of Ithilien and the sunset on the shining curtains of Henneth Annun, and the sapling of the White Tree growing by the fountain in the courtyard before the citadel of Minas Anor, and of the beauty of the King’s Lady, and the courage and grace of the King Elessar, who would one day ride with his folk north to see how his northern lands fared, and how they’d come to the Brandywine Bridge to see the worthies of the Shire and to be seen by all who cared to go to see him. And he told of the glory of the horns of Rohan blown in the morning air as told to him by Pippin, and the joy of the silver trumpets blown when the Lord Aragorn was crowned King of Gondor and Arnor before the broken gates of Minas Tirith. And he spoke of the sea longing of the Elves, and how now it would grow so great that it would draw them away across the Sundering Sea to their own place in the Undying Lands.

He presided at the banquets and birthday parties, and heard the vows of those as was married that year, and signed all the documents of marriage, birth, sales and acquisitions, and saw to the distribution of the extra foodstuffs and all found hidden here and there throughout the Shire, especially in Michel Delving, the caves near Stockton, and the sheds and barns on the countless lands Mr. Lotho’d acquired. He paid out reparations for losses incurred by the good folk of the Shire, and heard the cases brought against those who’d collaborated with Lotho’s Men and Sharkey and dealt with them with great fairness, judgment, and mercy. I know he said in the Red Book as he’d done little, but as usual Mr. Frodo was being far too modest.

And the folk of the Shire didn’t know how to take him--they didn’t at all. He was not jolly as was old Will Whitfoot--he’d become quiet and solemn. They couldn’t call him cracked as they’d done of old Mr. Bilbo, for it were plain as day that wasn’t true; but he’d learned to be still, and was often distant. And when he counseled, it was with a depth of compassion they wasn’t prepared for. He wasn’t shining and splendid as were his cousins, who rode out still with their swords and bright mail, and who’d tolerate no incursions into the Shire by brigands nor wolves (which had begun to creep in during the last winter), and who sang loudly and joyfully and who threw the most splendid parties. Mr. Frodo still smiled, but no longer did his eyes sparkle with simple joy of life. He would laugh, but it was different, fuller, deeper, and less frivolous. He still loved the folk of the Shire fiercely, but he no longer appeared protective the same way. Now, when he caught someone being cruel, instead of giving them his old look that stripped them bare, he’d look at them with great sorrow that hurt them far worse still. And then he’d finger that jewel of his, and folks learned to fear that in a way I’d never have believed if I didn’t see it, day after day.

But when he sang the old Elven ballads at the Free Fair at Michel Delving on Midsummer’s Day, all crowded round to hear, and many had tears in their eyes after. And when Pippin and Merry followed those with the burial song sung when Theoden King of Rohan was laid to rest, their eyes opened with surprise. And when together all three sang the hymn to Elbereth as had been sung at the wedding of the King Elessar to the Lady Arwen Undomiel, all sighed with awe and delight. And then I sang the Lay of Gil-Galad, and they shivered.

And then all were surprised, for there were two who came to the Free Fair that year as no one had expected, for Elladan and Elrohir of Rivendell had come in quietly and unobserved as only those of Elf-kind could do, and they bowed to Frodo, and told him before the folk of the Shire as how they’d heard tell he had served his people as assistant Mayor for the last half year but that he had given back the honor to the rightful Mayor, and they’d come to bring him messages from the King of Gondor and Arnor and from the Lord Elrond of Rivendell and the King Eomer of Rohan and the Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel of Lothlorien, and they gave into his hands scrolls and envelopes. And they bowed to him and declared before all our folk that this was the King’s Friend and an Elf Friend of great Renown, and they begged leave to sing also before the folk of the Shire.

And they sang the Lay of Frodo of the Nine Fingers, but they sang it in Elvish; and although our people listened with awe and joy for the beauty of it as sung by clear Elvish voices, few picked up the gist of it or understood it were about our own Mr. Frodo. And although he and Merry and Pippin and I sat listening with tears running down our faces, few dared afterwards to ask what it was all about. And they looked at Mr. Frodo with all his messages lying about him as if they wondered what kind of being he’d become.

Mr. Frodo’d begun to write our story for his Uncle Bilbo while he stayed with the Cottons during the months of restoration at Bag End, but it weren’t a lot he finished. Once he was back in Bag End he was often held busy by the duties of assistant Mayor, and counseling with the Thain and the Master of what the new order outside the Shire would mean to those of us as dwelt within. The first time he went to Buckland to visit Brandy Hall he walked as he’d always done, but he took longer to get there than any had planned, and Master Saradoc hisself rode out to find him, and learned he’d become fatigued near the Marish and had stopped at the Maggot’s farm to rest. After that he always rode Strider, who was cared for at the stables of the restored Ivy Bush in Hobbiton; or he’d rent a cart from the Green Dragon in Bywater.

In the autumn he went to visit with his cousin Mr. Fredegar Bolger, as had been rescued from the Lockups in the tunnels at Michel Delving, and I believe he was sick at the anniversary of the stabbing again, but he wouldn’t speak of it nor tell me.

Mr. Fredegar had living with him Budgie Smallfoot, who was a healer who’s father, also a healer, had worked with the Boffinses. Budgie and his wife did for Mr. Fredegar as Rosie and me did for Mr. Frodo. Mr. Fredegar’d led one of those groups of rebels who as tried to defy the Big Men during the Troubles, and he was deeply respected by those as had gotten food or extra clothes from him, taken from the stores taken in the Sharing and Gathering the Men had practiced. Mr. Fredegar was much thinner these days, and also didn’t do as much as he’d done afore. Word was his heart had been damaged by the starvation he’d undergone in the Lockups, and that was as why he’d took up with a healer to do for him, and I know now this was true. As long as Mr. Frodo’d be there with a healer, I didn’t worry too much about him, and he’d seemed to be fine after last spring, so maybe he’d be little hurt this fall, too, so I didn’t worry too much about him. I sent over the tea of kingsfoil and willowbark I kept made up for him all the time now, and a few leaves I suggested he use in his bath while he was there, and he gave me a smile and agreed.

He truly began to write when he came back from that trip, and said he’d promised Bilbo, and if he didn’t get it done now, Bilbo’d as like be gone when he was through as anything. He’d write and then lock it into the drawer of his desk the way he used to write and lock it into the drawer of his box of stationery. And he’d ask me what I membered, particularly of those times in Mordor that were almost lost to him, and he asked Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin of what they’d been through, and he’d write it all down. He let me read much of it, and together we read some of it to Rosie; but much of it he would just write down and lock away, although he were sending it all over to Mr. Fredegar to critique, like.

Once he had it to his and Mr. Fredegar’s liking, he’d copy it
out in the Red Book, and slowly it began to fill up. The pages of notes and draft pages and the like he’d burn, or so I thought--I found some after, and I’ve stored them away.

I had to make him take some exercise, to get up and go out. Now he wasn’t assistant Mayor no more he’d taken to staying more at home, although when we learnt as Rosie was expecting in the spring he’d begun to do the lighter marketing again. He was so excited to think of children at last perhaps filling the rooms of Bag End, and began to talk of the days when they’d come out to their Uncle Frodo and he’d take them on his knee, and he’d give them of the humbugs and horehound drops as he’d keep in his pockets again just for them. He’d go out and sit in the garden, even on cold days, smiling at the peaceful place it had become once again. He’d often walk down to the turn in the lane where there used to be a bit of wall where the Gaffer and Mr. Bilbo’d meet to share a pipe and a talk, and he’d sit there on the bench I’d set in its place, and the children of the Row would come out to see him and beg him for stories and poems. He didn’t carry horehound drops and humbugs now, but would tell them tales as they asked, mostly tales about Elves, but many about Hobbits as well. And he’d tell about the Shire afore the troubles, the time the roof fell in on Old Will Whitfoot and he’d earned the name Old Flour Dumpling from all the plaster dust, about dances and festivals and fairs and parties, about raising barns and bonfires and how their aunties and uncles had met, and the weddings of their folks.

And sometimes he’d tell of the fair places as was going to fade from the world, and then his eyes would be sad. One little lass whose family now lived at Number Five, little Cyclamen Proudfoot, whose daddy Sancho had been one of the treasure hunters we’d thrown out of Bag End the day after the Party, would crawl into his lap as he told his stories, and hold his hand and rub her fingers over the place where the finger wasn’t no longer. And when he was looking sad, she’d reach up to touch his cheek and tell him, “It’s okay, Mr. Frodo. We are still here, and will stay with you.” And he’d smile that smile that made you feel the Sun raised her head to shine just for him and the Moon lit up the night just for the same reason, and he’d hug her close and say nothing more, then put her down after a while, wish them a good day, and return up the Hill.

Mr. Fredegar and Budgie Smallfoot come to visit in April while Rosie and I went to see her folks for a week. Mr. Frodo insisted, and I went, reluctant. I did make up a fair amount of the tea and left him several leaves of Kingsfoil I insisted he put into boiling water if he felt the least bit off, and afore I left I took Budgie aside and tried to explain as I’d learned about this treatment while we was in Gondor, and it had helped Mr. Frodo during some of his bad times, and I hoped he’d make sure he used it awhile we was gone, and he said as he would. I don’t know as he did, although a fair amount of the tea was gone when we come back. But it didn’t look like he’d used the leaves as I’d left. But I was right busy now, as Rosie was coming to her time, and I was almost frantic with concern. Mr. Frodo was staying out of the way, mostly, as the midwife was in and out and talking of false labor and all. I could see he was fingering his jewel, so I made up more of the tea and got it to him, and would sneak into his room of a night to put some of the leaves to steep in the kettle, for his dreams was troubling him of a night.

But he wouldn’t tell me of them, for he said I had my hands full worrying about Rosie and the bairn as was coming; and he wouldn’t admit as he felt bad. He helped with the cooking some, but when he burned his hand one day as he stumbled at the stove, I hired my sister and the Widow Rumble to come in and help. But they wasn’t watching him as I would have done, and I don’t think he drank all the tea as I carried in to him, for I fear they’d find a cold cup and throw it out and just brew more plain tea.

It were a relief when the babe finally came, and I was just over the Moon over her. And it were Mr. Frodo as named her, and both Rosie and me agreed that Elanor was as beautiful a name as could be for as beautiful a Hobbit lass as had ever been born. Mr. Frodo was lying on the sofa in the study when she came at last, a blanket pulled over him, as he said he were feeling a mite cold that day. And when I came to tell him, he smiled up at me so very glad to share the joy! And I didn’t even notice his lips were bluish. Only later, when the bairn were all cleaned up and wrapped in a soft blanket as had been sent from Gondor for our first child and I brought her for him to see for the first time, did I realize just how pale he was, and I went out and fixed up some of the tea fresh and brought it in and insisted he drink it down right then, and finally some color began to show up in his face. And that night I drew him a bath with kingsfoil and lavender and rose oil in it, and he slept well for the first time, I think, in days.

He went off for a walk every day, but he never went far now. Usually he’d end up just inside the woods and stay there for a while, or he’d walk down to the bench at the end of the lane and sit for a while and then return after he’d met with the children. He went up to the top of the Hill rarely now.

One portion of the garden he’d asked me not to trim the hedge on, and he took to sitting there of a morning. There was a comfortable chair I’d bought for him for my last birthday, and most days I carry out a table for him, and he’d read, do translations, or work on his drafts there. After luncheon he’d take a nap, or at least go into his room and have a lie down. I made sure he had his tea every day, and I made sure he’d drink it. He ate only small meals, and both Rosie and I worried about him, as he were once again too thin.

One thing he insisted on, that when he laid down he took Elanor-Lass with him. She’d sleep her nap so well with him, and I’d walk by the room and hear him crooning an Elvish song to her, and see her lying with her head pillowed on his arm, and he’d look right peaceful and fully happy.

Late afternoons he’d start to write serious like in his study, although he’d gladly stop to take Elanor and dandle her or walk with her so her mum could get the meals fixed. Then Rosie’d take her back, and he’d go back to writing. I insisted he join us for the meals when he didn’t have company, which was rare any more. Oh, the Travelers, as Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin was called now, came over frequently, but they didn’t stay as often. The two of them had taken to living in Crickhollow together, but Mr. Merry were pretty busy working with his father on Hall business, and Mr. Pippin was working on establishing to Mr. Paladin that he were not a child and needed real work to do and real respect, or he weren’t going to come home any time soon. Finally Mr. Frodo went over to try to work things out between the Thain and his son, and ended up staying some days in Budgefield with Mr. Fredegar and Budgie Smallfoot.

Letters now came and went again between Bag End and Rivendell, and Frodo would read them and share them at times. Each letter he got he’d smile and take into the study, and some he’d end up locking away in the drawer of his desk.

Late August he went to Buckland for a week, and when he come home he was quiet and thoughtful. Little Elanor was tickled pink to see him come back to her, and stood up and took her first steps to go to him. His face was so intent with delight, and his cheeks so pink with excitement and awe, that she should walk so early for him, and he held her long in his arms and spoke to her in Elvish, telling her as how clever, how beautiful, how loving, how delightful, how wonderful she was--all the things her mum and I told her in the Common Tongue every day.

He accepted his tea and drank it down, smiled at me, and then went into the study to write. I looked in after a while to find him sleeping with his head on his arms, and went in and coaxed him half awake and into his own room, put a basin of boiling water with a kingsfoil leaf, fresh cut that day, in it by his head, and closed the curtains and left him to sleep.

He were right quiet after that, and was doing a lot of writing. The Brandybuck lawyer and the banker of discretion came to see him several times, but he took them into the cool room for their talks and shut the door--said it were too hot to meet in the study, and not private enough in the garden. I ought to have known he were trying to spare me, and that he knew that the open windows of Bag End told me secrets.

I thought I knew as what was happening, that he was getting ready to go to Rivendell to stay with the Elves. We knew Mr. Bilbo was still alive, and the last letter I knew of from Lord Elrond indicated that, as things stood, he’d most like live till Yule at least. I also knew Mr. Frodo wouldn’t come back. I could see it in his eyes. He was tired too easily, his eyes held a distance to them. It wasn’t the restlessness he’d known afore our adventure, but he were saying goodbye.

But every afternoon he’d take little Elanor with him as he took his nap, and each evening after supper he’d sit in the parlor or the study with her in his arms, singing to her, talking to her in Elvish, reading to her, drinking her in with his eyes. And he’d sit with us after she were in her cot, and talk with us of simple, inconsequential things, and of the doings of the Row as told to him of the children, and then he’d go into the study with the cup of tea as I’d fixed him and close the door.

And I knew as I would soon lose him. And I did everything I could to convince myself this wasn’t true.

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