Two days after I returned home I sat in the parlor reading a letter as I’d got from my brother Hal, and there were a knock at the door. I was surprised to see the Brandybuck lawyer and the banker of discretion standing there on the doorstep, both together for a change. They explained as they were charged with the reading of Mr. Frodo’s will, that he’d ordered that it be read here at Bag End on this day, and that others would be coming soon to hear it also.
Will Whitfoot, the Mayor, was the next to arrive, then Mr. Folco Boffins, Mr. Fredegar Bolger accompanied as always now by Budgie Smallfoot, Mr. Freddy’s sister Estella, his folks, the Thain and his wife and daughters and a brother, the Master and his wife and brother, the Proudfoots from Number Five, the Gaffer and my sisters and brother Ham, the Widow Rumble, a few assorted Brandybucks and Tooks, the Cottons and Farmer Maggot, Missus Lobelia’s niece from Hardbottle as the old lady’d stayed with after her release from the Lockups until she died, and finally Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin. Both was wearing the clothing they’d worn during our travels and the Lorien cloaks, and they carried only their swords. Then arrived folk from the Ivy Bush with food and all, who went in and took over the kitchen and dining room, for I learned this was to be a catered affair.
I’d never heard a will reading afore, for my folk don’t usually have such things. But the long and the short of it was that what he’d told me was now confirmed, he’d adopted me as his heir and left it all to me, to own or manage in his name, and then my own. I was now Master of Bag End.
If old Mr. Rory Brandybuck had been amazed to learn how devious could be Frodo Baggins in the days of his directing the maraudings of the Marish when he were a teen, it were nothing like what I faced now. The ins and outs of the business connections are still a marvel to me, and I don’t think the banker of discretion will ever help me sort it all out in my lifetime. Although his son is now starting to handle more of it, for his dad is getting on now.
A good portion of his invested estate was to go to funding the founding of schools for Hobbit lads and lasses, so that any youngling could learn to read, write, and figure, and about the ways and history of Middle Earth, and to study the languages and ways of other lands beyond our borders and how they was related to us and us to them.
The bequest made by old Missus Lobelia hadn’t all be spent, and much of it were invested in farms and businesses as had been deeply damaged in the days of the Troubles, and I was to see that as more damage was uncovered reparations would continue to be made. And a library was to be founded in Michel Delving for all Hobbits throughout the Four Farthings, Buckland, and beyond the borders of the Shire, so as all could have access to the books which we was told would be presented to the Shire by the King and from other centers of Learning (which I was to find out meant Rivendell, Lothlorien, and the Woodland Realm in especial--I guess as Frodo and the King between the two of them set a lot of this up while we was still in Gondor, after the wedding while the Lord Elrond and the Lady and Legolas was all there to help in the planning).
There were presents for all, as the will indicated this was to stand in the stead of the Birthday Party to which the Shire had become accustomed. Once again, he said Sting was mine, now and for the rest of my life, and for once I couldn’t give it back. And all laughed, including me. And he’d had my sisters and brother-in-law make me two suits suitable for the Master of Bag End, and there was a box wrapped in ribbon which, when I opened it, held his watch and chain with the little silver key hanging from it. I took it out and held it to me and wept, and all wept with me. And he’d had made for me a silver teapot, suitable for serving athelas tea to the King of Gondor and Arnor, he wrote me. Again we all laughed through our tears.
He had similar gifts for all. Some of the books of his and Mr. Bilbo’s were to go to this one or that, or to the library to be built; but most was now for me and Rosie and our children. The binding supplies was to go to the library, he said, although he hoped as one of my children might one day take an interest in it and assist in the making of more books. A whole set of silverware made by the folk of the Lonely Mountain had been commissioned for the Bracegirdle niece in loving memory of the change of heart Missus Lobelia had undergone. An assortment of cloth was being sent to May and Daisy, and new looms for Daisy’s husband and the Widow Rumble, who liked to weave of an evening. And for little Cyclamen Proudfoot, he asked the book of Elven tales as I’d learnt to read from be given to her for her very own; and seven pieces of gold as had come from the King with the wine at Midsummers was to be given to her daddy, in memory of the day when he thought to find gold and jools ahind the walls of the larder.
Among those who received books was Budgie Smallfoot, who received a copy of the herbal Frodo’d copied for Missus Menegilda so long ago, other books on healing and the body as he had in his library, a special small book sent with thanks from Lord Elrond which explained the herbs he used in healing, and a supply of herbs such as Lord Elrond had sent to be added to the tea I fixed for him. And Lord Elrond sent also seeds for many of these plants, with a request I found a special herb garden for healers near the Three Farthing Stone for all to use, to be worked by myself, Mr. Smallfoot, and any other healer as cared to take part in the project. Turned out a lot of this’d come in that bundle I’d been given by Lord Erestor.
Mr. Frodo’d also asked that the Red Book be copied and shared throughout the Free Peoples, and that it be read regular that all might know at what cost our freedom and happiness had been bought.
At the end he wrote: Now, a word to the Conspirators, Fredegar, Sam, Pippin, and Merry--to you I leave my frustration and fury, that every time I sought to protect you you refused to allow it. You would not let me keep my secrets, nor allow me my journey alone to Death. Each and every time I sought to spare you, your obstinacy put you in harm’s way in spite of all I could think to do. And now, at last, I find myself able to let loose on you the rage of the Wronged Cousin!
Yet, the fact remains that you were right, and I was wrong. In my pride I thought I could bear the burden alone, make my way alone, save the Shire alone. I humbly beg your forgiveness for the unspoken curses I formulated as I foresaw every disaster you would face that you refused to allow me to bear for you. For what did I in the paucity of my imagination know of what Terror is? You proved stronger than I, all of you, even you, Freddy, who feared to leave the safety of the Shire but who proved yourself, to your own amazement, as brave and as dedicated as any. Each of you went through trials I still cannot imagine, and all have earned every honor ever bestowed upon you. I bend my knee in respect to each and all of you, and beg you forgive me for this, my last betrayal, for not telling you I am leaving. I remain a coward, and weak. I am, I know, physically weak now, and I could not bear seeing your final grief. Please, please forgive me.
I know now that not all the darkness I perceive is due to the taint I carry, that much is brought on by physical weakness and illness. But I still see that darkness, and it feels as if it is coming to devour me at last.
Strictly speaking, I am not yet dead, or at least I don’t believe my end will come before this will is read. But I could no longer remain in Middle Earth as I am. My end would have come soon if I’d stayed, probably as the result of the fragile nature of my body, but perhaps by my own hand. For I have borne much grief and more pain, and in spite of the love I bear all of you and the whole Shire and much of the world outside its bounds as well, I have been sore pressed to remain with you this long. If I am to find any rest at all from the burden of pain and grief I have borne since I took up the Ring, I cannot remain longer among you, for fear I will do myself or you--or both--injuries none of us deserve.
I beg all of you to accept my apologies for the pain and grief that I have given you, wittingly or unwittingly, as I have fought my own long defeat. And I ask that you remember gently your cousin and neighbor and one-time friend,
Frodo Baggins, son of Drogo and Primula
Dated this eighteenth day of September, 1421 S.R.
In Bag End, the Hill, Hobbiton, Westfarthing, The Shire
in Eriador in the Kingdom of Arnor under the rule of the King Elessar
Post Script: Please, on our Birthday of September 22, may you always raise a toast to Bilbo and myself, and if I remain within the bounds of Arda, I will do so to you. F.B.
We was all weeping, and I saw the Thain reach out to his son, run his hand down his chest, then take his sword hand and examine it, and finally embrace him, whispering into his ear through his tears. And Estella Bolger reached out to take Merry’s hand, as he were sitting aside her, and held it in comfort.
The Master begged Rosie and me to come with them to Brandy Hall, and we went. And as we rode we talked and shared, and Missus Esmerelda and Master Saradoc told us about the fear and the love they’d held for their beloved young cousin and foster son, almost-brother to Merry, and all they’d tried to do, and the failing and the succeeding.
The next day after our arrival, during first breakfast, there was a knocking at the door, and the housekeeper came into the dining hall to say as there were a Person outside who wished to speak with the Master of Bag End. Rosie had to punch me to remind me that that was now me.
It was an Elf, and he put a letter in my hand and said as he’d wait for me. I opened it, then went in to tell them I’d been called outside the Shire, toward Bree, and I hoped they’d forgive me, but I must go now but would return the following day at the latest. And I asked if they’d get Bill ready for me.
Merry and Pippin were waiting with their ponies aside Bill, and I saw as I wasn’t going to be able to go alone no more than the last Master of Bag End had.
We saw the campfire aside the road, among the trees across from where the Barrowdowns ran, and we turned in there. A figure sat aside it on a fallen log, his hood over his head, which was bowed with tiredness. Behind him stood the sons of Elrond and the Lord Glorfindel, so I could see he wasn’t unguarded, wasn’t alone. And the Elf who’d brought us bowed and slipped into the shadows. Asfaloth and the horses of Elladan and Elrohir raised their heads to greet us, and aside them a grey shadow moved forward, and I thought at first it was Shadowfax.
“We’re here, Strider,” I said, and he raised his head, his eyes sad, but accepting.
“Almost a month ago,” he said, “Arwen suddenly woke me in the night, telling me, ‘He has chosen. He has chosen to take the Ship. Go to him, Estel.’
“I left matters in her hands and those of the Lord Faramir as Steward, and set out immediately, but Roheryn suffered from my haste, and turned his ankle as I entered Rohan. I’d walked, leading him, for five days before Eomer found me, leading Olorin here. I could not go faster without fully laming Roheryn.”
“I thought Gandalf had come back at first, when I saw him,” Merry said, looking at the great horse.
“He is second son to Shadowfax.” The horse moved to him, and he rubbed its neck. “Eomer said he wished to gift me with one of the Mearas, if it would bear me, as he thought it would. Olorin brought me here, but too late. I felt the Ship leave as we were on the way. I felt Adar and Galadriel and--and Frodo leave Middle Earth.
“I went first to Imladris, and together we finally came here. What can you tell me?”
So, we told him, and I gave him my spare handkerchief once more, and he laughed through his tears. I’d not told Merry and Pippin what the ride to the Havens was like, but I told the King, told him of the withdrawing, of the quietness overtaking his Friend, the caring focused on Bilbo, the final embrace and kiss of blessing he’d given me. And I gave him the will to read, for I’d carried it with me.
“He’d barely speak at the end, sir. He was almost past it, I think.”
“Alas, that he could not return to full health!” he said.
“Lord Elrond said it were enough, enough for him to choose. He was growing weaker. If he’d been there on the anniversary of when he was struck again, it would’ve killed him. He couldn’t take no more. He was fading.”
There was food prepared, and he looked surprised when Glorfindel laid a platter on his lap and a cup in his hand. And after we ate, he spoke with Merry and Pippin, returned the will to me, embraced us all, and turned to Olorin.
“Shall I accompany you, my Lord?” Pippin asked.
The King turned, laughing. “No, my beloved Ernil i Pheriannath. Your leave is not up, not yet. But be ready when I ride north.” And the Guard of the Citadel saluted his King as Aragorn Elessar leapt onto his horse, and we went to mount our ponies.
I rode forward, saw as there was no bridle nor saddle. “Like his father, I see,” I said. Foolish things we say, no? And he laughed. “Olorin--that was one of Gandalf’s names, wasn’t it?”
“The wisest of the Maiar, Sam.” He leaned down, holding Olorin’s mane. “At least we know Frodo was well protected on the voyage, Sam.” And he laid his hand on my head, and I thought as I heard an Elvish blessing, and the King rode out onto the road, heading south, the sons of Elrond following him; and Glorfindel and the other elf accompanied us back to the gate at the Brandywine Bridge.
It is spring now, and over the winter we’ve learned much that Frodo son of Drogo Baggins held secret. We’ve learned of the weakness of his heart when he was a lad, and of its gradual failing as he’d known since his waking in Ithilien. We’ve learned of secret plans to help many here and there throughout the Shire, and how some as were moved by love and pity and compassion, and some set in motion in horror brought on by his own feelings of anger and disgust toward this one or that. We’ve seen also how the many small kindnesses he did over the years, open or hidden, have worked to make this land in which we live more beautiful and kind.
The stationery box wasn’t on the desk when I arrived home from the Grey Havens, and I thought as maybe he’d taken it with him, or given it quietly to another, and I was sorry, in a way. But then I found it, sitting on the floor under the little work desk as he had insisted be placed in the master bedroom when Bag End was restored and refurnished. I’d not seen it for the chair hid it, and over the chair was draped the cloak given him by the King afore we left Gondor. He’d laughed at the time that he were certain as that cloak had been intended for either Strider hisself or me at the beginning, as it were a bit large across the shoulders for him, and now he’d left it for me. And it did fit me, very well indeed. I’d taken over a week to gather my courage to take it, for things brought tears far too easily to me.
Then, there as I stood wearing that foolish cloak, I saw the shadow of the stationery box sitting there, and I crouched down to look at it in wonder, then finally took it up. I got the watch out of my pocket, and took the key and used it to open the little drawer, and in it were many papers. There was drawings he’d made, drawings of me, of the Gaffer, of Bilbo (how young he looked in those drawings), of Rosie and Elanor among the later ones. There was even one made of Strider as he’d looked sitting as part of the Council of Elrond, and one of Merry and Pippin leaning over Bilbo’s shoulders in the gardens of Rivendell. And one made in Lothlorien in the ink as they’d given us, one of me, looking into the Mirror of Galadriel.
But there was dark drawings and paintings, too--Gollum and bones and an orc with a whip--and Eyes against darkness; and one of a Wheel of Fire. And one last one--his hand, as it was now, with the scar where the Ring was bit off of him. And at the bottom, but not in his usual graceful writing: For your hand’s fairer without it.
And there was a letter.
I won’t copy it, for it’s very private. And I read in it the anger and the grief and the frustration he felt as his body was failing, and as he felt toward all of us as sought to wrap him up in wool batting and tried to preserve him as wasn’t worth preserving--that’s how he wrote it. And I read the longing for the happiness I’d been able to find, and the joy as I’d found it at least, and the desire as I’d live for both of us, as I’d held the hope for both of us when he was so close to dying in those dark days in the Black Land.
I read his rage and his love, his joy and his grief.
But mostly it were of his love, even in the depths of his greatest anger, it were of his love--for his family, for his home, for his people, for his King, and for his best friend, dearer than brother.
One day I’ll take that Grey Ship, but not till after Rosie is gone, and of course, only if I live past her. I only hope he will remain--I hope he survived the crossing, in fact. For the anniversary was coming of the day he was stabbed by the Morgul knife, and that were always a hard one. And I doubt he could hide the pain among so many of the great ones with whom he traveled. Could he make it past that day? Could the Elves with him and Grey Ship on which he sailed hold the pain at bay, hold him for healing? But Gandalf was with him, and Elrond, and the Lady.
And once I make it, will I recognize him? Or will he be as old Gandalf saw, a vessel as of glass filled with light for eyes to see as can?
I hope you’ll wait for me, Frodo Baggins, Iorhael. For you are to me also dearer than brother.