For RabidSamFan for her birthday. Sorry it's so belated!
There was a rap at the door, followed by, “Mister Baggins, sir!”
Frodo Baggins awoke, confused. Oh, yes—Aragorn had wished to have his company in the Houses of Healing this morning—there was that woman, the young one who’d just lost her child and whose husband had not been found in the wake of the battle of the Pelennor, who appeared to be so much calmer when he visited her in company with the King….
He blinked furiously, trying to clear away the greyness that seemed to fog his vision at times, much as it had after he was stabbed with the Morgul knife. He peered upwards, but the ceiling was not that he’d become familiar with in the guesthouse on Isil Lane in Minas Tirith, seeming impossibly high and characterized by straight lines and flat planes such as Men preferred. No, this ceiling was at a comfortable height, and nicely rounded where it met the walls. Nor did he see the lines of books to his right he’d known in the room in which he’d slept in the guesthouse, with the two sets of shelves, one set on either side of the tall, narrow window that looked across at the large empty building that he’d been told was often used to house embassies from foreign lands come to treat with the lords of Gondor.
This was a room in a Hobbit home—or establishment. But it was not his beloved bedroom in Bag End, nor any he’d slept in either at Brandy Hall or the Great Smial. Nor was it the room he’d slept in at his Cousin Freddie’s new house in Budgeford, nor that in Will and Mina Whitfoot’s home in Michel Delving.
Wait—those last two were places he’d only known since they’d come home to the Shire! He couldn’t be in Minas Tirith! And he felt a stab of mixed relief and disappointment to know that he was again in his own land.
Nor was he lying comfortably and familiarly on his right side with his right arm extended and his left one across his chest as he preferred to sleep, but instead he reclined against carefully arranged pillows, facing upwards. Yes, he remembered asking Queen’s Lace to bring them….
He was in Michel Delving, but not in the Whitfoot home. No, instead he was in the inn that faced the town Common, there near the entrance to the Council Hole. And he’d needed those pillows to help him breathe while he rested. Yes, both Aragorn and Budgie Smallfoot, Freddie’s resident healer and general aide, had advised him that if he felt short of breath while lying down it could be eased if he raised his torso somewhat.
He laid his head back and closed his eyes. He was fading, he knew. He thought that he had sufficient strength to make the ride to the Havens, but doubted he had much more than that. He felt weak, tired, and very old. And as much as he loved the Shire and Sam, Merry, Pippin, Folco, Fatty, his aunts and uncles and cousins, as much as he loved Elanor and Rosie, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli—oh, but it was time to leave, now, before he came to resent all of them for keeping him here when he no longer belonged among the living!
There was another succession of raps on the door. “Mister Baggins—are you all right, sir?”
What? Oh, the innkeeper! Yes, he should answer him, he supposed. “Do come in, Master Greenbriar.” Oh, but his voice sounded rusty!
Bobbin Greenbriar had inherited the inn for Michel Delving from his father. Unlike many other innkeepers throughout the Shire, he’d not sold out to Lotho Sackville-Baggins in the last few years before Frodo left the Shire in company with Sam Gamgee and the heirs to the Thain and the Master of Buckland. Lotho had made an offer, to which Bobbin had responded with an amazed laugh before turning away to see to the needs of another customer he felt was not trying to josh him. What need had the Greenbriars to sell their inn to anyone? They had the most profitable inn in the entirety of the Shire, after all, offering rooms, food, and drink to almost everyone who came to Michel Delving to file papers or record bills of sale in the Mayor’s office, to the heads of families and villages come to the Council meetings held twice a year in the Council Hole, to wedding parties throughout the year, and to many who came to the Free Fair during the Lithe Days. In the end Lotho’s Big Men had seized Bobbin’s brother and a son and had used threats toward them to force the close of the establishment. Then one of those who oversaw the Lockholes had decided to allow Bobbin to continue brewing beer—only for the consumption of himself and his fellows, of course, and had seen to it the innkeeper had malt and hops and so on to keep the Men in drink. Bobbin had been able to divert a good deal of the grain to those who were worst off in the region, and once the Big Men were gone and his son and brother released had been able to reopen his doors fairly quickly, unlike many others whose inns had been burned to the ground or torn apart in search of any spoils.
He entered now, his eyes searching the room, checking the details to make certain that Queen’s Lace and Oto, who cared for the guests and the quarters let to them, had done their best to meet whatever needs the former deputy Mayor might have expressed. “I am so pleased that you chose to stay with us, Mister Baggins, sir,” he said with a bob to his square head. “It’s been quite a time since you slept beneath this roof, I’m thinkin’, sir, not since you was a wee lad, come with your mum and dad to the Free Fair, I believe. Not what I wasn’t the same, of course. Fine people, your parents were. Did you sleep well, sir? I member as you asked to be waked early. The clock in the common room just rung six—is that early enough for you? Would you like a breakfast brought in, do you think?”
Did all innkeepers talk like this, the words rushing out of them while they noted whether the curtains needed drawing and whether the mantel had been properly dusted and the ewer on the wash stand needed filling, he wondered? Other than size and a lack of facial hair on Bobbin, Frodo thought that there was little if any visible difference between Bobbin Greenbriar and Barliman Butterbur in Bree. Perhaps it was this attention to detail while they produced soothing prattle that made them decent innkeepers.
The grey haze was creeping across his eyes once more, and he blinked furiously to clear his vision, then rubbed at his forehead. Bobbin was quick to notice this, and a look of concern crossed his face. “Are you unwell, Mister Frodo?” he asked. “Would you like some willow bark tea, do you think? Perhaps you should stay in bed for now, and I’ll have the missus prepare a posset for you.” He was eyeing the number of pillows behind Frodo consideringly, his brow slightly furrowed. Frodo remembered that the Greenbriars also had relations amongst the Boffinses where heart problems were not uncommon, and Bobbin was most likely aware of why extra pillows might be wanted.
“I am well enough,” Frodo said, “and I don’t need a posset, thank you.” He sat up, doing his best to hide the effort it cost him. “I shall do better once I’ve had my morning tea, I suspect. Oh, no—you do not need to go order some brewed up. It is a—a medicinal tea that Sam brews for me. I suspect that Aragorn taught him the making of it. If you will hand me one of my water bottles from the back of the chair and the cup from the wash stand, please.”
He turned to sit properly with his feet over the side of the bed, and reached for the rectangular shawl that Rosie had packed for him along with his night shirt to pull it around his shoulders. This had been made by Sam’s mother for Bilbo the first year Frodo lived in Bag End as Bilbo’s ward, done in the finest wool blended with rabbit fur and dyed a gentle blue. He had to admit that it was warm as he drew it around him, then looked up to smile as reassuringly as he could at the innkeeper as Bobbin approached with mug and bottle in hand.
“I must say, Mister Baggins,” Bobbin commented as he handed the cup to Frodo to hold and removed the stopper from the water bottle to pour some of its contents into it, “I believe as that is one of the most elegant of nightshirts as I’ve ever seen. But then, all of the gear as you four Travellers come back with is particularly good, I’m thinkin’. Made in foreign parts?”
Frodo shrugged, nodding his thanks. “I must admit most of what we brought back from our journeys was made elsewhere. Aragorn had clothing made for all of us there in Gondor, including nightshirts, of course, as what little we had once we got there was far too ragged to wear any longer. You go wandering through the wild for months at a time, through briars, brambles, mires, and waste places, and your clothing is bound to suffer.” He sipped at the tea in his cup.
“Not just your clothing, or so it would seem,” grunted Bobbin shrewdly. “All of you come back far thinner’n’ what you was when you left, or so I sees it. And perhaps I’m sayin’ as one who shouldn’t, but I fear as at least your health has suffered.”
Frodo felt his face going stiff. He wrapped both hands around the cup and fixed the innkeeper with his sternest stare. “Perhaps it did, but I can—and will—do what I have to.”
Bobbin raised one hand in an apologetic manner. “I’m meanin’ nothin’ by it, Mister Baggins, sir. Certainly you’ve done well by all of us here in the Shire, what I can tell. You found my wife’s shell brooch as them thievin’ Gatherers and Sharers took and got it back to her, and our servin’ pieces and all. And you saw to it as no one went without that first Yule, and that was a great thing all on its own. I’m just worrited for you, is all. You’re among the finest folk as I’ve ever known, and at least I’d miss you somethin’ terrible if’n you was to leave us.”
There was a twisting behind his breastbone, and Frodo dropped his gaze. “I’m sorry to have snapped at you, Mister Greenbriar,” he said softly. “Of course I know you never meant to offend me. And I do appreciate your concern.” He finished his tea, glad to feel it taking effect already. “I will be better directly. If you will have an egg boiled for me, five minutes would do, a couple slices of toast with butter and perhaps some cherry conserve such as you put by last summer, and a mug of green tea piping hot, I’ll dress and be ready for my day. Are the Goodbodies here yet?”
“Mister Oridon Goodbody is to arrive this morning sometime later. Shall I advise him as you’ll look to speak with him when you can?”
“I would so appreciate it,” Frodo said gratefully. “I have some business to do first, and it may take me most of the morning and perhaps into the afternoon to complete my negotiations. Once all is settled I shall need to consult with Oridon as my banker of discretion. And if I might leave my things until after dinner, I shall pick them up before I go to the Mayor’s office.”
“There’s no problem with that, sir. Are you certain as you’d not wish more for first breakfast, Mister Frodo? That’s hardly enough to keep body and soul together, if’n you’ll pardon my sayin’ so.”
The Baggins suppressed a sigh. “Well,” he said carefully, “you could bring a few pippins for me to eat as I walk out upon my business. I do have a good deal to sort out this morning, I am afraid. Again, thank you for your concern, but I assure you that what I asked for is enough for the moment.”
Bobbin Greenbriar recognized the dismissal, and making certain that the water bottle he still held was firmly corked, he hung it by its cord again from the back of the chair. “If’n you’re certain as that’s all you wish for the moment, I’ll see to it as Pippa brings it up directly as soon as it’s ready. And if there’s anything else as we can do for you just let us know and I’ll see as it’s done and done right.” He walked to the door and opened it, but paused to turn back momentarily. “It’s been a true honor hosting you here, Mister Baggins,” he said.
“Thank you,” Frodo said simply. “I remember coming here with my parents when I was a child, and thinking it the grandest thing in the world to stay here for the Free Fair. And I did notice that this is the same room that my father always took for us. Bilbo preferred camping out after his own adventure, and he taught me to love sleeping out under the stars, but now and then it’s good to know that others enjoy caring for us. Thank you for that, for your hospitality and the care you’ve shown me. I feel I ought to have stayed here myself more often in the past.”
Bobbin’s face lit up with pleasure. “It’s the greatest way for one like me to make a livin’ for myself and my family,” he answered, “seein’ to it as others is comfortable and well fed. You come back for dinner, and we’ll have it all in hand for you. There’s a pigeon pie planned, I do believe. I’ll see to it as a goodly piece is set by for your meal.”
So saying, he left, and Frodo found himself smiling as he began dressing for the day. No matter how odd so many people seemed to find him, it was good to know that some Hobbits of the Shire would remember him kindly once he sailed.