To all with thanks, unfortunately a bit late for Thanksgiving.
Two days after the feast thrown on the Field of Cormallen to honor Frodo and Sam as the Ringbearers, the Fellowship gathered at a place by the small tributary to the Anduin that ran alongside one side of the encampment. Here the trees, mostly beeches and elms, drew back from the water. There were a few drifted logs suitable to sit upon by the various sized individuals within the group, and a great stone that accommodated Aragorn’s long legs and that seemed suited to his nature as well as his new dignity as King-elect. Frodo could not seem to sate himself on the changes to be seen within his Mannish friend, for there was so much relief and gladness to be seen in his face and demeanor, and so much of his habitual grimness seemed to have fallen away.
On this afternoon they were joined by the Sons of Elrond and two of Aragorn’s kinsmen, Halladan and Hardorn, who were younger brothers to his slain cousin Halbarad, who’d fallen upon the Pelennor. As the Hobbits understood it, Halbarad had been second to Aragorn amongst the other Rangers and their people, and had served as Aragorn’s Steward when he must be away.
“So, it’s over now,” Sam commented. He sat alone on a shorter log, turning a piece of wood that had been smoothed by the water between his hands, seemingly soothed by the wood’s resemblance to a nesting bird.
“The long war with Sauron is over,” agreed Gandalf. He was packing his pipe with pipeweed, which he’d been given by some of the Grey Company. He gave Aragorn a meaningful glance. “Now, to see what will be made of the time of relative peace that has been earned.”
“You can be certain that it will be well spent,” the Man returned. “Halladan, do you have some leaf you can spare?”
“I have some from Bree,” the Man said. “But it’s not the quality of that from the Shire, I fear.”
“I am grateful to have any at all,” Aragorn responded. “Although we will have to look into why there is such a lack of leaf from the South-farthing. The reports we’d had from our contacts in the South-farthing was that the harvest was exceptionally good last summer.”
“You have contacts within the Shire?” asked Pippin, intrigued.
“Of course. One of our Rangers managed to save a child who fell into the Brandywine three years ago, and his father, who I believe is one of the Goolds, has kept us apprised of conditions in the area ever since. He was very pleased with his own prospects as last summer progressed, but mentioned that someone he called Pimple was buying up as much pipeweed as he could manage for some purpose he would not divulge.”
The other three Hobbits looked to Frodo, whose brow furrowed with concern. “Lotho is buying up pipeweed? But why? He has his own plantations, as well as shares in at least two of those that are known for Old Toby, and two more that produce Longbottom Leaf. As it is, several of our Hornblower kin resent his attempts to tell them how to manage their fields. As for the Goolds, they won’t deal with him at all!”
“He’s always fancied himself a farmer,” Merry commented. “Which, considering he’s never bothered to do a day’s work in the fields himself is laughable. At least you, Frodo, have always worked alongside everyone else, and know how to use both a hoe and a scythe.”
“When I was allowed, at least,” Frodo muttered. He sighed. “A bit of family business once we get home again, I suppose. Not that Lotho Sackville-Baggins won’t hide behind his status as the Sackville, of course.”
Halladan looked at the Hobbit with surprise. “You are related to this Pimple?”
Frodo gave him a harried look. “One of my cousins, and, he believes, my most logical heir. His father was Bilbo’s cousin and should have been his heir, only Bilbo adopted me in that capacity instead.”
“Didn’t you say that you sold your home to him?” Aragorn asked. “Certainly there cannot be two Lotho Sackville-Bagginses, could there?”
Pippin made a gagging sound. “Perish the thought!” he said. “One of him is too many, the self-satisfied bully and prig!”
“I’m just thankful that he’s not my primary heir any more than Otho was Bilbo’s,” Frodo said.
“But who is your primary heir, then?” Pippin asked.
“Just never you mind, Peregrin Took. I had that well in hand with the Goodbodies and with Brendi as my personal lawyer long before I sold Bag End to Lotho and his dear mother. Already they’ve been learning they don’t have anywhere as much power over the family or those on the Row as they’d like to have believed, and it pleases me a good deal to think on that.”
“Then you don’t particularly like this Lotho, then?” Halladan asked.
“Nobody with any common decency does,” Merry said. “As Pippin indicated, he and his mother are both far too interested in power over others. Thieves, bullies, and pretenders after good breeding, the both of them.”
“Well,” Aragorn said as he got his pipe packed to his satisfaction, “I will simply thank the Powers that I have any leaf at all to smoke today. Gandalf, my friend, if you would set it alight, please.”
“And what will you do when I am gone back to my own place, Arathorn’s son?” the Wizard demanded. “Oh, all right.” He made a gesture, and briefly a flame danced over the bowl of Aragorn’s pipe before the leaf began to smolder. Gimli appeared impressed and Legolas amused. Gandalf watched as the Man puffed at his pipe to get it going, and smiled. “I must admit that there is pleasure to be found in needing to do little more than such parlor tricks for this time,” he said. “I rejoice to be done with facing down evil creatures.”
“I’m just glad to find we are all alive, considering what we’ve all been through,” Pippin announced, stretching only to wince as one of his injuries pulled at his chest.
Merry nodded. “I don’t know what I would have done had I been forced to go home to tell your parents and mine why you didn’t come home with me,” he said. “And I’d have been terrified to have to visit the Gaffer to explain to him what might have happened to Sam.” He closed his eyes, shaking his head at the thought of it. “And Mum and Dad would never have understood if Frodo didn’t come home, too. Oh, my dear Cousin, how thankful I am that you awoke again. I was so frightened that you might not do so.”
Frodo gave a twisted smile and looked away.
Sam sighed. “I’m glad as Mr. Frodo and me will be able to go home again after all, and I’ll be right glad to get back to work on a garden again. They can say what they please about Mr. Frodo and me bein’ Princes of the West, but all I want to rule is a bit of earth as is my own, and that’s a fact. I wasn’t raised to be above workin’ with my hands, I wasn’t.”
“What about you, Frodo?” asked Pippin.
Frodo paused a moment or two, but on realizing that Pippin wasn’t going to allow the subject to drop, he said, “I suppose that I am thankful that it’s over and done with, and that the Ring’s destruction served indeed to bring Sauron down as had been hoped. But I still wish that there had been no need for anyone to go on such a terrible journey.”
“As do all of us, dear Frodo,” Gandalf said gently, laying his hand upon the Hobbit’s frail shoulder. The Baggins gave him a pained smile before dropping his gaze to the backs of his hands.
Gimli looked from Wizard to the Ringbearer and back, and cleared his throat. “I must say that I am grateful to have been able to see so many enemies of all of the Free Peoples destroyed for good and all, and to have done so at the side of so many worthy individuals.” He gave a surprisingly gentle clap to Legolas’s shoulder.
The Elf responded with a look of pleased surprise before responding, “And I find myself thankful to have put behind me some of my prejudices against dealing with mortals,” he said. Somehow the smile he bestowed upon the Dwarf seemed particularly warm.
One of Elrond’s sons laughed and stretched languidly. “I am grateful to find that our long quarrel with the orcs of the Misty Mountains no longer compels me to seek out their kind for destruction. I doubt we will be free of them all anytime soon, but at least there is now the knowledge that all of the evil we know from them is their own and no longer directed by malevolent powers that we could not hope to vanquish by force of arms.” He smiled gently at Frodo. “And for this we have you to thank, Master Frodo. Bilbo has always sworn that you were the best that the Shire ever produced, and how right he has proved!”
Frodo’s expression became slightly haunted, and he turned away.
“And I rejoice,” his brother added, “that we can now look to the wounds inflicted by Mordor possibly healing, and the dark places reopened to the light once more. May the Powers be blest that have so blest us! And I rejoice also to know the chance to tell dear Bilbo how his beloved former ward has been able to remain to his comfort ere he must depart this life.”
All were relieved to see the discomfort in Frodo’s expression relax as he looked up gratefully to meet the half-Elf’s gaze. “I am glad,” he said softly, “that I did not leave him bereft. It pains me to admit that I never thought of how badly my death might have hit him, there when Sam and I thought the creeping fire would take us within minutes. I remember, however, the fleeting appreciation of how hard the loss of his son would hurt the Gaffer. I am so very, very thankful he doesn’t have to face that after all.” He took a sip from the mug that one of the peredhil had set beside him, closed his eyes, and rubbed at his shoulder, which appeared to be aching. “I am so very glad that neither the Gaffer nor dear Bilbo has that grief to face,” he murmured. “So very glad.”
“As are we all,” Gandalf said, once again reaching to gently grip the Hobbit’s shoulder. “I grieve for the pain that Denethor knew at Boromir’s loss, but am so grateful that Boromir was given the reassurance he needed to know that it was not his own failing but the malevolent will of the Ring Itself that led to his actions, and that he was able to do what he could to protect Merry and Pippin here. The orcs having been given the time to recognize that Merry and Pippin were indeed Halflings, at least they were not slain out of hand, but were given relatively good treatment, or at least as good treatment as orcs are capable of dealing out. I know that the pain of his brother’s loss will trouble Faramir for some time, but he is great-hearted, and will recover well—of this I am certain.” He turned to smile at Aragorn, although his hand did not loose Frodo’s shoulder. “You will have the best of Stewards at your side, my beloved friend. He is not Halbarad, but still one who will love you even as did your cousin, and offer much the same support.”
Aragorn gave a wry smile. “From what I read of the grief in his heart as I recalled him to life, it appears that Denethor referred to him as a Wizard’s pupil. Well, I rejoice that if Faramir did learn from at least one of the Wizards that it was from you, Gandalf.”
Frodo’s discomfort relaxed a bit more, and his smile was more heart-felt. For this most of all Gandalf was quietly grateful, that Frodo’s own self-blame could be forgotten by the Hobbit, if only for a few precious minutes.