Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 4 Part 4
(September 22, 1451)
It almost took till noon
to get through all the goodbyes that go with a big
family. Mama squeezed Frodo so hard that he thought he'd
pop (especially after that breakfast!) Elanor and her
husband gave him a ton of good advice about life abroad that
he only half-heard, between all of the hugging, crying,
last-minute packing (not only his, but the newlyweds
finally moving to their own home) and of course the two
chickens that just had to pick this time to escape their
enclosure and find their way to the kitchen's interesting
smells. He felt just about done in when he found May
tugging at his sleeve. As soon as he turned to her she
pressed into his palm her prize possession: the crystal
magnifying-glass from the court of the King himself, with
pretty pink jewels all around the rim in the pattern of flowers, which she used to
study petals and bugs and all manner of
"This is too precious," Frodo said. "I
can't accept this."
"Then bring it back to me," May said with an
earnestness beyond her years. "Bring it back when
you come back yourself." So intense a look passed
between brother and sister that even though he could
think of no use for such a gift, he slipped it into his
pocket and promised that yes, he would return and give it
back to her. As he hugged and thanked her, his eyes
watered and he realized that he couldn't even imagine
what life might be like without his loving, bickering,
encouraging family all around him--all these people he
knew so well that the slightest twitch of the face
communicated whole speeches to each other.
Then Frodo saw his mother moving towards the kitchen to
get lunch going, and he picked up speed in his goodbyes.
He had this vision of Mama trapping him at the table
forever, feeding him till he couldn't fit his chair
between the table and the wall, just to keep him from
leaving. He picked up his pack, which made a faint,
musical jingle that caused him to frown and stare at it a
"One more thing," Papa said right before Frodo
tossed his pack up on the pony. "The
Frodo stopped short in awe. "No. You're not going to
give me that, Papa. You can't."
"I can and I will. It's not like I have much use for
it anymore," Sam said, and slipped the oval of black
metal into the pack, then tied the pack to the saddle
The Dwarf-Kit! It didn't look like much, at
first glance, just two black pans fit together like a
tortoise-shell, though on closer inspection you could
make out curious engravings of the sort that dwarves love. But
it weighed so much lighter than any metal had the right
to, light as an eggshell, even though it held more pans
inside, and measuring spoons, and cups, and knives and
other tools that all folded out from a single casing, and
a small grill, and a colander, and every kind of utensil that
a cook could make use of on the road, all cozied up together like
puzzle pieces; Frodo used to spend hours taking it apart
and putting it back together for a game, till he got the
hang of it. The pans would heat evenly and hold their
temperature perfectly like you'd expect of iron triple
the gauge or more, and none of the equipment ever dented
or showed a scratch, no matter what use you put it to.
Gimli of the Golden Lock had given it to Sam some years
before, "In memory of many a fine meal," he'd
said, "and in honor of what you lost for us."
If nothing else had proven it already, Frodo knew
for certain from that gift that his father did not expect him back
anytime soon. After that it hardly surprised him at all
when Papa strapped onto Frodo's belt the old, worn
scabbard that hid the most marvelous blade in all the
"I hope you don't need it," Sam said, "But
you never know." Frodo glanced at the pack and back
at him, and smiled, and the whole family chuckled.
"Yes, yes, Frodo," said Sam, "there's rope
enough in there."
"And something else, too," Frodo said.
"Something that jingles."
Watching from the kitchen window, Rosie blanched, but Sam said, "Hope you don't need
Billie-Lass, the pony, gave Frodo a somewhat aggrieved look as the hobbit climbed up into the saddle. Sam said, "It's about time you gave her a good riding, Frodo--I swear you treat that pony more like a pet dog than a beast o' burden. It'll do Billie-Lass some good to get proper exercise; she's gotten fat and lazy, if you ask me."
Frodo petted her neck. "She gets lots of exercise--don't you, girl? She carries all the supplies when we go out on picnics, all by herself."
"She'd have been better off carrying you." He shook his head and laughed. "Why oh why did I give a pony to a child who loves his own feet best?"
"Now that's not true--I love my Billie-Lass. We've just had a certain understanding over the years, that's all."
"Well, the understanding's going to have to change, lad. You've got a lot of miles ahead of you, and better you cover them on her feet than yours."
"What, all the way to Bree?" Frodo grinned at his father and Sam grinned back; his mother did not smile at all.
At last the three hobbits got out the gate, just in time
to hear the lunch-bell ringing behind them. Bleoboris
started to turn back, but Sam grabbed the postman's
reins, then tossed him an apple and a couple rolls.
Bleoboris shrugged and said, "It's not so bad--we
messengers get used to eating in the saddle all the
time." Sam and son exchanged glances, but said
nothing, just rode through the peace of the countryside
while Bleo went on about the terrible sacrifices of life
on the road, though Sam's eyes would twinkle every time
the young hobbit said, "You folks have no
Frodo ignored Bleo, surveying the Shire as if for the
first time in his life. The full splendor of autumn
colored every corner of the land in hues so bright that they
could burn your heart up. Leaves danced in the air and
scented the land with a wholly different sweetness than
the perfumes of spring; everywhere he looked he saw the
same leaps and pirouettes upon the breeze, as though the
leaves held a final party, a goodbye before their winter
flight. "And a goodbye for me, too," he
thought. He suddenly recalled his father's tales about
how his namesake kept going about the Shire, murmuring
things like, "Shall I ever see that hill again, I
wonder?" the year before their famous journey. Now
it all came alive for him; he felt keenly for ol' Mr.
Baggins--and more keenly for himself.
He glanced over at Papa, while Bleo droned on about great
meals he'd met at the Prancing Pony. Sam fingered a small
white jewel on a chain around his throat, a tiny thing
that could shoot out the piercingest gleam of light if it
turned just right. Frodo knew the story of that jewel
better than any other tale, though it had come to them
when he was just a baby, barely old enough to totter to
the yard and back. Indeed, it stuck out as the very first
memory of his life.
The other Frodo had once worn that jewel, so he'd been
told. The Queen herself had given it to him, to ease his
cravings for the One Ring that was gone. He'd worn it
still when he'd gone to sea with the elves; Sam said he
figured he'd never lay eyes on it again.
But it had come back. One day Sam had been out in the
field, haying with the hired hands, on an autumn day much
like this, the air fairly prickly and golden with the
blowing chaff, as they got the last wagon-load of fodder
in before the weather closed on them--indeed, storm
clouds loomed in the west already; everything looked
brighter than real against that dark mass. Frodo
remembered distinctly from where he sat on a blanket on
the ground, next to Mama laying out a picnic lunch. He
may have been the first to see the bird--a great, white
sea-bird with wings stretched wide, sailing in out of the
west with the wind, with the storm on its back and the
rain already on its wings, and lightning following
"Bird!" he'd cried, pointing. Something made
his father, and all the other laborers, turn to look, as
the gull tumbled from the sky headlong into the stubble of the field, near-dead with exhaustion. Sam, being
a kind sort, ran to care for the poor creature just as
the first rain came pelting down and the hands scurried
to get the hay into the barn. He'd carried the bird
wrapped in his own cloak to the barn and called Rosie
over to come take a look, even as she bundled up the food and blanket. Frodo toddled after as fast as
his little legs could run, forgotten for the moment,
frightened by the storm. But he stopped dead in his
tracks in the barn doorway when his father lifted from
off the bird's neck a fine silver chain with a gemstone
hanging from it, giving off a radiance that shone onto
Sam's weathered face.
"He's dead then," Sam said. "They wanted
me to know." That was the first time Frodo ever saw
his father weep.
But it was a good thing, everybody told him, a kindness
to let Sam know, so that he could mourn properly, the
hobbit way, and so let go. Immediately the farmhands
crowded around Sam and escorted him to the tavern,
picking up the Gaffer along the way, calling out for
wives and sisters to go "tend to the Missus".
People all over Hobbiton and Bywater laid down their
work, despite the busy season.
The man-hobbits converged
on The Green Dragon and the lady-hobbits converged on Bag
End. There Frodo and his sister sat by while the
goodwives gave Rosie cups of tea with a little something
sharp-smelling from a bottle, till she spoke at length of
the time she spent helping to care for Frodo Baggins in
his final year, and she'd cry, and she'd laugh, and most
of what they said went clean over the head of Frodo
Gamgee. If either he or his sister fussed or fretted, two
or three ladies at once would tend to their every need,
till at last a hobbit-granny tucked them into makeshift
beds of cushions by the fireplace, and the night wore on,
lit only by the fire and a candle here and there, and the
rain came down outside as soft and sweet as his sister's
breathing by his side. At some point he remembered
somebody measuring him, up, down, and sideways, and
somebody else warning to allow for a year's growth.
Nobody suggested sending them away to their rooms that
night. Frodo drowsed in and out, lulled by the murmur of
feminine voices and the flickering twilight of the
fireside so warm beside him.
At dawn his father came
home, aided by a sturdy hobbit on either side of him. But
they and all the other neighbors melted away like shadows
from the growing light, leaving Sam and Rosie in each
other's arms in a silence spreading like the day, even
the sound of the roosters seeming muted by the muffling
thickness of emotion in the room.
The Gamgees did no work that day, nor the next, but
lounged about the house in their night-clothing and
robes. At mealtimes a knock on the door signaled the
presence of a basket of fresh-cooked food from this
neighbor or that, but they never caught a glimpse of
anybody at the door. Sometimes Frodo heard work going on
outside, as folks took turns tending to the chores;
chickens got fed, water got drawn, but you never saw who
did it. The family spoke in low tones and went easy on
themselves, venturing out only as far as the garden, and
if anyone passed, no one spoke to them.
On the third day, as custom provided, they woke to new
suits of clothing lying on the porch--clothes fresh-made
for the entire family, all in black to remind the whole
Shire that this family mourned, be gentle with them. Yet,
also according to custom, the black clothes displayed a
rainbow of embroidery, fantastic shapes passed down
through time, bright about each cuff and collar, hem,
placket, and pocket, for hobbits believe in some
wonderful unknown beyond the grave; they mourn for their
own loss, but celebrate for the dead themselves.
spoke to the Gamgees now, as Rose and Sam resumed their
places in society. Folks politely inquired of their
memories, listening patiently to the stories, or at least
pretending to. For one year the family wore their special
clothes, they and the baby born that year, and then they
laid those clothes aside, and it was done, and life began
afresh. And Papa wore the jewel from the first day that he'd
received it, and did not lay it aside, and when times got
especially hard he would sometimes finger it, just like
that other Frodo used to do.
Sam fingered it now, staring off across the countryside.
Frodo at last grew impatient and interrupted Bleo right
in the middle of a preposterous piece of Staddle gossip
(as if a man could have any reason to wax jealous over
his wife's hobbit friend!) "So when are you going to
tell me, Papa?" Sam shot him a pained look. Frodo
said softly, "You can't put it off forever, you
"The King needs a gardener. He asked me for my
"That's all?" Frodo nearly laughed. "All
this fuss just because I'm going to Gondor?"
"I didn't say Gondor, now did I? The elven folk have
done all the gardening the city can take. No, Frodo, you
already know what land needs gardening in the worst kind
of way." When his father frowned the scar on his
scalp twitched and colored till all of Rosie's words
rushed back in on Frodo.
"King Elessar wants to send me there...as a gardener?"
"Why not? You wouldn't be the first." and they
exchanged one of those Gamgee family looks that got them
both laughing, though Frodo's heart still beat too fast.
Bleo said, "No, I just don't see it! What on earth
would the King want with the likes of Frodo in a place
like that? What's he gonna do, huh, grow pansies for
"Would you like it better if the King sent in a
messenger?" Bleo blanched and fell silent for the
first time on the trip. "Frodo," Sam said,
"there's men that farm in Mordor--slaves we'd freed
when we toppled Barad-Dur. But they can't farm no more,
son, and they're starving over there."
"Can you start from the beginning, Papa? Why are
they starving? And what can I do about it?"
"It seems that Sauron had some funny notions about
agriculture. He had to take control of every detail,
leave nothing to chance, which meant nothing to nature.
His factories could concoct powders and potions that
could make any kind of crop grow anywhere--force 'em to
grow, however he liked. Problem was, they killed the
soil, so pretty soon those farms couldn't grow so much as
a weed without more powders and potions. And people
started to get sick from whatever he put in that junk,
weird and painful sicknesses that made parts inside
themselves grow like a forced plant trying to break out
into the sun, but he didn't care, he just caught hisself
more slaves to replace the ones that died. And babies got
born all wrong, or died at birth, but he'd just catch
more slaves still, and nobody dared complain. But I've
got to say, the stuff did work. He could churn out food
like you wouldn't believe, to feed all them orcs and
armies of men, and trolls and wargs and whatnot, just so
long as he kept those powders and those potions
"But you stopped all that," Frodo said.
"You, and the other Frodo, and Gollum. You made it
all good again--didn't you?"
"It's not that simple, son." He held the jewel
tight in his hand. "Some things, if you get sick on
'em long enough, you get even sicker when you quit of a
sudden. It's hard to explain..." Frodo watched his
father's knuckles whiten on the jewel.
Gently Frodo said, "You still miss it, don't
Sam nodded. "Sometimes. Like now, when I feel small,
with the world's problems so big." Barely audibly he
added, "And to think I only bore it for one
night--one night as long as the four ages combined."
He shook his head. "Frodo must've been in
"So explain it to me," said Frodo the Younger,
"the best you can, what happened in Mordor."
"I told you--the soil died. They couldn't bring it
back to life--they didn't know how. They hated the
poisons they'd been using, but they didn't have no
choice, they had to keep on using them, and have some of
their folk die now and then, or stop and starve, and die
all at once. No more trains of orcs came over the hills
hauling bags of the stuff for them, but they did all
right with the stores they had for awhile, not having to
feed armies anymore, just themselves--they could ration
it, make it last a little. Then they ran out, but they
sent out men to explore the other parts of Mordor, and
some of those came back alive, and some told where to
find warehouses of the stuff, with some danger between
here and there, but watching their young'uns go hungry
scared them more, so they fetched back whatever they
could. And so they lasted awhile longer."
"And then they ran out again."
"Yep. They finally ran out. And each crop got
smaller and sicklier, and all the nasty, crawly bugs of
Mordor got bolder and ate what they had left, till
finally now they've got a famine on their hands. They've
petitioned the King for help, and he's sent them some
wagon-trains of food from happier lands, but he can't do
that forever. They've got to bring the land to life
"Why can't he send gardeners from his own
"Men are good enough at making prime land grow what
they want, but they don't know how to make bad land good.
It takes a hobbit to show 'em how." Sam waved his
hand around at the fertile countryside. "You see all
this? A long, long time ago war had laid it all to waste
before our folks came to it--a big ugly war with the
Witch King of Angmar." Sam shuddered. "You can
thank your stars you never met him, lad--he became the
chief of the Nazgul."
"I know the story," said Frodo. Bleo didn't,
and stared wide-eyed.
"Do ye now? Think of it--all this land around us, a
desert, stinkin' of the blood of good men and bad, and
only gorecrows finding anything to live on. Blasted by
war and weapon and witchery, trampled and burned and
poisoned and bled. We took it because the hobbit-folk had
nowhere else to go, and the men-folk didn't want it. We
made it what it is today. Hobbits always take what's
overlooked and make something of it that nobody
expects--that's our way, that's our strength. And do you
know how we do it?"
"Tell me, Papa."
"By listenin' to it, feelin' it, by smell and by
taste. By learning its own account of how it best lives
and working with that, not against it. You remember that,
Frodo--don't try to force the land your way. Listen like
you'd listen to a girlfriend, find out what the land
wants and what the land needs, and work with it. Let it
change you as much as you change it."
Frodo sat back in his saddle, horrified at the thought.
Let Mordor change him? Autumn felt colder all around him,
and the winter not far off.