The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

Volume I
Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 5 Part 5
Brandy Hall
(September 22, 1451)

Night had long since fallen by the time the ponies stumbled over the bridge and into Buckland, in a thick, misty gloom that beaded the hobbits' hair and the wool of their cloaks with dew, and smelled heavily of river. Even Frodo missed his supper by then, though Bleoboris did sometimes pass him dried fruit and jerky from his saddle-bag. Frodo looked at Bleo with new respect, for the young Brandybuck hardly seemed fazed by the long ride. His father, too, had legendary endurance, and if he felt any fatigue he wasn't about to show it. Frodo's back ached and his legs ached and his sitting-parts never wanted to sit again, thank you very much.
 
"Riding!" Frodo thought. "Why couldn't we have walked? It would've only taken one extra day, and I'd have spent that much more time enjoying the Shire."
 
But then Bleo noticed how Frodo crouched in the saddle, trying to find one scrap of hindquarters not rubbed raw, and passed him a flask of the family beverage (never mind that the Brandybucks were named after the river and not the other way around) and the trip became a bit more endurable. By the second pass Bleo's endless chatter became tolerable, even pleasant, if not any more interesting.
 
At first the travelers encountered only houses, for the damp riverside land did not lend itself well to hobbit-holes. Still they were nice enough houses, thatched and rounded places of cob and beam, with arched doorways and platter-windows like golden coins of light. Then, as the road wound up again from the river, they came into the rambling district of Brandy Hall itself, where the light spilled out from windows in the hillside, with their autumn-painted vines draped all around them like outdoor curtains, illuminated from behind by fireplace and lamp. Brandy Hall's innumerable wings and tunnels spread out all around them (and indeed, sometimes under them) until at last they reached the front gate. Bleo hopped off his steed and gave a bell a resounding ring, and younger Brandybucks came out to tend their horses. Frodo dismounted more slowly, wincing to discover that it hurt even more to stop riding than to continue. His pony whinnied with entirely too much relief as he did so.
 
"Come, come, lass!" he said, stroking her big, furry face as the Bucklanders unsaddled her. "Surely I am not that much heavier than a picnic lunch!"
 
Nobody ever faulted the Master of Buckland for his hospitality, not since the Oldbucks crossed the river and became the first hobbits to build an empire on trade. With so many relations living under one roof, the Brandybucks dedicated an entire chamber to baths and the art of bathing, each tub in its own alcove of willow-screens, and there certain members of the family plied their craft, proud to carry the title of Tenders of the Bath, who did no other work than to heat and carry water, mop spills, keep inventory of all towels, and perfect their secret recipes for the best soaps in the Shire. It was but one of many homely crafts celebrated in the self-contained maze called Brandy Hall. Frodo soaked in utter bliss and soon forgot the trials of the road, letting his worries drift away in clouds of steam.
 
But it's a funny thing about partitions; people tend to assume they have more privacy than they've got, as though a willow screen could block out sound as well as sight. Frodo heard the splashing wallow of his father to his right, but to his left he heard two tenders cleaning up after a mother had bathed some especially muddy children.
 
"That Gamgee and his oldest boy had the nerve to visit today--did you see them come straight in at the front door, just as bold as brass? As though he hadn't grabbed Bag End right out from under our noses--and then had the gall to name his son after our cousin, like that could legitimize his claim."
 
"Now, now, mind your tongue. Our ditch-digger mayor won't stick at naught for power--or haven't you heard how he got Bag End in the first place?"
 
"Undue influence on his ailing master if ever there was!"
 
"But that's not the half of it. That's just how he got his name into the will. And no sooner does our poor, crazed cousin sign the final paper, than Sam Gamgee ups and takes him for a little ride out into the woods, and only Sam comes back."
 
"That's right--I hear he put about that Frodo sailed off with the elves. And now you've got me thinking--since when do mortals ever sail with elves? Still, I do wonder about that jewel coming back on the neck of a bird..."
 
"What's to wonder? He must have stolen it long before, hid it away for awhile, and suddenly produced it again. Have you ever heard anybody claim to have actually witnessed it coming back that wasn't in the hire of the Gamgee family? Paid with money that by rights is ours, no question of that!"
 
Frodo remembered his father's tears upon that day, and he began to rise up out of the water.
 
"Don't!" said his father's voice on his right. "Remember what I told you, Frodo-Lad. You don't leap into a sty and wrestle with a hog for snortin' at you." The voices to his left went dead, though Frodo heard the drop of a washrag. Then, as he dried himself, he listened to a hasty conclusion to the clean-up, with something knocked over clatteringly and a hiss of words more suitable to orcs, then the patter of retreating feet. Whatever they knocked over sent its aromatic pungency seeping through the screen.
 
Sam said, "It don't matter, son. Everyone who knows me knows those rumors can't be true. And those who don't know don't count." Frodo heard his father emerge from the water, then the brisk whiffle of a towel in use. "Honestly--I can't imagine why any Brandybuck'd think he needs more money, anyway."
 
"Neither can I," said a booming voice.
 
"Uncle Merry!" Frodo threw on his robe and rushed out of the alcove into the arms of the biggest hobbit in the world. The dark curls had silver edges these days, but he still looked like a storybook hero, and the lines that crinkled around his eyes and laughing mouth only made it more so.
 
"Careful," said the Master of Buckland with a chuckle. "Call me 'Uncle' too often and those fools'll think I plan to disown them and adopt you for my nephew instead. Can't say I'm not tempted." Merry threw an arm around the emerging Sam as well. "But I wouldn't deprive your father of his privilege like that--he'd never forgive me."
 
"Enough of this nonsense," said Sam, but grinning. "Let's eat!"
 
"Right this way."
 
As Frodo went on down the hall towards the dining-room, he noticed how the older hobbits deliberately dropped back a ways, so he pricked up his ears. He barely heard Meriadoc say, "Are you sure, Sam? He's young for this business--not quite of age, even."
 
"He's about the same as Pippen was when we took off together. And he's got twice the sense."
 
"Still, we could find other gardeners to qualify."
 
"Strider asked for our best," said Sam. "And Frodo's our best already. He's learned everything I could teach him, everything the Gaffer could've taught him, he's wandered up and down the gardens of the Shire askin' questions of everyone he could find with dirt under their nails ever since he was a wee lad, and he's even struggled through an elf-book on the subject that I got my hands on, translated every word of it by hisself, referring back to old Master Bilbo's notes. I've never seen anybody so keen on gardening in all my days."
 
"I don't know if I'd want to send any son of mine to a land like that."
 
"I believe in my son enough to think he can handle it." And Frodo blushed to overhear it.
 
Then silence followed Frodo for awhile, nothing but the soft sound of bare hobbit feet behind him. Then he heard his father say, "Merry, I had that dream again last night--except I dreamed I was Frodo-lad, this time."
 
"The Mordor dream? Maybe it's a warning. Look, we can send out teams to search the countryside, we'll surely find about a dozen hobbits qualified who..."
 
"...who would flat-out refuse on the mere mention of where they'd be goin'. Frodo guessed without bein' told and didn't bat an eye. Anyway, I didn't stop with that dream. I woke up, as usual, but after I fell back asleep I went back right back where I left off, but this time I passed through the Moranon gaping wide open and creakin' on its hinges, with nobody for miles around, and I walked straight from there into the Dead Marshes."
 
"That hardly sounds like an improvement, Sam!"
 
"Not at first, no. But this was spring, in my dream at least, and they didn't look so dead. I saw water-lilies, and irises, and other flowering reeds out there. And birds, Merry--birds with plumes of pink, and yellow, and of pale sky blue, long-legged birds with beaks as long as swords, swimmin' or wadin', or dancin' for their lovers, or flyin' in great flocks of color overhead. Even so, the marsh still stank, and the water looked every bit as foul as I remembered. Until..."
 
After a moment Merry asked, "Until what, Sam?"
 
"This is the most marvelous part, Merry. I came to one pool entirely rimmed by a kind of floating hyacinth, all in bloom, ruffly white petals with streaks of pale green edged in violet. And the water in that pool was just as pure as pure could be. Soon I looked up and saw a whole series of such pools within pools, and I saw too that that's where the birds went to get themselves a drink. The plants purified the water in some way."
 
"So you're saying that Young Frodo can find some good out there in the midst of all the waste? Is that what the dream means?"
 
"It's more than that, Merry. As we rode over here I had time to think. I remembered seeing such pools in real life, though they weren't flowering or calling attention to themselves right then, and I had so much more on my mind at the time that I hardly noticed. I didn't even know I'd stashed that memory away until today. But there really are literal pockets of good water in the Dead Marshes, Merry. And if they exist even there, what else might Frodo find?"
 
Up ahead Frodo could smell fresh bread and meat steaming in mushroom gravy, hot buttered turnips, and a mess of autumn greens, and he wondered when he'd see another meal like that. Just as he entered the dining-room he heard his father behind him say, "No, Merry--that dream didn't come to warn me. That dream came as a blessing."

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