Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 6, Part 6
in the Night
(September 23, 1451)
Frodo thought he'd never
last through supper, he longed so much for bed. When he
finally did turn in, he fell asleep almost before his
head hit the pillow. But he woke before the dawn,
startled by some disturbing dream that vanished the
minute he opened his eyes. Something felt all wrong. It
took him a minute to realize that he simply slept in a
strange bed in someone else's hole. "Is that
all!" he said to himself, and laughed. But the
Long ago, in the most ancient days of Shire history, the
Brandybucks founded their wealth upon trade with the
outside world (hence the family migration across the
River.) Even in more isolationist times they transacted
more business than anyone else with the dwarves who
passed through the Shire regularly on the Old East-West
road. More recently, in the Fourth Age, Meriadoc the Magnificent
had restored his ancestral business, handling the export
of good hobbit crops to less fertile lands, and bringing
home all manner of foreign curios in return. The Master
of Buckland liked to decorate his hall with imports from
the most exotic nations possible, especially with the
King's campaigns in Umbar and Harad opening up points
east and south.
Now, as Frodo lay awake in Merry's
guestroom with the covers pulled up nearly to his eyes,
curious carvings cast alarming shadows in the dim
moonlight, the heads of strange and predatory beasts
snarled silently from shadows high up where wall curved
into roof. Meanwhile, objects adorned by fangs and feathers,
shells and beads looked disturbingly unshirelike in the
dark, perhaps even evil in purpose, though Frodo knew
that they'd charmed him by day with their bright colors
and creative use of natural materials.
Nevertheless, a full bladder compelled him to venture
forth in a quest for an outhouse (after a fruitless
search for a chamber-pot led to still more startling
artifacts under the bed, and after he'd failed to find
his candle in the room's crowded furnishings.) He threw
his jacket on over his nightshirt and groped his way down
a long hall lined with positively frightful masks that
frowned down on him with empty eyes, then past a gigantic
urn full of spears, each from a different people and
every one capable of skewering three hobbits in a row,
and out into the brighter darkness of a moonlit night.
Frodo let out a held breath; at the moment he did not
think much of Uncle Merry's tastes! A fair lawn stretched
out before him, silvery with dew, and outhouses lined up
against the hedge on the other side. Not until after he
occupied one of these, and at a most inopportune moment,
did he realize that this very hedge held back the menace
of the Old Forest.
When he emerged again he stared in dismay at the smial
slope--a half-dozen doors faced him, and he couldn't for
the life of him remember which one he had exited. He
mentally kicked himself for not paying better attention;
Brandybucks who'd lived here their entire lives sometimes
still got lost in this warren. His feet felt cold in the
Then, to his relief, he saw a dark figure in a nearby
gazebo, a fellow so tall that it could only be the Master
of the Hall. "Uncle Merry!" Frodo cried out in
relief as he trotted over. "I can't tell you how
glad I am to see you!"
"Are you indeed?" said the old warrior, so
faintly that the words seemed to come from a great
distance. "That pleases me...Frodo." But the
voice sounded cold, so cold it made Frodo shiver to hear.
"Here--come and sit with me." He patted the
marble of the bench beside him, in the gazebo's darkest
corner, only a faint glimmer of moonlight catching a
glitter in the eyes or a silver curl of hair.
"No thanks, Uncle Merry," he said. "I'll
stand." Then he grinned and shrugged. "Long
ride," he explained.
"As you wish. How do you like my hospitality so far?
Is it sumptuous enough for you?"
"Just fine," Frodo said, puzzled. "I've
always liked visiting you." He couldn't quite put
his finger on it, but something didn't sound like his old
"But does it measure up to the wealth and glamor
of...Bag End?" There--his elder kept pausing, like
he had to search, somehow, for certain words or names.
"What do you mean? We're comfortable enough, but not
as rich as people say--you know that, Uncle."
"Ah. Nobody ever feels quite rich enough, do
they?" And the voice held none of Merry's usual
"I do. It just might not be enough for other
"Other people. You mean...Lebadoc and Bartobran.
Yes. The...hobbits of...the tenders of the bath."
"Just two of the tenders. I'm sure the rest are
okay." Frodo stuffed his hands into the jacket
pockets to try and warm them. Why couldn't Merry just let
"But they are not? Not 'okay'?" And he rose
from his seat. "Because they want your gold?"
"I don't care about any gold. Anyway, the Bag End
money's all in real estate." His hand found the
little lens his sister had given him, and he gripped it
tight. "The dragon-gold's long since spent or given
At that the figure shrieked like the voice of no hobbit
living--a long and piercing wail that froze Frodo in
place though everything in him begged him to run.
"No! You lie! You can't have given it away!"
And the figure lunged at Frodo and gripped him in hands
so cold they burned.
"You're not Merry!" Frodo cried as he
struggled in that grip that cut into his flesh with
fingers of bone. He tried to kick at the thing but its
body just bent out of his way like a loop of still-warm
taffy. It laughed in his face with a breath that stank of
the grave's corruption, so that Frodo felt faint and
"We want no gold," he gasped. "The land is
plenty for a Gamgee." And he pushed the hard edge of
the lens into the bones that held him. At that a howl of
pure dismay broke out, spiraling away farther and farther
as Frodo lost consciousness.