The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

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

Chapter 6, Part 6
A Meeting 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 feeling persisted.
 
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 dewy grass.
 
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 family friend.
 
"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 warmth.
 
"I do. It just might not be enough for other people."
 
"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 it drop?
 
"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 away."
 
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 queasy.
 
"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.

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