Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 24, Part 24
Mystery of May
(November 1, 1451)
With barely a sliver of
new moon in the sky, the night fell dark around one tiny
bubble of light and warmth, within a vast expanse of
rolling hills shivering with windswept grass. A silk
pavilion stood there by the campfire, painted with
deceptively merry designs from exotic lands, as horses
and ponies huddled nearby. Within that pavillion,
attended by his friend and captor, an unwell elf strove
to rest despite the tumult in his soul, not helped by all
the yelling just outside the thin cloth walls.
Merry raged at Frodo, "How dare you! How dare
your family bring evil back into the Shire! What ever
possessed your parents to pass off a child of Ted
Sandyman's as a Gamgee?"
"She has nothing to do with him!" Frodo shouted
back. "She's innocent!" Pleading, he cried,
"She's my sister!"
"Oh, she is not your sister! You can stop
that lie right now." Behind him Gimli poked a
curious face out of the tent. "Did Sam and Rose ever
adopt her legally? Is there--anywhere--a document signed
by seven witnesses in red ink?"
"You know we wouldn't dare ask anyone to
"Exactly! Laws evolve for reasons, Frodo. There are
some things a person shouldn't do--especially if you
don't dare ask for witnesses." The firelight glinted
like fury in the hobbit's eyes. "'She's innocent,'
you say? If anyone can lack innocence from conception on,
it would have to be May."
"What are you saying? She had nothing to do with
whatever got Sandyman banished."
"You have no idea," Merry said slowly, sitting
down on a blanket to take the weight off his foot.
"And I can't properly explain it to you, because we
have no word in the Shire for Ted Sandyman's crime."
He glared up at Frodo, as the fire crackled and the night
lay thick beyond its reach. "No hobbit ever did such
a thing before, and I pray that none ever does
again." Eowyn laid down the gear she'd been
unpacking and joined them, a dark look in her eyes.
"Sharkey's men had some word for it, which I am
happy not to remember, for I hear that they laughed about
it among themselves while that wicked fool, Ted, listened
and got sick ideas into his head." He shook his head
and glowered into the coals. "Frodo Senior always
did say that Saruman ruined that hobbit somehow."
"That's all terrible, I'm sure" said Frodo the
Younger, "but what does it have to do with our
"Because Buttercup obviously never wanted anything
to do with May--or, for that matter, Ted Sandyman,"
said Merry. Eowyn gasped.
Frodo asked, "Then how..."
"He fathered her in pain!" And anguish of his own creased
Merry's face to say it. "Poor Buttercup's pain. We
aren't even sure how he managed it--any normal hobbit
would've become incapable at the first sign of his
lover's distress. Lover--I can't even use that word where
this...monstrosity is concerned."
"May is not a monstrosity! She is a little girl, and
I love her!"
In a low voice Eowyn said, "Now I understand. When I
tried to present her daughter to the handmaiden, she
would only scream, over and over, 'Take it away! I never
want to see it!' She could never tell me why--because she
had no word for what had happened to her." Eowyn
looked keenly at Merry. "In Rohan we do have a word
for this crime--and we kill whomever commits it."
Those words brought Merry to his feet. "Hobbits
don't kill hobbits," he said solemnly. "No
matter what. Certainly not in the Shire." He looked
vulnerable but dignified, leaning on his stick, favoring
his bad ankle. "In a secret meeting some indeed
advised that we should make an exception, just this one
time, before anything so evil spread, but Sam advised
against it, and he prevailed. He said we should never let
the likes of Ted Sandyman drag us down lower than we'd be
"What did you do, then?" asked Eowyn.
"We debated the whole night long, trying to decide;
we had no precedent to go by. Some questioned whether
such a crime could even happen," and then his voice
grew tighter and harsher with every word, "but those
of us who ran at Buttercup's screams and wrestled
Sandyman down, those of us who found her cowering in that
filthy corner of the mill, clutching the pitiful rags of
her dress about her, we who witnessed to the bruises and
the blood, and sent for a sheet to cover her so that we could
take her from that place, we had no doubt in our minds
whatsoever that Buttercup had never had a choice in the
matter. And after we spoke, neither did anybody
With quiet ferocity Eowyn said, "Of course
"A few said to hold Sandyman overnight and release
him in the morning, as you would a brawler. Then Molly
the Herbwife stepped forward, into whose care we'd
delivered the girl, and she testified that Sandyman had
hurt Miss Klaefield far too deeply for that, and in more
ways than the physical--this was no mere brawl."
With troubled gaze he said, "Can't say I understand
exactly--maybe nobody can understand. But Molly Burrows
has a straight head on her shoulders; I've never known
her to make anything a bigger deal than it was. If she
says it's true, then I believe her."
"Wise of you," said Eowyn, and from the look in
her eyes, Frodo felt that the Witch King of Angmar had
been a fool to ever cross swords with her.
"We then discussed exile, but we didn't want to ruin
improving relations with Bree by dumping our problem into
their lap--perhaps to hurt other maidens as well. In the
end, though, exile turned out the right solution after
all--my way." The old warrior looked as grim as
battle's ruin. "I had some say, after all, since the
Klaefields are Bucklanders, in their origins at least,
though they've scattered all throughout the Shire. So I got
the privilege of punishment, and the rest were only too
glad to give it to me. I dragged Ted Sandyman out through
a secret gate that we Brandybucks have, into the Old
Forest. I believe I've told you about that forest,
Eowyn nodded, eyes narrowing. "You have,
"He fought hysterically when he realized where we
headed, but I am larger and stronger, and I had my way. I
hope he felt as frightened as Buttercup had been; he
looked nearly as wild, ragged and scratched bloody from
throwing himself into the hedge again and again, trying
to escape me. He called me a hypocrite, crying that I
should slay him outright, instead of pretending to spare
him only to thrust him out into certain death. I told him
that his death was not so certain, so long as he cooperated
fully with one he might meet in the Old Forest--if he was
Suddenly Merry laughed, but harshly. "And, true
enough, he did show up quite alive in Bree, five years
later--with every hair on his head and feet turned white.
He had become the most meticulously polite hobbit you
ever did see, and nobody had any more trouble with him.
He wouldn't even look at a female, big or little, nor
stand anywhere close--he knew, oh did he know, that he
had forfeited all feminine company for the rest of his
days." Then Merry got the slyest look in his eyes.
"And he had developed a strange fear of running
water. He would not cross any creek or river, if he could
help it, so of course milling became out of the question.
Thus he became a tinker, traveling to whatever villages he
could reach in Breeland without use of bridge or
ford." Merry chuckled. "I do not think it was
the Master, but rather the Mistress of the House of
Bombadil who taught him his manners. And if that keeps
him away from the Brandywine Bridge or the Bucklebury
Ferry, that's fine with me."
"And Miss Klaefield?" Eowyn asked. "What
became of her?"
"Oh, she went to live with relatives in a remote
corner of the Northfarthing--as far away from Bag End as
might be, I now see--and who can blame her? Who'd want to
lay eyes on so ill-got a daughter?"
Frodo's hands clenched into fists so tight that they cramped.
He caught Gimli watching him out of the corner of his
eye. Abruptly the dwarf rose to his feet, and with a
tinkling of mithril links, walked over to Merry and
punched the hobbit square in the jaw. As Merry stared up
from the ground in amazement, the dwarf said calmly,
"I believe you maligned a lady in my presence,
Master Brandybuck. May Gamgee had no part in any
crime that happened before her birth."
Merry started to get up, but Gimli pushed him down again.
Eowyn laid a hand on the dwarf's arm.
"Easy, my friend," she said. "His people
have no understanding of these matters."
Gimli said, "Hobbits can be an ignorant and
narrow-minded people--but I thought better of you, Merry
Brandybuck. Sam at least knows the value of a daughter,
however she might come into his house."
Merry sat on the ground and rubbed his jaw. "What am
I supposed to understand about 'these matters'--that
anything good could possibly come of them?"
Frodo said, "Can anything good come of Mordor? I'm
going there to find out. If I can make Sauron's wasteland
bloom, Merry, good can come of anything."
"So says the gardener," Merry replied.
"But you must know that you can't plant weed-seeds
and expect turnips."
"Kingsfoil was a weed, till we learned all it could
do," said Frodo tensely to his elder. "A real
gardener knows that a weed's just a plant in the wrong
place. Maybe Ted Sandyman grew in the wrong place, but
May's place is at Bag End--and I will not let you say
otherwise!" His fists trembled at his side. "I
will not let anyone say otherwise!"
Merry turned to Eowyn. "You say you know about these
things--have you ever seen any good come of such a
"Several times," she said as she knelt and laid
a damp rag onto his bruise. "One of my dearest
friends from childhood is half Dunlending, born of a
raid. 'Twas her mother who urged my brother to share his
sword-lessons with me. Yet she loved her daughter."
Eowyn rose again. "The girl's full name, translated
to the common tongue, means 'Flower sprung from...uh,
compost.' I will not tell you her name in Rohirrish, in
case you meet her. But she is, indeed, a flower in her
sweetness and in the joy she brings to those who know
Merry looked unsure of himself. "I had no idea. I
had no way of knowing." He looked up at Frodo.
"Can you forgive me? Until this hour it never even
occurred to me that a hobbit-child could arise from such
violence--to learn that one exists came as a shock, and I
could see no possibility but evil. I had never known of any so conceived except the Uruk-Hai." He reached a
hand up to Frodo, but the younger hobbit just stood
Gimli said, "Go on, lad--you never know what
forgiveness you might need someday."
Reluctantly Frodo reached out a hand. It stung when Merry
clasped it; only then did he realize he had clenched his
fists so tightly that the nails had drawn blood from his
palms. Frodo helped his "Uncle" to his feet.
"You are only still my friend," he said,
"so long as you tell no one what you know."
"Nobody but Estella," Merry said. "And I
will see that she tells nobody but me. All else I agree
to, but you cannot ask a husband to keep secrets from a
"I'll be satisfied with that." But he did not
feel satisfied in the least. Frodo wanted Uncle Merry to
go on a long, long journey and never return to the Shire,
so that nobody safe within their boundaries would ever
question May's place at Bag End. He wanted to challenge
his elder to a duel--and win. He wanted to sew Eowyn's
lips shut. He wanted many things he'd never dare tell
Eowyn said, "I am the one who needs to apologize. My
own indiscretion appalls me."
Frodo shrugged. "You didn't know. I suppose. At
least you didn't say anything mean."
"I did not understand the reasons for Buttercup's
reactions; I only saw a child with a dim future, if she
could not find some advantage. I spoke to Queen Arwen,
who brought the baby to the Royal Nursery. We intended to
give her whatever toy she reached out for, and the lens
caught May's eye."
Frodo said, "I remember all the commotion, too--all
the sobs and screaming, so different from what Papa calls
Mama's 'battle-cries' in giving birth. Afterwards I snuck
into the nursery and peeked into the cradle, when nobody
could catch me." Frodo half-laughed at himself.
"I thought the child must've been born spectacularly
deformed or something, and I was just a kid--I felt
curious. Instead, I saw the prettiest little girl-baby I
ever laid eyes on, looking up at me with big dark eyes,
and I swore to her that I would love her, even if nobody
else would." For a moment his face brightened.
"I was the first person she ever smiled at, they
Eowyn said, "I know that your mother nursed both
babes, when Buttercup asked for an herb to dry her
breasts. But I thought Rose would take May to her other
Klaefield relations back in the Shire."
Frodo shrugged and stared down at the way his toes dug
uncomfortable lines in the dirt. "Maybe that was the
original plan. But Mama got attached. And Papa got to
thinking of the luck of it, both babies born on the same
day, far from the gossips of the Shire--maybe they were
meant to grow up like twins, in the same house. And if
May's own mother didn't want her, why should any of the
other Klaefields feel different? Buttercup herself agreed
quickly to the plan--she'd just as soon nobody ever knew
she'd had Ted's child, I suppose." Frodo sighed and
looked up at them. "But Papa never told me good
could come of a lie--I don't know why he took it in his
head to think this one time would turn out
different." Frodo gazed out beyond the fire into
night, but what he saw was a nursery, nine years before,
in Minas Tirith. "Maybe because May was such a
lovely baby--and no child should ever go unloved. And
what's one more in a family such as ours?"
Frodo found himself trembling, nearly as violently as
Legolas before. Yet it was away from the fire that he
stalked, not wanting any company. He found a green young
tree just outside the ring of light, and leaned against
it, face turned towards the dark. He wished he could be
sure that this tale would end right here, that nobody
else would ever find out, but somehow he knew he hadn't
heard the last of it. Lies--Papa told him never trust in
lies. Why in blazes did Papa have to break his own
rule and trust May to something as flimsy as all that?
Frodo struck the tree, but that did nobody any good.
beyond all his troubles, beyond the canopy of boughs,
stars twinkled in the rifts between the clouds, way up in
the sky, above the sea of grass--his father always took
heart at seeing stars. Frodo thought of the immortal hand
that strewed them in the heavens long ago, cast like
sparkling seeds of hope. But what did Elbereth or any of
the Valar understand about his little sister May, or
fathers like Ted Sandyman? Far indeed lay Valinor from
Middle-Earth. He wished Elbereth had strewn a few stars a
little closer to home.
He heard a tinkling behind him. Gimli approached him, to
the full extent of the chain. "Come back to the
fire, lad," said the dwarf. "It's too cold a
night to stand apart." Gimli uncorked his flask.
"Besides,"he said, "you look like you
could use a pull of this, yourself."
Frodo shrugged, and gave it a try. Not bad, in a dark,
sweet way--dwarves didn't make their own brandy, but they
knew where to buy the best.
"Now come," said Gimli, "Back into the
warmth. You can sit with me."
Frodo nodded and returned, accepting another swallow as
he hunkered down with Gimli between the fire and the
tent. The tension in his chest began to unclench a little
"We dwarves understand about children of the
heart," said Gimli, "For most of us have no
children of the flesh, and must adopt our heirs. My
father spoke up for Bilbo once on the matter, you
"Yes, in Rivendell. Your namesake had vanished in
the wild. Rivendell received reports that the Nazgul
sought his life, and that Gandalf, who was supposed to be
watching over him, had turned up missing, too. Elrond
turned Rivendell upside down with all the messengers
coming and going, searching out those few elves who could
stand up to Black Riders--and you can imagine Bilbo was
out of his mind with fear for the lad he'd raised."
Gimli shuddered. "Think of it! To learn first about
the Nazgul because they hunt the person you love most in
all the world!"
"I hadn't thought of that," said Frodo,
"how Bilbo Baggins would have taken it, I mean. I
only paid attention to my namesake's side of the
"I can understand that, lad--in a child. But you've
grown up, now, or close enough, and the time has come to
hear the rest." Gimli took back the flask and
sampled it. "Anyway, when Gandalf finally did ride
in, he looked a complete wreck--filthy, haggard, and in
rags. None of us knew, of course, that he had just
escaped imprisonment in Orthanc, but anyone could tell that he
had seen rough usage. But did he offer the slightest
explanation to old friends? Of course not! He went
straight to Elrond's private chamber without a word to
Then Gimli chuckled, passing the flask
back to Frodo. "Well, old Bilbo didn't get his
reputation as a burglar for naught, and he still had a
few tricks up his sleeve even without his ring. He snuck
past the elven guards, relieving them of their keys along
the way--oh, he was far too modest to attribute all his
skill to that ring! He would have gotten away with
eavesdropping on the entire conference, had he not gasped
in horror in the middle of it."
"I gather Elrond was not pleased?"
"Oh, he was livid! Nobody had ever breached Master
Elrond's security like that in three ages. (He was only
slightly less surprised when your father pulled the exact
same stunt within a matter of days, Frodo, but by then
Elrond had some grasp of dealing with hobbits as more
than houseguests.) We never knew that Rivendell even had
a dungeon till Elrond threw poor Bilbo in it." Gimli
shook his head, taking back the flask. "My father
and I visited the old fellow down there, bringing a few
choice treats from Bilbo's many friends in the kitchen.
Not a bad place, as dungeons go," the dwarf
reflected. "Comfortable, if rather plain by
Rivendell standards." He sipped philosophically.
"The story," Frodo insisted, taking the flask
from him. "You spoke for Bilbo..."
"Oh. Yes. Yes, Father took several dwarves with
him--myself included--to lodge a formal plea for mercy on
behalf of Bilbo Baggins. I still remember the speech he
made." The dwarf gazed off into the realm of memory,
his face ruddy with more than firelight. "He told
Elrond that Bilbo had adopted Frodo, had raised him in
his own home--Frodo was his son. And what would
Master Elrond do for Elladan, or Elrohir, or Arwen
Evenstar, in like peril? What would guards and locks mean
to him--nay, trolls and dragons!"
Gimli smiled at the memory. "Elrond repented, naturally--who could have resisted my father's plea? So we
all went down to the dungeons with him to see to Bilbo's
release. And who did we find there ahead of us but
Gandalf himself, sitting on a stool by the bars, filling
the hobbit in on all of the conference that he'd missed!
Of course the wizard knew a father's love when he saw it,
never mind 'cousin' or 'uncle' or whatever the Shire
wanted to call Bilbo. And of course Gandalf apologized
for nothing, just raised one of those bushy eyebrows of
his and said, 'Well, Master Elrond--I see that you have
come to your senses.' What else could the Halfelven do
but laugh, laugh hard enough to wake the dungeon bricks
from their agelong gloom!" The dwarf chortled just
remembering, and Frodo chuckled, himself. "Here,
lad," Gimli said, reaching for the flask. "I
think you've had enough of that."
"Especially since it's time for dinner," Merry
said, coming up from behind.
"Fix it yourself!" Frodo snapped, jealously
guarding the flask for one final swig. "And while
you're at it, smoke yourself a pipe to sweeten your
"Ah, but this is sweeter still," said Merry,
snatching the flask from him with a laugh.
"Easy now," said Gimli. "It is not
bottomless, you know."
"I shall send you a barrel of Buckland's best,"
Merry said between swallows. "But I have some
catching up to do."
Frodo rose with a snarl, but just as he was about to
reach for Merry, Eowyn said, "Very well, then--I
"No!" cried both hobbits plus Legolas,
who'd heard everything from within the tent. Soon Merry,
Frodo, and Legolas fumbled through the cooking gear, with
Gimli in tow, the poor dwarf trying to follow conflicting
instructions on how to help prepare the meal (when he
wasn't simply getting in the way.) Some say that common
peril can bring the bitterest enemies to an
understanding; in this instance, at least, all argument
vanished from their minds. In any case, the four of them
did manage to cobble together something rather creative
in the way of a meal, if not necessarily their best
effort, with the help of just a wee bit more brandy to
facilitate communication between the chefs, plus a splash
into the stew or whatever you might call it, while Eowyn
sat by and watched, giggling her heart out.
Frodo enjoyed every mouthful, actually, though he knew
they'd never be able to reconstruct the recipe later. It
at least gave him something to pay attention to other
than the dreadful information that he hadn't wanted to learn.
Finally he lay down his plate and leaned back on his
elbows to regard the night, too weary for the moment to
drag himself up to go to bed. He tried to think about
Bilbo sneaking past elven guards, but he had never met
Bilbo, or Elrond, or laid eyes on Rivendell. The mill by
his home, on the other hand, he knew quite well, and that
tale kept coming back to cloud his mind, no matter how he
tried to hold it off.
Legolas, seeing the hobbit's scowl return, leaned over to
him and in a soft voice said, "Have no fear, my
friend. Mother-spells cannot work with an evil child--to
what could they attach themselves?"
"Can there be such a thing as an evil child?"
Frodo asked, staring up into the campfire's smoke.
Legolas shrugged. "Orc-spawn, I suppose."
Frodo felt a question forming in his mind...but then
decided it must be the brandy, and went after his