He Clasped Her Fast, Both Flesh and Bone
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 13, Part 197
Mama and Papa
Frodo wrung his hands. while Eldarion read the letter in full, including the parts that Frodo himself had not yet laid eyes on, per his father’s instructions. He did not like the feel of his hands, all of the sweat made worse by wringing, but he couldn’t seem to help himself.. Mattie stood nearby on a coil of rope, peering overboard, her arms resting high up on the gunwale that came to the Prince’s waist. “How beautiful the river looks!” she whispered with the wind in her curls. “For so many years I had hardly even gazed on it. How fresh and new–and detailed!–everything has become.”
Nibs, a bit taller, looked out over her shoulder on the other side. “What’s so beautiful about it?” he asked, but with a kindly gruffness.
“The ripples. They remind me of...of something that I thought lost to me for good.”
Nibs shrugged and nodded, accepting without quite understanding.
Then Mattie reached over and ran her fingers through Frodo’s hair. “Speaking of ripples, it amazes me how fast your hair grows back–already it has a wave to it again!” She pretended to pout. “Mine takes forever. I still look like a boy, and it’s been months since I cut it.”
“Not so much,” Frodo answered, “Not anymore. It has nearly reached your shoulders. I expect that it shall grow much faster as you increase in health.” Then he laughed and shook his curls. “My own shall soon become a nuisance, I’m afraid–it has almost grown into my eyes already.”
Nibs frowned. He doubtless knew from his brother-in-law all about Frodo and the ent-draughts, but he held his tongue.
Frodo watched Lebadoc on the other side of the ship, playing toss-knives with Eowyn at targets sketched on some splintered old crates. “Won’t he talk to us?”
Nibs said, “Not him. He finds his own folk tedious, he tells me, would rather spend his days with men, when he can help it.” Then the dour old hobbit amazed them all by laughing. “But he’s gotten more entertainment than he bargained for this time, I reckon. Thought he’d make some money off a sad old woman, it seems, but she’s beating him royally!” And to Frodo’s even greater amazement and delight he saw Eowyn grinning. Nibs bowed to Eldarion. “You have quite an auntie, Master Gwaithendil!”
“Thank you,” the Prince said, not taking his eyes from the letter but smiling nonetheless. “She is full of surprises.” Then he laid the letter down and said, “Well, Frodo, I believe you may safely read this letter, your father’s fears notwithstanding. If you should need me, you may find me close at hand.” And with that he handed the letter over, and left to watch the toss-knife contest, along with, by now, every sailor off duty (and a few that should have been on) as Lebadoc’s face grew redder and redder.
Frodo flipped through the pages to where he’d left off, and leaned against the gunwale to read, with Mattie by his side.
“Are you prepared, my cherished lad? Oh mercy, how do I say this? Frodo, you do not realize this, but I have just discovered that Sauron has used your poor hand to write me a long and horrible letter within your letter. He breaks in with cruel, thick, whiplike strokes of the pen in the middle of a sentence–and then you resume as though nothing has happened. He claims to have seduced you, or nearly so. He boasts that he owns you. He tells me that you miss him whenever he falls silent. He threatens to rob me of all of my children, one by one, and believes that you will help him do this. He declares that in one more day he shall seal you to him permanently.”
Frodo suddenly felt so light-headed that Mattie’s hand on his arm felt like the only anchor he had holding him onto the world. Without intending to, he sank down to sit upon the deck.
The scrawl said, “Oh horrors, horrors, I cannot write more! I cannot read more of your letter! I cannot face my life!”
Mattie knelt down beside Frodo as she waved the Prince over. His gray eyes expressionless, Eldarion only said, “Wait. Let him read the rest.”
Sam’s letter continued. “Your mother has brought me back. Days have passed, but the less said of them the better. I will face my life, whatever the Powers of the West shall deal me. I have had so much good at their hands that I should steel myself to accept the bad as well. I do not know the reason for so much dole, but its not my place to figure it all out anyway. They have a plan, and its beyond the likes of Sam Gardner to know what it is. I just got to trust.
“Your concern for Lanethil gives me hope, as he sacrificed his blood for Dragon-Girl, day after day, and you gave him all of the support you could. What extremes of love that bitter land demands! But oh, the rewards went beyond my imagination in my day–may they do the same in yours. How can Sauron work too much with such a caring heart? Oh great heavens preserve you, son! And your care for the new-hatched chicks, and your encouragement of Dragon-Girl. But now I read of Dragon-Girl eating a live chick whole, and I remember again the fullness of Saurons foulness. Upon my soul, the things that he can do! Terror beats at my heart for you, at the thought of all that might pass before you receive my letter.
“But Sauron and I are not the only forces in your life. Greater folk than us contend, with the weight towards the side of good. We must remember that always. Nor do your own efforts count for nothing. You always have a say, son. Sauron cannot take that from you. Remember that: the great flaw in his plans.
“I cling to your words of kindness to your brother Pippin. I have passed them on to him. Oh keep on loving, Frodo! Hold onto love any way you can, dear boy!”
“Dear Frodo. This is your mother riting. Your father is ill. His heart. He is resting comfertibly, Molly says, and will probly be all rite. But he has to take it easy, if the mule can figger out how to do that. He will stay in bed if I and all the children have to sit on him at once. The poor dear fool has had too many shocks too close togither. Dont worry–I will take good care of him. I always do.”
Frodo’s gasp came long and husky, and released itself in tears, as he crumpled the page against his chest, his head tipped back against the wood. Mattie nestled close, and on the other side Eldarion knelt down as well, his long human hand upon Frodo’s shoulder, saying, “Read on. Be brave. You are in a dark place, groping for the shutter, but the latch does not rest as far from you fingertips as you imagine. Go just a little further, and you can let in the light.”
With shaking hands Frodo uncrumpled the paper, smoothed it out, took note of tear-blurs in the ink and quailed, but then he made himself read anyway. “Dear, dear son. It is your father writing to you again, and never mind your mothers confounded fussing–I cannot possibly fall so ill as to not want to read the rest of your messages! So let her and Molly and all the rest of them leave be–I can find a letter hidden in my own house, I think!
“I have just read of your poisoning at that despicable Matties hands.”
Frodo groaned. There it was. His father knew. He had told him, himself. Frodo reached over and hugged Mattie tight. How could anyone not consider their marriage madness? Anyone who did not possess the Glass of May, that is, who could not tell a true change from a lie.
“Had I read only that part of your letter, which describes your ordeal, and your struggles to break free of Saurons deceits, I would have torn my hair out for grief. Instead I find new hope! Yes, indeed, for here I uncover the heart of Saurons plans. He has tried his worst on you, and failed for all his boasts! Forgive the blotches on the page–I cannot help but weep for joy. You have vanquished him, my son!”
Between relief for his father and himself, and dismay that Papa knew of Mattie mainly as a poisoner, Frodo’s head spun till he nearly felt seasick, himself. But he read on.
“And yes, I know better than anyone how close it came, how you almost fell into the trap for good. I bore the ring, Frodo. I know the seductions of Saurons works, and I know the jolt of loss when you give them up. How awful that you had to go through that! But maybe now you understand your old Pa in a way that nobody else alive could do. I am the last Ringbearer, Frodo. Have you ever thought of what a lonely thing that is? But not so much anymore.
“In the midst of all my happiness, you add to my delight by conveying Frodo Baggins words right here, scribbled in the margin, saying I am fine, I lived happily to the end of my days.” Frodo’s brows knit, puzzled. “Oh, what a comfort in the midst of terrible times! Yes, even in the throes of the poppys deceits, I will believe that you saw and heard something true at that moment–Sauron could not know why that particular choice of words would move me so, in ways that Sauron couldent move to save the remnant of his life.”
“This is your mother riting again. Your father is all rite. Hes working out in the garden even now. Molly says that sometimes too powerful emoshens can mimick all the pangs of a heart attack perfeckly, yet the patient soon gets up and does just fine. His pulse is strong and steddy, his fingernails are pink, and all the chest pains gone away. My, but that fellow gave me a scare, tho! I could do with a few less scares these days, thank you.”
Frodo laughed out loud through his tears. “Not a real heart attack? Is this possible?” He looked up at Eldarion.
“Indeed,” the prince confirmed. “The suffering of a sensitive soul like your father could fool the best of physicians–yet only for a day. In a matter of hours, if the attack be false, the patient exhibits perfect health.”
“Amazing!” Frodo murmured. “May all our ills prove thus!”
“It is my belief that someday they shall–in the unknown fate beyond the Halls of Mandos. Read on.”
Rose Gardner wrote, “Your brother Tom is doing good, too. He can read again, picks up more on how to read like each day was a year. Already he does better than me. But he still remembers nothing about what went before he woke up on a blood-soaked bed with poor dear Sam holding his hand. I think we will just have to take him as a new person. That is all rite. Few mothers ever lose a child only to get him back again. When you think of it that way, you want to relish every minute of getting to raise him all over. I will not question my good luck. If I do well with this miracle, cherish it and tend it, I mite win another and someday get my May back, too.
“The naybors have been wonderful. The first few days they brought food by like for a death in the family, and axed however they mite help. Polly Greenhand and Nana Budge came by without my axing and scrubbed up the bloody linens for me before I even had the time to look at them. Now old Sancho Proudfoot drops by almost every day after chores, and takes Tom a-riding, teaching him all over again about every corner of the Shire that he once knowed. Tom came home today all excited, telling us how the trees will change come autumn, and then loose their leafs in winter, and then burst out with flowers come the spring! Sancho taught him the seasons as they rode, bless his heart.
“Tom is better than a baby. A baby grows so grajully into life that only a little wonder touches him–and even then, he cannot tell you about it till hes old enough to have forgotten almost all. Yet Tom marvels at everything. He makes the world fresh for me with his delite! Oh but it reminds me of Sam coming home after Sharkeys day–great blessings follow grief. More shall come. I am sure of it.
“Folks treat Tom well about town. Merchants will take the time to explane to him how coins work and how to figger what you can afford, children teach him games, and every crafter in Hobbiton will stop their labors to show him their tools and how to use them. I think he will end up knowing more than he might have otherwise!
“They treat us well, too. Nobody in the Shire holds a gruge against your father. They can see well enough how he just wanted to spare poor Buttercup any further hurt. And she is doing better, too. She no longer dresses like a wanton, but confesses that she only knowed the one lad, and that against her will. That poor lass doesent have a bad bone in her body. Whenever she wanders, people take her in, and give her tea, and talk about whatever she most wants to talk about. I think its a relief to her, to finally talk.
“Toby Klaefield tells me that the way things went woke the whole Shire up to his sisters needs, and the needs of people like her, who have just seen too much sorrow in this world. We all got a lot of mending to do. Sometimes things have to get really bad before we even know theyve been bad at all, enough to take notice and fix them. But theirs more than one kind of hurting in the world, and Sam says we got to think of those hurt in their souls, too, now that hes over his mad. Rolo Penniwistle aint the only one; we should of wakened up when that bully, Timmy Roothollow, got into so much trouble. But he turned out all right in the end, so I imagine other folks can, too, if we take them in hand.”
“This is your father writing, who is Mayor over the entire Shire yet not master in his own house. These ladyfolk are like to fuss me to death trying to keep me healthy! I am just fine! I can eat butter if I want, and I told them so. And bacon, too–they want to deny me bacon, and all manner of natural foods. But I aint never lived for longevity over joy, and I wont start now. I remember how it never did the Old Took any good.
“And that goes for this letter, too. I can read it if I want. If I can run the Shire I can surely manage my own free time. They dont seem to understand–its what you dont know as eats your heart alive. Theirs fear as guesses in the dark, and fear as sees the thing it must, and Ill take the latter any day. Who wouldent rather fight a goblin face to face than be ambushed on the road?
“I am sorry to read about Fishenchips disgrace, just when he got headed in the direction he was meant to go, but I understand it. He needs the lesson, Frodo, in guarding his tongue, even about a she-scoundrel like that dreadful Mattie Heathertoes. Anybody can do the right thing by a likeable person. The real test is if you can do right by someone you despise. I had to learn that the hard way, myself.
“It makes me sad to read here your torment about Mays secret. It makes no difference now. Nothing makes much difference now, except giving the best to the children we have left. So far nobody has called me to resign as Mayor, for what its worth. People understand better than I thought they would, why I wouldent feel inclined to hand a little baby girl over to the likes of Ted Sandyman, nor to a mother who screamed to beg her taken far away. Its Rolo Penniwhistel that nobody will speak to. As much as we hobbits love to follow the nicety of rules, we love common sense more than that, it seems, and Im glad to learn theirs more of that sentiment around than the other.
“Please do not mourn too much the loss of your elvish sight. The world has beauty enough and more for common hobbit eyes to see. As much as I loved Rivendell, it was the Shire I wanted to go home to in the end. I imagine sight will be the same way, once you get over the gloom that follows your poisoning. Get well soon, dear child!”
Eldarion interrupted. “Frodo, I think you have read enough for one day.”
“Just a little more. Let me at least finish the page.”
Papa’s letter went on, “Now I read of your temptation to return to the white poppy, to reclaim a message for me. Son, you already writ it in the margin! You do not know everything you know. You are not well. I am glad you resisted, and yes, I would have...
“Frodo, you have reached the end of the page.”
“But it cut off in the middle of a sentence. Just a little more, please.”
The prince sighed. “You are your own master. But only to the end of the paragraph, if you would heed my counsel.”
The next page read, “...eagerly released you from any so-called duty to harm yourself further for my sake, even without the message sent.”
“This is your mother riting. Your father has gone out to the barn to weep, he thinks where I dont know. I just read why. How dare you cut yourself up like that! I raised a son, not a hog for butchering! Now hes back, but he cant snatch this letter from me, I always was the faster on my feet. The door is locked and I have the key, I can rite as I see fit. Sam says to leave be, your not well, you cant help it, but I say you better learn to help it–you hear me?”
Frodo gasped. He told his parents about that? No wonder Nibs stared at him so oddly! Eldarion said nothing, yet he–and Mattie, and Nibs–studied him gravely.
“This is Papa. Pay no heed to your mothers harsh words. Shes just scared for you. We all are. She has had too much grief and too much trying to pretend that shes stronger than all of it. It makes her snappish sometimes. You just get well. I know it must be awful to have no freedom for awhile, but I for one am glad that Fishenchips follows you around to keep you out of mischief. Frodo, you have got to understand–you did this bad thing meaning to do good! You dont know good from evil in the state your in, and that means you need a keeper until you get back on your feet again. Endure it for a little while, for love of me. Please.
“I grieve as any father would for the torture Sauron puts you through. I read about these fits he throws on you, and heaven help me, I thank the stars that I cant see them. But your right–he weakens day by day. He cannot last. What I did with your namesake now means more than ever before. I helped to make Sauron too weak to kill you, and that comforts me greatly in hard times.”
Frodo pulled up the hem of his tunic and regarded the scars on his leg. Nibs stifled a gasp, though he doubtless knew what to expect.. How could he, Frodo, have forgotten doing such a thing? It all came back to him. Yet those days now seemed dark to him, dim, a nightmare from which he had awakened, which had faded in the light of day.
“I have been so many people,” he said at last, still staring at the scars, “in so short a time. I hardly recognize myself, coming or going.”
Gently the Prince leaned over and pulled the hem back down again. “Which is to say that you have grown. For awhile Sauron bent you to the ground, and set a rock on you, but like a tree you grew beyond the rock, upwards again towards the sun. Such is the strength of mortal-kind, among which the small folk shall be numbered. For though we seem the weaker next to elder-kind, more easily pulled down, yet we have this power, to spring back up anew from ruin, where the greater crack and fall.”
“At least my father must have read my later posts by now,” Frodo said, and took comfort in the thought. “Perhaps by now things have bettered for him as well, and a happier letter makes its way across the land to me.”
A gentle little hand closed on his own, while the other tugged the pages from his grasp. “Enough,” his wife said. “You have the whole voyage to read what your father sent–my heart tells me you should take it in small doses, Frodo.”
And Eldarion added, “I concur with your wife’s wisdom in this. You have read what you most needed to learn today.”
“In the meantime,” Mattie continued, her voice carefully carefree, “let’s go see just how badly Eo–Dinwen can trounce Lebadoc before the lunch-bell rings.”