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
“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
“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
“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
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