The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

Volume VII
Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 6, Part 216
Serpent's Tongue
July 19, 1452

“Are you sure you cannot wriggle out of going to this batchelor party?” Nibs asked, treading on the bean-pods in the Threshing-Hall with his nimble bare feet, to separate the pods from the beans, while a blind old man played a lively tune on flute as close as the East ever got to a jig.
 
“Absolutely sure. Harding plans to marry the Mayor of Seaside, no less.” Frodo hopped and slipped over the pods alongside Nibs and a passel of Nurnings, puffing and sweating to keep up with the beat. “I see no chance that the Royal Gardner could bow out.”
 
Whomf! Nibs bumped into him so hard that he went sprawing across the floor, scattering bean pods everywhere. Frodo cried, “What was that for?”
 
Nibs helped him back to his feet. “Well, as slippery as it gets here, I rather hoped you could break your arm and so you’d have a handy excuse not to go.” People laughed around them, and Frodo’s face burned.
 
Frodo dusted himself off and only half-ironically said, “Well, thank you very much! But I would then simply attend with my arm in a sling.”
 
“Maybe we could break both arms,” Nibs offered, “So you cannot lift a cup.”
 
Frodo stared at him till his uncle turned red and went back to stamping on pods. Nibs mumbled, “Maybe that wasn’t the most diplomatic thing to say.”
 
“No. I’d say not.”
 
Then Nibs gave Frodo a hard, loving scowl and said, “And maybe that doesn’t matter, diplomacy, when we’ve got worse at stake. Not everyplace is safe for every kind of person, you know.” He wiped sweat from his brow without missing a beat. “That’s what I tried to tell ol’ Bertie Beesom when he went into beekeeping just because his father plied the trade before him. Nobody who swelled up as bad from a beesting as he did had any business going anywhere near a hive, but would he listen to me? Not on his life! His missus wouldn’t be a widow today if he had.” He slipped a little on the pods, but caught his balance again as the music played on. “We don’t all turn out alike, is all. Bertie wasn’t his father–and neither are you.”
 
Frodo stopped treading peas. He crossed his arms when he felt his hands knotting into fists. “Are you saying that I’m too peculiar to attend a simple party?”
 
Nibs kept right on dancing over the pods, saying, “I might, at that.”
 
“I have to wash up and get ready,” Frodo said, storming out of there, struggling to rein in his anger. And why feel angry at all? Nibs only voiced the same concerns that troubled him as well. “Sauron, are you toying with me again?”
 
Now Frodo, you know that I cannot cause in you any emotion that you do not already feel. Yet I can certainly understand your wrath. Everyone leaps to conclusions about you, based on far too few incidents to create a representative sample of your behavior.
 
“Well, so long as you hang around to annoy me, better safe than sorry.”
 
It is unscientific, all the same. Unless you make at least one hundred trials, to get a clear percentage on the outcomes...
 
“One hundred! That would kill me!”
 
Not all on the same day, you fool. A single drink, once a day, would do you no harm.
 
“It would do my father no harm. But it would not stop at once a day, with you breathing down my neck.”
 
Are you so sure? Do you not underestimate your own strength?
 
“Shut up, Sauron.”
 
I will pretend that you mean that, for now. But you and I both know better.
 
Frodo made it all the way to his room before Sauron added, Besides. I never breathe down your neck. You misjudge me.
 
“Oh no?”
 
No. I do not breathe.
 
“Oh, well I suppose that makes it all right.” Frodo splashed himself all over and dressed in a barely contained fury.
 
Besides, I am much, much closer than your neck.
 
Frodo stomped down the stairs. “For the last time, Sauron, shut up!”
 
I really wish you meant it, that this would indeed be the last time you ever ask such a thing of me. Yet hobbits were ever liars–you no more mean “last” than you mean “shut up”. I, on the other hand, keep my word: you know that I shall abide by our old agreement, if this would please you better than shouting orders at me with too divided a heart to make it stick.
 
Frodo slammed the door behind him and hastened across the little plaza. “No good, Sauron. I have no Shire brandy.”
 
It need not be your own. You know that your uncle brought some in his personal gear.
 
Frodo stopped dead-still.
 
You know where he keeps it.
 
Frodo barely choked out, “You are the most despicable creature ever to crawl through Middle Earth!”
 
Only a few steps back. It is not too late.
 
Frodo forced himself go forward instead. “Oh how I hate you!”
 
Well, you ought to do something to sweeten your temper. You have gotten into a really foul mood, do you realize that?
 
“I am not listening,” Frodo snarled, and heard only a chuckle in answer. He detoured to the kilns, consulted a note that Mattie had left for him, and came to a potter’s shop which proudly displayed a hobbit-sized tub, cast in the rosy-peach clay of the land, painted with an accent of the lush white roses of Harad in the glaze.
 
To the potter he said, “I have made arrangements with my uncle to come for the tub later on today. I understand that my wife has already paid for the merchandise, but here is a half-sum, in addition, for you to send two men to fetch it up the stairs, with the rest payable afterwards. Do not, under any circumstances, allow Nibs Cotton to attempt help beyond driving the donkey-cart.”
 
“I hear ya,” the man said, then grinned. “I understand ye’re off to Harding’s party...”
 
“Do NOT say one more word about the party!”
 
Only when the man stepped back did Frodo realize that he had stamped forward. “I meant no harm, guv. No harm at all.”
 
“My business is my own,” said Frodo, and left him.
 
Poor little hobbit! Every one of them misjudges you. You have but one way to restore your reputation, as I see it–to attend this festivity and partake of what they offer, showing them all how well you can handle it. All you need do is match drinks with your host–no more, no less. That way none can condemn you without condemning Harding as well. Not that any of them will attend with sobriety in mind, themselves, pathetic hypocrites that they are.
 
“Yet what a man and what a hobbit may harmlessly imbibe differs quite a bit.”
 
But Frodo, do you not see? After all that you have suffered these past few days, and all of the tremendous strain upon you now, they would surely understand. Or if they do not, then they do not deserve the name of friends.
 
Frodo closed his eyes. “Shut up shut up shut up.”
 
Now, how can that work, when you and I think the same things?
 
“Silence! I command you!”
 
And I shall certainly obey as soon as you finish one cup of Shire Brandy. It is all in your power.
 
Frodo turned down the street towards the Blue Dragon.
 
Or, if you absolutely insist, you could turn back for four of your mother’s brandy cookies, instead. That would work, in rather a dull way, and not relieving any of the weight upon your soul.
 
“But that would mean that later, in the night...”
 
You really would have to raid your Uncle’s pack, to get any sleep at all. The flask in the front pocket, under the flap.
 
“Curse you!”
 
Your father already has. Your family can do nothing further to me.
 
“Oh, we’ll find something!”
 
You have touched it. A little tin flask, embossed with a hunting hobbit blowing on a horn, who walks beside two hounds that reached his shoulder height. Trees frame the vignette, with grapevines climbing up their trunks and draping from their boughs. Fair work according to your kind, I understand, though rather rustic for my tastes.
 
Frodo stopped outside the great doors, newly painted blue. “I meant no harm. I only had a look.”
 
Oh, I know the moment well–how bitterly you bested me at that time. Such heroic struggles to overcome the “harm” you meant.
 
“Curse you, you vile haunt–it wouldn’t even appeal to me if you would just leave me alone!”
 
Frodo shoved open the door. The greeting of the crowd inside almost but did not quite drown out the voice in his head, saying, All the struggles will eventually end the same way, Frodo, so why be so hard on yourself? It is only a matter of time...
 
“But not today,” Frodo whispered, and went in.
 

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