Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 14, Part 224
Reports from the Gardner Family
August 6, 1452
When Frodo opened the seal of his letter, dried flowers spilled onto his bed with sunny marigolds, purple cockles, white and yellow chamomiles, and soft blue cornflowers. He smiled as he carefully laid them on the table which the House of Healing had provided next to him, his eyes quickly moving to the pages covered in his father’s careful hand.
“My dear son:
“First you will want to hear the news of home, of course, while I wait for your next letter, due sometime in the afternoon, if Bleoboris hasn’t gotten hisself lost along the way and found a pub instead of Bag End. Tom is doing splendidly! He has gotten nearly to the level of a normal hobbit his age already, and continues to learn by leaps and bounds.
“In speaking of his body, he has become quite as agile as ever, which is a marvel. Molly warned us that he might never quite walk properly again, but here he is, skipping alongtop narrow walls, climbing trees, and riding his horse everywhere, just as steady as you please. I never realized how beautiful walking could be, to watch him move like that, like nothing bad had ever happened to him.
“He doesent get the headaches anymore that used to torture him so bad. He sees quite clearly, no more double vision, no more nausea. He looks the picture of perfect health!
“Mentally, he can even read again, though rather slowly. But he picks up speed and understanding every time he tries. Id say that his wits have fully recovered, and his learnings catching up as fast as it can go.”
Frodo sighed, and kissed the page. “Oh, what a relief!” He realized just how badly he had feared that Tom might yet become the one whose thread he’d snapped. Tom or May. For a moment his heart beat fast, thinking of the little hobbit lass. But if his father had had bad news to tell him, he would have gotten it over with right off, so Frodo went back to the letter.
“Tom remembers nothing whatsoever of the past. That is all right, though; he loves us all over again, those of us hes met. It does grieve me that he will know you only as a stranger that we recommend to him, when you return, and not as his brother, but we shall jump that brook when we come to it.”
“Return,” Frodo sighed. “How I wish!”
“And of course he remembers nothing at all about May, though he feels for us, for our recalling, and will hold his mothers or my hand when the melancholy comes upon us.
“Yet I have good news there, too, of a sort. Some of the Bucklanders have heard a child singing, or sometimes laughter, high and free, wafting in from the other side of the High Hay now and then, always far from their gateway. Some have called out to her, but then the singing stops, just like that, and the trees beyond the Hay start to groan and rustle, and sometimes branches fall over the hedge, big dangerous ones, so people dont do that anymore.
“They do tell me that Hyacinth Brandybuck actually tried to climb the Hay, on the spot, to pursue the voice, calling after May the while. But a wind came up and a branch swiped her right back down again. If she hadent known the tumbling arts shed of broken something for sure, but she came through all right, just a little bruised where the branch hit her, and scratched from the hedge itself. Your mother sent over some of her prize-winning peach cobbler, by the way–with the recipe, no less, and I mean the full recipe. Mistress Hyacinth has taken some hard gossip now and then, but we stand by her.
“Merry B., of course, has tried any number of times to ride in after the sound, but something always goes wrong. The last time his pony broke a leg on the roots and he had to put the poor thing down. He told me he cant go in no more, cannot risk it. Yet he swears upon his horn that the songs sound happy; in fact, everybody tells me so. Whatever strange life my would-be daughter knows, it seems to be a glad one. No one has ever heard her call for help.”
Frodo swallowed, laying back on his pillows. This did not quite suffice to lift the weight from off his heart. Yet it would have to do. He picked up the pages again.
“And now I have your letter in my hand. It did give me a turn to see you start out wishing May a happy birthday and going on about her. But you couldent of knowed when you wrote it what a pang such words would give me. How sad for you, too–I know how close you were. Do you still have the glass she gave you? That would be good, something to remember her by. May her love stay with you always, no matter what strange paths either of you walk.”
Frodo fingered the lens as he read.
“I cannot keep my mind on any one thing today, so I suppose I shall shift back and forth between reading and writing. Sometimes when thoughts of May enter into my head I find it hard to focus. But I get my labors done the same, one way or another, so it hardly matters.
“We sent Rosie-Lass to her sister Elanor in the Tower Hills for some rest. She makes beautiful cloth-work, but spends too long at it; if this keeps up I shall have to buy her spectacles, she strains her eyes so much. Elanor promised to keep her away from looms, needles, and anything to do with the fabric crafts, for at least two weeks.”
Frodo wondered, “Does this sort of thing run in the family? Must we all, always, choose all or nothing?” He thought about it. “When is this a good trait, and when does it become a vice?”
“Ruby has pressed more flowers for you, as I hope you will notice. She says that she wants the same back, so you had better press some more for her. She and Hamfast both want to see everything they can about what grows in Mordor, now that the Dark Lords done messing with it.”
Frodo nodded. “I do have some samples of the local summer flowers pressed somewhere or other. I wonder where Mattie put them? Surely I can spare some of the repeats.”
Sam continued, “Little Pippin has about a half a dozen younger children who follow him about like ducks. He teaches them reading, sketching, and arithmatic, sitting under the mallorn tree. Pippin has been a real blessing, too, in helping Tom to recover. He has been so patient with the poor lad!
“Goldilocks thinks that she is in love–at her age! I hope she wont take after you in that regard. Do you remember the collection of miniatures that Legolas painted for Frodo Baggins, of each member of the Fellowship, which Frodo then left to me? Well, Goldilocks has fallen head over heels for the portrait of Gimli! She has attempted a poem about his “copper beard that curls so bright, in red-gold hues that light the night,” and more of the same, covering most of a page. She asked me what a beard feels like. I told her that I never went over and fingered his face, so I cant say.”
Frodo chuckled, shaking his head. “Oh no! I wonder if she would feel the same way if she had had to travel with the dwarf for long miles between baths?”
“After teasing me about how the portrait does have a rather roguish sparkle in the eyes and a merry grin, your mother says not to worry, girl-children often practice romance on people as far out of reach as possible. Rose admits that she spent her own youth mooning over the stories about Bandobras Took and dreaming she went back in time to him. I asked her (joking) if I had anything to worry about while she sleeps, but she dident laugh, she looked at me and said she already has her hero–and dont take that, she says, as permission to ever put myself in that kind of risk again! You know your mother.”
Frodo nodded again.
“Reading further on your letter, I am glad that you are finally seeing your place in the Web of Life, as you put it.” Frodo winced, but kept on reading. “Yet that brings me to mind of a disturbing dream I had the other night. I saw you, Frodo, in my dream. Climbing and climbing up an endless Mordor slope, as rocky and barren as that land can be, in a driving rain. Lightning flashed again and again, so that I feared for you. I saw your hands reach for the sharp-edged stones to pull you up–your poor, bloody hands! I saw that you wore some great and heavy garment, like some tapestry of a weave so intricate that I couldent possibly remember all its detail when awake, and yet the garment itself looked crude, just this big chunk of cloth with a hole ripped into it for you to poke your head up through, not even cut and hemmed up proper. As I drew closer I saw that the rip bled on you. That bright red blood seemed to be the only color in a whole landscape of dark grays.”
The page slipped from Frodo’s fingers. He had not realized until then that he had secretly entertained a fantasy, all along, that his father need never know, never find out his crime, that perhaps he could persuade Nibs not to tell him, as his uncle had planned to not tell anyone else in the Shire. “Why did I ever imagine that I could hide anything from Papa?” he cried.
Eowyn called in, “Are you all right in there?”
“Um, yes. Fine. I am sorry if I disturbed anyone.”
Frodo overheard Fishenchips saying, “‘Tis nuthin’, Milady. He just gets sort of ‘motional around his letters, see. That’s just Frodo bein’ his own true self.”
Grumbling, Frodo picked up the page again.
“When I woke I told myself that all this came of worriting about Rosie-Lass working too hard on her loom as shes been doing.”
An uninvited hope began to stir in Frodo once again.
“Shes been looking pretty peaked lately, but she gets so wound up to see some design laid out in full that she can work the day and night away if we let her, till she finally leaves the bench as stiff as an old gammer. The other day she fainted and spent the rest of the afternoon abed with a damp cloth to soothe her tired eyes. Thats when I said enough, and packed her off to Elanor. Im all in favor of art, as you well know, but sometimes common sense has to take precedence.”
Frodo shuddered to think of what might happen if Lebadoc ever offered his sister “working-dust”.
“But dreams can mean more than one thing at a time, as well. I cannot shake my fear for you, that something new and ghastly has occurred. Though what weaving might have to do with it I cannot guess. I will sing for you, my son, and your mother with me, too.”
Frodo whispered a word quietly, to himself.
“At any rate, I am glad that as of this writing, at least, you were with good old Pippin Took, and that hes looking after you. You do sound like you could use a visit from home. I wish that I could come, myself, but the whole point of sending you instead of me is that I cannot easily leave the Shire these days, not with so much going on. New lands to the west means new roads to map out and tamp down, and all sorts of merchants and craftspeople packing up and setting up shop in the Tower Hills, leaving the money situation teetering and tottering over here till it all settles out. Prices go up, and the buyers want to know what the Mayors going to do about it, and then goods start coming back from the west and prices go down, and sellers want to know where it will all end, and I just have to keep everybody pulled together till it all works itself through to the good thing that eventually it will be. I never before realized how the Shire would go into labor giving birth to this new farthing! Rose thinks that I should of seen it coming.
“Yes, you are right, I am now officially the head of the Gardner clan. Your Uncle Hamson is off the hook when it comes to all our birthdays. But that doesent stop him from coming around for Sunday dinners anyway. He and his wife Sapphire must be the only Gamgees in the family ever to fail at cooking. But I dont mind a bit. He and I have gotten much closer since the Gaffer died.
“I wish you could have known the Gaffer better, Frodo, but you probably dont remember much about him. Do you recall that white stone that I wear about my neck? He gave that to me.” Fear rose in Frodo’s throat. “It turned up when we dug him a new hole after Sharkey destroyed the old one. He said it looked to him like elvish work, and so he said I ought to have it, since I fancied that sort of thing. That was the first time that he ever accepted my tastes and particulars as being all right for me, if not for him. I do not know how long this old stone lay there, buried in the ground, from who knows what adventure long ago, there on its silver chain that washed up so fair once I took some polish to it. Do you know, it is almost the spitting image of one that Queen Arwen gave to Frodo B., and that means something for me, too. It gives me comfort, sometimes, probably much like Mays glass can do for you.”
Frodo closed his eyes. “Eowyn,” he called, “I...I feel ill.” And indeed nausea now flooded him, as though his life reeled like a tiny boat in a great time-storm.
Immediately a woman ran in–Hawk, he believed, one of Elenaril’s apprentices now graduated to full-time leech. She scrutinized his face anxiously, felt his suddenly clammy brow, and took his pulse. After a few questions she left, but quickly returned with a minty tea for him to sip slowly, while she sponged him off with cool water till his heart stopped pounding so hard. The tea did settle his stomach, but it took him a long while before he dared to resume the letter again.