Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 15, Part 225
The Rest of the Letter
August 6, 1452
Frodo lay on the bed in Seaside’s House of Healing, the once-crisp sheets already damp with his sweat, from the heat of the day and from the shock that he had just worked through. He heard the seabirds keen outside, and the tinkle of the Fountain of Queen Arwen. “Whatever the instability of my past,” he told himself forcefully, “this moment, right here, right now, does me no harm.” At last he got the nerve to pick up his father’s letter once again.
“Congratulations on the Mayors engagement!” it read. “Thats your good influence, there. See, you think so bad of yourself all the time, but you do some good in the world, Frodo, and you plant more than just corn and turnips.”
“Oh Papa, you know me so little! What will you say when you find out the truth?”
Yet the letter went on as though nothing had happened, no thread had ever snapped. “You were right, what you wrote about Elanor making excuses to come back home. She has settled in for good, now, at the Tower Hills, and quite a little community has started to sprout up all around her. She has finally begun to get more excited and less lonely about setting up a brand new village, young just like herself.
“I have to say that the entire family was shocked when you sent back your measurements, asking for clothing. I had not imagined you so thin! I am glad that we thought to send you something before this, but we will send you more, as soon as Rosie comes back from her vacation. It will do her good to sew straightforward things for a change, that one can pick up and put down without fretting over patterns and ideas.”
“I hope that she allows room for expansion,” Frodo said, patting his tummy and considering the weight that he had gained since his marriage. “But then Mama will insist–she always does.”
Sam continued, answering Frodo’s various questions and comments: “Yes, Bran Maggot learned many of his father’s tales before the old fellow passed away. And more than that, I think. Ive heard tell that he goes off sometimes into who knows where, and some of the neighbors still say that they hear music wafting from his farm at all hours, when nobody has seen visitors coming down the common road. Odd behavior for someone in mourning, unless you know what we do.
“Interesting broiderie on his mourning garb, by the way, that your sister come up with. I see now why the family wanted our Rose to do the work rather than the Widow Beesom. I suppose our family has as much of a reputation as the Maggotses, when it comes right down to it, and they wanted a kindred spirit to do the honors. Any road, you know the way of it–our old, traditional patterns of foliage, leaf or flower, berry or twig, according to the season when the deceased died, weave in and out to frame those things dearest to the dead, or most significant in his life. And at first glance this looks no different, framing Old Maggots mushrooms and plows and hunting-hounds in the foliage of spring. But if you happen to get a close glimpse, you see faces, or sometimes just eyes, or maybe a mysterious smile here and there, in among the flowers and the leaves, tiny hands on the ends of twigs, shapes of persons limned out by the curve of branch and vine. Naturally nobody ever comments on it, Bran least of all, though when his eyes meet mine I know he knows Ive seen it. I daresay most folks dont even look that close.
“Your mother is pleased to hear that her cookies have silenced and weakened that miserable blowfly of yours. And what also pleases us is to read how that wretched Mattie has disappeared–for good, I hope. I am grateful for the gold leaves that you sent back home–I have many uses for them better than buying Matties gum, yet I count no price too high for keeping the post open between me and my boy. We must always speak frankly, son, and always understand each others lives, however far apart.”
“No, Papa, you really don’t know anything about me now, anything at all!” Despair overtook Frodo; he lay upon the hospital bed with the letter half-unread upon his breast. A young hobbit might suspect, many times in his tweens, that his father is a fool, and yet not completely believe it. But there comes a day when he cannot escape realizing that, however wise his parents might well be, they do not and cannot know everything important to him, as the youth grows older and away. On that day the young one realizes that the entire burden of his living falls upon his own shoulders, and on his parents no longer. And on that day he mourns, for something always with him in his life has died.
Yet eventually Frodo picked up the letter anyway. On a new page Papa wrote, “Oh good heavens I just read your fuller account of the bachelor-party dance! And this is not a Mordor custom, you say, but a Mannish one? I guess I am glad to have missed all that at Striders party! And poor Strider hisself, stuck trying to explain such a thing to Elrond after Faramir had set him up like that. I tell you, Lord Faramir might be the gentlest of gentlemen in most things, but all his roughest side, held almost too firmly in check most of the time, escapes him when it comes to jests. That fiendish cleverness of his might have been the only thing to level the ground between him and his big brother, I imagine, and the brashness of his humor remains the only way that they ever resembled each other, besides the physical. Although from what Ive seen (and mark my words, I saw a lot more than people reckoned I did in those months in Minas Tirith) sooner or later Strider gives as good as he gets.”
At that Frodo could not help but laugh, and that laugh saved him, from he knew not what.
“In regards to your next inquiry, Frodo-lad, I am afraid that while I can find any number of eligible maidens more than willing to marry you here in the Shire, not a one would fancy joining you in Mordor. That would ask too much of their delicacy, I think. I suspect that the former Hyacinth Took might well have taken up the proposal, nonetheless, had I made it before she had already fallen in love elsewhere; I would have liked her in the family. Well, she is happy where she is, and you must learn to find some happiness where you are, too, lack of suitable females notwithstanding. You will just have to grit your teeth and save your passions for some future bliss. It can be done.”
Frodo laughed again, more freely this time. “Ah well, Papa, at least I know that you can warm up to a busker for a daughter-in-law!”
“It comforts me greatly to know that you dream of old Master Bilbo. He was good to me, Frodo, when no one else considered me worth the time of day. I owe more to him than anyone might ever guess.”
Frodo murmured, “Not you alone, Papa.” He could almost remember Bilbo showing up sometime in his latest nightmares, comforting him with reminders of sunlight on daisies even in the darkest moments. Or was it something about interlacing trees?
Sam wrote, “I am glad to hear of the end to Fishenchips disgrace. And I marvel at the salvation of Spring, who used to be called Dragon-Girl! Thank you, Frodo, for hoping where I dared not hope, and for searching out a cure to the evil that possessed that child. Your a better hobbit than I am, Frodo.”
The young hobbit shook his head. “Oh Papa, please make the leap. Please understand my hope in Mattie!” Frodo stroked the lens upon his breast as though it could send insight clear over to the Shire.
“Alas–you did indeed dream about our pending woes with May and Tom! How strange those dreams must have seemed to you, and how obvious they sound to me now, in light of what has happened since. Yet something about them rings also of hope, that someday you can do something which will make things better. I will hold onto that.”
Frodo shuddered; not everything about his dreams appeared explained just yet to him.
“Poor lad, not being able to bathe with the water rationing, and having the tooth-ache on top of it! I am glad that Pippin Took was there to see you through so rough a time. It comforts me to know that, now that he has gone, our Nibs has stepped into his place. Hobbits need other hobbits, Frodo. I will try to always arrange for you to have the company of your own kind from here on out, come what may.”
“Oh, I made sure of that,” Frodo murmured, kissing his wedding-ring.
“And yet you sound more cheerful with every day! Ah, the resilience of youth! How I rejoice to find that you have not quite lost that!”
Frodo smiled to himself. “Well, at least my youth gives me some advantage!”
“Oh, Frodo, Frodo, Frodo! Now I read of your escapade with Lanethil, ending in the lock-ups for disturbing the peace.”
Frodo groaned; why did he have to be so honest? But then he shuddered to think how much worse it might have gone had Papa read Peregrin Took’s accounts next (which surely must have arrived the selfsame day) and found omissions that way.
“Well that clinches it, my boy. No more drink for you! I am glad at least that you finally realize that. However you might fret about your place in hobbit customs on your return, it cannot embarrass you more than the alternative. And if any here should give you a hard time about it, I shall personally punch that person in the nose and gladly spend a night in lock-up, myself, for brawling. People adapt, Frodo. It will only seem queer initially; then people will get used to it faster than you think, in the same way that they have reconciled to Widow Beesom never setting aside her mourning clothes.”
Even in his humiliation, Frodo’s eyes watered with a stab of gratitude.
“Speaking of clothing, what you now wear sounds strange to me indeed, my son. But I am all for that, and think Pippin Took a fool for not seeing the value of summer Mordor garb–for Mordor. The Nurnings know the land better than we do, and have spent centuries devising what works best for their weather, and who are we to go against their customs? Certainly I would expect them to dress like us if they ever took up residence here, because that would make the same kind of sense. Not that any would come here, of course.
“OH MISERABLE FATE! How could you let that vile Mattie worm her way back into your life all over again?”
Frodo sighed and covered his face in the letter where he lay. But of course he soon could not resist reading the rest.
“Yet she moves me despite myself, that poor Mays fate would inspire her to quit the poppy-gum. If she can. If her efforts do not all turn out like Gollum trying to be Smeagol. Still, I cannot recall Gollum ever pitying anyone but hisself. No, I take that back–I do suspect that in a few spare moments he did take pity on Frodo G., though feebly, never quite enough to break his fixation on his precious self. Me he never spared a kindly thought, and I can hardly blame him, for I loathed the very smell of him.
“Whoops, I read that Mattie has failed already–yet the resolve survives, which I suppose was more than anyone could ever say of Gollums rare impulses towards the good. Just like her, too, to put you both in danger while she went about it. It does give me hope, however, that she aims to travel beyond temptations reach. I would have preferred that it not be on the same boat as you, but we cant have everything. I do worry, nonetheless, that the tone of your letter seems to grow more tender towards her by the day. Can you not see the folly of this?
“And now I read of the journey itself. Yes, that is Peregrin Took, through and through, feeding Mattie up and helping her to phase the gum out slowly, no matter what he thinks of her. He always did have a kind heart, bless him!
“Alas, that you would crack up all over again, at the mention of Tom Cottons death! I did not realize that your memories no longer match precisely the past which the rest of us remember. How hard that must be for you–and yet look carefully at the nature of that hardship. Isent it true that the facts themselves do you no harm? Only your own horror hurts you. I think you can come to terms with this, son. I think you can learn not to fear it, to only say, “Here I find a difference, how interesting.” I know that it surely sounds hard to you right now, but in time you can get used to it. You must.”
Frodo laid aside the letter and, with eyes closed murmured, “It is only different...it is,” he swallowed, “...different, merely different, that the bird from the west–the earliest important memory of my life–never flew to our field on the eve of a storm, that Papa’s white gem came from the earth.”
He blinked. Now that he said it out loud, the story did interest rather than distress him. What passing elf had dropped the gemstone there, and on what errand, so long ago that ages of falling leaves had turned to soil overtop it? And what providence discovered so tiny a thing in the digging of new holes, that had not uncovered it in the first excavation of Bagshot Row? And what a blessing, that it gave the Gaffer one last chance to bless the choices of his son, before an earlier death than Frodo recalled could take him. With new peace Frodo took up the letter again, and turned to the final page:
“MADNESS! MADNESS! Frodo, you ninnyhammer! Oh you think your so clever, writing here what you know I cannot stop, how you plan to trick poor Pippin T. at the final hour, planning your escape, how by the time I read this letter you shall have done it all, run away with Mattie, gotten her well without any help from the Houses of Healing or the Ithilian Asylum! Yes, yes, Pippin surely would have locked you up for a little while, to plumb your mental fitness, but why should that worry you unless you feared what the leeches might discover? And after your episode around Tom Cotton, can you blame him? Do you think that I do not worry, myself?
“And yes, of course he planned to separate you and Mattie for both your own goods, yet true love would have found you again after her recovery, if that is really what it is. We elders have every right to put youths passions to the test, knowing that we couldent kill the real thing if we tried. How reckless is the haste of callow blood!
“Do you not realize how you have endangered the maiden that you claim to love, by dragging her into this ordeal far from the help of leeches? Or how you endanger yourself by embracing the protestations of love from someone who cannot possibly know her own mind? And who shall guard your back, out in the wilderness–the most perilous wilderness in the world--while she tosses in the throes of illness?
“I hope that you came to your senses after you sealed and sent this letter. I hope that you did not pursue so rash a plan. I hope you have more hobbit sense than you have exhibited in awhile. Oh Frodo, I love you through and through, but sometimes, lad, you vex me beyond measure!
“Heres hoping for better news next time,
With the most extravagant sigh of all, Frodo folded up the letter again and laid it on the table by his bed.