Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 24, Part 234
December 1, 1452
Frodo wearied of drawing tree-roots. He had to stand and peer upwards, as straight as he possibly could, and he still found this painful. He sketched the last root, took the last soil sample, and returned to his father’s letter, sitting once again beside the saddlebags. He flipped to the page where he had last left off, and read through the dappled shadow of an old thorn tree.
“Well well, you will want news, of course. Elanor prospers, as does her new community. We try not to ask when she will gift us with grandchildren, but we keep hoping. If Fastred wouldent work so hard helping everybody and his brother digging and planting and building, he might not go home so tired! I shall not be surprised if our grandchild comes nine months after some holiday where nobody allows that lad to work. But Elanor likes the generous, industrious type, and if she is happy, then I am happy.
“(I will be happier still when I hear good news of you!)
“Rosie-lass has returned to her weaving and her sewing, the better for the rest. We have moved her loom and sewing things to the back of Miss Poppy’s Dress Shop, where she has become a partner in trade. This also assures that when Miss Poppy locks up for the night, Rose will also come home and not strain her eyes trying to work after hours.
“Your brother Merry has decided that he would like to try life on his own, so I have let him into old Number three, since the last tenants moved to the Tower Hills. It feels kind of nice to have family in there again. I expect him to pay rent, though, since he wants a real experience of living like an adult.
“He has surprised me by apprenticing at the mill. I never thought Id live to see anyone in my family become a miller! But I suppose somebody has got to grind the grist. And old Tad Hanks makes a better master miller than either of the Sandymans, though he has picked up a damp cough (he hasn’t been right, you know, since his time in Lock-Up, back in Sharkeys day) and should like to retire early. Merry-Lad tells me that he likes the sound of the water rushing through the wheel. Theyve finally replaced the last of those old metal parts of Sandymans with good old-fashioned wooden gears, which soon wear down to a perfect fit as their supposed to do, making little noise at all. They wont last quite as long, of course, but everyone around agrees that it is well worth it for the peace and quiet.
“Young Pippin has taken a vacation from his tutoring. I figured he was about due for one; clever he might be, yet he must not forget to also be a child. If I have learned nothing else, I now know the folly of asking too much of even the brightest child before his time. In any case, he has taken to swimming; I watch helplessly from the shore, feeling like a hen who hatched a duck. If he spends any more time in the water, he will surely grow some webs between his toes!
“I also suspect that he has a girlfriend, though I am not sure if he knows it yet. Miss Bluebell Downey seems to always happen to go swimming at the same time as he does. I am not sure who is pursuing who. Your mother monitors the situation closely by doing her wash and such not far from there. Too much can happen when tweens go swimming, if half of what I hear is true. In any case, that is quite enough to drive any scholars mind away from his books.
“Young Bilbo makes a pest of hisself, following Pippin to the Water almost every time, when Pippin fain would go alone. But Pippin does feel sorry for the little fellow and treats him kindly enough, whenever his own attempts to sneak out unnoticed fail. Swimming makes a good excuse for going without boots, for one thing, which Bilbo tries to lose on the banks as often as he can, and never mind the extra expense for having them made special for him. Pippin always finds them anyway, which I suppose is his revenge. We keep telling Bilbo that it wont be long now till he can go barefoot like any other hobbit once again, just as soon as his feet straighten out proper. But time stretches long for the little ones.
“Speaking of youthful romance, Goldilocks has now taken a page from your mother, after her accounts of her own maiden-days, and thrown over Gimlis portrait to fall maddly in love with Bandobras Took, or at least his picture and his history. Shes after me to take her with me the next time I have business down in Tookland, so that she can see the real, true land where he once lived and walked, and lay flowers on his grave, handle the same bowl that he ate from, sit in his chair, and do all the sorts of mooning around which go with a lass too young for real courtship yet old enough to think about it. It doesent quite seem wholesome to me, but your mother assures me that all of this is normal, and she will grow out of it all too soon.
“Rose has also reminded me of how Elanor went through a similar phase, yearning after Prince Eldarion, until she actually met him, and he spilled soup all over her from that great, gawky height of his, and his voice happened to crack when he tried to apologize, and in those days his human blood had gotten the better of his elvish side in terms of his complexion. Strider laughed about the whole business, as I recall, and said that it was just as well; while he would not have minded marrying his son to the daughter of a head of state (meaning me, I suppose) it would not have been fair to her to have to live in a great stone city all built on the vertical as it is–his son would have had to become the first sovereign of Gondor to dig a giant hobbit-hole!
“Excuse me. I forgot that you live in a tower, yourself. You must have muscular legs by now, climbing all those stairs, but then you always did, rambling across the Shire at the least excuse. I suppose that living in a tower can do the health some good. Molly the Herbwife always gets after me to walk and not to ride, says its best for my heart, and I really should shed a few pounds. Never mind that I dident have a real heart attack, everybodys got the idea firmly in their heads by now that I could have one, and so their always after me to change my ways like the invalid that I am not.
“Forgive me again. I did not want to remember that wherever you are, it is no longer the tower house, nor that whatever muscle you once had has fled from you, from what the King has seen. But then he also saw dreadful fates for Legolas that never came about–largely thanks to you.
“That thought gives me heart, Frodo. When that other Frodo reached the breaking point, his mercy for Gollum saved the day. I have to think that your mercy for Legolas will come back to help you, too. I also take notice that you helped out Lanethil in a similar fix. You have earned much love before your fall–thats worth more than money in the bank.
“But back to the doings of our family! Whose next? Hamfast? Oh dear me. Hamfast worries me a little. He has gone off his gardening completely. I had to step in and water some of his formerly favorite plants, he has neglected them so long. When I asked him about it, he got surly and I had to send him to his room for disrespectful language to an elder. Rose later went in and tried to talk to him, but he wouldent come out for supper.
“I think that he is mad at you, Frodo. I do not think that he wants to be a gardener like you after all, if you cannot pull together. Some might say that I should not have told you that, but I think you need to know that any decision you make affects others, often when you least expect. You have put this family through the mill, and I will not hide it from you. But I also trust that you can set things right, and make your brother proud of you again.
“Daisy is doing all right. She has made friends with the blacksmiths daughters, Coral and Viola Stout. Dont tell Nibs, because it would scandalize him, but Coral has a mandolin and promised to teach Daisy how to play. I dont see the harm in that; in fact, if she gets good enough, I shall send to Bree for a mandolin of her own, since Merry assures me that the luthiers there have gotten at least as good as those of Dale, if you know where to shop. It will make a pleasant way to while the time, and I think that I shall like having music around the house. Rather like living with the elves, again. Daisy still spins yarn, too, and now makes some special just for her sister Rose.
“I think Primrose has been writing poetry. She will not show me. That is all right, though. I will make sure to keep plenty of paper and ink out where she can find it. Since discovering this interest (a page snatched from my sight before I could read a word, but it surely looked like verse to me, shoved into a box full of more of the same) I have taken to bringing her along with me to the pub on Kaylee Night, her sitting right beside me and sipping at her tea, so she can hear her elders recite poems and stories and songs, and not feel quite so shy about it.”
Frodo grimaced. “Kaylee Night. In the Green Dragon. And I cannot go there again!” But he made himself turn the page anyway.
“Bilbo we mentioned already. Ruby has asked to study elvish, and I am more than happy to teach her all I know. Pippin Took also promises to keep an eye out for books to help her out on that. I think that she wants to learn for your sake, Frodo. She has been joining her mother in singing for you, and wants to know more about what the songs say, I think so as to put more feeling into them, if that will help you.
“I could not hide anything from your brothers and sisters, Frodo, though I tried. They knew your letters stopped, and Matties took over, and I had to let them know that you are probably not dead, and they figured out the rest, in part I suppose because your mother and I did not want to say more than we had to. Then young Merry broke into my desk and read the letters for hisself, and told the rest. He did not flinch from his punishment, nor said a word, neither, but his eyes defied me like I hadent seen from him before.
“Robin. Ah, you know your little brother Robin! He got into Daisy’s dyes and painted his face blue, so as to scare the neighborhood children–and then discovered that it did not easily wash off again! Not even the best Brandybuck soap, neither domestic nor imported, could make a whit of difference. He shall have to let it slowly fade, and now the jokes on him, as all the children that he frightened before now make merry over his appearance. Daisy is just glad that he did not get into the mordants as well–he could of done hisself a world of harm!
“Tom thrives, as I have mentioned. Mays singing, heard through the High Hay, has grown stranger over time, more like the piping of birds and the chittering of squirrels, the sigh of wind in trees, the splash of rain and river, and less and less like hobbit song. No one has heard actual words in it for awhile, now. And yet all who hear it stop their work to listen to its beauty. As always, not one note of distress seems to trouble it, and from that we draw comfort.
“We have visited Buckland often to hear it, and also to console Meriadoc Brandybuck over the loss of Lebadoc. He has taken the scoundrels death harder than I had expected, but then he is kin, and knew Lebadoc better than I ever could. His mourning embroidery is all full of herbs of the more wholesome sort, but wherever Widow Beesom had sewn in white poppies, or the arcane symbols from the sort of books that Lebadoc had cherished, Merry has ripped the thread all out.
“The hard part is that when we left for the Quest, Leelee (as folks called him then) had been a promising child, cheery and inquisitive, and always full of life. Merry remembers coming back to the Shire and finding Leelee changed, but everyone seemed changed after Sharkeys reign, sometimes the children most of all.
“Merry sat down and tried to talk with Leelee about what he had gone through, being taken hostage and all. When the lad shrugged it off as no hardship at all, Merry took that for rare courage. After carrying so many wrecks of hobbits out of the Lock-Ups, Merry just assumed that the boy had put a gallant face on things so as not to draw attention from the harder cases. Merry expected great things of Lebadoc, therefore, hoping that he would work his way through the surliness to something admirable someday. He often wondered, though, what Lebadoc refused to speak about, to make him like that. He had no idea that Sharkey had seduced the boy!
“Meriadoc Brandybuck has scoured every inch of Buckland, looking for the last remaining shacks and walls and other structures built during Sharkeys day, and ordering them torn down, no matter what use theyve been put to since, even going so far as to personally smash bricks with a sledgehammer, bricks and blocks that could have come in handy.
“We have gathered up all of those once held hostage by Saruman, and lured them into an all-expenses-paid vacation to Rohan. I take it as a dark sign that every one of them jumped at the chance–that isent quite hobbit-like, to want to get out of the Shire so eagerly, and to visit men, not elves. But now that Elessar has subdued the pirates, The Lady Eowyn shall return there to her brothers palace for a time, to entertain and study these ‘guests’, and give whatever help that they might need. Lord Faramir has some business with King Eomer, anyway, on Elessars behalf, so it all works out.
“Eowyn thinks that our hostaged-hobbits might have some things in common with the prisoner-pirates which she has encountered, a number of whom now reside in her hospital, learning how to be themselves again. No potions addled them, as it turns out, not this time, but rather a kind of mischief of persuasion and handling–it seems that Saruman was not the only one with a dragons voice. Many sailors have already recovered swiftly in her care, but she harbors some doubts about those cast under a spell so young as ours were. Still, she will not give up all hope for the hostages. After all, these are hobbits that were speaking of, and that still counts for something.
“But back to family. Your mother does quite well, all things considered. I have decided that I like the delicate peachy shade to which her hair has faded, not quite white when you look at it in the full daylight, and even less so by candle-glow. It reminds me of clouds just on the first edge of sunset. She says she likes it, too.
So I have purchased, through Brandybuck Mercantile, a necklace of little autumn leaves for her, from the Greenwood Elves. I sent them a lock of Rose’s hair, that they might match its color in an alloy of silver, gold, and copper. It has just arrived, as a matter of fact, this very afternoon, as I finish up this letter, in a hurry while your mother keeps Bleo entertained and delayed in the kitchen.
“King Thranduil hisself has sent to me a message to go with the necklace, a letter of comfort about you, to both my shame and my consolation. in a dark yet shimmery silver ink upon pages of pale green. I will have to brace you for this: word has gotten around, everywhere that the Kings Post goes, including Dale and the Lonely Mountain. Mattie was one of their own; the messengers pay attention to news about her. And of course it then travels as fast as horse can gallop. And then some overhear and take heed beyond the messengers themselves, because you are my son.”
“Oh good grief!” Frodo exclaimed. “And here I thought my troubles quite secret, tucked out of sight in Squatting Rock!”
Sam went on: “The Elven King spoke to me not as a great lord, but as one father to another, of his own griefs over Legolas, and how that turned out all to the good, and how he holds you responsible for a large share of that good, for persuading his son to go on, keep hoping, to not give up on life or on hisself. And King Thranduil noted how the same demon had tormented you both. So it seemed only fitting, he wrote to me, that he and his court should add their voices to ours in singing for your safety and return.
“Wonderful folk, elves! I’m not saying it all quite right, what all he told me and how you favorably impressed him at your brief meeting. Someday you will read for yourself the beautiful letter that he wrote. After the initial shock of his knowing at all, his words sang in my heart and lifted a huge burden off of me, though nothing outwardly had changed. I felt as you do when dark and dreary storm-clouds suddenly take up the colors of the sunset and change themselves all to blazing light, everything just suddenly turning so that you can hardly breathe for awe. I passed the letter on to your mother, and watched her face turn younger than it had been in awhile. Then I made sure that your brother Merry read it, too; something that had been getting wild in his eyes turned soft again. First thing he did was take it on to Hamfast, who read it out of my sight. But I can hear Ham out there now, in his garden, hoeing away at all of the weeds that have growed up.
“We are all going to be all right, Frodo. You and me and the entire family. With elves singing for us, how can things go wrong? I heard tell that they sang for the Fellowship, day and night in Rivendell, in shifts, from the moment that we left their gates until the demands of war bereft them of all time for singing. There were so many occasions where Frodo B. and I should have by all rights died, yet we did not. The mission came to the crumbling brink of failure, and yet it dident fail. Such songs have power, Frodo; I believe in them. I will believe for both of us, if you cannot.
“Well, that is all the news that I can write for you, Frodo, before Bleo finishes his muffins. I hope that you will someday remember yourself and come back to hear it. Your family will be here when you are ready for us. And your wife. And your work. The green things miss you, Frodo, as much as any of us. I can hear them missing you in my dreams. When I sleep I walk your fields as though I have seen them with my own eyes, and I feel the sorrow in the soil between my toes. Someday you will hear and feel this, too.
“Take care, dear son, as best you can. Come back to life.
Frodo folded up the letter and kissed it. Then he pressed it to his breast, trembling as though the recovery-illness had come upon him all over again. Suddenly he burst out into loud, hot tears, shaking his body, causing him to gasp.
“So you found the letter,” he heard Mattie say behind him. She came around with a brace of fresh-skinned rats, and threw them into the pot from the dwarf kit. “I am glad.” Frodo saw that she wore Sting. Ignoring the meat for the moment, she squatted down in front of him and peered into his eyes. “So now I have to ask you the most important question that I will ever ask you in your life. How badly do you want to stay sober?”
“Oh Mattie, I...” And then he stopped. And she waited, while he worked it out. At last he whispered, “I thought that would be an easy one to answer.”
“I didn’t expect it to be.”
He looked down at his letter, still spotted with his tears, the paper shivering in his hand. But before he could say a word, Mattie cut in, saying, “It cannot be for your father. It cannot be for me. It cannot be for your mother and all your brothers and sisters and throw in the farmlands to boot. All of these might fail you at any given time, for we are mortal, and frail, and if you look for an excuse to be quit of any bargain for our sakes, sooner or later we will provide one for you. You have done so plenty of times for me.”
“Then why,” Frodo rasped, “did you wait till I read this letter before asking me?” And he tossed it angrily aside, the pages fluttering off in all directions.
“Because it would remind you of who you used to be,” she said, gathering up the pages again and sorting them out. “Who you could be again, if you want to be. Do you want your life back? Because if not, I can turn Bleys around, set you back up in Squatting Rock, and leave. Hey, I will even buy your first bottle before I go–the vermifuge should wear off by the time that we’d arrive. And then I will report your death to all who wait for word of you. You can take care of the details on that, yourself–on your own terms.” She looked up and down his skeletal body. “It will not take long.”
He stared at her, paralyzed, torn between two dread hopes. And she tried to stare back levelly, though the tears ran down her cheeks unchecked. But then something happened, as though some last lingering delirium wavered over his sight, so that for a moment it seemed that her face turned pale, even as her hair turned straight and darkened clear to black. Before his eyes she grew, filling up all of his sight, frightening and fair and powerful, yet a limitless compassion welled up from those swimming eyes, so that he reached out to touch her tears as for a balm to staunch all wounds. As soon as he felt the wetness he saw his wife before him again, a scared and simple hobbit, trying to be brave.
“For Nienna,” he said. “She will never let me down. And Yavanna, whose mercy even Sauron couldn’t stay, though he thought otherwise. Yes, I want to live. I choose clarity.”