The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

Volume VIII
From the Ashes a Fire Shall be Woken
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 7, Part 252
Back Among the Living
January 7, 1453

High up on a human-sized bed, in the guest-quarters of Meduseld, Frodo leaned back against the pillows, next to Mattie, squinting at his father’s writing by candlelight and the dim, smoke-filtered sunlight from the window. For a second he could hardly make anything out, but then it seemed as though a lens passed over the page, and every word stood out distinctly.
 
“To Frodo Gardner, Upon His Return:
 
“Dear, dear beloved son!
 
“O, your alive! Once again I rejoice to say that your alive, but now more than ever, for this time you walked willingly away from me into death, and that hurt more than any mischance ever could, but then you walked back! YOU WALKED BACK!!!
 
“O Frodo, what you must have suffered when you woke up in that well! I have only Matties account to go by, for you had not recovered enough to write to me yourself, of course, I understand that. Yet I long to hear from you again, in letters written by your own hand, fancy or plain I dont care, pictures in the margins or not.
 
“Mattie says your in a bad way, but youll get better, now. The worst is over. She says shell take you to where you can remember your dignity and purpose, and she will nurse you and get you well again. We wont hear from you for awhile, she says, for you have to go into the wild, away from cities and the things that could hurt you most.
 
We worry, of course. It seems a strange remedy. But I suppose she knows the way of these things better than we do. Your mother thought the whole plan mad. Yet I think that I understand a little; dangers exist beyond anything lurking in the wild, that can kill more than a body.
 
“Even so, I wish I could send you my advice in a blink across the leagues between us. Youth does not always think of all the possibilities. I wish that you could make the short journey to Seaside, where that good man, Fishenchips, could look after you like he did when you cut yourself. Then, if you needed more than that, he could take you to Ithilien, where the Lady Eowyns people could help you get your head on straight. You needent worry about anybody keeping you from Mattie this time–your married free and clear, now. And you wouldent break exile to do it, what with Ithilien on the east side of the river.
 
“Ah, but I cannot send my advice so far so fast, alas! It will just have to work out the best it can.”
 
”Ninnyhammer!” Frodo shouted. “We could have avoided all of this, saved the baby, everything...” but then he felt Mattie’s fingers soft upon his lip.
 
“Hush, my love. I know better, now. Vaire has spoken. The baby would have died in Ithilien, of some other cause, and we would have rued going there, as well–without the lore that you gathered in the marsh. Did you think that I could have escaped a fever and a fall? Yet Ithilien runs steep, and Bergil has proven that you needn’t cross a marsh to suffer fever.” She sighed. “At least you have borne some lasting fruit from our journey, though I have not.”
 
“Oh Mattie!” Frodo hugged her, scattering and intermingling both their letters. “Don’t say that! You bore lasting fruit indeed–I owe my very life to you! It could have taken years before anybody noticed anything so small as hobbit-bones at the bottom of a clogged-up well.” He wanted to say more, say words as tall as mountain-castles about how much she meant to him, but it said everything just to hold her, nestled against him like that, hold her until he felt the muscles relax one by one once more. Then they returned to their letters, sorting out whose pages belonged to who and where in order, and he turned back to read what else his father had to say:
 
“Your mother and me, we try to learn all that we can about your affliction. Its hard to fathom; I never thought of this as an affliction at all before. Id always figured that drunkards just had fun being drunkards, and hang us more responsible folks for getting in the way. Well, Matties letter put an end to that notion–with you naught but bones and all, like to die without help. So we have talked long with Molly the Herbwife, and the good Lady Eowyn has written to us as well, as to what we can and cannot do for you, how best we can stand by you, and all about those things which might seem like help but aint. My goodness, its like having the One Ring lying around everywhere, just when you thought yourself quit of it for good!
 
“Mattie says that you saw Bilbo in your delirium, comforting you, keeping you holding on. Now thats a strange piece of business, for Molly assures me that the visions of drunkards show them snakes and spiders and fearsome things. She has never rightly heard of anything good showing up. So I will wager that he really did show up, in some fashion or other that we are not supposed to know about. I take great comfort in that.
 
“I must say that your mistaking yourself for Gollum gave me something of a turn! But if it took picturing yourself that low to bring you to your senses, then I can endure this shock better than some of the others. The big difference, as I see it, is that he never faced what Saurons Ring had done to him, but you finally faced up to what Saurons bargain did to you. Its the things we wont see as trip us up.
 
“So--Sauron finally had his revenge on me in full. Before this you cracked, but you never broke. Well, now the worst is over, and he is gone, and we are all still here. I know it in my blood and in my bones. You have set yourself onto the way back, and something good comes halfway to meet you. I can feel it on its way for you, some goodness from the West, carried on a song. You can put the pieces back together, son. Just remember to ask for help when you need it.”
 
Frodo swallowed down a lump. “Oh Papa! If only you knew ‘worst’ like I know it, like Mattie knows it...like Uncle Nibs knows it.” Yet something in his heart calmed, and thought, “Maybe he has it right. Nothing could ever hurt me so much again.”
 
The letter went on. “Now for some news from home, which you have had all too little of, of late. Elanor has taken Fastred in hand. I knew I could count on something good coming of the Harvest Festival. It seems that the grateful townspeople of Tower Hills urged on Fastred a spot more than he was used to, with many a toast in his honor, and then Elanor hid all of his breeches while he slept after, and did not return them for three days running. He swears now that hes going to slow down from here on out and spend more time at home.”
 
“Not that I advocate a spot more than is good for anyone, mind you. I dident mean that. But you know Fastred. Wound too tight, you might say. Still, so long as he makes Elanor happy, Im happy. And now, it seems, shell be happier. I was rather hoping something would come of it, but still no grandchild on the way.”
 
“Rosie-Lass also spends less time at Miss Poppys Dress Shop than formerly. A nimble-fingered tailor named Bosco Munce courts her all the way from Deephallow. Hes on good terms with the Maggots, which is all the recommendation that I need. He has a pointy nose and beady eyes, but so long as he looks fine to Rosie, I dont care. They must go slowly, however, and put up with meeting in parlors under watchful family eyes, at least at their age, as long as Im head of this house, which I think I still am. If it lasts, it lasts. If not, Rosie will have at least learned a few new fancy stitches, because that is how they pass their time in the parlor, showing each other tricks of needle and thread. I think that they do it as an excuse to sit hip to hip, holding one cloth between them and peering so close that their heads meet over the stitchery. Ah well, I can tell you at least that if lips happen to briefly brush while I happen to glance out of a window, now and then, I can honestly say that I dont know about it.”
 
“Hip to hip?” Frodo cried, “Papa never let me get so close to a maiden!”
 
Mattie smiled. “He had more need to keep an eye on you, I think.”
 
“Mattie,” Frodo said, looking over the page at her, “Did you read my letter while I went out?” But she would only grin in reply, so he just sighed and returned to reading:
 
“Your brother Merry has put on some weight since he started working at the mill. He keeps experimenting with different grinds and blends of flour, so of course he has to bake the results to determine which flours and meals best suit which uses. Ive warned him to have a care, lest he wind up like Perry the Winkle! But Id rather have a miller who experiments with cooking than with noisy, greasy metal gears. Besides, he also puts in his fair share of hard physical labor, so most of the weight goes into muscle. He has become quite a sturdy lad!
 
“Young Pippin has returned to studying with a fury, the weather having turned too cold to swim. He and Bluebell seem to have had a falling out, so of course its the end of the world. He does not teach, and he keeps indoors unless I drag him out to work. He always grumbles, and always feels better after for the exertion. Nobody loves a book better than I do, but I also see the sense in a balance of all things. We all need a little cabbage and taters with our elves and dragons.
 
“I took Goldilocks with me, as I promised, on my latest trip to Tuckborough. She had a wonderful time being as morbid as she pleased about Bandobras Took. Pippin T’s son, Faramir, showed her around to all the historic points, let her hold family heirlooms in her hands, and everything her heart desired. I have never seen her glow with such gratitude and delight.
 
“Hamfast works side by side with me most days, in the fields and gardens, and sometimes even fills in for me when my mayoral duties draw me away. You are the firstborn heir, Frodo, and will own this land after me, once your exile ends, but Ive got an eye on some property to buy for Hamfast as well, not too far from here, for when he comes of an age to till it. It only seems fair. He loves the good earth nearly as much as you do.
 
“Ah, it seems like all of my children are growing up on me! Or well on there way there, at least. We shall see how it all turns out when they finish. I have had my share of disappointments, yet not to the death, and you have given me new hope, Frodo. Alls well as ends better, as the Gaffer used to say.
 
“Daisy progresses apace with her mandolin lessons. Now that I have bought her an instrument all her own, and it has safely arrived from Dale, she plays us lovely music in the evenings. She has also spun fine yarn indeed for your sister Rosie, in several different skeins, dying the wool first and then spinning several harmonious colors together. It makes for a strange and pretty effect. I think that stimulating one art always stirs up new ideas in whatever else you do. Sometimes I feel like I watch my daughter spinning music into yarn.
 
“Primrose has shown me some of her poetry. I particularly like the one about a cat dreaming about being a lion, and one about a “Princess Mee” that only a lass like her could have come up with. Id copy them out for you, except that she has snatched them back before I could have a chance.
 
“Bilbo still endures boots, but it wont be long now before he can bid them goodbye forever. He has at least found a use for his foot-sacks, when he doesent wear them, using them like hand-puppets after smudging eyes and features on them with some charcoal. This gives him yet another excuse to take his boots off. I dont care, so long as he puts them back on afore he takes a step. He has lost some foot-fur, going shod, and the soles of his feet have become tender, but Molly assures me that all of that will correct itself in time.
 
“Ruby has concocted elvish names for each of her dolls. Misty now goes by Hith, and Princess by Aranel. Fancy-Rags has become Beinraenlain, which is stretching it a bit, not to mention a mouthful to try to pronounce, but Ruby has little vocabulary so far. Though she herself does not know the proper Elvish word for her own name-jewel, she will answer to Carangond, Redstone, when I remember to call her that. Id of told her how to say ruby in elvish, but she dident ask, and now feels set in being Carangond.
 
“Robin is not quite so blue in the face as he has been, the dye mostly faded from his skin. The experience has subdued him somewhat, unless you consider the recent mischief of the mouse in the mandolin.
 
Mice rather. We thought it one mouse, at first, till others followed, one by one. I have no idea how he managed to trap so many. But just when Daisy would think the last one had escaped, youd hear a scurry of bitty claws on the the inside wood, and another would poke out a whiskery little nose, all a-twitching at her–it just went on and on, every time the poor lass tried to strum!
 
Oh, I do confess that I could hardly spank the lad for laughing! I am afraid that I could not swat hard enough to impress one of those mice, let alone Master Oliphaunt-Hide. But I backed up Daisy when she demanded that he unstring the mandolin, scrub it thoroughly, inside and out, then dry it slowly and carefully by nappy cloth and the soft heat of candleflames, wax it up all properly again (and pay for a fancy resin to do so, out of his own allowance) completely restring it, and finally tune it according to her instructions and exacting ear. By the time hed gotten less than halfway through he reckoned himself in trouble and no mistake.
 
“Toms good. He reads better than before, and more avidly, having gotten into the habit of rapid learning. But he shall always love a good pony-ride best of all. He rambles all the hills of the Shire with any company wholl take him, and who will win my approval. Its a whole new world out there for him. He had always done me proud, but now he lives with more wonder and gratitude than most folk can imagine. So you can put aside your mourning-clothes for him. Only his past has died. You who live with two pasts can balance things out for him.”
 
“Mourning-clothes,” Frodo murmured, fingering the dwarvish shirt that he wore, in a too-bright yellow. “I would rather do without bread than those. But what can you embroider to signify a child who lived but a single day?”
 
Sam went on: “And what of May? We have lain aside our partial mourning for her as well. For she has not died, and she leads a happy life, and a true father can ask no more for his daughter than that. I have grieved for my own selfishness, for owning the fey little thing and then losing her. To reclaim her now, I would have to become one of those petty sorts who capture a songbird to make it sing inside the house, yet never let it take flight again into the open sky. A power guards May, the same as keeps us away from her; I have no call to fear on her behalf. Sometimes, Frodo, love must know when to let go.
 
“Write to me soon, son. My heart yearns to hear from you again, in your own dear hand.
 
“With Love,
 
Papa.”
 
A sweet weariness washed over the convalescing hobbit. “I will let go,” he murmured. “Little Harding tasted milk, and felt our love, and ended better than he might have.” Then he fell deeply into sleep, there beside the warmth of his wife, and he drowsed until Legolas and Gimli knocked, to invite his wife and him to a quiet dinner together.
 

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