Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 7, Part 7
A Borrowed Face
(September 23, 1451)
Frodo smelled the sweet
fragrance of kingsfoil, and felt the warmth of its steam
upon his face. He opened his eyes to delicious autumn
daylight spilling into his bedroom, with a feather quilt
wrapped snug around him.
"He's awake," said his father, setting aside
the bowl to stroke a curl from Frodo's brow. Frodo caught
a spicier scent somewhere in the background.
"Is he warming up any?" asked Merry, as he fed
wood into a blazing fire in the grate.
"Better. Here, lad--sit up and have some of this
tea." Frodo sat up with the help of his father's
firm hands at his back. He looked at the bedroom all
around him. By day it appeared eccentric indeed, but only
in the most fun kind of way, filled with bright-colored
knicknacks and amusing surprises. The tea fit right in,
its flavor enriched with hot, bright spices from hot,
"I had the most alarming nightmare..." he
began, then stopped and stared at their concerned faces.
"No. You wouldn't fuss over me like this if it
had been a nightmare, would you?" He saw his
dew-soaked nightshirt crumpled on the floor.
"What do you think, son?" Papa ruffled his hair
and sat back down in the chair beside the bed, as Uncle
Merry perched on the bed's foot. "We ran out when we
heard the screams, and found you lying on the lawn, just
as cold as death, smack dab next to the High Hay. Now
would you mind telling us exactly what happened?"
The two older hobbits listened gravely as Frodo related
all that had occurred, omitting only his opinions on
Brandy Hall decor, pausing now and then for sips of tea
that radiated heat throughout his chest and middle like
returning life. Merry stared into his own hands in his
lap as he listened, then got up and paced, peering
anxiously out the window.
"It's the wights," Merry said at last.
"Rumor says they've crossed the Withywindle, and now
I believe it."
"Wights?" Frodo asked. "Do you mean
barrow-wights? But I thought they stuck to their
"Not anymore. Without Sauron's power behind them
they're weaker than before--or you'd be dead by now,
Frodo--but without his will to bind them they can leave
their posts and find a will of their own, which seems to attract them to greed."
Sam stamped a foot. "My son ain't greedy! As a
matter of fact, he's got to be the ungreediest hobbit
I've ever laid eyes on."
"No, but he was the target of some greed last night.
And envy. Wights like envy." Merry frowned in
thought, then smiled. "In fact, it's probably
Frodo's character that saved him--the wight couldn't
stand to hear all that talk about giving gold away and wanting
nothing more than what one already has." Merry stood
and walked over to the night-stand, where he picked up
the pretty little glass with its pink gems all around the
rim. "By the way, Frodo, what is this? We found you
gripping it for dear life."
"Oh, that. It's a magnifying glass--a gift from my
little sister, May. Her most prized possession, in
fact." He laughed. "I think she believes it
will bring me luck."
Merry tossed it up and caught it again. "It might at
that. Wights--and other evil things--lose power in the
presence of anything freely given out of love." He
handed it to Frodo. "I suggest you keep it with you
at all times, lad." Then he walked back to the
window again, leaning on the round sill, an anxious look
deepening the lines in his brow.
Frodo lay back on his pillows and studied the little lens
sparkling in the bright sun, smiling despite himself.
"That other Frodo went into Mordor with the Phial of
Galadriel, full of magical water and the light of a
sacred star--and you're sending me there with a child's
toy!" He kissed the rim. "Not that I'm
complaining. Dear little May! I wonder if she knew?"
Merry smiled briefly, saying, "I'm sure she did, on
some level--the girl has inherited her father's wise
heart." But the smile soon passed. Frodo had never
seen Merry look so little like his nickname. Frodo shot a quick glance at his father, but Sam shook his head so slightly that only another Gamgee could have caught it. For a long while the three of them had nothing more to say. Frodo just lay there and soaked in warmth and life, glad to have no further demands for the moment.
At last, however, he had to ask one question that troubled him
the most. "Why did the wight look like you, Uncle
Merry didn't reply at first, but bit his nails a moment
staring out the window. Then he moved to the fire and
stared at it awhile instead. "It's the
pipeweed," he said at last.
"Huh?" said Sam, as Frodo asked, "Wights
"No," said Merry, "But the men of Rohan
do--now. I've taught them to like it." He paced the
room again. "I thought no harm of it, at first, and
they became our best customers. The whole Shire has
profited--you, Sam, with your Longbottom holdings, Pippen
with the Took pipeweed fields in the Southfarthing--we've
all done very well by Rohan's new desire for smoke."
"So what's wrong with that?" Sam asked.
"What's wrong is that Rohan isn't full of hobbits.
I'm starting to wonder if pipeweed might affect men
differently. You hear things in the import/export trade
that you don't catch wind of otherwise. Oh, I'm sure it's
harmless enough for Ol' Strider, and Numenoreans like
him--they've got constitutions nearly as sturdy as ours.
And the men of Bree seem to take no hurt from it, either
(Gandalf hinted once that they might be closer kin to
hobbits than anybody realized.) But the men of Rohan, and
Dunland, and Dale get coughs when they've been smoking
for awhile. And if they keep on smoking, I hear, they get
sickly, and some of them die young."
Frodo said, "Why, that's horrible! So why do they
keep buying it from us, if it does them no good?"
Merry said, "I don't understand it myself, but once
somebody starts to smoke, it gets harder and harder to
stop. Even the proud wizard Saruman found himself begging
for a little leaf--and he didn't want to admit that he
smoked at all! Sam, you know how awful it feels when
you're stuck out in the middle of the wilds and your
pouch runs out."
"I dunno, Merry--I quit some years back. I just
sorta lost interest."
Merry stepped over to him and lifted the jewel on its
chain from his breast. "Yes. I remember the year
that you quit. And I remember when our old friend Frodo
'lost interest', too."
Sam pulled the gem back. "Are you trying to say that
pipeweed--plain ol' pipeweed!--has some kind of ringlike
"Like I said, I don't quite understand. I haven't
put together all the pieces yet. But that wight taking my
form last night tells me something--warns me."
"Warns you of what?"
"That I haven't wanted to put all the pieces
together." Merry gestured about at all the foreign
furnishings. "I've tripled the Brandybuck fortune on
pipeweed exports, more than any other harvest in The
Shire--and all I had to do was hurt my friends. Isn't
that enough to help a wight borrow my face?"
"You had no idea, Merry. You still don't know for
"I suspected. Now I have to set things straight
Sam sighed and poured himself some tea. "There'll be
hell to pay, you know," he said after a sip.
"You're not the only one turnin' a tidy profit off
of Rohan's smokes."
"And as Mayor, Sam, you'll have your hands full if
we do have to cut back the trade." He grinned
suddenly. "Sure you wouldn't rather fight another
bout with Shelob?"
Sam grinned back. "Now that's putting it in
perspective!" He finished his tea in one gulp.
"Anyway, I can't battle back angry hoards of
pipeweed farmers with a sword like I did her, since
Sting's going south with Frodo."
Merry said, "And so am I, come to think of it."
Frodo sat back up again at that. "What? Really?
You're going with me? How wonderful!"
"Easy, young fella. I'm not going all the way--just
to Rohan, to meet with King Eomer and tell him my
concerns. But it means your road and mine will match for
Sam said, "You know, Merry, that wight warned us of
more than a problem with pipeweed." He leaned
forward, his face grim. "You and me, we pride
ourselves on our parts in smacking down the hornet's nest
and destroying the hornet-king. But we've still got a
whole lot of hornets unaccounted for, roaming around,
trying to find themselves new nests. Maybe they're less
strong than in our day, but they're wilder--under
nobody's control. In the old days we could kind of figure
out a bad thing's moves by where it all fit in the Dark
Lord's plans. Now we don't know what to think."
Merry said, "Then we'll just have to figure it out
as we go."
"You will--I've got my hands full with The Shire.
And I promised Rosie I'd come straight home from Bree,
however the business there might go. But Merry," and
here he clasped his friend's strong hand. "I can't
tell you how grateful I am to know that you'll be riding
by my son's side."
"For a little while," said Merry, as Frodo
thought "Riding!" and suppressed a groan. Only
much later did it dawn on him that neither of his elders
even pretended to doubt how he'd answer the King's