The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

Volume I
Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 24, Part 24
The Mystery of May

(November 1, 1451)

With barely a sliver of new moon in the sky, the night fell dark around one tiny bubble of light and warmth, within a vast expanse of rolling hills shivering with windswept grass. A silk pavilion stood there by the campfire, painted with deceptively merry designs from exotic lands, as horses and ponies huddled nearby. Within that pavillion, attended by his friend and captor, an unwell elf strove to rest despite the tumult in his soul, not helped by all the yelling just outside the thin cloth walls.
Merry raged at Frodo, "How dare you! How dare your family bring evil back into the Shire! What ever possessed your parents to pass off a child of Ted Sandyman's as a Gamgee?"
"She has nothing to do with him!" Frodo shouted back. "She's innocent!" Pleading, he cried, "She's my sister!"
"Oh, she is not your sister! You can stop that lie right now." Behind him Gimli poked a curious face out of the tent. "Did Sam and Rose ever adopt her legally? Is there--anywhere--a document signed by seven witnesses in red ink?"
"You know we wouldn't dare ask anyone to witness..."
"Exactly! Laws evolve for reasons, Frodo. There are some things a person shouldn't do--especially if you don't dare ask for witnesses." The firelight glinted like fury in the hobbit's eyes. "'She's innocent,' you say? If anyone can lack innocence from conception on, it would have to be May."
"What are you saying? She had nothing to do with whatever got Sandyman banished."
"You have no idea," Merry said slowly, sitting down on a blanket to take the weight off his foot. "And I can't properly explain it to you, because we have no word in the Shire for Ted Sandyman's crime." He glared up at Frodo, as the fire crackled and the night lay thick beyond its reach. "No hobbit ever did such a thing before, and I pray that none ever does again." Eowyn laid down the gear she'd been unpacking and joined them, a dark look in her eyes. "Sharkey's men had some word for it, which I am happy not to remember, for I hear that they laughed about it among themselves while that wicked fool, Ted, listened and got sick ideas into his head." He shook his head and glowered into the coals. "Frodo Senior always did say that Saruman ruined that hobbit somehow."
"That's all terrible, I'm sure" said Frodo the Younger, "but what does it have to do with our May?"
"Because Buttercup obviously never wanted anything to do with May--or, for that matter, Ted Sandyman," said Merry. Eowyn gasped.
Frodo asked, "Then how..."
"He fathered her in pain!" And anguish of his own creased Merry's face to say it. "Poor Buttercup's pain. We aren't even sure how he managed it--any normal hobbit would've become incapable at the first sign of his lover's distress. Lover--I can't even use that word where this...monstrosity is concerned."
"May is not a monstrosity! She is a little girl, and I love her!"
In a low voice Eowyn said, "Now I understand. When I tried to present her daughter to the handmaiden, she would only scream, over and over, 'Take it away! I never want to see it!' She could never tell me why--because she had no word for what had happened to her." Eowyn looked keenly at Merry. "In Rohan we do have a word for this crime--and we kill whomever commits it."
Those words brought Merry to his feet. "Hobbits don't kill hobbits," he said solemnly. "No matter what. Certainly not in the Shire." He looked vulnerable but dignified, leaning on his stick, favoring his bad ankle. "In a secret meeting some indeed advised that we should make an exception, just this one time, before anything so evil spread, but Sam advised against it, and he prevailed. He said we should never let the likes of Ted Sandyman drag us down lower than we'd be without him."
"What did you do, then?" asked Eowyn.
"We debated the whole night long, trying to decide; we had no precedent to go by. Some questioned whether such a crime could even happen," and then his voice grew tighter and harsher with every word, "but those of us who ran at Buttercup's screams and wrestled Sandyman down, those of us who found her cowering in that filthy corner of the mill, clutching the pitiful rags of her dress about her, we who witnessed to the bruises and the blood, and sent for a sheet to cover her so that we could take her from that place, we had no doubt in our minds whatsoever that Buttercup had never had a choice in the matter. And after we spoke, neither did anybody else."
With quiet ferocity Eowyn said, "Of course not."
"A few said to hold Sandyman overnight and release him in the morning, as you would a brawler. Then Molly the Herbwife stepped forward, into whose care we'd delivered the girl, and she testified that Sandyman had hurt Miss Klaefield far too deeply for that, and in more ways than the physical--this was no mere brawl." With troubled gaze he said, "Can't say I understand exactly--maybe nobody can understand. But Molly Burrows has a straight head on her shoulders; I've never known her to make anything a bigger deal than it was. If she says it's true, then I believe her."
"Wise of you," said Eowyn, and from the look in her eyes, Frodo felt that the Witch King of Angmar had been a fool to ever cross swords with her.
"We then discussed exile, but we didn't want to ruin improving relations with Bree by dumping our problem into their lap--perhaps to hurt other maidens as well. In the end, though, exile turned out the right solution after all--my way." The old warrior looked as grim as battle's ruin. "I had some say, after all, since the Klaefields are Bucklanders, in their origins at least, though they've scattered all throughout the Shire. So I got the privilege of punishment, and the rest were only too glad to give it to me. I dragged Ted Sandyman out through a secret gate that we Brandybucks have, into the Old Forest. I believe I've told you about that forest, Milady."
Eowyn nodded, eyes narrowing. "You have, indeed."
"He fought hysterically when he realized where we headed, but I am larger and stronger, and I had my way. I hope he felt as frightened as Buttercup had been; he looked nearly as wild, ragged and scratched bloody from throwing himself into the hedge again and again, trying to escape me. He called me a hypocrite, crying that I should slay him outright, instead of pretending to spare him only to thrust him out into certain death. I told him that his death was not so certain, so long as he cooperated fully with one he might meet in the Old Forest--if he was fortunate."
Suddenly Merry laughed, but harshly. "And, true enough, he did show up quite alive in Bree, five years later--with every hair on his head and feet turned white. He had become the most meticulously polite hobbit you ever did see, and nobody had any more trouble with him. He wouldn't even look at a female, big or little, nor stand anywhere close--he knew, oh did he know, that he had forfeited all feminine company for the rest of his days." Then Merry got the slyest look in his eyes. "And he had developed a strange fear of running water. He would not cross any creek or river, if he could help it, so of course milling became out of the question. Thus he became a tinker, traveling to whatever villages he could reach in Breeland without use of bridge or ford." Merry chuckled. "I do not think it was the Master, but rather the Mistress of the House of Bombadil who taught him his manners. And if that keeps him away from the Brandywine Bridge or the Bucklebury Ferry, that's fine with me."
"And Miss Klaefield?" Eowyn asked. "What became of her?"
"Oh, she went to live with relatives in a remote corner of the Northfarthing--as far away from Bag End as might be, I now see--and who can blame her? Who'd want to lay eyes on so ill-got a daughter?"
Frodo's hands clenched into fists so tight that they cramped. He caught Gimli watching him out of the corner of his eye. Abruptly the dwarf rose to his feet, and with a tinkling of mithril links, walked over to Merry and punched the hobbit square in the jaw. As Merry stared up from the ground in amazement, the dwarf said calmly, "I believe you maligned a lady in my presence, Master Brandybuck. May Gamgee had no part in any crime that happened before her birth."
Merry started to get up, but Gimli pushed him down again. Eowyn laid a hand on the dwarf's arm.
"Easy, my friend," she said. "His people have no understanding of these matters."
Gimli said, "Hobbits can be an ignorant and narrow-minded people--but I thought better of you, Merry Brandybuck. Sam at least knows the value of a daughter, however she might come into his house."
Merry sat on the ground and rubbed his jaw. "What am I supposed to understand about 'these matters'--that anything good could possibly come of them?"
Frodo said, "Can anything good come of Mordor? I'm going there to find out. If I can make Sauron's wasteland bloom, Merry, good can come of anything."
"So says the gardener," Merry replied. "But you must know that you can't plant weed-seeds and expect turnips."
"Kingsfoil was a weed, till we learned all it could do," said Frodo tensely to his elder. "A real gardener knows that a weed's just a plant in the wrong place. Maybe Ted Sandyman grew in the wrong place, but May's place is at Bag End--and I will not let you say otherwise!" His fists trembled at his side. "I will not let anyone say otherwise!"
Merry turned to Eowyn. "You say you know about these things--have you ever seen any good come of such a child?"
"Several times," she said as she knelt and laid a damp rag onto his bruise. "One of my dearest friends from childhood is half Dunlending, born of a raid. 'Twas her mother who urged my brother to share his sword-lessons with me. Yet she loved her daughter." Eowyn rose again. "The girl's full name, translated to the common tongue, means 'Flower sprung from...uh, compost.' I will not tell you her name in Rohirrish, in case you meet her. But she is, indeed, a flower in her sweetness and in the joy she brings to those who know her."
Merry looked unsure of himself. "I had no idea. I had no way of knowing." He looked up at Frodo. "Can you forgive me? Until this hour it never even occurred to me that a hobbit-child could arise from such violence--to learn that one exists came as a shock, and I could see no possibility but evil. I had never known of any so conceived except the Uruk-Hai." He reached a hand up to Frodo, but the younger hobbit just stood there.
Gimli said, "Go on, lad--you never know what forgiveness you might need someday."
Reluctantly Frodo reached out a hand. It stung when Merry clasped it; only then did he realize he had clenched his fists so tightly that the nails had drawn blood from his palms. Frodo helped his "Uncle" to his feet.
"You are only still my friend," he said, "so long as you tell no one what you know."
"Nobody but Estella," Merry said. "And I will see that she tells nobody but me. All else I agree to, but you cannot ask a husband to keep secrets from a wife."
"I'll be satisfied with that." But he did not feel satisfied in the least. Frodo wanted Uncle Merry to go on a long, long journey and never return to the Shire, so that nobody safe within their boundaries would ever question May's place at Bag End. He wanted to challenge his elder to a duel--and win. He wanted to sew Eowyn's lips shut. He wanted many things he'd never dare tell anyone.
Eowyn said, "I am the one who needs to apologize. My own indiscretion appalls me."
Frodo shrugged. "You didn't know. I suppose. At least you didn't say anything mean."
"I did not understand the reasons for Buttercup's reactions; I only saw a child with a dim future, if she could not find some advantage. I spoke to Queen Arwen, who brought the baby to the Royal Nursery. We intended to give her whatever toy she reached out for, and the lens caught May's eye."
Frodo said, "I remember all the commotion, too--all the sobs and screaming, so different from what Papa calls Mama's 'battle-cries' in giving birth. Afterwards I snuck into the nursery and peeked into the cradle, when nobody could catch me." Frodo half-laughed at himself. "I thought the child must've been born spectacularly deformed or something, and I was just a kid--I felt curious. Instead, I saw the prettiest little girl-baby I ever laid eyes on, looking up at me with big dark eyes, and I swore to her that I would love her, even if nobody else would." For a moment his face brightened. "I was the first person she ever smiled at, they tell me."
Eowyn said, "I know that your mother nursed both babes, when Buttercup asked for an herb to dry her breasts. But I thought Rose would take May to her other Klaefield relations back in the Shire."
Frodo shrugged and stared down at the way his toes dug uncomfortable lines in the dirt. "Maybe that was the original plan. But Mama got attached. And Papa got to thinking of the luck of it, both babies born on the same day, far from the gossips of the Shire--maybe they were meant to grow up like twins, in the same house. And if May's own mother didn't want her, why should any of the other Klaefields feel different? Buttercup herself agreed quickly to the plan--she'd just as soon nobody ever knew she'd had Ted's child, I suppose." Frodo sighed and looked up at them. "But Papa never told me good could come of a lie--I don't know why he took it in his head to think this one time would turn out different." Frodo gazed out beyond the fire into night, but what he saw was a nursery, nine years before, in Minas Tirith. "Maybe because May was such a lovely baby--and no child should ever go unloved. And what's one more in a family such as ours?"
Frodo found himself trembling, nearly as violently as Legolas before. Yet it was away from the fire that he stalked, not wanting any company. He found a green young tree just outside the ring of light, and leaned against it, face turned towards the dark. He wished he could be sure that this tale would end right here, that nobody else would ever find out, but somehow he knew he hadn't heard the last of it. Lies--Papa told him never trust in lies. Why in blazes did Papa have to break his own rule and trust May to something as flimsy as all that? Frodo struck the tree, but that did nobody any good.
Out beyond all his troubles, beyond the canopy of boughs, stars twinkled in the rifts between the clouds, way up in the sky, above the sea of grass--his father always took heart at seeing stars. Frodo thought of the immortal hand that strewed them in the heavens long ago, cast like sparkling seeds of hope. But what did Elbereth or any of the Valar understand about his little sister May, or fathers like Ted Sandyman? Far indeed lay Valinor from Middle-Earth. He wished Elbereth had strewn a few stars a little closer to home.
He heard a tinkling behind him. Gimli approached him, to the full extent of the chain. "Come back to the fire, lad," said the dwarf. "It's too cold a night to stand apart." Gimli uncorked his flask. "Besides,"he said, "you look like you could use a pull of this, yourself."
Frodo shrugged, and gave it a try. Not bad, in a dark, sweet way--dwarves didn't make their own brandy, but they knew where to buy the best.
"Now come," said Gimli, "Back into the warmth. You can sit with me."
Frodo nodded and returned, accepting another swallow as he hunkered down with Gimli between the fire and the tent. The tension in his chest began to unclench a little bit.
"We dwarves understand about children of the heart," said Gimli, "For most of us have no children of the flesh, and must adopt our heirs. My father spoke up for Bilbo once on the matter, you know."
"He did?"
"Yes, in Rivendell. Your namesake had vanished in the wild. Rivendell received reports that the Nazgul sought his life, and that Gandalf, who was supposed to be watching over him, had turned up missing, too. Elrond turned Rivendell upside down with all the messengers coming and going, searching out those few elves who could stand up to Black Riders--and you can imagine Bilbo was out of his mind with fear for the lad he'd raised." Gimli shuddered. "Think of it! To learn first about the Nazgul because they hunt the person you love most in all the world!"
"I hadn't thought of that," said Frodo, "how Bilbo Baggins would have taken it, I mean. I only paid attention to my namesake's side of the story."
"I can understand that, lad--in a child. But you've grown up, now, or close enough, and the time has come to hear the rest." Gimli took back the flask and sampled it. "Anyway, when Gandalf finally did ride in, he looked a complete wreck--filthy, haggard, and in rags. None of us knew, of course, that he had just escaped imprisonment in Orthanc, but anyone could tell that he had seen rough usage. But did he offer the slightest explanation to old friends? Of course not! He went straight to Elrond's private chamber without a word to anyone else."
Then Gimli chuckled, passing the flask back to Frodo. "Well, old Bilbo didn't get his reputation as a burglar for naught, and he still had a few tricks up his sleeve even without his ring. He snuck past the elven guards, relieving them of their keys along the way--oh, he was far too modest to attribute all his skill to that ring! He would have gotten away with eavesdropping on the entire conference, had he not gasped in horror in the middle of it."
"I gather Elrond was not pleased?"
"Oh, he was livid! Nobody had ever breached Master Elrond's security like that in three ages. (He was only slightly less surprised when your father pulled the exact same stunt within a matter of days, Frodo, but by then Elrond had some grasp of dealing with hobbits as more than houseguests.) We never knew that Rivendell even had a dungeon till Elrond threw poor Bilbo in it." Gimli shook his head, taking back the flask. "My father and I visited the old fellow down there, bringing a few choice treats from Bilbo's many friends in the kitchen. Not a bad place, as dungeons go," the dwarf reflected. "Comfortable, if rather plain by Rivendell standards." He sipped philosophically.
"The story," Frodo insisted, taking the flask from him. "You spoke for Bilbo..."
"Oh. Yes. Yes, Father took several dwarves with him--myself included--to lodge a formal plea for mercy on behalf of Bilbo Baggins. I still remember the speech he made." The dwarf gazed off into the realm of memory, his face ruddy with more than firelight. "He told Elrond that Bilbo had adopted Frodo, had raised him in his own home--Frodo was his son. And what would Master Elrond do for Elladan, or Elrohir, or Arwen Evenstar, in like peril? What would guards and locks mean to him--nay, trolls and dragons!"
Gimli smiled at the memory. "Elrond repented, naturally--who could have resisted my father's plea? So we all went down to the dungeons with him to see to Bilbo's release. And who did we find there ahead of us but Gandalf himself, sitting on a stool by the bars, filling the hobbit in on all of the conference that he'd missed! Of course the wizard knew a father's love when he saw it, never mind 'cousin' or 'uncle' or whatever the Shire wanted to call Bilbo. And of course Gandalf apologized for nothing, just raised one of those bushy eyebrows of his and said, 'Well, Master Elrond--I see that you have come to your senses.' What else could the Halfelven do but laugh, laugh hard enough to wake the dungeon bricks from their agelong gloom!" The dwarf chortled just remembering, and Frodo chuckled, himself. "Here, lad," Gimli said, reaching for the flask. "I think you've had enough of that."
"Especially since it's time for dinner," Merry said, coming up from behind.
"Fix it yourself!" Frodo snapped, jealously guarding the flask for one final swig. "And while you're at it, smoke yourself a pipe to sweeten your temper!"
"Ah, but this is sweeter still," said Merry, snatching the flask from him with a laugh.
"Easy now," said Gimli. "It is not bottomless, you know."
"I shall send you a barrel of Buckland's best," Merry said between swallows. "But I have some catching up to do."
Frodo rose with a snarl, but just as he was about to reach for Merry, Eowyn said, "Very well, then--I shall cook."
"No!" cried both hobbits plus Legolas, who'd heard everything from within the tent. Soon Merry, Frodo, and Legolas fumbled through the cooking gear, with Gimli in tow, the poor dwarf trying to follow conflicting instructions on how to help prepare the meal (when he wasn't simply getting in the way.) Some say that common peril can bring the bitterest enemies to an understanding; in this instance, at least, all argument vanished from their minds. In any case, the four of them did manage to cobble together something rather creative in the way of a meal, if not necessarily their best effort, with the help of just a wee bit more brandy to facilitate communication between the chefs, plus a splash into the stew or whatever you might call it, while Eowyn sat by and watched, giggling her heart out.
Frodo enjoyed every mouthful, actually, though he knew they'd never be able to reconstruct the recipe later. It at least gave him something to pay attention to other than the dreadful information that he hadn't wanted to learn. Finally he lay down his plate and leaned back on his elbows to regard the night, too weary for the moment to drag himself up to go to bed. He tried to think about Bilbo sneaking past elven guards, but he had never met Bilbo, or Elrond, or laid eyes on Rivendell. The mill by his home, on the other hand, he knew quite well, and that tale kept coming back to cloud his mind, no matter how he tried to hold it off.
Legolas, seeing the hobbit's scowl return, leaned over to him and in a soft voice said, "Have no fear, my friend. Mother-spells cannot work with an evil child--to what could they attach themselves?"
"Can there be such a thing as an evil child?" Frodo asked, staring up into the campfire's smoke.
Legolas shrugged. "Orc-spawn, I suppose."
Frodo felt a question forming in his mind...but then decided it must be the brandy, and went after his sleeping-gear.

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