The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

Volume II
Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 5, Part 35
Traveling To Minas Tirith

"Dear Mama and Papa,
"See? I couldn't hardly wait to write to you again. I got your letter as soon as I reached Meduseld (which I gather you've figured out for yourself.) It broke my heart to hear how much you worrited for me! Papa, how in the world did you expect to find me without sleep to freshen your eyes? Don't you ever do that again for me, please! I know--it's no use telling you any such thing, no more than my namesake could sneak away from your worriting over him, not even by boat. All the same, and contradicting myself, it comforts me to know that I have a family that cares so much about my well-being. But please relax--I'll travel by safe and well-known roads from here on out. Mama, your son won't end up dying in a ditch somewhere--I promise.
"Mama, I am so sorry that I completely forgot your birthday! I had so much else on my mind, as I think you've seen. But that's no excuse, of course. I owe you an apology. And an apology-present, too, naturally. I'll keep an eye out for something suitable."
(Here Frodo described their reception at Meduseld, and his departure, then moved on to account for the succeeding days.)
"November 23,1451--What a difference it makes to travel on a proper road! I never have any question as to where to turn next--it's all laid out straight before me. Sure, other paths turn off of this one, but there's no mistaking the broad, straight way to Gondor. Billie-Lass likes to wander to the sides now and then after grass, so much that I sometimes have to remind her that I brought her here to ride her, not to graze her! But don't worry, Papa--I'm treating Bill's granddaughter with the proper care and respect that she deserves.
"Besides, every night she gets a clean, warm stable and fodder aplenty for the glutton that she is. The Rohirrim have established small settlements along the way at about the interval it takes to make a reasonable day's ride. The two I've seen so far have both featured simple one-story inns of sod that remind me of rather primitive hobbit-holes, but snug enough within, built along two sides of a courtyard with a well in the middle, spilling into troughs for horses, and a stable across on the third side. Somewhere in each settlement (so I hear) you will likely find a smith, a leatherworker, a tailor, and a healer of men and beasts. (The smith in last night's village was a woman with shoulders the size of a hobbit's belly. I'd hate to come home to her for a wife after gambling away the milk money!) Then there's shops selling the various incidentals that a traveler might lose or run out of along the way, plus small mementos of the journey of no great usefulness but light and portable enough for it not to matter, and finally food of the sort you can eat in the saddle at midday...till you reach the next inn."
"November 24, 1451--I'm going back to three meals a day, Mama. I'm all healed, now, and it'd be a shame to eat hobbit-meals in Mordor where people starve. Who knows what I'll find when I get there? Not that any self-respecting hobbit, least of all a Gamgee, would find it hard to cut back on such plain fare as the Rohirrim serve--it sure can't stand up to home cooking, Mama, on tiptoe and a bench! I should have my belt nicely tightened before I reach the better cooks of Gondor.
"In the hopes that you'll forgive me, Mama, I've bought you a lovely blue scarf embroidered with roses like only the women of Rohan can sew--it's so fine that I can fold it quite flat and put it right in with this letter. You will note that it's that light greenish blue that you favor, which suits redheads well--I still remember the time when Papa got you a dark blue mantle that you said made you look like a sleep-starved barrow-wight. I hope you like this better."
"November 25, 1451–I must say, I don't lack for company on the road to Minas Tirith! I meet men for the most part, with occasional parties of dwarves, and now and then I even see the odd hobbit traveling for Brandybuck Mercantile. All kinds of men, not just Rohirrim and Dunlendings, but people from all over Gondor, Arnor, Dale, and parts south and east. I've gotten to recognize Nurnings--they're the lean ones with a wary look about them, always eating alone, hunched over their soup like they expect someone to snatch it away from them. And they're always northbound. I've tried to strike up conversations with them, you know, get some idea of the land and people I'm headed for, but they answer in as few words as they can and soon excuse themselves. I reckon they don't want to even think about what they've left behind.
"On the other hand, it's always jolly when I meet another hobbit, but the night invariably ends with me alone in a room too big for me, thinking about the Shire and wishing I was home. I don't feel that way most of the time, mind you! I've only met a few hobbits, actually. But they remind me of all the jokes and banter that mean something only to our sort, and all the same familiar landmarks. I keep wishing that one of these hobbits will go south and share the road with me awhile, but so far they've all been heading north."
"November 26, 1451– The inns seem pretty consistent every night so far. Building materials differ now and then; they've got forest nearby tonight, so this one's made of logs. And there's some variation as to where they put the well and the outhouses--enough to confuse you if you wake up in the middle of the night in need of one or the other. But most of them keep to the same U shape, though the opening faces different ways, according to prevailing winds, so as not to let cold air and debris blow in. I've almost gotten into the habit of thinking of home as U-shaped and above-ground. But not quite."
"November 27, 1451– The country gets hillier the further I go, but Billie-Lass seems quite up to handling the slopes. I do believe she feels a mite competitive with all the great horses she sees on the road. She tends to pick up her heels a bit every time some splendid steed passes us by, I notice. She's got a lot of spirit in her little heart. Sometimes I wonder if she would've stood her ground before the gates of Moria when you battled that dreadful water-thingy, Papa--no offence to her grandsire, but she's got a lot of feistiness in her mix, and she never had a Bill Ferny to beat it out of her.
"In any case, travel does seem to agree with her--plenty of exercise, new sights, and a rich and varied diet, both wild and domestic. She's twice the pony she was when we started, and I mean in more than girth. She may get a grumpy look on her now and then (and haven't all the descendants of Bill been expressive ones!) but on the whole she seems to be having the time of her life out here! You would smile to see the bounce in her step and the way she looks about."
"November 28, 1451--As I travel I see more farmland and less pasture, though you'd think with the change of terrain it'd be the other way around. Very pleasant countryside, all the same. Sometimes I feel almost like I've come home, except that I have shrunk. I do find it a bit alarming, on occasion, to see a lovely little village on the horizon, growing as I near it, just like you'd expect, except that it then keeps right on growing till it towers all around me--and then the village still tries to act all homey and cozy-like! Sometimes I feel like I ride in a dream, like none of this can be real.
"And then I reach the local inn, and it all gets so familiar that the little differences become all the more disorienting. More and more I see the same faces at the inns--people southbound like I am. They usually pass me by on the road, on account of Billie-Lass's shorter legs, but sooner or later we all wind up together at the next inn every night, anyway. Some of them have begun to grumble about pipeweed selling dear and running short, but they haven't yet learned why."
"November 29, 1451--The King's post passed me by today, galloping down the road. Imagine my shock when I saw that the rider was a young and rather scrawny hobbit! And on the biggest horse you ever saw, too! Later at this inn I learned that all the post-riders are hobbits out of Bree, usually younger sons of big families, earning money through a few years hard work to buy themselves a bit of land. And hard work it must be, too, to ride like that! They must change horses frequently; maybe some of the ranches along the way are for them. The masters of the post, they say, prefer our kind because the horses hardly feel a young hobbit's weight at all, and run the faster for it. Bleoboris could not keep up such a pace, surely! Then again, I don't think even a full-sized horse would find his weight negligible. But seeing how swiftly the messengers ride around here does give me hope that I will see another letter from you by the time I reach Gondor--now that you know for certain where to mail it next!"
"November 30, 1451–I find that your best bet in these inns is to order the soup of the day. All other traveler's fare becomes tedious and heavy after awhile (human beings must be the boringest cooks alive!) but you never know what you'll get with the soup, except for certain something creative, and usually somehow light and satisfying at the same time, chock full of nourishment and flavor. Besides, it's always the cheapest thing on the menu. True, once in awhile you get something unpalatable; I would just as soon forget the cream of turnip soup I had last night. But I'll gamble on soup any day, for often the cooks serve something scrumptious like the vegetable/mutton stew I'm enjoying even as I write. At any rate, I'd rather have cream of turnip soup, even, than have to cook for myself for awhile."
"December 1, 1451–I stopped at an inn made all of granite blocks, because the ground gets stonier as it rises towards the mountains. I found the common-room almost full of a party of northbound dwarves, headed for Aglarond. It saddens me to say that I couldn't find a young one in the lot. I know dwarves have their faults and all, but a world without Durin's folk would lack a certain sparkle, not to mention pride of craft."
"December 2, 1451--Happy birthday, Merry! My brother, I mean, not Papa's friend. You know that, of course. Have a slice of cake for me--that will be present enough, to think of you enjoying good cheer. I could use some cheer myself, little brother--I really miss my family. Especially when I hear bad news like you don't get in the Shire--at least not in my day.
"Today soldiers of Gondor galloped past me, headed north as swift as storms, their black cloaks flying behind. Only at the Inn did I learn why. Rioting Rohirrim had attacked one of the King's messengers--one of those post-riders I told you about--because he was a hobbit and yet brought them no pipeweed beyond his own small pouch tossed to the mob. After that news, and the announcement that the Shire wasn't going to sell any more pipeweed to Rohan, everyone kept staring at me all through dinner. I finally stood up and announced, 'I don't smoke. I don't even have a single pouch of the leaf. I have a little red-bark spice from Far Harad, if anyone wants that.' People turned away, ashamed of themselves, so I finished my meal in peace and then turned in. I suppose some stared from sympathy or curiosity and meant no harm. But others chilled my heart just looking into their eyes. And some of these share the southbound road with me."
"December 5, 1451--My way climbs steadily now, and has for some days, actually. But today I've ridden high enough to feel snowflakes on my face, and see them sparkle all about me, whirling in the air. Not much of a snow; it melts as soon as it hits the ground, but enough to delight me with the promise that Yule is on the way. It's a pity that men celebrate only one day of Yule, but I'm sure that I can make the most of it.
"I found the mittens in my pack that you two must have tucked in there for me, rolled up with the long johns. Thank you. My hands feel warmer on the reins, now."
"December 6, 1451--This is so embarrassing, but I just have to write it down, so I can sort it all out. I suppose I brought everything on myself, and I don't like telling you about it one bit, but I like not talking about it even less, if that makes sense.
"I went into this inn, see, just thinking to grab me a meal and get some rest, when this young human woman saw me. A pretty thing, too, I must confess, lots of chestnut curls and rosy cheeks, and okay, I'm not a child--she had nice, soft curves, not all scrawny like you see in humankind too often. I mean, I'm a good, decent person, but I'm not blind. Anyway, she seemed to take a liking to me, and ate beside me at table, and bought me drinks, and so I had to buy her drinks to be polite, and next thing you know she has her arm around me and she's playing with my curls and I don't mind a bit. Truth is, I never got so much attention from a maiden in my entire life! It's just that I'm a long way from home and family, and everybody needs a little affection some time and in some way, don't they? So long as I behave myself, of course. And she really felt so soft, to nestle in beside her under her arm like that.
"But then the woman invited me to sit in her lap and I could just feel my face burn when I said I didn't think so, but she wouldn't take no for an answer--she laughed and tried to pull me up onto her lap right there in front of everybody! So I jumped up in alarm, and the whole bench fell with a loud crash with her sprawling to the floor and my cushions flying halfway across the room, and when I flailed to the table to keep my balance my elbow hit my mug and spilled it all over the floor--so there's everybody staring at me and I feel like a fool--no, worse than a fool. I can't tell you how much worse. I said to her, "I think you have mistaken me for a doll, Madam. I am not a doll." And I stalked off, with as much dignity as I could still muster.
"But I couldn't go to bed just yet; the innkeeper hollared me back to pay my tab, so that ruined my grand exit--I had to go back to pay, and feel all those people staring at me some more, and only then could I escape. And then, after paying extra for hot water and scrubbing myself till I hardly had any skin left, I lay a long time in bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking how that woman could just let herself go like that with me only because she didn't actually think of me as real, like I had come into existence simply for her to play with and nothing she did with me mattered. I must remember, from here on out, that I am not among hobbits. I just hope to heaven that that woman's northbound!"
"December 7, 1451--Today I didn't reach shelter till all the other southbound travelers had already eaten supper, for which I feel grateful. I had gotten a late start because I looked for a barber before leaving the last settlement, but found none. I should have known--nobody cuts their hair in Rohan unless they get lice, and then they just shave it all off. I finally had to trim my own hair the best I could , looking in a mirror while the innkeeper's daughter held another mirror behind me. She added her two bit's worth every time I made a wrong snip, till she finally took over when she figured out what I wanted, and a businesslike job she made of it, too. My hair had gown out way too long in Treegarth, and although men in these parts wear it down past their shoulders, I didn't quite feel like a proper hobbit that way. Now I feel better--more respectable--even if my neck does feel a bit chilly, especially with snow now lying on the ground."
"I am not sure at this point whether I am officially in Gondor yet or still in Rohan. I think that technically it might be Gondor, because I crossed a ford which I seem to remember marks the boundary (Billie-Lass's hooves went right through the skin of ice upon it and she was none too thrilled) and later I passed some crumbling old battlements, but only youths in training manned them. But I still meet a lot of Rohirrim on the road. The further I travel the woodsier it gets, if that is any clue. But not quite like the woods of home. Here you see mostly pine--and not the straight, tall pines you'd expect, but twisty, curving low to the ground , swirled into the most fantastical of shapes. I had completely forgotten this part of our journey, how strangely the trees grow on the mountainside. But then, as I recall, I had eyes only for the Pukel-Men. The old stone carvings still do crop up at every bend of the road. They look so sad, eyes hollowed by the years, still lingering after men forgot their history."
"December 8, 1451--You know those men who had been daily riding ahead of Billie-Lass only to meet us again at the next inn? Well, one of them, a big blonde fellow, dropped back a bit and rode alongside me today. He acted quite friendly at first, trading riddles as we traveled; the Rohirrim seem to like riddles as much as hobbits do. But then, oh so casually, he asked me if I had anything to smoke. I told him that I'd had none the last time anybody asked and had not obtained any since. He chuckled oddly and said that he understood perfectly why I would say such a thing in an inn full of strangers so much bigger than myself, but really, just between him and me, did I happen to have any pipeweed I could share? He seemed to think that I must smoke in secret every day, after the faster horses pass me by. I swore that I did not. Then he told me that little people would do well not to lie to those bigger than them, and that nobody liked greedy little goblins who didn't want to share. I put my hand on Sting at that point and asked him if he'd ever heard of my father. When he inquired I told him your name, and said that while I didn't know how I'd have fared against The Dark Lord, personally, a brigand on the road seemed well within my measure, and that he shouldn't make the mistakes that trolls before him had, of underestimating hobbits for our size. (You have no idea, Papa, how terrified I was that he might call my bluff, but what else could I do?) It worked, because he rode on then, but not before grumbling that he'd seen sons of heroes before who didn't measure up to their father's deeds.
"Now, here at the inn, I find him again, glowering across the room with several of his mates about him. I shouldn't worry too much; I shall reach Minas Tirith in a day or two. Even so, brigands do their worst in no-man's land like this, between the laws enforced by different countries--at least that's what the innkeeper warned me about, and I'd be a fool not to listen. The old taverner seems a kindly sort who means me well--he told his biggest lad to keep an eye on the table full of people watching me, and gave me the room next to his own as a precaution. All the same, I'm going to wear my mail from here on out. As a matter of fact, tonight I think I'll sleep in it."
(Scrawled afterthought) "This traveling all on my own is really getting old."
"December 9, 1451--I should reach Minas Tirith tomorrow, and I can't say I'm not glad to know it. This morning I got up before anybody else and did my sword-drill right there in the courtyard, stamping about in the snow while the cook fixed breakfast. Not much of a drill with nobody to spar against, but I could rehearse the basic positions and get my legs back into the hang of crab-walking. It startled the chickens some, me flashing Sting about unsheathed and all, and they put up a squawk that caused some heads to poke out of windows and blink at me; I didn't let it slow me down one bit. Matter of fact, as people began to rise and wander towards the common room for a bite to eat, I pulled off my mail and my shirt (though my breath clouded the cold air) and called for a basin of hot water to be delivered to my room to wash the sweat off, turning as needed so that all could see the big red scar on my arm and know that I am not without experience in battle. When the woman I'd met before (yes, she's southbound!) stared at the scar, I said I'd got it from an orc I slew. Her face lost some color; I don't suppose she expects dolls to behave that way, get into battles and all. Anyway, I scrubbed up and had breakfast while the others began to saddle up their horses. Nobody rode beside me all day long."

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