From the Ashes a Fire Shall be Woken
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 33, Part 280
Son of the Shire
Few recognized the hobbit who rode in late that September afternoon, down through the center of Bywater, across the bridge into Hobbiton, under the golden trees. His build had thickened with labor and prosperity; no longer did he resemble a youth so slender that he hardly looked a proper hobbit. Farming had broadened and hardened his hands and back and feet, and left his sun-browned features somewhat coarser than remembered; certainly harsh weathers had eroded deep creases into his face beyond his years, and a streak of silver shone within his curls. In certain lights one could see fine, pale lines enmeshing his face, and one could more easily notice other scars wherever clothes revealed them, twisting across a hand, slashed across the sole of a foot, rippling over a calf–and that didn’t even count the strange design that peeped through the neck of his chemise, seemingly drawn into his very skin, of some strange, thorny plant in bloom. Yet most remarked upon his eyes, and the fire locked within them, and the distance in his gaze even when he stared at you up close. He had the look of one who has conversed with demons and with angels both, and can never be the same.
A gray-eyed, sandy-haired wife rode beside him, missing one front tooth, just as weathered as himself (The lines of her face hinted at old sorrows long since passed to joy) yet radiating a certain beauty that had nothing to do with her features--the beauty that glows from someone loved, the soul polished daily in kind words and gentle touches. She rode well, easier in the saddle than he did, in fact, even though her roundness showed her ripening with child. One of the hands upon the rein showed a slightly crooked finger. She bore the strap of a harp-case over one shoulder, and an elderly monkey rode the other.
A sleek, black hound loped beside them, not much smaller than the desert asses that they rode. Though not so young, herself, she frisked like a puppy to see so rich a land, and dashed ahead of them repeatedly, crashing through the drifts of leaves, eagerly sniffing after brand new smells, only to come back again and again to her master’s side. The size of her occasioned enough remark for people to stop their work and eye the couple, and when they saw the monkey, and the fact that the steeds were not ponies after all, hobbits began to line the streets. Yet no one dared to question the strangers, not with that hard look about them. Especially when they noticed that he wore a sword, and she two curving daggers.
The female slipped her harp free of its case and began to strum. Calm notes filled the air. People sighed and muscles relaxed. Then folks looked about themselves and wondered why they’d left their chores right in the middle. One by one they turned back to their lives, and the couple rode on down the street, alone once more.
Before long, when nobody saw them, they left the road behind entirely, to venture a short-cut that few remembered anymore. In no time at all they approached Bag End from the back way, past the Mallorn, then past the field around it, their donkeys stepping carefully through the gardens. The man-hobbit smiled sadly at the chicken coop and the compost heap beside it, stopping the ass for a moment, and then riding on, passing over a low place in the hedge and coming around to the door, where they dismounted.
His mother already awaited him, drying off her hands upon her apron. Sometimes mothers know things without anybody telling them. She gazed up keenly into those remarkable eyes (which had grown still more fiery as they turned red, the firm jaw trembling suddenly.) “You look more like your father than I ever thought possible, Frodo-Lad,” she said, then burst into tears, her face wrinkling up around her emotions like an old dried apple as she rushed forward and clutched him to her, sobbing on that broad, strong chest, his arms hard and full of love around her as he sobbed right back, resting his cheek upon her curly old head.
She pulled herself away long enough to shout, “Sam! Sam! Your son’s come home--your eldest son! And he’s brought his wife, and she's got your grandchild in her!” Rose reached up to Frodo's cheek, wet under her fingers. “You’ve grown tall, my son--but not as tall as I feared. That’s all right. Nothing wrong with that. And you...” She turned to the daughter-in-law that she had never met before, grasping the hands of the blushing lady, stepping aside just in time to make room for Sam Gardner to run up and wallop Frodo with the biggest lung-crushing hug of his life. “Tell me all about yourself, dearie.”
No one saw the couple at Bag End afterwards for the rest of the day, for Sam knew well how travelers crave rest. Yet messages went out by the swiftest post, and Primrose and Ruby, who still lived at home, went back and forth with baskets on their arms throughout the market square, visiting the green-grocer, the butcher-shop, the spice-merchant, and of course the bakery by the mill, while their mother gathered from her own orchards and gardens whatever seemed most fresh and good. Within hours a fragrance wafted from Bag End that made all of Hobbiton and Bywater sigh for the feast that sizzled in the making.
On the very next day horses and carriages converged upon the hole. Merry the Miller arrived on foot before all others, living only a step away as he did, bringing a great, circle-spiraling loaf that would not have fit through a human door, though Bag End’s round one could take it in. His wife, Meg, soon followed, with little baby Mirry in her arms (Míryave, for her formal name.) Bilbo Gardner walked in shortly afterwards, released early from his apprenticeship at Grubb, Grubb, and Burrows. Soon Tom Gardner arrived, from his own apprenticeship over at the Proudfoot ranch, riding confidently without saddle or bridle, and with him rode his brother Hamfast (on a saddled pony) from the long-neglected yet large and promising farm that their father had recently bought for him, in trust that Hamfast had what it took to bring it back to life.
Then, from further afield, came The Took and his family, including their latest addition, Sam’s daughter Goldilocks newly wed to Peregrin’s son Faramir. The Took’s namesake, Pippin Gardner, rode up soon afterwards, hastening from his academy in Michel Delving. The Bunces arrived next, Rose and Bosco, bringing with them tablecloths, napkins, and placemats, all embroidered on a harvest theme. Daisy, who had been staying with them and studying their trade, rode beside them, strumming on her mandolin and singing softly.
Robin took a long time to arrive, as he served his apprenticeship as a roper up in Tighfield. The Master of Brandy Hall came later still at twilight, and along with his wife and sons and daughters came also his cousins Fredegar and Bleoboris, not to mention the ever-fascinating Ilberic and Hyacinth Brandybuck, and their lively family, too. Bran Maggot and his household had joined them early on as well, making the party large indeed. Last of all, the Fairbairns reached the well-lit and by now noisy hole, singing in the night as they rode.
The mallorn rustled in a wind that none could feel. The rustle passed on, through other starlit trees, miles to the east, if anybody had noticed, to eventually ripple into the Old Forest itself. Some near the High Hay heard a song trill forth, like a nightengale, full of elation, though it had no words.
The neighbors said that the merrymaking lasted all night long, and at dawn the entire party woke up sensible folks by venturing out under the Mallorn tree and singing up the sun. But who can you complain to when the Mayor decides to disturb the peace? Things quieted down soon after that, though, until late afternoon, when the talk and singing started up again. Yet before that Frodo Gardner took his wife for a stroll about the grounds while the others slept.
“This used to be the home of the Bagginses who are no more,” he said to Mattie. “And yet it is ours, too, and has never fallen into unfamiliar hands. I was born here, Mattie, and I want Holdfast born here, and I expect now that I shall die here, eventually. My father gardened this land before he inherited it, and his father before him. The nearby cemetery is full of Gammidges and Cottons, Greenhands and Goodchilds, going back to before the Bagginses ever dug this hole. Our roots sink deep in this soil--this is home.” He blinked, surprised at himself as he said it. “So why do I feel split, my love? Why does part of me miss the scent of kaktushes in bloom, or even the distant howl of wargs upon the wind?”
She kissed him, gently, on the cheek. “Because you have too great a heart for one land only. Why do you think the King has two palaces, in two far-distant realms?”
“Yet he can travel from one to the other whenever he feels moved to do so. I am exiled, Mattie. I have come home, yet can never go home again.”
He felt a calloused hand, gentle upon his back. “It may surprise you how much I understand,” said a gruff voice not his wife’s.
He turned. “Papa? I’m sorry–did I wake you?”
“I sleep lightly these days; think nothing of it. But Mordor was your Bill–I can understand that.”
“Bill? Some sort of debt, you mean?”
“I mean Bill the Pony. You know, I nursed that misused animal up from bones and misery to glossy health and happiness. I loved that horse, Frodo, and wept when he finally died. You can’t nurse back any creature like that without nourishing it on your heart itself. You become one with it. I expect it was the same for you with Mordor.”
“Oh, Papa, you have no idea!”
“Some idea,” Sam said with a smile. “I do have a reputation for knowing a few queer things.”
Frodo stared keenly at him with watering eyes. “No, after all, I do believe you. You, of all people, who should understand the least, after all that Mordor did to you, grasp my love for her the best of all.”
Sam squeezed his son’s shoulders with rough affection. “Don’t worry, lad; you cannot always be torn in two, as your namesake once told me. You’ve got to do your living here and now, with all the joy and fullness in you. You’ll have a child to raise, now, and gardening to do, and classes to teach in all of the things you know about the good, green earth. Indeed, men will flock to Bree whenever you ride out there for a lecture, to learn what they can about coaxing life to spring up in the barren places. Mordor will always be a part of you, as it is, in a different way, a part of me. It has helped to make you who you are. But it made you for this hour, and this place. Now it has become a part of your foundation, and you must build upon it here.”
In a day or two the carriages, carts and horses all departed. Things settled down back to normal, inasmuch as anyone could ever call anything about Bag End normal. The neighbors often saw Sam and his son Frodo, toiling together in the fields, or Frodo without his father whenever the Mayor had courthouse-business to attend.
Frodo never joined his father or his brothers in the Green Dragon, however, spending his evenings instead in a tea-shop soon opened by his wife, where she sang for the customers in a voice surprisingly deep and rich, and his kinsmen sometimes met him there. Others converged on the shop as well, even if they had no taste for tea, for who would want to miss out on hearing what some folks called the greatest of all hobbit bards?
Soon word spread about the countryside that if anyone had trouble in the fields, poor yield or blight or bugs, or trees that would not set fruit, or weather not agreeable to what they’d planted, Frodo Gardner was the one to call upon to set things right. In no time at all people got used to him coming around at every corner of the lands of hobbits, from the Tower Hills to the farthest reach of Bree, helping whoever needed his advice and his work-thick hands.
And if he sometimes muttered as though in conversation with no one visible to their eyes, or stopped and stared at horrors that no on else could guess, or laughed out loud without reason, they did not blame him for it. What can you expect of a hobbit called to adventure for years and years at the King’s behest? And if they happened to live near the borders of the Shire when they thought of this, they would stare out at whatever hills or fields lay beyond, and shudder.
What mattered, here even as by the Sea of Nurnen, was that he pulled his weight. And crazy or sane, Frodo Gardner made the Shire a better place. Folks liked him well enough, if from a bit of a distance. Hey, they’d allow as they might even buy him a beer if he ever set foot in a tavern. They all would, they agreed. If he ever did. But he didn’t, and after awhile they stopped questioning it.
And then, one night before the autumn had quite reached its end, Frodo woke up from a startling dream, and found that willow leaves had blown in through the window all across his coverlet, though no such tree grew near...