West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

The Drunkard of Bag End
Frodo tries to drown his sorrows, but they can swim...
Author: jodancingtree
Rating: G
Category: Canon-Angst/Drama

 

1. Frodo

in which Frodo comes to his last hope

He didn't really believe it would help, but his anguish of mind was so overwhelming that he had to try it. It could hardly be worse, that was some comfort, and at least it would be a change.

Definitely a change -- he had never been one to get drunk. A bit merry sometimes, with friends at the Green Dragon in Bywater, or at the Golden Perch in the Eastfarthing, with Merry and Pippin. At the very beginning of his troubles, flying from Nazgul on their way to Crickhollow, Pippin had wanted to stop at the Golden Perch. He smiled at the memory, distracted from his misery.

Pippin, ah Pippin! Still not quite of age, but grown tall and shining, all flashing eyes and courage - when he could keep a straight face. He was a great one for laughter, was Pippin, and pranks that left his more straitlaced relatives in various degrees of apoplectic outrage. Frodo chortled inwardly, remembering some of those pranks.

Well, he was Captain Peregrin now, and cutting a wide swath through the fair lasses of the Shire, in company with his cousin Merry. No, Meriadoc the Magnificent, that was it. After everything they had suffered on the Quest, after leading the Shire in rebellion against Sharkey's ruffians, now they were known throughout the Four Farthings for their marvelous parties!

A truly fitting end to the story, for any hobbit. So what was wrong with him?

Bilbo had passed through any number of dangers, and come home to live sixty uneventful years at Bag End, enjoying his dragon's gold and his entirely justified reputation for eccentricity. Frodo had never had a more congenial companion than his elderly cousin - generous and kind and funny, but wise in the ways of the world and learned besides, a true scholar. A spasm of longing shook him for the old days at Bag End, reading Elvish poetry before the fire, with Bilbo in the other chair.

Why could he not settle down as Bilbo had done, turning thankfully away from danger and adventure, unless he found it inside the leather covers of a book? It hadn't been adventure anyway, the Quest. Not what he used to think of as adventure, when he was a lad sitting on the hearthrug (that hearthrug, right there, he reflected, looking at it. Some things never change). The stories Bilbo used to tell him were adventures, dangers that his uncle had lived through with stubborn courage and resourcefulness, and come out on the other side undamaged, as if he wiped the dirt from his hands after a job well-done.

That was the difference, right there. Frodo had not come out undamaged, far from it, and he wouldn't call it a job well-done, either. Quite the reverse.

He wished he knew Bilbo's secret. His uncle had lived sixty years with the terrible Ring chained in his breeches pocket, slipping it on his finger from time to time to escape unwanted visitors. Only at the end it had begun to wear on him, and even then he had been able to leave it with Gandalf and walk away. Leave it for Frodo. He wondered, only half humorously, if he would ever completely forgive Bilbo for that.

He rubbed his hands over his face, wearily, and the scarred gap of his missing finger came before his eyes. He groaned and put his hands in his pockets. Indeed he had not come home undamaged, but that was his own fault.

He might share a last name with Bilbo, and a love for Elvish poetry, but that was all. What Bilbo had endured for sixty years, had broken Frodo in a third of that time. Broken him utterly, mind and heart and will, until he had been enslaved to the Ring as surely as the dreadful Wraiths, for all he had still walked and breathed under the material sun. Or as much sun as ever shone in Mordor, he thought wryly.

Even now he was not free. The Ring was no more, and the Wraiths were extinguished, burnt out in the sulfurous air of Mordor, their long agony at an end, however much they might have deserved it. But he lingered here in the Shire, a thousand leagues from Mordor, maybe, but carrying its darkness in his own heart.

The Ring was gone, but the longing for it tore through him till he felt empty inside, like a marrowbone sucked dry. And Sam hovered over him, tender and worried, keeping him warm and dry and comfortable while Rosie in the kitchen wore herself out cooking every savory dish she could concoct, to tempt his appetite. The food all tasted like ashes in his mouth, though he smiled and praised it and choked it down. Not for a thousand Rings would he bring sorrow to these two, who loved him so. Left to himself, he would never eat again.

Left to himself, he would slip out some night when it was quiet and simply walk away, walk till he came to some high mountain or tower. He would climb and climb until he reached the top, panting for breath, his heart about to burst. And then he would throw himself away.

There, that was the Ring speaking, still speaking in his mind! Cowardice and self-destruction - that was the counsel of the Ring. Its gold was melted in the Crack of Doom, but its voice was etched forever into his soul.

Well, now he would try if he could silence that voice, at least for a little while. Sam and Rose had taken baby Elanor to Bywater for a day and a night, to celebrate old Cotton's birthday. Frodo had been invited, naturally, but had begged off as having a bit of a cold.

"I don't want to spread it around, Sam. There's nothing more uncomfortable than a summer cold, and the Cottons don't need it, with harvest coming on. I'll be better off at home this time. You'll give them my best regards, I know, and wish Farmer Cotton long life and joy on my behalf."

He had coughed a bit more vigorously than he really needed to, and Sam had been convinced, though still not happy with the situation. He'd gone out and killed a chicken, and Rosie had made soup, bending over the fire regardless of the hot summer day, sweat running in rivulets down the back of her neck. Chicken soup was the Shire's traditional remedy for sickness.

Everything I do brings suffering, whether little or great, Frodo thought miserably, watching her. He retreated to his study, but every word he wrote was in the wrong place and nothing hung together. Finally he flopped down on the green velvet settee, burying his face in a pillow and slipping into an unaccustomed nap, which was certain to spoil him for sleep tonight. The sleep was no loss anyway. His dreams were all nightmares now, and the nights brought him little rest.

When he awoke, the smial was quiet, the late afternoon sun striking through the western windows, and he went into the empty kitchen for the brandy bottle. There were beer tankards lined up on the kitchen dresser, but he had been brought up by Bilbo, and he rummaged through the cupboards until he found the brandy glasses.

He took bottle and glass back to his study. Something in him refused to sully Rosie's clean, bright kitchen with this night's work. Though if it brought him relief, he would do it again - again and again, until he was no fit company for Rose or any other decent lass, a drunken sot who lay insensible in the road. No, not in the road, Sam would never let him come to that.

He arranged a few more sticks on the fire - he seemed always to be cold these days, regardless of the weather - and sat before it with the brandy beside him on the table. He poured, filling the glass nearly to the brim - Bilbo would have been horrified.

"Just a little in the bottom, lad - you don't want to gulp brandy, that's not the point. Swirl it around, like this, and breathe that aroma! That's what you want from brandy, that and a little warmth to your heart on a chilly night."

But that wasn't what he wanted from it tonight. He put his feet up on the leather hassock and settled back to drink himself into oblivion.


####


The light struck on his eyeballs in a sunburst of pain and he dragged the coverlet over his face. Someone pulled it away from him and he groaned and squeezed his eyes shut, the light coming right through his eyelids anyway. An arm slipped under his shoulders, lifting him into some kind of sitting position, propped up against the pillows.

"There, Mr. Frodo, that should hold you. Wait a moment and that nasty dizziness will pass off." Sam's voice was gentle but inexorable. "I've got a bit of tea here when you're ready - no, not ordinary tea," he answered Frodo's moan, "it's a special mixture my mum used to give my brother Ham, when he'd made a bit too merry with his chums."

There was a dryness to Sam's tone that warned Frodo. "Not that I think you was making merry, exactly, if you take my meaning. That bottle was nigh full, Mr. Frodo, and there's not a drop left! It's a mercy you were sick, though it'll be a few days before your study is fit for you to work in, for all we cleaned it up good after we got you sorted, and the windows stood open all night. If you hadn't given a good part of it back to your carpet, you might not of woke up at all! Brandy's poison, don't you know that much?"

Frodo's head throbbed with exquisite agony, as if the pain had been concentrated from every part of him and focused in the little area above and behind his eyes. Sam's voice flowed over him like cool water, and he smiled slightly. How long since Sam had scolded him? Certainly not since Mordor; Sam's tender care for him since Mordor had been inexhaustible. As it was now still, of course - but the scolding was refreshing, like a bite of green apple after too much honey.

He opened his eyes just a slit and motioned for the cup in Sam's hand. Sam lifted him up a little more and held it to his lips and he drank, took a breath, and drank again. It tasted vile, like old boots boiled with nettles.

"That's enough for now, or it won't stay down." Sam laid him back against the pillows, brushing his sweaty hair out of his eyes. "How do you feel, Mr. Frodo?"

"Better." He didn't mind the pain in his head; it was easier to endure, by far, than the mental torture he had been suffering before -

"That's good. I'm that glad to hear it, and now tell me, if you can, what was the purpose of sending us off like that so as you could drink yourself into a stupor? For that was the reason you wouldn't go to Cottons', Mr. Frodo; it wasn't because of no summer cold! What did you want to go and do that for?"

"To feel better." He would say no more; he would not burden Sam with his torments. Sam had carried him already, further than anyone should have to carry another person. His anguish now was his own to bear. But even that was too much to say, for Sam knew the rest without being told. He sat down on the bed, his hands closing over Frodo's in a grip that hurt and comforted, both at the same time.

"Oh, my dear! But that ain't a solution, Mr. Frodo, not for more than once. That's as bad as the Ring, that is, for stealing you away from yourself, till you're not yourself at all anymore. You won't find your peace in the bottom of a bottle, not if you send to Rivendell and start belting down jugfuls of that miruvor Mr. Elrond gave to Gandalf."

Frodo started to chuckle and thought better of it. Sam held him up again as he retched, nothing but bitter yellow bile. When he was done, Sam eased him back and wiped his face with a damp cloth.

"You don't think it would be worth a try, Sam?" he whispered. "The miruvor? It was wonderful stuff, as I recall." His smile was shaky, but it was real.

"No, Mr. Frodo, I do not! I don't rightly understand what it is you're struggling with, but I can see you're in pain. Don't you think I watched you close enough all those months taking care of you, to know when you're suffering? But there's no lasting help for it in being drunk, so don't you go down that path. You'll have to find another way, Mr. Frodo. You go diving to the bottom of a bottle like that again, I'll break every bottle in the Bag End cellars, see if I don't!"

Frodo grinned, not daring another laugh, and Sam bathed his face and gave him sips of the horrible tea, as often as he could get it down, and at last he fell asleep again.

The next day he was well enough to come into the kitchen and take ordinary tea and dry toast, enthroned in a rocking chair close by the fire. The voice of the Ring in his mind was quiet, and for that alone he thought secretly that the brandy had been a success. In another couple of days the carpet in his study dried out, and Rosie filled vases with lavender and stood them around on every flat surface, so if the room smelled like a linen press, at least it no longer stank of vomit.

He had a week of respite, maybe two. Then it began again - nightmares when he slept, and when he was awake, evil fantasies that dragged him ever deeper into despair. If he had waking dreams of horror in broad daylight, were they day-mares? He shook the phantoms wearily out of his eyes, closed his mind to the Ring's dark whisper, and went back to his writing.

The book was nearly finished. He had begun it at Bilbo's behest, but it had become his passion. This one thing he could do, to tell the story of the Great Danger, so generations to come could read it and be warned. And who else was there to write it? Bilbo was too sleepy now, nodding by his little fire in Rivendell. Sam was busy with his new family and his labors around the Shire; Merry and Pippin were caught up in pleasure and parties, and no blame to them for that. They had done their part and more, and suffered grievously in the doing. Let them enjoy the rewards of all their pains.

That left him, Frodo, to fight off the encroaching shadows long enough to record the story. When the book was finished he could rest. When it was finished, he could go.

He could go - where? The Ring stirred in his mind and he rejected the voice angrily, his hand groping for the white jewel at his throat. Arwen's jewel.

He could go in Arwen's stead, to the Havens. He could pass into the West.

He had not forgotten her gift - and it was a gift beyond all reckoning: passage to the Undying Lands, where mortals could not go, and yet it was offered to him, Frodo Baggins! Offered in mercy, because the Quest had broken him. Arwen had seen that, when he was still hoping he would get over it, be himself again, did he but give the process enough time.

Even when his illness began, after they had returned to the Shire, he had not really considered accepting the proffered gift. The idea was too staggering, beyond any notion of reality. The Undying Lands? If he went there, would he be - immortal? Could the Elves - could even the Valar -- give him that? And would he want it, if they could?

He didn't think he would want it. Long life, good health, few tears and much cheer - the traditional birthday wishes of the Shire - he would take that gift and gladly, would someone only offer it to him!

"Do not expect me to wish you health and long life, for you will have neither," Saruman had told him mockingly. And it would seem that Saruman knew what he was talking about, even at the end.

But immortality was something else entirely, even in Elvenhome. Or perhaps especially there, for what in Ea would he do with himself? He had watched Bilbo reciting his bits of verse to the assembled Elves in Rivendell. In courtesy the Elves had listened, before they turned back to their own high poetry, as much like Bilbo's versifying as the sun is like a candle. Secretly he had blushed for his uncle - what was Bilbo but a source of gentle laughter to the Elves, like a clever child?

Bilbo must have been aware of their amusement, but he did not seem to mind. Frodo felt he would have sunk through the floor before he showed anything he had written to Elrond. To Elrond, or any Elf. It was one more way in which he was utterly unlike his uncle, and it was one reason he had not remained in Rivendell after the Quest, though he suspected Bilbo had been hoping he would.

One reason, but not the only one. The Shire was his home, and even in Gondor he had longed for it with a heart-hunger that was like a physical ache. When he got home at last and saw the depredations the ruffians had made there, it was as if they had inflicted those wounds, those indignities, on his very flesh.

His own cold rage had frightened him, those nights he lay in squalid Shirriff houses on the way to Hobbiton. While his companions slept he had lain awake in the dark, but the darkness in his own heart was far blacker. What would he not do to Lotho Sackville-Baggins, when he had him within his grasp -!

Merry and Pippin thought him so gentle. Had they been able to see into his mind during those nights, they would have drawn back in pained amazement.

Not until they came to the Green Dragon, and his companions had drawn sword in anger at the ruffian who sneered at him, had Frodo regained his senses, and then he had recoiled in horror at his own thirst for vengeance. Was this what he wanted, that hobbits should be proud and quick to violence, parrying insult with cold steel? Would they not finish with the ruffians and then turn their weapons on one another?

Had he not learned by now? Vengeance and murder gave birth to more of the same, till the land ran with blood and there was no mercy for anyone. It needed only this, to finish the destruction of the Shire.

If Lotho was guilty, Frodo knew he was far more guilty himself. By mercy alone he had been saved from his own wicked folly at the Crack of Doom. Who was he to pass judgment on another living soul? And what good would vengeance do, in the end? It would heal nothing.

But the Shire was healed now. There had been bloodshed, but less than there might have been, and if Pippin and Merry still carried their swords, they made much more use of their best dishes. Galadriel's little box of earth, spread across the Four Farthings by Sam's skillful hand, had blessed the land beyond imagining, and Frodo could wish no better future for his homeland than that which already was.

The Shire was healed, but he would not be. The night of drunkenness had bought him only a little respite, and Sam was right: it was no answer. There was not brandy enough in all Arda to drown the voice of the Ring for long, and that malevolent voice was more strident every day. How long before it became a scream, and he heard nothing else? Madness would claim him then, and he could only hope that death would follow soon.

What would it mean, to pass into the West? But whatever it meant, it seemed to be his only chance. He rubbed his eyes, dry and burning from lack of sleep, and wondered again what it would be like to live with Elves, only Elves, forever more. A daunting prospect for a little hobbit from the Shire! Elrond's voice spoke in his memory, and he paused.

About this time of year, when the leaves are gold, before they fall, look for Bilbo in the woods of the Shire. I shall be with him.

He had puzzled over those words the last time he left Rivendell, and now suddenly he understood. Bilbo, too, would be going! His heart lifted. They would go together, he and Bilbo, into the West. Whatever awaited them there, they would be together, and there would be healing.

He would accept Arwen's gift and be thankful, he decided, and then it hit him like a blow what this would mean for Sam. Poor Samwise, left behind at last! Sam had followed him to the end of the world and back, but he could not follow this time. Did Sam understand enough of his master's agony, to know that he must go? But whether he did or not, there was no other way. If Frodo stayed, it would bring Sam yet more grievous sorrow, did he only know it, and Frodo would spare him that. For Sam's sake as well as his own, he must go with the Elves.

And he would have Bilbo; he would not be alone, the only hobbit in Elvenhome. For the first time in many months he felt a stirring of hope, and he stood up and went to look out the window.

The sun was shining, and Sam and Rose were in the vegetable patch, picking something and piling it in a basket. Even from here he could see the way they moved in easy rhythm with one another, their arms touching occasionally as they worked. Sam turned and dropped a quick kiss on Rosie's hair as she bent over, and she looked up, laughing.

Already last winter Frodo had made a will that left everything he owned to them, for the illness had been heavy on him and he had doubted how long he would be "of sound mind" to make such a document. Sam had Rose and little Elanor, and he would have Bag End as well. Sam would be all right. And perhaps some day - Samwise had been a Ring-bearer himself, after all, for a while --

He turned away from the window and went back to his desk. There was only a little time left to finish the book. It was the first of September.

 

2. Rose

in which Rosie is shocked

Oh, my word, but I never thought I'd see Mr. Frodo in any such condition. I'd never seen him anything but tidy and mannerly and self-possessed, a real gentlehobbit. And there he lay on the floor of his study, sweaty, stinking, and out of his head, and Sam trying everything he could think of, to make him throw up again.

We came home early from my Da's birthday party; we'd planned to stay the night, but Elanor was fussy and wouldn't sleep, and finally Sam said, "Never mind, we'll just go on home - she'll sleep in her own cradle, and I'll sleep better myself, knowing the master is all tucked in safe. The way he's been mooning about lately, he's likely to go off to bed and leave a candle burning, set Bag End afire."

He sounded tart, Sam did, but it was only because he was worried. Mr. Frodo had been ill back in the spring, about the time Elanor was born - I'll wager he thought Sam hadn't noticed, but you can't put much over on Sam, and especially Mr. Frodo can't. If the master takes a sneezing fit in the middle of the night, Sam is after me in the morning to make up a pot of herb tea for him, to stop him from taking cold. Anyway, even now, five months later, Frodo didn't seem really well. Sam was right - he sort of drifted around the smial like he was looking for something but had forgotten what it was - that's when he wasn't hunched over his desk writing away in that red book of his. Many times he didn't hear you when you spoke to him, and he looked so sad it was enough to break your heart.

So we went on home, late as it was. Da wouldn't hear of us walking, that hour of the night, and he hitched up the little pony cart for us, Sam all the while protesting, "Now Father, don't go to the trouble; it's a pleasant night and no more than half an hour's walk in the moonlight."

"Happens I don't choose to have my daughter, nor my granddaughter either, traipsing about in the moonlight from here to Hobbiton, Sam Gamgee! Well enough for you, toddling home from the Dragon at closing time, but not for them."

Sam grinned and said no more.

The smial was dark and quiet when we got there, and we thought Mr. Frodo must've gone to bed, and not left any candles burning after all. I went straight to our room off the kitchen and settled Elanor in her cradle - she'd fallen asleep at last, on the ride home, and she didn't wake. I was just turning down the covers on our bed when I heard Sam shouting in the master's study, down the passage, and there was that in his voice that made me drop the pillows and run.

My first thought was that the study stank like Mum's vinegar crock down in the farm cellar. It fair stung my eyes, but there was no time to think about it. Sam had lit a candle, and he was kneeling in the middle of the room with the master in his arms, shouting into his face. The master sagged against his shoulder, slack-jawed, as if he were dead.

"Mr. Frodo, wake up! Wake up! Rosie, feel his wrist if you can find any pulse. Mr. Frodo!"

I knelt down and took the flaccid hand, the skin chilly to my touch. "There's a pulse, Sam, but only just." I felt dampness through my skirt and shifted to see what caused it. "I think he's been sick, here on the carpet."

I pulled a woolen lap robe down from the settee and tucked it round the limp body. Sam was chafing the master's wrists and calling his name, now soft, now loud, crooning over him like he was a babe, and all the while the tears running down his face. I got up to get some pillows to tuck behind Mr. Frodo's head, and there was the brandy bottle on the table. It was empty.

"Here's the cause of his trouble, Sam. He's dead drunk, that's what he is."

Sam looked stricken. "Drunk? I've never in my life seen him drunk, all the years I've known him." He leant over and smelled the master's breath. "Aye, you're right. Drunk, and pretty near dead besides." He glanced about at the carpet, felt around with one hand.
"He's been sick, sure enough, but not as sick as he needs to be. How much was in that bottle, do you remember, Rosie?"

"It was full, I think. We used up a bottle toasting Elanor's naming day, you know, and I brought a new one up from the cellar, but we never pulled the cork. And there's not a drop left - Sam, that would be enough to kill him, did he drink it all!"

"Draw some cold water from the well and bring it here - quick, lass! - and then make some tea, as strong as you can brew it. Oh, and salt, too. We've got to get him awake enough that he can get rid of some more of that brandy. I'd draw the water myself, but I don't dare leave him."

He struggled to his feet, dragging the master up with him, talking all the while in a loud, cheerful voice. "Come on, Frodo, up you get. Wake up now! Come on, sir; can't sleep here - have to get to the Mountain, you know. Wake up, Mr. Frodo!"

By the time the tea was ready, the master had his eyes open and was staggering around the study, held up and supported by Sam. He walked bent over like he had a fifty-weight strung round his neck, and one hand shielding his eyes as if he was facing into strong sunlight instead of the soft glow from the candle.

"Thinks he's in Mordor," Sam said softly. "It was the only way I could rouse him. Put a good shake of salt in that tea, Rosie, and give it here." I knew what Sam was up to - tea to wake him up, salt to make him vomit.

I brought the basin in from the pantry just in time; the salted tea worked exactly as it should. "No sense making the carpet any worse than it is already," I told Sam, but he shrugged.

"I'll worry about saving his life first, lass. A new carpet's a small price to pay." The master leaned against his shoulder, eyes closed, exhausted from retching, and I wrung out a soft cloth in the cold water and wiped his face.

"There, Mr. Frodo, that's some better, isn't it?" He startled at my voice, staring around as if he didn't know where he was, and Sam took the cloth from me.

"He don't know who you are - 'twas just him and me in Mordor, you know. There, Mr. Frodo, it's me; you know me! It's your Sam, here to take care of you." The master closed his eyes again and Sam muttered, "Can you make us some burnt toast, Rosie? Might soak up some of that brandy, if I can get it down him."

I made the toast, charred black, and Sam got it down him by pretending it was some of the Elves' bread they had eaten in Mordor - I said I hoped it hadn't tasted like burnt toast, and Sam laughed. Mr. Frodo was looking less like death warmed over by then, and Sam could laugh.

"No, it was wonderful stuff, that lembas, though you got tired of it day in and day out. But when I first tasted it, I thought I'd never get tired of it, it was that good. Poor Mr. Frodo, though - for all I know, maybe it did taste like something burnt to him, towards the end. He don't know the difference now, you can see that."

About then the master was sick again, and Sam eased him down on a chair and held him steady, while I held the basin.

We kept coaxing salted tea and charred toast down him, and Sam got him up walking in between, and after a couple of hours he began to come out of it. He looked worn to a thread, but his eyes cleared and he knew where he was. And that was the most pitiful thing of all, for he looked around at the stinking mess his study was in, and then at Sam and me - and I guess we were a sight ourselves, sweaty and mussed, our clothes stained and smelling none too sweet.

"Oh, Sam. Rosie. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." He met our eyes as if he pleaded for understanding, and then he doubled over, sick again. But he was about done, then, and that was the last of it. I brought in a clean nightshirt and fresh hot water, and while I carried away the filthy basins and rags, Sam bathed him and helped him to bed.

He didn't wake up till the following afternoon, and Sam stirred up a batch of his mother's remedy for too much merry-making. It smelled pretty rank - I was glad I didn't have to drink it - but I didn't feel sorry for him. I'd got over being scared by then, and moved on to being plain mad. It didn't improve my mood when I started scrubbing the carpet in his study. That took me a good part of the day, and it was no pleasant task even with all the windows open.

It was plain enough that he'd sent us off to Da's birthday party on purpose, so he'd have Bag End to himself. He'd sent us off and sat down with that bottle, and drank every last drop - and any fool would know it was poison, that much brandy. If we hadn't come home in the middle of the night, he'd likely of been too far gone to save when we found him. He might've been dead already - and wouldn't that be nice for Sam to come home to, Mr. Frodo, that he loved better than life itself, dead on the floor!

That's what I was thinking, and I got madder and madder till I was just boiling. The second morning Frodo trailed into the kitchen in his dressing gown, looking pale and weak, and Sam settled him in the chair by the fire as gentle and careful as if he was made of glass. I got him a mug of tea, but Sam made his toast himself, sitting close by the master's chair, browning the bread over the coals till it was golden and spreading on a touch of honey, cutting it up just so: the most sickly invalid couldn't have asked for better. Sam hardly looked at his own ham and eggs, though he ate well enough; all his attention was on Mr. Frodo, nibbling at his toast and tea.

Finally he pushed himself away from the table, saying, "Just you sit here by the fire and keep Rose company, Master, while I get a bit done in the garden. I wouldn't leave you, only those beans need picking before they get any bigger, and anyway, Rose will take good care of you, won't you, Rosie?"

I nodded and held up my cheek for his kiss as he went out. And then it was just the master and me, and I was so mad I couldn't think what to say to him, so I didn't say anything at all. I bustled about, washing the dishes and stirring up some quick bread for dinner, and I didn't look at him.

The quiet in the kitchen got thicker and thicker, like fog, and finally he got up and came to stand right in front of me, where I couldn't ignore him. "You're very angry with me, Rose, and I deserve it. Will it help if I say I'm sorry?"

I dumped the dough out of the bowl and slammed it down on the table. "Why should you, Mr. Frodo? You're master here; if you choose to drink yourself to death, it's not for us to say you can't. A bit hard on Sam, I'd call it, that's all."

I sneaked a look at him as I spoke, punching down the bread dough as if it was something alive that I wanted to kill. He bit his lip till it turned white, and tears came to his eyes. Not running down his face, I thought; not like Sam, weeping over him and calling his name -

He turned away and went to lean against the mantel, staring into the fire. "Very hard on Sam," he said at last, "and he doesn't deserve that of me." He sighed. "I wasn't trying to die, Rosie. I never thought of that, that the brandy might kill me. I wouldn't do that to Sam, or you either, to come home and find my - body. I only wanted to escape for a while, get away from the memories."

I wanted to stay mad, and I couldn't - not when he looked like that, so grieved and hopeless. I wiped my hands on my apron and went to take his hand in both of mine. "You scared us, Mr. Frodo. We love you, don't you know that? When we got home, you were so near dead it's a mercy we pulled you through at all. Don't do that, not ever again - promise me!"

"I won't. Don't worry; Sam already told me he'd break every bottle in the cellar if I did it again." He made as if to smile, but it came out more like a grimace, and he turned to rest both arms against the mantel and lean his forehead on them. I looked down and there were drops of wet falling on the stone hearth - tears.

"Master, dear Master," I whispered. "I wish I knew some way to help you."

"So do I, Rosie. So do I." He straightened up and rubbed his sleeve across his eyes. "I'd better get dressed and try to get some writing done. Will you bring a pot of strong tea to me in the study, in an hour or so?"

"I don't think you can work in there for a few days, Mr. Frodo; it's still pretty bad. Why don't you bring your book in here by the window today, and keep me company? And the tea will be ready whenever you want it."

"Thank you, Rosie. I may just do that."

He worked in the kitchen for several days, till his study aired out, and for a week or two he was more cheerful, more peaceful-like, than he'd been in a long time. But little by little, the clouds rolled in again.

Now that sad, haunted look is back in his eyes, for all he smiles and tries to act like there's nothing wrong. He tries so hard to hide it from us, how he's suffering, but it's there in his eyes for us to see, who love him. And I wonder sometimes, and hate myself for wondering, if we did the right thing that night, when we worked so desperately to save his life. It might have been a kindness, had we let him slip away.

But when I think that, I remember Sam's face when he told me to feel for the master's pulse. It would grieve me sore if Mr. Frodo had died, and especially like that, but it would've broken Sam's heart right in two.

I just wish those great ones who sent Mr. Frodo to Mordor and let him get so wounded it seems like he'll never get over it, would take some thought to helping him now.

Author's note: Nothing here ]should be construed as medical advice. I tried to imagine how the hobbits might try to handle alcohol poisoning, but I have no idea if it would work!
 

3. Sam

in which Sam remembers

Well, he's gone, and I guess I don't have to worry about him no more. There's them who'll look after him now - Mr. Gandalf and Mr. Elrond, and the Lady. I hope they can give him the healing he needs. They'll do it better than plain Sam Gamgee, I know, but yet I wish it could've been different; I wish the Shire and me could've been enough.

They can't never love him like I do. How could they? He saved my life, and that more than once, and I saved his. When he lost hope, there in Mordor, he looked to me and I had hope enough for both of us. And when I lost hope myself, we kept going anyway - and we didn't need hope, because we had each other. When I thought we were done for, the Mountain shaking itself to pieces under our feet, I still kept hold of his hand, and he kept hold of mine. There's no one, not even my sweet Rosie, can take his place in my heart. And it's maybe presumptuous for me to say it, but - I don't believe there's anyone could take my place for him. But I won't be seeing him no more, not unless I take Ship myself one day, and that's too far ahead for me to look to right now.

I can't bear it, I want to say, but I know better than that. I learned that much in Mordor, if I didn't learn nothing else - you bear what you have to, whether you think you can or not. We made it to the Mountain because we had each other, and I still have him, in a manner of speaking. I have everything he left to me, his smial and most of his things - he didn't take no more with him than what he could carry on his pony, that last ride to the Havens.

It soothes my heart, having his things all around me. The first day back, I thought I'd never be able to go into his study again, it would wrench me so. And then when I finally did go in - it took me a few days to get up the courage - why, it comforted me as if he had reached out across the Sea and taken my hand.

He left his second-best pipe. I had to smile when I saw he'd taken his best one, and I wonder if he'll find any decent weed there in the Elven country. But there, Mr. Gandalf likes his smoke, too, so maybe he will find some, at that. But his second-best pipe is here in the study, sitting right next to mine in the stand. I like seeing it there, and I pick it up sometimes and think of his hands holding it, and us sitting in front of the fire in this room smoking, many and many a time.

That's the thing, you see - I've got so many memories of him. I wasn't no more than nine when he come here to live, but I knew him before that, from when he'd come to visit Mr. Bilbo. My mother told me he used to carry me piggyback, when I was only just big enough to grab his hair and hold on! I don't remember that, of course, but it's a happy thought. When I carried him up the Mountain, I was giving him a ride back, is all.

He was twenty-one when he came to stay, and most tweens don't want anything to do with such a little fellow as a nine-year-old, more especially when the tween is the heir of the house and the nine-year-old is the gardener's brat. But Mr. Frodo, he wasn't like that. Even in those days he was kind and courteous to everyone he met, nor he never put on any airs about being Mr. Bilbo's inheritor. And to me he was better than a brother.

He was about three years younger than my brother Ham, and a year older than Halfred. You might've thought if he was going to take up with any of us Gamgees, it would've been with them, but that's not the way it worked out. Ham had left already to apprentice with my uncle Andy in Tighfield, several years before Frodo came. And Halfred was still at home, but he was working with the wheelwright in Bywater; gone all day and holding up his end at the Green Dragon, as the saying goes, till closing time.

But I was right there in the Bag End kitchen, where Mr. Bilbo was teaching me my letters. In fact, I don't know to this day if it was his idea or Mr. Frodo's, for him to teach me - Frodo, he came in the fall, around his birthday, and it was after the cold weather started that year, when the Gaffer didn't need me in the garden, that Mr. Bilbo started teaching me. We'd sit at the table side by side while he showed me the letters, and Mr. Frodo, he sat in one of the rocking chairs by the fireplace, reading. When I'd done my lesson for the day, Mr. Bilbo would tell us stories of his adventures, and sometimes I'd crawl up on Frodo's lap while we listened. I remember us laughing sometimes, like when the Trolls were turned to stone, and I'd be leaning back on his stomach, bounced around by his laughter, till I near fell right off his lap onto the floor.

When I got big enough to be some use, they took me along once in a while, on their hiking trips over the Shire. Him and Mr. Bilbo were great ones for exploring, trying if they could meet up with travelers who'd give them some news, Elves or Dwarves or such like. When I went along, I gathered wood and kept the fire going, fetched the water and made the tea, and I thought I was earning my keep, sure enough. Mr. Bilbo was generous about paying me, and the coins were right welcome at home. Now when I look back on it, I suspect he was trying to find some way of helping the Gamgees, without it looking like charity. There was still four of us youngsters at home, and things got a little tight sometimes.

Mr. Bilbo was like that, always looking after folks that needed help, and he taught Mr. Frodo to be just like him. When my mother was ill, they came to our place every couple of days with fresh bread or a baked chicken for us, and some little thing to tempt Mum's appetite, blancmange, maybe, or a currant jelly. I don't know where they got it all, now I think about it - they could both cook, of course, but not like that. Wherever they got the food, they kept on bringing it, even after Mum passed away. For a good month afterward they took care of our family, till we got over the first grief and could take hold again.

Even when I got too big for lessons, Mr. Bilbo would call me in from the garden to take a mug of tea with them sometimes, and he was still telling us stories. We didn't never get too big for his stories, neither one of us. I suppose in all the Four Farthings, we may have been the only ones who believed Mr. Bilbo's tales, and it was just one more bond between us.

After Mr. Bilbo left and Frodo was alone at Bag End, he was lonesome, at loose ends you might say, for a couple of months. He'd lost both his parents when he was a little lad, and I guess Mr. Bilbo was the one who took their place for him - and then Mr. Bilbo up and left him. It hit him hard, and though he wasn't one to wear his heart on his sleeve, I knew it. I was at Bag End early and late, those days - it seemed only fair, after the way him and Mr. Bilbo had been to us when Mum was taken.

Sometime in those early years as master of Bag End, he went on a walking trip and broke his ankle. He lay out all day in the cold before I found him, and he was a long time recovering. I all but moved into Bag End that winter; the first month or so, till he could hobble around on his own, I slept in the guest room down the passage, with my door open so I'd hear him if he called.

I suppose I got closer to him that winter than I ever was again, until the time came that we left the rest of the Fellowship behind, when he ran from Boromir. With his ankle splinted up, he couldn't get out, and it was a cold winter, so he didn't get many callers. His cousins came for Yule, two or three of them all the way from Buckland, and they brought Mr. Pippin with them - little Master Pippin, he was then, and he was a mixed blessing, if you take my meaning. He kept things lively, right enough, but I breathed a sight easier when they took him away again. Between short-sheeting all the beds and mixing dried nettle from the herb cabinet into the tea canister - a bitter brew that made, let me tell you, and Mr. Frodo asking me, tactful like, if I was sure the water was quite at the boil when I poured it in -!

But most of the time it was just the two of us. We did a lot of reading, sitting by the fire in his study, him with his injured ankle propped up on cushions. I taught him how to toast cheese over the fire, and he taught me to play checkers. You'd a thought I'd have learned to play long before, but my Gaffer didn't hold with games, thought 'em a waste of time, with so much work always waiting to be done. But even Mr. Frodo couldn't read all the time, and it gets wearisome being laid up. The games were a pleasant pastime for him and so I told the Gaffer. After that he didn't say no more about it; he was fond of Mr. Frodo and wanted him happy.

The best part of that winter, though, was the poetry. We'd been reading a lot of Elven poems, and I said they were beautiful and all that, but not just what you'd want for every day. And he laughed, Frodo did, and said we'd better make some Hobbit poetry ourselves, as it didn't look like anyone else was likely to, since Mr. Bilbo left. That got us started, and I guess we wrote a few hundred pages, between us. Mr. Frodo wrote a long piece about the founding of the Shire, and then another one on how the Oldbucks crossed the River and became the Brandybucks. I didn't care so much for history, but I did a few short poems about moonlight and trees in the winter and suchlike, before I got onto writing comic verse.

Just the once Mr. Frodo wrote something humorous, and that was a story in itself. It was a bright winter morning, but very cold, and there was a draught from the study window that was giving him goosebumps. I tried to get him to come in the kitchen where it was warmer, but his ankle was hurting him - he'd got up to walk some the day before, and it wasn't as strong yet as he thought it was. He didn't want to move, and he didn't think he should have to move; it was his study, and he wasn't going to spend the day in the kitchen!

"I know, Sam; why don't you make us some mulled wine? That'll take the chill off, and damp down the pain in this blasted ankle besides. Heat it over the fire in here, and I'll read to you while you're making it."

Well, it was a mite early in the day to be drinking, but why not? The old gossips would have a thing or three to say about it, but who was to tell them? So I mulled the wine, and we had a glass and then another. It took the chill off very nicely, and after a while I made some more.

I guess we were on our fourth glass apiece, when there started to be an awful banging and pounding on the front door. Mr. Frodo looked at me, and I looked back, and we knew we were in for it. There wasn't but one person who ever made such an uproar knocking on the door of Bag End, and that was Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.

"What in thunder brings her out on a day like this?" Mr. Frodo demanded. "You'd think she'd freeze to the seat of her carriage!"

"She don't freeze that easy, Mr. Frodo, no more than a pickle crock. She's too sour." Goes to show I'd had a little too much of that wine, to be saying such a thing about one of his relations, but he laughed till he was lying back in the chair gasping for breath, and all the while she was pounding away at the front door like she meant to knock it down.

Then it stopped, the noise, and there wasn't a sound. "Go reconnoiter, Samwise," he whispered. "See if she's leaving." I went to the front of the smial where I could get a peek at the road, and pulled back from the window just in time.

"Mr. Frodo, she's going around looking in all the windows! She'll be here any moment!"

"Lie down, Sam! On the floor, in front of the settee!"

I stretched out on the floor like he said, but I wondered how that was going to help - Lobelia might not see me, but she'd certainly see him, there in his chair. Then I looked, and he was gone! I heard tapping at the study window and, just faintly, "Frodo Baggins! I know you're in there!" and I lay there like a stone troll myself, staring at the empty chair. I found myself counting my breaths - seventy, seventy-one - and then there was the sound of a pony cart out on the road. A moment later Frodo was sitting in his chair again, puffing on his pipe.

I got up slowly, careful not to look at him. "Want any more wine, Mr. Frodo?" My voice sounded strangely squeaky, and I cleared my throat.

"I think perhaps we've had enough, both of us," he said. "You - er - didn't see anything just now, Sam."

"No, sir. I certainly didn't."

"No, of course not. That's the problem." He sounded rueful, and then he chuckled. "That's what I get for being an unwilling host to my unpleasant relative. Sam, I'm going to trust you with a secret."

I looked at him then, and there was an expression in his eyes I couldn't read. "You know I'll keep any secret of yours like it was my own, Mr. Frodo."

He nodded. "Yes, I know. Well then, Bilbo left me something else, besides Bag End and all his possessions." He held out his hand, and there was a gold ring in it, with a gold chain attached that ran to his belt. "He left me this."

"A ring," I said. "Well, it's a nice enough ring, Mr. Frodo. Why don't you ever wear it?"

He grinned and slid it on his finger. And vanished. My jaw dropped, and then suddenly he was sitting in his chair again, the ring lying in his palm. "That's why," he said. "That's how he got past Smaug, you see, and the Goblins..."

I was plain dumbfounded. "A magic ring! I didn't think there really were such things; I thought 'twas only in stories-"

"Apparently not, Sam. I shouldn't have used it just now - though Bilbo did, sometimes, and for the same reason! But Gandalf told me to keep it secret. He seems worried about the thing; I don't know why, exactly."

"Well, I won't tell no one about it, Mr. Frodo. Not that anyone would believe me, if I did."

"No, probably no one would believe it, but all the same - you're the only one who knows, Sam."

"And that's how it'll stay, Mr. Frodo. Are you sure you don't want me to heat up some more wine? You're shivering."

"No more wine; I prefer to keep my wits about me. Do you think you could hang up a quilt or something in front of that blasted window, to stop the draught coming in? That would give us some privacy, too, in case Lobelia comes back."

I went and pulled a good thick quilt out of the cedar chest and tacked it up over the window, and he sat in his chair scribbling away at something. Then I made some tea to warm him up, and when I brought it in he handed me the thing he'd been writing:

There was an old hag most unwelcome -
It's a mercy she calls very seldom!
If she bangs on the door,
We'll lie down on the floor,
You be mum and I'll play that I'm struck dumb!


Like I said, his gift was more for history than comic verse. It struck us funny that day, though, and we spent a pleasant afternoon writing little poems about all our friends and relations.

But I always remembered what he said, how he wanted to keep his wits about him. It stopped me, many a time, from taking a drop too much - my brother Ham, now, he liked his drink, and I'd seen him staggering and foolish too often. I looked at him, you might say, and I looked at Mr. Frodo - and it was Frodo I wanted to be like. I never saw Frodo overtaken by drink except just the once, and that this very summer.

It pretty near killed him; it was like he'd saved up a lifetime of inebriation and done it all at one go. I walked into his study in the dark, to see everything was in order and the windows shut, before I went to bed, and I fell right on top of him, lying on the floor. I thought he was dead, and it was a near thing, at that.

I won't never forget the shame in his eyes, when we finally brought him round and he saw the state he was in. It about broke my heart, and I thought - you think you've sunk yourself below reproach, Master; you think I'll believe, now, that you're the failure you make yourself out to be, but it won't never happen. I know what you are, and no amount of wallowing in the mire can change that.

But it brought me up short, it did indeed. If he was in such misery that he'd turn to brandy to drown his pain, he was far worse off than I had guessed. I feared for him, I truly did, from that day on.

Well, I don't have to fear for him anymore. The Lady won't let no harm come to him, nor Gandalf; not that there's any harm to be afraid of, I suppose, where he's gone. And maybe they can get through to him what I couldn't, that he's no failure, neither.

It comforts my heart, remembering those days before the Quest, when he was master of Bag End and I was his gardener, and his friend. He had a merry heart, and a kind one. He didn't never lose the kindness, and I hope he'll find his merriment again, as well, beyond the Sea.

To speak truth, I'm not sure I know who I am anymore, without Mr. Frodo to look after. But he'll be a part of me as long as I live; I wouldn't be who I am this moment, if he hadn't of been in my life all along.
 

4. Bag End

in which there is a change of masters

He is leaving now. It has taken him many weeks to make up his mind to go, pacing back and forth at night through all the rooms, up and down the passages. Nights by the cold kitchen fireplace - he has cooked little since Mid-summer, when the mistress died, and he has spent many nights dozing in the kitchen rocker - her chair - as if he could not bring himself to lie alone in the bed they had shared.

Summer is over now and there is a nip in the air. It is time he was cleaning the chimneys and lighting a fire in the evening, but he seems not to notice the chill. He has been working day after day in the orchard, picking the apples, and at night he's been ranging back and forth between the dark kitchen and the darker study, his one little candle flickering in the draughty corridors.

In the study, he sits at the great desk, which has stood in its place three hundred years or more; I no longer remember how long. It has always been the master's desk. He sits there for hours, smoking his pipe, one hand caressing the polished wood of the desktop, and sometimes his tears fall on it and he rubs them away quickly before they can make spots.

He has been master here for sixty winters. That is not a record - there was one before him who kept the title longer. That one went away for a while, and when he came back, he brought a Thing here that burned like fire, although he never seemed to realize it. They are very innocent, these hobbits.

This one has been a good master. Na´ve, as they all are, but not as bad as the one before him; this one was gardener before he was master, and he has some sense. The one before him was master for less than twenty winters, but that was enough. That was more than enough.

He sold me; that is a thing which had never happened before, in all my long years. He sold me, and to such monsters, it is a wonder I still remain at all. He came back in time, is the best I can say of him: he came back and reclaimed me, before the monsters dug up the entire Hill and carried it away to clog a running brook somewhere. That is the kind of thing they liked to do, those monsters.

I like this one, the one who is leaving. He spent yesterday evening packing and repacking his saddlebags, and now he sits with his son at the master's desk, giving last instructions before he hands over his keys. His son is not bad, and I hope we will get on well together, but I like this one.

He has let nothing slide; there has been no peeling paint, no broken glass, under his stewardship. The grass has been cut and the roses pruned - I said he was gardener, did I not? - but inside, too, he has kept everything in good repair. I have no complaint to make of him, unless it be the number of children he produced. But even with so many living here, he permitted no deterioration, and the young voices were cheerful to listen to. I hope his son will do as well.

I pay little heed to their names. There is the master, and then in time there is a new master. Never more than one at a time, so what need for names? But this new one, the son of the one who is leaving, has the same name as the master before. Very odd, that is, and I hope he will not be like the earlier one.

Master Frodo, that was his name, and perhaps I am too hard on him, although I find it hard to forgive him for the monsters. He did one thing, though, for which I should thank him: he took away the evil Thing that his predecessor brought here. It had burned in my belly like white-hot fire, till I wondered sometimes that the woodwork was not scorched or the windows melted. Master Frodo took It away when he sold me, and for that alone I think I must forgive him.

When he returned, he was burnt out himself. I had not known that could happen to one of these walking creatures, to be hollowed out by fire and still survive, but so it was. That is a thing to consider. He was more like me, perhaps, than any other master I have had. I could be burned out to cinders, but I would still remain - you cannot destroy a hill with fire!

There was a night he tried to drown the fire, and nearly drowned himself instead. The gardener - he was not master then - saved him, but it was a near thing. I pitied him that night, as he lay retching on the floor, too ill to know how close he was to death, and I was glad when the little gardener came in and found him. But I think Master Frodo realized after that, that he could not put the fire out, for soon afterwards he went away, and the gardener was master after him. And now he, too, is leaving.

I shall miss Master Gardener. I hope his son will be like him.

 

 

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