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For Lindelea for her birthday--and most auspicious for the beginning of this collection, as it was one of her tales that inspired my first fanfiction story! An excellent writer, exceptional mother and teacher, and good friend. May her muse never fail her, even if real life gets in the way! A most happy birthday to you! And thanks so to RiverOtter for the beta!
A Time for Truth
Yawning hugely, Pippin shuffled his way into the kitchen of Bag End, and was gladdened to see a young Hobbit leaning over a mixing bowl with a bottle of beer in hand. “And what are you up to this fine morning, Frodo?” he managed to say around the yawn.
“Fixing your breakfast,” the younger Hobbit said, looking up at him from the focus of his attention. “It seems the Thain put in his request for my da’s beer-batter griddle cakes this morning, so I am seeing to it.”
“And why isn’t your da seeing to it himself?”
Frodo Gamgee-Gardner’s expression became more neutral. “He’s in the study--has been most of the night from what I can tell. He wasn’t in the best of moods when you lot returned from the meeting of the Family Heads last evening.” He poured in a bit more beer, stirred, and nodded, satisfied with his work. “There, that’s the right mix, I’m thinking.” He set down the bottle and looked up to meet the eyes of the Thain. “I know I could have gone to the meeting myself and so wouldn’t have to ask, but what foolishness was said last night to make my Sam-dad so upset?”
Pippin rubbed at his eyes and tried to cover another yawn at the same time. “Oh, nothing much, really. Just the usual jibes at your name-father’s expense, is all.”
The younger Hobbit’s face grew dark with displeasure as he dipped a finger in the water jug and dashed a drop at the top of the iron griddle. “Not quite hot enough,” he grunted to himself as it sizzled into steam. He returned his gaze to meet that of his nominal uncle. “Who was it this time? One of the Bracegirdles again?”
Pippin shook his head as he reached for an apple from the fruit bowl. “No, not the Bracegirdles this time. No--Trosco Chubb from the Northfarthing, who’s head of the family up that-a-way. Doesn’t seem to think that the request to hold a vote to ratify the ennoblement of Frodo Baggins as the Lord Iorhael has anything to do with normal Shire business, and therefore has no place at the Free Fair this summer. After all, he reminds us, the last time Frodo’s name came up for a vote at the Free Fair he’d made it plain he wanted nothing to do with the running of the Shire.”
Frodo turned fully to face Pippin. “What?” he shouted. “Doesn’t he realize how the quest hurt Uncle Frodo? The Shire was most lucky to have him as deputy Mayor as long as he held the job, and that’s a fact--and you know it! I’ve seen his writing in the Red Book--he was lucky some days, I’d think, to find the strength to get out of his bed, much less ride to Michel Delving and back!”
Pippin sighed as he took a bite of his apple, and took his time chewing and swallowing before replying. At last he said, “He was staying in Michel Delving with the Whitfoots while he was working, Frodo, and riding each way but once in the week. Your da saw to that.” He gave a wry smile in answer to the younger Hobbit’s frown. “You need to understand, Frodo-lad, that in some ways the manner in which the Shire deals with thoughts of Frodo Baggins is his own fault. He was, after all, the epitome of the stubborn Baggins. And I’m not saying that to be disrespectful, either. Frodo was the first to admit that he was sometimes his own worst enemy!”
He leaned closer to look directly into the younger Hobbit’s eyes, emphasizing what he had to say. “Know this: Frodo didn’t want the Shire to know what he’d been through. He hated to think of most Hobbits beginning to understand what such evil as we faced was like. And he hated it worse when people gossiped about him, so he refused to answer most folks when they demanded to know where he’d gone and why. Would just give them the Look, you know, and stop them right where they stood if they even appeared about to ask. Plus, he didn’t want the whole Shire treating us the way it had treated Bilbo. He figured it was better to let them blame him rather than Merry or me or your da. Nor would he allow us to tell about it to anyone other than family--told us that it was pointless to try to explain, and especially when hardly anyone within the Shire could begin to appreciate what we were trying to tell them.
“You’ve grown up knowing there’s a King again, and seeing the letters come and go between here and Minas Tirith or Annúminas. You’ve heard us describing what it was like when I was serving as Strider’s guard in the Citadel of the White City, and when Frodo was there to serve as his most favored Councilor--besides Gandalf, of course. But until we came back, when a Hobbit of the Shire wanted to emphasize that something was not going to happen, or would be most unlikely to occur at all he said, ‘when the King returns.’ We had a wraith’s own time trying to convince the likes of old Odo Proudfoot that the King had returned after all, much less that we were close personal friends with him! Not many saw the Black Riders when they passed through the Shire, and fewer heard their cries or felt the sheer evil of them! For most, Mordor was just a name from the borders of stories told to children. The idea of most Hobbits, and particularly the children, beginning to appreciate that there really was a Mordor and that its dread Lord and Sharkey had intended to turn our beautiful land into a copy of it--he couldn’t bear it! He wanted the Shire to remain untouched by that evil. He had borne the Ring--he knew that he could survive such evil, but he didn’t want the rest of the people of the Shire to realize just how close it came to being destroyed. A good part of what he loved best about the Shire was the innocence we Hobbits have always known, you realize.”
Frodo shrugged. He turned back to the griddle, dipped his finger again into the jug and shook a droplet off against its top. As it skated across the surface of the hot iron he smiled briefly in triumph. “Hot enough now!” He poured a measure of batter onto it, then looked back to Pippin. “It may be as you say; but since Uncle Frodo’s gone it’s time to let folks know just what he did do for them, don’t you think?”
Pippin also shrugged as he swallowed another bite of apple. “We’ve tried to tell them over the years, lad. But you’ll find that most Hobbits don’t really want to know or understand. As your Uncle Frodo also appreciated, if most Hobbits appear innocent of the evils of the world, a good part of it is due to their own stubborn intentions of pretending the rest of the world doesn’t really exist.” He smiled. “You’d do well to come with us for the last of the conference this morning. Besides--the folk from the Ivy Bush will be bringing the elevenses, and nobody does pheasant pasties as well as they do. Frodo used to love the pasties from there, which is partly why your father insisted we have them do the cooking!”
So saying, he wandered down the passage to the door to the study. Sam was inside, but rather than sitting at the desk he was seated on the small sofa, staring fixedly somewhere beyond the blade of the sword he’d carried through so much of Middle Earth, hanging now above the fireplace where once Bilbo had hung Sting.
“You’re going to regret the sleep you skipped, Sam Gamgee,” he greeted his friend.
The Mayor of the Shire just grunted in response.
Pippin tried again. “The griddle cakes are beginning to cook. But are they going to be as good as yours, Sam?”
At last Sam turned his own eyes to meet Pippin’s. “The lad’s his mum’s son and mine. He’ll live up to what’s expected of him.”
Pippin could see the pain and frustration in Sam’s expression. “Sam, you know Frodo never wished for anyone to protect his reputation, and felt it was a waste of time to try. Don’t let the likes of Trosco Chubb disturb you. He never knew Frodo that well to begin with, and his opinion isn’t worth a spoiled fig.”
Sam sighed, stood, and stretched. “Oh,” he said, “I know that. But it still hurts at times to hear him called cracked and selfish. There wasn’t a selfish bone in his body, you know.”
Pippin couldn’t stop a small smile. “Not unless mushrooms were involved, that is.”
Sam couldn’t help but give at least a snort of laughter. “That is true! Now, you member how on Yule he got? You know, there on the quest, when he opened the package as old Mr. Bilbo’d slipped into his things for a present and found as it was full of dried mushrooms?”
Pippin found himself remembering the scene. “Oh, but do I! Because it was Yule he felt honorbound to share them, so he gave most of them to you to add to our dinner that night. And when Boromir found them in his stew he was picking them out and started to throw them on the ground----”
Sam was now grinning openly. “And my Master--him was so upset! To see perfectly good mushrooms wasted like that! And then you----”
Yes, Pippin did remember. “And I was grabbing them from his fingers and eating them--and Frodo was growing more and more stiff at the same time he was trying hard not to laugh at Boromir’s expression. But just the thought someone would think to throw mushrooms away drove him mad with frustration and shock! He didn’t speak to Boromir for three days after that!”
“And seems t’me as he had you doin’ lots of things like cleanin’ Bill’s hooves and shovelin’ away his droppings and all.”
“And I got to wash dishes every night for the next week, as I remember it. And it seems to me that it was about then that Boromir found he couldn’t keep a lace for his boots whole!”
The two of them were now smiling openly at one another. “Ought to of given them to Strider,” Sam noted. “Now, there’s a Man as loves a good mushroom as much as any Hobbit.” His expression softened. “Too bad as Mr. Trosco Chubb never saw that scene. Too bad as the whole Shire didn’t see him on the quest.”
At that moment Frodo-lad called from the kitchen, “Dad--you want Elanor to take the scones out of the oven now?”
“It seems as if I’m needed after all,” Sam said. “I’ll have t’fetch the jam in for the scones--have it out in the workshop t’keep the little’uns out of it.”
He’d started for the door when Pippin noticed the stack of paper Sam had left on the floor by where he’d been sitting. “What’s this?” he asked, leaning over to scoop the pages up.
Sam paused, flushing deeply. “It’s nothin’, not really. Was--well, was thinkin’ of a song, and started to write it out. But it’s not anythin’ worth notin’.”
Pippin nodded, scanning the pages quickly, then pulling them away when Sam tried to take them from him. “No, Sam--I’ve started reading it anyway, so you may as well leave the song with me. Go on and get the jam--Elanor will be waiting to spread it on the scones.” He gave the gardener his best, Thainish look, and saw Sam’s flush deepen as he hurried down the passage toward the kitchen and the back door.
Pippin took the pages with him back to his room, setting them on the bed while he dressed rapidly, then holding them with one hand as he brushed at his hair with the other, reading the whole song over again, finding a tune, one that sounded to him like Sam, running through his mind to match the rhymes and meter. And when they left the hole at last to return to the village grange hall for the final morning meeting for the Family Heads he carried the pages with him again. If any song was true to Sam’s memory of Frodo Baggins, this would be it, he thought. And while the representative of the North-Tooks droned on and on about the produce of their fields, the bales of woolens and linen in their storehouses, and the amount of ice harvested during the winter and stored in layers of straw and sawdust in their specially delved storage hole, he found himself pulling out his thin stick of graphite and penciling in a few more verses or making corrections here and there.
Elvenses were rather more substantial than the offering for such a meal would ordinarily be, considering the cooking prowess of the folk at the Ivy Bush; and as all paused to appreciate the pheasant and mushroom pasties on offer along with a goodly mug of beer or cider, the various family heads relaxed and began to speak after the stupor engendered by the lists of stores and far less frequent reports of need throughout the Shire made earlier.
“This is more like it!” sighed Largo Longbottom expansively. Bolo Bracegirdle, present alongside his now aging father Benlo, had to nod his agreement, his mouth too full to speak.
“What have you been scribbling about all morning?” Merry Brandybuck asked his cousin. Because of the number of family members who’d come with him from Brandy Hall and who would be going on to the Great Smial afterwards, he’d chosen to stay at the Green Dragon rather than accepting the hospitality of Bag End.
“Oh, it appears our Sam has been composing poetry again. Was at it all night rather than sleeping beside his fair wife.”
“And why are you scribbling all over Sam’s poem, then?”
“I’ll have you know I’m merely offering my services as editor and critic.”
“And you didn’t just pick it up and take off with it to satisfy your own curiosity and innate need to poke around at something that’s none of your business and was doing quite well on its own again as you so often do?”
“My beloved cousin, you wound me!”
Merry gave him a jaded sidelong glance. “I’ll have you remember I used to change your nappies, and had to get you out of more scrapes than I can count.”
“And after you yourself got me into a fair number of them,” Pippin countered, to which Merry grinned.
Isumbard Took, who was attending as Pippin’s aide, commented, “I remember these pasties from the reading of Frodo’s will. They are exceptional, aren’t they?”
“And speaking of Frodo Baggins,” began Trosco Chubb again, and Pippin could see Sam, sitting with his oldest son by his side across the table from Sancho Proudfoot, who sat by his intended son-in-love Fosco Baggins, beginning to go stiff in anticipation of what the pompous fool might say next. Trosco began to cough, and had to take a drink to wash down the bite of pasty he’d not managed to swallow properly. “As I was saying,” he finally managed, “I still don’t begin to understand why you want this noblement or whatever it is put before the Shire for a vote. It’s not as if Frodo Baggins gave a hang about us Hobbits of the Shire. I mean--leaving the Shire on an adventure, and leading younger Hobbits reportedly into terrible dangers Outside as he did, and then basically telling us all to go stuff ourselves to go off into the blue with a group of Elves. When he cared so little about the Shire, why are we to care whether or not the King, may his ale be always cool and refreshing, wants to name him a noble? And after all, why does the King even care? It’s not as if he were going to ever see Frodo Baggins again, either.”
Sam’s face was dark with anger, and it was at that point that Peregrin Took, the Took as well as Thain of the Shire, a Captain of the Guard of the Citadel, one of the King’s Companions and advisors from the north, and cousin and friend to Frodo Baggins of Bag End, stood up, slapping his mug down on the table before him and drawing all attention to himself.
“You know not of what you speak, Trosco Chubb,” he said with a level of intensity that somehow managed to pierce the Northfarthing Chubb’s self-importance. “First of all, Frodo did not drag anyone out of the Shire--Merry and I forced ourselves upon him over his many objections, and threatened to follow after when the Lord of Rivendell wanted to send us home--and particularly me--as being too young and innocent and, to be frank, too careless to accompany Frodo any further on his quest. I told them straight out that if they wanted me to go back to the Shire they’d have to stuff me into a sack and tie it over the back of a pony to get me there, and even then I’d escape as I could to follow after. And at the end Frodo left us behind, hoping we’d remain safe as he took the greater danger away with him, just as he’d intended to do when he left the Shire.”
He felt Merry stand up beside him, and knew without looking that the Master of Buckland and Brandy Hall was standing with his arms crossed, supporting everything he said with his expression. And Sam was also rising, his chin raised, from where he’d been sitting eating his own meal.
“Sam did go with him, but certainly not because Frodo wanted him to do so. No, he went because Gandalf said it was important Frodo not go alone, and he felt that Sam would take the care for his Master’s safety Frodo himself would ignore. And do you have any idea--any idea at all--of what would have happened if those two had not done so, Frodo and Sam? You think the Time of Troubles was bad--it’s nothing to what we would have endured had Frodo not realized that Gandalf’s warnings were true ones and had he tried hunkering down in Bag End to continue hiding the Ring there!”
“What ring?” demanded a Tunnely from the far Westfarthing.
“What Ring?” asked Pippin. “You ask what Ring? Oh, again, you can have no idea.” His anger had fled, leaving him feeling tired and with his feelings of loss once more renewed. “Bilbo so grieved when he realized just what he’d left in Frodo’s hands, when he began to see how the Ring was eating at his beloved son of his heart even worse than it had eaten at himself! And had Frodo still been here in Hobbiton when the Wraiths came----” He found himself shuddering, and the room went so silent as the surprised company focused on him that a drop of rain rang on the window at the far side of the room.
At last he composed himself enough to speak again. “You cannot begin to appreciate what evil would have come here, here to the Shire he loved so very well, had Frodo Baggins not left here when and how he did. You cannot begin to know what it cost him to lose so much of himself along the way, his very heart scoured as it was by the Ring’s evil and the will of Sauron himself constantly beating at his defenses! You cannot know how Sauron would have sent armies of orcs--goblins--here to slay or enslave us all and destroy all that we know and love about the land we live in. What Saruman--Sharkey did--it’s but a pittance of what Sauron himself intended for us!”
He looked down, and found himself focused on Sam’s song, and at that he looked up and about at all who were there.
Griffo Boffin asked, “This Ring--it’s what you lot have told the children of the Shire about at the Free Fair and whenever you’re telling stories to them, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Merry said from Pippin’s side. “The magic Ring that Bilbo told about that nobody ever believed in, the one he used to wear to make himself invisible and hide from the Sackville-Bagginses. The one he used on his own adventure to get away from the spiders. The one he found in Gollum’s cave. He gave it to Frodo as he left the Shire. And it was years before we learned just what Ring it was.
“Three Rings for the Elven Kings, under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf lords, in their halls of stone.
Nine for mortal Men, doomed to die;
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne.”
“Those were the Rings of Power,” Pippin added in a soft voice, “the rings given to the lords of the ancient races to help them order the world. But it was the One, Sauron’s own Ring, that Gollum had found and kept and that Bilbo found, and that he gave in the end to Frodo. And once It awakened, It would have done unspeakable things to us as the people of the individual who held It away from Its Master. Just as Its Master would have done to us, had he gotten It back.”
He reached down and picked up Sam’s song, and began to sing:
“Shall I sing to you of Frodo of the Nine Fingers?
Of the freedom we’d’ve lost had he yet ten?
Shall I shout aloud the glory of our Lord Iorhael?
Shall I whisper of the pain that he knew then?”
And they listened. As he sang, Pippin realized that many were beginning to appreciate what it was Frodo had given--for them! He focused on Griffo Boffin, on Isumbard, on Largo Longbottom, on Sancho Proudfoot and the Westfarthing Grubb family head, on the faces of Benlo and Bolo Bracegirdle, of Embilard of the North-Tooks and Fred Oldbuck from Kingsbridge. There were some who realized this was not something he was doing simply due to his whims as a flighty Took, although he suspected the only reason some weren’t trying to interrupt was because he was the Thain.
It was a long song, with many verses that spoke to the hearts of the Hobbits for whom it had been written. There was no sublime harmony or fanciful use of language--merely the telling forth of Frodo’s life and choices, down to the choice to leave the Shire and Middle Earth itself to find the peace denied him here. Sam hadn’t had the time to cast this in careful language--it was as brutally honest as his love for his former Master and brother of the heart.
At last he finished and went silent. “I’m not here to tell you what to do,” he finally said. “But it’s been years since Frodo left the Shire, and he’s no longer here to tell us to keep silent--because he never wanted you to have to imagine what he went through to keep you safe! He never wanted for Hobbit imaginations to be strained to think of what might have happened had he not agreed to take the Ring to Its destruction. And it’s not the King who first named Frodo Baggins and his companion Lords of all the Free Peoples and Princes of the West, you see. Our Lord King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar only wishes to see the Shire itself recognize what all the rest of the West has already accepted--that without the actions and choices of Frodo Baggins there would be no Shire for us to dwell in!”
“But he didn’t want to be Mayor in his own right----” began the family head to the Gravellies.
Frodo Gamgee-Gardener stood up then beside his dad. “It wasn’t he didn’t want to be Mayor--it’s that he couldn’t do it any more. It almost killed him, taking the Ring to Mordor, all the way to the Mountain itself! Don’t you realize what the Thain is saying? It scoured him out--right to the bottom of his heart! He almost lost himself, and was losing more every day. He was living with nightmares the likes of which the rest of us will never know! His shoulder ached almost constantly at times, and he knew terrible headaches. It was hard to eat, and harder to find rest. He had to go, or he’d have just crept into the furthest, darkest storeroom in Bag End and have died.
“Don’t you understand? He didn’t leave the Shire for himself--he left it for you--for all of us! And when the Shire treated him like he’d done nothing at all and as if he were an embarrassing freak of nature, he finally left Middle Earth for good--and I say it was the right thing to do!”
The rest of the family heads and their heirs and aides looked at one another as the young Hobbit sat down audibly on his chair, still glaring across the room at the Gravelly. “You’re mighty young to be talking so to your elders and betters,” commented the Smallburrow family head.
Will Whitfoot, somewhat frail but still hale enough, rose stiffly from where he sat, and leaned heavily on his stick. “It’s only the truth, though. You just don’t realize what Frodo managed to do as deputy Mayor. You still think about the only thing as the Mayor does is to officiate at banquets and weddings. But Lotho and Sharkey and their Big Men--they’d left the entire Shire in an awful way. If we hadn’t had Frodo there to take over and set everything in order so as we could figure out how it had been done and all, we’d still be fighting to get things put right! All four of the Travelers helped us put the Shire back together--Captains Merry and Pippin cleaned out the ruffians, Sam Gamgee saw the Shire made green again and our homes rebuilt, and Frodo Baggins saw the secrets brought out and the real villains exposed, and our laws and possessions restored to those they belonged to.
“And you didn’t see Frodo working when he really ought to have been in a dark room with a cloth soaked in cold lavender water across his eyes. You didn’t see the pain he’d hide when his shoulder was aching where he’d been wounded. You didn’t see the scars he hid....” He shook his head, and let himself drop back into his seat.
Benlo Bracegirdle now stood up. “I say that if the King wants us here in the Shire to agree with the rest of the folk about that Frodo Baggins is indeed a Lord of all the Free Peoples, then let’s do it.”
One of the Broadbelts commented, “It’s not as if it really means anything, after all. And if the King’s for it, and the Master and the Mayor and the Thain....”
As they walked back to Bag End together, each tucked securely under his umbrella, Peregrin Took handed Samwise Gamgee the pages on which the Mayor had written the song. “There, Sam. And I’m not the least ashamed of having taken it, you know.”
Frodo-lad shook his head. “But even though most of them will vote for it and even convince their families to vote for it, still most of them think Uncle Frodo only went out of the Shire for a lark. They don’t really believe.”
Sam looked down on his son with a wry smile. “No, them don’t, and that’s a fact. But a few does--and that few is what’s important. Now--what, do you suppose, as your mother’s fixed for luncheon? I think as I could eat an entire oliphaunt on my own, and that’s sayin’ a lot!”
Yes, that was saying a great deal indeed!
And now, particularly for Dreamflower, the following:
Beer Batter Pancakes
· 1/2-1 Cup Beer (Lager, Pilsner) or use stout for darker appearing, denser pancakes and of course a richer flavour
· 1/2-1 Cup Milk (Soy is nice too)
· 1-2 Egg slightly beaten
· 1-2 Cup Flour (White, Whole Wheat or mixture-depending upon consistency)
· 1 tsp Baking Powder (or Soda)
· 2 tbsp Oil
· Pre Heated Frying Pan (350-400 degrees)-drops of water bounce or sizzle-cast iron is traditional-electric griddle is very nice
Beat egg(s) slightly in large bowl (eggs make the batter denser) use whites only for ultra light mixture
Add 1/2-1 Cup Beer (depending upon thickness you desire)
Add 1/2-1 Cup Milk (again, consistency and thickness)
Separately sift flour and Baking Powder
Slowly add flour mixture to liquid until slightly runny-don't over-mix-leave lumpy
Wipe hot frying pan with oil after each batch (use a lint free cloth that is wet with oil)-if brown 'skin' of pancake remains, scrape it off
Spoon or Pour Mixture into pan. Ideally, with enough space around each pancake to allow for expansion and flipping-use a measuring cup if you are adamant about symmetry
Fry pancakes until mixture bubbles in centre and is slightly brown on edge--try not to overcook as this is the chance to keep the pancake light and fluffy
Stack them up, put a pat of butter on top and drizzle maple syrup or home made topping of diced pear or apple with skin on browned in butter and brown sugar with water to make a syrup (adults use pear or apple vodka to enhance the fruit)-go crazy with a little whipped cream for the kids-everyone will love these!
Author's notes: The song referred to in this story finishes my first collection of Frodo-centric stories, and can be read at: http://www.storiesofarda.com/chapterview.asp?sid=3966&cid=27926
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