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My birthday mathom to all! Beta by Lindelea.
The Curse Lifted
On reaching the Green Dragon in Bywater, Frodo dropped heavily to the ground. It had been a long and emotional day. He’d just come from Michel Delving where he’d registered his final will, the papers in which he declared he’d adopted Samwise Gamgee as a brother and thus his primary heir, the transfer of the deed for Bag End into the possession of Master Samwise and Mistress Rose Gamgee, and the purchase papers for two last pieces of property he intended as a trust for all of the Shire. The trip had been emotionally draining, for a very few people had recognized he was leaving the Shire and not intending to return. True, he was not that far from home, but he found he needed to visit a privy, and then ought to eat something before he went any further. Leaving Strider to the stablehobbit, Frodo straightened and entered the inn.
After a brief visit to the privy, Frodo gave his order for a light meal and a mug of soft cider at the bar before finding a small, empty table near one of the windows looking out of the common room toward the village square. His coming had apparently excited no awareness within the room, for which he was grateful. He would eat some fruit and perhaps some cold meats, drink his cider, and ride home for a final time before he and Sam would leave to join the Elves and Bilbo. That would be most difficult for Sam, he knew. But it would be the right thing. Frodo had no desire to remain here to continue to become a mere husk of himself, someone who did not live so much as he merely existed. Not that it would be all that long, he supposed. When the next anniversary of the night beneath Weathertop occurred was he likely to survive the wave of memories that he now knew plagued him? He rather thought not.
The cider arrived, and he smiled his thanks and dropped the requisite coin on the table, turning his attention back outside to consider the twilight. When aware of another presence by his side he did not turn to look, expecting it was merely his meal, until he heard a sniff of frustration and the scrape of a chair, and turned to see Rico Clayhanger settling opposite him, clunking his own mug down on the tabletop.
“So, you’ve emerged from the Hill at last, have you, Baggins?” Rico said, once aware he had Frodo’s attention. “No one’s seen anything of you for months, it appears.”
Rico had married Frodo’s cousin Angelica, daughter of Ponto and Iris Baggins. Frodo barely knew him, as Rico had grown up in the South-farthing and had always associated more with the Bracegirdles than the Bagginses until he’d met Angelica at the Free Fair in Michel Delving. He and Frodo might have been much of an age, but they were unlikely to become bosom friends, particularly as Rico had always been close to Bartolo Bracegirdle, who’d not liked Frodo since they met in their teens. Bartolo had married still another cousin, Delphinium Baggins from Overhill, whose sister, also named Angelica but known generally as Geli, had married Sancho Proudfoot and now lived in Number Five on the Row. Barti didn’t particularly approve of his sister-in-love and her husband, as the two of them had—forced—the marriage. It was ironic, now that Frodo thought on it, that Bartolo Bracegirdle tended to act more like Bagginses were known to do prior to Bilbo’s adventure in the company of thirteen Dwarves and a Wizard, while Frodo himself had only felt compassion for the young couple and had done all he could to see to it that their marriage was successful.
He considered Rico thoughtfully. The Clayhanger’s eyes were rather bright, indicating he’d probably been drinking pretty steadily since well before Frodo’s arrival. Frodo sipped at his own cider, noting it was more flavorful than he remembered cider being in the past two years, and was briefly grateful. As he set down his mug he commented, “Considering that I’ve been twice to Buckland since Midsummer as well as being currently on my way back to Bag End from Michel Delving, I’d not exactly consider myself a recluse, Rico.”
“But Ponto and Iris tell me you were ill last winter and haven’t been to see them or Daisy and Griffo more than once or twice since you returned to Bag End. Nor were you precisely well when you went to the Free Fair during the Lithe Days. In fact, you’ve appeared basically a shadow of yourself since you returned from Outside. What happened, Frodo Baggins?”
Frodo shrugged, suddenly feeling again tired.
Rico continued, “Not that any of you are precisely as you were before you left, what with Pippin Took and Merry Brandybuck growing unbelievably tall and Samwise Gamgee acting anything other than a mere gardener anymore. Angelica tells me that he’d barely do more than politely pull at his forelock when he met anyone in her family in all the time she can remember, but now he simply has to make suggestions and family heads will jump to follow them.”
Again Frodo shrugged, smiling wryly. “Sam has finally accepted that he is far more knowledgeable and competent than he’d ever dreamed, and it’s perhaps only to be expected others will begin to recognize that fact as well. After all, Aragorn considers him to be one of the steadiest and most thoughtful of individuals he knows. When the King himself makes it plain that’s how he feels, it tends to hit home, I suppose.”
“Our new King—Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, Lord of Gondor and Arnor.”
“And he considers Samwise Gamgee to be wise?”
Rico considered that simple answer as he sipped again from his own mug. He finally wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before saying, “And you four truly know this new King of ours?”
“We traveled east and south from Bree with him, Rico. We were all part of the events that led to his acceptance as King of Gondor and Arnor, after all, and were there when he was given the Crown and the Sceptre as well as witnessing his wedding to our Queen, the Lady Arwen Undómiel. Sam proved himself repeatedly during our journey as well as during the time we dwelt in the King’s city after the coronation. As I said, Sam no longer questions his own competence, and others unconsciously respond to his changed attitude toward himself. Having earned the respect of great and noble lords from more than one realm tends to increase one’s self confidence.”
Rico’s brow wrinkled as he thought on this. Then his eyes fixed again on Frodo’s. “How about the unprecedented growth of Pippin and Merry?” he asked.
Frodo sighed. “They met the Ents of Fangorn Forest, who shared their Ent-draughts with them. Gandalf indicated that such drinks can have extraordinary effects on other creatures.”
“So, because they drank something from these—Ents?—they grew taller than any right-minded Hobbit has the right to expect?”
“Apparently so.” Then, when it became obvious Rico expected more, Frodo added, “Well, they said that since it was obvious Bilbo intended to live longer than the Old Took, why shouldn’t they do their best to better the Bullroarer?”
That had the unexpected result of setting Rico laughing. “Better the Bullroarer, then? What else, however, could we expect from either of them? And it appears they’ve managed that!”
Frodo found himself also smiling in amusement. “Indeed. According to what I’ve read the Bullroarer was four foot five, and both Merry and Pippin are now four foot six. Sam has measured them both, and more than once, to make quite certain. They’d not quite reached four foot three and a half before we stopped on our way home to meet the Ents keeping watch on Isengard, and Treebeard shared a second drink with the two of them. Sam and I declined, although Pippin was almost begging me to have one, too, as he thought it might help my shoulder. Perhaps I ought to have accepted.”
Rico’s expression grew more solemn. “And what’s wrong with your shoulder?”
Frodo again sighed. “I was wounded there, not long after we left Bree.”
“And it’s not gotten better?”
Why he decided to answer Rico directly Frodo could not imagine. Perhaps it was due at least in part to the herbs sent by Elrond of Rivendell in the latest draught he was taking. “No, it’s never properly healed, and isn’t likely to do so, not as long as I remain in Middle Earth. So I’ve been told by several people who are in a position to judge such wounds.”
Frodo closed his eyes and shook his head. “Most people who’ve received such wounds from such weapons have died—or worse.” He opened his eyes and looked steadily at his companion. “Only one other ever properly recovered, if you can call it that. But he suffered from increasing pain for what remained of his life. I’m told he only lived twelve years after the source of his wound was removed.” He paused before adding, “All that can be done for me has been done. And considering—considering what else I endured, I must suppose I’m doing fairly well for someone—someone who’s suffered a Morgul wound.”
Rico examined that portion of Frodo he could see, what with him seated as he was. “You look better, perhaps, than you did at the Free Fair, but you appear to be even thinner.”
“So they tell me, those who make my clothing,” Frodo admitted.
The server arrived with what Frodo had ordered to eat—boiled eggs, slices of cheese and roast beef, and a platter of fruit cut into spears. Frodo winced, realizing that it was far more than he could eat. “Help yourself,” he advised Rico. “They brought twice what I can stomach.”
Rico’s eyes widened with surprise, even alarm. “But that’s not enough to keep a bird alive!” he protested.
Frodo felt his face stiffen. Again he met Rico’s eyes. “Why do you think I’ve lost so much weight?” he asked in low tones. “I can barely eat, most days.” As Rico continued to stare at him unbelieving, he continued, “My stomach is chancy now. My head aches. My shoulder is seldom without pain. I cannot lie flat to sleep. When I open my eyes everything appears surrounded by grey fog. I can no longer dance. Sometimes I can barely speak. It can hurt to breathe, even. My heart labors. I have been hurt by cursed blade, by spider’s poison, and the bite of a crazed creature intent on wresting the evil that had taken me for himself. I was at the gates of Death when Aragorn called me back. Sometimes I wish I’d not turned, Rico Clayhanger. Sometimes I wish I’d not come back. The nightmares—they’d drive anyone near to madness!”
He could see the growing concern and compassion in the Clayhanger’s face, and shuddered. “Do not pity me, Rico,” he advised his companion. “I doubt I am worth anyone’s pity.” He turned away, stared blindly at the window once more. The grey fog of which he’d spoken had been closing in on him again, and he couldn’t see past the pane, he found. He murmured, “I don’t know why you even searched me out.”
Rico ignored that last comment. “Are you dying, Frodo Baggins?”
Frodo took a breath and held it before answering, again in low tones, “Perhaps. We don’t know for certain, of course. But it can’t be too long—that I could remain, remain here, that is. When I can find strength I—I do what I can. So—so, I’m setting things in order as I am able.”
After a pause Rico asked, “Who will be family head after you?”
Frodo felt himself give another wry smile. “Who indeed? Ponto told Bilbo long ago he wouldn’t take the job, and has told me the same. Not that he’s in—in much better health than I.” He turned again to face Rico. “Do you and Angelica want the position?”
Rico again sounded alarmed. “Want to be family heads for the Baggins clan? Oh, don’t wish that on us, Frodo!”
Frodo gave a weak laugh. “Do not worry. There is another heir for that position. It won’t fall to you and Angelica.” He took a few more breaths, feeling them catching in his breast. “Where is Angelica now?” he asked.
“With her parents,” Rico said. “She wanted to tell them herself, and sent me off here to celebrate.”
Frodo found his vision clearing. “Celebrate?” he asked.
Rico was nodding. “Yes, to celebrate, and when I saw you I felt I should tell you, as family head for the Bagginses. You know how she lost two babes early on?”
Frodo nodded in response to the question. “Oh, yes—it’s basically what’s happened more—more often than not in the family the last many years.”
“Well, they told us last time she’d most likely not conceive again. Only she has, and has carried it four months so far. And the healers say this time the bairn appears healthy and strong, and should be born in March. And we saw Daisy and Griffo as we entered Hobbiton, and Daisy says that she, too, appears to be expecting, and their bairn should be born in late April or early May! We’ve decided, Angelica and me, to give the child both names when it’s born—it will be a Baggins-Clayhanger, not just a Clayhanger. We don’t want the family name to die away, what with you never marrying and all. And Daisy and Griffo have said the same—their babe will be a Baggins-Boffin.”
Frodo felt an unexpected joy fill him. “It’s over—the curse on the Bagginses!” he whispered. “With the Ring finally gone the family shan’t die out after all! But—but—a Baggins-Boffin? I pray you—don’t let them name it Bilbo or Bluebell, or worse, Bingo or Belba! That would be too—too absurd!”
He drank down his cider and scooped up one of the eggs and a few apple slices. “I must go,” he said as he rose to his feet. “Do enjoy the rest, Rico. But you couldn’t—could not have made me happier if you tried! The curse on the family is over! Bless Gollum for taking It away with him! Bless him—and you and Angelica, not to mention Griffo and Daisy! Bless you all!”
And with that he went out to reclaim Strider for the short ride home, his heart lighter than it had been in months.
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