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Stories, Familiar and Rare  by Larner

Completing the Tale

            The Master of Buckland and Brandy Hall looked up at the knock at his door.  “Enter!” he said, expecting to see either his uncle or Cousin Berilac, but the Hobbit who opened the door was instead Evro Brandybuck.  Merry sighed softly and reached up to rub at the scar on his forehead, which always seemed to prickle slightly when a potentially uncomfortable interview was in the offing.  He carefully straightened the letter from Pippin he’d been reading, stacking the pages that had to do with Shire business on top of the more personal missive that had been included in the packet he’d received from the Great Smial, and pulled his mug and jug closer to him.  “Come in, Evro, and take a chair there,” he said, indicating the visitors’ chairs on the other side of his desk. 

            “And how is Zadoc today?” he asked as the young Hobbit took a seat and pulled it to face him directly across the desk.

            “He’s doing very well, Cousin Merry.  Merl says he’ll be up and around in a few days, and that by next week he will be ready to perform his punishment detail.”

            Merry nodded.  “Gomez says that you have been most responsible in caring for Zadoc and seeing to it his needs are met.  Your own punishment detail is almost at an end.”

            “I’d still like to help him as I can.  I mean, Merry, if I’d not been such a ninnyhammer he wouldn’t have been hurt.”

            “Perhaps not, although I assure you that you are not the first young residents of the Hall to take up the challenge of riding the Maggots’ prize bull.  That he was hurt and you weren’t is immaterial.  You both knew not to do such a thing, but tried it anyway, and if Zadoc hadn’t been thrown and trampled as he was it could well have been you.”

            Evro’s head had gone up at Merry’s words, and he was staring at the Master with his eyes wide.  “I never heard of any of the other lads trying to ride that bull!” he said.

            “That’s perhaps because the last time someone tried to ride the Maggots’ bull was several years before you were born, and it wasn’t this bull, but one several generations back.”

            Evro was all attention, his ears all but swiveling as he considered the fact that he and Zadoc hadn’t been anywhere as original as they’d thought in posing their challenge to one another.  “But who else would be daft enough to try to ride one of the Maggot’ bulls?” he demanded.  “Did the fool hurt himself like what happened to Zadoc?”

            Merry felt himself smiling at the memory.  “As I recall it, he only got a few scrapes as the bull tried to rake him off on the stone fence around his paddock.  I suppose that was bad enough.  Worse, however, was when my grandfather took him to task for it.  He did love my Gaffer, of course, and hated knowing he’d disappointed his Uncle Rory.  Mum told me that the old Hobbit was very gentle about it, reminding him that had the bull itself been badly injured the Hall would possibly remain in debt to Farmer Maggot for years, something that Frodo hadn’t thought of any more than you two did.”

            Evro’s eyes were even bigger.  “Frodo?   You mean Cousin Frodo tried to ride the Maggots’ bull?”

            “He didn’t just try—he actually did it, and more than once, if I recall correctly.”

            “But he never did anything wrong!”

            Merry chuckled.  “Never did anything wrong?  How do you think he came to be known as the Rascal of Buckland, Evro Brandybuck?  There was a time when Frodo Baggins was the scourge of the Marish, and more than one farmer was laying for him.  No one could pull a stunt to strip a berry patch or a glass house like Frodo could.  And my esteemed Cousin Berilac came into use as a diversion on more than one occasion.  No lad in the history of Brandy Hall was the consummate scrumper that Frodo was in his day.”

            There was no question that Evro was shocked beyond his reckoning.  “But everybody always talks as if Frodo was the best Hobbit in the Shire—or, at least they do here in the Hall.”

            Merry’s expression became almost sad.  “That’s because he is the best Hobbit the Shire ever produced.  But that doesn’t mean he didn’t do anything to be ashamed of later on.  Not that he felt ashamed of everything he did to others.  Certainly when he set Gomez up to be punished for planning a prank on the stablehands he wasn’t ashamed of it.  But that was very long ago, when Gomez was still very young, also, and used to be pretty cruel to Frodo.”

            Evro blinked at that.  “But Gomez always speaks of Frodo with such respect.”

            “That’s because he finally realized how stupid he’d been as a lad, and particularly after Frodo saved him when a portion of the riverbank gave way and Gomez fell into the Brandywine when it was flooding after a nasty November storm.  When they were teens Gomez was the bane of Frodo’s life.  But it was Frodo who jumped into the river to pull Gomez up to the surface after he went in, striking his head as he fell.  Both of them almost perished of the cold of the water.  It took that cold dunking for Gomez to realize that Frodo deserved to be treated with respect.”

            “But—but that was brave—really brave!  Frodo didn’t seem to think he was particularly brave!  He said that you were very brave, and that Cousin Pippin was very brave, and that Samwise Gamgee was the bravest and wisest Hobbit he knew—said he was half again as wise as any other Hobbit in the Shire, in fact!”

            Merry shook his head.  “That was Frodo for you.  He never accepted that he was in fact as brave as the bravest individuals we ever met, if not more so.  Do you know what his name means?”

            It was Evro’s turn to shake his head.  “I know Samwise means half wise.  Frodo was impressed I knew that.”

            Merry nodded.  “Well, you always have paid attention to your lessons, after all.  Frodo means wise through experience.  I know most of our names here in the Shire don’t mean anything special, not like those who live in Gondor or Arnor.  I’m told that the King’s given name, Aragorn, means valiant lord, and it was well given, believe me.  But Aunt Primula and Uncle Drogo took thought when they named their little lad, and his name also was well given.  Frodo did learn from his experiences, and once he realized just how dangerous or thoughtless his actions had been during the time he ran wild he did his best to make up for what he’d done to others.  Although he never tried to make it up to Gomez for dumping whitewash and chicken feathers on him and his mates.  But, then Gomez and the other lads who ran with him definitely deserved what they got.”

            He refilled his mug, and after a moment’s thought he turned to bring another mug over from the chest behind him where Hall records were kept, and filled it as well, handing it to Evro.  The young Hobbit was surprised to realize it was filled with ale.  “You are nearly twenty-five, after all, Evro.  And you’ve been taking your punishment detail very well and fulfilling it beyond what most lads your age would do.  When you act as an adult, you will find you will be respected as adults are meant to be respected.  Just don’t let this go to your head, and don’t have another mug of it today.   Considering how much ale was missing on the day the two of you went to Bamfurlong Farm, I suspect that ale was involved in your escapade and Zadoc’s—accident.”

            Evro’s ears flushed red as he looked down into his mug and mumbled, “Yes.”

            “At least Frodo was never drunk when he planned his own escapades,” Merry said, and took a deep draught.  After swallowing, he set down his mug.  “He realized he needed a clear head if he was to be a success in his enterprises.  What he did was almost always well thought out and executed.”  He stared consideringly at the mug for some minutes.  “He was the most intelligent Hobbit I ever knew, and the most thoughtful.  Only, after Farmer Maggot finally caught him in his mushroom patch one time too often and gave him three stripes on his sit-down and had the dogs chase him off of Bamfurlong, he changed, became more thoughtful.  He never went scrumping again.”

            “He got caught?” Evro asked.

            Merry gave him a crooked smile.  “Everyone who takes advantage of other people and keeps at it will get caught eventually, Evro.  Certainly I did in my day.  But it took a lot longer and as much thought on the subject as Frodo himself showed for Ellis Maggot to catch Frodo in the act.  And for all the bluster he showed Frodo that day, in actuality Farmer Maggot respected him a good deal, and was even amused and amazed by how much ingenuity my dear cousin put into his little plots.  Frodo was terrified of Maggot and his dogs until the time he left Bag End after selling it to Lotho.”

            Again Evro appeared greatly surprised.  “Frodo Baggins, afraid?”

            Merry raised his eyebrows and shook his head.  “Did you think that Frodo was somehow able to avoid being afraid, Evro?  Moon and stars, child, of course he had his own fears he had to face.  Isn’t that why you and Zadoc tried to ride the Maggots’ bull—to prove that you could conquer your fears?  And I suspect that Frodo did it all those years ago for the same blessed reason!  Only he did it without the false courage offered by ale, and he was a good deal younger than you when he did it.”  He looked up at the ceiling.  “After his parents died he had a good many fears, and he sought to deal with them by facing them.  I suspect that Bilbo had a lot to do with him realizing that the only way to deal with fear was to face each fear as he came to it, and to use the very imagination that made each fear so terrible in his mind to find ways to conquer it.  That’s what made him brave—that he faced his fears and almost never let them paralyze him.  I think it was Gomez who first dared Frodo to prove he wasn’t a mam’s lad by riding Maggot’s bull, but Frodo wouldn’t do it in front of the other lads until he was certain he could do it well and keep on it more than a few ticks of the clock.  But when my grandfather forbade him to do it again, he obeyed.”

            Evro took a swallow of his own drink before he finally said, “You loved him a lot, didn’t you?”

            “We all loved him—Freddy Bolger, Folco Boffin, Sam, Pippin and I.  He was more than Sam’s Master or the cousin to the rest of us—he was our big brother, our protector, our----well, he was more than a teacher—a mentor, I think the word is that Gandalf used.  If Bilbo and Gandalf were Frodo’s mentors, then he was ours.  And, yes, we loved him.  He did his best to protect us, and we were all moved to do the same for him.  That’s why Pippin, Sam, and I insisted on going with him—to protect him, for we knew he’d not take anywhere as much care for himself as he would for us.  And we wanted him to come back to us.”

            “He was changed.”  Evro’s words were simple, but still a challenge.

            Merry gave a sad nod.  “Oh, yes, he was changed.  But how could he not be changed, considering what he went through?  But then, we were all changed by our adventures.  Only, Frodo never considered what he went through to be an adventure.  It was mostly the most deadly ordeal he could ever have endured.  He was most surprised to realize he’d managed to survive it.  Surprised, and in part, disappointed, I think.”

            “He’d hoped he’d die?”

            “What do you think?  If you’d been bitten by the biggest of all the evil great spiders in Middle Earth and been tortured by orcs and had to carry the Enemy’s Ring for months with It filling your head with images of horror, torture, death, tainted glory and every mistake and grief you’ve ever made or known, only magnified, don’t you think you’d wish to die and be away from it all?”

            “But it wasn’t Frodo who was bitten by the spider—that was the Master, only he never told us who the Master was.”

            Merry rose to his feet and leaned forward over the desk, gazing at Evro with his mouth agape, until he clamped his jaw closed with an audible snap.  “Who said it wasn’t Frodo?” he demanded.

            Evro rose to his feet also, ready to run out the door, apparently.  “It was Frodo who said it was the Master who was bitten by the spider, and that he lay there unable to move or even close his eyes while Sam fought Shelob.  He said that the Master could see the battle only when Sam and Shelob came near, and he could see the flash of the sword, which was like a blue flame.  He said that the Master could hear Sam being knocked down by the spider even after he couldn’t see any more, and the scream as it drove itself onto the point of the Elven blade.  He said that then the Master couldn’t see, hear, feel, or even think.  Then he knew that he was high up, but couldn’t open his eyes, and he had terrible dreams and everyone in them was dying and it was because of him, and the gardens Sam loved were being burned up into ash, or something like that.  He said that then the Master felt himself being lifted up and being stripped and then he was tortured and couldn’t stand it, and that he cried for his mummy.”

            Merry felt the tears running down his cheeks, and straightened, partially turning away.  “Oh, Frodo!” he muttered.  “What a time to start remembering that!”  He wiped at his eyes with his sleeve.  He turned back to Evro and asked, “When did he tell you all this?”

            “That time he came when you and Pippin and your mum and dad were all gone, before he left for good.  We had to search to find him, and he said he’d tell us a tale, only Zadoc said that there had to be a monster in it, and Agata said that the monster had to be vanquished, and Daffodil insisted that the hero had to be the bravest person he could think of, and it had to be true,”

            “So, he told about Sam fighting the spider on the way to Mordor.”

            “Yes.  But I don’t understand who the Master was.”

            “You can’t think who it was?”

            “I thought only the four of you left the Shire.”

            “Only four of us did.”

            “Was the Master from Bree, then, or was—was it Bilbo?  Bilbo was still alive, wasn’t he? In Rivendell?”

            Merry found a handkerchief wadded up in his trouser pocket and pulled it out to wipe his eyes and blow his nose.  “Yes,” he said around the cloth, “Bilbo was still alive and living in Rivendell.  But neither Lord Elrond nor Gandalf would let him go on the quest.  They said he was too old, and that the Ring had moved on and he must let it remain gone from him.  And the only one to join us in Bree was Strider—Lord Aragorn.”

            “But if you and Pippin were taken by the orcs like you said, who was it in the Pass when Sam was fighting the spider?  And why didn’t Frodo help save him?”

            Merry felt a deep, shuddering sigh leave him.  “Orcs and trolls, Evro—think!  Who was Sam’s Master before we left the Shire?”

            “I used to think it was Frodo.  But he didn’t say that he was the one who was bitten!”

            Merry was already shaking his head.  “No, he didn’t, and he most likely wouldn’t do so to small children who’d only wanted to hear a story.  Only you said it had to be true one, and about the bravest and wisest person he knew, and of course he would think of Sam!  He never considered himself to be particularly brave, you know, even when he was willing to let himself die so that everybody else could survive!”  He blew his nose again as he sank back into his chair.  “Sit down, and tell me, as well as you can remember it, all that he said in his tale.”

            So Evro did as he was asked, and was surprised at how vivid the story still was, even though it had been over thirteen years since he first heard it.  He went on to tell about the conversation he’d had with Frodo after the other children had left, and how Frodo assured him that the one who’d killed his brother was dead and couldn’t do any more harm to anyone, and that even the other ruffians had known he was dangerous to them, too.  “Frodo understood how I felt,” Evro explained.  “I thought I’d be glad to know the Big Man was dead, but I wasn’t.  I was just relieved that he couldn’t kill anyone else.”

            “Yes, Frodo understood all too well.  He’d been through much the same, but far worse.  Yet, after the war was won because Frodo and Sam—and Gollum—all made it to the fire at the heart of Mount Doom, every morning when we woke up while we were staying in the King’s city Frodo would go out on the balcony or stand along the walls looking east.  You’d think that he wouldn’t want to look there where things had been so bad for him and Sam.  But, no, he was looking to make certain that the weather there was now normal, and that Mount Doom was still gone, to reassure himself that Sauron was indeed vanquished and that the Ring was still destroyed so that no one else ever would have to go through what he had endured.  He was glad that the Ring was gone, but he wasn’t as happy as I think he’d thought he would feel.”

            “And Frodo was the Ringbearer?”

            Merry smiled sadly.  “Yes, Frodo was the Ringbearer, the one who carried the Ring all of the way to and through Mordor to see It destroyed.”

            “Why did he give his sword to Sam and let him fight the spider?”

            “Frodo thought that Shelob was already vanquished and that she’d given up the fight.  He and Sam both tried their swords on her web of shadow, but the sword Sam carried could barely cut a single strand, while Sting slashed whole cords with each blow.  Frodo was exhausted and only wanted to get out of the tunnel into the open again at that point.  It wasn’t easy, first going through that dark place with no light and surrounded by that stink that the spider left behind her.  Then he’d had to fight her when she attacked him----”

            “But he said that it was Sam who fought the spider!”

            “But he didn’t say who it was that cut the claw off the spider, or put out her eye, did he?  It was Frodo who did that, before they got to the end of the tunnel.  He fought her and cut off part of her claw and struck and blinded one of her eyes, and then he brought out the Lady’s star glass and held it up, calling on Eärendil so that it bloomed with light, and she fled away from him.  It was only after that they found the way out was blocked by her web.  And she only came out again when he and Sam let the light go out in the star glass, but by a different way they couldn’t tell was the end of another, smaller tunnel.  And the moment he ran ahead she leapt on him from behind, and that was when that foul Gollum grabbed Sam and tried to strangle him.”

            “But how did he get an Elven blade?”

            “The same way he acquired a mithril corselet—from Bilbo, his sword Sting that was found in the troll horde and the mithril shirt he was given by Thorin Oakenshield.  When Bilbo left the Shire he took them with him, and when he knew that Frodo would be going on to Mordor to see the Enemy’s Ring destroyed he gave them both to Frodo, hopeful that the mithril would prove impervious should anyone else again seek to use a Morgul blade on Frodo.  Frodo and I had each been given a long knife like Sam’s and Pippin’s by Tom Bombadil, but his was broken when he raised it in defiance of the Black Riders just outside Rivendell—their spells intended to draw Frodo back to them proved too much for it, apparently.  Or maybe it broke when he fell from the Elf horse’s back.  Which was true we don’t really know, but we all still had our swords from the Barrow-downs and he would need one.”

            “But you told me before he didn’t use his sword.”

            “When?”

            “Years ago.  You said that Frodo never killed anyone,”

            “Yes, I said that, but I never said he didn’t use his sword.  He didn’t like the idea of possibly killing anyone, but he definitely used it both to defend himself and to defend the rest of us.  The one he had first he used on a barrow-wight that had intended to kill Pippin, Sam, and me for some reason of its own, and he cut off its hand, although I doubt you can truly kill a wight, as they’re supposed to be cursed souls of the dead already.  He is the only one of us who was capable of attacking the Black Riders when they came at us at Weathertop—the rest of us were paralyzed with fright until Strider lifted a burning brand against them and began setting their robes alight.  They use fire against others, but cannot bear it when flames are used against them.  At least Frodo tried to fight back, and managed to cut away part of the cloak of the leader of the Wraiths!  And he fought as hard as any of us in Moria, even stabbing the cave troll’s foot with Sting.  That he didn’t manage to kill any of the orcs wasn’t due to lack of trying, believe me.  The one Sam managed to kill there was more by accident than design, really.  But before Frodo could manage to kill one, too, he was jabbed by the troll, who’d grabbed up one of the dead orcs’ pikes and tried to skewer him.  Thanks to the stars that Frodo was wearing that mithril shirt, or he’d have been dead for certain.  As it was, he had a horrible bruise and was sore for days, even with Strider’s help.  He even threatened Gollum with Sting when they captured the wretch, holding it to Gollum’s throat until he let go of Sam, whom he’d bitten and tried to strangle.  And at the end Frodo was the first to fight Shelob, and he cut off her claw and blinded one of her eyes, defending both himself and Sam.  But Frodo wasn’t truly well by then, not with the Ring on that chain about his neck.  It had been working steadily at him probably since we left Lórien, and It only got worse the closer they got to Mordor.  Sam said that the weight of It was terrible, that Frodo was dragged down and down by It the further they went.  And when Sam thought Frodo was dead and took It and put the chain around his own neck, he, too, felt like a millstone hung on that chain.  He could not understand how Frodo had managed to carry It that far, much less how he took It back and carried It the rest of the way to the mountain!”

            He sat quietly for a time, then rose, took something out of a drawer behind him, and gestured for Evro to follow him as he left the Master’s office and led the way to the library.  Recently a lectern had been brought in that it was said had been crafted by Drogo Baggins and found in a mathom room in which much of the furniture he and Primula had intended to put into the new hole they’d been having excavated had been stored, and set up near a window at the far end of the room from the hearth.  On it sat an enormous new book bound in fine green leather and stamped with gold and red and white with a tree that bore golden leaves and white flowers, with above it a beautiful eight-pointed star.  Merry laid his hand upon it reverently.  “This is the Hall’s copy of the Red Book, the book that tells of Bilbo’s adventures on the quest of Erebor, and then Frodo’s description of what we went through in our own quest.  Get that chair over there and sit down.  I will read you what Frodo wrote.” 

            “But it’s green,” Evro pointed out.

            Merry gave him a sour glance.  “Green was Frodo’s favorite color.  The Red Book is only red because the journal it was written into was red when it was given to Bilbo.”

            Evro noted that Daffodil, who’d been sitting, reading, in a chair near the hearth, had risen to her feet and hurried out.

            Merry opened the book somewhat past the middle, and began to page through until he gave a grunt of satisfaction.  “Here we’re coming to it,” he observed, and more carefully turned the pages until he found the place he wanted, and after clearing his throat, he began to read, “Shelob’s Lair.  It may indeed have been daytime now, as Gollum said….”

 *

            How long they were there, the Master of Buckland reading aloud from the green copy of the Red Book, Evro couldn’t say afterwards.  Merry read through what appeared to have been two chapters, and then again was leafing through further until he found the beginning of the next chapter of Frodo and Sam’s trials, much further on in the volume.  Evro briefly wondered what was being skipped, but as he found he had to know what happened to Frodo and Sam as Frodo had told it here, he was content to defer learning of those chapters for now, at least.  He looked about and was surprised to find that others had gathered within the room, including Agata, who’d sat on Cousin Frodo’s lap so long ago before the Baggins left the Shire and Middle Earth, listening to that terrible story from the safety of Frodo Baggins’s embrace.  And beside her, with a shawl about his shoulders and his parents behind him, sat Zadoc, his damaged leg in its carefully contrived splint resting on a footstool. 

            At last Merry found the new place, stared at it for a moment or two, and again began to read.  “The Tower of Cirith Ungol.  Sam roused himself painfully from the ground.  For a moment he wondered where he was….” 

            After the description of a black shape of terror dropping into Mordor before Frodo and Sam’s eyes, Merry at last stopped, closed the book, and pulled out his wadded handkerchief once again, using it this time to wipe his brow before once again stuffing it back into his trouser’s pocket.  He stood that way, one hand in his pocket and the other resting on the closed book for at least five minutes as told by the Dwarf-wrought clock that stood in one corner of the room.

            Zadoc had been sitting with his eyes focused on the flagged floor somewhere between his footstool and the lectern behind which the Master stood.  Now he looked up and said, “That’s not how he told us about it.  I thought that Sam was the one who cut off the spider’s foot and stuck the sword in her eye.”

            Merry’s mouth worked briefly.  “That was Frodo for you, not quite telling you all of the story and letting Sam take most of the credit.  But from what Evro has told me about what Frodo told you then, it appears that during the telling some of what Frodo himself experienced finally returned to him.  After he awoke in Ithilien, Frodo had few clear memories of most of what happened from the time they left the shelter of the brambles where they hid after being released by Faramir’s Men along the road to Harad.  He remembered the last remnants of the sunset of that day without a dawn illuminating the flowers about the head fallen from the statue at the Crossroads, and commenting that the King had now a crown again.  He briefly remembered the lines of soldiers following the Lord of the Nazgûl to the siege of Minas Tirith and how he almost could not stop his hands from putting the Ring on his finger.  He remembered his legs aching from the apparently endless climb up the winding and the straight stairs.  He remembered they slept once, and that they had no idea as to where Gollum had gone.  He remembered the stench when they first reached the tunnel, and Gollum telling them it was orcses’ filth.  He remembered being in awe of Sam’s willingness to go beside him as they started into the pitch black of the tunnel.  He had a brief shard of memory of being knocked flat and something stinging attached to the back of his neck above the mithril corselet, burning like fire.  He briefly remembered coming to in the tower, and knew that he’d had terrible dreams, but not what they’d been.  He knew he’d been questioned and beaten with a whip that was designed to tear open the skin.  He remembered the fall of the orc down through the trap door, and searching for anything in the tower that had been taken from him, and finding his water bottle and pack slashed to pieces and torn apart, and then the lembas in the corner, all battered and crumbled, but still clean enough to be eaten.  He remembered Sam coming back with orc clothes for them to wear to disguise themselves.  And he had fragmentary memories of their escape from the tower, of Sam using Galadriel’s star glass to force the Watchers to let them out the gate, and the fall into thorny plants.

            “But most of what was written here was what Sam told us, what Sam remembered.  Frodo barely remembered the spider at all, although he did remember bringing out the star glass and calling upon Eärendil, and seeing the spider retreating from its light.  Maybe it was remembering how Eärendil himself killed her dam.  Who can say?

            “But what he told you, of the details of those dreadful dreams—he didn’t remember them at the time, or what he’d said when they were beating him with that cursed whip and threatening him with their knives.  To remember that he’d gibbered with terror and had even cursed Bilbo for leaving the Ring to him—that had to have torn him absolutely in two.  And he even remembered crying for his mother, and begging them to kill him?  Oh, Frodo—what the Ring did to you!  No wonder he bolted away when my mum told him he looked like he was dreadfully ill!”

            “But why,” asked Daffodil, “why didn’t he remember all that?  And why did he tell it as if the Master was someone else, someone other than him?”

            Merry shook his head sadly.  “Aragorn, his Elven brothers, Lord Elrond, and the other healers all told us the same thing—that when someone has been hurt beyond bearing his mind often holds no memory of the terrifying event, or it’s buried so deeply that he cannot bring that memory to mind at all.  Even to try to force the memory to surface can leave the victim shaking with terror but still in ignorance of what happened.  They say that if those terrible memories were easy to recall, the person would likely be in thrall to them for the rest of his life.  They say that forgetting the terrible details helps the person to live at least a semblance of a normal life.  Not remembering is often a blessing.  But it’s a mixed blessing, because not remembering can drive such people mad with frustration.

            “So, Frodo couldn’t remember those things that were worst, and by listening to Sam’s story of it he could know without it being something that possibly had hurt him.  He could imagine that it was the Master who’d gone through all of that, not himself.  He could continue to feel safe.

            “We were told that many times the memories never come back, but that in some cases they do return.  Sometimes it’s because something happens that sufficiently mimics the events of when he was hurt before that the memories just rush in and overwhelm him, or he feels as if he were caught back to that time and he must protect himself again.  Or it may be that he is now sufficiently recovered that deep in his heart he knows that they are just memories and not something that can hurt him now, not in the situation he’s now enjoying.

            “What Frodo wrote in the Red Book was Sam’s story as Sam told it to us during the days we remained encamped at the Field of Cormallen.  We each told our stories, too, what we remembered of what happened to us after we all went a bit mad at Amon Hen when we realized Frodo had decided to go on alone to try to protect us.  Know this—Frodo realized, apparently before we left Rivendell, that in order to destroy the Ring he’d have to jump into the Fire with It, for he realized he already couldn’t give It up voluntarily, It had such a hold on him.  That’s what the Great Rings were made to do—to guard their bearers but also to protect themselves by working themselves into the bearer’s mind and heart.  The One Ring did as all the Great Rings did, but It was designed to help Its Master to wield all power over all others, and to bring any other person who tried to take possession and power over It to self-destruction.  It had sufficient of Its own will to do all It could to force Its bearer to reveal himself to Its Master’s slaves so they could bring It home to Sauron’s hand once more,

            “From the moment Frodo, Sam, and Pippin realized they were being pursued by Black Riders the Ring repeatedly tried to force Frodo to put It on, for the moment he did so he was better than halfway in their world and they’d be able to perceive him, no matter how well hidden he might be.  It succeeded when we reached Bree.  He danced too close to the edge and the table suddenly shifted in spite of being so sturdy and heavy, and he fell and It slipped Itself onto his finger and he disappeared.  There were Saruman’s—that is, Sharkey’s agents in that room, and some who had been told they’d be given gold if they made reports to the Black Riders when they came back again of anything extraordinarily unusual that might have happened.  At Weathertop the Ring put it in Frodo’s mind that if he put It on he’d disappear and the Black Riders wouldn’t be able to see him.  Only not only could they see him clearly with It on his finger, but he could see them clearly as well.  At the Ford of the Brúinen he was able to stop himself from donning It, but barely, and the strain of fighting both It and the Morgul shard in his shoulder finally caused him to lose himself, and he fell from Asfaloth’s back.  We almost lost him then.

            “Sam was aware of several times when Frodo could barely restrain himself from putting on the Ring, and Frodo remembered a few other such incidents, such as when they were watching the host leaving Minas Morgul and he found himself reaching for the star glass rather than the Ring, even though the Ring was overwhelming him with Its insistence he put It on while the Nazgûl was still in sight.  They both remembered once when Frodo was so weak that he couldn’t stop himself, and Sam had to hold Frodo’s hands together until the urge left him, and the Enemy’s agents were out of range of finding them.  Frodo had not only the rigors of the journey to endure, but Its constant taunts and suggestions, Its threats and images of the evil being done that only he could stop if he’d just give in and put It on and claim It!  He knew by then that this was the Ring seeking to act on him, and he wouldn’t give in to Its urgings.”

            He paused, then continued, “As for why he talked of the Master as if this person were someone else—well, if it were you, would you wish to think of yourself reduced to such terror that you cried out for your mummy or cursed the Hobbit you loved as if he were your second father?  Would you wish to think that the Hobbitess you dreamed of being torn to pieces was the lass you’d loved when you were a lad just short of being of age?  Would you wish to see yourself as you were, lying there, stripped of all your clothes and sick and undoubtedly lying not only on rags fouled by exposure to the weather outside those empty windows but probably your own filth as well?  I’d say he had good reason not to wish to identify himself as the one who was poisoned and paralyzed by the spider or tortured by the orcs of Cirith Ungol.”

            At last Evro spoke up.  “As you were reading I thought of Sam as being the real hero, but I realize now that Frodo only appeared weaker because he was fighting more.”

            “Even so,” said Merry quietly.  He looked down at the bundle of papers he’d brought from the drawer in his office, which lay half covered by the book.  Carefully he slipped them free, and he walked to the table from which Evro had brought his chair, and began to lay them out.  “Frodo,” he explained, “used to write out the things that bothered him, both when he lived here in Brandy Hall as a lad and after he went to live in Bag End with Bilbo.  He also would draw pictures of the things that most angered or frightened him, and Sam has told me that he found many of those pictures in Frodo’s old stationery box Bilbo gave him when he was twenty-three, and more packed in the kist sent after us that he’d used when we stayed in the guesthouse in Minas Tirith.  The worst pictures were those he had of the horrors he’d seen in Mordor or in the dreams that the Ring gave him.  He had lots of those in Gondor, and usually he’d burn the horrible pictures before anyone else could see them.

            “The last time he came, while Mum was down visiting in the South-farthing and Dad was out in Bree and Pip and I were hunting ruffians, Frodo came here to visit one last time those places he’d once loved.  He cleaned his parents’ grave, and spent time in the hole by the river where his family once lived, and the hole Primula and Drogo were having dug to live in near but not in the Hall.  He visited the old mill that Bilbo said had been built by the Men of Cardolan when this was the Royal Seat.  He walked one last time by the Brandywine and watched the children swim.  He spoke with Aunt Dirna before she died, and he went into the quarters where his family stayed when they visited the Hall before his mum and dad drowned.

            “Sometime during that stay he apparently had a few more nightmares, and he drew them out.  Considering that he’d not done any pictures of Shelob before, or not that we knew of, I suspect these were due to those memories returning to him as he told his story to the children, the one so many of you heard.  Getting those memories back like that had to have hurt terribly, even though I believe he was also glad to have some of the blank spots filled.  Usually he would have burned the pictures, but before he could do so my Mum returned home and talked him into coming to the Master’s parlor to talk, and when she told him that he was so stubborn a Baggins he’d not admit he was ill even on his deathbed, he bolted.  So, I was the one who found them when Pip and I returned to Buckland, inside the book he’d been reading.”

            He nodded to the others and left the room, and the others crowded around to see what it was Frodo had drawn.

            It was the picture of Sting piercing the spider’s eye that most affected Evro.  It was done in stark black and white.  It showed one hand holding the Elven sword, its blade deep in the eye cluster.  The scene was lit by what must have been a small but intensely bright light somewhat to the left, and definitely below the Spider’s head, illuminating those frightening mouth parts, which were dripping poison.  And he could so clearly see Sam, also with his sword out, standing beyond Shelob’s head, waiting for a chance to land his own blow upon the monster his Master fought.





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