Twenty-second day back in the Shire: My old journal. To think it's still here, after all this time. How like Sam to keep it, not even knowing if either of us would ever look for it again.
Well now that I have pen in hand, and the paper before me, I seem to not know what to say. What could be worth writing down now?
I've read back some. I see I've forgotten a lot of the silly little things we used to do, Sam and me, and Pippin and Merry. And even Bilbo, when he was in the mood to put up with us! I am so glad I recorded all those things, reading them over brings back those wonderful memories. As we traveled back here to the Shire sometimes I was sure I would never smile at anything again. Dear Sam, he always knew when those moods overtook me and by now has learned to leave me to myself for a while, but not too long. He seems to come up to me just when I start feeling coldest. Even now, it strikes me that I'm writing at evening twilight, when so often I used to write in the bright sunshine, in a tree or the garden. I didn't feel comfortable about writing until now. For all the years and years I kept a journal, I felt uncomfortable now.
Well Sam says not to dwell on what can't be undone, so I shall put those thoughts aside. The evening is a mild one, I'm leaving the windows open at least for a time. The birds are singing their sunset-songs, soon they'll be snuggled up against each other fast asleep. I remember the first week I was back, I couldn't believe how comfortable it was to wrap up in the blankets! A certain amount of familiarity can be good.
Today I received letters from various kin, telling about assorted adventures good and bad that they have had while I have not been home. They seemed to read more like journals themselves, than letters. I suppose they are meant to make me feel included, to bring me up to date on what has been happening here at home. I suppose most would feel closer to their kin after reading this sort of thing, but it feels strange to me. As if I should want or need to know all about relatives I have not seen for half my life, just because I have been elsewhere. Perhaps these folk are truly glad to hear I am home again. Truthfully, I cannot remember most of their faces, and that has been the case for several years! I have been thinking I will write back. If they remember me well enough to write and tell me all these things, I at least owe them a response.
It is just about completely dark outside now. I hear familiar sounds coming from the kitchen and these are comforting. What a delight to sit here peacefully and record thoughts and impressions, and read some from old times. How many things have changed! Still, many things are also the same, in some ways. I've taken short walks round the house and hill and been glad to see that my favorite trees seem to still be standing. There is one that I noticed has lost some limbs. Merry laughed when I mentioned it, and said How can you tell? These trees are older than all of us together and have more limbs than I have hairs on my head! Sam told him to look up, that there was more sunlight coming through. They argued about it, being quite silly of course, and I admit they did make me laugh. Sometimes I still wonder if Merry, or Pippin for that matter, will ever grow up....but that is exactly what I love about them.
Twenty fifth day back: More letters yesterday and today! Some of what I read is quite amusing, what my close and distant kin have been up to. Still some of the same disagreements over whose animals trampled whose garden....Who let the ponies out of the barn....Whose children urged others to play in the rainwater and get dirty. A few folks have come by the house, but Sam always tells them to come back another time. I finally told him to go on and get some air and some exercise, that I would be fine by myself.
And so I have made a pot of tea and buttered some bread. I have been inside the house for most of the day myself, perhaps I shouldn't have sent Sam out. I hope I wasn't too harsh with him. I fear he has forgotten all about himself in trying to ease my way! But I can make tea and butter bread so perhaps that will convince him that I really can do for myself.
Twenty seventh day back: Sam was out and about all day. He's been getting news from various parts of the Shire about the condition of villages and towns and parks. It has him quite upset. We had some visitors today and he immediately forgot to ask them to come back some other day; they asked if he'd heard about the Southfarthing. I won't repeat here what they said...I doubt I shall forget it anyway. We had both hoped that somehow, things would be peaceful once we settled back down but of course that cannot be.
I am considering asking Gandalf if there is anything he can do. Rosie Cotton came by today and missed Sam by less than half an hour, so she decided to stay and talk. I enjoy her company; at last someone who is not tripping over their feet trying to accommodate me! She did offer to get me anything I might like, but I think that is her generous nature rather than a sense of duty toward the Ringbearer. Once we began discussing the Shire, and Sam, she revealed such concern for how he is affected by the damage all round. Hobbits are a determined lot but I fear this may be more than they realise.
I think I envy Sam for having Rosie. Clearly there is nothing one would not do for the other. I have my share of friendships and I hope never to lose them, but how very different it is to see her smile, and how special.
32nd day back in the Shire: Sam, Merry, Pippin and I have made a trip to the Southfarthing. All of us are heartbroken by some of the sights we have passed along the way. We have stopped in Oakleaf for now. Sam has gotten a grand idea: he will use Galadriel's Gift to help replant the Shire. I cannot imagine quite how this will be accomplished, seeing how much work must be done in this area alone. The local folk seem caught up in the plan now, so perhaps there is hope yet.
I have not seen much of my friends today. It is not as quiet here as it was back home, there is much moving about and building, and even some tearing down. The innkeeper has insisted that starting and helping to continue the rebuilding is payment enough, and would not take anything I offered. This makes me uncomfortable. Especially in such times everyone needs to make a living. I wonder if he would be so emphatic if I were not here. Merry tells me I am making a fuss where no one else would, that the gesture is heartfelt and that I should not be so suspicious. Truthfully, I am worried that even now I will see wraiths in innocent shadows. Sleeping has not always been easy.
Well someone will be along soon alerting me to supper; the four of us have taken to eating together in the common room. We are not usually left alone but I am enjoying this. Everyone gets caught up in plans for new gardens and markets, new roads and all sorts of new things. Even though our immediate families did not often come this far South, folks here are very welcoming to the four of us. I think I will, in fact, go on to "our" table and wait.
34th day: I have had a surprise! In town this morning I met my friend Lily Gamwich. So many years have passed and yet she looks almost the same. Scarcely had she said Hello, but she had thrown her arms round my neck! She exclaimed over my hand and told me I had gotten thin, then looked at me quite directly and said, I was afraid I would never see you again.
The honesty in her eyes left me without words. How does one reply to that? This is a person I last saw in my younger days, before Bilbo's infamous Birthday Party, before Sam took over as gardener at Bag End. I think Bilbo only met her twice. She knew me immediately. How astonishing to see a familiar face among so much oddness. She is visiting her sister Iris, who lives in town with her husband. She invited me there and would not take any answer but Yes. She is still the cheerful, delightful girl I remember and had me laughing before I realized how pleasant it was to simply have a conversation about nothing in particular. But then I did something I am not sure I should feel guilty about. When she asked if I was staying in Oakleaf alone, I said yes.
[After supper at the Inn; most folk have finished their last ale and gone off home.]
Pippin stretches his arms above his head and Merry yawns into his nearly empty mug. "Well....." says Pippin, "A long enough day for me! I've been thinking about that bed and those blankets since before we got back here!"
Frodo looks up. "Wait, Pip. I owe you all a bit of explanation."
"We know you're not up to much hard work, Frodo!" Pippin says. "It's good to have you here all the same. The townsfolk all say so, and so do we."
"That isn't it. I am going somewhere else for a while to-morrow -- that is, I was asked to lunch at someone's home and I am afraid I did not mention any of you were with me." Frodo frowns, wishing that had come out better.
Sam sits up, fixing Frodo with that look of his. Frodo met his gaze. "Now, what is this? Going where? And with who, might I ask?"
Merry speaks up when Frodo hesitates. "You are being mysterious and not at all like yourself, Frodo! Out with it, then."
"In town this morning I met an old friend by the name of Lily Gamwich, from Long Cleeve – "
"A Gamwich!" Sam cannot believe his ears. "Mr. Frodo! You know a Gamwich and you never told me?"
Pip and Merry giggle but say nothing.
"This was well before you became Gardener at Bad End, Sam," Frodo continues. "I only knew her for less than three years. It was in fact not very long after I came to live with Bilbo. We met up at the market today and she told me she is visiting her sister Iris, who is married to Torold Hornblower."
"We met Torold the first day here," Pippin adds. "He was the one who sent to Longbottom for some labourers."
"And he and his wife have a fine house we heard," Merry says. "And you know Lily Gamwich? Lily knows you?"
"Yes...I don't think I remember Iris, though. She was older and about her own business. I was quite amazed that she recognized me... Sam? Don't look at me that way!"
"The thing of it is," Sam says slowly, "It reminds me..." Of so many times when you went off with the others and not me – but I can't ever say that! "Oh never you mind me, Mr. Frodo! If you've met somebody here that you're friends with, why it is none of my business. I've enough to tend to."
"Now I didn't mean–"
"Now what would you be doing in the Southfarthing by yourself, Frodo?" Merry asks, leaning forward. "Didn't she ask about that?"
"No she didn't. There is so much going on that I don't think she wondered about it. It somehow did not come up at all. I think, as Deputy Mayor, I can go where I please. I am sorry I didn't mention any of you, but I was quite taken by surprise and thought it might be lovely to simply sit in a sunny window... with an old friend who has more to talk about than orcs and war and ruins! They've redone the garden and house and started some Longbottom Leaf on their land and I want to go, and alone!"
Merry and Pippin sit still, blinking at Frodo. Sam lays a hand gently on Frodo's arm. In a voice low and forgiving he says, "Mr. Frodo, none of us mean to make matters worse. It's a surprise is all, being as we've known you so long and had no idea you knew anybody here. And a relative of the Gamgees, too. But we don't mean no harm."
"Then leave me alone for the time being." Folding his arms securely, Frodo sweeps his gaze across all three Hobbits.
"Leave you alone?" Pippin cries. "Oh no no! That would be the worst thing! Frodo, we must protect you! We don't know for sure if the Southfarthing is really safe!"
"Safe?" Frodo raises an eyebrow at Pippin. "Don't you trust your own family to have rid the Southfarthing of troublemakers by now?"
"Well, as far as they could, of course. But I don't think we should–"
Frodo is on his feet. Pippin sits back. " ‘We' should what? Must I wait until you all decide where I will put my feet next?"
Sam grasps Frodo's arm despite his attempt to shake off the touch. "Mr. Frodo, please! If anything were to happen to you now, here at home in the Shire, how could we any of us bear it?"
Frodo meets Sam's gaze, then looks away.
"Sam is right," Merry says. "Of course we worry about you. You are our friend and you have our loyalty and love. We would never simply leave you."
Frodo sits and sinks low in his chair. "I know... but I am not asking you to ‘leave me'. I simply wish to go visit a friend who none of you have met anyway, and try to forget I ever left the Shire." His eyes close briefly and when they open again, Sam clearly sees a now-familiar hurt. "I can never do that, really. But right now I must try."
"Well you know what you want," Pippin says. "We are almost done here, anyway, and when we leave I suppose Merry and I will go our own way."
"I am not chasing you away! It is a blessing on me that all of you are still with me."
The Hobbits embrace before going to their beds. Sam lies most of the night watching the shadows cast by the moon, moving slowly on the wall.
35th Day Back:
The next morning, Sam takes Frodo the hot cup of tea that has become a custom. Sam sees no trace of the belligerence that had hidden his master's gentle heart. Sam tells Frodo he wants to discuss the day's plans with Merry and Pippin and goes first to Merry's room.
"Mr. Merry, pardon my bursting in on you early, but I have a thought. I'd like your opinion on it, and Mr. Pippin's."
The two meet in Pippin's room. Sam clasps his hands behind his back, then unclasps them.
"Well, Sam?" Pippin asks. "Is it Frodo?"
"Well no, and yes. Mr. Pippin, you said last night that we were almost done here, and that's a fact. The labourers from Longbottom left for their homes yesterday and I think we should leave for ours. Tomorrow, is what I think."
"I suppose you are right!" Merry says. "What does Frodo think?"
"Well, you see, I haven't asked Mr. Frodo yet, because I think he should maybe stay on here, for a bit. Even as long as he pleases. Bag End isn't ready for him yet and it might be when he comes back."
Pippin's eyes grow very round. "Sam! We just agreed last night we wouldn't leave Frodo!"
"Beggin' your pardon, Mr. Pippin, but I think we need to. He did ask us to. He did say he isn't chasing us away. What he's tryin' to chase away, well, it's a shadow so deep and long inside him neither Sun nor Moon can reach."
"Couldn't we help, somehow?" Pippin asks. "I mean, it doesn't seem right... it seems like abandoning him."
"Yes!" Merry says. "How can we do that?"
"There's no help any of us can give." Sam looks hard at the floor then up at his friends. "I see it in his eyes. He needs something none of us have. If we don't have it, we may as well let him look for it. We've been holding up the light to help him look, but he needs to look by himself now."
"What are you saying?" Pippin asks, his voice trembling. "I won't leave! And neither will you, Sam! Of all people to talk like this! What's wrong with you?"
"Nothin' I think, Mr. Pippin! But you did hear Mr. Frodo ask to be left alone. He meant it. We'll only do worse by stayin' ".
"Wait a minute, I think I understand," Merry says. "The war is over. The Shire is secure. The Ring is gone. Frodo will be safe, Pippin. There isn't any threat to him that you or I or Sam could keep away. Even you, Sam... Are you sure you can't stay? What harm is there in you staying?"
Sam heaves a sigh and paces. "I'm as sure as ever. If he trips over me I'll have that to live with."
"What if just Pippin and I leave? You could still look after how the new farms nearby are starting up, and not be so obvious."
"No, it's no good trying that on Mr. Frodo. He'd know what I was up to. I can't say half the truth to him."
Merry and Pippin trade sad glances then nod. "Alright, Sam," Merry says. "I hate to just go off without him, but you know better than us, as far as this. We'll tell him this morning then."
The "Travelers" as they were called eat breakfast in their own rooms. Merry gathers Sam and Pippin and they meet Frodo at the door to his room.
"Hullo!" he greets them. "Have you all come to chide me for my outburst last night?"
They note that Frodo clings to the bright gem hung on its silvery chain about his neck, the gift from Arwen Evenstar. "No," Pippin says, "Just to tell you that Merry and I will be on our way home tomorrow. No more work here for us but I daresay I miss my family and Merry his."
"And?" Frodo asks cautiously.
"And we hope you enjoy your stay here and feel better when you get home."
Sam feels Frodo's stare but can't meet it. "I only told them the truth, Mr. Frodo. I only said Bag End isn't ready for you yet and maybe it'll be ready whenever you come back."
Frodo looks from one Hobbit to the next, not sure he understands the change. "You're going home? And that's that?"
"After a fashion," Merry says. "If we don't hear from you we'll start looking!"
"But... what happened to the protests? Sam?"
"I only told them the truth, Mr. Frodo."
Smiles from Pippin and Merry and utter honesty in Sam's face broke down any further offense Frodo felt. He embraced all of them at once.
"You are all of you more than I deserve! Sam, what about you?"
"Well as you know, my gaffer's barely back in Number Three and needs a bit of looking after now. And Rosie won't be happy that I've been here so long. So it – it looks like I'll be going along with Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin...."
Frodo saw tears begin to spill from Sam's eyes and he embraced his dear friend again. "Oh Sam. I can see how dreadful I've treated you! I never meant you should all go home and forget me!"
"Forget you!" Sam's tears came freely and Frodo's heart broke. "As if I could forget you if Gandalf himself tried to make me!"
"I'm sorry, Sam, really! I'm sorry to have said such awful things!"
Sam pulled himself together. "No, Mr. Frodo, it's me who's sorry. I've been after you all along without a thought as to if you wanted me around. If being by yourself is what's needed, then that's what'll happen. You've a friend here so I don't need to worry ... but I will! I've taken care of you just like I promised I would and I don't feel as I'm done yet but this is what you asked me to do."
"Samwise Gamgee! I am not asking you to go."
"I know, Mr. Frodo, but it's there. I have my gaffer to look after and I have Rosie to answer to, so I'll go and do just that. Every day I'll be waiting to see you. But Mr. Frodo, don't come until you want to see me again... until you want me to take care of you again."
Frodo walks down a quiet lane in the village of Oakleaf. Lily has described her sister and brother-in-law's house as having a stand of pine trees above it and a yellow front door. He expects it will be easy to find. He finds that the peacefulness of the early winter day makes him smile. A few birds flit by overhead, twittering. He kicks pebbles along the lane and listens to the sounds they make as they collide with each other. ‘I am alone... for now, anyway. The villagers are all around me but not so close. I could sing any silly song and no one would hear. Just to spend time looking at someone else's face, to talk about anything besides the war and where ever I went, I miss it!'
The Hobbit holes here were not damaged and the new trees are all in their places now. The sky is overcast, but there are no stark shadows, and just the lightest breeze. All of nature is settling in for another winter, just as it should. This is a village he is not very familiar with and realizes he is quite enjoying seeing how the Southfarthing Hobbits have remade the area. It is different from Hobbiton, yet there is no mistaking that this is the Shire. When Frodo spots the tall deep green pines on a hill and a chimney nearby with white smoke lazily drifting upward, his smile widens.
At the front door, Lily and Iris both greet him. They are both dressed in festive garments, bright with springtime color. Iris' chestnut hair is caught up in a flattering way. Lily's is loose about her shoulders. Frodo takes their hands and lets himself be drawn further inside, where Torold welcomes him. "Mr. Mayor! Imagine us having you here!"
"I'm only Deputy Mayor, and just temporarily." Frodo can't help looking about, impressed by the loveliness of the home. "You have done very well for yourselves. Anyone from Hobbiton would be jealous, I think!"
Torold laughs. "And a thank you to you, Mr. Baggins! It's all been hard work you know, and now is the time of year Iris and I get to stay home a bit to enjoy the comfort. The fields of Longbottom Leaf take a lot of tending to here, the soil is somewhat weak for it. It's doin' better now though!"
"My," says Iris, taking Frodo's cloak, "This is grand! I've never felt a cloth like it."
"It was made by the Elves of Lothlórien," he answers, running a hand along it.
"Elves..." Lily says. "You must have gone far and wide! When I heard you had left the Shire, I never expected you to travel that much!"
A thin smile crosses Frodo's face for a moment. "I hoped to be home much sooner than I was. But that is not a tale for today! I would like to hear how you came by so much Leaf for your fields."
They went in to a very pleasant lunch. No one hurried and there was plenty of talk; Frodo was fascinated by all the news, no matter how minor. Torold was proud of his family's accomplishments and didn't need too much prodding for details. Lily had kept up her weaving and was now in demand throughout the Southfarthing as a cloth-maker and seamstress. When Iris mentions that Lily had made the outfits the three were wearing, the younger Hobbit blushes.
"Iris, there is no need to brag! I'm sure Frodo doesn't care about such things."
"But I do," he says. "Lily, these clothes are beautiful. Your parents must be proud."
"They are... and thank you! They must be nothing next to Elf-clothing, though."
"Not at all. You are not an Elf, and Elves do not make Hobbit clothing. I noticed as soon as I came in how pretty you both are."
Torold raises his ale. "And so they are! The prettiest lasses in the Southfarthing!" He empties the mug and sets it on the table with a resounding thud.
Iris smiles, and leans toward Frodo. "I'm glad you noticed," she whispers so the others can hear. "Lily doesn't have a husband."
"Iris!!" Lily exclaims, eyes wide. Torold laughs. Lily's face is so shocked, Frodo finds himself laughing as well.
"Well!" he says, "I am willing to keep her company until one comes along!" Rising, he extends his arm to Lily who blushes again.
The pair go on to the parlor, where a long window admits the afternoon sunshine. A bench covered with pillows and throws is positioned so that the sunlight falls along its length. It looks so inviting Frodo almost pulls Lily along.
"Ah, now this reminds me of home!" Frodo says with a sigh, sinking into a corner. "How wonderful that the sun has come out."
Lily sits a little further away. "I'm sorry about Iris... I don't know what under the sun made her say that!"
"She meant no offence, and I've taken none. She looks after her younger sister, that's all." Frodo looks at the comely lass beside him. This sweet Hobbit has no husband? No one to ease the loneliness that must come? "Lily, do you live alone? I mean, if I may ask...?"
"Often, yes. I have my own home in Long Cleeve.. Mother would prefer I stay with her and Father of course, but I have so much cloth and sewing supplies about the house I would crowd them out! Sometimes I stay here when I come up for more needles or thread or whatnot, Iris and Torold actually store some things for me here. Why?"
"Do you – like living by yourself? Have you thought about getting married?"
"Why, once in a while! But I provide for myself and I have a home. I have family I can stay with if I need to. I'm very busy and I do enjoy it."
"You do look happy. And in that case, so am I."
Frodo spends that afternoon with Lily, Iris and Torold. Lily shows him the items Iris is keeping in storage and discusses what business is like for her. Torold then occupies the rest of Frodo's time with stories of his family, the Hornblowers, in Long Cleeve, and how they planted field upon field of Longbottom Leaf many generations ago. Frodo hasn't heard most of these details before and greatly enjoys the talk. Just before rising to leave, he wishes Bilbo was with him.
36th Day Back: Here I am, in Oakleaf all by myself. Well sort of, the villagers still ask what I'm going to do as Mayor. I keep telling them I'm only Deputy Mayor but that point doesn't seem to matter much. I suppose things might be worse, after all I might really be Mayor for good!
I've had lunch with Lily, Iris and Torold yesterday and today. There has been much delightful conversation, and time to enjoy the view from the back of their house. The hill slopes down immediately and widens into the Longbottom fields, then rises again into smaller hills. Trees more or less cover these smaller hills. Lily tells me that often, after the summer rains, a rainbow gleams just beyond those mounds. I should like to see that. I can picture a sunny day sitting there, the smell of Leaf on the fresh air and the white clouds beginning to break up. I can picture the rainbow falling between groves of pines.
[Frodo sits back, eyes closed; the scene before him seems clear enough to be real. He can feel a breeze just touch his face. No, well, that was a tear. He sweeps it away and bends back to his writing.]
Sam, Pippin and Merry left the inn early this morning. I fear I have mistreated my closest friends but they insist they have taken no offence. I only meant I would like a bit of time to do a few things on my own, without anyone worrying over me. Sam is so serious about me, bless him. But he will lose his years to come if that is all he does. Rosie needs him. He and Rosie have a future. Merry and Pippin too. Pippin will become the Thain and Merry the Master of Buckland. I will come back to Bag End, in a few days. I want to see that bright smile of Rosie's and the glint in Sam's eyes whenever they greet each other.
37th Day Back: I had no idea Leaf needed so much care this late in the year. Torold and his men have spent all day, since early morn, putting fences up all round the edges of the fields, to keep the rabbits out. After the snow falls the twigs and branches turn into rabbit food. I've seen some about already.
Since Yule is not far off I have decided to spend it here. Lily invited me to the village celebration. The last I heard of the restoration at Bag End was that it might be ready in late winter so I may as well stay here for just a bit longer. I am looking forward to seeing the old house. I know great care is going into all the grounds. I'm also looking forward to seeing the roses blooming again. The weather is somewhat milder here too, and I've seen some wildflowers blooming in the gardens. And that little silver nut Sam planted where the Party Tree was... what will that look like when the sapling shows itself? Spring will be a grand season in the Shire I think!
Lily asked if I would like to go riding further into the countryside. She says there are still some great willows on the banks of the Shirebourn I might enjoy seeing. It would indeed be pleasant to see some trees that have escaped the troubles, especially the old ones.
I wonder if I could live here? I wonder if living here would make anything any different. I wonder how it would feel to live in a different house. Would I miss Bag End's furniture and gear? Would having it make anything any different? No I suppose not. Going back to Bag End will not change anything now. Even if the Party Tree was put back in its place, and all the trees along the Row, nothing would be the same. A house in Oakleaf would look like Bag End. If Bilbo came back to live with me nothing would be the same.
Must it be? Must I see everything so differently? Would being with Lily make it brighter somehow? Somehow, somewhere, there must still be something I recognize. I should have insisted that Sam and Merry and Pippin stay. I have spent many a year with them and can still see their hearts. They are wiser and stronger than they used to be but still Sam, Merry and Pippin. Well when they turned onto the road northward I didn't watch them go. Sam, my poor dear Sam, still had tears in his eyes. As soon as the ponies stepped away I turned and walked to the inn. I did not look back. I did not feel Sam's tears. How could this be, when I owe him so much more than I ever could repay? Somewhere I must find something I recognize.