#23

55th Day cont'd: [Frodo finds the path to the house is snow covered but not difficult to walk through.  It seems to be mostly drifts.  Some are higher than his knees but the snow is fluffy and light.  Torold is not surprised he's come, he's learning that Frodo can be determined.  He says his men have cleared much of the snow from the paths to the fields so they set off from the house right away.

The work goes well for a while.  The cows are outside, gathered in groups here and there.  The water has frozen, though not completely, and the ice is broken up and dumped.  Large bales of hay are rolled into the field and broken open to make feeding easier.  On the way between bales, Torold slips and hits the ground with a yelp.  He tries to rise and swears mightily when he discovers he can't put any weight on his right foot.  His men help him hobble back to the house while one goes to fetch Prisca from the village, the woman who knows what to do about things like this.  Lily directs Torold to the bench near the fireplace.]

"Now you've caused a ruckus, you ruffian," she says, helping him settle his leg on the bench.  "Iris not here and half your men gone, and look what you do!  As if there isn't enough work round here..."

"Now, Lily..." Torold says, in a rather helpless voice.  "I'll hear from your sister about this, I will!  Oooo–watch the ankle, lass!"

"I think you've just a sprain."

"Just, she says!  I daresay you've never sprained a thing and that should keep you quiet!"  He laughs then winces again as Lily adjusts the blankets.

"Might I help?" Frodo asks.

"You can muzzle him," Lily says.  "We'll need some help now, Torold.  Even a sprain will keep you off that foot at least for a few days."

"Don't I know.... well, I think we can find a few lads in the village.  It's a blessing the calves won't come for another two months!"

"Iris had better come before that!"  One of the men comes back with some ice and Lily wraps a cloth around it.  Gently she ties it around Torold's ankle.  "That should hold you till Prisca gets a look.  If you've broken something, you'll be a fiend to live with."

"As would you, imp!  Get me some water."

Lily smiles at him and leaves the room.  Frodo sits on the floor near Torold.  "Have you broken anything before?"

"Well I'd count myself a poor farmer if I hadn't!  And this'll hold me up for sure, broken or no.  Ah, well... there must be a good side to this, somewhere."

"Really?  You're laid up, Iris isn't back and you're shorthanded.... how do you figure?"  This is no jest; Frodo is amazed that he could find much good here.

"I'm still alive, for one!  Iris'll be back soon and bring the men too.  We can get some lads from the village for a spell.  Ah.... many thanks," he said as Lily brings his drink.

"I'll stay on, you know," Frodo tells him, "At least until your men come back.  It makes me feel useful."

"If it's useful you're after, you'll find it," Torold assures him.

A short time later, Prisca arrives with a small sack which she sets down beside the bench.  She is short even for a Hobbit and has deep laugh lines on her face.  She smiles at Lily and Frodo, then shakes her head at Torold.  He winces and groans as she handles his foot.  She straightens up and addresses herself to everyone.

"Ice was the right thing to do.  Keep that on for about half an hour, take it off for another half an hour, then put it back on.  Do that as often as you can for the rest of today and all through the following two days.  He just has a sprain."  Torold rolls his eyes and Lily and Frodo laugh.  "And don't let him get up!  He is to stay off his feet for at least three days."  She embraces both Hobbits.  "Lily, I am so sorry about your parents.  I knew them well.  Many blessings upon you and your family.  Young man, you would be the Mayor, am I right?"

"Deputy Mayor, and probably not for very long.  You're sure it's a sprain?"

"Oh yes, I've been at this for many a year.  He'll recover fine if he follows my instructions," she adds, glancing sternly at Torold.

[After she leaves, Torold tells Holfast, who'd gone to get Prisca and stayed around to find out what had happened, which of the lads he'd like as fill-ins.  Holfast hurries out to find them.  Lily offers to make Torold something to eat to help him recover.

As it turns out, Holfast can't get everyone Torold wanted so they all know they'll be working hard for their supper.  Some of the cows are missing and Frodo goes out to help look for them.  There is much relief when they're found at the far edge of the field, huddled together.  The snow starts falling as the little group of animals treks back to the herd.  By the time everyone has returned home, dark is falling with the snow.  Frodo still wants to see those books and goes back to the house.  He's grateful to find supper ready.  It's a cheerful fire that provides light to read by and Frodo, Torold and Lily spend a few hours going through the several volumes of family history.  Frodo makes notes with Lily's help.  When he looks out a window, all he sees is a sheet of white.  Beyond the front door it's the same.  Frodo decides he doesn't want to toil through that when he's already in a warm, dry place.  He goes back to the fire and it's past midnight when they decide to call it a night.  Frodo has a room with its own fireplace and he watches the flames dance happily.  His last thoughts are about the peacefulness he feels.]

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#24

57th Day: I've finally gotten back to the inn!  I'm sure even Bilbo and the Old Took have never heard of a snowfall this deep.  And the wind has blown much of it too, so clearing paths is an almost never-ending chore.  We thought we'd lost some cows for good in it, but we found them all and have put them in an enclosure.  I feel good knowing they are all accounted for.

Torold's books are fascinating, I read several of them completely.  I've a stack of notes for Bilbo.  Lily helped me with that else I'd be here till Spring.  Which is not an altogether bad thought, but there's Bag End and Sam and the notes that Bilbo gave to me, and that will be a lot of work.  I have ideas now on how to arrange it, when I first saw everything he had I was afraid it would take me a month to put it all in order.  Doing that is something I am very much looking forward to.  I want to see it completed while I am still alive so it is done properly.  It must be explained clearly and straightforward, there must be no doubt as to the depth of Evil that was in Middle-Earth.  I am not sure that it is gone forever.  Should anyone ever wonder whether they need to concern themselves with the Dark, this book must stand as proof that it cannot be ignored.

Also I am curious about how Bilbo recorded things.  I've read his story before of course, but I know he was adding after I last saw his book.  He tries so hard to be accurate and not take credit for things he didn't have a hand in, but sometimes he adds a thing or two.  I don't think it's anything that would cause misunderstandings but it's his way, and I'm sometimes quite amused at it.  I don't know if I do the same but I expect Sam will tell me!

I've been having a nice time, actually.  Looking after cows year after year must be tiring and yet stimulating; they're live animals after all.  Some of them have indeed looked sideways at me every day and others come right up to me as if we're fast friends.  It's no wonder Torold and Iris both miss the calves they sell.  This morning we had a break, and Lily brought us all some fresh warm bread with cheese made from the cows' milk.  A simple snack but one that tasted wonderful.  Somehow, at Bag End, our bread and cheese don't taste the same.

Or, now that I think of it, have I actually changed that much, that even food is different to me now?  [Frodo pauses, considering this new thought.  ‘Could I be so changed that even food will no longer be the familiar, everyday pleasure it always has been?'  He starts to feel lost, acutely aware that he's not even in Bag End right now.  ‘But up until very recently I hadn't noticed the food difference.... or is it just that it's a gradual change?  What else might no longer be the same as it once was in my younger days in the Shire, before the Ring?  Ah, the Ring.... what a curse it truly was.  Bilbo didn't mention such things and he had the Ring for so long.  But then he's been living in Rivendell and probably wouldn't notice these sorts of differences in the Elven surroundings.  And he didn't go to Mordor.'

Frodo gets up and paces before the little fireplace.  ‘Am I so physically different as well as emotionally?  What else is different about me?'  He looks down at himself, half afraid he'll see something he hadn't before.  But there is nothing, except his hand.  He studies it.  ‘I did say to Lily that this is an outward mark of a deep inner wound.... and it is a mark to all who see me.  It is a permanent mark.  No matter what my feelings and thoughts may be, this is one thing that never will change.  I tried to claim the Ring and this will always remind me.  If I had thrown myself in, I wouldn't have this reminder and I wouldn't be concerned about what to do with myself in the Shire.'

In Frodo's mind, a picture flashes of Sam's face seeing Frodo throw himself in the Crack of Doom.  Frodo winces and turns away from the fireplace.  ‘Well, I suppose even that would have been the wrong decision.  Sam would never have made back here.  Merry and Pippin would have been always haunted by it.  With that on their minds and in their hearts, they couldn't have defeated Saruman and  his cronies here.  Bilbo would have been beside himself.  Even Gandalf would have been unhappy.  Far too many people would have suffered.  So here I am.... reminders and memories intact.  Friends intact too, thankfully.  What then am I to do?'

He goes back to the table, sits down and reads over his last sentences.] Be that as it may, I'm here.  Whatever life is left to me I must accept as it is.  I can't change what has already happened.  There may yet be something left for me to do.

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#25

58th Day: Iris sent a note saying she'd be starting back for Oakleaf in a day or two.   Torold was glad to hear it, not just because he misses his wife but the rest of his men will be coming back too.  She said they didn't get much snow at all but heard about it from travelers who struggled out from under it.  There are still some things to do but she said they can wait till Spring when traveling will be easier.  The tone of her letter indicates she's ready to put this behind.  I'm glad; I don't know her very well but she seems to be a sweet person.  I think she'll put her energies into helping Torold recover and the Winter-time tasks on the farm.  Torold of course always has his hands full.  He's been very considerate to me and I feel I should repay him, somehow, but nothing seems adequate.  He doesn't need much money, really, and wouldn't take it anyway.  He has enough land and as many cows and Longbottom Leaf as he can handle.  I shall have to think of something!  To add to it he let me copy from books that are really his family's personal history.  I don't know what I could come up with that would be anything near equal to all that but I want to thank him properly.

And Lily, well.... she has changed me, in a way unlike anything else.  Her unbounded friendship, like Sam's, is more special to me than almost anything.  Here I've found a certain peace.  There is work to be done and people willing to teach me; wonderful food, a warm fire and a soft bed.  As much as I can be healed I think it's happened here, mostly.  Bag End is still in my mind.  It's the place Bilbo and I used to live, where Sam and I began our friendship that has continued to deepen.  For me there will always be some of Bilbo there.  I don't know what Lily would think of that.  She has urged me to let go of the past.  I don't think she means to let go of the good things and memories of time with Bilbo are good indeed.  It's hard, however, to think of those days and not think about everything else from that time.... the walks, the long walks, the reading, meeting Gandalf, walks, reading, a few friends.... it all happened there.  Lily's life is different, I don't know if she could quite understand.  She's a more settled sort of person.  But I'm going to talk to her tonight and then I'll know.

Being away from Sam, Pippin and Merry has let me think.  I realise now I've thought a good deal more than was necessary, but I suppose I had to.  On the long way back here from Rivendell thinking was about the Shire and the rumours of trouble, and Bilbo and Elrond.  I thought about Sam and how happy he was to have Bill the pony back.  What a simple way of living Sam has.  What a beautiful, simple way.  It's not that he can't think past what he sees in front of him, but he can cut off many of the thoughts that cause complications.  And now back home, after all he's been through, he still thinks of everyone else first.  I'm so glad he has Rosie – I already feel the exceptional energy they'll both share with everyone.

I've written Sam a short letter explaining things, or trying to, anyway.  I asked him to tell Merry and Pippin.  It would be good to talk to Gandalf, even a little.  I suppose I just want confirmation from him.... I wonder if he'd ever just tell me ‘yes' or ‘no'!  That would be asking too much of the old wizard, I expect.  He reminds me of Bilbo that way... both have learned a lot over the long years.  Since the notes from Torold's books are all in order I've packed them up and will send them on to Bilbo directly from here.  I don't expect to hear back from him, but I know he'll read it all, if it takes a while.  He's quite sleepy and these notes aren't enough to rouse him for long.  That's quite alright, I'm satisfied knowing he'll enjoy it.

I expect tomorrow will be a long day.  I'm not going to rush especially since I haven't heard anything yet about how much snow has fallen elsewhere.  Now that I've truly made up my mind I don't feel anxious.  Indecision can be bad but it forces an examination of the problem.  I believe I'm better able to handle anything else that might come up.  I feel I don't need to know what might be coming.  Should anything bad happen, I'm sure the answer to it will present itself without so much deliberating as I've done.  And it may not be for me to decide, anyway.... my part may only be to accept and go along.  It's hard to think, though, that Spring will be anything other than good for all.  I can picture the snowdrops blooming in the gardens and the yellow daffodils nodding, and I'm anticipating the change.  This Spring will be different than any other!  Sadness will be behind us, the land will renew itself and joy will be the rule of the day.  This makes me truly glad.  Now I know that there is much to look forward to.

[Frodo hears a quiet tapping at his door and puts away his writing.  He knows it's Lily.]

***