13. Another Visit
The abundant harvest that summer and fall filled the cellars to overflowing. For the first time in months the hobbits of Buckland had more to eat than they could ever want, and every day was a feast day. That Yule was a merry one indeed. The previous year the people of the Shire had still been licking the wounds left by the ruffians, and had little enough food to live from day to day, much less celebrate anything.
The previous year servants had tiptoed about the Hall, for despite the return of the young master the place was plunged in gloom by his obvious suffering. This year he was recovered, his old self again; his singing rang through the halls, his laughter sounded often, and the Master and Mistress were joyful again. Not to mention young Peregrin, he couldn't seem to help livening things up.
Another beautiful spring came. One day in mid-March, the cousins did not appear at the Hall as usual. Saradoc dispatched a rider to Crickhollow to find out if something was amiss. Word came back that his son was indisposed, but there was nothing to worry about, he'd be himself again in a day or two. Esmeralda wanted to send the healer but her husband put his foot down. The lad was old enough to know if he needed a healer or not.
He appeared at the Hall two days later, looking none the worse for wear. He waved off his mother's questioning. 'I'm fine,' he insisted. He immediately plunged back into the business of the Hall.
Pippin rolled his eyes at his aunt. 'It's all a lot of fuss about nothing,' he teased. 'He just wanted to know if you'd miss him.'
'Get along with you, young scamp!' she replied, and went back to her tasks, curiously reassured.
Towards the end of the month, word came from Hobbiton that Samwise and Rose had been blessed with the birth of a daughter. Meriadoc sent a few bottles of Brandy Hall's finest to congratulate the new parents. Pippin had secretly had the blacksmith make a set of tiny garden tools, and he tucked them into the package with a wicked grin. 'Might as well start the child off right!' he said.
Just before Mid-year's Day a letter came from Hobbiton, announcing another visit from Frodo. The visit would be brief, for this time he would be bringing Samwise, and Rose could not spare her husband for too long.
Esmeralda and the other aunts at the Hall were once more off in a whirl of planning, and Saradoc and the cousins stayed out of their way.
Frodo and Samwise arrived in the midst of a summer afternoon cloudburst. When Esmeralda heard the clatter of ponies' hoofs on the stones outside, she ran to the study window to see two cloaked riders dismounting in the pouring rain. 'They're here!' she cried, 'And they are soaked to the skin, most likely. I had better have towels and blankets ready.'
Saradoc glanced out the window. Servants were unpacking baggage and taking the ponies to the stables, and the two figures were walking to the entrance. One seemed to be leaning upon the other. He went to the door of the study and bellowed for the lads. Pippin poked his head out of the room that had been set aside as Meriadoc's study. 'Yes?'
'Your cousin has arrived.'
'I don't think he had much choice about the matter. A traveller cannot always dictate the weather.'
'Oh, I thought you had ordered sunshine specifically for his arrival,' Pippin grinned.
'Aye. The order must have gone amiss,' his uncle answered. 'They'll be coming in the door any moment. Do you plan to be there to greet them?'
'We'll be right there!' Pippin answered, and disappeared again. Saradoc heard him saying, 'Merry, put your pen down!' as he strode down the hallway towards the entrance hall. He heard the lads come running up behind him. Esmeralda and a servant stood by with towels and blankets. Saradoc reached the door just as it opened to admit the two streaming figures; he hesitated, then cried out, 'Welcome to Brandy Hall! It's about time you graced us with your presence again!'
Esmeralda ran to hug her nephew, careless of wet cloak, and Merry saw tears running from her eyes as she held Frodo tightly. That was the way of mothers, and he thought nothing of it. Then she and the others were fussing over Frodo and Sam, pulling off their wet cloaks, wrapping them in blankets, toweling their heads. They looked terrible, half drowned, and Esmeralda said with concern, 'Tea is just on. Come, we must get you warm.'
'We are not that wet,' Sam said practically. 'Mostly just our cloaks.'
She shepherded them to the parlour where a brisk fire was burning and sat them down in chairs by the fire. 'Meriadoc, pour the tea, please!' she ordered.
When Merry handed Frodo his teacup, his cousin's hand shook and spilt half the contents. 'Oh, I'm sorry, Frodo!' he apologised, mopping up. 'I should not have filled it so full!'
'It's all right, Merry. If I want another cup I will ask for one. No need to fill it brimming over,' Frodo teased.
Frodo ate hardly any of the luscious tea treats, and barely sipped at his tea. He let Samwise answer most of the questions about the journey, and when tea was done, he looked up at his aunt. She read his expression and said, 'But you lads must be tired after your long journey. Let me show you to your rooms. You can change out of your travelling things and freshen up a bit. I'll come call you for dinner.'
She took Sam and Frodo to the adjacent rooms that had been prepared for them, and after depositing Sam in his room, at Frodo's door she gave her nephew another hug. 'I am so glad you came,' she whispered to him.
He kissed her cheek, saying, 'It is nice to have such a warm welcome.'
'You look tired, Frodo. Why don't you lie down for a bit?'
'Thank you, Aunt. I think I will.' He closed the door behind him, and Esmeralda went to find her husband in his study. At the sight of her face, he held out his arms, and she sought their solace. He held her a long time while she cried, gently stroking her hair, helpless to offer any other comfort.
Merry sat in the parlour, holding his empty cup whilst Pippin ravaged the tea table.
'Mmmm, these mushroom puffs are delicious, d'you want any?'
Merry shook his head. 'No, you can have them.'
As his cousin's attention was diverted by the food, Merry had time to think. Had he imagined his father's hastily covered shock at the door? His mother had cried when she greeted Frodo, but wasn't that just the kind of thing mothers did? He tried to reason away his own unease at his cousin's pallor and trembling hands. He's just tired, it was a long journey, they got caught in a cold rain. But Sam had been... well, Sam. He had appeared as hearty as ever. Merry thought back to the last words of Saruman to Frodo, then shook his head. He was imagining things.
When dinner came, Frodo did not appear. Sam would have gone to check on him, but Esmeralda waved him back to his seat. 'I'll go!' she said. 'You go ahead and eat. We'll be right down.'
She came back to the table without her nephew, merely saying that Frodo was asleep and she did not want to disturb him. 'Perhaps you can take a tray to him when you go to bed, Samwise,' she said. 'Then he can have a bite when he awakens.' Samwise thanked her.
She rose very early for there was much to be done about the Hall. She checked on her nephew even before Samwise was up. Frodo slept still, his right hand pillowed under his cheek, looking much like the young lad she had known and loved so long ago. She kissed his cheek and he smiled in his sleep. She took the untouched tray and left before her tears could return to wake him.
That visit was different from the one the previous summer. Frodo was quieter, and did not join in the many activities the cousins had planned. He wanted to spend more time with his uncle and aunt this trip, and encouraged Merry and Pippin to take Sam around Buckland and show him all the sights.
He begged off a trip to the Prancing Pony, and while he would have liked to visit Tom and Goldberry, he did not want to take such a long ride so soon after the ride from Hobbiton, especially when they must turn around and return to Hobbiton a mere week later.
As during the previous visit, a mug of freshly picked wildflowers appeared daily at the breakfast table, though Frodo himself sat at breakfast only once or twice. Near the end of the visit she came out of the kitchen early, to find Sam setting that day's mug of flowers at her place. He looked up and blushed. 'Mr Frodo asked me to.' She smiled and thanked him gently.
At the dance to celebrate Mid-year Day he sat with the old aunts and told stories that kept them laughing. Merry noticed that he ate very little of the generous portions of food. Once when he caught Merry's watchful eye, he said, 'Good food here. Of course it doesn't compare to Rosie's meat and mushroom pie.' Merry laughed dutifully, and Frodo's gaze sharpened but he said no more.
The next day Frodo and Sam sat to watch the Hall children cavorting in the shallows of the River. Pippin joined in the splashing, roaring like a dragon and sending them fleeing with delighted screams, only to return for another scaring. Sam was secretly glad that his master did not care to swim. He still viewed the activity with distaste, if not active suspicion, regardless of the antics of the tiniest hobbit children.
Merry came up to sit beside them, wiping sweat from his brow. 'Who knew it would turn out so warm today?' he demanded. 'That water certainly looks inviting.'
Sam shot a look of disbelief his way and he laughed.
'Why don't you join them?' Frodo asked lightly.
'No time. I have to be at the Hall in a few minutes to receive complaints. I've barely time to dabble my feet.'
'Such fun to look forward to! Why don't you give it a miss?' Frodo teased.
'Funny, you sound more like Pippin every day,' Merry rejoined.
Frodo looked over at Sam. 'Samwise,' he said.
'Yes, Mr Frodo?'
'All this splashing is making me quite thirsty. Would you mind bringing me a drink? I'd get it myself but I am feeling so deliciously lazy in this sunshine.'
'Be glad to, Mr Frodo,' said Sam, hopping up. He was never happier than when Mr Frodo asked for something, it happened so seldom.
Frodo watched him go with a smile, then turned to Merry. 'So, cousin, how goes the fight?'
'It goes. You were right about anniversaries... but most days aren't too bad.'
'Not bad?' Frodo teased. 'Sunshine, splashing water, children's laughter, and the best you can say is not bad?' He looked away from Merry's stare.
'I was going to ask you the same question, cousin,' Merry said softly. 'How goes the fight?'
'I could give you the same answer. It goes.' He took a deep breath of the sweet summer air. 'Life is good, Merry. I might not have chosen the path that was set before me, but I cannot complain of the outcome.' He gestured vaguely to the laughing children, sunshine sparkling on the water, the bright sky, the myriad greens of grass and tree. 'Just look around, Merry. There is no Shadow here. And we helped to make the difference.'
He met Merry's quizzical gaze serenely. 'It goes, Merry,' he said again. 'All we can do... is our best.' He smiled. 'You just keep walking in the light, no matter what happens. Promise?'
Merry did not quite know why, but he said, 'That's a promise, Frodo.'
Frodo's grin brightened. 'Good.'
Merry looked at the angle of the Sun and scrambled to his feet. 'I will have plenty of practice! It is time for me to go hear complaints!' Frodo joined him in laughing as he turned back towards the Hall.
The visit ended too soon, on a day bright with sunshine, as unlike the day of their arrival as possible. Half the Hall gathered to see the travellers off.
Esmeralda was crying again as she said goodbye. 'Oh, don't mind me,' she said, hugging Samwise. 'I am just an old fuss budget! I am so glad you came, and I hate to see you go. Next time bring that wife and sweet child of yours!'
'I will,' Sam promised.
'You know you are always welcome at the Hall,' Saradoc added.
The Master and Mistress of Buckland turned to their nephew, to engulf him in a great hug between them. 'Oh, my lad,' Esmeralda murmured. 'You know I will always love you. I will miss you so.' Frodo had no reply but to return the hug as tightly as he could.
'Be well, lad,' Saradoc whispered. He stepped back to slap Sam's back. 'Take good care of him on the trip home,' he said.
'I will,' Sam said.
'Of course you will.' Saradoc agreed, smiling.
Merry and Pippin led their ponies up to the group; again they would ride part of the way with Sam and Frodo.
Frodo cocked an eye up at Pippin. 'So, another visit to Long Cleeve?'
'Oh, aye,' Pippin answered with a smile. 'You know, cousin, you really ought to come visit oftener. It makes trips to Long Cleeve so much more convenient!'
'I just want to know if it is the food or the pretty girls?' Frodo teased.
'Do I have to choose between them?' Pippin asked in mock dismay.
Laughing, the four mounted their ponies and rode away amidst a chorus of goodbyes and waves.
The Master and Mistress of Buckland soberly returned to the Hall.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.