20. New Beginnings
Elanor and Fastred rode into the middle of the celebration. They were on their way to Bag End, of course, to commiserate with the Gamgees, but found their way impeded by the merrymakers. Bywater was an improvement on Tuckborough in that no one ignored Elanor. On the contrary, when she was recognised, she was hailed with cheery greetings from all sides.
To her alarm, hands seized the bridle of her pony and led her to the Green Dragon, Fastred beside her, but the folk seemed so joyous that her initial alarm faded to confusion. Looking over at Fastred, she saw the same perplexity, but he nodded to her to allow matters to proceed. Hopefully they'd find the answer within the inn.
As they entered the inn, a cheer went up and Elanor saw, to her consternation, that her family were at the center of the celebration. What in the world...? She gasped when she saw Frodo lifting a mug, rope still about his wrist though his hands were no longer tied together, the bonds obviously cut.
'Whatever is going on?' she shouted in Fastred's ear as they were pushed forward. Little Elfstan was awake, eyes wide with wonder at the noise and confusion.
'Ban's been lifted, somehow!' her husband shouted back, and at the realisation, the heavy weight on her heart lifted and her colour began to return. They reached the Gamgees and were enveloped in hugs, mugs shoved into their hands, cheers rising around them.
'What's happened?' Elanor asked Frodo, when she could make herself heard. Of course, there was no way for him to go into the entire story, not in this bedlam, but he communicated the most important detail.
'The Thain found a way to get at the truth!' he replied, and Elanor looked about for Thain Peregrin. He ought to be easy to spot, being the tallest hobbit she knew, but he was nowhere to be seen, nor did she remember seeing him in the market square. Ah, well, she'd have a mug and enjoy the celebration while it lasted. Plenty of time to catch up on the news over supper this evening, after all...
By contrast, the kitchen at the mill was very quiet. The Thain sat at the table with the miller, sipping a cup of tea, thinking, waiting.
Ted Sandyman broke the silence. 'Will you put Ned under the Ban, then?' he asked, dread in his voice.
'Hard to charge him as a thief when he took the chickens from his own family,' Pippin said quietly. 'Malice, now, that's another story.'
Ted shook his head. 'All my old bitterness, coming back to haunt me,' he said sadly. 'When the old Thain put me under the Ban, for two years, for throwing in my lot with the ruffians, well, I thought I'd die.'
'You didn't die,' Pippin observed.
A wry smile lifted the corner of the miller's mouth. 'No, as a matter of fact,' he agreed. 'It was a good thing, in the end. Gave me plenty of time to think. And then, when the Ban was lifted, and folk started talking to me again...' he shook his head in wonder. 'Welcomed me back into the community, as if I'd been washed clean...'
'That's how it is supposed to work, anyhow,' Pippin said.
'Well it still took me some years to tame my tongue,' Ted said with a sip of his own tea. 'I fear I took much pleasure in making others squirm, even after I'd supposedly learnt my lesson.'
'So what cured you?' Pippin asked conversationally.
'A fine lass,' Ted said. 'I thought none would look twice at me, but she did.' He was silent, his eyes looking inward. 'Married me, gave me two fine sons...' He took a deep breath. 'Died birthing the third, ah, Cori, how could you leave me so?' He took a long draught of his tea, wishing it were something stronger.
'I cannot let Ned off scot-free,' Pippin said. 'You know that.'
'I know,' Ted said. 'My own malice against Samwise Gamgee has come to fruit in my son.'
'Why?' Pippin asked, curious.
'Rosie Cotton,' Ted said quietly. 'I fancied myself in love with her at one time, and she had eyes only for the gardener's son. Not to mention his soft job, the favour of the rich Bagginses.' He snorted softly. 'Of course, I'd never have wanted his job, had I known what would come of it. Who'd've thought that shy young Samwise would follow his master all the way to the Black Land...?' He shook his head. 'He earned Rosie's love, and welcome to it, I say.'
He lifted his mug in a toast, sipped, and put it down. 'But I did not know the story for a long time... he never talked of it, you know. All I could see was those bright young cousins of Mr Baggins, riding about the Shire like knights of errantry, and Samwise traipsing about planting trees, and all the admiration they garnered, ah, it was bitter as I paid my time of shunning.'
'And so...' Pippin prompted.
'And so I spoke of my bitterness, to my sons, in the long dark evenings after my wife and youngest son were taken from me. Another bitter blow, for there went Samwise with his Rosie, babe after babe safely born. By the time I heard enough of the story to hush my grumbling, it was too late for my sons; I'd already poisoned them with my bitterness.'
'Hodge seems well enough,' Pippin said.
'He has a good head on his shoulders,' Ted said, allowing a little pride to show through. 'But he was rude to young Goldi Gamgee, and Frodo had every right to knock him down. I wish Ned could have seen it that way.' He met the Thain's eye again. 'Will you put Ned under the Ban?'
'What alternative do I have? He acted in malice, and nearly got Frodo shunned, unjustly, for an entire year.'
'What if I take him away?' Ted asked. The Thain lifted an eyebrow. 'What if we move to the new territory?' the miller continued. 'Make a fresh start, away from the Gamgees. Hard work and a new beginning, heal the bitterness, show him that moving forwards is preferable to looking back.'
'You could take him out of the community,' Pippin said slowly, 'but if he did not pay his due, he'd not be welcome back.'
'I know that,' Ted said. 'Yet I think shunning would ruin him, drown him in bitterness. I look to save him, to find healing for him.'
'Then you had better take him,' Pippin said.
Ted nodded. 'There's nothing for me here,' he continued. 'Save the graves of my love and my littlest, and when my time comes... well, I suppose Hodge can bring me back to lie beside them.'
'I suppose he can,' Pippin said. 'He's done no wrong that I know of, and if he apologises to Goldilocks Gamgee...'
'He already has,' Ted said.
Pippin nodded. 'Then he's free to go, or come, as he pleases,' he said.
'We'll go,' the miller said, 'just as soon as I find a buyer for the mill.' He drank the last of his tea, set the mug down on the table. 'A fresh start,' he said softly. 'A new beginning. It's a promising thought.'
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.