2. Tea At Bag End
August is the worst of months for midwives. A birthing-bed is never a very pretty or pleasant place to be, but it is even more unpleasant when the sun is glaring down relentlessly and there is scarcely a cloud in the sky. The morning of the sixth dawned hot and sticky, and I hoped fervrently that Betta Proudfoot would not deliver today. It would be her first, poor thing, and a first birth is usually hard and long. If her husband came for me in the morning, I would surely not make it to Bag End by four, and certainly not in any presentable condition. Fortunately, no sound of hooves was heard on the road that morning, and I spent the forenoon and the hours after lunch weeding the herb garden and grinding medicines for some of my regular patients.
Around three, I stopped work to put on a fresh cotton dress in a becoming shade of sage green and a white linen apron. Bag End was one of the most famous homes in the Shire, and I wanted to look my best. At least, I tried to tell myself that I wanted to do honor to the house…and not impress my host. I washed my face and hands in cool water, and decided to fix my curly, black hair up a little more elegantly. Working a little soft beeswax through my hair so that it would lie flat, I redid the braids and crossed them atop my head. When I was finally satisfied with my appearance, I put a few strawberry tarts in a willow basket and set out on my way.
The main road was always dusty at this time of year, so I took a shortcut through the woods. In the deep, shady dales, the grass still grew green, and it felt soft and cool beneath my feet. Even if I had not had been invited to tea, I probably would have walked through the woods anyway, just to enjoy the shade and the green leaves. My mother used to tease me, saying that I loved the woods so much, I must be an Elf. "Some wandering Elf left her pretty babe on my doorstep as a foundling," she would laugh as she combed bits of dead leaves out of my hair. Just thinking of my mother made my heart ache. I was only twenty-five years old, and even though I had been working like a grown hobbit for seven years, I still needed her guidance and wisdom sometimes.
Finally, I came out of the woods near Bagshot Row and took the road the rest of the way to Bag End. The gate hung invitingly open, and seeing no one else around, I walked up the path and right up to the door. I lifted the brass knocker and knocked it against the door three times, firmly but politely. I was shocked to find that my heart was beating a bit faster and my palms were perspiring just the slightest bit. I hadn't realized how eager I had been to see my mysterious patient in private again.
Frodo opened the door, and a smile lit his face when he saw who his visitor was. "Lily! I have been expecting you." He led me into his sitting-room and invited me to sit in a large, comfortable chair. "I am glad you could come. I was afraid that you might have, er…an unexpected visitor?"
I smiled at his delicate manner of referring to my work. "No, it was a quiet morning for me, and I am glad of it, for it's terribly hot."
"But the warm weather makes the wheat grow like mad, and I expect we will have an early harvest." He poured tea into the cup he had set at my place, and as I sipped, I noted the delicate maple-leaf pattern on the cup and saucer. It was fine ware, the like of which was rarely seen in the Shire. I was quite impressed.
"It's been a very lovely year all round," I remarked. "You and your friends brought us good luck when you returned, Master Frodo."
Frodo smiled, but then he glanced out the window and his look grew distant, as if he were traveling far from the Shire in his mind. "Good luck isn't quite all we brought back, I'm afraid."
I tried to hold my tongue, but my curiousity got the better of me. "You mean…your illness, Master Frodo?"
He nodded, the absent look still in his eyes. "When you attended me, that was the worst spell, but there have been other times. Not so bad, of course, but not pleasant, either."
"Why didn't you call me?" I felt a sudden unexplainable sense of panic at his words. "You know I would have come as soon as I could."
He turned back to me, smiled and patted my hand. "My good Lily, you are very talented, but I fear it is a sickness that you cannot wholly cure. Your herbs helped the fever and delirium when I was at Farmer Cotton's, but medicines can only go so far."
I felt confused and worried. What had Frodo meant by that? I began to believe that it was as I suspected, that he was…soul-sick. A broken heart, maybe? Or some strange power working on him? I didn't know what to say. I wanted to inquire further, but I had the feeling that questioning him too closely would be very inappropriate. Besides, I felt somehow that one day, Frodo might tell me of his own accord. "You know that I will do what I can for you, Master Frodo."
The absent look was suddenly gone from his eyes, and the familiar smile lit his face again. "Please, just plain Frodo will do fine. I have no need for titles in the Shire."
"You've had titles…elsewhere?" I was torn between the need for politeness and the urge to find out more about Frodo's travels.
He laughed. "I have had a few outside the Shire, yes. Some that I have been given by the King. Some that have been given to me by other dear friends."
Dear friends! I was electrified. The King Himself! And yet people called Frodo a bookworm and a do-nothing. How ignorant some hobbits could be! "You must have been a great many places," I finished lamely, feeling that any remark would fall flat after such a revelation.
"That I have, and that is part of the reason why I invited you here today." Frodo rose from his chair and walked over to the fireplace, taking a thick sheaf of papers from the mantel. "Can you write a fair hand?"
"As fair as any in Hobbiton," I replied, rather puzzled. What could he mean by that?
"Wonderful!" He handed me the sheaf of papers. "I am trying to write a book about my travels, and about the travels of my Uncle Bilbo. I have piles of notes and diaries ten times the size of this stack. I need someone to help me transcribe these and organize them into something like an orderly chronological fashion." I think he was aware of my confusion, for he glanced at me and then continued to speak.
"I know you probably think it quite odd that I have asked you to help me with this. After all, stories are hardly your stock in trade. But the first time I met you at Farmer Cotton's…well, it occurred to me that you might be the one to do this. Because you are so different, you know, from many of the hobbits in this place." He smiled gently at me. "You and I have chosen a different road from the rest of our peers and we know it. I think you have the wisdom and the compassion to understand my story. And I won't have anyone helping me who can't understand."
I stared at the sheaf of papers uncertainly. "I'm honored that you think I could help you in some small way, but I must confess that I still don't understand why you've chosen me. I mean, I'm not wise or great! I'm just a simple girl with a knack for curing the sick."
"That's not what I think." Frodo sat in his chair and sipped at his tea, looking directly at me. "You see further and think more deeply. You don't pay heed to idle gossip. You will understand." As I reached for a biscuit, he took my hand to my utter surprise. "I will give you whatever you ask in return for your help. I just have a feeling that my book needs to be finished, and soon."
I was still confused, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to read Frodo's story…and I could hardly refuse him when he was looking at me so hopefully. "If I'm to help you, really help you," I found myself saying, "there is to be no talk of payment. Reading about your adventures will be payment enough."
He released my hand and leaned back in his chair with a wry laugh. "You may feel differently once you see the condition of my notes! But it is a relief to hear you say you will do it, at least." He sighed and the absent look returned to his eyes. "It is a great relief."
Suddenly, I remembered the willow basket, and I blushed with embarassment. "How silly of me! I have nearly forgotten!" I opened the lid of the basket and took out the plateful of strawberry tarts. "Would you care for a tart, Frodo?"
"I would take one with pleasure, Lily." With that, he was back in the room again, and we spent the rest of the afternoon sharing tarts and tea like any other hobbits would do. There was no more talk of the book, and he walked me back to my cottage at dusk. When we reached the door of my humble home, I shook his hand. "It has been a most delightful afternoon, Frodo. I can't remember when I've enjoyed myself more," I said with utmost sincerity.
"And the same goes for me." Frodo smiled at me suddenly. "You will remember to come down and start helping me when you have time?"
The mention of the book surprised me. I had nearly forgotten about it, to be truthful, but I nodded. "As soon as I can." After we bade each other good evening, I stood at my door for a moment, watching him as he walked down the road, wondering just what kind of adventures he'd had. Only now, I was very, very glad that I would actually be able to find out instead of just speculating idly.
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.