1. Last Conversation
For Shirebound, Lame Pegasus, and Lady Sherlockian for their birthdays.
Frodo Baggins sat in what had been his room in Brandy Hall ever since his parents died and he came to live with Saradoc and Esmeralda Brandybuck, staring obliquely out of the window, past the glass shelves that had been fitted into the window's frame to hold those treasures he'd collected as a child and had set there to catch the light of the Sun. Most of those treasures still lay there, all these thirty-something years later, mostly colorful stones he'd gathered or small trinkets he'd been given by others. He wished that they gave him now the gentle pleasure he'd received from them when he was still but a lad, but that, of course, was more than he could expect.
Treasure, now the head cook for Brandy Hall, had left a tray for him, and he was touched that she would do so. But he wasn't particularly hungry. That, he thought wryly, was perhaps better than it often was, when he felt ravenous but knew that if he ate anything more than a bite or two he would only lose it, and most likely within a few agonizing minutes. He knew he ought to eat something, but could find neither the appetite nor the energy to do so. Why, when he would be leaving soon enough, one way or another?
There was a knock at the door, but he ignored it. Whoever it was appeared to leave, but after a time that someone apparently came back, and there was another knock, a quicker, more insistent rap. This time, even though again he didn't answer, the door opened, and he turned his head disinterestedly to see that his younger Cousin Ilberic stood there, obviously distressed.
"Then you are here," Ilberic said. "She said that you would be."
"Who?" Frodo murmured.
"Gramma. Please come—she wishes to see you."
"Dirna? She could come here if she wished."
But Ilberic was shaking his head, and when he spoke there was a catch in his voice. "She can't get up any more, Frodo. She hasn't much time left. Please come—she wants to talk with you once more before—before she goes."
Frodo shook his head, but not emphatically, he found. "Considering her last visit to Bag End she would think of wanting to talk with me?"
Ilberic gave a watery smile. "Actually, you banning her from visiting the region of the Hill anymore was maybe the best thing that ever happened to her. Others have tried countless times to tell her that she was too prone to rudeness, but apparently they've all been far too gentle with her. You actually convinced her of the fact, and mostly, I think, by being rude back. You've never been rude to her before, or not so ruthlessly so as this time. Gave her a taste of her own medicine, it did! She actually tends now to think about it when she catches herself heading into imagining the worst or getting ready to be particularly nasty to someone else. It doesn't actually stop her, or not very often; but things tend to be far less acid that they used to be, I must say. Saradoc has certainly commented on how much easier it has been to live with her in the place since we got back from that wedding, and Theragar finally actually smiled with her in the room without her insisting he was being lustful toward Dini."
Theragar Bolger had been drawn to Ilberic's sister Celandine for years. "Then Theragar and Celandine are finally properly betrothed?" Frodo asked, feeling the brushings of the emotion of satisfaction for the first time that day.
"Yes, and they are planning to invite you to the wedding. I rather think they'd like you to officiate at it, in fact. They plan to be married in Budge Hall five days before Yule. It will give you time to get here afterwards before the start of the Yule festivities."
But Frodo was shaking his head. "I doubt I shall be in any position to come to the wedding, although I shall make a point of having a gift I am certain will please both of them sent a few days before the event." He thought of some of the gifts he'd been given by Aragorn and Arwen that he could pass along that Sam and Rosie simply didn't need.
"Then you won't come here for Yule, either?" Ilberic was a study in disappointment.
"I truly doubt that I will be able to be here, either," Frodo answered simply. "But it will not be because I do not wish to come."
Ilberic drew a deep breath, examining his face. At last he asked in a low voice, "Will you come speak with my grandmother now, at least?"
Frodo closed his eyes, feeling more weary than ever for a moment, but at last gave a nod and rose slowly to his feet. Without another word spoken, he followed his younger cousin through the Hall to the door to Dirna Diggle Brandybuck's apartment. Ilberic did not knock, simply opening the door and holding it for Frodo to enter. Cousin Melilot and her mother sat sewing in the parlor, and some other cousin was apparently washing dishes and tending what smelled to be a light broth in the small kitchen. The door to the bedroom was open, and Celandine sat inside by the bed, a basket of woolwork beside her, her hook in her hand and a ball of blue yarn in her lap, although her hands were idle for the moment. And on the bed, barely lifting the bedclothes at all, lay Aunt Dirna, her face nearly fleshless and her eyes sunken in their sockets, her hair thin now with the scalp showing easily through.
Frodo felt a shiver run through him, for the sight reminded him far too strongly of his beloved Uncle Bilbo. Was this the state to which Bilbo was also sinking? After all, he was far older than was Dirna. He took a deep breath, and at last murmured, "You asked for me to come, Aunt?"
The eyes might be sunken, but there was no loss of clarity to them. "When Celandine said you'd come," she began in a near whisper, then paused to simply breathe, at last continuing, "I knew I had—had to speak with you."
He merely waited.
A look of concern crossed her face as she examined him, and suddenly she looked at Celandine and said, "You'd best get up, lass. Get up and—and let your cousin sit down. Before his legs let go."
Surprised, Celandine stood awkwardly, spilling her ball of yarn onto the floor. She bent down hastily to retrieve it and the basket, and ceded her place to Frodo, who gave her a wan smile of thanks as he sank heavily into the chair. She bent down over her aunt to cover her confusion and pecked a kiss at her cheek before retreating to the other room, drawing her brother after her and closing the door.
"Then, then you aren't doing particularly—well, either," Dirna observed when they were alone.
Frodo shrugged. "No, not particularly," he admitted.
"He said—said you'd almost died out there, that Sam did."
"He almost died, too, but has had a more full recovery."
"I hear…." She was forced to stop and take a breath. She licked her lips and gave a significant glance at the invalid's cup sitting on the table before the flickering lamp. He took and held it for her as she drank, grateful that his hands weren't trembling. She at last turned her head slightly, indicating she was satisfied. At last she continued, "I hear that your Sam and his—his wife, that they have a child now."
He felt a smile show itself, and was glad he could smile today. "Yes, a beautiful daughter. They have named her Elanor."
"What kind of name—is that?"
"It is the name of a beautiful golden flower, a sun star of a flower, that grows in the Elven lands. We could see it in some of the small, protected courtyards in Rivendell in spite of it being winter, and it grew in abundance in Lórien, and particularly on the hill of Cerin Amroth where their lost King had his dwelling. Lord Celeborn and his wife, the Lady Galadriel, rule there now. Elrond and the Lady both sent elanor and niphredil plants to Sam, and he has them planted with the Elven lilies Bilbo so loved below my window and atop the Hill, in a circle where I often sit and watch the sunset and the stars at night."
"You always were—one for stars. That's not changed."
"No, it hasn't."
There was quiet for a time, until at last she said, "You were—harsh—to me."
"You were terribly rude, and made alarming accusations against Rosie, not to mention myself. They were totally unfounded."
"So you made clear." Briefly her tone was the one he remembered from that last visit the old Hobbitess made to Bag End.
"And you never apologized."
She gave the slightest of shrugs. She whispered, "I'm not—not practiced at it."
He was surprised to hear himself laugh. "No, I must agree that you are not."
They contemplated each other silently again before she asked, "Will you forgive me?"
He sighed, but felt something inside him loosen, and felt the better for it. "If you ask it of me, then, yes, I will forgive you."
"Why didn't you—why didn't you marry?"
He looked away. "It took me quite some time to recover, back when Pearl threw me over. It wasn't till the Party that I realized at last that my heart had healed. But then----" He sighed and looked back to meet her eyes. "It was not just Bag End Bilbo left me. One thing he left proved—poisonous. Not poisonous to the point of killing—or not then, at least. But It poisoned my ability to love—that way. I didn't understand why I couldn't fall properly in love again, not until Gandalf came and had me test the thing, and we found out just what loathsome item It was. Then I had to take It away before It could hurt more people than just me, and that led to me needing to go on my journey.
"The—the thing and the journey—they almost destroyed me, Aunt Dirna. I'm not the same Frodo Baggins who used to be able to dance the night away. I was too badly hurt."
"Do you—do you dance? Now?"
He shook his head. "The last time I danced, it was at Aragorn's wedding. I could barely finish. I had to lie down afterwards. I was so ashamed."
She contemplated him for a moment, then moved her hand to where his lay now on the counterpane. Laying thin fingers that still were surprisingly warm on his, she murmured, "When you dance again, remember me. I should have—should have danced—more often. Then maybe," she paused and took a visible breath. "Maybe I wouldn't—wouldn't have been so quarrelsome."
He felt tears stinging his eyes. Surprised even as he did so, he turned his hand to hold hers, and was glad to realize that his hand also was warm.
Who would believe that the old girl would insist on the last word? Heh!