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Frodo's Return to the Shire

34th Day

I have had a surprise! In town this morning I met my friend Lily Gamwich. So many years have passed and yet she looks almost the same. Scarcely had she said Hello, but she had thrown her arms around my neck! She exclaimed over my hand and told me I had gotten thin, then looked at me quite directly and said, I was afraid I would never see you again.

The honesty in her eyes left me without words. How does one reply to that? This is a person I last saw in y younger days, before Bilbo's infamous Birthday Party, before Sam took over as gardener at Bag End. I think Bilbo only met her twice. She knew me immediately. How astonishing to see a familiar face among so much oddness. She is visiting her sister Iris, who lives in town with her husband. She invited me there and would not take any answer but Yes. She is still the cheerful, delightful girl I remember and had me laughing before I realized how pleasant it was to simply have a conversation about nothing in particular. But then I did something I am not sure I should feel guilty about. When she asked if I was staying in Oakleaf alone, I said yes.

*********

(After supper at the Inn; most folk have finished their last ale and gone off home.)

Pippin stretches his arms above his head and Merry yawns into his nearly empty mug. "Well..." says Pippin, "A long enough day for me! I've been thinking about that bed and those blankets since before we got back here!"

Frodo looks up. "Wait, Pip. I owe you all a bit of explanation."

"We know you're not up to much hard work, Frodo!" Pippin says. "It's good to have you here all the same. The townsfolk all say so, and so do we."

"That isn't it. I am going somewhere else for a while to-morrow -- that is, I was asked to lunch at someone's home and I am afraid I did not mention any of you were with me." Frodo frowns, wishing that had come out better.

Sam sits up, fixing Frodo with that look of his. Frodo met his gaze. "Now, what is this? Going where? And with who, might I ask?"

Merry speaks up when Frodo hesitates. "You are being mysterious and not at all like yourself, Frodo! Out with it, then."

"In town this morning I met an old friend by the name of Lily Gamwich, from Long Cleeve - "

"A Gamwich!" Sam cannot believe his ears. "Mr. Frodo! You know a Gamwich and you never told me?"

Pip and Merry giggle but say nothing.

"This was well before you became Gardener at Bad End, Sam," Frodo continues. "I only knew her for less than three years. It was in fact not very long after I came to live with Bilbo. We met up at the market today and she told me she is visiting her sister Iris, who is married to Torold Hornblower."

"We met Torold the first day here," Pippin adds. "He was the one who sent to Longbottom for some labourers."

"And he and his wife have a fine house we heard," Merry says. "And you know Lily Gamwich? Lily knows you?"

"Yes... I don't think I remember Iris, though. She was older and about her own business. I was quite amazed that she recognized me... Sam? Don't look at me that way!"

"The thing of it is," Sam says slowly, "It reminds me..." Of so many times when you went off with the others and not me - but I can't ever say that! "Oh never you mind me, Mr. Frodo! If you've met somebody here that you're friends with, why it is none of my business. I've enough to tend to."

"Now I didn't mean-"

"Now what would you be doing in the Southfarthing by yourself, Frodo?" Merry asks, leaning forward. "Didn't she ask about that?"

"No she didn't. There is so much going on that I don't think she wondered about it. It somehow did not come up at all. I think, as Deputy Mayor, I can go where I please. I am sorry I didn't mention any of you, but I was quite taken by surprise and thought it might be lovely to simply sit in a sunny window... with an old friend who has more to talk about than orcs and war and ruins! They've redone the garden and house and started some Longbottom Leaf on their land and I want to go, and alone!"

Merry and Pippin sit still, blinking at Frodo. Sam lays a hand gently on Frodo's arm. In a voice low and forgiving he says, "Mr. Frodo, none of us mean to make matters worse. It's a surprise is all, being as we've known you so long and had no idea you knew anybody here. And a relative of the Gamgees, too. But we don't mean no harm."

Merry and Pippin sit still, blinking at Frodo. Sam lays a hand gently on Frodo's arm. In a voice low and forgiving he says, "Mr. Frodo, none of us mean to make matters worse. It's a surprise is all, being as we've known you so long and had no idea you knew anybody here. And a relative of the Gamgees, too. But we don't mean no harm."

"Then leave me alone for the time being." Folding his arms securely, Frodo sweeps his gaze across all three Hobbits.

"Leave you alone?" Pippin cries. "Oh no no! That would be the worst thing! Frodo, we must protect you! We don't know for sure if the Southfarthing is really sate!"

"Safe?" Frodo raises an eyebrow at Pippin. "Don't you trust your own family to have rid the Southfarthing of troublemakers by now?"

"Well, as far as they could, of course. But I don't think we should-"

Frodo is on his feet. Pippin sits back. " 'We' should what? Must I wait until you all decide where I will put my feet next?"

Sam grasps Frodo's arm despite his attempt to shake off the touch. "Mr. Frodo, please! If anything were to happen to you now, here at home in the Shire, how could we any of us bear it?"

Frodo meets Sam's gaze, then looks away.

"Sam is right," Merry says. "Of course we worry about you. You are our friend and you have our loyalty and love. We would never simply leave you."

Frodo sits and sinks low in his chair. "I know... but I am not asking you to 'leave me'. I simply wish to go visit a friend who none of you have met anyway, and try to forget I ever left the Shire." His eyes close briefly and when they open again, Sam clearly sees a now-familiar hurt. "I know I can never do that. But right now I must try."

"Well you know what you want," Pippin says. "We are almost done here, anyway, and when we leave I suppose Merry and I will go our own way."

"I am not chasing you away! It is a blessing on me that all of you are still with me."

The Hobbits embrace before going to their beds. Sam lies most of the night watching the shadows cast by the moon, moving slowly on the wall.