On the next morning, the Travelers returned to Bywater accompanied by Fatty Bolger.
Will Whitfoot rode with them as far as Hobbiton, where they left him off at his own hole. Frodo helped Will to the front door, knocked, and then opened the door for him. Will called out to his family. Frodo felt sure they would know about the release of the prisoners -- word spread fast in Hobbiton, and Merry had announced the Michel Delving trip at the burial the previous morning.
Sure enough, they all came running, his four children racing each other to greet him, screaming with childish delight; his wife was not far behind. They nearly knocked Will over in their rush to embrace him.
Frodo felt happy as he took in the scene. This would be something he could call up in his mind when the darkness came to him; perhaps it would help.
When Frodo was sure Will's beaming wife really understood the poor condition her husband was in, he left them. Will turned and thanked the Travelers again, and Frodo promised to come calling in the next week. Will wanted him to take over as deputy mayor, as soon as possible. It was not something Frodo looked forward to, but if he were honest with himself, he knew he could do a fair job of it. He was good at delegating tasks, and trusted others to work well. The darkness had not tried to undermine his confidence when he made the decision to help old Whitfoot. Perhaps the people of Hobbiton and Bywater did not hate him after all? He wondered if this was the result of Lily's influence. Or perhaps the grace of Ilúvatar. Perhaps it was both.
Once in Bywater, all of them, including Fatty, were invited to stay at the Cottons’, but Merry and Pippin were in a hurry to get home and see to getting things restored in Buckland.
Fatty insisted on returning with Merry and Pippin. He wanted to see to setting the little house at Crickhollow to rights. Frodo felt relief at this; it was one less thing to have to think about. He knew he’d no longer need the Crickhollow house. If Merry and Pip were interested in taking the place, he would turn it over to them later.
A sweet sort of pain, joy mixed with sorrow, took hold of his heart -- Bag End was his once more. He wondered when -- or if -- this sorrow would ever be gone, if joy could ever be his constant friend again, as it had been for so much of his life before the Quest.
He thought of the joy he felt when Lily was near... true joy. How dear she was! But no; she is leaving soon for her home, and I should not ever see her again. It is for the best... the voice began its whispering. This darkness! Frodo thought. It lays so heavy on me. I may as well still own the Ring, so heavy it lies...
Craving: sudden, intense...
My precious! It brought me joy, but It is gone, gone forever! Why did you ever let It be destroyed? What were you thinking of? Your life’s greatest joy, It was, and you let him attack you for It! You let It go --
“Master Frodo? Frodo!”
Another voice, but where from? It sounded a little like Sam.
Someone was shaking him. Shaking his arm.
Frodo blinked hard and shook his head. He blinked again; the sun was shining, and the clear air was so bright it almost blinded him. He looked around in a daze; the hired pony snorted and pawed beneath him. Sam, or someone who looked like him, held the reins. His own hands were at his chest, grasping... There was nothing in his hand but some fabric; his shirt.
“Sam? What’s going on?” It was hard to see Sam.
“Master...” Sam’s face was so sad!
“What’s wrong, Sam?” It was hard to think clearly. I think I need air. He closed his eyes, and let the cold air in.
Sam’s voice was edged with a kind of grief.
“You were having a spell there, sir... I know it when I see it... Frodo, it’s -- it’s time to come down off the pony, sir; we’re all saying our goodbyes now. I thought you were right behind us, but your pony turned for the stables. It’s -- we’re saying goodbye to Merry and Pip and Fatty, now. They’re -- we’re waiting. You look just a bit ill, Master. Do you need help getting down?”
He understood finally where he was. Bywater. He was shaking, he realized.
He tried to smile, but he felt more like dying. A future filled with this -- !
“I won’t say no to your help, Sam. Thank you.”
Frodo and Sam said their farewells to their friends. It was odd to think he would not see Merry and Pippin for a while. They had been together every single day for months and months on the Quest; only the momentous events which began on February 26, when the Fellowship had broken, had separated them. By the grace of the Creator they had been spared and reunited, but for Boromir.
He wondered how he would be able to adjust to a life not filled with hardship and danger. It sounded tempting, but now it also sounded lonely. He doubted he would see as much of Sam -- Sam would marry, sooner than later -- and he would be alone at Bag End, assuming he would even be able to live there. He pushed that thought aside, and gave thanks in his heart that he would be so busy in the coming months, rebuilding Bagshot Row, restoring Bag End, and helping old Whitfoot.
At the Cottons', Frodo and Sam decided to clean up before eating. It was good indeed to wash off the grime of the long journey to Michel Delving and back.
When Sam looked in on Frodo, he found his master nearly asleep in the bath. He shook his head, and wondered what would become of his dearest friend.
Frodo was silent through the midday meal, exhausted all over again by his earlier battle with darkness. And I slept so well last night at Old Bracegirdle’s, too, he thought. He sighed.
Sam kept up the conversation for them both, for which Frodo was grateful. It was rude not to speak up more, but speaking took energy, which he did not have.
He ate his food without much interest, and tried to forget that Lily was only next door. He had so many other things that must be seen to, not the least of which was Bag End. He and Sam had discussed its restoration on the way home from Michel Delving. Frodo dreaded the thought of entering the place, and yearned for it at the same time. He wondered why the food seemed not to have much flavor. Rosie was a gifted cook. It could not possibly be the food. It must be me, he thought.
Frodo absently thanked Rosie for luncheon, and started out for Bag End. He’d decided to walk, being in no real hurry to get there. The pony had been handed over to the stablehand earlier.
Sam gave Rosie a peck on the cheek as he followed after Frodo. “I don’t think he should go alone, Rosie. I'll be back as soon as I can.” He trotted to catch up, just in time to see Frodo glancing briefly at Will Burrows’ place as they passed it.
“Yes, Mr. Frodo?”
“Have you any idea who it is she’s given her heart to? Any idea at all?”
Sam glanced back in the direction of the house. Before he could answer, Frodo continued.
“Perhaps I should not ask. If it were told to you in confidence, then you really should not tell me... but if perchance you knew, from seeing who she spends time with...”
Sam furrowed his brow. “I don’t rightly know as there’s anyone, Mr. Frodo. I’ve only seen her from time to time, and not at all in the last year or more.”
Frodo stopped on the road and closed his eyes. He bowed his head for a moment and then lifted it, and started to walk again. “Of course you haven’t seen her in the last year. I’m sorry. It was a foolish inquiry.”
Sam couldn’t leave it like this. He searched his memory for some crumb of hope for his master.
“But even before then, Mr. Frodo, she seemed friendly enough, but didn’t pay much mind to anyone in particular, not that way, if you take my meaning. I do remember watching a few of the local lads trying their hand at being sweet with her.”
Frodo looked sharply at Sam, surprised at the measure of the pain that picture caused. “Did she -- did she seem interested in any of them?”
Sam screwed up his face, trying to remember that far back. “Not that I remember. She was always polite; she just never let it get much farther than how d’you do’s, so to speak.”
The sigh of relief that escaped Frodo was not lost on Sam. He tried even harder to remember. “She and Rosie have spent a little time together, though I seem to remember the friendship wasn’t direct to begin with. Now, how did that start... Oh! I remember, Violet, one of Rosie’s friends, is a relation of Lily’s. But Rosie and Lily didn’t really get acquainted until Will moved next door to the Cottons a few years back. Then it was just a case of them being in the same place at the same time. Living so close, one can’t help but get to know the folk around, even the ones just visiting.”
Sam slowed his pace a little. He was getting ahead of Frodo, and that wouldn’t do at all. He knew his master was listening, although Frodo’s eyes were fixed on the road at his feet, as they walked.
“I’m sorry, sir, but Rosie’s never mentioned anyone I can remember, that is, anyone Lily was sweet on... I really am sorry, Mr. Frodo, I wish I could tell you more than that. It’s really not much at all, is it?” Sam’s disappointment in himself was clear.
Frodo raised his head and looked at this friend. His eyes softened.
“Sam, I really did not expect you to know such a thing. Why should you? I merely thought that if on the off chance something had been mentioned within your hearing, once long ago, before... It’s really all right. Thank you for trying to answer an impossible question.” He patted Sam’s shoulder and changed the subject back to the restoration of Bag End.
Plans had to be made; carpenters and artisans would need to be hired. The roadway itself would need to be rebuilt, and Frodo wanted to rebuild #3 as soon as possible, before the worst of winter set in. The Gaffer was living in one of the houses built by Men, a mile out of Bywater. The other two smials on the Row would be rebuilt next. If they were fortunate, and had enough hands for the work --
“Sam, did Rosie’s gaffer say at luncheon that Will Burrows is a skilled carpenter? Or was I imagining that?”
Frodo wasn’t smiling; Sam knew he was serious about whether or not he had heard something, or only imagined it. This had happened to his master too often, since the Quest...
“Yes, Will’s very good, sir. He has a regular crew of hobbits working with him, on the bigger jobs. Well, I should say, he did, until the Men came in, and they didn’t have much use for a skilled carpenter like Will... and if they’d tried to force him to work on one of those huge old ugly mills, I think Will would’ve fought them first. He’d either be dead now, or one of those ones we let out of Michel Delving yesterday.”
They walked in silence for a few moments. Frodo saw a shadow cover the road before them. The clouds were beginning to cover the Sun as Sam continued.
“But I can think of plenty others who’d vouch for him, as well, Mr. Frodo.”
Frodo stopped for a moment and looked at his friend.
“Samwise Gamgee! Your opinion means more to me than anyone else’s in the Shire!”
He smiled broadly and slapped Sam on the back, then went on walking again.
Sam smiled in return, standing in place, and then caught up to Frodo, who seemed to have more purpose in his step. His master was -- what was that word Gandalf liked to use? Mercur-ial. I think that’s it, Sam thought. Changeable, anyway.
Frodo did not share the rest of his thoughts with Sam. The construction, assuming Will had the time to do the job, would have to wait until Lily started for home. He could not afford to see her again. He would not, he could not, think of her. He did not have very high hopes for anything Gandalf could do for them... if indeed Gandalf ever came back.
He picked up where he had left off with Sam, who assured him it would all be taken care of proper. Frodo smiled. Their discussion carried them all the way to what was left of the Row, where they slowed and then stopped.
“Sam, you may want to check on the back gardens for me while I go inside.”
“I’m coming in with you, Mr. Frodo.”
Frodo sighed deeply and nodded. “Thank you, Sam.”
The two stepped together toward Bag End. Sam nudged Frodo, whose gaze was focused on the ground in front him, afraid to see his beloved home in ruin.
Frodo raised his eyes, and there on the bench by the front door sat a familiar figure clothed all in white, holding a staff. He wanted to run the rest of the way and fling himself into Gandalf’s arms, weeping, but could not. Bag End was just behind Gandalf, and the lovely shade tree that shared the hole was now stripped of most of its branches. Frodo stopped and turned away.
Sam placed a hand on his arm and turned him back toward his home. Frodo had shed so many tears, he was uncertain if he had any left. Together, they walked up the path and stepped in the gate. Gandalf rose to greet them.
Frodo squared his shoulders and looked up at the wizard but was unable to hold back the tear now sliding down his cheek.
“Gandalf? It -- it is so good to see you... What are you doing here?”
The old wizard smiled warmly. “Tom Bombadil seemed to think you might be in need of my aid.” His face became more serious. “I am sorry, Frodo.”
He bent and embraced the hobbit. After a moment’s hesitation, Frodo returned the embrace; the wizard sensed how hard Frodo was trying to keep his emotions at bay. Gandalf was surprised anew by how thin he had become. He turned his attention to Sam in order to give Frodo time to compose himself.
When their greetings were over, Frodo touched Gandalf’s arm and looked up at his face.
“Gandalf, I’m terribly glad to see you, but how did Tom know I needed you?”
Gandalf carefully surveyed the hobbit before him. “Some hear the voice of Ilúvatar more clearly than others. What is it you would ask of me?”
The prayer... He heard my prayer...
It took Frodo more than a moment to assimilate this realization. He was humbled and almost frightened at the thought that the Creator was indeed listening.
Frodo looked at his feet and then back up at Gandalf. “I do not know much in such matters, but... Lotho... Wormtongue...”
Sam came to his aid. “Wormtongue murdered Lotho right here in Bag End. And... Mr. Saruman was murdered right on this doorstep, sir, by Wormtongue, not two days ago, and then Wormtongue got killed himself. All right here, in front of our eyes, as they say. Oh, Mr. Gandalf, it was -- " Sam stopped.
Gandalf nodded, his face full of sorrow for them both. "No need for more, Samwise. I knew Saruman was gone. I felt it. But I was not aware it happened here, nor did I know of the deaths of the others -- a murder within Bag End -- that is indeed very sad news."
Frodo’s face was a picture of grief. It was hard to hear it all over again; but he smiled at Sam, grateful for having been spared the retelling of the horrors. He turned to the wizard with supplication in his eyes.
“Gandalf, this is my home, but how can I ever find peace within its walls, knowing what happened...? Can you bless it? Would that be permitted?”
A warm wide smile spread across Gandalf’s face. “Dear Frodo, some things need only be asked for. Yes, I will bless it for you.”
For the first time, Frodo’s smile reached his eyes. He quickly embraced the wizard and stepped back. Hope flickered, tentatively, on his face.
“Remember, Frodo, this does not come from me but from Ilúvatar. It holds little use, if you do not believe.”
Frodo solemnly nodded his head. He and Sam stood listening in wonder and awe to the blessing. A prayer was offered which first cleansed the home of all the evil there. It continued with a request for the blessings of peace and comfort to all who entered the smial. Finally, almost as an afterthought, it seemed to Frodo, the prayer was seemingly closed, by blessing the home with love. Did Gandalf know about Lily?
Then the wizard completed the prayer: that the home be filled with love, as it had been so long ago. Frodo tried not to sigh with disappointment. He pushed the feeling aside, recognizing it was amiss. He was grateful to Gandalf, and even more, to Ilúvatar.
Sam spoke first, when the prayer was done. “That was beautiful, sir; like music. I miss the Elves. I miss the Lady, and Lorien...”
When Sam turned to Frodo, his eyes were misty. “I want to look at the back gardens now, Master. I’ll come in soon.”
Without waiting for a reply, he left them standing there.
“Poor Sam,” Frodo sighed. “He’s been taking care of me, and everyone else around him, for so long... I forget he has his own hopes and dreams. I have been selfish. I’m not thinking at all. Gandalf -- ”
Should he tell the wizard about the attacks of the darkness? No, not now, he thought. Later. It was time to go into his home. He needed to try.
“Gandalf, would you like a spot of tea -- ?” Frodo hesitated and looked again at Bag End, but did not take a step forward.
“I looked through the windows a little, when we were here two days back,” Frodo offered.
Had it only been two days? It felt like years. Gandalf was silent.
“I’m afraid things are a bit of a wreck,” he went on. “I can’t vouch for finding anything of much use... Perhaps when things have shaped up a bit...”
The wizard laid a hand on Frodo’s shoulder. “Either you believe the blessing is true and valid, or you don’t. The choice is yours, Frodo.”
Frodo did not notice the twinkle in Gandalf’s eyes as he remembered another choice he had made, over a year ago, with the wizard's guidance.
He looked at Gandalf once more, then opened the door fully; the fresh air of early November followed him in as he stepped into the greatroom.
He closed his eyes briefly to the debris and filth and headed into the kitchen, where he started the fire in the hearth and put on a kettle of water to heat. His emotions were in turmoil; he was at once thrilled to be in his home again, and disgusted by the damage he found in it. While they waited for the kettle to boil, Frodo found mugs and quickly washed them. I’ll need to have my things retrieved from Crickhollow, he thought. He went in search of some tea.
Frodo’s cry came from the pantry. He scurried back to the kitchen, where Gandalf had only just made himself comfortable. “There’s barrels and barrels of leaf in the pantry!” Frodo smiled to himself. “Merry, Pippin, Sam, Fatty, Tom Cotton, the Gaffer, Will... they'll all be pleased to hear this!”
Another thought brought a crease to his brow.
“Gandalf, I’ll need to gather all the extra stores and see that they are properly distributed.”
The wizard smiled fondly on the serious hobbit before him, who was even now carefully preparing their tea. A frown crossed Frodo’s face. The mention of Will had set his mind and heart on her...
“Gandalf? How is it that my darkness seems to harm Lily, but not anyone else?”
Gandalf struggled not to sputter out his tea. They still surprise me, these hobbits. He smiled to himself. “Who is Lily?”
Frodo allowed his gaze to wander to the window. “A lovely hobbit I met in Bywater several nights ago.” He turned his gaze to the bottom of his mug. “Her father was killed in the Battle of Bywater; I tried to save him, but it was too late. She turned to me for comfort. She asked about how to talk to Ilúvatar. She fed me bread and cheese, and an apple...”
Gandalf smiled as Frodo's voice trailed off; Frodo did not see it.
“But it seems that when she touches me, or I touch her, it makes her ill somehow... I know it is the evil that lives within me, causing this to happen. I cannot bear to see her in pain or suffering. Yet when I am away from her I miss her, and want to see her so badly it has taken my heart by surprise.”
Gandalf’s tone was gentle. “Frodo, you love her.”
Frodo paused, thoughtful. His voice was soft. “Did you say in love?”
“No, not yet, but you do love her. Loving someone and being in love are not quite the same thing. You could be in love if the feelings now within you are allowed to grow.”
Frodo stood and paced the room a few times, then stopped in front of his old friend. “But Gandalf, even if I do love her...”
Frodo felt his heart beat a little harder and faster. He sighed deeply. His voice became softer yet, as though he were speaking to himself.
“I harm her in some way. What can I do? But, what does it matter? I’ll not live long anyway... Perhaps I should forget her? But I cannot.” His eyes searched the room, unseeing.
He looked into the wizard’s eyes. “Can some sort of spell be made to protect Lily? There isn’t one, is there...” Frodo dropped his eyes, and sat down again at the table.
“Frodo, even if I could do such a thing, surely you realize it would have other effects as well. Lily would be protected from your darkness, but her heart would be shut away from you as well. Is that really what you want?”
Frodo barely whispered, “No.”
“I am sorry I cannot help you, my friend. This is a bit beyond me, and quite different from the simple blessing of a hobbit hole. I can only suggest you pray about this problem.”
“I will pray, but it probably does not matter anyway. It seems she may be in love with someone else.”
Frodo’s dejection was clear. Gandalf could not dismiss the feeling that somehow this Lily would play some part in Frodo’s life; just what the part was, he did not know, nor try to guess. He mulled over Frodo's words in his mind, trying to better understand.
“Do I understand this correctly: she is harmed only when you touch her, or simply when you are near?”
“I know it happens whenever I touch her, and I think also sometimes when I am near.”
Gandalf returned to his own thoughts. This hobbit lass, Lily, is very open to Frodo; her spirit in some way is open to his... it allows Frodo’s darkness to touch her.
He had heard tales of Men and Elves who possessed such a gift, but not hobbits. It was all very interesting. He looked across at Frodo, who was clearly waiting for words of hope...
“Frodo, pray about this. A miracle is always possible; they happen every day... But in the meanwhile, do not see her too often, in case the harm is cumulative.”
Frodo could not hide the disappointment in his voice.
“All right, Gandalf.”
Another thought occurred to Frodo. “Did you know she has the gift of sight, since childhood? She can see into the hearts of others.”
“When did you learn this?”
“She told me three nights ago, when we had tea... and talked all night.”
Gandalf could not hide his raised eyebrows, but fortunately Frodo was looking out the window again and did not notice. “Does she seem interested in you?” the wizard asked.
“No -- yes, yes, she does, but she is holding her heart for another.”
“Does she seem the type to be interested in two different hobbits at the same time?”
“Well, no, not really... No, I can't imagine her being that way... I don’t know.” Frodo tried to order his thoughts. “Her father told me, just before he died, that she was waiting for someone...”
Gandalf was grateful Frodo had turned his back to him to stare into the fire. He could not have hid the smile which flitted across his face, and Frodo might misinterpret it.
This would need to be handled delicately; he worried about the darkness Frodo carried and how it might affect Lily. He did not understand what kind of real future they could have together, for it certainly wouldn’t be a long one. This was what he, Elrond, and Galadriel had seen in the Ring-bearer’s future. He would someday need the healing of the Grey Havens.
The wizard knew this seemingly insoluble problem needed to be placed into the hands of the Creator. I cannot see all ends, he thought.
“Frodo, pray. Ilúvatar will enlighten those who seek understanding, when the time is right, and they are ready to accept it.”
Frodo nodded. He believed, but it was hard to keep despair at bay. He had hoped Gandalf could solve everything for him at once. It was not meant to be.
Gandalf stood, being careful to stay bent low.
“I must go.”
“Can’t you stay a little longer?” Frodo could not keep from pleading.
Gandalf smiled. “I have business elsewhere, but wanted to see you first.” He gently lay his hand on Frodo’s shoulder.
“Bless you, Frodo Baggins.”
In his mind, he added, ‘on your new Quest.’
Frodo saw Gandalf to the door and waved at him as he walked down the lane. He dashed a tear from his cheek and slowly reentered the hole.
He sighed deeply, and decided to take at least a quick survey of what was about. So much of the best of what the Shire had to offer was packed away in the storerooms and cellar...
He hadn’t gone through even one storeroom when Sam appeared, calling to Frodo as he entered the smial.
“I’m here, Sam, in the main storeroom,” Frodo called out.
“Mr. Frodo? It’s time to head back now, if we want to make it back to Cottons’ in time for supper.”
Frodo looked around the place and sighed again. “If it’s all the same to you, Sam, I’d like to stay the night here.”
“But, Mr. Frodo, what’s happened here...”
“It’s all right. There are many things I cannot seem to feel anymore, and yet ever since Gandalf offered the blessing, I know it is all right to be here.”
Frodo looked up at Sam from where he knelt, next to several barrels of ale. “There’s plenty of food, so I won’t go hungry... By the way, Sam, you wouldn’t believe all that’s stored here! It will need to be shared among the needier hobbits, what with winter coming on... Anyway, I’ll be all right. I’ll come back to the Cottons’ tomorrow and bring a list of what’s here. Old Farmer Cotton should have a fair idea of where the deeper needs lie.”
Sam gazed at his master, worried. He tried not to wring his hands. “But...”
“It’s all right, Sam. I’ll be all right tonight. Go, be with Rosie, and I’ll see you in the morning.”
Frodo ushered him out the door with a smile.
Sam reluctantly headed down the lane, glancing back over his shoulder more than a time or two.
Frodo waved him on and then turned back to Bag End. Until today, he had not stepped inside his home for more than a year, and now he was changed. He would never be the same. He had lived a year of horror which he could never have foreseen, a year of loss; the loss of something he loved --
Frodo shuddered in disgust. No, he had not loved it; he desired and despised it. His guilt weighed heavily for feeling any loss over such an evil thing. His body was broken and would never heal again; he loved someone, and had no way of knowing if she loved him.
Yes, he was changed. And Bag End was changed, and hurt, but she could be repaired. Gandalf had blessed his home.
He slowly walked along the hall; his hand lovingly caressed the wall and the tree root still protruding from it. “I’m so sorry.” A tear slid down his face. “It will be all right.”
He took in a deep breath and headed back to the storerooms.