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Frodo was restless. Tossing back the covers, he sat up and reached for his dressing gown. Perhaps a cup of chamomile tea would help. He quietly slipped out of his room, and padded down the hallway. He stopped, and cracked the doors to each guest room, to check on Merry and Pippin. Both were sleeping soundly. He shook his head, feeling a bit wistful. Time was, both of them would have been curled up with him, and he would have slept just fine with them at his side. But Merry was in his tweens now, and Pippin very nearly so. That meant unless Pippin were sick, or Merry knew that Frodo was feeling melancholy, they mostly stayed in their own beds at night when they visited.
He had to admit to himself that he missed the days when they were small, and enjoyed a good cuddle. But they were growing into fine young hobbits, and he was very proud of them.
In the kitchen, he filled the kettle and put it on to boil, and searched out the chamomile. It was spring, and it was only to be expected that he felt this way. Things had been much better since he had come to live in Hobbiton so many years before, but still the old grief lingered and made itself felt from time to time, especially in the spring near the time he had lost his parents.
The kettle came to the boil, and he put the tea to steep, and went to search out a couple of scones he had purposely put back at teatime. If he ever wanted to have a little treat, he had to hide things occasionally from his voracious cousins.
He had just sat down, when he heard a pounding at the door. Alarmed, he darted up. It was three o‘ clock in the morning. That meant nothing less than a dire emergency. He hoped all was well down at Number Three; he could not begin to imagine what the problem could be.
He hurried to open the door, and became aware of the presence of Merry and Pippin. They stood silently, eyes wary and fearful, at the back of the hall. Merry had put on his dressing gown, though he had not tied it, and Pippin was clad only in his nightshirt.
“Just a moment!” Frodo exclaimed, reaching to throw back the bolt and fling open the door. “Paladin!” he cried out in shock.
“Father, what’s wrong?” Pippin rushed to his father’s arms. “Is everyone all right at home?”
Paladin gave his son a reassuring squeeze. “Everything is just fine at the *Great Smials*” he answered emphatically. “But--” his green eyes locked on Frodo’s, and then flicked to Merry, “--I’m afraid we’ve disturbing news from Buckland.”
“Aunt Gilda?” was Frodo’s immediate response. His Aunt Menegilda had been in poor health off and on for many years. Merry came up to stand beside Frodo, whose arm automatically went around his younger cousin’s shoulders.
Paladin shook his head. “It’s Rory. The Master.”
Merry gave a sudden wordless cry, and clutched at Frodo, who pulled him closer.
“He’s not gone yet. But the word we had was that he’s not much longer for the world; if we wish to see him before he slips away, we must make haste.”
Frodo bit his lip, and nodded sharply. “We’ll have to hire ponies. It means waking them up at The Ivy Bush, I’m afraid.”
Merry was looking at him, white and resolute.
“Get dressed and get your things together, Merry dear.” Frodo embraced him briefly and fiercely, and then released him, giving him a look of both confidence and sympathy. “We will do our best to get you back to your Grandda before he is gone.”
“Yes, Frodo.” Tears swam in the tween’s grey eyes, but he blinked and angrily dashed them away and he turned sadly to go back to his room.
Frodo turned to Paladin. “I thank you for coming to let us know.”
Paladin had stood back up, though he kept his arms around Pippin, who had turned to watch Merry with anxious eyes. “The Quick Post rider came to Great Smials first; he was heading here afterward, but I thought it faster if I simply came myself. Eglantine is seeing to bringing the lasses by coach, but I knew that Pippin would want to be with Merry. And as Thain, I should be there if I can, when--” He stopped abruptly, and looked down at Pippin, who was shivering just a bit. “Son, why don’t you go and get dressed, get your things together, and see if you can help Merry.”
“Yes, Father.” Pippin gave his father another hug, and then followed in the direction Merry had gone.
Frodo watched him go, and then said “Paladin, would you mind dreadfully knocking up the hostler, and seeing about the ponies? I will get dressed and see to making us an early first breakfast. It would be good if we could leave by sun-up.”
“Not at all, Frodo.” Paladin looked at the white and resolute face of his younger cousin. Aside from his pallor, there was no sign of the grief he must be feeling.
The last thing Frodo felt like was eating, but he knew very well that they would regret it if they did not have a hearty breakfast before they left, for there would be no time to stop for a second one, or even elevenses. Even pony back, they could not hope to get there without stopping. Pippin was a good rider for his age, but he’d be sick if they tried to ride straight through. And Frodo had to admit to himself, it had been years since he’d made such a long ride in haste. He’d never been a particularly strong rider, though he wasn’t bad. But like Bilbo, he’d always preferred to walk, unless at great need.
He sliced bread for toasting, and got out eggs to scramble. There were sausages and rashers of bacon, and he cut up some potatoes to fry. It was more like second breakfast than first.
“Is Merry all right, dearest?” he asked, knowing without turning around that Pippin had come into the kitchen.
“Yes,” Pippin replied in a small voice. “He’s dressed and packed, and he’s just sitting on his bed staring. He said to come see if you needed any help. I think he wants to be alone?” Pippin said this last doubtfully. He could not imagine wanting to be alone in such circumstances.
“It won’t be for long, Pippin. He probably just wants to get his thoughts in order. This is not something anyone expected.” While none of them would have been surprised if the summons had regarded Merry’s grandmother, old Rory had always been very spry for his age. Not so much so as Bilbo, who indeed, had never shown his age at all, but still, Rory had kept very well for a hobbit of one-hundred-and-six. And Merry did not like being surprised by circumstances.
“Oh.” Pippin quietly began to set the table, without being asked.
Frodo was finishing up preparing the meal, when Paladin returned, and a moment later, Merry entered the kitchen. They all sat down to the table quietly, and Frodo dished up the plates.
At first Merry and Pippin did not think they were hungry, but after a few bites, their youthful appetites took over, and they ate hungrily, Pippin taking his usual third helping of everything, though Merry stopped with seconds. The adults simply ate with determination, knowing they would need the sustenance.
The Sun was beginning to show her first rays into the kitchen window as they finished, and there was a knock at the door.
“Come in, Sam,” called Frodo.
Sam Gamgee came in, and looked at them in surprise. “Thain Paladin,” he said in greeting, with a polite bob of the head.
“Is something wrong, Mr. Frodo? I could see the lights were on, and such. It’s early.” Not early of course, for Sam, who was often up at first light to begin his work before the heat of the day, but very early indeed for such gentlehobbits.
“Yes, I am afraid so, Sam. We’ve had sad news from Buckland, and will have to set off at once. I am sorry to say my Uncle Rory is dying.”
There was a choked noise from Merry, and Pippin turned at once to hug him, as he wept. It was the first time the word “dying” had been said.
“I am sorry to hear that, Mr. Frodo. Is there aught I can do to help?” Sam’s own brown eyes filled in sympathy as he looked at Merry.
“Would you mind terribly seeing to the washing up, then, Sam? We can be on our way all the sooner then.” Frodo rarely asked Sam to help with indoor duties--they were not part of his job after all. But this was an emergency.
“Of course I will, Mr. Frodo. And I am very sorry to hear about the old Master.” Which Sam was. Mr. Bilbo had been very fond of the Master of Brandy Hall, and the few times Sam had seen him, he had been a very jolly and clever fellow. He thought Mr. Merry must take after his grandfather in many ways. “You can be on your way, and I will see to everything here for you.”
Frodo stood up, and handed Merry a handkerchief. Merry took it, looking up gratefully, and blew his nose. Merry stood up. “Come on, then, Pip. Let’s get our things.”
Paladin led them a brisk pace from Hobbiton, through Bywater and on down the road towards Frogmorton. In spite of his haste, the hour for luncheon had passed by the time they came to The Floating Log. Frodo was stiff and sore when he dismounted. Paladin was more used to riding, but when the Thain turned to check on Pippin, he noticed the lad’s face was grey with exhaustion. Merry sat still upon his pony, even after everyone else had dismounted, as though he were reluctant to stop.
“Merry,” said Frodo gently but firmly. “We have to take a break, have something to eat, and see about fresh ponies.”
His face pinched, Merry finally dismounted, and they went into the inn. Paladin went to speak to the innkeeper. The others stood politely behind him, Pippin leaning tiredly against Frodo.
“We’d like luncheon for four, and I would like to see about leaving these ponies here and hiring fresh ones.”
“Leave them ponies? ‘At’s not done, Mr.--”
“Took. Paladin Took.”
The innkeeper’s face was a study in consternation. “I’m sorry, Thain Paladin. We’ll see to it at once.” The innkeeper made as if to hustle off, but Paladin stayed him.
“That’s not all. I’d like to take a room where we can nap. Four hours should be sufficient time for us to rest before we are on our way.”
“Four hours!” Merry burst out angrily. “We can’t stop for four hours! We have to get there!”
“Meriadoc!” said Frodo sternly. Merry turned stormy eyes on hi s older cousin. “Merry! Look at Pippin!”
Biting back a retort, Merry focused his eyes on Pippin’s pale face, and was instantly contrite.
“I’m sorry, Merry,” Pippin said softly, “I don’t mean to be such a baby.”
This, of course, made Merry feel even worse. “No, Pip, *I’m* sorry. I’m just so worried.” Just then his stomach rumbled. “And I guess I’m hungry, too, though I don’t much feel like eating.”
They lunched on lamb stew, cheese and bread. The adults and Merry had half an ale each, and Pippin had cold milk. Then the innkeeper showed them to a large room, with a wide bed. Frodo and Paladin took the outside, with Merry and Pippin tucked between them. Pippin and his father fell asleep right away, but Frodo could feel the tension and worry in Merry. He placed an arm around his younger cousin, and burying his face in the sandy curls, he hummed a soft song, until he felt Merry’s tension melt away and his breathing became regular. But Frodo himself lay awake for a good while longer, holding his own sorrow in check. Uncle Saradas had gone last year, Uncle Dodinas the year before that. Aunt Amaranth had gone before Bilbo left the Shire. And of course, his mother--he shied from the thought of his mother. Of his grandfather Gorbadoc’s many children, only Aunt Asphodel and Uncle Dinodas would be left. He thought of his years in Brandy Hall, and finally drifted into an uneasy doze.
After they wakened to the innkeeper‘s knock, Paladin insisted they take another meal, before they rode forth once more. “I think,” he said, “that we’ll cut cross-country from here and head straight for the ferry.”
“Do you think that’s wise at night, Paladin? Or do you want us to camp?” Frodo asked. While there were still a few hours to sunset, the journey would take a good many hours past that.
Paladin drew in a deep breath through his nose, and pursed his lips as he thought. Finally he said, “The countryside is well-travelled, and the moon is full. We shan’t gallop, but we should be able to go at a good pace, and it will make up the time we lost in resting. There’s no need to camp. We should be able to get to Bucklebury by midnight at the latest.”
In spite of their haste and the urgency of their errand, Frodo found riding beneath the stars soothing. A couple of hours after sunset, they halted briefly to drink from their waterskins and eat some of the mushroom pasties and apples that Paladin had purchased from the innkeeper.
Paladin looked at Pippin in concern. “Are you all right, son?”
Pippin shot his chin up proudly. “I can keep up!” he said sharply, belying his stiff movements and his pinched face.
“I don’t doubt it, my lad. I am very proud of you.” He ruffled his son’s curls, and looked over at Frodo, who nodded.
“Can we go now?” said Merry wearily. He looked even more exhausted than Pippin, but it was clear that he would certainly brook no delay on his own account. Frodo gave him a squeeze about the shoulders, before they all mounted once more.
The lanterns were lit on the western bank of the Ferry landing, and the ferry was tied up to the dock. It was usually kept on the east bank at night, but clearly the Brandybucks were expecting guests to come that way. It took much coaxing to get the exhausted ponies aboard, but finally they moved out across the River. Paladin was clearly nervous, but Merry had got a second wind now he was nearly home, and he and Frodo poled them confidently across.
They were awaited on the eastern landing by Cousin Seredic.
“How is he?” asked Merry, before he even set foot off the ferry.
“Holding his own, for now,” replied Seredic. He looked at the others and nodded. “It’s good to see you again, Frodo, Pippin. Thain Paladin, is the rest of your family coming?”
“Eglantine and the lasses are coming by coach. They won’t be here for another couple of days, I shouldn’t think. But I thought it was important to get young Merry home as soon as possible.”
Seredic nodded. “I think that was wise.” He turned and gestured, and the travellers realized that there were a couple of stable hands waiting nearby to take the ponies. A third hobbit stood nearby. Seredic turned to him. “Denny, if you’d please return the ferry to the other side?” He handed the young hobbit a couple of coins. “You can stay the night in Stock.”
Seredic turned and led the way up the lane towards Brandy Hall. In spite of the late hour, there were still lights to be seen in many of the windows.
“What happened?” asked Paladin. “The last letter I had from Esme was that he was doing fine, though tired, and worried about Menegilda.”
“He had a seizure of the heart two days ago. It was a near thing to losing him right away, but Cousin Dody was able to keep him with us. It was clear that it was only a temporary respite, that it was only a matter of time, and a short time, at that. We sent out a Quick Post rider right away.”
“How is Aunt Gilda taking it?” asked Frodo quietly.
“Not well; I don’t think it likely that she will survive him long. She is already fading.”
Merry gasped, and Pippin squeezed his hand. To lose his grandfather and grandmother at once would be so hard for him.
As they entered Brandy Hall, they saw a number of friends and relations milling about, several of whom started to approach, but Seredic waved them away. “They can visit later,” he said firmly. “Saradoc wants to see them right away.” He led them down the passage to the left, towards the Master’s spacious apartments.
Seredic tapped on the door, and it was opened by Esmeralda, who stood back for them to enter.
“Mum?” Merry gave her a look of entreaty, and she quickly enfolded her son in her arms.
“There now, Merry-my-lad,” she murmured, stroking his curls. “Can you bear to go in to see him?”
He took a deep breath and nodded.
She looked at Frodo, whose face was nearly blank, though very white. She knew well enough how miserable he must be, but he would maintain this mask of control, for Merry’s sake, she knew. “Frodo, he will want to see you as well.”
She led them into the large bedroom, where the only others present were Saradoc, Merimac, Berilac, Dinodas, and Cousin Dodinas the Younger, who was Brandy Hall’s resident healer--and in the great bed, the Master of Buckland, Rorimac Brandybuck, and next to him his wife of seventy years, the redoubtable Menegilda Goold Brandybuck. Both of them looked very small. Menegilda could no longer speak clearly, since she had suffered an apoplexy a few months earlier, which had left her unable to move her right side or to speak more than a few slurred words. Her left hand lay atop the coverlet, however, the gnarled fingers entwined with her husband’s right hand. He was propped up on pillows, his breathing labored and weak, but his eyes were remarkably clear, and there was a spark of recognition at the new arrivals.
Saradoc sat by his father’s bedside, holding the other hand, and he glanced up in obvious relief when they came in.
Pippin swallowed and bit his lip, and moved even closer to his father. Paladin drew him along to stand against a wall near Dinodas, Merimac and Berilac.
Cousin Dodinas gave a nod, and moving over by the bed, he took up a tumbler, and poured a draught into it from a small brown glass flask. He bent over and placed it to Rory’s lips. “This will help you to speak, Uncle,” he said.
When Dodinas moved away, Rory looked up.
“Frodo--” he whispered.
Frodo moved to the bedside, and knelt next to it, reaching up to put a hand on his uncle’s arm. “Uncle Rory.”
“Frodo,” he said breathily. “I’ve…missed you so…much, my dear…Primmie’s lad. But…I…can’t…be…sorry…we let you…go. It was…the…making of…you, to…to go to Bilbo. For-forgive me?”
“Oh, Uncle!” Frodo’s voice broke. “There is nothing to forgive! Truly, I am only sorry I could not be happier here in Buckland!”
“Don’t…be. You…are where…you be-belong. But…don’t forget…you are still…Brandybuck…too.”
Frodo swallowed and stood up, bending over to kiss the withered cheek. “I will never forget. I am very proud to be a Brandybuck as well as a Baggins.” He stepped back and wet his lips, and then his mask slipped into place once more.
But Rory was looking past him now. “Meriadoc.” His voice sounded just a bit stronger.
Merry looked at his mother, and then at Frodo, who gave him an encouraging nod. Now it was he who went to kneel at the bedside. “Grandda?” Suddenly he burst out into a sob. “Oh, Grandda! Do you have to go?”
“My Merry. You…never…let go. But it is…my time, lad.”
Merry nodded miserably, and sniffed. “I understand.”
“No…child. But you will…one…day.” Old Rory drew his right hand from Saradoc’s grasp, and lay it on Merry’s head. “I’m proud of you.” The hand fell away weakly, and his son took it up once more. “Merry, you will…be a…great Master…when the time…comes. I…love you.”
Merry clutched at his grandfather, and said brokenly, “I love you, too, Grandda.” For a moment he knelt there still, and then he allowed his mother to draw him away.
For a moment, there was silence, save for Rory’s labored breathing. Then he looked at Saradoc, and spoke clearly once more. “My son, take…care of Buckland.”
Saradoc nodded, and squeezing his father’s hand once more, he drew it up and kissed the back of it briefly.
Rory turned his head to face his wife. Her eyes cleared briefly, as their gazes met. For several minutes, there was no sound save his labored breathing, which grew shallower and shallower, and then ceased. Pippin let out a sob, and turned into his father’s embrace, and Esmeralda moved to Saradoc’s side. Frodo was holding Merry close.
Then, speaking clearly for the first time in a long time, they heard Menegilda’s voice. “I’m coming too, Rory.” And so she followed her husband beyond the circles of the world.
Leaving the immediate family to their grief, and Pippin to help comfort Merry, Paladin went out to inform the other members of the clan that both Master and Mistress had moved on, and that now Saradoc and Esmeralda were the new Master and Mistress of Brandy Hall.
The others had moved from the great bedroom out into the sitting room, save for Cousin Dody and for Dinodas, who were seeing to the bodies. They would remain there until morning, and then would be laid out in the main hall for the family and friends to pay their respects before the funeral.
Frodo saw that Saradoc was exhausted. His eyes met those of Esmeralda, who nodded, and then he said, “Uncle Sara, why don’t we all go to our beds now? We’ve time for a bit of rest until morning.”
Paladin had returned, and gave agreement to this plan, and between the two of them, they chivvied and coaxed the others into returning to their own rooms. Merimac led Berilac back to their chambers, and the others went to the apartment of the Son of the Hall. Only Dody and Dinodas would linger there for the remainder of the night.
Frodo found himself once more in his old room, both familiar and unfamiliar now, after all these years. He undressed and put on his nightshirt, and was unsurprised at the tap on his door. Merry and Pippin stood there in their nightshirts, hand in hand, and looking miserable. Frodo said nothing, but gave them a sad smile, and gestured. Soon, the three were tucked up as of old, and in spite of all grief, Frodo found himself relaxing as he held them both close.
The following morning seemed like chaos, as hobbits from nearby began to come to pay their respects. It would only get worse, as those from further away would begin to arrive in Buckland. The weather was not yet too hot, and Cousin Dody felt it would be safe to hold the bodies for up to four days before the funeral. Any who could not arrive by that time would have to pay their respects afterwards.
Frodo made himself useful, standing by Merry as he waited with his family for the mourners to file by, and occasionally taking a message to this one or that, or fetching tea or water or food. He had been watching many of those who had come, when it occurred to him to wonder about something. When there was a lull in the line, he turned to Esmeralda. “Aunt Esme?”
“Has anyone told Cousin Calla yet?”
Her eyes widened. “I don’t know, Frodo. I’ve not seen Yarrow among the servants today--if *she* had the news, I am sure she would have told her mistress. But it could have been overlooked.”
Frodo glanced over at Merry. His younger cousin seemed tired, but otherwise all right. He turned back to Esmeralda.
“I think, perhaps, I should go up and check. It would be dreadful if no one had thought to inform her.”
“I agree, Frodo. That’s very thoughtful of you. Take your time with her.”
Frodo unobtrusively slipped out of the main hall, and made his way to the passages which sloped upward. Cousin Calla’s apartments were on the highest level of Brandy Hall--indeed, they were the only set of rooms on that level. He sincerely hoped that Yarrow had already delivered the news to her mistress, but he thought he should make sure.
Calla Brandybuck was descended from Marroc Brandybuck. She was Frodo’s fourth cousin. She had been a great beauty in her day, but she had never wed. Instead, she had become an artist of renown throughout the Shire. She was a good thirty years older than Frodo, and from the time he was about sixteen, she had been his art teacher until he left Brandy Hall. He had always made a point of visiting and corresponding with her. But just a few years after he had left, she had come down with a strange wasting illness. It had made of her a recluse, and now she dwelt in her chambers, and saw almost no one. Her servant Yarrow took care of her and brought her meals, but it was extremely rare for anyone else to visit her--she did not wish their pity.
Frodo was an exception, and she would allow him to come to her on his visits to Buckland--she had been proud of her student, and she admired the way he had overcome his own adversities.
He rapped at the door, and it was opened in short order by Calla’s chambermaid, Yarrow Bunce.
“Mister Frodo! I am surprised to see you!” For Frodo had avoided Buckland in the springtime for many years.
“Yarrow, is Cousin Calla up to receiving a caller? There is something I need to tell her.” Frodo’s voice was sad and gentle, and Yarrow immediately understood.
“Is it the Master?” she exclaimed. “We’d heard he was took ill!”
“I need to speak to your mistress,” he repeated quietly. “But I think that you know what news I bear.”
The maidservant gave a little gasp of understanding, and nodded sadly.
Yarrow led Frodo into a small sitting room. Calla was lying on the settee, a book disregarded on her lap. She saw Frodo, and her face lit up briefly in welcome, before settling into an expression of alarm. “Why Frodo! What brings you here?”
Frodo took a seat across from her. She had not sat up--he could tell by her thin and wasted form that she was probably too weak to do so, though there were days when she felt better.
He took her withered hand in both of his. It grieved him to see her like this, when he could so well remember her before her illness began to take its toll. “”Calla, I must tell you--both the Master and Mistress passed on in the night.”
“Ah!” She bit her lip, and tears started in her expressive grey eyes. She blinked them away. “I am not really surprised,” she said, “yet I am sorry to hear it all the same. But what a blessing for them to go together.”
Frodo nodded, yet in his own mind, he thought that while some may have thought it a blessing for his own parents to go together, it had been no consolation to him to know he was left alone.
She seemed to understand his thought, for she said gently, “It is quite different, Frodo dear, for Rory and Gilda. They went in the fullness of their time, and they leave children who are grown and have families of their own--they will not be left alone.”
Frodo just nodded. There was no denying it.
“I thank you for bringing me the news,” she said. “I am sure that by day’s end Yarrow would have learned of the event and told me. But it’s good to be told properly, and to not be forgotten.”
“Calla, you could never be forgotten!” Frodo protested gallantly.
She laughed ruefully. “By you, perhaps! You were always glad to spend time with me, even as a child. But by others in the Hall, I am already forgotten for the most part. And I’ve no one but myself to blame.”
There was no good response to that. It was true enough. As the mysterious illness that none of the healers could seem to allay had crept over her, stealing her energy and leaving her exhausted and fatigued over even the slightest of exertions, taking away her appetite in a most unhobbity fashion, and leaving her sometimes in great pain, she had withdrawn to these quarters and refused to see anyone save her servant, and the rare visits of the Master or Mistress, or of Esmeralda or Frodo.
Frodo sat back. “I shall have to return to the others soon. Merry will be needing me. But I have time for a brief visit now. Have you done any work recently?”
Before her illness, Calla had been known for her lively and beautiful watercolor paintings--flowers and landscapes and the occasional portrait. Her miniatures and her illuminations for documents had been much in demand. She had often travelled about the Shire, going as far one time as Long-Cleeve in the Northfarthing. But things had changed since her illness. She seldom felt like working, and when she did, she filled sketchbooks with black and white charcoal drawings that she showed to no one--except Frodo Baggins.
“Yarrow, would you hand Mr. Frodo my latest sketchbook?”
The maidservant went over to a small table which was made so that it could fit over a bed or the settee. She picked the book up and gave it to Frodo with a shudder. She no longer even attempted to look at the drawings her mistress did.
Frodo took it with a nod of thanks, and opened it. There, as he had come to expect, were the fanciful pictures that Calla drew now--mountains she had never seen; wild and untamed forests at night; a night sky filled with stars silhouetting a tall white city of towers; a barren land beneath a pitiless sun; a tall ship with a swan-like prow cutting proudly through waves; a beautiful white tree filled with blossoms; a serpent wearing a crown; a ravening wolf; a majestic eagle flying high; a luminous and lovely beast like a pony with a single horn; a black dragon spouting flames. There were never any people in these pictures, and Calla herself had told Frodo that she had no idea where the images came from, but they tugged at the edge of Frodo’s mind and memory, as though he *should* recognize them. Some of them indeed, seemed to be drawn from the tales of Elves and the First Age. Others had no relation whatever to anything Frodo had ever heard of.
He looked at the pictures silently and solemnly, occasionally nodding, and looking over at Calla. Then he leafed back through, to the pictures that seemed *almost* familiar to him--the ship, the white tree, the eagle, the barren land--that last one sparked a touch of fear as he studied it. Then with a solemn look, he closed the book and put it down.
“Thank you for letting me see them, Cousin Calla,” he said respectfully, as he always did. They had never discussed the pictures since the very first time several years before, when Frodo, on a visit to Buckland, had accidentally seen a sketch of a mountain spouting fire, and had cried out in recognition--though what he recognized and from where, he could not say. Since then, she had allowed him to look--but they never talked of the pictures, or what it might mean. It was enough to know the strange connection existed.
He stood up and gave her a gentle kiss on the brow, and asked, as he had a few times before, “May I bring Merry and Pippin to visit?”
He expected her to say no, as she always did, but this time instead, she said “Perhaps you could bring young Merry, if you think he could bear it. But not Pippin. He is still too young to be burdened by me.”
Frodo did not think making her acquaintance would be a burden to Pippin, and he thought the young Took’s sweet and sympathetic heart might indeed do some good for Calla. But it was a milestone that she would allow Merry to come, so he did not argue.
“Very well, Calla. Perhaps tomorrow, then, if you are up to it.” He started for the door, followed by Yarrow.
“Thank ‘ee kindly for coming, Mr. Frodo. It does her good to see folk sometimes.”
“You are very good to her, Yarrow. And it is my pleasure to visit her, though I am sorry to have been the bearer of such sad tidings. I will stop by with Merry tomorrow.”
Yarrow nodded, and shut the door behind him when he left.
The next day proved a hectic one, as more and more relations who had received word began to drift in from ever further afield. Poor Merry was feeling rather harried, though Frodo and Pippin were sticking close by his side. Indeed, it would have take no less than a crowbar or a parent to pry Pippin loose, although Frodo was forced a few times by his adult responsibilities to abandon them briefly in order to greet some of his own connections, and to stave off rumors. The most persistent one stuck in his own craw.
“No, Cousin Milo, I do not think there is *any* likelihood of Lobelia turning up here. The idea that she might feel repentant at the passing of Menegilda is absurd.”
“Griffo, be realistic. Can you even begin to imagine Lobelia would dare to show her face in Buckland after all these years?”
“Come now, Cousin Filibert--did you *really* expect the Sackville-Bagginses to show up here now of all times?”
For some reason a rumor had got started that Lobelia Sackville-Baggins might take the opportunity of the funeral to put a public end to her feud with the late Menegilda Brandybuck, who had long held her responsible for the drowning of Frodo’s parents. While Frodo did not believe himself in the superstition that bringing a gift to a wedding brought bad luck on the couple, it had been something that his aunt had been thoroughly convinced of for years. Nevertheless, it was horrid to have to dwell on it now, of all times.
Still, he stayed as close to Merry as he could, though he worried about Pippin, who was looking very tired, and very fierce for him. When Carnation Bunce descended on Merry with “Oh, you poor dear thing!” and proceeded to pinch Merry’s cheeks, clucking sympathetically, Pippin positively glared at her, and Frodo was forced to put a hand over his mouth to prevent his saying something downright rude--a nearly unheard of thing for the mild-mannered child. Merry himself, not normally one to tolerate such liberties with his person, merely gave a long-suffering sigh. Frodo shook his head, not used to such a turnabout in his younger cousins’ behavior--though he was well aware that Pippin felt quite as protective of Merry as the other way about, there was seldom any occasion to actually *see* him at it.
Fortunately, at that point Paladin happened to notice them. He had, of course, as Thain, even more responsibilities than Frodo. But he came over.
“Peregrin, you are looking rather tired. I think you need to go lie down and rest. Your mother and sisters may be here tonight or tomorrow, and I don’t wish to answer to her if you have made yourself sick.”
Pippin drew in a deep breath. “I’m not leaving Merry,” he said flatly. “All these people are bothering him dreadfully.”
Merry turned in surprise, and Paladin’s eyebrows rose. He was not used to flat disobedience from his son.
Frodo forestalled an argument. “Pippin, go ahead and do as your father bids. I’m taking Merry out of this mess now.”
Now Merry turned to argue with Frodo. “I can’t leave. Mum and Da--”
“Merry, your parents are managing just fine. But you need to get away for a little while. Believe me, I understand that.”
Merry looked startled, and then realized what kind of memories this must be dredging up for Frodo.
Pippin looked up at Frodo. “If you’ll take care of him for me, Frodo, then I will go rest a little while. I am a little bit tired.”
Merry looked down at Pippin, and noted the red eyes and pallor. “All right, Pip. I’ll do as Frodo says.”
Frodo and Merry watched Paladin lead Pippin out of the press of the ever-increasing crowd, and then Frodo turned and said, “Come along with me, Merry. We’ll get out of here, and we will go somewhere no one will think to look for us.”
They managed to sidle their way out of the crowd without too many interruptions. Frodo hustled his younger cousin through one of the doorways and into a passageway.
“Where are we going, Frodo?” Merry asked, resigned to following.
“You have a rather exclusive invitation. Cousin Calla has said you may visit her. It’s quiet up there--she’ll be the only other person besides Yarrow, and I guarantee there will be no pinching of cheeks.”
Merry looked startled. He had been ten the last time he could remember having seen Cousin Calla, when she had only just been beginning to feel her illness. Since then the only people who had visited her had been healers--though none of them for years--his grandparents, his mother, and Frodo. He had to admit to himself that he was a bit curious, and rather apprehensive. He wondered what to expect.
Frodo stopped in front of Calla’s door for the second time in as many days, and knocked. Instead of Yarrow opening the door, they heard Calla’s voice calling out “Come in.”
Frodo opened the door, and ushered Merry in, and followed, shutting the door behind him. Calla was on the settee again, but she was sitting up today. She lay aside the sketchbook in her lap, and placed her charcoal atop it. “Good afternoon, Frodo. Meriadoc, it’s good to see you again. You have grown a good deal since last I saw you. Please sit down, both of you. Yarrow is not here--I sent her down to the main kitchen to fetch tea. I was hoping you would come today.”
Merry tried not to stare, as he attempted to reconcile the Calla of his memory with this thin and wasted person. He carefully sat down in one of the chairs facing the settee. Hoping his voice did not give away his dismay, he said, “Thank you, Cousin Calla. It is good of you to invite me here.”
She smiled, and Merry saw the ghost of her former beauty. Frodo sat down in the other chair, and she turned her smile on him. “He’s very well-mannered.”
Frodo chuckled. “I should hope so. But it is not very mannerly of you to speak of him as though he’s not here, Calla.”
She turned her eyes on Merry, who was blushing. “I am sorry, Merry. I’m afraid I’m simply not used to having more than one person at a time to speak to.” She leaned back, and closed her eyes wearily, as though the brief conversation had exhausted her, and Merry felt alarm. He glanced at Frodo, who shook his head, as though to tell him not to worry.
She was having a bit of difficulty pushing the trolley in the slightly overfurnished room. Merry stood up and moved a chair out of her way, and Frodo moved a small table.
“Thank you kindly, sirs,” she said. She looked at her mistress, who was leaning forward now and studying the food. “Are you all right, Miss Calla?”
“I am fine Yarrow. Frodo, would you mind pouring out? I do not think that I could manage the teapot.”
Frodo obliged, and soon the three sat, sipping tea. Merry noticed that Calla had taken only a single biscuit, and looked with dismay at the large array of food--did she really expect him and Frodo to eat all of that? Maybe if Pippin were with them, they could make a dint in it, but it was far more than he thought the two of them could manage. He cast a glance at Frodo, who had taken a couple of cucumber sandwiches, a stuffed egg and two biscuits, and imitated his older cousin. He did not want to appear a greedy tween.
They ate silently, which made Merry feel a bit strange--hobbits were used to at least discussing the food during the meal, no matter how plain it was. Indeed, it was considered just short of poor manners to discuss anything else during the first part of the meal. But Calla was barely nibbling even at the biscuit she had taken, and it seemed a bit rude to comment on food which she was not partaking of. And Frodo did not seem to find this silent meal in the least disconcerting, which reassured Merry a bit.
When they had finished, Yarrow brought a small tumbler over to her mistress, who made a small face, but drank it down. “My draught,” Calla said, offering no other explanation.
Yarrow moved to take away the tea things, and Calla spoke to her. “Yarrow, before you return the tea trolley to the kitchen, please go and fetch my old portfolio. The one against the wall, behind the work table in the other room.”
“It’s all right, Yarrow.”
Yarrow gave her mistress an anxious look before leaving the room, and Calla sighed. “She thinks it may upset me to be reminded of the work I can no longer do. At one time it would have, but no longer, thanks to you, Frodo.”
Frodo quirked a brow in surprise. “Thanks to me?”
“Yes, for knowing that you are able to--appreciate--the work I do now makes me feel that it does have some sort of meaning.”
Merry wondered what they were talking about. He had never heard his grandparents or his mother mention any work she might be able to do now. But since it seemed something personal between her and Frodo, he kept his curiosity in check. If there was one thing Frodo expected of him, it was to respect those things he kept private.
At that moment, Yarrow returned, carrying a large white portfolio, which she proffered to her mistress.
“Give them to Master Merry, Yarrow.”
Merry was surprised at this, but took it from the maidservant. It was fastened by two buckles, and seemed to bulge a bit.
Calla looked at him, amusement in her grey eyes. “Go on, Merry, open it and look in it. Show them to Frodo as well. They are things I worked on years ago, before I became--indisposed.”
Merry drew out a stack of thick paper, of various sizes, and then drew out another stack, which he handed to Frodo. With a barely suppressed eagerness, he began to look through the paintings and drawings.
They ranged from incomplete sketches of landscapes and people, to delicate watercolor studies of flowers or trees. There were pages of various delicately rendered borders--plans, perhaps, for illuminating a book or a document--and…
Merry stopped, tears sparking. A small painting of his grandparents. His grandmother seated on the bench beneath the oak in the front garden, with some sort of needlework in her hands, his grandfather, standing behind her, bent over to whisper something in her ear. It was so delicately rendered, in ink and pale color, yet everything was detailed, down to the snowy white curls of his grandmother’s feet. He bit his lip, and passed the picture to Frodo, who nodded, and gave him a sympathetic smile.
“Which one is it?” asked Calla.
Frodo held it up. She nodded. “Take it, Merry.”
Merry looked startled.
“You may find a few more there, that speak to you. You may have them, to keep for yourself or share with your parents, as it please you.”
“Thank you,” he whispered, and placed the painting on the arm of his chair, and returned to looking through the pictures in his lap, more slowly this time.
In the end, he found himself the possessor of five works of art: the painting of his grandparents; another one, of himself as a faunt on his grandfather’s knee, and a young Frodo, seated on the ground in front of them, gazing up at Merry with that fond expression he knew so well; an unfinished sketch of his mother, looking very young and Tookish; a sketch of Frodo seated at a table and making a sketch of his own; and a small painting of the River in autumn, in which only the changing leaves of the trees had been rendered in color.
And Frodo had taken two for himself: a picture of himself and Merry, in which he was a young teen, and Merry only a babe in his arms; and another picture of Merry at about six or seven, seated on a pony.
“I don’t remember you making these pictures, Cousin Calla,” Merry said hesitantly.
She shook her head. “No, I usually went about with my sketchbook. I would sketch in people or things that interested me, and paint them later. People were so used to seeing me at it that they paid no attention.”
Merry returned to looking at some of the other pictures, and found himself wishing he could have a talent of this sort. Frodo did. And Pippin had his music. Occasionally Merry thought himself sadly lacking. But it seldom lasted.
He glanced up, and noticed that Calla was starting to doze off. She jerked herself awake. “I am sorry to be such a poor hostess, but I am afraid I am tired out.”
Frodo rose. “You are not a poor hostess at all, Calla. We have enjoyed our visit very much.”
“I really have,” said Merry earnestly. Then he shyly added, “Would you--would you mind if I came again?”
She turned a smile on him, and said, “If you would really like to come again, I should be pleased to see you. You may come alone, or with your mother, if you like.”
He grinned. “Thank you.” Standing up, he went over, and blushing, took her hand. “I have enjoyed renewing our acquaintance very much, Cousin.”
“You are very gallant, Meriadoc. I can see why Frodo is so fond of you. And I think you may take after him as far as charm goes.”
Merry went beet red to the tips of his ears. No one had ever called him ‘gallant’ before. He thought he liked the sound of that.
Calla sighed. “Yarrow!”
The maidservant was instantly at her side. “Yes, mistress?”
“I think I shall need to lie down for a while…”
Frodo and Merry quietly made their exit.
As they went back down the passage, Merry cast a troubled glance at her door. “Frodo, she’s wonderful! Can’t the healers do anything for her?”
Frodo sighed and shook his head. “I’m afraid not. The last time Cousin Dody attended on her--oh, it must have been a good eight or nine years ago--she told him she would take his draughts, but that he was not to come again, for healers had done her no good.” Frodo looked at Merry, and his expression brightened. “But you are now on the list of people she will see! That’s quite an honor. And look at the lovely pictures!”
Merry smiled. “I think Mum and Da might like the one of Grandda and Grandmother--but not right away.”
“No,” said Frodo, “not right away.”
They returned, not to the main hall, but to the apartment that had always belonged to the Son of the Hall. It was quiet, and the only person there was Pippin, sound asleep on Merry’s bed. Frodo persuaded Merry to lie down with his younger cousin for a while, and Frodo went into the sitting room. He looked once more at the pictures they had brought away from Calla. And he thought once more of the pictures he had seen in her sketchbook the day before. Somehow he knew that some of those things were things he *would* see some day. He put the troubling thought behind him, and went over to the bookshelf to distract himself with an extremely dry and boring account of the building of Brandy Hall.
Early the following morning, immediately after first breakfast, the Took carriage arrived, bearing Eglantine, Pearl, Pimpernel and Pervinca. Pippin, who had borne up remarkably well during everything, burst into a storm of tears when he found himself in his mother’s embrace.
It was another day of dancing attendance on the increasing crowd of relatives come for the funeral, which would be the next day. Frodo thought that if it had not been incumbent on him to set a halfway decent example for his younger kin, he would have fled home to Bag End and never look back. But as long as Merry and Pippin needed him, he was anchored here.
At one point, Cousin Marmadas’ wife Tourmaline, with her reluctant daughter Mentha in tow, tried to corner Merry, with the obvious object in mind of matchmaking. It was hardly proper--not as young as they both were, but Merry was now the Son of the Hall, and would be considered an excellent catch by certain sorts of mothers. From the look on Pippin’s face he rescued Merry in the nick of time.
“It’s about time, Frodo,” said Pippin crossly. “I thought I was going to have to stomp on her foot!”
“I almost wish you had,” said Merry, scowling after her retreating back. For some reason, Cousin Tourmaline had not wished to stay around after she had met the knowing look in Frodo’s eyes. He had merely greeted her politely, and then stared her into submission.
“Yes. Well. It wasn’t necessary, was it?” said Frodo. He himself was not quite sure why his glare was so effective, but he was very secure in the knowledge that it *was*. It had routed more than one rude person in the past.
Fortunately, the close family members were able to retreat to the private family quarters for supper at the end of the day. Tomorrow, after the funeral, they would have no such luck--it would be required for the new Master and his family to preside over a feast in the main dining hall.
By the end of the evening, Frodo was exhausted. Yet sleep eluded him. He hated funerals with a passion, and yet now that he was Master of Bag End, he could not avoid them. Tomorrow would be a very trying day.
He tossed and turned for what seemed like hours, before his bedroom door cracked open. It was Merry and Pippin.
“Frodo? I can’t sleep,” said Merry plaintively.
At the funeral, Frodo stood behind Merry, his hand upon his younger cousin’s shoulder. Merry’s own hand had come up, to cover his. Frodo felt as though the very air was thick with grief and longing. In spite of his resolve *not* to, his gaze kept skipping across the open graves for Rory and Gilda to a spot nearby: two graves marked with a single stone, his parents’ resting place. This was not the time to mourn them, he thought, he should be thinking of his Uncle Rory and Aunt Gilda, who had loved him dearly, and who now were gone and deserved his respect.
But he could barely hear Saradoc’s words as he spoke of the Master and Mistress of Buckland, and how they would be missed, and not only as Master and Mistress. There seemed to be a roaring in his ears, and his own parents’ faces kept intruding. This was the wrong time of year for him to be *here* in this place of all places. More than he had in nearly ten years, he missed Bilbo’s comforting presence sorely. He wet his dry lips, and clutched Merry’s shoulder even harder.
In an effort to distract himself, he glanced around the graveyard at the other mourners. He was surprised to see, at the far edge of the crowd, a slender veiled figure leaning heavily against Yarrow. It was Calla--probably the first time she had been out of her rooms in nearly sixteen years.
He resolved to speak to her when the funeral ended, but by the time he could make his way through the crowd, she had vanished.
When the funeral was over, hobbits were expected to put grief behind them, to celebrate the lives of the ones who had passed, and to get on with the business of living. The feast was supposed to be a symbol of that.
Yet, as Frodo knew only too well, it was easier said than done. For many hobbits the jollity was no more than a mask, and the grief was still there, scarcely beneath the surface. Whatever might be said about a life well-lived being its own reward, it could barely assuage the sorrow of those left behind. Unlike the majority of hobbits, Frodo could find some comfort in the Elven idea that somehow mortals went on into another sort of existence--his knowledge of the Elven stories Bilbo had translated, and his respect for Elvenkind made the idea of the Valar and the Halls of Mandos one he could believe in. It was a comfort of sorts, though nothing that could replace a warm hug or a kind smile. And it was not the sort of belief he could speak of to other hobbits.
So Frodo plastered a blandly jovial mask on over his features, and no one who did not know him well would have realized the falseness of it. Merry did, but he was trying too hard to manage his own grief to be the sort of comfort to Frodo that he had always been in the past.
Only Pippin seemed to know what to do, and he kept himself between his favorite cousins as much as possible, holding their hands or hugging them suddenly, making his presence felt.
The feast was an ordeal. The closer family members did not feel much like eating, while to most of the more distant friends and relations, it seemed more like a party.
Frodo barely ate, and he noticed that it was the same for Saradoc. He was very relieved, then, when Saradoc rose, and lifted his glass in a toast to Master Rorimac and Mistress Menegilda. Then Cousin Dinodas, as the last surviving brother of Rory’s generation stood, and toasted Master Saradoc and Mistress Esmeralda.
The feast was ended, and Frodo could not get Merry out of the crush too soon.
He saw to getting his younger cousins into bed, and then sat up to wait for the others. It was not too long before Saradoc and Esmeralda arrived, along with Paladin. Eglantine had taken the lasses to the guest rooms the Tooks used on their visits to Brandy Hall--all save Pippin who had his own room near Merry’s.
Saradoc dropped heavily into his favorite chair with a deep sigh of exhaustion. Esmeralda moved behind him, and began to knead her husband’s neck.
“I am surprised to see you still awake, Frodo.”
Frodo shrugged. “I wanted to speak to you, Uncle Sara. I need to return to Bag End soon--and I wanted to ask, will you allow Merry to finish his visit there? I know things will have to be different now he‘s the Son of the Hall.”
Saradoc pursed his lips and leaned forward. “To be honest, Frodo, I’d not thought that far ahead. But I have no intention of plunging Merry into such duties now--he’s still too young and his grief too new. I suppose that starting next year, I will gradually increase his responsibilities. But actually, I think I would be very grateful if you returned with him to Bag End. He needs to be away from things here until they settle down a bit. Don’t think I haven’t noticed how well you protected him the last couple of days from those who would have used his youth to take advantage of him.”
“I’ll always watch after Merry, Uncle, you know that. It’s not something you have to thank me for.”
“I do know that, Frodo. But I’m grateful all the same. If you can persuade him to rest tomorrow, then I think it would not be thought improper if you took him back with you the day after.”
Frodo turned to Paladin. “Paladin? What about Pippin?”
Paladin nodded. “I’d not be so cruel as to separate him from Merry now of all times. But the journey back should not be in such haste--I was very proud of how well he endured it, but I think you should make your way slower upon your return.”
“Actually,” said Frodo, “if both were returning with me, I had planned to hire a trap, and drive as far as Budgeford. A day or so in Fatty’s and Folco’s pleasant company, and then we would have a nice leisurely walk the rest of the way, camping out and taking our time.”
“That sounds an excellent plan. I will see to the return of the hired ponies, then.”
The next day, the young people remained in the apartment. Merry and Pippin, watched over by Frodo were joined by Pippin’s sisters and Merry’s cousin Berilac. They spent the day playing games, chatting and eating. The other adults returned in time for tea.
But after tea, Frodo quietly slipped away for awhile, and made his way to Cousin Calla’s apartment.
“She’s feeling poorly today, Mr. Frodo,” said Yarrow at the door.
“Is that Frodo Baggins, Yarrow?” called a soft voice weakly. “Please do show him in.”
Yarrow stood back disapprovingly. It was clear that *she* did not feel her mistress was up to company.
“I won’t stay long,” Frodo told her reassuringly.
This time, Frodo was shown into Calla’s bedchamber. She was propped against pillows, her face nearly as pale as the bedlinens. Her sketchbook lay closed upon the bed, next to her legs.
“It’s good to see you again, Frodo. Did you come to say farewell?”
He nodded. “I saw you yesterday. I fear it was nearly too much for you.”
“It probably was. But I owed Rory and Gilda that much. They did so much for me when I could no longer be of any use to anyone.”
Frodo wanted to protest this self-deprecation, but he feared that to do so would simply tire her more. Instead he said “I was glad to see you once more.”
She nodded. “My sketchbook. Look at the last page--it came to me yesterday when I returned here, and I could not rest until I got it down. What it means, I do not know, but I wanted you to see it.”
Curiously, he turned to the last page, and felt a shock of recognition followed by a feeling of amazed joy.
“I’ve never seen the sea,” she said, “but I am sure that is what it is.”
He nodded. Nor had he seen the sea, but he had no doubt that was what he gazed upon. There was a sandy beach, and waves lapping upon it, and a solitary figure of a person walking on the shore. He suddenly realized it was himself. And then, as he studied the picture, he glanced at the clouds sketched in above the horizon--there was something about them. Suddenly, he realized there were faces in the clouds looking down at him: his parents.
“Oh my!” he exclaimed softly.
He looked at her. Was she sure?
She nodded once more. “Take it.”
So he very carefully tore it loose from the rest of the sketchbook, and rolling it up, he placed it in his jacket. He bent over and kissed the pale brow. “Good-bye, Cousin Calla.”
She smiled wearily at him. “Farewell, Cousin Frodo.” And her eyes closed, her breathing soft and rhythmic--she was already asleep.
Frodo, Merry and Pippin left early the following morning, to return to Bag End.
It was the last time Frodo saw Calla Brandybuck. She died quietly in her sleep before the following Yule.
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