The Jewel of Brandy Hall
Note:This story comes out of a series of conversations at rec.arts.books.tolkien, in which Frodo's fate was debated - was he right or wrong to seek sanctuary in Eressea? The outcome of the discussion was a site called The Rescue Frodo S.W.A.T. Team, moderated by Prembone, which collects stories and poetry dedicated to bringing Frodo back to Middle Earth. Think of it as an alternate universe... or not, if you like it. ;)
No one was really surprised when Galadriel Baggins did odd things.
When she wandered into the middle of the street in Bucklebury at the age of six with her nose in a battered old notebook (no one seemed know where she'd picked up her letters), folks just walked around her in wide arcs, and barely bothered noting it in the taverns later. "Little Gala's likely to get herself run down one of these days!" was the sum of it.
When she tied her skirt up so that it was way over her knees to work in the garden at Crickhollow, Meriadoc had just gathered her up and taken her back to Brandy Hall with no comment, and a few clucked tongues had ended it. She was only eight then, and it wasn't like she was trying to do anything indecent by it.
When she told wild stories about her trip south with Meriadoc to see those odd friends of his with the horses, even most of the old folk smiled indulgently, glad that the poor little thing had such an active imagination despite everything. Riding full size horses with a Rohan lady, indeed! Never mind that Meriadoc said it was true; everyone knew he loved the girl as much as if she were his own, if not more -- after all, it was Gala that he called "the Jewel of Brandy Hall," not little Eowyn -- and if she wanted to believe such a pretty story, he'd never stand in the way of it.
When old Peony Greenhand, who had served as her father's nanny after his poor parents were killed, had given Gala a box of Mr. Frodo's childhood things, no one said a thing when she started to wander around in his beat-up old fishing hat and his long coat, though some of the ladies of Buckland privately suggested to Meriadoc that he might discuss the matter with her -- "Not that we think anything of it, of course, but others might not be so generous."
When she started wandering about telling people to get inside two hours before the big lightning storm hit on her tenth birthday, the old folk nodded knowingly about "the foretelling" coming down to her, though they smiled as indulgently as everyone else when Gala tried to explain that it was the way the wind and the clouds were that had made her think of it.
But the elves... it was when she started following elves that the Shirefolk started taking notice of Gala Baggins' oddnesses, and this time, Meriadoc was the first to question it, followed closely by the Mayor and the Took.
"It was bound to happen," Myrtle Proudfoot said in her sewing circle. "Both of her folks, not to speak ill of 'em, was queer. Mr. Frodo, of course, with that sickness the last year, then him riding off to the sea. And Miss Lily... why she was an odd one even before she married him, if you can't tell by her marrying a fifty-year-old gentlehobbit when she was barely come of age."
"Not even," Ivy Brooks put in, reaching for a needle from the common basket. "She was only just thirty."
After much clucking of tongues over this -- neither the first nor the last time for it -- Myrtle began again. "And opening that free school... I'm telling you, I always thought Miss Lily Withypoll was odd. And then, after she married Mr. Frodo, her staying in that house in Michel Delving while he spent most of his time at Bag End! Now, what kind of marriage is that?"
"A quieter one than I've got!" Floree Reedybanks hooted, pulling a button tight onto her husband's good shirt. There was general laughter, as everyone knew that of the two Reedybanks, it was Floree most likely to be the noisy one in any given situation.
"I thought it was a joke, at first," Ivy said. "Or just a convenience, if you follow, so he could take her away into the Old Forest and get Gandalf to fix her poor eyes after Sharkey blinded her, and it wouldn't have been rightly proper for them to travel together otherwise. That's what everyone said, that it was just a kindness on his part, so that people wouldn't talk. Then after they got back and she could see again and start teaching, she stayed where she was and he went home to Bag End, just as you'd expect after such a thing. If it weren't for the girl -- and if she didn't look so much like Mr. Frodo -- I wouldn't think they'd been married at all, except on paper in Michel Delving."
Floree snorted, "Well, Ivy, thinking isn't your best skill."
"Well, I wasn't the only one who thought so! Why, even Mayor Samwise was took by surprise, they say, when little Gala came along. He still keeps trying to give her the inheritance, even though Miss Lily herself told him he mustn't go against Mr. Frodo's wishes about it, or so it's said."
"Said mostly by you, I'd wager."
"It's my belief," Myrtle said darkly, not wanting to be taken any further from the main subject, "that the girl was bound to be touched in the head, with both of them so queer, and then leaving her alone on top of it. At least she's here in Buckland with decent folk, instead of over there in Hobbiton with the Mayor. He's a good enough fellow, of course, but who ever heard of a Baggins -- let alone one that's part Brandybuck as well -- being raised by a Gamgee?
"I think they would have done a fine job," Ivy said, but no one listened, as her opinions of Mayor Samwise were on record and had never been altered. "I don't understand why Miss Lily didn't leave the girl in his care, him being Gala's father's heir and all."
"Galadriel is a little girl, not a piece of flatware to be inherited." They turned to find Estella Brandybuck at the door, a basket of Meriadoc's mending in one hand and quiet little Eowyn trailing from the other one. "Now, if you don't mind, I've heard quite enough of this back at Brandy Hall. I won't have us gossiping about the poor little thing here."
With that, she set her basket down beside the little chair she always sat on (Eowyn sat beside it, sucking her thumb thoughtfully), and there was silence until Floree brought up just how much time the shoemaker in Bucklebury seemed to be spending with the market-keeper's pretty new assistant.
At Brandy Hall, the subject of the debate had been sent to her room without supper (even though everyone knew that Merry would sneak "a little snack" up to her later), and the elf -- Fanduil, by name -- who had pulled himself back east from the Havens to return the Jewel to her proper setting had finally been sent off in decent style, with enough provisions for the trip. Merry, Pippin, and Sam had gathered in Merry's study.
"What the devil is she up to?" Pippin asked. "Merry, has she said a word to you?"
"Do you think I'd be so surprised if I'd had any idea what she was doing? You're the one she goes on adventures with. Did she say anything to you? Or you, Sam? Anything?"
Sam sighed. "This weren't no play adventure, Mr. Merry, and you know it well. Trying to get to the Havens, she was."
"You don't think she was... why, they wouldn't let her... sail, would they?"
"No, Pippin, I'm sure they wouldn't let her... Sam, you're sure they wouldn't, aren't you?"
Sam wasn't altogether sure of it -- they might see it as a special kindness to her, as well it might be, though it would break poor Mr. Merry's heart, of course -- but he agreed, as he didn't think it was what Gala had in mind. She had a restlessness, which Sam understood better than anyone suspected, but he felt in his bones that this trek would bring Gala no harm. "I don't think she rightly knows what she means to do if she gets there."
"Do you think she'll try again?" Pippin asked.
Merry shook his head. "Not right away. Though perhaps I should consider taking her there myself, so that she can see it after all she's heard." He sighed. "Oh, but I can't. Now with Estella and Eowyn and a new baby on the way, it's just not possible to travel as we used to. Sam, would you -- ?"
"No," he said, without explaining, though a brief reminder of having many more children to look after than Merry had would have sufficed (it wouldn't exactly have been the reason he didn't want to journey to the sea just yet, but it would have sufficed for Merry and Pippin).
"You're not the only one with a baby around, Merry. I'd love to take Gala to the Havens to have a look around, but Diamond would have my head if I left her alone with Faramir just to take Gala for a jaunt. You're her guardian, Merry. At Lily's charge." This was something of a sore spot for Pippin, as Lily had been his first cousin (his mother's sister's child -- she had always been a bit suspect in Tookland, as her father was nothing more than a Buckland shopkeeper who had married far above his station, but she'd been orphaned young and raised in the Smials, and had in general won her way into the Took family by her own merits, at least in Pippin's opinion). She had also been his favorite playmate as a child, and he had been her confidant later on, much to his occasional discomfort, and she had bitterly disappointed him by putting Gala in someone else's care, but he respected her wishes. Sam had taken it somewhat harder at first, but had learned to live with it somewhat better in the meantime.
"Let it be," Sam said, looking out the window toward the river. "Gala's had a good scare today, and she knows she gave us a good scare, too. I'll let her read the Red Book over the summer, all on her own, as she's always wished (with your leave, of course, Mr. Merry); maybe that will get her through this without taking another trip west just yet."
For a time, at least, it seemed to work. Gala's little adventure was talked and clucked about for a month or two, then most forgot about it, including, seemingly, Gala. Old Farmer Maggot reckoned things differently, but he said nothing to anyone but his wife, and since he was already known to let the poor little thing come sit on his porch and hear tales about the "elder days" (by which she meant anything before she was born), it didn't seem odd to anyone that these porch-sitting sessions got a bit longer in the days after Fanduil left. He had a store of information about her father, and about her mother's family as well ("Withypoll" meant "straw-head," he'd told her, and her granddad's family, right up to his own granddad, had once been in charge of caring for the High Hay). Old Peony joined them sometimes, but that wasn't unusual either -- she thought the sun rose and set on her "dear boy"'s little girl.
Master Meriadoc's second child was born in the beginning of May, and Gala occupied herself making little toys for him while she listened to the stories. His name was Theoden, but of course before he was a week old, the poor little thing had been tagged "Dengo." Pippin and Diamond came to see the baby, and so did Sam and Rose and their brood, which made for a thoroughly enjoyable month in which nothing at all was mentioned of the west or the sea or ships or elves. Little Faramir Took had learned a foolish song about daisies and he sang it until everyone in Buckland -- or at least in Brandy Hall -- knew the tune by heart. Elanor Gamgee spent a lot of time trying to learn to pile her hair up in golden braids, as Merry said the Rohan ladies were wearing it, sometimes to quite comic effect, as her brothers wasted no time pointing out.
Gala went back with Sam and Rose, and spent the summer at Bag End, going through the Red Book and mucking about in the garden with Sam and his oldest boy, who was named for her father. She knew people thought it odd that she preferred playing in the mud and roots with Fro to playing dolls with Elanor, but that was just the way of it. Fro usually had some interesting scheme in mind, and they sometimes talked about going off on their own adventure together, maybe to the South to see oliphaunts and ride in their war towers. They read aloud to each other from the Red Book (Sam's plan to have her read it alone had backfired when Fro had asked for the same privilege, and he couldn't think of any good reason to deny it), and gathered mallorn flowers to be dried to keep the hole smelling sweet all winter. He was the only one who knew she climbed the mallorn on starlit nights and listened for far-off elvish singing in the woods to the south.
"You really oughtn't," he told her on a night late in August, after they'd made it through the hardest part of the Red Book, the awful time with Smeagol at Orodruin, and had climbed up into the tree to avoid talking about it too much.
"Oughtn't what?" she asked.
"Go after them again is what," he said. "And don't tell me you're not thinking of it, Gala Baggins, for I know you are, no matter how good a show you put on. You got me in trouble last time, as Dad figured out I'd guessed what you were up to."
"Well, you wouldn't get yourself in nearly so much trouble if you'd stop guessing."
So he mentioned nothing, and didn't venture any guesses when she announced abruptly two weeks later that she'd decided to ride down to Tookland for a few days to visit Pippin. She often spent her summers riding about on the fast little pony she'd been given in Rohan (by King Eomer himself, though he said it was at the wish of his sister), going from home to home without much fanfare, so it didn't send up any alarm, other than the usual clucking tongues that followed her from one end of the Shire to the other. Word was sent to Merry in Buckland that she was riding, and was sent ahead to Tookland that she was to be expected. It wasn't until Thain Peregrin himself came to Bag End to tell them that she never arrived that Fro began to make guesses again, and it wasn't until Merry had ridden from Buckland like lightening that anyone asked him about those guesses. By then, Gala had a three day head start.
Gala was wrong about one thing, though -- Fro found himself in exactly as much trouble as when he'd guessed on time.
Gala's pony, which she called "Windy" (a loose translation of the Rohirric name King Eomer had given him), was bred for both speed and endurance. He was one of a stable of such ponies used to train the young children of Rohan to ride. He wasn't the fastest animal in Middle Earth, but he was certainly the fastest in the Shire, and Gala had made her way to the Twilight Hills by the end of the third day, and to the banks of the Lhun by the fourth. There, she spotted the band of elves she'd heard from the mallorn the night before she left (Fro had claimed to have heard nothing, but Gala thought him a bit deaf; they were loud and hard to miss, as far as she could tell). They were gathered around a fire, singing sweetly and sadly in the night. She dismounted, and let Windy graze a bit. She thought she might be able to find her way to the Havens just by following the river, but she didn't know if there would be some kind of password or special key to get in. All she knew was that she had to go there, had to look out over the water. All year, something had been tugging at her mind, some feeling that things were changing. Old Peony thought it was because she was jealous of Merry's new babies, but Gala didn't think so. She liked Eowyn and Dengo just fine. It was just... something else. Something out there. Something far in the west. She knew she shouldn't worry Merry and Sam and Pippin, but she hoped that they wouldn't figure out she was gone until she was back, and by then, there would be nothing sensible to worry about.
Her mistake last time had been in actually catching up with the elves she was following. She'd wandered into their circle, and they had seen her. Most of them had just disappeared as the Mirkwood elves had disappeared when Bilbo and the dwarves saw them many years ago. But Fanduil, for reasons of his own, had stayed, and taken her by the hand, and marched her straight back to Brandy Hall. She'd tried to explain her actions to him, keeping up a lopsided conversation the whole way, but he'd said nothing at all until he spoke to Merry. It was only a little walk back, and there was no time to press him for stories, and he was a little angry at her anyway, she thought. So this time, she'd get further. She'd get to the Havens, and they wouldn't be any wiser until it was too late.
She watched the elf camp for an hour, standing patiently and quietly in the shadows. They seemed to be stopping to rest, travelling by day instead of by night. Another half hour of watching convinced her of it, and she let herself sink down into the thick river grass to catch a bit of sleep for the morrow's ride.
She dreamed of the water rushing by, too fast, too certain. The rays of the morning sun were blinding and frightening.
She awoke the next morning to Windy nibbling at her collar. The elf-camp was on the move, beginning to disappear into the morning mist. She brushed herself off and followed them, leading Windy by his bridle, as she no longer needed his speed to keep up with her target, though she was glad of his comforting company; he had been her companion for as long as she could remember clearly.
Pippin had dismounted, and was examining the tracks beside the river. The Rangers had trained him somewhat in tracking -- part of his commission as a soldier of Gondor, they said, as King Elessar thought he'd displayed good sense of how tracking was accomplished when he'd slipped away from the Uruk-hai -- and he was doing his best to figure out what Gala's path was. The roads to Lake Evendim were used often enough that the track was sometimes lost. Not that there was the slightest doubt where she was going.
"She stopped here for a long time," he said. "I think she slept here, just last night."
"Then we're getting closer," Merry said. It was evening, but last evening, they had only found a two day old camp.
Sam came up over the ridge. "There was an elf-camp here. Not much to see of it, of course, but for a few campfire ashes on the leaves. It's probably the bunch she's been chasing."
"Well, I don't think she's joined up with them." Pippin pointed to the tracks leading away. "Look, she's leading Windy now. She's going much slower."
"We can't stop tonight, then," Merry said. "We can catch up to her before she gets to the Havens."
"What then, Mr. Merry?" Sam asked. "Other than giving her what-for, of course. What are you going to do about this? There's something going on in her mind, and something needs to be done."
"I don't know, Sam. I'm not even worried about giving her what-for, as you say, at the moment. All I want is to see her and know that she isn't trying to stow away on those wretched ships."
"We're all worried about that, Merry," Pippin said. "But for now, she's all right. And I think you're right. We should keep following tonight. They could make the Havens by tomorrow easily." They let the ponies drink and rest for a few moments, then rode along the river toward the setting sun.
The night passed quickly, riding under the stars with the water running swift beside them, and they arrived at the gates of Mithlond at dawn. Expecting to find a guard or a guide (or possibly Cirdan himself, with Gala held firmly by one hand for return), they were surprised to find the gates open wide and the streets of the east end of the city empty.
Sam pulled his pony (still his beloved Bill) to a stop, and looked at the strangely empty streets, and a sudden certainty hit him, that something was coming. "There's something happening, I think."
"Look!" Merry cried, pointing down the deserted thoroughfare. "It's Windy! She's here, Gala's here." He rode into the town without any further wonder about the situation, and Sam and Pippin followed him. Windy was standing at a hitching post near the center of town, calmly nibbling at the clover that had been planted around it. Merry untied the little pony and patted his neck. "Where is Gala, Windy? Where has she gone?"
A figure darted out of a nearby alley, running west. Sam, thinking more quickly than Merry and Pippin in this case, grabbed the scruff of his neck. It was a young elf-lad, only a little taller than the hobbits, and shorter when Bill's height was added to Sam's. "Where is the hobbit girl who rode this animal?" he asked.
"What's a hobbit?" the lad asked.
"Like us," Pippin said. "A girl, younger. Where is she?"
"I don't know. You're the only ones of your kind I've seen. If she's here, she's probably at the docks with everyone else. I have to go."
"Why? What's happening at the docks?"
"There's a ship coming in. A White Ship."
"Yes. It never happens, but now it's happening. I have to go see. Let me go!"
Sam did as he was told, and the elf-lad disappeared into the dawn. The three Travellers looked at one another, then Pippin said, "Maybe we'd better get to the docks." They hitched their ponies up (retying Windy while they were doing so) and headed west toward the edge of the firth.
The crowd at the Havens was the most un-elvish crowd of elves Sam could imagine this morning, pushing their way around one another just to catch a glimpse of the approaching ship. Pippin had struck on the idea of climbing a rampart to look down for Gala -- certainly they had no chance of finding her with tall elves blocking their view from every angle on the ground -- but even getting to a high place was a challenge. Finally, thankful for their sure footing (Sam grudgingly grateful to Gollum for teaching him to balance on his hands in a tight place), they reached the top of the sea wall. Sure enough, there was Gala, right at the waters edge, darting here and there to avoid attracting too much attention from any single group of elves. She was facing off across the water, to a place where the older hobbits could see, indeed, a small white ship making its way up the firth, going improbably against the current, slowing to dock at the long wooden pier. Gala was working her way around the larger elves; she would certainly be at the front when it came to a stop, though Cirdan's guards were keeping people off the pier itself.
"Let's go," Merry said, lowering himself down the side of the wall.
It was difficult going, once they got into the crowd, but being small had advantages, and they were able to slip under the sightlines of most of the clambering elves and reach the waterfront just as the hold of the small ship opened. They passed between two elves, and nearly ran into Gala, who was no longer moving at all, just standing stock still, staring at the ship. Merry was so happy to see her that he saw nothing else. He just threw his arms around her and kissed her cheek.
"I'm sorry, Merry," she managed to mutter, not averting her eyes from the ship at all.
"Darling Gala, you've frightened us so, you... " He looked to Sam and Pippin, only to find them also staring at the white ship, eyes wide. He turned.
A small figure was coming out of the hold, less than half the size of an elf, but wrapped in a grey elven cloak with a green jewel at the shoulder. He carried a small pack, and stepped slowly out into the sunlight, looking cautiously to the shore.
The pier was silent as the elves tried to understand what they were seeing, and the hobbits tried to absorb it. In this silence, everyone heard, very clearly, when Sam spoke. "Mr. Frodo." Frodo heard, and turned toward them, seemingly as stunned as everyone else by his own arrival. For a moment, he looked like he might turn back to the ship, then Gala broke free of Merry's embrace and ran to where the guards were stationed at the end of the pier. Frodo came forward to meet her, slipping easily between the guards, and knelt before her. "Galadriel," he whispered, pulling her into his arms and wrapping her in his cloak. "I'm so very sorry."
She didn't hear or understand his apology; she just clung to him and wept.
Sam was there before Merry or Pippin, and Frodo reached up to take his hand. "Dear Sam," he said. "I'm glad you're here. I hadn't hoped for any greeting at all."
Sam shook his head in disbelief. "Well, you seem to have got one anyway, sir." He suddenly laughed, as if he had expected nothing less, as in fact he realized he hadn't since coming through the gate. "And bless my soul, if it isn't September the twenty-second. I thought I'd never get to wish you a happy birthday again, but isn't this the happiest of them!"
"I hope it will seem so by the end," Frodo said. He looked back down at the top of Gala's head, and kissed her hair.
"Mr. Frodo," Sam said, "This is -- "
"I know who she is, Sam."
"But how... why... "
Merry and Pippin finally managed to break through the crowd and come into the little circle beside the guards. No one said anything at first, until Pippin shook his head and said, "Well, Gala, you may not be in quite as much trouble as I thought you would be this morning."
An hour later, they were guests in the home of Cirdan, sitting quietly together in a sunken garden at the center of the house. Their host had gone to his study to read the message Frodo had carried to him from the Lady Galadriel. Pippin and Merry had perched themselves on a low wall. Sam sat on the edge of a fountain. Frodo had taken a chair made for a child, and Gala, who had not let go of him since his arrival, was sitting on his lap with her arms clasped tightly around his neck. He held her loosely, resting his chin on the top of her head.
A heavy, if not altogether uncomfortable, silence had fallen on them since leaving the docks. Thirteen years, almost to the day, had passed, and much lay between them. But still it seemed to Sam as if they were merely returning from the same trip, with the same feeling of quiet sadness hanging over it.
Pippin finally broke the spell. "Well, Frodo, do you plan to tell us what this is about, or are we meant to guess it for a prize?"
Frodo smiled. "I suppose I really ought to tell you. It was Galadriel, of course. Both Galadriels."
"The Lady sent you?" Gala asked, impressed.
"Yes, she did. Or rather, she intervened on my behalf and convinced the shipkeepers to allow what had not previously been allowed."
"But why?" Sam asked. "And how did you know about your own Gala?"
Frodo settled Gala in his arms. "I have been restless for some time, Sam. It's not unusual; most who sail west feel for a time that there is something they should have done here, some small thing that was forgotten. Eventually they understand that there isn't, that their work is done. I thought such a thing would happen for me. It's a beautiful world, Sam, and there are pockets of peace like nothing you can find here. But they were becoming harder and harder for me to find. The restlessness didn't leave me. In fact, it grew.
"I watched the ships come in, sailing past Eressea, and wondered about what news would come. Sometimes Gandalf or the Lady Galadriel would come and tell me something they had heard, but elves and are, as always, concerned with their own affairs, and no one seemed to have taken any notice of what was happening in the Shire. Until, that is, the last ship came in March. On board that ship was an elf called Fanduil, and he was telling stories to everyone he saw about a hobbit-maid, an orphan he met along the Baranduin, who was named for the Lady of the Golden Wood, who claimed that her father had sailed west with the Eldar. He thought it a queer belief, and had never heard of another race holding it.
"Word got to the Lady herself, finally, and to Gandalf. They argued for some time about whether or not to tell me, but in the end, she won, and I was told."
"Why wouldn't Gandalf want you to know?" Merry asked.
"Gandalf thought my marriage to Lily highly inadvisable, even when I assured him that it was for form's sake."
"And what problem did he have with Lily?" Pippin demanded, less for an answer than to prevent Gala from asking exactly what was meant by "for form's sake."
"None at all. He thought the world of her, and said if he'd known of her blindness, he would have come to the Shire himself to heal her. He simply thought it unwise of me to create attachments at that time, as I was not likely to stay long. You know well, Pippin, that he was aware of my plans, perhaps even before I was fully certain of them. And he claims to have known better than I that Lily and I... well, to have known how very fond I was of Lily," he finished, looking down at Gala. "Gala, will you do something for me?"
"Will you go to Cirdan, and ask him if we have leave to depart Mithlond tomorrow?"
Gala gave him a puzzled look, but slid off of his lap. She held his hand for a moment, not seeming to notice the gap between his fingers anymore, though she had for a time when they'd first gotten here traced the odd, abbreviated shape of his hand with something like wonder. Then, for the first time in an hour, she let go of him and slipped out of the garden.
"What happened to Lily?" Frodo asked as soon as she was out of sight. "Fanduil described Gala as an orphan, and I guessed from what pieces Galadriel and Gandalf picked up that she lives in Brandy Hall. What happened to Lily?"
An uncomfortable look passed among the others, then Pippin answered, plainly enough, "She died when Gala came."
"Rose did everything she could," Sam said, "but Miss Lily had been ill and she was weak and -- "
"Be at peace, Sam, I am quite sure your Rose was the best hope Lily had. She should not have been in that situation. I should not have allowed this to happen."
"Yes, be at peace, Sam," Pippin said, a touch of anger in his voice. "Frodo is the only one allowed to bear the blame for every turn of Fate. We mere mortals simply have to accept that these things happen sometimes."
"Pippin -- "
"You sit and say you shouldn't have allowed it to happen, and you don't hear yourself. You say that you shouldn't have allowed Gala to exist, and don't argue, for that is exactly what you are saying. You say that Gala's birth was something that should not have happened. That Lily died for no reason." He stood and crossed the garden, leaning over Frodo from his somewhat menacing height. "Lily would have disagreed. And as she is not here to do so, I must do so in her stead."
Frodo met his eyes without saying anything, then looked to Sam, who gave him a weary smile. "He's right, Mr. Frodo. We're all glad of Gala being here, and no one was more glad than Miss Lily."
Merry, who had been listening in silence for some time, suddenly stood up and came toward Frodo, looking even more angry than Pippin, to Frodo's great surprise. "Are you planning on staying this time, Frodo? Or are you going to disappear again, just when she's gotten used to you being here?"
"I have to stay at least through both illnesses. I don't know the terms precisely -- Cirdan will know after he has read -- "
"That is not what I asked. Gala is my responsibility. Lily left her in my care. And she will remain in my care if I think you're planning to break her heart."
Frodo sat back in his chair, looking wounded. "I'm sorry, Merry. Perhaps I shouldn't have come."
"I didn't say you shouldn't have come, Frodo. I asked if you plan to stay."
Frodo glanced at Sam, then out the western window, then at the door through which Gala had disappeared. He had so far concentrated on having the strength to climb on board the ship, and step back onto the shores of Middle Earth. His next battle would be in two weeks, when the first illness hit. Then, if he lived through that, another would hit in March. He had thought to find a safe shelter for those days. He had not thought further.
Gala appeared in the doorway, Cirdan not far behind her. They were engaged in some sort of talk. Gala looked quite serious, and the elf looked as if he were trying to be. The sunlight caught in Gala's reddish hair, and bounced off a button on her long coat -- Frodo's own coat, he realized suddenly. Her hands flew about as she spoke (much like Lily's had, Frodo thought, when she was particularly interested in what she was saying). He thought of the smell of her hair as she sat with him, and the spray of freckles on her nose. He thought of her knowing -- somehow knowing -- to be here this morning, and of how they had recognized one another at a glance. He thought of the warmth of her little hands clasped behind his neck. She came into the room.
Frodo turned to Merry. "I plan to try," he said. "I plan to try as well as I possibly can."
They started home late the next morning, after a good long rest, Frodo riding with Gala on Windy. They made camp along the river the first night, and Frodo learned the names and stories of the past thirteen years. Sam had eight children, and a ninth on the way. He chided Frodo lightly for getting the order wrong on his "foretelling" between little Pippin and Goldilocks (Pippin, apparently, had come first). "I shall try to be more precise in the future," Frodo said with a laugh. "Though I didn't know you were keeping track of the names I tossed at you that day." Pippin said he planned to try and catch up, as he rather enjoyed having little Faramir around, and wouldn't mind nine or ten of them himself. Frodo thought it unlikely, but chose not to say anything. He had a feeling Faramir would be the only young Took in Pippin's home, but then, he'd thought there would be no young Bagginses at all, and there one was, asleep on the other side of the fire. One never knew. Merry spoke a little about his own children, but had told at least as many tales of Gala as of Eowyn. Apparently, Gala had arrived before his marriage, let alone his children, and they were close. It occurred to Frodo, for the first but not the last time, that this would not be an easily balanced situation.
The next day, they rode quickly, and arrived at the southern part of Tookland as the sun set. At Pippin's urging, they went on after dark to the Smials, where Frodo suddenly realized that he was, in fact, back in the Shire. A cozy fire was burning in the main fireplace, and the smell of a large meal wafted out from a kitchen somewhere beyond. The ceilings over his head, for the first time in many years, seemed to be at a comfortable height, and all the furnishings and trappings were in easy reach. He tried to recall what he had felt, growing up among such things, but his mind only drew a cold list of events, to which he felt little connection.
"Di?" Pippin called as they went inside. "Diamond?"
Diamond Took came sweeping around a corner, fine cloth and carefully tended hair flowing behind her in the slight breeze, a small child in one arm. "Peregrin, where have you -- " She stopped, and her free hand went to her heart.
The situation was quickly explained to her, and -- quite intelligently, Frodo thought -- she sent a serving girl to the local post with letters to be sent ahead to Bag End and Brandy Hall. She also made sure the girl knew what it was about, and, as certainly as if it had been written in the sky, by the next morning, the Shire was abuzz with rumours of Frodo's return, which would make it somewhat less of a shock when he actually saw someone he knew. He suspected from Merry's and Sam's tones that Diamond was not a favorite in his old circle (to anyone except Pippin, of course, who seemed aware what the others thought, but didn't seem to care much). Frodo himself thought her a good addition, and quite level-headed for a Took.
The morning after their arrival at the Smials, Frodo woke up just before dawn. The tunnels were quiet and peaceful, the gentle sort of rest Frodo remembered vaguely from his childhood, with soft breathing coming from behind many doors. He dressed in some of the extra clothes he'd brought -- he'd need to get more, he thought -- then threw his cloak over his shoulders and went out into the cool mist of the garden. It had been a place Lily had loved, and he rightly guessed that she had been laid to rest in it. A small fountain had been placed over a marker stone, which the water sluiced around.
The marker read simply "Lily Withypoll Baggins, Beloved of the Tooks." Frodo suspected it had been put up by Pippin's father, Paladin, who had treated Lily in something of the same way Merry treated Gala. It was he who had insisted Frodo marry Lily before taking her to Gandalf to be healed at the house of Tom Bombadil. He had not wanted any scandal to attach itself to her. Frodo had known the Shire well enough not to argue. It wouldn't do her any good to be able to see and teach again if the fine old gossips of the Shire had made her out to be too scandalous to allow near their children. So he had gone to Michel Delving, and they'd signed a stack of papers in the mayor's office (he'd had to hold her hand steady to do so, as she couldn't see what she was doing, and he remembered honestly thinking at the time that hand holding was as close as they would ever get to one another), and they'd let it be known that they were legally husband and wife. It had been, he recalled, an unexpectedly comfortable feeling to do so.
The trip had been short and successful. She had been one of the better archers in the Took rebellion (having taught herself the art with an elvish bow and arrows that Bilbo had left her after his party), and Saruman had blinded her out of spite when she'd shot one of his ruffians in the backside, then made the mistake of laughing about it. He'd used a flash of light made from a spell to do it, but there was nothing magical about the blindness itself, and Gandalf had been able to heal it easily. They had come home from to the Shire together afterward.
Lily had returned to her small house in Michel Delving and Frodo saw her now and again, more frequently than his friends knew, but not at all regularly, and certainly not... well, not as her husband, though she had stolen an occasional kiss here and there, and he hadn't objected as much as he'd known he should have. She had helped him in a couple of places where he was stuck in the Red Book, mainly by compiling dates and figuring out where the others had been and when. Frodo had suggested that she tell the story of the Took rebellion - she had been there for the whole of it - but she said she would rather remain outside the Red Book itself. "Perhaps I'll tell my little bit of it someday," she said, "but there is quite enough here without involving every stubbed toe in the Shire."
It was during those long days that she had first decided that "Galadriel" was the most beautiful name she had ever heard, and Frodo had allowed that he hoped, if elvish names were ever to catch on in the Shire, that this one would be among them, and that he thought -- contrary to Sam's belief -- that a little hobbit-maid could wear it quite nicely.
He reached out and touched the marker, tracing his finger along the word "Beloved." It should have read "Beloved wife," he thought. He wasn't sure she had ever known. He had never told her, at least not that he could remember. She hadn't been a driving force in his life, as Rose had been in Sam's. Her face had not appeared to him in the darkness to pull him forward. Even Galadriel had not found her lurking in his heart when she'd tested him, though she'd told him when they spoke on Eressea that she'd at least been able to see that there was something she couldn't see. The temptations of the Ring had never even suspected her presence, unless it was very close to the end, when Frodo himself couldn't remember most of the images that had come to him. There would never be elvish poems written about his longing for her, because he couldn't recall ever longing for her in that way. She had come into his life as a child, become his friend, and moved into his soul without making any fuss about it at all. He'd rarely noticed her there. And yet he had loved her, in a deep, unimpressive way. His memory of her wasn't tainted with the same distance as most of his memories; she was present to him in a way that others were not, though he didn't fully understand why this would be so. He could bring her face into his mind at will, and remember the gentle tug he'd felt in his heart when he'd first seen her again. He couldn't explain it to himself, and he doubted anyone else would believe him if he tried to say it aloud. Maybe she had known. They were alike, and maybe she didn't need to be told what he had quietly felt. He had known her heart all along, and he couldn't recall her ever speaking it. So maybe, just maybe, she had known that the Tooks weren't the only ones to whom she had been beloved. He hoped so. He hoped so with all his heart.
He had seen less and less of her as the last summer wore on, and he pushed to finish the Red Book before the autumn illness, or so he told himself, though the thought of sailing had been growing in his mind steadily since Arwen had given him the jewel. He had been perfectly frank with Lily, at any rate, about the fact that he was not likely to be near much longer, wanting to make sure she separated herself from him.
But late that August, he'd allowed Sam and Rose to persuade him to join them at the wheat harvest festival in Michel Delving. It had been a mistake; the idea of sailing had grown into a near certainty by then, and he saw everything through a veil of sadness, knowing that he would soon be leaving these dear jolly people forever. Sam had taken Rose to dance out in the field with several other couples, and even little Elanor had been taken away (by Pippin, who had learned quickly that carrying a little one around was even better than wearing armour for getting the ladies to come running), and Frodo had found himself in the shadows on the edge of the festival, feeling unbearably alone. Then Lily had been there, and they had started talking, and at some point Frodo had remembered that she was his wife, and she had never forgotten that he was her husband.
He was angry at himself for letting it happen, and before he left her, he had apologized profusely, and bidden her goodbye, not wanting to risk seeing her again. She had known or at least suspected that it was a permanent farewell, and had held him close, then whispered, "Be at peace, Frodo. All is well." He had kissed her goodbye, and that was the last time he had seen her.
The sun was rising, and Frodo could hear stirring within the Smials. Glancing at the window onto the room Gala had slept in, he saw her moving around, gathering her things to dress for the day. On an impulse, he took the green stone from the shoulder of his cloak, and placed it at the base of the fountain, where it balanced perfectly in a hollow of the stone. A ray of the rising sun struck it, and it gleamed prettily. "Be at peace, Lily," he said. "All will be well."
Sam found Frodo just before breakfast, walking around the garden paths aimlessly. He looked faraway and sad, but Sam figured that was to be expected. He'd found out quite a lot in just a few days. They hadn't had a chance to talk, not with Gala and Merry and Pippin always around, and now Sam found himself awkward and clumsy. It was much as it had been in Mordor, trying to cheer him and support him when there was nothing cheerful or supporting to be said. "Are you going to come in for breakfast, Mr. Frodo?" he finally asked.
Frodo smiled wearily, wishing Sam would stop addressing him as a servant would address a master, but he didn't have the heart to correct him. Sam was Sam, and Frodo loved him too dearly to worry about the little things. "I suppose so, Sam," he said.
"I -- well," Sam stammered.
"What is it, Sam? If you can't talk to me, who can?"
"Well, sir, it's about Bag End. I know by rights I ought to have given it to Gala, but Miss Lily -- "
" -- was quite right. What would Gala do with Bag End?"
Sam sat down on a small bench. "Mr. Frodo, I just feel awful about the whole thing. It's been talked about from one end of the Shire to the other. I never knew quite what to do and -- "
Frodo sighed. "I wondered what it was you were not saying, Sam. I'm sorry to have put you in such an awkward position, but you've done everything just as I would have you do it, and don't be concerned with the gossip; it is not worth answering. I'm sure you've been as fair with Gala as you are with your own children."
"I wanted her to be at Bag End with us, but Miss Lily... She wanted her in Brandy Hall. Said it would be better for Gala to be in a house where a lot of people were there with a lot of different relations."
"We had spoken frequently about that," Frodo said. "We had both grown up orphans in the great halls, and we had agreed -- quite a long time ago -- that it was the most agreeable way to live with a disagreeable situation. I am not convinced she was right, but we are far beyond the point of questioning her decision."
"I suppose you're right." Sam bit his lip, determined to go on with this, for he knew there were a few things Mr. Frodo wasn't thinking of. He'd never been practical about some things. "Right now, though, Mr. Frodo, you're going to need to have some of your things back. I don't know what folk live on in the West, but here, you'll need a bit of money, and clothes."
"I can make do with what I have."
"You don't need to do no such thing, Mr. Frodo, and you'll take some money from me if I have to make a law about it as Mayor."
Frodo smiled. "I can't have you making laws about such things. I suppose I could do with a few clothes."
Sam nodded, pleased. "You'll be staying at Bag End, of course?"
Frodo looked toward the Smials, where he could hear a merry breakfast going on. Gala was laughing; it sounded like Merry was speaking softly under it. "I think perhaps I'd best go to Brandy Hall first. I want Gala to be in the place she knows as home when the first illness strikes next week. It will frighten her."
Sam looked at his feet. "Mr. Frodo, I can't go right off. I've been away from my family for a week already, and -- "
"It's all right, Sam."
"I'll be there on the sixth, though."
"And, with your leave and Merry's permission, Gala and I will return to Bag End with you on the seventh. For a nice long visit, if Rose will have us."
"Oh, I'd wager she'll be disappointed you're not just moving in today. She always liked fussing over you. She'll have a luncheon out for us all today, or my name's not Sam Gamgee. So we'd best at least make a stop at Bag End, or I'll never hear the end of it." He offered Frodo the sunniest smile he could find. It wasn't exactly as he'd have it, but as long as Frodo was back in the Shire, it was enough for Sam.
After breakfast, they left Tookland (and Pippin, who bade them farewell at the gate, his arm linked companionably around Diamond's waist), Frodo riding a pony from the Smials' stable. They got to Bag End in time for a late lunch; Sam was indeed correct that Rose had prepared quite a meal for them as soon as she'd gotten Diamond's letter. Frodo was introduced to all the children, and he delighted Elanor by specifically recalling her and asking her what she had been doing since he saw her last. They spent a single night as guests, then rode for Buckland the next morning, leaving Sam and Rose in the dooryard of Bag End. Sam promised again to be in Buckland on the sixth, and Rose promised to make sure nothing got in the way of it. They rode all day, and arrived at the Buckland Ferry at sunset. By nightfall, they were safe in Brandy Hall, and Frodo had been installed in the room he'd lived in as a child, which by some mechanism of luck or fate was currently unoccupied. He tried to recall being here, but, as was usual, he was only able to remember events by rote, not to conjure images or feelings. He caught sight of the river out the window, and there was a glimmer, but he turned away from it. That was not a memory he particularly wanted to get any closer to. He was unpacking his few belongings when Merry came in.
"I hope you'll be comfortable here," he said.
"I always was before." Frodo looked at Merry. "I want to thank you, for everything you've done for Gala -- "
"There is nothing to thank me for." Merry's voice was not generous; it was, in fact, rather curt. Frodo started to contradict him, then understood what he meant. Instead, he turned around, and went to move his pack from the bed to the linen chest. A filigreed box fell out of it and opened on the floor. Merry stooped to pick it up, then looked up crossly. He held out the two items that were in the box -- a white jewel on a fine chain, and a small mithril ring set with a stone of adamant.
"The jewel I know, Frodo, though I'd hoped not to see it again. Is this ring what I think it is?"
"It is Nenya. I asked the Lady if I might carry it, to see if had any power to help me through the illness. She said it would not, but I was welcome to try it."
"Frodo, have you come back or haven't you?"
Frodo sat down on the edge of the bed. "It will go back after March, whether I do or not. It is merely on loan."
Merry set the elvish jewelry on the dresser, then turned to Frodo. "I'm sorry, Frodo. I shouldn't question you. I know this is not easy. But I'm terribly afraid that as long as you keep one foot in the West, you'll not be fully at home here."
"I shan't be fully at home here at any rate, Merry. I've come back for Gala, but I do not belong here. I am not who I was."
Merry started to say something, then shook his head and left the room in silence.
Frodo spent the next few days with Gala, walking by the river, visiting with Farmer Maggot and Peony Greenhand (who lavished him with a great many hugs and kisses, apparently forgetting that he was sixty-six, not sixteen), and going through some of Bilbo's translations of poetry, which they found to their delight that they could talk about for hours with one another. Gala showed him an experiment she was doing with onion roots that involved crossing one sort with another and grafting them to make a different kind of vegetable (she said she'd gotten the idea from something Sam had done with flowers), and he told her what scant things he remembered of his parents. At some point, she stopped calling him "Dad" (which she had done by rote and force of will since they'd met, probably because it was what Sam's children called their father) and began calling him "Daddy" (which rolled out of her mouth with no trouble at all).
As October sixth approached -- far too quickly -- Frodo took to wearing Arwen's jewel again, and holding it to still his heart when fear of the illness started to set in. Gala looked at it closely, but never touched it. On the night of the fifth, Frodo retired to his room, slipped Nenya onto his finger, and wished on any magic that was left in it that tomorrow would not come.
There was no magic, and the sixth came. He awoke to shadowy despair, to the wraith-world of meaningless mists and phantom pains. Sam reached through the mists once and made him eat something. Gala slept curled up at the foot of his bed, but whenever he thought to reach down and try to comfort her, a great lethargy stopped him. After awhile, she was taken away (by Merry, though Frodo did not clearly know this at the time), and he was alone with the nothingness. He could hear Sam's voice, an anchor in the formless land, but any time he tried to come upwards toward it, a great pain wrenched at him and burned his heart. "I should not have come back," he heard himself say several times. "There is nothing left."
Just past midnight, the mists parted a bit, leaving Frodo feeling tired and low, but himself, or at least as much of himself as he remembered. He turned his head to see Sam sleeping in the chair next to the bed, his dear face tired and worried. Frodo decided to let him rest. He rose, and walked silently to the door. Gala was sleeping soundly in the hall outside. He knew he really ought to return her to her room, but there was something else, something calling to him. He took his cloak from the rack beside the main door and went outside into the moonless night. The Brandywine flowed tirelessly in front of him, cold and impervious to anything that touched it. A boat was improbably floating down from the bridge, and two young hobbits were laughing merrily inside it, not seeming to care that the rest of the world was asleep. Frodo saw the tree limb under the water before they did. He tried to yell, but found himself unable to do so. There was a short, harsh sound as the boat hit an upturned root, then a high scream as it capsized. The water carried the tiny boat downstream, the couple with it -- trapped under it -- until it had nearly reached the ferry. Finally it righted itself, and they came to the surface. Frodo stood at the water's edge, unable to reach them -- -- and woke up in his room at Brandy Hall, Sam asleep on the chair beside the bed. Frodo sat up against the headboard and looked around the room. Gala was not outside the door; she had returned to her post at the foot of the bed, and was curled up like a large cat. Frodo's heart was beating quickly and furiously. He had not seen the accident that had taken his parents, that much he knew. But this was how it had felt, learning about it. He could see it -- a small hobbit lad of eleven, in this room, where he could have seen them die right through his window if he'd been looking. A hobbit lad crying where no one else could see. An older lad, watching out for baby Merry, playing with brightly colored baubles, while his parents saw to their affairs in town. Older still, agreeing to go back to Hobbiton with Bilbo.
I was him, Frodo thought. Am I still? Could I be?
He listened to his heartbeat until it slowed, then reached out to brush Gala's hair off her face. A faint gleam of moonlight was catching Nenya on his finger. Merry was right; he shouldn't have brought it.
Merry did not easily give permission for Gala to go with Frodo to Bag End, especially only a day after having been frightened to her very bones by his illness, but he was finally persuaded that she was as safe among the Gamgees as ever, and that she would not leave Frodo at any rate. He stood with her in the hall while her things were being bundled, wrapping her in her cloak as if it were any other trip.
"All right, Gala," he said, "I want you to promise me that you'll mind Sam and Mother Rose and your father, and that you won't cause any trouble this time. I'll remind you that being in trouble has just been postponed on that little trip of yours."
"And do the lessons Estella has written out for you, please. I know your mind is somewhere else, but... "
"I'll see to it that she does her lessons," Frodo said.
"Yes, of course," Merry said, a bit flustered. "Of course you will."
Gala stood patiently waiting for the routine to be resumed. "Merry?"
Merry took a deep breath and went on with it. "You know to use the express post if there's trouble, or if you want to come home early."
"Eat what Mother Rose puts in front of you -- "
" -- and don't go walking around outside in the middle of the night," Gala finished with a smile. She had not been on a sleepwalking trip since she was eight, but that was always the admonition Merry finished with, as she'd frightened him by walking right into the Brandywine that time.
Merry kissed her nose, and pinned her cloak at the shoulder, then wrapped a scarf around her neck against the chilly October morning. "Now off with you," he said, doing a poor imitation of Sam. "Go on, now."
Normally, Gala's answer would have been a playful, "On second thought, I think I'll stay," but this morning she didn't quite have the heart for it. Instead, she hugged Merry and kissed his cheek. "I'll be fine," she said. "Don't worry. We'll both be just fine."
Sam came in from the stables, and first saw Merry and Gala engaged in their usual talk, then saw Mr. Frodo standing back in the shadows, looking quite alone. He put a hand on Gala's shoulder. "Well, Miss Gala," he said, "I've got the ponies just about ready. Do you want to come out and get Windy bridled? You know that little fellow has never liked me all that well." He steered her out the door, leaving Frodo with Merry.
"I'm sorry, Frodo," Merry said. "I truly am. But we... she has been here since the night she was born."
"I know, Merry."
"And I know things will change. But I can't live as if they already have, Frodo. Perhaps a good long visit away from here is what you both need. Maybe it is better so. Here at Brandy Hall, I will always be -- "
"No, of course not, that's not what I meant."
"Of course it's what you meant, and it's true."
Merry sighed and looked after Gala. "I wish it were so, Frodo, I won't lie to you. But there has never been a moment of Gala's life when she believed me to be her father. She has always longed for you and wished for you, and I could never tell her how it broke my heart. And yet I never forgot either. I love her with all my heart, and she is a cherished member of this household and my family. But she is and has always been your daughter." He turned on his heel, and disappeared down the main corridor.
Frodo looked after him for a moment, then turned and went after Sam.
Gala had never known how awful it was to be alone until, suddenly, she hadn't been. She felt like she'd been wandering around in a vast, shadowy country for years, not suspecting there was any other way to live, then suddenly another traveller had appeared in her path, bearing a map and a helping hand. They had huddled beside the fire together, and spoken of the lands they'd seen, and he had put names to all the nameless shapes she had been passing.
Then he was gone, and she felt more lost and frightened than she ever had before.
Gala had woken up yesterday to find her father far away, beyond the reach of her hands or her words, and it had shaken her to her toes. Now that he seemed to be more or less himself again, she found that she couldn't bear to let him out of her sight, and in her mind, a small voice kept chanting, Don't leave me. It was foolish, she supposed. She had always managed before, and it wasn't like she was abandoned -- between Merry and Estella in Buckland and Sam and Pippin and their families in the rest of the Shire, and Eowyn and Faramir in Ithilien, and... well, suffice it to say that she had never felt unloved, or even unwanted. But it was different with her father, in a dazzling, frightening way. Losing him would be like...
... well, rather like having one's finger bitten off and the center of one's soul thrown into a fire. How had he lived through having both of his parents long enough to know them, and then losing them at the same time? The remembering was worse than never knowing.
He and Sam were riding a bit ahead, speaking comfortably with one another, and Gala was content to stay just out of reach of their words, where their voices were simply a relaxing hum. Sometimes, a name would float back to her -- Gandalf, or Aragorn, or Bilbo -- so she guessed they were telling tales of all the people they knew in common. She once heard the name Galadriel, but she didn't know if they were talking about her, or about the Lady of the Golden Wood.
Gala would have liked to meet the other Galadriel. What would she have seen in my heart? she wondered. That I am a selfish little girl who would keep her father here even though it hurts him as badly as it did yesterday? It would not, at any rate, have been a difficult matter to tempt her away from her quests, she thought. Just give me my father, forever, and I'll drop any quest you want me to drop. She leaned forward into Windy's mane, so that her father and Sam would not glance around and see her shame-reddened face at this realization. She resolved to find a stronger heart.
They had dinner together under an old tree along the road, sharing the bread, cheese, and mushrooms that Estella had given them. Sam made a campfire and tossed the mushrooms with a bit of bacon he'd gotten in Bucklebury, and they ate until Gala joked that sooner or later Windy wouldn't carry her anymore. There was a bit of talk while the meal settled, then they went along their way.
It was late afternoon when they finally reached Bag End, and Elanor was waiting at the door with her basket of mending beside her (Rose didn't think her old enough to join the women in the sewing circles). Gala slid off of Windy's back, and waved to her. She wanted to be friends with Elanor -- really, she did; it seemed like the way things ought to be -- but they just didn't have a lot in common, except for time spent together. Elanor waved back, and came up to help Sam with the baggage.
"Gala!" Fro appeared from the garden, twigs and leaves stuck in his clothes and hair. "I was hoping you'd be back!"
"You knew I would be."
"Aren't you supposed to be helping your mother in the kitchen?" Sam asked, looking at him sternly.
"I'm finished, and Mum said I could muck about in my patch of the garden." He shrugged and looked at Gala. "I'm still in trouble about helping you run off."
"I told you to stop guessing," she said. "Not to pretend to stop guessing."
"Why don't the two of you take care of the ponies?" Sam asked, offering his reins to Fro. Gala smiled, and took her father's pony as well as Windy, and followed Fro to the new paddock in the yard.
Frodo smiled and watched them go off, speaking to one another enthusiastically and happily. "This problem with Bag End will not last more than a generation, at any rate," he said.
Sam laughed. "You don't need a bit of foretelling to know that, Mr. Frodo. But we pretend not to. They think it's a big secret that they play at being married. I know it's not quite proper and all, being of such different types -- "
Frodo rolled his eyes. "They both look like hobbits to me."
"You know what I mean."
"Yes. I do. I am choosing not to acknowledge it. I had hoped that this nonsense would have ended with the Third Age. You are my heir and my dearest friend, Sam. I will not make a serious guess as to whether or not Gala will marry your son -- they are far too young to think about such things -- but I will tell you that I would consider such a match not only acceptable, but the most delightful one I could conjure in my imagination."
Sam could think of no answer. They went inside to supper.
Rose was thrilled to have Mr. Frodo back -- she had missed him, and always wanted Gala -- and the children were delighted with a new uncle, who could tell them stories they had never heard before. Frodo helped Rosie-lass learn her letters, and listened with near-infinite patience to the songs the younger ones made up. Gala slept in the room she always slept in, with Elanor and Rosie-lass, and they often talked far into the night. Even more often, she snuck out to the mallorn tree at night, and watched the stars. Sometimes, her father joined her there; sometimes Fro did. Once, they both came, and Frodo told them tales of the West while rain fell around the golden branches. When Sam wasn't tied down in his duties as Mayor, he and Frodo spoke for hours, about shared memories and the new world they were living in.
Gala wasn't sure how the lessons actually started. Her own were easy to mark -- one day, he had asked if she had done Estella's lessons yet, and she had said no, and he had begun helping her. At some point, Elanor had joined them, then Rosie-lass. The next day, a couple of the boys were at the table. After two weeks, neighbor children were being sent on errands to Bag End, without instructions to return quickly.
"Since when has the Shire interested itself in educating children?" Frodo asked Sam.
"Well, Mr. Frodo, they've taken something of an interest in learning to read and write ever since they started hearing of their place in the world. I've read to them from the Red Book a bit here and there. Quite a lot of them have got it in their heads to write about what their folk did when Sharkey came. They want to be heroes, you know, and you can't be a hero unless someone writes it down to be read at the festivals, at least in their figuring."
"And, well, of course, some of them remember Miss Lily, and how she tried to start the school. It only ran for a year or so, but quite a lot of them tried it out, and think of her fondly."
"I don't recall them thinking of her fondly at the time."
"Well, some of those as didn't at the time still don't. But those aren't the children which are coming to you, if you take my meaning."
"Well, then, for Lily's sake, I shall do my best with them. Have I your permission to teach them here at Bag End?"
"Of course you do, Mr. Frodo. You don't need to ask such a thing. But there is a schoolhouse in Michel Delving, which Thain Paladin built, and which has been standing empty all this time."
Frodo sighed. "I don't wish to make a permanent school at this point, Sam. I have another illness to get through before I make any permanent decisions."
Sam nodded, and changed the subject. The late autumn days turned chilly, and winter came. Gala began to wonder when she would return to Brandy Hall, but she said nothing; she missed Merry and Estella and the children terribly, but being with her father was enough for now.
At Midwinter, they travelled together to Michel Delving, for the annual bonfire. Pippin came from Tookland, as Thain and Took, to light the kindling, and Merry came with Estella and the children to represent Buckland. Gala spent time with them, and danced with Merry by the fire, then danced with her father. She didn't see Merry sitting alone at the edge of the circle, looking at her sadly. By the time she looked back, Estella was with him, and little Eowyn had perched on his lap and, kissing his nose repeatedly. All seemed right. Gala wondered again when she would be returning to Brandy Hall, but found that in her heart, she didn't yet want to.
She tried to stay awake all night -- it was traditional to try and keep one's eyes open all through the dark hours on Midwinter -- but she still couldn't do it. She awoke the next morning in strange surroundings.
She was lying on a large bed in a house, on a street in Michel Delving (she could see the sign from the blacksmith's shop through the window). She could hear her father and Sam and Rose talking with Pippin and Merry somewhere in another room. Beside her, Rosie-lass was muttering something about monsters in her sleep. Elanor was sleeping on the floor, her golden hair spread out across a pillow. The two little Gamgee lads were curled up in corners, and Faramir Took and Eowyn Brandybuck were nestled at the foot of the bed. Fro Gamgee was sitting in the round bottom of the windowsill, wearing his long nightshirt, awake and looking outside. Gala waved to him and he smiled, pointing at the others so that she wouldn't wake them up by speaking out loud.
It's Mother's house, Gala realized. I'm in Mother's house in Michel Delving. My house. She had never been in it before, but she could think of no other place it could be.
She got out of bed carefully, not waking Rosie-lass or the little ones, and avoiding stepping on Elanor. She nodded toward the door, and Fro followed her out. "Did you make all night?" she asked in a low whisper.
"I was out before you," he said. "It was Pippin who opened your mother's house. He says he's been here a lot. It was easier than dragging the lot of us around the Shire and back to Bag End, or so he said."
"You don't think he meant it?"
"I've been listening to them talking at breakfast. Pippin wants your father to move here."
"What?" she said aloud.
Rosie-lass stirred long enough to say something that could have been interpreted as "Quiet!" then fell back into the pillows.
Fro led Gala out into the hall, and they closed the door. Merry appeared at the end of the hall. "You may as well come in, children." They followed him into the kitchen.
"Good morning, Gala," Pippin said, offering her a plate of eggs and taking another from Rose to offer to Fro. "Sorry to open your house without asking, but you were dreaming too prettily to wake you up." He kissed her nose.
Gala smiled faintly. "Good morning, Pippin. Daddy, are we moving here? Fro says you're talking about moving here."
"Fro hears rather too well, but he didn't listen long enough. We have made no decisions."
Gala turned to Merry, suddenly wanting that beloved face more than anything. "Merry?"
"I have no say in it, Gala."
"I am uncertain what to do. Pippin and Sam make a good case for us coming back to this part of the Shire. We could re-open your mother's school. Buckland is too far for most of the children to come to it with any regularity."
Gala's heart felt suddenly too large for her chest, making it hard to breathe. She had never considered the possibility of not returning to Brandy Hall at all; it seemed... well, that was where she lived, and where Merry and Estella and Dengo and Eowyn were, and...
She realized that for the past two months, she had barely thought of them, thinking only of herself and how wonderful it was to be with her father. But now, the thought of losing them... who am I to be, she wondered, if not Gala Baggins of Brandy Hall? It was how she had introduced herself as long as she could remember. Her mother's house had no name (the brief thought, I could make a name for it, flashed through her mind) and it had no identity, no history, no family that belonged to it. It was just a house that had been through a lot of owners before Thain Paladin had given it to Mother. It wasn't even a proper hole.
But the school... the glorious possibility she saw in it... she could not only have her father with her, but she could have her mother's life work to do. It would be like not being an orphan at all anymore. I could name the house, she thought again, or let Daddy give it an elvish name. And we could talk into the night without going outside to avoid waking people up. And I'd be closer to Fro and the other Gamgees, and to the Tooks. But so far away from Merry...
Her eyes were drawn back to Merry, to his kind, beloved face. She couldn't stand it anymore. She ran outside, feet bare in the snow, wind blowing through even her heaviest nightdress. The tears started, and she sank down onto a bench someone had put near the gate.
After awhile, she felt a warm hand on her shoulder, as a blanket was wrapped around her. She reached up to the hand, expecting to feel the gap where the ring-finger had once been, and found a whole hand instead. Merry smiled at her sadly when she looked up in surprise, then sat down beside her. "You no longer expect me," he said.
"Yes I do, I just -- "
"Gala, darling, it's all right."
She put her arms around his neck, and clung to him. "I do love you so, Merry. I do."
"I know that. Look at me, Gala." She leaned back and looked at him, and he brushed a tear off her cheek with his thumb. "I love you very dearly. You must never doubt that. But I know you never felt quite at ease in Buckland. You had so few people to talk to, and so many oddnesses. I know you heard the talk, and I'm not telling you anything new."
Gala sniffed. "There's still talk."
"But you seem happier despite it. You are still Gala, who does all the things that have been talked about. But those things make sense to you now, don't they?"
"And they make more sense to other people as well."
"Do you want me to leave Brandy Hall?"
"No, I do not." He kissed her head. "I will miss you terribly. But you need to be with your father -- and he needs you to be with him -- whatever he decides. And this is the right thing for him to decide."
"Then Eowyn will be the jewel of Brandy Hall now?" Gala asked, thinking that it was probably more properly so anyway.
Merry smiled. "Brandy Hall was blessed with two bright jewels. One remains, but we shall not forget the sparkle of the other, and will look forward to frequent visits from her. Shall we go inside now?"
Gala still felt shaky, but she knew she would be all right. She nodded. Merry picked her up and carried her across the snow to the door, then left her by the room where the girls were changing into their day clothes. She disappeared into the sound of a pillow fight, and he went back to the kitchen, where Frodo was looking miserably at his breakfast. Estella had the children's things in the hall, and was ready to travel; she knew that they wouldn't be able to stay much longer. Merry got his grey cloak from the hook on the door. "I have relinquished my jewel, Frodo," he said. "Are you ready to relinquish yours?"
Four days after Midwinter, Lily Withypoll's house in Michel Delving was in the sole possession of Frodo and Gala Baggins. The Brandybucks had left (warmly enough, despite the argument) the morning after Midwinter, and the Tooks had left the day after that. The Gamgees gone back to Bag End at the same time the Brandybucks had left, but Sam, Fro, and Elanor had returned with two trunks full of Frodo's things that Sam insisted he take back. Merry had promised to send Gala's things from Buckland as soon as he could.
Elanor had helped Gala put her room together, cooing over bits of decoration that Lily had left behind. There was a lace canopy for the bed, and a little gilt mirror for the dresser. A pretty braided rug had been rolled up in the closet, and they spread out in front of the small fireplace meant to keep just this room warm. Elanor thought the best discovery was an embroidered bedspread; Gala favored a drawing she had found that showed the Grey Havens, with a boat in the firth. It was leaving when Mother had drawn it, but to Gala, it was arriving. She had been afraid her father wouldn't like to have it there, but he was glad of it as well, and told her she could put it on any wall she liked. He did make a point of telling her that it was not a drawing of the boat he had left on. Mother had apparently travelled to Mithlond to learn mathematics from the mariners not long before she opened the school, and had drawn it then. Gala shrugged it off, feeling that the picture was meant for them anyway, even if Mother hadn't clearly known it at the time. She chose a spot beside her bedroom window.
The Gamgees had left that morning, and Frodo and Gala found themselves alone in their own house. Neither of them knew quite what they were expected to do. After awhile, Gala had taken a bit of paper and a pencil, and retired to her room to try drawing (which had not occurred to her as a pastime before). Frodo had wandered into Lily's study.
He sat at her desk, opening drawers aimlessly, finding some of his own notes for the Red Book still there, with her calculations along the side, trying to assign the right dates to each event. He ran his finger down the list of days, and discovered that this was the anniversary of the day he had set forth from Rivendell with the Fellowship, striking south toward Moria. He tried to recall his feelings of that day, and to his surprise, a stirring of the fear and cold returned to him. And excitement -- starting a journey, with Strider leading the way, with Sam and Merry and Pippin along... he smiled. It was becoming easier to recall his feelings. He had begun to feel like Frodo Baggins of the Shire again. A different Frodo Baggins, to be sure, than the one who had left, but Frodo Baggins nonetheless. He recognized himself in Lily's mirror across the room, snips of white in his hair and all.
He put the notes back into the drawer, and went to the fireplace (Lily had gotten chilled easily, he remembered, so Thain Paladin had gotten her a house with a fireplace in every room, but neither Frodo nor Gala had wanted them all lit). Her trinkets were lined up along the mantle -- little clay creatures her students had made for her, a few drawings she'd made of the Smials, and one she had drawn of him, sitting at her desk in the middle of a pile of notes. He remembered her drawing it. He remembered other moments in this room as well, but the only reminder of them was curled up beside her own fireplace.
He closed his eyes, and tried to summon her face to his mind -- Lily in the firelight, the flames caught in her strange but wonderful green eyes, and reflected in the spill of red hair that tumbled over her shoulders. Lily with her easy laugh, even when the world had been darkened for her, and her books had been taken from her by the cruelty of Saruman. Lily with her lightning quick mind, welcoming arms, and gentle hands.
He gasped, suddenly feeling loss like a stab through his heart. Had he really thought he was feeling when he remembered her before? He had felt nothing. Compared to this, he couldn't remember the last time he'd felt anything about anything.
His eyes flew open, and he stumbled to the small couch across from the desk, grasping to pull Arwen's jewel out from under his shirt. Finally, he found it and grasped it tightly, feeling the terrible, frightening grief fade slowly away.
She was my wife. I'm supposed to feel this. I have relinquished my jewel, Merry had said. Are you ready to relinquish yours?
A part of Frodo's mind screamed that no, he was not ready, didn't wish to be ready, didn't wish for these feelings to be. He knew the voice it spoke in, cringing and afraid -- he had heard it from the Dead Marshes to Cirith Ungol, and heard it again in the horrible moments at Mount Doom. Smeagol's voice. Frodo grasped the jewel more tightly, thinking about casting it out into the snowdrifts. He knew he couldn't do so, and didn't need to do so. There was nothing evil about Arwen's jewel. It had just... grown in his mind somehow. And that meant it was time to relinquish it.
He prepared himself for the return of his grief, and slowly lifted the chain over his neck. Deliberately, he walked to Lily's desk, opened the drawer where the notes had been, and lowered his hand into it, the jewel pushing through the gap between his fingers.
He let go.
"No good will come of it, I tell you," Ted Sandyman said in the Green Dragon. "He'll fill their heads up with elvish nonsense, and we'll never have a rest from it." Ted had, at first, been glad that Frodo Baggins had returned, thinking that it would knock Mayor Samwise down a peg or two to lose his fat inheritance, which Ted thought would be fine, as he plainly remembered the dousing he'd gotten the day the Travellers had returned. But Baggins had closed off that possibility by making a declaration that the inheritance stood, and signed papers of some kind to that effect, and now Ted had remembered all the reasons he hadn't like the Bagginses any better than the Gamgees.
"Mr. Frodo is going to teach just as Miss Lily did," Jolly Cotton said. "There won't be no elvish nonsense in it, just letters and numbers and maps." He didn't really believe this -- or at least he hoped it wasn't so, for he planned to ask his oldest boy to teach him a bit of what he picked up in Mr. Frodo's school, and an elf-story here and there sounded nice to him -- but he said it to everyone who expressed Sandyman's sentiments. "Why, he may tell a tale of a place they see on a map, so they can know what they're looking at, but I'm sure that will be all there is to it."
"That's just my point!" Sandyman said. "First, they'll see a map, then they'll ask about a story from it, and the next thing you know, the young folk will be wanting to go out to foreign parts. And then what will happen?"
"Maybe they'll see something interesting," young Dergo Proudfoot put in. He had only been allowed to start going to the Dragon that year, and his head was full of odd ideas already. Sandyman shook his head in disgust. "No good will come of it," he repeated. "You mark my words."
Gala was surprised at how many children came to the school when it opened. Of course, all of the Gamgee children who were old enough showed up, which would have been a class by itself, as Gala saw it. But little Faramir Took came as well, with a wagonload of children from the Great Smials, brought over by Pippin. Almost all the families in Michel Delving sent at least one child to be taught his letters -- or her letters, for it was daughters as often as it was sons. There was much excitement and laughing in the room while Gala got the fire going in the stove -- Daddy had asked her solemnly to be his assistant, as she'd be a bit ahead of the class for awhile, and she'd been happy to oblige -- and the mood was festive. She thought it might take awhile to get to the business of teaching, and she was right.
They did finally settle down, though, and Daddy began by asking each student to tell what he knew already. Several of the older students said that they had learned the elvish letters from Miss Withypoll -- er, the late Mrs. Baggins, begging your pardon, sir -- when she had taught, but few knew how to put them together. Most of the younger children, with the exception of the Gamgees, didn't know any of them. Daddy asked if Gala -- er, the present Miss Baggins, he said with a smile -- would be kind enough to help the little ones in the back of the school room. She consented happily, feeling as if she were getting the chance to feel her mother's presence. After a week, Elanor Gamgee -- who read as well as Gala herself did -- came back to help, for it was proving a bit too much, and besides, Elanor liked the idea of being "Miss Gamgee" a few years early. Fro was more than willing to help, but his delightful qualities didn't really extend to his letters. He could read, but slowly, and Gala usually had to help him. He was somewhere in the middle of the class of older children.
Frodo, for his part, was dizzy with the feelings he had let himself in for. Sometimes he was exhilarated, sometimes depressed, sometimes even playful; he had joined the littler children outside at recess for a game of catch, which he enjoyed, although his aching joints later told him pointedly that he probably oughtn't do it very often. Twelve year old daughter or no, he himself was in his mid-sixties, and had given up all the talismans that might have counteracted that simple fact.
The Gamgees had a new sister at the end of January, this one called Primrose ("Primsy" within two days), and Gala had been allowed, for the first time, to sit in with Mother Rose, just as Elanor did. It was frightening, but she was awfully fond of Primsy ever after.
"Why did you want to sit with her?" Frodo asked on the way home.
Gala sighed, her breath coming out in a cloud over Windy's mane (Frodo had been given the pony Pippin had lent him months ago). "I didn't. But Mother Rose thought I should. She knows I have been frightened. Because of Mother."
"You went because you were scared?"
"Did it help?"
She appeared to think about it. "Yes," she said after awhile. "I can see how it might get someone awfully sick, or hurt her, as it hurt Mother. But I could also see that it didn't always happen like that. That helped, I think. But I was awfully scared. I was afraid that Mother Rose might die. I thought Estella might when Eowyn and Dengo were born, too."
"And Diamond, when Faramir came?"
"Yes. But she really did get awfully sick, so everyone was afraid then, especially Pippin."
"I hadn't known that." He was suddenly glad that he hadn't mentioned the intuition that had come to him on the way back from the Havens, about Faramir probably being Pippin's only child. It was a nice dream Pippin had, to have more children in the house, and it would have been hurtful to say what everyone probably suspected -- that another child might cost him his wife. And whatever anyone else thought of Diamond, with her fine clothes and regal airs, Pippin clearly adored her. Frodo reminded himself to remember this any time he had an intuition that was demanding to be spoken. "It was brave of you to go," he said after awhile.
School resumed, and January became February. Most of the littlest children had learned their letters, and Frodo was teaching the full class. He and Sam had stayed up for hours copying pages from the Red Book -- mainly Bilbo's historical work -- to be read in class, and the students were dutifully memorizing the lines of the kings, up to King Elessar.
Many of them asked if the King would return to the Shire, now that the Ring-bearer was back. Frodo explained patiently that the King was constrained by his own rule, but that the rule was, in essence, a good one, preventing another Saruman from coming to the Shire. This led to a long talk about Sharkey's people, and Frodo assigned them to write about their families' roles. As he expected, these were long stories, with every detail painstakingly recorded and each aunt, uncle, parent, and older sibling given full credit for single-handedly standing up to the ruffians. Each story was read aloud at a presentation for the parents, who suddenly found the school to be a much finer idea than they had imagined.
Gala told the story of Lily's feats of archery, and how Saruman had blinded her for laughing in his face; it was her favorite story, and she knew Frodo would appreciate that it was not about him. The Gamgee children, asked to retain their modesty, spoke mainly of their Cotton relatives, though Fro broke rank and spoke about Sam. Faramir Took lisped his way through a grand epic about his father, though no one really understood what he was saying. He was a bright child, reading at only five, but not a very articulate one.
Toward the beginning of March, a rider came into Michel Delving, bearing a letter from Minas Tirith. King Elessar had finally received word of Frodo's return, but was unable to come to the Lake Evendim until Mid-Summer. The letter had been written by Queen Arwen. "I know your heart is brave, Ring-bearer," she wrote, "but you have earned peace, and should not be ashamed to take it when needed. What was given you is still your own." Frodo put the letter in the drawer beside the jewel, then slowly drew the jewel out on its chain.
It glittered in the faint moonlight. The second illness was coming. Frodo had hoped to become so busy with the school that he forgot about it. The vague idea that it would suddenly be March 14, and he would wake up and realize that the dreaded day had come and gone without incident, had occurred to him more than once. But every day it drew closer, and every day it was more ominous. He felt everything in the world around him now, could remember his whole life; that was the gift of Lily and Gala. But the things he couldn't bear to remember, the awful, dark things... it would be Arwen's gift that he needed on the thirteenth of March.
"Gala. I thought you had gone to sleep."
"I couldn't sleep," she said. "Are we going to visit with King Elessar this summer at Lake Evendim? I have always been very fond of him."
Frodo sighed. "Gala, I can't make decisions into the summer. Not yet."
"But I thought... when you started teaching... you seemed so happy, and now we have the house and... " She bit her lip. "Oh, Daddy, are you going to leave?"
"There is another day to get through, Gala."
She glanced down and saw the jewel lying on the desk. "But you've gotten it back out. That's what you must have in order to sail."
"It is a comfort to me, Gala, not a ship's passage. Though I believe it does help them identify me, as most hobbits look alike to elves."
Gala didn't care about such minor distinctions. "But Daddy, what about the school? What about me?"
"There is an older girl in the school, Dora Brownlock, who has agreed to teach, should anything happen to me. And you know you will always be welcome at Brandy Hall."
Gala tried to think of something to say. She wanted to scream. But she had promised herself that she would not be selfish. Mother had not been selfish. If Daddy needed to go, then she would be right there to help him. And he had already made the plans for it, so he must have decided to go. She had to get ready for it. She went back to her room without saying goodnight.
Late that night, as Michel Delving slept, a tiny figure in a white nightdress rose from her bed. In her mind, she was travelling across the stink and muck of the Dead Marshes, going ever eastward toward what waited there. In her body, she was stepping softly down the hallway toward her mother's study.
Frodo was long since asleep, and Gala's sleepwalking had always been frighteningly silent. Had she not knocked over a hat rack in Brandy Hall the last time, she would have wandered into the Brandywine and been swept away. She floated into the study, face blank, nose vaguely wrinkled at the smell of the Marshes in her dream. Her hand reached out and took the jewel from the drawer.
In her dream, she had reached dry ground, and was crawling up the slopes of Mount Doom. Sammath Naur opened before her, and she went in.
Her body had travelled into the front garden, and she held the jewel out over a pool of snowmelt. In her dream, she cast a golden ring into the fire. In the garden, she dropped Queen Arwen's jewel into the mud.
The dream ended, and Gala wandered back to her room. She noticed mud on her feet in the morning, and wondered where she'd been wandering to now.
Frodo discovered that the jewel was missing on March twelfth, when he'd awakened from a dream of impending doom, knowing that it was time to reach for Arwen's gift again. It would drive him mad not to. He had closed the school for the entire week, knowing that he wouldn't be able to teach anything.
He fought his way through the demons of his mind to get to Lily's study, and flung the door open to find... nothing. Nothing at all.
Gala came running when she heard him cry out, and she swore she had nothing to do with it. He believed her. "It must have gotten caught in the drawer runners," he said, pulling the drawer all the way out. The jewel was not in the case. They spent all day searching the study for it, and found nothing. Gala was crying, for she was sure she had somehow wished it away out of hating it and she kept apologizing.
"It's not your fault, Gala," he said automatically, though some dim corner of his mind was registering that she had used the word "hate" and that it seemed awfully strange for her to feel this guilty about it being misplaced. But he was caught up in his dread -- the illness without Arwen's jewel to get him through it! -- and paid little heed to this voice.
Sam arrived at dinner time, along with a snowstorm and a late freeze. He joined the search, then insisted that Frodo retire to his room quickly, before the day slipped away. Gala was frantically searching the corners of the room again.
"Where is it really, Miss Gala?" Sam asked when Frodo left the room.
Gala burst into tears, and Sam felt sorry -- not for suspecting her of taking it, which he still did, but for thinking she was doing this on purpose. He held her and sang her the soothing song Primsy had taken a liking to, and she quieted.
Frodo's illness struck without mercy the next day, sending him deep into wraith world, far from reach. Gala sat beside him, holding his poor, dear hand, and Sam put cold compresses on his burning forehead. "It is too hard," he said frequently in his delirium. "I cannot bear it."
Around noon, he began to cry out about phantasms that only he could see. He spoke of orcs and of Smeagol, and of Shelob, and of the Watcher in the Waters. Gala could bear it no longer herself, and she ran from his room.
She went into the entrance hall, where a small draft came in under the door. Thinking in a confused way that this might make her father more ill, she bent to put a bit of rolled cloth against the jamb. There were a few mud splatters on the floor; she and her father always pulled in garden mud when they came in, she would have to...
Her feet had been covered with it the morning after Queen Arwen's letter had come. She'd been in the front garden.
Without stopping to get her cloak or boot her feet against the snow, she ran out into the cold, trying to imagine where the jewel might be. Somewhere along the path, she thought. No one had been in the rest of the garden for...
She'd been climbing. She remembered the climbing. She turned to the small mound of dirt that she called a hill, where she'd been planning to grow some kind of cascading flowers this summer. There was a slight hollow at the top of it. She climbed up, and looked down into it. At first, she thought she'd been mistaken, that she was making up her memory. There was only a sheet of ice at the top in the hollow.
But the freeze had only come yesterday. She was sure she was right.
She balled her hand into a fist, and crashed it through the ice. Her skin tore on the rough edge, but the water was so cold that the bleeding stopped almost right away. Her fingers went numb as she grasped around in the near-frozen mud. She would have missed the chain if a loop of it hadn't caught around her small finger.
She tried to curl her fingers up to pull it out, but her hand didn't respond. Instead, she plunged the other hand in, grabbed hold of the chain, and pulled backward with all her strength. The chain had been semi-frozen into the mud, and when it broke away, Gala went sprawling backward down the hill. It didn't matter. She had it.
Then a pair of warm arms was around her, and Sam was carrying her inside. "I have it," she said, over and over. "I got it back."
He carried her into Frodo's room, and she pressed the cold, wet jewel into his hand. Her own hands were starting to get their feeling back, and they hurt like fire. Sam bandaged her cut while she watched the lines of pain fade slowly from her father's face as the jewel calmed his mind. She turned to Sam, who hadn't spoken to her since she'd gone outside, and said, "I wasn't lying."
"But you weren't quite telling the truth either, were you now, Miss Gala?"
She shook her head. "I thought if he didn't have it, he'd forget about going West again. I didn't mean to steal it. But I didn't want him to have it anymore, either."
"Your Dad's got a sickness, Gala. It doesn't go away for the wishing."
Frodo was quiet and distant for the rest of the day, but the frightening visions stopped. He awoke the next morning tired and low, grasping at the jewel around his neck. He still felt ill.
Sam was sitting in the chair by the bed. "Good morning, Mr. Frodo," he said. "Gala's getting breakfast together in the kitchen."
"Mr. Frodo, you should eat something."
"Yes," he said. "I should. I have travelling to do."
Gala had arrived at the door with a tray, and overheard this. She stopped, bit a tear back, then finished coming in. She would be brave. If she hadn't done such a foolish thing, maybe he wouldn't have been so sick yesterday. It was her own fault. She tried to say "Good morning, Daddy," as she had become accustomed to doing, but she found her throat blocked up. Instead, she set the tray on his nightstand, then climbed into bed beside him and held him tight. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"It's all right."
Sam shook his head. "Mr. Frodo, you made it through both the illnesses. You can stay, you can. There's not a reason in the world you shouldn't stay here and run Miss Lily's school and -- "
" -- I can't, Sam. I can't go through that again. It is only the memory of the West, the memory the jewel brought to me, that got me through yesterday. That memory will fade; it will lose its power, as all the elvish magic is losing its power. Only the illness will remain. And I still feel it this morning. It is worse than it was before."
Sam took Frodo's hand and held it.
Gala rode quietly with her father and Sam to Bag End. Neither of them was saying much, and she herself could think of nothing to say. One of the children from the school -- a Goodchild, Gala thought -- had come running out of his house to show Frodo a story he'd written; Frodo said he was going away awhile, and asked if he might keep it. The Goodchild nodded, and wished him a nice trip, then went, unthinking, back to his home.
At Bag End, there was a somber luncheon. Fro held Gala's hand under the table, not in the playful way he usually did, but in a warm, comforting way that she needed him to. She smiled at him wanly. She still could think of nothing to say. She knew she had to let her father go, but she felt like she was being ripped in half, and after being whole, it was more painful than it ever had been before.
She helped Rose make travelling food for them, while Frodo and Sam spoke quietly in the study. Frodo had decided to travel alone with Gala, against Sam's advice. But he argued that she obviously knew her way, and that it would be better if they were able to say goodbye to one another in private. He hoped, at least, to have a conversation with her before he sailed. He needed to make her understand.
Gala readied the ponies and packed the saddle bags, finding nothing to say to her father as she did so. She let Fro hug her tight before she climbed on Windy's back, then squeeze her hand before she turned to ride away after her father. They rode in silence for two days.
Frodo and Gala sat across the fire from one another, in the shelter of a cave in the Twilight Hills. Outside, the March rain fell in steady sheets. They had not spoken on the Road, and did not know what to say to one another now. Frodo warmed up some of the food Rose had sent with them, and they each stared at their portions for a long time.
Gala threw down her plate. "I can't stand it!"
"I would rather have it otherwise myself."
"Why must you go? I don't understand. Maybe mother understood, but I just don't. Why do you want to leave?"
"It's not a matter of wanting, Gala. I simply... I can't live through that illness again. It's more than I can bear."
"But you bore it twice already!"
Frodo looked away from her. "Gala, I do not have a choice. The sickness isn't going away, as I had hoped it would. If I don't leave -- "
"What? What will happen?" She glared at him for a long moment, eyes burning, then collapsed, weeping, into his arms. "Oh, Daddy, it hurts so much! I only just found out who I am -- how can I go back?"
"Why should you?" He petted her hair and kissed the crown of her head. "Darling, I will always be with you in your heart, when you need me... "
"I don't want you in my heart! I want you at the dinner table!" She sniffed loudly. "I want to tell you what I've been doing, and hear what you think of it. I want to know what you're doing, and what you think about whatever silliness the Shire is gossiping about. I want... oh, Daddy, I just want you here."
"Things can't be that way, Gala. I'm hurt. I wish I weren't, but I am."
She leaned back, her hands still clasped tightly at the back of his neck. He could see in her eyes that she was fighting with it with all her strength, then the fight flickered out, and she just closed her eyes and pulled close to him. "I know," she said. "I know."
They said no more, but Frodo kept his arms around her after she fell asleep, and leaned back against the wall of the cave. He didn't long for sleep himself; he just wanted to hold on to her a little while longer. She shifted, and her cheek came to rest on Arwen's jewel. She batted at it in her sleep, muttered something about icicles, then settled. The jewel came to rest on a bed of her hair, a fair star caught in a whirl of autumn leaves.
Frodo held her closer to him, feeling the beat of her heart against his own, glad for the moment of weakness that had brought her into being. Lily had been right. At least for a little while, all was well. He wished it could be forever, then pushed the wish away. What kind of monster would he be to force her to live with his illnesses and melancholy, when she could have a good life at Brandy Hall?
He kissed her head, and drew her as close as he possibly could. She tightened her arms around him in her sleep. He would do what was right for her.
Two days later, Gala stood on the dock at the Havens, watching the white ship sail off into the mists. It balanced lightly on the horizon for a moment, then slipped away into nothingness. There was something unutterably sad about the sight.
A hand fell onto her right shoulder, the now-familiar gap resting right at the point of her bone. "We'd best get home," Frodo said. "I have a lot of work to do."
"You sent Nenya back?"
"Yes. Cirdan sent it with a mariner he trusts. It was not mine."
"And the Queen's jewel?"
"I still bear it, Gala. And perhaps, far in the future, when you are all grown up and married, and I am old and tired, I will come back here. Cirdan has given me leave to do so. But that is many years away. You have my promise."
"I wish it didn't hurt you so," Gala said, turning and putting her arm around his waist. "I wish... oh, I wish for everything."
"Not all wishes come true. But perhaps a few of them can."
They turned east together, and headed out of Mithlond, away from the sea. A gull flew overhead, and Frodo glanced at it briefly, then followed his daughter into the dawn.
If you would like to read the story of Gala's mother,