H.G.: Hello hello!
Sam: H.G. will be going away to work at a summer camp pretty soon.
Frodo: So, she thought she would give you a chapter before that happens.
Sam: …which means we get to be tortured and she gets to go swim around in a pool surrounded by little seven year olds.
H.G.: Chapter time! Come on, Frodo!
Sam: She can’t kill us yet, it’s too early.
“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” -Audrey Hepburn.
Today we will reach the Shire.
It has been thirteen months since I’ve seen my home, and I’m ready to be back. I know I have a lot of healing left, but I am starting to believe that if I can settle down again, Sam will help me to get better, and maybe I won’t have to use Arwen’s gift.
I still haven’t told him about the gift. We never have secrets from each other, but for some reason, I don’t think I should let him know about this just yet.
“Frodo?” asks Pippin, pulling his pony up alongside mine. “What’s the first thing you’re going to do when we get back?”
“Of course,” Pippin sighs. “Merry, what about you?”
“Drink a barrel of beer.”
“I’m going to eat all the mushrooms in the Shire. What about you, Sam?”
“We all know what Sam is going to do,” I say slyly, teasing my guardian.
“Oh, I bet I know, too.” says Pippin. “I bet he’s going to kiiiiiiiss someone.”
“I wonder who?” asks Merry, getting in on the joke.
Sam tries to ride away; I spur my pony and catch up to him. “Does it start with an ‘R’?” I ask.
“Does it end with an ‘e’?” asks Merry, coming up behind.
“Haven’t you used this joke before?” Sam groans.
“Roooossssiiiiiie?” We all ask.
“I hate you all.”
Sam says nothing.
“Oh, come on,” I say, laughing. “Sam, as your best friends, we have permission to tease you. It’s our Valar-given right.”
“But if I tease you, I’m called mean?”
“I can tease you, you can’t tease me.”
“Because that’s how it works.”
Sam sighs. “Frodo…”
I smile innocently. “Love you, Sam.”
We keep riding, Merry and Pippin chattering away about food and beer and more food. I have to agree with them. Food is something I’m in desperate need of. Sam and I lost a lot of weight in Mordor, far more than was healthy for us. And he probably lost even more than me, because he almost never ate.
People thought I was strange before. I was always small for a hobbit, what will they say now if they see me like this? Frail. The word comes to my mind. Unfortunately it is completely true.
“Look!” says Pippin.
I look up. “What?”
“It’s the Brandywine Bridge! But there’s a gate there now.”
Sure enough, on the other side of the Brandywine is a large wooden gate with a hobbit wearing a short sword standing outside.
“Hullo!” calls Merry cheerfully, as we all dismount. “What’s all this for?”
The hobbit looks up. “Why, Meriadoc!” he exclaims. “We thought you were dead!” He scans our faces. “And Peregrine Took, and Samwise Gamgee, and Mr. Baggins? They gave up the search for you months ago.”
“Well, we’re very much alive,” says Pippin, “and we should like to come in, if that’s alright with you.”
He bows. “Of course, sir, but I’m afraid the Shire’s not the same as when you left it.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Well Mr. Baggins, just that there’s been an invasion and we’re not free no more. The ruffians’ve taken over.”
“Ruffians?” asks Sam, at the same time that Merry asks, “invasion?”
“Some big men came from who knows where and some hobbits with them. They’re under orders from some boss named Sharkey, and they’ve taken charge of things here. What’s more, they have some monsters with them, and they use those to keep us all in line. If you don’t listen to ’em you’re locked up.”
“What monsters?” Sam demands.
“Goblins some call ’em, but goblins they sure ain’t if you understand my meaning. They’s bigger than nary a goblin I’ve ever heard of, and they’re meaner. Ugly faces they have, the sort that makes the children cry, and big arms too. Some are bowlegged and all are bad as Sharkey himself.”
“Orcs,” I whisper.
“Orcs,” the hobbit repeats. “Maybe that’s the name. Anyways, Mr. Frodo, and you, Mr. Gamgee, you’ll not be able to go up to Hobbiton.”
“Why not?” I ask.
“Because they’ve dug up Bagshot Row, sir, and they’re using Bag End as Sharkey’s base.”
I look over at Sam, who seems to be having trouble breathing. We’re homeless now. Both of us. Since I sold Bag End to Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, the plan was for me to stay with him until we could arrange to get to Crickhollow. Could we go there now?
“What of Crickhollow?” I ask.
“Leveled to the ground and used as a lumberyard,” he replies sadly. “But maybe you cold find lodging at The Silver Scale. It’s an inn not but a few minutes from here on foot.”
Sam pulls me aside. “What are we going to do?” he asks. “We can’t go somewhere where there’s to be talk of our return, like an inn we don’t know.”
“But we can’t go to the West Farthing and try for the Green Dragon or the Ivy Bush. It’s too far and even less safe.”
Sam runs his hand through his hair, and I see just how unhealthy he looks. Thin, tired, dirty from the travel. Surely he looked worse in Mordor, but I was so blinded by pain that I didn’t even notice. I stand on my toes and kiss his cheek.
“Let’s just try it,” I say. “The Silver Scale. For one night.”
Merry and Pippin join us. “Have you made a decision?” asks Merry.
“We’re going to try the Silver Scale for a night and see what we think.”
“Well, we’re going to Brandy Hall,” says Pippin.
“It’s the safest place for us,” says Merry. “It’s my home.” He grabs my arm. “Come with us.”
Maybe Brandy Hall is Merry’s home, but although I lived there for several years, it has never been home to me. I was there after my parents’ deaths, with no friends except baby Merry, until Bilbo took me in and I came to know Sam. And if there is a single group of hobbits that can be counted on for gossip, it’s the Brandybucks.
“I don’t think so,” I say. “At least, not yet.”
“Sam, what about you?” asks Pippin. “What are you doing?”
“My place is right here,” says Sam. “With Frodo.”
Pippin nods. “Okay. Take care of him for us.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?” I ask as we ride through the gate. “That I can’t take care of myself?”
Pippin smiles. “Well… this is where we leave you.”
I nod. “Be careful, you two. And if there’s nothing there, or it’s not safe, come straight to the inn.”
“We will,” Merry promises. “You… stay safe.” They turn and ride away. I watch until they are lost from view.
“I’m worried for them, Sam,” I say softly. Sam says nothing.
We reach the inn as sunset begins to spread over the sky. I dismount and tie my pony up in the stable, then wait for Sam to do the same before going in. The Silver Scale is somewhat crowded by guests having a meal. My stomach rumbles as I realize I haven’t eaten since the luncheon we stopped for on the road. I go up to the counter. “Excuse me?”
The innkeeper turns and smiles. And then the smile falls off of his face. “Mr. Baggins!” he exclaims with a cry. “We thought you were dead! And Samwise Gamgee too! I must inform the company.”
“Oh no, please!” I cry quickly. “I’d… rather not, yet. We’re looking for lodgings.”
The innkeeper smiles knowingly. “I see, sir. Well, the prices are much lower than before the invasion, so I think I can accommodate you. Shall we say, four copper pennies?”
“For one room?” I say, amazed. That’s cheaper than anything I’ve ever seen in the Shire.
“For two rooms.”
I must look ridiculous – my mouth is probably hanging open. I was worried we wouldn’t have enough money to survive on – all we have is what we were given in Gondor, and I’ve already spent some of it. Even sharing our money as we have silently agreed to, I was nervous. Two pennies a room. We could both eat nine meals a day for a week and still have money left over at that price.
“We’ll take one room,” I say. “And maybe a meal?”
“For both of you?”
“Each room only has one bed and one dresser.”
The innkeeper frowns, probably because he was hoping to make more money if we both got a room. “Very well. I’ll show you to your room.”
He leads us down a hallway to a small room with a red, round door. Inside is a medium-sized bed with a brown quilt and a small bathroom to the side. Simple, but functional. We’ll be happy here. Or we would be if it weren’t for the fact that there are orcs in the Shire.
“Thank you,” I say, handing over the money. “We’ll come to the common room for dinner soon.”
He leaves and closes the door. I look over at Sam. “Well, it’s nice enough,” he says, trying to seem cheerful.
“There are orcs. Here,” I say, and then I’m finding it hard to breathe because this is all surreal and nightmarish, and I don’t want to cry. Sam opens up his arms to me, and I go right into them, burying my face in his shirt and closing my eyes. I don’t want to think of anything and for once I don’t have to. I’m safe now. I breathe in deeply of Sam’s light scent of earth and trees and rain. So soothing. So warm. My Sam.
“It’s going to be alright, isn’t it?” I ask, not wanting an answer.
Sam kisses my forehead gently. We are silent.