Disclaimer: All the characters and settings belong to J.R.R. Tolkien. This story is my way of working out or interpreting ideas and concepts already present in The Lord of the Rings. This is done for enjoyment, and for sharing, but not for profit.

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In the Hands of Friends, Pt. III

On a table, by a pool, there lay a hobbit. Not an active, energetic hobbit, fully dressed with the gleam of plans and conspiracies in his eye, nor a disgruntled, reclusive hobbit with nothing to give him ease or hope for a happier future: he was a well-massaged hobbit, and that means comfort.

Around him were ranged three other hobbits like a committee, fully dressed, armed with towels, combs and even a pair of scissors. The scissors were held firmly by one Meriadoc Brandybuck, and woe betide any other hobbit who tried to divest him of that most important item!

"Is he asleep," asked the youngest hobbit of the three, whose name was Peregrin Took.

"That he is," said the sturdiest hobbit, Samwise Gamgee. With a quiet fluid motion, he squatted down and looked at the face of the somnolent Frodo Baggins. "Fast asleep."

"Good," Merry said briskly. "We have time to prepare, then."

And so the three hobbits each hoisted their armful of towels and left Mr. Baggins to his rest.

* * *

A hand flattened itself against his back and shook him ever so gently. So gentle and slow was the motion, and so utterly limp were his muscles, that Frodo's body swayed slightly with the movement.

He opened one eye.

"Wake up, Mr. Frodo," Sam said to him, and there Sam was, kneeling beside the table.

"Umm?" answered Frodo articulately.

"We don't want you to get stiff lying too long on your stomach. Time to get up."

"Do I have to?"

Merry chuckled from behind him. "No, but you'll probably regret it if you don't."

"True," Frodo mumbled. Slowly, reluctantly, he pulled his hands up to his shoulders and pushed himself into sitting. "Oh my," he said as his muddled head didn't seem to want to cooperate. He felt slightly woozy. "I'm not sure I can stand."

"That's all right," said Pippin. "You won't have to for long. Up you get." And with that, he put one of Frodo's arms over his shoulders and put his own arm around Frodo's waist. Frodo's head lolled heavily against Pippin's shoulder. Pippin stood him up. "Right this way, and then you can sit down again."

"Where are we going now?" asked Frodo vaguely as they made their way to the back left corner of the Baths.

"Here!" said Merry as he opened a door set in a wall diagonal to the rest of the room.

Frodo blinked as sunlight streamed in. As the four hobbits entered, he gasped. Thoroughly awake now, he could see that this small corner room was in fact a kind of solarium, a glassed-in balcony that served as the fourth corner of the main room of the Baths. Arched and fluted mullions traced a delicate pattern between bevelled and jewel-like glass. Through the window, mountains could be seen, Emyn Arnen to the left, and the Ered Nimrais to the right. The Anduin sparkled as it wound its way down to the Sea.

Pippin walked Frodo over to a carved wooden bench with a high back. Even though the bench was large for hobbits, Frodo could see upon it an impressive pile of towels neatly folded and inter-woven in imitation of a chair. There were even arm rests, and towels hung thick over the edge of the back. A footstool was likewise adorned.

"Up you get," said Pippin, and he and Merry lifted Frodo up onto the pile of towels. His head rested at the top of the back of the bench (cushioned, of course, by yet another towel). His feet rested comfortably on the raised footstool.

The sun poured in through the windows and Frodo's skin shone in the light.

"Perhaps I should have my clothes back. I feel awfully exposed up here," he said a little nervously.

"All in good time," said Merry. "No-one can see you here. Look, there's nothing but mountains and the river out there."

"Unless the Eagles come back to visit us," said Pippin mischievously.

Frodo sat up straight in alarm before common sense asserted itself. "Pippin!"

"As I was about to say," said Merry a little sternly as he pushed Frodo back against the cloths, "it will do you good to do some sunbathing. Good for the skin."

"Something we've had precious little of, sir," Sam added. "Enjoy it while you can. There aren't any of these here solariums in Hobbiton."

"Then why aren't you "enjoying" it, Sam?" asked Frodo with one eyebrow upraised.

Sam looked at the windows uncomfortably. "I might... another time. At any rate, I spend more time out of doors than you."

"All right then. What is in store for me now? Are you simply going to leave me here and let me bake in the sun?"

"No, we are going to cut your hair."

"Oh," said Frodo faintly. "Dare I let you?"

"I'll have you remember that I cut your hair once before," said Merry. "You had no complaints then." And with that, he stood on the platform of several footstools pushed together behind the bench. Indeed, there was room for all three hobbits.

* * *

Merry burrowed his hands between Frodo's neck and the edge of the benchback and pulled out the ends of the thick locks of hair until all hung loosely about the shoulders. Pippin handed him a comb.

"Your hair is almost dry," Merry said thoughtfully. "I'll have to wet it a bit to comb it out properly."

"Half a tick," said Pippin and left only to return quickly with a dripping wet cloth. Merry took it and wound Frodo's hair within it. He squeezed the water through and removed the cloth.

"That's better," he said and began the job of untangling. Newly wet hair lost its curl again, and smoothed out gradually under Merry's careful wielding of the comb. Snarls near the ends of the hair were dealt with first, with Merry's deft fingers holding the hank between scalp and tangle. No painful tugs were allowed to startle Frodo. Then the comb reached its way to the scalp and was pulled outward again and again in long smooth strokes as dark strands fell smoothly to bare shoulders. More strokes followed from top of forehead, over the crown and down to the nape of Frodo's neck. Strands followed, resettled, and fell forward again.

At last all was smooth and free of snarls.

"Scissors?" said Merry, and Sam handed them to him.

"I suppose now is not the time to ask Frodo what he looked like after the last time you were let loose on him with scissors, hm?" said Pippin with a grin.

Merry ignored him. "Now, Sam, if you'd like to see a master at work, then observe closely."

"Yes, sir," Sam said good naturedly with a sideways glance at Pippin. "I've cut hair before, but I suppose it wouldn't hurt to learn the Brandybuck style."

Merry started at the crown of Frodo's head. Combing up a strand of medium thickness, he held it with two fingers, while his thumb stretched down to touch the scalp at the roots. A full four inches of hair flopped loosely past his fingertips.

Sam whistled. "That's half a year's growth and no mistake."

"Well," said Frodo, "it wasn't something we gave much thought to on the Road, though I suppose we could have done at Rivendell."

Merry and Pippin looked at each other.

"We did," said Merry.

"Oh," said Frodo sheepishly and was silent.

Snip! Four inches of hair fell. Merry worked his way around the top of Frodo's head. Soon half dried curls of hair festooned the top edge of the bench and the floor behind it. The rest of Frodo's hair was drying rapidly as the sunlight shone warmly upon it. Smooth locks were slowly regaining their springiness and straight became wavy.

Another lock stretched out through Merry's fingers. It was measured and, snip! Off it came.

* * *

The scissors had moved near his ear. Frodo closed his eyes (he seemed to be doing that a lot today, he thought) and let the sound and feel of the cutting distract him.

When Merry combed up a new swath of hair, the tips of the teeth briefly touched Frodo's skin and then moved outward in a shirr of sound. Air felt cool under the lifted hair. Then fingers held the hair firmly at length, and the thumb pressed to his scalp. Snip, snip went the shears and Frodo felt another lock fall briefly to his shoulders and then to the floor.

It felt strange, he thought, to have such attention paid to his hair. It had been a long time since he had given his hair any thought whatsoever. During the Quest, it had been of little importance to him at all, save in two places.

On Caradhras, it had been a welcome layer of warmth between his head and the hood of his cloak. He had been so cold, so cold that he still felt as if his teeth would chatter if he were to think about it. The other place had been Mordor: another place where he had been cold. Only, there his hair had been so dirty that in places it had even stood stiffly away from his head. There, he had longed for the feel of the softness that had nestled under his hood on Caradhras. He wanted, oh so badly, to be free of the matted dirt. In fact, if he had had any scissors, he would have cheerfully hacked it off.

Merry had come around to the front now and was kneeling on the bench. Frodo opened his eyes to find Merry watching him quizzically.

The balcony was warm and the sun dazzling. His friends were near. His hair was clean and, oh heavens, it was soft. All was well.

Frodo smiled. Merry's eyes crinkled and he nodded. He went back to work.

* * *

Fully dried curls wrapped themselves around fingers. Glints of ginger and chestnut glistened from every strand. Rich dark brown shone vibrantly in the sun.

"Time for a final comb through," Merry said with deep satisfaction and walked back around to stand on the footstools.

Slowly, ever so slowly, he set the row of comb-teeth to Frodo's forehead and, with not a little pressure, pulled it back as he had done before over the curve of Frodo's head and down, down, down, to the inward curve of the nape of his neck. Curls straightened, and then sprung back.

Frodo sighed loudly. "Oh my goodness. That is as good as a massage!"

"It is a massage, silly!" said Merry fondly and reset the comb to Frodo's right temple. Press, pull, and curve... from temple, up and over ear and down -- a soft dragging of teeth against scalp. Pippin chuckled as Frodo turned his head quickly to the left to allow Merry easy access.

"Oh," Frodo said dreamily. "That is lovely. Why is it that only other people can comb one's hair like that?" He paused, breathed deeply, and then said plaintively... "Do the left side, please?"

Merry switched the comb to his left hand and repeated the action. Touch, pull, drag... and down. Frodo's head was eagerly laid right ear to towel.

Sam laughed quietly to himself and shook his head.

"If I may make so bold, sir, I'd like to try something."

"Of course," mumbled Frodo contentedly.

Sam tipped Frodo's head forward. Merry and Pippin crowded around curiously.

Very slowly, very deliberately, Sam touched the tips of the teeth to the nape of Frodo's neck, and combed upward dragging firmly but not harshly against scalp. Chestnut curls bunched above the comb. And slowly, ever so slowly, as strands of hair fell through the teeth, they drifted down redly in the golden light of the sun.

The effect on Frodo was electric.

"Oh my," he gasped, and a shudder ran through him. "What was that?"

The three hobbits looked at each other and grinned.

"Oh," said Sam mildly, "just an old hair-combing trick. Another thing you can't do for yourself."

Eagerly, Pippin took the comb.

* * *

Yet another new experience, thought Frodo in baffled wonder. The row of tiny points shivered up, up, up past his right ear to his temple. A convulsive shudder ran down his neck, between his shoulder blades and down, down, down his spine.

And finally it was Merry's turn... and as the comb crept up towards his left temple, and one by one his hairs came loose in the tiniest of pinprick tugs to drift down and resettle as they tickled at the pores of his skin, Frodo exultantly let his back arch in the pure pleasure of being alive and being gifted with the joy of new experiences.

No longer did he need to skulk, remorseful, in his room. No longer did he need to feel alone and dead to new sensation. No longer did he need to let guilt overwhelm him for past deeds. No. Guilt was there, but it did not need to rule him.

No. His friends were here and that's what mattered. And they took delight in giving him this whole afternoon of comfort and pleasure.

His hair was cut. Frodo lay back trustingly. He could feel again. And his hair? He couldn't see it, but he could feel the softness, the shortness, and the lightness of it. More than that, he did not need to know.

"Bless you all," he suddenly said thickly.

And three hands laid themselves on his shoulders.

His hair was cut.

The End