19. Family Matters
They brought Fosco back with them. He wasn't seriously injured – that is, nothing was broken – but he was very sore, and his right hand and wrist badly bruised. Ted had twisted his arm and bent his fingers back, taking his coins away from him. He was in high spirits, though, and all the while I was poulticing his hand he was recounting the visit of the Travellers to the Mill.
"Ted told Mum not to open when they knocked, and she was afeared to go against him. But they just hauled off and banged the door and it broke the latch right in half! And Master Samwise come in shouting for me and I was hiding in the broom cupboard because Ted had come in drunk and roaring what he was going to do to me. And Ted was hollering so I dasn't come out, but then Captain Merry and Captain Pippin hustled him out in the yard, and Master Sam said, 'Come on out, Fosco lad, where're you hiding? I didn't half get the potatoes dug today, without you to help me – you'd best come sleep at Bag End tonight, so's you can get to work on time.' So then I came out, and Mr. Frodo picked me right up on his shoulder, and he asked Mum could I come and spend the night. He let me ride on his pony with him, and Captain Pippin gave Ted a whipping with his riding crop!"
I gave him a cup of chamomile tea with plenty of milk, and finally he began to nod off.
"Shall I fix a pallet for him here in the kitchen, Mr. Frodo?"
"Do you think he'll be frightened, if he wakes up during the night, Rose? He might not remember where he is, or how he got here." He thought for a moment, then squatted down next to Fosco's chair.
"Fosco? Wake up just a minute, lad. Where do you sleep, when you're at home?"
The child's eyes half opened, cloudy with sleep. "With my Mum," he murmured.
Frodo nodded. "I thought that might be the case. So did I, when I was his age – my Mum and my Da and me, all three in one bed, like peas in a pod. All right, lad, you come sleep with me tonight."
He lifted him gently and carried him away down the passage, and I sat trying to imagine the master as a small hobbit lad, snuggled beside his parents in the family bed. He'd lost his parents so young, Sam had told me that, and he never spoke of them. I hadn't thought that he might have such sweet memories of them.
It was a merry breakfast the next morning, with Fosco badgering the Captains for stories about their adventures, and Mr. Pippin making him gasp in wonder and disbelief at his tales of talking trees and drinks that could make a hobbit grow inches overnight.
"Oh aye, we had to stop drinking those ent draughts, you know – had we kept on, we wouldn't fit inside any house in the Shire, and then we'd starve to death, never get a proper dinner again. Beanpoles we'd be, five feet high and so thin, if you looked at us sideways you couldn't see us at all. Better be eaten up by orcs and be done with it!"
"Pippin!" Merry protested.
"Just getting in form for the morning's work, Merry. A lovely trip into the past for Frodo's book – now how would you describe Grishnakh? Red eyes, pointy teeth – missing a few, I think – a poor complexion –"
Frodo laughed. "Well, don't waste it on breakfast, Pippin," he said, pushing back his chair. "Come on in the study and we'll get to it, while you're in the mood."
The cousins disappeared down the passage, and Fosco looked up at me. "I guess Mr. Frodo won't be reading with me while the Captains are here, will he?"
"I think he'll be busy with the book, Fos. I'll work with you, if you like. Did you know Master Sam is teaching me to read?"
"Aye, he said he was – but do you know enough to help me, Mistress Rose? You just started too, didn't you?"
I wasn't sure myself, if I knew enough, but Frodo was in his study and Sam was already outside, digging potatoes. It was me or nobody, and Fosco wanted his lesson.
"Get your slate, and we'll find out," I told him.
We sat together at the kitchen table, and I had another mug of tea while I helped him. I found I was quite a bit ahead of him – Sam must be a good teacher, I reflected – and it was fun working with him. We did pretty well together for about half an hour, but then he got restless, and his letters got a mite sloppy. It was a mercy he wrote left-handed, or he couldn't have managed at all with his hand so bruised.
"Time to stop," I said. "Off to the garden with you now; you've got a job to do!"
Around teatime there was a knock on the back door, and it was Fosco's mother. She slipped into the kitchen with a hunted look in her eyes, glancing over her shoulder.
"How is he?" she whispered.
"He's fine – he's out gathering eggs. Sit down, Bloomie, I'll make you some tea."
"No, I –" She looked flustered. "I shouldn't stay, only – I wanted to ask Mr. Frodo if he could see his way to keep Fosco here for awhile. I'm afraid to have him at home, Ted beats on him so –"
"Mr. Frodo's having tea in the parlor with his guests. I'll tell him you're here when I go to get the tray. Sit down, Bloomie, for pity sake! It'll be a few minutes. Do you really think Ted will bother Fosco again, after last night?"
"Oh, I don't know, Rose. Ted has always pounded Fosco, it's like a habit with him – he might leave him alone while he knows the Captains are at Bag End, but after that –"
I set a mug of tea before her with the cream pitcher and the sugar bowl. She ladled sugar into her tea till I would have gagged if it was me had to drink it – my word, it'll be like syrup, I thought.
"Want some seedcake, Bloomie? It's fresh, I baked today."
"Oh, thank you, Rose! I haven't had seedcake since I don’t know when – food is so dear, ever since the Troubles – we mostly just have porridge and whatever garden stuff I can grow."
No wonder Fosco was scrawny. Seemed Mr. Frodo had been right about the family's situation.
"How do you get by, Bloomie? Doesn't Ted help out?"
She laughed bitterly. "Ted, help out? If he gets a coin, it goes to the drink, either the Dragon or some homebrew from his mates. And where would he get a coin, anyway? Now the Mill is finished and harvest started, maybe he'll get some, but I doubt we'll see much good out of it, Fos and me."
"But Bloomie, why? You're his family, after all – blood is thicker than water, why wouldn't he help you, when he can?"
She shook her head. "Ted's no family of mine, Rose. He's from my husband's first marriage, didn't you know that? No, how would you know, you're from Bywater, I was forgetting. His mother died when he was born, and I married his father when he was a half-growed lad. He never liked me, not from the first day I came in that house, and he's always hated Fosco. But the Mill is the only inheritance Jok left, so we've had to share it, the three of us, whether we got along or not."
Oh, my. I'd had no idea there were hobbits who lived this way, no idea there were families like this in the Shire. Suddenly I felt lucky, and almost ashamed of my good luck. I'd always had my family, and now Sam – and there was the baby coming, though Sam didn't know it yet. And Mr. Frodo – there couldn't be, anywhere, a kinder master than Mr. Frodo.
"They must be done by now," I told Bloomie. "I'll go tell him you're here."
Mr. Frodo didn't seem surprised, and he followed me right out to the kitchen. Bloomie jumped up nervously when he came in, but he went over to her with a smile, and within minutes he had her tea warmed up, another mug for himself – for all he had just finished his own tea in the parlor – and was sitting chatting with her like they were old friends.
"I don't think Fosco has taken much hurt," he told her. "His hand is bruised, but Rose has a good knowledge of herbs from her mother, and she's tending it. I wanted to get him out of harm's way last night – if you hadn't come today, I would have called on you this evening. What are we to do for him, Mistress? Will Ted leave him in peace now, do you think?"
"No, sir, I don't think – leastways if he does, it'll be the first time he ever did! Could you keep him here, sir? I hate to ask, but I don't know how to keep him safe, I surely don't. Seems like Ted can't look at the lad without wanting to pound him, and now he's home running the Mill – Fosco's here all day anyhow working, and I can't tell you how grateful I am, Mr. Frodo, you taking an interest in him that way! If you could just find him a corner to sleep in, so's he needn't come near Ted at all? I'll find someplace else for him to go, sir, just as soon as I can – but until I can find somewhere –"
She was crying by then, poor thing, and Mr. Frodo gave her his own handkerchief and sat patting her back soothingly.
"What about yourself, Mistress? Are you safe at the Mill with Ted there?"
"I'll be all right. It's Fos I'm worried about."
And at that moment Fosco banged into the kitchen, carrying the egg basket. "Mum!" he cried, running over to her. "Mum, what's wrong, why are you crying? Why is she crying?" he demanded, turning on Mr. Frodo.
"Shh, it's all right, Fosco, she's had a hard time. Give her a hug, lad, let her know you're alive and well. You're the pride of her life, you know that, don't you?"
Fosco flung his arms around his mother, burrowing up against her, and she hugged him back fiercely, looking up at Mr. Frodo.
"Will you, sir? Will you keep him here, safe?"
Frodo nodded. "I will, if he's willing to stay."
Fosco was not willing, not at first. It took all his mother's persuasion, to make him see that he could not protect her from Ted, that it only added to her burden of fear and unhappiness, worrying that Ted might really hurt him next time.
"Balco was teaching me," he said despondently. "He said I'd be able to fight back against someone bigger, but I tried what he showed me and it didn't work. It worked on the other lads, but not on Ted."
"Maybe you need to get bigger yourself, Fos," said Frodo. "Let Balco keep on teaching you, it's good to know how to defend yourself, but Ted may be more hobbit than you can handle for a few years yet."
Sam came in with a bushel of potatoes. "H'llo, Bloomie," he grunted, swinging it down from his shoulder. "That Ted any wiser than what he was last night?"
"Some folks don't never get no wiser, Sam Gamgee. He may stay out of the Dragon for awhile, though."
"Sam, I think we're going to keep Fos at Bag End for a time; what do you say?" Mr. Frodo sounded like he really wanted his opinion. Sam met his look, then let his eyes rest on Fosco, cuddled close to his mother, her arm around him.
"That's a serious thing, Mr. Frodo, breaking up a family. Still, if he's not safe at home –"
"Just till I find someplace else for him, someplace safe," Bloomie repeated.
"Well, don't stop looking for one, Bloomie – the lad needs his mother," Sam told her soberly. "You want to take some of these taters home with you? We've got a bumper crop, more than'll fit in the cellar, I don't doubt."
So Fosco came to stay, and the second morning Mr. Frodo had me start cleaning out one of the spare bedrooms for him.
"A lad as active as you needs a space of his own – and this poor old hobbit needs a bed to himself," he told Fos with a grin. "You kick worse than Bill the Pony, my lad – if Ted ever bothers you again, just kick him in the shins like you've been doing to me at night!"
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.