23. October Storm
The Autumn Fair in Waymeet was the last big gathering of the year. After that everyone would be busy digging in for the winter, bringing in firewood and piling straw for insulation against the foundations of any houses that were built above ground. There were the late root crops to get in, and cider making, and butchering to be done on the farms, once the weather got cold. Hobbits mostly stayed near home after the Fair.
Mr. Frodo had brightened up so much while Merry and Pippin were visiting, Sam hoped he would come along with us to the Fair. He wouldn't, though. As soon as the Captains left, Frodo went back to his book, hammer and tongs. I had all I could do to get him to the table to eat, even though we served every meal by the kitchen fire the way he liked it.
"I've got both their stories to go through," he said, "and that's a lot of material. They weren't even together the whole time, you know. It's complicated to sort out, and I couldn't write everything down while they were telling me. I have to get it down now, at least in rough form, before I forget something. I can't ask them to go through that again – I could see what a strain it was for them, bringing back those memories. My poor cousins, what I put them through!"
"And what is he putting himself through, Rosie?" Sam said later. "It's not enough he keeps stirring around in his own nightmares, now he has to adopt everyone else's as well! I'll be mighty glad to see this book finished, and that's the truth!"
Of course, we thought when the book was finished, Frodo would settle down to a normal, peaceful life. Run the school, probably, and visit back and forth with his cousins. Be a bachelor uncle to our coming little one. As soon as he finished the book, got it out of his system so to speak, he could forget the past and be happy.
So we packed up the wagon for the Fair – apple butter and pickles – sweet and sour – to sell, and dried lavender and statice for winter bouquets, and the best of the apples and the milk-fed pumpkins for show.
The pumpkins were spectacular, smooth-skinned monsters that took Sam and Frodo and my brother Jolly, all three, to wrestle into the cart. Jolly had driven the farm cart over for us to take to the Fair, with some of my Mum's fancywork to exhibit and knitted gloves to sell. Mum had a young mother expecting in the village – she was midwifeing now, and she wouldn't go so far from home when one of "her" lasses might be needing her.
Sam fretted at leaving Mr. Frodo alone for three days, but Fosco had the answer to that.
"I'm stayin' with him," he said, looking obstinate as a little donkey with his feet spread apart and arms folded over his chest. "You cook up some chicken and beef as we can eat cold, Mistress Rose, and I c'n make pancakes and baked apples and toasted cheese – my Mum taught me that much! I'll see he eats while you're gone. I'll make sure he gets out in the garden for a pipe, too, and I'm going to teach him to play conkers. I made one for him."
Sam laughed, but to my surprise, he seemed content to trust Fosco. "Teach Mr. Frodo to play conkers – I'm tempted to stay home myself, Rosie, and watch that! Teach my grandmother to suck eggs! Young Master Fos is in for a surprise, I think – Mr. Frodo broke my conkers regular, when I was a lad. He had a knack for swinging his just sharp enough–!"
"Do you think he'll be all right, Sam, with just Fosco to look out for him?"
Sam wrapped his arms round me, gentle like – no more swinging me around in circles, these days! "Ah, Rosie, you're getting as bad as I am, you know! He's a grown hobbit, and he's come through worse things than a few days alone in his own home. Why don't you ask me if Fos will be all right, with no one but Mr. Frodo? But aye, they'll both be fine, I'd say, looking after each other."
We set off right after breakfast, leaving the dishes for Fos, at his insistence. He was taking his role of caretaker to Bag End and its master very seriously. Mr. Frodo saw us off, waving from the top of the front steps with an arm around Fos.
"Don't you sell off all those pumpkins, Sam, however much you're offered for them! Save one for Rose to make pumpkin preserves!"
And it was good he said that, too, for Sam was offered a pretty penny for them. No one had seen true milk-fed pumpkins before, and they were the wonder of the Fair. We sold off everything we brought, save one pumpkin for Mr. Frodo's preserves, and Sam took a blue ribbon and a red one, and Mum took first place for embroidery. We slept at the inn, for Sam wouldn't have me sleeping in the wagon in my condition, he said. Half the Shire was there – the other half was at the Pony Meet in Buckland, I suppose – and it was a fine send-off to the finest summer you could imagine. We rattled off home on the third morning with the wagon near empty, having bought nothing but a barrel of ale and some carded wool for me to spin on long winter evenings.
The first of October dawned bright and warm, a perfect day for school to start again. Fosco, from his lofty position as the only lad who actually lived at Bag End, welcomed the others like old friends come to call. From the first morning it was clear that he was now far ahead of any of them in lessons. It might have caused problems, but Mr. Frodo turned it into something he could share.
"Balco and the other lads have been teaching you to defend yourself, Fos – now you can help them with their reading. You all have something to teach and something to learn."
So during the morning, while Frodo worked with each boy in turn, Fosco helped the others to prepare their lessons, and during break, Balco started teaching him to flip an attacker over on his back. Fosco did his school lessons before the kitchen fire in the evenings, just him and Mr. Frodo, while Sam helped me with the washing up.
By the end of the week, Fos could flip any of the lads except Balco himself, and we were called out to watch a demonstration. He did his master proud, and Balco grinned with satisfaction.
"Bet you could hold your own against Ted now, Fos," he said. "Why, I bet you could even put Mr. Frodo on his back!"
Sam guffawed. "He'd best not try it, howsomever! Suppose you take me on, Balco."
Balco eyed him up and down. He was near Sam's own height, and his work at his Da's forge had made him muscular beyond his years.
"All right, Master Samwise, I'll have a go. No hard feelings, if I get you down?"
"No, lad, what do you take me for? Fair fight, mind!"
Balco moved in cautiously, and Sam just stood there relaxed, his arms hanging at his sides. I couldn't rightly see what happened next, but Balco tried to do the flip he had taught Fos, and then he was lying on the grass looking surprised.
"How'd you do that?" he exclaimed, jumping up, and the rest of their break time was given to Sam teaching Balco the new throw, till Mr. Frodo called the lads in.
October sixth was market day and no school. The weather had turned rainy during the night, and there was a chill in the air that penetrated right through my cloak when I went out to feed the chickens. A poor day for the market, and I was glad we had all we needed and could stay home.
Mr. Frodo didn't come to breakfast, and Sam said leave him be. "It's a good day to sleep in – I could almost go back to bed myself." He didn't, of course. He and Fosco went out to the woodshed to split firewood, and I settled down to sew baby clothes.
The rain slacked off by mid-morning, and Sam put his head in to say they were going down to check on the Gaffer, make sure he had enough wood split and what-all, with the weather turning cold.
"Mr. Frodo still not up?" he asked. "I'd best wake him, or he'll never sleep tonight." He went on down the passage, and a few minutes later he came through the kitchen again.
"Put the kettle on, Rosie; he'll be in for his tea soon's he's dressed. We'll be back after supper – I want to see the Gaffer settled in for a spell, while I've got a day free from the garden."
I put the kettle on and started making a late breakfast, but Mr. Frodo didn't come. The water boiled and I set it back, waiting for him, and still he didn't come. At last I got worried and went to knock on his door. There was a long pause before I heard a hoarse, "Come in."
He was sitting by the cold fireplace huddled in the quilt from his bed. He was shivering and seemed only half awake.
"Mr. Frodo, what's wrong? Why don't you come in the kitchen where it's warm? Do you want me to get a fire going in here for you, sir?"
It was like he had to come back from someplace a long ways off, before he answered me. "No, that's all right. I'll just get dressed and come to the kitchen. I'm awake now."
He didn't sound awake; he sounded like he was lost in a fog. I waited another moment and he didn't move.
"Mr. Frodo, come on out in the kitchen where it's warm. You can get dressed after you've warmed up a bit." I pulled at his arm and he got up slowly and let me lead him out of the room. He kept that quilt wrapped around him as he walked, and I settled him in a rocker close by the fire, quilt and all, and got a mug of hot, sweet tea into his hands as quick as I could. He drank it slowly, and when he finished I filled his mug again. Finally he stopped shivering and seemed to come awake.
"I'm sorry, Rose; I don't know what's the matter with me today. What time is it, anyway?"
"It's near eleven, Mr. Frodo. It's so dark and gloomy, it's a good day for sleeping in."
I'd made fry toast for him, soaked in egg and cooked in butter and honey, and he ate it without speaking. He was still wrapped in the quilt like he was freezing to death, even sitting right by the fire, and I made him take another mug of tea.
"Are you all right, Mr. Frodo? You look like you're coming down with something."
"Just cold, Rosie. I'll be all right now I've eaten. Will you light a fire in the study for me, while I dress?"
I made the biggest fire I could in the study, and pulled all the curtains closed to keep out the draught. When he sat down to work, I brought in a footwarmer for him, and a lap robe.
He still had a kind of foggy look in his eyes, but he smiled and patted my hand.
"Thank you, Rose. I don't think the Thain himself is looked after as well as I am."
"Well, that's just as it should be, then, Mr. Frodo. You've done more for the Shire than the Thain ever did!" I thought that would make him laugh, but he just shook his head and kneaded his shoulder like it was hurting him.
"That's all I need now, Rose. I'll let you get back to what you were doing." He picked up his pen and leaned over his notes as I slipped out of the room.
He worked all day without stopping. I carried his lunch in for him, and he ate it without ever leaving his desk. When I brought the tea tray in, he was pacing around the room smoking his pipe and didn't seem to notice I was there. He didn't eat anything at teatime, though he drank every drop in the teapot. At suppertime I had to fair drag him away from his desk, pleading my own loneliness eating by myself to get him into the kitchen. And then he didn't do much more than pick at his food, and he didn't speak unless I asked him a question.
I was that glad to see Sam when he got home! Mr. Frodo had been moody, sometimes, and wrapped up in his book, but never like this.
"You'd better go spend some time with him, Sam. I'm worried he's sickening for something."
Sam went down the passage double quick, and came back a little later looking as puzzled and disturbed as I felt.
"I don't know, Rosie. He says it's his old wound hurting him, and he don't seem quite right, somehow. He's going off to bed now, and we'd better do the same."
And after all that, in the morning Mr. Frodo was himself again, though he didn't have much appetite for a couple of days. The lads came back to school, he worked with Fos in the evening and played chess with Sam, and he had Sam reading to us from my book of Hero Tales. It was almost the same as it'd been before, except –
When they first came back from the Quest, while Frodo was staying at the farm, he had nightmares a couple of times a week. Usually he woke himself up after a shout or two, and in the morning he'd be embarrassed and apologetic, but once in awhile Da would have to go in and wake him.
The nightmares had nearly stopped since Sam and I came to live at Bag End; I don't think he'd had more than two or three the entire summer. But after that queer spell of his in October, they returned. At least once a week, seemed like, he woke us all up with his shouting, and Sam would have to go and wake him up. He'd come to breakfast the next morning and apologize.
After a couple of times, I stopped him before he got the words out of his mouth.
"Never mind, Mr. Frodo – if I'd been through the things you have, I'd have nightmares every night of the week and two on Sunday! Come have your breakfast, and don't think no more about it."
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.