7. Desperate Hours
"Rory?" Menegilda asked, scuffling out of the kitchen where she had been drinking a cup of tea. She and Esmeralda were the only one who were still awake. It was now far past midnight and she looked quite overtired in her green bathrobe, her face only lit by the light of a candle in her hand.
Rorimac stood at the entrance door, clutching the knob with both his trembling hands. He had his back towards her, but the sight of him sent shivers down her spine. She wanted to know what had happened, but her mouth was dry, besides she didn't dare to ask, for she feared the answer. She watched him anxiously as she moved towards him placing a loving hand on her husband's shoulder. He trembled under her touch.
"Have you found them?" her question was a mere whisper.
Taking a deep breath he slowly turned around to face her. Menegilda felt her anxiety grow, as she saw his eyes glistening with tears. He took her hand into his own and squeezed it gently. "They are dead," he whispered, his voice barely audible.
She felt her knees give way as tears were welling up inside her. "Dead? But why? How?"
He held her gently, shook his head and, trying to hold back his tears, headed for the kitchen. "Where's Frodo? I need to talk to him."
"He's in his room," she answered, still unable to believe what she had just heard.
She sat down on the kitchen table again, clutching her cup with both her hands, staring into emptiness.
"Saradoc and Merimac will take care of their bodies. They will be laid out in one of the free rooms," Rorimac said, his voice sounding as if he did not know what he was saying. He turned around and left the room.
"Where are you going?" she asked with a desperate look in her eyes.
"I have to talk to Frodo."
"You can do that tomorrow," said Esmeralda, who was just entering the kitchen. "He is very confused and needs some rest."
She frowned and, looking from one to the other, she asked in a fearful voice: "You did not find them?"
He bowed his head swallowing hard. She turned towards Menegilda, who still clutched her cup. Her mother-in-law was quavering; her eyes glistened in the flickering light of the candle.
Esmeralda shook her head. "No," she whispered, covering her mouth with her hand.
Rory said nothing and Menegilda too was silent.
The first thing Frodo recognised the next morning was his hurting throat. He moaned and closed his eyes again. It was only October, so why did he have to get a cold before winter even began? He did not remember anything that had happen the last night. In fact, he did remember nothing from the moment he started the boating tour with his parents. He opened his eyes again and, turning around, he found Esmeralda sitting on a chair beside his bed, her head resting on the coverlet. He frowned, wondering what she was doing in the room he shared with his parents. His eyes wandered to the other bed. It was empty, so his parents were not there.
"Auntie Esmeralda?" he whispered, unsure if he should risk waking her.
She lifted her head blinking drowsily.
"Are you alright?" he asked. "What are you doing here? Has anything happen? Where " He fell silent as he noticed her eyes. They were blood-shot, red from crying. His brow knitted even more, as he watched her with concern. "Are you alright?" he asked again.
She looked at him, as if he had told her to eat asparagus, a food he absolutely disliked and he knew she did so too. Tears were filling her eyes. A sudden fear grew inside him. Why was she so distraught?
The door opened and Rory entered the room, followed by Menegilda. Frodo lifted his head. The two of them looked no better than Esmeralda did. He shrank back and pulled his blanket closer. Had he done some mischief, so terrible that it made everybody cry, and did not remember it?
Rory told Esmeralda to sit on the bed while he himself took a seat on the chair. "Frodo, I have to talk with you," Rory began in a serious tone.
"I've done nothing." said Frodo quickly and then, shrinking back again, he added: "Have I?"
His uncle shook his head. Maybe he would have laughed at the boy's quick excuse if the matter of their talk had not been so serious.
Frodo did not seem very relieved for his uncle's mood had not changed.
"There are some things I want to discuss with you," Rory continued.
Frodo nodded, quite afraid of the tone in his uncle's voice. There was a long silence in which the room seemed to vibrate with suspense. Rory seemed to have some difficulties in finding the right words. Ever and anon he looked at his wife as if she knew better how to begin. She knew it not. Sitting on the bed beside Esmeralda with her head bowed, she already began to ask herself why she came here.
Frodo felt shivers running down his back.
Rory was the first to break the silence. He did not waste any time with needless questions but came straight to the point. "What happened yesterday afternoon?"
The boy looked at him stunned. Why did he wish to know something like that? He was there two evenings ago, when they planned their little adventure, was he not? Anyway, he would answer. "We were on the river. It was beautiful. The rustling leafs, the rushing water, the " He shuddered and fell silent, looking at the gathering in his room with a troubled frown. Although he could not explain it to himself, the thought of the rushing water increased the feeling of fear he had had before.
"What happened then?" Rorimac probed.
Frodo's brow creased in bewilderment. "I don't know," he said in a low tone, while he felt his inner fear mingling with another one. It was as if a cold arm was grasping for him.
"You don't know? What does that mean?" Rory wanted to know.
The boy shrugged, wearing a confused expression.
Rorimac looked at his wife and his daughter-in-law (who were both close to tears) as if he was asking them for help. Frodo watched them in silence, feeling fear creeping closer. It had reached him already; the cord that would strangle him was laid out, but he did not realise it yet. Rory's gaze was stern, though his eyes glistened with tears. "They are dead, Frodo."
Esmeralda swallowed. How could he tell him that just like this? Rory always came straight out with things, but this time he should have made an exception. He could not shock the child like this. Anyway, she did not accuse him, for she knew how hard it must be for him.
Menegilda tried to stifle a sob, but failed.
Frodo stared at his uncle wide-eyed, the creeping fingers of fear finally engulfing him wholly. "That's not true!" he cried in a shrill tone.
Rory swallowed. He pitied the lad and now that he saw his anguished expression he regretted his straightness. But he himself was captured by despair and was unable to think clearly. "I'm sorry, my lad, but " he said sadly, but was interrupted by an abrasive "No!" from Frodo.
The boy was clinging to the blanket, his hands quivering, his knuckles white. His eyes dashed from one to the other wildly. His breath was flat.
"Frodo " Rory began, but was interrupted again by the lad.
"How can you say something like this? They are my parents, they don't die!"
Esmeralda laid a trembling hand on Frodo's shoulder and found that his whole body was tense. Rory looked at him grief-stricken.
"When I saw you yesterday evening I immediately went seeking them. My sons and I rode down to the hills. We were there far into the night and almost gave up looking for them, when finally I discovered something floating in the river, close to the eastern bank. I waded into the water and there I saw "
"You lie!" Frodo screamed, tears now streaming down his cheeks.
"No, Frodo, I " Rory placed his hands on his nephew's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
Frodo pushed him away. "You're a liar! They can't be dead!" He panted, his eyes flashing with a measure of rage and despair. The noose of fear around his neck tightened ever so slowly.
"Don't you dare call me a liar! Not in a matter as serious as this one." Rory felt fury welling up inside him. How could he dare to accuse him of lying, especially combined with the death of his most beloved sister? Did he think he would be joking? His sister was dead and all he wanted to know was how it happened.
Frodo looked at him, as if he was a younger cousin of his, who had contradicted him, but he said nothing although Rory could see he was bursting to insult him further.
"Where are your parents then? Can you tell me that?" he asked sternly.
"They are they are " Frodo stammered, searching feverishly for an answer, but, finding none, he just repeated that Rory was a liar.
Rory exploded. "They are dead! Don't you see that? They are not here with you, because they died yesterday and I want to know how it came to it. You're the only one who survived your boating tour yesterday! Your parents are dead!"
"Rory!" Menegilda tried to stop his outburst. The Master of Buckland panted and sank back into his chair again, from which he had lifted before.
Frodo's whole body was trembling. He had shrunk back in his cushions frightened, when his uncle shouted at him. His sight was blurred with a veil of tears. He tasted the salty liquid as he bit his lips. "No," he whispered, his voice hoarse and barely audible.
Rory closed his eyes, a single tear dropping down his cheek.
"That's not true!" Frodo sobbed over and over again, shaking his head frantically.
Esmeralda, unable to control her own grief any longer wrapped her arm about the trembling child. Leaning into her embrace Frodo wept bitterly.
"Can you tell me what had happen?" Rory asked after a long silence.
Frodo did not answer but clung to his aunt more tightly. Rory waited a while before repeating his question. The lad shook his head, sobbing miserably.
It was long until Frodo finally lifted his head again. "Please, tell me that it's not true," he pleaded, his bright blue eyes now filled with tears and a sadness that almost broke the hearts of his relatives.
"I wish I could," Rory said sadly, blinking away the tears in his eyes.
Frodo gasped for breath trying to stifle his sobs. Esmeralda placed a hand on the little one's cheek and pulled him closer. Burying his face in her pinafore, he felt hot tears stinging in his eyes. It could not be, it must not. How could they have died after they had spent such a beautiful afternoon together?
"Can't you remember anything?" Rory asked.
"No," Frodo snivelled, his voice muffled. "They can't be dead!"
"But, Frodo, they are! Don't you understand? I need to know how it happened!"
The boy sneaked an angry glance at his uncle. "Why ask me? I don't know anything! Leave me alone!"
Rory sighed. "Don't be stupid! You must remember something."
Rory did not see his distress. Frodo was torn between the question of why he could not just answer his uncle to make him leave again, and the sneaking feeling that he knew all too well what had happened. But he feared this feeling and the memories it might involve. He could almost feel the noose of angst tightening, but not yet not yet.
"No, I can't remember!" he cried again, his words nearly swallowed by new tears. "Don't ask e!"
"No!" he interrupted the Master of Buckland again. "Don't ask me! I can't remember! No!" The boy got away from Esmeralda and, grabbing for his blanket, he holed up under it. There was a long silence.
"The current " Rory began in a last attempt, but Frodo stopped listening. His head was spinning.
"The current!" she shouted "We've come too far south! Paddle or we shall be driven to the rocks!" "Frodo!" His father pushed him away as he cried out for him in despair. He felt the water closing about him.
"No!" he screamed, his voice full of pain and anguish. Covering his ears with his hands, he coiled up under his blanked, his body clenching.
"Stop it, Rory!" Esmeralda shouted, wrapping her hands about the blanketed child. "Don't you see this is agony for him?!"
Rory looked at her stunned. "He is the only one who was with her. I want to know what happened. She was my sister!"
"And his mother!" she told him angrily, surprised by her own courage.
Rory fell silent finally seeing that she was right.
"Don't make me remember it!" Frodo wailed.
But it was already too late. A wave of memories was striking his mind, making him feel dizzy. The noose was finally closing. . His eyes wide with fear and despair, he gasped for breath. His uncle was right, he was right. Frodo clutched the blanket with both his hands, digging his nails into it. "The current the rocks " he panted " the boat burst she helped me to swim to the shore 'Go now! Hurry!' she did not promise " His face turned ashen and his eyes glassy, while he still was desperately gasping for breath.
Esmeralda, Rory and Menegilda exchanged worried glances.
"Hush, dear, calm down," Esmeralda said in a soothing manner, while Rory was rubbing his back. "That's it. Just take a deep breath."
Slowly Frodo relaxed again and, releasing his grip on the blanket, his eyes closed and he sank into Esmeralda's waiting arms, weeping bitter tears.
"Hush now, little one," she whispered into his ear, rocking back and forth, finally giving up the fight against her own tears. Seeing the son of her best friend like this broke her heart.
"She did not promise," Frodo whispered in a hoarse and almost inaudible voice.
Menegilda and Rorimac watched him with eyes full of pity and sadness.
"I think it is best if only one of us stays with him" Rory said.
Esmeralda nodded to show that she would not leave the child.
Menegilda wiped away her tears. "I will put on some tea with honey for his throat. At least that can be cured."
In the late afternoon Frodo was lying in his bed, staring out the window listlessly, his fingers playing with the fringes of a thick woollen scarf Menegilda had given him for his hurting throat. Small raindrops were dripping from the window frame. The world outside was a dark grey, shrouded in a veil of rain. He sighed, regretting it in the same instant as he did so. In the course of the day the pain in his throat had got worse and now it was almost impossible for him to speak. The long hours of crying had robbed his voice.
He turned around to see Esmeralda still sitting on the chair beside his bed. She had not left that place all day and he was grateful for that. Her head had dropped sideways and she seemed to be fast asleep. Frodo watched her thoughtfully. Her hair was tousled, her dress crumpled. Dark rings were under her eyes. It seemed as if she had not slept for days. He reached out to touch her hand, but then he withdrew, fearing to wake her.
Feeling that he could not let the day pass without leaving his room at least for a while, he got to his feet. His head was swimming, but that soon passed. He felt a little wobbly as he stumbled out of the room and he was sure that was from lying in his bed all day. As he headed for the kitchen, he noticed somebody going into a room that was uninhabited, but he didn't pay much heed to that.
In the kitchen there was many other folk, too busy with gossiping to recognise him.
"Who do we have here?" Daisy asked teasingly, as she saw him from behind, pottering about with the biscuit box. "Isn't that Master Pest himself?"
Turning around, Frodo shot her a glance.
Seeing him, she instantly fell silent. He was pale, his eyes swollen from crying. "You look terrible," she said and there was something like concern in her voice.
Frodo did not answer, but took a seat on one of the tables, nibbling his biscuit. She sat beside him, watching him expectantly. Not heeding her, Frodo turned his attention to the conversations of the adults. Had he heard his father's name?
"No, Primula was a good swimmer. Drogo must have pulled her under water and "
Frodo got up jerkily, his chair tipping over. All eyes turned to face him. He wanted to cry out, to tell them how wrong and stupid they were, but all he could manage was a low caw. Hot tears were burning in his eyes, as he turned abruptly and dashed out of the kitchen. Daisy followed him.
He stopped and leant against the wall, breathing heavily and fighting back his tears. How could they say something like that? Why did they do this? Could they not stop gossiping?
Startled he turned around, as he felt someone's hand on his shoulder. Daisy looked at him with sad eyes. "I know what happened," she said. "Don't fret. I know that they're wrong. Don't listen to their talk."
It surprised him to hear something like that from Daisy. Maybe she was not that much of a pest after all. He managed a smile to show her how glad he was that not everybody listened to the wagging tongues of most of the Brandybuck-folk.
"Daisy!" young Marmeric called, waving at the two of them.
"I'm coming!" she answered and, looking at Frodo, she asked: "Will you join us?"
He shook his head, feeling too weak to play with the other children. He would better go into his bed again.
As Frodo headed back for his room, he saw Saradoc going into one of the chambers, which he thought were empty or only for guests, who were visiting. Were they expecting guests? He was tired, but he also felt very curious. Believing that a quick glance to see what was going on wouldn't do any harm, Frodo tiptoed towards the slightly open door.
He heard Saradoc pacing. His elder cousin sighed and placed something on a table or maybe the nightstand. Frodo wondered what he might be doing and, making one more step, he peeked through the small door-crack.
What he saw took his breath away. There were his parents, lying in the bed side by side. Their faces were white as a sheet, their eyes hollow and their lips were of a bluish colour. His father had a big blood-crusted wound on his temple. His mother's hair was sticky and hung in strands into her face. Even in the flickering light of the candles Saradoc was kindling, their faces didn't regain their colour and the dark hollows of their eyes remained closed, never to open again.
Frodo's eyes flew open wide. He backed away in terror. His mouth opened to cry out but all he could manage was a soft whining. He felt his stomach turning and clenched his scarf tightly as if that could lessen the feeling of sickness.
Saradoc, who had heard someone whimper, looked up to see nobody behind him. He shrugged slightly puzzled and turned his attention to the candles again. But as he heard the moan again he stepped towards the door and opened it.
His eyes fell on the young boy, who was pressing himself against the wall, breathing heavily. The young hobbit was deathly pale and his eyes were fixed on the deathbed of Primula and Drogo.
Frodo wanted desperately to close his eyes, but he could not turn his gaze off them. The image of his dead parents would burn itself into his mind, never to be forgotten anymore.
Saradoc immediately closed the door and kneeled down beside him, whispering a breathless "No!"
Frodo's eyes rolled back as he sank onto his knees. " sick " he whispered voicelessly, but it was already too late. Before Saradoc could do anything, Frodo vomited on the floor. Seeing that he could do nothing to stop it, Saradoc tried to support him and rubbed his back soothingly, while the boy got cramped and retched helplessly.
Finally Frodo went limp and sank into his cousin's arms, bitter tears streaming down his face. They were tears of mourning, desperation and regret. He regretted everything he had done the previous two days. He bemoaned going on that boat tour with his parents, bewailed leaving his mother alone without her promising him that everything would be alright and he regretted being too curious not to just go into his room instead of coming here. Never would he forget what he just saw. This had been the very moment in which it became fully clear to him that they would not return. Never would he go fishing with his father again, never be kissed good night by his mother. He would find no more comfort in their gentle arms, no more happiness in their joyful laughter, no more love in their eyes and every fibre of their beings. Never would their light shine for him again.
Death, sudden darkness; blackness.
"Why did you come here?" Saradoc's voice was full of pity, but Frodo did not hear it. His ears were deaf, his eyes unseeing. He was swallowed by grief
Gently Saradoc lifted the weeping child up and carried him into his room, where Esmeralda took care of him once more.
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.