Threshold: 1. Just Two Friends

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1. Just Two Friends

Threshold ~ by Mechtild

(A work in progress.)

Introductory notes.

First, an apology for tardiness. I am a very laborious, niggly sort of fiction writer. Chs. 1 - 6 of this fic were first posted at Frodo's Harem Archives in mid-July 2003. New chapters were added fairly steadily the following year, with Ch. 12 posted August 4, 2005. I apologize for my slowness since then. I realise ten months is a long time to wait for two new chapters!


On geography:
For imagining the lands and habitations of the Shire I have used The Atlas of Middle-Earth, by Karen Wynn Fonstad and, to a lesser degree, Journeys of Frodo, by Barbara Strachey. Not having seen it until after I had written a 100,000 words, I was not able to use any of the wonderfully-imagined Shire maps of Tom Maringer, which differ from my sources in many details.

On fidelity to canon:
This story has been set in Tolkien’s canon universe but the relationship which it portrays is not. Frodo had no such affair. It is only imagined. The original main characters have been developed from brief mentions in the text or have been created from names in the family trees. Intentional departures from canon are few; these are noted at the end of the Main Chapter Listing.

On age equivalencies between hobbits and humans:
Tolkien specified 33 as the year of a hobbit’s “coming of age.” For the purposes of this story I have let 33 hobbit years equal 21 human years. Using the ratio 33 = 21, I roughly calculated age equivalencies for my hobbit characters.

A 12 year-old Frodo (at his orphaning) could be compared to a 7-8 year-old human child. Frodo at 21 (newly arrived at Bag End), would have just entered his “tweens,” which are comparable to a human’s adolescence. Frodo, at a hobbit’s 28 would compare with a 17-18 year-old human, sexually mature but not yet considered a full adult. At 53 (sailing from the Grey Havens), Frodo would still have been relatively young for a hobbit, like a human in his early thirties.

Based on dates in the family trees, hobbits seem to beget their children in their late thirties, forties and fifties, for women; later still in men. Old age seems to proceed more quickly, though, judging from death dates in the trees. Hobbits typically die by the time they are 100, but, using the ration of 33=21, they would only be in their late sixties. The Shire does not have modern medicine, so perhaps that is about right. Yet, even centuries ago, only a human who lived into his 90’s or reached 100 would be considered exceptionally old. Bilbo, at 130 would only be in his 80’s using my formula. It must be supposed, then, that hobbits age at a faster rate once they reach old age.

So that readers might be warned, I have listed the chapters below with suggested ratings.


1 – Just Two Friends – mild Mature
2 – A Kettle Simmers – Mature
3 – Keeping the Lid On – mild Mature
4 – Revelations of a Summer’s Night – mild Mature
5 – The Girding of Loins – Mature
6 – Stepping Over the Threshold – Adult
7 – Unveilings – Adult
8 – The Rising of Bread – Adult
9 – A Delivery of Cherries – Adult
10 – The Truth Will Out – Mature
11 – The Fire Upon the Hearth – Adult
12 – In the Morning Light – Adult
13 – The Hay-cut – mild Mature

* * *

Chapter One ~ Just Two Friends.

Summer of 1380 ~ Buckland .

Upon the grounds of Brandy Hall, on the banks of the river Brandywine, a large summer get-together hosted by the Brandybucks was winding down for the day, after a luncheon followed by games for the children. The afternoon had become a very warm one. The nursemaids and mothers were suckling their infants or putting the littlest down for their naps, wherever they might find a shady spot. Some found places under the trees. Others withdrew to the many porches and nooks in the ramble of interconnected holes that formed the Hall.

The older children who weren’t still looking for play were feeling the lethargy of heat and still-full bellies. Frodo Baggins was one of these. Flinging themselves down here and there, they drowsed against free bosoms and nestled into the crooks of arms, making the mothers uncomfortable with their hot little bodies, damp from racing round and round the tables still set up under the trees.

The afternoon was rich, contented, drowsy. The sun was lower now, the scattered trees casting long shadows up the banked lawns that rose from the river’s edge to the feet of the Hall. The light from the westering sun shimmered on the river’s surface.

Rosamunda Bolger watched the light through overhanging leaves, sitting propped against the bole of a great tree. She heard the drone of insects, the murmur of faltering conversations and the trailing off of stories, the sounds of other sleepers breathing and the soft suckling and fretting noises of babies being settled.

While his mother and father had gone off boating, Frodo had stayed upon the grounds to play with the other children who were there. His parents had sought the cool and quiet that could be had beneath the willows that overhung the nearer shore. Such a clamour and a clatter did a Brandybuck luncheon make! Frodo would be fine, one lad among so many. Some peace – and privacy – might be theirs, if only for an hour or two.

Frodo, dreamy and sleepy, had nestled in beside Rosamunda next to baby Fredegar, who was still nursing. Freddy had been making her warm enough but now Frodo, tucked up tight against her, was making her sweat. She could feel the perspiration gathering at her temples and on the top of her lip; it trickled down between her breasts. She wished she had a clean handkerchief to hand (Freddy had spoiled the one she’d had), but she had not. She used her sleeve and let the sleeping child be.

She did not really know him or his parents – not well – only as casual acquaintances, distantly related, whom she had seen several times at the Hall. She gazed down at him over Freddy’s round head as the baby finished up in stops and starts. The lad was breathing softly, his small chest rising and falling under his play-stained shirt. His eyes, beneath white lids delicately scrolled with faint blue veining, moved and slid beneath them in some dream-state, fanning the lash-wings over his cheeks. Pale he was – paler still against the darker dome of Freddy’s head which, now he was sated, lolled away from the breast. She thought him very beautiful.

All around them recumbent children dozed.

Gazing down towards the river, trying to fend off sleep, Rosamunda saw men approaching, their faces grave, as if looking for something or someone. They moved in her direction. They stopped before her, stared at the sleeping child and hesitated. Then one stooped over her to whisper the awful news: Dead. Drowned. Both.

Restraining a reflexive jolt, Rosamunda did not move but continued to stroke the damp hair from the sleeping child’s forehead with a steady, soothing rhythm. Let him sleep for now; greedy death can wait another hour.

* * *

1380 – 1389 ~ Buckland and Budgeford.

In the ensuing days, by mutual consent Frodo was left where he had become most comfortable, which was in the warmth of the Bolger circle: Rosamunda, Odovacar and baby Freddy. Odovacar was a tiny bit miffed at being landed with yet another child to claim his young wife’s attention. But, for the moment, he beheld the three of them there, settled into the couch in the Bolger’s guest room at the Hall. He warmed to the picture they made: the orphan’s eyes focused somewhere far off, his pale cheek flushed against the heat of his wife’s side; her fingers threaded loosely through the lad’s looping curls while baby Freddy suckled, nestled in the crook of her other arm.

Though it warmed him, Odovacar wished the boys away. They should engage a nurse. But Odovacar, a good-humoured, generous-spirited hobbit, was able to put any pangs of displacement aside. After all, it was only temporary.

Arrangements were made for Frodo to stay on in Buckland, to be reared in the Brandybuck family as their ward unless another relative more suitable should come forward. But none did.

The Bolgers at last readied themselves to leave. They had made their general good-byes, but reserved an especially warm one for Frodo. As she bent to kiss him, Rosamunda caught the wistful look in the boy's eyes. The baby had begun to fret so she straightened up and began to quiet him. In between her soft cooings and cluckings she assured Frodo, "We shall see one another again soon, Frodo. You will see."

Odovacar, stooping down, gave him a smile and a friendly pat, adding, "That is so! We'll be back to visit in a month or two. In the meantime, you must come to visit us. Would you like that?"

Frodo shifted from foot to foot, but a smile peeped out as he shyly answered, "Yes, thank you, sir. I should like that very much."

They might have lingered, standing there, but baby Freddy began to fret in earnest. With a wave and a smile, the little family walked away.

The Bolgers returned to their home in tiny Budgeford, about ten miles away on the western side of the Brandywine, up from Whitfurrows. “Shady Bank,” it was called; dug into the steep-sloping northern bank of the Water. Snug and dry, it was nicely appointed. It was not a big place, but it suited a smaller family well. The gardens were poor, sadly, because of all the trees in which it was nearly hidden. But, situated not far from the East Road and close to the Bridge, it was convenient for visitors dropping by as they travelled to and fro.

* * *

After the time of his parents’ drowning Frodo discovered a sensate comfort and pleasure in the company of the Bolgers which he found nowhere else. He did not confuse them with his parents, whom he continued to miss though less keenly as time passed. He was content to call them, “Auntie Rosa” and “Uncle Odo,” though he knew they weren't. But they undoubtedly made him feel welcome in their midst. His artless enjoyment in their company and his unreserved appreciation endeared him to them in return.

While he lived in Buckland, Frodo visited the Bolgers at Shady Bank out of the bond that had been formed in just those few days following his parents’ death, especially in the first few years. Brandybuck relations would bring him along when they paid a call in Budgeford.

Rosamunda invited and encouraged Frodo to take part in the little family’s life when he was there by helping – especially since her son was still too young to make him any sort of playfellow. But even when visitors brought other children along, Frodo usually preferred to be with Rosamunda and Freddy and, later, Estella. She let him help care for the babies, which he enjoyed very much. He helped bathe or clothe them; he gave them their food or saw to their amusements. When they became older, he might help them with their lessons. He had no siblings of his own to care for. It was simply pleasurable to hold the babies – and amusing.

When they returned to Budgeford after his parents’ drownings, the Bolgers engaged a nurse as Odovacar had wished. Although Rosamunda protested that she wanted to care for them herself, Pansy provided a welcome relief. A local hobbit woman whose own children were grown, Pansy had plenty of experience, as well as earthy good-humour.

At the end of the spring, baby Freddy was almost a year old. Rosamunda was preparing him for his bath, while Pansy saw to the water and towels. Frodo was invited to help, which he was pleased to do. He watched while she hoisted the big, naked baby onto a mat upon the table.

"Now, you hold him steady, Frodo," she instructed. "Yes, just like that." He stood by earnestly, holding the baby firmly. "We don't want him rolling off onto the floor, do we?"

Rosamunda turned away to Pansy, who was lifting the kettle of heated water, but upon her turning back, the sight of Frodo’s shock and dismay as a pale yellow stream arched high into the air and onto his sleeve almost undid her. Quickly she threw him a towel. “Put this on top!” she said, struggling to suppress her mirth.

Pansy's mirth was not to be contained. The nurse laughed and snorted at the sight of Frodo's shocked face.

“It's not funny!” Frodo declared, taking umbrage. His face displayed the affront he felt.

"Oh, come, Frodo-lad!" Pansy guffawed between snorts of mirth, "You made plenty of little fountains of your own when you were baby, I'll wager!"

Frodo turned his chagrined face to Rosa's, seeking support, but the sight of the corners of her mouth creeping up proved too contagious. His mouth quivered; the frown became a smile, which became a grin, until he broke into open peals of laughter.

Once the giggles had subsided, Rosa saw that Frodo had continued to fret silently, sniffing at his damp sleeve.

“Oh, give it to me, then,” she relented, stripping it off him. "We'll rinse it out," she said, handing it to Pansy.

Frodo continued dutifully to hold the baby steady (making sure the towel was firmly in place in case there should be any further waterworks). Although the weather outside was very fine, it must have been a bit chilly in the house. He hadn’t complained, but Rosamunda could see his white skin was stippled with goose pimples. From a stack of folded laundry, she snapped open one of Odovacar’s shirts. “You’ll not fit into anything of Freddy’s. This will have to do, I'm afraid. Go ahead and put it on, Frodo.”

She lifted the baby into the basin, leaving Frodo free to pull on the shirt on. Its sleeves and hem dangled nearly to the floor. He looked quite comical, but she restrained her mirth, and Pansy managed (with effort) to follow the example of her mistress.

Rosamunda glanced at him from time to time as he stood gravely by, while she laved her son. Pansy watched him, too. She beamed at him, saying, "I think you’ll fill out a grown hobbit's shirt very nicely, Master Frodo, when you are grown!"

Frodo's cheeks pinked with pleasure and his little chest expanded, as if already imagining the transformation. He decided he liked Pansy very much better. Then his attention returned to the source of his wetting as he gazed at the baby in the bath. Frodo wondered if he had made a fountain on his mother’s sleeve. A smile – but then a shadow – passed over his face. Only for a moment, though, and he returned his attention to Freddy in the basin, rapt at the sight of Rosamunda’s hands moving over the body of her son, dark over light.

* * *

Rosamunda observed how well Frodo did with Freddy, as he did with Estella when she came. She thought he would make a fine father some day and told him so. These encouragements and shows of confidence always inspired in Frodo visible pleasure.

Not all his visits were spent indoors. With Pansy helping, Rosamunda again had time for long walks and talks, and other pleasures, too. Odovacar, too, was very glad he had insisted on securing the woman. If not for Rosa, he was glad for himself. When Freddy was old enough to run about, Pansy would take him out to play (and Frodo, too if he was there). Odovacar would take his wife inside, to bed.

After those first years Frodo still came to visit Shady Bank, though not as frequently, and he saw the Bolgers each time they came to Buckland. It was far enough away for an overnight invitation to be very welcome, but close enough to make the journey a frequent one. The Bolgers came to all the large Brandybuck events, such as the feasts of Yule and Lithe, except when they went to Great Smials, instead. They were visiting at the Hall when Frodo's “uncle” Bilbo Baggins arrived for one of his brief but highly anticipated visits.

Bilbo actually was Frodo's cousin but very much removed in age. He enjoyed a very colourful reputation in the Shire, based upon his famous exploits in foreign parts some fifty years back. He was reputed to be nearly one hundred, although he appeared to be much younger. Some said his perpetual youth was due the breath of the dragon he had faced in the distant east. Others said it was the dragon's treasure, exuding magical powers from within the cellars of his spacious hole in Hobbiton. There, at Bag End, he continued to live alone, a bachelor. But of these things none spoke; at least, not openly.

Rosamunda had been charmed by Bilbo and his tales since childhood, for he often had visited in Tookland where she had grown up. Odovacar knew him less well but warmed to the elder hobbit's lively manner. Pansy was too much in awe of Bilbo to feel quite comfortable in his presence.

Appearing at the door of the Bolgers’ guest rooms, Frodo rushed in with Bilbo in tow, eager to display the wonder that he held – a real shell from the Sea.

"Look! Do you see? Gandalf brought it all the way from Rivendell! Lord Elrond sent it as a gift – a gift to Bilbo!" Breathlessly, Frodo related what Bilbo had told him as the two had made their way to the Bolgers’ rooms. "Bilbo says they have ever so many there! Some come all the way from Elvenhome across the Sea!"

Bilbo, from behind his nephew, added self-effacingly, "This is not one of those, I think. This one comes from our side of the Sea, near the Grey Havens, I imagine. Still, it is a very beautiful gift – and beautifully meant."

" ‘A memento for you, Bilbo,’ Gandalf said to Uncle," Frodo told them, referring to Bilbo as he spoke the unfamiliar word, "‘A token that you shall be ever welcome in Imladris.’" Frodo turned to the Bolgers and beamed, "Bilbo says that I may keep it in my room while he is here."

The older Baggins smiled affectionately at the lad's excitement. He had watched the way Frodo had been drawn to the shell from his first sight of it, admiring its beautiful form and colours. Brushing his fingertips over its fine-grained sides with near-reverent care, Frodo had savoured its softness. Then he had smoothed them around the glossy places where the shell curled inside itself. Bilbo could see how the boy loved its colour, turning it in his hands to see how it changed from purest white to pink then rose, stained deepest where it curved in and sank from sight. Then he had held it up to the light and turned it to and fro, as if hoping to see through it.

"Perhaps the Sea sound comes from just behind here," Frodo had wondered aloud, peering again into its opening and trying to reach inside with his fingers. But try as he might, Frodo could not touch the hidden chamber he imagined.

"I am afraid there's nothing to touch, Frodo, my lad. There is no real ‘inside,’ not the way you are thinking of it," Bilbo told him after watching several vain attempts. "I've seen one shorn in two. Its sides wind round and round until they reach their own beginning. Like this –"

Bilbo drew a spiral shape in the air, to demonstrate.

"Then where does the sound come from, Uncle?"

"Alas, I do not know," Bilbo confessed to Frodo’s obvious dissatisfaction.

Now, in the Bolger's midst, Frodo showed it round, letting each hold it in turn, cautioning them to be very careful. "Listen like this," he demonstrated, sliding the shell up under his hair and holding it over his ear. "There is a noise in it. Gandalf says it is very like the Sea…."

Each obliged, holding the shell as instructed, even Pansy. But when Estella stretched out her little hands, Frodo pulled it away. The baby screwed up her face to wail, but Rosamunda hastily intervened.

"Perhaps, Frodo," Rosamunda suggested diplomatically, "you might hold your hands under Estella's. That way you could be sure to catch the shell if she should let it go." Her face bore a look of gracious entreaty.

Frodo hesitated, his eyebrows knitting into a thoughtful scowl. He could see they had braced themselves, waiting for Estella's storm to break. He took a breath. Very well, he would trust her.

"I suppose that will be all right," Frodo conceded. All around him he heard suppressed exhalations of relief.

He handed the shell to his uncle and, carefully spreading his fingers under Estella's, Frodo waited while Bilbo placed the shell into the nest he had made. Then, cupping his hands around the baby's, the treasure was shared without tumult.

* * *

The Brandybucks were very good to Frodo while he lived at the Hall, and he was grateful for their outgoing hospitality. It was there that Meriadoc Brandybuck, their only child and heir, became fast friends with Fredegar, only two years older. Both of the little hobbit lads trailed after Frodo. While he often found it annoying, he also was pleased to be so singled out.

Yet, although the Brandybucks cared for him, and he for them, Frodo did not feel as if he were one of their own. Their society was boisterous and their numbers large. It was in the much smaller family circle of the Bolgers that he enjoyed a bit of what he still missed: an affection that was meant just for him. Among the children at the Hall there were hugs and smacking kisses, giggling games of sexual exploration and much rough-and-tumble play. But there was not the tender, particular regard that he observed and enjoyed within the intimate circle of the Bolger family. In their company, he basked in the reflected warmth of their mutual affection.

At Shady Bank, Frodo loved to watch Rosamunda and Odovacar together, displaying all the little marks of tenderness that pass between a loving hobbit and his wife. Lightly she would touch her husband's arm or smooth his hair while she made a point. She would rest her cheek upon his shoulder as they sat and talked. He might stand with his arm around her waist while she worked in her kitchen – to talk or to steal a laughing kiss. Often, they held hands when they walked. At the Hall, Aunt Esmeralda and Uncle Saradoc were far more formal, even distant, with each other – at least when he was present.

He loved to watch Odovacar hoist Freddy up and toss him up high, or dandle Estella (when she came) upon his knee, cooing silly talk into her ear to make her giggle. Frodo was too big to toss or dandle himself, but the older hobbit would clap a friendly hand upon his shoulder or pull him close for a gruff hug. Odovacar would join the children in their rowdy games upon the shady green that edged their Budgeford home, allowing them to clamber over him and spoil his clothes.

But most of all, Frodo loved to watch Rosamunda with her children; embracing them, or simply offering a light touch of her fingers to guide them as they went.

When she touched Frodo, placing a hand on his arm or washing a scraped knee, he loved to observe the sight of her long, shapely fingers upon his own skin. Like a bird’s tawny wing spreading over its white side they seemed to him. Burnished-brown moving over white, her fingers hovered then alighted. Engrossed, Frodo would forget his pain for the moment.

* * *

1389 ~ Hobbiton.

Nine years from the time his parents died, Frodo was taken to live in the West Farthing at Bag End, his cousin’s well-appointed hole in Hobbiton. Bilbo Baggins had stepped forward and made Frodo his heir. Frodo was nearly twenty-one, and one year into his ‘tweens. Frodo continued to visit Buckland, although not as often as he would like. It was nearly fifty miles. Their day journeys were made on foot, but visits to the Brandybucks required another form of conveyance. Bilbo kept a trap at the Cotton’s, from whom he hired a pony when he wished to use it. During their visits to the Hall, Frodo continued to be the favourite of little Merry and Freddy, which he very much enjoyed.

But although he missed his Buckland friends, Frodo quickly settled into his new life in Hobbiton with Bilbo. He liked the quiet, as well as the particular attention he received there. Neither was he bereft of friends. Right away, Bilbo had invited the Boffin lads from nearby Underhill to come and meet his new companion.

The Boffins owned a very large farm, keeping flocks of sheep which they grazed on the outlying lands. Their orchards were renowned, as well their honey and preserves; their dairy cows and goats produced rich butter and cheese, and their chickens and geese laid golden-yolked eggs. Ten years older than Frodo, Folco was much further along in his 'tweens, yet he took the new lad under his wing, showing him all the points of interest that only another child would know, as well as recommending Frodo to his own circle of friends.

Frodo's closest companion in Hobbiton, however, remained Bilbo himself, although he was so much older than his younger cousin. He always spoke to Frodo as his equal in understanding, yet Frodo still had much to learn. Bilbo's knowledge was very great and he was eager to share it. He not only knew about things which Frodo might expect to learn, he knew about very much more besides. He knew about and even consorted with Elves and Dwarves. Dwarves had visited Bag End itself, as Frodo had heard from all the tales. And Frodo met at last the wizard Gandalf, notorious and bold – or so Frodo had heard from Bilbo’s thrilling tales.

Gandalf had brought gifts and delicacies from Rivendell, but Frodo must be patient. Bilbo began to shoo him out so that he might have a closeted talk with the wizard, but Gandalf touched Frodo’s shoulder and smiled. Plucking a sweet from a beautiful casket, he said, "Here, take it, Frodo. These are from the Elves, you know!"

Frodo, awed, managed to stammer his gratitude. The sweet had been extremely delicious.

It was at about this time that Frodo started to keep his own journal. Bilbo was not only a scholar but a chronicler, keeping histories in books, recording what he'd learned. They contained pictures he had drawn, as well as charts and maps. Frodo admired these exceedingly and wished to make the same for himself. Bilbo gave him a notebook – very nice – much too nice for a boy, some would say (and did). It had a fine cover, too; oxblood red and smooth under his touch – and the blank pages were creamy and rich. Rainy days, which had been a bane in Buckland, became a pleasure in Hobbiton; days full of reading and working on their books.

When the weather was fine, Bilbo went tramping. He took Frodo with him, who would canter ahead and bring back reports of the lay of the land. Bilbo carried their books. Together they would settle to write and sketch the things that caught their eye. Bilbo preferred rocky outcroppings, a blasted tree, or a ruined gate. Frodo preferred things that lived.

“That’s a fine bird!” Bilbo would say, “You’ve a keen eye, Frodo. The pinions are rendered exceedingly well! Your eye for detail really is quite good.”

Frodo would blush – always a clear sign of his pleasure – it bloomed under the very fair skin, passed down from some remote Took.

“Now, what is it called? And what are its characteristics? Write it down. I know you can see, but how is your thinking? That is always good to develop, as well.”

Frodo carefully would enter the text. He loved his journals. In fact, he loved his books, all of them.

* * *

The Bolgers would visit in Hobbiton when on their way west to see Rosamunda’s relations in Tookland. Her father, Sigismond, had been born the same year as Bilbo, but there was no dragon magic for him to keep him young. At ninety-nine, he had become quite frail. Rosamunda knew her opportunities to see him were not unlimited.

When they made these visits, at Bilbo’s invitation they would break their journey at Bag End. There, Rosamunda and Bilbo got on very well. With interests in common and a mutual liking, they had been easy company for each other from the time of her girlhood. She even enjoyed Bilbo's books, which was not common amongst her kin, but only the pictures, charts and maps. These she pored over with great interest, asking questions as she turned the leaves. As for his books of tales, she much preferred one told round a fire to one read in a book. He had tried lending her small volumes of tales when visiting the Smials. He would think, “Perhaps this one might be the one to entice her?” But she was not enticed. Eventually, shame-faced, she would return them, one by one, unread.

Except for her not enjoying reading, Rosamunda was the sort of young woman Bilbo truly liked: intelligent, good-humoured and frank. Once she’d grown up, Bilbo had appreciated what other hobbits saw in her, but he never saw fit to act upon it himself. He had done with his little flings. He did not mean to marry, and was not a person to lead others to expect that he might. In his long experience it was far better to be friends. The fellow she had married, Odovacar Bolger, would do very well for her. He had thought so from the first. Odovacar was not a thinker, but he was a pleasant fellow and clever, with a ready wit (if a little coarse). And his way with hobbit women was well known. Although folk snickered at it, his prowess had been widely envied.
Yes, they would do very well.

As for himself, however youthful he might look, most folk would say that he really was too old.

Alas, too true, Bilbo thought ruefully.

* * *

1390 ~ Tookland and Hobbiton.

The Bolgers returned increasingly to Tookland so that Rosamunda might see her father. Not quite one hundred years old, Sigismond was failing fast. As he worsened, they might stop at Bag End for only an hour or two, for the comfort of the children. Then they sped on to the family home. Westward it was, out past Waymeet, then south toward Whitwell, tucked into grasslands and fields where it sheltered under a copse, not too far from Great Smials. Rosamunda’s gentle, melancholy father had continued there alone these many years with the help of a hobbit woman from Tuckborough (secured with the help of Eglantine Took, the wife of her second cousin Paladin). Now, Rosamunda's younger brother Ferdinand had moved in to help, with his wife and new baby. As her father worsened, Rosamunda turned the supervision of her children over to others at the much larger Smials. With her children entertained elsewhere, she was better able to tend her father’s needs.

Odovacar would bring his family into Tookland and collect them afterwards, but he did not stay long with Rosamunda at her father’s. He heard the concerns of tenants that lived in holdings in the area, but, primarily, he came to join the Tooks in hunting. Many of the Tooks were keen for hunting, both for the sport and for the needs of the table. The forests and uplands of the Green Hills (where they made their homes) still teemed with game. Odovacar was good with a bow and enjoyed using it, having hunted from youth with his father and uncles and then with his friends. Off hunting, he left Rosamunda to care for her father. Such tasks were best left to women.

At Great Smials, there were plenty of children for Freddy and Estella to play with. Among Paladin and Eglantine’s own children, Pimpernel and Pervinca were close to them in age. The Took’s eldest child was Pearl. She was then fifteen and promised to be very lovely (if only to look at). Although she had enjoyed caring for her younger sisters when they were babies, she would not play willingly with them after that. Pippin, their only son, was born that year. Curiously, even though he was an infant, Pearl thought him a detestable brat.

It was the Took children who began to call Fredegar, “Fatty.” The name stuck. But, as good-natured as his father, ‘Fatty’ did not seem to mind. A roly-poly baby, he’d become a stout child – though not enough to slow him down at play. He was stout of body, but also of heart, willing to match their challenges. The other children respected him for it.

* * *

When her father was clearly dying, Rosamunda began to feel resentful and uneasy. She hated what time had done to him. Not only was her father being ravaged by age and illness, Odovacar had begun to seem older to her, too.

Although he was twenty-five years her senior, she and Odovacar always had enjoyed their married life to the full. When Rosamunda had married him, having just come of age, he had been an “older man” – a very attractive one, fully in his prime. He had impressed her; he was strapping and witty, handsome and rosy-cheeked. He loved good food, good drink and good company. And, although very astute in business dealings, he was open-hearted and generous. He sparkled in company, being much inclined to mirth.

She had known (as had most of the Shire) that he had loved frolicking in his youth (and not only with the lasses). But he seemed truly enamoured of Rosamunda. Once married, he schooled her in all he had learnt, and she was an apt pupil. To her knowledge, he had never strayed from her.

Before he had courted her, Rosamunda had been offered fumbling, artless kisses by her peers who pushed their hands up under her skirts, only to be slapped away. None of them offered what she had experienced with Odovacar. From the first stolen kisses outside the door of her parents’ home, his sensuality had been unmistakable. Her father had had the eyes to see that it would be unwise to insist upon a long engagement.

But now Odovacar, who was only seventy, was showing signs of age. In the evenings she might find him asleep in front of the fire when she had finished with the children – the time when they usually relaxed together and talked, readying themselves for making love. Their night pleasures yet remained, but less energetic and frequent than they had been.

He was tiring more easily on their rambles together, too – long one of their mutual enjoyments. Primarily, it hurt her to notice the colour beginning to fade from his cheeks. His skin had begun to loosen from the shrinking flesh beneath, cheeks just recently as bright and round as apples. His sparkling, merry eyes, too, had lost a little of their brilliance. His bodily strength, by which even this last year he could have swung her around till she was dizzy, or toss a hefty Fredegar high into the air, seemed diminished. When he thought no one was looking, he stooped.

Passing back through Hobbiton, the Bolgers stopped again at Bag End. A dinner party had been planned. Relieved that they were only four among many others, after dinner Rosamunda settled back to listen to Bilbo’s latest tales of meeting up with Gandalf and their Elvish friends. She had always loved to hear such stories, particularly of the beautiful, immortal Elves. But in the firelight, watching Bilbo vigorously holding forth, everyone’s attention rapt and their faces full of wonder, she thought of the skeletal father she had just left. She stole a glance at the face of her husband. He looked somewhat haggard in repose, now that he had set aside his show of cheer.

The Elves and their immortality, she thought with sudden bitterness. The unfairness of it chafed her.

* * *

1391, Midwinter ~ Tookland and Bag End.

Rosamunda’s father died soon after. The Bolgers returned to Tookland that she might see to his burial, helped by her brother Ferdinand. It was agreed between them that her brother would stay on at the family home. The Bolger residence in Budgeford now was her home, she assured him, and Freddy would inherit it one day. She wanted only a few cherished pieces of furniture which had belonged to her mother, especially the great bed in which she had been born and in which her mother died.

At the Smials, Eglantine sent a matron to help Rosamunda lay her father out, bringing her water, hot and cold, beyond what she might have needed as a guest. Together they stretched his body upon a table borrowed from the kitchens. Her father still was tall but very gaunt. As Rosamunda swabbed him down, the Took matron brought her anything she needed. She should have been ashamed, she thought, seeing him so. But she wasn’t. She thought as she washed his body, Here is he who loved my mother, the father who made me. And now he is gone, gone forever. It pained her, just the thought: both her parents now were dead.

Rosamunda and the children returned to Budgeford; Odovacar had gone on ahead. Passing through Hobbiton, she was in no mood to stop. From the pony trap she looked down at Bilbo standing outside his gate with Frodo, ready to welcome them in. She did not get down.

“Won’t you stay, Rosa? Perhaps a pot of tea, then – and some refreshments for the children. They would like to stretch their legs, at least,” he urged solicitously.

Bilbo ought to look as her father did, old and diminished, she thought as she observed him from the seat. They had been born the same year. But the Bilbo Baggins seemed aglow with his unnatural youth.

Unnatural, she brooded inwardly.

She looked at Frodo and his dewy beauty. It would not last, not even his, she thought darkly. He had better make use of it while he had it. No, she would not stay.

Her children were disappointed at the briefness of the meeting but refrained from making any protest. Estella and Freddy had never seen their mother in such a mood.

Then, with a flick of the reins the trap lurched forward and the Bolgers were gone.

Bilbo turned to Frodo with a brusque word of consolation.

“She is upset; she is not herself, my lad,” he said, putting her distant mood and cold behaviour down to agitation and grief from the recent loss.

But Frodo was truly hurt. He had wanted to say something; anything to make her look on him with friendliness, but she had gone so quickly, he could not. Miserably he thought, Auntie did not even know me!

“Come on, then. Let’s have the tea ourselves,” Bilbo, said. Taking Frodo’s arm, he drew him inside.

* * *

1391-1394 ~ Budgeford and Buckland.

The coming of spring proved irresistible and Rosamunda’s dark mood passed. When Frodo came from Hobbiton for his long visits to Buckland, the two Bagginses would stop in Budgeford on their way, enjoying the Bolgers’ hospitality. As Freddy got older, he began to ride on with them, staying at the Hall while Frodo was there. Estella, dismayed, was left behind at Shady Bank.

Since they only saw Frodo periodically the Bolgers could see every change in him as he grew out of boyhood. He enjoyed their remarks and words of affirmation; even Pansy’s and Odovacar’s bawdy jokes, although he pretended he did not. The idea of becoming a grown hobbit excited him, but some childhood games were difficult to leave behind.

Long now had Frodo delighted in creeping up behind Pansy or Rosamunda, throwing his arms about their waists to pull them close for a laughing embrace. Rosamunda would shoo him away with a show of annoyance (unfeigned when he truly had startled her) before she would join him in the joke. But Pansy would yelp with delighted laughter and capture his wrists in her plump grip, smothering him with noisy kisses that sent him into fits of giggles.

"You'd best not try that again, Master Frodo," she would caution him with a grin, "or I shall drag you off for another dozen!" Frodo, accepting the challenge, would assail her all over again. Each time, Freddy and Estella found this screamingly funny. And so it was.

By that time, Frodo had definitely embarked upon his ‘tweens (if there had been any doubt before). The day came when, creeping up from behind to embrace Pansy as usual, she had laughed but did not kiss him. Frodo was taken a little aback. Holding him away with reddened hands, the old nurse had looked at him, frankly appraising. With a wink and chuckle, she drawled, "I'm thinking you shouldn't be wasting your charms on the likes of me anymore, young master. It's time you were flinging your arms round the lasses – if you've not done so already."

Frodo let her go and blushed furiously, thoroughly abashed.

Pansy relented at once and caught him to her, crushing him in their old embrace.

"There, now," she said, planting a smacking kiss on his cheek. "You're still my best lad! I only meant … you'll want to be spreading your favours about a bit, Master Frodo. Disappointed lasses will be standing on my doorstep, arms akimbo, if you do not."

Frodo's pleasure at the implied praise overpowered any unhappy feelings and a brilliant smile was coaxed from him. Then, with a laugh, he gave Pansy a squeeze and skipped out the door.

Rosamunda did not observe this exchange unmoved. But Pansy was right. Frodo was not the little child he had been.

Once upon a time, the top of Frodo’s head did not reach the middle of her shoulder blades. His arms and hands, flung about her skirts, barely met over her apron. Now, he nearly matched her in height and his hands had long been able to wind around her. You see, Auntie? I am big now, his actions proclaimed. Frodo would show off his growing strength by squeezing her until she demanded release.

Yes, he had grown much too old for this game. What seemed harmless with Pansy did not seem so with her. It made her feel uneasy.

When she allowed it to peek into her mind, the thought would emerge that the sweet, beautiful little lad who had come to them was now a nearly-grown one. She had always treated her young friend with affection, almost like a son. But Frodo was not her son, not really….

However much Rosamunda resisted examining it in depth, she perceived enough to resolve on a change of behaviour. She began, therefore, to nudge Frodo away, but gently, trying not to make him feel rebuffed. She understood how much their little friendship had meant to him. But Frodo was not easy to rebuff. He could be obstinate, even wilful, when something mattered to him. And so he continued to creep up on her and squeeze her breathless.

Then all of a sudden, Rosamunda was reprieved. Frodo had finally become more interested in his peers at the Hall, spending very little of his time at Shady Bank. Together with the older lads, Frodo had begun to tear around Buckland, instead. Their exploits were on the lips of all the adults, who were both amused and irritated. But now that he had gone away, she was annoyed with herself to discover how much she missed his company.

During the next few seasons the cycle of visits and social gatherings continued during which Rosamunda seldom saw Frodo, except at large events when she was visiting in Buckland or the West Farthing. There she would see him from a distance, bantering with friends his own age. She was pleased to see him showing a typical interest in the lasses there assembled. Her anticipated dilemma seemed taken care of; perhaps she had imagined it. Yet, as she observed him more closely, she noted that he had not taken a real fancy to any of these little maids, a fancy which might move him toward forming an attachment (even if an adolescent one). This lack of a strong interest in some particular lass worried her. At the same time, she acknowledged with pain a secret feeling of relief. Bother.

Then Frodo seemed to have had enough of rampaging through the countryside with the lads, and he was again more present with the Bolgers at Shady Bank, though not nearly as much as before. Freddy spent far more time in Buckland now, where there were so many more friends to associate with than in Budgeford. At Brandy Hall, Merry and Freddy still followed Frodo about – or tried to – for they had long ago made of him their “captain.”

Frodo did make a few more efforts to re-establish his affectionate familiarity with Rosamunda. But they were tentatively made and rarely expressed physically. He reserved all of that for Pansy, who still would indulge him with a kiss and an embrace.

This new reserve towards her was a good sign, Rosamunda thought. He clearly was now aware of her gentle attempts to distance him, although he seemed to have no idea why she was doing it. Always he seemed a bit bewildered or vaguely perturbed when they met. But, as she was an adult and he nominally a child, he made the effort and respected her apparent wishes, which was only fit and right.

* * *

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.

Story Information

Author: mechtild

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 07/21/06

Original Post: 07/10/04

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