Threshold: 11. The Truth Will Out, Part One

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11. The Truth Will Out, Part One

Note: Again, this chapter is too long to fit in the allotted block, so it will be divided into a Part One and a Part Two.

Chapter 10 ~ The Truth Will Out

Part One

1400, July 18, just after sunset ~ Hobbiton.

Having first stopped at home to change into dry clothes and fetch a cloak, Frodo arrived at the Ivy Bush to find several patrons idling about in the lane, trying to avoid the puddles left standing in the cobbles from the sudden squall. The sky still threatened rain, but shafts of sunset’s oranges and violets shot through the open places in the roiling canopy. The near sides of buildings were stained with rich colours that shifted with the moving light.

“Did you see that, Frodo? – That pretty bit of a rainbow?”

As he shouted, Odo Proudfoot sloshed the drink about that he had carried out of doors with him. When the inn was bustling, mugs left unattended could be swiftly carried off. Odo’s son, Olo, stood nearby; the patriarch had been a bit tottery of late.

Looking over his shoulder, Frodo saw the clouds beginning to close the gaps through which the vivid light was passing.

“No, Mr. Proudfoot, I’m afraid I didn’t. What a shame!” he said with real regret. “I didn’t think to look behind me, in my hurry coming down,” he explained. Joining the assembled hobbits still gazing into the restless sky, Frodo asked, “Bilbo – is he here, did you notice?”

Frodo had not seen Bilbo at Bag End. The dinner things, however, had been freshly washed and set to drain.

“Indeed, he is!” the elder Proudfoot shouted again. He was a trifle deaf. “He sang a bit and told an admirable tale. He’s quite the storyteller, once he’s up on his feet, your Bilbo. Although I suppose you’ve heard them all before, Frodo. He’s in there deep in talk with the Boffins,” the old hobbit said, gesturing over his shoulder with his mug; “The usual spot.”

Frodo exchanged a few more pleasantries then passed inside. The old oaken door had been propped open to take advantage of the sudden cool the storm had brought. Compared to the freshness and light outside, the inn seemed smoky and dark, but Frodo knew where to look. Inside, Folco hailed him, signalling for Frodo to come and join him.

Their usual spot was snugly situated in a corner; a bench went along both walls. A third bench stood up against a partition of oak which rose half way to the ceiling, partially sequestering the space from the rest of the room.

Folco sat with his back against one wall, Marco with his back to the other. The bench backed by the partition remained empty. Bilbo was sitting in a chair at the end. Puffing on a pipe and waving his mug about, he was finishing up something directed to Marco, the youngest Boffin son, when Frodo arrived. Bilbo waved to a passing lad to fetch Frodo a drink.

Bilbo’s cheeks were very ruddy and his brow damp. “I was just saying, Frodo,” he said, turning to him as Frodo slid along the bench, “we should have a dinner party at Bag End – and soon. Just a few of the younger folk – including me of course! I thought we’d ask the Boffin lads, here – and Rollo, too,” Bilbo said, pausing to turn to Folco and Marco, “if he’s still stopping with you by then – along with his North-Took wife. I’ve not taken a proper look at her since she married him, which was what – ten years ago? Something like that.”

“Eleven, last month,” Marco supplied.

“Tell me again – which one did he end up marrying – Carnelia or Adamantine?”

“Rollo married Tina, the elder,” Folco answered. Before he went on, he had to lean closer to make himself heard over a burst of laughter from the other side of the partition.

“Rollo and Tina’s children are here with them, of course. But there will be an awful din if they should be brought along to dinner, Bilbo. Mum and Dad can look after them for the night.”

“I take no notice of the sort of rumpus lads and lasses make,” Bilbo protested genially.

However, even easygoing Marco agreed – such little children were best left to Grandad and Nana.

Bilbo acquiesced.

“Tina …. I recall her, now,” Bilbo said, narrowing his eyes, remembering. “Tall – and very flaxen-haired, wasn’t she – even for a Took? A bit on the willowy side, though. She didn’t look at all the sort for child-bearing. But four children in just ten years!” Bilbo’s brows lifted into the curls clinging here and there to his damp brow.

“You’ll have a lot of catching up to do, Folco,” Bilbo laughed boisterously, “once Delphie comes of age.” With a wink, he took another swig.

Folco had been courting Delphinium Brockhouse for several years, a Hobbiton lass who was about a year younger than Frodo. The courtship was unofficial, due to her age, but everyone knew of it. A large Boffin wedding was widely and eagerly anticipated once Delphie’s 33rd birthday had passed. Some hobbits, however, wondered behind their hands whether the wedding could be put off that long. The Boffin lads were very nearly as bad as the Bolgers, in that way. Folco must be getting very impatient, many snickered. At least, he looked it.

“Well, Folco, I shall tell you what,” Bilbo proposed, beaming beneficently. “We shall invite Delphinium to join us, too – so as not to waste any opportunity to strengthen your suit. Oh, don’t look like that! I shall invite her dullard brothers, too, for the sake of appearances.”

Bilbo’s eye was exceedingly merry.

Delphinium’s brothers, named for the founding heroes of the Shire, Marcho and Blanco, bore little resemblance to their illustrious namesakes, although they were amiable chaps.

“It will depend on the weather, Bilbo,” Folco answered thoughtfully. “As soon as this weather clears and things dry out a bit, they’ll be cutting the hay, down in the South Farthing – then it will be our turn. But when the South is ready, Delphie’s brothers will be going down to help the cousins. They may be dullards, but they are fit.”

“Quite right. Quite right. Her mother’s folk have quite a lot under cultivation down there, do they not? Yet, I am betting Marcho and Blanco will be back in time to help you out up here, Folco.”

Bilbo turned to Frodo, then, who had been thinking of other things.

“I expect you’ll be lending a hand at the Boffins, too, won’t you Frodo?”

Frodo loathed cutting hay, but he sat up and nodded vigorously, as if signalling his enthusiastic assent.

Every hand was needed during the cut; Frodo always felt obliged to pitch in.

“Well,” Bilbo continued, “if the weather continues dismal and soggy, we shall have our dinner party straight away. Otherwise, it must wait till after the hay-cutting.”

Everyone showed their approval of this plan by raising their mugs to their lips, then Bilbo struck up the conversation again.

“I am thinking we should invite our old friend, but newest neighbour; Rosamunda Bolger. What do you think, Frodo?”

Frodo, choking on his ale, sputtered some down his waistcoat and shirt. Thankfully, Bilbo had already moved on ahead and was holding forth with such zest, nobody had noticed.

“She will not feel too out of place, among so many young folk. Rollo is not much younger than Mrs. Bolger, is he, Folco?” Bilbo went on to ask. Not waiting for an answer he added with a naughty twinkle, “If I recall, Rollo was extremely taken with Mistress Rosamunda once upon a time – when he was a pining ‘tween and she still a Miss Took. Was that not the way of it, Folco?”

Folco, his mouth full of good ale, could only nod his affirmation, but rolled his eyes for emphasis.

Bilbo’s grin was almost wicked, Frodo thought. Still working on his first mug, Frodo had been listening contentedly, but now, he could have kicked Bilbo under the table.

“Well, that’s all over and done with, surely, after all these years,” Bilbo said with a gesture of dismissal. “I am confident the two of them shall get on very well, when they meet again – you will see.” Brightly he concluded, “And so shall we!”

Having talked himself dry, Bilbo took the opportunity to drain the last of his mug. In the ensuing lull, the talk from the table on the other side of the partition could suddenly be heard quite clearly.

Glad of the reprieve, Frodo was pleased to identify the voices as those of the Gamgees.

A very deep voice, that of Gaffer Gamgee, was suddenly lifted over the din of the main room as he hallooed his youngest son, booming out, “And mind you ask for some of those crispy tater bits, Samwise – a great platter full!”

Frodo seized his opportunity; twisting round and clambering up onto the bench he leaned over the top of the much-scored oaken panel to hail their gardener and his sons.

"Good evening, Mr. Gamgee! Good evening, Hal! We’re just on the other side, here. Won't you join us for a round or two?"

The eldest Gamgee, looking about him, quickly identified the source of this cheerful invitation. His craggy smile spoke hearty assent to the youthful one that beamed at him over the top of the darkened rail.

"Much obliged, young Master Baggins!" the Gaffer cried out.

Up he heaved, both knobby-fingered hands pressing against the table for leverage. He was inclined to bouts of stiffness from his years of stooping and bending.

“Samwise!” he shouted to the bar. “We’re over in the corner, now, mind you!”

It appeared that the Gaffer was already a round or two ahead of Bilbo and his party, judging from the loudness of his usually subdued speech. Motioning broadly, the gardener summoned his middle son, Halfred. Hal was a year younger than Frodo, but already he looked even older than Folco. Work and responsibility had matured him early. He, like his elder brother Ham, was due to go up North some day, having a similar knack for roping, as well as a fondness for hunting of which there still was plenty on the North moors.

The Boffins and Frodo scooted down the benches in order to make more space. The Gaffer, before settling in, stuck his head round the partition to call to his youngest once more.

"Samwise! Over here!"

Sam’s head snapped around, and, swinging up a plate of cheese and bread along with the platter of crispy potatoes, he threaded his way to the corner nook.

All the Gamgee men were strapping fellows who looked as if they could demolish any platter of food in a trice. Young Sam looked as though he would grow up along the same lines. At twenty – now officially a 'tween – Sam had been permitted to start tagging along with his elders to the taverns.

Frodo watched as Samwise set the platter down then trotted back to fetch the half-mug he’d left behind. Discreetly, Frodo observed the lad as Sam took spare little sips – making his ale last – all the while thinking of Fredegar. Freddy was just Sam's age. Back in the end of the spring, Freddy’s twentieth birthday had already come and gone, but Frodo had not been out that way to celebrate it with them. He really must remember to wish Freddy well, just as soon as he got back from Buckland. Frodo could take him for his first tankard of ale at the Ivy Bush. The lad would already have been feted at the Hall. Yes, that’s what he’d do. As soon as Freddy got back.

When Freddy got back from Buckland

The prospect of Rosamunda’s children coming home was not an altogether happy one, Frodo acknowledged privately. But he willed himself to welcome it. He must, for Rosa’s sake.

Frodo was in the midst of these thoughts when he caught Samwise watching him from under his brows. The boy looked away at once, but Frodo had a sense of guilty knowledge in Sam’s guileless eyes.

Oh, no. Surely, Sam hadn’t seen anything untoward…. But the apprentice gardener was up and about very early. Had his been the distant figure Frodo had glimpsed, once or twice, as he was walking home from Rosa’s before dawn? He hoped not. Frodo would be sorry if young Sam should become burdened with matters beyond his years. Though, better Sam than many another, Frodo thought to himself, considering. Sam was extremely loyal to Bilbo, and, if to Bilbo, then to Bilbo’s adopted son and heir.

Frodo felt sure of it. Sam Gamgee could be trusted.

After the seven of them had demolished all of the food on the plates, Bilbo scraped his chair and rose.

“I am for home!” he announced, brushing stray bits and crumbs from his waistcoat.

Frodo began to rise with him, but Bilbo motioned him back down.

“I thank you, Frodo, for your kind intentions, but I am quite able to convey myself to my own door. I am not besotted,” he chortled, flashing Frodo a meaningful look.

Really, Bilbo was overdoing it, Frodo thought to himself darkly.

Bilbo did not appear to notice Frodo’s disapprobation as he made his way towards the door.

“Don’t forget our dinner plans,” Bilbo called back to the Boffins, leaving the Gamgees a bit puzzled as they watched the Master of Bag End wending his way to the door.

Bilbo paused to say something to the landlord before he departed, displaying only the slightest weave and list as he made his exit.

Whatever they had guessed were Bilbo’s words to the landlord, all wondering was set aside when yet another platter of crispy potatoes, piping hot, arrived at their table.

“Compliments of Mr. Bilbo,” said the barman’s son, pushing the huge plate across the table.

This, too, disappeared and another round of beer was ordered. The Gaffer would brook no refusal – it would be on him.

When the Gamgees had drained their mugs they rose as if at a pre-arranged signal. Making their farewells, they wished good health to Bilbo when Frodo should see him at home, and took themselves off.

Frodo, Folco and Marco sat in sudden peace and quiet. Marco, seeming to take it as a cue, wandered off into the main room where he spotted friends of his own and settled down with them.

Folco and Frodo were left to themselves.

“Well!” Folco observed, finishing up the mug the Gaffer had bought. “Your uncle was in fine spirits. It must have been the pleasure of your company that did it, Frodo – your being here tonight having become rather a novelty.”

Before Frodo could protest, Folco had got up and had their mugs refilled. Bringing them back, Folco looked a little unsteady. They sloshed when Folco plonked them down, sending a little plume of foamy spray onto the empty platter. Scooting back into his corner spot, he swung up his feet onto the empty length of bench.

“Not that I haven’t missed you, myself, of course,” Folco continued, giving Frodo a twinkling grin. More earnestly he added, “Really, Frodo, it’s good to have you here again, like old times – just us two.”

Raising his mug aloft, Folco saluted the sentiment he’d just expressed. Then, leaning back against the wall, he watched Frodo through half-closed eyes, taking leisurely sips. Folco’s mood seemed to have shifted; his eyes glittered with suppressed amusement.

“Well, Frodo,” Folco began, his tone very bright. “Where have you been keeping yourself ever since Lithe?”

Folco was not wasting any time, Frodo thought. He must look about himself.

“Nowhere. That is, I have been here, Folco. I am here nearly every night, as a matter of fact. If you got here earlier, you would see.”

“I suppose that is so,” Folco conceded. “But I am used to your lingering longer – at least until Marco and I can get here to join you. Our work days in summer are so long I forget, sometimes, that yours are not.”

Frodo’s reply was subdued.

“You are right. I have few responsibilities.”

“Oh, I don’t mean to take you to task, Frodo,” Folco said, leaning towards his friend, seeming to regret his tone. “I was only teasing. I envy you! Well, not completely.”

“You see, I really do love our place,” Folco confided. “I love the land; I love the work that goes into it. I do not begrudge the time I spend at it. In fact, I hate sitting about idle.”

Seeing Frodo’s look, Folco hastened to add, “Not that you are idle, Frodo. But I just don’t enjoy the same things – reading and study. I must be up and doing!”

The two were silent for a while as they sipped, listening to the low murmur of voices all around them. As it grew later the noise had quieted down, the drone of indecipherable talk broken only by the isolated outburst of unchecked mirth.

“A Baggins dinner party sounds a good idea,” Folco remarked at last. “That is, as long as we don’t end up cutting hay the same day. If this bit of rain moves off smartly, we can enjoy it sooner.’

Changing tack, Folco said, “You seemed to know nothing of it, Frodo – the dinner party.”

“Bilbo has talked of doing a little something before the summer’s end,” Frodo answered, “but he had not said when – or whom he was thinking of inviting. It sounds a splendid idea, to me.” Frodo watched Folco drain his mug before going on.

“I didn’t get to see Rollo the other night, when I had to leave early. And I haven’t really met Tina – not to talk to at any length. I saw her when I was a lad visiting relations up North – or it might have been at the Smials. I think she was forced to mind us and hadn’t wanted to. I am not sure it was her, though; I was so little, then.”

Frodo paused as glimpses of a time when his parents were alive opened in his mind – just as the patches of sky had opened in the clouds as he’d stood outside on the cobblestones. But it all seemed very long ago.

He let them close again.

Folco, Frodo noticed, had been watching him attentively, but not with the uncomfortable, searching interest he had shown earlier. Perhaps Folco was mellowing with the successive mugs of ale – Frodo hoped so. A sober Folco was far too keen. Drunk, Folco would be easier to manage; he was looking rather under the weather at the moment. Nevertheless, Frodo must make an effort to keep the conversation moving along safe paths.

“Did Bilbo specify a day for the dinner, then? – before I got here, I mean?” Frodo asked.

“No. He just said, ‘soon.’ My sense was that Bilbo was thinking in terms of days, though, not weeks. In any event, you will hear of it first, so it will be your job to let us know. I’d like it to be soon, myself, while Rollo is down.”

“I must confess,” Folco went on with a chuckle, “I am very curious to see how Rollo behaves when he sees the Mistress Bolger face to face again. I have been a nuisance of a younger brother to him, poor Rolly. But, indeed, I am looking forward to it – though I shall try to refrain from teasing him.”

Folco, tipping back his mug, noticed it was empty. He made a show of disappointment.

Grateful for the opportunity, Frodo seized Folco’s mug and whisked it off for the landlord to draw another.

Setting the refilled tankard on the table before his friend, Frodo sat down again. Their corner was very quiet now.

“And so am I,” Frodo said. At Folco’s puzzled look he explained, “– looking forward to the dinner.”

“Yes! To the dinner,” Folco cheered. Clanking Frodo’s mug with his own, Folco took a noisy sip.

“Bilbo is an awfully noticing sort, isn’t he?” Folco observed, a little thickly, wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve. “It could make one quite uncomfortable, being always under his scrutiny. Is there anything he doesn’t miss?”

“Very little, I’m afraid,” Frodo said with a wry smile, but, stilling himself, he waited. Folco was only preparing an opening for something else unnerving, Frodo was sure.

“Bilbo did not even know Rollo, not really – yet he knew of Rollo’s ancient enthrallment with the Widow Bolger – the Miss Took that was.”

Folco’s gesticulations were on a grand scale as he spoke, made extravagant by the ale.

Frodo hoped his look was one of mild interest.

The Widow Bolger…. The appellation sounded very strange to his ears – and most unwelcome.

“After all,” Folco continued. “It was not as though Rollo wore his heart on his sleeve. It’s a wonder Bilbo took any notice at all. I am sure no one other than those who knew Rollo well ever did. Rolly is such a quiet, self-contained sort of fellow – unlike me!”

Folco crowed at his joke and slapped the table with the flat of his palm.

It was nice that Folco was in such a merry mood, but, really, he should moderate his speech. Frodo masked his displeasure with a smile, but, with a look and a gesture, warned his friend to lower his voice.

Folco did so at once, but, as if to compensate for lost volume, leaned across the table. With hushed animation, he continued.

“Rollo was terribly cut up about it, you know, when Rosamunda went and married Odo Bolger. But, when their betrothal was announced, even Rollo could see he never really had stood a chance. He, being five years younger, would have seemed just a young pup to her. Obviously, she preferred an older dog.”

Frodo suppressed a sudden desire to giggle, crushing one foot under the other beneath the table.

“I was still a lad, then, of course,” Folco enlarged, “but plenty old enough to see what was what. Most people wondered if there wasn’t a baby on the way – what with Odovacar so hot in his pursuit and the two of them marrying the instant she came of age. Not that anyone blamed Odovacar for going after her, in spite of his years. Rosamunda was not that pretty a lass – for a Took – but she had … something. Any lad could feel it. She has it still, as one can see. Well, those who are old enough to appreciate such things can see it, Master Baggins.”

Folco grinned at Frodo and took another swig.

Frodo squirmed in his seat, so great had become his discomfort – and ire. But, with effort, he hid it, somehow managing to feign amused interest, instead.

“Of course, I suppose you wouldn’t be able to see it,” Folco continued, eyeing Frodo thoughtfully, “having came to know her when you were a little lad and all.”

Frodo relaxed slightly, but the very next second was flooded with alarm.

His gleaming eyes sparkling with mischief, his amiable smile turned into something like a smirk, Folco leaned even closer to Frodo to say, “Or would you?”

Inside, Frodo writhed, desperately struggling to look unaffected by this query, dreading what Folco might say next. He moistened his parched mouth with a of sip ale, stalling for an extra moment before he spoke.

“Would I do what? I don’t know what you mean.”

Frodo almost tittered in his anxiousness.

“Don’t you, Frodo? I saw you at Lithe, you know – that last night. Didn’t you notice? I was standing right there.”

Frodo racked his brain for images from the feast. Had Folco been there, unseen, as Frodo had argued with Bilbo about Rosamunda out beyond the privies? Had Folco been walking right behind them when they’d started across the fields that night to Rosa’s? Surely Frodo would have noticed. And besides, he only had walked Rosa home. Anyone might have done so.

“You don’t remember, my lusty lad?” Folco asked, mirth rippling beneath everything he said. “You don’t remember me standing next to you during the singles’ dance? It was I who pointed them out to you – Bilbo and Rosamunda – while they were dancing together. Ah. You remember, now, I see!”

A peal of laughter broke Folco’s expression of triumph. Frodo knew his cheeks must be flaming.

“You should have seen your face then, Frodo! I’d say you looked extremely appreciative. It wasn’t the sight of dear old Bilbo that brought on that stunned look of utter adoration!”

This was so much better than what Frodo had expected to hear, he sighed with relief and the blood receded from his cheeks.

“Yes,” Frodo admitted, ducking his head and smiling into his mug. He hoped he looked abashed, not guilty. “I remember. You are right, though. I did not see Mrs Bolger’s attraction when I was a little child, but I did that night, when she was out there dancing.”

Frodo knew confession was grossly understated, but it seemed to pass inspection.

“Yes, Mistress Bolger was all aglow with it that night,” Folco breathed. “And you weren’t alone in your admiration, I can assure you, having looked around. You should have seen Hugo Goodbody!” A rude gesture was offered by way of illustration.

Folco’s excess of hilarity abated a little as he added more moderately, “Curiously, she herself does not seem aware of the charm she exerts – but that makes it all the better. Perhaps she didn’t know it back when Rollo was following her about with dog eyes. She simply paid him no attention.”

Folco settled further back into his corner.

“Anyway, Rollo has got over all that, I think. He married Tina and appears not to regret it.”

“They sound as though they are happy together,” Frodo ventured.

“Well, they certainly have produced the children to prove it!” Folco chortled.

Frodo raised his mug, as if to toast the fact. Folco had finished with the subject of Rosamunda Bolger now, he hoped. Taking a sip, Frodo determined to take the lead.

“And you, Folco – you still are set on Delphie?” Frodo asked this knowing the answer.

“Oh, assuredly! You know how long I’ve had my eye on her – ever since she entered her ‘tweens. She’s a wonderful lass, in spite of her dim brothers, whom, I am happy to say, she is nothing like except in amiableness of temper. She’s lively and quick-minded – and – what’s more, she’s keen for the sort of life we live at the farm. That is important.”

Folco set his drink down, cupping his hands around his mug and running them slowly up and down its sides, as if considering. When he glanced up, he gazed at Frodo intently.

“Delphie stands to inherit a very pretty piece of property through her mother some day, all that land near her cousins’ down in the South Farthing. It’s beautifully rich and mostly level – all under wheat and a good bit of barley. Which is just what we don’t have much of up here. It would make an excellent addition to our holdings. Delphie thinks so, too. She may be young, but she’s got a good head on her shoulders. In fact, we see eye to eye on everything that matters: land, family, children, working together….”

Folco paused as he lifted his mug to his lips.

Before he could think to stop himself, Frodo heard himself asking, “But, what about love? Do you love Delphie, Folco?”

Folco’s eyes flared. “Of course, I love her,” he almost snapped. “I have done, for years. What do you mean, Frodo – asking me that?”

“I only thought it sounded as if…. I suppose I just wanted to hear you say it, Folco, that’s all. I wanted to know, so that – so that I might wish you every happiness.”

How impertinent Frodo must have sounded. Now, why had he asked Folco that? For the pleasure of hearing someone say it, he supposed glumly. Even if he, seemingly, could not.

I love her…. I love you.

Such short statements; but so gratifying to say and hear.

Glancing up, Frodo saw that Folco had settled back again against the wall, as if he were amenable to the subject so Frodo continued, but with a lighter tone.

“I suppose, though, I really cannot wish you every happiness, Folco, until Delphie comes of age.”

Folco threw his head back and laughed.

“I am struggling to refrain from that happiness,” Folco confessed when he had settled down, “Of that you may be assured. But it is a hardship, holding off. Sometimes I wonder if I shall succeed much longer.” More seriously he said, “I really don’t want to get her with child, not before we’ve had a proper wedding. But as soon as she’s of age,” he declared, “there’ll be no stopping me!” With a wink, Folco raised his glass.

Peering at Frodo, Folco then said, “You’ll be of age even sooner than Delphie, Frodo. It’s just another year for you. Have you not thought of finding yourself a lass at all? Other than Mrs. Bolger, I mean?”

Frodo felt his stomach lurch but Folco added immediately, as if he were indulging the slow-witted, “You know – at Lithe!”

Frodo’s stomach settled and his heart beat within his chest once more, instead of in his throat.

Oh, dear, Frodo groaned inwardly. This was turning into such a difficult evening. Was there nothing safe to say? He must resort to action.

“Wait a moment, Folco,” he said, bolting up out of his seat, not waiting for an answer. “I may as well order one more round before they turn us out of doors. It is nearly closing.”

As he waved away his friend’s offer, Frodo saw his gesture was a little imprecise. Frodo was in nothing like Folco’s state, but he really must be careful.

“No, no. It is not your turn, Folco” he insisted. “I am in arrears, remember?”

Carrying back their last refills Frodo noticed that his gait had become a bit unsteady, too. Foam slopped over the rims of the mugs and down the leg of his breeches as he negotiated his way, banging up against an empty table.

He mustn’t get drunk, Frodo thought; who knew what he might say then?

When Frodo was comfortably seated and Folco had swung his legs up once again, they saluted each other and each took a sip.

Crossing his ankles on the bench, Folco watched himself as he waggled his feet back and forth. He paused for a second sip then spoke.

“I think she has a lover.”

Frodo choked back a cry and just caught his mug before he sent it flying across the table. Had Folco seen his response? He seemed not to have done, still studying the movement of his feet.

Desperate, Frodo could only think to stammer – “Delphie has a lover? Surely, not, Folco!”

The feet stopped wagging as Folco flashed him a look of incredulity.

“Don’t be absurd, Frodo! Not Delphie,” he explained, round-eyed, as if Frodo were rather dim, “Rosamunda Bolger.”

“What makes you say that?”

Frodo prayed that he did not look as wild as he felt.

Folco’s feet resumed their wagging.

“Well, for the last three or four weeks – ever since Lithe, in fact – I’ve noticed that her grocery orders have increased. Quite a lot; nearly double. I ask you, Frodo: What does that look like to you?”

He could see very well what it looked like.

Frodo was deluged by remorseful self-accusations. The food! He had forgotten how much she got from the Boffins. Of course whatever she ordered would be noticed – but he had never thought. He hadn’t realized how many meals he had taken there. Perhaps because they were taken in the night, they hadn’t seemed to count, somehow. But they had. How could he have been so careless as to let her be compromised in this way? He would start bringing over things to eat the very next thing. At Bag End they had plenty and to spare.

Folco was still speaking, he realised, so Frodo set aside his inner wranglings and made himself attend.

“…so I asked myself, ‘Folco, who is eating all that food? Her children are away; she receives no visitors that anyone is aware of (other than tradesmen’s pimply lads and the washerwoman once a week). Is she giving it away to wandering beggars? She is not getting any stouter, so she’s not the one who is eating it.”

Folco was inebriated, Frodo told himself, working to restrain himself. Some allowance must be made for Folco’s condition, but it was difficult to bear.

“On the contrary, she is looking sleeker and more blooming than ever,” Folco added with considerable warmth. “Very blooming and fit! I know, since I deliver most of her orders. Mal could do it, but I enjoy being a good neighbour.”

Folco winked and guffawed; Frodo seethed.

“I go there to have a look at her, to be honest.”

Hair rose on the back of Frodo’s neck.

“Not to look, precisely; but to be around her. To get close to her. She just exudes something,” Folco said. Gazing off as if pondering it, he finally concluded, “Something … lover-like. One can almost smell it.”

Frodo almost leapt off his bench and throttled Folco, and might have done so in spite of the ale, had he not mastered himself with every ounce of will. He did not trust himself to speak – even to move – so great was his desire to strike the smile from his friend’s face. But this secret was not his alone; it was Rosamunda’s, too. He must be silent.

Fortunately, Folco had not been looking at Frodo during this moment of trial, so, perhaps, Frodo had not completely betrayed what he felt. But he must say something.

“Really, Folco,” he began falteringly, finding his voice, “I don’t think –”

“What do you think, Frodo?” Folco interjected with a look. He seemed quite unaware of what he was provoking in his friend. “Surely the idea is not implausible,” he began, then turned his attention to one of the empty plates. As he spoke, Folco pressed one edge of the rim down onto the table, lifting the other side up then letting it fall with a clatter – raising it higher with each attempt as if just waiting for it to break.

Frodo found it irritating beyond belief

“Think of it: There she is in that little cottage, away from everything, with no one to see who comes and goes. And all by herself. Mightn’t she get a little lonely? Especially after all those years married to a lusty fellow like Odovacar Bolger? She must be very accomplished, too. What a shame to let all that go to waste!”

Clank went the plate. Folco watched intently as he slowly tipped it up again.

“Why, if it weren’t for Delphie, I myself might be inclined to – ”

Before he could stop it, Frodo’s hand shot out and seized the edge of the plate, mid-tilt, his knuckles white.

Startled, Folco’s eyes snapped up to Frodo’s. The eyes he saw glittered, hard as Dwarvish steel.

“Stop it,” Frodo said. His voice was quiet, but his teeth were clenched with effort.

When Frodo let go of the plate, Folco lowered the edge of it back down to the table.

“An irritating habit, I know. I’m sorry, Frodo,” Folco giggled drunkenly. “It drives Mum wild, too. Especially when it’s one of her best.”

They said nothing for a minute or two but Folco had begun to tip his mug up onto its edge, turning it about in a circular pattern. He was not finished.

“Well. You were there just this afternoon, Frodo. Mal saw you tramping off with a basket of our cherries. Didn’t you sense anything when you were there with her?”

If he noticed a new flicker in Frodo’s eyes Folco did not show it, leaning back against the wall as if with nonchalance, waiting for Frodo to answer.

“I brought over the cherries,” Frodo said at last, “but I did not sense anything different. It did not seem to me that anyone else had been there.”

His voice was soft, but his manner stony.

“Well! I must have been wrong, then,” said Folco, as if acknowledging he’d reached a wall in the conversation. Looking sidelong at Frodo, in a manner more subdued Folco offered, “I had forgotten what good friends the Bolgers have been to you. If I have offended, I apologize. Perhaps I have been too presumptuous.”

“Yes,” Frodo answered more softly still. “You have.”

They finished their mugs in silence.

The landlord hailed his patrons; it was time they all went home.

“Walk with me, Frodo, back to Overhill,” Folco urged, turning to Frodo as they stepped out into wetness. A soft drizzle fell, no longer rain.

“All right.”

Frodo had put Folco’s impertinence down to drink, and, feeling the effects of the ale himself, he was inclined now to be benevolent. He truly loved the friend who had taken him under his wing, when Frodo was the “new lad” eleven years before. The ale not only had made Frodo benevolent, it had made him unsteady; he caught himself just before stumbling into a puddle. And, it had made him a little melancholy. It had not been the evening he had hoped for. In fact, it had been rather dreadful.

But as they started up the lane their hearts lifted, simply to be out in the night. As they climbed the lane, a lamp in the last window streaked the glistening cobbles with gold and amber light. With no stars and no moon, the night was very dark indeed, once they’d left the village, but the way was so familiar they could not go astray.

As they followed the lane up over the Hill, passing the turn to Bag End, both hobbits felt themselves begin to unwind inside. Moving through the darkness, refreshing and cool, every sound and smell was heightened by the moistness of the air, increasing their pleasure in the 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.

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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