12. The Truth Will Out, Part Two
The same night ~ Rosamunda’s cottage.
After Rosamunda had watched Frodo walk off over the hills, the display of thunder and lightning that followed had been enough to engage her mind. But when the drama had ended, a dull numbness crept over her. While the last light faded into night she stood in the doorway staring as one stupefied, listening to the soft, faint hissing sound the rain made in the expanse of tall grass. Only when she could see nothing at all did she move away. Inside the darkened house, she needed to feel about to find a lamp.
Well, she admonished herself, lighting a rush from the stove and carrying it to the parlour, that was what came of dwelling upon what did not bear dwelling upon. Frodo would not be coming back. Though, not forever, for heaven’s sake. He would be gone for the night; that was all. And what was so dreadful in that? She should be glad for him, she reminded herself as she lit the lamp and some candles. Frodo was doing just what he ought, going out for a laugh and a drink with his friends – friends his own age. He would be getting a better sense of himself in the world, the world in which he was meant to take his place. Not a world circumscribed by her cottage walls but the wider world, which would be his some day soon. He was heir to Bag End under the Hill. His whole life was before him! Not just one summer but many summers – summers wholly unconnected to hers. It was all for the best, and she needn't mope about like some silly tween.
It felt very early still to Rosamunda, so used was she to keeping late hours these weeks since Lithe. She should find something to do; something useful. There was plenty to be done.
A bath would be good, she thought, to start. The afternoon with Frodo had made her all sweaty again; even her hair felt dull and lank. This she would tackle at once – and no lingering lest her own touch remind her too much of Frodo’s.
After she’d bathed and put on a nightdress, Rosamunda stood combing out her hair, clucking over the state of the bed linens. What a mess they’d made of everything, tumbling about in their silly wrestling match. She smiled in remembrance as she stripped the bed. Shaking out fresh sheets, she smoothed them down with the palms of her hands and deftly tucked the corners under.
Standing and admiring her work as she twisted her hair up into a coil, she became sad. There would be no such goings-on tonight.
Ah! No more of such thoughts, she scolded herself. Sliding in some hairpins, she looked about her. Another task; she needed another task. Sleep would not come easily that night.
Clearing away their dinner things only conjured up fresh memories. Frodo had sat just there, worrying the edges of his toast as he’d told her of his mix of feelings for Bilbo, full of humour and tenderness. Slowly dragging a slender finger around in the crumbs on his plate, he’d made a design while he spoke. Rosamunda could not speak when he had glanced up, so full was her heart; Frodo was lovely to her, and dear. To hide her starting tears, she had swung up the basket of cherries in order to begin to clear. But when she’d brushed by him, Frodo had reached out to stop her.
“I am sorry, Frodo. Did you want more?” she’d said. She had asked him with no hidden meaning, but, slipping his hands round her waist, he’d looked up into her face and said, “I shall always want more, Rosa. But more of you. For you are sweeter and more luscious than any fruit.”
Deeply moved, she was bending to kiss him when he’d added, a smile peeping out, “In fact, you are so lovely and tall, you would make me a very fine tree. Then I could plant you wherever I wished.” Standing, he’d taken the basket from her and said, “You could always be with me! My very own tree, always full of lovely fruit, and I’d never have to do without.”
Rosamunda laughed and both of them giggled as Frodo had capered about, dangling clusters of fruit from her fingers and ears, looping some over buttons that ran down her bodice and tucking in others at her waist. “Of course, yours taste better than anything from the Boffins, Rosa,” he’d declared, plucking off cherries and popping them into his mouth. “Mmmm, delicious!”
But when he had bent to nibble off others with his teeth, the ones that hung from buttons between her breasts, Rosamunda laughed no more and nearly had begged him to stay. She had recovered herself and managed to push him away with a laughing scold. Sunset was near and Frodo must go; Folco would be waiting.
Glancing now at the pile of dirty clothes in the corner, Rosamunda thought of the cherry stains that smeared her bodice front. Later, she would need to put that to soak. No, better to do it at once. She filled a bowl for the purpose. She might as well wash the dishes, while she was about it. Putting on her apron, she swirled her hands through the soapy warmth, wondering what she might do next. Baking, perhaps? No. That would only remind her of other things.
Was there nothing that was not associated with Frodo?
There were letters to write; her latest letters lay unanswered on the parlour table. Nor had she written to Freddy or Estella that day. Yet, in this mood, what might she say that that did not sound false? “I love you dearly," she might begin, and, "I miss you very much,” might be her closing. And she did miss them, it was true. But even more, she missed – no – she would not even think it. And, as for whom she loved very dearly, just the shadow of this thought threw her into a state of alarm and Rosamunda thrust it from her. She slammed the door against it. But it came in through the cracks; it seeped from under the door.
She must overcome it. She would.
Towelling her hands with unnecessary vigour, Rosamunda considered. There was mending to be done, but that struck her as dull beyond words. Casting her eye about the parlour she noticed a pair of faded cushions, embroidered by her mother when Rosamunda had been small, tucked into the corners of her little couch.
Not mending, she realised, but needlework was what she might do. The making of patterns from coloured silk was work that both satisfied and engrossed her. From her stack of unfinished work at Shady Bank, Rosamunda had brought a lovely nightdress she had sewn for Estella. Not one for a little lass; it was for Estella later. Long and elegant, made from the finest linen stuff she could find, Rosamunda had fashioned it for the day when her younger child should be married. She had imagined making Estella these things from the time her daughter had been born – things Rosamunda’s mother had not lived to make for her. Yes, such work would do very well.
She brought out a box of needles and threads and tiny shears of Dwarvish make. Odovacar had bought them for her from a peddler in Bree, shortly after they were married. Lifting the nightdress out of its protective cloth, Rosamunda brought everything to the little couch, an old settee, ornate and very sturdily made, taken from her parents’ house. Made for two, there was room to keep her sewing things beside her. She could drape the end of the nightdress over the arm to keep it off the floor while she worked. Bringing a lamp to the table beside the settee, Rosamunda set about her task.
She made good headway detailing the design that went around the neck, but after an hour she had had enough. Her eyes hurt; the light was too poor. No, it was not the light, she sighed, vexed. She simply did not wish to do it. Wrapping the nightdress again in its cloth, she got up and put it away.
She must move about.
In the open doorway to the cottage, Rosamunda stopped and stood, looking out into utter blackness. Unseen clouds hid the stars and the sliver of young moon. But the smell of rain-washed night – cool, fresh and clean – was lovely. The moisture bathing her face was no longer rain but something more like mist, swirling about on a light breeze. She might have gone out for a walk had there been any light, but she did not know the land well enough to negotiate it in such darkness. There were too many fissures in which to turn an ankle; too many rain-filled sloughs in which to tumble. The thought of sprawling headlong into one of them and getting soaked made her shiver. In fact, the cool damp she had found so refreshing a moment ago now chilled her, chilled her to the bone.
Back inside it was no better. The hole seemed cold – dark and dank.
A fire might be nice. The nights of Afterlithe had been so mild (and recently, so hot) it had been many weeks since she’d lit a fire. But at this moment, Rosamunda could think of nothing more appealing.
Choosing some wood from the stack by the stove, she laid a modest fire in the parlour grate and lit it. It caught and flared, spreading from stick to stick until it was crackling nicely. The sight of it pleased Rosamunda beyond measure. That was better!
Taking a drink of water with her, she returned to the settee. She turned it a bit to better face the fire, but it was still too far away to satisfy. Abandoning it, she chose the wooden hearth-side chair, instead, an ancient but stoutly-built piece brought from Shady Bank. Low-seated and high-backed, she had liked to sit on it while she was nursing Freddy and Estella. Dragging it up as close as she might without cinders landing on her feet, Rosamunda sat upon it. She propped her elbows on her knees and sipped from her cup as she basked before the blaze, now grown lively and bright. Unwanted thoughts began to crowd in, but, as she stared, her mind emptied until she only felt and heard and saw the fire before her.
When the fire got low, Rosamunda went to the kitchen to fetch more wood. Gazing again into the burning brands she watched the tongues of orange and white lick up through the spaces, with bits of sapphire showing in between. She lost herself within the fire’s caverns, enchanted by the glowing nooks and little cracks which led to places hidden from her sight.
It was foolish, she knew – a fire in the summer – but she simply could not bear to see it die. Each time the fire burned low and the light dimmed, it was as if her sense of the room dimmed with it. Not just the light but the very heart of the room seemed to darken and shrink, the life and warmth of it seeping away as the fire waned.
Which was ridiculous, of course. It was only a fire. And, a fire in summer! It was silly. And a waste.
Getting up to fetch more wood, Rosamunda reproved herself, but laid more sticks upon the fire. This would be the last time; she would let it die and go to bed.
In spite of herself, Rosamunda watched with irrepressible joy as it burst back into life. Her heart leapt up with the flames, her spirits revived. She loved it, waste or not. How splendid it was! How warm! How beautiful!
It was while in the midst of her transports that Rosamunda glanced towards her bedroom, its door opening into darkness. She had thought about it earlier in the evening, once or twice – how she might feel when it was time to go to bed without Frodo. But it was only then, as she stared through the darkened doorway that she felt the force of it.
Without him. She would be climbing into bed without him. She thought of the high, wide bed she had so recently prepared; in her mind, she saw it standing there in the darkness, freshly made. Freshly made for whom?
She imagined the feel of it – the feel of sliding between those sheets – so flat, so smooth, so cool. Rosamunda shivered.
The prospect of spending the night in her bed without Frodo lying beside her was suddenly so terrible, a tremor shook her. It looked so dark in there. So dark and dead and cold.
What did she think she had been playing at?
Rosamunda marvelled at herself. There she had been, fiddling about with a fire made of sticks, as if it could ever warm her in a way that mattered! She could have laughed out loud at the folly of it, were she not too distraught.
Did she feel cold? Well, what else might be expected when there was no fire? A true fire. A fire in the grate was no substitute at all. Frodo. It had been Frodo, all the while. Frodo had been the fire. Surely, she had felt it, seen it all the time – hadn’t she? It wasn’t just the heat they conjured up between them that she missed – the passion kindled by their lovemaking. That seemed to have its own fiery life. The fire she missed now was a different matter. It was in Frodo himself. How could she have sent him off like that? Had it been just a few hours ago?
Frodo had not wanted to go; he had wanted to stay. She had seen it. She had seen it, but she had closed her eyes to it. Well, let them be opened now. In her mind’s eye Rosamunda saw him walking away, walking down the hill then stopping, turning. Walking a bit further then stopping, turning once more, his face wistful and expectant, hoping for a word, a look – anything from her that said, Tell me to stop – Tell me you want me to stay.
But she had let him go.
What had she been thinking, as she'd watched him walking away – stopping, turning, looking? Paltry, foolish things.
Wasn't he lovely? Wasn't he dear?
Why hadn’t she just chucked him under the chin like any indulgent Bywater matron, telling him, Run along, now; there's a good lad.
Remorse and regret wrung Rosamunda’s heart as she railed at herself, full of agitation as she paced before the fire.
Who did she think he was? What did she think he was, that she could have dismissed him with such words of farewell, sending him off with a peck on the cheek? “Mind your clothes, Frodo,” she might have said – as if he were a boy!
Rosamunda stopped and stood appalled.
As if he were a boy.
That was it, wasn’t it…she had treated Frodo like a boy – a little boy.
But he was not a child.
Self-reproach overwhelmed her as she thought of it in this new light. It was true. Not just that afternoon, but all along, she had been treating him like a boy. An infatuated boy.
Since that first night with him at Lithe, she had encouraged him – petting him, stroking him; letting him dote and become attached – yet, all the while, keeping him at a distance. With all the encouragement she had been giving him, why had she bothered to keep him from coming too close? Was it a sop to her conscience, so that she might be able to tell herself she was conforming to Bilbo’s wishes? If that were so, she would have done better to have turned him away at once!
But she hadn’t. She had let him come to her. Yet whenever he got too near, she had held him at arm’s length as if he were an over-eager child who, if not discouraged, might clamber over her to demand a kiss, spoiling her clothes and putting her in disarray.
Surely, she did not really think this of Frodo! He was not some unbridled, overwrought youth who must be kept in check, lest he make a nuisance of himself. Frodo was no such child.
Yet she had rebuffed him as if he were one. She could see it, now, as remembered moments came back to her. She had pushed him away.
But not his body. His body she did not push away. She was keen enough for that, wasn’t she?
Rosamunda’s face burned at the admission, but, scrutinizing her behaviour, it seemed to be true. His body she would allow him to open to her, but not his heart. And it was his heart that he had been trying to offer, was it not?
Just that afternoon, Frodo had been trying to tell her what was in his heart. But, it would seem, she had not wanted to hear it – as if it might be unbearable! She had turned away from him, leaving him to carry the burden of everything he felt alone.
Tears sprang to Rosamunda’s eyes; tears of shame, of anguish, and of pity. She wept aloud and her heart smote her to think of it. All that feeling! And she had let Frodo carry it inside him, all alone; she would have none of it.
She thought of the basket of cherries, when he’d shown all that he had been thinking and doing, working to keep their affair hidden – protecting her. He was the one who had been brave. He was the one who had been grown-up, facing the realities of what being her lover had meant, not she. While she had been going empty-handed, Frodo had been carrying all the weight of it; the burden of an adult, not a child’s.
Why had she not seen he had grown up? Anyone looking on would have recognized it, even before he had started coming to see her. What he had gained in stature since Lithe was a matter of experience, not of innate character. Apart from his growth in confidence, Frodo was unchanged. To anyone who knew him this would have been apparent. To anyone, it would seem, but her.
Frodo had grown up. He was grown up; she merely had not wished to see it.
Why was that? Why should she wish to keep him a boy? For that was what she had been doing in denying him the recognition of his feelings as those of an adult.
"Prudence," she might have answered – before the cherries and before this night spent alone before the fire. Now she was uncertain.
Before tonight, she would have said she was keeping Frodo at a distance for his benefit, to keep him safe from forming too great an attachment, against the day when they would part. She and Bilbo had talked of it, discussing Frodo’s future. If Frodo should come to care for her too deeply, he would suffer that much more when the inevitable end came. Frodo was yet so young; his ardour would pass in any case. A lad’s love burned hot but was of short duration. Frodo would love, but then move on – as he should and must.
But now such thoughts seemed disingenuous. Frodo was young, but he was not a lad – he was a hobbit grown, and, more mature in mind and deeper in heart than other lads his age or older. And she knew it to be so, deep down. That she continually fended him off tended to show that she had have seen it, or she wouldn’t have taken the trouble. Clearly, what he felt was serious.
As for the life she and Bilbo had envisioned between them for Frodo; was his life theirs to plan and try to press into paths of their design any longer, if it ever had been?
She had only wanted to protect Frodo, she defended herself. She had tried to keep him from getting too close, in order to protect him. It was done to save him future pain, lest he suffer too greatly when it ended –.
Rosamunda’s scalp prickled as knowledge dawned.
Whose future pain had she been trying to prevent by keeping him away? Who might suffer too greatly at the end? Whose happiness had she been striving to protect, really?
Frodo’s – or her own?
Rosamunda could not deny the answer. But so anguished was she by the realisation, hot tears sprang to her eyes anew. Blinking them back, she strove to face it. It was she herself she had been protecting all along. She only had pretended to herself it was done for him. Oh, disgraceful!
Rosamunda wept again, but forced herself to stop.
But – protecting herself from what? From Frodo? Never. From Frodo’s feelings for her? Those could not be so unbearable.
Frodo could be intense, it was true, but she loved that in him. Since he had been little, Rosamunda had delighted in him as her friend, so sweet was his companionship. Yet, underneath, there had been a spark in him, a small flame that quietly burned inside. It seemed to animate him, making him a little restless, his mind always in motion; watching, observing – never quite satisfied with her explanations. Frodo had been like no hobbit she knew in that respect. Now, as a lover, he seemed to blaze with it; his ardour was incandescent; yet his flame was constant and did not waver.
It was this flame in him which drew her; it kindled something like in her she hadn’t known was there. It filled her with joy – but also with an undefined anxiousness.
Yet fire was a good thing, was it not? It warmed; it heartened; it was bright and beautiful. One might die without it.
Standing again before the hearth, staring into the little blaze, Rosamunda laid on another few sticks, in spite of her resolve to add no more. They caught and flared, and, becoming a little conflagration, threw off blessed heat that she basked in.
What a shame that it would be of brief duration. The dry bit of kindling soon would be consumed and reduced to ash.
The thought roused her. Was that what she feared? Not Frodo, but the love itself? That it might consume her?
Fire burned and warmed – but also it consumed. Would it be too dreadful to love Frodo back? For, yes, it was love that he felt, although she had not been willing to hear the word. He burned with it.
In the midst of her darkened house Rosamunda stood, considering, listening to the fire’s rush and crackle.
Well, she thought at last, better to burn and live, than slowly to die of cold. And she would live, for Frodo burned yet lived. If it did not kill him, it would not kill her. She would choose the fire.
Nearly spent, it fast was becoming a glowing mound of ash. Rosamunda rushed to the kitchen, dashed back with another armful of wood and hurried to lay it on. The fire must not go out.
After it had blazed back up, Rosamunda felt restored.
Crouching upon the rug before it, she thought of the great bed of her parents that waited for her in the darkness of her room, wide and clean and chill. She knew she would not sleep in it. Not tonight.
She tried to drag the old settee closer to the fire, pushing the wooden chair away. She could not pull it up onto the rug, so she left it at the edge, angled over the corner. That would have to do. As long as she could see the fire and feel the heat, that was all that mattered.
Taking a coverlet out of the cupboard she curled up on the little couch, pulling it up over her shoulders. Making a nest for herself in its faded familiar cushions, she felt soothed. She realised her hair was still damp as she nestled her head into her mother’s pillows, plumped fat and comforting beneath her cheek. She should sit up and let it dry. But, suddenly tired, the tedious task of waving and fluffing it back and forth seemed too onerous. She would unpin it and spread it out. The fire would dry it. The pins made no sound as she let them drop to the rug.
Ah, the fire….
As Rosamunda settled inside herself, smoothing her cheek against the worn embroidered plush that her mother’s hand had worked, the leaping flames entranced then lulled her, until they became a part of her dreams.
The same night ~ the Boffins’ home at Overhill, and its environs.
As the two friends neared the Boffin home, Frodo could make out a glimmer of light. The dark shapes of smaller structures, sheds and outbuildings standing back from the lane, could be discerned on either side as they made their way. The light appeared to be shining from the house.
The Boffin home was a rambling affair, the product of many additions made over the years. Not a hole, it was built above the ground, but its low profile was almost indistinguishable in the gloom of the overcast night. Closer to, Frodo could see the light was coming from the kitchen. Surely, no one would still be waiting up.
As if he had read Frodo’s thoughts, Folco said, “Mother has started leaving a lamp burning in the kitchen for us, whenever we are out late ever since Marco came home drunk last month and cut his lip falling over the dog. His lip was not of great concern, but a broken arm or leg would put the work back shockingly!” he laughed. “She’s not waiting up, if that’s what you’re thinking. The lamp will be a good thing, though, in our conditions.”
Folco stumbled against a stone at the edge the path as if to prove his point, uttering an oath.
If Folco’s mother was not waiting up, others were. A chorus of yelps rose up as they opened the garden gate and found themselves surrounded by a circle of glittering eyes and panting jaws with tongues slavering.
Although Frodo had long since learned that not every dog was one of Farmer Maggot’s, he momentarily had to steel himself to stretch out his hand for their eager noses to smell. They knew him for a friend.
Up near the house, the light spilling from the kitchen lamp was enough for them to see which dog was which. Folco grinned as one of them continued to nose Frodo with keen enthusiasm; indeed, as if it might tunnel its nose right through the crotch of Frodo’s breeches.
Dogs , Frodo thought.
“Off, Tip! Give over!” Folco ordered through snorts and giggles. “Leave something for the lasses!”
“You could push him off yourself, you know, Frodo,” Folco advised, “unless it’s just too enjoyable to forego.”
At this, Frodo broke into a fit of giggles himself, Folco joining him in hilarity. They tried to stifle their noise, but, doubled over with laughter, their arms upon each other’s shoulders for mutual support, they shook with helpless mirth until tears streamed down their faces.
When the fit had passed, sighing for breath, Folco suggested they go inside and take a bit of refreshment. Frodo was amenable to that. But, just as he was about to follow Folco inside, they were startled by the creaking of a casement.
“What’s all that rumpus out there? Folco, is that you?”
“Yes, Mother, it is,” Folco affirmed in a loud whisper, adding, “Frodo Baggins is with me.”
“Oh,” the voice answered, sounding mollified.
“Well, just keep your noise down a bit better, you two. And put out the lights when you’ve finished up. And leave some of those sweet buns for breakfast.”
The conversation was at an end.
Inside, Frodo was grateful to share from a plate of food left covered with a cloth on a high sideboard, to keep it from the dogs. A large dent had been made in it already; Marco must have come home already and gone to bed. Rollo and his family had retired long before.
Frodo and Folco finished their meal with sweet buns, two each. They were exceptionally good, even cold. Folco’s mother was extremely indulgent (towards Frodo, too) however much she disliked being woken from her sleep. Her daughters were married and gone, but she baked a variety of sweet every day, to suit the tastes of “her lads” – the two sons who remained at home and her husband.
Restored, Folco stood up.
“Now, Frodo! We’ve got just the thing to round things off nicely. Rollo brought it down from Long Cleeve; a bit of the North Took specialty. It’s a barley malt such as you and I have never dreamt of, it is that superb. You’d think one of Bilbo’s Elves had made it!”
Folco vanished but quickly reappeared holding a crockery bottle sealed with a lump of wax. He opened it, lifted it in a gesture of reverence, then held it up to his nose. Both hobbits took turns breathing in the spirit’s heady perfume, sighing with pleasure.
It would be wonderful.
Several diminutive glasses later, Frodo and Folco were feeling pleasantly undone by the spirits. In the near-darkness of the old back parlour, redolent with the smell of whiskey, pipeweed and dog, they lounged. Folco sat with his legs stretched out before him on the rug, leaning against the sofa, his head propped on the seat cushion behind him. Frodo, on the sofa, was sprawled upon his back with a doggy-smelling pillow under his head, his feet hanging over the arm at the end. One hand was up behind his head, the other held the empty glass, which he slowly turned this way and that, studying the reflections that winked in the candlelight.
They said little, merely enjoying the effects wrought by the skill of North-Took distillers. Some candles flickered on top of a table across from the couch, their light waxing and waning as they dripped little pools onto their trays.
“Frodo,” Folco said at last, breaking the silence.
“Mmmm?” Frodo answered.
“I am sorry I baited you.”
Frodo was still backing up his thoughts looking for a reference, when Folco spoke again.
“Yes, baited you. At the Ivy Bush.”
So, they were back to that. Blast. Unwillingly, Frodo braced himself.
“You see – I was sure it was you.”
“Sure I was what?”
“The lover. Rosamunda’s mystery lover.”
Double blast. Folco was being plain enough.
“I was hoping, you see,” Folco went on tentatively, “that if I pushed you a bit, you might say something. But if you don’t want to tell me anything – ”
Sobered, Frodo worked to muster an unperturbed tone with which to fashion a reply, but could not. There was nothing he could say that would not be a lie.
“Oh,” Folco sighed. “I shan’t try to drag it out of you.”
Frodo waited, still tense. He was sure Folco hadn’t finished.
‘Was I wrong, after all? I must have been, I suppose. For if it were you, you would have told me. I would have told you if I were the one – as your friend.”
The tone of Folco’s voice was almost one of hurt.
Frodo said nothing, but, glancing at his friend, he suddenly felt shabby for his deceit, in spite of Folco’s presumptuousness. His friend’s profile was only partially lit as he stared off somewhere overhead.
Looking at him, Frodo was filled with inexplicable tenderness. Frodo’s predicament was not Folco’s fault. His friend did not mean to wound. Frodo would simply have to bear it.
“I was so certain it was you, Frodo,” Folco went on, unable to let it go. “That was why I pressed you.”
“I thought, ‘Who else could it be?’ You were missing night after night at the Ivy Bush, with little to offer by way of explanation. But I hadn’t meant it in a nasty, prying way – as if just to be nosy.”
Frodo heaved a silent sigh; when would this ordeal be over?
Folco had twisted round to look at Frodo, casting his face into shadow. But Frodo was facing the candlelight, so he smiled, to show his good will.
The smile must have been convincing; Folco relaxed again. Turning back around, he dropped his head against the sofa cushion.
“I merely wanted to cheer you on, Frodo…” Folco continued wisfully. Raising his glass he sipped the last of it, made a satisfied sound and straightened up a little against the couch, his head dropping even further back.
“And why wouldn’t I want to cheer you on, Frodo? I would have been pleased for you!” Folco said with renewed fervour, gazing somewhere between the rafters. “Is there a lad who wouldn’t count himself lucky to land up in Rosamunda’s bed?”
Behind Folco’s reclining head, Frodo bristled. Sinews stood out on Frodo’s arms and wrists. The strangled sound that escaped his throat must have caught Folco’s ear.
Turning around, Folco was smiling, ready to speak, as if anticipating something other than what he saw.
Frodo did not know what he looked like, but at the sight of his face, Folco’s smile vanished; the words he had prepared shrivelled on his lips. In spite of the ale and the North Took spirits, Folco was suddenly open-eyed.
“Frodo,” he stammered shrinking away and scooting back across the rug.
The light of the candles behind Folco hid his face from Frodo’s view, but the tone of his voice told Frodo everything.
“I didn’t realise, Frodo!” came Folco’s anguished voice. “I am – forgive me.”
Folco dropped his head, abashed.
Lifting it again, he blurted, “Oh, good heavens, Frodo. What have I said? What an ignorant, blundering – I never thought! Do you mean that you – ? Well, of course you do; I can see that. But, does Rosamunda know? I mean – oh, dear. I’m so sorry, Frodo.”
Folco’s queries and exclamations foundered miserably, one after another, at the sight of Frodo’s indignation and distress.
Whether Folco was sorry to think his friend was in love with “the Widow,” or whether he was sorry that Frodo was pining – unrequited – for a woman who was seeing someone else, Frodo could not tell. He appreciated his friend’s remorse, on account of the love it revealed, but the situation really was too much to bear. He must get away.
Standing up, Frodo put down his little glass and straightened his clothes. Dampness stained the breast of his shirt. Took spirits, he surmised.
Folco, drunk and wretched, struggled to push himself up off the floor, imploring Frodo to wait. Frodo was touched by his friend’s distress in spite of his own, but it was all he could do to keep from dashing out.
“I really must be going, Folco. It is very late. But thank you for asking me over. Thank Rollo, too, for providing the treat – and beg his pardon if we drank too much of it.”
Folco would not be put off so formally. Grasping his younger friend by the shoulders he held on, as if for support, as words continued to tumble out.
“Don’t go feeling angry with me, Frodo. I didn’t know. Really – I didn’t! I guessed that you – but I never imagined that – I thought you were just – ”
Amusing myself? Trying out a few things with the ‘lonely widow’? Frodo could fill in the spaces.
“Frodo – please believe me – I never would have said all that rubbish if I had known that you – if I had known how you felt.”
Folco had never believed in any other “mystery lover,” that was plain. And, he was becoming weepy.
Pulling his friend to him for a gruff but heart-felt embrace, Frodo managed to prevent Folco from saying anything more. Yet, feeling himself embraced powerfully in return, and with such obvious love, Frodo suddenly longed to tell Folco everything. To tell somebody of the love that made his heart expand and fill his chest to bursting. But he could not.
“There is nothing to know, Folco," Frodo said, holding Folco away so that he might look him in the eye. "There is nothing to know and nothing to tell. That is – there is nothing I am able to tell. Can you understand what I am saying, Folco?”
Frodo meant to sound firm but his tone must have been sharp, for his friend shrank away.
Pulling Folco back for another quick embrace, to reassure him, Frodo bade his friend farewell and left quickly, letting himself out before Folco could speak or follow.
Outside, standing in the thin spill of light from the Boffins’ kitchen window, Frodo could see his canine admirers running up to him. All panting eagerness, the dogs opened their jaws to bark a fresh greeting.
“Shhh! Down, Tip,” he whispered, giving his special admirer a vigorous scratch and a pat. Stooping made Frodo’s head feel heavy; he had drunk too much after all. Tip, oblivious to the state of Frodo's head, was nevertheless satisfied. Amiably he trotted off into the night, the others following their leader.
As quietly as he could Frodo went out through the gate, turned his face into the swirling mists and stepped into the homeward way. The drizzle had stopped and the cool night air had a refreshing, sobering effect. Frodo did not stumble as he went; even completely inebriated and on a moonless night Frodo had always been able to find his way home, just by the feel of the familiar road under his feet.
Almost at Bag End, Frodo came to a halt. So precipitous was his stop it nearly sent him flying headlong. Frodo's eyes had nothing to fix upon, but, flexing his toes against the cool wet of the lane, he recovered his balance. As the feel of the earth firmed under his feet, his thoughts began to sort themselves.
Frodo had been ambling along, letting his mind wander. Sensing the proximity of his home he had begun to picture his arrival there.
He’d open the gate and then he’d enter the darkened door….
Inside Bag End it would be quiet and dark. He would take a lamp from the kitchen and light it, carrying it before him. From Bilbo's room, he would hear snoring, soft and steady. Passing along the silent hall, the lamp would make shafts of dark and light that skittered across the walls and floor as he walked to his room at the end. At his doorway he would come to a halt, and, holding the lamp aloft, look in.
There would be the contents of his room – solid yet curiously insubstantial in the wavering light. His worn writing desk covered in writing things that had been his father’s, brought out of store from Buckland; his books on their shelves; the dressing table with its mirror, basin and pitcher – his tooth powder – brushes and combs lying beside it; the heavy clothes press; the hearth and grate. By the hearth would be the cushioned chair and stool that had come from his parent’s parlour, also out of store; a non-descript nightstand stood by the bed.
The bed. It was the bed that drew his inner gaze. How stark it looked; how strangely unfamiliar – bleak – and utterly lonely. Frodo had not slept in it at night since Lithe.
How long ago was that? Folco would have been able to tally it up, Frodo thought wryly. Was it only three weeks past? Three weeks and some days? It seemed like years, like lifetimes ago….
Standing in the dark lane, Frodo hesitated.
Almost at his own front gate, he realized he had no wish to go home. Nor did he want his bed. In fact, he flinched from it. The prospect of getting into it alone depressed him utterly.
The truth was, Frodo no longer could think of a night alone – a night that did not end in Rosamunda’s arms. Nestled up against her, his cheek near her breast, lulled by the rhythm of her breathing – that was how he slept now.
It was terribly late, Frodo knew; she would have gone to bed hours ago. Yet, he simply could not make himself go inside Bag End. Late as it was, he would walk to the cottage.
Perhaps he could just creep into bed beside her; there still were several hours left before the dawn. But, then, he thought, he might wake her with his fidgeting – at least – if he could not settle down inside.
He would listen to his breathing; that usually quieted him. It did now.
As the turmoil inside began to still, Frodo began to notice the sounds around him. Frogs sang in the new-filled ditches, the song of their rhythmic chirping ebbing and flowing like breathing or like the blood that pumped through his veins. Frodo loved listening to them as he lay on Rosamunda’s bed, his hands clasped under his head. She would listen, too, her arms loosely wrapped around him; utterly soft, but full of latent strength to hold him tight.
The sloughs near her home would be full of new rain. The songs would be glorious….
He would go to the cottage; he would not be going home.
No, that was not true – Frodo would be going home, he realised at once – but, to another home.
After all, not just Bag End but the cottage, too, had become his home. He had two homes, now, hadn’t he? Or, perhaps, it was one; his lonely room and lonelier bed were no home.
Yet, Bilbo was still his home. That was closer to the way it was: Bilbo himself was his home – not Bag End. Just as it was not the cottage but Rosamunda herself, who was his home, out in the grassy hills. Home resided in a person, not a structure. Home was where one loved, and where one was loved in return.
Frodo had such a home with Bilbo; now he wanted one with Rosamunda. Did he have a home with her – in her? Did she even know how much he loved her? Folco’s impertinent remarks came, unwanted, to mind.
Did Rosamunda, like Folco, think Frodo was merely amusing himself?
No, surely not. Never. She would not have received him had she thought it was merely that.
But was she merely indulging him, out of their old friendship, but really waiting for him to outgrow a besotted infatuation? That was a more likely possibility. Frodo couldn’t bear it if she felt like that. In fact, it was the possibility he most dreaded.
He had to know. He had to know tonight.
As Frodo struck out across the fields in the darkness, following the cart track by the feel of mud, he trusted as much to instinct as to knowledge to bring him where he wished to go, for his mind was out in front of him. Directly overhead, a rent in the clouds disclosed a patch of the great belt of densely clustered stars that stretched across the heavens. Frodo’s heart lifted immediately at the sight of it.
Leaping a narrow ditch between the fields, Frodo's mind still churned, but not with the anxiousness and confusion he had felt before. He knew what he wanted to say, and he practiced it as he went.
They were so simple, the words – “You are home to me, Rosa. You are the one whom I love. Do you love me, too?" He merely had to say them.
And he would have no trouble finding his way. How could he? He was going home.
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.