2. A Kettle Simmers
1395, Before Yule ~ Bag End.
That year, the Bolgers stopped in Hobbiton on their way to celebrate the Yuletide festivities with the Tooks. Normally the Bolgers would be received by the Brandybucks for this feast. But this year the winter weather had been unusually fair (if chilly). The rains had been little, so the roads were not mired. Therefore the Bolgers decided to drive all the way to Great Smials for the days of Yule.
As usual, Odovacar, stopped at Bag End only intermittently during the family’s visit, riding off daily to tend to business in the area. The local tenants had many questions for him. Wolves had been seen of late, too, or so folk said. Even the thought of a hunt was irresistible to him.
It was during this stay at Bag End, away from the familiar setting of Shady Bank, that Rosamunda discovered that Frodo’s affection for her had changed.
The evening meal, prepared primarily by Bilbo, had been a convivial and pleasant one; the candles on the dinner table had burnt low in testimony to the time they had spent at it. Still in festive spirits, the adults brought their glasses of wine with them into Bag End’s hospitable parlour. The children brought their spiced cider.
The fire crackled in the great hearth, illuminating everything in a strong chiaroscuro, making the colours and textures of everything deeper and richer, including Rosamunda herself.
Not a few glasses of Old Winyards had been raised and all its drinkers were feeling its effects, Rosamunda not excepted. Her pleasure in the evening was all the greater for seeing her husband looking so well, as if he had been quite restored to his formal self, lively and festive. As for the children, Freddy and Estella happily commandeered the greater part of Frodo’s attention for a game by the fire.
Although she was unaware of it, the two older hobbits took particular notice of Rosamunda, the only adult female present. Odovacar had been watching her with admiration if not frank desire. Bilbo had noticed. He had been watching her, not only for the pleasure of looking at a fine hobbit woman, but merely to indulge his life-long interest in seeing how folk behaved.
Rosamunda was in fine spirits. Her colour was high from the wine and the fire. Her dark eyes were radiant with enjoyment and her crimped, light brown hair caught the fire’s light. It spilled out of its pins (as usual) despite her efforts to keep it tidily confined, making narrow gold-threaded trails that snaked down her neck, glossy in the fire-sheen. The wine had left a red jewel on her browned lips. A bit chapped, they were yet full and generous. When she threw back her head to laugh at Bilbo’s jokes, her gleaming teeth flashed and the rosy interior behind them could be glimpsed.
It was not difficult for Bilbo to guess what Odovacar was thinking; his unhealthy colour looked quite restored to its former bloom. Bilbo himself was thinking it himself, though he no longer was inclined to act upon such thoughts. She was a very desirable hobbit woman, as any man could see.
Then Bilbo noticed that he and Odovacar were not alone in their admiration. Frodo, too, was watching. From his stool by the fire with the Bolger children, he watched intently, though with a growing lack of attention to the game.
Yes, my lad, she’s well worth watching….
Bilbo’s eyes glinted in the fire light as he looked back to the Bolgers. Odovacar had reached over to take his wife’s hand and was just pressing a kiss into her palm. His other hand was sliding up her throat under the strands of escaping hair, to frame the side of her face with his fingers. Their tips trembled.
Perhaps because it was done in Bilbo’s presence, Rosamunda seemed a little embarrassed by her husband’s impetuous kiss but she took her husband’s hand from her cheek and returned his gesture, pressing her own kiss there in return.
Oh, dear. Did the lad see that?
Bilbo stole a glance back at Frodo.
Oh, yes. He’d seen that.
Frodo seemed transfixed. He was motionless except for the rise and fall of his chest as he took deep, measured breaths through parted lips. In such a pale face, with the fire at his back, his eyes looked nearly black.
Then the moment dissolved.
Estella pulled on Frodo’s sleeve, calling his name in her piping voice, reminding him that it was his turn. Rosamunda, having perceived her husband’s intentions, rose to her feet with suppressed joy. Together, they bade Bilbo and Frodo a fond goodnight. Yes, Estella and Freddy might stay up, but only for one more hour. They must be very good and mind dear Bilbo.
When the husband and wife had disappeared through the archway into the darkness of the tunnelled hall, Frodo turned back to his two young admirers. With seeming effort, he resumed the game.
Soon after, the young folk went to bed. But Bilbo stayed on, looking into the fire while he nursed his last glass. Then he prepared a pipe.
The next day was brisk under the wan sun of year’s end, but the young folk bundled up and went outside in search of amusement.
Bag End was quiet. Odovacar had gone off again. He was down in Hobbiton and Bywater, wrapping up business, but would return in time for dinner. Bilbo and Rosamunda, left on their own, each secretly relished the respite. Bilbo repaired to his study to read and nap. Rosamunda sought out the peace of the kitchen.
Even in the day, the winter light made the kitchen dark, so Rosamunda kindled the lights while she readied things to make the Yule treat. She had decided to take the opportunity to make it in Bilbo’s kitchen. Once they had got to the Smials, in all its hustle and bustle, Eglantine might not have an oven to spare. Here there was plenty of space to work, and plenty of peace and quiet. She would make two – one for the Smials and one to leave with Bilbo for a gift.
Gathering her tools and ingredients onto the big table in the centre of the kitchen, Rosamunda pushed up her sleeves and began her work. She stood at the table facing the interior of the hole where wall sconces threw off a bit of additional light.
Frodo was the first back. Through the side entry, he burst in from the late-afternoon cold, relishing the smack of warmth in the kitchen, full of the smells of good things cooking. He pulled off his jacket and scarf and flung them over the hooks.
Freddy and Estella were down the hill, he told Rosamunda, still in the pony shed with some of the Gamgees.
A bit giddy and breathless from the chill, Frodo was in very high spirits. Forgetting for once the ‘new rules’, he crept up behind Rosamunda and gave her one of his surprise embraces of old. He threw his arms around her waist and squeezed her tight, laughing with delighted triumph at the start he gave her, just as he had done so many times before.
Yet almost at once Frodo sensed that something was different. This was not like other times. Once, his small, laughing face would have pressed just above the small of her back. Later, he had laughed between her shoulder blades. The last time he had done this, he had almost been her height.
But now, he was as tall as she. His cheek just brushed her ear. His laughter issued in warm puffs, which assailed her ear and the back of her neck. Wisps and strands of her fine hair floated away and back where it spilled from its pins. It tickled his nose and cheek. His laughter faltered and ceased.
She had always smelled good to him, but now, so close, where her hair trailed upon her neck, only inches from his eyes, Frodo found that her fragrance filled his senses. He held himself still.
Every other time Frodo had done this he would have released her by now. They would have performed the ritual mock-scolding, dissolving into mutual laughter.
But not this time. Frodo did not let her go. Rather, he clenched his fingers still tighter into the fabric of her bodice where his arms had twined about her waist.
He pulled her closer. She stiffened against him. A sense of prohibition fretted at the edges Frodo’s mind but he put it aside.
Rosamunda did not speak or move, but remained still, as if held in suspense.
It was very quiet in the kitchen, with only the sound of hissing noises from the meat simmering on the stove, the lid making a skittering, metallic noise as moisture bubbled up and raised it from the rim of the pot.
No, there was another sound: Rosamunda’s breathing. Frodo could hear it clearly – exhalations like little jets of air, timed with the laboured in-and-out of her ribs against his chest.
As he held her there, his lips just grazing the shell of her ear, his breath stirring her fallen hair, Frodo felt her gathered tension begin to drain away until she felt yielding and pliant. He drew her back against him until he could feel her body all along his own, acutely aware of the planes and rounds and dipping places that made up the back of her. As if all the heat in the room were gathered there between them, he felt himself melting into the closeness of their fit. He heard a sigh and felt a shudder – but did not know whose – hers or his. He let his mouth hover, sensing the heat rising from her skin. Then, not quite touching, he let his parted lips skim the surface of her neck, so warm and fragrant, pausing to linger in the angle of her shoulder where the turn of her collar brushed his nose. Then he let his mouth to drift back to the place where her hair trailed down the back of her neck, just behind her ear. There the scent was best. He closed his eyes to breathe it in.
He let his lips alight at last, savouring the spot with a tender kiss.
The feel of his kiss jolted Rosamunda out of her trance. Her eyes flew open – when had she shut them? She lurched aside, spinning round to face him with such speed she had to grab onto the table edge for balance. The wooden spoon she had been holding clattered to the floor. Her face was scalding and her ears buzzed as she heard the sound of ragged breathing. Hers? His? Perhaps it was both.
She gaped at Frodo. His face was flushed, his eyes wide; the pupils so dilated they seemed nearly black. His eyes looked stripped clean, as if stunned with new knowledge. They stood stock still, riveted by each other’s stares. She could see that he was trying to speak, but no sound came.
It was then she heard a discreet cough from the doorway. A figure stood in its shadows, very still. Bilbo.
Frodo sprang even further away from her.
With a great effort, Rosamunda managed to recover herself as she bent to scoop up the spoon from the stone flags. She attempted a jest, but it died before it was articulated.
Frodo only looked dismayed. He muttered something indecipherable, then bolted, stumbling past Bilbo down the hall.
She could not see Bilbo’s face as he stood in the shadows. When he did step into the kitchen towards her, she could not read his expression.
What had he seen?
A succession of images flooded her mind. She imagined what Bilbo would have seen: Frodo glued to her back, his fingers digging into the cloth of her dress, his face buried in her hair, dark hair mingling with light. He must have heard their breathing all the way to the door! Her face burned anew as she thought of how she herself must have looked; her hair coming down and her head tipped back, eyes closed, lips parted. Looking down at her hands as they gripped the retrieved spoon, she pictured her hands then, lying palm-upwards upon the table surface, acquiescent and trembling like a bitch dog showing her belly to be scratched. She felt revolted
Yet Bilbo made no comment. He only exchanged glances with her as he approached the table. They put their joint energies into the task at hand, finishing up the preparations for the evening meal. Their talk, usually so easy and amiable, was strained and sparse.
When he had finished his own tasks, Bilbo made ready to leave but turned back to say, “Have a care, Rosa.”
With a struggle she said lightly, “Oh, Frodo will regain his equanimity.”
“I am sure he will,” Bilbo replied. “But, in fact, I was thinking of yours.”
Rosamunda now was very much upon her guard. There would be no such opportunities in future. She should sit Frodo down – have a talk with him. He was old enough to have known – he must have known – what he was doing. If he did not before, he did now.
But she did not talk to him. She could not and she would not think about it.
Nevertheless, Rosamunda did think about it. She thought of what had passed over and over again. She did not think of what she had experienced; that was a blur. She thought of the event through Bilbo’s eyes: Frodo pressed up behind her, oblivious, and her own response, so transparent; a voluptuary’s.
Her face burned all over again.
No. No, it wouldn’t do. She would not have it!
But she must.
Frodo kept his distance that evening, Rosamunda noticed. He met neither her eyes nor Odovacar’s (when the older hobbit had returned from his last errands in the village). But her husband, Rosamunda saw with relief, was too full of his own news and business to notice the breech that had widened between them.
For her part, she tried to behave as though nothing had happened. She was partially successful. Bilbo took it all in, she saw, although his expression was veiled.
Everyone had an early night and the Bolgers left for Tookland in the morning. Frodo and Bilbo walked out to see them off. Frodo’s goodbyes to Freddy and Estella were effusive but to their parents, Frodo barely raised his eyes as he lifted his hand in farewell.
1396, Summer ~ Bag End.
After Lithe, having escorted the children to Tookland for their time at Great Smials, Rosamunda returned to Budgeford. On the way, she stopped at Bag End. It was late when she arrived, almost sunset. When the trap pulled up, she saw a lone figure standing by the gate.
Good. Just as she might wish.
Frodo, who had been in Tookland, too, had left the Smials several days before. She had hoped he would already have gone ahead to Buckland, where he was staying at the Hall. The children had said that was his plan. There would be no risk, then, of seeing the younger Baggins at his home.
She meant to have a private talk with Bilbo, or, to try. Her wish seemed to have been granted. Frodo did not appear.
Once she had made her meaning clear, Bilbo found her attitude most fortuitous. He, too, had been hoping for a little talk.
When Rosamunda was settled, the pony taken care of and her things carried inside, Bilbo plied her with a tray of late refreshments. Perhaps, over a glass of wine or a pot of tea, she might be induced to tell him what he wanted to know. Bilbo wanted to confirm it. Had he seen what he thought he’d seen when he’d walked in on the two of them, that afternoon in winter?
They ate in near-silence. Except for the sounds of refreshments being munched or sipped (very discreetly), and the tinkle of tableware against dishes, their late meal was noiseless, barely sprinkled with speech. Yet they were silent in an easy way. Bilbo sipped his wine, Rosamunda, her tea. Then they shared a sweet, and the meal was finished.
After exchanging a few pleasantries about the meal and her journey, Rosamunda appeared to brace herself. She took a deep breath, and plunged in.
“I will admit, Bilbo, I did not order things as I might have done – at Yule. I ought to have shown better self-command.”
Bilbo’s lifted his eyebrows encouragingly. Rosamunda was proving more forthcoming – and more quickly – than he had anticipated.
He reached for the tea pot to pour. She watched the liquid as it ran down the side of her cup. It did look somewhat tepid.
She might have some wine, she said, after all.
Bilbo obliged. He waited while she drained her cup, watching the crest on the goblet’s rim disappear and reappear as she turned it around in her hands between sips. She set it down. Then, with a napkin she blotted her lips. She cleared her throat.
“I was … caught off guard. Taken by surprise, I think,” she continued gamely, but with starts and stops. “By Frodo. By his behaviour to me, that is.”
She had begun making a twist of her napkin end, but stopped at once when she noticed her his glance.
Bilbo remained silent, but his look was everything attentive.
Rosamunda smoothed the napkin, pressing it flat. “I have been uneasy, at times, about the state of Frodo’s feelings and what they might be towards me, but it shocked me, nonetheless – as indeed it must have shocked you, Bilbo.”
“I was not shocked,” Bilbo corrected her gently. “I have been alive a long time, Rosamunda. That Frodo, at his present age, might become … excited … by the close proximity of an attractive lass, is not a thing unheard of.”
Rosamunda had been folding the napkin into small squares until it could be folded no smaller.
“But I am not a lass,” she said impatiently, “Nor a beauty."
“Do not underestimate your charms, Rosa,” Bilbo cautioned with a smile.
Rosa rolled her eyes. “Oh, really, Bilbo,” she sighed.
“No, no!” Bilbo insisted. “I am in earnest. What you think of your own powers to attract, Rosamunda, and what hobbit lads think, are quite different things. Consider: you are no aged matron. You are a hobbit woman in her prime. Frodo will be twenty-eight in September. He is still a ‘tween, but old enough to show an interest – no – more than interest in such things. I certainly did at his age. I have seen Frodo in company with many lasses. Of course, I do not stand over him every moment like a chaperone. Yet I cannot recall him behaving in such a forwards manner towards any of them. Only to you. It is you to whom Frodo has shown such an attraction.”
Bilbo paused. “Or, if not to you, then, to what you exude, Rosa,” he added.
Rosamunda stared at the hand with which she compressed the little square of napkin against the table top, but said nothing.
“Let us be frank, we two, eh, Rosa? Just as old friends may be,” Bilbo cajoled in an avuncular manner. He moved in closer, leaning across the table.
Rosamunda seemed to restrain an impulse to shrink away, and lifted her eyes to meet his gaze.
“Although you were too young to have seen him then,” Bilbo told her, “your Odovacar was quite the lad in his youth, Rosa. And even when he’d come of age, he showed no signs of letting up.”
“Odovacar’s reputation has always been well known to everyone, I should think. I knew of it, certainly,” she answered cautiously, not sure whither Bilbo was leading.
“Did you know, Rosa, most folk doubted that Odovacar would ever conform to wedded life the way he did, after he married?”
Bilbo paused in case she might answer, but she did not. She held herself very still, her eyes trained upon his, as if waiting to hear some doom.
Keeping his gaze fixed very keenly upon hers, he continued, “As for me, I had no doubts, Rosa. No, no. I could see, quite well, that Odovacar had chosen wisely in a wife. He had found a woman whose nature answered perfectly to his own."
Two red spots formed on Rosamunda’s cheeks and she dropped her gaze. Bilbo took her firm hand between his soft ones. He peered at her with acuity, but not without tenderness until she could bear to look at him again.
“Come, come, Rosa,” he soothed. “It is only the truth, is it not?” He patted her hand. “I can see quite well that you and Odovacar are very happy … in that way. It is plain to anyone with eyes in his head.”
“In that case,” Bilbo argued gently, “why should it not be plain to Frodo, also, now very naturally taking a keen interest in such things?”
Rosamunda still said nothing, levelly returning his gaze.
“I realize you love the lad, Rosa. No, no – don’t fly up into the boughs! – hear me out.”
He patted her hand again when he had retrieved it.
“Has not your entire little family shown him love and affection ever since his parents died? Have not all of you treated him with special friendship, almost as if he were one of your own? I have heard Frodo sing your family’s praises these seven years, since I brought him here to Bag End. He cares for you, all of you. But especially, I think, for you, Rosa. I know you have cared for him as your young friend. Perhaps, even as a son. I do not know.”
Bilbo gave her hand a reassuring squeeze, saying, “Frodo has loved you, too, Rosa, as his grown-up friend. And, perhaps, somewhat as a mother but no more, Rosa. Am I wrong in this, do you think?”
Bilbo waited for her answer.
“I wish you were,” she said with a shuddering sigh, “but I fear you are not.”
Bilbo took a sip of wine as he refilled Rosa’s cup. He waited for her to take some before he spoke.
“And would I be wrong, Rosa,” he pressed ahead delicately, “to think that you, too, now see Frodo … differently?”
He saw her swallow hard, as if she might speak. She did not.
“It is not inconceivable to me, you see, old hobbit that I am,” he went on, “that you might respond to Frodo in this new way, too, Rosa.”
He did not see but sensed her flinch. The knuckles of her fingers were white as they circled her goblet.
“It is true,” Bilbo said, as if musing, “that Frodo’s sort of looks are not universally appreciated. Not every lass who sees him is captivated. His colouring, perhaps, makes him appear a little frail, though he is not. Still, does not Frodo possess a sort of beauty that strongly speaks to those who can see it … in fact … to you?”
At this, Rosamunda rallied. With animated fervour she replied, “I am perfectly aware, Bilbo, that I find Frodo beautiful to look at. I have always found him so from the moment I met him, when he was a little lad. There is nothing new in that! You are mistaken to put so much meaning on the thing you saw at Yule. That is not the sort of friendship we have had. For Frodo, it surely was a matter of the sudden close proximity – a situation that might have had the same effect on any youth. But that is all.”
She recounted to Bilbo the efforts she had made to distance Frodo from her, out of the recognition that he was growing up, and he listened patiently. She should have her say.
“I am as anxious as you, Bilbo,” she insisted, “that Frodo should overcome this unfortunate incident. If (as you seem to think it possible) Frodo should yet harbour some stronger sort of feeling towards me, that would be a very ill thing, indeed. He would be nurturing a fruitless fantasy, dreaming of a person already married – happily married!”
Bilbo sat back in his chair then drew himself up.
“That is exactly what I should wish to hear, Rosa,” he said, taking her hand again. “It reassures me, it comforts me to hear you say it. For it has been on my mind – Frodo’s future. I do not anticipate that I shall not be here for very much longer, you see.”
“What ever do you mean?” she asked with swift concern. “Are you ill, then?”
Bilbo laughed and gave her hand a squeeze.
“Be at peace, Rosa. That is not what I meant. No, I’m not ill – although I am beginning to feel my years at last. I know I don't look my age. I have had rare fortune fending off the ravages of time. But it cannot keep up indefinitely, can it? I may have Elvish friends, but I am not an Elf myself!”
Rosa looked relieved and smiled.
Bilbo pushed himself away from the table.
Rosamunda rose, too. She appeared to think the interview was at an end and turned to go, but checked herself when he said, “It pleases me to hear you say such things. Clearly, you want what’s best for Frodo. So do I. For I do love him, Rosa. I love him as a son. Indeed, I made him my heir as if he were one.”
Bilbo strode to the window and gazed out into the deepening dusk outside.
“When I am gone, Frodo will become the Master of Bag End. Although I did not manage to do my duty in that way, it has been and remains my dearest wish that Frodo might live here after me.”
Turning to her, he said, “I wish to see him happy, Rosa. With a good wife who will fill this place with children. My grandchildren.”
Rosamunda seemed undaunted by his piercing gaze. She drew herself up to say, “The same wish for Frodo has ever been my own.”
Bilbo strode over to her and clasped her hands in his, as if to seal a bargain.
“Good,” he said. “We understand one another, then, you and I.”
Together, they cleared away their dinner things in thoughtful silence. When they were finished, Rosamunda would have retired to her room but Bilbo invited her to join him where he stood at the open door.
“Come, Rosa. Come and look. It is beautiful tonight, is it not? Let us enjoy it while we may.”
Outside, they sat together on the garden bench. Bilbo smoked and Rosamunda sipped her wine. In companionable silence they sat until the sky had turned from rose to purple to indigo, and the stars emerged, white and pure.
When their seat grew chilly at last, they retired for the night.
The next morning brought a post rider with shocking news – Odovacar was dead.
Odovacar had stopped to assist a fellow traveller, the rider told them breathlessly. He had been helping to mend a slipped wheel when he had been stricken, holding up the wagon box. He collapsed, it was reported, and never spoke again. He died thereafter.
So! Odovacar had been ill, Bilbo thought, thinking of the hobbit’s recent decline in health and vigour. Odovacar had just turned seventy-six. That was only four years older than Frodo’s father had been when he drowned in the Brandywine. Seventy-six was not yet old, not at all, Bilbo exclaimed to himself.
He would be one hundred and six that September.
Rosamunda, after the first shock had receded, remembered her life with Odovacar with Bilbo at intervals during the remainder of the morning as she packed and sent off notes. Her more intimate thoughts she did not reveal to him. But when in tears she told him, “I will miss him terribly, Bilbo, in so many ways!” he knew that at least one of those ways was as her lover.
Bilbo said no more of their little talk of the previous night but uttered the customary sentiments, though truly felt. Although they had had little in common in terms of interests, he had liked Odovacar very well. Bilbo feared that Freddy and Estella would feel the loss deeply. Frodo would mourn him, too, when he learned of it. He had cared for his “Uncle Odo” truly, in spite of his recent discomfiture over Odo’s wife.
“Ah, much too young to die!” was the overwhelming sentiment around the Shire.
But Rosamunda, only fifty, to be so early widowed…. It gave Bilbo pause.
That afternoon, Rosamunda readied herself to journey back to Tookland, to collect Estella and Freddy once again.
She had a spare practical conversation with Bilbo before she left, as she stood by the pony trap. He saw her struggling to keep herself in check, in order to remain clear-headed for the tasks and decisions ahead.
She would not stay on in Budgeford, she said, no. A caretaker could look after Shady Bank. Or, she could let it. The home would be kept, of course, for it would be Freddy’s upon his coming of age. But there was now no reason for her to return. She had never really liked it, so dark and gloomy, under the trees. She would come back to the West Farthing, to her own country.
Bilbo suppressed a start.
Not to her parents’ home, of course, she said. Her brother lived there, now. But, she said with a ghost of enthusiasm, just out of Hobbiton there was the little hole out in the grassy hills, the hunting box Odovacar had inherited. She could have it fitted up as a cottage. It would do very well for them – snug and just big enough.
Bilbo hoped he sounded non-committal as he sought to show Rosamunda how such a radical change of residence might not be for the best. Not so soon, anyway.
Finally, she allowed herself to be persuaded. Bilbo was right. With so many of the children’s friends situated nearby in Buckland, Shady Bank was still the best home for Freddy and Estella. She should not be precipitate. They would stay in Budgeford.
She thanked Bilbo for his advice and kindnesses. Then she drove off.
After the pony trap was out of sight, Bilbo’s shoulders relaxed a little. A look at the gardens might be nice. Surveying the area, he saw the Gaffer’s son at work and hailed him, calling, “Samwise!”
Bilbo strode down to meet the youth then stood and watched as the lad smoothed a new bed with the back of a rake.
It had been a close thing, Bilbo thought, preparing his pipe. Thankfully, it had passed.
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.