Promises: 4. Fruition

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4. Fruition

As the autumn finally succumbed to winter’s cold rains, Mae and Frodo met as often as they were able. Frodo said nothing of his proposal to Bilbo, but the older hobbit seemed to know something was afoot. He was, it appeared, still more amused than concerned. Frodo wondered at this, but as he reminded himself, Bilbo had once been a young hobbit too. Frodo also had noticed a change in Mae. She seemed more as she had at their first meeting, confident and gentle, less the stricken dove, but instead of the bright energy she had shown then, she now seemed to possess a sad strength. A part of him wondered at this too, but most of his thought was attempting to come to grips with the concept of betrothal. He knew it was his duty, and knew he would do it, but the thought did not settle easily in his mind. It wasn’t as if he disliked Mae, quite the contrary, if he were to marry at all, it would be her. It was not as Mae had thought either, the concept of station didn’t even enter into it in Frodo’s mind, it was the whole idea of settling down that made him uneasy. It was as if he knew in his heart he was not quite ready for it, but he had made a promise with his body, and would not forsake it.

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It was on a morning in early spring that Mae finally knew she had succeeded. The knowledge gave her little joy. Although premonitions still assaulted her whenever she was near him, the thought of never seeing Frodo again seemed far more bitter than the torment of seeing images of him in peril. Her heart was going to break, but it was too late now to choose another path. It was with utmost care and silence that she packed her meager belongings. Dore Browning was old but she knew her craft well. While Mae had taken extensive precautious to hide her visits to Frodo, she could not long conceal what was growing within her from the sharp eyes of the midwife. She needed to act quickly, before her heart or her body betrayed her. She decided to leave that evening – when the entire house had gone to sleep – and travel on foot under the cover of darkness down to Buckland, and probably on to one of the towns further east. She needed to get as far away as she could quickly or she felt Frodo would follow her. Mae was certain Dore would soon realize what had driven her away and she would not have the same compunction against announcing the reason that Frodo would. Rumors would fly – and she would need to avoid prying eyes until she was out of the Shire.

As the evening deepened, Mae grew restless. She told Dore she was going to bed early and went to her room and sat. She pulled out a piece of parchment and began to compose a letter. This would be her last letter to the one she loved – it required thought and care to achieve the effect she wanted. When at last she had what she thought was a good composition, she wrote it carefully and folded the note. A drop of red wax sealed it along with a few tears. They could not be helped. It was full dark now, and the house was silent. Mae put the letter in her bosom and pulled her bag from under her bed. It was a pitifully small bundle, but that made traveling easier anyway. Through the hall and out the round red door, she moved without a sound. She shut the door and crept along the garden walk. As she closed the gate, it felt like a trapdoor had fallen on her past. This was it. There was no going back now. Mae knew she should be terrified, she should be loath to leave the comfort and security of the future she could have had – but for some reason, she felt no fear. It was as if the life inside her gave her strength – and courage and purpose. It probably was pure folly that she felt this way, but at least it enabled her to do what she felt she must.

The road to Hobbiton was deserted – thankfully. She met no one until she timidly knocked on the door below Bag End. The hobbit who tended the Baggins’ gardens appeared after a bit of shouting, dressed for bed and looking very cross. Mae apologized profusely and started to explain that she had a letter for Mr. Baggins the younger and that it was important that he receive it the next morning. As she spoke, Mae noticed a small child peering from behind the older hobbit’s leg. He couldn’t have been more than nine. The child had apparently just been woken because he was blinking stupidly in the lamplight as he leaned against his father’s leg. Mae fumbled in her speech and stared at the child, entranced. The boy noticed her gaze and forced his sleepy brown eyes to focus. Mae squatted down till she was on level with the child’s eyes. The older hobbit sputtered, beginning to get angry over the girl’s incredible rudeness. How dare she wake him and his child and then proceed to ignore the parent. Mae paid him no heed; something Ham Gamgee found even more infuriating. She stared into the child’s eyes and started to smile. This was the other hobbit she had seen in her vision. She recognized him for the first time, although she knew she had seen him running about before. The child was staring open mouthed at her, but he didn’t seem afraid. Mae scanned his features, seeing perhaps the face she had envisioned instead of the one that stood before her. Her smile grew warmer.

“You are stronger than I am, little one.” she sighed softly, dreamily. “You have more strength and courage than I can boast – for you will stand by him… I cannot. I can not watch what you must bear.” She reached a hand out to the child’s cheek. He did not move away, but obviously had no idea what she was talking about. Mae laughed. “What’s your name, child?” The boy blinked but said nothing. Mae shook her head. “It doesn’t matter anyway.”

Ham, growing crosser, asked her state her business quickly and be gone, “Decent folk are sleeping by this hour!” he growled. Mae blinked and, as if coming out of a daze, pulled the note out of her bodice.

“Could I trust you to do something for me please?” she asked, looking to both father and son, but her gaze rested most fondly on the child who was finally reacting to her with something other than wonder. The boy nodded slowly and came forward from his father’s side. “Please give this to Frodo Baggins? No one else, only Frodo. Can you do that?” The child’s mouth closed and he nodded vigorously – obviously now more fully awake and realizing that he was being entrusted with something of importance. Mae sighed, smiled and chucked him under the chin. “You are a very good boy, did you know that?” The child’s mouth gaped open again. It seemed a common expression of wonderment for him. Ham scowled, but seeing the girl being so kind to his son made it more difficult to be angry with her. She turned to the father. “Again, I am sorry to have disturbed you. It is not an urgent matter, but I would not be able to deliver it at any other time. You are most kind to present it for me.” With that, she pulled her cloak more tightly about her shoulders and gave them each a polite curtsey, and then she was gone.

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Spring mornings at Bag End usually began with the sounds of singing from Ham Gamgee as he began his morning labors. There was much to be done in his garden and his master’s to ensure that they were both fruitful come summer. Frodo was not often the first one to arise, but it was so this morning. He wandered along the smial that led from his rooms to the kitchen, pulling up his suspenders as he walked and yawning. The fire in the kitchen hearth required a bit of stoking and some more wood to bring it to life, but it had been well banked the night before and the tiles and hearth still radiated heat. It was quite cozy in Bag End’s kitchen. Frodo filled the kettle and set it over the fire. Then he sank onto the bench and rested his head on his propped arm, waiting for the water to boil. He had almost drifted off again while sitting there, when a knock came to the window. Frodo blinked, startled and saw little Samwise peering over the sill. Frodo thought the sight of him struggling to peek into the window exceedingly funny. He got up and went to the front door to invite the child in. Samwise appeared around the corner pulling his father’s arm towards the stoop where Frodo stood. The older hobbit had a piece of parchment in his hand and the boy looked well pleased with himself.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Baggins,” Ham said a he came up the walk. “But my boy was watchin’ out to see if you were up. I wasn’t wanting to disturb your sleep for nothing.”

“I’m awake,” Frodo stretched and yawned, not appearing nearly as awake as he claimed, “What did you need?” He asked.

Hamfast apologetically handed Frodo the folded parchment. “A young lass dropped this by last evening. Very late it was, and she asked not to disturb you but to make sure we gave this to you, sir, in the morning. I believe it was the midwife’s apprentice, that Mae-lass, though I couldn’t be certain with her cloak on.”

At that, Frodo blinked, and was instantly fully awake. He received the paper with a sinking heart. What had happened? He thanked Ham and Samwise and went back into Bag End. At the kitchen table, the tea forgotten, Frodo carefully broke the seal and spread the paper out before him. It read:

‘To my sweetness, my light. If you are reading this, I am gone from the Shire. Please do not follow me. I have long realized why you asked me to marry, but it is I who am to blame for what happened between us, not you. You have acted with nothing but honor. I have not. Perhaps, if I did not love you as much as I do, I could have taken your offer – lived a lie, but I could not do that to you. Your life has a great purpose and you need to live it. I release you from your vow. There is more, of course, but you would not understand it now. Perhaps one day we will meet again and I will tell you my tale in full, but until then, know that I love you more than life, and will, always.’

Frodo sat back and reread the note again, but it still bewildered him. He had the feeling that much more was unsaid than was said. What had he done? He was still digesting the implications of his letter when Bilbo, newly arisen and dressed, wandered into the kitchen for his tea. He saw his nephew, the look on his face and the letter, and a pang of remembrance tugged at his heart. In silence he filled the teapot with hot water and pulled some apples and cakes from the cupboard. Frodo carefully folded his letter and placed it into his pocket.

“If you wish to talk about it, I’ll listen.” Bilbo said, with just the right amount of interest. Frodo sighed but could not look up.

“You’ve been very understanding, Bilbo.” The younger hobbit said at length. “I must have looked like a fool.”

Bilbo sat opposite him at the table and poured himself a cup of tea. “Foolish? No. Not at all. From what I saw, and that wasn’t much, you were very happy.” Bilbo waited and carefully sliced an apple into quarters. He placed half of the sections on a plate and proceeded to eat the rest. He knew Frodo would speak in his own time if he wished. The apples were gone and Bilbo had started on the cakes before Frodo spoke again.

“She’s left.” he whispered. “I’ve no idea why.” Frodo looked up at his uncle, stricken. “I…I didn’t expect this. I had asked for her hand…but I felt,…trapped. Do you think she knew? Do you think she could tell I was reluctant?” Frodo shook his head. “I do feel a fool. I didn’t know what I had and now I’ve lost it…”

Bilbo listened, showing nothing on his face, but when he spoke it was kindly. “We never do value what we have until it’s gone.” He munched thoughtfully on his cake. “You’re very young, Frodo, too young to be thinking about such things as marriage. There is time enough for both of you when you’ve grown a bit. Mayhap she saw this clearer than you did.”

“But why leave?” Frodo asked. Then he stopped as a thought occurred to him. “You don’t suppose…” He began, his eyes growing wide. Bilbo quickly shook his head as if intercepting his thought.

“You forget, she’s apprenticed to a midwife. She would know what to do to avoid anything of that sort. No, I doubt very highly that Ms. Burrows is ‘in the family way’, she’s not that foolish a girl.”

Frodo settled back and nodded absently. “I suppose you’re right, of course.” A wry smile crossed his lips. “Well, I guess the cat’s out of the bag now. I say it again, you’ve been remarkably patient with me, Bilbo. I imagine you’ve been regretting your choice of me as heir ever since this all began! Surely you thought I was some unprincipled cad who would be making his reputation through the ladies of Hobbiton!” Frodo felt his face blushing from having to discuss the matter with such candor. Bilbo chuckled.

“Actually, I thought to myself ‘that boy’s a Baggins through and through.’” The look Frodo gave him then made Bilbo chuckle again, but he didn’t elaborate. “Give her some time, Frodo, and yourself. You have so much to do and see before you consider something as serious as marriage. And who knows, there may even be an adventure ahead for you.” Bilbo winked. “And you wouldn’t want to leave some poor lass at home while you were off with old Bilbo would you?” The old hobbit patted the younger one’s arm. “She’s probably being a lot smarter about this than you realize.”

Reluctantly, Frodo nodded, but his heart was still troubled. The thought that Mae would not be back was growing on his mind. He found himself remembering the way she smelled, of earth and chamomile, the curve of her throat, the way she had moved under him when they lay together. He shut his eyes quickly. What had he lost? Perhaps it was that knowing she was gone made the memories more poignant, but it seemed to Frodo he would never again feel the wild joy and desire that Mae had stirred in him. Her face now seemed more fair to him than any other, and the brilliant green of her eyes seemed to stare back from his memory as clearly as if they were before him. He sighed, but did not open his eyes. “Will I ever forget her?” he whispered.

“No,” answered Bilbo immediately, and at that Frodo did look at his uncle. “But someday, the memory will bring more pleasure than pain.” Bilbo drained his tea and started patting his pockets for his pipe. Frodo knew from his tone and action the matter was closed and he did not speak of it again.

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Immediately after Mae’s departure, the rumors flew rampant. It was widely believed that she had gotten herself in ‘difficulty’ and had run off to Buckland and her family, but word from that region denied that she was living there. No one had seen her and if she had stopped in her flight to visit her family, none but they were any the wiser for it. Dore Browning openly doubted this was the case but did not work very hard to dispel rumors to the contrary. To her credit though, the name Baggins was not mentioned. When asked, Dore honestly answered she didn’t know if her apprentice had been meeting anyone in secret, although ever after she avoided Bag End, and never did pay any calls there.

It was mainly because the worlds of the Big People and the Little rarely met, that Mae was able to disappear seemingly into the woods of Buckland. She had traveled far and reached Bree by walking along the East Road. She had traveled unmolested – a factor she did not consider unusual since she had never traveled the road before – but every once in a while on her journey she would see far off, a lone figure or two, tall and dark against the skyline, keeping watch over her. They were men, of course, and she had never met one before, but somehow she knew they meant her no harm. In Bree, she found work as housekeeper to a family of Big People from Archet. They needed a nanny and housekeeper for they had recently been blessed with twin girls and the mother was hard pressed after the difficult birth to keep up with her other children. Mae was pleased to find the position although the ways of the Big People were strange to her and it took some time for her to become accustomed to them. It was also fortunate that Mae was among Big People for even as her own pregnancy became more obvious, they did not deem the matter worthy enough to spread rumors about.

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And so it was on a day of rain in September that Mae Burrows felt the pains that told her she must soon retire to her small rooms. September, she mused, must be the time for Bagginses to be born. She took leave of her mistress and asked to be excused till she was fit to work again. Her mistress consented though she wondered that her hobbit nanny would have no midwife with her nor friend or companion of her people to stay by her as the humans did at such times. Still, the woman knew little of hobbits’ private affairs and so did not know that Mae’s was indeed an unusual situation.

The labor was hard and long and Mae wept in her pain, for the one face, the one touch she longed for at that time knew nothing of her plight. In all the long summer she had missed him desperately, but never before so much as during that eternal night. As the sun was returning, Mae’s labor finally ended and she held, with trembling arms, a tiny boy child with a slicked down of ebony that curled as it dried. A fairer baby Mae had never seen and, despite her weariness, she had no desire to do anything but gaze upon his beauty. His tiny perfection astonished her. It had never occurred to her that the baby would look so like his father – a piece of him; an expression of flesh and blood. The child had lain hidden within her for so long, had been a part of her; it was almost a shock to note how little a claim she had to his features. Lovingly, she dried the child and wrapped him in the cloths she had ready. Here was what she had saved, and in this child she saw the light that had drawn her and the purpose of her visions. Perhaps now her fate had been met as well. So bright a star as Frodo Baggins could not be wholly taken from the world without diminishing that which remained – at least now, she thought, his light was reflected. She settled the child to her breast and fed him.

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: Ariel

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: Multi-Age

Genre: Romance

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 12/16/02

Original Post: 11/20/02

Go to Promises overview

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