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1
Curses Fulfilled

Beta by RiverOtter. To be seen as a companion to the story that will be published here next.


~~~

Curses Fulfilled



September 22, 1342 S.R.

{It owed the miserable creature nothing, perhaps--certainly It had never considered him Its master. It had answered Its Master’s call by fleeing as best It could with no thought of missing Its former bearer. However, once It realized that It could not escape easily from the owner of the new pocket It inhabited, It had become angry, and even more so once that new bearer turned back toward the West.

“Thief! The nasty thief!” Gollum had hissed. “We hates the Bagginses--we hates them forever!” And the Ring had heard--heard and approved of the sentiment. Ah, but being filled with so much of Its true Master’s mind and will, It fully understood the nature of hatred, envy, and malice.

And now the Baggins was returned to his own home, his own place, his own people, and showed no signs at all of seeking to leave his familiar surroundings once more. It did its best to infect him with dissatisfaction, but he remained firmly in place, seeking to fill that emptiness by purchasing new clothes, then sewing loops into each pocket to which to fasten his hapless prisoner. It sought to prompt restlessness in him, and he merely would travel to see this kinsman or that, or would explore sections of his own land he’d never visited.

“We curses the Bagginses!”

It
hated the Baggins now. The Baggins who held It did not take It back where he’d found It, but neither had brought It any nearer Its home. The Baggins had It safely penned up in his pocket in the center of a land that was about as far removed from Its Master’s as possible--west rather than east; north rather than south; full of life and uncontrollable and unexpected surprises rather than predictable sterility; filled with laughter and argument instead of obedient slaves terrified of the Master’s wrath. It could not seem to move him to seek power. It could not seem to move him to dreams of glory and conquest. It could not seem even to move him to so simple an emotion as lust! It might as well be back in the mud at the bottom of the river once again--then as It realized that thought It shrank a bit. He used It not to spy upon others, but only, it proved, to hide himself more surely from certain of his own people at times he would not be bothered with their company.

And this day--this day he had surrounded himself with those who continued to respect him, even to love him! It would have shuddered, had that been possible. Robbed of that form of expression, It grew as warm as it was possible to do within the pocket, wishing he had It against his skin so It could leave perhaps a small burn to warn him of Its displeasure.

Then--then It realized he felt an emotion It approved of, could even use, perhaps, to inspire him to do something It could exploit for Its own ends--anger. He was angry someone had come--two someones. These were the last to arrive, and they, too, held emotions It appreciated--envy, spite, and greed. Why could It not have ended up with such as they instead of this one? And what was more--the woman of the two bore within her a child! It tried to approach the child’s fëa, but was blocked by some power It could not appreciate. Within Its Master’s halls It had been used to corrupt the fëar of the children borne by Its Master’s slaves; and the hröa had followed in the way of the fëa--usually, at least. Why It could not touch this unborn child, however, It could not say. It would do Its best to explore this barrier as It could.

The woman of the two was the greedier, and had no aversion to taking what she wanted, It noted. It wished she would explore the Baggins’s pocket and take It with her--but that, apparently, was not to be. It could have howled with frustration--again, had It been capable of such expression. Instead It sent a crackle of discontent through the room, and all became that much more uncomfortable with the situation. And when the woman was caught with items she’d pilfered from the room of the Baggins, It was glad to see all as upset as It was.

Strike her--punish her!

It felt the Baggins straighten, felt him clench his fist about It in his pocket. Good--strike her!

But the Baggins didn’t strike her--instead he let go of It as if he’d been stung. No! he thought. No--I won’t do that!

What was it with these mortals? Why did they insist on being polite, even with someone as self-centered as this one had been? And the Baggins was giving her something--something to help protect her from the weather outside? The Ring was totally perplexed.}

*******


October 23, 1342 S.R.

{The one consulting with the Baggins was about the same age as Baggins himself, and the Ring was pleased to see that he was upset. It could not follow the conversation, but It could feel the pulse of anger and disgust that Baggins felt as a result of whatever was being said.}

“And just how is it that Lobelia and Otho ended up with the deed to Warm Smial?” Bilbo was asking.

Teron Sackville’s jaws were almost clenched shut. “They convinced Mother that I was the one who was putting the dessert before the meal with that lass there in Overhill. I told her and told her it wasn’t me, but she wouldn’t listen, Bilbo! The more I said it wasn’t me, the more convinced she was that I was the father!”

“But why would she believe you were the father? You’ve never had eyes for any lass other than Posy Strawflower over the other side of Bywater.” At his guest’s nod he continued, “So how was it she was convinced you were playing around with that lass?”

Teron reddened. “I was spending a good deal of time in Overhill, you see, and wouldn’t tell her what I was doing.”

“Which was?”

“Racing ponies.”

Bilbo sighed. Teron’s father had lost a good deal of money and even some property racing and betting on ponies, and Laburnum Sackville had developed a marked antipathy to the sport as a result. “She swore that if she caught you racing ponies she’d write you out of her will, didn’t she?”

Teron nodded his head miserably. “Yes. So, she wrote me out of her will anyway, even though I don’t think she ever knew what I was really doing.”

Bilbo muttered, “Trust Otho and Lobelia to catch you in a cleft stick of your own cutting.”

“Actually, I’m certain it was all Lobelia, Bilbo. She visited my mother several times, from what everyone tells me; but no one ever saw Otho about the place. And it was her uncle who wrote out the new will for Mum.”

Bilbo’s mouth tightened. “Curse her!” he spat.

{That the Ring caught. Curse her! It knew a command It was glad to see to. As to the identity of the one cursed--the mental images were recognizable to the Ring--the one who’d stolen from the Baggins before.}

Bilbo continued, “I’m not certain what I will be able to do, Teron. Yes, as family head for the Bagginses I ought to be able to have some influence; but Otho and Lobelia can merely turn to the Sackville and Bracegirdle family heads, and at this point they will undoubtedly overrule me, particularly your uncle Perdo Sackville, as Otho is his heir as the Sackville after Longo. After all, I am the Hobbit who ruined my reputation and tarnished my family name by going on an adventure. And as your mother had warned you that if you raced ponies you risked losing the family smial but you were doing so anyway, I suspect that the Mayor and Thain as well as the family heads in general will only uphold the will, no matter you weren’t dallying with anyone. What about your Hornblower ties? Have you spoken to Hatto yet?”

“He says about the same as you, Bilbo--that because I was racing ponies and about everyone knew how Mother felt about that it would have come to the same thing anyway.”

After a moment of thought, Bilbo rose. “Well, I will try to speak with Otho and Lobelia, but I truly doubt I shall do any good.”

*******


When Bilbo stopped by the smial of Longo and Camellia Sackville-Baggins the next day in search of their son and his wife, it was to find that Otho was off in the Southfarthing to see to one of his properties near Needlehole, and Lobelia was in Warm Smial with her Uncle Leander, doing an inventory of the place and deciding what they would keep and what they would sell. Longo was stiffly formal with his nephew, but it was obvious that he would do nothing about convincing Otho and Lobelia to do properly by Teron.

“So he had nothing to do with that lass becoming pregnant?” he growled. “So, what he was really doing was racing ponies? You know as well as I do how Laburnum felt about that! Had she learned of it, the results would have been exactly the same.”

Bilbo was shocked that Longo would speak so plainly about what had happened to the lass from Overhill, as such things weren’t exactly mentioned outright in polite Hobbit society. “And you aren’t upset that Lobelia manipulated Laburnum Sackville, and that she made untrue accusations against Teron’s character? You aren’t upset that she died thinking of her older son as a philanderer?”

“Perhaps he might not be a philanderer, but there is no question he is a wastrel, Bilbo.”

Bilbo could feel his anger rising on Teron’s behalf, and he felt the same urge to strike his uncle as he’d felt on the day of his birthday to strike Lobelia when she’d been marched into his presence along with several items she’d tried to steal from his bedroom. No! I’ll not so demean myself! he thought, and with a decided effort he suppressed the compulsion. Instead he fixed his uncle with an expression that his grandfather Gerontius would have been proud of, and when he spoke his voice could have cut glass. “I see, Uncle Longo--you are so eager to rid the hole of Lobelia you will sacrifice your wife’s cousin’s reputation. What does that say of you?” With that he let himself out of the hole, forcing himself not to slam the door after him.

As for Lobelia when he found her in what would shortly be her new home, she had a smug delight to her. “And why should I feel sorry for Teron? He did it to himself, racing ponies when he knew how his mother felt about the activity!” she said.

“But he wasn’t disinherited for racing ponies, as you full well know, Lobelia,” Bilbo said, again forcing himself to remain calm. “You convinced his mother that he had lied about his feelings for Posy and was dallying with that foolish lass in Overhill even before you knew what he’d been really doing, didn’t you? What’s more, you’ve besmirched his name before the whole region of the Hill, even after you’ve known that he’d really been taking part in the races!”

“Had I told his mother what he was really doing it would have made no difference, Bilbo Baggins.” The smug smile had faded, and she now appeared as stubborn as the chalk faces of the White Downs. “Would you rather she’d died thinking he was as much a wastrel as his father?”

“And the fact that his father’s ponies were being consistently dosed by your cousin Bigelow and his father means nothing, Lobelia? I’ve checked into the pony races in Overhill, and since the two of them have been forbidden to have anything to do with them most of those who take part in them actually tend to come off fairly even, which was not true in Teron’s father’s day.”

Lobelia’s expression grew hard. “How dare you accuse my family of cheating!” she hissed.

“I didn’t accuse your whole family--just certain members of it, Lobelia Bracegirdle.” He stood up and planted his hands on his hips. “A fine family for Leonardo to be head of--with thieves and crooked gamblers and schemers here and there throughout it.” Even as he said this he regretted it, although he knew it was true.

As for Lobelia, her face had gone white to match the color of the same chalk faces she’d been stubborn as. “And I suppose you think of me as one of the thieves and schemers?” she said in a dangerous tone.

In for a brass, in for a silver, he thought. “If the glove fits, wear it, my dear cousin’s wife,” he said aloud.

“You’d say this to the wife of your heir?”

“I’d say this to the Thain himself if he warranted it.”

She, too, rose from her chair, her hands clutched together in rage. She leaned forward and said in low tones, “My husband will be The Sackville one day, and he’ll be The Baggins as well, once you’re gone.”

“Not if I produce an heir....”

“And what decent Hobbitess will have you, do you think? What family will allow their daughter to be courted by Mad Baggins?”

“And just who says I’m mad?” he asked.

“Do you think most Hobbits don’t believe that already, Bilbo Baggins? Go off for a year and a day chasing dragons or whatever, and of course they’ll think you mad! And if any lass should be fool enough to love you back, you can believe that I’ll see to it as she’ll regret it! No one’s coming between us and Bag End, do you hear?” Her voice had risen in volume as she spoke, and had become rather shrill by the end of the statement. She laid her hand on her belly. “This one will be both The Baggins and The Sackville, understand, Bilbo?”

Bilbo searched her eyes. “You think so, Lobelia? Don’t be so very certain.” His voice was low and carefully modulated, and he spoke not so much in anger as in a defiance that appeared almost negligent in nature. In his mind he thought, As if I’d willingly have a Sackville-Baggins as my heir at this point!

{The Ring noted the distinct purposefulness in the Baggins’s feelings, and reached out. It swelled slightly, very pleased with the mutual hatred It sensed. Both were more open to Its influence than It had sensed before, and It could push--push right there. And It pushed, ever so slightly--and the Baggins felt It do so, suddenly became wary, forcefully pulling down rolled shutters.... Oh, he was able perhaps to stop further incursion within himself, although he could not quite stopper the breach made, not fully at least. But as for that one.... swelled a bit more in satisfaction.}

*******


October 31, 1342 SR

Perhaps the problem was that Lobelia had done too much in moving items out of Warm Smial or other items into it, but on the day she and Otho actually moved into it she’d felt uncomfortable all day long.

As she shifted in her chair for the eighteenth time in the last ten minutes, her husband turned to her in frustration. “Just what is it that is bothering you, Lobelia?” he asked. “I’ve not seen a sign of an ant or any other creature anywhere within the smial.”

“I don’t know, Otho. Things just don’t feel right is all.”

He sat a bit straighter. “Feel right? With the hole, you mean?”

She looked at him with a degree of disgust. “No--the smial is quite satisfactory, if I do say so myself. No, not with Warm Smial, although I think we should change the name to something else. What do you think of calling it Sackville Place?”

Otho shrugged. “Perhaps.”

“It’s not as ridiculous as Warm Smial,” she continued. “Why Laburnum carried on with that name....” She stopped, a wave of discomfort sweeping across her face as her right hand went to her stomach.

Her husband cocked his head. “What is it, my dear wife?” he asked. “Is the bairn kicking at your insides?”

“Kicking?” she asked in a rather breathless tone once the spasm had subsided. “Oh, no. Why, it’s not kicked much for the past week, for which I’ve been very grateful. I think it must be the kippers we had for dinner--perhaps they’d gone off.”

He looked down at his own ample stomach. “Well, mine were quite good, I must say, Lobelia. I can’t think yours were off and not mine. Perhaps it’s only that you are expecting.”

She lifted her eyebrow and grimaced slightly. “That’s always possible,” she murmured before returning to the subject at hand. “I do believe that Sackville Place sounds much more dignified than Warm Smial. As I started to say that sounds a rather bad joke.”

Otho had to agree. “It almost sounds like a name Bilbo might have given a smial. After all, ‘Bag End’ is almost a joke in and of itself.”

“Although it was his parents who named it that,” Lobelia pointed out, then stopped as another wave of discomfort hit her.

Otho was beginning to feel alarmed. “Perhaps I ought to send for Laurel Chubbs,” he suggested. “You don’t look well, my dear.”

Nonsense, she tried to say, but this time the pain went on too long. “Oh, dear,” she gasped out.

Thoroughly frightened, Otho was on his feet, headed for the door, grabbing his jacket to pull on as he went, not noting he’d put it on upside down as he headed for the house of Laurel Chubbs, one of the village’s healers.

*


Three hours later it was over. Doncella Sandybanks, the midwife’s apprentice, had joined them, her mistress Lavender Underhill having been called away to Overhill to help deliver the child Teron had been accused of fathering. She’d been summoned by the child’s real father, who’d rather hastily taken the careless lass to wife the moment he’d finished the modest smial he’d been digging for his new family.

Otho sat in the parlor, his father and his Sackville grandfather by him, when at last Laurel Chubbs came out of the bedroom to advise the three of them, her face saddened. “I’m sorry--it appears that the--the child died betimes--perhaps as long as a week ago, and at last the body accepted it was no longer alive and rid itself of it. It looked to have been a son, although after this time I cannot be certain, and it would probably have been born in two to three week’s time at any rate.”

“But that’s far too soon!” Longo said without conscious thought, his mind automatically calculating dates. He looked to his son’s face, and couldn’t miss seeing that Otho’s visage had gone pale, save for his cheeks themselves, which were burning. Suddenly Longo was himself angered. “You mean--?” he began. Then, after a moment of speechlessness he continued through a constricted throat, “And after all she had to say and intimate about Teron? And you both knew!” He rose. “I wash my hands of the both of you!” So saying he marched toward the door, grabbing his cloak and umbrella on the way. “She was talking about the lass from Overhill putting the dessert before the meal, and all the time--” they heard before the door slammed behind him.

Laurel looked about as Doncella came out of the bedroom carrying the small basket usually utilized for these purposes. From the way the younger Hobbitess avoided looking at Otho, Laurel could tell she had heard. After all, Otho and Lobelia had been married for but seven months, and most infants born this early would be weak and rather fragile, if they survived the birth. But the form in the basket...had it been born alive there was little question it would have probably thrived. As to what had caused it to fail....

Who could tell why the child had died?

As for Perdo Sackville, he raised his eyebrows but said no words of condemnation for his grandson and his wife. How could he? His daughter Camellia had also been early born according to the accounting common to Hobbits, after all.

*******


When Bilbo came the next day with a tureen of soup and a basket of his seed cakes and a small tub of whipped butter, it was a suspicious-eyed Bracegirdle cousin from Hardbottle who opened the door. “Cousin Lobelia’s not seeing anyone,” she said by way of greeting.

“Then may I see my cousin Otho, please?” Bilbo asked reasonably, not having expected to see Lobelia that day in any case.

The cousin examined him, gave a small shrug, took the basket and tureen, then turned with no further words to lead him to Otho’s study, nodding to indicate he was on his own now before she disappeared down the passage to the kitchen.

Bilbo watched after her with a sigh and a shake of his head, knowing full well he’d been well treated by Bracegirdle standards. He then took a deep breath and knocked at the door. Hearing a wordless growl from his younger cousin, he decided to take it as an invitation to enter.

Otho turned to see who was intruding on his privacy, and his expression went even sourer. “What brings you here, Bilbo?” he demanded.

“You are not intending to make this easy, are you, lad? I came to give you and Lobelia my condolences and, as family head, to offer whatever aid we Bagginses can give, Otho.”

The younger Hobbit merely looked at him.

“Are you going to offer me a chair?” suggested Bilbo at last.

Otho finally waved vaguely about the room, at which Bilbo sat himself on the wing chair in the corner. “I am so very sorry, Otho,” he began.

At last his cousin spoke. “I suppose it was only for the best,” he said rather abruptly.

Bilbo was shocked. “For the best? How can losing a child ever be for the best? Do you know--do you know if it would have been a lad or a lass?”

“Laurel Chubbs didn’t tell you?”

“Laurel Chubbs? Gossip about her patients? I rather think not, Otho. All she would say was that the child was lost, reporting it to your family heads as is customary, you know. And as the child would have been my heir after you, I do feel I have a personal interest in the situation, you know. Although I don’t understand your father’s attitude. I understand he was here, but not Camellia?”

“My mother--bestir herself for anything unpleasant? How poorly you know her, Bilbo.” There was decided bitterness there. “There was no time to send for anyone from Lobelia’s family, of course, although Dock was visiting family in Overhill and came at once when I sent to advise her. She and Lobelia aren’t particularly close, but she does have family feeling and has been very helpful, of course.”

“Yes, I saw that,” Bilbo answered, managing to keep the irony he felt out of his voice. “Shall I help with the funeral arrangements?”

“A funeral? For a child born so early?”

The Baggins paused. From what Longo had confided to a small group of gentlehobbits to which Bilbo was attached at the Green Dragon the night before, the child hadn’t been born all that early--indeed had been due at any time. Lobelia and Otho had married while he was gone, although even before he’d hared off with the Dwarves and Gandalf there had been more than adequate signs that this was where the wind was blowing, once Lobelia had gotten the idea he wasn’t the least interested in her and was not to be maneuvered into a compromising situation, and after Drogo had retreated to Buckland to escape her attentions as well. The lass had seemed intent on marrying into Baggins money and respectability no matter what; that she’d deliberately put the dessert before the meal in order to force a marriage was certainly well within her character.

But it appeared that Otho was intent on pretending this child was indeed far too early to have survived the birth, and that was disturbing to the older Hobbit. Longo had last night been feeling rather contrite about the rumors Lobelia had started about Teron, from what Bilbo had been able to see--his uncle had been patently ignoring his presence, after all. But if Otho was going to act as if the child was born too soon, what could be done about it? Those who’d been privy to Longo’s intelligence the previous evening and most likely their wives and families would quietly spread the word, of course, and there would be added that much more disdain given Otho and Lobelia as a response, particularly as the two of them had so benefited from the slander Lobelia has spread about her husband’s cousin. But it was a Baggins trait to avoid looking anything but prim and proper in the eyes of the Shire, after all....

“I see,” Bilbo said at last. “Too early to survive. Then you are allowing the midwife to see to the disposal of the child?”

“I don’t see how we could do more, Bilbo. It’s not as if it had had the chance to live.”

For a moment Bilbo saw a brief indication of grief there, although Otho immediately hid it away. He felt some relief--apparently Otho--and hopefully Lobelia as well--had been happily anticipating the birth of this child. It was a sign that there was still some humanity in their hearts.

“I see.”

But later that day he stopped by Lavender Sandybanks’s home and arranged for a quiet internment for the poor child, and he sent down flowers from Bag End to lay over the unmarked grave.

*******


{It was surprised that the temporarily unprotected child had died as a result of Its touch on its fëa, but was pleased to find It had managed to cause grief to that pair and to the Baggins as well. And to realize that the unborn boy-child would have been dear to the Baggins in spite of its parents pleased It the more. If It had managed to disturb the feeling of continuity for Its current bearer....

It was difficult, however, to fully stay awake. It was in an environment that was antithetical to Its nature, and Its true Master had been forced to flee his fortress and was not yet ready to declare himself as Lord of Mordor. However, It set a small part of Its awareness to keeping an eye on matters. It had avenged Its current bearer and had seen his curse carried out, at the same time meeting the desires of Its previous bearer. We curses the Bagginses! Yes, that one had cursed this one’s family, and It would delight in punishing the Baggins who held It by seeing that family diminished as It could. Yes, It would keep an Eye--the bit of the Eye as it contained--on future potential heirs to this one. Let the Bagginses fade away to obscurity. It could be patient, after all.

If a gold Ring could yawn, It did so as It slid into a torpor, yet left Its awareness sufficiently focused that It might waken at any time it appeared another Baggins was likely to be born. Oh, yes, that curse spoken by Gollum It was proud to fulfill.}

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