Written for FEBOBE's birthday, and for Roisin, Cathleen, and Golden for healing. With many thanks to RiverOtter for the beta!
He woke feeling rather befuddled, then froze mid-stretch, suddenly alarmed. Instead of having the coldness of chalk under himself, Fredegar Bolger felt a surprising softness, and all about himself he felt warmth, and--and comfort! He cracked open one eye, looking up, bemused to see not the roughened walls of his cell looming over him reflecting filtered torchlight, but instead a corbeled ceiling rising over a properly paneled and plastered bedroom wall, but one he certainly did not recognize.
“Would you like a sip of water, Freddy?”
He carefully turned his head. “Frodo?” he whispered. He found the familiar blue eyes of his cousin, and felt such relief. “Frodo! Frodo! You are back!” His voice was rough with disuse, he realized, and he felt as if just turning his head had taken more strength than he had. “Then it wasn’t but a dream, being carried out of the Lockholes!”
Frodo gave a small smile, but his eyes were still filled with concern and seemed somehow distant, as if most of his mind was focused on quite different things. “Then you remember us finding you?”
Freddy shook his head. “No--not folk finding me. I remember hearing a screeching noise as the lock on the storeroom door that held me was cut away and the doorway opened. And there were voices everywhere, and that soft, comforting light after the hours of darkness! Then I was on a stretcher, but I don’t remember being placed on it--just squinting against the sunlight and realizing Pippin was walking beside me, but grown to a giant! He had to be as tall as a Big Folk!”
His cousin gave a small laugh to match the small smile. “No, not that tall, thank the stars for small favors. But you will find he and Merry both are quite the tallest Hobbits you will ever meet now. Oh, yes, they both grew while we were gone.”
“Ent draughts,” Frodo told him, as if these strange words explained everything. Then seeing the confusion in Freddy’s eyes he said, “I must suppose it is a sort of native magic within one of the peoples we met on our journey. These are folk associated with trees, and they brew drinks from the waters of streams and springs that promote growth. Treebeard shared one of the growing draughts with Merry and Pippin apparently twice, and they are showing the effects. I do think that the two of them have indeed managed to outgrow the Bullroarer, even as Merry suggested they were attempting to do when Sam and I awoke in Ithilien.”
“Oh, dear! I fear, my beloved cousin, that you are going to be hearing quite a lot of new names and words from all of us.”
“You took a long time,” Freddy whispered, “to get to Rivendell and back. Is this Ithilien somewhere nearby it?”
The smile faded, and Frodo sighed, looking away briefly. “No,” he said softly, returning his gaze to meet Freddy’s eyes again. “No, nowhere near Rivendell. And, yes, we did make it there.”
“Is it as Bilbo described it?”
Frodo’s smile was both wider and sadder. “Oh, yes, it is much as Bilbo described it, and more!”
“It took you so long to get there?”
Frodo looked away again. “We were there within a month,” he sighed. “Almost exactly a month. But then--but then we had to go further. Much further.”
“And the--the Ring--you were able to give it to the Elves?”
Again Frodo looked back, and Freddy could see a memory of great pain in his cousin’s eyes. “No,” Frodo said solemnly, “the Elves would not accept It. I had to take It on, back to where It came from.”
Freddy searched Frodo’s face. Finally he asked, “Why?”
The Baggins shook his head. “It had to be destroyed, and before It could destroy us. It almost destroyed me, you see. Here--let me help you sit up a bit, and I’ll give you something to drink.”
Sam came with some peculiar broad leaves in his hand and a bowl of steaming water, and after rolling the leaves between his palms and murmuring a poem of some sort half under his breath he cast them into the water, and with soft cloths he carefully bathed Freddy all over.
Then after he’d been given some porridge to eat a healer came--Drolan Chubb, who’d been the healer used by the folks of the Hill for some time. He examined Fredegar Bolger as thoroughly as Sam had bathed him, even examining his water, which Freddy found embarrassing. He went out for a time, then returned with Frodo and Lily Cotton. “You did well to bring him here instead of sending him to his parents,” Drolan told Frodo. “Although perhaps you ought to have found a place for him right there in Michel Delving. His health is rather fragile at the moment.”
He turned to face Freddy directly. “There’s no gentle way of saying this, I fear, Mr. Bolger. Your heart--it appears your heart has been damaged by what you have been through. Its beat is quite irregular now. You will need careful building up, and will probably need to be careful in what you do for the rest of your life. Oh, you will be able to return to most normal activities; but I would advise you against ever resuming the smoking of pipeweed or drinking sufficient to become drunken, and you will need some exercise every day that is steady but not particularly taxing. I do suggest you take up walking--a nice, long walk daily will do wonders for you and will help strengthen your heart. And you must not regain all the weight you used to carry--that would be more than your heart could bear, I fear. You would do best to find a place for yourself where you can live in a degree of peace and calm.”
“Not with my mother, then,” Freddy commented under his breath, and he saw a quickly suppressed smile in Frodo that told him his cousin had heard him and agreed with the sentiment.
“I will leave certain herbs and draughts with Mistress Cotton here to be given you at regular intervals, and will return in a few days. What Lotho’s Big Men did to you--oh, I would have them flogged for it!”
Freddy was surprised, for Drolan as he knew him was quite one of the gentlest individuals within the Shire. Such a pronouncement was not what Freddy expected from the Hobbiton healer.
Drolan turned to Missus Cotton and Frodo. “He might have a fairly normal diet, but it is best he be given meats with little fat--poultry is usually preferable, and a good selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. And water--every day, at least eight glasses of water throughout the day. He might have a beer or ale or two in the early afternoon and evening, for that will help strengthen his blood. But more than two or three per day would not be advisable, and at this point preferably but one a day for the next week, or until he finds he can stand without aid.
“He needs calm and peace, and to be kept free from distress, again at least until he can stand without aid. Even then it is best he avoid any truly upsetting situations as much as possible.” Here he turned to look at Freddy. “Do you understand what I am saying, Mr. Bolger? Are you willing to follow this advice?”
“Oh, indeed,” Freddy hastened to assure him. “I quite understand! After all, I do have relatives who are Boffins.”
The Boffin family seemed to produce more than its rightful share of individuals who developed troubles associated with their hearts. Drolan, who had a number of Boffins under his care, nodded. “Then you do understand how not caring for your general health could be most--distressing?”
“I do. Thank you, Mr. Drolan,” Freddy said softly.
The healer smiled. “You should do fairly well, Mr. Bolger, sir,” he said, gently feeling Freddy’s forehead with the back of his hand. “No fever! I do believe you will be able to get up tonight if you feel like it. Several light meals throughout the day at hourly intervals for the first week, then gradually back to a more normal schedule of meals. But, remember, no stuffing yourself.” His eyes were more solemn as he said that last. Then he smiled again and inclined his head respectfully, and turned to leave. He paused at the door, and gave Frodo a careful look. “And I must say, Frodo Baggins, that although I am glad to see you looking more as you did when we were lads together, yet I am concerned that you are now so much more slender than you were then.”
Frodo paled, although his cheeks were distinctly more pink. “I will have you know I did considerable walking while I was gone. It was only natural I should have lost some of my extra weight.”
“Indeed, so, Mr. Baggins. However, if you would care to stop by the smial, I should like to examine you when you have the time.”
Frodo gave a noncommittal grunt, but Freddy noted that his cheeks were even pinker. Drolan Chubb gave another nod toward the former Master of the Hill, cast a last glance at Freddy, saying, “And thank you, Captain Fredegar, sir,” and went out.
Lily Cotton remained for a moment, murmuring, “And he said just what you did, Mr. Frodo, sir, about how he should be fed. How did you know?”
Frodo looked rather uncomfortable. “When we were with the King--he said that this was the proper way to treat those who had not had proper food and drink for a time.”
“And what is this about a King?” asked Freddy once Lily had followed the healer out of the room and toward the front door.
Frodo gave a true smile, one that actually met his eyes. “One of the good things that came of our journey--that at last the King has returned, and we saw him crowned and recognized as the King of Arnor and Gondor.”
“Gondor? What is Gondor?”
“The other ancient realm of mortals within Middle Earth, the land to the south.”
“And what do you know about Gondor?”
Frodo shrugged. “Far more than I ever dreamed I would. We went there, you see. And Pippin is a knight of Gondor, and a Captain of the King’s own Guard.”
Freddy waited to hear the laugh-line of the joke, but Frodo had apparently said all on the subject he intended to say. Instead, he looked out the round window to Freddy’s room. “I must ride back to Michel Delving today, although I should return here again late tonight. Will begged for me to come again this afternoon.”
“How is he?”
“Even thinner than you are.”
Freddy shivered. “He was the first they took and imprisoned.”
“We found Ferdi Took in there, too. He’d been kicked several times in the head. He appears to be blind now.”
“And after all we did, to come home and find this....” There was naked pain on Frodo’s face. “I took the Ring away to protect the Shire, but evil found and took it anyway!”
There was quiet for a time. Freddy fumbled his hand to reach for Frodo’s, taking and holding it in comfort. “I am safe now, Frodo. Oh, my dearest cousin, do not be distressed. You did the right thing. We just didn’t know it yet that Lotho had already sold the Shire to this Sharkey’s folk.” He could see the silent tears on Frodo’s face. “They spoke a good deal about Sharkey, those who guarded the Lockholes, and especially the ugly ones. They talked about how it would be when he came, how all of us rat-folks would learn that the world was nowhere as jolly as we’d always found it, how we didn’t deserve the easy life we had always known. And Lotho would find he was nowhere the fancy Chief he imagined himself as he learned just how powerful was the Old Man.”
Frodo turned to look more directly as Freddy, his face filled with even more distress. “They did?”
“Oh, yes, they did. There was one who would come to my cell and speak through the gaps they’d left, taunting me. ‘You thought you were so clever, stealing from us. Well, Sharkey’s coming, and you ratlings will find there’s little enough left for you! As for your precious Chief--he’ll find what real power is all about!’ That sort of stuff all day and much of the night.”
“And you didn’t wish to leave the Shire with us, because you were afraid. I suspect you would have done better to be with us than to stay here.”
“Perhaps,” Freddy said, squeezing Frodo’s hand. Then he realized that somehow Frodo’s hand didn’t feel quite right--not as he remembered it from when they were younger, when the Bolgers would come to Bag End for Frodo and Bilbo’s joint birthdays and Frodo would take his hands to teach him how to dance. How it was different, however, he couldn’t really say; only that it was not how he remembered it having felt.
At last Frodo shook his hand free. “You need to drink some more now,” he said, wiping his eyes with the back of his left hand and reaching for the nearby pitcher. He poured some more water into the waiting cup, then turned to help pull Freddy more fully upright before holding the cup to his lips. “Here. I’ve not poured you more than you can handle. Drink all you can.”
Freddy drank obediently, glad to have sweet, clean well water to drink after so long of the fetid stuff they’d allowed in the Lockholes. It was after he’d finished the last in the cup and Frodo turned to replace it on the table that he noticed--Frodo hadn’t extended all his fingers--the ring-finger was apparently still folded in against the palm. How strange!
He was tiring now, but before he let himself sleep he wanted to know something. “Old Pimple--Lotho--were you able to rescue him?”
Frodo’s face went pale, pale and sad. “No,” he said, giving Freddy but the barest glance before looking away again, folding both his hands in his lap. “No, he was murdered on Sharkey’s orders apparently just after he came here, some time before we made it back to the Shire.”
“And there really is a King again?”
“Yes, there is, Freddy. And now, my sweet young hero, it is time for you to rest. They have told me how you led those who stole back what the Big Men stole from our folk, and how you tried to see to it the Hobbits of the Shire did not die of starvation. I am so proud of you, Fredegar Bolger. And if Aunt Rosamunda tries to tell you how irresponsible you were, I shall tell her myself just how wonderful it is to be cousin to the hero you are!”
Again their eyes met fully. In Frodo’s blue eyes Freddy saw reflected only love and pride and relief. And Fredegar Bolger allowed himself to relax back against the pillows, feeling Frodo carefully bringing the blanket up under his chin as he used to do when he and Folco had come to visit in Bag End and Frodo had tucked them in in spite of the fact they were anything but faunts. He’d always felt safe then in his older cousin’s care. Bilbo might mean stories and odd ideas, but Frodo had always, in Freddy’s eyes, personified responsibility and caring as expressed in all of Hobbitry.
Freddy found himself yawning as he shifted slightly. “I’m glad you are back, Frodo,” he managed to say about the edges of that yawn. “I am so glad.”
He heard Frodo respond, “And I am glad to be back, and to find we were in time to save you, dearest one. Sleep now.” And a gentle finger rested against his eyelids. “Sleep now.”
And as he drifted into a doze Freddy could hear Frodo beginning to sing a lullaby he didn’t remember and couldn’t quite understand, but one that still soothed him into sleep.