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25
Not Just her Little Lad any More

For RabidSamFan for her birthday.


~~~

Not Just her Little Lad any More


Rosamunda Bolger looked up as one of the resident Tooks—she found she couldn’t begin to remember all their names!—showed her son into the private parlor accorded to herself and Odovacar during their stay in the Great Smial. Odi was out with Paladin Took, taking a survey of the farms that most immediately served the needs of the place as all looked toward the first crop since the ending of the Troubles. She had been wishing he’d not left after all, for she found herself feeling very much odd Hobbit out, surrounded by so very many Tooks. This in mind, she felt a profound relief to see her son enter the chamber, followed immediately by an equal amount of concern as she considered Freddy’s current physical state. He looked so—small! Oh, he’d not lost any height, thank the stars; but he was nowhere as—substantial—as he’d always been. She could almost imagine that it was his cousin Frodo Baggins standing there before her, save for the slight auburn tinge to the much lighter brown hair. One thing was apparent—Frodo must have lent Fredegar some clothing, for although the garments appeared familiar, she knew for a certainty none of it had come from his own wardrobe.

“Here ye be,” the Took assured Freddy with a crinkled smile.

“And I do thank you, Beligard,” Freddy returned. “I doubt I could have found it on my own. I’ve never had the head for direction that Frodo and Merry have always shown within the Great Smial.”

“I’m not surprised, Mr. Freddy. Well, there’s yer mother awaitin’ for ye. And I’ll be seein’ ye again, more likely’n not, afore I must go out on my next round on the borders. Cousin Pippin, he’s determined as no more Big Folk enter into the Shire to cause no more trouble.” With that he gave a bow to each of them and withdrew, closing the door after himself.

“You know him, dear?” asked Rosamunda, setting aside her knitting and rising.

Freddy smiled. “Hello, Mother dearest. Beligard? Oh, yes, I know him—he’s been a Bounder for some years. Not from here in the Great Smial itself, actually—lived outside Whitwell back when Paladin was still farming there. That’s why he tends to sound provincial, I suppose. And how are you and Father faring, here amidst the Tooks?”

“They’ve been treating us very well, I must admit. But I’ll be so relieved to be back in Budge Hall again. But they tell us again that we must wait, that there’s more damage even than they’d thought the last time. Oh, Freddy, when will it ever be put properly right?”

“When will what be put properly right—Budge Hall or the Shire in general? According to the reports Frodo has passed on to me, it should only be a fortnight more before the final repairs are finished at home. At least I know the two of you are far more comfortably situated here while the smial is put back in order than you were in that storage hole Lotho had you herded into.”

Rosamunda shuddered delicately, putting the back of her wrist to her forehead. “Oh, my dear, dear child, but you cannot imagine how horrible it was! No pump, no cupboards, having to use an outside privy----”

There was something unfathomable in Freddy’s eyes as he looked at her, somehow unbelieving. “It must have been terrible for you, Mother,” he said. Was there somehow a trace of irony in his tone, she wondered?

“Oh, but it was indeed terrible, Dumpling,” she said, invoking his childhood dear-name. She didn’t quite notice the grimace of distaste he showed. “But that is enough about me. You are here at last! Will you be able to stay?”

“I will remain overnight, but will be going to Budgeford tomorrow to see to the state of things and to report back to Frodo. Sam is doing a wonderful job at managing the restoration of the homes, woods, orchards, and gardens; but Frodo trusts me to give him a better idea as to how the village as a whole has come through things, and what kinds of help people might need to see their businesses and livelihoods put back into order.”

She blinked, not having thought of such things. “And where is Estella?” she asked. “She said she would be nursing you, which was why she didn’t stay here when she left that dreary farm.”

“She and Rosie and Marigold are busy with Rosie’s wedding dress. Rosie Cotton, that is. Rosie and Sam are to be married on the first of May, you understand, so there isn’t a good deal of time to make ready.”

“Will they be marrying at the Cottons’ farm?” she asked.

“No, they’re to be married in the gardens of Bag End, with Frodo saying the words.”

She blinked again. “Frodo? But why Frodo? Isn’t Griffo Boffin the village head in Hobbiton?”

“But Frodo is the deputy Mayor, Mother, and Sam’s friend. He’s asked Frodo especially to say the words.”

Again she was taken by surprise. “Well, it is very gracious for Frodo to say the words for a mere gardener,” she began.

Freddy’s eyebrows rose. “A mere gardener? And how is it that Sam Gamgee is to be characterized as a mere gardener? Haven’t you heard any details of what the four of them accomplished out there? Why, Frodo wouldn’t be alive today if he’d not had Sam as his companion, you know.”

She stared at him in astonishment! “But that’s what he’s been for years—Frodo’s gardener!”

“Well, if he should continue to do the work of a gardener, it shall be solely because that is his pleasure, not because he has to do so in order to provide for himself or his family,” Freddy said shortly. “Sam isn’t forced to work any more.”

“Why? Did the four of them find another fabulous treasure outside the Shire?” she asked, her imagination suddenly piqued.

“A treasure? Not unless you consider helping the King to return to be finding a treasure. No, Frodo insists that if Bilbo’s quest was to help regain a treasure, his was to deliberately lose one.”

Rosamunda had no idea as to what that meant, much less how she ought to respond to such a comment. “Then if there was no treasure, how is it that Samwise Gamgee is now to be a gentlehobbit of means?”

Freddy shook his head and laid his hand on her shoulder. “Listen, Mummy,” he explained. “The four of them, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, accomplished marvelous things out there to the preservation of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, although it cost them all dearly. All of them have recovered from terrible wounds that almost killed them. And I mean it that Frodo wouldn’t have survived if not for Sam Gamgee. Neither talks freely about it, you must understand, for that part of their journey wasn’t particularly pleasant. But they did meet the Man who was intended to become King, and helped him achieve his throne. He has dealt well with all of them, and indeed they are honored by all of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth. So, Sam now has achieved the means to purchase land of his own, should he so wish, although Frodo has invited him and Rosie to join him living in Bag End, as if Sam were his brother.”

“And they shall be doing for him, then?” She couldn’t think further than that.

Freddy sighed, allowing his hands to fall to his sides. “If that is how you choose to name it, I suppose,” he said.

She was immediately concerned. “Are you certain you are quite recovered, Dumpling? You sound so tired. I cannot wait to take you home and see you fed up once more and looking again a proper Hobbit.”

“You’d best think otherwise,” he said, falling into a nearby chair. “I’ve been told quite firmly that most definitely I am not to gain much more weight than I now have, or it would further endanger my health.”

“Nonsense! Why, you are so thin that you appear almost sickly!”

“Then it’s a good thing you didn’t see me when they first brought me out of the Lockholes,” he said, reaching over to pour himself a glass of apple cider from the jug on the table. “I certainly didn’t recognize myself the first time I saw myself in the looking glass. I’ve gained a good deal of weight back since then.”

She could not imagine that. “But you are so thin! Why, I’m certain that I could put my arms both all about your waist now and clasp my hands together!”

“Which is what the healers tell me is to be desired, Mother,” he replied, lifting the glass to drink from it. After he’d taken a sip, he set the glass back on the table and looked up at her. “I almost starved to death, Mother, and was quite ill when they brought me to the Cottons’ farm. Folco couldn’t believe it when he saw me, and Frodo has been very careful of me as well. He’s learned a good deal about how to care for one who has been deprived of good food for quite a while, and has done his best to see to it that my diet has been carefully managed that it not make things worse rather than better.”

“And since when has Frodo Baggins studied the ways of healing?” she asked bitterly. “Never did a day’s worth of useful work in his life, merely busying himself with copying and bookbinding and other silly things of that sort. Nothing important!”

Freddy’s face paled, and then flushed. “Don’t say such things, Mother,” he said. “Frodo knows the value of work—few better. He’s helped keep Bag End, has helped with the gardens and orchards, has done his best to see to it that both his family of name and his tenants are well cared for, and has always pitched in to help whoever might need it throughout the region of the Hill. And if you don’t think that learning things is important, what does that say for you? But, if Frodo’s learned about healing, it’s because it’s been forced upon him by what he’s been through. Since he was rescued from the ruins of the Mountain he’s been under the care of the best healers in all of Middle Earth, including the King himself, I understand. He, Sam, Merry, and Pippin—they’ve all had to learn to take care of themselves and one another in the wake of what they went through. And the healers insist that the manner in which he told others I was to be fed once I was brought out of the Lockholes was precisely right—many small meals of easily digested food at first throughout the day, with the size of the meals slowly increased as I proved able to keep them down, and the number reduced as slowly.”

“Small meals? No wonder you’ve lost so much weight! You need substantial feeding to return to your rightful size, my lad!”

“And had they given me large meals from the beginning it could well have killed me, for I could not have kept them down, and my heart could not have stood the strain of losing what I’d just eaten.” He looked at her with haunted eyes. “Don’t you understand, Mum—they were deliberately starving all of us, and particularly me. It was our punishment for trying to keep others from starving! We had such good harvests no one should have gone without over the winter. But Lotho and his Big Men, they wanted to starve us all—to reduce the Hobbits of the Shire to begging them for what little food they’d choose to give us!” He shuddered, and covered his eyes. “I lost my weight whilst within the Lockholes, not since. But Lotho intended me especially to starve to death, and apparently that Sharkey encouraged him to it!”

She ignored him. “We’ll get you back to Budge Hall and start feeding you properly—you see if we don’t!”

He shook his head as his hand dropped into his lap. “I told you—the healers have said that I mustn’t put back on all the weight, that doing so could kill me.”

She raised her chin defiantly. “Nonsense! We’ll talk with Seemor about it. You know that he will support what I say.”

“Yes, Cousin Seemor will support what you say, but it’s only because he knows you won’t listen to good sense when he gives it.”

“What an unkind thing to say, Fredegar Bolger!”

He snorted. “Unkind? Possibly, but true, and you know it. Cousin Seemor knows where the butter for his bread comes from, and that it does no good at all to seek to contradict you in any manner. So, he will nod and tell me to listen to my mother, and that will be that, as that’s all he’s said for years. Or have you forgotten when I was a young lad and having those pains in my chest how he tried suggesting that you stop feeding me rich brown cakes all of the time and encourage me to play at roopie once or twice a week? You had such an attack of the vapors that he never sought to contradict you again!”

She sat down slowly, pressing her hands to her breast. “So unkind!” she repeated. “You don’t have to be so unkind!”

“And you don’t have to be so melodramatic!” he snapped.

“When your father hears about this----”

“And what’s he going to be able to do, do you think? I’m of age, after all, and certainly not a child any more! And I have my own income, as I invested the money Grandmother left me properly, and I have shares in at least six farms.”

“But as long as you live under our roof----”

“But I’ve not lived under your roof for how long now? Since I joined the Rebels at least, and I was barely home before that more than a month at a time for the last few years!”

The two of them were glaring daggers at one another. At last he continued, “Perhaps it is indeed time I lived on my own, in my own home. I will look into it when I return to Budgeford tomorrow. Perhaps Uncle Alfengard’s place would do. I certainly spent enough time there when I was a lad, after all, and I’ve always felt comfortable there.”

“It’s all Frodo’s fault!” she suddenly hissed, her voice now low and shorn of its former quavering tone. “Encouraging you to question the wisdom of your parents!”

“Is it wisdom to insist I gain back weight that the healers tell me could put a serious strain upon my heart?”

She chose to ignore that question, continuing to attack Frodo’s character. “He’s proved as mad as old Bilbo ever was! I must suppose that Lobelia was right after all! Celebrating Bilbo’s birthday all those years, and Bilbo dead and gone….”

“There’s no question Bilbo’s been gone from the Shire since the Party, but he’s far from dead, apparently. All of them say he’s quite intent on passing up his grandfather’s age, in fact.” At her disbelieving look he explained, “He lives in Rivendell, and has ever since he left Hobbiton and the Shire. The Elves treat Bilbo with respect, and honor his sagacity, even. So much for Lobelia Sackville-Baggins and her poison, although even she’s had a decided change of heart since she came out of the Lockholes. Yes, Mother dear, the rumors were true. The Big Men took her to Michel Delving, too, her and her umbrella, and undoubtedly on Sharkey’s orders, and not long after that Sharkey had Lotho murdered.”

He picked up his glass and drank more of his cider, leaving her to stew on that news. As he put the mug back on the table again, now empty, he said, “As for Frodo, he remains the most responsible individual I’ve ever known. ”

“But he left the Shire!”

“And if he hadn’t, there would have been worse than Sharkey here. Think of it, Mother—the Shire overrun by those Black Riders who attacked Crickhollow!” He was shivering, and his face went decidedly pale. “You can’t imagine how terrible they were,” he whispered. “Even the Lockholes were better than them!”

Rosamunda’s mouth worked a bit as she examined her son’s face. At last her own face crumpled. “I wish none of this had happened,” she said, pulling out her handkerchief and weeping into it. “Everything’s gone so wrong!”

He sighed as he looked again into her eyes, and his own again had a haunted expression. “Yes, everything went wrong, and was going that way before Frodo left Bag End, but none of it was his fault. None of us had any idea that Lotho was buying up the mills, inns, and leaf plantations as he was. None of us realized he was stealing loads of provender and sending them off southward, out of the Shire, as he was doing. None of us realized that the increased number of questionable Big Men passing along the Road weren’t going through the Shire but were beginning to gather into gangs on farms that he owned, readying themselves to become his private army. None of us knew that Lotho and that cousin Timono of his were so strongly under the influence of a rogue Wizard who so hated and envied Gandalf he’d do anything to trouble the people Gandalf so honored. And yes, Gandalf honored us Hobbits! He respected us, perhaps far beyond our deserving, based on his own knowledge of what a few of our people have done for the betterment of all throughout the history of the Third Age.

“Gandalf chose Bilbo to go along with those Dwarves, and if he’d not done so, things could have gone considerably worse than they did. Because Bilbo was along, he was the one who found the Ring rather than a goblin, who undoubtedly could have been moved to send it either to the Dark Lord or to this Sharkey down where he was living in the Gap of Rohan, or so they tell me. And had either one of those got hold of It, that would have been the end of about everything good in the world, much less the Shire.

“Bilbo left It to Frodo, and because Frodo was about the best Hobbit ever born, It couldn’t do much at all to harm us Hobbits, much less anything else. And when it was the right time for it, Gandalf realized just what Ring It was and convinced Frodo to take It away as he did. I saw those Black Riders and felt how awful they were, and other than that Bounder that was killed near the Brandywine Bridge, I was about the only one to experience the horror they could let loose. If Frodo hadn’t left the Shire when he did, the Riders would most likely have remained here to take vengeance on every Hobbit living for the Ring having been kept here at all. You hate what happened? It’s likely that it would have been far, far worse had Frodo stayed and been captured and the Black Riders were able to take It to their dread Master! You think that Sauron and Mordor were only things told of in the darker fireside tales? Well, Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took can—and will—tell you differently, if they can be moved to talk about the worst parts of their adventure.”

He leaned closer and whispered, “Frodo and Sam went there—went to Mordor, Mother! They crept through that land, hiding from the Eye and from sight of the Enemy’s creatures. They, too, almost starved to death. They, too, almost died of hunger and thirst—and fear! And because they remained faithful and endured, all of us were saved, and the four of them were able to come home again, and embolden us to drive out the Big Men. Mordor fell because of Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee! Merry Brandybuck helped destroy the chieftain of the Black Riders, and Peregrin Took not only faced the will of Sauron and didn’t break down and tell him everything, but he killed a troll, all by himself! Do you wonder that they weren’t afraid of a few Big Men with clubs and knives?”

He straightened, and his voice became more distant. “And now the four of them are seeing to it that the Shire is again put to rights, and you want to blame Frodo for me not wanting to pretend nothing is changed from before they left? Don’t be absurd!”

“But we wouldn’t have been driven out of Budge Hall if he’d not sold Bag End to Lotho Sackville-Baggins!”

“And Frodo advised Father not to accept a loan from Lotho to begin with, didn’t he? Had Dad listened to Frodo and read that loan agreement more closely, he’d have realized from the beginning that Lotho was already setting things up to give him a legal pretense to take over our home and, indeed, the whole Shire! And I, too, told Dad not to accept that loan!”

She shook her head and turned her face aside, wringing her damp handkerchief between her hands. “But you couldn’t have known,” she said softly.

“Nor did I—I just opposed anything Lotho suggested on principle, I admit.”

“But he was doing so well for himself. Odi was convinced that he could also profit hugely should he follow Lotho’s advice!”

“And where did it lead? Estella forced into hiding, you and Father driven into a storage hole to live, and me to the Rebels and eventually the Lockholes. At least Pal and Sara didn’t fall to Lotho’s tricks, and were able to protect most of their own folks during the Troubles.”

He sighed. “I’m told that Father is off about the Tooklands with the Thain, so unless they return soon I won’t be able to see him. I’ll not be staying the night after all. Instead, I’ll set off tonight and stay at an inn so as to arrive in Budgeford early in the morning. And I will be setting up my own home. I love you and Father more than I can say, but I won’t be browbeaten into eating more than is good for me, just so that things can appear to be as if the Troubles hadn’t happened. They did, and I won’t pretend otherwise. I think I’m a better person because they did, you see. At least I was the opposite of those Gatherers and Sharers!”

So saying he leaned forward and kissed her cheek before rising to leave the room.

She looked after him, and felt her heart ache. He wasn’t her little lad any more. She wasn’t certain what he’d become, but she had to admit that he was right about that last observation.

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