For Soledad and Kitty for their birthdays.
Fredegar Bolger took the large envelope into his study, calling over his shoulder to his aide, Budgie Smallfoot, who with his wife Viola “did” for him, “It’s the next chapter of Frodo’s book that he wishes me to go over for him.”
Budgie laughed. “I don’t know what Mr. Baggins would do without you to see to it he uses proper grammar and spells things correctly!”
Freddie smiled back at him. “Indeed! Can hardly write, it seems. Well, I’ll undoubtedly be busy until lunch time, so if you will call me when that is ready.”
“Shall I bring you anything, sir?” Budgie asked.
Freddie shook his head. “No. Viola already supplied me with a cup of tea, and brought me a plate of vegetable fingers and two biscuits just before the post-Hobbit arrived. I shall be well enough off until luncheon is served.” He gave another professional nod of acknowledgment and shut the door.
Eagerly he opened the envelope and extracted the enclosed sheets of foolscap. He was growing increasingly excited, for Frodo had reached the portion of his tale in which the Fellowship was traveling through the Mines of Moria, a period in which apparently something terrible happened, and Freddie wished to learn precisely what that horrible experience had been. He set the stack of papers down upon the desk, and sat himself in his desk’s chair. His red pencil with which he could make corrections lay to one side, alongside the blue one with which he made comments on what he’d read. In actuality he rarely used the former, for Frodo rarely made mistakes in his spelling or punctuation, much less in his choice of words. No, his interest was mostly in what precisely had occurred to his relatives who’d left the Shire to take the Ring away from it while he’d stayed at home, mistakenly believing that he’d chosen to remain “safe.”
He picked up the blue pencil and tapped its blunt end against his teeth as he began to read. “The company of the Ring stood silent beside the tomb of Balin….” Soon he dropped the pencil onto the surface of his desk, from which it rolled unnoticed to the floor as he clutched at the desk’s surface. Goblins—or yrch, as Legolas named them—and trolls that tried to skewer his cousin with spears, and then something else, something more sinister, something of fire and shadow….
And then the desperate race across the narrow bridge of Khazad-dûm, and Gandalf’s terrible last stand against the Balrog…. As he read tears sprang unbidden to his eyes, and Fredegar Bolger found himself crying out, “No!” along with Frodo as Gandalf fell.
There was agitated knocking at the door that brought him back to himself. Budgie was calling out, “Freddie! Freddie! Are you all right?”
Freddie had to shake himself back to the present, and called out in a voice he realized was trembling, “I am well, Budgie. Do not worry for me. It was only what I read that startled me.”
Budgie finally managed to open the door and looked in, growing relief in his eyes as he saw that his Master and friend was indeed unhurt. “It was only that you called out so, sir. It took me quite by surprise, and I was afraid that perhaps you’d had an attack of some kind.”
“No, it wasn’t for myself I cried out. But what Frodo wrote….”
Budgie walked into the room and looked at the manuscript over Freddie’s shoulder, frowning as he read aloud, “With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard’s knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. ‘Fly, you fools!' he cried, and was gone.” He stood for a moment and shook his head. “But didn’t Frodo say that Gandalf accompanied the four of them back to the edge of the Old Forest? How could he have done that if he truly fell into an abyss?” With that he turned to leave the room, commenting over his shoulder ere he closed the door again, “Your cousin certainly knows how to tell a thrilling tale, doesn’t he?”
But Frodo doesn’t lie, Freddie thought to himself as he turned his attention back to Frodo’s writing, turning to the last page of the chapter he’d been sent. No, Frodo Baggins isn’t given to making up stories. If Gandalf didn’t fall there, there in Moria, then something worse must have happened instead.
He finished the last paragraphs, noting that Frodo’s writing was unnaturally shaky at this point. No, what Frodo wrote—or didn’t write—indicated that Frodo had been under terrible stress at this point in his journey, and Freddie was certain that whatever had happened to Gandalf, it must have been indeed terrifying and that as a result Frodo had felt terribly guilty, certain that he was to blame for the injury that the Wizard had taken.
At last Freddie sat back, pulled out a kerchief, and wiped his brow. Now, that was quite an adventure and no mistake! as Sam Gamgee would put it. He reached for the blue pencil and realized it wasn’t there. It took a minute or two to find it where it had rolled under his chair, but at last he had it in hand, and began wracking his brain for some comment to write. But all he could think of was what Budgie had said. Shrugging, he began to write, “A thrilling tale, my cousin! Now, to find out how it was that he was able to accompany you home to the edge of the Shire once more when all was done.”
As Fredegar Bolger packed up the manuscript with the blue-penciled comment for its return to Hobbiton, he hoped that Frodo didn’t interpret that comment as indicating that he disbelieved the description of Gandalf’s fall. In fact, he wished that, like Budgie Smallfoot, he could do so.