Where a Baggins Belongs

by Sevilodorf


Where A Baggins Belongs
Sevilodorf, ErinRua and Celebsul
April 2006


Spring 1380 SR

Springtime blessed the thickets along the Brandywine River with green leaves and birdsong, and honeybees buzzed in gentle industry among the fields. As the late afternoon sun cast lazy golden beams, two short, round figures walked along the causeway above the river. At a casual glance, one would have taken them for two gentlehobbits out for an after-dinner stroll. However, the grimness of their faces and the muddy state of their furry feet belied that thought.

Odovacar Bolger, his extended shadow vanishing over the edge of the causeway, pointed down at a clump of reeds. "What's that?"

Marmadan Brandybuck wiped sweat from his eyes with a grimy hand and squinted at the marshy area at the base of the dike. Instinctively he noted someone would need to inform the Master of the Hall that this section of the levee needed repair, as soon as the spring runoff passed.

Aloud he simply retorted, "It's a rotten log, you ninnyhammer!"

Ignoring his friend's temper, Odovacar replied, "Beside the log. Come on."

Carefully, for the shadowed flank of the dike was both steep and crumbling, the pair zigzagged their way down to the river's edge. Mud sucked at their feet as they waded into the reeds.

"Glory be, Odo, it's the lad. Do you think he's …?"

Unable to give voice to the fear that had chilled his heart during the past hour, Marmadan fell silent as Odovacar rolled aside the sodden log partially hiding the still form.

"He's breathing." Odovacar straightened the child's limbs carefully. "Can't feel any broken bones, but he's got a knot the size of a melon on the side of his head. Let's get him out of this muck."

With some effort, for the lad was taller than most his age, they struggled up the embankment to lay him gently upon the roadway. Odo pulled from his waistcoat pocket a red-spotted handkerchief and began to wipe the youngster's face. Meanwhile Marmadan, cheeks aglow with exertion, bent forward and set his hands on his knees as he gathered his breath.

"Fetch the others, Marmadan, let them know Frodo lives."

"Aye," wheezed the stout hobbit. He sucked in little gulps of air as he continued, "I'll go to Maggot's farm and bring a wagon to carry him up to Brandy Hall. Rory will want the lad safe under his roof tonight. Primula was always his favorite sister. He set quite a store by Drogo, too."

"We all did, Marmadan," Odo answered bleakly.

Only two hours had passed since horrified relatives pulled the bodies of Primula and Drogo Baggins from the river. At first, it was believed they'd been alone in the boat found overturned and half-submerged below Bucklebury Ferry. But Rosamunda, Odo's wife and Primula's first cousin once removed, insisted she'd seen Frodo trotting along beside his mother and father as they walked to the Brandywine. Given her delicate condition - Rosamunda being close to term with her first child - no one, least of all Odo, wished to argue with her, and a search had been initiated for the lad at once. When no sign of him was found in any hole or cot upon the hill, the hunt extended to both sides of the river.

Without bothering to wipe away the tears that now streamed down his face, Marmadan gave a nod to Odo and hurried north along the causeway toward Maggot's farm.

***

A day after the double funeral, most of the visiting relatives stayed on in Brandy Hall or surrounding Buckland. Feasting and much chatter would normally mark such gatherings, for wakes were, more oft than not, celebrations of well-lived lives. However, the tragic deaths of Primula and Drogo, who left behind a young orphan, cast a sorrowful cloud over almost everyone. A mark of the general gloom lay in the fact that there were leftovers after second breakfast, and again after luncheon.

"A terribly pity," one the guests from Hobbiton sighed. "No good can ever come of hobbits and boats. And what's to become of the poor lad?"

Frodo himself remained almost totally silent, and no one could find the right words to comfort him. He accepted well-meaning offerings of cakes and sweets with grave thanks, but the hobbit mothers shook their heads knowingly.

"It's not natural," they said, "for the lad to be so quiet. Mark you, the tears will come soon enough."

Thus, in respect for his grief, they let him wander alone in the gardens where nature might offer her healing warmth. Peonies lifted their lush blooms above daisies and shy primroses, and nasturtiums poured their jeweled blossoms over low stone walls, but the young hobbit had eyes for none of it. He walked slowly on the green grass, trailing his hand among the taller blooms, but heeded not their beauty. Truly, a sadder figure was seldom seen.

Finally a puffing of breath jarred Frodo from his reverie, and he turned to behold the arrival of the rotund Reginard Took, a half-year younger than Frodo and half a head shorter. But as the younger hobbit fell in beside him, he merely offered a wan smile and stuffed his hands in his pockets. Perhaps the lad's mother sent him to keep Frodo company, but Frodo did not mind. With Reginard beside him, he resumed his forlorn stroll.

After a time, the pair plopped onto a stone bench in the sun, where Reginard pulled out a handkerchief wrapped around a handful of plump dried apricots. He offered them to Frodo, and they munched companionably.

"I found a bullfrog the other day," Reginard said.

"Did you?"

"Yes, and it was big as my gram's butter churn."

Frodo snorted softly. "Bullfrogs don't get that big."

"Do so. You can ask Toto Goodbody. He saw it, too. I watched it eat a dragonfly."

Two more apricots disappeared before Reginard asked with the artlessness of youth, "Where are you going to live, now, Frodo?"

"I don't know," Frodo replied, and sighed.

"Mother says you belong with your closest relations. I guess that would mean staying at Brandy Hall, wouldn't it? Though of course you have your cousin, Bilbo." Reginard popped another apricot in his mouth and frowned. "Does he really have dragon gold?"

A breath of sound that in other times would have been laughter escaped Frodo's lips. "I have no idea, Regi. He doesn't show it off to visitors, if he does."

"That's because he's a miser." The derisive new voice startled them both, and they looked up with matching frowns.

Coming to a halt before them was none other than Lotho Sackville-Baggins, at sixteen years already taking on the mean-faced portliness he would wear in later life. Though dressed according to the station the Sackville-Bagginses aspired to, in a handsome jacket, crimson brocade weskit, and fine trousers, his mocking grin revealed bits of apple cake between his teeth. The cake itself he raised in his right hand, taking another bite before speaking with his mouth full.

"You know what they're saying." Receiving no response, the disdainful sneer inherited from the Sackville side of his lineage deepened upon Lotho's face. "They're saying your father tipped the boat on purpose."

Reginard jumped to his feet, hands clenched at his side. "Leave him be, you pimple-faced weasel."

Slyly satisfied at getting a response, Lotho bit into the cake again, ignoring the crumbs dribbled upon the velvet jacket his mother declared made him look the perfect gentlehobbit. "Who's to make me? You?"

"If need be." Though a quiet lad, more given to spending afternoons with a fishing pole than hunting mischief, Reginard possessed two qualities for which his rowdy, boisterous Took cousins might have warned Lotho: a streak of stubbornness and a powerful right hook.

"I can defend myself, Reginard." Frodo's mouth tightened, the bruising that darkened one side of his face seeming to stand out even more against the pallor of his skin. "It wasn't my father's fault, Lotho. You and anyone else who says so will have to answer to me."

Lotho sneered, "If not him, then your ma did it. She always wore the trousers in the family by all counts anyhow. Folks say it was unnatural how she bossed your dad about."

Yet Frodo did not respond to the vicious cut of that old bit of gossip. The lad knew people had laughed at how Primula was the light of Drogo's life, how his father did anything his mother wished and encouraged her to make all the decisions. But Drogo had always been quite easy going in nature, happy to please the mother of his son. Frodo remembered what his father said about it, once: "Don't let it trouble you lad, for I know it doesn't bother me. It pleases me to let your mam manage things, and she's right good at it." However, any explanations would be lost on the likes of Lotho Sackville-Baggins.

"Folks need to keep their mouths shut," Reginard grumbled, and scowled sullenly as he scrunched his handkerchief around the remaining apricots and stuffed them back in his pocket.

"Best beware, Took," Lotho gave an unfriendly grin, and popped the last of his cake into his mouth so he could dust both hands in Reginald's face. "A little dunk in the river and you'll be all wet, too!"

He gave a bray of laughter, which was cut short by the swing of Reginard's bony fist right in Lotho's soft belly. However, Lotho outmatched the lad in girth and years, and at Reginard's first shriek, Frodo sprang into the fray. In a twinkling, a perfect tangle of hobbit lads rolled and kicked and yelled about the lawn.

"Now see here!" a commanding voice cried. "What is the meaning of this?"

Instantly they scrambled apart, and looked up in dismay at the stern face of Frodo's much-older cousin, Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo folded his arms on his chest and eyed the three miscreants up and down.

"And here we've just come from a burying - for shame! And you, Master Lotho, a great brute of a lad, you should know better than to scrap with those smaller than you. Run along now, and we'll have no more of this nonsense."

Lotho picked himself up, scowling as he dusted ineffectively at the grass stains on his fine clothes. But when he drew breath to defend his actions, Bilbo cut him short.

"Tut! That will be enough. Off you go."

Grumbling, Lotho slouched away, leaving a hangdog Frodo and Reginard to Bilbo's mercy. Mercy did seem the order of the day, for Bilbo's expression softened and he heaved a great, deep sigh.

"Oh, lads." He reached out to tip Reginard's chin up for better viewing of his face, and then gave him a pat on the shoulder. "You've a bit of a scrape there, Regi, and you're grass all over. Why don't you go have your mother tidy you up, hmm?"

"Yes, sir," Reginard replied, and quickly made his escape.

Which left Frodo staring at the grass between his toes.

"Frodo? Do you want to tell me what this was about?"

A frown furrowed the young hobbit's brow, but he merely hugged his arms around himself and did not answer.

"Come now," Bilbo said, "I know Lotho's tricks, but it's not like you or Reginard to come to blows with anyone. What's the mischief about, hmm?"

"It's nothing, really," Frodo muttered glumly. "It was stupid and I should have known better."

Bilbo cocked his head as he studied his young cousin. "Nothing that threatens to leave yet more bruises on your poor face?"

At the mere mention of his bruises, Frodo's undamaged features blanched bone-white, and he turned away.

Instantly contrite, Bilbo explained, "Frodo, my lad, you can't let the spite of a Sackville-Baggins add to the sadness you already bear. No good can come of it, and it's not worth your bother."

"I know," Frodo replied miserably. "But it's just ...he said ..."

Comprehension dawning, Bilbo touched Frodo's shoulder and guided him back to the nearby bench. "What did he say?"

"Lotho said my father ... my father tipped the boat on purpose, but he didn't, he ..." Pinched and pale, Frodo's boyish features described such absolute misery as no face so young should wear. Then the dam of words broke into a torrent of anguish.

"He was wrong; he was wrong, because it wasn't Dad's fault or Mam's either, it was mine! I asked to go fishing and Mam said yes and then Dad came too and he can't swim, you know he can't swim, but he said he'd come, anyway. And then I caught a fish and Dad tried to help me pull it in, and all of a sudden the boat tipped and we all fell in the water! I tried to yell but I swallowed a bunch of water and then an oar hit me and - and -"

Sobbing for breath, Frodo buried his face in his hands; and as Bilbo laid an arm gingerly about his shoulders, Frodo wailed through his fingers, "It's all my fault!"

"Now, my lad, you know that's not so. Recall the tale of Dodinas and Dinodas Brandybuck. No one was to blame for what happened. It just did. It was an accident." In an attempt to distract the distressed lad, Bilbo changed tack. "You and your mam and dad had only been doing a spot of fishing. That's a sensible enough thing to do, if you don't mind the water. But me, I once almost drowned a dozen dwarves as well as myself."

Frodo slowly lowered his hands and gazed up at his notorious cousin through tearful but curious eyes. "How did you do that?"

"Using barrels to float away from an elven prison." Smiling to see the look of incredulity on the lad's face, Bilbo went on to recount his ridiculous but successful escape from Mirkwood.

A while later, when Frodo had dried his eyes of mirth as well as sorrow, Bilbo ventured, "You know I was going to leave Bag End to your dad, along with all the treasures I'm supposed to have hidden there?"

Frodo nodded but said nothing.

"Well, if I don't choose another heir, everything will go to those Sackville-Bagginses."

"Lotho always says it should go to his dad. That my dad…" Frodo's voice wavered for an instant, and he paused to draw a deep breath before continuing. "That Dad had no business tricking you out of it."

"Tricking me!" exclaimed Bilbo. "The only tricks played were by Otho and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. Having me declared dead and auctioning off my effects! I never did get all my silver spoons back. Lobelia's got them, I suppose, but she won't get Bag End. If you're agreeable, lad, I'll name you my heir."

"Me?" Frodo gasped in astonishment. From feeling still adrift on a log where everything swirled uncertainly around him, he now saw a possible future - a future that he might even one day be able to enjoy.

The neat, cozy home where Frodo had dwelt could in no way be compared to Bag End. For a hobbit hole, Bag End was very grand, and rumors abounded not only of crocks of gold in the many rooms, but also magical contraptions and strange creatures and goodness knows what else. Every child in the whole of the Shire dreamed of a chance to sneak behind Bilbo's green door and search out his secrets.

"Does that mean I'm to live with you at Bag End?" Frodo asked.

"Well now, there's been quite a bit of discussion about that. There's some that insist a lad your age still needs a bit of mothering, and being that I'm an old bachelor, it's been proposed that you stay here in Buckland for a while with Saradoc and Esmeralda."

At the dismay gathering on Frodo's face, Bilbo grinned and rushed on. "Only until you're a bit older. Meanwhile, you can come to visit me now and again. Then, in a few years, you'll come back to Hobbiton to stay. After all, for all the Brandybuck and Took in you, you're still a Baggins and that's where you belong."

'Where he belonged.' Frodo found unexpected comfort in that thought. Though his childhood seemed to have ended, perhaps new beginnings were within reach. Feeling Bilbo's guiding hand on his shoulder, he turned away from the past, and towards whatever the future might hold.