Well, Floria, better get out that apocalypse kit. ;) Frodo *is* quite well throughout the entire telling of this tale. ;)
DISCLAIMER: The characters, places, and story of The Lord of the Rings are the property of J.R.R. Tolkien and consequently of the Tolkien Estate, with select rights by Tolkien Enterprises. This piece appears purely as fanfiction and is not intended to claim ownership of Tolkien's work in any way. Please e-mail me if you have concerns. Furthermore, please do NOT consider any treatments or remedies within this story safe or effective for use: these are included as fictitious hobbit care, not real human medical practice, and while some can indeed be traced to actual therapeutic practices, could be dangerous. Please consult your health care professional before treating yourself or others for any condition or symptom.
Part The First: Soup & Quackers
"Mind you save some of those blackberries for the rest of us, Merry!"
Meriadoc looked up, shaking his head with a grin. "They've been residing at your end of the table long enough, cousin. I know how many we brought out, and how many went into your mouth while you were setting the table!"
"Who, me?" With a look of feigned horror, Frodo gazed, wide-eyed, across the table. . .though one might notice that the long, nimble fingers handling his silverware boasted dark purplish-red stains. Bilbo glanced down, laughing heartily.
"Now, both of you. . .enough of that. If the Sackville-Bagginses find out you were berrying down on their lands, Lobelia will be beating in the door with that umbrella of hers post-haste, and then what shall I do with you two?"
"Put them to work scrubbing dishes." With a prim smile, Dora Baggins dabbed daintily at her lips with the napkin, folding her hands back in her lap before nodding to Bilbo. "A lovely family company dinner, but in my day, tweens knew their place. . .even ones who fancied themselves too old to listen to their elders." This was accompanied by a pointed - but admittedly slightly amused - glance in Frodo's direction. . .just as the young hobbit attempted to unobtrusively lick a bit of mashed potato from one finger, blue eyes returning the look rather as a startled fawn might.
Nodding emphatically, Bilbo managed nothing more than a half-stern look, mouth still too curved up in a smile to seem terribly intimidating. Suddenly, he clapped his hands, causing the others to start. . .even Fredegar, who nearly dropped his tea-cup. "What's this, Frodo-lad? Soup, and not a quacker in sight!"
At once Frodo burst into laughter, though his face reddened a touch at the high cheekbones. . .fuller now since he had been at Bag End for nearly a dozen years, healthy pink, the full features of a young hobbit with a fine appetite. Rising, he thumped Bilbo merrily on the back, hurrying back out to the kitchen and swiftly returning with a little decorated box, setting it ceremoniously before his uncle. "There you are, then, Bilbo! Quackers for your soup - and mine, provided there are enough to go 'round after Merry gets hold of them." He winked in his cousin's direction, making a face before stirring his soup, waiting while Bilbo opened the box and retrieved several small soda-crackers.
"In *my* day, young lads never served their elders straight from the box!" Dora noted with some horror. "A proper serving-plate wouldn't have been too much trouble, surely, for the uncle kind enough to bring you up properly?"
Bilbo and Frodo looked at one another and promptly burst into peals of laughter.
"What's so funny?" queried Fredegar through a mouthful of spinach-salad.
Merry frowned, his brow furrowing. "Something we're missing, I expect. It isn't polite to keep private jokes, you know, Frodo. . . ."
"No. . .not polite at *all*. . .particularly when concerning such common dinner-accompaniments as *crackers*," Dora commented crisply, sitting up just a bit straighter.
At once Frodo turned nearly the shade of the tomato he was spearing with the tines of his fork. "I'm sorry, Auntie - I won't do it again; I promise - "
"No, I don't think you shall." Smiling mischievously, Dora eyed the others. . .including Bilbo, whose expression had suddenly gone quite serious. . .but only for a moment, and then he too burst out laughing.
"Are you certain it's the proper topic for the supper-table, Dora?"
"Not in the least." Dora arched one delicate eyebrow. "However, I am *quite* certain that the lads will finish their supper promptly, given the promise of a tale in the parlor afterward. . . ."
Frodo suddenly seemed remarkably uninterested in his plate, poking bits of tomato into the mashed potatoes and fried chicken. "I think we were going for a walk afterward, weren't we?"
"Not tonight. It's been raining." Merry grinned triumphantly between bites of corn. "You won't get off so easily as that!"
"Bilbo. . .may I please be excused?" Pleadingly Frodo looked at his uncle, blue eyes beseeching. The response was a firm shakes of the head.
"Not until you've finished everything on that plate *and* your dessert, Frodo Baggins. Then you will sit in the parlor with your company until you wish to go to bed, and then you will not be up again. . .and no candles for reading! Besides. . .I believe there was the matter of a blueberry pie we had planned to bake tomorrow. . .I'm sure Mrs. Gamgee could use those without us if you're so tired as to need an early bedtime tonight."
"No, thank you - suddenly I - I think I'm quite hungry - " Frodo promptly set to work on his plate, still casting periodic glances of dubious nature in Dora's direction.
His aunt only smiled down at her plate.
"Well, now, that was a meal fit for a good bit of Longbottom Leaf, if I do say so! Frodo, fetch my pipe."
Obeying, the young hobbit handed his uncle's smoking-things over before setting onto a small stool on the opposite side of Bilbo's chair from the hearth. . .as far from Dora as possible, one might note. . .almost hidden behind the large arm-chair. Looking around, Bilbo shook his head.
"Not there, lad! Pull up nice and close, now. . .help me get this lit, and then settle down there. Good and warm. Don't want you catching another chill."
"Yes, Bilbo." His voice barely audible, Frodo mournfully moved his seat, complying with his uncle's instructions as his cousins pulled up cushions, gazing up at Dora with rapt attention, their faces bright and eager.
"Now, Miss Baggins, what was that about the quackers?"
"Is it something Frodo used to do?"
Dora laughed, settling her tatting in her lap, an array of perfect golden lace growing ever-larger as she resumed her work. "I suppose you could put it thus. It has more to do with something that happened when Frodo was quite young. . .and only once, though that was quite enough for all those involved."
"More than enough," muttered Frodo beneath his breath, huddling up a bit.
Bilbo chuckled, reaching down with one hand to ruffle the tweenager's curls, causing Merry and Fredegar to snigger, though both silenced themselves without hesitation (and independently of a glare from Frodo) as Dora began. . . .
"It was just about this time of year, I believe: Drogo and Primula were so often away up in Buckland already in those days, but they were here then, and were staying for the Baggins Family Picnic. Frodo was. . .three, I believe. . .isn't that right, Frodo?"
A mop of dark curls replied with a vaguely dejected nod.
"Isn't that right, Frodo?"
"Yes, ma'am." Turning the colour of beetroot, Frodo huddled up a bit more upon his stool.
"Yes. . .yes, indeed. As I recall, everyone was there - Dudo, of course, and Peony, and of course Angelica's father Ponto, and Poppy. . .Falco Chubb- Baggins. . . ."
"Not to mention Otho and Lobelia, and of course Lotho," added Bilbo distastefully.
"What, all together in one place? Well, if that's not a receipt for disaster, I don't know what is!" interjected Merry. Dora silenced him with a look that would curdle new milk.
"Really, now! See to it I don't have to tutor you all in manners tomorrow afternoon, lads; I've my ladies' afternoon tea, and I shouldn't want to miss it. . . ." Casting a sideways glance in Bilbo's direction, she paused. "Frodo, you're squirming like a newly-hatched chick! Sit up straight, lad, and take those hands out of your pockets! Bilbo, you *must* remind the lad of his manners, really. . . ."
"We're sorry, Miss Baggins - " chorused two voices. . .and Frodo reluctantly straightened, folding his hands tensely in his lap, worrying the fingers slightly, picking at a hangnail as soon as Dora turned back to the others.
"Now, then, where was I? - Oh, yes! Well, Lotho was wearing a little pale green and pink apple-blossom suit with a lovely lace collar - not unlike the one I'm working on presently, mind you - to match his mother's apple- green silk gown. It was really quite the occasion - we had so many blankets and quilts spread out across the lawn that it looked like an enormous patchwork-quilt, really, and picnic-baskets everywhere - "
"Frodo, now, was wearing the most adorable little cerulean blue suit with tiny brass buttons, and Primula was trying to get him to sit still and finish his lunch. . .not that it was working, mind you; he was much more interested in the duck-pond close by, and Drogo was so amused that of course he didn't run after the child. No one did; it's really quite shallow, and Frodo was a bit from the edge, following an emerald dragonfly. I don't suppose any of us noticed quite what was going on: the children had already been eating, and other than a few miscellaneous stains, I couldn't say they were much the worse for wear, so there were some playing along the pond-edge, looking at frogs and such.
"Of course, Lotho was poking about looking for a skipping-stone. . .and Frodo got rather closer than any of us realised, I think. All we knew was that one moment Frodo was waddling along after the dragonfly, and half a moment later, there was a wail to wake the dead, and Primula and Drogo - oh, but they went *flying*!"
Attempting to shrink down once more, Frodo bit his lip.
"Lotho, of course, had already run back from the water: most of the children were a good bit from it, really, by then. . .but Frodo stood there absolutely dripping, with patches of mud all over his little suit and in one of his ears, weeds on his curls, all green and brown like a little pond- fairy out of a storybook! I thought Bilbo was going to fall over his own feet trying to get there. . . ."
"At least I was trying, Dora - " noted Bilbo, scowling momentarily as he took another long draw from his pipe.
"Well, you got there, all right, but Lobelia and Otho were already there, even before anyone else, since their blanket was the closest," continued Dora. "They'd pushed someone out of their proper spot, I'm quite sure, but they were there, in any event. . .and so Lobelia reached to pick Frodo up, to hand him back to his parents. . .so he wouldn't drip on their quilt, I'm sure. . . . Just then, as she got him up at arms' length, the poor little poppet started to choke. . .and threw up all over her. Every bit of his luncheon: bilberry tart, mushroom sandwiches, raspberries and cream, strawberry-jam on freshly-baked bread, milk, I don't know what all else, but he'd been eating all day. . .and then all that dreadful pond-water too; he'd swallowed a fair bit, evidently, and that's what had him crying before then. . . ."
"Lotho kicked my leg and pushed me in," Frodo muttered darkly. The observation, however, went unnoticed as Merry and Fredegar burst into peals of wild laughter.
"I don't suppose you'd have much trouble imagining her face then - " Bilbo adds. "Not much difference from normal, but my, that was a sour expression!"
Laughing, Dora continued, looking quite proud as two of the boys shook their heads curiously. "Bag End was the nearest and best place, after all, so Bilbo brought them back here. . .by then it was Drogo with Primula carrying a sick toddler, Lobelia trying vainly to shake off Frodo's lunch. . .I'm sure you can picture that!"
"Frodo was. . .well, not at all happy, to say the least," Bilbo explained. "So I just brought them in to settle in the sitting-room, the nearest to the water-closet, and fetched a bit of water and some of their spare clothes for them. . .and showed Lobelia to the kitchen to clean off her dress as she fancied. . . ."
"But Primula put Frodo down for a moment," added Dora quickly. "As I recall, she'd had him in her lap to start, rubbing his little tummy, but he was getting to be quite wiggly and seemed steady enough to let down, so she did, and was getting a cloth and water from what Bilbo had brought in, to wash him up a bit. . . ."
"And the poor lad got out without our seeing," Bilbo explained. "We were looking, thinking he'd wandered behind the sofa or something of the sort, when we heard the most blood-curdling screech from the front hall. . . .
"Frodo was standing in the middle of the hall, starting to cry. . .but Lobelia had just stepped back into the hall as well, and when she put a foot forward, right into the mess on the floor, she let out a scream worse than any sound I've ever heard. . .and it only got louder as she stepped, skidded a bit, and slid straight down on her backside. All that silk on my freshly polished floors, of course. . .well, she went skidding like a sled on snow in the Long Winter, and went smack into Frodo, who toppled back into her lap, ending up just a few arms' lengths from my front door!"
By this time, Merry and Fredegar were bent nearly double with laughter. Frodo was flushed to the ears, huddling towards the hearth as if longing to disappear into the chimney.
"But that wasn't all - " Dora promptly continued. "The poor little tot still wasn't well: he was running a bit of a temperature - "
"Rather a high fever, as I recall - " Bilbo pointed out.
"Yes, and of course he was confused. . .so he began trying to explain, starting to cry, babbling about 'I know how - almost made it - was trying to g-get th-there!' and starting to wail again - he'd just been potty- trained, you see, a few months earlier - and then he flung his little arms around Lobelia's neck and gave her a big, wet sloppy kiss right on the face, thinking it was his mamma - proof of how confused he was, the poor pet. As if Lobelia wasn't turning the colour of her dress by then. . .and suddenly. . .little Frodo, who'd not only stained her dress sitting in her lap, but her landing in. . .in it, as he pulled back, threw up again. . .right down the front of that dress. . . ."
"Couldn't help throwing up after that pond water," muttered Frodo, wrinkling his nose. "I didn't do it on purpose, honestly - "
"You may as well have, for all Lobelia cared!" Shaking his head, Bilbo laughed, tears running down his face. "Poor lad, that started it. . .another half-dozen of my best silver spoons slid right out of her valise and went CLANG! clattering into the wall, and. . .well, the words she and Otho and I had after that weren't nice at all, let me tell you. I don't think you had to watch that part, fortunately enough. . .Prim gathered you up and dashed off to the water-closet with you, and the next time I saw you, they had you curled up nice and clean in the middle of one of my best feather-beds, feeding you broth. . .but you weren't happy at all about that, and kept asking for something. . . ."
"Quackers," Frodo admitted, curls bobbing over the flushed face as he nodded, still looking thoroughly embarrassed. "Mamma always let me have plain soda-crackers when I was feeling sick at my stomach. . . ."
"And she hadn't been able to find them in my pantry. It took us forever to work out what you meant. . .we thought you were out of your head again, wanting the little ducks from the pond!" Chuckling, Bilbo took another long, pensive draw from his pipe. "And of course we've called them quackers ever since. . . . My, but that almost seems as if it might have been yesterday, doesn't it, lad?"
"Almost, Bilbo." A bit of the beet-red flush of embarrassment beginning to fade, Frodo shook his head, smiling a little at last. "I don't think it'll ever be long enough ago for me."
Part The Second: Minas Tirith, July 1419
"And I do believe that was the last time Estel chose to wander about at night without permission."
Elrond smiled wryly as Aragorn reddened, laughing heartily nonetheless. Close by, Frodo narrowly avoided choking on a cup of warm spiced mead: despite the summer weather, the nights were cool, and he felt much relaxed by the combination of mead, fruit, and breads following a lavish private feast for the Fellowship and those closest to them. . .Eowyn and Eomer, Faramir and Arwen and her brothers, even Galadriel, Celeborn, and Haldir. Fully three months and a fortnight had passed since the day he had thought would be the last any of them would see, and three months of rest (in between a sometimes-hectic schedule of feasts and celebratory ceremonies) and nourishing food, combined with plenty of fussing over by Sam and the others, had left him somewhat improved for wear. He began to feel almost whole again, and hoped that the dark memories of that past would fade. Whether they would. . .only time could tell that, Gandalf and Elrond assured him.
But time he had, and plenty of it, it seemed tonight.
Everyone groaned as a bright voice piped up: Pippin, well past his first (or second) pint, grinned proudly, rising.
"There's a little story that I was rather cut off from sharing some time ago. . .in the Prancing Pony, I believe, and I seem to recall a certain cousin insisting I could finish it *later* - " He waved a soda-cracker, holding it up for all to see.
Frodo searched his memory: the previous autumn seemed years, not months, ago. . . .
No, Pippin, anything but *that*. . . .
"Pippin, I. . .don't think that King Elessar or Queen Arwen would care to hear such. . .inappropriate. . .stories after supper. . . ."
Pippin feigned shock. "But - cousin Frodo, I'm sure Merry told me when he told me about it on the way to Bree that it was a family treasure, and - "
"I'm certain we would be honoured to hear, Frodo."
Aragorn's flush was fading, but Frodo already felt positively scarlet, and he was quite certain it wasn't the mead.
He had been wrong about at least one matter.
That last day travelling to Mount Doom was most certainly *not* the longest day of his life.
Scribe's Notes: It is well known that Frodo's intervention in the Prancing Pony at Bree came as Pippin was unfolding the story of the famous party, leading up to Bilbo's disappearance. However, the Red Book of Westmarch was written by Frodo himself, and it is commonly considered certain fact among historians that Samwise would have added nothing to disparage his master's dignity, even after Frodo's departure for the West. No written confirmation of this true account of the matter exists to our knowledge; however, it is commonly known that to this day, the offspring of Lord Faramir and Lady Eowyn, and those of King Elessar and Queen Arwen, have been heard referring to soda-crackers as "quackers." One may, of course, make of that what he or she will.