Title: Old Wives' Tales

Author: Frodo Baggins of Bag End (FrodoAtBagEnd)

Characters: Frodo, Bilbo, Dora, various other hobbits (including

Fredegar, Estella, and some original characters)

Rating: PG (IMPORTANT: Future chapters of this story will be rated PG-13, possibly R. I have struggled with this matter for several days, and after some beta-readings by members of FrodoHealers, have decided to proceed as planned, though with this disclaimer. While this story falls within the guidelines of the FrodoHealers group in both letter and spirit, free from profanity or sexual content, it does contain material which may be distasteful to some readers. If you prefer to avoid graphic medical content or non-sexual bare hobbit "rear-views," then you may wish to avoid reading beyond Chapter One of this story. Should you choose to continue, you do so at your own risk. I have chosen to provide a realistic portrayal of symptoms and treatment given the conditions in Middle-earth, and as such the content is quite graphic in nature. My feeling is that there are a variety of conditions and treatments which can be employed in writing ailing Frodo fanfic, and by signing onto such a group, one accepts that there may be conditions used that present very dark or very painful situations. However, for this story of my own, I would like to take all possible precautions to avoid offending anyone's sensitivities, and as such am disclaiming now. Thank you. :) ) Summary: Following a summer picnic during a stay at Bag End, young Frodo becomes seriously ill and is cared for by Bilbo and his aunt Dora, Drogo's elder sister.

Feedback: Welcomed. Constructive only, please. . .no flaming.

Story Notes: I have taken some liberty with ages - while I don't usually like to do so, I wanted to harness Estella's lack of culinary prowess, legendary on ElendorMUSH, but needed to make her a bit older to do so, given that she would be merely a toddler at this time in Frodo's life according to book canon! In keeping with this, I have also altered Merry and Fredegar ("Fatty") to fall closer to Frodo's own age. . .which, at the time of this fic, is all of seventeen years, though for a hobbit seventeen is more like nine to eleven years in human terms.

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. This is a non-slash fiction: no slash or sexual connotations are implied or intended.

OLD WIVES' TALES

Chapter One: Picnic-Season in Hobbiton

"Frodo! Over here!"

"Half a moment!" Laughing, Frodo returned his attention to filling his plate, waving to Fredegar and Estella, who were already seated on a large quilt nearby. Behind him, Bilbo smiled, nodding approvingly as the young hobbit added various items from the ample picnic-spread.

"I'm sure you're glad to see your friends again for a bit, eh, lad?"

"Mmm-hm," Frodo nodded emphatically. "It was awfully kind of Aunt Rosamunda to bring them down on the way. . .I'm glad we've so many relatives, at times like these, really." Rosamunda had agreed to stop in Hobbiton to stay with a cousin for a few days on her way down from Budge Ford to Michel Delving, a good deal of travelling for hobbits, to allow Frodo and Fredegar to slip in a bit of extra time together. With Frodo spending the summer at Bilbo's in Hobbiton, the two were much farther apart in location, and the trip to Hobbiton was so much farther than the jaunt to Brandy Hall in Bucklebury that Rosamunda had at first said they would likely not get to see each other that summer at all. Yet she had relented at last, agreeing to make the family trip to Michel Delving for tailoring and fittings a month early so that the lads might not be apart so long. Today was the last day of their visit, though, and Bilbo and Rosamunda had arranged an enormous picnic for the occasion.

"Be sure and fill that plate. . .then clean it! I'd like to see you less easy to pick up before you return to the Hall. . . ."

"Yes, Uncle Bilbo." Dutifully Frodo continued adding to his plate as Bilbo passed him, patting him on the shoulder before going to take a seat with the other adults. At least Bilbo had been too kind to point out that Fredegar, a year Frodo's junior, was at least twice the orphan's match in girth, as was his sister Estella, a year younger than "Fatty." Frodo was acutely aware of his thinness, of the whispers about it, but since his parents' drownings six years earlier he'd sometimes found it difficult to eat, and he'd been ill so often that keeping on weight was a challenge. The two stone he'd managed to gain early on he'd lost during a bout of measles complicated by pneumonia. . .another stone he'd regained later dropped, taking three more with it, during a particularly bad winter when he'd had constant colds and coughs, his throat often too sore to swallow more than a mouthful of anything. And then there was the simple fact that in a family smial with more than two dozen children, no one's favourites could be served constantly. . .and Frodo's tastes often ran counter to what was being served. His aunts and uncles had tried repeatedly to induce him to eat, but bribes, cajoling, wheedling, admonitions, and threats had all failed. At Bilbo's, though, he always seemed able to pick up a little weight. . .perhaps because Bilbo was awfully nice about making his favourite foods, mused Frodo, and because at Bag End his stomach never seemed to tense into the tight knots that it often did at Brandy Hall.

And today was no exception. . .Rosamunda had clearly spoken with Bilbo concerning the menu. Everything looked delicious. . .cherry pie, fresh corn on the cob, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, cold salad, green beans, fried green tomatoes, buttered rolls, sweet peas with mint, blueberry cobbler, raspberry tarts, watermelon, assorted sandwiches - bacon, mushroom, ham, tomato and cucumber, watercress. . . . Filling his plate thoroughly, Frodo at last joined Fatty, Estella, and their cousins Caramippa and Basil on the blanket. The mood had, however, already changed, and Estella was sniffling piteously, Basil rolling his eyes while Fredegar glowered and Caramippa smirked.

"Y-You j-just d-don't know g-good c-cooking wh-when you s-see it!" Estella wailed, beginning to cry outright as Frodo settled both plate and self on the blanket. "You've n-not even t-TRIED!"

"And I'm not going to, either!" retorted Caramippa. "* I * wouldn't put something like that in my dog's bowl, much less bring it to a special picnic!"

"You're only s-saying th-that b-because you're JEALOUS!" sniffled Estella indignantly.

"Of * that *?!?" Caramippa gestured back toward the picnic-tables. . .to a large serving-dish of mushrooms in cream. Frodo had somehow missed it. . .it sat at the end of the table quite all alone.

"What's the matter?" offered the young Baggins cautiously.

"Estella's cream mushrooms. . .she's upset because no-one's eating them." Looking somewhat sheepish, Fredegar reddened, glancing anxiously toward his sister. "Of course, I'm only trying to be generous; I ate some at home while she was making them!"

Frodo knew better than to believe it. Estella was not, admittedly, known for her culinary prowess. While all hobbits began learning to cook almost as soon as they could walk, and most were at least fairly good at it, some - like those with a special gift for it - seemed doomed to failure. These were rare indeed, occurring less than once per family per generation. . .but Estella had proven herself one of the rare unlucky hobbits indeed. Pies and cakes that tasted like sawdust, soups salty beyond bearing, casseroles that could probably walk by themselves. . .all were creations for which Estella was already legendary - well, infamous, rather. But lack of the most rudimentary skill in cookery was regarded as a great misfortune - rather like being born blind or deaf - and as such, only the cruelest young hobbits ever teased about it, though occasionally the accusation might be included between two hobbits particularly furious at each other, when untruths began to enter arguments. While no cook of grand repute himself, Frodo could at least prepare pleasant, if simple, meals, and had particular good fortune with a few select recipes of his parents', including his mother's special apple cobbler. . .and in all the teasing he had known, no one had ever jabbed quite so viciously at him. He suddenly felt extremely sorry for Estella, who sat sobbing on the blanket, her own plate untouched.

"Why, 'Stell. . .I can't believe I didn't see them! I wouldn't want to miss those - " Rising, Frodo took a clean plate (albeit a salad-plate rather than the full-size dinner-plates, walking the length of the table with rather deliberate steps, though in truth he felt as if he were walking the path to some ominous doom. Smiling broadly, he proceeded to fill his dish completely with a thick layer of mushrooms in cream, serving himself ceremoniously with a pointed glance toward Caramippa and Basil.

Fredegar gaped.

Caramippa made a face that would have soured honey, and Basil made choking sounds, mock-grasping his throat.

But Estella. . .Estella's face was positively radiant.

Heartened, Frodo returned to his seat and began tasting the various dishes, eating ravenously. Attempting to brace himself with a few forkfuls of the more appetizing dishes first, he finally turned to the creamy mixture, forcing a mouthful.

It wasn't the worst thing he'd ever tasted.

A bit sour, perhaps, but not so bad. Still, it sat rather heavy on his stomach.

"I think you're coming right along, really, 'Stell - this is the best dish of yours I've ever tasted!" THAT much, at least, was true.

She beamed, applauding eagerly. "Oh, Frodo! You're the sweetest, dearest, most darling person in the whole world! See?" she added, glaring in the direction of the others.

"Well, * I'm * still not going to eat that," Caramippa muttered darkly, Basil rolling his eyes as he nodded in consensus.

"Suit yourselves." Shrugging, Frodo finished the plateful before resuming his regular meal. . .though after only a few more bites he began to feel rather too full, and at last was forced to set the plate aside. By then, however, the conversation had turned to matters other than cookery, namely that of Fredegar's newly acquired pet puppy, and Frodo felt content to participate in the afternoon chatter until all of them settled down for a comfortable nap beneath the trees.

"Frodo. . .are you ready, lad?"

Frodo blinked, opening his eyes to find Bilbo standing over him, gently touching his shoulder to wake him. "For what?"

"To go home. It's time we were heading back. . .the afternoon's gone. Time to go home."

Nodding, Frodo sat up. He felt a bit dizzy, and his stomach suddenly knotted, churning slightly. Rising cautiously, he winced, causing Bilbo to look at him more closely.

"Are you all right, my boy?"

Frodo nodded firmly. "Just ate too much, I think. . . ."

Bilbo chuckled. "I can't blame you for that! Such fine food, wasn't it? Now, say your goodbyes, and we'll get started. . . ."

It was only a half-hour's walk at leisurely pace, but Frodo found himself wondering whether they would reach Bag End soon enough. His stomach kept cramping, and he felt a bit unwell, though that he attributed to over- eating. At last, though, the round green door came into view.

If Bilbo noticed his nephew's sigh of relief, he said nothing, merely letting them in before going to the kitchen, beginning to put on the tea- kettle, as was his evening habit. Meanwhile, Frodo made a bee-line for the indoor water-closet, sighing with greater relief as his bowels moved. He felt as if he were coming down with what his aunts called "the trots". . .usually they went around every winter, beginning with the smallest children in Brandy Hall. Perhaps too much to eat, nothing more. . .and Estella's mushrooms * had * been rather sour- tasting. . . .

When he joined Bilbo in the kitchen, the older hobbit looked up from preparing tea.

"Everything all right, Frodo?"

The young hobbit nodded. "I think I might go to bed early tonight. . .I'm tired. And I think I ate a bit more than was good for me."

"Easy to do, easy to do." Chuckling, Bilbo shook his head. "Go on to bed then. . .I'll look in on you in just a bit. Call for me if you need anything, as usual. No doubt you'll feel better after a good night's sleep."

Frodo nodded wearily, making his way to his room, where he changed and crawled into bed, drifting at once into a slumber haunted by nightmares of Caramippa's laugher and Estella's sobs and smiles, of Basil's smirking and Fredegar's chattering.

~To Be Continued~