by Ariel

Rating: PG-13 for medical details and high angst

Warnings: This fic is rated for graphic medical details, contains some violence (fights) and hints at darker themes, but contains no sex or slash.

Disclaimer: The characters are Tolkien's - I make no profit but my own pleasure from using them in fiction.

Story description: Falls can be deadly - especially if you are a very young Frodo Baggins. A brooding cousin and a fabulous necklace form the backdrop for this tale of angst and heartache, dire injury and long healing.

Author's Note: I realize this seems an odd beginning for 'High Fro Angst' - but bear with me. Good angst must be cultured.

This fic has been beta'ed by many people over the time it has been posted. The list of folks who have helped bring this fic together along the way is long, but I will try and make sure I don't forget anyone. If I do, just slap me upside the head and remind me. Many thanks to LilyBaggins, Katakanadian, Lyllyn, Hallah, Aratlithiel, Peachy, Lindorien, Cressida, Arryle, Barrowwight, and to my most recent beta, SilverMoonLady, an extra measure of thanks for having the courage to wield your 'red pen' and for doing it so very skillfully! Without your help, this fic would not be what it is today.

Chapter 1: Dody and the Mithril Necklace

Along the banks of the Brandywine River, the land was lush and green. Plants, both cultivated and wild, grew in wild profusion in the deep, black soils that had accumulated over centuries of deposition. The meandering river's patient, irresistible current had carved shallow channels out of the floodplain and these hollows had been filled with dense thickets of alder, hemlock and willow. Industrious hobbit farmers worked on the flats between the channels, their fields scattered amid lush oxbow wetlands and long spits of new washed stone that marked the river's former course. There was a good life to be gotten there from the fruitful earth and for nearly as long as they had resided there the Brandybuck clan had thrived. They grew pipeweed and cotton for income and corn and barley for their own uses and built their holes and houses up into the highlands where the rising floodwaters would never reach. They also kept watch on the border of the wild, for their lands formed the very edge of the Shire.

There had been difficulties, of course. The Old Forest that was the first taste of the wild lands beyond had, upon occasion, fought their settlement. The trees wanted to regain the lush lands closest to the river, but the planting of the High Hay, with its strong alder boughs and tangled hazel, had given the hobbits an upper hand in the long dispute. The unruly trees were now kept in their place, but woe be to anyone who stepped onto their side of the hedge. More recently there had been the fell winter of 1311. Heavy snows had blanketed the fields from the Far Downs to the North Gate and, as the winter held on long into spring, food stores began to run out. Nearly a generation of Buckland children died from the cold and deprivation that year and when the wolves came from the east overrunning their land to cross the frozen river, many stout hobbit lads were also lost defending the villages.

The loss of so many young ones and strapping lads had been a dreadful blow to the Bucklanders. Although hobbits are a fruitful people, Buckland had suffered much more cruelly than folk in the rest of the Shire. The losses created a gap in the population of Buckleberry for years. Children who survived the Fell Winter had few playmates and when they grew to adulthood, found they had to marry hobbits far younger or older than themselves or look outside Buckland for a mate. Even so, every 30 to 40 years the great rooms of Brandy Hall would take on a noticeable calm and the sound of children's joyful laughter would be sorely missed. The summer of 1376 was one of those quiet times for the only young hobbit child in Brandy Hall was 8-year-old Frodo Baggins, though he was far from quiet.

Frodo was, as his father Drogo proclaimed with pride, all boy. A rough and tumble lad with fine delicate features and a quick laugh. Sweet, bright and charming, he stole the hearts of the Hall's matrons as easily as he stole cooling tarts from its kitchens. Whenever the family stayed in Buckland (which was often, considering that Rory continued Gorbadoc's tradition of keeping a well stocked table) the Brandybucks spoiled him rotten, for he was an uncommon child born into a time when children were uncommonly rare.

The next youngest of the lads in the hall was 21 year old Dody Brandybuck. Dody was tall and thinner than most with dark curling hair and deep-set eyes. He looked very much like Frodo, the two seeming like different aged sides of the same coin - but where people noted Frodo's irrepressible optimism and bright blue eyes, they saw only darkness in Dody's brown-eyed, sullen gaze. It might have been just his nature, but there was his upbringing to consider as well. The first 13 years of Dody's life had been ones of pampered privilege; he was the last grandchild Gorbadoc and Mirabella had lived to see and they'd set the tone for how he was to be treated by the rest of the clan. He was the center of attention and everyone's darling, at least until Primula had given birth to Frodo. Afterwards, there seemed to be little tolerance for Dody's antics. The lenience and consideration he'd grown up accustomed to receiving were suddenly being given to the baby. Such an abrupt reversal would have irked the most even-tempered soul, but for someone as dark and brooding as Dody, it was an outrage. He'd grown resentful in the years since and would have loved to loathe his cousin over his change of fortune, but Frodo was such a kind, charming child, it was difficult for even Dody to hate him. He tried for active abhorrence, but all he could seem to manage was to ignore the boy.

But even without comparing him to Frodo, most folk in Brandy Hall would not have liked Dody Brandybuck very much. He'd grown up proud, haughty and angry at the world. He was sullen and could be cruel at times, as if he wanted everyone else to feel some of the hurt that life had dealt him. Many just considered him mean; the kind of hobbit that was just no good through and through and dismissed him accordingly. Just as they had his father before him.

His father was Dodinas, fourth son of old Gorbadoc and though a respected businessman, he was not known for his kindness either. When Dodinas married Lacy Broadbent, it was hoped that her gentleness would soften him and that it did for as long as she lived. Her daughters Dauca and Dina favored her in looks and temperament, but it was Dody, her only son, and the mirror of his father, who was most devoted to her. Lacy was probably the only person who could ever reach Dody and the two were as close as a mother and son had ever been. She had died two years before and Dody had been crushed to the point of despair. Though Dodinas and Dody were as alike as two peas in a pod, only Lacy had been able to bring them together. Whatever filial love might have existed between father and son had died with her and since her passing they had drifted even further apart.

Being as Dody was younger than most of the other hobbit lads of Brandy Hall by nearly 10 years, he had few friends his own age and tended to tag along after the older boys when they would allow him. They, Milo Burrows, and Seredic, Marmadas and Darroc Brandybuck, tolerated his presence with good humor, but he was never really one of them. He was valuable in one respect, however. He was a useful patsy. Folk were quicker to suspect sour faced Dody of foul play than any of them, the older boys being deemed too fine and upstanding to engage in such nonsense. Dody knew they kept him around for this purpose but he didn't really care. At least they kept him around.

One bright summer morning the band set off for adventures along the High Hay, with Dody following along as was his custom. They planned on visiting areas where the Old Forest grew thick against the ancient barrier, and gnarled branches of the more malevolent trees actually reached over it. Dody had been moodier than usual but as the other lads tended to ignore him, his bad humor was not questioned. It wasn't until Seredic, at 28 the next youngest and most kindly of the older boys, asked him what the matter was that they got any idea what was bothering him.

"I've taken my mother's necklace back from that wench Marietta." His tone was low and serious and just a bit cocky as if he was not sure if he was proud of himself or frightened at what he had done. The others, overhearing, stopped in their tracks.

"You did WHAT?" exclaimed Marmadas, the eldest of them and just shy of his coming of age. He turned in the narrow path and glared down at Dody. The other boys scurried to get out of the way. "You stole your stepmother's necklace?!"

Dody took a step back, but his narrow face hardened and he shoved a hand deep into his pocket. "It wasn't hers," he growled. "It was my mother's and my father had no right to give it away." His companions shifted in uncomfortable silence, not certain what to say in response. "I'll not give it back so don't even ask."

The other boys glanced at each other worriedly. They were known to be a bit of a wild bunch, but regardless of the justification, this was a real theft. Lacy Brandybuck's necklace was a treasure of immeasurable worth. There was nothing like it anywhere else in the Shire. Its theft was a very serious matter and while the boys might have tolerated such an act from one of their own, knowing that it was done as a prank and that the item would be returned, they had no such confidence about Dody. He was hotheaded, barely tweenaged and volatile, and just foolish enough to really take the thing.

The boy pulled his hand from his pocket and there, clutched in his white knuckled fist, was a necklace of mithril and diamonds that glittered almost unbearably in the sun. He glared at them as if daring his companions to try and wrest it from him. Any one of the older boys was more than a match for him in strength though none but Marmadas, who snorted with disgust, seemed willing to test the boy's mettle. They all knew how much he hated his stepmother and how much his father's gift to her of his dead mother's necklace grated on him. By custom, a lady hobbit's possessions were passed to her daughters at her death, but since this valuable trinket had been the gift of one of Dodinas' relatives, the eccentric Bilbo Baggins of Hobbiton, Dodinas had claimed the right to bequeath it where he saw fit. Many others besides Dody questioned the legality (and judgment) of his actions, but apparently only Dody had been bothered enough by it to steal.

"I'll not have my mother's memory tainted or her possessions given to that gold digging tart!" Dody's small face was red with fury, and he glared up at the older hobbits defiantly.

"We know how you feel, Dody," Milo Burrows began. "But isn't this a bit rash? That's a valuable necklace. It was part of Old Bilbo's booty and came all the way from some dragon horde away east. Surely you can see how serious this is? It's not like a pinched pie or a night out when you shouldn't have been. If someone asks where the necklace has gone, we'll have to tell." He looked to Seredic and Darroc who nodded their agreement. Marmadas had not moved. "It's too precious a thing not to be missed. Quick now, you have to take it back before you get into trouble."

Dody's face grew redder and his fist tightened on the bauble in his fury. "No…" he whispered. "You can't make me!"

Marmadas started to step forward, possibly to prove that he indeed could, but Seredic, who had always been the diplomat among them, quickly placed himself between the boys. He reached to put a comforting hand on Dody's shoulder but the youngster shrugged away and shifted his hot gaze to his friend. Seredic shook his head. "No one's going to force you, Dody… but the tale will come out. I know you don't expect us to lie for you. Maybe your father was wrong to give your mother's jewels away, but two wrongs won't put anything right," he sighed, sadly. "And besides, being mean to Marietta isn't going to bring your mother back."

Dody quivered with frustrated fury and he cursed himself for his big mouth. The theft had been a heavy burden on his conscience, for such things were not tolerated among honest, hardworking hobbits, and he had ached to talk about it with someone. He had hoped the older boys would be sympathetic or at least keep silent, but he should have known there was no one in Brandy Hall he could truly confide in. He had been foolish, and had misjudged the situation completely but he still had no intention of taking the jewels back. His father's treasonous remarriage was enough of a betrayal of his mother's memory, but when Dodinas had given Marietta the necklace, that had been the last straw. It was his mother's favorite possession and there was no other treasure like it in the Shire. Dody was certain she would not have wanted the hated Marietta to have it.

Seredic smiled reassuringly though neither antagonist appeared willing to heed him. Marmadas seemed itching to knock the defiant expression off Dody's face, but Seredic doubted a beating would help the situation. Dodinas had never been one to spare the rod and though Dody had spent most of the last two years covered in bruises, Seredic had not seen it improve his attitude. He took another step towards the boy. "Please, Dody. Use your sense! You can't get away with this and a bit of revenge isn't worth the trouble you're going to get for it." Seredic kept his tone kindly but all Dody seemed to note was the older boy was coming closer.

"I don't care what happens to me," said Dody, his voice betraying his growing desperation. "She'll not have my mother's treasure! I'll cast it into the river before I give it back, I swear."

"Then you'd best have a heck of an arm," retorted Marmadas, finally seeming to reach the end of his patience. "You'll never get close enough to do it now." He pushed Seredic aside and made a move to grab at Dody. Dody cursed and darted back down the path. He knew he had no chance of outrunning the older boys, but he wasn't going to give up without a fight.

"Why, you…!" Marmadas growled and beat after him in pursuit.

Dody could hear the boys following and realized his time was brief. He pulled up and with all his strength, threw the necklace high, hoping to cast it over the hedge and into the Old Forest. Few would dare venture in there after it, even if they knew where it had gone. Just as the gems left his fingertips, Marmadas hit him hard in the back and he was hurled several feet along the path. Darroc shouted and pointed, following the gems as they tumbled end over end, sparkling brilliantly in the sunlight to disappear high above them into the canopy of an old oak.

"Well, that's done it," seethed Marmadas pulling Dody roughly to his feet. He glared back at Dody's still defiant face. "I ought to beat you to within an inch of your life."

"Why bother?" asked Darroc flanking the boy and cruelly pinching the tip of his pointed ear. "His father will do the job for you. Dodinas may be a miserable sot, but he's got no qualms about keeping his own by-blows in line." The two nodded, agreeing with evil grins.

"Well, let's find that necklace, or we'll catch it hot too," said Milo. "This little one's not worth me getting into trouble over. Come on. He threw it in this direction. Between the four of us, we ought to be able to find it."

And so, with Dody held captive between them, the boys began to search the little grove at the border of the High Hay. The trees were thick and almost looked to be part of the Old Forest itself, but the floor of the grove was open and piled deeply with dead leaves. It did not look as if it would be difficult to find a string of bright gemstones on such a dark and dismal mat.