On the Banks of the Brandywine

-Mbradford

Rating - PG 13

Warnings - Violence and mild cursing in some chapters, angst, cruelty to hobbits. Anti - warnings - A little bit of love and laughter here and there.

Summary: Frodo finds a letter in an old book that speaks of what might have been, and memories of his youth at Brandy Hall are brought to light, including a terrifying episode in Bree just before his adoption by Bilbo. Begins pre-quest, about 1 year after Bilbo leaves the Shire.

Author's note: I decided upon movie verse because the ages of the hobbits seem to be a little closer than in the book. For this plot, it worked better to have Merry being a little closer to Frodo's age during the Brandy Hall years.

If you like Frodo angst I recommend the following -

"Treasures" by Bellamonte. This is an excellent work in progress, filled with action, emotion, and loads of angst!

"Rites of Passage" by Willow - Wode. Marvelously written, with wonderful use of character relationships. A look at Frodo's life at Brandy Hall that is not to be missed.

"Nasty Hobbitses" by Iorhael is filled with plot twists that will keep you busy wondering what's next.

"Nigh on Septermber" is a story by Aratlithel, who betaed this for me. Frodo gets his fair shot at Ted Sandyman. I wrote the bar fight, which was lots of fun to do. Also recommend "Son of Drogo" by this author.

"Ring Around the Merry" by Aelfgifu. Now there's a hobbit with an attitude! Will Frodo, Sam and Pippin survive? And you thought Sauron was a nasty customer!

Disclaimer - I don't own the concepts of Middle Earth or Hobbits. The Tolkien Estate does. Nobody is paying me to do this, it's just for fun.

Chapter 1 - Between the Pages

The cold November wind howled its discontent outside, but within the protective confines of Bag End, all was warmth and cheer. Sam stirred the coals at the hearth and added another log to the fire, while Frodo prepared spiced apple cider in the kitchen. Merry had arrived earlier in the day on a visit from Brandy Hall, and he was busily pulling old, dusty books from the packs his pony had borne stoically all the way from Buckland.

Merry had somehow gotten himself saddled with the duty of helping Esmeralda and Saradoc with the cleaning of the library at Brandy Hall, and in the process a number of old tomes had been set aside for transport to Bag End. Some of the books hadn't been opened in years, as no one at the Hall seemed to take an interest in their subject matter. Since Frodo had always been a willing reader of books on many subjects, it was suggested that some of the old volumes be gifted to him, for the old adage was true - one hobbit's mathom was another's treasure.

Merry stacked the books upon the table, wrinkling his nose as he did. "Musty, dusty and all yours, Frodo, if you'll have them, that is," he said as Frodo emerged from the kitchen. "I'm sorry I didn't take more time to dust them before bringing them here," he said rather ruefully, as he looked at the fine layer of particles already beginning to collect on the tabletop.

"Merry, a little dust on the table is a small price to pay for the enjoyment of seeing my family," Frodo chided his cousin gently. "And these books are wonderful! Are you sure Brandy Hall can spare them?" Frodo ran his fingers lightly over the leather binding of the topmost book on the stack, smiling as he thought of the many hours he could while away with them during the coming winter.

"I'm positive," Merry said with a wry grin. "That library is so overloaded, it's a wonder the shelves don't break from the weight of all that's piled on them." He continued to pull books from a knapsack, stacking them upon the floor when the pile on the table began to look a little unstable. "Well, that's the last of them," he announced with a flourish as he placed the final book on the stack.

"It's a mercy your pony didn't throw you to pay you back for making him carry such a load!" Frodo said as he tried to reckon the weight of the books.

"He's a very sturdy pony, Frodo," Merry retorted, raising an eyebrow.

"Begging your pardon, Mr. Merry, but he'd have to be," Sam said as he came to stand beside Frodo, and stared at the many volumes Merry had brought with him. There were more books piled on the floor and table than were present in all of Number Three Bagshot Row, he was certain.

"Cider's getting cold," Frodo prompted as he reluctantly turned his attention from the treasures before him. There would be plenty of time for a thorough inspection of all of them. He must remember to send a note of thanks with Merry upon his cousin's return to Buckland.

Sam sipped his cider and a look of surprise crossed his face. Merry's eyes held an amused gleam as he recognized the taste of an old family recipe.

"I see you've made a batch of the other variety," he said with a grin. Seeing Sam's curious expression, he elaborated further. "This is the cider the adults would pass around after sending all the young ones off to bed," he said with a chuckle. "A little more here to warm the chill from your bones than a bit of cinnamon, you might say."

"Precisely," Frodo said, saluting his guests with his mug. "Just the thing for a chilly autumn evening, I think."

"It's a fine brew, Mr. Frodo, no mistake," Sam added taking another swallow.

Frodo couldn't help himself. His gaze wandered once again to the stack of books on the table. Curiosity was a well - noted character trait among the Baggins family, and Frodo possessed it in as great abundance as any who had borne the surname.

Merry laughed out loud, catching Frodo's glance with his quick eyes. "Go ahead, Frodo. What are you waiting for?" He gave his cousin a gentle shove toward the stacks of books. "Sam and I can both tell it's killing you not to have a look."

Frodo blushed a little at having been caught out so easily. "But I have guests to entertain," he said teasingly. "Who wants to sit around watching a Baggins sort a book pile?"

"As long as you have more of this cider, I think I could find some entertainment in the activity," Merry teased back.

Sam settled back to watch, feeling glad to see Frodo so happy. Bilbo's absence this past year had been a little hard for his master at times, and while Frodo wouldn't speak openly of his melancholy, Sam could see it in the slump of his shoulders and the downward direction of his gaze when he thought no one was watching.

Frodo brushed the dust from the topmost book on the table, taking a drink from his mug as he read the title embossed on the leather cover. "A History of the Four Farthings," he read aloud. "Hmmm, let's see." He picked up the next volume. "This one is a fairy tale, it seems."

The next one was a history of Buckland and the surrounding regions titled 'On the Banks of the Brandywine.' Merry coughed dramatically as Frodo blew a small cloud of dust from the cover. The look on Frodo's face as he opened the book caused Merry to pause, his expression sobering slightly.

When Frodo didn't say anything, Merry and Sam moved to stand on either side of him to see what held him so rapt. Printed in neat, simple handwriting on the inside page was a name and a date - Drogo Baggins, 1370.

"This was my father's book," Frodo said quietly. "It must have ended up in the library at Brandy Hall after - " he stopped short of completing the sentence and sipped his cider instead.

"1370," Merry noted the date. "You would have been two years old, Frodo." Merry peered over Frodo's shoulder, his own curiosity piqued by the discovery. "I'm surprised that you never came across this while you were at Brandy Hall. You spent a lot of time in the library, as I remember."

"That library is big, Merry," Frodo responded, turning the book over in his hands. "Even in the hours I spent there, I never managed to poke into all the corners and alcoves." As Frodo carefully brushed more dust from the cover, something fell from between the pages, catching Sam's eye as it fluttered to the floor.

"Mr. Frodo, you dropped this," Sam said as he handed the item to Frodo. It was an envelope and the seal was as yet unbroken. Tension rose as they all stared mutely at the age - yellowed paper and the wax seal bearing an ornate letter "B".

"Open it, Frodo," Merry urged. "Let's see what's inside!"

"Should we, Merry? Perhaps it's something not meant for our eyes," Frodo said apprehensively. Even so, the book had been his father's, and by right should have passed to him, had it not been overlooked amidst the multitude of volumes in the Hall's library.

"These books are yours now, Frodo," Merry told him. "This one would have been yours long ago, had anyone been aware of its presence in the Hall library. Anything found between the pages is yours now as well, so there's no harm in having a look."

Frodo couldn't argue against Merry's logic. He broke the seal carefully, almost reverently, and drew out a single sheet of vellum, yellowed with age and folded once in the center. He opened it carefully so as not to damage it, and gasped involuntarily at the contents.

Clearly written in the corner was another date, made more specific by noting the day and month, as well as the year - 22 Halimath, 1379. "Your birthday, Frodo," Merry observed. Frodo merely nodded, beginning to scan the rest of the writing on the page. His eyes widened. It was a letter!

~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~

22 Halimath, 1379

Dearest Rory,

The contents of this missive, though less than pleasing to consider, are of great importance to me and to your dear sister, my beloved wife. Careful consideration has been given to the subject I reluctantly broach here, and it is my hope that you will give it your most serious attention as well.

It is never a pleasant thing to contemplate one's own eventual demise, but I think you will agree it must be done at some point in one's existence, particularly where the well - being of children may be involved. I shall not trouble you by dancing about the subject, but shall come to the point in direct manner.

Frodo is eleven years old today, and Prim and I have discussed at length what provisions we should like made for him, should we be taken untimely from him in his youth. He is growing into a fine lad, and should something untoward occur, we would wish him to be cared for in the best of all possible environments.

While Brandy Hall is the ancestral home of his mother, I think you will agree that it is a rather large and busy place for a lad like Frodo. Our young lad is of a quiet and sensitive nature, and while Prim and I mean no offense, we believe the Hall would be somewhat overwhelming for him, should he find himself there on a permanent basis.

We have yet to raise the matter with Cousin Bilbo in Hobbiton, but if he were willing, we would choose him as Frodo's guardian in the event of our passing before he is of age. Bilbo has a kind heart and he and Frodo were remarkably taken with each other upon their first meeting. It was quite extraordinary, how comfortable they seemed in each other's presence.

Hobbiton is a quieter environment than Brandy Hall, and much more suited to Frodo's nature and sensibilities, in our opinion. Should Bilbo be willing, Bag End would be our first choice as a place for Frodo to grow, learn and mature into the gentlehobbit we know he will be one day.

It is our hope that you will find no offense in this request, as it is far from our intent to slight you and Menegilda in any fashion. Our only concern is for Frodo, and for his happiness and well - being.

It would please us greatly if you would take this matter into consideration, as it weighs upon our minds at this time. We will write and ask Bilbo for his consent to serve as Frodo's guardian once you and I have had time to discuss the subject in person, as is only fitting and proper.

Respectfully Yours,

Drogo Baggins

~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~

As emotions without number or name surged through him, Frodo swayed and all the color drained from his face. Sam moved quickly to steady him as he nearly fell.

"Frodo!" Merry exclaimed as he moved to his cousin's opposite side to lend his support. Merry looked up at Sam and gestured toward the sofa, and they guided Frodo to it quickly.

"Merry," Frodo gasped as tears stood in his eyes, "did you see - did you see what - " Frodo broke off as his throat all but closed of its own accord. After all this time, to find this! After all the lost, lonely years he had spent at Brandy Hall, haunting the library that had been among his favorite places of refuge! His father's words swam before his eyes, and a sob rose in his throat as he realized that he, Sam and Merry were the only ones to have read them save their author.

Why hadn't the letter been sent? Any number of things could have intervened and caused it to lie forgotten inside the book. Now it came falling out into the light, too late to prevent the pain of times gone by.

Frodo shook uncontrollably and clutched at Sam's arm, fighting a losing battle against the wave of shock and disbelief that was crashing over him. Sam embraced him soothingly while Merry knelt beside him, placing a supportive hand gently upon his shoulder.

Sam and Merry remained silent. Of what use were words at a time like this? The contents of the letter had been almost like a physical blow even to them, so it was no wonder Frodo had reacted so intensely. Sam continued to hold Frodo as he sobbed brokenly. Merry rose and went into the kitchen to find something to calm and soothe his agitated cousin. Hard cider wouldn't do for this. He returned in a few minutes with a steaming cup of herbal tea.

The wracking sobs were giving way to a softer flow of tears as Frodo leaned against Sam for support. Merry knelt by the sofa at his side again and spoke softly. "Frodo?" Merry reached out a hand and laid it carefully over his cousin's. "Please try to drink some tea. It will help, I promise," he said, holding out the cup.

Frodo raised his head in acknowledgement and took several deep, shaky breaths. He tried to take the cup from Merry's hand, but his own hands were still shaking. Sam took the cup instead and held it while Frodo took several swallows.

"I'm - I'm sorry," Frodo began. "It's just that I never dreamed - " It was overwhelming to imagine how different his life might have been, had his Uncle Rorimac and Aunt Menegilda received that letter. Provided, of course, that Bilbo would have agreed to such a plan at the time, he reminded himself.

"None of us did, Frodo," Merry said quietly. "It must have seemed the best thing to do at the time, to have you come to Brandy Hall."

Merry knew life at the Hall hadn't been easy for Frodo. As far back as Merry could remember, Frodo had kept largely to himself when he was able, opening up to very few. Merry, though younger than Frodo, had been among the privileged few who could draw the quiet lad out of his self - imposed solitude. Or was it really by choice that Frodo had been alone so often?

Memories of adults whispering behind their hands, their eyes following the orphaned youngster came easily to Merry's mind. He recalled the other children either avoiding Frodo as if his presence went hand in hand with tragedy or ill luck, or taunting him with cruel disregard for the invisible scars their words left behind. There were also times when things went well beyond taunting. To think his cousin might have been spared such pain was a bitter thing indeed.

"We're here, Mr. Frodo," Sam said simply. He knew the story of how Frodo lost his parents at the young age of twelve, and about some of the events that followed in the years afterward. Sam had never experienced anything of the sort, being surrounded by his own large, loving family. Merry had been there for Frodo at Brandy Hall and had seen the effects of the events first - hand, but he couldn't feel Frodo's pain, loneliness and fear in his stead.

Sam raised the cup for Frodo again, and he finished off the contents wearily. Whether it was emotional exhaustion or something in the mix of herbs in the tea, he felt his eyes starting to droop and the blessed oblivion of sleep beckoned to him. Sam eased him back against the sofa cushions and covered him with a quilt while Merry placed another log on the fire.

When Frodo had fallen asleep, Merry and Sam settled themselves as comfortably as possible in chairs nearby, each one running the events of the last hour through his mind. Worry was evident in Sam's features as he stared absently into the fire. That letter had obviously been a terrible shock to Frodo, and Sam wished it had never been placed between the pages of the book.

Merry spoke as he read Sam's troubled expression. "He'll be all right, Sam. It's hard for him, that's all." Merry rose from his chair and raked his fingers through his tangle of blonde curls. "I used the medicinal tea he keeps for helping with headaches and such. It will help him sleep while the shock wears off."

"Was it really so bad for him?" Sam asked quietly. "Livin' at Brandy Hall, I mean?" Sam knew Frodo had felt the loss of his parents keenly and the pain of the memory would likely never disappear entirely. Frodo had told him but few stories of his youth in Buckland, as if it too were a subject too sore to delve into.

"It wasn't always easy, that's certain," Merry responded quietly, turning his gaze back to where Frodo lay sleeping. Merry was glad that he and Sam had been present when the letter came to light. He hated to think of Frodo reading those words and reeling from the impact without the support of those who loved him.

Merry kept his voice low as he continued. "Brandy Hall isn't exactly the kind of place that affords a lot of privacy, Sam. You know how quiet Frodo is by nature, and he was quieter still after his parents' passing." Merry stirred the fire again, remembering. "The adults stared because they were more curious than courteous, and the children stared because they were children. Frodo had few places to go where he could get away from all of them and just be alone when he wanted to."

Sam nodded. "I know Mr. Frodo likes to be alone sometimes. He'll go for long walks in the countryside, or sit in his study for hours by himself." If Frodo had been anything like that as a child, Sam could see why it would have been difficult for him to suddenly land in the middle of a crowd like the one at Brandy Hall, and under such tragic circumstances.

"He had a hard time with a few of the bigger lads picking on him," Merry recalled. "A little of that is normal, but there was more than a little, and Frodo's uniqueness seemed to draw their attention somehow." Merry looked down at the floor for a moment and traced a pattern on the throw rug with his big toe. "He was the best friend I had there, and I missed him when he left."

Merry's eyes took on a faraway look as he spoke. Sam listened attentively as Merry began to tell him of a time years ago, on the banks of the Brandywine.

~*~To be continued~*~