A Fallen Candle's Flame

by Europanya

This story is heart-warmingly dedicated to Fennelseed and Elderberry Wine. Without their wonderful contributions to the young Frodo and Sam genre, this story would never have been imagined.

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"I should like to save the Shire, if I could--though there have been times when I thought the inhabitants too stupid and dull for wordsBut I don't feel that way now. I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again."

--The Fellowship of the Ring: The Shadow of the Past

I: Letter

"Merry, dear, before you set out upon the road, may I ask a small favour of you?"

Frodo's younger cousin shot him a doubtful look as soon as he'd spoken. After spending the better part of the week sorting, distributing and reclaiming Bilbo's countless birthday mathoms from and amongst even more countless relations, Merry had more than his share of Frodo's small favours.

"I'm tired, cousin," he said as he stood before the open door in Bag End's front hall, putting on his gloves. "And I wish to gain the East Road before sundown. If it is quicker than a flea or lighter than a toad, I might consider it."

Frodo grinned in an effort to conceal his nervousness. He'd chosen to make light of the favour to Merry, asking it of him only as he fastened his brass coat buttons to depart for a leisurely journey back to Buckland. Merry's driver sat in wait in the Row with an overloaded cart, ponies stomping the earth. Frodo knew the favour in question carried a good deal of weight, indeed.

"No heavier than a fold of paper and a drop of wax," Frodo said, truthfully, producing a carefully sealed letter.

Merry took it from him and flipped the envelope in his gloved hand to read the address. "You can't take it down yourself? It's not as if it's a difficult trip."

"I know, I know," Frodo said, growing flustered. "But it's late and I would rather not don my coat. It's not out of your way, certainly."

Merry held the envelope against his waistcoat, as if to protect it from Frodo's testiness. "No reason to get out of sorts, cousin. I'll be happy to deliver it; mind you that the dame of the house doesn't natter at me for some hours over the virtues of fennelseed liniment or some odd relative's case of the ague."

Merry was trying to get the better of him, that Frodo knew, and he took a good calm breath. This would go on considerably longer if he let on how important this delivery was to him. A long uncomfortable conversation would follow that would certainly result in his cousin staying over another fortnight, and that would render the contents of the letter all but meaningless. "Just slip it into the front box by the right hand side of the door and that will do, Merry. See if I inquire with you again over such trivial matters, or hop to fetch you a match when you've pipe in hand and feet upon a stool."

Merry laughed and tucked the letter into the inside pocket of his jacket and gave it a pat. "No trouble, just my odd way of delaying my departure another minute. I shall miss you, Frodo, and will worry over you getting on out here all alone now."

"I'm not alone, Merry. There's Sam and the Gaffer, after all. It's not as if I occupy the Hill entire." That was well put, he told himself. Nary a stutter or slip of tongue.

"No," Merry agreed. "But you've also never been good about looking after yourself for very long. I want you to be well, cousin."

"I will be well, Merry. In a very short time, I hope."

Merry grinned and held out his arms to grasp Frodo in a strong thumping hug. Frodo kissed his cousin and saw him out the green door and down to the garden gate.

"Take care, Merry," he called as the driver snapped the ponies to attention. "And don't forget to pause for that delivery!"

"I won't, cousin! Fare you well! Goodnight!"

Frodo waved and watched until the cart dipped over the rise of the road and vanished from view. He listened, but knew the sounds of the ponies' hooves would have clacked too far from his hearing by the time they drew near to their first stop. Merry would keep his word, so Frodo turned and walked back up to the door of Bag End, his home under the Hill; and he, its new master.

***

"Careful how you carry that sconce, lad," Bilbo used to say on the many nights Frodo lit a candle and pierced its bottom upon the stay of a curved hand-sconce he enjoyed taking into Bilbo's study after sundown. "There's no fate more uncertain than that of a falling candle--whether it should go out in the fall or hold its spark to light a greater blaze for some lad's foolishness and this old hobbit's broken heart. Mind the parchments, lad. Many shan't ever be replaced."

Bilbo's moral metaphors still spoke to him as Frodo carried a taper about the front rooms, lighting candles as he went. The words were as clear as if the old hobbit were sitting in the parlour with him, shaking his head at Frodo's youthful curiosity for all things dusty and learned. Frodo had come to know many things in his years under Bilbo's patient tutelage and care. The tutor might have moved on, but the jewels of his wisdom stayed behind. Frodo had long known this time of change was coming, and he had looked to it with both sorrow and hope.

Frodo took his chair by the fire and let the quiet of the coming evening soothe him. A light wind had picked up, dancing with the old oak, its branches and deep roots grumbling around Bag End as the wind whisked its way down the trunk to the chimney to fluster the hearth flames. Frodo knew it was much too soon to be listening for creaking at the gate or a rap upon the door, but his ears remained tuned to it for as long as he could remain awake. On this long night, in which the letter had finally left his company, he knew he would not find sleep. So instead, he traced back over the passing months, weeks and days of three long years, to recall the precise moment in time that had tripped fate's hand and led him to this lonely night. And that event had been none other than a dropped candle.