This is a sequel to "Quarantined", in which Aragorn first met Frodo and Samwise when Frodo was 22 and Sam was 11. Frodo and Aragorn strongly bonded and became fast friends in a very short period of time, during a serious illness and subsequent adventure. This story assumes familiarity with "Quarantined" and will contain many references to it, but I am hopeful that it can also stand on its own.
Frodo is now 24, and Sam is 12. For those who feel that I write Frodo a bit "young". . . I do! In the "Quarantined" universe, Frodo lost some ground, emotionally, when his parents died, and led a somewhat overlooked life in Brandy Hall for nine years. Bilbo's love and attention are slowly helping him to feel secure again. (Bilbo and Aragorn's conversation at the end of "Quarantined", Chapter 15, is the best recap.) Conversely, I write Sam (due to working-class necessity) a bit older than his years. And Aragorn's rare visits to Bag End bring a warm welcome and sense of family that are difficult to find elsewhere in the solitary Ranger's life.
The idea for this story -- the discovery of something ancient in the heart of The Hill in which Bag End sits -- has been bouncing around in my head for almost a year, with no place to land; hopefully, I've finally found the right place for it. (I'm always interested in hearing how folks hope a story will unfold -- "Quarantined" would have been eight chapters shorter if there hadn't been so many requests for Sam!)
DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.
REFLECTIONS OF THE PAST
Notes for Chapter 1: This chapter references "Quarantined" Chapters 16 and 17. "The pool" refers to Bywater Pool south of Hobbiton.
"See lads," he said, "next time this young varmint sets foot on my land, you can eat him." Frodo Baggins (quoting Farmer Maggot), The Fellowship of the Ring
Chapter 1 --- A New Baggins
S.R. 1392, July
It was the hottest summer that Frodo could remember. Accordingly, he and Bilbo waited until early evening, when the air had cooled slightly, to take the pony cart to Farmer Cotton's. The Cotton house and farmstead in Bywater were less than ten miles south -- not an overly-long walk for two adventurous hobbits -- but due to the heat (and another reason Bilbo was being mysterious about), the old hobbit insisted that they take the cart.
Frodo was unusually talkative along the way, and Bilbo half listened and half mused to himself about the reason for it -- the arrival of one of Aragorn's infrequent letters. In the nearly three years since he had brought Frodo to Hobbiton to live, Bilbo knew that nothing now marred the lad's happiness at Bag End -- except for the Ranger's absence. Over the past ten months there had been a few letters, usually brief and hurriedly written, but each brought a joy to Frodo's life as nothing else could. The letter that had arrived earlier in the week was longer than usual, and sprinkled with enough Elvish to send Frodo studying the phrasebook Aragorn had given him the previous autumn, struggling over words and meanings.
Bilbo's own attentive care, and the gentle friendships offered by the Ranger and young Samwise, were going a long way toward the boy's emotional healing and sense of value -- but so many years of being largely overlooked in Brandy Hall had created a void in the lad's heart that perhaps would never be completely filled.
Perhaps, Bilbo was thinking, tonight would bring something more into Frodo's life that would help him -- something of his very own to love and care for. . . or had this been a bad idea? Bilbo fidgeted nervously in his seat.
"You're being so mysterious, Bilbo," Frodo laughed, as they came in sight of the Cotton farm. "Did Mistress Cotton have another baby we need to greet? I don't see any baby gifts in the cart, and Sam didn't tell me about any new arrivals."
"Not this time, Frodo lad," Bilbo grinned. "They seem to have stopped at five, for the time being, at least -- although with four brothers, Rosie might ask for a little sister someday!"
"Bywater's awfully quiet," Frodo observed as they pulled up in front of the house and he jumped lightly to the ground. "I suppose most of the children are at the pool, cooling off," he said wistfully.
"I know you'd rather be there with your friends," Bilbo said, coming to stand next to the boy, "but you can join them tomorrow. Why I wanted to bring you here is. . ."
Frodo waited. "Yes?"
Bilbo began walking towards the house, and Frodo joined him.
Bilbo sighed. "Frodo, I may have neglected to tell you something. The Cottons have several. dogs."
"Dogs?" Frodo stopped dead in his tracks. "I don't like dogs very much, Bilbo."
"I know, Frodo lad, but I think you'll like these," Bilbo said gently. He put his arm around the tween and knocked on the door. "We'll leave immediately if you don't feel comfortable."
"He keeps them in his house?"
"How many are there?" Frodo whispered, his heart hammering in his chest.
"I believe there are three."
"Three? In his house?" Frodo gasped. Before he could turn and run, the door opened.
"Come in, come in, Bilbo, Master Baggins." Tom Cotton greeted them with a smile, ushering his guests into the large parlor. "Let me get cool drinks for you both. Mistress Cotton is telling the little 'uns a story in the back, but I have what you've come to see right here."
There were three dogs. . . or, as Frodo soon discovered, puppies. Near the hearth, a squirming, wriggling mass of puppies met his astonished eyes.
"Sit down, lad," Farmer Cotton pushed a reluctant Frodo to the floor. With a grin at Bilbo, he lifted each of the puppies out of the well-padded crate and set them down around Frodo, who sat in their midst in amazement. Bilbo sat down near him, watching carefully.
"But." Frodo hesitantly touched a finger to one warm, soft bundle of fur, then another. "These are tiny."
"Aye," agreed Farmer Cotton, "but old enough now to be on their own."
Frodo suddenly gasped as two sets of teeth grabbed a hem of his breeches and began to pull the cloth in different directions.
"Bilbo," Frodo cried, "they're pulling me away to be eaten!"
Bilbo chuckled. "Hardly that, Frodo lad. Puppies can be rambunctious. You haven't been around any but full-grown farm dogs, and those mostly from a distance."
"Mostly," Frodo murmured nervously, trying to shake the puppies off.
"There's naught to fear from these pups, lad," Farmer Cotton said reassuringly. "Think of 'em as little children, seeing everything new and fresh. If they get a little nippy, why, it's up to us to get 'em to mind us, is all." Bilbo reached out and extricated Frodo's breeches from the sharp little teeth, then rose to his feet to stand next to Farmer Cotton.
As the two puppies began to wrestle and tumble with each other, Frodo's attention was caught by the third and tiniest pup, who simply sat quietly on the floor where she had been set, looking around. Frodo reached out and touched her, gently stroking the golden-brown fur, and long, silky-soft ears, then hesitantly lifted the dog and set her down on his chest for a closer look. The pup settled quietly, head resting on her paws, gazing at the boy thoughtfully.
"Their mother died in an accident, Master Frodo," Farmer Cotton explained. "We've enough dogs to tend the sheep and such, and as these three are rather small, we're looking for homes for the lot." He turned to Bilbo. "They'll not grow too large, especially that runt a-resting there." He motioned to the pup on Frodo's chest.
Frodo had heard nothing beyond the words 'died in an accident.' "Oh," he breathed, tears forming in his eyes, "they're orphans."
"Aye," Farmer Cotton said. His usually stern countenance softened as he watched Frodo instinctively cup his hands around the puppy on his chest as if to shield her from. . . something.
"A mighty sensitive lad you've got there, Bilbo," Farmer Cotton said quietly.
"Yes, Tom, he is," Bilbo replied, "but a remarkably good-hearted one." He nodded, making up his mind. "Frodo," he said, "I thought we might bring one of the pups to Bag End for a visit. . . if you think it's a good idea, that is."
Frodo's eyes widened. "You mean, one of them would live with us? A dog. . . would. . . live with us?"
"Yes," Bilbo said. "What do you think?"
Frodo heard a tiny sound, and looked down to see that the pup on his chest was yawning. With a small wriggle, she pushed her tiny nose between two of the buttons on his shirt, and closed her eyes. Frodo found his heart melting. "Well," he said tentatively, "maybe for a few days. . .?"
"It will be up to you," Bilbo said. With a nod, he turned to Tom Cotton and some coins were unobtrusively slid into the farmer's hand.
"You just bring her back if you need to, Bilbo," Farmer Cotton murmured, "but I do believe it might work out."
"What's her name?" Frodo asked. He rose carefully to his feet, cradling the drowsy pup in his arms.
"That's for you to decide," Bilbo smiled.
Farmer Cotton gave the two Bagginses instructions on what puppies ate, and how often, how to train and discipline them, and much more -- but Bilbo suspected that Frodo hardly heard a word of it, so entranced was he by the unexpected events of the evening.
Frodo said hardly a word on the ride back, still somewhat in shock at the sight and feel of a living, breathing dog nestled in his arms. The pup slept the whole way, waking only when they arrived at her new home. To Frodo's surprise, the instant the puppy was set down inside Bag End, she raced off, running excitedly through every open door, sniffing and exploring the length and width of the smial.
Frodo laughed at the sight of the tiny dog waddling and sliding through the corridors until she disappeared. Going in search of her, he was surprised to discover the pup in his own room.
"Oh," Frodo whispered. Bilbo came to his side and looked into the room. The puppy was sitting in the middle of Frodo's bed, looking expectantly at the tween.
"Merry used to do that," Frodo said with a smile. "He would come to my room at night and wait for me. I'd tell him stories until he fell asleep, then I'd carry him back to his own room." He sighed. "She needs a name, but I don't suppose we can call her 'Merry'."
"I don't suppose," Bilbo grinned.
"And not unless we decide to keep her," Frodo added.
"Not until then," Bilbo agreed.
"Does she know this is my room?" Frodo asked, puzzled.
"Dogs have a powerful sense of smell," Bilbo explained, "and other senses of which we know very little. She knows this is where you sleep."
"Where will she sleep, Bilbo? Must we put her outside? Alone?" Frodo grew agitated. "We're all she has, now."
"There's no need for that," Bilbo said soothingly. "We'll arrange something for her in the kitchen, perhaps. That basket in the study just gathering dust." He wandered off to arrange a bed for the pup.
Long after the puppy had been settled into the basket padded with cloths and soft towels, Frodo lay sleepless, hearing plaintive whimpers coming from the kichen. Finally he could stand it no longer, and carried the basket into his own room. After a few minutes, however, when the pup continued to sound distressed, he succumbed and lifted her into bed with him.
"Just don't do anything scary," he whispered to the dog. "We need to get used to one another."
The pup wagged her tail in ecstasy and licked the boy's nose before scampering about the bed and exploring every bit of it. Finally, she circled an area next to Frodo's pillow and plopped down in a heap, gazing at the boy with sparkling, mischievous eyes.
"You were pretending at the Cottons', weren't you?" Frodo marveled with a smile. "You pretended to be quiet and calm, but that was just an act to get adopted, wasn't it? You're really quite a clever rascal, aren't you?" He smiled and stroked the puppy's silky ears, suddenly completely at ease with the tiny dog. "You'll love Bag End, you silly scamp," he continued fondly. "It's such a. . ."
"What's a 'scamp'?"
"That's someone who's playful or full of mischief."
He grinned, remembering Estel's words from the previous autumn.
"Scamp," Frodo said to the puppy. "Do you like that?"
The tiny dog inspected his sleeve and nosed inside it.
"I was going to find an Elvish name for you, you know," Frodo continued, "perhaps Anna [gift]. But I suppose you're more of a hobbity-type dog, aren't you?" He pulled the puppy out of his sleeve and regarded her seriously. "If you behave, and we decide to keep you, we'll have to have an adoption ceremony of some sort," he said. "Nothing too formal, though." He released the dog and chuckled, amused to feel the wet nose pushing into his sleeve again.
"Whatever are you looking for in there?" he murmured, yawning and closing his eyes. "You like exploring, don't you?"
When Bilbo came to check on Frodo, he found him fast asleep, one arm curled around the puppy.
"You've moved right in, haven't you?" Bilbo whispered, crouching to pat the dog on the head. "You rascal."
The pup thumped her small tail on the bed, narrowly missing Frodo's nose. Bilbo chuckled and gave her a few more pats, before blowing out the lamp and leaving the room -- feeling quite satisfied with the evening's outcome.
** TBC **