Rating: PG for mild implied violence in some chapters.
Disclaimer: Characters belong to the Tolkien estate; I am making no money from them.
Author's notes and responses to reviews at the end of this chapter.


The Terror of Buckland

By Inkling

"I recollect the time when young Frodo Baggins was one of the worst young rascals of Buckland."
- Farmer Maggot

Part Five: The Offering

The hobbits gathered around the hearth in the Brandy Hall kitchen looked almost peaceful at first: Rorimac with his pipe, Menegilda with her knitting, Esmeralda rocking her baby's cradle. But Rory's pipe, clenched between his teeth, was unlit and forgotten, and Gilda's needles lay idle in her lap. Esmeralda hummed softly to Merry, but her expression was strained. No one had spoken for some time. Outside the storm was howling furiously.

Linaria Brandybuck, Halimac's mother, hurried into the kitchen. "Any word?" she asked anxiously.

Rory shook his head.

"If any harm's come to my Hal, on your head be it, Rory, for taking in that Baggins boy! He's been nothing but trouble since the day his parents drowned, and whatever's become of them tonight we all know who's behind it. Hal never gets into mischief unless someone's dragged him into it—"

"That's enough, Lin!" said Rory sharply. "We're all as worried as you are, but carrying on like that won't do no one any good. Now set yourself down and try to stay calm. All we can do is wait for news to come in from the search parties."

The minutes dragged by. Rory's younger son Merimac came in, drenched and exhausted, to say there was no sign of the boys, but that the ferry raft had been found smashed up downriver. The storm was worsening and most hobbits had given up the search. Linaria started getting worked up again. After gulping a mug of hot tea Mac left to rejoin the searchers.

Some time later Saradoc arrived with Farmer Maggot's eldest son Rob, who had ridden in from the Brandywine Bridge to bring news that Halimac was safe at Bamfurlong Farm.

"Praise be!" cried Linaria, hugging him and sobbing.

Rory looked at Sara, who was staring at the floor, jaw clenched. "And Frodo?" he asked quietly.

Sara said nothing.

Finally Rob faltered, not knowing quite where to look, "Hal said that Frodo went into the River. Tried to swim across, but…"

There was a grim silence. Finally Rory asked Sara in a voice devoid of any emotion, "Who's still out searching?"

"Just Mac, and Curley Brownlock," said Sara with an effort. "Fenton Longhole was out until a short while ago, when his father came and dragged him off by the ear. Oh yes, and Alfred Tunnelly. I imagine he was feeling a bit guilty…"

"Tell them to come in." Rory's voice was as firm and commanding as ever, but his whole body sagged and he suddenly seemed much older. He gave orders to have the river dragged once the flood tide subsided.

Linaria left with Rob Maggot, and Sara followed shortly after to call off the search. Esmeralda sat weeping quietly and Merry stirred in his sleep, whimpering a little.

"It's getting late, we should all go to bed," said Gilda gently.

"Aye."

But no one moved.

. . .

The ferry dock shook violently as the water surged against it, nearly dislodging the small figure that stood there alone. The wind whipped his hair and clothes and the rain drove into his face, drowning his tears. He took something out of his pocket and stared at it a long minute before hurling it as far out over the River as he could. "Take it," he sobbed, his cry torn away by the gale, "only just give him back!" The object, small but heavy, sank without a trace.

. . .

A blast of wind whirled down the hall as a front door opened and closed. The watchers by the fire heard Saradoc's voice—"What were you thinking lad, don't you know you could have been swept away?"—and sprang to their feet. But when he entered the kitchen it was only Gilly Banks who trailed slowly after him. "I found him down at the ferry dock," Sara said.

Rory looked at the small, miserable hobbit, water pooling around him as he stood with downcast eyes, and when he spoke his voice was uncharacteristically gentle. "Do your parents know you're out, lad?"

"N—no sir," Gilly shivered. "I climbed through my bedroom window." Then he lifted his head and looked up at Rory with desperate determination. "But I don't care if I catch it from them, if only I can help Frodo!"

"There's naught you or anyone else can do now, lad, but wait it out," said Rory softly. He turned to his son. "Find someone to take him home, Sara."

. . .

The storm had abated slightly when Hob Hayward threw on his cloak and ventured down to Grindwall hythe to see if his fishing boats had survived the assault. He breathed a sigh of relief to see a row of dark forms bobbing along the dock, and began to count. One, two, three…but the next shape was too large and irregular to be a boat. He peered through the gloom and finally made out that a partially submerged tree trunk had washed up among his fleet, its roots thrusting out of the water.

Muttering curses, Hob drew closer, trying to discern whether it had damaged any boats. He grasped the near end of the tree, intending to pull it free and send it on its way down the River. He struggled with the slick, unwieldy bole; it offered more resistance than a floating piece of wood by rights should have.

Reaching down to get a better purchase, he glimpsed something pale among the dark tangle of roots. He leaned out for a better look, and choked back a cry: it was a face. A hobbit—a young one, as far as he could judge—was caught among the twisted roots, and as luck or fate would have it his head was supported above the water line. But was he dead or alive? Hob cautiously lowered himself into the frigid water and pulled himself along the trunk toward the small, still figure.

. . .

It was past midnight when the silence that had settled over Brandy Hall was shattered by a pounding at the door. Saradoc, roused from a restless doze, jumped up and ran to open it. Rory did not move, but only sat gazing into the dying embers of the fire. Esmeralda and Gilda stirred and stretched, stiff from their long vigil, but froze when they heard Sara's sharp exclamation, followed by a rapid, murmured exchange. They stared at each other, bracing for the worst.

After what seemed an eternity Saradoc reappeared on the kitchen threshold, followed closely by Hob Hayward from Breredon. Then they both stepped aside to let someone pass.

It was Frodo, tightly wrapped in a cloak and blanket, eyes dull with fatigue and face deathly pale. Esmeralda cried out and started to run to him, but Gilda held her back. Looking only at Rory, Frodo walked slowly across the room and came to a stop before his uncle's chair. Swaying slightly, he said nothing but only stood and waited.

Still Rory stared into the fire, his craggy features cast into sharp relief by its glow. Then without looking up he began to speak: "Prim and me weren't close...there was a good 18 years' difference between us. But she was everybody's favorite: the baby of the family, the gayest and prettiest too. She meant the world to Da. We were both there when they pulled her out of the river, and I saw the life drain out of him that day. Oh, he didn't die for another year yet, but it killed him just the same."

Slowly he turned in his chair and looked at Frodo for the first time. "Well, Frodo," he said in a quiet voice, worse—much worse—than his shouting. "It seems you're bent on throwing your life away, and I reckon one of these days you'll succeed. But," his voice now rising, "I'll be hogtied and horsewhipped if you do it on my watch!"

He paused, collecting himself again, and continued more calmly, "I'll say no more tonight...it's late and we're all dead beat. And I expect you could use a hot bath and some sup. But Saradoc," he added, fixing his son with a meaningful look, "We need to talk first thing in the morning."

"Come along, dear," said Esmeralda. She put her arm around Frodo, and for once he let her.

. . .

Exhausted though he was, it was long before Frodo could find sleep that night, and when he finally did he was troubled by dark, ominous dreams.

The first thing he noticed when he awoke was the cold. It seemed to have crept into his very heart, clutching like icy claws. He was lying with his back against a great stone slab, and it slowly came to him that he was in the Stone Circle. The towering monoliths loomed above him, dim and unreal in their shroud of fog.

With a great effort he struggled to his feet, sensing an urgent summons. He searched desperately among the stones for someone or something, a sense of panic growing as he did so. Where are you? he cried, his voice sounding thin and shrill in his own ears.

Then the mists parted and he saw it: a great black bull, standing as still as if carved in stone. It regarded him, a fell light in its eye, and Frodo gazed back with sudden understanding. I know you, he whispered, though his voice seemed to make no sound. The bull dipped its head in salute, then charged.

It seemed to Frodo that time moved with unbearable slowness as the beast rushed toward him. He groped for something at his breast, and his fingers closed about a smooth stone hanging on a chain around his neck: Gilly's magic talisman. Surely it would protect him! But now the bull was upon him and he felt a searing pain in his shoulder as a great curving horn plunged deep. With a triumphant bellow the beast tossed Frodo high over its back…

Then he was in the River once more. As he drifted helplessly down through the murky depths, foul beings came swimming toward him, weeds twisted in their streaming hair, lips drawn back in ghoulish grins, rotting fingers clutching at him. It was the Bunce brothers! Desperately he tried to get away but his limbs felt heavy and useless and he knew there was no hope: they would seize him and drag him down, down, an endless descent into darkness, and he would be one with them forever.

But suddenly, instead of their loathsome touch he felt strong, gentle arms cradling him and heard a voice that was unfamiliar, yet seemed somehow very dear: "Wake up, Mr. Frodo!"

Gradually it became the voice of Mistress Mugwort, the healer. "Master Frodo, you've got to wake up!"

He sat up with a gasp clinging to her arm, his face wet with tears. "Help me!"

"There now, be still," she soothed, rocking him a minute longer. "'Twas a bad dream, that's all, and little wonder at that, given the mischief you get up to! But you're safe now, my dear."

Frodo was still shaken and bewildered. "What happened?" he faltered. "I saw the Bunce brothers…"

Feralia chuckled softly. "They are getting about this year, I must say! Calm yourself lad, 'twas naught but a dream I tell you, and the less we speak of it the sooner you'll forget.

"Now then, the Master asked me to come 'round first thing this morning to see how you were faring after your dip in the River, so let me just make sure you're still in one piece." She continued talking as she gently felt his limbs. "Last night's storm was the worst I've seen this early in the season for many a year…sixteen head of livestock drowned and boat docks swept away up and down the River."

She gave him a curious look, her golden eyes glinting. "Someone or something has other plans for you, Frodo Baggins, or you'd surely be dead this day."

"What do you mean?" Frodo asked uneasily, feeling a slight shiver go down his back.

"I don't rightly know myself," admitted the healer with a crooked smile. "But there's stranger things in this Middle Earth, my dear, than any that yet have visited your dreams!"

Her skilled fingers carefully probed the back of his head. "That's a nasty bump, Master Frodo, and I'd like to ask you a few questions to make sure it hasn't addled your brains any…at least, no more'n they already are," she added with a wink. "Now then, how many fingers am I holding up?"

"Six."

"And what is your relationship to Paladin Took?"

"Second cousin on my mother's side," Frodo replied promptly.

"Good. And to Hamilcar Hornblower?"

"Second cousin once removed on my father's side."

"Very good. And in what year did the North Kingdom fall?"

She said this last so casually that it caught Frodo completely off guard. He sat gaping at her, and she laughed. "What's the matter lad, did you fancy you were the only one in Buckland to know a thing or two about the Outside?"

Frodo swallowed hard. "No, ma'am. It was in the year 374."

"Right enough—by Shire Reckoning. But what year was it by the King's Reckoning?

Frodo had to admit he didn't know.

Feralia clucked her tongue. "'Twas in Third Age 1974. What's that Bilbo Baggins been teaching you, eh? Elves and Dwarves are well and good, but Shirefolk's allegiance to the King was serious business once on a time…and may be again some day, if there's anything to the old prophecies," she added in a low, musing voice.

"What prophecies?" asked Frodo eagerly.

"Eh, what's that? Never you mind Master Frodo, you've got more pressing things to worry about just now…such as what's to become of you. I believe your kin are deciding that very question right now."

. . .

Frodo moved quickly through the smial, grateful to see no one about at this early hour but two of his young cousins, Beryl and Benodas Brandybuck, playing in the passageway. Little Benny was hopping on one foot in time to the doggerel he was singing:

Sometimes I live in the country,
Sometimes I live in the town,
Sometimes I get a great notion
To jump in the River an'—

Suddenly his sister noticed Frodo and nudged him hard in the ribs. Benny clapped his hand over his mouth with a frightened squeak. But Frodo barely heeded them as he hurried on toward Rory's bedchamber. He knew this was a discussion that would not be held in the kitchen.

As he stealthily approached the room, he heard raised voices coming through the closed door. There was no mistaking his uncle's gruff tones:

"…I don't care how you explain it, Sara, this time he's gone too far. It's my duty to protect the good name of the Brandybucks—and of Buckland itself . D'you know what they'd be saying of us in the Shire, with three of that family already lost to the River, had it claimed the last? I'm sorry son, but my mind's made up: Frodo must leave Brandy Hall, and the sooner the better. The only thing left to decide is where he's to go."

There was a pause, then Sara spoke, sounding weary and defeated. "What about Bilbo? He seems fond of the lad."

"Mad Baggins? Hardly a fit guardian for a rascal like Frodo. He needs someone with a firm hand and a watchful eye to keep him in line."

"Perhaps Drogo's brother Dudo would take him in?"

"Nay, Dudo has worries enough what with Daisy chasing around after Griffo Boffin and every other handsome rogue in the Westfarthing. If he wants my advice I'd marry off that one posthaste and not wait till she comes of age! Nay, I'm going to write to Dora Baggins, it's time she assumed her share of responsibility for the lad."

Frodo's heart sank. Not his Aunt Dora! Severe and humorless, his father's spinster older sister brooked no nonsense from anyone. Out of a sense of familial obligation she had invited Frodo for a visit ever summer since his parents died. Though he stayed only a fortnight, each day seemed interminable. The reading or writing of Elvish was strictly forbidden as "frivolous foreign nonsense" that would give him "dangerous ideas." She set him instead to memorizing and reciting the family-tree of the Bagginses of Hobbiton for generations back, rapping him on the knuckles with her cane if he left anyone out.

The prospect of going to live with her was unthinkable. He desperately wondered if he could appeal to Bilbo, but feared that while his bold cousin may have faced a dragon in its den, even he wouldn't dare to gainsay the formidable matriarch of the Baggins clan should she agree to take Frodo in hand.

But a moment later these bleak thoughts were driven away by a far more disturbing one. Something Rory said had been niggling at the back of his mind, something that didn't make sense…

…three of that family already lost to the River

The significance of these words now struck Frodo like a blow…three? Dim memories of his mother lying still and pale against blood-soaked bedclothes came flooding back, and what he had not comprehended as a three-year-old was suddenly, terribly, clear.

Frodo stumbled back to his room in a haze of shock and anguish. He shut the door quietly behind him and then banged his head slowly and repeatedly against it, hoping the pain would drive away the greater torment of his thoughts.

The brother or sister he had always longed for…the grief his parents tried to hide when he asked why there were no more faunts…if he had not jumped in the River that day…if his mother had not gone in after him…

He sank to the floor, desperate for the release of tears or oblivion, but finding neither. This was far worse than his dream—he felt trapped inside a nightmare from which there was no waking, no way to escape the insidious voices whispering that he and he alone was to blame.

When a real voice broke through his agonized reverie, he clung to it as to a lifeline.

"Hssst! Frodo, are you there?" The voice was low, urgent, and coming from outside his window.

Standing shakily, Frodo crossed the room and looked down to see Fenton Longhole. His lower lip was cut and swollen, crusted with dried blood.

"Fenton!" cried Frodo, forgetting his own troubles for the moment. "What happened? Are you alright?"

"Never mind that," said Fenton impatiently. "Listen, I'm glad to see you alive, Frodo, but there's no time to gab…I've just come to say goodbye."

"What do you mean?" asked Frodo in alarm.

"I mean I'm clearin' out! I can't live another day under the same roof with me old man, or one of us looks fair to kill the other…I've had it with bein' knocked around every time I don't toe the mark or he's had too much to drink!

It occurred to Frodo that having Lucas Longhole for a father might be worse than having none. "But where will you go?"

"Me mum had family in Bree, we used to visit them sometimes before she…anyway, I reckon they'll take me in."

"So you're up and running away, just like that?"

"Just like that."

Frodo was silent a long moment, then blurted out, "Take me with you!"

Fenton looked at him incredulously. "Frodo, I've wondered before if you was daft, and now I'm startin' to believe it. What call would a gentlehobbit like yourself have to go leavin' a fine place like Brandy Hall, with all the food you can eat and a room of your very own?"

Frodo realized how his life must look to Fenton, who shared a room with several brothers and often went to bed hungry. He stared at his friend, wondering how to explain that even a nice smial and enough to eat did not ensure happiness. He gave it up and said simply, "They're sending me away to live with my Aunt Dora Baggins."

This gave Fenton pause, for he had heard Frodo's horror stories. "Not your aunt who doses you with fish oil every morning?"

"That's the one," said Frodo grimly.

"The one who says second breakfast is for gluttons?"

"The same."

"And that mushrooms are unhealthful?"

"Right again."

Fenton gave a low, sympathetic whistle. "Say no more, mate! I reckon my cousins can find room for the both of us, so long as you're willin' to work hard and earn your keep. How much time do you need to get your stuff together?"

"Not long."

"Right then, I'll be back in half an hour."

Once Fenton had gone Frodo spent no time reflecting on his decided course of action. He yanked out drawers and rummaged in his wardrobe, dragged his box and journal out from under the bed, and hurriedly began tying his things into a bundle.

. . .

Esmeralda sat nursing Merry, sick at heart as she thought about Frodo. From the time he was small she had sensed in him a rare, ineffable quality, something of light, grace, and beauty that was beyond the understanding, or even the perception, of most of those around him. Esmeralda herself did not understand it, though she could see it, a little. And even now, behind all his walls and defenses, the light was there still…but fragile as a guttering flame, in peril of being extinguished forever.

He's been pulled from the River but he's still drowning…

She felt consumed by fear and guilt—fear of what would become of him were he to be sent away feeling unloved and unwanted, and guilt that she had not the courage to try to stop it. She knew her fierce, protective love of Merry meant she would do anything for him: fight, steal, even die. But what was she willing to do for Frodo? If she were to defy Rory, argue for keeping him at Brandy Hall, what surety did she have that he would change his ways? What if Rory were proved right and Frodo's next misstep cost him his life, as this one by rights should have?

Her thoughts returned to Rory's words. If Frodo had died that day, there would have been a great uproar, with recriminations and accusations exchanged as all tried to deny responsibility for his safety and well-being. Rory was correct: Buckland's reputation among smug Shirefolk as a queer and dangerous place would have been sealed for all time, and the Brandybucks castigated as untrustworthy guardians. There would have been disgrace, shame, regret…but very little genuine grief.

Esmeralda felt anguished by this realization, though she knew with a conviction born of her own new motherhood that it was the cruel, yet natural, way of the world. We all look after our own… But it didn't seem fair, and she longed for something more for Frodo, some reprieve or saving grace that she knew was beyond her power to give.

A gentle tug on her hair brought her back to herself and she looked down to see Merry giving her his best "pay attention to me" smile, milk dribbling from the corner of his mouth. It had never failed him before, and it didn't now.

"My dear little Merry-lamb," she said, catching him up and kissing him, "you always cheer your Mummy up when she's blue, don't you?" She stopped suddenly, struck by her own words. "I wonder," she murmured, recalling the morning she had seen Frodo at Merry's cradle and the tender affection that had illuminated his face ever so briefly. She gazed down at Merry and came to a decision. "Merry my love, let's go change your nappie!"

. . .

Esmeralda stood outside Frodo's room, holding Merry on her hip, and gave a soft rap on the door. "Frodo, it's Ezzie." Without waiting for a reply she pushed the door open and entered, just in time to see Frodo hurriedly kick a large bundle into the corner of the room and then try hard to look innocent. Esmeralda took in the situation at a glance and fought down a wave of panic. She drew a deep breath, then said, "Frodo, I need your help!"

Frodo looked stunned. Of all the possible things he was bracing himself to hear, that clearly wasn't one. He stared at the floor as Esmeralda kept talking, her words tumbling out in a rush:

"I have to ride out to Crickhollow because Cousin Verbena's baby is due any time now, and I can't very well take Merry with me, and there's no one else I can trust to keep him because Amaranth is ill and Asphodel's visiting her in-laws and the other women are busy with the canning, and so Frodo, would you watch him for me until my return?"

The silence that followed was broken by a happy gurgle from Merry as he waved his arms at Frodo.

Slowly, Frodo raised his head and met Esmeralda's gaze. "You…you would trust me with him?" he whispered. His wary expression suddenly faded, and her heart ached at what she read in his eyes: surprise and a glimmer of hope, but beneath that a sea of pain and loneliness, and a desperate plea she knew he would never voice aloud.

"Of course, dear," said Esmeralda gently, reaching out to briefly stroke his cheek. "You're a good lad, Frodo." Then, making her voice brisk and matter-of-fact, she continued, "Now, he's been fed and changed, so he shouldn't be any bother. Why don't you sit on this chair, and I can show you how to hold him, like so."

Just before she left the room, she glanced back and saw Frodo sitting there as if afraid to move, staring wide-eyed at the baby.

"Oh, and one more thing, Frodo—"

"Yes, Auntie?"

She smiled—he hadn't called her that in years. "He won't break, lad."

Then she went out.

. . .

Though Esmeralda tried to keep herself occupied with trivial chores, her unease was growing by the minute. There was no doubt in her mind as to what Frodo was doing when she walked in on him, and she began to feel that her plan was unwise in the extreme.

"Whatever were you thinking, Esmeralda Brandybuck?" she chided herself. "Leaving your one and only child in the care of a reckless, unpredictable lad with one foot out the door—you must have taken leave of your senses!"

Finally she could bear it no longer, and left her quarters to steal back along the passage toward Frodo's room. Trying not to feel guilty she crept up to the door and listened. She could hear Merry giggling as Frodo chanted,

…and this is the way the farmers ride
Hobbledy hoy, hobbledy hoy
Hobbledy hobbledy hoy!

The game ended with Merry's shriek of delight and Frodo's bright laughter. Esmeralda relaxed, wondering now why she had been so worried, and was just about to turn back when she heard another, more distant voice.

"Hoy, Frodo!"

She froze.

"All right Fenton, I'm coming!" Frodo's voice faded as he moved across the room to the window, and Esmeralda pressed her ear against the door, straining to hear.

"Hullo, what's this then? Is Merry comin' with us?"

"Now who's being daft? Of course not, I'm just watching him for my Aunt Ezzie!"

"Well you'd better give him back, it's time for us to push off!"

"I can't, Fenton, Ezzie went to Crickhollow and entrusted him to me until she returns."

"Frodo, I dursn't wait any longer. My da's goin' to be wise to me any time now, and I need to get a good start before he knows I'm gone! We've got to leave now!"

"But what am I to do with Merry?"

"Just set him on your bed, he'll be fine till your aunt gets back."

Esmeralda's jaw tightened. Though he couldn't crawl yet, Merry was an expert roller and Frodo's bed stood high off the stone floor. Deciding it was time to put an end to this game, she had her hand on the door handle when Frodo spoke again.

"I'm sorry, Fenton, I can't do that."

"Why ever not?"

There was a pause, then Frodo said slowly, "Because Merry might get hurt if he's alone. And because I—I can't let Aunt Ezzie down. I have to stay here until she comes back."

"But what about Dora Baggins?"

"I'll think of something," said Frodo, though he didn't sound very confident.

"Well, it's your funeral." Fenton's shrug was as clear to Esmeralda as if she could see it.

"Listen Fenton, you go on…I'll catch up with you later."

"All right then," said Fenton dubiously. "Tell you what, when I get to the Brandywine Bridge I'll hide below it and wait there for you as long as I can. But I aim to be out of Buckland before nightfall. That gives you maybe an hour, no more."

"Fair enough. I'll be there if I can, and if not…then good luck to you, Fenton."

"And to you, mate!"

Esmeralda leaned her forehead against the door, her heartbeat gradually slowing. An hour…very well then, she would make certain that she did not retrieve Merry until at least that much time had passed.

When she next heard Frodo's voice it was much closer, and she guessed that he had returned to the chair. Merry was making the small complaining noises that usually meant he was tired.

"Are you getting sleepy, Merry-lad? Here, let Cousin Frodo rock you a bit."

All was quiet for a few minutes, then he began speaking in a low, soothing voice that flowed on in gentle cadences like a quiet stream:

"Don't fret little one, your mama will come back for you soon and I promise I'll not leave you till she does. That's one thing you need never worry about, Merry—being alone. You've a mother and father who love you very much, and a gaffer and gammer and lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. There's just one thing you don't have, and that's a brother or sister to play with. You should've had two of them, but they were lost. You and I are alike in that way, Merry, we both lost brothers or sisters."

Esmeralda started. When had Frodo discovered that his mother had lost a baby? Primula had been insistent that the secret be kept from him, and until now she thought it had.

"I think I would have made a good brother," added Frodo with a slight quaver in his voice. After a moment's pause he continued, "But Merry, I—I could be like a big brother to you, and look out for you and teach you things…would you like that?"

Hesitant at first, Frodo grew increasingly eager as he talked. "There's so much I could teach you when you're old enough: how to climb trees, and skip stones, and the names of the stars, and where to find the best mushrooms …well, maybe not that last," he added hastily. "But most important of all, Merry, I'd teach you how to swim like a fish—and how to tell when the River is safe for swimming. You must never underestimate the River, you know.

"And there's one more thing that brothers do, Merry"—a fierce note now crept into his voice—"I swear that no one will ever tease you or bully you or hurt you in any way, or they'll have me to reckon with!" But as quickly as it arose, his bravado seemed suddenly to vanish with the recollection of his current predicament. "If Uncle Rory lets me stay, that is…" Frodo trailed off, before resuming with new determination, "Well, he simply must let me stay, that's all. Don't worry, Merry, I'll find a way to convince him!"

Esmeralda noted with relief that Frodo seemed to have forgotten all about meeting Fenton at the bridge. A longer silence ensued, in which Merry began to whimper again, perhaps wanting Frodo to keep talking.

"Hush now, little one…here's a song for you." Frodo lifted his clear, sweet voice—still so much a child's voice, she thought:

I saw a ship a-sailing
A-sailing on the sea
And, oh! It was all laden
With pretty things for thee!

There were confits in the cabin,
And apples in the hold,
The sails were made of silk
And the masts were all of gold.

Esmeralda had a sudden, vivid memory of Primula singing that song to Frodo when he was small. She abruptly turned and hurried away, afraid she would not be able to choke back the sob welling up in her breast. She almost collided with Saradoc coming out of their room.

"What's the matter?" he asked in alarm when he saw her tear-streaked face. "Where's Merry? Is he all right?"

Esmeralda smiled through her tears. "Yes, Sara, he's all right. He's with Frodo."

"Frodo?"

"Yes," she said firmly. "Everything is all right, I tell you. And Sara, you can go tell your father not to send that letter to Dora Baggins."

"What do you mean? Frodo—"

"Sara, didn't you hear me? Everything is going to be all right now." She added softly, more to herself than to Saradoc, "Frodo's going to be all right."

The End


Author's notes:

Lyrics of Benny's doggerel from "Good Night Irene" by Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter)

A huge thank you to my reviewers for their encouragement and kind words. I got such a kick out of this whole experience: writing the story, sending it out into the world, getting and responding to the feedback…I'm hooked! I want to do it again!

I have no lack of story ideas, only of time—and possibly talent—to write them. But I aim to try! With any luck story #2 may emerge sometime around the end of the summer…

Breon Briarwood – Yes, Alfred had it coming didn't he? Though he's not really bad at heart, just insecure. As you now know, you guessed right about Primula.

CuriousCat – I'm glad you could see the future hero in this characterization of young Frodo. The many qualities that sustained him on the Quest—an innate toughness, the courage to face down enemies, an ironic sense of humor and a basic kindness, among others—would have been there from the beginning, even when overlaid with defiance and confusion, and I tried to capture that.

eiluj – Sam's birth date? Hmm…well I guess I'd say family-trees trump the Tale of Years. After all hobbits took their family-trees very seriously, so you'd expect them to be accurate. Whereas Merry and Pippin probably just got a bit sloppy when compiling the Tale of Years…

endymion2 – This fanfiction world is a wonderful thing—that I can write a story, send it off into cyberspace, and suddenly find myself discussing holiday customs with a reader in Germany! (Sorry, but I'm new to all this so am still in the "Gee Whiz!" phase…)
Well my dear, I've enjoyed our chats and hope you and your children enjoy Nesbit should you give her a try (my 8-year-old twin boys loved The Five Children and It, if that's any recommendation). And have a lovely holiday!

lovethosehobbits – Thank you, I'm honored by the comparison! 'Rites of Passage' casts quite a long shadow over other "young Frodo" fics…but perhaps 'Terror of Buckland' has staked some ground of its own in its periodic lapses into silliness…? I love writing angst, but need to retreat into the absurd every now and then. That I attempted both within the same story may be a questionable approach—I have yet to see another fic with "angst/humor" listed as the genre!—but one that I enjoyed this time. Next time, we'll see…

SwordSwallower17 – Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

tiggivon – Thank you so much for your detailed and very kind reviews of chapters 1–4. I'm touched that you found "humor and wise words" in my story! Hope you liked the conclusion…