Author: Frodo Baggins of Bag End (FrodoAtBagEnd)
E-mail: febobe at yahoo dot com
Characters: Frodo, Sam, others by reference/mention
Pairing: N/A (None)
Feedback: Welcomed. Constructive only, please. . .no flaming.
Written For: Ancalime
Summary: Frodo finds unexpected comfort in the words and deeds of an old friend. Post-Quest.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters and make no profit from them.
Frodo Baggins was dying.
Not dying in the way that old hobbits did, drifting away bit by bit until finally drifting off in their sleep one night. . .nor in the way that someone injured might, their life's blood running out until the heart stopped. . .but in the way lingering illness or its lasting effects might take a hobbit: slowly, but surely. Very surely.
Not that they hadn't tried to halt things, or at least slow them: Merry had written to Aragorn, Arwen, and Eowyn in Minas Tirith, seeking all the advice that might be gathered from the healers of Gondor and Rohan and from King Elessar himself, their dear Strider; and Sam, his faith in the elves ever-unwavering, had sent a message to Rivendell. . .but word had returned from all paths that there was little left to be done for Frodo. He could be made comfortable, given such succour as was to be had in whatever realm he chose to spend his days. . .but there was no medicine in Middle-earth that could heal his broken body, no balm in Arda that could mend his shining, yet flickering, spirit -- bright as mithril-thread, Arwen had called it. The only hope, she had said, lay within Frodo's grasp; only he knew what could be done. Of this, no one had dared speak, for none of the Fellowship - for so the three others still thought of themselves - wished to risk unsettling Frodo's mind further.
And so they set up watch, tending him closely, after the fashion accorded to any dying hobbit: Sam or Rose, Pippin or Merry, one of the four remained close by at all times, keeping out of the way when he felt up to working in his study and intervening to help him to bed when his strength waned. Rose made nourishing soups for him, cutting up mushrooms and bits of toast into them in pretty tidbits in an effort to coax the master into eating, adding small shapes made from baked custard to cups of broth sent into his study, swallowing any complaint when a well-planned menu was rejected by Bag End's pickiest eater, however politely. Sam stayed as close as he could, keeping his replanting travels as brief as possible, always hurrying back to his master's side and anxiously seeking report from the others of how Frodo had fared in his absence, always ensuring that Pippin and Merry would be by Frodo's side when he could not.
But still Frodo continued to fade like the last of the autumn leaves, and it seemed that there was nothing to be done.
And so they tried to pretend nothing was wrong, though Sam wept secretly, telling no one but Rose, and Pippin cried in Merry's arms. Those of Frodo's friends who were still close needed no invitations or pressing to be gathered in: Folco Boffin, though he and Frodo had been friends before the Quest, had hardly seen any of them since their return, and word had it that business matters occupied him in his family's home, up in Nobottle. He had come calling once, only briefly, and since it had fallen on October 6, Frodo had been too ill to enjoy visitors, though he had made a valiant attempt, rising from bed and pulling on his dressing-gown with Sam's assistance before allowing himself to be helped to a couch in the drawing-room and tucked beneath warmed quilts. Within less than a quarter of an hour he had begged Sam to help him back to bed, making apologies through a mist of pain and tears. Since then, Folco had not returned, though he had sent invitations to various parties and celebrations, and when Frodo had not felt well enough to attend his birthday-party, Folco had had not only his mathom, but several slices of cake delivered to Bag End, with fond regrets.
Fatty, however, (for Fatty he was once more, having regained all of the weight lost during the Shire's troubles and a bit more to boot) was another matter. At first, his efforts had been needed in the restoration of his home and the rest of Budgeford, but now that the Shire was returning to its normal peace, he had time to spare once more. . .and whenever he had it, he was inclined more often than not to appear on the doorstep of Bag End, bringing with him some surprise or another from his ovens. (Unlike his sister Estella, Fredegar was a remarkable talent in the kitchen, far beyond the skill even of most hobbits, and he and Sam were prone to long discussions concerning the proper spice for stews, the best simmering process for vegetables, and many other similar matters.) He, too, had shown up during one of Frodo's worse days, but had not immediately retreated upon the host's disappearance: at once he had set into worried fits of asking what he might do, what would most help, whether there might be something to do for Frodo directly or some task he could take from Merry's, Pippin's, or Sam's hands so that they might help him. In the end, it had only been thanks to Fredegar that they all got fed: Rose had her hands full with trying to coax out of Frodo any idea what he might be able to stomach, and by the time the group (save Sam, who insisted on sitting with his master) emerged from the bedroom, feeling half-starved and half-guilty, they had no hope of eating any time soon. Yet Fredegar had already been to market and back, and was busily working in the kitchen: cold chicken, fresh bread, sweet and sour pickles, crisp apples, mushroom sandwiches, ripe cheese, apple-cranberry tart, and chilled ale were already laid out, along with the pan of freshly baked gingerbread dear Fatty had brought with him.
"Well, I didn't know quite when you'd be ready, or I'd have made something proper and hot!" was all he would say, shrugging and grinning.
He would not hear of Rose serving them, and seated her at the table, and went to relieve Sam at Frodo's bedside, or at least to try. As expected, it was a long while before either Sam or Fatty appeared. . .but at last a silent Sam made his way into the kitchen, hands shoved into his pockets as he took his seat beside his wife.
They never knew what it was that Fatty said to him, for Sam said no word of it.
Frodo lay curled against the feather bolster, still shivering beneath the down comforter despite the warming-bottles Sam had tucked around him. The waves of shaking chill had passed, leaving him weak and dizzy, still so cold that he felt he had been dipped into the Brandywine River on a winter's night and dropped onto the bank by a cool wind.
"There now, Mr. Frodo. . .it's all right."
Sam. Dear Sam. Frodo reached for the familiar hand, clinging tightly to it.
"Are you sure you couldn't try just a little something? Rosie or I could coddle you some eggs, or there's some of that good broth you like, and turkey-mushroom soup. . . . And Marigold, she knows you're feeling right poorly today, so she sent up plenty of plain applesauce and some apple-cranberry sauce. . . ."
"Please, Sam. . .I. . .I couldn't." He swallowed against a dry throat, blinking back tears. How could one be hungry and feel so sick at the same time? He felt hungry, yet the idea of trying to swallow even a mouthful of a favourite dish made him feel sick at his stomach, and he turned away. The soft sound of a light knock caused him to turn his face to the pillow; he did not listen as Sam went to converse with whomever was at the door of his room.
Footsteps returned to his bed, and a familiar touch brushed back his hair. "Now, Mr. Frodo. . .Mr. Fredegar wants to talk to you for a bit, and sit with you, and I think it'll mean a lot to him if you'll say yes. I don't want to leave you if you aren't willing, but I'll not be far, and I'll not be long. . .and he knows you're right sick, and shouldn't be tired out, or nothing like that. Will you let him sit a little with you?"
Turning back, Frodo looked up to find Fatty waiting some respectable distance behind Sam, his hazel eyes filled with concern. Only then did he realise how worn Sam looked, how tired. . .and with an effort, he nodded. "Yes, Sam. I'll be all right. Go ahead; we'll call for you if we need you."
"All right, then, master. If you're certain." Sam bent and kissed Frodo's brow, and even as he turned Frodo could hear him giving instructions in a low voice. "There's water and his cup for him there by the bed - and a bit of brandy, too, in case he needs that; there's fresh cool water in the wash-basin, and clean cloths by it, if he starts feeling faint, but don't use those otherwise, because he needs to stay warm. . . ."
Fatty's answer was too low for Frodo to hear, but it seemed to satisfy Sam well enough, for a moment later, the two were alone. With an effort, Frodo managed to nod toward the chair nearest his bed.
"Do sit down, Fatty. I. . .I'm sorry I haven't been a. . .b-better host today."
"Oh! Never mind that, never mind that. . .I rather think we're past such matters now. . .aren't we, Frodo?" Hazel eyes studied the master of Bag End anxiously, widening slightly with compassion. "Frodo, I - what they did - "
"I'm sorry, Fatty. I never meant for trouble to come to the Shire. That was why I left. . .and still I could not stop it."
"No." A chubby hand suddenly reached for his, warming Frodo's slim fingers. "No, it isn't that. . .you couldn't help that; you had nothing to do with it, and everyone knows it. What I mean is. . ." He hesitated, voice quavering a bit. "I had no idea what they did to you. I. . .I'm sorry."
Frodo's throat tightened.
"Does it. . .I know you're ill; is there anywhere that hurts very badly?"
He managed a nod at last. "It. . .it varies a little. . .just now it's everything, it seems. . .old scars. . .my shoulder the most. . .and my hand especially. . . ."
Fredegar nodded. "Would you let me. . .try to help? I had an aunt once who cut her finger off with a carving-knife, and she had terrible pains in it. . .and there is a special salve she used that seemed to help her. I know it's hardly the same, but. . .I brought some of that. . . ."
At this, Frodo could hardly help smiling. "Thank you, Fatty. . .that's very kind. I - if you like, I'll try it; perhaps it'll help a bit."
A trace of the old Fredegar smile began to creep over Fatty's lips at this. "Good. I don't suppose you might also tell me what you'd like for your supper, now that everyone else is settled with theirs? I've done you the favour of getting them away from asking you for a while, so you can answer me the question instead."
Frodo released his companion's hand as the other retrieved a jar from his pocket, deftly opening it to release a light fragrance of delicate peppermint. "Fatty, I already told Sam and Rose. . .I can't manage anything. Not tonight."
"Why not? What did you have to eat in - that place?"
Mordor. Frodo's stomach wrenched.
"A. . .a special sort of bread, made by the elves, for travelling. And some dried fruit and meat and
travelling provisions from the Big Folk who captured us briefly, of course."
Fredegar arched his eyebrows, snorting. "Doesn't sound like much real food to me."
"It was all we had. And it kept us from starving."
"Hmmph. Barely, from what I'm told. Pippin and Merry saw you two when they brought you back. They say neither of you looked as if you'd been doing well, but you were a fair skeleton." Fredegar motioned for Frodo to put out the injured hand.
"Oh, and you're one to speak of that?" Obeying, Frodo quirked a brow himself. "I seem to recall them carrying you out of the Lockholes, and you weren't Fatty then. . .I'm inclined to agree with them that you might have done better to go with us!"
"But I started eating again, once I had real food in front of me," noted Fredegar pointedly, beginning to rub salve gingerly onto the finger-stump. "As many meals a day as I could get, and as much as I could, once we were all right, and my family had what was needed, and things were shared 'round all right enough. Once provisions were plentiful again, I didn't pass up platefuls."
Frodo was quiet for a moment, half-expecting to wince. . .but the medicine felt warm and soothing against his prickling, aching absent finger, and he sighed, closing his eyes with relief as he allowed the treatment to continue. "I. . .I hadn't thought of it like that. It's only that I. . .well, I feel sick, mostly. . . ."
"You don't have to eat the entire pantry, Frodo. A bowl of broth, a few eggs, a sandwich, a dish of apples in custard for starters. . .it doesn't have to be an entire feast." Fredegar's voice was relaxed and jolly as he continued to work. "Sometimes a person can feel sick because you haven't eaten anything, remember. It wouldn't hurt to try just a mouthful, surely. What I'd like is to make you a nice hot cup of cambric tea, a dish of apples in custard, good plain toast, and bring you a bowl of that soup Sam was talking about. . .and anything else you fancy. . .and let's see if we can't get you feeling at least a little better for having something hot in your stomach. Nothing better for a chill than that. What's the point in having good food now if you don't try to eat some of it?"
Good hobbit food, the kind they didn't make in Gondor or Rohan or even Rivendell.
Slowly Frodo opened his eyes, managing a bit more of a smile.
"You have a point, as always, Fatty. Perhaps you're right. . .perhaps I ought to try and eat a bit of supper. What you said will be fine. . .if Rose has any ginger scones still about, I might have one of those as well -- plain, no butter."
His friend's grin broadened. "There's the spirit! Now, if I could convince you to try two - "
"Don't push what luck you're having, Fatty Bolger!" Laughing weakly, Frodo watched as the last of the salve was applied, the lid on the jar firmly closed before Fredegar wiped it and his own hands clean. "When Sam returns, then, I'll let you do that. . .and Sam can help me get a hot bath. And then. . ."
He paused, glancing toward the window, where the stars already lit the early evening sky, Earendil's brightest of all.
"I have a letter to write tomorrow. But I hope you'll stay on tonight. . .and that perhaps. . .well, if you don't mind a sick old hobbit as boring as myself, I hope you'll spend a bit of time with us." Struggling for words, he swallowed against a still-dry throat, and nodded toward the bedside-table, grateful that Fredegar swiftly understood and poured a fresh cupful of water before raising his head on one warm, pudgy arm to help him drink. "I. . ." A few more sips, and he was able to continue. "It's good to be back among old friends."
"There's nothing like old friends and good times, and we have plenty of both here." Replacing the cup on the bedside-table, Fredegar smoothed the quilts and comforter back over his companion. "Whatever you like, Frodo. Whatever you like."