Title: A Little Adventure

Author: Ice Princess

Summary: Lobelia, convinced that she's owed more than Bilbo left her, goes to Bag End and takes a few items that don't belong to her…

Rating: PG13 (to be safe)

Disclaimer: all characters and places are property of J.R.R Tolkien, Tolkien enterprises, and New Line Cinema. I make no money from this Fan fiction and do not claim to own anything except a bettered sense of self esteem.

Important note: Medical practices mentioned in this chapter are for fictional purposes only. Do not try this at home!

Thank you to everyone has reviewed so far:

Shirebound: There is some healing which was meant to occur in this chapter, but due to Shelob wrecking my schedule (naughty shelob, no more biscuits for you) I have been rather delayed. Hopefully it will be next chapter…ah, my favourite phrase.

Gothic Hobbit: Shelob said hi and also "hiss". She would also like that dress back which she leant you. We all love seeing Frodo injured, don't we? Why lie about it when it's so true! If we had our way, poor Frodo couldn't leave his house without being attacked by a gang of deadly bees. His medical insurance must be through the roof, especially considering Gandalf conned him into it. Oh Frodo, will you ever learn?

A Elbereth: Here it is but before you read below first know this: I'm sorry. The ending is a bit strangled off. I'm just concentrating on actually writing it at the moment. It takes a lot of effort to even write "see spot run" now-a-days. Note to self: make that the sequel. Thanks : )

Carol: Thank you, but I'm afraid you've been drinking the tainted punch I especially sent around. Mwa ha ha!

Bookworm 2000: Hi there. A big black mother is what we brits call a spider that can only be seen through a powerful microscope, yet we fear them none the less. This chapter isn't very good. You should turn away now whilst you still have time. Run, bookworm, run!

Obelia Medusa: Again, thousands of thankyous. You may notice this chapter is awful. That is because I have written anything in 8 months and I tend to lose the ability if I don't do it regularly. I hope you like the SBs in this : )

Arwen Baggins: You also received the punch, eh? It is thanks to you that I have looked into this story again. I can't guarantee how regularly I'll update but I'll try and get it done for you as soon as I can, and when I have figured out how to write again (I have genuinely forgotten). Enjoy! And thank you! (P.S. great name)

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chapter Six: Valerian

There were many things that Meriadoc Brandybuck could explain, if one didn't mind a slight if not total abandonment of the truth in his words. He could explain how an apple pie had vanished from the window sill where it cooled, paying great attention to removing his obvious involvement with it; he could explain just how he had missed his chores, and transform the incriminating story of as friend's guilt into a tearful tale of woe and betrayal where the guilty party were elevated to the moral high ground of saint. But this was proving too much for even his well oiled tongue to explain, for a mob of hobbits, torches in hands, following another down the lane to the smials of Bywater in the middle of the night was not something one could write off as a normal event that was under a collective misinterpretation. The strangeness of the situation could not be idly explained by some fanciful lie or a quick minded retort, nor the oddity erased by well placed comments and dry handed humour. Merry could summon no words to him that would deflect the steadily growing audience that followed behind and certainly none to his younger cousin to whom he felt it necessary to offer support and comfort. For once he was at a loss, and he was forced to trail behind Frodo and Sam, tongue lashing uselessly inside a mouth that refused to co-operate, hand entwined tightly with his younger cousin in a hope that the warmth shared between them would say all he needed it to say.

"Merry?" Pippin asked, his face brightening and then fading in the illumination of a passing torch. "Where are we going?"

"I don't really know," he admitted with a feigned smile "But it's best we follow and find out."

But it was clear that he was not the only one who had come to such a decision. The hobbits in the tavern who had just moments before been quite content to call it a night had now decided that, as urgent as it was to return home, they didn't mind making this tiny diversion to enjoy this unexpected show. By all accounts the group of hobbits that followed the four companions could not grow beyond the habitants of the Tavern, but grown it had, for the noise of their voices had awoken most if not all the inhabitants of Bywater and some of Hobbiton, and the line of trailing torches had invited more to join the adventure.

Merry glared at them all over his shoulder. The leading line seemed to consist mainly of Hornblowers who considered it their right to be first in line for discovering the event. A couple of Sandbanks and Twofoots crept cautiously in the shadow of the primary wave, heads peaking over the shoulders of those in front in an attempt to witness more than the others would allow. Beyond that several layers of mixed faces faded in and out of view in the torchlight, their amount too great to pin an accurate number. He guessed there were at least two dozen of them, and even more hobbits were probably lurking unseeingly beyond the torchlight. He was relieved to find that there were no pheasant feathers peaking from caps in the array-- It seemed the sheriffs had not yet been informed.

But no hobbit paid them any heed as they crashed over them like a wave, branching into two streams to avoid them before reforming into one. The word 'cracked' appeared too much in the surrounding conversation, and despite his misgivings Merry couldn't help but agree. Frodo was not himself, and the only explanation he could find for that lay in the open cut on his head. The memory of Old Merimac Brandybuck stirred within him, who once had knocked himself silly by running head first into a door. The wound on his head had been mightily similar to the one Frodo now bore, and Merry couldn't help but shudder at the idea that his cousin would fall pray to bouts of confusion and the loss of recognition of all that surrounded him. Without proper care he could fall into a private world of thin sanity that none could ever understand or enter.

The conclusion he reached was not a pretty one and neither was it easy to enact. Frodo needed a healer, but Merry could not risk leaving Pippin and resigning responsibility of Frodo's protection to less capable hands. But then an answer swept across in the form of Fatty Bolger, who was currently darting his way through the crowds towards them, the sight as welcome as the glistening moonlight after a trying nightmare.

"Fatty!" Merry called, waving his one free hand in the air. "Fatty Bolger! Get over here this minute!"

He had not meant to use such a harsh command, but his solutions were thin and could not be prioritized under pointless niceties. Fatty looked a little startled at the urgent tone, but he reflected none of it when he fell into step beside them.

"Ho! Merry!" Fatty greeted, slapping him on the back in a friendly gesture they had come to exchange. "A right party you are leading around the Shire! What's with all this commotion? You'll be waking the sheriffs next and then in what mess will you be?"

"Fatty, I need a healer," Merry told him, short and swift.

"I've said that for years," Fatty retorted, the severity of the situation not yet puncturing his cheerful demeanour and out of date ignorance.

"I mean for Frodo!" Merry cried, and there was that urgency again, sharp in the hurried words.

"Is he wounded?"

"His head," Pippin agreed. "There's blood and everything."

"He's confused," Merry told him, bogging himself down in cumbersome explanations. "I don't think he really knows what he's doing. Tell the healer we need something for a head wound, something that can treat delirium."

"Oh my…"

Down, down, down they went, Frodo leading the way, winding through the closed wool stands and the unpacked gazebos until a smial, large and grand loomed straight ahead.

"Fatty!"

"All right," he conceded. "But where exactly are you all off to? I can't bring a healer to Frodo if I don't know where he is."

But the answer to that question lay in the twinkling lights in the smial ahead of them, at the muffled laughter ebbing from the walls, and the high gates that surrounded a smial that had been decorated with great care and splendour.

The home of the Sackville-Bagginses.

The hobbits had fallen to a stand still, almost as if the invisible cords that dragged them behind the young heir had snapped, leaving them motionless and confused of their direction. However, Frodo's purpose became painfully clear as he barged his way through the garden gate, and Sam, having no authority or invitation to enter their garden, could not catch him before he crossed the fringe of the lawn and moved out of range.

"Oh you have to be joking..."Fatty murmured, a horrified expression falling on his face as Frodo hammered at the door. Without another word he turned on his heel, sprinting off into the dead of the night with a haste and urgency that exceeded his physical capabilities. Merry wished him a speedy flight, hoping against all odds that he could bring something that would end this situation before it got too far out of hand.

"What's going on?" Pippin whispered, and for the first time since the strange event Merry found Pippin curling fearfully against his leg. "Is our cousin all right?"

But Merry found he had no answer, and often he found his eyes straying to the wound on Frodo's head to gain one.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lobelia's reaction to seeing Frodo at her door did not match the one his anger had promised. He had expected her eyes to widen in terrified realization at his presence; her legs caving in with bleak acceptance of her capture, and a satisfying squeak his only reply as he demanded his goods to be returned. But if Lobelia was feeling surprised she failed to show it. She stood, silhouetted against the creamy amber of both candle and torchlight, her face a perfectly sculpted mask of bland nonchalance. Frodo watched her hungrily for a reaction, but she gave no indication that his appearance even bothered her.

"Lobelia," he greeted icily, "I would like a word with you."

"It is late," she replied, her tone hard as steel.

She noticed the string of hobbits that rimmed her garden fence with out a hint of any emotion, her attention temporarily diverted to bore at those that stood in the flickering dome of the few torches lit.

"If it is words you want spoken than I will permit you one," she offered graciously, her attention returning to him like the moon to the night, "but then you must be off on your business, and I hope for your next victim it will be a far more pleasant experience than this."

Frodo swallowed, for the comment had gained a few murmurs of support from somewhere in the thicket of bodies. He switched his gaze momentarily to his unintended audience, trying to pin point the epicentres of the whispered agreements and failing. There were few hobbits that he could see well enough to be able to confess recognition of the faces, and those that he could identify dipped their heads to avoid meeting his gaze.

"Problem, my sweet?" Otho asked, popping his head around the kitchen door, completely unfazed by the two dozen or so hobbits that could be clearly seen through the window.  Otho's gaze landed on him as light as a butterfly on a flower, but there was a calculation going on behind muscle and flesh that made a quiver of insecurity shudder lightly up his spine.

"Hardly," Lobelia retorted dryly, her challenging stare obstructing the retorts he felt he should have catapulted into by now. Otho wondered lazily to her side, and like his wife he gave no clues to the thoughts knitting together in his head. He sucked on the stem of his pipe.

"Your fan club, Frodo?" He asked airily. "Really! And here was me thinking you'd grown out of silly little games."

"I have not been the one playing games, Otho," he returned. "Nor am I playing one now."

"Are you not?" Lobelia replied ambiguously.

Otho continued to suck on his pipe, but he placed a hand on his wife's shoulders in what Frodo and Lobelia alone understood as a congratulatory gesture.

"What words do you intend to share?" she asked finally, settling her eyes upon him "And why did you feel it necessary to bring the rest of the shire to hear them?"

"I did not invite them," he said. "It was a most unfortunate accident."

Her gaze raked over his scruffy clothes and ruffled hair with a palpable dislike, yet he stood his ground--uncertain now, though he was-- and he endured the fierce judgement that burned like the flames of a dying star that pounded ceaselessly from her eyes.  The hobbits stood like silent statues within the night, so quiet that the crunching of a leaf under foot was a deafening avalanche. Though no one bore a quill or ink, Frodo could not help but feel that every word was being filed away, where imagination would feed it until it grew fat and swollen, perfectly embellished for the tradition pub tales later on.

"So?" Lobelia asked shrilly. "What has happened to you to make you come and bother your relatives at such an unsociable hour?"

"What has happened to me?" He mimicked, his voice as cold as a bare winter's night that sparkled with frost. "You should know well enough, being the ones who caused it. You broke into Bag End and stole my possessions, and now I come to reclaim them."

The hobbits gasped at his accusation, but he bid them no attention. He spoke with the fiercest authority he could derive and the most dignity he could summon, but Lobelia screeched like some tormented owl in her laughter, and Otho grew a smug smile that caused Frodo to clench his fists in a trembling anger.

"You say that I should know well enough," Lobelia answered upon recovering, her hand resting lightly upon her chest to still her laughter. "Well that I do, Mr Baggins. You are troubled, I see that now, and that wound I see on your head has addled your brains. You know not what you say."

"I know very well of what I speak," Frodo countered. "You will give me back what you took! And all of it! They are my possessions and I do not want them tainted by your hands any longer than need be."

"If we had happened to have taken your goods, as you so eloquently put it, wouldn't it be too late for that?" Lobelia asked, and here she turned to the surrounding hobbits, her arms open in a pleading manner as she addressed them with her case. "You surely discredit us! If we had permitted this crime than we would not be so stupid as to keep incriminating evidence in our own home."

Her words were meant for him but not once did she face him, and he seemed naught but an obstacle as she slowly circled the front garden as she rained on the hobbits animated reinforcements. She pirouetted when she met the fence, and the edge of an envelope flashed in and out of view from her dress pocket, disappearing back into the fabric before Frodo could be sure he had seen it at all.

"I see you are hurt," she stated. "You should let a healer look at that."

 "Look's nasty," Otho added from the doorway, the hobbits drinking in his words, "and it's a head wound too. Dangerous things those…"

They wore Siamese smiles that irked and worried him, deflating his confidence with their own scathing brand. Lobelia crossed her arms across her chest, her position falling into the one she always adopted when she saw victory but a small step away. The other hobbits did not notice her superior stance, for their eyes were glued to him and his wound, and they looked at it with something akin to fear as they shared snappish conversations. Lobelia continued to smirk that special smirk of hers--the one that promised bad weather when all he could see was sunshine, the one that told him that she knew something he didn't, the one she used when she knew she couldn't lose and was quite content in sharing the knowledge. There was something ominous about the way they looked at him now--as if he were a threat that they had just disarmed without his knowing.

"You lot!" Lobelia hollered, the Chubbs jumping in surprise at her address. "What are you standing around here for? Get a healer will you! The boy's not right in the head!"

"Beggin' you pardon, Mistress…"

"You'll be begging for a lot more than mine when this boy throws himself into the river!" She cried, and even Frodo gasped at her cruel words. "Go on! Go! The sooner this boy is seen the better! He's obviously lost the plot!"

"Deranged," Otho agreed.

Amongst them all there was not one hobbit who could claim to know much of the functions of the body and little save Sam knew the value of the herbs that could be used to mend such an ailment. At the time the Sackville-Bagginses diagnosis was greedily accepted as correct, and they nodded amongst themselves, as if they had been given the answer to a riddle they could not previously solve.

"I am perfectly well!" He told them. "They are only trying to deceive you! They broke into Bag End and attacked me!"

But this did not have the desired effect at all, for they broke into peels of laughter and unbelieving glances. Realization of his mistake came like a bitter frost, and suddenly he saw the situation for what it was: an injured hobbit accusing a life long enemy of a crime that was so ridiculous it was disregarded without a thought. Lobelia's comment echoed within his head:

"I have not been the one playing games, Otho! Nor am I playing one now."

"Are you not?"

Yes, he was playing a game--a game that consisted of only their rules, where being right and just did not equate to a win. He was a novice in their giant game of chess, and somehow the tables had turned the moment his foot had landed on their garden path. It had come to pass that the he, armed with righteousness, was now fighting for his life in this verbal spar. Truth was an element he had not expected to fail, his innocence a beckoning call that had somehow frightened away his kin rather than draw them close. He trod a tight circle, seeking some sign of support from the massed crowd that lay hidden in the darkness, but their empty gaze and burning whispering severed any lifeline they could have thrown him.

 "Tell me, relative," Lobelia continued. "What is your father's name? You see!" She cried, before Frodo had even digested the question. "He does not even know his father's own name!"

"No!" Frodo cried. "No! I know it better than my own! I do! It's…"

But the pitying murmuring of the hobbits drowned out his answer, and his emphatic gestures were lost on their polluted judgement. Frodo turned to them all, but he found that his command of both mind and body was gradually slipping away under the growing nightmare, and he faltered, gravity giving him a little tug that he barely overthrew.

This wasn't going the way his determination and anger had promised. They were supposed to have crumbled into panicked apologies at the mere sight of him and then shyly hand back his possessions. But none of this had come to pass. The S.B.s appeared even amused that he had come, and they had yet to dissolve into the babbling apologies that he thought his presence would induce. He may have been the one to bring the instrument, but they were the ones playing the tune to which he danced.

"Oh dear, Frodo," Otho said. He came out of the smial, an arm draping over his shoulders before he could recoil away. "You have given us a lot today to worry about."

"I'll alert the authorities!" He threatened weakly. "The sheriffs…

 "…are all ready here," Otho replied, indicating the collection of feather-capped hobbits that raced down the road towards them. "And a good thing it is too."

"You shan't get away with this!" Frodo told him, for the sheriff's arrival was suddenly something that would not assist his situation. "I will show them the truth of what you have done."

He smirked- that horrible, slimy pull of muscles that Otho reserved for only the most special self-congratulatory occasions. Frodo recognised it well, considering so many of his meetings with Otho came attached with it.

"I am not the one concealing things here," he said, numbness networking over Frodo's spine at the deliberate emphasis. "I have told spoken nothing but the truth this evening. You are the one with the secrets."

But Frodo could not believe the confrontation had reached such a bitter end for him, and in a last ditch attempt he pushed away from Otho's sickening grip and turned to his friends. Pippin and Merry were set deeper into the crowd than he had expected, and Sam still hung in the front-row by the garden gate.

"Sam," he tried, abandoning the smirking relatives to their own devices. "You heard them…you saw…"

He slipped a hand on top of Sam's pleadingly. The gardener slowly looked at their entwined fingers, and gently he clasped Frodo's hand tightly within his own.

"Sam," Frodo murmured, and here at least hope remained.

It was not to be.

"Mr Frodo, you have to stop this," Sam pleaded, squeezing Frodo's hand within his own. "You're sick. Mistress Lobelia is right: you need a healer." The words caused him pain, burning his tongue and heart with the authoritative words he felt he had no place to say.

"But they did it…" he protested weakly, Otho scoffing at his whispered remark. "They did it…"

"It's all right master," Sam soothed, stroking the back of his hand with feather light touches, his words almost lost under the din of gossiping voices. "Merry tells me that he's sent for a healer. You'll be right again in no time."

But, like the Sheriffs, Frodo knew the healer's arrival would only concrete the Sackville-Bagginses accusations and vaporise his own. The hobbits had no desire to listen to his own words, finding them dull and boring and therefore not worthy of consideration, but the Sackville-Bagginses…

"I don't need a healer," he said simply. "I'm fine."

But Sam didn't believe him, and if Merry had been the one who had sent for the healer then it was obvious he shared the Sackville-Bagginses scepticism. Frodo pulled back his hand from the gardener, unable to ally himself with Sam's reason and thus admit to a defeat that he had not considered. Their eyes remained locked for a moment, Frodo's pleading gaze and Sam's compassionate desperation leaking between them until Sam's head lowered and he vanished amid the darkness and crowds.

"Is there a problem here?"

It was Robin, the sheriff, who spoke, and from the glow of his cheeks it was obvious he had been summoned from a tavern rather than his home, but his drunken eyes snapped onto Frodo with a speed reserved normally for his next tankard of ale. Frodo's hope melted like snow as he took in the Sheriff's shocked expression and he knew then that all hope of reasoning with his companions had been lost in that moment when the sheriffs eyes fell upon him.

Amidst the strangling emotional bonds of judgement and humiliation he did the only thing that his mind could think of: He ran, to an un-harmonized chorus of "Mr Frodo!", "sheriff!" and "look out!", straight for the door into the smial…

Evidently he was more injured than his personal assessment had established for Otho appeared as if from thin air and locked his arms around his waist just before he could enter the smial. Frodo cried out in frustration and denial, and despite his efforts he could not extricate himself from Otho's grip.

"Hold on to him, Otho!" Robin ordered. "The poor lad is obviously upset."

"It's in the smial!" he cried, kicking fruitlessly at his captor. "Go on! Look! Go in the smial and see!"

"Surely there is no need…"

"You have my permission." Lobelia stated, "You may enter the smial if you wish."

 She removed herself from the doorway and gestured for him to enter. The hobbits hushed and even Frodo reduced his struggling to trying to unlock Otho's clasped hands with his nails. Robin shook his head, her bluff a complete success.

"There is no need, Mistress," he said. "You have been troubled enough this night as it is."

He tipped his feathered cap to her and bid her good-day, and in that moment Frodo found himself totally and utterly defeated. He slumped slightly, a sharp piercing cold striking its way from nerve to nerve as he tried to understand just how and where it had all fallen apart. Otho released him with a shunt towards the fence, which he struck with a dull thud and left him kneeling limply against the fence post.

He did not know when it happened for he was wrapped up in himself too much to care or notice, but somehow, in what seemed like the space of only a few seconds but must have been longer, he had been surrounded by the few hobbits that had seen his plight as more than just novel entertainment. He gave them little thought of course, and felt sick to the stomach as he watched Robin fire apology after apology at his deceptive relatives.

"Frodo," a voice spoke. "You 'ave t' drink dis."

He turned, though that in itself was an extreme effort. A rather large, round hobbit, dressed in nothing but a night gown,  shoved a steaming mug under his nose. Frodo recognised him immediately, having been visited so many times by the Healer that his face sometimes haunted his dreams.

"Healer Underbeach."

"Dat's righ'" he answered. "I'd 'eard you'd been up to mischief again."

"And who told you that?" he asked tiredly, and although the healer choose this opportunity to add a mixture of crushed, lightly coloured flowers to the all ready nasty smelling drink, Frodo could see the four figures of Fatty, Merry, Pippin, and Sam watch them both with a guarded interest.

"Drink dis," he repeated, jabbing him with it again.

"What is it?"

"Dat's valerian dat is-- picked it jus' dis morning."

He prodded him with the cup until Frodo accepted it with a look of resignation. The crushed flowers had not yet sunk into the mixture, though he doubted they would do little to dilute the taste.

"It ain't poisoned, laddy." He said. "Drink it allll up now."

He dared a glance over the healers shoulder and considered simply walking back to Bag End and discarding the hideous concoction on the road. But to do so he would have to navigate his way through the gauntlet of judgemental glances and wagging tongues, and it was a trial that he did not feel up to attempting. With no other option he tipped back his head and downed the concoction in one, regretting that decision as soon as the bitter liquid splashed down his throat.

"There ya' go, laddy," the Healer congratulated as Frodo choked down the last of the mixture with a grimace. "Dat's as strong as I could make it, dat is."

"What was that?" he coughed.

"I told ya, dat's valerian, or all-heal. It grows in bogs and ditches." He read the look of revulsion before Frodo even realised he had adopted it. "I washed it, ya know."

"I'm glad," he commented dryly, grinding his knuckles into his eyes. A heavy weariness drowned his consciousness, and before he could understand how or why his body went completely limp and he slumped sideways, falling softly onto a bed of grass. He tried to move but found the effort to taxing, so he lay looking up at the stars and the grinning face above him.

"What did you do?" he whispered, sleep drugging the panic that would normally accompany his paralysis.

"Do?" he queried. "Only what your body needed, laddy!"

His eyes slipped shut of their own accord. His conscience succumbing to heavy sleep, he sailed into the blissful realm of dreams where the haunted jeering of his relatives was but a distant echo of reality.