The old hobbit lasted 2 days more and died in the height of a raging fever. Dore kept his family away, for fear of whatever was spreading the sickness, because by this time, she knew that her apprentice was also deathly ill. She wanted to make certain no other hobbits would be lost to it. Dore and her family took care of the arrangements for Banda – and after a smoking of the house and all possessions, they left the home for his relations. The Chubbs, being as they were, were most eager to examine the house, and to make sure that the Brownings had made off with nothing but what was owed them for Dore’s services.
Mae Burrows was very ill. Even the self-imposed quarantine the Brownings were under didn’t prevent the spread of gossip and the events were quickly known. There was general agreement in the Shire that Dore Browning had acted with good judgment and quickly and had probably prevented a Shire-wide tragedy, but it was also generally agreed that young Mae would likely die, just as old Banda had. Frodo heard the gossip and felt more than what he might have considered a normal amount of concern for someone whom he had only just met. Perhaps it was still the guilt he felt for falling on her, or perhaps it was the memory he had of her brilliant green eyes, but he could not help feeling greatly distressed at the thought of her ill to the point of death. If Bilbo noted his nephew’s concern, he said nothing about it – but he kept himself apprised of the situation in Bywater nonetheless, and so kept Frodo informed.
For a week and a half, Mae raved. Dore used all her skills to keep the girl’s fever down, and tried all her strongest herbs and potions in an effort to defeat and break it. At last, grudgingly, the fever abated and the girl began to wake and speak. “I’ve had dreams…,” was one of the first coherent things she said to Dore. “Dreams of loss and pain…. Oh, the sorrow!” Dore was not certain her apprentice was completely well or unchanged by the illness. As sometimes happens, the mind can be affected by high fever and it may never be right again. Dore hoped this was not so, as she was more than passing fond of Mae and was a friend of the child’s mother. Mae had shown promise and skill in the profession of midwifery, and Dore felt it would be a sore trial to lose her. A week after the fever had broken, on a day that dawned bright and warm as a harbinger of a fair summer to come, Mae Burrows woke fully and was at last able to come out of doors and enjoy the sun. Dore put her in the garden, with a gentle tea of toast and milk and honey, and sat with her cleaning freshly picked peas. Mae delighted basking in the sun but still felt far too weak to do more than sit and enjoy the day. At length, she stirred a bit and looked to Dore who was finishing the last of her labor.
“Did you read to me as I slept, Mistress Dore? For it seems to me I heard a great tale of heros told to me through my fever.”
Dore wiped her hands on her apron. “Why, no, not so as you’d say. We spoke to you, of course, being as that is a way to keep the mind in touch with the day to day when the body is unable, but no, we told no great tales to you while you slept.”
Mae frowned slightly but was beginning to feel sleepy again in the warm sunshine. “A dream it was then,” she sighed. “Strange, though. Most dreams fade upon waking, but this one grows ever stronger on my mind.” She closed her eyes and signed, eased in comfort. Dore smiled, thinking her charge had fallen asleep again. She stood and took her peas inside. Mae did not sleep, though. She listened to the sounds of the early summer garden, the twittering of birds, the trickle of the rivulet that passed through the garden’s southern edge, the warm sigh of the wind as it stirred the rose bushes and she smelled the scent of those blossoms as they drifted on that wind. All was contentment, but as sleep tried to steal upon her again, Mae felt the poignant sadness that her dream had filled her with take hold and she roused again. It was so vivid, this vision, but it was not a memory of image or word as much as of emotion. Her heart was responding to something that she had no conscious memory of hearing or seeing and it disturbed her. It seemed to her that she was dreaming of someone – a singular figure who glowed from within with a strange, clear light. It also seemed that she understood this figure to be a hobbit, though she knew of no tale of the Shire that matched the dream, as she understood it. It seemed this small figure had a great task set before him, and though the figure thought himself too small to accomplish it, he moved through trials unimaginable in an effort to do so. There were images in her dream too – but they were vague and though there were many strange faces there, of elves and big people, and even dwarves, Mae could never see the face of the hobbit clearly. She saw a kingly man with long dark hair and the hobbit seemed to be carrying a crown to him. There was also the image of a great dark expanse of heaving grey water. She knew that to be the sea – though Mae had never even seen it herself – and the sight brought her inexplicably to tears. She opened her eyes to find herself back in the sunny garden. Dore had come to check on her.
“You’re crying! My child! Whatever is the matter? Do you still feel ill?”
Mae felt the tears on her cheeks. “I don’t know!” she cried. “I am suddenly filled with the most profound sorrow I have ever known – and I am not sure why! My dream….” Her voice trailed off and the tears continued to fall. Dore shushed her and took her hand, guiding her back to the safety and warmth of her small house. Obviously, Mae still needed time to mend before she would be whole and fit once more.
Mae did mend, but she kept her dream to herself from that point on. She did not wish to trouble her mistress with what Dore would probably consider trifles. As time when by, the tale unfolded only a little to Mae’s conscious mind, but the images and feelings intensified till she could hardly pass an hour of the day without thinking of them. Other strange happenings were also occurring that were troubling enough to Dore without Mae mentioning her fevered imaginings.
It started innocently enough. When Mae started to once again help Dore deliver babies and mend the hurts of the folk of Bywater and Hobbiton, she seemed to have developed an uncanny ability to guess the gender of the child about to be delivered. Dore was skilled in noting the way a child lay in his mother and making a fair guess from that, but Mae was never wrong, and even more strangely, she seemed to hardly even look at the mother before proclaiming the child’s gender. Truly, it was a skill that would be helpful to a future midwife, but it’s development, following so closely on the heels of Mae’s illness, troubled Dore. There was also the time when the two of them had been called to the home of a farm to the north of Bywater Pool. Mae and Dore had set off late in the evening for the call had been urgent and there had been no time to wait. Fierce rains had been falling all the day and the evening fell swiftly. It was wholly dark when the hobbits started out. Poor Toby, Dore’s eldest son, was hard pressed to keep their small cart from miring in the deep ruts that were forming in the road, especially since he couldn’t see them ahead. As the three approached one of the small streams that fed Bywater Pool, the sound of swiftly rushing water could be heard coming from the darkness ahead. Mae touched Toby’s sleeve and asked him to stop. The tone of her voice sounded as if she were in a dream.
“The bridge is gone…” she whispered. “We could not go down this road much farther. There is need for haste – take the upper road – and hurry – that bridge has held.” She sat back and was silent. Dore stared at her but could not clearly see Mae’s face in the deep gloom. What possessed the girl, Dore did not know, but she tapped Toby’s arm and indicated that he should follow the advice given. Mae seemed to stir after a mile or so and was quite herself by the time they arrived. She had been right about the need for haste, as the child was sorely in need of the medicines Dore had brought. She was also right about the bridge, as it turned out, for the next day it was found that the lower bridge had indeed been washed away by the rain swollen stream.
So went the summer and as the autumn came to the Shire and harvests were brought in, it seemed the promise of spring had been fulfilled. The granaries and barns were full and, though there had been better years in recent memory, there was enough to share for even the poorest hobbit families. September came, and with it an invitation that was delivered to the Browning home addressed to Jack and Dore Browning of Bywater and their son, and to Miss Mae Burrows from Mr. Frodo Baggins. Since the birthdays of both Messer’s Baggins landed on the same day in September, a large party was being planned. The Brownings were surprised to have received an invitation to such a prestigious party – they were a notable enough family, if not very wealthy, but were not of a station that might be expected an invitation to such an auspicious occasion. Mae was delighted to go. Other than her odd recurring dream, she was quite herself again, and as any hobbit maid, she loved parties and presents. She found herself looking forward to the festivities quite eagerly. On the 22nd, at teatime precisely, the guests began arriving at Bag End. Mr. Bilbo and Mr. Frodo greeted them at the door and invited all to the garden where a table had been set with cakes, tea, cold meats, breads and wine. There was also a large barrel of ale in the corner, which boded well that the party would continue into the evening and that refreshments would be plentiful. The Brownings were prompt as befitted their station, and Mr. Bilbo greeted Jack Browning warmly and, as there were few guests yet, brought he and Toby inside to show them around Bag End, something they had never been privileged to see before. Frodo stood beside the ladies and smiled warmly at Mae. Mae blushed, but found his smile contagious.
“I was glad to hear you were feeling better.” he said. “I sent an invitation to tea shortly after we met, but when I received word that you were so ill, I couldn’t help feeling guilty that I had truly caused you harm – despite all your and Missus Dore’s assurances to the contrary. I am afraid it made me hesitate to invite you again.” He bowed cordially towards her and held forth his hand. “But as you see, I have built up my courage since.” Mae smiled broadly. The attention of such a handsome young hobbit was definitely intoxicating and she felt suddenly coy. She took his hand.
For an instant she felt the warm flesh of his palm on hers. Then, without warning, a flash of memory or dream filled her mind. She saw, with crystal clarity, an image that she had never seen so clearly before – that of a hobbit, carried on the back of another, both covered in dust and dirt, their faces scratched, their lips, cracked and dry. Mae’s eyes opened wide and she stared at Frodo in abject horror. The face of the hobbit in her dream was staring back at her – it’s wide, blue eyes beginning to show shock at her reaction to his touch. Suddenly it seemed to Mae that all of the half seen images she had previously thought were fanciful creations of her fever came rocketing back to her and she was for the first time able to see them clearly. They were all of this hobbit, Frodo Baggins – older, perhaps, but not much so, and others, some hobbits also, whom she didn’t recognize. There was also for the first time an image of the old wizard and a horrible shriveled dark creature that she could barely see for the shadows around it. She felt again the horror and sorrow engulf her and she swooned. Dore cried out and reached to catch her, but Frodo was faster. He picked her up and gently carried her into the hole and laid her on a couch in the first small bedroom. Dore followed in great distress, wringing her hands. Frodo knelt and touched Mae’s brow. She sobbed softly, grasped Frodo’s hand and buried her face into it. Frodo was shocked to feel hot tears on his palm. He looked up at Dore at a complete loss for what to do. The old midwife was also at a loss and seemed quite upset by Mae’s behavior.
“I don’t know, Mr. Baggins, she’s not done this since her illness – I’d thought she was quite over these spells!” Dore looked about to cry herself. “I don’t know what has come over the child!”
“It’s alright,” Frodo replied. “There’s no harm done. Perhaps the excitement…” Frodo looked down at Mae. She had stopped sobbing but held his hand to her face, her eyes were closed but the tears still streamed down her cheeks. “Perhaps she is unused to such stimulation. We can let her rest in here, till she is recovered.” Frodo wondered how he was going to disentangle himself. Mae showed no sign of relinquishing his hand – indeed she seemed to be most attached to it – as if she lived by its touch. Frodo was beginning to feel uncomfortable, but was also stirred. When she had looked at him in wonder, Frodo had received the full power of her luminous green eyes. It was like he had never seen her before, never realized how startlingly beautiful those eyes and the hobbit lass who possessed them, were. There had also been an expression in those eyes that had compelled him, a look that seemed at once to see him completely and to be searching for more, as if she could not see enough. He would not soon forget that look.
“Mae, dear,…” Dore pulled the girl’s hands away from Frodo’s and she held them, palms together. “You rest here a moment, and we will make ready to leave. I’ll go for Jack and Toby…”
“No…” Mae whispered. She still sounded tearful, but was recovering. “We won’t leave. I felt faint, but it is past. I will be quite all right with a bit of rest, really. And I wouldn’t wish to be the cause of missing such a lovely party.”
“Miss Burrows, are you certain? You looked quite ill just now.” Frodo glanced at Dore but the older hobbit shook her head uncertainly.
“I will be quite all right, I assure you.” Her voice was sounding stronger, but she was not looking at him. “I should be far more upset to find my foolish outburst had been the cause of distress for you and your guests, Mr. Baggins.”
Dore and Frodo looked at her for a moment, both unsure, till Dore huffed a bit and nodded. “Well, if that’s the way you’ll want it, child, we’ll oblige. But I’d dare say, keep your options open. We’ll leave if you ask, if the fit comes on you again. In the meantime, you rest here, with Mr. Baggins’ leave of course, till you feel up to coming out.” She looked inquiringly at Frodo and he nodded confirming. Mae now looked up at him from where she lay, but winced and looked away quickly, as if the sight of his face pained her. There was so much sorrow in that look, so much,..pity? Frodo could not be certain, but the expression seemed piteous, though the reason for such an expression escaped him. He ushered Dore out of the room and pulled the door to.
When Mae was alone she sat up on the couch and drew a deep breath. She knew what she had seen in her dream was not pure fancy, and she knew it as clearly as if she had lived the experience. Like the little things she had been predicting, the things that disturbed Dore if she mentioned them, Mae thought her vision of Frodo must be a vision of some future time. It was what was to happen, not a dream. Mae had to that point not accepted the thought that any of these visions were more than guesses, or dreams, though it had crossed her mind that they might be premonitions. It had been just too fantastic a notion to be believed. It had been far easier to dismiss them or not mention them, but her reaction at the door of Bag End had been real – she could not dismiss that – and her sudden comprehension of the events and their relevance to Frodo Baggins could also not be denied. For some unexplainable reason, she had never been more sure of anything. She looked to the door, pulled to but not shut and saw movement through the open slit. More guests were arriving. Mae sat, miserable, in the little room and had no idea what she could possibly do. The dream, or rather, premonition, was still incomplete. It was not like a story, with a beginning, middle and end, as proper stories were told, but was a string of images that flitted through her mind strung together with intensely strong emotions. She still had no idea of the ‘why’, what it was that was so dreadfully important that Frodo would one day risk his life for it, but she knew somehow that it was dreadfully important, and that there was nothing she could do to stop him. Indeed, what could she even say? Mae had a pretty good idea of what the folk of the Shire would think if she started claiming she could tell what the future held. It was certain they would think the fever had affected her brain. But what about Frodo Baggins? She ached to warn him, council him, protect him…but she couldn’t even surely tell from what. And she was certain that if she tried to explain herself, she would only succeed in making him even more leery of her. And what if,… despite her certainty, she were wrong? Questions and doubts whirled in Mae’s head till she felt positively dizzy. She must stop this before she drove herself mad. She looked to the door and carefully stood. She needed to do something, anything, to get her mind out of this turmoil.
Mae pulled the door open to the hall where a couple of guests were milling. Mr. Bilbo was showing them around Bag End, just as he had done Mr. Browning. Across the room, Frodo stood, shaking hands with a guest, but when Mae appeared in the doorway, he looked up and smiled at her. Mae gasped softly, but it went unheard by those around her.
It was as if Mae had never seen him before. She wondered how on earth she could have been so blind the first time she had met him. He was standing at ease with his guests, but obviously trying to gracefully move them on out to the garden, and glancing her way as if to indicate that he would be coming over to see her as soon as the guests were out the door. Mae watched, fascinated, as he gracefully directed one elderly hobbit towards the front door. He looked so bright compared to all the other hobbits in the room; so singular and fair. As if he were cut from a completely different cloth than the common folk surrounding him. Perhaps it was his youth or energy, Mae could not tell, but she could not keep her eyes off him. He turned to come towards her. Mae blushed and quickly looked away so that her expression would not betray her.
“Feeling yourself again?” he asked. Mae swallowed, hoping her own voice would not waver.
“Oh, yes…” she said softly. “I am so sorry if I upset everyone. I don’t know what came over me. I feel…” She paused and looked up at him. “…better.” *How blue his eyes are.* She thought. *How fresh and fine he is. What force in this world could ask to sacrifice such beauty?* Mae drew a quick breath, but before Frodo could say anything else, she held her hand out for him to take. Thinking she wished him to guide her, Frodo took it. Mae closed her eyes for just a moment as her hand touched his, but steeled herself and motioned for him to show her to the garden. As they walked, Mae seemed almost not to see her surroundings, rather trusting to Frodo to keep her feet where they should be. Her grip on his hand was not the light touch of social necessity, but firm, like she drew some strength or knowledge from it. It was a short walk to the garden patio, through the small gate and to where the guest’s tables were set and it was over too quickly for Mae. She did not let go his hand immediately but turned and studied his face, burning it into her mind. Now it was Frodo’s turn to be taken aback. Her eyes mesmerized him – they looked at him so openly, he could almost fall into those depths. Frodo gaped and stuttered a bit, at a loss for what to say, but feeling as if he should say something. Mae smiled, but kindly – no, Frodo thought, more than kindly. He felt a bit of alarm as it began to dawn on him what the nature of his own reaction was beginning to be.
“Excuse me!” he managed to get out. He took back his hand and hurried towards the garden gate, nearly tripping over a chair on his way, and catching himself most ungracefully. Over his shoulder he saw that Mae was still watching him, but unlike the other guests who had noticed it, she did not laugh at his near fall. Frodo took an unsteady breath and stumbled up the stairs to the entrance of Bag End. Bilbo was still shaking hands with guests. Frodo took up his position beside him, but when the older hobbit spoke to him, it took Frodo a moment to realize he was being addressed. “What?” he asked still a bit breathless.
“What’s the matter, Frodo?” Bilbo asked. “Were you having difficulties with some of our guests?”
“NO!” Frodo said quickly. Too quickly. Bilbo looked at him suspiciously. “I mean,… it was nothing,” Frodo assured him. “I was escorting some of the ladies to the garden.” Bilbo raised an eyebrow in amusement but said nothing. Frodo was still too flustered to take notice.
The party was deemed a success by all who attended, for the food was plentiful and of very high quality and there was ale and good wine that lasted far into the evening. After the main meal, gifts were presented to the guests and Dore was thrilled with the soft leather bag she received. Mae had gotten a small brooch shaped like a butterfly with emerald green glass in the wings. It was dwarvish work and very lovely. She was astonished and flattered at the gift, and wondered which of the two Bagginses had chosen it for her. Frodo, after an initial flustered blush, avoided Mae all evening. Though it didn’t seem to deter her, he noticed. She watched him either openly or in sidelong glances from beneath her long brown lashes. Frodo was worried that by his gift and attention he had somehow given her a false impression. But what he found even more disquieting was the growing feeling that perhaps he had unconsciously wanted to impress this pretty hobbit maid. That thought was what was making him the most uncomfortable. He had never before had such a visceral response to anyone nor had he ever felt quite so out of control of his own feelings. It never crossed his mind that Mae herself might have been to blame for some of them – being a good gentlehobbit, he took all the responsibility for her obvious interest upon himself and the guilt he felt made him completely unable to look at her.
As the guests departed, Frodo made a point of busying himself with ‘goodbyes’ and ‘thank you for comings’, carefully avoiding eye contact with Mae even when he took his leave of her. She did not seem upset or put off, but still looked at him openly with thought and wonder. Though usually a well-spoken lad, he found words failed him utterly when he stood before her – a fact that Bilbo noted with much more obvious amusement this time than before. At least the thought of Bilbo being amused at him, took Frodo’s mind in another direction and he was able to regain some composure to complete his duties as host gracefully until all the guests had departed.
Bilbo said nothing concerning Frodo’s behavior, for which Frodo was very grateful. He wasn’t sure what he would be able to say in response, at any rate. That night he found sleep didn’t come easily. It was as if the darkness had given license to his imagination and the thoughts that drifted unbidden into it fueled his embarrassment. It wasn’t until late in the night that he drifted off in exhaustion, and if he still dreamed then, at least he was too tired to remember them.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.