16. Remembering Orcs
Mr. Frodo said no more, but went to wash his hands. I served the dinner, and all the while he was silent, sitting at the head of the table as if deep in thought. When he spoke at last, it was to Sam, not to the lads at all.
“Do you remember those orcs in Mordor, Sam?”
Sam looked at him from the corner of his eye. What was Mr. Frodo up to?
“Yes, Mr. Frodo, I remember a lot of orcs in Mordor. Just orcs in general, or did you have some special one in mind?”
“Those two that were tracking us in the Morgai. Do you remember what you said about them?”
“Wait, let me think. There was a big one, seemed like he was the boss, one of the Uruks, wasn’t he? And a little black fellow, the tracker. Gollum had muddied up our trail – that’s one time he was good for something – and the Uruk was all over the tracker because they couldn’t find us. They got to fighting, and the little tracker shot an arrow in the big one and run off.”
"And you said –"
“I said, if this nice friendliness would spread around in Mordor, half our work would be done for us. And you said that was the spirit of Mordor, that hatefulness.”
“Yes. And remember, Sam, that first night back in the Shire? When we started finding out what had been going on, and some of the lads were afraid to talk to us in case someone carried tales back to Lotho, you said we’d come home to a lot of ‘orc talk’. And you were right.”
The two boys had been listening while they ate, plainly expecting one of Mr. Frodo’s tales, but he didn’t say any more, just took another helping of chicken.
“Are you lads getting enough?” he asked them. “Rosie, give Fosco another dumpling, will you? He needs some ballast, or when the autumn winds come he’s apt to blow away on us.”
Balco muttered something that I didn’t catch.
“I’m sorry, Balco, what did you say?” Mr. Frodo looked at the lad, and he flushed to the roots of his hair and burst out,
“I said, it’d do him good to go hungry! His folks had plenty while the rest of the Shire scrambled for what they could find!”
“Hmm.” Mr. Frodo took another bite. “What do you say, Fosco, was there plenty of food at your house during the Troubles?”
Fosco looked up at him like a small animal caught in a trap. “No! Do I look like I’d been eating fat? I know Ted had enough, and he had pipeweed and beer, too, what hobbits mostly couldn't get. But he hardly ever came home anyway– him and his pals holed up in the Bag End cellar, when they weren’t going round the Shire helping the ruffians with their “gathering”. When he did come home, he was drunk, and we stayed out of his way, Mum and me."
“Why was that?”
“He’s mean when he’s drunk, Ted is. He hits Mum, even, and if I tell him leave her alone, he beats me up good.” He looked down at his plate. “When I get big –" He didn’t finish.
Frodo’s voice was soft. "When you get big –"
“I’ll kill him.”
There wasn't a sound in the room. Sam opened his mouth and shut it again. Frodo poured himself another mug of tea.
“And after that?” he said finally.
“What do you mean?” Fosco sounded wary.
“Well, you won’t be able to stay in Hobbiton, after you kill your brother. I don’t know just what the Mayor and the Thain would do about it – we’ve never had a situation like that, in the whole history of the Shire – but I’m sure they wouldn’t let you stay. Or your mother either, probably. I suppose you’d have to go out to Bree, or even farther. Probably farther – the tale would follow you to Bree, and a murderer wouldn’t be welcome there, either. I feel sorry for you, Fosco.”
“I’m more sorry for his mother! One son a bully and a traitor – not to mention a fool, but that’s no crime – and the other plotting murder! Don’t hardly sound like the Shire at all.”
“No, it sounds more like the orcs, doesn’t it Sam? I never had a brother, so I can’t say I really understand – did you have trouble with your older brothers beating you up?”
“The Gaffer wouldn’t’ve allowed no such nonsense, Mr. Frodo. Not that my brothers were anything like Ted Sandyman – that Ted, he was a bully from the day he first walked out his garden gate – but any rough stuff, my Gaffer put it down quick and hard.”
“Mine, too.” It was Balco, and I looked round in surprise. “Me and Bingo got to fighting one day, and Da made us carry an iron ploughshare by hand, four miles to the farm to deliver it, instead of taking the wagon. Him holding one side and me the other – Da said he’d teach us to get along, if he didn’t do nothing else all day.”
“He’s a wise man, your father,” said Frodo.
“My Da thought it was funny, when Ted pounded me,” Fosco said softly. "He said I was a runt."
I tried to imagine my Da reacting that way, did one of my big brothers hurt any of the little ones. Not ever in this world, I thought. They wrestled and had sparring matches, for sure, but it was good-natured, and the time Tom bumped Nibs into the barn wall by accident and gave him a black eye, Tom felt worse about it than Nibs himself. He did Nibsie’s chores the rest of the week to make up, and Da never had to say a word.
“Da used to beat Mum, too.” Fosco didn't look up from his mug of tea, and he followed this shocking statement with a long drink, till he had to come up for air.
“And that’s why Ted thinks it’s all right to do the same.” Mr. Frodo’s voice was mild, but his eyes looked like someone had been beating him up.
“What about now, Fosco? Is Ted living at home?” Sam asked.
“Aye, he’s there,” Fosco said bitterly. “Comes in late, drunk, and busts things up afore he passes out on the couch in the kitchen. Sleeps till the middle of the afternoon, and Mum dasn’t cook or make any noise to wake him up. And when he does wake up, she has to look sharp to get a meal for him, or he knocks her around. I wanted to stay and protect her, like, but she won't let me so I keep away till he leaves with his mates. She says she'd stay clear of him too, but she's afraid he’d burn the place down, getting his own meal.”
"Where do you go, when you can't go home?" said Frodo.
Fosco didn't answer, and Balco shifted in his chair, reached for another piece of bread, drew his hand back, picked up his spoon, set it down. The silence got uncomfortably long, and Frodo looked at Balco and raised his eyebrows.
"He was hiding out under the bridge." Balco was looking over in the corner of the room as if there was something there to see, which there wasn't. "We chased him out, us lads, told him to go on home. A week or two ago, it was. I don't know where he goes now."
"I climb one of the trees in the orchard." He looked at Frodo pleadingly. "I don't pick nothing, honest! Nor I don't break any branches; I'm careful! I have to go somewheres, Mr. Frodo –"
The child was fighting back tears, knuckling his eyes and sitting up very straight. Mr. Frodo pushed back his chair.
"Come here, lad."
Fosco stared at him a long moment, as if deciding whether to run. At last he scrambled down from his chair and went to stand before Frodo. Sam's shirt was like a tent on him, hanging almost to his ankles, and I wondered suddenly how old he was, how many years between him and Ted.
Frodo rested his hands lightly on the child's shoulders, talking to him as one hobbit to another.
"You're a brave lad, trying to defend your mother, but that isn't your task, Fosco. That's for grown hobbits to take in hand, and we will, now we know there's a problem. Your task is to grow up to be a hobbit your mother can be proud of, and that she can depend on when she gets old. It sounds as if she's had a great many things to make her sorry. I don't think you want to add to that."
Fosco shook his head without speaking, looking into Frodo's eyes.
"So you can't kill Ted, you see, because that would not help your mother; it would only give her more to be sorry about. But I think it would be a good idea if you learned to defend yourself from him, and from any other hobbits who try to bully you."
And so help me, if Balco didn't speak up, as serious and respectful as Sam would've been, talking to the master!
"I'll learn him, Mr. Frodo. I'll learn him to fight, so no one can beat him up. My cousin used to torment me when I was little, and I learned how to fight back against someone bigger. I don't have to any more –" He grinned, and so did we all – he was near as big as Sam, not an inviting target for any bully. "I still remember how, though. I can learn him."
"Good! You teach him to defend himself, and I'll see what can be done to protect his mother. And now you'd better be getting home, both of you. Rosie has the washing up to do, and I need to be working on my book."
"Mr. Frodo, wait! Fosco can't go home like that – well, look at him, in Sam's shirt! I'll have to see what I can do with his shirt first."
"Nor when he gets his own shirt back, I don't fancy him climbing around in the orchard, neither. You come to me, lad, when you get your clothes on. I'll keep you out of harm's way – keep you busy, too, mind!" Sam turned to Frodo. "You might give a thought to how you're going to keep his mother safe, Mr. Frodo, before you lose yourself in that book again."
Frodo sighed. "You're right, of course. First things first. Balco, will you take a letter to the Quick Post for me? Wait while I write it; I'll only be a moment."
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.