2. Rosie Takes Hold
Everyone assumed they must be dead, killed by some wicked, nameless thing in the Old Forest. Mum sat in the kitchen crying into her apron; you could hear her sobs all over the house. Sam and Marigold had been so much in her care, after their mother died, that they were almost like two of her own brood.
"Someone's got to go to Hobbiton and tell the Gaffer," my father said. His voice sounded thick with tears. Sam was a favorite with him, steady and faithful.
"Sound as a bell," Da used to say. "Sam Gamgee will always ring true, however you strike him."
And now Sam had disappeared into the Old Forest and not come out. The reality of it hit me suddenly, and I staggered against the wall, clinging to the doorframe for support. Jolly caught me round the waist.
"Come on, sis, you better lie down a while."
He led me down the hall and tucked me into bed. Jolly is my twin – we may fight like cats and dogs, but of all the family, we understand each other best.
I lay there in the quiet bedroom, stunned, remembering. I had been so angry when he went away without asking me to marry him, after thinking all summer that this was our chance. I'd even wondered if I had misread him – maybe he didn't really care, maybe I was just another kid sister to him, like Marigold. I had always known I loved Sam, but maybe I had only imagined that he felt the same.
But now, thinking it was too late, thinking I would never see him again, I had no doubts. I remembered his bone-crunching hug at the bottom of the lane, the night before they left, and I knew he had loved me, for true. I cried then, and couldn't stop.
I cried off and on all night, and when morning came I stayed in bed, half-dozing and unwilling anyway to get up and face the day. Sometime in the forenoon the door opened, and Sam's sister rushed in and threw herself on top of me.
"Rose, Rose, I've just heard -- your father came up and told the Gaffer!"
She was crying up a storm, and I dragged myself out from under so I could get my arms round her.
"Oh, Rose, it can't be true, can it? Not Sam, not our Sam—"
And like a thunderclap it hit me that no, it couldn't be true.
Not Sam, killed off just like that by some nameless horror, some spook out of the Old Forest. Sam was daylight and hope and plain hobbit sense. You couldn't imagine Sam done in by some nebulous thing creeping out of the shadows. Sam would laugh in its face and hit it with a garden hoe.
Suddenly I just flat out didn't believe it.
"No, Mari, not our Sam! I don't care what they say, I don't believe he's dead! And think, he was with Mr. Frodo, wasn't he? Remember all the stories about Frodo's uncle Bilbo? They say he fought a dragon and got captured by goblins and all kinds of awful things, but he still came home in the end, safe and sound."
Marigold raised her head from my pillow, her face blotchy from crying.
"But Rose, do you think those stories about Bilbo are true?"
To be honest, I had never more than half believed them. Sam had grown up on Bilbo's tales, and to him they were as factual as the small talk down at the pub, but I had always taken them with more than a grain of salt. Now, however, I clung to them as a promise of what could be – if Bilbo Baggins could go off into the Wild and face all kinds of dangers, and come back alive, then there was hope for Sam.
"Yes, I do," I said stoutly. "And Mr. Frodo is a whole lot like his uncle, everybody says so. They're lucky, that's what they are, all the Bagginses. Sam will be all right with Mr. Frodo. You'll see, Mari – they'll come riding home one of these days, just like Mr. Bilbo did, when everyone thought he was dead and they were auctioning off Bag End!"
My father looked troubled when Marigold repeated this to him.
"Well, it's true enough, Marigold, as far as it goes. Mr. Bilbo certainly did come back, large as life and mighty put out to find his belongings on the auction block! But as for his stories of goblins and dragons and spiders the size of a farm wagon …."
"All we know is, they went into the Old Forest," I said. "There's no reason to say anything happened to them in there, anything bad. Maybe they went right on through to the Road, maybe Mr. Frodo took a notion to go look for his uncle."
"Maybe," said Da, rubbing his chin. "And maybe there's more to this than we know. I'm wondering who broke into Crickhollow – and why they left Fredegar Bolger to guard the place."
And that was a good question, I had to admit. I wondered what else Fatty Bolger might know about the whole mysterious business.
I walked Marigold back to Hobbiton – she couldn't leave the Gaffer alone, of course.
"We ought to talk to Fatty Bolger," I said. "I guess he knows what's going on, if anyone does."
"Well, but will he talk to us, Rose? I mean …"
I knew what she meant. Fatty is a gentlehobbit, and rich besides. He'd never done more than nod to either of us, if he passed us on the road. He talked to my brothers, when he met them at the pub, but my father would skin me alive if I set foot in The Green Dragon, and the Gaffer was the same way. *
"He'll talk to us – he has to! He's the only one who knows what happened at Crickhollow."
I racked my brain. Well, there was his nickname. Folks didn't call him Fatty just to be complimentary – Mr. Fredegar Bolger was a very substantial hobbit in more ways than one. He liked good food, did Fatty, and Marigold and I were both fine cooks, if I say so who shouldn't.
"What's your prize dish, Marigold? If you really wanted to impress someone with your cooking, what would you make?"
"Mushroom-sausage pie. Sam says – Sam always said – he'd die for my mushroom-sausage pie." She stopped still in the middle of the road, her face in her hands.
I pulled her close, put my arm around her. "Buck up, Mari, that's a girl. You'll make mushroom pie for Sam again one of these days, I'm sure you will, but first you're going to make one for Fatty Bolger. And I'll make him a black walnut cheesecake that'll have his tongue hanging out. We'll just see if Fatty will talk to us!"
And he did, of course. As it turned out, Fatty was eager to talk, and we could have gone right to his house without the bribes of food, and he still would have welcomed us and poured out his story. Not that he turned down the food, not at all.
The thing was, Fatty wasn't too popular in the neighborhood just then. Once it came out that Mr. Frodo and Sam had vanished in the Old Forest without a trace, folks looked around for someone to blame, and Fatty was right there handy. Mr. Frodo might have been considered an odd bird in some ways, but he was well-liked for all that, and Sam was a general favorite. Fatty should have stopped them going in there, folks said, and it was no manner of use for Fatty to say they wouldn't listen.
But though Fatty was willing to tell his story, it was no more than we had heard already. Mr. Merry had gotten some pack ponies and loaded them up, and the four hobbits had gone into the Old Forest at first light, saying goodbye to Fatty at the Hedge.
"But Mr. Fredegar, why didn't you just come on home after that?" I asked, dishing him out another portion of mushrooms. "Were you waiting for them to come back?"
"No, no -- knew they weren't coming back. I was just making the house look lived in, you know, so no one would realize they were gone."
"What did it matter, whether anyone realized?" Marigold had found the beer barrel in Fatty's kitchen, and she was keeping his tankard full. Mushroom-sausage pie can make a person pretty thirsty, I guess because the sausage meat is so salty.
"Well, Frodo didn't want to be followed, you see. They'd had a scare on the road already, some strange riders in black cloaks who seemed to be looking for him. That's why they went in the Old Forest in the first place, throw those riders off the track, don't you know."
I nodded at Mari behind his back – she'd told me about the rider in black who questioned the Gaffer outside his door, the evening they all left Bag End, but Fatty hadn't mentioned them before. Now we were getting somewhere.
"Are you ready for some of that cheesecake, Mr. Fredegar? It goes real well with sherry, if you have some in the house."
Of course he had sherry in the house – the finest – and Mari and I each had a glass to keep him company. And Mari made sure his glass stayed full.
"Where were they going, after they got through the Forest? Are they looking for Mr. Bilbo?"
Fatty by now was completely relaxed, jovial and expansive. I cut him another piece of cheesecake, and he dug in with no loss of enthusiasm.
"Not looking for Bilbo, no. Going to Rivendell, looking for the Elves. Not sure I believe in Elves, myself. Never saw one, at any rate."
"I never did either," Marigold said, filling his glass again. "Did you, Rose?"
"Not me, but Sam said he did, once. What do they want with the Elves, Mr. Fredegar?"
"Just call me Fatty, Rose. Everyone calls me Fatty. Frodo is taking Bilbo's ring to the Elves, that's why. Very dangerous, that ring. Turns out the thing belongs to the Enemy. Can't think how Bilbo came to have it."
I was taking a sip of sherry, and I almost dropped the glass. "The Enemy? Bilbo Baggins had a ring that belonged to – him? The Dark Lord of Mordor?"
Too late, Fatty realized what he'd said. He put down his fork and looked from me to Marigold.
"You girls came here to pry that out of me."
Marigold blushed and hung her head, but I looked him in the eye.
"Yes, we did," I admitted. "Or anyway, to find out why they left Crickhollow, why they went in the Old Forest. Oh Fatty, we had to know! Sam is Marigold's brother, and he's my – I mean –" Suddenly I ran out of words.
Fatty laid his hand on mine. "I know, Rose. Anyone who knows Sam at all, knows how he feels about Rosie Cotton." He sighed, looked at the bottle of sherry, and decided against it.
"I think I've had enough. More than enough, in fact." He corked the bottle.
"All right, girls. I'll tell you what I know, and I only hope you'll keep the secret better than I have. It's a dangerous secret, you know. Dangerous for you to know it, and dangerous for Sam and the others, if word gets out where they're going."
"We love him, Fatty. We won't tell." My lips felt stiff as I said it, and Marigold nodded, her face solemn.
"Well, you know most of it already. Bilbo got hold of this ring on his journey, and he left it to Frodo. The thing is magic, makes you invisible, and that's all they knew about it until this past spring, when up pops Gandalf with the news that the ring really belongs to the Dark Lord, and what's more, he's looking for it high and low, to get his power back. Gandalf told Frodo to get the ring out of the Shire, take it to Rivendell, to the Elves. So Frodo sells Bag End to give himself an excuse for leaving, and he moves lock, stock and barrel to Crickhollow, but he knew all along he wasn't going to stay there. It was just a dodge, so he could slip out of the Shire quiet like, nobody the wiser."
"Did Sam know?" I asked.
"Oh yes, Sam knew all about it. Frodo was ready to go off by himself, but Gandalf told him nothing doing, take Sam along. What Frodo didn't know, until the last evening at Crickhollow, was that Sam had told Merry and Pippin, and they were going too. Strength in numbers, you see. But Gandalf was supposed go with them, only he never came back to the Shire in time. He told Frodo not to wait past his birthday, but then he didn't come back. Frodo didn't know whether to wait for him or go, but he went, and a lucky thing he did! Those Black Riders were chasing them all the way to Buckland, and they broke into Crickhollow only a night or two after the lads got away. That’s why they went in the Old Forest, to throw off the chase."
He looked again at the bottle of sherry, then shook his head and got up, putting it away in the cupboard.
"I've had enough," he said again. "Well, girls, now you know as much as I do. I don't know what happened after they went into the Forest, but I hear those Black Riders went through Buckland like a knife through cheese, and rode down the guards at the gate getting away. Between the Old Forest and the Riders, I don't know which is worse. I only hope they've met up with Gandalf by now."
"Gandalf came to see the Gaffer a few days after Sam left," said Marigold. "They talked for a little while, and Gandalf seemed very put out, and then he rode off toward Buckland in a tearing hurry."
Fatty whistled. "Did he, now! Well, that's hopeful, at any rate. Keep your fingers crossed, my dears. If only Gandalf catches up to them, things may turn out all right in spite of everything."
In the movie, Rose works in the Green Dragon, but this story is book canon. In the book she's a farmer's daughter, & I'm picturing the pubs as very much a masculine environment, where a "nice" girl would be out of place.
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.