20. September Sunshine
It was pure pleasure, having the Captains there. Even reliving his worst nightmares for Frodo's book, like he said, Mr. Pippin was full of spirit and fun. He joked with us all constantly, telling impossible stories for Fosco's benefit, but always with an eye on Mr. Frodo to see his reaction. When he got one of Frodo's rare laughs, his face lit up and you could see that's what he'd been trying for all along.
Breakfast was the one meal we all took together, for Mr. Frodo wouldn't give up his early morning spot by the kitchen fire, no matter how Sam tried to move them into the dining room.
"There's a chill in that room in the morning, even in the middle of July, never mind September! You get a fire going in there, Sam, and it will be livable by lunchtime, but not at this hour. Quit trying to chase me out of my warm corner and give me some tea!"
He was holding out his hands to the fire as if seeking its warmth, and he glared at Sam with a ferocious scowl, jesting. Mr. Pippin ducked away in mock terror.
"No impersonations of the Old Took at breakfast, Frodo, for heaven's sake! Rosie, quick, some ham and eggs – if my revered ancestor is joining us for the meal, I need something to fortify me!"
"Who is the Old Took?" Fosco asked.
"Oh, he was my great-great-grandfather – Captain Merry's, too – and Mr. Frodo's great-grandfather. He lived to be a hundred and thirty years old, and he held the Tookland in terrified awe his entire life. Not just hobbits, either, by any means. He was a friend of Gandalf the Grey, and I'm willing to wager Gandalf never called him a 'fool of a Took'! He took no nonsense from anyone, did old Gerontius! Bilbo himself stood to attention when he talked of him."
Merry laughed and held out his mug to be filled. "Did you ever think, Pippin, what old Gerontius would have made of the world outside the Shire? The Ents, for instance – don't you think he and Treebeard would have got along?"
"Oh aye, two of the same sort, they would have been! The Old Took would've just stood there, his head about up to Treebeard's knee, and told him what he thought of his wild old forest! And then he'd have sent out hobbits to every thinly populated bit of the Shire, trying if he could find the Entwives for him. From what Bilbo said of him, he had a kind enough heart, if you once got on his good side."
"Would he really have been just up to Treebeard's knee?" Fosco asked in wonder. "How big is an Ent, anyway?"
"Big enough to squash you flat, if he stepped on you, my lad," Pippin told him solemnly, but his eyes twinkled. "Aye, but they were fine allies to have in battle, the Ents were. They had the walls of Isengard down around Saruman's ears before he knew what he was about, and Gimli said the orcs around Helm's Deep fled into that forest the Ents brought up before the walls and none of them was ever seen again. He thought the trees must've eaten them –" He went silent all of a sudden, looking at his plate, his mouth shut in a straight line.
Mr. Merry nodded and laid down his fork as if he wasn't hungry any more. "That's a fate I wouldn't wish on anyone, not even an orc. Come on, Frodo; we seem to have moved from table talk to history. You'd better start writing it down – I don't fancy telling it twice."
I started clearing the table. Seemed like even the Captains had memories they found hard to deal with, and I thought of Sam. When he was awake, he was the cheerful, practical hobbit I had loved all my life – other than he was wiser, braver, than he had been, you'd never have known he'd been to far places, or lived through awful danger. But he had nightmares, sometimes, when he'd wake up in a cold sweat, flailing his arms and muttering. I soothed him then, and he'd go back to sleep with his arms tight around me, his head up against my heart as if it eased him to hear it beating.
September was moving along, and it was apple harvest. As little and agile as Fosco was, he could climb to the highest branches and bring down the fruit in a sack he wore over his shoulders. This year there'd be no need to shake the trees and bruise those topmost apples.
Marigold came the day I made apple butter. I'd borrowed my Mum's big copper kettle, and we set it over a fire out back of the chicken coop. It was a cool, bright day, warm enough to be comfortable with just a sweater, cool enough that standing by the fire stirring the thick brown stuff was a delight. It smelled spicy and sweet, and brought back happy memories of the farm, making the butter with Mum, and my brothers coming around to beg for tastes on a wooden spoon.
"I've got a secret," I told Mari.
"Bet I can guess," she said with a grin. "You want blue or pink for your baby blanket?"
"Marigold Gamgee! Did Mum tell you?"
"No – you've just got a look in your eye, Rosie. You look like the cat's been in the cream."
I giggled. "I guess that's how I feel, too. When I'm not feeling too sick to move – my word, Mari, they call it morning sick, but I feel sick all day long! Mum gave me some ginger – that helps a bit."
"What does Sam say about it?"
"I haven't told him yet – Mum said not."
"He'll make a good father – just look how he is with that lad you got staying here. I never thought I'd see day my brother took up with any of Ted Sandyman's kin! How long is he staying, that Fosco?"
"Till Bloomie finds someplace else for him, away from Ted."
"He'll be here a good long time, then. Nobody but Mr. Frodo would have no brother of Ted's living with them."
There was a high, caroling laugh from over in the orchard, and I looked to see Fos almost at the top of one of the trees hard by the fence, waving madly at us.
"Hi, Mistress Rose!" he yelled. "Can I have a taste?"
"Hey, you, Fosco!" I heard Sam's deep voice. "Watch what you're about, I don't want to be scraping you up off the grass!"
"On your bread at teatime," I called to him, and he disappeared down amid the branches. "I don't think we mind how long he stays," I told Marigold.
What she said got me thinking, though. It was too bad, how folk blamed Fosco and Bloomie for Ted's crimes, and then Ted bullied them on top of it. I didn't know how Bloomie was managing, but Fos had settled in at Bag End like he'd always belonged there. His room held a collection of bright colored feathers he'd picked up in the woods – Sam had sent him there one day, scavenging for kindling for the fireplaces. There was a row of horse chestnuts, too, that he was drilling for conkers, and a big artist's fungus he was planning to draw a picture on, soon's he decided what the picture was to be of.
I was still helping him with his reading after breakfast, and it made me eager for Sam to teach me more, so I could stay ahead of Fos. Mr. Frodo came back out to the kitchen for something one morning and found us working together.
"Now there's a sight to gladden a schoolmaster's heart," he said, coming to look over our shoulders. "You'll be way ahead of everyone else, when we start school again, Fosco." He looked critically at the words I had written for Fos to copy. "You're developing a nice hand, Rose. How's your reading coming along?"
I smiled up at him, glad to have won his praise. "I can read the bits of verse Sam writes for me. I haven't tried reading anything else."
"I'll have to dig out some books for you, then. The ones Sam started on, when he was learning, must be around someplace."
True to his word, after dinner he called Sam into the study. This once he had managed to get an evening at home, sending the Captains off to the Dragon without him, and in a little while he and Sam came down the passage carrying a tall bookcase between them.
"Set it between the windows, Sam," he gasped. "You've been doing such a good job teaching your wife to read, it's time we gave her something to practice on. Something for you to read, too, when winter comes and you have a minute to sit down! Come on back now and help me pick out the books for the kitchen library."
Before long they called Fosco and me in, and it was, "Here, Rosie, can you read this?" and, "Look, Fos, a book on the birds of the Shire – which ones do you have feathers from, do you think?" By the time Merry and Pippin got home, we'd turned the study into a shambles of books and maps and rolled parchments, digging into the far reaches of bookcases and dusty cupboards.
"Good night, he's moving house again! Are you coming out to join us at Crickhollow, cousin, bag and Baggins?" Pippin exclaimed.
"Baggins and books, I'd say," Merry corrected him. "What on earth are you up to, Frodo?"
I don't know yet what got into Mr. Frodo that night – the study was a mess, we were all smudged with dust and sweat from shoving piles of books around, and we'd been teasing and joking together, having such a good time. I look back now and I wonder, sometimes – if we could've kept Fosco with us, or if Frodo had spent more time with Merry and Pippin –
"What are you doing, Frodo?" Mr. Merry asked.
"Tearing the place apart looking for something I lost," Frodo said, leaning into a big empty cupboard. "Bilbo had this ring –"
The Captains stared at him, mouths open, as if they feared for his sanity, and he sat back on his heels and laughed until the tears ran down his cheeks.
"Merry – Pippin – oh, Elbereth, if you could see your faces –!"
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.