24. Fosco's Question
Sunshine seemed to have deserted the Shire. The days were overcast, when it wasn't actually pouring rain, and there was a dank chill in the air that felt like it got right in your bones. Fosco was kept busy splitting wood, keeping the fires going. There was little work could be done outdoors in such weather, and Sam took over some of the cooking for me.
"Sit down and put your feet up, Rosie, like your Mum told you. You can read to me, if you've a mind, from that book Mr. Frodo gave you."
School was still in session, and since it was too wet most days for the lads to take their break outside, Frodo started teaching them chess. At first he had them watch while he and Sam played, to learn how the pieces moved. After a couple days of this, him and Balco teamed up against Sam and the rest of the school, but Sam thought that was a poor arrangement.
"You'd do better by yourself, Mr. Frodo! Balco's got no more notion of strategy than Tom Cotton's prize bull – his one idea is charge straight in till you flatten your opponent by sheer weight! Don't work in chess, that plan."
Frodo laughed. "Exactly, Sam! Balco handicaps our side enough to make the game interesting – I'm sorry, but you're not going to beat me just yet, especially not with the whole school 'helping' you! I hope this rain keeps on – next week I want to put you and Fosco together against the rest of us. I think Fos will make a chess player."
"If you say so, Mr. Frodo." Sam was banking the kitchen fire for the night. "Rain won't hold all month, though, and a good thing; I've got firewood to cut before it turns cold. I'll need to get out there, soon's the weather clears."
"Well, some of these winter nights I'd like to set you and Fos to play each other – that will sharpen both your games. Someday you can teach your children, both of you."
"Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo, I'll teach them to garden. You can teach them chess."
Frodo didn't answer, but walked over to the window and stood staring out into the dark, and a few minutes later we said goodnight and all went off to bed. He had another nightmare that night, and Sam had to go in and wake him.
Fosco was still getting his lessons in the evening after supper, and then Mr. Frodo started reading us parts of his book that he had finished. He said he wanted Sam to listen, in case he had made any mistakes, but I had an idea it was for Fosco's benefit as well. I noticed what he read to us many times had something to do with friendship and loyalty – his cousins' determination to go with him into exile, for example, or Gimli and Legolas learning to put aside their enmity and be friends.
Fosco had attached himself firmly to Mr. Frodo. When the rain stopped for awhile and Frodo went outside for a smoke, Fos would pace beside him, matching his stride and trying to walk just like him. In the evenings he sat close at his side to do lessons, and curled up on the floor by his feet, leaning against his knee, to listen the reading. Sam smiled to see it.
"Minds me of myself when I was a lad," he told me. "I'm thinking he's another one who would've followed the master into Mordor."
One night we were all four sitting there, watching the fire die down after Frodo closed his book. He'd been reading about Gandalf's visit to Saruman, how he'd been tricked and captured by the other wizard, and finally rescued by the great Eagle. I guess we were all tired enough for sleep, but none of us was willing quite yet to leave the cosy room and the comfort of being together.
"Mr. Frodo? I have a question." Fosco's voice seemed loud in the quiet, and Frodo looked down at him without answering.
"I was here, the day you came home, Mr. Frodo. When that Sharkey was here – that was Saruman, wasn't it, that you were just reading about? I was here, right out by the lilacs. And I saw Sharkey try to stab you, and then Master Samwise knocked him down. He would've killed him, he had his sword out – and you made him stop! Why did you? He just tried to kill you! And it was him captured Gandalf and made them cut down all the trees and everything – he was bad, Mr. Frodo! Didn't he deserve to die?"
Frodo was staring at him, and then he pulled the child up on his lap, in the circle of his arm. It seemed like a long time before he answered.
"You know, Fos, I asked Gandalf that same question one time, about someone I thought deserved to die."
"What did he say?"
"He said I shouldn't be in a hurry to pass out death and judgment. He said, some deserve death and get life – and some deserve life and get death. And I can't give them life, so…"
"So you shouldn't kill anyone, not ever?"
Frodo's face was shadowy in the firelight. He shrugged. "I have killed, you know. Orcs, in battle. Sharkey didn't hurt me, Fosco; I was wearing a mail shirt. But the one I thought deserved to die – well, he died, but I didn't kill him. And he died saving me."
"He saved your life?" The child's voice was hushed with wonder.
"My life, yes, that too. He saved my soul, Fosco."
"I don't understand."
There was silence. Frodo sat with bowed head and I felt a stab of worry for him, but when he answered his voice was strong and certain.
"I wouldn't let Master Samwise kill Sharkey, because Sharkey wasn't always evil. Once he was good, and great – that's what he was meant to be. And then he lost himself, as I nearly lost myself. I found myself again, and I wanted him to have that chance. Now do you understand?"
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.