25. Going to Buckland
By the time the school shut down, the week before Yule, I was glad to see it end. I was getting big with child, and it was tiring to be cooking for so many. If it was just me and Sam and Mr. Frodo, I could've got by with a hearty soup and fresh bread at midday, and fruit and cheese at elevenses, the days I was specially tired – but we had promised proper meals for the lads that came to school. Sam helped all he could, but he was busy outside getting in the winter's wood supply, and I hated anyway for him to have to do my work for me.
Mr. Frodo was looking worn too. He kept bright and energetic while the lads were there, but once they left after dinner, he dragged. Sometimes when I called him for tea in the afternoon, I'd find him asleep in a chair before the study fire. I went back and forth whether I should wake him up to eat – plainly he needed the rest, but he was too thin by far; he hadn't never filled out good when he came back from his travels. Sometimes I woke him and sometimes I left him sleep, but either way, the days he fell asleep like that, he went back to his study in the evening and worked far into the night on his book, and the next day he was more tired than ever.
The last day of school, Sam and I were called in again. Each lad read a few sentences aloud that he'd written on his slate. Then the slates were wiped clean, and Mr. Frodo read a short poem to them, slowly, and they wrote it down as he spoke. I watched and listened, holding tight to Sam's hand.
This was what we had been working so hard for, all of us. This was Mr. Frodo's dream – the lads could read and write! Oh, there was plenty still for them to learn, I knew that, but that was frosting on the cake. We'd come a long, long way since Overlithe Fair and Frodo's decision to start the school. At last the slates were put away and Frodo called Fosco up front.
"Today Fosco will tell the story," he said. "Or rather, he will read it to us – a story he wrote himself."
Fos stood before us clutching a handful of papers. "Mr. Frodo told me this story, but I wrote it down myself, and he didn't help me none. So if I remembered some of it wrong, Mr. Frodo, you'll have to tell them the right way, will you?"
Frodo nodded, smiling at him, and he began to read. It was the story of the Travellers' return, from the time they came to the Gate at Buckland and found it barred against them, all through the Battle of Bywater, to Sharkey's death before the door of Bag End.
"But Mr. Frodo wouldn't let Master Samwise kill him, even though he had sided with the Enemy and helped the ruffians to ruin the Shire, because he said even Sharkey was good once and he should have a chance to find his goodness again," he finished.
"But he didn't, though – that Worm-something cut his throat!" Hob Goodbody said.
"Served him right!" Balco said fiercely. "Mr. Frodo, beg your pardon, sir, but creatures like that Sharkey, best thing you can do is kill 'em; they're like a viper or something, you don't want 'em left alive to maybe bite you again!"
"But that's just the point, Balco. He wasn't like a viper, poisonous from the beginning. He was more like a good sword, gone rusty and dull with misuse. The sword could be restored, made good again."
Sam's quiet voice cut through the noise the lads were making, like it was an argument him and Mr. Frodo had had many times before. "A sword don't have no mind of its own to fight you with, if you decide to clean it up and make it serviceable. Saruman, he would've had to want to turn back to what he was before, Mr. Frodo."
"Yes. And he never had the chance to want it." Frodo's eyes were sad, and I realized for the first time that he had been grieved by Sharkey's murder.
"Mr. Frodo?" It was Fosco. "Does everyone have some goodness to find, if they want to? Even – even my brother Ted, you think?"
I glanced at Sam – he'd had plenty of battles with Ted when they were lads, mostly trying to protect youngsters Ted was bullying. He didn't speak, waiting to hear what Frodo would say.
"Why would you think he didn't, Fosco? Yes, I think there's some good in Ted, if he ever takes the trouble to look for it."
"Well, if he does, he better take along a lantern!" Balco said scornfully. "He'll need a bit of light to find anything that small!"
Mr. Frodo looked like he wanted to say something more, but then he just shook his head. "Time for break, lads. How do we team up today?"
"Captain Samwise and Captain Fos!" someone shouted, and Frodo laughed as he got out the chess board. "So be it! Choose your teams, captains."
I went to get the dinner finished, and they gathered on the floor before the fireplace for their game. As I got the last of the food on the table, there was a shout of "Checkmate!" and Sam 's team broke into cheers. They came to the table and there wasn't much noise after that for awhile.
"When does school start again, Mr. Frodo?" I looked at Balco in surprise – he sounded eager to have the school re-open! He'd certainly been the most reluctant student we had, but seemingly Mr. Frodo had won him over.
"I don't know yet, Balco. I'll be in Buckland most of January, visiting the Hall. We'll see when I get back. Don't forget everything you've learned, now!"
"Not much chance!" Balco grimaced. "Da's already got me writing up his accounts – I'd rather be in school hearing your stories!"
Sam laughed. "There you go, Balco! That was always the best part of school for me too, the stories." He looked across the table at Frodo. "And in the end, reckon it was the stories that brought us through, wouldn't you say? When you're in a tight place, and you start thinking how it would sound in a tale…. I don't know. You find you can do more than you ever thought you could."
So school ended, and I started packing up Mr. Frodo's things to go to Buckland. I was in the kitchen ironing some of his shirts, when Fos came in with a load of firewood. He looked uncommonly sober, and I asked if something was wrong.
"Mistress Rose? Where am I going to spend Yule?"
I stopped ironing in dismay. Nothing had been said about that till now, nothing I had heard. Sam and I would go to the farm, keep Yule with my family, probably visit around to the Gaffer and Sam's married sisters as still lived in Hobbiton. Could we bring Fosco with us? But no, the lad should be with his mother.
"Can you go home, Fosco?"
He was arranging the wood in the rack, putting every stick just so. "Ted will be drunk," he said softly. "From the night before First Yule till three or four days after Second, probably. He'll stay drunk until the homebrew runs out. I threw him once with that trick of Balco's, but— " He swallowed. "He'll have his mates around, too."
"What did you do last year?"
"Mum and me went in her room and bolted the door, pulled her wardrobe in front of it."
Oh, my land! Could we bring him with us, and Bloomie as well? But I could imagine my family's reaction, and Sam's sisters, too – and as for the Gaffer, it didn't bear thinking about! He wouldn't never forgive Ted Sandyman for the goings-on during the Troubles, and he'd see not a speck of difference between Ted and his kin.
I took the problem to Mr. Frodo, interrupting him right in the middle of his book, I was so upset.
"Could they stay here, maybe?" I asked. "At least they'd be out of harm's way, up here at Bag End."
Mr. Frodo laid down his pen. "A lonely Yule, just the two of them alone in this big place."
It would be, right enough. "They won't have much of a holiday if they come with us, though, Mr. Frodo. Not the way folks feel about them."
"No. We got Fosco away from Ted, bringing him here, but that only solved half the problem. It's time we thought about the other half."
He brought it up after supper. "How are things for your mother now, Fosco? She comes up to visit you every week, doesn't she?"
"Aye, Mr. Frodo, every Saturday. I guess things are all right. She told Ted she'd tell you, did he hit her again, and you'd send word to the Captains! So he hasn't hit her since then."
"She must miss you, though."
Fosco nodded, tears coming to his eyes. "I miss her too. I wish she could come and live here too, Mr. Frodo."
Frodo sighed and stretched out his legs. "How are things with the neighbours? Are they getting any more friendly to her?"
"No. They won't have nothing to do with her, or me either, because of Ted."
"Hobbiton has a long memory." He reached out a hand and Fos climbed on his lap, leaning back against Frodo's shoulder. "I almost think the best thing for you and your mother would be to get away from here altogether."
"Go out to Bree?" Fosco sounded horrified, and he pulled away to stare into Frodo's face.
"No, why Bree? Not still planning to murder Ted, are you?" He chuckled. "I was thinking of Buckland, where I grew up. Nobody knows your family there, and the Captains live at Crickhollow. Maybe they could use a housekeeper, and a little lad to chop firewood and keep their swords shined. What do you think?"
"It would be good for Mum," Fosco said slowly. "I don't want to leave Bag End, though, and you and Master Sam and Mistress Rose." He thought some more. "But if I stayed here, it'd be an awful long way to go visit her. Couldn't she just come here, Mr. Frodo?"
Frodo smiled. "I suppose she could, though I'm not sure it would be a good idea, your mother and Mistress Rose trying to share a kitchen! But it wouldn't really solve the problem, Fos. You shouldn't spend the rest of your lives, either of you, being shunned by the village. That's no way to live."
"No.... The lads from school are friendly to me, when it's just us, but the rest of the village – even Balco's Da, and his brother –"
"How about this, Fosco? You talk to your mother, see if you can both come to Buckland with me for Yule. You'll have a pleasant holiday, at any rate, and if you find you like it there, and something can be worked out with the Captains, or at the Hall – well, then you can make a fresh start in a new place. If you don't like it, you'll just come home with me at the end of January, and we'll think again."
And so it happened, when Frodo set off for Buckland he wasn't riding his pony but driving the cart, with Fosco squeezed between him and Bloomie on the seat. But when he came back in January, he came alone.
"They found a place there, then," Sam said when he came in after putting the pony in the stable and seeing him cared for.
Mr. Frodo was settled in his big chair in the parlor, a glass of brandy in his hand, his feet stretched toward the fire. "Oh, yes! Old Fern, in the Hall kitchen, was in bed with rheumatism, and Bloomie went straight in and did her work for her. She's got a light hand with pastry, Bloomie has, and before the month was out the Hall decided they couldn't do without her! She settled in as happy as a bee in clover, and Fosco will be going to the Hall's own school – it's the best chance he could ever have. They have a fine schoolmaster, and Fos has a good mind. He should do very well there."
"And he's with his mother, as he should be." Sam sounded pleased, and he was right, of course. A lad should be with his mother. But I hadn't known how fond I was of that child till he went away, and Sam felt it too.
"It's too quiet around here," he complained one night after Mr. Frodo finished reading to us. "Not that Fosco made a lot of noise, but – I'm glad our own lad is on the way, Rosie!"
Mr. Frodo didn't say nothing, just sat watching the fire, but his face was sad. The rug by his feet looked empty, somehow, without Fos curled up there, leaning against his knee. I saw him rubbing his hand along his knee sometimes, absent-minded like, as if he missed the curly head that used to rest there.
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.