31. Mid-summer Fair
Merry and Pippin came to visit the week before Mid-year. Mr. Frodo had finished writing their part in the Red Book, and he wanted them to read it, tell him if he'd got anything wrong. I'm sure they thought they'd spend a few days going over it, and then carry him off to the Fair like Mr. Merry had the year before, but it didn't work this time.
"I'm sorry, cousins, but I'm staying home. I agree with the Gaffer – they won't be showing anything I haven't seen before, and I'd rather be snug in my own hole. You can place a bet for me on whichever pony you fancy, and drink my health in the beer tent if it wins."
"Frodo! Place a bet for you – we're racing, you nitwit, both of us! Aren't you going to be there to cheer us on?" Mr. Pippin sounded genuinely aggrieved, and Frodo looked sorry.
"Pippin –" he began.
"Are you ill, Frodo?" Merry asked. "You don't have much of an appetite."
They were at dinner, with Sam and me serving, and for true, Mr. Frodo hadn't eaten much. It was a warm evening and the dining room was stuffy, even with the windows open. We didn't serve dinner outside when there were guests.
"I'm just tired, Merry. I'm all right, but I'll sleep better in my own bed."
Mr. Merry didn't answer, but his look said it all. You're not sleeping well, cousin, in your own bed or not. Frodo had had two nightmares since they'd been at Bag End. Sam had gone in to wake him soon's he started shouting, and no one said anything about it, but there was no way they hadn't heard. I wondered suddenly if that was why he wouldn't go to the Fair.
They left the next morning; they had to get back to the stables at Great Smials, get their ponies ready for the races. Mr. Merry pulled Sam aside before they went.
"He needs to get away, Sam. Try and get him to go with you and Rose."
"He'll be there, Mr. Merry, or else I won't be. I won't go without him."
Sam's tone was sober and I knew he meant what he said. But – not go to the Fair! I'd never missed the Mid-year Fair, not once in my whole life, nor he hadn't neither – only the year he was away on the Quest. Still, if Mr. Frodo didn't change his mind, would I be willing to leave him home all by himself? Fosco wasn't here now, for them to look after each other.
No, I decided. Even if it meant not going ourselves, we wouldn't leave him alone at Bag End. He's been through worse things, Rosie, half my mind argued back. A lot worse things than a few days alone in his own home. But it didn't matter; I wasn't about to leave him. I was getting as bad as Sam.
"If worse comes to worse, Rosie lass, you can go with your folks. No need for you to miss out, if I have to stay home."
It was the afternoon before the Fair, and we were in the garden picking sugar peas. Sam had planted plenty, remembering how well they'd sold last summer – we'd send them in my Da's wagon, whether we went ourselves or not.
"No, Sam. Wouldn't be no pleasure to me, if you weren't there. We'll all go, or we'll all stay home. You think Mr. Frodo's afraid he'll have a nightmare, out there with half the Shire to hear him?"
There was a quiet chuckle from the far end of the row, just outside the garden. "Do I have no secrets from you at all, Rose Gamgee?"
I stood up slowly, horrified, and looked down the row. Mr. Frodo stood on the grass verge next to the vegetable patch, lighting his pipe. He must have come outside just in time to hear me. I was too ashamed to answer, caught out like that, talking about him behind his back, but Sam spoke for me.
"Hard to keep secrets from a lass as knowing as my Rose, Mr. Frodo. She won't tell your secrets, though, no more than I would."
"I know that, Sam. There's not a loyaler heart in the Shire, unless it's your own." He was pacing along the edge of the garden as he spoke, his eyes taking in the ranks of young carrots and beets and the pea vines growing up their netting. He came back to the end of the row and turned to face us.
"You two don't need to stay home from the Fair, just because I'm not going. I know you find this hard to believe, but I'm not quite in my dotage, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding!" His crooked grin flashed out, as warm as it was rare, making him look like a lad again. But there were shadows of fatigue under his eyes, and the hair at his temples was touched with grey.
Sam reached for my hand and squeezed it gently. "I tell you what, Mr. Frodo, you could share a tent with us. I bought our own last summer; it's brand new, never used. You bed down next to me, and if I feel you stirring, I'll wake you up right quick, before you make a sound."
"Oh, Sam." Frodo sighed. Smiled. "What did I ever do to deserve such a friend? But there's no need to bring me into your tent – go along and enjoy yourselves, show off the baby – I'll be perfectly fine at home, I promise. You can bring me back a fairing. A packet of pipeweed, Southern Star, how will that do?"
"Begging your pardon, sir, it won't do at all! Rosie is right – we'll all go, or we'll all stay home. And why shouldn't we bring you into our tent? You brought us into your smial, didn't you? Turnabout is fair play, Mr. Frodo."
"And think how happy Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin would be, seeing you at the racetrack after all," I said. "We could go just for that one day, Mr. Frodo, to see the races. We could even drive back that same night, not sleep over at all, if you'd like that better."
"That would make a long day for Elanor – for you too, Rose. Can't you persuade Sam to stop fussing over me long enough to take you to the Fair?"
Sam snorted. "And can't you trust me, Mr. Frodo, to wake you up if it's needful? Come along with us, sir, and give your cousins a pleasant surprise. They'll race twice as well, knowing you're in the stands."
"We won't go without you, Master," I said softly. "If you don't go, we'll all stay home."
We stood hand in hand among the garden rows, bullying him, and finally he gave in. "All right – if that's the way it has to be, we'll all go. It's on your own head, Sam, if you're awake all night, keeping me quiet and respectable!" But he laughed when he said it, and he came right into the garden, stepping carefully over the rows, till he came to where we were. He reached out to take our hands, but we just gathered him into a three-way hug.
So we all went to the Fair, Mr. Frodo riding his pony and us in the cart. We started early, before it was full light, so's Sam could be there for the judging of garden stuff. I think Mr. Frodo would've been happiest just to walk round with me, spelling me at carrying Elanor when my arms got tired, and rummaging through the book stalls, but Fatty Bolger spotted him and haled him off to the beer tent. I went and found my Mum in the exhibition hall, and she took the baby right off my hands and carried her away to show off to her cousins from Needlehole who hadn't seen her yet.
I looked for Marigold, but she'd gone with Tom already to look over the ponies and try to pick a winner. Two's company, I thought, and didn't go after them. I searched out one of the book stalls instead – no better place to find a fairing for my husband! I was paging through a book about strange beasts, with pictures of oliphaunts and dragons and who knows what, when someone covered my eyes and growled, "Guess who!" in a gravely voice.
My eyes were covered, but whoever it was couldn't be so awfully tall – there was a lot of weight on my shoulders like they were standing tiptoe and leaning on me. "Nibs," I said, "and get off me, you great ox, you're breaking my back!"
The weight shifted and one hand slid off my eyes. "Guess again!" The voice cracked on a giggle, and I spun round suddenly and caught his wrists.
"Fosco, you rascal! If you haven't grown a head taller since I saw you last! What are you doing here?"
"Same as you, Mistress Rose – looking at the books. Mr. Merry, he gave me a coin to buy something with – I've been taking care of his pony, you know. Is Mr. Frodo here?"
"Yes, he's here; he'll be at the races. Are the Captains in the first heat?"
"First and last. Captain Merry said he'd give Captain Pippin two chances to make up for losing last year. Are you going to buy a book?"
"For Master Samwise. Do you want to help me pick it out?"
Silly question, of course he did. We dug through the books, arguing back and forth whether Sam would like the animal one best, or an illustrated guide to wild plants of the Shire, or a faded volume of the Memoirs of Bandobras Took. But it was Fos who found it at last, the perfect thing.
"Here you go, Mistress Rose! Look – The Mastery of Chess! Get him that and let him study it next winter, and maybe he'll finally beat Mr. Frodo."
We grinned at each other like conspirators – what a joke, if Sam should beat Mr. Frodo at last, and all from reading a book! I bought it and hid it away in my bag, and Fos bought the animal book for himself. Then some of his friends from Buckland came by and shouted for him, and he ran off to join them. I didn't think till after he'd left, that I'd forgotten to ask after his mother, and was he happy at Brandy Hall. But he looked happy enough, in all conscience.
I went to find my mother – and my daughter – warmed by seeing Fosco again, and thinking happily of the coming winter, when maybe Sam would take a game from Mr. Frodo, and how we would laugh. Never dreaming that when winter came, Frodo would be long gone, and the little book on chess would sit unread on the kitchen shelf for years to come, till Merry-lad found it at last, and learned enough to beat his Da.
I'm glad we can't see into the future, for it would have spoiled that happy day entirely, if I had known what was to come. And it was happy. Not like Overlithe the year before, but glad and sweet. Mr. Merry won the first heat, and Mr. Pippin growled and glowered at him and threatened retribution all through luncheon. But at the end of the day, Mr. Pippin led the field, and even Merry never came within a length of him, and Frodo near lifted him off the ground with his hug.
We sat round the bonfire till late, Elanor sleeping in my arms as I leaned against Sam's broad chest.
"I saw Fosco today," I said during a lull in the conversation. "He looks happy."
Mr. Merry chuckled. "That lad! Smart as a whip, and harder to corral than a half-broke colt! I'm glad I'm at Crickhollow these days and not at the Hall."
"Why, is he making trouble?" Mr. Frodo sounded concerned. Well, it was him sent Fos to Buckland, after all.
"No, not trouble, precisely. Just keeps things stirred up. My mother says he reminds her of you, Frodo, when you were growing up. Makes life interesting, you know."
Frodo groaned. "I'm sorry, Merry. Will my aunt ever forgive me, do you think? Raising me was surely enough of a penance, without foisting another such lad on the poor lady!"
Mr. Pippin laughed aloud. "Don't you worry, Frodo; it keeps her young, trying to think what he'll be into next and forestall him. And the schoolmaster can't say enough to praise him – the Hall will be lucky to have him, when he gets a bit older."
"I've got him marked for schoolmaster himself, one day," Merry agreed. "None of his pupils will be able to pull the wool over his eyes; there won't be a trick in the book he hasn't tried himself! Didn't he keep you hopping when he was at Bag End, Frodo?"
"No, he was meek as a lamb with me. Maybe he was too frightened of being sent back to Ted's bullying, to get into mischief."
I sat quiet, rocking the baby. It wasn't my place to speak up, but I didn't think it was fear of being sent away that had kept Fosco on his best behavior at Bag End. More that he hero-worshiped Mr. Frodo and tried hard to please him.
The fire died down, finally, and we found our way across the field to our tent. The Captains had looked surprised when they realized that Mr. Frodo was spending the night with us, but they didn't say nothing. After a moment, Mr. Merry met Sam's eyes and nodded once, like he approved.
We spread a couple of featherbeds down on the groundcloth, and Sam lay down between me and Mr. Frodo, while I cuddled Elanor. It was a warm night, and we didn't need but a light blanket on top to keep us cosy. Sam kissed me goodnight, then turned his back to me and put an arm over Frodo.
"All right, Master, you sleep now and don't worry. I'll know if you slip into nightmare, and I'll wake you right up."
And maybe he wouldn't have had any nightmares anyway, or maybe it was Sam's arm around him, steady and comforting, but he slept through the night with never a whimper. The next morning we went round the booths as soon as they opened, and Mr. Frodo bought a fancy bonnet for Elanor and a carved wood bracelet for me, and finally a strong clasp knife for Sam, who'd lost his the previous week. Sam stocked up on pipeweed and I got a dozen packets of different spices that we couldn't grow in the Shire, and we were on our way home before the sun got high in the sky.
It wasn't the best Fair I ever knew, but we got there, at least. And it was Mr. Frodo's last Fair in the Shire.
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.