14. Chapter Thirteen
The trees loomed up, dark and sinister now instead of welcoming, as Pearl ran back to the little copse where she and Frodo had enjoyed their amorous encounter. A stabbing stitch in her side forced her to pause and catch her breath; she peered into the darkness, searching anxiously. He must be here, I'm sure of it, where else could he be?
Then she saw him, a barely visible outline standing under the biggest tree. His stillness was absolute, as though he were already taking root himself in the soil, a carved statue forever doomed to watch and wait. She stumbled a little on a root as she hurried to him; her hand brushed his sleeve with the lightest of touches.
"Frodo?" she asked softly.
The still figure came to life again as he turned his head and a sad smile appeared on his lips. "Pearly-girl," he murmured. He opened his arms, Pearl buried her head in his chest, and he hugged her tightly. "So now you know, don't you." It was a statement, she realized, not a question.
"Yes." She couldn't look at him, sure she would burst into tears if she did. "This is what you've been hinting at, isn't it? You knew Bilbo was leaving, and promised to say nothing."
"Got it in one, as always, my pet." She heard a flash of his old dry wit in his tone, but then he sighed deeply. She looked up at him then, and as dark as it was, she could see the longing in his face, the desire to depart coexisting with his love for her. She blurted, "You wish you going with him, don't you?"
A tense silence, and then Frodo sighed. "Would it hurt you dreadfully if I say yes?"
"I don't know," Pearl whispered. "And I swear that's the only honest answer I can give you."
"That's fair enough." He stroked her hair and took a deep breath. "Yes, I wanted to go with Bilbo. I wanted to see the things and the places he'd seen, and make sure he was all right. And I suppose I keep dreaming about more treasure to be found, even though Bilbo's left me with quite a lot." He paused. "But I would have come back to you, I promise. I can't imagine life without you, now. Is that enough for you to forgive me for considering leaving at all?"
"Yes—but what if you died out there?" Pearl couldn't keep the blind panic out of her voice.
"Hush! Don't talk that way." Frodo tightened his grip around Pearl and let his mouth stray towards hers. "You're being foolish, I'm not going anywhere, I'm here and I'm alive, and I'm going to stay that way . . ."
Their kiss was deep and more than a little desperate. As their lips slowly parted, Pearl laid her head on Frodo's shoulder as she began weeping, much to her own surprise. "Oh, Frodo, why is he leaving? Doesn't he know how much we love him? I wanted Bilbo to dance at our wedding, to bless our babies. Life won't be the same without him!"
"I know," Frodo sighed.
"Can't we get him to stay?"
Pearl's tears flowed even harder, and Frodo hugged her tightly. "You must stop, or I'll start crying, too, I'm afraid." His voice cracked.
Pearl gasped as she fought down her grief, the tears drying in the night breeze. The two of them stood intertwined as Frodo stroked Pearl's hair. Neither of them knew how long they remained unmoving, but at last Frodo stirred and shook Pearl gently.
"Come on, ladylove, we've got to go back."
"Must we?" Pearl turned her face up, and Frodo's heart ached when he saw her red-rimmed eyes.
"Yes, we must—I'm the master of Bag End now, and I have to do it proper and bid guests goodbye."
"Alright, then," Pearl murmured, and slipped her hand into Frodo's.
They set off across the field, both steps and hearts heavy. As they approached Bag End once more, they could hear the continued clamor of voices raised in varying degrees of disbelief and anger. Frodo winced as Pearl squeezed his hand in sympathy.
"Lovely," Frodo muttered. He squared his shoulders and looked at Pearl. "Can you do me a favor?"
"Go down to your family while I slip into the house. I think Gandalf is still here, and I have to speak to him before he decides to leave, and before anyone else bends my ear."
Pearl nodded, and watched as Frodo strode to the front door of Bag End without being noticed. She then hurried down to the tables where her extended clan was gathered.
Things had improved a little, she realized, for her father and aunt had finally calmed Cousin Lilac enough that she was breathing normally again. Her mother was wringing her hands but not crying, to Pearl's surprise, and her sisters were sitting quietly, eyes wide with shock. Pippin, however, was squirming frantically in Merry's arms as he demanded, "Where did Bilbo go? I want to go, too. Want to kill dragons!"
Pearl took Pippin from Merry as she tried to soothe the little boy. "We can't, Pip," she said sadly. "We've got to stay here to keep Frodo company."
Esmeralda's head came up sharply when she heard Pearl. "And how is Frodo, dear?" Despite her best efforts, Esmie's worry was transparent.
"Alright for now," Pearl said with a brave little smile, one that did not fool her aunt for an instant. But before Esmie could cross-question Pearl further, Frodo's voice suddenly cut through the din.
"May I have everyone's attention, please?" By some miracle, silence fell over the Party Field as all the guests turned towards the landing before Bag End's front door. Frodo stood there with a tight smile that did not touch his eyes at all. "I'm terribly sorry about the commotion, but no doubt everything will be cleared up in the morning. Now, since it is nearly midnight, I've had the carriages summoned so everyone can go have a good night's sleep, and recover from the excitement."
There was a great deal of muttering among various guests that Frodo's words, while gracefully offered, were hardly adequate given the level of insult Bilbo had flung at them. But even the most annoyed of hobbits ceased to complain as the carriages lined up for their passengers. As each one was loaded, Frodo shook hands and repeated, "No doubt everything will be cleared up in the morning."
Paladin's and Saradoc's carriages were the last in line, on Frodo's instructions. As the two families scrambled to arrange themselves, Esmeralda hugged her beloved fosterling. "Do you want any of us to stay with you, tonight?" she asked quietly.
"No thank you, Aunt Esmie, I'll be fine. Gandalf will be here. But I could use your help tomorrow—I've got quite a lot of presents from Bilbo to pass out to assorted folks, and something tells me it's going to be tricky."
"We'll all come, Frodo—won't we?" Esmeralda asked Paladin as he came up to shake Frodo's hand.
"Of course," Paladin said warmly. "It's the least we can do for you."
Both of them climbed into their carriages, leaving only Pearl with Frodo. She peered at him in the darkness, praying she wouldn't start crying again.
"Are you sure you don't need more company tonight?" Pearl's voice was unexpectedly timid.
"No, I don't." He kissed her cheek gently. "Now go—I'll see you tomorrow."
Pearl reluctantly climbed the carriage steps and settled down next to Pimmie. As it began rolling, Pearl leaned out the window and watched Frodo, little more than a dark shadow, walk back into Bag End with slumped shoulders, looking more weary than she had ever seen him.
He looks so alone, she thought. But not for long, if I can help it!
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.