1. Child of My Heart
Timeframe: August S. R. 1380, immediately after the deaths of Drogo and Primula Baggins.
Foreword: While I have read and respected a fair number of stories painting Frodo as an unwanted orphan, I personally have never been convinced by that idea. Rather, in light of Tolkien describing hobbits as deeply clannish and portraying Frodo’s later attachment to his cousins, it seems likelier he was very much loved and wanted by his relatives—particularly since there was no younger Brandybuck heir when he was orphaned. So what follows is my imagining of how it was decided that Saradoc and Esmeralda Brandybuck would become Frodo’s guardians after his parents drowned in the Brandywine.
Esmeralda Took Brandybuck stared sightlessly out of the round window that overlooked the Brandywine River. The late summer sunshine danced off the water, giving it a silver color, but it did not register at all with the hobbit matron. She pressed her forehead against one of the glazed panes, determined not to yield totally to her grief.
There’s been an accident. Drogo and Primula are dead, drowned . . .
Had it really been five days ago that Sarry uttered those words? Seven days since the Bagginses had arrived for a brief visit with eleven-year-old Frodo, Primula overjoyed as usual to be back home, and Drogo eager to savor the pleasures of his brother-in-law’s table once more. On the second night of their stay, Primula expressed a wish to see the moon from the river—she had always been a romantic, and was confident about her skill with boats. They tucked a sleepy Frodo into bed and walked to the dock. But something had gone mysteriously, horribly wrong. When midnight came and went without either Primula or Drogo coming back to Brandy Hall, Rory raised the alarm and led out a whole squadron of Brandybucks, lanterns held high, to find his youngest sister and her husband.
The first glimmering shafts of the dawn had appeared in the eastern sky before the search party returned, weary and stumbling. Esmeralda stood on the main door’s stoop, straining up on her furry toes, desperately seeking a glimpse of Primmie’s face, unable to believe someone so light-hearted, so happy, could suffer any harm. Surely she was fine, she was safe . . .
Saradoc saw her and rushed forward, grabbing her arm. “Oh, Esmie,” he choked out, his voice harsh with disbelief, “there’s been an accident—Drogo and Primula are dead, drowned, no one knows how . . . don’t look, for pity’s sake, I beg you . . .”
She saw the rough biers then, made of boards lashed together, each with a blanket-covered figure on top. Her sobbing father-in-law and his second son, Merimac, carried the smaller of the two bodies; Primmie’s bright chestnut curls spilled over the edge, trailing towards the ground.
“No!” Esmeralda’s mingled cry of grief and rage was torn from her throat as she lurched forward. To her horror, a childish shout echoed hers, all the pain and agony and heartbreak of the world in his voice.
Esmeralda whirled and snatched Frodo against her as he rushed out the door, pressing his small face into her skirt as he struggled like a wild thing, clawing at her hands. He was still dressed in only his nightshirt, shivering from head to foot while he screamed for his mother and father.
“No, Frodo, no, don’t look, whatever you do, don’t look—remember them the way they were . . .” The tears were pouring down Esmeralda’s face, mercifully blinding her as Drogo and Primula were carried past the two of them into Brandy Hall. She hung on to the crying little boy, even while she knew there was no balm she could offer Frodo to ease the heart-destroying anguish raking his tiny form.
She did not let him go into the great hall where the two bodies were sorrowfully laid while Rory sent someone to fetch the Shirriff from Bucklebury to conduct an immediate inquest. Instead Esmeralda and Saradoc took Frodo to the pleasant guest apartments he and his parents had been using, where the newly minted orphan spent the better part of an hour and a half crying himself into a hiccupping stupor. Even then he refused to fall asleep completely; a desperate Esmie finally sent Sarry off to bring her a sleeping draught mixed with tea. She gently forced Frodo to drink every drop, watching in relief as his eyelids drooped and closed. Only then did she and Sarry permit themselves the luxury of going to their own rooms, where they wept themselves out as they held one another.
Esmeralda remained dry-eyed over the following days, submerging her mourning while she helped plan the hasty funeral; the hot summer weather demanded a quick burial, with little time to prepare. The fastest ponies in the Brandy Hall stables galloped to the holes and houses of all their kin, the vast web of cousinage that linked Drogo and Primula to everyone that mattered in the Four Farthings of the Shire. Bilbo Baggins was one of the first to arrive, with Drogo’s sister Dora in tow, breaking the record for speedy travel between Hobbinton and Buckland. Bolgers and Boffins, Goodbodies and Bracegirdles, Chubbs and Grubbs—they all hurried to the Hall in their best carriages, faces pale and disbelieving. Last night, the large contingent of Tooks from Tuckborough finally presented themselves, led by the redoubtable Lalia, now head of the family since Thain Fortinbras had died two months before. It appeared to Esmeralda that the entire population of her ancestral hall had decamped across the river to pay homage to two well-loved cousins.
During this time, a distracted Esmeralda realized that Frodo too had fallen silent, not shedding any more tears as he wandered about the Hall with a dazed stare, his blue eyes—Primula’s eyes—wide and fixed. At this morning’s funeral in the Brandybuck graveyard, he stood unmoving, watching blankly as his parents were lowered into the ground. He flinched at the sound of the dirt hitting the coffin lids, but immediately schooled his small, tight face back into an unreadable expression. Esmeralda wondered what dark pit Frodo was vanishing into, and if she should speak to him. No, Bilbo would be better, Frodo’s always adored him, or maybe I could ask Father, he’s so very good with children . . . but whoever it is, it must be soon, before it’s too late . . .
“Esmie dear, we’re nearly ready to begin—there’s only a few more to arrive. Please, do join us, and make sure the window is open—it’s quite warm.” She winced at the weariness in Rory’s voice.
Esmeralda slowly pushed the window farther out, then turned and walked over to the irregular circle of chairs drawn up before the fireplace in the Master’s study. She sat down to the right of her father-in-law; he gave her hand a quick squeeze. Sarry leaned over the back of her chair and kissed her cheek before taking the seat on her other side. Esmeralda studied Rory covertly; despite his red-rimmed eyes, his dignified bearing and grey hair commanded respect. As Esmeralda surveyed the other participants in the family conclave, she thought, Poor Rory will need all the dignity he can muster to manage this group!
For directly opposite Rory sat Lalia Took, cold and proud, supporting her ever-expanding bulk with an elaborately carved walnut walking stick stained black to match her black mourning gown. Her whole manner radiated annoyance; she had already declared after the burial ceremony, with monumental tactlessness, that there was no need to worry about Frodo, since “another brat will hardly be noticed in a litter of Brandybucks.” It had taken all of Esmeralda’s self-control not to slap her. Esmeralda realized, with a crawling sense of dread, that Fortinbras’ death had removed the last check on Lalia’s tongue and behavior. Her brother Paladin was open about his fears for the family now that Lalia ruled over the Great Smials as the Took. Such was the force of her personality that she had kept the new Thain, her son Ferumbras, from this meeting, setting his entitlement aside.
But no amount of Lalia’s bullying could keep out the heir presumptive to the Thainship. Esmeralda smiled at her father in relief, for Adalgrim Took was still sharp at one hundred years old, and perfectly capable of putting Lalia in her place. It was at his insistence that both Paladin and his wife Eglantine sat beside him, for it was becoming increasingly clear that none of Ferumbras’ courtships would succeed thanks to his mother, and that therefore the Took headship and title would someday be Paladin’s. Paladin looked up at his sister, his mouth set in a grim line, and then he turned to Eglantine as she began sobbing into a lace-trimmed handkerchief again, dabbling delicately at her large pansy brown eyes. A flash of anger coursed through Esmeralda—how dare she behave like Primmie was her friend, not mine!—but she reminded herself that Tina was always sentimental and meant no offence. Adalgrim caught her gaze and rolled his eyes to the ceiling; Esmeralda fought down the urge to laugh.
Rory peered around, concerned. “Where are Bilbo and Dora? Has anyone seen them?”
“We’re coming, Rory—half a minute, now,” called Bilbo from the hallway. He entered breathlessly, his hand guiding a limp and exhausted Dora to a chair. Bilbo sat beside her and looked at Rory expectantly.
Rory cleared his throat and shuffled his handful of papers. “As you all know, I have called this meeting to deal with the question of Frodo’s future, now that Primula and Drogo have died unexpectedly,” he said. “Sarry and I rode over to their house in Whitfurrows two days ago to search Drogo’s study. Unfortunately, neither Primmie nor Drogo appears to have left a will of any kind, so we don’t know what their wishes in this matter are. We will have to decide who would be the best guardians for Frodo, the poor little lad.” He swallowed, his pain obvious, and turned to Bilbo. “Since you are the head of the Baggins family, you have first right to determine what is to be done. Do you want to take him back to Hobbiton and raise him yourself? Or do you prefer that someone else care for him?”
Bilbo jumped a little as Rory spoke, startled by his questions. His ears twitched a little as he sank into deep thought. After a few moments, he lifted his head and looked at Rory apologetically. “I would like to take Frodo, for I love him dearly, but I’m not sure that would be the right thing for him after what has happened. He’s always been fiercely devoted to his mother, and I don’t think an old eccentric bachelor cousin like me is quite the thing, in view of that. He needs a foster mother now, I think.” He paused, his brow screwed up in concentration. “But that doesn’t mean Frodo couldn’t come and live with me later, when he’s grown up a bit more. I’m not willing to give up all my rights, when all is said and done, but that depends on who ends up with him.” He touched Dora’s arm. “If Frodo needs a mother’s touch, what about you, Dora? You are Drogo’s sister, and I know how attached you were to each other. Any interest in taking care of the lad?”
Dora shook her head slowly, regret etched in every line of her face. “Frodo is very dear to me too, but I’m seventy-eight, Bilbo, and my joints are beginning to stiffen up when the winds blow hard. I can’t possibly give an eleven-year-old the supervision he requires, especially one as lively and bright as Frodo. It must be someone younger and stronger.” She looked at Eglantine briefly, and then at Esmeralda.
Esmeralda prepared to speak, but before a word had escaped her, Eglantine stood up, her rosebud mouth quivering. She exclaimed, “Then let Pal and I take him! Frodo’s the Old Took’s great-grandson, so he belongs at Great Smials as much as anywhere else! And you all know Pearl and he adore each other absolutely, as young as they are. She’s just the right company for him now, now that he’s suffered such a dreadful loss!” She twisted her handkerchief into a knot as she gasped for air.
A hard-boiled snort of derision erupted from Lalia’s throat. “Don’t be a fool, Eglantine! You’ve Pearl and Pimpernel to care for already, and I don’t doubt there’ll soon be more babies, including sons, on the way—you’ve never had any trouble getting pregnant, after all.” The look she gave Esmeralda as she spoke was one of calculated insult.
Esmeralda felt as though she had just been clubbed. It was a never-ending heartache for her that ten years after her double wedding with Paladin and Eglantine, they had two blooming girls while she only had a series of miscarriages and stillbirths to show for her efforts to produce a child. The irony stung every time she attended another mother in childbed, for she was a talented midwife and herbalist, trained from her tweens by her mother. That monstrous witch! To her horror, she felt the tears welling up, rendering her speechless.
Adalgrim was not, however. He growled, “You go too far, Lalia, especially for someone who has but one son to her credit. Watch your tongue, or I may finally dunk you in the Brandywine if you keep abusing my daughter in front of me.”
Paladin, his green eyes narrowed, joined the fray. “And I will help him, Lalia, believe me. Head of the Tooks you may be, but you’ve no right to humiliate Esmie openly, nor to ignore my wife. Tina may be correct—being with Pearl could be the very best thing for Frodo at this time. We must give the matter serious thought.”
“I don’t need to think about it!” snapped Lalia. “The answer is no! Don’t imagine I’m stupid, Paladin, I know what gauzy fantasies your silly wife is already weaving around the children, dreaming they might grow up and marry each other! I’ll not have it, I tell you! That boy will never live in the Great Smials as long as I still draw breath! He’s a Baggins, not a Took!”
“How dare you!”
Dora gasped as Bilbo began shouting at an unrepentant Lalia, fighting to be heard over the equally enraged Adalgrim and Paladin, who both climbed to their feet to huddle over Lalia, looking distinctly threatening despite their lack of great height. Eglantine sobbed hysterically into her fragile little handkerchief, the lace soaked through, while Rory called for order and Sarry tried to pull Paladin back into his chair.
But the noisy brawl did not touch Esmeralda in the least. She floated far away, encased in a warm bubble of memory as she remembered the day of Frodo’s birth, in the great bedroom of his grandmother Mirabella in this very place. Her mother Opal Proudfoot Took presided over Primula’s labour, for she was one of the best midwives in the Shire, and an anxious Drogo had summoned her because of the difficulties Primmie suffered during her pregnancy. Esmeralda was still young at twenty-eight, but she came with Opal as her assistant, both as her mother’s best apprentice and her cousin’s close friend. It was Esmie who cut the umbilical cord and bathed Frodo before bundling him into a kitten-soft blanket so his ecstatic mother could hold him. Esmeralda still heard Primmie’s voice clearly, as though it all happened just yesterday . . .
“Oh, Esmie, look at him! He’s lovely, more like an elf than a hobbit! How could I possibly have given birth to something so beautiful?”
“Who else could have? He has your big blue eyes and fine bones. You’re going to name him Frodo?”
“Yes, it’s perfect for him. Oh Esmie, I can never thank you enough for helping me today. Promise me you’ll keep an eye out for him if I can’t. He can be your baby too, in a way. Would you like that?”
“Of course I do, Primmie, and I promise to look after him, as long as I live.”
“Stop it, stop it now, all of you! I will do it, I tell you, I and no one else! I will take him!”
Esmeralda’s voice lashed into the babbling clamor with stunning force. Everyone else fell silent and turned to look at her in astonishment. She stared back, her dark green eyes like flames and her bearing full of determination.
“What is this? Frodo is not some unwanted mathom to be passed from hand to hand! He’s Drogo’s son—Primmie’s son! I only waited to speak to hear what the rest of you thought, and some of what I’ve heard is a disgrace!”
Her pitiless gaze bored into a fuming Lalia, who said with considerable asperity, “Now it’s your turn to be foolish, Esmie. This wasting illness of Menegilda’s not only means you have to nurse her, but that you must manage this huge household. You haven’t the time to be fussing over a crying orphan when your duties lie elsewhere. Let one of the cousins in Bucklebury deal with him—the poorer ones could use the money, no doubt.”
“Foolish, is it? I helped bring Frodo into this world, as you all know, and I vowed to Primmie then that I would care for him if anything happened, and I will not betray my word. She was not just my cousin—she was my friend from when we were young, and welcomed me with an open heart when I married Sarry. She filled my life with joy and warmth, just as she did for all of you, and I will not stand idly by while her son is made to beg for scraps in a place that does not want him! He was born here at Brandy Hall, and here he shall stay!” She looked around at the frozen circle, and stared at Lalia once more. “And in case you’ve forgotten, Lalia, I do not need a lecture from you about where my duty lies—I am a birthright Took, after all.” Lalia flushed red, and Esmeralda felt a mean pleasure in her successful hit. She asked, “Does anyone wish to gainsay me?”
No one answered. After a few more moments of tense silence, Rory cleared his throat and said calmly, “Well, that’s settled, then. Bilbo, if you would?”
Bilbo stepped forward and took both Esmeralda and Sarry by the hand. He said quietly, “I do hereby grant Saradoc and Esmeralda Brandybuck the right of guardianship over my kin Frodo Baggins, and they shall hold that right until he comes of age.” Having spoken the formal words required, Bilbo began to let go of Esmeralda’s hand, but she grabbed it forcefully.
“And in return, I do hereby pledge to you, Bilbo Baggins, that if you should some day wish to have Frodo live with you, I will not stand in your way.”
Bilbo patted Esmeralda’s hand, his eyes very bright. “Thank you, Esmie. Come, Dora, it’s time for tea . . .”
Hunger spurred everyone to leave quickly, but Adalgrim lingered with the three Brandybucks. He gave Esmeralda a questioning look.
“Esmie, my dearest, are you quite sure about this? You’re not grasping at straws and trying to get a poor substitute for a child of your own?”
“Of course not, Father. I meant exactly what I said. I love Frodo for his own sake, not my own.”
Adalgrim beamed. “So I thought, but I wanted to be sure. I am very proud of you, Esmie. You were a true daughter of mine today, and showed why I always trust you to do the right thing.” He hugged her, and Esmeralda felt a fierce pride in such extravagant praise from one who rarely indulged in it.
Rory smiled as well, but with a calculating edge that caught Esmeralda’s attention. “Yes, Adalgrim, she has a good heart, does Esmie! Now, I have a favor to ask of you. Can you go find Dodinas and send him to me? As family scrivner, he’ll be writing up the documents we need to ship to Michel Delving.”
“I’d be glad to, Rory.”
As soon as the study door clicked behind her departing father, Rory turned to Esmeralda. He said softly, “That was well done indeed, Esmie.”
“What are you up to, Father?” Sarry asked sharply.
“I just want to make it perfectly plain to both of you that if you later decide to adopt Frodo outright because you remain childless, I’ll support you absolutely. Better that my darling Primmie’s son be the Master of Buckland some day than that wastrel Merimac and his pup sinking their teeth into the family wealth and draining it dry. Frodo has Drogo’s guts and Primmie’s brains, so he’d do a splendid job.”
“Depriving Merimac of his chance to inherit was hardly my main reason for my decision, Rory,” said Esmeralda tartly.
“I know that—I merely wanted to point out the possibility. Now we should head to the tea table, because if we don’t, that sow Lalia will eat all the scones, and the muffins and sandwiches too.”
“We’ll be there directly, Father.”
As an eager Rory hurried off, Sarry took Esmeralda in his arms. “My gallant lass, you were a treat to watch today. You have the heart of a dragon when you take into your head to ride into battle,” he murmured against her hair.
Esmeralda laughed shakily. “I think Lalia has the dragon’s heart, not me! I never thought to face her down so soon. But I had no choice; I loved Primmie dearly, and I must honour my promise, or I shall never be able to look in the mirror again.”
“And I feel the same. That little lad is going to need us badly. Let’s go fortify ourselves with some tea, and find out if Bilbo and Dora will drive over to Whitfurrows this evening to fetch some of Frodo’s things. Then we’ll round up some servants and prepare a room for him.”
* * * * * *
“Be careful now—straighten that corner before you lay the counterpane down—Iris, please put the extra towels in the cupboard.”
Esmeralda turned round in the small but comfortable space she and a bevy of mobcapped chambermaids had just spent the better part of three hours converting into a bedroom for Frodo, after a very late and long tea that turned into supper. It had been Esmeralda’s sitting room, but she deemed it a minor sacrifice to give it up. She wanted Frodo nearby, in case nightmares came to torment him in the dark.
“Well, that should be enough for now,” she finally sighed, after inspecting everything once more. She glanced at the window, noting how the twilight was deepening. “Any sign of Mister Bilbo and Mistress Dora yet?” she asked sharply.
“No, not yet, ma’am,” Iris said, “but Cook knows you’re anxious about Master Frodo, and she sent one of the kitchen boys to wait near the ferry landing and watch.”
“That was kind of her—thank you,” murmured Esmeralda. But still she walked down the hallway and headed for the main entrance, determined to look out for the Bagginses herself. When Bilbo and Dora agreed over the teacups to drive over to Whitfurrows, Frodo had begged to go with them, showing his first signs of real animation in days. Esmeralda had hesitated, wondering if seeing his home for the first time since the accident might not be too much for Frodo. In the face of his pleas, however, she had capitulated. Now several hours had passed, she found herself worrying that he was refusing to leave, or trying to hide from Bilbo and Dora so they would leave him behind.
As she turned into the west passageway, she was nearly knocked flat by the young kitchen boy. His eyes widened into saucers as he gasped, “They’re coming, mum, they’ve just landed on the Buckland side of the ferry!”
Esmeralda gave him a smile and a reassuring pat on the arm. “Thank you, lad, and look sharp next time.” She pulled a stray penny from her apron pocket, handed it to the abashed boy, and hurried towards the entryway.
The housekeeper, Viola, already had opened the huge circular door. She peered out into the growing darkness, where the wagon Bilbo was driving up from the ferry approached the Hall. “Isn’t he the sweetest-faced little lad?” she whispered to Esmeralda as her mistress stepped to her side. She pointed to Frodo, crammed between Bilbo and Dora on the wagon’s seat. “You’re awfully kind, Mistress Esmeralda, to foster him and all . . . but I know how much you loved Mistress Primula.”
“Right you are, Viola. I am only doing what is proper, and there’s no call for extra praise.”
Bilbo brought the wagon to a halt in front of the stoop. Frodo scrambled down, then turned and reached up to help Dora off in her turn.
“Good manners, too,” Viola said appreciatively.
Bilbo hoisted a small trunk under his arm, while Dora gathered up several baskets of varying sizes from the wagon bed. The three of them slowly walked into the entryway, Bilbo fighting to hang on to his burden.
“Well, Esmie, here we are—it took us a bit of time to find everything Frodo wanted to bring, but better late than never,” Bilbo said with false cheer. He put the trunk on the floor with a thump, and Dora placed the baskets on top.
“I was beginning to wonder if you were heading to Bree! You needn’t fuss with Frodo’s things, Viola will have some of the servants carry them for you.” As Viola called for help, Esmeralda looked down at Frodo where he stood silently between Bilbo and Dora; suddenly aware of her scrutiny, he stared back with his soulful blue eyes, his mother’s eyes.
“It’s very good of you to take me in, Cousin Esmie,” he whispered.
Esmeralda thought for a moment her heart would burst., Oh, my darling lad . . . She dropped her head, unable to speak, and then looked back up. “I’m very happy to do so, Frodo dear. Now come along with me and I will show you your room.”
She touched the top of his dark curls, and he trailed after her with complete docility as she began to retrace her original path through the warren of passageways. She called over her shoulder, “Bilbo, Dora, are you coming?”
“We’ll be right there, Esmie—there’s a few more things in the wagon,” Bilbo replied.
“It’s next to my bedchamber—you should be able to find your way, then.”
Bilbo’s voice grew faint as Esmeralda and Frodo made their way to his room in silence. When they reached the doorway, they paused together at the threshold and surveyed his new quarters.
“Do you like it?” Esmeralda asked gently. “I know it’s not very big, but it is next door to Sarry and I. I wanted to be close by in case you need anything during the nighttime.”
“Yes, I like it very much, Cousin Esmie,” he said politely. He crossed over to the high-set bed, with the low set of steps leading up to it, and drooped against the frame. Esmeralda clucked softly and hurried to him, lifting him up onto the bed and sitting down beside him.
“You’re very tired, Frodo. You must get some rest.”
“I know,” he said sadly. At that moment, Bilbo appeared in the doorway, two small oval picture frames tucked under one arm and a hammer and nails clutched in his other hand. Behind him, Dora carried a lidded basket.
“Wanted to hang them up for him now, Esmie, if you don’t mind,” Bilbo said briskly.
“Go ahead. What are they?”
“You’ll see . . .” Bilbo busily hammered the nails into the empty wall at the foot of the bed. He hung the pictures, careful to conceal them, and then stepped away with a flourish. “There you are!”
They were matching portraits of Drogo and Primula—the ones they had made by a limner soon after their wedding, Esmeralda realized. Frodo stirred beside her and said softly, “Uncle Bilbo told me this way Mama and Daddy would be watching over me while I slept.”
Dora added, “And here are your favorite books, beside your bed just like at home.” She unlatched the basket lid to show the contents to Esmeralda, and then placed it next to the headboard. “And now, dearest, I must go to bed. My old bones are beginning to creak.” She kissed Frodo’s cheek. “Bless you.”
“Good night, Aunt Dora,” Frodo said listlessly.
Bilbo coughed and said, “I’m off to bed as well, Frodo-lad. We’ll eat breakfast together in the morning, would you like that?” He embraced the forlorn little boy tightly.
“Yes, I would, Uncle Bilbo. Good night.”
Bilbo and Dora departed, closing the door behind them. Esmeralda turned to Frodo and said, “Come, let me dress you for bed and tuck you in.”
He obediently allowed her to undress him, slip a fresh nightshirt over his head, and comb his tangled hair. Not until she drew the sheets and light silk counterpane up to his chin did Frodo speak again.
“Can I ask you something, Cousin Esmie?”
“Of course you can. What is it?”
“When I asked Uncle Bilbo where Mama and Daddy went, he told me they really weren’t in those boxes in the ground today. He said they sailed to the West, to the Undying Lands, and that they’re staying with the elves in a beautiful place, the most beautiful in all Middle-earth. Is that true?”
Esmie, nonplussed, was at a loss for an answer. She hardly thought about such philosophical questions, and she was uncertain that Bilbo’s explanation was what Frodo really needed. But after thinking for a few moments, she could see the wisdom of what Bilbo had told him, and nodded. “Yes, Frodo dear, he’s quite right. They’re staying with the elves now.”
“Can I go be with them some day?”
“Yes, you will, I’m sure of it.”
“But until I go, I don’t belong to anybody, do I? That’s what Reginard told me today, that I’m nobody’s child.”
Esmeralda felt herself melting with a kind of fierce tenderness. She hugged Frodo against her, hot tears trickling down her face and into his hair. “That’s not true in the least, Frodo love, and it was wicked of Reginard to say so,” she said in a muffled voice. “You’re my child now, the child of my heart, always and forever.”
“Even if you have a baby of your own?”
“Absolutely. You’ll have a baby brother or sister then—won’t that be fun?”
“I like that, Cousin Esmie. Will you have one soon?”
“I don’t know,” replied Esmie, a slicing pain lancing through her. “Now go to sleep.”
As Frodo closed his eyes, there was a tiny, barely audible knock on the door. Muttering under her breath, Esmeralda opened it and stared down in surprise at the determined little girl standing there, her nightdress coming off one shoulder and a rag doll held against her chest.
“Can I come in, Aunt Esmie? I have to say ‘night to Frodo.”
“Of course you can, sweetheart, but then you must go back to your room.”
The five-year-old Pearl Took walked over to her cousin’s bed and scrambled up beside him. She smiled at her aunt, and despite her better judgment Esmie returned the smile. Adorably pretty, charming, and willful, her niece was hard to resist. Esmeralda thought in chagrin, She’s as stubborn as Paladin—have mercy on us all when she gets older! Out loud, she said, “Pearl, dear, you’ve said good night now. Time to go to your own bed.”
“But I want to stay with Frodo, Aunt Esmie. Please, can’t I? Alone is bad.” Pearl’s lower lip trembled, and she gazed imploringly at Esmeralda.
Esmeralda began to weaken. “It’s up to Frodo, poppet, it’s his room. Frodo, would you like Pearl to stay with you tonight?”
Frodo smiled, his affection for his tiny cousin shining out from his face. “Yes, I would, Cousin Esmie,” he said shyly.
Esmeralda sighed. “Very well, then—here, Pearl, get in—” She whipped up a corner of the counterpane and Pearl slid in happily, snuggling into a pillow with her doll while draping a small arm across Frodo.
“Now sleep, both of you.”
“Yes, Aunt Esmie,” Pearl said in her piping voice.
“Good night, Cousin Esmie,” said Frodo sleepily. “I love you.”
“And I love you. Good night.”
Esmeralda picked up the candlestick, slipped out the door, and closed it noiselessly. She paused and leaned against the wood with her forehead, drained and overwhelmed with raw emotion. Please, Primmie, she prayed silently, let me do this right. Let me raise him the way you would have. As she stood there, she dimly heard the children’s voices from within.
“Not alone any more?”
“No, Pearly-girl, not alone. Go to sleep.”
Esmeralda lifted her head and began to walk next door to her chamber. A soft sigh escaped her as hope slowly rekindled in her heart.
Everything is going to be all right.
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.