Alone

To my betas and my moral support, especially Connie. Thank you.


Chapter 1

...Then Angband was emptied. Orcs beyond number poured out of the gates, and before them came Glaurung the father of dragons. They assaulted the elves and their allies. King Finrod was surrounded, but Barahir of the house of Bior and his valiant men rescued him, though many of them perished.

Thus the siege of Angband was broken, and from that time on War never wholly ceased in Beleriand. Ard-galen had perished, and Dorthonion was laid in ruin. Only a remnant of the bravest men remained in Dorthonion. For they said:

"Frodo, are you coming?"

Frodo started at the sound of his mother's voice and slammed the book shut. Primula stood in the doorway, looking both amused and annoyed. Her blue eyes snapped beneath her brown curls.

"Sorry Mum," Frodo said sheepishly, "But there was this big battle with a dragon just like the one Bilbo fought! And there was a king and elves, and they were so very brave. Do you think there are still elves in the world, Mum?"

"There are if you believe Bilbo," she replied. "Though even if his story is true he didn't fight the dragon himself. Now get dressed and come eat breakfast before it gets cold."

"Can I bring the book with me today?" Frodo asked.

"No you may not," Primula said firmly. "We're only going to be at Brandy Hall for the day, and you can manage spending time with your cousins for a few hours. The book will still be there tomorrow."

Primula laid Frodo's traveling clothes on the bed next to him and left the room. Frodo looked down at the book in his hands. It was a brown leather-bound volume with a tracing of golden leaves etched on the edges. The binding was slightly faded with age. Frodo got out of bed and reluctantly returned the book to its shelf. He padded across the wooden floor and stood at the window for a moment, allowing the morning sun to wash over him. A few wispy clouds were all that could be seen in the pale sky. At least it promised to be a nice day.

**

After breakfast Frodo followed his father out to the barn. An early morning mist still hung over the fields. Drogo hitched the Baggins' pony Chestnut to the cart. Frodo stood munching an apple. Chestnut whinnied loudly. Frodo laughed and held out the remainder of the fruit for the pony.

Primula came and wrapped a light cloak around Frodo's shoulders. "You forgot your cloak again Frodo," she chided softly.

"I'm not cold," he protested.

"I want you to wear it until we get there. It's still chilly this early in the morning. I'll not have you getting sick."

Frodo gave an exasperated sigh. Primula stifled a chuckle and helped Frodo into the cart. Soon the three hobbits were on their way to Brandy Hall.

"How would you like to learn how to drive the pony today, Frodo?" Drogo asked.

Frodo's eyes lit up with excitement. "Can I really, Dad?" He looked up with anticipation.

Drogo laughed. "Never have I known a hobbit so eager to learn anything someone is willing to teach. But driving a pony is harder than it looks. You'll not learn it all in one day."

As they drove down the road, Drogo showed Frodo how to hold the reins. "Not too tight, but not too loose. You want Chestnut to know you're here, but you don't want to hurt her mouth." Once Drogo was finished with the first part of the lesson, Frodo moved in front of his father so they could both hold the reins. Frodo could smell the fragrance of pipeweed that lingered on Drogo's jacket. Drogo placed his large hands over Frodo's smaller ones as Drogo patiently guided his hands. About half way there, Drogo let Frodo hold the reins on his own briefly. Chestnut tossed her head at the change, but kept walking. Frodo beamed with pride. When they finally reached the Hall, Drogo placed his hand on Frodo's shoulder. "Very good, son. You've done very well for your first try. But you always were a fast learner."

"Can we practice more on the way home?" Frodo pleaded.

"Of course we can." Drogo replied.

"Hooray!" cried Frodo, jumping out of the cart.

Drogo and Primula climbed down in a more conventional manner. Primula made her way to the Hall while Drogo unhitched the pony. Frodo helped his father brush Chestnut down before leaving her in the stable. The two of them walked back toward the hall together.

"Well, Frodo, are you ready to face a day at Brandy Hall?" Drogo asked.

Frodo frowned. "Yes, Dad." he answered quietly.

"I don't suppose either of us like this noisy place, not after living in the country," Drogo replied thoughtfully. "Your mother now, she doesn't seem to mind it. But she grew up here after all."

"Do I have to stay with you and Mum all day or can I play with Doderic?"

"I don't know if Doderic is back from Bree yet. His father was delivering a cartload of pipeweed to the inn there, and Doderic usually goes with him. Though why he wants to bring a child your age all the way to Bree I can't guess"

"Doderic is thirteen. He's older than me." Frodo stated sagely, as if being a year older explained everything. "Oh, I hope he's back. He always tells the best tales. Almost as good as Uncle Bilbo's. I want to hear about Bree. I've never been that far."

Drogo looked down at Frodo, his dark curls and round face a miniature version of his own. Alike and yet different in so many ways. "Not many hobbits have been as far as Bree. I know I never have. There are strange goings on beyond the borders, if the tales are true. Though doubtless by the time the tales reach the Shire they've been told and retold so much the truth is lost in the muddle. But no matter. It doesn't affect us here. Why leave the Shire?"

"Uncle Bilbo left the Shire."

"Yes he did. And if half his story is true that's all the more reason to stay close to home. Chasing dragons is not for hobbits."

"Elves fought a dragon in the story I was reading."

"I don't doubt it. That's the book Bilbo gave you at Yule isn't it." Drogo said, "Mind you take good care of it. It's very valuable, you know."

"Bilbo says Elrond gave it to him in Rivendell. But Bilbo read it so many times he doesn't need it anymore."

"Aye, that's what he says. It certainly came from foreign parts. Though I have a hard time believing he didn't need it anymore. I suspect he just wanted you to have it. It's not often he has such a willing audience to listen to his stories. The old fellow is quite fond of you."

Frodo fell silent, pondering this bit of information as the two hobbits entered the dim Hall. They found Primula talking with her brother, Rorimac Brandybuck, and his wife, Menegilda. Rory sat on the couch fingering his pipe while Menegilda talked animatedly about the latest doings of the Hall. The older couple's quarters were spacious compared to most in Brandy hall. The sitting room was furnished with two velvet couches just starting to show signs of age, several neatly carved wooden chairs, and a matching table. An assortment of muffins and fruit sat on the table for second breakfast.

"Come in," Menegilda called as Drogo and Frodo entered. "Come here Frodo, let me look at you. A fine looking lad. You have your mother's eyes, as I've always said. Still too thin for a growing boy, though. Doesn't your mother feed you?"

Frodo nodded politely, unsure of how to respond. No reply seemed to be needed however. Menegilda quickly resumed filling Primula in on the latest Buckland gossip, and Primula nodded to Frodo that he was free to leave.

Frodo selected a muffin from the table and wandered outside. The sun shone golden in the azure sky. The last of the mist had melted away, leaving the morning clear and bright. It was far too nice a day to stay inside and listen to Menegilda's gossip. As he crested the hill he could see a group of boys playing snap-the-whip. One of them beckoned for Frodo to join. Frodo ran down the hill and was soon caught up in the rowdy game.

**

Frodo didn't return to the hall until luncheon. His shirt was dirty, his breeches grass-stained, and he was grinning broadly.

Primula frowned at Frodo's disheveled appearance, "Well now, you're a sight Frodo Baggins. And we don't even have a change of clothes for you."

"Sorry Mum," Frodo said cheerily. He'd had far too much fun to care about getting dirty.

The cooks brought out salad, potatoes, bread, cheese, and honey baked chicken. Some of the younger hobbits were running in circles around the table. The Brandybucks were used to having to shout to be heard in the noisy dining room. They paid little attention to the din of the youngsters, unless their own child was the offender. Saradoc was giving a highly detailed account of the crops and prospective harvest, which Frodo found immensely boring. It didn't take long for Frodo to become irritated with the constant noise and activity. He was glad they were only there for a short visit, and was anxious to go outside again.

"Why don't we all go out after luncheon?" suggested Drogo. "I could use some fresh air."

"Of course, dear," said Primula, "Why don't we go boating? We haven't been boating since Frodo was born. I think he's finally old enough to come with us."

"Wonderful. Would you like to go boating with us, Frodo?" asked Drogo.

"Oh, that would be fun!" Frodo exclaimed. "Can I paddle?"

Drogo laughed, "I think you're still a bit young to be using the paddles, but you can certainly come along. Finish your lunch and we'll go."

As they were finishing lunch Doderic's family arrived. Doderic bounded over to where the Baggins' were seated, his brown eyes shining under his windblown curls.

"Frodo!" Doderic exclaimed, "I didn't know you were here. How long are you staying?"

"Only until tonight. I didn't think you were back from Bree."

"We just got back a few minutes ago. Come on, let's go outside and I'll tell you about it."

Frodo jumped up to follow him outside.

"Frodo, we're going down to the dock. Are you still coming?" asked Drogo.

Frodo paused and looked at Doderic, then back at his parents. He really wanted to go boating, but he didn't get to see Doderic very often.

"Why don't the two of you go and play," Primula suggested. "You can always go boating with us another time."

Doderic jumped on the chance before Frodo had a chance to respond. "Come on then Frodo. You can see your parents any time. Let's go."

Frodo hesitated for a second before following. Moved by a sudden impulse Frodo ran back to his parents and gave each of them a hug and a kiss.

Primula smiled and ruffled his hair. "Off you go," she said softly. "See you at dinner."

Frodo turned and ran back after Doderic, who was already describing in great detail a company of dwarves he had seen at the Prancing Pony Inn.

Chapter 2

Frodo and Doderic walked leisurely through the grassy fields surrounding the Hall. The afternoon was warm but not unpleasant. The blue sky was adorned with a few puffy white clouds, drifting lazily along with the wind.

Doderic was relating a story he had heard from a company of men who had been in Bree. "There was a great warrior came to help the city. No one knew where he came from. Thorongil, they called him. And he led the men of the city to a big battle at a place they called Umbar. Do you know where that is? Wicked men lived there, by a river. I asked if it was like the Brandywine, and they said it was so much bigger. And the men there had ships, hundreds of them. Thorongil fought the wicked men and burned their ships. I think it would be so exciting to see a real sword fight. And then..." Doderic paused to make sure Frodo was listening. "He disappeared. Just like that! No one ever saw him again. Isn't that spooky?"

"Strange as news from Bree," Frodo agreed, gazing thoughtfully across the field. He could see Rorimac and Menegilda sitting in the warm grass to eat their afternoon tea. The sun glittered on the grey waters of the Brandywine. His gaze traveled further down the river; just in time to see the bottom of a boat as it capsized.

For a moment Frodo stood rooted to the spot. He watched as a dark curly head broke the surface and quickly went under again. "Dad?" he breathed, his voice little more than a whisper lost in the wind. He stood for a moment with his gaze riveted on the river. No further sign of either of the boat's occupants could be seen.

Leaving a bewildered Doderic behind, Frodo ran toward the boat as fast as his small legs would carry him. He darted past Rory and Menegilda.

Menegilda looked up to see a frantic Frodo running wildly toward the river. She jumped up and gave chase, intercepting the young hobbit, before he reached the water.

"Now what in the Shire has gotten into you, Frodo?" she asked. Then, following his gaze, she saw the brown hull of a small boat floating downstream. "Rory, can you go see if they need any help," she called. Rory had already seen the boat and was hurrying toward it. Menegilda turned her attention back to Frodo.

"Let me go! Let me go!" Frodo screamed. He fought to break lose of Menegilda's grasp, but she held him tightly.

"Calm down Frodo," she said. "Your mother is one of the best swimmers in Buckland, and she won't let anything happen to Drogo. Stop your fussing. Why don't we go tell the cooks to make a nice pot of tea? The river is cold, and they'll be wanting to warm up no doubt. Calm down before you hurt yourself."

Frodo wasn't listening. He had not taken his eyes off the river since his father's head had gone back under. Now the water was still, too still. A cold dread was on his heart. The seconds passed like hours as he fought desperately to be freed from her grip, keeping his eyes on the water all the while. It had been too long. He strained desperately for a sign of one of them breaking the surface again. But with each passing second, hope waned. "NO! NO!" he cried frantically "They're not up! They're not up!"

Menegilda momentarily took her eyes off the struggling child to look back at the river. Rory could now be seen holding on to the boat's hull. A few other hobbits had heard the commotion and were going over to help. In the river, however, Rory was the only one that could be seen. He shouted something to the hobbits on the shore and dove under again. For a breathless moment she waited, then Rory's head appeared again. Still alone.

"Oh no" she gasped, her voice almost inaudible. Her grip on the young hobbit loosened slightly. Frodo seized the opportunity and wriggled free of her grasp. His mind was a tangle of panic and disbelief as he ran headlong toward the river. A mist clouded his eyes. He blinked back the tears and continued running. His view of the river was now screened by the crowd that had gathered. Several were already in the water helping Rory search. Frodo shoved his way through those who were standing on the shore. His toes had just touched the cold water as strong hands grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him back.

"Whoa there. This is no place for children," the older hobbit said. Then he shouted "Someone get this lad out of here." Frodo struggled, but the much stronger adult held him fast. Then he saw. Rory was swimming to shore, dragging a mop of light brown curls behind him.

"MUM!" he screamed, "MY MUM!" The cry echoed above the clamor at the shore, amazingly loud to have come from one so small. Frodo fought to be free, though what he would do if he gained his freedom even he didn't know. Then he found himself being lifted off his feet. Menegilda had caught up.

"There now child," she said awkwardly, "You shouldn't have seen that." She turned and carried him away from the river.

"MUM! NO!"

"There's nothing you can do. Let them do what they can. You'd only get in the way."

Frodo twisted around so he could see over her shoulder. The crowd had parted, and he saw the form of a hobbit lying motionless on the grass by the river. Wet brown curls clung to the still head. At that sight Frodo's strength seemed to drain from him. He struggled to breathe. Then the crowd shifted, and his view was blocked again. His gaze drifted further downstream. The river flowed uncaringly on, it's surface broken only by the brown hull of a boat. He watched as the current carried it around a bend in the stream and out of sight, carrying with it the only life he had ever known.

Menegilda carried Frodo inside, shut the door, and leaned heavily against the wall. She was trembling. She placed the young hobbit on the couch and sat down beside him to keep an eye on him while they waited. Deep sobs heaved in Frodo's chest. Tears streamed down his face, yet the world seemed not blurred but dark, as if a starless night had descended upon him.

It seemed like ages before Rory came in, still soaking wet. The tears mingling with the river water still dripping down Rory's face told the news before he said a word. "Prim was caught in some weeds underwater. She couldn't get out. By the time we cut her lose it was too late," his voice choked. "We found Drogo's body further downstream."

**

Frodo sat alone on the couch in the main room of Brandy Hall, staring unseeingly at the opposing wall. The hall seemed unnaturally quiet. Adults spoke in hushed whispers, glancing occasionally at Frodo. Frodo was vaguely aware that his future was being decided. He said nothing, never shifting his gaze. It didn't matter.

The room grew dim as evening fell. He could smell dinner cooking. One of the servants came and asked him if he wanted something to eat. He shook his head and the stranger left. She soon returned with a blanket, which she draped over his shoulders. Frodo flinched. His mother had often done that. He didn't like a total stranger taking that role.

Slowly the noise of Brandy Hall faded into silence. In the great room one lone candle remained lit. The small flame cast long flickering shadows on the wall. Frodo felt as if the shadows were reaching into his heart. He clutched the blanket as the night grew chill. Slowly exhaustion and the mesmerizing flicker of the shadows won over the grief; and his head fell forward as he passed into an uneasy sleep.

**

Frodo awoke to the sound of the early morning cooks making breakfast in the nearby kitchen. He sat up, wondering for a moment where he was. Then memory of the previous day came flooding back. He buried his face in the blanket, wishing the forgetfulness of sleep would claim him again.

A young cook who was hurrying past noticed the small figure on the couch. "Hullo," she said questioningly. "What are you doing up so early? Do your parents know where you are?"

A muffled sob was the only response.

"Oh, I'm dreadfully sorry," she stammered apologetically. "You must be the Baggins lad. Were you here all night? Poor child. You'll have to learn to speak up if you need something around here. Come on, I heard the Master sayin' there's an empty room near his quarters you're to have."

Frodo allowed himself to be lead to the empty bedroom. It was a small room in an older part of the Hall. The paint on the walls may have been white at one time, but it now had a grayish hue. It was simply furnished with a bed, bureau, and a small table and chair.

"There," she said. "You can sleep here until other arrangements can be made. Though like as not this is where you'll stay. Now, I must get back to the kitchen. Are you alright, lad?"

Frodo nodded silently. She hesitated for a moment, watching the young boy. The distress in his young eyes troubled her, though it was to be expected with the accident so recent. Reluctantly she closed the door behind her and returned to her duties.

**

Frodo stood quietly at the funeral. The afternoon sun was warm and bright, despite the somber mood that pervaded Buckland that day. The bodies had been buried before Frodo was allowed outside. A combined headstone marked his parents' final resting place in the Buckland cemetery. Several hobbits came up to them to express their sympathies over the tragic accident. Frodo nodded numbly to each of them, seldom taking his eyes off the ground. His Aunt Menegilda came and stood with him, along with his cousins Esmeralda and Saradoc.

Rorimac got up to gave some 'fitting words.' His eyes were red, as if he had been crying. Frodo paid little attention to the speech. He stared at the ground, green with summer grass that waved in the gentle breeze. Its color was broken by two piles of fresh earth. To his mind the brown earthen mounds looked very much like the brown hull of the overturned boat that had taken their lives. When Rory had finished speaking the hobbits started to leave. Frodo didn't move.

"Come along, Frodo," said Menegilda, gently taking Frodo's hand and trying to lead him back to the Hall.

"No," Frodo begged. "Can't I stay a little while? Please?"

Menegilda looked down at the child's distraught face. His blue eyes met hers, pleading with her to be allowed to stay. "Very well," she said softly, "but don't stay out after dark."

One by one everyone but Frodo left the cemetery and returned to the Hall. Frodo wandered around the cemetery and collected a handful of wild flowers. Returning to the graves he knelt and laid the flowers reverently on the fresh earth.

"Here Mum, you always loved flowers. I'm sure the flowers back home are still blooming, though they won't be for much longer without you tending them. You loved working in your flower garden. Did I ever tell you how much I loved your garden too? I brought some for you too Dad. You loved Mum's garden. Are there gardens where you are now? If there are, that's where I'll look for you whenever I die and follow where you've gone. Will you wait for me there? Please don't forget about me." With the last words grief finally overwhelmed him. He knelt by the graves and wept until the late afternoon sun had slipped beneath the horizon, painting the sky in shades of orange and gold; the same colors as the flowers Frodo had lain on his parents' graves.


Chapter 3

Frodo sat curled up on the bed in his new room. As predicted the room had officially become his. Frodo had spent most of his time there for the past two days, leaving seldom and speaking even less. He hugged his knees to his chest, gazing out the round window. The western sky was still pale in the morning light.

He didn't like having a room of his own in Brandy Hall. It was too permanent. The thought of living at Brandy Hall caused his stomach to tie itself up in knots. He hated the continuous clamor. Even through his closed door the constant noise invaded the limited privacy of his room. He felt lost in the crowded Hall amid hundreds of busy hobbits. He yearned for his peaceful hobbit hole where he had lived with his parents. He leaned against the headboard. He longed for the nightmare to end. He longed to wake up in his own bed and discover the past three days were just a terrible dream.

There was a knock on the door. Menegilda came in, holding several bundles. "Here are your things, Frodo. Rory and I picked them up from your parents' smial," she said.

"What happens to the rest of Mum and Dad's things?" asked Frodo.

"They'll be auctioned off to help pay for your keep," said Menegilda matter-of-factly.

"Oh," Frodo replied, his voice was barely above a whisper. Is that all he was? Just a burden to be 'kept' until he came of age? Twenty-one years seemed like a hopeless eternity stretching before him.

"Do you need help putting things away?" asked Menegilda. Frodo shook his head. "Well I'm off to the market then. Esmeralda is around if you need something. You'll want to give Doderic back his clothes now that you have your own."

Frodo nodded, forcing a smile that he did not feel. He had brought no change of clothes since they had not planned on spending the night, and had been forced to borrow slightly too big clothes from Doderic. Menegilda turned and left the room, closing the door behind her.

Frodo slid onto the floor and began sifting listlessly through the pile of things that had been left on the floor. Each item brought back a new memory. He found the new trousers and embroidered jacket his father had given him to wear to the Yule party last year. With it there was the vest he had watched his mother sew for him last summer. He carefully placed his ink well and quill on the small table. His mother had given them to him on her last birthday. Even the stuffed bear that his parents had given him when he was seven, which he had recently decided he was too grown-up for, was now a source of precious memories. He changed into his own clothes and left Doderic's on the floor to be returned later.

He gazed at the clutter on the floor. Suddenly he realized that he had not seen Bilbo's book anywhere in the piles. He rummaged through what remained of the bundles, slowly at first, but soon he was searching furiously. More clothes, his hairbrush, a pouch of marbles, a small pillow... The book was nowhere to be found.

Frodo was becoming frantic. Menegilda had said everything was going to be auctioned off. He had to get it back before the auction, or it would be gone forever. But how? No one would go all the way back just to get it for him. A tear rolled unbidden down his cheek. Frodo brushed it aside.

No one would get it for him, but he could get it himself. A look of determination hardened on his face. He knew the way home, though he had never traveled it alone, or on foot.

Drogo's voice echoed in his head. `Mind you take good care of it. It's very valuable, you know.' It was one of the last things his father had said to him.

"I will, Dad. I will," he whispered. With that he slipped out of his room and dashed out the side door. The door to Brandy Hall slammed behind him. He had discovered one good thing about his room. It was close to an exit. He would often be thankful for that arrangement in years to come.

Outside the sun was shining brightly. The morning chill had all but disappeared under its warmth. The beautiful day seemed to care nothing for the storm in the young hobbit's heart as he ran down the road. If anyone saw him they took no notice of him, unless it was to smile at how quickly he had recovered from the shock and was outside playing again.

Frodo ran quite a distance from the Hall before exhaustion finally forced him to slacken his pace. On he walked, less frantic now but more determined. The road was dry and dusty under his feet. A cool breeze played gently through his curls. Slowly the morning sun rose higher in the sky. He shielded his eyes from the glare.

The sun was starting to sink past the noon hour as he finally reached the familiar lane leading to his family's hobbit hole. It had taken him far longer than he had expected to reach the cozy smial that used to be his home. He tried the door. Locked. Frodo sighed, he should have expected as much. Maybe there would be a window open.

He had never climbed through a window before, but he had heard some of the older boys at Brandy Hall bragging about such a feat. He wandered around the hole and discovered that the kitchen window had been left ajar. He grasped the inner windowsill awkwardly. Scrambling with his feet on the outer wall of the smial, he pulled himself half way through the window. For a moment he teetered, balanced on his stomach, suddenly realizing his mistake. He had no way to turn himself around to land on his feet. He lowered himself down with one hand until his fingertips were touching the kitchen floor. Suddenly his legs slipped and he tumbled into the kitchen.

Frodo picked himself up off the floor, rubbing a bruised shoulder. His foot was bleeding a little across the top where it had scraped across the window frame, but he had made it inside. He looked back at the window. There was a small white button sitting on the green windowsill. He looked down at his shirt. Sure enough, there was a button missing. He put the button in his pocket, wondering who would sew it on for him. His mother had always mended his clothes.

The smial seemed very empty and quiet. The furniture and other belongings were still there, exactly as they had been the morning they had left. A copper teapot still hung in the fireplace. Cold ash beneath was all that remained of the fire. The breakfast dishes were still in the drying rack where Prim had set them, the dishrag still stained with the strawberry jam they had eaten at breakfast. A vase of flowers from the garden, now slightly wilted, sat on the kitchen table. A scattering of small petals lay on the table where they had fallen from the drooping blossoms.

Frodo left the kitchen and wandered down the hallway, half in a daze. The familiar hole seemed somehow changed. He almost felt like an intruder in his own home. But it wasn't his home anymore was it? Unaware of having made a conscious decision, he found he had wandered into his parents' bedroom. Their smell still lingered in the air, the mingled scents of pipeweed, laundry soap, and tilled earth. He stood there for several minutes, half expecting to see them come through the door. He could almost hear their voices, the voices that had echoed merrily off these walls only three days ago...the voices now stilled forever.

He climbed onto the bed and buried his face in the covers, closing his eyes and breathing deeply of the familiar scent. The fragrance was soon mingled with that of his own salty tears. Away from the prying eyes and ears of Brandy Hall, Frodo broke down and wept. Sobs racked his small frame. "How can you be gone?" he sobbed into the pillow. "How can you leave me here alone?" The only answer was the sound of his own cries, echoing in the empty room. Frodo shut his eyes against the emptiness, trying to block out the gaping hole in what used to be his home, only to find the hole inside his very being larger still.

Frodo remained curled up on his parents' bed, hiding his face in the nearest pillow, until at last all his tears were spent and the deep hitching sobs slowly subsided into small sniffles. At length Frodo roused himself. The afternoon sun filtered through the window, leaving a pool of light on the wooden floor. Remembering his errand, he slowly got up and took a final longing look around the room, drinking in the familiar sight one last time. Reluctantly he left and went to his own bedroom in search of the book.

His room was bare, except for the furniture. It had a mournful look. Of course, his things were now in Brandy Hall. The shelf where he had always kept the book was empty. Frodo frowned, where had it been moved to? Rory probably thought it was one of Drogo's books.

Drogo's bookcase stood in the corner of the living room, next to the couch. Drogo had a large collection of books, by hobbit standards. Frodo started looking through the titles. Several of them he had read. Some he had planned to read when he got older. He realized with sadness that he would probably never get to read them now. He took a familiar large dark blue book off the shelf and began leafing through it. It was his father's book of Shire history. Drogo frequently used it when giving Frodo his schooling lessons, and Frodo had occasionally read parts of it on his own.

He opened the book and began to read. He read about Marcho and Blanco setting out from Bree, crossing the Bridge of Stonebows, and beginning the colonization of the Shire. He read about the founding of Great Smials in Tuckborough. He read about the fell winter when wolves had crossed the frozen Brandywine. History seemed to be full of great adventures. No hobbit that he knew had ever had an adventure in his lifetime. Bilbo had been on an adventure once, but that was before Frodo was born.

Frodo came to the founding of Hobbiton. Just a few months prior Drogo had read him that story. "It's time you learned more about your Baggins roots," he had said. They had spent the evening together, going over family history. Frodo felt his eyes fill up with tears at the memory. One fell onto the open book, blurring the words on the page.

The low roll of distant thunder brought Frodo back to the present with a jolt. He looked out the window. Dark, ominous clouds were gathering in the west.

Frodo jumped up, suddenly realizing how long he had been sitting there. "It must be past dinner time at the Hall," he muttered. Then he stopped, as the full meaning of the words hit him. He had been gone since breakfast time. They would be looking for him by now. Rory and Menegilda would be worried sick. When they found out he had gone off without a word, and over a book...

His imagination raced with every punishment he had heard of in his short life. He suddenly felt sick to his stomach. He wondered if he would be beaten. He had heard about young hobbits being beaten by angry parents, or neighbors. Those stories had always seemed very distant when his parents were still alive. Now he felt abandoned and very much afraid.

He looked out the window at the gathering clouds. Could he make it back to the Hall before the storm broke? Frodo thought about his warm bed, his own bed. Maybe he could spend one more night in his own home... No, the longer he was gone the more trouble he would be in. He had to go back eventually, better to get it over with.

He looked at the history book in his hands. He hesitated for a moment, then reluctantly he returned it to the shelf. It was too big and bulky for him to carry all the way back to the Hall by himself. He scanned the shelves for his own book. He finally spotted the brown and gold volume on the top shelf, just beyond his reach. "Just my luck," he muttered to himself. He looked around for something to stand on and finally dragged Drogo's chair over to the bookcase. Climbing on the chair he retrieved the book. The golden trim shimmered in the fading light.

He wrapped the book in an oilskin in case it started to rain. Then he paused to take one final look at his beloved home, etching every detail firmly into his memory. Clutching the treasured book to his chest, he slowly turned and walked out the door of his home for the last time.

Outside the sky was starting to fade toward evening. The sun was low on the horizon, a patch of light hidden behind dark clouds. The countryside seemed grey and dreary in the remaining half-light. The air was full of the fragrance of Primula's garden. Frodo looked at the flowers, the last she had ever planted. Bright yellow primroses bloomed on the borders of the garden. "My name-flower," his mother had always called them. Frodo reached down and picked one of the yellow blooms and pressed it in his book. Then he wrapped the book back into the oilskin and turned toward the road. With a pained but determined expression, Frodo began the long walk back to Brandy Hall.

The sun soon disappeared below the horizon. The sky grew dark. Thick clouds hid the moon and blotted out the stars. Before long it started to rain. He was soon soaked to the skin. His breeches were splattered with mud up to the knees. Frodo clutched the book to his chest, trying in vain to shield it from the deluge. He looked down at his filthy clothes. "Mum would say I looked a sight. She could go on scolding all she wanted if only I could see her again," he thought sadly.

Lightning tore across the sky. Cold and miserable, Frodo stumbled on, both anxious to get the journey over with and fearing what awaited him at the end. A strong wind drove the rain against his face. Its icy fingers chilled his already wet skin. He shivered, and wished he had thought to bring his cloak.

It was after midnight when he finally reached Brandy Hall. The rain had stopped, but his clothes were still damp and chill against him. He let himself in the side door and stood there shivering. He hardly cared how he would be punished anymore; he was so relieved to be out of the chill night air.

The Hall was dark and quiet. There was no sound of activity to be heard. He went to the great room and found it empty. Strange. He had to tell someone he was back. Frodo walked wearily to his room. He heard soft footsteps behind him. He turned and peered down the dark hallway. A tall hobbit was coming toward him, though it was too dark to make out who it was. "Hello?" he called quietly.

"Frodo, is that you?" It was Rory's voice.

"Yes, sir. It's me." Frodo braced himself for the response, whatever it might be.

"What are you doing up?" Rory asked sleepily. "Can't you sleep either?"

Frodo opened his mouth and closed it again, trying to make sense of the question.

"Well, I guess we both should try to get some rest," Rory muttered "I'll see you in the morning,"

Frodo watched in shock as Rorimac disappeared down the hall. It was as if Rory didn't even know he had been gone. Did anyone know? No, Rory would have been told immediately if anyone had discovered he was missing. As Master of Buckland he would he would have to organize the search party. Slowly realization started to dawn on him. No one knew he had left.

Frodo slowly closed the door to his room behind him. He tried to feel relieved that he wasn't in trouble, but no matter how much his mind thought he should be glad, his heart ached. No one had missed him. No one had come to check on him all day. No one noticed that he wasn't at dinner, or any other meal that day.

He lit the candle in his room. His things were scattered on the floor where he had left them that morning. Doderic's clothes still lay in a pile in the corner. Nothing had been touched.

He took the book out of it's oilskin covering. The edges were wet where the water had seeped through the sides. It would be water stained but it was still legible. He dropped the book onto his bed and changed out of his wet clothes, selecting warm winter pajamas in an attempt to drive out the chill that seemed to have seeped into his bones. He climbed into his bed and sat with the covers pulled around him, trying to get warm. He was cold and weary but his mind was racing too much to sleep yet.

The shadows cast by the small light flickered on the pages of the book where it had fallen open on the bed in front of him. The picture caught his eye. It was a picture of a young man kneeling before a cairn, his father's grave. Frodo looked at the young man's face, etched with grief, a mirror of his own. In the dim candlelight, Frodo began to read.

The young man's name was Beren. He had watched his mother flee into the perilous mountains near Ered Gorgoroth with the remnants of his people. He never saw her again. Not long after her flight his father was killed by orcs.

After that Beren lived a lonely existence in the woods, fending for himself. He was the very last to remain alive in his home of Dorthonion. The shadow over the land grew until he was driven even from the desolate remains of his homeland. Yet he didn't give up. Beren was determined to go on, with a will so resolute he survived the terrible journey through the mountains of terror, coming at last to Doriath. Yet even in his new home he wasn't welcome.

Beren went on a perilous quest into the heart of the enemy's realm. With the help of one who loved him more than life itself, he succeeded. He cut a silmaril from the iron crown, though the attempt nearly cost him his life.

The tale continued. Victory was tempered with sorrow. Joy was bought with great sacrifice and unyielding determination.

The sky grew pale with the approaching dawn as Frodo finished the bittersweet tale. A single star remained in the sky. The star of Earendil, the light of that same silmaril. He looked back at the picture of the man by his father's grave, and thought of what that man had done. Though Frodo couldn't imagine going on a quest like Beren's, the significance of the tale sank deep into his heart. Beren had learned to take care of himself. He would have died shortly after his father's death if he hadn't. Frodo would take care of himself from now on. Beren had lost his parents too. Yet he had found the strength to not only go on, but to thrive. He had learned to face the world alone. And so would Frodo.

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