Gift of the Valar - Chapter 5:The fire of Truth
The night of the harvest bonfire, when families of the Shire gathered in late November to burn the dried corn stalks and other remnants of their fields, was clear and cold. Frodo and Sam had snuck away from the main bonfire with the Cotton boys, Fatty Bolger, Sam's sister Marigold and her friend Chrysanthemum Goodfellow...the healer's neice who was visiting from Frogmorton. They were discussing the relative merits of larger vs. smaller bonfires. Sam insisted that this years' fire was the smallest he'd seen in 5 years.
"Me Da says that the bigger the harvest fire, the better the crops'll be that next year." Sam said knowledgably. Frodo, not having a lot of farming experience was trying to figure out why this would be when he looked up and noticed that Ted Sandyman had joined their group. He felt a shiver run down his spine, but worked to qwell his discomfort, he wanted to give the lad a chance....Bilbo had asked him to.
"Our Samwise is always trying to sound like such a know it all....how is it ya know so much much Sam? Read it in a
bookdid ya?" Ted taunted.
"Now Ted" Sam replied patiently "farming's not the same as book learning....I learned that from me Da, one o'the best farmers in these parts" he said proudly.
Ted looked around the group of faces "Yep, yer right...that's a fact Sam...no denying the skills o'your Da" he agreed.
Frodo was surprised that Ted had agreed so readily with Sam, but he was uneasy because with Ted there was always more to come.
"So Sam" Ted continued "if yer gonna be half the farmer your Da is you'll lay off the books...unless of course having a big crop tain't important to ya?" he quipped. "But then again, with all them mouths to feed at #3 you'd be needing a real big bonfire to be sure you got a good crop...now wouldn'tcha?"
Sam remained silent, Ted was right up to a point, they did need a good crop next year...his Da wasn't getting any younger and there were a lot of mouths to feed.
Ted continued "maybe we should make a bigger fire...you know to be sure there's enough food in the Shire to feed all the Gamgees."
Frodo was starting to feel the twinges of a headache, he turned to Ted "Lay off Ted, Sam's family does very well, they don't need luck when they've got two master gardeners."
Sam shot Frodo a grateful look.
"Suits me" said Ted "but don't come running to the mill for handouts when the Gamgee brood is missing their 2nd breakfast or tea."
Sam was indecisive,'what could it hurt to start a bigger fire?' he thought 'It would help the harvest next year after all.'
Frodo's headache was growing and it occured to him that perhaps this was a foretelling he'd best pay attention to. Sam turned to Frodo to see him wince in pain and said "Ya OK Mr. Frodo?"
"Fine Sam, but perhaps we'd best get back to the folks eh?" he replied.
Sam was torn, he wanted to help Frodo, who was starting on one of his headaches, but he wanted to see what Ted's plan was. "You go on Mr. Frodo, I'll be a long" he added.
Frodo was dismayed, by now he was getting a clear idea of what Ted was up to and he didn't want his dear friend to be brought into the trouble. He closed his eyes, he saw Ted lighting a tree, the party tree on fire and blaming Sam. 'No' he thought to himself, 'I can't let that happen'. He looked about him, the group was starting to follow Ted down the hill towards the center of the field.
He took a deep breath and mustering up his courage, he ran at Ted and leaped upon his back...and started punching.
Ted outweighed Frodo by nearly two stone and was much stronger after his time spent lifting sacks of grain at the mill; he shook Frodo off of him with no more trouble than a dog shaking off a flea.
Frodo landed hard, but got right back up again. "You stop your nonsense Ted, I know what you're up to" he shouted....and ran at him again. "You Bagginses are all cracked" Ted yelled back and began punching and kicking Frodo. Sam tried to get between them to stop a fight that was clearly going against his friend when the Cotton brothers held him back. Sam struggled "Jolly, lay off...Ted's gonna hurt 'em" "Now Sam...Frodo started it...fairs fair, ye gotta give Ted his licks.' said Jolly Cotton. Fatty took one look at what was happening and ran to find the Gaffer and Mr. Bilbo.
Seeing that Sam was secured in the arms of the Cotton brothers Ted took his time with Frodo, punching and kicking him even when Frodo stopped trying to get up. Frodo rolled in a ball to try and protect himself, but too late, one of Ted's kicks connected hard and Frodo heard a cracking sound as a rib was cracked...he moaned.
"Come one Ted...enough now, he's no match for you" Jolly said as he held a still struggling Sam.
"He started it" Ted huffed as he aimed another kick at Frodo's back.
Just then the Gaffer and Bilbo arrived. The Gaffer stepped up behind Ted and pinned his arms behind him. "Leave off 'em now lad, it's over".
Bilbo was furious "What in the name of Arda is going on here?" The Cotton bothers let go of Sam who started to make his way over to Frodo "somebody answer me" Bilbo demanded.
Ted's father was suddenly on the scene. "Your lad attacked my Ted" the elder Sandyman snarled "you've got an odd one there Baggins...keep him and his strange ways outta my sight or I'll be calling the sheriffs."
Ted got loose of the gaffer and walked over to where Frodo lay and gave him one last kick to the back. Frodo moaned in pain as the kick connected with his broken rib. Sam jumped to his feet "You leave off him Ted or you'll find yourself in a different kind'o fight he growled." Pure hatred raging in his usually gentle brown eyes.
Frodo's eyes widened in horror at the pure hatred he heard in his friends voice...a tear came to his eye 'No Sam....' He didn't want to see Sam come to this.
The miller dragged his son away as Bilbo came to Frodo's side and helped him to his feet. "Hamfast" Bilbo said quietly "I'd thank you to keep Sam close to home for a while, when Frodo's able, he's off to visit his cousins at Brandy Hall."
"No Uncle, no...it's not Sam's doing. I...I started it" Frodo cried. "Yes I know lad" Bilbo said coldly "and I'm stopping it."
"No" Frodo said "it's not right, it's not fair...Ted was" a fit of coughing shook Frodo and he grabbed his stomach in pain, dropped to his knees and vomited blood.
Sam tried to run to his side, but the Gaffer stopped him and started to drag him away "No Da" Sam pleaded "ya need to hear us out...hear out Mr. Frodo...don't let Mr. Bilbo send him away!"
"Mr. Bilbo'll listen when he's ready son...let's go home Sam" the Gaffer said quietly. As Sam was being dragged away, he saw Frodo collapse to the ground and heard Bilbo call for a cart and Old Prody.
Frodo was in bed for several days. Bilbo came to his room every few hours to bring him food or to inquire how he was feeling. Each time Bilbo came in Frodo tried to explain what had happened....but Bilbo would not allow further discussion.
Soon Frodo stopped trying to talk to Bilbo and would turn away from him as he came in. On the third day he forced himself out of bed and looked at himself in the mirror. His lip was swollen, one eye was blackened and swollen and it was painful to breathe. He felt that no matter what he said, his Uncle would send him away...so he decided better to go sooner than later, he could endure the silence no more.
He packed his satchel and slowly made his way down the hall to the kitchen. He found carrying his bag painful so he let it drop outside the kitchen entry with a loud "thud".
Bilbo had been sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands but looked up upon hearing the noise. He looked to his nephew standing there framed in the doorway, swaying slightly...beads of sweat on his forehead from the pain of carrying his bag. "Frodo, you are not well....go back to bed my boy." he said in a tone that sounded as if he'd not take 'no' as an answer.
"I'll be fine Uncle" Frodo said quietly "could you have the Gaffer bring up the cart...I'm expected at Brandy Hall."
"Don't be foolish Frodo, you're in no shape to travel"
Frodo sighed heavily "There is a storm coming in two days....we'll be snowed in if you don't let me go now"
Bilbo rose and looked out the window "Frodo there is not a cloud in the sky and it is far to warm for snow....now go back to bed" he said shortly.
"It will snow Uncle...I know it...it's best I go now sir " he finished quietly.
Bilbo looked at his nephew intently "Are you sure Frodo...you know I only want what's best...."
"I know Uncle" Frodo said sadly "that's what I want too, perhaps time away is what we both need." He sighed "everything I do lately seems to go wrong, and well...I don't want you to hate me" he finished quietly.
"Hate you, is that what you think would happen?" Bilbo asked incredulously "I could never hate you my boy....worry about you....grow angry at you..and, well I could never hate you"" he added sadly. He got up " I'll get the cart if it's what you think best." and he left Frodo alone in the kitchen.
Frodo sat down tiredly at the table, he hoped he was doing the right thing. He thought of how much his time here at Bag End had meant to him...he wished he could find a way to show his Uncle how much he meant to him as well. His thoughts were interrupted by a voice at the door.
"Mr. Frodo, ya ready to go sir?" Sam asked.
"Sam, I thought the Gaffer was driving me to Buckland" Frodo said surprised to see his friend. "Well, in the cold weather me Da gets kinda stiff so Mr. Bilbo asked me to drive ya".
"I could drive myself Sam" Frodo offered. "No good sir, I know yer still hurting from yer ribs and Mr. Bilbo told me about the storm coming...." Sam replied.
Frodo stood up and grabbed his satchel from the floor, the effort caused him to wince in pain. "I'll get that for ye Frodo" Sam said..."let me help ye up on the cart as well" he said quietly. "Nothing gets by you does it Sam?" Frodo asked with a grin. "Just the important things" he mumbled to himself. as he watched Frodo painfully settle himself into the cart.
"Wait" Frodo said as Sam started the pony down the lane "where's Bilbo? Won't he even say good bye then?" he asked sadly. "He's having tea with the Gaffer and said that I should say ta ya that he'd be down in Buckland in three days or so to see how yer faring." Frodo did not know if that was good news or not....'only time will tell' he thought to himself.
As Sam and Frodo drove past #3 Bagshot row, Bilbo was having tea with the Gaffer and sharing his trouble. They sat at the Gamgee's cozy kitchen table and shared their thoughts. "Mr. Bilbo sir, did Mr. Frodo ever tell ye what the trouble was the night of the harvest bonfire?" the Gaffer asked.
"Well Hamfast, not really, at least not clearly....something about a fire" Bilbo replied.
"Aye, a fire all right...me Sams always been taught that a big fire meant a big crop the next year." the Gaffer started to say. Bilbo nodded...he was aware of the superstitions of the local farmers. "Well" the Gaffer continued "with me not getting any younger and not so spry as I once was....well me Sam was worried already about the size o'the bonfire....so when Ted suggested making a bigger fire...Sam saw no harm".
"Yes, yes....I could see they were planning a prank of sorts....but what's this to do with Frodo engaging in a brawl with that Ted Sandyman?"? Bilbo asked.
The Gaffer looked real uncomfortable "What is it Hamfast, no secrets now" Bilbo demanded.
"Well sir, Sam's told me how Mr. Frodo can at times be seeing things...so he knows what's gonna happen afore it does" Gaffer said quietly.
Bilbo went pale...."well, he thinks he can....it seems like nonsense to me" he stammered.
The Gaffer reached a hand to Bilbo's shoulder. "He knew Ted was a gonna burn down the party tree and blame it on my Sam."
Bilbo was stunned "How'd you know this?" he asked faintly.
The Gaffer put a leather pouch on the table, clearly emblazened with the ornate "S" of the Sandyman family....and from it he took a tinder and flint. "I checked around after ye took Frodo home that night and I found these still at the base of the tree."
Bilbo got up from the table and paced the room..."Did you discuss this with Sam?" he asked
"I haven't told him....but I'm sure he knows...my Sam has a real good sense of people Mr. Bilbo...like your Frodo does." the Gaffer added.
Bilbo sat back down heavily "What have I done Hamfast....as we speak the boys are on their way to Buckland....Frodo's surely thinking he's been sent off...perhaps never to return."
The Gaffer got up from the table and returned with a bottle of brandy and two glasses....he filled them and handing one to Bilbo said " He loves ye Mr. Bilbo....he knows you mean to set things right by 'em...you two'll work this out...just you mark my words....there'll be more hard times...but ye'll work this out" the Gaffer said as he raised his glass " to our boys sir".
Bilbo raised his glass " yes, to our boys" he said and as he drained his glass he was aware of how very good it felt to think of Frodo as 'his boy'.