Pushed or Pulled? by Kathryn Ramage
Summary: An historical Frodo Investigates! mystery. While on holiday in Buckland, Frodo finds information that leads him to investigate his own parents' deaths.
Categories: FPS > Sam/Frodo, FPS, FPS > Frodo/Sam Characters: Frodo, Sam
Type: None
Warning: None
Challenges: None
Series: Frodo Investigates!
Chapters: 20 Completed: Yes Word count: 26801 Read: 31138 Published: March 17, 2011 Updated: March 17, 2011
Story Notes:
This story takes place in the summer of 1426 (S.R.).

Special thanks: To Susan, as always, for her beta-ing.

1. Chapter 1 by Kathryn Ramage

2. Chapter 2 by Kathryn Ramage

3. Chapter 3 by Kathryn Ramage

4. Chapter 4 by Kathryn Ramage

5. Chapter 5 by Kathryn Ramage

6. Chapter 6 by Kathryn Ramage

7. Chapter 7 by Kathryn Ramage

8. Chapter 8 by Kathryn Ramage

9. Chapter 9 by Kathryn Ramage

10. Chapter 10 by Kathryn Ramage

11. Chapter 11 by Kathryn Ramage

12. Chapter 12 by Kathryn Ramage

13. Chapter 13 by Kathryn Ramage

14. Chapter 14 by Kathryn Ramage

15. Chapter 15 by Kathryn Ramage

16. Chapter 16 by Kathryn Ramage

17. Chapter 17 by Kathryn Ramage

18. Chapter 18 by Kathryn Ramage

19. Chapter 19 by Kathryn Ramage

20. Chapter 20 by Kathryn Ramage

Chapter 1 by Kathryn Ramage
One bright summer's day, Frodo Baggins went rowing on the Brandywine River with his cousin Melilot Took. The sun shone overhead and its light glittered with blinding intensity on the ale-colored water. Frodo worked hard at the oars, for he was rowing against the current midstream.

"I thought we'd go as far as Stock, pull our boat up on the far bank, and walk to the Golden Perch for luncheon," he suggested. "It isn't more than a mile. Then we can let the current carry us back down the river again--much easier than going up! Aunt Esme's asked Sam and me to stay for dinner tonight, since the Gamgee children will be at the Hall all day today."

"It sounds like a lovely idea," said Melly, who was sitting at the prow of the little boat. "But won't Mr. Gamgee worry if you're away so long?"

Frodo shook his head. "He's gone fishing with Merry and Marly. They rode down to the Standelf Pool after second breakfast and won't be back until dinner-time themselves."

"Rode? On ponies?" When hobbits from Brandy Hall went to fish in the Pool, they usually traveled by boat. "How very odd. Doesn't your friend like to go boating?"

"Goodness, no! Sam only gets aboard a boat with the greatest reluctance. He can't swim, you see. There's no body of water larger than the Bywater Pool in that part of the Shire, and that's not more than chin-deep at the middle, so they never trouble to learn. Besides, poor Sam nearly drowned once...." Frodo trailed off; the Brandywine had unpleasant associations for both Melly and himself in that respect and he didn't want to spoil their day's outing by digging up bad memories.

"I did wonder," said Melly. "Whenever you're here and take a boat out on the river, you always invite me or Celie to come along."

"I don't care to go alone, and a row on the river is usually more pleasant with a lady," Frodo explained gallantly. "You and Celie allow me to do the rowing and it makes me feel as if I were stronger and completely well. If I go out with Merry or one of the lads, they always want to take the oars. If Sam could row, I'm sure he'd snatch them out of my hands rather than let me tire myself."

His cousin smiled. "Was that meant to be hint? I won't grab the oars from you, Frodo, but if you do feel tired, you've only to say so. I'll come and sit beside you and help you row." After a moment, she added, "I wonder that you aren't more nervous of the river yourself."

"Me? Why?"

"Well, you almost drowned too that day, trying to rescue Mentha. We aren't very far now from where it all happened."

Frodo didn't need to ask what "it" referred to. He knew what she was thinking, for the same thoughts had been in his own mind since he'd first spoken of drowning. They were now in that part of the Brandywine where, years ago, their cousin Berilac had accosted Melilot while the two were out in a boat together. Berilac could never keep his hands to himself where pretty girls were concerned and, on this occasion, that inability had led to his doom. He'd been killed on the riverbank shortly after Melly had insisted he take her ashore. Melly's elder sister Mentha had thrown herself into the river at that same place before their very eyes soon afterwards.

The stretch of bank where all this had occurred was just coming into view on the eastern side of the river. Melly leaned over the opposite side of the boat to let her fingers dangle in the water to avoid looking at it. "Then there were your parents," she said.

"That was so long ago." Frodo drew up the oars to cross the upper ends of the poles across his lap and rest his elbows on them. "I admit that I've never found the idea of a moonlit row on the river appealing, since it makes me think of how my mother and father died, but otherwise it doesn't seem to have affected me very much. I remember when Aunt Esme told me about the accident, and how I felt when their bodies were recovered and brought back to the Hall to be laid out in the parlor, but I barely remember them at all. You don't remember them, do you?" His cousin had only been eight years old at the time.

Melly shook her head. "I remember you crying terribly for days," she answered. "Mother said that we should all be specially nice to you."

"And yet they're part of the reason why I wanted to come to Buckland for our holiday. At least, my mother is. There's something of hers I hope to find while I'm here."

The boat was beginning to drift toward the western bank, and Frodo had to give his full attention to steering it before they strayed into the reeds. When he and Melly resumed their conversation, they spoke of other things.
Chapter 2 by Kathryn Ramage
Frodo had brought Sam and the Gamgee children to Buckland for a long-promised summer holiday. They'd been planning it since the spring, but Frodo had delayed the trip until after his Aunt Dora's one-hundred-and-first birthday party in June, and the wedding of his friend Thimula Bracegirdle. He'd paid off the servants for two months, shut up Bag End, and left the keys in care of Sam's sister Marigold so that someone could come in to sweep and dust occasionally. Frodo didn't expect to return home again until his own birthday in September. He and Sam had hired a carriage and filled it with baggage and small children, then traveled slowly until they reached Brandy Hall.

Pippin had offered them the cottage at Crickhollow while he was staying with his family in Tuckborough, but Frodo instead chose another cottage on the Hall grounds, the one that his cousin Celie had occupied with her first husband. This cottage was much closer to the Hall than Crickhollow, and one of the bedrooms was already furnished as a nursery; they had only to move another small bed in. Although Frodo called on his family at Brandy Hall every day, and Merry gave them a standing invitation to come to luncheon, tea, or dinner whenever they felt like it, they had a house to themselves. The surroundings were quiet, for only one of the other nearby cottages was occupied. Frodo's uncle Dinodas had the cottage next door. His cousins Doderic and Isalda, who lived in the cottage named Ivysmial farther up the lane, had gone with Pippin to Tuckborough to visit Isalda's father.

They had now been in Buckland for nearly a week. Sam's children were having a marvelous time, and were delighted to find a whole new group of "cousins" to play with. In addition to Melly's little boy, Aderic, there were Celie's two sons and the baby girl she'd given birth to at midwinter, and the head nursery-maid Milli's own son Jem. With so many children in the Brandy Hall nursery, Milli was now in charge of a trio of maidservants and Sam need never worry about leaving his own four small children unattended. There was always someone to look after them, and some of the Brandybucks were quite amenable to being addressed as Auntie or Uncle by the little Gamgees.

Frodo's chief reason for this holiday was his hope that getting away from the places that reminded Sam of Rosie would help his friend to recover from his grief at her death. But he also had a personal errand of his own to perform while they were here, as he'd mentioned to Melly that afternoon. Now that he, Sam, and the children had settled in comfortably, Frodo thought it was time to pursue this errand.

That evening after a dinner that included the trout Sam and Merry had brought back from their fishing expedition, he sought out Merry's mother, Lady Esmeralda. Esmeralda was just past seventy, but she still had long strawberry-blonde curls and a girlish air about her. Like her son, she also had something of the Tookish mischievous spirit, which Frodo thought had blossomed again since her widowhood.

"Aunt Esme," he asked, "do you know what happened to the pearls that belonged to my mother?"

Esmeralda looked surprised at the question. "Why, fancy you remembering them, Frodo!"

"I don't, not in the least," Frodo answered. "I don't think I've ever set eyes on them, but I've heard about them recently, and wondered what had become of them. It seemed odd to me that such a valuable family heirloom could disappear. I hoped that they might belong to me. If they do, I'd like to find them and take them with me."

Earlier that summer, during his investigation of the theft of some pearls belonging to his Aunt Prisca Baggins, he'd learned the history of that necklace and discovered that there were two others like it. The Old Took, Frodo's great-grandfather, had given pearl necklaces to each of his three daughters: Belladonna's was now in the possession of Pippin's eldest sister; Donnamira's had gone to her son, who had given it to Prisca Baggins as a betrothal gift; Mirabella, Frodo's grandmother, had left hers to one of her daughters. Frodo's preliminary inquiries led him to believe that this necklace had come to his mother.

"I asked Aunt Del when we stopped in Budgeford last week," he told Esmeralda. "I thought she might've been given them by her mother, but she told me that her elder sister received them from Grandmamma Mirabella, and Aunt Amaranth gave them to Mother."

"Yes, that right," Esmeralda confirmed. "Amaranth gave them to Primmie on her sixtieth birthday--Amaranth's birthday, not Primula's. Primula was carrying you at the time, so she must have been eight-and-forty. Have you never heard the tale, Frodo? Of course you remember your Aunt Amaranth, but she was an old lady by the time you knew her--as old as I am now! They used to say that she was the prettiest of Master Rorimac's daughters, and took the most after Grandmother Mirabella, who was a remarkable beauty, but Asphodel and Primula were striking girls too. They had all sorts of offers from lads all over the Shire. Del married Rufus Burrows, as you know, and your mother wed Drogo Baggins, but Amaranth refused every proposal of marriage that came her way. Too proud, some said, and others that she'd never been asked by the one she truly wanted. Well, whatever the reason, at sixty she was still unwed. At her birthday that year, she announced that she would never have a daughter of her own, but that she wanted her treasures kept in the family. She would give her most treasured possession to Primmie to give to the child she was about to have if it was a girl--or, if it was a boy, to set them aside for him to give to his bride on his wedding day."

"That's not likely," Frodo laughed. He'd heard much the same story from Aunt Asphodel, although not with so much detail. Aunt Del confirmed that she'd never had the pearls, but her own pride and reluctance to speak a word against her spendthrift late husband had led her to gloss over the reasons why the eldest sister had chosen the youngest as a safer prospect for keeping the pearls in the family instead of the next in age. Amaranth must have been afraid that if she gave anything of great value to Asphodel, it would be sold to pay off her husband's debts. Aunt Del and Uncle Rufus had had to sell so many things, even their home in Frogmorton.

"Well, you were a boy, Frodo dear, and Primmie never had a daughter," Esmeralda concluded. "Your mother wore the pearls herself for awhile, then set them aside for you. She left you all that sort of thing in her will. But why on earth do you want them? You say you've no plans to marry and give them to a bride--and I would be more astonished to learn that you did, my love. But you couldn't possibly wear them yourself."

Frodo laughed again. "I don't want them for myself. I'd like to give them to my Aunt Dora at my birthday. She wants a string of pearls very badly, and I thought it would make her happy if I could give her these."

"How very sweet of you!"

Frodo had thought the matter over carefully. He planned to lend the pearls to Dora for her lifetime on the condition that she leave them to his niece, Myrtle Burrows. That seemed appropriate; Myrtle was Asphodel's granddaughter, so the pearls would remain in the family just as his late aunt Amaranth had wanted. If Myrtle lent them to her mother until she was old enough to wear them herself, then that would make Peony happy too. "Where are they now?" he asked. "Aunt Del thought that you might know where they've gone."

Esmeralda thought about this for a moment. "They're locked up safely here at the Hall. After she died, I put Primula's jewelry box and other things away for you... somewhere. My goodness, it's nearly been thirty years! I hope we'll be able to find them!"

In spite of her declared uncertainty about what she'd done with the things his mother had left him, Esmeralda found the jewelry box within the hour locked in a drawer of a small cabinet in one of her many dressing rooms, one she used now for storage. She then left Frodo alone to go through his mother's belongings. The key to the jewelry box was in the lock, and the string of pearls was in the first velvet bag he opened. Even in the light of a single candle left on top of the chest-of-drawers behind him, the iridescent beads gleamed rosy pink and felt warm as they lay in his hand, almost as if they were living things.

Frodo decided to leave the necklace where it was for the time being. It had been safe here for thirty years and would be safe here for a few weeks more. He would take the whole box with him when he returned to Hobbiton. In other compartments of the box in other little velvet bags were several more very pretty pieces of jewelry. He knew little about the value of gemstones, but some of these pieces looked quite expensive: diamonds, emeralds, a ruby ring. He would have to decide what to do with these later.

As he lifted a shimmering necklace up to examine it, it caught the edge of the box's velvet lining and pulled it slightly away to reveal a folded piece of paper tucked beneath. Frodo immediately lost interest in the jewelry; this was more intriguing. He extracted the paper and unfolded it. It appeared to be an unfinished letter. The ink had faded to a rusty brown, and he had to rise and hold it immediately under the light of the candle to read it:

August 17, 1397 SR

Dearest Esme-

Tonight will be the night. It's been decided and there's no turning back now. You'll only find this after the fact.

I entrust Frodo to your care, for I know you love him almost as if he were your own child and will treat him no differently from your son. You must explain it all to him once he is old enough to understand. But how, my love, can I explain it to you?

What I have to tell you will shock you. Have you never suspected? I've been so careful to conceal the truth, especially from the boy, but I've often wondered if you didn't-

The letter broke off there. Although he'd seen few samples of it before, Frodo felt sure that this was his mother's handwriting. It definitely wasn't his father's, and who else would consign him to Esmeralda's care? Who else would tuck this note away in his mother's jewelry box?

A more important question followed: Why was his mother writing to ask Esmeralda to look after him? This letter was a most extraordinary document, especially with respect to the date at the top. Primula Baggins had written it on the day that both she and Drogo had drowned.
Chapter 3 by Kathryn Ramage
After Frodo restored the jewelry to the box and locked it, he took the unfinished letter and sought out Esmeralda.

"Did you find what you were looking for, Frodo?" she asked once he'd located her in her private sitting room next to her bedchamber.

"Yes, I found the pearls--and more besides. I found a letter my mother was writing you." He handed it to her. The light was better in here; several candles had been lit, since his aunt was doing some needlework while she waited for him. As she read the letter, Esmeralda's eyes went wide.

"You've never seen this before?" he asked her. "You didn't find it while going through her things after she died, or receive a finished version of it?" But he could see by his aunt's stunned and perplexed look that she hadn't even before she quickly shook her head. "You see she wrote it on the day of the accident. Do you know what she might've meant, Aunt Esme? What could she have to say that would shock you?"

"I've no idea, Frodo. Whatever she intended to tell me, I didn't guess. I hadn't an inkling of it." Esmeralda turned the paper over in her hand as if she hoped to find more written on the other side, but the back of the unfinished letter was blank. "The only shock she had to give me was what happened that very night, and I hadn't anticipated that!"

"Is there anything else of theirs that you've kept, Aunt Esme? Other letters? My mother kept a journal--where are they now? Do you know what became of my father's things?"

"The Brandybucks never throw anything out," she replied. "That's why there are so many rooms! It's all here at the Hall, Frodo. Everything that ever belonged to one of the family has gone into a cupboard somewhere. Whatever your mother and father left behind, you've only to find it. I can't imagine what Primula meant, but I'd like to find out too. It's very peculiar."

Frodo wanted to begin searching right away, but it was growing late. It was past the children's bedtime, and he knew that Sam would be wondering where he'd gone. Instead, he asked if might come back tomorrow to look, and his aunt readily granted this request. His mother's letter appeared to be as disturbing to her as it was to him. She gave the letter back to Frodo, who tucked it into his inner waistcoat pocket.
Chapter 4 by Kathryn Ramage
"The trouble is, I don't know my own parents very well," Frodo confided to Sam as they walked back to the cottage a little later that evening. They'd stayed so late at the Hall that the children had fallen asleep in the nursery; Sam had decided it was better to leave them sleeping peacefully there than to wake them and try to carry them a half-mile down the road to other beds. It was a still, warm night. A crescent moon rose just above the eastern horizon and a cloudless sky full of stars seemed to hang thick and soft, close overhead like a spangled drapery of black velvet. They walked together arm in arm. "I was only twelve when they drowned. When you're a child, parents are large, vague and arbitrary creatures. You can't begin to see them as hobbits like yourself until you're a bit older, and I never had that chance. None of my memories of them are very helpful."

What did he remember? His mother's face, his father's jolly laugh--but when he cast his mind back to the first twelve years of his life, Frodo found that he could recall very little about his parents. He had quite clear memories of his days in the nursery: playing games with his cousins, sneaking out on adventures with Merry, climbing the trees atop Buck Hill, swimming in the river. He remembered how the nursery-maids had scolded them, told them stories of the Old Forest, and put them to bed, youngest to eldest. Had his mother ever tucked him in or sung him a lullaby? Had he ever played games with his father? Had they once taken him out for a row on the river with them? These things, Frodo couldn't recall.

"My father seemed enormous to me. He was extraordinarily fat, you know, even for a well-to-do hobbit," he told Sam. "Uncle Rorimac used to make jokes about it. He said that Papa had come to live at the Hall to have the benefit of the Master's dining table, and looked fit to be Master of the Hall himself."

"You certainly don't take after him," Sam observed. "You aren't fat. More the opposite--the most oppositest a grown hobbit could be." This was said with a note of disapproval. Frodo had lost weight during the weeks after Rosie's death--they both had--but since Sam had begun to eat again, he wanted to see Frodo regain a little too. "You must take after your mum."

"Yes, everyone says so. All the Bagginses and Brandybucks agree that I'm more like a Brandybuck than a proper Baggins. The relatives I most resemble are my Aunt Del and Milo. They might be taken for my mother and brother by people who don't know us. I sometimes fancy that my cousin Melly is rather like my mother. They have the same Brandybuck look about them, but Melly's eyes are brown and she doesn't have as much Took in her blood as Mother did." Frodo recalled his mother as being petite and brown-curled with large and bright blue eyes, which she had inherited from her Took mother.

"But nothing that I remember is enough to tell me what they were really like. Were they clever? Talented? They both enjoyed reading--I have books that were left me from both of them. Were they interested in having adventures?" His mother may have had something of that capricious spirit that emerged in even the most staid and respectable hobbit families once they had intermarried with the Tooks. If Frodo possessed these same qualities, he'd gotten them from her, along with his blue eyes. "Was their marriage a happy one?" Already, his mind had begun to turn in disturbing directions; he quickly thrust these unwelcome ideas aside. "For all I know," he said with a laugh, "my mother and father were perfectly ordinary hobbits who did and thought all the ordinary things hobbits do."

"They must've had something special about them," said Sam. "You couldn't've come out of nowhere."

Frodo turned to smile at him, determined that he would worry no more about his parents tonight. When they arrived in the little lane before the cottage's garden gate, Frodo stopped to place both hands on Sam's chest and kiss him. "It's a beautiful night," he said. "There's no reason to go in just yet."

"I thought we'd go to bed," said Sam, somewhat bewildered. "It's the first night since we've been here we don't have the little uns sleeping next door."

"I know," Frodo responded. "But that's precisely why there's no reason for us to go inside immediately, and let such a lovely evening be wasted." He took Sam by the hand and led him--not in through the garden gate, but around the side of the cottage to the unmown meadow behind it.

This holiday was not only meant to ease Sam's grief, but to repair the breach that had come between them. There'd been some hard days following Rosie's death, and hard words spoken. They were past the worst, but things would never be quite the same. They'd gone through nights when they had held each other close simply for comfort, or made love because it was only natural when they slept in the same bed night after night. But Frodo was aware that Sam still felt guilty at being happy with him now that Rosie was gone, as if their love was an insult to her memory.

He couldn't make Sam cease mourning for Rosie, but he could surprise him with moments of pleasure like this. If Frodo could restore joy to their lovemaking this summer, perhaps Sam would begin to be happy again.

"Come with me." Still holding Sam's hand, Frodo led him out into the tall grass that rippled like water in the breeze. He knew the meadow well; he'd played golf here with his Uncle Dinodas many times, and had promised to do so again during this visit. His aged uncle lived in the nearest cottage, but was hard of hearing and almost certain to be asleep at this hour. No one else was nearer than the Hall.

Frodo found the spot he was looking for, a cluster of birch trees under which the grass was shorter. "This will be much cooler and more comfortable," he said. "That cottage can be rather stuffy after a hot day, even with all the windows open. We made love in a place like this once before--remember, Sam? Outside Michel Delving?"

"Only there was a stream running past," Sam recalled. "And you were dressed differently."

Frodo laughed. "What I'm wearing won't matter in another minute." He removed his paisley waistcoat and hung it carefully over a tree branch. He was less careful with his shirt and trousers.

As he slid his trousers and smalls down over his hips, he heard Sam murmur, "Still too skinny."

Frodo tossed the clothing aside, then turned to find that Sam had removed his jacket and was pulling his braces off his shoulders. "That's another thing we'll have to take care of while we're here," he replied as he stepped closer to help Sam free himself from the brace-straps. "We ought to have plenty of good dinners at the Hall, and breakfasts too." He began to undo Sam's shirt buttons. "Why don't we go over again for firsts? You'll want to be there before the children are up."

Sam tossed his shirt onto the same pile as Frodo's clothes. "D'you mean to spend the night out here?"

"We'll have to go in before daybreak. Uncle Dino sometimes gets up very early and might want to start driving golf balls into the underbrush as soon as it's light. But that's a long way off now..." As he pressed against Sam for a kiss, he felt fingers brush lightly over his ribs; before Sam could comment again on how little padding there was between his skin and bones, Frodo took up this hand and kissed each of the fingertips too.

They sank down into the grass, which was thick with clover and sweetly scented. Frodo had led them so far; now, he let Sam take the lead and do as he pleased. It mightn't be adventurous as some of their old games, which they'd played a few times since Rosie's death, but tonight was no night for fancy tricks. The setting was adventure enough: a velvety sky full of stars overhead, and the sound of crickets trilling in the meadow.

After he'd seen Sam back to the cottage, Frodo didn't sleep himself. Instead, he dressed in his shirt and trousers and went out the front door. The cottage was barely two hundred yards up the lane from the main riverside road; once Frodo had crossed that, he went through the gate in the fence on the other side and climbed the raised earthwork embankment that protected the road from flooding.

As he stood atop the embankment, the Brandywine river lay before him, its dark waters shimmering in the light from the crescent moon, now high in the sky. He hadn't wanted to think more about his parents tonight, but Frodo felt as if he'd been called here.

Somewhere near this spot, although no one could say exactly where, the Bagginses' boat had tipped over and both had gone into the water. It wasn't surprising that Drogo Baggins should drown after such an accident; like most hobbits born and reared in the inner parts of the Shire, he had never learned to swim. Even an experienced swimmer like Primula would have difficulty in rescuing him... even if she had tried. Since Primula too had drowned, she hadn't been able to save herself that night, let alone her husband.

Tonight will be the night. Frodo could almost hear the words in the gurgle of the fast-flowing water.

It would be helpful if he could somehow see what had occurred here on the river all those years ago. The Ring had left its mark upon him, sometimes providing him with remarkable powers of perception beyond the normal hobbit senses. When he'd investigated mysteries of long-ago events before this--mysteries much more ancient than a mere thirty years, involving the history of Elves and Men--he'd discovered important clues in the form of visions or dreams, or else there were ghosts to guide him. In those cases, he'd also had plenty of documentation to study, or Elves with long memories to answer his questions and help him to find the truth. This time, even though the persons he was about to investigate were much closer to him, he only had one unfinished letter to aid him. The ghosts of his parents did not emerge from the river to tell him of their fate, nor did Frodo wish to see them. He hoped that, wherever they were now, they were at rest.

Tomorrow, he would search for other things his parents had written. That would help to guide him. And he had another resource too. A number of people who had lived at Brandy Hall at the time of his parents' death were still living. They were at the Hall even now. Aunt Esme could only tell him a little, but his other aunts and his uncle might have better memories.
Chapter 5 by Kathryn Ramage
In the morning, they returned to Brandy Hall in time for first breakfast. While Sam was up in the nursery with the children, Frodo sought out Merimac Brandybuck, the younger brother of Merry's father, Saradoc. Merimac despised his nephew and namesake, but a strong sense of family loyalty kept him at Brandy Hall, instructing Merry in the duties of a Master and aiding Merry in the management of Buckland just as he'd assisted his late brother. He knew everything about the Brandybucks--every patch of land they owned, the names of all their tenants, and the family history going back to the days of the first Master.

It was a peculiarity of the Brandybuck family that Frodo's grandparents, Gorbadoc and Mirabella, while they hadn't had a remarkably large number of children by hobbit standards, only seven, had a most unusual span of over twenty years between their firstborn and their last. Rorimac Brandybuck had been four-and-twenty when his youngest sister Primula was born, and was married with children of his own while Primula was still a child herself. Rory's sons Saradoc and Merimac were Frodo's first cousins, but a whole generation older than he; Frodo had always thought of them as his uncles and addressed them as such.

He found Merimac in the Master's study. Merry hadn't begun his daily duties concerning the management of Buckland yet, but his uncle had already settled down to writing in one of the enormous estate books. When Frodo rapped on the open study door, Merimac looked up, set down his ink-laden pen, and gave the visitor an unwelcoming frown.

"I hope I'm not interrupting your work, Uncle," Frodo said as he came in. "I want to ask a favor of you. I'm trying to find some information about my parents-"

"Yes, I heard about that from Esmeralda," Merimac spoke before Frodo had finished his request.

Frodo sat down in one of the overstuffed leather chairs that abounded in the smallish room. "What did Aunt Esme tell you?" Had she mentioned his mother's letter? He hadn't brought it with him today; it was still in his waistcoat pocket back at the cottage, and he didn't want to show it to anyone else until after he'd spoken to them.

"No, but I could see that something was troubling her after you left last night. Well, better you come to me about your parents than distress Esmeralda with questions." Merimac shifted in his own chair and regarded Frodo severely. "I must say this: you show a great deal of impertinence, Frodo Baggins, asking for favors after you've taken such enormous liberties."

"What have I done?" Frodo was baffled. Merimac wasn't fond of his sister-in-law either, for he considered her a flighty Took, but his family loyalty and a gentlemanly sense of chivalry made him rather protective of his female relatives even when he didn't approve of them. Nevertheless, his uncle's attitude seemed excessive,

"You know precisely what I refer to," Merimac replied. "Your bringing that 'friend' of yours here to Buckland."

Frodo winced at the sneering tone. Merimac didn't like him any better than he liked Merry, and for similar reasons. "Merry said he was happy to have us come and stay, Uncle," he answered evenly.

"Yes, I know. The Hall and every cottage on its grounds are his property, and I've no say in who he chooses to invite here. But I resent it on behalf of the good Brandybuck name. None of you lads has any sense of decency! I never thought you'd make such a public display of yourself, Frodo. When you and Merry were... together, you conducted yourself with a degree of discretion. But now you flaunt your relationship with this hobbit in front of our entire family, including the ladies. Your aunts! Your cousins! If you won't consider them, think of your own social position. You disgrace your class with these goings-on. A grandson of a Master consorting with his servant!"

"Sam is not my servant," Frodo responded. "It's true, he was once, but he's come up in the world since and has become a gentlehobbit in his own right." His uncle made a derisive sound of disbelief. "Servant or gentleman, he has always been my dearest friend, and I'm not in the least ashamed of having his friendship. It's been of greater value to me than you can imagine--and that's all I mean to say to you about it."

He had no intention of confirming nor denying these accusations, for he knew that they were merely the outpourings of Merimac's dislike for him. Due to the proximity of the children, he and Sam had lived blamelessly since their arrival in Buckland, until last night. There was no way Uncle Merry could know about that unless he'd followed them from the Hall and spied on them while they were making love in the meadow. Frodo doubted that his uncle was capable of doing such a thing. No, Uncle Merry could know nothing about him and Sam. He only made guesses, and he would very likely say the same vile things regardless of their true relationship.

"You ought to be glad that your mother and father aren't here to see how you turned out," Merimac told him.

"I'm sorry you feel that way, Uncle. I often wish they were here. I think I've done a few things they would be proud of, in spite of my faults. Will you tell me about them?" Frodo was angry, but he'd come here to find answers about his parents and he meant to get them before he left this room. "How well did you know them?"

Merimac was still regarding him with distaste, but he answered, "I fancy I knew your mother as well as any Brandybuck alive at Brandy Hall. She was my aunt--you know that as well as I do, Frodo--but I never thought of her as such. She was only fourteen years older than I, and more like a sister. You look something like her, but she was a charming girl. Grandfather's pet."

Here, at last, seemed to be a relative whom Uncle Merry liked. "And my father?" Frodo prompted. "When did you meet him?"

"Not until after Primula was betrothed to him. It was a surprising match. People had begun to say she would never marry, and then she chose one of the lesser Bagginses." Merimac shook his head. "I must confess, I never knew what she saw in him. He wasn't handsome, and he had a vulgar and common sense of humor."

Frodo took this description of his father for what it was worth. Being fond of Primula, Merimac would very naturally think Drogo Baggins not good enough for her. "I believe they both enjoyed reading books," he said.

"Yes, that's so," Merimac agreed, "but Drogo Baggins wasn't the clever hobbit you are, Frodo. That comes to you entirely through your mother. The Brandybucks have a long history of intellectuals and artists in the family. Except for old Uncle Bilbo, no one could say the same of the Bagginses, and he was peculiar with it. Adventuresome. I believe he got that from the Tooks. Well, Drogo may have been intelligent enough for a Baggins, but he never seemed to do much of anything, except attend meals regularly. You won't remember--he wasn't more fat than any other respectable hobbit when he first married Primula, but he took on a remarkable amount of weight by the time you were born." Merimac was himself a hobbit of impressive size. "I thought he and Primula meant to stay at the Hall only for their honeymoon, but we had him here as a houseguest for nearly fifteen years."

Merimac had had no say in that invitation either, Frodo surmised. Their mutual grandfather, Gorbadoc, had been Master in those days; he'd been past one hundred when his youngest daughter Primula had wed and lived a few years afterwards, dying when Frodo was small and the Baggins family well settled in Buckland. Frodo's grandmother Mirabella had lived somewhat longer, dying when he was in his teens. Rorimac, Merimac's father, had been Master next and must have made no objection to his sister, her husband, and their child staying on at Brandy Hall. It had in fact been Rorimac who'd taken Frodo in when his parents had died, but the Master of the Hall was by then an elderly widower, and he had left the day-to-day care of the orphan to his elder son Saradoc and daughter-in-law, Esmeralda. Old Uncle Rory had died when Frodo was nearly thirty; Frodo was living with Bilbo by that time, but they'd ridden together to Buckland for the funeral.

"It was the appeal of the Master's table," Merimac continued. "That must've been the reason. Drogo had a perfectly comfortable smial in Hobbiton. Primula would've been just as happy there, I think, as mistress of her own household even if she must contend with Drogo's sister and live far from her family. But here they remained until the end of their lives."

"It's the ending of their lives I'm most interested in, Uncle Merry. What can you tell me about the night of their accident? Do you remember?"

Merimac's jaw tightened, but not because of his feelings for Frodo. "Of course I remember," he answered tersely. "They'd gone out for a row on the river that evening. When they didn't show up for breakfast the next morning, Saradoc went down to the boathouse and learned that they'd never come back. He sent the boatsmen out to look for them, and they found the boat soon enough. It had overturned and was caught in the rushes just downriver of the Bucklebury Ferry on the far bank. We knew then that there'd been some sort of accident, but we still had hope that Primula, at least, had swum to safety. Father ordered a search up and down the river, and along both banks.
They were found near the evening, farther down, where the current had carried them."

Frodo had always remembered that he'd been told of his parents' drowning the morning afterwards. He realized now that it must actually have been the next day. The adult Brandybucks had kept the news of the accident from him until they'd discovered the worst. "Did you ever learn how it came about, how they drowned?"

Merimac shook his head. "No. There must've been some mishap. The boat was sound and Primula was a capable boatswoman as well as swimmer. Your father had learned to row competently while he lived here, although he was never so comfortable on the river as a native Bucklander. It was a still and clear night, without wind, fog, nor rain." He shook his head again. "The Brandywine can be treacherous for even the best boatsmen if they don't take care. Saradoc believed that your father tumbled out of the boat and Primula went in to save him, and the current was too much for her. That's as suitable an explanation as any I can give you."

"Thank you, Uncle," Frodo said sincerely. He could see that recalling the event had tapped into a depth of painful emotion long buried, and now brought back up to the surface as if it were fresh. "I won't trouble you too much longer. When did you see them last?"

"Alive, you mean? Why, at dinner that night. Drogo and Primula always had their dinner at the Master's table. It was the last time any of us saw them. As we were leaving the dining hall after having our desserts, Primula said it was such a lovely night that she thought they would go a-rowing. That wasn't remarkable. They often went out on the river on summer nights. Many couples do."

"And was there anything they said or did that night that struck you as odd?" Frodo asked next.

At the question, Merimac, who'd begun to lose himself in these sad memories, focused suddenly and sharply on Frodo. "What do you mean?"

"Did they--did my mother--show any sign that she was expecting an accident to happen?"

"No," Merimac answered, baffled and growing angry.

"Did she seem unhappy that night, worried or frightened? Could they have quarreled?"

"No!" his uncle bellowed again. "Frodo Baggins, what vile thoughts are you thinking?"

Frodo didn't answer this question, but he saw that he had worn Uncle Merry's patience to its end.
Chapter 6 by Kathryn Ramage
When he left the study, Frodo went out through Brandy Hall's nearest front door and walked around the foot of Buck Hill. He found his aunts Melisaunte and Hilda in the small garden on the southern slope, gathering a basketful of flowers. Esmeralda was not with them.

The two ladies, like Esmeralda, were approaching the end of their middle-years; between them, they were grandmothers to all of the children in the Brandy Hall nursery, excepting Sam's. Melisaunte was the elder by ten years, but her upright bearing and long, dark ringlets gave her an ageless appearance, if not a girlish one. Hilda, on the other hand, grew plumper and more grey every year and, to Frodo's eyes, seemed smaller every time he visited the Hall.

"We were just discussing the picnic, Frodo," Hilda said as he came in through the garden gate. A picnic lunch under the willow trees that bordered the Hall lawn at the river's edge had been proposed by Merry over dinner last night. The Brandybucks both young and old, who loved parties and picnics as much as any other hobbits, had seized eagerly upon the idea and were making plans. "Esmeralda's gone to have a word with the cook about what food can best be served cold and conveniently brought out in baskets."

"And won't cause tummy-aches in the children if they go swimming right afterwards," Melisaunte added.

"Will you go swimming yourselves, Aunties?" Frodo teased them, and received laughing responses.

"Goodness, no!" cried Hilda, who was a Bracegirdle by birth. "You know very well I never learned."

"I haven't swum in years," said Melisaunte, who was from a cadet branch of the Brandybucks and had grown up near the river. "Not since my own children were no bigger than my grandsons are now. I leave that sort of amusement to you young hobbits."

After his stormy interview with Uncle Merry, Frodo took a more cautious tack with his aunts. He didn't mention the letter he'd found, but instead told them about his mother's pearls. Jewelry was naturally of interest to the ladies; they remembered Primula wearing the pearls and wondered what had became of them. Frodo described how he'd traced them, and how this foray into his family history had made him curious about his mother and father. Would they mind if he asked them what they recalled about Primula and Drogo Baggins?

No, they didn't mind at all.

"I recall their wedding very well," said Melisaunte, setting down her secateurs and basket of roses as she made herself comfortable on one of the many benches in the small garden. "Marmadas and I had been married about five years when Primula and Drogo came to live at Brandy Hall. They were married here at the Hall, you know, in that bower over there under the rhododendrons. Yes, we were living here then too. Marmadas was agent to Master Gorbadoc, as Marly is to Merry, and we were invited to move from Bucklebury soon after our marriage. Even though I didn't grow up at the Hall, I'd known your mother from girlhood, Frodo dear. She wasn't very much older than I, although she married much later. Primula was past forty that summer when she went to Hobbiton and returned betrothed to Drogo Baggins."

"And that surprised you?" asked Frodo, remembering what Uncle Merry had said about the news of the betrothal.

"Yes, indeed," said Melisaunte. "By that time, everyone thought that she would never wed. All three daughters of old Master Gorbadoc were proud and picky of their suitors, and they made quite surprising choices in the end. That is, Primula and Asphodel did. Amaranth never married, of course."

"Primula and Drogo were already married, and you were five when I came to live at the Hall as a bride, so I can't tell you anything about them before that," said Hilda. "Amaranth ruled Brandy Hall in those days. All we young wives went in terror of her, even Esme until she became Mistress."

Frodo's Aunt Amaranth had died while he was in his late twenties. She'd spent her entire life at Brandy Hall, and had acted as Mistress of the Hall for her elder brother Rorimac after his wife's death. Between Amaranth and Asphodel there had been two other brothers: Saradas, who'd been father to Hilda's late husband and grandfather to Doderic, Ilberic, and Celie; and Dodimas, Uncle Dinodas's more sociable twin. Uncle Dodi had been a famous pub visitor and keen party-goer. He'd never married; family tradition held that his heart had been broken while he was young, but Merry was convinced that he was "like us, Frodo."

"I hope you'll pardon me saying so," Hilda went on, glancing apologetically from Melisaunte to Frodo, "but you Brandybucks, especially the Hall family, have a way of making newcomers feel, well, quite like outsiders no matter how many years we've lived here. Merimac is a master at it. He barely allows that my children are Brandybucks, even though one of them or their children is almost certainly to be Master after Merry. They're half-Bracegirdle, you see, and take after me, particularly my Celie." Melisaunte patted Hilda's arm and murmured something complementary about her children. "Amaranth was just the same. But not Primula. She was wonderfully welcoming to me when I first came here, as if she knew how it was to be a stranger in a new home--although I don't see how she did know. She never lived anywhere else but here." Hilda looked to Melisaunte for confirmation of this fact.

"Primula was born at Brandy Hall," Melisaunte agreed, "and she was never away from it for more than a few weeks at a time for any part of her life. She went visiting around the Shire--Tuckborough, her sister Asphodel in Frogmorton, Hobbiton. She met Drogo there." Melisaunte turned to Hilda. "I suppose it was her friendship with Esme, who came here only a few years before you did, Hildy, and her bringing Drogo here herself that made her so sympathetic to newcomers. The Brandybucks are a closely-knit family. They have their own ways and ideas about things, and sometimes they find it hard to adjust to having new people in their old homes."

"Did they have difficulty adjusting to my father?" asked Frodo.

"You mustn't think I mean to speak ill of him," Melisaunte responded. "Drogo was a fine hobbit, kindly and good-humored and pleasant to be in company with, but he was as Bagginsey a Baggins as you'd ever see! Not at all the sort the Brandybucks would've expected Primula to choose for a husband. They didn't know quite what to make of him. Also, I believe that Primula's parents had once hoped to match her to one of our Took cousins. She was of a Tookish temperament herself, you know, and artistic, as Brandybucks sometimes are. She wrote poetry."

This piqued Frodo's interest. "Did she?"

"Don't you remember?" asked Hilda. "Why, she wrote a charming little book of nursery-rhymes she used to read to you."

That sparked a memory: He was a child in the nursery, not more than seven or eight, sitting on his bed and laughing delightedly at some ridiculous couplets his mother was reciting. "Yes..." Frodo had had no idea that she'd written that nonsense down. "Whatever happened to it?"

"I imagine it's among the old nursery things that were put away when you children were all grown," said Melisaunte. "Or else Primula tucked it away among her own books."

"It's not among the ones I have. I'll have to look for it," said Frodo. "I'll be going through some of my mother's and father's things later today, and if I find it, I'd like to have it." It would be pleasant, he thought, to read his mother's poems to Sam's children. "What else can you tell me about her and father?"

"I know that they hoped for other children, but had none," said Hilda.

"They despaired of having any at all for a time," Melisaunte added. "It was nearly five years before they anticipated your arrival, Frodo, and that was the first and only time Primula showed any sign of expecting a child, as far as I know."

"It gives me some hope for poor Dodi and Isalda," Hilda said wistfully. "They've been married four years now, and no sign of a baby yet. I think they had hope for awhile last autumn..."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Was it a miscarriage?" Frodo asked delicately.

"We aren't sure. Isalda never said she was having a baby, but there was a week or two last summer when we all thought she looked expectant, didn't we, Melisaunte? Perhaps it was all over before she was far enough along to say for sure, poor thing."

Frodo was about to redirect the course of the conversation and ask what his aunts recalled about the night of his parent's deaths, when Merry came around the slope of the hill to find him. "Frodo, there you are! I've been looking all over for you. Will you pardon us, aunties--I'd like a private word with Frodo, please."
Chapter 7 by Kathryn Ramage
"What is it?" Frodo asked once he'd excused himself to his aunts and he and Merry had walked halfway up the slope of Buck Hill to a shady grove that was out of the ladies' earshot. Farther up the hillside, just outside the nursery windows, Sam was standing with Celie, each holding a baby while the older children raced shrieking and laughing around them. They waved when they saw Merry and Frodo; Merry smiled and waved in reply, then took his cousin by the arm and led Frodo into the cover of the trees. Sam looked concerned, but the slope between them was too steep for him to come down and find out what was going on.

"Frodo, what are you up to?" Merry demanded. "I could see that Mother was upset after you left last night, and this morning I come into my study to find Uncle Merry red in the face and in as foul a humor as he's been in months. He says you've been asking him insulting questions about your mother. And what's this about a letter?

"Aunt Esme told you about the letter?"

"Only that you'd found something your mother had written. She didn't tell me what it said. Is that what's upset her so?"

Frodo nodded. "It was an upsetting thing to read, Merry. Mother wrote it to Aunt Esme on the day she and my father died, but she never finished it."

"Well, what did she say?" Merry asked impatiently. "Can I see it?"

"I took it away with me last night. It's at the cottage now. But I can tell you what it said." Frodo described the contents of the letter to his cousin. "You see now why it's so troubling to Aunt Esme and to me as well, don't you? My mother wrote as if she expected some sort of disaster to happen to her and Father."

"You mean, like a vision of their fate?"

Frodo shook his head. "No. Her first sentence was 'Tonight will be the night,' and she asked your mother to look after me. What does that suggest to you? To me, it's as if she's anticipating her own death and my father's." He confided his worst fears, "Merry, I was always told that their drowning was an accident. But what if it wasn't? What if my mother planned it? You've heard the old gossip in Hobbiton. People say that she pushed him into the Brandywine, and he pulled her in after him as he went down."

"But that's nonsense, Frodo. It's the sort of thing hobbits who know nothing about boats or rivers would say," Merry responded. "I'm not surprised that folk in Hobbiton have such silly ideas, but you know better. People drown in the Brandywine all the time--boaters and fishermen who get careless, swimmers who get caught in the currents, fools who try to cross on thin ice during the winter. We pull four or five bodies out of the river every year and, except for Berry, none of them were put there deliberately."

"What if it isn't nonsense?" asked Frodo. "I certainly don't want it to be true, but until I can understand what she meant by those words and find out what she was going to say that would shock Aunt Esme, I'm going to be afraid that that's just what happened. Right now, I can't see any other meaning that makes sense."

Merry's eyes widened. "Do you actually believe that she meant to drown your father? You think your mother a murderer?"

"I have to consider the possibility. After all, I've suspected other close and dear relatives before this for less reason, and I've got to know." He could see that Merry was shocked. "It isn't as if she's someone I feel personally close to. She's a vague memory from my childhood, that's all. Wives do kill their husbands, Merry, and husbands murder their wives. We've both seen that."

"But your own mother..."

"Why should the late Mrs. Baggins be exempt from suspicion simply because she happens to be my mother? I might feel differently if she were here now and alive, and I knew her and loved her as I do your mother."

"But since she isn't here and alive, this is nothing more than another old mystery to you," Merry huffed. "'Consider the possibility'--I've heard that before."

"You've said it before yourself, when we've investigated other murders together," Frodo rejoined.

"You don't know that there's been a murder! Until you do, I don't want Mother or the aunties upset by this. Uncle Merry either, since I have to spend so much of the day shut up in the study with him and listening to him grumble. I can't stop you investigating whatever you like--I understand why you have to do it--but unless something like a confession turns up, promise me you won't say anything more to them. Maybe you don't remember your mother very well, but they do. You won't ask them any more questions, will you, Frodo?"

Frodo understood the nature of this request. It wasn't simply that Merry felt protective of his mother, aunts, and evem his uncle and didn't want them bothered with questions; as Master of the Hall, Merry had a duty to look after the welfare of everyone in Buckland: his subjects, his tenantry, and especially his family here at the Hall. "Very well," he conceded. "May I search for more letters and journals here at the Hall? Aunt Esme said that I might. A confession of some sort might very well turn up, or else something to show that my worst fears are all a mistake."

"I hope they are," said Merry. "Search as you will, until you find what you're looking for."
Chapter 8 by Kathryn Ramage
Frodo spent the rest of the morning in search of his mother's private thoughts, beginning with the other boxes and parcels Esmeralda had stored away.

He realized that his detached consideration of the possibility that Primula Baggins was a murderer had disturbed Merry, but he couldn't help it. While he did feel a certain sentimental attachment to his mother and father--they were, after all, the people responsible for his existence--the fact of the matter was that Frodo couldn't love them as he would've done if he'd known them well. They were all but strangers to him. If he loved them, it was more as an abstracted ideal than with the real affection he bore Aunt Esme or Uncle Bilbo, or any of the others who had in some way taken his parents' place after their deaths.

For example, he'd always assumed that their marriage was a happy one. He'd seen many hobbits happily married--but then he'd also seen many unhappy ones. He was aware that the relationship between Aunt Esme and Uncle Saradoc had been rather strained. His cousin Celie's first husband Merimas had married her only out of a sense of family duty, and had made her miserable by constantly accusing her of scandalous conduct. Melilot's husband, Everard Took, had run off with the Tookbank butcher's son after Melly had returned to her old home here at Brandy Hall with her little boy; she was currently living in an anomalous state, neither wife nor widow nor unmarried girl free to marry again. And these examples were within his own family! He could think of worse ones, as he'd pointed out to Merry, taken from the private lives of people he'd met in his investigations. Wives and husbands did sometimes murder each other.

The truth was that he simply didn't know enough about his parents to say if they'd been happy or not. His aunts and uncle seemed to think that they'd been oddly matched from the beginning. Was that so? Perhaps they'd found they'd had little in common after their newlywed love had worn thin. Had they loved each other, even at the beginning? Had they quarreled often, or had silent resentments grown and festered? Whatever her reasons for marrying Drogo Baggins, how had Primula regarded him after fifteen years of marriage? Could pushing him into the river have seemed like the only way to free herself from an intolerable position? What that what would shock Esmeralda?

Frodo pursued these questions. His mother, he soon discovered, had kept a series of journals from her tweens until the last year of her life. He found them in a box in the same cupboard where Esmeralda had stored the jewelry box. The final year was missing, but he sat in a patch of sunlight from the dressing room's one window and skimmed through the ones immediately preceding it, hunting for clues to the state of his parents' marriage and his mother's frame of mind.

Primula Baggins had been a conscientious journalist, writing at least a sentence or two every day and sometimes a great deal more. Her detail of the events of a day were often meticulous--if he'd wanted to know who sat down to dinner at the Master's table on a given evening in 1390, or what his mother had had for breakfast on the morning before his birth, Frodo was sure it was recorded here--but all the same, she wasn't candid. She wrote of what she and the people around her had done each day, but rarely put her private opinions or feelings down on paper. Living all her life in a house filled with so many other people, perhaps she'd feared that her journals would be read.

As far as he could discover from a quick read, Primula never wrote anything to indicate that she was unhappy in her marriage. Frodo's general impression was that of contentment. If something had happened to disturb that contentment, it must have occurred in that final year. Had she written anything more interesting in that last, missing journal?

He set the journals for 1390 through 1395 aside to take back to the cottage with him, where he could study them more closely, then he went down to join the others for lunch. Melly and Celie asked him where he'd disappeared to all morning; the rest of the household knew already and while he knew that Merry and his mother were particularly interested, Frodo said little about his discoveries over the dining-room table.

After lunch, he returned to his task. In a portable writing desk, he found some letters to his father, most of them from Aunt Dora providing news from Hobbiton and giving her usual uninformed advice about marriage and child-rearing, but nothing that gave Frodo a glimpse into his parents' private life. In a small, strapped-but-unlocked chest, he found a collection of books belonging to both his parents, including the little book of nursery rhymes his mother had written for him. Frodo sat down to read this immediately. Primula's stories weren't original, but old folk tales of the Shire told anew in whimsical couplets. She retold the tales of the cow jumping over the moon, of the boy jumping over the candlestick, and the of little shepherdess who misplaced her sheep. The book had been illustrated with equally whimsical pen-and-ink drawings, presumably also his mother's work.

In another small box, Frodo found some of his mother's grown-up poetry. The best of it was written out carefully in bound booklets like the nursery rhymes; other pieces, drafts or unfinished ideas, were on loose scraps of paper. This was more sophisticated work than Primula's poems for children, but it was as strangely impersonal as her journal entries. His mother apparently received her inspiration from the woodlands, meadows, and the great river near her home, but not from the depths of her own heart. At most, he saw signs of her whimsical side in her comical poems about her family: "Ode to My Husband, Who Snores Whilst Napping in the Garden," and "Frodo's First Steps" (according to this last piece, he'd taken six "wobble-bobble" steps before falling on his face).

There was one noteworthy exception. As Frodo was turning through the pages of one book of poems, a single sheet of notepaper fluttered out onto the floor. On it were the following lines:

"When you are far from me, my love,
The sun refuses to rise.
A cold wind blows over the hill,
And the stars stop in the skies.

"When you are far from me, my love,
I lie wakeful but never at rest.
My heart ceases its dreary beat.
My hands lie still on my breast.

After reading so many placid journal entries and pretty-but-unemotional poems, the intensity of feeling in these two stanzas was startling. Yet, it was Primula's handwriting; Frodo knew it well by now. Had she written this poem with his father in mind? There was no date on the paper, nor on the book it had been tucked into, to indicate when the poem had been written. When, Frodo wondered, had his father ever been far from her long enough to provoke such profound emotion? Or had Primula written it with someone else in mind, before she'd met Drogo Baggins?
Chapter 9 by Kathryn Ramage
"I'm sure something is there, Sam!" Frodo told his friend that evening after they'd returned to the cottage and put the children to bed. In spite of both spending the day at Brandy Hall, they'd barely seen each other except when Frodo had appeared for meals; Sam was naturally curious to learn what he'd found, but it was only once they were alone and getting ready for bed themselves that Frodo felt free to talk. "I can't help thinking about that poem. It's quite different from anything else my mother wrote. When I read it, I felt for the first time as if I'd truly seen her. And it's given me an idea. I only wish I could ask the aunties about it, but I don't know if they'd tell me the truth even if Merry would let me question them." He'd also told Sam what he and Merry had been discussing that morning in the grove on the hill, and the promise he'd made.

"Well, I agree with Master Merry," said Sam, sitting at the foot of the bed while Frodo undressed. "If you're going around saying your mother's a murderer, of course it'll upset your aunts 'n' uncle!"

"I never said that to anyone but Merry," Frodo protested.

"But it's what you're thinking, so it'll show even if you don't mean it to. Everybody knows how you look into murders 'n' such-like, and if you go asking if your parents quarreled just before they died, or if your mother said anything about knowing beforehand that she 'n' your dad were going to drown, you might as well've asked `em straight out if she pushed him into the river."

Frodo acknowledged that this was true. Uncle Merry's indignant reaction to his questions this morning was an undeniable example.

Having made his point, Sam pressed further, "Then you see why Master Merry doesn't want you upsetting her ladyship with it. If she's read that letter of your mother's, she's probably already thinking the same as you--only she doesn't want it to be true."

"I don't want it to be true either, Sam," Frodo answered, and pulled his nightshirt on over his head. Their room was at the back of the cottage; as he fastened his buttons, he stood before the open window looking out into the field where they'd made love last night. There would be no love-making tonight, not with four small children in the next room. Besides, he wasn't in the mood for it while his mind was engaged elsewhere.

"Then why're you digging it all up? I don't see as this reading your mother's diaries 'n' such'll do you any good. What's past is past, as they say, and it was all so long ago. Even if you find what you're after, there's naught to be done about it now. Better to leave it in peace instead of upsetting yourself and other folk with it."

"I can't look away, Sam. I can't help seeing clues once they're put before me. I can't pretend it isn't so, if it turns out that it is."

"You don't know that it is so," Sam said.

"No, but I have to find out one way or the other." In spite of what Merry had said, this investigation wasn't just another puzzle for him to solve. He didn't feel close to Primula Baggins, true, but no one likes to think his mother a murderer; Frodo acknowledged that he was certainly no exception. He would be happier if he could lay these horrible suspicions to rest once and for all, but he couldn't do that without examining all the available facts. He couldn't refuse to look because he was afraid of what he might find.

"You won't break your promise to Master Merry and go on asking questions?"

"No, Sam. I won't say another word to the aunties or anybody here at Brandy Hall..." As he turned away from the window and joined Sam in the little bed, Frodo suddenly thought of someone he could ask--the one person who knew his mother best of all. "But I will ask Aunt Del. I can ride up to Budgeford tomorrow to call on her."

"You aren't going to tell Mrs. Burrows about that letter you found?"

"No," Frodo assured him. "I won't show her the letter. I won't even mention it or ask her any provoking questions about the day my parents died. But she can tell me things about her sister's life that no one else knows." If anyone could tell him who his mother had written that one, heart-felt poem for, it was surely Asphodel.

"So you're not giving up?" Sam sounded disappointed.

"I can't, my dear." Frodo answered, and gave him a peck on the cheek. "I have to look into it. You understand that, don't you? It's the only way I'll ever be sure. If I don't, it will trouble me always--and Merry and Aunt Esme too. It's better we learn the truth, no matter what the truth is."

"I couldn't stop you, Frodo, even if I was of a mind to," Sam conceded, but Frodo could see he didn't like it. "What about the picnic?" Sam put up one last protest. "You can't miss out on that. Missus Celie and Mrs. Took were talking about it up in the nursery today, telling the little uns. Everybody's looking forward to it, and you ought to be there. Mrs. Took says she'll teach Nel how to swim."

"I won't miss it, Sam. The picnic's not until the day after tomorrow, and I won't be gone as long as that. If I leave first thing in the morning, I'll be in Budgeford in time for luncheon. Even I stay all the afternoon talking to my aunt, I shall be back in plenty of time."
Chapter 10 by Kathryn Ramage
Frodo's aunt Asphodel Burrows was very like his memory of his mother. Her formerly dark hair had now turned white and she was growing frail as she approached her century, but she still maintained the elegant poise and sharp wits of a true Brandybuck lady. She had lived on a limited income after the death of her husband, but remained fiercely independent. In spite of her frequent allusions to her relationship with the Brandybucks at Brandy Hall, Aunt Asphodel rarely visited her old home in Buckland. Her personal pride was stronger than her sense of family allegiance and she hated to appear at all dependent on them. Frodo knew that her son Milo had been sending her money since his own fortunes had improved; Asphodel could take a more spacious cottage now if she chose, but she'd grown attached to her tiny-but-comfortable smial in the Budgeford high street.

Frodo reached Budgeford shortly before midday and immediately went to his aunt's smial, but wasn't able to have a confidential conversation with her right away, for her tiny home was filled with visitors. His cousins Ilberic and Estella Brandybuck, their two little girls, and Estella's Aunt Beryl were visiting Estella's brother Fatty Bolger and his family for the summer; Frodo had seen them briefly on his journey from Hobbiton to Buckland, when he'd made the acquaintance of Fatty's and Flora's new daughter Federiga, They were all now apparently having luncheon with his aunt. The group was surprised to see him again so soon. He was invited to join them, and Asphodel made room for another place at her table.

It was mid-afternoon before his cousins departed for the Bolger house to put their small daughters down for their naps. Aunt Beryl would've remained with Asphodel until tea-time, but the elder lady showed her guest firmly to the door with hints that her niece and nephew and their respective spouses must need help with the children. "For you know that they don't have your experience with babies yet, Beryl."

Once Beryl had gone and Asphodel's maid had shut the front door, Frodo's aunt turned to him with a wry smile. "I could see you didn't come all this way merely for luncheon, my dear," she said. "Now, what can I do for you?"

Since Frodo had no wish to disturb Aunt Asphodel any more than he wanted to disturb his aunts at the Hall, he didn't mention the letter he'd found nor the suspicions that had arisen because of it. Instead, he told her a story similar to the one he'd told Hilda and Melisaunte: the discovery of his mother's pearls had led him to take a larger interest in his family history and his parents' lives. He told her that he'd been reading his mother's poems and journals, and had already spoken to the older Brandybucks at the Hall. "I'd hoped you could tell me what they can't, Auntie."

"If I can, Frodo dear, but I don't see what I can tell you. I wasn't there at Brandy Hall when they died, you know. I hadn't seen my sister for months, and didn't hear the terrible news until three days afterward. Your Uncle Rufus and I hastened to Buckland as soon as we'd learned what had happened and we were just in time for the funeral. There was a great deal of discussion over what was to be done with you, dear boy," Asphodel added in an attempt to provide some useful information. "Rufus and I offered to take you home with us--I daresay you don't remember that at all--and Merimac said you ought to be sent to live with Dora Baggins, but in the end my brother Rory said it was his duty to see that you were properly cared for in his house. Well, he was quite right. You were better kept at the Hall, and Esmeralda was prepared to look after you just as poor Primmie would've wanted."

Frodo hadn't been aware of any of this. Except for the funeral ceremonies, he'd spent the days following his parents' deaths up in the nursery with the other children. Lost in his own bewilderment, he'd paid no attention to what the grown-ups were doing. Brandy Hall had been the only home he'd ever known, and it had seemed natural at that time that he should go on living there. While Asphodel's story gave him another fascinating glimpse into those days, it wasn't what he had come to his aunt for.

"I understand that you can't tell me much about that night, or what happened immediately before or after," he said, "but I thought you might tell me more about my mother. You were closer to her than the aunties at the Hall even when you lived far away."

Aunt Asphodel nodded in agreement. "We were always confidantes as girls, since our own days in the Brandy Hall nursery. We wrote to each other regularly once I left the Hall upon my marriage, and did so until the end of poor Primula's life."

"There's one question I want to ask you particularly. Will you answer honestly? I can't ask anyone else. Even if I did and they knew the truth, I rather suspect that they'd try to hide it from me, since it might tarnish the memory of my mother or make her marriage sound unhappy."

"Darling, what is it you expect me to tell you?" his aunt asked, and regarded him with growing concern.

Frodo presented the idea that had brought him here: "There's one thing everyone's said that strikes me as curious: the Brandybucks were all surprised when Mother decided to marry my father. They say that they didn't believe she would ever marry at all, and she didn't until late. She was two-and-forty when she wed my father. It's odd for an attractive young woman to wait so long to choose a husband--don't you agree?"

"Yes," Asphodel agreed. "But you must bear in mind that our elder sister never did marry, and she set the example for Primmie and me. I'm sure the family was equally astonished when I married Rufus Burrows. They never understood my choice and I daresay they still think I made a bad match."

"But if a lady from a prominent family with her own wealth and beauty, who might have whomever she likes, refuses to marry, she usually has a good reason of her own for it," Frodo went on. "Either she has no interest in acquiring a husband at all, or there's something in the state of matrimony that doesn't suit her. I think that neither of these applies to my mother, since she did wed eventually. The third reason such a lady might have is that she can't marry whomever she likes. The one she truly wants is the one she can't have. Is that how it was, Auntie? Tell me, please. You would know, if no one else does. Was there some lad my mother was sweet on before she met my father? Someone she wasn't able to marry?"

"There was our cousin, Iselgrim Took," Asphodel answered after a moment.

"Iselgrim?" Frodo repeated. He didn't remember hearing this name before, and found it extremely unattractive for the romantic figure he'd imagined his mother being in love with.

Asphodel seemed to understand this, and smiled. "He was a very handsome youth in his day, Frodo. One of our Uncle Isenbold's innumerable sons. He was of an age with my sister Amaranth, older than Primmie and I, but both of us were rather sweet on him when we were girls in our tweens. If he'd shown any partiality for one of us sisters over another, there might've been tears or else a dreadful quarrel over it. But Iselgrim went away, left the Shire in search of Uncle Hildifons."

"Is that the Old Took's son who went to sea?" Frodo asked.

"No, that was Uncle Isengar, a younger brother. He came home again after his travels in the Big world, bringing us all sorts of marvelous gifts. Hildifons never returned. Iselgrim and some of his brothers decided to go on a quest of their own to see if they could find Hildifons or at least discover what had become of him. Not long afterwards, I met Rufus Burrows and ceased to think of Iselgrim and his beautiful chestnut curls, but I rather think it broke Primmie's heart when he went away. She was just coming of age, you see. Girls can be unusually romantic at that time of life, and a love affair that goes wrong can strike one especially hard. I'm sorry to say, Frodo, that your mother didn't confide in me on this point. I only know what I saw. She wept after he went away and went about looking sad and pale for awhile, until Aramanth told her not to be so foolish. After that, Primmie kept her feelings to herself. Whatever she truly felt for Iselgrim, I do know that Primula never looked at another lad for years, not until she went to visit our cousin Bilbo in Hobbiton and met your father."

"Did Iselgrim and his brothers ever return?"

"Oh yes, many years later. They never found a sign of Uncle Hildifons, living or dead. I remember that Iselgrim went to pay a call at Brandy Hall soon after he returned home again, but Primula was married to your father by then. This would've been a year or so before you were born, Frodo. If Iselgrim had had thoughts of her while he was away, he would've done better to speak up before he went. He certainly couldn't have expected a girl like Primula to wait for him indefinitely without a word!"

Frodo had intended to tell Aunt Del about his mother's poem, but now he didn't feel it was necessary. This Iselgrim Took sounded as if he must be the person it had been written for; he had certainly been far away from Primula for a very long time. He could imagine her as a young girl, putting her feelings down on paper once her eldest sister had scolded her about making an exhibition of them. After that, Primula had never expressed her deeper feelings again. Had she waited so many years for him, Frodo wondered, and only married elsewhere once she'd given up hope of seeing him again? "Is Iselgrim still alive?" he asked his aunt. "Can I speak to him?"

Asphodel shook her head. "No, my dear. He's been dead for nearly thirty years. He didn't live very long after your parents died. The last time I ever saw him was at their funeral."
Chapter 11 by Kathryn Ramage
Frodo stayed to dinner at his aunt's insistence, and left Budgeford as the sun was sinking low. At this time of the summer, the sky remained light until a late hour of the evening, but Frodo knew Sam would worry if he stayed any longer. He had found precisely what he was looking for.

Aunt Del's story about Iselgrim Took had sent a flurry of new ideas into his head; they whirled furiously during his evening ride back through Buckland.

He'd heard the story of how his parents had met several times now, but his aunt had provided a new detail he'd never known before. Everyone else said simply that Primula had gone to Hobbiton. Asphodel said specifically that Primula had gone to see Bilbo. Why Bilbo? The two were first cousins and on friendly terms but, as far as Frodo was aware, not especially close. He knew that he'd never been to Hobbiton to see Bilbo himself until after his parents had died. Primula had never taken him there and Bilbo had never come to the Hall to see her and her family; it was only after he'd been orphaned that Bilbo had begun to take an interest in him. So what had prompted this visit?

Bilbo was famed as a traveler and adventurer, a friend of Elves and dwarves and, of course, of Gandalf. He might well have advised his Took cousins on their quest to find their missing Uncle Hildifons, and might therefore also have had some knowledge of where they were going. Might Primula have sought him out to learn this? Perhaps she'd hoped for news of Iselgrim, or else she may have thought that Bilbo's friends beyond the Shire could convey a message for her. Whatever her precise errand, she'd likely come away discouraged. Frodo knew how difficult it was to locate a person traveling in the Big world, even if their general whereabouts were known. Unable to reach Iselgrim, had Primula at last given up hope of his return? She was past forty, about the age he was now--an age when most hobbits were married and bringing up children. He'd never felt much desire for these things himself, but an unmarried woman at this same point in her life might feel a stronger need; forty was the point at which when people began to use the word 'spinster'. No, it wouldn't be at all remarkable for Primula to want a chance at a husband and family before it was too late. Once she'd abandoned her hopes of Iselgrim, had she begun to consider other marital prospects? While she was still in Hobbiton, had she accepted the attentions of the first suitable bachelor who paid court to her? She'd certainly chosen a husband who was exactly the opposite of Iselgrim: staid and unadventurous, not at all Tookish, and thoroughly Bagginsey.

This was all conjecture, but the facts before Frodo were that Primula had gone to Hobbiton to see her cousin Bilbo and had come home to Buckland betrothed to his cousin Drogo--a match that had astounded and bewildered her family.

If his surmise was correct, how had Primula felt when her old, lost love finally came back to the Shire, but too late? Iselgrim had come to Buckland soon after his return home. What had they said to each other when they met again after so long? Had they seen each other again afterwards? Visits between the two great families at Brandy Hall and Tuckborough were as common in those days as they were today. Primula might not have traveled alone as frequently as she had in her maiden days, but Iselgrim might have come to the Hall to see her.

According to Aunt Del, he had been born about a year after Iselgrim's return, and after Primula and Drogo had been married for four years with no previous sign of a child. As he rode back toward Brandy Hall, a horrible question occurred to Frodo: Was there a good reason why he was nothing like his Bagginsey father? Was he a Baggins at all, or was there more Took blood in him than anyone realized?
Chapter 12 by Kathryn Ramage
Since it was after dark when Frodo reached his destination, he didn't intend to go into Brandy Hall. The dinner hour was long past and, while there were lights in many windows, he was certain that most of the family was on their way to bed. He went no nearer than the stables, but after he had left his pony in the care of the ostler and was going out again, he heard Merry's voice calling his name from the darkness of the Hall lawn.

"What're you doing out wandering in the night? You haven't been keeping watch for me?" Frodo asked his cousin once Merry had emerged into the pool of light cast by the lantern over the stable door.

"No," Merry answered. "It's Milli's day off tomorrow, so I walked over with her and Jem to her mother's house in Newbury since I had some business in the town. I was just having a pipe before I went in." He held up his smoking pipe as proof of this last statement. "I just heard the pony coming up, and I knew it was you."

"Sam's not still at the Hall?"

"No, he took the children back to the cottage ages ago, after dinner. Milli and I went with them, and helped to carry the twins. I wanted to talk to you, Frodo. I missed the chance to this morning before you'd gone off to Budgeford."

"You aren't angry about that, are you?" Frodo asked. While Aunt Asphodel wasn't under the Master's protection, as the residents of Brandy Hall and its environs were, she was nevertheless an elderly lady member of the family; Merry might feel that he wasn't honoring the spirit of his promise by getting around it this way. "I didn't say anything to upset Aunt Del. I didn't mention that letter to her at all."

"It's not that," said Merry. "It's you I'm worried about as much as Mother or any of the older folk. I know how you are when you're investigating, Frodo. You don't stop `til you find what you're after. I've seen you like this before, but the way you're behaving--it's worse this time. Suspecting your mother of murder distresses you as much as anyone else, no matter how much you say you're being objective and detached about it. It's too close to you."

"Closer than you know," Frodo answered with a nervous laugh.

"Why?" His cousin was alert. "What did Aunt Del tell you?"

"She answered a question I went to her specially to have answered: Did my mother have a sweetheart before she met my father? Yes, she did." As they walked away from the stable, across the lawn in the direction of the Hall, Frodo told Merry the story of Iselgrim Took.

"What of it?" Merry said once Frodo had finished. "Lots of girls are sweet on a boy or two before they settle on the right one. I was just the same myself before Pippin came along."

"But, Merry, consider this--after this Took cousin went away, my mother waited nearly ten years for him to come back before she married. She wanted children, or else she was afraid of becoming an old maid. She was making a gesture to show that she never truly cared for Iselgrim Took, or she was trying to forget him. There are plenty of reasons why a woman who was disappointed in her first love might marry someone else. From what I've read in her journals, she wasn't unhappy with her choice of a husband. I don't believe she made Drogo Baggins unhappy either. But they couldn't have a child together. Then, after they've been married a few years, Iselgrim returned. Maybe he hadn't noticed her particularly when she was a girl, but he thought about her while he was wandering the wide world and remembering his home and all he'd left behind. Perhaps he only then realized that she cared for him and he was a fool not to say something to her before he went away. But when he returned, he found her married. That isn't far-fetched, is it?"

Merry agreed that this was not far-fetched.

"From what Aunt Del told me, it's what may have happened. Iselgrim visited Brandy Hall immediately after he came back to the Shire. He came to see her. And not long afterwards, I was born. Iselgrim never married, you know, but lived alone in a cottage beyond Tookbank. After my mother died, he shut himself up there until he died too."

Merry stopped walking and stared at him. "Frodo, do you realize what you're suggesting?"

"Yes, I do, Merry. I've thought of little else since I left Budgeford."

"You believe they had a love-affair?"

"It's entirely possible, given what I know to be true. Tomorrow, I'm going to look through my mother's old journals to see if I can find exactly when Iselgrim was here in relation to my birth."

"But, Frodo, that's ridiculous!"

"Is it?" Frodo asked back. "I am my mother's son. Everyone says so. I take entirely after her, a Brandybuck in all but name. There's nothing of Drogo Baggins about me. Why couldn't my true father be someone else?"

"Well, he isn't, that's all! A love affair is one thing, but playing a husband false? That's a horrible thing to think about one's own mother--almost as bad as murder! Honestly, Frodo, I think you've allowed your imagination to conjure up too much up out of very little. And now you're running after anything that looks like a scrap of proof. Even if it turns out to be possible, that doesn't mean it's so." Merry folded his arms. "And what else, Frodo? I suppose you've got an idea in your head now about your mother trying to drown your- ah- her husband so she could be free to marry her true love and the father of her child?"

"It had occurred to me," Frodo admitted.

Merry shook his head. "I think you're quite mad!"

"Perhaps I am. Since I first found that letter, I've been imagining all sorts of absurd, fantastic, and terrible things about my mother. She said that what she had to tell Aunt Esme would be shocking, and so I keep thinking up things that would shock me if they were true."

"If your mother did intend to drown your father, why did she wait so long?" Merry pursued the question. "If you're right, she and this Iselgrim must've been carrying on for about thirteen years before they got around to murder."

"It might've taken that long to work up to it," Frodo responded. "I don't believe she was naturally a cruel or deceitful woman, Merry. Murder wouldn't have come easily to her. Maybe she thought she could give her lover up, and found she couldn't in the end. Or she might've been waiting for her husband to die without any assistance from her, and got impatient. Or else Iselgrim got impatient and put her up to it."

"Or maybe your father--or should I say Drogo Baggins--knew what they were planning and laid a trap, then fell into it himself," Merry retorted with no small hint of sarcasm. "Have you considered that?"

Frodo had, and had already discarded the idea. "Everything I know about Drogo Baggins suggests that he was an indolent hobbit. I don't see him making that sort of effort," he explained. "Besides, it'd be rather foolhardy and dangerous for a hobbit who can't swim to lay a trap for a hobbit who can swim in the middle of river at night. And then there's that letter of my mother's--if he was planning to get rid of her, she wouldn't have written to your mother about it the way she did beforehand. If she suspected a trap, she wouldn't have gotten into a boat with him that night..." A new idea occurred to him at that moment. "Unless they both meant to go down together."

Merry laughed. "You aren't serious, Frodo. You can't be! All these odd ideas--you don't truly believe a word of it, do you? It's all nonsense."

"It might well be... but then again, maybe it isn't."

"Frodo!" Merry huffed at this equivocal response.

"That's the best answer I can give you right now, Merry. I imagine a great deal, some of it horrible, but I don't know." They were approaching the northernmost front door of Brandy Hall and Frodo stopped before they reached the doorstep. He still had no intention of going into the Hall tonight. "The only thing I am certain of is that something very odd happened that night. I don't believe it was an accident, but I can't say yet what it truly was. Since I've begun to look into their lives, I've found very little, but what I have found troubles me. And it's not enough yet to for me to see the truth."
Chapter 13 by Kathryn Ramage
Once he said good-night to Merry, Frodo headed across the fields toward the cottage. Even from a distance, he could see a light flickering in one of the front windows. Sam must be waiting up for his return.

When he entered the cottage, Frodo found it was just as he had expected: Sam was sitting alone in the little parlor across the hall from the nursery. Since it was a warm night, there was no fire lit in the fireplace, but a single candle burned on the mantelpiece.

"I'm sorry to come in so late, my dear, but you see I've come back well in time for tomorrow's picnic," Frodo said as he came to the doorway of the dimly lit room and smiled at his friend. "Have you been waiting very long-?" but the playful question died away when he saw the expression on Sam's face. Sam had obviously been crying, and there was a large, damp patch on the breast of his shirt that hadn't come from his own tears. "Sam, what is it? What's happened?"

"`Twas Nel," Sam replied, and wiped his face with his shirtsleeve.

"Is she all right?" Frodo turned toward the closed door to the nursery behind him.

"She'll be right as rain," Sam assured him. "We had a bit of an upset, that's all. I only just got her to bed before you came in, so mind you speak quiet."

"Yes, of course," Frodo spoke more softly as he took a seat in the other chair in the sitting room. "What happened? Was she taken ill?" He knew how quickly these childhood ailments could arise out of nowhere, then abate again as swiftly. "I can fetch Aunt Esme-"

"There's no need. `Twasn't that sort o' illness," Sam explained. "You know how Nellie is. She goes on for weeks as cheerful as a spring robin and never says a word about Rosie, so you start to think she's forgot all about her. Then all of a sudden, she asks you, 'Where's Mama gone?' or 'When's Mama coming home?' and you don't know how to answer."

Frodo nodded sympathetically. He'd faced these same abrupt questions from the little girl, and was never sure how much he should say. It was difficult to try and explain to Elanor what had happened to her mother; the three smaller children were too young to understand what death meant, but Elanor was just old enough to know and to grieve.

"Well, tonight, after we got back from Brandy Hall and I'd put the little uns to bed, I was helping her on with her nightgown when she asked me, 'When's Mama coming back?' I thought I'd tell her the truth--not the worst of it. I couldn't bear to do that. But I thought I was ready to say the plain words. So I said, 'Your mum's not ever coming back, Nellie.'" He turned to Frodo with pained eyes. "I thought that'd do for now, but then she comes back with, 'Is Mama dead?'"

"Oh, Sam..." Frodo reached out for his friend's hand; Sam gripped the extended fingers tightly as he continued.

"It was Missus Celie's boy, Mungo. He told my Nel last night that his dad was dead, but now he's got a new un. So Nellie wanted to know if she was getting a new mum now."

"What did you say?"

"I put her off at first, 'n' asked her if she wanted a new mum. And she said I could marry Aunt 'Gelica. I told her Angelica was married already to Uncle Lad, 'n' it wouldn't do for a lady to have two husbands. So Nellie asked me what about Aunt Melly? I thought she meant Milli Pibble, but it was Mrs. Took she was thinking of. Imagine me marrying Melilot Took!" The notion that he might marry someone like Milli Pibble apparently wasn't implausible to Sam, but he boggled at this match proposed by his daughter . "Well, I told Nel that Mrs. Took was married too. I was starting to laugh about it, just like you're trying not to, Frodo. I thought we'd got past the worst, when Nellie came right back to it again, 'Is Mama dead?'" When Sam was excited or distressed, the rudiments of grammar he'd learned from Frodo slipped away and he reverted to the language of a country lad. "There wasn't no help for it. I had to tell her, 'Yes, Mama's dead.' Now Nel was quiet for a minute or two after that, so I began to think she didn't understand. But she was just thinking it over, then her face puckered up and she started to bawl. The little uns was asleep by then, so I picked her up quick and carried her over across the way, into this room, before she could wake `em. I was crying by then too, and we sat right here." Sam smacked the arm of the chair he was sitting in with his free hand. "We sat for the longest time, weeping over it."

"Did Nel say anything else after that?" Frodo asked him.

Sam shook his head. "No more'n 'Mama,' a couple o' times. When she tired herself out with crying, she went to sleep."

Frodo moved to sit on the nearer arm of Sam's chair and put both arms around his shoulders; his friend's brow lay against his breastbone and Sam's arms wound tightly around his waist. "At least it's done now," he said softly. "She would have to be told the truth sooner or later." He knew how hard it must've been for Sam to do this. He couldn't deny the hard fact of Rosie's death, but Sam rarely spoke of her now and Frodo knew how he shied away from anything that reminded him of her.

"`Twas my place to tell her, before she heard it from somebody else," Sam responded, voice muffled against Frodo's chest. "Everybody in Hobbiton knows and once Nel hears 'em talking about Rosie, she'll want to know why I didn't tell her before. But I was hoping she wouldn't ask just yet." He lifted his head to look up at Frodo; he hadn't been crying again, but a new idea had occurred to him. "She'll want to know more when she's older, and I'll have to be the one to tell her then too--and little uns once they're big enough to wonder. They'll want to know where their mother is. I don't suppose it'll ever be easier to talk about, no matter how much time goes by. Thinking about Rosie only brings it all back to me like it just happened yesterday."

"It will hurt less over time, my dear," Frodo said in a comforting tone, and kissed the crown of Sam's head, "but I'm afraid it won't ever be easy for you to speak of her."

They sat silently for awhile, holding each other, then Frodo rose and gently led Sam to bed. It didn't occur to Sam to ask about Frodo's trip to Budgeford and Frodo didn't volunteer. Sam had had enough to trouble his sleep tonight and after his conversation with Merry, Frodo thought it better to keep his thoughts about his parentage to himself.
Chapter 14 by Kathryn Ramage
The next morning, Frodo walked over to the Hall. He only spoke briefly with Esmeralda before he went up to the old dressing room to retrieve the rest of his mother's journals; Esmeralda and the other ladies were busy preparing for the picnic to be held at midday. He also stopped at the door to Merry's study for a moment to tell his cousin about his plans to spend the morning searching.

Merry shook his head ruefully at Frodo's persistence in pursuing the ideas he'd expressed the night before, but made no objection. "I still think it's nonsense, Frodo, but I don't suppose you'll be happy until you settle it for yourself one way or the other."

Uncle Merry, who was also in the study, made a grumbling noise of agreement.

Once he'd taken the journals from their box, Frodo sat down on the dressing-room floor and began reading about the year before his birth. It was during that summer that Iselgrim Took returned to the Shire and visited his Brandybuck cousins. As far as Frodo could tell, Iselgrim hadn't come particularly to see Primula. She wrote that she was happy to see him safely home again and that she and the others enjoyed hearing tales of the adventures he and his brothers had had during their years away. According to Primula, Iselgrim visited Brandy Hall two more times that year, during October and then at Yuletide, but she recorded no illicit trysts on either occasion. She had danced with Iselgrim at the Tatters celebration in Newbury--that was all.

Frodo went immediately on to the next year. After this Yuletide visit, Primula didn't mention Iselgrim again. Was there nothing to tell, or had she simply been too cautious to put her secrets down on paper? In the middle of February, she wrote, "At last, a child is coming! I feel sure of it this time." Was this simply a natural expression of relief and joy from a woman who had long wanted a baby and finally had her wish, or one of exultation that she'd conceived a child with her lover after trying for so long with her husband? Frodo detected no note of disquiet about the circumstances of her baby's conception, nor had she hesitated to tell her husband. When she did tell Drogo and her family a few days later, Primula reported that they were all delighted by her news.

She'd made no entry on September 21, being otherwise occupied. On the 22nd, she had wrote, "The baby, a boy, was born last night. He's a funny little pink thing, but Mother says he'll grow up to be handsome. Drogo says he's the image of me."

If there had been a love-affair, it looked as if it'd been a brief one that Primula hadn't allowed to disrupt her marriage. If Iselgrim were in fact his father, Primula had never acknowledged it in writing by even the slightest allusion, and she was content to let Drogo believe that her son was also his. The two had apparently gone on placidly together, giving the appearance of a happy family for many years. The change--if there'd been a change--had only come near the end.

Frodo then skimmed through the earlier journals to search for entries concerning his mother's visit to Hobbiton. She had stayed at Bag End for three weeks. Bilbo was no more interested in Hobbiton society then than he'd been when Frodo had lived with him many years later, but his pretty Brandybuck cousin was eagerly received by all the prominent local gentry and Primula wrote of her various visits to their homes for dinner and tea parties. Frodo also found confirmation that Primula and Bilbo had talked about their Took cousins' travels and wondered where in the wide world beyond the Shire Iselgrim and his brothers might be, but with characteristic circumspection, she didn't actually say that this was the reason why she had come to see Bilbo.

He was just reading about Primula's introduction to Drogo Baggins ("Took tea with Bilbo's cousins, Dora and Drogo, at their home beyond the Hill. Drogo seems like a pleasant fellow, but shy of ladies."), when he heard a soft patter of bare feet on the wooden floorboards of the nested rooms between the chambers Esmeralda occupied and the one he was in.

"Frodo, hullo!" Melilot called out to him. "Where are you?"

Frodo called out in reply. After a moment, his cousin's ringletted head popped in at the doorway.

"Ah, there you are! I've been looking all over the Hall for you. I didn't even realize you were here until I saw Sam Gamgee and his children out on the lawn. Merry told me you were hiding up in here, gooing through your parents' things..." She looked around the cluttered little room filled with boxes, trunks, and wardrobes, then at Frodo seated in the midst of it all, surrounded by stacks of books. "And so you are. What is it you're looking for?"

"I'm trying to find out something about mother and my- er- father," Frodo replied and set down the journal he'd been reading.

"I hope you find it soon. We've barely seen you the last few days. I don't think I've spoken more than a half-dozen words to you since we went out on the river. You've spent all your time hunting up old diaries and poems, and running off to Budgeford without telling anyone." As Melly regarded him, her expression grew more solemn. "Frodo, what's going on? There's something more behind this than a sudden interest in family history. If it were only that, Uncle Merry wouldn't come to a boil whenever he hears your name, and Merry wouldn't have rolled his eyes when he told me where you'd gone, as if he thought you were behaving oddly--that is, more oddly than you usually do."

"There is something," Frodo conceded, "but Merry's asked me not to talk about it with anyone at the Hall. I made a promise not to upset the ladies."

"Oh, bosh!" said his cousin. "Merry Brandybuck has no right to say what I can and cannot hear. I may live in his house, but he certainly isn't my master!" She sat down on a box near Frodo and confided, "I begin to believe that Great-Aunt Del has the right idea of it. It's better not to live under a Master's dominion. I've been thinking of taking Addy and going off to live in some little smial of our own somewhere, away from Brandy Hall. If Great-Aunt Del can live on such terms, then so can I. I have a little money of my own, and Addy's grandfather sends him part of the income from Everard's property every quarter. That's plenty for just the two of us."

"Have you heard from Everard at all since he ran off?" Frodo asked, preferring to pursue this topic of conversation rather than answer Melly's question.

"Yes, once," answered Melly. "He sent me a letter a couple of months ago. He and Tibby Clover are living in some place called Overshire. I'd never heard of it, but Merry says it's up on the northernmost border. Evvy said that he was hoping to return home one day soon if the Tooks would let him and, if he did, would I let him see Addy?"

"Would you?"

"I don't see why I shouldn't. No matter what's wrong between me and Evvy, he is Addy's father and has a right to see his son. I wrote back that I would bring Addy to Tuckborough if Everard came there. But I hope that that Tibby won't be with him. He always seemed like a nasty and unpleasant little creature to me. I never understood what Evvy saw in him."

"Tibby looks like his brother, Toby," said Frodo.

Melly grimaced at this unwelcome truth; Everard had been in love with Toby Clover before he'd married her and had never really gotten over Toby's death.

Frodo had hoped that asking about Melly's own personal concerns would distract her, but she hadn't forgotten what she'd wanted to find out from him. "What is this mystery of yours, Frodo?" she asked. "You can tell me. Never mind what Merry says about upsetting ladies--if he makes a fuss, I'll tell him a thing or two."

Frodo couldn't help smiling. "Very well then, though you may think I'm as mad as Merry does once you hear. It all began right here in this room, when I was looking through my mother's jewelry box for her pearls. I found them, but I found something else too, an old letter that made me have some- well- unpleasant ideas." He told Melly everything that had followed this discovery, including the conversation he'd had with Merry last night.

"Well," Melly said thoughtfully once he'd finished. "Yes, I can certainly see how that would disturb you. I wouldn't want to think such awful things about my own mother."

"It's impossible to think anything improper of Aunt Melisaunte."

"True. I suppose it's easier to believe terrible things of people you don't really know--but you've never had difficulty in suspecting the people closest to you, Frodo. It's very like you. Is that what you were looking for?" Melly looked over the journals scattered around him. "Is there proof that this other hobbit is actually your father? Do you know now whether or not it's true?"

Frodo shook his head. "Mother would never write anything so indiscreet in her journals. Iselgrim was here at the right time for my conception, but it's impossible to tell what happened between them at that time. I'm not even absolutely certain that they were ever lovers."

"Poor Frodo! It must be horrible for you, suspecting and not knowing," Melly said sympathetically. "If it were me, not sure who my father was or what my mother might've done, I couldn't rest `til I knew. Is there no other way you can find out? Is there any way I can help?"

Frodo was surprised but heartened to find that Melly was more understanding of his reasons for pursuing this investigation than Merry or Sam had been. "Would you, Melly?" he responded eagerly to her offer. "Can you ask your mother what she remembers of Iselgrim Took? She's been here longer than Aunt Esme or Aunt Hilda. She was living at the Hall when he visited and she must surely remember him. You don't need to ask if she saw anything improper between him and my mother--it'd only upset her, and I promised Merry I wouldn't. But all the same, don't let Merry find out! He'll only blame me for bringing you into this."

"I'm not afraid of Merry," Melly responded, but she agreed to do as he asked. From some distant part of the Hall, they could hear voices calling. Melly rose and held out her hand. "Can you leave this for awhile, Frodo? It's nearly lunch-time, and no one wants you to miss the picnic."
Chapter 15 by Kathryn Ramage
Beneath the willow trees that ran along the eastern bank of the Brandywine was a stretch of shallow water, not more than waist-deep on a grown hobbit, where generations of Brandybuck children had learned to swim. Here, they were safely out of the stronger mid-stream currents, and a long shelf of silt formed a sort of beach.

Although a short walk across the lawn of Brandy Hall would reach the nearest front door, a picnic lunch had been packed for the party, carried out in willow-bark baskets, and laid out on old blankets beneath the shade of the willows. Since the day was hot, most of the party-goers chose to go swimming right away. After their swim, they would enjoy cold roast chicken, hard-boiled eggs, fresh bread and cheese, and the first grapes of the season, brought up from southern Buckland.

The young Brandybucks were accustomed to swim naked, but since today's party was one of mixed sexes and ages, they kept their small-clothes on. Merry and Marly took Celie's sons and Aderic up to take turns jumping off the boathouse pier into a slightly deeper pool out of the river's current. The little boys were already respectable swimmers, although Aderic had to hold his nose when he dove. Elanor, who had forgotten her tears from the night before, watched them with envy and clamored to jump into the water too. Frodo told her she could as soon as she was able to swim, and then he and Melly set about teaching her. Little Frodo also regarded the older children's activities with wide-eyed wonder, but contented himself with sitting about a foot from the shore in water up to his waist, splashing happily. The twins, who were just gaining their feet, ventured tentatively to the edge of the water where their elder siblings appeared to be having so much fun, but didn't dare to do more than get their toes wet.

Sam, still fully dressed, sat beneath one of the willows with Celie and her baby. From this position, he could keep an eye on his children and quickly rise to retrieve either twin if they looked in danger of losing their balance. He had some difficulty in responding to Elanor's repeated cry of "Watch me, Daddy!" He'd seen his daughter and Frodo in their smalls many times before--although never at the same time--but the additional sight of Melilot Took in her wet camisole and pantalets rolled up above dimpled knees was too much for him.

When the older ladies came out-of-doors, bringing supplementary nourishment in the form of freshly baked pie and the household's own special strawberry wine, Sam's sense of modesty was in for another shock. Hilda took charge of her infant granddaughter, and Celie gave in to her sons' pleas of "Come join us, Mamma!" In an instant, she had stripped off her skirt, bodice, and blouse, and plunged into the water. Only the reassurances of the elder ladies that they weren't going to swim too saved him from further embarrassment.

"I never like going near the water," Hilda told him, "My husband used to take me out in the boats when we first married, but I was always terrified that we might tip over. And after poor Frodo's parents..." She regarded her nephew, who was at the moment laughing and encouraging Elanor to paddle as hard as she could to stay afloat.

"I don't believe any of us felt the same about the river after that night," Melisaunte agreed. "I certainly can't look upon it without remembering how many members of the family we've lost to it." Hilda patted her arm comfortingly; Melisaunte wasn't thinking of Primula and Drogo alone, but also of her elder daughter, Mentha.

"I hadn't thought about the accident in years," said Esmeralda. "Not until Frodo found-" While the two other ladies were talking quietly together, she glanced at Sam and asked him softly, "You know all about that, don't you? What Frodo found?"

"Yes, m'lady," Sam answered.

"But I can see you don't like his looking into the past any more than Merry does."

"No, m'lady." Whatever he might feel about Frodo's pursuit of the truth behind his parents' deaths, this was all Sam was willing to say to anyone else. More would be disloyal.

Esmeralda smiled. "I'm not sure that I agree. I think- Why, what is it, my dear?"

Little Rosemary had wobbled up to Esmeralda and held out one tiny hand. When Esmeralda held out her own hand, a small, damp rock plucked from the water's edge was dropped into her palm. Once this gift was graciously accepted, the little girl toddled back to fetch another one.

Frodo left Elanor in Melly's care and came up out of the water. Pausing to pick up one of the old bath-towels piled in a stack on the grass and wrap it around his shoulders, he sat on the edge of the blanket near Sam's feet.

"Nellie's swimming lessons are coming along very nicely," he reported as he dried the dripping ends of his hair. "With a little more practice, we'll have her ready to go jumping off the pier before the end of the summer. You might go in yourself, Sam."

"Not off that pier!" Sam protested.

"No, but why don't you go wading before lunch? The water's lovely, and not deep at all where Melly and Nel are."

"It's good to see you out in the sunshine, Frodo," said Hilda. "You oughtn't spend all day reading when it's so pleasant out-of-doors. Interest in one's family is all very well, but a stuffy old storage-room is hardly the proper place for a summer holiday!"

"Yes, I know, Auntie, but this is my one opportunity. My parents' history isn't a curiosity I can indulge in in Hobbiton." While his Aunt Dora and Great-Uncle Falco might be able to tell him something about his mother's first meeting with Drogo Baggins, Frodo was now in pursuit of more personal information than they could provide. "I'm finding some interesting things among their possessions--that book of nursery rhymes, and some of my mother's other poems." This much, he thought, was safe to tell the aunties. "Reading her journals, I know what she did years before I was born, and I can glimpse what sort of person she was. It makes me wish that I'd known her better." If he'd ever known Primula as more than a vague childhood memory, he might now be able to judge her character and fill in the elusive thoughts behind her reserved style of writing. And more than that: as he searched her life, he began to be intrigued by her. Regardless of what she had or hadn't done, he felt that she would've been a worthwhile person to know.

Esmeralda gave him a sharp and curious look and was about to ask a question, when Sam shouted, "Hoy! Pippin Gamgee, you behave yourself!"

Pip, like his twin sister, had been picking up small rocks from the water's edge and was unsteadily poised with an upraised arm to throw one at his unsuspecting brother. At Sam's shout, Pip flung the rock anyway, but lost his balance in doing so and tumbled backwards onto the grass; the rock fell short of its target and little Frodo twisted around to see what the fuss was about just as his father scooped his baby brother up.

"I'm afraid you've brought that on yourself, Mr. Gamgee," Hilda called out to him playfully. "Naming a child after Pippin Took is only asking for trouble. I daresay Pippin encourages them all to be as naughty as possible."

"That he does, ma'am," Sam agreed. Since he was at the river's edge, he took Frodo's advice and stepped ankle-deep into the water, to the delight of the little boy in his arms.

"He's just as bad with our grandchildren," said Melisaunte. "It's a relief to have him away for awhile. There's so much less mischief in the nursery."

"Pippin ought to have children of his own to spoil," said Esmeralda.

"It's odd that he seems to have given up on it just when he's betrothed himself to that peculiar North-Took girl," said Hilda. "Most young hobbits are thinking most of having children at precisely that point."

Sam had by this time waded out to stand with the water washing around his calves. Little Frodo was clamoring to be picked up too, and Elanor had stopped her efforts at dog-paddling to come and tell her father what a good swimmer she was already. Melly went with her; Sam seemed more comfortable conversing face-to-face with a lady in wet underclothes than viewing her from a distance.

The group on the pier came in one by one and descended upon the picnic baskets with the voracious eagerness of hungry young hobbits who hadn't had a bite to eat in over three hours. Melisaunte and Hilda rose to join them, leaving Celie's baby in Esmeralda's care. For the moment, she and Frodo were sitting by themselves.

"Have you found anything else, Frodo?" his aunt asked him. "You haven't told me."

"I can't," Frodo answered apologetically. "I said I would when I began to search, but there's little that's clear and, besides, Merry's asked me not to. He saw how much that letter I found upset you. I'm not to ask questions or tell anyone else about it."

"Yes, he said something like that to me as well. Merry means well," Merry's mother conceded. "He takes the duty of a Master to protect the inhabitants of the Hall very seriously--his father would be pleased. But since I read that strange letter of Primula's, it's been on my mind. What could she say to shock me? I've no idea, but I've imagined some terribly unpleasant things."

Frodo confessed that he too had been having awful, but as yet unproven, thoughts. The party around the picnic baskets was now spreading out to sit down on the many blankets spread under the willows to enjoy their lunch. Sam and Melly brought the Gamgee children up out of the water.

With an eye on Merry, since he doubted his cousin would approve, Frodo said, "There's one thing you might do to help me, Aunt Esme."

"Yes, dear, what is it?"

"Mother's last journal--the one she was writing in the year she and my father drowned. It's not with the others. I've looked through all the other boxes and can't find it. Do you know what happened to it?"

Esmeralda shook her head. After Celie had retrieved her baby, Esmeralda rose to get her own lunch. Frodo served himself some bread and grapes and a glass of the strawberry wine before he sat down again with Sam to eat. The party continued merrily for some time and most went back into the river for another swim after their meal. It was then that the lady returned to tell Frodo, "It might be at the cottage."

"Which cottage?" Frodo recalled that his mother had occasionally mentioned staying at one of the cottages along the lane. "Not the one Sam and I are in?"

"Oh, no, Frodo. The one across from it."

"The abandoned one?"

"That's right. They spent their honeymoon there, you know, but went back to it now and again when they wanted to be away from the crowds and the noise at the Hall. Drogo liked to sleep there during the summer nights. We brought all their belongings out soon after they died--it's all stored at the Hall now--but something small like a journal might easily have been overlooked and left behind."
Chapter 16 by Kathryn Ramage
While the rest of the household, including Sam, were washing up after their swim or giving the children baths before dinner, Frodo put his clothes on over his damp underthings and walked over to the lane to examine the ruins of the abandoned cottage where his parents had once lived.

He had vague memories of hearing about his parents being away during the nights, but until he'd read Primula's journals, he hadn't realized how much time they'd spent there during the later years of their marriage. They'd always been present at dinner and breakfast and had had rooms at the Hall. How was he to know that they went out after his bed-time? He couldn't recall ever staying in this particular cottage himself as a child, but had always slept up in the nursery until he was given a room of his own some months after their deaths. The cottage had been empty and in ruins for as long as he could remember. He'd never associated it with his parents. If he thought of it at all, it was as the place where his cousin Ilberic had been struck over the head a few years ago by the same murderous hobbit who had killed two of their kinsman and then attacked him.

The abandoned cottage looked no different than it had on the day when he'd searched the overgrown garden for clues to Ilbie's attacker: The roof was a tangle of long grass, brambles, and young trees; the walls and ceilings within were no doubt full of untrimmed roots and falling in. The whole structure would soon collapse completely and appear as a little lump in the landscape, indistinguishable from a natural hillock.

The door was a rotted slab of wood, and Frodo felt sure that it too would fall apart if he tried to open it. He gave it a tentative push. The rusted hinges and iron bolt held, but the middle part of the door was soft as pulp and gave way beneath his hand. A section of the rotted wood fell into what had been once been the cottage's front hall with a muffled plop and sent up a puff of dirt and dust that made Frodo jump back.

"What is it you're doing there, lad?" a voice called out.

Frodo turned to look around, fearing that someone had followed him from the Hall. But the only person in sight was his Uncle Dinodas in the garden of the cottage directly across the lane, peering at him over the hedge. "It's all right, Uncle!" he shouted back, loudly enough to penetrate his old uncle's ears.

"Is that you, Frodo?" Dino bawled in response. "I thought it was somebody up to mischief. What're you doing, lad, poking around that old pile?"

Frodo left the ruined cottage and crossed the lane so that they could converse in more normal tones. "I was hoping to get inside and find some of my mother's or father's things. They used to stay out here during the summers, as you know, and Aunt Esme thought some of their belongings might've been left behind."

A peculiar, canny look came into the old hobbit's eyes. "Taking an interest in your mother and father, are you, young Frodo?"

"Well, yes, just recently I've found some- ah- writings of my mother's that have made me curious to learn more about her, and my father Drogo too." Frodo spoke cautiously, not wanting to ruffle another elderly relative who had been fond of his mother, but anxious to hear whatever Dinodas could tell him. It occurred to him that here was a witness to his parents' final days whom he'd previously overlooked. Uncle Dino had been a recluse for as long as Frodo could recall. The elderly hobbit had been living out here in his cottage, away from Brandy Hall, long before he, Frodo, had been born. He'd surely been a neighbor to Primula and Drogo during their stays at the empty cottage. What might he have observed?

Uncle Dino chuckled. "I wondered if you might come one day, lad, looking. Come inside. I've got something to show you."
Chapter 17 by Kathryn Ramage
Frodo had only been inside his uncle's cottage a few times before; to be invited in was a rare privilege, and Dinodas was especially fond of him. People whom Dinodas disliked were never allowed past the garden gate. Dinodas's sitting room matched the one in the cottage that Frodo was sharing with the Gamgees, but it was less well-kept and seemed smaller, for it was filled with fifty or sixty years' worth of the old hobbit's accumulated possessions. Books were stacked atop every piece of furniture with a flat surface. The tall satchel in which his uncle stored his golfing clubs was propped behind the door, and stray clubs and balls were underfoot.

Frodo brushed off the seat of the settee and sat down. '"What did you want to show me, Uncle?"

"That cottage has been sitting empty for thirty years," Dinodas told him, and sank into his favorite chair before the unlit fireplace. "It's an eyesore and I'm sick of the sight of it. After poor Primmie and your father died, I would often ask Rory, then after he passed on, my nephew Saradoc, what they meant to do about it. It ought've been kept up and not left to fall into ruins, but they said it wasn't wanted. There are enough other cottages along the lane for family to come live in when they want to get away from the Hall--Crickhollow, Ivysmial, Riverside. They didn't say so, but they also thought it wasn't worth the trouble of keeping up the one cottage nobody would care to stay in. No one has, you know, after Primmie and Drogo. It's not as if they died there, but I expect it has sad memories for the family at the Hall--the older folk, I mean. You young ones don't remember them."

"No, Uncle," Frodo said, and waited patiently for Dinodas to get to the point.

"It has sad memories for me too. I think of poor Primmie and her husband every time I look at it, and I see it every day. It ought to be pulled down and some flowers planted over the spot. You might mention it to Merry, now he's Master."

Frodo promised that he would.

"The thing is, Frodo-lad, that if you've come looking for whatever your parents left behind, there's nothing over there for you to find now."

"How do you know that, Uncle?"

"I've looked myself. There were some furnishings left behind, but after the cottage sat empty for about ten years, I knew nothing would ever be done about them. So one day, I went over and forced the lock on the kitchen door to go in and have a look around. I wanted to see if anything was worth salvaging before it all rotted away. That oak cabinet there--" Uncle Dino gestured toward a squat, black object in the far corner. "That came from the cottage, and so did the table in the kitchen and a few other bits and pieces that only wanted some repair or polishing up. But I daresay it isn't those you're interested in."

"No," Frodo agreed. "I was looking for papers--a book. Did you find anything like that?"

"I found some papers in that cabinet. They're still there now. They look like rubbish, but might be important. I didn't like to throw them out, but didn't know what else to do with them. I didn't think they were any business of Rory's. If they were anybody's rightful property, they were yours, but you'd gone off to live with cousin Bilbo by then. I decided it was best to keep them, in case you came looking for them someday. And here you are..." The old hobbit rose and crossed the room. After he moved a stack of books aside, he pressed on the decoratively carved top panel of the oak cabinet; the lid sprang up, revealing a shallow drawer beneath. In it lay a small packet of letters tied with a faded ribbon. Dinodas handed these to Frodo. "They're letters from Del and some friends of your mother's. She must've received them in her last days."

They weren't the journal he was looking for, but Frodo accepted the letters gratefully. He saw that there were two other objects in the drawer: a small, empty bottle, and something wrapped in a yellowed handkerchief. "What are those, Uncle?" he asked. "May I have them too?"

"If you like. That bottle was in the same drawer as the letters when I first found it. The other was in the fireplace."

"In the fireplace?"

"In their bedroom. It looked like it'd been tossed in and got stuck between the grate and the wall. It's a bit charred around the edges and was lying in the damp for ages afterwards. Take care!" Dinodas urged as Frodo reached for the handkerchief-wrapped object. "It'll likely fall apart in your hands. It was a book of some sort, so maybe it's the one you were looking for. From what I could read of the pages that weren't damaged, it was written in Primmie's hand."

Frodo didn't dare to examine the fragile object right now, for fear it would turn out to be something else. Making sure that the handkerchief was securely around its contents, he carefully placed it in his jacket pocket along with the packet of letters and the bottle. "Thank you, Uncle Dino. I'm sure these will be terribly interesting. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about my parents?" he ventured. He knew that he was once again stretching the boundaries of his promise to Merry, but in this case, it seemed that his uncle could tell him something that no one else in the family was able to. "You must've seen a great deal of them when they stayed in their cottage during the summers, especially that last summer?"

"Well," Dinodas let out a puff of breath as he sat down again in his favorite chair. "I saw them go in and out a lot, but we didn't always stop to chat. Sometimes after she first married, Primmie would come in and fuss that my home was a wreck, so I didn't ask her in much after that. When I took up golf, Drogo tried to play it with me, but it got to be too tiring for him. I'll tell you something, Frodo-lad." His uncle fixed him with an eye twinkling with mischief. "You're old enough now to know about such goings-on. I used to see them in that meadow out back sometimes on hot summer nights. Your mother leading him by the hand. I didn't spy--that wouldn't be decent, not on my own sister--but I could hear her laughing. Primmie was always a girl who liked her fun."

Frodo blushed, partly because of the possibility that Uncle Dino had seen him and Sam going out into the meadow, and also because his first thought was that he may well have been conceived in that same clearing amid the trees. A moment later, common sense took hold; born in September, he'd been conceived at midwinter. Not even the most adventurous hobbit would try to make love outdoors at that time of year. But who exactly had Dino seen his mother with--Drogo or Iselgrim?

"So they were a happy couple. Did you ever know them to quarrel?" he asked, knowing that he was now truly on dangerous ground.

But Dinodas received the question without offense. "Not that I heard. My hearing was fine thirty years ago. I could hear raised voices half a mile away, never mind across the lane. No, I never heard them shouting at each other. But sometimes I heard your father weep."

"My father?" Frodo repeated incredulously.

His uncle nodded. "Sobbing and crying out in the night. It'd wake me up. `Twas terrible to hear at times. When I asked Primmie about it, she said that Drogo suffered from monstrous stomach pains. Well, that was no surprise, considering the way he ate, but it never seemed to get any better. Wait, Frodo--now I think on it, they might've been having a quarrel the last time I saw them, that last night."

Frodo was alert. "That last night? Were they here at their cottage that last night, Uncle? But I thought they went straight to the boathouse after dinner at the Hall."

"I couldn't say about that, lad, but they did come here," Dinodas said firmly. "I saw them. They were just leaving their cottage and going off down the lane toward the high road and the river. They didn't shout, but Drogo seemed to be in a great state. He wanted to go by himself, but Primmie meant to go with him. I remember he said to her, 'You don't have to do this, Prim.' I couldn't hear what she said in reply, for her voice was so soft, but she had her way. She always did. She wrapped that poor Baggins fellow 'round her little finger. In the end, they went off together arm in arm. Can you call that a quarrel? It doesn't strike me as such, but it was an odd thing to be talking over if they were just going out for a row on the river. When I heard later what'd happened to them, I wondered if they'd meant to go somewhere special that night and never got there."
Chapter 18 by Kathryn Ramage
When he left his uncle, Frodo went next door to his own cottage to have a quick wash and change out of his damp clothes, which were beginning to feel uncomfortably clammy next to his skin. There was still some time before he had to return to the Hall for dinner, and so he sat down at the kitchen table to examine the items Dinodas had given him. The letters were, as Uncle Dino had said, from his Aunt Del or his mother's friends in other parts of the Shire. None were from Iselgrim. Frodo set these aside to read through later.

He next examined the bottle. It had once been tightly corked, but the cork had since shrunk and fallen inside the bottle. There were traces of a dark, dried residue at the very bottom and along one side. Frodo sniffed, but no odor lingered except for certain mustiness. What could this have been? Medicine? Dinodas had mentioned that Drogo suffered from terrible stomach pains--a fact which Frodo didn't recall at all. Had this black syrup been used to soothe that pain. Or--a more ugly thought occurred to him--had Primula tried to poison her husband before resorting to drowning?

Last, he turned to what might be his greatest prize, or deepest disappointment: the handkerchief-wrapped object that Dinodas had found in the fireplace. His hands trembled slightly with excitement and anticipation as he unfolded the aged piece of cloth. Inside was a book. The leather front cover was badly burnt and smelled of ashes and mold, but enough remained to show Frodo that it had once had been embossed in the same style as the covers of his mother's journals. This must be the last one!

He spread the handkerchief on the table and carefully opened the fragile object on top of it. The remnants of the book's spine crumbled as he did so. Before him lay the first badly charred pages, but even on these he could detect lines of his mother's writing. With great care, Frodo began to turn through the book. The earliest months were entirely lost. The innermost pages were in better condition. The last third of the journal, which must have been against the brick wall lining the fireplace was only a little browned and singed at the edges, but these pages were blank. The light was too dim in the kitchen to read even the best pages of writing; Frodo carried the journal, still lying open on the handkerchief, out into the back garden. Here, he set it down on the grass to read it in the bright late-afternoon sunlight.

It was in June of 1397 that he found the first fully legible paragraph, and the first ominous note:

"We have gone to the cottage. Drogo can no longer keep his peace at night. He is
in such great pain. The poppy draught helps, but he fears to take too much lest it
addles his poor wits or gives him fearful dreams. The nights are the worst. He
would wake the whole Hall if we stayed on there, and Drogo fears above all that
the others might hear him and know."

This explained to Frodo why he had never heard of Drogo Baggins's pains before. He and Primula had come out to their cottage that last summer so as not to disturb the other inhabitants of Brandy Hall, nor let them see how he suffered. They hadn't wanted their son to know. This secrecy was a desire Frodo sympathized with. He never liked people to see him on his worst days. But what had been wrong with Drogo?

As he read on, he found more interesting fragments. The days of that last summer were uneventful, but the nights were a catalog of sleepless vigils as Primula sat up with her husband. At the beginning of July, she had written:

"...can't bear it. He says he will drink it all down one day. I asked if he would
leave a drop for me."

Then, about two weeks later:

"We talk of it. It seems we talk of nothing else when we are alone. Poor Drogo. I
believe he would go away tonight, but fears I would try to follow."

This reminded Frodo of the conversation Uncle Dino had partially overheard. Drogo was apparently planning to go somewhere. But where? Was he thinking of seeking treatment from some skilled healer or herbalist far away from Buckland, in order to keep his illness a secret from the family? If that was so, then why hadn't he wanted Primula to accompany him?

Had they been planning to steal away on an unannounced journey that last night, perhaps planning to cross the river to Stock? Their boat had been found near the Bucklebury Ferry dock on the far bank. Had they met with their fatal accident then, while trying to disembark there?

Something was certainly being planned between them. On the next to last page, his mother had written:

"I've thought of confiding in Esme, but do I dare? She will think it horrid and
selfish of me. It may be better if she knows no more than the others. And what
of Frodo? I can't explain such things to a child. He won't be able to understand."

There was only a single line on the next page:

"Tonight is the night Drogo intends to go--but not alone."

This was presumably the last thing his mother had ever written. From the unfinished letter to Esmeralda tucked away in the jewelry box, and this journal flung into the fire, Frodo concluded that Primula had decided not to tell anyone of their departure. She had gone out of her way to hide or destroy all the clues.

These last journal entries had given him a new picture of his parents' private lives, one that was filled with suffering and emotional distress, but in which they were firmly united against all outsiders. Even he had been kept out of their secrets until today. He'd found no mention of Iselgrim Took. Only now, Frodo believed that this wasn't a sign of his mother's circumspection. Iselgrim had nothing to do with her anymore... if indeed he ever had.

The sun was sinking low over the trees and the hour for dinner was approaching. Wrapping the journal back up with care, Frodo carried it into the cottage and placed it and the other items in a drawer in his bedroom. With his head full of new ideas, he walked swiftly down the main road toward Brandy Hall.

When he reached the Hall, he was relieved to see that he wasn't late for dinner. Most of the grown-ups had gone inside, but Melly was seated under one of the trees, keeping an eye on the older children who were running around, playing a game of tag on the grass. Sam was nowhere in sight, nor were the twins.

"Frodo!" she called out when she saw him. "I was hoping to speak to you before dinner. After you'd gone, I asked Mother what you wanted to know. She says it wasn't Aunt Primula that Iselgrim came here to see. He came to Brandy Hall to propose to Great-aunt Aramanth. Mother thinks they had some sort of understanding before he went away, but when he asked her to marry him, she refused. So you were wrong about that, Frodo."

This news didn't astonish Frodo as much as it might have an hour ago. For a moment, he tried to compose a scenario in which Iselgrim, disappointed by Amaranth's rejection, had sought comfort from her younger sister--but immediately abandoned the idea as implausible. "Yes, you're right," he conceded. "I was wrong about Iselgrim. And I think I may have gotten much more wrong than that."
Chapter 19 by Kathryn Ramage
After their large picnic lunch, the gentlehobbits of Brandy Hall had satisfied their appetites until dinner with only a little tea. There wasn't a drop left, Hilda informed Frodo apologetically when he entered the drawing room, but it wouldn't be long before they all went in to their dinner.

"Have you been out-of-doors, Frodo?" she asked him. "Everyone thought you'd gone back to your reading. Your friend Mr. Gamgee was looking for you before he took his little ones up to the nursery for their naps."

"I have been reading," Frodo answered, "but not here at the Hall. I went to that old, empty cottage to see if I could find anything my parent might've left there."

Esmeralda looked surprised that he made this announcement so publicly, not only in front of Hilda and Melisaunte, but in the hearing of Merry and his uncle Merimac, who were also in the room. "And did you?" she asked. Esmeralda wasn't the only one who appeared interested in his answer.

"Yes, Aunt. I found the journal. It's in very bad condition. I could read very little of it, but from what I did read, I discovered something rather curious. I hope that you--that all of you who remember my parents--can help me." Merimac made a sound of impatience. Merry was regarding him with concern, but Frodo felt that what he had to ask was important and would not be distressing for his relatives to answer. At least, it wouldn't be as distressing as some of the questions he might have asked them. "Tell me: Was my father ill?"

"What do you mean?" asked Merimac. "I don't think I ever saw Drogo Baggins ill abed in all the years that he lived here." The other agreed that Drogo was always a hearty hobbit.

"Are you sure of that? From some of the things my mother wrote that summer, I believe he was seriously ill. He was in great pain during the last months of his life. He was taking poppy-syrup regularly." Frodo looked around the room at all his aunts and uncle, then focused on Esmeralda. "Mother wrote that she wondered if you might've suspected her shocking news. You didn't, Auntie, but if you look back now, could it be possible? If I say 'Drogo Baggins was ill,' is there anything you remember from those days, and see it differently now? Something perhaps that might've seemed odd then, but makes sense now in light of that?"

"I never saw him ill, Frodo, and never suspected such a thing, but he and Primmie did keep to themselves that summer," answered Esmeralda. "They never missed meals at the Hall, but they would go off after dinner and we wouldn't see them again until breakfast. Even when they were here at the Hall, they spent much of the day in their rooms."

"Now you mention it," Hilda said eagerly, "your father wasn't eating as well as he used to. I never saw a hobbit who could take in so much at one sitting!"

"But not at the end?" asked Frodo. "Did he lose weight?"

"Perhaps a little, but he was such a very big hobbit to begin with. I didn't honestly notice."

"Did he look more pale than usual? Did he seem out-of-sorts?"

"His temper was shorter," said Merimac, almost reluctant to provide even this much information.

"Yes, that's so," Melisaunte agreed. "He snapped at you and Merry one day for making too much noise while you were playing. He was immediately sorry for it, but I'd never heard him speak that way before. He was usually such a jolly and even-tempered hobbit. But it was a remarkably hot summer, and heat tends to make some people irritable. At least, that's what I thought at the time. Primmie and he went off to sleep at their cottage soon afterwards. She said it was cooler there."

"What is all this about, Frodo?" demanded Merimac. "First you ask questions about your parents' accident, and now it's some secret illness. It's odd, even for you. What's behind it?"

"I can tell you now, if Merry will allow me to." He glanced at his cousin; Merry was still watching him cautiously, but nodded to release him from his promise. "It all began when I found a strange letter my mother had written on the day she and my father died--strange, because it suggested that she was expecting some sort of disaster to befall them." He didn't have the letter with him, but he had read it over so many times in the last few days that he could recite the key phrases from memory. As he did so, Aunt Hilda let out a mouse-like squeak, and Merimac looked furious, as if he didn't believe a word of it and would storm out of the room if Frodo went on... but he stayed.

"You see now why I didn't mention it before," Frodo concluded. "It disturbed me when I first read it, and Aunt Esme too when I showed it to her. Merry asked me not to distress anyone else with it until I'd learned what Mother meant by it."

"And have you?" Merry asked.

"I think I have. Mother's last journal, and some things that Uncle Dino's told me, have given me enough of the story to see what must have happened. Both she and my father were anxious to keep his illness a secret from you--and from me as well. That's what she must have meant by being so careful to conceal the truth."

"But what about those predictions of disaster?" asked Melisaunte. "Leaving you in Esme's care, as if she knew that she and Drogo weren't going to be here themselves?"

"That sounded ominous to me too, Auntie, at first," said Frodo, "but I understand it now." He looked at the hobbits around him and hesitated a moment before he plunged on with his explanation, "I believe that she and Father were planning to steal away secretly to consult an expert healer. She'd done what she could to ease my father's pain with the common potions every woman in the Shire knows how to brew, but they weren't enough. They had to seek help elsewhere, but they didn't want anyone to know where they were going. They pretended that that night was no different from any other. They said they were merely going out for a moonlight row on the river--they couldn't have taken a boat from the boathouse without it being noticed. But once they left the Hall, they went to their cottage. Uncle Dino saw them. Perhaps they wanted to gather up a few things for their journey. Since they expected to be away for some time, Mother wrote her letter to Aunt Esme, but never finished it for some reason. Then they set out in their boat, and it must have been while they were crossing the river that they had their accident."

The older hobbits had been hanging breathlessly on his words. At this last, they all relaxed and let out sighs of relief. Only Merry looked unconvinced.

"So you do believe it was an accident after all?" asked Esmeralda. "I've been so worried, thinking such odd and awful things."

"I'm sure of it now, Auntie," Frodo assured her. "I can't say precisely what happened. Father may have had a bad spasm of pain while they were in the boat, and tipped it over. I don't suppose we'll ever know. But I have explained that peculiar letter of Mother's to my own satisfaction--and to yours too, I hope. You needn't let it trouble you again."

"Both of you have too much imagination," Merimac told them. "It comes from the Tooks, this dreaming and making up wild stories out of nothing. I'm sorry to learn that Drogo was ill--especially for poor Primmie's sake--but I could've told you first and last that their accident was an accident and saved you a lot of worry and bother."

Melly brought the children in then to shepherd them up to the nursery for their dinner, and Sam, Celie, and Marly soon came down from the nursery for theirs. The residents of Brandy Hall and their guests went into the dining-room and talked of happier subjects.
Chapter 20 by Kathryn Ramage
After dinner, Frodo sat with Sam beneath the willow trees near the boathouse, watching the moonlight dapple the swift-moving water. The children, who'd had an exciting day of their own, were bedded down in the Hall nursery; their father and Frodo would once again have the cottage to themselves for the night, but the two were in no hurry to go there yet.

"I don't know how you can bear being near this nasty old river," Sam said once Frodo had repeated his tale of his parents' accident. "If it was me, I'd never want to set eyes on it again, let alone put a foot in it."

"You can't blame the Brandywine, Sam. I don't, and I don't believe my mother and father did at the very end." He turned to Sam. "I'm not afraid of water. Someday, you know, we'll cross a body of water much larger than this one. Wider than all the Shire, according to Gandalf."

"But not for years and years," Sam answered. "You can't go `til I'm ready, and I won't be `til the little uns are grown."

"No, darling," Frodo agreed. "Not for a long while yet. I wouldn't dream of leaving without you." He reached out to find Sam's hand in the darkness, squeezed it, and leaned closer for a kiss.

While they were kissing, he became aware that someone else was nearby, a shadowy figure in the candlelight from the Hall windows moving slowly across the lawn in their direction. While Frodo had intended a romantic encounter here under the willows, he didn't want an audience. He watched as the figure drew nearer, until he was able to identify it.

"Oh, it's only you, Merry."

"Ah, there you are! I hoped you hadn't gone away yet, Frodo" his cousin said and ducked under the fringe of the willow tree to join them. "I'm not interrupting, am I? I wanted to ask about that story you told Mother, Uncle Merry, and the aunties. I'm glad you've stopped all that nonsense about Iselgrim Took being your true father! Have you told Sam?"

"Yes, a part of it. You were right, Merry," Frodo admitted with a little laugh. Whatever Primula might have felt for Iselgrim in her girlhood, there was no evidence whatsoever that there had even been anything between them during her marriage. "Drogo Baggins was my father. I'm as sure of that now too, as I am of what happened to him and Mother that night. Anything else was entirely in my imagination."

"But do you know what happened? That's what I've been wondering. What you said..." Merry sat down on the grassy bank beside him. "Do you honestly think that your parents were going off to seek help because your father was ill? Would they do that--disappear without one word or leaving a note to anybody?"

"Not even saying goodbye to their little boy," Sam said sadly.

"In her last journal, Mother wrote that she'd decided to tell no one what they were planning, not even me. I was far too young to understand." Frodo hesitated again, then decided to confide in Merry as he'd planned to confide in Sam. "I did think at first that they were planning a physical journey to some other part of the Shire. But then I realized that that was improbable. It's as you say, Merry--even if they'd wanted to keep their departure a secret, they wouldn't have simply disappeared without leaving word. They wouldn't have been able to. The family would worry. Uncle Rory would've sent people out to search for them. They wouldn't have wanted that kind of fuss. No, if they'd wanted to slip away and not have anyone know where they were going, they would've made up some story about visiting friends or relatives somewhere else. And we know that they didn't."

"So where'd they mean to go?" asked Sam.

"There's only one explanation that fits all the facts I have," said Frodo. "I know now that my father was ill and in pain--so much so that only a few weeks before his death, he threatened to drink down a whole bottle of poppy-juice to end it. That would have ended him! No one takes more than a few drops at once. A bottle's worth would surely kill any hobbit. I believe he did mean to kill himself. According to my mother's journal, they frequently discussed some question between them after that. She wrote that he would 'go,' but he was afraid she would follow. Uncle Dino heard them arguing on the night they died. Father insisted that she didn't have to do something--go with him?--but she did."

He thought about his mother's one heart-felt poem; he still didn't know when it had been written, but he had no doubt that it was written with her one true love in mind. The one person whose absence would make her feel more dead than alive. He thought of his mother laughing and leading her beloved out into the meadow on a long-ago summer's night. He recalled that last excerpt from Primula's journal: *Drogo intends to go--but not alone.* He thought too of his plans to travel to the Undying Lands one day when his own pain became too great, and of how Sam insisted that he would go too--but couldn't leave his children yet.

He announced, "I believe that when they went to the river that night, they ended up exactly where they'd intended: beneath the water."

"I thought so!" cried Merry. "I knew you were keeping something back. So you lied to them? Lied to Mother?"

"You wouldn't want me to distress them," Frodo responded. "And I didn't want to either, especially not Aunt Esme. The truth would've upset them all."

"It upsets me!" said Sam. "How could your own mum rather go off and leave you? Why aren't you upset by it, Frodo?"

"I might've been, if I'd learned of it when I was younger. But now..." Frodo shook his head. "No. I can't be. As you say, Sam, it was so long ago. My mother knew that Aunt Esme and the others here at the Hall would look after me once she and father were gone. And, do you know, after some of the awful things I've been thinking about her, I'm relieved that this is the truth! If I'm sorry, it's only that I never had a chance to know her better. Both of them. I would've lost my father very soon regardless, but I suspect that Primula Baggins was an extraordinary lady. I didn't feel very close to them when I began this investigation, not as I do now. I've gained that much. I feel as if I understand them." He smiled to himself and tossed a pebble into the river, then watched the ripples spread upon the water. "In a way, it's rather romantic. She did love him, you see, so much that she couldn't live without him. It was never a matter of pushing or pulling. I like to think that they went in together."
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