Pushed or Pulled? by Kathryn Ramage

Story notes: This story takes place in the summer of 1426 (S.R.).

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