Pushed or Pulled? 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."
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