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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