Pushed or Pulled? 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.
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