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78
One Last Boat Ride upon the Brandywine

Written to a B2MeM prompt by Dreamflower. For LadySherlockian, Lame Pegasus, and Shirebound for their birthdays.


~~~

One Final Boat Ride upon the River


“Mummy?”

Primula Brandybuck Baggins looked down at where her little lad sat on the white wolf skin before the parlor fire and smiled. What a handsome child her Frodo was, she thought; and somehow, sitting on that wolf skin, a trophy from the Fell Winter, he appeared particularly mature. “What is it, dearling?” she asked.

He was looking at her with those large, intense blue eyes of his. “Do you have to go out on the river tonight?”

He’d never before appeared concerned about Primula and Drogo going out on the river at night, and she wasn’t certain why he was doing so right then. “We don’t have to do so, Frodo, but we want to do it. Why? Have you been having bad dreams?”

His cheeks grew flushed, and he shook his head, looking down at his right hand against the wolf’s fur. “No, no bad dreams. It’s just—well, I have a bad feeling about the river right now, as if it were planning mischief.”

She laughed. Such an imagination he had! “Oh, I suspect that the Brandywine often plans mischief, sweetling. That is why we must treat it ever with respect. But it is friendly enough if you are properly respectful of its power.”

He nodded, but continued in his contemplation of his hand.

“And what is it that is so fascinating about your hand, Frodo Baggins?”

He shrugged. At last he answered, “I was just wondering about what it must have been like for Beren One-hand to realize suddenly that he didn’t have his hand anymore, after the wolf bit it off.” He looked at the skin that had covered the wolf’s skull at one time. “It must have hurt worse than anything he’d ever known.”

“I must suppose so, beloved.” Secretly she wished she could shake Bilbo for telling that story to her child. Sometimes Frodo was so—sensitive! She looked at Frodo’s hand, lying flat against the white fur, and she felt a shiver starting at the base of her spine. To think that such a thing might happen to anyone, even to this so beloved child of hers! She found herself imagining him as an adult, with that hand missing. But in her mind’s eye she saw him looking much as he did now, only taller, his face somehow stern—stern but still vulnerable, and his hand was there, right where it belonged. She started to feel relieved until she realized his hand in her imagination was not as it was now—that there was something wrong with the fingers and how they lay next to one another. The shiver returned, only more strongly—an outright shudder.

She returned to the previous subject, hoping it would distract both of them from the idea of bitten hands—or fingers. “What kind of mischief do you imagine the river is planning?”

He shrugged and finally again met her gaze. “I’m not certain. I think it was what Deloc Oldbuck said, that he’d seen something that looked almost like a Hobbit on the riverbank last week.”

“Then that’s not the river planning mischief, dearling, not if it’s something that looks like a Hobbit but isn’t.”

He made a face. “I suppose you’re right. But why do you like going out on the river at night?”

She sighed. “You know how you like sleeping out on top of the smial with your dad and Bilbo, how you love looking up at the stars and feeling as if they were leaning over you to tell you their stories?”

He nodded.

“Well, that is how I feel when we’re floating down the river in the punt or the rowboat your dad built, as if the stars were smiling down at us and wishing us well. Oh, I know that you are too young to understand, but it is oh, so romantic! Even your father is in awe of how bright the stars seem overhead when we are rocking in the river’s flow, Frodo. And, besides, we do rather hope to one day give you that little brother or sister you’ve been wanting so. Floating on the river, feeling the love between us, perhaps we might be able to start one more life. Dearling, we love you so much that we can’t hope but to have that love doubled. As wonderful as it is to have you, how much more wonderful it might be to have another!”

He nodded. “I want you to be happy,” he said, rather tentatively, she thought.

“Don’t you want a little brother or sister?” she asked, suddenly realizing that maybe he didn’t still want one or the other, considering how long he’d been the sole focus of their love and attention.

He hastened to assure her, “Oh, but I do—I really do! But I want for the strange Hobbit-creature to be gone first.”

She felt a wry smile cross her face. “But, Frodo—it’s only Deloc Oldbuck who’s even said he saw such a thing. And you know well enough that Deloc isn’t always certain he’s seen what he thinks he sees.”

“I know he drinks too much, Mummy. But, well, maybe this time he’s right?”

“I’ll tell you this, dearling—if either your dad or I see anything strange we’ll not go out after all. Is that all right?”

Reluctantly he nodded. “If you promise,” he said.

“We promise.”

He sighed and leaned back, shifting his hands behind him to hold his torso at an angle. “I wish you’d let me go, too, then,” he said.

She laughed and tousled his hair. “No, dear lad-of-mine. The romance is between your father and me. Much as we love you, it’s just not the same with a child along. Now, run along and get into your nightshirt and wash your face and hands, and bring back your brushes.”

He rose to his feet and leaned forward to give her a kiss, and slipped off to his bedroom in the apartment that was theirs when their family visited in Brandy Hall. She made certain that the basket she’d been readying and their favorite rug were lying by the door for when Drogo returned from her brother’s office. She hoped Rory wouldn’t keep him that much longer. She was eager to be out under the stars with her beloved husband, rocking in the gentle current of the Brandywine, hearing the wood of the boat creak under them as they talked or sang, or merely dreamed, together under the glory of the night’s sky.

Frodo was soon back, clad in a soft, comfortable nightshirt, carrying his two wooden brushes. She sat on the settee and he sat on the floor at her feet, and she quickly had his dark curls brushed smooth and shining in the lamplight. “Now,” she commanded, “climb up here with me and lie back against the pillow there and I’ll brush your feet. And would you like a story?”

He nodded as he complied. She smiled as she took his feet into her lap and began brushing the thick curls atop them. “Once it was that a dad had a lad, a shining star of a lad that made him glad!”

Frodo giggled, and her smile broadened.

“The lad grew and grew until he was almost, but not quite, the tallest Hobbit to be found.”

“That’s good,” he said. “I don’t want to be tallest.”

“He was most good looking, and his mummy was almost jealous of all the lasses who saw how nice he was and wanted him for their own. But he had to have one who was as good as she was, and wouldn’t be satisfied with less than that.”

He made a face. “No lass could be as good as you are,” he insisted.

She looked at him sideways. “You think that now, but this will be years from now. You will be surprised at how things appear to change between now and then,” she suggested. “Anyway, he grew to be tall and handsome, and the best dancer in the Shire and Buckland combined. And one day he decided to go on an adventure, just like his Uncle Bilbo did, so he saddled his bay pony with the dark mane and tale----”

“Named Pacer,” he interrupted her.

“Pacer? Are you certain it isn’t named Trotter?”

“No, it’s named Pacer, not Trotter.” He yawned. “Trotter would be almost as bad as Strider, I think.” He yawned again, saying through his yawn, “Pacer.”

“If you say so. So, he rode off out of the Shire on Pacer with his friends alongside of him, for they loved him so much they wouldn’t let him go alone, and they went a long way until they came to the land where the Elves live. The Elves welcomed them with songs and laughter, and told him where his fate lay, and he thanked them and left, his friends still beside him, all bound for great glory.”

His eyes were blinking, and he smiled up at her sleepily as her strokes to the hair on his feet grew slower, gentler.

“The Necromancer needed to be vanquished,” she said softly, “and he was just the one to see it done. Never had the Necromancer seen anyone as quiet and secret as this lad! And when he was vanquished, he was so surprised! How was it that a Hobbit should be able to vanquish him when the greatest of heroes and the oldest of Elves and the wisest of Wizards hadn’t been able to do so? It must have been because this lad was so brave!”

“Then he wasn’t afraid?” murmured Frodo.

“I didn’t say he wasn’t afraid,” Primula said. “Not to be afraid would have made him careless. But he knew that it had to be done, so he stood on his fear so that it taught him to be quiet and secret enough to slip into the Necromancer’s fortress and come to the place where the Necromancer was most vulnerable and to vanquish him before the Necromancer quite knew what had happened. And when he came out again, all cheered and shouted. But he was surprised, because he’d only done what had needed doing, after all. So he came home again, found the most loving lass in the whole of the Shire, married her, brought her to his snug hole, and they lived happily ever after. And while outside the Shire everyone told one another stories about him, inside the Shire hardly anyone realized he’d even been away and didn’t believe the stories his friends told about the marvelous things he’d done.”

He yawned again as the door snicked open and his father came in. “There they are, the two I love most in all of Middle Earth,” Drogo said. “Are you ready for bed, my lad?”

Frodo nodded, and his father lifted him up and carried him to his room. “I see,” he said as he laid the lad upon his comfortable bed, “that your mummy has everything ready for the morning. We shan’t be all that long tonight, but we may wish a bit of a lie-in in the morning, you understand.”

Frodo’s face grew almost sad. “I know. Just promise that if you see anything strange by the river that you come home again directly, please, Daddy?”

Drogo gave his wife a questioning look before turning his attention back to his son. “If you wish it, Frodo dear. Now, sleep tight, and dream of the day when you have another little Hobbit lad or lass to play with who looks up to you as the big brother.”

"All right, Daddy. Goodbye."

He kissed his own lad upon the brow and covered him warmly. “Rest well, my dearling,” he murmured, and Frodo was asleep almost before he and Primula were outside the room and pulling the child’s door closed quietly behind them.

Drogo took the basket and rug first down to the landing where the boat he’d built lay, then returned to the south door where Primula, a thick shawl about her shoulders, awaited him. As they walked back she told him of Frodo’s concern about the story Deloc Oldbuck had told about seeing a strange creature that almost but didn’t quite look like a Hobbit, and of Frodo’s insistence that they ought to not go out upon the river if it was truly still about. She also told him of the story she’d told their lad.

“And what possessed you to tell a tale like that tonight?” he asked, hugging her closer as they walked.

“Well, you know how much he loves the tales of Bilbo’s adventures, Drogo dearest. I just put him into them—sort of, at least. Doesn’t it sound like the kind of thing he’d be able to do one day?”

“Perhaps, Primmie. But the idea that he’d come home and marry and live happily ever after sounds more like simply a formula.”

“Well, it’s how most such tales end, Drogo Baggins, and it’s none the worse for wear for having been used in so many stories. I am concerned about his worry as to what Deloc says he saw, though.”

“Considering how many strange things Deloc has been certain he’s seen but nobody else has,” Drogo commented, “I doubt we’re in any real danger.”

She laughed her agreement.

“That you, Baggins?” asked Deloc Oldbuck, who stood by the landing, a dark lantern in his hand casting a single beam at the path they walked.

“Yes, Deloc,” Drogo answered him. “Have you seen anything strange about tonight?”

“No—just an unusually large bullfrog off that-away. Or, at least that’s what it looked like, just afore it leapt into the water. Knew how to jump, it did. Barely made a splash as it entered the river. You two have a pleasant float down the current, now.” So saying, Deloc held the line to steady the boat as the couple entered it, and once they were aboard he tossed the end of the line to Drogo, tipped his cap to them, and headed off toward his home not far to the north.

They didn’t hear the hissing. The first they knew something was wrong was when the boat tipped unexpectedly, and Drogo turned to see what appeared to be a strangely webbed hand clutching at the side of the craft, then large eyes that caught the starlight oddly. He gave a gasp and fell sideways as the boat dipped again at the pull of the creature, and next thing anyone knew the boat had tipped over, and both he and Primula were overboard in the water, his wife apparently caught under the boat as Drogo thrashed about, finding that there was no solid bottom beneath him as he knew it when they reached the bay where their float usually ended. His intended cry for help was stifled as he found himself being pulled under the water, still finding no bottom. Something was tugging at his hand, at the ring he’d always worn there, but then whatever it was let him go.

His body was growing cold and clumsy, and he found he could not manage to pull himself up enough to raise his head above the water. Then the darkness was closing in about him….

*******


“That one said Baggins, but not the right Bagginsss! No, my precious, not the right Bagginsss! But where, where can we find the right Bagginsss? Are there lots of Bagginses, we wonders?”

But the next morning, when people were searching high and low about the river’s bank, the creature realized it was in danger. Once it was dark again it left the river, going north to the stone bridge before turning east once more, heading back for the mountains where it understood the darkness that dwelt there.



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