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The Old Cookbook
A forty-ninth fic by Iorhael
Summary: Frodo is never the one adept in cooking, though he is not giving up so easily, as his adventures prove.
AN: For Celandine Goodbody, Lady Sunrope, Ismenin, and Angharad. You’re amazing!
“I’m not wearing this any longer.” Frodo stripped off the orcish gear, the heavy mail and filthy breeches, casting them away as far as he could. He turned to his gardener, shreds of remorse straining through his wearied gaze. “Forgive me, Sam,” he quavered, grasping the cord of his breeches and tightening it, grimacing as he glanced down. The stitching of the hem around his waist had mostly slackened off, hardly able to sustain the string.
Frodo bit his lip, trying to keep his face straight. He uneasily pulled his tattered shirt more tightly over his body, his heart nearly breaking apart as he caught the sound of ripping cloth.
He threw himself down on a big rock while Sam merely watched him.
“Oh – of course, sir. This vile clothing is none but… vile.” It offered neither comfort nor armor against the arid, scorching air in Gorgoroth, Sam wanted to add.
He himself suffered from the boiling heat under all the bulky chain mail. He made Frodo wear them only because he thought they would serve rightly as a cover. Luckily he had perused the tower and found Frodo’s clothes in a corner.
“I think it’s safe now to rid off these foul things.” Sam started peeling off his heavy garment. He had never expected the orc troops would abandon the plain so soon.
Frodo ignored him, rubbing at his legs and arms as if trying to scour them from unseen substances. Sam halted his own doings and gawked at Frodo in confusion.
“I can’t get rid of it, Sam.” Frodo did not look up. “It – it’s so sticky. And it smells. I don’t like the smell.”
Sam realized that Frodo meant the spider’s cords in which his master had been trapped. He stood there glumly, not knowing what to do, not wanting to remember his master wrapped in those cords, lifeless…and dead. He shook the memory but his heart swayed at the fact that there was not a single cord visible on Frodo’s skin. Those orcs must have taken their time scrubbing them away it – though that might have been for a more wicked intent. Sam got down on his knees, level with Frodo, and pulled his master’s busy hands away from the abused limbs. Slowly crimson streaks became visible on the wan skin.
“That’s enough, Mr. Frodo. There’s nothing there. You’re clean.”
Frodo started to defy Sam but he did not continue. He simply let his arms hang loose on both sides of his body, staring past Sam to the arid ground about them, then back down to himself. Frodo lifted his shirt to reveal an ugly gash along his side. It bled no more but now had swollen, looking totally appalling. Frodo ran his fingers along the cut, absently emitting small whimpering sounds.
For the second time Sam could only gaze. He had no heart to tell his master that they lacked time to idle or stray. He had saved Frodo from the orcs but things would not be easy--not with another miserable experience lodged into his fragile memory.
Eventually it was Frodo himself who decided. He tugged his shirt back down and looked up, this time clearly at Sam, and slurred, “we must continue now, Sam, or we will never get to Mount Doom.”
Sam simply nodded.
“It gets heavier each hour,” Frodo continued quietly. “I’m afraid I won’t have any more strength to carry It should we tarry.”
Sam aided his master as he struggled to rise and Frodo snaked his arm around Sam’s shoulder, grasping it gratefully. He gave the gardener a brief glimpse, and for a split moment Sam thought he saw Frodo smile.
# -- # -- #
“I found it!” Bilbo waved a thin book before Frodo’s nose.
Hindered from his dusting and moping chores, Frodo wrinkled his nose in annoyance and gazed up at Bilbo, who was now busy flipping over the thin leaves of the book.
“And what book is that, Uncle?” he muttered, barely keeping the annoyance from his voice.
Bilbo squinted at Frodo, and then a smile formed.
“It’s an old cookbook belonging to my grandfather, Mungo Baggins. I’ve been looking for this. You see,” he held out the dusty volume to give Frodo a closer look. “These recipes are the best! We certainly can use some for our Yuletide Eve dinner.”
Frodo frowned at Bilbo in dismay.
“But we’re going to Brandy Hall for Yule dinner. Did you forget? ”
Bilbo gave a thoughtful look before his familiar smile came back.
“Forgive me if I forgot, lad, but only last year we celebrated it there. How about if we have it here this time?” His eyes sparkled with hope.
Frodo sighed. Going to Brandy Hall was not the reason for his reluctance about the cookbook. The simple truth was, he could not cook – he furrowed his brows -- Bilbo must realize that.
“Uncle--” Frodo started weakly, “I still have to clean the house or the guests won’t even want to step in. Let me take care of the garden, too. Maybe watering and weeding a bit.” He smiled but it was insincere and he hated how he sounded too – pleading and begging like a timid child.
Frodo couldn’t tell if his uncle understood or not for the older hobbit merely slipped the cookbook under his arm and walked in the direction of the kitchen.
“I will need your aid after you finish dusting, Frodo,” he exclaimed on his way. “You don’t even have to go to the market for I’ve everything here and ready for whatever we decide to make. These recipes are fairly simple, you know.”
We? thought Frodo with a wry smile and a bit of an evil smirk. Lucky Bilbo could not see him for the hobbit had reached the kitchen by now. And if they were so simple, why couldn’t Bilbo make them himself? But being a good lad, Frodo simply nodded and cried out a bit too loud.
“No worries, Uncle! I definitely will help you!” Though he doubted beyond everything that all would be just fine once Frodo Baggins crossed the threshold of the kitchen.
Frodo yawned widely as he completed his tasks, proceeding halfheartedly on to the next. Finally, when he could delay it no longer, he opened the kitchen door. Numerous ingredients were spread on the table, the cookbook was lying open at the head of it, and a perplexed-looking uncle was bent low, staring in concentration. Frodo would have burst into laughter had he not remembered his own doom. He would doubtless take his uncle’s place sometime soon!
Bilbo beamed at his beloved nephew. “Through with the house, aren’t you? Good. Come here please.” He did look desperate. “I’m rather confused whether to read the recipes or to make them. Will you?”
“What should I do, Uncle?” Whatever did Bilbo want to make? Frodo wondered.
“First, I have to tell you that I will make three meals, the appetizer, main course, and the dessert. I shall start with the dessert first since that’s the most daunting to make.”
Frodo could not help but shiver a little at the word used by Bilbo. He managed to look indifferently at his uncle, anticipating the worst.
“But not to worry, my boy.” Bilbo’s voice was light and cheery. “I won’t ask you to make anything now. You’re just going to help read the recipe. But don’t worry, for the next project, I’ll involve you in the actual cooking.” He crooked his finger impatiently. “Come ‘ere, lad, we haven’t all day, you know.”
With dread Frodo advanced, slouched over as if Bilbo would slaughter him like Farmer Maggot slaughtered his chickens.
Realizing this, Bilbo chuckled. “Are you afraid, dear lad? No need to be! Cooking is the most enjoyable activity! Here, here.”
Bilbo placed the recipe book on Frodo’s open palm. The young hobbit had not even been aware he had reached out.
“W-which, which one?” Frodo stuttered.
“Open the last five pages. They’re all about desserts!” Bilbo was grinning widely. “Here, find Pear and Hazelnut Souffle.”
Frodo did as he was told, skipping the previous pages of fine, brownish parchment. Eyes widening open, he started to skim the things written on the page.
“But there’re so many things you need to make this one!” he exclaimed.
Bilbo winked at him. “True, lad. But that’s what makes something delicious!” He quickly moved to the side of the table and reached for a bowl and a wooden spoon. “Now. Tell me what I need to do first.”
Frodo stared at the unfamiliar words, fearful of making a terrible mistake and ruining everything. “Oh, dear, oh, dear, I don’t…ah…should I read the ingredients first, Uncle?” He reached out a shaking hand and helped himself to a nearby chair.
Bilbo shook his head. “I think not. I prepared everything already.”
Frodo nodded, concentrating on the page in front of him.
“Very well, then.” Frodo bit his lip, trying to relax. It was only reading, after all. He cleared his throat. “All right, Uncle. First, position the rack in the center of a wood-burning oven and preheat to a medium hot flame. Butter a six-cup soufflé dish. Melt three tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add pears and sauté until tender about ten minutes. Stir in rum. Transfer the mixture to a big bowl and mash until smooth. Then spread…”
Bilbo gawked at the bowed head in frustration. “Frodo!” he bellowed.
Frodo jumped and raised his head, gazing at Bilbo guilelessly. “Yes, Uncle?”
“I’m asking you to read, not to run as if you were hunted by Farmer Maggot’s dogs!”
Frodo looked hurt.
“I was sorry about Farmer Maggot, Uncle. I don’t have to be reminded about it over and over.”
Bilbo sighed. “That’s not what I meant. Frodo, just read it more slowly.”
Frodo turned back to the book hesitantly. There was a slight pang in his heart, half guilty, half aching over the rebuke. “I’m sorry, Uncle,” he said quietly.
Bilbo froze. He had made another mistake, had he not? The bowl and spoon carefully put down, Bilbo walked around the table, approaching Frodo warily.
“I said,” he prompted gently. “Please read it more slowly. I’m sorry about mentioning the dogs. I meant nothing to be concerned with. It just came out like that.” Bilbo tilted Frodo’s chin and found, surprisingly, that the boy was smiling, albeit shyly.
“I’m sorry, Uncle,” Frodo repeated. “I’m just nervous about doing this right. Please, I long forgot about the dogs. They mean nothing now.”
Bilbo nodded and went back to the table. Frodo said the experience with the dogs had meant nothing to him, but he knew better. He saw for himself how those eyes had changed. The boy was still hurt.
“All right now, Frodo,” Bilbo spoke reassuringly. “Can you repeat the first instructions? Just read what’s written down, lad. What should I do with this oven again?”
Slowly but unquestionably his spirit occupied Frodo’s eyes once more. He grasped the cookbook eagerly with his two young hands and started announcing the procedures, more clearly this time, and slowly.
# -- # -- #
Rolling sounds were heard from a distance followed by a pulsating sensation that started from the tips of the hobbits’ toes and crawled up until it reached every single strand of their hair. They swayed and gazed up in a daze at the angry mountain, cowering and halting as it erupted with another string of scorching, crimson fiery-stones. Thick, murky dust descended heavily upon them, swirling in all directions on hot, blistering wind. This dust, spiteful and perilous, would send all weak creatures to their death.
“Sam,” Frodo dropped to his knees, voice muffled as he clasped a hand over his mouth. It was too faint for Sam to hear as the gardener staggered forward. Frodo broke into a fit of coughing, getting more severe every minute.
Just then Sam became aware of it. He turned and ran back toward his master in a flash, his face twisted in worry; there had been no sign of wobbliness before.
“Frodo, Frodo!” he shouted, kneeling beside the other hobbit and thumping his back to stop the fit.
The cough lasted for a moment longer before finally subsiding, leaving Frodo wheezing for air. He leant aside Sam’s shoulder, tears of torment and frustration escaping through his shut-eyes. Gradually, Sam’s gentle pounds became soft strokes along his master’s back.
Frodo’s eyes remained closed. The strokes felt soothing, calming him and drawing him away from his circumstances. He didn’t feel like opening his eyes or even continuing the journey just then...maybe later.
Sam continued his soft back-rub, stealing a glimpse at Frodo and noticing that the hobbit was breathing quietly now. Frodo had fallen asleep.
Drawing in a deep breath, Sam re-positioned himself into a more comfortable stance and took Frodo into his embrace. He refused the voice in his head that told him to lay Frodo down on the ground. No, it would be a far from comfortable rest on this strenuous terrain. Sam would rather Frodo prop solidly upon himself, curl in his arms. Nothing would harm his master.
Sam would make sure.
# -- # -- #
Frodo spooned a dollop of the cooked soufflé into his mouth, savoring the soft taste, rolling it with his tongue, feeling it melt in his mouth. He opened his eyes, not realizing they had been closed, and curled his lips upward, forming an approving smile.
“It’s beyond words, Uncle! It really is. I’m sure everyone will love it!”
Bilbo tried to look indifferent but he could not. He glimmered brightly at his nephew.
“You like it, boy?”
Frodo could only nod while his mouth was full with another spoonful of the dessert.
“Well, although I admit I’m glad to hear what you think about my dessert, I can’t let you finish it all for yourself.” Bilbo’s eyes smiled to Frodo.
Frodo blushed and put down his spoon. “I’m sorry, Uncle,” he gulped down. “I can’t help myself.”
Bilbo laughed. “Well, no.” The older hobbit smirked playfully at his nephew. “At least not until you finish helping me with the rest.”
“Just tell me what I must do, Uncle, and I will carry it out right away.”
Bilbo gestured Frodo to take the cookbook again. “Find the main course page, and go to Maggot’s Mushrooms, Mutton and Cheese.”
“Maggot’s Mushrooms. Oh…”
Bilbo glimpsed at his nephew, noticing a slight change in his face.
“Frodo, there’s no hidden agenda as to why I chose to cook this. I happened to find out that this is Mrs. Maggot’s favorite recipe. In fact, she also got it from her grandmother. Guess her and my grandfather were once friends, hm? She will be very happy to see I cooked this when she comes for dinner.”
As he studied the recipe, Frodo mumbled, “This is quite a simple recipe. Wonder why she likes it?”
Bilbo beamed, “Ah! Well, that’s exactly why. We don’t need intricate ingredients to make something delicious, do we?”
“I will do this, Uncle,” Frodo offered, but Bilbo waved his hand dismissively.
“No. You will still help me, Frodo, and I’ll let you make the last recipe. You just stand there now, before the fire, and I’ll hand you everything--so you need only stir and fry.”
“I’d love to!”
“All right.” Bilbo grabbed a stew pot that was hanging on the wall behind him and passed it to Frodo. “Now heat some oil and then start browning that mutton once it’s hot enough.” His eyes found two pounds of wrapped mutton on the table near Frodo and he handed it to his nephew. “Make it well done, just like you’ve watched me do before.”
Frodo did as he was told, pouring one tablespoonful of oil into the pot. He watched with interest how the oil sizzled and bubbled upon its surface. Something intrigued him, though. He looked at his uncle sideways and inquired, “Don’t we just need a frying pan for this? I thought you were going to fill the pot full of oil but in fact it is only one tablespoonful.”
“The term is deep-fry,” explained Bilbo. “But no, we’re not going to deep fry the mutton. That’s what the recipe said. Frodo, it’s hot enough now. You can add the mutton.”
Frodo was a bit startled at Bilbo’s raising tone but he thought better than to retort. Bilbo only wanted everything in order. Frodo tossed the meat into the oil with a bit of a jolt and some of it splashed, catching on Frodo’s fingers. Frodo yelped and almost let go of the pot handle.
“Be careful, lad! Are you all right?” Frodo’s face crumpled in pain, he brought the blistered fingers into his mouth and drenched them with saliva, nodding a little.
“I’m fine,” he lied bravely, nodding his head and sucking all the more. A moment later, when the stinging pain subsided, he removed his fingers and attempted to take over Bilbo’s frying the mutton.
“Wait,” Bilbo stopped him. “Just let me finish this.” He lifted the mutton and put it on a dish to drain. Then he stepped away, gesturing Frodo back to the fire. “Now fill up the pot with two bowls of water and let it boil.”
Frodo nodded silently as his fingers still throbbed. At least this time he didn’t have to face sizzling oil.
“And while you’re waiting for the water to boil, peel these taters and cut them into small cubes.”
Frodo found some unburned fingers to hold the knife and soon the potatoes and mutton were in the boiling water. He gazed up at his uncle to wait for the next instructions, accomplishment shinning from his eyes. Bilbo tittered.
“You have one hour until the mutton gets very tender, then you will add the mushrooms. While waiting, I think it’s time to let you do everything by yourself. Making soup must be easy enough for you.”
Frodo smiled, shivering with anticipation.
# -- # -- #
Somehow things seemed not right.
As Frodo swayed on his feet, he glanced down past the Thing hanging on his neck, down, down to his abdomen. It was flat—almost meeting skin to skin with his back. The breeches he wore, if not suspended by straps, would easily come down. Nothing was left of him, almost literally. Frodo had forgotten when the last time his tongue had touched morsels of food, when his throat had last shriveled down crumbs of lembas. Not only that. Trickles of water had been such a luxury ever since the last time he moistened his parched lips, seeping through every single pore to get to the inside of his stomach.
He had passed the state of being hungered. No more did he hear growls from his belly asking for food. No more were his legs wobbly or his hands shaking for the lack of it. No more was his head swirling or his stomach churning or his breath catching as he tried to keep his pace.
He was beyond hunger. He was beyond any sensation: no weakness, no pain, no spirit to do anything. It was not his mind that told him to proceed. There was no more energy flowing in his blood that could convey messages to and from his brain. What remained were only the past understandings and agreements his body had received from his mind long ago—when he had started in Rivendell. Those were the ones commanding him to move, stumbling and rising again, reeling, barely knowing where he was or who he was with or how things surrounding him were.
Everything seemed surreal.
Despite all Frodo felt or did not feel, deep in his mind he marveled at his ability to go on. Was it just too easy to die from all his sufferings? Or was death a luxury Frodo did not deserve?
He walked. He walked. He walked? Then why was this tasteless dirt in his mouth? The next thing Frodo knew was Sam’s face filling up his sight. There was a murky, cloudless sky in the background—aflame, almost, to his eyes. He felt hard, uneven ground on his back.
“S-sam?” parched Frodo. He was not even sure Sam had heard him...or if it was Sam and not an orc playing a trick on him. The other hobbit was apparently saying something to him that he failed to perceive. The shadow shrouded around him, thicker, worse and more evil than he could imagine, though perhaps it was the shadow that had sustained him up to this moment.
Sam’s mouth kept moving and the gardener’s eyes gradually turned hazy. Frodo vaguely saw himself brush Sam’s cheek and then stroke his own. It was desiccated. Don’t cry, Frodo warned himself. Don’t you ever cry. In a harsh situation like this, one must stay calm and composed for his companion’s sake if not for his own. It would be easier to break when your friend was breaking too. But if you both kept your burden to your heart, none would necessarily be broken.
Now what was that about a rabbit…Sam was chattering? Or did he really babble about rabbits? Slowly Frodo’s mouth opened and from it came something about not recalling anything about food. No, he did not remember about food or the taste of it or even the absence of any taste.
# -- # -- #
Frodo’s eyes widened in wonder.
“You must be jesting! This recipe is much more difficult than the previous one,” he exclaimed.
“What makes you think that, Frodo?” asked Bilbo confidently.
“Well,” Frodo shrugged. “The ingredients are a lot more than the mutton recipe. And the procedures – they look, they look complicated!”
Bilbo rubbed him on the back to calm him. “Never have I seen my nephew so easily give up. Fine. Let me do this.”
As predicted, Frodo denied that immediately. He jumped up and almost screamed. “No, Uncle! Let me do it. I promise I’ll try my best.” Bilbo smiled inwardly. Frodo sometimes could be so obvious.
“All right, then.” Bilbo nodded in the direction of the pantry at the back of the kitchen. “Now all the ingredients first,” he said, giving the cookbook to Frodo. Frodo hesitated for a while and then with a forced smile, took the book and spread out the pages.
“Hm, let’s see,” he muttered, eyeing the words. “Butter, onion, celery, mushrooms…”
“We still have Tom Maggot’s,” commented Bilbo dryly.
Frodo looked up, his eyes glimmering.
“… garlic,” he continued, strolling to the pantry. He peeped into the doorless, little chamber and soon he was gathering all the things he had mentioned. He carried on, glancing back and forth between the book and the items he needed to find in the pantry, constantly whispering their names, concentrating hard on each one and its role in his upcoming masterpiece. “Mustard, thyme, blue cheese, hot sauce, and… oh, yes, flour.”
“We got the hot sauce from Henrietta and the flour from Thriller the Miller,” Bilbo pointed out enthusiastically.
Frodo drew a breath, stifling his displeasure. He still wanted to say that he hated cooking. It was boring and too much work. All he had done and would do now was merely for Bilbo’s sake, nothing more.
Rolling his eyes back to his grinning uncle, Frodo stepped out of the pantry with a basket in his hand full of the necessary items. He sighed silently. Finding these things alone had almost dried up his spirit and energy but now Frodo was full of qualms about the cooking itself.
What he never realized – and would not have known had he never tried – was how cooking was so much fun. It was like being a wizard performing magic. After all, they mixed, stirred, melted, simmered, boiled, and fried – be done! – and all of sudden the ingredients turned into something delicious to be displayed on a dish.
Frodo was too busy doing all that to notice that it had been awhile since he had last complained about cooking. He melted butter in the pot and simmered the onions and celery and mushrooms and garlic--suddenly with great enthusiasm. He brushed trickles of sweat from his brow and giggled cheerily after realizing that he had rubbed the flour all over his face. Finally, Frodo came to the last stage--seasoning his mushroom soup with salt, white pepper, and hot sauce. He tasted the soup and lifted his face to Bilbo, pride and contentment all over it. He knew he had done a great job. His food tasted exceptionally superb – though probably a little too hot.
Bilbo fell into a chortle as he noticed his nephew’s face slowly turn rosy.
# -- # -- #
Through squinted eyes, Frodo peered, and wondered why his sight was so narrow. It was like standing at the mouth of a long, dark tunnel and looking past the other end, things looking small and hazy with dark shades at the edges. Not much could Frodo perceive, really--blurry pictures of fire over a town. They altered quickly with people being chased and slain, then vanishing to reveal another vision – the glittering wickedness of the Ring.
The Ring talked to him. It coaxed him, lulled him into complacency. There was also a tint of humiliated feelings in Its voice, probing Frodo uncomfortably. Why did he insist on denying It while all the other bearers before him had claimed It of their own accord, loving It, heedless of their own peril?.
Frodo knew this was a lie, or was it? It was so hard to know anymore, to keep anything straight in his mind. The Ring glared at Frodo before softening a bit, back to Its persuading tone. Then It gave Frodo two options: either to claim It, which would mean Its total compliance to Frodo, or to take It to the Ring’s rightful owner, Sauron. The first would give him power beyond his wildest dreams—to use for good if he wanted to. The second was slavery or an agonizing death.
Decide! The evil voice toughened and eased, urging and cajoling, and Frodo twisted about as all of a sudden another voice squeezed into his memory. It was not something that Frodo came to think about. It was more as if the voice had been there all along, instilled into his being, one that would be there without any effort to remember it. The voice reminded Frodo why. Why he was here in the first place, why he was on this quest.
But there was no stopping the Dark Lord’s malicious gold band. The more Frodo struggled to escape Its seduction, the faster It gripped the poor hobbit’s soul.
You can do good--for all Middle Earth if you like. All you have to do is…
Frodo was left thrashing about, striving between the two strong holds, hanging on the thinning thread of sanity left to him. His hands had wandered of their own accord--to his own neck, the two fists now grasping at the Ring, shaking as the urge to put It on his finger was unassailable.
“Help me, Sam!” Yet another voice he failed to recognize as his own was wrenched out of his parched lips. Frodo did not realize what else he was crying out, but he could feel those warm hands now over his white-knuckled grasps. Sam gently took them away from Frodo’s neck and clutched them tenderly. He said nothing, and somehow Frodo was relieved at that. There were too many voices already.
The Ring backed away, seething in Frodo’s soul. It might admit Its defeat now, slowly creeping back to the shadow. But just as It prompted Frodo to recall how It had given him strength to go this far, It warned him that It would return later.
And when the Ring did return, nothing could hinder It.
To claim Frodo.
# -- # -- #
The Yuletide dinner was a huge success. All that were invited came over; the Gaffer and Bell Gamgee, Tom Cotton and Lily, Farmer Maggot and his wife, Olo Proudfoot, The Bolgers, Daisy Boffin, and many others. All crowded into Bag End, which suddenly seemed to shrink away. At first the hobbits seated themselves conveniently on Bilbo’s couches and armchairs, arranged by Frodo in an orderly way. But later, as those guests felt more at home, they started shifting the chairs here and there, dragging them anywhere they liked. Bilbo never paid heed to that – and neither did Frodo. They were both too busy entertaining their guests, serving food and beverages, receiving compliments, repeatedly expressing their gratitude.
On those occasions Bilbo made sure that everyone tried Frodo’s cooking and sent their praises to him, which oftentimes made Frodo blush and glare his disagreement to his Uncle. But it would never do to stop a proud uncle. Beaming, Bilbo kept passing on the soup, although the time for appetizers had long past. Frodo could never stop that either. In the end, the young hobbit could only sigh, silently pleased, too, and his heart was swelling with bliss.
“I have never heard such praise for a young hobbit’s first cooking, my lad,” said Bilbo as the guests filed down the steps from Bag End, waving good-bye and chattering happily. “You have done admirably…yes, quite admirably, and I am proud of you, Frodo.”
“That was thanks to the cookbook, Uncle,” Frodo said softly, and was rewarded by a nod and a loving pat from Bilbo as they stepped back into the smial and closed the door.
# -- # -- #
Frodo opened his eyes after falling into another stupor. He had awakened previously and was curious about being in this bedroom, snuggling warmly under his coverlet with Sam by his side. But he could not give it much thought. Not yet at least. The easiest explanation would be that he was dreaming, and a more heart-shattering one--that he had died. Yes, the latter would be the more plausible answer, for how could he and Sam be lying here, safe from the fires of Doom, surrounding them like an eagle gawking at his prey?
And even Frodo had actually been grateful for those scorching fires that had spared his and Sam’s life and for the path that had let them flee. Or for Gollum who had… Or for the Ring.
Definitely for the Ring for It had fulfilled Its promise…
To take Frodo.
Had It not done so, Gollum would not have sprung toward the hobbit, grabbing It from him. If Gollum had not taken the Ring, he would not have been so joyful and slipped himself into the chasm. If he had not fallen with the Ring, Doom would not have gone off and safely sent Frodo and Sam sprawling on a rock.
If, if, if…
If the Ring had not succeeded in seducing Frodo to take It, Frodo might still have been on the verge of the abyss inside Mount Doom, standing erect yet overwhelmed by his agony of what to do.
Frodo did not want to think but he was intrigued. He did not know if he was supposed to believe that he had been saved. But he knew one thing – he had to thank the Ring…
The door opened with a soft hum and Frodo froze. Imagery of a hunched creature with hideous looks crept back to his mind. He tensed as in his mind that being was raising his whip and swinging it toward him. He squeezed his eyes closed as he waited for it to lick his side.
None came, and Frodo braced himself to squint. There were no gruesome orcs. There was no whip – though he did feel the faint sting on his side. Frodo opened his eyes more widely and he took in the sight of Bilbo with incredulity. He ran his hand quietly along the numb stinging sore at his side, and indistinctly recalled the existence of a whip weal there. Frodo shivered despite the warm air in his chamber and stayed silent.
“How are you, my boy?” Bilbo’s voice echoed, breaching the silence. There was no response. “I see that you’ve been awake,” tried Bilbo again.
It was not that Frodo did not hear what had been said or worse – that he was not happy to see Bilbo again. It was that … Bilbo? How could this older cousin of his be here – being in the same room as he was, standing there at the foot of his bed in… in… wherever he was. The easiest explanation would be that he must be dreaming, and a more heart-shattering one could be that he had died…and Bilbo had died…
Otherwise, how could that be? The last thing Frodo remembered was he and Sam on that oliphaunt-sized rock, laying still, weakening, hungered, fading…
“Frodo?” again Bilbo called. Puzzlement started to color his features. He walked closer.
Frodo blanched, shaking even further as his puzzlement threatened to overwhelm him. He would love to throw himself at his beloved uncle yet he knew that this could never be him – Bilbo. This was just a dream or a loving reminiscence of his past life. What if Bilbo disappeared and Frodo was slammed hard to the floor, back to the bitter reality that he was still on the mountain?
Wordlessly Frodo eyed Bilbo as he sat beside him, several books in his hands. The old hobbit tried to sound undisturbed.
“May I sit down here, Frodo?” he asked, glancing worriedly at his nephew, then nodding his understanding. “I realize those memories of your journey must be such a devastation.” Bilbo looked at him sadly. Frodo even pulled back when Bilbo made a gesture to touch him. The old Baggins immediately checked himself and put the books on the bed table.
“I bring you books, Frodo. I know how you love to read. I hope these can calm your mind.”
Bilbo stood up, turning around, and slowly made an advance to the door.
The voice was so small and it barely caught Bilbo’s ears. But he did hear it and, with eyes glimmering, partly by tears, Bilbo turned back. “
-- what hurts? Frodo… Oh, my lad!”
Bilbo ran back to the bed but as quickly as he flung his arms around Frodo, the tender moment vanished.
Frodo sobbed remorsefully as he was hurled back onto the mattress. No Bilbo’s embrace. No Bilbo. Oh, he knew it. He knew it was a dream. Yet Frodo sniveled, he realized he was still in the bed.
His muse was interrupted by raps and cheers at the other side of the door, followed by a loud crash of the slammed door against the wall behind it. Frodo’s eyes widened at the unruly act before him and recoiled before he saw who was at the doorstep. Well, actually it was were. They were…
“Frodo, you’re awake!”
More of it,
“Oh, I missed you, Frodo!”
They were his dearly loved cousins, Merry and Pippin. All of a sudden Frodo felt old and tired. He would not survive these tormenting dreams again. They were all too beautiful and vivid – hurting him more every time. Don’t come nearer. Don’t touch. Don’t disappoint. At least, let it stay a dream…
But to Frodo’s dismay Merry and Pippin leapt onto his bed and started to hug him and stroke his hair.
None of them vanished into thin air.
Merry stopped in the midst and let go of Frodo, cupping his face instead.
“Frodo, I know you’ve not healed through and through. But you’re paler than when you were brought here.”
“I don’t understand,” whispered Frodo. Merry rubbed his cheek.
“What? What don’t you understand, Frodo?”
Frodo set his eyes downcast.
“It isn’t a dream.”
Pippin stole a glance at Merry and murmured, “It is not a dream, Frodo. You are safe. The eagle saved you.”
But Bilbo? Where is he? And the books?
Frodo glimpsed at the table next to his bed. The books were there.
“Where’s Bilbo?” he asked unexpectedly, sending both of his cousins a jolt.
“Bilbo?” Merry cried. “He’s in Rivendell if my mind doesn’t trick me. But I’m sure he is. Why, Frodo?”
“Then, who brought those books here?” Frodo pointed at the table.
“Oh, we did,” chirped Pippin. “We came here when you were still unconscious, Frodo. We thought we would read you something or you might also want to read some. But seeing as you were, we decided just to put them on that table and come back later.”
Frodo squinted as disappointment swept over him. “Oh…”
“Here.” Pippin hopped down and grabbed the books. “We got these from Faramir. The library here is great, Frodo; you must go there one of these days.” Pippin held out the volumes of the bound parchments and showed them to Frodo, one by one. Until they got to…
The Took froze too as Frodo’s grip tightened over a book. His eyes shifted to Frodo in lack of understanding. Frodo was completely aghast. “This – this is Bilbo’s old cookbook!”
Merry found it hard to believe. “That’s impossible! We – we just brought books from the Gondorian library and nothing else.”
The three fell into an uncanny silence. None could explain what had come to pass. Did Bilbo indeed pay Frodo a visit – or somehow the book had been archived in the library here in Minas Tirith?
Somehow it did not matter. Frodo lay back with a weary expression.
I tried not to give in Uncle...but it was so hard… I didn’t fail, did I?
Sleep claimed him once more, his uninjured hand still clasping the dear memories of home.
~ fin ~
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