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Fear  by Ariel

Dody had always considered Brandy Hall to be akin to a rabbit warren. Its many doors and windows peeked out of the skirts of Buck Hill from the north, west and south facing slopes, looking for all the world like round, brightly colored dens.  Unlike most smials, Brandy Hall had several levels of living space piled on top of one another. The smials on the lowest story were the deepest and their dark, brick lined tunnels ran almost to the center of the hill.  These were used mainly for storage, but at the edge of the level were many of the private quarters - small apartments where some of the Brandybucks' more distant relations and those of relatively lower social status within the family lived. The great hall was on this level, just behind the grand entry doors, as were the kitchens and servant's quarters, the pantries and wine cellars, laundry rooms and a great bath where even the poorest hobbit in the hall could find a hot tub and a slip of soap to bathe with.   

The next level up was where most of the families with children stayed, when there were children in Brandy Hall, and those who were just coming of age and felt the need to be out on their own.  This layer was supported from below by the strong brick of the lower smials' walls and supports of timber and stone that reached from the lowest levels all the way up through the hill.  The second tier was surrounded on its three sides by a broad, intensively gardened terrace that had been built up by dumping the soil excavated from the creation of the second tier on top of the tunnels that made up the first.  These gardens were generally of a practical nature.  Potatoes, peas, beans and tomatoes grew in crowded profusion along stakes, stick trellises and quaint wattle fences. Comfrey, thyme, roses and mint, raspberries and tea filled every square inch that wasn't already covered in some other sort of useful or edible vegetation.  The whole place smacked of practical prosperity. 

The third and final tier was where the most powerful Brandybucks lived. It too had an intensively managed terrace laid over the top of the tier below it but these gardens exuded wealth.  They sported arbors of grape and honeysuckle, benches, little pools filled with water lilies and artfully designed chalk lined paths that meandered throughout the terrace.  These were the gardens that those who had the time to simply enjoyed.  Above the highest tier was the crest of Buck Hill and the old forest of oak and beech that covered it.  The smials of this uppermost level were also the most luxurious, with rich paneling and elegant tile floors, large round windows and huge brightly painted doors.  When you lived in this tier you knew without any question you were at the pinnacle of society, for nowhere in all of Buckland was a more prestigious place to call home.   

That was why Dody had always suspected his stay in his aunt's residence was only a temporary situation.  He might have been Rory Brandybuck's nephew but his father did not rate very highly among old Gorbadoc's children.  Dodinas's stubbornness and ill temper had driven himself and his family to a dwelling on the side of the hill proper; to get away from the cloying family, Dodinas had said, but Dody suspected it was to avoid being given apartments that would have more clearly illustrated his father's lack of status.  Today Menegilda was taking him down a level - to where Primula and Drogo Baggins were staying - and Dody wondered how long it would be before she 'gifted' him with a dwelling of his own, somewhere down on the first level, he surmised.  He gave it a week. 

"You are to be on your best behavior, Dody," Menegilda threw over her shoulder as she strode determinately down the corridor.  "You are to do EVERYTHING Primula asks of you.  Drogo will be there today to assure himself that you will be acceptable as an aide and I don't want you to even THINK about being sullen or cross.  I don't want you spoiling all the work the doctor and I have done on your behalf because your temper got the better of you.  This is an opportunity for you Dody.  Do well here and we might be able to find an apprenticeship for you.  You have a rather bad reputation to live down and whether you realize it or not, this is your last chance to do so." 

They walked on in silence for a while, Dody following his aunt's confident stride docilely.  It being after second breakfast, they passed few other hobbits along the way.  Dody was fairly sure his aunt had planned their departure for the middle of a fine working day to take advantage of the deserted hall.  Dody was still bruised even two weeks after the beatings.  The markings on his face and neck were less obvious than they had been but neither Menegilda nor Dody wanted to have to provide explanation for them.  In the darkened smial, they could be mistaken for a shadow, or smudge of dirt to the few hobbits they might pass by.   

At the door to Primula and Drogo's apartments, Menegilda stopped, straightened her gown and glanced back at Dody.  Her mouth turned up at the corner in what she might have hoped was an approving smile, but Dody could see the skepticism in it.  He looked at his feet and sighed.  At least skepticism was better than the clear disapproval she might once have shown him.  This was his last chance to show some quality if indeed he had ever possessed any. 

Menegilda's brisk knock was answered by a tall, rather generously proportioned hobbit that Dody recognized as Drogo Baggins.  He welcomed Dody's aunt with a gracious formality that suggested there was little love lost between them and Menegilda swept into the smial with Dody in tow.  She seemed unfazed by Drogo's less than genuine warmth and cast her eyes around the small apartment quickly, searching out her nephew. 

"Where is my darling boy?" she cried as she spied Primula seated by a small alcove on the far wall.  Primula rose and Dody could see her smile towards Menegilda had real affection in it.  The two ladies hugged and Menegilda then leaned over the bed that filled the alcove, cooing and touching the cheek of the child that lay there. 

Dody held back, unsure what to do with himself until he was called. Drogo came around to stand beside him and Dody glanced sidelong at the taller hobbit.  He had never considered his aunt's husband before but suddenly it seemed to Dody that Drogo was a very powerful looking individual.  He was broad shouldered like Dody's father, but instead of the sharp edges that labor lent to Dodinas' frame, Drogo was rounded at the corners.  He had bright, ruddy cheeks and warm brown eyes that seemed could twinkle with merriment or seethe with wrath.  He wore a bright yellow waistcoat, a crimson kerchief tucked into the pocket, and a warm, chestnut colored woolen jacket over it.  His manner was cordial and spoke of a gentle upbringing, rather like he had spent much more time with books than moving sacks of grain or bartering with farmers.  He was a creature most unlike any that Dody had encountered. Despite his family's affluence, the Brandybuck clan had always been practical, not much given over to the airs and finery that families such as the Bagginses or even the Tooks were known for.   

He shifted a little away from Drogo, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. Here was a father, he realized.  Frodo's father, not his own, but still a person who played a father's role in his family.  The thought unexpectedly chilled Dody and it came to him that he was very glad Drogo was going to be away.  Life had taught Dody that fathers were mercurial and violent, and though he knew not all were like his own, his recent experience gave him a prejudice against any unfamiliar hobbit who filled such a role.  

Dody turned instead to Primula.  He had always considered his aunt uncommonly beautiful.  She had the face of a Took, a family resemblance she shared with both her son and Dody himself, though unlike many of that line, she had hair as dark as midnight that spilled in a tumbling cascade down her back.  Her eyes were bright blue under dark lashes and her full lips were as red as summer berries. She was dressed in her finest to greet them - a dress of sunny yellow scattered with green flowers and a lovely embroidered bodice over it.  Her slender form stood behind Menegilda, bent over her son's bed with genuine and loving concern.  She was every inch a mother, as lovely as his own had been or perhaps even more so.  Her manner captivated Dody for he could see in her what he had lost and for just a moment the sad, motherless boy felt what it might have been like to lie quietly on the bed while her soft white hands caressed his brow.   

A lump formed in Dody's throat but he angrily clamped down on the sorrow that was rising.  She was not his mother, he scolded himself.  She would never stroke his brow with loving concern so he had best not even imagine it.  She would never hold him close and sing silly songs that only the two of them knew.  She would never look at him with eyes that really saw what he was and all that he could be.  The only one in the world who could have done those things for him was gone forever.  Dody stiffened, blinking rapidly to stem the tears that threatened.  Those were things he would never know again so he had better just get used to that fact. 

His attention at last rested on Frodo and Dody's heart was not eased. The child looked terrible.  He was very pale and his previously wild locks had been shorn back to a rumor of their previous exuberance.  Over his brow was a still livid bruise and his eye sockets were deep purple pits cut by the line of his dark lashes.  He was protesting Menegilda's attentions, her clucking and cooing would have annoyed Dody as well, and his movements seemed odd; jerky, hesitant and uncoordinated - as if he had to think through every movement. 

There was still a splint on the boy's right arm and the last scabs of almost healed cuts crisscrossed the unbruised portions of his face.  He looked far worse than he had just after the fall and, Dody realized, far worse than he had expected.  The older boy shivered feeling his pity overpower his fear of being found out.  He had been the cause of this tragedy.  Frodo Baggins might have once seemed an annoyingly cheerful inordinately fortunate child, but he certainly did not deserve this comeuppance.   

"No, ma!  Ma!"  Frodo's little voice protested as Menegilda tried to pry open his eyes.  The boy's speech had an odd lisp that Dody felt sure was a result of his injury.  It sounded as if his lips were too lazy to get out of the way and, as with his other movements, he had to think through each coordinating muscle before engaging in an action.  It was an odd sounding voice - still light and childlike, but oddly damaged.  It reminded Dody chillingly of the strangled cries of a snared rabbit.   

"Child, I just want to see that you are all right!" Menegilda huffed indignantly.  "I want to look into your eyes and know in my heart that you're truly on the mend.  Open your eyes for your auntie and ease her troubles, please?  For your auntie."  

"Mene..." Primula sighed.  "Please don't push him.  He's gone through so much already.  Just let him rest." 

Menegilda sat back and pulled her shawl more tightly around her shoulders.  "He looks awful, Primula, and I am frightened.  There's something not right about him.  You say he is doing better, but if this is better, then I am glad you didn't let us see him earlier.  I merely want to have him look at me.  The eyes are the windows to the soul, you know.  I'd be comforted if I could see his... I'd know...."  She looked up at Primula and Dody was a little taken aback to see the genuine fear that was written on her face.  He'd always seen his aunt as a rather showy, self absorbed person whose emotions were mainly theater to gain the advantage that she wanted, but here he saw the depth of her real concern... And it was expressed towards Frodo.   

Though he still pitied the boy's condition, another feeling was creeping into Dody's heart.  It was one he had always had a measure of when considering his blessed cousin, but which had, of late, been silenced by the child's unfortunate circumstance.  It was jealousy.  He might have been responsible for this injury but Frodo had a living and loving mother, a father who probably didn't beat him and also seemed to have gained his aunt's genuine concern and regard; something Dody, despite his being nearly beaten to death by his father, had never engendered. The feeling pooled in Dody's heart, vying with his guilt, and fed the cold rage that was still at the core of his being.   

"I want to have a talk with you, son," said Drogo in a soft voice.  Dody started, guiltily, but followed as Drogo led him out of the parlor into a smaller, adjoining room.  "Sit down," the older hobbit said, gesturing towards a chair near the fireplace.  Dody sat.  His feelings of discomfort with this large, sternly formal hobbit must have shown on his face for Drogo looked at him for a long moment as he filled his pipe. "I've not given my approval for this yet," he began, his eyes roving over Dody's bruised features.  "But I'll agree with my wife that she's going to need aid and that you've the time to spare and the need to be kept from mischief."  Drogo puffed on his pipe thoughtfully.  "I can also see you've had a cruel time these past few weeks."  He said nothing more for a while and Dody fidgeted.  "It seems to me," Drogo began again.  "That a body who's had bad things happen to him can do one of two things.  He can take that bad into his heart and spew it forth on those around him or he can learn from it, reject the bad and keep it from ever harming another being like it did him."  Drogo chewed on the pipe stem for a moment.  "You've been of the former variety, Dody. You've made others as miserable as you are and become a right insufferable youngster.  Do you think it's right that you would spread and encourage the kind of misery that you've been privy to?" 

Dody swallowed, fear making him feel very small.  He wasn't certain what point Drogo was trying to make or how to react, how to respond to these words.  He felt caught and vulnerable.  With his own father, he knew, he would have agreed, said anything to appease him just so that Dodinas would grunt and leave him alone, but Drogo was an unknown quantity and Dody didn't know what the older hobbit was expecting of him.   

"No, sir..." he whispered at last, knowing his safest route lay in giving Drogo as much of the truth as he could.   

"No indeed," agreed Drogo.  "It's easy to give back cruelty for cruelty, but that's the coward's way, Dody.  It takes courage to turn away from anger but the rewards of such courage are incalculable."  He put his pipe down and leaned forward.  "You're of a great line of courageous hobbits, boy.  I know that fire is in you, I can see it.  You've had a bad run, but there's a good person inside of you who's only to be given a chance to come out.  I'm asking you to give that good a chance here. This is your opportunity to rise above your misfortunes and show that you've got that Brandybuck courage in full measure.  Do you think you can do that?" 

Dody was very quiet as Drogo's words tickled at the back of his mind. Despite his fear and discomfort the meaning of them touched something inside him.  He was still horribly afraid and knew that if Drogo was aware of Dr. Clearwater's instructions he would have thrown him out on his ear, but what was stirring inside him was something he hadn't felt in a very long time.  Hope.  Real hope, not the sham of pretense that Clearwater had suggested he come here for.  It was being offered him freely and without cynicism or an ulterior motive.  The moment, the smell of pipe smoke, the glitter of firelight and the shaft of sudden sunlight from the window, took on the feeling of import, as if the tableau were becoming part of an indelible memory.  He looked up at Drogo in growing wonder and the elder hobbit smiled at the sudden clarity in Dody's eyes.  "Yes," Dody whispered with real conviction.  "I think I can..."  And then he blushed and looked down.   

"I think you can too," agreed Drogo softly.  "Though I wasn't certain of it till just now.  I wish I wasn't going away, my boy.  I think I would like to see that courage come out in you.  It would be a heartwarming sight."  He held out his right hand in a gesture that indicated he wished to shake Dody's.  "But I'll be back in a month.  Perhaps when I return, I'll take you fishing.  I've always fancied fishing on the Brandywine.  It's a hobbit's best use for that bloody river!"  And then he laughed as he took Dody's hand and shook it.  "In a month then," he smiled.  "You mind Primula and help her take care of my boy and then we'll see if we can't become friends, all right?" 

Dody nodded numbly, still digesting his tumultuous response to what felt like a momentous meeting.  He had not expected this.  He had not expected anything of Drogo and this gentle offering of faith shook him. He didn't deserve it, they both understood that, perhaps Dody even more so than Drogo, but the fact that it was offered undermined Dody's carefully constructed detachment.  He looked up at the elder hobbit with awe. 

"Thank you," he answered with true humility.  "I'll do the best I can." And Dody was suddenly aware that he really meant it.   


That afternoon Drogo said goodbye to his little family and rode reluctantly towards the dock of the Buckleberry ferry.  He wasn't comfortable leaving his wife and son, but he knew that Menegilda, whose concern for them both was genuine, would be there to support his wife and would honor his and Primula's wishes concerning Frodo.  Daisy Burrows was also still checking in on Frodo daily and she had assured him that Doctor Clearwater would not be allowed to see the boy.  He felt less concerned about Dody's involvement too, now that he had met the lad.  There was certainly a shadow on him, but there was also evidence of the very strong Brandybuck resolve.  Under other circumstances, he would have been a stalwart lad.  Drogo sighed, thinking of all that he and Primula had gone through to have their one cherished son.  It was ironic that there were those who, blessed with several children, never realized what a treasure they had been given. 

The next morning, Dody knocked on the door of Primula's apartments promptly after first breakfast.  Primula showed him in and began describing what his duties would be.  Mostly washing and running errands, picking up meals from the great hall and helping Mistress Burrows with Frodo when she came to call.  Daisy would be teaching Dody as she had been teaching Primula what sorts of exercises and activities Frodo should be engaging in.  Dody took it all in silently with what he hoped was the proper level of attentiveness and then trudged down to the first tier, hiding is face behind the baskets of bright colored clothing. He tried not to think that he, a son of the Brandybucks, had been reduced to laundering a Baggins' underthings.   

The laundry rooms, where large vats of wash water were kept constantly heated, were adjacent to the kitchens and washrooms off of the main hall.  They were rather dark rooms full of steam and the crisp smell of clean, wet fabric.  They were the types of places one might have expected children to play hide and go seek or pretended they were in a badger's burrow but on that day it seemed the few children in the hall of age for such games were either outside in the sunshine... or sick abed.   

Once in the laundry, Dody began sorting through the garments, placing the light colored petticoats and drawers into a small vat of steaming water he'd drawn off of the bigger one that was permanently fixed over the fire.  The water was tinged bluish white from the soap the cooks made from rendered fat and wood ash and the acrid smell of it stung his nose.  The brighter garments he left in the basket for the next round and began stirring the basin with a well-worn wooden spoon. 

A few hobbit lasses; a young wife and Menegilda's maidservant, came in while Dody worked, but other than the smirk Menegilda's maid favored him with, they paid him no mind.  Dody studiously ignored them as well, not wanting to give either, but especially Menegilda's maid, anything more to gossip about.  That young lass knew better than to spread rumors about her employers, but he knew well she did so anyway, as long as they were ones that couldn't be traced back to her.    As much as his aunt and uncle had tried to cover up his beating, Dody had no doubt there had been talk about him.  His sudden removal from his father's home and the fact that few had seen him in weeks was enough for folk to have a pretty good idea about what had happened.  The first time he had been beaten there had been even less direct evidence and still word got out, though the servants and common folk knew enough not to talk about it openly.  Dody wondered if people pitied him or if they thought he had received his just desserts.  He glanced at Menegilda's maid from the corner of his eye.  She still wore her smirk.  Probably the latter, Dody thought.  He picked up a washboard and began rubbing the clothing across its ridged surface.  Just desserts indeed.  It was one thing to earn your keep by laboring in the fields, or by stocking the mercantile, but to be reduced to laundering like a serving lass! Though Dody knew he had no right to be arrogant, the labor grated upon him and he poured his growing resentment into his efforts.  At least the wash would benefit from his humiliation.   

Dody finished in silence and carried the basket of newly clean, wet garments through the main hall and out to the lines that had been strung beside the tobacco fields.  Bright white sheets, emerald coats, ruby dresses and muslin petticoats stirred in the fitful breeze, all clustered together by ownership along the lines that had been erected for the hall's residents.  Dody found an open section and set his burden down.  At least here he was alone and could finish the job without prying eyes or smirking glances.  

The season was nearing summer and the tobacco, Buckland's main money crop, was due it's final weeding.  The plants would be waist high on a hobbit now, and would soon be shading the ground completely with their own leaves.  Next the suckers would be removed and on some fields, nets would be raised onto elevated frames to shade the plants and encourage them to produce the fine, wide leaves needed for certain choice varieties of the weed.  Hobbits might have enjoyed their leisure but they were an industrious folk and everyone was expected to pull their share of the weight when there was work to be done.  Even the lads of influential branches of the family could be seen toiling in the late spring heat, shoulder to shoulder with those of their servants and neighbors.  

Consequently, it was with little surprise but considerable foreboding that Dody spied the forms of Marmadas, Darroc and Seredic Brandybuck trudging over the field, their hoes balanced over their shoulders.  Dody quickly bent to the basket but Marmadas' pointed finger and the faint sound of laughter told him he had already been spotted.  Dody hoped they were in a hurry and would content themselves with a private jest, but his pessimistic prediction that he could not be that lucky was quickly confirmed.  They were coming over. 

"Now, there's a justice if I ever saw one," said Marmadas with a contemptuous sneer.  The three boys stopped in front of the line Dody was pinning clothes to and leaned on their hoes.  Dody did not look up. 

"Go away, Marmadas," he growled.  "I've work to do." 

"Work more suited to your talents, I see," laughed Darroc.  "Couldn't trust you with a real job, eh?  Menegilda's got you laundering her bloomers instead?"  The three must have taken the comment to be much funnier than Dody found it because they all laughed again.  Dody picked a pair of child's breeches from his pile and pointedly shook them out in front of them. 

"I'm helping Primula..." he ground out through set teeth. He did not look up at any of them, knowing that if he saw their smirking faces he would not be able to keep his anger in check.  "Just giving her a hand until Drogo gets back."  He turned away, reaching up to pin the breeches to the line and hoping that would be the end of the confrontation. 

"That's big of you, Dody," offered Seredic, more gently, but also with a touch of mockery in his voice.  "Though I'd have thought out of character.  You've never struck me as the 'helpful' type."  And then he leaned conspiratorially to his companion, "More 'hindrance', I'd say," he added while jabbing Darroc in the ribs to share the jest.  Dody ignored them both.  After a long moment of stony silence during which Dody sullenly continued to hang the wash, Seredic, either growing bored or sensing that Dody was not going to rise to the bait, nudged his companions.  "Aw, come along then.  He's not going to be sociable and we've better uses for our time."  He picked up his tool and began walking off. 

Marmadas, however, was not content to leave without at least one more barb.  He reached out with his hoe, and despite Saradic's cry of protest, tipped the half empty basket over onto the grass.   

"Gee, sorry about that, Dody..." he smiled nastily.  "I suppose you'll have to wash that batch again." 

Dody still didn't look up.  He stared at the spilled laundry and fought as his temper flared and raged within him.  Just as Marmadas knew it would. Just as Marmadas intended it to.  The older boy knew exactly how to infuriate him and his wrath was building with the speed of a rushing flood.  He did want to bury his fist into Marmadas' laughing face for this petty act, but reason, in a last thrust of desperation before his temper took hold of him, warned him rightly that there could be no victory in that course. He would be beaten again, and it would undoubtedly be deemed his fault for dealing the first blow.  He mastered himself with a supreme effort and with anger stiffened limbs and tightly clenched fists, he stooped to retrieve the scattered clothing.  Marmadas was silent, waiting, hoping for Dody to move on him.  When he did not, the older boy scoffed.   

"You've had your fun, Marmadas," came Seredic's carefully light rejoinder.  "Now leave off.  We've got our work to get to as well." 

Marmadas did not move; knowing Dody well enough to expect the younger boy to do something, react somehow in retaliation.  Perhaps it was because Dody knew that was what Marmadas expected that he found anger cooling.  He would NOT fall prey to his own weakness, his own temper. He would not listen to that nasty little voice inside that beckoned and taunted him, egging him on with words that seemed oh so reasonable to his fury hazed mind.  Each and every time he had ever listened to its compelling song, he had paid a dear price.  He would not do so again. He kept his head bowed but his back unbent and finished putting the clothes back into the basket.  Some of them would need to be rewashed, or at least Dody could justify a studied retreat on those grounds.  He turned to leave and Marmadas sneered after him.  

"Your papa should have beaten you harder, Dody," he gibed.  "You've still got an attitude left in you." 

Both Seredic and Darroc gasped at Marmadas's audacity and Dody stopped in his tracks, his face growing hot again with renewed rage. The injustice, the cruelty and the hatred that fueled the words burned into him and he longed to fling them back at his tormentors.  The evidence of what he had endured was still written on his face in fading bruises and cuts and he knew if he just turned to face them even Marmadas would fall silent.  None of them had ever experienced the kind of violation Dody had suffered and he ached to burn them with its raw, bitter reality.  But even as these feelings came to him, the desire to reveal his pain waned and he realized he didn't want their pity any more than he wanted to fall prey to Marmadas' teasing.  He didn't want anything from them anymore.  Perhaps he had once sought their attention, their company or even their scorn, but it didn't seem important now.  He just wanted them to go away and leave him in peace.  His rage diminished to a defensive melancholy but the tenseness left his body. He hitched the basket onto his hip.

"Leave me alone, Marmadas," he said with a weary sigh and continued walking. 

Something had changed.  Dody couldn't quite put his finger on why but he suddenly realized what the other boys thought of him didn't really matter.  Though he was still angry and defiant, there was a strange new strength in him.  It was like unto the power he found when he thought of his mother and remembered her love for him.  It gave him the power to walk away, to stand tall and alone, and feel there might have been something worthy within him after all.  But he had not been thinking of his mother at all.  He hadn't thought of her all morning and though the strength he now felt was akin to the sorrowful ache and pride that filled him when he remembered her, it was also different; more immediate and more pressing, with an air of uncertainty to it.  He was trying to behave, trying his utmost to act in a manner that he thought would please... who?  His mind wandered over the recent changes in his life and the new faces and altered positions the more familiar ones held.  It was not his aunt he wished to impress, nor her physician, nor obviously his old companions, Seredic, Marmadas and Darroc, his father or Marietta, nor even his aunt Primula or her son. 

With a start that almost tripped him up and dumped the basket of clothes again, Dody realized whose good opinion he wished to gain so desperately that it had given him the strength to master his own demon temper. 

It was Drogo Baggins. 



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