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Fear  by Ariel

Fear - Chapter 16

Fell Voices

Primula took her son, all clean from his bath and yawning cavernously, into her arms and settled on the rocking chair by the fire.  Dody tidied the alcove where he'd helped the boy dress and came over to where she sat.  The fire was low, so he dutifully stoked it and added a few more logs from the pile.  Her tea still steeped on the washboard, so Dody fetched it.  She gestured towards the other chair where a pillow and throw were draped and Dody retrieved that as well.  Primula tried not to smile at his sudden industry.  Her nephew had been a rather sullen helper but he did what was asked without complaint.  From his manner, she would have thought him eager to leave, but now that the end of the day had come he seemed strangely reluctant to depart.

"Have you any plans for the evening?" she asked.  Dody almost imperceptibly winced.

"Aunt Menegilda has invited Doctor Clearwater to supper," he answered in a tone that told Primula that he was less than delighted with the prospect.  "I imagine she'll be expecting me there."  The boy shrugged and Primula grinned sympathetically. 

"Oh, it won't be that bad, will it?" she laughed.  "A good meal should make it worth enduring some boring conversation, don't you think?"  Her eyes sparkled as she said it and Dody couldn't help blushing in response to her. 

"I... I suppose not," he replied.  Primula looked down at Frodo.  His eyes were slivers of glittering indigo but he was no longer struggling to remain awake.  He was in that pleasant state of relaxed repose that indicated sleep was just about to overtake him.

"You did very well today," she whispered and then looked up at her nephew.  "Thank you."  The boy's blush deepened and he looked down to examine his toes.  "Be sure to tell your aunt and the doctor how well Frodo is doing.  I am sure they will be interested."

A strained look crossed the boy's face just then but he kept his voice even and carefully controlled.

"Yes, aunt," he said.  Then she nodded to him.

"I'll see you tomorrow after first breakfast then?"  He nodded back.

"I'll be here."  And then the boy, dismissed, gave her a stiff bow and left.

Primula sighed and looked down at her son.  Frodo was asleep already and his little mouth was pushed open in a pucker where it pressed against her arm.  She bent and kissed his head, drawing in a deep draught of his sweet, little boy smell. 

Alone at last with him, with no husband, helper or sister in law hanging about, Primula immersed herself in the precious study of her healing child.  He was getting better. There was no denying it.  The optimism that Drogo had stubbornly clung to throughout this ordeal had finally penetrated her fears and she felt awash with hopeful joy.  Her little boy was going to be all right.  Even Menegilda's worries could not deter her optimism.  She knew he would be fine.  Drogo said so - and Daisy, that wonderful, special friend, concurred.  Primula had not missed the reservations Daisy had had at first; the careful way she had tried not to get their hopes up, but lately she had been so enthusiastic about his progress that it was clear she expected a full recovery. 

She stared at his sleeping face, memorizing the gentle curve of his cheek, the little dimple in his chin, the strong, elegant jaw line, the graceful dip of his eyebrow and the upward sweep of his perfectly pointed ear.  He was undoubtedly the most exquisitely formed child that had ever been born and would be a handsomer lad than any other in the Shire.  And soon, his function would be as perfectly matched.  She no longer had any doubt.  She could see the signs of his recovery already, if she looked.  When he played at cards, or with the small toys Menegilda brought, his hands were as clever as they had ever been, and he was beginning to speak much more clearly.  Drogo had seen the signs all along, bless him.  She beamed down at her sleeping babe and sought the subtle marks the father had left on the child.  His eyes were Drogo's - she had always thought so.  Not their color, which he had got from his mother, but their shape - broad, wide and expressive, and nearly as big as Drogo's warm brown ones.  Those eyes were what first attracted Primula to her husband and she had been delighted to see them on her newborn son.  Her daughter had had them too. 

Primula shook her head and scattered the memories that crowded her brain.  It was the future she must look to, not the past and now that she was certain her child had one, her mind and heart were finally at peace.  She cuddled his warm body close and eased her feet up onto the footstool to get comfortable.  In the drowsy warmth of the fire, her imagination wandered.  She saw him in the years to come, a tall, comely lad with a lean body, quite unlike his father's.  He was richly dressed, in clothes of a quietly elegant hue that set off his almost otherworldly features.  He was quite singular; a lad whose face would haunt your memory, but whose features evaded description.  He drew the eye, or at least his adoring mother's eye, and Primula drank in the sight of him.  She sighed in her contentment as she slipped into dream. 

Her vision continued as before and she saw him with her cousin Bilbo, together at his home in Hobbiton.  The two stood side by side in identical poses of contemplation, looking at the progress of a young hobbit lad painting the door of Bag End.  The thought entered her dream that they were very much alike, and Primula saw herself laughingly telling Bilbo that he had better not take her precious son on any adventures.  Her dream self scolded them both but she was so merry in her tone that neither paid her any mind. 

Then she saw him, grown fair and strong, sitting by his own fire in an elegant house.  He had a pipe in his hand and a large book filled with strange characters that he obviously understood.  A knock sounded at the door and when he opened it, a pack of merry lads entered bearing baskets and gifts, their cheeks bit red from the winter wind.  He was happy, oh so very happy, and Primula's dream self sang with joy.

Then she saw a sight that pulled at her heart.  It was Frodo with hair streaked grey but a youthful face, kneeling by a river.  He had a scarf around his neck that blew in the wind, and he was throwing flowers onto the water.  They drifted upwards with the wind and settled far out into the middle of the current.  She saw his cheeks flash silver in the sun.  He was crying. 

The vision shifted and suddenly all was dark.  The moon was rising and she looked across a wide plain of grass broader than any she had seen in her life.  A horse the color of mist, white and grey, raced across that plain.  Its rider, dressed in similar colors, clung desperately to its back and suddenly Primula knew that he was racing to her son's aid.

Frodo was in deadly peril and the rider was frantic to reach him before all was lost.  His fear gripped her and she saw a flash of another vision; that of her son, in a treeless, rocky place, his face haggard and dirty, his clothes worn and tattered.  Darkness and danger were all about him, pressing in and listening to him as he laughed with bitter abandon.  She longed to shush him, to warn him that even the rocks in that place had ears, but he could not hear her, she could not save him from the death that approached from all sides.

The icy fear that filled her now was nothing like what she had felt when she had heard his injured cry by the river - this was a surer dread and a blacker danger than even that had been.  I chilled her with horror as it pinned her eyes open, forcing her to watch on.  She saw him again, being held up by a companion, both filthy and haggard, but there was a smile on his face as he looked at his friend.  It was a sad but clear smile and his companion's eyes were red as if he had been crying, but the tears were in Primula's eyes instead.

She balked at the vision and fought her way to wakefulness.  She looked down at her son and saw him looking at her.  His face was that of the child he was but the eyes that glittered there were the ones she had seen in her vision; depthless and ancient, worldly wise and piercing. They held the same sad acceptance that he had looked at his companion with and spoke of sorrow, pity, compassion and regret, but no fear. 

"Don't cry, mother," he said, his child's voice echoing oddly in her mind, and then the tone changed and it was the dulcet, cultured voice of an adult that spoke to her from his pink child's mouth.  He smiled, sadly, and said, "There is nothing you can do.  I am already doomed..."

Primula jerked completely awake in an instant and stared down in horror at her son.  He squeaked a little in protest at being disturbed, but was still fast asleep.  As she watched, he snuggled deeper into her lap and when he'd got comfortable again he gave a contented sigh.  She clamped a hand over her own mouth and felt the tears spilling over her cheeks.  It was a dream, nothing but a dream!  She clamped her other hand over her mouth as well, but her mind still screamed...

~*~

Frodo knew the young hobbit who had come to visit but he couldn't recall his name.  They had told him once, and then again the next day, but it was as if the memory was a slippery eel that slithered out of reach whenever Frodo tried to grasp it.  The boy was sullen, gruff and ungentle most of the time, but when his mother was watching or when Frodo himself protested a rough handling, he would relent and seem to recall that Frodo wasn't feeling well.  Frodo wasn't sure if he liked the boy but at least he was someone new and he didn't treat Frodo like he was afraid he would break, as his mother had begun to.  The new boy also let Frodo stand and try a few steps, and encouraged him to feed himself, which were other things his mother seemed reluctant to allow him.  He supposed, all in all, that he liked having the boy around, especially if the only other choice was no companion at all.

The nice lady with the gentle hands, whose name Frodo also had trouble remembering, still came to visit as well but she didn't bring the little girl any more.  Frodo was sad about that but with outings and the strange drills the nice lady had him doing, he had less time to dwell on it than before.  Finally getting out of the smial made up for many things that he wasn't able to do yet, and he relished the opportunity. 

With the boy along to carry him, his mother had taken him outside for a picnic and the feel of the warm sun on his face had been a great delight to Frodo.  He had also been taken to his auntie Menegilda's for tea and liked nothing better than to be allowed to play with her sons' toy soldiers.  Her boys were long past the age for such playthings, but the little tin figures delighted Frodo.  The likenesses of elves and big folk and little hobbit archers were skillfully crafted and had once been brightly painted, though years of even gentle play had worn much of the color off them. 

His broken arm was very nearly healed.  Uncle Rory had carved a splendid brace and it stabilized his arm so well Frodo almost felt he didn't need it anymore.  Of course, his mother and the nice lady insisted that he did and would not let him dress without it no matter what his arguments. Though that didn't stop him from trying them.

He was much less dizzy than before and on a good day could sit long periods without an assault of nausea.  Standing, however, was still very difficult, though he eagerly begged to be allowed to try it.  While on his feet, the whole world seemed to spin with a slow, ponderous rotation that also leaned perilously to the side.  It invariably made the blood pound in his ears and, if he stood for longer than a few minutes, his head would ache abominably.  Walking, when he'd dared to try it, had been an unqualified disaster.  Two or three steps had been all he could manage before the dizziness returned and pain split his skull so badly he collapsed, shaking and nauseous again.  It was quite frustrating for Frodo.  He wanted to get back to normal as quickly as he could for he was growing very weary of the inconvenience of being ill.

Occasionally a headache would strike without warning, but more often he got them when he pushed himself too hard.  He quickly learned how much he could get away with doing before the pain came on and he went right to that limit time and again, pushing it back until even he saw a marked improvement in his condition.  In fact, Frodo would have been otherwise pleased with his progress if it had not been for the way his mother now regarded him.  Whenever she looked at him a strange sort of fear would haunt her eyes.  It seemed the most intense when he tried to show her how well he was doing at one of his drills, or when he showed her some little thing that he had not been able to do just days before.  It puzzled Frodo.  He wanted her to look at him with love and pride, to delight in his small victories.  He wanted to show her that he was going to be all right, that he was getting better, as the nice lady who visited, Daisy?, had said he would, but the harder he tried, the more worried she became.  A gulf was growing between them and each day it grew wider.  Frodo did not know what to do and was becoming frantic.  She was pushing him away and he couldn't understand why.

Despite his general improvement, there was a new problem that had surfaced. It made itself known quite clearly one afternoon while he and his mother were visiting his aunt.  Out on the broad terrace, Frodo had begged the boy to carry him over to the edge near where the chimneystacks poked up from the level below so that he could see down to the river.  But when they got to the bench between two brick lined columns and the boy stood up on it to give Frodo a clear view of the lands below, the sight of the sheer drop to the next level had paralyzed him with fear.  Sick and numb, he clung to the boy for dear life.  The boy had protested and had tried to disentangle himself from Frodo's panicked hold but that only served to frighten Frodo beyond reason.  He started to scream, his head started to ache again and his mother, shaking with horror almost as badly as Frodo was, had to retrieve him. 

Something about the sight of the dizzying drop of space with nothing beneath him called up an unspeakable fear in Frodo.  It defied all reason and made him physically ill.  His frantic reaction puzzled and frightened his mother and made Menegilda cluck with disapproval.  Frodo felt awful about making them cross but he could not help it.  The yawning space of air terrified him.  Just looking at that open drop made him feel like he was already spinning down into it and he was not able to control his distress until his aunt had plied him with teacakes within the secure, well-supported tunnels of her smial.  She stroked his hair and gave him cool compresses for his head till the pain went away again.   The incident would have been all but forgotten except that Frodo began to have strange dreams of falling and a desperate fear of being higher off the ground than the circle of someone's carrying arms.

When the boy first came to visit, Primula took care of most of Frodo's needs, leaving the older lad to fetch and carry and run errands, but after a while, and at the urging of his aunt Menegilda, she began to take short trips away from the smial, leaving Frodo and the boy alone together.  The first few of these she would return quickly, frantic with worry, only to find the two playing quietly in the alcove by the window.  Once assured that her son would remain safe, her trips became a bit longer and more predictable - to the market, to tea with Menegilda, and off to visits with other friends she hadn't been able to see since Frodo's accident.  Frodo wished he could come along, but he also valued the time alone with the boy so that he could practice his drills and try to do things without Primula's worried glances.

The times alone also gave Frodo a chance to talk and get to know his guardian's real feelings towards him.  Without Frodo's mother around, the older boy acted differently.  He still did his job with distracted efficiency but he abandoned all pretence of liking Frodo.  He was distant and wary and seemed bored and put out having to watch him.  He also asked odd questions about Frodo's accident - like what did Frodo remember?  It was a silly question.   The only thing that Frodo could recall from that morning was the breakfast, but it seemed to comfort his guardian when he said so.

The older boy thought it was funny that Frodo couldn't remember his name from one day to the next, and had taken to calling himself something different every morning.  It might have been a mocking game, but Frodo was delighted to note that after a few days he was able to remember what the boy had told him the previous one.  Of course, the moment he remembered the name the boy had given, the other said that that was most certainly not his name and would make up a new one on the spot, but Frodo enjoyed the play nonetheless. 

His guardian also seemed to like watching Frodo's less than graceful attempts at managing for himself.  At first, Frodo was a bit upset that the elder boy would not help him get up off the floor or would not help him dress, but his pragmatic mind realized quickly that these were opportunities for him, not obstacles, and he tore into each eagerly.  A fall was a chance to get up unaided and buttons were a chance to make his fingers remember their old proficiency.  The older boy despised emptying the chamber pot and so quite quickly insisted that Frodo use the privy outside.  That opportunity provided a chance (and incentive) for Frodo to practice both his standing and his aim without worrying his mother and both improved significantly with the practice.  He was getting so much better that Daisy, yes, that was her name, had laughed out loud and clapped her hands.  Frodo only wished his mother could have shown such effusive joy over his accomplishments.

~*~

On a bright morning a week before Midyear's Day, Frodo was dressed for an outing by the river.  His mother was going to visit a friend who lived along the north road and the two of them were planning on a drive down the river path, a coarse but scenic lane that was often under water in the spring but which, during the height of summer, was a very pleasant drive.  Frodo and his companion were to ride in the back of the cart while Primula and her friend shared the job of driving and the fresh air of the jaunt on the wagon's seat.

Frodo sat beside his guardian, who was calling himself 'Jona' today, and dangled his feet off the bed.  His chest was pressed up against the single board that closed in the back of the cart and his arms draped loosely over it.  'Jona' was sitting in an identical pose until he noticed Frodo mimicking him, then he indignantly changed his position.

"I should like a swim," sighed Frodo, resting his chin on the board and gazing across the cool, brown waters of the Brandywine.  The rolling motion of the wagon made his head spin and he ached for the gentle swell of the river current and the touch of its waters on his body.  It would have felt wonderful in the midday heat.  He glanced sidelong at his companion and saw that the older boy had dropped his head over the board and was staring disinterestedly at the road passing beneath them.  Suddenly Frodo remembered.  "You're Dody," he grinned, pleased that he had recalled the name.  The other boy smirked. 

"You're delusional," he replied.

Frodo laughed.  "No, I know I am right.  I remember now."  He smiled, quite pleased with himself.  Both his memory and his speech were getting very good.  He looked back over at the river.  "Though I should still like a swim," he sighed, and then dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper.  "Do you think mother would allow it?"

Dody looked back over his shoulder at the ladies chatting amicably on the seat.  They had heard nothing of the boys' hushed words over the rattle of the old cart.  "Doubt it," he answered in the same soft tone.  "You're barely able to stand and even that makes your mother nervous.  She'd be beside herself if you were trying to swim."

Frodo sighed and gazed back at the river.  "She never lets me do anything anymore...  I wish..." And then a thought came to him.  "I'll bet if I could walk, she'd see I was all right and she would stop fussing so!"

Dody snorted and resumed his study of the dusty road.  "And how do you presume to do that?" he asked sarcastically. 

"With your help!" Frodo answered.  "You're going to help me walk.  I can do it if I've your arm to support me.  And if I practice, I'll soon be able to do it without, you'll see!  It will be our secret and then, when I am ready, I will walk to her and she will be so surprised!  She will see there is nothing to be afraid of!  She won't be worried anymore and then everything will be wonderful again, you'll see!"

Dody shook his head, with resigned tolerance.  "If you wish," he answered.  "Just don't get your hopes up.  You've barely yet managed two steps together before falling over, and even that left you shaking and dizzy.  But if you want to make a fool of yourself in front of your mother, you can try."

"So you'll help me?"

"I've no other pressing engagements," Dody returned clicking his tongue.

Frodo grinned happily and gazed down the road they had traveled.  "She'll be pleased, I know it.  She has to be.  She's only to see how well I am doing and then she'll love me again."

Dody rolled his head to the side and looked at his charge oddly.  "Who says she doesn't love you?" he asked.

Frodo frowned and looked down.  "Um..." he mumbled, suddenly embarrassed and realizing he had not intended to speak so.  "Nobody's said," he muttered, his face growing red.  He looked at Dody and scrunched up his brow as he thought.  Then he looked at his mother's back as she sat companionably with her friend.  He needed to speak to someone about his fears.  He had hoped to talk to his father but Drogo had been away what seemed like forever and Frodo's concerns were pressing.  "Aunt Mene says I am being foolish," Frodo began in a low whisper, choosing his words carefully and trying not to slur the longer ones as he sometimes still did.  "But I am remembering things better and better.  I remember my mother used to hold me."  His brow creased and his lower lip trembled before he mastered himself again.  "I remember she used to talk to me, and be close.  She used to hug me."  And at that a tear did escape Frodo's eye.  He quickly wiped it away before she turned to see.  "Auntie says I'm a big boy now, and that big boys aren't coddled like infants."  He frowned, hurt and regret drawing his lower lip down in a pitiful pout.  "But I don't think that's right."  He drew in a shaking but silent breath.  "I think I must have done something really bad. Really, really bad. But I don't know what it was.  No one will tell me anything and I can't remember.  They keep saying everything is fine, but it isn't."  His throat felt tight as he resisted a hitching sob.  His head, which had been feeling relatively painless, gave him a warning twinge.  He tried to ignore it.  "I must have done something; run off from Bethany, broken some priceless mathom, something... And whatever it was, it was so awful that my mother stopped loving me because of it."  He wiped at his eyes again.  "Please."  He looked up at Dody.  "Do you know what I did?  I'd say I was sorry. And I'd never do it again."  His huge blue eyes seemed to grow even larger in his pain-pinched, sorrow-filled face.  "I just want her to love me again.," he whispered.

Dody's puzzled frown deepened.  Something in Frodo's words seemed to pierce the older boy and he stared at his charge uncomfortably while an odd, teary silence thickened between them.  Frodo began to fidget.  His head was pounding again.  He laid it across his braced arm and closed his eyes in misery.  He shouldn't have said anything.  Dody would think him foolish and would tell his mother what he'd said.  She would think him odder still for entertaining the thought that she didn't love him and scoff that he still wanted to be held like a baby.  Perhaps he was wrong.  Perhaps it was asking for more than he was due, but he ached to feel her warm arms about him and to feel as if his presence were welcomed instead of something that made her shrink away in fear.  He squeezed his eyes tight to hold back the tears.  His mother was still only a few feet away and he didn't want her to look back and see him crying.  That would only serve to upset her and she had been so cheery this morning.  He sniffed, trying to relax his aching head and willing with all his remaining power that Dody would forget what he had said. 

"I... I don't think you did anything..." Dody whispered, even more softly than Frodo had spoken.  "And I don't think your mother doesn't love you.  Maybe it's me?  Maybe your mother isn't very demonstrative in front of others?  My...my mother was common born.  You know how much warmer and more physical they are.  But my father's your mother's brother and he's not much of a one for hugs and such.  Perhaps your mother is like him that way?"  Dody looked down at the road again and for the first time Frodo thought his guardian showed some emotion other than detached disinterest towards him.  It looked like something pained him dreadfully.  "The Brandybucks can be that way," he said, but it didn't sound entirely convinced by his own argument. 

"My mother was never like that before." Frodo returned earnestly, wincing.  This headache was going to be a bad one.  "If I didn't do anything wrong, why has she become so strange to me?"

Dody shrugged but a flash of irritation crossed his face.  "However should I know?  Perhaps she's been listening to Menegilda?" The older boy scoffed.  "Our dearest aunt is convinced you are going to be an invalid for the rest of your life.  She acts as if your injury was the greatest tragedy of the age and that you'll never recover from it.  From the way she carries on you'd think she were the one who had an addled son."

Frodo was silent for a while, thinking, but the thoughts he was having were as uncomfortable as his growing headache.  Did his mother think him addle-brained?  Did she think he'd never recover?  Was she ashamed of having a son who was damaged, broken, possibly beyond any hope of repair?  A chill of understanding froze his heart and he looked at his cousin sitting most uncomfortably beside him.  Did they all think of him that way?  Frodo blinked and let the unsettling notion pool in his mind. Perhaps they knew something about his condition that they were not telling him.

"Do you mean," Frodo began in a carefully controlled whisper. "That maybe my mother doesn't love me because I am hurt?  Because my head's been rattled and because I can't walk?"  Speaking the thought aloud gave it substance somehow and Frodo suddenly saw how all his mother's recent behaviors fell into an odd sort of logical place.  She was afraid of him.  She didn't like the fact that he still got headaches all the time and seeing his clumsy attempts at standing reminded her that he was still less than whole.  Dody shook his head in denial, but there was a strange look on his face - one of irritation and guilt.  Frodo thought his cousin looked like someone who had let more slip than he ought. 

"Don't be silly!" Dody denied, but he would not look Frodo in the eye.  The other boy's sullen, guilty posture spoke counter to his words and far more convincingly to Frodo.  Dody had given away some secret that he had been determined not to, Frodo could tell, and he was upset with himself for doing so.  Frodo sat in silence letting the revelation wash over his pain and becoming more and more certain his guess was right.  The warm summer day took on a chill that was not due to the weather.  He shivered.

"That's it, isn't it?"  Frodo said softly.  "She thinks I'll never get better and she's ashamed of me." 

Dody ground his teeth angrily.  "No!  That's not it.  Mothers aren't like that!  It's..."  He looked at Frodo then and the younger boy was shocked by the anguish mirrored in the older one's eyes.  There was guilt and frustration there but as Frodo watched, the look became angry, as if Dody were mad at himself for revealing his torment. The older boy growled and turned away, sullen and defensive, closed to his cousin once more.  Frodo sighed and closed his eyes, a weary sadness filling his heart.  That was it then.  She was ashamed of her damaged son and afraid of what others might think of him.  A great pity for his mother welled up inside of Frodo.  It was something he had done, in some way that had made her stop loving him.  It even made a sick sort of sense that she would feel that way.  He sniffed, his sorrow making his head pound even more intensely.  This was becoming a very bad one.

But even in the depths of his pain and melancholy, some part of him refused to succumb.  The core of his being resisted the wash of sadness and took the strength of that emotion for its own.   His resolve grew strong and overwhelmed the sorrow.  It filled him with quiet and purpose and steadied both his heart and his aching head.  This was something he could fix.  All it would require was hard work.  Harder work than he had ever been called on to do before, but it was possible.  He knew what he needed to do.

"It's all right, Dody," Frodo said, his voice clear and steady.  "It will be all right.  I know how to fix it.  I'll prove to mother that I am going to be well.  I will walk, you see, no matter how badly it pains me, and when I do, mother will see there is nothing to be afraid of.  I will be just like all the other children.  I will get well, you'll help me, and then everything will be all right."

Dody studied him silently for a long while and Frodo wondered what was passing behind his cousin's strangely unreadable expression.  Then, suddenly, Dody drew his feet up into a ball and curled against the buckboard, his back to Frodo, in a gesture of stark rejection.   Frodo blinked, confused and was unsure of how to respond to his cousin's behavior.  Did they all think him permanently damaged?  Didn't anyone harbor any hope for him?  He swallowed, feeling his resolve falter and the pain and nausea surge back.  No!  He had hope.  He knew he would get better, even if no one else did.  He swallowed the discomfort and stiffened his resolve.  He would show them.

Frodo sighed and laid down in the wagon to ease the pain.  They drove on in silence save for the chatter of the ladies in the front and the clip clop of the pony's hooves. The beloved sound of his mother's voice at last gave Frodo the comfort he sought.  When the cart finally stopped, he saw Dody rise, swiftly, and slide the board past so that they could both get out.  He would not look Frodo in the eye as he pulled blankets and baskets into his arms.  Frodo sat up and watched with sad longing as his mother and her friend carefully chose a picnic spot in the lush grass under a large, spreading elm and directed Dody to deposit their supplies there.  The older boy returned to the wagon and stood before Frodo, his arms outstretched, to carry him up to the picnic area.  Dody still managed to avoid looking him in eye.  Frodo let himself be lifted and looked again at the two ladies who were busily setting out the lunch.  Dody paused, also staring up at them, and after a moment, sighed too.

"I'll help you," he said stiffly.  His voice was gruff and defensive and his body trembled, as if he were being forced into something against his will.  His cousin seemed strangely angry, almost enraged, and Frodo was afraid the boy would drop him there in the dirt.  "You'll walk for your father when he comes back at the Mid-year's feast," he continued through a set frown.  "And then, that will be the end of it.  I'll wash my hands of you."  And so, ending all conversation on the subject, he carried the boy up to where his mother waited.

~*~

TBC






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