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Fear  by Ariel

I am the Angst Maven... hear me roar!  OK, as if you weren't about to get all the angst you could possibly handle with ROTK, I have decided to dose you with a nicely filled helping in this chapter.  The story is winding down and the characters are well into play... The stage is set and things will be happening fast and furious from now on so fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride. Chapter  17

Angst Dr. Albarus Clearwater's assistant called in the afternoon while Dody was off picnicking with Primula and Frodo and made a request, formally as was the doctor's wont, that the boy dine with him that evening.  Menegilda accepted for her charge, pleased with the doctor's decorum and that he was taking such an active interest in both her nephews' welfare.  She had Dody's finest tunic laid out for the occasion, and seeing the clothes on the bed, Dody's heart rose in his throat.  He did not have to ask why they were there.  He had endured the doctor's questions before though after the revelations of the afternoon, he expected this meeting would be a far worse trial than the others had been.  Dody's mind was still in a turmoil of guilt and frustration.  It would take the hawk-eyed doctor only a moment to note the signs of it.  He had to calm, cover his self-recrimination with a veneer of tween-aged awkwardness - something he had in honest measure - and somehow keep the doctor from determining the reason for his shame.

He had been feeling good about himself.  Really good for a change.  Frodo was getting better, even he could see the child was recovering rapidly, and he was doing his part to help.  His thoughtless act might have triggered the fall, but he had paid in bruises, blood and servitude to rid himself of the guilt.  He had paid! 

But what if the injury was not the only harm his act had done?  Had he somehow helped put a rift between mother and son?  Preposterous!  Dody could not fathom the lovely Primula, or any mother, forsaking a child for any reason!  Fathers did that, but mothers could not.  It was not possible... And yet, Dody had seen the look in Frodo's eyes, the loss, the ache. He knew those emotions. They were his constant companions.  Had he facilitated inflicting the worst pain he could imagine on that innocent child?  Had he lost Frodo his mother's love?

Dody's fingers trembled as he belted his tunic and he angrily tugged at the tied knot.  This one mistake had cost him his home, his family (albeit those were not so great a loss) and his peace of mind.  When would it end?  Had he not paid enough already?  Dody had thought with Frodo recovered, he would be free of this demon, but the stain of its evil remained.  The child was not imagining things.  The better Frodo did, the more 'normally' he began to move and speak, the more subtly fearful Primula seemed to become.  It was as if she was afraid of him getting better, but what reasoning was behind her fear, Dody could not even begin to guess. 

At the door to the doctor's apartments on the second tier, Dody paused and channeled all his energies towards fighting back his nervousness and attaining a veneer of calm disinterest.  He noted the way his feet shuffled, and stopped them, the way his hands were wringing, and forcibly stilled them at his sides.  He must give nothing away - for in the meetings he had had with this shrewd hobbit, he had learned as much about Clearwater's methods as the old doctor had learned about Frodo's recovery.  He noted everything and seemed to store the knowledge away in the cool darkness of his mind.  Dody had to be vigilant for he was playing a dangerous game.

Clearwater's assistant, Bob, let Dody in and after a cheery wave and encouraging smile, donned his hat and left the boy alone with his master.  Clearwater himself sat already at table, a hearty meal set before him and an empty chair opposite.  Dody approached as carelessly as he could but even he noted the stiffness in his stride. 

"Sit, please," Clearwater said, his genteel voice sounding chillingly formal in the small room.  Dody did as he was bid, to await the start of the doctor's interrogation.  "You may help yourself, son.  I've no maidservant, being as I am but a humble tradesman and not of an influential family like yourself."

Dody perceived the mocking tone, but did not answer it.  He said instead," Thank you, sir, but I've no appetite this evening," in his most gracious and controlled voice. 

Clearwater blinked, but his tolerant smile never wavered.

"As you will," he said softly.  "You will not mind if I begin?  It seems a pity to let this fine fare go unattended."

Dody nodded and began a studious examination of his fingernails.  Clearwater ate fastidiously and made no comment throughout the meal but Dody was aware of his eyes watching him from beneath the dark brows.  He tried very hard not to fidget, or let errant ponderings on the afternoon trouble his thoughts, but by the time the doctor had eaten his fill and cleared his palate with a draught of pale wine, Dody's agitation had grown.  Exactly as Clearwater had intended it to, Dody bitterly mused.

"And so, how fares our little patient?" the doctor asked, pushing himself back and fishing inside his waistcoat for his pipe. 

Dody drew a breath but declined looking his interrogator in the eye.  "He is doing very well," he answered evenly.  "He has trouble keeping his balance still and complains of headaches though I suspect not as often as he gets them.  He has decided he will walk for his father when he returns."

Clearwater raised a brow.  "Indeed?  In your opinion, will he?"

Dody shrugged.

"Very interesting."  The doctor lit his pipe from the candle on the table and took a long pull on it.  His brows creased thoughtfully.  "Does he show any loss of mental capacity?  Any difficulty in retaining memories?"

Dody frowned and shifted in his chair.  "He's had some..." he admitted, "But he's getting better."

"I see."  The corner of Clearwater's mouth jerked into a momentary smirk.  Dody felt a flash of anger grip him.

"Disappointed?" he asked.  The word came from his mouth before he could stop it.

Clearwater's smile grew subtly broader and Dody bit back a curse.

"Now, there's what I like..." the doctor's oily voice purred.  "Honesty."  He stared at Dody with great satisfaction and the boy's dismay became a flame of fury behind his dark eyes.  "Shall I be honest back, my boy?  Hmm?  Yes, there should be no secrets between us, especially in light of the arrangements I have been making with your aunt."  He took another pull on his pipe and Dody felt the intense desire to wipe the hateful smirk off the elder hobbit's face.  "You ask if I am disappointed that dear Frodo is recovering?  Well, I naturally want to see the child recover as much as anyone, but I am a practical hobbit, and know my craft very well.  From the condition he was in when I saw him, I would have stated un-categorically that he would die - staked my reputation on it even."  He gazed off into the cloud of smoke that was rising above him.  "You could say his miraculous recovery is a bit of an embarrassment to me..."  He chuckled softly.  "You could say that, I suppose, but I am not so petty.  I merely wish to serve the Brandybuck family, and ensure they are not burdened with a child who would be a drain on their livelihoods and spirits.  If, as you indicate, he is recovering with little permanent damage, then I am delighted - astonished, but delighted."

Dody frowned and sank back in his chair.  Fair sounding words, but with a ring of strange falsehood about them that the boy could neither dismiss nor deny.  It was almost as if the liar had repeated them so often he half believed them himself.  And Dody had to grudgingly admit they presented an entirely reasonable position.  One that fit neatly with all the doctor's actions and presented him in a benign light.  But honesty and concern were not the emotions Dody saw in Clearwater's coldly calculating face.  He squirmed, unable to shake the feeling of being toyed with.  His arguments would have convinced Menegilda.  She would see nothing beyond her doctor's slavish devotion to her family.  She would not think there was any more to his interest than kindness, and likely no one else would either.  Dody swallowed the bile that was rising in his throat as the first stirrings of doubt entered his mind.  Though his heart was certain there was more to the doctor's interest than he let on, Dody's mind wondered what possible advantage could Clearwater gain by it.  What was he looking for?  What was the missing part of the puzzle?  Or was Dody's own suspicion and dislike of this hobbit inventing intrigues and duplicity where there were none?  Was it merely the doctor's simpering manner and Dody's dislike that suggested them?  The boy frowned in confusion.  He was so tired of feeling guilty, so tired of subterfuge and deceptions that he almost wanted to believe the doctor's fair seeming words. 

"I mentioned arrangements I have been discussing with your aunt," Clearwater continued, "Have you no interest in what they might be?  I should have thought a lad in your position would be most concerned about his future."

Dody blinked and looked up.  The doctor still smiled serenely, but there was no kindness in his eyes.  They glittered, as always, with cold triumph.  Dody shivered, suddenly feeling naked and vulnerable under that pitiless gaze.

"I have decided to take you on as my apprentice, Dody.  You have shown great compassion with that young boy and some not unrecognizable skill in dealing with people.  I can tell you are a sharp youngster; you miss little and I admire that.  You have kept our little secret while gaining the trust of the Bagginses and that was no small feat."  His smile grew broader.  "I merely wish to reward you for a job well done."

Dody blanched, his insides turning to ice as sheer terror gripped them.  He perceived the trap that had been laid for him, the one that by his cooperation and willingness he had walked right into.  Any illusion that he might have been able to hold his own in this game of cat and mouse evaporated.  He was the mouse, and he had done exactly as this vile cat had designed.

An elegant trap indeed; a generous offer to a poor unfortunate who had few other options.  The doctor could only be seen as being magnanimous, gracious, offering to take this practically orphaned boy to apprentice.  Dody's mouth grew dry and his heart pounded in his chest as a scream of denial raced across his mind.  Folk would congratulate him, tell him what a boon this was, how lucky for him.  Who would give credence to the white knuckled terror that filled him at the prospect of becoming subject to this nefarious hobbit?  There was not even the slightest inclination in him to accept but when he looked up at the doctor he knew his fate had already been sealed.  His aunt did not see what he did.  She was blinded by Clearwater's charms and had already agreed to the arrangement. 

"You... You're too kind, sir," the boy began, his strangled tone betraying his fear.  Sweat had begun to bead on his upper lip.  Dody licked at it, tasting the acrid bite of panic in the dewy liquid.  "It.... It is much too great an offer for the likes of me.  I... I am honored but surely there are other more capable lads who would jump at the chance of apprenticing with you?"  

"More capable?"  Clearwater laughed mockingly, victoriously.  "My boy, you have been part and party to the most miraculous recovery I have ever seen in my career!  Surely, you can see your own capability in that?"  He paused and his eyebrows drew down thoughtfully as he studied the panicking boy.  "Or is there another reason for your reluctance?" he mused.  It was not a question.  He laid down his pipe and stood, absently straightening his waistcoat.  "Have you had another offer more to your liking?" he asked softly.  "That very lucky midwife, perhaps?"  Clearwater's voice was icy cold as he watched Dody.  The boy avoided his eyes and darted frightened glances around the room as if looking for some salvation, some means of escape.  There was none.  "No, I see not..." Clearwater mused.  "I know your uncle has not entertained any other offers for you.  Your aunt would have told me..."  The comments were directed barbs of inquiry, lances bearing down on Dody to draw out his resistance and discover the root of it.  Dody, all semblance of control long since obliterated, turned away like a wounded animal, trying desperately to evade Clearwater's probing eyes.  He could not succumb to this outrage! He would not!  Somewhere in the core of his being, he found a germ of his tortured pride and clung to it.  He curled in upon it, defensively, wishing he could run but realizing there was no where to turn to.

"Or is it something else?" Clearwater breathed, his voice tinged with mocking wonder.  "Is it, perhaps, that you have found some great devotion to your patient, or his family?  Primula is a dear thing, and quite lovely."  He came from around the table and stood unrelentingly over Dody.  "But such a devotion is a dangerous thing.  She is another's wife and old enough to be your mother.  Or perhaps you see in her, a mother for yourself?"  Clearwater laughed.  "Foolish, my boy.  Damned foolish."  Dody did not look up, did not acknowledge the formidable hobbit by his side.  The image of Primula's dark hair and her slender white arms came to him, but she was not the fount from which his pride had drawn its last healing draught.  She was not the wellspring of his fragile hope.  Clearwater crouched beside him to look into his lowered, tormented eyes.  "I would not have thought you so impractical..."  He peered closer.  "But that's not it either," he whispered, his wonder no longer mocking but deadly serious.  His foul breath wreathed the boy and Dody turned miserably away.  Clearwater was cutting into him with like a surgeon, claiming him, exposing his weakness and revealing the source of his last vestige of conceit.  Suddenly, the doctor paused.


Dody flinched.  Clearwater rocked back on his heels, seeing that his last comment had found its mark.

Drogo.  Dody himself had not been aware how much of his self worth he had wrapped up in Drogo Baggins' faith in him.  But there it was, laid bare and revealed to his own eyes.  He had built up that cursory offering till it had become the foundation of his reborn ego and now that he comprehended it, and knew that Clearwater saw it as well, he realized how ephemeral it was.  His vulnerability was exposed and he was naked before an enemy who would take this knowledge and delightfully destroy him with it.

"Ah... It is Drogo.  You have seen in him something to admire, something that draws you."  Clearwater laid a hand on Dody's shoulder and the boy twitched under the warm, moist touch.  "Dody," the doctor said in his most conciliatory voice.  "I am going to say this once, as a friend, not as your doctor and not as a potential master, but freely and with no ulterior motivations.  Please, remember, though Drogo is a fine hobbit, and an admirable businessman," there was a touch of sarcasm on the word that even Dody caught.  "He is not your father... And he never will be."

Clearwater's hand caressed Dody's shoulder and the boy felt ill.  More kind seeming words whose touch burned like poison.  He was trembling and sick, furious with himself for his weakness.  Drogo's offering of faith seemed empty now, a hollow memory that he had placed too much emphasis on.  He had been fooling himself with a fantasy he had not even realized he was creating, fooling himself that the other hobbit would care about him once his job was ended.  He had deceived himself about his own worth as well.  Drogo had said what was necessary, used Dody's desperate need for someone to show faith in him to ensure that the boy cared for his son properly.  When the job was done, he would shake Dody's hand and be merrily on his way.  Of course he would.  What else had Dody thought to expect? 

The doctor's hand moved up to Dody's neck, cloyingly under his hair, as if to draw the boy into a comforting, conciliatory embrace, but Dody shook him off with a violent shrug.

"Don't you touch me," he rasped and he glared up at Clearwater with venomous hatred.  Clearwater smiled again and stood, victory reflecting in his eyes. 

"You know that yourself, don't you, Dody?  He's not your father, and when he comes back, he will be grateful for what you have done, and then dismiss you.  You do know that is what will happen, don't you?  You are so desperately in need of guidance but you're looking for it from someone who will not be able to give it.  Drogo Baggins has his own trials to deal with in that wounded child.  He would never be able to give you the notice you need and you'd be disappointed not to get it, Dody, bitterly so.  I, on the other hand, can.  I am in need of an apprentice and you are in need of a master.  Why not at least consider my offer as an alternative to disillusionment?"

Dody clenched his teeth and dug his fingers into his palms in impotent rage.  The doctor's poisonous words danced around him, mocking him with their terrible truth.  He looked up as prey would view the hunter just before it closed its jaws to kill, and saw himself reflected in this quietly malevolent creature.  He saw in that instant how very little it would take for him to become just like the thing that stood before him, a hobbit of deceits and petty intrigues, a base and contemptible thing.  The revelation horrified him.     

He gasped on a raggedly indrawn breath and his body shook with the violence of his denial, but he said no word. He knew he was overmatched and his last card had been played.  The doctor knew it too.  Clearwater's knowing smile mocked him and Dody's mind whirled like a caged animal, screaming in frustration.  His cause had been lost before he had even set foot on this doorstep.  

"Consider it, boy.  You could take advantage of the situation or you could resent it, but my hope is that you will see reason."  The doctor didn't have to add 'Because you are mine regardless,' but Dody understood.  Dody understood very well.


"Wake up, poppet.  It's supper."

Frodo sighed and snuggled further into his pillow. 

"Now, now..." his mother's voice cooed.  "You need to eat, keep your strength up.  You hardly ate anything at luncheon and missed tea.  Come eat something."

Frodo sighed again, but this time opened his eyes.  Although his headache was almost gone, his mother stood by his bedside armed with a cup of willow bark tea and a sweet smile on her face.  He smiled back and tentatively uncurled himself from the nest he'd made.  Yes, his head was much better than it was.  The sleep had done its work.

"Yes, mother," he said and sat up on his cot.  Primula had a light supper laid on the table in the parlor and a cheery fire in the hearth.  She brought his hand up to the teacup and encouraged him to take it.  It was bitter, as always, but she had laced it with honey and blackberry cordial and it was almost palatable.  He drank it down without complaint, knowing that the mixture would help dispel the last of his head's lingering dullness. 

"Here's your waistcoat," Primula said, taking the empty cup back.  "It's just the two of us this evening, dear, and I was thinking of taking the air on the terrace afterwards.  Would you like that?"

"Oh, yes, mother!" Frodo struggled into his waistcoat and before Primula could assist him, had buttoned it himself.  She blinked but said no word.  "I should like that very much," he declared, now fully awake and brightening with anticipation.

"Good," she nodded, her smile following a moment later.  "But if you wish to go out this evening, you will have to eat something first.  Why, you are still as thin as a rail!"

His eager display crumpled to worried apology as he looked up at her.  "I'm sorry, mother.  It's just that I don't often feel up to eating."

"That's because you've been pushing yourself too hard," she gently admonished.  "You get yourself worked into a state and your head starts to hurt again.  You must give yourself time, Frodo.  Healing will come if you are patient for it."  She took his arm and guided him from the bed to the basin so that he could wash up.  

"May I use the privy outside, Mother?" he asked hopefully.  "Dody lets me."  Primula looked at him with amused tolerance.

"Dody doesn't like to clean the chamber pot," she countered.  "He 'lets' you from a desire to save himself some effort, not to indulge you, my dearest.  I've no such reservations.  Take care of your business here."  Her tone brooked no argument and Frodo sighed as he made ready for supper. 

With a clean face and hands, he let his mother carry him to the table.  There were many dishes laid out though each portion was but a tiny sampling of Brandy Hall's fare.  Frodo was working to regain his previously healthy appetite, but when his head ached and his stomach churned in answer, it was very hard to become enthusiastic about food. 

"There we are," Primula laughed, sliding his chair up to the table.  "A supper fit for a princeling.  Cook told me I was not to bring any of these dishes back full so you must help me or risk her wrath!"

"I'll try, mother," Frodo said, smiling faintly.  "But perhaps I should just sit for a bit till my tummy feels better."

Primula hesitated a moment then pulled her chair so that she could sit nearer him.  "All right," she said softly. "The tea will help, too, if we give it a chance to work.  We'll just talk for a bit then, shall we?  Till your appetite improves?"  Frodo smiled and nodded, very pleased to have his mother to himself and so close.  "Are you excited about seeing your father tomorrow?" she asked.  “It will be Mid-years day too and there will be such a party!  All kinds of food and drink, boat races on the Brandywine, all manner of games and songs!  And when the sun sets, we will build a great bonfire and gather 'round it for wine and more singing, riddles and tales.  It will be a grand time, and we shall have your father with us to share it.”

"Oh my yes!" Frodo agreed enthusiastically.  "The best part of all will be having Father home at last.  It seems he's been gone forever!  I've missed him dreadfully."

Primula nodded back, her excitement making her blue eyes sparkle again.  "Me too," she said winking.

"And I can't wait to show him how well I am doing!" 

The sparkle dimmed and Frodo suddenly wondered if he'd said something wrong.

"He will be pleased, won't he mother?" he asked, worried.

"Yes, of course he will," she assured him quickly.  "Your father will be overjoyed to see how much progress you've made."

"Aren't you pleased too?"

Primula stiffened slightly and looked away from her son.  Frodo's face fell and again he wished he knew what to say or do to drive away his mother's sadness. 

"I am," she admitted at last.  "I do want you to be healthy, Frodo."  She sighed as if struggling to form her thoughts into words he would understand.  "You mustn't think I don't want to see you well, darling, because I do...  It's just... Well, you gave your mother a terrible fright.  I'm not sure I am over it yet."  She looked at him again, her gaze searching and serious.  "You were terribly hurt, dearest, terribly.  And I love you so much that the thought of you leaving us tore me apart.  I... could not bear it if..."  Her hand slowly reached up and stroked his face, but she looked at him as if she were afraid he would break her heart.  "I suppose," she continued.  "In seeing your recovery, I see you whole again; that bright little boy that I could not protect.  I see you at the mercy of the world once more, vulnerable, and it terrifies me anew."  Frodo leaned into her hand, drinking in her touch.  "Just as you need to give yourself time to heal, you need to give me time to get over this fright.  I need to know that you really will be all right, to convince myself that there is not some great and vile menace reaching out to take you away from me."

"Oh, mother..." Frodo whispered.  "I will be all right, I know I will.  And you and father won't let anything get me.  You're the best mother in the world and Father is the best da!  You'll always be there to protect me.  I'll get well and be better than ever, you'll see.  You won't ever have to worry about me again!"

Primula's bright eyes shone with tears and she pulled her son into her lap. There she stroked his short curls and kissed the top of his head.  "I'll always worry, poppet.  That's a mother's job.  But right now the worry is overwhelming me.  There are so many things in this wide world you know nothing about.  There are things I can't protect you from and I've had that realization brought painfully home to me.  It will take time for me to get things back into perspective again.  I need to have you and your father close and whole for a while so that I can push back my worries and let you be a boy again.  You must learn patience, though I know you were never a patient boy."  She smiled, remembering, and kissed his curls again.  "Just don't push yourself so hard, give me some time to know in my heart what you already know in yours."

They sat together for a long while as Primula stroked her child and Frodo's heart swelled in the comfort of his mother's arms.  He didn't completely understand her fear but at that moment he didn't care.  He had what he treasured above any other prize; his mother's touch, and in that embrace nothing bad could ever happen to him.

"It's the hardest thing you'll ever have to do..." she whispered, almost too softly for Frodo to hear.

"What is?" he whispered back in the same hushed tone.

"Let go..." she answered.  "Even if you know you must, and the one you love more than life has his or her own path to follow, it is the worst pain you can imagine."

"Worse than my headaches?" Frodo asked, aghast.

"Far worse," she answered, her face shadowed with so much sorrow that it pained Frodo to see it. "It's an ache of the heart and there is no medicine for it.  You know you must go on, live for the sake of those who love you, but the hurt stays with you forever.  Time only teaches you how to function through it, but nothing eases the heartache."   

Frodo did not speak for he did not know what to say.  He pressed himself as close to her as he could, willing her to feel him and to know that he was there, solid and real.  The fleeting comfort he had felt in her arms was slipping away like sand through his fingers.  She had always been his security, his strength, the foundation of his world but the realization that she could be so shaken by something he had done terrified him.  It turned his whole world upside down and left him rudderless and adrift.  He needed her strong again, desperately.  He needed to have things the way they were, the way they had always been.  He needed the world to be put to rights again. 

Father returning would be a start, but he also had to get well, and despite what his mother instructed, he knew he had to do so quickly.  He could not bear her sorrow.  He could not bear this feeling of strangeness; this sense of anchorless drifting that had become his life.  He needed to walk, to run and play, to hide the pain of his headaches and at least appear normal again so that everything could go back to the way it was.  He needed the comfortable familiarity of the world he had once known more than he had ever needed anything before in his life. 

Frodo turned his face into his mother's neck and rested his cheek against her bare skin, drinking in what security he could from that touch.  He breathed in her sweet smell and let it flow over him like a tide of warmth.  He would see her happy again somehow.  No matter what it took.  Primula closed his small hand in hers and gently caressed the soft skin.  Frodo sighed, treasuring her attentions and becoming relaxed as the medicine began to have some affect.  He might be able to eat something this evening after all.
"Am I different, mother?" he asked softly.  "I mean than I was before."

A tremor coursed through his mother's body and she stiffened. "How so?" she asked, not quite masking her alarm.  Sensing it, Frodo's heart clenched again.  Could he say nothing to comfort her?

"Oh, it's nothing, mother, really," he quickly assured her.  "I just feel... different somehow.  Like I am special now.  Lucky, maybe?  I feel like something has noticed me that would never have seen me before.  Like I've attracted something's attention."

The comment, intended to comfort his mother, seemed to have the exact opposite effect.  Primula was shaking, almost imperceptibly, though pressed close to her, Frodo could feel it.  He sat up and looked earnestly into her eyes.

"I think something is looking out for me, mother.  Protecting me.  I don't think you have to worry because I really am going to be all right.  It's like I have been chosen for some great purpose and so, you see, I can't leave you!  I have something important to do yet!"  His words rushed out in a flood that he hoped was reassuring, but the dark fear that was growing in her eyes made him wish fervently that he had not said a word.  Primula crushed his small body to her and Frodo gasped with the strength of her terrified embrace.  He hugged her back fiercely, miserable that he had caused her pain again. 

"Could you eat now?" she asked, finally breaking the tense silence with a tight, squeaking voice.  Frodo almost wept.  The gulf of fear was opening between them again.  He had only wanted to comfort her.  To share with her that which gave him hope and assured him that he would be well and whole someday.  But by her reaction it seemed he had said the worst thing he possibly could.  Better he had said nothing at all.

"Yes, mother," was all he answered.


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