The Fire: S.R. 1392 by Dreamflower

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Story Notes:

Author's Note: I promised [info]frodosweetstuff a ficlet about young Frodo, in return for the lovely photo-manip she made for me of my OC Adamanta, for my story "Ancestress". This story takes place just after Frodo's turned 29, so he's around the same age here as Pippin was when the Quest began-- about 18 in human terms.


The Fire: S.R. 1392



Frodo found himself in a twilit valley, very strange, but pleasantly so. All the plants were white or silver or pale grey, and the tree trunks were black. Above was a star-spangled sky, but only a sliver of sky, for high white cliffs surrounded the vale. The only real colour to be seen was a perfectly huge moon of blue and green, hanging high, and glowing like a jewel. The only sound to be heard at first was the tinkling of a fountain. It was of black marble swirled with grey and silver, and in the crystal clear pond surrounding it swam graceful white fish, palely glowing, with huge fins and tails as delicate and translucent as butterfly wings. Then suddenly, he heard joyful laughter, and he turned to see Merry and Sam skipping towards him. He realised there were many other children and even a few other tweens gambolling like lambs in the soft grey grass, and he leapt towards Merry and Sam. His leap carried him higher than he'd expected, and he laughed as the three of them collided, rolling on the pale sward. A familiar deep voice said: "I told you he would like it here," and he turned to see Gandalf and Bilbo sitting on a white stone bench beneath an arching white tree…

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

Frodo sat bolt upright, his pleasant dream shattered beyond recovery, his heart pounding. For an instant he was completely lost, not even recalling that he was in his own bed, in Bag End.

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

The clamour continued. It was coming from outside, from down towards the village.

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

Frodo leapt from his bed and threw open the window, to receive a blast of frosty air in his face…

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

His door banged open, and he jumped, turning in his startlement to see Bilbo standing there, a candlestick in his hand. "It's the Shirriff's bell," Bilbo said. "It hangs beside the Post Office." His voice was grim as was his expression, and he did not look at all funny standing there in his nightshirt and nightcap with his dressing gown open and its tie dragging the floor behind him. He came to Frodo's window and they peered out again, to see a red glow in the distance.

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

"Fire!" said Frodo.

"Down the Row," said Bilbo.

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

Frodo's eyes, already wide with fear were suddenly filled with sheer panic. "Sam's family!" He turned to look once more at the ruddy light flickering in the nighttime haze.

Bilbo put a hand on his shoulder, as he too looked out. He heaved a sigh and shook his head. "No, not the Gamgees. It's further down. The Rumbles, perhaps."

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

They could see the shadowed silhouettes of hobbits rushing in the direction of the fire. Bilbo turned. "Get dressed Frodo. Get the buckets and let's go."

Frodo nodded. Bilbo turned away to his own room to hurriedly dress.

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

Frodo did not bother with a shirt. He pulled on his breeches and tucked his nightshirt into the waist. He didn't bother with braces either, just grabbed an old jacket and hurried to the kitchen, where he snatched the two large buckets kept there for various household purposes. He heard Bilbo heading to the front hall, and he followed. They didn't even shut the front door. Bilbo took one of the buckets from Frodo and they ran with abandon down the Hill.

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

The Shirrif, Matty Puddifoot, saw them coming and waved a hand to them. Already the bucket brigade was beginning to form, and he directed them into the line, which began at the duck pond on the village green below the Hill and was filling in, leading up to the smial belonging to the Rumbles, who lived two doors down from the Gamgees, at Number 5.

Bilbo was sent downhill, to the part nearest the pond, where many of the older hobbits were. Several hobbits were not in the bucket line, but were being kept back in reserve for when the others flagged. Frodo was placed near the centre among a number of other older tweens, and he had scarcely stepped into the line when a full bucket was thrust in his hands, and he had almost no time after passing the full one up the line when another took its place. Younger tweens and children were running the empty buckets back down the hill as fast as they could go.

Frodo had grown so used to the clangour of the bell, that he almost did not notice when it stopped. But there was a grim silence now. No one talked, and the world had constricted to bucket after bucket. The sky grew darker as the Moon went to his rest, but with all his attention on his task, Frodo had no time to look up at the stars, nor to notice the greying East as dawn approached. Sweat ran down his face in spite of the cold, his fingers were numb, and he was dreadfully thirsty. Suddenly, he felt a hand clasp his shoulder. It was Mistress Salvia, the healer. She pulled him out of the line and someone else took his place. She offered him a dipper of water to drink, and it ran down his parched throat, as he drank in great gulps. He stood back, suddenly aware of how weary he was. His arms and shoulders felt strangely light to be so suddenly relieved of their burden, and yet achingly tired as well. He had a crick in his neck, and he felt slightly sick. Earlier, he had been dimly aware of a feminine shriek, but it had not lasted long. He'd had no time at all to consider what could have happened.

"Mistress Salvia? The Rumbles?" His voice was cracked and hoarse.

"Mrs. Rumble fortunately was not at home when the blaze started. However, it is very likely that her husband has perished in the fire." She spoke very gently and matter-of-factly, but her eyes were filled with unshed tears, and Frodo realized he was not the first person to whom she had broken the news.

He looked up the line. The fire seemed to be out now, though buckets were still being passed just in case some embers yet smouldered. He saw Sam run past him with two empty buckets, and wondered if the lad had been working as long as he had. Some of the wives were coming out with baskets of food and drink for the brigade. Frodo noticed for the first time that a few lasses had also been passing buckets or running the empties.

And then, the signal was passed to stop. Frodo shivered, and thought he should probably have chosen a heavier jacket. He was just wondering where Bilbo was when he felt a familiar arm around his shoulders.

Frodo gratefully leaned into his older cousin's side, and turned to look at him. For the first time since Frodo could remember, Bilbo actually looked old. He was pale and sad and careworn and looked every bit as weary as Frodo felt.

The Shirriff approached them. "Mr. Bilbo, sir?"

Bilbo straightened up. He was, after all, Master of the Hill. "Yes, Shirriff Puddifoot?

"Seems Mr. Rumble fell asleep with his pipe a-burning, Mr. Bilbo. 'Twas good fortune his missus had gone down the Hill to help her niece with the new babe. I don't rightly know as what she'll do now, with him gone."

Bilbo nodded. The Rumbles had never been blessed with children of their own, though they had several devoted nieces and nephews. "She will not be left in want," said Bilbo. He and the Shirriff exchanged a significant look-- Matty well knew that Mr. Baggins took good care of all the folk on Bagshot Row. It would just be a matter of handling things discreetly.

Matty went on, to speak with a few others who lingered. Frodo looked up the Hill, and saw Bell Gamgee, with her arms around the distraught widow, leading her to Number 3. He gave a sad smile to see it. Sam's mother would take good care of her. He felt tears threatening, and he rubbed a grubby arm over his eyes. Bilbo patted him on the back.

"Let's go home." They trudged silently back up the Hill, and went inside Bag End. As they passed over the threshold, Bilbo put a hand out, and patted his front door.

Frodo looked at him, wondering.

Bilbo heaved a sigh. "Just grateful for this old hole, don't you know. Just glad it's still here."

They went into the kitchen, and Bilbo made tea, while Frodo made toast. Though by rights they should have felt starved, neither of them had much appetite. They sipped the tea and nibbled the toast in silence.

Finally, Bilbo spoke. "I'm very proud of you, Frodo. You worked as long and as hard as any of the adults."

Frodo shrugged. "I hope I never have to do that again."

Bilbo nodded. "I know what you mean." He drained the last of his tea. "I think that we might as well go back to bed." He sniffed himself and made a face. "Though perhaps baths would be in order first."

Bilbo bathed first, and Frodo busied himself in tidying up the kitchen. Then when Bilbo came out, the old hobbit went straight to his own bed.

Frodo nearly fell asleep in the bath, but as the water cooled, he gave a shudder, got out, towelled himself off, and putting on a clean nightshirt, crawled into his bed.

Sleep at first eluded him, and then it was broken by strange dreams of fire and ash and cinders shooting through the air in a scarlet sky. He was on a rocky mountainside, surrounded by a barren land, and fire was everywhere. Someone was beside him, and he felt sorrow that they both had to die, but the dream slipped away before he could turn to see his companion…

When he finally woke, he checked on Bilbo, and was relieved to see that he was still sleeping peacefully. Frodo went into the kitchen, cut himself some bread and cheese and made another pot of tea. To distract himself, he mentally composed a letter to Merry, as he tried to remember the lovely dream he'd been having before the fire. If he had Merry with him, he'd have made a story of that dream…

In the days to come, Widow Rumble stayed with the Gamgees until her hole had been rebuilt. Her husband's funeral had been solemn and brief, and Frodo hated every moment of it, though he showed a stoic face as he stood by Bilbo's side. He was, after all, heir to the Master of the Hill, and he had responsibilities. Bilbo gave him a nod, to let him know he understood, and was proud.

The new Number 5 was ready for the Widow to move into shortly before the Bagginses had to leave for Buckland for Yule. Sam and Marigold Gamgee had enlisted Frodo's help in a conspiracy to present her with the gift of a kitten, "So as you won't be lonesome, missus," Sam had said shyly.

The Widow had been quite touched by this, and the cat became a much beloved and constant companion. The years came and went, and it was not until many years later, and many leagues to the South, that Frodo remembered his second dream.




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