West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive



Twisting the Knife
Rosie kept a dark secret and has a confession to make. Can she and Frodo help each other?
Author: Trust No One
Rating: R
Category: Canon-Angst/Drama


A/N: Thanks to my beta, she who would not be named, who encouraged me, because I was really not so sure about this one.


"Even you face the night - afraid and alone."


When he opened his eyes, Frodo knew immediately that he had not felt so invigorated since his return home from the Quest. To him, it was a longed-for, if unusual, sensation. He had grown accustomed to waking up and wishing it were still dark, pretending that he didn't have to get up to face another day. Or trying to ignore the aches and pains that manifested themselves more often now since the unnatural youth preserved by the Ring was gone.

It was the eighteenth of March and merely a few days ago, he was begging for a quick and painless death, imagining, in his delirium, that he was back in the tower of Cirith Ungol.

But today, to his downright amazement, Frodo found that he desired to jump from bed and throw himself into any sort of activity that involved the use of muscles. Elated, Frodo heeded the impulse and leapt out of bed, all the more surprised when the bedroom failed to start spinning out of control. He threw the window open and inhaled the unmistakable scent of the Shire as if it were the first time he had done so in ages. Spring was early this year, he noted. The brisk March air invaded his lungs, the potency of a single breath sending tingles all the way to his toes, flooding him with a contentment he had thought long forgotten.

Definitely no writing today, he decided.

The smell of fresh toast, bacon and eggs wafted temptingly from the kitchen as he padded down the hall.

Frodo cursed silently. He realized that it was late enough and that most likely Rosie had already finished cooking breakfast. She had always been an early riser, and had become even more so with the pregnancy. She was getting heavier it seemed every day, and sleeping was uncomfortable, with the birth a fortnight away at the most. Sam had been called away yet again on his forestry work, though he had promised to be back in less than a week. And naturally, in his absence, Frodo assumed a watchful eye over Rosie. Not to say that the lass wasn't capable of taking care of herself and then some. She administered Bag End with an iron fist and

Frodo could not remember a time when the household had run smoother.
When he entered the kitchen, Rosie was standing by the stove, kneading the small of her back with her knuckles. She often did that nowadays. Standing, even for short spells of time, tired her and Frodo suppressed the urge to rush to her and make her sit down, take a cup of tea and let him finish cooking the breakfast. But he knew that she would only brush him away and tell him that it did her good to do things around the house and that he already had enough to worry about without having to add housework to it.

So Frodo had learned how to gently coax her into letting him help without too much fuss. She reacted extremely well to Frodo's care and smiles and it worked like a charm. It was the only way he could make her believe that he was perfectly able - and willing - to help around the house. And in any case, Rosie had been too tired to argue much lately and Frodo had often seen unconcealed appreciation in her grateful look. He estimated less than five minutes' chatter and amiable smiles before she would be persuaded to sit at the table while he served her breakfast. Clearing up and washing the dishes would take a little more work while they ate, but it was attainable. And after all, he had taken the Ring all the way to Mount Doom and bending his will against Rosie's, in spite of being quite a daunting task in itself, was not quite the same feat.

Secretly, he enjoyed these little moments of domesticity and he found himself contemplating how things would have played out if he'd never had to go away on the Quest. He guessed he would have probably been sitting at his table, taking his breakfast alone, still very much the bachelor. But other times, when he observed Sam and Rosie's quiet, comfortable bliss, he could not help but wonder how it would feel to be so loved, so... complete.

'Good morning, Rose,' he said lightly, wading to the kettle and casually pouring himself a cup of tea, 'would you like to have some tea with me?' He waved the kettle expectantly.

But Rosie did no turn towards him and her answer was a mangled 'No, later,' and her tone was exhausted and oddly plaintive. Frodo dropped the act immediately and a cold panic spread inside him. Stars, he was all alone with her, and if she went into labour,... and Sam wasn't here...what on Middle-Earth was he to do? In his anxiety, he had even forgotten where he would find the midwife. In a split second, his mind tumbled over itself with possibilities.

'Is it the babe, Rosie?' he found himself asking in a small voice and was immediately mortified by his spineless reaction. 'I noticed you rubbing your back,' he explained somewhat apologetically but he somehow felt that he had made it even worse.

'No,' came the curt answer.

Obstinately, Rosie continued to face the wall. But before long, her head dropped to her chest and her shoulders started shaking. Still she would not turn around and Frodo knew she was crying, in spite of the fact that she was making no sound.

'Rosie?' he called softly.

Concerned and at a loss for words, Frodo stood in the middle of the kitchen for a few moments, the kettle still in his hand. He came to himself moments later and, replacing the kettle, he took a few hesitant steps towards Rosie.

'Come on, Rose, let's sit you down,' he said soothingly, trying not to sound overprotective and hoping that she would comply. The truth was that, after the slight moments of panic, he felt considerably more relieved and ready to deal with whatever was upsetting Rosie - or so he thought. He had observed her reactions during her pregnancy and he had learned from the midwife who visited regularly that lasses in Rosie's situation often got emotional and tearful for no good reason. Sam had even got the brunt of some of her less than stellar moments more than a few times. If only Frodo could remember what Sam used to say to appease her, but unfortunately, he had never really paid attention. Or rather thought that paying attention would be prying.

So when Rosie's shoulders continued to quiver silently and she gave no sign that she had heard him, Frodo determined that he needed to take more decisive action. He grasped her gently around the shoulders and, without meeting much resistance, he turned her around and managed to lead her away from the stove, which by now was stinking up the kitchen with the odour of charred bacon.

Frodo pulled the pan easily out of harm's way and set it down hastily on a wooden cutting board next to the sink, then returned to Rosie. He spooned two sugars in the tea he had poured for himself and offered it to Rosie, who curled her fingers around it numbly. Her eyes searched the ground and she seemed highly disturbed. It was obvious now that she had been up most of the night. Her eyelids were puffy and the glow that she had enjoyed for most of her pregnancy had given way to a greyish hue.

'Don't worry yourself, Rose,' Frodo blurted the first words he could think of as he sat in the chair next to Rosie, 'Sam should be back any day now.'

For the first time, Rosie seemed to acknowledge Frodo because she shook her head powerfully.

'It isn't Sam,' she said hoarsely, 'and it isn't the babe either. It's got naught to do with none of them...'

She lifted her head and Frodo saw her eyes were dry. What kind of misery would drive her to cry without tears?

Rosie's eyes, always so clear and warm, were now darkened and bloodshot and Frodo saw there a flicker that he had never seen before. Something lay buried there: a terrible, shameful secret bubbling like puss out of a long-festering wound.

Frodo said nothing but his heart twisted a little. Rosie had seen her share of darkness when the villains overran the Shire, but she had always been staunch-hearted and practical, wise beyond her years. She had always seemed to Frodo to be the kind who understood only too well that dwelling on the past was of no use, a brand of wisdom that he himself wished he possessed.

And to see a shadow of suppressed woe in her eyes was more than disquieting. It chilled him to the marrow.

'Do you want to talk about it?' he asked softly, wondering if indeed he wanted to know.

Immediately, Rosie's eyes left his face and she seemed to become very interested in studying the tiled floor.

Frodo caught himself and he felt his cheeks burn. What would she say to him? She still regarded him as her employer, in spite of having agreed - after much reluctance and persuasion - to drop the 'mister'.

'Forgive me, Rose,' he said repentantly, 'I have no right to ask.'

'No, don't say that,' Rosie countered. 'I'm glad it's you that's here. I don't want Sam seeing me like this.'

'What do you mean?' Frodo tried to hide the edge of foreboding in his voice with little success.

'I mean that you'd understand. You know what it means. '

Frodo's mouth suddenly went very dry and his whole world narrowed to the single image of Rosie's face, which had become a mask of pain and dark remembrance. But a force had been unleashed within her and she began to speak in an urgent, half-hushed tone, as if she expected someone to walk in the door any minute.

'Two years ago in the spring, while you and Sam were still away, I was still working at the Green Dragon. I thought it better, in a way, you know - keeping busy. Kept me from worrying myself sick over what had become of you two.

Times were turning bad, what with the ruffians taking over more and more. At every turn there was a curfew here, a new law there. Less and less regular customers came to the inn. And in their stead, other kinds of customers started coming. Mostly strangers, mostly Men, all of them armed, in unashamed contempt of the law. Some rowdy, but not like rowdy customers go. I knew how to deal with those well enough. These ones were the kind that would try to grab at me and the other girls and would whisper filthy words in our ears. Some others had darting eyes and were quiet and boding evil. Those were even more threatening. Because if one looked at them close enough, one could almost see that they were here with purpose to destroy and enslave.

No one was all that surprised to see that Lotho and his henchmen taking charge. Lotho talked and acted like he owned the place. More often than not, they'd refuse to pay for their food and drink, claiming that it was their right, and Lotho was the root of many a brawl that broke out at the inn. None were too saddened to see him put in his place once or twice. But word got around afterward that those responsible had been taken to the Lockholes and left to rot there.

Slowly, we were growing more afraid, but no one would talk about it in the open. It was like we all knew what was happening, but we were too frightened to do something about it. The innkeeper was worried; scores of customers refused to pay for drinks and food, fights broke out every other night and his trade suffered because of it. Often enough, there were threats of burning down the inn.

'Rosie lass,' he told me one day, 'I don't know what to do anymore. There's talk of all the inns being closed, the one over in Frogmorton's already been closed As for you and the other serving girls, it isn't safe anymore. I'd hate for something to happen to any of you. Besides, business is getting worse by the day-'

I understood what he was trying to say to me but I couldn't see it any different way than he did. We agreed then that I would be working till the end of that month and then he would send word if he needed me or I would return after things had quietened down a bit. My Ma and Da didn't care if I brought home no pay as long as I was out of harm's way. My brothers Nick and Jolly, took turns walking me to and from the inn, it was so bad. I was afraid to walk alone even to the market. There had been enough stories of hobbit-lasses who'd been attacked by strangers in broad daylight.

Lotho was calling himself Chief now and all those who dared talk against him disappeared. Word had it that they were taken to the Lockholes, but other tales said that they'd been killed. No one ever saw them again until after your return.

Lotho picked on me whenever he had the chance. Often enough, when the inn wasn't busy, I'd sit with a book behind the counter, or I'd study the inn ledgers. Sam had told me before he left: 'Read, lass. Learn as much as you can. Open your eyes to the outside world. Look at Mr. Frodo, how learned he is.' And for trying to learn, Lotho sneered at me. Here and there at first, snatching my book from under my eyes, then openly mocking me in front of his friends.

'Look at Rosie Cotton, lads. She's reading books, learning about ledgers. Wants to be mistress around here, she does.'

I had a few sharp words of my own for him, but he cut me off,

'Why would you want to become so learned, Rosie Cotton? Scared that you'll not find a husband now that Sam Gamgee is gone? Or maybe trying to get into my cracked cousin's pants? Of course, more money than Gamgee and what would a girl like you not do to marry someone of Baggins' wealth? Oops, I forgot, he's gone too! And you're all alone, poor thing.'

'I ain't alone,' I told him as sharply as I could, hoping that he didn't see how unsure I felt, 'I've my family and my brothers who can still beat sense into you, Chief or not. And Sam and Mr Frodo'll be back before you know it. And don't go being so interested in what I do, Lotho Sackville,' I said. I couldn't rightly call him 'Baggins', the words choked in my throat, 'Besides, I didn't know you could tell how a ledger looks like, let alone a book...'

The hateful look that Lotho shot me I can't describe nor will I repeat the words he said to me. But I knew he wasn't finished with his venom. I'd made him the laughing stock of his mates and for that he didn't forgive me.

I thought he'd have me locked up for my cheek, but instead, he said calmly, 'Take care how you speak to the Chief, lass' and his tone was all the more terrifying for being so quiet, 'because, one of these days, Rosie, you will be alone. And I'll be watching....'

I knew a threat when I heard one, so I wasn't entirely too upset for having to leave my work at the Green Dragon. The next morning, I went to the inn to collect whatever pay was due to me but when I got there, I found the place deserted... Not one soul in the yard. It felt creepy, like a place haunted by ghosts. It was supposed to be a place of merriment yet the feeling I couldn't shake was that I was in a graveyard.

Jolly was with me and I could tell that he had the same feeling. Then I picked up a waft of burning hay. Jolly looked to me and we both knew at the same time: the villains had set the inn on fire. The threats had become true.

We looked through the windows to see if there were signs of fire on the inside but there were none. So Jolly bade me to sit tight and he ran around the back to see if the innkeeper was there and if he was hurt or worse.

Only I wouldn't sit tight and I decided to go inside. I pushed the door open only to see what they'd done. Every table and chair had been upturned; every mug and plate seemed to have been smashed to pieces. I stood in the middle of that room and couldn't believe that my countrymen had done that. Such hatred and recklessness - that was not in our blood.

At that moment, I hated the Men and every vile thing they'd brought with them, more than anything.

Next I heard one of the kitchen windows smashing and I could swear there was a cry too. I ran to the back, knowing that Jolly had gone round and fearing that he'd been hurt. But there was no one there and through the open back door, I saw the fire. The hay in the stables was alight and by the looks of it, it would not take long until the fire reached the closest outbuilding and the inn. I half expected to hear the stabled animals shrieking in terror, when I heard the front door slam shut and I turned around only to face Lotho and three of his henchmen.

They stood there, smirking and silent, blocking my only way out. I knew then that I was trapped. But I couldn't fathom why it was so important for Lotho to scare me half to death.

'What've you done, you villains?' I cried. Never before had I felt so desperate or angry. 'Where's Jolly? Where's the innkeeper?'

But they just kept staring at me and what I saw in their eyes made me want to bolt and run. Instead I stumbled backwards to the kitchen. I got there in time to see that the fire had broken more of the back windows and was spreading slowly inside. The curtains were burning now and a jar of oil caught alight and the glass blasted apart, sending little fireballs everywhere. There were no ways I could lock myself in there if I wanted to stay alive. But I didn't have time to think whether I wanted to burn alive rather than go back to where they waited for me, because Lotho himself crossed the main room and grabbed me by the hair, dragging me out of there and kicking the kitchen door shut.

'Please,' I tried to reason with him while panic grew in me, and not bothering to disguise it, 'you're hurting me. Please, let go of me.'

But he wouldn't let go. Instead he caught hold of my arm and twisted it behind my back, laughing when I cried out.

'Am I hurting you?' he sneered in my ear, all the while coiling his hand around my hair in an even tighter grip, 'You're wrong, Rosie. I haven't hurt you. Not yet.'

My knees turned to water but in my mind, the worry for Jolly was stronger.

'Where's Jolly? Please, is he hurt? Have you hurt him?' I looked at all of them and met nothing but mocking, hungry stares. I understood that they weren't going to tell me, and that no matter what I said, they enjoyed watching me in torment, not knowing what had become of my brother. I started kicking and shouting for help, knowing full well that no one would hear and that I was at the mercy of those villains. Lotho beckoned to one of them, who backhanded me hard across the face. I must have been scared witless because I kicked blindly and caught him in the groin. I heard him howl and saw the other one's fist closing in on my face. At the same instant, Lotho hurled me away, shrieking.

'No, you idiot! Don't hit her. Not yet anyway.' Lotho's face was close to mine, and his breath was laboured and hot and his grip on me tightened even more. 'Not until I've had some fun with her...'

The injured one roared, 'Bitch!', still writhing on the floor in pain.
Lotho pushed me forward, sending me right into the arms of his henchman.

'Hold her down if you have to', he barked.

He ripped my bodice open and there must have been some remains of defiance in me because I spat at him square in the face. He clenched my cheeks in a vise-like grip.

'Don't you dare, Rosie Cotton, or I swear I'll have your brother's throat slit.'

Those words were enough to cow me into submission.

'Nobody will want you when I'm finished with you, Rosie', he breathed in my ear and I smelled the ale on his sour breath. 'Not that fool Gamgee, not even my cracked cousin, not even....' ,

Rosie stopped abruptly in mid-sentence and Frodo imagined that she had gotten to the part of the story that was hardest to tell. Privately, he wished he didn't have to hear it, for it made him angry and all the more disgusted at his own race who, like most everyone else in Middle-Earth firmly believed, had consisted of peace-loving, gentle creatures. But he knew that if Rosie chose to end her story here, she would never bring herself to tell it again and she would be haunted by the memory to the end of her days.

'You can tell me, Rosie,' he said gently, searching her eyes and hoping that instinctively, she understood that she could trust him and that it was for her own good. 'It's all right, you can tell me' he repeated, even softer this time, watching with mounting worry the tears beading in the corners of her eyes.

She shook her head. 'I don't know if I can say anymore, Mr. Frodo.'

'How can you hope to get over this if you stop here?' Frodo asked before he even had time to regret his words. 'Whatever it is, it needs to come out,' he continued with some intensity.

Rosie nodded dumbly, but remained silent. Frodo realized that the moment was slipping away and whatever she was about to say was worming its way back into the secreted parts of her mind where it would remain buried possibly for the rest of her life. In desperation, Frodo understood that he had to do something quickly.

'Feel this,' taking both her hands in his, Frodo placed them on her swollen belly, 'Do you want this life within you to be poisoned by this secret? Do you want your future to be spoiled by something that you know is in the past but that you can just not let go? I should know, I've been there and I still am. So in the name of all that's dear to you, Rosie, out with it!'

Flushed, Frodo stopped, wondering if perhaps he had not done more damage than good with his outburst. Rosie was staring at him without a word, her bloodshot eyes round and afraid.

'Help me, Frodo,' she managed, and it seemed to him that the weight of the Ring had been placed upon his shoulders anew. But he steeled himself for the words ahead.

'You have to say it yourself, if it is to be of any help.'

Rosie tilted her head, and her glance dropped to her hands, still resting on her belly, covered by Frodo's. When she spoke, her voice was barely above a whisper and her eyes remained downcast.

'He meant to force himself on me, Frodo. He tried very hard. But...' she exhaled through her nose, almost as if she wanted to laugh at the memory.
She lifted her gaze and looked levelly at Frodo.

'He couldn't. The more he tried, the more he couldn't do it,' her voice acquired a clear, though somewhat shrill edge and Frodo knew instantly that there was more to the story than he had initially believed.

'The more he couldn't, the angrier he got at me. He kept yelling at me, saying that this was all my fault. He slapped me around a few times, calling me names and then, he pushed me to my knees and made me do things to him - to arouse him - in front of his friends, just so as to prove himself capable. But he still couldn't. While his friends kept hooting and cheering in the beginning, now they had all fallen silent and it maddened Lotho even more. To be made a fool in front of his peers, in my presence, for a second time in a short while, was just too much.'

Eventually, one of them got tired of waiting.

'Hey chief, let us have a turn,' he said. 'Then you can try again.'

That's when he turned against them.

'Get out of here!' he roared.

There was neither pity nor respect in their eyes as they took their time filing out of the main room. The fire had not spread further than the kitchen yet and immediately I began to look for ways to escape Lotho's grip. He must have felt me try to wrench away, because he grabbed me by the hair and brought me up from where I was kneeling and slapped me harder than any other time.

'Where do you think you're going, bitch?' he growled, his eyes mad with rage and his spittle spraying my face. 'So you can tell everyone what a fool Lotho's made of himself?'

I understood then that in his madness, he meant to kill me, if only for his secret to be safe. I reckoned that I would tell him anything to keep him happy and get a chance to escape.

So I begged, 'Lotho, you're not yourself. You're a good hobbit, you just had too much to drink is all.'

But he wouldn't stop. He wound both hands around my throat and started to squeeze. In panic and gasping for air, I stumbled to the floor, and he straddled me, but he wouldn't stop. I felt my eyes bulging and I felt more and more light-headed when all of a sudden his grip loosened and, in a daze, I felt someone pulling me up from the floor. It was Jolly. He looked terrible, with blood dripping from his forehead and nose. Later I learned that he'd sneaked behind Lotho and hit him with a tray that lay discarded on the floor. His henchmen had abandoned him and that had probably been our good fortune.

Jolly helped me out and then, with a disgusted look, he went back inside. I knew what he meant to do. Shortly, he appeared carrying Lotho over one shoulder. He was none too gentle when he dropped him to the ground, like a sack of potatoes. I heard the sickening noise, being still a little dazed from the near-suffocation, but I was glad at the treatment he got.

'I should have left the scum to burn in there!' Jolly spat on Lotho's body like it were vermin.

I know that without him I would be dead now. He didn't tell anyone what happened that day, but only after I argued with him for a long time. Ma and Da were harder to sway though, seen as we had a few cuts and bruises to explain, but we made up a story about how we tried to save the horses from the fire and got injured in the process, but I'm sure they didn't believe all of it. I covered up the bruises on my neck for the next few days with rice powder mixed with ointment and I took care not to make sudden moves that would give away how bad the bruising really was. But all in all, my parents were only too happy to have me home.

After rushing through the story, Rosie was exhausted, but the breath she let out sounded a lot like relief to Frodo. He hoped it wasn't just his desire to interpret it that way. Their heads were very close together and he was kneading her hands soothingly, without either of them being entirely aware of it. Frodo knew that the tension was eased when she became aware of her hands, because she removed them almost instantly and she flushed an almost healthy shade of pink, appearing embarrassed by
their closeness, or her confession - or both.

'Now that I've said something, I expect I'll be feeling a bit better about it,' she said matter-of-factly.

'I'm sure you will,' Frodo said emphatically. He hoped that, having faced her demons, Rosie would be able to look to the future without feeling threatened by the past.

'One thing I need to ask you though,' she said and her expression turned serious again. 'There's no need for my Sam to know about any of this.'

Her voice was resolute and her expression gradually became less bleary and forlorn. Her eyes were still red and bore the traces of great suffering but the shadow that Frodo had glimpsed was gone. Forever - Frodo hoped.

'Because, sometimes, when I think about it, I almost believe that somehow, I brought it onto myself,' Rosie sniffed, but her voice had also toned it's unstable waver, 'what with me arguing with Lotho and making him look a fool in his friends' company. It would look as if I were egging him on, though Sam wouldn't see it that way. And it would hurt him, to know about it and to know what I'm thinking sometimes.'

'But surely, Rosie, you must know that it wasn't your fault!' Frodo protested.

Rosie sighed.

'I kept telling myself that, but it sure feels good to hear someone else say it,' she said and for the first time, her lips curled faintly in semblance of a smile. 'Jolly said so too, after it happened, but I was too raw to listen properly. Afterwards, we kind of struck an unspoken bargain not to bring it up anymore. I reckoned that if I didn't think or talk about it, it would just go away. Only it didn't - neither the thought, nor the dreams that were spawned from it. I hurt and I wanted to tell someone. It's just that I know what it would've done to my Ma if she'd found out. I knew it'd happened to some of the lasses, in those dark times when the villains roamed free, but none wanted to talk about it. And so I began to think that maybe Lotho had been right and no one would want me if they knew. So I buried the secret and hoped that buried it would stay.'

A moment of silence fell between them and Frodo allowed his focus to shift from Rosie. He was raw and angered at the horrors that had happened while they were away and once more, he understood that the Ring had not needed to be anywhere near the Shire to breed Its evil. He was all too knowledgeable about the way in which the Ring worked and returning to the Shire had proved to be his final and worst nightmare come true. The Ring's ultimate punishment.

To see the devastation that was wreaked on his homeland and worse - to see the way his countrymen's spirit had been twisted and poisoned - had been the last stroke. The evil that the Ring had planted by sitting forgotten on the Bag End mantelpiece had needed but a spark to ignite into the flames that had brought ruin to the dying paradise that Frodo had found upon his return. But maybe the most painful revelation of them all had been the fact that Lotho, one of Frodo's own kin, had been tainted enough to try to commit such an act of final depravation upon another hobbit.

Rosie's gentle voice removed Frodo from his trance.

'I'm sorry,' she said softly 'It must have been hard for you to listen.'

Frodo shook his head.

'Don't you ever say that, Rose Gamgee.'

Tenderly, he brushed her cheek with his thumb, wiping a stray tear away. 'I am privileged that you entrusted this to me.'

He meant every word. And somewhere inside, he wished that he could do the same: talk about things in order to succeed in the near-impossible task of letting them fall away.

'No,' Rosie continued, her eyes softening with something Frodo realized was both gratitude and pity, 'I meant that it must have been hard to listen to my story and all along know how it feels to have that happen to you.'

Frodo flinched visibly.

'Rose...' he warned, but his voice broke. He plunged into the void, losing his foothold, clutching blindly at slippery walls. He tried to speak again, but failed, the emptiness clawing at his mind.

'Rosie, no!' was all he could muster eventually.

'Why not, Frodo?' she said, her voice gently probing and Frodo realized that she was trying to return the favour. But didn't she realize that she simply couldn't do that? That re-opening the wounds would do no good except send him back to his waking nightmare? That it was beyond his power to allow it?

'How did you know?' his voice was hoarse and very much not his own.

'When you were sick a few days ago' she explained. 'You'd sat up in bed and were looking right through me, like I weren't even there. You'd pulled your whole body in a tight ball and you were crying out 'Stay away from me! Please! Don't touch me!' over and over. And no matter how many times I tried to comfort you or even make you see that it were me and not some foul creature, it did no good. I'd never seen you like that and I couldn't think of anything to ease your pain. I'd seen you last time you had a turn, in October, but this was different, and I wished Sam were here - he'd know what to do.'

'Then I remembered what Sam had told me about finding you in that tower, after those foul orcs had taken you captive. He said they'd stripped and beaten you and that you were a pitiful sight, but no more. I saw the wrath burn in his eyes every time he spoke about it and so I didn't ask more questions. But now I know.'

'I was hoping to spare Sam the sight and the knowledge,' Frodo said bitterly, not raising his eyes to meet Rosie's.

He took a deep breath.

'I don't have a clear memory of what happened to me in that tower, Rosie,' he continued, levelly, as if he were telling a bed-time story, 'and maybe it is for the best. But in the aftermath, well, the pain, the fragments of what I did remember left me with little doubts about what went on. The only regret I harbour is that I couldn't keep it from Sam, who found me in the state I was.'

'Forgive me, Frodo, but how do you think that keeping it from Sam would have helped either of you?'

'It would have helped me, Rosie. You must know, those were desperate days for us and, in my clouded mind, already enslaved by the Ring, Sam was the one light that kept my eyes still open and my feet firmly planted on the road. I needed to believe that if Sam could be untouched by anything that had been done to me, by the Ring, or the Orcs, then maybe we could make it as far as the mountain of Fire. You see, Rosie, I was selfish. I'd already realized that it would be impossible for me to complete the Quest alone. So I needed Sam to be my eyes, my ears and, towards the end, my legs. But how could he be all that if his mind crumbled with worry? Already he had a lot to worry about and adding to that would have been enough to break him. I couldn't let that happen, although I cared less and less as we neared the end.

'I wanted to keep Sam unscathed just as much as, after the Quest was completed, I wanted to believe that the Shire was the one haven on Middle-Earth that I could return to and find unchanged. But I was wrong: the Shire was very much touched by the evil that brewed in every corner of Middle-Earth. And Sam... well, I would be a fool to believe that he wasn't affected. I know he still has nightmares about the Quest. I know what it did to him to see what had become of the beautiful gardens of the Shire and the freshest green that one can find in this world.'

'But, Frodo,' Rosie said slowly but with conviction, 'Sam's helping to re-build all that and no one is prouder or more grateful for it. We are going to have it all back, the way it was. There are wounds, yes, but in time they will close. The earth will heal itself, and, the Shire will flourish more beautiful than ever. Sam said there's no doubt about it. And if I have anything to do with it, Sam will heal as well.'
Solemnly, Frodo kissed Rosie's fingers.

'You do that, Rosie' he said, gently laying her hand on her swollen belly. 'You do that.'

Frodo felt drained and wondered if, retiring to his study for the rest of the day to write wasn't after all the better choice. But first there was something he needed to do. With seeming renewed energy, Frodo pivoted around and grabbed the pan containing the charred remains of the ill-fated breakfast.

'Your tea has grown cold and as for the food...' he waved dismissively towards the unfortunate remains. He put on what he considered to be one of his Rosie-disarming smiles.

'How about some second breakfast?'



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