Title: The Most Timid Hobbit
Summary: What happened to Fatty Bolger in the days before the Black Riders attacked Crickhollow after the other hobbits went into the Old Forest?
Word Count: 2382
“There is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit, waiting for some final and desperate danger to make it grow.” - Fog on the Barrow-downs
Fatty Bolger watched his friends disappear into the darkness that was the Old Forest. He shivered, glad he was staying outside, though he wondered whether he should not return to Crickhollow, straightaway but stay close by, just in case they needed him, as he was sure they would. He did stay nearly an hour, growing increasingly fidgety all the while because he felt he was being watched and he didn’t like it. He strained his eyes and ears and even took a couple timid, tentative steps inside the tunnel. No sound but the wind in the trees and what he could almost swear were voices, but not hobbit voices. What did the Black Riders sound like, he wondered as his heart began to beat quicker. He shivered. He stepped slowly backwards and nearly tumbled over a root that he knew very well had not been there a moment before. He thought he heard a soft laugh, but did not stay to find out. He ran as fast he could, leaving his pony behind to catch up.
He felt much better after he reached the safe haven of Crickhollow and had the door shut behind him. He wiped his sweaty face and refreshed himself with a long draw of beer from the well-stocked larder. His breath calmed and he settled on finding something for second breakfast, which he ate heartily since Merry had insisted on waking them so early and barely gave him anytime to enjoy first breakfast.
“It’s just nearly time for a proper first breakfast anyhow,” Fatty said to himself and reached for another piece of toast liberally slathered with butter and jelly. “Perhaps I should just then consider this that and do second breakfast later. No need to throw the whole day out of joint just because they had to get off so early.”
Saying such turned his thoughts back to his friends. How in the world would he rescue them when they needed it, for he was still quite convinced all the old stories he had heard were quite true, and the four hobbits he had just left behind were in the thick of it. He thought about going back to check and had almost convinced himself of it, strengthened by his full belly and loyalty to his friends, but a strange sound outside, far away, but amplified by his imagination into who knows what, made him think twice. He shivered. What in the Four Farthings had Frodo gotten himself mixed up in now? If only Bilbo hadn’t had that strange adventure...
“That’s how it all started,” Freddy muttered to himself, thinking of all the five of them had talked about before retiring. Rings...Black Riders...Mordor.... Little of it made any sense to him, but he admired their stout hearts for all the danger they could encounter, yet were stepping right toward it without any of their own fears stopping them. “Not for me, though,” he said as he finished off the last bit of toast and settled in for a bit of a nap to make up for his early awakening.
His stomach growling was what woke him a couple hours later and he glanced at the time. “Dear me, half past eleven already! Now should I have elevenses late or lunch early? Or both?” He settled on the last choice as he rose from the couch, reasoning, “It would be a pity for any of the food to spoil, for Merry hadn’t expected such an early departure for all his conspiring and planning.”
After a full lunch, the hobbit decided he had better start playing the part he had been left behind to do. He changed into some of Frodo’s old clothes and ambled out the door. The day was bright and crisp and the sound of birds filled the air. He inhaled the fresh air and exhaled deeply and contentedly. All was right with the world and the fright of the morning had passed away so completely that not even the cobwebs of a strange dream he had were left. He grabbed Frodo’s walking stick to complete his costume and walked as briskly as he could in imitation of his friend.
He looked toward the way to the entrance to the Old Forest and thought again of checking up on his friends. They were be far in now, if they hadn’t gotten tangled up on some tree roots or captured by some bogey that preyed on the unwary. He shivered again. Would they even be able to cry for help and would he be able to hear them? And what then? What could he do...against....against... Another shiver and his hand tightened around his stick. His. He was already calling it his. Had he abandoned his friends to torment and death all ready? He hoped they would be able to escape on their own and then he would happily bind their wounds and take after them for daring to go into that horrid forest, against all possible sense.
He gathered all up all the courage he could muster and stood at the entrance of the tunnel once more, straining all his senses. No sound. He shrugged and turned back, just as some trailer brushed against his cheek and he startled backwards. He wasn’t going to come here again. There was nothing he could do but hope they would come to their senses or to no harm.
He hurried back to the house and fortified himself with several sweetcakes to go with his afternoon tea and then busied himself around the house until the evening when he went out for a smoke. So far the ruse had worked and no one had thought Frodo wasn’t at home.
“Be well, Frodo,” he said aloud, raising his pipe in salute. “And be safe, doing whatever you are doing. Still don’t quite understand it all.”
He stayed out until the stars came overhead, remembering how the five of them had stayed up late the night before and had taken time to admire all the lights in the night sky. Frodo was smarter than any of them when it came to all the names of them, for he knew all the hobbit names and all the Elven ones, and Sam had stared up in wonder, mouthing the Elven names. Those didn’t make any sense to Fatty, but he knew the stout gardener loved Mr. Bilbo’s tales. Frodo had stayed out quite late, Sam never moving from his side.
“Are you ready, Sam?” Freddy had heard Frodo ask his servant, looking at him pointedly and seeing Sam look unflinchingly back.
“Yes, Mr. Frodo, sir. The stars will protect us, I’m thinking, being Elvish and all. We can’t go nowhere where they ain’t, now can we?”
Frodo had smiled softly then, cheered by his Sam’s buoyant optimism and hope. It helped push back the fears and shadows that gathered close around his heart. “No, Sam, we cannot.” He took a deep breath and exhaled in an effort to drive his fears even further away. “No, we cannot,” he repeated in a softer tone and then retired inside for the night, his servant close behind.
The next morning came and Freddy was half-surprised that he was alone in the house. He had almost expected the four of them to have returned, bruised and scratched and with breeches and tunics that needed mending from all the bogeys that had tried to grab them. They’d be jabbering about all the horrors they had endured and barely escaped from and how very right Fatty had been to warn them against going on and how they were going to listen to him this time and take another road all together. But they weren’t there. They had gone off on their dangerous adventure and were likely miles away now, if they had made it through the Forest at all, which Freddy still doubted was possible. But then there were the four of them together and maybe they could fight out whatever was out to get them. He continued to be thankful that he was the one left behind as he buttered his toast for another large breakfast. A very faint cry came again through the open window and he wondered about the queerness of it. He got up and closed the window and didn’t hear the sound again.
The day passed pleasantly and almost the same as before, but Freddy didn’t go near the tunnel entrance again. His friends wouldn’t be returning now, he thought. They had either made it through or they had been captured. He wished he knew one way or the other. He wished Gandalf would come. He didn’t quite understand why Sam had taken such comfort in the stars, but Freddy sought them that night again anyhow. He wasn’t one to hold with stories of Elves and had no desire to meet them, though he was sure Sam would have talked his ear off about them if the gardener had not thought it was outside his place to do so.
The next day was almost as agreeable as the one before, but Freddy was getting restless. The air wasn’t quite right to his thinking and that queer voice on the wind was getting closer. He still ventured out but not nearly as far. He stood for a long time in the garden that Sam had given a longing glance to the morning they had left, as though he had wished he truly was just coming here to look after his master and that little plot. Frodo had seen that glance and shared it, giving himself and his gardener time, then he had softly and sadly called, “Come along, Sam. We must away.”
Freddy had watched them share a sympathetic glance that said a lot without any words and then Frodo had turned away from gardener and garden and rode away with the others behind them.
Now standing in the garden alone, Fatty wished for company. The illusion that Frodo was there was holding. One of the Brandybucks had even hailed from him afar as Frodo and Freddy had raised his arm in friendly reply, but the hobbit was beginning to wonder if Pippin’s words about not wanting to be there when there were Black Riders about were more true than Freddy had originally thought. What in the Shire could he do if they came? His skin began to tingle just a bit and that night the stars didn’t offer the same solace as before. Instead, the dark pressed upon him and he sought his bed early, surrounded by many lit lamps and even daring to sleep with them still lit, though only fitfully, until the dawn, when he snuffed out the lights and abandoned himself to deep sleep at last, sleeping even past first breakfast.
The next day passed in a very queer, almost breathless fashion. Gandalf had still not come and Freddy’s skin was beginning to crawl. There was anticipation in the air that was thickening to the point that the hobbit had to take deep, slow breaths in order to breathe at all. He ate only half of what he had the other days and he only made it as far as the garden before he had turned back in. He almost wished he had gone with his friends now and then horrified, hurried that thought away. “Now, it can’t be that bad, whatever is happening, not nearly that bad,” he told himself over and over, quiet like, so he wouldn’t be overheard, though he was very careful to have all the windows and doors closed and locked and bolted. He had pushed a chest against the front door and a sturdy chair against the back that he could still easily move from his side of the door if he had to escape that way. His imagination began to fill with the idea of the Black Riders and he remembered Frodo saying they were sniffing around for him. “He’s not here,” Freddy said almost breathlessly, worried now that his disguise had worked all too well and the Black Riders were coming right for him. “But he’s not here, he’s gone away, he’s not here,” he said over and over again. He collapsed on the couch in the parlor in a state of anxiety and exhaustion and woke in the middle of the night, thinking he heard sniffing, but there was silence. Why hadn’t Gandalf come?!
He paced around the house most fretfully, feeling the air rent with such brooding threat he wanted to yell out, “He’s not here!” But not a sound came out of his mouth or anywhere else. There was no wind, no bird call, even the sunlight seemed pale and remote. He wrung his hands as his timid heart began to quail within him. He most definitely was not going to sleep tonight. He could barely bring himself to eat, though he did manage somehow. “Something’s happening, something’s happening,” he kept murmuring to himself, checking and double checking all the locks on the doors and windows and gulping in his breaths. He felt rather lightheaded and tried to strengthen himself with some beer but could barely swallow. He hadn’t heard the queer voice on the air again, but he hadn’t needed to. “They’re coming, they’re coming.”
He continued to pace anxiously until some time after midnight when he could bear it no longer and just had to see whether they were indeed coming. It was then he opened the door and saw the gate open and close by itself. They were here! And they were invisible! Frodo, Pippin and Sam hadn’t said anything about them being invisible! He stood trembling with terror in the hall, then gathered his fleeing wits and tried to steady himself, but he was shaking so hard he could barely lock the door. What to do? What in the Shire was he going to do and where was Gandalf?!
Maybe there were things more frightening than the Old Forest after all, he thought, just as he fled away.