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At the End of His Rope  by Lindelea

Chapter 27. Visit to Bag End

Rose heard a pony draw up outside and breathed a sigh of relief. Samwise had made it a short visit, then. Good, with so much yet to be done before leaving for Gondor, only a week away, she still didn't know how they'd get it all done. She caught her breath in consternation. A week!

Instead of Sam's usual "Well, I'm back," she heard a knocking at the door.

She raised her voice to call, 'I'll get it,' and jerked the door open, thoughts still busy with preparations. 'Meliloc?' she gasped, her mind immediately turning to the implications of his coming away from the Smials. Had something happened to Sam?

'Aren't you going to invite me in?' he smiled, though his eyes were sober.

Recalled to her manners, she welcomed him in, taking his cloak and showing him to the parlour, making small talk along the way about Yuletide festivities. They reached the parlour, and he took the seat she indicated, but made no sign of speaking on anything but trivialities. Rose could take a hint and shooed the curious children from the room, telling Rosie-lass to take the little ones to the kitchen for bread and jam.

When they were alone, Meliloc dug in an inner pocket. 'I have a letter for you,' he said, holding out a folded paper.

'What's this all about?' she asked, taking the paper.

He shook his head. 'It's not my news to tell.' His time amongst the Tooks was teaching him caution. He tapped the paper she held. 'Read your letter. I'll take back your reply.'

Seeing her name in Sam's careful print, she relaxed a bit. He was all right, then. It must have something to do with the Thain. She rose, saying, 'Can I get you a cup of tea? I could use one myself.'

'Thank you,' he said.

Rose had a feeling of dread as she went to the kitchen and opened the letter, to scan the few lines within.

'Mama, what is it?' Elanor said, wiping sticky jam from little Robin's face and fingers, seeing her mother sink into the rocking chair by the hearth and read the letter over again, biting her lip.

Hamfast ran in. 'Mama, what's that Took doing in the parlour?'

'He's not a Took, he's a Brandybuck!' shouted Goldilocks, in hot pursuit.

'Goldi, use an indoor voice,' Elanor admonished.

'He lives in Tookland!' Hamfast maintained.

Rose remembered. 'O yes, Ellie, would you please take him a cup of tea?'

When Elanor returned from her errand, Rose had wiped her eyes and tucked away the paper. She looked up with a smile. 'Well, Ellie, it seems your father has been detained in Tookland and won't be able to help get ready for the trip.' She rose abruptly. 'I need to put together a few things.'

'What is it, Mama?' Goldi echoed her older sister. 'Has something happened to Hairy-Farry's papa?' When Rose gave only an absent-minded murmur in answer, without sharply correcting her eleven-year-old's rudeness, the children stared at one another. Goldilocks gazed after her mother's retreating back. 'O Farry,' she breathed, sudden tears coming to her eyes.

At a sharp call from her parents' room, Ellie came to find her mother packing a bag with her father's things. Hearing her step, Rose looked up. 'Ellie, I want you to put up some packets of your father's special teas.' She ticked them off on her fingers, had Ellie repeat the list back to her. Satisfied, she nodded, then went back to her packing.

When Ellie brought the packets of tea to her mother, Rose added them to the bag and strapped it up. 'Thank you, dearie,' she said. She held Ellie's gaze. 'Take the children out to the stables, make sure all the harness gets polished until it gleams.'

'Yes, Mama,' Elanor said, going to do her mother's bidding, unanswered questions tumbling over each other in her mind.

When they returned from the little stables, the visitor had gone and Rose had dinner well under way. 'Wash your hands, children,' was all she said. By common consent, none of the children mentioned their absent father.

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