Apr 23 2012, 5:15am
Note: This story is her based on a character created by Inkling - Fenton Longhole. Fenton is a childhood friend of Frodo’s. You can read about him in Inkling’s story, “The Terror of Buckland”: http://www.west-of-the-moon.net/servlet/ReadGenStory?storyID=331 . With Inkling’s permission, I’ve used Fenton in my own story.
A Familiar Face (a fanfic)
In the shadows near the far wall of the smoke-filled common-room of the Prancing Pony, two dark figures sat together talking: one, a man; the other, a hobbit. The man sat with his back to the wall, looking out across the room toward the entrance as if anxiously expecting someone. In his hand was a long-stemmed pipe. The hobbit sat with his back to the crowd. On the table in front of him was a pint of porter.
“Glad to have found you, Fenton,” said the man to the hobbit. “I was beginning to think you wouldn’t show.”
“I had to work late at the shop this evening,” explained Fenton. Fenton Longhole was the town blacksmith.
“Well, I’m glad you finally arrived,” the man continued. “I need your help, if you are willing.”
“Certainly, Strider,” said Fenton, sitting up in his chair and listening intently. Fenton and Strider had struck up a friendship a number of years back when Strider’s horse, Roheryn, needed shoeing. Strider didn’t trust the task to just anyone. Fenton struck him as both conscientious and gentle. He and Fenton were also both patrons of the inn. Many evenings they could be seen sitting together in the common-room, deep in conversation. Strider had told the hobbit many tales of far-off lands to the East, where the stars were strange. Fenton, in turn, had told Strider some amusing tales of his youth in Buckland.
“I must tell you something first,” said Strider now in a low voice, “but you must keep it absolutely secret!”
“I promise! I won’t say a word,” said Fenton, curious now.
“It’s about your childhood friend from Buckland; the one you’ve told me about on many an occasion,” said Strider.
Fenton thought for a moment. “Frodo?” he asked.
Strider quickly motioned for him to keep his voice down. “Yes, Frodo. I think I saw him with three other hobbits this afternoon on the road west of Bree, headed this way. I’ve been expecting him for some time now. They’ve stopped at the inn for the night. They’re back in the parlour dining as we speak. I need to stop them from coming out into the common-room if possible. Frodo is supposed to be leaving the Shire in secret. I tried to get back there to talk to them, but that confounded landlord wouldn’t let me past, or even take a message. I need you to get a message to him. Do you think you would recognize him if you saw him?”
“I fancy so,” answered Fenton, “though it’s been many a year since I’ve seen him.”
“Well, he is the one going by the name Underhill,” said Strider. “At any rate I don’t think Butterbur will try to stop you. You have a much better reputation in this town than I. You must remember, though, not to mention the name,” he looked quickly around to make sure no one was listening, then said in a barely audible tone, “Baggins ”.
“Why not? Is he in some kind of trouble?” asked Fenton.
“Yes, I am afraid he is in very grave danger, but I cannot say any more just now,” answered Strider.
Just then raised voices from across the room caught Strider’s attention. Fenton turned around to see what Strider was looking at. “Mr. Underhill and his party!” they heard Butterbur say.
“Strider!” asked Fenton, tugging at the Ranger’s sleeve. “Is that him there?”
Strider’s heart sank. "Yes," he answered with a sigh, "I’m afraid so...or at least, as certain as I can be without speaking to him. I fear I was too late in finding you, Fenton.” He sat back in resignation and propped his feet up on another chair.
Fenton could sense Strider’s despair. “Perhaps I can pull him away from the crowd,” he suggested.
“Yes,” answered Strider slowly, “I must still speak to him. But let us not act too hastily. We must wait for the right time. I do not want everyone staring at us. It may be best for you to get him alone and talk to him a while yourself first. Besides,” he added with an odd smile, “you should probably gain his trust before introducing him to the likes of me. Just remember what I told you. He is going by the name Underhill.” Strider looked Fenton in the eye to make sure he was listening. He knew the hobbit was on at least his third pint.
“All right,” Fenton assured him, “I’ll do my best. He was me best mate back in Buckland, so if he’s in a fix I’ll do what I can to help.” He studied the other hobbit closely. “It could be him, except he seems so young. Frodo’s my age, you know.”
“Well, there is only one way to know for certain,” said Strider.
“Of course, I don’t know if he’d recognize me, either,” said Fenton. Though still relatively young by hobbit reckoning, Fenton had had a somewhat difficult life and had not aged well. Moreover, his excessive drinking had taken away some of his robustness. His curly brown hair was now more than half gray.
“I think,” answered Strider with a grim smile, “you’ll be able to refresh his memory once you speak to him.”
The two sat quietly for a while, giving the newly arrived guests a chance to mingle with the patrons.
“You know,” said Fenton in a low voice, “Frodo’s always had a way of getting into trouble. I remember once when we were lads in Buckland. We went to steal mushrooms from a neighbor’s farm and almost got attacked by a bull. Barely escaped…”
“Yes, Fenton,” said Strider, holding up his hand. “You’ve told me the tale of Bandobras half a dozen times.”
“Oh, right” said Fenton, a bit embarrassed. “I ought to have remembered. Well, I think I’ll go see if I can get his attention.” He got up and went over to join the other hobbits.
Ah well, Strider thought, all I can do for now is watch and wait. He puffed on his pipe anxiously. I hope I was right to confide in Fenton. He’s more than a bit tipsy, as usual. But Fenton was reliable, and more capable than he looked. He’d started out as an apprentice to the blacksmith years ago when he first arrived from Buckland. When he took over, some of the Big Folk doubted whether he would be able to perform some of the tasks, such as lifting heavy tools. Being small proved to have its advantages, though. For one thing, he didn’t have to bend down to shoe horses. The previous smith had pulled his back doing that very thing, and ended up having to let Fenton run the shop for several weeks.
Yet if he mentions the name Baggins it could be disastrous. To pass the time, Strider thought about Fenton’s tale of Bandobras the bull and the stolen mushrooms. Anxious as he was, he still found the image of Frodo riding the back of a bull and being thrown into a patch of thistles amusing.
Frodo felt overwhelmed. The crowd had made room for him on one of the benches. Hobbits were sitting and standing all around him. He didn’t like being the center of attention, surrounded by all these unfamiliar faces. Suddenly he noticed a hobbit at a nearby table who reminded him of someone, but he couldn’t think who. The hobbit returned his gaze. He was watching Frodo intently.
When Frodo heard the name Longhole among the crowd, he looked back at the other hobbit. Longhole. Fenton Longhole? Could it be his old friend? He studied the hobbit more closely. Yes, he was fairly certain it was Fenton. He realized now who the hobbit had reminded him of: Fenton’s dad.
Poor Fenton’s mother had died when he was very young. His father had a temper, and had been known to drink more than his fill on many an occasion. When Fenton was still a tween, he ran away from home, having taken one too many beatings from his father. The last time Frodo saw him, Fenton was headed to Bree to live with relatives. And sure enough, it looked as though he’d made it!
Now Frodo felt nervous. He’d assumed up to this point that no one in Bree would know him. He was pretty sure everyone had heard Butterbur introduce him as Mr. Underhill, but just to be safe, he said in a loud voice so everyone could hear, “Glad to see there are some other Underhills in Bree.”
“We live in Staddle,” one corrected him.
“Yes, Staddle, of course,” answered Frodo, continuing to speak loudly. “In any event, I feel a little more at home now. We must indeed be cousins.” Folks were curious about all the latest gossip from the four Farthings. Frodo tried to think of a polite way to excuse himself. He wanted to find out if that was indeed Fenton, and he wasn’t in the mood to answer a bunch of questions, so he kept his replies brief. Eventually the crowd lost interest, and turned their attention instead to Pippin and Sam, who, being avid storytellers, were enjoying the large audience. After a moment, the familiar-looking hobbit got up and came over to him, drink in hand. He looked around to be sure no one was in hearing range.
“Frodo?” he whispered.
“Fenton?” replied Frodo in a low voice. “So it is you!”
“Aye, it’s me!” Fenton nodded. “Let us have a seat over in the corner where we can talk more private.”
He led them to a table in the far corner near the shadows. Frodo sat down next to him “Thank you,” he said, speaking a little louder, “for not…”
“Well, I knew you had your reasons,” replied Fenton.
“You did?” asked Frodo, looking puzzled.
“I mean, I knew you must,” Fenton quickly corrected himself.
Frodo could smell alcohol on his breath. For some reason, that didn’t surprise him, yet it still saddened him. Fenton was such a kind soul. Nonetheless, he was glad to see Fenton again. “So,” he said, feeling more relaxed, “How’ve you been Fenton, my friend? I’ve often wondered what became of you.”
“I've been making do,” answered Fenton. “I wasn’t sure you recognized me.”
“Well, you look a good deal like your father,” Frodo replied.
At the mention of his father, Fenton flinched.
“Sorry,” said Frodo, realizing his blunder. He noted now that Fenton was prematurely grey like his father.
Fenton smiled. “No worries, mate,” he said. “But you! You barely look out of your tweens! How’ve you managed it?”
“Well, ah...” Frodo began, fumbling with the contents in his pocket, “it runs in my family, I s’pose. Though,” he added sadly, “that didn’t help my parents much, did it?”
“Guess neither of us had it great as kids,” said Fenton.
Frodo nodded in agreement.
“Speaking of which,” added Fenton, “I’m married, with three young’ns of me own now.”
“Fenton, that’s wonderful!” Frodo replied, “I should love to meet them some day.”
“Aye, they’d be excited, sure enough,” said Fenton with a chuckle. “I’ve told them the tale of our visit to Farmer Maggot’s many times so they’d know better than to go stealin’ from the fields around here in Breeland. I’m sure they’d rather hear the tellin’ by you, though, the biggest thief of them all!”
Fenton was glad to hear Frodo laugh. Now that he saw him up close, he could see how tired and worried Frodo looked. That wasn’t evident from afar. After a moment, he looked over toward the wall, where Strider was still sitting silently. Fenton knew he should introduce the two soon, but he had to be careful how he broached the subject.
“Frodo, I can tell you're in some kind of trouble,” he said.
Frodo smiled grimly and nodded. “I do wish I could confide in you, Fenton,” he said, “like we did when we were kids in Buckland, “but I’m afraid all I can tell you for now is,” he lowered his voice to a whisper, “I’m leaving the Shire in secret.”
“Yes, I gathered,” said Fenton.
There was a short silence. “By the way, Frodo,” Fenton began after a moment, “a friend of mine wants to speak …”
At that moment, someone shouted from across the room, “Longhole!” Fenton turned and looked over near the door. It was Bill Ferny, and he was scowling. Ferny was the last person Fenton felt like dealing with right now. He was tempted to ignore him. He wanted to stay and talk to Frodo, and this business with Strider seemed important, but he knew Ferny wouldn’t leave him alone, and he wasn’t sure Strider wanted Ferny to see him talking to Frodo.
“Frodo, would you excuse me for a moment?” he said reluctantly.
“Certainly,” answered Frodo
“I’m afraid I’ve a difficult customer over here,” Fenton explained. “No doubt he means to complain again that I didn’t shoe his horse rightly, but I know he’s just trying to get out of payin'. It’s been two months now since I did the job for him, and he still hasn’t paid a penny. I shouldn’t have trusted him, but business has been slow of late and I’ve a family to feed. Besides, his poor old pony needed shoeing badly. I didn’t have the heart to just let him suffer.” Fenton was kind-hearted and thus easy to take advantage of. He was learning, though, how to deal with the likes of Ferny.
He glanced over at Strider, who he could tell was getting anxious. “I’ll try not to be too long,” he said to Frodo as he got up.
“Not to worry,” replied Frodo. “I don’t expect I shall be going anywhere anytime soon.”
Nearly all the hobbits were gone now, but one remained: Fenton. Slowly, he approached Frodo. After he’d finished dealing with Ferny earlier, he’d seen Frodo talking to Strider, so he’d gone and joined the hobbits on the benches. Like all the others, he'd enjoyed watching Frodo perform, but he was baffled when Frodo simply vanished into thin air.
“Fenton!” said Frodo, relieved to find someone who would still speak to him. “Glad to see I didn’t scare you off, too. You’re about the only friend I have left around here.”
“Well, I must say I had an eye opener like everyone else,” Fenton replied, still looking astonished. “Was that some kinda magic trick your uncle Bilbo showed you? I know you didn’t just crawl under the table.”
“Yes…in a way,” said Frodo, looking down.
“But maybe this is not the place for long tales,” said Fenton, looking around the room.
“No, I think not,” replied Frodo.
“Can you speak more freely back in the parlour?” Fenton asked hesitantly.
Frodo wanted to say yes. Visiting with his old friend would be comforting, to be sure, but he didn’t want to draw his friend into danger, especially when Fenton had a family to think about. “I should very much like to talk with you some more, Fenton,” he said. “But you are right that I am in trouble, and I don’t want to put you or your family in any danger. I’m sorry to cut our visit short.”
Though a bit reluctant, Fenton agreed. “Well then,” he said, “good luck to you, mate.” Slowly, he extended his hand to Frodo.
Frodo accepted it gratefully. “Thank you,” he said, “I’m afraid I’ll need it. Oh, and do be careful walking home. Stay out of the shadows if you can.”
Fenton looked puzzled, but nodded anyway. “Aye, I will,’ he said. He turned to leave, then paused a moment. “By the way, mate,” he said, trying to sound more cheerful, “I never knew you could sing.”
Despite the unfortunate way the evening had unfolded, Frodo laughed.
As Fenton turned toward the entrance again, he noticed Strider still sitting in the shadows. He guessed that the Ranger had seen enough to know that this was the real Frodo, but perhaps some confirmation from Fenton would be helpful. Strider didn’t look like he wanted to draw attention to himself just now, and it would take Frodo a while to deal with Butterbur, so Fenton decided to wait for them out in the passage. He went and stood in the kitchen doorway to talk to Nob, who was busy putting away dishes. He could hear Butterbur in the common-room talking to Frodo.
Fenton had been chatting with Nob for about five minutes when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Strider come out of the common-room and sneak down the passage. The Ranger was clearly in a hurry and trying not to be noticed, so Fenton decided it best not to call after him. He watched Strider enter the parlour and close the door behind him.
Though Fenton wanted to learn more about Frodo's plight, he needed to get home before the missus started worrying, and besides, he felt better now knowing that Frodo had Strider with him. Fenton hesitated a moment, then turned and walked out the front door. He was just about to start home, but stopped dead in his tracks. There, standing just outside the lamplight, looking up at the stars, was Saradoc Brandybuck! Now what would Frodo’s uncle be doing here?
“Mr. Saradoc?” Fenton asked in astonishment.
The other hobbit jumped in surprise and turned toward him.
No, Fenton thought to himself. Surely this wasn’t Saradoc. Saradoc would be much older now. This fellow looked young—mid-thirties, he reckoned. The hobbit continued to look at him quizzically.
“Sorry, my mistake,” said Fenton.
Then suddenly it dawned on Fenton. It had been thirty-six years since he’d left Buckland. Could this possibly be little Merry, Saradoc’s son, who’d been just a baby when he left? And Frodo was staying at the inn tonight. Of course! It made perfect sense.
“Merry?” he asked tentatively. “Meriodoc Brandybuck?”
“Yes. Do I know you?” Merry answered suspiciously, still taken aback by hearing his father’s name. He clearly didn’t recognize Fenton.
“You don’t remember me, I’m sure,” said Fenton. “You were but a sprog last time I saw you. Fenton Longhole is me name.” He extended his hand to Merry, who accepted it hesitantly. “I’m an old friend of…your cousin’s…” he motioned back towards the inn, “from Buckland.”
“Oh, so you…saw him?” asked Merry.
“Aye,” answered Fenton. “Ran into him in the common-room this evening. He told me a wee bit about the…fix…he’s in.”
Merry hesitated, uncertain what to say.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” Fenton assured him. “Though after tonight, it may not matter.”
“What do you mean?” asked Merry with sudden concern.
"Well, I better let him tell you about it," answered Fenton. "But I didn't mean to alarm you; no doubt he and the others are back safe in the parlour by now."
“Oh, very well, then,” said Merry with relief. “I think I shall stay out here just a bit longer. The stars are beautiful tonight.”
“Aye, that they are,” said Fenton looking up at the sky. He could see the Sickle hovering above Bree Hill. “You know,” he said after a moment, looking back to Merry, “I remember the day I left Buckland. Me and your cousin were going to run away together. I stopped by Brandy Hall to fetch him, but found him lookin’ after you. Tried to get him to come with me anyway, but he wouldn’t leave you alone.”
Although the light was dim, Fenton could see Merry’s face flush just a little.
“Well,” Fenton said, “I’ll leave you to watch the stars, then. Good night to you.”
“Good night,” said Merry.
Fenton turned and headed west, making for the small road that led up the west side of Bree Hill. Merry watched him leave. Though the stars shone brightly overhead, Fenton soon vanished into the darkness of the Night, and Merry was alone again.
As he looked up at the Sickle through the parlour window, Frodo thought about Fenton. It had been at least an hour since Fenton had left. The night seemed especially dark, even though the stars shone brightly. He hoped Fenton had made it home all right.
The freshly tended fire lit the room just enough for the hobbits to see to roll out their blankets once the shutters were closed.
“Frodo, I almost forgot,” said Merry. “Right before I saw the…shadow...I ran into someone who said he was an old friend of yours: Fenton Longhole?”
“You saw him?” asked Frodo eagerly.
“So he is a friend of yours,” Merry answered, relieved. “I feel I can never be too careful now that we’re out of the Shire.”
“Yes, Fenton and I were friends in Buckland. Come to think of it, you were only a baby when he left. You don’t remember him, I’m sure, but I imagine he remembers you quite well.”
“He does,” said Merry, a bit embarrassed. He hoped Frodo wouldn’t recount the same story Fenton had told him.
Frodo could sense Merry’s self-consciousness, so he said nothing, just smiled at the memory.
Strider, sitting in his chair, overheard part of their conversation. “So tell me, Frodo,” he asked in amusement, “how many days did it take for you to get up the courage to go back to Maggot’s farm? From what I hear, even your rough ride on Bandobras would not have kept you away for long.”
Frodo and the others looked up at him in wonder. “How did you…” Frodo began, then realized. “You know Fenton?”
“Indeed. He’s told me quite a bit about you,” laughed Strider. “You were quite a reckless lad from what I hear. I certainly hope you are wiser, now that you are older.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you knew him?” asked Frodo, annoyed that Strider had known these things about him all along and hadn’t let on.
“I was, in fact, going to send him back here with a message telling you to stay in your room, but you came out before he had a chance!” answered Strider. “I wanted his help in determining if it was really you. I asked him to introduce you to me, but he got called away by Ferny before he got the chance.”
“Oh, that was Bill Ferny,” replied Frodo. “No wonder Fenton was so reluctant to deal with him. But you could’ve mentioned to me that you knew Fenton."
“Would even that have been enough to convince you to trust me?” asked Strider. “As I said earlier, I did not know about Gandalf’s letter telling you to look out for me.”
Frodo thought for a moment. “No, I suppose not,” he answered.
“Besides, I didn’t want to let on that I knew too much about you,” said Strider. “I didn’t want to scare you off.”
Frodo said nothing. He knew Strider was right.
“Now then, what did I miss while I was out?” asked Merry. “Fenton told me to ask you about it.”
“Oh…well let us see, where to begin,” answered Frodo. Frodo began recounting the events of the evening. Merry was particularly amused by Frodo’s account of his disastrous leap in the air as he sang “the cow jumped over the moon”. Gradually, Frodo’s present predicament became forefront in his mind again, and his visit with his old friend seemed like a dream, far away and long ago.
- THE END