Fic: Other People's Homes (for [ profile] danachan)

Aug. 1st, 2007 03:41 pm
[identity profile] posting in [community profile] a_conspiracy
Title: Other People's Homes
Author: [ profile] hyel
Characters/Pairings: Lotho, Lobelia, Otho, Bilbo, Frodo
Summary: Lotho knows what would be his perfect home.
Rating: PG
Warnings: Some underage violence. A negative point of view on Bilbo and Frodo.
Word Count: 1668 words
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the property of the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. No offense is intended, nor profit made.
Title, Author and URL of original story: Matters of Family, by [ profile] danachan.

Other People's Homes

The summers of Lotho's youth were often spent in the Southfarthing. The house overlooking the family's plantations was painted yellow and white, like sunflowers and sun-dried pipeweed, and in his memory it would always be shrouded in the abundant summer foliage of the four great beech trees that stood at each of its four corners. The land around the pipeweed fields was flat, and there was nowhere to dig a proper smial. Huts surrounded the house on the gently sloping hill, housing the farmers and their families.

Nobody seemed to mind where Lotho wandered, during the summer, when there was no family history to learn or room to clean – he slept in a small bare bedroom with a picture of a cow on the wall and faded golden curtains at the window, and a horticultural treatise standing on a lone shelf nailed to the wall. He spent most of his time exploring, or playing lonely games in the groves and fields and neglected barns, or going down to the village to buy sweeties. He was always given an allowance for sweets, when they were at the plantations.

Lotho was a plump and lonely kid, but he was big too, and he could fight. He fought with a village boy once over a frog race, and broke his nose so thoroughly it soaked through three bandages before the bleeding subsided. They didn't try to cheat him again after that, and he got to keep the prize, a great big lollipop with a swirl of green and purple on it. They even tried to be friends with him, the boys, but Lotho wasn't used to friends, and he soon lost interest. Or maybe they did. He never did fit in.

It was in Hardbottle that he learned about games of power. The family spent most Yuletides and May Days there, with his mother's relatives. There were his younger cousins on the Bracegirdle side, boys just a year and two younger than he, who would steal and lie for him, because if they didn't, he would show them how he could hurt a boy without bruising, so no tattler could prove that Aunt Lobelia's son was their inspiration. He practised on them, sometimes, even if they were doing what they were told, and learned to delight in other people's pain, as much as other people delighted in his.

Hardbottle hobbits were surlier than most. Even the grass there grew short and grey. The road to Hardbottle was flanked for a stretch by a muddy ditch. The mud stretched out towards the cartwheels rattling by, a batch of earth bare of vegetation, like a shapeless creature reaching to pull them in. His cousins' house could have been cheerful, anywhere else. It was entered through a corridor of trees, which in Yule stretched like a framework of claws over the visitor, and in May, spattered the ground with green flecks of light filtered through new leaves. The shrubbery was always over-grown, and in the backyard, at all times, there was a lingering smell of rotting apples.

In his memory, in contrast to the sunny plantations and rain-smelling Hardbottle, Hobbiton was the active present, made up of cold nights and calculations, dark indoors, work, worry, hate, and the vast presence of Bag End. He saw the plantations in wintertime eventually, black bare branches and a colourless house against a powdering of snow, and he saw many Hobbiton summers, hot, sunny, colourful, but these days remained as grey memories set against the stronger memory vistas of golden fields and dark dank rooms.

His family's house was a place of sharp corners and wet floors. His mother hated to use lamps because they were costly, and candles because they were hazardous. She only liked light and fire in other people's homes.

The greatest of all the dwellings Lotho ever visited was Bag End. It wasn't just a house, a constricted squat bulb on top of the ground, but a real tunnel, with rooms so dark that even on the brightest day you could not see an inch in front of you if you didn't bring a lamp. And there were lamps everywhere, always filled, so all you had to do was turn one on, and another room opened up before you. Most rooms had something to read, or to eat, or to explore. Almost all the rooms were interesting. There were carvings on the doors and panelling, paintings of long-gone relatives and strange ancient things, and weapons, sharp deadly things hung up like trinkets. It spread deep into the hill, a place of magic in the dark.

The Sackville-Bagginses weren't often invited.

The hobbit who lived there, the head of the Baggins family, was an awful hobbit, in all meanings of the word. He had travelled the world outside the Shire and come back, so they say, with unimaginable riches. But he was awful before that, awe-inspiring, nasty, despite his little smile and jolly facade. The foolish chattering way he spoke masked jibes in complicated sentences, implying you were a dimwit for not understanding exactly how he was insulting you. There was no compassion in him for those who did not please him.

Lotho's father was next in line after Bilbo to be the head of the Baggins family, and with that, he felt, and most hobbits agreed, he should also be next in line to be master of Bag End. Lotho's mother felt even more fervently about this. She combed the long-haired carpet for every pin dropped, glued together cracked mugs and never gave anything away, and she badly wanted the luxuries of the old smial, perhaps so she could catalogue everything in it and never give any of it to anyone. Bilbo Baggins knew it, and for some reason Lotho never could understand he'd dangle the inheritance in front of their noses for the longest time, never quite finishing his will. When Lotho was 25, he finally gave the inheritance right away to a distant cousin instead.

Lotho remembered one time when he was five, when his mother fussed all morning to get his best clothes on him, so fresh-ironed they were still warm and damp, and to make sure no stain could be contracted before they were off. They were going to see Bilbo Baggins, and Lotho would be on his best behaviour, he was told, or there'd be trouble. He'd been hungry as a wolf and terribly bored by the time they left their home, and even more so when they arrived at Bag End, his mother in her good long skirts and his father in his green velvet tophat. Something big was going on, but Lotho hadn't understood at the time. He had been too young to understand about Bag End.

There were other visitors, including a young and pretty mother with a pretty baby son. He'd missed most of what the adults were saying, chasing sweetcakes, thinking Mr Bilbo not so bad at all for having sweetcakes in the first place, but when they'd left he could not mistake the silent fury in his mother's straight back, the shaking of his father's hands. He remembered Mr Bilbo had been smiling at them all, smiling sweetly. He hadn't understood Mr Bilbo then, either. He was 25, before he did.

Bilbo Baggins had a way of playing with people he didn't like. There was nothing old Bilbo liked better than seeing Lotho's parents angry. When they were angry, Lotho was always a bad little boy. When his father was angry, whoever the cause, if Lotho so much as spoke when not spoken to, he would be taken to the woodshed or the inner bedroom and get a good long spanking. If his mother was angry, he was likely to be left with no supper, or made to comb the great carpet, or would have to sleep in the attic. His mother didn't like to hit him, because she sometimes had trouble stopping.

She'd done something, when he was still a baby, and they never did tell him what, but on the first Wednesday of May she always baked him a cake, though it wasn't his birthday, and spoke to him mildly, and even sang in her unpractised wavering voice, when she tucked him in. It was almost like, for just one day, she wanted to be some other kind of mother. It was the best day of the year.

Lotho had a slight limp in his left leg, which he couldn't remember ever not having.

Lotho grew up hating Mr Bilbo, and he learned to hate the little blue-eyed boy who would become his heir. He never understood why, in the end, Frodo Baggins practically gave Bag End away to the Sackville-Bagginses. Frodo Baggins must not have known what the ancient smial meant, what it stood for. He lived for decades in the grand abode of the head of the Bagginses, drank the wines that had been sealed up for decades, waiting to be drunk by the head of the Bagginses. He'd sat at the seat of Lotho's own heritance, barring its secrets from him and opening them only to his Bucklander friends. He followed the tradition of Bilbo Baggins in this, as in many things, until he grew bored with the toy, and gave it away. Lotho despised him for it, as did his mother, but after he left at last (just like Bilbo), the years of waiting finally paid up.

The door swung open at his touch.

Bag End had loomed over his childhood, over the places of his youth; it was the grandest of all homes, the great prize. Lotho was a grown hobbit now, and rich, since his father's death a master of himself. He opened the door for his mother, and for a brief flickering moment saw contentment on her chiselled face, a triumphant smile lurking at the corners of her mouth. That had been a reward worth waiting for.

He followed his mother into the darkness.
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