Young Merry in Hobbiton

by Lothithil

From The Heir of the Hill.

The following Author's note was written a couple years ago. I can't believe how far we have all come! There are some wonderful Merry Inklingers here, and I love every word I read! Please enjoy this again...

I have always wanted to read more of the story of Merry Brandybuck's obsession with Bilbo's Book and Ring. I realized that if I wanted it, I'd have to produce it myself, or try to inspire someone else to write it. Here is my version. I hope you enjoy it, too...

Young Merry in Hobbiton; pre-Quest follies of a 'tween Hobbit.

Merry could not contain himself... the mystery was just too delicious. He found himself visiting Bag End every chance he could, even inventing excuses to his parents for chances to observe odd Mr Bilbo. Cousin Frodo was an excellent excuse.

Not that Merry was not genuinely fond of Frodo Baggins; they had been as brothers before Frodo's adoption by Bilbo. But what he had witnessed that day on the Bywater Lane germinated in his imagination, and tales of dragon treasure and magic rings were like salt in the wound of his sin. What could the harm be; just a casual inquiry or a glance in Bilbo's study?

Frodo was unusually close-mouthed to Merry's questions, delivered under the veil of fire-side tales. He openly discussed his eccentric uncle's strange deeds and stories, but in the matter of the magic ring, he offered no information. Merry sensed that he was concealing something; Frodo had always been the worst liar, and his cousin Merry could read him like a book.

Bilbo's study was harder to get into than a guarded castle, now that Merry was keen to try. The door was ever closed, and Bilbo in and out so often one was never sure if he was inside. Merry borrowed books frequently, and even wound up improving his own ciphering skills as an excuse to be inside that trove of intregue, though he could never linger as long as he liked, and never-ever alone.

Merry was sure that he would burst with frustration, until the lucky day dawned and his long awaited chance occured. He was on holiday from Buckland, spending a fortnight with his cousins in Hobbiton.

Frodo and Merry had been studying together in Frodo's room, working together on equations that Bilbo thought would hone the skills of the future Masters of Bag End and Buckland. Numbers were a gift to Merry, he could always beat Frodo when they raced through an quiz, though Merry defered to Frodo in the creation of poetry and song. Merry found himself stuck over the preparation of a couplet, and he did not sing well, only in chorus and then only loud and comical songs.

Bilbo stepped into the room, greeting Merry absently, as if he had not been there for several days already. Merry smiled, used to the old hobbit's preoccupation.

"Frodo, my lad, would you mind terribly running down to Bywater? I have exhausted my ink supply, and we've only your little bottle left in the whole smial. Guy Burrows has a fresh supply, or should still have an odd bottle lying about... be a good lad and fetch some for me?"

"Of course, Uncle!" Frodo leapt up instantly; the young hobbits had been lying side-by-side on the floor, sharing the inkwell. "Want to come, Merry?"

Merry saw a glimmer of opportunity. "I bet you can't get back before I finish this sheet." He dared his cousin with a sly smile.

Frodo laughed. "I have a better chance beating you on my feet than with my ciphering! You have your bet!" And the young hobbit raced out of the hole, and Bilbo called after him, "And bring back some cakes for tea!"

Bilbo went back into his study, and Merry worked furiously to finish his paper, all the while listening with long ears for any movement from Bilbo.

Just as Merry was dispairing that Frodo would be back before another chance came, someone pulled the bellrope outside Bag End's front door.

"Frodo, there is someone at the door!" Bilbo's voiced drifted through the smial, faint behind his closed door. Merry grinned; he had totally forgotten that Merry was even there.

The bell rang again. Merry heard Bilbo sigh, then his door opened with a creak, and he thumped down the hall, irritated at the interruption. The study door did not creak shut again. Merry raced silently down the hall and slipped into the forbiddin room!

His eyes sought the Red Book... it was not in it's usual place. Merry scanned the shelves frantically, hearing Bilbo talking with his unwelcome visitor. There were so many books...!

"No, I don't have time today, I'm sorry! Come tomorrow, and we'll discuss it over tea." A response was murmured, and Merry heard the front door close with a snick. He did not have time to get out of the room! Hastily, he stood behind the door, just as Bilbo opened it and came inside, closing the door and turning to his desk, muttering darkly about the Sackville-Bagginses.

Merry's heart was in his mouth. If Bilbo turned or if Merry moved an inch, the old hobbit could not fail to see him. His mind flew a hundred miles an hour, trying to come up with a plausable reason for him to be standing inside the study... nothing came to mind. Merry closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable.

Someone knocked on Bilbo's study door, and it opened, covering Merry temporarily. He could not breathe... his heart was beating so loud he was afraid that Bilbo would hear.

"Mr Bilbo, sir?" Merry recognized the Gaffer's voice. "Sorry to disturb you sir, but I thought you ought to know... them S.B.'s, sir, they are making a row down the lane. I fear it is young Frodo that they're teething on."

Bilbo jumped up and left the room, and Merry suddenly felt very bad. Drat those Sackville-Bagginses, waylaying poor Frodo on an errand for his Uncle!. But as he moved to exit the room and follow, he spied the Red Book upon Bilbo's desk, where it had been covered with a map so that he did not see it earlier.

Temptation seized him, and he was drawn to the open pages, lit clearly in the sunlight falling through Bilbo's open study window. His eyes soaked up the text, and he eagerly turned page after page, keeping his finger in the place where it had lain open.

Almost he forgot himself. When the noise of Bilbo's return, accompanied by a harrassed Frodo, came to his ears, he flipped the book back to it's original page, and dove out of the open window into the garden behind Bag End. He scrunched himself up under the eave of the window and listened.

"Drat those two! Will they never get past the fact that I have the right to choose my heirs? They are so greedy... they shame the name of Baggins!" Bilbo's voice was angry. Merry trembled, imagining that he might be the target if that anger.

Frodo's voice was softer. "They are disappointed, Bilbo. I think I understand them... Bag End is a beautiful hole, and I am grateful that I can share it with you."

"It is not your fault, Frodo! You are much more forgiving than I, sweet boy! I am glad you did not heed their spiteful words! Come on, let's have some tea! My ideas for the book are quite driven from my head now!"

Then came the words Merry most dreaded.

"Where is Merry?

Merry crouched under the window, his heart hammering like a rabbit's. He decided that he would claim that he went for a walk and had been out of the hole and missed the excitement, when the bushes parted suddenly and Sam Gamgee's face appeared, staring at Merry in suprise.

"Master Merry! What ever are you doing under Mr Bilbo's window?" Merry was startled exceedingly, and his excuse faded from his lips. Sam was whispering, and he motioned Merry away, leading him out into the garden behind the tomato trellis.

Merry wondered if his heart had stopped beating... he felt numb, and he could not stop the scarlet flush that crept over his face. He stammered that he had heard the S.B.'s at the door, and had hidden to avoid them. He could see that Samwise was having none of his story. Sam's shrewd eyes clearly showed that he knew Merry was lying. He said nothing; it wasn't the place of any Gamgee to correct a Brandybuck, and a future Master at that! But Sam was very close in age to Merry, and he was smarter than most thought. He simply looked at Merry, and Merry felt suddenly very wretched.

"Okay, Sam." he said with a sigh, "I will tell you the truth. I was lurking there to try to learn more about Mr Bilbo's..."

"Elves?" Sam hissed the word, and Merry winced, sure that the noise would carry all the way to Bywater. Sam's eyes were lit up, and then he began to blush, too. Merry guessed that Sam must have found that spot behind the rosebush under Bilbo's window while lurking on his own business. Oh ho! He thought quickly.

"Yes, something of that indeed, Master Gamgee. I think we both have a little secret now, don't we?"

Sam looked down with a grin. "I'm sure you don't mean any harm in it, Master Merry. I don't! Perhaps we will just forget to mention this to anyone." But Sam's face darkened a little, and he was most serious. "I don't think that you did right though, sir, lettin' Mister Frodo go off alone and get tangled with those Sackville-Bagginses. No tale of Elves is worth him being hurt and friendless. It is not the place of any Gamgee to tell another what to do. You are more able than I to protect him, if you don't mind me saying so."

Merry was plunged again into shame. "You are right, Sam! That is my place." He breathed a sigh of relief, and moved to go back to the hole, but Sam stayed him with a touch on his sleeve.

"One might learn a lot from a glimpse of Old Mr Bilbo's book," he said. His large brown eyes caught at Merry; he was pleading to know something he could never ask. Merry hesitated, and Sam closed his fingers very gently around his arm. "One hears many strange things that want sharin', " he added, a smile playing around his lips. Merry suddenly saw, not Samwise the gardner's son, but another hobbit 'teen, eager for adventure and friendship. He clasped Sam's hand and shook it.

"All right, Sam! But we shall not let our game become known to any other soul, and we will always look after Frodo and Bilbo first and foremost!" Sam shook his hand back with a toothy grin.

With Sam's plausable alibi, Merry was excused of his strange absence, and after tea was taken and Bilbo had closeted himself again, Frodo and Merry sent out for a stroll in the garden to enjoy the afternoon sun. Merry could tell Frodo was preoccupied.

"I'm sorry I did not walk with you to Bywater, Frodo! Maybe Lobelia and Otho would not have..."

"They would have!" Frodo gave his cousin a smile, but it was not the usual bright, sunny smile. It was rather tired and sad-looking, and Merry felt again the wretchedness of his selfish compulsion. Frodo saw his discomfort, and thumped him upon the back.

"Don't worry, Merry! They are part and parcel of being Bilbo's heir, and I would not trade my place with any other hobbit, in the Shire or out of it! Come on... let's race to the pool! I have an urge to swim!"

Merry ran after Frodo, and he was suddenly glad to be Merry Brandybuck, friend of the Bagginses of Bag End. He promised himself that never again would Frodo Baggins go anywhere without him along to protect him.

... And when a Brandybuck makes an oath, not word, wraith, nor wide-open space will force him to break it!!