The Heir of the Hill

by Lothithil

Chapter One: Elves and Athelas

When at last Bilbo and Frodo were ready to set out for Hobbiton, the Bucklanders cheered them off as they drove away in Bilbo's pony-trap. Frodo was relieved that they would be taking the road through Stock by way of the Brandywine Bridge; he had had adventures aplenty with the Bucklebury Ferry and the River. The day was fine and clear, and Bilbo sang songs with Frodo, and taught him the words to the ones he had not heard. Occasionally he would allow that he had made up some of the words himself.
They were rolling down a narrow road, and Bilbo was humming softly to a tune, stopping and repeating lines, as if trying to cipher something from his memory. "I heard that you spent a night in the Old Forest," Bilbo said suddenly, startling Frodo out of a drowsy trance.
"Er,...yes, sir." Frodo confessed with a guilty smile. "Uncle Rory was quite annoyed." He assumed Rory had told Bilbo about it, and all the other things Frodo had done. His cheeks reddened and he sat silent until Bilbo poked him in the ribs and laughed.
"You needn't look as though the world has ended! So tell me about it: What did you find?"
Frodo told him about being lost and scared and cold, and though the words he used were simple, they moved Bilbo with the earnestness and passion that this young hobbit possessed. He listened quietly, only speaking to urge Frodo to explain a little more how he felt or what he saw. When he described the old grey man, Bilbo laughed, but did not explain to his young cousin why he was so amused.
"I saw a light, like a star moving through the trees, and that's why I had gone into the Forest. I thought it might be Elves." Frodo chuckled grimly at his own foolishness.
Bilbo poked him in the ribs again. "You won't find any Elves in the Old Forest, at least not at that time of year. It's the Woody End you ought to try, if it is Elves that you desire to see." Bilbo shook the reins to quicken the pony's lagging pace. "They can sometimes be found there, in the spring or the autumn, if you are patient, and they want you to see them." Bilbo laughed. "I have seen them there, and listened to the music of their laughter and speech."
Frodo was enchanted, and listened eagerly as Bilbo told him many things about the Fair Folk that he had seen and heard.
"Of course, I have known more Dwarves than I have Elves, but I have met the Edain, Elrond, who is called Half-elven, the Master of Rivendell." And the older hobbit recalled and described that beautiful valley where once he had visited, with such detail and clarity that it might lie before his eyes at that moment. The road sped beneath them and only a little after the Sun had kissed the western horizon Bilbo halted the pony and turned them down a faint path that led toward a band of trees.
"We'll camp tonight, and arrive in Hobbiton late tomorrow. Hand me that lantern, and come down and lead the pony for me while I find us a good campsite."
The evening passed quickly, and Frodo fell asleep listening to Bilbo speaking softly. Once, in the dark of the night, Frodo half-woke to the sound of a strange voice. He lifted his head slightly, but saw only Bilbo sitting by the fire, and there was much moonlight or starlight lying about their darkened campsite, for the fire had burned down into a glowing bed of embers. Bilbo looked very unusual, sitting there with the shimmering light all around, and seemed to be far more mysterious and interesting than Frodo could have imagined. The sleepy young hobbit closed his eyes and slipped back into his dream.
Next morning, there was a hearty camp-breakfast waiting for Frodo when he woke up, and his cousin Bilbo was in a cheerful mood. They continued their journey, and Bilbo told Frodo the names of the villages they passed and the families of note that lived in them. He also greeted and was waved down by many commoner hobbits that were friendly to Bilbo or at least familiar with the peculiar old Hobbit. This was when Frodo first noticed how strangely folk regarded his cousin. They were friendly to his face, but the sharp-eyed lad noticed the heads shaking and the whispering behind hands that occured when they passed by. But Frodo was new to this area of the Shire and still young with a touch of conceit, so he thought then that they were whipering about him.
They stopped for lunch at the Ivy Bush Inn, and Bilbo proudly introduced Frodo with, "My nephew, come home from Buckland". Frodo became very shy around all the strange faces, but he tried to be polite and remembered all of the names that he could.
On the road, Bilbo sat laughing to himself as he smoked a pipe. Frodo had been given the reins and was showing his uncle how well he could handle a pony-rig. The road was smooth and the journey pleasant, and as the sun was sinking they rolled through the valley of the Water, and Frodo first saw The Hill and his new home.
Uncle Bilbo took the reins from his limp hands, and clasped his shoulder. "There is Bag End, Frodo. OUR home. Now understand," he said firmly, taking a face stern and commanding, "You aren't living on the other side of the River anymore. You must conduct yourself like a proper Baggins... no more of these Brandybuck shinnannigans," Bilbo smiled broadly at Frodo's alarmed expression. He leaned down a little and added in a stage whisper, "At least not when you can be seen!" Frodo grinned at his uncle, but wondered why Bilbo seemed to be so amused by his own joke.

Bilbo gave Frodo enough time to settle in, but not enough to get homesick. Lessons began the very next week, as Frodo was eager to learn. And learn he did! Quickly and well. If Frodo was pleased by his change of situation, Bilbo was delighted, to have an eager pupil and avid listener, who never tired of songs, poetry or tales, and who loved any word he would impart on the subject of Adventure.
There was reading as well as writing, and arithmatics and ciphering. He also did not limit the boy to Westron speech, but began teaching him also the words that he knew in Elvish, and made the boy copy Elvish script, even when he had no idea what it said.
Bilbo had set aside a room for Frodo's schooling, but they were not often in the room. They took long walks all around the countryside, and Frodo was more often scratching his letters in a sandy pit or muddy soil with a stick than on a parchment with ink and quill. He traced letters on roadsigns with his fingers and spelled words from memory, and Bilbo drilled him with questions as they walked over the Shire's rich lands. When Bilbo decided he was ready, they sat down and learned to scribe, and Bilbo was a firm master, insisting on careful penmanship, so that Frodo's hand was easier to decipher than his own.
"I'm doing you a favour, my lad," he said whenever Frodo would halt to ease the ache in his hand after copying yet another excercise. "You don't want to be like your Uncle Bilbo, writing all cramped and spidery."
So Frodo worked hard to improve, but actually he wanted to be EXACTLY like his marvelous Uncle. Bilbo was apt to abandon school work because the sun was shining 'just so' in the garden, or because the rain was "just too musical to ignore". And Frodo was excused from work in the afternoons of fine days, and he spent the time playing with the other children who lived on or near The Hill.
Frodo had heeded Bilbo's instructions about his 'proper behaviour', though his uncle seemed to discard the advice immediately. One of the first young hobbits he introduced the lad to was the son of Bilbo's gardener. Young Gamgee was eight years old, barely more than a tot, but already lending a hand where he could to his father. They were sent off together often, and Samwise was as earnest in play as he was in work, steadfast and loyal as an old dog. Together, they scoured every inch of Hobbiton and Bywater, playing at slaying dragons and hiding treasure.

That year passed happily, and Frodo learned many things from his uncle, and from old Holman, 'the Gaffer' as he was generally called, though Frodo called him 'Gaffer, sir' and was as polite to him as he would have been to the Mayor himself. He was Samwise's father, and he doted on Frodo and Bilbo both. He allowed Frodo to help him in the garden on fine days when Bilbo was otherwise occupied with his own business. He would pat the lad on his head and comment loudly to any who might be over-hearing, "This boy Frodo is as nice a young hobbit as a body could wish to meet!" Frodo adored him, and might have envied Sam, except that Frodo received much attention from both Bilbo and the Gaffer that he felt too lucky to be jealous.
Not everyone, however, had a welcome for the young exile from Buckland. Bilbo's first cousin Otho Sackville-Baggins and his sour-faced wife Lobelia were not pleased at all, especially after they received an invitation to Bilbo's ninety-nineth Birthday-party, with an additional line at the bottom exclaiming that the party would include the presentation of Frodo Baggins as Bilbo's heir. No, sir, not pleased at all!
"You must forgive your old uncle, Frodo," Bilbo said as he blew on the drying ink of the invitation he had just signed. "Those greedy S.-B's. have been hovering over me like vultures, waiting for me to die and leave them all my goods. This is a bit of a treat for me, but I fear that you will get some small grief from them."
"I don't mind, Bilbo, sir," said Frodo, passing him another invitation, as he was writing them out for his uncle to sign. His script was bold and firm now, and Bilbo thought it was good practice, and it also made the task less onerous.
The party was very successful, and both Bilbo and Frodo were wished well many times that night, and their health toasted together by all, except for the S.-Bs, who 'accidentally' spilled both of their wine glasses at the same moment, just after the toast. Bilbo saw to it that they were served more wine immediately, and they reluctantly repeated the toast and drank their wine, though it seemed to stick in their throats. Bilbo looked as if he wanted to laugh aloud. Instead, he gave a touching speech, welcoming his guests and especially Frodo, and announcing to all that Frodo was henceforth the heir of the Bag End and the future Master of the Hill.

The title of Master was an honourary one, given to the most respectable and wealthy hobbit in the Shire bearing the name of Baggins. It carried no real weight with folk, except in the Family, but generally Master Baggins was consulted on matters involving hobbit politics and ancestery, and his word was usually considered 'the last word'. Bilbo had enjoyed the honour since his father had died, and even though some hobbits felt his Adventures should have disqualified him as Master, no one had the nerve or audacity to say it aloud, and Bilbo was unquestionably the wealthiest Baggins, in the Shire or out of it.
It mattered little to Bilbo, either way. He considered the job a nuisence usually, as it sometimes interrupted his work with Frodo, or the periods of time he spent alone in his study, writing his memoirs. He would have surrendered the title in a heartbeat-- to anyone but Otho. It pleased Bilbo to take gentle revenge for the insult and inconvience that he had been caused fourty years earlier, after he had returned from the Lonely Mountain.

When the party was over and the hosts were bidding their guests good-night, Lobelia and Otho departed, white-faced with supressed anger. Nodding slightly to Bilbo and refusing to acknowledge Frodo at all, they stalked out of the hole. After they closed the door on the last guest, Bilbo and Frodo both broke into laughter.

One day, late in the spring of the second year Frodo had been living at Bag End, Bilbo and he set off on a long stroll, packing camping gear and foodstuffs on a pony, for they were going to spend a few days in the woods south of Hobbiton. Bilbo fancied that it would be likely that they may spot some Elves, as they passed through the Shire on their business beyond the Tower Hills. Frodo was excited, but he had gone on these little walks often enough that he knew not to expect much success. The one time they had encountered any Fair Folk, Frodo had slept through the entire visit, though Bilbo had assured him that the Elves thought he was a fine example of a young hobbit. Frodo was not sure that such a statement could be construed as complimentary, considering the reputation of Elvish humour. He was going to do his best to stay awake this time, and he had been practicing a greeting in the High Elven tongue to impress any Folk they might encounter.
The trip was disasterous. They set up their camp and spent a long chilly night in fruitless watchfulness. On the morning side of the second night a late spring storm came blowing up from the Tookborough Hills, dropping the temperature and pelting the hobbits with sleety rain. They were quickly soaked and chilled to the bone. Bilbo wrapped his shivering nephew in every blanket and cloak they had brought, and set him on the pony, hurrying toward the refuge of the Great Smials nearby.
They were quickly received and revived beside a blazing hearth, and plyed with hot tea and soup until the colour came back into their faces. But on the way home to Hobbiton the next day, Frodo came down with a hacking cough. By the time they were home, he was swooning with fever.
Bilbo laid the child in a bed piled with quilted blankets, and sent Halfast to bring a doctor as soon as could be. Frodo lay in a delirium muttering brokenly, sometimes calling for his mother. Nothing could be done that would bring down the fever, and the violent coughs shook the lad's whole body. Bilbo began to worry earnestly. He sent urgent messages to the Brandywine Bridge and the Sarn Ford, asking that Gandalf should come at once, but he did not know if the old wandering wizard was even nearby. He sat at the bedside and placed cool cloths on the lad's burning brow, and sang or spoke gently, though Frodo did not respond to his voice or wake up.
A firm tapping knock drew him to the door at a sprint, but instead of Gandalf or the Hobbiton doctor, a dark, weather-beaten Man stood upon the doorstep.
Bilbo was annoyed. "Yes? Can I help you? I am very busy..." And he made to close the door on the stranger, but the Man held up a hand quickly and said, "You sent a message to bring Gandalf the Wizard here."
Bilbo froze, and opened the door again. "Yes. And how is that your business?"
The strange man smiled. "I am Aragorn, a Ranger from the North. I am a friend of Gandalf. I have come because Gandalf is not near and cannot be reached swiftly. The message was urgent so I came myself, to offer what aid I can. I am something of a healer."
Bilbo was too desperate to push away anyone who might help his sick nephew. "Please... Forgive me." Bilbo bowed, and Aragorn came inside the Bag End, ducking almost double to fit his tall frame inside the round doorway. "My nephew is very ill. I am afraid for him, and that has made me a bit short."
"You are fortunate that anyone received the message at all, Mr Baggins," Aragorn said, removing his cloak. "Your messenger all but flung the note into the ditch on the far side of Sarn Ford. He did not like being outside of the Shire, even a few feet, and he did not wish to speak to any Big Folk."
Bilbo hung his long cloak on a peg in the hall and led the way to Frodo's room. "I am so relieved that someone has come, that I shall forgive him for now. But if Frodo..." Bilbo's voice caught and he cleared his throat. "Un,... this way..."
Aragorn knelt beside the small bed and laid a hand on the boy's forehead. Frodo mummured softly at the touch, and opened his eyes briefly. Then he coughed dryly and shivered. His face was waxy pale, and covered with a sheen of perspiration. Aragorn glanced sharply at Bilbo and asked, "Where is the nearest stream of fresh water?"
"That would be the Rill that feeds the Bywater pool, down The Hill southward."
"Show me," said Aragorn, and gathered the child in his arms.
"What...what are you doing?"
Aragorn looked sternly at Bilbo, but there was pity and compassion in the steel of that glance. "Your nephew is very sick. I must reduce the fever quickly. Now show me this spring, and bring a blanket of red wool."
"Red? I don't have a red... oh, yes, here is one. Come this way!"
It was dim evening, with remote stars and a thin moon swinging low over the western hills. They moved swiftly, and were nearly invisible in the dark. When they reached the stream, Aragorn laid the child in the chilly water. Frodo gasped with the shock of the cold, and struggled weakly in the man's hands. Aragorn held him firmly for a space of time, then lifted him out and wrapped him tight in the woolen cloth, then carried him quickly back to his bed. The big Man moved quietly, and made no noise as he did this strange deed. No one nearby heard or witnessed a thing.
Frodo was blue-lipped and pale, but his fever was lessened, and his uncle and the man chaffed his hands and feet gently to bring colour back into his face. Then Aragorn asked Bilbo to boil some water.
Bilbo watched the Man as he tended the lad. He steeped dried tree-bark and some sweet-smelling herbs in the hot water, and mixed the brew into a draught that he carefully spooned into Frodo's mouth. He was gentle of word but firm of hand, and his manner calmed Bilbo considerably. Frodo settled gradually into a light sleep, and his cough was less frequent and more productive. His fever had not disappeared, but he no longer burned so fiercely. He woke enough at Aragorn's word to sip the draught periodically, and his cheeks bloomed with colour again.
In spite of the fact that he towered over the hobbits, Aragorn spoke deferently to Bilbo, and sat patiently through the long night next to the sickbed, asking nothing for himself, but watching the little face and singing softly words that Bilbo could not hear clearly enough to understand.
When the morning dawned Frodo's fever had broken, and the Man stayed with him until he woke up, blinking against the bright sunlight that spilled in to his room. He drank some of the thin porridge that Bilbo prepared for him, and then apologized with a cough for spoiling their camping trip. Bilbo tisked at the boy, and fussed at his side until he dropped of into another healing sleep. Bilbo sighed with relief, tucking the covers under the lad's chin.
Aragorn was sitting on the floor beyond the foot of Frodo's bed, where the weak child could not have seen him. Bilbo began to thank him, but the Man shushed him, and guestured that they should leave the room and not wake the patient.
"Let him sleep as much as he wants for a couple of days. Give him draughts of tea made with these leaves and honey." He handed Bilbo a pouch of greenery. "He will be weak for a while, but feed him up well, and he should be back to normal in a fortnight." The man picked up his cloak and turned to leave.
Bilbo blocked the door. "No one enters this house and then leaves without hospitality. Please stay for breakfast at least, my good Man. You must not go off without good memories of the Bag End."
Aragorn accepted the invitation, and Bilbo gratefully prepared him a huge breakfast, then thanked him earnestly for helping. Aragorn refused Bilbo's offer for payment in gold, asking only that Bilbo not speak widely that he had come to him, and that he not mention his name to any other person but Gandalf.
"I am a Ranger, and we are a folk who do our job better when no one knows we are there. I came only because Gandalf could not, or you would never have met me."
"Well, I am glad you did! And you are welcome in the Bag End anytime you wish. If this secret business of yours brings you back this way again, then do please stop in. I have been known to keep a good secret myself, or rather not KNOWN to, if you follow me, and any friend of Gandalf is a friend of Bilbo Baggins!"
When the Hobbiton doctor finally arrived at the door of the Bag End, Bilbo allowed him to check the lad over. He noted that the fever was declining and told Bilbo to give him plenty to drink and to keep him warm. He recommended tea with honey for the lad's cough, and Bilbo did not discuss the events of the evening before. He thanked the doctor and gave him a gold coin for making the long trip. He sat himself next to Frodo, listening to his soft breathing and starting at every catch and cough. The boy's face was a pale circle against the dark red wool. The old hobbit took one of Frodo's hands in his own, and he did not stir for a long time.
Frodo recovered his health in that fortnight, under his uncle's watchful eye. He remembered nothing of his nighttime visitor, and Bilbo kept his promise to the Man to keep his deed secret. Frodo's strength returned also, and as soon as Bilbo permitted it, he was up and about again, quite back to normal. It was summer now, and June was ripening. There was a great celebration on Midsummer's night, and Bilbo allowed Frodo to run off with the other hobbit children to tend the bonfires. Bilbo's anxiety for his nephew faded, and the routine of The Hill returned.
Some days after, a Dwarf came to the Bag End with a message for Bilbo. Frodo was working in his room when his uncle came in chuckling.
"How do you like that? I've just had a note from Balin! Going off on another adventure, the silly old fellow. He will be stopping here for a spell, before going on, he says. Well! Put up that book and come and help me. If we are expecting Dwarves, we had best spend the rest of the day learning cooking arts. Let's see, Balin's favourite is seed cake, if I remember rightly, and beer. Run down the cellar and check the hog's head. We won't want to run out!"
Balin's visit was the next best thing to going on an Adventure himself, thought Frodo, as he served his uncle and their guests tea. Balin was full of enthusiasm and cheer, and he nodded at Bilbo with approval when Frodo bowed low to greet him.
"A fine lad, Bilbo. I see that he will be a great Adventurer one day, just like us!" Balin told Frodo tales of the journey to Lonely Mountain, and Frodo was interested to note the differences in that tale from the one his uncle had told him. But he made no comment about that, and asked eager questions that led to more tales until Bilbo shooed him away kindly so that he and Balin could have a private talk. Frodo rose obediently, and bowed low, vowing service to Balin and his family, as Bilbo had taught him. "A fine lad, just as I said," remarked Balin. "At your service and your family's, too, young Master Baggins."
Bag End could house a fair number, but Balin had a mighty troop of Dwarves with him, so only Balin, Oin and Ori were staying in the guest rooms. The others were billeted on the Hill behind the garden. The folk of Hobbiton stared and marveled at the sight and sound of so many strange folk. "What was that Mad Baggins up to now?" they asked each other, and peeked over the hedges. The Dwarves ignored them and sang their strong music around the open hearth-fire.
Dismissed, Frodo wandered off down the Hill, after making sure the other Dwarves who were travelling with Balin were comfortable and settled in their tents. It was a nice evening, a little cool for late June, but the stars were high and bright, and Frodo let his feet take him through the sleepy village and past the Pool, and on toward the farmlands spread in a lazy circle around Hobbiton.
He became aware after a while that he was being followed. "Come on out, Sam!" Sam stepped out of the bushes and walked up to Frodo, his blush visible even in the fragile starlight. "I was wondering why you were hanging back. Why are you following me?"
"It's my Gaffer, sir. He noted you coming down the Hill, and sent me to shadow you, to make sure you came to no harm, wandering in the dark with so many strange folk about." Sam clearly did not agree with his father's prejudice, but he was an obedient lad, and too honest to lie.
"There is nothing to be concerned about with Balin's folk, Sam, but I am glad you have come," Frodo said. He noticed that Sam was holding something dark in his hands. "What is that you have there, Sam?"
"It's a cloak, sir. My mother made it. Wove it herself, she did, and in your favourite colour, sir. She said I was to see you in it, sir. She saw you wandering down the hill without one, and you just recovering from being sick, and all..."
Frodo wrapped the soft warm cloak around his shoulders. "Thanks, Sam. I shall tell your mother how grateful I am, when I see her tomorrow. It is lovely. How thoughtful she is! I did not realize how chilly the evening had become. Come and walk with me. Bilbo has turned me out of the hole, so let's go look at the stars."
It was very late night or very early morning, depending on which side of the bedroom mat you are standing on, when Frodo came back home. To his suprise, Bilbo and Balin were still in the parlour, talking in low voices. Frodo tried to be extra quiet so as not to disturb them, but Bilbo saw him as he tip-toed past the door.
"Whatever are you up to, Frodo?" asked Bilbo. "Making a late night of it, aren't we?"
"Yes, sir. Just out for a walk with Sam," Frodo answered.
Balin took his pipe out of his mouth and said, "Where did you get that handsome green cloak? I would swear that you were not wearing it when you went out."
"Mrs Gamgee made it for me..." Frodo hastily stifled a yawn.
"You had best get to bed, lad," said Bilbo. "I'll wake you for elevenses. Off with you!"
"Good night, Uncle Bilbo, Master Balin, sir."
"Good Morning!"
When Frodo woke later that day, it was closer to tea-time than elevenses, so he prepared an ample meal for himself. Bilbo and the Dwarves had vanished, and it was after his second cup of tea that Frodo began to grow concerned that his uncle had up and ran off into the Blue again. But his walking stick was still leaning against the wall near the door, and his pipe and handkerchiefs had not been packed away. Also there had been a kettle on the hearth, which Bilbo would not have left burning if he hadn't expected to be back very soon.
Bilbo did return soon, and though he teased Frodo about sleeping so late, he seemed reserved as he drank the tea Frodo made for him. When Frodo asked where Balin and the Dwarves had gone, Bilbo smiled at him and laid one finger along side his nose, and winked. That was all the answer he got, until the journey became history, many years later.