The Heir of the Hill

by Lothithil

  II  III  IV  V  VI

Chapter 10: What Friends are For

Part One

What Friends Are For, part one

Frodo did not know what Gandalf told Bilbo about that day. He went to his room as soon as they arrived at Bag End, falling in exhaustion onto his soft bed where he slept the day and night away, waking in the early dawn to the sound of Sam and Gaffer labouring in the garden. He felt strangely weak and hungry, as if he had been ill, though he felt completely well. He bathed his face and hands and dressed himself, then followed his nose to the kitchen.

His uncle was bustling about the board, pulling hot pies from the oven. The smell of them made the young hobbit’s mouth water. “Good morning, Bilbo, sir!”

“Frodo lad!” Bilbo nearly dropped the pie he held, saving it from tipping from his hands with a deft movement. “I thought you were going to sleep your life away! Sit down and have a cup of tea, dear boy. I shall dish you out some porridge.”

“You have your hands full, uncle. I can get it.” Frodo poured a cup of tea for himself and for Bilbo. He hesitated, looking for a third cup. “Is Gandalf still here?”

“No, lad. He had to be off on his way. Left early this morning he did, after looking in on you one last time. Worried about you he was, but he didn’t say why.” Bilbo set the last pie on the sill, where the smell of the bubbling fruit pastries filled the morning breeze.

Frodo was spooning tea leaves into their cups with an excess of care, pointedly not looking at Bilbo. “What did he tell you about yesterday?”

“Very little, to my annoyance, if I may criticize one so wise! He seemed to think it was not his place to say ought. I was hoping you could shed a little light on why you came home half-dead from exhaustion in the arms of a wizard with an elvish cloak wrapped around you? Or is that not any business of mine?” Bilbo sighed, seeing that his sharp remark had hurt Frodo. “Come, lad, I am only hard because I am so worried about you! I am not angry.”

Frodo took his teacup in his hands but did not drink. “I was hoping Gandalf would have told you, sir. I don’t remember much myself. I was walking to the Waymeet along the road through Woodyend. There was an accident; a tree fell and I was knocked on the head. I had some strange dreams and woke to find Gandalf. He bought me home… and that is all that I remember.”

Bilbo face was full of concern. “I checked your head, lad, when I saw the blood on you. There is naught but a small white mark under your hairline. I wouldn’t have known you were hurt at all, but for the stains on your hands and face.”

“Gandalf must have done some magic… I don’t remember.” Frodo drank his tea and dug into his breakfast, hot porridge piled with sweetenings and a large slice of Bilbo’s fresh berry pie. The incident was fading from his mind and his strength was returning. “I feel just fine now, uncle. Your pies are as excellent as ever!” Bilbo gave him a second wedge, relieved to see the lad’s appetite return.

“Eat them up, young Baggins, for you have a day ahead of you, if you feel so well! You have visitors coming today, which you seem to have forgotten also. Meriadoc Brandybuck should be here by lunchtime, and he’s bringing that young cousin from Tuckburough, Peregrin. They can both eat more than a team of draft horses, and I need help getting everything ready. I want you to find Gamgee’s boy and have him help you with the market this morning… finish your breakfast first!” Bilbo said as Frodo rose from his chair hasitily. The young hobbit sat back down and cleaned his plate, setting the dishes in the basin. “Leave the washing up to me; off you go, lad! And don’t forget to pick up some flour. I used the last of ours on these pies!”

In the garden Frodo found Samwise tugging at a weed that had dared to sprout in his father’s beloved tater patch. He loosened the tough root from the ground and chucked it into the barrow with a heap of other unwanted foliage. Frodo waved to him and said, “Hola, Sam! I must go to the market this morning. Can the Gaffer spare you for an hour or so? We will need the barrow as well. Bilbo has ordered half the provender in the Shire!”

“Aye, go along there, Samwise, and mind yerself!” The Gaffer nodded politely to Frodo, leaning on his hoe. “Good morning to you, Mr Frodo.”

“And to you, Master Gamgee. The garden looks beautiful, sir!” The Gaffer beamed with pride and Sam wheeled the barrow over to the compost heap where he upended it. He followed Frodo down the hill, heading toward the Hobbiton market.

As they passed the mill, Frodo made to cross the bridge, but Sam paused. “Didn’t Mr Bilbo say he needed some more flour, sir? We might just as well pick it up now.”

“Yes, Sam, he did. I thought to spare you pushing it around while we picked up the groceries. We could get it on the way home just as easily.”

“Why, Mr Frodo, you are too kind! It’s not a burden at all!”

Frodo hesitated. For some reason, he was loath to go into the mill. He handed Sam a coin. “Do me a favour, Sam, and get the flour for me. Finest ground with no hulls, as Bilbo favours. I will meet you at the butcher’s stall. All right?” He hurried on when Sam nodded agreeably. He drew a breath to ease his tight chest as he stepped off of the bridge on the Bywater side.

Sam pushed his empty barrow up to the open door of the mill. The huge wheel was squeaking as the water pushed it round and round, though the gears inside were not turning today. There seemed to be no one about. Sam coughed and then called out, “Hallo, the mill?”

“Hallo!” Ted Sandyman appeared from inside a small room, dusting his hands that were coated with flour. “What do you want, Gamgee?” he said roughly, though he sounded almost happy. Sam did not recall ever seeing him in such a good mood before, unless he was tormenting someone.

“Picking up an order from Mr Baggins, Ted. Finest flour, please?” said Sam.

“Aye, right here it is. Da tol’ me to deliver it this afternoon.” Ted looked as if he was insulted that Sam was come to claim this errand.

“Set it in the barrow, if you please, Mr Sandyman,” said Sam equably. “Mr Bilbo used his up this morning, and needs it a bit earlier, is all. Where’s Mr Sandyman?” Sam looked around at the deserted mill, where unturned lumber and grain were setting around, neglected. “I’ve a coin from Mr Frodo…”

“I’ll give it to my da when he gets back. He’s off today with the foreman, pulling in a tree that was felled out by Woodyend.” Sam dropped the coin in Ted’s meaty hand. The strong hobbit set it between his teeth and bit on the metal. Sam shook his head. He had never understood that practice. Ted slid the coin in a pocket. “Off with ye now, Gamgee! I have other work to do today. There is your flour. Carry it out to yerself! I am a busy hobbit, don’t you know?”

Sam picked up the bag and left the mill, more than happy to put the miller’s son behind him. That lad had often brought Samwise grief, in one form or another. But he did not dwell on this; he set the bag in the barrow and pushed it over the bridge, looking for Frodo in the crowded hobbitry in the market that morning.

He spotted him easily. Frodo’s dark hair stood out sharply among all the other heads, crowned with brown curls or bonnets. Sam had never realized how tall Frodo had become. He had always seemed tall to Sam, who was younger than him by some twelve years. Now he saw that Frodo was indeed taller than most hobbits, even those who were half again his age. Also, his fair skin set him apart as well. He spotted Sam and waved to him, his clear voice carrying easily above the din of the market.

They completed their shopping quickly, loading the barrow to overflowing. Frodo took one handle while Sam the other, and together they pushed the heavy load up the winding Hill path.

Standing close to Frodo, Sam marked him again. Just like any other hobbit he appeared, dressed in clothes perhaps a bit richer than the average, but well worn. But something about him was unusual, too. Sam couldn’t put his finger on it. He stole frequent glances at Frodo as they walked, until Frodo laughed and said, “Have I got spots breaking out on my face, Sam? What is it you are staring at?”

“Nothing, sir! Only you seem different today; taller for one thing, sir, if you don’t mind my saying so. I don’t recall you being so tall, Mr Frodo.”

“I am sure you’re imagining it, Sam. I am just the same as ever! Or perhaps,” Frodo paused, glancing down and realizing that his trews did seem a bit shorter than usual today, and his tunic had been a bit tight across his shoulders this morning when he had dressed. “Perhaps I am just a growing hobbit! I think you are right, Sam! It must have been that extra slice of pie this morning!”

They trundled up the path to the Bag End, and Sam elbowed the gate open so that they could wheel the barrow toward the rear entrance of the smial. Frodo nearly dropped his end of the barrow as Sam let his go, exclaiming in disbelief.

A tall weed had sprouted right next to the tater patch he had cleared that morning. Frodo’s complaint made Sam grab the barrow again, but the young hobbit was still upset. “I pulled that weed once this morning, I swear it, Mr Frodo! And there it is again, growing up like the wind from the south!”

Frodo looked at the strange plant, a tall woody-looking thing with whorled brown wood and knobby branches. He laughed at Sam, “I think the Gaffer is overworking you, Sam! How can a weed grow that quickly?”

“I dunno, Mr Frodo,” said Sam darkly, as they began to unload the barrow. “But I wonder if they don’t wander in from out of the woods at times! I swear, sometimes I hear ‘em laughing at me!”

When the hobbits disappeared inside, the plant shuddered and began to move itself toward the rose garden, where a new bush had rooted itself. A whisper would have been heard, if anyone had stood nearby, “Told you, Stint, so Ah did. Hide in a garden, do not dress as a weed, Ah said. Uprooted you’ll get yourself again, if you don’t change!”

The woody-weed shed its foliage and wound itself into an innocent-looking birdsnest. It settled into the branches of the hedge, just beneath the study window. “You think you know it all, don’t you, Firtle? I was the one who found the path to aewn’s house! Now we can see aewn everyday, and keep him safe!”

Firtle shook his flowered branches. He had disguised himself as a rosebush with extra thorns. “Stint did find, Ah’m agreeing. But he is not aewn, Ah’m tellin’ you. His name you heard, as did Ah. ‘Meester Froda’ he is called.”

Stint hissed as the hobbits came back outside to empty the barrow. Sam looked at the tater patch, now missing the tricky weed. He guessed the Gaffer must have been having a joke on him. He decided not to mention it again, in case Mr Frodo really began to believe his gardener was going mad.

Frodo had paused, staring at the garden. His memory was being tickled, and when Sam touched his sleeve in concern, he laughed and shrugged it off. “I think we are both going barmy, Sam! I could have sworn I heard the plants talking this time. Let’s go and have a piece of Bilbo’s pie before Meriadoc and Peregrin come and eat them all. This has been a strange morning!”


Part Two



The year is around 1398, summer in the Shire. Young Frodo Baggins has more to worry about than peculiar dreams. There is a change in him that has become visible to all, even his closest friends. Weeds aren't the only thing growing up on the Hill.


It was a strange morning, bound to become a strange afternoon. For no young hobbits had appeared by lunchtime, and Bilbo was becoming a little worried about what might be delaying Merry and Pippin. It was not like those two to be late for a meal. Frodo volunteered to run down the lane toward Tuckburough and see what he could.

No farther than the bridge to Hobbiton did he need to go, though, for there he found his two young cousins sitting on the grass beside the mill. Ted Sandyman and Lotho Sackville-Baggins stood nearby, restraining a pony that struggled and whinnied and tried to break from their hold.

Pippin was in tears, but it was Merry who was hurt. Frodo ran down the dusty road and hurried to his side. Merry was grimacing and clutching his foot. As Frodo ran up, he heard Merry say to Peregrin through clenched teeth, “Not a word, young Took.”

“Merry! Whatever has happened?” Frodo looked with pity at Merry’s poor foot, his toes very red and swelling.

“An accident, Frodo,” Merry said, looking at Pippin who was biting on his lip. The lad was just eight years old, but intelligent and unusually well-spoken for one so young. He said nothing now, just looked at Merry with eyes reddened and face streaked. “Lotho’s pony stepped on my foot. I’ll be fine in a few moments. Help me up, will you?”

Frodo clucked his tongue. He wondered by the bruising and swelling if Merry’s foot might indeed be broken. “Just stay right there, Merry, and don’t try to stand on that! Pippin, would you run up the Hill and ask Sam to come with his barrow? We can use that to get you to Bag End, Merry. Not the most dignified way to arrive to tea, but better than hopping on one foot!” Peregrin sped off, cutting across yard and over burrow.

“How did this happen, Merry?” asked Frodo.

“You heard him, Baggins. It were an accident.” Ted Sandyman’s shadow cut across Merry’s prone form. Frodo looked up at him, stiffening slightly at the animosity in Ted’s voice. “Lotho got a new pony from his dad. He is still a little green to ride. Brandybuck wasn’t moving fast enough across the bridge and got trod on!” Ted laughed a nasty laugh.

“I’ll be all right, Frodo. Forget about it. Just help me get to the Hill.” Merry’s voice was almost pleading for Frodo to drop the subject. Frodo could see now that Lotho had come up behind them, slapping his riding gloves on his thigh with a *crack*.

Lotho was four years older than Frodo, and had always used his age and weight against the younger hobbit, trying to intimidate him. He was a terror to his peers in Sackville where he lived with his parents and a known bully to all the children in Hobbiton and Bywater. Ted and he were as close of friends as either was likely to have. Individually, they were to be avoided. Together, they could mean a lot of trouble.

Frodo’s heart was hot with anger for his friend. He knew the tricks that Shire lads sometimes played on visitors from across the Brandywine; he had been the brunt of many japes and practical jokes himself, when first he had moved to Hobbiton. This seemed a bit more than just hazing, though. Merry’s foot could be seriously injured, and Peregrin might have been hurt as well.

“I can’t say I think much of taking a green pony for a ride through the village, Lotho,” Frodo commented. Merry winced and ducked his head, but Frodo could see that it wasn’t his foot that pained him.

“What’s that supposed to mean, Baggins?” asked Lotho menacingly. He stepped forward quickly and grabbed Frodo by his vest, hauling him to his feet as if he intended to shake him like a rat. He had not counted on Frodo being taller than him now by a good two inches. He released Frodo’s jacket and stepped back uncertainly.

Frodo was not the least bit afraid of either Lotho or Ted. He had taken and given beatings to both of them at one time or another, in one-on-one wrestling or fisticuffs. But Ted was closing in behind him and Merry was in too bad a way to back him up. He took a deep breath and tried to think through the moment.

He kept his voice soft and reasonable, “I only mean that it would be a shame to injure such a fine pony, riding him about before he is fully trained. Your father would be most ill pleased, should such a valuable animal come to harm. If I were you, I would get him out of here and away before anyone learns about this and it gets back to your father.”

Lotho looked uneasy at the mention of his father. He lifted his chin and said defiantly, “I’m on business for my father today. There is no reason why I shouldn’t be here.”

Frodo took a step toward Lotho, taking advantage of his uncertainty. “If you have business, then be about it, Master Sackville-Baggins. I have business, too. Perhaps Ted will be kind enough to help you mount your green pony so you can be away. I am afraid that I am rather too busy at the moment to assist you.” He leveled an even stare at Lotho, all the while half expecting a blow from Ted who stood behind him.

Lotho backed down quickly. Mumbling something, he grabbed a fistful of Ted’s shirt and dragged him along. Ted walked backward rather than turn his back to Frodo, stumbling toward the mill and the place where they had tethered the pony. He looked as though the matter had not been dropped as far as he was concerned.

Frodo turned his back on them at once, kneeling next to Merry. Meriadoc’s eyes were big as saucers, and he was trying to keep a smile off of his face. He bowed his head as if in pain, but whispered for Frodo’s ears, “You tell ‘em, cousin!”

Frodo kept his own smile hidden with difficulty. “If you can’t beat them, bluff them, my dear Meriadoc.” There was a clatter of hooves as Lotho’s pony galluped away, Lotho barely hanging on as the beast took its head and bolted over the bridge. Luckily, there were no pedestrians this time. Ted went inside the mill and slammed the door behind him.

Shortly Sam appeared, with the barrow as well as the Gaffer and Bilbo. Peregrin was trotting alongside, puffing and red-faced.

Bilbo looked at Merry’s foot, then sent Sam to fetch the doctor from town. They lifted the lad into the barrow gently and carefully rolled him up the Hill. “I certainly hope that none of those bones are broken, young Meriadoc! What will your father say, when he hears about this?”

“It was just an accident, Uncle Bilbo. Really, I will be fine…” Merry protested, wincing at every jolt and bump as the older hobbits steered him toward Bag End.

“That’s what young Peregrin said,” Bilbo commented, glancing back at the young Took. Pippin refused to look into his eye. Bilbo nodded and said no more, but Frodo could see he was not fooled.

Frodo carried Pippin pig-a-back; the young Took was winded and worried about his cousin. He grasped Pippin under his legs, and with the lad hugging him around the neck, they followed the Gaffer and Bilbo uphill. Pippin leaned his face close to Frodo’s ear and whispered, “It wasn’t no accident, cousin Frodo.”

“I know, lad,” Frodo murmured back to him. “We will settle with Mr Lotho and Mr Sandyman. But we mustn’t make trouble for Bilbo, lad. There’s folks who want to cause him grief, and you or Merry getting hurt while visiting us would be just the kind of incident they could use. I know it is hard to not be mad… I am furious myself! Just don’t say anything about it right now, okay?”

“That’s what Merry said. I don’t understand, but I will stay quiet. I promised Merry.” Pippin’s face was splotchy from crying, but now it was determined and grim.

Frodo jogged him a little, making sounds like a pony. Pippin giggled slightly. “We will talk about it later, and I will help you understand then. Right now, let’s try to get home before the pies are all cold.”

“Pies?” Pippin hugged Frodo hard around his neck, making him gasp. “I thought I could smell pies…”


Part Three: Doctor Tarsus


Doctor Samuel Tarsus, a neatly dressed hobbit of middling years, arrived swiftly with Sam Gamgee carrying his bag, an anonymous leather satchel. Bilbo let him into the parlour where they had settled Meriadoc, his feet propped up on a cushioned stool.

Frodo had taken Pippin into the kitchen for a morsel of food and to keep him out from underfoot, but they both leaned against the door listening and looking in as Doctor Tarsus examined Merry.

Merry looked up at the doctor uneasily, his face betraying his pain and fear. Doctors meant icky-tasting medicines and sharp pokes and prods. He had never felt comfortable around them, and now he tensed as the hobbit came close to him.

Dr Tarsus looked the boy in the face, taking no notice of his foot. He took off his hat and coat, handing them to the ubiquious Samwise, and held out his hand to Merry. "Master Brandybuck? It is my honour to meet you, young sir. I know your father Saradoc; you are the very image of him when he was your age. We were friends back when I lived in Stock as a lad." Merry accepted his hand, smiling a little.

The doctor sat down next to him, setting his bag between his feet. "Master Baggins was kind enough to invite me to tea this afternoon. Perhaps I could take a look at your scuff while the water boils?" Merry nodded, relaxing at the hobbit's friendly manner and gentle voice.

From out of his bag, Dr Tarsus brought forth a strange object. Pippin gasped and clutched Frodo's arm, afraid that it would hurt Merry terribly, but Merry exclaimed, "I know what that is! That is a tuning fork! Mother uses that to keep the hobbit-fry choir singing together."

"Aye, Mr Brandybuck. There is another use for a tuning fork, than to keep young hobbits from singing sour. I am going to stike this and touch it to your toes, one at a time. If you feel any discomfort, say so at once!"

The doctor struck the fork lightly on the arm of his chair, then touched it to Merry's big toe.

Merry laughed. "Doctor, sir, that is my good foot!"

"Oh!" cried the doctor, who made a show of taking off his thick spectacles and cleaning them thouroughly. He put them back on and squinted at Merry's feet again. "So it is, young Master! All right, we'll try this one. Remember... if it hurts at all, say so instantly."

He repeated the gesture on each of Merry's toes, striking the metal and setting the end to the nail of each battered digit. Merry watched but uttered no complaint. He did not even wince once.

"Well, that is good!" exclaimed the doctor.

"What does it mean, sir?" asked Pippin. He could not bear listening only and had crept into the room to watch the doctor work.

The doctor patted him on the head. "It means that your cousin is in the key of G sharp!" Everyone laughed, Merry loudest of all.

"That is good, because I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, sir!" he said jokingly.

"It also means that here are no broken bones in your foot, Master Merry," the doctor said. "I can see tht you are deeply bruised, but a bit of willowbark a couple of times a day will take care of the pain, and you should keep it raised and keep off of it for several days. A warm soak in some salty water would help, too. No walks further than the parlour to the pantry, mind you, and try to avoid squaredancing for a few weeks."

Pippin giggled and quipped, "That is very good, Doctor sir, 'cause Merry can't dance neither!" Merry grabbed Pippin and held him playfully with his arm locked around his head while everyone laughed.

Frodo forestalled anymore cousin-abuse by arriving at that moment with a trolley, laden with steaming a tea pot, cups and plates, piled high with fresh pies.

"If you are quite through being the center of attention, Merry, we might have a spot of tea," said Frodo with a smile. He was so relieved that Merry was not badly hurt. He served the doctor first, then Bilbo and the Gaffer (Bilbo insisted that he and Sam join them since they had missed their own tea, helping with Merry). Sam, Pippin, and Frodo sat nearby and listened politely while the older hobbits talked. They grinned at each other and kept Merry's plate full of sweets until he begged for no more.

Doctor Tarsus mixed up a special cup of tea for Merry, who drank it with a face. He left a small bottle of powdered willowbark with Bilbo, along with instructions on how often and how much to use. Frodo listened, too, ready to back up his uncle's sometimes spotty memory.

The Doctor rose to leave with a parting word to Merry, "Give that father of yours my regards, Master Brandybuck. Tell him he is overdue to buy me a pint at the Golden Perch. Good day, Mr Baggins, Mr Gamgee. And to you, young ones! Do Merry's running about for the next few days, will you? There's some good lads!" and with that, he bowed and departed.

Frodo sat down next to Merry, pleased to see that his pain and frustration had eased. "It is a good thing, cousin, that your foot is in the key of G, I think."

Sensing that Frodo was in a silly mood, Merry cautiously asked, "Why is that, Frodo?"

"Why, 'tis better that your foot be sharp, than it B Flat!"

Merry groaned at Frodo's awful pun. "I am going to need more medicine if you are going to tell bad jokes all afternoon! Have pity on a poor crippled hobbit!"

Merriment rang through the halls and out of the many windows of Bag End, falling like welcome rain on the listening flowers.


Part Four : Merry's Story


Bilbo closed the round door behind the doctor, latching it securely. To the Gaffer he said, "Thank you for helping with Meriadoc, Hamfast. I know you must get back about it, but do you think you can spare Samwise tonight?" Bilbo was looking at Sam as he said this, winking one eye slowly so that the Gaffer could not see," I think I shall be needing his services tonight, with all these extra mouths to feed. I shall set him up with supper and bed tonight, with your leave."

"Of course, Master Baggins!" said the Gaffer equably. "I'll send him 'round after his chores are met. He's been looking forward to Master Merry and Mr Peregrin's visit for some time." The Gaffer might have been reluctant once to allow Sam to learn his letters, fearing that such things would give him ideas above his station. But he knew how fond Bilbo was of the lad, and that he and Frodo were good friends. Children needed friends when they are young.

"You'll send him home if he becomes a bother, sir. But for now, we best get back to work. That garden don't weed itself, you know!"

~~~~~


The Gaffer and Sam left, and Bilbo looked at his young guests. Frodo was picking up cups and plates to tidy-up after tea. "Leave those for now, lad. I think we need to hear what really happened today."

Pippin wilted under Bilbo's firm gaze, and Merry looked at his quilt-covered toes. Neither said anything at first. Frodo smiled gently at his friends. "It's all right, Merry. You can tell Bilbo what happened. We know that Lotho and Ted are trying to make trouble. Bilbo will be better able to protect us and himself if he knows everything that they do."

Merry reluctantly began to speak. "We were walking up from the Green Dragon where Pip's father had dropped us off. He and Aunt Eglantine were taking the girls to visit Master Banks. It was just a short way up the Hill, so we said we would walk. We had just waved them away and were crossing the bridge when Pimple..." Merry turned bright red and corrected himself awkwardly, "..I mean Mr Lotho Sackville-..."

Bilbo laughed, "I think 'Pimple' is rather a good epithat for that one! Go on with your story, Merry."

Merry grinned as he realized that Bilbo was listening to his tales for a turn of fortune. He warmed up to his role as a storyteller. "Lotho came riding his pony across the bridge. I pulled Pippin aside before he could trample us; he did not even slow down. I doubt that he could have slowed that pony, even if he had tried. I am not sure that it is the pony's fault; Lotho doesn't know how to ride a horse, if you ask my opinion, sir." Merry paused, and when Bilbo did not reprimand him for his criticism of Lotho, he continued.

"He stopped once he reached the mill-side of the Water. Laughing at us, he was. When I gave him my opinion of his horsemanship, he threatened to strap the saddle on me and ride me up the Hill."

Pippin was hiding his face in Frodo's sleeve. Frodo put his arm around his young cousin and hugged him comfortingly.

Merry spoke on. "Well, sir, my answer to that suggestion is not to be found in any ettiquette books, I confess. He charged his pony right at us, sir, and I pushed Pippin down so that the pony wouldn't step on him. I wasn't quick enough to avoid being stepped on myself." Merry shifted his foot and winced.

Bilbo shook his head. "Reckless and rash! Oh, I am not blaming you, Meriadoc, though all this might have been avoided if you could have kept a cooler head." The old hobbit sighed. "He was trying to get you into a fight, dear boy. If you or Peregrin were injured while visiting me, Otho could possibly convince Paladin and Saradoc that your coming around to visit Uncle Bilbo was 'unsafe', which would lead possibly to my being pronounced 'unfit' as a guardian to my young nephew. They are trying to find a loophole through which they can seize control of Bag End. It is sad, that Otho should use his son to act through, and that he would stoop to such treachery as to contemplate risking young lives to satisfy his greed. He must be watched closely. We all must be more careful and not give him opportunities for further mischief."

Merry dropped his eyes, genuinely contrite. "I am sorry, sir, if my actions have compromised you or Frodo." He raised his head then, and a fire burned in his proud eyes. "My father would never believe such lies, I assure you!"

Bilbo smiled and felt the bottom of the teapot to see if the water was still warm. "I thank you, Merry. Let me go and get some more water on the boil. You will be needing another dose of medicine soon. Is your foot painful?"

"Not much, sir." Merry grimaced after Bilbo left the room. "That willowbark tea is awful!"

Frodo had set Peregrin on his knee and was patting his back gently. The little hobbit was very sad. "Perhaps you would like to lay down and take a nap, Pip?" asked Frodo softly. Pippin shook his head 'no', and clung to his cousin desperately. "You're perfectly safe here, lad. Bilbo would not let anyone hurt you, nor would I or Merry, as he proved today."
Pippin sighed and closed his eyes, falling asleep almost instantly.

Merry motioned for Frodo to hand him over. He made room in the big chair that Bilbo had sat him in, tucking the blanket under Peregrin's chin. Softly, he said, "I really didn't have time to think. I just wanted to keep Pippin from getting hurt. He is still so small for his age."

Frodo smiled gently at them, then began to clear up the dishes and empty cups, saying, "He's like a little brother to me. I had not really missed all the other children at Brandyhall when I moved here, except you and one or two other close friends. But after Pip was born, I realized how nice it was to have younger hobbits around, to tell tales and teach games to." Frodo was gripped suddenly with the anger he had bottled up. His hand shook suddenly so that the china cup he had just picked up broke in his hand, and he cut himself on the shards. He exclaimed, placing his bleeding finger in his mouth.

Merry had a grim smile on his face. "Me, too, cousin. After you left Brandyhall, it was like loosing an older brother. I wish to be to Pippin what you are to me; someone who I can count on to be my friend, through thick and thin."

Frodo gripped Merry's shoulder. "I am that, Merry." They looked up at the sound of Bilbo returning. The older hobbit set a teapot down beside Merry, who could not disguise his aversion for what was coming.

"It has to taste bad, lad, or it won't make you feel better!" Bilbo said. "Now drink this down, and settle back for a spot of a nap yourself. Me and Frodo have some work to do in the kitchen."

~~~~~~


Sam arrived just after sunset, and with his help Bilbo had a fine supper ready for Merry and Pippin when they woke from their naps. After eating until they were nearly somnolent again, the young hobbits sat and listened to Bilbo tell tales. Sam sat on the floor near the fire, his eyes as big as saucers as Bilbo told a tale of the Elder Days, sad and exciting stories of valour and loss, betrayal and triumph in the face of evil.

Frodo was as attentive as the others. These tales he had only read about in his studies of the Elvish language, trying to decipher the strange writing of the Ancient Tongues. His eyes filled with tears as Bilbo described the voyage of Eärendil, sailing into the west to try and save the races of his mixed blood; Elves and Men.

Bedtime came too soon, and Bilbo settled Merry down in the spare bedroom off the parlour. The lad had not needed to hop more than a few steps, leaning on Frodo and Sam's shoulders. Pippin was set up in one of the small beds in the second guestroom, Sam was bedded down in the other. But before he would lay down, Sam went around all the rooms and banked the fires, helping Frodo and Bilbo with the washing-up before he laid down himself. He was so tired that he was stumbling as he headed to bed.

Frodo wished him goodnight, checking on the sleeping Peregrin before heading to his own room. He laid down his head on the soft pillows and closed his eyes, but even as weary as he was, sleep eluded him for a long time. He watched the stars through the glass pane of his window until he at last drifted toward slumber.

Frodo heard the door to his room open and then close with a soft bang. He heard Pippin's tiny bare feet padding across the hook-rug, then the bed swayed and shifted as he climbed onto it, trailing his favourite quilt that his mother had made for him, that he took with him whenever he visited Bag End.

"Cousin Frodo? It is really dark in that bedroom."

"It is just as dark in here, Pippin, but yes, you can sleep here if you wish."

"Thank you, Frodo," Pippin snuggled into the hollow under Frodo's left arm. "I feel better sleeping next to someone who is braver than me."

Frodo rubbed Pippin's back until the child fell asleep. "I do, too, Pip," he said softly.

Part Five:

Frodo wasn't sure if it was some sound or the cold wind on his face that woke him in the dark of the night -- he was wide awake suddenly, just like someone had spoken his name inside his head. He sat up, scattering leaves and flower petals from his hair that had blown in on him through the window... he did not remember leaving it open that evening.

He threw the covers aside, thinking that perhaps Merry had called to him, then he realized that Pippin was no longer asleep beside him. The quilt and pillow that the young Took had been using were still on the bed. Frodo ran his hands over the cloth; no warmth lingered upon them. His cousin had been gone for some time.

A touch of panic fluttered in Frodo's heart as he hastily dressed, pulling on breeches and tunic over his nightshirt. He quickly checked through the smial, looking first in the pantries for the notoriously hungry child. Merry's room was quiet but for the sounds of light breathing. The draught that Bilbo prepared for him that night had sent him to sleep quickly. Frodo did not disturb him; Pippin was not there.

He was going to check Bilbo's room, but noticed that the front door was ajar. He grabbed a cloak as he pulled the door open and stepped out.

The night was cold. Frodo wrapped the cloak around his shoulders and looked around. The moon was high and close to full; he could see clearly, though everything was grey and shadowy behind the hedge. The front gate was latched and too high for the young Took to reach, so Frodo headed around the burrow toward the garden. The hairs on his neck stood up as he heard voices ahead. As he passed the woodpile, he caught up a stout stick in his hands.

He nearly stumbled over Pippin. He was curled on the ground beneath the sheltering branches of a naked rosebush, covered in a blanket of leaves. He was soundly sleeping, his hands pillowing his cheek.

Frodo laid down his stick and touched Peregrin's shoulder to wake him gently. "Pippin! What no earth are you doing out here in the middle night?" Frodo removed his cloak and wrapped the child in it.

Pippin roused enough to wrap his arms around Frodo's neck and say, "I got lost, Frodo. I thought I was at home... your garden is too big!" The young Took laid his head on Frodo's shoulder and closed his eyes. "Tell Firtle thanks for keeping me warm," he murmured as sleep claimed him again.

Frodo wondered why that name sounded familiar. He stared around the garden, all the plants glistening with dew in the moonlight. A dream that was a memory woke in his head, and he understood.

He spoke softly, so that Pippin would not wake, "Thank you for protecting my little cousin. You are welcome here, if you plan no mischief. I thought you were a dream… “ Frodo couldn’t think of anymore to say. He felt a little foolish, talking to an empty garden. He picked up Pippin and returned to the house.

Sam met him on the doorstep, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. “Mr Frodo? Who’re you talking to out there?” Sam helped Frodo settle Pippin back in Frodo’s room. “Was there someone in the garden, sir?”

“Just the flowers and moonlight, Sam,” Frodo answered. “Go on back to sleep. I think Pip has been sleepwalking, and I feel as though I have been myself, too.”

Sam went back to bed, but Frodo sat up and watched Pippin sleep, prying into the corners of his own mind that still refused to yield the full bounty of his memories.

~~~~~


In the garden, Firtle gathered in his thin arms the leaves he had discarded to cover the little hobbit. Stint regarded him with eyes shining in the waning moonlight. “You look like an early autumn, Firtle!”

Firtle was not amused. “Taking too long will Ah be, putting back on these leaves! Root me out for sure that gardener will, thinking Ah have died! Be helping me, Stint!

“Maybe we should just hang out in the hedge. As long as we keep our heads down, we shouldn’t get trimmed back too much! I was dressed as a bird’s nest for only a day, and already some silly plover has laid her eggs on me! Life out of the Grove is strange and dangerous for a woodsprite. Should we go home?” Stint asked doubtfully.

“This place, Ah’m liking, Stint. Seeing Meester Froda is making me glad. Stay awhile, lets! Beneath his window, dwell Ah will, and hear his laughter that makes my heart high!” Firtle left his leaves on the path and went to peer into the window that Stint had managed to open earlier, when he had roused Frodo to come and find the little one. It was closed tightly now, but the woodsprites could see their hobbit sitting in a rocking chair by the fire. His brow was creased and he seemed tired and sad. Firtle purred with sympathy. “No laughter and singing now. Sad is Meester Froda."

Stint wound himself into the ivy that circled the window, making room for the broader sprite below the sill. “We’ll see that he has no more reason to be sad this night, Firtle. Let us watch and fight for our aewnr.” Stint watched as Firtle garbed himself in holly to blend in to the rest of the bushes beneath the window. “Oh, Firtle! That is a good look for you!”

“Shhh! Wake them you will, noisy! Meester Froda has fallen asleep at last.”


Part Six: The Miller's Son


What are we while we grow but the sum of what we see and feel? When do we find out who we are and realize that we have the will to be what we choose, rather than what we are taught to be? When is it right to raise your fist rather than turn your cheek? And what can change fear into forgiveness?

part six, The Miller’s Son

Merry spent the next day in complete misery, longing to get up and go cavorting about the Shire with Frodo and Pippin, but Bilbo firmly forbade this. After some intense negotiating, Merry got Bilbo to allow him to hobble about with a cane that first day (it was actually a shillelagh that Bilbo had received as a birthday present some years before). Frodo and Pippin tried to keep Merry in his chair by offering to play games and sing songs in the parlour, but after an evening of immobility, the young Brandybuck wanted to go outside and feel the sunshine on his face.

They spent the morning in the garden until the Gaffer chased them out, sending Samwise along with them down to the Pool to catch some fish. Merry kept one hand on Frodo’s shoulder and with his shillelagh, he managed limp down the Hill easily.

Merry commented that afternoon on Frodo’s quietness. His cousin had said very little that day and the evening before, falling often into staring into the middle distance when he was not addressed directly. Frodo smiled and ruffled Pip’s hair, causing the young Took to squawk in protest. "I am just tired," Frodo answered simply. He settled back against a tree and napped while the others flung their lines into the water.

Merry watched Frodo until he was sure that his cousin was truly asleep. Pippin had wandered around the edge of the Pool, watching some ants trooping toward their anthill. Merry waved Sam to come closer.

"I call this meeting of the Conspirators to order!" Merry whispered with a grin. "What have you learned since my last visit, Sam?"

Sam ducked his head with a guilty smile. "I wish you wouldn’t call us that, Merry. I feel bad enough, spying on Mr Frodo and Mr Bilbo." Merry had insisted that Sam not call him "Mr" or "Master" while they convened their meetings to discuss what they had learned about Bilbo’s Ring. It was not very often that the young Bucklander and the gardner’s son were alone together long enough to talk, but both were still keen to solve their mystery.

"Not much to tell, I’m afraid. I haven’t had much time to spend listening to Mr Bilbo lately, with the vegetable garden going in and all the weeding. I did hear Mr Bilbo say something the other day about the Sackville-Bagginses. I am not sure if it has ought to do with… the Ring…" Sam whispered meaningfully, looking around to insure they were not being overheard. "I heard him call Mr Otho a fat…"

"Heads together and whispering?" Peregrin Took poked his own head between the two hobbits, having crept up silently behind them. "What is it you are talking about, cousin and Sam? What about Uncle Bilbo? Do you mean the magic ring that he used to fight the dragon?"

Merry shushed Pippin and glanced toward Frodo in alarm. His cousin had not moved; he was breathing softly and had his eyes closed.

Sam was bright red and biting his knuckle. Their secret was discovered! How ever would he face Mr Frodo now, if word got out that he was… a spy! He hung his head in shame.

Merry looked close at Pippin, placing a finger on his lips. "Can you keep a secret, Mr Peregrin Took?"

Pippin nodded eagerly, getting into the mystery and intrigue; an appealing game to the young hobbit. "You have to swear, Pippin! Swear you won’t tell another living soul what we are about to tell you!" Merry said sternly.

"I promise! 'Cross my heart and hope to die, if word be said it won’t be I'!" Pippin whispered fiercely.

In spite of Sam’s misgivings, Merry told Pippin the tale about how the two had formed their ‘conspiracy’ to learn more about the magic ring that Bilbo had brought back to the Shire, just for their own knowing and not to be shared about. "You are a good friend to Frodo, and we know you admire and respect Bilbo, too, Pippin," Merry said after the story was out. "You can be a member of our conspiracy, but you have to promise never to let any word slip to anyone! If you do… me and Sam will never speak to you again!" Merry doubted that threats were necessary to obtain Peregrin’s loyalty but he really couldn’t think of any punishment that the bold young Took feared except loss of friendship.

Pip’s eyes grew large and filled with tears. "I would never do that, Merry! I swear I won’t tell."

"Won’t tell what?" asked Frodo, yawning. He had roused only that moment, but his words made all three hobbits jump like they had sat on a bed of live coals. Merry and Sam glanced at each other in alarm.

"Won’t tell you that you snore like a dragon, Frodo Baggins," said Pippin swiftly, running to tackle Frodo where he lay. "We caught six fish! Do you think Uncle Bilbo would like fish for supper?" Merry and Sam sighed with relief. Peregrin was an excellent choice for a co-conspirator.

Frodo laughed and tickled Pippin. "I am sure he is counting on it! I am glad you all had such luck… I lost the day and did not catch anything but fourty winks!"

~~~~~


They headed back to the hole, singing in the soft twilight. As they passed the mill, Frodo paused. The memories and thoughts that had been drifting back to him were weighing on his heart, and he wanted to confront them. "Sam, take Merry up the hill, will you? I will follow along in a moment."

Sam stepped under Merry’s hand, a worried look in his face. "Are you sure, Frodo?" asked Merry, hopping a little. "We could wait for you…" the mill loomed dark behind them, and Merry could see the uncertainty in Frodo’s eyes.

"Yes, I am sure. Take Pippin with you and wait for me in the parlour. I will be home in time for supper… have you ever known me to be late to a meal?"

Merry snorted, "Constantly!" but he obeyed, hobbling uphill in the gloaming. Pippin walked backward slowly, until Merry called to him to hurry up.

When they were away, Frodo turned toward the mill. The draft-pony and cart were there, laden with cut logs from the fallen tree. In a moment of sheer fancy, Frodo wondered if the branch that had struck him senseless was among that pile of timber. He could not bring himself to approach the mill. Fear warred with desire, to know and to speak with the miller and confront him about what had happened that day on the road. Frodo’s memory was still incomplete, but he knew that the miller would have some answers about it.

Before Frodo could force himself to knock on the door, a hand descended on his shoulder and he was thrown to the ground. He would have exclaimed but a knee driven into his stomach robbed him of breath.

Ted knelt on his chest and before Frodo could throw him off, he drew back a knotted fist and punched Frodo in the mouth. Then he stood up and laughed.

"What you doing creeping around here, Baggins? I would have thought a clever fellow like you would know that a beating was waiting here for you and those cousins of yours! I am sick of your high-handed ways and arrogance! I don’t see anything that makes you better than me. Here is another reason to stay away," and he aimed a kick at Frodo’s ribs.

Frodo rolled away before the kick could land. He scrambled up and launched himself at Ted, all the anger and frustration that he had swallowed coming out of him in a roar. He grabbed Ted and shoved him against the wall of the mill with a bang. He knotted his fists in Ted’s tunic and leaned against him so that the other hobbit could not kick him again.

"Listen to me, Ted Sandyman, because I am not going to say this twice," Frodo said evenly, spitting blood from his squashed mouth. "You can and shall do what you will toward me, but you stay away from my cousins. If I ever hear of you threatening them or harming them in any way, I shall come back here and finish this beating. Do you understand?" To make his point clear, Frodo butted Ted in the face with his hard head.

Frodo was astonished by the feeling of rage that was burning inside him. Years of submission and swallowing insults seemed to catch up with him. He restrained himself from hitting Ted again but hung on to his shirt tight, staring into his reddening eyes.

Ted was taken aback by the fierceness of Frodo’s attack. He had not had anyone fight back against him with such force and determination. For the first time, the bully tasted the fear he had caused for so many. He tried to wriggle away from Frodo. Frodo lifted him from his feet and pinned him against the mill wall.

Dangling from Frodo’s hands, Ted heard movement in the mill behind and he called out in a loud voice, "Ow! Ouch! Dad! Dad, come quick!" and had the satisfaction of watching Frodo blanche and step back. His face had gone white in complete terror as the door of the mill was flung open and a figure appeared, silhouetted by the fiery furnace behind.

Frodo’s anger fled with the appearance of Ted’s father. Though he was of no less height than the older hobbit (thanks to the draught of the woodsprites) and of only a little less weight, the memory of what the miller had done to Frodo towered in his mind. He loosed Ted and stepped back and stumbled, falling and raising an arm to deflect the blow he expected from those feared, callused fists.

Sandyman did not strike Frodo. He grabbed his son by the arm and propelled him toward the mill. "Get inside, boy. I’ll deal with you later." He walked up to Frodo and offered him his hand.

Stunned by this unexpected gesture, Frodo took his hand cautiously and allowed the miller to pull him to his feet.

The miller helped Frodo up and offered him a handkerchief for his bleeding lip, saying gently, "Don’t be afraid of me, lad. I promise I won’t hurt you again."

Frodo was still flushed from the fight with Ted and he didn’t feel the pain of his split lip or any of his bruises. He was confused by his own fear and returning memories. Vividly he recalled the scene on the Woody End road, each detail now clear in his mind; the falling tree and him pushing the miller aside; the blow on his head and the miller’s words that he should have died with his parents or never been born. Like a canker those words had eaten into his heart, leaving an ache that Frodo had no words to describe.

"Why?" Frodo spoke the word softly, then repeated it with more heat. "Why? Why did you say that to me? What did I ever do to earn such treatment from you?"

Sandyman bowed his head. Softly he answered, "If’n I could un-do what I have done, I would." The miller raised his eyes and looked at Frodo. " I’m sorry, son."

Ted was standing near, having disobeyed his father’s order to go into the mill. "What do you mean, dad? What did you do?"

The miller looked at the ground and said in an even firm tone, "Go on into the mill, Ted. This is no business o’ yours." When Ted did not move immediately, Sandyman turned on him and snarled, "Get inside now! Go on, boy!"

Ted flinched at the strength of his father’s reprimand. Turning slowly, he looked at Frodo with a stare of pure hatred before going inside the building and slamming the door.

The miller faced Frodo again. His eyes were full of tears; a startling sight to the young hobbit. Sandyman spoke in a shadow of a voice, so soft that Frodo could barely hear him though he stood only a short span away. "I’d go back and change things, if’n I could. What I did… it were wrong, and since that day I’ve cursed m’self for being a coward and a blackheart. I really were glad to see you all right, that day you crossed the bridge with that wizard. I ne’er expected to see you again…" The miller cleared his throat, sighing as he confessed, "I‘d been listening to talk that I should’na paid heed to. I’ll not heed it again. I swear, I’ll not raise a hand to hurt you, Frodo Baggins. I’m sorry."

Frodo felt his fury turn to ashes as he watched the miller weep in front him. "And Bilbo?" Frodo was surprised to hear his own voice so steady and calm-sounding, "And my cousins?"

"I’ll ne’er do ought to hurt any of them. I swear it!" Sandyman met Frodo’s eyes, and Frodo knew that the miller spoke the truth.

Frodo relaxed his shoulders and raised his head. Taking a deep breath, he said softly, "I accept your apology, Mr Sandyman, and your promises. Let there be no more fear and anger between you and I." Frodo turned and proceeded up the Hill, feeling taller and colder than ever he had in all his life.

He also felt Ted’s eyes burning on his back, all the way home, until the round green door closed behind him, shutting out the night.

Epilogue

Otho was drinking at his table at the Grain and Sack Inn, trying to read some papers he had brought with him. He was too distracted to read them, however. He was wondering why Sandyman was late, and why he had sent no answer to his message.

He heard the front door open, but the landlord sounded no alarm. Instead of the miller, Otho was surprised to see his son Lotho walk in with a shifty-eyed lad dressed in scruffy clothes.

Otho did not like the look of this ratty hobbit-child standing next to his son. He had a blackened eye, and was heavy-set and stronglooking. He seemed a little familiar. Otho ignored the lad. To Lotho he said "Do you have a message from Sandyman for me, boy?" asked Otho brusquely.

"No, father, I have something better than that for you. My friend Ted here has some interesting things to tell." Lotho gestured to the hobbit beside him.

Otho reluctantly condescended to speak to him. "Aren’t you the miller’s son? Where is he?"

Ted answered the question with a scowl. "He’s not here, Mr Otho sir, and not likely to be coming. I don’t think he even read that letter you sent."

Otho was appalled. "He didn’t read it? Why not?" Lotho was smiling slightly and that made Otho wonder what was going on. He jabbed a finger at a seat, "Sit down, boy… Ted, isn’t it?"

"Yessir. I saw the letter when it arrived. I gave it to him when he got home after trying to uproot the Thain’s sickly tree. He just tossed it in the furnace without opening it." Ted picked up Otho’s mug and poured some ale into it, drinking it down. He wiped his mouth and looked meaningfully at the older hobbit. "But I know what the letter said. I broke the seal before he got home. Mr Sackville-Baggins, my dad has no desire anymore to do business with you regarding the Bagginses of Bag End… but I do! Just tell me what you want."

Otho looked at his son, and a smile spread across his face. This might be even better that what he had planned. He fished in his pocket and handed Ted a coin. "Very good, young Mr Sandyman. I’ll be in touch."