The Heir of the Hill

by Lothithil

II  III

Chapter 12: A Measure of Goodness


Part 1: Philanthropy

Autumn in the Shire was sweet like honey dripping from the comb. Pollen and hayseed hung in the air, waiting to be wiped away by a timely rain shower. The fall feasts had begun, a steady string of holidays that kept most hobbits busy in the field during the week and at the table all weekend, which was a pleasant pastime, as any real hobbit would agree. Gammers were working at jarring vegetables and stewing fruit, making jam and preserves, preparing for the long months of winter when they would be eating on foresight. Wood was harvested for stoves and hearths, byre and barn filled to bursting with the generous harvest the summer had produced. There was so much that many of the hobbits were troubled by the excess... there were no places to store anymore foodstuffs. A catastrophe of abundance, indeed!

Bilbo went about the marketplaces, inquiring of farmers who might have extra stores they would sell. Some gardeners and husbandmen had visited him already; they knew who to go to when they had more victuals than they could use or distribute. Bilbo paid with good gold coin, when the farmers would accept it. Most of the stuff was donated, for though hobbits did like their extras, they were not as a rule greedy. And it was pretty widely known what Bilbo did with the extra provender. Master Baggins organized the supplying of poorer families with such things, to avoid waste and make sure that no old Gaffer or young hobbit-fry went cold or hungry through the winter. Bilbo was considered an eccentric and a bit cracked, but he was generous and kind-hearted to the poor.

But in this fine season, where bumper crops had been shown the breadth of the Shire, there was somehow less extra stores than Bilbo expected. He had to put forth an effort to find the quantity that he was accustomed to locating. He mentioned to Frodo off-handedly that he wondered; where had excess gone?

Frodo was constantly at his uncle's side in these days, making notes and arranging the acquiring of the supplies when the farmers could not deliver it themselves. He made sure that his uncle forgot no one on their list, and he visited each house to check that the goods had been delivered. His warm smile and bountiful delivery brought hope to many hobbits, and he blushed when they blessed him and gave all credits to Bilbo.

It had been a busy summer and the incident with Merry's foot and Otho's pony had faded in Frodo's mind, though he had not entirely forgotten it; other things of importance kept cropping up. There was Merry's birthday and Peregrin's after, the Lithe Fair at White Downs and Bonfire Night, and the late summer Mellon Feast, and then the early Apple Harvest Gathering. After that came the Thrashing Days and the Haying Parties, followed by the Bread Fair and Bake-off. There were pony races in early September, and then of course, the preparation for the Birthday Party, when Bilbo and Frodo celebrated their shared day.

The Birthday was still weeks away but Frodo did not feel as though he was getting anything done, although he was so busy that lately he had been rising before the Sun every day and falling into exhausted sleep late each night. It seemed months since he had had time for a long walk and a view of the stars. He wondered if the Elves had passed through the Shire yet, and if they missed him or even remembered him. He felt it impossible for him to forget a single face or name; each of the few elves he had met were so magnificent and ... well, magical, for lack of a better word. He longed to hear their singing again, and to see the starlight shimmering in their hair, tossed back in laughter. He began to daydream, and Bilbo had to call him to come and keep up as they walked about the market.

"Frodo! Are you awake, lad? Come, come! No time to dilly-dally or we'll never get the market done. Where is your head, my boy?"

"Sorry, Bilbo." Frodo grinned and hurried to his uncle's side. He rapidly made notes in a book as his uncle talked to the merchants.

One of the farmers from the Marshish was in the Hobbiton market that day, and when Frodo saw him, he gulped and hastily excused himself. Bilbo let him go; he knew what was disturbing his nephew.

"Farmer Maggot! Your goods look marvelous this year! I trust that Bamfurlong has enjoyed the bountiful summer that has blessed us all?"

"Aye, indeed it has." Maggot drawled around a stem of sweetgrass. He shook Bilbo's hand, saying, "I've a cart set aside for you, Mr Baggins. Farmer Sandhill down Scary sent some things as well. Should give you a leg up on your shortfall." The farmer waved away the coins that Bilbo offered. "No need, Master. We're doing fine and no complaints! See it goes well and don't spoil. I'd give away all my vegetables, if it means keeping gold from Sackville's pockets," he added with a mutter, moving them away from prying ears.

Bilbo cuffed Maggot on the arm. "So that's were its going to, eh? That was the rumour I had heard, but I couldn't account it. What's he doing with it all, I wonder?"

Maggot shook his head. He wouldn';t suppose, but he wasn't happy about it.

Bilbo nodded and changed the subject deftly. "But you and Mr Sandhill's generosity should bring us to what we need to fill the tallies… Frodo, how much have we got written down? Ah, he's gone off." Bilbo chuckled and made a note on his book.

"Still a little rascal, is he?" Farmer Maggot asked, though he was smiling around his grass stem.

Bilbo laughed, but he defended Frodo loyally, "We were all a little rambunctious when we were small-fry. I remember doing a few things I would rather not be recalled… and I remember a certain young Marshmonger who couldn't keep his hands out of…."

"Hey now! Look at the sun! Is that really the time…" Farmer Maggot interrupted swiftly. Both hobbits laughed aloud. Maggot wiped laugh-tears his eyes and coughed, "In truth, I have heard he is a perfect gentlehobbit, Master Baggins, and much of that is to your credit. You have done a fine job raising him, if you don't mind my saying. Many other folks could benefit by following your example."

Bilbo smiled. "Frodo is a very good lad and in my opinion, the best hobbit in the Shire. He shall be Master of Bag End one day… one day soon, perhaps." Bilbo became thoughtful as he added this.

Farmer Maggot looked at him sharply then glanced around to see if anyone was listening. "You look as well as ever, Bilbo, so I am figuring that you are not referring to any gloomy endings. Are you considering retirement at last?"

"Quite the contrary!" Bilbo said, "I am thinking about going on another Adventure. Truly, I have only stayed as long as I have for Frodo. He doesn't really need a guardian anymore, but I enjoy his company. I can wait a few years before I set off again. What with things as they are, I want to leave him secure and comfortable."

Maggot's eyes were piercing. He clapped Bilbo on the back, and said before taking his leave, "It will be a hard parting for all when that day comes. You may find it more difficult than last time: leaving suddenly. You may end up with two shadows."

Bilbo had laughed lightly at the time but the thought returned later to worry him, Maggot's shrewd comment echoed in his head. Bilbo intended for Frodo was to inherit Bag End and take his place; it would not do for him to come along with Bilbo! And yet, the idea was not as disturbing as it should have been. Bilbo found himself enjoying the thought of tramping about the Wild with his nephew. No, it might not be such a bad thing, indeed.



On the way home, in a gloaming of violet, Frodo was trudging up the hill behind Bilbo, lugging a bushel-basket of groceries. He paused at the gate and hefted the bundle to his shoulder, but stood peering at the stars peeking through the hazy veil of the sky. "'I miss the velvet night, brought to sweet music with the chords of an Elven song'," he sighed, moved to poetry suddenly. Bilbo held the gate open and smiled at him.

"So that is where your mind has been lately! Dreaming of Elves? I can't say I am not feeling much the same. What say you we stash all this in the pantry and sort it out tomorrow? We could throw together a few morsels and hike out to the Piney Knoll… maybe we will see some elves. It is shaping up for a good night for it!"

"Oh, Bilbo! I would like nothing better! Let's hurry!" Frodo helped his uncle put away the stores and he grabbed some cheese, bread and fruit, shoving them in a sack while Bilbo gathered other supplies. They met at the front door and helped one another don cloak and hood, and catching up their walking sticks, slipped together into the night.

They fell into their measured walk; a long-gaited, rolling stroll that devoured the miles swiftly. It took them down the Hill and over the mill bridge, past the Green Dragon noisy with music and laughter, yellow light spilling like pollen across the darkened road. They heeded not this lure of cheer, but headed for the quiet hills, where fairer music could be found and light purer and brighter than mortal fire.


When their figures had been swallowed up entirely by the evening, a patch of darkness that lurked beneath the bridge near the mill took shape into two shadowy shapes, creeping up the Hill through garden and hedge, coming secretly to the rear entrance to Bag End garden.

I  II  III
 
Part 2: Amateur Burglars

The two shadowy figures crept stealthfully up the Hill, silent as the moonshine on the grass. They came to the rear entrance of Bag End, pausing to listen carefully.

"I was starting to think they would never leave the hole again, Ted!" complained one of them, as the other slipped the latch and opened the gate.

"Shh! Lower your voice, Sancho! The neighbours up here are as nosy as all the Shire!" he hissed, shoving the other hobbit through the gate and closing it quickly.

"Don't use my name, then,if you think they're listening!" Sancho murmured gruffly, piqued at himself but in no mood to apologize. They had been waiting beneath the mill bridge for Bilbo and Frodo to go out of the hole of an evening for nigh half the summer. Sancho was impatient to find some of the gold that Ted had flaunted. A big shiny coin he had found, he said, buried in the garden right here at Bag End!

"How d'you know there'll be more?" he had asked, greed in his eyes. The wealth of Bilbo Baggins was legend, and it was well rumoured that he had got his money in foreign parts, as well as whispered that it was ill-gained. He told stories of dragons and mountains and elves, but those were stories for children. Sancho Proudfoot did not consider himself a child, so he discounted most of what he had heard. But the tales about treasure stuck in his mind, and the coin that Ted flashed proved to him that at least part of the legend was true.

"There's more and plenty where this came from," Ted had answered evasively. He knew that Mr Sackville-Baggins would not approve, but he had watched and reported and not enough was being done, in his eyes. He was annoyed that his father seemed so mellow toward the Bagginses of the Hill, still willing to discuss their strangeness but refusing flatly to speak to Mr Sackville-Baggins about anything other than mill business.

It had surprised Ted to learn that Otho owned an interest in the mill, and this became a great source of tension between his father and Otho. Ted had irrationally decided that it was Frodo's fault, adding it to the list of grievances that he would one day call on Frodo to account.

The hurried up the path to the garden behind Bag End, taking care to stay low and make no sound. Ted grabbed Sancho and threw him to the ground behind a rosebush as Gaffer Gamgee suddenly appeared, closing and locking the rear door of Bag End. That Bilbo had trusted him with a spare key was one of the Gaffer chief sources of pride, and a secret he guarded closely.

He slipped it into his pocket and patted it securely, then made his way around the garden and left by the rear gate, passing within inches of the delinquent hobbits' hiding place.

When he was gone, Ted uttered a soft curse. He sprang up and ran to the door, which was firmly locked. He hurried around to the darkened front door, finding it equally secure.

"What are you about, Ted," whispered Sancho. Digging up buried treasure was no trespass to him, but he did not know that Ted had intended to actually go inside Bag End! That was a crime! "Ho, we shall get into trouble if we are caught!"

"I was just making sure," Ted said lamely. "Let’s go back to the garden. I’ll show you were I found the gold." Ted’s mind was flying. He had been sure that Bag End would not be locked. Now he had to find a way to satisfy his confederate, the not-very-smart Sancho, so that he would be loyal to him and still willing to participate in future escapades.

He dug in his pocket for the coin, but found he could not discard it. It was the only one he had left of the several that Otho had rewarded him with, each time he brought his news to him. Others he had squandered, buying rounds of ale at the Ivy Bush, claiming his father had increased his allowance. He had become quite popular with the younger hobbits who frequented that tavern, and this was how he had managed to snare Odo Proudfoot’s son to attempt burglery.

"Dig here," Ted said, choosing a spot at random. "I am sure this is where I found it." He hoped that after a few moments of effort, Sancho might get tired of looking and agree to leave. In the last resort, he planned to drop the coin and let Sancho find it.

Sancho fell to his knees and began to eagerly shovel aside the soft earth with his hands. He dug like a dog, scattering vegetables and plants, greed taking hold of his mind.

Ted glances around uneasily. He had a feeling suddenly that they were not alone. He grabbed Sancho’s tunic, saying "Let’s go! Someone’s going to come!"

The young hobbit ignored him. He was digging and felt he was near the prize. When Ted tugged at his arm, he shook him off and hissed, "I am almost to the treasure… I know it! Just a few more moments and … ye-Ouch!" Sancho leapt up, knocking Ted backward into the rosebush. There was a thorn stuck in Sancho’s cheek as long as a darning needle. He grasped it and pulled it out. "Wha’ss thiss?" he slurred. His face had gone numb were the barb had struck. He kneaded his face with his dirty hands, leaving mud smeared there from his excavations.

Ted was cursing loud, forgetful of secrecy. The rosebush’s thorns tore into his clothes and skin, leaving his left arm and leg tingly and unresponsive. He could barely lift himself up, and had trouble standing.

"Sancho! You idiot! Help me get out of here!" He limped toward the gate, dragging Sancho behind.

Two more thorns pierced the seat of Sancho’s trousers,and he yelped again and ran, now towing Ted who clung to his jacket. The stumbled out of the garden and scrambled gracelessly over the gate, landing hard. Lights along Bagshot Row were being lit, and folks were coming out of hole and house to investigate the shouting. They dodged behind the hedges and crawled away.

The Gaffer came running with Sam right behind, wielding an iron frying pan he had snatched off the table in #3 Bagshot Row. They found the digging in the garden, potato plants scattered and roots tossed about, but they saw no one.

"What is it, Dad?" asked Sam, frowning down at the mutilated plants. "Badgers?"

"Nay, Sammie, ‘tis a varmint of another nature what leaves diggin’s like this. Back to the hole now, boy. I’ll let Mr Baggins know about this tomorrow. He and Mr Frodo have gone out, and I think it might be wise if I stay an' watch the house while they're away."

"Aye, sir. I’ll bring you some supper when Daisy has it finished." Sam began to walk away, but he stopped and picked up something that caught his eye, shining in the overturned soil. A gold coin, it was! Sam showed it obediently to his gaffer.

"Mr Bilbo most likely dropped it, or maybe Mr Frodo. I will leave it for them on the mantle. Go’wan back home now, lad, and keep yer eyes skinned. Those varmints are most likely still about." He paused and stared at the garden for a moment.

Sam noticed his regard. "What is it, Gaffer, sir?"

The Gaffer shook his head. "Nothin'; go on home now, Sam, and don't worry about bringin' me no supper. I want you to stay home an' look after your sisters. Tell Halfast what's happened up here, but not the girls. I don't want them to be worriting."

Sam obeyed. The Gaffer took another good look around the garden. Daddy Two-foot hailed him from the hedge.

"What's these goings on, Ham? I heard shoutin', I did! Is Mr Baggins all right?"

"Mr Baggins is away from his hole tonight, Dad. Been some vandals messing in the garden. They're gone off, now, but I'd watch my doors tonight if I were you. Maybe some more shinannigans before sunlight. "

"I'll pass the word! Mind yourself, Gamgee!" Daddy Two-foot hurried off to spread the word down the Hill and up the Row.

The Gaffer let himself inside Bag End with his key. He lit the lamp in the kitchen and examined the coin his son had found. "Now, isn't that a strange thing!" he said, turning it round in his thick fingers.

~~~~~

In the garden, Firtle shook his limbs, trying to fluff out his foliage that Ted had flattened when he had fallen on him. His lovely flowers were all squashed and he had berry-juice smeared across his face like warpaint. But he laughed merrily and said in his soft child's voice, "Stint! Done it we have! Praised be thy skillful bow-shots! Driven away the shadowfolk we have!"

Stint stepped out from behind a row of beans, tilting back the iron kettle he had donned as a helmet. He raised his bow and saluted Firtle. "None shall threaten the home of our aewn! Did you see them running! Ha!" The woodsprites hopped around on the disturbed earth, dancing in their excitement and triumph. They had never had this much fun in the Grove before!


Part 3:
Coin of Thought


Bilbo and Frodo were blissfully unaware of the battle raging behind Bag End. They were already far away. Reaching the woods swiftly in their eagerness they had walked but a few paces into the dark curtain of the trees when music and light had fallen about them like rain from a sudden cloud.

The Elves welcomed them with laughter, sitting them down among them and filling their hands with food and drink, so that they forgot their hastily packed supper. Soon they were laughing and singing along merrily with their hosts.

Frodo's eyes shone in the light of the stars and the elf-lamps and his voice acquired a rich rippling quality as he spoke. The Elves could not get enough of his charming manner. They would give him things to hear him say 'thank you', and ask him questions merely to listen to him speak his answers.

They demanded a song from him. During his last visit he had mentioned that he was trying to compose something for them. Though seeming long ago to Frodo, it was but a moment passing to the Elves, and they remembered his promise to complete it. Now they called for it and he stood and bowed, blushing with pleasure, and raised his voice in this simple ballad:


Night, like a bird unfurls her wings
Sweeps the sky as sunlight ebbs
Soars among the stars there hung
On the velvet curtain, in the inky web

My eyes fill as my heart releases
A wish for each bright star I see
Every wish I name is always the same:
To one day visit fair Eressëa


He finished the song. The Elves gazed at him in silence, and some had tears in their shining eyes.

"I... I'm sorry!” he exclaimed, horrified that he had made them weep. "I did not mean to make anyone sad!"

"No, Frodo Baggins. Sadness is owned by the Elves; it is not yours to make," answered one Elf. His name was Tirhen, and he bowed to Frodo and brushed away the hobbit's tears with cool, soft fingers. "In our hearts we Elves harbour a great well of sorrow and it is good to let it spill occasionally, lest it fill us and overflow in bitterness. Your words are sweet and wounding, and we weep with delight at hearing them. Come! sing it again, little master! We shall make music to buoy it up, so that Elbereth might hear your tribute more easily!"

Bilbo sat back and watched his nephew with the Elves, smoking his pipe and smiling. The boy did seem more in his element among the Fair Folk, less alien and remote than with his own people. The idea of leaving came to the front of Bilbo's thoughts again and a pang of regret filled him that Frodo must remain behind. For all of his planning, Bilbo wanted to take him along, walk about the Wild with him and share all the things that were yet to be discovered.

Bilbo found he was not alone anymore; Tirhen had joined him beneath his tree. The Elf had picked up his tobacco pouch and sniffed it. His eyes touched upon Bilbo's face, and he wore a knowing smile. "You miss him already, Bilbo Baggins, and you have not yet even set out on your journey. Tell me; are you really going to leave? You have made noises of it for many seasons."

"Oh, I intend to, my dear Tirhen," said Bilbo, offering his pipe to the elf, who smilingly refused. "Very soon! I have already began to set things up. But you are right; less sweet will such Adventuring seem, without his eyes to see them through." Bilbo sighed. "He is everything good in the Shire, my Frodo. I will travel easier and rest better knowing he is here safe and secure."

Tirhen's smile faded, and he held Bilbo in his sad gaze. "Secure for now, Bilbo, but not for ever. The Shadows are spreading. Maybe they will fall on this fair land, too. The Elves fear it. Dunedain patrol this land, and they are not idle."

Bilbo frowned and sat for a while, watching the elves pull Frodo in a circle dance. He was laughing, his sadness and sorrow forgotten in this moment. Bilbo knew how lonely the lad was, and how hard it was for him to 'fit in' with his eccentric old uncle around. "He will settle down after I go. A proper hobbit he shall become then, I am sure. The bounders will protect him. I shall not be worried."

"How will you find the strength to leave him behind?" asked Tirhen.

"I will find it! I must! Bag End needs a Baggins in it and he is my heir. And he loves the Shire, really. He may dote on his poor old uncle and read elven histories, but the Shire is his whole world."

"As it was once yours?" Tirhen asked slyly.

Bilbo glanced at him with mock irritation. "Speaking of travel," he said, doggedly returning to his subject and intent, "Will you deliver my message to Lord Elrond?"

"I will. Though I cannot speak for my lord, I would dare to guess that he will welcome your presence, at least as long as you don't bring thirteen Dwarves with you!"

Bilbo laughed. The dancers were now forming a long chain behind Frodo, who was leading them in a hobbit-fry game called 'dragon-snap'. They turned and twisted back upon themselves, writhing over the grass as fast as the hobbit could lead them, making the last elf in line have to cling to the hand of his friend to keep from being snapped off. The Elves loved it, and soon all were joining the chain.

Tirhen said no more of traveling or the future, but rose to his feet as the line of dancers came snaking up to them. He pulled Bilbo up and joined them to the chain. Bilbo laughed and protested, but he danced just as vigorously as his nephew did and the Elves spun them round and round under the stars.

~~~~~


When the stars were high and beginning to descend, the Elves bade farewell to the hobbits. They had to be on their way eastward, they said, trying to catch up with the fading summer. Tirhen bowed to the hobbits and the Elves all faded into the trees, their lamps lost in the trees and the sound of their singing fading. Bilbo and Frodo were both tired, but still alert and full of joy. The walked back to Bag End at a leisurely pace, as if reluctant to rejoin the mundane world. The sun was just climbing above the trees as they shuffled up the Hill.

The Gaffer opened the door for them, to Bilbo's alarm. "Gaffer Gamgee! What are you doing here? You're up early, even for yourself!" Bilbo said.

"There's been a spot of mischief while you and Mr Frodo have been out, Master Baggins. But all is a'right now." The Gaffer helped him shed his cloak. Frodo took both garments and hung them up.

"What's happened, Mr Gamgee, sir?" Frodo asked, concern creasing his brow.

"Are Belle and the children all right?" asked Bilbo quickly. Gaffer Gamgee could be most reticent with details.

"Yes, sir! Right as rain, they are. But after you went off last night, some varmints got to digging in the garden, and ruin't a fair patch, I'm afraid."

"Is that all?" Bilbo was not impressed. "And you were afraid they'd come into the house and look for more taters in my cellar? I doubt a badger would find their way in through the walls, though I appriciate your vigilance, Gaffer."

The Gaffer didn't laugh. "Not the four-legged kind of varmint, Mr Baggins. I'm a-feared it were burglars!"

Frodo was fetching tea from the kitchen where the Gaffer had kept a kettle hot, anticipating their return. If he had been drowsy from his night's cavorting, he was wide awake now. "Burglars? In Hobbiton? Outrageous!"

"I know!" said the Gaffer firmly. "I had Smallburrow's lad up here first thing, but they found no hint of who it were. But I found this, sir, or rather my Sammie found it, last night after we spooked 'em away." He held out the coin that Sam had found by its shine beneath the stars, a thick coin of gold. "I thought maybe you are Master Frodo might have dropped it, but I got to lookin' at it, and I think maybe it is something else." Bilbo examined the coin.

It was different from the coins that the Dwarves minted for him, when they sent him portions of his treasure every so often. Handsome coins they made, with a stylized dragon on one side and a pipe with a twist of smoke wreathing up on the other. This one did not have those symbols on it, but was crudely hammered and stamped with what appeared to be a handprint. On the other side it bore the design of a wheel.

Bilbo handed it to Frodo. "Have you ever seen its like, my lad?"

Frodo looked at the coin closely. It looked thicker than the coins that Bilbo received, but it felt lighter. Frodo took a nail-knife from his belt and scratched the coin on its edge. Beneath a thin layer of gold there was a dull grey metal, soft and poorly smelted.

"It's not all gold!" Frodo announced.

Bilbo took it back and flaked away some more of the gold-covering. "How do you like that? Coated with gold but filled with lead! Not worth a quarter of what one of the Dwarven coins, this! And you found it in the garden, you say? Maybe one of the culprits dropped it in their haste."

"Could be a prank, uncle," suggested Frodo. "Some young hobbit having one on his mates about the buried treasure of Bag End!"

"Yes, but this coin is not child's play." Bilbo frowned and weighed the coin in his hand. "I'd hate to think of these tin coins going to the hands of decent hobbits who might not know better."

"I can take it down to the Shirriff's office for you, Mr Bilbo, if you like. We could round up any like it; may be 'will tell us who dropped it, if we find more." The Gaffer took the kettle from Frodo, who was yawning and nearly spilled the hot liquid. "You two have been up all night, by the looks of you."

"I will take care of it, Gaffer," said Bilbo. He slipped the coin in his waistcoat pocket. “Say nothing more about it for now, if you please. I would rather news of this wasn’t spread just yet. Don’t worry; I’ll see that no more of these get spread round.” The Gaffer nodded, touched his forelock to Bilbo and Frodo and left the smial by the kitchen door.

"Frodo, set that cup down before you scald yourself and go and get some sleep. I'll see that Sam stays away from your window with his pottering so you can get some rest."

"What about you, uncle?" Frodo asked. His eyes were droopy, but he wore a worried look.

"I'll be fine! Back before you know it and I'll have a nap before lunch. You go on now, lad. Nothing to worry about." Bilbo slipped his hand in his pocket and closed it tight.

Frodo nodded and went to his room, but he could not stop worrying. He could tell his uncle Bilbo was concerned about things when he dug into his pockets like that. He dozed fitfully and dreamed of dragons with gold coins for eyes. He woke several times, finally wrapping himself in a blanket and going into the parlour to wait for Bilbo. The open window let in a soft breeze that carried a sweet herb smell and a murmuring like tiny voices seemed to sing a lullaby that eased his mind. He sank into a deep peaceful sleep that even Sam's hedge clipping did not disturb.

~~~~~


Otho sat in his booth in the Sack and Grain and brooded. Nothing was going right. He had failed time and again to throw one over on Bilbo and he had nothing to show for his losses. Now Lobelia was angry at him for spending so much time away and leaving her alone with their son. He sought his refuge in the Inn and tried to think of something to try next.

He heard the door open, but the bartender did not give up his warning, so Otho relaxed. He raised his mug and drained it, and when he lowered it, he saw Bilbo Baggins sitting across the table from him, as if he had magically appeared.

Otho dropped his mug. “B…Bilbo! What are you… I mean, what a delightful surprise!”

“I doubt it,” said Bilbo pleasantly. He reached into his pocket and withdrew the scarred coin, flipping it toward Otho. The hobbit caught it deftly.

“I don’t know what you’ve been about, Otho, and I am sure I don’t want details to spoil my lunch. Just listen to me and listen well: If I see another coin like that in the Shire, I will tell everyone who is spreading them. I know it is yours, so don’t deny it! I want you to round up all that you have used and exchange them for good fair coin or barter, before anyone knows they’ve been cheated. And I want you to keep your son away from my hill, my home and my heir.

"And do you want to know why you are going to do these things?” Bilbo did not wait for an answer. He said to Otho’s face, which had gone very red, “You are going to do these things because of you don’t, I shall bring up a little matter of Sackville family history that I believe that you would just as soon keep private. It wouldn’t do to let everyone know your relationship to a certain hobbit that was shown the boundries some years ago. Folk might think you were less than trustworthy, should that get about, eh? Might be bad for business.”

Otho’s face turned from red to pasty white. “You wouldn’t dare…”

Bilbo’s stare was even and cold. “You don’t know me very well if you think that I will idly stand by while my family is harassed. I don’t want you or any Sackville-Baggins to set one foot on the Hill without an engraved invitation… and Frodo is ‘out-of-bounds’! Don’t cross me again, Otho! If you hurt him, I swear you’ll never see me coming.”

Bilbo rose and gave Otho a flip of a hand in salute. He left the tavern with a lilt in his step and whistled all the way back to Hobbiton. When he got home, Frodo was in the parlour, asleep on the settee. He roused his nephew and told him what he had done.

"The hobbit who was exiled... the one you told me about before... he was a Sackville?" Frodo was awed and impressed. "There is no history of him in the family ledgers!"

"Exactly, my boy. But I am the one who keeps the ledgers, and I have records that have been removed from the leaves of the Family Books." Bilbo sighed and rubbed his face. "I wouldn't want to do such a thing as bring it up in public, for it would harm the Baggins' name as much as the Sackville's, but if he leaves me no choice, I shall do it!"

That his uncle would do such things to protect him made Frodo feel very loved and ever more loyal toward Bilbo, if it were possible for him to feel these things more that he had before. “How did you know it was Otho behind it all, uncle?” asked Frodo with admiration in his eyes. Bilbo was so incredibly clever!

“Easy, my lad! The coin was imprinted with a hand and a wheel. Otho owns part of the mill, and he always has his hands where they don’t belong!” They laughed together. Bilbo smiled and tousled Frodo’s hair. “In truth, I have seen the coins before, at the market where Otho had bought up the extra produce and grains. I don’t know what he’s doing with it, but I imagine that this coin was what he was paid by whomever he sold the goods to."

“I wonder who that would be,” Frodo asked, yawning again. He still hadn’t caught up his sleep, and all this intrigue and mystery was beginning to seem like another tale.

“I imagine we will find out by and by, my lad. Now off to bed with you! I am so tired I shall sleep for a week’s worth of Sundays! But don’t you dare forget to wake me for dinner!”