The Heir of the Hill

by Lothithil

Chapter Two: Waggons and Wizards

It was a breathlessly beautiful day, one of those windless early summer days when the sky is bled out of rain but still reluctant to release the sun. The heavy blue vault overhead sparkled with late passage of lighting, and there was a promise of rainbows if any shaft of sun were permitted. Every thing in the garden was sparkling wet, and the air was washed clean. Frodo stood on the flagged stones in front of Bag End's door, and sniffed mightily at the fresh scent of summer.
He had rather enjoyed these past couple of days, minding the hole while Bilbo was away on his business. It made him feel proud that his uncle trusted him to be on his own. Frodo had worked hard so that Bilbo would find no fault in his conduct, but in truth, it was easy to behave as a 'proper Baggins', now that he was away from all the influences and memories that had made life in Brandy Hall a trial. Frodo was gregarious by nature, and even-tempered, and kind. Most of the Hobbiton folk took him to their hearts, and treated him as if he had always dwelled among them. If he ever did anything outward, it was credited to the Brandybucks, or sometimes to 'Mad Baggins', and Frodo was forgiven.
Frodo took a moment to feel pleased with himself. Two years ago, he had been a reckless youth, looking no further ahead than his next meal or his next beating. Now he was 'Young Mr Baggins', and he could read (fairly) and write (legibly). Of course, there was still much work to be done, but he marveled that he had accomplished so much in a short span of time, once he had found the desire within himself, and the guidance of his eccentric uncle.
Frodo pulled himself out of his daydream, then went about his business for the day. Yesterday, before the rains had come, he had received a message from the postman that some 'outlandish' cargo had arrived for Bilbo from Outside, and the delivery had been delayed by a lame pony. Frodo returned a note to recommend that they wait a day for the rain to come and go, and then he would ride down with another pony and assist. Bilbo had warned him that he was expecting a large awkward package, and placed it in Frodo's hands to receive it. So Frodo walked down to the stable in Bywater to collect the pony he had hired. Soon he was riding eastward, whistling.
The day brightened as the low sky withdrew, and the sun shone down warmly, drying the rain-puddles in the road. Frodo's pony splashed through a few, frisky. 'A little run might straighten him out', thought Frodo, and he urged the playful animal into a canter, and then a full run. It was thrilling to move so fast. Frodo gripped the pony's sides with his legs and leaned into the wind of their passage.
There was more traffic than Frodo would have foresaw on such a day, so he guided the racing pony off of the cart-road and they took to the grass. Frodo knew the lands well by now, having traveled them often on foot, and he avoided the pitfalls and harrowed fields. The pony was sure-footed, and they both enjoyed the run, but Frodo did not want to wear him out too soon. He would be working hard once they reached Rushey.
They slowed down and returned to the road. Frodo dismounted and led the pony to a creek were it could drink, then rode the remaining miles at a sedate pace. Frodo hummed a song, trying to remember the words.
He arrived in Rushey to discover that the shipment was there, but that the carters had borrowed a draft pony from a local farmer and tried moving the heavy waggon over the rain-softened road, and now it was mired to the axle. Frodo shook his head and chuckled, then guided the pony to be harnessed beside a mournful sorrel so covered with mud it appeared to be made of clay.
Frodo had them reverse the harness, and pull the cart backward toward the firmer soil where the grass grew. Then lending a shoulder, he helped push the cart through the wayside, and they were almost lost again when the ground slipped where the rain had not dried up. But they got back on the road, and though they were all mud-spattered and out of breath, they cheered and took off for Hobbiton, keen to complete the journey and locate the nearest pint and pipe.
The rest of the trip was easy, except for the long upHill climb to the Bag End. Frodo was as spent as the carters after helping to push the waggon, and wrestling it through the garden gate to the place where Bilbo had instructed Frodo to settle it. He paid the carters and invited them to come in for tea, but they declined politely, having a mind for ale at the Green Dragon.
Curious, he peeked under the oiled tarpaulin, and found many stout wooden boxes with the Elvish rune 'parma' stamped upon them. "No wonder they are so heavy," thought Frodo. "Crates of books! I wonder if they are from Rivendell." He chuckled with anticipation.
Frodo was shucking his mud-caked jacket and walking on the garden path toward the rear entrance of the Bag End, when he heard voices coming from near the front gate. He paused to listen.
"Mr Baggins has gone out, I tell you, sir! He ain't home, and I dunno when he'll be back." Frodo heard Samwise say to someone. But Sam's voice, usually courteous and friendly, sounded rather defensive and a little scared.
A warm, deep voice spoke soothingly in answer. "When Mr Baggins returns, can you give him a message that I was here? I am sorry to have missed him, for it will be a while before I will be able to visit again." Something about that voice tickled Frodo's memory, and he came round the corner of the house, brushing at his soiled tunic, to see who the visitor was.
A tall thin man was standing outside the gate, and little Samwise was inside, peering up at him over the hedge he had been trimming. The man was dressed in grey robes, with a grey cloak over his broad shoulders. He was very old, but his voice was lively, and Frodo could see a spark in his eye when the man looked up and saw him coming. He was wearing a silver scarf looped round his neck and under his long white beard, and he held in his hands a blue hat with a wide brim and a staff of knobbly wood.
"Mr Frodo, sir! You're back!" said Sam. "I was just telling this strange... er, this here gentleman that Mr Bilbo was not home, sir."
"I did not say that I was looking for Mr. Bilbo, my good hobbit. I said I was looking for Mr Baggins. And this is he, so I see." The old man bowed deeply, a smile lifting his beard. "Good afternoon, Mr Frodo Baggins."
"I am at your service, sir." Frodo bowed, courtly in spite of the roadstains on his garments. He liked the old man instantly, as if he had known him all his life. "Won't you come in for some tea?"
"Delighted." Sam opened the gate and said not another word, though he eyed the old man suspiciously.
Frodo pushed open the round door and stood aside. "Thank you, Sam. Would you run in and set the kettle on for me? I need to get out of these clothes. Come in, sir. Would you care to wait in the parlour? I will only be a moment."
Frodo hurried to his bath and made a good job of removing the bits of the East Road that he had brought home with him. When he came into the parlour, Samwise was serving the guest tea, and laughing.
"I am a perfect ninnyhammer, sir, you'll forgive me. It was just with Mr Bilbo gone and Mr Frodo away, well... I wasn't expecting visitors." He handed a cup to Frodo, and set a tray at his hand laden with cakes.
"Thank you, Sam. You have saved me!" Frodo drank his tea and sighed. He smiled at the old man. "What a day! I am sorry I was not here when you arrived, but as Sam said, I was not expecting any guests. Are you not here looking for Bilbo?" Sam excused himself to the kitchen, and Frodo smelled fresh bread.
"Well, actually, yes... and no. I came originally to see him, but I am pleased to see you."
"Thank you! I wish I could know your name, sir, for I know that I should, but I cannot recall that I have ever learned it. But I have seen you before, haven't I?" Frodo offered him the largest tea-cake.
"My name is Gandalf, and you are older now than when I saw you last, and much less cold and frightened."
"The Old Forest!" Frodo remembered now! His cheeks flamed a bit, and he stood and bowed deeply. "I never got to thank you properly."
"Your Uncle Rorimac has repaid me already, by heeding my advice. I see you are well, and taking good care of Bilbo. Did you get his waggon safely here from Rushey?"
Frodo started. "How did you know about that?"
Gandalf smiled. "I passed that way earlier today, and you passed me on your galloping pony. I am glad that you were watching the road instead of me, but if you had ridden slower, I might have met you sooner. But perhaps it is better so, for if you had, then probably you would not be here now, but pulling a cart out of the mud as evening fell, and I would still be at the gate, arguing with your gardener.
"Now, Young Mr Baggins, why am I here to see you?" Gandalf asked, sitting back in his chair and looking at Frodo over his folded hands.
There was a silence as Frodo gazed at him, puzzled. "I don't know, sir."
"Certainly you do! Think about it for a minute, while I light up a pipe. Have you any Old Toby? I do miss your fine Southfarthing pipe-weed when I am out in the wild." Sam came in and filled their tea-kettle, and fetched a burning match for Gandalf to light his pipe. "Thank you, Master Gamgee. Now, Frodo, what do you think?" he said the last word with a slight emphasis.
Frodo thought for a moment. He felt like he did when Bilbo asked him a question in the voice he used when Frodo should already know the answer. He attacked the question like a riddle. "You have a message for me from Bilbo?" Frodo half-asked.
"No, I said earlier that I had come to see him, too." Gandalf still smiled, but he leaned forward and looked at Frodo inquiringly.
"Then you must have come from Buckland, and bring word from Uncle Rory."
"Good! That is using your wits." Gandalf exclaimed, pleased. He sat back again, puffing. "Your Uncle sends his greetings to you, and to Bilbo. He told me to tell you that you are expected to come to Meriadoc's Birthday party. Here is the invitation." The wizard pulled an envelope out of his sleeve. "Nothing more than that! But I wanted to see how well your mind is working. From all that I have seen and heard, it works very well..."
"Thanks," said Frodo with a grin.
"...But," continued the wizard, "You have a lot still to learn. Later! Let us go into the dinning-room, for Samwise is cooking something that has set my mouth to watering just at the smell of it, and I am very hungry."

After a fine meal and a long talk with Gandalf, as he lay slumbering in his own bed, warm and comfortable, Frodo had a dream that he long remembered.
He heard a sound like breezes hissing in dry leaves, or like a longing sigh, but long and loud as if the earth grieved. And there was a low humming, the reverberating throb of a gong the size of the sky, and it welled up as if from within his very bones. Movement, and a glimpse of a great plain stretching before him and to all sides, rippling and undulating like a sheet drying in the wind. The sound became almost like music, and while a small part of Frodo's mind felt fear of thing he beheld, the larger part felt only great longing.

The dream stayed with him after he woke, and he mused upon it privately in the soft morning sunlight as he worked in the garden with the Gaffer and Sam.
"You're very quiet today, Mr Frodo," commented Sam. "Are you feelin' well?"
"Quite well, thank you, Sam. Hand me that spade, would you?"
"Yes, sir. And here are the gladlion sprouts we're puttin' in." Frodo pushed the spade into the soft ground. "It's just that you seem not yourself today, sir." Sam said with concern.
Frodo grunted as he heaved a scoop of earth aside, and then pushed the blade down again. "I dunno, Sam. Maybe I am ready for Bilbo to come home. Talking with Gandalf yesterday has made me think about him alot." This was true, and Frodo said no more of his thoughts, desiring to keep the memory of the dream fresh in his heart, secret and special.
Sam's eyes sparkled at the mention of Gandalf. He remembered him well, from Bilbo's stories. "Do you think that Mr Gandalf will be staying on a while, sir? I'd love to hear him tell a tale, so I would. I bet he knows some good ones!"
Frodo smiled at Sam. "Yes, he knows some good ones... and some bad ones, too, I daresay. But I don't know how long he will stay. He said that he was on his way somewhere, and it sounded like an important and mysterious journey."
Sam shivered with excitement, and dropped one of the leafy seedlings he had been about to pass to the Gaffer. His father frowned at him and told him to 'be more careful, ninnyhammer!' Sam worked quietly for a little while, then edged close to Frodo again.
"Do you think that he will ever show us some of his fireworks, Mr Frodo? Like the ones Mr Bilbo tells about?"
"Maybe, Sam... someday."
"You'll be seein' fireworks if ye don't git over here and weed this 'tater patch, Samwise!" growled the Gaffer. Sam grinned at Frodo and obeyed his father. To Mr Frodo, the Gaffer spoke politely, "Just put some of that rich loam 'round each of these lit'le stalks, sir, and see if they won't bloom up in a fortnight."
Frodo completed his task and then excused himself to go inside and prepare a breakfast for his guest. He had only just swung the whistling kettle off of the hearth when Gandalf appeared.
"Good morning, Frodo! Up early, are you? Ah, my thanks, dear boy." He accepted a steaming cup from him. "You, and your uncle have made my visits here so agreeable that I find it difficult to leave. But I must go, as soon as I have finished this excellent meal."
"Must you hurry away, sir?" asked Frodo, pouring another cup of tea and setting cream and butter on the board with a basket of fresh bread. "I shall miss your company. You make me think when we talk!"
Gandalf laughed gently. "Bilbo will be home in a few days, I should imagine. You'll soon be too busy to miss me. But I shall come back as I can, and you'll see me again before the year turns, like as not."
"Perhaps you can come back for our birthday? You'd be most welcome." Frodo set a plate covered with ham and eggs before the wizard.
"We shall see." Talk was suspended on both sides of the table while immediate business was taken care of. Then as Frodo began to collect the empty dishes, Gandalf spoke again. "I wonder, did your uncle tell much about his adventures with the Dwarves to Erebor?"
"Yes, sir, he has." Frodo set down the platter he had just picked up, a dreamy look in his eyes. "'There And Back Again, A Hobbit's Tale'... he's writing it all down in a book, don't you know?" Frodo cleared the table and set the jar of pipeweed where Gandalf could reach it. He would keep the wizard from his road for as long as he could.
"Ah, yes. His book," Gandalf muttered. He fished around in his robes for his pipe. Frodo fetched it quickly from the hall; it was stuck into the top of the wizard's gnarled thornwood staff. "Well, it is a story worthy of record, though I wonder if the whole tale will ever be known." He looked at Frodo from under his bushy eyebrows, and his glance was keen and thoughtful. Frodo did not know why, but he felt as though the wizard was already far away, even though he was sitting right there in the kitchen in the sunlight.
Once Gandalf had got his pipe lit, he smoked in silence as Frodo tidied the room. He had nearly forgotten Gandalf's appearantly idle question when the old man spoke again.
"Did Bilbo ever tell you how he eluded Gollum, and infiltrated the Wood-Elves Kingdom?"
"Uh, yes... as I recall, he came across a magic ring, or so he writes in his book. I have never seen it, but even if he had such a thing, he would have had to be very careful and clever to trick an Elf, wouldn't he?" Frodo was smuggly proud of his Uncle Biblo.
Gandalf smiled through a wreath of smoke. "Very careful and clever, indeed." Frodo had been taking things from the pantry and wrapping them into a calico bundle; a wedge of red cheese, a loaf of bread, and some other small morsels. When Gandalf stood up (careful of the low ceiling) Frodo pressed the parcel into his hands. "Take this with you, Gandalf, sir, for your lunch on the road."
Gandalf made it disappear into a sleeve of his robe. "Thank you, Frodo. I will hurry back when I am able. With luck, I may see Bilbo before he returns home. But, yes, I must go at once. Good-bye, Master Baggins."
As Frodo watched the old grey wizard walk off down the Road, he made a mental note to send Sam after another casket of Old Toby. He had put the remainder of the jar into Gandalf's parcel. He waved, though the dwindling figure did not look back, then he when inside and closed the door.

When Bilbo returned from his short journey, he greeted his nephew merrily, but Frodo noticed that he seemed preoccupied and withdrawn. Frodo put it down to road-weariness and did not mention it to him, but gave an account of all that had happened in his absence. Bilbo laughed when Frodo told him about the trouble with the waggon, but became sober when he mentioned Gandalf.
Frodo hesitated, seeing his uncle's annoyance. "Did I do ill, Uncle Bilbo? What is the matter?"
"What? Ill? No, no, my boy! You did splendidly. Let's go see what is in the crates."
Frodo helped Bilbo carry in the four boxes of iron-bound wood. They were both huffing before they were finished. "I never thought books could weigh so much!" exclaimed Frodo, wiping his brow.
"Books, indeed! Hand me that pry-bar." Bilbo levered open the lid of one box, revealing a stack of books wrapped in white cloth. But there were only three books in the box. Beneath them, the box was filled with shaved wood, and something shiney glinted inside. Frodo lowered a hand inside the box slowly, and came out with a handful of glittering coins of many denominations. He raised his astonished gaze to meet Bilbo's amused glance.
"The wood-shavings keep the gold from jingling. The Dwarves are clever when they ship valuables. No one in these regions would want to steal a cart-load of books!" Bilbo laughed grimly. "Dain insisted that I be sent the whole of my 14 percent of the profits from the destruction of the Dragon. He sends some every few years, each time by a different courior. He's a crafty old Dwarf, and no mistake!"
"How much is there?" Frodo asked, allowing the coins to sift out of his fingers back into the box. Never had he seen so much wealth in his whole life. He felt suddenly very awkward, and he scrubbed his hands on his trousers; his palms were sweating.
"I've no idea. I never count it. Let's get it stowed away and then see about supper. I am suddenly famished."
Frodo felt as though there were snakes crawling in his stomache. "Bilbo, sir?" Bilbo turned and looked at him questioningly. Frodo swollowed the lump in his throat. "How do you know that you can trust me? I'd never steal from you, sir, but you must know what I used to do in..."
Bilbo interrupted him before he could finish his confession. "That was before, my boy. I trust you completely. I trust you so much that I am going to tell you a secret tonight that I have told to no one... until very recently. No secrets between us, Frodo. But they are not to go any further, mind you. It's mine anyway." Bilbo clapped him on the back. "After supper!"

Frodo lay sleepless for a long time that night. His mind was jumping with the things that he had learned that evening. He felt a strange sadness, and he could not explain it to himself. When legends and tales are fantastic and far away, they sparkle with wonder and mystery. But the shining gold of Bilbo's dragon's hoard, and the simple beauty of the magic ring filled him with a sense of loss; loss of innocent childish dreams, and a sense of dread. But he had received a gift that night to off-set his discomfort; Bilbo had given him trust, and to Frodo that was priceless beyond any treasure or Elvish jewel. He fell asleep with a smile on his face.