The Heir of the Hill

by Lothithil

Chapter Three: The Tea Party and the Tree Party

"Otho! Otho Sackville-Baggins! Come here at once!" Lobelia demanded sharply. She was in the kitchen, peering through the sheer lace curtains, her long nose almost touching the glass. "It's that little Brandybuck criminal, swaggering up the road as if he owned it!" Her eyes narrowed in dislike, her face drawn down into bitter lines.
Otho was seated at a table in his study, where he had been making notes carefully in a ledger. He looked up when his wife called him, but he did not rise. He had no desire to see Frodo Baggins. He frowned mightily, muttering to himself, "How did that little river-rat manage to dupe Bilbo into signing adoption documents?" Otho was very disappointed. Frodo Baggins' adoption by his cousin Bilbo had completely ruined Otho's plans to become the Master of the Hill after Bilbo subcumbed to a long overdue mortality.
A thought then occured to Otho, as he heard his wife screeching again down the corridor. He rose and closed the door, thinking quickly. He rolled the idea around in his head as he rubbed at the inkstains on his thumb. He allowed himself a smile at his own cunning. He opened the door and called to his wife, "Lobelia, my dear... why don't we invite our dear little cousin to tea?"

"Are you sure you are reading it correctly, Bilbo?" asked Frodo for the third time. "An invitation for me from Lobelia and Otho? They haven't said three words to me since I came to live in the Bag End."
"I expect Otho is somewhat disappointed that he is no longer my heir, by a trick of unfortunate birth." Bilbo did not try hide his amusement; He thought it a splendid joke. "They will probably try to get on your good side, so that after you become Master of the Hill you will take them into your confidence and give them power and wealth. That is all they have ever been interested in."
"I don't care about being Master. You are the Master of Bag End and you always will be, and I'd rather have tea with a troll than Lobelia! I'll just write a note and tell them I am sick and can't come..."
"I think you should accept the invitation."
"What?" cried Frodo in horror, "Tea, with the S.-Bs! Really, Bilbo!"
"Think on it, lad. Let us say that it will be a lesson in diplomacy."
"A lesson in testing my resistance to poison, most likely! I'd not put it past Lobelia. Her glares are like ice water down the back." He shuddered.
"They would not dare... not in their own home, anyway. Come, Frodo, this will be a chance for some fun! I have a plan..." He whispered into his nephew's tapered ear, and Frodo, in spite of himself, began to grin.

"Thank you, cousin Lobelia." Frodo said, moving his hand quickly so that she could not pour the scalding liquid on him (again) as she refilled his cup. He forced himself to relax and smile pleasantly. "I can't tell you how delighted I was to receive your invitation." Truer words he had never spoken. He was intensely uncomfortable. Otho was sitting close to him on his right, so close that Frodo could see little beads of sweat rolling down his cousins' neck and staining his collar. Lobelia was fussing around in the kitchen, rattling pans and frequently peering out of the window. Sometimes she would sit down for a few moments on Frodo's other side to watch him drink his tea, as if she thought he would steal cup, spoon and saucer if she blinked.
Lobelia was sitting now, glaring at him with a smile fixed on her face. "You must call me 'Aunt Lobelia', dear Frodo." Frodo thought it likely that she would chip her teeth, grinding them so hard.
"Yes, my boy. You must think on us as your family. Dear Bilbo cannot live forever, you know, and when that unfortunate day arrives, we want you to know who you can turn to, for guidance."
Frodo lowered his eyes, as if looking into his cup, to conceal the disgust he felt at this transparently false affection. Lobelia leaped up suddenly and walked quickly out of the kitchen and down the hall. She came back after a moment with a puzzled look on her face. Otho frowned at her. She shrugged and said, "I thought I heard someone at the door."
Frodo sat up with a jerk, and his cup clattered a little on his saucer. He mumbled an apology and dabbed up the tiny spill with his napkin. Otho was watching him through narrow eyes.
"It must be difficult for you being in Hobbiton, so far away from your Brandybuck relations," Otho said, and Lobelia made an expression as if she smelled something bad. "It must be quite a change, living all alone in the Bag End with just Bilbo for company."
"Actually, it is quite enjoyable." said Frodo.
"No! I mean... no, living with such a famous hero and successful treasure-seeker... one might get the feeling that it would be more fun to travel than to settle down in a cluttered old hole in the Shire, surrounded by cows and turnips all day, instead of fighting trolls and dragons."
"Yes," Lobelia sat down again close to Frodo, her hand closing around Frodo's arm, "Think of the adventure you'll miss, tied down at Bag End. Why, there must be... hundreds of dragon treasures, just waiting for a brave young hobbit to come and claim them."
Frodo gently disengaged himself from her pinching grasp. "Dragon treasure?" he said, as if the thought had never before occured to him.
"Yes... imagine!... stacks of gold and jewels and... things. All for the taking!" Otho leaned in on his side, a smile twisting on his stiff face.
Frodo looked back and forth between them, and an expression of eager wonder broke in his eyes. "And magic swords, too?"
"Of course! Magic swords and harps of gold what play themselves, a thousand wonders beyond description! A brave traveller like Bilbo would not hesitate... he'd run right out and find it."
"You are right... a courageous and cunning treasure-seeker would never be able to resist such easy wealth. Fire-breathing dragons and trolls made of stone; what are those to the bravest of the brave? And goblins, with their chains and cruel swords of black iron, how could they stand a chance against a sly and treacherous burgler who treads so soft and unseen?" Frodo leaped to his feet. "Thank you, my dear cousins... I mean Aunt Lobelia and Uncle Otho! Thank you for inviting me into your home today and setting my feet on a new path!"
Otho and Lobelia stared at each other in amazement. It was working better than they had planned! "My dear boy... you aren't thinking of..." Otho began hopefully.
"Uncle Otho!" Frodo embraced the stunned hobbit. "For many years I have considered and planned how I would follow in Bilbo's footsteps and become the greatest thief the Shire has ever known! I worked hard to insinuate myself close to him, to gain his confidence and learn his secrets. I am so glad that you were here to talk sense to me!" Frodo half-sobbed, as if overcome with emotion.
"Talk...sense?" Lobelia was confused, and Otho had his mouth hanging open.
"Uh, *cough*, yes... for now I see... I will never be as brave or clever as Bilbo. I would not survive for an instant in such peril. It is far better for me to stay under the Hill where I am safe, and leave the adventuring to Foolish Tooks and Greedy B...brandybucks!" Frodo hugged Lobelia and kissed her on the end of her long sharp nose. He ran straight out of the hole leaving the door wide open, and hurried down the road.
When Frodo reached the end of the row, he sat down heavily on the path, his sides aching. He began to shake, and then the laughter came out, and his eyes were streaming with tears as he rocked back and forth with mirth.
Still chortling, he looked areound and said, "You can come out now, Bilbo. No one is looking."
Bilbo appeared suddenly, doubled over in laughter he could no longer hold in. He slipped his hand inside his waistcoat pocket, and came out holding a handkerchief. He wiped his eyes. "You nearly had ME convinced!" cried Bilbo, laughing harder. "The look on Otho's face...!"
"I just could not take it anymore," gasped Frodo, "I was afraid that I was going to burst out laughing in front of them!" He was holding his ribs, his face red.
"You did very well. Although, you nearly lost it toward the end."
"You did not help me, whipering in my ear the whole while!"
"I thought Lobelia was going to cry. You made our cousins two of the happiest hobbits in the Shire... for a couple of minutes!"
The sat laughing on the ground in the middle of the road until the neighborhood dogs began to bark wildly. Then they helped each other to stand and staggered off toward home, still chuckling merrily as they walked through the village on a soft Shire afternoon.

Frodo was taking a walk after breakfast one morning, enjoying the fragrance of the air and the way the sun touched softly on his face. He was strolling down the lane toward Bywater, under the long shady boughs of the many trees that grew along that path. He was just about to turn round, having a mind to head back to the Bag End for a second breakfast, when he heard a soft sound with his quick ears. He walked along a little further, and saw Samwise sitting down on the side of the road.
"Hullo, Sam!" called Frodo, waving to his friend. To his consternation, instead of the usually cheerful greeting and warm smile, Samwise turned away from him. Frodo halted akwardly; Sam was the one person Frodo thought would never reject him. It was a blow to his heart to see the back of his loyal companion. "What's the matter, Sam?"
"Nothing, Mr Frodo! I was... I was just..." To Frodo's dismay, his friend's voice was broken and thick. Frodo put out a hand, and took Sam by the arm. He gently turned him round, and gasped.
"O Sam!" Frodo exclaimed, kneeling swiftly at his side. "What on earth happened?"
Sam had a swollen eye, and the side of his face was darkening with an ugly bruise. He winced when Frodo took out a clean white handkerchief and gently blotted the blood on his split lip.
"Who did this, Sam?" Frodo felt a sudden anger blossom inside his heart. Someone had hurt his friend! Loyal Sam, who never did mischief or foul deed to anyone. "Who did this?" he repeated firmly, when Sam mumbled but did not answer.
"He was cuttin' down the young trees," Sam said miserably, lisping over his puffed lip. "That Ted Sandyman, I tol' him to leave off, that those trees ought not t' be felled, but he swung his axe anyway. So I tossed it into the Pool." Sam grinned a little, wincing. "I'm afraid I didn't give him time to let go of the axe first."
"Sam! You didn't! Did you drown him, then?"
"No, sir. I helped him right out, so I did. He took my hand and gave me his other. The Gaffer is gonna bust when he sees my face." Sam sighed, and climbed to his feet. "I guess I better go home and tell him what I did. I'll be lucky if I don't get another shiner t' match this 'un, for my foolishness."
"The Gaffer won't punish you for protecting the trees, Sam. Come with me and let me take care of that eye."
Frodo took him back to the Hill, and he carefully cleaned up Sam's bloodied face and made him change out of his soiled homespun into one of his own linen shirts. He made Sam hold a cut of marbled beef against his bruised eye, while he made them both up big meal.
Sam felt strange just sitting there and tried to help, but Frodo gently refused him, telling him firmly to sit and do nothing while he took care of him for a change. That Mr Frodo would fuss over him so touched Sam's heart, and he felt even more possessive of Frodo after this day.
When Sam had eaten every bite that had been set on his plate, Frodo sat down next to him. He propped his elbow on the table and looked at Sam with an expression that the younger hobbit had never seen on his master's face before. There was mischief and a cunning humour in his eyes, and he had a sly smile on his lips.
"Well, Sam, now it is time to plan our revenge."

Ted Sandyman had not gone home after his dunking in the Pool. He had lost his father's best axe, and he knew he'd get cuffed for that, and for letting Gamgee's boy get the better of him. He wandered around the valley of the Water, raiding folk's gardens for food, until the sun began to sink, and he reluctantly headed home.
On the path, not far from where he had scuffled with Gamgee, Ted saw something shiney in a tree that grew up near the road. As he came nearer, he saw that it was an axe, not his father's but a newer and better one than he had lost. If he brought it home with him, maybe his da would not take on so, and he would be spared a beating. Eagerly, Ted ran forward, and he laid his hands upon the handle.
"HOOM! HOOOOMMMM!" a loud voice cried as his hands closed upon the haft. "AAAHHUUUGGGHHH!" cried Ted Sandyman, as the tree suddenly moved and reached toward him with groping branches. He ran as fast as his blunt feet would carry him, wailing all the way.
The 'tree' began to laugh, and suddenly felled itself; it came apart into two halves, and Frodo flipped back his green cloak and rubbed his shoulders where Sam had stood, waiting for Sandyman to get close to their trap. "That was very convincing, Sam! I have often wondered what an angry tree would sound like."
Sam was chuckling in delight, no longer feeling any pain from his humiliating morning. He removed the leaves and twiggy branches from his hair and clothes that had been his disguise. "I just thought to myself, 'Sam, if you were a tree, what would you have to say to Ted?', and lawks! if I didn't nearly scare myself, too!" They walked back toward the Hill and Bagshot Row, Sam with the Gaffer's new axe over his shoulder, grinning because they had won today. Frodo was smiling, too, mostly because Sam had forgotten to call him 'sir' all evening. The two friends wound their way home in the gloaming, singing a merry tune.