The Heir of the Hill
Chapter 7: The Free Fair at White Downs
Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
The Free Fair is held every year on White
Downs, near the chalky hills of Michael Delving. Hobbits from all over
the Shire gather there to trade and sell, barter and bargain, and of
course to gossip with friends and relatives that they might not see
until the next year. Like a great family reunion it was, for most
hobbits, and it lasted a whole week from the start with the Mayor’s
Welcoming Banquet, and finishing with the Mayor’s Farewell Banquet. But
this year, as falls on every seventh year, the new Mayor of the Shire
would be announced just before the Farewell Banquet. And word was out
that Old Walt Whitfoot had some competition this year. There were TWO
ballot boxes set by the entrance to the Fair Grounds, both freshly
painted and labeled clearly with the names of the candidates. Walt
Whitfoot and… Bilbo Baggins!
“Confusticate and bebother it!” exclaimed
Bilbo. He asked Frodo to pause the pony-trap again so he could leap
from the board and tear down yet another poster bearing a rendering of
his face, smiling falsely and asking for a nod. “I don’t have time to
be a mayor! I don’t want it and I won’t!” He tore the poster into
pieces and tossed them in the backboard, where a sizable pile of paper
scraps was growing.
“Don’t tear up the next one, Uncle,” said
Frodo, not even trying to conceal his grin. “It is rather a fair
likeness. I want to save one!”
Bilbo exclaimed coursely. “You have the real
Bilbo; though a poster might be more attractive than the factual Bilbo,
I am afraid that you will have to be satisfied with me! I will tear up
every picture I find between Hobbiton and White Downs and when we get
there, I will burn the scraps!”
Frodo laughed and clucked at the pony,
continuing their journey. They had started early, before even the sun
had lightened the sky, so that they would arrive at a fine hour for the
festivities of First Day. After a while he said, “Posco will be
expecting us to stay with him, you know.”
Bilbo sighed as if weary of a long day’s
work. “I know, Frodo. And we will, but we won’t like it! That hole of
his is full up with his young ones and their spouses and their young
ones, plus all the relatives that could beg board from him. We should
be happier camping along the roadside than in that noisy place!”
“Perhaps! Happier until it began to rain, I
imagine,” returned Frodo merrily. His uncle’s mood could not dampen his
excitement. He had been looking forward to the Free Fair all year.
Merry would be there, and also Folco and Fredegar. He rather liked
Posco’s children Porto and Peony, and Milo Burrows who had married her,
even if their older brother was rather overly polite to the point of
rudeness. If he had a daughter like Angelica, Frodo imagined that he
would be as irritable as Ponto, too.
Also, Paladin Took and his wife were coming
this year, and Frodo would get to meet his youngest cousin Peregrin at
last. Merry had met him already, and had told Frodo that young ‘Pippin’
would grow up to be “a handful of caution and no mistake!” Frodo hoped
that the weather held sweet throughout the week. The young Took was a
delicate child, and one dark cloud would scare his mother into a deep
And the Fair was always fun for Frodo; races
and games, singing and feasting, there were. And most of all, Frodo
looked forward to visiting the Lore Gardens.
The first time Bilbo had brought Frodo to the
White Downs Fair, he had taken the youth to the house where folk from
all over the Shire brought their books. For trading or to have
re-bound, and also to allow others to read them before they were
returned to the dusty libraries in some lost dark hole away beyond
forgotten. Frodo had loved the smell of the old books, the texture of
the bindings and the covers, and the crisp pages turning, revealing
family histories, sketches and maps, and some outrageous stories that
couldn’t be heard around any fireside. It was an attraction that had
left the lad wanting more, and every year he came to the Fair, he
always sought the Lore Garden first, and visited it every day to see
the new arrivals and talk with the owners of the books. He hoped to be
allowed to borrow some, to re-copy before their yellowing pages were
Frodo felt so happy and light-hearted that he
began to hum a song, and Bilbo was affected by his younger cousin’s
mood, so that he joined him singing a song.
“To the Fair! To the Fair!
The Sun is shining on the hair
Of lovely lasses dresses their best
And lads who wait to take their tests
And join the feasting that will be
The fairest part of the frivolity!
To the Fair! To the Fair!”
Bilbo did not even notice the next three
posters bearing his face as they rode past in the growing light of
morning, and Frodo decided not to disturb him by mentioning it.
Posco’s hole was in the hills behind the
village of White Downs. So close to Michael Delving it was that often
the inhabitants themselves were confused about which town they lived
in, or so it was joked about the Shire. Posco Baggins was a wealthy
hobbit, as most Baggins were, and his pride was to host more family
members than any other Baggins in the area. Generally, he succeeded.
Frodo and Bilbo arrived in time for nuncheon,
and were welcomed loudly and with genuine enthusiasm from Posco and
Porto and Peony, with more reserve by Ponto, and open hostility from
Lotho and Lobelia, who were also enjoying their cousin’s hospitality.
Almost Frodo’s good mood failed him when he say their sour faces but
his younger cousins swept him away from the older hobbits, and they
brought him to the garden where lunch had been set for the little ones.
Frodo was much older than they were, but they loved him greatly for he
had a youthful heart and was quick and eager to laugh, and he would
listen to their tales and share his own. All the young hobbits adored
Frodo. Angelica even forgot to preen her hair and sat listening raptly
as Frodo regaled them with a story of hunting mushrooms and being
chased by mad dogs. Fredegar was there with his younger sister Estella,
who smiled shyly at Frodo but spoke not a word. They were Bolgers, but
their parents were friendly with Posco and and his wife Gilly. The
young ones had a merry lunch, and begged their older cousin to stay and
play with them.
"Not now, my dear little adventurers!"
proclaimed Frodo affectionately, "I have some things to do now. But run
along and enjoy the day! I will be here for a week and we will surely
have time to play." He watched them run off, laughing as Estella walked
with her head turned to watch him and stumbled over Angelica who had
paused to straighten her hair bow. He turned then and hurried toward
the fields beyond the last houses in town, hoping to get the the Lore
Garden early to enjoy a few hours of uninterrupted reading.
His plans were not meant to be realized so
easily, however. At the bottom of the hill he ran smack-dab into
Sandyman the miller and his son, towing an overburdened cart toward the
fairgrounds. They had a single pony pulling the waggon, and Ted was
ruthlessly whipping its flanks as it struggled up the steep rise. Frodo
paused in his run, wishing to express his anger at the ill-treatment of
the animal as they rode past, but he was so furious that he could not
find any words. As the cart trundled away, he sighed and unclenched his
fists, turning on his way again.
He heard a shout behind him, and suddenly the
cart was roaring toward him, rolling down the hill and scattering
lumber and goods as it wove out of control. Frodo leaped to the side of
the ditch just as the contraption whooshed past him, coming a scarce
hand’s breadth from crushing him against the steep bank carved through
the hill. Ted and his father were running after it, cursing and trying
to catch up to the runaway waggon. Broken leather harnesses dragged the
ground, their brass buckles ringing on the stones like bells.
Frodo places a hand over his heart and
exhaled sharply. That was close! He climbed the hill and found the pony
where it had been left when the harnesses had broken. It was trembling
and sweated, and looked as if it had not been properly fed for a
season. Frodo patted its head soothingly and gave it the apple he had
in his pocket. He found a floppy hat that had been trampled into the
dust, and he used it to fetch water from a nearby well, and let the
pony drink. He splashed its flanks with water and rubbed him with
handful grass until it stopped trembling. The pony nuzzled him
gratefully and sought in his pocket for more treats.
Ted Sandyman came striding up the hill, his
face covered with dust and wearing a frown. When he saw Frodo tending
his father’s pony, he came forward and grasped the beast’s headstall
roughly. "What’s the idea, Baggins? That is my da’s hat!" He snatched
it from Frodo’s hands.
Frodo regarded Ted coolly. "You should tend
your beast more carefully, Ted. That harness has not been oiled since
before the last Free Fair, and probably longer. It is not the pony’s
fault when the harness breaks."
Ted Sandyman stood maybe a half-a-hand
shorter than Frodo, but he was nearly twice his girth with labouring
for his father. He was used to making hobbits back down from his even
stare, as threatening as a punch, but Frodo was not intimidated by him.
He had seen Ted running scared by no more than a tree and he knew that
this bully was still scared, scared every day and every hour. He let
his anger fall off of him. Ted was very likely no more to blame than
the pony. The fault lay where neither of them could place it.
Just as Ted puffed out his chest and opened
his mouth to argue with Frodo, a shout came from the bottom of the
hill. "Oi! Ted, where are you with that ratty pony? Get a move on,
ninnyhammer!" Frodo saw the fear flash in the younger hobbit’s face
before he could master himself. Ted flushed with embarrassment and
grabbing two fistfuls of Frodo’s tunic, he shoved him against the
pony’s flank. "One word, Baggins! One word about this, and I will..."
Frodo stared into Ted face. He closed his
hands over Ted’s and pulled them easily away. "You will… what, Ted? Get
along now, or your father will come looking for you. Stop beating that
pony and he might live to pull your cart home after the fair. He is
nigh to death with neglect. If he does die, I imagine your dad will
make you pull the cart all the way back to Hobbiton by yourself!"
Ted stepped back and gaped at him, then
grabbed the pony’s lead, more gently this time and hurried away. Frodo
cut across Yarrow Threadgirdle’s lawn to avoid further confrontation.
It was a shortcut to the fair grounds, and he waved at the kindly widow
as he passed her in the garden. She smiled at the young hobbit and
returned to her roses, intent on winning the "Best Rose in Bloom"
competition this year. Vitra Hornblower had taken that prize home often
With no more unpleasant encounters Frodo finally arrived at the Lore Garden, and he knocked politely on the door of the house.
An old hobbit opened the door, squinting at
him through filmy spectacles. "Drogo Baggins? What are you doing here?"
he asked in a querulous voice.
"It is Frodo, Master Goodbody; Drogo’s son."
Frodo raised his voice slightly, so that the hobbit would hear him.
Each year the loremaster got a little blinder and a little deafer, but
his skill in re-binding books was unsurpassed in the Shire. "You
remember me, don’t you, sir? I came last year with the Bucklebury
"Ah! Velvet binding with gold edged leaves!"
Master Goodbody might forget your name, but never the books he handled.
"A master work! Did you bring any more?"
"Yes, master, but I don’t have them with me
now. Bilbo has them packed. We will bring them tomorrow when he comes
to visit you." Frodo looked eagerly at the pile of books that were
stacked neatly on the heavy oak table.
Master Goodbody watched Frodo over his
bifocaled glasses. "Anxious to get started, eh young Baggins? Well, go
ahead! I know you know how to respect a good book!" Freed in a treasure
room beyond the allure of dragon’s gold, Frodo happily slid onto a
stool and pulled the closest book toward him, opened it, and began to
He was squinting at the text as the daylight
failed. Master Goodbody was snoring softly, asleep before the book he
had finished binding, his spetales sliding down his long nose. Frodo
closed his book quietly and stood, stretching with a soft pop in his
back. He came round the table and removed the fragile glasses from the
master’s face, placing them near his hand. He lit a lamp that shone
thickly behind the cloudy glass flue, and let himself out of the house,
careful not to let the door bang shut.
The night was still warm. Frodo did not rue
his cloak, forgotten where he had left over the buckboard. The stars
were gleaming brightly, and all across the fairgrounds were other
lights, like brighter stars twinkling among the sea of tents and
booths. The wind carried a smell of roasting meats and pies, pipeweed
and ale to the hungry hobbit. He wound his way through the paths and
found an open-air kitchen where he purchased a plate of supper with a
tarnished copper coin. The maiden who tended the tables brought him a
tall mug of beer and a wedge of fruit pie with cream when he hailed her
with a smile. He heard music playing some distance away, tempting him
to seek it out and sing his own song to the clever tunes.
With reluctance he left the blushing maiden
and the music behind, returning to the smial where Bilbo was waiting,
smoking his pipe on the from lea with Posco and Milo. He greeted them
and accepted a tin of weed from Posco, sat down and loaded his pipe,
listening to the tales of the day. Gilly appeared at the sound of his
voice, insisting that he come and eat something, having missed both his
suppers and what would the neighbours say if he wasted to death on her
He laughed and stood, bowing deeply and
accepting her offer, leaving the older hobbits to chuckle as he went
inside. In the kitchen he told her all he things he had done that day
as she made him a meal from the bones of the suppers that she had
prepared earlier. She was shocked and frightened by the run-away cart,
appalled by Sandymans’ treatment of the poor pony, and soon laughing as
he told her the funny stories he had read in the Chubb Family Treasury.
When he refused a third helping of berry cobbler she decided he was
well enough fed, and shooed him away when he offered to help clean up.
He kissed her hand and went for a short stroll before turning in for a
sleep. This had not entirely been a bad day, for first of the Fair.
When Frodo woke the next
morning, the sun was shining strongly through the laced curtains, and
the smells of breakfast were coming to him, along with voices speaking
softly. Several warm bodies lay nestled against him; his younger
cousins had crept in during the night and settled in with him. He could
not move so that they would not be disturbed. Radiant pink faces,
cherubic in sleep, with unruly curls falling softly over closed eyes,
traced with long silky lashes brushing their cheeks. Angelica had two
fingers in her mouth. Frodo patted her straw-coloured hair, enjoying
the peace and quiet before the storm, as it were.
Gilly appeared in the doorway, making
pleading motions for him to remain still, and not wake the babies. She
mimed bringing breakfast to them, if only he would keep the little ones
asleep for a while longer. Frodo nodded. With the sun warm on his face
he drifted into sleep again, dreaming that he was dancing with many
children in a fair garden on the far side of the moon.
He woke when three young hobbits began jumping on the bed he was lying in, singing "Up! Up! Sleepy-head! Get out of bed! Get out of bed!"
He grabbed each one and bundled them into the blanket, tickling anyone
who tried to escape. Angelica stood beside the bed, dressed in an
impeccable pinafore and she crossly harangued her peers for being so
Gilly appeared again, accompanied by Prisca,
Posco’s sister. They were carrying trays laden with pastries and cream,
and bacon and eggs and toast, and a carafe of coffee that made Frodo’s
mouth water at the aroma. He told himself he must remember to take some
beans back with him to Bag End this year. Coffee was hard to get in
Hobbiton. Frodo cousin Ponto had a plantation on the hills beyond
Michael Delving. He wondered, as he breakfasted with the giggling
children, if he could persuade Ponto to part with a bag or two of beans
when he and Bilbo left. He was already cross about Bilbo resenting his
nominating him as Mayor Elect.
Frodo musing was interrupted as Angelica and
Everaud began squabbling over the last cream tart. He broke the pastry
in half and gave each a piece, licked his finger and shooed the
children away to play outside. Peony fetched the empty dishes, giving
Frodo a curtsy and a peck on the cheek.
"You are so good with children, cousin," she
said. Frodo thought she had the sweetest face, framed with curls
coppery-red and a mass of freckles on her pert nose. She had married
young Milo and already had one child. She brushed a speck of imaginary
dust from her apron and glanced at him from under her lashes, her
freckles flashing as she blushed. "You will make some lucky maiden a
fine husband someday."
Frodo knelt and covered his heart with his
hand, "Only if you were to agree to run away with me, Peony. There are
no other lasses in all the Shire when I am in the room with you! They
are all as weeds in the garden of your beauty." She laughed at him and
curtsied again. They always flirted so, when he came to visit. Frodo
knew she loved Milo completely, and he had fun making her blush so that
her freckles stood out and her eyes sparkled. He closed the door gently
behind her and began to prepare for the day.
Frodo met Bilbo in the kitchen for second
breakfast and his uncle greeted him warmly. Ponto was arguing with his
father about the mayoral election and how it was "high time a Baggins
held that office again".
When Bilbo heard this, his smile sagged into
a scowl. "Which of you had the brilliant idea to nominate me as mayor?
As if I did not have enough to do as Master of the Hill, now you want
me to be mayor of the whole Shire? Well, I won’t do it!" he said
petulantly, crossing his arms.
Posco chuckled and Milo smiled wryly. They
knew well Bilbo’s dislike for politics and posturing (at least
posturing that did no service). "You are a great contributor to the
poor and less fortunate, Bilbo," said Ponto, quite oblivious to his
brother-in-law’s grin. "You are well know… famous even! In spite of
that, you would make a fine mayor."
"I’d rather tend bar at the Green Dragon!
Wilcome Cotton is a popular and famous throughout the Shire... elect
him mayor!" said Bilbo gruffly. Wil kept bar at the tavern in Bywater,
and he would have laughed at Bilbo’s suggestion, just as Posco, Milo
and Frodo did now. Ponto puffed his lips and drank his coffee,
flummoxed at Bilbo’s renunciation.
"Well, the vote is set for Wednesday. On
Thursday the ballots will be counted, and then there will be a new
mayor of the Shire," Ponto said firmly.
Frodo refilled everyone’s cups. "We’ll have
to move the Sheriff’s office to Hobbiton if you win, Bilbo, and the
Messenger Service and Post Office, too. I don’t think that you will
care to leave the comforts of Bag End to run things here." Bilbo began
to expostulate and Ponto looked uncertain.
Ponto could not understand why Bilbo was not
overwhelmed by this honour, nor had he anticipated the removal of the
Offices. Those were local jobs and a source of pride for the towns.
"Now, see here…" he began to say over Bilbo’s objections. Frodo laughed
and placed a calming hand on his cousins’ shoulders. "I am only joking.
It won’t happen. Ponto, Bilbo is famous and popular, but not among the
older hobbits, and they are the ones who vote. Walt is good at his job,
and everyone likes him. Why change things?"
Ponto grumbled and did not answer. Posco
changed the subject quickly and they began to discuss the races
scheduled for the day and whom they were wagering on, the new wines and
pipeweed to be sampled and judged, and other activities that lay before
their pleasure. Frodo listened to their talk, saying little and
laughing a lot. He was still a young hobbit in the eyes of his elders,
not of age and therefore still a child. Only Bilbo treated him like an
equal, which make Ponto roll his eyes. Posco and Milo ignored him, and
urged Frodo to enter the foot race that afternoon. Frodo agreed as if
reluctant, but actually he had been looking forward to it.
As they rose to allow Gilly and Prisca to tidy their kitchen, Frodo grabbed his coat from the hall peg.
"Going off already, Frodo lad?" asked Bilbo.
"I wonder if you would mind taking these down to Goodbody’s. Posco
wants me to come down to the Town Hole and talk about politics. I am
going to see if I can get myself out of this!" In a whispering voice,
he added, "It is beginning to feel like a good time to disappear!"
Louder, he said, "Don’t wear your eyes out, reading in that dim house
all day. There are many folks who will be looking for you. Merry should
be here today, and I have a wager on you for the race at three
"I will be there, Uncle! And I will win, like
I did last year!" Frodo waved jauntily, hoisted the heavy bag of books
high on his shoulder, and walked down the lane. Inwardly, he hoped that
Bilbo would not have to "disappear". Something about that magic ring
made him a trifle uneasy.
But he could not hold a mood of brooding for
long. The air was crisp and the sun was warm. Frodo strolled
purposefully, waving to folk and greeting maids, mothers and gammers
with a bow. On the steps of the Lore Garden, Frodo found another
friendly face. Samwise Gamgee, whittling a stick and grinning, rose to
his feet as the older hobbit came near. Sam ducked his head in a bow,
still grinning, brushing at the whittlings on his clothes.
"Sam! You made it!" Frodo was delighted to see his friend. "Where is the Gaffer?"
"Buffin’ his taters, no doubt," answered
Samwise. "He’s entered the "Best Grown ‘Tater" competition, so he has,
and gave me leave to do with the day as I wished, so long as I kept out
from underfoot. I was hopin’ I’d find you here, sir. If you think Mr
Goodbody wouldn’t mind…?"
"I am sure he won’t, but let’s not spend the
whole morning at it, Sam. A free day must not be squandered! Let’s see
if the Master is up yet, and get started, shall we?"
Master Goodbody would not allow so young a
hobbit as Samwise to touch his precious books, but he did not mind if
he sat near while Frodo read aloud. Samwise listened and watched,
looking at the maps and pictures with interest. Frodo hoped that soon
Bilbo would have more time to spend teaching Sam his letters.
Gluing a spine that had come apart, Goodbody
glanced up to watch the two hobbits bent over the book on the table
before them. Too few youngsters were interested in reading and books
these days. It warmed his heart to see them here, in his dusty old
study. Good lad that Drogo Baggins, he thought, then he squinted back
down at his fingers that had become stuck together with paste. He
Happy Hobbit times, 1392 S.R.
Frodo read a chapter of Bucklebury history to
Sam, then called it quits for the day. The sunlight was shining
enticingly down through the smeared windows of Goodbody’s house, and he
heard laughter and smelled something that made his stomach rumble. He
closed the book, hushing Sam’s protests and they left quietly as the
master was nodding over his desk. Frodo paused briefly to seal the cap
on the paste bottle before letting himself and Sam out.
Once outside, he said, "Come on, Sam! I can smell mushrooms. And it is high time for elevenses, by the fall of the sun."
"Aye, sir, that it is; and by the echoing in
my belly!" Together they ran to the stalls that littered the green
fields of Michael Delving. Frodo bought them each a great funnel of
glazed mushrooms, and they walked about the busy booths and munched on
them, licking their sticky fingers. "Hard to believe that all this land
is riddled with tunnels," commented Sam as they strolled along. Every
while and again they would pass a chimneystack, or a vent, letting air
into and out of the great maze of tunnels that had been dug into the
chalky soil. "Nice lawns."
"I can’t imagine living in a house, myself,"
said Frodo. "I think it might be rather cold in the winter time, with
the wind blowing all around. I prefer a hole." They spoke of other
small things and greeted the folk they knew. Sam fetched them mugs of
creme ale to wash the mushrooms down, and after giving the Fair a turn
round, they climbed a hill to overlook the tents and sit for a spell
At the top of the hill, they found a strange
sight. The miller and his son were there, right on the hill above the
Town Hole. They were unloading their great burden of lumber there, or
rather Ted was unloading it. Mr Sandyman was walking away down the hill
to speak to some people he knew. "Get that wood down from the cart,
Ted, and then come and have yer lunch!"
Sam was frowning when Frodo turned to look at him. "What’s wrong, Sam?"
Sam glanced down at his toes, "I don’t care
much for the Miller or his son, Mr Frodo, but it is kinda hot on this
hill in the sun, and Ted might get his job done quicker with more
"Let’s give him some, then. I was just
thinking the same thing myself." They walked up to the cart. "Good
morning, Ted! Can we lend you a hand?" Frodo called out with a friendly
air. He was eager to bury the animosity that had grown between him and
Sandyman. There was no good to come from holding a grudge.
"Be off, Baggins!" answered Ted roughly,
grunting as he tried to lift a beam of wood nearly as thick around as
his leg. "There are no books around here! How’d figure you’d help me?"
"Like this," answered Sam, as he and Frodo
each took an end of the beam Ted was pulling at. They lifted it between
them and set it down next to the others. Ted glanced nervously over his
shoulder toward his father. He was standing in the shade, talking to
Old Noaks and Daddy Twofoot. "Quicker to unload, with three, don’t you
think?" Ted allowed a smile to break on his face, and he ducked his
head in gratitude.
In a thrice, they were finished, but hot and
hungry. Frodo bought them all a round of ale at the kitchens. Ted
looked as though he thought that the beer might bite his nose if he
drank it. "Come on, Ted!" exclaimed Frodo. "Let’s pretend that we don’t
dislike each other, just for one day! It’s the Fair!"
Ted grinned a little, and he reached for the
mug. Just then, it was sent flying out of his hand. Sandyman stood
glowering at his son, and he raked Frodo and Samwise with the same
"What are you doin’, lolly-a-gagging around
here with the gentry and the service? There is work to be done, boy! I
told ye to unload that lumber!" He seized Ted by the ear and hauled him
away before he could utter a protest or explanation. Frodo watched them
"Well, it was worth the effort, lad," said
Bilbo. He had come up behind the young hobbits and witnessed the
tableau. "I am proud of you, Frodo." He patted the young hobbit on the
shoulder. "How about a pint of that ale for an old hobbit, Samwise?
Ponto had talked me dry, and he still isn’t convinced. And now Walt is
worried that he’ll lose his job, and I don’t want it." Bilbo sighed,
accepting the mug of ale that Sam brought him, "Thank you, Samwise! You
saved my life!" He drank deeply, and sighed again. "Where is that
father of yours? Vegetable judging? Well, I have to see this
gi-enourmous ‘tater he has grown! The talk is all over the Fair. See
you lads later!" and with that, he rose and walked away.
They finished their ale and set out again.
Neither felt very hungry anymore, so they walked around looking at all
the hobbits milling about; ladyhobbits dressed in fine array, and
gentlehobbits in coats and vests, poking among the wares displayed
under canopies of white and blue and yellow. They saw a group of
Dwarves assembling a forge near the craft tent and hurried over to
watch them work. Frodo had met a few dwarves, as Bilbo had many friends
in the Blue Mountains and Erebor, where Lonely Mountain rose in the
mists. Seeing them put Frodo in a mind to tell tales, and he hauled Sam
away to the open-air pub, where a tale-telling contest was underway.
Isingrim Took was telling a tale when they
arrived, and frowned when his audience began to chatter as Frodo joined
the circle, sitting on the grass with Sam just behind him. They settled
down and listened as the speaker continued, telling a story about his
great- great- grandfather Isingrim Took the second (or third, the story
kept changing). When he finished the tale, everyone applauded politely.
"Good tale, ’Grim," said Frodo, nudging Samwise slightly with his elbow. "I was rather hoping to hear a faerie story."
"Hurumph!" grunted Isingrim, as he glared at
Frodo and the chuckling Sam. "Faerie tales are for children, to keep
them in bed at night and out of trouble! We spin tales for older ears
"Then you probably don’t want to hear about
Fafred Proudfoot and the Faerie Tiger," said Frodo with a feigned sigh,
making as if to rise and leave. The other hobbits in the circle began
to stamp their feet, chanting. "Bag-gins! Bag-gins! Bag-gins!"
"Well... if you insist, " said Frodo. Tossing
Sam his coat, he spun into a tale. His audience listened raptly; even
Isingrim was hanging on his words. Sam had stuffed a corner of his
tunic in his mouth. They watched as Frodo enacted the parts of the
tale, changing his voice for each character. He mimed the meeting with
the Faerie Tiger in the woods, and how Fafred Proudfoot climbed the
tree to escape being eaten. Laughter sprinkled the ring of listeners,
and others paused and gathered round, attracted by the merriment.
Just as Fafred had tricked the Faerie Tiger
into chasing its tail around the tree, three bells sounded out on the
fields, signaling the beginning of the races. It was almost 3 o’clock!
Frodo was late for his footrace!
"I’ll finish the story later," he said, and
to the exasperation of his audience, Frodo took off at a run. Sam
scurried behind him as fast as he could, carrying the forgotten jacket.
Frodo arrived at the leveled field just as
the other runners were assembling. He stripped off his vest, tunic and
shirt, as the competitors ran naked to the waist. He hurried to a place
along the starting line. Sam came behind slower, gathering his
Merry Brandybuck was there, the youngest
runner competing that day. He gave Frodo a grin and a nod. There were a
couple of Tooks, and a lanky Burrows Frodo remembered from last year.
Ted Sandyman stood there also, wearing a light sleeveless shirt. He was
stretching his arms and avoiding Frodo’s eye.
"Do me proud, Frodo lad!" Bilbo called from
behind the young hobbit. Frodo grinned and waved, not looking because
Claude Downs had lifted his bell and was bringing the small hammer down
to start the race. Just before it struck, Frodo heard Bilbo say, "I
say, Mr Maggot! I did not know you were coming to the Fair this year.
Is that a new dog?"
Adrenaline that Frodo could not control
surged through him, and he took off running as the bell pealed the
start. He left the other runners in his dust and reached the finish
line with more energy to go on, but he stopped, laughing breathlessly
at his clever Uncle’s trick.
"You really wanted to win that wager, didn’t
you?" Frodo accused him. Bilbo laughed and handed Frodo a handkerchief
to wipe the sweat from his face.
"I just wanted to see the look on the Thain’s
face when he lost his wager with me. Get cleaned up and dressed, Frodo,
and meet us at the pub. Paladin’s brought his son, and you should have
a greeting for his wife, too."
"Yes, sir," Frodo said agreeably. As he
bathed his face with the waterbarrel, he noticed the hill above the
Town Hole where a skeletal structure of wood was being assembled. Frodo
wondered what it was all about.
"Good run!" Frodo felt Merry pound his back
playfully. He wrestled with the young Brandybuck, dunking his head in
the trough of water. "Leave off, Baggins!" cried Merry, "I won five
copper pennies with that run!"
"You bet against yourself?" Frodo was appalled.
"No, Folco Boffin bet against me, the rogue,
but he felt so bad about it he split his winning with me! I would have
got naught if I won!"
"Just a pat and a mug of beer... which sounds
good right now! Come on, I am going to meet Peregrin now." Frodo
slipped on his shirt, then Sam held his vest for him to thread his arms
"Oh, that lad," Merry said, pulling his shirt
over his damp hair, "He is going to be a wild Took when he grow up, if
Paladin doesn’t lock him in a wardrobe for the rest of his days!" Merry
regaled Frodo with stories of the child’s exploits to date, as they
walked to the pub.
Frodo shook his head in wonder. "He is only two years old, Merry!"
"Two and a half, and he can tell you the days and hours, too. He’ll make a great Thain someday; that’s what Saradoc says."
Frodo pulled on his jacket and smoothed his
wild curls as they walked. The race had awakened his hunger and he
hoped that he could find an odd thing to eat once they reached the pub.
Merry walked along side him, chattering unceasingly about the things
that had happened since last Frodo had visited Bucklebury. Sam plodded
along behind, wanting nothing more than to spend the day with Frodo,
besides a spot of late lunch or early tea.
At the pub, Frodo bowed low to his cousins
Paladin and Eglantine Took. Aunt‘ine, as Frodo had always called her,
placed a round squirming hobbitlad in Frodo’s arms. Peregrin stopped
wriggling and stared up at his cousin with huge green eyes, as if he
were the strangest thing he had ever seen in his young life.
"Quite a handful, Aunt’ine," Frodo said, then
he looked down into Peregin’s face. Gently he said to him, "So you are
Pippin, are you? You weigh as much as a bushel of apples, you do!
Pippin watched him, smiled when Frodo spoke
to him. He wriggled out of Frodo’s hold and walked steadily to his
mother, wrapping himself in her velvet skirts, but for his head and his
eyes that never left Frodo’s face. Merry clucked his tongue. "That is
the first time I have ever seen him become shy!"
"And most likely the last!" everyone laughed
as Pippin began to wander around his mother, never letting go of her
skirt. He twisted it tight around her legs walking one way, then
unwound it and wrapped around the other way. Eglantine just stood still
and smiled down at her son.
They found seats and began to chat, and to
Frodo’s relief they received an early tea, with cakes and wonderful
cream and herb-dipped vegetables, very tasty with tea on a late
afternoon. Frodo ate his fill and began to feel drowsy, but he was
having so much fun he did not want to break up the party. He closed his
eyes for just a second, it seemed, when Bilbo touched his elbow gently.
"Lad, why don’t you take your drowsy friends
up the hill and catch a nap under the trees? Tonight is Bonfire Night,
and I imagine you will all be up until the crows cry at dawn, so best
to catch a wink or two. Run off now, lads!"
Bonfire Night! Bonfire Night!
Smell of grass and fuel wood burning
Dancing 'neath the stars so bright
Above our heads now turning
Bonfire Night! Bonfire Night!
All the elders are asleep
Their weary heads on pillows alight
Beneath the blankets heap'd
This is the hour, this is the time
All the children running wild
We tend the fires, we sing the rhyme
On this night of Summer mild
The hills were ablaze as if each housed a
dragon. Sam was watching with round eyes. This was his first midsummer
at the Free Fair and he had ever seen such a sight before.
In Hobbiton, Midsummer bonfire was a single
heaped stack of waste wood and branches in the Bywater square, and most
of the adults stayed up at the Dragon while the younger hobbits tended
the fire, watching to make sure that no cinders or strong winds spread
the flames to the houses or fields nearby. Usually the fire burned low
quickly and was no more than a bed of embers the next morning. All the
young hobbits would be sleeping on the grass behind the inn.
Here there were ten, maybe twenty fires each
as large as the one in Bywater, and they climbed into the sky. By each
fire an adult hobbit stood, silent and alert, with a pail of sand and a
pail of water and a shovel, with a horn strung round his neck. They
watched as the young hobbits kept the fires burning with a supply of
wood, each eager to wait out the night and see the sun rise. It was
custom, if the fires burned all the night through till dawn, good luck
and a fine harvest would come to their town that year.
There were plenty of hobbits tending the
fires, and more running from one to the next playing games with their
friends or singing, toasting snacks over coals and generally running
amok through the night. Every young hobbit had been drilled in
responsible behaviour by their parents before they were allowed to stay
up all night. And here and there, in the darkness could be seen a
taller figure, walking or standing, making sure that no harm came to
the innocent merrymakers. If one watched carefully, the hedgerows would
light up with the glow of a drawn pipe, and sweet smoke drifted across
the gleam of the Lithe pyres.
Frodo loved this holiday. He had to
constantly remind himself to walk slowly so that Sam could keep up.
Merry was trotting beside them, running backwards and all but dancing
in his excitement. Of course, Bonfire Night in Bucklebury was much
better than anywhere in the Shire, according to the proud young hobbit.
Frodo did not recall any special occurrences during his childhood in
Buckland, but he did not say as much. He enjoyed the bottomless
enthusiasm that his cousin was capable of generating, so he overlooked
Merry's tendancy to boast.
Frodo had a habit on Bonfire Night. He liked
to visit each fire, adding something to the flames. It was sort of a
ritual he had made for himself; each year that he did this his luck
seemed to improve. Not that he had many things he needed to wish for,
being well taken-care of by his uncle. He wished mostly for good things
for his friends, fortune for the poor hobbits, good weather for the
farmers, rain for the flowers, clear skies for viewing the stars. He
wrote his wishes down on little scraps of parchment throughout the
year, twisting them into tiny rolls and keeping them in a small box.
Then on this night he filled his pockets with old wishes and began his
rounds. This summer he wondered, as he groped in his pocket, if he had
enough wishes for all the fires he saw. It seemed the whole horizon was
alive with orange and red flames.
At their third stop, Frodo encountered the
group who had been listening to his tale earlier that day. They
insisted that he finish the tale, as they were all eager to hear the
ending. Actually, they required that he begin again and tell it
properly through the finish. He obliged them, enjoying the way the
firelight played on the faces of his audience. When he told of the
Faerie Tiger running and running, trying to catch his tail around the
tree, until he ran himself into a puddle of butter, and Fafred
Proudfoot slid down the tree trunk in triumph, scooping up a pail of
sweet tiger-butter for his poor starving family; Frodo's listeners
roared with approval and applauded, then they scattered in all
directions as the midnight bell tolled in the White Downs dell.
Frodo grabbed Sam and they ran with Merry
into the darkness. Bad luck it was, to be caught in the firelight when
the twelfth bell struck!
More fires and more wishes burned. Sam was
walking slower and Merry was falling into longer and longer lapses of
silence, his face thoughtful. As Frodo went forward to kindle yet
another twist of paper, Merry leaned over and spoke softly to Sam
beyond the edge of the light. He whispered excitedly and Sam listened,
chewing his lip. He shook his head as Merry asked him something, then
laughed aloud. When Frodo turned, they broke apart. Frodo wiped the
smoke from his eyes. He dug in his pocket and found only one wish left,
twisted into a knot.
Frodo remembered this wish. He had tied it
differently than the others because he devoutly wanted this wish to
come about. He grew a touch melancholy as he remembered the day he had
written it down...
Bilbo had slept late that morning. He had
been up in the wee hours of the night, writing in his study in the big
red-bound book. Frodo had woken and crept to his door to peek in on
him. Bent over the ledger, his hair grey but not as grey as it should
have been for a hobbit of his years; Bilbo's face was full of a memory.
Frodo imagined that he knew which memory it
was. Alone in that dark tunnel, free air on one end and a dragon on the
other, Bilbo had went ahead toward the dragon, taking those brave steps
to prove to himself his own worth. That moment had left a mark on the
hobbit, one deeper than the burn of dragon's breath or scars from a
fall or a swordstroke.
Frodo had wished, as he watched his uncle
sitting with ink drying on his quill, reliving that moment with fire in
his eyes; he had wished that his uncle would never, never leave him.
Frodo knew it was a selfish wish, and that it could never come true,
but he could not throw the paper away. It seemed to have no cost, just
to hope beyond wisdom. He kept it in his pocket always, and now he
strode toward the last bonfire rubbing the soft parchment between his
Dawn was not far away. Sam was sleepy and
Merry distracted. The fires were burning low, some mere coals with a
blue dancing of flames waving like pendants in the grey air.
As Frodo stepped forward, he saw someone
standing next to the fire that seemed familiar to him. He walked round
and was surprised to find Bilbo on the other side of the smoke, feeding
posters with his face painted on them to the flames.
Frodo laughed. "Find them all, did you?" he asked.
Bilbo chuckled. "Yes, and the pile of them
that Ponto has been tacking up to replace the ones I took down! That is
the last of them." He flung the stack into the fire, then dusted his
palms. He fished in his pocket and pulled out his pipe.
"You would make a great mayor, uncle," said
Frodo, "but I prefer to keep you to myself, to be honest." Frodo drew
out the twist of paper, looked at it with a smile, and tossed it into
the fire on top of Bilbo's burning likenesses.
"Me, too!" agreed Bilbo. "And tomorrow I
shall take steps to insure that I shall not be elected mayor. But you
needn't worry about it at all, my lad. Did you make all the fires
"Yes, Bilbo. I am finished."
"Let's go back to the smial, then. Gilly will
have a breakfast for us and your friends, you can all sleep-in while we
grown-ups jaw and dicker about the Fair. I will see you in the Lore
Garden in the afternoon. I must speak to Goodbody about rebinding the
Great Tookish Tales. By then, everything should be ready for Thursday."
"What will happen, uncle?" asked Frodo with a
yawn. He wished he could be more alert, but the growing sunlight seemed
to be weighing down his eyelids. He wondered if he could stay awake
long enough to eat breakfast.
"Nothing you need worry about, dear boy!
Untold is unheard, and unlooked-for is unseen!" and Bilbo winked at
Frodo and laid an arm across his shoulders as they walked toward White
Trailing behind them came Merry and Sam, alert and listening carefully.
Happy hobbit days, indeed, but something his happening at the Fair
beneath the cultivated lawns and forced merriment. Who will become
mayor of the Shire? Will Bilbo Baggins take the honour, or will Will
Whitfoot keep his title and job? And what mischief is brewing above
Town Hole? Lazy days of summer may dampen the minds of the most curious
hobbit, but it cannot keep a Baggins from scratching his head.
The next morning was as blissful as one Frodo
could remember. He slept late and ate well, courtesy of Gilly and
Posca, who lingered around the house keeping children near the smial
while the elders ran the Fair. Frodo was curious about what they did
all morning, so that they wanted all young hobbits out from underfoot.
But he would not find out, not this year. He relaxed in the parlour
with Merry and Sam, and all the young cousins, still too tired from
their nocturnal activities to be very rambunctious or mischievous.
After noon, he went to the Lore Garden,
parting with Sam at the porch. His gaffer needed him in the Vegetable
patch, where the competitions for "Best Grown" vegetables, fruits, and
flowers were preparing to begin. Merry tagged along with Frodo, not as
curious about the books as eager to learn what Bilbo was up to, though
of course he did not say as much aloud. He picked up a book when they
walked into Goodbody's house, feigning interest. The master promptly
snatched it out of his hands, bonking him lightly on his hard little
head with it; a reminder not to touch without asking. Merry grinned and
rubbed his head, apologizing with a bow.
Mollified, the master turned back to Bilbo
and Paladin, both sitting at his desk where they had been having a
discussion. Frodo listened for a while, then taking up a small volume
he led Merry outside to the porch, where the young hobbits sat while
Frodo had Merry read to him.
Merry was well lettered for a hobbit his age.
After adopting Frodo, Bilbo had pressured Saradoc to arrange formal
lessons for teaching the young hobbits to read in Bucklebury. Not all
families were keen to allow their children to participate in this
instruction, preferring to give their own children such learning, when
and if they found the necessity or the time. But some few, Merry
included, showed much enthusiasm to learn, as least in the winter-time
when there was nothing more interesting to do outside.
Merry read slowly but clearly and Frodo was
pleased with his improvement. He felt that the joy of reading should be
everyone's pleasure, not just the upper-class hobbits. He was hoping to
get Samwise and some of the other young hobbits from poorer families to
receive more learning, too. He had discussed it with Bilbo before, but
here were some things about hobbit customs that he did not yet
understand. Why was it such a bad thing, to teach someone to read?
Merry had stopped reading when he realized
that Frodo was not listening anymore. His cousin's eyes were fixed on
the distance, gazing across the fields where a faint breeze was
rippling the tents and barely lifting the pendants. On a hill nearby,
noisy hammering and the shriek of saws biting wood sounded. Merry
nudged Frodo from his daydreaming and pointed, "What on earth are they
building above Town Hole, cousin?"
Frodo turned and focused his wayward
attention on the activity. Yesterday it had been but a scare-crow
structure of beams, but the work had been underway busily today and it
was taking shape quickly. "It looks like a tall, narrow house! Who
would want to live in such a strange structure?"
"It is a bell-tower, ninnyhammers," came a
voice behind them. Ted Sandyman was standing there, a bucket of nails
in his meaty hand. "Mayor Whitfoot ordered it built. Wants it finished
before Wednesday, he does." He set down the heavy pail of nails, wiped
his right hand on his shirt and held it out to Frodo. Frodo took his
hand gladly, but winced as the strong young hobbit squeezed so hard as
to nearly crush his fingers. "I appreciate what you did for me
yesterday, Baggins," whispered Ted tightly, "but it is no favour to me
to be a friend of yours. We don't belong to the same class, and never
will. Keep your distance, rich boy, and I'll keep mine."
Merry began to protest, and Ted pushed him so
that he fell back into the dust. Frodo's face grew dark and he returned
Ted's grip until the younger hobbit yelped and jerked his hand away.
"If you do not care to be civil and friendly,
that is your choice, Sandyman," said Frodo coldly, "I will not beg for
friendship, but do not think that I will stand idly by while you
torment those weaker than yourself." Frodo gave Merry a hand up, turned
his back on Ted and walked away. Ted watched them go, rubbing his hand
"Wow, Frodo," chattered Merry, slapping the
dirt from his trousers as they walked. They were heading toward the
corner of a nearby garden, well away from the Fair and out of sight of
the houses. Frodo did not speak, but walked into the trees to a shady
spot and sat down. His face was still flushed and his fists were
clenched so that his knuckles were white. "What's wrong, Frodo?" asked
Merry. He had never seen his cousin like this. "Did Ted hurt your
"No, Merry. I am just very angry and I need a
moment to calm down. Let's just sit here for a while, and then we'll go
and find us some honeycakes or something."
"Okay, Frodo," said Merry uncertainly. He
knew somehow that Frodo would prefer to be alone for a little while.
"Let me take the book back to Master Goodbody. I'll tell Bilbo..."
"Nothing. You will say nothing of this to
Bilbo or anyone, Meriadoc Brandybuck, if you have any respect for me at
all. This is a private matter. Please," Frodo added, his blue eyes
serious and piercing. Merry thought he looked saddened.
"Yes, of course Frodo. However you want. I
will be right back." The young hobbit fled to the house, slipped in and
placed the book on the shelf where Frodo had taken it and left again,
without the three adults noticing him at all. They were deeply
engrossed in their talk. He walked slowly back toward the garden,
giving Frodo the quiet moments he needed.
Frodo thrust the incident behind him and
collected Merry, and took him around the Fair doing all the things
Merry enjoyed, so that the young hobbit seemed to completely forget
about the altercation. Frodo kept them away from Town Hole, going to
the Gardening Tent to see how the awards had been distributed. Widow
Threadgirdle had indeed come away with the ribbon for "Best Rose In
Bloom", dethroning Vitra Hornblower. Anise Brockhouse had produced the
"Best Gourd", a pumpkin so large that it barely fit in the back of the
waggon and needed four strong hobbits to lift it.
Sam greeted them with a beaming smile of
pride; his gaffer had taken the award for the "Best Grown Tater" and he
happily showed off the massive thing. Merry wondered aloud how many
chips it would produce, if they were to slice it up. Sam hushed him
with a barely suppressed giggle.
"Now, don't be a-sayin' that where he can
hear you, Mr Merry. I heard him talkin' to the thing this morning. I
think he named it 'Burt'."
The young hobbits roared with laughter,
earning them a coarse invitation to "get out of 'ere if yer not bein'
useful" from the Gaffer, who was smiling as he said this. He touched
his forelock to Frodo and Merry with respect and ruffled his son's hair
affectionately. He gave Sam a copper penny and pushed him out of the
tent. "And stay away from Town Hole, lads," he called to them as they
ran off. "Nothing up there for young hobbits to get into. Mind
"Yes, sir!" answered Sam.
They fell out of their run to a slow walk,
for the crowds in the Fair grounds had grown as thick as the air in the
spending afternoon. Every hobbit was busy getting somewhere, and in the
press of folk, Frodo began to feel rather stifled. "Let's get up where
there is some air," he said, "until the crowds stop milling about.
There are folks walking on my feet more than I am!"
They retreated to a low hill that afforded a
fine view of the tents and lifted them above the noise, swept with
clean air from the Downs. They lay on the grass and spoke of the things
they had overheard that day.
"Tomorrow is Wednesday," said Merry, "the
last day of the voting. Maybe that is what the gammers and gaffers are
all excited about. Saradoc says that Will Whitfoot may have to step
down for your uncle, Frodo."
'I hope not', thought Frodo, but aloud he
said, "I don't think we need worry about that, Merry. Bilbo doesn't
care for the honour and he is confident that Will shall be mayor after
the ballots are counted Thursday."
"I would vote from Mr Bilbo, sir, if I were
old enough," said Sam boldly. He was laying on his back on the grass
behind the bench where Frodo and Merry were sitting, his hands behind
his head, staring at the sky. "Looks a bit like rain, Mr Frodo. You
want me to run to Mr Posco's home and bring your cloak?"
"No, thank you, Sam," said Frodo. "I think
we'll head back to the Lore Garden and do some reading while the
daylight holds. Maybe Bilbo has finished his discussion with Master
"You two go on," said Merry, standing and
stretching. "I have no head for books today. I am going round the Fair
again, and try to find some fun." He wandered off with a jaunty wave.
"That sounds like trouble," whispered Frodo
to Sam with a smile. They jogged back to the Lore Garden. The sky
seemed to be taking Sam's suggestion, and was growing dark and a cool
wind was picking up the pendants and stirring the flaps of the tents
with a fickle breeze. Their path took them past Town Hole, and they
slowed to gaze up at the tall tower being built there. Sam's brow was
puckered, but he made no comment. Frodo shielded his eyes and saw
Sandyman and his son, and several other hobbits, labouring hard to
finish the building. It stood above all the other hills like a finger
or a limbless, dead tree, breaking the rolling landscape with its sharp
angles. It would be striking, certainly, thought Frodo, smiling at the
pun. A striking bell-tower. He must remember to tell Bilbo that one.
They were just turning away when they heard
the strangest sound ever to touch their ears. A groan, like a giant in
pain, or the very earth itself in the throes of an illness, seemed to
be coming from the ground beneath their feet. Frodo gasped as the
bell-tower above them began to shudder. Small figures could be seen
running away from the building, crying out in alarm. The mouth of Town
Hole was right in front of Frodo and Sam. A great cloud of air, thick
with white chalk and dust, belched out of the opening, blowing the two
young hobbits off of their feet with its force, and flattening several
tents that were also in line with the door.
Frodo found himself flat on his back, and saw
the tower collapse like a child's game of twigs, and the once tall hill
of Town Hole sank in upon itself. The air filled with billows of white
smoke. Frodo coughed. It was difficult to breath. His vision began to
His next moment of awareness was of being
slapped sharply across the face. For an instant, he thought that Ted
had come and was threatening Merry again, and he woke up with a fist
raised to return the enmity, but he saw his uncle, not Ted, and he
relaxed and was immediately seized with coughing. Bilbo wore a worried
expression, and fanned Frodo with his hand to give him more air.
"Frodo? Can you hear me, lad?"
Frodo tried to say yes, but his throat was
choked with dust. He managed only to nod his head. Bilbo shouted to
someone to bring some water to him, and Frodo saw next to him Sam
laying in Paladin's arms. The Thain was gently wiping his friend's face
with a cloth. Sam seemed scared but unhurt.
Someone handed Bilbo a wineskin, and he held
it to Frodo's lips. Dry and bitter, it was, but cool and cleansing;
Frodo drank to rinse the chalk from his mouth. He spat the first
mouthful out, as Bilbo advised him, then drank again. Bilbo handed the
wineskin to Paladin, for Sam to drink. "Not as good as water, but it
will do," joked Bilbo, though his face was serious and pinched. He
touched Frodo's arms and legs, asking if he had pain anywhere. Frodo
shook his head; he was not hurt.
The sky began to weep, and the dust started
to clear from the air. Frodo began to breathe easier, though now he was
chilled as his clothes became soaked. Bilbo slipped an arm under him
and helped him walk toward a tent that had not been collapsed, where he
could sit out the rain. Frodo sank down gratefully, He felt as though
something heavy was sitting on his chest. Paladin carried Samwise and
set him next to Frodo. The younger hobbit seemed okay, but still
stunned. Apparently Frodo had inadvertently shielded him from the full
force of the shock, knocking him down as he himself was flung to the
ground. Sam reached for Frodo's hand, and they sat together beneath the
tarpaulin, shivering and staring at the ruin of the Town Hole.
"That tower was too heavy!" they heard
someone exclaim. "The whole Hole has collapsed. Will was in there, and
how many others... who knows! How terrible!"
Frodo overheard this and he thought that he
should feel bad, but he was having trouble understanding what had
happened. It still seemed like a dream. Then someone shouted again, and
a cry of wonder went up; a lone figure, very much the fattest hobbit
Frodo had ever seen, came wandering out of the ruin of the Town Hole.
He was covered entirely with white chalk, so
that he appeared to be a flour dumpling with legs and arms, staggering
around when he should be lying in a stew. Frodo could not stifle the
giggle that bubbled from his lips. It made him cough again, but he
could not stop. It was positively the funniest thing he had ever seen.
Sam began to chuckle, too, relieved that
Frodo was okay and at seeing Mayor Whitfoot looking like a plump ghost
waddling out of the ruins of his chalky tomb. He covered his mouth and
snickered, though Frodo was making more than enough noise to cover the
sound of his mirth.
Bilbo hastened forward to take Will's arm,
and led him to the tent out of the rain. The moisture had turned the
chalk into a pasty clay that clung to the Mayor's face and clothes. As
he came nearer, Frodo struggled to regain control of himself. He
breathed deeply and drank some more from the wineskin that Paladin held
"Steady, lad. Just relax and keep breathing. You have had all the Fair today that you need."
Frodo nodded, and closed his eyes. The wine
was making his head spin, and he was beginning to feel a little sick.
As his consciousness lapsed, he heard Sam begging him to wake up, but
he could not answer. He wondered what the bells would have sounded
like, ringing in the tall tower above the Downs.
With the collapse of the Town Hole, Michael Delving was in chaos.
Will Whitfoot had been the only person in the smial when the weight of
the new bell-tower had caused it to cave-in; all the folk had been out
in the Fairgrounds, participating in Barter Day. With the children out
of the way, the older hobbits would go about, haggling for items and
trading them for others, hoping to end the day with some useful or
valuable item. For this was the game that the adults played, the
mystery that Frodo had a mind to discover but now, he would not know
for another year at least.
Bilbo had bundled him up and taken him back to Posco's hole, forgetting
entirely about the campaign and all his other business. The cave-in had
caused all the yards of air inside to rush suddenly out, like a bagpipe
squeezed, and all that air had blown out through the opening of the
front door. It had lifted the young hobbits and tossed them like
leaves. They were near buried in chalk and half suffocated, and lucky
not to have been broken or blinded. Bilbo was not taking any chances
with the lads. He brought a doctor to see the children and kept them in
bed for several days. The Gaffer had been moved in to be nearby so he
could watch over his son. Bilbo insisted that the two young ones remain
together as they convalesced. Sam recovered more quickly and was up
helping care for Frodo after a couple days, where Gilly and Posca would
Frodo was grateful to lie abed. The heaviness in his chest was
oppressive, and he felt weak and lightheaded and his ears rang
strangely. He slept and drank the tea the doctor gave him and Sam was
always near, sleeping on a trundle bed that Bilbo had had brought into
Frodo's room. After Frodo felt better, Merry and some of his other
friends came in and told him what had occured during the last days of
the Fair, and how it happened that Will Whitfoot, now affectionately
known as Flour Dumpling, retained his title of Mayor of the Shire.
When the Town Hole had collapsed, Will had been inside working on his
speech for the Mayoral Debate. He was scheduled to face Bilbo the
following evening for a public discussion where the two candidates
would talk of what plans they had for the Shire. The hobbits voting
were invited to attend and listen, and thus base their selection on the
hobbit they thought would bring about the best government for the next
Will had been worried; Bilbo was famous and rather popular, thought his
views were somewhat extreme; many folks thought him most unsuitable for
the office, with his adventurous tendancies and all. What no one knew
was that the whole nomination of Bilbo was but an attempt by the
Sackville-Bagginses to get Bilbo out of Hobbiton with his contentious
young cousin that he called a nephew. Lotho wanted to be Master of the
Hill and to live in Bag End very much. He perusaded Ponto to place the
nomination, and had funded the campaign secretly to promote Bilbo
Baggins as Mayor, even though Bilbo did not want the office.
After the incident, most folk felt rather sorry for poor Will, and they
did not have the heart to vote him out of office. It was bad enough
that his home in the Town Hole was in ruins, and would have to be dug
out and relocated. The debate was cancelled and when the ballots were
counted, it was nearly unanimous that Will should remain as Mayor. When
the relieved hobbit hosted the Farewell Banquet, he toasted his
opponent and asked that everyone attending extend their prayers for the
full recovery of Bilbo's nephew and his little friend.
Bit by bit it came out to Frodo what had occured when the Town Hole
collapsed. He remembered very little of it at all, but Merry and Sam
with their clever ears had overheard much gossip, and had pieced
together a tale for him. They spoke it to him as he lay propped up with
pillows. He was still breathing with some difficulty and had a
persistant cough that was keeping him in bed.
Bilbo had been planning with his friends the Thain and Opus Goodbody
what he would discuss at the Debate the next day when the disaster
struck. They had heard the noise, and the windows of the Lore Garden
had been rattled so hard that many panes had cracked and fallen out.
Bilbo saw the two young hobbits borne down by the concussion of the
blast. He had run out to them before even the tower had fully
collapsed, his heart clenched in fear that one of the small figures
might have been Frodo.
Sure enough when he clawed through the pile of chalky dirt, he
uncovered his nephew. Beneath him lay Samwise, stunned and shaken. Sam
had a bump on his head from hitting the ground when Frodo had been
thrown against him. Paladin reached them after Bilbo and took young
Gamgee in his arms to see if he was injured. Bilbo turned Frodo over
gently. Frodo's nose and ears were bleeding and he appeared not to be
For a fraction of a second, Bilbo was afraid that Frodo was dead, and
almost his heart stopped within him. He touched the lad's throat with a
trembling hand, feeling for the faint fluttering of a heartbeat. Bilbo
shook him gently, then more firmly when the lad did not respond.
Recalling suddenly what Balin had done when they had fished Bombur from
the enchanted waters into which he had fallen in Mirkwood, when they
had feared that the corpulent Dwarf had drowned. Bilbo dealt Frodo a
blow across his pale face, as the Dwarf had done his companion. Frodo
had gasped and his eyes had started open. He struggled in Bilbo's arms
until he recognized his uncle, then he fell back and began to cough.
Frodo's friends paused in their tale as he began coughing again, but he
waved away the concern on their faces. He covered his mouth and cleared
his throat. So much dust had he inhaled, inadvertantly, that still his
lungs were congested. Frodo wiped his eyes with a kerchief and nodded
to Merry to continue the tale. Talking was a labour that the doctor had
forbidden to the young hobbit for some days yet.
"Well," Merry said, winding up his tale, "They brought you here
straight away, and here you are, living like a king while all the rest
of us are working like beavers to clean up the Town Hole and the Fair
Grounds. I do hope you are enjoying yourself, Frodo," Merry added with
a smile, "you always seem to find a plausable excuse to get out of the
Frodo smiled and mouthed silently, "All part of my plan, Master Brandybuck."
The door opened then, and Bilbo stepped into the room. He smiled to see
Frodo sitting up, and patted Merry on the head. "Hullo, lads! Meriadoc,
why don't you take Samwise here to the kitchen and see if you two can
talk Mrs Bolger out of some tea and cakes for us all?" He closed the
door behind them, then sat down in the chair next to Frodo's bed.
"Feeling better, lad?" he asked.
Frodo nodded, smiling at his uncle. "If you feel better yet tomorrow,
we might go home. Doctor Tarsus had granted leave for me to move you,
if you feel up to it. Would you like to go home?"
Frodo nodded and he caught Bilbo's arm, so that Bilbo leaned close
enough to hear his soft whisper. "I am sorry to hear you did not get to
be Mayor, uncle," he said, blue eyes twinkling with humour.
Bilbo laughed and mussed his hair gently. "I have job of work enough
for me governing you, Frodo Baggins! Oh, and I nearly forgot to tell
you... don't expect a visit from your Uncle Otho and Aunt Lobelia. I am
afraid they left this morning, after hearing the doctor give his leave
for you to go home. They seemed rather put off, I must say. And I gave
your regards to Paladin and Elgantine when they went back to
Tuckborough. They promised to bring little Peregrin to Hobbiton after
you fully recover, so that you can get to know your cousin better."
Sam and Merry returned then, each bearing a tray and Gilly came with
them. She poured Frodo a cup of tea from his "special pot" and stirred
in a generous dollop of honey. They all sat down and kept Frodo company
until his eyes grew heavy, then they crept out softly to let him sleep.
There was a long ride to look to on the morrow.