What a fantastic day in the Shire, thought Merry Brandybuck
as he sauntered down the Road that wound through the valley of the Water.
He always enjoyed walking through the gentle rolling hills and scattered
clumps of trees on his way to visit his cousins. Buckland was home, and he
sometimes felt uncomfortable in the wide open lands with no Hay or River
to protect him. Cousin Frodo did not have any trouble adjusting to the scenery,
so Merry swallowed his anxiety, preferring that meal to the one he would
have to eat if his friends discovered his unreasonable fear. Brandybuck pride
knew no fear!
Merry waved jauntily at the hobbits he passed, working in their fields or traversing the road past him. He ignored the stares and loud whispers, such things just did not register to him. It was too fine a summer day to worry about prejudice.
Merry had just crossed the Water and was jogging down the Bywater avenue when he saw his cousin Bilbo Baggins ahead of him, walking along in the same direction as the young hobbit was running. Merry was about to call out to him, when suddenly *hey presto!* the old hobbit vanished right before Merry's eyes!
Merry wrenched himself to a stop. He stared in stunned amazement at the spot on the road that no longer contained Bilbo. Standing there, he could then hear sounds of someone approaching from down the road, coming toward him. Harsh voices raised in argument, clumping hoof-beats, and the creak of waggon wheels. Merry dove through the hedgerow to hide himself.
He wriggled beneath the foliage until he could see the road clearly. Lobelia and Otho were riding in a pony-trap, bickering at each other, while their son Lotho sat between them and whined about being hungry. They passed slowly, and Merry sighed with relief as they disappeared. They were without a doubt the most unpleasant and rude hobbits in the entire Shire. It was very difficult for Merry to control his tongue around them when they bad-mouthed Cousin Bilbo. And the things they said about Frodo!
Merry ground his teeth. Frodo had forbidden Merry to defend him, saying that nobody listened to the Sackville- Bagginses anyway, but Merry could see that some did. Frodo could be so innocently forgiving sometimes that Merry wanted to thump him on the head, except that truly he could never raise a hand to his dear cousin. It was Frodo's kindness and gentle nature that endeared him so to his friends. It made Merry feel fiercely protective of him.
Merry was gazing into the empty road as these thoughts ran through his mind. A fleeting shadow attracted his wandering eyes, and as he glanced toward the movement, Bilbo reappeared as suddenly has he had disappeared, right before his eyes. Merry saw him regard some small thing that lay in the palm of his hand. Bilbo raised the thing to his lips and kissed it, then flipped it into the air, a glittering golden flash in the sunlight. He caught it deftly and slipped it into the pocket if his waistcoat.
Merry scrambled to his feet, and watched Bilbo walk away toward the Hill. The tales were true! And he had never more than half- believed those stories of dragons and treasure that Bilbo told. Merry felt a great consuming desire to follow and speak to him, but he forced himself to wait. It would not do, to reveal that he had witnessed this strange event. Merry carefully schooled himself to lock it in his heart, for some voice that spoke deep in his mind said that a time would come when this secret would serve him well. He waited for about an hour before he returned to the road and jogged toward Bag End, whistling in the golden afternoon sunlight.