The Magnificent Speaks

by Avondster


CHAPTER 1

"Well", said Merry as he looked at the eager faces in front of him. "Where to begin?"
"At the beginning?" suggested Tom Gardner, who with his twelve years was the youngest in the company, except for Elanor's baby Elfstan, who was asleep in her lap.
Merry and the others laughed and that eased the tension a little.
"Right you are, Tom-lad. At the beginning it is. Well, not the very first beginning of course, I was not there thankfully, but perhaps the beginning of my own part in the story.

I remember I had been counting the days until it would be Their Birthday. At his last visit to the Hall, Frodo had given me a few hints about the Party being one of special magnificence. I was so exited I could barely wait. I begged my parents to let me go to Hobbiton early, but they would not hear of it. So I had to wait patiently. But patience wasn't one of my qualities at the time, and the rumours I heard did not make my waiting any easier.
To be rid of my constant attempts to persuade them, my parents finally gave permission to ask Pippin to come over to Brandy Hall. I think his parents were quite glad to be rid of him, as a matter of fact. When it comes to giving parents a hard time, little Pip was the champion."

He grinned up at Pippin, who gave him a sour smile. Merry laughed and continued:
"Waiting was not so hard when we were together, and we phantasized about what the party was going to be like. We had heard about magic presents, marvellous food and fireworks…
When we woke up one morning my mother told us a small host of Dwarves had passed the Bridge that night, with a cart full of presents, for the Party no doubt. We had never seen a Dwarf before and I remember we refused to speak to her for several days because she hadn't woke us up for it.

And then, one evening, I remember it being a Friday, a cart came from the Old Forest. Pippin and I were the first to spot it. We saw the figure driving the cart and we knew immediately it wasn't a Hobbit. He was tall, with a long white beard, bushy eyebrows and clad in grey, with a big pointy hat. I had seen him before, once, so I knew who he was."

"Gandalf, of course!" yelled Sam's youngest daughter.
"Indeed, Ruby love, it was Gandalf the Grey, the wizard. Well, I didn't know then what a wizard was exactly, only that he could produce the greatest fireworks in Middle-Earth. We had never seen them before, but everyone would still speak of them and especially Pippin was really fond of those stories and knew them all by heart.

Gandalf kindly asked my father permission to stay the night at the Hall. Da let him stay at Crickhollow, but very reluctantly. He did not exactly trust queer Big Folk, especially not when they were known as 'wizards' and came out of the Old Forest with a cart full of strange objects. But he was a friend of Bilbo's, so he could not refuse."
Merry smiled at the memory. "Of course, this was a chance for Pippin and me to get an early peek into the preparations for the Party, so the next morning, when Gandalf was still inside, we sneaked over to the cart and started opening one of the packages, revealing - as we had suspected - a colourful array of rockets. We were just looking which one seemed most interesting to snatch away, when I felt a painful sensation in my ear. I looked up… and over us towered Gandalf, looking both stern and slightly amused.
"Trying to get your hands on Party Business, eh?" he said. It was useless to deny it, since we were caught in the act. Gandalf looked at me. "A big boy like yourself should know better, Meriadoc Brandybuck," he said. "Yes, I still remember you, how could I forget such a good friend of Frodo's?" I beamed for a moment, then realised this wasn't an appropriate time. But Gandalf had not seen it, he had turned his attention to Pip, who quickly returned a rocket to his outstretched hands. "And you, young master, must be a Took. You bear great resemblance to my dear old friend Gerontius, the Old Took as you might call him."
"He was my great-great-grandfather, Gandalf," said Pippin in a clear voice. "My name is Peregrin Took and I am to be the next Thain."
Anyone would have been impressed by the straightforwardness of such a little Hobbit, but not Gandalf.
"Are you now? In that case I surely would expect you to have a little more responsibility than trying to steal fireworks, Master Took. And that goes for you too, Master Brandybuck."
We both hung our heads, we knew he was right. He started to get the cart ready and we just stood there. Finally Pippin lifted his head a little and asked "are you going to turn us into toads, Gandalf?"
He suddenly laughed out loud, and we were relieved to find out that wizards could laugh like anyone else, and we were less afraid of him.
"Not today, Peregrin," he said. "I don't think Frodo would ever forgive me. Besides, I suspect hím to have awokened your curiosity in the first place. Am I right?"
I refused to betray my dear cousin, but I'm afraid my face showed the truth, because he laughed and said: "in that case it would be more appropriate to turn hím into a toad."
He winked at us and rode away to Hobbiton.

And then finally, finally, the day of departure came. There was nothing but rain on the way to Hobbiton, and we were genuinely concerned that the Party would be spoiled by the weather. But when we arrived at Bag End on Thursday Morning, the sun was shining brightly and the weather was warm and wonderful.
After congratulating Bilbo and receiving our presents, we delivered Pippin to his parents and I went to look for Frodo. When I found him I immediately saw that something was bothering him. But when I finally got the chance to talk to him, he wouldn't say anything, and he was very busy so he couldn't talk very long. Soon after I forgot my concern, because the Party was just so wonderful. There has never been and will never be a party like that ever again. Everything was only the best: the food, the drink, the presents, the entertainment… Bilbo had certainly put some effort into it. And the fireworks! I had never seen anything like that before.
At the end of it there was a dragon made of red and gold light, and it flew over our heads! I will not deny I was scared, but I was also exited and thrilled to see a real dragon. I was actually rather disappointed when I was told it only vaguely resembled the real thing.

When it was time for supper we were invited to the pavillion for the private family dinner. Needless to say the dinner was as splendid as the rest of the Party had been, although I dreaded the thought of Bilbo's after-dinner-speech, as I think most Hobbits did. But the speech turned out to be the most interesting part of the evening, as a matter of fact. Bilbo first started with the regular stuff, the thank-you-all-for-comings and announcements of obvious things. When he called our host a 'Gross', everyone was very insulted, but I thought it rather funny. It was so much like Bilbo to think of something like that.

The big scare came, of course, when he announced he was leaving and he vanished with a great flash of light. Everyone was immensely upset. I heard my grandfather say to my mother that Bilbo had gone away again, and that was exactly what I suspected, but I think that I, apart from Frodo and Gandalf of course, was the one who understood the most of Bilbo's mysterious disappearance. I had seen him use his magic Ring before once, and I had read a few pages of his Red Book, so I knew by experience what he was capable of. The only thing that didn't fit in was the flash of light, but it didn't take me long to understand that it was Gandalf's doing.
Everyone was running around and asking for Bilbo, but I already knew he was gone and would not come back again. I knew how dearly Frodo would miss him and figured he might need me, so I went to look for him to see what I could do.
He turned out to be thrilled when he found out I had not come to trouble him with questions and he eagerly accepted my help. Together we arranged the ending of the party and I remember feeling very dignified and important when I spoke to the guests for Frodo, the new Master of Bag End.

The next morning I left the Green Dragon early to help Frodo clean up the mess. And some mess Bilbo had left behind! Not the mess from the party I mean, although that was quite alarming to look at I must admit, but moreover all the people who came for information about Bilbo's disappearence and to take away presents, whether intended for them or not.
We gave away the presents, chased away the youngsters who were constantly invading and had to deal with Lobelia of course.
I wanted them to go away and leave Frodo alone. Couldn't they see how tired he was?
Frodo finally collapsed by the end of the day. He sat down, looking weary, and he told me: "lock the door, and don't open it to anyone today, not even if they bring a battering-ram."
Poor Frodo. I highly doubt that anyone was concerned about him at the time, while he had suffered a great loss indeed. Bilbo was still alive perhaps, but he would probably never see him again. He was tired and sad and no one seemed to care.Yet he kept his patience and good humour, and bore his fate with silent acceptance, like he would do later. Even then I already thought he was brave. He has always been brave."

Merry had to swallow hard to keep back the tears. It would not be the last time.



CHAPTER 2

"Have a cup o' tea, Merry," said Rosie softly as she offered the Master of Buckland a warm cup. "All this storytelling must have given you a sore throat by now."
"Thank you, Rose." Merry smiled warmly as he accepted the tea, took a few sips and put the cup down.
"What did you do after the Party, Da?" asked Rory, curious at what would happen next.

Merry took a deep breath. "I stayed with Frodo for a long time. I think it has been the longest of my many stays at Bag End. I was actually terrified that Frodo would one day follow Bilbo and disappear like his uncle had done. But he seemed not to be planning such a thing. Once he had gotten over the departure of Bilbo, he settled in quite well in his new position. So I finally decided it was safe for me to leave. But I wasn't comfortable with it and my visits became more frequent after Bilbo had left. I wanted to keep an eye on Frodo, make sure he wouldn't give me the slip and sneak off. At that time it was just plain selfishness that drove me. Frodo was like a brother to me and I didn't want him to go because I simply couldn't miss him."

"You may call it selfishness, I would rather call it love," said Sam. Merry looked at him, surprised. Why was it that Sam often reminded him of Gandalf lately?

"Oh, where was I?" he suddenly said, realising he had been quiet for several minutes.
"Yes, Frodo. Well, I visited him more than twice as often as I had done when Bilbo was still around. We'd take long walks together, and when he was older we took Pippin along as well. After a few years I started to notice that Frodo wasn't changing at all. Only in his eyes could you see his true age, but as the years progressed he never showed any further sign of age. After a while folk started to guess me older than him, and he was fourteen years older! At that time we just laughed at it, I teased him about being 'well preserved', and he teased me about looking older. I never connected it with anything unnatural, I thought he was just lucky.

My concern had all but disappeared, and when Gandalf first showed himself again in the Shire after so many years, it came back twice as heavy. Of course, I never believed all the talk that went around about Gandalf pressing Bilbo to leave the Shire, but I was afraid he might bring news from Bilbo that would make Frodo change his mind about staying. Gandalf had the gift of bringing news that somehow always seemed to mess up things. They did not call him 'Stormcrow' for nothing!
So when I saw Gandalf cross the bridge on his horse on the way to Hobbiton, I followed as soon as possible in case I would have to stop Frodo.
My fears turned out to be silly, as I arrived at Bag End Gandalf had already left again, and Frodo was the same as he always had been. But the concern lingered inside my mind.

After this, Gandalf visited Frodo more often - well, more often than he had ever done before - and that only got me more suspicious. Why would Gandalf, who had so many important matters to tend to, suddenly come to the Shire so often? Especially when all he'd do was look how Frodo was, exchange some small talk and leave the same day. Rather odd, I reckoned.
That was when I started to 'guard' Frodo. I called upon Pippin and Fatty to help me and they did, but more for me than for Frodo at first. I think they thought I overreacted, but I couldn't explain my uncomfortable feelings.
When I thought he was ready, I told Pippin about my suspicions and was surprised to find he shared my feelings. It would not be the last time I'd underestimate him.
From then on, the two of us watched Frodo with equal intensity, but it was not good enough, as we found out. I remember we pretty much panicked when Frodo was away for a day and a half. We were scared he'd taken off. But he came home that afternoon, and we found out later he had been visiting Elves and fell asleep under a tree.
That was the point when we realised we were taking this over the top a bit. We decided to rest our cases and only come into action when Frodo would start behaving odd - well, more than usual anyway. The problem was we both lived pretty far away, too far away to be able to observe Frodo all the time. We needed someone who was always close to Frodo, someone who was loyal and whom we could trust…"

All the heads of the children gathered around Merry's chair now turned to Sam, who seemed to turn a little red - or was it just the light of the fire?
Merry smiled. "Yes, children, indeed.

It was Pippin who suggested Bag End's gardener Samwise, since he knew Sam was trustworthy, secretive… and had a concern for Frodo's welfare that was at least as great as ours. So one day, we stole away the young gardener from the lawn to ask. When we proposed our plan to Sam he politely refused at first. "I really shouldn't go spyin' on Mr. Frodo like that, Mr. Merry," he said.
"Please Sam, it's important to us."
Sam shook his head. "I'd never doubt your good intentions, sirs, but Mr. Frodo is old enough to look after his own and he really don't need a babysitter, if you pardon me."
"You don't have to babysit anyone, Sam," Pippin said. "We just need you to tell us when Frodo is acting strange…"
Sam shook his head again, more furiously this time. "I hadn't expected you to believe all the talk they've been havin' around about Mr. Frodo. You should know better. No matter what they say, Mr. Frodo is a perfect gentlehobbit and that's the truth! Now, if you'll excuse me…"
He started to walk away from us and Pippin and I exchanged a glance.
"Sam," I called after him. "We don't believe those stories any more than you do. But we ask you this because we're scared that Frodo is going to leave us."
It took Sam two strides to get back to us. "What? You think Mr. Frodo is going to go away like Mr. Bilbo did? Why?"
We explained it all to him and he, naturally, agreed to help us immediately.

In the years that followed, our little conspiracy transformed into a well-organised network of spying. As soon as Gandalf would turn up again, I was the first to notice as he always took the Brandywine Bridge. I'd then send word to Pippin and we'd secretly come together in an Inn near Hobbiton, where we waited for Sam to report to us. He'd tell us everything that had been said and done and we'd stay for a few more days, sometimes in secret and sometimes not, to see if there were any remarkable changes in Frodo. They never occurred, and as time passed our spying grew to be more of a game than something serious. But serious or not, we were still ever watchful.

Then, all of a sudden, it wasn't a game anymore. And that was when Gandalf returned to Hobbiton once more in the early spring of 1418. I saw him race over the Bridge and somehow I knew this was serious. Gandalf seemed genuinely concerned, an emotion I didn't think he even posessed.
Pippin and I arrived at Hobbiton the next evening, and Sam was already waiting for us in the Ivy Bush. When I saw the look on his face I knew for sure that something was amiss.
"Thank goodness you've made it, sirs," he said. "Mr. Gandalf and Mr. Frodo have just gone to bed. They had a long talk tonight. I've never seen that wizard so upset, sirs, I didn't even think he could be upset, if you follow me. But now he was. He said to Mr. Frodo he had come to talk to him about his Ring, or Mr. Bilbo's, actually. He said it might be dangerous. "Why?" asks Mr. Frodo and then Gandalf said something about that they shouldn't be talkin' 'bout such matters at night, and that he'd best wait for daylight to tell him whole story. Rightly sirs, I didn't understand much of it, to tell you the truth, but Gandalf did mutter somethin' 'bout the Shire and all of Middle-Earth bein' in danger, and that somethin'needs to happen, and that I do understand and I don't like it al all, 'cause I think Mr. Frodo will be wantin' to do somethin' about it."
My heart had nearly stopped when I heard Sam mention that the Ring was the cause of Gandalf's coming. The thought that it might be dangerous gave me the chills. It had made Bilbo disappear. Would it now take Frodo away as well?
That's when I decided to tell Sam and Pippin all I knew about the Ring. Until then, I had kept it a secret, it was Bilbo and Frodo's business after all, but this was an emergency.
Of course, the small amount of knowledge of the Ring I had was not enough to understand the whole situation or to make up a proper plan, so the next day Pippin and I stayed restlessly in the Bush, waiting for Sam to show up with news. But he didn't.

The next day we went out to look for Sam and found him in his Gaffer's garden, but he refused to say anything. After a little persuasion, we finally got one scentence out of him: "I'm sorry, dear sirs, but Mr. Frodo said he would have Gandalf turn me into a toad if I tell anyone about anythin'."
So that was it, then. Sam had been caught and put himself on parole.
We knew something important was going on and that it had something to do with the Ring, but we didn't know what Frodo was going to do. We felt helpless. Poor Sam was obviously torn in two, but he kept his word and we respected him for it.
There was nothing for us to do but wait and keep watchful. I had never dreaded a summer so much as this one."