The Magnificent Speaks

by Avondster


CHAPTER 3

Merry leaned forward and drank the rest of his tea, even though it was cold. The children gathered around his chair waited quietly for him to finish. Their glimmering eyes and red cheeks showed that they were all caught up in the story.
"How did you find out what Frodo was planning, Uncle Merry?" asked Elanor.
Merry smiled. "Strangely enough, I didn't, Ellie dear. It was Frodo who gave himself away.

One day in early May he came to Brandy Hall for a visit, and when he was alone with me he said: "Merry, would you do something for me?"
"Anytime, Frodo," I said solemnly.
"Well…" He hesitated for a moment. It was clear he wasn't comfortable at all. "I need you to look for a house for me, here in Buckland. I am planning to sell Bag End and move."
I was stunned. I realised immediately that this had something to do with everything. Frodo loved Bag End, it was his home and I simply could not imagine him selling it for any reason.
"Why are you moving, Frodo?"
"Oh, well…" He tried not to look at me. "I just want to live a more quiet life, away from everything… It has been a hard time for me."
I nodded. "I know, Frodo."
"Will you help me, then?"
"You know I will."
He had of course no idea how much I knew, and did not realise that, by asking me this, he had given me a huge piece of the puzzle. Another great piece was given to me somewhat later.

That was when Fatty and Pippin came to visit me at the beginning of June. I had called the conspirators together to tell them of my findings. Sam refused to come, as I expected.
It turned out I wasn't the only one bringing news to the meeting; Fatty had something to add to my story. He knew whom Frodo had sold Bag End to: The Sackville-Bagginses.

It was at that moment that I realised Frodo wasn't planning to stay in the Shire. The house he wanted me to look for for him was just a diversion. I knew Frodo too well to believe that he would see Lobelia move into his beloved Bag End and ruin it. Frodo was going to leave us.

To make sure Frodo wouldn't be able to slip away without us noticing, we interfered with everything he did. We offered to help him with the move, an offer that would raise little suspicion, we were after all his friends and he could use some help. And as long as we were with him, he could not sneak off.
My heart ached as we started packing all the precious belongings in late September. I could see how difficult it was for my beloved cousin, but I could not help him because then he would know I was on to him. So I watched his grief in silence.
We loaded all Frodo's belongings onto a couple of waggons, and I ordered to take them to the little house in Crickhollow. I don't know what hurt me more: to take the furniture out of the house or to see that beautiful Bag End being hollow and empty. It looked like a body without a soul.

We had dinner in the garden. It was a lovely warm evening and all of us felt little like having dinner inside, where it was dark and empty. For Frodo's sake, we tried to be cheerful, we weren't supposed to know, after all, what his real plans were. So we ate and sung and told stories to each other until very late, and we drunk the last of the Old Winyards.

The next day, we loaded the final luggage onto another waggon, and Fatty and myself were going to drive it to Crickhollow. Pippin said he wanted to come, too, but I tried to sound light hearted when saying that 'someone should keep an eye on Frodo'. Pippin got the hint immediately and did not ask anymore, which would have made Frodo suspicious in the first place if he hadn't been preoccupied at the moment. Sam, however, seemed to have guessed what was our plan. He caught my eye, and I knew he would not betray us.
I drove off a little more relaxed, comfortable knowing that Pippin was there to keep watch.

It was already very late when we finally made it to Crickhollow with the waggon. Soon, I had a few lads come over from the Hall to help me unload it. An idea started growing inside my head. It was a desperate idea, my last straw, so to speak.
I directed the lads to put the furniture exactly where I wanted it, and after rearranging it together with Fatty, the inside of Crickhollow looked exactly like a smaller replica of Bag End's interior. I figured that maybe if Frodo would see it, he would be overcome by the desire to stay. I knew him very well, and I was sure he would be moved by this.
A pathetic attempt, maybe, but you must understand I loved Frodo very much and I wanted him to stay here and be safe more than anything. And if anyone knew how to keep him here, I did.

I slept uneasily that night. Dark things kept haunting my dreams and I woke up, yelling Frodo's name. I could not remember what had happened in my dream, only that it was all but pleasant and it involved Frodo.
Dear Fatty tried to comfort me, but he could not ease my worries. When our friends were running late, I saw it as a bad sign. Fatty said that they had probably encountered the Golden Perch on their way, and knowing Pippin, they had probably lingered there too long. He could be right, of course, but I wasn't too sure.
When evening fell, a thick fog fell with it and covered the lands. In Buckland, you could still do if you had a lantern with you, but I looked out and saw that on the other side of the river, the fog was so thick that the land could hardly be seen.
I told Fatty to keep supper warm, and that I would go and find Frodo, Pippin and Sam in case they'd gotten lost in the mist. I knew this could hardly be true, Frodo knew these lands far too well to get lost even in the fog, but going to meet them was better than staying and doing nothing but wait.

The night was cold and damp, and even in my warm clothes and a scarf around my head, I could feel the chill. My thoughts were racing. What if something had happened to my friends? I rode to the Ferry and explored the area around it, and rode to Crickhollow and back in case I had missed them. But I didn't find them, which meant they still had to be on the other side.
I took the Ferry and went out searching for them. I rode all the way to Stock, looking for them, but somehow afraid to call. After a while I gave up on finding them today, it was far too dark now and cold, too. So I headed back to the Ferry. And there I found one I hadn't expected to meet at all on a foggy night. Mr. Maggot and his waggon. But there was something strange going on. Maggot asked me who I was in his usual hostile way, which was only natural since he could not see me, and as for the hostility… well, that's just the way old Maggot was. But I perceived something in his face and voice that somehow did not seem to belong there: fear. Maggot wasn't scared of anything.
Another bad sign, I thought, and I asked anxiously if he had seen Frodo without answering his question. That was when Frodo recognized my voice and climbed out of the waggon where he had hidden. I wondered who he'd be hiding from, but did not ask straight away, I was far too happy to see him and the others. I resisted the urge of embracing him, it would seem silly as he wasn't that late. Instead I just grabbed both his hands and squeezed them tight. "So there you are at last!" I said, trying to sound light-hearted. But Frodo looked into my eyes and, like I often felt he could, seemed to look right inside my head. He smiled faintly at me and squeezed back.
Something about that smile made me think there was more going on, but no one told me yet. Pippin was not his usual cheerful self, and Sam seemed to be on the watch constantly. And that look in Maggot's eyes…

We said our goodbyes and thank-you's to Mr. Maggot and he rode off after giving Frodo a present. Frodo looked at it and he laughed. Pippin started to laugh, too. Even Sam produced a little smile. For a moment I thought that those dreams and feelings of foreboding were only in my mind. I must have been imagining things, I thought… for a moment."


CHAPTER 4

The tension was almost tangible in the large living room of Bag End. Even Sam and Pippin who, of course, knew what would come next, shivered with anxiety.

Merry drew a deep breath. "I could still feel something was amiss, but I did not like the idea of discussing it on the dark and foggy river bank. So I led my friends to the Ferry and we crossed the Brandywine. The river was calm, but it was cold and I could tell everyone felt just as uncomfortable as I did. I longed for the warmth and security of a lighted house more than anything else.
When we reached the other side, Pippin and I made ourselves busy to prepare for our way home as soon as possible. I was just tying the ferry up, when Sam whispered: "Look back, Mr. Frodo! Do you see anything?"
We all looked in the direction he was pointing, and I saw the most terrifying thing I had seen in my life - until then, at least. A dark shape at the far bank. At first, it seemed like some rags having been left behind, although I was sure they had not been there before. But then it started moving. It was like nothing I had ever seen, such things did not even appear in the old stories. It crawled around and seemed to be looking for something: Frodo, I suddenly realised, it is looking for Frodo. I just knew it, with a horrible certainty.
I looked aside to see Frodo's pale face. His eyes were wide open and his breathing fast.
"What in the Shire is that?" I asked him.
Frodo looked into my eyes, and I saw on his face what I had seen in Maggot's eyes. He shivered, and replied: "something that is following us. But don't ask any more now! Let's get away at once!" I agreed that would be for the best, and we hurried away. But as I looked back, I could see nothing on the far bank.
We hurried on. I was completely sunk into thought, and I distantly heard Frodo ask me something about horses swimming the Brandywine. The idea only! If it had been daylight, and I hadn't been so worried, I'd have laughed. But now I just asked him what horses had to do with anything, although I doubted if I even wanted to know the answer."

The room had gone awfully quiet. The children gathered around Merry's chair seemed even to have stopped breathing, their eyes wide open in awe. Merry looked at them and suddenly snickered. "If I would tell any other folk than Hobbits what happened next, they would not believe me. We, four little innocent Hobbits who thought a big dog was already terrifying, had just seen something dangerous beyond our imagination, and were still very much scared to death. How could we start talking about supper then? Big folk would not understand it was just our way of dealing with things. A warm bath and a good meal of mushrooms to strenghthen us, that was all we needed at the time. Strange, but it worked.

I took the basket of mushrooms to Crickhollow and made some preparations for a meal and a bath, the two things I knew would help my friends to breathe again a little.
When they arrived and Frodo saw how I'd arranged the furniture, I could tell he had to hold back tears. For a moment I felt sorry I had done this. Leaving was already so hard for Frodo, why would I make it any worse? He was going anyway. I decided to reveal all I had been hiding from him after he'd have settled down a bit.

I prepared supper with Fatty while the others were having a bath. As I had suspected, the bath helped enormously, and soon I could make up from the sounds coming from the bathroom, that they were back to their old selves. Pippin was singing cheerfully, although I did not know if that was an improvement, and making a mess as usual. And when the mushrooms were served I could even see Frodo getting back to being Frodo.
When we sat around the fire after supper, I decided to get things started. "Now tell me all about it," I said, "I guess that you have been having adventures, which was not quite fair without me." Frodo looked up at me with those blue eyes from under still damp, dark curls, and I was immediately sorry I had said that.
Frodo did not say anything after that, and I listened while Pippin gave me the full account of what had happened on their way from Hobbiton. When Pippin mentioned old Maggot guessing that the pursuit by Black Riders had anything to do with Bilbo, I looked closely at Frodo. He was really quick in saying that Maggot had only guessed. Too quick, in my opinion. But then again, I had been pretty sure of that fact myself.
"I think," said Frodo, "that it was a good guess, as far as it goes. There is a connexion with Bilbo's old adventures, and the Riders are looking for him or for me. I also fear, if you want to know, that it is no joke at all; and that I am not safe here or anywhere else."
Pippin and I looked at each other and knew this was the moment. "It's coming out in a minute," whispered Pippin, and I nodded silently.
"Well!" said Frodo at last, sitting up and straightening his back, as if he had made a decision. "I can't keep it dark any longer. I have got something to tell you all. But I don't quite know where to begin."
"I think I could help you, " I said quietly, "by telling you some of it myself."
"What do you mean?" said Frodo, looking at me anxiously.
"Just this, my dear old Frodo: you are miserable, because you don't know how to say goodbye. You meant to leave the Shire, of course. But danger has come on you sooner than you expected, and now you are making up your mind to go at once. And you don't want to. We are very sorry for you."
Frodo looked at all of us, he opened his mouth to say something but nothing came out. We burst out laughing at his stunned face. But we all knew it wasn't a laughing matter, and Pippin and I started explaining things to a dazzled Frodo. I was very much relieved to tell him of my concern ever since Bilbo left. I had kept it with me for years, and while I was speaking I felt a great weight fall off my heart and wondered why I hadn't told him before. He would have understood. He loved me, and he knew what was going on inside my head. Most of the time anyway. And I knew him.
Which was why I knew he would refuse to let me or Pippin accompany him at first. But I would not let him go. After I had seen that moving shadow outside in the fog, I was more sure than ever about my decision to come with him. I would not let him face danger alone. I decided to play out my final card. "Of course we understand! We know the Ring is no laughing matter, but we are going to do our best to help you against the Enemy."
I had predicted Frodo's reaction on this one, and I had predicted it rightly. I was glad to tell him all I knew about his Quest. No more secrets. Therefore I also unmasked Sam. He would understand, I figured. I wanted Frodo to trust us. I knew I was playing high stakes, he could also turn the other way and not trust us ever again.
I looked at Frodo anxiously after finishing the entire story of our conspiracy. There were few occassions on which I could not tell what he was thinking, but this was one of them.
"You are a set of deceitful scoundrels! But bless you!" And he laughed. I was so happy I could sing. So I did.

We decided to ride at the break of day, and Frodo and I agreed to take an unexpected route through the Old Forest. Not the safest or the easiest, but for this ocassion probably the most appropriate one.
I fell asleep that night, thinking of tomorrow and the days to come exitedly. Finally I would go on an adventure! It would be dangerous, I knew, but I was young then, and the outside world seemed very attractive to me. Little did I know about what lay ahead."
Merry was silent for a moment before he said with effort: "sometimes I wonder if I would still have gone if I did."
A hand was laid on his shoulder.
"You would have," said Pippin quietly.