Master of the Hill

by Lothithil


Chapter  1

Part One: Sleepless

Frodo was tired. He had spent the whole of the day helping to unloading the huge waggon the Dwarves had rolled up the Hill the day before, and most of the evening trying to find places in the already crowded rooms of Bag End for all the things Bilbo had ordered. He and Bilbo had then cooked up and served a vast meal for the road-weary Dwarves and themselves, and they had shared as much cheer with their guests as they had energy to spend. Once everyone was fed and bedded down, the smial became quiet for the first time that day, except for the crackle of the coals on the fireplaces and an occasional drawn-out snore.

Tired as he was, sleep was far from Frodo that night. The Birthday Party was now merely two weeks away. The young hobbit lay awake on his bed, thinking. He wished that September twenty-second would not come this year. Foreknowledge of what was going to happen on that day had done little to ease the pain in Frodo's heart; if anything, he grieved more knowing that each passing moment brought Bilbo's departure closer. He would miss his uncle terribly after he went away. What would he do, without his uncle's guidance and companionship? It felt to Frodo like he was becoming an orphan all over again.

Frodo sighed and climbed out of bed. He went to the open window and leaned on the sill with his chin on his folded hands, and looked out at the garden. Moonlight had made the orderly rows and tressels into a tangle of jungle in his imagination. Frodo thought about his uncle wandering around in such a wild place, alone and far away, and he felt a great sadness that could not be assuaged.

He dressed and crept out of his room. It was a soft night so he left his cloak hanging inside the door and picked up his favourie walking stick. He smiled a little as he tucked a fresh handkerchief in his pocket. Carefully he opened the door and stepped out, closing it softly behind him. A walk through Hobbiton and around the Pool might be just the thing to ease his tension, was Frodo's thinking. The hour was very late, so he took the ways that he knew would not take him near any dogs whose barking would rouse and disturb folk.

Bilbo would have kittens if he knew Frodo was out walking alone, but Frodo was not afraid. The strange events that had happened just a week ago seemed like a story told by a fireside, a child's distant memory. On this night, his desire to walk beneath the stars was stronger than his caution.

He walked the familiar road without hurrying, but found himself too soon strolling back up the Hill. He did not yet feel sleepy and the night was too pleasant to close out with roof and walls, so Frodo went into the garden and walked along the path that had looked wild and dangerous from his window. It didn't look like a jungle anymore. Frodo felt for a moment very strange, as if the world had shrunk around him, becoming as small as the Shire, and that everything beyond the borders had vanished or had never been. Frodo looked up at the stars, expecting to see them realigned in alien patterns or falling from the sky.

The stars remained as ever they had been, distant and bright. Frodo expelled his pent breath and relaxed. The stars did not change, however much the world of Frodo Baggins might.

There was a rustling noise behind him. Frodo turned with his walking stick held ready, but it was only Samwise, coming through the garden gate. The younger hobbit whispered, "Mr Frodo, is that you, sir?"

"Sam! Whatever are you doing up at this hour?" Frodo almost laughed, his sudden fear gone with the sound of his friends voice.

"I couldn't sleep, sir. I was up taking the air on the end of the Row when I thought I saw a shadow climbing the Hill. I followed to make sure there was no mischief afoot."

"If there had been mischief, what would you have done, Sam Gamgee?" asked Frodo with a grin, cuffing Sam's shoulder lightly.

"You'd be surprised how much noise I can make when I have to, Mr Frodo," said Sam. He looked around and then up at Frodo. "What are you doing out here, sir, if you'll forgive my asking? You've a long day ahead of you tomorrow. Asleep you should be, though I say it as shouldn't."

"I know, Sam. I just can't close my eyes yet. I keep thinking about... the Party." Frodo had promised to keep secret Bilbo's intent to leave the Shire, so he could not share even with Sam the things he was feeling. He offered a weak smile that Sam could not see in the darkness, and sighed softly.

"Everyone is looking forward to it, sir! I can tell you, I have lost some sleep thinking about it, too. I can hardly wait, and then again, I kinda wish't that it wouldn't come."

"Why is that, Sam? Why would you not wish for that day to come?" asked Frodo.

"Well, you'll be of age on that day, and perhaps you'll be too busy for ... well, I mean, you'll have better things to do with your time than... " Sam's voice faded to a mutter, and Frodo thought he could see a flush on Sam's face by the light of the low moon.

"Sam, we will still go fishing and camping together, you and I, and Merry and Pippin, too. Coming of age doesn't mean I'll be locked in my smial for the rest of my life!"

"I know, sir! I was just thinking and, well... thinking isn't what I do best, as my Gaffer tells me."

Frodo shook his head. "I would have to disagree with your Gaffer about that, Sam. But let's forget our worries for a moment and enjoy the evening. I think I know something that will cheer you up." Sam looked up at him again with an eager light in his brown eyes. Frodo laughed softly and whispered, "I heard from Bilbo today that Gandalf is coming to the Party, and that he is bringing... fireworks!"

Sam stuffed his fist in his mouth to prevent his outburst from waking the neighbourhood, "Fireworks! O, Mr Frodo! I have always heard such tales of Gandalf's fireworks! Is he really coming? O my!"

Sam fluttered about excitedly and Frodo laughed aloud at his antics, his tension and sadness fall from him. Bilbo would come and go as his will directed him, seeking Adventure, but Frodo realized now that he would not be left utterly alone. He allowed himself to smile and felt his weariness catch up with him at last.

"I'm for bed now, as so you should be, too. Goodnight, Sam." Frodo said.

"Goodnight, Mr Frodo! I'll not sleep a wink, I am sure, but I'll be just as happy daydreaming! Good night, sir!" Sam walked out of the gate, talking softly and excitedly to himself.

Frodo walked slowly back to the front door of the smial, yawning and chuckling. He would have a few hours of sleep and a long tomorrow, and with luck Gandalf would turn up sometime soon. Frodo felt a craving for his company and his wise conversation. Frodo wondered if the wizard would be going with Bilbo on his Adventure, as he had done before. That would make it harder, knowing that they were bound for excitement together while he remained behind in the Shire.

Frodo put on his nightshirt and laughed at himself. Becoming the Master of the Hill was going to be an Adventure, too, he knew. And as much as he would miss Bilbo, he knew he was going to be very happy.

Frodo fell asleep quickly, his curls stirred by the breeze from his open window. The sky outside was turning violet before dawn, but the birds in the hedgerow were hushed, as if the garden of Bag End did not wish to disturb the young Master's sleep.

Inkling, The Master of the Hill, Chapter One, part two (txt) ... Lothithil ... 04.22-09:04
This story, in all it's parts and pieces, is going to cover the time period in Frodo Baggin's life from just before The Party until he learns about the legacy of the Ring and departs from the Shire on his Adventure. I do hope you enjoy this tale. Onward!

Part Two: Fox-tail

Frodo woke to the sounds of stirring in the hole; Dwarven boots sounded quite distinct, even when carefully placed. Frodo dragged himself from bed and found that someone, probably the ubiqueous Samwise, had left a basin and pitcher for him to bathe with. Mumbling blessings for his benefactor, he poured the basin full of warm water and plunged in his hazy head and washed his sleepiness away.

The kitchen of Bag End was warm and full of life. Frodo edged inside past the table set with a massive breakfast and six Dwarves. Bilbo hailed him and bade him sit and eat before there was naught left but breadcrusts.

There was little danger of this, as the table was heaped with food. Bilbo had risen early and prepared for the busy day. Frodo helped himself to an ample breakfast then offered to do the washing up for Bilbo, "To make up for sleeping late and being of no use this morning!" Frodo added with a sheepish grin.

"Nonsense, my lad," said Bilbo, waving away Frodo's contrition. "We shall take care of this and everything else today. You need a holiday, I think; yesterday took more out of you that this breakfast has put back in! Take a stroll today or read a book. Frerín and his cohorts will be all the help I need today. Besides, how am I to arrange any surprises for you if you are underfoot?"

"I don't know if I want any surprises, uncle," said Frodo with a laugh. "Are you sure you don't need my help?"

"We'll manage today without it. Just keep an eye on the road for Gandalf, if you could. I am expecting him at any time. Indeed, he should have been here by now, but you know how wizards are... they have their own impeccable sense of timing!"

"Our wizard does, at any rate!" agreed Frodo, and he fetched from his room the book he was reading and took Bilbo's advice; a nice long stroll and a book under a tree sounded very pleasant.

Bilbo handed him a package with a morsel for second breakfast and Frodo was off down the road, his spirit high and his pace light. He felt quite relieved to be outside on what was turning into a lovely day, but he felt a touch guilty, too, for not putting up more resistance to Bilbo's dismissal. But well... a day to himself outside of the crowded hole sounded so very nice, and it had been long enough since Frodo had had the opportunity to do nothing for a while. It may be a long time indeed before the chance came again.

Frodo steered away from that dark thought and picked up his pace. He wasn't in a hurry, really, except that as it was such a nice morning and there being quite a few hobbits about, someone was bound to say something to him....

"Hullo! Young Master Baggins! I hope all is going well with you and your uncle?" Daddy Twofoot leaned against his fence next to the letterbox and nodded to Frodo. "Quite the shin-dig ol' Bilbo is planning, eh lad?"

"Yes, sir, all is well on the Hill today. Thank you!" Frodo said cheerfully. "Keep an eye on that letterbox... your invitation should be arriving soon!"

"Invitation? Gah! I live within shoutin' distance from the front door of Bag End... just poke yer head out and holler when the food's ready!"

Frodo laughed and waved as he walked away. He crossed the bridge and walked purposly through town, as if on an urgent errand, hoping to keep the interruptions to a minimum. He managed to get out of the village fairly quickly and settled into his long strolling walk that ate up the miles swiftly without tiring him out too fast. When he reached the Bywater Lane he picked a spot and left the road, climbing a steep bank up toward some large leafy oak trees that looked invitingly shady.

He found one friendly-looking tree and settled at its roots. Looking around at the peaceful green-gold world he was in, he sighed happily and opened his book. The sunlight dappled through the leaves and lit the pages beautifully. He began to read.

The day warmed and soon Frodo was blinking at the words before his eyes. He shook his head slightly and stretched. It wouldn't do! A whole day to read and all his body wanted to do was sleep!

Frodo took out the apple his uncle had given him for a snack and munched on it, careful not to get the sweet juice on the pages of the precious book. He wiped his mouth and his hands with his handkerchief and resumed his reading. He plucked a stem of sweetgrass that was waving its head at him in the gentle breeze, and he chewed absently on it as he explored the world inside his book.

It was a fastinating book, dealing with the histories of the line of the ancient Sea Kings of distant lands. To Frodo, who had never seen a Man, it read like high fantasy; tales of ships and floating islands, and civilizations beyond his wildest dreams. And in the end, as in all of the great Elvish tales, there was much sadness, but not a loss of all hope. Even as the land of the Western Kings sank beneath the angry sea, seven ships came sailing out of the storms, bearing the light of the noblest of the line, Elendil the Elf-friend.

Reading this book made Frodo curious about his own history, and the founding of the Shire. He wondered where hobbits had dwelled before they came to these fair lands. The earliest tales told of 'coming to the Shire'. Coming from where? Frodo wondered. And were there still hobbits living in the Wild somewhere, cut off and forgotten about, after almost half again a thousand years? What if Bilbo found them in his wanderings? What tales they would tell him...!

Frodo plucked another stem of grass and brushed his lips softly with the fox-tail. It felt like a catepillar and it tickled. He stuck the end between his teeth and tasted the juice, sweet and pungent on his tongue, like rhubarb jam or gooseberry pie.

The fragrance of the grasses and wild flowers and the warmth of the sun conspired to lull the hobbit into a half-dream, in which he found himself walking through the wild lands. It seemed that the trees and hills were flowing past him, like two rivers of green and brown and gold, while he remained steady on the unwavering road. He was looking desperately for some thing or place, or someone.

Part Three, Punctuality

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began
And far ahead the road has gone
I must follow if I can....

The words of the tune were well-known to Frodo, as it had been written and taught to him by his uncle, but it was not Bilbo's voice that sang now. It took a moment for Frodo to realize that he was no longer dreaming, but actually hearing someone singing... and the song was growing louder and clearer as the person drew nearer. Frodo heard the creak of a cartwheel and the clop-clop of a pony's hooves.

He raised his head, hardly daring to believe it might be.... yes! It was! A smile bloomed upon his face.

Frodo stashed his book and pack in the arms of the oak tree, then took off at a run. He pelted down the steep slope headlong, as reckless as a child. His feet were sure and he had no fear. It was almost like flying, the trees and bushes were green blurs rushing past him, and as the ground sloped upward again he came to the sudden cutting, where the road went through the bank. Frodo bounced to a halt, crossing his arms and planted his foot on a tussock. In the haughtiest manner he could affect, he glowered and said:

"You are late."

The cart came to a stop as the large figure driving pulled back gently on the reins. A wide-brimmed blue hat tilted down over a long grey beard, and his hands that held the leather straps were huge and gnarled and brown with sun. He sat utterly still on his waggon, then slowly the hat tilted upward and Frodo saw those piercing blue eyes beneath their great bushy brows. They twinkled at him, though the face that held them wore a sober expression and stern.

"A Wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins." His voice was deep, soft but distinct. He frowned back at the hobbit, jutting forward his chin so that his beard bristled out. "Nor is he early... he arrives precisely when he mean to!"

"Precisely after all the other work is done, you mean," said Frodo. His round, rosy face was twitching with an effort not to smile, but he failed at the last and burst into laughter. He threw back his head and laughed from his heart. "You came! You came! O Gandalf, it is wonderful to see you!" he cried, and he threw himself from the top of the embankment at the grey-robed Wizard.

Gandalf caught him easily, laughing his booming laugh and hugging Frodo tightly. "Likewise, likewise, Frodo! I am very glad to see you, too," he said, setting the hobbit down carefully and looking him over with a keen eye. He cupped Frodo's cheek and gave him a gentle pat. "You didn't think I'd miss yours and Bilbo's Birthday, did you?" Frodo shook his head 'no', his eyes dancing. "And what are you doing lurking along the road, waylaying innocent travellers? You haven't taken up Bilbo's old job as a burglar, have you?"

Frodo laughed. "No! I have been set to watch the road. It has been so long since your last visit, we thought that perhaps you might have forgot your way up the Hill, and gotten lost."

"Hurmph! I have been lost and found more often than you've had hot suppers, young Master Baggins... well," and Gandalf prodded Frodo's round belly with a finger, "Well again, perhaps not! You've not missed many of those, I see!"

Frodo giggled and sat down on the buckboard next to Gandalf. "I do my share of damage to the dinner table! And you look as though you have been doing fairly well yourself, Gandalf, though I don't ever remember seeing you looking less. Bilbo is expecting you, of course, but he will be so glad to see you've come. The waggon from Erebor only just arrived the day before yesterday!"

Gandalf clucked to the pony and the waggon began to move forward. "Then Frerín and the team have arrived, eh? Excellent! The best Dwarvish chefs the Lonely Mountain has to offer! I am surprised and delighted to learn that Bilbo had managed to lure them out here to cook for his Party... that is, I should say, your Party!"

Frodo smiled and sat back, enjoying the view from the high waggon seat. "It's more Bilbo's day than mine. He does love to throw a Party. I have to say, I am rather looking forward to it myself now," and Frodo paused, his smile fading just a shade. He brightened quickly and chattered on, but Gandalf had caught with his keen eyes and ears the note of sadness in the young hobbit's manner. He said nothing, but listened to Frodo talk about Bilbo's plans.

"... And there will be games, too, and music! Players from all over the Shire have been hired! There is only one thing I can think of that might be more exciting." Frodo gave a sly, sideways glance at the Wizard.

"And what might that be, Frodo?" asked Gandalf mildly, his long beard failing to mask his own knowing smile.

"Oh, a little smoke and fire," Frodo said airily, half-turning and lifting one corner of the tarpaulin that lay over the waggon's cargo. He managed to see only a couple of colourful bundles before Gandalf playfully rapped his knuckles with his long-stemmed pipe.

"Not until the Party, my cheeky lad!" Gandalf said. Frodo grinned at him.

They rode on in silence for a while, Gandalf puffing his pipe and Frodo rocking and bouncing as they trundled along the road. They came to the village of Bywater, and Gandalf nodded to the folk who waved and whispered. The wide wheels of Gandalf's cart barely fit on the bridge over the Water, but they made it across to the Hobbiton side and began to weave the wandering ways that led up the Hill.

Frodo was thinking while Gandalf was smoking. "Can I ask you a question, Gandalf? Before we come home?"

"Of course. What would you know, dear Frodo?"

Frodo said nothing for a while, then he asked in a low voice, "What do dreams mean?"

Gandalf shot the young hobbit a surprised look. Frodo's face was entirely sober and serious. "Dreams? Well now, there are dreams and then dreams. Why do you think they mean anything?"

"I don't know. I have strange dreams sometimes, as I suppose everyone does. But once in a while I have a dream that doesn't feel like a dream at all but like...a memory, I think. But they are nothing of any time or place I have ever seen, and sometimes they make me feel very sad and small. Sometimes I have these dreams when I am not asleep." Frodo glanced up at Gandalf through his lashes, a look of worry on his young face. "Does that sound odd to you?"

"No, not at all, my lad. It sound very normal and interesting." Gandalf said comfortingly.

"But what do they mean?" persisted Frodo.

"This subject requires a long answer or none. We are coming to the Hill now. Let me think about your question, and you think about these dreams you've had, and later we will talk about it at length. Agreed?"

Frodo looked up, shocked to see that they were riding past Bagshot Row and nearly to Bag End's door. "Oh! I am supposed to stay gone today! Bilbo is planning some surprise for me." Frodo stood up, and he laid his small hand on his friend's arm. "Gandalf," Frodo spoke softly, joy chasing away all the shadows of trouble from his fair face, "Gandalf, I am glad you're back!" Frodo then leapt from the rolling waggon, landing deftly on his feet at a run. He turned and waved back to Gandalf, still smiling broadly.

Gandalf waved back at him. "So am I, dear boy. So am I"

Frodo jogged back down the road; his head full of questions he wanted to put to the Wizard. He came by ways to the place where he had been reading, puffing a little from his run. His book was safe, still comfortably tucked into the protective hollow of the tree's heart. He retrieved it, but paused. He couldn't go back to Bag End yet. It would only be fair to give Bilbo a few hours with Gandalf.

Frodo looked about and sighed. This was a truly restful place, after all, and now he was tired from his run. He settled beneath the tree, pillowing his head on his pack, and thought about his dreams until they filled the grove with smoke and his mind.