Nothing of Note

by Primula

Chapter 51: The Picnic Papers

Bilbo nibbled at his half of the berry tart, bemused.  The gossips of the town had all converged on Lobelia where she sat by her picnic basket, hiding her for the time being behind a curtain of skirts and their hands waved around in animated conversation.  In spite of his words to Frodo to not worry about what was being said, he couldn't keep his own imagination from concocting what he thought might be the topic of their conversations. None of it was complimentary. 

"You ought to go move around a bit." he told Frodo, who still sat next to him though his own half of the tart had already vanished. "You're young. You don't need to be sitting around as much as my old body does. The gossips are well occupied for now - it would be a good chance to have a visit with some of the other folks without their noses being in the way, if that's what you're worried about."

Frodo considered. "Well... "

Bilbo followed his gaze and noticed a small number of other tweens over by the berry bushes. "Go on." he said more gently. "You're a Baggins. No reason to fear anything, least of all a few hobbits, eh?"

Frodo had to smile at that. He brushed crumbs off his hands and stood. "I don't know if I have the courage of the Barrel-Rider facing a dragon, but I'll be back soon."

"The only barrels I've ridden lately have had ale in them, which I'd much more gladly face than any dragon, and of course you do. Go on. Take all the time you want. We're here all day and I'm not going anywhere. " said Bilbo amiably.

He watched the lad walking with a studied casual pace towards the tweens. It was pleasant to see him seeking out the company of others his age, and a good sign to everyone watching that he wasn't too timid to leave Bilbo's side.  Bilbo was so pleased he finished the tart and reached into the picnic basket for a fat apple-nut muffin to celebrate. He settled back comfortably to eat it.

Nibbling and dozing in the afternoon warmth, he was lost in his own thoughts and paying little attention to the rest of the picnic for a time, which is why he was caught a little off-guard when Otho Sackville-Baggins suddenly stood before him. He slowly sat up straighter. Otho said nothing at first, just stood there with a grim expression and glared at him.

Knowing him fairly well, Bilbo was mostly unperturbed. Otho often stood and glared (or stared) at those he wished to intimidate, as he had found it worked better than his words, at least with his wife, son and usual associates. Bilbo had long ago seen through it to the lack of intelligent argument underneath and chose to ignore the attempted intimidation. He met Otho's stern hazel eyes with his own mild ones; our eyes are about the only thing we have in common, he reflected.

A few beats of time passed this way, neither of them moving. A small breeze came up, ruffling the leaves lightly. Three small children ran nearby, laughing.  Bilbo waited.

Otho finally drew breath to speak. "Is it true?" he asked shortly.

Bilbo tried to decide whether he should lead Otho along by pretending he didn't know what was being referred to. Seeing no good reason to prolong an unpleasant conversation, he opted to get it over with instead.

"The papers being drawn up? Yes."

Otho's lips pressed into a thin, bloodless line. "Is it final?"

"I'm still working out a few of the details. I shouldn't worry about it overmuch, Otho. I'll be sure that you get all that is coming to you. You'll get your fair share."

Otho was nonplussed. "Fair share? Fair share of what?"

"Your fair share of all that you deserve." Bilbo replied sedately. He had thought about this reply beforehand, so it came to him glibly enough. "The papers will be clear about it."

Otho grunted. "Clear? Where's these papers, I'd like to know, and why haven't I seen 'em?"

"Why should you?" asked Bilbo.

Otho seemed taken somewhat aback. "Why should I? Because I'm your blood kin, your next-of-kin as well. If these papers are so all-fired important that they're changing my plans, if you're really going to go giving part of my inheritance to that...to that..." He seemed to have no words to describe Frodo at that moment. He floundered slightly and continued "I have a right to see 'em!"

"Oh, I'm sure you will. In time. They've been put away someplace safe for now, so they won't be lost. They'll be brought out eventually."

"When?"

"When I'm gone, Otho. That's what it's all about after all, isn't it?" Bilbo cleaned his nails with the end of the apple-paring knife. There was a long pause. He glanced back up at where Otho still stood. "Would you like to be introduced to him?"

"No." said Otho. "I wouldn't."

Bilbo finished cleaning the nails on one hand and started on the other. Otho stood there another minute, then clenched his jaw and walked off with a deliberately heavy step. Bilbo let out a breath of relief.  In spite of his agreement with Daddy's assessment that Otho was nothing but an old hound with no teeth, it still took a bit of nerve to face down an old hound. He knew any real danger would only come from the younger pup, not the hound but still.... He reached for his pocket handkerchief and surreptitiously wiped his brow, then tucked it away and looked around for Frodo.

He was pleased to see him apparently still socializing with a few of the tweens, or at least listening while they talked. Their initial greetings to Frodo that morning had seemed friendly enough, he thought, but when he had tried to good-naturedly shoo Frodo off to them then, the lad soon returned to his side.  Bilbo was a bit torn on this; he knew it would be good to see him in the company of others his own age but also flattered that Frodo would want to spend the time with himself instead.  He had had a hard time drumming up the gumption to shoo him off again, but was glad it had worked. That it meant the lad had missed Otho was a double bonus.

He got up and stretched, deciding to walk around the green to socialize a little himself. The afternoon was growing later and the first shift of families with small children had taken them home for naps; a second round was just settling in for the late afternoon and evening meals, the day being a fair one. There wouldn't be many more picnics before the cold weather drove all but the hardiest indoors and everyone seemed determined to make the most of it.

Walking from group to group, he offered greetings, commenting on how much this or that child had grown, sampling treats and homemade jams or baking that were offered. In spite of all the gossiping that went on, he knew he was generally well-liked and respected enough by most of them he would be welcomed with smiles and curtsies as he went.  Aside from his carefully steering wide of Lobelia's yellow skirts that billowed out from underneath her umbrella-turned-parasol, he made the rounds with a pleasant mood intact. 

A few of the more forward hobbits still ventured to ask him straight-on about Frodo, and to each one he firmly and cheerfully confirmed that Frodo was his chosen heir now, a "true Baggins" again and again, setting them at rest as best he could. 

"Why Mr. Baggins," Mrs. Goodbody said as he worked his way back. "I've never seen such a nice young lad. Very well-mannered. My Ivy was just telling me that he's going to be getting Bag End besides! Isn't that something! Of course it could just be her girlish fancies getting away with her again, he does have nice eyes, doesn't he?"

"Er, I suppose. I can't say I'm a good judge of what a lass might appreciate. Ehm. And yes, he most certainly is my heir now, Mrs. Goodbody. Thank you for your kind compliments." He began to step forward but she spoke again.

"But, if you'll pardon my being so forward,  if he is, to be inheriting and all I mean, how is Mrs. Sackville-Baggins taking the news?"

Bilbo frowned slightly. "I wouldn't know that either, I'm afraid. I haven't spoken with her about it."

"You haven't?" she said with surprise. "Oh. I see. Well."

"Have a good picnic, Mrs. Goodbody. It's a fine day for it." he moved past where she stood, smoothing her apron awkwardly, trying not to glance over to where Lobelia sat. 

"Mr. Baggins!" said Opal Grubb, coming up and reaching out as if to catch his sleeve. He looked at her and her hand froze in midair.

"Yes, Mrs. Grubb?"

"Well, it's so nice to see you here today, Mr. Baggins. You're looking well, especially considering how very...busy... you've been lately. You know, all that paperwork and all that, must be very wearing."

"Not at all. Thank you for your concern. It's all settled now, you know." He began walking and she moved along with him.

"It is? The.. I mean, how nice. He seems a pleasant enough young lad, even if he is a Bucklander and all."

"He's a Baggins, Mrs. Grubb. And I am sure that Buckland has benefited from having him there these few years."

"Of course! Of course. Is he planning on... spending more time here, then?"

"Mrs. Grubb." Bilbo stopped. "I am sure that you will have all the opportunities you might like to get to know him better in the future. Good day." He looked up past her shoulder. "I believe those are your children throwing pieces of pie at one another?"

She turned and threw her hands up to her face in horror. "Hatch! Rooty! Put those down! I'm so sorry, Mr. Baggins, I'll be right back."  She hurried towards her fruit-spattered offspring. 

Bilbo did not wait for her.

Frodo rejoined him as he came back around to their table. The lad reached over and took a moment to squeeze the plums in the basket until he found a nicely squashy one, then seated himself next to Bilbo to eat it.

"Good visit?" asked Bilbo.

"Mm." said Frodo, catching plum juice off of his chin. "I suppose. When I first got there, they all went quiet, like the people in the market. But I remembered how you said to just keep on, like it wasn't happening."

"And?"

"It worked," he said and took another bite of plum. "There was something a bit strange through. There were two there, a brother and sister. Ivy was her name, and now his escapes me. Something.  She's the older one, about 26 maybe, and he's about my age. Oh, there they are - over there. Do you know them?"

Bilbo looked. "That's the Goodbody family. Certainly I know them, or their parents at least. I'm afraid the only thing I remember about Offal..."

"That's it. Offal."

"...is his prodigious appetite. He can outeat any tween I've ever seen anywhere. Amazing capacity for sausages in particular."

"Come to think of it, he did keep going back to their picnic to get more food. The entire time we were talking he had something in his mouth."

"That's him. I don't know his sister at all." Bilbo wondered at this lass, if she was keeping Frodo's attention. From where he sat she didn't look exceptional. Well-figured, perhaps, but still.... "Is she pretty?"

Frodo rolled his eyes. "I suppose, if you like that sort of thing.  That's where it got a bit uncomfortable. It seems Ivy has been courted a bit by Lotho..."

"Poor thing."

"You might say so, but I don't know. I got the impression from her brother that it had been more along the lines of her courting him. But now that he's not standing to, well..." Frodo looked slightly uncomfortable. "Inherit..."

"Ah."

"She says she's not interested in him anymore. She went out of her way to make that point, right in front of one of Lotho's friends and then grabbed my arm and leaned in like some sort of vulture. It was pretty bad..."

"What did you do?"

"What could I do and still be polite? I didn't want to make a scene. I mean, here her brother is, and Lotho's friend, whatever-his-name-was, and she's older than I am, too.  I kind of pulled her arm off of mine and leaned the other way. She started up in this strange giggling and wouldn't let go. Her brother told her to let go and then she did, but it was very odd."

Bilbo raised his brows. "Very. Did she keep trying to follow you, or did she truly let you go then?"

"She followed me and kept up with the laughing at everything I said, as if it were all very witty, no matter what it was. That's why I finally had to just get away from them. Offal wasn't a bad sort, but that Ivy Goodbody...no thanks."

"Hm. What about Lotho? Did he join you?"

"No. He sort of drifted nearby a couple times, listening to us, but he wouldn't come over. Offal invited him once, but then Ivy turned her back on him."

"And what did he do?"

"He glowered at me, as if I had anything to do with her behavior. Another reason I came back. I'm not sure I'm cut out for this sort of thing, Bilbo. How do you just... drift through it all so smoothly?  I get ... I feel as if I don't know when I should say something and when I should just be quiet, when to stay and when to leave..."

"But you manage to make the right choices anyway."

"I don't..."

Bilbo cut him off firmly. "Yes, you do. You, Frodo Baggins, have shown a great amount of self-control and wisdom for your young years, and I admire it in you. You think before you speak, which is a trait that far more hobbits could do with."

Frodo looked down at the table, uncomfortable with the praise.

Noting it, Bilbo switched the topic slightly. "You know, I had Otho come talk to me."

Frodo looked back up at him through his lashes, a bit warily. "You did? What did he say? Was he angry?"

"Well, he wasn't too friendly. But then, he never has been so no loss there. He just wanted to know if the papers really existed and if he could see them. I told him yes and no."

"You aren't going to show them to him?"

"Why should I? It's none of his business anymore. He'll see them someday, when I'm gone. That's soon enough. I don't want them bandied about, but kept safe."

Frodo considered this. "You sound a bit...brusque."

Bilbo felt impatient at this observation. "I'm sorry, Frodo, but if you had had to deal with the S-Bs as many years as I have you would be a bit brusque too."

"Here," said Frodo, "have a plum. They're sweet and squashy."

Bilbo took the proferred fruit and tried to make himself relax. "If you say so. And yes, I can see that you're changing the subject because I'm being a grumpy old curmudgeon. But I'll let you do it anyway. Thank you."

Frodo smiled. "You're welcome."

There was a swish of fabric next to them and a high-pitched voice suddenly cut in. "Mr. Baggins!"

Bilbo turned to find Ivy Goodbody, holding a bottle in her hands. She was addressing him, but her eyes were entirely on Frodo.  One plump hand smoothed then fluffed her brown curls.

"I just wanted to bring you this bottle of berry-wine from my mother. She was very much wanting you to be able to sample it. For being so.." She widened her eyes and then blinked them very deliberately over Bilbo's shoulder to where Frodo sat silently. "Kind." she finished.

Bilbo reached out and took the bottle from her hands, hoping to send her on her way rapidly. "Thank you, Miss Goodbody, and please convey my sincere thanks to your mother. She has been most generous with her berry-wine this year, as she herself brought me a bottle just this past week, you know. Another one so soon is an unexpected treat."

Ivy's cheeks went blotchy as she was flustered. "She did? I mean...of course, she did. She just....knows that you like it very much."  She stepped to the side slightly, to look past Bilbo and leaned forward over the table slightly, reaching out a hand to brush one of Frodo's curls back from his shoulder. "Very much." she repeated. Bilbo could smell sausage and mustard on her breath.

Frodo was leaning hard into Bilbo's shoulders, apparently trying to avoid her hand without being obvious about it. Bilbo couldn't see his expression, but he could imagine it. Enough was enough. Bilbo turned and faced her, capturing her hand in his own.

He shook it very firmly, pumping it up and down. "Thank you! Good afternoon now, Miss Goodbody. I do hope you will be enjoying the rest of the picnic, so nice that you get to spend all that time with your own family."  He met her eyes very meaningfully, and continued shaking her hand as looked past her to where Lotho stood a distance away. She followed his gaze, and pulled her hand back as soon as he released it.

"Good-day." said Bilbo.

"Good-day." said Ivy, unhappy but polite. Rubbing at her hand, she turned to go and then paused and suddenly turned back with one last parting attempt. "Good-day... Frodo...." she said breathily, attempting to flutter her lashes but only succeeding in looking like she had a nervous twitch. Bilbo was pleased he had shaken her up enough for that to be the case.

He watched her walk away, swinging her skirts. Sure enough, she took a route that almost but not quite took her to Lotho, then veered away from him, waving an overly-dramatic hand back in Frodo's direction, as if bidding him farewell.

"What an annoying creature that child is growing up to be."

Frodo released the breath he had been holding and shifted next to him. Bilbo turned to see him looking both disgusted and relieved. "You see why I didn't stay in her company."

"Quite." He took a long look at his young cousin. "She's gotten to you though, hasn't she?"

"What do you mean? You can't think I like her!" He was honestly aghast at the thought.

"No, what I mean is that she's succeeding in forcing herself into your notice, whether for good or ill.  I hope you realize that Ivy means nothing, Frodo. She's an annoyance, and seems to lack good judgment, but she's harmless in herself. " Bilbo glanced over toward the distant hedge. "It's Lotho we need to be watching, she's just a distraction. She's also stirring him up against you and that's something that didn't even need stirring."

Frodo brow furrowed as he also glanced involuntarily to where Lotho had been, though he was no longer there. "You don't think he'd...  harm either of us, do you?" he asked in a low voice.

Bilbo shook his head. "No. No, I don't think he would go that far, but he might try to stir up mischief of some sort. I'm afraid he's already gotten his true inheritance - he's vengeful and proud, just like his mother. And stubborn, like his father. Not a good combination. Let's hope he finds something else to keep his attention soon."  He considered Frodo carefully. "Lotho probably feels like you are a usurper of sorts."

Frodo blinked quizzically. "I'm a what?"

"Usurper. Someone who steals another's throne without having the right to it. Think about it.  There he was all set to inherit Bag End someday, and in his imagination it probably came stuffed with treasures. He listens to those sorts of tales, or at least he used to. I know his mother has imagined herself in those rooms for many a year, and raised him on such rubbish.  And now we find he had a lass paying attention to him, which for someone as erm...  personable as Lotho is, was probably very flattering to him."

He looked straight into Frodo's eyes. "But then..."

Frodo nodded slowly. "I came along."

"Yes, you came along. And in his eyes, you stole his future. His home, his money and now even his lass. Never mind that it was my choice. That Bag End wasn't really his, and was given as a free gift to you, and never mind that you don't even return the lass' attentions. He will not stop to think that through, to see it from your side. He will only stew, and try to think of something he can do to reclaim it."

"But..."

"He can't.  So don't go around being afraid of him. Just be aware of him. And always, always be reasonably civil with him. There's no reason to give him anything he can nurse his grudge with. He'll come up with quite enough of that on his own."

He polished the bottle of berry wine on his sleeve and examined the label. Two years old. Not bad. He cracked the wax seal off of the top.

"Now, let's forget about it for a while. There's better things in life to do than waste time fretting over the S-Bs of all people. Like having some of this. Fetch me a couple glasses from the other basket, will you? We may have to drink it quickly, before Mrs. Goodbody finds out that her daughter has given it away and comes looking for it."

Redirecting Frodo's mood, he cheerfully continued on in small talk, pouring them each a glass and holding it up to the light. But inwardly he was carefully filing the incident away. In spite of his reassurances for Frodo's peace of mind, he knew it would be too much to ask, that Lotho should do nothing. He expected that young hound-pup would try something before long, it just remained to be seen what it would be.