Nothing of Note

by Primula

Chapter 69:  Presents

Bilbo set the last plate in its place on the shelf with a small ringing of pottery.  Beside him, his newly adopted nephew covered the butter with a clean cloth and put away the last of their birthday breakfast. 

Nephew. Uncle. He turned the titles over in his head, some small part of him still not comprehending that it was a sealed bargain, so to speak. A done deal.  This young hobbit working beside him as naturally as if he had always been there would remain beside him forever.  Well, maybe not forever in the technical sense of the word... on the other hand, he being by far the older of the two made it possible, from his viewpoint. Forever for him, and perhaps a nice long time for Frodo. He hung the dishtowel up to dry by the stove and straightened it, considering the Dwarvish terminology for their various family relationships.

Fili and Kili had been nephews to Thorin.  Would Frodo regard him as they had regarded their uncle, even dying to protect him?  He glanced over at Frodo, whose dark head was bent over a pie-plate, trying to scrub off the last of the burnt-on sugar.  It was a strange thought; he wasn't sure he would know what would be expected of him if faced with such devotion - he couldn't decide if it would flatter him or make him protest.  Probably protest. He sincerely hoped it would never need to be found out.  What was the Elven word for Nephew?  Did they have one?  They must... there was that one fellow, the one in that tale who had been... hm. He was the nephew of... he rummaged around in his memory and came up dry.  Well, he could always look it up later.

He gave the towel one last tug. Yes, he had a nephew now.  He did. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End had a nephew.  It was a pleasant thought. And it was pleasant working together in the comfort of a warm kitchen after having such a large and satisfying breakfast too. They worked well together, conversing in words few, small and comfortable; simple things spoken out of contentment.

Both full and warm, they moved back to the parlour where their chairs awaited them by the fire. Tiny silver rivulets were still leaving a tracery of lines along the window-glass but the storm was beginning to blow itself out, trundling past them towards the distant and waiting Sea.

When one is not out in it, it is a very soothing sound, rain, he reflected. Without the wind so furiously tattering them, his mums, phlox, asters and snapdragons bobbed and waved with a gentle gratitude for the softer rains of a passing storm, their windowboxes streaming with an overflow of water. The sun was only beginning to show again, bringing the wet sky into sudden and intermittent brilliance with each break in the clouds, brightening the darkened wet leaves to green gemstones.

He settled comfortably into his chair in the parlour and put his feet up on a stool.  Frodo soon joined him.

His nephew knelt by the fire for a moment, prodding the logs back to wakefulness and adding a new one. "Now," he said, looking back at Bilbo as he took his own seat. "Tell me all about this past month. What's been happening? You did say you had a few tales to tell me, when I came."

Bilbo gazed at the fire as it tasted the new log, licking with its small tongues of flame. "Did I? Oh yes. Now that I think about it, I'm not really sure it was worth mentioning..."

"What wasn't worth mentioning?"

Bilbo paused a moment. When he has alluded to the small adventure with Lotho and company in the letter, he had been fully intending to share it with Frodo. If there was anyone he could tell such a tale to, it would be him, wouldn't it?  So why did he have such a hesitation now that it came to it? Why did he shy away?  He considered the paths that faced him.

He didn't think the lad would gossip. No, and it wasn't a lack of trust... nor was it that he wanted it to be completely secret;  why if anything he had been bursting with wanting to tell someone.  He was proud of how well it had been pulled off and a little boasting on his own cleverness to an appreciative audience would have been a rare treat.

He dithered, his hand straying to his pocket for comfort and fingered the worn edge of the pocket-flap.

That was it. How could he explain it without having to tell about his Ring?  How could Lotho and the others have possibly missed seeing him otherwise?  It was part and parcel of how the tale had come about, or even been possible.

He hadn't intended to keep secrets from Frodo, he didn't want to. It felt odd, this strong reluctance to mention this one thing...  He buttoned the pocket flap, then unbuttoned it.  Well. It was his, and there really wasn't any reason anyone else had to know about it.  What good would it do? And worse, what if it made Frodo curious about it, and then he wanted to try it on, or even share it?

A determination welled up in him, he didn't know from where. He would not share it.  It was his. He furrowed his brow and frowned, both at his own reaction and the realization that he couldn't tell his tale then, not without having to seriously rework it... and that would take time.  He glanced over at Frodo, then back at the fire.

Frodo waited a long moment in silence, then glanced down. His voice sounded slightly disappointed, but not as badly as Bilbo had been fearing. "You don't have to tell me.  Maybe another day. We have plenty of those now, you know."

Bilbo relaxed, though still caught in a strange guilt, as if he'd suddenly been allowed to go free when he expected to be questioned for some offense.   He turned his gaze back to the younger hobbit, though he didn't quite meet his eyes.  That gaze, it was too intense sometimes.

"I apologize, Frodo. I truly do. I just... don't seem to be able to recall enough of it right now. As you said, another time."  He smiled to lighten the mood that had so suddenly fallen upon them.  "How about a song, or a bit of poetry?  I recall you had a better voice than mine.  We don't have to have a crowd to have a nice recitation or two. It will make it feel more like a proper party."

"I can't think of any right now," Frodo tentatively smiled back. He considered briefly. "Except working songs. That's all I heard during the harvest, even in the evenings. Do you have any about birthdays? Not that insipid child's rhyme, but something better?"

"About birthdays? Yes, that would suit the occasion, wouldn't it? Hm. Let me think... Oh! Yes, I might have one. It's more a general party-gathering sort of idea, not birthdays in particular but it fits one of your harvesting tunes too, the 'Heave the Hay, the Wagon's Nigh.  You know it?"

"Oh, yes..." Frodo hummed then sang a couple lines obligingly:
"Heave the hay, the wagon's nigh,
Lift up the grasses, sun is in the sky..."

"Yes, yes. That one. Now let me try." Bilbo hummed, trying to warm up his throat.

Over the hills, drawn to the fire
Come all the lads, lasses fine attired;
See how they dance, stepping to the song,
Parties and cheer, here where they belong.

And the...

He paused. "Humm, humm... How does the middle part go? I seem to have lost it..."

Frodo sang the bridge,
"Summertime grows the grasses,
Harvest-time mows the grain..."

"Yes. Ah. Thank you. Sorry. Hummm..."  He continued:

How the sun shines on the lasses,
The lads with bright eyes,
In their homes filled with cheer,
May their songs never die

And now we go back to the main part of the song...

To every home, 'neath every tree,
For every season this will always be;
Families and friends in light of fire,
Loyal and true, hobbits of the Shire.

To tables filled, to the glasses too,
Lifting in toasts everyone they knew,
Hobbits of past, same as today,
Songs never change, never fade away.

How the sun shines on the lasses,
The lads with bright eyes,
In their homes filled with cheer,
May their songs never die

Sorry, my voice really isn't what it once was, and even then I wasn't the best of singers..."

"I liked it. Well done!" said Frodo. "I've never heard those words. Where did you learn it?"

"I made it up myself, some time ago; it's simple enough to do when you have a tune all ready and at hand.  They were singing that Wagon song here, when I was out walking a couple days ago and it brought it back to mind."

Frodo raised his brows. "You made it up, just like that? I wish I could do that."

"It's not so hard. And you know, it's brought something else to mind for me." He slapped his knees and got to his feet. "I have something I want to give you - no, don't get up. I'll be right back."

Bilbo got up and quickly went to fetch the birthday package from its hiding place in his room. He adjusted the silken wrapping concealing the bright cloth, still quite pleased about how it had turned out.

The brocade waistcoat, complete with the buttons that Bilbo had chosen for it, had been finished barely in time.  The tailor had done his work well though he had wrung his hands enough while Bilbo was inspecting it one would wonder. It was no shoddy work and should hold up for many years if it were cared for.  The smooth weight of the folded cloth felt pleasing in his hands.

He brought it back to the parlour where Frodo patiently waited.

"I'm sorry, I was thinking of later in the day but I simply cannot wait any longer. It's my birthday but it simply doesn't quite feel like it unless I've given out a present. Here - take it!" he smiled, handing it into Frodo's somewhat hesitantly extended hand.

His nephew took the package and laid it in his lap, waiting until Bilbo had regained his own seating by the fire. He smoothed the silken wrapping a couple times, then felt the heft of it.  "What is it?"

"Open it and find out," replied Bilbo matter-of-factly. "It won't bite, nor can you bite it. That's the only clue you'll get from me."

"Can't bite it, eh?"  Frodo smoothed it again, turned it over and shook it lightly. "Feels like something made of cloth."  He carefully pulled the ribbon and unfolded the silk covering.

"Oh my. Bilbo!"  He slowly unfolded the shining brocade waistcoat and held it up.  "It has brass buttons!" he grinned.

"Well, put it on! The ties should let you adjust it, but I had to take a guess on your size. Put it on!"

Frodo just kept smiling. "It's too beautiful to put on. I may just hang it on the wall in my room." he teased.

"Bah. Here."  Bilbo took it from his hands and opened the one button that was holding it closed at the top. He held it open.  Frodo obligingly turned and slipped his arms through the armholes, then turned, running his hands over the buttons and buttonholes as he fastened them.

"Well, how's it look?"  He held out his arms and turned around, then tried a thoughtful pose. With the fire beside him, the blues and greens shone from the maroon-rust background, all highlighted with gold.  It looked high-class but not ostentatious. Perfect for him, thought Bilbo.

"A touch big, but we'll soon mend that.  Now you look properly attired for a party. Finely attired indeed."

"It seems much too fine for me. It reminds me of that beautiful burgundy one you have..."

"I used it for the pattern, somewhat. Now we can match on our birthdays." He came around behind him and adjusted the ties. "It's fine quality, Frodo. If you care for it properly, it ought to last you many years unless you outgrow it, of course."

Frodo smiled self-consciously. "I should have to grow quite a lot. Maybe someday we can plan a party worthy of such a fine waistcoat. I really do feel a bit overdressed for the one we're at right now. It doesn't seem 'me.' "

"Nonsense. You're now a part of Bag End, Underhill, so you sometimes need to look the part.  We will be entertaining visitors sometimes, important ones. You can choose some other things to go with it yourself - you've a good eye for colour; I've seen that in the work you've done on your maps.  And we've very many places to visit around the Shire, for you'll be coming with me.  You'll need clothing for all sorts of occasions, fine and common."

"But you aren't wearing your party weskit, it's only your tweed one." Frodo pointed out.

Bilbo looked down and patted his chest self-consciously. "Why so it is, but I can change that right enough. Back in a two bites of a biscuit."

He went to his room and got his party weskit out of its wrappings, wondering what the noises were he heard out in the hall as he did. It sounded like Frodo was rummaging for something in his room.  He smiled, and buttoned up the weskit slowly, to give the lad time. Some sort of homemade birthday present, probably. He could hardly expect that Frodo wouldn't have wanted to give him something in return. He wondered what it was, and hoped he could like it and not have to pretend to.  When he judged sufficient time had passed, he came back out.

He had carefully composed his face to be 'unsuspecting' of any surprise, but all pretense was scattered to the wind when he came back into the parlour.

Frodo was standing by his chair with a quiet but pleased smile on his face, and filling his chair was a large wooden crate of...


"I'm surprised you didn't smell them, when we carried it all in last night. I wrapped them twice over to try to keep them from being obvious, but the scent was still noticeable to me even out in the cart."

Bilbo was still gaping at the quantity of them. "My mind was... elsewhere at the time. I say, oh, they do smell heavenly now though." He peered into the crate, inhaling the rich, earthy fragrance.  They were plump and fresh, heaped together with creamy white and brown caps, shyly displaying softly feathered undertops. "Do I have to share?"

Frodo blinked. " course not. You... you may have them all, dear Bilbo. Happy birthday." 

It was very brave of him to say that, thought Bilbo. He wants them desperately, who wouldn't? He smiled. "We'll split them, then. Right down to the last cap. Oh, look at that one. It's huge! Of course we just ate..."

"But there's always room for mushrooms," said Frodo with impeccable hobbit logic.

"Agreed. There's always room for mushrooms. Where did you put the butter?"