Chapter 1: Respectable
In which Bilbo reflects on his female kin, asks about a rascal, and reacts to what no one wishes to say.
Men are able to assist Fortune but not to thwart her. They can weave her designs but cannot destroy them. They ought, then never to give up as beaten, because, since they do not know her purpose and she goes through crooked and unknown roads, they can always hope, and hoping are not to give up.
Machiavelli, The Discourses, 2:29
Mid-afternoon, 8 Halimath, 1389
'Please, please, Esmeralda, do sit and don't fuss!' Bilbo cheerfully scolded his cousin as she served tea in a cozy and well-worn parlor of Brandy Hall. He had arrived but a scarce hour before, coming across the Bucklebury Ferry just past noon with three crates of chickens, a wagon of turnips, and two extremely exuberant children. It had been an interesting crossing, and he felt that he well deserved this tea for having survived it.
Bilbo did not refuse the large helping of rhubarb crisp she spooned onto his plate, nor the toasted slices of sweet bread she tucked along one side, nor the chunk of golden, nutty cheese that was slipped into the last remaining open spot the plate, but he did chuckle and admonish and tease until his lovely cousin filled her own plate and sat. For several minutes there was silence from Bilbo (a rare occurrence) until he had made enough of a dent in the meal to take the edge off his hunger. Only then did he lean back into the soft leather chair and give Esmie his full attention.
Great-granddaughter of the Old Took, more than a few said she was like all three of Gerontius' daughters come back to life in one person, with Belladonna's intelligence, Donnamira's beauty, and Mirabella's tenacity. Bilbo was not one of them.
He knew he always took exception to anyone claiming to be as smart as his mother, Bella; she had no match and few could approach her. Grandfather, Father, Gilda, Rum, Ta, certainly not Alder. Gandalf. Perhaps a few Elves. Maybe Balin. Bilbo knew he was just being stubborn, but it was a point of honor to insist on his mother's unparalleled brilliance. The most remarkable of the three. Even Gandalf spoke of her with respect, and the old conjuror never spoke politely of anyone save Master Elrond. His sense of fairness won out, and he admitted to himself that while Esmie might not be nearly as sharp as any in the august company, she was significantly more clever than most hobbits. Especially in this smial.
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Chapter 2: The Rascal
In which tremors are felt, stories are told, pipes are a problem and a mystery presents itself.
Evening, 8 Halimath, 1389
Bilbo had only that shriek of warning before three small bodies sent him crashing to the floor.
He roared in mock rage, and began an energetic tussle with his younger cousins. After a few minutes, he had Frodo pinned, Merry captured more or less securely under one arm, but had to concede victory to Merle, who was sitting on his back, one arm around his neck and the fingers of the other hand firmly wrapped in his hair. The giggling tangle of them sat up, then subsided into silence as they took note of Menegilda Goold, Mistress of Buckland, glaring down at them, Esmie supporting her.
Bilbo beamed. ‘Hello, Gilda! So nice to see you.’ The old woman continued to glare. Bilbo continued to beam. ‘Such a nice cane you have.’ She glared, he beamed. ‘I hear from the highest authorities you've been putting it to good use.’ Gilda's face wrinkled up in an attempt to keep from laughing. Bilbo waggled his eyebrows, and mimed taking a swing with a stick. Gilda dissolved into laughter, swiftly joined by Bilbo and the children. Esmie rolled her eyes at all of them.
‘Come up here and give me a kiss, Beggar, or I will show you what this cane is good for!’ Gilda growled. Bilbo disentangled himself and indicated Frodo should get the little ones standing, then carefully but firmly embraced the old woman. Once, long ago, they had courted, then her eye had fallen on his cousin Rory, and she never looked at him again. He could not begrudge Rory her love, and never envied him her imperiousness, but he had never been able to free his heart from her claim upon it. When he looked upon her now, he still saw the striking eighteen year old who had caught first his eye and then his heart at the Old Took's last birthday celebration. Even at that young age, she knew how to command a room of boys. Not until Esmie grew up was there a worthy challenger to her reign as the most notable woman in the Shire. Aside from Ta… He hastily pushed that thought away. Bilbo looked into Gilda’s eyes. They were not as clear as they had been, but mischief ran through them, and love warmed them, and he was very glad he had decided to make this trip. He kissed her lips, then stepped back.
‘Well,’ he scolded the children, ‘aren’t you going to say good evening to your Gammer?’ Frodo quickly stepped in to give Gilda an embrace and to place a supportive arm around his aunt’s shoulder before the younger ones did any damage with their exuberant hugs. Bilbo watched how her hands and arms trembled as she stroked Merle and Merry’s hair. Merry did not notice, and chattered away about how he had knocked down a hornets’ nest that morning without getting stung. Merle did notice, and gently took her grandmother’s hand in between her own palms and put little kisses on Gilda's fingers. Frodo planted a loving kiss on Gilda's cheek, then lifted up some strands from Merry’s thatch of curls so she could get her fingers into them.
Bilbo took the opportunity to study Frodo out of the corner of his eye as he exclaimed over Merry’s tale of derring-do. An odd thought came to him. He looks like the Old Took. Oh, there was Baggins to be seen in him, no doubt; the dark hair and eyes, the small feet, the way the summer sun had turned his skin quite tan, all part of the Harfoot heritage. But the rest of him was Fallohide; almost adult height already, slim, with a delicacy to his face and a grace in his motions that most hobbits lacked. He looked like the portrait of Old Gerontius in his own youth. Sara, Pal, and Frodo: all great-grandsons of Gerontius, and, from their looks, all could have been his own sons. They looked more like brothers than most brothers did, and Sara's younger brother Mac rounded out the group. Except in the sun - Frodo tans like a Baggins, and they burn like Tooks. When winter had removed the golden mask of summer, however, Frodo would be more like to his forefather than the others. He even shared the same birth date as the legendary Thain, as did Bilbo. All he lacked was the Old Took's white forelock. Only Rum is more like Grandfather than Frodo.
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Chapter 3: Mayor, Master, Thain
In which trouble and change are discussed, and respectability keeps causing problems.
Late Morning, Brandy Hall, 9 Halimath, 1389
Bilbo had never had reason to care too much about respectability. Until now. He and Rory sat in Rory’s study, each holding a glass of brandy, and Bilbo tried to figure out a way to discuss what was on his mind. There were a number of things he needed to talk to Rory about, and all of them came back to Frodo.
‘Don’t know how you do it, Baggins,’ Rory ruefully laughed, ‘but you really aren’t getting much older.’
Bilbo smiled wanly, wishing he knew himself so he could get the speculation to end. He sometimes considered just saying it was the elf food. It made some sense to him, so who was anyone to second-guess him? ‘Come, now, Rory, you know the Baggins family is a long-lived one! Toss in some Old Took, and there you have it!’ He took a sip of brandy and tried to keep his annoyance from showing.
Rory eyed him. ‘I’m the same degree as you from the Old Took, cousin, and I look like a horse trampled me. And I’m younger than you by more than a decade.’
Bilbo joked, ‘It’s the Stoor in you, Rory. It makes you melt away like riverbank dirt.’ Bilbo swirled his brandy and spoke in a soft voice, ‘And I haven’t as many worries as you do, brother. I’m a carefree fellow. You have all of Buckland to watch over.’ The two old hobbits locked eyes for a few moments, and Rory nodded.
‘All of Buckland, brother. And watching my heart waste away in front of me. And trying to train the wrong son to do the Master’s work. Aye, I have my worries,’ Rory sadly concluded.
Bilbo set down his glass and moved his chair closer to Rory’s, then took the other man’s hand in his own. ‘I don’t know what to say, old friend. I wish there was something I could do, but humorous tales don’t heal and even were my fortune as large as people like to imagine, I can’t buy sense to put between Sara’s ears.’
Rory looked at him intently. ‘You have given us things no coin could possibly buy, Bilbo,’ giving Bilbo’s hand a squeeze. ‘Don’t be so sure about your stories not healing. Gilda hasn’t been this lively in months. She walked a little bit by herself after supper last night, did you know? You’ve made her laugh and forget her own worries for a while, which is the best tonic she could have. To see her laughing like that, and calling you names, ah, it made me feel younger, too.’
‘Speaking of feeling younger, you troublemaking son of a Took, I had a grand time telling Frodo about the uses we made of that old service hall behind the second kitchen back when we were his age,’ Bilbo cheerily informed Rory, who groaned and shook a finger at him, ‘and he couldn’t believe that his sweet, kind, good-mannered, ancient Uncle Rory was ever a hell-raising youngster. So, I of course had to give him some good examples of your dissolute youth.’ Bilbo stared up at the ceiling with a thoughtful expression. ‘I think I’ve given the lad a few adventures to try out.’
‘Damned Baggins!’ Rory chortled. ‘Now I’ll never get the rascal to behave!’
Bilbo considered opening his argument for why Frodo should come back to Hobbiton with him, but decided it was not quite time. ‘Ah, yes, the years of our own pranks have gone by, and it is time for a new generation of rascals to continue our dreadful deeds,’ he solemnly intoned, earning a playful slap from Rory. ‘Indeed, things are happening in the world around us,’ he continued, reaching over to retrieve his brandy, ‘as my travels showed me.’ He sipped from the glass, eyes on Rory, who simply looked at him with an expectant expression.
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Chapter 4: Relations
In which the past is pondered, hospitality is served, songs are sung, and Bilbo shows that respectability can cut both ways.
Brandy Hall, Evening, 9 Halimath, 1398
It was Highday supper and Bilbo was certain he would find every bite he took at table to be bitter.
He knew he should be hungry, but he was not. After he parted from Rory, he had wandered out to the river, found a secluded rock, and sat. It had been a long afternoon. The worst part was that he had been unable to think. What is there to think about? It is my own fault for not taking some time in the last fifty years to become respectable. Bilbo knew he might not have Rum’s reputation, but there appeared to be a great deal of room in the ‘disreputable’ and the ‘unnatural’ barrels, enough to provide accommodations for them both.
He knew he should have planned better. You can’t undo the past. That was the problem. To get out of this, to get Frodo out of this, would mean he had lived a different life and was a different person. He should have done as so many counseled, found himself a pleasant woman who was a good cook, and contented himself with that. I did try, but it went wrong. That was over thirty years ago, Baggins. There was time to try again.
He knew he should talk to Gilda about all of this, but both the shame he felt over his own stupidity and the alarm he felt at seeing her so ill kept him away. He also did not want to be scolded when he already felt so wretched. Gilda told you here in Buckland, right after Sara and Esmie’s wedding, to stop following your heart and just find a goodwife. That was only sixteen years ago. Bilbo was surprised that Rory seemed to be making these decisions about Frodo with Esmie and not Gilda. That did not seem right. Then again, to send Frodo away would be a rebuke to her, a reminder that she was not up to caring for the boy in her current condition.
As he had yesterday, he sat at Gilda's right hand in the place of honor at the table in the great dining hall. He had always liked the way that the table had been built; long to reach far down the room, but also wide so that there was room for more than one at the head and the foot. The tradition, reaching all the way back to Deepdelver, was for the Master and the Mistress to sit side by side at the head of the table on Highday. A guest would sit at the Mistress' side so that she could serve him. Tradition also said that the first serving given came from her own plate.
Gilda allowed a quiet kitchen lass to prepare a plate for her, then she very deliberately picked up a broad handled spoon. Bracing her trembling right wrist with her left hand, Gilda carefully dipped into a mound of mashed root vegetables on the plate, a little butter dripping down the side from the well of it in the top. The spoon broke the rim down, and the yellow-white liquid flowed down the pale orange mash. The spoon cut into the side then jerked a little up, and a few bits of the mash flew up and then dropped on the table. Bilbo never stopped smiling at Gilda. He noted how her lips had tightened when her hand had jerked. Slowly, the spoon moved over to his plate. He knew better than to push it towards her. The vegetable mash would as like end up in his lap as on his plate were he to insult her dignity in that way. A moment later, the spoon was over his plate, and she used both hands to turn it over. The mash slipped easily from the spoon, butter making the starchy food release its grip on the silver, and fell with a soft "plop" onto his plate. Gilda turned to the kitchen girl and permitted the lass to have the spoon, and gestured for the girl to finish up filling the guest's plate.
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Chapter 5: Exchange
In which Bilbo and Rory discuss the various aspects of exchange - financial, verbal, personal, cultural, existential - and end with the wisdom of the elves.
Midday, Buckland near the Hedge, 11 Halimath, 1389
The ride along the Hedge was going well. Bilbo, Rory, and Sara had set out quite early from Brandy Hall, before the sun was fully up, heading up the road to the North-gate. They had met Mac a few miles up the road near his farm, and had continued to the gate. It was time for the Master to be Riding Hedge before winter set in. After a two-hour ride north to the gate, they swung east and rode to the Hedge itself. Now, they were following the High Hay south, examining its condition, making note of where it might need tending, and talking with any Hay Wards they found along the way. They would only be able to cover half the Hedge today, and would do the southern half tomorrow.
Bilbo and Rory rode side by side, on their bay and chestnut ponies, while Mac and Sara ranged ahead on the matched greys Rory had given them two summers past. The brothers were an impressive sight on the pretty mares, and they handled the ponies well.
The ponies were not the usual Shire steeds, short legged and pot-bellied. These two had come from Bree, and looked more like full-sized horses. They were not more than a hand or so taller than the usual pony, but their legs were longer in proportion to their girth and their barrels were leaner. Their heads looked like those found on the elven horses Bilbo had seen so long ago in Rivendell, and their necks arched beautifully. They even carried their tails high. The mares were a valuable addition to the Buckland herd, and had produced two fillies last year. Rory was hoping to get a colt out of one of them next spring to be a good foundation stud.
‘If things are changing, as you say, Bilbo,’ Rory had spoken quite seriously on the trip out, ‘then we’ll need ponies that are more comfortable to ride and cover more distance in a day than these stout fellows.’ He had given his even-tempered gelding a fond pat on the shoulder, and the pony nickered to his master. Rory had a way with beasts that was almost magical. Horses followed him about like dogs, and dogs, even great fierce ones, would quickly wag and lick his hand. The half-wild barn cats would come out of their hiding places under the mangers and in the hay to twine around Rory’s ankles, purring and meowing. It was not unusual to look down and find one of the cats had dropped a dead rat at Rory’s feet in honor of the occasion.
‘A longer-limbed pony that isn’t too much bigger will more comfortable to ride, though not much use for a large wagon. They’re saddle horses, not dray nags.’ Their own sturdy ponies ambled along as the old hobbits were silent, each in his own thoughts. Rory sighed. ‘A nice pony for crossing the Shire is a good thing, brother. But how much further, really, would anyone want to go? Not beyond Bree, certainly?’ Rory looked over with curiosity, and some worry.
Bilbo shrugged. ‘That would depend upon the traveler and the times, brother. Bree isn’t all that far, truth be told, only a day’s ride on a Shire pony from the Bridge to the Inn. On a full-sized horse, it’s even closer. Set that horse to galloping, and it’s but a few hours.’
‘Well, yes, Bilbo, you could get there quicker on a bigger horse, but why would you want to go beyond there?’ Rory countered.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 5, Exchange
Chapter 6: Belongings
In which tongues are used, adventures are planned, accusations are thrown, history is recounted, marks are examined, and Frodo tries to understand where he belongs.
Late Evening, Brandy Hall, 13 Halimath, 1389
‘No, Frodo, you’re closing your jaw too much. Let it relax. Round lips, and let your tongue do the work.’
Frodo nodded, shut his eyes, and tried to not pronounce elvish with a Shire accent.
‘Excellent!’ Bilbo beamed down at the boy who sat on the hearth in front of a low fire. Frodo grinned back, proud of his accomplishment. ‘Now, again, count to ten,’ Bilbo prompted.
‘Minë, atta, neldë, canta, lempë, enquë, otso, tolto, nertë, cainen,’ Frodo carefully pronounced, but with much more competence and confidence than when the evening started.
‘Very good, very good,’ Bilbo started pacing the room again, ‘and the months, once more.’
‘Narvinyë, Nénimë, Súlimë, Víressë, Lótessë, Nárië, Cermië, Úrimë, Yavannië, Narquelië, Hísimë, Ringarë!’ Frodo said much more slowly than he had the numbers, but properly and in the correct order.
‘Perfect,’ Bilbo announced, ‘and on that good note, we shall end our elvish lesson for tonight.’ The last three nights, ever since Highday, Frodo had come to Bilbo’s room to smoke his pipe and learn some elvish. Tonight, Bilbo had come to Frodo’s room to give the next lesson and to see just how the lad was doing. It irritated Bilbo somewhat that Frodo had not been left in Drogo and Primula’s quarters, and even more so that Sara and Esmie had taken them over, but he supposed that it made more sense for them to be given to another couple with children and put Frodo into a room meant for a single hobbit. They were Rory and Gilda’s before they were Drogo and Prim’s, and Aunt Mira and Uncle Gorbadoc’s before that, he reminded himself, and so it’s right that the Master’s Heir and family have them.
Everything in Frodo’s room looked in decent order. There was an old but solid bedstead with a perfectly serviceable straw tick, fresh smelling without a hint of mold or mustiness, all quite appropriate for a tween boy. The bed linens were older, clean and soft, and more than enough to keep Frodo quite warm, even if the fire went out. Bilbo recognized the quilt as being from Prim’s wedding linens, one of her favorites, and the one she usually had on her and Drogo’s bed when they had lived at Bag End. He was glad to see someone had been thoughtful enough to give it to Frodo for his own. I wonder where the rest of their household belongings are? They belong to Frodo now. They’re obviously not here. Bilbo made himself a mental note to talk to Esmie about it when he had tea with her on Saturday.
At the foot of the bed was a small wardrobe without doors, having lost them at some point in its long life. It had belonged to a series of young boys, each of whom had carefully carved initials and small designs into the wood with his pocket-knife. Frodo took delight in pointing out Rory’s carvings up near the top, standing on the end of the bed to reach them. Since there were no doors, it was a simple matter for Bilbo to quickly look over the clothes that had been provided for the boy. They looked exactly like what he himself wore as a tween; durable rather than fine, but without any holes or stains, and enough so he always had a clean change. Frodo insisted on pulling out one shirt to show Bilbo the very odd little bird (Or was it a flower? A cat?) that Merle had painstakingly embroidered on the cuff. Frodo was very proud of her effort, whatever the beast was supposed to be.
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Chapter 7: Fortune
In which Bilbo cuts to the heart of the mystery in Brandy Hall, or so he believes.
Mid-afternoon, Brandy Hall, 15 Halimath 1389
Bilbo sipped his brandy and surveyed the tea laid out on a low table in Rory’s study. One of the kitchen-girls had brought it in a few minutes before, and he had flirted with her and teased her and sent her off with pinch on her cheek and compliments to Maddie.
Yesterday, he and Frodo had spent most of the day on the butterfly hunt, systematically going through the linens in use in the Hall. A call of “Wilwarin!” alerted the other to a successful catch. Most of them had been found at the very back of a few linen presses, though they had stripped some things off beds, tables and chairs. A stack of bedclothes, a collection of small towels and tablecloths, and several other pieces had turned up, though Bilbo knew for certain that Prim had more than that when she and Drogo had left Hobbiton to return to Brandy Hall. In particular, he remembered a few very fine pieces in which she had taken great pride that had not turned up.
Rory had supplied a large trunk with a raised eyebrow and a great sigh, but no questions. Last evening, Bilbo and Frodo had sat in Bilbo'’ room and examined the catch. Frodo had sat next to the butterflies, unfolding them, looking at them intently, then very carefully and precisely folding each and placing it within the trunk. Sometimes Bilbo recognized an item, and if he had a story he could tell about it, he would. Frodo had laid his quilt across the top of the other linens like a mother tucking in her child for the night. After all had been stowed, they had smoked another pipe in silence before Frodo gave him a kiss and went off to bed.
Bilbo sipped more of the brandy. He was careful not to drink too much. He needed a clear head when dealing with Esmeralda. He had asked Rory if he could make use of his study today. It seemed fitting, considering the other talks that had happened in this room over the last few days. His outrage had cooled, though it had not abated, and he did not intend to be particularly agreeable to this duplicitous cousin.
The door creaked a bit, and Esmie swept in. The preserving of harvest fruit was underway, and she had been working in the kitchens and in the cook yard. Her hair was pulled back from her face, and fastened with a simple clasp, some stray locks wafting about. The bridge of her nose and the apples of her cheeks were a touch sunburnt from time in the yard. She was dressed as simply as one of the cooks - a solid-fronted white blouse with a low neck and short sleeves, a plain brown skirt a bit shorter than she usually wore, a wide leather belt to support her back and sides as she lifted heavy things and stooped over the low tables. Though her face and hands were freshly scrubbed, a scent of sweat and wood smoke clung to her. She had been doing the Mistress’ work this season, since Gilda could not. You are not the Mistress any more than Pal is the Thain. Part of him was tempted to go fetch Gilda, no matter her need to rest, and make her a part of this conversation. Nothing will happen before the two of you talk next week, and you’d best have your own argument prepared.
They exchanged greetings and Bilbo made a great fuss over seating her in Rory’s chair and serving her the meal. She giggled and teased and flirted back at him as the Mistress should do with a doddering old cousin. Bilbo ate only a few bites and bided his time.
‘You and Frodo quite tore the Hall up yesterday, Bilbo,’ Esmie said after he returned from placing their used dishes on a tray in the corridor. He smiled at her, but did not reply, and poured her a brandy. She took a large sip. ‘Just what were you two doing? I’ve been hearing rumors of stolen sheets.’
‘We were on a butterfly hunt,’ Bilbo smoothly replied. Esmie looked at him blankly for a moment, then comprehension dawned. She did not look too pleased. Bilbo had forbidden Frodo to look in Sara and Esmie's quarters for anything, and was thinking now that he should pay his own visit.
‘You have disrupted quite a few people with your antics, Bilbo,’ she scolded, ‘and Frodo certainly does not need to be encouraged in such things.’ A hard stare, but not the look he so detested. ‘He should have been asking politely, not rummaging through others’ belongings.’
‘But others had his belongings, and others have rummaged through his things,’ Bilbo calmly responded, ‘and young men are impetuous. In any event, since he will soon be departing, he needed some help gathering things and setting his affairs to rights before he goes. I am only too happy to assist.’ He sipped and watched.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 7, Fortune
Chapter 8: Harvest
Harvest - Bilbo POV
In which rites are performed, lessons are learned, and Bilbo sees Frodo in a new light.
Morning, Buckland, 16 Halimath, 1389
‘Up you go!’
Merry let out a squeal of delight as Bilbo handed him up to Frodo in the back of the wagon. Berry was next, and then the other Hall children. By the sixth child, Bilbo wished that they did not feel the need to let loose a piercing shriek of delight right in his ear as he swung them up. I may not grow old, but I shall certainly grow deaf. Merle and Dilly stood politely to one side, guarding food baskets. The baskets would go in another wagon.
When the last of the youngest ones had been loaded in the bed of the wagon, Merle bounded up to be lifted. Bilbo gave her a kiss just before he handed her up to Frodo. She wrapped her arms around Frodo’s neck and refused to be put down, so Frodo simply sat in the wagon, looking carefully before he did to make sure he did not sit on top of the rambunctious mob. As soon as he was settled, the swarm of children settled around him like bees on a honeycomb. And Merle’s the queen bee, Bilbo idly thought, then roughly shoved that idea from him. He did not wish to look at the child through the prism of her mother.
He and Dilly raised and secured the gate across the back of the wagon. They went to the front, and Bilbo steadied Dilly as she clambered up onto the wood bench next to Mac. Bilbo agilely pulled himself up next to her.
‘Now, wife, scoot your big beam over here and give Uncle Bilbo room to sit,’ rumbled Mac in a happy tone, grinning good-naturedly at his wife’s glare and not bothering to defend himself from the rather sharp slap she bestowed on his shoulder. She did as he asked, however, and he wrapped his arm around her, reaching down to place a quick, loving squeeze on her rump before settling his hand at her waist. She slipped one arm around his back and laid the other across his round belly, her head on his shoulder.
‘Gee up,’ Mac called to the draft ponies, and they leaned into their collars. He held the reins loosely in his hand. Mac was like Rory with animals. Bilbo had never seen him give one a sharp correction, and they all seemed eager to please him. Mac never carried a whip or a crop. At the gate, Mac moved his hand and allowed the reins to brush the ponies’ necks. They obediently turned east on the road. These were Shire-bred draft ponies, short and stout. Their bellies were the widest part of them, though their broad, round rumps were not far behind. Rory took pride in having matched pairs for his wagons. These two Rushey Punches were a bright, burnished copper, almost orange, and they had flaxen manes and tails. Their faces bore wide, white blazes and their thick hooves and lower legs were covered in long hair, like big boots. They snorted and stepped out briskly.
They were off to the Old Orchard for Harvest rites. Bilbo remembered when he was Merle’s age, being loaded up into the back of a wagon by his Uncle Gorbadoc with his mother and Aunt Mira and all the children of Brandy Hall, then going to the Old Orchard to collect the apples for pressing. His father and his uncle sat where he and Mac now sat, telling silly stories and singing boisterous songs to make the journey seem shorter. That is what happened mid-Halimath in Buckland, and had happened for as long as anyone could remember.
There was a wagon up ahead, driven by Sara, filled with empty bushels and the baskets of food. A few cousins and farmers sat with him or on the back of the wagon, legs trailing off the end. A few had already begun to sing something lively. Creaking sounds behind him let Bilbo know that the water wagon, also carrying a good amount of food, was on the lane. Most of the women and older girls would follow along in lighter traps and other wagons shortly, for they needed to finish setting the Hall to rights and get the evening meal cooking in the coals for those who would not be at the orchard.
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Chapter 9: Desires
In which desires are exposed, offers are extended, and choices are made.
Evening, Brandy Hall, 17 Halimath 1389
Bilbo set two chairs in front of the fire, and considered how he was going to cut apart Esmie’s web. It had been a wearing day. Sara, Mac and Rory had all gone back to the Old Orchard to oversee the last of the pressing and getting the sheds packed for winter. They were also going to check the Gate into the Old Forest and take a close look at the High Hay near the Orchard. Gilda was in bed, resting from Harvest rites, and Esmie was playing Mistress.
She had kept Frodo close all day. Bilbo was astounded at how openly she flirted with the lad, though he certainly could not blame Frodo for reveling in the attention. After what he had seen in the woods, Bilbo had to admit he preferred seeing his boy blushing and giggling, so obviously enjoying himself. That the attentions were coming from a woman almost old enough to be the lad’s mother did leave him a touch queasy. That the woman was Esmie made it almost impossible to watch. She knew Bilbo was watching, and sent sly looks his direction.
Frodo would not look at him. The boy kept his eyes dropped, shooting quick glances when he thought Bilbo was not looking. Bilbo tired of watching, and took the opportunity to do a bit of investigating (with the help of his ring) in Sara and Esmie’s quarters. He quickly found the final butterflies, the finest of Prim’s linens, and they were now safely stored in the trunk. Bilbo wondered just when Esmie had claimed them as her own.
Part of him wanted to wait until he could speak to Gilda. He knew he should have found time, made Gilda give him time, the day he had uncovered Esmie’s scheme. She might have allowed Rory to convince her it was best to send Frodo to Pal, but she would never agree to what Esmie planned. But Esmie was going to leave with Frodo in four days and the soonest he could speak to Gilda privately would be tomorrow afternoon. The spider spins her web and I need to free him from it now.
Bilbo sat in one chair and began preparing their pipes. So much grasping after things. Esmie’s appropriation of Prim’s linens, of Prim’s child. Sara’s grasping hands from the night before, trying to seize the pipe from Frodo, then clutching at the boy himself. The other boy grasping Frodo’s hair, making him kneel. He remembered Frodo’s challenge to Sara, after all the insults, how fierce and proud his boy had been, facing down his tormentor.
The first step in eluding the spider, the only step that matters, is that Frodo must agree to go. Bilbo was certain of that, after the fracas with Sara. There can be no pushing the lad about. He will resent you and hate you if you do that. He is not something to be grasped and taken. Bilbo tamped the pipe-weed down in the bowl of his own pipe. What will convince him? Has he been touched with a dwarven-heart, too, living here with Esmie and Sara? Bilbo wondered again if the other boys had paid Frodo. His actions had been so perfunctory, not at all dissimilar from those lads you could obtain at certain inns if you knew how and whom to ask. Bilbo began work on Frodo’s pipe, pleased that his hands did not tremble.
Esmie’s words kept circling back in his head. “Don’t be so quick to be rid of your treasure, though, cousin. The lad’s affections might not be extended so easily if there was nothing but affection offered in return.” Bilbo considered that. He had always given the boy gifts, true; he delighted in it, though Frodo never asked for anything aside from the sweets that all children wanted. Is that where Frodo’s attentions to him lay? Would Frodo turn from him if the presents stopped? My lad does not have a dwarven-heart, unless it is one like Balin’s or Glóin’s. He’s generous to a fault himself. He’s like Rory, not Sara. He is not to be bought. Bilbo refused to think of lads at inns.
It was a moot point anyway; Esmie would not take his possessions in exchange for Frodo, which left them for Bilbo to use as he wished. She was simply counting on him to die before Frodo came to his majority so that she could make use of the wealth. And to be generous to his boy until that time should come. She won’t simply take it, she’s too careful, too subtle for plain avarice. Her plans ran deeper. Bilbo could see that. Wife to the Master, sister of the Thain, mother-in-law to the eventual Mayor - that Frodo would someday be Mayor, Bilbo was certain, especially after yesterday. Frodo would wait for Merle to grow up if he had Esmie in the meantime. Bilbo had no doubt now she intended a child between them to bind Frodo more closely yet. Lobelia’s designs on Bag End paled next to Esmie’s grasp for the greater part of the Shire itself. He had to admire the patient cunning of it all, though he wondered what she thought she would do with it, once seized.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 9, Desires
Chapter 10: Scandal
In which Bilbo once more is a thief who fails to understand what he has set in motion.
Morning, Brandy Hall, 18 Halimath 1389
It had been late before Frodo was done. Though Bilbo was tempted just to keep the boy with him, it would not have been wise, not when he would be facing Rory the next day. All it would take is one rumor that he spent the night in my bed… Bilbo retrieved Prim’s quilt from the trunk for Frodo to take back to bed with him, kissed the boy tenderly on the cheek, and had bid him not to be late to first breakfast. Frodo had returned the kiss along with a strong hug, and slipped out.
Bilbo had only gotten a brief bit of sleep, for he had much to consider. The stars were fading before he had left his chair before the fire. What do I say of Sara to Rory? He thought of the harm he wished to inflict on Sara. It would be so easy… He could wear his ring, but, no, he wanted Sara to know who did this. Retrieve Sting from Bag End and return to use that blade on this dark creature. He recalled how it felt when Sting bit into the spiders, the crack of stiff carapace, then the odd, wet, velvet sensation of the blade as it vanished into the fat bodies. How they jerked and spasmed, not dropping at once like a goat in the autumn slaughter. How they hissed. How their green blood, like ichor, frothed as it left the wounds. He wanted to strike Sara like that. He wanted Sara howling, screaming, in pain, for as long as Frodo had sat in his arms and wept.
But how to talk to Rory? Bilbo thought they could probably talk to Rory about the other boys, and that Rory would be unhappy but not horribly shocked. What he would do if he heard of Sara’s acts; that Bilbo could not tell. Would he believe me? It’s one thing to be told your son is a fool and a sot, even to be told that he’s a bully, but this… Even I hadn’t wanted to believe this of Sara. Why should his own father? Won’t Rory think I’m making it up to force his hand? If he claimed this, he would have to let Rory question Frodo.
"Please, I don’t want Uncle Rory to know such things!" The boy’s cry chased after Bilbo. He could not help imagining Frodo in front of Rory, trying to speak of such things. Rory would not let him help; he would make Frodo speak for himself. Frodo is right. Rory won’t want to believe him.
Bilbo worried at this until he could not keep his eyes open, and had decided there was nothing he could say about Sara until Frodo was safe. He did not dare to risk angering Rory with tales of Sara, no matter how true, and he could not put his lad through more questioning, not now. Frodo did not need to be put through any more grief. He would talk to Rory alone. It made the most sense. With what I shall argue to Rory to make him relinquish Frodo to me, Frodo should not be there.
After a few fitful hours, Bilbo rose and made himself ready for the day. He washed thoroughly, knowing he could not be cleansed of the taint of the Hall - it sat in the heart, not on the skin. He dressed slowly, with great care, wondering if Frodo had woken yet. He did not take a candle with him as he made his way through the dark tunnels towards the small dining room. Bilbo did not go straight there, but wandered through the corridors, knowing them by instinct and childhood memory. He remembered his past escapes from dark places underground.
By the beard of Durin! I wish I had Gandalf here! Curse him for his choice of you! May his beard wither! As for you I will throw you to the rocks!
Well, I really must not detain Your Magnificence any longer, or keep you from much needed rest. Ponies take some catching, I believe, after a long start. And so do burglars.
Down the swift dark stream you go Back to the lands you once did know!
Thief, thief, thief! Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it forever!
The voices of his adventures echoed in his thoughts. Ring and cup and Arkenstone I have stolen, thirteen dwarves I have freed from elven captors. I am well prepared for this. This would be his greatest theft, for it would be in the light, without the ring, while they all watched. He had answered the riddles, severed the web. All that remained was to collect the precious text, but his treasure was guarded by fell creatures. Time to draw them off.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 10, Scandal
Chapter 11: Coda
In which Frodo gives Bilbo a present.
Morning, Bag End, 22 Halimath 1389
‘Good morning, Uncle Bilbo!’
Bilbo looked up from his desk in his study at Bag End, and smiled at Frodo. ‘Good morning and Happy Birthday, my boy!’ he crowed right back. Frodo dashed across the room to bestow a hug and kiss. Through the closed window could be heard the sound of Hamfast Gamgee whistling and chatting to himself and the plants as he readied the garden to be seen by the birthday guests who would arrive later that day.
They had arrived midevening on the night of Wednesday the nineteenth, to find that Bag End was lighted and had fires in the parlor and kitchen. The trunk full of linens had arrived from Frogmorton that morning, so Ham had concluded, quite properly, that Mister Baggins would be arriving later in the day. Poor Frodo was so exhausted from the tramp that he could barely spare a look at the smial, and gratefully tumbled into bed in the first available guest room, not even bothering to eat supper.
Thursday had been spent deciding which room would be Frodo’s. They spent a space of time discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each room, and Frodo had finally chosen the best bedroom across the hall from Bilbo’s, with a small round window looking out on the gardens, the one his parents had used so long ago. Very carefully, Frodo had unpacked the linens trunk and sorted through them until he had found the bedding he wanted. The lad would do nothing else until he had made the bed just so, had put the crocheted lace covers on the small bedside table and the top of the chest of drawers. He only had a few shirts and trousers to put in the drawers, so the first stop after lunch was the tailor. A fine shirt, some plain but good-quality trousers and a pleasing waistcoat were quickly made up, and an order for more everyday wear was placed. The day concluded with a very large supper to make up for having missed it entirely the night before. Bell Gamgee had sent over a large apple pie as a welcome home gift, and Frodo made short work of most of it. Friday morning had been for sending out invitations for their birthday, then Bilbo spent the afternoon catching up on all his business while Frodo slept.
‘Well, our party shall be a rather small affair this year, Frodo, since we haven’t had time to get you settled in yet,’ Bilbo said, ‘but there will be many more celebrations in days to come. I shall spare us the Sackville-Bagginses. We’ve both had our fill of testy relatives for this week, I believe,’ Frodo sent him a grateful look, ‘so it shall just be the families along Bagshot Row, and they shan’t stay for too long. The Gamgees have quite a mix of youngsters to meet, as do the Rumbles, and there will be a number of adults who will all poke and prod at you. You, know, check your teeth, look in your eyes, have you trot up and down a few times to see if you’re sound.’ Frodo was laughing a bit at the description, but he did not look quite relaxed.
‘Frodo, we needn’t have a party if you’re not up to meeting people yet,’ Bilbo said quietly.
Frodo shook his head, ‘It’s all right, Uncle Bilbo. I’ll be fine. I just don’t have birthday presents for everyone.’
‘Neither do I, but we shall serve a fine meal and give presents later when we’re more settled. These are good folk. They’ll understand.’ Frodo looked quite embarrassed now. ‘What is it, lad? Spit it out!’
‘I don’t have a present for you, uncle,’ Frodo said sheepishly. ‘You gave me that beautiful pipe and I was still trying to think of what to give you. I was going to make something, and then there wasn’t time.’
Bilbo looked down at the thick letter that had arrived from the morning Messenger. ‘Well, if you will, Frodo, there is something I would very much like to have as a present from you.’
‘Your permission.’ Frodo looked at Bilbo, more confused than ever. Bilbo laughed and leaned back against his desk. ‘I just received something by Messenger, Frodo, and I would like your permission to complete a document.’ He turned and picked up the paper from the desk and handed it to his boy.
Frodo read it over, delight spreading across his face. ‘These are adoption papers,’ he said slowly, ‘for me.’
‘I would like your permission for me to complete the papers, and formally adopt you as my child and heir, Frodo,’ Bilbo quietly said.
‘I’ll be yours and no one can take me away, can they?’ Frodo asked, very serious.
‘Yes, and no one can take you away.’
Frodo thrust the paper back at him. ‘Yes! Sign it! Sign it at once!’
Bilbo took the paper back with a grin and set it on the leather writing pad. He selected his finest fountain pen, which he had spent the morning carefully cleaning, and opened a small pot of ink that shimmered gold in the light that came in the window.
‘Dwarves brought this ink from Rivendell for me, about a year ago,’ Bilbo informed Frodo as he carefully filled the pen with the ink, ‘and I have been waiting for just the right occasion on which to make use of it. I think this is the perfect one.’ He carefully laid out the original document and a copy, to be sent to Rory, and signed each in the best hand he could manage. He capped the pen and handed it to Frodo.
‘One more present for you.’ He threw an arm around his boy’s shoulders, and they went out to see their garden.
This ends Legacy. Thank you for reading.