Chapter 1: Guests
POV - Frodo
In which a new friend with an old past shows up on the doorstep.
Evening, 22 Foreyule, 1389
‘I’ll get it, Uncle Bilbo!’
Frodo trotted over to the front door of Bag End, curious as to who would be knocking at this hour. He had a nagging worry that it might be one of the Gamgees; Missus Gamgee had not been feeling well lately, and Bilbo had been very insistent that Hamfast send Halfred if she took a turn for the worse. Frodo grasped the door knob, opened the door, and came to a startled stop.
On the doorstep was a dwarf. His black eyes caught and reflected back the light from the candles in the wall sconces, glittering like the facets on Aunt Tulip’s jet brooch. He swept back the hood on his scarlet cloak, revealing almost-golden hair in neat plaits, paler than his short, braided beard. His broad shoulders seemed to fill the door and for one fleeting moment Frodo wondered if the dwarf would get stuck in the doorway should he step in. The dwarf smiled at the young hobbit and bowed extravagantly, short beard nearly brushing the door jamb.
‘Dalin Steelhand at your service!’ he said in a cheerful, booming baritone voice. He stood quickly before Frodo could reply. ‘Dear sir, pray tell, is this the home of Bilbo Baggins, Lord of Burglars?’
Frodo could not answer. He could only stare at this huge person standing in the doorway. In all his life, he had never seen anyone so big. The top of his own head did not reach the dwarf’s shoulder. He’s bigger than Mac! was all Frodo could think. The young hobbit’s eyes got bigger and rounder as his gaze traveled down the visitor, taking in the enormously broad shoulders, the great barrel chest, forearms that looked as big around as an ordinary hobbit’s thigh, the tree-stump legs, and then he saw the boots.
Not feet, as one should see, but boots; big, thick, leather boots. They were black and spattered with mud. They had lacings across the tops that disappeared up under the turned-down cuffs. The leather on the cuffs was tooled in strange knots and whorls, with angles and curves fitting together in an endless pattern. The dwarf’s boots were bigger than the biggest hobbit foot. Frodo could not take his eyes off them.
A politely cleared throat shook Frodo out of his amazement. Blushing furiously, the young hobbit looked back up at the dwarf’s face, hoping he had not done something too terribly rude. To his relief, the dwarf’s face was crinkled up in amusement.
‘Dalin Steelhand, at your service, young master,’ the dwarf repeated in a softer tone, inclining his head in Frodo’s direction. Frodo grinned back. An adventure had arrived on the doorstep!
‘Frodo Baggins, at yours and your family’s!’ he replied properly, giving Dalin a bobbing little bow. Wait until Bilbo sees this! He could not stop grinning.
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Chapter 2: On the King's Road
POV - Bilbo
In which a journey is begun, a song is sung, news is shared, roots are discussed, the badger is fat, and Frodo sees ghosts.
Morning, 23 Foreyule, 1389
‘And there’s a penny for the load, and another for your troubles. No, no, I insist! It is Yule, Dunny, and you must humor me!’ Bilbo clapped the wagon driver on his shoulder and pressed the coins into the man’s hand. After a weak protest, the weather-worn hobbit’s face broke into a crooked grin, and he touched his forehead.
‘As you wish, Mister Bilbo. I won’t be sayin’ no to a Yule gift, sir,’ the driver replied, pleased at his good fortune.
‘And when you get to Brandy Hall,’ Bilbo continued, pulling an envelope out of his breast pocket, ‘ask that this be given to the Master or the Mistress, whomever is in, and be sure to wait for a reply.’ In it was a note for Rory to give Dunny another penny and a hot meal, though Bilbo doubted the man would be allowed to escape the Hall without a good dinner from Maddie’s well-run kitchen. The driver took the envelope, touched his forehead again, and hauled himself up onto the seat of the wagon. Some shouts of “Gee up!” got the dark bay draft ponies leaning into their harness, and the wagon bearing Bilbo and Frodo’s trunks rumbled out of The Green Dragon’s courtyard.
Bilbo rubbed his hands briskly together in the early morning chill and flashed a smile at Frodo. Dalin was inside, saying farewell to his dwarven traveling companions, as he would not be continuing with them to Belegost. The three of them would walk to Whitfurrows today. It made for a long tramp the first day, but they would arrive that much sooner in Buckland the next day, and would have time to rest and visit before Highday table. Frodo looked back at him with a wan smile, then turned to watch the door of the inn.
Three months, Wilwarin. It’s been three months exactly. Time had gone so quickly since their birthday, when he adopted Frodo. Bilbo gazed proudly at his nephew. Signing those documents was one of the happiest moments in his long life. It might not be his perfect heart’s desire, but it was as perfect as he would ever see. My boy. You are my boy, now. After those first few whirlwind days, things had become much more calm. Sometimes Bilbo wondered if it were too calm. Frodo had quite a reputation as a rascal in Buckland, but Bilbo had never seen a sign of it since moving to Hobbiton. Well, Baggins, isn’t that good? He hasn’t time to get into trouble. You said you’d see to that, Bilbo thought to himself. Still, he found himself worrying just a bit at the lad’s subdued demeanor.
There really were not any tweens Frodo’s age in the immediate area aside from the Gamgees’ oldest sons, Hamson and Halfred, and they were needed for work by their family. Especially with Bell feeling so poorly. Bilbo sent a worried glance back down the lane towards Hobbiton. Would that Hamfast’s pride allowed me to do more for them. The older boys worked like adults next to their father all day, and Bell took in mending. Her winter cough was much harsher this year than last, and Bilbo had tried to convince Ham to let him replace the small income she brought in with the work so that she could rest. The stubborn hobbit would hear none of it. The most he would concede was to have Bell come to Bag End on the days Ham tended the gardens, and sit in the warm, well-lit front parlor to do her work. The oldest girl, Daisy, had the task of dusting the smial and helping her mother, while Frodo entertained May, Sam and Marigold.
It was always a delight to watch the pack of them romping about, though they always had to be told to keep the doors closed. Marigold just needed a few toys and songs to keep her content, and usually she sat with Bell and Daisy. May and Sam were almost the same ages as Merle and Merry, and Frodo was obviously happiest when they were about. Frodo had been surprised at first that no one had taught May and Sam letters and figures, then set that as his own task. They were making great progress, especially little Sam. He misses his cousins so, Bilbo sighed to himself, looking back at Frodo.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 2, On the King's Road
Chapter 3: Familiarity
POV - Frodo
In which introductions are made, acquaintances are renewed, and Frodo is very put out with Bilbo.
Early Evening, 24 Foreyule, 1389
Frodo sighed in exasperation at Dalin’s and Bilbo’s slowness. The last quarter mile to the door was the longest part of the entire walk. He could not contain his impatience a single second longer, and dashed up to the Lane Door, the southernmost of the three main entrances to Brandy Hall. As expected, it was locked, so Frodo yanked the bell rope to let the doorward know someone was there. Bilbo and Dalin were drawing near when Dahlia opened the door. Frodo grinned, then realized she was peering suspiciously at him.
‘Dahlia?’ he asked. She stared at him intently, and he stepped a little closer so the light from her lantern would fall on his face. ‘Don’t you recognize me? It’s Frodo!’
‘Oh, heavens above, it is you, Master Frodo!’ the plump woman exclaimed, and pulled him into a suffocating embrace. ‘Oh my, oh my, but you look so queer, Master Frodo, with your face all drawn and no hair left to you!’ she prattled on, then swung her lantern towards the other two. ‘And Mister Baggins, I beg pardon, sir, the Master said to keep an eye for you this night, and I plumb forgot. I was sayin’ to…’ Whatever it was that Dahlia might have said, and to whom, was lost as she gaped at the scarlet-wrapped mountain that stepped into the lantern light. Frodo felt her begin to sag and was afraid that she might faint.
‘Dahlia, dear girl!’ Bilbo called out, and quickly grabbed her by the elbow, relieving the weight on Frodo. ‘How lovely to see you, and just the person I need! This is Mister Dalin Steelhand, a most excellent dwarf, who has traveled a very long way to meet the Master.’ Bilbo was pushing Dahlia back into the doorway and turning her about, which Frodo knew was no small feat, given her bulk and how she was transfixed by the sight of Dalin. ‘Now, you be a good girl, won’t you please, and go straight away to Master Rory and tell him to meet us here at the Lane Door. There you go!’ With a quick kiss on her cheek, and a strong push, Bilbo set Dahlia off down the corridor. After a few stumbling steps, she picked up her skirts and ran.
‘Come in, Dalin, and rest a spell until Rory arrives,’ Bilbo called over Frodo’s shoulder to the dwarf. Dalin had to duck an inch or two to get in the low door, and his head came close to the roof of the tunnel. Frodo knew there were places in Brandy Hall where Dalin would not be able to walk upright.
‘Are you certain this is all right, Mister Baggins?’ Dalin rumbled nervously. ‘Perhaps I should wait outside the door until the Master gives his leave…’
‘Nonsense,’ Frodo broke in, ‘You’re a guest at Brandy Hall, and Uncle Rory would be shamed if you were to stand out in the cold!’ Though you’ll probably frighten half the Hall when you walk through. Frodo had to suppress a grin at the thought of the squeaks, squawks, and squeals that would accompany any unexpected encounter with Dalin in the depths of the smial. This will be an entertaining Yule. In particular, he wondered how Sara would react. The thought of the look of drunken stupefaction that might grace his detested cousin’s face made Frodo have to turn away, lest Dalin think himself the butt of a joke.
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Chapter 4: Assumptions
POV - Bilbo
In which Dalin encounters a flock of little birds, all the right lies are spread, faces are matched with names, and Bilbo contemplates Sara's fate.
Evening, 24 Highday, Foreyule, 1389
Bilbo could not have asked for a better entrance.
As he had suspected, the kitchen knew of Dalin’s presence, but had not spoken of it to any of the guests or extended family. When Dalin walked into the Great Hall, the entire room was struck dumb. The relatively high roof of Hall did not allow Dalin’s head to brush the ceiling as it did in the tunnels, but he still looked monstrously large to the assembled guests. Eyes bulged, mouths gaped, hands fluttered, and more than few of the gathering looked on the verge of fainting. This is going to be a most entertaining Yule. Rory nodded graciously to the assembled hobbits as though he had a dwarven guest at table every day, but Bilbo could see the merriment in his eyes. Bilbo grinned broadly and caught Gilda’s eye. She smirked back, then put on her most regal expression.
The dwarf was being dragged by the three little hobbits towards the children’s table at the back of the dining hall. The other children in the room had recovered from their surprise at the sight of Dalin more quickly than most adults, and it was as if a flock of brightly plumed birds winged its way across the floor, surrounding the bearded giant in a whirlwind of color and screeches. Merle and Merry clung tightly to their prize, refusing to relinquish his hands to the newcomers, while Berry kept a firm grip on Dalin’s belt. The pack of children soon was so thick the dwarf could not risk taking another step forward.
‘Go help Mister Steelhand, you beggar,’ Gilda cheerfully scolded. ‘The children will be the death of him.’ Bilbo gave Gilda a kiss, and went to help Dalin.
‘Now, now, children,’ Bilbo happily chided the exuberant mob, ‘be good to our guest! Say hello to Mister Dalin.’
‘Hello, Mister Dalin!’ the children obediently chorused. By this time, parents had gathered their wits and came to gather their offspring and herd them to the table. Bilbo reached the dwarf and gently began shooing the children off.
‘That’s it, very good, excellent, excellent, take your seats, there’s a good boy,’ he cajoled, giving little pats and pushes as needed. Merle had to have her hand prised off Dalin's, and be told rather sternly to be good and mind her little brother and cousin. She sighed with great exaggeration and dragged a protesting Merry and Berry behind her to the head of their table. It was obvious that Merle took her duties as Mistress of the children’s table quite seriously.
‘Thank you for your well-timed rescue, Mister Baggins,’ Dalin rumbled as they made their way up the hall. ‘I have rarely been encircled by such a ferocious pack.’ The dwarf obviously enjoyed the children’s attentions.
‘These are the dangers you encounter when you venture out into the wide world,’ Bilbo solemnly replied, ‘which is why you should always have a hobbit at hand,’ earning a great guffaw from Dalin. Bilbo guided the dwarf through the milling hobbits, who were waiting for the Master and Mistress to reach the head of the table before taking their own seats. He nodded a friendly greeting, calling out the occasional “Hullo! Wonderful to see you!” but did not halt for conversation.
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Chapter 5: Sensibility
POV - Bilbo
In which Bilbo remembers past Yules, Frodo talks business, Gilda gets a present, and Bilbo ponders another trip.
Morning, 25 Foreyule, 1389
Somewhere, in a deeply buried part of his mind, Bilbo knew it was too early to wake up. He lay in bed, only partly conscious, and let his senses wander. The fireplace ash was an itchy undercurrent to the other smells, but nothing could mask the scent and sound of Yule in Brandy Hall. Evergreen boughs hung at the intersection of every corridor and turned the tunnels into a forest. The baking had been underway for a week, and he could practically eat the smells coming out of Dora’s kitchen. Every pony harness had at least one bell on it, and Uncle Gorbadoc insisted that the Hall dogs wear a bell on their collars, too. He heard one trotting down the hallway now, snuffling and jingling.
Bilbo willed himself to go back to sleep. He did not have to get up to fetch Mother’s tea for at least an hour, and that was plenty of time for some more sleep. Drogo’s arm hung over him, dead weight, and… Bilbo’s brow wrinkled a bit. He breathed in again. That did not smell like Drogo. Dead weight. Dead… dead? His mind slowly pulled aside some cobwebs. Drogo’s dead. Mother’s dead. But this is Brandy Hall. He lay still until things made sense. That was Frodo’s arm, not Drogo’s, and he was a very old hobbit, not a sleepy tween. But this was Brandy Hall, and Bilbo was captured by the scents of his youth.
What he smelled now, it was for years, the smell of, not precisely home, but of family. It took so long for Bag End to smell like home when he had finally gone back to live there. The sheets here in the Hall smelled of the soap that was used in the laundry, not like himself and his own bed in Hobbiton.
He made himself relax again towards the limpness of sleep so as not to wake Frodo. The boy lay pressed against his back, an arm over Bilbo’s waist, breath soft and slow. The warmth of another’s body felt very good. How long has it been, Baggins, since you’ve had another in your bed? Bilbo counted backwards, and was not terribly surprised to know his last lover was sixteen years in the past. And far more than that with just a companion. Since Drogo himself, he mused.
The feel of another’s arm was what had woken him. Such a simple joy. What a comfort the weight and warmth of another brings to the heart. It pleased him to smell another hobbit besides himself. I have missed this. If he concentrated, Bilbo could tell the difference between his own heartbeat, and the sensation of Frodo’s heartbeat making the lad’s chest tremble ever so slightly against his back. He did not much miss having a lover. The pleasure they gave him was probably greater in the memory than in the performance, and the squabbles and heartache were not anything he needed. But this was something he could wish to have again. It would be better if he could hold Frodo in his arms, wrap himself around his dear child and keep the boy warm and safe, bury his nose against the child’s neck and breathe in nothing but another hobbit.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 5, Sensibility
Chapter 6: Seduction
POV - Frodo
In which Merry makes a mess, Esmie makes a move, Bargo makes a fuss, Rory makes a point, and Frodo makes a very big mistake.
Morning, 27 Foreyule, 1389
‘Merry, please, stop!’
Esmie was very much at her wit’s end with her son, and Frodo could not help but feel some sympathy even as he snickered at his young cousin’s antics. Merry had been on less than his best behavior since Frodo and Bilbo arrived. He and Merle were scrapping constantly, and the schoolmarm said he was not doing his lessons as he should. The only time the rapscallion would mind his manners was when Dalin was about. Then the boy would sit next to the dwarf and ask his new friend for stories. Dalin seemed to enjoy telling tales as much as Merry loved to hear them. When the dwarf was not about, however, the imp was back to making mischief.
Just this morning, Merry had tried to convince Frodo to slip out of the Hall before breakfast and go to the River so he could show off how he could climb the willow tree. It was tempting, but Frodo had enough sense to say no. Now he watched, half-amused, half-alarmed, as Merry stood up on the bench and grabbed a crock of jam from the center of the table. As he did so, Merry managed to drag his shirt through his own plate of breakfast, smearing egg yolks and sausage grease on his front. Frodo put a steadying hand on his cousin’s back, wondering if perhaps he should get himself out of harm’s way.
The boy resolutely ignored Esmie’s entreaties, snagged the crock, and tried to dig jam out of it with a too-large spoon. Frodo gave Merry a small tug on his belt to get him to sit down, which made his cousin shift his weight, which made the bench tilt, which set too many things in motion.
The crock went flying, shattering with an enormous Crack! Merry fell flat into his breakfast, then managed to knock most of it off the table and onto Frodo as he struggled to get to the bench. That did not work very well, either, and only a quick grab by Frodo kept the younger hobbit from a nasty fall between the bench and the table.
Esmie dropped her face into her hands with a groan. Merle, once it was clear that her brother was not hurt, only embarrassed and filthy, began scolding him.
‘Merry! What are you doing? You’re a pig!’
‘Am not! Frodo pushed me!’
‘Pushed you? I did not!’
‘Frodo caught you, he didn’t push you.’
‘Yes, he did!’
‘He did not! You were being bad.’
‘Enough!’ All three young cousins froze at Bilbo’s command. The old hobbit glared at the children before letting out a deep, growling sigh. ‘Not. Another. Word.’ Three heads nodded vigorously. Bilbo folded his napkin and rose from the table. ‘I will find someone to help clean up the mess. You,’ he pointed at Merry, ‘behave!’ Merry scooted as close to Frodo as he could get, too intimidated even to nod. After Bilbo walked out, Esmie came over and surveyed her disheveled son.
‘You were clean this morning, too,’ she lamented. Merry did his best to look contrite. She held out her hand. ‘Come along. Let’s see what we can scrape off you, Meriadoc. I don’t have time to bathe you again. You cannot go to school in this state.’ A hopeful expression came over Merry’s face. Frodo took pity on Esmie.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 6, Seduction
Chapter 7: Blood and Bone
POV - Bilbo
In which Bilbo reflects on guilt and obligation, honesty and honor, and has his heart broken.
Evening, 27 Foreyule, 1389
Bilbo looked up from his writing to see one of the yard boys standing in the doorway, holding a ewer of hot water and a small basin.
‘Yes, lad, what is it?’
‘Mistress Maddie sent me with some things for you to use for washing up for supper, sir. She said the Mistress said for you to come right to table as soon as you’ve washed or she would send the Hall dogs after you.’ The lad grinned merrily. Bilbo laughed and pointed to a small sideboard where the lad could set things down. With brisk efficiency, the basin was in place, some water was poured, and a small towel was laid to the side. The lad gave a little bob of his head and trotted out of the room, calling over his shoulder, ‘You have a spot of ink on your cheek, sir!’
‘Which cheek?’ Bilbo asked, but the boy was already gone. Guess you’ll have to wash your entire face, Baggins. Where’s Frodo? He was to have come to get me. Bilbo stretched until his back popped, then carefully set the work table in order for the next day. The scroll was very difficult to translate: the descriptions were precise and he was not always certain he had captured the exact point the healer was trying to convey. Gilda will read it over and give me some help on the context. There will be enough to give her on Friday, and she can begin reading it and making me some notes. They usually had to exchange a few copies before Gilda was satisfied he had translated a healing scroll correctly. He washed up, carefully scrubbing his cheeks (there was ink on both of them), and then combed his hair with his fingers.
He slipped on his coat and walked towards the great dining hall. With so many guests in the Hall, all dinners and suppers were served there, though it was not nearly as formal as at Highday table. No one waited for the Master and the Mistress; guests sat where they would and came and went as they wished. Bilbo almost stopped at his room to put on a shirt that did not have ink stains on the cuffs, but then decided he would enjoy turning them into a conversation topic, and continued to table. He had barely touched the lunch Maddie had sent for him - making good use of a passing Hall dog, as Gilda had advised - so he was quite hungry.
Entering the dining hall, Bilbo saw Dalin sitting near Gilda, deep in conversation. She and the Dwarf had struck a great friendship in no time, and she delighted in telling him all the stories of Buckland she knew, which was a considerable amount. Merle had claimed the spot to Dalin’s other side and was busy with her meal. Rory, Wili and Saradas were talking energetically on the other side of the table. Esmie was sitting by herself at the foot of the table, trying to coax a recalcitrant Merry to eat. Sara, Mac, and Dilly were nowhere to be seen, though perhaps Mac and Dilly had returned to their farm up the road. But where is Sara? Ah, pay it no mind, Baggins. Just as well the fool isn’t about. Dalin saw him and waved a hand in greeting. Bilbo waved back, made his way up the table, and slid onto the bench next to Merle.
Bilbo had kissed his niece good evening, thumped Dalin on the back, twinkled at Gilda, and begun to sip his wine before he noticed. Frodo was not at the head of the tween table, as he had been the last three nights. The wretched Burrows boy was sitting for the Master. Bilbo’s concern grew as he confirmed that Frodo was not anywhere at the tween table, nor at the main table. He even looked at the nearly empty children’s table just to be sure his lad was not entertaining the little ones. Did he lose a fight with Burrows? The larger boy had been throwing malevolent stares at Frodo every night and Bilbo was reasonably sure there would be a confrontation at some point.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 7, Blood and Bone
Chapter 8: Affection
POV - Frodo
In which Frodo translates Elvish, realizes that Bilbo is in love, has a heart-to-heart with one of his cousins, and remembers how he got so good at pleasing others.
Evening, 28 Foreyule, 1389
Frodo put on his most genial expression. ‘Like this?’
‘Excellent! Supper awaits.’ Bilbo clapped him on the shoulder and they made their way to the dining hall. Frodo wished they could do what they had done for lunch, and simply have trays brought to Bilbo’s makeshift study and spend the evening continuing the translation of the healer’s scroll.
When he woke this morning, Bilbo was already up and dressed, as usual, and had laid out clothes for him. The swelling on his face was almost completely gone, but Frodo’s jaw ached and his neck was sore. They had retrieved breakfast from the kitchens. Maddie had fussed and clucked over him while they waited for one of the girls to put together a basket for them, until she took a close look at his lip and cheek. Then she had gone very quiet, just looking. When she was done, she gave Bilbo a hard, questioning glance. Frodo started to protest her assumption, but Bilbo put a hand on his shoulder to silence him.
‘Mistress Maddie,’ Bilbo said in a very soft voice, ‘I am afraid only Mistress Gilda may speak on this matter.’ Maddie had nodded, not at all placated. She had kissed Frodo’s other cheek, and told him to come see her if he wanted for anything. Frodo had held Bilbo’s hand on their walk back to the study. While they ate breakfast, Bilbo had explained what the scroll was about, and what he had done so far to translate it.
Bilbo showed Frodo some interesting passages that had been translated, pointed out how the illustrations all corresponded to particular parts of the text, and marked off what their work for today would be. The old hobbit was obviously happy to be doing this work for Gammer. All for Gammer. You really are in love with her. It had seemed ridiculous when the idea had first occurred to him, the day he and Bilbo had left Brandy Hall last fall, that anyone would be in love with his old, ill Gammer except her husband, especially an eccentric uncle who was not supposed to like women at all, but the longer Frodo was with Bilbo, the less strange it had seemed.
Both of them knew so much, and neither was afraid of things from outside the Shire. Neither had much patience with narrow-minded fools, though Gammer would usually just order such people off, while Bilbo would play sly tricks on them. When a letter arrived from Gammer, Bilbo would do nothing until he had sat and read it several times through. There was never anything particularly special in the letters (Bilbo always read them aloud to him), just news of Buckland, of his cousins, and best wishes for their health, but Bilbo treasured them as though they were love letters. Each one would get put into a small wooden chest that sat near his uncle’s desk after Bilbo was done reading it. Frodo had been more attentive the last few days, paying attention to how the two were when together, and he was amazed at how much Bilbo would touch her or kiss her, wait on her, tend to her. Uncle Rory seemed to tolerate it all with fond amusement, not the slightest bit jealous. It made no sense to Frodo what was going on, even if it was no longer so outlandish to think of Bilbo being in love.
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Chapter 9: Enclosure
POV - Bilbo
In which the cousins go for a ride, Rory is the Master, Bilbo is saved by a bird, Esmie is foiled once more, and Rory gives Gilda to Bilbo.
Morning, 29 Foreyule, 1389
Bilbo closed the door to their room and hoped Frodo would stay out of trouble. Given Esmie’s flirtation with him right in the middle of the dining hall last night, Bilbo did not feel comfortable leaving the two of them unattended. Well, there’s not much Attercop can try during the day, he reassured himself, not with all she must oversee for Wintermark and Yule. Prisca will have an eye out in the kitchens, Gilda will keep her jumping, and I will be back by nightfall at the latest. He had been pleasantly surprised by how civil supper had been last night. Rory had cast a few hard looks his direction, but had spoken politely enough, and Gilda had been more cheerful than he had seen since he and Frodo arrived. He wished he had been able to hear what Wilwarin had said to the Burrows boy at the tween table; the bully looked fit to spit nails, but he had vacated his seat for Frodo without much of a fuss. Bilbo had also been pleased to see Frodo walking with Ula afterwards. Any girl Gilda took on as prentice was bound to be worth knowing.
He made his way through the waking Hall, and met the others at the door of the north kitchen. One of the kitchen lads was setting down a basket of warm bread and a crock of preserves on the counter near the door so they could take a quick bite before leaving. Butter, cheese, and some sausage was already there, along with a large pot of tea.
‘Here you go, Bilbo,’ Rory said, handing over a large mug.
‘Thank you, Rory.’ Perhaps today won’t be so bad, Baggins. Rory was being almost pleasant. Bilbo gratefully accepted the mug, and then gave Wili a playful elbow in the ribs to make some room for himself at the counter. Some bread wrapped around a few sausages, another piece slathered with butter and sour cherry preserves, and he was content. Saradas joined them a few minutes later, and breakfast was soon finished. Bilbo gulped a bit more tea, snagged a small hunk of cheese to gnaw on, and followed Rory out to the stables, Wili and Saradas right behind them.
A small, sandy-haired Hobbit with a weathered face and a very serious expression met them at the door to the stables.
‘How are the beasts doing, Tom?’ Rory asked.
‘Well enough, Master Rorimac,’ the fellow replied. ‘I’ve got Biddy and Dove saddled for you and Mister Baggins, sir.’
‘Good, thankee Tom! Bilbo, this is Tomfast Tunnelly, my Horse Master here since Mac went.’ Bilbo and Tom exchanged courteous nods, and then the Horse Master turned to lead them through the stable aisle to the paddocks. ‘Are we going to have enough room for all the guests’ animals?’ said Rory as they followed Tom. Tom shook his head, then shrugged.
‘Depends on what else shows up on the doorstep, sir. Meaning no disrespect to your kin and guests, of course.’ Tom’s voice was matter-of-fact, obviously not terribly concerned about respecting the human visitors. Rory chuckled.
‘Come see me tonight after table, if you will, and we’ll take a look at what has crawled in for supper. I think we’d better plan to move some of our own stock up to Mac’s barn, and maybe some down to the south stable. Saradas? Is there room?’
‘Aye, Rory, but it’s better suited for the dray horses.’ Tom shook his head.
‘We’ll be wanting to keep them close for the logs, Master Saradas, and moving folks about in the wagons tomorrow and after Yule.’ Tom showed no compunction about correcting the Master’s brother. ‘I’ll take Little Tom and we’ll go see to setting the south yards up for the older mares. They can all stay together. Drays can stay here, and two or three saddles. Fist had better go up to Master Merimac today. He’s going to bite someone or take down a wall, if he has to put up with too many more guests.’
I know how the poor nag feels. They came out the other side of the low roofed stable and into the paddocks. A stable boy was holding Sara and Mac's pretty grey mares. Another lad was bringing up Wili and Saradas' geldings from the tack shed at the side of the barn, the ponies snorting and nipping at each other in the crisp morning air.
‘I know you like Dove, Master Rorimac, but you should take Biddy,’ Tom informed his master. ‘She’s still a bit tender on her hoof, and you’ll know when to rest her. Also, she’s got a breeze up her backside this morning. I wouldn’t want her giving Mister Baggins a toss.’ They all had a laugh, mounts were sorted out, and the four Hobbits were soon riding south towards Standelf. Once he was used to Dove’s greater height, Bilbo had to admire her very smooth gait. Perhaps I should see to bringing a few more mares like this in from Bree, he considered. There were some good horse pasturage just south of Tookbank, and Rum always liked a fine pony. Perhaps, come spring, he could risk a small adventure over to Bree. Frodo would like that. Perhaps we can find out a bit more about these Grey Riders. Bilbo looked west, but the river fog was too heavy to make out the far bank.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 9, Enclosure
Chapter 10: Hedge and Bridge
POV - Bilbo
In which an axe is named, Sara's ribs are mentioned, salt is pondered, and the history of the Dwarves and the Elves is recounted.
Late Afternoon, 30 Mersday, Foreyule
The dwarf looked around at the sound of his name, and waved at Bilbo and Frodo standing just outside the Lane Door. The hobbits waved back. With a brief word to Mac, who clapped him on the arm and nodded, Dalin left the ox cart and strode up the slope towards the Hall. His hood was thrown back, and the last rays of the winter sun glinted on his tawny plaited hair. The scarlet cloak snapped behind him, while a shadow walked before him, ten times the size of its owner.
‘Mister Baggins! Master Frodo! How good it is to see you,’ the dwarf exclaimed as he approached. Bilbo offered his hand and a thump on the shoulder in greeting, very glad that Dalin only returned the handshake, and not the thump.
‘My dear Dalin, I have been leaving you at the mercy of my relatives,’ Bilbo apologized. ‘I had no idea the lads were going to take you off and make you work for your keep! That was very rude of them.’ Dalin just laughed, motioning for them to go in the door. Bilbo could barely walk beside the dwarf in the narrow passage.
‘No worries, Mister Baggins, no worries,’ Dalin assured him, a chuckle in his voice. ‘I have been mightily entertained by your young cousins over the last week. They have introduced me to a great many fine, hospitable folk who have stuffed me with wonderful fare and have filled my ears with the most interesting news. It is as King Dáin would have me do! Though, truth be told, I was glad for a chance to swing my axe. I was ready to burst from the hospitality of the goodwives of Buckland. One more plate of stew and dumplings, and I am not certain I could have fit through the door. I begin to see why hobbit doors are round.’
Bilbo and Frodo both laughed merrily at Dalin’s joke, then allowed as to how it was more than a little true. They made their way through the corridors until they came to Dalin’s room.
‘Shall we leave you to rest, Dalin?’ Bilbo politely inquired. ‘You have been walking all day from Rushey. You must be quite weary.’
‘Nay, Mister Baggins, I have scarcely exerted myself,’ Dalin assured the old hobbit. ‘I can hardly call it a walk. It was more a gentle stroll, and often interrupted with stops as the Masters Brandybuck spoke with the goodfolk along the way. Poor Master Sara, though. The fellow had been kicked by his pony or something, and was quite sore the entire time. The walk was much a trial on him.’ The dwarf opened the door to the room and gave a small bow. ‘I would count it an honor should you and Master Frodo care to visit with me for a while before we are called to supper.’
‘How can we turn down such an invitation?’ Bilbo replied. ‘Frodo, go fetch our pipes and hurry back!’ Soon, all three were settled contentedly on the floor before the hearth, enjoying a few silent minutes of smoking. Dalin’s axe stood in a corner, catching the flicker of lamplight on its broad head. Frodo broke the silence.
‘Dalin, did you see any sign of those Grey Riders south on the River Road?’
‘Nary had a sign, not even a turd,’ Dalin chuckled, ‘and none of the people I spoke with noticed their passing a week past, but most have at least heard rumor of them. One of the hobbits we supped with in Rushey, a Farmer Wetfurrow, he said that another, Farmer Maggot, thought they rode through every month, always riding south.’ Dalin puffed thoughtfully. “So they are a patrol of some type, I’d say, if this Maggot fellow knows truly.’
Bilbo thought back to the previous day, when he had been so strongly drawn by the vision of galloping to the South on Dove. Are they patrolling, or are they simply riding off? I wonder. What is the pull of the South? Again, he found himself wishing for Gandalf’s counsel. He toyed gently with the chain attaching the Ring to his pocket, but resisted reaching for his ring itself. South. I wonder what is happening there? Gandalf had seemed very concerned about affairs in the South the last time he had visited – not that he would speak his concerns! – and the thought of going there was both frightening and fascinating. Pay heed to Gilda, Baggins. No more adventures until Wilwarin grows up. Bilbo thought it desirable to change the topic of conversation.
‘So, Dalin, you had a chance to put that axe of yours to work, did you?’ The dwarf gave a satisfied rumble and grinned.
‘Aye, that I did, Mister Baggins! And quite worthy trees they were that Shadow Foe cleaved.’
‘Shadow Foe?’ Frodo asked.
‘My axe! Its name is Shadow Foe, and it was made to wreak terror upon all Dark things,’ Dalin cheerfully replied, ‘though, in the absence of Orcs, a stout tree trunk will keep it content.’ Frodo shot a nervous glance at the deadly metal, and nodded. Bilbo remembered the axes of Dáin’s army. They bit through the leather and iron armor of the goblins with less effort than through wood. Before he had been knocked out, he had watched the axe-men, clad in dull grey shirts of steel rings, make short work of their poorly-armored foes. Only the goblins’ enormous numbers had given the dwarves any trouble. The dwarves could wield their axes in any number of ways, all equally deadly, making them into swords, knives, or clubs as the situation demanded. They even threw them with lethal accuracy. He hoped Shadow Foe had only ever known the give of wood beneath its edge.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 10, Hedge and Bridge
Chapter 11: Preparations
POV - Bilbo/Frodo
In which Bilbo ponders tradition and Frodo ponders obedience.
Noontime, Yule Day, Foreyule
‘This is wonderful, beggar.’
Gilda motioned for Ula to continue. Her prentice set the top sheet to one side, showing the next. In all there were six pages in Frodo’s neat hand. The lad had skipped first and second breakfasts that morning (though Maddie had sent a tray to the makeshift study) to complete the copying before Wintermark. Gilda made a sound of satisfaction.
‘Most excellent, Bilbo. Better than most of the past translations since I am actually able to read it.’ She cast him an amused glance and he laughed in return.
‘Yes, Mistress, I have found a better copyist for this one. Our rascal worked very hard to make this come out right.’
‘I will read it over with Ula after Yule, and she will make notes.’ Ula smiled and nodded, then turned another page for Gilda. ‘With her help we should be able to get through the revisions more quickly than usual, Bilbo.’
Bilbo gave Ula a warm smile. ‘Excellent! And since I now have a good copyist at my command, I think we shall be able to make a second copy, just for Miss Proudfoot’s own library. She will need her own scrolls in the time to come.’ Bilbo grinned at Ula’s delighted expression.
‘Oh, I would not wish to put you and Frodo to such work, Uncle Bilbo,’ the girl protested, but he could see how much she liked the idea of having such treasures for her own.
‘Nonsense, girl,’ Gilda laughed. ‘Those two have little enough to do to keep them out of mischief. Copying scrolls is as good a way as any.’ Gilda turned to Bilbo. ‘Will you have any more for us before you leave? And when are you leaving?’
‘I thought we would probably set out on the morning of the fifth next week,’ Bilbo replied as he scanned the new page. Not a blot or an error. Well done, Wilwarin! ‘And I hope we might get another four or five pages translated before then. I will need all of my elvish library to complete the work, I am afraid, so we will have to go home.’
Gilda patted the top of his head gently as he knelt next to her feet. ‘My rascals, going so soon. You’ve but just arrived!’
Bilbo caught her hand and kissed it gently, then rose. ‘Speaking of going soon, I promised Wili and Rory that I would meet them shortly out by the wood and help them get preparations underway.’ He gave Gilda a kiss on the cheek, bade the women good bye, and wandered towards the north kitchen.
Wili was waiting for him there, along with Farmer Haysend. Prisca was there, too, a large kerchief wrapped around her head to keep her hair out of her eyes. Her curls were still thick, even though they were mostly grey. Greetings were exchanged all around, and Bilbo soon found his hands full with a meal. He wolfed down the fresh bread and cold roast. Prisca went back to chatting with Haysend, pausing occasionally to pop a morsel of apple tart in Bilbo’s mouth in between bites of bread and sips of tea.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 11, Preparations
Chapter 12: The Blooding
POV - Bilbo/Frodo
In which someone gets Rory's goat, Bilbo recites a poem about flower and fruit, wolves are noticed in Northfarthing, and a rat, a snake and a badger have a little chat.
Sunset, Yule Day, Foreyule
It had taken every ounce of will not to slip on his ring and follow the boys. Bilbo stole a look out of the corner of his eye at Frodo as they waited for the wagon carrying Gilda to pull up. The lad was eagerly watching the approach. You made the right choice, Baggins. There was no need to spy. His fingers had itched to snag the chain, pull out the ring and put it on. This was different. Frodo was in no danger from the other lad. He had not stopped watching the woods until the boys came out. They had argued about something. All boys squabble. Trust him, Baggins. Let him make his mistakes. Neither boy was rumpled or flushed, though they had stared daggers at each other for few minutes. The pocketknife had been his way to make amends for thinking foolish things, for not trusting his lad.
But there was more at stake than trusting Frodo, or wanting to keep him safe. There was his reputation to look after as well. He was not a young boy anymore and to be seen in a lustful moment with another lad at a gathering of this size could prove disastrous. Even the appearance of having done so would be troublesome. Particularly with as unprepossessing a specimen as Master Tunnelly. Bilbo had been watching Frodo with the other tweens as much as he could since they arrived in Buckland, and it was reasonably obvious to him that the boys had a bit of a crush on each other. He was mystified as to what Frodo would find attractive in this rabbity, washed out, nervous fellow. Time and distance will take care of this infatuation, Baggins. Even so, Frodo’s behavior at such gatherings must be impeccable, especially as the lad already had to avoid being affected by Bilbo’s own tainted reputation. Bilbo turned his attention back to the wagon, which had come to a stop.
Sara handed his mother down into Rory and Mac’s arms, then helped Esmie out. After a brief word with Gilda, Esmie walked over to the cooking tables. Sara turned the team around so the back of the wagon was to the gathering. It was full of pots, kettles, platters, and dishes, and all of them were full of food. He braked the wagon, and hurried back to the others. Mister Tunnelly began tending the team.
The boys made a chair of their arms and picked Gilda up. Following their father, they made their way across the gathering and stopped in front of the thrones. Bilbo quickly took Gilda’s crown off the cushion so she could sit. The holly leaves pricked his fingers as he held it. The last rays of the sun were just peeking over the horizon, and Rory addressed the sunset.
‘Mistress Sun, where are you going? Say that you will not leave us in darkness and cold, prey to evil things! We are well worth your affections. Do not abandon your daughters! Go no further from us, but return to us and protect us from darkness. The sons of your brother Moon will sport and make merry this night for your pleasure. Mistress Sun, let us entice you back to warm our days and make things fruitful. Through this dark night, we shall hold your daughters safe from harm. We will feed them and keep them well and plump. We will woo them and court them, and they shall choose, and we shall give them children. We will tend your fire through the night and give them your warmth for their hearths on the morrow. Let the Winter’s Mark be placed upon our brows and let our labors this night remove it.’
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 12, The Blooding
Chapter 13: Playing with Fire
POV - Bilbo/Frodo
In which Gilda and Bilbo dance, Bargo is told he is not the dearest to Frodo's heart, and the boys have a very hot time.
Mid-evening, Yule Day, Foreyule
Bilbo pulled Prisca to him tightly and spun her around. She laughed and never missed a step. She had always been the best dancer of them all, even better than Gilda, and she was still marvelous at eighty-three. They finished the fast-paced romp, then came to a panting stop when the music ended. Bilbo could feel the Winter’s Mark dripping with the sweat on his forehead. They applauded the musicians, and headed for the side where Wili was talking to Saradas and Rufus.
The cousins had been trading Prisca off as a dance partner all evening, and she was happy to be the center of their attention. She flipped back her grey curls and winked at Bilbo. Bilbo patted her bottom and laughed.
‘Your wife is still the best dancer and the biggest flirt in all of Buckland, Wili!’ Bilbo called out.
‘And don’t I know it,’ was the jovial reply. Saradas raised a mug in salute to Prisca while Rufus whistled at her. She slapped them both lightly, let Wili pull her into a lascivious kiss, then stole her husband’s ale mug and drained the last of it. Some of the blood from Wili’s forehead was left behind on her hair and side of her face. The two wandered off to get more ale, groping and kissing like a pair of tweens.
The music started up again, and Bilbo felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and saw a youngish, somewhat familiar hobbit lass.
‘A dance, Mister Baggins?’ she asked with a twinkle. Bilbo smiled, gave her a bow, and off they went. He never did figure out which cousin she was, though she smiled very sweetly and did not mind at all being held close. And so it went for the next hour or so. Women whom he knew, and more than a few whom he did not, danced and flirted with him. Bilbo hardly had need to do anything besides smile, as they did the asking and the talking. He knew that the blood of the Mark was running a little down his nose and under his eyes.
Bilbo wondered, as he stood making appreciative noises at the appropriate moments to some nonsense a very handsome goodwife was chattering at him, whether the ladies paid him court because they desired him or because they did not. Am I just a doddering old fool who would not bother himself with a girl and is safe to flirt with, or are you really thinking of visiting the woods with me later? It was an interesting question, and probably not easily answered. It was not terribly unusual to see an older man quietly slip away with one of the younger women, especially one of the goodwives. Their characters were better known than the younger fellows, and the women could count on their discretion afterwards.
Bilbo smiled genially as his current conversational partner stepped in a little closer than was strictly proper, and carefully edged back. Most men did not pay it much mind when their wives flirted with him. They’re like Esmie. They do not believe I know how to get the job done. Some of the women from his younger days knew better, but most saw him either as no threat to their virtue, or else as a challenge to their wiles. In small doses, it was amusing, but Bilbo was beginning to tire of it this evening. He politely excused himself from the overly-friendly goodwife, and made his way to the food.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 13, Playing With Fire
Chapter 14: Burning
POV - Bilbo/Frodo
In which Bilbo ponders jealousy, degrees of relationship are recounted, and Frodo finds a new use for his thigh.
Midnight, Yule Day, Afteryule
Bilbo downed two mugs of ale in quick succession. Everything was falling apart in front of him. You think you’re so clever, Baggins. He was shaking a little from Gilda’s dismissal. She does think you have tainted Frodo. What have you done to him, Baggins? No, he would not let himself think that way. There was nothing wrong with Frodo. The boy had fallen in with bad company, and all would be well once he was safely back in Hobbiton. There was taint in Buckland, all right, but it was not his lad.
Stranger yet was Gilda’s jealousy. He was still trying to piece that out. Ever since she had chosen Rory, Gilda had always scolded him to leave her be and find another woman to make his wife. He knew a part of her was pleased that he never had, remaining faithful to her even as she suggested other women for him. It was one of their favorite games, where she would propose ever more outrageous pairings, and he would swear his devotion to her. They would even do this in front of Rory, who would laugh at their foolishness and give them both a kiss.
Now he did not know what to think. Have you been jealous of Prim this whole time? He had wondered why Gilda had not asked Prim about Frodo, learned from the younger woman just how and when she had conceived, but he began to understand. Gilda had not wanted to know, to have it confirmed that he had broken his rule for someone else. You could have had me a hundred times over, Gilda, but you swore you didn’t want me. Do you think I was in love with Prim? When had her aborted trip to Hobbiton happened? He shook his head. Why she was telling him this, after so long, he could not figure out.
Bilbo was going to get a third mug when the horn for the fire jump sounded. Drinking like Sara will not help, Baggins. Go watch some fools for a while and calm down. He pushed his way through the crowd towards the center log. Years ago, he, Rory, and Drogo would do the jump. He still had the scar from a burn on his right foot to attest to their efforts, but they had won one year. Bilbo saw the horns on Rory’s crown poking up over the top of everyone’s heads and moved in that direction.
It was only when he reached Rory’s side that Bilbo realized who was jumping. Frodo stood between Mac and Sara, blood Mark standing out sharply against his lad’s pale forehead. Frodo’s short hair made it even more obvious. The cousins stood together joking and laughing, waiting for the contest to begin. Frodo was nearly as tall as Sara and Mac now, though barely more than half their bulk. The shifting light of moon, stars, and fires softened the lines of their faces, leaving only the shape and set of their features clear. Bilbo had never seen them look more alike; Mac and Sara star-lit twins, and Frodo a darker moon-shadow of them.
The horn sounded again, and they joined the other men around the fire. Bilbo held his breath each time it was their turn to jump, willing them to clear the flames and coals. Each round he found it harder to watch. The three were intent, determined, with Mac shouting out commands and all three putting all their strength and agility into the leaps. Their Marks smeared down their faces, as though their sweat had turned to blood, and their shirts clung to them. On their last leap, Bilbo was certain they would land in the coals. He let out a great whoop at their victory.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 14, Burning
Chapter 15: Deceit
POV - Bilbo/Frodo
In which Bilbo considers the Ring, Esmie considers fidelity, Odogar considers revolt, Tom considers kisses, Mac considers Sara, and Frodo considers breathing.
Past Midnight, Yule Day, Afteryule
Bilbo wished he had thought to come to stand with the goats earlier. The butchers were done with their work, the roasting fires made things very warm, and no one came by unless they were collecting a cut of meat to take to the food tables. The torches on this side had been allowed to go out so no one could really see him. It was almost as effective as wearing his ring.
He watched Frodo dance and flirt, saw the fire tower burning down, looked up at the stars and found the familiar constellations. Watching Gilda and Rory hold court, Rory playing drunken jester to his noble queen, Bilbo pondered her words some more. Aye, Mistress, there is taint. You and Dalin and Rory have convinced me of this. If it crept into me because of my perverse heart, then what shall be said of you, or of your son? “Wrong seeks wrong.” Is there any heart that cannot be touched?
He saw Sara and Esmie emerge from the trees, Sara pulling her close. The sot looked very satisfied, though there was no trace of the Mark upon Esmie. Sara smiled down at her and fondled one of her breasts. She clung closely to him and was the picture of an adoring wife. But we know better, don’t we, Attercop?
Bilbo rolled his ring between his fingers, taking pleasure in its heft and simple perfection. The ring felt a little larger in his hand, a little warmer, than even a few minutes before. Bilbo was certain the ring did change in size. It was magical, after all, and if it could make him invisible, why should it not grow and shrink? He thought it grew and warmed in response to being touched. Rather like a few other “magical” toys, eh, Baggins? He chuckled to himself over the comparison.
Bilbo’s eyes lingered on Sara’s face. An oaf, without a doubt. A monster? Perhaps. But, undeniably, a very handsome hobbit. Sara lacked Frodo’s perfect beauty, but Bilbo would not have turned such a one away in earlier years. Anger crept up on his heart. It would not be difficult, given the dark and the drunkenness, to draw Sara aside. I could be avenged on you, you snake. Bilbo indulged himself for a few moments with the idea of grasping Sara, of landing blows in various tender spots, of slamming him against a tree to see what would break. He remembered Sara’s hand reaching across the back of Frodo’s head in the corridor. And what would you do, Sara, if someone presented such a choice to you? Would you choose the thrashing? Perhaps I should give you such a choice. Perhaps it is a boy I want tonight. He thought of what he might demand of Sara.
Sara disappeared behind some others, and Bilbo’s trance was broken. The first thing he noticed was the pain in his right hand from clutching his ring so tightly. There would be a mark across his palm from it. He let it go. The next was that he was much swollen from his thoughts of how he would like to use Sara. Even as he recognized what had happened, it began to subside.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 15, Deceit
Chapter 16: Sun-return
POV - Bilbo/Frodo
In which Mac tells on Frodo, Gilda tells on herself, Bilbo tells on all his cousins, and Frodo tells on Sara.
Early Morning, Yule Day, Afteryule
The night sky was slowly fading into grey. Dawn was still some time away, but the first hints of the Sun’s return could be read. Bilbo stood near the much-reduced fire tower and watched Frodo. The boy looked exhausted and was holding himself like he hurt. Bilbo had almost turned back to apologize for having snapped at Frodo over his questions, but had thought better of it. The boy’s anger was like his own – very hot, very sharp, not long lasting. Give the lad some time to finish his ale and think things over, Baggins. He’ll take an apology better if he’s not riled up like a stone-smacked hornet. Even so, the longer Frodo stood without moving, the more worried Bilbo became.
‘Uncle Bilbo!’ Mac called out as he approached from the meadow. Mac will know what fights have happened, Bilbo thought. Perhaps I can find something out from him. Bilbo smiled and gestured for his young cousin to join him.
‘I hope you have not been too busy this Wintermark, Mac,’ Bilbo said cheerfully. The other laughed.
‘No, it has been quiet. A few fellows were tossing fists down near the wagons. Seems the one was kissing the other’s girl, who used to be his girl until she took a fancy to the other, and they decided to fight for her to settle it once and for all. Except, while they were bloodying each other’s nose, the lass was sneaking off with some other fellow.’ Mac laughed and stretched until his back popped. ‘So now the two are best friends again and are hunting the third. Who had the sense to go back to his own girl, but now he’s catching what for from her. I think he’d be better off letting the other two beat him up, and then they can go off together and get drunk and talk about fickle women.’ They both laughed.
‘And that’s been it?’
‘That’s the most serious, Uncle, for which I’m glad. Quiet enough I sent Seredic home to be with Hilda. He shouldn’t have been here at all. There’s been a few punches and slaps, but mostly the fellows have kept to shoving and snarling. And getting slapped and scratched a bit from their girls when they let their hands stray. A good Wintermark!’ Mac grinned and surveyed the crowd around the central bonfire. A few couples sat on the ground around it and cuddled while others stood and kissed or chattered or sang. Exhaustion was setting in, and the entire gathering was much quieter. Bilbo saw Mac grimace, and looked to see where Mac was looking. Frodo had left the ale table and walked towards the bonfire, stopping to chat every few yards.
‘Uncle, I don’t much like tattlers and I’d not be carrying tales, but Frodo got himself in a bit of trouble I think you need to know about.’ Bilbo nearly sighed in relief. At least he would find out what had happened. He raised an eyebrow and motioned for Mac to continue.
‘Earlier this evening, Frodo came running by me and Sara and Seredic, and asked for a bit of protection. He had said something rude to his cousin Bargo, and the other was looking to give him a thrashing for it, but he wouldn’t ‘fess up to what he had said. About an hour ago, Tunnelly’s boy ran up to me, all scared, and said he saw Bargo and his friends tracking Frodo off into the woods. Sure enough, I got there and they were pounding on him.’
‘What? How badly was he hurt?’
Mac actually chuckled a bit. ‘Hardly hurt at all! My little cousin had Bargo pinned and it looked like the other two had tripped over them. If I hadn’t shown up, they would have pounded him pretty bad, but he bounced right up soon as I pulled the other two off. He’s got a bruise or two on his ribs at worst.’
Bilbo glanced over at Frodo. The lad was not holding himself as though he only had a few bruises. He’s probably hung-over, Baggins, with a sour stomach and head to match.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 16, Sun-return
Chapter 17: On Merry Yule
POV - Bilbo
In which Bilbo surveys the damage, remembers the past, conducts a deal, confronts a problem, and exchanges gifts.
Mid-afternoon, Yule Day, Afteryule
Bilbo was awakened by the sound of a light tapping on the door. Frodo was curled up against his back, as usual, with an arm tucked around him. Bilbo carefully slid out from under the boy’s arm so as not to wake him, and padded his way through the dark to the door. Dahlia stood outside the door with a small cart loaded with lanterns, trays and ewers of hot water.
‘Yule blessings on thee and thine, Mister Baggins,’ she greeted him with a warm smile.
‘And blessings upon thee and thine in return, Miss Dahlia,’ he smiled back. He exchanged the burned-out lantern near the door for a fresh one, traded a cold ewer for a hot one (plus a few clean towels), and finally collected the tray with their meal. He could hear the squeak and clank of other carts and carriers in the corridors, providing food and wash-water to the Wintermark revelers as they woke.
‘The feast is in two hours, Mister Baggins,’ she informed him softly.
‘Dahlia, please be sure that someone informs Mister Dalin,’ she looked at him quizzically, ‘I mean, Mister Steelhand,’ she smiled and nodded, ‘when the feast will be so he has time to prepare.’
‘I’ll see to it myself, Mister Baggins,’ she assured him with a wink and a grin. Dalin, you have cast a spell as powerful as Smaug’s upon the ladies of the Hall, Bilbo chuckled to himself.
Frodo had rolled onto Bilbo’s side of the bed and was sleeping peacefully. Where his nightshirt had been dampened by sweat, it stuck to him, and Bilbo could see the shadows of the bruises through the light fabric. He cleared off the small table and set out the meal. The pot of tea was warm, but the rest was a simple tray of sweet and plain breads, mild cheese, butter, preserves, and some fresh herbs to soothe sour stomachs and pounding heads. The feast in a few hours would be lavish.
After he lit some candles, Bilbo surveyed the damage to the wardrobe. The left hand door no longer closed. Cracks ran the length, top to bottom. His fist had gone through the panel about two-thirds of the way up. Part of the top wooden hinge had cracked away. The frame at the top gaped away from the boards. Bilbo rubbed his hand and looked at the cuts and scratches on it. Damn lucky you didn’t break any bones, Baggins. Broken or not, it ached. So would Frodo’s back and sides. Bilbo decided he needed to examine the injuries. He hoped he would not have to call for Gilda.
Bilbo gathered up the hot water and the fresh towels and took them to the bed side. The boy still slept but was breathing differently, on the edge of wakefulness. He sat next to his lad and gently stroked Frodo’s hair. The tween did not quite wake, but his head moved towards the tender touch.
‘Wilwarin. Wilwarin, lad, it is time to wake up,’ Bilbo said, brushing his hand over Frodo’s forehead. Soon, eyes fluttered open, and Bilbo earned a sleepy smile. Frodo tried to stretch and hissed in pain.
‘Sore. Stiff.’ Frodo tried to sit up, and grimaced at the effort.
‘Well, I wish there were time for you to go and soak in the baths again. That would be the best for loosening up the muscles,’ Bilbo said with a frown. ‘I know, I can put a hot compress on your back. Not the best, but better than nothing.’
‘If it will help, I’ll try it.’
‘Take off your night shirt and lie on your stomach,’ Bilbo directed, then retrieved the washing basin. Soon, he had one of the towels thoroughly damp with hot water. Before he placed it on Frodo’s back, he took a good look.
Frodo’s right side was more heavily bruised than the left. There were very dark marks along his ribs, where Sara had probably kicked him. Bruises clustered over his right shoulder blade, and another mass of them showed up on his lower left back, as though Frodo had rolled away at one point. Individual bruises were scattered over the rest of his back and shoulders. Bilbo picked up the hot towel.
‘This will probably be uncomfortable at first, Wilwarin.’ Frodo hissed again and squirmed as the hot cloth touched his skin. Bilbo drew the sheet up over the boy’s back to keep the warmth in, and sat on the edge of the bed. Time to get the entire story, Baggins.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 17, On Merry Yule
Chapter 18: Shed
POV - Frodo
In which Frodo makes his mark, fulfills two deep desires, ponders Shire politics, and gets some sympathy from Bilbo.
Morning, 1 Afteryule, 1390
Frodo sat with Bilbo at the main table in the great dining hall for breakfast. It was fairly early, and there were not many hobbits up and about. The ache of his ribs had woken him this morning, and he had accidentally woken Bilbo by shifting about to relieve the pain. And to move away from Bilbo. Frodo hoped Bilbo had not noticed that he had been sleeping up against him, with an arm over Bilbo’s chest and his face nestled against his shoulder. Bilbo’s savage words from the morning before still made Frodo cringe. I wasn’t.
He munched on some toast and blackberry jam and studied the old hobbit from the corner of his eye. Bilbo was chatting quietly with Aunt Amaranth and cousin Prisca about thread, spinning, and the possible wool mill on the Water. They were very impressed at the possibility of getting thread and yarn spun quickly, though, like Gammer, both were doubtful about the quality of the thread spun that way.
Bilbo had insisted that they go soak first thing, before the bathing room got busy. The tub had been very hot and Frodo’s back felt much better. He could turn without any sharp pain now, and it was easier to breathe. Frodo picked at the eggs and potatoes on his plate, wishing they could go back to Hobbiton today instead of Saturday.
‘Ada!’ Aunt Amaranth called out to a woman just entering the Hall. Missus Tunnelly waved a hello and strolled over, Tom and his little sister Daisy trailing in her wake. Tom’s face lit up when he saw Frodo. Frodo put on a polite smile. At the feast last night, Tom had sat with his family instead of at the tween table, so there had been no need to deal with him.
‘Good morning, Frodo!’
‘Good morning, Tom. Good morning, Missus Tunnelly, Daisy,’ Frodo replied in a polite but not overly friendly tone. Tom’s brow wrinkled for a moment, but then he smiled again.
‘I’ll be right back!’ Tom and Daisy went to the sideboard where food had been laid out and prepared breakfast for themselves and their mother. Missus Tunnelly was already in conversation with Bilbo and the other women about a possible spinning mill. Daisy scooted in under her mother’s arm and set to her breakfast. Tom took the seat to the far side of Frodo.
‘How are you?’
‘I am well, Tom.’ Frodo was not going to encourage conversation. Tom looked at him curiously, then gave his attention to his plate. The tweens finished their meals, and there was nothing for Frodo to do except talk. He did not want to leave – Tom would be sure to follow.
‘I’m just tired, I guess.’
Tom smiled slyly. ‘Well, you were doing a lot of things night before last.’
Stop it, Tom. I don’t like you anymore. ‘I guess I was.’
‘Are you angry with me?’ Tom said in a low voice, hazel eyes searching Frodo’s face.
Yes, you sneak! Rat, are you going to believe Sara? Frodo found himself puzzled. Until this moment, he had not thought to question Sara’s account. It made sense, and accounted for a number of Sara’s “discoveries”, but… ‘No, Tom. Of course not. I’m just tired.’
‘Too tired to do anything today?’ Tom asked, barely loud enough to hear. Frodo knew better than to look to see if Bilbo was watching. That was a sure way to get the old hobbit’s attention. Instead, he listened for Bilbo’s voice. When he heard his uncle giving Aunt Amaranth an answer, he spoke.
‘Pretty tired, but not all worn out. Maybe…’
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 18, Shed
Chapter 19: Home
POV - Frodo
In which Frodo bids many cousins farewell, Gilda resists a great temptation, Rory does as the Master should, and Frodo finally finds his way home.
Morning, Brandy Hall, 2 Afteryule, 1390
The next morning, Frodo could tell he was healing. His ribs did not ache so much, and they hardly hurt at all after he and Bilbo had soaked. He had dreamed of his parents last night, though he could not remember very much of the dream. He had not been able to see them, but he heard their voices and he knew their scent. His mother smelled of the dyes used on the yarn and of lavender oil. His father smelled of sweat, horses, and pipe-weed. Their bed always smelled of them together, plus other scents that Frodo could never name but knew to be them and no other hobbits. Once, when he was certain Bilbo was away and could not see what he did, Frodo took out his most of his mother’s linens and sniffed at them, seeing if any trace of his parents clung to them. They all smelled of the soap from the laundry in Brandy Hall, which bore its own comforts, but was not what he had sought. As he dressed for the day, Frodo looked at the bed and wondered if that had been his father’s bed when Drogo and Bilbo had shared this room.
The great dining hall was reasonably full, particularly considering that it was breakfast. The Bolgers and the Burrowses, along with Uncle Gis, were getting ready to set out for Scary. They would spend the night in Whitfurrows with Gun and Tilda, then continue to Scary the next day. The uproar in the room was the greater as Hargo and Violet Bracegirdle were there to visit with Seredic, Hilda and the new baby. Uncle Sara and Aunt Amalda were hosts to the Bracegirdles, while Uncle Wili was shepherding the Bolgers about. Aunt Asphodel and Uncle Rufus were providing some buffer between the Bolgers and the Bracegirdles, who did not appear to be entirely happy with one another.
Bilbo let out a sigh as he surveyed the throng, while Dalin chuckled and clapped Bilbo on the shoulder.
‘Take heart, Lord of Burglars,’ the dwarf rumbled, ‘they are only slightly more fearsome than a dragon! You will handle them admirably, I am certain.’ Dalin’s dark eyes gleamed with merriment. Bilbo bestowed a humorless glare on the beaming dwarf, then chuckled himself.
‘I suppose you are right, Dalin.’ Bilbo patted Frodo lightly on the shoulder and nodded towards the tween table. ‘My lad, go see what you can pick up over there.’ Putting a bright smile on his face, Bilbo strode into the tangle of hobbits near the main table. Frodo shook his head, and headed for the tween table.
At breakfast, this table was rarely used since people came and went at odd hours and the main table could accommodate them all, even the tweens. This morning, however, most of the seats were filled. Frodo smiled to himself as he noted that the Master’s chair sat empty, waiting for him. His smile dimmed a bit when he noticed that Tom was sitting between Ula and Hamson. Ula got up and greeted him with a sisterly kiss when he arrived, which put him back in good spirits. To his amusement, when he looked over at the main table, Bilbo and Dalin had taken the Master and the Mistress’ seats respectively. Bilbo sent him a wink, then set to charming his relatives. Frodo turned to his own tasks.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 19, Home
Chapter 20: Trade
POV - Bilbo
In which Bilbo ponders miracles, stone, pride, loyalty, death, politics, prostitution, and honesty, and places a price on each.
Morning, Brandy Hall, 3 Afteryule, 1390
Bilbo felt the soft thump of Frodo’s heart under his arm and listened to the lad’s slow, even breaths. He hoped his arm was not pressing on any of the boy’s bruises. What a miracle you are, Wilwarin. Prim had lived in fear of losing Frodo all the while she carried him. It seemed impossible that all would go well. After what he had heard yesterday afternoon, after the soiled cloths and basins of water and blood he had had taken from Ula at the door to Dilly’s room, it seemed an undeserved blessing to hold this child in his arms. The price that allowed him to hold his dear nephew was too painful for thought.
He had attended Gilda on her rounds, years ago when they were much younger, and had performed such duties before, sometimes for births, sometimes for deaths. It had always been sorrowful when there was loss, but now he tired of seeing death from the side of life. It is the old and worn who should die. It angered him that he was so helpless against loss. I’ve fought goblins and spiders and a dragon, but this is beyond even a wizard to battle. He let Frodo’s scent calm him, reassure him that, for this tiny moment, his world was safe beside him. Bilbo lay still with the patience learned over long years, and waited for Frodo to wake.
It was almost an hour before his lad finally stirred. Bilbo smiled and tenderly kissed Frodo’s cheek, then got out of bed to light the lantern and some candles. By the time he was done, Frodo was sitting up, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and stretching.
‘Do you need to soak your back?’
‘No, Uncle Bilbo, I’m fine,’ Frodo yawned. Bilbo retrieved a pitcher of hot water from the hallway, and washed up. He dressed and looked over his letters from the day before while Frodo slowly got ready. Bilbo watched the lad out of the corner of his eye, noting when the boy grimaced or moved uncomfortably. His fingers caressed the ring in his pocket, and he let his thoughts wander for just a moment to teaching Sara a lesson. Bilbo sternly told himself to pay attention to his correspondence.
There was a short note from Ham Gamgee, written by Lob Tapman, wishing him and Frodo a merry Yule and asking as to when they would return so he could have Bag End ready for them. Bilbo smiled and wrote a quick note saying to expect them the evening of the sixth. There were a few pleasant notes from various relatives sending their Yule blessings, including one from Eglantine. I wonder if Pal knows you wrote me? He did not think he would be very high on Pal’s list of favorite old uncles after foiling the root harvest deal with Odogar. He saved two letters for last. One was from cousin Brand in Scary, assuring Bilbo he could get up to ten carts of stone for him to send anywhere in the Shire, if he did not mind it being delivered over six weeks’ time. The other was from Maud Grubb, reporting that the first few loads of the Thain’s roots had arrived in good shape and in good time for Yule tables. She told him Northfarthing roots also were arriving, that the Frogmorton market was now well-stocked, and said he was to stop by on his trip back and let her feed him a proper meal, as it was well known that no one in Buckland was capable of cooking. Bilbo penned quick responses to these last two, finishing just as Frodo was beginning to sigh with impatience and hunger.
They went to the small dining room, dropping off the notes in the Messenger basket. Rory and Hargo Bracegirdle were there, as were Wili and Prisca. Esmie had Merle and Merry with her, and was definitely out of sorts. Frodo greeted his little cousins with a kiss on the cheek and an admonition to behave themselves, but did not spare a glance for Esmie. What’s this, Wilwarin? Merle moved so she could sit next to Frodo and they were soon chattering about the poetry booklet he had given her for Yule. Bilbo sat on the other side of Hargo, across from Prisca. Esmie had not taken her eyes off Frodo from the moment the lad walked in the door, and there was a thoughtful quality to her gaze.
Merry let out a cheer and lunged out of his seat as Dalin entered the room. The dwarf laughed loudly and ruffled the child’s hair. Dalin was magnificent in a bright blue, dwarf-sized, hobbit-shirt, with full sleeves, gathers at the shoulders, and a high collar. The color set off the gold in Dalin’s beard and hair, and it was as if a bit of sun and sky had stolen away from the sunrise to break bread with them.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 20, Trade
Chapter 21: Boundaries
POV - Frodo
In which Frodo learns some limits, exceeds others, and understands that there are some he never wishes to approach.
Morning, Brandy Hall, 4 Afteryule, 1390
The last place Frodo wanted to be was the same table as Hargo Bracegirdle. Brazen it out, Rat. If he wishes to make an ass of himself in front of Uncle Rory and Bilbo, let him. Not that Bilbo was paying any attention to Hargo. Bilbo and Gammer had been having a silent fight since they arrived back at the Hall the previous afternoon. Bilbo had gone to their study and had very deliberately packed up the scroll and all of the translation work before supper, even though there was a day left in which to work on it. At supper, Bilbo had let Dalin do all of the speaking to Gammer, paying attention to (and flirting outrageously with) Aunt Prisca. Frodo himself had sat with Uncle Rory and Uncle Wili, discussing stock pens near the ferry.
The previous afternoon with Uncle Rory had been pleasant, much to Frodo’s surprise. On the way to meet Mister Sandheaver, they had talked about a market inside the Gate, and tried to figure out what could be sold there – cloth and leather, obviously, but also some livestock, cured meats, dried fish from the River, honey, roots and hard fruits, and other things sent up from Southfarthing if a ferry could be built over the Shirebourn. A number of Buckland folk were talented wood carvers, so perhaps small finished items could also be sold. They agreed that Uncle Wili should make a few visits up to his brother, Gun, in Whitfurrows on market days to see what folks were buying. Uncle Rory was also curious as to how Gun made any money himself from the market.
The meeting with Mister Sandheaver went well, though Uncle Rory grumbled about it on the way back. The Bucklebury headman had not been terribly keen on expanding the stock pens.
‘But, begging your pardon, Master Brandybuck, why should we be building out the pens? Now, patching them up, that I see all right, and though they’re more than solid enough to hold a few sows that are crossing over before the rest of their master’s goods, I’ll not be arguing with ye there,’ the headman had argued. Uncle Rory had motioned for Frodo to answer.
‘Well, Mister Sandheaver, people may have to bring more than a few sows across the River, and a place will be needed to hold the livestock to make sure they do not wander about.’
‘If a body’s got more than a dozen pigs, they’ll just drive them up the River Road to Stock, or wherever north they need herding, Master Frodo. Ye know that, boy.’
‘That’s because they have never had any cause before now to bring them across the River.’ Frodo glanced at Uncle Rory for permission to speak about the market, and received a small smile and a nod. ‘There is going to be a new market built just inside the Gate near the Road, Mister Sandheaver. While it’s possible to drive pigs, or sheep, or other livestock, along the roads, that is a bit longer about to the new market than just cutting across the River. The road through Buckland is also safer. There’s been strange folk on the roads of late, and it would not do for some herdsman to be worrying over mischief on the way. Strange folk are not going to be allowed over the Ferry or through the Gate. And you should think of more than just some pens. You might consider a storehouse not too far from the crossing. If things go as planned, there should be a fair amount of goods moving up from the south, and Bucklebury is a good place to break a journey. In fact,’ Frodo added, trying to think as broadly as he could, ‘there will be need for more than storing pigs and turnips. There will be hobbits and dray horses to tend to, as well.’
‘Hmm,’ Mister Sandheaver replied, scratching his scraggly beard. He was an older hobbit, with an impressive belly and cheerful, round face. Frodo topped him by a hand. His dark, almost black, hair was heavily grizzled, and his eyes were sunk in the wrinkles around them. He was a good headman, fair and equitable in his decisions, but not very ambitious, and with a pronounced preference leaving things be. However, he was also the proprietor of The Tickled Trout, the only inn in all of Buckland, and was not averse to increasing the coin in his own pocket.
‘Hmm,’ the innkeeper said again. ‘That is certainly something to consider, Master Brandybuck, Master Frodo. You’re certain that this market will be built?’
‘Without a doubt,’ Uncle Rory assured him. ‘You have met Mister Steelhand, the dwarf who has been my guest over Yule? He has promised me some good stone masons to build up the market. Given that he has been treated well while staying here in Buckland, he is going to recommend bringing dwarf-trade to our new market. He is a kinsman of one of their kings, and will speak well of us. The dwarves have only known the hobbits along the Road until now, and did not realize that there was better to be had in Buckland.’
‘Hmm,’ was Mister Sandheaver’s reply to that bit of intelligence, but Frodo could see a thoughtful cast to his expression, and was reasonably certain the pig pens would get expanded as well as repaired. ‘We should go look at the pens on the other side of the River, too, Master Brandybuck. Someone herding more stock than will fit on a single ferry trip will need to split their animals.’
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 21, Boundaries
Chapter 22: Plots
POV - Bilbo
In which the travelers set out for home, a weasel is found at the Badger, words are said, meanings are tangled, Frodo is shocked (as usual), and we finally meet the Widow Grubb.
Evening, 4 Afteryule, 1390
Bilbo sat next to Frodo on the bed, holding the lad’s hand and gently stroking his hair, until the child fell asleep. Had the lad not been so exhausted, he would have attempted to walk to Stock that night. All Bilbo wanted was to leave. We should have left immediately after Yule. Forgive me, Wilwarin, for making you stay. He wished he could curl up next to the boy and hold him, but there was one more task for the evening. Still, Bilbo was in no hurry to part from Frodo. He sat for a good half-hour, holding Frodo’s hand, humming softly.
He had been worried when Frodo was nowhere to be found at lunch. The walk to and from the farm, even if the lad had stayed a while to dally with Ula, should not have taken more than three hours. Bilbo had been even more anxious when he overheard Esmie complaining to Rory about Sara being gone to the farm again. He walked up to the farm himself that afternoon. Ula said Mac and Dalin had gone to Newbury, but had thought Frodo had returned to the Hall. She had no idea where Sara was. Bilbo guessed all four had gone to Newbury, and hoped Dalin would watch out for Frodo.
Quit putting it off, Baggins. Bilbo sighed, gave Frodo a soft kiss on the temple, and left to go see Rory and Gilda. He tapped on their door, then let himself in when he did not get an answer. They were not back from supper. He stirred up the fire, poured himself a glass of wine from the sideboard, and sat. They arrived within a half hour.
‘Beggar! What is the matter?’ Gilda quickly asked. ‘We missed you at supper.’
‘Has Frodo turned up?’ Rory added, helping Gilda to the chair opposite Bilbo. He stood behind the chair, leaning his elbows on the back of it.
‘He is back and is well,’ Bilbo reassured them. ‘He was chilled and exhausted from his escapades today, so we took supper in our room and I put him to bed. He’s asleep.’ The other two were clearly relieved at the news. Bilbo fixed Gilda with a cold stare. ‘You did very poorly, Gilda, countermanding me this morning. You knew that I did not want him wandering about, yet you ordered Dalin to take him to Newbury, didn’t you?’ Gilda stared back and did not answer. ‘Sara went along as well, and the two of them tangled again there in Newbury. I am still uncovering the whole story, as Frodo is too upset to explain clearly.’
Rory let out a frustrated growl and dropped his face into his hands. Gilda simply raised an eyebrow, waiting for more. ‘What harm was done?’ Rory asked, not raising his head.
‘Frodo is half scared out of his wits, but the harm done was all to Sara.’ Bilbo sighed himself. ‘The blame for this is squarely on Frodo’s head, Rory. He deliberately turned some name-calling into a fist-fight, by the sounds of it, and Dalin broke it up. Dalin says he shook Sara to give him a scare and make him stay away from the lad. What a dwarf considers a shaking and what you or I might consider it to be are not the same thing. Dalin also threatened to kill Sara if he went after Frodo again. The threat was believable enough that it has Frodo terrified.’
‘Did he break any bones?’
‘They didn’t say, Rory, but I think that would have been mentioned. We can call Dalin in and ask.’ Rory shook his head.
‘No, you’re right. They would have said something. Anyway, Dalin would not do any serious harm to anyone.’ Oh, but he would, Rory. He’s a dwarf, defending me and mine. ‘Why are our sons such fools, Bilbo? After what we’ve said to each of them, you would think they would know enough to ignore each other for just a few days.’
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 22, PLots
Chapter 23: Bag End
POV - Frodo
In which Frodo gives Bilbo a final Yule gift.
Evening, Frogmorton, 5 Afteryule, 1390
Frodo listened to the Widow Grubb’s door close with a solid thump and wondered how things had become so strange. Bilbo leaned against the doorjamb to their own room and laughed over the widow’s words. To his consternation, Bilbo’s laughter turned into a few gasps, as though he were having a problem breathing. Or was trying not to cry. Frodo waited, anxious, while Bilbo kept his face buried in the crook of his arm. Bilbo raised his head, wearing a rueful grin.
‘Come on, lad. Let us get some rest.’ He followed the old hobbit into the room. The only light was from the fire, which was dying. It threw odd shadows about the room. Bilbo shed his coat and began digging in his pockets for his pipe-weed pouch. ‘May I prepare you a pipe, Frodo, or do you wish to go right to bed?’
‘A pipe, please, Uncle Bilbo.’ Frodo was still holding his raven pipe. It was warm. When he had jumped up to keep Bilbo from leaving, he had been holding it. Frodo handed it over, and Bilbo knocked out the ashes into the fireplace. He was not going to go to bed until Bilbo did, and he was not falling asleep until the other did. For all Frodo knew, Bilbo had not slept in three days.
He is tired, just like he said to Widow Grubb. He is very tired. He is very crazy, Rat. There’s a good reason people call him “Mad Baggins”. They don’t know him! He is not mad. He’s just tired. And who has tired him out so much, Rat? Frodo tried to keep his concern off his face as he took the prepared pipe, but Bilbo gave him a sharp look.
‘What is the matter, Wilwarin?’ Bilbo asked as he put his own pipe together. Frodo did not answer. Bilbo finished and settled in the chair before the fire. He sat down at his uncle’s feet and leaned against Bilbo’s leg, the way he knew Bilbo liked for him to do. He made sure he sat quite close, and was rewarded with a soft pat and a squeeze on his shoulder. Before Bilbo could pull his hand away, Frodo reached up and caught the old hobbit’s fingers in his own, stroked them, then pressed them gently down on his shoulder, letting Bilbo know it was all right to leave his hand there. As he hoped, his uncle gently kneaded his shoulder. Frodo could feel tension leave his uncle’s form.
‘I’m a little worried that you are so tired, Uncle Bilbo,’ Frodo finally said. He felt Bilbo give his shoulder a reassuring squeeze, then go back to the slow kneading. It felt reasonably good, though there were a few tender places from the bruises, but mostly Frodo knew that allowing Bilbo to do this would soothe and calm the old hobbit.
‘Well, I shall sleep well tonight, my boy, and tomorrow I shall sleep even better, for I will be back home.’
Bilbo’s tone was calm, a little sleepy. That was good. The last few days, especially the last two in Buckland, had left Bilbo agitated and angry. Frodo covered up a small shiver with a yawn. He wanted to get to Bag End quickly. Bilbo never acted oddly there. He was fussy and busy and annoying, yes, but he had never left this clutching fear behind while puttering about the smial, either. The business with the wardrobe was anger and being so tired. What caused the fight with Gammer, Frodo had no idea, but was reasonably certain it involved him and Sara in some measure. Then, there was the hallway.
Frodo had to yawn again to cover up his shudder at the memory of the shadows and his uncle’s threat. It was not anger, precisely, that he had felt from Bilbo. He thought he knew what made the fish jump out of the lake, as Dalin had described. Dread. Bilbo was dreadful in that moment, particularly when his tone had dropped and his eyes had turned cruel, his words, enchanted. Caught between a dragon and a mountain. A murdering mountain. When they had started out this morning, Frodo had thought he would prefer to travel with Sara than with Bilbo and Dalin. Sara he knew how to please and placate. Bilbo would not allow such a thing. Frodo had not a clue as to what might placate a dwarf. He did not think that even gold would suffice.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 23, Bag End