Chapter 1: Discretion
7 Afteryule, 1390
I hope this finds you well and safely back in your smial.
I fear we must move quickly on the great plan we discussed at Yule. I’m hearing talk of building ferries across Shirebourn and Thistle Brook to bypass the Road entirely and bring all trade from Southfarthing up through The Marish, possibly using the Bucklebury Ferry to send things out east of the bridge. I now think Brandybuck has his sights set on seizing Eastfarthing from the Shirebourn north to the Stock Road along with The Yale and folding it into Buckland. Is there no end to the collusion between Rory and Rum?
We must be ready by the Free Fair to present the plan at The Moot. It won’t be accepted, not this year, but it must be made known. Who knows? Perhaps if there is enough support, we can get it agreed to this year. And that will be the greatest task, to line up support.
Obviously, each of us must secure the assent of our clans. The Bolgers are united on this, save for Wili who still stands beholden to Rory. I’m counting on you to encourage Prisca to make her husband see sense as Gun has had no luck with him. How stand the Baggins, particularly the Chubb-Baggins? I’ve warned Bertie to say nothing to Poppy until you could secure Falco’s support. Cousin Otho will, of course, support it.
I will speak with these clan heads: Brockhouse, Sandheaver, Goldworthy, Underhill, and Goold. You speak with: Burrows, Proudfoot, Goodbody and Boffin. I know they are in-laws, but your ties to Griffo Boffin are closer than mine, and you have better standing with the clan, given your mother and his marriage to your niece. I don’t recall them being especially close to the Brandybucks despite the maternal kinship. I’m not sure anyone can talk to the Bracegirdles. Otho is the only one who comes to mind. Do you agree?
Have you thought more on the boundaries? I’m beginning to think it should reach west to Nobottle and not stop at Waymeet.
8 Afteryule, 1390
Perhaps you have already heard; Uncle Flame died on 30 Foreyule. I didn’t say so in my earlier letters as I didn’t wish to darken your Yule. Uncle Gis and Aunt Petunia are the only ones left here now with a kind word for me besides Mother. In much better news, we have a new nephew! Eglantine safely delivered a boy yesterday. He’s small, but strong. They’ve given him some ridiculous name, but I call him Pip.
Dare I ask after the mischief you intend to do with the accounting of the gifts? Probably best that I don’t. I will send it today to Widow Grubb. Do you need more, by the way? I usually need four days to locate stores that Pal hasn’t squirreled away for his own purposes.
I did not think I’d ever encounter a more irritating fool than Pal, but I believe your cousin Odogar has achieved that dubious honor. Thankfully, I can find no discernible point of relation between him and me. His son, Odovacar, alas, has been joined to the Took family tree. Perhaps we can prune that branch?
Pal has been storming about trying to figure out who he loathes more – me, you or Rory. You’ve been making a habit of taking away his playthings lately, so I think it’s you. Though I’m jealous you have a new boy around. I hope you won’t make him as miserable as you have made me.
I have a new team and I’m taking them to the Free Fair for the show. Please say you’ll be there? I haven’t seen you in so long. I won’t even press you to go riding.
14 Afteryule, 1390
The weasel left a few toes behind, but wiggled from the full trap. Never fear, the roots have been retrieved from the cellar and are none have lost coin over it. Save the weasel. Pitt thought it great sport.
How much can your not-so-disreputable cousin get for us? Even at a dear coin, I fear we’ll need all Southfarthing can spare. The days are wetter and colder than they should be, there’s no good harvest news below the Road, and word is that Northfarthing didn’t get as strong a harvest as first thought. People are not eager to share. I worry about Rethe and maybe into Astron.
Remember to save a dance for me at the Free Fair, thief.
18 Solmath, 1390
I’m not sure how much more Northfarthing can send to the Road this winter. Roots are not as good out by the western Bounds as I had been told Blotmath past. Everything promised through Solmath will be delivered, of course.
I’ve been hearing some strange rumors, cousin, from a few people, but most directly from Cousin Cissy down in The Marish. She’s married to Prisca and Wili’s oldest boy, Bard, if you recall. It sounds like Odogar is up to something stupid again, and has been tossing your name about. Are you still planning to tramp up to Oatbarton for a stay this Rethe? I think we should have a talk.
There’s naught else important going on up here. Someone saw a wolf north of Greenfields, but it ran off, and someone else says they heard Elves singing. Every other odd thing can be traced back to a mug.
Dilly and Cissy are going with their men to the Free Fair this year, so we’ll probably join them and then let them take Bargo and Bluebell back to Buckland.
Bag End, Morning, 01 Rethe, 1390
Bilbo read the letter from Isenbrand Bunce, his stone merchant cousin up in Scary, lips set in a thin line. His warning to Gun that Rory might cancel the stone order had the desired effect of putting the Buckland order ahead of all the others and slowing down whatever construction Odogar and Old Will had been planning in Whitfurrows until the ground was nice and muddy. It also put the stone into Rory’s hands to use as the Master pleased. He had not been surprised to get a letter from Rory shortly after they returned to Bag End that there would be no need for dwarves in Buckland until at least next year. Bilbo was a little concerned that there had been no other news from Buckland since then. He and Frodo had finished the rest of the elven scroll translation by the end of Afteryule, but had not received questions and corrections back from Gilda yet. Give them time, Baggins. There were a lot of raw wounds to scab over when you left. And plenty other nonsense from his more ethically challenged relatives to deal with while he waited for letters.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 1, Discretion
Chapter 2: Accounts
POV - Frodo
In which accounts become important - learning to count, weighing conflicting accounts, keeping accounts, and, most of all, settling old accounts.
12 Rethe, 1390
Dearest Little Cousin,
I hope you and Uncle Bilbo are well.
I apologize for not writing sooner, but it has been very busy about the Hall from late Afteryule until late Solmath. Not long after the Yule guests departed, many of the Hall folk and others around Buck Hill and Bucklebury came down with a fever. It kept me and the Mistress occupied for this whole time, which is why you did not hear anything. Mistress Gilda will no doubt write up all the serious news of that time and send it to Uncle Bilbo, so I shan’t repeat it.
While we get our rest, we’re finally reading over your Elven scroll. It is wonderful! The Mistress grumbles that it is merely interesting, not really useful, but I can see she is delighted by it. We will send more about it in a few weeks.
The Hall is empty and lonely without you and the rest here. Given the sickness, it’s for the best that you’re somewhere else, but I do miss you, rascal. Bargo and Bluebell, not at all. I hope they don’t come back. I don’t know if I’ll be back at Harvest. I do wish to be home for Yule, by then for certain. I heard a rumor that Master Rory and Master Mac think to be at the Free Fair this year.
14 Rethe, 1390
Dear Cousin Frodo,
I miss you. Merry is being a pest. He was really sick in Solmath and Mama was sick, too, but they are both better now. Gammer says so and she knows everything but Mama still sleeps all day. Merry should sleep more so he won’t be such a pest.
I get to ride my pony every day it doesn’t rain. It rains too much! Her name is Pebble and she is a bay pony. Papa walks with me and we go to see Auntie Dilly and Uncle Mac and Berry. They miss you, too.
I try to read a little bit of your book each day. I’m going to have it all memorized for when you come back and we can talk elf!
Mistress Maddie says you probably aren’t eating enough so you need to eat more. I’m learning to cook from Maddie. I can make oatmeal and soup. If you’re hungry, I can come cook something for you. I can ride Pebble there.
I love you!
17 Rethe, 1390
Dear Cousin Frodo,
I hope this letter finds you and Uncle Bilbo well. I am doing well.
We had another Yule celebration here when we got back from Buckland. Papa was glad to have us all home with him. We made the smial as merry as we could, and went about visiting a great deal. Car and I have been doing some repairs around the smial that hadn’t been seen to. Papa’s been so busy doing farthing business he hadn’t time for this, so we took care of it. I know how to replace glass in a frame now.
I won’t be back to Buckland after all. The Master has been very cold to Papa, so there’s not much point, especially with all the others gone and you, too. There’s something about the Thain, too, that has angered Papa a good deal.
What do you know of your Baggins cousins the Chubb-Baggins? Papa is sending me to Nobottle to stay with Falco to learn about raising sheep. Bertie says they are good sorts, but he doesn’t live there. Papa says I will go home with them after the Free Fair. Nobottle isn’t too far from Hobbiton, is it? Perhaps I could come visit if I went to Nobottle. Scary’s too far for more than a Yule trip.
19 Rethe, 1390
Bargo would be ever so angry if he knew I was writing you, so we’ll keep it our secret, yes? Oh, I am SO happy you are coming here soon! I haven’t seen you in forever and I miss you.
Nothing of any importance happens here in Oatbarton. I am so bored! I keep asking when I get to go back to Buckland so I can be trained on the looms. Mama teased that she was going to roll me up in a rug and send me there on the next cart. Are you ever coming back to Buckland? Maybe I should stay in Oatbarton, though, if you aren’t coming back. I’ll be closer and no mean Ula to deal with.
Papa says I can go with him and Milo to the Free Fair this year. Sister Peony says there’s always dancing there. Will you be there too and dance with me? Maybe we can dance when you’re here in Oatbarton.
Please give Uncle Bilbo my love and save a kiss for yourself,
Bag End, Afternoon, 24 Rethe, 1390
‘Is that right, Frodo?’
‘Yes, Sam, that’s right!’ Frodo replied, giving the young hobbit a smile which was returned in kind. Well, aside from the big gap where Sam’s front tooth had fallen out. They sat at the table in the dining room where the light from the window was bright and worked on Sam and May’s lesson for the day. The morning had been spent racing in and out of the smial in an energetic game of tag. Nothing had been broken (though the umbrella stand in the front hall was a bit worse for wear) and all three of them were tuckered out enough to sit still for a bit of figures after the marvelous lunch Uncle Bilbo had cooked for them all. Bilbo had only shouted at them to settle down two or three, at the most four, times during their romping, but he had also joined in a few times, pretending to be a troll trying to catch a little hobbit from his dark lair when they thundered past his study.
Sam turned back to his slate, and began work on the last sums, sucking on his remaining front tooth as he tried to perform the magic needed to turn “3+4” into something else. May had already mastered the tricks of adding and subtracting and was chewing the end of her pigtail while figuring out how to serve three pies to eight guests. ‘I would bake more pies,’ was her sensible answer.
‘I would not say no to that!’ Bilbo cheerfully said from the dining room door, wiping his hands on a dishtowel. ‘More pie is usually the right answer, no matter the number of guests. And I wager your pies are very good, Miss May.’ She preened a bit under the praise. ‘You two, hurry and finish your lessons. Your mother will want you back soon.’
‘I’m done, Mister Bilbo,’ Sam quickly said, holding up his slate with “7” written almost legibly after the formula.
‘You got every one of them right today, Sam, very good!’ Frodo praised the youngster, who blushed and mumbled it ‘wasn’t nothin’.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 2, Accounts
Chapter 3: Gossip
POV - Frodo
In which Frodo and Bilbo hear a great deal on many subjects as they set out on their journey, none of it particularly reassuring, and Frodo wonders if there will ever be an end to it.
18 Rethe, 1390
Dear Cousin Frodo,
Ula is helping me write you a letter. Merle won’t help me. She’s being mean and won’t let me ride her pony. She let Tilly ride the pony. Ula says I can ride her pony when Feather is old enough. Ula’s nice.
I got sick and was very hot and Mama was sick, too, but that’s done now. We’re all better.
I miss you. Berry and Merimas miss you, too. When I get a pony I will come to see you and you can ride my pony, but not Merle.
20 Rethe, 1390
My dearest rascal,
Aside from the round of fever, this has been the quietest winter in Buckland that I can remember. I suspect it is because a certain Baggins cousin we both love dearly wasn’t here to lead children in pranks. I miss you both, my beggar and my rascal.
The scroll translation is marvelous, even more so as I can read this one, unlike the last few from Bilbo. Ula and I have done nothing for the last few weeks but pore over your work. I have a few notes here, mostly questions, but a few corrections. On the third page, in the second paragraph…
…Are you doing as I bade you and keeping a close eye on your uncle, making sure he stays put? Be sure to tell me at once if he talks about going on an adventure. I hope you are learning to make Bag End your home. Bilbo loves you even more than I do, and that is a great deal.
8 Rethe, 1390
It is a good thing that we sent all the youngsters home after Yule. A fever went through Brandy Hall and central Buckland starting 24 Afteryule and stopped only in the last few weeks. That’s why you’ve heard naught from us. There were a few deaths and a number of folk have been left weak. Gilda says they will recover, but will need much care until midsummer. Merry, Merle and Esmie all took ill, but they are much better and you needn’t worry about them. Having all of them sick seems to have sobered up Sara in a good way. The rest of the family was untouched.
The market is well underway. Whatever you did to light a fire under Gun to get my stone, thank you. It will be completed and ready for merchants by Harvest. Wili and Mac are already talking to farmers and some craftsmen for what will be sold there, plus a few tinkers and peddlers who have been going to Whitfurrows. Rum let me know he may have some leaf to send since Pal has pledged to sell his only at Whitfurrows. There’s already been some questions from dwarves who have walked by on whether we needed help building (I said no for now, but may change later if the work is going too slow) and what we’ll have for trade. A couple of Big Folk from Bree and a few hobbits are also asking. Hargo seems to have found his manners and is asking about a dock north of the bridge. Guess he doesn’t like Whitfurrows, either.
The cheating over roots has a lot of people looking sideways at Scary. The more I think about that, the more I think Odogar has a good idea, no matter if for all the wrong reasons. Maybe because of all the wrong reasons. Stop rolling your eyes at me, brother! You know how I mean this.
Given the trouble our various cousins are up to, I think I will attend the Free Fair this year. A Master hasn’t attended the Fair since Da did so after the Fell Winter, so I figure it’s overdue. Mac will come with me and maybe Wili. Prisca and Dilly may come, too.
Gilda sends her love to you both, as do I,
12 Rethe, 1390
The Mistress will be very angry with me if she knows I am writing, but I think you need to know what has happened here in Buckland. I trust your discretion on what, if anything, of this you choose to share with Frodo.
The illness that struck Buckland was fever rash and it was terrible. Gilda has told me to say nothing about this and I heard her tell the Master to speak less than the full truth. I think she fears one or both of you will try to come here if you know the severity. Please don’t. There is nothing you can do except perhaps fall ill yourself or stir up trouble that is best left alone.
Merle and Merry were struck by this and Merry came close to death. His fever was terrible and I truly did not believe he could survive. Gilda took a medicine described in one of your scrolls and made a guess, adding in other herbs, and gave it to him when we thought all was lost, and it brought him back. I mixed more of it at her direction and I believe we saved a number of lives. Some we could not. Esmie also became sick, perhaps from the fever, perhaps not, and she, also, was in dire straits until the Mistress did her healing. She is still very weak. You may not believe this, but Master Sara has not touched a drop of ale since the Mistress cured Merry. I think the shock of seeing all his family so endangered changed the man.
Gilda, too, fell ill, though she would beat me with her cane for telling you. Thankfully, it was a mild case, but she was bedridden and had a high fever for a few days. I took the opportunity to read over the newest scroll and found something in it that reduces tremors. I’ve been giving this to her along with her other medicines for a few weeks and I think it is helping. I just mix a bit in her tea. At some point, she will notice what I’m about and I will get a tongue lashing, but by then even she should see the good the medicine is doing and keep using it. If she won’t, well, I may be back to Bywater sooner than expected.
When we parted, we had exchanged some sharp words over things that had happened over Yule, though I think we had come to an understanding. I have thought more and I will keep Feather. You’re right. I will be needed and I will need her to take me to where I am needed. Forgive me for being so ungrateful to you.
Path to Needlehole, 25 Rethe, 1390
There had been a bit of drizzle when they set out that morning, barely more than heavy mist in truth. Mister Gamgee had been waiting for them where Hill Lane met the road to Overhill, just above Bagshot Row and had handed them some fresh baked turnovers, still warm from the oven and wrapped in a kerchief, in exchange for the key to Bag End. He wished them a safe journey and bade Bilbo to call upon his cousins up in Oatbarton. By the time they had arrived in Overhill, they had finished the turnovers, lost the drizzle, regained their appetites and were ready for second breakfast.
Much to Frodo’s relief, Bilbo was happy, almost boisterous, on the walk, pointing out all the sights, riddling Frodo on the names of things in Sindarin, imitating the whistles and chirps of the birds they encountered and generally being in a gay mood. It would take them the day to walk to Needlehole where they were to spend two full days with Posco Baggins and his family, then a gentle half-day meander to Nobottle where they would stay another two days with their Chubb-Baggins kin. After that, it was a long tramp of eleven or so days’ time up through Northfarthing, going to Long Cleeve, then Greenfields and back to Oatbarton where they would be Rufus Burrows’ guests for four days. The idea of being in close quarters with Bargo for four days was not particularly cheering. They would take two days for the long walk down to Scary, followed by two days with Odogar Bolger. The route home from that point was uncertain and would depend on how tired they were.
The Merry Finch was a merry, if snug, tavern at the center of Overhill, and the kitchen maids greeted Bilbo as an old friend. Without even asking, plates of eggs, potatoes and bacon were quickly before them, followed by others with toast and preserves. The meal was completed by tankards of the tavern’s ale. Frodo ate hungrily, which made the women in the tap room quite happy, though Bilbo merely nibbled at toast and bacon and sipped his ale. Widow Moss came out and sat with them while they ate. It was clear to Frodo that she knew Bilbo quite well. She was a tiny woman with silver hair who seemed frail, but her voice was strong. Frodo listened to her and Bilbo chat while he ate, learning that her name was Clara, that she still did most of the cooking for the tavern despite her advanced age, that her son Manny ran the tavern but was off in Frogmorton arranging for hops from Widow Grubb that day and would be sorry that he had missed Bilbo’s visit. Bilbo asked about business and whether she had seen or heard of anything new or odd.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 3, Gossip
Chapter 4: Parted
POV - Bilbo
In which Bilbo discovers things he would rather not know, entertains thoughts he knows are not right, and says things that would be better left unsaid.
01 Astron, 1290
I hope this letter will find you. I know you are upon the road in the north.
I see from your last letter that you are apprised of the new market going in just over the Brandywine Bridge. The Master played us all false with his threats. I think there can be no doubt now that he intends to seize the Marish and to block all trade from the east that would go to Whitfurrows. Is it true he intends to come to the Free Fair?
Good news indeed about the support of all the Bagginses. Falco will be able to work with the Chubbs on anything that worries them, though I hear that he practically runs the upper portion of Westfarthing as it is. He can deliver it whether or not Wilcar agrees. Otho can win Pal’s abstention. The minor branches will no doubt fall into line, as you said. When will you speak to Odo Proudfoot and Pasco Goodbody? Try to have Otho in on those meetings. Whatever you have been saying to Prisca seems to be having an effect on Wili. He will be here with one of his boys when you come later this month. He’s been much less stubborn the last month and is no longer so keen to support Rory.
You must be thanked for winning over Widow Grubb. She has some grudge against Gun’s brother-in-law, Will, and had been stirring up trouble in Frogmorton. That seems now at an end.
We will need to decide what to present at the Moot when you are here. If Falco is strongly supporting this, as Poppy has told Bertie, I think the western boundary can safely be extended to Nobottle. I am curious to hear how your discussion with Rufus goes.
03 Astron, 1290
Rory has told me the full story of Odogar’s foolishness. I don’t know how you deal with those two. Rory says I am to be guided by you, which I am glad to do as I’m not sure either is quite thinking straight. I will see you in Scary in a few weeks. I’ll be bringing Fred, and Prisca says she must come so she can see you and Frodo. I think Gilda is encouraging her on that count.
You heard about the fever rash in Brandy Hall? Prisca and I went to Bard’s farm to wait it out. Poor little Merry. He’s a lucky lad, but he’s still weak. Gilda got sick tending him. Thank goodness for your cousin, Ula, the one Frodo’s sweet on. She took care of everyone while Gilda was ill. Little Sara had to step up, as well. Rory wouldn’t leave Gilda’s side while she was sick, and that left Sara and Mac to tend things with Big Sara’s help. I’ve finally seen some sign that Little Sara might know what a Master’s tasks are. I think Rory’s wise to leave him to tend things in the Hall while he and Mac go to the Fair. A little more responsibility will be good for the youngster.
Given the foolishness of all my kin, I think I’d best go there, too, if only to laugh at them.
03 Astron, 1290
This is for your eyes, not Frodo’s. Never trust a Baggins. I should know this by now. Your niece has been dosing me for tremors based on something in the newest scroll. She doesn’t understand how dangerous that can be, and some of the herbs have not had a good effect. I’ve given her a lecture and told her she’ll be sent off if she ever tries something like that again.
I’ve enclosed my last questions and corrections about the scroll. You may give that to Frodo. I know you two are tramping about dealing with mischief, but I do want the prepared scroll ready to come back with Rory after the Fair. Keep an eye on the Master. He is allowing his contest with the Bolger to get the better of his common sense. Odogar’s more than a bit of a Baggins, too, no matter his name.
05 Astron, 1290
Dearest Little Cousin,
Your letter about the walk in Northfarthing was lovely. I can picture the hills all covered with flowers and how wild some of the hills must be. How beautiful it sounds – I wish I could see it with you. I am so sorry that you will be subjected to Bargo and Bluebell all too soon. Try to stick close to Uncle Bilbo.
In answer to your question, everyone very close to you is doing well now. Merry and Merle both had a touch of the fever, but are bouncing about and driving us all quite mad, as you can no doubt tell from the letters! The Mistress tired herself out tending the sick, so the Master and I conspired to make her rest. She is quite herself now, which is to say imperious and dispensing advice and whacks with the cane in equal measure. The one sorrow is that Daisy, Tom Tunnelly's little sister, died. Will you be going through Whitfurrows on your way home? Perhaps you can speak to Tom. He hasn’t been back to the Hall since Afteryule.
I wish I was going to the Free Fair! Aunt Prisca makes it sound like so much fun, with dancing every night. I’ve no doubt but you’ll be asked for many a dance. You’d best mind your manners, rascal. It turns out I may be home for Harvest after all, so save a dance for me then.
Greenfields, 08 Astron 1390
‘And that was the last wolf anyone sighted this year, Mister Baggins,’ concluded Billy Stubtoe, the headman of Greenfields. ‘He was a sorry beast, no bigger than some of the dogs round here, and all his bones showed.’
‘Old, I think,’ broke in another man, none too young himself and with the sun-weathered face of a shepherd, ‘and probably couldn’t hunt no more.’
Bilbo nodded, sipping his beer. This was the second night in the common-room of The Battlefield, the only inn in all of Greenfields. It was a long, low building, built into the side of a hill and fronted with stone. Its court had a stone wall and a big gate out to the road to Oatbarton. In the Winter, those who could not flee south to escape the White Wolves had holed up in the Battlefield, the windows boarded shut to keep the savage beasts from breaking in through them and devouring the hobbits sheltering inside. A pelt of one of those wolves was mounted on the wall at the end of the room, a stern reminder that things were more dangerous at this end of the Shire. On a high shelf above the beer taps was a strangely formed skull, said to be that of the Orc king Golfimbul, retrieved from the rabbit hole where Bandobras Took had knocked it.
If only I was dealing with Orcs. The answer to Orcs was rather simple – call in the help of the dwarves. A troop of them and their axes would make short work of that kind of trouble. It was the Troubles that did not lend themselves to a simple solution.
Northfarthing was ill. Like himself, it seemed well enough to the causal eye, but a closer look by someone who knew what should be would expose the… not rot exactly, but deformity. Things pulled in the wrong direction, like looking young while age is spun out in a long, rough thread. Frodo had noticed the dead trees early on in their tramp, but had not seen that they failed to decay, as though they were not really dead. More like being frozen in the clutches of the Winter.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 4, Parted
Chapter 5: Assurance
POV - Bilbo
In which Bilbo once again confronts a dragon.
07 Astron, 1290
I hope you are well.
I came to Bag End yesterday to speak with you, but your gardener, Mister Gamgee, said you were out and would not return for some weeks.
I have had letters from our cousins Otho, Posco and Falco, as well as from my son-in-law, Griffo. I am hearing rumors of changes that are not reassuring. I think we need to speak and soon. I have not seen my nephew since before Yule and I am concerned about him.
08 Astron, 1290
Dear Mister Frodo,
Thank you for your letters.
My ma and da send you there regards. May and Daisy say hello.
All is good here. It has been sunny and the garden is growing. I write something every day like you told me to. I wrote a poem.
The cat was fat
But he caught the rat
and that was that
We are taking good care of Bag End. I always wipe off my slate after I use it.
10 Astron, 1290
The fear of want is over and we avoided most hoarding. There’s not much roots left save carrots and rutabagas, but they will do since milk is good again. I know there were a few scant tables in Frogmorton in Rethe, but none went hungry, not while I had beer and bacon to share.
I got a letter from your cousin Falco. My man always said he was a stout fellow, and I know it. Why don’t you spend more time with these cousins? They’re a sight better than any of the others along the road. He assures me you were up to no good in Westfarthing. Have you heard from your dwarf friend?
I’m hearing a strange rumor out of Whitfurrows, which I would like were it not for the messenger. Pitt likes it, too. Pretty much everyone who knows what a disreputable wretch you are approves. Perhaps you’ve heard it too? It should be a very interesting Free Fair this year.
13 Astron, 1290
My beggar and my rascal,
How are you, my dear ones? Well, I hope. All is wonderful here in the Hall. Three new babies have been born in the last week. Ula did the delivery on the third and will be a good midwife in time. And here is news. Our Dahlia has found herself a man, a good fellow from Rushey. Rory knows him well and approves, so they are set to wed in early Forelithe. Dilly is helping her make her dress for the wedding. Dilly is here about the Hall most days, now, and Merry and Berry are the new rascals…
…There is little else to say. Planting is underway, lambs are everywhere, and winter’s gloom is banished. You will laugh heartily, Beggar, but there is a tonic in your new Elven scroll that, after I adjusted a few herbs, has done me good. I promised I would take my medicine with good grace and I am, you can be assured of that.
Oatbarton, 15 Astron 1390
Today was for discussing the problem of Odogar.
There had been no tramping about today. The morning Bilbo had spent writing letters, reserving the afternoon for serious talk. Frodo had joined him for that, acting as Bilbo’s secretary. He had not had any delicate responses to compose and wanted both that the lad should be aware of the correspondence and that the recipients should be aware of Frodo’s involvement in Bilbo’s affairs. Rufus is right, it is time for assurances. He had sat up for most of the night after Frodo had left, pondering the mess that Rory had made and the ways in which his own mistakes and hesitations had compounded that disaster. Let them see Frodo and see how good he is. He is his own assurance. Bilbo had made a careful study of Bargo at breakfast. The bully had a slightly swollen lip and moved stiffly, his grimaces indicating pain in his ribs and an arm. He also looked closely at Frodo while the boy sat and wrote letters, noting what looked like a bruise at his hairline above one ear and another on his left shin. He moved easily enough, if with care.
After a hearty lunch, they gathered in Rufus’s study. Milo and Marco were there, and Rudibard rounded out the group. Bilbo had to remind himself that Rudi was first cousin to Otho through their Sackville mothers, and to be careful if Otho’s name came up as he was not entirely sure how close they were. Tea rather than brandy was the drink all around, which Bilbo thought a good thing. They needed their wits for this talk.
Rufus wasted no time. ‘Odogar is up to something stupid and so is Rory, and I don’t doubt but that your Took cousins are adding their own cup of mischief, Bilbo.’
‘The Tooks are your cousins too, Rufus.’
‘Only Rum! I have nothing to do with the rest of that lot,’ Rufus teased back.
‘Let’s start with what you know,’ Bilbo replied.
‘Cissy’s telling me that Odogar thinks he’s going to create a new farthing,’ Rudi said, ‘and that you’re helping him do it.’ The Burrowses all gave him an expectant look.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 5, Assurance
Chapter 6: Broken
POV - Frodo
In which Frodo looks at pieces of things around him, and begins to put himself back together.
14 Astron, 1290
Dear Cousin Frodo,
I miss you so much. Are you ever coming back to visit? Merry misses you, too, and he wouldn't be such a pest if you were here. Ula's being mean and saying I have to let him ride Pebble sometimes. Papa says so, too. He should wait until he's big enough for his own pony! Tilly's going to get a pony, too, so then we can go riding without Merry.
I have read all of your book and know two of the poems completely by heart. I sing them when I go riding so Pebble can learn them too. If you come back then I can sing them to you.
Aunt Dilly is here all the time now because Mama must sleep a lot and Gammer needs someone to help run the hall. I love Aunt Dilly! She brings Berry and he distracts Merry which is good. Aunt Dilly is teaching me new embroidery and Gammer says I'm supposed to help her do hall business.
Mistress Maddie says I make the best soup of anyone. I make Mama soup for when she wakes up. Now I'm learning to make pies. I can roll out a pie crust without tearing it and I can put it in the dish. Maddie says I will be the best cook in the hall by Yule but I think she's just teasing because she's the best cook. Are you and Uncle Bilbo eating enough? You should come here and then you will have enough.
I love you!
16 Astron, 1290
It was so much fun to have you here! I already miss you. I'm sorry Bargo was so mean to you while you were here. I know you punched him and he deserved it. He's the worst big brother ever!
I'm sorry there was no dancing while you were here. That would have been so fun! You were always walking about with Papa and Milo and Uncle Bilbo and Marco, doing important things and you didn't have any time for me. That was mean! You should have spent more time with me. But Papa thinks very highly of you. He said so! He likes you a lot, and Milo and Marco like you, too, so you can ignore Bargo.
Mama said she is definitely sending me back to Buckland but I don’t want to go now because that is so far away from you. Bargo should go, though. He can go sit with Ula and let her be mean to him. Now Mama says I might not go to the Free Fair with her and Papa. But I want to dance with you and I told her I had to go. I don’t think Mama likes you as much as Papa does.
Please write me as soon as you get back home to Hobbiton.
With kisses for you and Uncle Bilbo, but mostly for you!
16 Astron, 1290
Dearest Little Cousin,
I hope you are on your way home by the time you read this. You must be tired from all the tramping about you've done. I hope Bargo and Bluebell were not too trying. You didn’t say anything about them in your last letter. Did you stick close to Uncle Bilbo like I told you to do?
I wish I were walking about with you! I think that would be more fun than being inside the Hall for days at a time taking care of people. The Mistress laughed at me and gave me a (gentle) whack with her cane when I grumbled. She did warn me that a healer's tasks are many and long. And it is what I want, so I don't wish to sound ungrateful, but it is spring and you are tempting me with your tales of flowers and lambs and breezes!
Merle showed me her letter to you. She's not the only one with a pony. Every week or so I go with her and Merry and Pebble and we visit Master Mac's farm to see my girl, Feather. The next time I see Uncle Bilbo, I will have to give him a big kiss and thank him again for her. She is such a nice pony.
Almost every sign of the fever has gone. I have rarely seen Mistress Gilda in such a gay mood. There was some medicine in the Elven scroll that has done her much good. Everyone is happier for it, especially Uncle Rory. The only person who is still not fully well is Cousin Esmie, and I say just desserts. Mistress Dilly is about the Hall much now, since Esmie is of no use (not that she ever was), and I hope she stays here.
Everyone here who loves you misses you terribly. Aunt Prisca could talk of nothing the last few days before she went to Scary except how much she wanted to see you again. I know how she feels.
Give my love to Uncle Bilbo,
18 Astron, 1290
Dear Uncle Bilbo,
There is no need to apologize. You have been long on the road these last few weeks and I understand your need to get back home, especially if Cousin Frodo is worn out from all the travel. I'm a bit amazed you took such a young lad on so long a journey.
I am sorry I do not get to meet him at once. Father always spoke so well of Uncle Drogo and the few times I met him he seemed a good fellow. I should like to be friends with this cousin. I will pay a visit with Father Dudo once you are back in Bag End.
I shan't make you wait that long for my news, though. Daisy and I shall have another babe this year! We're not sure exactly when, but probably mid-Wedmath. Even Aunt Dora is smiling at the thought. Perhaps you and Cousin Frodo can come visit then?
Early Morning, Whitfurrows, 20 Astron, 1390
Frodo turned over again, trying to escape his thoughts. He knew he should be asleep in this early hour of the morning, but he couldn't. He wanted Bilbo here with him, safe. Every time he closed his eyes, all he could see was Odogar's savage stare at Bilbo at the end of the morning meeting followed by the malicious smile at himself, a look he had only ever seen on Sara's face before that day. Worse, he remembered Bilbo's swift, careless packing of their trunk. This unnerved him more than Odogar or the unsettling feel of the smial. The dwarves had taught his uncle how to properly pack a bag for a long journey and the old hobbit had been very thorough in teaching Frodo how to fill his rucksack to keep everything neatly stowed in its proper place. If something looked unkempt or messy near Bilbo, it was deliberate, a way to prevent snooping or to keep things where Bilbo could quickly find them, like the stacks of correspondence that accumulated near the ledgers. Something that could make Bilbo fail to be neat and tidy was dangerous indeed. When they got to Whitfurrows, Frodo had repacked the trunk, being very careful to make things neat.
You shouldn't have left him! Even if he got angry, you should have stayed! He's all by himself facing... that. Frodo could not exactly say what "that" was, but it had something to do with the wrong, broken things in Northfarthing. He wished he had spoken to Bilbo the last night in Scary, when his uncle asked if he wanted to smoke a pipe. He had not wanted to speak of dark things right before bed, but then had been unable to sleep, much like now. He had gone to Bilbo's room later, knowing from the strong smell of pipe smoke that his uncle also had not been sleeping, and had been startled to find the room empty, lamp snuffed. He waited a few minutes in case Bilbo had just gone to the privy, but his uncle did not return and he felt exposed standing alone in the dark room. Almost he had climbed into Bilbo's bed to wait, but knew this might make him angry, so had retreated to own bed and huddled under the covers. Much later, he had heard the door to Bilbo's room creak slightly, then click shut, followed by the sound of a lock being turned. That Bilbo would turn a lock inside a smial was also unnerving. Why did you leave him alone, Rat?
Aunt Prisca and Uncle Wili did not seem to understand just how wrong everything was. Bilbo knew. Just like he had told the dwarves to move away from the secret door on the side of the mountain but a few moments before the dragon had attacked, Bilbo had urged them all to safety. This is why the dwarves do not jest when they call him Lord of Burglars. He knows when danger is near. And he's not afraid. Frodo shivered at the thought of Bilbo alone while they ran away, facing down something ferocious. But the others did not seem to understand the danger they had been in. Aunt Prisca had been quite angry with Odogar's kin for allowing the smial to become so decrepit. She said that Bilbo had said Odogar was still mourning his wife, and that the girls had agreed, but did not know what to do as he refused all offers of assistance or care from them, and would not leave the smial to come to their homes to be fed or tended. "Yes, they need to defer to him," she had fumed, "but he is obviously not in his right mind!"
Frodo had been unable to get any satisfactory explanation out of Odogrim, either, when they had cleared the table. The young man had just shrugged, though he looked worried. "Papa is much concerned with farthing business. He hasn't time to mind a pantry. I need to do better with this for him." Unlike Bargo, Odogrim had been perfectly good mannered the few times they had been alone, never so much as hinting that there had ever been any trouble between them. Part of him was irritated that Odogrim would not acknowledge the wickedness he had inflicted on him, but by the time of the lunch yesterday, Frodo found himself feeling protective of his stupid older cousin and wished there was some way to have brought him with them and get him out of danger.
After a while, what kept Frodo awake was a more normal explanation - a full bladder from supper. He grumbled, then crawled out of bed and went in search of the privy. The only one he knew of was the one near the kitchen that Tilda had shown him after they arrived yesterday evening. Grateful for the feel of a clean floor under his feet, Frodo went to it and relieved himself. Coming out of the door, something caught his attention. Something familiar. Quiet as a mouse, he walked towards this familiar thing and ended up in the parlor, the familiar thing resolving itself into the sound of Bilbo's snore.
There was his uncle, lying on a couch, covered with his own coat, his rucksack partly shoved under the couch. A lamp on a nearby table had been turned down, but it cast just enough light so he could see Bilbo. Frodo reached out and stroked Bilbo's hair, then pulled his hand back at how cold his uncle was. The old hobbit's face was not relaxed in sleep and it seemed to Frodo that he shivered a bit. Frodo hastened back to his room, pulled the quilt off the bed, and brought it to the parlor, casting it over Bilbo. He sank to his knees next to the couch, worming his way under the quilt so it covered them both, and took one of Bilbo's hands between his own. It, too, was very cold. His uncle let out a great sigh and turned on his side, not waking, but reaching out and pulling Frodo closer until their faces were touching. It was awkward, but Frodo was not going to leave Bilbo again, and did his best to get comfortable. In a moment, they were both deeply asleep.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 6. Broken
Chapter 7: Baggage
POV - Frodo
In which we get immersed in Baggins clan business and its multi-generational baggage.
25 Astron, 1390
I trust this letter will find you and our nephew safely home in your smial.
I admit I am concerned that you have not written in over a week, especially after meeting with Odogar. I have heard a rumor that the meeting did not go well and that there was contest between you two. Given your words to me, I guess that you two are no longer in agreement.
Nor are we in agreement, though I trust we do not contest. I am more convinced than ever that you are the best hobbit to oversee the Shire. Let’s you and I talk directly with Wilcar Chubb. If I cede some of Northfarthing, he’ll be more inclined to let go your bit of Westfarthing, and then we’ll see what can be obtained from Eastfarthing. Ignore Odogar and Pal. Rory, too, for that matter. I would not ignore Otho as I think he’s being a bit of a weasel. Please do not dismiss my counsel out of hand. As Rudi said, it is for the free folk to decide.
Marco and I are off to Long Cleeve this week as I got word that the first stone is due in a ten-day. Do you know if there is something your cousin Brand Bunce particularly likes? I’d like to give him a gift for his help with the stone. I’ll be looking at trees and grass, too. They convince me more than arguments.
27 Astron, 1390
Dear Cousin Frodo,
I hope this letter finds you and Uncle Bilbo well. I am doing well.
I was startled at your sudden departure from Granite Bank, and I sincerely hope that I did not do anything to give you offense. Please accept my deepest apologies for anything I may have said or done that offended you in any way.
I received a letter from Uncle Falco this morning saying that he and Aunt Nora would like me to come to stay with them in Nobottle as soon as I can for they need my help to prepare for the Free Fair. Papa got one as well, asking for him to give permission for me to go, and he has. Rosa and Poppy are hiring a new housekeeper for Papa and I don’t wish to leave before one has been engaged.
May I call upon you and Uncle Bilbo on my trip to Nobottle? If you are tired of visitors, I understand and shan’t bother you.
27 Astron, 1390
Dearest Little Cousin,
I am so glad to hear you and Uncle Bilbo are safely back home. I hear a rumor from Dilly that two people in Oatbarton are pained about your recent visit – one before you left and one because you left. Dilly also says that Asphodel wants to send that pair back to Buckland now rather than wait for the Free Fair. Something about not wanting them under a certain bad influence. I definitely will be back home in Halimath so you can tell me directly all you are too discreet to put in writing.
I can’t believe that you haven’t visited Ma and Da yet! You’ve been back there for months, you rotten rascal, and you haven’t paid a call, shame on you! Da is very much looking forward to meeting you soon. He likes Uncle Bilbo and I think you will get along. Ma is Mistress Gilda’s first cousin, if you didn’t know. They have a certain formidable glare in common. Knowing you, little cousin, she will have many occasions on which to use it with you!
Thank you for getting Tom back to the Hall. His parents were desolate until he came back. Uncle Bilbo’s letter to them was touching. I helped Tom write a reply and send it to Uncle Bilbo.
Mistress Gilda is very concerned about Uncle Bilbo because of things Uncle Wili and Aunt Prisca said. Is there something to be worried about? They don’t want to talk about what they saw in Scary, which makes me think it more than just fussing. When Uncle Wili goes back to Whitfurrows next month, I will also go. His elder brother is sick, and since the Mistress cannot travel so far, she is sending me.
My love to you and Uncle Bilbo,
28 Astron, 1390
We need to have a serious talk at the Free Fair. If you like, I can come see you now. That might be best. You may know how to tame dragons, but you’re not the most clever when it comes to kin. There are many things happening in Whitwell, only some of which I have any certain news about. There is something being said about a dwarf attacking the Master’s Heir, and your name is connected to it. I’m hearing nicer rumors, too, which makes me think the timing of this one to be no mistake.
When Car visits Pal, he also comes to the Great Smials to see Rosa’s kin. Andy is very good at telling me when his brother-in-law will be in the vicinity. I think I shall cultivate an interest in Car.
I like Widow Grubb. She is quite obscene. You have the most entertaining friends.
Bag End, Late Afternoon, 29 Astron, 1390
‘Read that again.’
‘Once the herbs have steeped a full two hours, strain them through fine cloth.’
Frodo carefully wrote the sentence in his neatest hand. ‘Next.’
Bilbo followed the words on the messy transcription with his finger, reading slowly and precisely. ‘Do not squeeze the cloth as this may allow debris and bitter leavings through.’
They had been preparing the final scroll transcription for the last five days. There had been no way to dissuade the more aggressive visitors the first few days, so Bilbo had simply allowed them to wander in, be foolish, and leave. Missus Gamgee had cooked so much food for the two of them that had there not been many people dropping by Bag End, much would have gone to waste. Interest in their walk up north vanished with the news that Old Noakes’s son’s wife’s sister’s middle son had fallen into Bywater Pool after having drunk too much at The Green Dragon and then had fallen asleep, covered with mud, on her best couch in the parlor. Bilbo and Frodo had raised tankards of beer in honor of the clever fellow relieving them of the burden of their neighbors' interest.
Since then, they had turned the dining room into a workspace for the scroll. Bilbo had told him a story of seeing a room in Rivendell just off the great library where nothing but transcriptions and copies were made. They had been sitting in the study enjoying their evening pipes, and it had made Frodo very happy to see his uncle become so animated and jolly while recounting all the details he could remember of the room – the long tables, the small writing desks, the shelves and stands full of paper and parchment, writing and painting implements of dizzying varieties, pots and vials and cakes of ink in colors that defied Bilbo’s attempts to describe them, and the beautiful elves working serenely at this task or that. Frodo had suggested that they turn the dining room into their own such room, and they had done so the first thing the next morning.
First to work on were all the corrections and suggestions Aunt Gilda and Ula had sent over the last month. For an entire day, they did nothing but read the original scroll and compare it to what their kinswomen had sent. Bilbo had pulled out his elvish books and very carefully studied the scroll, the revisions and various places in the books, doing his best to ensure that no nuance was lost or misrepresented. ‘It is vital that this be accurate, Wilwarin,’ Bilbo had said after he had spent almost an hour puzzling over a single phrase, ‘because medicines do not just heal; they can do harm if wrongly applied. A wrong herb, an incorrect amount of elixir, a touch in the wrong place, can make the patient worse, even kill them.’
When Bilbo was satisfied that they had understood everything correctly, then they worked on writing it all out, each taking different parts, which they would refer to when making the final copies. That took a day, and then they spent one more reading the entire scroll aloud, Bilbo reading it in elvish and Frodo repeating the same part again in the common tongue while Bilbo listened carefully to ensure they had not left anything out. For the last two days, Frodo had scribed the final clean copy, Bilbo reading each line aloud for Frodo to write down. A few pages had been wrong or smeared and were discarded, but it had gone reasonably well. Producing the fair copy took much longer than their rough scribbles when writing it out, and it would be another two, perhaps three days of writing. Frodo also had left empty spaces at certain points in the pages where Bilbo was going to try to reproduce the illustrations in the scroll. ‘They won’t be as good,’ Bilbo said, ‘but they’ll be close enough that Gilda and Ula will be able to find the match in the scroll.’
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 7. Baggage
Chapter 8: Claims
POV - Bilbo
In which Bilbo struggles with all the claims being made about Frodo and asserts a few of his own.
4 Thrimidge, 1390
This letter is mostly for you. Read it through completely before you share any of it.
I am delighted to hear that you and Frodo are nearly done with the scroll translation. Just the rough pages you have sent have proved useful. Perhaps your elf friends have wisdom on agues and fevers that they might share? Do not send the finished pages by Messenger. Rory can bring mine and Ula’s copies back with him from the Fair. That is soon enough. I continue to be a good patient and allow Ula to serve me my tonic. It makes it easier to get about the Hall and greatly lessens the pain if I need to go by wagon somewhere. It is not a cure, but it is a welcome balm. Thank you, love.
With my tonic, I can take up some of my healing tasks again, though mostly I let Ula do the work while I watch. Sara drove us down to Standelf at the end of Astron to set a bone on a lad who fell from a hayloft. While there, a woman cast out her child. It was like the miscarriage we discussed in Afteryule. This one I showed to Ula so she would know what to look for. Katy Rumble, the healer in Rushey, has paid a call and has told me of two others like this in the Marish in the last year. Did you hear of any such things in your walk north?
What happened in Scary? Prisca can’t say and Wili won’t. They talk about the smial being dirty and the food bad, but there is more than a grieving widower at the heart of this. Besides, Odogar and Jessamine detested each other. They say you sent Frodo away with them and showed up drained and grim the following day. Prisca says both of you have lost much weight since Yule.
Don’t make me hobble to Hobbiton to beat the answers out of you, Beggar.
4 Thrimidge, 1390
Gilda is worried about you and Frodo, and so am I. Wili and Prisca came back with alarming news from Scary. I understand that Odogar isn’t taking care of things properly which has all the women clucking. Wili said you were so worn the next day that you could hardly talk, and that Frodo was being protective of you. That’s not like you, brother.
Wili also said you want him running the east market and you think I’m being an ass. I’ll concede the latter, but want your reasons on the former. He says Odogar is sick with Dragon Fever and that Gun is just sick. Gilda sent Ula to Whitfurrows with some medicines for Gun, but suspects there’s not much to be done. He’s older than any but you. Wili’s been hit hard by this news and I don’t think he’ll be much for managing anything.
Thank you for seeing that Little Tom came back. Tom and Ada are much better for it. He went back to Whitfurrows with Wili and Ula. I sent a letter to Greenbough saying we’d be taking the boy home every so often. Gilda’s trying to talk Ada into another child. They’re still young enough.
I think we need to talk before the Fair. If you’ll put up with us, I’d like to come to Hobbiton the week before the Fair and then travel there with you if you’re still going. I’d like to talk to Odo, too, as long as I’m that close, if only to thank him for Ula. She takes good care of Gilda.
6 Thrimidge, 1390
Very well, I shall not pay a visit. If I promise to behave around your Buckland boy, will that change your mind? I will pester you until I get to the bottom of all the rumors.
Yes, I know about the seeps near Longbottom. They’re not like winter seeps since they don’t dry up in summer. Once they start, they stay. They make my skin crawl and I won’t pasture anything near them. I’ve talked with Addy about them and he’s tried to talk to Pal, who doesn’t think they are important since they’re not near the leaf. I’m worried that they may get near the wells. I think that a bit more important than leaf.
I have always thought making the Tooklands part of Southfarthing an excellent idea and probably said so to Pal at some point. It will be amusing to see him try to bully Wilcar into handing them over. Wilcar is tougher than he looks and is a bit weary of his brother-in-law. However, I assure you I want nothing to do with anything Odogar controls. Well, except for Car.
10 Thrimidge, 1390
Dearest Little Cousin,
I’m just back from Whitfurrows. Thank you and Uncle Bilbo again for what you did for Tom. The Master has made arrangements to bring him back here every few months. It looks like Uncle Wili or one his boys will be going back and forth regularly, so there will always be someone to bring him. He’ll soon be big enough to bring himself. I told him he should write you.
Do not say anything to Uncle Wili, but I fear his brother will not live much longer, a year at most. The Mistress has said she will speak to our uncle. Gun is very old and his heart fails. You’re right, Tilda is quite dear. She insists that Tom come have Highday supper with them each week. I think that will be good for them both.
Da thinks you are a good lad and says he and Ma are going to steal you if Uncle Bilbo doesn’t let you visit often. I hope you like them just as much, though watch out for my brother, Baldo. He’s one for pranks.
Dilly says that the pair in Oatbarton won’t be back until after the Fair. I had hoped their absence might be made permanent. Sadly, it appears that the Girdley Island pair will also return at about the same time. It has been such a nice spring without their obnoxious presence. I’m glad I will be home in Halimath. I will try to come home for Yule, too. Ma and Da say they wish for me to be home at that time. If Mistress Gilda remains in her current good health and happy mind, then I think I may safely depart for a few weeks.
My love to you and Uncle Bilbo,
Bag End, Afternoon, 13 Thrimidge, 1390
Bilbo sat in his study reading a letter from a distant cousin, Sammy Whitfoot, down in Pincup. The man was a carpenter, though that title scarcely did justice to his skills. Sammy could fix anything that had to do with making water go to where it did not wish to go. He was responsible for most of the mills and dams across the Shire and had an almost dwarven knack for constructing clever engines. I should introduce you to Dalin. You’d like each other. He had received a letter from Dalin, too, this week asking after his and Frodo’s health and letting Bilbo know that a group of dwarves from Belegost intended to bring wares to the Free Fair. Bilbo had a letter in return ready to go with the next dwarf walking west, warning Dalin that word of his attack on Sara was being spread about deliberately and with some malice, and that he should not himself come to the Shire for a good long time.
Sammy was going to be needed to repair the dam on Bywater Pool. Bilbo had already secured the stone, timber and rope the repair would take, and had asked when Sammy could do the work and how many men he would need. Wilcar Chubb was the one who rightfully should have been seeing to this repair, seeing how big it was and how important the dam for controlling floods on the Water and irrigating nearby fields, but Bywater was a long way from Michel Delving and Bilbo wished to be sure the work was done properly and in time for the autumn rains. He had, of course, written to Wilcar and asked if his however-many-times-removed cousin wished for him to handle the details of this and had received swift, grateful assent. He had also received some oblique inquiries about news from his long walk about the northern reaches of the Shire. “Cousin Falco says you most definitely plan to be at the Free Fair this year, Bilbo. While you are here, do spend some time with me and Ada. Perhaps you can pay a call before then.” Bilbo smiled slightly at the invitation. Are you trying to find out things about me for Pal, or things about Pal from me? Probably both. He did not envy Wilcar having to deal with Pal’s greed. I could keep that greed at bay. It might even help keep the Troubles at bay, or at least accounted for properly. Bilbo gave his head a shake at his own foolishness. He was not going to be argued into doing the wrong thing.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 8. Claims
Chapter 9: Forgive
POV - Bilbo
In which relatives arrive, old wrongs are unearthed, new problems arise, and most are in need of forgiveness.
11 Forelithe, 1390
I see you are becoming weary of importuning relatives. Please forgive me for pressing you so strongly on this matter. I will trust to your judgment.
Here is news you will care about. Repairs are nearly done to the Water Bridge. Thank you for the introduction to Mister Whitfoot. I had heard of the fellow, but had never met him. He was just the person to help figure out the undermined footing and how to shore it up. There’s an old broken dam on the Little Water half way down Bindbole Wood that he thinks he can replace. Too rotted for repairs. That he’ll do after harvest.
I went up almost to the Bounds in the north and looked at trees. There’s a few places badly touched by Bone Root and I had a stand of them burned. The smoke didn’t smell right and a few fellows got sick after the wind shifted and it blew on them. The ashes were covered with hay to keep them from blowing about. I saw two of the tall grey Big People with my own eyes. I think the smoke drew them. They didn’t see us. I don’t like them, but I can’t see how to keep them out.
The rest of the news is good. There’s enough rain, the air is warm, most every small beast born was twinned. People are putting in extra roots. I’ve had a few letters with Widow Grubb and your cousin, Adelard. What’s that other cousin of yours in Tuckborough I should talk to? And I don’t mean Rum.
While last in Long Cleeve, I rode down to Nobottle on the way home and stopped to talk to your cousin Falco, where I heard there is great discord in Scary. Odogrim won’t be going back. Your name seems attached to this.
I look forward to seeing you at the Fair. Bluebell can talk of nothing but having a dance with your lad there, so do be certain Frodo is in attendance.
13 Forelithe, 1290
I hear the Weasel of Whitfurrows got his balls snipped off, and by his own sister. He’s in a state with all his plans and no market to run. Pitt likes the little Bolger, the one married to a niece of yours.
The rumor keeps getting stronger and it’s coming from other places. You can count on the support of the mid-Shire, Bilbo. We’ve had quite enough of Tooks and Bolgers here about, though the Chubbs aren’t bad sorts.
The spring is good, but so was the last, and people worry about the harvest. Until the news is good, they’ll presume it’s bad. Your worst cousin is the best. He’s already promised roots in exchange for a cozy place in my bed. We’ll see which one of us wears out first.
Remember, thief, you promised me a dance at the Free Fair. If you make good on that rumor, I’ll even give you a ride.
14 Forelithe, 1390
I am enjoying all of these letters from you, even if you are avoiding my questions. I don’t hear from you for years and then it is like old times again. Or almost. A few more letters and I shall forgive you for being silent. Perhaps there are a few more habits we can start up. I miss hearing your stories.
I’ve not heard of any deformed creatures, beast or hobbit, in Southfarthing. I know I would have heard of any horse like that. I’ll ask about. Things are always strange near the Overbourn Marshes, but I have wondered about the seeps as well. Most stay clear of them.
There’s steady leaf trade, plus corn and cured meats, going south towards the ford. Mostly short Big People, Breeland types, but the tall ones like leaf, too. Your sad sack cousin is making a pretty penny on this, by the way, though not as much as Pal.
I heard that Odogar has lost his lad to you. Is that the story of your Buckland boy? I certainly hope he is prettier than his brother. Perhaps we can trade at the Fair.
17 Forelithe, 1390
I understand that you have collected another degenerate to your fold. Since you are responsible for his corruption, you are welcome to him.
There is no more need for you. Others who are true of heart have understood your perverse deceptions and have pledged their support. Even Wili knows you are not to be trusted. Otho and I will handle this business. I suggest you not show your face or your whores at the Free Fair.
Bag End, Afternoon, 24 Forelithe, 1390
Bilbo could tell that Frodo still had not forgiven him. The lad had not spoken to him for two days after the confrontation with Dudo and now spoke only when he needed to. He did not share any of the letters he received, not even those from Gilda. You may have pushed him too far, Baggins. He’ll come around. He’s doubting you now. A challenge would have been worse. That may still happen. Bilbo drew on his pipe and scowled.
The sun was bright on the garden before Bag End, and all about him bees were humming like a hobbit in a kitchen, industriously tending to the flowers. Before him was the long slope of the Hill down to the Water which sparkled under the late spring sun. Across the Water he could make out Hobbits going about their business in the town. Sometime today, or perhaps tomorrow, their Buckland kin were to arrive for a few days of visiting before they set off together to the Free Fair. Bilbo watched the lane to see when they approached.
Frodo was down in Bywater with Dudo and Tulip today. The first words the lad had spoken to him after his initial silent treatment was to curtly tell him they had best start their walk down as they were due for supper with his aunt and uncle. That meal was less strained than Bilbo had feared it would be. After that, Bilbo let Frodo take himself down to Bywater to visit with his various kin as he chose, though Bilbo always went to fetch him if Frodo would have been walking home in the dark. Dudo never again spoke to him about the adoption and Frodo did not repeat whatever exchanges the two of them may have had. Bilbo suspected Frodo knew there was more to Dudo’s request than just a wish to care for him.
The lad might not wish to speak to him, but neither would he leave him, aside from the visits to Dudo’s or Odo’s homes. Bilbo usually had to roust the youngster out of bed for breakfast, but Frodo had not slept in a single day for the last two weeks, joining him in the kitchen to help cook within a few minutes of when Bilbo stirred the fire and set the tea water on to heat. They had continued Frodo’s cooking lessons though with less chatter and horseplay than before, and now there were several dishes that Bilbo simply left the lad to do. He had to admit that less talk meant more attention and better food. The other day, the Gamgee children had been over for their letters and figures lesson and Frodo had cooked their lunch. This impressed May greatly, and she volunteered to teach Frodo how to make a pie. The three children had made a complete mess of the kitchen, but nothing burned and the cherry pie was delicious.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 9. Forgive
Chapter 10: Delving
POV - Frodo
In which Frodo and Bilbo journey to the Fair and unearth the past.
25 Forelithe, 1290
I miss you so much. You’re so sweet to write. I know you are very busy helping Uncle Bilbo, just like Milo helps Papa. I know you must be doing important things in Hobbiton.
I'm jealous that you are going dancing all the time! You are going to have to dance with me every day at the Fair. We leave here in three days and are going to get there on 30 Forelithe. We are staying at the White Chalk Inn. I can hardly wait to see you!
Mama and Papa had an argument about me going to the Fair. She wants me to go to Buckland now and doesn’t want me to see you. Bargo doesn’t want me to go to the Fair, either. He’s still mad you punched him. If he didn't want to be punched, he shouldn't have been so mean.
I’m going to give you a big kiss the next time I see you!
25 Forelithe, 1390
Dear Cousin Frodo,
I miss you so much. Merle is helping me write to you. She misses you, too. Are you going to come home for harvest? Ula won’t be here. She has to go home. You should come for Yule, too. Merle says she will bake you a special cake and I can have some too if you come for Yule.
Me and Berry climbed the willow tree by ourselves. We’re going to go to Uncle Bard’s farm this summer. Fatty and Stella and Tilly will be there and we’ll have fun. Can you come see us?
Papa says I can have a pony when I’m big enough to brush Pebble all myself and pick up her feet. Me and Merle will come ride to see you, then. Gammer says we can.
Merry (and Merle! I love you Frodo!)
26 Forelithe, 1390
Dearest Little Cousin,
I miss you so much. The Hall feels empty this summer and there is no one to talk to with Dilly and you both gone. I am jealous she gets to see you! You’d best not be making plans to be anywhere besides Hobbiton when I come back for harvest, you rascal. You never did give me a dance at Wintermark so I am claiming one now. And a dance is all you get, brat! I hope you have fun dancing with Bluebell at the Fair. Ha ha! Be sure to give Dilly a dance.
It also feels strange to have the Master gone for so many days. Mistress Gilda is getting quite grumpy and is quick with the cane. I have a bruise on my ankle where she gave me a good rap. She apologized after. The elf tonic continues to do her good. Now that the weather is warm, she needs to drink less of it. Every day, I go for a short walk with her outside the Hall and she only needs to take my arm if the ground is rough or there is a slope.
Unfortunately, Cousin Esmie is almost back to her old hateful self and is taking advantage of Dilly and Aunt Prisca being gone to get her claws back into things. Sara may not be quite as stupid as he was last year, but he can’t say no to her and she is a bad influence. Dilly needs to come back and keep an eye on her. Esmie knows I don’t care much for her. I so look forward to coming home in Halimath and not having to look at her wicked face.
Merry can’t stop talking about the pony he is going to get and so, of course, Berry wants one, too. The Mistress said that Merry and Berry will need to visit you and Uncle Bilbo as often as possible once they can ride. Probably Merle as well.
There are so many babies this year and more to come! Mistress Gilda has me doing all of the deliveries now. Cissy and Helga both say they want me to midwife their babies later this year, so I will have to come back after harvest.
Ma and Da are very happy that they see you all the time. Are they well? They’ll never say so they don’t worry me and my brothers don’t write. Only my little rascal cousin-brother does!
My love to you and Uncle Bilbo,
27 Forelithe, 1390
I hope that you and yours are well.
This letter is to invite you to supper with me and Ada on Midyear’s Day. I will be throwing a party for various friends and family and I would be honored if you would attend. The Thain and the Mayor will both be there. I had heard that your cousin, Rory Brandybuck, will be at the Fair this year. If he is, please extend this invitation to him, as well. I would very much like to meet the Master of Buckland.
When you get to Michel Delving, please do come to call, if only for a few minutes.
East Road, Morning, 28 Forelithe, 1390
Frodo sat on the wagon bench behind Uncle Odo and Aunt Sage, next to his cousin Baldo, and watched the Shire roll by. They had left early in the morning to take advantage of the cooler temperatures and would have a long stop in the middle of the day to let the ponies rest when the sun was at her hottest. They would go as far as Waymeet tonight followed by another day of travel to Michel Delving. Mac and his team led the way, followed by Uncle Wili and Aunt Prisca and then Odo and Sage’s wagon. Ahead and behind, there were other travelers upon the Road, all bound for the Free Fair.
Up ahead, a peal of laughter rose from the middle wagon as Bilbo said something to amuse Aunt Prisca. He had been flirting shamelessly with her since yesterday afternoon, getting some mock-threats from Wili for trying to steal her away, which the pair ignored.
Everyone was doing their best to ignore the hostile silence between Uncle Rory and Bilbo. When neither had showed up for lunch, Frodo figured they had just stayed down the Hill and had gone to Odo’s farm for the meal, but Bilbo had come home mid-afternoon, withdrawn, showing the same mix of anger and sadness that had gripped him on their northern walk. Mac had watched Bilbo a few minutes, then headed out the door and off to Bywater. He and Uncle Rory returned not long before supper. One side of his uncle’s face was a little swollen and red and he moved like his shoulders hurt. Frodo had not asked Bilbo what happened and he did not really want to know. He suspected his own behavior the day before may have been the spark to their argument.
He’s parted. Frodo tried not to shiver at the thought. He had thought a great deal about what Bilbo had said two days ago. This is why he needs the elves. And the wizard. It was hard to think of Bilbo as old the way Uncle Wili or Uncle Rory were obviously old. No, you have seen him look old. When Bilbo was tired or showing a certain kind of anger, then he looked old. All the arguments over the new farthing, this had made him look closer to his true age. And when you’re being a brat and aggravating him. Nothing had made Bilbo look as tired as the fight in Long Cleeve. His eyes had been dimmed and his face lined, shoulders stooped. You did that to him, with all your poking. I don’t do that anymore. That was the rat, not me. Don’t fool yourself. You’re still a bit of a rat. The other kind of anger did the opposite; when Bilbo blazed with wrath over wrongs done, then he looked ageless. That’s when he wanted things. No, people. Bilbo never wanted things. He might enjoy fine shirts and the best pipeweed, a luxurious smial and a well-stocked library, but he was just as happy to wear some rough spun clothes and walk around in the dirt, eager for the opportunity to meet a new person and make him his friend. He wanted people – to meet them, to hear their stories, to introduce them to other people, to help them. To shake them, threaten them. Do things to them. Maybe kill them. The Parting is in his anger. Bilbo had been angry with Uncle Rory for some time.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 10. Delving
Chapter 11: Fairest
POV - Frodo
In which Frodo encounters more of Bilbo's past than he really wants to.
30 Forelithe, 1290
I wish you would put aside your dislike of me and listen to common sense. Terrible things are going to happen in Eastfarthing if Odogar continues as he has. Every single Baggins agrees that you need to do this, and we cannot fathom your continued opposition. Indeed, there is hardly a hobbit in Eastfarthing who would not welcome you.
Pal and Rum are convinced that they can bully or wheedle Wilcar into giving over the Tooklands, and they are determined to try to grab everything east over to the Marish. The tales of their contestation have been greatly exaggerated, not the least by themselves. I think they hope to persuade people that if even they agree, then it must be a good idea. If the choice is between the Tooks and the Bolgers, the Tooks will win.
We should talk, preferably before Wilcar’s party on Midyear’s. I’m at the White Chalk Inn or I will come to see you, whichever you prefer.
30 Forelithe, 1290
Tulip and I have arrived in Michel Delving, but are weary from the journey. May we see you tomorrow instead of tonight? We are at the White Chalk Inn, as usual.
Give our love to Frodo,
30 Forelithe, 1290
I’m in a wagon on the far side of the Fair. Come see me. If your worst cousin’s about, bring him along, too.
30 Forelithe, 1290
You had your chance.
Michel Delving, Evening, 30 Forelithe, 1390
The strange hobbit was very tall, well over four feet, and carried himself as though he was taller yet. When he moved, he was graceful but with a control that bespoke great strength. His feet were broad, well-furred and his nails neatly trimmed. His trousers were a little shorter the most men wore them, and showed off his sharply muscled calves. His torso was like Bilbo’s, solid and without much belly, and his shoulders were quite broad. As he walked past Frodo, Frodo noted the fine quality of the cloth and the impeccable tailoring of his clothes. Like Bilbo, there was a strangely ageless quality to his face, though he seemed a bit older than Bilbo, just at the edge of his maturity before age would deepen the lines and wrinkle his skin. His features were fine, almost delicate. His hair was a rich chestnut, wavy rather than curly, and long. It was caught in a sliver clasp at the nape of his neck and the tail end of it was braided in an intricate, tight weave, more cord than braid, bound with silver thread at the end, loose hairs cut bluntly so it looked like the braid ended in a tassel. There was no grey in his hair except for a shining silver forelock three fingers wide over his left eye, a few strands of it artfully free and trimmed so that they would not obscure his sight. When he smiled, his teeth were white and even, and he had all of them.
‘Rory, how good to see you,’ he said, walking over to clap Frodo’s uncle on the shoulder. ‘You look older than ever.’ Uncle Rory’s expression was halfway between irritation and alarm, and he did not answer back. Frodo quickly glanced around the room and saw most of the others had a similar look on their face. Except for Bilbo, who just looked irritated. He doesn’t worry Bilbo. The stranger handed Rory the bottle. ‘Here’s a welcome gift for you, cousin. Why don’t you pour some so we can all enjoy it?’
Not waiting for an answer, Silver-lock turned away and went to Aunt Prisca, took her in his arms, dipped her and gave her kiss on the lips before standing up again. ‘You look so lovely, Prisca,’ he said with a marvelous smile, making her blush and giggle. He shook Uncle Wili’s hand, and said, ‘I hear you’re going to be a grandfather twice over this year, Wilibald. Congratulations!’
‘Yes, yes, we are!’ Wili answered, pulling Prisca into an embrace and beaming at the beautiful, charming stranger.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 11. Fairest
Chapter 12: Show
POV - Bilbo & Frodo
In which greetings are exchanged, secrets are told, vengeance is considered, relations are explained, inventions are admired, dirty linen is aired, exhibits are judged, teamwork is displayed, and everyone enjoys the show.
1 Lithe, 1390
I am sorry you were not able to meet with me and the others yesterday, though I admit I would have preferred to be out at the Drop with you, no less for the company than for the view. Be sure to send me a note if you are inclined to do so again.
If agreeable to you, I would like to have a meeting with you and the others this afternoon after the horse show. I don’t think there is any other way to make them stop pestering either of us.
On a more pleasant note, it seems your lad, Frodo, has made a friend of my son, Darron. Falco has said many complimentary things about your boy and Darron thinks them all true. I look forward to meeting him myself.
1 Lithe, 1290
Your presence yesterday was sorely missed. We didn’t try to explain the important news and spoke mostly about Odogar’s attempt to split Eastfarthing. I’m sorry for you to say that Wilcar was in agreement with us about the best way to handle it. He is opposed to any other plan.
Your cousin, Otho, is here at our inn. He’s quite in support of you and is trying to enlist me to twist your arm on the matter. I think he’s telling the truth about Pal. As for the rest, I’m not sure. I think he fancies himself the master of a farthing. I think I fancy you as Mayor.
I will not allow you to charm your way out of another meeting, however. Don’t think to escape from our clutches a second time; you’re not the only hobbit who knows how to track a wily creature to his lair. Given what you have written, I think it worthwhile to have the Thain be part of this meeting as well. I forgot where Addy is staying. Would you let him know, too?
Since we’re discussing disagreeable things, I heard our boys got into a scuffle last night. Bargo’s nose was bloodied, but I think the greater hurt was to his pride. I hope Frodo took no more harm than that. Bluebell has assured me that it is all Bargo’s fault, while Asphodel asserts that Frodo is to blame. My guess is that they both could have minded their manners a bit better, and I don’t mean the boys.
If you think it worth more conversation, we should get some beer and have a chat. Otherwise, let’s just get some beer. After all, it’s the Fair!
1 Lithe, 1290
I am so sorry! I apologize for my stupid brother being so mean and getting us both in trouble with Mama. You were just giving me a kiss. Please say you’re not mad at me!
Don’t send any notes back. Mama’s watching for them. At least we got one dance before Bargo ruined it all. Papa just laughed when he heard about it.
1 Lithe, 1290
Did you get in trouble with Uncle Bilbo for the fight with Bargo? It wasn’t your fault. If your uncle’s mad at you, I can get Papa to talk to him. Papa knows Bargo picked that fight. Papa thinks very highly of you. I heard him tell Mama so.
You and me and Darron should get away from my sisters and go about the Fair. Amy seems to think she gets to come along, but she shoved Darron after you left and she’s a brat, so she can stay with Mama and the other girls.
Michel Delving, 1 Lithe, 1390
‘ ‘Scuse me, ‘scuse me sirs, thank you!’
They all stepped aside to allow the Messenger to trot past with his satchel of letters. During the Fair, there were so many people in the town staying at the various inns, the Mayor hired a few new Messengers just for the five days of Lithe to go from one inn to the next all day long, picking up notes and dropping off others. Another set of them trotted about the Fair itself, collecting notes to be taken back to the inns from the folk who camped out in their wagons and vice-versa. A special post office was set up on the fairgrounds where anything that could not be delivered was taken and several cheery women kept it organized, taking in new bundles, sorting them in flat wicker trays, and handing them out when the right person came to inquire about a letter gone the wrong way. There was a lass whose job it was to read letters to those who could not and another who would write a letter when needed. At the inns, the innkeepers usually had someone who would do the same, wishing to be hospitable. It always impressed Bilbo that most notes were correctly delivered within an hour of their writing and very few ever went astray.
He had a letter of his own to be delivered, but it would go with a special messenger. Bilbo walked along, enjoying the lovely morning, following Rory and Mac to Rum’s stable. Frodo slouched sullenly behind them. The lad had not protested when Bilbo announced they would accompany their cousins, but his angry look let Bilbo know Frodo did not wish to see Rum. I should have sent him to Rory. No, he needed to see Rum, and Rum him. Bilbo cringed inwardly at what Frodo had seen and heard last night. It had to happen, Baggins. There was no way to prevent the two from meeting. In truth, Bilbo had not known until last night how strong Rum’s affection for Drogo and Prim had remained after the two had left for Buckland and was now deeply guilty for not having gone to see him after their deaths.
Rum was still beautiful enough to take his breath away, but what most startled him was how Rum was showing his age. Sixteen years with all their sorrow and grief had marked him. In his own mind, he only ever saw Rum as the mischievous child of the years spent at the Great Smials or else as the alluring youth who was always about, always tempting him, after he had returned from his adventures. Rum pursued him single-mindedly and he had been deeply flattered by the tween’s attentions. Then the worst rumors began to surface and Bilbo had sternly told him to stay away from Hobbiton. After Rum came of age, they had a rather tumultuous affair for almost seven years until the young man finally understood that he could not win Bilbo’s heart. They had met and parted, always with a terrible argument, for years after that until the occasion of Esmie and Sara’s wedding in Buckland, when they had their last fight and had stopped speaking to each other. I never thought he’d get old. Not older than me. After that final fight, they had only exchanged a few desultory notes until Bilbo had written about the root harvest in Foreyule.
They walked almost to the northern edge of the town and then turned west on a well-kept track that went out onto the plateau. The road was lined with larger houses set a bit apart unlike the tight quarters of Michel Delving proper, and each had a good-sized barn. Half a furlong out, they turned into the drive that led past a house with an apple tree in front of it and a two-story barn behind it. Someone in the barn was singing. Bilbo turned to Frodo.
‘If I send you on an errand, can you find your way back here?’
Frodo looked a bit puzzled, but nodded. ‘Yes, of course I can.’
‘Good.’ Bilbo pulled a letter out of his pocket. ‘I need you to go to the North Inn and give this to Addy. Rufus needs to get a hold of him but couldn't remember where he was staying, so asked if I'd send on the message. Can you find your way to the inn?’
‘Yes, Gin told me where it was.’
‘You may visit a bit with your cousins if they are about, Frodo, but I want you to come back and meet me here once the letter is delivered. We’ll be going to the Fair from here.’
‘Yes, Uncle, I won’t dawdle.’ With a kiss for each of them, Frodo trotted down the drive and back up the lane towards the town.
‘Good thinking, Bilbo,’ Rory said. ‘Keep the boy out of the way.’
‘Out of the way of what, Rory?’ Rory raised an eyebrow and motioned over his shoulder towards the barn with his thumb. Frodo is better armored against the Thain’s wiles than you are, cousin. Bilbo smiled sweetly. ‘I’d leave him with Rum before I’d leave him with Sara.’ Though I have no intention of leaving him with any of you. ‘Besides, you were perfectly happy this time last year to put him right under Rum’s nose.’ Bilbo left Rory to splutter and walked to the barn.
Once his eyes were accustomed to the dimmer interior, Bilbo saw the double line of stalls opening onto a central aisle with doors at the back and a tack area at the far end. There was a large black pony standing loose in the aisle, watching the singer in a stall. The animal saw Bilbo walking in and nickered, which stopped the singing. Rum stepped out of the stall, recognized Bilbo and smiled. Bilbo heard the other two walk in behind him. Rum waved at them to come closer.
‘Good morning!’ he greeted them. The elegant, almost exotic, hobbit of the night before was not present, though there was no hiding the man’s beauty. His hair was a barely brushed mess of waves and curls, haphazardly braided and liberally sprinkled with bits of hay. His trousers were old, with a hole in one knee and a patch on the other, his pockets lumpy from treats for the horses. His shirt was just as old, the sleeves stained with green slobber from the animals, a few rips and patches apparent, and covered with an old, supple leather vest, stained in a patchwork of browns, greens and black. There was a bit of something wet smeared on one cheek, probably where a horse had nuzzled him. He looked very happy and gave them each a hug, then went back into the stall and continued mucking it out. ‘That’s Thomas, by the way,’ he said over his shoulder and nickered.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 12. Show
POV - Bilbo
In which Bilbo tells stories of the past, the Shire's and his own, listens to the tales of others, and refuses to be told what to do.
1 Lithe, 1390
I heard you had a run-in with the Thain last night. Pal came to breakfast this morning and told me that Rum had gone over to speak to you and had come storming back not long after, infuriated by something you had done. Or declined to do. Rum told Pal that you are going to claim Eastfarthing as a whole and spoil all their plans.
I am prepared to try to rescue this disaster, but now I do not know what you are trying to do. I will not contest you for this. May we please meet after supper today?
Fairgrounds, Michel Delving, 1 Lithe, 1390
Bilbo could not stop watching Rum. This was how Rum had won him over so long ago, with a champion team at the Free Fair. He had won over the whole Shire that day, in truth, much as he had done today. He was not quite thirty-three years old and had presented a team of bay ponies. Bilbo did not think even an elf could have been more beautiful than Rum was when he stood in the center of the arena, his attention on nothing but the team, unaware that the command he had of his ponies he also held over the watching crowd. Bilbo knew the next time the youth flirted with him, he would not resist. He did not hear from Rum until several months later. It had been worth the wait. For a while, he had actually believed he was in love. Perhaps the man no longer possessed the exquisite perfection of his youth, but, to Bilbo’s eye, Rum was even more beautiful now than he had been forty years before. He knew if he was not careful, if he did not pay attention, he would end up saying “Yes” again. And you know how that always ends, Baggins.
Bilbo caught his lad’s name being spoken and looked around to see who said it. Blossom was trying to collect her brood and was looking around distractedly. The other hobbits sitting near them were already leaving the stands. ‘Frodo, where’s Pearl? She was here just a minute ago. Wasn’t she sitting with you and Amy?’
‘She went off to help her grandfather with the team.’ It amused Bilbo that Frodo was calling Rum Pearl’s grandfather without a second thought.
Blossom looked worried. ‘That’s not good. Pal’s about and he’ll be angry if he sees her with Rum. I need to go get her.’
‘We’ll go collect her, Blossom,’ Bilbo said. ‘Where will you be?’
‘The main square. There’s shade and food over there.’
‘Frodo, come with me,’ Bilbo ordered. When the rest of the ragtag bunch of children would have followed, Bilbo gave them a stern look. ‘No. I do not need you getting trampled. Stay with Blossom.’ Tom ducked behind Blossom to get away from Bilbo’s glare and even Gin swallowed and edged a bit closer to his mother. ‘And behave!’ All the children nodded vigorously. Blossom gave him a grateful smile.
Odogrim was still nearby and said, ‘I’ll help Aunt Blossom, Uncle.’
‘Thank you, Odogrim.’ With a nod, Bilbo hastened away, Frodo on his heels. They were soon back in the stables behind the arena and had to be careful so as not to be stepped on. ‘Frodo, you will need to take Pearl back to Blossom when we finally find her and stay with them, or at least keep the older ones out of trouble.’
‘What about the meeting?’
‘You were not invited to it.’ Bilbo stopped and faced Frodo. The lad was not pleased by that news. ‘Nor were any other of the younger men. Mac, Milo, Fargo, Baldo; none of them will be there, either.’
The slightly sulky look was replaced with something more thoughtful. ‘Why not?’
‘The Thain, the Master, and the headmen of three of the four most powerful clans in the Shire are meeting before the Moot.’ Bilbo paused to let this sink in. ‘We will discuss the Parting and how it has affected the land, the beasts and the missing headman. We will have a few elder kinsmen to counsel us. I cannot remember a comparable meeting since the end of the Fell Winter. I was your age the last time such a meeting was held. Father was invited, but not me, even though I helped him prepare for it, just as you have been helping me.’
Frodo pondered this, then nodded. ‘All right. I won’t press. But you will tell me what happens?’
‘As far as I am able to, yes, as Father did with me.’ Bilbo gave him a smile and a wink. ‘Besides, you deserve to go enjoy the Fair! Deliver Pearl to Blossom, then you and Gin can go cause some trouble.’
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 13. Tell/a>
Chapter 14: Push
POV - Frodo
In which Frodo decides he is no longer willing to be pushed around.
28 Forelithe, 1390
Dearest Little Cousin,
I don’t know where you will be when you finally get this letter. I suspect the Fair will be over and you are finally back home. Did you get your dance with Bluebell? Did Bargo beat you up for it? I dread seeing them again. Those awful Bracegirdles are coming back to the Hall, too. Mama says that you are at all the Highday dances in Bywater and Hobbiton. Have you found a girl you like? Even if you have, you need to give me a dance at harvest.
Mistress Gilda got a letter from the Master yesterday which she read to me. She was so happy to get it! He described Bag End to her and then she told me even more about it. She said she was often a guest when she was Uncle Bilbo’s mother’s healing prentice. The Master also said that you and Uncle Bilbo look completely well and no one here should worry over either of you. I think that news made her the most happy, though she grumbled that she was the healer, not him, and she’d make up her own mind.
I know the news you want to hear, but keep it secret! The Mistress continues to do well and can walk without her cane inside the Hall. Her hands hardly tremble anymore. I think she is planning a surprise for Master Rory when he gets back, so not a word of this, not even to Uncle Bilbo!
She is also well enough to rein in that nasty Took daughter-in-law of hers. The Mistress got her hands on a letter Esmie had sent to someone, I’m not sure who. She called Cousin Esmie into her parlor and they had a little talk behind closed doors. Esmie looked like she’d eaten a green quince when she left, but she hasn’t said a word of slander since then. I still look forward to Dilly and Prisca returning to keep her in line.
Merry may get his pony very soon, if only to make him stop chattering about it.
My love to you and Uncle Bilbo,
28 Forelithe, 1390
My dearest rascal,
We all miss you so much. Merry talks about nothing but how he is going to ride his pony to come see you, and Merle says she will come too so she can keep an eye on Merry and bake a cake for you both. I envy them that trip when they make it.
The Master says that you and the Beggar are back to your usual troublesome selves. I was worried when Prisca said you were both so worn after your long walk in the north, but I think she was exaggerating. I hope that is the only adventure you two will go on for a good long time. Is your uncle truly doing well? I worry about him. Rory said that you look after Bilbo very well.
Ula has read me some of the letters her mother, my cousin Sage, has sent. Sage thinks well of you, rascal, and that is high praise indeed. I am glad that you are in Hobbiton now, though it makes me sad that I don’t have you here. Even if there had not been such trouble here, you would be better off there. I also hear that you are the most popular boy at Highday dances. You be sure to mind your manners! And to dance with Ula when she visits over harvest.
I am eager to see my final scroll translation. Rory said it is magnificent. Thank you, dearest, for this. It doesn’t just make me happy. It has made me better.
1 Lithe, 1390
I saw you at the horse show sitting with those two little girls. I wanted to come over and say hello, but Mama wouldn’t let me. I want another dance with you. Papa says I may, but only if he is there to watch. I don’t think he wants you to kiss me again. Please say you’ll be there tonight! I hate Bargo and I’m not talking to him anymore.
1 Lithe, 1390
I am ashamed to have to be writing this letter.
I am so very sorry for how we met yesterday. I know that I was harsh to Bilbo and I hurt him. I judged him with an unkind heart and I greatly rue my acts. I have apologized to him. It will not happen again.
It grieves me that I have offended you just as we finally meet. I ask for permission to make amends. No matter your regard of me, I stand by my promise to do for you anything in my power to do. But ask, and it will be done.
Fairgrounds, Michel Delving, Evening, 1 Lithe, 1390
Frodo stalked off, irritated with Bilbo but also knowing he really did not have any grounds for being irritated, which simply irritated him more. You shouldn’t have asked him right away, Baggins. He doesn’t like being pushed any more than you do. Frodo sighed, wondering how long he would have to be patient before Bilbo would finally tell him everything that had been happening. You know what has been happening. You know about the farthing and the parting. And Bilbo told you the most important thing; he’s not going to do their work for them. That put Frodo in a better mood. Just a few more days and then they would go back to Bag End and ignore the stupidity. It would be time to do the ledgers when they returned, and there would be more cooking lessons, and the garden would be full with flowers in bloom and vegetables growing. These thoughts made Frodo happier.
He looked about for Uncle Wili and Aunt Prisca. Bilbo was right, both that Wili looked tired and that Prisca would want to dance. He felt a bit embarrassed that he had not noticed how worn out his uncle was becoming. Doing a good job with the ponies would please both uncles, and probably Uncle Rory as well. Frodo smiled to himself at Ula’s news about Aunt Gilda. He was not going to let that secret slip. Ahead, he glimpsed Odo and Sage standing with Wili and Prisca and hurried over.
‘Uncle Bilbo’s going to be held up for a few minutes,’ he said with a grin, ‘so that means I get to dance with you first, Aunt Prisca!’
‘And Bilbo calls me a flirt!’ she laughed, holding out her hand. ‘I swear, he’s teaching you all his bad habits.’ Frodo shrugged with a smirk and they were soon whirling among the dancers. ‘You are just like him, Frodo,’ Prisca said. ‘I’m so glad you’re with him now.’
‘I am, too.’
‘I haven’t seen Bilbo so happy in a very long time and you’re the reason for it.’
Frodo made a bit of a face. ‘Maybe. Sometimes I think I just make him cross.’
‘Oh, never mind him being a grumbly old man!’ Prisca assured him. ‘There’s nothing he wants more than to have you with him.’
Except having Rum with him. Frodo knew better than to say that, so he just smiled. He had watched Bilbo watch Rum during the horse show and was no longer so sure what Bilbo felt about the Thain.
When they ended the dance, Frodo asked Aunt Sage if she would be his next partner, which she gladly accepted. Prisca was already off with Wili. When they finished, other of their kin had found them and Frodo decided he was going to dance with all his aunts until Bilbo got back from his meeting with Otho. If Lobelia shows up, I’ll even dance with her! The ladies protested that he needed to go find himself some young lasses to enjoy his charms, but he just laughed and said he could think of no finer company. Aunt Tulip, it turned out, was a talented dancer, very light on her feet, and even taught him a few new steps. Uncle Dudo applauded them as they passed by, smiling broadly. Yes, make this uncle happy. Bilbo would approve. Aunt Nora was shy and had to be coaxed out, Uncle Falco teasing and scolding her to make her go. She was not nearly as good a dancer as the other aunts, but she was so pleasant Frodo did not mind. He had to wait his turn to dance with Dilly. She had claimed Uncle Rory at once, had worked her way through the uncles and now had Dudo engaged. After she caught her breath, she gladly accepted Frodo’s hand. It was a little difficult because she was so small, but he figured out how to shorten his steps so she could keep up. When they came back to the group, Bilbo was still nowhere to be seen, but Mac and Rum had joined them. Rum bade Frodo good evening, but did not otherwise try to speak to him.
Frodo took time to watch the Thain with his other kin. Whatever antagonism had been present between Rum and Rory the night before was gone, the two chatting amiably about Rum's Shirebourns. Uncle Dudo obviously did not care for the Thain, staying to the far side of the others and looking at Rum sourly. None of the others appeared to have any qualms about interacting with their notorious kinsman. Rum's own demeanor was pleasant and not as forward as he had been last night, though he clearly was happy to be the center of attention. Was that all for Bilbo? It was odd watching Rum because his manners were so similar to the old hobbit's when in a crowd. With only a little cajoling, Rum was soon dancing with Prisca, so Frodo asked Tulip if she would like another dance, which she did. A pretty young lass was standing nearby when he and Tulip returned, and gave him a sweet smile, so he asked her and they were soon out in the whirl. She did not say anything and only giggled when he tried to get a name. Some man, whether kinsman or sweetheart Frodo did not know, was waiting when the dance ended and quickly escorted the girl away, glaring at Frodo. He found another girl in a minute. She did not bother giving him a name, either.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 14. Push
Chapter 15: Pull
POV - Bilbo
In which Bilbo is pulled in many directions, exerts his pull over others, pulls out a long needed confession, and wishes for victory to be pulled from the jaws of defeat.
Michel Delving, Morning, Midyear's Day, 1390
Bilbo made himself walk at a calm, reasonable pace. Why weren’t you thinking, Baggins? His impulsive order to Frodo to take care of Wili’s ponies yesterday was tormenting him now. He had thought it would be good for the lad to have some responsibilities, Wili truly was worn out, and Mac would be there caring for his own ponies at the same time. He was not at all worried what Rum would do, not when Rum knew that Frodo’s good regard was the only thing that would allow him to see them after the Fair concluded. It was what others would think or do if they knew Frodo was unattended in Rum’s company. Especially Pal. At breakfast, Rory had told him that Mac had left earlier than usual to take the Rushies off to graze, which let Bilbo know that Frodo might not have someone with him. Bilbo had made himself sit through the entire meal, chatting amiably with his kin, and not to rush off to the farm as he wished.
Just as he got to the farm, he looked around for watchers before pulling out his ring and slipping it on. There was probably nothing to worry about and it would embarrass, even anger Frodo if Bilbo wandered in as though he did not trust the boy to do some simple tasks. The familiar dim veil obscured his vision, though smells and sounds became sharper and more distinct. Bilbo was careful to walk on hard earth so he would not leave footprints. At the door of the barn he paused and listened. He could not hear any hobbit in the building, only the ponies and the cats. As he walked down the aisle, the small ponies dozed in their stalls, oblivious to their surroundings, but the Shirebourns snorted and stamped, ears swiveling and nostrils flaring, knowing that something was there. They can smell you, maybe hear you. He knew that he had best not stay long around them so they did not become too spooked or otherwise give him away. The Rushies were gone, in evidence of what Rory had mentioned, and Wili’s ponies had been tended. Bilbo walked to the end of the aisle, looking and listening for anything out of place, poking his head out the back door on the chance that Frodo might still be about. He was walking past the feed room when he caught a faint, familiar scent. Seed.
Bilbo closed his eyes and let his keener nose lead him to the spot where something had happened and recently. He knelt, sniffing, his face close to the floor. There. Opening his eyes, he saw a new stain on the aisle floor, now dry, but something that had to have occurred within the last two hours for the smell to be this strong. He wouldn’t. Would he? Bilbo stood and looked about, wishing he dared to remove the ring so that he could look for signs of what had happened that would result in a man spilling on the floor of the barn this morning. Probably after Frodo left. He fervently hoped it was afterwards. Bilbo left the barn, the Shirebourns pacing nervously and nickering to each other as he passed.
He paused near the back door of the farmhouse, listening for sounds of someone inside. Two. Things were happening in two different rooms. He could smell breakfast, heard someone splashing water from an ewer into a basin, heard a door close and the whisper of footsteps coming closer. A dish was set down on a counter. A spoon scraped a pan. A chair was pulled out from a table and soon there was the sound of someone eating. Bilbo forbade himself from peering in the window. He heard a door open and close, then another, then nothing for a minute.
‘That’s my breakfast you’re eating, you bastard.’ Rum did not sound pleased.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 15. Pull
Chapter 16: Solstice
POV - Bilbo & Frodo
In which deals are double, trouble is stirred, forgiveness is granted, the east is evaluated, farthings are offered, a chastisement is delivered, and assignation is set, and Frodo starts to tell a new story.
29 Forelithe, 1390
I hope this letter finds you and your nephew well. I know you are at the Free Fair and may not get this until after you return.
Mister Odogar is clear he will only accept gold, lumber or finished hides for his stone. He will not take just lumber or hides. All payment must come with some bit of gold. This started in Afteryule this year. I don’t know what happens to that gold. It is not spent anywhere in Scary, or even in Whitfurrows or Frogmorton in any great amount. I know some has gone to purchase hides from Girdley Island and a bit more for lumber from Greenbough of Whitfurrows.
I won’t be able to trade stone after Forelithe. It will have to be bought with gold.
30 Forelithe, 1290
Dear Mister Frodo,
Thank you for your letter.
Ma says to tell Mister Bilbo that the smial is ready for guests after the fair if they come back with you.
I have an Uncle Andy, too! He makes ropes. The Fair sounds like fun with dwarves and all that. I wish I could go to it. Has anyone ever climbed down the Drop? It would take a long rope to go down a cliff. I wrote you a poem.
My Uncle Andy
Is very handy.
A roper by trade.
His ropes are well made.
With a big hop
You can go down the Drop.
Use Andy’s line
And you’ll be just fine.
I weed the garden every day. The squashes are big now. May says you should cook some of them for us for lunch when you get back. We miss you.
Midyear Day, 1390
I hate Bargo more than ever and I hope Papa sends him away forever. It’s not fair that I get punished for his bad manners. Mama’s crying now. Papa says he tried to beat up your cousin, Gin Took, who didn’t do anything wrong, and that you and Odogrim stopped him. I won’t get to see you or Gin or Darron tonight. Papa says you may write to me but you have to send your letter to him and he will say if I may have it. Please don’t make Papa mad!
Midyear Day, 1390
You’re a wretch for not coming to visit a lonely old woman. No matter, I can find a host of lusty lads out here in the wagons. Your worst cousin came by for a visit. He’s near as pretty as his ponies. Another kiss from him and I’ll forget about you.
I’ve seen you about the Fair, but you’re always talking to someone who thinks they are important. Ha! I’ll talk to you at the Moot, as will everyone from Eastfarthing. I’ve heard a bad rumor that your sackless cousin thinks to be the Bolger. People are scared, thief. We need some disreputable cousins in charge.
Don’t think to escape without a dance. You promised me one.
Michel Delving, Evening, Midyear's Day, 1390
Frodo knew Bilbo’s wish to stay away from Wilcar’s party was probably wise, but he did not want to sit here in this room for the rest of the day with nothing but his own thoughts and Bilbo’s anger. Neither was anything he wished to spend time with. Before the old hobbit could change his mind, Frodo retrieved his letters and hopped off the bed to put them away in their trunk. He heard Bilbo sigh again, followed by sounds of the writing desk being set to right.
Tonight, tomorrow, and then we go home. Sam’s letter was just what he needed to read. The youngster was getting very clever with rhymes and had delighted in making short ones whenever they worked in the garden, talking about the plants, the earth, birds, sunlight, rainfall, their own dirty hands and feet, whatever caught the little Gamgee’s fancy in that moment. This one about the Drop and ropes was longer than any Frodo had heard from Sam before. When they got home, Frodo, decided, he would spend the first day doing nothing but listen to Sam’s rhymes in the garden. Unless May wants us to bake a pie. That thought made him smile.
He pulled off his shirt, went to the washstand and quickly removed the bit of grime that he had acquired on the picnic. That had been fun. He had gotten to know Gin’s other siblings, Fire, Dottie and Evie, better. Evie reminded him very much of Merry with his cheerfulness and ability to become filthy without any effort. Fire was not as bold as Amy or Pearl, but she was smart and was very good at the riddle game they played during lunch. Blossom called her the “family scholar” and they were all very proud of Fire’s learning. Dottie loved her sewing just like Merle did, but was not the slightest bit shy at joining in on any rambunctious game and had actually climbed the highest in the tree on a challenge from Gin before Addy had seen them and shouted at them to come back down.
Washing done, Frodo went over to where Bilbo had hung some of their shirts on pegs, and selected the nicest one, Dilly’s Yule gift shirt. He thought it would please her to see him wear it.
‘Not that shirt, Wilwarin.’
‘Why not?’ Frodo knew he sounded irritable and did not care.
‘That and the rest of your fine clothes are for the Moot tomorrow.’ Bilbo’s response was just as testy.
Frodo turned to look at his old cousin, who was regarding him with the look that said he thought Frodo was doing something beyond stupid. He had not been on the receiving end of that look in a long time, and Frodo found he really did not care for it. ‘What if I want to look my best tonight?’ He crossed his arms and matched Bilbo’s stare. ‘The last time we fought about my clothes, if I recall, you wanted me to look my best. Don’t you want me looking a fine young gentlehobbit, especially considering who will be there?’
Bilbo’s expression remained stern, but the mocking quality left it. ‘Your best is for the Moot, as is mine. That will be your first public presentation as my heir, and you must be impeccable. Tonight, the less attention you get, the better.’ He smiled slightly. ‘I think you have mastered the skill of being a fine young gentlehobbit, regardless of your clothes. Dress as you wish.’ Bilbo went back to washing up.
Frodo returned Dilly’s shirt to its peg and put on the one he had just been wearing. He’d only worn it since he got back, so it was still fresh. Clean trousers in place of the grubby pair he had worn through the day and a plain but good fitting waistcoat finished his attire. He did take time to make sure his feet were neatly brushed. He tried not to sigh or be impatient when Bilbo fussed with the drape of his sleeves and felt his braces to make sure they were lying flat. The old hobbit finished his own dressing and looked similarly neat and slightly subdued. They were soon slowly walking through Michel Delving along roads Frodo had not traveled, heading north and slightly east, towards the nicer end of the town.
Bilbo seemed lost in thought, which might not be good given the wretched events of the day. Frodo cast about for something to distract him. ‘Bilbo, how is the Moot run? You said I am to be presented. How is that done?’
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 16. Solstice
Chapter 17: Sting
POV - Bilbo
In which madmen meet, luck is debated, confidences are shared, and Bilbo returns to old tunnels to ponder new possibilities.
I’m sorry. I know I’ve been bad. I won’t anymore. I miss you. I want to be your friend. Please don’t be mad.
2 Lithe, 1390
Thank you so much, you dear, sweet boy. You have been so kind to my silly brood, especially Gin, even when they have been nothing but trouble to look after. Addy and I are grateful to you and your uncle for the care you have given the children.
2 Lithe, 1390
Dear Cousin Frodo,
I am writing to apologize for my shameful behavior. I have said and done unspeakably cruel things to you, and I have no excuse for my acts. I am completely in the wrong for all of it.
I have sworn to my father that I shall mend my ways. I hope someday you will see fit to forgive me for the wrongs I have done to you.
2 Lithe, 1390
I am sorry we did not get a chance to speak last night after the others left, but I understand you needed to get your lad back to the inn so he could rest. Darron told me of the fight he and Gin Took had with the older boys.
I fear a greater fight will happen between much older boys today. The duplicity I witnessed last night was disturbing. Odogar may do as he pleases, but I will relinquish nothing. Not even to you. The only sound counsel was yours about the markets. Please consider the Mayorship. Pasco is completely in thrall to Pal and Otho.
Michel Delving, Evening, Midyear's Day, 1390
Bilbo sat on the stool next to the bed and stroked Frodo’s hair, being careful not to grasp or pull or twist it. My brave, fierce lad. Part of him wanted the little boy back, the child who needed him and found safety in his arms. He looked at a bruise on Frodo’s shoulder, and wished his boy’s passage to manhood was not so cruel. Not defending yourself, but another. Others need you. Bilbo doubted he would see the Rat again. Buckland had been left behind.
When the towel cooled, Bilbo peeled it away from Frodo’s back. ‘Another? I think the water is still hot.’
‘No, thank you.’ Frodo did not open his eyes and his voice was drowsy.
Bilbo took the towel over to the washstand and wrung it out before hanging it on a peg to dry. He used some of the remaining warm water to wash his own hands and face. As he dried off, there was a sharp knock at the door, making both of them start. Bilbo motioned for Frodo to stay in bed and went to the door, muttering imprecations at whomever was rude enough to bother them at this hour. This had better not be you, Rum. He opened the door a crack, putting his foot behind it so whomever was outside could not push his way in. When he saw who it was, he wished it had been Rum instead.
‘What do you want?’
Odogar stared at him, a look in his eyes Bilbo had not encountered since facing Orcs in the desolation before the gates of Erebor. There, he had his magic ring to shield him from their gaze and he had to grasp a fold of trouser fabric to keep from snatching it out of his pocket and vanishing again. His cousin smiled crookedly, lips parting on one side to show slightly yellowed teeth, increasing his resemblance to the goblins.
‘I need to talk to you. Alone. Before the Moot. Now.’ Odogar took a step as thought to enter the room. Bilbo held up a warning hand, pointing down the hall.
‘Go to a front parlor. I will join you in a moment.’ He waited until Odogar turned and walked away before shutting the door.
Frodo was sitting up in bed. ‘Who is that?’
‘Odogar. He demands to talk to me.’ When Frodo started to get out of bed, Bilbo shook his head. ‘I shan’t be long. I have no wish to talk to him and will make it as brief as I can. Stay here.’ He pulled his braces back up, neatened his shirt and slipped into the waistcoat he had just removed. As at his last private conversation with Odogar, Bilbo wished he had Sting. The sense only increased when he walked into the parlor and saw Odogar standing there, shoulders hunched, arms crossed, waiting for him with a hungry expression. Bilbo was reminded now not so much of an Orc as of the wretched creature, Gollum. Again he wished to slip on his ring and flee. No, you can’t leave Frodo. ‘What do you want, Odogar? Be quick. I have had my fill of stupid kin this evening.’
Odogar did not answer at once, but started walking around the room, eyes on Bilbo, like a hunter sizing up very large prey. ‘I found your counsel on the markets sound, cousin.’
‘Good. It is. Now you can go convince the others to build theirs up and increase everyone’s trade, and let me get to bed.’ He turned slowly so he was always facing Odogar, one hand tucked into his pocket so his fingertips just brushed his ring.
‘We need to have them united.’
‘Then why are you wasting time talking to me?’
‘Because you are the one to rule us all.’
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 17. Sting
Chapter 18: Moot
POV - Frodo
In which the Free Folk face their dragons.
2 Lithe, 1390
You had much wisdom to share at the party last night. Odogar is being won away from his madness by your reason, which serves to keep the Tooks from acting on their unfriendly plans.
You made mention of Rum’s suggestion, which I told Otho after supper. He says it is simply to try to distract you from what he and Pal plot, and I could not agree more! That man is untrustworthy in every way.
Otho had a brilliant suggestion to turn tables on the troublesome Tooks. Make YOU Thain! Odogar says he has no opposition to you filling that post and added that it should be made in charge of all the markets. We all three spoke to Wilcar of this last night and he is open to it as he is not to you taking part of Westfarthing.
I think there is a new item of discussion for the Moot today.
2 Lithe, 1390
I am here with my sons to support your claim for Eastfarthing at the Moot. Cousin Pal has kept me apprised of the plans, including Otho’s attempts to foil them all. Do not trust him; he is more Sackville than Baggins. Pal said he is certain it can be won from the Bolgers, and that the Thain has told him this is what you plan to do at the Moot.
2 Lithe, 1390
We need to talk. Posco is here. Lobelia is frightened.
30 Forelithe, 1390
Rory has written that the two of you have had a terrible argument about the rascal and he does not know how to mend the break between you.
Please, I beg you, stop. I cannot bear the two I love most fighting over this. The grief in my heart bows me down more than any illness of my body. This is my fault, love, not Rory’s. I should have made you do what was right, and I could have, but I was afraid. My tremors had started and I wanted that part of you with me to help me be brave. Don’t be angry with Rory. He just wanted to hold on to what he loved until that love found another.
I am sorry, Bilbo, and so is Rory. I will never see either of you again. Please, please, please, love, don’t punish me more.
Michel Delving, 2 Lithe, 1390
When Frodo got back to their room after his second breakfast, Bilbo was already there, sitting on the bed and reading letters. His own were in a stack at the other end of the bed. He did not bother to ask Bilbo what he and Uncle Rufus had discussed; it was either about the Moot or Bargo, possibly both, and Bilbo would tell him whatever he needed to know. Sorting through the stack, he saw a letter from Bargo and another from Tom, as well as more from his other cousins and some elder kin. With a sigh, he opened Bargo’s letter and quickly read it, then read it again more carefully. You almost sound sincere. He glanced up at Bilbo, who was watching him steadily. Frodo held out the letter to Bilbo who took it and read it.
‘Rufus told me that Bargo wrote you and that he had read the letter before it was sealed.’ Bilbo said this without looking up from the paper.
‘Do I need to write a reply?’
‘I wouldn’t.’ Bilbo handed the letter back. ‘Keep that in a safe place. You may need it someday if Bargo forgets his decency again. Also, I do not want you writing anything to Bargo or Bluebell that you do not show to me and send to Rufus to give to them.’
‘To protect you from any claims of impropriety. If they try to contact you without their father’s knowledge, I ask you to tell me.’
‘I will. I have no interest in communicating with either of them.’
Bilbo began to say something, then changed his mind and went back to his own letters. Frodo followed suit. Darron and Gin wanted to meet him later that morning, which he probably would not be able to do because of the Moot, and Amy wrote him a note telling him that he was going to go to the dancing at the Fair tonight, no excuses. There was a sweet note from Aunt Gilda, saying how much she missed him and how she wanted to hear of all his adventures at the Fair. I will, Gammer. Well, maybe not all of them. He considered Rum’s obvious dislike of his aunt and wondered if the distaste was mutual. He had just finished Tom’s weaselly note when Bilbo let loose with an obscenity that made Frodo jump.
‘Oh, I need this like I need a boil!’ the old hobbit fumed, glaring at the note.
‘What is it?’ Frodo asked. Bilbo ignored him, quickly rifling through the stack of unopened letters until he found one that he tore open and read. Bilbo retrieved the traveling desk and penned a short note, then hastened from the room. Frodo wondered if he dared try to read either of the letters that had so upset his uncle, but knew Bilbo would be back very quickly. I doubt you will remain in the dark for long, Baggins. As he expected, Bilbo was back in just a few minutes bearing an ewer of hot water which he set by the washstand. He opened and scanned a few other letters before folding them up and setting them aside.
‘There are things to attend to before the Moot, Frodo. We need to dress and be ready to go soon.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Frodo said meekly. Bilbo’s voice was steady, if a little brisk, and his expression calm, but the set of his frame and the sharpness of his motions gave away how angry he was by whatever he had just read. He had not shown this kind of anger since his fight with Uncle Rory back in Hobbiton. No, since Whitfurrows. That made Frodo shiver a little as he pulled off his shirt and went to the washstand. Behind him, he could hear Bilbo laying out clothes. Don’t be a brat. Be his good lad. Frodo stood quietly when Bilbo took a washrag and gave him a good scrubbing, and put on the clothes Bilbo had selected for him, being careful not to rumple or muss them. After Bilbo had pulled on his fine clothes, they neatened each other. If Bilbo picked and fussed a bit much, Frodo did not object. Doing this made Bilbo less angry, just as scrubbing away the dirt had done. Do this. It soothes you. When Bilbo was done, Frodo did the same in return, taking his time and knowing that his touches also calmed his uncle.
There was a soft tap at the door. Frodo answered it. A serving girl was in the hall and said, ‘Mister Bilbo has a visitor. He’s waiting in the front parlor.’
Bilbo slipped on his coat and held out Frodo’s. ‘And so the Moot begins, my lad.’
‘Who is it? Do you know?’
‘Otho.’ Bilbo collected the letters he had set aside and tucked them into an inner coat pocket. ‘Let’s not keep our cousin waiting.’
Otho was standing in a small front parlor, looking stormy. ‘How did you find out?’ Bilbo said without preamble. Otho glanced meaningfully at Frodo. ‘He stays.’
Otho stood several heartbeats without speaking, glaring at Bilbo, who waited. ‘I saw him and the rest in a wagon going past the inn this morning.’
Bilbo made a thoughtful sound. ‘I have a letter announcing his presence. I got it the same time as your note.’
‘Tell him to leave.’
‘Unfortunately, I cannot. He has a right to be here.’
‘Perhaps a thrashing to persuade him?’ Otho gave them a nasty look. ‘The pair of you seem to be… adept at such things.’
That got a ghost of a smile from Bilbo. ‘Yes. We are practiced in defending others’ honor. Still, I do not care to draw attention. He is here at Pal’s behest…’
‘What?’ Otho stared at Bilbo in confusion. ‘Pal? Why?’
Bilbo chuckled. ‘Because you and Pal and Odogar are set of lying, double-crossing fools who can’t keep straight what you want and keep enlisting the worst kind of allies. I warned you back in Thrimidge that you underestimated Pal’s duplicity. Even so, I will help with this. Wait here.’ Bilbo signaled for Frodo to stay and walked out of the room. Frodo did not say anything, completely in the dark on what was going on and not eager to stir up Otho’s resentment. For his part, Otho turned his back on Frodo and stared out a window. When Bilbo returned, he had Prisca, Wili and Falco with him. There were some nods of acknowledgement between them and Otho, but nothing you could call a greeting.
‘We Baggins have a problem,’ Bilbo said, ‘and that problem is Posco. He has shown up for the Moot.’
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 18. Moot
Chapter 19: Point
POV - Frodo
In which dragons battle, much is said, a bit less is done, and Frodo ponders what might have been.
2 Lithe, 1290
Me and Darron will be waiting for you at the dwarf tent. We need to get rid of Amy and go have some fun. Maybe we can go out to the horse races? Mama and Papa don’t want to go that far out, but maybe they’ll let us go if you’re there. You’re my best friend ever.
30 Forelithe, 1390
My dearest rascal,
Yes, I know I just wrote you, and you’ll probably be home by the time you read this, but I got a letter from Rory this morning and he mentioned you and I miss you all so much.
I remember when I was just your age going to the Free Fair. I went with a number of kin, including Mistress Belladonna, Uncle Bilbo’s mother. I was prenticed to her as Ula is to me. It was great fun, though I was so tired I slept in the wagon most of the way home.
When you are home, you must write me a long letter and tell me of all your adventures – what you saw, who you spoke to, anything unusual that you did. I hope you and the Beggar are going dancing each night. That is what I remember best.
Fairgrounds, Michel Delving, Late Morning, 2 Lithe, 1390
There was a long silence, unbroken by even a whisper. Frodo glanced over at Bilbo, who had a hand over his mouth and chin as though concentrating intently, but Frodo could see the small smile Bilbo was hiding. Widow Grubb shall now instruct you all on how a hobbit slays a dragon. Frodo gave his full attention to the crone.
Maud walked a few paces out into the circle, never dropping her eye from Odogar. She was barely Dilly’s height and her widow’s hump made her shorter yet, but she seemed as formidable as any elven warrior out of Bilbo’s tales. When she came to a halt, she drew herself up and spat in Odogar’s direction, getting a gasp from the audience at her discourtesy towards the head of a great clan.
‘That is what I think of you. You’re a lying, cheating, Dragon-fevered scoundrel!’
‘What is this slander, you foolish old woman?’ Odogar said. The madness that had seized him earlier had vanished, and now he appeared to be no more than an aggrieved fellow trying to make sense of undeserved blame. There was a collective growl from the Grubbs at their Maud being called foolish, though she only grinned at Odogar’s name-calling.
‘I’m talking about the shadow you cast on Eastfarthing, Bolger, when the root harvest failed last year and goodwives went begging for food!’
‘That is nonsense!’ he protested and was met with shouts of derision from various parts of the room.
‘The roots didn’t fail?’ the widow challenged. ‘There wasn’t a bad harvest in Eastfarthing south of the Road and down into the Marish?’
‘There was some spoilage around the Yale, and a fear elsewhere that the usual levels of rot were in excess.’
‘The harvest was bad south to Rushey,’ said Wiley Mead. ‘There was hardly a field of roots for two leagues around Stock that wasn’t more than half spoiled.’
‘The spoilage in the Yale was near complete.’ Griffo spoke without any hostility, but also without his usual pleasantness. ‘Anything not completely spoiled could only go to feed pigs. This was from east of Frogmorton to the River Road, and from the East Road south to the Green Hills. It was all in my account to you. Cousin Bertie told me the Bridgefields lost over half their roots, from the Scary Road to the River, and at least two leagues north.’ Frodo gave his cousin an appraising look. If you want a new Eastfarthing head, you’d not do much better than Griffo.
Hargo Bracegirdle stepped forward. ‘All of Girdley Island and the bank lost at least a third of our roots, and all the rutabagas. To my knowledge, there wasn’t a good field of untouched roots south of the Scary Hills and east of the Oatbarton Road. I wrote of this just as I wrote of the fever rash.’
Odogar’s look started to become fierce again, his stance threatening. ‘And when did you see fit to tell me of this? In accounts sent after Yule! Until then, I’d been told only by my cousin Gun that things were off near Whitfurrows…’
‘Another lie!’ snarled Maud. ‘You sent that stupid beast,’ she pointed a finger at Odovacar, ‘off to the Tooklands in late Blotmath to start dealing with the ugly Took to get more roots into the markets. He bragged about it when he stopped at the Toad’s Hole in Frogmorton, and Marta Hammerfoot, whose man owns the tavern, she told me when she came to settle her accounts for the week.’
‘I just said Gun told me before…’
‘And you had plenty of roots for the Whitfurrows market, at a pretty penny, just when no one had any of their own!’
‘Yes! The new market had roots from other places all ready for people when their own wasn’t enough. Isn’t that what a market is for?’ This got more sympathetic talk from the crowd.
‘Faugh! By your own whelp’s admission – and the cur shouldn’t be allowed to talk after he’s been drinkin’ – you just planned to sell as dear as you could, no matter who went hungry. The goodwives of Whitfurrows couldn’t trade for it neither. Your fancy market only takes coin.’ That raised a rumble of discontent. ‘You made money on the want of others!’
‘And the other green markets of the Shire give their roots away, right?’ he shot back. ‘I know of no market, not even the one in Frogmorton, that failed to place a price on the roots and the apples and the onions and every other good that was offered up. If you take me to task, then you do so to every person who sells their wares.’
‘You knew there was want and you saw naught but gold! When your cousin, Bilbo Baggins, heard of the failed harvest, he knew the right thing to do was to tell the Master and the Thain that people needed help. The Master made roots available for trade, not just purchase. Thain Ferumbras sent old roots for the livestock and new roots for the goodwives as a Yule gift, almost three dozen carts all told, and didn’t ask for a thing in return! He kept more good food arriving through the winter and into Astron, for trade as well as for coin.’ Maud shook her finger at Odogar. ‘You’re not the only greedy Bolger! Your no-good cousin Gun stole the cart of the Thain’s gifts to Whitfurrows and tried to sell it to line his own pocket!’
At this news, a growl of disapproval swept over the hall. There was a limit to how much greed decent hobbits would allow, and Gun had gone past it. It did not seem to make an impression on Odogar, who never took his eyes off Widow Grubb, his expression a mix of anger and madness.
‘You should not blame Odogar alone, though he does bear the greatest fault in this.’ Bilbo’s head snapped around to look at Otho. Their duplicitous cousin had a calm, somewhat sorrowful expression on his face. ‘The Thain’s Heir, Paladin, wrote to me in Foreyule and asked me to intervene with my cousin, Bilbo, and persuade Bilbo to stop interfering with the deal Pal and Odogar had made to sell roots. He knew the harvest was poor, though perhaps not that it had failed, and he said to me that he did not inform the Thain directly of this news.’
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 19. Point
Chapter 20: Temptation
POV - Bilbo
In which Bilbo wrestles with the fallout of his actions in Yule and considers how to stave off temptation.
Fairgrounds, Michel Delving, Noon, 2 Lithe, 1390
Bilbo watched Frodo leave the hall with Blossom, Dudo and Tulip. Time for the true battle. The grand plans had been foiled and the conspirators would be out for revenge.
Off to his left, Odogar glared at everyone around him, but particularly at Bilbo. Hobbits were pointedly walking around Odogar as they passed, looking at him with disdain if they looked at him at all. Otho was standing with his brother-in-law and Lobelia, an arm protectively around her waist. Pasco had been chatting with Rory and Rufus as the two walked across the circle, but broke away to go over to Otho. Bilbo scanned the crowd for Milo, and saw him walking out the far door with Asphodel. To the other side, Wilcar had reclaimed Ada and the two were walking with Rum and Pal towards the Bagginses. Addy and Andy had their heads together back near where the Tooks were milling about. Bilbo tapped Griffo’s shoulder.
‘Yes, Uncle?’ the younger hobbit said.
‘Do you know either of those two Tooks?’ Bilbo motioned at Addy and Andy.
‘Yes. I’ve met them both.’
‘Go to them, tell them we’re all meeting again where we did after the horse show the first day, and they are to take you with them.’
‘As you wish,’ Griffo replied cheerfully and headed off to the other two.
Bilbo walked past Odogar and out the southern door of the building, Falco and Odo following after they exchanged quiet words with their wives and sons. Rory and Rufus changed direction and caught up to Bilbo a few paces beyond the doorway. They had picked up Wili as they passed Odogar. The crowd made it impossible to walk quickly, but Bilbo made steady headway until the throng thinned out. Most were heading east and north towards the fairway and the food booths, while they were going south and a bit west towards the horse arena.
When they were almost to the arena, Bilbo stopped to allow everyone to catch up. He was a little surprised to see Ada and Pal were still with them. Ada stayed next to Wilcar. Without any prompting, the rest made a circle around Pal who looked nervous when he realized where he was standing.
‘Well, Paladin, what have you to say for yourself?’ Bilbo softly asked.
‘I’ve got nothing to say to you,’ was the curt reply.
‘The less you say, the better, I think,’ Rufus mildly offered. ‘You have been saying too much of the wrong things to the wrong people for too long.’
‘What I say and who talk to is none of your business, any of you.’
‘When you pretend you are the Thain, and try to order the whole Shire to suit your fancy, then it is very much our business,’ Wilcar said in a tone far less mild than Rufus has used.
‘Until Baggins started interfering in everyone’s business, I was the Thain,’ Pal snapped, looking around the circle. ‘He,’ Pal motioned at Rum with his thumb, ‘hasn’t bothered himself with anything except scandal and perversity for years.’
‘Which simply demonstrates how little attention you pay to anything except lining your own pocket, Pal,’ Rum replied. ‘Cast all the insults you like at me. It does not change the harm you have done to the hobbits of Eastfarthing or how crudely you and Odogar have tried to thieve the eastern end of Westfarthing.’
‘As for who is Thain,’ Rory added, eyebrows bristling, ‘you knew by late Blotmath people were in want and you did naught and told no one. Rum saved lower Eastfarthing from hunger upon the receipt of a single letter explaining the problem. You tried to stop that from happening! That’s not what a Thain does.’
‘All that matters,’ Rufus said in the same mild tone he had used before, ‘is that we will do our business from now on with the true Thain, not with you. Word will be put out with other clan heads and town headmen warning against dealing with you.’
‘One correction, Paladin.’ Bilbo rolled his ring between his fingers, seeking some calm. Pal swallowed and backed away from Bilbo until he was standing right in front of Rory. ‘I did not interfere in anyone’s business. I simply refused to play along with your stupid, greedy scheme. Don’t blame me for your own bad deals. They would have failed regardless of what I did.’
‘And there are now no circumstances under which I would even consider relinquishing the Tooklands to Southfarthing.’ Wilcar crossed his arms and gave his brother-in-law a look of disgust. ‘The possibility that you might end up in charge of it, to the ruin of those who lived there, is not acceptable to me. Perhaps our sons may discuss it in fifty years or so.’
‘You may leave now, Pal. Just remember that you will be watched as closely as Odogar.’ Rum stepped aside and pointed towards the north. Pal stomped away. After he rounded a building and was out of sight, Wilcar sighed.
Read the rest of the chapter on Rómenna - Ch. 20. Temptation