|ESCAPE THE DARKNESS
Authors Quick Note – This story explores the idea about what might have happened if Strider had come to the Shire to forewarn Bilbo Baggins about the Ring Wraiths that would soon come hunting for the One Ring. Commences a few days before Bilbo’s Birthday party and before Gandalf returns to the shire as well.
Strider had vows to protect Bilbo when the Ring Wraiths are sent by the Dark Lord but he is unaware that the legacy of who is to carry the Ring to be destroyed falls upon a totally different Baggins hobbit.
Disclaimer - I do not own any of these characters but enjoy writing them and their adventures together.
CHAPTER FOUR - TREES AND ELVES
Much to the relief of Merry and Pippin, Strider was the one to save them from the wrath of Samwise and the annoyed expressions from Gandalf and Bilbo.
“Are you sure you are alright Mr Frodo?” Sam asked making sure that the apple had not struck hard enough to leave a mark.
“Yes thank you Sam,” Frodo said, getting off the couch to testify to what he was saying. Frodo now got himself a cool drink of water.
“Has you headache eased at all Frodo lad?” Bilbo asked, noting that being struck on the head by an object may have caused the pain to lengthen in duration.
“Actually it has, but only slightly most probably due to the shortness of my nap,” Frodo said, giving at disapproving look at his two younger cousins once again.
“If I may make a suggestion for the afternoon,” Strider interjected. “I will gladly take all of the young hobbits outside if it were to only allow Bilbo and Gandalf more time to talk or prepare for tomorrow’s celebrations.”
“Would you do that Strider?” Bilbo asked, grateful that the Ranger would offer to keep them occupied and out of Bag End if only for a few hours. “Of course if Frodo or Samwise wishes to stay I am certain that they would not disturb us.”
“Thank you Strider, I would appreciate going back out doors on such a nice day outside. A little more fresh air may be greatly beneficial and welcome,” Frodo said, pleased that the man was taking such an active interest in himself and his cousins.
“I’ll be coming with you to Mr Frodo,” Sam said, more of a statement than a request. After two incidents already in the short period his master’s cousins had been there, he was not about to let Mr Frodo go off in their company without being forever watchful.
Once earlier observations about the Ranger had been sorted out and explained, Sam knew that Strider would not let any harm come to his master. Sam reminded that there may be things about his master that the Ranger might question and not know the answer to. It was his duty to see to all of Mr Frodo’s needs and he aimed to do it to be best of his ability
“We can go and play in the stream and dream up some adventures in the tall grass
Merry,” Pippin said, clearly excited about the idea. “Come on Frodo and Sam what are we all waiting for?” he said, trying to race to the doorway.
“Hold on a minute there young Took, it might be wise to take some cool water to drink and something to eat later with you if you plan to stay out for a time,” Gandalf suggested.
“Mind you don’t get taking your games too seriously Pippin or ruin your clothes with your rough play after just arriving,” Bilbo said. Previous visits by the two lads Merry and Pippin had caused Bilbo much distress upon time for them to return home when he would have to explained to their parents what had happened to their nice clothes.
Sam went about getting a small basket ready for their afternoon’s activities. There was cool fresh water to drink, apples to eat under the shade of the trees and a few biscuits as well that Bilbo offered.
“I will bring them all back safely before it is time to prepare supper,” Strider said.
The four young hobbits and Ranger now walked out Bag End and paused at the top of the hill to decide which direction to take next. It seemed that Merry and Pippin had already made up their minds for everyone and they were already halfway down the hill before Strider or Frodo got a chance to ask where they were being led.
“They seem to have an abundance of energy for ones so small,” Strider now commented as he held back his pace a little for Sam to keep up with him.
The Ranger had already offered to take the basket from Sam if it became too heavy but Sam had objected and said that it was not necessary.
“They will certainly keep us all on our toes this afternoon I suspect,” Frodo said in reply. He couldn’t help but smile at the exuberance his two younger cousins displayed almost every minute of the day.
There were only two occasions when such energy wasn’t apparent, the first being when they slept at night and the second being when it was meal time. Although the second one was not as certain either for Frodo had experienced their enjoyment of food many times, noting that both would eat until there was nothing left upon the table and then be still voicing that they were hungry.
The shaded trees were now only a short distance away. Merry and Pippin had slowed their pace some and were walking a short distance in front of the other three. Frodo found himself wanting to let go a little as well that afternoon and enjoy the sunshine for as long as possible.
Frodo now walked a little more briskly towards Merry before turning to him to say something.
“Merry I have something to tell you,” Frodo in a slightly serious tone. He glanced away briefly making sure that his path in front was clear and unobstructed.
“What is it cousin?” Merry asked not reading anything more into Frodo’s words.
“Your tagged,” Frodo said and in less than a half-beat was now racing away from his two astounded cousins towards the long grass and trees.
“Why you……………… Baggins,” Merry said as he started to run after his fleeing cousin. “You won’t get far dear Frodo,” he added.
Pippin wasn’t going to be left out of the fun and games and was soon tailing Merry before pulling out in front in his attempts to catch sight of his older cousin.
Strider and Sam couldn’t help but laugh out loud at Frodo’s tactics towards his cousins. It pleased Sam no end that his master was having such fun at present.
Sam and the Ranger didn’t need to worry about loosing the three hobbits for their
laughter soon echoed through the trees, directing the trailing two in the right direction.
They came to a wooded area with a number of very large trees, one in particular looking magnificent with the different hues in its leaves and the stark whiteness of it’s trunk.
There was a small stream gleaming a few metres away and it was here that Sam and Strider now spotted the other three. The water wasn’t very deep, merely a few inches high, but it ran like crystal along its course so that the stones on the bottom could be clearly defined.
Merry and Pippin were already involved in playful frolic, happily splashing each other with the water as they stood in the middle of the stream. The bottom of their breeches was wet from their attempts to soak each other but other than that they remained mostly dry.
Frodo on the other hand was merely content to stand on the very edges of the stream, far enough away from his two cousins that he not be showered by them. The water was so inviting and he let the coolness run over this feet.
Sam set the basket down under the larger tree and both he and the Ranger watched from beneath it’s shady canopy.
“Why does Frodo not join in with Merry and Pippin?” Strider asked, noting that it the expression on the hobbit’s face was as though he forced himself not to go any deeper into the water.
“Tis not natural for a hobbit to be fully submerged in water unless they are bathing Sir, although with Mr Frodo’s cousins you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise,” Sam answered. “That is what my Gaffer always says.”
“My master has other reasons for not wanting to go any further than the edge,” he added and turned his attention to unpacking the basket to avoid the Ranger’s curiosity further.
Strider did not press the subject further at this point in time as it became apparent that he was in danger of putting a dampener on the currently happy atmosphere by asking such a question.
A few minutes later, Merry, Pippin and Frodo all came to join their companions under the shade of the tree. The two younger hobbits were still trying to catch their breath after much activity in a short space of time.
Frodo now sat down directly under the tree, separated a little from the others, leaning his back against the strong trunk. He willed himself to relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings, the breeze gently ruffling his hair.
“Do you have any stories that we can share Strider?” Pippin asked as he grabbed at one of the biscuits Sam had just set down on a small plate.
“Depends on which type of stories you would like to hear,” Strider said as he made himself a little more comfortable underneath the tree. He looked over at Frodo, who by now had his eyes closed but was not asleep. He would still be able to hear what was said.
“I want to hear about some of your other adventures,” Merry declared. “Action with swords and fighting.” Strider raised an eyebrow at such a strong inclination for stories with violence.
“What about you Sam, what would you prefer to hear?” Strider asked, involving him as much as the others in the conversation and decision.
“You’re asking me Sir?” Sam said with a surprised expression. To be in the company of such a man as Strider was indeed unusual to say the least but more than he could have hoped for and he had his master to thank for most of that outcome.
“Yes Sam, I am asking you,” Strider repeated, noting that Sam was one not used to having been asked what he would like or prefer.
“Beggin your pardon Sir, but if I were to have a choice, and I thank you for offering, it would be to hear about the elves that Master Bilbo has spoken to me about,” Sam said.
“If your story has elves in it Strider then you are sure to win Sam’s heart,” Frodo now said, still relaxing against the tree and still with his eyes closed.
“Oh, who wants to hear about them,” Pippin said with a little disappointment in his voice. He gave Sam an apologetic look for sounding like the idea was a poor one.
“Would it please you all to know that I know of many stories that would entail both elves and adventure?” the Ranger now offered in compromise.
“Do you know about Elves Mr Strider?” Sam asked, not knowing anybody else apart from Master Bilbo who claimed to know as much about such different folk.
”One of my closest and dearest friends is an elf Sam. He is indeed a true example of his kind. He is also of noble birth, a prince no less among his own people. And we have had many adventures together during our long friendship,” Strider said, noting the looks of awe coming from Sam about an elf that was also a prince. He knew he had one over Merry and Pippin to with his talk about adventures.
“Please tell us Strider,” Pippin asked, giving his best pouting look.
“Is it true what they say about Elves being able to sneak up behind you without hearing them?” Merry asked.
“Yes it is true Merry. Elves are very well known for their stealth and ability to walk along paths but leave little or no trace of their presence as others would do.
“Master Bilbo has learned me that they have very fair skin,” Sam said, trying to remember the descriptions he had heard in the past.
“That is true Sam, you have remembered your tuition well, for Legolas and many others of his kind have very fine features and fair complexions,” Strider said in response.
“Hey Frodo that means you might be part Elven,” Merry said, interrupting the flow of conversation for a moment. “I’ve always said that your skin is much too pale for a hobbit, even if you are part Baggins and part Brandybuck.”
“Yes Merry but Frodo couldn’t be an Elf because his hair is much too dark,”
Pippin piped in, agreeing that Frodo had some of the similarities in his face that Elven people were said to have inherited.
“Elves are said to have hair as fair as their skin, though I have never seen one to affirm this,” Pippin explained giving what little information he knew about them.
“Ah but young Peregrin, I know Elrond, Lord of the Elves. He has long hair that is encircled by a symbol of his race, the colour is described as being dark as the shadows of twilight,” Strider said, seeing that he held keen interest of such things from the younger two hobbits.
“Lady Arwen, Lord Elrond’s daughter also has also long lustrous hair that is written in books to be dark braids of hair touched by no frost,”
“The elves certainly have a pretty way of putting words together don’t they,” Sam reflected. Many a times he had heard Bilbo sing songs that the elves had written and all of them had so much poetry and meaningfulness to them unlike any other songs that Sam had ever known before.
“Does your friend have fair hair Strider?” Merry asked. “I don’t think you have told us his name yet.”
“Legolas,” Strider informed them. “His name is Legolas, a Prince of royal descent and yes he has long fair hair. Some of the strands are often plaited or braided to keep them away from his face.
“A strange sounding name I must say,” Merry commented never hearing a name for someone even remotely similar.
“If you don’t mind Merry, no matter what characteristics I may share or not share with elves, I would need to grow quite a lot taller than I am I should think. I am quite happy to call myself a plain ordinary hobbit,” Frodo said to his cousin.
Frodo was keeping up with the conversation but not involving himself much. He tried to hide a smile at the suggestion that he might have Elven bloodlines further back in his heritage.
“Enough talk about how elves should look, what of these adventures you had?” Pippin now demanded, hoping they would get to the good parts of the story soon.
“Ah, I see you are a little over zealous,” Strider remarked.
“Tell me more about this place Mirkwood you mentioned?” Merry asked. “I have been told it is very strange place to be visiting.”
“That is true Merry for those who do not know the hidden dangers,” Strider said with a note of warning in his voice. “Mirkwood is a very picturesque part of Middle-earth with many beautiful trees and plants that grow no where else.”
As the three hobbits and Ranger talked of strange lands and people, they failed to notice Frodo choosing now to depart their company. He did not want to interrupt their discussion and planned only to wander but a few metres away to stretch his legs.
“What are the hidden dangers Strider?” Pippin asked in a nervous voice.
“Spiders Pippin,” Strider said as he watched the faces of the three small hobbits grow round with fear. “They are very small and hardly look troublesome for those who would come across them. But they are poisonous and should be well left alone,” he explained.
“I do not like crawling bugs of any kind Mr Strider,” Sam now commented as his skin suddenly felt all tingling just thinking about coming into contact with such creatures.
“I dare say my master would not like them any more than I either, do you Mr Frodo?” Sam asked, expecting to hear a voice in reply. A memory came to him of a much earlier time when Frodo had found a large bug on his bedding one day. Frodo had not wanted to admit to anyone how much he hated crawling insects or bugs.
The reply did not come though and all turned their faces to where they knew Frodo to be sitting only a few minutes earlier. To their surprise, the grassy spot was now vacant.
“Mr Frodo?” Sam asked again as he got to his feet and walked around the tree in case his master had sought to lay down and doze in the dappled shade.
“Frodo?” Strider repeated after Sam, he too getting to his feet and concerned that he could see no sign of the hobbit.
“Sneaked away as quiet as the elves,” Merry said, seeing Pippin nod his head in agreement.
“I believe Frodo to be sensible enough and not wander to far away. Let us take a short walk and see if we can find him,” Strider suggested.
“We don’t even know which direction he went in though,” Merry said, pointing out what seemed obvious. They couldn’t see Frodo anywhere within viewable distance from the tree.
“But if we use what evidence is before us and our knowledge of Frodo, then we will surely pick up his trail soon enough,” Strider said, remaining positive.
“What evidence are you talking about?” Pippin asked, not being able to see any sign that Frodo might have left to show where he went.
“Come here Pippin, Merry and Sam,” Strider instructed, kneeling in front of the spot where Frodo had been sitting earlier.
“He may have moved as silently as an elf, but I am afraid that Frodo does not have the feet to match,” he said, pointing to footprints made on the ground.
As they looked beyond the footprints and into the long-grass, a definite path could be seen where blades of grass had been trodden on or lay bent over from where Frodo passed by.
Sam now lead the group as they followed the trail to the missing Frodo.
Whilst Frodo’s friends only just noticed that he wasn’t with them and beginning to worry of his whereabouts, the dark-haired hobbit was enjoying himself immensely.
After a short walk away from his companions, Frodo had come to another large tree in the wooded area. Whilst this one was not so wide spread in it’s branches, it was much taller and the leaves were of a more natural green colour.
Frodo had always liked climbing trees and sit perched amongst the higher branches, listening to the sounds that were around him. From where he was he could let the breeze blow and rustle the leaves taking him back in time to when he lived at Brandy Hall. He had often climbed trees near there as well before moving in with Bilbo.
Frodo could hear birds somewhere above him, making nests and raising families, singing and chirping as they went about their routine. He could see out into the rest of the wooded area and survey the area for a greater distance than he would have normally seen from the ground.
The branch that Frodo had chosen to sit on was a very large one that grew much longer than some further down the trunk. It was sturdy and strong and would easily accommodate his weight. The young hobbit now looked upwards and spotted another branch, and although it was thinner, it was only fractionally shorter than the other.
It was at times such at this when he completely on his own and enjoying what nature had to offer that Frodo found himself showing another side to himself rarely displayed in front of others, including Samwise. There were times when he let his heart rule his body and his actions rather than acting like a sensible hobbit ought to.
Frodo stood up on the bottom branch, placing his feet carefully on the thicker bottom branch. He now reached up with his arms at full stretch and comfortably encircled his hands around the width of the narrower branch above.
For the next few minutes, he walked back and forth a few feet in either direction along the branch and then back again towards the trunk, always keeping his grip firmly on the higher branch. He placed his feet deliberately and accurately each time as though where he walked was much narrower.
As he kept his concentration focused on where he placed his feet, Frodo was unaware of his companions approaching down on the ground.
“The trail sort of ends around here,” Merry now pointed out, not yet having looked into the trees. He and the rest of the group had been intent on following the trail on the ground before them but now they could see little sign of where Frodo had gone next.
Strider was the first to look to the branch and notice the young hobbit, grateful that he had done so before the others. He couldn’t help but fear for Frodo’s safety as he watched in silence.
“Sam, Merry, Pippin, I have found him but you need to keep quiet before I point him out to you,” the Ranger whispered.
“Why do we need to keep quiet?” Merry asked, thinking it was not something that was going to stop them from finding his missing cousin.
“Look yonder Merry but do not shout out too loudly for what you see,” Strider warned before raising his arm so they could follow with their eyes.
“Oh my lord!” Sam said with a little more volume than he or Strider would have liked. He quickly clamped his own hand over his mouth but could not hide the fear in his eyes that he now held for his master.
Merry and Pippin were both about to call out to their cousin upon seeing him perched in the tree but refrained as Strider repeated his warning of not startling Frodo.
“We have to get him down from there now!” Pippin said to the Ranger in a whisper. The fact that the youngest hobbit was whispering at all or was capable of it, demonstrated just how afraid he was that Frodo would fall.
“Frodo has always been the one to climb trees. Even back in Brandy Hall he was told about how dangerous it was. He never listened though,” Merry commented as he thought back to earlier times.
“I am certain that Legolas and Frodo would fast become friends now that I see him doing such things. Legolas too has an affinity for climbing trees though he had never fallen out of one so far as I know,” Strider stated, trying to reassure the hobbits that Frodo might not be in any direct danger.
“Mr Strider you just have to get him down before he falls,” Sam voiced again softly, his fear not having been abated in the slightest by talk of others doing the same thing.
“I agree with you Sam, but we must also be cautious in how we go about doing it. If Frodo was to startle suddenly then we would be causing more harm than good,” Strider said.
“Let us wait until he is closer to the trunk before trying to attract his attention,”
Strider suggested, noting that Frodo was only just beginning to walk back towards the tree.
Frodo stopped walking about halfway along, still holding tightly onto the branch above. His gaze turned upwards to the branch above as he now tried to use the strength in his arms to lift himself up onto the higher branch.
Sam’s heart was almost in his throat as he watched his master become even more daring than he had ever thought was possible of him. Inwardly he told himself that once Frodo was safely on the ground he would have to have a stern conversation with his master.
Although Strider was a little concerned himself about Frodo’s safety, upon watching the agile young hobbit, he couldn’t help but be amazed at his flexibility and strength for one so small. There was so much to learn about this most interesting of hobbits.
By now, Frodo had managed to complete his desire and pulled himself up onto the higher branch. He still held onto the branch with one hand as he waited to steady himself properly. It was only now that he became aware of being watched.
Without remembering the warning Strider had given moments before, Pippin had also been amazed at what Frodo had achieved. The youngest member of the group now only wanted to show how impressed he was and began clapping towards his cousin.
“No Pippin,” Merry shouted harshly, also forgetting that he too was supposed to be using a softer voice. But the damage was already done.
Frodo was startled by the clapping from his cousin and the shout from Merry. He lost his balance and attempted to grab a hold of the branch but wasn’t quick enough. His concentration had been interrupted and as he tried to find a firm foothold, all he found was air. All watching yelled in horror as they saw Frodo lose his balance.
Before anybody could prevent it, Frodo fell backwards off the branch, a smaller branch striking him across the cheek as he toppled. There was a cry for help as he tried to stop himself and then a harsh thud as he fell face first onto the ground underneath the tree.
Strider had tried in vain to get to the tree to try and cushion the fall with his own body, but he was not fast enough either. Frodo now lay on his stomach in the grass not moving.
“FRODO!” the three hobbits managed to say in unison as they all arrived a second behind the Ranger and tried to assess how badly he had been hurt.
“Are you alright little one?” Strider asked, feeling as though there should have been something more he could have done to prevent such an accident. He had promised Bilbo that he would protect him whilst in the Shire and although Frodo’s wandering away from them had been unexpected, he still laid a great deal of blame on himself.
At first there was no response and he thought the hobbit must have lost consciousness as he landed. He placed his hands on the hobbit’s slim shoulders and was about to gently turn him over to see what injuries he had sustained.
“Please be alright Mr Frodo,” Sam said, almost on the verge of tears. “You just got to be.”
“S-Sam……..” came the response, Frodo still trying to let the air back into his lungs.
Strider and the hobbits couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief at hearing even that one word escape his lips. After a few more seconds, Frodo had regained enough of his senses to try and pull himself into a sitting position.
The hobbit winced at the dull ache he felt in his chest when he did so, but he tried to put on a brave face. He looked up and saw the distressed faces of Sam and his two cousins. The Ranger knelt beside him, looking him over very carefully and waiting for him to tell him what hurt the most.
“Just got the wind knocked out of me a bit,” he said, but placed a hand on the spot on his chest that was causing discomfort and trying to rub the pain away with the palm of his hand.
“Let me take a look Frodo,” Strider now instructed as he gently undid the buttons on Frodo’s shirt and took a look underneath the hand.
“It is a little reddened at the moment and no doubt you will have discomfort for a day or so, not to mention a bruise afterwards,” Strider diagnosed.
“Frodo I am sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you like that,” Pippin said, worried that he was the most responsible for his cousin’s fall.
“I must admit I did not know you were watching but you are not to blame dear Pip,” Frodo said, placing a hand on the youngest hobbit’s shoulder and helping to divert his concerns.
“Oh Mr Frodo I was so worried about seeing you up in that tree like that,” Sam blurted out.
“What were you doing climbing that tree anyway Frodo?” Pippin asked.
“I like being around trees Pippin,” Frodo declared as he let himself be pulled to his feet. “It makes me feel good inside to be around things in nature.”
“I bet your not feeling to good inside there right now,” Merry commented ruefully. “Silly hobbit,” he added, getting a sheepish grin in return from Frodo.
“Are you sure you can walk back without too much discomfort Frodo?” the Ranger enquired. Frodo seemed to be standing on his own alright with little sign of any problems with his sense of balance at the moment.
“I will be fine,” Frodo said, a little embarrassed that he had caused his friends and companions to worry so much about him.
The group now started to head back to Bag End. All of them were lost in their own thoughts for a time. Strider was trying to come up with a plausible explanation for Gandalf and Bilbo why he hadn’t kept a sharper eye on the lad.
Sam was determined not to let his master Mr Frodo out of his sight again that afternoon and making sure that he would know if Frodo was trying to hide any pain.
The pace returning to Bag End was somewhat slower than it had been leaving, but Frodo did not voice any complaints or concerns along the way. Sam had already promised to make a nice cup of hot tea for them all once they were there. Hopefully the tea would help his master relax and allow any sore muscles to do the same.
As it happened, Gandalf was talking with Bilbo in the kitchen when the Ranger and hobbits came through the front door. Bilbo had been very busy making some of the dishes for the party whilst Gandalf was prepared just to sit back and enjoy his pipe whilst engaging his friend in intelligent conversation and memories of old times.
“What have we here, our much too noisy friends have returned Bilbo,” Gandalf said with a laugh. He noticed that Merry and Pippin were still trying to escape his piercing gaze but there was also something else.
Frodo walked in front of Strider and could not hide a few winces of pain as he shuffled his feet along the floor, looking for the words to say to his uncle Bilbo. The ranger himself had a most strange look on his face as though he might be guilty of something.
Sam was the first to inform them of the misadventures of the afternoon, “Master Bilbo, Frodo hurt himself falling out of a tree,” he announced. Frodo and Strider both inwardly groaned, hoping they would be able to relay the details a little more subtly.
“Frodo lad are you hurt somewhere?” Bilbo now asked, wiping his floured hands on a cloth and walking forward with a concerned look on his face. His mind had only yet focused on Sam’s words that the boy was hurt.
“Only a little bruising Uncle Bilbo,” Frodo said, giving his best sympathetic look with his expressive blue eyes. “It doesn’t hurt so much now,” he added, hoping to ease a little of his uncle’s worry.
“I am sorry Bilbo but I could not get to him in time to prevent his fall. I will have Frodo sit a minute while I examine the area more closely,” Strider suggested.
“Oh I know you are not at fault Strider. Falling from a tree Sam is it? Well that doesn’t surprise me one bit with our young Frodo here. He was always a little keen on trees even before he moved here to Hobbiton.” Bilbo said as he saw Sam’s nod of him getting the version of events correct.
“Frodo you go with Strider and do what he says while he takes a look at you. Sam and I will make a nice cup of tea for you and I will put some herbs in that will help with any pain,” Bilbo suggested.
Merry and Pippin decided it best to keep out of the way for a few minutes and were content to move closer to the table where Gandalf sat. Pippin couldn’t help but spot the pies that Bilbo had been preparing a little earlier. He reached out his hand and tried to sneak a piece of the dough before his hand was slapped away by Merry.
Merry gave his best disapproving look to his younger cousin, but he too was soon dipping his finger in the soft, edible dough whilst Bilbo and the others were concerned with Frodo.
Frodo obediently went with the Ranger into the sitting room where he could be more comfortable on the settee. He stretched out along it and patiently waited for Strider to look at his chest.
“I didn’t know you knew about such matters,” Frodo said as he watched the Ranger use hands of gentleness that he would not have normally associated with men. The touch was light and firm but did not hurt.
“I have learned much about the skill of healing from Lord Elrond that I spoke of earlier. I was fortunate enough to learn quickly under his careful and great knowledge,” Strider replied.
“Here is your tea Mr Frodo sir,” Sam said as he walked over to his master and placed the mug of tea on a small table beside the settee.
“I could probably lessen any discomfort for you a little more if I had the athelasplant among my possessions. I am not certain it grows in this area though,” Strider commented, looking towards the wizard for his assistance.
“No Strider you are right, that plant does not suit well in these regions,” Gandalf said blowing out a puff of smoke.
“I was just about to start to prepare supper, Samwise would you like to join us?” Bilbo asked, knowing that Frodo would appreciate his offer.
“Can he stay with all night Uncle Bilbo?” Frodo now asked with a touch of excitement in his voice. “There are already three of us and there is plenty of space,” he added. Somehow it didn’t feel right that he and his two cousins would be allowed to join in fun and games later on that evening without Sam to enjoy it too.
“Mr Frodo I am just overjoyed you would ask,” Sam commented, very grateful for his master’s invitation. He had never thought of staying overnight in Bag End unless Mr Frodo wasn’t feeling well and he had been asked to keep him company whilst he recovered.
Now he was not only being asked to stay overnight but to be included in the fun of it all. “Are you sure there is enough room, beggin your pardon as you seem to have a number of guests already Master Bilbo?”
“I think that’s a splendid idea Frodo,” Bilbo said, noting the happiness in his nephew’s eyes.
“But what will I tell my Gaffer,” Sam said, knowing that his father might frown a little on such matters where class and knowing one’s proper place were expected.
“Well Sam, now that Frodo has gone and hurt himself some and with all of these other guests as you say, I need someone with some good old fashioned hobbit sense in case he needs anything during the night,” Bilbo explained, giving Frodo a sly smile to go with his words.
Gandalf and Strider couldn’t help but try and hide grins behind their mugs of tea as they listened to the older hobbit trying to coax Sam into thinking he was doing the right thing.
“Frodo’s hand will need to be attended to and the bandages changed after his bath. I will need someone who has a sound mapping of my kitchen to help prepare the right sort of tea before bed so that he can rest through the night without being disturbed by any lingering discomfort. Merry and Pippin will be full of energy I suspect and therefore they might not be suited to such an important task,” Bilbo said, giving the stout hobbit a viable alibi that he could tell his Gaffer.
Bilbo knew about Hamfast’s views on taking care of those better than themselves. He would use such views to his advantage without stretching the truth too much. He doubted Frodo would like having himself referred to as needing as much help as he said, but he also knew his nephew would be more than willing to endure such remarks if it allowed Sam to join him and his cousins.
“I’ll go and see him Master Bilbo and tell him the same, that Mr Frodo may be needing some company as well as caring for his hurts,” Sam said, now mirroring the excitement that his master had displayed. “If all is right, I will return with a change of clothes and some of my mother’s fresh made confectionary. Made it just for Mr Frodo’s birthday she said too.”
“Um, well will come with you to support your story Sam,” Merry now offered, giving his younger cousin a quick jab with his elbow. “We will make sure that Sam gets home safely and back again.” he added.
“Oh yes, we will won’t we Merry,” Pippin said, following the lead unaware of his obvious overacting.
“Is that alright with you Mr Frodo sir?” Sam asked, a little wary as to why Frodo’s two cousins would be offering to go with him until he remembered mentioning something about his mother’s homemade sweets. At least now he knew what they were up to. Hoping to get the candy for themselves no doubt Sam told himself.
“That’s quite alright Sam, go now and you can come back and we can have supper and then I will read some stories to you all in my room,” Frodo said, by now already knowing like Sam why Merry and Pippin were insisting that they went along too.
Frodo and the three adults watched the three hobbits head back out of Bag End and walk what would be a relatively short distance to Sam’s home.
“Those too are incorrigible Bilbo,” Gandalf now said, breaking the silence in the room. He wasn’t cross with the two cousins, but was not accustomed to such brazen measures taken at any opportunity to gain for themselves.
“Ah, yes I am afraid they are at that Gandalf, but don’t fret so. Underneath Merry and Pippin are quite sensible even for their ages. They will not do wrong by Sam once they are in the presence of others. They will mind their manners and be nothing but charming to the Gamgee family I am sure.
“Your pies and delicious pastries smell wonderful Uncle Bilbo,” Frodo said as the enticing aromas wafted out to him in settee. A mixture of just the right of nutmeg and cinnamon and a few other sweet smells that were beginning to make him hungry.
“Ah supper will be ready very shortly my dear boy,” Bilbo said with a chuckle, delighted for once that his cooking had such an effect on his young nephew. “I have been very busy since you were gone all afternoon. That apple barrel down in the cellar will need replenishing by tomorrow as well as most of my other cooking ingredients.”
“You mean that giant barrel of apples,” Frodo said in astonishment. His memory took him back to a month before when the barrel had first been brought in by Sam’s Gaffer. He had questioned his Uncle back than as to why they needed such a large barrel for just the two of them.
Bilbo had replied by telling him that it didn’t hurt to have a supply of fresh food wherever possible, particularly when a certain young nephew was quite fond of apples and was often found pilfering one or two before heading outdoors for his walks.
Bilbo looked towards Frodo when he finished speaking and saw the boy’s mind ticking over with the information he had just been told. “What are you thinking about?” he asked, clearly seeing an air of mischief coming from his nephews blue eyes.
“I think you have just given me a little idea about how to get back at Merry and Pippin,” Frodo said with a grin as he went to get off the settee.
“Mr Strider, may I enquire if you have a cloak that I may borrow for but a few minutes. I promise it will not come to any harm,” Frodo enquired from the Ranger.
“I do indeed, and I have no objections but must ask what are you planning to do?” Strider said, relieved that Frodo seemed to have suffered very few ill effects from his fall.
The hobbit’s movement was uninhibited from what the ranger could see. It looked as though the bruise that would be present the following morning would be the only reminder of the mishap.
“To give two certain young cousins a taste of their own medicine,” Frodo said as he took the cloak Strider offered. He was even more pleased to see that the cloak was also hooded. Even better for his idea. It was much darker in colour than his own and a great deal longer but that would suit his purpose even more.
By now the adults had a vague notion of what Frodo planned to do. Bilbo and Gandalf did not usually see Frodo involving himself in such activities, but would not deny now that they thought a little harmless fun would entertain them all.
“Uncle could you see that Merry and Pippin come looking for me once they have returned?” Frodo said as he started heading down to the cellar.
“Yes Frodo, I will tell them,” Bilbo said as he began clearing away his cooking dishes in order to set the table for supper.
“Looks as though the young apprentice has an accomplice Bilbo,” Gandalf laughed. “You are not returning to ways when you were much younger are you?”
“I’ll see to it that you and the Ranger are blamed as much as I am Gandalf, should it become necessary,” Bilbo teased. Strider and Gandalf both chuckled at the remark.
About five minutes after Frodo went down to the cellar, Merry and Pippin returned to Bag End, followed closely by Sam carrying a small backpack with his change of clothes.
“I see your Gaffer was agreeable to you staying then Sam,” Bilbo said as he laid plates and cutlery on the table for all.
“Not at first Master Bilbo, I must admit. He wasn’t too keen on the idea at all. But I am most grateful for Mr Merry here who helped to repeat the reasons why I was needed that you did. That I needed to help look after Mr Frodo and the like. My Gaffer changed his mind then and said it was alright as long as I remember to help out where I was needed most,” Sam explained.
Merry and Pippin were both pleased with their efforts of being able to persuade Sam’s parents into letting him stay at Bag End. Like their cousin, they would be a little disappointment had he had to return home and miss out on the fun.
“Well that is most pleasing to hear Sam, I am grateful that your Gaffer has much wisdom when it comes to such things,” Bilbo said. “I am sure that Frodo will be just as happy to hear the news as well.”
It was only now that Bilbo mentioned his name that the three younger hobbits, noticed Frodo was no longer sitting on the settee. He gave a secret wink towards Gandalf and Strider before continuing his performance.
“Where is Mr Frodo?” Sam asked, thinking that maybe his master had gone to change for dinner or lay down in his room before supper.
“I sent him down to the cellar to get some ingredients for my dessert. I must say I sent him just after you left, he has been gone a few minutes longer than I would have expected of him. Merry and Pippin, would you two go down and see what’s keeping him. Sam I could use your expertise in telling me if this stew is salted enough if you didn’t mind,” Bilbo said, using a ploy to ensure that it wasn’t Sam that went looking for Frodo first.
“Sure Bilbo,” Merry said enthusiastically as he urged Pippin to follow him. He gulped a little at the darkness of the room, even from the top of the stairs and was grateful that he was not about to proceed down there alone.
Strider secretly laughed at the two hobbits paused on the stairs and noted that their fear of the dark only played further into Frodo’s plan. At first Sam had been a little irked that it was the two cousins that were asked to fetch his master, but didn’t want to upset Bilbo over helping him assess the readiness of the stew. It seemed a little odd at first, Sam knowing of Bilbo’s ability to cook up any number of delicious dishes but he didn’t question it all the same.
But upon seeing Strider’s grin and the looks exchanged between Master Bilbo and the wizard, knew that the disappearance had been staged. He waited along with the adults to see what would soon transpire.
Frodo could now hear footsteps descending down into the cellar and shrouded himself further into the folds of the Ranger’s cloak. When he had come down to the cellar, he had quickly climbed into the almost empty apple barrel. The effort had made him wince a few times from the muscles in his chest pulling, and he was glad that nobody else had been about to hear his sharp intake of breath.
Once the ache had all but disappeared again, he sat on the bottom of the wooden barrel, with his knees drawn up towards his chest. He then proceeded to drape the long cloak over his shoulders and fasten it with the fine brooch in front.
The last thing was to set the hood over his head, shielding most of his face as he went. He didn’t have a mirror to go by, but used his hands to brush some of his dark curls wards the edges of his face for even more effect.
Now all he had to do was wait until Merry and Pippin got too curious for their own good.
Frodo didn’t have to wait long. He heard the footsteps descend and then heard whispered voices as Merry and Pippin walked together across the floor, neither willing to admit that he was afraid of the dark and determined not to let go of each other in case they lost each other in the darkness.
Merry and Pippin could see the barrels of wine and various casks of other long life food piled up in each corner. They couldn’t see any sign of Frodo and were beginning to feel as if something might have happened to him.
“Who goes there?” Frodo said in a very deep voice, disguising his own and trying to put a little fear into the cousins.
“Merry did you say something?” Pippin squeaked in alarm at the voice he heard.
“Don’t be daft Pip, I didn’t say anything, it must have been you or that imagination of yours,” Merry said, trying to sound brave but knowing he was just as frightened as Pippin.
“Meriadoc and Peregrin, you disturb my slumber,” Frodo said in the same voice, scarcely able to keep from laughing at the squeaks of fright he could hear coming from his two cousins.
“We didn’t mean to disturb you sir, honest, we were just sent down here to look for our cousin Frodo,” Pippin said, not realising who he was speaking to or that he was talking out loud.
“Frodo?” came the voice as though confused about the name. “You mean that other hobbit whom I have eaten,” it continued.
“Eaten!……….” Merry said as he felt the blood drain away from his face at such a statement.
Frodo now began to rise from his seclusion in the apple barrel, looking as though he was a dark spectre rising from the floor of the cellar.
For a few seconds, Merry and Pippin could only watch in stunned horror as they watched the large, cloaked figure rise in front of them, seemingly getting larger and taller by the second.
Merry and Pippin could not see the face of the thing in front of them as it spoke to them. It’s face was shrouded by the hooded cloak. They were on the very edge of fear and clinging to each other as though they lives were truly in danger.
“And now I shall have you as well,” Frodo said in the voice, reaching out his hands towards the two hobbits. Frodo now turned his face towards his cousins, the dark curls falling across his paler skin and making it appear as though there was nothing underneath the hood but the face.
Merry and Pippin shrieked in utter horror as they gazed upon the white face that was staring intently back at them. They saw the blue eyes but their fear didn’t allow them to recognize them as anything other than piercing and cold.
Gandalf and the others had been waiting above in the kitchen, waiting to hear what Frodo was planning to do to his cousins. They didn’t need to wait long and fought to hold back their laughter in a more composed manner as they heard the hobbits shriek and run back towards the kitchen.
Merry and Pippin came into the kitchen after climbing the stairs two at a time and fell over each other’s feet on the floor in front of the others as they tried to escape what was chasing them.
Frodo had followed the two but stood just the other side of the doorway, whilst listening to Merry and Pippin tell their versions of events.
“Merry, Pippin, are you alright?” Gandalf asked, finding it hard not to see the funny side of the prank. He tried his best to keep up a sympathetic appearance which is more than could be said for Bilbo and Strider who hid their grins and giggles behind their hands for a moment. “Whatever is the matter,” he asked in a mock concerned tone.
“Oh Gandalf, Bilbo, there is a big monster down in the cellar,” Pippin wailed as he fought to pull himself to his feet.
“A monster you say! How big was this monster and what did he threaten to do?” he asked as though hanging onto their every word.
“He was small at first, we didn’t even see him until he started rising out of the floor,” Merry declared, waving his arms about and giving a grand demonstration of what they had discovered.
“He said he was going to eat us. He said he had already eaten Frodo!” Pippin said, not realising at first how ridiculous he sounded.
“Eat Frodo you say?” Gandalf said, knowing he could not hold in his mirth much longer. Thankfully he could see the still shrouded Frodo creeping up behind the two hobbits, ready to reveal himself.
Sam would have been most alarmed at such a statement, had he not been a little nervous at the sight of the moving cloak.
“Does this monster look anything like the one standing behind you?” Gandalf now asked casually.
Merry and Pippin froze at the wizard’s words and as soon as they saw the cloak, ran behind Strider who was still seated. “Don’t let him get us Strider?” Merry cried out.
“Meriadoc and Peregrin, note what I am about to say well,” Frodo said in his deep voice.
The two hobbits were telling themselves not to look at the figure any more, but the more they resisted, the more they found themselves wanting to look. Just when they thought they would scream again in fear, the figure lifted one of his cloaked arms towards his hood, throwing it back suddenly.
“BOO!” Frodo said in his own voice, his blue eyes now shining with sheer delight at having given his two cousins such a great scare.
Strider and Bilbo could not believe such a voice came from the normally, mild mannered hobbit. The two of them now laughed and laughed at the priceless looks on the faces of Merry and Pippin. By now Sam had relaxed upon seeing the figure was only Frodo and he too laughed heartily along with the others.
Frodo could scarcely stop himself from laughing as he looked at the stunned looks on Merry and Pippin’s faces. The more he looked at them and remembered their shrieks and whispers down in the cellar, the harder they laughed.
By now Merry and Pippin knew that they were the butt of the joke. They could see all laughing until they were ready to drop. Frodo was laughing so hard his eyes were watering.
Merry expression was the first to look indignant at what they had just been put through. “I suppose you think that is very funny Frodo Baggins,” Merry asked in a demanding voice.
Pippin now wore a similar look as Merry that he had not figured out the whole thing was a gag to catch them out. It seemed that everybody had been in on it except him and Merry.
“Actually I do,” Frodo said, straightening himself up for a second and removing the cloak from around his shoulders. “Thank you Strider, that was most enjoyable. Best fun I have had in a very long time,” he said still smiling broadly.
“You should have seen your faces,” Frodo said to the cousins. “I’m coming to get you” he uttered in the deep voice again and then collapsed again into laughter at the reaction he had invoked.
“You sure got them good Mr Frodo sir,” Sam said, now as the laughter began to slow a little. “I bet they won’t be pulling any more pranks on you in a while,” he noted with satisfaction. He would never have thought up something as clever as that to get back at Merry and Pippin for the ink and tea.
“It was a pretty good trick,” Pippin now admitted, seeing it from Frodo’s point of view. If he hadn’t been so scared by it, he would have said it was most inventive. He would have to remember something like that for himself for use in future.
“Never let it be said that a Baggins was out done by a Brandybuck and a Took,” Frodo now said proudly.
“That’s two Bagginses, Frodo my boy,” Bilbo pointed out as he sat down at the table with the others. “We Bagginses have to stick together you know,” he added.
Merry and Pippin could only give Bilbo their icy looks as they did recall the old hobbit being part of the whole plan for it was he that had sent them down to the cellar in the first place. He had known all along what was doing to happen.
“I am glad that I should not be on the receiving end of such revenge from a Baggins,” Strider commented. “I shall have to be forever vigilant around all of you hobbits.”
“I guess we are about even at the moment Frodo,” Merry said seeing little chance to get back at his cousin until he remembered the birthday celebration the next day. A smile crept over his face as he started thinking.
For the next hour, chatter around the table soon turned to eating and Frodo would steal looks towards his two cousins on a few occasions and laugh. Looking around the table as he did now, with so many friends and family at the one gathering, Frodo couldn’t help but think that the birthday celebrations for him and Uncle Bilbo tomorrow should be the best ever.
As promised, about 9.00pm that night, Frodo had taken the other young hobbits into his room to read to them from some of his books. Sam had offered to help clean up the dishes, but was dragged away by Frodo, telling him that this was one night where he was to do nothing but enjoy himself.
Gandalf and the other two adults spoke around the sitting room for a time, smoking and sipping at piping hot cups of tea and reliving old memories. Gandalf had declared that he should retire so that he could help with the many preparations that would be in order the following day.
Bilbo and Strider could hear whispered voices coming from Frodo’s room as they passed, and couldn’t resist looking in to see what was going on. As they opened the door and looked in, their eyes smiled with a most heart-warming scene before them.
Frodo had been reading to the younger hobbits as he promised, but at some stage, Merry must have declared it his turn to read to them all. Frodo was laying on one side of the bed, whilst Pippin and Sam were gathered beside Merry turned slightly away from Frodo, apparently unaware of anything else in the room but the story they were hearing.
“Did you young hobbits wear poor Frodo out?” Bilbo asked as he walked into the room, followed by the Ranger.
Sam and the others now turned around to see what Bilbo was talking about and were surprised to see the dark-haired hobbit, sleeping peacefully on his back, his face relaxed and trouble free.
Sam felt his cheeks redden slightly that he had not recognized any signs that he master was feeling weary. When Merry had begun to read about a sword fight from long ago, he had been listening to closely to notice much at all.
“I am sorry Master Bilbo, I did not see how tired he was,” Sam offered in apology.
“It’s alright Sam,” Bilbo said gently as he arranged the blanket over Frodo’s slumbering form. “I suspect you all, but Frodo most of all has had much more activity today than he is used to. I hope he gets enough rest tonight for tomorrow. No doubt his birthday party will be just as much fun.”
“His hand and chest must not be bothering him judging by the way he sleeps so peacefully,” Strider commented, not wanting to dwell on how his heart had skipped a beat a remembering the fall from the tree.
“Sam I will leave you in here with him tonight for I know you will not awaken him with chatter or moving about before he is ready to do so. Merry and Pippin, if you come along with me I will see you settled in the spare bedroom down the hall,” Bilbo instructed.
“Good Night Master Bilbo and Mr Strider sir, I will not disturb him before morning,” Sam promised and began settling himself on the other side of his friend as quietly and carefully as he could.
Merry and Pippin bid Sam goodnight and followed Strider out of Frodo’s room.
“Good night my dear boy,” Bilbo said and gently kissed the sleeping hobbit on his forehead, brushing the curls from his face with an affectionate stroke of his hand.
TO BE CONTINUED …………..
These chapters are turning out have a lot more content than I originally planned – not a bad thing – just means that there are still a few preparations to be done for the party.