|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.
Little Note – this chapter is vvvverrrrrrry long. I don’t write every chapter this long normally, but I have put a lot more detail into the majority of this story, trying to set up a lot of background detail before the main plot of the story begins to unfold.
My advice before you start reading is to get a cup of coffee or a drink, make sure you have taken a loo break and come back and then read until your heart’s content.
Cake Making and Gift Giving
Early the next morning was the start of a day involving much preparation, and then celebration unlike any that had been seen in the Shire before.
Sam awoke to the sound of birds singing outside Frodo’s bedroom door. ‘How appropriate,’ he said to himself, thinking of what such an important day in the calendar, the 22nd of September, marked for his master.
Sam got up from the bed he and Frodo were sharing. His master was still sleeping soundly. Frodo had turned on his side slightly during the night, but other than that, his sleep seemed to have been peaceful.
The stout hobbit went about straightening his side of the bed clothes as much as he could without disturbing his master’s slumber. It was Mr Frodo’s birthday after all. It was this day of all days on which a later morning was preordained as being deserved.
Frodo now turned over onto his other side, encroaching on the part of the mattress where Sam had just removed himself from. Sam paused slightly, hoping that his master was not going to wake just yet.
Sam smiled though at the contentment that was present on Frodo’s sleep smooth face as he mumbled something incoherently and burrowed more deeply into the pillow. Some of Frodo’s dark curls fell over his face, but Sam made no attempt to try and brush them away for fear of waking his friend.
“Happy Birthday dear, Mr Frodo,” Sam whispered.
Sam pulled the blanket more securely around his master’s shoulders and left the room to start on the sumptuous breakfast he had planned for Master Bilbo and Mr Frodo.
For the next forty-five minutes, Sam whistled happily to himself as he went about making breakfast for all those currently sleeping in Bag End. He wanted to make this such a special day for Mr Frodo right from the very beginning that he was almost bursting with anticipation of what the day would bring. Everything had to be just so today.
Sam heard Masters Merry and Pippin before he saw them that morning. Pippin’s child-like laughter was coming down the hallway from their guest room right past Mr Frodo’s room.
Walking away from the table was preparing for breakfast, Sam stood in the middle of the hallway, in a confronting stance and his arms folded across his chest, ready to chastise the two overly-loud hobbits.
Sam didn’t want to make his own mistake of shouting at the cousins and causing more noise than he was trying to prevent.
“Mr Merry! Mr Pippin!” Sam said as crossly as he could with only a whisper.
Merry and Pippin gave their best contrite looks at the stout, sandy haired hobbit, knowing full well of what wrath they would incur from Bilbo and Sam if the household was awoken.
“Sorry, Sam, just a bit excited about the day I suppose,” Merry offered in apology, putting his hands deep into his pockets and walking silently to the kitchen table.
“Boy, this all looks wonderful,” Pippin exclaimed, clearly pleased about the generous amount of food that was laid on the table. Not to mention the aromas that wafted to their noses and the sheer variety of dishes that Sam had prepared.
Pippin reached out a hand to grab one of the small round shaped bread-rolls that were carefully laid out in a basket. “Ouch,” he cried out, snaking his hand back in and nursing the bruised knuckles that resulted from a quick whack from Sam’s wooden spoon.
“Those are for everyone to enjoy, Mr Pippin,” Sam warned, holding up the spoon again, ready to strike at any other such attempts.
“When do we get to eat then?” Pippin said with a little disappointment in his voice. He had been all night without food and now was still denied, the hobbit grumbled secretly to himself.
“Well seeing as Mr Frodo and Master Bilbo are the famous ones today, you will have to wait until they wake up to sit down at the table with everyone and have some breakfast. Shouldn’t be very much longer,” he added, trying to reassure the youngest cousin.
Sam had momentarily turned his attention to a pot that was still simmering over the fireplace. Merry and Pippin chose this time to give each other a sly smile, as if hatching a plot to hasten things a long some.
“Come on, Pippin,” Merry whispered out of ear shot of Sam. The two cousins now hurried out of the kitchen and walked by one of Bilbo’s writing desks. Pippin sneaked one of Bilbo’s brand new feather quills from a jar on the table.
Both of them now made their way unseen towards Frodo’s bedroom with the feather, still making sure that Sam was no aware of what they planned to do.
Upon entering the room, Pippin almost changed his mind when he saw Frodo sleeping so peacefully. He knew of the trouble they would be in with both him and Sam when the plan would be put into effect.
Frodo, at that moment, stirred again, but this time a smile formed on his lips at a pleasant dream or memory he was having. He did not wake fully, but it was enough of an invitation to reignite the mirth in Merry and Pippin. Especially after they both thought back to the prank that their elder cousin had pulled the previous night.
Merry moved to the side of the bed, looking down at Frodo as he slept. He held his breath temporarily as Frodo stirred again and rolled back over onto his back. This gave Merry the perfect idea of what to do.
“Stand at the end of the bed, Pip,” Merry said quietly.
“What are we going to do?” Pippin asked, knowing that it somehow involved the feather somehow.
Merry now very cautiously peeled back the blankets from Frodo’s feet at the bottom of the bed. Pippin knew instantly what he was supposed to do, and he almost giggled out loud at the thought.
Sam in the kitchen came close to cursing out loud when he noted that the two cousins were missing from the kitchen. He had no idea of what they were up to, but he knew it couldn’t be anything good. He took a guess at where the two hobbits might be, and appeared at Frodo’s bedroom door just in time to see Merry and Pippin standing next to his master. He knew exactly what the two intended to do.
Pippin started the tickling lightly on the bottom of Frodo’s feet, running the tip of the quill down the length of the foot very gently. It was enough pressure, though, to extract a giggle from the half-sleeping hobbit.
This giggle only made Merry and Pippin more determined to use the feather on their cousin. However, this time they intended to wake him in an instant instead of getting a barely audible chuckle for their efforts.
“Ready, Merry?” Pippin asked.
“Ready!” Merry replied, looking over and seeing Sam standing at the door with a less impressed look on his face. They would have to do this now and quickly, before the stout hobbit would drag them out of the room by their ears.
“No, Master Pippin! No!” Sam cried out aloud, trying to make a grab for the feather from the young hobbit’s hand.
Pippin now chose to tickle Frodo’s feet with the feather again, a little harder this time.
The combination of Sam’s loud warning and the tickling of the feather caused Frodo to try to sit bolt upright in the bed. He was unable to muffle the laughter that escaped his lips from the feather.
At the same time, Merry fell across his cousin’s chest and stomach in an attempt to prevent Frodo from escaping the punishment by forcing him to lay back down on the bed.
Merry and Pippin both stopped their prank immediately, though, when Frodo’s laughter was replaced by a gasp of pain. Merry had accidentally placed pressure on the soft and tender bruise on his cousin’s chest with his arms.
“Oh, Frodo, I am sorry, I forgot about your being hurt yesterday,” Merry stammered in apology.
“So did I until just this moment,” Frodo replied ruefully as he tried to use his hand to rub away the pain from his chest.
“Now see here, you two hobbits,” Sam declared, a little annoyed that Merry and Pippin had wanted to carry out such a joke in the first place. “Now you have gone and hurt Frodo, and on his birthday, too,” he said, taking all the necessary precautions and removing the feathered quill from Pippin’s hand.
Merry and Pippin felt their faces redden slightly at the shame they felt as Sam’s words rang true. They hadn’t meant to hurt Frodo.
“It’s alright, Sam,” Frodo said. “I know they didn’t mean any harm.”
“Do I need to get Master Bilbo for you, Sir, or Mr Strider to take a look at the bruise?” Sam offered, walking over to his master.
“No, Sam, that won’t be necessary. The pain has almost gone now. I wasn’t feeling any discomfort at all until just now when these two imps jumped on top of me,” Frodo said.
“Sorry, Frodo, we just didn’t think, that’s all,” Merry said, lowering his head to hide his shame. “We just wanted to have some fun on your birthday. Happy Birthday, by the way,” he added almost as an afterthought.
“Happy Birthday, Frodo,” Pippin said, standing in front of his cousin, and trying to use his charm and innocent look.
“Thank you, dear Pip,” Frodo said, drawing the younger hobbit into an embrace. Sam was standing behind Pippin and noted the gesture from his master to give him the quill.
“You’re not mad, then?” Pip asked cautiously, still wrapped in his older cousin’s arms, and ignorant to the sly looks the other three hobbits were giving each other.
“No, I am not mad, Pip,” Frodo said truthfully. “But that doesn’t mean………….,” he started to say, and then using the hold he had on the other hobbit, he threw Pippin onto the bed and started using the feather that Sam had given to tickle him. Merry and Sam aided in holding Pippin down as he began shrieking with laughter.
All four hobbits were now laughing together as one by one they joined in the frolic, and tickled each other on Frodo’s large bed. The noise woke the three others staying in Bag End who appeared at the door upon hearing the racket.
“Are all hobbits this loud in the morning, Bilbo?” Strider asked with a smile on his face, watching the four hobbits roll over the top of each other and laughing while still trying to tickle each other.
“It is a wondrous sight to behold on such a beautiful morning is it not?” Bilbo answered, taking in the sound of laughter and gaiety on such an important day for his nephew and himself.
“Good Morning, Bilbo!” Frodo exclaimed, untangling himself from the pile of hobbit feet and limbs and now hugging the older hobbit affectionately.
“Good Morning to you too, Frodo my dear boy, and Happy, most Happiest of Birthday’s to you,” Bilbo said, returning the embrace with just as much enthusiasm and love.
“Happy Birthday, Uncle Bilbo,” Frodo. “Good Morning to you as well, Mr Strider,” the young hobbit greeted the Ranger.
Strider had returned the greeting and too had wished Bilbo and Frodo a Happy Birthday. The phrase also echoed in unison to both hobbits from Merry, Pippin and Sam who were now seated on Frodo’s bed.
Sam was the first hobbit to leave the room, excusing himself to make the final preparations on the breakfast feast that he had been working on.
Merry and Pippin followed Bilbo and Strider out into the kitchen, allowing Frodo some privacy for getting dressed and washing his face. By the time Frodo emerged from his room, all of the dishes were laid out on the table and all were seated, patiently waiting for the final guest of honour to appear. In Pippin’s case, waiting impatiently.
Gandalf was also seated at the table by now. “Good Morn…………” Frodo began to say to the wizard as the sentence came to an abrupt halt upon seeing the table before him.
“Sam, you have certainly outdone yourself,” Frodo said in amazement. The aromas from the food wafted to him and reminded him of just how hungry he was feeling.
“Oh, my apologizes, Gandalf, Good Morning to you on such a lovely day,” Frodo said, completing the sentence he had begun a few seconds earlier. His blue eyes shining with happiness and a glow this morning with an inner light that was noticed by all.
“That’s quite alright, Frodo, and as you so aptly put it, Sam has indeed outdone himself today with such a sumptuous banquet,” Gandalf commented. “Happy Birthday, my dear hobbit and may there be many, many more to celebrate.”
“What did you have in mind to do today, Frodo?” Bilbo asked as he reached for another spread of jam for his toast. By this time, everyone had enjoyed a very large breakfast, complimenting Sam on numerous occasions on his culinary talents.
“I still have one gift to finish,” Frodo said, sipping at his piping hot cup of tea, laced with honey. “I had completed almost all of them quite a few weeks ago, but there is one that still needs to be finished and wrapped before lunch.”
“That sounds like a perfect time of the day for all of our guests to be given their presents, my dear boy,” Bilbo said with excitement. “I have a rather special one to give to you on this joyous occasion, Frodo.”
“You know that you need not have bothered to give me anything, Uncle Bilbo,” Frodo responded. “I have everything I could possibly desire right here in Bag End. Good food, a great morning, and, best of all, friends that mean the most to me, and who choose to share my birthday with me.”
“Oh, I knew that’s exactly what you would say, my dear lad. That is precisely why I got you what I did. To show you just how much your company has come to mean to an old hobbit during all these years that you have lived at Bag End. But my secret will not be revealed just yet,” Bilbo said finally, giving Frodo a quick wink.
There was something about the gleam in Bilbo’s eyes as he spoke to his young nephew that told Gandalf and Strider that the gift he had chosen would be the most expensive that could be found. Where Frodo was concerned, money was no object, and it was the mere fact that Frodo did not seek lavishness and material possessions that made Bilbo’s and Frodo’s bond to one another even stronger.
It was not a secret that Bilbo Baggins was not in need of riches and wealth. In fact, there had been many circulating stories over the years and to his very day about just how much money and gold the old hobbit had managed to accumulate during his travels and over his long life.
Frodo found happiness and contentment in the rich sources of life. In friends, in a simple love of nature, and in all the things that dwelled all around him. In living plants and animals. And, above of all --in loving, and in being loved in return.
It was this quality in the young hobbit that caused the people in Hobbiton to spread gossips about his loyalties and true intentions from those such as the Sackville-Bagginses.
Of course, Frodo had taken great time and careful thought into the present that he had chosen for his uncle. Although it may not have been rich in monetary terms, in contained all of the heart and soul that the young hobbit could find in himself. It expressed in a way that gave a more tangible outlook on how he viewed his love for Bilbo.
“Will you be needing any help with the wrapping, Mr Frodo?” Sam asked, wanting to do whatever he could for his master this day.
Frodo looked up at his cherished friend, and for a moment he tried to think of a way to tell him ‘no’ without hurting Sam’s feelings. A ‘no’ would suffice, but it didn’t sound sufficient when Sam’s intentions were so genuine.
“Actually, Sam, I was hoping that I could use your help with some of the preparations for the party this morning,” Bilbo said first, seeing the awkward look on his nephew’s face.
“Of course, Mr Bilbo--if you are certain that you will not be needing my help, Mr Frodo,” Sam replied.
“I am going to be asking for help from you and Strider, Samwise, which will leave Merry and Pippin here with Gandalf, if he doesn’t object,” Bilbo said, with a slight smirk on his face.
Gandalf coughed slightly, as though the smoke from his pipe had gotten caught in his throat. He wasn’t overly pleased with the idea of being left to watch over the two mischievous hobbits. Then again, the alternative of leaving them alone to their own devices was something that nobody would think of doing, either. The consequences of that could be most catastrophic.
Merry and Pippin were not entirely happy with the agreed arrangements that have been made, nor about having to stay with Gandalf for the majority of the morning. They didn’t see the need to have anybody supervise their activities at all.
Bilbo had already expressed in no uncertain terms that they were not to wander too far from Bag End before he and Strider would return from taking the various dishes Bilbo had prepared to those who would be helping with the food later in the day.
Frodo had been of little assistance, deciding instead to stay well out of that topic of conversation, and locking the door to his bedroom whilst he attended to the gift wrapping mentioned earlier.
Pippin had even gone to Frodo’s door on two separate occasions, and he had knocked a couple of times before trying to open it. Much to his dismay, the door was not only locked from the inside, but his cousin must have been sitting right up against it to prevent it from being opened. Frodo had told Pippin that he would let him in once he was finished, and all of the presents were carefully concealed.
“What else can we do, Merry?” Pippin said, starting to sound a little disappointed on a day that they thought everyone should be celebrating. He knew that most of the celebrating wouldn’t be happening until later that night, but that didn’t help his increasing boredom.
Merry and Pippin looked over to where Gandalf was sitting, and noted with a grimace that the wizard had fallen asleep, by the look of things. They doubted they would be able to slip out of Bag End without being spotted, and so they resigned themselves to finding something to do within the smial.
Merry’s brow furrowed for a few minutes while he got to thinking. He could see Pippin’s boredom matching his own, playing out on Pippin’s young face. His face lit up with excitement all of a sudden, though, as an idea formed.
“I know what we will do, Pippin,” Merry declared, his voice a little too loud, almost startling Gandalf from his light doze. “You know what today is, right?” Merry took his younger cousin aside slightly so that they would not disturb the wizard or have their conversation overheard.
“Today?” Pippin asked, clearly confused about what Merry was trying to ask. “It’s Bilbo’s and Frodo’s birthday, isn’t it?” he said, answering Merry with a question of his own.
“Yes, exactly. Forget about Bilbo for a minute. He’s had 111 birthdays, plenty of them to celebrate. Frodo has had a few birthdays, too, but he has never had many parties or friends and family to celebrate them with. And today is a special birthday. So, being his kin and all, it should be up to us to make sure that it is definitely one to remember.”
“What are you going to do, then?” Pippin said, with anticipation, a little enthusiasm starting to creep back into his voice. He looked towards Frodo’s bedroom, and now he was rather glad that the door was closed. They could make their plans in secret, and their older cousin would be none the wiser until the surprise was ready.
“Well, I heard Bilbo talking to one of the cooks for tonight’s celebration.
They were talking about this cake that was being made just for the party. But when I think about it, that cake is being made for both Frodo and Bilbo,” Merry said, hoping that his younger cousin was cottoning on to his idea.
“What does that have to do with us?” Pippin said, not really understanding what Merry was planning to do.
Merry rolled his eyes exaggeratedly at first, but then softened his attitude slightly, and prepared to explain all to Pippin, slowly and carefully so that Pippin would understand. “We are going to make a second cake. Just for Frodo.”
Pippin’s eyes lit up with delight at such a suggestion. He was well aware of the custom hobbits held onto when celebrating their birthdays, but, somehow, doing something special like this just for Frodo seemed the right thing to do.
“All we have to do now is see if Bilbo has the ingredients that we need,” Merry said, turning around and gazing at the shelves and the earthenware jars that adorned various corners of the kitchen. You see if you can get a mixing bowl. The biggest one you can find, Pip,” he instructed.
For the next ten minutes, both hobbits worked away with vigour. Merry gathered eggs, flour and everything else he could think of that should be included in a cake mixture. Lastly, he grabbed two large wooden spoons for the mixing.
Pippin had gone through the cupboards, looking for the biggest bowl, just like he had been asked to do. At first he found only several smaller ones, and thought that he and Merry would have to be content with them. But, upon opening another cupboard and literally having to crawl inside it, he found what he was looking for. The bowl was very large indeed, big enough to mix more than one cake, no doubt.
“Good work, Pip,” Merry said as he gasped at the large bowl that his cousin brought to the table. It was so heavy that Pippin almost toppled forward onto the floor on two occasions, but Merry rushed forward to help, and together they placed the bowl carefully on the large table. Then they began making Frodo’s birthday cake.
“Do you know how to make a cake, Merry?” Pippin asked cautiously. He knew the basic ingredients that were needed, but how they were all combined and how long the mixture needed to cook in the oven, well, on that he wasn’t as confident as he would have liked.
“Sure, Pip, nothing to it, trust me,” Merry said with a grin plastered on his face. Inwardly he was thinking along similar lines—that he knew the basics and would just have to make up the rest as they went along. He wasn’t deterred from his task, though. ‘How hard could it be, anyway?’ he asked himself.
Gandalf was sitting in the corner of the kitchen, still dozing in the morning sunshine that was coming through the open window. A couple of times he stirred abruptly at an overly loud word from Merry or a gasp of excitement that escaped Pippin’s lips as they both stirred and mixed the various ingredients into the bowl.
For the most part Gandalf showed no sign of being aware of any of Merry and Pippin’s attempts at cake making. The two hobbits made sure that they kept their voices to a minimum level, or as low as was possible for the two cousins, anyway.
For the next ten minutes, Pippin was happy to let Merry show the way while he stirred the various ingredients in the bowl. “The secret is adding the ingredients at the correct time, Pip,” Merry instructed, adlibbing as he went, but using serious tone so that hie instructions were believable to his young and impressionable cousin.
Pip didn’t have any reason to dispel anything that Merry told him. Merry said that you added all of the dry ingredients first--like the flour, and the salt, and sugar. Then the wet ingredients--like the eggs, milk and vanilla. The aroma of the batter was very pleasing to both hobbits, and they thought they were well on their way to making a splendid cake for their cousin Frodo.
Merry looked in to the bowl once everything was added and sufficiently
combined. They didn’t realise that the size of the large bowl would dwarf the batter so much. It looked as though there was barely enough mixture to make half a cake, let alone a big one like they were hoping to make for Frodo’s special day.
“It doesn’t look as though there is enough, Merry,” Pippin said, putting his thoughts into words, the disappointment clearly evident.
“Yes, Pippin, you’re right, it doesn’t look like it will even fill half of the cake tin,” Merry agreed. “But, don’t despair, all we need to do is to double or triple all of the ingredients,” he said.
“Get ready to start mixing again, Pip,” Merry said with renewed energy, once again taking up the various ingredients and putting them into the batter. At one point he had been pouring in the flour, a little bit at a time. The earthenware jar was only half full now.
Merry looked from the still rather small amount of batter to the remaining flour. Throwing caution to the wind, he emptied the entire contents into the batter. There was a bit of a thud into the bottom of the bowl and a cloud of dust that came back into their faces. When the dust had settled, Pippin’s nose was covered in a fine layer of flour.
“Merry, my arms are getting so tired from all of this mixing,” Pippin whined, rubbing at his right wrist as if to emphasis what he was saying.
“That’s alright, Pip, I can take a go now. All of the ingredients have been added now, and the only thing left is mix them all together,” Merry offered.
Fifteen minutes later, the mixing bowl was almost full of cake mixture. Merry and Pippin were both tired from the efforts needed to stir such a large amount of batter. Victory was almost in sight, though, as they transferred the cake mixture into the prepared tin.
“See, Pip, now we have more than enough,” Merry said, noticing that they would not be able to put all of the mixture from the bowl into the tin. There was enough overflow for the second and third tin. The two cousins weren’t deterred, though, and they just reminded each other that there would be plenty of guests at the party tonight to consume the extra cake.
There wasn’t a hobbit they knew that would say no to cake when it was offered. They would make the bigger tin into the birthday cake for Frodo, and use the smaller two for the other party guests. Easy.
The oven was now hot enough, and the three tins of cake mixture were placed carefully onto the shelf, ready to rise. The trouble was that both Merry and Pippin were unaware of just how much the cakes would rise since they had used so much flour.
The danger wasn’t noticed immediately; for the first twenty minutes, or so, the mixture was happily bubbling and gurgling, growing in size gradually. Merry and Pippin were too busy with cleaning up the mess they had made in the kitchen to notice anything out of the ordinary.
The two cousins knew that Uncle Bilbo would be due home at any time now, and they wanted to have the kitchen ready for lunch. Gandalf had chosen to wake up just as the last of their cooking ventures were cleaned away by a damp cloth.
“Have you been up to mischief?” Gandalf asked, his eyes narrowing so that there was no possibility of a denial from the two cousins.
Merry and Pippin looked at each other, first, wondering if they should keep the part about Frodo’s birthday cake a secret from the wizard. But, realising that Gandalf would probably see through any feasible explanation they could offer, they decided that it was best to be truthful. Frodo was still in his room, so there was no concern for him overhearing about their present.
“We have been making a cake for Frodo’s birthday, Gandalf,” Pippin said cheerfully.
“Oh, really?” Gandalf said, his eyes softening slightly, knowing that their
methods might be misguided at times, and their timing was more commonly
off target. The wizard couldn’t help but see the love and friendship that Merry and Pippin shared with their older cousin Frodo. He knew their hearts were certainly in the right place.
“Yes, Gandalf, and a grand cake it shall be, too, just you wait and see,” Merry said, not being able to hide the excitement in his voice. “It should be more than half ready by now, too,” he added.
“Wait a minute, Merry, I don’t think you should really do ………..,” the wizard started to say, knowing that any cake mixture needed time to rise.
Pippin stood a little behind his cousin with a cloth in his hands, ready to help with the hot cake tins. Merry opened the oven door a little, giving Gandalf a clear view of what was inside.
“No, Merry, wait………….,” Gandalf shouted in alarm, seeing that the tins were
not only full, but, due to the heat, now overflowing and ready to explode all over the three of them.
Bilbo, Strider and Sam were almost at the front door of Bag End when they heard the cry of alarm from Gandalf. The next thing they heard was the loud explosion of cake mixture from the oven.
“Frodo!” Bilbo said to himself, worried that something dreadful had happened to his nephew on his birthday. Sam and Strider felt their own stomachs twist with knots at the thought of what had caused such a disaster.
Frodo’s room had been shaken with the rest of the house, and he also came rushing out of his bedroom towards the kitchen, running into Sam at the front door, the same look of worry and confusion written on both their faces.
“Oh, Frodo, my boy, you are alright?” Bilbo said. The sense of relief rushing through him was hard to suppress.
“What was that loud bang then, Mr Frodo?” Sam asked, secretly giving a prayer in thanks that nothing had happened to his master.
“I don’t know. I was in my room when it began to shake violently along with the rest of the house. That’s when I came out here and ran into you,” Frodo replied.
All of them now headed towards the kitchen, but stopped just inside the doorway, their mouths agape at the scene that greeted them. Standing near the oven was one very large figure, covered partially in what looked to be a batter of some description.
The figure was glaring at the two smaller ones who were almost entirely covered in the same substance.
Thankfully, most of the batter had been splattered on their clothing and robes, therefore preventing any serious injury. Leaving them only with a few minor burns to areas of uncovered skin.
Gandalf’s robes were stained and marred with a sticky, gooey mess. The same could be said of his beard. Some of the mixture ran down his robes in globules, and then fell onto the kitchen floor near his feet. The wizard was giving the two hobbits a very murderous look.
Merry and Pippin had been standing closer to the oven than Gandalf, and therefore there was not one inch of them that wasn’t thickly covered in cake batter. The only part of them that was distinguishable at all to Strider and the others was their beady little eyes, looking most contrite and apologetic.
Up until now, Frodo and the others had been barely containing the laughter they felt inside. The look on Gandalf’s face in such an embarrassing situation was just priceless.
“Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took!” Gandalf said in his best scolding voice.
Merry and Pippin tried to shrink away from the wizard’s wrath, hoping that Strider or one of their cousins, or Sam even, might come forward to rescue them from their impending doom, or at least say a good word on their behalf.
Gandalf was about to continue the scalding words when a large dollop of
cream-coloured cake dough fell from his hair and landed on his nose. The wizard’s eyes seemed to turn slightly inwards and watch as the mixture then dripped onto the hem of his robes and finally to the floor.
At this point Frodo could not hide his laughter any further, and he began laughing very heartily at Gandalf’s face. He tried to stop himself upon seeing a most displeased response from the wizard, but that only seemed to make him laugh even harder, as Gandalf tried to give him his sternness look.
Bilbo joined his nephew, and Sam was leaning heavily against a chuckling Strider, as they too were enjoying the whole idea of a great wizard being brought to his knees by the two mischievous hobbits.
“We are sorry, Frodo and Uncle Bilbo. We were only trying to make a surprise for Frodo’s birthday,” Merry owned up. Suddenly the fun in trying to make this spectacular cake for his cousin was lost. It was going to take hours just to clean the mixture from both their clothes and hair.
“I am sure you only had the best intentions at heart, lads, isn’t that right, Gandalf,” Bilbo said, trying to put in a good word for Merry and Pippin. The state of the kitchen left something to be said, though. The place really needed to be cleaned quite thoroughly before they could even think of taking part in luncheon.
Gandalf didn’t even bother addressing Bilbo’s query with an answer. He gave one last “UMPH” and scowled before heading out the door, announcing that he was headed to the washroom to get cleaned up.
“Looks like you two have a job to do before lunch, doesn’t it,” Bilbo said in a quieter voice, letting the tweenagers know that although they all had gotten a good laugh, there was still a punishment to be handed down.
“Yes, Uncle Bilbo,” Merry and Pippin said in unison. The two of them walked with slumped shoulders towards the door, ready to go and collect a bucket each, and a mop and some cleaning cloths to start the big cleanup. They each turned back briefly to scan over the mess that they were expected to cleanup, and they both sighed loudly at their unfortunate fate. Somehow this hadn’t at all worked out like they had planned.
Strider, Sam and Frodo once again laughed at the distressed looks on the two faces. They did feel a little sorry for them, and they knew that what Bilbo had said was true. Merry and Pippin had been trying their very best to make a surprise for their cousin, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Sam and Bilbo let Merry and Pippin carry out the majority of their cleaning for the next half an hour before starting to prepare the luncheon meal in the same room with them. At least the floor and table were clean, and there was only the matter of the oven to go. Somehow, though, looking at the state of the cake mixture set in concrete over most of it, they knew that they would be there until sundown.
An hour after, Merry and Pippin, had started, the kitchen was beginning to look as it had done first thing that morning. Most of the mess had been cleared away. Towards the end, even Strider and Frodo had helped set the table for ready to eat.
Merry and Pippin were most grateful for this, as throughout their cleaning activities, they swore that they had been driven to torment and distraction by the aromas and the smells coming from Bilbo’s pans. Both of them were certain that they had not eaten in weeks, and they were most eager to sample everything that was offered and laid upon the table.
“You have done a wonderful job, both you lads,” Bilbo said gently. “But there is the small matter of having to clean yourselves before you eat at the table.” he added.
Merry and Pippin looked at each other, and then down at what remained of their clothes. Their shirts and trousers were almost unrecognisable, and they were probably going to have to be thrown away and replaced. They didn’t think that any amount of washing would remove all of the batter from the fabric and restore the clothes to a wearable condition.
Gandalf was just coming down the corridor, dressed in a clean set of robes, and with his beard and hair clear of any crumbs or cake mixture. His temper seemed to have cooled a great degree, and he was even beginning to see the funny side of the whole thing.
“I know you meant well, whatever you had planned for me,” Frodo said to his cousins, giving both of them quick kiss on the cheek for their thoughtfulness and creativity. ‘Pity all of that creativity that was often misused or ill-directed,’ he mused to himself.
Both Merry and Pippin now disappeared into the vacant washroom. Frodo and the others thought it wise to sit down and start eating luncheon without the two younger hobbits. No doubt each of them would come to the table with ravenous appetites, and there would be very little left for anybody else if they were allowed to have their fill.
Once everyone was seated at the table and luncheon was well underway, the topic of conversation turned back to more general things like the rest of the party preparations for the afternoon.
“What do you want us to do, Uncle Bilbo?” Merry asked in a small voice, looking at Gandalf as he asked the question. Although it appeared that both he and Pippin had been forgiven, he was ready to resign that there would be more cleaning chores passed to them that afternoon for their morning deeds.
“I think you two have deserved some time outside this afternoon, haven’t you,” Bilbo said with a twinkle in his eyes. “Frodo, you too, my lad. You have been in that room all morning. Did you get all of your tasks completed?”
“Yes, Uncle, I did, thank you,” Frodo said with a genuine smile. Inwardly he was very proud of what he had accomplished with little or no interruption. The true test would be shortly when he would present all at the table with his gifts.
“Strider, I was wondering if I could impose on you yet again to go with these young hobbits? They were having some trouble this morning just before we arrived back with the marquees for the party tonight. I thought you might be able to help with the ones that still needed setting up. Then there are some ale casks still to be put in place, and tables and chairs as well,” Bilbo asked, running down the mental list he had in his head.
“No, Bilbo, I don’t mind at all,” Strider commented, looking in the direction of Merry and Pippin and finding the looks of utter relief on their faces most amusing. It seemed that they had been spared a much worse fate they had been expecting.
“You will be coming with us, too, right Sam?” Frodo asked his friend who was seated beside him.
“Oh yes, Mr Frodo, indeed I will. If there is still as much to do for your party as Master Bilbo says, then I will gladly help out until everything is set,” Sam responded.
“Before anyone leaves, I would like to do my gift presentation in the living room, if that is suitable to everyone,” Frodo announced.
“You go and get yourself ready, Frodo, and I will round up these good folk, and have them seated in the living room as you ask,” Bilbo said, clapping his nephew lightly on the shoulder.
Frodo got up from the table and went to his room to gather the gifts he had wrapped. He had almost as much excitement in him as Merry or Pippin at the moment, and he was scarcely able to contain the anticipation for what he was about to do.
When Frodo arrived back in the living room, his arms laden with many parcels, some large, others smaller, he was pleased to see Bilbo had everyone seated and looking attentive just as promised.
Frodo stood where everyone could see and hear him. “Well, I without further ado,” he started to say.
“Come on, Frodo, lets get them opened,” Pippin shouted with excitement. Sam and Gandalf both looked at the young hobbit disapprovingly.
“Mr Frodo spent a lot of time on his gifts, Pippin, I am sure that you can wait a few more minutes to reveal the surprises inside the parcels,” Gandalf said.
“It’s alright Pip, since you and Merry seem barely able to sit still in your seats, I will present your gifts first,” Frodo said. He preceded to hand his two cousins each a large roundish shape parcel. The two hobbits were clearly delighted that their presents seemed to be bigger than the others yet to be given out.
Sam scowled inwardly a little at the enthusiasm with which the two young hobbits removed the wrappings that Frodo had worked so meticulously on. At least they could have shown a little restraint and kept the lovely patterned paper as a memento of the occasion as well.
Once the wrappings were pulled off, they were greeted with large oval size metal tins, intricately decorates on top. After lifting the lids, both of young hobbits gasped out loud at what they saw inside.
“Candy, Merry!,” Pippin exclaimed, leaning over to make sure that his cousin’s gift was the same. “And lots of it. Chocolates and hard boiled sweets, too,” he said, with sheer delight written all over his face. Nothing made a better present to a hobbit than something to eat, and this present was a very fine one. Confectionary was often reserved for special occasions, and it was rare to see this much at any one time.
“And you want to know the best part?” Frodo asked, leaning over to whisper to each of them. “These are no ordinary sweets. They come from the Big Folk. From Bree, no less. If we ever get there, I will be sure to take you to the very place that makes them. I was fortunate enough to see some of them being made myself.”
Merry and Pippin could scarcely find the words to respond to Frodo’s generosity. It was obvious to all seated in the room that Frodo had carefully thought out the gifts for his cousins, knowing exactly what would be most appreciated.
“And now you, dear Uncle Bilbo,” Frodo said, a little more emotion creeping into his voice. He handed the older hobbit a soft parcel, his blue eyes looking desperately for any sign that he had chosen right.
“Actually, this one is made by my own hand. I hope you will find a good use for it,” Frodo said.
Like Frodo’s younger cousins, Bilbo could scarcely hold back the gasp of amazement at the exquisiteness of his nephew’s gift. It was a satchel, but not just any ordinary satchel. It was made of very fine soft leather, almost velvety to the touch.
There was a shoulder strap attached to it, but instead of being made of a straight piece of leather, the satchel was constructed of small leaf shaped pieces of material stitched together in the right sequence which looked like a chain of ivy or similar plant climbing tendril of foliage.
“You made this, Frodo,” Bilbo said, tears of happiness welling up in his eyes of being afforded such a fine piece of craftsmanship. “Where did you get this marvellous material from?”
“I have to admit that I had a little help, but only in the selecting of the right materials. All of the stitching and cutting is my own. The woodland elves gave me the leather and instructed me how to make crafts of it,” Frodo explained.
“Oh, Frodo my lad, this is the most handsome satchel I have ever seen,” Bilbo said, not wanting to stop the praise. All others also marvelled at the soft feel of the leather, and the skill Frodo had created it with. They could see the amount of devotion and love that Frodo had sewn into each stitch.
“Did you have a particular use in mind when you made it for me, Frodo lad?” Bilbo asked, knowing that Frodo would indeed have already thought of a use before the satchel had even been finished.
“Yes, well, I thought you might use it to carry your red book, Bilbo,” Frodo suggested, taking his uncle’s hands in his own. “That way you and I could still share those long walks we both enjoy so much, and you wouldn’t need to worry about losing any time to write your book.”
Bilbo sighed inwardly a little, his eyes smiling back at his nephew. Then he looked towards Gandalf. Both of them knew that Frodo had thought long and hard about this particular gift and its potential usage.
Frodo had been trying to think of a way of subtly telling his Uncle that he missed their walks, and the times they spent together, talking about things such as nature and elves and the Shire. He wanted to tell his uncle that he missed those times much these days, without hurting any feelings.
“I shall treasure it always, Frodo my dear boy,” Bilbo said, giving Frodo’s hands a gentle squeeze of affection. He wanted to say so much more to the one person who meant so much to him, but it hurt to try and put those feelings into actions or words. He wanted to tell this sweet innocent hobbit before him about his intentions to leave, and that he would regretfully not be able to enjoy as many long walks as Frodo wished.
“Come on, Frodo, don’t let us wait too long. Who is next?” Merry said, even though his turn had already been. He was most excited to see what other gifts Frodo had organized if the first two were anything to go by. He never had any idea that his darker-haired cousin was so creative until now.
“Sam, this is for you,” Frodo said, walking in front of his dearest friend and handing him the delicately wrapped parcel. “I am afraid I can take no credit for making your gift, Sam. It was purchased in Bree at the same time as the candy for Merry and Pippin. I do hope it is to your liking.”
For a few seconds, Sam could scarcely believe that Frodo had gotten him a present. Not that he didn’t think his master was not generous or anything. He just had it set in his mind that the gift giving was only intended for family like Bilbo and Mr Frodo’s two cousins.
It virtually took his breath away that his master would include him in the gift giving, as though he were family. Many times he had thought their special friendship as close as brothers, and he was proud to have Frodo consider him more than a servant. For the first time that day or indeed in a long time, Sam found himself lost for the right words of thanks to say in return. His eyes were moist and his emotions were running high at that moment.
“Mr Frodo, I don’t know what to say,” he whispered, putting his thoughts into words. He graciously accepted the parcel from his master and knew that whatever lay inside would be treated with the utmost of care for a great deal of time to come.
“Then don’t say anything, you silly hobbit and open it,” Frodo said, his blue eyes shining with happiness, with a genuine smile on his face. He couldn’t think of anybody else who was more deserving than Sam. His friend worked tirelessly and without complain or ask of favour, so today, Frodo decided to show in some small way of just how much he appreciated Sam’s unending friendship and loyalty.
Sam lifted the flap of wrapping paper and revealed a long, soft grey cloak. One that was made of very fine material, and the colour of which almost shimmered in the light. He stood up so that he and everyone else could inspect the rest of the garment. It was a very grand cloak indeed, and it would be warm in the winter months, no doubt, Sam assumed, running his fingertips gently down the long folds of fabric, almost regretting to mar such finery with his hands.
“Oh, Mr Frodo, this is more than I could ever have thought you would give me,” Sam said, his voice full of emotion, and the tears that had earlier threatened to betray him now running freely down his face. “Are you sure you wish to let me have such a cloak. It must have been very expensive,” Sam said, not really wanting to make too much mention of the money that might be involved.
“Here, let me see how it looks on you properly,” Frodo said, taking the cloak from his friend, and then proceeding to drape it over the sandy-haired hobbit’s shoulders. He clasped it at the front with the well made brooch, and then took a few steps back to admire how Sam looked.
“No more than just an ordinary hobbit, I dare say, wouldn’t you all agree?” Frodo asked of everyone else seated in the room. All nodded their heads in agreement, each smiling at the fact that Frodo’s gifts seemed to be getting better with each person.
“Promise me, Sam, that you will wear it with pride and as often as you wish to,” Frodo asked. “While you may say that it is too grand for everyday use, I hope that you will understand that I want it to be a symbol of our friendship and how much I care for you. Each time you put it around your shoulders, I hope you think as if it were my arms supporting you, sheltering and shielding you and keeping you warm on whatever journeys life may have in store for you.”
“I promise, Mr Frodo, that I shall take the very best care of it, as if it were a part of you,” Sam said, his face awash with a fresh onslaught of tears. Both hobbits now embraced each other tightly, and confirmed their friendship in those few brief moments, oblivious that they were being watched by others.
The hobbits released each other and looked back to see their other friends trying to look inconspicuously about the room. Sam and Frodo didn’t mind, though, as they saw that all wore smiles at such a pledge of friendship and that all knew that they cared for each other very much. The cloak was a very fine gift indeed.
“My last few gifts are for all of you,” Frodo stated, handing each of them, including his cousins, Bilbo and Sam, who had already received other gifts, a separate package that was as expertly wrapped as the previous ones.
Strider was now the one at loss for words, when he too was involved, as Frodo also placed a package in his lap and gave him a smile. “Yes, Mr Strider, I made one for you, too. That is why I had to take a little time this morning away from you all,” Frodo said with a grin.
“I am honoured that you have included me in this ritual, Frodo,” the Ranger said in an appreciative tone. “What have I done in these couple of days we have known to have you bestow a gift on me?”
“I don’t give gifts because you or anybody has done anything, Mr Strider,” Frodo replied. “I give you all a small something to keep because I value you as a friend. I value all who are in this room right now. True it may be that you are not family, and that you have only been here at Bag End for a couple of days, but that does not mean that I have not enjoyed your company immensely during that time.”
“Come on, open them up,” Frodo then instructed them all.
If the individual gifts for Bilbo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin were given with love and friendship in mind, then the gifts that each of them now held were a true testament to how Frodo viewed each of them in his life.
Each of them had been given two small carved wooden figurines. In Strider’s case the figurine was a large round shaped flat piece of wood with a picture carved into the face. The carvings were not just random. They were all of certain times over the last year or so that they had spent with Frodo individually. It was as if Frodo had taken a slice of a memory with each of them, and given them a pictorial meaning in the form of a carved statue.
The figures were exact in resemblance and characteristics of each of them, down to even the facial expressions and the small tufts of grass that had been added in the background. They all remembered exactly where the individual scenes had been played out.
Pippin was delighted that his figurines showed a time from only a few months ago, when he had been down by the stream with Frodo, under the shade of the trees. Frodo had carved Pippin splashing about in the cool stream, and he had added a few rocks and other surrounding features to complete the scene. It had been a lovely day, and now Pippin would have a keepsake to look at forever.
Merry’s statues were of times that he and Frodo had shared at Brandy Hall when they had been younger, and of the time just before Frodo came to live at Bag End.
Sam’s figurines were of him working in the garden and orchard. Frodo had included each species of flower and shrub, depicting each individual petal and leafy stem with such precision.
Bilbo’s were of him at his desk. “You must have been spying on me on a few occasions by the look of these, Frodo.” His nephew only smiled in response, knowing that his uncle had never suspected that he had been carefully studying him while he worked on his book.
Gandalf was astonished at the accuracy of his figurines, because the scenes depicted had occurred almost a year ago. How Frodo had remembered the scenes with such detail from that long ago he couldn’t fathom. The hobbit was truly skilled as a carver. Carving was another artistic pursuit that nobody knew about no doubt.
“What did Frodo carve on your piece, Strider?” Merry asked, leaning over to take a closer look, seeing that Strider’s figurine was slightly different from the others. Strider held it aloft so that all could see what had been done.
The three hobbits smiled instantly when they noted that the scene was the same one they had played out only the day before under the shade of the large tree, where the Ranger had been sharing his knowledge of Elves and of other stories.
Bilbo was the first to ask what everyone wanted to know from Frodo. “Where did you learn to carve wood like this, Frodo my boy? I had no idea you ever knew how to create such lovely things. You surprise me to no end today.”
“I have been learning carving for a long time now, Uncle. Even before I came to Bag End. I often used to meet up with some of the elves in the woods near Brandy Hall. They taught me everything I needed to know and gave me the small tools I use.
Frodo briefly left the room, and came back with a small wrap of cloth in one hand. He placed it on a small table in the room and revealed five small implements that he used had to create his works of art.
“Each of them has a different use and purpose,” Frodo explained. “Some I use just to get the rough image formed on the piece of wood. Then I use these two smaller ones here to put in the detail and carve the more finer lines for facial features and the like.”
“I never knew,” Bilbo repeated, looking at the small hand tools. He didn’t begrudge the lad a hobby. His nephew was obviously very talented and had learned a great skill, and by looking at the lad’s smiling face, he could tell that Frodo gained a lot of satisfaction from being able to create things from wood.
“Hobbits really are amazing creatures,” Gandalf commented, looking fondly at Frodo as he uttered the words.
“Is wood carving a hard thing to do, Mr Frodo?” Sam asked in a soft voice. Some of the intricacy involved in the carvings would have taken Frodo hours, if not days, of meticulous and small strokes.
Like the others, just when he thought he could claim to know the most about his master, something like this came along and caused him to rethink. He had never seen Frodo carving a piece of wood. He assumed Frodo must have done his work while he was in the forest on his walks or in his bedroom when nobody else was about.
“Not really, Sam,” Frodo replied modestly. “I don’t really have to do a lot at all. The beauty is already there in the wood, hiding underneath the bark. All I have to do is chip away at the unwanted bits, and the statue reveals itself to me.”
“That is truly a wonderful connection with nature you have, Frodo,” Strider commented, noting how the hobbit chose to describe his artistic pursuits. “Legolas and elves in his woodland realm would be most honoured with your respect of trees and all things living.”
“It makes the memories that much richer and rewarding when I can see it like this instead of on a flat piece of canvas,” Frodo explained. “I could have put the images onto paper or on another medium, but this way they seem to remain fresh as if they were only yesterday to me. This way I can recall how everyone was feeling on those occasions, not just what happened.”
“The elves taught me to understand nature and the trees well. That’s why I never use a living branch from a tree. I only collect the ones discarded over time that are no longer of any use and lay upon the forest floor, waiting for me to pick them up and find an alternative use for them. I must admit that I used the last piece of wood I had in my collection to create you a carving, Strider. I will have to take another walk tomorrow to gather some more to begin another statue,” Frodo said.
“Well then, Frodo my lad, if you are quite finished with amazing us with your generosity and wonderful creative talents, I will present my present to you,” Bilbo announced. “I also have presents for all of you that I will distribute at the party along with the other guests, but I want to make this special presentation to Frodo now. Although I do not think I could match the treasures that you have given us today, my boy.”
“You didn’t have to get me anything Bilbo,” Frodo said, blushing slightly. “I have everything here at Bag End that I could ever ask for. A wonderful place to live, a place that is cosy and warm. Food on the table at any hour of the day so that I may never fear of going hungry. And most of all, family and friends with whom to share my life.”
“Nonsense my boy, you are the most considerate person I know. You would give to others who have less than you, even if you have very little yourself. You are the most selfless, caring and good-natured hobbit I have the pleasure of calling my heir. It’s about time I started giving you some of the things that you do not ask for,” Bilbo said, believing wholly in every word he spoke.
“It’s just something I would like you see you wear tonight together with the jacket and trousers that you have already picked out,” Bilbo said as he handed Frodo a lightly wrapped parcel. “I think the colour should be most befitting.”
Frodo drew forth from the unwrapped parcel the most exquisite and well made
vest that he had ever laid eyes upon. The front consisted of a black background with interwoven patterns of cobalt blue and gold threading. The back was a large piece of shiny satin fabric in the same cobalt blue. So striking and beautiful to look at, and a perfect match to Frodo’s eyes.
“Oh, Uncle Bilbo,” Frodo said. It was his turn to show amazement and admiration for something so well made and pleasing to the eye. “It is truly a wonderful vest. I really love it and shall wear it with your blessing, of course.”
Frodo tried the vest on to see how well it fitted, and was pleased to see that Bilbo had done well to gauge the correct size. With the blue of the vest shimmering against the light, and his dark curly hair framing his pale features and enhancing his bright blue eyes, all noted how truly handsome Frodo looked.
“Now, that’s not fair Bilbo,” Merry said, trying to sound a little unhappy about the whole situation. His smile gave him away, though, and all knew that he was only having fun at Frodo’s expense in a good-natured way.
“What isn’t fair, Merry?” Strider asked, seeing the mirth in the hobbit’s eyes.
“Well, with Frodo having a vest like that and looking his most handsome and all at the party tonight. What chance do the rest of us have at getting a dance with any of the lasses who are going to be there?” Merry remarked.
“Too true, cousin, too true,” Pippin said in agreement. “Totally not fair, Bilbo. We will have to drag Frodo away from the girls for the entire night for his own protection.”
“Oh, don’t worry, Merry and Pippin, my lads,” Bilbo said in his defence. “Of course I did not forget either of you when I purchased the vest for Frodo. He then left the room and came back bearing two smaller parcels for the two cousins.
“For you,” Bilbo said, handing Merry one of the parcels. “And you,” handing the other to Pippin. “You will look just as splendid as your cousin.”
Merry looked at his gift from Bilbo with excitement. He revealed a bright yellow coloured vest, criss-crossed with red embroidered thin stripes. Pippin’s vest was equally as nice, being made of a appealing shade of green and fabric very soft to touch.
“Oh, and Sam, I might as well give you your gift now, too, seeing how I have just given out the presents I meant for Frodo and his cousins. And, don’t worry, you are most welcome, my dear hobbit lad, and most worthy of a gift on such a special occasion.”
Sam found himself blushing deeply at the love and friendship that came from Master Bilbo. Receiving a gift from the old hobbit was even more unexpected than receiving one from Frodo. He didn’t know how he was going to be able to show his gratitude to such wonderful folk.
Again, Sam’s gift was a vest to be worn to the party. It was of a lovely earthy brown colour, a shade or two darker than his curls. Sam looked over at Frodo who only smiled back. He had known for quite some time about Bilbo’s intention to give Sam a present in celebration of his 111th birthday.
“Looks as though we will all look a little second-class compared to these finely dressed hobbits, Gandalf,” Strider commented with a soft laugh. “I think we shall be quite busy keeping them all out of trouble tonight.”
The wizard smiled and nodded at the Ranger’s words. “It shall be an eventful night, I suspect.”
“Well then, I guess we had better go and check on these final party preparations and make sure everything is in order before the afternoon,” Strider said. He was loathe to drag everyone away from what had been a most enjoyable hour of gift giving and sharing in each others company.
“Go on then, let older folk like Gandalf and I have some peace and quiet for a couple of hours,” Bilbo said jokingly. “Mind you are back in time to start getting dressed for the party, though,” he added.
All of the gifts were carefully gathered and placed away for safe keeping. Sam had asked Frodo if he could keep his fine vest in his bedroom until they were ready to leave for the party that evening. Frodo of course had no objections. Sam’s new cloak was folded up neatly and stored away until it would be time to wear it.
Merry, Pippin and Strider now left Bag End with Sam and Frodo close behind. They didn’t have a great distance to go as the party was being held in a large grassy field nearby.
It really was beginning to look like a party scene now, with some of the marquees already erected and the ropes tied in place. There were a lot of hobbits there, setting up a long row of ale casks and tables and chairs.
A few of the hobbits looked a little warily of Strider when he showed up to help, but with a little coercion from Frodo and an explanation that the Big Person was only there to help, they all returned to their assigned tasks without any further fuss.
A couple of them made a deliberate effort to walk wide of the Ranger as they went back and forth organising the party, but a few of them were more than grateful for Strider’s assistance in helping them lift the heavy ale casks into position.
Merry and Pippin watched with interest as several hobbits now joined their efforts together in helping raise a large banner. Written on it was the name in large letters,
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BILBO BAGGINS!
“The sign doesn’t have Frodo’s name on it,” Pippin said, wondering how the writers could have forgotten to add his cousin’s name.
“It’s too late to change it now, Pip,” Merry said, a little annoyed, too that Frodo’s special day seemed to have lost some of its importance alongside with Bilbo’s grand feat of 111 years of age.
“It will just be up to all of us tonight to make sure that everyone doesn’t neglect the fact that it is Frodo’s birthday, too,” Merry stated, loud enough for Sam could hear and nod his head in agreement. Frodo had been quietly talking with Strider a few steps away from Sam and his cousins, and he did not hear the conversation about the banner.
“Mr Strider, if you wouldn’t mind, could I ask you to help myself, Merry and Pippin in erecting this marquee here? It’s one of the last few to go up, and with all of us it shouldn’t take too long,” Sam asked, most politely.
“Certainly, Sam. If you were to take one of the corners there, Merry and Pippin one over there together, with Frodo on that far side and me here, we should make a great team together, I should think,” Strider replied, realising that because of their smaller stature, it would take co-operation to complete the task successfully.
“Mr Frodo, beggin your pardon, but you shouldn’t be needing to help if you don’t want to. Seeing as how it is your birthday and all, I hope you don’t feel obligated or anything on your special day.”
“Sam, I wouldn’t just stand here and let you do the work while I just watch. No matter what the day is, that wouldn’t be right,” Frodo remarked.
“Well, looky, what we have here!” came a voice from behind Strider.
All turned around at the new comers, only to scowl as they saw none other than Lotho Sackville-Baggins and two of his sidekicks.
“What are you doing here Lotho?” Frodo demanded, having no qualms about confronting his much too loud cousin. Frodo tried to act civil for the sake of others who were within earshot. He was supposed to be a gentle-hobbit, after all, and he should be able to control his outbursts of anger with a little more decorum.
“We just came to see if you needed any help, cousin,” Lotho said in a voice was meant to sound full of sincerity and honesty, but no doubt was laden with poisonous intentions.
Strider and Sam were concerned for Frodo’s safety, especially after seeing Lotho with a sling shot only a day earlier. The Ranger came to stand beside Frodo, making sure that Lotho understood that he aimed to keep any trouble from ensuing.
“We can help you put up the marquee if you like,” Lotho offered. “You two boys take that corner there and I will take the gardener’s place.”
Frodo shrugged his shoulders at the offer and walked over to the corner he was to be holding. Merry and Pippin were to his right and Lotho directly opposite.
What Frodo and his companions didn’t realise was that Lotho and his friends had already noticed how strong the breeze was underneath the tent canvas. The material was flapping and billowing out under the continuous gusts, and Lotho could see that the two younger hobbits, Merry and Pippin, were struggling to keep a hold of their corner.
Behind Frodo there was a gentle sloping embankment covered with long soft grass. Lotho looked from side to side, realising that all he needed to do was to wait for the right gust of wind to come along and release his corner at just the right time, and, no doubt, his troublesome cousin would not only get the shock of his life, but would hopefully take a great tumble with the tent and all down the slope.
For the next few minutes, Lotho made sure that he appeared no less helpful than anybody else. He had motioned towards his partner in crime of the signal he would give when it would be time to let go of the tent. The breeze was getting stronger and stronger by the minute.
“How are you going over there Lotho?” Frodo asked, unaware of the sneaky glances his kin was stealing. Sam and Strider were not very happy at all about the situation and couldn’t help but think that there was something not quite right.
“I am fine over this end, Frodo,” Lotho called back. “Don’t worry about me,” he added. ‘Worry about yourself, Frodo.’
Strider was just about to step forward and relieve Frodo of his end of the tent when nature intervened, and the tent billowed up under another strong gust of wind.
“Hold it steady for just a little longer, Pip,” Merry declared, seeing the younger hobbit having great difficulty in holding his end still. Pippin was in danger of being picked up with the tent if the breeze grew too much stronger.
“I can’t, Merry, it’s slipping from my hands,” Pippin shouted in alarm as another gust battered the underside of the canvas. It was now that Lotho put his plan into action.
“Now!” Lotho said aloud, and immediately let go of his end at the same time as his friend. With Merry and Pippin being the only ones left holding onto the corner apart from Frodo, the battle was soon lost, and the edge of the tent was ripped from their grasp.
Frodo only had a moment to give a startled cry, as he saw the billowing canvas be lifted up by the wind once again, and come towards him with the breeze fully behind it. His blue eyes widened for an instant, but then his entire body was engulfed in the metres and metres of stiff fabric.
The alarmed hobbit tried to let go of his own corner and work his way out from underneath the heavy folds. In trying to escape, however, much to Lotho’s amusement, Frodo inadvertently took a step back, and instead of finding solid ground behind him, found only the sloping hillside.
“Mr Frodo!” Sam cried out urgently, as he saw the tent with his master trapped inside, begin to travel down the grassy slope, helped along by the force of the breeze.
The more the tent rolled down the slope, the more entangled Frodo became, until he was literally rolled up, and at the mercy of wherever the wind decided to take him. There just wasn’t enough weight from him to counteract the force of the breeze.
The three hobbits and Strider took after the tent down the grassy embankment, worried about in what condition they might find Frodo when he finally stopped tumbling. To their relief, a large tree prevented the tent from going any further and that was where it now rested at the base of the tree.
“Mr Frodo, are you alright in there?” Sam cried out, using both hands to try and free his master from the mountains of canvas. At first there was no response to his anguished cries, and Sam thought that Frodo must have fainted or been knocked out from the trip down the hill.
“Frodo?” Strider called out, as impatient as the hobbits for seeing if his friend was alright. He was getting frustrated with the fabric as well, and he knew that if he had his sword handy they would be able to free Frodo quicker.
There was a muffled cry coming from within the folds of the tent, and the four of them worked even harder to release Frodo. Soon there was a dark head of curls visible, and a hand reaching up towards them.
Strider grabbed a hold of the hand while the rest of them helped uncover Frodo. “Are you alright Frodo?” he asked.
Frodo didn’t reply at first, and although he was conscious, the hobbit was clearly dazed, if not a little stunned from his fall down the hill. His blue eyes were wide with fright, and his face was a little paler than the Ranger would have preferred.
“W-what…………..” There was a long pause before he could manage to get the words out. “What happened?” The hobbit’s breathing was slightly shallow and raspy.
Strider made Frodo remain sitting down for a few seconds more before allowing the hobbit to attempt standing on his own feet. When Frodo did try it, his legs were like jelly and his stance was unsteady. He held on tightly to Strider’s shoulder and to Sam’s outstretched hand to regain his sense of balance.
“That Lotho!” Sam spat angrily and looked up towards the hill where they had been just standing. They could see Lotho and his friends pointing down to them and laughing at Frodo’s mishap. Planned all along, no doubt, to their disgust. Lotho and his friends started to walk away now though, and they would be out of range before Strider or Sam could reach the top again and let them have what they deserved.
“Are you okay now, Frodo,” Pippin asked, his voice a little quieter for the fear he held that his cousin had been hurt seriously. He hated to think that something bad could happen to somebody on his birthday.
Frodo let go of Sam’s hand, and started rubbing lightly at the centre of his chest with the palm of his hand. He closed his eyes, and tried to will the dull ache to go away.
“That is where you were hurt yesterday after the fall from that tree, Frodo,” Strider commented, hoping that the hobbit would allow him to take a closer look. “Has it just started paining you again now?”
“I think the bruise was just knocked a couple of times as I rolled,” Frodo answered, keeping his eyes closed and his concentration on the area in question. “I was going so fast I just couldn’t stop, no matter how hard I tried.”
“Let me see, please?” Strider asked gently. Frodo nodded and allowed the Ranger to undo the first two buttons of his shirt, and take a better look at the bruised chest.
There seemed to be no additional bruising present, and thankfully all of that stiff fabric had most likely prevented any serious harm befalling the hobbit. That didn’t mean that the area wouldn’t be tender to touch again.
“It looks fine, Frodo, but I fear that it may be painful for a day or two longer now,” the Ranger diagnosed. “Can you walk back to Bag End?”
“Yes, I think I will be alright now,” Frodo said, the pain lessening and only a small residual amount of dizziness to contend with.
“Sam, would you help see Frodo home to Bilbo, and tell him what has happened?” Strider asked the stout hobbit. “Merry and Pippin can help me do the last of the preparations, and get this tent back up the hill to be set up for tonight. We shan’t be long, and we’ll return shortly.”
“No problem with that, Mr Strider. Mr Frodo needs to rest for a bit before tonight now, and I aim to see that he gets home,” Sam said.
“I wish that Lotho Sackville-Baggins was going to get what’s coming to him,” Merry said, starting to show some outrage at Frodo’s accident. “Don’t you worry, Frodo, I won’t be letting him or any of his friends anywhere near you tonight.”
“You can be certain of that, Mr Merry,” Sam said in agreement, knowing that Lotho would be there as a guest whether they approved or not. No doubt Master Bilbo would have a great deal to say to the young hobbit once he found out what had happened this afternoon with the tent.
“Thank you, I don’t think he will cause too much trouble with all the other guests about. We really can’t even prove that what he did just now was deliberate. He will be able to say that the wind just got hold of the tent and he couldn’t hold it,” Frodo stated.
Strider didn’t really weigh his opinions into the conversation, but inwardly he told himself, like Merry did, that he wouldn’t be letting the likes of Lotho Sackville-Baggins or anybody else cause more harm to come to Frodo tonight. He would be extra vigilant for just such foolish troublemaking.
The trip that Sam and Frodo made back to Bag End was quite a bit slower this time. Frodo didn’t want to voice out loud that his chest was hurting him some. He knew Sam was already worried about him, and he didn’t want his friend even more concerned.
They reached the front door to Bag End, and Sam opened the door, still holding a gentle hand behind Frodo’s back in case he should falter. Bilbo and Gandalf were still seated in the living room, where Sam lead Frodo, and urged him to settle down on the settee.
Bilbo and Gandalf had been idly chatting about past memories and people they had known, sipping at tea to pass the time, and letting the world go by at a much slower pace. At seeing Sam supporting his nephew, though, Bilbo was on his feet in an instant, and was now standing in front of Frodo’s pale face with a concerned look.
“Are you alright, Frodo my lad?” Bilbo asked, seeing a slight pained expression on his nephew’s face.
“I am fine, Uncle,” Frodo said, closing his eyes and not really wanting to go into any great detail about what happened. Hoping rather that Bilbo and Gandalf might think he was just tired from the day, and allow him to rest peacefully, before they all had to start getting ready for the party.
“You just sit there, Mr Frodo, and rest, while I get you a nice cup of tea,” Sam suggested, giving Frodo’s arm a gentle pat, and then heading into the kitchen. Bilbo and Gandalf quietly followed the stout hobbit, knowing that Sam would fill them in on what had transpired.
“What happened to Frodo, Samwise?” Bilbo asked, not meaning to sound harsh, but noting that Sam was also upset to a certain degree about his master’s discomfort and attempts not to reveal the truth.
“Did you run into trouble after you left here?” Gandalf queried.
“You could say that, Mr Gandalf, sir, yes. Everything was going fine at the party field until Lotho and his friends turned up,” Sam said, knowing that Bilbo would know of whom he spoke.
“Lotho, you mean that miserable excuse for a hobbit, Lotho Sackville-Baggins?” Bilbo asked with distain clearly evident in his voice.
Sam went onto describe as best he could the sequence of events from the first moment that Lotho and his pals showed up to the moment when they had let go of the tent and Frodo had taken a nasty tumble backwards down the grassy embankment.
As he continued the story, Sam could see the normally warm chocolate brown eyes of Bilbo begin to cloud as though there was a storm brewing within the elderly hobbit.
“I do hope I have the misfortune of running into that family tonight. I have a few things to say to both Lotho and his parents,” Bilbo said ominously. Most people in the Shire considered the old hobbit to be quaint in his ways, and somewhat withdrawn from the affairs of others and the various comings and goings within Hobbiton.
That may have been true to a certain extent, but when it came to someone like Frodo, for whom he cared deeply, was on the end of some deliberate and mischievous prank, then the good people of the Shire would see just how resilient he could be when defending one of his own.
Bilbo swore when Frodo first came to Bag End that he would do everything within his power to give the lad a good home and education, and he would keep him safe from harm and ill-word from others. That oath also extended to the likes of the Sackville-Bagginses who looked at Frodo down their noses as if he were of a lowly class.
“Thank you, Sam, for being honest and telling us. I don’t blame Frodo, mind you. I know there are times he would rather just let such things go away without fuss or comment,” Bilbo said with a smile.
Bilbo and Gandalf returned to the living room along with Sam, who served his master the cup of tea he promised. By the time Strider and the two cousins returned from the party field, Frodo showed no ill affects from his tumble, nor any animosity towards Lotho and his friends.
Half an hour before the party was to begin, everyone was gathered in the smial, dressed in their finest clothes. They looked at each other and were pleased at the results that they had been able to achieve.
They were only waiting on Frodo now, who had waited until the very last minute to put on the brocaded vest that Bilbo had presented him with.
“Uncle, could you please help me with this cuff, it won’t sit properly,” Frodo said in annoyance as he stepped out of his bedroom, dressed in a fine, white linen shirt, and black dress trousers with the vest over the top of the shirt.
For a moment there was stunned silence from his family and friends as they stood back, and admired just how handsome the young hobbit looked and how the blue of the vest just seemed to blend so well with the blue of his eyes.
“Uncle?” Frodo said, only looking up now after not receiving a response to his request. He felt his cheeks redden slightly as he became a little unnerved by all of the gentle stares he was getting. He smiled at them all, enhancing his appearance even further.
“My boy, you look positively splendid,” Bilbo said honestly and then stepped forward to help his nephew with the troublesome cuff button.
“You really do look ever so handsome, Mr Frodo,” Sam said, adding his own compliments. Frodo’s hair had been brushed to a sheen, and the curls fell into the correct place, framing his pale face, and extenuating his charm and good looks.
“Are you going to wear your black jacket this early in the evening, Frodo?” Bilbo asked innocently, hoping that he wouldn’t so as not to spoil the effect of the blue vest before he reached the party field.
“No, I think not, Uncle. The night is not so chilly yet, and the jacket will only become cumbersome when the dancing commences,” Frodo stated, not really reading anymore into Bilbo’s remarks.
“Just take it with you and you can put it on later in the evening when you need it,” Bilbo suggested. “Everyone ready to go?”
“Unfair, I tell you, unfair,” Merry said, as he looked at his older cousin. Even with his new vest, he and Pippin didn’t come anywhere up to scratch standing next to Frodo in all of his finery. Pippin just nodded his head in agreement, and Sam and Strider laughed a moment at them and the frowns of frustration on their faces.
“Gandalf, my old friend, this will be a night to remember,” Bilbo commented, as they all started heading out of Bag End, and down the path towards the party field.
TO BE CONTINUED……………
Boy that was a long chapter …… Sorry for the length, I just needed to get to here because this story is turning out to be longer and longer. I apologize for the length of time to update, but I have so much on my plate that I have been unable to do it any quicker.
The whole idea of the carved figurines is that I need to identify now that Frodo is able to carve things from wood. It will be mentioned periodically throughout the other stories as I go along but will be particularly used once the Fellowship has left Rivendell. I needed to explain now rather than later. The gift giving was just a fun way I thought of introducing another of Frodo’s hidden talents.
The next chapter will deal with the party itself and the aftermath of Bilbo’s leaving. Then finally we can get to the good bits. I hope nobody is bored with this story yet. Please let me know what you think.