#3 Four Hobbits Walk Into a Bar... - Homecoming
Calling "Whoa", Sam gently brought the horse to a stop. They had been galloping for twenty minutes since the other cart broke down. Sam hadn't wanted to take any chances. He had wanted to put as much distance between himself and Michel Delving as possible.
The cart halted and the other three jumped out. "Did you see that?" Pippin exclaimed as he ran in circles. Using exaggerated hand gestures, he retold the events of their escape. "As soon as I heard that crack, I knew!"
"The wheel just rolled right off and kept on rolling," Merry added to the tale. "Then that cart went down." He fell as if he had been the one driving. "It must have scraped along the dirt for at least 50 yards."
Pippin landed on top of Merry and the two friends wrestled on the empty road, enjoying their moment of triumph.
Frodo, while upset over the loss of all of Bilbo's things, could not help but be happy about their escape. He was bruised, filthy and smelled like a good hobbit's supper table, yet he, like the others, had managed to out smart them all.
"He took that hobbit out with one punch, Sam did." Merry was telling his side of the adventure to Pippin. After wrestling, both had dropped down in the grass, tired and sore, but still abuzz with excitement. "I never thought he had that in him."
Frodo looked around for the friend who had disappeared. He found Sam standing in the dark, a few paces down the road, staring back at where they had just escaped from. "You knew the pin would break, didn't you, Mr. Frodo?" Sam asked without turning.
"I had a good idea," Frodo answered, straining to see what Sam what Sam saw out there, "I just didn't want the makeshift pin to fail on us and leave us stranded. Again." He couldn't still be worried about those other hobbits, could he?
"Well, glad we won't be watching the sun rise on that place." He gingerly touched his swollen lip. "Only, Mr. Bilbo's things are lying scattered 5 leagues behind us. As he spoke, the taste of blood filled his mouth; he spat it out on the ground. "Left plenty more behind, too." He turned away from the dark and went to check on the horse without further comment.
Sam's demeanor should have been joyous, but it wasn't. He was sullen and silent, Frodo observed. He didn't expect the exuberance displayed by Pippin, but a little more enthusiasm would have been appropriate. Yet, Sam showed nothing as he knelt to check the horse for injury. "Sam?" Frodo said as he bent to bring the other hobbit to eye level. "What's troubling you?"
Sam did not meet his friend's gaze. "Just plain stupid, that's all."
"That's not true!" Frodo had no idea of why Sam had said that, but it didn't matter. Frodo would brook no negative comments about his friend, no matter who said them.
"Left it behind, Mr. Frodo." He struggled to his feet, the toils of this day, and night, settling in his bones. The horse had survived their mad dash to freedom, but was in sore need of water, and a rest. Without much hope of finding anything, he went to look in the cart on the outside chance there would be something useful in the back.
Confused at first over Sam's cryptic statement, the awful truth dawned on Frodo with a thud in his stomach. Left it behind? Bilbo's journal! Patting his pockets in a vain attempt to locate it, Frodo understood Sam's foul mood now. He had been hoping to compensate for the loss of Bilbo's shopping list with the present he had gotten at the bookshop. But, that was gone now, too. Any lingering good feelings he had had over their daring escape seeped away, leaving regret in its place.
"That was truly fancy driving, Frodo," Pippin put in his two ha' pennies worth as he draped his arm over the edge of the cart, "Didn't know you had it in you."
The wagon was empty. They had managed to steal what was probably the one totally empty wagon in all of Michel Delving. "Fat lot of good all that fancy driving did us," Sam said, letting his bitterness show. He was furious with himself. It had been left behind, right there on the tavern floor, and it had not entered his mind to look for it until it was much too late. Heartbroken over his lapse, Sam would never forgive himself for his obvious lack of concern for his special purchase and what it represented to him. "Nothing to show for all our trouble except dirty clothes and a stolen wagon."
"Oh, I don't know about that." Jumping up into the wagon beside Sam, Merry crouched down in the far right corner. With a grunt he pulled a small package from its hiding place. "I thought you might want this."
Rotating his weary head, Sam was speechless as he beheld his special purchase in Merry's outstretched hands. It wasn't possible! No, he had carelessly left that back at the tavern "How...how did you...when did...why?" he managed to sputter out.
Holding it out to Sam, who reverently took it, Merry attempted to pass this most generous of acts off as nothing. "Saw you leave it behind. I just grabbed it and stuck it under my weskit. Just one of your many plants, right?"
Sam could not believe his good fortune. Elation replaced his other emotions as he stood holding his special purchase. It was a little bent, most of the branches broken off, yet it was still able to bloom, of that he was sure.
"You might want this yourself, Frodo." Pippin produced the journal out from under his jacket where it had stayed safely stuck in the waistband of his pants the whole time.
Overcome with joy at being reunited with what he thought was lost, Frodo engulfed Pippin in a large hug. "Thank you, Pip!"
Sam's feelings were no less joyful, but he was not quite as demonstrative with his thanks as Frodo. He mumbled "Thank you" to Merry and awkwardly put his arm around the other's shoulder. One tiny squeeze and the pair broke apart finding the ground around them utterly fascinating.
"How close do you figure we are to Hobbiton?" Pippin asked looking up. The sky hung above the quartet, the moon having left its nightly perch, leaving only stars to light the road home.
"Four or five hours, I'd say." Sam sat dangling his feet over the edge of the cart, rosebush held protectively in his lap.
Knowing that the road was long and even if they started now, their arrival at home would not be until well after dawn, none of them were quite ready to start that long trek just yet. Frodo had to get a few things straight first. "Who was that girl?"
Pippin hung his head and mumbled, "I don't remember."
His foul mood lifted, Sam teased, "Pansy." He hopped off the end of the wagon and plopped down beside Frodo. "I'm sure of it, her name was Pansy."
"Could have been."
"She was perfection," Merry said, stretching out, hands behind his head, "Sheer perfection, that's what you said, Pip."
Smacking Merry a good one, Pippin said, "I vaguely recall saying something like that."
"Something like that? You said exactly that about a dozen times as we chased her all over town."
The sight of Pansy standing at the flower vendors, before all the trouble, flitted through Pippin's mind and he was reminded of the beauty that had made him lose his sense. He lay back on the grass as his goofy grin returned. "You have to admit now, she was beautiful."
"Aye, that she was." Merry was smiling, too, reliving his private memories of Pansy.
"OK, she was beautiful, I'll give you that." Frodo then asked the rhetorical question, "but was she worth all the trouble we went through, is any girl really worth being assaulted, chased and threatened as we were?" Each one secretly hoped that some day they would have the chance to find out.
"All over town?" Sam teased, "I bet you didn't even go shopping for Mr. Bilbo's things, did you?"
Merry and Pippin protested and began to tell the tale of their day in the big city. Frodo was next, explaining how he had come by Bilbo's present. All agreed, the old hobbit was creepy.
After Sam had told his tale of the rosebush, without embellishment, Pippin added, "We come in handy, Merry and me. You should remember that."
"I should." Frodo yawned broadly. "Staring right now, any adventure I set out on, I want you two with me."
Closing his eyes, Sam thought Frodo had gone crazy to make a promise like that.
In a row on the grass they lay: Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin, taking pleasure in the first real peace they had had since this morning. The dewy grass soaked through their jackets, but no heed was paid to the slight chill it caused. Satisfied in the company, their trip back to Hobbiton would have to wait.
The sun was beaming in his window much too brightly, Frodo thought as he turned over in his sleep. Reaching for his extra pillow to throw over his head and block the light, his hand found not softness, but something prickly. Why is there grass in my bed? "Oh, no!"
All around him the Shire glistened in the dawn's glory. The sun could not have been up fully for more than a few minutes, but the heat of its presence could already be felt. On his right, Sam lay quietly on his side, rosebush tucked securely under his arm. Pippin was face down in the grass on his stomach, Merry was on his back. They had obviously fallen asleep by the road, which meant he was about 12 hours over due at Bag End.
His stiff muscles would not allow him to jump up with his usual sprightliness and he groaned an old hobbit noise as he bent his sore knees to rise. They were alone in all directions, which was good in a way, because that meant the trouble of last night was finally over. It also meant that the horse and cart they had "borrowed" was gone. Probably found its way home in the dark. He stared at the empty road leading east. What was it that Sam had said? 4 or 5 hours to reach Hobbiton? And now it would be in the heat of the day and on foot. To his surprise, all he wanted to see right now was Bag End's green front door and to feel his uncle's embrace.
Gently nudging each hobbit, Frodo woke them all to share the good news of the coming day's events. They were tired, sore, dirty and homesick. But, Sam, whose lip had swollen to twice its size, had a gigantic headache to add to his misery.
"A wee too much to drink, Sam?" Pippin teased as the bedraggled friends began to shuffle the long road home.
"Only what was thrown in my face," Sam snarled back. The autumn sun was beating down with no clouds to give the travelers respite from its heat. Sam, looking down, was trying to shield his eyes and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.
Pippin bounded up behind him and took a long whiff. Coughing, he complained, "More than just a mug in the face, I would say." He moved from Sam to Merry. "And you! What, where you rolling in them while Frodo and I were running for our lives?"
"It was the barrel, Pip, the barrel!" Merry shouted in his defense. He turned to Frodo who had taken a wide step away. "I don't even like pickles."
"Between the three of you, we have the makings of a nice meal."
"If you don't like the smell of us, maybe you should walk over there," Merry said even louder and Sam winced.
"Definitely, you are making my hungry. And thirsty." Running slightly ahead of his aromatic friends, Pippin called back, "I'll just stay in front of you for now."
They all saw it, right in the middle of the road: a pile so large an oliphaunt must have passed by recently. They knew Pippin was on a collision course with the pile and a single thought passed among them. Each grinned devilishly. Pippin was walking backwards, the better to see his friend's faces as he teased them some more. The pile was there and so was he. The pickle stinking, ale reeking, stew smelling hobbits did nothing. Almost gleefully they kept their mouths shut until it was too late. Pippin went down with a splat.
The rest of the journey home, it was Pip who walked down wind.
Bilbo was beside himself with worry. The trip to Michel Delving was only one day away; Frodo should have been back shortly after nightfall. Here it was just after noon on the next day and there was still no sign of him. When the horse showed up this morning without Frodo and Sam, even without the cart, Bilbo had thrown on his cloak and was out the gate on his way to rescue Frodo. He was stopped by Gaffer Gamgee's wise words. "You can't hold them down anymore then you can stop the wind from blowing. All children grow up, Mr. Bilbo, even Frodo. Give him room to blossom and yourself the peace to watch him grow. If you get my meaning." Bilbo had and he hung his cloak back on the first peg.
That he had understood those words did not make waiting any easier. In fact, it was excruciating, this waiting. He had even begun to straighten his study just to have something to do with his hands. The hours ticked by and as his study began to resemble a real room, his resolve began to crumble. At 4 o'clock, when he should have been preparing tea, Bilbo instead was reaching for his cloak again when the most peculiar scent wafted into his open windows. It was not unpleasant at first, (he loved pickles). But, combine that odor with a hint of stew and a large dash of stale ale, the smell soon assaulted, making him gag. Despite the good stiff October breeze, the stench was growing stronger. In fact, it was so overpowering that even Bag End's spacious windows were incapable of clearing the smell out of the house. Rushing to the door, Bilbo flung it open and there on his doorstep stood the source.
"Hello, Bilbo," Frodo said in a weak voice. "Sorry I'm late." Beside him stood Sam, bleary-eyed and bruised, and Merry, dirty from head to toe. Pippin, the one who had bothered him from his nap, stood apart down by the road, (the reason why was eventually revealed).
Bilbo had practiced his speech many times over as his waiting had worn on. That speech contained phrases like irresponsible behavior, destruction of private property and lack of maturity. He looked at Frodo and much to his own surprise, he tossed all that bunk aside and just did what came naturally. Rushing forward, he drew Frodo into a huge hug and squeezed tightly. "You're safe."
Frodo was not bothered by his uncle's obvious concern; he actually experienced a sense of relief at being home and safe within his uncle's care again. When he had seen the tree over the hill, he had run the last few hundred yards more than eager to be home. Frodo melted into the warm embrace. "I'm sorry, Bilbo," he said, tears forming, "I lost all your things. You trusted me and I let you down."
Breaking the embrace, Bilbo held Frodo out at arms length, looking closely at him. Beneath the grime and crusted stew stood that same little hobbit who had come to live at Bag End at his insistence. Why? Because he had had spirit, a spark the rest of the Baggins clan had been devoid of. A touch of the dangerous that had been in him once upon a time. Here I've been trying my hardest to stamp out the one thing that had brought Frodo to me in the first place. In the quest to regain respectability, I had wanted to see Frodo like all the others: stuffy, boring, commonplace. I wanted him to become normal. A depressing thought: I've become my father! "Don't care a whit for those things now, Frodo." And he meant it. Those long hours of waiting had been filled not with thoughts of his ink and tea, but only the safety of his heir. Somehow, without his notice over the past several years, Frodo had silently stolen his heart.
"But, your ink, Bilbo."
Bilbo enfolded him in his arms again, assuring Frodo that he was not disappointed or angry, only glad that he was back. "You're safe," and that was all that mattered.
All was explained after several rounds of baths and, in Pippin's case, a rather severe haircut to get out the stubborn clumps. His uncle surprised Frodo. Somewhere between his departure for Michel Delving and his late return, the fussy Bilbo had been replaced by a more tolerant one. In all fairness, Frodo had to admit that he had changed somewhat, too. Still possessing the yearning for adventures, he understood that not all were magical and steeped in harmless mischief. His corner of Middle Earth was safe, yet that did not necessarily mean the rest was. Cured of his wanderlust for a while, Frodo was content to stay right here in Hobbiton, enjoying its beauties and their own Green Dragon ale.
Frodo had waited until all the stories had been told, all the explanations given, for everything to settle before giving Bilbo his present. The evening was winding down to bedtime as Frodo knocked softly at his uncle's study door. The invitation to come in was immediately given and Frodo entered that sanctuary. The stacks seemed neater, the papers, if not cleaned up off the floor, were at least in piles over against the wall and out from underfoot. Bilbo's maps were still strewn everywhere, however. It's a start, Frodo thought with a wry smile.
"Yes, Frodo?" Bilbo said without turning from his work, "What can I do for you?"
"I wanted to give you this. I found it in Michel Delving." And with a little embarrassment over the memories, he added. "It's the only thing I managed to bring back." He held out the book.
Bilbo was taken immediately by its beauty, the simplicity of its design. Receiving it from Frodo's hands, a little thrill sped through him. Thumbing the pages, Bilbo saw that they held nothing. Nothing except limitless possibilities.
"It's a journal," Frodo explained quickly. "I thought you could write your tales down, your adventures with Gandalf, the dwarves and Smaug."
That very idea had been tickling the back of Bilbo's mind for quite some time. And here Frodo had walked in and given him the perfect opportunity to do just that. He did have his doubts about the whole enterprise, though. Who would read it? Neighbors? Friends? They had scoffed and called him addle-brained just for mentioning his adventures. How would they react to him writing them down for all to see? "Who would want to read about that?" Bilbo asked, his attention drawn to the silver star embossed on the front, the star that was pointing east. Or was it west? "That's all bother and nonsense. Just a silly hobbit's tale."
"No, it's not, Bilbo" Frodo pressed, "You must write it down. For all those to come after."
The book felt warm in his hands despite the early November chill. "And what about you, my boy? Your adventures should be remembered, too."
"Oh, don't worry about that." Mental images of that whole trip were permanently burned into his brain. Besides, until Pip's hair grew out, he had an almost daily reminder. "That book is for your adventures, Bilbo. Whenever you decide to write them down." Frodo walked to the door. "Happy birthday, uncle. From me."
Bilbo tore his eyes away from his present to meet Frodo's. He was smiling, obviously pleased his gift had found favor with the recipient. Bilbo smiled back, love teaming within him. "Thank you, Frodo. For everything."
"Good night, Bilbo," Frodo said before closing the study door.
Standing alone, Bilbo flipped though those pages and could almost see his words, his adventures filling up the empty space. He saw the maps of his journey, the illustrations showing trolls, goblins and eagles. All would be welcomed within those pages. While flipping he also caught a brief glimpse of a story he would not be a part of. An important story. The most important story. "Must be Frodo's journeys I saw," he mused. For he most defiantly will be a part of this journal.
He cleared a space on a prominent shelf and gingerly laid the book in its new place. The time for writing his tale had not come yet, too many distractions, too much to research and mull over. His mind was not up to the task; his elvish poetry was consuming him now. He promised himself it would be soon and he would joyfully write of his adventures, all of it; of how one small hobbit had the grandest of adventures just getting there and back again.
The book stayed on that shelf unmolested for several years and life in the Shire continued on. Sam's yellow roses bloomed beautiful and sunny year after year, (the smell of pickles finally dissipating). Pippin's hair grew back and, he and Merry became frequent visitors to Bag End, but were always careful not to call at naptime. Frodo began to take longer and longer walks, most of these with just the company of a book. Bilbo's heart still went to his throat every time he went out the front door, but, amazingly, each time he returned, Frodo seemed to have grown out there on his wanderings. Just recently, Frodo had returned a fully grown hobbit.
Everyday demands had pulled on Bilbo, yet he knew the journal was there, a constant reminder of past glory waiting to be told. As fate would have it, on the very day of his eleventy-one birthday party, Bilbo was pouring over his maps and hiding from the Sackville-Baggines, when a flash from the corner of his eye drew his attention. It was the sun playing off the silver star that adorned the journal Frodo had given him several years back.
Overwhelmed with party plans, he dismissed this intrusion at first and went back to packing. He would be making a grand exit at his party this evening, grand and secret. Not even Frodo knew of his plans. He had been sedentary for far too long; the road called to him and he would answer. That was when Frodo's present came back to his mind, and the idea of writing it all down would not leave him alone. Abandoning his preparations, Bilbo walked over to the shelf and withdrew the journal. It was clean, no dust marred its beauty. The task he had so long avoided suddenly became paramount. Cleaning the top of his desk off with one swipe, he placed the book down and opened to the first page. Dipping a pen, another gift from Frodo, in ink, he struggled to put order to his thoughts. Where do I start?, he asked himself, one hand poised with pen over the blank page, the other fiddling idly with something in his pocket. The beginning, silly. His pen drew across the page writing these words. "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." Bilbo smiled.
The Red Book was begun.