Concealing of a Conspiracy - The Shire, Pre-Quest: What made Frodo's friends suspicious?

A/N - My first chapter story submitted to TORC. Takes place little less than a year after the Party. Slightly AU, but not terribly so - it's only in the timing of the Conspiracy. Book-verse. Reviews graciously accepted. :-D

Disclaimer - None of these are mine, sadly enough. I'm only borrowing them and I promise to put them back in mint condition.

Concealing of a Conspiracy

By - BookHobbit

Chapter 1 - King of the Toads

"Ooof! Catch him, Merry!"

"Gotcha - no, coming your way, Pip!"

"Hah, now we've got you - the jar, hurry, the jar!" Pippin Took yelled, doggedly holding a squirming toad in his hands.

Merry Brandybuck seized the jar that was lying on the bank of Bywater Pool. Pippin thrust the toad in and Merry snapped on the lid, which had been thoughtfully drilled with air holes. "He won't be getting out now!" announced Merry proudly.

"All that work over a toad," Frodo Baggins laughed as he observed his two cousins from the safety of the shore. They had been 'toad-hunting' for near an hour now, and Frodo wanted to go back home. "Come on, you two, it's getting late. We need to get back to Bag End."

"Oh, Frodo, just a little longer?" Pippin pleaded, but Frodo shook his head decisively.

"I am not going to get in trouble with your parents for letting you stay out after dark, in Bywater Pool of all places, just so you can catch toads."

"We don't have to tell them," the young Took suggested.

"No," Frodo replied.

"Race you back to Bag End, Pippin!" Merry shouted. Pippin was off in an instant. Merry walked slower with Frodo, admiring their captive 'pet.'

"Good idea, Merry."

"Would you have expected anything less?"

A short while later, they had reached Frodo's home (Bilbo having left nearly a year before). Pippin announced between pants from his one-sided race, "I won!"

"Aye, Pip, but I think we're all about to lose now." Merry pointed down the lane that wound around the Hill at a quickly advancing shape. Although a fair distance away, the figure was easily recognizable as Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.

Frodo sighed in frustration as the trio entered through the green door. "Not again. I've told the S.-B.s time after time that Bilbo's will is perfectly legal. Why can't they just accept it?"

"Because they're the Sackville-Bagginses," Pippin pointed out simply. "It's what they live for: bothering others."

The older hobbits laughed, but their merriment was cut short by a sharp rapping on the door. "Frodo? Frodo Baggins!"

No sooner had the reluctant hobbit opened the door than he was nearly hit by it, as Lobelia forcefully pushed it open. "Ah, there you are. Don't try to hide from me, you scheming Brandybuck! I need to see that will."

Merry glared at her, but his caustic reply was halted by Frodo's voice. "Merry, take Pippin into the kitchen." Both younger hobbits began to protest, but Frodo said firmly, "Go."

They had barely left the room before they heard Lobelia launch into a clearly rehearsed speech about how Frodo 'stole' Bag End out from under her family's nose, how Bilbo's will was obviously forged, and all sorts of equally unlikely prospects.

"The nerve of that, that toad-woman," Merry began angrily. He was suddenly struck by an idea and looked down at Pippin with a sly expression on his face, only to have it mirrored back at him by the Took. They quickly laid their plans.

Meanwhile, Frodo sank wearily into a chair, steeling himself for a long, boring tirade. Lobelia and Otho alternately had been pestering him about Bilbo's will ever since the hobbit had disappeared, no matter how many lawyers told them it was legally unbreakable. Bilbo had always been careful about such things, especially when the possibility of the Sackville-Bagginses' rage came into play. 'Dear Bilbo,' Frodo thought, half-smiling as he completely ignored the cacophony that was Lobelia and thought instead of his favorite 'uncle.' He wondered where the old hobbit was and if he was happy. Therefore, he missed the secretive doings of his cousins until he was unceremoniously brought back to the present, courtesy of a louder than normal shriek from Lobelia. He sat bolt upright, blinking at the strange scene unfolding in front of him.

Lobelia was nearly hopping around the room, clawing desperately at her hair. "Oh! Oh! Oh! Get it off!" she squawked, although Frodo could not see a thing wrong with her. That is, until a loud croak sounded from her head. She screeched louder.

Merry dashed into the room, his face panicked but his eyes twinkling without a hint of anxiety. "Run, Lobelia! A whole army of them is coming!"

In her hysterical state, Lobelia fully believed him and ran towards the front door, not noticing the animal give a giant leap to land inches from Frodo's feet. Merry kindly opened the door as she ran out, yelling blue murder about enormous scaly creatures, hordes of them, that were trying to eat her alive. He shut the door, grinning broadly.

"Good job, Gil-Galad!" Pippin cheered as he entered the room, wearing a smug smile identical to Merry's. The younger of the mischievous duo grabbed the toad again.

"Gil-Galad?" was all Frodo could think to say.

Merry pretended to look surprised. "Of course, Gil-Galad. Haven't you ever heard the song about him, Frodo?" Taking Frodo's blank look as an answer in the negative, he launched into an impromptu ballad.

Gil-Galad was a toadish king.
Of him Lobelia shall never sing:
the last whose realm was hairy, yet free,
somewhere east of the sea.

If there were any more verses to the song, Frodo did not hear them. He was laughing too hard.

To be continued...

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