In which tongues are used, adventures are planned, accusations are thrown, history is recounted, marks are examined, and Frodo tries to understand where he belongs.
Late Evening, Brandy Hall, 13 Halimath, 1389
‘No, Frodo, you’re closing your jaw too much. Let it relax. Round lips, and let your tongue do the work.’
Frodo nodded, shut his eyes, and tried to not pronounce elvish with a Shire accent.
‘Excellent!’ Bilbo beamed down at the boy who sat on the hearth in front of a low fire. Frodo grinned back, proud of his accomplishment. ‘Now, again, count to ten,’ Bilbo prompted.
‘Minë, atta, neldë, canta, lempë, enquë, otso, tolto, nertë, cainen,’ Frodo carefully pronounced, but with much more competence and confidence than when the evening started.
‘Very good, very good,’ Bilbo started pacing the room again, ‘and the months, once more.’
‘Narvinyë, Nénimë, Súlimë, Víressë, Lótessë, Nárië, Cermië, Úrimë, Yavannië, Narquelië, Hísimë, Ringarë!’ Frodo said much more slowly than he had the numbers, but properly and in the correct order.
‘Perfect,’ Bilbo announced, ‘and on that good note, we shall end our elvish lesson for tonight.’ The last three nights, ever since Highday, Frodo had come to Bilbo’s room to smoke his pipe and learn some elvish. Tonight, Bilbo had come to Frodo’s room to give the next lesson and to see just how the lad was doing. It irritated Bilbo somewhat that Frodo had not been left in Drogo and Primula’s quarters, and even more so that Sara and Esmie had taken them over, but he supposed that it made more sense for them to be given to another couple with children and put Frodo into a room meant for a single hobbit. They were Rory and Gilda’s before they were Drogo and Prim’s, and Aunt Mira and Uncle Gorbadoc’s before that, he reminded himself, and so it’s right that the Master’s Heir and family have them.
Everything in Frodo’s room looked in decent order. There was an old but solid bedstead with a perfectly serviceable straw tick, fresh smelling without a hint of mold or mustiness, all quite appropriate for a tween boy. The bed linens were older, clean and soft, and more than enough to keep Frodo quite warm, even if the fire went out. Bilbo recognized the quilt as being from Prim’s wedding linens, one of her favorites, and the one she usually had on her and Drogo’s bed when they had lived at Bag End. He was glad to see someone had been thoughtful enough to give it to Frodo for his own. I wonder where the rest of their household belongings are? They belong to Frodo now. They’re obviously not here. Bilbo made himself a mental note to talk to Esmie about it when he had tea with her on Saturday.
At the foot of the bed was a small wardrobe without doors, having lost them at some point in its long life. It had belonged to a series of young boys, each of whom had carefully carved initials and small designs into the wood with his pocket-knife. Frodo took delight in pointing out Rory’s carvings up near the top, standing on the end of the bed to reach them. Since there were no doors, it was a simple matter for Bilbo to quickly look over the clothes that had been provided for the boy. They looked exactly like what he himself wore as a tween; durable rather than fine, but without any holes or stains, and enough so he always had a clean change. Frodo insisted on pulling out one shirt to show Bilbo the very odd little bird (Or was it a flower? A cat?) that Merle had painstakingly embroidered on the cuff. Frodo was very proud of her effort, whatever the beast was supposed to be.
A sturdy, but slightly battered, chair and a small desk with a pocked surface stood near the fireplace. Frodo had placed a square of leather on the table to provide a smooth surface for writing. A few sheets of paper were kept flat under the leather, while a writing quill lay next to a small ink pot. Bilbo supposed it was good enough for a young boy, but it irked him to see such a poor desk and minimal writing implements. Mentally he started ticking off what he was going to put into a box and have sent to Frodo: a full desk pad of fine leather, a sheaf of various writing papers, several ink pots with inks of different colors, at least one fountain pen, and a set of good quills. Plus a penknife. And a blank, bound journal. He would send them through Gilda, who would make sure Sara did not interfere.
‘You don’t have any books, Frodo?’ Bilbo had asked, most offended at the lack of them within arm’s reach.
‘No, Uncle Bilbo. Uncle Rory says I’m not old enough to be responsible with them,’ Frodo admitted, a bit shame-faced. ‘He says if I want them, I must go to the library or his study and read them there.’
Bilbo considered that for a minute, then decided Rory was probably right, but it still did not please him. From the time he himself had learned to read, he had always been allowed to have at least a few books to call his own. In his mind he was already selecting the books at Bag End that would join the paper, ink, and quills on their journey to Brandy Hall. He tried not to think about them being packed again and sent to the Great Smials.
What struck Bilbo most was the lack of any messy things. There were no bird nests, no rocks and bits of wood, no frog or mouse in a jar as an odd pet, no skeletons or other fascinating animal remains, no broom-handle sword or bow made of kitchen twine and a willow branch. After learning of the books, Bilbo rather expected that all toys would stay in their proper place in a toy box in the children’s play room down the corridor, but the lack of a single object of curiosity or of some gruesome item found on a jaunt, this bothered him a great deal. When he stepped up on the end of the bed to read Rory’s initials carved into the wardrobe, he had taken a quick look at the top of the cabinet to see if things were hidden up there. Nothing. The room was as neat, if not nearly as well appointed, as any guest room at Bag End. He suspected that anything the boy collected was probably thrown out, or else squirreled away in a secret place in a shed or in a hole in a tree.
To Bilbo’s great relief, there had been no more strangeness in Frodo’s behavior such as he had seen the first night, and he had not again received any unsettling looks. There wasn’t any look to see, he scolded himself, you were just looking for trouble and you found it. All you saw was a tween not liking having some doddering old uncle poking into his life and making him tell an embarrassing story on himself! He willed himself to believe this. Frodo was a little subdued tonight, but since he had been kept busy helping prepare fruit for drying in the back kitchen all day, it was to be expected.
Frodo had been shy about showing his room, which Bilbo hoped was simply a result of letting anyone into his room, and not specifically because it was himself. The last few days had not been easy. Bilbo alternated between feeling angry and wretched in the lad’s presence. Since Sara’s leering insults on Highday, combined with Rory’s earlier lecture on not doing any harm to Frodo’s respectability, Bilbo had not felt comfortable being too near his boy.
Bilbo found himself pulling back his hands, keeping them in his pockets, when he wanted to ruffle Frodo’s hair, or pat his shoulder, or put an arm about him. He would only allow Frodo to give him a rather perfunctory hug, and never put his own arm around the lad in return. Bilbo would offer a cheek for a greeting kiss, but only smiled in return. If Frodo sat near him when the family gathered before supper, Bilbo was careful to pay him little or no attention, not under Sara’s too-keen gaze. Frodo had sat near Gilda tonight, holding her hand. He certainly never left a room with the lad in tow, as he had done in the past.
Frodo had seemed a bit confused by Bilbo’s sudden distance, but had not complained - or questioned. Bilbo hoped Frodo did not think he had done something wrong, but could not quite figure out how to tell him what was happening. I’m sorry lad, but I have to treat you like someone I’ve hardly met so no one thinks that I wish to do unnatural things with you. Oh, that would be an interesting conversation! Bilbo grimaced a bit at the thought. It’s no hardship to the boy, you fool. He’s growing up and doesn’t want to be fussed over and petted as though he were no bigger than Merry. You’ll just have to get used to being less demonstrative. And if he could not hug his nephew anymore, well, he could still talk to him.
Hence the elvish lessons. On Monday, he had told Frodo to come to his room once he had cleaned up from supper. Bilbo had the pipes prepared, and instructed Frodo to take a seat at the hearth while he himself sat in a chair and started drilling the boy on some basic elven vocabulary. The lad took to it like a swallow to the air, and was learning a good number of names. Tomorrow, he would introduce some verbs and a few basic rules of grammar.
‘So, you like learning elvish?’ Bilbo asked, taking a seat in the worn chair.
‘Oh, yes! Will you introduce me to elves so I can speak it to them?’ Frodo eagerly said, eyes alight at the thought of elves.
‘I think you shall need a touch more practice before you would want to try it out on real elves, my boy,’ Bilbo chuckled, ‘but, yes, at some point I think you would do well to meet with some elves. I think they would be amused.’ He remembered his own first encounter with Gildor and his folk on a hike near Woodhall on his way to Buckland some years ago. The elves had been quite complimentary on his wretched mangling of their tongue.
‘Are there really elves in the Shire?’
‘They certainly are here, but they are even more soft-footed than hobbits, and keep themselves hidden.’
Frodo sighed and rested his elbows on his knees. ‘I wish I could see elves right away.’
‘It will happen soon enough, Frodo,’ Bilbo reassured him. ‘Someday, you know, I’m going to go back to Rivendell, to where the elves live. When I do, you shall go with me, if you wish. In Rivendell is the most amazing library you could ever hope to see, my boy. Lord Elrond is a great scholar and lore master. He has more books, parchments and scrolls than you can imagine! They are stored in a large room, lined with cedar and oak, with many elves who do nothing but take care of them, for many are thousands of years old and very delicate.’ Frodo listened with wonder, and Bilbo warmed up to telling one of his favorite memories to an appreciative audience.
‘There are racks of scrolls, row upon row of them, three times as tall as the tallest hobbit! You aren’t allowed to touch anything with your bare hands and must always wear kidskin gloves so your dirty fingers don’t smudge and damage the paper and parchments. On stands around the edges of the reading room, beautiful books are set under crystal, and you can look the pages decorated with paint and gold and silver. They even have a book there that, if set on end, is taller than I am! It is full of stories of the First Age, the Lays of Beleriand, and each day a new page is turned over so you can read the words and see the pictures. The Master Archivist is a marvelous woman, with hair like the night and eyes of amethyst, and she read a page of the book to me, pointing out the words as she read. It was listening to her that I decided I must learn elvish.’
Frodo sat entranced. When Bilbo stopped, he sighed. ‘I wish we could go now,’ he said sadly, ‘but I suppose I need to learn more elvish before I go to visit them.’
‘It would be better if you did, Frodo. I would have enjoyed myself ever so much more had I known elvish when I was there,’ Bilbo wistfully replied. He gave a sigh himself and went to draw on his pipe. It was out. Bilbo dug in a pocket for the pipe-weed pouch. ‘Do you need your pipe refilled? Mine’s out.’
‘Yes, Uncle Bilbo, if you please.’ Frodo handed over his pipe.
‘You know, when we were Riding Hedge the other day, your cousin Mac asked if I knew of a dwarf who would be willing to come down to Buckland for a month or so and do some metal and stone work,’ Bilbo chatted while he got the pipes ready.
‘Really?’ Frodo stood and stretched, then took the newly filled pipe. ‘That would be different. Mac asked? That’s different enough,’ Frodo said with a wondering tone.
‘Things are changing in the world, my lad. Even the stubborn minds of Buckland farmers are ripe for change,’ Bilbo teased with mock solemnity. Frodo laughed, and drew on his pipe. For a few minutes there was nothing but giggles as Bilbo tried to teach Frodo to blow smoke rings. Wait until he sees some of Gandalf’s smoke rings. I wonder where the old conjuror is? Probably puffing on a pipe, planning some fireworks.
Frodo was examining his pipe again, running his fingers over the silver inlay along the stem, admiring the carvings surrounding the bowl. It was a pattern of ravens, six tiny ones standing beak to tail and circling the bowl. The bottom of the bowl was faceted like a gem, and Bilbo suspected it was patterned after the Arkenstone.
‘Have you found your safe place for it?’ he quietly inquired.
Frodo shook his head. ‘No, not yet. I’ll think of something.’
‘May I offer a suggestion?’ Frodo looked up with a questioning glance, and nodded. ‘Why don’t you show it to your Uncle Rory, explain where you got it, that it was a present from me, and see if you can keep it in his study with his pipes? That way, you can go see him and share a smoke. I think he’d probably enjoy your company, and it’s a good way to keep you both out of trouble for an hour or so. You can make it a regular afternoon treat.’ Bilbo’s eyes crinkled up as he started to tease a bit more, then he stopped at the expression on Frodo’s face. The boy was staring at him with hurt and no small anger. Bilbo waited for him to say something.
‘Why did you lie to me?’
Bilbo drew strongly on his own pipe, then exhaled before answering. ‘I am not aware that I have lied to you, Frodo. Would you be kind enough to tell me what it is you believe I have lied about?’
‘You said Esmie wasn’t sending me away! And she is! You lied!’
Bilbo stared in amazement, bewildered at how they had gotten to this topic and why Frodo was so angry with him. ‘Frodo, why are you saying this right now? I thought we were talking about where you were going to keep your pipe?’
‘Well, that rather depends upon where I’m living, doesn’t it?’ the boy sneered back, ‘and I can’t really keep it with Uncle Rory if I’m not here at Brandy Hall, can I? Or I suppose I could just leave it for Sara to use! You lied. You’re a liar!’ Frodo clenched the pipe stem in his teeth and leaned back against the wall next to the fireplace, daring Bilbo to contradict him.
Esmie, I’m beginning to think you deserve Sara. Bilbo took another deep draw on his pipe before he replied, ‘Frodo, I do not care to be named a liar by anyone, not even you.’ He stopped and waited, eyeing the lad sternly. After a few breaths, Frodo began to look a bit less belligerent, and hung his head. Bilbo continued to watch, drawing on his pipe occasionally.
‘I apologize,’ Frodo finally muttered, taking his pipe out of his mouth and fiddling with it. ‘I shouldn’t have said that.’
‘Hmm, it sounds like there are things that need saying, Frodo,’ Bilbo replied evenly, ‘but it is never acceptable to brandish harsh, accusing words and throw about invectives in that way. You don’t get your questions answered, and you end up sounding like Sara.’ He saw Frodo flinch a bit at that comparison and make a face. ‘Now, lad, if you want me to accept your apology - and I assure you I have not accepted it! - you are going to have to speak your mind in a civil tone.’
There was silence for a time as Frodo figured out what he wanted to say. Bilbo summoned up the patience of a near-century of life and waited. ‘When we spoke the other night, the day you came,’ Frodo began hesitantly, ‘you said you knew that Esmie wouldn’t send me away.’ He was silent for another long stretch, then looked up at Bilbo. The hurt in his eyes unmistakable, and Bilbo could see the lad was no less angry than he had been when this started.
‘Today, after lunch, Esmie said she needed to talk to me about something. We went to Uncle Rory’s study, and she said that she was sending me away, that sometime soon, in the next couple months, I would be going to live with her brother, Uncle Paladin.’ Frodo stopped abruptly and stared down at the floor, lips a narrow line, cheeks getting red through his tan. In a very tight voice, each word carefully enunciated, ‘She said that the two of you had discussed this just after you got here, and that you agreed I should be sent away.’ Frodo met his eyes again and there was far more anger than hurt. ‘So, Uncle Bilbo, can you explain this? I think I deserve an answer.’
Bilbo had never before wanted to do bodily harm to any of his relatives, particularly not one of the girls. Why did she lie to him about what I said? Esmie was going to have a great deal of explaining to do when they had tea. But, for now, only this furious, frightened child mattered.
‘Well, I understand now why you are so angry, Frodo. I think you have every right to be angry.’ Bilbo tried to decide how much truth to tell him, and how to say it. ‘I have not lied to you, though I admit that I did not tell you everything that I knew or everything I discussed with Esmie. Perhaps, to you, that is lying, and you may count it so if you wish. She and I discussed things that I did not think it my place to say to others, yourself included. Now that she has broached the topic with you, I think you and I should talk. Why don’t you take a seat? This could be a long conversation.’
Frodo gave him a defiant glare for a moment, then dropped his head and shrugged. ‘Doesn’t matter. There’s not anything I can do about it now anyway. It’s been decided. I don’t care. You don’t need to explain anything,’ he concluded in a low voice.
‘It matters very much to me because Esmie brought my name into this news to you, and made it sound as if I approved,’ Bilbo replied, ‘which I do not!’
Frodo shrugged again, and went to sit on his bed, setting the pipe on the floor. Bilbo watched him pull an armful of quilt and bedding up against his chest, hugging it to himself. He would not look up.
‘Frodo, can you please tell me exactly what Esmie said that has led you to think I agree you should be sent away?’
‘She said you thought I shouldn’t stay in Buckland anymore, that I was just getting into trouble here, and that I needed better looking after. Esmie said both of you agreed that I needed to be sent away from Buckland and into the Shire. But you had said to me she wouldn’t do this, and now you say you knew she was planning to.’ Frodo kept his eyes on the floor, his fingers digging and twisting into the bedclothes.
Bilbo knew he did not dare call Esmie a liar, not to Frodo. He did not know if Frodo would believe the truth, but there was nothing else to offer. ‘When I had tea with Esmeralda the day I arrived, we did discuss whether you should remain in Buckland. I said I thought you were old enough to begin more formal schooling in topics appropriate to a gentlehobbit, such as learning elvish, and that I thought you needed to have a change of place, not simply for learning, but to give you more attention than you receive here in Brandy Hall. My recommendation was to ask you if you wished to come live with me at Bag End. Just as I said to you the other day when I gave you your pipe.’
Frodo chewed on his lower lip for a moment, digesting the information, then looked up at Bilbo. There was no mistaking the expression on the boy’s face this time. That odd mix of distaste and fascination, wariness and disdain. And pity. Bilbo always found the pity most offensive, as though he himself were something unfortunate. Frodo shifted a bit uncomfortably. ‘Oh.’ Pause. ‘Really.’ Pause. ‘And what did Esmie say to that?’ Frodo leaned up against the head of the bed, drawing his feet up and pulling his blankets to cover his legs.
Bilbo knew he had lost the boy. Even Frodo doesn’t trust me with him. ‘She disagreed, of course. She said she would prefer that you should go stay with her brother and sister-in-law in the Great Smials. She said that being the ward of the Thain’s Heir would be good for you, a respectable situation where you could be introduced to many important people. There would be other youngsters, cousins and such, for you to be friends with, and that it was the best thing for you. And, perhaps I was being somewhat misleading the other night when I said what Esmie would and wouldn’t do. I meant that she wasn’t going to send you off with me. What she didn’t say to me was that she had already planned it out, and was going to send you off so soon. Had I known she was set and ready to do this, my words to you would have been different. I am sorry if I misled you, Frodo.’ Bilbo hoped his heartache did not show on his face.
Frodo stared off into a dark corner of the room, thoughtful. ‘But you don’t want me to go, Uncle Bilbo, do you?’
More bitterly than he had intended, Bilbo said, ‘No, not that it matters. There’s not anything I can about it, is there? It has been decided.’ All who know me best think it best for you that you be sent away from me. He took a ferocious puff on the pipe, then noticed Frodo looking at him curiously.
‘You really do think it’s a bad thing,’ the lad said, wonderingly.
‘Yes, I think it’s a bad thing!’ Bilbo bridled. ‘I don’t hold with just packing you off, without a thought, to somewhere you don’t want to go.’
‘Why not?’ Frodo shot back, his earlier anger returning. ‘Didn’t you just want me packed off to Hobbiton? Isn’t that what I am? “Frodo Baggage” - just another piece of baggage to be stuffed back in an odd corner with the rest of the spare and cast-off things.’ As he said this, the boy grabbed a handful of the old quilt and shook it at Bilbo, then dropped it in disgust over the edge of the bed to the floor.
‘Don’t do that!’ Bilbo thundered at him, hastily setting his own pipe down on the table and rushing to collect the quilt from where Frodo had dropped it. Placing it back on the bed, he fumed, ‘How could you do this, throwing something your mother made with her own hands onto the ground? What’s gotten into you?’
Frodo looked back at him, dumbstruck. ‘Mama? My mother made this?’ His hands clutched the quilt to him. ‘No, no, you’re lying again. How do you know this? It can’t be! It’s just an old quilt from the Hall.’
Bilbo sat at the foot of the bed. He looked at Frodo huddled at the head of the bed, looking very young and very alone. The child clutched the old, but still beautiful, quilt to himself. It was bordered in a rosy pink, with an off-white back. Inside the border were alternating blocks of rose and white. Inside of each white square was a wreath of flowers, the petals made up of tiny little knots all close together, the stems and vines longer green stitches connecting the bunches of flowers. Delicate white threads made a pattern of flowers across the cloth, holding the batting in place. Bilbo thought he remembered Prim holding Frodo, just born and tiny enough for Bilbo to pick up in a single hand, the quilt wrapped around them both. He knew for certain he had seen it before that time.
‘Well, Frodo, I have seen this quilt before. Remember, your parents lived in Hobbiton for a while before they came here to Brandy Hall.’
‘No, they always lived here,’ Frodo replied in confusion. ‘I was born here.’
‘Yes, you were born here,’ Bilbo agreed, ‘but after your parents married, in 1348, they moved to Hobbiton. Or, rather, your father already lived in Hobbiton. He and I shared Bag End at that time. They met here in Buckland when Drogo and I came for a wedding, and wed themselves a few years after that. After they married, they came to Hobbiton, and lived at Bag End with me for almost four years, until they moved to a nice cottage of their own near Overhill. While they lived at Bag End, I saw her finish making this quilt, and it was the one they had on their bed. They moved back to Buckland in 1360, when your grandmother, my Aunt Mira, died, and then you came along in 1368.’
Frodo stared at him, wanting to believe. ‘How are you so sure it’s hers? Maybe it just looks like it? Maybe you’re wrong!’
Bilbo frowned. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I’ve gotten my boy’s hopes up for nothing. The girls use the same patterns for their quilts, don’t they? Perhaps it just looks like that one… He looked down at the quilt, then smiled. ‘I know how to be sure. Look on the underside in the corners.’ He flipped over the quilt and began looking for a small embroidered design.
‘This?’ Frodo held out the corner he had been crumpling against his chest, and there it was. Bilbo scooted close, gently took the fabric, and smoothed it.
‘Yes. You can always tell Prim’s work by the butterfly. She only used this after she and your father married. See, the body is one color, and the four wings are different colors. She explained this to me one day. The body and the upper right wing are always the same color and they form a “P” - for "Primula." You see?’ Frodo nodded, a finger tentatively tracing out the letter. ‘Now, the wings that are left-facing, looking backwards, they are the same color as each other, and if you put the loops against the body of the butterfly, it makes a backwards “B” - that’s for “Brandybuck,” for what her name used to be. And then the loop of the “P” and the lower wing on the right, looking forward, you put those together, and they make another “B”, and that’s for “Baggins.” That’s for her married name, and for you.’
Bilbo sat back and watched the lad trace the stitches, entranced by the butterfly. ‘No one told you this when they gave you the quilt?’
‘No’. Frodo made no sound, merely shaped the word with his lips. He swallowed, and said, shakily, ‘No one said anything. I found it in the linen press down the corridor, and asked if I could use it, and it was all right, so I took it. It wasn’t very new, though it was nice enough, so I didn’t think anyone would mind.’
No one gave it to him. No one told him. It was just happenstance that he got Prim’s quilt. Bilbo saw something suspiciously tear-like on Frodo’s cheek, and watched the lad knuckle it away. He wanted to pull the boy over to him, hold him close and let him cry. He did not dare, certainly not sitting on a bed, not after Frodo himself had looked at him with such suspicion. He felt so helpless to protect his boy from things that hurt and harmed.
‘What’s elven for butterfly?’
‘There’s a few words. “Gwilwileth” is what you’ll usually hear. It’s Sindarin. In Quenya, it is “wilwarin.” There’s a star constellation called “wilwarin”" Tomorrow night we can go see if we can find it, if you like.’
Frodo nodded silently, then said, ‘You know everyone. About everyone.’
‘Perhaps not everyone, but a good many. If you live a long time, you meet a lot of people.’
‘What’s Uncle Paladin like? I’ve never met him.’
Bilbo looked at his hands for a moment, wanting so much to hold his boy, and promise him that nothing bad would happen. You can’t make that promise. He stood and retrieved Frodo’s pipe from the ground, setting it next to his own on the table, then took a seat in the chair.
‘I’m not the best person to ask that question of, Frodo, for I don’t get along with Pal, and I don’t know if I can give a fair evaluation of the fellow.’
‘Is he why you don’t think it’s a good idea for me to go to the Great Smials?’
If you try to pretty things up, Baggins, he’ll know. Be honest. ‘He is a significant reason I don’t want you going there, but there are other reasons. Paladin Took is a very narrow-minded fellow. He doesn’t like people or things that are unusual, out of the ordinary, queer, unnatural. He’s an honest man, and works hard. He will be a good Thain when his time comes, but not a great one. Pal isn’t your Uncle Rory.’
‘Is he like Sara?’
Bilbo considered this for a minute. ‘Not so much. He isn’t a drunkard, he’s extremely proper in public, doesn’t laugh much. He will give you a good thrashing if he doesn’t like what you’re doing, or he’ll turn you out if he had no grounds to raise a hand to you. He’s forbidden me to ever enter the Great Smials, and he’s barred Gandalf. The first Thain ever to refuse hospitality to a wizard.’
‘I’d never see you, then.’
‘Not in the Great Smials, no. I also don’t want you going there because they are the Great Smials. I lived there myself for a time, so I know them well. They dwarf Brandy Hall, and there are hundreds of hobbits there. Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps you need to be around more people, more youngsters like yourself, make some new friends. But I’m afraid you’ll be ignored, that you’ll be, how did you say it, “stuffed back in an odd corner”? That’s what upsets me, why I think it’s a bad idea.’
‘So why am I being sent there? Why doesn’t my own family want me?’ Frodo was hunched into a small ball, wrapped around the quilt.
Bilbo cursed all his heartless, short-sighted relatives with every foul thought he could muster. ‘They do want you Frodo, they do love you! Are really telling me you think your Gammer doesn’t love you? Or that I don’t love you? We do, very much! But sometimes, things need to be done that hurt when they happen, but are for the best for everyone over time.’ Frodo gave him a very doubtful, sullen look.
Bilbo tried a slightly different tack. ‘Your Gammer is sick, you know that. She needs a great deal of care and attention right now. Your Uncle Rory’s getting older, too. We’ve had this conversation, Frodo, and I know it may not seem fair, but Esmie and Sara have only so much attention to give. Should they ignore Merle and Merry so that you can stay? Or ignore your Gammer for your sake? You know that Sara is an idiot, and will only get meaner to you. Rory and Esmie want what’s best for you in the long run, which is why they want you to go somewhere else. They do love you!’
Frodo looked less than convinced. ‘If it is so desirable that I should live somewhere else, maybe I should just pack a bag and leave,’ he muttered. ‘Maybe I should go find some elves.’
‘And the first thing they would do is march you right back here,’ warned Bilbo, both alarmed that his boy would think of running away and somewhat pleased at Frodo’s resistance to being pushed around. ‘Frodo, I know you don’t particularly trust me for having not told you everything that Esmie and I discussed,’ and for other things we cannot even acknowledge exist, ‘but believe me when I say it’s never a good thing to run away from what you fear. Sometimes you have to retreat a bit, concede some ground, run a bit to escape the webs being woven around you, it’s true, but never just drop everything and run. Always be ready for a new fight, keep an eye out for pressing an advantage, and you’ll get some victories.’
Frodo considered Bilbo’s words, relaxing his crushing grip on the old quilt. He stole a shy glance over at his uncle. ‘I guess we can’t just go off on adventure tomorrow then, go to find the elves?’
‘No, not tomorrow, lad. Not for a while,’ Bilbo replied sadly. ‘You’re not quite big enough to go off on adventures yet. You need to work on your elvish, meet a few dwarves, become your own hobbit. Then we can go.’
Frodo looked sad, and sighed. ‘As you say, Uncle Bilbo. I’ll not do anything foolish. Well, too foolish,’ he teased, ‘and I’ll go stay with Uncle Paladin.’
‘We will go on adventures, Frodo,’ Bilbo said quite earnestly. ‘Have some patience and it will come true. It never hurts to take a tramp over the next hill, beyond that river, across that field! You’ll get a better perspective if you go on those strange byways, and hunt out mysterious, unknown things. Knowing what lies just around the bend, having a taste for encountering what people with better sense might be frightened of, well, it helps you to see yourself better, makes you grow bigger inside, in your head and your heart. Who knows, with things happening in the wider world, adventures may just arrive on our doorstep, no need to go looking for them. It may not be respectable, but it is a great deal of fun!’
‘It’s just so hard to wait!’ Frodo complained.
‘Adventure is where you find it and what you make of it, Frodo. And not all adventures are terribly nice. Getting my hair singed by dragon flame may make for a great tale, but it was damned terrifying, and it didn’t feel so good either.’ Bilbo shook an admonitory finger at his grinning nephew. ‘Sometimes, Frodo, the toughest adventures are closest to home and the ones that don’t seem much fun.’
Frodo made a face. ‘So, going to live in the Great Smials is an adventure?’
‘Of the most formidable kind, my lad! Beware of cooks in the deep pantries, far worse than any fire-breathing dragon! But don’t worry too much. Soon enough, you’ll be able to go on your own to places about the Shire. Hobbiton isn’t that far from Tuckborough. Just get on the Road, and start walking.’ To Bilbo’s delight, Frodo was laughing a bit, so he sang,
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
And sent mad by the wretched spawn
Of dim-witted kin, then I can
Walk its thin track with eager feet
Until it joins some larger way
And elves and dwarves I shall there meet,
Perhaps a wizard! Who can say?
Frodo was laughing out loud and had stopped clutching the quilt entirely. ‘You are mad, you know?’ the boy giggled. ‘That was a very wicked thing to sing!’
Bilbo shrugged. ‘The world is a wicked place, my lad, and the lure of the Road is great. Yes, someday, you and I shall go on a great adventure together. I think we should go to Rivendell, and from there, hmm, perhaps to Erebor, or South! I’ve never been to the South, though Gandalf has told me stories of it. He says it’s dangerous, and getting worse. I should go there. If it’s that dangerous, they’ll need the services of a hobbit or two!’
The two dissolved into a fit of laughter. Bilbo stood, emptied the cold ashes from the pipes into fireplace, and began to put them into his pocket. He paused a minute, looking at Frodo’s, and realized they had not finished what had started this entire dreadful conversation.
‘Frodo, what will you do with the pipe?’
Frodo had stood up when Bilbo stood, though he remained by the bed. He looked at the pipe, then sighed. ‘I think you had better keep it, Uncle Bilbo. I doubt I’ll be allowed to take it with me, and I’d hate even more to get there and have it taken away from me. Because it’s from you. So, just keep it at Bag End until I can visit. At least I know it will be safe there. I’m not sure what will happen to this when I go.’ Frodo reached back and touched the quilt.
‘It’s yours, lad, no one can take it away from you. You mother made it, it belonged to your parents, and it’s yours by right!’ Bilbo said with some heat.
‘Well, what’s right and what actually happens are two different things,’ Frodo said evenly, ‘and I shan’t be allowed to take it. Sara will be mean, Esmie will fuss that taking such things will insult, and… well, if it is in with the other linens, it will be used, but it will also be here. I wouldn’t want to lose it, after all.’
Bilbo gave Frodo a mischievous grin. ‘Well, my boy, get a good night’s rest! You’re going to be very busy tomorrow!’
‘Well, tomorrow, you and I are going to drive all the women of the Hall crazy.’ Bilbo informed him in a conspiratorial tone and strange light in his eye.
‘Uncle Bilbo,’ Frodo said in a warning tone, though he grinning, too. ‘What are you planning?’
Bilbo reached out and turned the quilt back showing off Prim’s mark. ‘Tomorrow, we hunt butterflies. Inside. And when we’ve caught them all, we’re going to pack them into a big trunk, which I will have sent to Bag End. And the butterflies shall stay there until it’s time for you to have them.’
‘Uncle Bilbo!’ Frodo threw his arms around the old hobbit’s neck and clung to him. ‘Thank you.’ Bilbo gingerly reached up and briefly hugged Frodo in return, then took the boy by the shoulders and stepped back.
‘I will do anything for you within my power to do, Frodo. Remember that.’ He gave his nephew a firm kiss on the forehead, then turned and left the room.