Summary: Not long after The Party, Frodo decides that he should entertain a guest at Bag End. He invites Merry, and for a few days that neither will forget, the two simply enjoy being happy and young.
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Disclaimer: The places, situations and characters of The Lord of the Rings belong to the Tolkien Estate. This work contains no original characters. No money is being made from this work.
"The Way to Bag End"
being a Prologue to Hobbit Gentlemen of Independent Means
It took no small number of days for Frodo Baggins, newly come into the title of 'Master of Bag-End,' to settle the affairs of the will of Bilbo Baggins, who had possessed the title prior to him. However, Frodo was eventually able to satisfy all the conditions of the will, and what's more, placate the majority of relatives and curious onlookers (Sackville-Bagginses notwithstanding) who wished to know about things ranging from the tales of gold in the pantries to Bilbo's whereabouts. After a day or two of rearranging furniture, and a night or two of quiet solitude, Frodo wondered if it wouldn't be proper in his capacity as Master to entertain a guest.
After some deliberation, Frodo decided it would be very nice to invite his friend and relative Merry Brandybuck, who would also one day come into a title of his own, and a rather prestigious one at that. It would be good to have Merry be his first guest at Bag End. He was old enough to behave properly, and he and Frodo could be 'gentlemen' together, whatever that meant. He issued a formal invitation, even using some leftover gold ink from the Party.
It was Merry who gathered messages and notes from the courier on the day the invitation arrived. The white envelope with 'Young Master Meriadoc Brandybuck, Esq.' (Frodo was a bit unsure about titles) was on top, and Merry saw no problems with opening it right then and there (it was addressed to him!). Upon reading the contents, he left the rest of the messages on the lawn and ran to find his parents (who made him go back and retrieve the rest of the messages before they would discuss the issue). Both of his parents were of the opinion that a visit for Merry in Hobbiton was a lovely idea; they had both been very fond of Frodo when he was on at Brandy Hall.
However, as there often is as young hobbits are growing up, there was a matter of contention. After agreeing that he must go to Hobbiton, Saradoc and Esmeralda began discussing Merry's escort.
"But mother—father—I wish to go by myself," said Merry.
"Absolutely not," replied Saradoc.
"I won't have it," added Esmeralda.
Now, Merry was a rather bright fellow, and he learned quickly. In previous disagreements with his parents, he had learned that rote repetition of his request would eventually win over his father (Saradoc did rather spoil the boy in some ways). However, such tactics were not sufficient in dealing with his mother. He thought very carefully about what he was going to say.
Making sure his waistcoat was buttoned, smoothing his jacket, straightening his collar, and clearing his throat gave him enough time to think of something. "Mother, I have ridden as far as Whitfurrows on the East Road already, and to arrive at Bag End I would merely have to continue down that Road until I get to Bywater. Then I am practically there! There has never been a crime upon a traveler on the East Road on that side of Whitfurrows anyway. I will carry my maps; you know that I can read them well."
Here, he paused and then continued gravely, "I understand that you might think that I am too young for such a journey, but Frodo specifically states that we shall be engaged in "activities for young gentlemen," and if you sent any older hobbits with me, they might become bored."
Esmeralda could barely keep from laughing. She had no idea what "activities for young gentlemen" involved—hopefully not consuming so much ale that one forgot to act like a gentleman—but pulled Saradoc aside to consult with him.
Predictably, Saradoc was near ready to jettison the idea of an escort. Merry did bring up some good points—Esmeralda prided herself on having such a smart boy—but still, as it was, he was only twenty years old. It was rather unfortunate that she could not pack a few cousins off with Merry, but there was no invitation for anyone else, so manners dictated that only servants of the Hall would be able to come with Merry.
After some chatter with her husband, a compromise was reached. Saradoc needed to pay a visit to Tuckborough, so he would ride with Merry to the Three-Farthing Stone, then take some paths through the open country to Great Smials, while Merry continued on to Bywater and then Hobbiton. After being assured that he would be arriving at the doors of Bag End all by himself, Merry was pleased as punch.
A courier set off with a note of acceptance addressed to Bag End the next morning, and two days later, Merry and Saradoc made to leave. Esmeralda made Merry promise to send a note upon his arrival, and made him make a note of it so that he would not forget.
Father and son set off from the Hall. Both were dressed in practical (well, for Saradoc, practical merely meant less ostentatious than usual), yet obviously fine clothes for travel. The first matter of business was to cross at Buckleberry Ferry and then take the road to Stock. Everyone who saw them on the Road waved and said a proper "Hallo, Master Saradoc, and a good morning to little Master Merry as well." Merry carefully noted how his father responded to each hobbit by name, or asked the name if he did not know it, and said something personal to each one. As for himself, he was just able to say 'hello' back. He did imitate his father by waving to everyone.
Upon reaching Stock, Saradoc was besieged with requests to deal with this issue and that. He handled each one carefully, even though Merry wished to be in a hurry and he knew his father did too. He noted that his father was being rather thorough, and that he should ask him later why he did this. Eventually, the two were able to reach the borders of Stock. Saradoc started toward the Road that went through Woody End and Green Hill Country, and was the fastest way to Tuckborough.
"Father!" exclaimed Merry. "We're going to Hobbiton. You promised!"
Eyes a-twinkle, Saradoc said, "You, dear Merry, are going to Hobbiton. I am going to Tuckborough. Now, you promise you know the way and won't get lost?"
Merry nodded eagerly, and prepared to recite the route again, but his father waved him off.
"I believe you, son. Do be careful though—if anything happens to you, your mother will make your life unpleasant, but after she's done with me, you'll probably be Master of Brandy Hall!"
He laughed as if this was the funniest joke in the world, but Merry didn't see anything amusing at all about his mother killing his father. That thought was pushed out of mind as he stared at the East Road, which seemed wider than ever.
He sat up as tall as he could in the saddle, and proceeded at what he thought must look a very dignified trot down the Road.
The East Road was strangely empty all the way to Whitfurrows. Even past the town, Merry only passed two or three others riding in toward Buckland. In his most dignified manner, he waved at each person, and since he did not know any of their names, he asked them, and was often called upon to give his name in return.
"Well, young Mister Brandybuck, what be you doing out here on the Road all on your lonesome?" asked one of the many hobbits who could call himself Mr. Boffin. "Surely your father is Master Saradoc, and I can't imagine him or his wife would want the young heir to the family fortune wandering by himself."
Merry very nearly panicked. It hadn't occurred to him that passers-by on the Road would recognize his name. Merry quickly came up with a tale: "My father is following me, but he had to chat with someone a bit back, and he let me go on a bit by myself, since I'm getting older."
Not suspecting that Merry would have any reason to dupe him, Mr. Boffin nodded and replied, "Well then a good day to you, Mister Merry, and please pass my greetings to the Master."
"I will do that, and please have a lovely day yourself, Mr. Boffin!" called Merry, waving frantically at him as he continued down the Road toward Buckland. He continued to ride on without incident, practicing a dignified pose on his pony Lightning (The pony was in fact named Daisy, and had been in Merry's possession since he was six years old and learning to ride. Upon turning fifteen years old, the young Meriadoc declared that Daisy was not a fit name for a hobbit lad's pony, and decreed that the aged, rolly-polly, plodding, shaggy pony would now be known as Lightning).
When he was not practicing being dignified, he was thinking about his encounter with that Mr. Boffin. He chastised himself for not thinking of the dangers of giving out his name, considering his situation.
'All I was trying to do was be like my father. Sometimes I wonder if I will be a very good Master of Brandy Hall' thought Merry to himself, sorrowfully. 'Every time I try and act like my father or be proper and dignified, something goes wrong. I suppose that in my situation, it would be prudent to merely nod at fellow-travelers on the Road and keep my name to myself.'
When he encountered the next hobbit on the Road, he merely nodded.
"Well, if it isn't Meriadoc Brandybuck himself!" exclaimed the hobbit, who identified himself as a Mr. Burrows. "The heir to Brandy Hall out with no escort at all!"
Again, somehow summoning composure, Merry told Mr. Burrows the same tale he'd told Mr. Boffin. Likewise, his interlocutor was satisfied enough to be on his way with a "Good day to you, Mister Meriadoc and to the Master and Mistress as well."
'This just will not do at all!' though Merry to himself, and by now, he was most certainly in a panic and probably not looking at all dignified in his saddle. 'I must somehow find a way to get to the Three Farthing Stone without being seen.' Deciding that it was time for a meal anyway, he rode Lightning off the Road and found a nice grassy spot where he could sit, have a bite, and look over his maps.
Being that he was already through Frogmorton, Merry knew he did not have that far to go to reach the Three Farthing Stone. He listed some goals for himself in his mind: avoid being seen until reaching the Stone, avoid getting lost, avoid running into his father, and avoid running out of food (not in that order, necessarily). With this in mind, Merry decided he would travel parallel to the East Road, a few paces off, where he wouldn't be seen, 'til he reached the Stone. He gathered up his belongings and his pony, and began to ride again.
Things went quite well following this plan. Merry kept close enough to the Road that he didn't get lost (the sounds of travelers kept him aware that he was close enough). After traveling for a certain amount of time (he had calculated how much time he should have to travel 'til he reached the road to Bywater), he trotted up to the Road, and sure enough, there it intersected with the way to Bywater and then Hobbiton.
There was just a very small problem with this plan: instead of running into Bywater, Merry ran into plain water. Sighing furtively, he realized he must have made a miscalculation. This was not the way to Bywater. It was the way to—nothing. Oakbarton was the first real town of any consequence located on this road; the connection to Brockenborings, Scary and the Quarry came before that!
By this time it was getting dark, and Merry had sudden visions of Frodo getting worried and dispatching a courier to his parents, and subsequently landing both him and his father in water hot, as the song went. A child's fit took him though, as he laughed and shouted, "Ride like a gale, Lightning, my valiant pony!"
He heeled the seasoned pony, who obliged with a grunt and a moderately quick jog back down the road. Upon re-encountering the East Road, Merry turned toward Bywater, and indeed, passed the Three Farthing Stone not much later. Before he knew it, he was close! He passed the pool, and made the final turn toward Bag End. At this point, he remembered that he was calling upon Frodo as a Young Gentleman, so he pulled Lightning to a walk, and looked dignified as he had practiced earlier.
The stars were beginning to make their appearance and the sky was grey when he pulled up in front. Frodo was out, dressed in a very nice smoking jacket, and puffing on a very finely worked wooden pipe. The leaf was Old Toby, and Frodo even had a small—two small—glasses of wine next to him, and an extra pouch of pipeweed.
"Welcome to Bag-End, Young Master Meriadoc, son of Saradoc of the House of Brandybuck and heir to the title Master of Brandy Hall," said Frodo, bowing and opening the gate.
Trying to think of something equally as nice sounding, Merry replied, "I thank you for your hospitality, O Frodo, son of Drogo of the House of Baggins and Master of Bag End." Both hobbits grinned at each other, and Frodo helped Merry put Lightning away so that they could get to the wine and weed more quickly.
It was a blessed night, perfect in almost every way. As Merry smoked the leaf and sipped on his wine, it occurred to him for the first time what a truly wonderful life he had ahead of him.
**END OF THE PROLOGUE**