A/N: This is it, the end of Anchored. I first posted chapter 1 on Feb. 11, 2003. And today is May 5, 2008. Over five years! How embarrassing. But how grateful I am to you readers, who have put up with me for such a long time. I especially want to thank those who've taken the time to review. Your feedback is truly what kept me going all this time! As you may or may not recall, I originally planned to have the Making of a Ringbearer be a three-part series. I'm still thinking about that third part. Anchored ended up being largely about Frodo's relationship with Bilbo; I didn't get to explore Sam, Merry and Pippin nearly as much as I wanted to. So, I haven't decided for sure, but it's possible that I will indeed write a third part.
A/N 2: Most descriptions of the party itself are taken from Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring, chapter 1. Direct quotations are underlined.
Bilbo was drifting, drifting slowly through a white mist on a gently rocking boat. He was dimly aware that he was dreaming, and he felt peaceful and unconcerned.
"Do not leave him until he is ready," said a voice, and Bilbo understood immediately, as though they were continuing a conversation that had been interrupted earlier.
"I wouldn't think of it!" said Bilbo indignantly, knowing somehow that the voice spoke of his leaving forever.
"Not now," said the voice. "But one day, he will be ready."
The year after Bilbo's return to the Shire passed quietly enough. The talk died down eventually, although general consensus held that Bilbo was madder than ever. But Bilbo wasn't bothered, and neither was Frodo. Indeed, Bilbo began to notice a certain degree of maturity in his adopted heir. Frodo had grown into an easy-going, independent, and capable young hobbit. Their life together was different than before Bilbo had gone away, but no less happy. In fact, Bilbo couldn't shake the peculiar feeling that a change for the better had been wrought by all the turmoil of their separation.
Frodo still loved him dearly, that was obvious, but the tweenager no longer seemed to rely on Bilbo's constant presence. Frodo often made his own plans, going alone several times to Tookland and to Buckland, to visit friends. Bilbo did not mind in the least, for Frodo seemed more content than Bilbo had ever known him to be. He was quite a popular young hobbit around Hobbiton, always having time and thought to spare for a smile and a joke, or to lend a helping hand. His ward had grown up, almost without Bilbo's realizing it, and his pride in Frodo grew more with each passing day.
Sometimes Frodo seemed almost to look at Bilbo in a new light. Bilbo wasn't quite sure he understood it, but he sometimes nodded off in the sitting room after supper and woke to find Frodo watching him in concern. And Frodo took charge of most of their meals now; the boy was becoming a fine cook, and Bilbo welcomed the chance to put his feet up and read a little, now that he had gotten used to the idea that Frodo didn't need his help in the kitchen.
That spring of 1400, a year after their return to Bag End, Frodo suggested a camping trip in the North Farthing. They spent a pleasant few weeks in Bindbole Wood, for the weather was mild and the rabbits were plentiful. They did not talk much, but merely enjoyed each other's company and the beauty of the Shire in spring. One day they hiked close to the northern border, and Bilbo found himself increasingly preoccupied with thoughts of the outside world. He began to think about where he would like to spend his last days.
"Where would you go for your retirement one day, Frodo-lad, if you could go anywhere?" Bilbo asked.
Frodo looked at him. "I think I know where you would go, Uncle."
Bilbo raised an eyebrow. "And would that bother you?"
"No," Frodo said with a fond smile, "but don't be surprised if I join you there one day."
"You would be most welcome, dear boy," Bilbo replied, but he found himself surprised by Frodo's response.
The rest of that spring and summer passed quickly but happily. Frodo sometimes came upon Bilbo poring over the maps in his study. The prospect didn't sadden him as it once had, but it did concern him. Bilbo was old, and getting older. Frodo could tell, even if Bilbo didn't look it. They talked sometimes of planning a trip outside the four Farthings; Frodo knew that his favourite uncle was ready to quit the Shire, and to see far-off places, perhaps for the last time. But Bilbo seemed to be at a loss, as though he didn't know how to proceed, and Frodo wondered how to help him.
September arrived, and Frodo could hardly believe he was only a year away from the age of his majority. It was an exciting thought. His thirty-second birthday, and Bilbo's one hundred and tenth, was the usual lively affair. Summer passed into fall, and when the first frost heralded the coming Yule, they had an unexpected (but very welcome) visitor.
"Sorry to have missed your birthday, my boy," was the first thing Gandalf said when the surprised tween opened the door.
Frodo laughed aloud and assured the wizard that his pleasure at seeing his old friend was in no way diminished by the timing. "It's wonderful to see you, Gandalf," Frodo said warmly.
"And how is that rascal of an uncle of yours?" Gandalf inquired, dusting off his great boots before crossing the threshold.
"As queer as ever," Frodo assured him. "He's taken to disappearing into thin air, you know, with the aid of that magic ring of his."
"Indeed?" Gandalf looked a little disturbed.
"My cousin Merry saw him do it a few weeks ago, to hide from the Sackville-Bagginses," Frodo said. "But Merry didn't know what it was he saw, of course, and I didn't tell him."
"It is perhaps better not to speak of such things," Gandalf agreed, looking at Frodo thoughtfully.
"But let me get you some tea!" Frodo exclaimed, remembering that Gandalf must be weary. "Bilbo won't be back till this afternoon; he's gone to the miller for some flour. He's keen to start the Yule baking early, as always."
When Bilbo returned after tea, the three of them made a merry party. They ate and talked late into the night, until Gandalf finally excused himself and turned in. Frodo looked across the kitchen table at the familiar face of his favourite uncle, and felt the sudden urge to speak.
"When will you go, Bilbo?" he asked. "When will you leave the Shire?"
Bilbo started rather badly. "Why, whatever do you mean, Frodo?" he said at first, and then, shakily, "I hadn't realized you knew my mind so well. But don't worry, lad, I'm not going to leave you."
"Dear Bilbo," Frodo said, clasping the old hobbit's hands across the table. "You don't need to worry about me, truly."
Bilbo squeezed his hands in return. "I'll always worry about you, lad, whether I'm here or there or anywhere," he chuckled.
"Then go and stay with the Elves, if that is your wish, and worry about me from there," Frodo urged.
"You're serious," Bilbo said softly.
Frodo nodded. "I want you to be happy, Bilbo."
"I am happy," the old hobbit protested.
"And I will be happier still, knowing you have gone to see the sights you long for," Frodo said earnestly. "You may have an uncommonly strong constitution, but even you can't wait forever, Bilbo. You must go while you've still time enough to enjoy your retirement."
Bilbo blinked rapidly, staring at him, and drew an unsteady breath. "No, certainly not. You aren't even of age, Frodo!"
"I will be in less than a year," Frodo pointed out. "You could go after our next Birthday."
"Frodo, if you fear being an imposition, I can assure you—"
"It's nothing like that," Frodo said simply. "Dear Bilbo. You have done so much for me, but it is my turn to think of you, now."
Bilbo couldn't speak for a long moment. "I couldn't promise to return," he said finally.
"I wouldn't ask you to."
"I will miss you, Frodo."
"And I you," Frodo replied. "But I have a request."
"Anything, lad," Bilbo said softly.
"If our next Birthday is to be our last together, make it a party of special magnificence. An event folks will remember for years to come. I want everyone to be invited who can be, and I want it to rain drink and snow food."
Bilbo was clearly surprised. "That's a delightful suggestion, Frodo, but are you certain? It is your inheritance we would be spending."
"I'm certain," Frodo said. "We must spare no expense. And we have nearly a year to find presents, good presents, especially for the less well-off folk."
Bilbo looked at him seriously. "If that is your wish, Frodo, then I shall take great pleasure in granting it. In fact, we will take advantage of the fact that Gandalf is here; when he leaves, he can carry with him our order for dwarf-made toys for the children, the best that were ever seen in these four Farthings. He is sure to go to Dale before he comes here next, I think."
"Oh yes, what a fine idea!"
"You know, if we invite everyone, we shall have to include the Sackville-Bagginses," Bilbo pointed out carefully.
Frodo shrugged. "A small price to pay for the party of the age," he said. "Besides, maybe they won't come," he added with a wink.
Since Bilbo's return to the Shire a year and a half ago, the Sackville-Bagginses had in fact improved somewhat. Lobelia actually acted as though she were a little ashamed of her behaviour in Bilbo's absence. Everyone knew what she had done, and what she had tried to do, and she had been shunned by polite society for many months.
"Has sleep gone out of fashion in the Shire since my last visit?" a voice rumbled from the doorway.
Bilbo and Frodo both turned. "Gandalf!" Bilbo exclaimed. "I do apologize. Did we wake you?"
"I had not yet gone to sleep," Gandalf admitted. "Now don't keep a wizard in suspense. What's all this about the party of the age?"
They filled him in, and he looked back and forth between Bilbo and Frodo for some minutes, measuringly. "You will leave everything to Frodo, then?"
"Yes, of course," Bilbo replied.
Frodo looked back and forth between them, puzzled. They seemed to be carrying on an old argument.
But Bilbo answered, "Yes, everything," and patted his trouser pocket, and Gandalf seemed satisfied.
"Well, if your hearts are set on it, then I will play my part in this venture, for good or ill," the wizard said at last. "You may expect me in September without fail. And I may bring a few surprises of my own."
They celebrated the plan with a hearty pre-dawn meal of fried eggs, crisp bacon, and warm sweet porridge.
Friday, Sept. 9, 1401
"Samwise Gamgee, you've scarce finished your bread and butter!" Bell Gamgee protested. "And you hardly touched your mushroom soup."
Sam looked regretfully at his mother's good soup, but didn't slacken his pace. "Sorry, Ma," he gulped, his hand already on the door knob. "But they say Mr. Gandalf is comin'! Old Sandyman saw him just this morning, comin' through Bywater, so they say!"
Bell sighed resignedly. "Oh, get along with ye, then. And take this basket I've fixed for your Gaffer."
Sam took the basket and hastened out the door.
"And tell your Dad that if he finds himself 'too busy with the garden' ta come home for tea, I shan't be fixin' another basket!" Bell called after him. Sam waved distractedly in acknowledgement. Bell shook her head and closed the door. "Tweenagers!" she muttered in exasperation.
Sam ran up the Hill as fast as his legs would carry him. A small crowd of young hobbits had gathered in the short time that had passed since the Gaffer sent him home for lunch. Sam pushed his way through to Bag End's front gate, and saw with dismay why the crowd had gathered.
"Oh, he's come already!" he said aloud, wishing he hadn't been away from the garden at such a time. There was a large cart parked by the door, which stood open. Bilbo and some of the Dwarves who had arrived last week were carefully unloading great bundles from the cart and carrying them inside.
"Don't know what you're so miffed about," Sappy Twofoot said. "You bein' assistant gardener and all!"
Sam smiled to himself, recalling that unlike the others, he had a reason to pass the gate and enter the garden, which he did, under the envious stares of his fellows.
He walked very slowly over to the Gaffer, hoping for a glimpse of Gandalf himself, but the wizard did not appear.
"There you are, lad," Hamfast said absently. "The taters are in need of some attention this afternoon."
"Yes, Dad," Sam said, handing over the Gaffer's lunch. "Ma says no more baskets today."
Hamfast coughed. "Lots ta do today, in the garden…"
"That's what I told her," Sam agreed. They both turned to watch the unloading of Gandalf's cart.
The squeals of the watching children first alerted Samwise that something was happening. "Gandalf! Gandalf!" they cried, and Sam crept a little closer, both eager and nervous to see the wizard again.
And there he was, come out to get the last of his things from the cart. He had already taken off his hat, and Sam could see the aged face beaming at the children. Sam, however, was closer in height to Gandalf's great boots, and he shrank back shyly even as Bilbo came out to give some pennies to the children.
Sam had thought to speak to Gandalf; they had met before, after all. But now that the moment was at hand, he found his faculties of speech had deserted him. He went over to the fence instead, where he saw his friend Tom Cotton.
"I don't s'pose he's going ta set off any of his fireworks now," Tom said to him sadly.
"Fireworks? Bless me!" Sam realized what all those bundles must have contained. "I expect they're for the party." A shiver of excitement ran through him.
They watched as the Dwarves dragged the cart away, and Bilbo beckoned Gandalf into Bag End.
The wizard turned to the children, smiling. "Run away now!" said Gandalf. "You will get plenty when the time comes." His eyes fell on Samwise then, and he laughed at the sight of the young tween trying to look inconspicuous, over by the fence.
"Good day to you, Samwise!" he said with a wink. Then he stooped low and followed Bilbo inside, and the round green door was closed.
The other young hobbits looked at Sam even more enviously. They all watched the door for awhile, but to everyone's disappointment, nothing else happened. Rosie Cotton sighed and said mournfully, "Will the party never come?" Sam didn't reply, because she was a mere child of seventeen, but silently he agreed with her.
The wait did indeed seem interminable. They had heard so much about this party, which was to celebrate Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday, and Frodo's coming of age, that it seemed the actual event could hardly live up to such expectations.
More carts came rolling up the Hill that very weekend; carts from all corners of the Shire, bearing provisions for the party. And the following week, local merchants had to hire extra help to fill all the orders for supplies that Bilbo sent out. The invitations began arriving, too, in such volume that more than one post-office was incapacitated, and volunteer postmen had to be recruited.
Sam continued to work in Bag End's gardens with his Gaffer, although his ability to concentrate on his work suffered sadly. But Hamfast was distracted as well, and often allowed him to leave for the day when it was not even teatime.
They hardly saw Bilbo at all anymore; indeed, he had hardly come out at all since Gandalf's arrival, except to ask Hamfast to mount a notice on the gate.
"'NO ADMITTANCE EXCEPT ON PARTY BUSINESS,'" Sam read carefully after the Gaffer had nailed it up.
Hamfast nodded. "That'll keep some folk away, at any rate."
Frodo stayed indoors a good deal more than was usual, helping Bilbo most likely. But Sam saw him sometimes, going to the Green Dragon with Fatty Bolger and Folco Boffin, or walking in the woods. He did not read in the garden much anymore, preferring to take his books further afield where he wouldn't be disturbed by the party preparations.
One morning, Sam overheard a conversation that puzzled him exceedingly. He was trimming the verge beneath the window of Bilbo's study. His mind was only half on his task, but it still took a moment to realize he could hear the masters talking.
"I know you would come with me, lad, indeed I do," Bilbo said. "But I may never return. Are you prepared never to see the Shire again?"
"No," Frodo said after a long pause, and sighed.
"Nor should you be. You're young, Frodo. Your whole life is ahead of you. Are you having second thoughts?" Bilbo asked. "Because I would stay, if you asked me to. Even now, I could change my plans."
"No, I would not ask that of you, any more than you would ask me to leave the Shire." Frodo sounded like he was smiling.
"I thank you for the offer nonetheless, Frodo-lad," Bilbo said gravely.
"How will we say good-bye?" Frodo asked suddenly. "I don't know if I can..."
"Then don't," Bilbo replied. "I don't think I could bear it, either. Let's just enjoy our party, eh?"
Sam realized abruptly that he was listening to conversation he wasn't meant to hear, and backed hastily away from the window. He couldn't make sense of it, in any case. All this talk of leaving made no sense at all.
But a few days later found Sam again hearing things he wasn't meant to hear, and this time less innocently. He was coming back from the Party Field, where ropes and poles were now laid ready for the tents and pavilions that would go up tomorrow. It was after supper-time and quite dark, and Sam had cut across the Hill to reach Bagshot Row. As he looked up toward Bag End, he heard Gandalf's voice raised in laughter. Sam smiled and went to the garden, hoping the wizard was talking about his fireworks.
"...and it looks real, you say?" Bilbo said delightedly.
"Rather smaller than the real thing, I should say, but it breathes fire at any rate," Gandalf replied. "Hand me the pipeweed, will you?"
"That will be the perfect signal for supper," Bilbo said. "Oh, I can't wait to see their faces." He chuckled.
"Rather a lot of joke-playing you're planning, isn't it?" Gandalf said pointedly.
"Oh, sticklebacks. Let me have my bit of fun, Gandalf."
"You still mean to go through with your grand exit, then?" the wizard said disapprovingly.
"Yes," Bilbo said, and added, "It will make the parting easier."
"From your ring, or from Frodo?" Gandalf asked.
"Both," Bilbo said softly.
"Then I will say no more at present," Gandalf sighed.
Sam walked home slowly, now even surer that something odd was going on. It really did sound as if Bilbo were going away again. But where? And for how long? Surely he had misunderstood about the not-coming-back part. Mr. Frodo seemed to know all about it, but he hadn't seemed particularly upset the last several times Sam had seen him.
He knew he had done wrong by listening to a conversation in secret, but he couldn't help saying something when he saw the young master the next day. Frodo was out on the Party Field, watching the largest pavilion going up. It was large enough that the tree on the field fit neatly inside; Sam had never seen such a tent before.
"Good morning, Samwise," Frodo said cheerfully when he saw him.
"And to you, Mr. Frodo," Sam replied.
"They're going to hang lanterns all over the tree, you know," Frodo remarked.
"That will be a sight to see, and that's a fact," Sam said. He shuffled his toes in the dusty grass, wondering if he was about to overstep horribly. "Mr. Frodo, is Master Bilbo goin' away again?"
Frodo looked shocked for a moment, and then he laughed. "Well, leave it to you, Sam, to figure it out. A simple sprout you never were..."
"It's true, then?" Sam pressed. He didn't know how or why, but it was suddenly, terribly important for him to know that Frodo would be well and happy.
"Yes, it's true," Frodo said, turning serious. "But I do hope no one else knows; Bilbo is really looking forward to the surprise."
"I haven't told a soul, sir, and I won't," Sam promised fervently. He hesitated, not knowing how to ask what he wanted to know. "But Mr. Frodo, how can you act so cheerful? Are ye not distressed?"
"My dear Sam!" Frodo exclaimed. "How good you are to worry. But you needn't fear on my account; I'm a little sad, of course, and I will miss Bilbo something awful, I'm sure. But I want him to go, because he needs to go. It is the right time, that's all. Do you understand?"
"Not really, sir," Sam said honestly. "But if you say so, it must be true. And you're coming of age in just a few days, so I reckon you'll get on all right. But be that as it may, Mr. Frodo, you'll be my master, and if ye find yourself in need of anything... Well, I ain't sayin' it right. But I want to be of service, if you follow me."
"Thank you, Sam," Frodo said warmly. "I understand you perfectly, and I shan't forget it."
"Well, all right then," Sam said, satisfied for the moment, but blushing a little under Frodo's scrutiny.
Thursday, Sept. 22, 1401
The morning of the party dawned cloudless and clear. The previous evening had been overcast, and Frodo had worried that the clouds would diminish the effect of Gandalf's fireworks very sadly, so it was with a glad heart that he drew back his bedroom curtains to see the early autumn sun shining brightly. Bilbo was already in the kitchen, and they shared a hasty first breakfast before it was time to dress.
Frodo put on his finest clothes for the occasion, and at second breakfast he was pleased to see Bilbo wearing his best embroidered silk waistcoat, the one with gold buttons. They skipped elevenses so as to be on hand at the party field when the guests began to arrive. Bilbo greeted everyone in person at the new white gate that had been erected for the party, and gave away the presents. Frodo was pleased to see that the children were so excited that for awhile they almost forgot about eating; they had never seen such wonderful toys.
The day passed in a happy blur for Frodo. Merry and Pippin were there, having arrived with their families the previous night. Even Old Rory had come, and pronounced the party a great success. The Sackville-Bagginses came too, although they made no attempt to speak to Frodo, which suited him fine. He spent the afternoon dancing with Heather Proudfoot, Emerald Bracegirdle, and other lasses of his acquaintance. He sampled ales with Fatty and Folco. He played ring toss and ate sweet pastries with Merry and Pippin.
And everywhere he turned, someone was waiting to congratulate him on his coming of age. Saradoc Brandybuck slapped him on the back and shook him heartily by the hand. Eglantine Took hugged him and told him he'd grown into a fine young hobbit. Even Dora Baggins, who was almost as old as Bilbo, kissed him and congratulated him on reaching his majority. Gordo Grubb shouted "Jolly old Frodo!" every time they passed each other, and Frodo suspected his friend had sampled rather too many of the ales.
There was so much singing and dancing, playing of games, and of course near-constant eating and drinking, that before Frodo knew it, it was half past six and the fireworks began. Few present were old enough to remember the last time Gandalf had put on a fireworks display, and even those few were amazed.
The wizard saved the best for last.It startled the hobbits exceedingly, as Gandalf intended. The lights went out. A great smoke went up. It shaped itself like a mountain seen in the distance, and began to glow at the summit. It spouted green and scarlet flames. Out flew a red-golden dragon—not life-size, but terribly life-like: fire came from his jaws, his eyes glared down; there was a roar, and he whizzed three times over the heads of the crowd. They all ducked, and many fell flat on their faces. The dragon passed like an express train, turned a somersault, and burst over Bywater with a deafening explosion.
"That is the signal for supper!" said Bilbo.
Frodo and Bilbo enjoyed their birthday feast in the company of a smaller group of guests, largely relatives and close friends. As the meal wound to a close, Frodo was deep in conversation with Merry, who sat opposite, when he realized Bilbo was not in his place beside him. The old hobbit had come round behind his chair, and gave Frodo's shoulder a squeeze. Merry fell silent, looking up at Bilbo curiously. Frodo didn't turn around, but closed his eyes, reaching back to place his own hand atop Bilbo's. They remained like that for a long moment, and then Bilbo returned to his chair.
"My dear People," began Bilbo, rising in his place.
The speech was ridiculous, as Frodo had known it would be. It went on a good long while, too, although not as long as some of Bilbo's past birthday speeches. He could tell the guests were becoming restless as Bilbo neared the end of his remarks. Frodo's heart began to race as he realized he was about to witness Bilbo's final joke on the people of the Shire. He saw Bilbo's hand in his trouser pocket, the pocket where he kept his magic ring. Amusement at the uproar Bilbo was about to cause mingled with a sudden pang of sadness and loss.
"I regret to announce that—though, as I said, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to spend among you—this is the END."
Frodo could hear the hobbits around him stirring uneasily, but he paid them no mind. He watched Bilbo's ageless face.
Their eyes met, and Bilbo held his gaze with such a loving look that Frodo's breath caught.
The last words were spoken quietly into the stillness, meant for Frodo's ears above all others. He knew what was about to happen a moment before Bilbo vanished in a blinding flash of light, and the still evening filled with shocked gasps and exclamations.
Frodo sat back, a little stunned. The old hobbit had finally done it. Frodo had known this day was coming, had indeed hoped Bilbo would go through with it, but the reality wouldn't sink in. Then he pictured Bilbo tramping the paths he loved so well, probably on his way to see the Elves. Bilbo had gone to enjoy his retirement, and Frodo's heart was glad.
The party guests were milling about in confusion, and Frodo knew he would have to take charge. But he continued to sit perfectly still for a moment. He knew Bilbo would never return, and yet…
"Until we meet again," Frodo said quietly. He smiled and drained his glass to Bilbo's health.