Title:Fool of a Took and the Tree Wizard
Thanks to Gayalondiel for Betaring
SR 1397. Which (if I am counting straight) makes Frodo 29, Sam 17, Merry 15, and Pippin is a grubby, squirmy, into-everything 7 years old.
Frodo was starting to have an idea that all the stories of "Mad Baggins" were true. After all, what sane hobbit would invite Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took to his smial for an entire seven -day? Bilbo's reasoning was that they would be good company for Frodo. Frodo was recovering from a bad bout of the flu which had laid him low in the early autumn and Bilbo said having his cousins to stay would cheer him up and take him out of himself. It was true that Frodo had been a bit low after his illness and was taking longer to recover than usual. It had been bad in late September, and their birthday party had been cancelled as a result.
Summer had drawn to a swift close this year and the leaves on the trees had turned to gold early – treetops swiftly turned from green to a rusty gold. There was an even chance of waking up to a morning bright with late summer sunshine or dark with early autumn chill and a stiff breeze blowing.
Frodo knew Sam was busy in the garden, one day raking up falling leaves, the next tending the last of the flowering roses and picking the raspberries. Even now Bilbo had a half dozen apple and raspberry pies in the oven, and the smell was invading every nook and cranny of the smial, causing Frodo to wander around with a permanently watering mouth.
Merry and Pippin were due to arrive from Great Smials some time after lunch and Frodo had been trekking up on the Hill to watch for them all morning.
There had been one pleasant aspect to his being ill; Gandalf, who had arrived for the birthday celebrations out of the blue that year had stayed over, at first helping to keep a bored and bed-bound Frodo entertained and to give Bilbo a hard earned rest, but then promising he would stay until the delayed birthday party. Never before had Gandalf stayed for so long. Now that Frodo was up and about again the wizard passed most of his time in Bilbo's study. The two smoked endless pipes until the room was quite foul to walk into, and poured over books and papers and maps until no surface was free of paperwork. How they had managed not to set fire to themselves by now was beyond Frodo's understanding. The younger hobbit was as fond of a pipe as any, but he preferred to smoke outdoors, preferably halfway up a nice wide tree branch, with a book to hand.
As he looked down the road he could just see, coming into sight, a small cart. He could not tell from this distance if it was his relatives but he had a fair idea that it that it seemed to be a passenger cart, and there weren't many of those to be seen, with most going about the harvesting. Merry would have such a shock to find Gandalf still here, and young Pippin would be introduced to the wizard for the first time today. Frodo smiled, as he wondered if Gandalf's rather daunting looking presence would succeed in subduing his little cousin at all.
Frodo made his way down the Hill and set off down the lane to meet the cart.
"Stop wriggling Pippin," entoned Saradoc for about the twentieth time in the last half hour.
"Are we there yet?" asked the tiny Took, bouncing on the seat.
"Look," said Merry hurridly, as his father was probably about ready to throttle the heir to the Thainship. "Do you see that hill, higher than the others, with the big tree on top of it?"
"Well, that's the Hill, and Bag End is under it."
"Which is the front door?" Pip demanded next. "The yellow one? And what are all the other doors?"
"Bag End is the big green door at the top of the Hill. The others are Bagshot Row and the yellow door is number three where Frodo's friend Sam lives with his family."
"Who's Sam? And who else lives there? Can we climb the tree on top of the Hill? And what is that other big tree in the field below? Is there anywhere we can fly my new kite?" Pippin paused for a breath. "Will we have lunch when we get there?"
"You had lunch a half hour ago," Merry reminded him.
"That wasn't lunch. That was second breakfast."
"No – you slept through second breakfast in the back of the cart. Don't you remember?"
"No, I was asleep. How could I remember? Did you feed me second breakfast while I was asleep, 'cause if you didn't then I haven't had it and so I have missed a meal, and Mum says a growing lad shouldn't miss a meal. How many pantries has Bag End got?"
"I just hope they all have locks on the doors." Saradoc was wondering how on earth Bilbo was going to cope.
"Why would they have locks on the doors?" Pip turned his attention to the elder hobbit. "Are there goblins and trolls and things at Bag End?"
"What have you been telling him, Merry?" Saradoc asked. "I hope you haven't been frightening him with your stories."
"No Dad," Merry pleaded innocence. And in truth, it was more the other way round. For a seven-year-old Pippin could come up with some blood curdling stories. He had developed a fascination with Gollum from Bilbo's tales and had only just the other night kept Merry up in their shared room at the Inn with a horrible story about Gollum being under Merry's bed.
"Are we there yet?"
"Look, there's Frodo. Frodo!" Merry stood up on the seat to wave at his approaching cousin. "Frodo!"
Frodo stood aside as the cart drew to a halt beside him and then clambered up to join his cousins on the seat. "Hello Pipsqueak," he greeted his littlest cousin before hugging Merry. "Oh, it is good to see you. Tell me all the news. Have you had a good trip?"
"I missed lunch!" Pippin insisted. "We went through some forest and I saw a walking tree!"
"We went by a bit of woodland, he means," said Merry. "And the wind was awfully rough."
"That tree did move!" Pippin insisted with a great show of offended dignity.
"I'm sure it looked like it did," Frodo reassured. "And Bilbo will have some dinner for you."
"I don't want dinner," Pip pouted. "It was lunch I missed. What are we going to do this afternoon and which bedroom shall I have? Will I share with you or Merry or have a room to myself?"
"Which would you rather?" Frodo asked.
"I would rather sleep on the Hill up in the tree," Pip proclaimed. "Can I?"
"But what if we put you to sleep in a walking tree by mistake, and it wandered off with you in the night?" Frodo asked.
"Oh," said Pip breezily. "I wouldn't mind that so much. I bet you can see an awful lot going around like that."
"He's been like this for the whole journey," Merry sighed. "When he hasn't been asleep."
"Well," said Frodo indulgently. "This is his first trip away from home."
"Yes, and he hasn't cried for his mother once," Merry stated.
Frodo grinned. "I remember your first time from home. You cried all night and dragged your stuffed pony round with you everywhere."
"I did not!" Merry protested.
"Yes you did Merry!"
"We're here," said Saradoc with so much relief in his voice that Frodo felt quite sorry for him. The three lads had hopped down, Merry helping Pippin, before Saradoc had even put the brake on.
"Can I help with the bags?" Frodo asked politely.
Saradoc smiled down at him. "No, you run in and tell your Uncle to get the kettle on."
Frodo grinned back and ran off up the path after Merry and Pippin. With a propriatorial flourish he opened the big round green door for them and waved them inside. "Merry, you know where the kitchen is."
Pippin stood in the hall for a moment gaping round but his nose was already leading him to the kitchen. "Are those tree roots growing through the roof?" he asked. "What's that a map of? Is that a real sword? Can I play with it after lunch?"
Pippin seemed not to mind that his questions were not being answered as he thought of a new one the moment each left his mouth, if not sooner. He led the way into the kitchen, trotting ahead, head swivelling around constantly to take in every interesting feature of his new surroundings. "That's a big pine cone. Can I have one of them? What did you get me for your birthday Frodo? I would like a kitten but Mum says…"
Not looking where he was going, Pippin barrelled into the kitchen and walked straight into a grey clad leg. He came to a sudden halt, looked up, staggered backwards, uttered an ear piercing shriek and fell over backwards with a shrill cry of; "It's a tree-person! There's a tree-man in the kitchen! Help!" and started to howl at the top of his very considerable lungs.
Everyone else froze in shock.
Gandalf, who had been in the motion of stretching out his back as he stood up from the kitchen table and a rather nice meat pie looked down, a long way down. He had heard the chatter, then suddenly felt an object hitting his leg below the knee. He peered downwards.
On the floor sat the smallest hobbit child he had ever seen. Its face was already turning an alarming red with its cries and it was staring at him in fear.
"Hmm..." Gandalf slowly lowered himself until he was sitting cross-legged in front of the small, howling creature. He still towered above him.
"Hello, Master Took."
At being addressed by name Pippin was so shocked that he hiccupped to a halt in mid wail.
"Are you a walking tree?" he quavered.
"No," said Gandalf. "I am Gandalf, a friend of Bilbo and Frodo."
"You've got moss on your face!" Pip pointed out, rubbing a small fist over his red, damp face.
"Well," Gandalf lifted his beard and offered it for the little hobbit to inspect. "I can see how a mistake might be made."
Pippin reached out a damp hand and tentatively touched the long, grey hair. "It's rough and fluffy. Have you got a bird's nest in it?"
"I hope not," Gandalf said. "Maybe you could have a look for me and check."
Pip rocked forwards onto his knees and peered up under the long swathe of hair. "I don't see any."
"Try here," Gandalf guided Pippin's hand to the bushier part of his beard just under his chin.
"I can feel something!" Pip exclaimed and he reached in and pulled out a little carved wooden boat.
"Now what ever can that have been doing in there?" Gandalf asked. "Thank you for taking it out for me; it was most uncomfortable. You had better keep it."
Pippin turned the beautifully carved little wooden boat over in his hands.
"What do you say Pip?" Merry prompted.
Pippin looked up at Gandalf and smiled. "Are there any more in there?"