Frodo's Exciting Day Out
Thanks to Marigold for the beta
Eight o'clock and the Road is Long
"Is it secret? Is it safe?" Gandalf was breathless and dripping with anxiety and raindrops as he stooped under the beam in Bag End's hallway and brushed the outside weather brusquely off his grey robe.
Frodo Baggins always expected his Uncle Bilbo's old friend to make some kind of dramatic entrance, but this time he had surpassed himself. His beard was ragged and tangled and his eyes were flashing with a fire that surpassed anger and had grown into a belligerent omnipotence that only a truly erratic wizard can possess.
"Gandalf! Is something wrong?" Frodo was not given to irony, he just tended to stumble over it now and again. "You don't look too happy."
"The Ring! Bilbo's Ring!" Gandalf allowed his host to take the wet cloak and even spent a second to note that Frodo made no comment about his lack of pointed hat. "You would not believe the trouble I have just been through on account of that wretched thing! Where is it?"
"Tea first, Ring second!" Frodo decided firmly. Wizards sometimes needed hobbits to help keep emergencies in perspective.
"Very well," Gandalf suddenly found the seductive allure of a fresh brew more attractive than mysterious rings of power, age-old riddles and thwarting evil plans for the domination of Middle-earth – they could all wait until after tea. "But none of your bloody seedcake, mind!"
Frodo frowned behind Gandalf's back as he followed him through to the kitchen. Bilbo always told him that Gandalf liked linseed cake, oh well it was just as well he'd only made three and there was the lardy cake and melting moments and, at a pinch, they could always fall back on the bread pudding. Lost in thought, Frodo suddenly realised that the wizard was looking at him with a sympathetic smile as if he understood the dilemma.
"I know it's been difficult for you Frodo, since Bilbo left," Gandalf placed a kindly hand on the hobbit's shoulder, "and now I bring more problems to your already troubled life."
"It's no bother really Gandalf," Frodo's frown deepened, he was puzzled now, "It's only cakes after all. I mean I know they're important, but I'm sure we can manage."
"Indeed." Gandalf agreed, "However, I was thinking more of the impending doom of a growing shadow that threatens to cover the whole of Middle-earth – rather than the more immediate, but rather localised, cake shortage."
"Oh," Frodo was a little taken aback but his hand never faltered as he set out the tea, the melting moments on a stand with a doily and a sumptuous lardy cake, dripping with fat and sugar, under a glass dome. "So you're still worried about my Ring then? I wondered why you'd been gone so long, did your boss know anything?"
"Saruman?" Gandalf sneered at the name, although the sneer was lost on Frodo and any spy who might have been watching, as a curled lip under a beard makes little effect. "He has turned traitor! That was why I was gone so long. I thought you might have set out by now – I did tell you to."
Frodo opened his mouth to list the reasons why he had not started the journey. Summer had spilled over into autumn and Frodo had sold Bag End to the Sackville-Baggins's. Then, at the last minute, they had pulled out of the sale and Frodo had to find a new buyer. There had been quite a few genuine enquiries, including several from mysterious riders, cloaked in black, who had asked for the residence of "Baggins", but since all the folk that saw them did not want them as neighbours, they mostly got directed up to Scary. Frodo was still waiting in each day to show these prospective buyers around.
Gandalf held up a hand to stop the explanations. "No matter. It is just as well I still find you here."
"Oh so it's all right then?" Frodo was a little disappointed, he had quite looked forward to an adventure, running away to Bree and places beyond, just like Bilbo. "Does that mean I don't have to go?"
"No!" Gandalf blew on his tea to cool it. "I'm afraid I was right all along. The Ring is the One Ring made by the Dark Lord Sauron."
Frodo looked up in alarm, "You mean…"
"Yes, Frodo," Gandalf sipped the tea and paused to eat a cake, "I have been very busy since I left you. The Ring must leave the Shire and you must take It."
"Why me, Gandalf?" Frodo had fetched the Ring and It sat ominously on the table before them. "Could you not take It – I'm sure that would be best."
"I cannot touch It Frodo," Gandalf shook his head solemnly, "I mean I'd love to, don't get me wrong, but I've seen what just the lust for it has done to Saruman. That's where I've been you know."
"What all this time?" Frodo realised that Gandalf had not yet explained his dishevelled appearance. "What were you doing there?"
"Being held prisoner." Gandalf, slightly embarrassed at the revelation, hurried swiftly on. "I was imprisoned on the top of the Orthanc Tower and had a great deal of time to think things through, although I fear my beard has suffered greatly from the wind and rain."
"Is that where you lost your pointed hat too?" Frodo could not let that go completely.
"No," Gandalf scowled, "that came later. Now listen carefully, we have much to do and not much time in which to do it. The Ring – your Ring, actually Bilbo's Ring, well The Dark Lord Sauron's Ring if we're being pedantic, must be destroyed and, according to Lord Elrond, who I stopped off to see on the way over here, It has to be taken to Mount Doom in Mordor and cast into the fire from whence It came."
"Mordor!" Frodo's heart really sank now, "But that is league upon league Gandalf! How will I ever get there?"
"Oh it shouldn't take too long," Frodo had been expecting Gandalf's voice of impending doom and destruction, so when he chuckled and ruffled his curls in a jovial manner, the hobbit was a bit taken aback. "No, I've got a friend or two waiting outside who should be able to help." Gandalf went to the window and looked out. "Hmm, do you mind if I take a couple of those seedcakes out to them? They'd go down a treat!"
"Dwarves! That's it" Frodo remembered Bilbo's tales of Gandalf's methods of acquiring overnight accommodation and cake for his friends. "You've got dwarves out there – haven't you!"
"Not at all," Gandalf turned back from the window, looking somewhat affronted at the suggestion. "Although I think you'll find these chaps just as grumpy and aloof, but far more useful. I'm always telling you Frodo, it pays to have friends in high places."
One of the immense benefits of being a gardener, Samwise Gamgee had learned early on, was that it put you in the best position for gathering gossip. Good, well nurtured and carefully harvested gossip was the best coin he knew, especially down at the Green Dragon, where it could be traded for copious free ales.
When Sam saw Gandalf arrive at Bag End that morning, the gardener's lad realised that today would be a good day to trim the verge and so, shears in hand, he crouched below the window of the lounge and began snipping and listening.
It ought to have been interesting, after all, Gandalf had arrived in a great hurry and looked pretty dishevelled, soaked right through and it wasn't even raining, but there was nothing Sam could make any sense of. At least, nothing that would get him so much as a flagon of cider, just a load of nonsense about secret rings, cakes and fiery cracks of doom, although the stuff about cake sounded promising.
Still he was happy enough, snipping away and repeating the odd word out loud to himself, "impending doom… prisoner… Mordor… league upon league… seedcake!"
"Ahem – excuse me!"
The voice sounded so close to Sam's ear that he dropped the shears in a panic of guilt and began to babble, "j-just tr-trimming the verge – honest… I didn't hear nothin' an' – an' I was just leavin' an… an'… wha…!" As Sam turned around his face blushed as red as Ma Putterduck's pickled beetroot which was nicely offset by the shade of green which followed when he saw who had addressed him, rounded off by him collapsing in a dead faint in the herbaceous border.
Sam did not hear the subsequent remark, "I'm sorry, I just wondered if you had any seedcake."
"Remember Cousin Brandybuck" Peregrin paused to take a great breath, then hurtled after his companion again. "This whole scheme was yours!"
"Indeed Master Took!" Meriadoc stole a brief glance over his shoulder as he ran, "And who complained of dire hunger and need?"
"I was merely complaining, I did not expect you to do anything about it!" Pippin stopped again, causing Merry to turn back and catch hold of Pippin's scarf so he could pull him along like a dog on a lead. "Besides," Pippin gasped when he could manage any air, "what are you planning to do with raw carrots anyway?"
"Hours of endless entertainment may be obtained from a raw carrot," Merry puffed. "Don't talk – run!"
"And why…why did we need so many squishy tomatoes?" Pippin could feel them oozing into his britches already. "We could have got a firmer variety."
"No – they have… to… squelch!" Merry insisted between pants. His breath was almost spent.
"And I still don't see… the point… of the goat." Pippin generally tolerated Merry's eccentricities – he was half Took after all – but there were times when he pushed it to the limit.
"Pip, you've got to have a goat!" Merry was too exasperated to hyperventilate now, regardless of how out of breath he was from running, "what's the point without a goat?"
"But Merry…" Pippin stopped once more, pulling the scarf from Merry's hand and putting his hands on his hips, "why are we running away? It's not as if anyone's chasing us!"
"Samwise Gamgee!" Gandalf's used his special admonishing-hobbit's-because-I-can-get-away-with-it-on-account-of-they-are-smaller-than-me-and-don't-have-beards voice, "What are you doing sleeping in the herbaceous border?"
"I beg forgiveness Mithrandir, I startled him." Gwaihir looked down from the top of Bag End where he was now perched, "Landroval reports that the little creature was astonished to see me and that his face became imbued with various interesting hues before he was overcome with sleep and lay down amidst the flowers."
"No need to apologise my friend." Gandalf called back, hauling Sam to his feet by the handy protrusion of the hobbit's ear. "They do not see so many Windlords here in the Shire." He gave the dazed gardener a small shake. "Where are your manners Samwise, this is Gwaihir, Lord of all the Eagles, what do you say?"
"Sorry Master, I'm pleased to meet you," Sam pulled off his hat, clutching it nervously before him and bowed low. "Your Grace, er Your Honour!"
"And this…" Gandalf continued poking Frodo in the back with his staff, "this is the one I told you about, Frodo Baggins."
"How do you do, Sir." Frodo had been instructed by Bilbo in the correct way to address a dwarf, an elf, a troll, a spider and, should the chance occur, an eagle. "May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks."
Gwaihir and Landroval looked at each other with the eagle equivalent of raised eyebrows, although exactly what that is cannot be described here. "May your eyrie be ever fair and safe," Gwaihir replied. "As indeed it seems to be." The Windlord scratched at the roof of Bag End, pulling up a little turf and replacing it with an air of approval. "This is my brother Landroval," Frodo bowed low. "And this Meneldor, young and swift." Both hobbits doffed imaginary caps politely, Sam because his hat was already in his hand and Frodo because he had none.
"So, introductions complete, are we ready?" Gandalf glanced up at the sky, "It's almost 8 o'clock and the road is long."
"But my friend," Gwaihir spread his great wings, "That is of no matter since we are not going by road."
"Where? err… what?" Sam certainly did not know how to address an eagle. "But where are we going Master?"
"I just have something I need to do today, Sam." Frodo smiled at the gardener, "I know I said you could come with me the next time I went anywhere, but I'm not sure if there'll be room for you."
"There is no burden too great for the Windlords," Gwaihir stated proudly, his head raised up to catch the morning breeze, "Well certainly not a couple of hobbits. Bring your little friend if you care to, Master Baggins."
"You're not going to fly are you – like Mr Bilbo did," Sam had heard the stories from his former master, "they do say it's awful dangerous – you know flying – you have to get so far off the ground and all."
"It's either that or walk, Sam." Frodo shrugged in resignation, "Now do you want to come?"
"Will I need my frying pan?"
Farmer Maggot was affable by nature, a genial, friendly sort of chap who would always give one the time of day. Mrs Maggot worried often that he was too easy-going, too trusting and amiable for his own good. "You and your kindness – it'll be the ruination of us all Maggot, you mark my words!" she would scold. But Maggot could not find it in his heart to be surly or unforgiving.
When the strange rider dressed all in black stopped by his farm, Maggot tried to give directions, but it was so hard to make out what the gentleman on the big horse wanted. The friendly farmer would not be rude enough to beg his pardon over, when he could not make out what was wanted, but the man was so sibilant it was difficult to know for sure.
"Well now, there are many Bagginses in these parts. Are you after the Sackville-Baggins or mayhap the Frogmorton Baggins? There are some, well 'twere, some but now I think 'tis all but one, since Mr Bilbo left you understand, anyway, there's one up in Hobbiton, but I doubt he'd be the one you want. Youngish lad, bit of a scamp really. No I should try…" But the rider was obviously upset with something Maggot had said and rode off in a huff before the farmer could finish.
Before he could chase after the rider with another thought he had had about Bagginses and their whereabouts, another matter caught his attention. Two hobbits suddenly appeared in the road before him, from out of the vegetable patch, their arms laden with freshly pulled roots. They looked at Maggot and gasped and, before the startled farmer could say a word, both lads plunged through the hedge and into the field on the other side of the road.
Maggot was stunned into rock for several heartbeats, he knew hobbit lads could move fast, but these two seemed to be in a complete panic. Gradually recovering his senses, the stout yeoman picked up the dropped carrots and pushed through the hedge to run as fast as he could after the fleeing pair.
"There's something moving very fast down there, Mr Frodo." Sam had finally plucked up the courage to peer over the side of the eagle's neck and glimpse the terrifyingly distant land moving swiftly beneath them. He and Frodo were perched on the back of Landroval and, for most of the journey, the gardener had kept his eyes tightly shut.
"Glad you decided to join me at last Sam," Frodo was getting a little bored with having to give him a running commentary in an attempt to get Sam to look.
"You might also try not clinging on so tightly to my neck?" Landroval suggested. Eagles are very polite, if a trifle sarcastic.
"Ha!" Gandalf riding comfortably on the back of Gwaihir had spotted the progress of Frodo's cousins several minutes earlier. "It's young Meriadoc and Peregrin, up to no good I do not doubt. Those two are the worst behaved hobbits in the whole of the Shire. Valar help all hobbitkind when they become Master and Thain!"
"What think you Mithrandir?" Gwaihir turned to look at the wizard with a wicked gleam in his golden eye. "Should we teach them a lesson? Give them a taste of real adventure?"
"Do you know, my friend, that might not be a bad idea." Gandalf called over to Frodo, "Shall we collect your cousins, Frodo? If Meneldor is willing to bear them."
"I'm not sure I can bear them," Frodo giggled. "Not for a whole day anyway! Still, if you think it will do them good, why not?"
Meneldor swooped closer to his brothers, "Shall I seize the little moving cousin creatures? They seem to be in peril at the moment. However, it might be instructive to see what occurs if they are captured. Will the pursuer eat them?"
"If it's not too much trouble my friend." Gandalf did not want to disappoint the eagle, although he suspected Farmer Maggot would not eat Merry and Pippin even if he caught them. "You would do me a service by saving them."
"Merry! Wait for me!"
"Run Pip! Come on! Don't stop!"
"Hoi! You two! Come back here!"
Pippin, as he ran along behind his older cousin, was suddenly aware of a great swift shadow moving across him. Had the weather changed? Or possibly his luck and this was his final retribution in the form of the vengeful dragon coming to pluck his sinful body in its great talons and tear him limb from limb. Merry always said he was too fanciful and should not worry so much. So it was probably just a rain cloud, Pippin decided.
"Merrrryyy!" Pippin screamed out the name as the colossal claws wrapped around his small frame and lifted him off the ground.
"Pip! Not the dragon again," Merry knew where his cousin's mind wandered at times like this. "It's not a dragon…" Merry was seized in Meneldor's other claw and borne up into the sky. "It's just an eagle – all right!"
"Hoi – you two!" Farmer Maggot watched the escaping hobbits soar up into the sky in the talons of the mighty bird of prey. "You dropped your carrots!"
Tom Bombadil looked up briefly at the sky as the great eagles flew overhead. He laughed and waved to Gwaihir and his brothers as the Windlord swooped low, almost knocking the yellow hat off Tom's head.
Hey ho my merry birds flying o'er the greensward,
Light upon the weather-wind, rides the mighty Wind-Lord,
Danger lingers here below, without your hobbit holes,
Take the straighter road above and save your feet and souls.
So sing you loud my jolly lads, merrily you fly now,
No need for elven wisdom, or words that are so highbrow.
You shall not even call for Tom to save you from the willow
Nor spend the night with Goldberry's strange dreams upon your pillow.
You do not need to fear the wight that lingers in the barrow,
Your quest will be completed ere the rising of the sparrow.
So fly my hearties straight and true, into Mordor's flame
You might even change the world – but I'll still be the same.
And with that he laughed uproariously once more – at who knows what – and ran off down the Withywindle.
To be Very Much Continued…