The Making of a Ringbearer: Aweigh

By Obelia medusa

Summary: It's 1405 and Frodo is alone in Bag End. Merry can't control his temper and Samwise can't bring himself to speak up. Pippin can't pay attention and Frodo never did learn to accept help. But these four are becoming the sort of hobbits who will risk their lives for each other in the War of the Ring, which draws nearer every year.

A/N: This is the third and final installment of the Making of a Ringbearer series. There are some minor OC's from the earlier stories who reappear in this one, but each story stands alone. "Adrift" spans the time from the death of Frodo's parents to his adoption by Bilbo. "Anchored" spans the time from the adoption until the Long Expected Party. "Aweigh" begins a few years after Bilbo's departure and extends to the Conspiracy. All three parts are primarily about Frodo, but in "Aweigh" I'm going to focus more on the relationships among Frodo, Merry, Sam, and Pippin than I have previously.

Disclaimer: I don't own the Lord of the Rings or any of its characters, all of which were created by J.R.R. Tolkien. I do not profit financially from this story.

1. Merry Comes to Visit

Late March 1405

Merry reached out to pull the bell cord, and hesitated, letting his hand drop back to his side. He shifted from foot to foot, and made another abortive attempt to signal his presence.

A scowl crossed the tweenager's face. "This is silly," Merry muttered to himself. "I've visited Frodo plenty of times. Every year, in fact, since Bilbo went away." But usually he arrived in late summer, not early spring. He knew his parents had written Frodo and received his consent to this change in plans, but he didn't know what Frodo thought of the reason for it.

"It's only Frodo," Merry reminded himself, unconvincingly, for he had to admit, if only to himself, that he cared for Frodo's good opinion as much as anyone else's. More, perhaps. He scuffed his toe against the corner of his trunk. He always had a wonderful time when he stayed with Frodo, but part of him worried this visit wouldn't be all fun and games. He would be here at least six months, for one thing, unless he got in trouble and Frodo sent him away, too.

Where would he go in that event, if his exile from Brandy Hall was not yet over? Tookland, perhaps. It was certainly convenient that he had relatives all over the Shire—

"Merry? What on earth are you doing out here?"

Merry started, then glared. "I only just got here, Frodo. I was just about to ring the bell." He looked away, knowing he sounded too defensive.

Frodo looked at him quizzically. "I heard a wagon drive off ten minutes ago." He leaned past Merry to peer into the dusk. "Saradoc didn't stay? I should've liked to offer him some refreshment before his return journey."

Merry bristled. "I'm not a child, who has to be accompanied to the door," he retorted.

Frodo regarded him for a moment, not reacting to Merry's rather ungracious tone. "Well, come in then, unless you mean to camp out on my doorstep. You must be hungry; I've got plenty of food laid by."

Frodo picked up Merry's trunk and led the way into the familiar foyer. "I suppose you want your usual room?" he called over his shoulder.

"I suppose," Merry said heavily, trailing behind his cousin.

Frodo cast him a sharp glance, but said nothing more until he had set down the trunk in Merry's room.

"All right, Merry, are you going to tell me what's bothering you, or are you going to keep me guessing until Midsummer?"

Merry stiffened and turned to glare at his cousin. "You know full well what the matter is," he blazed, angry that Frodo would feign ignorance.

Frodo looked surprised. "Why no, I don't," he said.

Merry dropped into a chair, unaccountably annoyed by Frodo's unflappability. Saradoc would be shouting by now. When he finally looked up, Frodo was still watching him, head tilted. He looked the same as always, and hadn't treated Merry any differently so far, but the nervous knot in Merry's stomach hadn't gone away.

"I'm surprised you agreed to take me for so long," Merry blustered, gladly swallowing that wretched vulnerable feeling.

Frodo looked at him thoughtfully. "You're one of my dearest friends, Merry. Surely you didn't doubt your welcome?"

Merry squirmed, uncomfortable, and now embarrassed by his display of temper. "Well, not normally, of course, but in this case... that is—my father wrote you what happened, didn't he?"

"Yes," said Frodo, and Merry was relieved to see only sympathy in Frodo's eyes and no judgment. "He didn't go into the particulars, and of course you needn't tell me anything if you'd rather not. Although I'm awfully curious to know what you said to Old Rory to make him 'sick of the sight' of you, and to want you out of his hair for so long."

The bright blue eyes were smiling at him, and the knot in Merry's stomach loosened a little.

"You don't think any less of me?"

Frodo looked at him. "Don't be a ninny. Old Rory is a touchy old bird. Forget about it, and thank your lucky stars you ended up here with me. We'll have a fine time, Merry."

"Oh, thank goodness," Merry exclaimed. "I was rather afraid you'd think badly of me. And, I don't know, make me sit in my room and think on my misdeeds."

Frodo looked startled by the idea. "Whatever gave you such a notion, Merry?"

"It was all my dad's idea, sending me here," Merry admitted. "He said it would be good for me, that you're the only one I would behave for." He looked away so Frodo wouldn't see the bitterness in his expression.

Frodo was silent for a long moment. "Well, however it came to pass, I'm glad you're here for such a long visit," he said at last. "You've always been a great help and comfort to me."

Merry stared at him incredulously. "Do be serious, Cousin. What use have I ever been to you? I think I can safely say that I am the one to benefit from your friendship."

"No indeed!" Frodo exclaimed. "What an odd duck you are. Have you already forgotten how much I relied on you in the weeks after Bilbo went away? The day after the party alone, you very ably dealt with all the relations who stopped by, friendly and otherwise. I didn't even have to ask."

Merry snorted. "As if you would. And what else would I have done? Really, Frodo, you do go on."

Frodo laughed. "You did me a great kindness that day, and many more since then," he corrected. "You give yourself too little credit by far."

"Don't be ridiculous," Merry muttered, colouring.

"Come, Merry, just admit that I'm right. I could go on embarrassing you for quite some time, you know." Frodo's blue eyes were positively twinkling.

Merry sighed dramatically and slid down in his chair.

"And the delay to our supper would be regrettable," Frodo added helpfully.

Merry threw up his hands. "Fine, then. I surrender. But you are a cruel fellow, to threaten me with starvation."

"My cruelty knows no bounds," Frodo agreed. "Now come, supper awaits."

The first month of Merry's visit passed quietly. Frodo did not trouble him with talk of Merry's future responsibilities and present shortcomings, which was a welcome change. It was always a bit of a shock to go from the cheerfully crowded chaos of Brandy Hall to the peaceful quiet of Bag End. Merry didn't know how Frodo could stand it; he tried sometimes to sit in the garden and read, as Frodo often did, but he couldn't stay still for long. The singing of birds and the droning of insects were no substitute for the babble of voices, and before long Merry was driven to round up Frodo and drag him off to the Ivy Bush for some food and conversation.

Frodo didn't seem to mind the proddings of his more social (or less dull, as Merry put it) cousin, at least. And Merry rather enjoyed walking about the Shire with Frodo, which was a frequent occurrence. He kept a sharp eye on his host; had done so ever since Bilbo had gone away, in fact. Frodo had never said so, but Merry was convinced that he would follow Bilbo one day. The only question was when.

Merry had been a mere lad of 19 when Bilbo went away four years ago, but he remembered the long-expected party quite clearly. Bilbo's sudden and spectacular departure had been the talk of the Shire for weeks. Most folks blamed Gandalf, of course, who disappeared soon after Bilbo, although less showily.

Merry, for his part, was more concerned with Frodo. He did not know what he expected, but it was not what he got. Frodo never lost his temper with the Sackville-Bagginses, never spoke a word of regret against Bilbo, and, most maddening to Merry, never asked anybody to do anything to help him during what was surely a difficult time.

Frodo did have his good qualities, however. One that Merry particularly admired was Frodo's ability to throw the expectations of others out the window and act as he saw fit. Frodo's custom of celebrating Bilbo's birthday every year was an excellent example. Folks had been shocked when, a year after Bilbo's shocking disappearance, Frodo had thrown a party for his former guardian's 112th birthday, as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all.

It also didn't help that Gandalf had started turning up again, adding to Frodo's reputation for oddity, which was now as deeply entrenched in the minds of the Shirefolk as Bilbo's had been. It was quite possible that only Frodo's friends and closest relations knew that he was in no way off his rocker, or even close. But Frodo didn't seem to mind.

For his part, Merry could at least credit himself with excellent powers of observation. He didn't think Frodo had any idea how closely Merry watched him; as admirable a hobbit as Frodo was, he could be a trifle oblivious. Indeed, anyone would have to get up pretty early in the morning to fool Merry's sharp senses.

April 4, 1405

Merry squelched slowly up the Hill, clutching a small paper package under his jacket to protect it from the steady drizzle that had been carrying on all afternoon.

"Frodo, I'm back," he called as he pushed open the green door of Bag End. He cleaned his muddy feet as best he could before stepping into the foyer.

"Frodo?" The foyer was dark, with little light filtering in from the rain-slick windows. Merry dried his feet and hung up his jacket.

"I brought the butter you asked for," Merry called, making his way down the hall. He frowned and lit a candle, wondering if Frodo had gone out unexpectedly.

"Halloooo!" Merry shouted down the hall, enjoying the faint echo. "Frodooooo!"

He stepped into the kitchen and set down the butter. Frodo did not appear to be home. But appearances could be deceiving, and something did not seem quite right. He went back into the hall and bellowed, "Oh, bother! I've forgotten to wipe my feet and now the rug is all muddy!"

Merry listened carefully and detected a faint snort coming from the parlour. He smirked; Frodo hadn't played hide-and-go-seek with him in years, and it was rather optimistic of Frodo to think he could put one over on Merry now.

But he was forced to revise his assessment when he burst through the parlour door a moment later.

"Happy birthday!" a chorus of voices cried.

Frodo came forward and put an enormous slice of cake in Merry's hands. "Come now, Merry, close your mouth before you catch a fish in there," he teased.

"Frodo!" Merry exclaimed, laughing. "You remembered my birthday! And you tricked me!"

"Of course I remembered your birthday, silly Brandybuck," Frodo said. "I have known you rather a long time, even if I haven't been with you at this time of year in quite awhile. And you needn't sound so surprised that I tricked you; I might be insulted."

Merry laughed in delight. "Well, as I have no wish to insult you, I withdraw the comment."

"Good," said Gordo Grubb. "Now cut the rest of your cake so we can eat!"

Everyone laughed, and Merry looked around, touched to see that Frodo had rounded up a number of the local young folks to celebrate with. Will Bracegirdle had brought his fiddle, and later that evening they cleared a space in the centre of the floor and had dancing. Followed by further refreshments, of course.

As he settled into his bed much later that night, Merry reflected pleasantly that it had been a wonderful evening, and a rather pleasant stay at Bag End so far. Perhaps he had reason to hope he wouldn't ruin things after all. He would try, anyway, and do better than he had done at Brandy Hall.