AUTHOR'S NOTES: Frodo is 24, Merry is 10 and Pippin is 2. (The equivalent of 15, 6, and 14 months in Man years.)
DISCLAIMER: Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate. I own none of them. Some of them, however, seem to own me.
IN FROM THE COLD
"Bilbo, what if we can't go?" Frodo's voice was full of distress. In fact, it came very near to whining, something the lad never did.
"Frodo, you are fretting too soon. Granted, the snowfall is a bit unusual. But I am going to see Farmer Cotton about hiring a pony and sledge. I do not see any reason why we will not be at Brandy Hall in plenty of time to celebrate the Yule."
"It's just that Merry will be expecting me. He won't understand if I'm not there."
"I know that you are looking forward to seeing him as well. Now, let us not be discouraged by the snow. You lads will have a splendid time playing in it when we get there." Bilbo gave his cousin a brief hug around the shoulders, and then pushed him firmly towards his room. "Go finish your packing. And check the state of your coat and traveling cloak. I am going to see about the sledge and pony. When you've finished packing get luncheon ready for my return. If all goes well, we shall leave as soon as we finish eating."
Frodo smiled at his Uncle Bilbo, reassured, and hurried off to do as he was bid.
Bilbo found himself playing with the ring in his pocket again. Sometimes it irritated him when he could not get it off his mind. With a scowl, he took it from his pocket, and went back into his room, where he firmly locked it up in a small chest. Every now and then, he just had to put it away for a while and try to forget about it. It could just stay *there* until they came back from Buckland after Yule.
"Mum, the snow is so deep! What if Frodo and Cousin Bilbo can't get here?"
"Merry, it's only Trewsday, and they are not to be here before Mersday. I do not think the snow is so deep as to keep them from travelling. But if it is, you must understand. You do not want them to come if it is not safe, do you?"
Merry hung his head. Of course he wanted Frodo and Cousin Bilbo to be safe. But he wanted them safe here at Brandy Hall.
"Mersday?" he asked in a small voice.
"Mersday." said his mother firmly. "Trewsday, Hensday, Mersday."
There was a knock on the door to the Master's family sitting room. "Enter!" called Esmeralda.
The door opened to admit Eglantine Took, baby Pippin in her arms. "Good morning," she said.
Merry's face brightened at once at the sight of little Pippin, who was giving his cousin a delighted smile, and reached his little arms out to be taken.
Eglantine laughed and shook her head. "Well, he certainly doesn't want his mother when he can have his cousin instead," she grinned.
Merry carefully carried the baby to a large armchair and began to play peek-a-boo with him.
Esmeralda laughed. "Merry would rather have a certain cousin as well; I am glad to have the distraction. He is going to be fretting every day until Frodo arrives."
Her sister-in-law shook her head in amusement. "I suppose that is a preview of what I will have to put up with from my little one in future years."
"Quite likely!" They both smiled indulgently, as Merry coaxed peals of laughter from the baby.
The next morning, the innkeeper of The Floating Log in Frogmorton knocked at the door of the room Mr. Baggins and his young cousin had taken the night before. The old hobbit had asked to be wakened early.
"Yes! Yes!" came the response, "Thank you, I am awake!" Bilbo sat up and shook Frodo's shoulder. The lad was still sleeping hard, for they had come in quite late and very cold the night before. "Frodo. Frodo-lad, wake up! We need to get started if we want to get to Brandy Hall before First Yule."
"Yes, Uncle Bilbo." But there was no corresponding movement. Bilbo got out of the bed himself, and put on his dressing gown. Then he pulled the blankets off.
"Brrr…Uncle Bilbo! That's cold!"
"Get up and get dressed, Frodo, so that we can have breakfast and be on our way. I'd like to take lunch at Whitfurrows, and then be at the Bridge Inn by tonight. If all goes well we can be at Brandy Hall by luncheon tomorrow." Bilbo cleared his throat.
"Uncle Bilbo, your voice sounds a bit croaky," said Frodo worriedly.
"Just a bit of early morning stuffiness, my lad. It will clear up soon enough once I have a cup of hot tea."
By the time they reached Whitfurrows, Frodo was feeling not a little alarm. Bilbo had been blowing his nose a great deal, and it was red. His voice had not grown any less gruff, in spite of his reassurances.
"Stop fussing, Frodo. I shall be just fine," he croaked.
Indeed, after a luncheon of hot potato soup, fresh bread and cheese, washed down with cups of hot tea, Bilbo did indeed look and sound a great deal better. It had begun to snow again, and so after eating, the two sat in the inn's parlor for a while, by the fire. Between the pleasant meal and the comfortable warmth, they both soon drifted off into a nap.
It was his uncle's uncharacteristically loud snoring that wakened Frodo at last.
He glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. It was very nearly four o'clock! "Uncle Bilbo!"
"Oh botheration!" exclaimed Bilbo. "We had better get going at once; as it is it will be well after dark before we arrive at the Bridge Inn!"
"Mum, it's snowing again!"
"Yes, Merry, I know."
"Do you think Frodo is all right?" Merry fretted.
"I am sure that he will be fine, dear. He's with his Uncle Bilbo after all."
"I hope so, Mum! I do want to see him so!"
Esmeralda held out her arms, and he climbed into her lap. "I know you do, Merry-lad. But don't worry."
"I can't help it, Mum."
She laughed, and squeezed him tightly. "I know, son. You love Frodo."
"Mm-hmm." He leaned into her embrace, and let her rocking soothe him.
Bilbo was feeling much better after his nap, and he and Frodo were making good time in the sledge. Frodo bundled up close to his uncle as he drove, and they talked for a while, but Bilbo's voice was still too rough for stories or songs.
However, they were taken aback at their arrival at Bridge Inn.
"I am sorry, Mr. Baggins. But all the Chubbs have gathered here for Yule this year. I can feed you a nice late supper, but there is not a single room to be had! I am all full up!"
The Bagginses looked at one another in dismay. They had been looking forward to a soft bed and a warm room.
"What are we going to do, Uncle Bilbo?" Frodo was a bit frightened.
"We've no choice, my lad, but to travel on to Brandy Hall through the night. Confusticate and be-bother these Chubbs!"
The landlord was apologetic, but helpful. He gave Bilbo a pair of lanterns to hang on the sledge, and several roasted potatoes, wrapped in flannel to keep their hands warm and provide a snack. He also gave them a stone jar, also wrapped in several layers of flannel, that contained some mulled cider. Bilbo thanked him warmly, and once more he and Frodo bundled up on the sledge.
They did not talk at all now, but rode across the Stonebow Bridge in silence, and Bilbo turned south towards Brandy Hall.
After they had gone just a few miles, Frodo was alarmed to hear Bilbo coughing.
"Uncle Bilbo?" he said worriedly.
"I'll be fine, lad. Why don't you pour us out a bit of that cider?" But his voice was raspier than ever.
So Frodo unwrapped the jar. It had a cunning lid which could be used as a cup, so he poured out some and offered it to Bilbo. The scent of apples and cinnamon put heart into both of them, tired and cold as they were. They took turns sipping, and then Frodo replaced the cap, and wrapped the jar back up. He leaned into Bilbo's side, and soon drowsed off, lulled by the motion of the sledge.
Frodo was not sure of what time he awakened-the clouds had blown away and the Moon was high, the stars clear.
The first thing he noticed was that he was freezing on his right side, but his left side was hot! The second thing he noticed was that they were not moving. The sledge had come to a stop, and the pony was champing in the traces, its breath sending up little puffs in the night air. Bilbo had fallen asleep at the reins.
Frodo turned to his cousin. "Uncle Bilbo!" He started to shake him, and realized that Bilbo was burning up with fever! Yet he was shaking with cold as well.
Bilbo coughed, and then began to mutter. "It's mine…I tell you! I'm no thief…no thief…"
Frodo was thoroughly dismayed and not a little frightened. The tears sprang to his eyes. What if Bilbo died? What would he do if he lost Bilbo as he had lost his parents? He couldn't! He just couldn't! He wouldn't! He blinked the tears away.
First of all, he needed to get Bilbo to lay down in the back of the sledge. It took a bit of doing, but he finally managed it. He covered Bilbo over with his cloak, and the travelling rug they had been using. Then he rummaged in Bilbo's bags, and took out his cousin's dressing gown and laid on top of that. The potatoes were still giving off a bit of warmth, so he tucked those in around his cousin's feet.
Then he took stock of their location. The pony had obviously wandered from the road, but Frodo was familiar with Buckland, on or off the road. He could see the line of the River to his right, and from what he could tell, they seemed to be a few miles to the south and west of Newbury. The nearest homes were at Crickhollow. He looked about, trying to get his bearings. They were not too far from the Boffin's place, maybe a mile or mile and a half. He wondered how long the pony had kept going on its own.
He walked up and checked on the pony, which turned and gave him a reproachful look. "I'm sorry, lad," he said giving it a pat, "but we'll soon have a warm stable and some food for you." With that he got back to the sledge and took up the reins.
The short drive seemed interminable. He could hear Bilbo, muttering and crying out in his fever dreams, and he could not stop his own tears this time.
It was with great relief that he spied the smoke curling up from the chimney of a small old-fashioned house. He leapt down and began to hammer on the door.
"I'm coming! I'm coming!" said an irritable voice. "Who is it?"
"It's Frodo Baggins, Mr. Boffin, and I need some help!"
He could hear the sounds of the locks and latches being drawn back, and the door was flung open. "Master Frodo! Whatever are you doing out on a night like this? You haven't run away from all those queer folk up in Hobbiton have you? You know I allus said you shouldn't have ought to left Buckland…"
"Please, Mr. Boffin! I've not run away, but my Uncle Bilbo is sick! He's in the sledge, and he has an awful fever! We were on our way to the Hall for Yule when he took sick!" Frodo's nerves finally got the better of him, and he burst into tears. "Uncle Bilbo's never sick!" he wailed.
At this news the startled hobbit began to move quickly. He called for his wife and son, and then he and his son went to carry Bilbo in from the sledge. They took him right in to their own bedroom and laid him down, and his wife began to bustle about, heating water for willow-bark tea.
"Son," said Boffin, "hurry to the Hall, and let them know their kin are here and in trouble!"
Mrs. Boffin tried to get Frodo to come to the kitchen for a bite to eat and a cup of tea, but he would not leave Bilbo's side. So after a few moments, she brought him a tray, with a bowl of stew that she had heated, and a cup of tea. Frodo took it gratefully, but he ate almost absently, not really tasting it at all.
Rorimac Brandybuck sat up as his wife Menegilda nudged him. "Someone's banging on the door!" she said.
"I know that, I can hear them," he grumbled. Indeed someone iwas/i banging quite hard at the door to the Master's suite.
He got up and threw on a dressing gown. "I'm coming!" he called.
He threw open the door, to see one of the servants, obviously agitated. "Master Brandybuck, we have one of the Boffins here, from over near Crickhollow. Seems they have Mr. Baggins and Master Frodo at their house. Mr. Baggins seems to have took sick while they was traveling."
All irritation fled. "Go fetch Mr. Saradoc; I'll get dressed. Send someone to the stable to saddle the ponies, and fetch the healer."
A short time later, Frodo found himself riding a pony in front of his cousin Saradoc. The Boffins were driving the sledge with Bilbo tucked up warmly under the eye of a healer. It was such a relief to have adults in charge of things.
"Uncle Sara," he said, "will Uncle Bilbo be all right?"
"I think that he probably will, Frodo. You know that Bilbo has an iron constitution."
Frodo nodded. But his confidence was badly shaken; he had never in his memory known of Bilbo being sick. In fact, they only time he had ever heard of Bilbo being sick was when he was on his Adventure, and caught a cold.
Soon they were at Brandy Hall, and Bilbo was taken to his guest room, while Frodo was bundled off to his old room. He was not happy at being wrenched from Bilbo's side, but Saradoc and Esmeralda over-rode him, and it was with a gentle insistence that his Aunt Esme tucked him in.
"Get some rest, Frodo. I am sure that Bilbo will be much better in the morning."
Frodo wakened the next morning to the feeling that he had never left Brandy Hall. Tucked up in his old bed, in his old room-and Merry's warm little body next to his, for somehow he had known Frodo was there and had crept into his bed as he always did-it seemed as if the last two years had been but a dream…
He sat bolt upright. Merry rolled over and looked at him. "Frodo, you're awake!"
He smiled in spite of himself, for the sight of his little cousin cheered him immensely. "Yes, I am, sprout. But I need to find out about Uncle Bilbo!"
He sprang from the bed, and spied his dressing gown hanging upon the bedpost-someone must have unpacked it for him. Tying it on, he left the bedroom, and headed for the little room that served as Saradoc's and Esmeralda's sitting room.
"Good morning, Frodo," said Esmeralda, offering her cheek for a kiss. He bestowed it absently.
"Uncle Bilbo?" he asked anxiously.
She smiled. "He is fine. His fever broke, and he is still feeling a bit under the weather, but he has already taken first breakfast. I am sure he will be happy to see you, dear, as soon as you have dressed and broken your own fast."
"Ah, Frodo, my lad! I am so pleased to see you this morning. I must thank you for taking such good care of your old uncle last night. I am sorry to think how I must have frightened you." His voice was still hoarse, and he interrupted himself once to blow his nose.
Frodo blushed. "I was worried about you."
"I know, my dear. When I realized I had a cold, we should never have left Frogmorton. But you know your stubborn old uncle. I was determined to get here in time for Yule. And First Yule's tomorrow, so we did indeed make it."
The younger Baggins hung his head. "I'm sorry, Uncle Bilbo, it's my fault. I wanted to come so badly."
"Stuff and nonsense! I would have done it whether you wished it or no. You know that I always spend Yule in Buckland."
"Now, I don't want you dancing attendance on me today. You go spend some time with young Meriadoc, and I understand the little Took infant is here as well, and just enjoy yourself. You pop in and see me again after luncheon if you like. Old Rory's coming in here soon, and the two of us plan to have a proper chin-wag."
Frodo grinned. Bilbo really did sound like he was going to be well. "Yes, sir, Uncle Bilbo." He leaned down and gave his cousin a fond kiss on the brow, and Bilbo smiled up at him. "I really am uncommonly proud of you, my lad! Now, off with you!"
Frodo spent the morning out in the snow with Merry, making a snow hobbit, and pelting one another with snowballs. When they went for elevenses, their noses and cheeks were bright as berries.
They were joined at the meal by their Took cousins, the lasses chattering like magpies, and little Pippin making himself at home in Frodo's lap, pulling on his older cousin's nose and hair, until Frodo's eyes began to water. They passed the time until luncheon in Saradoc's and Esmeralda's sitting room, playing at riddles, which Frodo would have won handily, had he not been so soft-hearted as to come up with especially easy riddles for Merry and Pervinca. Pearl shook her head at him. "You spoil those babies dreadfully!" she said in a haughty grown-up voice.
"I'm not a baby!" was the simultaneous yell from both the Brandybuck lad and the Took lass. Pimpernel laughed at them, and there would have been a quarrel, but just then Esmeralda and Eglantine came in, and suddenly all was sweetness and light.
The two mothers looked at one another. They had heard the prologues to a row brewing before they entered.
"It's time to get cleaned up for luncheon, my little ducks," said Eglantine.
"Frodo and Merry, you lads as well. We will take luncheon in the main dining hall."
As they filed past her, Esmeralda bent to Frodo's ear. "As soon as luncheon is over, you may go to see Bilbo, dear."
He smiled at her gratefully.
"Hullo, lad," said Bilbo. "Have you enjoyed yourself this morning?"
Frodo nodded as he crossed to sit down in the chair by his cousin's bed. "I've been keeping little Brandybucks and Tooks amused, at any rate. How are you, uncle?"
Bilbo smiled and said "I'm much better," and then spoiled it with a brief fit of coughing. "I really am. But I am afraid it's not going to be much of a Yule for me! Confounded healer says I have to stay a-bed for a week, and then another week to ten days before I am to be allowed to travel home."
Frodo looked alarmed. "Uncle Bilbo!"
"No, really, my lad, it's just a precaution. Don't you fear." Bilbo saw the pain and tears that sprang to Frodo's face. "Lad, I'm not going to leave you just yet."
"I'm sorry, Uncle Bilbo. I was so scared I was losing you, too!" He burst into tears, and Bilbo held his arms out. Frodo came over to lay across the bed, and let his beloved guardian soothe him.
Finally, the storm passed, and Frodo sat up, sniffling. Bilbo took a clean handkerchief off a stack of them that had been placed on his nightstand, and Frodo blew his nose.
"At any rate, you will be able to have a nice visit here. I've asked your Uncle Rory to send a message to Hamfast Gamgee, letting him know of our delay." He sighed. "I am still a bit tired, Frodo. I think that I will have a bit of a nap, now. You go on and spend some more time with your little cousins."
Frodo found everyone down in the main hall. Esmeralda was supervising the children and servants as they decorated the room with evergreens, mistletoe and holly. The Yule log had been brought in, in preparation for the morrow.
He watched the bustle, feeling a bit sad that Bilbo was not going to be able to enjoy it. One of the highlights of a Brandy Hall Yule was Bilbo Baggins's stories! But not this year.
Frodo watched thoughtfully, and then tugged on Esmeralda's arm, and leaned to whisper in her ear.
He cautiously cracked the door to Bilbo's room. The old hobbit was still snoring soundly. Saradoc was sitting in the chair next to Bilbo, and raised his eyes from the book he was reading, to meet those of his wife, who stood behind the children. She nodded and winked at him.
"Now," Frodo whispered, "we have to be ever so quiet." Six eyes stared at him, and three heads bobbed up and down. Frodo, Pearl, Pimmie and Merry stole into the room as silently as only little hobbits can, each bearing an armload of greenery.
"Good afternoon, Bilbo," said a pleasant feminine voice. "It's teatime."
Bilbo opened his eyes, and blinked owlishly at Esmeralda. "What a lovely vision to wake up to, my dear."
She chuckled, as he sat up-
And noticed the room full of hobbits, large and small, as well as a laden tea trolley.
And holiday greenery festooning his room. There were swags of evergreen and mistletoe adorning the mantelpiece, dresser, and clothespress, and a wreath of holly hung in the window, adorned with a huge red bow, and festive candles everywhere.
He saw Frodo grinning at him.
"Bless me, lad! What have you done?" he laughed.
The next morning, Frodo went to Bilbo's room right after first breakfast. The families would be opening their gifts right after second breakfast, so he decided to take this time to give Bilbo his gift.
But Bilbo gave him his first.
"Oh, Uncle Bilbo! This is your favorite! And-and does this mean?" He held up the pipe reverently.
"Yes, indeed, lad. I think it is quite time for you to learn the art of smoking."
He coughed. "I think, though, that we may wait for your first lesson until I am over this confounded cold?"
"Of course we will!" He gave his cousin an enthusiastic embrace. "Now open yours!"
Bilbo untied the red ribbon, and drew away the muslin that covered the small flat parcel Frodo handed him.
"Oh my stars, lad! This is lovely! Did you do this all yourself?"
Frodo blushed. "Yes, I did. The Gaffer helped me with the frame."
Carefully drawn in colored inks was a scale plan of Bag End, with a small sketch in the lower corner of the front of the smial. It had been mounted and framed for hanging on a wall.
"Thank you, Frodo." Bilbo stopped to blow his nose, and it was not from a cold, this time.
There was a knock on the door. It was old Uncle Dinodas, come to sit with Bilbo, so that Frodo could go to second breakfast with the rest of the family.
First Yule passed in a flurry of happy activity. Hobbits old and young found reason through the day to pop in and see Bilbo.
Frodo spent most of the day outdoors, playing in the snow with his younger cousins, and he would frequently glance over at the window of Bilbo's room, where the older hobbit would occasionally wave to him from his bed.
Second Yule was a quieter day. First Yule was for family, but Second Yule was when hobbits visited with friends, and gave gifts to the servants and other non-family household members.
Frodo spent most of the day quietly visiting with Bilbo, reading to him, and playing draughts with him, and simply watching him sleep. He took his meals in the room with his cousin, and was content.
But after tea, the Master of the Hall came to the room.
"Bilbo, my friend," said Rory, "I have come to steal away your lad. It seems that by popular acclaim, since you are unavailable for story-telling, the children are clamoring for Frodo as the second best thing!"
Bilbo grinned. "I think that is a splendid idea!"
Frodo blushed, and followed his Uncle Rory to the large sitting room, where dozens of young Brandybucks, Tooks, Burrowses and Boffins sat awaiting his arrival. There was a chorus of cheers: "Frodo! Frodo! Jolly old Frodo!" and Merry's voice the loudest.
He was led to the large armchair where Bilbo usually sat to tell his tales, and had scarcely seated himself when Merry scrambled into his lap.
He looked at the sea of expectant faces, and wondered what tale to give them: should he tell them of the Elves and the Two Trees, or of the grand lords of Numenor? Or perhaps a tale of the Bullroarer? But no, he knew just what tale to give them-
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…" he started, and began to relate the wonderful tale of Bilbo's journey there and back again.
He had told stories until his voice was very nearly worn out, and then gone in to late supper. Afterwards, he took a dish of plum pudding, and made his way to Bilbo's room.
Cousin Merimac, who had been keeping Bilbo company, grinned at Frodo, and left the room.
"I brought you some Yule pudding, Uncle Bilbo."
"Did you, indeed? Thank you, Frodo-lad." He took the dish and the proffered spoon, and scooted up in the bed.
"Have you had a nice Yule after all?" he asked.
"Yes, Uncle, I did. But I wish you could have enjoyed it with us."
Bilbo smiled at him fondly. "Oh, but I did, my lad, I did." He finished off the pudding, and Frodo put the bowl on the nightstand.
Bilbo patted the covers beside him, and Frodo came over to lay down next to him. He soon dozed off, his head pillowed on Bilbo's chest. Bilbo smiled at him tenderly, and soon dozed off himself.
Not long after, the door opened, and Esmeralda and Saradoc glanced in. Esme went over and took a coverlet to lay over Frodo, and backed out of the room.
"I think Merry will have to stay in his own bed tonight," she said with a smile, closing the door.
HAPPY HOBBITY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!