Up the Withywindle by Dreamflower

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UP THE WITHYWINDLE

 

 

CHAPTER 1

Meriadoc Brandybuck was sitting on the front step of his little house at Crickhollow enjoying his morning pipe, basking in the Forelithe sun, and thinking about a bit of second breakfast. Pippin was still asleep, the slug-a-bed. Maybe the smell of toast and sausage might rouse him.

Just then Merry heard a slight sound at the end of the walk. For a brief instant he tensed and his hand sought the sword that was no longer at his side. Then his hobbit-sense asserted itself; no threat was here. Just a good neighbor.

“Ho, there, Mr. Maggot! What brings you across the River today?”

“Well, Mr. Merry, I did stop over at Brandy Hall for to speak with your father about the coming harvest, but really, it was you I wanted a word with.”

“Me?” Merry laughed. “I promise I’ve not been trespassing after your mushrooms again!”

The old farmer’s eyes twinkled. “Aye, Mr. Merry, that I know. No, I’ve a bit of a message for you from a mutual acquaintance, as you might say.”

Merry chuckled. “You will have to narrow that down a bit. We have a great many mutual acquaintances.”

“Well, this one is a cheerful chap with a quaint way of speaking. Usually wears a blue jacket and yellow boots--”

“Old Tom Bombadil!” Merry’s exclamation of surprise was echoed by a familiar voice behind him. He turned to see his cousin Pippin standing in the doorway, still pulling up his braces.

“Aye!” grinned the farmer. “Old Tom Bombadil. He wanted me to tell you this: seeing as how you and your friends are back home from furrin places, he’d not mind the chance to see all of you again. If you and your friends are a-wishing to visit, he will meet you in the Bonfire Glade on the first of the Lithedays. He said to tell you that it might bring a bit of cheer to one who is weary and sad.”

______________________________________________________

Sam closed the door to Bag End and glanced at the two letters in his hand.

“Mr. Frodo, the post has been. Look here, we’ve both got letters from Crickhollow.” He stepped from the hall to the front room, where Frodo sat listlessly in a chair pretending to read. Sam knew that he was pretending, as he’d not seen a page turn over in nearly half an hour.

“Mr. Frodo?”

“Oh. Sorry, Sam, I heard you. Well, let’s see what Merry and Pippin want, shall we?” He took his letter from Sam, who then sat down on the chair opposite, to open his own missive.

“Well, what do you know! Mr. Frodo--we’ve been invited to visit old Tom Bombadil along with Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin!”

Frodo glanced up from his own letter, and his face lit briefly into a smile as he recalled that strange creature who was their first encounter beyond the borders of the Shire. Old Tom, Master of himself--even the Ring had no dominion over him. The light went out. The passivity returned.

Sam’s mind worked like lightning. In the last few years, he had learned to read his master better and more quickly than any book. He couldn’t be let to turn down this invitation--he needed to be taken out of himself, he did. Well, Sam knew how to handle it.

Putting just the right amount of enthusiasm into his voice: “They want us to come for the Lithedays. That’s great! Rosie and her mum are taking Elanor to Michel Delving to visit with her great-grandmother all that week. Oh, ’twill be fine to see Old Tom again! Won’t it Mr. Frodo?” He locked eyes with Frodo, looking as innocent as possible.

Frodo, no fool, knew what was up. If he turned down the invitation, Sam, who obviously did want to go, would also refuse, thereby making his master feel guilty for depriving him. And really, would it be so awful to go with his cousins to see Old Tom Bombadil and his Lady Goldberry? It was just that it was so much effort. Not any more effort, though, than telling Sam ’no’. He looked at Sam’s expectant face.

“Blackmail…” muttered Frodo.

“What’s that, sir?” Sam asked, though he’d heard it perfectly well.

“I said ’yes’, Sam. Yes. It will be fine.”

Thus it was that a few days later, Frodo and Sam found themselves at Crickhollow. The two had made it an easy trip by pony, stopping over at inns along the way. Still, Frodo was weary from the journey, and retired soon after the four had shared an early supper.

Merry, Pippin and Sam sat about the table still, picking at the remains of the meal, “filling up the corners” in hobbit-fashion. Of course, as soon as he was no longer in the room, Frodo became the topic of conversation.

“Well, Sam,” said Pippin, playing briefly with a piece of cheese before popping it into his mouth “How is he doing?”

“Right *now*,” Sam replied with emphasis, “well enough. But he seems to have lost what little interest he had in anything; the only thing ever seems to perk him up any at all is Elanor. He’s been going downhill ever since spring.”

Frodo thought he had pulled the wool over his friends’ eyes during his last illness in Rethe, though it was his worst bout yet; he never realized that they were keeping watch over him secretly. But it had been very difficult; they had each had their own ghosts haunting them during that same time. Rethe was a very bad time for all of them. At one point, Merry had been as ill as Frodo, making Pippin and Sam frantic. It had not helped that Rosie was due to deliver Elanor at almost the same time. But somehow they had managed.

Merry shook his head sadly. He knew that Pippin and Sam had hoped being at home would somehow bring back the Frodo they had known before the Quest, but he’d not ever had much hope of that. Merry’s only hope was that somehow his cousin’s good days would eventually outnumber the bad; now that did not look likely either. Frodo had gone downhill rapidly after each of his anniversary illnesses.

“I’m not sure what prompted old Tom Bombadil to give us an invitation at this time, but he seemed to indicate that it would do Frodo some good; it certainly can’t hurt anything,” he said.

“Well, I hope you’re right.” answered Sam. “I can’t say as I’m looking forward to going through the Old Forest, but you said in your letter that it might help Mr. Frodo, and if it does, it would be worth it, even if it is a bit uncomfortable.”




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