Bell's Table by elwen of the hidden valley

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Author's Chapter Notes:

This is one of the new chapters in the tale

“Can you pour the tea, Frodo?”

Frodo lifted the lid and stirred the fragrant contents of the teapot.  “Yes Bilbo.  I can manage that at least,” he replied a little ruefully.  Even this had to be done slowly for he was naturally right handed and that was the arm in splints.  His left wrist sported a supporting bandage too, although the pain and swelling had reduced considerably in the past few days.

Bilbo added a couple of rashers of bacon to each plate while Frodo filled their cups and joined him at the table.  Just as he was reaching for the milk jug there was a loud knock at the kitchen door.  “Sticklebacks!”  There was nothing more frustrating to a hobbit than being interrupted when about to tuck into second breakfast.

Grinning, Frodo went to answer the summons.  “Hello, Mister Gamgee.  What can I do for you?”

Hamfast tugged at his forelock and held out a handful of letters.  “Me and Halfred met the postmaster on his way up the hill so we said we’d delivery these for him.”

“Thank you, Ham,” Bilbo called from the table, where he was cutting up Frodo’s bacon for him.  “I’ll pop out after breakfast to have a word with you about the roses.”

“Aye, Mister Bilbo, sir.  Me and Halfred will get on with the weedin’ ‘til then.”

Frodo settled down at his place just as Bilbo finished cutting the bacon and he nodded thanks as he handed over the post.  Bilbo grabbed a mouthful of scrambled egg before sifting through the envelopes. 

“There’s one for you.”  He handed over a cream envelope and Frodo accepted it with raised brows.  It was the first letter he had received since moving to Bag End and he recognised Aunt Esmeralda’s round script at once.

He tore open the envelope and perused the single sheet of paper it contained, his brows drawing down now.  “It seems Aunt Esme has heard about my fall.  She’s asking if we would like to celebrate our birthdays and the Harvest Home at Brandy Hall.”

Bilbo looked up a little sheepishly.   “I’m afraid I was the one who told her.  I thought it would be better to hear it directly from me than through gossip.  I suspect that by the time the gossip reached Buckland, Esme would be told that you had broken every bone in your body when I flung you from a tree.”

Frodo had to grin, knowing only too well how the gossip tree worked.  He forked up a piece of bacon, judging it a little crispy for his liking but grateful that Bilbo was willing to take the greater share of the work at present. 

“Would you like to go back and visit, lad?  We can if you wish.”

Frodo did not need to consider for too long.  “I feel as though I’ve only been here five minutes.  I think I’d like to celebrate our birthday here this year.  If that’s alright with you.”

When Bilbo did not reply Frodo looked up to find his uncle reading a letter on the same cream paper.  “I have a letter from Saradoc,” he announced baldly.

“You don’t sound very happy about that,” Frodo observed with growing concern.

“Esme’s letter may have been a suggestion but Sara is not so diplomatic.  We have been summoned to Buckland.  It seems he is concerned about my ‘parenting skills’.

Frodo set down his fork, suddenly losing interest in his breakfast.  “Oh dear.  I am so sorry, Bilbo.  This is all my fault for being careless.”

Bilbo threw down the letter.  “Nonsense, lad.  It was an accident . . .pure and simple.  Saradoc was never happy about your adoption.  He thinks this crusty old bachelor has no right to be looking after a tween.”

“Well, he’s wrong!  I love being with you.”

Bilbo sighed.  “I’m afraid there’s nothing for it.  I’ll send Halfred over to Bywater to deliver a message for Tom Carter.  He will still be around after delivering the mail and if he’s heading back Buckland way he may be able to take us as passengers.”  He nodded to Frodo’s arm.  “You’re in no fit state yet to walk all that way.”


It seemed to Frodo that half the occupants of Brandy Hall were gathered at the large front door to greet them.  Esmeralda was smiling and ran forward to kiss his cheek and then envelope him in a careful hug.  She held him at arm’s length for a moment to study him.  “Well, you look a little tired but otherwise well,” she pronounced with a knowing glance aside to her husband.

Saradoc was not smiling as he shook Bilbo’s hand.  Others came forward to greet the pair and then, suddenly, there was a shriek and a tiny figure bolted forward, flinging his arms about Frodo’s waist.  “Frodo!”

Frodo staggered under the momentum of his attacker but recovered quickly.  “Hello, Merry!”

“Up!” the faunt demanded, reaching up his arms.

“I’m afraid I can’t, Merry dear.”  Frodo could almost feel the ice coming off the glare Saradoc gave Bilbo.  “I’ve hurt my arm.”

Merry’s eyes widened as Frodo pointed to his arm, in its sling.  He had made a conscious decision to discard the bandage on his other wrist the day before, aware that Saradoc needed no further ammunition.  The little lad reached up to touch the sling, stroking gently along Frodo’s forearm.  “Poor Frodo,” he pronounced as he turned to his mother.  “Mama, kiss it better,” he demanded, with all the faith of any faunt in the healing power of a mother’s love.

Esmeralda tucked her son into her skirts.  “I’ll kiss it later.  But I think what Frodo needs now is a wash, something to eat and a nap.”

Saradoc motioned for them to enter the hall.  “While you see to that, Bilbo and I will have a chat.”

Bilbo offered Frodo a wink when the lad looked as though he would protest their separation.  “You go ahead with your Aunt, Frodo.  I’ll see you at supper.”


Saradoc led Bilbo into his study, it’s neatness a strong contrast to Bilbo’s eclectic muddle.  For some minutes, they talked stiltedly of the weather and travel, the state of the crops and whether Eglantine Took’s recently announced pregnancy would finally produce a male heir for the Thain.  The older hobbit recognised this for what it was . . . a delaying tactic . . . and played along readily enough.

Esmeralda swept in a few minutes later with a smile and a flurry of fine lace petticoats.  “There now.  I’ve put you and Frodo in the blue room.  I thought you’d like to share and it’s a nice big room.”  She smiled, her green eyes filled with warmth. “I’ve left Frodo unpacking.”

Saradoc bristled, “On his own . . . with only one good arm?”

Esmeralda rolled her eyes as she began to pour a fine red wine into three glasses.  “He’s only broken the one arm, dear.  He’ll manage well enough.”

Bilbo settled onto a settee, hiding a smirk, but Saradoc noticed and it was all that was needed to let slip his temper at last.  “He shouldn’t have to manage.  That’s the whole point.”  He sat down bristling at Bilbo across the clear expanse of his huge polished desk.

His wife handed him a glass of Winyards, turning to perch on a corner of the desk, between the two protagonists, before offering Bilbo his.  “Frodo’s always been a very capable lad, Sara,” she responded calmly.

“Capable of getting into mischief you mean.”  Saradoc took a large swallow from his glass and Bilbo cringed at the blatant disregard for such a beautifully mellow wine.

Esmeralda chuckled.  “We used to call him the Terror of Brandy Hall.  If there was trouble to be had, Frodo Baggins would find it.”

Seeing now, how the land lay with Esmeralda and Saradoc Bilbo relaxed a little, taking a moment to savour a sip of wine before making his own observation.  He couldn’t resist bating Saradoc, however.  The fellow was just too, ‘upright’.  “He’s a Baggins, through and through.”  He had to bite his cheek as his words had the desired effect.  He’d always been able to dig himself beneath Saradoc’s skin.

All the anger he had been holding at bay for days bubbled over and Saradoc exploded upward to pace before the row of three round windows behind him.  “I was against this adoption from the start.  That lad’s had enough trouble in his life.  He doesn’t need to be led into any more by ‘Mad Baggins’.”

Esmeralda’s eyes widened as she watched Bilbo, but ‘Mad Baggins’ continued to sip his wine.

“And I have no intention of doing so.  I have had my adventure, and very enjoyable it was.  But Frodo is yet too young to be traipsing off after wizards.”  In truth, Bilbo felt a little uncomfortable with that statement, for there were moments of his adventure that could only truly be considered enjoyable when viewed through the softening lens of time.

When Saradoc began to turn puce his wife stepped in.  “Do stop blustering dear.  You know the doctor says it’s not good for you.”  With a sigh, she led him back to his chair and placed the glass in his hand once more and to his credit, Saradoc allowed her to do so. 

Esmeralda stood at her husband’s shoulder.  “I don’t share Sara’s opinion about the adoption, as you know.  I think the undivided attention of one person is exactly what Frodo needs.  But you really must give him that attention, Bilbo dear.”

Bilbo shifted uncomfortably.  Had he been too absorbed in his own interests?  He confessed that there were occasions, in the middle of a particularly difficult translation, when he lost track of time as well as Frodo.

Noting his hesitation, Esmeralda pressed on.  “I think you and Frodo are good for each other.  He will keep you grounded.” They all winced at that wording.  “And you will keep that sharp mind of his occupied.  It was boredom that was at the root of many of his pranks here.”

Saradoc’s features had faded to a more normal colour as his wife spoke.  Now his tone was exasperated, rather than angry.  “Did you even know he was up a tree?”

Bilbo had regained some of his own composure.  “I did not.  Although he tells me he did so first whilst living here.”

Now it was Saradoc’s turn to squirm for he had not been privy to that particular fact.  Esmeralda laid a gentle hand upon her husband’s shoulder.  “I knew.  As he grew, the ‘Terror’ was slowly replaced by the ‘Scholar’.  That’s another of the reasons I thought you would be so well suited.”

Saradoc laid a hand over hers.  His outbursts of temper were always short lived. “The lad needs nurturing, Bilbo.”

Bilbo nodded.  “I know and I am trying my hardest.  We’re rubbing along nicely most of the time and he’s certainly turning into a very good scholar.”

Saradoc shook his head.  “He’s a tween.  There should be more in his head than books.  Are there any lasses of his age in Hobbiton?” he asked pointedly.

Bilbo blinked.  His own tweenage years had been so long ago that he had forgotten the heady discovery of lasses, the flirting, the uncertainty, the anguish of first rejection.  Frodo had only just entered his tweens though.  Surely there was time for him to grow into that? He had a sudden very sobering thought.  Had Saradoc told Frodo about the birds and the bees?  Was Bilbo expected to tackle that subject?

Noting the thoughts flitting across Bilbo’s face Esmeralda smiled.  “How old were you when you had your first proper kiss, Bilbo?”

Gilly Brownlock’s freckled features formed in Bilbo’s mind.  Now, there had been a willing participant in his first attempts.  Of course, she had been eclipsed by the arrival of Pansy Berrydown in his young life.  Bilbo pushed down the image of glossy chestnut curls and laughing eyes the colour of new holly leaves.  Marriage and faunts had not been for him but Frodo was not Bilbo.  “I don’t remember precisely.”

Saradoc set down his glass.  “We are not telling you to throw him into the arms of the next willing lass, but at least make sure that he gets out and about amongst lads and lasses of his own age.  I know there’s not the choice in a small place like Hobbiton that we have here, but there must be some.  There’s more to life than books and tall tales, Bilbo.”

Half an hour ago Bilbo may have bristled at that last comment but now he considered carefully.  “I suppose I just assumed that, as he showed such an interest in my books, he was getting all he needed.  But you may have a point.  I shall make sure he attends social occasions more often.”

Esmeralda raised finely arched brows.  “And how will you do that, Bilbo dear?”

At first inclined to make some glib comment about shoving the lad out of the door, Bilbo was suddenly reminded of something his father had once told him.  “The best way to teach is not to tell but to show.”

“I suppose we could start by attending Harvest Home here . . . together.”

Esmeralda’s face broke into a smile.  “I think that would be a very good idea.  He can help with the harvest again and get re-acquainted with some of his old friends.”

“And just how is he supposed to help with harvest when he only has one good arm?” her husband enquired with a frown, still a little unwilling to let Bilbo off the hook.

Esmeralda smacked his shoulder playfully.  “He can keep Merry out of trouble for a start.”

Bilbo chuckled.  If he knew Frodo Baggins at all, he suspected that before long he would be getting Merry into far more trouble than he would be keeping him out of.


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