Birthday Present by elwen of the hidden valley

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Story Notes:

I don’t own anything…. Other than my vivid imagination.  I have borrowed from Tolkien the Shire, the characters and the timeframe and from Elijah Woods his endearing, gap toothed smile.  I hope both will indulge me.


Frodo drew his cloak more closely about him and leaned back a little into the shelter of the porch of Bag End.  It had been an unseasonably warm autumn day but, with the sinking of the sun, the temperature had dropped and now, in the full dark of a quiet night, it was growing cold.  But Frodo did not want the temperature to chase him indoors just yet.  That would make an end to the day and he was not ready for that, somehow. 

Through the half open front door the distant snores of his cousins could be heard dimly and he smiled as he swirled the remains of his wine in its glass.  They did not normally make such nocturnal raspings but they had all consumed a little too much wine and Frodo suspected that Pippin and Merry would probably wake up with pounding headaches tomorrow morning.  Sam had left an hour ago, after helping his master tidy up the parlour and, after he had blown out the candles, Frodo had come to sit on the little bench in the porch.

Down the hill, in Hobbiton, what few lights that were still burning in windows this late were slowly blinking out as their owners took to their beds and the piercingly bright autumn stars were coming into their full glory, liberally frosting the deep velvet sky.

Frodo wondered if Bilbo was looking at the same stars too, wherever he was.  He smiled as a thought struck him.  Knowing Bilbo’s love of extravagant birthday parties he would probably still be celebrating well into the early hours of tomorrow and would find no time for such musings.  There had been many times, as a tweenager, when Frodo had fallen asleep in a corner at one of their joint birthday festivities and awoken at dawn to find himself tenderly tucked up in bed.

Tiny bats flitted about the garden, trawling for the red eyed moths and other insects.  The only indication of their presence was a flicker of black against the bright twinkle of the stars.  Suddenly a larger shadow floated silently overhead and came to rest in the ancient apple tree.  The owl tugged at a few feathers for a moment and then launched itself illusively into the night.

The apple tree would need pruning soon.  One last harvest of apples and then Sam would come with ladder and shears to ensure that it was ready for winter.  It’s branches were more gnarled than they had been the first time that he saw it, all those years ago, but the shape was basically the same.  Frodo could even pick out the exact branch he had tumbled from.  There…on the left…only a few feet from the ground.

He set down his glass and examined the gold fob, on its chain, once more.  It had arrived on his doorstep in a little wooden box this morning.   There were no markings on the box to say where it had come from but Frodo had recognised it as soon as he opened it.  Nestled in a wrap of velvet was his uncles gold watch fob and chain.

He held it now, feeling the worn smoothness of the metal.  It was deeply engraved with a design of ivy leaves but its owner had thumbed it so much that the delicate lines had been worn away in places.  Frodo touched his finger to a hidden spring and the little fob popped neatly in half.  Inside were two tiny milk teeth.  Frodo’s tongue moved of its own volition to touch the small gap in his upper front teeth, where the second set had grown through without coming together properly.

Memory took him back to an autumn day many years ago.

OooOOOooo

It was his first visit to his uncle’s smail and a very small Frodo was a little over awed.  To be sure, Brandy Hall was extensive and had its share of grand things, but everything was shared and most of it had a battered, slightly faded, look.  Bag End was different.  Stepping through the bright green door, little Frodo had clung to his Mama’s hand, his impossibly blue eyes, wide.

Exuberantly patterned rugs were scattered haphazardly about the highly polished floor and the dark wood panelling on the walls told of years of polishing…. Their surfaces exuding the rich smell of beeswax.  A fancy brass chandelier hung inside the entrance, its cups set with freshly trimmed pale yellow candles, and carved chests and chairs interspersed the many doorways.  Sunlight caught delicately carved crystal vases, sending a scattering of shifting rainbows about the space.

And in the centre of all this opulence stood Bilbo, no less a picture of elegance himself.  Wearing black velvet trousers and a fine scarlet brocade waistcoat, hung with a thick gold watch chain, he looked every inch the Master of this fine smail and Frodo peeked at him nervously from behind a fold of his Mama’s best skirt.

There were greetings, at which Frodo’s Papa had pushed him forward to shake his uncle’s hand and the little hobbit had complied warily, scooting back to the safety of his Mama when Bilbo reached down to ruffle his dark curls.  Drogo was cross and Primula a little embarrassed but Bilbo only laughed softly and ushered them into the dining room for luncheon.

The food was lovely but poor little Frodo spent a great deal of the meal watching his Mama in order to decide which cutlery to use for each course.  It was a great relief to him when everyone pushed back their chairs and he was shooed away to play in the garden while the grown ups sat down to talk.  Frodo wondered what it was that grown ups thought to talk about so much.

He found the tree at once…its low branches begging to be climbed into.  It took him several attempts and the skinning of one knee to work out the best route up the trunk but half an hour later he was sitting proudly astride one of the lower branches.  There he sat; day dreaming of great adventures scaling mountains or exploring dark forests, for several hours.  So wrapped up in his musings was he that he did not hear his Mama’s first few calls.

It was only when Bilbo’s voice was added, from much closer at hand, that the young hobbit realised that he was being called to the birthday tea.  In his haste to climb down his foot slipped and he tumbled, head over heals, onto the grass below, his mouth landing hard upon his outstretched hand.  For a moment he felt nothing but surprise and then he tasted the salt of blood in his mouth and, raising his head, saw the growing pool of blood covering his small hand.  His first startled breath was exhaled as a loud howl and hot tears sprang from frightened eyes.

Bilbo was there in seconds, lifting Frodo gently to his feet and pulling the little one’s hand away from his mouth to try and assess the damage but Frodo was having none of this stranger’s attentions.  Only his Mama would do and he tugged free and, still wailing loudly, ran to her waiting arms.  No-one saw Bilbo stoop to pick up something from the grass and wrap it in his hanky.

When Primula finally managed to coax Frodo’s hand away from the hurt the damage was immediately clear for all to see.  The two upper front teeth were missing.  Frodo’s loud wails had brought Drogo running from the smial and he it was that scooped up his child and carried him to the parlour, laying him upon a couch by the fire.  Bilbo brought a bowl of cold water and some cloths to staunch the blood but Frodo was only vaguely aware of him as Primula gently pressed the cold cloth to his gum.

As the pain and shock faded Frodo’s sobs subsided into hiccups and, finally worn out with crying, he dozed off.  His last conscious awareness was of his Mama’s soft fingers combing through his hair.

When next he awoke he was lying in a very big bed; at least it seemed so to little Frodo.  The bed was in a dark, wood panelled room, with a cheery fire dancing in the grate and long velvet curtains drawn across the window.  Feather pillows cradled his aching head and down filled quilts were tucked about him, nesting him in warmth and softness.

Slowly, he blinked awake, searching for his Mama or Papa, but the only other person in the room was Bilbo.  Frodo swallowed.

“Where’s Mama?”  His voice quavered, the words slightly slurred by the missing teeth and swollen gum.

Bilbo smiled, his brown eyes gentle.  “It is very late, Frodo.  I said I would sit with you while they slept for a few hours.  They have sat at your bedside for most of the evening."

“Oh.”  A growing urgency made Frodo squirm a little and his uncle noticed at once.

“Are you uncomfortable, little one?”

Frodo thought for a moment.  It was not the sort of thing one discussed with a stranger.  But he really did need to take care of the matter soon and he was not sure when his parents would be returning.

“I am sorry, Uncle Bilbo but…but…. I need to…to go.”  He announced, turning a bright pink.

“Oh.  I see.”  Bilbo replied, trying not to laugh at the lad’s embarrassment.  “That’s alright, Frodo lad.”  He tugged one of the quilts off the bed, then pulled back the rest of the covers and wrapped Frodo in it.  Picking the little bundle up easily he then carried him down the hallway to the indoor privy.  Once there he set his charge down, untangled him from the quilt and waited outside the door while Frodo took care of what needed doing.

When the Frodo’s came out, Bilbo bundled him up again and carried him back to his warm nest.  The young hobbit found he rather liked being held in his Uncle’s strong arms, his head resting against his silk clad shoulder.  Bilbo smelled comfortably of pipe weed and lavender soap.  Once back in his room, Bilbo had him settled back in his bed within moments and tucked in.  The older hobbit crossed to the hearth, returning with a small cup.

“You had no supper, lad.  Would you like some broth?  It’s not too hot.”

Frodo accepted the cup in both his hands, inhaling the savoury smell of chicken and herbs.  He sipped it gingerly, wincing when the warm liquid touched his torn gum.  But the delicate taste of the broth outweighed the slight pain and soon he was drinking gratefully, his stomach growling in thanks.  When the cup was empty Bilbo refilled it from a pot on the hearth.

“Feeling a little better, now?”  Bilbo asked, settling back in his chair at the bedside.

“Yes, thank you.”  Actually it sounded more like, “Yeth…. Thank you.” But Bilbo made no comment.

When the second cup was emptied Bilbo helped his nephew settle down again.  “Do you think you could go back to sleep for a while?  It is quite a way until dawn.”

“I’m not really sleepy” Frodo announced automatically.  It was the response he gave his parents every night.  It did not work on them; they simply turned the lamp down and called goodnight.  Perhaps it would work on Bilbo and he would let him stay awake a little longer.

“Alright.  What would you like to do?  I could tell you a story?” 

Frodo groaned, inwardly.  When his Auntie Esmeralda told stories there was always some awful moral at the end.  Doubtless Uncle Bilbo had one that warned of the dangers of climbing trees.  Still, it was dark, so he could hardly go and play outside.  He managed a weak smile.

“That would be nice, Uncle.”

“Well now.  Let me see.”  Bilbo laid a finger down the side of his cheek as he thought and a twinkle filled his eyes.  “Would you like to hear the tale of how I got to meet a wizard, some dwarves, some elves, trolls, giant spiders, talking birds, a dragon…oh, and then there was the great battle.”

Frodo’s eyes grew as wide as saucers.  “Yes, pleath, Uncle Bilbo.”

“Well, it all began with me having a quiet smoke outside the door to Bag End…do stop me if you’ve heard the tale, wont you.”

Frodo nodded, although he was quite sure he would find no need to halt his storyteller He actually fell asleep just before the meeting with the spiders and Bilbo blew out the candles and waited at the lad’s bedside until Drogo crept in just before dawn.

For the rest of Frodo’s visit he and Bilbo were inseparable.   At every opportunity the little faunt would curl up in his Uncle’s lap and demand another instalment of the tale of his journey to the Lonely Mountain.  That had been the beginning of a relationship that had deepened and grown over many years.

oooOOOooo

Frodo smiled and closed the fob once more.  Dear Bilbo.  He reclaimed his glass and lifted it to the stars in salute before downing the last mouthful.

“Happy birthday, Bilbo.”

And somewhere in his imagination he heard a familiar voice replying,

“Happy birthday, Frodo my lad.”

 

THE END.




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