22. Frodo's Birthday
Sam went to the door when Fosco Boffin and Fatty came – Mr. Fosco and Mr. Fredegar, as Sam reminded me at least four times that afternoon.
"You sound just like Da," I told him at last, more than half annoyed. "You nag me about it one more time, Sam, and I'll call him Fatty to his face – which is what he told me to call him, after all, so I doubt he'll take exception!"
"When he was three parts stewed, remember," he said in that quiet voice of his. "You wouldn't do that, Rosie – make it look like Mr. Frodo had some half-trained tween waiting table for his guests, not the prettiest, best lass in the Shire." And left me not knowing whether to kiss him for the compliment, or not speak to him the rest of the day for the part about the "half-trained tween". Before I could decide one way or the other, the doorbell rang and he went to let them in.
The dinner went like clockwork, from the grilled mushrooms in the parlor to whet their appetites, to the birthday cake with its mounds of whipped cream and glasses of sherry at the end. Sam's roast was cooked to perfection, and the pudding rose to heights of glory and collapsed in golden tenderness, exactly as it should.
"No more sherry for me, thank you, Mari – er, Sam," Fatty said, covering his glass with one broad hand. "I believe I've had enough." He winked at me, and I grinned. Sam's mouth was twitching and his shoulders shaking as he tried to hold in his laughter, and just then Pippin caught sight of him.
"What's the matter, Sam? You look as if you're about to have a fit – does he have fits, Rose? He never did in all our journey – must be married life brings them on!"
Sam turned away to hide his face, but the laugh burst out of him anyway, and that set Fatty and me off as well. Fatty leaned back in his chair, the very image of well-fed good humour, and laughed aloud, and Sam set down the decanter and kept his face turned toward the wall, trying to regain a straight face. I hung on his arm, giggling helplessly, and the others looked at the three of us with such expressions of bafflement that it started us off all over again.
"I'd say it must've been the mushrooms, Frodo, only it doesn't seem to have affected the rest of us," Merry observed conversationally. "It can't be marriage, Pippin – Fatty is still single, you know."
"I don't think it's the mushrooms, and if it's marriage, I have to say Sam's shown no signs of it until now." said Mr. Frodo. "I think they have some private joke, and it's time they let us in on it. Sam?"
Sam shook his head. "S'not my story," he said, still struggling with laughter. "You'll have to get Mr. Fredegar to tell you, if he's willing. Wouldn't be fitting for no one else."
Frodo looked at Fatty under his brows. "All right, Fredegar, time to come clean. You've only been out and about since Mid-summer; I'd hardly think you've had time to get in any scrapes, and you never did get in many, even as a tween. Of course, I wouldn't have named you as the hobbit most likely to lead the Shire in rebellion against the ruffians, either, so it just shows how mistaken we can be in our friends."
Fatty pulled himself together and began telling the story of our visit to him, Mari and me, the mushroom pie and the ale, and the sherry – and the secrets we had wormed out of him. By the end of the tale, the others were laughing as heartily as we had been. Sam poured a last round of wine, and they toasted Mr. Frodo and Mr. Bilbo, away in Rivendell, before they got up from the table and headed into the parlor for the present-giving.
"Can you just put everything to soak now, Rose, and come join us? Otherwise we'll wait until you've finished cleaning up." Frodo met Sam's look. "Dinner's over, Sam, and you served us beautifully, you and Rose. Now it's presents, and I want all my friends to keep my birthday with me."
"All right, Mr. Frodo. Just leave everything, Rosie; I'll help you with it later."
Frodo poked his head in the kitchen door as he passed. "Come along, Fosco lad, I've got a present for you as well. You'd better come join us." He held out his hand and Fos ran to him, and they led the rest of us into the parlor.
"Youngest first," he said, when the fire was blown up bright on the hearth and we were all settled round it. Fosco was sitting on the floor by his feet, and Frodo handed him a small wooden box of some beautiful wood, highly polished. Fos opened it carefully and took out a small golden ring with an opaque black stone, an ornate letter F deeply carved into it. He looked up at Mr. Frodo with eyes of wonder – I'm sure he'd never in his life thought of owning such a thing.
"It was mine when I was a lad – a signet ring for you, Fosco, to seal your letters, now that you know how to write." He smiled a little. "I almost hesitate to give a ring, on my birthday, but I promise there's no magic attached to this one! Try it on, Fos, see if it fits."
It did, and it warmed my heart to see Fosco turning his hand this way and that to admire it on his hand. It might have looked better on the young Frodo's scholarly hand – Fosco's hands were stubby-fingered and chapped from outdoor work – but the lad's delight in the beautiful thing was a joy to see. I thought, not for the first time, what a difference the master had made in this child's life.
I came out of my thoughts to find that Pippin had received a black velvet waistcoat with the White Tree of Gondor embroidered in silver thread on the pocket, very neat and elegant. There was a like one in deep forest green for Merry, with an embroidered golden horse.
"So you can wear the emblems of your knighthood, even in ordinary hobbit attire," Mr. Frodo said, and you could hear in his voice how proud he was of his cousins.
Folco received a graceful pipe of Elven make, bound with silver, and a soft leather pouch of the best Longbottom Leaf, and he lit up immediately and sat smoking with a smile of perfect contentment.
"I had a time thinking what to give you, Fatty," Frodo said seriously. "There's not much you need, unless it's another fast pony for your stables, and that's a bit above my touch! But I think this will show you what I think of your activities during the Troubles, though I hope you'll never have occasion to use it."
Fatty gave him a questioning look and accepted a bulky package wrapped in soft cloth. He opened it to reveal a scabbard and belt of worked leather, the scabbard decorated with Elven letters that shone like silver. Fatty traced them with his finger, saying,
"You'll have to translate for me, Frodo. I'm afraid I don't read Elvish."
"It says 'Defender'. A proper title for the one who led the fight for freedom, when he could have sat home in safety." He bit his lip and continued in a low voice, "I was so terribly ashamed to find my own cousin had caused so much suffering and ruin to the Shire. I hardly felt I could hold up my head, and then I heard another cousin – you, Fatty – had been leading the resistance, and that was some consolation. Thank you, Fredegar."
"Only doing what you would have done yourself, Frodo. What you were doing, at the ends of the earth! Don't think about Lotho – there's a few bad apples in every family."
"Even among the Elves," Sam said somberly. "No need to be ashamed of your kin, Mr. Frodo. Your family's been the salvation of the Shire, taken all in all."
Frodo reddened, but he looked pleased. "Enough, Sam! At least maybe enough of us worked for the good of the Shire, to outweigh Lotho's mischief. And I couldn't have done my part without a certain Gamgee. This is for you."
Sam's gift was wrapped in fabric as Fatty's had been, and I wondered for a moment what had become of the carved wooden bird from the Fair. Maybe Mr. Frodo hadn't been able to buy it after all. But when Sam opened his gift, the little bird was there, perched on the edge of her nest, and he broke into a wide smile.
"There now, I know who put you up to this, Mr. Frodo! Rosie and me looked at it together, me just wishing I could carve such a thing! I'll set it on my chest of drawers to see first thing every morning – it's good luck, too, to have a nesting bird in the house, did you know that?"
Frodo laughed. "I've already got more luck that any hobbit needs or deserves, with friends like all of you here. Now, Rosie."
"Wait, Mr. Frodo – I don't think Sam saw the rest of his present." I reached into the rumpled fabric that had held the wooden bird, and shook out the extra padding that had protected it. "Look, Sam!" It was a vest, the same style as Sam always wore on holidays, but made of fine, soft suede. It had a little watch pocket, and embroidered on it was a tiny silver tree with golden blossoms – a mallorn.
"Now Mr. Frodo, that's too much, you know, two presents!" Sam began, but Frodo cut him off.
"No, the bird is your present, Sam. This is just a return, you might say – thanks for the loan of your cloak in Mordor." He held up his hand as Sam started to protest again. "I wouldn't be here celebrating this birthday, if not for you, Sam Gamgee. I can't repay you, but let me at least say thank you!"
He stretched out his hand to Sam, and Sam gripped it tight for a moment. "Now, Rosie!" Mr. Frodo said, turning to me.
My gift was the book with the golden dragon on the cover, that I had seen him buying at Overlithe Fair. I hadn't really looked at it then – well, it was none of my business, after all – but now I looked close at it, I marveled. The cover was real leather, and when I opened it up I found that among the pages of print were at least a dozen pictures in full, glowing color. A dragon, like the one on the cover, and a knight in armor confronting it with a sword. A man leading a blindfolded woman through what looked like an underground cavern. A city of many buildings about to be engulfed by a monstrous wave. I looked again at the cover. "Hero Tales for Young Folk," was printed in gold letters under the dragon.
"Can you read it, Rosie? Try the first page," Frodo said.
I turned to the first story. "There was an island that stood high above the Sea, and its king was a Man both good and wise. And the king had a son, noble and proud of face, who loved the Sea.' I can, Mr. Frodo! I can read this!"
"Good for you, Rosie! Here, let me see." Sam leaned over my shoulder, turning pages and looking at the pictures.
"Sam has a book of Elven tales, so I got you stories of Men, Rosie. You can read them now, and someday you can share them with your children."
"I will, Mr. Frodo. But aren't there any books about hobbits?"
He laughed. "I think we will have to write those ourselves, Rose. And they'll be tales of home and field, for the most part, not of war and high adventure. Something we can all be thankful for – the perilous deeds are good to read about, before a warm fire on a stormy night, but no pleasure to live through."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.