3. A Great Smoke Went Up
He took the proffered cup of icy water with a smile. ‘Thankee, Gaffer,’ he said, and sipped. ‘My, the tea gets finer each day.’
‘Trick is to catch the kettle just on the boil, and steep the leaves just the right number of minutes,’ the old hobbit said. ‘Some folk let all the life boil out of the water, and then the tea tastes flat.’
‘Real pity, that,’ Freddy agreed with another sip. He tried to persuade his stomach that each sip of water was a part of a very pleasant feast, in fact, an engrossing entertainment: rich, abundant, varied, and prolonged. By the time he reached the bottom of the cup, he’d be as full as he was at Bilbo’s Birthday Party, when the Speech began.
‘Peregrin Took, do you mean to say you went out the back way and came through the gate again?’ Fatty scolded. ‘Merry, I thought you were keeping an eye on him!’
‘Lobelia S.-B. grabbed my arm to give me a piece of her mind,’ Merry said in self-defence. ‘It wasn’t so bad when Pip was standing behind her, mimicking her every move, but then he slipped away, and Mistress Lobelia fixed me with that eye of hers and said, “And where d’you think you’re going off to, young hobbit? I haven’t finished with you yet!” and it was all I could do to stand there and nod upon occasion.’
‘I got two presents!’ Pippin announced proudly. He had come through the front gate twice, where Bilbo was handing out birthday presents to the arriving guests, and Bilbo hadn’t seemed to notice that the young Took had already been through one time. ‘This one’s magical, look! You put a coin in front of the dragon’s mouth... d’you have a coin, Merry?’ he asked, all innocence.
Knowing better, Merry nevertheless fished a coin out of his pocket, feeling the various discs until his fingers distinguished a copper penny, slightly larger than a silver penny, but not as valuable. ‘Here you are, Pip.’
‘Put the coin on the stone in front of the dragon’s mouth,’ Pippin said importantly. Merry obeyed. A puff of steam came from the dragon’s mouth, and when it cleared, the coin was gone.
‘Where did it go?’ Merry said.
Pippin laughed with delight. ‘It’s in his hoard!’ he said. He turned the box over, worked a latch, and opened a small door to show several coins inside. When Merry reached for one of the coppers, Pippin closed the door. ‘No you don’t!’ he said. ‘Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons! You know what might happen!’
‘But my penny—‘ Merry protested, more bemused than upset.
‘How does it work?’ Fatty asked. ‘I’d like to see that again.’
‘Do you have a coin?’ Pippin asked ingenuously.
Fatty fished a coin out of his pocket; a silver penny this time, and Pippin’s eyes gleamed.
‘Fatty,’ Merry warned. Fatty turned his face towards Merry and winked the eye that Pippin couldn’t see.
‘Put the coin on the stone,’ Pippin said, and Fatty complied. There was a puff of steam, and the coin was gone. Fatty’s eyebrows went up, and he said, ‘A neat trick, cousin. You ought to make a good haul if you go round the party and show off your new toy.’
‘I will!’ Pippin said, and soon was to be seen showing off his new toy to another gaggle of cousins.
‘What--?’ Merry said.
Fatty turned a bland eye on him. ‘At least he won’t go out the back way and come through the gate a third time,’ he said.
There were songs, dances, music, games, and of course, food and drink. Fatty was able to eat all he wanted, for the first time ever, without his father complaining that the Bolger hoard would be seriously depleted by the cost of the food. Of course, he sat down together with all the other guests at luncheon and tea, but in-between-times he didn’t stop eating. As a matter of fact, he ate continuously from elevenses until six-thirty, when the fireworks started and the display made him stop, for of course one can hardly chew and swallow food when one’s mouth is wide-opened in wonder.
Of course, Merry and Frodo procured for Pippin the brightest of the dwarf-candles and elf-fountains, and the loudest of the squibs, crackers, goblin-barkers and thunder-claps, and the young Took made quite a nuisance of himself at one point, nearly setting fire to the fur on old Odo Proudfoot’s right foot when he lit off a string of crackers without checking to see if the area around him was clear. However, old Odo was so busy watching glowing flowers dropping from the sky at the time, smelling their sweet scent as they disappeared before his nose, that he didn’t notice any smell of singed hair and only the next morning wondered what had happened to the fur on his right big toe.
Fatty saw Estella and some other little girls her age waving sparklers and moved away before his mother could collar him to watch his sister. Just then, the lights went out. A great smoke went up and formed itself into a mountain, out of which a small but very realistic dragon emerged and whizzed over the heads of the crowd. Though Fatty’s mind told him that a real dragon would be much bigger, he ducked with the rest when the dragon flew over, turned a somersault, and burst over Bywater with a deafening explosion.
‘That is the signal for supper!’ Bilbo said, and Fatty cheered with the rest. He sat by Merry, with Pippin between them. Lovely crackers graced each plate. The guests sat down, crossed arms, and took hold of the crackers between them, and as everyone chanted together, “One! Two! Three!” they pulled. With a pop, the crackers opened. The guests examined the contents, many of which were small musical instruments, of perfect make and enchanting tones, marked “Dale”. There was a murmur of pleasure, but more important matters took precedence (food). The guests put on their colourful paper crowns and settled down to the feast. What a feast it was! Fatty ate more in one sitting, if possible, than he had the whole day up to that point. He was practically in a daze, but still sipping at a sweet beverage of mixed juices and nibbling at dainties when Bilbo stepped up to give his speech.
It started out conventionally enough, all obvious stuff, and Fatty applauded with the rest, shouting when he thought it appropriate. Pippin had fallen asleep with his head on the table partway through the feast, and now he blinked, sleepy-eyed, as his relatives shouted, ‘Hear! Hear! Hear!’ at the commencement of the Speech. Merry put a reassuring hand on Pippin’s shoulder, and he stretched and snuggled close, watching with wondering eyes as the Speech progressed.
Finally, Bilbo said, I am eleventy-one today!
‘Hurray!’ Merry shouted, and Pippin added his young voice. ‘Hurray!’ They both waved their serviettes in celebration.
‘Many happy returns!’ Fatty shouted, not to be outdone.
I hope you are all enjoying yourselves as much as I am. Fatty, Merry, and Pippin joined in the deafening cheer. Pippin seemed thoroughly awake, now, and ready for mischief. He picked up the flute from his cracker and blew an ear-piercing trill, while Merry picked up his horn and practically blasted Fatty’s ears out.
Some young Brandybucks and Tooks, off in one of the corners, supposed Bilbo to be finished. After all, he had plainly said all that needed to be said. They struck up a merry dance tune, and one dashing young Took began to dance the Springle-ring upon a table-top with a pretty young Brandybuck.
Bilbo deftly seized Merry’s horn and blew three loud hoots. The noise subsided. Fatty wasn’t really paying attention, now, for he was feeling rather sleepy himself, and for the first time in his life he was perfectly sated and satisfied, though he nibbled at a biscuit out of habit. He paid Bilbo no mind until the old hobbit shouted ANNOUNCEMENT, and then, really, he was more annoyed than anything else, for he was drifting happily on a dream of loaded platters and never-empty plates.
Fatty became slightly more alert when Bilbo shouted, END, and he was nearly paying attention as the Speech came to its conclusion. I am going. I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!
Bilbo stepped down and vanished. There was a blinding flash of light, and Fatty blinked. When he opened his eyes, Bilbo was nowhere to be seen. There was a deep silence, lasting several breaths, and then every hobbit in the place was trying to talk at once.
‘What in the world?’ Fatty breathed, fully awake.
‘I think I know,’ Merry said.
‘What, then?’ Fatty insisted, while Pippin pulled at Merry’s arm demanding not to be left out.
‘Tell you later,’ Merry said, and they could not get him to say any more for the nonce.
‘Something’s happening,’ Robin said nervously. He was watching from inside the cave mouth. The rebels had been able to hold off the ruffians with well-aimed stones, of which there was no dearth in the cave, and a few well-placed arrows, though obviously they were much more careful with these. The cave did not provide more arrows, of course, and they did not want to run short.
His older cousin squeezed his shoulder. ‘Keep watch,’ Budgie said firmly. ‘I’ll let Mr Freddy know.’
Before he got halfway to where the entrance opened into the main room, there was no need to inform Fredegar. Smouldering bundles were tossed into the cave entrance, letting off rank smoke. The choking hobbits at first tried to run forward, to grab the bundles and toss them back, but arrows fired into the cave drove them away from the entrance, and they retreated towards the back door, only to encounter more smoke.
Fredegar, thinking quickly, soaked a handkerchief in a bucket and covered his mouth, shouting orders to the others to do the same. He couldn’t do anything about the stinging of his eyes from the acrid smoke, however, and even through the wet handkerchief, breathing was difficult.
‘What are we going to do?’ Rocky shouted.
‘I’m open to suggestions,’ Freddy returned, and then went into a coughing fit. The rest were coughing as well, strangling on the smoke.
‘D’you want to die sooner, or later?’ Old Oakleaf choked. ‘Iffen we stay in here, it’ll be sooner, is my way of thinking!’
He was right. Though it was difficult to admit defeat, Freddy raised his voice. ‘Everybody out!’ he shouted. ‘Out right now!’ Coughing, choking, blind and gasping, the hobbits stumbled from the cave.
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.