9. Finally the Epic Begins
Gildor pulled out the Shire Gazette. Frodo took it and scanned a short article about some magician dying in some gutter somewhere. On front page blazed a photograph of Frodo, Sam and Pippin with the headline "Move – Mad Bags Treks to Buckland." Below, the top story was still the turn to heat in July and August and how an unhot cooling had followed September's waning.
"Well, let's go." Frodo crumpled up the paper and handed it back to Gildor. "The sooner we arrive, the sooner I can kick that old con."
"But…" Sam said tearfully. "Gandalf's dead!"
"Maybe, maybe not. The Gazette is not a purist fact-checker."
Gildor assented while he nursed his paper.
Frodo yawned. "Let's go by bus the rest of the way."
"But Gandalf said-"
"Sam, I'm going to put this into three steps that even you will understand."
Sam nodded eagerly.
"One, I don't. Two, trust. Three, Gandalf."
Sam thought for a moment, counted his fingers. "Um, could you go back to step one?"
Frodo kicked him and slouched for the nearest bus stop. Pippin weeed. Sam tried to free the luggage from the thorns. Gildor waved, and as soon as their curls disappeared round the bend, he brought his pipes to his lips once more.
The bus was typical of East Farthing public transport. Bare bones, no comforts, with a driver whose day job was farming organic lembas wheat. Pippin lost interest in pealing the yellow fabric off the seats fairly quickly and soon was chucking the dead flies and dried gum wads he found under seat at the driver. But the driver had on board his three Dobermans, who pursued Pippin up into the baggage rack, and there he stayed, crying, up to Buckland's county line.
The sun scowled in the west when they came to Crickhollow. Merry met them at the stop, carving his initials in the wooden posts. "Expected you hours ago, man."
"Sam's fault," said Frodo.
Pippin wiped his tears on his sleeve and declared his coolness.
"Flab's got supper ready." Merry paused. "Or he did."
Dobermans tasting his heels, Sam struggled out the bus under Frodo's bed and luggage. The three cousins had already made it a quarter mile up the lane. He puffed to catch up. Straight ahead loomed that forsaken corner of the Shire's one attraction. Crickhollow was home to Middle-earth's largest spoon, a 20-foot plaster replica of the utensil, standing upright behind a chain fence, like the gravestone of a soup-fond giant.
A little farther up the road was the house Frodo had purchased from an old couple for half its value. Inside was an eerie reproduction of the cluttered front hall of Bad End, diamond studded curtains, mummies, troll-scent candles and all.
Flabby greeted them in the kitchen. "You guys took so long I ate the supper without you. So I thought you'd still be hungry when you got here, and I made it again. But then I ate it. So…"
Flabby was clearly at a lost what to do next.
"You make dinner again," said Merry. "While we clean up. And your BO's righteous," he informed Frodo.
"Thank you," said Frodo. "Pippin, set the table."
"You're stripping me of my youth!" said Pippin as he fled to an unknown region of the house.
Flabby prepared another meal and sat down with them to eat half of it.
"Let's cut to the chase!" declared Merry, twisting toward Frodo. "Even your penchant for the contrary couldn't have pushed you to sell Bad End to the S-Bs and move to this dump."
Frodo threw up his hands. "Alright. I confess. I'm terminally ill. I plan to die here quietly."
"Oh no, cousin Frodo," said Merry with a smug smile. "You're in deeper than that. We know everything. About Gandalf. Mordor. The Bigfoot babies. And the Ring."
Frodo straightened in his chair and struck them, one by one, with a stare of steel. "Who. Told. You."
"Our Informer." Merry gestured to the gardener, whose face turned several colors that weren't to be found on the spectrum. "Sam, take a bow."
Sam hopped to his feet and clumsily obeyed.
"I will kill you," said Frodo.
"Don't do any killing until you hear us out," the Brandybuck said, placing his boots comfortably on the table.
Frodo heard them out. He paid attention at least through the first third of it.
"…And here we conclude the Conspiracy. We're coming with you no matter how much you hate it."
"Fine," Frodo shrugged.
"Me too!" said Pippin.
"NO," said Frodo.
"Uhm," Flabby said slowly. "Do I get to be a hero too?"
Frodo laughed unkindly. "C'mon. Honestly. Flabby, face it, whoever thinks of the Bolger when Frodo and Company is mentioned?"
"Well," said Merry after a pause. "We need to go somewhere if we're going to go at all." He pondered and snapped his fingers. "Bree. We can get transportation there and possibly track Gandalf down."
"But not on the main road. I'm tired of these reporters." Frodo opened the evening paper. The headline was "Meet Mrs Baggins" and under was an obviously altered pic of Frodo smooching an unglamorous Entwife.
"We could go through the Old Forest," said Merry. "No journalist will follow us in there."
"True," said Frodo, a little disappointed. "It's just, I wanted to try out my new heat seeking arsenals."
Merry nodded to the first part of Frodo's reply. "Cool. We'll leave ere the break of day."
"Yes! YES! My favorite!" squealed Pippin. "When's that?"
He was ignored.
Frodo, yawning, agreed to Merry's proposal. And after giving Sam the Evil Eye crawled into his bed and dreamt of chainsaws and the S-Bs and their combinations.
He woke to a putrid smoky smell.
"Get up," shouted Merry at his door. "Pippin's already cooking breakfast."
Five minutes later, Frodo gazed on the smoldering oatmeal in his bowl. "I'm not eating this garbage."
Pippin cried and wailed, but since Flabby relieved them all of their portions, he eventually forgot and settled to jumping on the couch.
"We're making good time," said Merry, glancing at his wristwatch. "The first tours of the Great Spoon don't start till eight. We can slip into the Forest and none to witness."
"Don't go in there, guys." Flabby followed them to the door, still licking Frodo's bowl. "There's wolves and goblins and witches!"
"Just because your nanny tried to scare you to sleep…" Frodo rolled his eyes. "Anyway, you're not comin'."
"I know," said Flabby, looking down at his stomach. "I am to… I am to…" He looked at Merry. "What am I doing again?"
"You're pretending to be Frodo," said Merry. "No one will be able to tell if they don't come asking."
"What if someone does come asking?"
"Just tell them I'm dead," Frodo shrugged.
"Oh. Okay." Flabby waved till they reached the edge of the lawn, then he stepped back inside and into the pantry.
Merry was the spoilt heir of a spoiled family. When he asked for a pony, he got a six. They rode four and had the other two beasts carry Frodo's bed and the food.
"What Flab said wasn't all nanny nonsense," Merry explained as they approached the barbed wire fence that kept in the trees. "There are queer things in the Old Forest. Sometimes Brandybucks hide out in here, but usually it's just heretics, thieves and serial killers." He took out a key that looked to have been carved from a hobbit femur.
He unlocked the gate. A thick fog lay on the forest, though nowhere else. The trees frowned at them. Their eyes followed the hobbits' every step as though wishing their branches were more suited for scraping off skin.
"These are the dumbest trees I ever seen!" Pippin screeched. "I want to burn 'em all down. It'd be cooooool!"
"I wouldn't say that, man. The trees, like, can hear."
"I don't care!" The idea that the trees could hear made Pippin more daring and he kicked one to show how little he cared for their opinion, so mighty in coolness was he. A limb fell on his head.
Nothing more interesting occurred for three uninteresting days. On the afternoon of the third, Frodo found he recognized the trees' warts and noses.
"Yo Merry," said Frodo. "We're back at the gate."
Merry looked around and shrugged apologetically. "That happens sometimes."
"That happens sometimes," said an echo that sounded like Frodo.
They started on again. Sam glanced to the side and caught a flash of yellow: a small way off the path, in a small glade, sat a little dandelion.
Sam stopped and pointed. "What a pretty flower!"
The others stopped too. They pushed into the glade and gathered around.
Frodo clasped his hands. "Aw, and it's all alone!"
Merry pat it. "Look at its wittle flower face!"
"And it's got wittle flower petals!" squeed Pippin.
"Googeewooobllduh!" cooed Frodo.
They formed a circle around the flower and joined hands. "Flower, flower, we love you! Your petals so yellow and your leaves so blue."
Like a kick from the Gaffer's peg legs, Sam felt something was not quite right. He'd had a modest amount of experience in the caretaking of flowers and he knew a malignant blossom when he smelled it.
Sam broke from the circle and waved his arms. "Everyone! Get away from it! It don't mean us no good!"
The other three glowered at him. He felt the change in his pocket melt.
"BOO!" said Pippin.
"What's wrong Sam? Want to pick on a baby flower. Is that how you get your sick kicks. Is it, Sam?" Frodo pushed him against a tree.
Merry's pocket knife tickled his nose. "No more of your cracks."
Merry, Pippin and Frodo returned to the flower and joined hands once more.
"There's something unnatural here!" Sam sobbed to himself. "Oh, what would the Gaffer do?" The Gaffer in his thoughts gave him another sound kick.
Sam ran back to the path, sobbing and wringing his hands. "Oh help! Oh help!"
Suddenly there came an answering voice, faint at first, then louder and louder. It spoke in verse – Shakespeare, Sam thought in awe. And his awe only grew when he saw the voice's master.
A fat man jiggled up the path. A daisy wilted in his hat, more rightly to be identified as a folded fertilizer sack. On his feet he wore a pair of potato chip bags, whose yellow spray-paint was cracking. A stamp, lost long ago in the licking, stuck to one side of his mouth amidst his face-hairs.
Sam fell to his knees. "O great one, please save Mister Frodo!"
The man didn't seem to hear. He skipped by and through the hobbit-circle and his shoes landed squarely on the dandelion. At that moment he seemed to take notice of the world. "Eepers." He looked at the bottom of his shoe. "Yours?" he asked the bewildered and blinking hobbits. "Well, then, finders keepers."
The man grasped the broken and bleeding flower and stuffed it into a pocket. "Here's a pretty present for a pretty lady. It was our anniversary the day before yesterday-dy"
"Who are you?" said Frodo with a firm rub to his head.
"I'm Tom Bumbadil, that's my name. I live in this forest-ame."
"That doesn't really rhyme!" Pippin said.
Beads of to sweat gathered on Bumbadil's forehead. "Um, erm, a-hick-a-wick-a-illo. Follow old Tom Bumbadillo. His home is near-o. No need to stand there-o."
Frodo whispered to the others: "Better do as he says: go thither. For we're lost and he may be a serial killer."
"That'd be bad," Merry agreed. "Best not to make him mad."
"But… whup!" Sam began before Frodo slapped a hand over his mouth.
They grabbed Merry's ponies and sauntered after Bumbadil. They came to a shack whose aluminum walls were peeling and gingerbread roof was nibbled bare in many places. From inside they heard a tired feminine voice singing,
There's bills to pay But Tom's a jerk
He sleeps all day
And he doesn't work.
"Ah, there's the wife. Now come inside and don't… strife," Bumbadil ended with a cough.
They parked their ponies by the door and tiptoed into a dark and dingy kitchen of sorts. Brooms and mops and dustpans adorned the walls like trophies. But the cleaning apparatuses seemed to do it no good. The table was under an inch of dust and spiders had sovereignty of the ceiling. It took a minute to notice Goldberry, who hardly popped from the dusty environs; she held a bent broom, a grey apron drooped around her waist, and her yellow hair was shackled in a kerchief. She gave them a languid look under heavy lids. Bumbadil set the dead dandelion on the table.
"See, guests to adorn the table," Bumbadil pushed the hobbits forward. "Now, on to the stable!" He danced a slow shuffling dance back out the door.
"Always bringing friends." Goldberry tore long strips of wood from the broom's handle and flicked them at the dead flower. "Who eat and eat and play poker again. And again."
But Bumbadil'd gone.
So Goldberry rounded on the four hobbits. They shrunk back.
"Fine specimens!" Goldberry lilted, suddenly eager, as she pierced her gaze on them one by one. They felt like tomatoes being surveyed by a shopper. "Sit: tell where you've been."
They obeyed. Indeed, they now noted, the broom's handle was carved to a point.
When, fifteen seconds later, they had finished the tale of their adventures in the forest, Goldberry stuck her broom into the floor, point first. "Guests need themselves to stuff." She crossed to a cupboard and removed several cans of bread and beans. She dumped the cans' contents into unwashed plates from the sink. "Now eat! There's enough!"
Bumbadil, performing a clumsy Macarena, appeared at the door once more.
"Mmm, cow," he said as he sniffed the bread can and "Ow!" as Goldberry slapped his wrist.
"Pest! It's for our guests."
She slammed the plates in front of them. Dust choked the air and did not settle. They made the effort to eat. With Goldberry drilling her lidded eyes at them all the while, they could hardly not gulp down every last chunk.
At last, faces green and bellies bulging, they sat back with groans.
"I'm sleepy," whined Pippin.
"Don't get weepy," warned Frodo.
Sam asked, "Will we spend the night in a tepee?"
Merry moaned. "Man, this is gettin' creepy."
"You are tired," said Goldberry, dumping the plates back into the sink. "Sleep is required."
"Yes! Sleep! And heed not the night… cheeps," Bumbadil finished proudly. Pippin booed.
Goldberry and Bumbadil led them to a tiny room lined with four lawnchairs decked with damp blankets and pillows.
"This is unpleasant," murmured Frodo as shut his eye went.
Frodo held a long kitchen knife. He was in a great shadowy room, without walls or ceiling. He was gashing the air with flamboyant heroism.
"Back, Sauron, you vile worm."
Suddenly the shadows joined together into a man-shape, only twice the height of any big-folk. His eyes were arctic blue and his beard was black and pointy. His burgundy armor spiked up on his shoulders like folded bat wings. He assessed Frodo, his lip curled.
"Yous talkin' to me?"
He lifted a spiky iron boot and pounded Frodo's shadow. The hobbit rolled under the next stomp. He had to slide on his stomach to avoid the other foot. Their dance continued till finally by luck Sauron's foot found Frodo's head…
Frodo woke. The room was dark. The night silent. He noticed, as if for the first time, the dead geese hanging over their cots, the ice-box chill of the room, and the posters of the correct cuts for hobbit meat on the wall. Frodo slapped his companions to wakefulness. "We're leaving."
Four hobbit-sized ducks waddled up onto the road. Once they cleared the drainage ditch, their heads fell off, one by one, to reveal the pink sweaty faces of Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin.
"That was close," said Sam, panting for air.
Merry grinned. "I liked the part when our bus derailed the train."
"It was cooooool!"
"Yeah," Frodo nodded. "The motorcycle chase was pretty neat too."
There was a short pause as Merry's ponies drove up in a beat-up pickup truck. The ponies filed out and they together walked up the road. Soon they saw billboards for Starbucks and other traces of civilization ahead.
"Now remember." Frodo turned on them; his teeth took the appearance of fangs. "I'm Mister . The name Baggins must not be mentioned. And if you see anyone that might even distantly be related to a journalist, shoot him."
He threw his duck costume into a bush which said, "ouch!"
"But how can you go around a brook?" said Pippin.
Frodo scowled and shoved on ahead.
He rounded the bend and there it was – finally. Bree. A backwards town built long ago from Breestone by the race of Breeites from the fourth planet of the star Bree. It sat on Breehill and was, in fact, the principle town in Bree County. The court house was also of Breestone, though it had burned down twice in its history, both instances from fire-vomiting secretaries, but been rebuilt, each time with renovations, so it stood thirteen stories above the rest of town, mainly one-storey cottages, that, by law to keep tourists flocking, had to contain thatch-roofs and teeny, rather impractical shutters.
They ambled to the foot of Bree's cold iron gate. A neon sign hummed above it,
Bree Welcomes You.
And below in smaller type,
Strange People Keep Out.
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.