A Fireside Chat
Merry had been surprised when Bilbo disappeared. Not so much over the disappearance itself, as he’d seen Bilbo do this before, and had even seen the ring the old hobbit carried about with him. No, mainly he was surprised that Bilbo had chosen to use his ring in such a highly public fashion, when he’d been guarding his secret for such a very long time.
He didn’t suppose he would ever see dear old Bilbo again. Frodo had been hinting such to him earlier, but he’d not listened. Bilbo had been threatening to leave the Shire since before Merry could remember and it had become one of those things that you didn’t really believe would ever truly happen. And yet it had.
Poor Frodo, Merry thought suddenly, I wonder how he’s holding up. With this thought in mind, he turned to his mother.
“Mum, have you seen Frodo in all this fuss?” he asked, his concern showing clearly in face and voice.
“No, dear, I haven’t.” Esmeralda eyed her son thoughtfully before giving him a soft smile. “Why don’t you go look for him. I imagine he could use a friend right about now.”
After asking about for only a few moments, Merry learned that Frodo had last been seen heading in the direction of Bag End, shortly after the shocking end of Bilbo’s speech. Making a brief stop at his parent’s table, he let them know where he was going before heading after Frodo.
At the door of Bag End he paused. Although it was still early, the smial was dark, except for a faint glow of firelight shimmering through the parlor window. Entering through the large front door, he made his way along the unlit hall until he came to the parlor.
“Frodo?” he whispered hesitantly into the stillness, hovering in the doorway.
“Merry?” Frodo’s voice drifted to him across the room. “Why aren’t you at the party?” Merry peered into the half-darkness of the room and was just barely able to make out his cousin. Frodo was sitting in an overstuffed chair in a far corner of the room, nearly hidden in the flickering shadows.
“You knew, didn’t you?” the younger hobbit asked, “About Bilbo leaving, I mean. Why didn’t you say anything?”
Frodo sighed and stood up from his chair, moving into the light of the fire. He face was pale but his eyes were dry.
“It was not my secret to tell, Merry.” Frodo forced a smile and motioned his cousin to join him in the room. “Bilbo wanted to have his little game before he left, and it would have spoiled it for him, if I’d told anyone what he was planning. Besides, I truly hoped he wouldn’t go through with it.”
Merry took a seat on the sofa, watching as Frodo placed a thick envelope in a small cask on one of the side tables. After locking the cask and putting the key in his pocket, Frodo joined Merry on the sofa, offering the younger hobbit a small glass of wine. Merry was still too young to be allowed much drink, but special occasions called for special beverages.
Sipping the wine, Merry decided it was much better than the similar glass he’d been given earlier in the evening by his father.
“Old Winyards,” Frodo answered his unspoken question. “Put down by Bilbo’s father many, many years ago. Bilbo only brings it out for extra special occasions.” The older hobbit sighed wearily. “He won’t be back, you know. He’s left me Bag End and everything in it, aside from some odds and ends he’s marked as gifts.”
Frodo motioned to a large pile of indeterminate things sitting in the hall. “He wanted to clear out the clutter, he said, before he left. He’s left you something, as well.” He picked up an elaborately carved wooden box and handed it to Merry.
The lad took the box and set it down on his lap, looking it over reverently. The workmanship of the cask was beautiful and Merry suspected it came from Dale. There was a note attached to the lid.
To Merry Brandybuck, was written in Bilbo’s spidery handwriting. Use this well, lad, and don’t forget that you aren’t the Master yet. Much love, Uncle Bilbo.
Opening the cask, Merry couldn’t help but laugh. It was Bilbo’s best draughts set. The joke was twofold. First, Merry tended to be a bit overly serious at times, getting caught up in the growing responsibilities of being the son and heir of the Master of Buckland. Secondly, Merry had recently become very interested in draughts, playing game after game against his father, uncles, cousins and any stray friend he could corner, celebrating victories and mourning losses with all the seriousness of a general engaged in war. He had stated, more than once, that he intended to be the best draughts player in the Shire.
“I believe the other items are much the same. Gifts that will be appreciated, often with a small joke or point attached.” Frodo kindly ignored the glint of moisture in Merry’s eyes as he spoke, knowing the depth of the lad’s attachment to Bilbo.
Merry snuffled slightly and wiped at his eyes with his sleeve before turning to Frodo. “Will you need any help tomorrow?” he asked, trying to hide his emotion. “I imagine half the Shire will be banging on your door in the morning, demanding to know where Bilbo has gone and when he’ll be back.”
“Hm, I daresay you’re right.” Frodo frowned at the thought. “I would be most glad if you wouldn’t mind lending a hand tomorrow. But what of your parents? I know they are hoping to get an early start in the morning. It’s a long trip back to Buckland.”
“I’m sure they’ll give their permission if you ask them, Frodo,” Merry answered excitedly. “I could stay for a few days to help you get settled, and then walk to Tuckborough. I’m sure Uncle Pal and Aunt Tinie wouldn’t mind sending someone back to Brandy Hall with me. There is always a good deal of traffic back and forth, you know.”
“I have a better idea,” Frodo responded. “If you are willing to stay for a few weeks, I could take you back to Buckland myself. I was planning to make the trip anyway, as I have some business with Saradoc.”
Merry pursed his lips, pretending to think this offer over. He loved staying with Frodo and Bilbo at Bag End, and he was sure staying with just Frodo would be equally fun. And he loved traipsing across the Shire with Frodo. He’d only been deemed old enough this past summer and he had thoroughly enjoyed the few jaunts on which he’d gone.
“I suppose I could manage that,” he drawled, with a fair imitation of reluctance, “if you promise me a game or two of draughts to help pass the time.”
Frodo laughed out loud at this. “You rascal,” he shook his head in amusement. “I’ll go speak to your parents now. I suppose I should be out there, anyway, to bid the guests farewell.” Still smiling, he led Merry out of Bag End and back to the party, both of them feeling slightly lighter at heart after their conversation.