Conspiracy Forged, A
1. A Conspiracy Forged
But Pippin had received an invitation, one of only 144 in the whole Shire, to the private family dinner. And so had Ferdibrand Baggins, his sister Pearl's betrothed. His father had decided that, now that their wedding had been officially announced, Pearl must attend the dinner. What would it look like for her to not go while her twelve-year-old brother did? People would have asked uncomfortable questions. It would have embarrassed the family. Completely unacceptable. And why did a child want to go to a formal feast, anyway? He would be bored. So his father had argued, when he made it clear that Pippin would have to give up his seat to his sister.
As Pippin made his way through the party gate. Bilbo turned from the Bolgers he had been greeting and smiled at the Thain and his clan. He greeted them, first Pippin's uncle Rum, the current Thain and head of the family, and then the others, presenting each with a wrapped box. When Pippin's turn finally arrived, Bilbo deposited the box in Pippin's waiting hands. He leaned over and whispered in the lad's ear. "That's from my uncle Hildifons; you're too young for it now, but I expect you'll want it one of these days." Then he winked and turned to greet his next guest. "My dear Egla, how are you..."
"Hoy! Pip!" someone called from across the field.
Pippin looked around at the press of Hobbits gathered from across the Shire and, at last, spotted his cousins Dod Brandybuck and Sancho Proudfoot waving wildly at him from over by one of the food tables. He turned back to his father, a hopeful question writ large on his young face.
"Off with you then," Paladin said, pushing Pippin off towards the growing crowd. Pippin did not need to be told twice.
Sancho pressed a pint of cider into Pippin's hand. "What'd you get?"
"Don't know yet," Pippin answered, taking a gulp. "You?"
Sancho motioned to the shiny brass horn hanging on his belt. "Made by the Dales, whoever they are."
"Where ever, you mean. Don't you know anything?"
Pippin, Sancho, and Dod turned to see Frodo. A smile swept across the Baggins's face. Pippin, however, caught the tired look in Frodo's eyes and the sag in his shoulder. Pippin held out his hands for the bottles of Old Winyards Frodo was carrying. "Let me help, Frodo," he said.
Frodo shook his head. "It has been quite a morning, but I'm all right," he reassured Pippin, mustering another -- and stronger -- smile.
"Dale's a place?" Dod asked, a bit cross to be corrected before his younger cousins.
"Far away," Frodo answered. " Over the Brandywine and across the Mountains and through Mirkwood where the Fair Folk live."
"Near the Dragon-lands?" Pippin asked, his eyes shining as he recognized the setting of Bilbo's tales.
"Aye," Frodo answered him. "Dale's near the Lonely Mountain, where Balin and Glóin and all the other dwarves that Uncle Bilbo had his adventures with live now."
"But I don't remember a town called Dale in all those stories," Pippin said. " Lake-town, yes, but Smaug destroyed that, didn't he, and Bilbo said they never would rebuild it."
Frodo nodded. "Dale is King Bard's town..."
"Bard!" Sancho interrupted. "The black-haired captain with his black-feathered arrow?" He held an invisible bow far above his head and let fly an imaginary arrow.
"The very same," Frodo answered. "But he did more than kill dragons, you know. He gave his people a home. And those people have learned much from Dáin's dwarves under the mountain -- including, among other thing, how to make toys. When Bilbo sent word over a year ago that he was planning this party, King Dain sent his nephew Báin Springhand to help with the preparations -- and to bring the toys Bilbo had ordered from Dale, like that horn."
"So the horn was made by dwarves?" Pippin asked. "Really?"
"No," Frodo corrected patiently. "By the men of Dale." He muttered affectionately under his breath, "Don't even know about Dale, the ignorant little..., " before he rumpled Pippin's hair, grinned at the other two, and walked off.
Dale! Pippin opened up his own box excitedly, expecting something brassy, mechanical, or maybe even magical. If the gifts were coming all the way from across the mountains, anything was possible. "A... pipe?" His face fell. "That's it?" Compared to the shiny horn from Dale, an old pipe seemed a poor gift indeed.
"It's a handsome pipe, Pip," Sancho conceded. "Tell you what. I'll trade you."
Pippin thought for a moment. Uncle Bilbo had given him the pipe and had thought Pippin might want it someday. But Sancho had a dwarf-trumpet, shiny and new, and that was nothing to be sneezed at either. 'Done,' he said with a grin. The boys spat on the ground and shook hands, making the deal final according to the customs of hobbit lads.
Pippin spent the afternoon drinking cider and punch, enjoying the best apples of the harvest, and watching the pretty girls spin around the dance floor. Once or twice he saw Gandalf hurry by laden with fireworks. Normally the young Took would have followed him, but today Pippin just didn't have the heart. Bilbo's dinner was coming, and he should be going. But no, Pearl just had to take his place, didn't she?
Pippin was sure he would have enjoyed Gandalf's show more if he had the feast to look forward to. Beside him, Dod had "oohed" and "ahhed" over the blossoming flowers and the bright spears and the erupting volcanoes. But Pippin was barely able to raise a gasp; as beautiful as the fireworks were, they could not make him forget his dread of the words Bilbo had finally spoken.
"That is the signal for supper."
"Come on," Sancho said. "I smell mushrooms..."
"You go," Pippin said, waving him off. Sancho and Dod hesitated for a moment, but Pippin said nothing more. Finally Dod shrugged and led Sancho over toward the food tables. That was fine with Pippin; he wasn't at all hungry. He might not have a seat but, by the stars above, the young master from Tookland would hear this speech. He sneaked through the crowd and stood at the base of the party tree. All around, toddlers blinked away sleep as they tottered after their older cousins, children laughed, and tweens clinked mugs with their fellows. In the confusion no one seemed to notice one young Took climb a tree and settle into its branches.
The dwarves Bilbo had employed in the kitchen brought out dish after dish: salt pork, roast mutton, beef and potatoes, every kind of bean, loaves of bread, bottles of wine and barrels of beer. Bilbo's guests waded through the food and drink until Pippin wondered how they could eat or drink any more. But no, they still ate and drank, until Pippin decided Bilbo must have employed elf-magic to keep his tables permanently full. Pippin's legs began to cramp, and he shifted his weight, trying to ease them without shaking the tree and drawing attention to himself.
At last Bilbo stood up and walked through the crowd, shaking hands with those cousins he liked and weaving away from those he did not, until at last he reached the Party Tree. 'My dear people!' Bilbo began, climbing onto a table almost directly below where Pippin sat. His brass buttons glistened in the lamplight. 'My dear Baggins, Boffins, Brandybucks, and Tooks.' Not all the Tooks, Pippin thought bitterly, losing the thread of the talk as Bilbo went on.
And on and on, it seemed. Pippin thought about going to find Dod and his mushrooms, but before he could work out how he would climb down unseen a glimmer below caught his eyes. Not the old gold of Bilbo's waistcoat-buttons but a shiny, seemingly-ageless gold. "Though, as I have said, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to spend among you, -- this is the end. I am going. I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!" And then, that same flash of gold. Pippin squinted his eyes, focusing on what was happening a few feet below. He saw Bilbo fiddling with a ring, saw him slip it on -- and a half-second later he disappeared. Almost immediately a burst of fireworks went off. While Pippin tried to blink away the ghosts of stars that swam before his eyes, he wondered: What kind of ring made you vanish?
A babble of conversation swept through the hobbits and Pippin slipped away in the confusion. Slowly he made his way away from the heart of the party field, toward the back gate opening onto Bagshot Row. More than once he stepped swiftly to the side, narrowly avoiding a collision with a hobbit that he would have seen far earlier if he had been looking where he was going. His new sleeve was stained with mushroom gravy from the bowl he had upset when he had not moved quickly enough. At last the crowds thinned and the lanterns shone far away. The darkness concealed him as he walked along the fence, trying to make sense of what he had seen.
When someone crept up behind him some time later and touched his shoulder, Pippin nearly jumped a foot high. Turning around, he saw his cousin Merry standing before him, the Brandybuck's eyes shining merrily even as his eyebrows arched in an unvoiced question.
"What's wrong?" his cousin asked after a moment.
"I... just before Bilbo disappeared..." Pippin began, but as he had not really understood what he had seen, he could not explain it to someone else.
"Yes?" Merry prodded.
"Well... he slipped on a ring," Pippin said slowly.
Merry stood still for a long moment, looking like he was trying to make up his mind about something. Twice he opened his mouth as if to speak but closed it without saying anything. "A ring?" he asked at last. "Well, what of it?"
"Yes, a ring," Pippin confirmed. "Right before he disappeared. What do you make of that?"
Merry gave his cousin an appraising look and bit his lip. When he finally spoke he said, "I'm...I'm not sure."
Pippin cocked his head, smiling. "Very well, keep your secrets!"
Merry laughed at that. "I will, for the present." He stuffed his hands absentmindedly into his trouser pockets. "Oh!" he cried as he pulled out the token he had found there. "I think this is yours. You'll want to hold on to it." He handed Pippin the pipe Bilbo had given him.
"Don't worry, your word is still good." Merry grinned. Pippin sighed, relieved. But how had Merry retrieved the pipe, if his promise still remained intact? "Aren't you hungry?" Merry asked. "If you saw Bilbo disappear, that means you haven't eaten yet, have you? And you... you weren't invited to the feast, were you?"
"I was invited," Pippin said, more than a little offended, "but Father made me give my place to Pearl."
"So that's why you've been upset all day," Merry said flatly.
"How did you know I was upset?" Pippin asked.
"You hardly looked at the fireworks," Merry answered him. "And that was one of Gandalf's display. Even old Odo Proudfoot could hardly keep his eyes off them, and he's nigh a hundred! I'd expect a twelve-year-old Took like you to be even more captivated." He sighed. "Well, it's no great loss, Pip, missing the dinner. It was really quite boring. And you heard the speech, didn't you?"
"Yes..." Pippin reluctantly agreed.
"It would have been awkward if you went and Pearl didn't," Merry continued, trying to placate Pippin. "Ferdi would have had to eat alone; he wouldn't have liked that one bit." Pippin just frowned, and Merry draped a gangly arm around his shoulders. Pippin tried to shrug the arm off, but Merry tightened his grip on his younger cousin's shoulder, giving it a comforting squeeze. "You really wanted to go, didn't you?" he said.
"It was my invitation," Pippin said stubbornly. "Bilbo wanted me there, not her."
"I know," Merry said. Releasing Pippin's shoulder, Merry sat down on the hill and patted the ground beside him, encouraging Pippin to join him. After a minute Pippin did so, resting his head on his cousin's shoulder. "That's what matters," Merry continued: just one hundred forty-four people in the whole Shire, and he thought of you! Your father can never take that away from you -- nor would he want to."
"No," Pippin agreed, sighing contentedly. He ran his finger over the tartan plaid of his waistcoat, the first time article he had ever owned made from his family's cloth. His father loved him, but they were Tooks. And his father had a chance to be Thain someday. That was important. Just as Pippin could not go to the dinner-party just because he wanted to, Paladin also sometimes had to temper what he might have wished. Pippin understood that -- yet that did not mean he liked it. "But now no one else knows that Bilbo likes me so much," he said at last.
"Oh, they know," Merry said with a chuckle. "Who else does Bilbo let join him and Frodo on their walking trips? And he never would tell me about getting trapped in the cold pantry in Thranduil's halls. How could other hobbits not know that you are one of Bilbo's favourites? You two come from the same mold. There's a streak in you, a wild streak that makes people laugh and tremble at the same time. Bilbo can't help liking you; you remind him of himself."
Pippin smiled at that, then looked at the pipe in his hands. "I liked the horn better. Why did Bilbo have to give me such a silly present? I mean, how many twelve-year-olds does he know that like pipes?"
"Ah, but you're not just any twelve-year-old," Merry replied. "You are a Took. And one day you will be the Took. Don't you recognise it?" Pippin looked at him blankly. "I'll have to talk to your father," Merry continued. "You need to brush up on your family history if you're going to be Thain.
"Long ago -- years before even old Bilbo was born -- some orcs invaded the Shire. Your five times great uncle Bandobras gathered an army to fight them back. Bullroarer they called him, and with his brothers Sigismond and Ferumbras he led the hobbits at the Battle of Greenfields. They won, of course, but Sigismond was killed. After the battle Bandobras picked up the scimitar that had killed his brother and said to himself, "I will give this blade better food than hobbit-necks." He walked over to a tree and cut it down. An awkward tool, to be sure, but Bandobras was determined."
Pippin looked out across the field of dancing hobbits. Peace was the right of each and every one of them, and all decent folk, or so he had been told. But it seemed that hadn't always been true, and that sometimes hobbits like Sigismond had to die so that the rest of them could live in peace and forget that dangers existed.
Pippin's nails dug into his palms as he clenched his hands, wondering why things had to be that way. Merry noticed and laid his hand comfortingly on Pippin's, and Pippin relaxed his balled fists. "Careful, or you'll break the pipe," Merry said softly. He took it from Pippin and turned it over gently in his hand, rubbing his thumb lovingly along the intricate carvings.
"Most of the wood," Merry continued, "Bandobras used to build a monument to all those who had fallen protecting the Shire. He kept two small pieces of root, though. You see, when they were boys, Bandobras and Sigismond went to the Midsummer Day's festivities together, like we do. It was there Sigismond first became fascinated one or two of the farmers had started growing. Nicota, they called it, but we know it as pipe-weed. Back then most hobbits didn't smoke it like we do now. I've no idea what possessed them to start. Anyway, it was just beginning to get popular, and Sigismond was one of the first to take up the habit.
"Be that as it may, Bandobras took those pieces of wood back with him to Tuckborough and fashioned them into pipes. Over the years he continued to whittle at them, carving pictures of harvests and dances into the sides. Eventually he even had them fitted with silver mouthpieces. Where he got those, I don’t know; perhaps from the Elves?
"So they passed from father to son for many years. Occasionally the Took who had been given your pipe would smoke it, remembering Sigismond and all the other hobbits who had died at the battle. But its brother was never used. Bandobras had made one for himself and one for Sigismond, and Sigismond had died before he could have a son to pass his pipe to."
"What happened to it?" Pippin asked, his eyes shining with curiosity. He realized to his surprise that he had not said a word for quite some time, most unusual for him. Usually only Bilbo's stories could hold his interest for this long.
"The Old Took decided it had been gathering dust for too long. If anyone deserved to have it, it was the person who kept the Shire safe from orcs and worse things. He gave it to Gandalf years ago. I imagine the wizard still carries it. Yours passed from Gerontius to Hildifons. Then, before Hildifons went off on his adventure, he gave it to Bilbo -- Bilbo being his nephew -- and now Bilbo has given it to you."
"Why didn't he just give it to Isengrim?" Pippin asked.
Merry frowned. "Grim was... well, he was queer. This was long before I was born, of course, but Grandfather told me that everyone knew even then that Grim wouldn't have a son to pass anything onto. And why should Hildi give it to him so Grim could pass it on to whoever he chose? No, better to give it to someone nice and respectable like Bilbo." He chuckled. "You see how well that worked out. No one today would expect an heir out of old Bilbo."
Pippin laughed at Merry's joke, but soon the smile faded from his face, replaced by a look of quiet contemplation. At last he said, his voice full of wonder, "That's a lot better than some dwarf-horn."
Merry nodded. "That pipe belongs in the waistcoat of a Took, not in the hands of a Proudfoot. Better yet to see it back on the mantelpiece in Great Smials. Certainly not in Lobelia's greedy paws."
"Lobelia? Why would Bilbo give it to her?"
Merry looked around to make sure they were really alone. "He wouldn't," he said, "but she'll raise quite a stink over Frodo inheriting Bag End. Yes, Bilbo named Frodo his heir, but a verbal will's not worth the paper it's not written on. And she's a tricky one, Lobelia. Bilbo knew better than to take chances with this pipe."
"But why did Bilbo give it to me? He could have given it to Uncle Rum, or anyone else..."
"I told you," Merry answered. "He sees himself in you. That old Tookishness in your eyes. It's that fire in the blood, Pip, that helped Bandobras beat back those orcs, and that same blood flows through you. Why, I bet you could kill a full-grown troll, if ever the idea got in your head."
"Me?" Pippin asked. "Take on a troll?"
"Bilbo never thought he'd leave the Shire, never mind end up far beyond the Misty Mountains, travel with dwarves and see all the things he saw. It's that same Took fire. It burns in him, too."
Pippin thought about that for a minute. At last he grinned widely at Merry, the happiest he'd smiled all day. Soon, though, the smile was replaced by a pensive frown. "So how did you get it back?" he asked.
"I promised Sancho I'd show him how to get through Farmer Maggot's fence. That rascal really likes his mushrooms," Merry said. "Now, about this ring you saw. You said Bilbo slipped it on, and then he vanished, as he put it on?"
Pippin thought back to what he'd seen, making sure he had the order of things clear in his own mind. "Yes, right before the explosion."
"Before?" Merry asked suspiciously. "You're sure?" Pippin nodded. Merry thought about it for a moment. "Oh well, I wouldn't worry about it," he said slowly, as if he were choosing his words carefully. "I'm sure it's nothing. It was dark, and you were quite a way up. The lamp-light was just playing tricks on your eyes. That had to be it. Now, food." The two of them walked over to where the dwarves were serving up plates heaped with salt pork, green beans, and apple cobbler. Pippin and Merry each took one and they sat down at one of the tables.
Pippin began eating right away, but Merry sat there quietly. "It's not nothing," he mumbled under his breath, "but if only I knew what it was. I'll have to keep an eye on those Bagginses -- queer folk."
Pippin looked up. "Keep an eye on them?" he asked. "Who, Frodo?"
Merry started to nod but, apparently changing his mind, shook his head instead. "Never you mind about that. That's my concern." He reached for a fork lying some way down the table and wagged it threateningly at Pippin. "If you don't forget about rings and start thinking about mushrooms, there may not be many left when I'm through with your bowl." Pippin giggled, trying to lay aside his worries -- at least for the night.
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.