13. Overlithe and Under the Weather
It was the best Overlithe Fair in years. There must have been near a thousand hobbits camping in the meadow east of Michel Delving, a rainbow of tents spread out as far as you could see, with a sprinkling of box wagons that folk brought, who didn't like sleeping on the ground.
Sam and I stayed with my family, for we didn't have a tent of our own yet. Mari had ridden with them, leaving the Gaffer almost alone back in Hobbiton, to keep an eye on the Bag End garden. Sam didn't want to go without him, but the Gaffer overrode his objections.
"Go on, go on – I'm not quite on my last legs yet, and I don't need no baby-minder! I been going to Overlithe Fair these eighty years and more – I don't guess they'll be showing nothing I ain't seen before, and I don't fancy sleeping out-of-doors at my time of life! I'll keep the garden weeded so it's not all overgrowed when you get back."
His tone was rough, but his eyes were soft as he looked at his youngest son, returned from the dead as you might say, and he patted Sam's arm before he turned and reached in his pocket for his pipe. Sam stared at him in wonder, holding his arm where the Gaffer had touched him. He wasn't used to caresses from his crusty old father.
"Well, if you're sure, Da – and thank'ee! We'll bring you home some good pipeweed, then. Anything else you're wanting?"
"Bring me back a little grandchild, while you're at it," the Gaffer said, with a mischievous glance at me. "Time you two was starting a family, ain't it?"
I thought that was a good time for me to head back up the Hill for home, but I heard Sam behind me answering with a chuckle, "Well, we're doing the best we can, Gaffer. It's only two months since the wedding, you know!"
So we went to the Fair without the Gaffer, and I wasn't entirely sorry about that. Not but what I wanted a family too, as soon as might be. Only I'd prefer not to hear about it, from him nor anybody else, till I was ready to announce something.
Sam and I had the pony trap to ourselves, and that was a rare treat. We didn't have a lot of time just alone together. We talked a good bit of nonsense on the way, being silly, like. He sang me a song he made up, about an old Troll, and he made it that comical, I near fell out of the trap, laughing.
"I remember now, I sang that same song to Mr. Frodo and them, on our journey," he said when he finished. "It was after he got wounded by the Black Rider, and we were trying so hard to get to Rivendell. I was scared, I tell you, Rosie! I was afraid he wouldn't never live to get to the Elves who could maybe cure him. But they wanted a song, so I gave 'em that one, to make him laugh, I hoped. And he did laugh." He sighed. "He don't laugh much now, though. I worry about him sometimes."
"He'll be all right, Sam. You said yourself he had a real hard time. You don't bounce back from something like that just overnight." I linked my arm through his and leaned my head on his shoulder. "We'll give him family life, like he wants, and good food and happy times. He'll come around."
I really believed it, then, that that would be enough. Love and laughter, plenty of wholesome food – that would fix Mr. Frodo right up. It wasn’t like he was really sick or anything.
There was no shortage of food or laughter at the Fair – nor love neither. Mum and Da had two tents set up, one for my brothers and a bigger one for the rest of us. Marigold had ridden in the back of their cart, and she was eager to whisper to me everything that she had said, and he had answered, he being my brother Tom, all the way from Bywater. By the time Sam and I got there, everything was fixed nice at the campsite, so we set off to see the sights.
Tom and Mari started out with us, but we lost them at the broadjump. Tom couldn’t resist trying his long legs on that, and Mari stayed to cheer him on.
“You be sure you bring her back in time for supper!” I told Tom, pretending sternness, not that there was any danger that he wouldn't. If Tom ever missed a meal, we’d call the healer in without another thought.
The exhibits were laid out at the Village Hall, so we stopped there first. I turned my lace in at the fancywork table and stopped to look at the other pieces on display. Angelica Baggins had one entered, sure enough, but it was a simpler pattern than mine, and there wasn't any other pillow lace, just tatting. Blue ribbon for me, I thought. That ought to please Sam.
Mum had brought the quilt Mari and I made, and it was hung up with the others. There were a lot of quilts – I guess plenty of folks were keeping busy quilting last winter. With the ruffians all over the Shire and no one feeling safe to step outside, might as well stay indoors and sew patchwork! Ours was a Wedding Ring pattern – shows where my head was at – and it was good, but there were some better. Third place, if we were lucky.
Sam pulled me over by the woodcarvers' shelves, and there was some beautiful work there. He went from piece to piece slowly, lifting down some of them and examining them from every angle.
"Wish I could carve like this," he murmured. He was holding a wooden bird's nest so finely detailed you would have thought it was really made of dried grasses, and a bird perched on the edge of it that seemed almost ready to fly away. Sam was a pretty fair whittler, when he had the time, and not just clothes pegs, neither! He'd made some wooden toys for Nibs, when my brother was small, a pony pulling a trap and some farm animals. But this wooden bird and her nest were the work of a master carver, far beyond Sam's skill.
"You've got green fingers, love," I told him. "You can poke a bare stick in the ground and make it grow. Sam Gardener, we ought to call you, instead of Gamgee."
He grinned and set the bird nest back in its place, put his arm around me. "And you've got a silver tongue, Rosie-lass. Come along now and pick out your chickens."
"Chickens? What chickens?"
"The chickens Mr. Frodo says you can keep in that little shed out back. I asked him before he went off with Mr. Merry. All you have to do is pick out what kind you want."
"Really? Oh, Sam, that's wonderful! I've missed having something alive to take care of, living at Bag End!"
He guffawed. "And what are we then, stone statues? A nice way to talk about your husband and your employer, Mistress Rose!"
The animals were housed in a large, open-sided shed. Da had a pig on exhibit, and Nibs was carrying water to it when we went by.
“Hey, Rosie, Sam! Mr. Frodo was looking for you – I told him you’d be down by the tents!”
“Do you know what he wanted?” Sam asked.
“No – he looked put out, though. He was all by himself, too.”
Sam rubbed his chin. “I should probably go find him and see what’s wrong. Do you mind, lass, if I let you go pick out your biddies on your own? I’ll come back as quick as I can, but you’re the one knows about chickens.”
“For sure, go on, Sam. That’s better anyhow, I can take my time and not feel like I’m holding you back from something. I like chickens.”
He laughed. "I know you do, I’ve seen you with them up at the farm. The wonder to me is how we ever get one for dinner, you’re so fond of 'em! Well, go enjoy yourself, then, and I’ll be back as soon as I can. How many do you figure you can fit in that old shed?"
“Oh – a dozen, maybe, and one rooster. Ought to be room for that many.”
He went off to find Frodo, and I continued through the livestock barn. Pigs, sheep, goats, ponies, cows – it was a hot day, and the odors were strong. I stopped to admire some green-headed ducks – I liked ducks too, but we didn’t have a pond for them at Bag End.
The chickens were in an enclosure by themselves, with high sides to prevent them fluttering over the top. I guess there was at least a few of every kind of chicken we have in the Shire – red and black and speckled, skinny white ones for eggs and enormous, fluffy golden ones for meat. There were even some feather-leg hens, and I thought what fun it would be to have some of those!
But no, better to pick a good breed and stick with it. Get a healthy young rooster with a peaceful disposition, and I could build a decent flock of birds, have some to sell at next year’s Fair, plus all the eggs we could eat and a stewing hen now and again.
I leaned against the enclosure, watching the birds and considering which breed would do best for our needs. Hobbits pushed past me where I stood, bumping me sometimes without noticing. It was so hot. The animal smells were awful strong.
It was so hot. Stifling. I felt sick. Better sit down. Isn’t there a bench around here somewhere? Sick….
I was falling, couldn’t stop myself.
When I came to, I was lying on the ground looking up at a circle of faces.
“Back off, folks, back off – let her get some air!” An old gaffer was standing above me, shooing people away. “Now then, missy, having a fit of the vapors, are ye? Think ye can stand, if I give ye a hand?”
“Yes, please,” I said, mightily ashamed of myself. The vapors! Me? I was a strong, healthy farm girl – and I could outrun my brothers any day of the week. I couldn’t think what had come over me, fainting like that.
He helped me outside where it wasn’t so hot and there was a little breeze to carry the smells away. There were some benches there, and I sat down, still feeling wobbly.
“Where’re your folks at, missy? Tell me where they are, and I’ll tell 'em where to find ye – better ye sit and rest a bit, now.”
“That’s all right – my husband will be here soon. Thank you for helping me. I’ll be all right till he gets here.”
“Now then, missy, I don’t like leaving ye all alone here. If your good man gets held up in the beer tent or somewheres, ye might be here a good while. Ye’d best let me call someone.”
I suppose I would’ve had to, if only to get rid of him, but just then a tall hobbit sauntered up behind him.
“Rose? Are you all right? What are you doing here?”
“Mr. Merry!” I turned to my kindly rescuer. “I’ll be all right now. Thank you so much for helping me!”
He gave me an odd look – Merry cut a dashing figure, a head taller than any hobbit in the crowd, his mail shirt glinting in the sunlight and a sword at his side – no one would have mistaken him for my husband, that’s certain! But he was the perfect gentlehobbit, equal to any occasion.
“Did you come to her rescue? Thank you for your kindness, indeed! It’s good to know that the Troubles are behind us and hobbits helping each other once again.”
“Well, if the young lady’s a connection of yours, young sir, you oughtn’t allow her to wander around unattended. She fainted dead away in there – might’ve been trampled underfoot. You’d best get her someplace she can lie down and be quiet!”
“I’ll do exactly that,” Merry said agreeably. He held out his arm to support me, and we started back toward the tents.
“Mr. Merry, don’t tell Sam, please! He’d just get himself in a tizzy, worrying about me.”
He looked down at me, his face serious. “Now, Rose, you can’t expect me to keep something like this from Sam – he’d never forgive me! Or are you in the habit of fainting dead away? I wouldn’t have said you were the type.”
"Of course I’m not the type! It was just so hot in there – seemed like there wasn’t any air–"
“Will you promise to tell your mother, then? Someone must be told, Rose, so they’ll be looking out for you.”
“I’ll tell Mum -- just not Sam.”
“All right. But where is Sam?”
“Went off to find Mr. Frodo. Do you know what he wanted?”
“No – I’ve been looking at the ponies, we need some fresh stock in Buckland. Frodo was in the beer tent last time I saw him, confabbing with Will Whitfoot about something or other. Mayor’s business, no doubt.”
We were back at the tents by then, and Mr. Merry left me with a firm, “You tell your mother now, Rose!” and took himself off. I went and got a drink of cold tea and lay down in the tent, and that’s were Sam found me when he got back an hour later. I woke up and he was sitting there whittling a stick.
“Awake now, Rosie-girl? I’m sorry I was so long. Did you pick out your chickens?”
“Yes – I thought we’d get some Reds, they’re good for eggs and meat both. Did you find Mr. Frodo?”
“No, he found me. For a while I wished he hadn’t, neither! Oh, he was in a state, Rosie, and no mistake! Seems he was sitting in the beer tent and some idiot come asking him questions, something like where’d he learn the magic to turn Sharkey to a pile of dust, and was he going to set up as a wizard on his own account.”
“Oh, you know the fool ideas people get. The story’s got around, seemingly, how Sharkey died at Bag End, but someone always has to add a little something to it, till it’s more tale than truth. He wasn’t no pile of dust, as them that buried him know well enough.”
“So, Mr. Frodo's upset because folks think he killed Sharkey?”
“That’s part of it, but more because the whole story is fantastical, it’s like a made-up tale for children. You know what a store he sets by history -- hobbits knowing what really happened with the War and the Ring and all. It makes him wild when this kind of foolishness gets spread around instead of the truth.”
“Well, folks will talk, Sam." And more's the pity, I thought. It really was too bad, when Frodo had shown mercy to Sharkey, that he'd get the blame for killing him! Not that anyone blamed him, exactly, but still –
"He’s writing the true story in that book of his, and I guess that’ll have to be enough for him.”
I felt better after my nap, and it was getting cooler as the sun went down. I helped Mum and Mari get some supper into everyone, and then we followed the crowd to a big open area in the middle of the field where a bonfire was laid but not yet lighted.
I saw Mr. Frodo off to one side, talking to Will Whitfoot. Mr. Pippin and Mr. Merry were standing with them, but they came over as soon as they saw us.
“Sam, did he talk to you about this?” Mr. Pippin asked.
Sam nodded, looking unhappy, and I caught his arm. “What, Sam? What is it?”
“He’s resigning as Mayor,” Merry said. “Old Will doesn’t want him to, wants him to see out the term, till the next election, but he won’t do it.”
“But why?” Pippin demanded. “It’s not like it takes up a lot of his time – and it’s about the only thing that gets him out with hobbits every now and then. Take away being the Mayor and he’ll never leave Bag End at all.”
“Guess that’s the way he wants it,” Sam said. The others turned on him, and he held up his hands. “I don’t like it no more than you do, so don’t jump down my throat! He’s turning into a regular hermit, and it’s not good for him. But tell me how I can make him get out with folks, when he don’t want to go!”
They sighed and shook their heads, and walked slowly back over to Frodo. Sam and I spread blankets on the grass and sat down to wait for the evening’s festivities. Soon the rest of the family joined us, and Mari came to sit by me and whisper about Tom and what-all they'd done that day, roaming round the Fair together. Sam and Da sat talking in low voices.
It began getting dark, and the first stars came out. Hobbits started opening picnic baskets, and jars of lemonade and strawberry switchel appeared, plates of cookies and seedcake, nut rolls and spicy meat pockets wrapped in pastry. There was a barrel of beer set up on the outer edge of the crowd. Suddenly the bonfire flared up and there was a shout from those around it.
“Good Overlithe to you, Lily! Good Overlithe, children!” exclaimed my father, and everyone began hugging each other and calling, "Good Overlithe!" Happiness bubbled up in me -- Overlithe was the best night of the year, and Sam was home, we were wed, the ruffians were gone. Good Overlithe, indeed!
Sam caught me in a hug that drove the breath right out of me, and I gave as good as I got. “Good Overlithe, Rosie, and a hundred more to come!” he said, and I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him full on the mouth right there in front of everyone. The night was loud with good wishes and laughter and the bonfire blazed up in the middle of the field till it was taller than any hobbit, even Magnificent Merry Brandybuck.
After a bit the noise died down, and everyone settled comfortably on their blankets to eat their picnics and listen to the speakers. Captains Merry and Pippin told about the Battle of Bywater, making a grand story of it, for there were plenty of hobbits present tonight who hadn’t been there, being they lived in other parts of the Shire. The Thain stood up and told how his people had hounded the last of the ruffians out of the Shire, meeting up with the Master of Buckland and chasing them right out into the Wilds, what was left of them.
Then Mr. Frodo made Sam come up front and tell how he’d been replanting the trees that were felled, and about the mallorn from Lothlorien that he’d planted in Hobbiton, which everyone was welcome to come and see, it being the only one west of the mountains and a great wonder. Fatty Bolger spoke next and thanked all the hobbits who had been part of his rebel band, and joked how he might be thin this Overlithe, but just wait until next year! The crowd laughed at that and cheered and clapped for him.
Then Sam pulled Mr. Frodo forward and said that Captains Merry and Pippin might be the heroes of Bywater, and Fredegar Bolger the greatest rebel leader the Shire had ever seen, but Frodo Baggins was the hero of the Great War that Bywater was only one small battle in, and the Shire just a little part of the whole thing.
They cheered him too, but not as loud as they had for Fatty. The Great War was a long way off, and nobody had seen Mr. Frodo do anything specially heroic. He’d come home from foreign parts and done something to that mysterious Sharkey the ruffians were always bragging about. No one knew just what it was Frodo had done, exactly, but it sounded uncanny and not something they wanted to think about. So Sam’s attempt to honor him fell rather flat.
Then Will Whitfoot stepped into the firelight, and everyone went wild applauding for him. He called for silence, and then he thanked Mr. Frodo for being Acting Mayor while he was ill. He said he’d asked him to finish out the term, but Frodo had declined and wanted to resign, so Will would be Mayor again now. Then he told everyone to give three cheers for Mayor Frodo, and they did, and added three more for Will himself. And that was the end of the speeches.
The band struck up a country dance, and couples started pushing into the open area around the fire. Frodo and Merry and Pippin came back over to the blanket with Sam, and Sam made sure they got something to eat. Then he held out his hand for me to come dance, but I shook my head.
"I'm pretty tired, Sam – do you mind if we just sit for awhile?"
Mr. Merry gave me a sharp look, but Sam sat down by me and stroked my hair.
"'Course not, Rosie – use me for a pillow, if you want to, and have a nap."
That sounded nice, and I stretched out on the blanket with my head on his thigh, but I didn't go to sleep. There was a little silence, just the band playing and hobbits talking quietly on other blankets nearby, then Mr. Pippin said urgently, "Why, Frodo?"
"Because I don't want to be Mayor. I don't have the knowledge to be a good one, and I haven't got time to learn."
"What do you mean, you haven't got time? You're sitting at Bag End with nothing to do – Sam and Rose wait on you hand and foot, or my name isn't Peregrin Took! There can't be that much to being the Mayor – I'd say Old Will goes to banquets more than he does anything else!"
"Well, I've been to enough banquets to last me for three or four years, at least! You're forgetting, Pippin, I have a book to write."
"And you've been writing that book ever since Minas Tirith! Either it should be finished soon, or you're going to drag it out for the rest of your natural life, like Bilbo did. Which is all right for a hobby, if that's what you like, but you can't let it take over your whole life, Frodo! Bilbo didn't become a hermit, because he was writing a book."
"How far have you got in the book, Frodo?" Merry asked quietly.
"I was in Moria when you came and kidnapped me. A good place to get interrupted, I must admit."
"A nice little jaunt across the Shire and Overlithe Fair – I wouldn't have minded an interruption like that at the time!" said Pippin. "Have you got to the Balrog yet?"
Frodo was fiddling with that white jewel he wears round his neck, and I felt Sam shifting under my head. He started rubbing my back, absentminded like, as if he was just giving his hand something to do.
"It must be hard – to go back, even in memory, to write about that." Merry's voice was low.
"So wouldn't it be better to be doing something else as well? I don't mean being the Mayor – you already resigned, in any event – a bit awkward to stand up now and say you've changed your mind! But something to break up the writing, Frodo. You haven't reached the worst parts yet, by a long shot."
Mr. Frodo lay back on the blanket. "Maybe so, Merry. You and Pippin will have to help me, you know, on your part of the story. There was a lot more to it than just my part, and Sam's."
"Oh aye, we'll help you, Frodo. You come on back to Crickhollow after the Fair, and you can pick our brains all you like."
"Would that be before or after the dinner party, Pippin?" Frodo's voice was warm with affection, and he reached out a hand to pull Pippin down on the blanket beside him. "While you're rushing about chopping up ice to chill the wine, or after everyone leaves and you're so muzzy, all you can do is fall asleep before the fire?"
Mr. Pippin chuckled. "Afterward, definitely. I'll make a much better story of it afterward -- if I can stay awake."
"Yes, but you see, I don't want you to 'make a story of it'. I want the plain unvarnished truth, because that's what's going in the book."
"Is that what Bilbo wrote – the plain unvarnished truth?"
Mr. Frodo laughed. "Oh – for the most part! A little varnish here and there. But there's a difference, Pip. Bilbo was writing for himself, but I'm writing for the future -- because there has to be a record of this and it has to be a true one."
"You sound very serious about this," said Mr. Merry.
"Very serious, and all the more so after today. It's turning to legend already, Merry, even the parts that happened right here in the Shire! There were at least a hundred hobbits standing there watching when Wormtongue murdered Saruman – how under heaven can the story be going round that I killed him with some wizard's magic and turned him to dust?"
"You can't stop folk from talking, Mr. Frodo." Sam said in his soft voice. "We've got our share of fools in the Shire, same as anywhere, and when a fool starts talking, what he says is foolishness. And us hobbits have always had our stories."
"Yes, stories!" said Frodo. "Bilbo's tunnels full of dragon gold – and now my supposed magic powers! So history gets swallowed up in fairy tale, and nobody believes it anyway. But we can't afford it this time! What will happen if the Shadow rises again? What would have become of the Shire, if we hadn't come home when we did?"
"If we hadn't come home?" Pippin sounded startled. "You mean if the Quest had failed?"
"Not necessarily. Say for argument's sake that the Quest succeeded, but Gandalf didn't get to Sam and me in time to save us. Maybe you and Merry would have stayed on another year or two in Gondor, or gone back to the Mark for a while. Could the Shire have coped with Saruman, if the Travellers didn't return?"
"No," I said. I felt chilled, listening to him. "No, Fatty and the Thain were doing all they could, and I suppose the Master was, too, in Buckland. And we couldn't cope with Lotho, even. No one knew what to do." It was terrible to think of, to remember how helpless and afraid we had been.
There was a silence. Finally Mr. Merry said, "So what's your idea, Frodo? How do you propose to protect the Shire, if trouble comes again? I don't mean now, for we'd put it down in short order, if it began. I suppose you're worrying about the future, what comes to the Shire after our lifetimes."
"What did Gandalf say, when he told us he wasn't coming back with us? He said we'd been trained for this, trained to deal with what we'd find here. I think he guessed, even then, where Saruman was."
"We had weapons, and the training to use them," Mr. Pippin began.
"Right – but that wouldn't have been enough, Pip." I could almost see Mr. Merry thinking it out. "Four halflings – even with swords! – wouldn't have been enough against hundreds of big Men. As it was, even if they had taken our swords away, we would have thrown them out anyway, because we weren't afraid of them and we could out-think them. We'd been listening to Gandalf and Aragorn – Theoden, too, and Faramir – so we knew how to out-maneuver an enemy. Like playing chess."
I glanced up at Sam, and he was smiling in the dark. He played chess with Mr. Frodo most nights that he was home, and his game was improving.
"Oh aye," said Mr. Pippin, sitting up with a grin. "So we'll teach all the youngsters to play chess! And we'll have an annual tournament – let's see, we can call it the Frodo Baggins Honorary Chess Meet, to be held every year at the Overlithe Fair, for training young hobbits in tactics and strategy! What shall we give for prizes?"
"Swords," said Sam. "So's they'll have something to fight with, if they have to."
"Copies of Frodo's book – so they'll know what they're fighting for," Merry said gravely.
"And what if they can't read?" Frodo asked.
Pippin and Merry just stared at him, but Sam nodded slowly.
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.