8. Bagpipes and Windbags
The summer sun frowning on his neck, Sam bent over the lawn wielding a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers. By order of his employer, every blade of grass bent, discolored, torn or any way flawed was to be removed.
He'd completed about three square meters so far that day, moving with a brisk efficiency, folded up in his own thoughts. These were happy thoughts. Mr. Frodo, the embodiment of genius and gentility of the West Farthing, trusted him, him, Samwise Gamgee, the lowest of low gardeners. Trusted him with his most secret of secrets. Trusted him in his most secret of counsels. Sam remembered, the letters golden and bright as the high noon sun, the words Frodo had uttered years ago to the Sackville-Bagginses --
"I happen to think very well – yes, more than some people with high names – of the Gamgees. In fact, they are worth more than 3 Sackvillers times the cube of pi."
He didn't understand the role of the dessert, but the meaning behind it had been unmistakable.
You can count on me, Mr. Frodo! I won't fail you!
Beaming at a blade of unhappy yellow, he moved in for the pluck… when a patented leather boot smashed the perfect grass, yellow blade and all, before his face.
Merry spoke only to a magnifying glass and pair of tweezers.
He saw the back of Sam flying toward the toolshed. He reached the door before Merry could begin his next sentence. But Sam never opened the door, the door flung open itself.
"Hey man!" a squeaky voice shrilled in the shed.
From Pippin, Sam darted to the hedge, prepared for a mighty leap… and tripped hard onto his face over Flabby Bolger. He was consuming grass.
"Let's be cool about this," Merry said, rolling Sam over with a boot. "It's a simple question. What's up with Frodo, man? He's been Suspicious lately."
"Yeah man," Pippin agreed.
"I'll never tell" was what Sam wanted to say, but he knew where that would go, so he kept mum, darting his eyes between the three Nephews.
"He's been Suspicious, man, the last few weeks. He can't hide it. We know he's up to something. We know he's got Gandalf hiding out in his living room…" Merry broke off and ducked. Up the lane shuffled a fat cardboard box, a smiley face squiggled at its front and an old boiler hat taped to its top. It disappeared through the front door.
Merry slicked back his hair and continued. "We know that he and Gandalf are scheming. We know that you know what. So pandy up."
"Pandy! Pandy! Pandy!" Pippin shrieked, zipping a circle around them.
Flabby chewed cow-like, nodding to each word.
"I'll never tell!" declared Sam, in spite of himself. "I shan't!" he vowed. "Never. I shall never tell you that Mr.-Frodo's-leaving-the-Shire-and-selling-Bad-End-so-he-can-hide-a-ring-of-great-evil-and-save-the-world."
He slapped a hand of his mouth with a long gasp.
"The pieces fall together," Merry said. "I suspected as much." He added, "Yo."
"I cool too!" Pippin insisted.
"Now look, man." Merry placed his boot on Sam's chest, who'd feebly attempted to crawl away. "Now we're a Conspiracy, and you're in it."
"You're gonna be the Informant. Tell us everything Frodo is planning. And if you squeal on us…" The Brandybuck snapped his fingers. Flabby uprooted a blue spruce and downed it in one gulp.
"I-I-I--" Sam blubbered.
"Don't worry, man, it's for Frodo's own good. He's not always right in the head. Not when Gandalf's on the prowl."
Pippin and Flabby nodded.
Sam gulped. "Alright. I-I'll do it, Mr. Merry, sir."
^ - ^ - ^ - ^ - ^
Into the AC-blasted Bad End Sam drug his feet to give his daily gardening report. Goosebumps ran over his arms like spiders as he entered Frodo's study. The AC almost blasted him back into the hallway. Icicles hung from the vent, creeping down to the bamboo desk.
Sam's breath froze and hung there. The Baggins sat at the desk, chair swiveled around, his fingertips pressed together in front of his face.
Sam thought, "He knows!"
The gardener shrieked and tumbled back onto a stuffed Balrog head.
"It's an oven in here." Frodo ran a hand across his brow. "I'm going to the living room."
He stood and straightened his white mink fur suit. Sam struggled to remove his bottom from the trophy. Three heaves did it. He took a parting glance at the face, still twisted in rage for being slain and duly stuffed as a mantle adornment. He shivered and followed Frodo.
The living room was a pit. Soda cans, barbecue chips, and Ulmo Bar© wrappers formed rolling hills of many scents. Gandalf sat on the hot pink couch, feet on a fat cardboard box, and a carton of Fingolfin's Best Grinding Ice-cream© on his lap, watching Oprah interview Círdan the Shipwright.
"Ole suckah," Gandalf belched in good humor, sucking on his spoon. "What?" He raised his greasy eyebrows at their entrance.
"Just wondering," Frodo said. "When you'd be going."
"Tomorrow." Gandalf turned up the volume. "Maybe."
"Whatev. I thought we'd discuss the sale of Bad End."
"Oh, bother." The sweaty sorcerer clicked mute. Commercials had come on anyhow.
"I thought," Frodo went on. "That if it must go to the S-Bs it must be as uncomfortable a process as possible. Preferably with blood."
"Remember Frodo, you're going quietly undercover," Gandalf said. The wizard thought that selling Bad End to the Sackville-Bagginses wouldn't arouse too much suspicion.
"But Mr. Frodo." Sam hiccupped. "You don't mean to be gone forever? I mean, you'll be back after you're done with what-it-was."
"Yeees," Frodo said slowly. "I could hire Flópi to drive them into the streets come January. We'll be done by then."
A flicker of Bilbo's nastiness flashed over his face. "And gaining Bad End only to be booted out – the disappointment will kill them both."
Frodo had only agreed to Gandalf's plan, the sacrilege of selling the hole that Bilbo had so long and avidly guarded from his Sackville cousins' clutches, because of one thought – if any evil minion did come knocking for a Mr. Baggins, the Mr. Baggins who answered would be Lotho. Hence the video cameras he had had Sam install over the front door.
"Still, we need to be convincing. Lobelia'll be suspicious."
"That's your business," said Gandalf, clicking off the mute.
And so Frodo plotted. Sam informed. And Gandalf drove up the grocery bill.
The Great Announcement of the sale of Bad End was marked down in the hobbit historians' books as The Day of Sale. Frodo said he had reached the grand age of retirement, 50, and thought he'd spend his golden years in a swampy tourist trap in Buckland called Crickhollow.
Lobelia went into a coma, but came out of it in time to sign the deed. Lotho, her son, still suspecting foul play, took daily vigil with binoculars and x-ray scanners outside the gate to make sure everything Frodo said would be sold remained there.
Frodo kept his word, indeed. All furniture, curtains and rugs were accounted for. It just went into disrepair; the cobwebs would have made Bilbo weep. Frodo hosted wild houseparties that left tables and wardrobes in sawdust and spent monies through the nose on getting himself dunked into a vat of liquid gold and booking entire cruiseliners for himself and not showing up, so that the Gaffer wagged at the Green Dragon, "Didn't think I'd see it, but I did. The Money Bags has goned broke. Fetch my legs, Sam, you worthless son of mine."
The Gaffer wasn't taking kindly to Sam's moving away with Frodo Baggins. Sam tried to compromise. "Well, cousin Ham could take care of him. Or my brother Ham... Even Uncle Ham'd be willin'."
The rumors as to why Frodo would do such an unnatural deed ran the gamut of scandal. But everyone did agree on one point – that it was a trap meant to destroy the S-Bs and that Gandalf, who'd been seen dressed as a leper begging outside the Green Dragon, had something to do with it. He was named Shire Public Menace #1 and around that time Gandalf left Bad End, telling Frodo to wait up.
"I need to see Saruman. He's very wise. And very wealthy." He promised to be back by Frodo's birthday, The Day of Move. Frodo didn't believe him
And too soon the Day of Move arrived. Merry, Flabby and Pippin helped. Well, ideally. The reality was Merry packed, Flabby locked himself in the pantry and Pippin shattered vases. Sam's job was to drink the cellars dry so the S-Bs wouldn't get their nostrils into them.
If the sale was a trap, it was a good trap. The S-Bs could not resist. The attainment of Bad End was the purpose of their waking, eating, and sleeping. They came five in the morning. Spectators lined the street. Venders shouted their high-cal wares, and Lotho and Lobelia only too gladly waved and posed for pictures.
They barged their way in to do a minute inspection of the premises, ticking off items from a scroll perhaps nine feet in length. Afternoon rolled in. At five till six, the Time of Tenure, Lobelia made a door-bashing entrance into the hole as the Nephews scurried out with the Bilbo's old bamboo desk.
"Ours at last!" she exclaimed. A large blade swung an inch from her back. She took no notice. For 76 years she'd been pining for this moment. Words tumbled out, and she puffed larger and larger under her tweed blouse. "You've had your laughs. (Haha). Such a repulsive, outlandish sense of humor, I always said so. Well, the joke's up. We've won."
"Ah, but the worse… is yet to come!"
Frodo's features were so evil Lobelia took a step back into the wall and emitted a booming, prolonged fart.
She yelped, turned to the wall and ripped the whoopee cushion off the hook. She again didn't notice a faint clanking like a heavy gate being raised deep in the hole.
"This is your worse?" Spit flew from her mouth. Her face twisted in rage, and her nose vanished under her creased brow. "Mark me, you odious orphan, mark me, you'll come to a Bad End."
Lobelia rattled an empty bean can sitting on a purple ceramic table. "These all the keys?"
"Sure," he lied. "Except the Gaffer's."
"Well, get them back. I won't be murdered in my sleep!"
Lotho entered from his outside inspection, the big blade swinging a hair from his back. He checked his watch. "You have 39 seconds in which to remain legally on this property."
"Whatev," said Frodo, giving Lotho the Finger as he shut Bad End's door behind him for the final time.
He couldn't go back in now, anyhow. He'd conveniently forgotten to dismantle the traps and alarms and also, conveniently, forgotten to tell his Sackville relations how to. Moreover, Lobelia had unwittingly released a family of Mirkwood-native Humongae Tarentulae that Frodo had been growing all summer.
He told Merry, Flabby and Pippin to go on with the cart of his favorite treasures and junk to Buckland. He and Sam would follow.
"NOOOO!" screamed Pippin. "I wanna come with you!" He stomped, kicked, and wailed, and finally threatened to break the yokes of the pigs pulling the cart.
"We're going to walk, you know," Frodo said. If he was going to leave the Shire, he was going to make as slow and queer an exit as possible.
"I DON'T CARE." Pippin took an axe to the squealing draft-pigs.
Frodo rolled his eyes and said, "Alright." Pippin did a victory jig. "BUT no whining."
"I won't!!!!" Pippin shrieked.
Sam's pink face popped from a rose bush.
Frodo scowled. "Sam! There you are, you stooge. Tell the Gaffer he needs to give back the keys. Now."
Sam hiccupped. "Sho thing, bosh." He wobbled into the fence. Tried again for the gate and missed. Finally he rolled over the top and staggered in the Green Dragon's general direction.
"Well, see you, man." Merry waved. Flabby was still hard at work cleaning out a sack of brown sugar. The cart oinked off down the Hill.
At first Pippin was most excited to be hanging out with his cool older cousin. But after two minutes he groaned… after five minutes made a long whine… and in seven minutes he wailed, "I'm tired. I'm hungry. I want to go home!"
Looking somewhat sobered, Sam joined them and fifteen reporters at the bottom of the Hill. Frodo handed him the five pieces of his matching dragon-skin luggage. Thus they began the walk to Crickhollow.
They went on through the night, over and under muddy back roads. From midnight on, Sam had to carry Pippin. Finally, at daybreak, in a picturesque woody clearing next to a creek, Frodo called halt. The gardener fell asleep where he stood. Frodo pinched him awake so he could set up the four-poster bed Sam carried in the luggage. Frodo slept soundly and Pippin found his stash of Ulmo Bars© and dumped the wrappers around Sam's feet.
Frodo woke at noon to Sam's tentative shakes. "Um, Mr. Frodo, I thought we'd best be eating and--" The Baggins stuffed the comforter into the gardener's mouth and yawned.
His Tookish cousin was zigzagging around the camp, flailing his arms. "Weeeeee!!! I'm cool!"
"I need coffee," Frodo said. "Get some water, Pippin."
"NO." Pippin ran a loop from the campfire to the woods. "NO!"
Frodo watched Sam break down the bed. "Gandalf should have met up with us by now. Of course I didn't count on it."
Sam's mouth was too full of polyester to answer.
"NO!" Pippin had completed another lap. "NO…" And he faded into the woods again.
In the end, Sam fetched the water. Pippin screamed in outrage, spilled it, and dashed to get it himself, sloshing most of it onto his shirt. Sam boiled the little that was left in the coffee maker and handed the pot to Frodo. Frodo dumped it against a tree and declared he preferred Starbucks.
As they emerged from the Starbucks placed conveniently across the way between two oak trees, they heard
an ominous clip-clop up the road.
"May be Gandalf." Frodo sipped his chocolate latté. "Let's give him a heart attack, if nothing else."
They hid behind the Starbucks sign. Pippin giggled and squirmed as the rider and horse came into sight.
It wasn't Gandalf. The suit was tailored and the hat was new. The face had no skin. In the sockets rolled red coals; Frodo had the feeling the man could look out the back of his head.
A chainsaw idled in the rider's hand. He passed them by, muttering in some mummyish language. Once the horse's rump was turned, the hobbits spilled out from the sign.
"What a weirdo!" Pippin shrieked in delight.
Frodo slurped noisily on the last chunks of his latté. "Sure was a freak."
Sam slapped himself. "Samwise, you stupid slug. I just remembered, Mr. Frodo, I meant to tell you. I seen that fellow before."
"Well, Mr. Frodo," Sam said, standing on one toe. "I didn't see him. It was the Gaffer, you see, if you take my meaning…"
"On with it." Frodo crushed his cup, fantasizing it was Sam's head.
"Well, sir, I went for the keys, just like you said. I first went to the Green Dragon, by the Gaffer wasn't there. I thought that funny and went back up the Hill to home and there he was…"
"Haven't you gone off with the Mr. Baggins yet, Sam?" the Gaffer warbled, prunish head shaking side to side. "Worthless son, always tardyin'. And never caring 'bout what happens to your poor old Gaffer."
"Sorry, Gaffer, I know I'm like that. But, um, Mr. Frodo needs his keys back."
"Does he now." The Gaffer's drooped eyes widened so slightly. "I knew you hadn't come back to say goodbye to your Gaffer. No affection to be spared for an old man. That's Sam, always thinks only for hisself. If I die, Sam, it'll be your fault. And don't forget. What was it you wanted?"
"Um… Bad End's keys."
"Yes, that. Didn't never wanted Otho's offspring breathing in my gardens. All that devotion, all that time, all for nothing. Over water the geraniums, they will, you wait. I always said Mr. Frodo was a queer 'un. Now off to Buckland of all queerlands. Well, unnatural birds always roost over water, that's what I always said."
"Yes, but the keys…"
"Speaking of unnatural, I'd just the most unnatural customer come about. One of Mr. Frodo's friends, I reckoned. .."
A tall dude decked in a black suit, black top hat and shiny black shoes rode a black horse up the Hill up to the Gaffer's porch. An animated skull sat where a healthy head should be. A chainsaw whirred in his right hand, chopping neatly the top off the Gaffer's mailbox as he entered the yard. The rider looked at the Gaffer and gargled out baboon sounds.
"Noooo." The Gaffer held a hand to his ear. "Mr. Baggins is goned. Goned with my worthless son, Sam. Yes, goned, I said. Are you deaf? Noooo, I ain't taking no messages. Go find 'im yourself. Of course, everyone knows, he's gone to Buckland to retire. Yes, I think I seened him with a ring, now that you mention it. What business is it of yours?"
The outlandish man swiped his chainsaw at the Gaffer's wooden legs. The Gaffer hopped onto the saw and threw mulch into his eyes. The man yowled, waved a skinless fist, and rode off.
The Gaffer flung a hand-shovel into his retreating back.
"Why, this reminds me of the Old Day, back in The War…"
The Gaffer stood in a smoking, pitted field. His legs were flesh-and-blood. A lieutenant colonel, his only officer still breathing, approached him tentatively and saluted.
"Sir! They're in retreat, but I think…"
"What do you think?"
"They're gonna flank us."
The Gaffer popped a clip into his rifle and warbled, "Leave that to me, lieutenant."
// // //POP// POP// // POP//
"Enough!" Frodo waved a hand, bursting the three flashback bubbles one by one. "Pippin, get out the sandwiches."
They continued on to Buckland. The day got fed up with being bright and became evening. Pippin's whining only intensified with the darkness. It became like a siren's wail, continuous, high pitched, and after a time like background static. It was loud enough, though, that they didn't hear the pounding of horse shoes or the rumble of a chainsaw – till it was right on top of them.
Pippin screamed and fell into a ditch. Sam and Frodo rolled into a gorse bush. They saw the horse stop and a rider dismount where they'd stood a second before. A chainsaw rattled. It buzzed across the bushes across the road. Dissatisfied, apparently, the sawer came to their side and sliced neatly through the bramble toward them… closer and closer, the chips of leaves and bark flying into their faces…
Then came a faint blaring din and stomping of someone quite indifferent to the health of the undergrowth. The chainsaw wielder packed up and left.
Frodo rose to meet the newcomer, leaving Sam to tear his skin free of the bush. Within a minute, an Elf stomped down a young sapling on the road's edge, bagpipe to his lips. He broke off on seeing Frodo and sheepishly hid the hulking instrument behind his back.
There was staring.
"Hi. I'm Gildor Inglorion. And you're Frodo. There's been much ado about you."
The Elf's hair gave off a greenish luminescent glow. He was dressed in a red-white plaid toga. A plastic yellow circlet graced his brow, showing to someone somewhere he was important.
Sam fainted, facedown into a puddle. A stream of bubbles gurgled from his mouth.
Pippin climbed from the ditch and pointed. "His ears dumb!"
Frodo told Pippin to shut up and then addressed Gildor, "Waz up?"
"Not much the past decade or so. Shire's been a dull place since Bilbo left." The be-togaed Elf shrugged.
"O wise one!" shrilled Pippin. "Tell us about the Black Riders!"
"Black Riders?" Gildor looked over his shoulder, but his bagpipe impeded the view. "Whatever would you want to know about them?"
"We seen two! One slunk away just as you showed up."
"Oh." Gildor sighed. "Must've been someone else. Those dread servants of the Enemy were destroyed in The War long ago. Luckily. I wouldn't worry."
Frodo grunted in a way that said he found this conversation exceedingly unenlightening.
"Would you like to…" The Elf gave them a furtive look. "To dine with me at Woodhall. There will be elvish wine, magical cakes, a poor fare, but…"
"No thanks, sounds dreadful," said Frodo.
Sam stirred. Pippin was swiftly getting bored and investigating his nose.
"You haven't seen Gandalf, by chance?" Frodo said.
Gildor itched his luminescent hair. "Gandalf! Gandalf? No, I hadn't seen him. I would have liked to. He owed me money. But now's too late. He's dead, you know."
TO BE CONTINUED
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.