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The Ties of Family
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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4
Dudo

Dudo

Dudo Baggins was the youngest child of Fosco, after Dora and Drogo. He didn’t inherit his brother’s height or weight, or his sister’s confidence. He married Camellia Chubbs and had a daughter Daisy, but when his wife died during the birth of their second child two years after his brother’s son Frodo was born--a son who didn’t survive his mother by quite two days--he left Bywater and took his daughter northwest to a small village called Westhall, near the borders of the Shire.

He’d been back to Hobbiton rarely since young Frodo turned twelve, for since the death of his brother and his wife there seemed little to go back for--not that Drogo and Primula had lived there for years, much less died there. He and Dora had little in common; and Bilbo as head of the family was certainly nothing to draw him back. Drogo had gotten along well with their eccentric older cousin, and Dora did well enough with him, although her Baggins sensibilities were still insulted one who had simply disappeared one fine day and had returned a year and a day later was still considered the head of the family. Dudo was frankly embarrassed to be tied to him, and he also had no intentions in the world of letting his daughter be exposed to similar insults from the insufferable Lobelia Sackville-Baggins to that which had been heaped on Primula and her son Frodo. He had purposely removed himself from the conscious thought of his family, and was pleased to keep things that way. Yes, he was a Baggins; but there was little enough he thought about it. The family name was fading, and certainly wasn’t in danger of being revived by himself, not with but one child, and a daughter at that, to follow after.

But it appeared that Bilbo was keeping discrete tabs on him, and each year he received an invitation to attend Bilbo’s birthday party, and each year on the date of Bilbo’s birthday, at Yule, and at Midsummer he and Daisy received a gift from Bag End--usually a book, and one which interested both of them.

His biggest shock, however, was when he remarried. Remarriages were highly unusual within the Shire, but would occur from time to time. Emerald was half Took with the full benefit of the Took heritage, and was quite a willful one. Like Primula, she was a grandchild of the Old Took, Donnamira and Hugo Boffin’s daughter, born late in their marriage and to their great surprise. Given little coddling or supervision by her parents, who weren’t really certain, at their age, what one did with a child, she’d run rather wild; and after being corrected by Ferumbas and Lalia one too many times for her misadventures, she’d frankly told them to skive off, and took herself out of Tookland completely. Ferumbras had been angry at receiving such defiance, and from that point on forbade her to be counted among the Tooks; as she was a Boffin by birth, that made it easier for the rest of the family to forget her as well. As she’d lived in the Great Smial as a child, however, the Boffin family had never paid her much heed, and certainly never thought of her as one of theirs.

Neither of them was particularly young when they married, Dudo being now seventy-two and Emerald fifty-six; yet both figured they might indeed know some pleasure in what time was left them. The shock had come when at their marriage, which had been intended to be quiet and ignored by the rest of the families of both, Bilbo had turned up. How he had known they were marrying Dudo had no idea. He’d made a nice gift to them for their wedding, a set of silverware he’d had made by his Dwarf friends, had shaken their hands and had wished them the best, and had left as discretely as he’d come. After that the gifts continued at Yule, Midsummer, and Bilbo’s birthday for the three of them--Dudo, Daisy, and Emerald.

Dudo had moved to Westhall because he had half interest in a farm there, and once in the area he began assisting in the working of the land. That a Baggins would actually be willing to get his hands dirty working the land had been a surprise to Erdo Gravelly; but after a year he had to admit that Dudo was a willing worker and highly dependable, if uninspired when it came to working with the crops.

Erdo had found, however, that Dudo could manufacture furniture out of about any piece of wood that came his way. Old wood from a fallen barn had become a remarkable series of cradles and bedsteads for Erdo’s children; a slab cut from a huge oak tree cut down after it was struck by lightning became a gorgeous table top; a walnut tree felled by a fall windstorm had been made into exceedingly comfortable chairs. Erdo’s farmhouse and the hole Dudo had purchased were both furnished with Dudo’s creations, and all recognized they were unique, comfortable, and attractive. That in time Dudo should have more furniture on hand than he and Erdo could use was inevitable, so he and Erdo together looked for an outlet for the overflow.

Erdo’s brother Egro had no interest in farming, and had become a smith who specialized in making farming tools and equipment. His shop began displaying chairs and chests and tables beside his harrows, hoes, and hayforks, and soon word got out that the Gravelly smithy was the place to go for rocking chairs, wall shelves, and cradles. Suddenly both Egro and Dudo were beginning to make money.

One day Dudo looked up from work he was doing in his shop area and found that the one who had just entered was not just a customer, but was instead--Bilbo Baggins.

“Hullo, Bilbo,” Dudo said, turning back to his work.

“Hello, Dudo. As you know, next month will be my eleventy-first birthday, and I truly wish you and Daisy to come--Emerald, also, if she will.”

“Why?”

“Because I intend to do what you have done--disappear. Except I intend to do it even better than you have. I admire you, by the way, leaving as you did, basically letting us all know that we can all skive off. You and Emerald are to be commended.”

“Who is head of the family after you?”

“Frodo, of course.”

“Frodo? How did you manage to get that past the Sackville-Bagginses?”

“I finally overruled Rory, Gilda, Sara, and Esme and insisted on taking him as my ward, and then officially adopted him a year later.”

“That must stick in Lobelia’s craw!”

“It appears the Sackville-Bagginses are the only ones who do not yet realize this bit of news--after you, of course.”

“Lovely! I approve! If you must be eccentric, then at least do it in a responsible manner--and it appears you have done so.”

Bilbo smiled broadly. “Well, will you come and at least see me off and Frodo into his inheritance?”

“Does Frodo know?”

“Yes, although he is still trying to believe it isn’t going to happen. Sam will help see him through it all.”

“He comes of age, doesn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“Sara, Rory, and Esme made you promise to wait till now to leave, then?”

Bilbo’s smile became rueful. “How well you know us all.”

“Who is Sam?”

“The Gaffer’s youngest son, and Frodo’s best friend. Samwise Gamgee.”

“Frodo’s best friend is the gardener’s lad?”

“Yes, the gardener’s lad on one hand, and Esme and Sara’s son Merry on the other are those closest to him.”

“I’d have expected him to be closer to Brendilac Brandybuck or Isumbard and Reginard Took.”

“I fear that Isumbard is out of the question--for right now, at least. Bard and Frodo were rivals for some years for the attentions of Pearl Took.”

“Oh, Frodo and Pearl are courting, then?”

“They were, up to a couple years ago--then suddenly she threw him over. We still don’t know why. Frodo does enjoy Ferdibrand Took, though. It will be better, though, once Ferumbras is gone.”

“The Thain’s still never forgiven you for leaving the Shire before?”

“He’s been worse about it than you have, Dudo. Will you come? I’d like it if Frodo could at least see his uncle, you know. And Dora is getting on now.”

“What is Frodo like?”

Bilbo raised his chin and smiled. “About as different from me as possible. Has the same interests as me, but is responsible, careful, deeply caring, and is about the most decent individual you could ever hope to meet.”

“Does he look like Drogo?”

“Far more slender than Drogo was, more like your dad--and you. Handsome lad, extraordinarily handsome. Has his mum’s eyes.”

“Intelligent?”

Bilbo nodded. “No question about that. Has an Elvish air to him, he does.”

Dudo looked at his cousin thoughtfully for some moments. “We’ll think about coming. That’s all I’ll promise.” Then he asked, “Why didn’t you just send an invitation?”

“Would you have read it?”

“Probably not.”

“Well, there you’ve answered your own question, haven’t you?”

Dudo laughed.

*******

A month later Dudo drove a cart into Hobbiton, Daisy beside him. Emerald, having learned Ferumbras was attending, had announced she had no intention of being within forty miles of the Thain, and stayed home in Westhall.

They were to stay with Wisteria and Folco Boffin, who’d been surprised to receive the note that these two were attending the party and in need of somewhere to sleep that night. Meanwhile they brought their rig to the paddock area where provisions had been made for vehicles and ponies, paid Olo Proudfoot’s eldest to care for them, and headed for the lane where a gate had been cut into the hedge that fenced the Party Field, feeling very excited.

Bilbo stood at the gate to greet them, with Frodo opposite him, a younger lad of somewhere about nineteen or so beside him holding a bag from which presents were being pulled for distribution to the coming guests. Bilbo’s eyes lit to see them, although he didn’t say much different to what he’d said to those immediately before them. “Welcome, welcome indeed. Good to see you here. You know Meriadoc Brandybuck, don’t you? No? Then consider yourself introduced. Come and enjoy yourselves!” Each was handed a wrapped gift, and they found themselves in the midst of activity that reminded them of the Free Fair at Midsummer.

Frodo was soon sent off to mingle with the guests, and shortly was in the midst of the dancing. He approached Daisy at one point and asked her to be his partner. She was surprised he’d ask someone as much older than he as she was, but smiled politely and joined him in the dancing, and found she was enjoying herself thoroughly. Frodo, she realized, could dance, and dance well; and once she’d danced with Frodo, others began to approach her. When Brendilac Brandybuck asked her to dance with him she found herself dimpling with pleasure. But when Griffo Boffin asked her to dance with him--ah, something happened inside. Unlike Frodo or Brendilac, Griffo was not a particularly good dancer; but she found herself enjoying the dance anyway, and enjoying him, for he was looking not at her dancing, but at her. Daisy had been of age long enough that she had begun thinking of herself as being a spinster like her aunt Dora; but now she’d danced with Griffo Boffin--she found herself thinking perhaps she didn’t intend to remain one much longer.

There was a younger Hobbit, a sound, sturdy looking lad in his early twenties, who appeared to be keeping an eye on Frodo; and Dudo found himself watching this one closely. Now and then he would approach Frodo as if checking to be certain of what was to happen next; then he would speak to those serving at the party, and a new round of drinks or food would be laid on the tables. Now and then he would be joined by Meriadoc Brandybuck and a young lad who had to be a Took, with those auburn curls and green eyes, and although he treated them with deference, the two of them appeared to equally defer to his authority. Was that, Dudo wondered, Samwise Gamgee? Again he was approaching Frodo, Merry and the Took lad following behind. Frodo turned, smiling automatically at him, leaned forward to hear his low-voiced question, automatically accepting the youngest lad’s company, drawing the child to him as he conferred with the older two, his hands lying comfortingly on the little one’s shoulders. They were being joined by two others, a Boffin and a Bolger if Dudo was any judge of Hobbits, the Bolger lad immensely fat; and a lass Dudo recognized as Narcissa Boffin sat nearby, obviously watching the group--especially Frodo, Dudo realized with amusement--closely.

The sturdy lad finally made as if to head off to bear a message, but Frodo reached out to restrain him, nodding toward a group of lasses over to one side, smiling as he clearly indicated his friend was to take a break from his duties and enjoy himself at least for a time, and he then sent Meriadoc off to speak with the servers from the food tent while he and the Bolger and Boffin and Took lad went to check with those who were in charge of the ale. Bilbo was gathering a group of the youngest Hobbits around him and was beginning to tell them a story; when his story was done Frodo slipped in and took his uncle’s place while Bilbo circulated through the crowd and spoke with his various cousins and other family heads attending. The old Wizard Gandalf was present, bestowing squibs and crackers on the young ones, setting off some wonderful fireworks as the darkness finally fell.

Dudo suddenly realized that Bilbo was sitting beside him. “Enjoying yourself, Dudo?” the old Hobbit asked.

“Yes, surprisingly,” Dudo returned. “No one appears to be paying me the least bit of heed, save you, and I’m finding it pleasant.” He looked around, saw that Frodo was again amidst the dancing, dancing with Narcissa Boffin, whose face was alight with joy. He saw the sturdy lad with the hair the color of dark honey was standing once again watching things responsibly, a young lass beside him, holding his hand. “Is that the gardener’s lad, then?” he asked, indicating the pair.

“Yes, that’s Sam, and his cousin Rosie Cotton, who has claimed him since she was a young thing. No one has ever questioned that when the two of them come of age they will marry. Where’s Daisy?”

“Over there,” Dudo said, indicating a group watching the dancing, where Daisy stood with a group of Boffins. “Frodo got her to dance with him, and then others followed him. But since Griffo asked her, she’s not been back near me. She appears to be quite taken with him.”

“Griffo’s a responsible one. Has his own farm now, you know, and runs it efficiently. Most of the Boffins work the land themselves, and are excellent businessmen to boot. They tend to marry later than most, but usually choose well. She’d find herself well loved if she accepts him, as well as well provided for.”

“Who is that young Boffin there, there with the fat Bolger lad?”

“Folco Boffin, Hildibras and Wisteria’s son; and the Bolger lad is Fredegar, Odocavar’s son. Frodo is quite close to both of them.”

“That’s Folco? I wouldn’t have recognized him! He has grown since I last saw him, I must say.”

“You’ve been gone for quite some time, you know.”

“I know--but somehow I suppose I must have expected the young ones just to stay as they were when I last saw them.” Dudo looked around, finally saw Dora Baggins sitting near the Thain and the Master. “There she is, my dragon of a sister.”

“Yes, puffs like a dragon but has a heart as soft as warm butter.”

Dudo laughed. The dance was now over, and the musicians were taking a break; Frodo stood by Narcissa, with whom he exchanged a few words and a laugh, then turned as Ferdibrand Took approached, obvious pleasure in Frodo’s eyes. “I see that Ferdibrand has little fear of the Thain’s displeasure regarding his folk dealing with your ward.”

“Oh, Ferumbras has no difficulty with Frodo--it’s me he can’t stand, Dudo. He was most put out to learn that Ferdi was talking with me, and cut back on the lad’s visits for a time; but I doubt he’ll continue the ban once I’m gone.” The old Hobbit’s expression became solemn. “They all love Frodo, you know. Quite the fairest and best Hobbit to be born in the Shire in a dragon’s age. Has spirit, but is also responsible to a fault. He and Sam make a good pair.” He watched as Ferdibrand, Frodo, and Narcissa spoke for some moments. “He brings out the best in almost all he meets, it seems. He can even keep young Pippin there in line, which is quite a feat.”

“Pippin?”

Bilbo indicated the young Took lad Dudo had noted earlier. “Peregrin Took, Paladin and Eglantine’s youngest. Was born just before Yule the year I finally took Frodo as my ward. Lovely lad, but impulsive as only a Took can be.” Eglantine had the lad by the hand, obviously restraining him as she discussed something with Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. Lobelia was looking down on the lad with wrath, but Eglantine drew him behind her as she kept her gaze level on the other Hobbitess. Reluctantly Lobelia shifted her gaze from the lad to his mother, and at a final word from Eglantine more reluctantly nodded and turned away. Meanwhile another Hobbit was confronting Otho, holding a young Hobbit lad who too closely resembled Lobelia’s husband by the shoulder as he made his complaint.

Dudo asked, “Is that Otho and Lobelia’s son?”

Bilbo gave a sigh as he responded, “Yes, young Lotho. As unpleasant as his mother, I fear--rather a bully. He and young Ted Sandyman are the only two lads in Hobbiton no one can stand, not even Frodo or Sam, both of whom usually can get along with anyone. Wonder what Lotho did to Porto? My beloved cousin looks most annoyed with the lad.”

“Lobelia was looking very upset with young Pippin.”

Bilbo gave a snort. “Doesn’t take much to annoy Lobelia, as you well know. He may well have pulled a prank on her--or he might simply have bumped against her in the crowd--she’d be just as affronted either way.” Dudo shrugged his agreement. “Well, you had best speak to Dora some time tonight, Dudo. You are invited into the family tent around the old oak for dinner. I think you will find it most amusing, although I suspect both Ferumbras and Lobelia will be most annoyed with me. As long as they don’t take it out on Frodo, I don’t really care.” He raised his tankard in a salute, then rose and headed off toward the Brandybucks.

The dragon firework took all by surprise and terrified some as it whizzed repeatedly over the field, before it finally flew off over the Water and burst into a fantastic display of color and light. Dudo found himself quite liking it. When the announcement came that this firework heralded supper, he joined the lines headed into the tent Bilbo had indicated earlier. The older Hobbits tended to separate into families, with the Brandybucks fairly near the front, the Proudfoots off to one side, the Tooks mostly opposite. Dudo decided the time had come to confront his sister, so he made a point of sitting beside her. Dora turned to see who had taken the place, and looked surprised to recognize her errant brother.

“So,” she said, “you’ve finally decided to return to Hobbiton, have you?”

“Bilbo made a point of inviting me in person, so I felt beholden to come.”

“Thought a good part of the reason you left was because of him.”

Dudo shrugged, then smiled. “Doesn’t mean I’m glad he’s been family head--but an eleventy-first birthday does earn him some respect.”

She shrugged in return, then smiled. “You are looking fine,” she said. “Farm work seems to agree with you. Are you still working with wood, too?”

“Yes. I’m not the carver Drogo was, but I enjoy making chairs and tables and such.”

“We miss you, Dudo.”

“I don’t miss Hobbiton, though.”

“I was afraid of that.”

Dinner was superb. Dudo was certain Bilbo would wait till his birthday speech to announce his leaving, and so it proved. Frodo and he had sat together at the end of the Baggins table, but hadn’t taken part in much of the conversation of the others. When Bilbo rose, Dudo saw the pain in Frodo’s eyes, saw him look down swiftly at his hands in his lap as he tried not to give away what was to come. Once Bilbo began to speak, however, the younger Hobbit’s eyes rose to follow Bilbo avidly. “I regret to announce...” Bilbo finally said, and then suddenly there was a terrific flash of light and roar of sound and a cloud of smoke--and the old Hobbit had disappeared. Frodo’s face was full of grief, which was swiftly controlled; young Sam had apparently been apprised ahead of time as to what would happen, and was swiftly giving the orders to pass out the last of the desserts, more ale and wine, while young Meriadoc Brandybuck, Peregrin Took, Fredegar Bolger, and Folco Boffin began to move in between the rest of the relatives and Frodo as if to protect him, Frodo was rather skillfully handling the demands of old Odo Proudfoot, Thain Ferumbras, Dora Baggins, and a few others to know what Bilbo had meant by the thinly veiled insults and this second disappearance, and Gandalf the Wizard had disappeared from view.

There was no question in Dudo’s mind that Frodo had indeed known ahead of time that Bilbo was leaving, that he was in deep grief over the leaving, but that he would weather it; and it was also plain that the younger Hobbits who were his especial friends would do their best to make certain he was not importuned unnecessarily and that he would be supported to the best of their ability.

Dora was in shock, and begged Dudo to come to her house that night, and at last he agreed, first letting Wisteria know that Dora had insisted. Daisy, however, went with Wisteria and Folco. Dudo and Dora spoke throughout the night, and went to bed not long before dawn. The surprise had, Dudo realized, caused his sister deep distress and grief, and for the first time in years he realized that she did need someone in whom to confide from time to time. In her way, Dora had loved her cousin Bilbo, and by leaving in this manner he had caused her great pain. When after two days he finally took his own leave of her, Dudo realized that his sister was far more frail than he’d imagined. When she died a year later, somehow he wasn’t surprised.

********

Emerald looked up as her husband came into their home. Her face was, Dudo noted, rather pale. “Do you have them all moved in?” she asked.

Dudo nodded. “Yes, Griffo and Daisy are settling into Dora’s old hole rather nicely. I’m glad she decided to leave it to them.”

“I’m a bit surprised they weren’t settled into Number Five, where you three were born.”

“Olo and Mira Proudfoot have as much right to that as Daisy and Griffo, you know. They are, after all, closer relations to Bilbo. Certainly Frodo has no reason to kick them out just because Daisy is now married; and Dora was happy enough to make her and Griffo her heirs.”

“How is young Frodo doing?”

“Well enough,” Dudo answered. “Appears to have accepted Bilbo’s leaving, and keeps up Bag End beautifully. Old Hamfast has completely retired, and his youngest son Samwise is now the gardener there. The lad is totally competent, and appears to be devoted to Frodo.”

Emerald nodded. She was quiet for a time, and was rubbing her back. “Well,” she finally said, “I learned something odd while you were gone, and I suppose I’d best discuss it with you as soon as possible.” Then she went quiet, and he was intrigued.

Finally he prompted her. “For something which you feel you ought to discuss with me, you appear to be finding it hard to put into words. What is it, beloved?”

She looked up at him, a bemused look on her face. “It’s not something that, after this length of time, I’d thought to say, Dudo. It appears that we are expecting.”

He looked at her blankly. “Expecting what?”

She began to giggle at his expression. “A child. It appears that, like my mum and dad, we are going to have a child between us at this late date! Whatever are we going to do with a child, Dudo Baggins?”

He stood looking at her in total shock.

But it wasn’t, strictly speaking, a child, but two, for Emerald and Dudo found themselves, in early April, the parents of that great rarity among Hobbits, twins, a boy and a girl. Dudo was in as much shock at this news as he’d been at the initial announcement of the pregnancy in September.

The bairns had come several weeks early, and were quite small. Considering how extraordinarily large Emerald had grown in the last month, this was something he simply had not thought of--that there would be two, and each so small. The midwife was concerned at the small size and the earliness of them. She’d never seen twins before--to her such things had always been the stuff of legend. Yet, here was definitely a pair, and, she feared, likely to be a sickly pair at that.

Dudo and Emerald named them Fosco and Forsythia. Three days after their birth a package arrived from Bag End--a pair of knitted blankets. Three weeks later Emerald awoke to find that in the night Dudo had died. Their children would not know their father, save through what they were told by others. Emerald stood over the two cradles which Dudo had made for them, and wept her grief for her gentle husband.

Each September twenty-second, each Yule, and each Midsummer there would arrive gifts for the three of them from Bag End--until Emerald died when the two little ones were six; then Erdo’s son and daughter-in-law took them to foster, and further gifts from Hobbiton were sent back to the sender unopened. Having found herself unable to have children of her own, Lilac Gravelly intended not to let these two get away from her, or for strangers from Hobbiton to claim them, just because they were Bagginses by birth.

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