With thanks to RiverOtter for the beta.
September 21, 1371
“You’re certain you don’t wish me to bake the cake?” Bilbo asked for the third time.
Primula Brandybuck Baggins smiled. “I told you, Bilbo, we have that well in hand. Young Lily Brown is working on that right now as we speak, and you know as well as I do that she’s a right dab hand at baking cakes. Besides--as one of the two byrthings it’s not right you should have to bake your own cake.”
“It’s only that I finally wangled that recipe for spice cake that Aramos and Bachelorbutton Millpond have always guarded so strongly, and I’d love to try it out myself.”
That gave his younger cousin pause. The Millpond spice cake had become an icon within the Shire in the past few years, having cornered the prizes at the Michel Delving Free Fair the last four years running in the cake baking competitions. Oh, she was tempted...but she hardened her heart--if somewhat reluctantly. “No--that wouldn’t be fair to Lily, I fear. But how about you baking it for Drogo’s birthday? It’s just next month, after all.” And at Bilbo’s brightened expression, she continued, “And there’s no question you’re contributing to the party by housing my family and the Whitwell Tooks. Yes, I know that we’re having Rory and Gilda and the lads there in Number Five with us; but you’ll have my mother and the rest of my brothers and sisters as well as Adalgrim, Paladin and Eglantine, and Esmeralda. I’m rather glad the older lasses and their families have decided to take rooms at the Green Dragon--that would be rather much to have them here, too.”
“Oh, I rather think I would have been able to house them, too--we could have fit them into the extra rooms I use for my wardrobe.”
Primula shook her head in the wonderment of it. “You do spend far, far too much on clothing, most of which you’ve not worn more than once or twice, Bilbo Baggins. Time to sort it all out and give away those things you don’t really want to wear again, you know.”
“But it gives me such pleasure to know that somewhere in all that I have the perfect outfit to wear to any function I might take it into my mind to attend, my dear lass.”
“Well, hopefully my Frodo will grow up to be a bit more conservative about clothing than you. Anyway, the cake’s to be delivered this evening at about six of the clock, I understand, and Drogo has a ham and a smoked goose coming from the Cotton’s farm at much the same time. Young Tom suggested he’d come then once he realized that Lily was due with her cake at about that time--he’s quite taken with her, you understand.”
Bilbo smiled with satisfaction. “Yes, so I do understand, and I’m thoroughly pleased with the situation. Tom’s shaping up a wonderful farmer, and Lily’s one of the best cooks in the region--certainly she’s at least the equal of Bell Gamgee.”
“I’m glad you suggested inviting the Gamgees and the Cottons to the party as well as all the Bagginses and Nat Boffin’s family and all. Although I hope that Odo Proudfoot doesn’t make an ass of himself again.”
Her older cousin laughed. “If he didn’t make an ass of himself I’d doubt it was truly Odo. But I suspect he’ll not be too objectionable, Primmie. Well, I believe the Whitwell Tooks will be here within the next couple hours, so I’d best see to it the bedrooms are truly ready for them and that we have a meal ready to go on the table when they arrive.”
By nightfall most of the guests from outside the Hobbiton area had arrived, and both Bag End and Number Five were full. A cart from the far side of Bywater had brought the great ham and even greater smoked goose from the Cottons’ farm; and a time later it left again, Tom Cotton with Lily Brown beside him on the seat, having most courteously offered her a ride home across the village of Hobbiton toward Overhill. Exactly how she’d managed to be stranded on the Hill no one could quite say, but Primula had a strong suspicion that Bilbo had slipped a few coppers into the hands of her younger brother Carl at the same time as an idea into his head. Certainly once she’d seen the cake into the hole and properly displayed on the sideboard in the dining room and was satisfied that what little damage had come to the icing on the trip over had been made right, young Lily had learned Carl and her family’s cart were no longer to be found. She certainly appeared happy enough to accept the offer of a ride from the young farmer, and his face was decidedly cheerful as he slapped the reins and his ponies set off toward the turning of the lane.
Saradoc and Merimac had insisted on taking Drogo off to the Ivy Bush, where they hoped to be joined shortly by Dudo. Once her older brother Rory and his wife Menegilda had decided to take advantage of the near-privacy to retire to their guest room together, Primmie found herself unexpectedly at loose ends, having no one to entertain and nothing left to do for the morrow that needed to be done now. So she slipped into her son’s room and looked down on him sleeping in his low cot, smiling to see the stuffed dog given him by his Auntie Dora on her birthday lying with its head on his outstretched right arm. Ah, he could look so very innocent, her beloved little lad.... She carefully lifted the blanket she’d embroidered with a great dragonfly over him and brushed a dark curl away from his right eye, noting the soft smile that could be discerned on his face even while sleeping. He was her beloved star-kissed son, her so desired child. She sat herself in the rocking chair and picked up a woolwork ball off the floor, holding it to her and humming as she looked down on his sweet face, which seemed to shine softly in the dim glow of the rushlight.
Innocent? When on earth had Primula Baggins ever thought of her son as innocent? she wondered as she tried vainly to find him. She’d only wanted to see him dressed for the party to come, but he’d taken one look at the fancily ruffled shirt she’d thought to put on him and had said “No!” quite plainly before running out of his room and down the hallway. Where he was hiding she had no idea, for when little Frodo wished to be silent, he was the most silent little Hobbit ever born into the Shire.
A door opened and Menegilda came out of the privy, startled to find her sister-in-love standing, looking frustrated, in the passageway. “What is it, Primmie?” she asked. She looked at the garment the younger Hobbitess held in her hands so forlornly, and asked, “Frodo’s to wear that?”
“Well, he’s supposed to, but he’s apparently decided he doesn’t like the looks of it and has run off to hide. It was a gift from Lalia, actually--apparently she had it made for Ferumbras when he was a bairn, and she’s kept it all these years. She sent it by way of Eglantine, with word that she hoped that Frodo would look as precious in it as her own little lad had done.”
Gilda took it out of her hands and held it up, and she laughed outright. “A precious laugh, if you ask me, Primula. Oh, we can’t expect him to wear this--not today of all days. Look at that ruffle there--and the color! I ask you--red, and that shade of red at that? It wouldn’t suit Frodo’s fair coloring at all, you know. Is she coming?”
“Yes, she and the Thain are to arrive with Ferumbras shortly before luncheon, I understand.”
“That doesn’t leave us a great deal of time to see to the situation, then. Hmm--perhaps it would be best to pour some grape juice upon it--she’d not expect him to wear it if he managed to have a great purple stain for all to see.”
But even his mother’s announcement that he wouldn’t have to wear that shirt after all didn’t make it any easier to find Frodo, for once he’d hidden himself he tended to remain there unmoving until found. It was Bell Gamgee who finally discovered him lying under his mother’s dress of the day before in the laundry basket.
“Sometimes, my beloved son,” Primula sighed as she accepted the child from her amused neighbor, “the fact you are a decidedly stubborn Baggins is made far, far too obvious.”
“Don’ wan’ it,” he insisted.
“So you’ve made plain. Well, what about the green shirt with the leaves upon it?”
His face cleared--that one had been one of his favorites for the past few months. He looked at the ruffled monstrosity the Thain’s Lady had intended to see him wear that day, and appeared to approve of the purple blotch that marred its red color as his mother carried him to the nursery and saw him dressed.
“The Sackville-Bagginses weren’t invited, were they?” asked Menegilda.
“No, but they are likely to show up anyway,” said Primula as she buttoned her son’s braces. “Otho is absolutely intent on keeping it before all noses that he is Bilbo’s proper heir, after all.”
“Selfish blighters,” muttered Gilda, causing her husband’s youngest sister to turn her way in surprise, her eyebrows rising up toward her hairline at the decidedly common evaluation of Bilbo’s detestable younger cousin and his family. “And it’s not so much Otho who wishes all to remember him as Bilbo’s heir so much as Lobelia, and you know it. She’s always fancied herself as the wife to the Baggins and as the mistress of Bag End, you know.”
“As if they didn’t keep the fanciest smial in the village itself,” muttered Primmie as she picked up her son’s brush and saw first the hair on his head and then that on his feet neatly groomed.
“And look how they got it,” pointed out the Mistress of Brandy Hall. “It ought to have gone to Otho’s Sackville cousin, and we all know it. Lobelia engineered the whole scheme to see him disgraced and his mother’s will rewritten in Otho’s favor, you know. And by the time it came out finally that Teron had nothing to do with that lass in Overhill putting the dessert before the meal as she did it was too late--Otho and Lobelia were in and he was left to beg a place with his younger brother until he could save enough to purchase a hole of his own.”
“Poor Teron,” Primmie said as she gave one last brush to Frodo’s left foot and set him down upon the floor. “Now, don’t you go getting dirty again right away, sweetness, or I’ll have to put you to bed without any of your birthday cake.” Nodding absently, the tiny child hurried out of the nursery toward the front of the smial. “Three years old today, he is,” she smiled after him fondly. “Drogo and I have been so blessed to have him, you know. I hope Esme will come down soon,” she added. “He absolutely adores her.”
Shortly before noon they went up to Bag End, ham and goose and cake with them, so as to be ready to greet further guests due to arrive just in time for luncheon. As soon as Thain Fortinbras and his party arrived all trooped in for the meal. “He’s not wearing the shirt I sent over?” Lalia demanded.
“Oh, I’m so grateful you so thoughtfully sent it,” Primula said, “but it appears that the first thing that happened was for a cup of grape juice to be spilled on it. I have it soaking now, and hopefully we will be able to keep the stain from becoming permanent; but I couldn’t allow him to wear it once it was so badly spotted with purple.”
“At least he doesn’t have to look a right mam’s lad in front of all these guests,” muttered Ferumbras in tones low enough his mother didn’t hear. “I hated that shirt,” he added privately to Primula. “Now, the one he’s wearing--that is such a perfect one for the lad.”
Most of the other guests appeared to agree with the Thain’s son and heir. Peony was cooing over Frodo, and Dudo and Camellia’s daughter Daisy was begging to hold him next while Esmeralda kept a jealous watch over him. Primula smiled--not only did small Frodo adore his Auntie Smee, as he called her still, but Esmeralda had been enamored of her small cousin since the day he was born.
“And what on earth happened to the carpet there near your study door?” inquired Dora of Bilbo.
“Oh, that was Lobelia’s doing, actually,” Bilbo explained. “She was visiting, and while I must be out of the parlor seeing to tea she took it into her head to visit the study and try to figure out the value of my inkstand. She’d placed the bottle of red ink on the low table by the sofa while she checked the maker’s marks out----”
“But that’s nowhere near the door to the passageway, you know.”
“Yes, I’m well enough aware of that fact; but once it was down on that table that young scamp there, who was staying with me for the afternoon while his parents must be gone to Overhill for the day, was able to reach it, and he took it out into the hallway, removed the lid, and set to paddle in the ink. He did pour it out onto the tile, but ink will spread once it’s spilled out, you know.”
There were chuckles from several sides at that intelligence.
Frodo sat in the high chair that had once been Bilbo’s own as all enjoyed the elaborate luncheon Bilbo had prepared with the help of Bell Gamgee and Esmeralda, who’d proved a good cook on her own part. And as Frodo picked his way through his third bowl of mushrooms cooked with butter and bits of bacon, his father smiled proudly. “Now, that’s my lad there, you know--see? No one loves mushrooms more than we Bagginses do!” At that Frodo popped a large mushroom into his mouth with all signs of enthusiasm.
After the meal all went down to the field opposite the foot of the hill where a bandstand had been raised, and once a few folk showed up with fiddle and drums and pipes the dancing began. Frodo sat upon his Uncle Bilbo’s lap, his eyes large, watching every move, bouncing to the music, until Esmeralda came to claim him, and took him to the edge of the dancing ground where she swooped to and fro with her young cousin in her arms, him delighted to be a part of the merriment.
Not even the arrival of the Sackville-Bagginses was enough to put a damper on the party. Ferumbras, who after six ales and three glasses of Old Winyards was feeling very expansive and genial, swooped Lobelia off immediately into the Springlering, while Nat Boffin managed to corner Otho to question him on what he expected he might do with a pipeweed plantation he’d just bought near Threadneedle. Lalia, still upset that Frodo hadn’t worn her gift to him, made a point of making over Lotho--until he grew tired of the attention and purposely knocked her goblet of wine into her lap, then scurried off to hide behind his father.
The gifts for all were almost all well accepted; and even though the S-Bs had not been invited there was even a gift for each of them--and for Lobelia, a very inexpensive inkstand complete with a bottle of red ink. What exhilaration she might have felt at having been swept off into the dance was swiftly forgotten as the perceived insult went through her. In moments she had Peony Baggins, who was rather afraid of her, cornered. “And you know,” she was murmuring as Bilbo passed, carrying Frodo on his shoulder, “what they are saying about our dear Primula, don’t you?” The ears of both Bilbo and Frodo twitched.
A large table had been set up in the garden, and the party climbed the hill (Lalia huffing mightily as they reached the top) to it for the birthday feast. The great ham and goose were carried out along with all the other dishes prepared, and all settled in to eat. Bilbo and Frodo sat at the top of the table while Lobelia was settled rather pointedly opposite him, an arrangement it was obvious was not intended to be flattering, particularly as it appeared that the food on her filled dish as it finally reached her all seemed to be cold, although she could see steam rising from those on either side of her. Peony was settled near the family of Rory and Primula’s sister Asphodel, where the tween immediately received the attentions of Asphodel’s son Milo, and Lobelia found that Menegilda, who sat beside her, was not in a mood to hear any of the gossip Lobelia wished to pass on, so was sitting seething with indignation that was, for the moment at least, inexpressible.
At last the meal was over and the cake brought out on the tea trolley and settled to Bilbo’s left. Bilbo stood up then to make his birthday speech. “We would welcome you to our party, Frodo and I,” he announced, “all our beloved Bagginses and Boffins, Brandybucks and Tooks, Bolgers and Gamgees and Cottons, Rumbles and, of course, our redoubtable Sackville-Bagginses. He is three now, and I am eighty-one!” All cheered. “It is such a pleasure to have you here to celebrate with us, of course.” More cheering. “And I hope that all of you are enjoying yourselves as much as Frodo and I are!” Many Of courses. “We are, for the moment at least, the oldest and youngest Bagginses living in the Shire, and most of those in between are present with us today.” Still more cheers.
“We welcome you again, and thank you for coming, and hope that you will be able to enjoy many more birthdays with us.” As those final cheers faded, he took up the knife that had been set upon the trolley, holding it up. “This is not Sting, of course, and with it we do not hold off great spiders, dragons, or Gollum, but I suspect with it we can effectively do battle with this cake, Frodo and I. What do you think, my dear boy?” he asked, turning toward his fellow byrthing.
“Yeah,” Frodo agreed, nodding his head very solemnly.
Bilbo scooted his chair into position with his knee, then lifted Frodo easily from his high chair onto the seat where he stood between Bilbo and the cake. Bilbo settled the haft of the knife in Frodo’s hand and placed his over that of his little cousin, and together they cut the cake into slices. At last Bilbo lifted Frodo from his place on the chair and leaned down to whisper in the faunt’s ear. The lad smiled, and pulled down Bilbo’s head to whisper a single word into his ear with a glance down the garden toward the far end of the table. Bilbo looked, nodded seriously, and straightened. He once again turned his attention on the rest of the guests. “Frodo has asked for permission to serve the first piece of cake to a guest, and has said he wishes to deliver it himself to our beloved cousin Lobelia, who, seated as she was, was unfortunately the last to be served supper.” So saying he lifted quite a large slice and set it upon a plate, and with great ceremony delivered it into Frodo’s hands.
The tiny lad carried it most carefully, past Saradoc and Merimac, past the Whitwell Tooks, past Asphodel and her family, past Peony Baggins, past Nat Boffin and his wife, past the Cottons, past Rory and Menegilda, and approached Lobelia most solemnly, obviously most proud at his feat of having carried it the full length of the table. He raised his eyes to her, the blue of them triumphant as he lifted the plate to show her the delicious cake and thick frosting and lovely butter-cream rose that decorated it--and there on the sward Hamfast Gamgee kept so closely and smoothly groomed, he tripped, the plate flying from his hands and landing with a great splat against Lobelia’s ample bosom, some of the frosting splattering across her face.
Menegilda was immediately upon her feet to assist the child to his own while Rory made a great show of attempting to help wipe the cake and frosting from Lobelia’s bodice with his napkin while effectively smearing it but the further, but the rest of the guests were all roaring with laughter.
“Sowwy, sowwy!” Frodo was saying, his face filled with chagrin as he looked up at Lobelia.
What Lobelia wished to say was not clear, for she was so filled with fury and embarrassment she was incomprehensible. But in the light of the child’s face, what could she say, in the end? Particularly, as all were remembering, she’d not even been invited. At last she allowed Otho and Lotho to lead her out of the garden to their waiting trap, with Hamfast hurrying to open the gate for her.
Menegilda had been holding little Frodo, who’d been sobbing onto her shoulder, and now Bilbo approached her and reached out to take the child from her. As Frodo was lifted away, Gilda looked down, expecting to see tears on those lovely long lashes of his--only to see not a one, just that spark of mischief that, for the moment, he shared with Bilbo.
“You little scamp!” she exclaimed. “You did that on purpose!”
He smiled up at her sweetly. “Worked,” he advised her, then turned to plant a kiss on Bilbo’s cheek. “Happy birsday, Unca Bo,” he said.
“And you, too, my dear boy,” Bilbo smiled. “One enemy vanquished today!”
So saying, he carried the child back off toward the head of the table.