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3
An Unexpected Turn of Events

The first part of this chapter is a reshaped version of certain events from “The Hobbit”, of course, although with a few profound changes.

As for Drogo being fair-haired… well, I’m sorry, movie-fans, but Frodo was described in The Books as “a stout little fellow with red cheeks, taller than some and fairer than most, and he has a cleft in his chin: perky chap with a bright eye.” That’s what he was supposed to look, and as we know virtually nothing about his parents (except the fact of their tragic death), I chose his father to have the same looks.


~~~

PART THREE – AN UNEXPECTED TURN OF EVENTS

Bilbo Baggins had been mightily weary of his adventure since the day he had awakened after the Battle of Five Armies. He was glad that Thorin Oakenshield and himself had parted in kindness at last, but nonetheless, it had come to battle and bloodshed before that; and to many, many deaths. The fact that he had known some of those who had died only made things worse for him to bear.

“All I wanted was to buy peace and quiet,” he said to Gandalf in sorrow, “and look what a mess had come out of it!”

“Now, now,” replied the wizard, looking down at him kindly from under enormous eyebrows. “You can hardly be blamed for that, my dear Bilbo.”

“No, I suppose not,” Bilbo agreed, after a moment of consideration. “Still I’ve had enough of the wide world for a while. I’m aching in my bones for the homeward journey.”

But that journey had to be a little delayed, no matter how much he wanted to set off at once. First there was the burial of Thorin Oakenshield and that of Fíli and Kíli, the merry young princes of Durin’s House, who had fallen defending him with shield and body, for he was their mother’s eldest brother. Again, Bilbo wept for them, as he had wept for Thorin, or even more so, as he had grown fond of the young Dwarves during their adventure and was greatly saddened by their loss.

He could not set off right after the burial, either, for there was a great feast, held in the honour of those who had fallen in the Battle of Five Armies, and he was supposed to be present, for he was now considered a Dwarf-friend and an esteemed person in the eyes of all Dwarves, due to his help with the defeating of the Dragon. As much as he loved feasting and good food – what Hobbit did not? – the amount of attention given to his person soon became bothersome, and he wanted nothing more than be gone already.

There was still the matter of dividing the Dragon’s hoard among those who had claim in winning and defending it. Dáin Ironfoot, now King of the Dwarves under the Mountain, had wanted to reward him most richly for his deeds that led to those events in the first place. But Bilbo didn’t want the trouble of taking some great treasure all along the way back to the Shire; and thus he had only accepted two small chests, one filled with silver, the other filled with gold, such as a strong pony could carry, as well as a few leather pouches of small gems that he intended to have made into shirt studs later. And on that same pony, accompanied by Gandalf, he rode with the Elven host westwards to Mirkwood.

The two of them didn’t enter the Forest, though. After having spoken their farewells to the Elvenking and exchanging parting gifts with him, they rode on along the outskirts of the woods at once, for Bilbo’s way home was a long one indeed. With the Grey Mountains on their right all the way, they followed the northern border of Mirkwood, then crossed the Forest River where it was still easy to ford and turned southwards after coming around the northwestern edge of the Forest. ‘Twas already mid-winter when they reached Beorn’s wide wooden halls, where they stayed for a while and spent a very merry Yuletide with the bear-man’s people.

When spring came again with mild weather and a bright sun, they finally moved on, crossing the High Pass, and arrived in Rivendell on the first of Thrimidge. There they made a short break to recover from their weariness, for crossing the Great River and the Misty Mountains had been tiring and dangerous business, even without Wargs and Goblins lurking behind each boulder. As usual in the Last Homely House, they were gladly welcomed and spent a few days resting, singing and dancing in the delightful company of the Elves of the Vale, among them especially a young minstrel by the name of Lindir, who befriended the Hobbit very quickly.

But not even Elrond’s house could hold Bilbo much longer, splendid place though it was, for the Tookish part of him was getting more tired and the Baggins part of him was growing stronger with each passing day. All he truly wanted was the peace of his own beautiful hobbit-hole and the comfort of his own armchair. Thus they only stayed a week or so – ‘twas hard to keep count on time in Rivendell – ere setting off on the last stretch of their road.

Now, this last stretch, too, was a fairly long one, albeit not nearly as perilous as the ones before, and even riding those strong, resilient ponies acquired in Laketown (ere it was destroyed by the Dragon), it took them nearly two months to make it. Along the way, they came to the Trollshaws, where they indeed found all the gold and other riches the three stupid trolls had gathered during their unnaturally long lives.

At first Bilbo was against digging it out, and even afterwards, he wanted Gandalf to keep it all, as he already had all he needed for the rest of his life. But Gandalf insisted that he take the half of it, saying that he might have more needs upon his return home than he expected.

At that time Bilbo could not understand the meaning of those words and was slightly bewildered by them while they put the gold in sacks and slung them on the decidedly unhappy ponies – which meant that he had to continue on foot through the fresh green grass… not that the Hobbit would mind it. He found that he liked walking… as long as they were walking homewards.

And thus, on the twentieth of Forelithe, they finally reached the Shire in a splendid mood, and when two days later the Hill itself came into sight in the distance, the weather was bright and hot again. Bilbo was singing a walking song – a new one that had just come to his mind in that very moment, and Gandalf stared at him in something akin surprise, commenting that Bilbo was not the same Hobbit that he had been.

As they crossed the Bridge and passed the Mill by the River, however, coming right back to Bilbo’s front gate, the Hobbit was reminded the wizard’s word spoken at the trolls’ den, seeing the thick crowd around his door. Many were going in and out – among them some he’d never have invited voluntarily – without even wiping their feet on the mat, as he noticed with annoyance.

“Bless me!” he exclaimed. “What’s going on here?”

Before Gandalf could have said anything, they spotted a Hobbit running down the Hill, straight towards them: a young Hobbit, taller than most, with light, almost fair hair, red cheeks and a cleft in his chin.

“Cousin Bilbo!” he cried with unabashed joy, his eyes bright with unshed tears of joy. “You have come back, at last – and not a moment too soon, I say!”

“A perky little chap,” commented Gandalf, looking at the young Hobbit with approval. “A relative of yours, I understand?”

“A second cousin,” replied Bilbo absent-mindedly. “The son of my uncle Fosco. Now, Drogo my lad,” he turned to the young Hobbit, “can you tell me what all these people are doing here in my smial?”

“Bidding for your belongings,” explained Drogo with a sigh. “You have been gone a year and a day, Cousin Bilbo! The Sackville-Bagginses have handed in the request to declare you dead more than five weeks ago and had the family lawyers hold a sale ere Otho and his bride can move into Bag End.”

Bilbo shot him a look full of shocked disbelief. “Are you trying to pull the fur off an old Hobbit’s toes, lad?” he asked.

But Drogo shook his head. “I wish I were, Cousin Bilbo. That’s the truth of it, and no mistake. You are presumably dead, and so your heir was entitled to do as he please with your hole and whatever was in it. So, if I were you, I’d put things straight quickly, before naught of your things is left.”

“I see,” Bilbo’s mouth became a thin line for a moment, and his eyes were blazing in a manner Drogo had never seen before; truth be told, it was downright frightening. “Well, then, I think it’s time to show Otho Sackville-Baggins who’s the Baggins of Bag End!”

With that, he began to climb the Hill purposefully. Drogo shot the wizard, who’d been listening wordlessly to their conversation, a look full of anguish.

“I’d follow him if I were you, Mr. Gandalf, sir,” he said. “Cousin Bilbo is a friendly fellow as a rule, but he could get into a dreadful fit if angered beyond endurance.”

The wizard smiled. “So thirteen grumpy Dwarves and an entire valley full of merry Elves have learned during our adventure,” he said. “And who am I to deny the Sackville-Bagginses such an… educational experience?”

But Drogo seemed so agitated by the perspective that in the end Gandalf had mercy with him.

“Very well,” he said. “Let us follow him and see how he deals with his bothersome cousins. It might prove rather… entertaining, after all.”

Speaking thusly, he, too, began to climb the Hill with long, purposeful strides, ignoring young Hamfast Gamgee who stood just above them and was staring at him with his mouth hanging literally open. For a moment, Drogo hesitated whether he should stay with their steed. But the big horse glared at him in a rather unfriendly manner, so he chose to get away from it and ran after the wizard, making three or four paces for each of Gandalf’s on his much shorter legs.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The sale was in full swing by then. Rufus Burrows had gotten a cramp in his right hand from all that writing and laid his quill pen to the side for a moment to move his ink-stained fingers a little. With some dismay did he realize the ink blotch on his brand new waistcoat; it must have happened when he had been waiting impatiently for Missus Amethyst Bolger to make up her mind about buying – or not buying – Bilbo’s porcelain lamp. It was a beautiful piece, but hard to refill with oil once it burned out, so the matter needed serious consideration, so Missus Bolger and her lady friends found.

Rufus only hoped that the whole charade would end, soon, so that he could hurry home and change clothes before Asphodel spotted his dishevelled state. This was unbecoming for a gentlehobbit and no mistake – especially for one who was courting the daughter of the Master of Brandy Hall. Unimaginable what might happen if either Asphodel or her sister, Amaranth, would find him looking like this. Amaranth particularly was such a devout follower of Missus Rubinium’s rules of decorum that he would never hear the end of it.

He was so distracted that he almost jumped off his stool when someone took the auctioneer's gavel from his right and rapped it on his table – just like that! He turned angrily, ready to give the insolent person a piece of his mind… and his eyes widened in shock. In worn clothes that bore the stains of a long journey, his cloak somewhat tattered… it was without doubt Bilbo Baggins.

“My dear people!” said Bilbo in a clear, sharp voice that rose above the general noise effortlessly. “My beloved cousins and good neighbours! I’m sure you are all relieved to see that the rumours about my passing were grossly exaggerated. Yes, I have been gone for quite some time – and a dreadful business it was, dangerous and frightening, let me tell you – but, as you can see, I’m definitely not dead. Consequently, I would greatly appreciate if you could stop taking my things out of my hole. I intend to use them for a long time yet, if you don’t terribly mind.”

“Just hold on!” cried one of the Sackvilles. “We’ve paid honest coin for what we bought. We’re not giving them back, just because you decided to return home, after all. We don’t need no adventurers among us who’d turn proper order upside down.”

“No; you hold on!” retorted Fosco Baggins angrily. “You’ve bought Cousin Bilbo’s things under the assumption that he’s dead. So did I; so did the others. We all acted in good faith; there could be no doubt about that. But as it’s clear that we were mistaken, we’ll have to give everything back – and have our money returned to us.”

“It’s not that simple, Mr. Baggins, sir,” said Godilo Grubb with a heavy sigh. “Mr. Bilbo Baggins has been officially declared dead. As much as I’m glad to see him safe and sound, and I’ll gladly stop the sale in this very moment, he cannot demand from the people who bought his things in good faith to give them back. He was still considered dead when those acquisitions were made.”

“We’ll see about that,” replied Bilbo quietly, more quietly than one would have expected, and there was a dangerous glint in his eyes that made people nervous.

Some of those who were standing close to him took an involuntary step backwards, walking straight into those standing right behind them, which, of course, caused quite a mess, with sharp elbows pushed into flanks and many angry, low-voiced comments. It’s never wise to push a Hobbit around, especially when there’s interesting gossip to listen to or things to watch that would make interesting stories later.

“Well, my family and I will surely do the proper thing,” declared Fosco forcefully. “I shan’t become a thief, not by choice nor by ignorance.” He looked around with a truly exasperated mien… then he turned to Bilbo and hugged him. “’Tis good to have you back, Cousin Bilbo!”

Some of the others present – mostly the Took and Brandybuck relatives of them – did the same. But the majority of the sale crowd was less than happy with the outcome of the event, as they had all made excellent bargains and were loath to give back the fine items for which they would have to pay ten times as much, had they tried to acquire them in any other way.

The most upset and least happy ones were the Sackville-Bagginses, of course. Both Missus Camellia and Lobelia were protesting and struggling when they were politely but firmly escorted out from Bag End by Holman Greenhand and his resolute young wife. And while no-one really felt sorry for them, some other people had their own concerns about the return of the Master of Bag End.

“Who says that this… this person is truly our Cousin Bilbo?” exclaimed Missus Druda Boffin, the wife of Lobelia’s uncle, Rollo, through her mother, Primrose.

While she didn’t particularly like Lobelia – no-one did, to tell the truth – she felt it was her duty as close kin to defend the interests of her niece. Besides, she had acquired some of Bilbo’s excellent table linens for a very good price and hated the idea of having to give them back.

“The looks might fit, I won’t deny that,” she continued in a patronising manner. “But poor Cousin Bilbo was a respectable and reliable Hobbit, not some cracked adventurer. Mayhap this… this impostor has done something awful to him just to take his place.”

“Aunt Druda!” Rufus Burrows was beet red with embarrassment; Druda was born a Burrows, his father’s sister, and he was ashamed for her wild ideas. “However have you come to such a strange idea?”

“What is so strange in it?” asked his aunt indignantly. “Everyone would love to have Bag End for their home!”

“Especially Cousin Otho and his Lobelia,” commanded Drogo dryly, and every Hobbit within earshot nearly fell over in laughter. ‘Twas somewhat improper for such a young fellow to voice his opinions when older and more respected ones were present, but no-one could deny that Drogo was deadly accurate in his assumption.

“This is a moot point anyway,” declared Camellia Sackville-Baggins imperiously, “as Bilbo has been officially declared dead…”

Presumably dead, Mistress Camellia,” Corrected Godilo Grubb; being the senior partner of their law firm, such unpleasant duties regularly fell to him. “There was no proof, as you know all too well.”

“Nonetheless, he will have to provide hard proof of his identity before the Mayor, won’t he?” asked Camellia sweetly.

The lawyer nodded. “That he will indeed. But ‘til the issue had been brought before the Mayor, the law says we must assume that he is, in fact, Bilbo Baggins, and Bag End will remain rightfully his.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
And thus, as Godilo Grubb was the unchallenged authority in legal questions in the entire Westfarthing and beyond, even the Sackville-Bagginses had no other choice than to back off and leave the battlefield to Bilbo. Slowly, reluctantly, the crowd dispersed, dozens of excited and highly upset Hobbits returning to their homes to discuss this unexpected turn of events with their friends, neighbours and relatives.

Only Godilo Grubb and Fosco Baggins remained in Bag End, to have a drink of good ale and a pipe with the miraculously returned Master of the smial (fortunately, the Sackville-Bagginses hadn’t managed to lay hand on the cellars yet). Missus Rubinium, her unwavering sense for order and decorum deeply disturbed by the recent events, had left in a real state, with an equally upset Dora on her side. Drogo and Dudo reluctantly followed suit. They both knew better than to argue with their mother at such times.

“What a day!” exclaimed Fosco, stretching his legs under the table of Bilbo’s parlour in relief, after he’d accepted his mug of ale from an obviously delighted Grammer Crabtree. Then he turned to Godilo Grubb.

“Do you believe that the Sackville-Bagginses could truly have Cousin Bilbo declared an impostor and thrown out of his own hole?” he asked. ”Is such a ridiculous thing possible at all?”

The lawyer shook his head. “I seriously doubt it. Doro Burrows may be young as Mayors go, but he’s no fool. Besides, he has known Mr. Baggins since he was but a wee lad. He wouldn’t let the Sackville-Bagginses drive Master Bilbo out of his home, Doro wouldn’t.”

He could say that with certainty, having known the fairly young Mayor for at least as long as Bilbo himself had. After all, Doro was the older brother of his junior partner, Rufus Burrows (Missus Rubia being the oldest of the three siblings), and had often required the services of Grubb, Grubb & Burrowes, even after their farther had handed over his place within the firm to young Rufus.

“I certainly hope so,” said Bilbo darkly. “I won’t let my greedy uncle take my home from me with his ridiculous accusations. I have faced a dragon far worse than Camellia Sackville-Baggins – or Lobelia Bracegirdle, for that matter – on my journeys, and if needs must be, I can employ help beyond the wildest imaginations of the good Hobbitonians.”

There was that dark glint in his eyes again, something that hadn’t been there before, and that – not to mention the thought of the wizard lurking somewhere in one of his employer’s guest rooms – made Godilo Grubb decidedly uncomfortable. He knew Gandalf, of course, like everybody in the Shire… well, perhaps it would have been better to say that he knew about Gandalf, as he had never had any personal business with the wizard and intended that to remain so.

For while no-one could deny that Gandalf’s fireworks were a marvel to behold – Godilo had seen such a performance with his very eyes as a faunt on the Old Took’s birthday – and that he had wondrous gifts to give (again, the magic diamond shirt studs of the Old Took came to one’s mind) but he was a bad influence on foolish, impressionable young hobbits. About that there was general agreement in the Shire’s more… respectable circles. The wizard had the unfortunate tendency to wake an adventurous spirit in otherwise perfectly reliable young Hobbits… with unforeseen consequences.

There was the case of Basso Boffin, to begin with – the brother of Master Bilbo’s own great-grandmother, Berylla Boffin Baggins, who had just left the Shire one day and went beyond the Tower Hills. He went to the Sea with Elves – with Elves! – or so the tales said, and was never seen again. Admittedly, that had been more than a hundred years before Bilbo’s birth and could thus be considered a mere family legend; although the fact that Gandalf had apparently roamed the Shire back then did make one wonder just how long wizards truly lived, and whether he had been indeed the same Gandalf or not.

There could be no doubt whatsoever, though, that Gandalf must have been the driving force behind the scandalous actions of Hildifons Took, the fifth son of the Old Took and the brother of Bilbo’s mother, who had gone on a journey and never returned. Rumours said he had gone as far as the land of Gondor in the South, yet whether it was true or not, no-one could tell.

Similarly, the influence of Gandalf had been suspected in the case of Hildifons’ youngest brother, Isengar, who also was said to have gone to the Sea in his youth. He had returned a few years ago, that much was true, yet he had been considered… queer ever since.

Perhaps people were right. Perhaps the Tookish blood truly did make otherwise perfectly reasonable Hobbits receptive to outrageous suggestions. Perhaps it had only been a question of time – and that of proper stimulation – for Bilbo Baggins to crack, too. After all, he had inherited the unfortunate affliction from both his parents’ side. Even though the Bagginses had never shown any tendency towards going off on adventures, thank goodness… well, not ‘til last year, that is.

Well, if Bilbo Baggins was beginning to crack, which would perchance make him end up like his queer Tookish uncles, Godilo Grubb had no indtention of assisting him on his downward path, thank you very much. He’d let Rufus Burrow deal with this unsafe client; ‘twas the job if the junior partner to take over the unpleasant cases, after all. Besides, the Burrowses themselves showed signs of slight eccentricity from time to time… and by marrying Asphodel Brandybuck, Rufus would become related to the Bagginses anyway.

All of a sudden, Godilo was very glad that it had been his brother who’d married Rubia Burrows. While pleasant and level-headed enough – not to mention an excellent cook – his sister-in-love, too, showed signs of eccentricity. Timmo might find his wife’s unusual interests (like reading and copying and playing the cymbal) endearing qualities, but Godilo found himself happier with his Blossom, who might be too fond of clothes and jewellery, but was, at least, safe.

He thanked his employer for the ale, promised him to send over Rufus on the next day to plan their strategy for thwarting the efforts of the Sackville-Bagginses, and then left for home, glad to leave queer Hobbits and strange wizards behind.

~TBC~

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