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69
The Shire's Soul

Written for the WeeHobbits "Book Title Challenge."


~~~

The Shire’s Soul


“What’s this?” Merry asked.

“It’s a drum,” Frodo answered. “The Dwarves left it for Bilbo when they visited him a few years ago. I found it in the back storeroom. Isn’t it wonderful?”

And indeed it was wonderful, painted in greens and oranges, the wood of its sides marvelously carved, the skin of its head a lovely cream color, the cords holding the skin in place a brilliant scarlet, held together with brass bands. It stood a good two feet high, and Merry standing could just see over its top.

Sam Gamgee and Frodo’s cousins, Fredegar Bolger and Folco Boffin, came from the back garden, each carrying a large, full basket. “Here’s them gourds and squashes what the lasses wanted to put on the tables,” Sam said as he looked about them. “Now, where’s the lasses?”

“Gone into the house with the faunt to change him,” Frodo said. “Pippin was very wet.”

“Really,” Folco noted, “he has to be about the wettest child I’ve ever seen. It seems he has to be changed every half an hour or so!” Folco, who was four years older than Freddy and Sam, considered himself Frodo’s equal in spite of still being six years younger. He moved to the drum and ran his hands over it, beating a quick, very loud tattoo. “I wish I had one of these,” he noted.

“Aunt Wisteria wouldn’t like it,” Frodo said, smiling indulgently. “She’s not too happy with loud noises, I’ve noted.”

“True,” Folco lamented. “But at least you don’t have to have lessons to do the drum, not like the viol or a flute.”

The others laughed, for Folco had been taking viol lessons for the past year and hadn’t as yet appeared to get any better no matter how much he practiced. He preferred the flute and even showed some talent at it, according to Uncle Odovacar, who’d given one to him; but Aunt Wisteria had felt that the viol was a much more genteel instrument and preferred that he learn that. As a result, during her son’s practice time all the village of Overhill had taken to closing their windows on even the hottest of days so as to escape the caterwauling. Even Wisteria, who imagined her son to be a musical prodigy and insisted he do his practice, would flee to the Maiden and Unicorn, the tea shop in the village, as soon as she told him to practice and turned over the hourglass so he could tell how much longer he must work at it.

“Did you bring your flute?” Merry asked.

“No. Mum wanted me to bring the viol, but then realized that if I played it for everyone else she would have to listen, too, so thought better of it.”

The back door to Bag End opened, and out came Pippin’s sisters with Freddy’s sister Estella and Folco’s cousin Narcissa, more of the guests for Frodo and Bilbo’s birthday party on the morrow, when Frodo would be twenty-four. Pearl was carrying little Pippin, who was gnawing on the rattle that Frodo had chosen for him as a birthday present and that he’d given the faunt rather early so as to keep his busy little hands out of the pile of presents that he’d been amassing in the corner of his bedroom. Pimpernel was carrying her dulcimer, a gift from her gaffer on his last birthday, and was plucking notes with her thumb as she walked.

“I don’t know what I’ll do when the dancing begins,” Freddy Bolger lamented. “No one ever wishes to dance with me, it seems.”

Merry looked at his older cousin critically. “Maybe if you weren’t so fat they would. It must be hard trying to dance with someone with so much stomach!” He’d always believed that Fatty took a Hobbit’s common preoccupation with eating more than a bit too far.

Estella sniffed, “Merry, that’s not polite! Fatty can’t help being a proper Hobbit, after all!”

“He’s two proper Hobbits’ worth, if you ask me,” Merry muttered, and Frodo gave him a severe look.

Berilac Brandybuck, who’d come with his Uncle Saradoc and Aunt Esmeralda and cousin Merry, came down the garden path. “Look what I bought at the market!” he proclaimed. “There were some Dwarves there, and they had some wonderful things!” He displayed a mouth harp and an ocarina as well as a penny whistle. “I got them all for ten farthings!” He let Narcissa examine the penny whistle while Pervinca took the ocarina. He looked at Frodo’s drum and his eyes lit up. “Oh! Where is that from?” He gave the mouth harp to Sam to hold and came forward to tap the drum.

“Uncle Bilbo’s friend Balin gave it to him the last time he visited,” Frodo explained. “He said he’d have a new one made when he’s managed to open up one of their old homes, so he wanted someone who loved it to have this one.”

“Why did you bring it out of the storeroom?” asked Pimpernel.

“I thought perhaps I might play it part of the time tomorrow for the dancing.” Frodo came behind it and began to play on it, catching a beat and tapping it out. After a few measures he began to sway as he played, his feet tapping and his hips beginning to move in time to the drumming. He began to sing one of the songs commonly sung for midsummer, one of those whose words appeared almost to be nonsense words, perhaps from the ancient language Hobbits used to use before they came to settle the Shire. Merry and Estella joined him in the song, as did Pimpernel, who’d begun playing on her dulcimer. Narcissa lifted the penny whistle and began to blow into it, but after a moment Folco took it from her and began playing it himself, and far better than she did.

Frodo was singing and swaying more strongly as they played the ancient song, and at last could not contain himself further, breaking from the drum and moving out into the center of the group, and the other children moved aside to give him more room. Beri moved behind the drum and took over the playing, beating it more insistently than Frodo had done. Narcissa now moved into the center, dancing opposite Frodo, whose eyes were shining with the joy of the beat and the movement.

Pearl appeared angry, and suddenly dropped Pippin to the ground by Merry. “Watch him!” she demanded. Then she turned to Freddy and pulled on his hand. “Come on!” she said imperiously, and together they moved also out into the center of the group. Sam’s eyes lit as he lifted the mouth harp and began to strum it in a counter-beat to that of the drum, and Pervinca began humming into the ocarina. Pearl tapped her feet in time to the beat and lifted her arms, then joined the dance, followed almost immediately by Fredegar, who managed to dance with remarkable grace in spite of his girth. Pippin watched, his eyes wide, shaking his rattle in time to the beat, sitting back against Sam’s basket. Frodo threw back his head and shimmied in time to the music. Forget formal steps--this music called to a far deeper, older part of his heart, and he gave himself over to the dancing; and as he led the way the other three followed, each now one with the beat, their eyes shining, their faces glowing as the music took them.

*******


“As for Dinodas----” Saradoc was saying, then stopped, lowering his pipe and listening. “What is that?”

“I don’t know,” Paladin answered him.

Bilbo was listening closely. “Music!” he said.

Wisteria was also listening. “But who is playing?” She rose and headed for the door, followed by Eglantine and Esmeralda. “It sounds marvelous!” she threw over her shoulder as she led the way out.

The group of adult Hobbits turned right and followed the garden path until they stopped, watching the circle of youngsters with surprise. “It’s the children,” Eglantine said in soft tones.

“It’s beautiful!” Esmeralda said. “Oh, look at them dancing!

Wisteria was watching her son playing on the penny whistle. “Oh, but he’s so good! So why can’t he play the viol as well?”

Eglantine was watching her daughter with dismay. “Oh, Pal--watch her--our Pearl! Oh, but she’s too young!”

Paladin also had his attention fixed on his daughter, “Oh, I know--but she’s growing up, Lanti. She’s growing up, and I’d say she’s fully aware of that fact!”

Bilbo nodded. “She’s definitely--sensuous is the best word I can think of at the moment. But look at Fredegar--who would have dreamed such an immense lad could move so beautifully?”

There was no question that young Fatty could dance--and dance well! Pal shook his head. “It’s too bad Odovacar and Rosamunda aren’t coming until tomorrow. Odova’s been worried sick about his son’s weight. If he saw Freddy now, I think much of his concern would be much relieved.”

As for Narcissa and Frodo--Frodo was almost incandescent, and Narcissa was much the same. Frodo twirled in place, stopping exactly facing her and taking her hand, allowing her to twirl first into his embrace and dip over his arm, and then twirl out of it again.

Merry’s voice rose in the ancient, now-unknown words, and Wisteria closed her eyes in pleasure. “It’s as if the music were the soul of the Shire itself--singing!”

“Oh, I agree,” Bilbo said, his eyes shining as he watched his lad again raise his hands to the sky as he turned about, his joy there for all to see. “Yes, it is soul music the children are raising!”

Pippin shook his rattle, laughing in delight while Beri beat upon the drum, Sam played his mouth harp, Folco played the ancient tune upon his flute, and Pimpernel on her dulcimer. Little Merry and Estella continued the old song, and before them all the children of the Shire danced.



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