And now for something decidedly different! Heh! Merry Christmas!
References are acknowledged in my LiveJournal--
References are acknowledged in my LiveJournal--
Frodo ran as swiftly as he was able along the road, knowing that if he arrived too late the grey ship would sail from its wharf without him, taking Bilbo away forever, leaving him behind to die ignominiously, far away from friends and family. But he could not seem to run quickly--it was as if he had to pry his feet from the ground for each step. He came to a fork in the road, and stopped in frustration, for he knew not which path to take.
It was odd, for the road under him was no longer graveled, but was paved with brick--with yellow bricks, in fact. He looked down one way, and then the other. “Which do I take?” he asked aloud.
“Many go that direction,” advised the scarecrow in the adjacent cornfield. One hand pointed to the right. “Although some prefer that way,” he added, pointing the other way.
“Don’t listen to him,” suggested a cat that sprawled along an overhead branch, smiling hugely down at him. “He has no idea at all.” It tapped its head meaningfully. “No brains, you see.” It smiled again, and its tail disappeared.
Frodo looked up at it openmouthed, never having seen such a thing before. At that moment a small, brown, hairy creature ran across the road, carrying a yellow hat much like Gandalf’s, although not anywhere as tall and not quite as pointed.
“What is that?” he asked in alarm.
“Just a monkey. It appears George is being rather too curious about the man in the yellow hat again.”
A similar creature, but much larger, tailless and ginger in color, now walked by rather uncertainly, a peach in one hand and a book in the other. It was looking about as if searching for something. Then suddenly appearing relieved, it said, “Ook!” and hurried to the right, disappearing amongst shelves of books.
Frodo watched after it in surprise. “Is that a monkey, too?” he asked the cat, whose hindquarters had begun to fade away.
“Shh! Don’t let him hear you call him that--he’s an orangutan, and is offended if anyone calls him a monkey--he’ll have you know he’s one of the great apes, although it’s said he was once a wizard.”
The cat’s hind legs were now quite gone. It made Frodo feel rather queasy to look at it. He looked again at the two yellow-bricked roads. “But which way do I take?” he asked himself.
“Doesn’t really matter,” the cat answered. “As long as you don’t end up in Cheshire.” It smiled more broadly, and its belly began to disappear.
Frodo shivered, and started down the road to the right where he thought he saw the gleam of water. He soon came to a stream surrounded by ramshackle houses that made the sheds Sharkey’s Big Men had erected in Bag End’s gardens appear substantial. By the banks of the stream a large, handsome and amiable looking Man sat at his ease, leaning back against a tree trunk, a fishing pole in one hand and a brown stoneware bottle in the other. “If I had my druthers, I’d rather have my druthers, than any other druthers at all,” he was singing between sips from the bottle.
Frodo examined him, noting the patched trousers, and the braces the fellow wore over a white singlet, and the extraordinarilylarge black boots that managed to look nothing like those worn by Gandalf. “Hello,” he said tentatively. “Frodo Baggins at your service.” He bowed politely if hurriedly, and looked into the face of the Man. “Is this the way to Mithlond?”
“Mithlond?” the Man asked, obviously not recognizing the name. “Is that anywheres near Skunk Holler?”
“I see,” Frodo said, realizing the Man hadn’t heard of the place before.
At that moment a skinny woman in a skin-tight skirt and dark jacket with the oddest bonnet the Hobbit had ever seen on her head and an even odder pipe in her mouth came out of the nearest shack. “Li’l Abner? You gonna bring in some fish fer supper or sit out there jawin’ with strangers all day?”
“Comin’, Mammy!” the Man called, handing the bottle to Frodo and getting to his feet. He reached down and pulled a string of fish that had been anchored to the tree’s roots out of the water. Carrying it and laying the pole over his shoulder he paused, telling Frodo, “You can drink the rest of the Yokumberry Tonic if’n you wants. You’s a bit on the scrawny side--do you a passel of good, I’m thinkin’.” He winked at Frodo and headed for the shack, whistling “The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands!”
Frodo wasn’t certain he ought to drink the tonic after all, and set the bottle gingerly on the ground near the tree before continuing on his way. He realized the road here was rutted dirt and gravel, the yellow brick having apparently been abandoned some time ago. As he went further, it became smoother, and then smoother still--smoother and harder, now a dark grey near to black. A strange music began: Da da Da da Da da Da da, Da da Da da Da da Da da.... He heard a loud purring that became a roar, and suddenly a strange, shiny black chariot not pulled by horses or any other beast swept down upon him. He leapt aside just in time, watching after with alarm. There were two figures in the vehicle, appearing to sit within it, the taller one apparently steering it through the use of a black wheel of some kind. He’d worn a tight black hood over his head with what appeared to be ear-like horns on each side, and black gauntlets along with a flowing black cape. The other person appeared to be a boy who wore a black mask over his upper face. He heard the Man ask, “Did you see that, Robin?” before they roared out of sight. Some kind of pendant fell clinking to the ground in the wake of the vehicle, and Frodo went to pick it up, shuddering to see it was in the shape of a bat. He let it fall and wiped his hands on his jacket in disgust.
The road became a dirt path and led him into a dark woods. Frodo found himself reminded of Bilbo’s descriptions of Mirkwood, or that given him by Merry and Pippin of Fangorn Forest. It was dark under the trees, which nevertheless appeared to be properly treeish and decidedly unlikely to try to swallow travelers or dump them into streams. Suddenly he heard someone calling, “Harry! Haarrrryyy! Come on, Harry--this isn’t funny at all!”
As the path wound around the roots of a decidedly gnarled oak he found himself face to face with a tall, rather skinny red-haired boy dressed in worn black robes over a rather grimy white shirt, its top buttons undone, and dark strip of cloth hanging untidily from either side of his neck. There was a sort of badge with a snake, a lion, a badger, and an eagle surrounding a shield on the boy’s left breast.
If Frodo was surprised to see the redheaded boy, the youth appeared even more startled to see him. He reached into a pocket of his robes and pulled out a baton of some sort, pointing it at Frodo in apparent fright. Then he dropped his hand, apparently realizing Frodo was no threat. “Sorry,” he said. “Was looking for my mate--haven’t a clue which way Harry went. You seen him? Rather small, skinny chap, with untidy black hair and round glasses?”
Not trusting himself to speak, Frodo shook his head.
But the boy had noticed the jewel Frodo wore around his neck. “Oh, a cool crystal!” he exclaimed. “It have any special powers or something?”
“I’m told it’s to help balance my fëa,” Frodo admitted, “although I don’t have precisely how that works figured out as yet. It does help me feel better when I hold it if my shoulder is paining me or if I’m upset.”
“It’s not a horcrux, is it?” the boy asked cautiously.
“Never mind,” the boy said. “Have to find Harry, but need to stay away from the area where Aragog’s family lives. Don’t go that way----” he pointed down a dark path Frodo sensed was anything but wholesome. “That’s where we met them, Aragog and his lot. Not a good group to meet, believe me. And what are you doing here?”
“I’m trying to get to Mithlond before the grey ship sails.”
The boy’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “Ship? But the Castle and the Lake are that direction! But where can you sail to in the lake? This grey ship--it’s not like the Durmstrang ship, is it?”
Just then they heard another voice calling from a distance. “Ron! Ron! Where are you?”
The red-haired boy looked relieved. “Look here, mate, don’t know where this Mithlond is, but I doubt its the way you’re going. Be careful--Hagrid’s lump of a brother is wandering around in here someplace.” He called out, “I’m coming, Harry!” and turned away toward where they’d heard the voice, then turned back to ask, “Are you a house elf or something? You related to Harry’s Dobby?”
The idea of himself as an Elf made Frodo laugh. “An Elf? Do I look like an Elf? I fear Gildor Inglorion would find that good reason to shout with laughter.”
“It’s just you’re so short, and your ears--well, they’re pointed and all. No offense.”
“Well, no, I am definitely not an Elf. I’m a Hobbit.” The boy’s face was blank. Frodo tried again. “A Hobbit--a halfling--Perian.”
“Haven’t seen them yet in the Monster Book of Monsters--but then we didn’t keep taking Care of Magical Creatures, so maybe Hagrid just hadn’t gotten to them.”
“I’m not magical.”
“Oh. Well, maybe the centaurs could give you directions or something, although they’re not the best at answering questions straight. Good luck finding this Mithlond place.” So saying, the boy headed off in search of the source of the voice. “Hey, Harry! You still there?” he called.
Frodo watched after him, shaking his head about the curious nature his adventure was taking him.
It became colder, and snowflakes began to drift down through the trees. He pulled his Elven cloak more closely around him. Then he realized he’d managed somehow to leave the woods behind, and he was now in a city somewhat like Minas Tirith, although it was nowhere as beautiful--nor as steep. The snow was thick upon the ground now, and he encountered Men and women who were dressed in an odd fashion, many of the Men wearing tall black hats and the women all wearing bonnets of various styles. Many of them turned to look after him curiously as he passed by, and an older boy made to follow him for a time until a Man wearing a blue uniform with brass buttons took notice of him, at which time the boy paused, giving the Man in blue a wary look before turning about and disappearing into an alley.
The houses were often grimy, and a good part of the snow as well. Up ahead he could see a Man in a nightshirt and wearing a cap upon his head and a grey shawl about his shoulders standing at an open window. “They did it in a single night!” he was crowing before calling down to a boy standing on the pavement. “Say, do you know the poulterer’s shop on the next street but one over?”
“I should rather say I do!” the boy answered in pride.
Realizing the child was about to be sent off on an errand, Frodo hurried past.
He appeared to be in the same city, but the dress of the folk was changing, and now instead of dawn it was nightfall. A great dog began barking furiously, and Frodo looked up in alarm--he still had rather a fear of dogs, particularly large ones. Far above him he saw a window open, the light of candles flickering, reflected from the panes. On the windowsill he saw a curiously attired boy, who was calling behind him, “Well, come then! First star to the left and then straight on till morning!” as he leapt out into the air and soared away. Frodo watched after in awe!
He soon found himself in a forested area. He saw an open glade and the enticing glow of firelight under the glow of a round moon. He paused on the edge of the clearing, hidden still by the trees, and saw there were a good many people there, almost all Men, listening to the words of one clad all in green, who stood upon the stump of a what must have been a giant among trees, a woman beside him. “You have heard what Maid Marion has said!” he was saying. “Our own folk and a few others are to be hung at dawn by the Sheriff of Nottingham! We must see to their escape! Now, I have a plan....”
Frodo slipped away, carefully skirting about the place. He’d had quite enough in the way of adventures and rescuings, thank you very much!
Not long afterward he saw the bulk of a house behind a white picket fence that made him think nostalgically of that before Bag End. The windows were warm with light, and he found himself quietly opening the gate so as to explore the place’s gardens. It appeared to be a pleasant place, with many of his favorite flowers. He wandered over near the open window beneath which delphiniums and heliotrope grew tall and colorful, even in the dusk that encircled the place. He heard as a woman within spoke, then raised his eyes to see two women there within the house, the older one seated in a cushioned chair, the younger standing over her. The older one examined a strip of paper.
“That’s a great deal of money, Jo! And what is it you will do with it?”
“Oh, Marmee--I’m to take a house by the shore next week, for you and me and Beth for the summer! With Amy off in Europe with Aunt March, Meg will be happy enough here on her own with John to keep her company! You’ll see, Marmee--we’ll soon have Beth well once more!”
The older woman appeared struck with dismay and compassion at her daughter’s words. “Oh, Jo--she has her good days and her bad ones, but I think you know Beth is unlikely to ever properly recover.”
This was too strongly reminiscent of Frodo’s own situation, and he almost fled the garden, letting the gate bang closed behind him.
He found himself back within the city, watching the wind blowing a woman along the pavement. She clutched at the flat hat on her head, and in her hand she carried a piece of baggage that appeared to have been made of carpeting. She had her black hair pulled into a well disciplined bun at the nape of her neck; her cheeks were quite pink. She turned as if annoyed by the insistence that she hurry forward. “That’s quite enough, you know! I know my duty by these children! Now, which is the Banks’ house? That one, there, right opposite the entrance to the park? Oh, I see!”
A Man, blackened by soot and carrying a long brush over his shoulder, passed her, then stopped and turned back, his face alight with delight. “Mary! You’re being sent here, then?”
Frodo smiled, for it was obvious the Man was quite taken by her. The woman merely lifted her nose some and gave a self-satisfied smirk. “Yes, Bert, I’ve been sent to tend to Jane and Michael and those to come. Now, I mustn’t dawdle!”
Frodo was smiling still more broadly as he continued on.
He was now going through a village that somehow reminded him of Hobbiton. He heard the sound of a violin and looked up, and on the roof of the nearest house sat a fiddler! Before the house stood a flat cart with a placid cart horse before it. A broad-chested bearded Man came out of a barn with what was plainly a huge milk jug that he lifted carefully into the back of the cart. “And you?” he addressed the horse. “Do you intend to play at being lame again? The Rabbi will not thank us if we are late again with the milk and cheese he has ordered!” He called out, “Golda! Golda! I’m off on my rounds! Have Tzeitel clean the stalls before I return, will you?”
The fiddler raised his bow and began to play a tune that was both wary and hopeful, filled with a sadness Frodo associated with the Elves as well as a level of playfulness. He nodded thoughtfully before going on.
Was that the gleam of the Sea at last? He hurried forward again, finding himself under such trees as he’d seen pictured only in the book Aragorn had given him about the animals of Harad. Before him on the pale sand lay a boat with what appeared to be a great hole in its prow, but it could not be Elven in manufacture! Its keel was blue, and across its stern was written in strange letters the word Minnow. A young Man came out of a nearby hut, dressed in dark blue trousers and a red knitted garment over a white shirt, an odd white hat on his head, well worn white shoes of an strange design on his feet, and a coil of thick rope about his upper arm. He stared openmouthed at Frodo, a growing hope in his eyes. “Rescue! Are we being rescued at last?” He turned, not giving Frodo time to answer, and called out, “Skipper! Professor! Come quick!”
More folk wanting rescue? Frodo thought as he turned and fled. He was soon running down a road alongside a strange being who looked as if he were made of cookie dough! “What are you doing?” gasped Frodo.
“I’m running, running, running as fast as I can! The woman’s husband wants to eat me, the gingerbread man, as if I were a common snickerdoodle!”
They were running under a line strung between poles, with obviously drying laundry hanging from it. Frodo tried to duck under the bedding that flapped in the breeze, but a sheet wrapped itself about him, trapping him. His last glance was of a neatly attired white rabbit that was also running even as it consulted a large pocketwatch. “Oh, but I’m late again! The Queen will be insisting ‘Off with his head!’--just you wait and see! If it hadn’t been for the hedgehog escaping--again--during that last croquet match....”
He awoke with a thump as he fell out of his bed and landed on the floor, linens and blankets wrapped firmly about his legs. The door burst open and Sam entered hurriedly, his expression alarmed. “Mr. Frodo, sir--what happened?” he demanded as he helped the older Hobbit free of his entanglement.
Frodo looked at him with relief. “Well,” he said in a shaky voice as he wiped his brow. “Not precisely a nightmare, but the most outlandish dream!”
“You’re all right, then?”
“Yes. You need not have worried, Sam. But I wonder about these new herbs Lord Elrond has sent to be added to my tea. If all my dreams should be as odd as this last one, I’m not certain I would wish to continue using them!”
“Speakin’ of which, Master, I’d just finished makin’ up a pot of common black tea, and my Rosie just pulled trays of seedcakes and oatbread out of the oven. Would you like some? We’ve some fresh honey sent over from the Cottons’ farm, and a small jug of thick cream. Or, if you prefer, we could lock up and head off for Bywater. The Green Dragon’s servin’ fresh lamb and Tooklands pudding tonight. Add some mashed taters and maybe a dish of peas with mushrooms, and it will be a meal fit for Lord Strider hisself. What do you say?”
Frodo found a smile forming on his lips. “And would they have that mint jelly, do you think?”
Sam grinned outright. “Took delivery on a case of it from the Marish yesterday, or so I’m told by Jolly Cotton!” he said smugly. “Well, let me fetch you some tea at least while you straighten up the bed.”
By the time Frodo had the bed made properly, Sam had returned with the promised tea and a still-warm seedcake spread with sweet butter and peach jam. Frodo sat down on the side of the bed to enjoy these while his friend went out to tell Rosie of their plans and help her ready herself. At last he finished off the last of the tea and cake, and set the cup and plate under the bed, ran a quick brush over his head and feet, and donned his waistcoat and jacket, having assured himself his trousers and shirt hadn’t been too badly mussed during his nap. Finally satisfied with his appearance, he left the room, carefully closing the door behind him.
The dormouse peeped cautiously out from under the bed and looked around carefully. Too bad! There over the mantel he saw the Cheshire cat’s toothy smile appearing. Knowing it wasn’t safe at this time to venture out, it ate the last crumb of seedcake from Frodo’s plate, and curled up in the empty teacup to nap until the cat finally gave it up as a bad job. Didn’t matter how long it took, really. The dormouse had all the time in the world!