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48
First Fruits

For ChickLovesLOTR and Tracey Claybon for their birthdays.


~~~

First Fruits


“No, hands out of there!” Merry’s warning was accompanied by a soft slap to the back of Pippin’s hand as he paused with it over the contents of the basket on the kitchen dresser.

Pippin, as affronted as only a Hobbit lad of twelve years could be, glared at his older cousin. “But the berries and apples look so good!”

“I know, but nobody is to eat any of those Frodo puts in that basket. It’s for the First Fruits. You want berries, you get them out of the bowl in the cool room—same with apples. Those in the basket are to be left alone.”

The young Took couldn’t see what made the apples or berries or other fruit or vegetables in that basket so special, but he had a feeling he’d best not push the matter any further. He examined the basket critically. “That basket is a bit lopsided, you ask me.”

“I know. Cousin Lavender made it—the first one she ever did all on her own, and she gave it to Frodo years ago, back before I was born.”

“Lavender Brandybuck? But she’s married! Why would she give a basket to Frodo?”

“He used to be sweet on her, back when the two of them were younger. And she wasn’t married then—she was just a lass, just as he was just a lad, and about the same age you are now.”

It was odd to think of Frodo being just a lad much like Pippin was now. He’d always been almost grown up in the youngster’s experience. And it was odder to think of him being sweet on anyone other than Pippin’s oldest sister Pearl, up to a few years ago, at least.

“And what’s this First Fruits business?” asked Pippin.

Merry shrugged. “It’s just something Frodo does, like him making those odd snow figures at the first snowfall, or him skipping on his right foot after he steps off a bridge, or him making certain to pick up every pin or penny he sees upon the ground for good luck. He’s done it since I was a little one is all I know. Goes back to some story or other Bilbo told him or that he read in one of the Elvish books Bilbo translated. He liked the idea of it, so he does it to please himself.”

“But what does he do with them?”

“He takes them up on top of the smial and spreads them out on the ground.”

“Why?”

Apparently flustered by so many questions he couldn’t easily explain, Merry answered, “How would I know why, Pip? It’s just something he does! He used to do it at Brandy Hall, too, and he’s always taken them out in that basket since Lavender gave it to him. My Gammer Menegilda used to shake her head about him wasting perfectly good berries and apples and pears and such, but it never stopped him. Sometimes Frodo gets odd ideas, is all.”

It was a good deal because Frodo didn’t do things just the same way other Hobbits did that Pippin admired his older Baggins cousin so much. Both Auntie Jade, his da’s older sister, and Cousin Lalia referred to Frodo as deep, although it was obvious that when Lalia said it she didn’t find it an admirable trait as did Auntie Jade. Pippin had come to the conclusion that this meant that Frodo tended to think things over more than did most Hobbits, and he certainly couldn’t see that this meant anything other than that no one could quite figure out what all Frodo might be thinking of at any time. Certainly that would be more than enough to make Cousin Lalia suspicious, of course!

But he decided that he was going to question his older cousin on the subject of First Fruits as soon as Frodo got back from his cousin Daisy’s house, where he’d been called to consult on some Baggins business or other.

*******


“First Fruits?”

Pippin could tell that Frodo was stalling, trying either to think what to say, or how to say it. His face had gone a bit pale, and his cheeks were brighter than normal.

Frodo sighed, glanced over guiltily at Merry, to whom he’d never explained his small ritual, either, and shook his head. “How can I really explain the rite of First Fruits?”

“Is it an Elvish custom that’s described in one of Bilbo’s books from Rivendell?” asked Merry, who found himself as curious as any Took by this time.

Frodo’s cheeks grew even redder. “Actually, it’s not an Elvish custom at all—it was a Mannish one.”

Was?” Merry caught on that word. “Do Men quit doing some customs after a while?”

“Well, it was practiced by one particular group of Men, only they practiced it on a mountain that isn’t there any more.”

Pippin’s ears twitched with interest. “How can a mountain not be there any more?” he asked.

Frodo shook his head. “It was on an island, and long ago the Sea washed over the island and it’s not there any more, so Mount Meneltarma isn’t there any more, either. Mount Meneltarma was at the center of the island, you see, and was the highest place anyone could go. From the top of it the people of the island could see where the Powers live, and so they considered the mountain to be a special place. Every year at the harvest, the first fruits were gathered and brought there, and presented to the Powers by their King, who was the only one allowed to speak there.”

“What are the Powers?” asked Pippin.

Frodo looked up at the ceiling, rather helplessly, Pippin thought. “They helped sing the world into being, or so Bilbo tried to explain it to me.”

Pippin exchanged a surprised look with Merry. Returning his gaze to their older cousin, he demanded, “How do you sing a world into being? When I sing, I can’t make anything like that happen! ”

Frodo gave a wry smile. “Neither can I, but then neither of us is one of the Powers. The Powers are the helpers for the Creator.”

“Who’s the Creator?”

“The Elves and some Men believe that the world was created by the Creator, but that the Powers helped Him make it by singing special magic songs He taught them. After the world was finished, the Creator then made the Children to live on it, Elves, Men, Hobbits, and so on.”

“Dwarves, too?”

“Well, that’s a special case. One of the Powers made the Dwarves, but the Creator accepted them as his Children, too, and so they were allowed to live as do Elves, Men, and Hobbits.”

“But I’m my da and mummy’s child.”

Frodo gave a rather strained laugh. “And I’m Drogo and Primula’s son, although I think I belong just as much to Bilbo and Merry’s parents as I do to my own mum and dad by this time in my life. But we wouldn’t be here at all, the Elves and some Men believe, if the Creator hadn’t wanted for there to be creatures who could love the world as much as He does and who could rejoice in it as He does. The Elves say that we who can use speech are all the Creator’s Children, and they call him Ilúvatar, which means Father of All.”

“Oh!” Pippin felt impressed. “I see!”

“I hope so, for you’re making me feel a bit muddled with all your questions. Anyway, a long time ago some Men were allowed to live on this island where they could see the Undying Lands where most of the Elves in the world live and where the Powers live with their servants, and their King was the one who each year would say thank you to the Powers for them all for the wonderful island they lived on. And the first fruits that were harvested were brought there and offered to the Powers and the Creator.”

Pippin asked, “Did the Powers come in a big boat to have supper with them or something like that?” He tried to imagine what that might have been like.

Frodo shook his head, his expression rather rueful. “No, they didn’t, or at least I don’t think so. The Powers and the Creator don’t really need that food, you see. So I suspect that the animals that lived on the island and the birds that flew over the top of the mountain really ate what the people brought up there. It was mostly just a way for the people who lived there to feel that they were thanking the Powers and Creator for the wonderful things they had and for how happy they could be, I think. And, after all, the birds and animals are as much creatures of the Creator as we who can talk are. So, why shouldn’t they have as much reason as we do to feel happy about the first fruits from our harvests? It’s a way of sharing how happy we are with other creatures.”

“So you try to copy them,” Merry suggested.

“Yes, I have since about a year after my parents died, when I first found the story about the King offering the First Fruits in one of the books Uncle Bilbo gave me for our birthday that year. I asked him about it, and he explained it as well as he could the way I’ve just told you.”

“Why didn’t you explain it to me when I was smaller?” Merry asked.

Frodo shrugged, folding his arms and plopping down in his chair, the one that used to be Bilbo’s before he went away. “I did try to explain the second year I did it, which was when Cousin Lavender made me that basket. She thought it sounded very noble, and wanted to make something special for me to bring my First Fruits up to the top of Brandy Hall over the Master’s parlor where I scattered them. But Cousin Gomez saw her with the basket and made her tell him why she was giving it to me. She couldn’t explain it right, so he started teasing her, and then he taunted me when I got there. I tried to explain, but he wasn’t listening, just getting more and more obnoxious. He took the basket and threw it out a window, and he and his friends hit me and pinched Lavender and then ran away laughing. She went out on the night I took the First Fruits up on top of the Smial, but after we left they came up there and ate it all. The next day they bragged about it, until I said, really loudly, to Lavender, ‘See, I told you that the beasts would eat it, didn’t I?’ They got all mad, but Cousin Merimas came by right then and they just left. They forgot all about it by the next year, although Lavender didn’t. But she was now embarrassed to think that she’d taken part in something so odd, so she never went up with me after that. And I realized that I wasn’t really in love with her the way I’d thought I was after all.”

Merry gave Pippin a sideways glance. “See, I told you that he was sweet on her once!”

“Well, I certainly thought I was at the time,” Frodo admitted. “But after that I didn’t feel right trying to explain it to anyone I thought wasn’t likely to understand, or to anyone who might try to explain it on to others who would most likely make fun of it. It’s not that I thought you’d make fun of it, Merry, just that I didn’t want Gomez to be reminded of it. And you just accepted that this was something that made me feel good, and I was very glad that you’d go out with me and not say anything to anyone else.”

Pippin was glad to see Frodo giving Merry that special smile of his, as he could tell that Merry was beaming to receive it. He said, “So, can we go up with you when you take up the basket?”

“Yes, if you want to. Sam’s going to come, too, you see.”

“You told Sam about it, but not me?” demanded Merry.

Again Frodo shrugged. “Well, he wasn’t going to tell Gomez about it, was he? Nor is he likely to try to explain to the likes of Lotho or Ted Sandyman, for he knows they are both as thickheaded as a support beam. But he read that story while he was studying with Bilbo, and asked him a lot of questions about it, and was impressed when I admitted I took First Fruits up on top of the Hill in remembrance of what the King of the island used to do. So he’s gone up with me every year since.”

“I bet the Gaffer doesn’t know what to think about it, wasting good food,” Merry said.

“Well, we don’t tell him about it. He considers me an odd creature, the Gaffer does, but accepts that it’s my privilege as the Young Master to do as I please, and even respects me the more for my odd ways, I think. He’s rather pleased that Bilbo and I have always left most Hobbits scratching their heads, you see. Even if he’s never completely understood us, at least he knows it is nothing to be ashamed of to think differently.”

“So, we’ll go up on top of the Hill and spread the fruits and leave again?” Pippin asked.

“Well,” Frodo said slowly, “I tend to sleep out after I spread them, there on top of the Hill, letting the creatures who come to get the food know I trust them to take what’s offered and will allow them to enjoy it in peace.”

“Is it all gone in the morning?”

Frodo smiled again. “Most of it usually is. Want to sleep out with me, then? If you do, you’d best get your bedroll ready. The Moon’s full tonight, so it should be beautiful up there!”

*******


Shortly before sunset there was a knock at the door, and Sam poked his head into the kitchen. “You about ready, Mr. Frodo, sir?” he asked. “Got my barrow ready, you see. Got a few nice taters an’ turnips in it, and a good-sized squash, too. And the prettiest blossoms from the garden.”

“Come in, Sam, and share some of our late supper with us. Then we’ll go up when the Moon is higher. I’d rather hoped that Freddy and Folco might come, but they are taking part in a pageant in Budgeford, so they couldn’t be here tonight.”

“What does the Gaffer think of you taking such things as root vegetables and squashes and all?” asked Merry.

“Thinks as we’re a-havin’ a bit of a party under the full Moon,” Sam answered. “And I’m not goin’ t’try to put him right on it, if you take my meanin’. After all, it is a kind of party, only we’re not the ones as is goin’ t’eat it all.”

“Do we have to keep quiet once we’re up there?” Pippin asked. “You said that only the King was allowed to speak, there on the mountain.”

“Well, that was on Mount Meneltarma, not the Hill. It’s just that the Hill is the highest place in the whole of the Shire, so it only makes sense that we should take it up there. But if you’d keep quiet at first, until we’re ready to lie down and sleep under the stars and Moon, that would make it more special, perhaps.”

Within an hour the four of them went out the back door and around to the north side of the Hill and began the climb to its crown. Pippin carefully kept quiet during the climb, carrying his pillow in his arms, the rest of his bedroll in Sam’s barrow with the rest. Frodo led the way, carrying his basket, with Sam at the end of the procession pushing his barrow. Just before they crossed into the shadow of the roof tree he stopped Frodo with a hand to the older Hobbit’s shoulder, and wordlessly he brought out of the barrow a wreath woven of leaves and chrysanthemums and solemnly crowned Frodo with it. Frodo appeared surprised, then rewarded the gardener with one of his brilliant smiles before turning again to lead the way past the old oak to where the four of them could stand directly under the full Moon. With a gesture he indicated they should stand in a line facing west. After a period of quiet Frodo stepped forward, holding out his basket. “We know not,” he said quietly, “what the King of the Star Isle said when he brought the First Fruits to the top of Mount Meneltarma. We know that we aren’t the people of the island, and this is no mountain, and that it isn’t a particularly sacred place. But like them, we are glad for the fruits of the earth, and wish to give thanks for the blessings we have received in the past year. And we wish to share with the other creatures of the Shire at least a portion of what we’ve harvested, the First Fruits of this year.

“Thank you, and may all be grateful for the joy and fulfillment we know.”

At that he began to sing a harvest song, and the others joined him in it. He turned and scattered the contents of his basket in a circle near where he stood, and the others helped Sam bring out his offerings, which included early nuts and seeds as well as a number of early pears, rose hips, and tomatoes besides the vegetables he’d mentioned, and even a small sheaf each of wheat and barley as well as ears of corn, and then a number of flowers.

Sam and Merry began rolling out the rugs they’d brought up with their bedrolls, laying them side by side well clear of the offerings of food they’d brought. Soon they were seated together on the rugs, their blankets wrapped about their shoulders, and Frodo shared out bars made of sunflower nuts mixed with honey and strawberries, and while the others ate he told them the story of the rising of the Moon and the Sun, and how Tilion ever pursued the bright bark of Arien, the one woman he’d ever loved. At last they lay down side-by-side, little Pippin pressed up against Frodo’s right and Sam to the left, with Merry protecting Pippin’s right side, their blankets piled over them to keep out the night’s dew.

Pippin was soon deeply asleep, followed almost immediately by Sam, and then Merry, and at last Frodo himself, his wreath still on his head, although definitely askew.

*******


Atop Taniquetl, Manwë looked out toward Middle Earth through Varda’s window, seeing a group of four small forms lying together in sleep beneath the light of a full Moon. He was bemused to see nearby foodstuffs lying purposefully upon the hilltop where they slept, and noted that a number of small creatures had ventured forth to eat the berries, seeds, and fruits that were spread for them.

And what is this, Atto? he asked.

It seems that there remain some who would be faithful to the old ways, who would offer the First Fruits in thanksgiving for blessings known, came the answer.

But these are not even Men, much less those of the Dúnedain.

True, but they would be faithful nonetheless, and I will bless them for their pure hearts and the love they show for the land and people that nurture them as well as for their love of one another. For these in their way will offer themselves as First Fruits when the season is right for it. Take note of them, my son, for through them shall my Love be made manifest.


And others were shown to the Elder King—a young Dwarf standing on watch outside the gates of Erebor; a young Elven Prince with his bow and a quiver of arrows upon his shoulder, singing softly as he looked up at the Moon from the eaves of Mirkwood; the Chieftain of the northern Dúnedain as he sat near a campfire, accepting a mug of broth from his kinsman; the two sons of the Steward of Gondor seated upon the mountainside of Mindolluin, pointing out to one another the constellations that could be discerned beyond the Moon’s brilliance; and what appeared to be an old Man, stretched out, wrapped in his grey cloak, in the wilderness of Eriador.

Behold my chosen ones, and take note of them. Let each of them know peace, at least for this night.

*


And these each knew fair dreams—for a time.


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