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In Empty Lands
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Of Games of Kings and Castles

Of Games of Kings and Castles

After the dawn meal Boromir returned to his room, but left it again soon enough, feeling restless. In a protected courtyard he found the old Hobbit, Bilbo, warmly wrapped against the increasing chill in the air. He sat upon a bench with a book in his hands, those protected by fingerless gloves; but the book was closed and held close to his chest. His expression was filled with concern, his mouth stiff with worry.

“Master Bilbo, I am not disturbing you any, am I?” Boromir asked.

The elderly Hobbit looked up at him, his eyes briefly examining him, the solemnity not leaving him. “Feel free to join me, if you will,” he said. “I would be with Frodo if I could, but he’s refusing to have any of us about at the moment while Elrond checks him over. Has even overruled Sam, who finally agreed to go off to the kitchens to speak with the cooks about elevenses. Don’t know precisely where Merry and Pippin have got off to. Seems rather odd to see Pippin all grown up now, or next best thing to it, I suppose. He was but a lad of eleven when I last saw him and charged him to safeguard Frodo’s Tookish streak.”

“You are related to the Ringbearer, or so you told me?”

“First and second cousin, once removed each way.” For a moment it appeared he might continue his narrative on the relationship, but he plainly decided to let that stand for itself. He took a deep breath. “I was family head for the Bagginses, you see--inherited the position from my father and grandfather. As I never married it was expected I should pass the position on to my closest next younger relative, my cousin Otho Sackville-Baggins, his father having been younger brother to my own. Otho, however, as a lad was an insufferable snob, and he married one worse than himself in Lobelia Bracegirdle. Otho’s father Longo married Camellia Sackville, and as the only child of the family head for the Sackvilles she brought with her the family headship for the Sackvilles if Uncle Longo would take her name as well as his own. Otho and his wife Lobelia between the two of them have so mismanaged the Sackville family since they inherited the position that they have to be the most despised such folk in all of the Shire. And the thought of passing on the headship for the Baggins clan to them was insupportable--truly insupportable, you must understand. As for their son Lotho--if anything, he’s worse than his parents! As self-centered a brat of a child as ever was when younger, he grew to be as big a thief and as ambitious as his horrible mother.”

He shifted to lay the book beside him, resting one hand on it. “My parents were well thought of--well, Bungo, my father, was always the epitome of respectability and wealth, of course. And he did marry Belladonna Took, the oldest of the Old Took’s daughters, who brought a marvelously large dowry into the marriage. They excavated Bag End, and prepared it to house as large a family as had been my mother’s--she was one of twelve children, you must understand. Only that didn’t happen. I was their only child, and quite happy in that state, I must admit. Oh, they spoiled me terribly, my parents did, although never in the way Otho and Lobelia did young Lotho.

“But then Cousins Fosco and Ruby died--catarrh, you see--went through the Shire and killed many. And from what I’m told, it went through the rest of the northlands as well, killing as often amongst Men as it did amongst Hobbits. From what Gandalf and Elrond have told me there were many deaths throughout the Breelands and the villages of the Dúnedain and across the breadth of Eriador.

“When Fosco and Ruby died my parents took in their three children, Dora, Drogo, and Dudo. Dora wasn’t particularly happy about it--she’d have rather stayed in their family hole, really, and raised the lads herself. She was, after all, almost of age. But as my dad was family head it was his responsibility to see to the needs of other Bagginses.

“Drogo and I became very close. Drogo wasn’t quite as Bagginsish as was my father, much less his own sister or younger brother. Far more spontaneous, which I’ll admit isn’t saying much, as we Bagginses were always a stodgy family. Eminently predictable, the Bagginses, and therefore totally respectable. I’ll admit that Drogo’s penchant for mischief kept my father on his toes and my mother delighted, and it kept me fascinated. Perhaps it was the Bolger in him. But he made a point of keeping my father just mildly off his balance. Publicly I’d complain, but privately I’d egg Drogo on to new heights of delicate rebellion.

“Lobelia at one time fancied Drogo. However, she disgusted him and he fled to Buckland to escape her--and fell deeply in love with Frodo’s mum Primula Brandybuck. She was good for him, Primula was--fed his independent spirit and his tendency toward artistry. Now, I can just imagine what Lobelia would have done had she married Drogo and he’d have suggested constructing a wardrobe and carving a dragon into its front panels. She would have set up the loudest howl about such a thing and would have quite quashed the imagination right out of him, or died trying. My father didn’t particularly appreciate Drogo’s love of imagining scenes and illustrating them, but he encouraged him to do what he could and saw to it he had the best teaching when he made it clear he liked constructing furniture and carving the wood panels.

“We Bagginses didn’t need to practice trades, of course. We’ve always been a fairly wealthy family and have invested well. And then when my father married my mother that just added to our family standing, you must understand. But my father refused to try to talk Drogo out of becoming a carver and joiner, which quite scandalized the family. Then if Dudo didn’t prove to be as much an artisan in his own right! Never went in for carving as Drogo did, but still built tables and chairs and cradles each of which was as much a work of art in its way as anything Drogo did.”

“And this Drogo was Frodo’s father?” Boromir asked.

“Oh, yes. When Dora came of age she did move back into the family hole and took her brothers with her. Not that Drogo stayed with her. He’d come and visit with Mum and me frequently, and we were there when he married Primula. When he wanted to rent the old Baggins family hole at the foot of the Hill I ended up selling it to him. Frodo was born there, there in Hobbiton, in what had become known as Number 5, there on Bagshot Row. It was where my own father was born, you see.”

His eyes were softening. “They’d meant to go to Buckland for the birthing, of course. Menegilda, who’d married Primula’s oldest brother Rory, was trained in healing and was a very good midwife. Gilda had intended to see the child born, once it became clear that this time Primula was likely to carry it the full term. She’d lost two already, both when she was about four or five months along.

“Two months before Frodo was due Primula and Drogo were beginning to prepare things for an extended stay at Brandy Hall, and I was making plans to be there in November when the bairn was due to be born. Frodo, however, had other ideas. He was born on my birthday, don’t you know, in September. No one knows what triggered the labor, but there you have it. I’d been off at Tuckborough celebrating my birthday with a few of my Took relations, and they were to have joined us. Instead one of our Boffin relatives showed up with word that Primula had gone into labor, and I hurried home as swiftly as I might. Arrived at about the same time the child was born, and I was the first Drogo brought him to once it was plain he would survive the experience.”

Bilbo sighed, folding his hands now in his lap. “He was not quite twelve when his parents died--accident, you know. Menegilda was quite adamant that he stay there at Brandy Hall with the Brandybucks, and for years I allowed myself to be bullied into letting him remain. But it wasn’t the best situation for my lad--not at all. Menegilda had taken it into her head he was delicate and did all she could to ‘protect’ him, to the point she was almost stifling the life right out of him. Merry’s mum and dad were his immediate guardians, but even they were bowing to Gilda’s will for the child. Finally when he was twenty-one she went too far and even Esmeralda realized that Frodo was nearly ready to fade away, and she and the healers in the Hall insisted I step in as his family head of name.”

Suddenly those faded eyes were searching those of the Gondorian, almost pleading for understanding. “I so loved the lad! He’s always been my dearest boy, you see. And I made up my mind. Frodo was everything that Otho and Lotho were not--unselfish, eminently responsible, intelligent, artistically gifted as was true for both his parents, Took-curious, imaginative, insightful. I brought him back to Hobbiton and adopted him as my heir, and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins never forgave me!”

His gaze fell. He continued in low tones, “What have I done to my lad, Lord Boromir? Why in Middle Earth did I ever leave him that abomination? He ought to be home in the Shire, there in Bag End, taking a bride and raising delightful children, not running off through danger toward death and darkness, with the Enemy’s Ring in his pocket! Had I even dreamed it was such a thing as it’s proven, I would never have done so! I would have brought it away with me and perhaps this would have all been over before it was even begun! Instead I’ve doomed him to a horrible journey to a place that is so bad I can barely imagine it--and having dealt with trolls and wolves and goblins and Gollum and giant spiders and Smaug, it’s difficult to think of a place so bad I can’t imagine it in my heart.”

What could Boromir say? Finally he murmured, “You did the best you could, and as Mithrandir suggested. Not even my father dismisses the advice of the Grey Wizard out of hand, you know.”

Bilbo looked up into his eyes again. “That’s true. I can always blame Gandalf, I suppose, although I allowed him to relieve me of the envelope and set it on the mantelpiece. But that’s all over and done with. But I fear what this adventure may do to my boy--what it might cost him. He’s a far gentler soul than I ever was. Stubborn--yes, he can certainly be stubborn. That’s why I’m out here instead of being at his side right now, for he doesn’t want us to behold the healing wound. As if we hadn’t already seen it! But he’ll keep it all covered over--you wait and see!”

And then he stopped, his face arrested by a thought. “Covered over,” he whispered. “Wait--covered over! Ah! But there’s my corslet....”

His eyes were shining with relief at whatever plan had formed in his mind. He suddenly smiled. “I’ll give him Sting, the blade I took from the trolls’ hoard. There will be no need for Merry to give him the sword he carries now. I’d guess that a sword apparently from Gondolin should serve him well enough, wouldn’t you agree?”

Boromir was amazed at how much lighter in heart the Hobbit now appeared. “So I would suppose, Master Bilbo. But you have such a thing?”

“Oh, yes, from my own adventure, there about eighty years back. Once my own Tookish nature was roused I went upon one of my own, you know. Yes, my Frodo won’t go out without what protection I can offer him, even if I must stay here.”

He rose, lifting the book and examining it. “This is one of Master Elrond’s own journals, records he made long ago of what he’s observed and been told of the world out there. I’m much better at reading his Sindarin now than I was there in the Shire. Our folk came out of the obscurity of the Anduin valley almost fifteen hundred years ago, some coming over the High Pass, others through the Redhorn Gate and still others the long way around down through what I am told is now called the Gap of Rohan. There were three clans then--the Stoors, the Harfoots, and the Fallohides. And my lad--he’s inherited the best of all three clans: the steadiness of the Harfoots through his Baggins forebears, the forethought of the Stoors through the Brandybucks, and the intelligence and quick thinking of the Fallohides by way of the Tooks. May they stand him in good stead on this quest.”

Boromir had risen, and now looked down on the venerable figure of the Hobbit. “I promise you, Master Bilbo, that whatever I can do to ease your kinsman’s way, to protect him from danger and soothe his concerns, that I will do. I will do my best to see that his burdens do not overwhelm him.”

Bilbo Baggins was now looking up at him, examining his features again, reevaluating him from what the Man could tell. “I thank you, Lord Boromir,” he said. “But do not underestimate my Frodo. He has a core of mithril to him, you will find--light and shining, but harder and more enduring than dragons scales. And do not think that he will ever easily allow any other to ease his way--that is not the way with Frodo Baggins. Too many look at him and think he is soft and easy to best--and they all come to realize they were wrong.” A cynical smile spread across his face. “If you doubt that, just go to the Shire and ask Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, or some of those who saw the wrangles between my Frodo and Thain Ferumbras and his tyrant of a mother!”

The old Hobbit continued to examine the warrior for a time longer, his face somewhat troubled. “You will find, sir, that there is more than one way to best any enemy. And I have no doubt that my Frodo will explore them all in the quiet of his prodigious imagination before choosing in the end the right strategy to employ. And, knowing my young cousin, it is likely that you will consider him quite mad if he should allow you to know what that strategy will be, for I doubt it will come with much in the way of fanfare or displays of strength. He’s always been an excellent player at Kings and Castles, you see.” He tapped his temple. “Those of us who do not have great strength or experience in the ways of warfare must be creative in our responses to danger, you see. And there’s no Hobbit better than one who has a fair share of Fallohide in his makeup to thinking of ways around and past obstacles you would think to assault with weapons and engines. And Frodo’s mind is indeed the mind of a Took.”

With that he shifted the book under his arm, gave a nod, and left the Man of Gondor within the courtyard, thinking.


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