Word Count: 1864
Disclaimer: If I owned the hobbit there would be even more minor characters.
Summary: Bilbo Baggins returns to the Shire. Cue rampant gossip and wild speculation from everyone around.
“Marigold! Marigold! Did you hear?”
The hobbitess looked up from her washing as her friend Rosy barreled down the pathway, coming to a panting stop in front of Marigold. She couldn’t imagine what would make the other lass run like that this early in the morning – or at all, to be honest, particularly since sprinting through the Shire was hardly considered the height of propriety.
Not that Rosy had ever cared too much about what other hobbits thought and half of the scolding that Marigold had received from her mother could be traced squarely back to Rosy’s door. Of course, the hobbitess also wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun in her younger years without her friend there to drag her off posy-hunting and even at her more sedate age of twenty-seven, she couldn’t deny that Rosy’s beaming grin ignited her curiosity.
So Marigold pulled her laundry back into her basket for the moment, ignoring the annoyed huff of Lacey Proudfoot to her right. She was hardly to blame for her friend’s wild interruption and it’s not as though Lacey and Camellia had been talking about anything important anyway.
In fact, the other hobbits had been discussing the budding romance between Batho Bolger and Ruby Brandybuck in excruciating detail – complete with a critique of the lace that Ruby had been making and every single hog on Batho’s father’s farm – and Marigold was rather grateful for the break from that. She liked gossip as much as the next lass, but some of Lacey’s comments had bordered on the cruel and pigs weren’t something that she really cared about.
“Did I hear what?” Marigold asked, taking pity on her friend before Rosy’s excitement made her vibrate right out of her petticoats. “You know my family spent the last two days up at the Buckland market and we only just returned late last night. So spit it out, Rosy; you look like you’re about to choke.”
“Mr. Baggins came back!”
With this Rosy had everyone’s attention and she knew it, all other gossip forgotten in the face of such a juicy tale. While the entire Shire had known that Bag End was facing auction – indeed, Marigold had been sorry to miss it since Belladonna had had some lovely towels – the fact that Bilbo wasn’t dead had yet to make the rounds.
Although, rumors had apparently been flying out from Hobbiton all morning because Rosy’s announcement gathered a crowd in seconds and, like usual, everyone had an opinion on Bilbo Baggins’ health.
“I was there,” Rosy began, three simple words giving her the undisputed right to start this session off. “I wanted to see if I could pick up a few of Belladonna’s lovely doilies but the lot hadn’t come up yet when Bilbo thundered up the path, shouting that he wasn’t dead and the auction had to stop. No one could believe it since it’d been so many months since his disappearance, but even Grubb had to give in when Bilbo showed him the contract that he’d signed.”
“Contract? What contract?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I told you my second cousin on my mother’s side had seen a band of dwarves in these parts right before Bilbo disappeared. Clearly he hired them as guards; you know how dwarves are about their paperwork.”
“Paperwork?! I’ll show you what I think of your paperwork. Mr. Baggins ran off to find the elves and that’s final. I won’t hear any argument.”
“Well, I don’t know if it was elves or dwarves or anyone, because Bilbo didn’t say. But if he was traveling with companions, they didn’t feed him very well. He was thin as a man and twice as angry about being declared dead while he was gone. Though he wasn’t nearly as furious as Lobelia was about him coming back; you should have seen her face when Bilbo took his spoons.”
“So it was really him then? My great granny Mildred said that he was obviously an imposter.”
“Don’t be stupid. Of course it had to be Mr. Bilbo. Your granny just doesn’t want to give back the footstool that your grandpappy bought her; she told your mother so last night.”
This claim was met with an indignant squawk and fisticuffs, but before the two lads could start fighting, one of the older hobbits waded in. “Be quiet, you silly children. Everyone knows that Mildred is a stingy skinflint and I want to hear what Rosy has to say. Because I heard that Mr. Baggins came back wearing armor and waving a giant sword around.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. He wasn’t wearing armor; he was wearing a silken cape as red as my mother’s prize winter roses and carrying a chest of gold beneath one arm,” a different hobbit spoke up from the back.
“He was not! He was wearing armor and a helmet with long feathers down the back.”
“The chest wasn’t full of gold, it was full of rubies. Perfectly cut and big as a robin’s egg.”
“No! It was gold, I tell you. Enough gold to buy Hobbiton twice over and have some left for tea. And he did have armor; he did!”
The crowd quickly broke up into small groups of squabbling, hobbits of all ages arguing fiercely about the rumors that they’d heard. But while Marigold was generally amused by her neighbors’ inability to agree on anything, she wanted to know what had happened to Bilbo Baggins while he was missing and that wasn’t going to happen if everyone chattered on.
“Will you all let Rosy talk?!” the hobbitess shouted, the rest of the crowd falling silent as they stared at her in shock. This was rather out of character since Marigold was usually a very quiet lass, the sort who smiled politely when people cut in front of her in line.
“Thank you, Mari,” her friend said with a cheerful smile, taking advantage of the opening before the silence could grow weird. “As I was trying to tell you, I was there and Bilbo was certainly not wearing full plate mail. He did have a rather large shield across his back and a chest under one arm, but his cloak was a much more sensible fabric than silk and his gloves were eminently practical. He might have run off months ago without a word of warning, but he’s still a hobbit after all.”
“Did he say where he’d been?”
“Um… no, actually,” Rosy replied, smile falling slightly at the grumble from the crowd. However, she wasn’t one to let a little setback stop her and she plowed on before the rest could go back to bickering. “But Bilbo’s contract was with someone named Thorin Oakenshield and that sounds like a rather dwarvish name to me. He probably went all the way to the Iron Hills and back on his journey and just think of the stories that he’ll tell.”
“We don’t need those kind of stories; none of that adventuring nonsense around here. If this Baggins fellow starts telling tales then our children are going to think that running off to find their fortunes won’t have dire consequence. Bilbo should have gotten himself killed like a proper hobbit instead of coming back.”
“Don’t be like that, Myrtle. I think the fauntlings could do with a good story and the fact that Mr. Baggins returned to Hobbiton just goes to show that the Shire is the best place in the world.”
“Damn the stories; I want to know what was in that chest of his. You know dwarves are better miners than anyone so just imagine the gold and treasure that he found.”
“Just imagine all the lice that he picked up,” Camellia retorted, shaking her head dismissively. “I doubt Bilbo went any farther than the Blue Mountains; he’s probably been sitting in some dwarvish outpost stuffing his face and laughing while his relatives were worried sick.”
“Right, like Lobelia wasn’t glad to get rid of him.”
“You can hardly blame her for that, can you? I’d declare half my family dead to get my hands on a hobbit hole like that.”
“That’s because we live in a hovel, dear. And it wouldn’t be nearly so bad if you would fix the doorjamb like I’ve asked.”
Rosy gave a disappointed sigh when the group stopped listening entirely, some running off to tell their friends about Bilbo’s return while others were too busy rehashing old arguments to care. While this was the biggest news of the season, enough people had been at the auction that her story wasn’t worth more than a few moments of attention now. Because everyone knew someone who had probably seen Bilbo in person and speculating was half the fun of gossip anyway.
However, the hobbitess regained her smile when she felt a soft tug on her skirt and saw Marigold’s cousin Elsa staring up at her.
“Mr. Bilbo wasn’t hurt, was he?” the tiny lass asked plaintively. “He always used to hand out the best sweets at Yuletide and I missed him while he was gone.”
“Mr. Bilbo was fine, my dear,” Rosy replied, lifting Elsa up in her arms. “He seemed a little sad, perhaps, but I’m sure he was just tired from all the traveling and coming home to an auction must have been quite a shock.”
The lass thought over this explanation for a minute, sounding out a few of the larger words under her breath before nodding solemnly and declaring, “Then I want to cheer him up. He shouldn’t have to be alone if he’s unhappy and mama always says that hugs make the sun shine brighter in the sky.”
Rosy looked over at Marigold a little helplessly, clearly unsure of the correct response to that. But Elsa’s parents were perfectly happy to let their daughter wander off with her cousin at any opportunity, so Marigold just laughed and took the lass from her friend’s arms. She balanced Elsa on one hip before reaching down to grab her tub of laundry, Rosy taking the other handle without being asked.
“I think that’s a great idea, Elsie. I’m sure Mr. Bilbo would love some company. I bet we could make it to Hobbiton by luncheon if you help me put away my washing and maybe Mr. Bilbo will have some sweets for you. Though, if he only returned yesterday then his pantry is probably rather bare so we’ll have to bring a basket of mother’s scones as well.”
The three hobbits strolled down the path toward Marigold’s home, Elsa chattering excitedly about the coming visit the whole way. She really was a sweet child and Marigold was slightly ashamed that she hadn’t thought of dropping by herself. Bilbo could probably use some help putting Bag End back in order after the auction and if offering her assistance also meant that she might be able to hear the hobbit’s story first, well, there was nothing wrong with that.