Dark Clouds and Forebodings


When he and his young cousin had set out in the morning, the sky had been that perfect deep blue you only find on a late summer’s day. As far as he could see, no cloud threatened with rain. It was a marvellous day for a walk. At breakfast he had casually introduced that idea to Frodo by pouring some milk in his tea and saying, “ Frodo my lad, don’t you think it’s a fine day for a walk ? It could be our last chance this summer; days will soon get too cool and too short to go far. Mind you, I’m not as young as I used to be, these bones don’t handle chill and dampness very well and my eyes don’t see too well in the dusk. But today I feel as if I am fifty again, the weather is fine and I think we could get as far as Oatbarton and back again if we cut through the Bindbale Wood…“ Frodo listened only half-heartedly as Bilbo’s voice rambled on, far more interested in his slice of freshly baked bread spread with butter and blackberry preserves. He didn’t feel like going for a walk at all. He’d rather stay there at Bag End today, perhaps sit under one of the apple trees, and read one of Bilbo’s many books. Frodo loved Bilbo’s stories about his adventures, he loved to go on walks across the Shire too – but not today. He was tired because he had not slept well the night before, and he thought that Oatbarton was too far away for one day’s journey even if he was not tired.
“What do you say now, my lad? “ Bilbo was asking. Frodo started to object, but stopped when he saw the excited gleam in Bilbo’s eyes. He had not seen his kind old cousin so happy for a long time; in fact, Bilbo had seemed weary of late. He still seemed young to the eyes of those who were acquainted with him, “ well preserved “ folks called old Bilbo Baggins, but Frodo, who had lived with him for almost twelve years now, could not be deceived. Bilbo was older inside, no matter how vigorous he seemed on the outside; Frodo, who loved him so, often thought his elderly seemed almost transparent. He could not disappoint him. Frodo swallowed the last of his bread and said : “ Well then, dear Bilbo, when shall we set out ?”
Delighted that Frodo had agreed, Bilbo exclaimed, “As soon as we’ve finished breakfast and have packed some provisions, my dear lad! “

Only a short time later Bilbo and Frodo, with a small pack on his back, walked down The Hill. At the juncture of Hill Lane and the road toward Overhill, they encountered a cart driven by the old Gaffer Gamgee. Hamson sat beside him, and his youngest son Samwise sat in the back. Bilbo waved his walking stick in cheery greeting. “Good day to you, Mr. Gamgee, we’re out for a walk. We hope to make Oatbarton, but expect to be home by nightfall so there’s no need to look after Bag End save for what needs doing in the gardens.”
“Mr. Bilbo, sir, beggin’ your pardon, but I’d say you shouldn’t go too far. There’ll be a thunderstorm coming up later in the day. I feel it in my joints, they’re aching somewhat terribly today. That’s why we’re headin’ for the market at Bywater this early. Besides, I promised our Samwise a hot apple tart an’ they’ll nowt be hot if they’re rained upon.” In the back of the cart, young Sam blushed bright red and offered a soft, “Good morning, Mr. Bilbo, Mr. Frodo,” before shyly averting his glance.
“Thunderstorm? Fiddlesticks, look at that sky! The sky is cloudless, and not a bit of heaviness in the air! You’re getting old, my good hobbit, that’s why your joints are aching,” Bilbo teased him.
“Well, it’s true, I’m not as young a lad as I used to be, Mr. Bilbo, that’s certain. Anyway, I’ll make sure there’s a fire lit in your parlour and water warmed up for a bath when you come back; our May will see to that.”
“Thank you, Mr. Gamgee, that is very thoughtful of you. It’s grows rather chill in the evenings now, and Frodo and I always appreciate your efforts!”
The Gaffer chuckled, then flicked the reins and the cart rumbled on down Hill Lane. As the cart rolled past, Samwise crawled over to the side of the cart and implored with sparkling eyes,“ If you see Elves, Master Bilbo, will you please tell me about them later ?” The Gaffer mumbled some unintelligible words about cabbages and potatoes and Hamson turned around and threw the remains of the apple he was eating at his younger brother. “Sam, won’t you ever grow up, get that nonsense out of your head for pity’s sake!” The light in Sam’s eyes faded as he slowly resumed his place; Bilbo saw it and felt a stab of hurt for the lad, of whom he was quite fond and whom he had taught to read “Nonsense, indeed, you stubborn old hobbit! “ muttered Bilbo so only Frodo could hear. Louder he called, “If I see Elves I will be certain to send them your greetings, Samwise Gamgee !” The Gaffer and Hamson rolled their eyes heavenward, but Sam’s chubby sunbrowned face broke into his wide sweet smile as he called back, “Aye, and thank you Mr. Bilbo! Enjoy your walk!” The cart disappeared around a bend in the road.
“Do you really think we’re going to see Elves, Bilbo ?“ asked Frodo.
”No, I don’t think so, it’s not their usual route - however, young Samwise doesn’t have to know that,” he added with a conspiratorial wink.
“And you’re absolutely certain that the weather will hold, Bilbo?”
“It will hold!” Bilbo’s tone implied that no further discussion on that issue was advisable, and Frodo meekly plodded along behind him.

They had been walking a little more than two hours when they noticed that the air was growing heavier and more humid while the sun burned hotter, baking the stubble on the newly harvested fields. Bilbo mopped his brow frequently and stopped every few moments to wring his handkerchief. Frodo was suffering as well; he thought longingly of the cool shade of an apple tree in the orchard at Bag End, or of the Gamgee’s cart, which would at least relieve them of walking.
“ Bilbo, when will we stop for a rest? “ he finally asked.
“Frodo my lad, you’re much younger than I am, and you tire more easily than I! We’re not going to rest until we’ve reached the edge of Bindbale forest . “
“That’s two more miles !” Frodo groaned. He drank greedily from the waterskin until he realized that he needed to conserve what water he had left until they came upon a stream to replenish it, and they still had two long, sweaty miles to go.
Bilbo’s pace was determined, and not at all meandering, despite his earlier talk of a “stroll”. Frodo grew more and more annoyed and kicked small stones to vent his feelings rather than speak.
All of a sudden he heard a low rumble. “ I hope that was your stomach, Bilbo.”
“No, it wasn’t.“
Frodo noticed that the sun had disappeared and the wind was increasing dramatically.

Bilbo peered up at the darkening sky anxiously. "I don't like the look of those clouds. Hurry, Frodo. We'd better try to find some shelter."
They quickened their pace, which increased to a run when they felt the first heavy raindrops falling on their heads. They did not stop running until they reached the edge of the wood, but soon realized that the foliage alone offered little real shelter from the bone-drenching rain. “ “Look there, there’s a hollow tree, Bilbo!” Frodo pointed. “It looks like we could both make ourselves comfortable in that tree trunk“.
They took shelter in the hollow of the ancient lime tree, which was still leafy despite the huge hollow at its base. The hobbits found the inside of the tree very comfortable, the ground beneath them softened by decades of old leaves and bits of softened, decaying wood, and there was plenty of room for them both. Bilbo removed the pack from Frodo’s back and rummaged through its contents.
“It is as dark here as in an orc’s cave, “ he grumbled.
“At least we’re dry,” replied Frodo, “or at least less soaked than we would have been.”
“Yes, my lad, and the company is certainly more enjoyable than what would be found in an orc’s cave as well,“ Bilbo chuckled. “Here you go, I have some apples and some tarts, and some of that excellent cheese; I hope that will fill your stomach until we can avail ourselves of more suitable provender for a young hobbit lad.”
“Thank you, Bilbo,” Frodo said gratefully, and took a great bite of cheese. He held out his waterskin into the downpour, and refilled it enough to wash down his meal. The two hobbits munched their tea in contented silence and watched the storm rage from their humble shelter. It seemed the thunder grew closer, but the rain began to lighten.
“ Well, I think…” Frodo began.
His words were drowned out by a ferocious clap of thunder, followed by a blinding flash and a crash. They gasped in horror when they saw a tree barely a few yards from their shelter burst into flame after the lightning struck it; they could feel the heat even through the rain, and sparks and smoke drifted toward them.
“Bilbo, Bilbo, see that the leaves in here don’t catch fire, empty your bottle and wet them! “ Frodo shouted, frantically waving his coat at the sparks in an attempt to divert their course. But Bilbo did not hear him. In the flickering light of the flames, Frodo saw him sitting there, frozen, his eyes widened with fear and singing a song in an eerie voice
Burn, burn tree and fern !
Shrivel and scorch ! A fizzling torch
To light the night for our delight,
Ya hey!
Frodo recognized that song from Bilbo’s stories of his adventures nearly sixty years earlier; it was the song the orcs were singing when Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves were trapped on the trees.
“ Bilbo, my dear Bilbo, everything is all right, it’s not our tree that is burning, the lightning hit a tree next to us. We’re quite safe. Bilbo! Do you hear me?” Frodo shook him gently, his own eyes wide with fear.
Bilbo shuddered and fingered in his pocket. “Where is it, where is it? Must find it…it’s mine, my own !”
Frodo was frightened. He knew Bilbo had a tendency to be peculiar sometimes but this was different. His face was distorted, he drooled and his eyes looked wild; the shadows cast upon his features by the firelight made his expression all the more horrifying. Frodo grabbed Bilbo by his shoulders and shook him, trying to rouse him from the living nightmare.
“Bilbo, wake up, I’m here with you, don’t you know me?” he pleaded as tears ran down his face. He was distressed and desperate. He embraced his cousin and hugged him close. Suddenly Bilbo went limp in his arms. Frodo stroked Bilbo’s hair and sobbed. The rain quenched the fire before the storm finally abated and passed to the east, but Frodo was unaware as he hugged his beloved Bilbo to his heart and pleaded with him to wake up.

After a while Bilbo draw a deep breath and revived, his usual calm, half-teasing expression on his wizened face.
“Frodo, my lad, what happened ? Why … you haven’t been crying, have you ? “
“Oh Bilbo ! You’re awake ! How do you feel ?“
Frodo was almost too overjoyed and relieved to speak.
“How do I feel ? What question is that ? How do I feel…well…how do I feel then ?” Bilbo himself was not too certain what answer he should give. He leant back and sighed. “ Frodo my lad, I have not been well for a while now. I am old, no, don’t argue with me, you know I am, even if I don’t look it. I will be celebrating my eleventy-first birthday this year after all and that’s just seventeen years shy of the Old Took. My heart is getting old and it’s getting restless. I love the Shire, I do, but in the same time I feel like I want to go on an adventure again. I want to visit the dwarves and see Elrond and the Last Homely House. I long to hear some new elvish songs and I want to finish that book of mine. That is why I wanted to go for a walk today. I feIt restless. I should have listened to the Old Gaffer, he or rather his joints are a lot wiser than old Bilbo Baggins of Bag End. I am an old fool. Cracked folks call me, I know they do. Their tongues are wagging as soon as I turn my back on them and some of that is already rubbing off on you. I need a holiday, Frodo, I am tired and need rest.”
There was a long pause until Frodo said in a low barely audible voice: “You are going to leave the Shire…”
Bilbo looked up at his young nephew. “ Not yet, Frodo, not yet, but the day will come…
- ah, look, the sun is out again ! We should get back to Bag End now, we’ll never make it to Oatbarton now anyway.”
The two hobbits scrambled out of the hole, shouldered their bags, brushed the leaves off their clothes and set out on the way back to their home. The rain had stopped and last black wisps of clouds were chasing over the otherwise pale blue sky. The air had grown chill and damp in the wake of the storm, and the hobbits were soon feeling rather cold in their damp summer garments. They walked quickly, side by side but not speaking. Frodo was musing about what Bilbo had said. If Bilbo really left the Shire, what would become of him ? Should he go with him, would Bilbo want him to come along ? Frodo was uncertain if he wanted to leave the Shire at all. Going for long walks was one thing but leaving….forever ? He did not finish that thought because in that moment they had reached the familiar round green door of Bag End. “We’re back,” remarked Bilbo.
They found that in the parlour a fire had been lit and in the kitchen a kettle full of steaming hot chicken soup was waiting for the hungry wanderers. But best of all was the discovery of two bath tubs filled with agreeably warm water. “ The Old Gaffer is a very wise man indeed ! ” laughed Bilbo and he and Frodo soon immersed in the water and let it warm their chilled limbs. Suddenly Bilbo chuckled. “ What is it, Bilbo ? “ “Frodo, I think this year we will have a birthday party that will surpass everything known in the entire Shire. And there will be a surprise…yes, a very big surprise.”


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