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Constant Vigilance   by Grey Wonderer

All of these wonderful characters belong to J.R.R. Tolkien and I am a "filthy, little, thief." No, just borrowing them, honest.

This was written for Marigold's Challenge number four. With Beta by Marigold


"Constant Vigilance"

"Frodo. It's all right, it was only thunder."

"Only thunder? You do realize that lightening usually follows thunder, donít you?" Frodo reminded his uncle as they both held tightly to the branches of the tree in which they were now perched.

"What?" Bilbo seemed to reply slowly. His attention, remarkably, seemed to be else-where. "Oh, yes, yes, of course it does. I have always been so thankful that you are such a bright lad, Frodo." Bilbo was peering down through the branches of the tree as he spoke.

Frodo rolled his eyes skyward and sighed. "If I am so bright, then how did I end up in a tree during a storm?" he muttered to himself.

"Iím sorry, lad. What did you just say? I am afraid I wasnít listening," Bilbo said, looking over at Frodo with interest now.

In spite of their situation, Bilboís expression brought a smile to Frodoís face. "Oh, it was nothing, Bilbo. I was just talking to myself."

"Yes, well, sometimes, I find that talking to myself helps me to sort things out a bit," Bilbo reflected. He then glanced back down through the tree limbs and focused his attention on the very large bear below them. Above the stranded hobbits, a burst of lightening illuminated the evening sky and Frodo griped the tree a bit tighter. This was going to be a very long night indeed.

From below the tree, the very large, angry, bear growled as it dug itís claws into the base of the trunk, but it hadnít, as yet, began to climb up after them. This, Frodo thought, was something for which they should be very grateful. Bears could, after all, climb trees, if they decided to and Frodo was desperately hoping that this particular bear did not decide to climb this particular tree.

"Poor Merry will be wondering where we are about now," Frodo said, as he looked down at the bear. "You donít suppose that he will try to come looking for us, do you?" This thought worried Frodo a great deal. He didnít want to think what might happen if Merry decided to come in search of them. His younger cousin would be walking straight into the path of a very angry bear.

"Knowing Merry, if he does, then the bear will be in a great deal of trouble," Bilbo said, trying to lighten Frodoís mood a bit. He knew that the young hobbit must be frightened. He only hoped that he could formulate a plan regarding this bear before things became even more frightening.

Frodo laughed, nervously. "Seriously, Bilbo," he said, softly. "You donít think Merry might come out here looking for us, do you?" Frodoís tone of voice told Bilbo that the younger Baggins believed Merry just might come in search of them.

"I suspect that he may if we donít return soon," Bilbo admitted and then added with a smile, "Though, Pippin might be of some help to us."

Frodo frowned. "How might Pippin be of help?" This made no sense to him at all. Pippin was eight and, in all likely hood, would only add to their difficulties. Maybe being up this high was beginning to affect Bilboís judgement.

"Well, the little lad is afraid of storms, so Merry wonít be able to get the child to leave the tent in this weather," Bilbo explained as another rumble of thunder sounded. The storm was growing closer and very soon the rain would come.

Bilboís observation about Pippin cheered Frodo to some measure. Pippin was probably hiding under the blankets in their tent about now. No, Merry couldnít leave Pippin to come looking for them. Bilbo was right. Pippin would never leave the tent in a storm. At least his two younger cousins were safe for the present. Now, if only Bilbo could come up with a way to get them out of this mess before the rain started, then, they might be safe as well.


"Will you come out from under there?" Merry said, nudging the pile of blankets in the center of the tent with his foot.

"No!" A very nervous, but very firm, voice answered him from beneath the blankets.

"Come on, Pippin," Merry pleaded, gently. "You are far too old to be afraid of a little thunder."

"No!" Pippin said again.

Merry dropped to his knees near the pile of blankets and sighed. "Fine. Just stay under there, then."

"I will," came the shaky reply and the pile of blankets changed shape as Merryís small cousin tried to roll himself into a ball beneath his hiding place.

Thunder sounded again, seeming to be just above the tent, and the child beneath the blankets whimpered, "I want to go home, Merry. Please? Iím not old enough for sleeping outside."

"That isnít what you said when you were begging to come with us," Merry reminded his little cousin. "No, I seem to remember you saying that you were a big lad now and that you were old enough to come."

More whimpering came from underneath the blankets and a tiny voice said, " I may have been wrong about all of that. You and Bilbo and Frodo shouldnít have listened to me. After all, Iím only eight, Merry."

Merry was trying hard not to laugh. Pippin was obviously very frightened or he never would have dared to admit that he was too young for anything. Later, when the storm had ended, Merry would tease his little cousin mercilessly about this. It was just too good to let pass.

"I want to go home," Pippin moaned.

The little lad sounded so frightened that Merry softened and said, "Pippin, come out of there and Iíll protect you. You can sit next to me and weíll put the blankets around both of us. Come on." Merry waited and the blankets began to shift a bit. "Come on, Pip, you know I wouldnít let anything hurt you."

The blankets began to move about a bit more frantically now and then Pippinís voice announced in a high, frightened tone, "Merry! I canít get out of here!"

Merry laughed and began trying to free Pippin from the blankets while the lad thrashed about, making things worse. "Hold still, or I wonít be able to get you out of there, Pippin!" With this firm command, Pippin stopped struggling against the blankets and waited while Merry untangled him. Once he was free, Pippin flung himself into Merryís arms and huddled there, shivering while more thunder rolled overhead.

"Bilbo, the tree is moving," Frodo said, nervously.

"Yes, I am afraid that the bear is trying to shake us down from here," Bilbo said. "Bears do that sometimes with animals that they have treed." Bilbo explained as he watched the bear try to uproot the tree.

"W-What do we do?" Frodo asked in a shaky voice. It seemed to Frodo that his dear Uncle Bilbo was not grasping the seriousness of their predicament. No, Bilbo didnít seem to be giving this situation the proper concern that it warranted. "We are about to be eaten by a bear. Do something!"

More thunder drowned out the first part of Frodoís plea and so all Bilbo heard was "Do something!" This was enough to let him know that even though Frodo was thirty, the lad was still counting on Bilbo to take care of him. It made Bilbo feel all warm inside for a moment, but the shaking of the tree brought him back to the issue at hand. "Iím thinking, Frodo lad. Donít worry. I have been in higher trees than this one and with much worse things waiting below. You do remember the spiders donít you, lad? We can get out of this if we keep our heads."

Frodo moaned. This was no time for a Mirkwood story! Frodo had no intention of sitting patiently up in this tree while Bilbo remembered his adventures with the dwarves. There was a bear somewhere below them and they had to do something. This was no time for the tales of Bilbo Baggins, retired adventurer! "Bilbo, what should we do?" Frodo demanded, trying to keep his uncle on course.

"What, indeed?" Bilbo said, wondering how he was going to manage this. This was not looking very reassuring and poor Frodo was beginning to panic. He had to calm the lad or he might just fall out of the tree. Thunder again, and much louder this time.


"Wonder where Bilbo and Frodo are?" Merry said, as he pried Pippinís small, but amazingly strong, fingers off of his arm. "We donít want them to come back and see how frightened you are, do we?"

"I donít care," Pippin sniffled, burying his face against Merryís chest and re-establishing his hold on his cousinís, already bruised, arm. "I want Bilbo to come back and take us back to Bag End."

"Pippin, we are two days away from Bag End and you know it," Merry said, becoming tired of this. Pippin was not settling down like he did when it stormed and they were at Brandy Hall or Bag End. At times like that, Pippin was content to burrow down into the covers in the bed beside of Merry. A few comforting words, an arm around his shoulders and Pippin was soon fast asleep. Here in the tent, with the lightening flashes illuminating the entire canvass around them and making the tent look, if only for a split second, as if it might be on fire, Pippin was terrified. He clung to Merry like a wet jacket and moaned as if someone were beating him.

"I want Bilbo," Pippin said, between sobs and then the rain began to fall.

Merry was worried about Bilbo and Frodo. They had been gone for quite some time now. His two older cousins had only been going to go out and get some extra firewood for tomorrow morning. They had known that there might be rain tonight and Bilbo had suggested that they gather some firewood while it was still dry. They could store it under the edge of the tent. This would ensure that they would be able to have a nice cooking fire on which to prepare their first breakfast. Breakfast was a very important meal to hobbits. In fact, all meals were important to hobbits. First Breakfast, just started that day moving in the right direction. Merry realized that they had been gone for very nearly two hours. This wasnít like Bilbo.

"Merry, please, make it stop," Pippin begged as more thunder crashed.

"Pip, I canít make the thunder stop. You will just have to try and be brave until it goes away on its own," Merry said, stroking the ladís curls and rocking him as the two of them sat amid the blankets in the center of the tent. Merry wanted to be out helping with whatever it was that Frodo and Bilbo were doing, but instead, he was playing nurse-maid to his eight-year-old cousin.

Bringing Pippin along on their trip had been Merryís idea, after it had been Pippinís, of course. Pippin had pleaded with Merry to make Bilbo and Frodo take him along this time. Bilbo had taken Merry and Frodo since Merry had been twelve. The three of them had made this trip each year together and for the last three years Pippin had been aching to go too. Merry sighed, realizing that when Bilbo had suggested that the small Took might not be old enough just yet, Merry should have listened. As he so often did, Merry had given in to Pippinís begging and helped the child convince Bilbo. "And this is what comes of it, Merry lad," he told himself, ruefully.

"Do you suppose that lightening has struck Frodo and cousin Bilbo?" Pippin whispered, nervously, looking up at Merry with wide, frightened eyes.

"Of course not, Pip," Merry said. "Hobbits are small and lightening will usually strikes the tallest thing about. That will not be Bilbo and Frodo."

"Then where are they? We canít go home without them," Pippin said, as if they planned to leave as soon as their older cousins returned. The youngsterís enthusiasm for camping seemed to be waning. The storm had dampened the childís spirits. Merry, on the other hand, just wished that he could go and look for Frodo and Bilbo. Merry hoped that they didnít need help, because he had his hands full with Pippin just now. Searching for his older cousins would have to wait until the storm subsided.

"Pippin, they will be back before long and soon the storm will be over," Merry said. "You wonít want to go home then."

"I want to go home, now, Merry," Pippin shivered. "Please, when Bilbo and Frodo come, make them take us home." Pippin was snuggled so close to Merry that it felt as if the little Took were trying to climb through him to get to his other side.

Just then, there came the sound of thunder, followed by a very loud crack and Pippin buried his head in Merryís shoulder, shaking even harder than before. Merry knew that somewhere outside of their shelter, the lightening had struck something large, maybe a tree.

The bear was starting to climb now and Frodo knew that if something didnít happen soon, he and Bilbo would be in very serious trouble. Frodo stared at Bilbo with his large, blue eyes and silently willed his dear older cousin to think of something.

"What have you got in your pockets, lad?" Bilbo asked, taking Frodo by surprise.

"My pockets? Bilbo, this is hardly the time to play the riddle game!" Frodo said, hysterically. Bilbo had put a similar question to a creature that he had once met on his travels. During a game of riddles, Bilbo had asked the creature to guess what was in his pockets. Frodo remembered the story well, though Bilbo never shared it with anyone else. It was just between the two of them which was rare for one of Bilboís tales. This was maddening! Why didnít Frodo have any normal relatives? "Bilbo, please," Frodo moaned desperately as he watched the bear slowly pull itself up onto the first limb of the tree.

"I am looking for weapons, Frodo, lad," Bilbo explained. "I need something that we might throw at the bear to slow it down. I donít suppose you have any rocks in your pockets, do you?" Bilbo looked hopeful.

"I am afraid that you would have been better off if you had brought Merry to get the firewood, " Frodo said, in defeat. "I know that he has a sling shot with him."

"Never mind Merry and what he has, Frodo," Bilbo said. "What do you have?" As he asked this question, Bilbo began to check his own pockets with one hand while holding onto the tree with his other one.

Frodo dug into one of his pockets and pulled out his pipe, a pouch of Old Toby, several Shire pennies, and a marble that he had been asked to keep by Pippin. "Not very much in the way of weapons I fear," Frodo said, moving to his other pocket as Bilbo drew his own pipe from his pocket. Perhaps they could smoke the bear from the tree! Maybe Frodo might challenge the bear to a game of marbles! As if things were not bleak enough at this moment, it began to rain.

"Oh, I thought Iíd lost that," Bilbo smiled as he pulled a gold-colored button from his other pocket. He took a moment to wonder when he might have put this in his trouser-pocket and then said, brightly, "Now I wonít have to replace all of the buttons on my blue coat, Frodo. Iíve managed to locate that missing button." He held it aloft, and Frodo stared at it in disbelief.

How could Bilbo be thinking about buttons at a time like this? Frodo pushed a strand of damp hair back from his forehead and tried to return his uncleís smile. "Thatís wonderful, Bilbo. I know how concerned you were about that."

Oh, dear, itís raining, Frodo," Bilbo said as he returned the button to his pocket.

"I know," Frodo said, "but that isnít stopping the bear. It is still climbing in our direction."

"Yes, well, we may have to climb higher up, though I hate to," Bilbo said. "Yes, it is the only thing for it. We will climb on up into the thinner branches of the tree. Those branches wonít support the weight of the bear, but they will support the weight of two hobbits."

Frodo smiled. This was an idea that seemed to make sense. "Right, then."

"But Frodo," Bilbo said.


"Careful of the wet branches. You do not want to slip at a time like this," Bilbo said, giving a nod in the bearís direction.

Frodo and Bilbo began to climb higher into the tree as, below them, the bear continued his climb . The two hobbits had each chosen slightly different limbs so that they could each go higher. If the small limbs only had to support one hobbit, then they would be safer. Also, the bear would have to chose which hobbit to climb toward and at least one of them might be safe. Frodo didnít want to think about that just now.

He clung to the tiny limb he was perched upon and looked over toward Bilbo. He felt a wave of pure love and affection wash over him as he looked at the hobbit who had taken him into his home and treated him like a son all of these years. Bilbo Baggins, retired adventurer and beloved older cousin, for although Frodo often called Bilbo, uncle, Bilbo was his cousin. More than anything, though, Bilbo was his family. Frodo made up his mind at that moment. If the bear was having trouble deciding which of them to go for, he would try to bring it in his direction. No bear was going to eat his uncle!

Bilbo faintly felt an idea trying to wrap itself around his mind. A small voice was suggesting that he put on his magic ring and climb down out of the tree, unseen by the bear. "Forget about the lad, Bilbo. Save yourself and be done with it. Use the ring! Simply put it on and be gone." Bilbo gasped out loud as he realized that he had his fingers curled about the ring which was in his vest pocket as it always was.. He felt himself break into a sweat even with the cold rain drenching him and he looked over at Frodo in horror. How could he think of deserting him? This lad was the most important part of his life! This was his Frodo! This was the only family that had mattered to him from his Baggins relations since he had lost his own parents. Then the voice was gone and forgotten as quickly as it had come. If the bear made it to this point, then Bilbo knew that he must distract it from Frodo.

The lightening flashed and afforded the Bagginses a better view of the bearís progress. It was getting much closer now and Frodo felt that very soon he and Bilbo would come face-to-face with it. Earlier, when they had noticed it watching them gather the firewood, they had managed to out-distance it and climb into this tree. That had seemed like the best plan at the time, but now, as the bear closed the gap between them and itself, Frodo wondered if maybe they shouldnít have tried something else. The trouble with that thought was, he had no idea what else they might have done.

Suddenly there was a great crack of thunder and then a most amazing flash of lightening. Frodo was blinded by its brilliance and across from him, Bilbo, also, was unable to see anything. Below them, the bear hollowed as if in pain and then there was the sound of a branch breaking and something very heavy hitting the earth below them.

"You wonít tell, will you, Merry?" Pippin asked, weakly.

Merry smiled over at his little cousin as the two of them lay in their blankets waiting for Bilbo and Frodo to return. "I thought you said you didnít care if Frodo and Bilbo came back and found that you were afraid?"

Pippin squirmed a bit under the blankets and looked over at Merry. "Please donít tell them. Bilbo wonít bring me next time if he thinks Iím a baby, Merry." Pippin looked desperate.

"Well, I donít know, Pip," Merry began as if thinking this over. "You have been a lot of trouble and you did scream like a lass when that big flash of lightening came."

Pippin bit his lower lip. "But Merry, Iím better now."

Merry smiled. "Of course you are, silly. The thunder and lightening have stopped. Now itís just raining and you arenít afraid of rain." Merry reached over and tweaked the end of the small hobbitís nose.

"If you donít tell, Iíll give you all of my marbles when we get back to Bag End," Pippin offered, looking at Merry and waiting. Pippinís marbles were currently his favorite possessions. In fact, he had brought a few along on this, his first camping trip. Frodo and Merry had both picked up an errant marble or two during the walk to this camp site. Merry doubted that Pippin had many of his marbles left.

"You can keep your marbles, Pip," Merry said, gently. "I promise I wonít tell, but you have to promise me that you are going to try harder to get over being afraid of storms. I am not always going to be with you to look out for you, you know."

Pippinís lower lip quivered and he looked frightened again. "W-w-where are you g-going, M-Merry?" The child was stammering and his eyes were beginning to tear up.

Merry realized his mistake at once and quickly said, "No, Pip, Iím not going anywhere. I only meant that when you are much older, you might not be around me when it storms. You will have to be brave on your own then." He pulled his little cousin closer to him and gave him a hug.

"I will always be around you, Merry," Pippin said, softly. "If you will let me."

"I will let you, Pip," Merry grinned. At this point, he could hardly remember a time when Pippin wasnít close on his heels. "I wonder where Frodo and Bilbo are?"

Pippin yawned. "Donít worry, Merry. I bet they found some place dry to be while the rain is going on."

"I suppose youíre right, Pip," Merry said, though he was still a bit worried. What Pippin said did make sense for a change. After all, Bilbo and Frodo would have to try to get out of the rain. They would be here soon. Merry yawned too and settled himself beside of Pippin. Soon after, the two of them fell asleep, listening to the rain drops fall onto the tent

When Frodo could see again, he immediately checked on Bilbo. Bilbo was still sitting safety on the limb across from him. Frodo then, looked down between the branches of the tree to see if the bear was still below them. He didnít see the bear, but, he thought he could just make out someone standing under the tree. He couldnít see who was there, but someone was there. He was sure of it! Then, that someone was gone and all he could see was rain splattering against a couple of fallen tree limbs.

Bilbo opened one eye and then caught sight of Frodo who was leaning forward a bit too recklessly and looking intently at the ground. "Frodo, mind what you are doing and donít lean so far over, lad," Bilbo cautioned. "Everything is quite wet and slippery."

"Sorry," Frodo said, adjusting his position to something safer and looking over at Bilbo. "What happened?"

"Well, I would say that some part of our tree was struck by lightening," Bilbo said.

"Where do you suppose the bear is?" Frodo asked. He didnít see any sign of it below. He only saw the fallen tree limbs.

"I suppose that the lightening may have frightened him away," Bilbo said. "When the branches fell, I imagine that he fell with them and ran off. Or, maybe the lightening hit the bear and consumed it."

Frodoís eyes were wide with shock. This second possibility hadnít occurred to him and he wished that Bilbo hadnít mentioned it. True, the bear had planned to consume them, but only out of the natural instinct to survive. He hoped that it had simply run off. They didnít see too many bears in the Shire. It made Frodo wonder if there were many of them to begin with. He shuddered. "What do we do now?"

"I suspect we should climb down what is left of this tree and head back to our dry tent," Bilbo smiled. "I expect that poor Merry has had his hands full and will be relieved to see us about now." Bilbo chuckled.

Frodo was still trying to shake off his fear. "Bilbo?"

"Yes, lad?"

"A minute ago, I thought I saw someone standing under this tree and looking up at us," Frodo said. "Are you sure itís safe to climb down?"

"Of course it is, Frodo," Bilbo said, smiling. "Itís perfectly safe now. We best be on our way before that bear decides to regain its courage and return. If it did survive that lightening, then it might come back to see if its dinner is still waiting around. I would prefer that it not locate us."

Frodo nodded and returned his uncleís smile. "I suppose you are right." He took another look below in search of the figure that he had seen before. "Are you sure that no one is down there?"

"Of, course I am, Frodo," Bilbo said, as he started down the tree. "The lightening was just playing tricks on you. Once we get down and have our feet firmly on the ground again, we shall both feel better. Hobbits were not meant to be up this high."

The two hobbits made their way down the tree and to the safety of the ground. Bilbo draped an arm about Frodo and smiled, "Come on, lad, weíve a very exciting story with a bear involved to tell those younger cousins of yours at first breakfast. It wonít entirely make up for the lack of dry firewood, but it will help. Those two rascals love adventure stories. I am sure they will be most impressed with the fact that our tree was struck by lightening."

From over in the trees underneath a very pointed, grey hat, Gandalf chuckled to himself. "Lightening indeed! What would you do without my constant vigilance, Bilbo Baggins?" He shook his head in amusement knowing that this story would grow even more exciting by morning and with each new telling. In fact, he himself, could hardly wait to hear this tale told over an ale and a pipe at some future date. Hobbits were wonderfully entertaining, but hobbits like Bilbo Baggins could be very troublesome at times. The old wizard smiled. All good friends were worth a bit of trouble now and again.



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