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Many Happy Returns  by Grey Wonderer

Chapter 8†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† † "The Wizard"

Saradoc was just filling up his corners with a bit of cheese and bread when he began to chuckle to himself.† Merry and Fredegar looked over at him curiously.† "What ever is so funny, Doc?" Merry asked.†

"Oh, I was just thinking about that cusion of yours and my set of tea towels.† Remember Bilbo and Frodo's party that year?" Saradoc asked.

"Funny you should mention that," Merry grinned.† "I just told that story to Sam and Fredegar earlier this evening."

"Yes," Fredegar said.† "We were passing the time with it.† Sam remembered the event†the minute Merry got to his tea set."

"He really did enjoy that tea set," Merry said.† "He admitted to Fredegar and I that he still has it."

Saradoc was surprised.† "I just put it off to good manners at the time.† I thought the lad was just being polite."

"No, he really wanted that tea set," Merry said.† "I have often wondered what Gandalf did with that gift that Pippin got for him that time.† Surely he was only being polite."

"Gandalf?" Fredegar frowned.† "I must have drifted off and missed that portion of your story.† I don't recall anything about old Gandalf being at the party."

"Oh, no," Merry said.† "Gandalf wasn't at that party, Freddy.† Gandalf attended Pippin's seventh birthday party by accident."

"By accident?" Fredegar asked.† "This is sounding like another tale."

Merry laughed.† "It is, I suppose."

"Well, don't stop there, cousin," Fredegar said, settling back in his chair with the rest of a bacon sandwich and preparing†to listen.

"Well, the year Pippin turned seven, he talked Frodo and Bilbo into letting him have his party at Bag End," Merry began.† "Gandalf, who knew nothing of the party, chose that time of the year to visit Bilbo and..."

____________________________________________

The wizard looked down at the small hobbit lad in front of him and frowned. This was something altogether new. How did one handle something like this? Heíd been given gifts before in private by Bilbo. He had even received several presents from Frodo, but he had never received anything in front of a crowd of hobbits. Yet, now, standing in front of him and holding a rather large package, was seven-year-old Peregrin Took. The child was smiling as he offered the package to the wizard and he chirped, "I found it myself, but Merry helped me wrap it. I donít wrap very well."

Sighing, resignedly, Gandalf bent down so that he could accept the birthday gift from the lad. He gave an inquiring look in Bilboís direction, but his friend simply shrugged his shoulders and smiled. No help there.

"Well, let us see what this is then, shall we?" Gandalf said, taking the gift from the delighted child. This was Paladin Tookís youngest and today was the childís seventh birthday. For some reason not altogether clear to the wizard, Bilbo had agreed to host the party at Bag End. Gandalf had not known this event would be taking place. He had been visiting with Bilbo and Frodo this past week but neither of them had mentioned the party. The wizard had only met the small Took lad a couple of times, but obviously, he had made an impression on the child.

The hobbit custom was for the birthday lad or lass to give gifts to all of his or her guests. Gandalf was not sure how this small lad had known that he would even be present at this party and so he had never expected a gift. Peregrin shifted from foot to foot as he waited excitedly for the wizard to open the gift. "It isnít very much," the child said, now becoming doubtful, as it was taking the wizard so long to unwrap the gift. "I only just saw it and as I knew you were here I thought you might still be here today and so I bought it. Merry helped me."

Merry was Meriadoc Brandybuck, the small Tookís older cousin. Merry was fifteen and was presently standing off to the side away from all of the small party guests and watching the wizard. The lad was in a good location if he needed to make a sudden exit, but he showed no signs of leaving. Meriadoc was known for his mischief-making and so the wizard was right to wonder at Merryís involvement in all of this. "You really didnít have to get me anything, Peregrin," Gandalf said, smiling at the child as he accepted the gift.

"Oh, but I wanted to," Peregrin said. "I am so glad that you could come to my party. Iíve never had a real wizard at my birthday before." The lad grinned happily and stole a glance at his party guests before turning his attention back to the wizard.

So, thought Gandalf, it would seem that my presence at this party will raise the young Tookís esteem in the eyes of his friends. The wizard surveyed the small crowd of young hobbit lads and lasses who had, only moments ago been running wildly around Bag End laughing and yelling with much confusion. They all stood very still now and watched the guest of honor as he presented his gift to the wizard. From behind them Bilboís young cousin, Frodo smiled at Gandalf, encouragingly. Both of the Bagginsís were very fond of this little lad.

"It isnít very much," Peregrin said, again, still looking at the wizard and chewing his lower lip. The little Tookís bright green eyes showed traces of worry now. What if the gift was not well-received? "I donít exactly know what you have already because I have never been to your smail, and I donít know what wizards like."

"I am sure it will be fine, Peregrin," Gandalf said, softly and he began to unwrap the rather heavy package with one last glance at Meriadoc. The young son of the Master fo Buckland didnít Flinch . He only grinned and so the wizard supposed that the package was safe enough.

As Gandalf removed the wrapping, Peregrin wrung his small hands and fidgeted. "I hope you donít already have one."

As the wrapping came off, Gandalf was relieved to see that the gift was a book of some sort. It was an enormous book and it was very heavy. The wizard doubted that the small lad before him could even read and so he wondered at the selection. He looked down at the title gracing the cover in gold foil and struggled not to laugh. He glanced in Meriadocís direction and the lad shrugged his shoulders and smiled nervously. "So, you selected this on your own, Peregrin?" Gandalf inquired.

Peregrin nodded. "Merry read me the titles on the books in the shop and this one sounded the best. I donít read much yet. I can read my name, but thatís mostly all," Peregrin chattered. ĎThere werenít any books with my name on them so Merry had to do the reading and when he got to this one, I knew it was the one. You donít have it do you?"

Gandalf cleared his throat and felt Bilbo peering over his shoulder now to get a look at the bookís title. "Oh, my," Bilbo said, softly.

"No, surprisingly, I do not have this one, Peregrin," Gandalf said, smiling at the lad.

"You can call me Pippin if you like," Peregrin said, smiling. He then leaned forward and put his small hands on the wizardís knees and frowned, "Do you like it? Is it proper?"

Gandalf could feel the hobbits holding their breaths collectively as they awaited his reply. He looked over at this charming little lad and smiled, "It is most proper and I like it very much. I believe that this will be a very interesting book to read. Thank you, Peregrin. It was most thoughtful of you."

Relief flooded the small ladís face and he grinned. "See, Merry. I told you heíd like it."

Merry was grinning too. "Yes, you did Pip. I guess you were right."

He turned back to Gandalf and continued, "I bet there are a few of those that you donít know about."

"There may well be at that, young Master Took. Now, I will let you rejoin your party guests while I look through my new book," Gandalf smiled.

Pippin wrapped his arms around the wizard and hugged him and said, "Thank you for coming to my birthday party, Gandalf."

Startled, the wizard returned the hug and said, "You are most welcome, Peregrin." With that, the youngster released the wizard and went back over to the other children and began handing out their gifts as they all looked at him with admiration.

Gandalf, book in hand, turned and looked over at his dear friend Bilbo who had been joined by Frodo and Meriadoc. "Bilbo Baggins, did you know about this?"

"Well, no, at least not until just a few moments ago," Bilbo admitted. "Pippin is an impulsive young lad. I should have seen it coming, but I just didnít think of it."

Now everyone was looking at Merry. "When Pip arrived two days ago for his birthday, he saw that you were staying here and he thought that it wouldnít be proper if he didnít have a gift for you," Merry began. "I agreed to take him into Hobbiton to look for something. I thought heíd get something like pipeweed or sweets or something."

Frodo laughed as he glanced at the title. "Where did he find that?"

Merry smiled. "We were in the junk shop. You know how Pippin loves that old place," Merry sighed. "I tried to tell him that there wouldnít be anything in there that he could give as a gift, but once he found the shelves of books, I couldnít stop him."

"Really," Gandalf said, skeptically.

Merry snickered. "Well, it was kind of funny. He thought that he should get you a book because he figured that wizards must read a lot and so he asked me to read him the titles. When I got to that one, he had to have it."

"Naturally," Bilbo smiled.

"I couldnít talk him out of it," Merry said, shrugging his shoulders.

"Did you try?" Frodo asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Well, I do remember asking him if he was sure that this was the one," Merry said. "I was rather tired of reading titles to him by the time that we got to this one. Also, Pippin liked that it was a large book. He said it would give Gandalf more to read."

Bilbo and Frodo were trying hard not to laugh and Merry was trying hard to look innocent. "Yes, I shall enjoy reading this. I am sure it will be most informative. Perhaps there are even instructions in here on how to turn hobbits into toads." Gandalf then walked away for a quiet smoke with his new book, "Spells and Magic Charms", clasped in his hands, leaving the three hobbits snickering behind him.†





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