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"Back in the days when Isumbras II was Thain, he had two young cousins. Halinard and Gereon Took. Halinard was his first cousin on his father's side, and Gereon was his first cousin once removed on his father's side, and his second cousin on his mother's side.
Gereon was a few years younger than Halinard, but they were good friends. Both of them had more than their share of Tookish inquisitiveness and a longing for Adventure.
One summer, after Halinard had just come of age, but while Gereon was just a tween still, the two of them met a Dwarf in one of the taverns in Tuckborough. They listened enraptured to his tales, most particularly his tale of a vast and hidden treasure to be found far to the North-east…"
As Bilbo's voice dropped dramatically on the last few words, Pippin gave a delighted shudder from his vantage point behind a large oak tree. He gazed with longing at the older teens and tweens, gathered at Bilbo's knee in the light of the bonfire in the clearing.
He and the other smaller fry had been listening happily to the old hobbit's tales until the Moon had risen. Then his Aunt Esmeralda and some of the mothers of the other hobbits had come to shoo the younglings off to bed.
"It's been a long day…" was the refrain, and true, it had been. The Buckland Harvest Festival was always filled with activities to keep young and old alike busy. But Pippin knew the real reason: Cousin Bilbo was going to tell some of his more frightening stories--the ones that at ten, he was still deemed to young to listen to.
Naturally, he had slipped back out of his bed, once Aunt Esme had tucked him in, and made his way back. He had to keep out of sight though--or he'd soon be bundled back to bed, and find himself in trouble as well!
"The two Tooks were soon all aflame with the desire to go and find this amazing treasure, and perhaps find some excitement along the way. They carefully laid their plans to leave, but Gereon's parents got wind of it, and they forbid him to go…
That wouldn't keep me from going, Pippin thought, if Merry went off on an Adventure!
"Normally, this would probably not have kept Gereon from following, but his mother was very ill, and he knew that worry would only make her worse…"
Oh! Pippin shook his head to himself. What if his mother was ill? Perhaps it would make a difference…
"Halinard did not wish to wait, however, and promising to return soon, he went on his way." Bilbo paused dramatically, and the younger hobbits drew closer in anticipation of his next words. Pippin crept as close as he dared without revealing himself.
"Sadly, he never returned. After a year had passed, his family gave him up for dead--all except young Gereon. Gereon never gave up hope that his cousin was yet alive, and he planned one day to go and find him. "
In a few years, he came of age. His mother was quite recovered from her illness, and so, having gained his majority, Gereon set out to find his missing cousin.
He made his way from the Shire to the Bree-lands, always seeking word of Halinard. While there, a mysterious Man, tall and lean and ill-favored, gave him such news as he had.
'A few years ago, another Took, one such as you describe, came through here. He was headed towards the Merlock Mountains in search of the fabled treasure of the Mewlips. They are a fell and dangerous place, Master Hobbit, and of the Mewlips themselves none have ever told any news.'
'Nevertheless, if that is where my cousin went, my way leads there also', said Gereon, though his heart was filled with fear.
'In that case, Master Hobbit, you may travel part of the way with me, for my business will take me in that direction for a while. I can set you on your way when we must part.'
Pippin swallowed. What would happen to Gereon? Would he find his cousin?
"For many long weeks, Gereon travelled in Company with the Man, as they made their way across the desolate wilds of the Trollshaws. More than once they had to hide from those fearsome trolls, though they were safe enough to journey by day. Finally, they found themselves at the foothills of the Merlock Mountains.
'My way lies North,' said the Man. 'Yours will lie beyond the Merlock Mountains. To the East of them I have heard it said, is a valley with a vast and marshy swamp. It is there the Mewlips are said to guard their treasure. If your cousin came among them, it is unlikely that he yet lives.'
'Still I must try to find Halinard' said Gereon. He parted from the Man with thanks and friendship, and began to make his long and weary way across those fell mountains."
Pippin shivered. I'm just cold, he told himself. That's all. I should have worn a coat…
"For days he trudged through the cold and rocky mountains, running low on food. Yet finally, he won through to the other side, and found himself looking down one grey and chilly morn upon a foggy lowland.
This was the way he had to go. He hesitated for a long time. How did he even know that Halinard had made it that far? Still, he felt he'd come too far to go back. So he gathered his courage and went forward…"
Bilbo stopped for a moment, and reaching down beside him picked up another stick of firewood, which he added to the fire. Then he paused, and blew a couple of smoke rings from his pipe. Pippin wanted to shout for him to hurry up and get on with the story, but he knew he couldn't say anything at all without revealing himself. He noticed that Merry looked very impatient as well, but Merry was taking his cue from Frodo, who sat quite calmly by Bilbo's side. Pippin glanced at some of his other cousins, who also were fidgeting a bit--Berilac shifted his position, drawing his knees up; Merimas put his arm around his younger sister Mentha, who was shivering; Marroc moved closer to the fire; Ferdibrand Took crawled over a little closer to Bilbo and Frodo. Pippin's sisters Pearl and Pervinca clasped hands--Pimmie wasn't there--she wasn't fond of scary stories.
Bilbo took his pipe from his mouth, and continued. "As he moved into the valley, the mist came up about him. All the world was grey and dank; the trees were all dead, and a noisome stench came up from the ground, through which he squelched. He could see no sign of the Sun. A chill gripped him as his bare toes came in contact with the slimy ground. He felt as cold as he'd ever felt in his life, and he had no idea of how much time had passed.
Soon, he came to the banks of a large body of water--possibly a pond, or maybe a lake. The water was black and still and smelled of sulphur. Every now and then a bubble would burst upon the surface with a horrid plopping sound.
Gereon was filled with despair. How had he ever hoped to find his cousin here? So weary he was, that he sat down upon a fallen log. It was covered with a green mossy growth, but he was too filled with sorrow to care. Leaning forward, his head bent, he spied something glitter at his feet. What could it be?
He reached down, and brushing away the mud, picked it up. It was a button. A little brass button, much like the ones which he had on his own weskit. Filled with horror, he reached down again, and brushed away more mud--there was another button, and another--all together he found eight of them. They could only have come from a hobbit's weskit!
This was the sign he had been looking for! Surely Halinard had come that way before him! But the way the buttons were found filled Gereon with terror.
Feeling sick, he stood once more, and decided to continue on. He began to make his way around the edges of the dark pond. It seemed he had walked for hours, and he was very hungry, but the thought of eating in that unwholesome place made him feel quite sick."
Pippin tried, and failed, to imagine being so miserable that he could not eat if he was hungry. How dreadful! He felt tears spring to his eyes, at the thought of poor Gereon.
"After a time, he came to the ruins of what must have once been a large house. The walls were falling in, the wood was rotting. As he moved towards the ruins, he thought he heard behind him a sound: squish-flip-flop. He turned, his heart beating wildly, but nothing was there. He took another step. Squish-flip-flop. Once more he turned, once more there was nothing to be seen.
Filled with foreboding, he approached slowly. Squish-flip-flop. There was a door, like the sort of door that would lead to a cellar. It was broken and rotted, so he pulled it away and threw it down.
Taking a deep breath, he began to descend. He had gone only a few steps, when he heard a sound behind him: rustle-slap-slap. Turning quickly, his heart in his mouth, he looked behind. There was nothing there save his own shadow, and a thin and weakly little thing it was.
He gulped, and went down several more steps--and then--rustle-slap-slap-slap-slap-slap-sl
Gereon could feel the blood draining from his face; he leaned against the wall, heart pounding. He swallowed again, and looked up. Still there was nothing he could see. He took two more steps. Rustle-slap-slap.
He fairly flew down the rest of the stairs, nearly stumbling and falling several times: slap-slap-slap-slap-slap-slap-slap-slap-s
Bilbo repeated "slap" more and more quickly, then stopped, suddenly, and his audience gasped. His eyebrows rose. Had one of those gasps come from behind him? He shook his head; he knew what it was.
His listeners gathered more closely, to him and to one another, their eyes wide.
"Gereon slipped and slid the last three steps, landing painfully at the bottom in a deep, dank, cold cellar. The sickly green glow came in patches all about, from some unwholesome fungus growing on the walls. He could hear the drip-drip-drop of water, but the horrid noise that had come from behind had ceased.
He sat up, and drew his hand across his eyes, and looked about him. There were several sacks lying about, bulging with something. But there was nothing else to be seen.
Filled with dread, but unable to stop himself, he crept to the nearest of them, and opened it. He gave a shriek of mingled fear and grief at the sight which greeted him, of bones, and a familiar, if rotted, jacket and weskit! This was the fate of Halinard! In despair, he huddled in upon himself and wept.
And then, he heard it again: squish-flip-flap! and again, and again--the sound was all around him. He feared to look, he feared not to. He had found the dreaded Mewlips. Closer they drew and closer--suddenly…"
With a swiftness none suspected Bilbo reached out and snatched Merry's arm.
Not only did Merry yelp and jump, but so did all the others gathered there. But from the bushes behind came a stifled shriek, a rustle, and the thudding sound of footsteps.
Merry moved to pull away from Bilbo. "That was Pippin!" he said.
Bilbo nodded. "And he was playing truant from his bed. I'm sure the fright will be punishment enough. Just wait, Merry! I am quite sure that when you go in he will be huddled in your bed."
Merry gave a sheepish laugh, and sat down rather close to Frodo, who chuckled.
"Was that a true story, Uncle Bilbo?" Frodo asked, as he patted Merry on the back. The other teens and tweens were beginning to settle into themselves once more.
"What do you think?" asked Bilbo.
"Well," said Merry, after thinking for a moment, "I remember a Halinard on the Took family tree back then, but I don't remember any Gereon."
Ferdibrand nodded. "And I don't remember that it said Halinard disappeared or anything--not like Great-great-uncle Hildifons…"
"And I am quite sure that none of those maps you showed me that you copied from Rivendell had any 'Merlock Mountains' to the North-east," said Frodo.
"And," said Pearl, "if the Mewlips got Gereon, then who would have told the tale?"
At this, all of them laughed, and began to beg for another tale. Bilbo shook his head. "It's time to take my bones inside! It's getting a bit too chilly out here, fire or no."
Frodo helped Bilbo to stand, and the little group began to make its way back to Brandy Hall.
And when Merry came to his room, there was Pippin, burrowed beneath the covers on his bed, trembling and weeping.
"Hullo, Pip," Merry said, as he began to get ready for bed.
"M-merry? I was listening…"
"I know, Pip."
Merry slid beneath the covers, and allowed Pippin to snuggle up to him. He rubbed his little cousin's back soothingly.
"If you ever got lost, I'd come looking for you."
"I know you would, Pip." They lay quietly for a few moments. Suddenly, there was a rustling sound at the window.
"I *think* it's just the wind in the branches of the tree…" he hesitated. "Pippin, I think Frodo might have room for us both."
Frodo looked up as the door to his room opened. "What took you so long?" he chuckled.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The basis for the story Bilbo tells is one of JRRT's poems in "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil"--"The Mewlips". It is probably one of the creepiest things the Professor ever wrote, and makes perfect Halloween fare!
Here is a link to the poem online:
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