When Bilbo visited Tuckborough alone as a fauntling, he liked to hole up in the wonderful library listening to stories and reading. Visiting with his brother was a very different matter. Kili wanted to play at shooting and tracking constantly. As they were always together, Bilbo went along with his twin during the day. Their nights were occupied with music and storytelling with all the family. Although Bilbo was less skilled than his brother, the twins were in high demand to entertain with their matching violins. Apparently, their Took relatives found the discrepancies between the pair as amusing as their music.
Despite these obligations, Bilbo did find a few spare minutes now and again to peruse the rare, valuable books of the wealthy Tooks. There were few things he would not do to spend time in that library.
Tall shelves stretched from the floor to the place where the ceiling of the smial started to curve. So tall, in fact, that Bilbo had to roll an old oak ladder along the outer edge of the room to reach the upper shelves. Here and there, he had to dodge around a cozy armchair or an end table, but for the most part, the entire room was filled with shelves. And all the shelves were filled with books.
Many of these books were simple histories, memoirs, and genealogies of the Took family. Even that would have been interesting enough to keep Bilbo entertained for weeks, but the collection got better. One wall was covered with informative books about gardening, cooking, and observations of the natural world. Another had books in elvish languages, telling wonderous stories from long before the founding of the Shire. Many more were filled with imaginative fancies, telling tales that never happened and solving mysteries that never were. The library was a magical place.
It was in the library that Bilbo first met Dandelion North-Took. Given the vagaries of his parentage, he could not be properly called anything but a very distant cousin, but he was a decent chap. Although he was close to the twins in age, he resided in Long Cleeve and had never before been in Tuckborough during one of Bilbo’s visits.
Apparently, Dandy loved the library just as much as Bilbo did. He was always there when Bilbo found a spare moment to peruse the collection.
Clearly intelligent and well read, the studious fellow always had a different book every single time Bilbo saw him. The subjects varied from gardening to medicine to history to genealogy, yet he sped through them at phenomenal pace. Bilbo tried not to be envious. Perhaps he could have read just as much without a little brother dragging him all over the countryside during the daylight hours.
Early in their acquaintance, Dandelion North-Took begged Bilbo’s assistance most eloquently. Educated as he was, Dandy needed more than a little help translating some of the elvish poetry he wanted to read. Bilbo didn’t mind. Languages were a hobby of his, and he positively adored poetry. Besides, Dandy was a very well dressed young hobbit, with several different waistcoats ranging from aubergine to plum. Bilbo rather admired him. Spending time with the fellow was not exactly a hardship.
Making his way through the Saga of Beren and Luthien, Dandy had some trouble with his translations. That particular saga was both a lovely story and a wonderful poem for a student of the classics to start with, as Bilbo told him many times. Unfortunately, even the most serious young hobbits don’t love spending sunny days in stuffy libraries, Bilbo himself being something of an exception which proved this rule.
“Come along,” Dandy said. “You must know the whole thing by heart. We can go for a walk and you can simply tell me the translation.”
“Oh, but you have to know you will never learn that way! You simply must read it yourself in the original language. I couldn’t possibly do it justice.”
“Bold of you to assume I’m literate.”
Dandy said this with such a straight face that both tweens burst into a fit of laughter. Bilbo was so taken by the joke that he nearly fell off the arm of Dandy’s chair. This perch, which seemed the best place to peruse over Dandy’s shoulder while assisting with translations, was not nearly stable enough for such antics. Dandy put a warm hand on Bilbo’s shoulder to steady him.
“You may bring your books outside,” Bungo suggested, not looking up from the weighty tome he was perusing.
“We may?” Startled, Bilbo turned to where his father was installed comfortably in another one of the armchairs that dotted the library. “They are quite dear.”
“Not so dear as silence in a library.”
Bungo smiled, but his eyes did not leave the page. “If it gets the tweens to stop giggling together when I am trying to read, you may take them into the pools of Bywater. I shall pay for any damages.”
“Brilliant, Master Baggins,” Dandy said. “Thank you!”
And before Bilbo could argue, he gathered up both of their books and left the library. Bilbo hesitated at the door.
“We will be careful,” he promised.
“As careful as a cat in a mint patch, I’ve no doubt.”
Torn, Bilbo stood in the doorway for a long moment. He wanted to argue, but he wanted to follow Dandy more. Deciding to prove he was right by returning both books safely, the young hobbit dashed off after his friend.
Dandy wasn’t waiting in the hallway for him. In fact, as Bilbo raced through the corridors of Great Smials there was no sign of the other hobbit at all. Bursting outside into the bright sunshine, Bilbo quickly spotted his friend lounging beneath one of the broad leafed chestnut trees that shaded the smial. He made a beautiful picture with his lavender waistcoat and crisp white shirtsleeves against the dark trunk of the tree. Emerald grass spread out beneath him like a cloak arranged perfectly to compliment the rest of his outfit.
Just a little out of breath from running, Bilbo unbuttoned his jacket and sat down on the grass. Snatching his own book from Dandy’s lap in dignified silence, he opened it up and tried to find his place. The gentle scent of roses wafted from the nearby gardens to join the pleasant odor of crushed grass in his nose. Somewhere in the branches of the chestnut tree, a warbler sang an ode to summertime. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with Dandy in the dappled sunshine was very companionable, and Bilbo settled happily into his own reading.
“Sorry,” Dandelion said quietly after a minute or two, “I’m having a little trouble with the declension here. Would you mind taking a look?”
“Of course!” Bilbo leaned over happily to look where Dandy was pointing in the text. Then he blinked. “It says, ‘Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima!’, which means ‘Hail Eärendil, brightest of stars,’ in Quenya. This is The Voyage of Eärendil, not the book you were reading in the library. Did you, er, did you not notice that it was not written in Sindarin?”
From the rose bushes, Bilbo heard a delighted giggling. Heralded by his own laughter, Kili sprang forth, the branches of his hiding place rattling behind him.
“I don’t think he can read elvish at all,” Bilbo’s brother said, still laughing.
Staring at Kili in amazement for a moment, Dandy broke into laughter of his own. “You little goblin,” he chuckled. “You swapped my book, didn’t you?”
Doubled over with the force of his amusement, Kili could only nod. Bilbo wanted to be peevish, but their joy was contagious. Helplessly, he laughed along.
“How?” Dandy asked.
“While you were arranging yourself like a model waiting for an artist.” Kili chortled some more. “Worse than Bilbo in a mirror, you were.”
“But why would you have been pretending to study Sindarin in the first place?” Bilbo asked finally, mastering his mirth.
Still smiling, Dandelion ran a hand through his golden curls and looked up at Bilbo through lowered lashes. “I suppose I needed an excuse to talk to you.”
“That’s stupid,” Kili declared. “Bilbo may be a bookworm, but he talks more than anyone in the Shire once you get him started. You only had to ask him about the weather or something.”
“Enough out of you,” Bilbo cried. Taking both books, he shoved them at Kili. “You take these back to the library, since you’re the one responsible for the mixup. Be sure Dad sees you return them. Dandy and I are going for a walk.”
Rolling his eyes, Kili said, “Fine. I’m going to go fishing with Parsifal afterward, though, and you are not invited.”
“Sorry about him.” Watching Kili dash away with boundless energy, Bilbo shook his head.
“I’ve younger brothers of my own,” Dandy said amiably. “I don’t mind at all. He’s a good natured little rascal.”
Bilbo grinned. “I rather think we have better things to discuss than my little brother. After all, you asked me to translate the Saga of Beren and Luthien for you. Some think it is the greatest love story ever told.”
Dandy raised an eyebrow. “You don’t say?”
“Let me tell it.”
Taking Dandelion by the hand, Bilbo led him away from the smials, into the little woods. As happened, Dandelion Took knew a great deal about love already. Bilbo soon went from instructor to grateful student, eagerly learning all that Dandy had to teach.
Indeed, over the course of that summer he shared many secrets with Bilbo. Little ways to tell if a gentlehobbit was inclined toward love. How to ask without running the risk of offending an ordinary fellow. Ways to please and be pleased in return. Bilbo found that he was very pleased indeed with Dandelion Took, who was funny, handsome, and amiable to a fault.
If their attachment was not the deep, fate defying love of Beren and Luthien, that was probably for the best. Bilbo did not want to be blindly enamored the way he had been with Podo. Dandy had faults. Many of them. Fibbing about studying elvish barely numbered among his misdeeds. The North-Took made most of his pocket money at cards, rarely answered correspondence, and only seemed to think about people when he was in their immediate company. Outside of the Took family, he was considered a complete wastrel. Knowing that, Bilbo was quite comfortable being friends with him.
Theirs was certainly a friendship for the gossips, pleasantly remarked upon by all in Tuckborough and Hobbiton. The only obvious interest they shared seemed to be in sartorial matters. Otherwise, they could not be more different. Dandy was far more inclined toward the pub than the page. In truth, Bilbo often encouraged the Took to seek other company there when he was personally indisposed to that sort of thing. It was enough that when they were together, they had a great deal of fun. When they were apart, Bilbo had other considerations. He did not dwell on Dandelion’s activities until their next meeting.
In fact, following Dandy’s advice, Bilbo soon learned to make similar arrangements with other young hobbits of their acquaintance. None of them were much concerned with propriety or romance. In the manner of the young, they had discovered something pleasurable and forbidden. Nothing could be more natural than pursuing the interest with enthusiasm. Despite being a relatively cerebral fellow, Bilbo did not worry about being found out. Privacy was hard to come by in the Shire, but he was clever enough to keep his nature secret. There was no danger in being himself.
At least, that is what he thought. In the happy manner of privileged tweens, he was allowed to enjoy his youth without consequences for many years, though danger and consequence fell upon others much earlier.