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Dreamflower's Mathoms III  by Dreamflower

  2012 September Challenge story

Author: Dreamflower
Title: Kindly Little Soul
Rating: G
Theme: Seventy-five
Elements: This quote from The Hobbit: "He was a kindly little soul."
Author's Notes: (At twenty-four, Pippin is the equivalent of about 15 for a Man, and at forty-six, Frodo is about the same as a Man of around 30.) There is a brief reference to my story "Pippin the Protector" in this story.
Summary: Pippin tries to work out when a compliment is not a compliment.
Word Count: 1,543

Kindly Little Soul

So, "he was a kindly little soul", was he? Pippin was always embarrassed to overhear other people talking about him, especially when they were saying nice things.

But it was more confusing than embarrassing when the person saying the nice thing made it sound like something bad!

When he had heard them, he'd been sitting on a bench on the south terrace, minding his own business and looking at a book of songs from the Northfarthing. They were walking behind the shrubs that screened the bench from the wind, and could not have seen him sitting there, so he just kept quiet.

He couldn't see them, but he knew their voices: Cousin Rosamunda, who was here visiting, and her sister-in-law, Cousin Duenna.

"They have never truly settled well into the Great Smials, Rosamunda. Especially the youngest!"

"Paladin's children are very bright and well-behaved! I can't think why you say such a thing, Duenna!"

"They were brought up in a much more rustic setting, you know. They don't understand their rightful place. Why I saw young Peregrin the other day helping one of the housemaids carry the dirty laundry!"

Well, of course he had! The load had been much too heavy for her, and a good deal of it was his! He hunched down, his ears burning.

"I'm sure the child meant well," replied Rosamunda. "He is a kindly little soul!"

"Oh, he is! He is very soft-hearted! But how will that do when he is Thain one day and must tell people what to do? Why folks will eat him alive and walk all over him. But yes, of course, he is a kindly little soul!"

Once they'd gone, he got up and walked off, feeling embarrassed, hurt, confused and angry. A child! Why he was a tween-- nearly twenty-four! And he hated being reminded of his eventual Thainhood!

But why was being kind so awful? And was he really all that kind? Why, he guessed he could think up seventy-five ways he wasn't "kind" right now: One, he picked on his sisters; two, he went scrumping whenever he could-- he was sure that wasn't "kind"; three, he didn't like his Banks cousins; he talked back to his parents sometimes, and he disobeyed them, and sometimes he lied to them; he sometimes didn't do the lessons he was set by his tutors, and sometimes he made fun of them behind their backs; he -- wait, what number was that? He'd completely lost track. It was a long way from seventy-five, but he was sure there were a lot more things if he put his mind to it.

So what if he was kind? Why did it rankle so?

He wished he had someone he could ask about it. But Merry was at home in Buckland, and he would have just said, "See, I always tell you that you are too nice for your own good!" And he did not want to bother his parents with it---they had enough trouble running the Great Smials and all these Tooks without him bothering them with every little thing. Pearl would have become angry that anyone had been gossiping about him. Ever since that incident with old Mistress Lalia years ago, his oldest sister had very little tolerance for gossip. Pimmie and Vinca would have laughed and said they didn't know him very well if they called him "kind", and if they knew of half the things he'd done to plague his sisters, they'd never have said it. He could have talked to Auntie Peridot, but she was away in Michel Delving visiting her son. Aunt Esme would understand-- but she was, like Merry, in Buckland, which might as well be the Moon for all the good it would do him. Frodo would understand. Frodo was probably the kindest person Pippin knew-- but no one would ever walk all over him, not if he gave them his Look. Frodo was kind, but he never stood for unkindness in others! But Frodo was off in Bag End...

Lost in thought, he had paid little attention to where he was going, so he was quite startled to hear Frodo call his voice.

"Pippin!" Frodo was walking towards him up the corridor.

"Frodo?" Pippin was shocked; it felt as though his cousin had appeared by magic, just by his thinking of him! But, no, of course not. "Frodo! I was just thinking of you! What are you doing here?"

"I came to speak to your father about the upkeep of the Post Road between here and Hobbiton." The Post Road was supposed to only be used by the post riders, but everyone used it anyway, as it was a shorter way to Tuckborough than the road which ran through Michel Delving. But since it was not supposed to be a proper road, it was always full of potholes.

"Oh."

"What's wrong, Pip-dearest?" Frodo was almost as good as Merry in knowing when Pippin was bothered.

"Can we talk?"

"Of course; I was actually looking for you, for I have finished my business with your father."

They went to Pippin's room. Pippin flopped on his bed, after moving his clothes out of the way. Frodo carefully removed Pippin's fiddle from the armchair next to the bed, and sprawled in it. "So, tell old Gaffer Frodo what the problem is."

Pippin laughed. Frodo was far from Gaffer-like. No one would guess he was pushing forty-six. He didn't really look any older than Merry who would come of age on his next birthday, for all that he was fourteen years older than their Brandybuck cousin. Then Pippin sobered up again as he recalled his problem.

He sat up tailor fashion on the bed, and poured out the whole conversation word for word-- he had an excellent memory for anything he'd heard. He saw Frodo's eyes flash and his lips purse, and he remembered that Frodo was no keener on gossip than Pearl was. People sometimes said dreadful things about his parents' death, and some pretty horrible things about Bilbo as well, calling him "Mad Baggins" and worse.

"So why is it so awful to be a 'kindly little soul'?" Pippin twisted around and put his feet on the headboard and began tapping them in rhythm. Then he caught Frodo's amused look and stopped. It was very hard to sit still.

Frodo leaned forward and looked at Pippin earnestly. "It's not awful at all. I know that Gandalf has used that very same phrase to describe Bilbo, in fact, and he meant it as the highest of compliments."

Pippin blinked. "Really?" He sat up again abruptly.

Frodo nodded. "But of course, Cousin Duenna did not mean it that way, and you could tell from her voice that she thought that your kindness was misplaced and foolish. But trust me, it was not!"

Pippin looked at Frodo's eyes; he was very serious now.

"Pip, you are a kindly soul, and that is never wrong, especially when you are kind to the servants and those who wait upon you, for those people will always remember that. And there is nothing wrong with being kind to those who are unkind to you. Being kind, being nice, being courteous is never ever the wrong thing. But that does not mean that you must allow people to be unkind to you or those you love. You can learn how to stop people from that as you grow older."

Pippin grinned. "You are very good at that! I will never forget how you stopped that clerk at Brownlock's from being rude to me that day when I was little, but you never raised your voice at all-- you just stared at him."

Frodo laughed. "You can learn to do that as well, you know."

"But how?" Pippin had always wondered how Frodo's Look worked.

"When you know someone is in the wrong, they usually know they are as well; but they choose to ignore that little voice in their heart that tells them so. Just look at them and think about how you know they are being wrong-headed and rude and that they know it and that you know that they know it. Look at them as though you expected better of them, and are immensely disappointed that they have let you down. Look at them and think about how you cannot believe they just said or did something so wrong."

"Oh." Pippin mulled over the advice. "It sounds complicated."

"It's not. But the main thing, Pippin, is to be your own dear self. Those who find kindness to be a fault will someday be quite sorry. The day will come when they need a kindness shown to them."

Pippin smiled. "Now you make me feel sorry for them."

"There is nothing wrong with that, Pippin. As for me, I am very proud to know such a 'kindly little soul'."

Pippin grinned. Now a compliment from Frodo Baggins, that was a compliment indeed!

  Rating: G

One Great Leap

The Music never stopped for those who had the ability to hear it, the harmonies and rhythms familiar as the Ages rolled past. On rare occasions there was a change in the world, and a change in the Music. But that had not happened for a very long time...

But this day there was a change. Was it a new theme? No, not new; rather a variation on a theme heard only once and that fleetingly, in the Music created by the One, a small variation in the song of the Secondborn of His Children, light and sprightly. But now that variation was swelling into something new.

In the West, the Ainur listened, entranced, but not understanding. All of the Ainur save two: Yavanna Kementári and Nienna looked at one another and understood that a secret known to none other save Eru Ilúvatar, who had entrusted them with it, was about to be revealed. A seed long planted was about to come to fruition.

Far away they felt it, a small heart fluttering in terror, trapped in the dark. But something else drove out the terror, a mighty wave of sorrow and compassion, followed by steely determination.

And now all the Ainur could feel it: one small being of a kind not yet known by them had made a decision that would alter the fate of Arda.

He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped.

No great leap for a man, but a leap in the dark. Straight over Gollum's head he jumped, seven feet forward and three in the air: indeed had he known it, he only just missed cracking his skull on the low arch of the passage...*

The Music swelled in triumph!

Manwë summoned Eönwë: "Call your people, send word to the Great Eagles. Their intervention will be needed."

All unknowing, Bilbo Baggins burst forth from beneath the mountain. He left his buttons behind, and carried the fate of Arda in his pocket.

_______________________

*From The Hobbit, Chapter V, "Riddles in the Dark"

Author's Notes: This makes use of a bit of fanon from my story "Ancestress" in which Eru brings forth the hobbit race (among the Secondborn through their common fate of mortality) secretly, and asks Yavanna to see to their guarding and Nienna to gift them with extra compassion. But the hobbits are kept secret from everyone else.

I also make a reference to a bit of fanon from pandemonium_213's and my co-authored story "The Prisoner and the Hobbit", in which the Great Eagles are the people of Eönwë. In that story, Bilbo learns an unexpected fact about the Eagles coming to the rescue.

(Written for the February 2013 LOTR GFIC challenge, "The Dark Side of Love")

Author: Dreamflower
Title: The Clayhanger-Took Nuptials
Rating: G
Theme: The dark side of love
Elements: I chose to use these five words from my list: furry, esteem, beneath, regard and reside.
Author's Notes: All the characters in these three drabbles are minor canon characters, appearing in the Family Trees of Appendix C, except for Lalia, whose dramatic story appears only in Tolkien's Letter #214.
Summary: Sometimes two people are not quite in love the same way. A three-drabble set.
Word Count: 300

The Clayhanger-Took Nuptials

Fortinbras' eyes gleamed as he gazed at his bride-to-be, standing at the top of the grand staircase leading to the ballroom, the only such staircase, the only such ballroom in the Shire. She was a handsome lass, her hair the color of wheat, her eyes so dark a brown as to be nearly black, her feet so trim and furry. He couldn't get enough of her beauty. She was witty, too, always ready with a sharp quip and a hearty laugh. They had so much fun! He just knew she'd fit in well among the Tooks. How he loved her!

Lalia's eyes glittered as she gazed around the ballroom, festooned with flowers, the chandeliers glowing, the floors beneath shining, tables draped with fine white linens hanging nearly to the floor, and laden with food: so much food beautifully prepared, by the hands of so many servants. Servants who would be hers to command, for she would reside here. Her bridegroom stared up at her, good-looking and amiable, but most of all he adored her. Soon she'd be wed to the Thain's grandson. One day she'd be the Thain's Lady, esteemed first lady of the Shire. How she loved that idea!

Gerontius' eyes glistened as he glanced down at the marriage contract on the table. In a few minutes seven signatures in red ink would seal his grandson's fate and that of a generation of Tooks. He looked at Fortinbras standing at his right hand, his face filled with joy, his cousin Adalgrim standing witness beside him. He regarded the bride's approach, her face filled with triumph, her aunt Camellia Sackville-Baggins at her elbow. He swallowed his fear.

“I have before me two hobbits who have come with a petition of marriage. Who will vouch for them?”

How he hated this!

(Written for Great Tales, challenge 202: "love for a thing", February 2013)

Title:
Fatal Attraction
Author(s): Dreamflower
Rating: PG-13
Fandom: The Lord of the Rings
Character(s): Sméagol, mention of Déagol
Summary: Sméagol fell in love; Déagol was in the way…
Warnings: Death
Word Count: 398

Fatal Attraction

"Oh my lovely precious!" Sméagol sat upon the ground, his eyes fixed on the beautiful thing in the palm of his hand. He ran his fingers over it, and held it up to look through its perfect golden circle. "You're mine," he crooned, "you're mine!"

He lost track of time as he caressed his beautiful new present--his birthday present! It came to him on his birthday, it was meant to be his present. It sang to him in a low whisper, sang his name, told him how wonderful he was, told him of the power it would give him to have everything he wanted. Its song was sweet and seductive.

But the gleam of sunlight glittering off the gold began to fade, and Sméagol looked round to realise he had been sitting there for hours. The Sun was setting.

The Sun. She'd seen it all, she had. He glanced over to the body that lay upon the ground next to him, and for a brief instant he felt a wave of both grief and terror pass up his spine, his heart pounded, his stomach burned. But then he heard the whispers again. "Yes, you're right," he muttered. "Not my fault. Not my fault!"

Déagol didn't look like himself anymore. It wasn't a real person now. It was just cold flesh. But something had to be done. He puzzled for a moment, and then got up and began to find some good-sized stones. He loaded them in the pockets. But what if the clothes came off? After a moment's thought, he took some of the fishing line, and carefully wound it around and around. Then he took it by the heels to the little boat. He put it in the boat. Then he found a good sized rock. He hopped into the boat and pushed off and paddled into the middle of the river. Taking the rock, he smashed a hole in the bottom of the boat, then dove out and swam to the bank.

"Into the water, and down it will sink," he said, and he watched it do just that. When no more bubbles rose to the surface, he sighed and turned his back.

He put his hand into his pocket and took out his treasure. "You are so beautiful, my love. I will never love anything more than you." 

(Written in February 2013 for the Great Tales Challenge 202)

Title:
Their Other Loves
Author(s): Dreamflower
Rating: G
Fandom: The Lord of the Rings
Character(s): Pippin, Merry
Summary: The Shire may hold first place, but there's room for more in a hobbit's heart...
Word Count: 214

Their Other Loves

Pippin gazed back as they rode, trying to keep sight as long as he could of the White City shining in the sunlight. He'd never forget his first sight of the place, riding before Gandalf on Shadowfax, rosy dawn breaking over the gleaming city of Minas Tirith, a thing of beauty he'd never imagined. How could something so vast and glorious be created by hands? He felt a pang as he realised it would be long before he would see it again, that great place that seemed like pearl and crystal from a distance. He loved the Shire; but this place would always be in his heart.

Merry sat solemnly upon the wain, his only companions the silent driver and the body of his King. There was nothing to do but gaze around him as they rode over the plains of Rohan. Heavy as his heart was, there was a beauty about this land, a wild beauty of grass and sky and many streams. Around him rode the ranks of the Riders, singing their songs in their strange speech that teased him with words that were almost familiar. It pierced his spirit with a sweet sorrow. His place, his heart, was in the Shire, but a part of his soul would always love Rohan.

(I will not be posting the scavenger hunt quote results with my entries; since I participated in creating the prompts it would not be fair.)

B2MeM Challenge: March 1
Format: ficlet
Genre:
Rating: G
Character(s): Pippin, Sam, Merry, the Steward of Arnor
Summary: Three ruffians are caught trespassing in the Shire after the King's Edict goes into effect.  
Prompt: Judgment
“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

Even the Very Wise Cannot See All Ends

The Steward of Arnor looked at the determined faces on the three Counsellors of the North. Thain Peregrin stood straight as a spear with an eye just as sharp. On his right hand, the Master of Buckland mirrored his posture and on his left Mayor Samwise stood with arms crossed and one eyebrow raised.

"It is, of course, your right to have a say in the prisoners' judgment. Yet they present a danger to your people. They were not only trespassing in the Shire in violation of the King's Edict, they did violence to some hobbits."

Mayor Samwise raised his head. "They didn't kill anyone."

"Yet." The Master of Buckland glared at the three Men, standing trussed up and gagged as they awaited their fate. "We've yet to know if Mr. Sandheaver will survive that blow he took to the head. But even if he dies, that wouldn't change our minds. We don't approve of hanging."

"But do you not want justice for your people?" Lord Hiril asked.

Thain Peregrin cocked his head and fixed the Steward with a gimlet eye, a gaze that reminded him all too well of the way the King could look sometimes. "Justice? You are not talking about 'justice'; you are talking about revenge. Send them off to do some hard work, far away from here in some unpleasant place. Isn't the King having a road built through Nurn? That should keep them out of further trouble, and if they break the law in Gondor, then they can suffer Gondor's penalties. Hobbits do not take life in cold blood."

"Very well, then." He signaled his guards to take the prisoners away.

"Thank you," said the Thain. "We appreciate your help."

Lord Hiril watched them leave. Mayor Samwise placed a hand on the Thain's shoulder. "Mr. Frodo would be proud of you, Pippin," he heard him say.

"So would Gandalf," added Sir Meriadoc. "Remember what he said?"

"I do, Merry," The Thain nodded sadly. "I just wish we could be sure that Mr. Sandheaver will not be one of those who die that deserve life."

(I will not be posting the scavenger hunt quote results with my entries; since I participated in creating the prompts it would not be fair.)

B2MeM Challenge: March 2
Format: ficlet
Genre: angst
Rating: G
Character(s): Sam
Author's Note: The title comes from this .gif
Summary: Sam's thoughts after he realizes that they will not be returning from Mordor.
Quote:
Sacrifice
"So that was the job I felt I had to do when I started,' thought Sam: 'to help Mr. Frodo to the last step and then die with him? Well, if that is the job then I must do it.

Deal With It and Keep Walking

Beloved faces filled his thought--his father, his sisters, and most especially Rosie. Rosie as a child, tagging after her brothers; Rosie in her mother's kitchen, her face wet with steam and toil, little curls escaping her scarf; Rosie in the snow with Sam's sister Marigold at her side, throwing snowballs at him and her brother Tom, until the lads laughingly surrendered; Rosie visiting Marigold one day at Number Three, looking up and meeting his eyes and suddenly they were the only two people in the world. Rosie, just before they had left the Shire, guessing Sam's intent (though not the why) kissing him firmly and thoroughly. "You come back to me, Sam Gamgee!"

"I meant to, lass", he thought. His eyes fell on his master, worn and weary, sleeping at his side. And so he put aside the thought of Rosie Cotton, and his family, and the Shire. He felt strength and determination rise up in him. It was for Mr. Frodo. But it was also for the Shire and for all those he loved. They'd do what was needed, he'd do anything that was needed. One step at a time, and they'd get to the fiery mountain. One step at a time. It didn't matter what happened to him, they do what they had to do.

He'd help Mr. Frodo to the last, and if they succeeded, the Shire would be saved--but not for them.


B2MeM Challenge: March 8, fireworks, flowers
Format: Short Story
Genre: Gapfiller
Rating: G  
Character(s): Gandalf, Thain Ferumbras II
Summary: After the Long Winter, Gandalf thinks that the hobbits deserve to celebrate.
Quote:
"Not the man who used to make such particularly excellent fireworks! I remember those! Old Took used to have them on Midsummer's Eve. Splendid! They used to go up like great lilies and snapdragons and laburnums of fire and hang in the twilight all evening." (The Hobbit, "An Unexpected Party")

There is Always a First Time
 
Thrimmidge, S.R. 1159 (T.A. 2759)

Gandalf sat upon the stone steps of the terrace on the South side of the Great Smials, his staff across his knees, as he contemplated what was ahead of him. He had lingered long in the Shire, helping the beleaguered hobbits endure and survive the horrible winter, that now was being called "the Long Winter". He had made many new friends among this small people as he learned that the size of the body was no guide to the size of the heart. Stout-hearted, resilient, and most of all compassionate, they had found ways to help one another--and from the first he had been attracted by the free and open Pity they showed him (a lone stranger travelling from the Wild) and one another. Only two weeks past, they had buried their Thain, Isumbras III--last of them all to succumb to the ills that had plagued the Shire and weakened the hobbits during their bitter time of cold. Yet they had never failed in their hospitality to him even in their time of grief.

He looked out across the gardens, filled with the sight of lilies, snapdragons, and laburnums, fragrant with roses, violets, stock and sweet alyssum, and buzzing with the hum of bees and the wind in the branches of the beeches. Once the Winter had finally loosed its grip, the colours of Spring had lost no time in making themselves known.

Though his ears heard nothing approach, he easily sensed the presence of the hobbit who had come to join him. "Good morning, Gandalf," said Ferumbras II, the new Thain.

"Is it a good morning, Rumble?" the wizard asked.

He got a faint smile from his young friend. "Well, I wish it to be a good one for the both of us. The day itself has started well, whether we wish it or not, and we should hope to feel better at least. And it is always a morning to be good on."

Gandalf laughed aloud at this. Rumble was still grieving his father, but he took the time to cheer a guest.

The hobbit sat down next to Gandalf and took his pipe out of his pocket. This reminded Gandalf of his own pipe--a gift from his host. He took it out of his robe, and set about filling it with the fragrant leaves of galenas, still somewhat surprised by the use the Shirefolk had found for it; they simply called it "pipe-weed". He had soon found the smoking of a pipe to be a relaxing way to pass the time. The two sat and puffed silently for a while, and then Rumble began to blow perfect little round rings of smoke. Gandalf watched him for a few minutes and then assayed the skill himself.

He was pleased at the results, and in only a few moments had replicated Rumble's perfect rings.

Rumble smiled. "Not bad for a beginner," he chuckled.

Pleased at having made his friend smile, Gandalf looked at the rings, and he reached inside himself, for that part of him that never forgot what he was, where his very being as a Servant of the Secret Flame was kept, and where in spite of any sorrow his inner joy never faded. He puffed out another ring, this one turning a rosy colour as it floated up. With satisfaction, he saw Rumble's jaw drop in amazement and wonder. He puffed out another, pale violet. It floated up by the first. He followed it with blue, then green, then yellow and orange. They hung side by side in the air for a moment before dissipating just as normal smoke would do.

There was silence for a moment, and then Rumble turned to him with a gaze of childlike pleasure. "That was incredible!" he said.

Gandalf looked at the hobbit's face, suddenly he knew what he would do. "My friend," he said, "I think you know that I shall have to leave soon. I seldom linger so long in one place as I have the Shire this past few months."

"How soon will you go?" Rumble's face fell.

"Not at least for a couple of weeks," was the reply. "I would like to do something special for your people, in thanks for your hospitality."

He spent the days after that gathering the things he needed; Rumble granted him the use of a small storage shed behind the West garden, and he experimented with the materials he had located until he was satisfied.

On the last day of the month, the Thain gave a great Farewell Feast for his guest; it was held outdoors. Lanterns hung from trees, and a colourful pavillion was set up across the road from the Great Smials, in a large field often used for assemblies of the hobbitry. The tables groaned with food. Word had gone out that there would be a great entertainment once the Sun had sought her rest, and there was much speculation as to what it might be.

Once all the corners had been filled, but before the hobbits had time to grow weary from their feasting, Gandalf and the Thain ushered them out of the pavilion. The wizard went away from them to a grassy knoll that rose near one end of the field, and without fanfare or speeches, he set to his task.

The hobbits watched as with a whistling sound, something dark and smoky rose into the indigo sky: suddenly there was a burst of bright colour, and scintillating stars began to rain down upon them. Up went another rocket, exploding into a fountain of gold and red, and before their glitter faded another burst into blue flowers, that swirled in the sky. From his place on the knoll, Gandalf smiled to himself as he listened to the collective "oohs" and "ahhs" and heard the laughter and the cheers, and watched the fingers pointing to his handiwork. He sent up rocket after rocket, a twinkling garden against the night in colours to rival the garden in sunlight, until all he had prepared were spent.

The cheers of the hobbits afterwards were most gratifying. A bonfire was started, and there was music and dancing, and he found himself pulled into their merriment. But finally the Moon rose, and the hobbits began to wander away--those who did not fall asleep where they were--and at last Gandalf and the Thain stood together alone.

"Are you sure you don't wish to remain until after first breakfast tomorrow?" Rumble asked.

"No, I shall travel under the Stars this night. I may find other friends in the Woody End with whom to rest, but I should be away now that I've said my farewells. But I shall be back, my friend. I do not think that having found it, I could stay long away from the Shire." He placed a hand on top of Rumble's head and said a silent benediction, and then made his way to the stable where his horse and his pack awaited him.

But Rumble stayed where he was, and watched. Gandalf saw him as he strode away leading Borin, and he turned and waved before he disappeared over the knoll.

He'd definitely be back. He'd felt more at home these last few months among the hobbits than he had since setting foot upon the Eastern Shore of the Sundering Sea.


B2MeM Challenge: March 13, 2013
Format: Ficlet
Genre: Gapfiller
Rating: G
Warnings: Rhyming talk
Character(s): Tom Bombadil, Farmer Maggot
Summary: Tom Bombadil spends an evening with an old friend. (Based on the poem "Bombadil Goes Boating").
Author's Notes: Dialogue in italics quoted from The Tolkien Reader, "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil", 2: "Bombadil Goes Boating"
Quote:
Third Age: Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!
Ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow!
Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo! (Fellowship of the Ring, "The Old Forest")

An Evening at the Maggots

Maggot squinted into the darkness from the seat of his waggon; the evening was young, but the trees were black beneath the violet sky. Someone had just passed him on the road and it did not look like any hobbit! "Ho, there! Who's that tramping in the Marish! Some beggar by the looks of it! What's your business here?"

"Well, well, Muddy-feet! From one that's late for meeting away back by the Mithe, that's a surly greeting! You old farmer fat that cannot walk for wheezing, cart-drawn like a sack, ought to be more pleasing!"

The hobbit farmer heaved a sigh of relief, amused at the insults being heaped on him. Surely he deserved them for not waiting longer at the Mithe Landing* for his old friend. But he'd been tired and hungry, and he knew the missus would have supper waiting.

"Penny-wise tub-on-legs! A beggar can't be chooser or else I'd bid you go, and you would be the loser. Come, Maggot, help me up! A tankard now you owe me. Even in cockshut light an old friend should know me!"

Maggot laughed and reached an arm out to grasp Bombadil's and help him up the cart. He might not be young, but years of farming had left him sturdy and strong as an old oak. Bombadil sat beside him, and laughing in his turn slapped Maggot on the back. "You were late!" said the hobbit chuckling.

"Jolly Tom is never late, but comes at his own choosing; you should have stayed there lest my company you'd be losing!" Tom then laughed, loud and long. It made Old Maggot's heart glad to hear it, truth to tell, he'd never heard aught like Tom's laughter-like a spring breeze it was, or maybe birds in the rushes, or moonlight on the River.

They drove along quietly, passing right through Rushey, though the doors of The Crane and Otter stood invitingly open-the yeasty smell of ale and the merry songs of the hobbits inside wafted out invitingly, but they did not stop, nor even slow down. Passing through the village they turned left on Maggot's Lane-a rough road it was, for it had never been built as road, but had been worn into being by much use over the years by carts and waggons travelling to Bamfurlong and back again. It was a tooth-rattling ride, and conversation was not possible, what with all the jolting.

But the stars had come out and were twinkling over the long low farmhouse, its thatched roof undulating like a hill over the round doors and windows. Warm yellow light sent a welcoming glow through those windows. Maggot drove past the house to the barn, and a hired hobbit came out to take the ponies and waggon. Maggot clambered down and Tom hopped off the seat, and they walked back to enter in through the kitchen door.

Maggot's seven sons, who ranged in age from twelve to thirty all jumped up to politely bow when Tom came in with their father, while his four daughters, all lively tweens, gave him curtsies. Tom laughed, ruffling the curls of the youngest lad, and smiling at the lasses, who all blushed. He gave his own bow to Missus Maggot.

She simpered, and said "Go on wi' ye, now, Master Tom!" and went to fetch the tankards, for a great cask of ale was waiting to be broached.

Soon supper was on the table: fresh baked bread, with butter and honey; a pot of beans; a great dish of Missus Maggot's famous mushrooms, cooked up with bacon and onions and garlic; roasted potatoes; turnips and carrots mashed up with butter; stewed apples; and a pear tart for afters, and a wheel of cheese with some biscuits for the filling up of corners.

The food finished, Maggot's daughters and his wife soon cleared the table and his sons pushed it aside, and his oldest daughter brought out a flute and his youngest son brought out a drum, and soon the whole family was dancing a lively bransle**, and then they stepped off in a reel, and Tom joined them. He pulled a pibgorn** from his jacket, and accompanied himself as he danced a jig, and then he played for the daughters to dance the Springle-ring. But the younger ones' heads began to droop, and soon the Missus was chivvying her brood off to their beds. "I'm off to bed as well. Morning comes early, husband!" she reminded Maggot. "Don't wag your chins all night!"

Old Tom and Maggot took their tankards by the inglenook. Maggot poked the fire up a little, and took out his pipe.

In his jolly voice, song as much as speech, Tom filled Old Maggot in on the goings on across the River-funny tales of the beasts and birds, frightening tales of the Old Forest and the Barrows, news from Bree and news from Haysend and Breredon. News of Elves passing West through his lands, most not returning, news of Rangers watching the Bounds.

And Maggot had his own news to tell. His tales were not so droll nor exciting as Tom's but newsworthy they were: mostly tales of a great party to be held in Hobbiton any day now, a party for Old Mad Baggins and his heir young Frodo.

"Young Frodo was a rapscallion in his time, poor lad, after his folks was a-drownded in the River and he dwelt at Brandy Hall. Young Master Saradoc, as is the Son of the Hall, was his guardian there, for Master Frodo was the son of poor Miss Primula, the Master's youngest sister and Master Saradoc's aunt. I recall one time as my dogs chased him up a tree after he'd been over here a-scrumping after my mushrooms! Can you believe, he asked me for a thrashing, rather than risk the Master punishing him by a-shutting him up for a while? I give him one, too-no better nor worse than I'd've give me own lads, and he scarpered back to the Ferry with the dogs at his heels! But he's coming of age now, and I'm a-thinking he's left such tweenish japes behind him. Though I doubt me he'd be pleased to know his Uncle Bilbo's sent us all a invitation to that Party-writ in gold ink, it was! They say there's to be outlandish guests, too! That old wandering conjurer Gandalf is supposed to come, and there've been Dwarves a-coming along the Great Road, too!"

Tom smiled. "There's more to old Gandalf than little folk can know; but he'll bring along his fireworks and give you all a show!" Would his old friend come to call as he passed through to the Shire? He often did. But Tom did not say this aloud.

"I hope so! None of my young'uns has ever seen fireworks afore."

They talked a while more. "The leaves they are a-turning now and falling," said Tom, "and it will be the springtime before I come again a-calling."

But his old friend had fallen asleep by the fire. Tom stood up and smiled-morning was nigh, and the Sun would soon show her face. He took the pipe from Maggot's hand and put it upon the mantelpiece. Then he left, murmuring "Sleep well old friend and waken refreshed and a-new, and may your lady not find any reason to scold you."

And then he made his way into the grey and misty morning drizzle. He smiled, thinking of his own lady a-waiting him, the River-woman's daughter. Fair Goldberry had sent him this gentle reminder that he had been too long adventuring from her side. Perhaps he'd gather her lilies as he made his way home up the Withywindle. Softly he sang:

"Old Tom Bombadil was a merry felow;
bright blue his jacket was and his bloots were yellow,
green were his girdle and his breeches all of leather;
he wore in his tall hat a swan-wing feather.
He lived up under Hill, where the Withywindle
ran from a grassy well down into the dingle..."

___________

* Mithe was a body of water in the Shire, the outflow of the Shirebourn river. At the Mithe there was a landing-stage called Mithe Steps, from which a lane ran to Deephallow and so on to the Causeway road that ran from Rushey to Stock. (The Tolkien Gateway)
**A "bransle" (pronounce "brawl") is a lively circle dance popular in the Middle-ages, and a "pibgorn" is an old word for a "hornpipe" (which nowadays usually refers to a sailor's dance, but once was also used for the instrument).

 

Author/Artist LJ Name: Dreamflower dreamflower02
Prompt Number: 13 - made by peachpai
Title: Old Friends and New
Pairing(s): no pairings, gen
Summary: Bag End is in for a jolly time when some of Bilbo's old friends come for a visit. (Domestic fluff, as requested! Fluffity-fluff-fluff! with some backstory and only a teensy bit of possibly angsty foreshadowing.)
Rating: G
Disclaimer: All characters of The Hobbit herein are the property of JRR Tolkien as well as various publishers and film makers. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): Fluff
Word Count: 5,597
Author's Notes:: I use the roughly two-thirds ratio of difference between hobbit ages and men. The first age is the actual chronological hobbit age, the second age is the equivalent in maturity for a Man: Frodo is 31=20, Sam is 19=12 ½ , Merry is 17=11 and Pippin is 9=6. I'm using book-ages for the hobbits as well as for the Dwarves. At this time, Fili is 140, Kili is 135, Gimli is 120, and Nuri (the OC) is 97.

This story is an AU meld of movie-verse and book-verse. The events of the Adventure follow movie-verse up to the end of TH: AUJ, events after that are either AU or book-verse. I'd like to include an acknowledgement of my beta, shirebound. And there is a little tribute to the story marigoldg and I co-wrote, "Ho! Ho! My Lads!" as well.


Old Friends and New

Prologue

Late Autumn, T.A. 2941, shortly after the Battle of Five Armies

The voices confused Thorin. He had thought himself dead.

"We owe a great debt to you, my lord, and to you, Master Guilin." Surely that was Fili's voice.

"I am glad that we have been of service to you; too much ill-will has passed between our peoples. Mithrandir is right—we who are Free Folk should be making common cause against the Enemies of us all. Perhaps we should have responded differently all those years ago, but foresight is a burden too difficult to fathom sometimes." That voice was filled with regret—but it was a familiar voice, nonetheless…

The Elven-king! That was the hated voice of the Elven-king; Thorin could not gather the strength to make his indignation known. He could not even summon the energy to open his eyes, much less to speak.

"I will do my best to make my uncle understand when he wakens, and perhaps after this there can be peace between the Mountain and the Wood. I must also thank your son for the life of my brother. His arrow was timely."

"You will soon have the chance to speak to him, I believe."

"And how is Bilbo, Master Guilin?" Fili again.

This voice was not at all familiar: "He had a delayed reaction to a mild concussion. He should be up and around in a day or so."

Bilbo had been injured? But the last thing Thorin could recall was taking his final leave of the hobbit, who had proved in the end to be the wisest of his company: "There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!" Yet now it seemed, he had not left the world at all; his farewell had been in vain, and if the words he heard were not some delirium, his sister-sons still lived…and he owed a life-debt thrice over to that haughty Elf-king…

Spring, T.A. 2999, S.R. 1399

Frodo and Merry were pulling the small hand-waggon up the Hill towards Bag End; Bilbo had sent them to market to replenish Bag End's larders, and it was laden with their purchases from the baker, the butcher, the cheesemonger and the greengrocer.

"I'm glad Pippin stayed with Bilbo," said Merry. "We'd still be trying to get the supplies, and be worn out from chasing him!"

"Pippin was delighted with the chance to 'help' Bilbo bake strawberry tarts," said Frodo. "I just hope that there were enough strawberries left to fill the tarts!"

Merry was starting to reply when they heard the sound of hooves behind them. Frodo nudged him, and they pulled the little waggon over to the verge to allow the riders room to go past them.

"Frodo!" Merry exclaimed, "Look! It's Dwarves!" He was grinning in excitement.

"So I see!" Frodo's own grin was quite as excited as his younger cousin's.

They watched four Dwarves, two on handsome grey ponies, one on a black pony and another on a nice sorrel pony, ride past. The two in back were leading pack ponies, while those on the greys in front were unencumbered.

"I'd wager they're headed for Bag End!"

"Of course they are! Let's hurry!" Frodo grabbed the handle of the waggon, and the two lads followed after the riders as quickly as they could without losing its contents along the lane.

~~~~~~~~~~~

At the gate in front of Bag End, the Dwarves dismounted.

"Nuri, wait with the ponies, while we go to surprise our host." Fili dusted his cloak and pushed back his hood. His golden hair was braided, and he fluffed up his beard before turning his attention to dusting off his younger brother. Kili pushed back his own hood. His dark hair was pulled back in an ornate silver clasp. His long beard was divided into two braids, each finished with a matching silver bead. They turned to the red-haired Dwarf in their company, and Fili straightened the collar of his cloak while Kili brushed off the dust. "Gimli, come along with us."

"How surprised do you think our burglar will be to see us?" asked Kili.

Fili chuckled. "Not nearly so surprised as he was the first time we arrived!"

Gimli kept silent. He was both excited and nervous. For years he'd been hearing tales of the Amazing Burglar Baggins, the hobbit-hero who had helped the Dwarves retake Erebor. He had never dreamed he'd ever have a chance to actually meet the legendary hobbit!

~~~~~~~~~~~

When they heard the knocking at the door, Bilbo was up to his elbows in pastry dough.

"Pippin, be a good lad and get the door, please!"

"Yes, Cousin Bilbo," the child chirped as he skipped out of the kitchen.

He flung the door open, and his eyes grew wide at the sight of the three huge and hairy beings who confronted him. He gave an ear-splitting yelp, and then stared. "Are you Dwarves? You are Dwarves!" He slammed the door, shouting "Cousin Bilbo, it's Dwarves!"

Bilbo heard the shriek and then the door slam, but he couldn't understand what the excited child was saying. "Oh bother!" He wiped his floury hands on his apron and fervently hoped it was not Lobelia on whom Pippin had slammed the door.

As he stepped into the hall he saw Pippin jumping up and down. "It's Dwarves! It's Dwarves!"

Bilbo hurried to the door. He had not been expecting any of his Dwarven friends anytime soon, and was mortified that Pippin had slammed the door.

"Peregrin! For shame! You don't leave callers on the doorstep, even if they are Dwarves!"

Pippin cringed at his tone, and Bilbo felt briefly guilty, but he opened the door. Pippin stepped behind him and peered around his legs, his green eyes wide.

For an instant, Bilbo nearly did not recognise his old friends—they were, after all much older than they once had been, and had more beard than he remembered—but they smiled and bowed and he grinned in delight.

"Fili! Kili! How good to see you again!" He stepped back to allow them to enter. "I apologise for my young cousin’s outburst. He has only heard about Dwarves in stories." He grinned. "Do come in! And who else have we here?"

Fili made the introduction. "This is my cousin, Gimli son of Gloín! The one down there with the ponies is Nuri, son of Nain, also a cousin." Bilbo peered past them and saw the fourth Dwarf standing by the gate with the ponies.

The younger Dwarf doffed his hood and bowed. "At your service and your family's Master Baggins!"

The three came into the hall, and hung their cloaks and hoods on the nearby pegs. They stood their axes, swords and Kili's bow against the wall.

Pippin's eyes were huge as he stared at these mighty creatures with the hairy faces. Bilbo gave him a reassuring pat, and then gently nudged him forward. "Manners, Peregrin," he murmured.

Pippin made a slight bow. In a squeaky and slightly wobbly voice he said, "Peregrin Took, at your service." Then he retreated behind Bilbo again.

"Is this the lad about whom you wrote to our uncle, Bilbo?" asked Kili. "I must say he looks much younger than I expected!"

Bilbo chuckled. "No, this is another young cousin who is visiting us right now. Frodo has gone on an errand for me with yet another visiting cousin. He should be home any time now."

"What should we do with the ponies?" asked Fili.

"Bring in whatever you need, for you shall stay at Bag End, of course, for as long as you like! Then the ponies can be taken to the stables at The Ivy Bush, for I'm afraid that I have no accommodation for them here."

At a look from Fili, Gimli went back to the gate to let Nuri know of the plans, and to help him carry in their packs.

Nuri had waited patiently. As the youngest in the group--he had still three years to reach his century--he usually was left with this sort of task. Just before Gimli came back he heard the sound of wheels on the road, and turned to see two young hobbits trotting up the road with a small hand-waggon piled with items.

They stopped before the two Dwarves. The taller of the two, a fair-skinned, dark-haired lad, smiled earnestly at them. "Frodo Baggins, at your service and your family's" he said. "This is my first cousin once removed, Meriadoc Brandybuck." Both lads gave a small bow. "Have you come to visit my Uncle Bilbo?"

Gimli and Nuri introduced themselves, and Gimli said, "Indeed we have, Master Frodo. My cousins Fili and Kili are already up at the house," (Frodo and Merry winced slightly at hearing Bag End described thus, but did not correct the Dwarf.) "and we are to bring in the packs and then take the ponies to the inn for stabling."

"We'll help," said Frodo. "but we also have this waggon to bring up." They took everything along the path that led to the kitchen door instead of the front door, for ease.

It did not take long for the young hobbits and the younger Dwarves to bring in everything that was needed. Bilbo took a moment to introduce Frodo and Merry to Fili and Kili, before whisking his groceries off to the larder and to prepare tea. The lads took the Dwarves' packs to the guest rooms, and then Gimli and Nuri went to lead the ponies down to the stables.

In the parlour, little Pippin was staring at Fili's beard. Frodo noticed that the lad had both hands tightly clasped behind his back, clearly trying to resist the urge to reach up and touch all that hair. But it wasn't enough to keep him from asking questions. He was scarcely leaving a chance for the Dwarf to answer. "Does it itch? Does food get in it when you eat? How long will it get?" For an instant his glance shifted to Kili and then back again. "Why are your beards so different? Why..." Frodo dropped a hand to the child's shoulder.

Pippin looked up. "Frodo! Merry! We have Dwarves!"

"Yes, I know Pip. But it is not polite to ask so many personal questions."

Looking abashed, Pippin said "Oh! I'm sorry, but they look so different from Gandalf's beard!" But he stopped his spate of questions, at the least.

Frodo took the moment to introduce himself and Merry, and no sooner had he received their names and service in return, Bilbo entered with the tea trolley.

There was a steaming pot of tea, accompanied by both cucumber and radish sandwiches, boiled eggs, scones, seedcakes, and biscuits--both sweet and savory. Dwarves being very nearly as serious about food as hobbits, the conversation for a while consisted mostly of "This is quite good," "Do have some more," and "Don't mind if I do".

The conversation grew more general as the food available on the tea trolley grew less. When there was little left but crumbs, Bilbo said, "And so what brings you to the Shire?"

"Why, Bilbo, my friend," said Fili with a twinkle in his eye, "I am wounded. You don't think we came just to visit you?"

Bilbo gave a bark of amused laughter, and took out his pipe. "No." He gestured to indicate his guests were free to smoke. "I don't. I live too far from Erebor for that. I'm thinking you are passing through to elsewhere and took the opportunity to visit me as well."

Kili looked at him with a twinkle in his eye to match his brother’s. "Perhaps we are arranging a new adventure and have need once more of a thief who is more than meets the eye!"

"Thorin would not risk his heirs on another dubious adventure. I suppose you are on some diplomatic errand to the Blue Mountains."

Frodo, Merry and Pippin were listening to this conversation with wide eyes. Suddenly Pippin piped up, "Can I go on the adventure?" He turned his big green eyes on Fili. "I am a TOOK! We're good at adventures!"

Frodo and Merry reddened in embarrassment at Pippin's forward behaviour, but the adults all burst into laughter.

Finally, Fili spoke up. "I've no doubt of that! But I do not think you'd care for this adventure, little hobbit. We are going in search of..." he lowered his voice and leaned over to where Pippin sat in Frodo's lap, "...true love."

This time Pippin's look of disgust made everyone laugh.

"Really?" asked Frodo, when they had settled down again.

"More or less," answered Fili. "There have never been many Dwarf-women," he said rather sadly. "In Erebor there are none to wed either of us. The few who are there now are either already wed, too old to wed, are too close in kinship to wed us, or don't wish to wed at all. Our royal Uncle has sent us to the Blue Mountains where he knows there may be at least one or two who might accept us as husbands."

"We are to stay for the better part of a year, in hopes that at least one of us finds a bride," added Kili.

Merry blinked. "But you are princes!" he said. "I would think it would be easy!" He recalled some of the tales he'd heard about princes and princesses. Lasses always wanted to marry a prince, didn't they?

"Not always," said Fili, "and among Dwarves, the women are rare enough to choose as they like. Many choose not to wed, for they would rather work at a craft instead." He sat back and took a puff of his pipe.

Kili decided to change the subject. "Well, Bilbo, shall we do the dishes for you again?"

"Good heavens no!" said Bilbo emphatically. "I don't want you giving these lads ideas!"

Frodo took the hint. He stood up and put his empty teacup on the trolley. "Come along, cousins, we'll show the Dwarves we can do dishes just as well and we know the song!" He started to sing as he gathered up the other teacups, "Chip the glasses and crack the plates..."

Merry and Pippin joined in, and began to push the trolley to the kitchen, singing as they went.

"You taught them the song?" asked Kili with a grin, as he listened to the young voices fade away down the passage.

"Of course I did!" Bilbo laughed again. "They've cut their milk teeth on the tales of my adventures, and these three, at least, believe every word!"

Gimli, who with Nuri, had been quiet up till now, said "Those are very nice younglings you have."

"Well, I can't take complete credit. Merry and Pippin are only visiting, and Frodo didn't come to me until he was entering his tweens. But they've been well-brought up, I dare say, and Frodo is a very good influence on the younger two. Little Pippin, however has enough energy for any three little hobbits!"

Fili sniffed, and looked at his brother. "I seem to recall a young dwarrow much like that…"

Kili looked indignant, and punched him in the shoulder. Fili affected not to notice the blow and without turning to look said, "Do you deny it?"

Kili shook his head. "How can I deny the truth? But that doesn't mean I will let you get away with telling it!"

Gimli and Nuri rolled their eyes, for they'd had their fill of brotherly banter on the journey so far, but Bilbo laughed until his eyes leaked. "Oh, oh my!" he said, when he could finally catch his breath without breaking out into more sniggers again, "I didn't know until now how much I missed your nonsense! How is your uncle? And how do things fare there in the East?"

The talk went on to more serious matters; Bilbo was pleased that a firm alliance had grown up around Erebor, Dale and the Woodland Realm. Thorin had learned that he owed not merely his own life to the efforts of Thranduil's personal physician, but that of Fili as well, and that Kili had been saved from being spitted by a goblin by the timely arrow of Thranduil's son Prince Legolas. The long-standing grudge he held against Thranduil for his lack of intervention when Smaug had attacked had been ameliorated when he began to realise that the Elven-king had held back because of a sudden vision, which had shown him that any efforts at aid would have resulted in an even greater disaster for both Elves and Dwarves.

"We have accepted a few young Men as apprentices under the Mountain," said Fili, "and some of us Dwarves have even spent time at the Court of King Thranduil." He glanced over at Gimli, who blushed and nodded. "Our cousin here is becoming a good friend to the young Elven prince, our saviour."

"Legolas has said he will come visit us in Erebor for a while when we return," said Gimli.

Bilbo was pleased at this news. He had thought from the first that the enmity between the Dwarves and Elves was based on misunderstandings and grievances so old as to be meaningless.

"And what of my other friends?" he asked.

"Most do well. It has been a while since we heard from Balin, Ori and Oín, but it's quite a distance between Khazad-dûm and the Lonely Mountain, and the lands between are empty. I am sure that we will hear from them soon." Fili spoke lightly, but Bilbo thought he noted worry in the Dwarf's eyes.

"You know," said Bilbo, "he invited me to come along on that venture, but I had only just brought Frodo here to live, and had to decline his offer."

Just then, Frodo, Merry and Pippin came back into the parlour. "The washing up is done, Uncle Bilbo," said Frodo, "I checked the stew for supper and moved it to the side and we put some bread to rise." He dusted some flour out of Pippin's hair.

"Thank you, Frodo, that was most thoughtful of you!" Bilbo turned to his guests. "Would you like to go to your rooms and rest until supper, or would you like to come out for a stroll and a sniff of the air with us?"

Gimli and Nuri elected to rest. They both felt that their cousins would much prefer to visit with their old friend without their presence, and truth to tell, they were tired. Fili and Kili followed Bilbo and the lads to the front hall, where cloaks and jackets were donned, and Bilbo took up his walking stick, and they went out the round front door of Bag End.

Pippin had hold of Merry's hand and was hopping up and down, as the group paused on the front step, waiting for Bilbo to take the lead. Just ahead an older hobbit, assisted by a young lad, was busily weeding the herbaceous border along the front path.

"Master Hamfast!" said Bilbo cheerily as he led the guests and the children down the path, "These are two of my guests, Fili and Kili of the Lonely Mountain. They and their two companions will be staying here at Bag End for a day or two."

The gardener stood up, and the young lad stood next to him staring up at the Dwarves with his brown eyes wide. Hamfast touched the edge of his hat, and bobbed his head. "At yer service, sirs. This is my lad, Samwise." He held one arm protectively around the child at his side, as if he feared the Dwarves would snatch him away.

Bilbo smiled. "You and Sam carry on with your work, Master Hamfast. We are all going for a stroll and shall be back before supper."

Soon the little group was ambling down the lane towards the village. Bilbo knew his guests would create a stir, and he felt a perverse enjoyment at the gossip it would stir up and the dismay it would cause some of his more "respectable" relations—most especially Lobelia, who would be highly incensed at his hosting Dwarves at Bag End, but also his cousin Dora who would likely be sending him a letter of advice about his "reputation" as well.

At first Frodo and Merry kept Pippin between them, each holding a hand; but that didn't last long. Pippin darted away and ran ahead of them, and then turned to run back, reminding Bilbo of nothing so much as an overeager terrier. After he had done this several times, Kili swept him up, holding him high and making him squeal in delight, before sitting him on his shoulders. Kili winced as Pippin tangled his fingers in his hair.

"You're so tall!" Pippin squealed. "He's taller than you!" He shouted down to Frodo, as if Frodo were far away rather than simply walking alongside Kili.

Bilbo walked ever so slightly ahead of the others, though Fili was close enough to his side; he smiled and waved at other hobbits they passed, who almost all either reacted by giving a very timid wave back, or by pretending they did not see them.

"Your neighbours don't seem to know what to make of us," said Fili.

"Don't be fooled! They are glad of something new to gossip about! You will be the talk of Hobbiton for a good month or more after you leave!"

They paused briefly and went into the tobacconist, where Bilbo picked up some Old Toby. The owner, Mr. Smallburrow, waited on Bilbo nervously after Bilbo introduced his guests.

But his fearful nervousness melted away when Fili asked: "Would it be possible for me to purchase a small barrel of Longbottom Leaf? I would need to be able to pick it up tomorrow or the day after, when we go on our way."

Mr. Smallburrow was shocked when Fili did not even haggle, and was quite obliging of this new customer.

"My brother and I will be visiting kin in the Blue Mountains, where good Shire leaf is hard to come by. When we return next year, we may place a larger order to take home with us. Leaf from Bree is second class to what we can get in the Shire, and the leaf from Dale is quite sad in comparison."

The shopkeeper was beaming as they went on their way afterwards, and Bilbo grinned. "You do know the way to the heart of a merchant," he said. "Mr. Smallburrow will now consider himself your friend for life!"

Fili and Kili chuckled. "I didn't say anything that wasn't true. There are times when I think certain Dwarves in Erebor would gladly kill for some good Shire pipeweed!"

The group strolled on to the edge of the village and then turned around to head back. Bilbo paused briefly at the bakery and purchased a cake and a pie for after supper. Merry found himself carrying the pie, while Frodo was given the cake, and he wondered if there was any way he could sneak a bite, surrounded by everyone.

"Don't even think about it, Merry," said Frodo softly.

Merry looked up at him with an innocent expression. "Think about what, Frodo?"

"Think about doing what I'd have thought about doing when I was your age. You'll get some after supper, just like the rest of us."

After a supper of chicken and mushroom stew, fresh bread with butter and honey, a crisp salad from the garden, and the cake and pie from the bakery, Bilbo sent Merry and Frodo off to bathe Pippin and put him to bed.

Pippin did not object to his bath—on the contrary, he was most enthusiastic, and Frodo and Merry were both fairly drenched by the time they'd finished. Frodo offered to mop up the bathroom while Merry got Pippin into his nightshirt.

Pippin did object to bedtime—he wanted to stay up with the others and listen to more stories. But a full stomach and a warm bath had done their work, and soon enough Merry was able to pull the blankets up and kiss his drowsy little cousin goodnight.

Since he had to get out of his damp clothes anyway, he put on his own nightshirt and his dressing gown, and went back to the parlour—apparently Frodo had the same idea, and he was regaling Bilbo and the Dwarves with the account of Pippin's bath.

"And then, Uncle Bilbo, he decided to make his bath imitate the fountain in the song and 'leap on high'!" The others all laughed, as Merry came in and sat down next to Frodo.

"Cousin Bilbo, why don't you ever give Pippin a bath when he visits? You're the one who taught him that song!" Merry gave Bilbo a stern look—it reminded Frodo very much of the expression on his Uncle Rory's face when he'd been caught scrumping Farmer Maggot's mushrooms.

The Dwarves all laughed, and Bilbo just returned Merry's look with one of amusement, and did not answer his question. Frodo pinched Merry's elbow, just enough to make the younger hobbit wince. He wasn't going to allow Merry to be impertinent to Bilbo in front of company. Merry subsided, though Frodo could tell he still wanted an answer to his question.

For a while they sat in the parlour, and Fili and Kili and Bilbo reminisced about their adventure, while Frodo and Merry and the younger Dwarves just listened in fascination. The fire in the hearth began to burn low, and before long, Merry was drifting off against Frodo's side, and Fili and Kili were suppressing yawns.

“We have journeyed far, old friend," said Fili.

"I think that it's time to seek our beds," added Kili.

Good-nights were said, and Bilbo lingered only long enough to bank the fire and put out the lights. Candlestick in hand, he sought his own bed. It had been a long and eventful day for him as well.

~~~~~~~~~~~~
Bilbo wakened the next morning to the scent of bacon, sausage and...coffee? Drat! Those Dwarves had been into his coffee! He pulled on his dressing gown and quickly washed his face before hurrying into the kitchen. Frodo was making breakfast with the help of Kili and Pippin. At least, Frodo was cooking and Kili was showing Pippin how to snort milk through his nose.

Frodo had put aside the skillet of bacon and sausages, and was beating a bowl of eggs. "Good morning, Uncle Bilbo! Kili said you wouldn't mind if he brewed some of the coffee today! There are scones baking, and I am getting ready to make the eggs. The others are still asleep..."

Just then Merry came in, tying his dressing gown. "I smell bacon!" he said. "Good morning!" He turned to the cupboard and picked up plates and began to lay the table without being asked.

Fili, Gimli and Nuri slept through first breakfast, but were awake in time for second, and found the others all still in the kitchen.

As they were finishing up second breakfast--which was more or less a repeat of first breakfast with the addition of porridge--Pippin paused in the act of slathering a scone with honey. "Cousin Bilbo, are we still going for strawberries today?"

"We have company, Pippin," said Frodo.

"Strawberries?" said Kili and Gimli simultaneously. Nuri's face was also wreathed in a smile.

In the end, the expedition to Bywater consisted of the young hobbits and Kili, Gimli and Nuri, while Fili and Bilbo elected to stay at Bag End. Samwise Gamgee was also going along to help--the trip had been arranged days before. Bilbo gave Frodo a pouch of coins--they would be picking their strawberries at the Cotton farm. "Be sure, Frodo, to give Farmer Cotton enough to make up for all the strawberries that are eaten during the picking! I know you lads, and when you take them to Mr. Cotton for weighing there won't be nearly as many in the baskets as you picked!"

After the others left, Fili went to Bilbo's study to look at some maps that Bilbo had been working on. He had promised to fill in some missing places on them for him. Bilbo pottered about for a while doing some necessary household tasks, and writing a couple of important letters. Then he and Fili strolled down to The Ivy Bush for a late elevenses (or perhaps it was an early luncheon). There were few other hobbits there this time of day, and Bilbo and his guest easily found a corner table where they could enjoy their beer, brown bread, pickled onions and sharp cheese.

"This is a much quieter visit than last time," said Fili. "You seem to have settled back in nicely to your sedentary life. I seem to recall that all you ever thought about while we were gone was being back at your cosy little home. Are you content?"

Bilbo took a deep swallow of his beer, to wash down the bite of bread and cheese, and said, "I think that I am for the most part. Having Frodo with me has meant a great deal to me. But I can't say I never think of going adventuring again--I'd love to come back and see the Lonely Mountain again, and perhaps have an extended stay at Rivendell."

"Rivendell? Among the Elves?"

"I've been in correspondence with Master Elrond for years," said Bilbo. "The library there is magnificent!"

Fili laughed. "Ah! Books! I see the attraction there. And we would most certainly love to have you visit Erebor again--especially as it is now nearly restored to its previous glory!"

Bilbo was very quiet for a few moments, and Fili was beginning to wonder if he had said something wrong, when the hobbit spoke again. "I shall tell you a secret, one that I am only now beginning to make up my mind about. In two years, Frodo shall come of age, and I will be eleventy-one. I've thought perhaps that would be a good time for me to retire from the Shire, and make Frodo the Master of Bag End! I would then be able to travel again--to come and visit Erebor and Dale, and then return to Rivendell. Master Elrond has indicated that I would be welcome to stay there among his household."

Fili looked at his old friend carefully. Of course there had to be much that Bilbo was not saying, but he was glad to hear that Bilbo's spirit of adventure was still alive. His advanced age (for a hobbit) had touched him only lightly, and he was certainly still healthy and spry enough for such a thing. The Dwarf smiled fondly. "We'd welcome you with open arms," he said. "And I hope you would make your visit a long one!" He raised his flagon and took a sip of his beer.

Bilbo grinned. Now that he'd spoken aloud, he'd quite made his mind up. There were plans to be made. "I thought I'd throw a spectacular party..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~
The berry-picking party arrived back at Bag End near to suppertime. Pippin was dirty from curls to curls (as hobbits sometimes say when they mean "head to toe") and bore the sticky evidence of their activity all over his face. But the others also had their share of berry stains on faces and fingers. They conveyed their overflowing baskets to the Bag End cold cellar and went to clean up before the evening meal, which consisted of roasted lamb with new potatoes, baby carrots, spring peas and mushrooms.

The next morning all rose early, and after a hearty first breakfast, Frodo, Merry and Pippin accompanied Gimli and Nuri down to get the ponies from the stable at The Ivy Bush. Gimli stopped briefly at the tobacconist to see if their order of pipeweed was ready to pick up, and it was. He left the agreed upon payment with the very happy Mr. Smallburrow, and they went back up to Bag End, Frodo and Merry delighted to be able to ride (if only for the short distance) upon Fili's and Kili's fine ponies.

The attempt at dignified farewells at the gate by the lane, however, was foiled by Pippin, who hugged each Dwarf enthusiastically. He clung to Kili. "I have an idea! You could stay, and then come back to Tookland with me--I have a lot of lass cousins and three big sisters! Maybe you can find a wife there! Then you won't have to leave!"

Frodo picked Pippin up. "Shush, you little Took! Dwarves don't marry hobbits!" But everyone was laughing, including Frodo, but not Pippin, who wanted to know why. Amid such merriment, the Dwarves rode away, but not without looking back to see their friends still waving from the lane, until they went around the curve at the bottom of the Hill and were lost to sight.

THE END

(Written for the September 2013 LOTR GFIC Recipe!fic challenge.)
 
Author: Dreamflower
Title: Baking Day at Brandy Hall
Rating: G
Theme: Special Celebrations (recipe!fic)
Elements: My prompt was a tart
Author's Notes: In my version of the Shire, education is a family affair. Young children are taught their letters by parents or older siblings (or in this case, a cousin) and when older they receive further education from other adult members of their families and household. I go by the roughly two-thirds age ratio for hobbits, so in this story, Frodo is almost 20 (which is about 11 in "Man-years", and Merry is 6, which is a precocious 4 in "Man-years").
Summary: Disappointed when a promised outing is cancelled, Frodo and Merry are treated to a morning of baking.
Word Count: 2,184

Baking Day at Brandy Hall

Tap. Tap. Tap. Frodo blinked in the faint light of his lamp as the door to his room cracked open, allowing a crack of light in. Merry, who'd been laying on his arm, sat up and rubbed his little eyes.

"Master Frodo? Master Merry? It's time for second breakfast." It was the voice of Dahlia, Merry's nursemaid, as she peeped through the door. "The mistress said to let you lads have a bit of a lie-in this morning, but I doubt she'd want you to miss breakfast altogether. Hop along now, young masters!"

Her head vanished, the crack of light disappeared, and Frodo's door closed with a snick. Frodo reached over and turned up the lamp. His inside room had no windows. Sometimes he wondered if Uncle Saradoc and Aunt Esmeralda knew he had slipped out of his window when he first joined them after his parents' death. He only knew that after a week in the room that was now Merry's nursery, they had moved him to this inner room that opened off their own room. They'd only said that this one was larger--which it was--but still, he wondered from time to time if they had suspected his nighttime wanderings.

Merry slid out of the bed and grabbed his hand. "Come on Frodo! We're going fishing today, remember?"

Frodo chuckled at his little cousin's impatience, got out of bed himself, and reached for his dressing gown. Merry had already gone skipping ahead and Frodo followed, only to find the lad stopped, gazing in dismay out his parents' bedroom window.

The rain was pouring down outside, running off the eaves of the windows in Buck Hill like a waterfall.

"Oh Frodo!" Merry's sad little cry of dismay sparked an echoing sorrow in Frodo's heart. They'd both been so looking forward to their expedition this morning--a reward for Merry for reading an entire story by himself for the first time.

He stepped over, schooling his own face and expression to one of hopefulness. "We can do it another time, sprout."

Merry looked up at him for a moment, and then hugged him. "I'm sorry, Frodo! You're sad about it, too!"

Frodo ruffled his curls. "Well, yes, a little. It would have been fun. But there's nothing we can do about the rain. If it was just a light rain, I'd say we could go anyway--but this is pouring far too hard. It would be unsafe."

Hand in hand they went into the small kitchen that served the quarters of the Son of the Hall, and saw Dahlia just setting out Merry's special blue plate with the ponies painted around the rim, filled with eggs, bacon and scones, and his glass mug with the etched scene of two young hobbits fishing filled with milk; next to it was another plate similarly filled for Frodo, as well as a cup of tea. The two lads sat down and the food quickly dispelled their sad mood.

"We'll find something else to do that's fun today, Merry," said Frodo, after swallowing his last mouthful of his third helping.

"Begging your pardon, Master Frodo, but the mistress thought of something you both might like to do instead. Before she and Master Saradoc went down to help Master Rory and Mistress Menegilda see to the guests from the Northfarthing, she gave me this." Dahlia reached into her capacious apron pocket and held out a key. "It's the key to the spice box. She thought that you might enjoy doing some baking today, and she asked me to help you."

Merry gave a whoop of delight, and Frodo grinned widely. While all young hobbits are taught early the art of cooking, the two of them rarely had the chance to practice; living in Brandy Hall, most of their meals save breakfasts and tea were taken in the common dining hall and made by the cooks in the big main kitchens. Several of the private quarters had their own kitchens, but often were not much used. Much of the time even those who dined in their own apartments had meals sent to them. But Esmeralda enjoyed baking, and had taught the young nursemaid several of her favorite receipts.

"What are we going to bake, Dahlia?" Merry asked. "Can we bake a cake?"

Dahlia smiled and shook her head. "Our oven is not quite large enough for cake," she said. "but your mother said as we might use up those pears from Bridgefields, and make a tart or two."

"I've never baked a tart," said Frodo.

"I like pears!" exclaimed Merry.

Breakfast finished, the two lads rushed off to get dressed while Dahlia cleaned up the dishes and got out the ingredients and other things they would need. Mistress Esmeralda had begun firing the oven built into the chimney above the kitchen hearth before she left, for it took a long time for the bricks to reach the right temperature.

When the two lads came back to the kitchen, Dahlia presented Frodo with Saradoc's apron, and tied a tea towel around Merry's waist to serve as an apron for him.

There was a bowl of large pears on the table, as well as bowls and the flour and butter needed for the pastry crust, while Frodo took a paring knife and began to peel the pears, and the smell of them reminded Frodo of honey and flowers and sitting in a tree with the juice drabbling down his chin.

Dahlia allowed Merry to help her roll out the crust with Esmeralda's oak rolling pin. "Turn the pin the other way now, Master Merry, so that it will make a circle." Merry stood on a chair in front of her, and her hands were on either side of his as he rolled, his little tongue sticking slightly out of the side as he held his breath in concentration.

"That's good, that's good!" said Dahlia. "Now one more time the other way. We want it right thin and evenlike all over, so it'll bake up pretty!"

Merry let his breath out with a whoosh! as Dahlia proclaimed it to be "Just right!"

"Oh, Master Frodo, I think that's enough pears for two. Now we need them sliced all up."

"Can I cut some?" asked Merry. He'd never yet been allowed to use one of the sharp knives.

"Master Merry, I'm not sure--" Dahlia hesitated. The lad did need to learn how to use one, but those knives were fearful sharp, and his hands was still little. She tried to remember how old she'd've been when she'd've been allowed to cut things--surely she'd been about his age...

"I'll help him, Dahlia," said Frodo. "I won't let him get cut."

She nodded reluctantly. This wasn't something the mistress had mentioned when she suggested they bake today.

"Come sit on my lap, Merry. You must do just as I say."

Merry nodded seriously.

Frodo took up another knife, somewhat longer and wider than the paring knife. "Now, I'm going to cut the pear in half and cut the core out," he said, suiting his actions to his words. "Here, hold the knife just so." He arranged Merry's fingers carefully along the knife handle, and then put his own hand over it. "We will do it this way. You can't do it by yourself yet, do you understand? Don't let me find you've touched a knife without permission!"

"Yes, Frodo," he said with a sigh. It was hard to have to wait to do things himself, but he had learned that if he fussed, he'd not be allowed to do them at all.

"Now we are going to slice them up nice and thin." Merry was surprised at how hard the pear was, and yet how easily the sharp knife slid through the juicy fruit, cutting through and hitting the surface of the wooden worktable with a "snick!"

When the last of the pears had been sliced they were dumped into a bowl. The lads washed the juice off their fingers and dried their hands on their aprons, and Dahlia allowed them to measure out the other ingredients into the bowl: sugar and cinnamon and a little cornstarch and little chunks of butter. Then Merry was finally allowed to do something all by himself--he plunged his fingers in to mix it all up, making sure that all the pear slices were thoroughly covered. When Dahlia said it was good enough, Frodo helped him wash his hands once more--but not before he licked some of the good stuff off his fingers first. Dahlia placed half the filling into the center of the pastry, and following her directions, Frodo lifted up and folded the edges up around it. The center of the tart left the filling exposed, and Dahlia took a little bit of egg and water whisked together and brushed it around the edges of the crust. Then Merry was allowed to sprinkle some sugar and cinnamon over the top. Using a wooden paddle, Dahlia slid the tart into the small oven over the embers to bake.

As it baked, Dahlia put out some biscuits and cheese and milk for the lads' elevenses, and prepared a second crust. Soon the first tart was finished and the second was ready to go in. As the second one baked, the lads were allowed to mix up some ginger biscuits. Merry enjoyed this, for he was allowed to use the three little shaped cutters by himself to cut out ginger hobbits and ginger ponies and ginger birds.

"We'll save up the tarts for tea," said Dahlia, "so's the Master and Mistress can have some, and see how fine they turned out! And you can take some of the ginger biscuits with you for a nibble when you play this afternoon!"

When the baking was finally done, they were sent down to take lunch among the other children. Frodo had the small sack of ginger biscuits in his pocket, and when he and Merry had eaten their fill of the hearty meal placed before them, they went off to explore the lower levels of the Hall. They had made themselves a "hidey-hole" in one of the mathom rooms down there, that Frodo called their "den", and they spent a few hours playing there, until their stomachs warned them it was almost time for tea.

Saradoc and Esmeralda were most impressed by the lovely tarts, which Sara proclaimed to be delicious. "I hear that we are celebrating a special achievement this afternoon!" said Sara.

"Yes, Uncle Sara," said Frodo proudly, for he was Merry's teacher. "Yesterday Merry read a whole story all by himself."

"Did you now, my lad?" Sara scooped Merry up onto his lap and squeezing him tightly. "Was it a good story? Could you read it again?"

Merry nodded in excitement. "Yes, Da! I'll go get my book!"

He scrambled down and raced to his room and was back in a flash with his storybook. The book was one that Frodo himself had written and illustrated as a birthday gift to his little cousin. Back in his father's lap, he opened it up: "Once there were best cousins, and their names were Merry and Frodo, and they lived in a lovely great hole with Merry’s mum and da. One day Merry and Frodo went for a walk and had a great adventure…”

Rustic Pear Tart

Pastry for 2 nine-inch tarts
5 large pears, peeled and thinly sliced
Juice of ½ a lemon
¾ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water to make an eggwash
1 teaspoon each of cinnamon and sugar.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and place one crust in the center. Set aside.

In a large bowl place pears, lemon juice, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and cornstarch and mix thoroughly until combined. (Mixing with your hands is recommended to get all the pieces fully coated.) Put half the mixture into the center of the piecrust, and then fold the edges of the pastry towards the center, pleating as you go. Mixture will not be completely covered. Brush the eggwash onto the pastry, then sprinkle the entire thing with some of the cinnamon and sugar.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until brown and bubbly in the center. Repeat for the second tart.

(Author's Notes on the recipe: This is not an original recipe, but is adapted from a small recipe booklet put out by the retailer for whom I work. The changes are: I discovered that the recipe made far more filling than was needed for one tart (which is what the recipe called for). I was using Bartlett pears, which are rather large. You might get less using a smaller variety. It was in fact, twice as much as I needed, so I increased the yield to two tarts. Also, I decided to sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar. The original recipe also called for it to be drizzled with caramel topping after baking, which is delicious, but not something I thought they'd have in the Shire! Still, it does make a yummy addition.

It's wonderful served with ice cream!)

Author name: Dreamflower
Recipient's name: Shirebound
Title: Waking Day
Rating: G
Request: I'm insatiable when it comes to Cormallen fic, especially back-story gap fillers. Here are a few potential ideas: Where did the hobbits' silver circlets come from? Why was there a minstrel there, and how did he learn Frodo's story? Why did the Men praise the hobbits in more than one language? When and how were Frodo and Sam introduced to Eomer, etc.? Who prepared the feast, and did they know why? Did the cooks get to meet the hobbits and the King? How did Eomer King feel, sharing this feast with the uncrowned king of Gondor?
Author's Notes: You might say this is a gapfiller for a gapfiller, as well as for the book. Several years ago I wrote my very first Cormallen gapfiller, ”Kingly Gifts”, which was written for one of Marigold's Challenges. It filled in many of the gaps in the chapter “The Field of Cormallen”, but clearly you can see I missed a few. There is a good deal of dialogue lifted directly from RotK, Book VI, Chapter IV, “The Field of Cormallen”. And the last few lines of the story came from the last few lined of “Kingly Gifts”.  
Summary: After two weeks in a healing sleep, Frodo and Sam have awakened at Cormallen.
Word Count: 4,038

Waking Day

Éomer looked up from polishing his elbow cops, to see his cousin enter the tent.

"Polishing your own armour?" asked Éothain. "Where's your faithful little esquire?"

Éomer did not acknowledge the lack of formality; Éothain could be formal enough in front of others, but in private he remained the cheeky younger cousin he had always been. "Merry is with the Ringbearers. They are expected to awaken today. I know that he wants to see them as soon as he can. Aragorn has said that they should wake up before noon. The hobbit will have duties enough this afternoon and evening."

Éothain sobered quickly. "They will awaken today? Is all in readiness?"

"Word is going out even now that this afternoon all the able-bodied are to muster south of the encampment to do Frodo and Samwise honour. The cooks have only been awaiting that word to begin the feast." Éomer paused in his polishing, looked with satisfaction at it, and picked up the other elbow cop and began to polish it. "I have a duty for you this afternoon as well."

Éothain changed from cousin to warrior immediately. "What would you have of me, my lord?"

"Few enough mounts have we left, but yours is among them. I must be with the soon-to-be High King and Prince Imrahil. I should like you to take charge of our Riders who are still mounted. Position them alongside those of our people who are afoot. And I should like you to take our Holdwine before you. Merry is unlikely to be able to see his friends being honoured unless he has a vantage point higher than his own two legs, stout as they are."

"That is well thought of, sire," said Éothain, still serious. "Our Holdwine deserves to see his faithful vigil over the Ringbearers rewarded." The young Rider liked to tease Merry, but he held the hobbit in the highest regard for his courage and loyalty.

"He is also to serve at the Feast of Welcoming tonight, so see that he gets there in plenty of time."

~~~~~~~~

Merry led Pippin away from the beech grove in which his cousin and Sam now lay, his heart full of joy.

"Can you believe it, Merry?" Pippin asked, as they stopped briefly for him to rest. "Frodo is awake! I sometimes thought he'd never wake up!"

Merry swallowed the lump that suddenly rose in his throat. "So did I, Pip." He laughed to keep from crying with joy. "It was so good to speak to him! I wish we could have stayed with him until Sam awakened."

"He was getting sleepy again. And we are knights now. We have obligations. What duties do you suppose we shall have today of all days?"

Merry shook his head. "I've no idea. But I have a feeling it will be a good idea to have a late elevenses or an early luncheon before we start, if we are to get any food at all! I'm feeling quite hollow and a bit peckish if the truth be known."

Pippin's stomach chose that moment to second Merry's suggestion, and both hobbits laughed.

"I see we definitely have to feed your ravening beast!" Merry laughed.

The two made their slow way to the cooking area, which was all a-bustle with activity, and from which many toothsome smells were arising. They made their way to the head cook. "Master Pellas! Can anyone spare some time for a couple of starving hobbits?" asked Pippin, making his green eyes as wide as possible. At that moment both hobbit stomachs growled loudly.

The cook looked down on them, his scowl at being interrupted turning to a beaming smile as he saw who it was. "There is a mess of lentil soup in the big cauldron over the second fire; Master Meriadoc, you know where to find the bread and bowls. Help yourselves. We have little time to spare, though, for we are busy with the feast for the Ringbearers!"

Merry turned to Pippin. "Over there are mugs and a cask of small beer. You get us some of that and find a spot to sit. I'll fetch the food."

As Pippin went over to the area Merry had indicated, Merry headed to pick up two bowls and a small loaf of brown bread. The bowls were Man-sized, so perhaps they could make do with one portion a-piece, Merry thought. He ladled in the lentil soup, which smelled of onion and garlic and thyme and bay. Then carefully balancing one large bowl in each hand with the bread laid across the top of both bowls, he hugged his prize to his chest, and glanced around for Pippin. He finally spotted his cousin sitting against the shady side of a supply tent, and made his slow careful way there. Next to Pippin was a large mug filled to the brim with small beer. "I thought we'd share. It was easier than trying not to spill two of these mugs!"

Merry nodded, and passed one of the bowls of soup down to Pippin, and set the other on the grass next to him before sitting down himself. He broke the bread in half and handed one half to his younger cousin. "I thought it would be easier to sop this up with bread than to try and manage those big spoons!"

Pippin nodded, as his mouth was already full. The two applied themselves for some time with eating rather than talking, and when they did speak, it was only to decide that the lentils could have used more garlic, and rather less onion, and perhaps just a little salt. When they finished, they got up and went over to the designated water barrel and rinsed the bowls, before returning them to the stack. Then they made their way back to their tent to get into their livery.

~~~~~~~~

Aragorn and Legolas were speaking together in Aragorn's tent when a voice outside said, "May we come in?"

"Yes, Elladan!" Aragorn responded, as he recognised his foster brother's voice.

The tent flap opened, and not only Elladan, but Elrohir and Gimli as well, entered. "We have something for you, Estel."

Gimli handed Elladan the cloth sack he had been holding. Elladan opened it, and took out something that shone in the dim lamplight that illuminated the tent. He handed it to Aragorn.

Aragorn looked at the gleaming circle of silver. "What have you done?" he exclaimed in shock, only to gasp as he saw another similar circlet drawn forth from the sack. Both of them were much smaller than he had last seen them. "Ada will be most displeased!"

These were the silver circlets that had been wrought for the twins, long ago, and marked them as Lords, the sons of the Master of Imladris. They wore them on all formal occasions. And now they would no longer fit the twins.

"On the contrary," answered Elrohir. "I think he would be glad that we may assist in honouring the Ringbearers. You do intend to make them Lords, as we had heard you say. Here are the trappings you need. We asked Gimli to alter them so that they would fit the hobbits."

Aragorn embraced each of his brothers in turn. “I cannot thank you enough. I was prepared to problaim them without any circlets of honour, and have those made in Minas Tirith after we arrived there. But this is much better.” He turned to Gimli. “My thanks to you as well, Gimli. The work is superb; I cannot even tell where you made the alterations.”

Legolas, who had been standing silently by, took one of them to look at. “Truly, they appear to have been made just for Frodo and Sam!”

The Dwarf blushed. “ 'Twas a simple enough matter. Ah! I nearly forgot.” He handed the sack in which he had carried the circlets up to Elladan. There clearly was still something in it. “I fashioned a couple of mementoes for the both of you from the silver I removed.”

Elladan reached in and drew forth what he found inside. Opening his hand, there lay upon his palm two miniature replicas of the circlets, fashioned into brooches.

Elrohir took one of them, and then each brother fastened it upon the shoulder of his cloak. They were beaming.

“Our thanks to you, Gimli,” said Elladan.

Gimli grinned. The brooches were his thanks to the twins for the sacrifice of their own circlets for Frodo and Sam, as well as his way to return the leftover silver. Before he could explain any of this, a voice called from without the tent: “My lords! A message for you!”

“Enter,” said Aragorn.

A young soldier came in and briefly bowed before saying, “My Lord Elessar, the Lord Mithrandir has sent to say that both the Ringbearers are awake now!”

~~~~~~~~~~

The Sun was at her noontide zenith when Merry and Pippin returned to their tent. They were surprised to see one of the healers awaiting them.

She was a stout old dame who had attended on Pippin several times when Aragorn had been unavailable. "There you are young pheriain!" she said sternly. "The Lord Elessar asked me to strap up your knee. You should not be wandering all about!" She did not give either hobbit a chance to say a word, but pointed at Pippin's cot. Pippin sat down on its edge and stuck out his injured leg. She began to competently wrap his knee with a bandage to give it extra support, all the while lecturing him on all the orders the King had left, plus a good deal more of her own advice, as well as a long and rambling tale of a patient of hers who had failed to listen to her and had suffered a dreadful relapse.

Merry stood off in a corner, watching intently, and try not to laugh at Pippin's expression.

"There now!" The healer finished abruptly as she tucked the end of the bandage in with nimble fingers. She stood up, patted Pippin on top of the head, and sailed out of the tent.

The cousins caught one another's eye, and burst out laughing. "She reminds me of Dame Ioreth," said Pippin when he caught his breath.

Merry nodded, laughing too hard to speak.

Just then Legolas entered the tent, with Gimli at his side. "The two of you sound jolly enough," the Elf said. "What mischief have you been up to?"

"No good, I am sure," added Gimli with a wink.

Merry and Pippin tried to look wounded at the accusation, but they were altogether too happy to manage it. "You would have had to be here," said Merry. "It's one of those things that won't sound nearly so funny explained."

"Besides," added Pippin, "Today is much to happy a day not to laugh! What are you doing here?"

"We are here to help you into your armour, for it is time for each of you to report to your respective companies," said Gimli. "Pippin, you are to report to the Third Company, and Merry, you are to report to Eothain once you are both ready."

Both hobbits turned immediately to get out their gear; being knights was still a joy and a novelty to them.

~~~~~~~~~

It was Gandalf's laughter that wakened Frodo for the second time: laughter that lifted his heart and washed over him like a waterfall in Rivendell, brisk as a breeze through the mallorns of Lothlorien, heady as new ale in The Green Dragon. His happiness rose even higher at the sound of Sam's voice.

"How do I feel? Well, I don't know how to say it. I feel, I feel--I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!" There was a pause and a brief sound of movement from the cot, and then the dear voice went on in a more sober tone. "But how's Mr. Frodo? Isn't it a shame about his poor hand? But I hope he's all right otherwise. He's had a cruel time."

Frodo could not bear to hear the least hint of sorrow from Sam, He sat up and laughed aloud. "Yes, I am all right otherwise. I fell asleep again waiting for you, Sam you sleepyhead. I was awake early this morning, and now it must be nearly noon."

"Noon? Noon of what day?"

Frodo listened to Gandalf explaining dates to Sam, and speaking of the King. Sam's astonished expression delighted him, and he resolved to say nothing of all he'd learned from his early morning visit with his cousins. Let the surprises unfold this day for dear Samwise; it would be a marvelous thing to see his face as each new wonder was revealed.

His attention was drawn back to the conversation when he heard Sam ask about clothes. He'd been wondering that himself. They'd both wakened in very comfortable, if slightly oversized nightshirts, and he recoiled at the thought of putting back on the things they had worn in the Black Lands. At least he could tell they had been cleaned, if not mended, for they did not stink of Orc or ash. His thoughts began to stray to the horrors of the Black Land, but not for long.

Gandalf was handing something to them, and one of them was shining brightly.

"What have you got there? Can it be?" Frodo was as astonished as Sam to see what the wizard held forth to them.

"Yes, I have brought your two treasures. They were found on Sam when you were rescued; the Lady Galadriel's gifts: your glass, Frodo; and your box, Sam. You will be glad to have these safe again."

Gandalf helped Sam out of the bed. The little gardener seemed surprised that he needed such help. "I'm sorry, Mr. Gandalf. I seem to be all weak and wobbly-like, so to speak. I can't think why."

"Can't you?" the wizard asked gently. "You and your Master came through much privation and pain, and are still weak." He helped Sam to wash and dress, and then did the same for Frodo. Frodo said nothing, but meekly accepted the help. His bandaged hand felt awkward, and he too felt "all weak and wobbly-like". 

As Gandalf helped them to sit back down upon their cots, a Man came in bearing a tray. His eyes widened at the sight of the hobbits, and he gave Gandalf a grave bow. Then he placed the tray atop a chest that stood at the foot of Frodo's cot, and with another bow--this one directed at Frodo and Sam--he backed out of the tent.

"Now my lads, shall you have a bit of sustenance? The tray held tumblers of a bright orange-coloured juice, a teapot and cups, a dish of sliced peaches, some cheese, and some small bread rolls. Gandalf handed each of them a tumbler of the juice. Sam sniffed it suspiciously,  and Frodo took a wary sip, and then his face lit up.

"This is delicious!" he said with delight,  taking another far less cautious drink.

Sam followed his Master's lead, and his eyes widened. "It tastes like sunshine!"

Gandalf placed some of the fruit, cheese and bread upon a plate between them, and picked up one of the rolls to pick at, to keep them company and satisfy hobbit ettiquette. When the two hobbits were sated, surprisingly before they had finished all, he lead them out of the curtained beech grove and into the bright Ithilien sunshine.

~~~~~~~

Merry had been pleased to learn of Éomer's orders. Truthfully he had resigned himself to seeing nothing but knees, and to know he'd have a vantage point atop Éothain's big bay Magen was a wonderful surprise. Éothain had arranged the scarcely threescore horses on either side of the rest of the Rohirrim who were a-foot, and stood in orderly ranks in between. Eothain and Merry were right at the front of the horses on the right side, across from the Swan Knights and the troops from Dol Amroth, and just up from the Guardsmen of the City, who were all a-foot. He sighed; poor Pippin would not have such a vantage point as he did.

Just then, Éothain tapped him on the shoulder. "Sir Holdwine, look!" he gestured towards the Guardsmen. There in the middle of the third rank he saw Pippin sitting on the shoulders of a tall fellow.

Merry laughed and shook his head, then glanced back and up at Éothain. "That's a sight I've seen before, but not in many a year! When he was a little lad, he often rode atop Frodo's shoulders, just so!" He was glad to know that Pippin, too, would be able to see. Just then a cheer went up and he looked the other way to see them, looking very small and lost beside Gandalf. The three figures began the walk between the ranks of shining troops, all cheering:

"Long live the Halflings! Praise them with great praise!"

And Merry's voice joined in.

~~~~~~~~~

Éomer sat upon one of the high seats that had been carved from the earth. Aragorn was next to him, and beyond him was Prince Imrahil., their banners snapping in the wind behind them. All of them were watching Gandalf shepherd his two small charges between the ranks of cheering Men. They looked like tiny children, frail and wasted. Heretofore he had only seen these two in sleep—that deep and almost frightening healing sleep. Now they walked before the wizard dressed in the ragged clothing they had worn when the Eagles brought them forth from the destruction of the Black Land.

How had this all come to pass? He wondered. He was never meant to be King after his uncle; that had been Theodred's place, and he had always imagined himself at his cousin's right hand. But Fate and the Weaver had other plans, and now he sat  beside his brother King, beside the High King, preparing to honour the two small beings who had braved the desolation of Mordor and risked the fires of Mount Doom to bring about the downfall of Sauron.

Men had played their part and then some, in fighting the forces of the Enemy. But the true victory had come not from mighty fighters, but from ones whose strength came from loyalty and sheer stubbornness. He smiled and glanced briefly at the ranks of the Rohirrim. There was Merry, seated before Eothain, who had taught him just what loyalty and determination meant to a holbytla.

The shouts of praise and the cheering rang out louder and louder as the three came closer.  He realised that he too had joined in the shouts of praise. They were about a rod away, when Gandalf stopped moving. They took one step, another step, and then stopped as Aragorn rose.

An expression of delight appeared on both their faces, and they dashed forward, all formality forgotten, into the embrace of their dear friend. Frodo reached him first, but Sam was only a step or two behind, and as they were caught up in the King's long arms, Eomer heard Sam say: “Well, if this isn''t the crown of all! Strider, or I'm still asleep!”

“Yes, Sam, Strider. It is a long way, is it not, from Bree, where you did not like the look of me? A long way for all of us, but yours has been the darkest road.” And then, to the astonishment of many, but not of those who knew him best, the Lord Elessar bent his knee to the Ringbearers, and then he took them and turned and placed them upon his own seat, and Eomer saw the look of pride and the tears of joy and sorrow that left their traces on the High King's face, and he realised he was weeping as well.

Then Aragorn cried out: “Praise them with great praise!”

And the glorious shout of acclaim rose up like the sound of thunder.

~~~~~~~~~

Pippin felt relieved as Merry pushed an overturned bucket his way and pushed him to sit down upon it. Strapped up as it had been, and in the excitement of it all, he had nearly forgotten his knee; but now it was beginning to throb a bit. They were in the cook tent behind the great pavillion where the high and mighty among the host would be having their feast, along with the two guests of honour, Frodo and Sam.

Ingold, who was second cook to Master Pellas, had provided both of them with plates. “Our good King Elfstone himself bade me see you fed before you serve at table. That is not, you know, the usual way of things, small masters.”

The cousins ate, Merry standing and Pippin seated on his bucket, sharing a goblet of wine. They would have only a few minutes before the guests and their lords would be ready. As they finished up their food and wiped their fingers upon clean towels, Merry looked closely at Pippin. “You are in pain, Pip.”

“Not enough to keep me from doing my duty!” was the firm reply.

Merry took a small packet from the pocket of his trousers. “Strider gave me this with strict orders to see you take if I thought you needed it.” He sprinkled the powder it contained into the last of the wine in their goblet and handed it to his cousin.

Pippin made a face, but dashed it down. “Shame to do that to good wine,” was his only complaint. He stood up, and he and Merry went to join the rest of the squires and pages as they took up the trays and went to serve their lords.

~~~~~~~~~~

Frodo laughed at Sam's astonishment upon seeing Merry and Pippin, and then turned his attention to the food: there had been stewed greens, and grilled fish, and roasted fowl and several kinds of bread, and a compote of stewed dried fruit. Though there was little variety, for they were after all, still in an army encampment after a long campaign, it was all quite deliciously prepared. Frodo was sure the fish was freshly caught in the river, and the birds, no doubt, had been hunted that very day.

He was beginning to grow weary, though, and sleepy with the wine. He'd eaten and drunk judiciously—Aragorn had warned them both to take it easy this first day of having solid food to eat. Frodo, though, had begun to feel sated much sooner than he thought he might. He quit eating when he began to feel full, even though his eyes and his mouth both told him he wanted more.

He was relieved when Aragorn—King Elessar, he supposed he should get used to saying—stood and gave a toast of farewell. Gratefully he followed his friends back to the beech grove where he and Sam had awakened. Someone had built a small fire, and the eight remaining members of the Fellowship sat about it, and they talked together of many things until Gandalf and Gimli chivied the hobbits off to their cots.  Pippin had finally nodded off even as Gimli reminded him that he needed rest, and Aragorn picked him up like a child to carry him. Frodo thought with amusement at how much Pip would object to such treatment if he were awake.

Aragorn saw each of them to their beds, and tucked them in like a fond father.

Sleepily, Frodo spoke to him.  There was something his friend needed to know.

“Aragorn?”

“Yes, Frodo?”

“You know, you don't owe us anything. We did what we had to do. Besides, you gave us your best gift long ago.”

“And what was that, Frodo?”

“You gave us your love. Good night, Strider.” Frodo could stay awake no longer, as he drifted off to the soft snores of his friends.

Author's Note: This little character study was inspired by Fiondil's story Christmas at Edhellond: Elf Academy. I have truly enjoyed the Elf Academy series since it started. Last year's story inspired a little snippet, but I never did anything with it.

Seeing that Fiondil is continuing the story this year made me remember that little snippet, and so with his permission I have finished it for posting; it is dedicated to him. This is set in the world of his Elf Academy stories, so if you have yet to read them, please do. They are a lot of fun, and yet tell a deeper story than you'd think ahead of time.

What the Heart Knows

The northern sky above Wiseman was brilliant with stars; Legolas' breath came out in steamy wisps, and he looked down at his feet where he was concentrating on making footprints, as Elladan had once shown him how to do. He smiled wistfully as he recalled that long-ago day on Caradhras when he had annoyed all eight of his companions by failing to leave his mark as he ran lightly atop the snow. It had been partly a spirit of mischief on his part, showing off for the mortals, but back then he had failed to understand what the bitter cold had meant to them.

Why was he here? Surely he had been chosen to come back to Ennor for a reason. And more to the point, what would he decide to do while he was here? He had been keeping mostly to himself since they arrived, standing back, observing the others. A time or two he had been tempted to intervene when he had overheard remarks disparaging the mortals, but had kept silent. Few Elves knew so well as he the value of mortals. Those who had remained in Middle-earth, of course, and of those who had come from Aman, most certainly Finrod, who had his own worries. But those who had spent the whole of their lives in Valinor? How could they know the worth of mortals or the pain involved in befriending them?

And yet.

He would never regret knowing his friends, and he would never cease mourning them. One by one his mortal friends had slipped the bonds of Arda and gone where he could not go.

Boromir was killed in battle and that had not seemed quite so dire, for battle seemed more natural to him than illness and age, but when Frodo sailed he knew that the hobbit would not be alive to greet him when his own time came to go West. Then he had lost other mortal friends. Sam sailed, an echo of his Master's loss; Éomer, Merry, Pippin, Éowyn, Faramir, Aragorn and many others he had come to know and love over the years, all lost to the mysterious Gift of the Secondborn.

Only Gimli had remained to him, and he had brought Gimli with him across the Sea, unable to bear leaving his last beloved friend behind.

He remembered Gimli's words as they had left Lothlórien: "But I would not have come had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting..."

When Gimli had said that, Legolas thought he already knew the meaning of losing and parting, but it wasn't until he sat by Gimli's bed, holding the withered hand, and watching him breath his last that he truly understood. Only two others had been present: the Lady Galadriel, who stood by with silent tears, and Olórin--who had once more put on the guise of Gandalf in which he had wandered Middle-earth--at the time of Legolas' and Gimli's arrival, to honour his friends as he had once done for Bilbo, Frodo and Sam.

Yes, Legolas had taken his own worst wound then.

Now he had returned, now he was once more among the world of mortals and would have to make a choice. Should he risk his heart once more, seeking acquaintance and friendship among these frail mortals of Wiseman? Or should he hold himself aloof and avoid entanglements, associating only with the Elves he had come with? Should he spare himself the pain he knew would be inevitable if he allowed his heart free rein?

He stopped and looked behind him; he had ceased to leave footprints as he had become more involved in his thoughts. He put his hands in the pockets of the jacket he wore--clever inventions, pockets--and looked up at the stars.

He was here, wasn't he? How could he do whatever it was he was needed to do if he held his heart back?

He felt lighter and freer now.

He gazed upward once more at the stars, and then turned back to Edhellond, making sure to leave his footprints this time.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Here are links to Fiondil's series:

Elf Academy
Elf Academy Part Deux
Christmas at Edhellond: Elf Academy
Elf Academy 3: The Enemy Within

Author: Dreamflower
Title: Rounded Up in the Woods
Rating: PG-13 for violence
Theme: "Show Don't Tell" no-dialogue challenge
Elements: held up his/her hand
Author's Notes: Beta by Lindelea
Summary: "The task of hunting out the last remnant of the ruffians was left to Merry and Pippin, and it was soon done. The southern gangs, after hearing the news of the Battle of Bywater, fled out of the land and offered little resistance to the Thain. Before the Year's End the few survivors were rounded up in the woods, and those that surrendered were shown to the borders." (RotK, Book VI, Chapter VIII, "The Scouring of the Shire"
Word Count: 817

Rounded Up in the Woods

Merry lay behind the fallen log, his Elven cloak spread out to cover both him and the drawn sword beside him. In his right hand was the comforting feel of a hefty stone in his palm. He glanced across the clearing to meet Pippin's eyes. His cousin was similarly concealed on the lower branch of a massive elm; but Merry knew what to look for--besides he always knew where Pippin was. Pippin pointed to the ruffian on the east side of the glade, seated in a spot where he might be able to easily escape. Merry nodded and pointed to the Man whose back was against the very tree in which Pippin was hiding. It would be difficult for Pip to deal with him quickly. Pippin returned his nod. The other three Men were seated near the fire they'd built; for though it was still broad daylight, the weather was bitterly cold.

From the woods to the west came a birdcall, the tic-tic of a solitary hawfinch. That was their signal--it meant the others had dealt with the sixth brigand who had been on watch. Now was their time to act. Merry held up his left hand, fingers spread, and began to put one finger down at a time. When he put down his last finger, he let fly with his stone, as he saw a flash from the tree. His own stone found its target, and the Man slumped to the ground, as did the one Pippin had aimed for.

Before the remaining ruffians had the chance to understand what had befallen their comrades, Merry leapt from his spot behind the log, sword in hand. At the same time Pippin sprang from his branch, landing on the shoulders of a third Man. With a swift blow to his temple with the hilt of Trollsbane, Pippin knocked him out and jumped away, rolling to his feet before his prey had hit the ground. Merry smiled to see his cousin had learned his lesson about being pinned by a fallen foe.

But the thought was fleeting, for now each of them faced an opponent. The hobbits had timed their moves so that they stood back-to-back, but not so close as to hamper one another. Merry could hear the movements Pippin made behind him, but had to concentrate on his own enemy.

The one he faced was a brutish looking fellow with a grayish tint to his pale skin. He was somewhat less than twice Merry's height, and was armed with a jagged dagger, shorter than Merry's own sword. Merry aimed a blow at his foe's knife hand, but failed to cut it off. He gasped at the sight of the blood he'd drawn--he knew what the black colour signified. That meant he'd have to finish him, for the half-orc would never allow himself to be meekly shown the Bounds. He darted in, feinting to the left, then skipping a step to the right, drew back with a powerful blow to the back of the creature's leg. His foe went down on his back with a howl. Merry had to close with him, and with his sword hilt in both hands he fell upon him to deal a blow to the heart. He saw the ruffian's knife come up, but though he felt the slice to his upper left shoulder, he did not let that deter him. The blow had been feeble, the last desperate act of the dying. He could tell it was not a serious wound.

He rolled off his dead enemy and turned his full attention to the battle between Pippin and the other Man. Pippin's foe was armed only with a long and heavy branch--but such could be deadly enough if it landed a blow with enough force behind it. Still, Pip was holding his own, and was slicing bits off the limb, hewing it shorter.

Pippin caught Merry's eye only briefly; a feral grin and a glance down at the ground beyond the Man conveyed his message. Merry understood immediately, and in a move the two hobbits had perfected under Boromir's tutelage on the Quest, he flung himself down behind the Man, tripping him and making his makeshift weapon fly out of his hand. Pippin had the point of Trollsbane at the villain's throat at once. All the fight went out of him, and he whimpered a surrender.

Merry placed his silver horn to his lips and blew. In seconds they were surrounded by Tookish archers, who helped to bind the prisoners.

The cousins grinned at one another in mutual triumph, and embraced one another with a laugh. This was the last of them, the Shire was now scoured clean. A few hours to the Bounds to put out the prisoners, and they could turn back.

It looked like they'd return to the Great Smials in plenty of time for the Turning of the Year.

B2MeM Challenge: 2014
Format: Story
Genre: recipe!fic
Rating: G
Warnings: n/a
Characters: Bilbo, Frodo, Merry, Sam
Pairings: n/a
Summary: During a spring visit by little Merry, Bilbo, Frodo and Sam introduce him to a Hobbiton custom.
Author's Note: In this story Frodo is 20, Sam is 9 and Merry is 7, or about the equivalent of 13, 6 ½, and 5 for the children of Men. This story happens between Chapters 6 and 7 of my story "A Place for Gandalf", though it is not necessary to read that story to understand this one.
The title is from "The Garden Song".
Prompt: In spring the greens are shooting up in gardens and in the wild; the streams are teaming with fish, and the hens are laying. Create a story or a work of art featuring a Spring seasonal food. Bonus for including a recipe.

The Music of the Land

Trewsday, 20 Rethe, S.R. 1389

Frodo and Merry were finishing up their third helpings of second breakfast: porridge laced with cherry preserves, currant scones and sausages, when there was a tap at the back door.

"Come in!" called Bilbo, leaning back in his chair and sipping his tea.

The kitchen door opened, and little Sam peeked in shyly, before coming all the way. "Mr. Bilbo, the Gaffer sent me up to say the purslane's coming out in the Party Field."

"Why, excellent, Sam! Must you go back now that your message is delivered, or can you join us?"

"Mam said I can stay if you ask me." He smiled over at Frodo and Merry who grinned back at him, pleased that they could have young Sam's company.

But Merry looked puzzled. "Cousin Bilbo, why did you say 'excellent'? I thought purslane was a weed." He was sure he'd overheard the Brandybuck gardeners complaining about it often enough.

"In the garden beds or the lawn, it is a weed. But out in the fields it is one of many most useful plants. It's quite delicious, either cooked or in salads. Have you ever been foraging, Merry?"

He shook his head. "No." He cast a rare look of disapproval at Frodo, and said "When the cousins went to forage cattails at the River last summer, they said I was too little. They let Berilac go with them, though!"

Frodo just chuckled. "You were too little then, sprout. Your mother would never have allowed you to go. You're older now--you'll be old enough to go this summer! And I am sure you are old enough to come with us today! It's First Salad Day!"

Bilbo motioned for Sam to sit at the table and offered him a scone. "Thank you, Mr. Bilbo," he said.

"What's 'First Salad Day'?" asked Merry. This was his first spring visit to Bag End, and he was learning all sorts of new things.

Sam stopped mid-bite to stare at the Brandybuck lad in astonishment. He didn't know what First Salad Day was?

Bilbo bit back laughter at Sam's expression, and said "Here in Hobbiton it's a tradition ever since I was a young tween about Frodo's age: to celebrate the end of the Fell Winter, the first fresh salad of spring is made up of foraged greens, for in 1312 the thaw was late in coming, and so was planting. But the useful plants of wood and field were ready long before the plants in the garden, and were a welcome sight to those of us who'd been without anything green for months! As soon as someone around here spots the purslane or the sorrel or the chickweed peeking forth, the word is spread, and we have First Salad Day! Everyone takes their baskets and goes forth to gather the bounty! Then everyone in the town gathers under the Party Tree to share in what the earth has given us."

Now Merry was bouncing in excitement! This sounded like a lot of fun!

The lads quickly finished their second breakfast, and Frodo escorted Merry back to his room to get dressed while Bilbo, with little Sam's help,  did the washing up. Bilbo put together a satchel with bread and cheese and pork pasties and some dried apple tarts, and a stone bottle of cold tea.

Off they went, each one of them with a large empty basket on his arm. Bilbo led them across the lane to the Party Field. There were already several families ahead of them, and Bilbo thought the pickings might be somewhat slim, but since little Merry was new to foraging, he wanted to start nearby. He led them to the far end of the field, and they found some purslane there. Bilbo allowed Merry to pick it, once he was sure the lad was familiar with it. Then they spread out a little. Sam found some chickweed and some sheep sorrel, and Frodo and Merry found dandelions.

"Just pick the ones that haven't bloomed yet, Merry. The leaves on the ones with flowers are too tough for a salad." Merry nodded.

Suddenly Sam gave an exclamation: he'd found some wild onions! Before long they'd begun to fill their baskets with other greens: wood sorrel, hawthorn leaves and wild garlic. They ventured beyond the hawthorn hedge into the lightly wooded area beyond. Bilbo found some wild violas and some dog violets. He was hoping perhaps to find some morels--it was about time for those spring mushrooms to appear, but there was no sign of any in the area they were searching.

Merry and Sam began to nibble on some of the wood sorrel, with its slightly tart taste, and Bilbo who was keeping a closer eye on the young ones than they realised, looked up at the Sun. She was an hour short of her zenith, so he proposed they stop in a small clearing, and he brought out the food.

"Tell us a story Cousin Bilbo," Merry begged, as he lay with his head on Frodo's knee, licking the dried-apple tart from his fingers.

"Yes, please, Mr. Bilbo," piped up Sam from his position leaning against Frodo's other side.

Frodo, who appeared quite content between his two younger friends, grinned. "Tell us a tale of the Fell Winter, Uncle Bilbo!" For it had not occurred to him before this day that Bilbo would remember that long ago event.

Bilbo pulled out his pipe, and settled his back against an oak tree. "Did you know that during the Fell Winter, the Brandywine River froze over, and white wolves from the northern Wilderlands found their way into the Shire?"

Three pairs of eyes widened in anticipation as all three lads nodded. That was a known fact, though none of them had heard stories about it. "Did you fight the Wolves with your sword, Cousin Bilbo?" asked Merry.

Bilbo chuckled. "No. For one thing, it would be many a year before I had a sword to fight with; for another, I was only about Frodo's age and would have been thought too young to go with the muster; finally, even had I been older I could not have gone, for in the wake of the Fell Winter came a dreadful illness that struck down young and old alike, and by the time the news of the wolves reached us, I was laid up with it and could scarcely hold my head up. However, Merry, your grandfather on your mother's side was my good friend Adalgrim, whom we all called Chop. The reason for that name does not come into this story, but Chop was among the muster called to deal with the wolves. He told me all about how he and the others, with a little help from Gandalf, drove out those wolves..."*

The story held the lads enthralled; finally Bilbo drew the tale to its conclusion. Merry was no end pleased with it, for he had never known his Took grandfather, who had died before Merry was even a year old.

"I think," said Bilbo, "that we need to go back up the Hill now, and get these greens taken care of while they are still fresh!"

Merry and Sam decided to race, while Frodo and Bilbo took a more leisurely pace. When the two of them reached the gate, the young ones were puffing and blowing as they leaned against the fence. "I won, Frodo!" Merry exclaimed.

Bilbo glanced at Sam, surprised, for from what he had seen from afar the older lad had been well ahead of Merry. Sam went red in the face and looked down at his toes. Ah, thought Bilbo, he let Merry win. He ruffled Sam's curls and passed through the gate.  Frodo took Merry by the hand and glanced down at Sam and winked. Sam went even redder, if it were possible.

In the kitchen, Bilbo went to the pump and began to fill the sink to rinse the greens and Frodo got out clean dish towels to blot them dry. Merry and Sam helped with the drying. The lads were especially careful with the flowers, so as not to crush them.

"Get the big bowl from the top shelf of the larder, please, Frodo. You know which one."

Frodo nodded and brought out a massive wooden bowl of polished walnut. Bilbo put the greens in the bowl and carefully sprinkled the flowers on top, and then covered the salad over with another slightly damp clean dish towel. Then the lads were sent to take it down to the cold cellar. "Fetch me the apple cider while you are down there," Bilbo added.

While they were gone, Bilbo went to the cupboard and fetched out two cruets, one of apple cider vinegar and another of walnut oil. He also pulled a garlic bulb from the string of garlic hanging from the ceiling and the salt and pepper. When they came back with the cider, Bilbo greeted them with a grin. "Now to whisk up my mother's favorite spring salad dressing! While I do that, you lads find yourselves some lunch!"

Frodo knew just what to do and found just what was needed in the larder, and soon he'd sliced up some cold ham and brown bread and brought out some butter and some pickles and some eggs Bilbo had boiled that morning.

After they had eaten, Bilbo retired to his study to do some writing. Sam returned home, for he knew his mother would need his help as the Gamgees made their own preparations for the feast. Frodo tried to interest Merry in a game of draughts, but Merry was too excited to settle down to it, so the two of them returned to the Party Field. Frodo helped the hobbits there to set up the big trestle tables while Merry fetched and carried and brought dippers of water to the workers.

As time for the feast drew near, Frodo took Merry back up to the smial so that they could clean up and change clothes, and so that Frodo could remind Bilbo of the time.

Soon enough, with the lads freshly scrubbed, the three headed back down to the Party Field. Frodo carried in his arms the huge bowl of salad   which Bilbo had tossed with the dressing he had made and had sprinkled with crumbles of fresh and salty goat's milk cheese. There were many other bowls of salads there, no two alike. There were also dishes of stewed greens, and platters of fish freshly caught in the Water, perch and bream and trout, roasted to perfection. Loaves of brown bread made with the last of the winter grain filled baskets, as did oat bannocks baked in embers. There was a great dish of wild asparagus, and another of morels which had been fried up with wild garlic and onion.

The hobbits filled their plates and filled their bellies, enjoying the bounty that nature had provided, and as the food vanished from the tables, there was music and dancing and the children raced about the field until the stars were all a-light and the Moon rode high.

~~~~~~~~

* The story of how the hobbits drove away the wolves can be found in Chapters 16 and 17, "Beware the Wolf in Darkness Born" parts 1 and 2, of my story Eleventy-one">http://www.storiesofarda.com/chapterlistview.asp?SID=7007">Eleventy-one: Too Short a Time, Book One.

~~~~~~~~

Author's Note on the Recipe: I confess I have not personally tried the wild salad (though as a child I used to nibble on wood sorrel all the time), but all the plants mentioned I have researched.  If you can find them in a place where there is no pollution and no pesticides, you may want to try them. There are some excellent books and online guides to foraging, some of which I will list below, as I used them to write this story.

But you can make a great salad with bagged spring mix and baby spinach, or with baby greens from the garden. Sprinkle with a little feta cheese, and dress it with this:

Bilbo's Apple-Honey Dressing

1/3 c. apple cider or apple juice
2 TBSP. apple cider vinegar
2 TBSP honey (if you like your dressing more tart than sweet, you can cut the honey in half)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 c. salad oil (I specified walnut oil, as I thought that might be something available in the Shire, but any light salad oil would do.)

Whisk together the cider or juice, the vinegar, the honey, the garlic and the seasonings. Continuing to whisk, slowly pour in the oil, and whisk until well-blended. Store in a salad cruet, and shake before using if it has settled. Keep leftover dressing in the refrigerator.

(Makes about 1 cup of dressing.)

Resources:

The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food and Recipes
Connie Green and Sarah Scott  (Penguin Group: NY) 2010

How to Forage for a 'Spring Tonic' Salad: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/ethicallivingblog/2009/apr/01/seasonal-salad-foraging-spring

Spring Foraging:
http://www.classic.co.uk/nas/classic-fodder/classic-fodder-spring-foraging-96.html

Paul Kirtley's Blog:
http://paulkirtley.co.uk/2011/foraging-early-spring-greens/

Eat the Weeds by Greene Dean:
http://www.eattheweeds.com/

 (Written for the May 2014 LOTR GFIC Challenge, Character Study.)
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Author: Dreamflower
Title: Rained In
Rating: G
Theme: Character study
Elements: Your character is confined in some place with only one other person.
Author's Notes: Is this a study of Gandalf...or of Bilbo? I leave that to the reader to decide.
Summary: During a rainstorm on the journey back from Erebor, Gandalf and Bilbo seek shelter in a cave; Bilbo ponders his companion.
Word Count: 1,453


Rained In


The two of them had checked the small cave quite thoroughly. Neither Sting nor Glamdring showed any signs of glowing, and there were no suspicious cracks in the wall, nor any inconvenient side tunnels or holes that might lead elsewhere. After they had looked it over, Gandalf had stood for a moment with a faraway look on his face, and then nodded his head. "Nothing has dwelt here for many years; I think this shall be a safe enough shelter."

Bilbo was quite glad that they'd thought to load several faggots of firewood on the packhorse before they had attempted the High Pass. The horse had been given them by the Elf-king, Thranduil, before they had parted company with the Elves, and he'd proven an amiable and useful companion. Bilbo had named him Cheesey for the yellow colour of his coat. Gandalf had been amused, but did not gainsay him. Now Cheesey stood at one side of the cave, eating the oats they had for feeding him when there was no grazing available. Outside the long narrow entrance to their shelter, the rain poured down like a waterfall.

In the center of their small haven the darkness was dispelled by the fire, where over the past day and a half they'd heated water for tea, and made soup from dried vegetables to go with the twice-baked honeycakes and the dried fruit given them by Beorn before they had left his home and lands.

Bilbo stood by the fire for a moment, using a bit of kindling to light his pipe, and then he went to sit looking out of the cave entrance. He was on watch after all.

He blew a few smoke rings, and shook his head. Back in the Shire he would have been very proud of them, but now that he'd seen what Gandalf could do, they seemed quite ordinary to him now. Bilbo glanced over at his companion, who was lying upon his side, his eyes wide open.

He'd learned a lot about Gandalf the Grey since he'd gone dashing out of his house nearly a year ago, hatless and handkerchief-less! They'd spent several nights on the road before Bilbo realised the wizard slept with his eyes open. The Company had been camped for the night, and Bilbo had gone over to where he lay and asked him a question; there was no response, as if Gandalf had not even heard him--then Balin had come over with a chuckle to tell him that the wizard was asleep. That had been quite embarrassing, to say the least. Yet the Dwarves had yet to learn that since he slept with his eyes open, that meant that he might not actually be asleep--one night Bilbo had innocently asked them how long they had known Gandalf. There followed a spate of tales, many of which had been less than flattering. Of course, by that time Bilbo had come to understand that among Dwarves telling unflattering stories of their friends had come to be an art form. Just as Bofur was describing how the wizard had looked after losing his footing and sliding into a mud-filled ditch, Gandalf spoke and said sternly: "And shall I describe how you and your companions looked afterwards, since none of us escaped that particular ditch?"

Only Thorin and Bilbo had laughed at the abashed faces of the rest of the Dwarves. Bilbo had noticed the twinkle in Gandalf's eyes long before he spoke; he assumed Thorin had done so as well.

Bilbo had known Gandalf since as long as he could recall. The wizard had been a fixture at the Old Took's Midsummer celebrations since the Old Took had been the Young Took. Yet at some point during his tweens, he'd put Gandalf out of his mind. He supposed it had been dealing with his parents' ill health since the Fell Winter. The last time he recalled seeing him had been shortly before his grandfather's death. And then he had shown up out of the blue at his doorstep last year--and Bilbo had not at once known who he was. Now that he thought about it, that seemed very peculiar.

He'd known a lot about Gandalf's appearances in the Shire, how he had shown up with much needed help in both the Long Winter nearly two hundred years ago, and more recently during the Fell Winter. Yet Bilbo (along with nearly everyone else in the Shire) had always simply thought of him as a wandering conjuror and purveyor of fireworks and teller of tales. Like most with Tookish connections he had thought of the old man as benign and harmless; but many others in the Shire looked up him as a vagabond at best, or a fraud at worst.

Now Bilbo had begun to wonder just who his companion was. Clearly he was a being of far more power than he'd ever displayed in the Shire. Bilbo recalled how he'd used his power to rescue them all from the goblins, and the fire which had driven off the wolves. The Elves all seemed to know him; Master Elrond and King Thranduil had all treated him with high honour. Yet no one knew how old he was or whence he came; there were no tales of his youth. No one wished to even discuss what a wizard was. Bilbo had even asked him directly how he became a wizard. Gandalf had muttered something about the insatiable curiosity of Tooks, and then said, "Never you mind, Bilbo Baggins! You are a hobbit, not a wizard. Wizards do not 'become'; they simply are. Now mind where you are going lest you fall off the side of this mountain!"

What did he know of Gandalf? Well, he knew that for some reason he really liked hobbits, and most especially he liked Tooks. Bilbo had sensed the wizard's affection and good will from the start, yet had never realised until he went out into the wide world how unusual that familiarity with his race was. Some of the people he'd encountered had never even heard of hobbits, and many had simply thought him some odd kind of Dwarf.

And for some reason, Gandalf had always had faith in him. He had insisted that Bilbo was the right hobbit for the job, and had never doubted him once, frequently speaking up on Bilbo's behalf to the Dwarves, who'd not cared for Bilbo much to begin with.

Bilbo recalled how he had felt when finding the Dwarves again after escaping the goblins and Gollum. His relief on learning he was not alone had been tempered by hurt when he heard what some of them had said about him. But his heart had been lifted to hear Gandalf's sharp defense of him:

"After all, he is my friend, and not a bad little chap. I feel responsible for him." and then when they had called Bilbo useless, Gandalf had been quite sharp with them: "I brought him, and I don't bring things that are of no use. Either you help me to look for him, or I go and leave you here to get out of the mess as best you can yourselves. If we can only find him again you will thank me before all is over."*

But the thing Bilbo knew best about Gandalf was that when he was with the wizard, he felt brave and clever and safe. Even when Gandalf had left them all behind at the eaves of Mirkwood, it was Bilbo's wish not to let Gandalf down that had kept him going through spiders and dungeons and barrels and the Dragon. He remembered again his delighted astonishment after he had brought the Arkenstone to Bard and the Elf-king, to see Gandalf once more, and the pride he'd felt in that "Well done! Mr.Baggins!"

Now he'd travelled alone with the wizard for many a long mile towards home, and he knew with certainty that Gandalf was his friend, perhaps even his best friend...wait! Something was different...

Oh! The water still poured down the mountain in front of the cave opening, but Bilbo could tell that this was run-off, not rain. It was slowing to mere drips. The sky shone a clear blue beyond.

"Gandalf!" he called cheerfully, "the rain seems to be stopped!"

Gandalf sat up, drawing his knees up to his chin and peering out. "So I see, Bilbo Baggins! Perhaps in a few hours the trail will be dry enough to resume our homeward journey."

Bilbo went over to the fire. "How about a cup of tea and a few smoke-rings while we wait?"

x0x0x0x

*Quoted from The Hobbit, Chapter VI, "Out of the Frying-Pan Into the Fire".

   

Author: Dreamflower
Title: Conversation in the Sun
Rating: G
Theme:  Bunny Hutch
Elements:  Third Age: Frodo and Faramir meeting again after the quest and sitting in the sun to share tales as they promised each other? (harrowcatliz)
Author's Notes:  The first paragraph is taken from my AU story “Clear Conscience”, but has nothing whatsoever to do with that story.
Part of this story was inspired by Chapter 8 of Kaylee Arafinwiel's story “The Old Took's Faunts”.
This story ended up being much more about young Faramir than I had planned.
Summary: Faramir tells Frodo a story of a day in his childhood that he spent with Gandalf.
Word Count: 2,751

Conversation in the Sun


Frodo sat upon a low stone wall, overlooking the Courtyard of the White Tree. It was rare for him to have a moment alone since the coronation--usually Sam was by his side, or one of his cousins. But Sam’s presence had been requested in the gardens of the Houses of Healing, and both Merry and Pippin had duty that afternoon for their respective kings. In the meanwhile, he simply enjoyed basking in the spring sunshine. He closed his eyes, and swung his feet, and felt the breeze playing through his hair. Nights--nights were still difficult. But in the bright sunlight of day, he could be glad he was alive.

He felt the presence of another approach him, and turned. "Good morning, Faramir."

Faramir chuckled. "And should I repeat Gandalf's response to that greeting?"

"That is not necessary." The hobbit smiled. "Come and join me, and we shall sit by a wall in the sun, laughing at old grief."

The Steward smiled at hearing his own words spoken back at him. He lowered himself to the stone flags, and leaned back against the wall. He and Frodo were nearly level with one another. For a few minutes they were silent, enjoying the breeze and the warmth of the Sun on their faces.

After a while, Faramir spoke. "You know, in spite of the tales Mithrandir told me, in spite of my dream, I never really believed your people existed until I espied you and Samwise  coming forth from the shrubbery in Ithilien."

Frodo laughed. "Then Men are not so far apart from hobbits in their habits of mind. Many hobbits have never believed in Elves, and a good many of them probably don't believe in Men or Dwarves if they have not seen them for themselves, with the exception of Tooks, of course. Yet I am surprised, for did you not have Gandalf's own words on the subject?"

His friend ducked his head sheepishly. "I was on the cusp of that age when nursery tales begin to be seen as the fancy they often are. I am afraid that I took them as being like the tales my nursemaid told me at bedtime, that were often scorned by my older brother; no real harm in such stories, but little, if any, truth to them. I thought the old wizard simply sought to entertain me, though it seemed he went a little further than my nursemaid did."

"I daresay the fact that your brother did not believe them was a deciding factor."

Faramir shook his head in amusement. "You seem to know me better than our brief acquaintance would account for."

"No, I just know how that sort of thing works. Even though he is nearly of age, and after all his experiences, if Merry or I believe in something, Pippin will, and if we deny it he will as well...unless, of course, Merry and I disagree. Then he will usually believe me." There was a certain amount of smugness in the hobbit's voice. "Merry did not believe in oliphaunts--what you here in the South call mûmakil. I think he has had to eat a small amount of crow on that subject."

Faramir burst out laughing. "I can imagine that galled him."

"It did." Frodo glanced over at him. "So, just what sorts of stories did Gandalf tell you about hobbits that made you disbelieve in them?"

"Oh, I had no difficulty in believing there could be small people half the size of Men, nor that they grew curly hair upon their toes. I could even believe the part about blowing smoke, since Mithrandir demonstrated it to me himself. I was dubious, however, when he described 'luxurious holes in the ground'. But," here he turned an embarrassed grin to Frodo, "what really made me doubt the whole story was when he told me hobbits gave away gifts on their own birthdays. This was truly incomprehensible to my young mind and not something I was prepared to understand!"

Frodo's chuckle grew into an hysterical laugh. "That was what you could not believe? How did that subject even come up?" he asked, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes, as his laughter subsided into snickers.

Faramir glanced over, glad that he had been able to provide the Ringbearer with a moment of unbridled mirth. It was worth any amount of embarrassment to see the joy sparkling in Frodo's eyes. "I was about ten years of age when Gandalf returned once more to Minas Tirith, and I had never forgotten my fascination with him..."

Faramir hurried down to the Archives, hoping that he would find Mithrandir there. The wizard had been back in Minas Tirith nearly a week, and Faramir had found little time to speak with him. A few years earlier he had been young enough to spend a good deal of time unnoticed, trailing around after him, begging for tales and marvelling at his tricks with the smoke from his pipe. But now he had to spend his mornings with his tutors, or with the weaponsmasters, learning sword and bow. The afternoons were spent learning his duties as a page, running errands and messages, fetching and carrying, and sometimes attending on his Lord Father when there was a feast. It left little time for him to visit with the old wizard, who was not staying in the Citadel, but was guesting in the house he had used in Faramir's grandfather's time. Only once had Mithrandir been invited to dine with the Steward since he had arrived this time, and Faramir had spent the time at his father's elbow pouring wine and bringing food. No time nor chance for conversation. He did not even get to speak to his brother that evening. Boromir had been granted leave for that evening, for now he was a cadet at the Citadel, and was only a season or two away from becoming a captain himself, although he would not be granted any great responsibilities until he was at least twenty! But Faramir had been kept by his father's side by his tasks.

Today, however, he had no duties in the afternoon: he had been on duty six days in a row, so today was his day of freedom. And then Master Herion had dismissed him early from his lessons: his tutor sometimes suffered from a sensitive digestion, and had not felt well enough to continue. Now Faramir had the rest of the day to himself, and no one he had to account to. His father would be closeted in council meetings with various guilds nearly the whole day, and would likely dine alone this eve. And Boromir was busy with his training.

Such leisure was rare and to be treasured. And Faramir had been longing to talk to Mithrandir again!  If he was not in the Archives, perhaps he could pay a call to the guesthouse.

Faramir entered the Archives silently and took a deep breath. This was one of his favourite places, and had the wizard not been in the City, it was likely he would have spent this unexpected free time here anyway, lost amid the scrolls and tomes of the past. The Archivist was not seated at his desk by the door; doubtless he was in the back, overseeing the work that had to be constantly done to keep the precious works from decay and loss. He noticed a few scholars seated quietly at the reading tables scattered about, but he was searching for one person in particular. There! There was a tall pointed blue hat on a table at the far end of the room, on which he also espied several scrolls and an empty chair sat before them, as if someone had just gone to find something and would be back any minute...
 
He made his way there, and before he was quite there, a tall figure in worn grey robes came from behind one of the immense shelves that filled the room. Mithrandir smiled widely to see him. "Greetings, young Faramir," he spoke in a low tone, as befitted their surroundings. "I am most pleased to see you."

Faramir gave a slight bow of his head. Doubtless his father would not have approved, but Faramir thought a wizard was certainly  deserved some respect. "I am glad to see you, as well, Mithrandir. I was hoping that we could spend some time together, since I have no duties this afternoon?" Faramir hoped he did not sound like he was begging.

"Why, I think that sounds a marvelous idea, Faramir, if you are certain that you will not be missed! I would not want you to get into any trouble."

"Nay, truly, I have no more lessons today, and I have no duty set this afternoon!"

"Then I am most pleased to have your company, young man. In honour of the occasion, perhaps we may take luncheon together. I usually forget to eat, or have a little something at the guesthouse, when I am alone. But perhaps we may take this chance to try an eating house in the Fourth Circle that I have heard recommended."

Faramir nodded eagerly. He knew very well that when he was told not to go down into the City below the Sixth Circle "unaccompanied", it meant "by a guard" and not merely any adult. But he had no wish to have this come to his father's ears as it surely would if he asked for a guard. He might have no duties today, but he suspected that his father would most certainly not approve of his going about with the Grey Wizard all day.
 
Mithrandir carefully stacked the materials he had been reading, leaving them on the table as the Archivist preferred, then he rolled up the parchment on which he had been taking notes and stashed it in his robes. "Faramir, would you please return the ink and quill to the front?" There was a shelf near the door with bottles of ink and quills for those who came to the Archives to use.

Faramir nodded, and corking the bottle, took it and the quill as Mithrandir took up his hat and followed.

They exited into a bright spring day and made their way companionably through the gate to the next level and down the streets. Faramir pointed out the sights, and the two of them stopped briefly at a street corner to watch a juggler; Faramir dropped a coin into the man's hat, and then the two of them went on. He was enjoying this walk--no one seemed to notice that he was the Steward's son, or that his companion was a wizard. He indulged himself in the pleasant fancy that he was just an ordinary boy on an outing with his grandsire...

He was startled from his reverie when Mithrandir stopped suddenly. "Ah! Here it is! The Golden Cockerel!" They found a table in the courtyard, and soon were attended by a serving maid.

The wizard asked what the fare was, and agreed that a chicken pie would be just what they would like.

"And I would like a mug of beer," he added.

"What would your grandson like to drink?"

Faramir looked up in astonishment, and Mithrandir winked at him. "I think perhaps a tumbler of well-watered wine?" He looked down at Faramir who nodded. Watered wine was what he was usually served at feasts in the Citadel.

She went away to fetch their order, and Faramir grinned up at his companion. "She thought I was your grandson!"

Mithrandir smiled, a twinkle in his eye. "Would that please you, Faramir?"

He blushed and nodded. "I always wished I had a grandsire I could spend time with," he said wistfully. "I hardly ever see Grandfather Adrahil; he is so far away, and it has been a long time since we visited Dol Amroth. And I do not remember Grandfather Ecthelion." It would be surprising if he did. He was only a year old when the Lord Steward Ecthelion II died.

"Well, I would feel most honoured to be your grandfather, Faramir, if I should be so fortunate." Just then their food and drink arrived, and both were distracted by the delicious smell of the chicken pie.

They dug into the food with relish, and as they ate, Gandalf regaled Faramir with tales of his travels in the North. Some of the tales Faramir did not really believe--there could scarcely be a person who turned himself into a bear, who kept animals as his servants!  And while he knew of Dwarves, he had never even heard of "hobbits". But it did not matter if the stories were true, they were exciting to listen to, and funny as well.

When they finished the meal, Mithrandir took his purse from his belt, and spilled out the contents onto the table. As he picked out a few coins with which to pay for the meal, Faramir looked at the contents: a small pouch, which he knew from previous observation contained what the wizard called "pipeweed", a pipe, some coins--a few of them of a type he had never seen before, a small penknife in a sheath, a wooden comb, and an acorn. As Mithrandir began to replace everything except the coins he had chosen for payment, Faramir asked him: "Why are you carrying around an acorn?"

Gandalf looked at in surprise, as he started to put it back in the purse. "Bless my beard! I really should plant that. I did say I would, but it keeps slipping my mind. I've only been carrying it about for nigh on a hundred and sixty years, give or take a year or two." He held it up and inspected it carefully. "Perhaps today would be a good day for it. Would you like to come along with me, and maybe you could show me a good spot for it?" He left the payment for their meal upon the table and started off, and Faramir trotted behind him.
 
"But why are you carrying it around?" Faramir wondered what was so special about this acorn. Was it magic?

"A young friend gave it to me for his birthday. He was only three, and it seemed a very splendid thing to give, and so it was." He glanced down as Faramir reached his side and smiled. "I told him I would plant it in Gondor."

"Wait...Mithrandir?"

"Yes, Faramir?"

"Did you say it was for his birthday?" That was incredible! Who gave gifts on his own birthday?

"Certainly. He was a hobbit, and that is one of the customs of that people, to give gifts to others on their birthdays."

Well, if he had not been sure before that these "hobbit-people" were mythical, he knew it now! The stories were fun, and he did not mind. But Mithrandir had a mighty imagination to think up people who gave gifts to others on their birthdays!

As Faramir led him back up through the City, he knew of just the right place to plant that acorn. He listened as they walked, as the wizard continued his story.

"Little Hildibrand was the eighth child of twelve, the son of my good friend the Old Took. He had most remarkable children. Hildibrand's younger sister was the mother of the hobbit I told you of, who went about with the Dwarves..."

Frodo was listening with a smile. "It's hard to recall that all those names on the Took Family Tree were Bilbo's aunts and uncles. I never knew any of them, but Bilbo was full of tales about them."

"And I realise now that all of them must have been quite true," said Faramir ruefully. "I led him to that nice little courtyard garden by the East wall, behind the King's quarters. It was kept up by the gardeners from time to time, of course, but was never visited by anyone except a certain young boy who sometimes sought a peaceful and deserted spot to read or daydream."

"Oh, I've seen it! Such a nice shady tree, with a stone bench beneath it!"

"Indeed. It grew and flourished, a bit of your Shire right here in Minas Tirith."

"I shall have to tell Sam," Frodo grinned. "He will appreciate that."

"And what will Sam appreciate, Frodo?" came a new voice.

Frodo turned with pleasure. "Gandalf! We were just talking about you and Hildibrand's acorn! Faramir was just telling me all about it!"

"I am glad to know that his little gift still flourishes," replied the wizard, "and that it serves to bring pleasure to two of my dearest friends."

Author: Dreamflower
Title: A Hobbit Walking Party
Rating: G
Theme: Summer Breeze
Elements: FLF, 222 words
Author's Notes: See notes at the end of the ficlet.
Summary: A journey to celebrate the Midsummer holiday in the year of Shire Reckoning 1418 is marred by secrets.
Word Count: 222

A Hobbit Walking Party


The cousins left at sunset for the fourteen-mile trek to the Great Smials. The day had been sweltering, but now the Sun sought her rest. The summer breeze brought a welcome respite as they ambled through the fields and orchards beneath the purpling sky. As usual, Pippin ranged ahead of his older cousins, darting off looking for mushrooms, or dashing into a garden to scrump.

Merry and Frodo strolled behind, watching as Pippin purloined some ripe tomatoes. He came back with three, and Merry and Frodo did not refuse to share his loot.

Frodo tried to look disapproving, but he could refuse Pippin nothing right now as he thought of betraying him. And Merry? Merry might never forgive him. Suddenly his mood sobered. He carefully resisted putting his hand in his pocket.

Merry stopped and leaned against a nearby elm. finishing the tomato Pip had purloined. He noticed Frodo's changing mood; he knew Frodo was thinking about the Ring and his journey again. He wondered what Frodo would think if he realised Merry knew all about it. At least Pippin could enjoy himself without worrying.

They are doing it again, thought Pippin, fretting about that cursed Ring. It was up to him then, to change the mood. He raised his voice in song:

A hobbit of habit is Nob O' the Lea...

_________

Author's Notes: This takes place just before Midsummer, in 1418, as Frodo, Merry and Pippin head for the Great Smials from Bag End, where Merry and Pippin had been visiting, to spend the holiday there. In my story "A Conspiracy of Hobbits" , not only did Frodo not know about Merry's Conspiracy, but at this point in time Merry was unaware that Pippin that Pippin did know about it.

(This story originally appeared in 2006, in Marigold's Challenge #30, but somehow never got posted here.)

AUTHOR: Dreamflower
RATING: G
CATEGORY: General
SUMMARY:
AUTHOR’S NOTES: [1] Marigold gave me the following prompts: Bilbo; Buckland; a priceless treasure; a desperate race against time; butchering time; Bell Gamgee
[2] In this story Frodo is 16, Hamson is 19, and Sam is 4 (10, 12 ½ and 2 ½ in Man years)
DISCLAIMER: Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate. I own none of them. Some of them, however, seem to own me.

THE LABOURER IS WORTHY OF HIS HIRE

Bell Gamgee smiled indulgently at the small gathering beneath the Party Tree, Mr. Bilbo sitting on an upended keg, and surrounded on all sides by children, from tiny infants in their siblings’ arms to faunts to teens, and even a tween or two. Foremost, and leaning against his older cousin’s knee was young Frodo Baggins, who had one protective arm around her own little Samwise, and was gazing up adoringly at his Uncle Bilbo. Now where was her own wee little Marigold? Ah--there in Halfred’s lap. The village children were clustered most closely to the Master of Bag End, while his own kin, gentry from a bit further off were a little shy of him.

Where was that nasty Lotho? The Sackville-Bagginses had not been invited, but had crashed the party anyway. However, Bell saw with satisfaction that they seemed to have taken themselves off. They had not been too happy with Bilbo Baggins’ plan to throw a party for his visiting cousin from Buckland. But apparently Frodo was to be here for the rest of the Spring, and so Mr. Bilbo had decided to introduce his young guest to the other children, and to allow the child to get reacquainted with some of his Baggins kin. Mr. Bilbo’s cousin old Miss Dora was there, and the Boffins with their little lad Folco, and the Bolgers from down Budgeford way, with their lad Freddy. They were staying the night up in Bag End. Mr. Ponto and his wife Laurel were there with their tiny lass Angelica, only a babe in arms was she, and Mr. Porto as well. The adults were all having a good gossip, and paying no never mind to their host and his audience.

“And there we were, you see,” said Bilbo, holding his young audience enthralled by his low and earnest tone, “in a desperate race for time. The dragon in his fury was searching the mountain for us, yet two of our company remained at the foot of the mountain! We had only a few minutes to haul poor Bofur and Bombur up to where we were, and to take refuge inside the tunnel! Not a moment too, soon, either! For scarcely were we inside the tunnel than we heard the whirring of his mighty wings and the roar of his wrath! He laid waste to the little grassy ledge of the front doorstep, and then swooped off to pursue our unfortunate ponies…”

“We’ll have the younglings waking up with nightmares tonight,” said a voice in Bell’s ear. Hamfast slipped an arm around his wife’s waist.

“I doubt that, Hamfast Gamgee! They’ve been listening to his tales from the cradle. They love to hear them, and however frightensome they sound to start, he always leaves ‘em with somewhat comforting at the end.”

“Aye.” That much was true. And the children all loved Mr. Bilbo’s tales, especially little Samwise, who even though only a fauntling could scarcely get enough of them. He was silent for a moment. “Bell, I was talking to Tom Cotton about an idea he had…”

“Oh? What sort of idea?” Clearly her husband didn’t think she’d like it much, or he would have told her straight out.

“Well, you see, his hired hobbit, Tip Longhole up and quit on him a few days ago. Seems as if he’s courting the post-hobbit’s daughter in Bywater. And the post-hobbit is not happy with the idea of his lass wedding with a farmhand, ‘specially one as has not even got his own bit of ground. So Tip’s decided to go for a post-hobbit his own self. And this time o‘ year Tom‘s not finding it any too easy to replace Tip.”

“So, what does that have to do with us, husband?” She looked at him askance.

“You see, he was thinking as how our Hamson is very nearly a tween, that mayhap he could come down to their farm and do a bit o’ work. And if he will work for the Cottons through to harvest, then we can have the pick of the spring piglets come butchering time this fall. It would mean meat for the winter, Bell.”

Bell pursed her lips. It was scarcely fair to their oldest son. Hamson was a good lad and a hard worker, but he was only a lad still, for all that he was nearly a tween. On the other hand, it would mean a lot to the family: ham and bacon and salt pork and chops--meat all through the winter. And Hamson was getting to the age when idle hands would often find mischief. It could be good for him. Still...

She pursed her lips. “And what’s in it for young Hamson, then?”

Hamfast looked surprised. “Why, he’d have meat on the table along of the rest o’ us of course! Think about it, me dear! It could make all the difference this winter.” He shut his mouth with a snap. He wasn’t going to push or insist. If he did, she’d flat say ‘no’ and that’d be the end of it so far as he was concerned.

She was silent for a few moments, to let her husband stew a bit. She already had made her decision--but no need to let him know that. Then she said “We’ll put it to him, and see how he feels about the idea. He’s a good lad--we’ll trust him to know his own mind and whether he thinks he could do it or not--for that’s a load of work for a lad that age. And we will offer him somewhat more than just a share of a dinner that’s rightfully his anyway.”

Hamfast blushed at her blunt answer. He’d not thought of it that way. But she was right. “What will you offer him?”

“You’ll see.” She was not going to give him a chance to argue with her. If her lad was going to do a job of work that usually went to a grown hobbit, he was going to get a fair wage of it. Her husband nodded. Of course she was right.

The two of them made their way to the edge of the small crowd of children, and the Gaffer caught his son’s eye. Hamson’s eyebrows rose, as his father gestured for him to come to them.

The lad managed to get to his feet without disturbing the other children, all save Daisy, who looked at him inquiringly, and then returned her attention to Mr. Bilbo’s story. He wondered what he had done wrong. Maybe his mother had seen him cut in front of little Herveus Grubb when they lined up for the luncheon. He really shouldn’t’ve done that, but the lad had been so slow. He bit his lip and approached his parents slowly.

Mr. Bilbo had nearly reached the end of his story, and his low intense voice drew the attention of everyone within earshot, including the Gamgee parents and their oldest son. They listened for a moment.

“Cousin Bilbo!” exclaimed one of the older children. “Do you mean to say you gave away that great jewel?” 

Wide round eyes grew even bigger, as they awaited Bilbo’s answer.

“Think about it, my lad! You cannot eat a jewel, nor keep warm with it, unless you sell it--and then you have it no longer. And of what use would it have been if my friends had begun to kill one another over it? For you see, I found a far more priceless treasure on my Adventure than any jewels.”

“What was that, Uncle Bilbo?” Frodo asked with shining eyes.

“Why, my friends, of course! Even though they were angry with me, and blinded by the dragon’s bespelled treasure, they were still my friends at heart, and would remember that in time.”

Hamfast found himself nodding. Old Mr. Bilbo was a very wise hobbit. Friends--and family--were a good deal more important than jewels--or even meat for the winter. He turned to his son.

“Hamson, lad, your ma has somewhat she wants to ask you.”

The lad turned to his mother, now sure that he was not in trouble, for his father’s tone had not been stern. But he was mighty puzzled.

“Hamson, Farmer Cotton over to Bywater has offered you a job of work. Now wait son, till you hear it all--” for his face had lit up like one of old Gandalf’s fireworks at his mother’s pronouncement.

“This is not just a day or so helping in the fields as you’ve done in the past. You will be doing the work of a hired hobbit, and staying down to their farm. In exchange, Farmer Cotton has offered us a spring piglet, to be butchered for the winter. And you shall have a ham off that pig, to do with as you wish--you can even sell it for coin if you’d like.”

Hamson’s face was a study in astonishment. “I’d stay there? All through the summer?”

“Until after harvest,” his father said. “But I’ve no doubt as you could come home to visit on the Highdays.”

Hamson breathed a sigh of relief. He liked the Cottons--they were kin, after all, through old Holman the green-handed, but their oldest lad was only the same age as little Sam. He bit his lip and thought it over. It would mean a lot to his family to have meat for the winter. And if he had a ham to sell, why he could get them all wonderful Yule gifts! He was strong--as strong and sturdy as some lads as were already tweens. Why, hadn’t he beat his cousin Thrush Goodchild at arm wrestling last week? And Thrush was twenty-three.

He bit his lip and drew in a deep breath, and then with firm determination nodded. “I’ll do it, Dad.”

His parents beamed at him proudly.

“Now, that’s my lad!” said the Gaffer, slapping him lightly on the back.

Hamson glanced over at his mother, who was also smiling, and suddenly thought how much he’d miss her. “How soon would I have to go?”

Bell grinned at him. “Not today, at any rate, and not tomorrow if I have a say in the matter, for I’ve your clothes to see to. Now, run along with you, and hear the rest of the story.”

Grinning, and strutting just a bit, he returned to his place in the circle.

“…I shall never forget what Thorin Oakenshield told me, for he did at last remember I was his friend, and forgave me at the last. He said ‘If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.’ And he was quite right, you know.” 

The elder Gamgees nodded. Yes, Mr. Bilbo was indeed a very wise hobbit.

Author: Dreamflower
Title: An Evening at Whitwell
Rating: G
Theme: Sweet or Savoury (I chose savoury) Recipe!Fic Challenge 
Elements: mellow
Author's Notes: The children's ages are as follows: Esmeralda is six, Paladin is nine, Peridot is twenty and Primrose is twenty-two (the equivalent of Men's children of 4, 6, 12 and 13 1/2) For other notes, see the end of the story and recipe.
Summary: Bilbo goes to visit one of his Took cousins shortly after he returns from his Adventure.
Word Count: 2,117 (including recipe)

An Evening at Whitwell

"...and I ducked and dodged and hid in the shadows, as quiet as quiet could be. The goblins were dreadfully noisy and quarrelling amongst themselves, so they did not notice me until I was right at the crack in the door. I pushed myself in, and was caught fast, for the heavy stone door would open no wider, and my buttons caught on the edge of the doorway. I struggled as the goblins spotted me and came for me. I must confess I was dreadfully afraid--but I gave a mighty shove, and suddenly I was free! I ran as fast as I could into the daylight. The goblins cannot endure the Sun, and though they were very angry they followed only a few steps before turning back..."

Adalgrim smiled at the sight of his children hanging on Bilbo's every word. Little Esmeralda was quite cosy in his lap, and Paladin sat on the floor in front of his cousin. Primrose and Peridot, being tweens now, were too on their dignity. They both were sitting primly on the settee, but were listening to Cousin Bilbo with wide eyes and open mouths. He was truly happy to have Bilbo here at Whitwell once more; he'd thought for the past year that he'd never see his cousin again.

"I raced down the mountain, and began to worry about my Dwarf friends. I was just beginning to wonder if I should not go back to search for them--something I was dreadfully frightened to do--I heard their voices ahead of me: the Dwarves and Gandalf! I carefully sneaked up on them, making sure that I wasn't seen until I was right in the middle of them. My heavens, did they jump!"

The children laughed at Bilbo's droll recital, but Adalgrim had been listening carefully. There was no doubt a kernel of truth in his cousin's story of this adventure. But it was obvious Bilbo was leaving things out. Perhaps it was simply to avoid frightening the youngest of the little one. Yet there were definitely elements that did not ring true. But the Bilbo he knew had never been a liar.

Just then the door to the sitting room popped open, and Periwinkle came in with a tray bearing some savoury biscuits and a slab of her famous herbed farm cheese. "Paladin, Esmeralda, it is time for bed. Say 'good night' to Cousin Bilbo, and come along."

Paladin stood reluctantly, but little Esme who was only six and as the baby of the family, used to getting her way, pouted. "But Mother, I want to stay with Cousin Bilbo and hear more stories!"

Adalgrim would probably have given way to his youngest, but his wife was made of sterner stuff. "Cousin Bilbo will be here for a few more days. There will be plenty of time for stories. Come along at once." Esmeralda gave Bilbo a little peck on the cheek, and slid from his lap, dragging her feet as she went. Periwinkle turned her gaze on her older daughters. "Primrose, Peridot, come to the kitchen and do the washing up from supper. I will come to help you finish as soon as I have put the little ones to bed."

"Yes, Mother." The lasses rose and told Bilbo good night, and followed their mother from the room.

Bilbo chuckled. "I'm glad I was raised a Baggins, and free from that 'mother' and 'father' nonsense." For Tooks eschewed such familiar parental names such as "mum and da" or "mama and papa" in favor of the more formal address.

Adalgrim shook his head. "We don't live in the Great Smials, so I suppose I could have dispensed with it with my own children. But it's what I was used to myself, and you know how proper Winkie is." He rose and went to a sideboard and drew forth a bottle and some goblets. "How about blackberry wine," he said, "to go with the cheese and biscuits?"

"Don't mind if I do," said Bilbo. He leaned forward and took up the cheeseknife and cut himself a large slice of the cheese, and helped himself to a couple of biscuits. He reached up to accept the wine Adalgrim handed him. He took a deep sniff of the cheese, taking in the scent of parsley, chives, thyme and garlic. He took a bite, and after chewing and swallowing, looked over at his cousin, who had sat down once more. "Nice and mellow," he said, "a proper Shire cheese. I missed Shire cheese while I was gone. Don't get me wrong, I had some fine meals, few and far between as they were, but I really missed Shire cooking. Your wife makes a fine cheese, Chop!"

Adalgrim laughed. "Don't let her hear you call me that, Bilbo. You might not get anymore of her cheese."

"I'm surprised she lets you get away with calling her 'Winkie'."

Adalgrim just smirked, and drew out his pipe. There was a companionable silence as the cousins smoked, ate and drank. "Bilbo, what really happened while you were gone?"

"You've been listening to what I told the children. Perhaps I made it sound more droll and less dangerous, but it all happened, truly it did."

"But is that all that happened? I could tell you were leaving some things out."

"Let's just say that I prefer not to dwell on things that might upset the children, shall we?" A grim and somewhat sorrowful look passed briefly over Bilbo's face.

"It's hard to believe you could have hidden so easily from that creature in the tunnels, nor from the goblins..."

"The Gollum was upset and not paying attention; and the goblins were noisy." Bilbo's reply was testy, and Adalgrim could tell he was getting cross.

He decided to change the subject. "What did you have in your pocket, then?"

To his surprise, a look of real anger flashed in Bilbo's eyes, so quickly that Adalgrim wondered if it was simply a trick of the firelight in the hearth. There was a brief silence, not so comfortable as the last. Bilbo reached forward and took another piece of the cheese. "Nothing of real importance; just a little lucky piece." He reached in his pocket, and fumbled a bit, and then tossed a small gold coin to his cousin.

Adalgrim looked at it curiously. It had a mountain stamped on one side, and the face of a Dwarf on the other. Tiny angular runes ran round the edges. He tossed it back. "Was it lucky for you?"

Bilbo smiled. "I should say so. Things turned out much better in the end than they ought, given the circumstances. Though we were not without loss at the last..." and now Adalgrim saw a look of true grief in his cousin's eyes. Bilbo shook his head. "Ah, I daresay we will have plenty of time during my visit for you to hear the rest of the tale. And I will tell you of some of the things I can't bring myself to tell the children. But, come! Tonight I want to hear of the Shire, and all the doings of my kin and friends."

"Did you know that Rory and Gilda increased their family just before you got home? A little lad named Merimac!" And the conversation turned to the Shire and to gossip of Tooks, Brandybucks, Bagginses and other assorted relatives.

Periwinkle returned to the room in time to hear Bilbo tell of arriving just in time to prevent the auctioning off of all his possessions. "I must say, Bilbo, that I thought it was disgraceful the way your Uncle Longo was in such a hurry to declare you dead! And that rushed wedding of his son to that Bracegirdle lass had many thinking the two of them had put the dessert before the main course."

"Well," said Adalgrim, "it doesn't appear to be the case. I think they rushed it all through for fear you'd return and put an end to it. You are the head of the Bagginses after all." He yawned, and then shook his head. "Morning comes early on the farm. You know where your room is, cousin."

Bilbo smiled at his hosts. "Sleep well. I shall finish my pipe and bank the fire."

~~~~~~~~~

The room was lit only by the fireplace as Bilbo sat smoking. He was truly enjoying seeing his cousins again. He had always been very close to Adalgrim, and for just a few seconds, he had considered confiding in him about that ring. But Gandalf had asked him to keep it secret, and so he would. He took a last puff, and then leaned over to knock his pipe against the grate. He took up the poker and banked the fire. There was just a little bite of the cheese and a couple of the biscuits left. He wrapped them in a napkin to take to his room in case he got peckish in the night. Periwinkle did make a fine cheese.

~~~~~~~~~

Periwinkle Took's Farm Cheese

Equipment: 
Measuring cups and spoons
Small cups or condiment bowls for prep
Kitchen shears (for mincing herbs)
A juicer
A large colander
Cheese cloth (I used four layers)
A stockpot large enough to easily hold 1 gallon of liquid
Large whisk
Cooking thermometer (you could use either a meat or candy thermometer)
Large mixing spoon
Small flat plate
An empty milk jug (save the one your milk came in)

Ingredients:
1/4 cup lemon juice or white wine vinegar
Fresh herbs (I used chives, parsley and garlic)
1 gallon whole milk (pasteurized but NOT ultra-pasteurized. If you let the milk sit out at room temperature for about an hour or two before starting, it helps to cut down the length of time it takes to get it up to the correct temperature)
2 TBSP salt (you may not need quite that much)

1. Measure the juice or vinegar into a cup; use the kitchen shears to finely snip the fresh herbs. (I snipped them into a condiment dish, and then used the shears to chop them more finely. I began with about 2 TBSP, but after mincing them there was only about 1 TBSP in the dish.) Mince the garlic separately and then add it to the other herbs.

2. Line the colander with the cheesecloth. (I used four layers; that's about the bare minimum. Next time I will use about 6 layers. The cheesecloth should cover the bottom and sides completely and drape over the edges of the colander slightly.)

3. Pour the gallon of milk into the pot. On medium heat, slowly heat the milk to 200 degrees F (93.3 C). Stir frequently with the whisk and check the temperature often; do not allow the bottom to stick or a skin to form on top of the milk. (It took me almost 30 minutes to get it to the right heat. This was the most time-consuming part of the process.) Do NOT allow the milk to actually boil. (Rinse the carton out for later use.)

4. As soon as it reaches 200 degrees, stir in the juice or vinegar. It should begin to coagulate within a few seconds. If it does not, slowly add up to 2 more TBSP of juice or vinegar.

5. Once it has coagulated, you will begin to see curds kind of like cottage cheese. Lower the heat and stir for about 2 more minutes. The curds and whey will begin to separate.

6. Very gently pour the curds into the colander. Take your time and don't pour it all at once, so that it can drain. (If you want to save the whey, which is supposed to be good for use in baking, put the colander in a large bowl to catch the whey.)

7. Add the salt a little bit at a time to the curds in the colander and check for taste. Stir it in rather quickly, which helps the curds to dry and separate more. Then add the snipped herbs.

8. Gather the cheesecloth into a small tight bundle and put back into the colander. Place a small flat plate on top. Fill the milk jug with water and place on top of the plate as a weight. Leave it for 10 to 15 minutes.

9. Unwrap the cheese; you can eat it right away, or put it in the refrigerator for later. (I cut off a small piece to sample immediately. It was rather crumbly, like feta. But I wrapped the rest in plastic and refrigerated it. After a few hours it was much firmer.) Makes about a pound of cheese.

You  can empty the milk carton and then use it to put the whey in if you saved it. It too should be refrigerated.

The above recipe was adapted from a recipe found in One Hour Cheese by Claudia Lucero; the original recipe called for lime juice and curry powder. I changed the lime juice to lemon juice, and added the herbs and garlic.

(Written in February 2015 for the International Fanworks Day Challenge.)

Author: Dreamflower
Title: The Poem
Rating:  G
Theme:  International Fanworks Day
Elements:  Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth
Author's Notes: This is the story behind the story of "The Archives Incident”. See the end for further notes.
Summary: At the wedding of Aragorn and Arwen, one of the guests is plunged into long-ago memories.
Word Count: 2,386

The Poem

The hobbits were standing with the bride and groom, the bride's father and grandparents, Elladan and Elrohir, the Steward, Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli. It seemed many people wished to be presented to all of them.

Pippin was growing bored, as there was never a chance to speak with any of the lengthy line of well-wishers. They had to be on their dignity, so he and Merry could not even exchange jests. Gandalf stood right next to him. But Pippin's eyes grew wide as he noticed Prince Imrahil leading a handsome lady a few years older than he up to the King and his new Queen and presented her.

"Your Graces, my sister, Lady Ivriniel, Regent of Ethring."

She dipped in a formal bow, and then stood. Ignoring Gandalf, Pippin elbowed Merry. "Hsst!" He whispered. "He said 'Ivriniel'!" Not only Merry, but Frodo and Sam as well, jerked their heads around to stare briefly, before good manners asserted themselves, and they looked away, although they could not help but throw covert glances in her direction. She was very austere looking, thought Pippin. Easily as tall as her brother, she wore a chin-cloth and a veil secured by a narrow silver coronet; her gown of deep grey had wide sleeves that hung over her knuckles, and over it she wore a long surcoat of dark blue embroidered with a swan. She certainly did not fit his idea of the sort of poet who had written dreadful verses in honor of Captain Thorongil! He wondered if it broke her heart when she learned that the mysterious Thorongil had turned out to be the new King Elessar and that he was now wed to a beautiful Elven-maid. What was she thinking, he wondered?

OooOoooO

Ivriniel did not let any of her thoughts show as the Queen graciously greeted her. If her brother had not already told her that the King Elessar was Captain Thorongil, she would have known at once. He was older, of course, yet he did not show the years save in the weathering common to soldiers, rangers and others who led an outdoor life and the hints of silver threaded through his still mostly dark hair. He wore a well-groomed beard, and Thorongil had always been clean-shaven. But there was no doubt this was the same man. His grey eyes were as piercing and wise as ever. She watched his gaze soften as he glanced down at his bride. It was clear he loved her dearly and the match was not one of political expediency.

As for the Queen, her beauty was beyond compare, unless it was the golden-haired Elven-Queen who had been identified as the Lady of Lothlórien, and the Queen's grandmother. Yet without knowing they were Elves, Ivriniel would have thought them sisters. She knew from both her brother and her nephew that the King's love for the Lady Arwen had been long in its fulfillment, and she thought back with amusement to that long-ago day when she had hopes of his returning her girlish infatuation...

Ivriniel leaned over the balcony of the quarters the Prince and his family had been assigned for the duration of the visit. There he was in the courtyard, with Steward Ecthelion, his son Denethor, and her own father; Thorongil and Denethor were of much the same age, though the captain was slightly taller than the Steward's Heir. In fact, he was taller than any of the other men.

She sighed dreamily. "He looks like the painting of Elendil the Tall in the mural painted in the great hall of the palace at Dol Amroth."

Her younger sister who was only fourteen, Finduilas, also stood at the balcony. Her sigh was one of irritation. "I would rather be home, riding on the beach than staring at the Captain. He is nice enough, but you know Nana would never allow such a match! No one knows his bloodline. Besides, she wants you to make a match with Denethor."

Ivriniel sniffed. "Denethor has no sense of humour."

"Yes he does. You just do not understand it. Anyway, Ada says you are too young to be courted yet."

"I am seventeen!"

"So you are." Finduilas stuck her tongue out, "And if Ada says you are too young then, you are too young. I am glad I am too young to worry about suitors!" She said the last word as though it were something nasty on the bottom of her shoe and skipped off.

Ivriniel kept staring at the Captain. He was so handsome and mysterious and so brave! Why he had led several battles against the Corsairs of Umbar in the last few years! If only he knew how much she admired him, he could not help but return her love.

The men in the courtyard moved on; soon they were out of her sight from her particular vantage point. With another sigh, this one of disappointment, she turned away from the balcony and went to the small bedchamber that had been assigned to her. She drew her journal from beneath the mattress, where she kept it hidden from the eyes of younger siblings, and took it to the small table beneath the window that served as a desk. Opening it, she took up a quill, dipped it in the inkstand and inscribed the date at the top of the next blank page. "I saw Captain Thorongil today from a distance. He is so tall and handsome; he was taller than any of the others who stood near him. I wish I could have the chance to speak to him. Perhaps at the feast tomorrow night? Naneth does not approve of him. She says that no one knows his history. But I think that gives him such an air of mystery...

She stopped writing and looked at what she had just put down. "History" and "mystery". If she could only write a poem about him! Could she? She had never attempted such a thing, although her tutor had her memorize several poems. The main thing she knew was that a poem had to rhyme. She opened the back of the journal and removed a couple of blank sheets, and pondered the rhyme she had discovered.

No one knew his history.
He was a man of mystery.

Well, that was a start. But that did not look like a beginning. Perhaps she should tell what he looked like. She remembered when Ada had presented him to the family, and she looked into his remarkable eyes. Most Gondorians had grey eyes, but his were so wise and kind. But what could you say of grey eyes. Blue eyes had many words; indigo, delphineum, cerulean. And green eyes could be emerald or leaf or beryl...or...even brown eyes could be called cinnamon or, or...nut-brown or...well, not so much for brown. And grey was just grey. Maybe silver? She tried that out, but nothing rhymed with silver. Very well, plain grey it was.

He came from oh, so far away,
The captain with his eyes of grey.
His hair was dark, his look was grave,
And he was very, very brave.

That was not too bad, maybe it would not be as hard as she thought to write a poem.

Two hours later she sat back. There was ink on her fingers, and her hair was disheveled from running her hands through it. But she looked with satisfaction at her work. One page was scrawled with various rhyming words. The other had the poem, many lines crossed out, but finished at last. She would need to make a fair copy, but she was sure it would impress the Captain. She read it out softly.

No other warrior had the skill
Of the great Thorongil.
No one knew his history.
He was a man of mystery.

From the north he came
Preceded by his fame.
All of Gondor sang his praise,
But he was humble always.

He was victorious in battle
And so he proved his mettle.
When from the high seas pirates dread
Came our fair coastline to raid

Upon the high sea he did roam
Floating on the green sea-foam,
Gondor's enemies always seeking,
He would leave them sinking and leaking.

He fought the pirate leader on his ship,
Using the greatsword at his hip,
Until at last he stabbed the villain dead
And left him in a pool blood-red.

As well he was victorious on land.
In battle no one could stay his hand.
Into the fray his horse would dash
And quickly would his sword flash.

But also he was gentle with smile kind,
And to help others he did not mind.
He went among the injured men,
And sometimes help to heal them.

He was so very handsome and tall,
Strongest of strong and bravest of all.
And all our hearts beat gladder still,
To see our valiant Thorongil.

Now how get him to hear it?

Just then there was a knock upon her door. "Ivriniel?" It is time for you to bathe and prepare for the evening. We shall be dining with the Steward!"

"Yes, Nana! I am coming. She darted up and tucked the pages into the back of her journal and shoved it back under the mattress. Maybe Captain Thorongil would be there.

Alas, he was not, but the next evening there would be a feast to celebrate the latest victory against the Corsairs. She determined that she would memorize the poem, and then perhaps she would have a chance to recite it to him at the festivities.

She spent the next morning in her room attempting to memorize her composition. After much repetition, she had the first two verses down and was working on the third, when suddenly and without warning her door burst open. " 'Dread' and 'raid' do not rhyme!" It was her little brother Imrahil grinning at her. He walked in with his nine-year-old swagger and asked, "Did you write that? It is awful!"

With a furious shriek, Ivriniel grabbed him by the hair. He howled as her fingers dug into his scalp. "You little orc-imp! You will wish you had never been born!"

His hands were flailing. "Let go of me!" Suddenly he reached out and snatched the poem from her hand. In her shock, she let go of his hair, and he used the opportunity to flee as quickly as he could.

"Give it back!" She raced after him, but he was far ahead of her. Undeterred she continued the chase along the corridors and past shocked servants. He raced down a long marble staircase, jumping over two and three at a time. She was halfway down when she realised they were in the public part of the Citadel and it was only good fortune that no one of importance had seen them. If her mother heard of her running like a hoyden, she would be in dreadful trouble. She slowed, and realising that she had lost her brother, she gave up the chase. She would find a way to get back at him, and get her poem back!

The Captain was certainly at the feast and much in demand and Ivriniel would never have had a chance to get near him anyway. She gazed at him across the room with soulful eyes until her mother rebuked her and her father laughed and said, "Let her be. It is harmless enough to look from afar, and perhaps it will keep other suitors away. She is too young for a serious attachment." Her mother glared at her father, but nothing more was said.

However, it made her sad to think that no one would believe that she was seriously in love with the brave and mysterious Captain. She spotted her little brother, hanging back and trying to avoid her. When he turned around for a moment, however, she strode over and hissed at him: "You had best give that back to me, or you will be in trouble."

He grinned at her. "No, I will not. I have hidden your horrible poem in a safe place, and if you do not leave me alone, I will show it to all of my friends! And you cannot tell Ada and Nana, or I will show it to them and tell them you were going to recite it!"

Defeated, her shoulders slumped. He was right. All that work for nothing; and it had been such a splendid poem!

Only a few days later, the brave Captain had been sent away on another mission and was gone for months. The family returned to Dol Amroth, and only a short time later, her mother introduced her to the young heir of Ethring, who was only two years older than she and who was also tall and handsome and grey-eyed, and who wrote dreadful verses for her. She seldom thought any longer of Captain Thorongil, save when occasional news came of his exploits, and when she did it was with a nostalgic sort of fondness. But she always wondered what Imrahil had done with her poem, and hoped no one would ever find it...

She smiled austerely at the King, pleased to see that his eyes were still full of wisdom and kindness, and felt relief that he would never know of her girlish infatuation. That would be too embarrassing for words.

OooOoooO

The hobbits watched for a moment, and then the Lady and the Prince moved on to allow other well-wishers the chance to speak to the Royal couple.

Frodo looked at Pippin. "Do you suppose her brother ever told her about us finding that poem in the Archives?"

Pippin looked at Frodo in astonishment. "Are you mad? Do you think I would ever tell Pimpernel about the time I put Milo's love letter to her in with the mail to Father?"

Sam nodded. "No more than I'd tell Daisy about hanging her knickers on the front gate after she tattled on me about scrumping." The others stared at him. "She thought the wind had blowed them off the laundry line."

Merry and Frodo exchanged a glance. "I can see," said Merry, "that having no sisters has left a gap in our educations." Frodo nodded. Every time he thought he knew all about his cousins and Sam, he found out something new.

ooOOooOOoo

AUTHOR'S NOTES: I am hoping I made no mathematical errors when I was figuring out this story. Aragorn left to go on his "wanderings" in TA 2957. According to what I could discover, Ivriniel was born in 2947 and Imrahil in 2955. Assuming that Aragorn, as Thorongil, spent about 7 years building his reputation in Rohan before moving on to Gondor, Ivriniel would have been about 17 and Imrahil about 9. Just the right age for that sort of spat.

According to Karen Wynn Fonstad's Atlas of Middle-earth, Ethring is a town that sits at the crossing between the great road that cuts through Souther Gondor and later becomes The Great Harad Road, and the River Ringlo. I decided that though small, Ethring would be a prosperous and important holding, due to its prime location. My backstory is that Ivriniel's husband and son were both killed during the long war with Sauron, and she is regent of the holding for her grandson, who is not yet of age.

Following the end of Fiondil's Elf Academy 3: The Enemy Within, I was re-reading the story, and was once more inspired by it, in particular by Chapters 80-82. (If you have never read his story and intend to do so, please bow out now, for there are spoilers for those chapters.)

I awakened late at night with the following idea in my mind, and as soon as I could, I wrote it out. I was uncertain about posting it, but I asked Fiondil's betas, and Alassiel gave me the go ahead.

Fiondil, this story is for you. Thank you for creating such a rich world, one in which a story like this could happen!

   



*S * P * O * I * L * E * R * S*

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This story is about the friendship that grew up between Legolas, and the baby he rescued from a carjacking on the day he went to apply to the Wiseman Police Department.  


Gabriella's Story


The room was dark; the mechanical sounds of humming and beeping were a constant irritation to an Elf's sensitive hearing, but he paid it no mind. His attention was on the pale figure in the bed, the spirit only just barely clinging to the body, and yet clinging tenaciously. His hollow feeling of impending grief was nearly overwhelming. His father had warned him, of course, and he had deliberately decided not to listen.

Her name was Gabriella Williams. Legolas had known her since she was only a few months old when he had pulled her from the back seat of a carjacked SUV. Her mother had been so very grateful, and never could stop talking about his rescue of her little one. He had received a heartfelt thank you card from her, which he still had tucked away somewhere.

Most of the Elves in Wiseman had made friends among the children. Legolas, as Officer Liam Prince, had made more than most. He had often been sent to give talks on "stranger danger" at the kindergartens, or on the dangers of drugs at the middle-school. He was popular with the young ones and they listened to him with rapt attention. But it was about four years after the carjacking that he found out that Mrs. Williams had made sure little Gabriella knew all about the Elf who had saved her. When he went to her kindergarten class, she had latched on to him, hugging him around the knees, and calling him "My Elf-policeman!" After that he saw her with her family from time to time when he was on patrol, and always gave her a friendly greeting, which she returned with enthusiasm.

About two years later, she invited him to her sixth birthday party. He went with no little trepidation; he had heard tales of the chaos of mortal children's birthday parties. He needn't have worried. It was a simple family affair: Gabriella, her older brother Rafe, and her younger brother Mike, her parents, her grandmother, and a couple of cousins.

He had enjoyed himself immensely. Mrs. Williams was an assistant manager at the local Safeway; Mr. Williams was a science teacher at the middle-school. His mother lived with them, and watched the children when the parents had to work. The adults were interested in what he could tell them of Elven culture and history, but the children wanted stories. For the first time in millennia he found himself speaking freely of his mortal friends. Rafe wanted to hear all about Aragorn, and battles and dangerous missions. Mike was fond of his funny stories about Gimli. But Gabby, as her family called her (her father said it was not short for her name, but a description of her most persistent characteristic: she was definitely a chatterbox) wanted stories of the little people called hobbits who lived in holes in the ground.

The years passed and Legolas was thought of as "Uncle Liam" by the Williams children. When his duties (both professional and as a member of an Elven community preparing for war) allowed, he would occasionally accept a dinner invitation or attend Gabby's soccer games. But he did not see the family as often as he would have liked.

From the time she was old enough to understand the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" her answer had been "I want to be a police officer." At first this worried him, that she was too influenced by her hero worship of him. It was a dangerous occupation for anyone, and he would have kept her safe if he could. But he soon realized that though it might have been so in the beginning, by the time she reached adolescence she had a true passion for the work.

The teen-aged Gabriella now preferred to be called "Ella" by her friends. But Legolas still called her by her full name, Gabriella. She giggled over boys, experimented with make-up, and turned to "Uncle Liam" for advice and a shoulder to cry on when the boy she admired did not notice her.

In Middle-school, like many of her peers, she had joined the Wiseman branch of the SCA. Legolas found he spent more time with her now, as he taught the young people archery and as one of the authorized Youth Marshals he helped to supervise the fighting with padded foam swords that the under-age members were allowed to use. She threw herself into her role with passionate abandon, always willing to help, even with the nasty jobs at events like washing dishes and carrying out the trash. She was only seventeen when she was given her Award of Arms as "Lady Elanor of the Tower" for her hard work.

Many of the Wiseman children of her generation, especially those who had worked with the Elves, joined the military. She entered the US Army when she graduated high school, though she just barely squeaked by the minimum height requirement. Six years later, she returned to Wiseman after spending her army hitch in the Military Police.

By this time Dave Michaelson had taken a well deserved retirement and had gone on to run for City Council, leaving the former Lieutenant Conrad as the new Chief. Lieutenant Liam Prince had become a detective several years earlier, and now was chief of detectives and Conrad's second in command. They were pleased to get someone with Gabriella's skills and background; Legolas was even more pleased to see his former pupil accomplish her dream. She was doing well, living with her parents again, and had begun dating a fellow police officer, a promising young man named (to Legolas' everlasting delight) Sam Gardener.

And only four months later, she was here in a hospital bed, the result of a domestic dispute call gone bad. She and her partner had gone in to deal with the call; while her partner, an older motherly woman, dealt with the distraught wife, Gabriella had watched the husband with efficiency, but when he decided the petite woman would be an easy target, she had humiliated him. Using expert moves, she had him down and cuffed in seconds. He yelled profanity at her all the way back to the police station.

His mother had bailed him out. Three days later he lay in wait for Gabriella to get off duty and gunned her down right in front of the police station.

Legolas' rage when he was told (for he had not been on duty at the time) had been white-hot. Conrad had forbidden him to join in the chase for the shooter and Loren and Quinn and Ron had backed the chief up. All that was left for him to do was to go to the hospital and stare through the glass in the ICU until Margaret Williams was too exhausted to remain. Gabriella's father had insisted on taking his wife somewhere she could rest, and Legolas took her place at the bedside.

And now he was left to sit here, hoping against hope that she would keep on clinging to that little speck of life. He held her hand, lending her what strength he could, singing softly in Sindarin.

"Remind you of anything, young Greenleaf?" The familiar smell, the strong hand on his shoulder, he knew at once who it was. He turned to see Olórin. The Maia was not in his guise as Oliver Grey, nor in the form he usually wore among the Elves. This guise was an old and familiar and very welcome one.

"Mithrandir?"

The Maia gave a sad smile. "You seemed as if you needed a friend right now, more than a guardian angel. She has always reminded me of someone we both knew and loved."

Somehow Legolas managed to summon up a weak chuckle. "Pippin. With her curly hair and constant chatter, I always thought perhaps she might have a touch of Took in her somewhere?"

Mithrandir shook his head. "If she does, it does not make itself known to me. Still, she has that sort of persistence."

"She did not deserve this. I wish I could get my hands on the animal that did this to her!" His anger threatened to surface, but Mithrandir's hand tightened on his shoulder, and he subsided.

"Pippin made it," he reminded Legolas. "In spite of everything against him, in spite of his being squashed flat by a troll, and frightening us nearly to death, he not only made it, but he thrived. It would not surprise me if Miss Gabriella does not follow his example."

Legolas nodded, slightly encouraged. She had always loved the story about Pippin and the troll. "I don't suppose she will be singing and dancing the springle-ring anytime soon though." He let go of her hand and reached up to tuck a small curl away from her face.

"No. She does not have hobbit physical resilience. She will have a long recovery and need much help from her family and friends."

As he smoothed her hair back, he felt a small movement as her face ever so slightly leaned into his touch. His heart leapt for joy. "Mithrandir!" The beeping grew stronger, and he could feel her fëa strengthen.

He looked up to see a smile on his old friend's face.

"Uncle Liam?" it was the tiniest of whispers. "Tell me a story."

As tears of joy ran down Legolas' face, Oliver Grey slipped from the room to let the doctors know their patient had awakened.

He smiled as he heard the voice behind him. "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit..."   

While perusing a few fics searching for something else, I came across this one, written for B2MeM 2013 and somehow never posted here.

B2MeM Challenge: March 16
Format: Ficlet
Genre: Gapfiller
Rating: G
Character(s): Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin
Summary: Two vignettes: Merry and Pippin see the mithril shirt for the first time, and then again.
Quote: Third Age: `What? ' cried Gimli, startled out of his silence. `A corslet of Moria-silver? That was a kingly gift! '
'Yes,' said Gandalf. `I never told him, but its worth was greater than the value of the whole Shire and everything in it.'
Frodo said nothing, but he put his hand under his tunic and touched the rings of his mail-shirt. He felt staggered to think that he had been walking about with the price of the Shire under his jacket. Had Bilbo known? He felt no doubt that Bilbo knew quite well. It was indeed a kingly gift. Fellowship of the Ring, A Journey in the Dark (Mithril)

The Price of the Shire

S.R. 1399

Frodo stood behind Merry and Pippin, his eyes dancing merrily as he watched their reactions. For once Merry's astonishment was just as great as that of Pippin's: both grey eyes and green were round as saucers. Merry was biting his lower lip and Pippin's mouth hung open.

"It's real," whispered Merry.

Pippin reached curious fingers towards the object of their scrutiny, stopping short of touching it. Merry clutched his shoulder. "No, Pip!"

Frodo chuckled. "You can't hurt it. It won't tarnish."

Both lads took this as their cue to handle the fine mail that hung sparkling in the dusty light.

"It's so cool and light!" little Pippin exclaimed.

"I've never seen silver like this," added Merry.

"It's truesilver, that the Elves call mithril. It's very strong and never tarnishes."

"Why is it here?" Merry asked. "Doesn't Cousin Bilbo like it?"

Frodo shook his head. "He likes it, Merry. But at Bag End it would be hidden away in a chest somewhere. Here everyone can enjoy seeing it." And, Frodo thought to himself, certain people like the Sackville-Bagginses will know that it's a bit of wealth they will never get their hands on. But he did not say it aloud. "Well, I think you've seen everything here. Uncle Bilbo said he'd be through with his business at noon, so let's go meet him and have some lunch." He scooped Pippin up and put him atop his shoulders, while Merry trotted close to his side. He was very pleased at their reactions to their first visit to the Mathom House.

o0o0o0o

Frodo had been silent as his cousins and Sam helped him back to the Cotton's house. He was weary and sore: Saruman had struck hard, not so hard as the cave troll's spear, but with enough anger and force that he was sure to be bruised.

Sam went to see about drawing him a bath, while Merry and Pippin saw to helping Frodo out of his mailshirt.

"Bend over," said Pippin, "it will slide off more easily that way." He spoke from experience.

Merry drew in a whistling breath as he saw the deep purple bruise already forming on Frodo's upper back, and Pippin, having pulled off the mithril shirt stood up to look. His eyes filled with tears that he blinked away as he met the grim and sorrowful look on Merry's face: there was other evidence there of this past year, written on their cousin's flesh. Whip-marks, the scar of Shelob's venomous bite, the welted scar the chain had left on the back of his neck. Both of them drew deep breaths and schooled their expressions.

"How bad is it?" asked Frodo.

"Bad enough," said Merry. "But it would have been much worse without old Bilbo's gift, bless his heart."

Sam poked his head in the door. "Your bath is ready, Mr. Frodo."

Frodo followed Sam out, looking tired and dejected. Their homecoming had not at all been what they expected.

Merry turned to see Pippin holding the mithril shirt close, caressing it. "It is still cool and light," he murmured. "Do you remember when we saw it for the first time, at the Mathom House in Michel Delving?"

Merry nodded. "I don't think Gandalf was talking about wealth," he said, as he too reverently touched the fine mesh of the links. "Remember, he said 'its worth was greater than the value of the whole Shire and everything in it.' I think of how many times this bit of treasure saved Frodo's life--it was worth the price of the Shire, of all of the free world."

Author: Dreamflower
Title: Nothing So Mortifying 
(Title taken from this quotation: “There is nothing so mortifying as to fall in love with someone who does not share one's sentiments.”  
― Georgette Heyer )
Rating: PG 
Theme: Adolescent Angst 
Elements: Unrequited love 
Author's Notes: In this story, Frodo is about 40 and  Merry is 26, which means that Frodo is about the equivalent of a Man a little over 25, and Merry is about the equivalent of a Man of 16 and a half.
This story is also an expansion of an anecdote mentioned briefly in my story "Between Childhood and Coming of Age"
Summary: On a visit to Buckland, Frodo finds that Merry is in need of advice and comfort.
Word Count: 3,918

Nothing So Mortifying

Frodo knew at once something was wrong in Merry's world. There was a tightness in his face in spite of his welcoming smile, a smile which did not quite reach Merry's eyes. Clearly, something or someone had recently hurt his cousin, and Frodo determined at once that he would have the story out of the young tween before his visit to Buckland was over. This was his first visit since the funeral of Uncle Rory and Aunt Gilda the previous spring; perhaps Merry was still grieving for his grandparents.* But Frodo had a feeling it was more than that.

But there was no time now for probing. Uncle Saradoc and Aunt Esmeralda had come to give him their own greetings. He was enveloped in Aunt Esme's fond embrace.

"Frodo! It's so good to see you, dear! Did you have a nice journey? It's such a long walk from Hobbiton--we weren't expecting you for another day!"

He returned her hug. "I caught a ride part of the way with a farmer's waggon," he said.

"I'm so glad you arrived today!" said Esme. "We're about to dine in the Main Hall. I'll tell the kitchen to add a place for you at the high table," she said, and took herself off.

Any chance for Frodo to talk to Merry then was forestalled when Saradoc asked his son to go find out if the post had come. "I'm expecting a letter from Thain Ferumbras about the repairs at the Stonebow Bridge," he said.  

With a look back at Frodo that said plain as day "We'll talk later", Merry hurried off to do his father's bidding. Frodo and Saradoc spoke for a while about the news in Hobbiton and Bywater, and then Frodo went up to his guest room to freshen up before dinner. He would have preferred a more intimate meal in private, but now that Saradoc was the Master of Buckland he and the Mistress dined more often than not in the big public dining hall. And of course, they no longer dwelt in the apartments belonging to the Son of the Hall, but in the larger quarters belonging to the Master. Frodo's new guest room adjoined those rooms; it was larger and more spacious than the one he had lived in as a teen after his parents' death, and it had a window. Frodo's old room had been windowless, to discourage his habit of wandering in the night.

But Aunt Esme had seen to it that many of his favourite things from the other room had made their way to this one, which was now set aside especially for his visits. The bed was new, but covered with the soft quilted coverlet in cream and blue which had been made by his mother before her death. The wardrobe was the old one, but the washstand was not, although the pale green pitcher and ewer were the same. His old desk stood by the bed, serving also as a nightstand. 

One of the servants had brought his pack up and placed it on the bed. Frodo went over to the washstand beneath the window, and smiled to see the rosemary soap and fresh water. He cleaned himself up and changed into a fresh shirt and weskit. Through the window he could hear the large iron bell calling any of the household who were still outdoors to come in for the evening meal. He picked up his jacket and put it on, and headed down to the dining hall.

Merry was already at the high table, seated at his father's right hand. He had been watching the door, and he waved, and indicated the seat at his own right hand, where the place had been set for Frodo. His smile seemed genuinely glad to see Frodo, who began to think perhaps his cousin's earlier mood had been temporary. He made his way there, and took his place. It was not quite time for the meal yet, as various household members made their way to the dining hall. Merry looked up at him and grinned. "I'm glad you're here," he said. "I usually end up sitting next to Uncle Mac. Not that I'm not fond of him, but there really isn't anything to talk about with him that we both haven't heard before. I miss sitting with the other tweens."

Frodo sat down in his chair and chuckled. "I'm quite sure I can think of a few things to tell you that you haven't heard yet. Have you had a letter from Pippin lately?"

Merry laughed. "I know he paid you a short visit a couple of weeks ago. 'Dear Merry, I got to visit Frodo. We had a lot of fun. I wish you were there. Love, Pip'! But I've no idea of what happened."

Frodo grinned and shook his head. "Pip writes such long and informative letters, doesn't he? Paladin and Tina had a visit to pay to Clodio in Underhill, and they   dropped Pippin off to stay  with me. You know how it is with Clovis and Cado."

"I know they bully him dreadfully," Merry said with a scowl. "How Aunt Tina can be related to those two, I can't imagine."

Frodo shrugged. "Sometimes I can't imagine how I can be related to the S.-B.s. Thankfully I have plenty of adequate cousins to make up for them." His eyes twinkled and Merry let out with an inelegant snort.

"Why thank you very much, cousin! I can testify to your adequacy as well."

"Well, anyway, let me tell you what Pippin got up to while he was at Bag End this last time..."

Just then they were interrupted by the beginning of the meal. Platters of fried fish and sliced ham, and steaming bowls of roasted carrots, turnips and potatoes, and baskets of freshly baked breads were placed on the table and they were temporarily distracted as they filled their plates. But once they'd taken the edge off their hunger, Frodo once more began the tale of Pippin's visit.

"...and he scandalized the Gaffer and delighted the younger Gamgees when he went up the oak in front of Number Three to fetch down Marigold's kitten..." But Frodo became aware that he'd lost Merry's attention. His cousin was staring glumly at the tweens' table, where he no longer sat now that he was Son of the Hall.

Surely that could not account for the trouble he'd sensed earlier, Frodo thought. Merry had too much sense to pout over something that couldn't be helped. He gazed at the table himself. There sat Doderic and Merimas, Mentha and Melilot. There was Holly Boffin, a cousin of his friend Folco Boffin, but a Brandybuck on her mother's side. He also saw Ivy Proudfoot seated next to Berilac; and over at the children's table, he saw her brother Sancho. They must be visiting Uncle Merimac and Aunt Linda, who was a Proudfoot by birth.

Just then, Ivy turned and glanced up at the high table. The look she gave to Merry was at first haughty and cold, but then she smiled at him and gave a little wave of her hand. Merry's own smile was filled with both confusion and relief, and suddenly Frodo understood. Poor Merry! If he had an infatuation for Ivy Proudfoot, he was sure to be on for a wild ride down the river, as they said in Buckland. Frodo knew only too well that young as she was she had already left a long string of broken hearts.  

He hoped that Merry would talk to him about it, although he wasn't sure what advice he could give his younger cousin. Frodo himself had been too shy during his tweens to speak to the lasses who caught his eye, and after he came of age, too many of them had a predatory gleam in their eyes (or in the eyes of their mothers). Lobelia was not the only hobbitess who wanted to be Mistress of Bag End, though that route was closed to her. Bilbo's only advice to him had always been "A gentlehobbit will never kiss and tell", and "follow your heart". Frodo had a kiss or three in his experience, and he'd always been a gentlehobbit about it, but it was not easy to follow his heart when he wasn't sure what his heart wanted. And truthfully, he liked being a bachelor and not having to answer to a wife. It was clear, though, that Merry was smitten.

Merry turned his attention back to Frodo, and now his expression was much lighter, though Frodo detected a blush. Frodo continued his account of Pippin's weekend at Bag End, and Merry reciprocated with an account of Iberic and Celandine, Cousin Seredic's two youngest, and the epic quarrel they'd had last week which had resulted in Celandine pulling a large chunk of Ilberic's hair out. Ilberic had known he could not retaliate against his sister the way he'd have liked to, so he settled for throwing dirt all over her new frock. Their screeching had scandalized the entire Hall, and now they both were confined to their rooms for the next two weeks.

The meal ended with a nice strawberry fool for afters, and a bowl of fruit and cheese for filling up the corners. Merry kept glancing at Ivy, and as she stood up for her own meal, she looked back at him and crooked a finger at him. Merry blushed to the tips of his ears, and said to Frodo, "Er, I hope we get a chance to talk this evening, but, um, I think I want to go out and get a bit of fresh air first."

"That's fine, Merry. I'm rather tired from my trip. If I go to sleep before you get back, we can talk in the morning."

Merry nodded, and rushed off to intercept Ivy. Frodo watched, amused, as they made their way out of the room. 

"Well, she's got him wrapped around her little finger," said Saradoc, from the other side of Merry's empty chair.

Esmeralda gave a sniff. "That lass is a flirt, and all I have to say is, she had better watch out. I won't have the sort of nonsense here that she gets up to at home."

"Now, now," said Uncle Sara, "you never know. It might work out." 

Esme responded with a "Hmmph!" and Sara turned and winked at Frodo, who grinned back at him.

As the dining hall emptied, Frodo followed the Master and Mistress back to their quarters. He and Sara enjoyed a pipe and a game of draughts, and then, Merry not having returned yet, he went to his room and his sleep.

Frodo awakened rather earlier than he usually did when in Buckland. Perhaps it was the window. It appeared from the angle of the Sun that he might even be in time for first breakfast. He could hear a murmur of voices outside his room, so he washed and dressed quickly; it was just as well, for there was a knock on his door.

"Frodo!" It was Aunt Esme's voice. She sounded upset.

He opened the door. "What is it, Aunt Esme?" 

She glanced past him, and her shoulders slumped. "I had hoped that Merry might have come to you in the night," she said.

"He doesn't do that anymore, Aunt Esme, unless there is a good reason. He's too old for that sort of thing now." He stopped. "Why did you think he was here?"

"He wasn't in his room. And his bed was not slept in."

Now Frodo felt quite alarmed. Surely not! Merry certainly had more sense than that. And yet he was clearly smitten... "Aunt Esme, the last time any of us saw him was when he left after supper to walk with Ivy Proudfoot."

Aunt Esmeralda's face went white. Her eyes sparked. "We'll find out right now." She turned and stalked off, and Frodo followed meekly. He certainly hoped that Merry had not been foolish enough to stay out all night with a lass.

"Where's Uncle Sara?" Frodo asked. He would have expected Merry's father to be right at Esme's side.

"He left before sun-up," she said. "He had business in Haysend today. He doesn't even know Merry's missing."

Frodo followed his aunt as she stalked down the corridor to the quarters of her brother-in-law, Merimac. Then she rapped smartly on the door.

The door was opened by Berilac. "Aunt Esmeralda!" He sounded surprised, and no wonder; it was unusual for her to come visit this time of morning.

"Good morning, Beri. Is your cousin Ivy here?"

Berilac looked confused. "Yes. She's still at first breakfast."

Esmeralda moved past her nephew and headed for the small private dining room, where Linda sat with Sancho and Ivy. Merimac was not there, as he had accompanied Saradoc on his journey to Haysend.

Esme looked at her sister-in-law. "Linda, may I have a word with Ivy?"

"Certainly, Esmeralda!" She gave her niece a speculative look, wondering what in the world the child had been up to now?

"Ivy, when did you see Merry last?"

Ivy looked apprehensive at first, and then raised her chin haughtily though she was blushing furiously. "Last night after supper. We walked down by the River. Then he left." It was clear she was not telling the whole story.

Merry's mother stared at her until Ivy looked away. "Why did he leave you there? Why did he not escort you back here?"

Ivy was silent for a moment. Then she said, "He stole a kiss. I slapped him, and then we had words. He ran off."

Frodo felt Esmeralda relax somewhat. The worst was averted. Still, it did not explain Merry's absence. She turned to him. "Frodo, I believe Linda and I need to have a talk with Ivy. Would you go and look for Merry?"

"Of course, Aunte Esme."

Linda glanced at Ivy, who did not look happy, then turned to her son. "Berilac, would you and Sancho go with Frodo and help him search?"

Both lads nodded, and followed Frodo, leaving Ivy to the questions of her aunt and of the Mistress of the Hall.

"Frodo," said Berilac, "Ivy kept teasing Merry over being timid and not bold enough. You know what some lads in Buckland try to do to prove their bravery..."

"You mean the Old Forest?" But his heart sank. Most of the lads who tried it found no way in. But as Son of the Hall, Merry would have access to the key to the Gate in the High Hay. "Well, we can find out quickly enough. We'll go see if the key is missing."

They made their way to the Master's study. Sancho followed sullenly, muttering under his breath about his sister's tendency to get them in embarrassing trouble wherever they went. Frodo and Beri politely pretended not to hear him, but his litany of complaints was enlightening. Apparently this was not the first time something like this had happened. 

Thankfully, the key was still on the hook in the cabinet by the door. Both Frodo and Berilac heaved a sigh of relief--sending a search party into the Old Forest after Merry would be the talk of Buckland.

Still, that left the matter of where Merry might be. "Beri," said Frodo, "you and Sancho go search outside. He may have gone to the stables or down to the Ferry, or perhaps to the cove. I'll check here in the Hall--I know most of the places he likes to go here."

Berilac and Sancho nodded and left. Frodo stood for a moment, thinking. Then he briefly went to check the library, but it was empty this early in the morning. So he headed to the lower levels. He and Merry had a special place they often went to hide in one of the old mathom rooms. But his cousin wasn't there; it was clear from the dust that no one had been there in a very long time.

Where else would Merry go to lick his wounds? He mentally checked off several places as being too likely to have someone wander in. He now went to the uppermost quarters, and tapped on Cousin Calla's door, recalling how their invalid cousin had said Merry could come see her sometimes at the time of Uncle Rory's funeral. But her maidservant Yarrow opened the door. "No, Mr. Frodo, no one's been by today. Miss Calla's asleep still, she had a bad night last night. Last time Master Merry was by was two weeks ago."

For a moment, Frodo was stymied. When he was upset, Merry would usually hole up in Frodo's old room--but of course! Frodo's room now was not the one he had before! Convinced he'd guessed aright, he turned and made his way down to the now-empty quarters of the Son of the Hall. He went in; even though most of the furniture was still there, the rooms still had a vacant feel to them. He quietly made his way to the door that had led to his old room, and tapped on the door.

There was no answer, and Frodo knocked once more. 

"Frodo? Is that you?" came a subdued voice.

"Yes, Merry. I'm coming in." He suited action to words, leaving the door wide open, as he knew only too well that the room would be dark.

His cousin lay on the bare mattress of Frodo's old bed, his left arm flung over his head. Merry moved his arm, and then winced at the faint light coming in through the open door. Frodo strolled over to the bed and sat down next to him.

Merry pulled himself up on his elbows and looked at Frodo. "I should have known you'd find me here."

"It just seemed you might be here. If it makes you feel any better it wasn't the first place I looked."

Merry's mouth twisted into a brief wry smile. "That's something anyway." Then he sat up and flung himself at his cousin, "Frodo! I've disgraced myself and been a fool! I thought she wanted...she doesn't love me at all."

Frodo gave him a firm embrace, and then held him back by the shoulders, and looked into Merry's sad face. "No, I am sure she does not. Merry, Ivy is far too young to know her own mind. And I know that you kissed her."

Even in the dim light he could see the flush tinting Merry's cheeks. "How? I didn't tell anyone, I know better than that!"

"She told us herself," said Frodo.

Now his expression was one of indignant betrayal. " 'Us'?" he asked warily. 

"Your mother, myself, your Aunt Linda, Berilac and Sancho, at breakfast. She said you stole a kiss, and that she slapped you."

"Frodo, I won't be able to look my mother in the eye! But really, I thought Ivy wanted me to kiss her. She stood really close and looked up at me, and that's what, well, someone else did last year when she wanted us to kiss, so I thought..."

"I think your mother knows you well enough to understand that you did not intend to offend. And sadly, she blames Ivy for leading you on."

Merry sighed. "Well, she did and she didn't. That is, sometimes I thought she liked me, and then she would act like she couldn't bear me to be around her. It was very confusing." He shook his head. "I hope she's not in too much trouble. I suppose it's not her fault I misunderstood."

Frodo smiled and gave Merry a squeeze of the shoulders. "It's never well-done to blame the lass when things like this happen." He was proud that Merry was willing to shoulder the blame.

Merry nodded. "I don't suppose I can stay in here for the rest of my life?"

"No, Merry, you cannot."

"I guess I should apologise to her. Do you think if I do she might change her mind about me?"

Frodo suppressed a chuckle. "Yes, an apology would be a good thing. But if I were you, I would not hope for her to change her mind. She might--and then change it again, and then where would you be?"

Merry gave Frodo a long look, and then nodded his head reluctantly. "I wonder if I will ever find a lass who won't change her mind about me?"

"I am quite sure that one day you will find the perfect lass for you."

Merry looked glumly skeptical at this optimistic prediction, but he seldom contradicted Frodo outright. Frodo shook his head. "Let's go to the pump in the kitchen, and you can wash, and then we shall go down and face the dragons."

"The dragons?"

"Your mother, your aunt, and Miss Ivy."

"Oh."

Esmeralda, Linda and Ivy were still at the breakfast table, although the dishes had been cleared away. They looked up as Frodo and Merry entered the room. Ivy, who was looking very subdued, flushed.

Frodo stood behind Merry with his hand on his cousin's shoulder. Merry took a deep breath. "Miss Ivy, I am very sorry that I presumed to give you unwanted attentions. I thought...well, anyway, I am sorry. I hope that you will forgive me." He looked down at his toes and his shoulders slumped in dejection.

Ivy stared at him for a long moment. Linda cleared her throat. "I do forgive you, Merry. And I am sorry as well, that I may have given you the impression I would allow you to kiss me."

Merry looked up then, and nodded. Just then, as if to complete his humiliation, his stomach chose that moment to rumble loudly. He turned redder than ever.

Frodo looked over at Esmeralda, and then said, "You've had no breakfast yet, nor have I, and it's nearly time for second breakfast. Why don't we go on down to the dining hall and be first to find our plates?"

Merry looked up at him gratefully and nodded.

As they sat down with their plates full: sausage, bacon, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and toast, Merry set to his food with eagerness. He finally stopped briefly to take a sip of his tea. "Frodo?"

"Yes, Merry?"

"I think I am going to swear off lasses at least until I come of age!"

Frodo nodded solemnly. "That might be a good idea, cousin," he said judiciously. He wondered how many times he would hear that from him before Merry turned thirty-three.

-oo000oo-

*The death of Rorimac Brandybuck canonically took place in S.R. 1408, when Merry was 26 and Frodo was 40. I described that event in my story "Cousin Calla". This story takes place in the autumn of that same year. 
(Taken from this quotation: “There is nothing so mortifying as to fall in love with someone who does not share one's sentiments.”  
― Georgette Heyer )


 

(Written for the LOTR Gfic Community's June 2015 Challenge, "Wisdom")   

Author: Dreamflower
Title: Great Souls
Rating: G
Theme: Wisdom
Elements: This proverb: A little body doth often harbour a great soul.
Author's Notes:  See the end of the story.
Summary: Aragorn learns a bit of wisdom from Gandalf when he first meets him that he often has occasion to remember. Five vignettes.
Word Count: 3,217

Great Souls

I. In the Wilds of Eriador, Midsummer, TA 2956

Dried meat, dried fruit and dry journeybread, and water to wash it down; Aragorn had take worse meals in his life. He took a swallow, and got ready to take an uneasy rest. He was on his own for once, for Halbarad was recovering from a minor injury, though he was to meet his foster brothers soon.

Just then the tree limb he had tied to a bowstring moved suddenly. Someone had stepped on the cord. He leapt up, knife in hand and concealed himself behind the tree.

But the person who stepped into the clearing was an elderly man, clad only in threadbare grey robes, leaning upon a staff. There was something familiar about him, something he associated with Rivendell. He moved back into the opening. He sensed no threat in this one.

Before he could speak, the old man looked up from under the brim of his    tall     hat, a smile upon his face and a twinkle in his dark eyes. "Well met at last, Aragorn, son of Arathorn!"

Aragorn felt a jolt at hearing his true name spoken by one he had never met before...or had he? "You have the advantage of me," he said.

The old man chuckled. "Among the Men of the North, I am called Gandalf the Grey, although your adar called me 'Mithrandir'. We have never been introduced properly, but I of course have seen you from afar, and Elrond has often spoken fondly and proudly of you.

Of course! This was the Istari whom his father respected so much for his wisdom. Aragorn blushed at the compliments; for some reason it surprised him that his ada would say this to someone outside the family. It said something of this wizard's discretion that Elrond would entrust his foster son's secret to him. "Then I say to you 'well met' also, Gandalf the Grey! Or should I call you Mithrandir?"

"Gandalf will do. Only the Elves and the Men of Gondor call me Mithrandir. I have other names as well.

"I understand. Already I have three of them," he chuckled. "Will you join me tonight?

"I was of the mind to spend a few days with you, if you have no objection."

"Of course, I would be pleased to have your company! Especially if you have no objection to satisfying the questions I have longed to ask of you since I was ten years old and first spied you from afar, in the company of thirteen Dwarves and a perian." 

Gandalf laughed. "Hobbit, young Aragorn! For that is what his people call themselves. Have you not come across them in your time in the Wild?"

Aragorn gestured to the ground, and said, "I have no fire tonight, and only cold fare, but will you be seated with me, ere I ply you with questions?" He suited his own actions to his words, and waited until Gandalf did so as well. Then he said, "I have seen them once briefly, after joining my kinfolk. My grandfather Dirhael and my cousin Halbarad stopped over in Bree one night. The small folk there were shy of us, and avoided speaking to us. They seem a very timid and peaceful folk."

"Yes, they are, for the most part," he pulled out a pipe and gestured for Aragorn to do the same.

The two sat in a brief companionable silence as they lit their pipes. Aragorn watched in admiration as the wizard blew out several perfect smoke rings. "This is an art I learned from the hobbits of the Shire," he said.

"I've often wondered about the hobbit who accompanied the Dwarves. Even as a child, I thought him an unlikely Adventurer. Why did you bring him along?"

"There is a proverb among the wise: A little body doth often harbour a great soul. Mr. Bilbo Baggins is one such. Hobbits are loyal, and have enough sense to avoid trouble when they can, and courage enough to face it when they cannot. In addition, Bilbo comes from a clan of especially clever and lucky hobbits, and possesses a very large and generous heart. Do not ever underestimate the abilities of the small, whether of stature or of station, young Dúnadan."

Aragorn nodded. "I know that adawas impressed by him. But I have never heard the full story of what happened. I do remember that he made a rare journey from Rivendell at the time, and I wondered if his trip had to do with the Dwarves; but it seems none thought the tale fit for a ten year old."

Gandalf proved to be an excellent storyteller and Aragorn listened to his tales until late in the night. The two of them agreeing to travel together for a while, until Aragorn met up with Elladan and Elrohir.

"But then," he said, "I am expected in the Shire. Yet I will be seeing you again, Aragorn, son of Arathorn."

Aragorn was able to sleep well for once, trusting his new friend to keep watch.


II. Two Rivers, The Angle, Late autumn, TA 2982

Aragorn looked up as his mother placed the plate before him. "It is very good to have your cooking once more, nana.

"It is good to be able to cook for you once more, my son." She smiled and then sat down with her own plate. "I am glad you have returned to the North; it has been wonderful to have you visit once more these last two years."

There was a rap at the door to the Chieftain's house, and Gilraen's maidservant hurried to answer it. Mother and son turned to see who it might be, calling so early in the morning.

When Aragorn saw who it was, he rose quickly to greet his old friend. "Gandalf! It is good to see you. What brings you here to Two Rivers?"*

Aragorn could not fail to notice the pinched look on his mother's face, but she rose nonetheless to put out another plate for his guest. He knew she blamed the wizard for his twenty-three year absence. Still, it was something he had needed to do. He could not one day assume the throne of Gondor and know nothing of its people and its ways.

Gandalf made a courteous nod of his head in her direction. "Lady Gilraen, I thank you for your hospitality."

She managed a smile as she gave him his plate. She was the Chieftain's mother, and not for her to show her feelings about her son's friend. Neither Aragorn nor Gandalf were fooled, but they said nothing.

Once all were seated, Gandalf answered Aragorn's questions. "I have messages for you. Halbarad says that there are increased signs of wolves – ordinary wolves, not wargs—between the Weather Hills and the North Downs. He has also heard of a group of brigands hiding out in the ruins of Fornost. He is leaving his brother in charge of the Northen waystation and heading up to check out the rumours. Also, Elrond says that his foresight has indicated this may be an exceptionally dangerous winter. Not so bad as the Fell Winter, but bad enough. Your foster brothers are on the way to the waystation to help bolster your Rangers there."

Aragorn gave a snort of disgust. "While Halbarad is off wandering around near Fornost alone. Well, I suppose I must be off to see if I can find my wayward cousin before he gets into too much trouble."

"I am on my way to the Shire to visit an old friend. Perhaps you and I can travel together for part of the way."

Gilraen looked at the wizard. "Always it is the Shire with you! What is it you see in those little people?"

Gandalf's eyes twinkled. "A little body doth often harbour a great soul. I find them to be a very admirable race." He turned to Aragorn. "I think that the Shire itself may be in need of some extra protection from the Rangers for a while. I would hate to see its people troubled with more than the weather."

Aragorn nodded. "Rest today, my friend. I have a few matters here that need the Chieftain's attention. We shall head out in the morning."

They finished the meal, and Gandalf told of some inconsequential happenings in Rivendell, giving Gilraen some greetings from her old friends there. Gradually Gilraen thawed beneath the wizard's kindly cheer, and when Aragorn rose to attend to his business the two of them remained to talk.

III. Rivendell, Early winter, TA 3001

In recent years, when all four of Elrond's children were home and hale, the family would gather on their private terrace for breakfast. Today was the first day since Aragorn had returned from his most recent forays into the Wild that all of them were together.

He was surprised to see that Bilbo Baggins had joined the family. It was extremely rare that Elrond ever allowed others to join this special time.

All of them looked up with pleasure at the sight of him, but especially Arwen. For an instant their eyes met, and no one else existed.

"Dúnadan!" Bilbo exclaimed, "how good to see you up and about!" It startled both Aragorn and Arwen out of their reverie.

Aragorn laughed. "It is good to be up and about, Bilbo." The two had met a couple of weeks earlier, when Aragorn had returned out of the wild, injured and exhausted. The old hobbit had soon guessed his true identity, and had called him "Dúnadan" ever since.

He sat down between Arwen and Bilbo, and did his best not to react when her silken slipper rubbed against his ankle. He glanced at her and she gave him a very demure smile though her eyes were laughing at him. He surveyed the breakfast laid out before them: porridge with honey, dark bread filled with fruit and nuts, soft white cheese, a warm compote of fruit, and a bowl of apples and pears in the middle of the table.

The meal passed pleasantly. Aragorn was surprised at how talkative his foster father and brothers were. Bilbo had recently discovered the journal of another hobbit who had lived for a while in Rivendell: it had turned out to be Bilbo's long-lost uncle, Hildifons Took.**

He managed to get them to tell him stories of his uncle's stay, things not recorded in the journal.

"What an amazing life he had," said Bilbo. "Why his adventures made mine seem quite tame!"

"Your uncle never faced a dragon," said Elrond. "Nor did he try to steal from a troll."

Bilbo blushed; the others had long since ceased to eat, but he reached over and took the last apple from the bowl. "I daresay," he answered, "but it was Bard who slew the dragon, and Gandalf who dealt with the trolls." He took a bite of the apple to avoid saying more.

Aragorn had begun to know Bilbo well enough to realise that the old hobbit did not suffer praise well. He was a very modest creature, considering all he'd done in his long life.

Bilbo slid down from the cushions on the chair and bowed to Elrond. "Thank you for the lovely second breakfast. I'll take my leave now; I have to tidy my rooms before elevenses." He glanced at each of the others, including them in his farewell as well, and walked away with great dignity.

The twins waited until the hobbit was out of earshot before laughing. "Only a hobbit would find the imminence of one meal to be an excuse to leave another," said Elladan.

Elrond had smiled fondly at the retreating hobbit. "Gandalf always says 'A little body doth often harbour a great soul.' when speaking of hobbits."

Aragorn nodded. "He said that to me the first time I met him." He stopped for an instant, a frown furrowing his brow. "The last time I saw him, he asked that the Dúnadain double the watch over the Shire. I hope that was not based on some foresight of danger."

"You would do well to heed his request. He is one of the Wise, after all." Elrond responded.

"Indeed. I shall of course." He frowned in thought, remembering how fondly Bilbo had spoken off his young ward Frodo, and others of his kin and friends. He hoped they were not in peril, but if they were he would do all in his power to protect them.


 IV. Bree, Autumn, TA 3018

Aragorn sat by the door, smoking, listening to the hobbits' soft breathing. He knew there would be danger in the night, but believed they would be safe with him. Why did he do it? he wondered. What impulse had moved his heart? He knew he could have aided them without an oath. He knew his destiny-- if he succeeded, he would owe fealty to no one. Yet here in Bree, far from his goal and with peril at every turn, he had offered it to one with no rank, feckless, careless, ignorant of the world. He winced as he recalled that disastrous moment in the common room.

Now he had pledged himself: "If by life or death I can save you, I will." The words had been spoken, and now he was bound to Frodo and his friends by oath. To fail in those words would make him forsworn. Yet he did not regret it. It was meant to be.

A little body doth often harbour a great soul. Those words of Gandalf from so many years ago rang in his mind as clearly as if the wizard was sitting next to him. He recalled how often Bilbo had said of Frodo that he was the best hobbit in the Shire. He realised that in spite of Frodo's ignorance of the world beyond the Shire and the dangers they faced, he saw in him all those qualities of great spirit that he'd seen in Bilbo. Aragorn searched his own heart, and understood his pledge was not born of an impulse to comfort a frightened hobbit, but out of knowing in his heart it was the right thing to do.

The journey to Rivendell was likely to prove perilous and difficult. He hoped he would be able to guide these young innocents there without mishap. And he earnestly wished they would encounter Gandalf along the way.


V. Cormallen, Spring, TA 3019

This was the day he had awaited for two weeks. So often he had second guessed his decision not to follow after Frodo and Sam, leaving them to pursue their impossible quest alone. When he had seen their battered forms borne by the Eagles out of the Black Land, he thought his heart would burst with terror and sorrow. If they had died, victory would have been but ashes, and he did not think he would have had the heart to claim his throne.

But now he sat between the Prince of Dol Amroth and the new King of Rohan, acknowledged a king by this victorious host even though he would not be crowned until they returned to Minas Tirith. He gazed out over the ranks of soldiers who had made between them a path upon which three figures walked amidst the clamor of cheers: one tall and gleaming white, the other two small and clad in scorched rags. His heart twisted at the sight of them, gaunt still, after their long deprivation. Yet Gandalf had insisted they first appear to the host this way rather than the finery Aragorn had arranged for them, a symbol of all they had sacrificed to accomplish their task.

Closer and closer they came, and Aragorn could now distinguish their features. Frodo looked almost frightened, but Sam was gazing about with astonishment writ upon his honest face. Aragorn laid aside the sword, and stared at Gandalf. They locked eyes and Gandalf could hear his voice inside his head:  'A little body doth often harbour a great soul.' They shared a moment together of pride in these two great souls.

He grinned at the instant that recognition dawned upon the two hobbits. Frodo began to run, and so did Sam. They ran right up to him, delight in their eyes.

Frodo just stared, but Sam looked up. “Well, if that isn't the crown of all! Strider, or I'm still asleep!”

He looked down fondly. “Yes, Sam, Strider. It is a
long way, is it not, from Bree, where you did not like the look of
me? A long way for us all but yours has been the darkest road.”

He knelt before them, and drew in a deep breath, and reached out to take their hands gently. He blinked back tears at the sight of Frodo's still bandaged hand, and then led them to the throne of grass upon which he had been seated, and he lifted each one up and placed them upon it. They stared at him, eyes wide as saucers, and he laughed. Then he turned and in a mighty voice proclaimed: “Praise them with great praise!”

-oo000oo-

*Two Rivers is my own invention: a fortified town located in The Angle between the Bruinen (Loudwater) River and the Mithiethel (Hoarwell) River, southwest of Rivendell.

**In my story "Trotter", posted at this site.

Author's Notes:

Vignettes based on these entries in the Tale of Years--

The second vignette is an invention.

I.2956: Aragorn meets Gandalf (SR 1356)
III. 3001: The watch is doubled on the Shire (SR 1401)
IV. 3018: Aragorn meets the four hobbits in Bree, and gives Frodo his allegiance. (SR 1401)

V. And on this passage in RotK, Book VI, Chapter IV, “The Field of Cormallen”--

And so the red blood blushing in their faces and their eyes shining with wonder, Frodo and Sam went forward and saw that amidst the clamorous host were set three high-seats built of green turves. Behind the seat upon the right floated, white on green, a great horse running free; upon the left was a banner, silver upon blue, a ship swan-prowed faring on the sea; but behind the highest throne in the midst of all a great standard was spread in the breeze, and there a white tree flowered upon a sable field beneath a shining crown and seven glittering stars. On the throne sat a mail-clad man, a great sword was laid across his knees, but he wore no helm. As they drew near he rose. And then they knew him, changed as he was, so high and glad of face, kingly, lord of Men, dark-haired with eyes of grey.

     Frodo ran to meet him, and Sam followed
close behind. 'Well, if that isn't the crown of all!' he said.
'Strider, or I'm still asleep!'

     'Yes, Sam, Strider,' said Aragorn. 'It is a
long way, is it not, from Bree, where you did not like the look of
me? A long way for us all but yours has been the darkest road.'

     And then to Sam's surprise and utter confusion he bowed his knee before them; and taking them by the hand, Frodo upon his right and Sam upon his left, he led them to the throne, and setting them upon it, he turned to the men and captains who stood by and spoke, so that his voice rang over all the host, crying:

     'Praise them with great praise!'

The past few years I have kind of had a tradition of giving my friends a new story set in the Eucatastrophe-AU for my birthday. This one is a day late, due to me having an unexpected errand that took me out of town yesterday, and also to some formatting trouble and a keyboard with the hiccups. At any rate, here is my birthday mathom for this year! I apologize for the lateness!

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story takes place in my Eucatastrophe-AU, in which the Three Rings do not fade, but are freed instead, by the destruction of the One, and in which Saruman was killed by Quickbeam in the destruction of Isengard--so that Sharkey never came to the Shire. Elves are, for the first time, free to return to Middle-earth from Valinor, and--most important of all, Frodo was healed, and lived on in the Shire, a Shire in which the Edict banning Men never became permanent.

This story takes place about a year after Frodo retired to Gondor (at the age of 83) to work on his book on the languages of Middle-earth. He lives with Gandalf (who also remained in Middle-earth for a while) in the same guesthouse in Minas Tirith that they stayed in after the War. For the first two years he was joined by Merry's son Peridoc, Pippin's son Faramir, and Sam's two sons, Merry and Pippin Gamgee, who were spending time as pages and being educated in the court of King Elessar.


Thain Peregrin's Very Large Birthday Gift

1 Astron, S.R. 1452

"I wish I was not having a party this year, Diamond. I'm too old for parties like we had when I was young, and too young to have a party to celebrate my having achieved a remarkable age. I think I shall have no more birthday parties until I am eleventy-one."

"You are the Thain, Pippin. You cannot simply ignore your birthdays. Besides, that is not the reason you don't want a party this year. You are missing Fam, and you don't think a party without your son will be any fun."

Pippin huffed out a humourless chuckle. "You know me too well, my dearest. It won't be the same without Fam here, or without Perry or Frodo, for that matter." He sighed. His son and Merry's son, and Merry and Pippin Gamgee had all accompanied Frodo to Gondor last year; the lads were to be educated at the court of King Elessar for two years, when Frodo had gone there to work on his book about languages. He'd hoped for a letter from them in time for his birthday--it would have been something, at least. But the post between the Shire and Gondor, while more reliable than in the past, still was unpredictable.

"Now," said Diamond, standing before him and reaching up to adjust his collar and cravat, "you will have guests coming today with gifts and the Party is tomorrow. Don't let me catch you moping!" She tiptoed up and pressed a kiss upon his lips, and he caught her by the shoulders and returned it as more than just the brisk peck she had planned. They drew apart after a moment, breathless and flushed, and Pippin grinned at his wife. She patted her hair and said, "Don't you try to distract me, Peregrin Took. We must wait for that sort of thing until we've plenty of time to enjoy ourselves," her voice was prim, but her eyes twinkled, and he reached for her again, but she ducked away. "And now is not the time." She took up his jacket and handed it to him, careful to stay out of grabbing range. "Later, my love," she cooed, and swept out of their room with a rustle of skirts.

Pippin laughed, his mood much improved, and the thought of "later" on his mind.

The family took first breakfast in the family quarters, and his daughters presented him with their gifts.

Primrose had a number of her sketches bound into a book; the first page was a portrait of her parents, and within were a number of homely scenes she had captured of members of her family and of the denizens of the Great Smials, as well as of the gardens and grounds. She beamed when her father was excited over it--"Primmie, these are amazing. Thank you so much! I think you will be known as the greatest Shire artist since Calla Brandybuck!"

His oldest daughter blushed. "Uncle Frodo was a good teacher, and Calla was his teacher!" Pippin just smiled, remembering how thrilled Primrose had been when Frodo had agreed to accept her as his student.

Petunia and Pansy had made their gift for him together. The twins were fairly gifted with their needles, and had made him a new weskit. It was of light grey summer-weight wool, and they had embroidered the tree and stars of Gondor on the lapel. He grinned and embraced the both of them, and stood up to change into it right then and there, pulling off his jacket and taking off the weskit he was wearing and putting the new one on. Then he spread his arms, turning round so they could see how well it fit, and strutted about the dining room with his chest puffed out. He reduced them all to giggles, before sitting down once more at the table to finish his first breakfast. Then he went to his study to begin his day's work.

The morning was broken by second breakfast in the dining hall, and elevenses as he worked, and also by the frequent diffident approaches of servants and minor members of the Family bearing small gifts, to be given as was proper, on the day before the birthday. Pippin accepted them graciously, the smallest ones finding a place in his capacious pockets, the more unwieldy ones carried about until he could find a place to put them down. There were carvings and pocket handkerchiefs and pastries and cakes and jars of preserves and bottles of homemade wine and polished stones and other such things. He appreciated these tokens of his people's affection for him, and as was his wont he would remember them all.

Luncheon would be in the main dining hall, and he returned to his own quarters to empty his pockets and freshen up. He washed his face and combed his hair and feet. Diamond joined him, and they walked together to the dining hall. The two of them waved at their daughters, who were already seated with friends at the tween's table. Luncheon was a less formal meal, and they helped themselves at the sideboard before seeking their seats at the high table. Pearl was already in her seat which was to Pippin's right. She smiled up at Pippin, as her brother gave her a kiss on the forehead in greeting.

"Merry and Sam should be here very soon," she said.

Diamond nodded. "They have said they will be bringing a special gift with them," she added. She looked sideways at her husband, who had scrunched his face up. "Aren't you curious?"

"I am. But I have to say, I wish Sam would not indulge Merry."

"What do you mean, little brother?" asked Pearl mischievously, though she knew perfectly well.

"Merry! He knows the byrding should not be upstaged by the gifts he gets! The gifts I give should outshine anything given to me."

Pearl shook her head. "Peregrin Took! You know quite well that there is to be no competition in the giving of gifts, nor is anyone to call attention to the value of them! It's quite rude! What would Frodo's old Aunt Dora have said?"

Pippin snorted. "She'd have been quite appalled at the both of us, and then 'What would you expect of a Brandybuck and a Took?' is what she'd have said." Then he looked a bit abashed. "I'm sure Frodo would agree with her; he always reigns in Merry's and my excesses."

Pippin grew quiet as he turned his attention to the meal before him, and scarcely listened as his wife and his sister (who between them managed the Tooks quite successfully with little need to call on him) discussed the goings on in the Smials. Diamond, as a healer, was pleased that they had avoided any outbreaks of the usual spring childhood ailments so far, and Pearl mentioned that two of the married maidservants had confided in her that they thought they had quickened with child. "Send them to me," said Diamond, "and I'll confirm it for them."

Pippin was trying to decide whether to take his plate for a return visit to the sideboard (for the lamb had been especially good) when one of the grooms entered the dining room. Diccon was twisting his hat in his hands and looked both nervous (for he was unused to coming inside the big smial) and excited. He approached the table, and bent to speak to Pippin in a low voice. "Begging your pardon, Thain Pippin," he said, "but there's a waggon a-coming up the road from Tuckborough way, and there's Big Folks with it." His voice was awed. "And the Master and Mayor Sam, they're with it too!"

Pippin's jaw dropped. Since the Edict had been allowed to expire many years ago, it was not entirely unknown for Men to enter the Shire on business from time to time, and indeed, two years ago the King and Queen and their folk had deigned to visit and to stay at the Great Smials for a time. But it was still a matter of excitement and speculation when Men did show up--and for Merry and Sam to be with them could only mean that whoever and whatever was in the waggon was to do with whatever that mysterious gift might be.

Needless to say, the lamb (however excellent) was instantly banished to the back of his mind. Diamond and Pearl had both heard Diccon's announcement, and were just as curious as Pippin.

They did not run, they had their adult dignity to maintain after all, but the three of them rushed out as quickly as they could. Though Pippin had said nothing, a few observant Tooks noticed his departure, and by the time he, Diamond and Pearl had gone down the front drive toward the road, there was a substantial crowd following them. Pippin found himself tempted to run the rest of the way and hang over the fence, as he used to do as a child. Perhaps it showed on his face, because suddenly his sister latched onto his arm. "Oh no you don't, Peregrin Took! You aren't seven years old anymore."

Pippin rolled his eyes, and looked down the road, as the approaching waggon came closer. He saw both Merry and Sam riding their ponies alongside. Behind the waggon was the Gamgee coach, purchased by Frodo for Sam's family shortly after Frodo-lad was born. And in the waggon were three men and a hobbit...no, three Men and a boy...he noticed with disbelieving joy: one of them looked familiar. "Menelcar!" he shouted, and escaping his wife and sister, he raced towards it.

The driver of the waggon stopped, and the Man seated next to him came down, and knelt in the road to receive Pippin's laughing embrace. After a moment of back-thumping hugs, Pippin drew back to look at his old friend. The minstrel's weathered face had changed little save for deeper laugh lines, his once ginger hair had gone wholly white, and there was now a stoop to his lanky form. They drew apart, and Menelcar gestured to the boy who jumped down from the back of the waggon and came over to help Menelcar rise. The child appeared to Pippin to be about eleven or twelve years old. He had a head full of wavy ginger hair and was perhaps an inch taller than Pippin.

Menelcar introduced him. "This is my latest apprentice, Culas son of Carafin, my great-nephew, grandson to my sister. Culas, this is Sir Peregrin Took, Thain Peregrin of the Shire."

Culas bowed. "At your service and your family's, Sir Peregrin." Clearly Menelcar had taught the boy the manners of the North.

Pippin returned his greeting, and then turned to see Merry grinning down at him from the back of his pony. "You sneaky Brandybuck! Is this, then your surprise?"

Merry chuckled. "Not entirely. This particular conspiracy originated in Gondor, with our Baggins cousin and your son and Gandalf, and with the help of a certain King we know. We only found out a fortnight ago, when a King's Messenger brought news they were on the way."

Menelcar introduce the other two Men, Master Lenandor, son of Gannandil and the other, whom Pippin realized was in the livery of the Tower Guard, Belegorn, son of Borondir. "Belegorn! Good heavens, you are all grown up! How is your father?"

"He is enjoying his retirement, Sir Peregrin," said the young Guardsman.

"Well, shall we get this thing into the smials?" asked Sam. "And I know Rosie and Estella and the children are right tired of that coach."

Pippin nodded, and at Menelcar's invitation, clambered up to the waggon. He turned to look at the very large item, all covered in canvas, in the back. They drove up the wide curved drive, stopping in front of the Great Door. Servants rushed out to help the guests from the coach, and to see if they would be needed to help with the gift.

Master Lenandor, Belegorn and Culas used pegs to attach a set of wheels to the big wooden crate revealed when the canvas was rolled back. A cunning ramp hidden beneath the waggon was pulled out and the crate was carefully unloaded.

Pippin could scarcely contain his curiosity as they rolled the large crate through the Great Door into the front hall.

"Where should we put it," asked Menelcar.

Pippin shook his head. "How should I know? I don't even know what it is, much less where it should go!"

Sam and Merry laughed at the frustration in Pippin's voice. "One of the parlours, I think," said Merry. "One with space enough, and some natural light in the daytime."

Diamond paused. "The south parlour, I think. It's large enough, with a space in the center, and it has both a window facing the south terrace and a skylight."

The parlour was a spacious room, but it didn't seem so, what with the large crate and all the Men and hobbits crowded into the room. Pearl looked around, and began to shoo mere onlookers out, leaving only the Men who now had room to unpack the gift, and the Brandybucks, the Gamgees, and Pippin and his own immediate family as witnesses. The Men used crowbars to carefully pry off the boards at the side, revealing a large object covered with thick grey woolen blankets. Menelcar and Calus went over and began to take the blankets off, to reveal a strangely shaped box on three legs.

Pippin looked at it, puzzled. "A box harp?" he asked. He'd seen that rather tinkly instrument in Minas Tirith, but he honestly thought the sound was disappointing.

"No, Sir Peregrin," said Master Lenandor. "this is a new instrument of my own devising. I call it 'drîngtithin', or 'little hammers' as you might say. It has quite a different sound. It has become quite popular in the White City."

Pippin stared. A new instrument. He felt his heart beat faster; it had been a long time since he had learned to play a different musical instrument. "Is it hard to learn?" he asked.

"The keyboard is played much like the box harp, but the sound is produced differently. You should have no trouble learning to play it," Master Lenandor replied.

Menelcar cleared his throat. "I have a letter for you, which will explain much, Pippin." He took a sealed letter from his tunic and passed it over.

One look at the elegant hand gave him to know that the letter was from Frodo. He gestured to Sam and Merry, for they always shared correspondence from Frodo if they were together.

Trewsday, 2 Solmath, S.R. 1452
Sixth Circle
Minas Tirith, Gondor

Dear Pippin,
I hope we have astonished you with your birthday gift!

The idea came from your son several months ago. The lads and I attended a concert at the Citadel of Master Lenandor playing upon his invention, the drîngtithin. All of us were enthralled by the music.

Perry, Merry-lad and Pippin-lad could not stop talking about it, but Fam was unusually quiet.

I asked him what he was thinking, and he said, “I want Papa to have one of those.” The instant he said it, I knew he was right, and that it was just the thing for you.

Thus was our conspiracy born. Menelcar introduced us to Master Lenandor, and we learned what the cost would be to build one sized for hobbits.

While it is true that Gandalf and I bore the main part of the cost, Fam wished to pay for some of it as well, and the other lads were also excited about the prospect. All four of them earned extra money taking various small jobs about the neighborhood when they were not on duty as pages or attending lessons at the Citadel. One day they spent an afternoon baking, and then took their wares down to the market the next morning. They sold everything most successfully, and a guild baker approached them and offered an enormous sum for the reciept for Bucklebury Cakes.

The instrument was successfully built, and of course, Aragorn had to get in on it as well. He gave Menelcar leave to accompany the gift, and made arrangements for an escort of Guardsmen to go along. You will also find that the Queen made her contribution as well, and I believe that Menelcar has a more personal gift to add along with his presence. Master Lenandor agreed to go along to see your drîngtithin set up and to help you learn to play it, mostly I believe to have a free trip to the Shire.

I hope that it has arrived safely and that you will enjoy it quite as much as young Faramir and I believe you will.

Do give my love to all! Gandalf also sends his regards and his wishes for a Happy Birthday.

Your loving cousin,
Frodo

P.S. Your son wishes to have his say as well, so I am allowing him to add to this letter. FB

Dear Papa,

I really, really hope you like your present! It's quite the biggest present I have ever given anybody, even though I had a lot of help.

Have a VERY Happy Birthday, Papa! And give my love to Mama and to Primmie and Pet and Pansy, and to my aunts. And also everybody else. When I get home I would like you to play on it for me.

I miss you all very much, but I like it here, too!

Love,
Your son,

Fam

Pippin had to blink away tears by the time he got to the end.

Merry slung an arm around his cousin. "That was quite an undertaking! I would have loved to see our lads hawking pastries in the marketplace!"

Sam chuckled. "Well, looks like the lads are keeping Mr. Frodo busy down there."

Pippin handed the letter to Diamond and went over to see the drîngtithin. It looked like a box harp, but Master Lenandor raised the cover of the keyboard and leaned over and began to play a scale. The sound was deep and rich and soft; then he played it again, a bit harder. This time the scale was deep and rich and loud. He turned and went to the back and raised the lid. Pippin stared in--there were the wire harp-strings as found in a box harp, but instead of the little quills that plucked the strings there were tiny little hammers.

Master Lenandor said "Culas?"

The boy looked at his uncle. Menelcar nodded, and Culas went to sit on the small stool that accompanied the instrument and began to play a simple Gondorian melody. Pippin watched in fascination as the tiny hammers came up and struck the wires. The sound was unlike any other he had heard before; not quite bell-like, but far from the tinkly sound of the box harp. Then a note struck that made him cringe. Young Culas winced, but Master Lenandor shook his head. " 'Twas not you, Culas. As I feared, the journey means I shall need to do some tuning. Sir Peregrin, are you familiar with tuning stringed instruments?"

Pippin nodded. "I play the fiddle and the lap harp."

"You may wish to watch this. It is a somewhat similar process..."

Nearly all the onlookers now began to drift away, save Merry, who was curious about the mechanisms. Menelcar and Culas also remained to assist in the tuning. Pippin paid close attention. He knew the minstrels would be returning to Gondor and it would be up to him to keep the instrument tuned after they left.

Even Merry had grown tired of watching the musicians as they carefully checked each key and string, adjusting the notes. It took much longer than tuning a fiddle, which he had often seen Pippin do.

Finally they had it adjusted to their satisfaction. "Do not fear that you will need to do this often Sir Peregrin. So long as it is not moved far and it is not exposed to the damp or excessive heat and cold, it should need to be tuned only about once a year, if that."

"Now let us play something." He leaned over the keyboard (for he was too tall to play it seated) and began to play a beautiful and complicated piece that made Pippin long to learn it. Just then the parlour door opened, and a maidservant gave a little curtsy. "Thain Pippin, Mistress Diamond wants to know if you want to bring your guests and take tea in the Big Folk's wing, or if you would like to have tea here with your new present?" She looked wide-eyed at the large item in the middle of the floor, doubtless wondering if she would have to dust it.

Pippin grinned at her. "Thank you, Clover. Please let Lady Diamond know that we'll be along to the new wing shortly."

She gave a bob of her head, and then before she turned to leave, she asked: "Beg pardon, sir, but what's it called?"

Pippin hesitated, trying to think how to pronounce drîngtithin. But Menelcar told her, a twinkle in his eye when she blinked at being addressed by a Man.

She nodded. "A 'dring-thing'. Very well." She went out to give her message, and all the others in the room laughed.

"You do realize, Pip," said Merry, "that the name of this is now going to be 'dring-thing' in Westron here in the Shire."

Master Lenandor looked appalled.

Pippin looked at him apologetically. "I am afraid Merry's right. It's new name will now spread like wildfire throughout the Great Smials."

Menelcar patted his colleague on the shoulder. "It is inevitable, my friend. I do not doubt that before the year is out it will simply be called a 'dring'."

Merry sputtered out with a laugh. "Can't you just hear folks asking you to play the springle-ring upon your dring, Pip?"

The Men remained for two months, so that Master Lenandor could give Pippin lessons on his new gift. The bards enjoyed the hospitality of the Shire, and Master Lenandor found himself composing several pieces inspired by his surroundings and the cheerful folk he encountered, enjoying his free visit to the Shire immensely. Pippin enjoyed learning to play his 'dring', but even more was pleased when his daughter Pansy and also Merry's youngest daughter Dilly wanted to learn to play it as well. Merry was not quite so happy. "Where am I going to get one of those? You know she's going to want one!"

Pippin just grinned. If Nephridil Brandybuck wanted one, he had no doubt Merry would move heaven and earth to get it for her.

-oo000oo-

AUTHOR'S END NOTE:

I had quite a time what to call the Middle-earth version of a piano. My original idea was to call it a "soft-loud" in Sindarin, but I could not find a word that meant a soft sound, and the word for loud just indicated "noisy" in the definition, and I was not sure how to combine them correctly, anyway. In my research on early pianos, I quickly realized what differentiated the piano from the harpsichord (which I call a "box harp" in this story) was the use of the little hammers, so I decided that Master Lenandor would name it after his innovation: so "little hammers" is what the word drîngtithin means. It's a combination of "dring" (hammer, like Glamdring, "foe-hammer") and "tithen" which means "little". If I made a mistake changing the vowels to indicate plural, just chalk it down to it being Gondorian Sindarin instead of Elvish Sindarin. I'm no scholar in Elven languages, so the word is sort of cobbled together.

At any rate, the resulting word would definitely sound odd to the hobbits, and made for a bit of silly word play.

Author: Dreamflower
Title: Eucatastrophe: The Welcoming Feast
Rating: G
Theme: A great feast recipe!fic
Elements: musicians
Author's Notes: This story takes place in my Eucatastrophe-verse. In this AU, the Three Rings were freed by the destruction of the Ring rather than fading; travel between Elvenhome and Middle-earth ceased to be one way; while Bilbo stayed in the West, Frodo and Gandalf returned; and the Edict banning Men from the Shire was never enacted. Other Author's Notes at the end.
Summary: At a feast welcoming the King and Queen to the Shire, Merry, Pippin, Frodo and Sam challenge them to a little contest.
Word Count: 3,334

Eucatastrophe: The Welcoming Feast


"And this" said Thain Peregrin, throwing open the wide doors at the end of the corridor, "is the new guest wing." He turned to look up and beam with pride at the guests who had been following him on his grand tour of the Great Smials, all of them Big Folk, foremost among them the High King of Gondor and Arnor, Elessar Telcontar and his queen Arwen Undomiel.

Pippin descended the four wide steps which led down into a large room. His guests, consisting of the King, the Queen, the Queen's brothers Elladan and Elrohir, the Court Bard Menelcar, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, one of the Queen's handmaidens Lady Halleth, and a couple of Guardsmen (one of whom was once the young lad Pippin had met during the War, Bergil), all following. (The rest of the King's Entourage were encamped in the Assembly Field across the road from the Great Smials.) They stopped and stretched a little when they reached the floor. While the ceilings in the Great Smials were higher than those in most hobbit dwellings and all of them had been able to walk upright they had still felt cramped and they had needed to duck considerably when going through doorways. The doors here were still round, but they were sized with the tallest of the Big Folk in mind. They were followed by a select few hobbits: Frodo Baggins, Sam Gamgee and his wife Rose, and Merry Brandybuck and his wife Estella.

A large fireplace and hearth was on the wall across the room from the entrance. It was flanked by two (scandalously) rectangular double doors fitted with panes of glass. To both the right and the left were arched openings leading to a corridor where the special guest rooms and bathing rooms were located. The room into which they entered was furnished with an assortment of comfortable seating meant to accommodated folks both tall and short. It was bright and airy and an altogether cheerful room; in spite of its size, the room was quite hobbity.

Pippin grinned proudly and waved an arm at the corridor on the left. "Down that passageway are four guest rooms a bathing room and a water closet, and at the end is the Royal Quarters. It has a private bathing room and water closet. The other one," he waved at the other door, "is the same, except at the end is the Wizard's Room. All of the regular guest rooms will accommodate two people at need. Your servants brought your baggage earlier, and have placed it in your rooms."

While the rest of the guests began to explore the place, Aragorn and Arwen waited behind with the hobbits. Pippin looked up once again at the King, this time rather anxiously. "Do you like it, Strider?"

Aragorn raised an eyebrow and looked down at his small host. "I think the rooms are remarkable; also that they will have been a rather exorbitant undertaking for a place that will be rarely used. While I appreciate your thoughtfulness, I wonder at the extravagance, my friend. You know that we would have been quite happy camping with the rest."

Pippin looked relieved. "Oh. Well, it didn't cost the hobbits of the Shire. Most of it came from my own pockets, and Merry, Frodo and Sam all insisted on adding in on the expenses." The Tooks, Brandybucks and Bagginses had all been well-heeled before the Quest, and Merry and Pippin came back even wealthier; Sam had made a number of wise investments since his return with the nest egg Bilbo had given him. While Frodo had refused any material reward, his return to Bag End had brought with it the return of what he had originally given up. "And it did take a lot of time, so it gave a lot of work to hobbits in the building of it."

Just then, Gandalf returned from examining his room. "That room is remarkably similar to my room at Bag End," he said with a twinkle in his eye.

The other hobbits all turned and looked at Frodo, who blushed, but smiled at the same time. "Bilbo always says, if something works, don't change it." Pippin had given the room over to Frodo to plan, and though it was a bit larger than Gandalf's room at Bag End and had an attached water closet, it was otherwise the same.

"Well," said Pippin, "we'll leave you to get acquainted with your new rooms. Don't forget that we will be having a Great Feast of Welcoming this evening."

"Are we still doing the mushrooms?" asked Merry. "After babying those beauties all the way from the Marish, I'm looking forward to getting my hands on them." Farmer Maggot had donated several baskets of his finest mushrooms as a tribute to the Royal Guests, and the four friends had decided to make a friendly competition of their preparation.

Sam rubbed his hands together and winked at his wife. "So am I." Frodo just nodded, with a thoughtful smile, as though he was contemplating the mushrooms in question.

"Indeed we are still doing it!" declared Pippin firmly. He looked at the Royal Couple. "You will be the judges of which dish is best."

"That may be difficult," said Aragorn. "I know what excellent cooks all of you are."

"And I know the way of hobbits and mushrooms!" said Gandalf. "My mouth is already watering at the thought."

"Shall we make the challenge even more difficult?" asked Merry.

"How?" Pippin asked. "What would make it more difficult?

"Let us say, not just to decide which is best, but also to decide who made which dish!"

Aragorn looked as though he was about to object, but Arwen lay her hand upon her husband's arm. "I think that sounds a delightful game," she said, a glint of mischief in her eyes.

Challenge accepted, the four hobbits hurried off to make their preparations.

Aragorn turned and looked at Arwen. "Do you really want to do this? Hobbits are very subtle in their cooking, and differences that they think should be obvious are not always so to those of other Races."

"Trust me, dear, it will be fun." Then she chuckled. "Besides it's only a game. What does it matter if we win or not."

Aragorn looked appalled. "What does it matter?" he spluttered.

Now both Gandalf and Arwen laughed. "You remind me of Master Meriadoc," said Gandalf. "But hobbits have quite a history with mushrooms. Did I ever tell you that my first meeting with Gerontius involved a mushroom and chicken pie?"

-oo000oo-

The feast was being held outdoors, as the main dining hall within the Great Smials was not large enough for everyone. A huge pavilion (one the visitors had brought with them) had been set up on the lawn below the South Terrace off the ballroom. The ballroom would be used later for the dancing, and as Aragorn and the rest of his party made their way to the terrace, they could hear the musicians warming up their instruments. Merry, Sam and Frodo were there, and looked up eagerly at their arrival.

"Where is Thain Peregrin?" the King asked.

Frodo smiled. "He's in there with the musicians. He'll likely be playing his fiddle for at least part of the dancing later on. He asked that Menelcar join them when he could."

The Bard, who had been standing near the back of the group, gave a bow. "By your leave, Sire?" Aragorn nodded, and Menelcar strode to the ballroom, his harp slung across his back.

A few moments later Pippin came out, accompanied by his cousin Reggie, who helped him with his duties of overseeing the Shire. He bowed, and greeted the King. Reggie had met him during a previous visit, when the King's party had only stopped at the Stonebow Bridge. Now that Pippin was there it was time to call the mingled crowd to attention, and to proceed to the pavilion.

The long trestle table had been set up with seats of varying sizes; the table itself was slightly lower than a regular table for Big Folk and slightly higher than one for hobbits.
The seats for the Big Folk were along one side and those for the hobbits along the other side. The King was placed at the center of the Big Folk's side, with the Queen on his right and Gandalf on his left. Legolas, Gimli and other members of their entourage were on either side.

Across from the King, the Thain had been placed, with Diamond on his right and Frodo on his left. Merry and Estella were on the other side of Frodo, while Sam and Rose were to the other side of Diamond. Pippin's sisters and their husbands and a few other close relatives filled out the hobbit side of the table. A number of other tables were in the pavilion: one for the tweens, one for the younger children, and several for various other hobbit guests.

As was hobbit custom, the servers began to bring out large bowls and platters of food to place on the table, rather than having the servers serve each individual diner. However certain exceptions were made for the King and Queen. First there was a large tureen of soup. It smelled richly of herbs and mushrooms.

It was dished into their bowls before being placed on the table for everyone else to pass around and serve themselves.

The soup was smooth and creamy, with small morsels of mushrooms floating among the specks of finely minced green herbs. Both monarchs smiled at the velvety texture and the rich and slightly tangy flavor. "This is superb, whichever of you made it," said Aragorn, casting his eyes upon the hobbits who said across from him.

"I certainly hope that I can convince the cook to part with his recipe before we leave the Shire." She looked intently at each one of the four in turn, but all of them simply looked back innocently.

After the soups had been placed on the tables along with breads, came the salads and then other dishes began to make their appearance. Once more a single plate was brought before the King and Queen. On this one was a glistening array of mushrooms, smelling of rosemary and garlic and a strong cheese. They were golden and steaming.

After they each took a couple of them onto their plates, Arwen was the first to pick one up and take a delicate bite. Her face lit up with pleasure, and her husband was quick to follow. They ate every morsel of the mushrooms that they had taken, but not more. Both were familiar with hobbit appetites and feasts, and knew they had much more food before them. This time they did not even think of trying to make any guesses. Instead they simply waited, making small talk with their hosts until another dish was brought before them. This was a pie, the crust flaky and golden-brown. As it was cut into they could see a layer of molten white cheese, and below it a filling of mushrooms and onions, and more cheese.

Once again they tasted another mushroom dish, and the pastry just melted in their mouths. The cheese ran in strings from their mouths to the fork, and the mushroom layer was earthy and delightful. It was all they could do to restrain themselves from taking another piece, but they knew they had one more dish to try.

More dishes made their appearance on the table, mostly platters of roasted meat or fowl, or fried fish, and bowls of vegetables. Aragorn and Arwen took only the merest taste of these dishes, since they were not the special one they awaited.

Then a bowl was brought to them and they instantly knew it was the one they awaited. The wonderful aroma of mushrooms competed with the compelling scent of bacon; herbs, garlic and onions, and a rather sharp sweet-scented aroma completed the delightful smell. Once more it was an effort not to eat too much. They knew a magnificent cake had been planned as the end of the meal.

As it was, they were barely able to manage a sliver of the marvelous confection: three tiers of fruity-nutty cake covered in marzipan, with a delicate sugar-paste model of the Citadel atop it.

Finally the feast drew to a close. Pippin leaned forward towards his guests. "Well, what is your verdict?" he asked.

The two exchanged a look, and then shook their heads. "Give us until the end of the evening to consult with one another," Aragorn said, "and we shall give you our answers before the evening ends."

"Very well. But don't think you'll slide out of it. We mean to have our answers!" He then stood, and announced that all would proceed to the ballroom for the dancing.

The wide doors to the ballroom were flung open, and the music of a stately pavane floated out into the night. The dancers made their way into the room in graceful procession, each couple taking two steps forward, one back, and then a slight step away from one another, before repeating the process. The King and Queen led the dance, followed by the Thain and his Lady, and then other couples in order of their rank. Frodo was partnered by Pippin's widowed sister Pearl. Once all were inside the ballroom the dance ended. Pippin kissed Diamond's hand, and said "I'll be back in after a few more dances." He trotted over to the other musicians, and vaulting onto the dais picked up his fiddle and bow, which waited for him there. The musicians, including Menelcar, quickly launched into a lively circle dance tune, "Southfarthing Brawl", a dance which grew quickly faster and faster until the end, leaving the dancers panting and breathless. This was followed by a slower couples dance.

Aragorn and Arwen looked at one another after that dance. "Shall we circulate?" Arwen asked. "I am sure we will get some clues if we do."

"I already have one clue," replied her husband. "I know the stuffed mushrooms are Frodo's contribution. It's rather unfair, I suppose. But one evening on our journey South, the hobbits were speaking of food as they often did, and the subject of Bilbo's stuffed mushrooms came up. Meriadoc sang their praises, but said Frodo's were even better. I am sure that they do not recall that evening or Frodo would have made something else."

Arwen smiled softly, with laughter in her eyes. "One down, then, three more to go." Aragorn kissed her hand, and the two parted to work the room, making their ways to different groups of hobbits. If the food served at the feast was not the topic of conversation, it was not hard to turn it to that subject. They avoided any group in which Merry, Frodo or Sam was a part. Pippin was safe upon the stage with the musicians.

Gandalf came quietly up behind Aragorn as he was listening to Pippin's sister Pimpernel talk of how well Pippin had learned to make pastry from Sam. "Cheating, Aragorn?" he murmured.

Aragorn gave a roguish grin. "There were no rules set down," he said, "so I do not suppose cheating even comes into it."

Gandalf chuckled. "On your own head be it," he said.

"It usually is," Aragorn replied. Just then he was rejoined by his wife, who nodded at the stage. It was between dances, and Pippin had put his fiddle down and was coming to join Diamond for more dancing.

"Ah! Well, vanimelda, shall we dance again?"

Slower dances were alternated with livelier ones, until the end of the evening, when the dance "Candles" was played. A slow dance done in sets of two couples, the main lights were doused and each person was given a small candle to hold during the dance. It was quite beautiful.

This was the signal for the party to break up, and the King and Queen found themselves cornered.

"Well," said Frodo, "will you give us your answers now?"

"Yes," added Merry. "First, who made which dish?"

Aragorn and Arwen looked at one another, and he nodded for her to speak first.

"The stuffed mushrooms were made by Frodo," she said.

"The mushroom pie was made by Pippin," said Aragorn, "and the mushrooms and bacon by Merry."

"Which," said Arwen, "means that Sam made the soup."

Four pairs of hobbit eyes widened in shock, and then suspicious looks dawned on their faces.

"Strider," said Sam disapprovingly, "you might've guessed one or two, but no way could you've guessed 'em all just by tasting."

Aragorn and Arwen both laughed. "You are absolutely right, my friends," said the Queen.

Aragorn was still chuckling, but then he said "All of you had already told me who made the stuffed mushrooms. Do you not recall a chilly evening in Hollin, as we made our cold meal, your conversation about stuffed mushrooms? Meriadoc sang Frodo's praises loud and long."

All the hobbits groaned, and Frodo smacked himself in the forehead. "I should have remembered," he moaned.

"And-" the King added, "I overheard several conversations about pie. I learned that Sam gave Pippin lessons in making a light pastry, and that Pippin was especially fond of mushrooms with cheese, which made him the most likely candidate for the baker of the pie."

"And I," said Arwen, "learned that all the mushrooms came from the Marish, and that a certain Farmer Maggot's wife had taught her mushroom and bacon dish to the Mistress of Brandy Hall. I was quite certain that Merry would have learned it of her."

"Therefore, by the process of elimination, Sam made that wonderful soup." Aragorn concluded.

The hobbits all looked at one another chagrined. "Well," said Merry, "I suppose that means you got us."

"We shall take our leave now," said Aragorn. "It was a splendid Welcoming Feast, and we are weary and ready for our beds." The Royal Couple took one another's hands and made for the door that led to the corridors.

"Wait a minute!" exclaimed Frodo. But the two were already nearly out of the ballroom and did not (or feigned not to) hear. "They never said which they liked best," he said.

"They got out of telling us which dish was best!" Pippin drew his face down in a pout.

"I think they got away with it," said Sam.

Merry shook his head. "We'll make them answer tomorrow. If not, we will just tell them there's another contest. We'll keep it up until they answer."

-oo000oo-

Sam's Mushroom Soup

Ingredients

1/2 stick butter
1 medium or 1/2 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 and 1/2 pounds mushrooms, coarsely chopped
4 cups broth (mushroom or vegetable or chicken)
3 tablespoons finely minced fresh herbs (I use parsley, thyme and tarragon)
1 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large pan, melt half the butter on medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent (about 10 minutes). Add the rest of the butter to the pan. Reserve about 2 tablespoons of the chopped mushrooms for garnish, and put the rest of them in the pan with the butter and onion. Saute until the onions begin to turn golden brown.

2. Stir in the broth and the herbs; bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Use an immersion blender or transfer to a food processor and process until smooth. Return the soup to the pan.

3. Add the sour cream and stir until melted. Reheat gently on medium low until hot. Stir in the rest of the mushrooms to garnish. Serve hot. Makes enough for 4 to 6.

(A/N on the recipe: Sam, of course, would not have a food processor or a blender. So he would either have used a sieve or a food mill or a masher to break up the mushrooms and onion.

To mince fresh herbs, I snip them into a small condiment dish with kitchen scissors. I then use the tips of the scissors to mince them more finely.)

Author's Notes: All of the mushroom dishes save Sam's Mushroom Soup have appeared in previous recipe!fics.

Frodo's Cooking Lesson The stuffed mushrooms
A Special Homecoming The mushroom pie
Missus Maggot's Mushrooms The mushrooms and bacon dish
    

Author: Dreamflower
Title: Holewarming Gift
Rating: G
Theme: June Bug
Elements: Ants
Author's Notes: This story refers back to one of my early stories, "A Conspiracy of Hobbits"
Summary: Lobelia and Lotho discover a present Pippin left behind for them when Frodo departed for Buckland.
Word Count: 1,493

Holewarming Gift


Thud…thud…thud…thud…

Frodo wakened to the muffled sound. What in the world?

He got up and padded down the hall. It was coming from Gandalf's room. He sighed. He should have known.

Pippin was bouncing on the Big bed again.

"Peregrin!"

"Oops." He stopped bouncing and looked sheepishly at his older cousin. "Sorry if I woke you."

"But not sorry for the bouncing!" Frodo laughed. "Come on, let's go get ready for tea."

As Pippin left, he looked back over his shoulder. Good thing Frodo did not notice that the window was propped slightly open. Or the plate of honey hidden under the bed. Or the jar of ants with the lid slightly askew. He was leaving the Sackville-Bagginses a very nice little homecoming present, he thought.
(From Chapter 20 of "A Conspiracy of Hobbits" by Dreamflower)

-oo000oo-

Lotho bolted out of a sound sleep at the sound of his mother's shrieking. Her voice, shrill and penetrating at the best of times, was as angry as he had ever heard it. Where was she? He hastily threw on a dressing gown and opened the door to the corridor. Her wordless screams were coming from the kitchen, and he headed that way rapidly. He really hated being awakened this way!

As he neared the kitchen, the screeching was supplemented by several loud "thwacks!". He opened the kitchen door to see his mother jumping around and hitting the floor with the broom.

"What in the world is wrong, Mother?" he shouted.

Breathing heavily, Lobelia stopped screaming, and pointed a shaking finger at the floor. There was a long black line of tiny ants marching across the kitchen from the door in which Lotho stood. He looked down, and then back, and could now see them snaking behind him down the passage. "Ants!" he said in shock. He turned and shook his head; this was not merely a few ants; this was an infestation.

In the week since they had moved into Bag End, they had managed to alienate the Gamgees. The Gaffer had refused to come out of retirement, citing his "joints", and he also refused to allow his daughter, Marigold, to continue doing housework and laundry, saying it wouldn't be "proper" since her brother no longer worked there. Lobelia had responded with threats, and Lotho had attempted bribery, and then waylaid Marigold on the path to the village and tried to charm her. Her response had infuriated him. "Mr. Lotho, I know you are rich and important. But no respectable lass would work for you, with your eyes that are always staring where they shouldn't. And Sam may not be here now, but he'll be back one day, and my other brothers would come right back if they knew you was up to your old tricks! I won't be back up to Bag End while you're there, and I'll make sure all the other lasses know why!" and she had darted around him and hurried down the path without looking back at him.

Where would they find anyone else who would know how to get rid of these ants? He'd never heard of Bag End having such a problem before.

His mother had finally stopped screeching and swatting, and stood leaning on the broom, panting, her hair askew. He went over and took her by the elbow and led her to the front parlour, sitting her down in the chair by the hearth. The parlour, thankfully, seemed to be ant-free for the time being.

"I'll bring you a cup of tea, Mother," he said.

She looked up and nodded, completely exhausted from her assault on the ants.

He returned to the kitchen, and put the kettle on. Even more ants were marching across the kitchen floor, and some had begun trying to crawl up the worktable in the middle of the room. He saw another line of them heading for the gap beneath the larder door, and sighed. He used the broom to disrupt the lines and swept as many as he could out the back door. When the kettle sang, he prepared a tray. He was able to get to the sugar bowl before an enterprising ant scout got into it, and took the tea tray to his mother. Then he went back to the corridor where he had seen the ants coming.

They were still marching along the passage, coming from beneath two of the bedroom doors and one of the mathom rooms. He stomped down the hall, and flung open the first door; there was only a single line of ants on the doorframe. The same thing went for the mathom room. The other bedroom was the last one, the one that Old Baggins had altered for that blasted vagabond wizard to use as a guest room. There were a lot of ants coming out from under that door. He opened it more cautiously, then jumped back and slammed it. The room was thoroughly infested with ants.

What could they do? He wasn't about to eat humble pie before those Gamgees. Maybe there was someone else in the village.

Over her vociferous objections (until he pointed out that they could hardly live with the ants), Lotho took his mother down to The Ivy Bush and engaged a room for them to stay until the ants could be removed. Once he had installed Lobelia in the room and had breakfast sent to her (just breakfast; they had missed first breakfast already and it was now time for second breakfast). He then went and ordered breakfast for himself in the common room, and set to discover if there was anyone who could help rid them of the ants. It was humiliating, as it became the topic of conversation for the entire room.

"Pour boiling water down the mound," opined a carpenter. "T'won't no more of 'em come in."

"Won't get rid of 'em as is already there!" said another. Lotho did not even notice when the serving maid placed his breakfast before him.

"Don't know what the world is a-coming to," said the elderly Twofoot who lived on Bagshot Row, and was a neighbour of the Gamgees. "T'weren't never no ants, nor any other sort of critter in Bag End when the Gaffer and Sam was there to take care of things. Mr. Frodo ought not never gone off to Buckland and took Sam away!"

Lotho turned nearly purple with anger, as he tried to keep his temper. He needed help and could not afford to antagonize anyone else.

"How're they a-getting in?" asked another. "Peppermint oil 'll keep 'em out."

"Only way I know of," said a travelling tinker who was passing through. "is to smoke 'em out. Smoke 'll do it every time."

"I don't wish to burn my hole down!" exclaimed Lotho indignantly.

"Won't burn down if it's done right," responded the tinker. He stood up and tossed a coin on the table. "Well, I'm off; need to be in Overhill by teatime."

As he left, waving a cheerful farewell to the room at large, the tinker passed Ted Sandyman coming in as he was passing out.

Lotho sat with his elbows upon the table, his breakfast growing cold, clutching his hair in both hands. This was a calamity. Was there no one who could help him?

Sandyman came over, an expression of concern on his face. "Mr. Lotho, is summat the matter?"

"He's been invaded by ants, up to Bag End," said Daddy Twofoot cheerfully. "Needs somebody as can help him get shed of 'em."

"I could smoke 'em out for you, Mr. Lotho," said Sandyman.

Hope dawned on Lotho's face. At least Sandyman wasn't hostile to him; quite the contrary, he'd been of much use to Lotho in the past. "Do you know how to do that?"

The miller nodded. " 'Bout ten years gone, give or take, we had a problem in one of the storehouses by the mill. 'O course, the smoke ruint all the wheat, but it got rid o' the ants. Still got all the smudge pots we had to use back then."

Heaving a sigh of relief, Lotho looked with distaste at his cold breakfast, and signaled for a new one. "And one for my friend Miller Sandyman," he added magnanimously.

-oo000oo-

Ted Sandyman did indeed know how to smoke the ants out. Of course, it was nearly three weeks before Bag End could be cleaned of all the smell of smoke. Lobelia had to engage one of Ted's cousins to help with the cleaning. Carnation Sandyman was an ill-favoured and bad tempered lass with a mercenary streak, who ended up being paid an exorbitant fee for her work--even more than Lotho'd paid Ted for the smoking. Admittedly, she did work hard and well for her wages, but she didn't like Lotho or Lobelia, or even Cousin Ted. But he was family, and pennies was pennies.

She didn't think there was any need to inform her temporary employers of the cause of the invasion when she found the sticky plate and the empty jar beneath that Big bed. She made sure the window was closed, and she placed a small saucer of peppermint oil on the sill, just in case. Mr. Frodo Baggins had always been polite to her and never mocked her for her looks like she recalled her cousin and Lotho doing. And she recalled all too well Mr. Frodo's cousins' reputation for pranks. If this didn't smack of that Brandybuck or the young Took or both, she'd be mighty surprised. And she recalled the old wizard's fireworks with fondness.

Once the room was as clean as she could get it, and thoroughly aired out, she closed the door with a smile.

-oo000oo-

(A/N: Having dealt with an ant invasion ourselves this summer, I've spent much time looking up various ways to deal with them. Thankfully, our invasion was not nearly so bad as the one Pippin inflicted on the S-Bs!).

Author: Dreamflower
Title: Neekerbreekers
Rating: G
Theme: June Bug
Elements: Midge
Author's Notes: See end note.
Summary: Short cuts make for large discomfort; a sleepless night on the way from Bree to Rivendell. Five drabbles, interspersed with a refrain.
Word Count: 525

Neekerbreekers


NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...

Well, no one can say he hadn't come up with a proper name for them pestiferous bugs. Sam tried to use his right toes to scratch behind the back of his left knee, though he'd had not much luck scratching his right ankle with his left toes. Betwixt the neekerbreekers and the midges, it was making for a sleepless night. It was hard to try and stay still and not wake up poor old Mr. Frodo, who probably had just as many midge bites as he did. Why wouldn't the neekerbreekers be quiet? Then all he'd have was the itching.

NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...

Frodo shuddered. He wished so badly to reach down and just scratch furiously at his calves, but he knew that would only make things worse, not to mention making it harder for Sam on one side of him and Pippin on the other to get any sleep. He wasn't fooling himself; if he was this miserable, they had to be as well. He wondered how much longer Strider would be dragging them through this insect-ridden marsh? Carefully, he shifted to his left side, facing Pippin, and put a hand over his right ear. At least the neekerbreekers were somewhat muted.

NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...

Pippin took a deep breath, blinking back tears. He'd had the worst of the midge bites after falling in the marsh. Not only his legs, but his hands and his face suffered bites. Strider had a tiny jar of salve, and he'd spared a bit for the bite near Pippin's left eye, but there wasn't enough to spare for all the bites the hobbits had suffered. And that incessant neekerbreeking was enough to drive him mad! Somehow without his even willing it, his hand reached up to scratch his forehead, but suddenly that hand was caught in Merry's iron grip.

NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...

Merry lost track again. He'd thought counting backwards from one thousand would keep his mind off those noisy insects Sam had named "neekerbreekers". But he kept losing track and having to start over whenever he got distracted by his itching ankles and calves. He was also worried, as he could tell Frodo and Pippin were not sleeping either. Pippin was being too still, for one thing. His younger cousin tended to be a restless sleeper. But then he saw Pippin's hand move towards his face. Merry reached over, grabbing Pip's wrist. "No scratching!" he whispered.

NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...

Aragorn stood watch, his back to the hobbits. He was all too aware of their discomfort, and now wished he had taken another path. But it seemed best to go a way that would discourage pursuit. It had not occurred to him that the hobbits, being shorter, would suffer more from the low-swarming midges. He forgot he was protected by his boots and leathers. His tiny jar of salve would be of little use on the four of them, so he used it only for the bite near Pippin's eye, which could be dangerous if infected.

Was there nothing that could quiet that constant noise?

NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...
NEEKerBreek...

(A/N: The type of midge that Strider and the hobbits encountered was likely the "Highland midge":
The highland midge (scientific name: Culicoides impunctatus) (Scots: Midgie) (Gaelic: Meanbh-chuileag) is a species of small flying insect, found in upland and lowland areas (fens, bogs and marshes) especially in the north west of Scotland and northern Wales from late spring to late summer. These insects are also found in suitable habitat throughout the British Isles, Scandinavia, other regions of Europe, Russia and Northern China. Female Highland midges are well known for gathering in clouds and biting humans, and are the smallest flies in Scotland to do so, though the majority of the blood they obtain comes from cattle, sheep and deer. They are generally regarded as pests. (From Wikipedia)

Author: Dreamflower
Title: On the Job Learning
Rating: G j
Theme: January Potluck Challenge
Prompt: "Frodo was 12 when Sam was born, 14 when Merry was born, and 22 when Pippin was born. I'd love to read a story where he's interacting with one of his baby cousins (or Sam)".
Author's Notes: This story has an OC of mine, Merry's nursemaid, who has appeared in several of my other stories. It's not necessary to have read them to understand this story. In fact, chronologically speaking, this will become her first appearance.
Hobbit ages--I go by the fanon two-thirds ratio, which means that at 14, Frodo is about the same physically and emotionally as an 8½ to 9 year old Man-child, and at nearly a year old, Merry is closer to our idea of 8 months old. I have arbitrarily given Merry the birthday of Feb. 14 (or Solmath 14 in the Shire Calendar) because I felt the date symbolically suited my idea of his personality as a rather gallant and romantic hobbit.
At this point in time in canon, the Master and Mistress of Brandy Hall are Merry's grandfather and grandmother, Rorimac and Menegilda. I have given Saradoc the title of Son of the Hall, and Esmeralda is referred to as "the young Mistress".
Summary: Merry's new nursemaid must learn that her job is more than just taking care of the baby. Sometimes it's letting someone else do that job.
Word Count: 3,432

On the Job Learning

Dahlia bobbed a curtsey to Mistress Esmeralda. She wondered what the young Mistress wanted to speak to her about. Had she done something wrong? She'd only been in Brandy Hall a fortnight and still did not know everything. She tried not to show her nervousness. But surely if she was to be dismissed, it would be Mistress Brandybuck, Mistress Gilda as most of the staff called her, who would do that task.

The young Mistress smiled at her. "There is no need for you to be nervous, Dahlia. You have done nothing wrong."

Dahlia felt a great weight fall from her shoulders. It would have been horrid to have to return to Whitfurrow in disgrace. "Yes, ma'am," she said. Mistress Esmeralda had kind eyes--Tookish green, as some called them in the Shire, as it was among Tooks that such eyes most often belonged. Perhaps this would not be so bad, whatever it was.

"I understand that you have several younger siblings," Mistress Esmeralda continued.

Well, that was odd. Were they thinking of taking on one of her little brothers or sisters? But they were all too young yet to be sent so far from home, save the brother next over from her, and he was already apprenticed to a brewer in Frogmorton. "Yes, ma'am. I have four brothers and three sisters, all of 'em younger than me. My littlest sister is still a faunt."

"So would I be correct in thinking that you have experience taking care of little ones?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"My mother-in-law has suggested to me that I might be wise to take on a nursemaid for little Meriadoc. Is that something you think you could do?"

Now that was a surprise! Why, she hadn't been here in Brandy Hall any time hardly! Surely there were others who deserved such a post more! But the Mistress asked could she do it, so she kept her thoughts to herself, and nodded. "I've taken care of my sibs since I weren't much more than a faunt myself. I know how to feed 'em, and change nappies, and clean up their scrapes, and to make 'em mind when they're of an age to know what they're a-doing."

Mistress Esmeralda smiled and nodded. "I was hoping that would be your answer, Dahlia. I have many duties as the daughter-in-law of the Master and wife of the Son of the Hall, so there are times when I may need to leave Merry in the charge of another adult. I've neglected things for the last several months since he was born, but now he's begun to take a bit of solid food and I've begun to wean him a little--he's down to two nursings a day now, and I no longer have to feed him in the middle of the night. Mother Gilda has not been feeling well lately, and I am going to have to take up helping run the Hall once more."

"I understand, Mistress Esmeralda," Dahlia said shyly. "If you think I can do a proper job, I'd be glad to try."

"Good. Let me show you about our quarters, and you can meet the children."

"Children? I thought little Master Merry was your one and only." Dahlia was surprised.

"We are also guardians for Saradoc's little cousin Frodo Baggins. He was orphaned by the River a couple of years ago. He's fourteen now."

"Oh! How sad! But it's good as he has kin to take him in."

Mistress Esmeralda rose. "Let me show you the nursery first, and then the rest of the apartment." She led Dahlia down a very short corridor; on the left a door was ajar, and she could hear a sweet child's voice singing.

The room was spacious, furnished with a regular bed, a cradle, a rocking chair, a washstand, a wardrobe, and several shelves built into the walls. There was also a cushioned windowseat beneath a low round window. On it sat a lad with a babe sitting in his lap. The lad had dark hair, but was very fair of skin. The babe had hair so light as to be almost golden, and the two of them made a wonderful sight that tugged at Dahlia's heart.

The lad stopped singing. "Aunt Esme! Merry's being so good! And I changed his nappy a few minutes ago. I put it in the pail with the vinegar."

"Very good, Frodo!" She went over and took little Meriadoc into her own arms, and Dahlia noticed that Frodo was reluctant to let go of him. "Frodo, I'd like you to meet Dahlia. She is going to be Merry's new nursemaid.”

"New nursemaid?" he asked.

Dahlia was surprised to see a look of almost fear in the lad's face. Why should he be afraid?

"I take good care of Merry," he added. "I do, Aunt Esme!"

"I know that you do. But Frodo, you are only fourteen; sometimes there are things only adults can do. Also, you cannot be by his side all the time, Frodo. You need to exercise and play and go to your lessons with Uncle Dinodas. You know that's so."

Frodo reached out his arms, and Esmeralda returned the baby to her little cousin.

He nodded reluctantly, and then looked over at Dahlia, and gave her a shy smile. "I'm glad to meet you, Dahlia," he said. He sat down in the window seat and returned his attention to Merry, jiggling his knee and making the baby giggle.

Esme gave Frodo a proud smile for his good manners. "Dahlia, the bed and chest will be for your use. Merry's cradle has been in our room up until today, but as we were hoping to engage you today, we moved it in here this morning."

"Doesn't Master Frodo stay in the nursery?" Dahlia asked quietly.

Esmeralda shook her head. "Let me show you the rest of our quarters." She led the new nursemaid out into the small hallway, and turned to open a door at the end. It was a bathing room, with a boiler and a copper tub, and shelves filled with linen towels and flannels and soaps. Next to the nursery was another door--behind it was a water closet. Directly across from the nursery was a large bedroom, clearly the room of the young Mistress and the Son of the Hall. The room had a large skylight, but no window. There was another door at the other side of the room, and Esme opened it. Inside was a lightless room. She lit a candle and held it up. It was small but comfortably furnished with a bed, washstand, wardrobe and small desk and chair. There were several lanterns in the room, as it had no window. "This room was meant to be a study or perhaps a sewing room or dressing room. When Frodo came to us, he did stay in the nursery at first, but he often would slip out at night and go wandering when he could not sleep, so we moved him over here to keep him safe. Saradoc offered to put a skylight in for him, but he did not want it."

Dahlia sighed. Poor little tyke! But she could understand why they gave him a room where he could not slip away so easily.

The young Mistress led her back to the sitting room and gestured for Dahlia to sit down, and then she sat down also. "I would like you to move in and start today, Dahlia. You are making two silver pennies a month as a kitchen maid, but as Merry's nursemaid, we will raise your wage to four silver pennies a month. You will have a half-day's leave on Highday, except the first Highday of the month when you will have an entire day. And if you can make arrangements for travel, you may return to visit your family for a week, over the Lithedays at Midsummer. Merry will be your primary responsibility, but when he is with me and not here, you will be expected do some light cleaning and mending, and if both Saradoc and I are absent, you may make use of the kitchen here to prepare simple meals for yourself and the children, or you can take them down to the common dining hall for meals. Is that acceptable to you?"

Overwhelmed, Dahlia nodded her head several times. She knew that she was already making a much more generous wage at Brandy Hall than she would have in service elsewhere: Master Rory was known as "Goldfather" by the Bucklanders, due to his generous wages and his widespread charity. But to have her pay doubled? That was more than she'd ever expected. And now the young Mistress was adding a whole day off once a month, and a chance to be away for a whole week once a year to see her folks was unexpected.

Mistress Esmeralda sent her down to the servant's quarters to fetch her things and bring them back. She was still shocked by her sudden good fortune, but by the time she had reached the small room she shared with another maidservant, joy had replaced the feeling of unreality. She carefully took out her few possessions, folding her clothing and packing it into the small bag she had used when she travelled to Buckland. She was tucking her caps and aprons in at the top when the door opened.

It was Yarrow, the lass who shared the room with her. "What are you doing, Dahlia? You didn't get dismissed, did you?" she asked in horror.

Dahlia grinned. "No. I'm moving upstairs to the Son of the Hall's quarters. They asked me to be little Master Merry's nursemaid!"

Yarrow squealed and immediately hugged Dahlia. "Lawks! Dahlia, that's so fine! Who'd've thought it!"

The two chattered excitedly as Yarrow asked for all the details of her interview with Mistress Esmeralda, though Yarrow said a bit wistfully, "I'm going to miss sharing a room with you."

But Dahlia did not tarry long, and soon she had returned to take up her new duties.

-oo000oo-

Over the next few days, Dahlia was able to settle into a routine with her new charge. She woke early, and took her small charge to the Mistress in her room. Merry was a year old now, and Mistress Esme had begun weaning him, but for his health she still suckled him twice a day, when he first wakened before first breakfast, and after tea. At meals, he was also spoonfed pap and mashed fruits and vegetables, as well as very tiny bites of the same food the rest of the family ate.

After breakfast, she would dress Merry, usually with the help of young Master Frodo. Frodo would play with Merry in the nursery until second breakfast, and afterward Dahlia would take both children outside for some fresh air and sunshine. Then the three of them went into the common dining hall for elevenses. Dahlia and Merry sat at a table set aside for the babes and faunts, with their minders. Two of the other minders were nursemaids like Dahlia, but most of the others were older sisters, aunties or cousins. Frodo ate at the table set aside for older children and younger teens. After they finished, Dahlia went back to their quarters with Merry and watched over him in the nursery. Frodo went off to do any of the many small jobs the older children were given to keep them out of mischief and to teach them how to do things.

If the Mistress was at home she would spend some time with Merry while Dahlia tidied the nursery and did a bit of mending. Then the Mistress would make a simple luncheon, and Frodo would return. After lunch, Frodo usually had lessons with his Uncle Dinodas, but on the days he did not, Mistress Esme shooed him out to play with his other cousins if the weather was fine. Otherwise he'd play with Merry or read to the babe.

Dahlia often had to shoo Frodo away when Merry needed tending; he would offer to change his little cousin's nappies or to feed him. Dahlia would sometimes let him do it, but much of the time she would have to chase him off. After all, those things were her job. She felt awful when she did that, because Master Frodo would look sad, but she was being paid four silver pennies to take care of Master Merry, and she wanted to make sure that the Brandybucks knew she was earning her wages, not just foisting off her duties on Master Frodo just because he was bored.

One day it was pouring down dismal rain, as only a rain in Solmath could be. The Master Saradoc and Mistress Esmeralda were spending the day with the Master and Mistress Gilda, entertaining guests from Tookland, and would not be back until after teatime. Frodo had no lessons that day, and Master Merry was teething and fractious, so they all remained in the quarters instead of going down to the common areas of the Hall.

Every time Master Merry needed changing or feeding or even whimpered, Master Frodo was right at her elbow trying to help. It was right after luncheon when Dahlia simply could not take it anymore. Merry was screaming. He had been changed and fed; Dahlia knew it had to be his poor swollen gums. She had rubbed them with oil of cloves. She had given him a rusk of twice-baked bread. She had given him his wooden teething ring, which he had thrown and hit her in the forehead. Nothing worked. And still he screamed.

Frodo picked up the teething ring. "Please, Dahlia, let me hold him! Maybe I can make him feel better!"

She turned on him, snapping. "MASTER FRODO! Let me do my job! I am the one being paid to take care of your cousin, not YOU!" She stopped as soon as the words were out of her mouth, horrified at herself. She could feel the blood drain from her face. What had she done?

Frodo looked up at her, stricken, his blue eyes filled with tears, and he bolted from the nursery. She heard the door of his own room slam shut.

And still Master Merry screamed, his little face red and hot. Dahlia stood there, holding the crying baby and jiggling him, all the while all she could see in her mind's eye was the poor lad's face after she had shouted at him. He loved his little cousin, he truly did. All he wanted was to help and she had been cruel to him.

At her wit's end, she placed Merry in his cradle, still crying, his screams sometimes interspersed with little hiccups. She went across the hall, through the Master bedroom and tapped on Frodo's door. She could hear the sounds of weeping beyond the door, not screams of pain like the baby's tears, but the soft sound of a broken heart. Her face flamed with shame; she had done that to him for no good reason at all.

She tapped again. "I'm sorry, Master Frodo. I should not've shouted at you." There was no response. "I really am sorry. You did not do anything wrong, sir. It wasn't my place to speak so to you." Her own eyes began to overflow, and she sniffled, and brushed the tears away brusquely. She could still hear Merry's pained cries, and knew she'd have to leave Frodo's door and go to tend her primary charge. But she still didn't know what else she could do. Once more she spoke. "I am so sorry, Master Frodo." She had turned and was about to leave when the door opened.

"I'm sorry, too, Dahlia," Frodo whispered. "I don't mean to take your job from you, really, it's just that...it's my Merry." His face turned towards the hallway and the nursery from which the cries were coming.

Dahlia bent down and gave Frodo a small hug. "Begging your pardon, young sir. But I should know. I used to feel the same about me little brothers and sisters." She stood up. "Do you think that you might be able to help?"

Frodo nodded, and led the way back to the nursery. He picked up the teething ring, and wiped it on his shirt, and then bent over the cradle. Ever so carefully he lifted the baby up. "Shush, Merry-mine! It will be all right."

Merry stopped crying immediately, though he still sniffled and hiccupped. Frodo placed the teething ring near his mouth, and the baby took it and began chewing it and suckling it.

Frodo carried his cousin over to the window seat and began to rock Merry back and forth, as he softly sang an old Shire lullaby:

Drop, drop, drop
Gently rolling rain,
Sliding, sliding softly
Down the window pane.
Softly, softly falling
Onto tree and plain.
Listen to the raindrops,
Plop, plop, plop,
Here in my arms
You are safe and warm.
Quiet your little cries,
Not a peep, peep, peep,
Close your little eyes,
And sleep, sleep, sleep.
Close your little eyes,
And sleep, sleep, sleep...

As he sang, Merry dropped the teething ring. Frodo didn't stop, but gave Merry one of his fingers to chew on. He didn't even wince at the little bites from the two teeth Merry already had. After a while, Merry finally fell asleep with Frodo's finger still in his mouth, though the baby was suckling it instead of chewing on it.

Dahlia sat down in the rocking chair in the nursery, with her knitting, and watched over Frodo and Merry, realising that she had never really understood before how deep the love was between the two young cousins. Now she knew that Merry needed Frodo's comfort, but that Frodo needed to give that comfort even more. From now on, she would accept Frodo's willing assistance when he chose to give it. It really was a beautiful thing to see.

After a while, Merry stirred enough to release Frodo's finger, and Dahlia had Frodo put the sleeping baby into his cradle. Then she made a simple tea for the two of them of boiled eggs, scones and tea. The two of them sat in the sitting room, with the door to the nursery open, and Frodo told her amazing stories of his Uncle Bilbo's Adventures in the Wide World until the Master and Mistress came home.

Later that evening, after Frodo had gone to bed, Dahlia confessed her words to Frodo to her Mistress. "I know as it was wrong of me, Mistress Esmeralda, and if you want to dismiss me, I would understand. But I hope as you don't. I really love both them little ones, and if you'll have me I promise never to do such a thing ever again."

The young Mistress patted her on the hand. "You had a trying day, Dahlia. But you apologized, and Frodo has forgiven you. I am quite sure he would not want me to dismiss you now." She paused, and then added, "Until Merry came along we were at a loss as to what to do with Frodo, he was so sunk in grief. Merry finally brought a bit of sunshine back into his life."

That night, as Dahlia lay in her bed, she listened to Merry's soft breathing. The Hall healer had given Mistress Esmeralda a tincture of chamomile to rub on the baby's gums, and he was now sleeping easily. It had been a long hard day, but now it was better. Just as she was starting to drop off, she saw the door to the nursery crack open, and Frodo padded in silently. He went over to the cradle and looked in at Merry. Then he bent over and softly kissed the baby on top of his head. "Love you, Merry-mine," he whispered. "Have a nice sleep." He glanced over and saw Dahlia watching. "You too, Dahlia. Good night." Then he went out, closing the door behind him.

She did have a very nice sleep that night.

 Linda Hoyland issued a challenge: http://lindahoyland.livejournal.com/851464.html?style=mine#comments
So here is my response!
  
Wall
Cat
Bear
hungry
sunset
window

An Afternoon with Strawberry

It was a pleasant late afternoon, the rock wall on which Strawberry lay was warm and she was stretched out to her full length basking in the early summer sun. She was beginning to feel the least bit hungry, but not hungry enough to move from her prime spot.

"Good evening, Strawberry. You look like a very contented cat. Can you bear my company?" She opened her eyes to see her person standing beside her. He placed a soft hand on her head and she butted it firmly, letting him know she welcomed his attentions. He began to stroke her, and she purred loudly. He gave her a smile and she looked into his eyes and blinked slowly to show her affection. He boosted himself atop the wall, and she stirred herself to allow him to hold her.

Climbing onto his thighs, she kneaded them thoroughly, and then lay atop one of his arms--the one with a missing claw on its paw. With his other one he began to pet her again. Together they watched the sunset, until the stars appeared and light shone through the window behind them.

They were content, enjoying one another's company, until they heard footsteps coming. It was one of her other persons. "Mr. Frodo, it's getting late! Rosie's putting supper on the table." He glanced at Strawberry, and gave her a pat. His hand was not as soft but it was pleasantly warm.
Strawberry sat up at the interruption, and licked her paw twice, and then jumped down and ran off. She really was quite hungry now, and if her people were going in to supper, then there was likely a dish of cream by the kitchen door.
 

Author: Dreamflower
Title: Summer Love
Rating: G
Theme: Picnic
Elements: 333 words
Author's Notes: My element was to write a 333 word fixed-length ficlet, but I could not resist the temptation to make it a recipe!fic. So the recipe is also 333 words. It is a mixture of two different recipes I found online, and I confess, I usually make pie from it and not tarts.
Summary: Bungo Baggins and Belladonna Took and a romantic picnic.
Word Count: 666; 333 words for the ficlet; 333 words for the recipe

Summer Love

Bungo awakened to Sun streaming in the window,confused. It was coming in the wrong side of the room...oh, that's right! I'm not at Bag End. I'm in a guest room at the Great Smials!. Recalling this worried him. He was to breakfast with the Thain's sons this morning. Belladonna's boisterous brothers intimidated him. Still, he took heart when he thought of Gerontius' words the night before. As he dressed, he gathered his courage; he wouldn't see Bella until elevenses when they were to go on a picnic together.

Belladonna flittered about the small kitchen in the Thain's quarters, preparing the picnic basket: green tomato tarts, fresh from the oven; cold ham; cheese; yeasty buns; a small jar of her mother's special mustard, and a bowl of summer fruit--strawberries, cherries, plums, even two prized peaches from the Thain's glass house. She tied a square of linen over the bowl, placing it in the basket. It already contained dishes and silverware for two. She added a bottle of elderberry wine, and then on top placed napkins. Oh! the picnic cloth! She went to the sideboard and took out the small cloth that was used for picnics, and tucked it beneath the handle of the basket.

The two sat upon the blanket, the few remains of their meal scattered for the ducks who were floating serenely upon the pond. They were both quite sated, in that pleasant state that claimed most hobbits after a good meal.

"I enjoyed the meal very much, my dear," said Bungo. He was fidgeting nervously in his pocket.

Belladonna blushed. "Thank you."

He pulled a small box from his pocket. "Belladonna, love, we've been courting for a while and you are soon to come of age. Are you ready to become officially betrothed?" He held out the box, and she opened it and took out the beautiful necklace on its golden chain.

"Oh, yes!" She threw herself into his arms, both startling and delighting him.

The kiss was even more delightful.


GREEN TOMATO TARTS, TOOKISH STYLE

Filling:

1-1/2 cups sugar
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
3 cups thinly sliced green tomatoes (about 4 to 5 medium)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
(A nice optional addition is to add about one-third to one-half cup of golden raisins.)

Core and wash the green tomatoes, and then roughly chop them. Do not peel them or seed them.

In a bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt. Add tomatoes and vinegar; toss to coat.

You can make the filling one or two days in advance and keep covered and refrigerated until you are ready to use it.


Crust:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into small pieces
4 to 5 tablespoons cold water (ice water is best)

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl and stir briefly until the mixture is aerated. Using a pastry cutter, large fork, or your fingers, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles course meal.

Slowly dribble in the water and mix just until the dough comes together. Make sure it's well-mixed, but don't overwork it or it will become tough. Form it into a ball, and then flatten it slightly into sort of a cake shape. Cover and let rest in the refrigerator for about a half an hour.

Then take out and place on a floured surface and roll it out with a rolling pin into a large rectangle. Cut into eight equal squares.

Into the center of each square, put some of the filling; don't overfill. Fold the crust corner to corner into triangles. Use a fork to crimp and seal each tart. Prick the dough with the fork slightly. Place the tarts on an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake at 350° for about 45 minutes, or until tomatoes are tender and the crust is golden. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature. Yield: 6-8 servings.   




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