(This story originally appeared in 2006, in Marigold's Challenge #30, but somehow never got posted here.)
AUTHOR’S NOTES:  Marigold gave me the following prompts: Bilbo; Buckland; a priceless treasure; a desperate race against time; butchering time; Bell Gamgee
 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.