The Mystery of the Mayor's Son by Kathryn Ramage

After the last race was over, the weary and hungry hobbits left the fair-field and made their way to the inn for dinner. Milo had reserved a table for them when he'd brought the pony back, so they did not have to wait.

As they took their seats, Merry leaned close to Frodo and whispered, "There."

At first, Frodo had no idea what Merry was referring to. Then he saw her: a smiling, buxom, rosy-faced maid weaving her way between the tables, skillfully bearing a large platter crowded with mugs of ale and plates of food over her head with one steady hand. Frodo didn't know just what a hussy would look like; could this barmaid actually be one? "Is that...?"

Merry nodded.

"What's her name?"



"It's Cowslip, really," Merry explained, "but that's what they call her."

As if to demonstrate, a group of young hobbits seated at a nearby table called out cheerful greetings of, "Cosy!" "Hoy, Cosy-lass!" and "Cosy, old girl!" as the maid approached and distributed her mugs and plates among them. Cosy laughed at their jokes, and responded to their teasing in kind. She patted one boy familiarly on the shoulder, and gave another a pinch on the cheek to the boisterous delight of all. Then, tucking the empty platter beneath one arm, she turned to the table behind her, where Merry, Frodo, and the rest of Milo's party were seated.

"Why, it's my Laddie!" she cried affectionately, and rumpled his curls. "How are you, my darlin'? We don't see so much of you about the old inn anymore 'cept on racing nights. You're mightily missed, I can tell you! And you--" she smiled at Pippin and Merry. "You boys was here last week, weren't you? I never forget a face, 'specially not when they're such handsome ones."

Cosy seemed on the friendliest terms with everyone, old acquaintance or newcomer, but Frodo could detect no special partiality for Lad. She flirted with all but Milo, who was married, and who received a polite inquiry as to the health of "your Missus and the little ones" before she noticed Frodo.

"Aren't you a pretty one!" She beamed at him. "I haven't seen you hereabouts before. What's your name, dear?"

"This is my cousin, Frodo Baggins," Milo made the introduction, "and his friend, Sam Gamgee."

"What a lot of cousins you've got, Mr. Milo! But any cousins of yours is always welcome." She gave them both a smile, but looked puzzled when Sam scowled back at her; she couldn't know that she was trespassing dangerously. "Now, what can I bring you lads for your dinner? We've got a nice mutton stew, and there's a roast joint carved up with new potatoes. What would you like, my pretty?" Cosy stepped close behind Frodo's chair. "Whatever you fancy. It ought to be special, being your first visit here."

As she leaned over him, her soft breasts pressed to the back of his neck; Frodo's eyes went wide and his face turned scarlet. Sam looked daggers at her, and Frodo reached out under the table to put a restraining hand on his arm. Sam sat still, fuming silently. He couldn't do anything else without embarrassing both Frodo and himself.

"The roast, please," Frodo's voice squeaked as he answered. "For us both." His discomfiture obviously amused Merry, Pippin, and Milo, for all three were grinning.

After Cosy had gone to get their dinner, Milo laughed and said, "Merciful stars! I never saw a barmaid's flirtings put any lad into such a state! You'd think no girl had ever cuddled up to you before."

"None has," Frodo admitted.

"Is she always like that?" asked Sam.

"You mustn't mind Cosy," said Lad. "She doesn't mean anything by it. It's just her way. She wants everybody to feel welcome." He sounded oddly complacent about his supposed secret lover flirting so openly with other boys.

"But she did take quite a fancy to Frodo," Merry teased.

"And who could blame her?" Pippin agreed gleefully. "She probably doesn't see very many lads as pretty." And both of them laughed.

"You oughtn't be so timid of girls, Frodo, even the forward ones," Milo said with a big-brotherly tone of giving advice. "I daresay it's because you've hidden away at Bag End since you returned from your adventures--and I'll wager you didn't meet many girls out there, did you?"

"A few great ladies," Frodo replied.

"Big Folk," said Milo dismissively. "It'd do you no end of good to go out about the Shire more. You're nearly six-and-thirty and it's time you thought seriously about such things. I was married at your age and on my way to becoming a father."

"Do you have a match in mind for me, Milo? Not the same girl as Aunt Dora?"

"No..." Milo laughed. "Not even if Lad weren't about!" He gave his friend a brisk pat on the arm. "But Peony might have an idea or two. And, you know, Frodo, if you found yourself a sweetheart, there wouldn't be so many of these odd stories going around about you and Sam." This only made Frodo blush anew. "At least Sam has that nice little barmaid at the Dragon he's so sweet on."

It was almost a relief when Cosy returned and this personal talk ended, even though the barmaid managed to lean in over Frodo again as she set down his mug and dinner plate.

Lad remained distracted throughout dinner, and did not join in the japery with Frodo's cousins. His eyes often wandered to the door. At last, Frodo asked him, "Are you thinking of leaving us, Lad?"

Lad jumped, startled at the question. "It is getting late," he said.

This was the cue; in accordance with their pre-arranged plans, Merry and Pippin responded to keep Lad with them.

"Late?" cried Pippin. "But the sun's barely set! The evening hasn't begun."

"Surely you're not going home?" asked Merry.

Lad opened his mouth, then shut it again quickly. After a moment, he said, "I've promised my mother I wouldn't stay out half the night and try to ride or walk home tipsy." It was a feeble excuse: Lad had only drunk two half-pints with his dinner, and he had a notably good head for ale.

"Then you might as well stay here and have another round of ales with us. We were planning to sit up 'til they closed the doors for the night," said Pippin. "After all, we've only got to go down the hallway to our beds, rather than ride all the way back to Hobbiton. Why don't you stay on too? That way, you won't come to harm. I'm sure your mother would feel much better knowing you're sleeping safely here instead of wandering the downs in the dark trying to find your way back to the Mayor's Hall."

"Yes, why don't you take a room here for tonight?" added Frodo.

"I doubt they'd have room for me," Lad answered diffidently. "The inn can be awfully crowded on a race night."

"You can share with me," Milo offered. "I've got a room to myself and you're welcome to half the bed."

Lad looked around the table from one to another. "Very well," he said. "If you all want me to, I'll stay. Let's have another round."
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