Gaffer shook his head, sighing. Running a hand through his auburn curls, the fifty-eight year old Hobbit was getting exasperated with his youngest son. He's been trying for a week to teach four year old Sam the difference between autumn flowers and choking weeds, relying on the fact that the flowers' blooms would help to identify them. It wasn't working.
The toddler would apparently listen to him then suddenly go off into another snatch of song he'd heard. He would obediently toddle after his father then, unexpectedly, veer away, laughing and forcing the older Hobbit to chase him down. Of course, Samwise wasn't too hard to catch, seeing as he'd barely been taken out of the cast he'd sported half of the summer. It was merely annoying and the gardener of Bag End was quickly losing his patience.
He was reluctant to yell at the lad, however, recalling all the worry and horror of the last time he'd yelled at his son a year ago. The boy had stopped breathing. Now Gaffer tried to find alternative forms of discipline for the toddler. The problem was, the adult felt his boy had caught on and was deliberately trying his patience.
"Samwise Gamgee, get back over here." He kept his voice a low growl, trying to convey his annoyance without shouting. Sam merely laughed and ducked further into the bushes, playing an impromptu game of 'Find Me'. Gaffer forcefully blew out air, starting to count to himself, as his wife, Bell, had suggested the night before.
For his part, Sam giggled and peeked out. He was having fun. True, he couldn't play with Frodo after luncheon, but playing with his father was almost as fun; especially as his father never failed to make those funny noises as he looked for the recalcitrant boy. Seeing his father's annoyed glance, Sam covered his mouth, still giggling, and ducked back into the bush.
Finally, Gaffer had enough. He turned and walked away, leaving the boy in the bushes. Sam was puzzled. Why was his father leaving? He peeked out, frowning. "Gaff?" Sam crawled further towards the open air beyond his leafy hiding place. "Gaff go home?" Disappointment colored the boy's words. He didn't want to go home yet; this was too much fun.
Hamfast Gamgee, called Gaffer by almost everyone, continued to walk away from his young son. He felt confident the boy would be fine. Hearing the disappointment in the child's voice, he felt a very slight, malicious, surge of triumph. He'd done something Sam hadn't expected.
Stopping in front of the faded green door of Bag End, Gaffer's place of employment as a gardener, the servant paused. He was suddenly unsure whether his spurt of inspiration was a good idea after all. Hearing Sam's confused "Gaff" behind him convinced him he was correct in what he planned. The Gaffer knocked at his master's door.
When the door was thrown open by a surprised Bilbo Baggins, Gaffer swiped off his cap and held it, respectful of his employer. "Mister Bilbo, sir? I was wondering like if I could borrow Master Frodo for a moment or two. I know he's busy with his Elf words, but I thought as how he might help me convince Samwise to stop playing and start working." He waited, breath held.
Bilbo smiled and laughed softly. "I'll get him, Gaffer. I'm sure if anyone can convince Sam, it'll be Master Frodo." The older Hobbit shuffled off to find his adopted nephew, a cousin he took in four years ago when the boy's parents had been killed in a boating accident. Locating Frodo was no problem: the boy was in the kitchen eating buttered bread and marmalade.
"Frodo? The Gaffer says he'd like your help convincing our Sam that play time is over." Bilbo smiled fondly at the too thin, pale Hobbit lad with the endearingly sticky face and hands.
Frodo looked up, guiltily. Normally he took care with his food, so as not to make a mess. Today, however, he'd let his guard down, simply enjoying the private treat. Having his cousin walk in was rather embarrassing. After all sixteen-year-old Hobbits didn't get marmalade all over themselves while eating a snack.
"Sam needs me?" He tried to wipe at the mess on his face with little success. In fact, it seemed to be smearing even more. He finally gave up, shoving the last bite in his mouth and heading for the sink and a good washing. He listened intently to Bilbo's explanation.
"That he does, my boy. Seems he can't settle down today and Gaffer sounds near to yelling." The older Hobbit smiled wider as Frodo froze. It had been the teenager who'd gotten the boy breathing again last year when he had his crying fit. Bilbo continued, "And Gaffer's asking that you help him understand it's work time now."
The teenager nodded, drying his face and hands and checking to make sure he'd gotten none of the food on his clothing. Satisfied that he looked presentable, he smiled at Bilbo and practically skipped from the room. "I think I can do that, Cousin Bilbo." He was gone with the next breath.
Shaking his head, Bilbo had to laugh. For the past three days his cousin had suddenly become extremely fastidious in dress and other habits. Not that Frodo had even been a messy boy, but it had been taken to a new level recently. That could only mean one thing. His lad had discovered lasses. With a slight spring to his step, the ninety-four year old Hobbit went back to his den and the book he'd abandoned moments ago.
When Frodo got outside, he gave Gaffer the sunniest smile ever seen on the quiet young lad. He was unaware of the gardener's surprised double take, instead heading for the sight of the curious little face peeping out of the bushes. Settling down in front of his young friend, Frodo smiled. "Well, Samwise Gamgee. Don't want to work, hmmm?"
Sam grinned in response, launching himself at his older friend with a squeal. "Fodo! Fodo play!" He still dropped the occasional letter, but rarely forgot an L since he'd seen the praise Young Tom Cotton had gotten for using it.
Frodo was forced onto his butt in the dirt, arms filled with dirty Hobbit child. He gasped, leaves and twigs showering him as he was gripped by wet, sticky hands. Something akin to horror entered the teen's eyes. "Sam! Calm down! You're getting me dirty!"
"Dutty? Sam dutty?" The child sat up in the older boy's lap, confused by the unexpected admonition from his life-long playmate. "Fodo dutty?"
"Yes, Frodo's dirty now, Sam, and I was being so careful today! Oh, Sam, you really have to be more careful, love." He'd used the endearment without thinking, but neither the Gaffer nor Sam seemed bothered by it. The teenager continued. "You get to play in the mornings with me, Sam. You're supposed to work in the afternoons or you're not allowed up here anymore. Don't you remember?"
"Uh huh." Sam smiled and hugged Frodo again, not bothered by Frodo's correction. His friend never scolded him. Frodo let him do anything at all; the child was secure in his friend's lenience.
This time was different, however, as Frodo shook his head. "So, it's time to work, Sam. I can't play; I've got work. So, you have to do your work, too." He put Sam off his lap and started trying to brush his clothes clean, a sigh coloring his tone.
Sam blinked. Frodo had never pushed him away. He frowned, trying to understand what had changed. Had he done something wrong? "Fodo? Fodo angee?"
Frodo's head shot up, clothes forgotten, and his expression softened. "No, I'm not angry, Sam." He hugged the child again. "Come here." With the dirty child on his lap, the older boy rocked slightly, speaking softly. "Sam? I've an idea. I want five flowers. They have to be different, okay? They can't be the same flowers. I need five of them, though. Think you can do that?"
"Uh..." Sam frowned, trying to think if he knew a flower he could get five of. Finally he shook his head. "No..." A sudden idea hit him. "Gaff! Gaff flowee!"
"Well, what a great idea, Sam! You can ask Gaffer to help you find my flowers. Then, you'll be sure to have five different flowers. I'll be inside waiting for them, okay?" He kissed the top of Sam's strawberry curls. "Five different flowers, Sam." Frodo put Sam on the ground again and watched the little boy run to his father for help.
Gaffer looked relieved. If it took getting flowers and such for Master Frodo every day, he'd do it. Sam would learn quickly at that, since he always wanted to do things for his older friend. The gardener gave a rare smile to his employer's ward. "Thank you, Master Frodo. We'll have your flowers soon enough."
Frodo nodded. "Remember Sam, I want you to get the flowers. Gaffer can help, but he's not to pick them. You have to. Okay, Sam?"
Sam nodded and tugged on his father's hand. "Come Gaff. Find flowee. Find Fodo flowee." He insistently guided the older Hobbit towards the flowerbeds. The boy hardly noticed anything now; he had a goal to meet, wanting to make Frodo happy.
With a satisfied nod, Frodo turned back towards the hole. He sighed, becoming aware of his dirty clothing once more, trying to brush his clothes off again. "I can't believe how messy one child can be." His voice was as exasperated as the gardener's had been earlier.
Bilbo chuckled as Frodo passed, heading for his bedroom. "Well, my lad, who is she? A pretty lass from down in Hobbiton or one from Buckland, mayhaps?"
Frodo froze. Turning slowly, he flushed bright pink. "Uh... neither, Bilbo. I'm getting changed now." He ducked into his room, embarrassed to have been questioned about pretty lasses. He shut the door on Bilbo's continued chuckles.
Gaffer was getting frustrated again. True, now his son worked with a vengeance to figure out which were flowers and to find the five Frodo wanted, but he was exhausting his father in the process. Sam had three blooms clutched in a chubby fist and was lamenting to the older Hobbit that he couldn't find a blue one. His favorite color seemed to be blue. No matter how many times Gaffer explained that blue flowers didn't come out in autumn, Sam just continued to mutter and look for a blue blossom for his favorite friend.
Finally, Gaffer stopped dead still, refusing to continue the futile search. "Samwise, you have to wait until spring for a blue flower. That's when the chicory will start to blooming. Right now you'll get yellow and red." That stopped the little boy.
He turned, frowning, still clutching his ragged flowers. "No blue? Sam want blue!"
"No, Sam, no blue. Why don't you find orange, instead? Master Frodo likes orange just fine."
"Blue!" Sam stamped one little foot, indignant that his father could be so silly as to think orange was better than blue. "Fodo blue!"
Gaffer glared at the child and pointed to the flowerbeds. "There: red, orange, yellow, and pink. Maybe even a purple, but certainly no blue, boy. Go and look, if you don't believe me. Go ahead, Samwise Gamgee. You know so much more than the Gaffer, you find a blue flower for Master Frodo." He was so frustrated, and so confident of that garden, he threw out another challenge. "You find a blue flower and I'll let you give Master Frodo a cake for his birthday."
Sam stopped and looked, wide-eyed, at the older Hobbit. "Cake Fodo? Cake butday?" He turned and sprinted for the flower garden, intent more than ever on finding Frodo's blue flower.
With a sigh, Gaffer followed him, wondering how he'd stop the tears when Sam didn't find that flower.
Sam was desperately trying to search every row of pristine blossoms, looking for that perfect flower. He had picked up a red, a pink, an orange, and a yellow flower for good measure, but refused to stop looking for that elusive fifth flower of his choice. He was getting worried now. There wasn't a single blue among the flowers he'd checked.
Looking up, he could see only three rows of blossoms left: all purple in color. Gaffer was silly. There was a blue flower, there had to be. A perfect flower just for Frodo. The boy started determinedly for the last three rows.
The afternoon had gotten late as Samwise searched the huge flowerbeds. The sun slanted down towards the horizon, turning the sky to vibrant reds and violets, darkening towards the east like a shadow marking the passing time. Gaffer knew the boy wouldn't give up, but knowing that failure was at the end had the worried parent regretting his hasty challenge. He hated seeing one of his children fail.
Finally, Sam was on the last section of the last row. He was beginning to think that maybe Gaffer had been right. Maybe there wasn't a blue flower to be found. As he walked, dragging his feet in exhaustion, eyes scanning the purple blossoms, he grew more and more dejected. At the last purple blossom, he had to admit that Gaffer wasn't silly after all. He was right: no blue.
With a sniff, he turned to Hamfast and held up the four dead flowers he'd picked. His voice wavered on a sob as he spoke the dreaded, inevitable words. "No... no blue... Gaff. Fodo no blue..."
The Gaffer sighed and scooped up his son in a comforting hug. He cuddled the boy, letting him sob into a well-fleshed shoulder, making small noises of understanding and sympathy. Rocking him slightly, Gaffer walked amongst the flowers, careful not to trample the delicate blooms.
"Oh, Sammy, it'll be okay, son. Master Frodo won't mind. He'll be happy with the flowers anyway." He lifted his son's tear-stained face. "Tell you what, Sammy-boy. We'll get five new flowers for Master Frodo and you can still give him a birthday cake later this month. How's that?" Sam didn't even think. He merely threw his arms around his father and nodded, snuffling into his shoulder. "Kay. New flowees. Fodo cake."
After a long moment, Gaffer put his calming son down, taking the small, dirty fingers. They walked slowly down the rows of flowers, Sam pointing to the perfect blooms he wanted to replace the ones he'd picked earlier. Within minutes he had, not five, but ten beautifully matched flowers. To show Frodo he had chosen them, Sam was trying to recite their names, repeating after the Gaffer over and over again. They wound up in front of the faded door at last.
With a soft knock, Gaffer smiled down at his son, proudly watching the eager little boy grip his bunch of flowers. As the door swung open, the Hobbit looked up, smile still in place, nodding in respect to an equally smiling Bilbo. Without a word, the master of Bag End allowed the tired pair to enter. Gaffer signaled Bilbo not to interrupt Sam's concentration as their employer guided them towards the den and Frodo.
Frodo looked up at the sound of someone coming into the room. He was dressed in clean clothes and had almost forgotten the dirty encounter of earlier. Seeing the grubby child brought it back, but the boy's next actions pushed all thought of being fastidious out of the teen's mind.
"Fodo, flowees..." Sam held up the bunch of flowers. He carried them to the stunned looking teen and started dutifully reciting the names of the blooms he'd chosen. At the very end, he held the flowers out and sighed, looking hopeful that his offering pleased his friend.
With a gasp, Frodo grabbed Sam into a delighted hug, eyes wide. "Oh, Sam! They're beautiful! Just look at that vibrant purple... and all those petals. Oh, you are such a good boy and I love you so much!" He hugged him again.
"Sam no blue flowee, Fodo."
It was almost an actual sentence, a first for the child. But Frodo didn't even register this new accomplishment. Instead, his eyes misted over at the dejected tone his friend had relayed the news in. He cuddled the boy harder and kissed his dirty curls, uncaring if he got messy himself. "That's okay, Sam. I know you tried hard. And I like purple almost as much as blue. I think these are beautiful."
Sam's head came up, eyes suddenly shining. "Fodo like puple?" He sounded hopeful. With Frodo's nod, Sam laughed and forgot all about his grief over not finding that perfect flower. He hugged his friend back. "Sam love Fodo!"
"Well, Frodo loves Sam." Frodo smiled and stood up, taking the chubby toddler with him. "Why don't we get some water for our flowers, Sam?" He threw an absent smile at the adults as he carried the child out of the room.
The Gaffer turned mystified eyes on his employer. "Well, I'll be. That boy hasn't worked all week, but one request from Master Frodo gets him searching and learning all afternoon. Don't that just beat all? I wonder if'n it'll last, Mister Bilbo."
Bilbo laughed. "Oh, I'm sure if Frodo asked for things, Sam would be delighted to give up playing just to find them. Sometimes," the older Hobbit put a hand on his younger employee's worn sleeve, "you have to be a bit unconventional to get a body working. Let the boys go. Sam'll start listening all on his own one day. Right now, he's just a boy trying to please his best friend."
With a shake of his head, and then a nod, Gaffer had to agree. He might not understand that bond between the two boys, but it didn't seem to be hurting either one. He supposed he'd just have to let go and trust Sam would grow up without any odd ideas or stigmas. For now, he'd have to be content to let Sam believe that the work worth doing was for Frodo; what an odd situation indeed.
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