It took the better part of an hour for the little trio to make their slow way down the road to Bagshot Row. Seventeen-year-old Frodo limped slowly along between his cousin Bilbo and young Samwise Gamgee. Sam, at five years old, had a secure hold on the older Hobbit's hand, careful not to tug too hard as they moved. Old Bilbo, in his mid-nineties, shuffled along at a spry pace, despite his great youth. He barely looked older than middle-aged and his movements mirrored his appearance. It was, in fact, Frodo's injuries from the sudden storm that caused their slow progress.
As the group rounded the corner of Bagshot Row, Bilbo smiled in a mix of relief and sadness. His guess about the hailstorm's destruction had been correct: Hobbiton needed quite a bit of repairs. It would take weeks to replace the destroyed crops and fix the damaged buildings and equipment. He turned his sorrowful eyes on his adopted-nephew and his gardener's son.
"It is bad as I feared, but no one appears hurt worse than you, my boy."
Frodo scanned the Hobbits diligently working and nodded painfully. His body was aching now worse than ever. Perhaps he should have agreed to stay back at Bag End after having been pummeled by the sharp hail during the storm. The walk, slow as it had been, left him wishing only for his bed and some hot soup. A tug at his hand had Frodo painfully turning his head down to look into the wide, worried green eyes of his younger friend. "Yes, Sam?"
Sam tugged again, not looking up. "Gaff!" He was smiling broadly; the destruction lost on the child. He had been worried about Hobbits, not holes, with the typical short-mindedness of his age group.
Looking up, Frodo smiled as well. "Yes, Gaffer is working in the field. He seems to be fine, Sam." There was genuine relief in the teen's voice. The only reason he'd been in that raging hailstorm had been to make sure Gaffer had gotten home safe. Unfortunately, Frodo had never made it further than the Party Field before tripping and being overwhelmed by the painful storm. "Would you like to see him?"
He expected the child to break away and run for his father, but was surprised when Sam shook his head. "Stay with Frodo." The little boy's voice was sure and happy. Startled blue eyes looked down into happy gray-green ones. "Gaff no hurt. Frodo hurt. Sam stay Frodo... stay with Frodo."
Unable to resist, he smiled back at the child.
Bilbo nodded. "Wonderful idea, Samwise. Frodo will stay with you while I help out."
"But Bilbo! They need all the help they can get. I should be helping, too." The teen felt hurt that he was considered useless in such a time of need for his neighbors.
"Oh, don't worry, Master Frodo. You'll be a very big help."
Frodo turned his head and smiled. Sam's mother, Bell, stood next to them with a wide smile. She tangled her fingers in Sam's blond curls, reassuring herself that her youngest son had taken no harm. Naturally, she saw the scrapes her son sported from his brief time in the storm.
Bell knelt and gathered her son close, still smiling at Frodo. "We need every hand we can get to help with this mess. The children are rather docile right now, but still, they need watching. If you could gather all the children together in one place, say back to Bag End, we could have that many more hands freed up." The Hobbit woman stood and gently touched Frodo's bandaged cheek. "Did you have to go out in that storm after Sam, Frodo?" Her smile faded to a worried frown.
His uncle jumped in with a shake of his curly head. "No, he went out to make sure Gaffer got home safe. Sam told us he was still out in it." He then thoughtfully pondered Bell's suggestion and smiled. "That would work, Bell. Bringing the children up to Bag End. There's plenty of room, and some of the more creative ones could even help clear up some of the debris that's light. Bag End wasn't too hard hit, you know."
With a strangled gasp, Bell started carefully checking over Frodo, ignoring Bilbo's last words in favor of his first. "Oh, Frodo, sweetie, are you able to handle all the children? The older ones can help with the infants and toddlers..."
Everyone looked down at Sam.
"Mama, Gaff..." Sam pointed a chubby finger towards his father, who had spotted the little party and was now approaching. The older male had a frown on his face and looked exasperated. It took only a moment of apprehensive silence for the man to stop beside the teen, studying him.
"Won't be able to work like that, Master Frodo." He, like his wife, ran his hand carefully through Sam's curls, verifying that the boy wasn't terribly injured. "Need a place to sit and rest."
"Uh huh." Sam grinned, capturing his father's large hand, his own tiny ones, barely enough to fill his father's one, looking odd holding such a great paw in their delicate frailty. "Going up to play with Frodo."
The Gaffer scratched his own head, pushing his cap back on his graying auburn curls. "Going back to Bag End, Master Frodo?" He sounded uncertain whether to approve the boy getting out of the way or to disapprove the fact that he wasn't intending to work anyway.
Frodo hesitated then nodded. "I'm to take all the children up there to keep them out of the way. It'll give you the mothers to help, as well, Gaffer." He absently reached over and clasped one of Sam's hands, removing it from the other Hobbit's hand. Sam let him, smiling happily.
A slow nod at last came from the gardener. "That's a right good idea, Master Frodo. I'll send Marigold with you and Samwise. Could use the comfort of them being well cared for while we work."
"That's the idea, Gaffer." The teen smiled, suddenly feeling glad he had forsaken his bed to come down and help. He could rest his injuries but still be a great help to Hobbiton. On top of that Gaffer and Bell approved, which made him feel even happier. Best of all, though, he'd get time with Sam... a great deal of time with Sam, in fact.
Gaffer nodded and turned back towards the field, considering the conversation over. Bilbo chuckled and went to join him, offering to help pull unusable crops if instructed which ones to pull. Gaffer set his employer to work in an almost comical reversal of roles and both seemed to forget Frodo and the children.
"I'll have the children brought up to Bag End, Frodo. The older ones can bring up the younger and leave them off."
"No need, Bell." Frodo smiled. "I've got to go at a slow pace, you know. Why don't I take anyone... seven and younger? The bigger children can carry the little ones and we'll move slow enough not to endanger or tire anyone." He looked hopeful that his idea would be considered a good one.
Unfortunately, he was doomed to disappointment on that score. "That isn't necessary, Frodo. We can have the older children take a small break to bring you little ones. The mothers would feel safer that way." She stroked his cheek to take away the disappointment she saw lingering. "I'll get Marigold and you may start off."
With a nod, Frodo transferred Sam's hand to his other one, flexing stiffening fingers painfully. He'd be recovering from his fall for a few days, he could tell. With a sigh, he looked down at his friend. "Well, Sam, I'd rather take you to the Green Dragon so I could get some ale. It'd be your first look at the Green Dragon."
"Is Soggy green?" Sam blinked up at Frodo intrigued.
"Soggy? Oh, no! Smaug was a red dragon, I'm sure of it." Frodo smiled. He opened his mouth to continue but was interrupted by Mrs. Cotton approaching with three children. She looked like she might be pregnant again.
"Oh, Master Frodo, dear. I hear you're to watch the children up at Bag End? Could you bring Rosie and Jolly with you? Young Tom's able enough to help by carrying one of the twins. He's a good boy, aren't you, Tom?"
Frodo looked down at the one-year-old twins, then at five-year-old Tolman Cotton, a friend of Sam's. He smiled and nodded. "Do you trust Sam to carry one?"
The Hobbit woman nodded. "Of course. Samwise is a good, strong lad. Here you are Samwise. You may carry Rosie." She startled the boy by thrusting her only daughter into his arms. Both infant and older boy blinked at one another, as if sizing each other up. The mother nodded, satisfied. "If the going's slow, there should be no problem. Bell said you were injured in that ripper? You poor thing. Hurt much, do you?"
"Oh, no, Mrs. Cotton. I'm just bumped around a bit. I'll be fine." It was startling in a way. When the twins had been newborns, Mrs. Cotton had seemed distracted and nervous. Now she seemed very open and welcoming... and trusting. In fact, she merely picked up the one-year-old from where he sat on hands and knees in the road dust and shoved him willy-nilly into his older brother's chubby arms. "There you go, Tom. Take care of Jolly for Mum, that's a boy."
Tolman grinned and nodded. "Okay."
Well, it wasn't the entire lot of Hobbiton children, but Frodo was gratified that at least one mother thought he could bring a group of children back up to Bag End as easily as he could a pair. He watched the happy mother head into a field nearby, content that she trusted him with her children. He looked down at the boys with babies. "Should we go?"
"Oh, there you are, Frodo!"
The teen whirled around then winced, regretting the injudicious movement. He was surprised to have an infant gently settled into his arms. Mrs. Bolger, a distant cousin, stood there smiling softly. "Here's Estella. There's Fredigar. Thank you for watching them, Cousin Frodo. After hearing of the way you've cared for Samwise, I can't think of a better person to watch them. Fredigar's a handful, but the little one's as well behaved as a newborn lamb." She kissed her infant daughter's head then hurried off, not even giving Frodo a chance to respond to the whirlwind of a mother.
He was still standing, stunned, when Bell walked over. "Frodo, sweetie? Looks like you've been bombarded as it is. Do you want me to send Marigold up with one of the others?" She touched his cheek, bringing him out of his daze.
"What? Oh, no, Bell. I can manage Mari. She's a good girl." Frodo smiled at Bell, rearranging the infant in his arms so he might take the toddler's hand. "We'll set off now, however, so others don't try to give me children. I think you're right. It'd be a bit much to try to bring them all up with us."
Bell nodded, smiling, and kissed his forehead. "Thank you, Frodo, for taking this on. If you have any troubles, send Samwise down to us. He can be trusted with a message."
Frodo nodded. With a quick glance over his group, the teen threw a smile to the adult then started the small band off towards Bag End. Marigold twisted enough to wave goodbye to her mother, almost tugging her hand free as she turned.
Frodo glanced back, but his smile dropped as he caught sight of the Gamgee's second son, Halfred. The sixteen-year-old was glaring after the small group, his green eyes cold and watchful. Frodo had always believed the other Hobbit disliked him, but he had never felt such hatred before. With a shake of his head, he frowned, turning to look up the road. Why would Halfred hate him so much?
His mind wandered over the past few years and he found himself again worrying over the cruel prank that had been played at his last birthday party. A dead cat had been hung up in his bathing room window, scaring Sam almost senseless. It had been a juvenile act of foul malice; it had been eerie in a way, too. Whoever had done it, and Frodo had no doubt it had been Halfred Gamgee, had to have disliked Frodo and/or Bilbo with a vengeance. It was disturbing to think that Sam's brother could be that... crude.
Sam's soft voice drew Frodo out of his negative thoughts.
"She's got pretty eyes, Frodo. Look." The boy turned so Frodo could look down at the little girl in his friend's arms. Rosie did indeed have pretty eyes. Most would say they were not as enthralling as Frodo's own ethereal blue ones, but Frodo liked them. They looked happy, full of mischief and laughter.
"Yes, very pretty eyes, Sam. I think Rosie's a very pretty girl." To be diplomatic, however, he added, "I'd say she's as pretty as your sisters." Frodo smiled down at Marigold who looked up at him with wide gray eyes, sucking on a couple of dusty fingers.
"No," Sam insisted confidently. "She's the prettiest girl around. I think she'll be even prettier than Mama is." He smiled up at Frodo momentarily, then glanced back down at the one-year-old in his strong, chubby arms. "And she's not heavy like Mari, either."
The teenager tended to think that even infant Estella was heavy right then. He laughed softly. "Mari's older than Rosie, Sam. Of course she's heavier." He switched arms, forcing Marigold to switch hands as they made their incredibly slow procession up the road.
It took maybe an hour and a half, with several rests, for the small entourage to finally get to Bilbo's front gate. Frodo was relieved. His entire body screamed for rest and his stomach was roiling with hunger. It wasn't any better with the children, who were all grumbling and whining, even patient little Sam. Frodo dropped Mari's hand to open the gate and encouraged the group up the steps, latching the gate behind them.
After letting all of the children into the hole, Frodo thankfully looked for a place to set the baby down. He sighed, "Sam put down Rosie, please, and open that chest of drawers. I need to put the baby where she won't roll over." He remembered that much from when Sam had been a newborn.
The little boy obediently did as asked then stood close to Frodo's elbow, watching him intently. When he noticed the infant was settled he looked up at his friend. "Food now?" He set a grubby hand on Frodo's sleeve. "Food, please, Frodo? Sam hungry."
Fredigar piped up, "Me, too. Hungry, Frodo!"
A chorus of agreement erupted causing Frodo to laugh softly, despite his own exhaustion, pain, and hunger. Something about the little kids amused him. Leading the way, leaving Young Tom to keep an eye on little Estella, Frodo brought the group to the kitchens. "All right, if we're going to eat, you need to help me. Sam, show the children where to get bread and fruit. I'll get drinks. Oh, and Sam? Get the cheese? There's a good lad." The teenager smiled as Sam lead the others off.
With a sigh of true relief, Frodo hobbled around to gather drinks and crockery for his hoard. He started setting up in the study on the low table Sam used for his meals during work breaks. There was just enough room for all of the settings and Frodo smiled in weary triumph at his small accomplishment. He wanted badly to merely sit in a chair and relax, perhaps to finish translating that Elvish poetry he'd been working on when the storm had started that morning.
A baby's cry interrupted him and, startled, he hurried as best he could to where Tolman was watching Estella in the hallway. "What's happened, Tom? Is she hurt?"
Young Tom looked up and shook his head. "No. She's hungry." He said it as if the teenager should have known it; Tom had younger siblings after all. Unfortunately, Frodo did not, so was unfamiliar with a baby's cries. It had been so very long since those few months he'd been allowed to help with newborn Sam.
"Well... uh..." How in the world was he going to feed the infant? Exasperated suddenly, he was sure that Mrs. Bolger had forgotten that she'd need to feed Estella during the day. Frodo frowned, trying to puzzle a way to give the baby food, as he had no idea how Bell had fed Sam; she'd always remained covered, a blanket over the baby and her chest. Frodo made a mental note to ask Bilbo about it... or Bell.
But asking a question later wasn't going to feed the infant now. He had milk; Bilbo had purchased some goat's milk and stored it in the cold cellar far inside the hole. It was fresh two days ago. Maybe that would do?
"Okay, keep watching her, Tom. I'll get her luncheon." Frodo gently touched the Cotton boy's shoulder then turned and shuffled quickly off, bruises and scrapes protesting painfully. He again flexed his stiffening fingers, making his way down to the innermost pantry where the cold storage was, as that part of the hill remained cold year-round.
It took less than a minute for Frodo to bang into something in the murky light of the lamp he'd brought with him. The place was certainly close. It took several more minutes for the Hobbit to find the covered pitcher of goat's milk. With a sniff, he determined it was still good but made a face anyway. He didn't much prefer goat's milk, no matter how Bilbo raved about its health properties, learned from the Dwarves or Elves or something, no doubt.
When the teenager reached the hallway once more, all of the children were standing there calmly. Frodo blinked and looked around. "You're clean!" He hadn't remembered to tell them to clean up, though he preferred to stay neat himself. "When did you clean up?"
Sam smiled and patted Frodo's arm. "Told them have to clean to eat." He pointed back to the study with the low table. "Put the food there, Frodo. We eat now?"
Frodo laughed. "So, Sam, you remembered about the clean up rule, did you? Yes, let's go eat, children." He carefully picked up the whimpering baby and carried her and the pitcher to the study. Moving to sink into Bilbo's chair, however, Frodo realized he had no way for her to drink the milk. He frowned at the little girl.
The children were little help, excitedly laughing and chattering as they claimed seats on the floor and started grabbing for food. Frodo decided to solve that problem first. "Whoa! Manners! Stop reaching. You're to politely ask for something then put it on your plate. Make sure everyone gets some. Fredigar, Tolman, you're in charge of making sure it's shared."
The little ones started at him stunned. They looked at one another then back towards the oldest there. At Frodo's frown, they realized he meant what he said. Jolly laughed and clapped, but no one revealed why he should do so. Rosie looked up with her beautiful eyes, a hopeful look crossing her features. Frodo hardened himself against the look, wanting calm more than her smile at the moment.
Fredigar stood up and moved to one end of the table, Tolman taking Fredigar's lead by going to the other. Both five-year-olds started doling out food. True, the portions weren't as equal as they could be, but what could one expect from little children? At least chaos had been adverted.
Sam frowned softly and looked to Frodo. "Sam help?"
"Oh, yes, Sam. That'd be a great idea. But too many people might spill. Why don't you sit and enjoy being served for once?" He smiled softly at Sam, then turned his attention back to the baby, whose whimpers had silenced with her increased hunger.
The Gamgee boy frowned harder, feeling left out, and crossed his arms, resting them on the table with his chin on top. Frodo noticed and sighed. "I'm sorry Sam. I need as much calm and quiet as possible." At a sudden wail from Estella, he said in exasperation, "And a way to feed the baby her milk!"
That perked Sam up. "When Mama's sick, Gaff feeds her. Gaff uses spoons to feed Mama soup."
Frodo nodded. "I know, but I'm not sure if a spoon would work." He reached over for one, though, and took a small amount of milk into the bowl. Hopefully, he moved the spoon to the infant's lips and let the milk touch her mouth. Delight surged through him.
As soon as she tasted the milk, Estella happily opened her mouth to take in the food. She wanted it far faster than Frodo was capable of, but was patient enough to simply sit, like a baby bird with her mouth open, as she waited for each spoon of milk. Apparently the goat's milk was good enough to the hungry child: she wasn't finicky.
After a moment, Frodo poured a little bit of milk in each of the children's mugs, then settled, thankfully, into Bilbo's comfortable chair. His entire body screamed with the sudden relief. Yes... finally resting. Frodo sighed happily, spoon-feeding the infant more milk.
It was only after about twenty minutes that Estella finally turned her head, refusing the milk. Frodo tried to recall what Bell had done for Sam then. Yes, burping the baby. He carefully put her to his shoulder and rubbed her back until a loud belch came up. The infant gave him a look that seemed accusatory, as if she suspected him of the loud noise. The teen smiled and lay her back on his lap, satisfied when she yawned, drifting off very quickly.
Looking up, intent on now feeding himself, the older Hobbit was stunned to find that not even a slice of bread remained: all of the food had been eaten by the group of children. He blinked, but nothing changed. The table was bare, the children quietly watching him, and the hunger in his stomach still gnawed.
"We get up now?" Fredigar asked, a messy smile on his now food-smudged face.
Frodo nodded slowly, chagrined and hungry. "Yes, but you have to wash up again. Then come back here and you can play with Sam's toys. He knew there was a chest of toys for Sam to play with on breaks.
Sam smiled and nodded. "Can play blocks." He stood and led the children out, taking on the job of host for Bag End with grace and pleasure. He loved helping Frodo. Secretly he thought this day might earn him a big hug and that made him all the happier. He loved Frodo's big hugs best.
Slowly, Frodo adjusted the sleeping infant in his arms, standing stiffly. Moving slowly, trying to work out the kinks, Frodo moved to a chest of drawers and managed to open one, keeping Estella in one arm as he awkwardly finagled the draw open. The linen drawer... good... Frodo lay the infant in the drawer and turned to start slowly cleaning up the mess left by six hungry children. He managed to get the table cleared and moved by the time Sam led his group into the room, clean once more.
The teen nodded. "Why don't you play quietly with the toys? Sam? Can you keep an eye on Estella for me? I'm going to get some luncheon for myself now that everyone's eaten and comfortable." He threw a smile at them, winking at Sam, then headed out.
The child laughed in return and watched the children heading for his toy chest, willingly letting them hand out the toys he had. There wasn't much, of course, as Gaffer had only sent up a few things. Bilbo had managed to supplant it with a set of beautifully engraved letter blocks and a wooden pony, carved and painted, but it was still very bare compared to some toy sets. However, for the small group it was adequate and they were soon lost in their play. Samwise merely watched with a slightly wistful look, obeying Frodo's directive to watch the infant rather than play with those glorious toys. As if noticing his friend's dilemma, Young Tom carried over the wooden pony for Sam to play with.
In the kitchen, Frodo hurried to collect some apples, cheese, and bread together. He grabbed a pot of honey and found a few scones Bilbo had prepared for tea, though that meal had long since been missed. Satisfied, the lad placed everything on a tray and carried it back towards the study. He stopped, however.
He'd just noticed how grubby his own hands were. A shudder went through the teenager. Recently he'd been almost obsessed with cleanliness, though he'd never had thought of it that way. It was simply that he was trying to be prepared at all times in case a pretty lass looked his way, especially if that pretty lass was Larkspur Whitfoot. That day's events had driven all thought of clothes and girls from his mind until that moment, though.
Now, however, Frodo noticed just how grubby he'd become while tending to the children. He determined they were safe enough in the study with Sam. Detouring to his own room, Frodo set the tray down and quickly washed up with the cold water in his basin. He changed carefully into fresh clothing, almost unaware of his own pain in his determination to be presentable once more. The teen did rush, though, so that he could return to the children before anyone got hurt or upset.
Finally the Hobbit was satisfied with his ablutions. He picked up his tray of food and headed into the study, eyeing the peaceful scene warily. Checking on the infant before sinking into Bilbo's chair once more, Frodo was almost surprised to find no mishaps, arguments, or tears. The group of very young children had played quietly the entire fifteen minutes he'd been distracted. He smiled.
Frodo reached for some bread but was startled by the sound of a knock on the front door. With a slight frown, he struggled out of the chair, hissing as his abused body once more had to move. At least he retained the presence of mind to take his tray with him, else there'd be nothing left when he returned. Frodo put the tray on a hallway table before carefully opening the damaged door to Bag End.
Several teens, including a glaring Halfred and his smiling brother Hamson, stood there. They had an array of smaller children with them. All in all, it appeared to be about sixty Hobbit children... the full contingent of the town. Frodo blinked.
Hamson laughed at the look on Frodo's face. "Don't worry, Master Frodo. We're not bringing them here. We're going on to the Party Field, but thought we'd stop and offer to take your lot with us, if you wish."
Halfred's look grew more severe as he obviously determined that Frodo would jump at the chance to get out of the work of watching seven children. He was due to disappointment, however. Frodo's next words made him scowl all the more at the loss of one of his negative theories.
"Oh, do I have to? They've settled quite nicely, you know, and are happily playing with Sam's toys in the study. If it's all the same, I'd rather keep the children on."
"And what would Samwise being doing with toys over here? He's supposed to be working, not playing." Halfred crossed his arms, looking positively incised. He took a step towards Frodo, leaning in close so the little kids wouldn't hear him as easily. "I'm keeping an eye on you, Master Frodo." Then, the antagonistic teen was turning towards the gate once more, herding his share of charges towards the Party Field.
The older brother sighed, reminding Frodo of gentle Bell Gamgee. "He's in a phase, Master Frodo, where he wants to be an adult but can't quite decide how to be. I think he's determined that you are what he wants to rebel against." Hamson shrugged and guided his group of children off, the other teens following with their charges.
Frodo called after them. "You sure I'm not to watch them? You're needed, aren't you?"
With a laugh, Hamson turned and shook his auburn curls. "No, Master Frodo. They determined that near seventy children was too much for one person, but your idea of one teen watching a group of them was a sound idea. The most trust-worthy teens got the job, freeing their mothers for the other work. I think the women-folk like the chance to show off their skills out of the hole." He smiled at Frodo, who laughed in return.
"Well, it wasn't my idea. It was your mother's. I was merely the one who said something."
Hamson nodded, but didn't respond as he turned back towards the Party Field. The large group made their way down the steps carefully and out of Bag End's gate, onto the road. Frodo watched as they trooped, one by one, through the Party Gate and down into the field to spread out running and laughing.
He wondered if he should bring his charges down to join them, as well.
Sighing, Frodo turned back into Bag End and closed the door, having to latch it twice before the damaged wood stayed closed. He'd have to make sure that was fixed soon, though he wasn't sure how to do it himself. With a final pat on the faded door, the teen gathered his tray from the table and set off for the study, turning over his choices in his mind.
The sound of laughter, gentle and fresh, stopped him on the threshold of the study. He smiled, noting how his small group played together quite happily. Even Samwise, whom he'd left out of the games longer than he liked, was happily playing with his wooden pony, still sitting next to Estella's drawer. Frodo hurried over and put his tray down, smiling at the child.
"Thank you, Sam." He gave the boy a hug big enough to cause a squeak; Sam smiled and hugged him back. "Why don't you join in the games? I'll let your Gaffer know what a good boy you've been, watching out for Estella for me." He let the boy go then moved to drag Bilbo's comfortable chair next to the chest of drawers, happy that the group readily accepted the laughing Samwise.
Sinking into the chair with a groan for his near-forgotten aches, Frodo pulled his tray closer and began to finally eat his very late luncheon. He knew he'd have to get food together for that group in an hour or two, but for now, they seemed content. He buttered, then honeyed, his bread, watching the children with a gentle smile.
Tolman now had the wooden pony. Fredigar had perhaps three or four crudely carved Hobbit figures Gaffer had made. They were pretending to have the group of Hobbits and pony go off for a grand adventure in the tradition of Bilbo. Rosie and Jolly were building little towers of the blocks much as Sam and Tolman had done that day long ago, when Sam had that broken leg. Marigold was handing over the blocks to the twins, happily helping rather than getting into the construction.
Suddenly, Frodo jolted up, hissing at the injudicious movement. Where was Sam? He looked around the room, worry and the beginnings of panic starting to set in. There was no sign of the boy, Frodo's closest friend. He pushed his tray aside, only partially finished, and pushed himself from the chair, intent on locating the child.
That was when he saw the strawberry-blond.
Sam was standing in the corner softly humming to himself and idly flipping the pages in a book Bilbo had gotten from the Elves. It contained dozens of carefully drawn and colored pictures of flowers and trees. The words were in Elvish, which Sam couldn't even begin to understand, but the pictures were vivid and well executed. It had been open to a section of medicines, displaying a low ground plant with numerous white flowers. The pretty picture had attracted the Bag End gardener's son.
With a relieved sigh, Frodo walked over and touched Sam's curls. The boy jumped, whirling around with gray-green eyes wide in shock. He smiled when he realized it was Frodo, throwing his arms as far around the teen's waist as possible, hugging him enthusiastically. "Frodo! Look, flowers..."
Frodo nodded, picking up the book. "Yes, it's Bilbo's. Sam, why don't we go sit down and look at it?" He offered a bandaged hand to the child.
Sam smiled wider and grabbed his hand, practically dragging his older friend in his enthusiasm to look at the pretty book some more. When they got to the chair, the little Hobbit patiently waited as Frodo got comfortable, the book set gently on the table next to the food tray. Finally, Sam climbed carefully into Frodo's lap, not noticing the teen's grimaces of pain. They were soon settled and the older Hobbit slipped the book into the younger's hands. He reached for some cheese and an apple, letting Sam turn the pages as he ate his luncheon.
Leaning back into Frodo, the child was content. This was better than a big hug any day. This was a long time being held by his Frodo. Carefully, not wanting to tear the pretty pictures, Sam turned the first page, gasping in pleasure at the sight of a field of the very familiar lily, done in all of it's various shades. He pointed to it without touching it and spoke in an awed whisper. "Lilies, Frodo. That's lilies."
"Mmm Hmm..." Frodo's mouth was full, but he smiled at the boy's enthusiasm. Clearing his mouth, he said, "A pretty flower, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Sam turned the page carefully and gasped again. "Oh, Frodo. That's roses. See? There's even blue roses!"
Frodo studied the beautifully done picture, depicting a garden arbor covered in twining rose vines and set on either side with rose bushes. "I've never seen a blue rose, Sam. Think only Elves have them?"
"Oh yes. Elves have everything, Frodo. They have everything."
With a laugh, Frodo shook his head. "No, Sam, they don't have everything. They don't have me, do they?" He grinned at Sam's startled look. "What, Sam?"
"When Elves leave, will you go to?"
Confused, Frodo tilted his head a bit. "What do you mean? I'm not an Elf, Sam; I'm a Hobbit. Why would I go with the Elves?"
"'Cause you're friends with Elves, Frodo." Sam's voice was matter-of-fact, as if there could be no other answer.
Relaxing, laughing softly, the teen ruffled the child's hair gently. "No, I've never met an Elf, Sam. Bilbo has. But you have to do something special to leave with the Elves, Sam, something spectacular. You have to save the world or something, I think."
It took Frodo a minute to process, despite knowing Sam's nickname for Smaug the dragon. "Oh, yes... fighting Smaug would be a good thing, wouldn't it? I suppose the Elves might consider letting Bilbo go with them, but maybe not, Sam. And I'll never do anything so spectacular and adventurous as all that. I'm just Frodo. Bilbo's the one who fights dragons and talks to Elves." He smiled wistfully.
Sam nodded and turned the page on the book, once again getting to the low growing white flowered plant. "What's that?"
Frodo frowned. "I'm not sure. Let's see..." He stumbled through the complicated Elvish word, as flower names were not something he'd quite gotten up to in his lessons. "It's called King's Foil, Sam. It's a..." but he didn't get to finish his translation.
The peacefully idyllic playtime had been disrupted by the cry of Rosie Cotton. Apparently her tower had fallen on her and her twin Wilcome... or Jolly... had started laughing, as was his wont. Thus, she'd started crying.
Sam scrambled off of Frodo's lap, passing him the book. The gentle little boy hurried over to sooth the fascinating younger girl, wanting to see her smiling, not crying. His lack of attention to Frodo was actually a small relief, though Frodo felt instantly guilty for that. He'd wanted to finish his small luncheon without the constant questions of a curious child, even if that child was Sam.
Watching Sam coax that pretty smile back to Rosie's face, Frodo was strangely reminded of the scowling Halfred and his threatening promise to watch Frodo. What was wrong with the teen? Did he truly think Gaffer would be bringing Sam up to play rather than work? Did he think Gaffer would lie about Sam's learning to be a gardener? Was he that jealous of Frodo's social standing, or was it something else? Was it, maybe, how close Frodo and Sam were that had Halfred fuming? Could he be jealous of that? Did he, perhaps, want that closeness with Sam, instead?
Shaking his head, pushing away such thoughts, the teen stood slowly and brushed the crumbs from his shirt, trying to catch them on the tray. He glanced back at the children; things seemed peaceful again. Gently picking up the infant, not wanting to pull a child from play again, Frodo managed to balance Estella in one arm so he could grab the tray with his other hand. He gave one last look over his shoulder then headed for the kitchen, determined to puzzle out just what it was about him that set Halfred's hackles up so badly.
By the time he finished cleaning up and was settled once more on the chair, Frodo still hadn't come up with a solution. He adjusted the infant across his lap, still pondering the puzzle. It wasn't until Sam tugged his sleeve that Frodo realized just how much time he'd lost while thinking. He looked around at the expectant children.
"Hungry, Frodo. Supper time?" Sam's voice was plaintive, bordering on a whine in his hunger. He plucked again at his friend's sleeve, to keep his attention. "Sam hungry."
"Yes, we'll get together some supper now." Frodo stood, carefully balancing the infant once more. He was surprised at how easily the time flew and wondered just how Bell managed with six of her own children. She cooked, cleaned, and did numerous other tasks for the entire family. Frodo only had this group for a little while and he was feeling run haggard already. He supposed it was easier when their ages were staggered; they could help out more that way.
Walking into the kitchen the teenager was surprised to see Sam already heading for the pantry followed by the other children. This time, Frodo let them choose what they will, relying on their good sense to come up with an acceptable meal. Naturally, he hadn't relied on the fact that they were, at oldest, five-years-old.
The children started bringing out anything they could find: bread, cheese, fruit, berries, cakes, vegetables, and an assortment of dried meats Bilbo had put in dry storage, wrapped in cloth. True, the offerings would provide a good meal, but Frodo knew they should have something a bit more filling than what they'd selected. He wracked his brains to figure out what he could cook for them.
Estella woke up, whimpering in hunger. Frodo looked down at the infant and sighed. They'd used up the milk at luncheon. There was nothing else for her. With a shake of his head, he looked back at the children and sighed. "Okay, set that on the table and get the crockery from the cupboard. Sam, I'll need all of the eggs you can find, love. We're going to add tea and eggs to your choices, and maybe we'll even toast the bread."
The children got a bit more excited, though none of them reacted with out-right glee. That lack didn't bother the intrepid older Hobbit. He settled the infant in her older brother's arms, making sure Fredigar was sitting at the table. "Watch her for me? I'll need to cook."
Frodo browned the eggs, regretfully, but the children ate them just the same. In fact, everything the children had brought out was eaten, this time at the kitchen table. The main problem was feeding Estella, as they had no milk, but Marigold solved that problem for them. She spoon-fed some of her eggs, smashed up, to the baby, who ate it just as hungrily as she had the goat's milk earlier. Soon, they were well fed and slightly sluggish in their responses. Oddly enough, the baby was wide-awake, watching everyone with wide brown eyes.
"We'll go back to the study for some quiet play." Frodo began to herd the children out. He was surprised to see that they didn't want to play, instead sprawling on the rugs and yawning. Sam leaned against his friend, green eyes watching him with tired expectation. Gently lying Estella in her drawer, Frodo sat in Bilbo's chair and looked around at the group. He hit upon an idea to entertain them.
"In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit..."
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Chapter notes: Frodo finds something to do after the hailstorm, which ripped through Hobbiton. The job he takes on, however, may be just a bit much for him.
Second Note: The last line of this chapter is taken directly from JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit. It has not been altered and is no way claimed by the author of this short story as anything but borrowed from the great writer for the purpose of this short story. Thank you.