"[Elanor Gamgee] She became known as 'the Fair' because of her beauty; many said she looked more like an elf-maid than a hobbit. She had golden hair, which had been very rare in the Shire; but two others of Samwise's daughters were also golden-haired, and so were many of the children born at this time.
-- Return Of The King --- pg. 470"
Bell Gamgee hugged herself, rubbing her hands over chilled arms. The view out the window was beautiful this summer night, but the Hobbit woman didn't see it. Her gray eyes were staring at something far deeper than the rolling hills; she was staring into her own memory.
There was talk in the Shire, whispers, really. Mostly after hours and behind closed doors. Normally gossip wouldn't bother Bell as she ignored it, but this time it cut her to the heart. This time it concerned her own family; she couldn't easily laugh off what they were saying, either.
Children with golden hair were extremely rare in the Shire. They were so rare; they were pretty much unheard of among Hobbits, in fact. But within the last four years two infants had been born which later had grown full heads of blond curls: Meriadoc Brandybuck and Samwise Baggins.
True, Sam's hair had some auburn in it, making it a bit more strawberry than pure gold, but that didn't mean much to rumor. The fact that Merry Brandybuck, as the happy two-year-old was commonly called, was closely related to Frodo Baggins made the rumors fly that much faster. Frodo was extremely close to Samwise, thus, the two blond children were linked at times in Shire minds.
Naturally, people gossiped about odd quirks, but this time it went beyond that. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins was whispering that yellow hair was linked to old legends. Of course the woman would go off into malicious laughter and eye Bell after she'd said such things, but it didn't stop people from partially believing it. And once something was heard and partially believed, no amount of truth would stop it from becoming a full-blown rumor.
There was one thing Bell could be thankful for: she didn't live near Lobelia. That woman lived over in Hardbottle. Unfortunately, that also stopped Bell from hearing what other nasty things she'd said about the Gamgees and Bagginses. Lobelia was a vain, greedy woman who disliked Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. As the Gamgees were working for the Bagginses, that cast them into even darker shade according to Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, thus, the rumors being sported around in pubs and market squares.
A gentle hand on her shoulder brought the woman out of her reverie.
"Bell, it's late. We've got to get up early for Samwise's party tomorrow." Gaffer, Bell's husband, was quiet and strong. He was a gruff sort of Hobbit, rather than hosting the outgoing cheer most displayed. However, the man was also surprisingly gentle and kind when someone was very troubled. "Come to bed, Bell..."
"She's a hateful cat."
A gasp behind her told Bell that she'd shocked her husband with her spiteful comment, as she rarely ever insulted anyone. "Now, Bell, Missus Sackville-Baggins don't know what she's yammering about. She's just making things up about people is all."
Turning, Bell hugged Gaffer to her. "Of course she is, but she's still mean, Hamfast." Bell was one of the few people who used her husband's real name.
"You can't change people, Bell; not unless you care about 'em."
Burying her face in her husband's chest, Bell sighed. "But to spread nasty stories... Samwise is not odd. I wouldn't care if his hair were white and straight! He's a perfectly normal little boy. Oh, she's just mad because her son... no! I will not stoop to her level."
Gaffer nodded. "That's good... happens if you were like her I'd have to gag you and toss you in the back closet with the broken pottery."
She giggled; it was the first truly joyful sound out of her in two days and it sounded heavenly. Bell was normally a sweet person and having her moping around had been wearing on everyone, especially the baby, Marigold. "Wooder..."
Both adults turned to see little Samwise standing in the doorway to the kitchen. His hair was a tangle of soft curls, his eyes heavy with sleep. Yawning, Sam rubbed his eye with a fist, holding a battered cloth pony by a hind leg. "Sam wooder..."
"Of course, sweetie." Bell hurried to get her son a small mug of water, kissing Gaffer quickly in passing. The man smiled and watched his wife as she worked.
The little boy shuffled in, his pajama shirt hanging off one pudgy shoulder. "Mama stoee?"
"You want a story? Sam it's the middle of the night..."
Bell smiled at Gaffer. "It's all right, Hamfast. I'll tell him a story if," and she turned to the boy, "he can pronounced story properly." She had been trying to get him to use all the letters in a word for the past three months, as Sam's habit of dropping annoying letters was confusing outsiders. "Sto..." he frowned, dropping his fist from his eye. "Stow... stowy?"
"Almost, love. Try again?" Bell sank to the floor, smiling and cupping the tiny mug in her hands. "Stor... ry."
"Starry?" Sam tilted his head.
Gaffer snorted. "Come on, son, you can do it. Stor."
Sam looked up at the Gaffer. "Stor..."
"Ry..." Gaffer filled in the rest for him.
"Ry?" Sam plopped down on his butt then made a face. He no longer wore diapers, but forgot sometimes that the padding wasn't there anymore. "Stor... ry?"
Bell squealed and scooped him up in a cuddle and kiss. Sam grinned and hugged her back, kissing her soundly on the nose. Hamfast nodded, pleased the boy had caught on so quickly.
"For that, I'll tell you a story, Samwise."
Sam lifted wide green eyes to his father, surprise written on every feature. "Gaff st... stor... ry?"
The man squatted down and nodded, smiling. "Sure. Gaffer can tell great stories. Let's see... what'll it be about?"
"What? Sam you didn't wet the bed again did you?"
Bell laughed. "No, he wants Bilbo's story, Hamfast. Soggy is what he calls that dragon."
With a grunt, Gaffer stood. "Sight good name for the beast I'm thinking. Come along, Samwise. Let's get your water and go tell the story of that dragon." He plucked the toddler up out of Bell's arms, kissing her head and walking out of the room with a smiling Sam.
Sam waved his toy pony at his mother. "Bubye Mama."
"Goodnight, sweetie..." Bell watched the pair go off, smiling. As soon as they disappeared down the hall, though, she turned back to the window, frowning. Would that woman try to wreck Sam's fourth birthday tomorrow?
The day was bright and sunny and promised to get annoyingly hot. There was not a cloud in the sky and no sign of a breeze to stir the already heating air. Gaffer pulled his best shirt away from his sweating body, frowning. He wondered if he should move the party into the hole. That was ruled out instantly, as there was no room in their small home for thirty Hobbit children to run around and play.
It was a rather odd group present when all was said. The Brandybucks were up visiting Bilbo Baggins and so had been invited to the humble party, bringing two-year-old Meriadoc. All of the local children Sam's age were included, especially Fredegar Bolger and Young Tom Cotton, two friends of Sam's. Thankfully, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, who had begged an invitation publicly three weeks ago, had sent her regrets. Gaffer secretly thought that had been the woman's intention the entire time.
Frodo had naturally been invited. The teenager was the oddest person of the lot, actually, being sixteen and as tall as the adults. He played in the grass with the other toddlers, but certainly looked out of place with the chubby little kids. Neither Frodo nor Sam seemed to care.
At the moment, Gaffer was supposed to be watching the children to make sure none of them got injured in the game of tag Daisy had started. All of the toddlers were running around, screaming and laughing and having a good time. Well, all except Samwise. The Gaffer frowned, shading his eyes, and looked around for his son.
He was starting to get worried when something sunk in. Frodo was also missing. Blast those children! It was just like them to sneak off from Samwise' birthday party. The gardener flushed a bit and waved to Bell, gesturing towards the children.
Bell shaded her eyes and studied the rambunctious group with a small frown, trying to spot the trouble Gaffer was apparently worried about. It took her only seconds to realize what had happened. With a sigh, she nodded to her husband and headed off to find the miscreants. Of all days to sneak away, when half the Shire'd been invited to bring their children up. She'd have to have a word with Frodo about this.
Frodo sighed in frustration, running a hand through his dark curls. He'd been getting overwhelmed by the amount of noise thirty children could make and had wandered off for a bit of time alone. Unfortunately, Sam had chosen to follow him. Normally Frodo would have simply brought the child back when he'd noticed him, but this time he couldn't. When Frodo'd noticed the boy, Sam was already knee deep in some animal hole and crying fit to wake the dead.
"Relax, Sam, I'm here. I'll get you out. Don't cry..." Frodo ran his hand through his disheveled curls again. He couldn't simply pull the leg out; he's already tried that and got a scream of pain for his efforts. He'd also tried getting Sam to relax enough that he could pull his own leg out, but the frightened boy hadn't been able to cooperate. This was quickly getting worse.
Pulling off his waistcoat and vest, Frodo knelt down next to the screaming toddler, petting his hair to try to soothe him. "Come now, Sam, your Frodo's here. I won't let your leg stay in the hole. You've just got to stop screaming so a Hobbit can think, Sam." That had little effect on the child.
Frodo petted Sam's hair again and sighed. They wouldn't hear them at the party. Too many kids were running around screaming with the older Gamgee children. What could he do? Pulling didn't work and pushing was out of... digging!
Looking around desperately for anything to dig with, the teenager could only find some twigs and small rocks. He didn't want to risk running off to get some of Gaffer's tools; Frodo didn't like leaving Sam alone and scared... and possibly even hurt. A rock would have to do.
He grabbed a sturdy looking one and started scraping at the earth surrounding the burrow, praying that whatever lived in there wouldn't come up and hurt Sam. He desperately scraped and dug, working as quickly as he could. As dirt crumbled away, Sam stopped screaming, a blessing Frodo was very thankful for.
With a snuffling sob, Sam held up his arms to Frodo. "Up! Up Fodo! Sam up!"
Frodo sighed and wrapped his arms carefully around the child in a hug, but didn't lift, knowing he'd just hurt the boy again. It was in that position that Bell found them. The Hobbit woman's voice was shocked as she called out, "What on earth happened!"
The teen whirled around, letting his arms fall from Sam. "He followed me when I left the party, Bell. By the time I realized, he was stuck in this hole. I've been trying to get him out."
Bell strode right up and studied the situation, worry in her light gray eyes. "Yes, I see... stuck tight there, Sammy-boy." Her relief at finding her son rather unhurt was evident in her voice, as well as her forgiveness for Frodo, as he hadn't actually meant for Sam to leave the party. "I'll run back and get a shovel from Hamfast..."
"Oh could you, Bell? I know you'd rather stay with him and..."
"And risk him crying so hard for you that he stops breathing? Not on your life, Mister Frodo. You stay right here until I get back. I want that child back as unharmed as I see him now." She whirled around and trotted back to the party, smiling for the guests despite her worries.
True, Sam had only stopped breathing the one time last year, but it was still something that scared his parents. He was so attached to Frodo that he would throw a fit if he couldn't get near the older boy. It was enough to make one wonder about their strange bond.
That thinking brought back images of Lobelia's nasty rumors, setting Bell's teeth on edge. She clenched her fists and headed for the tool shed, trying for all the world to appear as if nothing had gone wrong. She nearly fell over someone sleeping in the grass.
Glancing down, Bell was surprised to find Merry curled up with his thumb in his mouth, sleeping as if he were back home in his crib. She looked around for Esmeralda but didn't spot the other woman. How odd, to leave a two-year-old unsupervised even at a party. Bell scooped the baby into her arms and continued on to the shed.
Merry snuggled happily into the warm body, sucking his thumb harder, smiling.
After Bell got a hand shovel, having to balance Merry in one arm to do so, she headed for the party. After all, she could hardly bring Merry to where her son was trapped, could she? His mother would turn up and worry. She looked around, trying to spot Esmeralda, but still didn't see her. Frustrated, Bell handed the child off to the first Hobbit she encountered, not really thinking about the results as she hurried off to free her son.
Bilbo looked surprised, looking down into the now opened eyes of the sleepy Brandybuck child.
"Fodo up..." Sam sobbed again. He didn't want to be in this hole. His leg hurt. He wanted to be hugged and kissed and petted by Frodo, like always. "Fodo..." Why wasn't he listening?
Frodo, for his part, was still working with the rock to try to free up Sam a bit. He looked at the child and sighed, running a now grubby hand through his dark curls. "I'm trying, Sam, I really am. But your leg's stuck and I haven't a shovel."
That caused the toddler to stop whining. "Shove?" He looked at his leg as if he'd never seen it before. "Shove leg? K..." And before Frodo could stop him, Sam wrenched his leg, getting it free. He screamed in agony, though, as the sound of a crack filled the air.
Samwise Gamgee passed out.
"Sam!" Frodo wanted to pass out himself. He felt like he'd be sick, seeing the pale limp body and the odd angle of the broken limb. Shaking almost too much to help, the teenager picked up the boy, carefully supporting the leg, and stood. He turned to go back to Bagshot Row.
Bell shuffled up at that moment. "What... oh no, sweetie! Sammy? What's happened? What..."
"No! Don't touch him!" Frodo snapped, turning so he held the child out of the woman's reach. "He's broken his leg. Don't touch him."
She was stunned. "Frodo?" He'd never kept her child from her before. And to yell at her? What had come over the normally peaceful teen? "Frodo...."
He walked away, carefully, without comment, still supporting Sam's leg at that odd angle. Frodo wasn't really thinking straight, stunned by Sam's accident. He had to get that leg fixed up... had to. In fact, Frodo wasn't even really aware of Bell or how he'd treated her. His only real thought was for the little boy unconscious in his arms.
"Frodo?" She started following, shocked by his behavior. He was beginning to scare her as much as the sight of her injured son was. "Frodo Baggins you answer me right now!" A chill swept over her as Frodo continued walking, without even pausing at her shout.
"It's okay, Sam... I'll get your leg fixed, baby. You just rest." Frodo knew Sam was unconscious, but he felt better talking to the boy anyway. He got to the fringes of the party and headed for the hole.
Bilbo came rushing to meet him, stunned by the pale, limp body in his cousin's arms. Normally the sight of Bilbo hefting a curious two-year-old would have brought a smile to Frodo's face. When the older boy didn't even react, Bilbo grew even more worried.
He trotted after Frodo towards the hole, trying to get a good look at the teenager's eyes. After a few seconds, Bilbo dropped back, surprised and worried. Frodo was in shock. It must have been a bad accident then. Much as he hated to, Bilbo turned to go get that windbag doctor from down the road
Of course, the fact that he was still hefting Merry Brandybuck around stopped him short. He looked at the child and frowned. Merry laughed and patted his ample chest. Bilbo shook his head. "Where's your Mama?"
"Mama?" It was one of the few words Merry knew and he loved to use it. Normally it brought him all kinds of attention. "Mama... mama..." It wasn't working. This Hobbit wasn't cooing and fawning over how clever he was. Merry frowned and tried again.
"Mama!" Still nothing. Getting frustrated, Merry slapped at Bilbo's chest, trying to remind him that he was a clever boy and deserved praise. "Ma! Ma!" It was as firm as he could make it.
Bilbo merely nodded. "I'm looking, I'm looking, my boy. Give a Hobbit a chance." He was saved from further abuse by the Brandybuck heir when Saradoc, the father, came barreling over.
"There's the lad! Thank you ever so much, Bilbo. Esmeralda's in a panic. She left him by the door and he wasn't there when she brought his elevensies back."
Bilbo thankfully thrust the child in Saradoc's arms and nodded. "He's calling for her right now. Gotta get a doctor. Samwise is hurt." And the worried old Hobbit toddled off.
Sam was starting to wake up, whimpering and crying in pain. He clutched Frodo, making it difficult for the teen to carry him to a bed. Frodo didn't care, he just picked the first bedroom available: Halfred's. Laying the boy carefully on the bed, he winced as Sam howled in pain.
Bell ran in after him with her husband on her heels. "Oh! Frodo, please... what happened?" She reached over and gripped Frodo's shirt, shaking him slightly.
He whirled around, paler than ever, shaking. Tears were starting in his big blue eyes and a hand flew to his mouth to hold back the sob. It didn't help. Frodo sank to the floor, crying.
"I'm so sorry... My poor Sam... all my fault. I didn't mean it. Honest. Poor Sam..."
Bell shook her head, bewildered, but Gaffer knelt down. "What's your fault, Master Frodo? What happened?" After no response, he lifted his hand and tried a new approach. "You don't answer me I'll slap you to stop you crying..."
The half-joke worked and Frodo lifted his eyes to meet Gaffer's steady green gaze. "He was stuck in the hole and I was trying to dig him out." He sobbed but continued. "I told him I didn't have a shovel and he misunderstood. He... he broke his leg wrenching it out, Sir... I'm so sorry..." His hands clenched and unclenched as if groping for something unseen, unattainable.
Gaffer nodded, sighing. "Not your fault, Master Frodo. Children misunderstand things all the time. We'll get a doctor in right quick and Sam'll be good as new in no time."
Frodo rose to his knees, clutching at Gaffer. "Can I pay for the doctor, please?"
The gardener pulled back as if he'd been hit with garbage. He straightened, indignantly, and opened his mouth. Frodo rushed on to explain.
"It's my fault he's hurt, Gaffer, and I'd feel ever so much better if you'd let me pay the bill. Please? I... I need to do something for him..."
Bell realized her husband had taken more offense than Frodo meant. She put a calming hand on her husband's arm. "That's a very kind offer, Mister Frodo, but we don't need the money."
The teen nodded. "I know you don't. I'm not offering charity. I want to help since it was my fault... try to make it up in a little way. Please?" He sounded desperate now, trying to grip at Gaffer's worn sleeve again.
The older man shook his head, relaxing a bit, but still looking huffy. "Well..."
"Yes. You may pay this, and only this, doctor bill, Mister Frodo. But that's it. We can afford our own children..." Bell knew she was too upset about Sam's injury to handle this as gently as she needed to.
Thankfully, Frodo understood. "Oh, I wouldn't dream of insulting you by suggesting you couldn't. I... I just wanna help and I don't know how else. If... if there's another way, instead of the bill, I'd do it."
Gaffer seized on that suggestion. "Yes. We'll pay the bill, as we're his parents. But you can help by keeping him calm the rest of the summer. He can't run about the lawn in the afternoons learning the gardens with a broken leg... he'll be in the hole studying with you until he's better." The man crossed his arms, daring Frodo to contest that idea.
Frodo, even worried as he was, wasn't stupid enough to throw away eight hours a day with his Sam. He also wasn't foolish enough to show how much it pleased him. Nodding solemnly, Frodo agreed. "Yes, sir. I can do that. Sam will stay inside with me. I won't let him get hurt again, sir..."
"I'll hold you to that, Frodo Baggins. Until that boy is grown up enough to think for himself, you're to see he don't get hurt when he's around you. Ever." The father turned to greet Bilbo and the annoying doctor. "You fix that boy's leg and give him something for the pain. Don't go winding on about sickness, though, or I'll find another doctor up to Hardbottle."
Surprised and offended, the doctor harrumphed and got to work.
Several hours later the party was fully cleaned up and the guests gone home. Well, all the guests except the Bagginses and the Brandybucks. That lot was staying on until Sam agreed to let Frodo out of his sight. It was beginning to look like they'd have to leave the teen overnight or they'd never get back to Bag End. At least her children had all managed to get invitations to stay at other holes in order to keep them out of her hair. Even little Marigold was down the road at the Cotton's home, tucked in a crib with their twin infants, Rosie and Wilcome.
Bell sighed after checking on the three boys again. Merry was sitting in the crib, which had been drug into the master bedroom. Sam was ensconced in his parent's bed with Frodo curled up beside him telling soft stories about Elves. The threesome looked quite peaceful in there.
Mrs. Gamgee turned to her guests and smiled. "The boys are resting and listening to Frodo's Elf stories." She moved to the teapot to refresh her cup. "It looks like they'd be comfortable there all night. Should we let them be?"
Esmeralda looked nervous. After all, Meriadoc was her only child. "Well..."
"Of course, if you're willing to have them. It's only just two holes down, love. The Gamgees won't let any harm come to our Merry. And Frodo'll watch them. He's a caring one, that boy."
The younger woman sighed and looked at her hands. Finally, she nodded, not looking up at her husband. "Oh, all right. He can spend the night. But it's his first time away from us, and he may cry."
Saradoc laughed. He suspected that Merry wouldn't cry at all that night. Their son was braver than his wife gave him credit for.
Bilbo quietly spoke up then. "Odd how both Merry and Sam are blondes."
Bell froze, cup halfway to her lips, eyes wide.
The Gaffer nodded. "Odd, yes. The children are good, but the Shire's wondering. Say it's a bad sign or some such nonsense."
With a huff, Esmeralda put her mug down with a thud, and then flushed. "My Meriadoc is not odd! I've heard those nasty rumors myself and they aren't true!"
"There, pet, no one says they are. It's just stories blowing about in the summer air. Won't last through the winter, mark me." Saradoc lovingly patted his wife's arm. He looked over at Bilbo, smiling. "Say, Bilbo. You're the repository of old lore. What's that legend about blonde children, anyway?"
Bilbo smiled. "Actually, it's a good legend. Says that the blonde children will appear when salvation is near. Means that something evil will show up and those blonde children are a mark that the evil will go away. It's an old Elvish story for children." He leaned forward, touching his finger to the side of his nose. "And let me tell you. Since most Elves I've met are blondes, I think they only say it to keep their children happy."
The old Hobbit sat back in his chair, grinning broadly.
Esmeralda and Bell looked at each other. A slow smile spread from one to the other, and both seemed to stand a little taller. Some silent communication known only to mothers had imparted the good news. Our children are special and the Elves even think so. Of course, no one really consorted with Elves in the Shire, but that didn't stop Hobbit children from dreaming about them sometimes when the wind blew through the leaves.
Bell sat down by her husband with a happy sigh. "So, the Elves think my Samwise will help save the world, do they? Well, they can go on thinking that. He'll be planting as many green things as could please a host of Elves. That's what'll save this world... green things."
Bilbo nodded. "I agree, Bell... I agree."
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