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Dream With Hope: Chapter 10 (Part 1)

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"Fix the schoolhouse?"

Frodo nodded and grinned at the incredulous tone in the ladyhobbit's voice as he scanned through the newspaper ads for workers that he could hire to help renovate the old building that stood attached to his smail.




Dream With Hope
by Talisha Hibdon


RATING: G (future NC-17)

PAIRING: Frodo/Sam

DISCLAIMER: The disclaimer telling you that I don't own Frodo or Sam or any of Tolkien's world was locked away by Saruman. >=D

SUMMARY: A drama in the works. Frodo decides to return to Middle-earth to try and find new meaning for his life without the hope of ever having Sam's love. But is there really no hope?

NOTES: This fic may take a LONG time to write. I've no clue how many chapters there will be, but this fic WILL be long. Have patience and you will be rewarded! ^_^ All feedback welcome, especially as this fic is still in the drafting stages.

SPOILERS: If you have not read the Return of the King, or at least know how LOTR is going to end, you probably shouldn't read this fic, that is unless you peeps like spoilers, like I do. ^.~




Chapter 10




"Fix the schoolhouse?"

Frodo nodded and grinned at the incredulous tone in the ladyhobbit's voice as he scanned through the newspaper ads for workers that he could hire to help renovate the old building that stood attached to his smail. A flash of hair reflecting red in the sun and he glanced up to meet green eyes with his blues as they stared at him in surprise. "Finished?"

Emerald Burrows nodded as she moved away from one of the many fruit stands that stood in the thick of the Overhill market, her shopping basket now full to the brim. Frodo felt a little odd about shopping with his land lady, but when he had stopped by her place to ask her about his ideas for the old schoolhouse, she had just been heading out the door to restock on her pantry. So he simply decided to take advantage of the situation, as he was going to do some shopping anyhow.

Frodo sighed and rolled up the newspaper, stuffing it into his own basket full of groceries before falling into step next to the female as they both weaved their way out of the crowded market place.

"Mr. Baggins," Mrs. Burrows started, licking her lips as a sign of her nervousness, "I just don't know what to think about that."

"Why? You don't approve?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Oh well, if it were any other place, I'd be as pleased as potato pudding, don't get me wrong," Emerald reassured him. "But ye know what has happened the last few times folk had tried to meddle with that old place. Unexplained accidents, and ye know hobbits don't soon forget such things."

"Yes, but before you were trying to tear it down," Frodo argued gently. "I am going to rebuild it."

"Yes, but I'm wondering if old Goosmary's ghost knows that," the widow said warily.

"Mrs. Burrows," Frodo laughed pleasantly and brushed a stray curl of dark brunette away from his eyes, "I have a feeling she would actually be quite pleased with my intentions."

"But why must you be messing around with that place, Mr. Baggins?" Emerald asked in earnest, adjusting her hold on her basket. "What did you want to use the room for? A parlour?"

"Oh no! Nothing of the sort," Frodo grinned. "It's going to be used as it was always meant to be used, as a classroom."

"Pardon?" the auburn haired lady gasped in more surprise than before.

"Yes," Frodo affirmed, smiling broadly. "I'm going to follow one of my oldest dreams and become a teacher."

"Oh, Frodo sir!" Emerald exclaimed, her hand reaching to touch his sleeved arm in her pleasure at the news. "Why, that's - that's a just plain wonderful idea! You're going to be teaching little 'uns just like Old Mother Goose had done. How lovely!"

"So I take it you approve it now?" Frodo jested, chuckling at her reaction.

"Approve it? Bless me, I'm right pleased down to my hairless toes!" she beamed. "I simply adore little children and it would be such a joy to see them coming from as far as Bywater to attend your classes. You know yours will be the only school round these parts after Heather Bracegirdle retired the Bywater school. Sunbeams and forget-me-nots! I haven't heard news this nice since my sister Garnett got married."

Frodo smiled and felt his heart lighten more than it ever had since he came back to Middle-earth. "Splendid. I'm glad you approbate. Now that I have your consent, I can begin looking for hands to help me rebuild the place. It may take some time."

"And some bit of work, I'll warrant!" Emerald agreed, then gasped as an idea suddenly struck her. "I tell ye what, Mr. Baggins," she said, her hand still on his sleeve, "I'll send word up to my little brother Agate in Deephallow and get him to come down and bring some of his lads to help in the fixin' of that old place. That'll save you time in looking for help, and it'll also save you a bit of coin."

"Oh no, Mrs. Burrows," Frodo started. "I wouldn't dream of taking advantage-"

"Oh piffle!" she snorted good-naturedly. "The property is still mine, isn't it? You'll just have to pay me a bit more for it when time comes to buy the land. Seems fair enough to me. Besides, it is my wish that it be so."

Frodo blinked and found that he could not argue. "That.. would be most kind of you, Miss Emerald."

The ladyhobbit smiled. "Just be sure to let me sit in on one or two of your classes and help out with the very little ones when you need it, all right?"



"I am SO bored..."

Frodo-lad and his two younger brothers Merry and Pippin lay on their backs in the middle of a clear patch of grass close to the Diggle apple orchids, staring up blankly at the clear summer sky. "Look, there isn't even a silly cloud in the sky to make believe they're animals with," Merry pointed up accusingly at the expanse of blue, is if it were the culprit behind the utter dullness of the day.

"A few days ago, the sky was a full of storm heads," Frodo nodded, chewing on a straw.

"Boring!" Pippin nearly yelled.

"We should probably find something to do," the eldest boy sighed.

"You think?" Merry raised an eyebrow and looked sideways at the sandy blonde.

"I wanna go see Mr. Baggins," Pippin piped up.

"We can't," Frodo-lad sniffed.

"Why not? You said he was back," Merry asked. "And Mum gave you that invitation for whenever you go there next. Why not now? We've nothing else to do."

"Yeah, but Elanor thinks we shouldn't."

"That never stopped us before!"

Frodo rolled his eyes. "Yeah, but Dad is visitin' with him right now."

Pippin sat up suddenly and eyed the North Hill Lane. "No he ain't. He's right there."

"Eh?" Frodo and Merry jerked up and saw that Pippin was right. There was their own father trudging down the Lane, his head bent and his brow creased in thought.

"I see no Mr. Baggins wit' 'im," Merry watched as the Hobbit walked by without so much as noticing their presence. "Looks like he's headin' for the Green Dragon again."

"So can we see him now? PLEASE?" Pippin pleaded. "He might have Elf stories to tell us. And I'm SO bored!"

Frodo-lad stared at his father's retreating back and a slow, eager smile curled his lips. "Oh yes, I should say so..."



Samwise Gardner frowned the entire way to Bywater as he thought about the morning he spent with Mr. Frodo. It seemed to him that whatever time the Hobbit had spent in Valinor had not fully cured him of what truly ailed his spirit. In fact, to Sam's dismay, he found that things might have actually gotten worse and not better.

Before he left Middle-earth, Frodo had been withdrawn, surely, but not so cold as he was this morning. His smiles, when they had came, were mostly sincere and did not have the bitter taste of falsehood to them as they did now. Every time Frodo smiled at him now, except for a few brief instances, it felt like a lie and that hurt Sam more than he cared to show.

His careful steps slowly took on an almost hypnotic rhythm, carrying him down the smooth dirt road toward the Inn. What's the matter with him, he couldn't help thinking. What would make him.. all gone strange? With me, of all people? Sam mentally reviewed the conversation earlier yet again, unable to keep his mind on the present. All he could think about was Frodo. So it came as a subtle surprise to him when he finally forced himself to lift his chin and look away from his moving feet that he had walked right up the Inn doorstep without realizing it.

Steady on now, Sam Gamgee, he thought. Concentrate on what your doing or you'll be walking into the Water before you realize what your doing.

The Green Dragon was a rather large building, even though it was only one story like all the Shire inns were, the smell of cooking always far preceding the notice of anything else. But even the fine smell of hot meals were lost to Sam when he had walked into town. In any case, though his heart and mind were in turmoil, his stomach seemed to have other ideas, and did not fail to point out the time of day with a grumble. He sighed heavily and shuffled up to the large wooden door, showing himself in while wearing a faltering smile. Mayor Gardner greatly hoped his distraction would not interfere with his conduct, and tried to stop replaying the day's earlier events, but the sight of Frodo, the feel of him, did not fade.

He stepped upon a well-polished floor and smiled round at occupants of the many dining tables scattered throughout the Inn. The inside of the Inn was always seemed a rather warm and welcoming place to both local and stranger alike. The freshly painted walls of green matched perfectly with the dining tables with simple green tablecloths and candles stuffed into wine bottles. A large overstuffed couch and a number of well built heavy wooden chairs surrounded a wide stone hearth before a large fireplace, a perfect spot for relaxing with a bowl of fresh pipeweed, or just browsing a copy of the local newspaper. The folk taking their lunch in the Inn all looked up as he entered and offered cheerful greetings to their elected Mayor. Johnny Sandheaver, the Bree-hobbit who proudly called himself Innkeeper of the Dragon, offered a gruff greeting and a not unpleasant smile to one of his most faithful costumers.

"Hullo," said Mayor Samwise and smiled more broadly toward the friendly faces that greeted him. "And hullo to you, Johnny! How are things round here? Grand I hope!" Samwise leaned on the counter with one jacketed elbow.

"Nice to see ye so early in the day, Sam. Usually I don't get to see ye comin' round till it's already dark out," Johnny replied as he set a menu before the Hobbit and a set of utensils. "So then, what will ye be havin' today?"

"Ale might just hit the spot, as it often does," he commented, hoping for consolation in the familiar. Sam looked casually around the tavern for those he had more of a passing acquaintance with (and so far that was just about everyone). Strangely, he realized he had been looking for Frodo's face among the crowd, wishing for the impossible. He made a mental note to banish this though immediately, but also to invite Frodo around and be social again. Surely that would serve for some healing. Mr. Frodo and me will be sure to share an ale here as soon as he's willing, he silently vowed. "And how's your famous Bywater pork sausage this afternoon?"

This earned a few good-natured chuckles round the room and Johnny grinned as he served up some his best ale to the Hobbit. "All's well enough, sir," Johnny said, "though there's been a bit more excitement than what's normal."

Samwise slurped his ale appreciatively, but his eyes darted upward in concern to meet Johnny's. "Excitement? What sort of excitement do you mean? If you'd fill me in, I'd be right thankful." The Mayor leaned forward slightly and took advantage of one of the high stools next to him. He pulled himself up to be more comfortably seated.

"Oh, ye didn't see 'em?" the Bree-hobbit raised a thick eyebrow and spoke in low voice so as the others wouldn't overhear. "Well, I shouldn't a thought it'd be hard to notice that there group sittin' in the corner there." He motioned with his head to the window seat where a group of five sat, four hobbits and a Man, eating their fill at a slightly hasty speed.

A Man?! Sam thought, slightly taken aback and embarrassed that he hadn't noted him before. Must be a haze over my eyes now, blast it all! He drove his knuckles into his eyes and looked hard at the Man, taking note of the rest of the party as well. The quintuplet all wore somewhat odd garb, especially the Man, who looked strangely enough like Strider when they first met him in the Prancing Pony all those years ago. They all looked rather travel worn and weather beaten, all wearing cloaks and hoods, the hobbits looking quite uniform in colours.

He leaned in toward Johnny and commented, "Well then I'm going to have to assume he has Special Permission to be here, and that I just haven't found out what that Permission is, to be sure..."

"Oh, 'im?" Johnny blinked. "Well, I assumed he was one of them Rangers posted along the Borders. He told me he was an escort, in case of trouble with them lads' cargo."

It had been a long time since Strider first aroused Sam's suspicion all those many years ago and he felt himself tense up with anticipation. Easy there, Gamgee, he thought as he calmed himself and took another long draught. Never assume. It's not a rooster till you hear it crow. "Johnny, hold my spot, and see if you can't seize some sausages for me whilst I go and meet our visitors, eh?" Samwise requested as he got down from the stool.

"Yessir," Johnny nodded and hollered to one of the cooks in back Sam's request for sausage. Sam turned to give a wink to Johnny in thanks, and then turned toward the group, assuming a casual, friendly air, padding gradually over nearer to the table by the wall. The group looked up when they noticed the Mayor of the Shire coming towards them and the four hobbits stood up to greet him. Upon turning to face him, Sam saw what he could not earlier. They were all wearing a sort of uniform, green suits with yellow sashes hanging from their shoulders. The emblem of the four farthings of the Shire was stitched into patches on their left breasts.

The four hobbits saluted him. The tallest, a lanky redhead with freckles, spoke for the group. "Mayor Gardner. An honor to meet you, sir." They all stood rather stiffly before him, except for the Ranger, who remained seated. It was obvious that Peregrin had done a lot for the militia since he took the Thain's office.

A couple of tables down from theirs, he called out in general to the fine hobbits in attendance, and the ones standing, "Well! I see the Green Dragon's reputation has reached a long way indeed! We've got Shirriffs here now, I reckon." His eyes went over to the tall one, and he stuck out his hand. "Sir! Indeed!" he laughed.

The four hobbits relaxed their stance and the redhead took his hand and shook it firmly. "I'm Moro Loamsdown, the local Shirrif, sir. These are my subordinate officers, and our escort, Landwin." The Man nodded but said nothing.

Sam in turn stood up straighter, and regarded the Man at close range. "Now what could bring all four of ye here all at one time? Fine food, fine weather, some kind of event I've forgotten?" Then he leaned a little closer to who was apparently the leader and tilted his head in question. "Mister?" his voice quieted. "Maybe there's some business, cargo, somethin' you'd like to discuss?" He still wore a jovial grin, but his stance indicated a no-nonsense approach.

"Our cargo, sir, is rather a delicate matter, if you follow me," Moro explained. "We are here on orders from the Thain to ship that "package" to the Shire borders with as little delay as can be managed, sir. It's very important; we wouldn't need a Ranger with us otherwise."

"A Ranger, eh!" the Mayor raised an eyebrow at the Man. "Well, there's a thing. Pardon my curiosity, hobbits - I'm sure you've got everything well in hand! And Peregrin Took's word is as good as gold in these parts. Still, I daresay we've still have a lot to talk about." The stout hobbit took in the details of Ranger Landwin's costume, and mentally compared it to other Rangers, also checking for the mark of Gondor on his clothing. Indeed it was there, the symbol of the White Tree, in a small stitched patching on his own breast pocket.

The Ranger suddenly stood, obviously quite finished with his meal. "I think it might be best if Master Gardner saw the cargo for himself. After all, the Thain is only acting on his instructions. I don't much care for them, but I am here on King Elessar's orders to assist you little folk in anyway I can." With that he moved for the door, the other four hobbits following suit.

"Fine, fine, it's good to take a sniff of the air on a day like this." Sam raised his hand in Johnny's direction, indicating that he would return momentarily. He folded his creased hands behind his back and stuck out his brass buttoned suit front, following them speedily.

Once outside, they walked around to the back of the Inn and came upon a rather large wagon, so large that only a Man could have driven it comfortably. It had a large, thick covering over the contains, very square and very solid. One more Shirriff stood guard by the wagon, his hand clasped against a short sword which had become standard issue ever since the Occupation. The officer saluted his superiors and stepped aside. Ranger Landwin gave the lad a few coins to buy himself lunch with and the hobbit scurried off eagerly, offering a hasty salute to Samwise as he passed.

Samwise's face changed as soon as he found himself alone with the Ranger and the Shirriffs, and he was all business, returning the salute and studying the cart, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "How many of 'em?" he said in a low, steely voice.

"Just a one, sir. There were three others, but they put up too much of a fight and we," Moro frowned and looked away, clearing his throat. "They didn't give us much choice, sir."

Sam stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth a little, clenching his teeth together in anticipation of seeing the poor creature. He was sure he could handle it, but even so it wasn't ever a pretty sight. He wished faintly that there weren't so many things that reminded him of harder days, but such was his responsibility. "Show me," he blurted.

The Ranger stepped up to the cart and took hold of the edge of the covering. "Just going to pull it back a bit, Master Samwise. You know they don't care much for daylight." Sam waited to view what was in the cart. The moment the Ranger began to pull the covering back, a low growling issued from inside. Upon pulling it back a good bit more, the cage, for a cage it was, shook and rattled loudly and teeth snapped between the bars.

Two of the younger Shirriffs jumped back as the beast attacked the cage bars, growling and spitting at them, but Moro and the other senior Shirriff stood firm, their hands on their sword hilts, standing on either side of Sam, as if to protect him. All of his days, Sam could not ever see an Orc without reliving unwelcome memories of Mordor, the desperate struggles with Mr. Frodo, and the wealth of pain and worry that filled their lives everyday of the Quest. It made him wince and wipe his brow on his sleeve.

Suddenly, the creature spoke in a gnarled, animalistic voice. "Bastards! Pieces of maggot ridden dung! You pay!" He spat a few more words in the Black Speech, but even that sounded less like a language than it did an animal. "You burn in deepest bowels of -" and again his common speech failed him as he reverted back to bestial snarls and gnashing of teeth.

Samwise beat down his own impulse to snarl and curse back, reminding himself of Frodo's compassionate warnings. He drew back and commented to Moro with a frown, "I pity this thing. And when he's let loose I don't think he'll be any happier, but we do what we can do. I take it your path lies to the Grey Havens now?"

"Yes sir, or at least to our own borders," Moro nodded.

Sam observed for what he estimated to be the proper amount of time, and with a sharp intake of breath, he said sternly "Enough. Cover him." He stepped forward instinctively to help Landwin pull the heavy covers back.

"You!!" the Orc hissed, seemingly directly at Sam. "Dung hill rat! All you little rats will die!"

"Shut your filthy mouth!" the Man suddenly picked up one long walking staff that might well have belonged to any of them and bashed the Orc in the head through the bars. The creature fell back, eyes wide with insane rage, foaming slightly in the mouth. Sam tried not to flinch in response to the violent moves the Ranger made, and flicked his eyes away to avoid seeing the Orc straight on. The Man leaned against the bars and hissed dangerously. "You best thank this Halfling here, beast. It's he that's decided to save your worthless hide and send you to the Borders. If I had it my way, I would have killed you a long time ago. So be silent!" With that he flung the coverings down again.

"Make sure he's watched well from the point you loosen him. Landwin, I'm grateful for your strength here and later. I'm right grateful for you all." Sam turned away, spotting a grey cat hair on the front of his trousers and irritatedly brushed it away. "I reckon no one took any hurts during the last fight with 'em?" he said, looking out over the low homes for a moment.

"Only my brother Doro, sir," Shirriff Moro winced. "He nearly had his finger bitten off. He's got twelve stitches to hold his hand together." Moro shook his head and looked at the covered cage and listened to the growling within. "I don't rightly know why, but these Goblins are getting worse upstairs, if you follow me. Less like people with brains and more like.. well, mindless animals."

The mayor sighed, observing the drift of chimney-smoke. Would that I live to see the day that peace comes truly to the Shire! Peaceful, as things used to be...



It wasn't until later that Frodo finally found the time start weeding the front yard. He had to borrow some gardening tools from his land lady until he could afford his own. He would have minded as he did not like using things that were not his own, but at the moment he was simply glad he didn't have to ask anyone else he knew to borrow from (namely Sam, as he was really the only person he knew in the area nowadays).

Pushing the wheel barrow filled with garden tools into the mists of the sea of tares and grasses, Frodo picked up the small hand scythe and glanced about him, wondering where on earth he could begin. It was then that he recalled the rose Sam had pointed out to him earlier that day and he made for that area, only a few feet from his front door. The blossom was still there, petals widely spread as it were trying to soak up as much nourishing sunlight as it possibly could before the weeds choked it. It's yellow middle stared up at him like the innocent eye of a child, and he stared back thoughtfully.

It needs a chance to bloom just like any other, to see the sun again...

Sam's words crept upon his thoughts almost as timidly as the gardener himself, and Frodo smiled at the analogy he had no doubt his friend was trying to make. He stooped down and noticed the small patches of clear space and disturbed soil from where the hobbit had been working earlier. The earth seemed to still be quite damp from the rainstorm days before, and from the morning dew which had not yet completely evaporated. He leaned in close and sniff the rose delicately. The scent of flowery sweetness and rich earth reached his senses and a smile like sunshine suddenly lit up his voice.

It all smelled like Sam.

He didn't really know a thing about gardening, except what little he had asked of Sam and the Gaffer about it seemingly ages before, but he noticed now that this poor flower must have gone through a lot of struggling to get up above the choking weeds and tares for a bit of the sunlight and water it so needed. How brave, he thought absent-mindedly. Just like a little person. It only wants the chance to live. Before Frodo really knew what he was doing, he had reached down and dug and weeded, cutting sometimes here and pulling up roots there, until he had made a quite large clear space around the slight rose bush.

"Better?" he murmured with satisfaction. "Able to breathe now?" He realized what he was doing and chuckled to himself. Listen to you, talking to flowers, he thought. And here you were always wondering why Sam seemed to enjoy holding conversations with his daisies and marigolds so much.

The Baggins shrugged, knowing that even though he probably looked foolish talking to himself, there was no one around to hear him anyway. He went all around the smail, digging and cutting and weeding, and enjoyed himself so immensely that he had quite forgotten the discomfort of the meeting with Sam that morning. He even began finding little bulbs buried in the soil that he somewhat recalled as being able to produce spring time flowers. These he put back with special care, hoping beyond hope that they wouldn't be quite dead and still be able to produce blossoms come next spring.

The sound of a low purr caught his attention briefly and he glanced behind him to find what had become his grey tabby cat leaning against his back, a look on it's furry face he could almost imagine as one of approval. He chuckled and reached to stroke the feline's back, his mirth increasing as the creature lift it's whole body up to eagerly meet his touch.

"Come to help, Para?" he questioned and smiled fondly when the only response he got was a meow of disappointment when he took his hand away. "Selfish thing. Go and find some birds to chase."

As the sun climbed higher and the day grew warmer, he threw his weskit off, and was then obliged to undo the three topmost bottoms of his tunic and roll up his sleeves to his elbows. He cared not that his breeches were growing quite dirty from kneeling in the moist dirt, not that he was working up quite a sweat under the summer sun. He simply worked the hours away, smiling the whole time without knowing it.

Frodo was so immersed in his work, that he nearly forgot about stopping for his tea time meal, which would have actually been normal behavior if he had been sitting quietly inside reading a particularly interesting novel instead of doing garden work. He could not believe that he had been working two or three hours.

He had been actually happy the entire time.

"Hey, nice work," came a young, familiar voice from behind him.

Frodo nearly jumped in surprise but managed to keep himself calm. The events of that morning had left him somewhat on edge and he wasn't sure he wanted anyone else's company. Upon turning about, he was doubly surprised to see three pairs of eyes, one summer blue and two of silver gray, staring into his own, at a very close distance no less. He blinked rapidly and leaned back to take in the sight of three young hobbit boys gazing at him with open admiration.

"I mean it," Frodo-lad grinned. "Really nice work. Who taught you how to do that?"

Frodo took a second to clear his throat and glance back at the cleared patch he had been working on, trying to look as if having three sons of his secret love peering at him was a perfectly ordinary thing. "No one taught me, actually. I was, um, just trying to clear out these weeds so - ahem - this rose bush and these bulbs can get enough water and sunlight." He looked back and noticed that the boys had edged closer to look. "Ahem. Might I ask, lads, why you are here?"

"Oh, we're here to see you of course," the golden haired lad flashed him a marvellous grin.

"Ah," Frodo nodded lamely, quite bewildered and not sure exactly how to react.

"Oh! Look, Merry! He's turned up some worms!" the youngest lad exclaimed.

"Quit getting so excited, Pip. You've got enough worms in your own pockets to make Mum have a stroke thrice over," the second eldest elbowed him playfully in the ribs.

The Hobbit noticed that while Frodo-lad look almost exactly like Sam had at his age, only a bit thinner and taller and had bright sky blue eyes instead of warm earthy browns, the other two lads looked like a appealing mixture of both mother and father. Merry-lad and Pippin-lad both had Rose's button nose and arching eyebrows, while at the same time having Sam's full mouth, perfect for his characteristic broad smiles. Pippin had inherited his mother's dimpled cheeks while Merry had Sam's strong chin. It was only their eyes that set them apart from both parents, polished grey like his old mithril shirt. He could only deduce that those were inherited from some other relative on either side of the family - Sam's mother Bell Gamgee perhaps, or maybe old Tolman Cotton, both having had grey eyes like rain clouds.

But where on earth had Frodo-lad gotten his startling blues? As far as Frodo knew, no one in either family had been known to produce blue eyed children. And they're so clear and bright, he thought. Are my eyes that blue?

"Have ye picked out a theme?"

Frodo blinked as he was brought back out of his thoughts, only just having caught the eldest boy's question. He had obviously been speaking for a good time while the Baggins had begun spacing out. "Hrm, theme?" he inquired, a bit stupidly to his own ears, and watched as the boy turned his gaze from the ground back to him.

"Yes, you know," Frodo-lad nodded. "A color theme for your bit of garden."

"Oh!" Frodo uttered, leaning back on his hunches and looking about at all the front yard. "I haven't even thought of that yet."

"Well ye know," the blond boy started with a very superior sounding voice, "since you already have a red rose bush comin' up, you may want to start out with-"

"Ask him for a story!" Pippin insisted as he tugged on his older brother's sleeve in a gesture of insistence.

"A story?" the overwhelmed adult repeated again, beginning to feel like an echo in a canyon.

"Yeah, a story about Dragons and Orcs and the like," Merry nodded enthusiastically.

"AHEM," Frodo-lad cleared his throat loudly, annoyance in his stance at the interruption. "As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted.." He stood up straight and gazed around. "Since ye got one red rose already, I'd say you should go with pastels for a theme."

Mr. Frodo Baggins couldn't help but smile at the lad. "You really enjoy gardening like your father, don't you lad?"

The eldest Gardner son beamed. "Aye. I help my Dad with our garden at home all the time, especially since he can't always be at home to do it himself."

"You're boring us to tears, Fro!" Merry-lad stated with a gasped, nudging past him to get close at Mr. Baggins. "It's tea time, sir. You can stop gardening for a while, can't you? Me and my brother would love to hear a story about Elves!"

"Yes, Elves!" Pippin jumped up and down, forgetting all about the worms he'd been playing with.

"Hey, I saw him first," Frodo-lad glowered at his brothers, using the same tone of ownership he would have used if they had just found a new patch of mushrooms.

"Yeah, so?" Merry-lad raised an eyebrow.

"Story! Story!" Pippin-lad was hoping like a maniac now.

Frodo-lad groaned and pressed his forehead into his hands in exasperation. "Oi, I knew I should have come here by meself instead of taking you two ninnyhammers."

"Oh, I don't mind," Mr. Baggins found himself smiling as he stood up and brushed off the dirt from his trousers and picking up his discarded vest. "Come inside, lads, and I tell you about Elves over tea and cake."

"Hurrah!" Merry-lad and Pippin-lad cried, dancing circles around him before racing to his smail door. Frodo-lad raised his eyebrows, then shrugged in resignation, finding that he too was excited at the prospect of the famous Mr. Baggins telling them stories that their mother had always not wanted their father to tell.



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