A week passed slowly in Hobbiton, Overhill, and Bywater for most. But for the whisperers and gossips of those towns, two very interesting bits of news began to circulate the grapevine, and that at least helped to pass their time in their otherwise dull lives. The first being that a new babe had been born to the Mayor of the Shire Samwise Gardner, a bouncing baby boy of a rather larger than average size. The second bit of news was that the old property that had once been the home and workplace of old Goosmary Tunnelly was currently under some type of renovation by the current resident, of which whose identity had yet to be confirmed.
It was on this day, one week and four days after the birth of Bilbo Gardner that Robin Smallburrow went over all his bags one last time to make sure all his things had been packed away properly and that the room was just a neat as when he had arrived. The last thing he wished to do was provide more work for the Gardeners than absolutely. He silently cursed his work obligations and thus his inability to remain just a little while longer. He longed to be able to help out with things, especially now with the new baby to think of.
But then again, he thought with a sullen frown as he held his Shirriff's hat lightly in his hands, running his fingers over the feather that stuck out from it, I'm probably more of a burden than I am a help. Dung on a stick, I was absolutely useless the night the baby was born. Blubbering and raving like a loon. Who knows what they must think of me now.
After at last satisfying himself with things, he left the sanctuary of his room to venture out into the hall of Bag End. The house was abnormally quiet for once and he wondered silently where all the children had run off to. He crept as quietly as he could past Hamfast, Daisy, and Primrose's room, knowing well that it was their nap time and not wanting to wake them. Robin wanted to have at least one word with Rosie before he left for Michel Delvings.
The Shirriff knocked lightly upon the door of the master bedroom, hoping against hope that Rose was not sleep but not wishing to disturb her if she was. To his relief, heard a slight shuffling and a creak of the floor boards from within, telling him that someone at last was awake.
"Come in," came Rose's soft reply and Robin took a deep breath and combed his fingers through his hair before turning the knob without a sound and entering. He was both relieved and dismayed to see Rose standing next to the crib that had been set for Bilbo-lad next to hers and Sam's own bed, apparently having just put the baby within it to sleep. Sam was nowhere in the room.
"Rosie," Robin started, taking a step towards, unsure of exactly how
he was supposed to help. "You really shouldn't be walking around like
that yet. You're still recovering."
"Ah, you worry too much, Robin," Rose tittered softly, shuffling his
furry feet on the polished wooden surface of the floor as she ever so
slowly made her way back to bedside. "Anyway, if I don't get myself
out and walking sometime, I'll be fed and pampered till I'm too fat
and lazy to move." Rose wore nothing but a long light pink nightgown
and it stretched around her as she sat herself down upon the
bedspread, defining the line and curve of her form a little too
clearly for Robin's comfort.
"So, um, ahem," Robin coughed quietly into his fist while his other
hand nervously waved his Shirriff hat to and fro behind his back. "I
right glad to see you feeling better. Those days right after the
birth were pretty rough."
"Yes it was," Rose agreed as she slowly raised her feet onto the bed,
the material of her gown hugging her breast milk enlarged chest even
further. Robin felt his cheeks grow hot and he instantly looked away
towards the ceiling, the window, the crib, anything but her. "But I
see that things would have been a lot harder for us if you hadn't
been here," the mistress of Bag End added with a smile.
"What?" Robin blinked and at last managed to return his gaze back to
the ladyhobbit, feeling incredibly relieved that she had pulled up
the covers high enough to hide her form from sight. "Me, help? But I
haven't done a thing."
"You've been here to help with the kids, Robin," Rose corrected
calmly with the sweetest of smiles on her face. "That's more aid than
either Sam or I could have expected." She then cast her gaze down to
her lap where she was currently gripping her blanket nervously. "It
really meant a lot to me," she added just as quietly, her long dark
lashes hiding her hazel eyes.
"Oh," Robin breathed as he moved closer and knelt down beside the
bed. A warm feeling began to spread through his chest as he set his
hat down upon the bedspread and he shyly took the ladyhobbit's hand
in both of his. "Well, then I'm glad I was able to be of use. Very
"Hmm," was all Rose could say as she risked a quick smile at him
before gently extracting her hand from his. The silence between them
was thick for a long moment and neither could find the right words to
say. Rose's eyes stayed focused upon the feathered hat on her bed and
at length she sighed. "So I take it you'll be leaving us," she
ventured in a saddened tone, reaching to trace a finger upon the rim
"Aye, duty calls," Robin closed his eyes and stood up and grabbed for
his hat. "Though I wanted to at least say goodbye to ol' Sam before I
"Oh, he won't be back till late, I think," Rose informed him, leaning
back heavily into her pillows. "I sent him into town to see about
finding out about these rumors I've been hearing about a new
schoolhouse. School should be starting for the children in about two
"Really," Robin frowned as he thought the matter over. "So you'll be
alone here with the babies till then."
"Not really," Rosie stated. "I'll at least have my Elanor here to help. She's out in back plucking tomatoes from the garden for dinner."
Robin contemplated his options for a moment before coming to a sudden decision. He went over to the rocking chair in the corner and pulled it up next to the bed, and to Rose's puzzlement sat himself down upon it. "Then I shall wait here with you till he returns. Michel Delvings can wait a few more hours, and besides, I wouldn't feel right leaving you all alone to care for this lot on your own."
Rose couldn't help but smile thankfully at her life long friend. "Honestly, Robin dear, you must be one of the sweetest hobbits in all the Shire," the ladyhobbit murmured as her eyes drifted close. "Don't know what I'd have done.. without you..."
"Shh," Robin soothed and reached his hand out to brush a stray curl away from her face. "Rest now. I'll keep watch while you sleep."
And sleep she did, and she often wondered afterward if she had ever had a better rest before.
The Ivy Bush had always been a busy, boisterous pub. The customers were often more rowdy than those that visited the Green Dragon Inn, spreading rumors, singing songs, arguing over local politics and queer folks from the Outside, or simply gossiping. Beautiful woodwork in a lattice pattern adorned the tavern, making it homey and quaint. The floor was made up of many smooth, flat stones and quite a few tables were around, giving folks plenty of places to sit and enjoy themselves. A group of old local hobbits seemed to be a permanent fixture and an amusing source of the latest chat. They would spend their days in the corner of the inn yacking up about the goings on in the Shire.
Samwise Gardner straightened his cuffs and collar before walking into the familiar, musty dark of the Ivy Bush Tavern. He tried to stand up straight though his back felt strangely bowed by the weight of the past several days. Still, he was grateful to be out and about again. He thanked the stars above that Rose was improving steadily, and that Robin was still around to help Elanor look after the littlest of his children. It was sure good to have friends.
"Hullo!" Sam mustered jovially toward the bar as he stepped onto the cool, clean stone floor. Miss Foltina, the keeper of the Ivy Bush, stood behind the bar, polishing her Sunday dishes as she had ever since her father left the Tavern to her 25 years before. For all that she and the Ivy Bush had apparently been through, especially after the War, she still looked as polite and sweet as ever, though her curls were now cropped a bit shorter than they had been 16 years ago.
"Good day to you, Mr. Mayor!" the ladyhobbit smiled at the gardener as he strolled into her Tavern. "How may you be then? Tis not often we get to see you nowadays it seems."
"And a good day to you Lassie!" Samwise put his elbows up on the table and accepted his usual ale with practiced ease, curling his fingers thankfully around the frosty tankard. "Well with the Gamgee family getting larger by the day, why... surely you've heard?"
"Of course I did," Foltina chuckled and nodded meaningfully to the gossips in the corner. The sight of the gathering of gossips in the corner almost seemed a nostalgic one. Among all the original hobbits Sam had known to occupy those chairs when he had been a lad, only Grouchy Friselda remained. Daddy Twofoot had passed away not two years ago, and old Granny Lovehandles had died in the Lockholes with her old friend Lobelia S.B.. Ted Sandyman had seemed to disappear into Bree after the death of Sharkey, but it seemed that even his familiar smirk was now a missed one.
"You know how it is," Foltina added with a wink. "Not much gets by the Ivy Bush. Congratulations on your new lad, Mr. Mayor."
Sam raised his eyebrows and chuckled in acknowledgment. "Miss Foltina, I was about to ask you if your hearing was up to snuff! Yes, another... Gardner." He paused to take a long draught. "This tastes... golden. Puts me in mind of silks and honeys... ah." The Mayor's voice grew soft and several wrinkles traced a new pattern of tired reverie around his eyes as they closed for a moment. Still his ears were alert for the general course and flavor of the gossip around him.
"... no now, ye can't be serious, Fris' ol' lass. I think yer age is making off with yer hearing..."
"Tis true, I tell ye! I a'heard that it was the ol' Mad Frodo himself what who's rebuilding that ol' schoolhouse what belonged to Mother Goose last."
"But I thought that Buck had left the Shire forever."
"Well, he's back now."
"Well I heard he's-"
"I dunna care what ye heard, ye foolish laddie. I tell ye, I seen that Buck myself when I went to Overhill last week to shop for a new butter churn. Trust me, it is Frodo Baggins..."
Sam's grip tightened around the ale, which sloshed a bit. "Oop..." he muttered, and pretended to wipe the side clean with his handkerchief as he tried to decide what to say. Mostly just to stop himself from acting as emotionally as he might have if he weren't the Mayor. If he were just Sam, Frodo Baggins's best friend...
Or at least... he hoped he was still Frodo's best friend.
"Is ale all you'll be having then, Mr. Mayor?" Foltina asked brightly, as if trying to purposely draw his mind away from the talk in the corner for the sake of his temper. It seemed that it had become a well known fact from past incidents that one had to be careful if heard speaking poorly of the infamous Baggins around either the Thain, the Master of Buckland, or especially the Mayor. If they weren't mindful of what they said, someone would surely catch it hot before long.
Sam however did not seem to hear what the innkeeper was says as he sipped quietly again, now sorting out Friselda's voice from the rest. So THAT'S what that old shack of a building was that was attached like a fungus to the small hill were Mr. Frodo resided. Mother Goose's old schoolhouse. Who would have known? But rebuilding? Why? Surely he had help? If he didn't, why... Sam gritted his teeth and swore to get to the bottom of this. Visions of Mr. Frodo hammering a nail through one of his remaining fingers made him wince.
After a while, however, their conversation veered widely toward some other incomprehensible subject, and Sam finished off the heady elixir, satisfied with the information that he had conveniently overheard. He scratched his jaw and considered for a moment what he could possibly say to the innkeeper to make it look like he had not simply come to the Tavern to eavesdrop on all the gossip like some old git who was not the Mayor and had nothing better to do.
It was then that something occurred to him. "Miss Foltina! You hear anythin' about how Miss Saphire the local midwife is doin'? Hope her recovery is coming along speedily," Samwise inquired with genuine curiosity. He had no doubt that Saphire Foxburr was doing fair well, probably up and about far sooner than his dear wife. Alas, this last one was hard on her... His shoulders drooped with guilt and he sighed a little to himself.
"Oh, why yes!" Foltina smiled, happy to give the information. "As a matter of fact I noticed her husband Mr. Foxburr coming in here two days ago to boast about how well she and her new laddie is doing. I heard she was already up an about tending to her lot as normal not two days after. Resilient hobbits them Goldworthys are and no mistake."
"Well bless her heart and the lads as well!" Sam slapped the counter enthusiastically and the sentiment was reverberated by the other customers who overheard. "Then I speed on, Foltina the Fair, off to new lands!" Samwise arose with a comical flourish, meaning to downplay his former Traveler status. He always felt it best to laugh at himself first. Then, bidding a quick fare-thee-well to the bar locals with a wave of his hand, he strode back out into the sunlight.
Ale not only made the sun seem a little friendlier, but it also bolstered his courage. He found himself striding somewhat confidently down the road in the direction of Overhill. "I'll just ask 'im about the building, just as a Mayor would want to know, seemingly..." he mumbled under his breath, planning his approach. Surely he didn't want to seem like he was nosing around in Mr. Frodo's business. After all, his business was his own.
Upon making his way down the North Hill Lane that led straight through Overhill, he noticed that there seemed to be a lot of hustle and bustle around the general area. Carts of building supplies and wagons loading away old rotted pieces of wood pass him to and fro as he made his way closer to Frodo's new home. He found himself smiling at the progress evident in the passing carts, and waved at the drivers and their ponies as well. "Good day, good work!" he called.
Well, it seems like Friselda got her rumors straight for once... he's really doing it! But what could he want with it... What a home that would make!
After reaching the crest of one hill upon which the old dirt road ran over, he was at last able to see the smail itself. It seemed as if progress on the schoolhouse was going very quickly considering that they hadn't simply knocked down the entire building as they normally would have. Fear of the spirit that used to occupy that building made them only take down one wooden plank at a time to be immediately replaced by a new fresh board. So far it there had been no unexplained accidents.
Several lads busied themselves about the old building attached to the smail, most wearing not but their trousers and their sweat stained tunics with rolled up sleeves. Some even went without their shirts, so hot the work had made the midday Sun. One hobbit in particular was rushing about the area, lifting things and seeming to direct the work at the same time.
The moment Sam saw all the wondrous activity about his former master's property, he began to fairly jog down the road in his enthusiasm. Realizing how hot it had become, he took off his jacket and made his way over to where the apparent leader was standing. "Ho there!" he waved, hoping to attract his attention without interrupting an important order.
The male, who looked to be somewhere in his early 30s or late tweens, turning about to regard the new comer with a skeptical expression. "Hullo hullo! Now what may you be wantin' good sir? I've got a throng of lads to direct here."
The Mayor of the Shire made a small polite bow, and introduced himself as such. "And who might you be, doin' all this nice work? You should take credit! Hot day for it though," Samwise commented amiably, glancing up toward the hot sun.
"Ah, good day Mr. Mayor sir!" the male beamed, all skepticism flying from his expression. "I'm Agate Goldworthy, at yer service sir! I'd shake yer hand if it were not so full of dust and dirt - Songo!" he whipped his head back around momentarily. "Lad, that board doesn't go there! That be for when we start on the roof." He turned back and grinned. "They're good lads, and really it should be them that be getting the credit."
"Ho now lads! Hi!" came an unexpected female voice from inside the smail. Sam's brown eyes traveled to the round red door, which had been left wide open, and a moment later a ladyhobbit's head poked out, her face pinkened from the heat and framed by a mess of auburn curls tied back in a bun. "If ye be wantin' any of your lunches, ye better get them. This first lot is done." As she spoke a new group of males filed out of the smail, all looking satisfied and quite ready for another effort.
Sam stood amazed. It was almost as if he were gazing upon an ant hill up close. "Mr. Goldworthy, Ma'am..." he nodded toward the new face, "This work project's one of the best I've ever seen since the Scouring. I had better not stand around puttin' my feet in the way." Sam, though a little disappointed that he could not see Mr. Frodo himself, decided that he had plenty of help was probably just taking it easy inside, which he knew was for the best.
"Just send my regards to whoever's lucky enough to live in that building afterwards. For I'll be knocking up their door sooner or later. 'Tis my job anyway!" He gave an apologetic half-smile to Agate and bowed deeply to the copper-headed lady moving to depart.
"Oh, no problem, Mr. Mayor sir," Emerald Burrows chimed before turning her head back towards the schoolhouse. "Mr. Baggins!" she called out. "Did you want your lunch now or later?"
Sam immediately stopped in his tracks, standing up as straight as one of the side boards and blinking in confusion as he heard the gentlehobbit himself answer, not from inside, but from just over the roof of the building. "No, ma'am," came Frodo's voice from the other side. "It can wait till this wall is done. Thank you nonetheless!"
Frodo Baggins... on a work gang?!? Oh, I just have to get to the bottom of this. More visions of Frodo flashed before his eyes, a shirtless Frodo, burned by the cruel sun, struggling under a board. Oh, my, my...
Samwise spun around and marched right back toward the building. He threw down his jacket on his way around toward the unfinished wall, uncaring where it lay in the dust, and began unbuttoning his collar. He was now no longer the Mayor of the Shire, but was readying himself to be just another worker. He felt flabby, anyway, and needed some toughening up.
Frodo was up on a ladder that leaned against the nearly finished wall, using a hammer to yank out the many old, rusty nails one by one out of one of the last several boards as a group of lads helped from below. He was not shirtless but his sleeves had been rolled all the way up and the sweat glistened off of his flexing forearm and off his forehead. His skin was threatening to redden instead of tan but he seemed to take no heed of it. If it had not been for his distinctly Elf-like characteristics, he might have been just another one of the lads.
"All right, this one is coming down," Frodo warned the workers as Sam watched him work the last nail out and took quick hold of the rotting wood as the other workers grabbed onto the end and slowly lowered it. Frodo was smiling and wiped the perspiration from his face while at the same time rubbing some extra dust onto it in it's place. "Well done, lads. This wall ought to be done within the next half hour at this rate."
Sam knew it. He just knew it. Sunburn. He strode up to the ladder and placed both hands on it to help hold it steady. "Excuse me? Mr. Frodo?" he called up to the gentlehobbit, his old familiar lilt of servitude creeping back into his address. Frodo glanced down and seemed to notice Sam for the first time and for a split second Sam felt himself at a loss for words. He carefully steadied his voice, forcing a smile past thick layers of worry. "Hello Mr. Frodo!" the smiling blonde hobbit exclaimed, trying to sound relaxed. "Uh... Give me a turn up there?"
Fortunately, instead of the recoil Sam had come to expect, the Baggins only smiled wider and waved down. "Hello there, Sam. What in the world are you doing here? Isn't it lovely today? I wager the roses must be growing beautifully in this sun."
"Well," Sam replied, squinting up at him, "The roses will do what they like today. I've got more important things to do it seems!" He managed a chuckle, and waved in general at the work in progress along the side wall. "Why didn't you tell me about all of this? It's something you should be proud of tellin'!"
Frodo shrugged and began to climb down without fear of falling, jumping the rest of the way nearly halfway down the ladder and landing soundly on his sturdy feet. Sam's stomach danced nervously, and he couldn't resist taking out his handkerchief and offering it up to his former master. Frodo took the offering and cleaned up his face without a thought, his blue eyes dancing. He almost looked as if he were a tweenager again, climbing trees and dropping down from them, even the tall ones, just to frighten Sam with his fear of heights.
That smile.. so full of life.. It was as if the other workers weren't even there...
"I didn't think it would get so hot by midday, what with autumn coming on fast," Frodo commented as he observed their handiwork while raising his left hand and shielding his eyes from the glare of the Sun. "Though I guess it's at times hard to notice when you're so busy."
When Frodo's gaze returned to his, Sam looked the older male in the eye. He thought maybe Mr. Frodo should go inside and get out of the harsh sunlight, but he found himself unable to tell him that. Maybe it was because he looked far happier than he had seen him ever since his return, and perhaps even before that. And if there was one thing Sam was adamant about, it was that nothing, absolutely nothing was going to stop Frodo from being happy while he could help it. So the gardener simply shut his mouth and grinned, taking both ladder sides in his hands and reaching out expectantly to Frodo for the hammer.
"Sam, I'd really prefer it if you didn't," Frodo handed the hammer back to one of the workers. "You are a guest. I can't have my guests working, especially when I can't pay you." Sam's heart sank as the hammer whisked by his face and another worker climbed the ladder with a quick thanks for the extra helping hand. Frodo, however, didn't seem to notice and clapped Sam on the back, motioning towards some trees. "We can sit for a minute or so, though, if you like. Then I can tell you about my plans."
With that Frodo made his way for the shade and Sam watched him silently for a moment. "Guest," said Sam with heavy emotion once the other hobbit was out of earshot. "I'm just your Guest?" The name somehow managed to hurt Sam far more than any other name given to him by anyone, including his Gaffer. That his Mr. Frodo would think of him as simply a Guest, and not... a close friend...
The Sun beat down and bade him take shelter under the trees, even though he felt completely drawn to do the work. With a dejected sight he rushed to catch up and fell into step beside his friend. Finally free of the temptation, he sighed and turned to look at Frodo, examining where the redness had started to show on the backs of his forearms and ended abruptly where his shirt sleeves began. Frodo settled down under the largest tree and scooted over a bit to allow Sam room, his smile hardly faltering. "I'm so excited about this project, Sam. It looks as if we just might finish by tomorrow if we keep at it at this rate."
"Yep. And at this rate, if you don't mind your Guest sayin'," Samwise noted with a barely concealed bitterness in his tone, "you'll be a ripe tomato by then as well." He ventured a light touch on Frodo's wrist just to see if his fingers left a mark.
Frodo hissed at the unexpected touch and at last the expected recoil occurred, snatching his wrist away and holding it as he had been burned. "That hurt..." Frodo frowned in puzzlement and eyed his arm. "Bless my soul... I hadn't even noticed."
Sam leaned back against the tree and crossed his arms. "Friends take notice where others might not," he stated, matter-of-factly. "Now..." and at last his voice had begun to take on a softness to it once more, "promise me you'll let me do some? Because one more hour in the middle of the day and you'll be suffering before tomorrow's out."
Frodo blinked at Sam's behavior, looking slightly confused by it,
then sighed and blew on his skin. "If you desire it, Sam..." Frodo murmured, trying to sound as if he didn't care either way. "But I shan't stop working. I can't." Frodo reached down and pulled up some grass absently, no longer looking at him.
The Shire's Mayor sat away from the tree and took the hand that was busying itself with the grass, clasping it gently and keeping it from doing its work. He considered for a moment his own stupid mouth and how often, as of late, he had been managing to put his foot in it but good. "I'm not really seeing how much this place means to you am I?" admitted Samwise, his voice low.
Frodo looked up sharp, both surprised and confused by Sam's sudden forwardness with him. Why, had this been the Samwise Gamgee of twenty years ago, he would never have even dared to take his hand as he was doing right then. Even during their Quest together, Sam could not reach out to grasp his hand or any other part of him without a look of askance and shyness combined. Now, however, he saw neither of these.
"It does means a lot to me.. Sam," Frodo managed at last.
Sam reached over and patted the hand with his other tanned, work-worn one, the classic Gamgee gesture that he had passed on to his children. "Mr. Frodo. If you don't mind me sayin', I'd love to know more about what yer doin' here. Not that I mind you stayin' in a bigger place. Why of course someone like you deserves a fine big home, someplace befitting them that saved the world and all!" Sam's mouth turned up at the edges and his earth brown eyes shone with pride.
Frodo water blue eyes glinted briefly as a sunbeam fell over them. "I won't be living in it, Sam, I'll be teaching in it."
The look in the gardener's eyes did not change, but he sat up very straight and blushed faintly across the bridge of his nose and cheeks. "Well!" was the only thing he could say in response to that. He thought hard, about such things that he never had considered before. That Frodo would be a teacher. That he would actually work, join the working class. It all seemed so impossibly normal.
"And besides," Frodo cast his gaze back down toward the ground, "we both know I did no saving of anything back in that time. I failed in the end. I wasn't strong enough to..." He trailed off for a moment and at last managed to dislodge his hand from Sam's, drawing it into himself and raising it to his lips as he closed his eyes. He was evidently trying to calm himself and his face was pinkened with shame. All Sam could do was just sit back on his haunches and gape at his former master for a few moments. Then, everything kind of made sense, in an odd sort of way. This was his chance. His Gaffer used to say, Second chances, sometimes, could be better than the first.
Sam couldn't stop himself from touching his shoulder, embracing it from fingertip to thumb. There was a lot he felt and wanted to say, but just like so many years before, he found his tongue to be stuck without a way to express himself. He wanted to tell him that he was happy for Frodo, tell him what he saw when he looked at him. It was always like staring up at him from a distance. So much the former Ringbearer had done, and he never was able to see it. "Frodo..." he whispered.
"Well, anyway, all that is going to change," Frodo announced at last, standing up. "I do not intend to stay weak anymore. Doing all this work will do me good. It already has, Sam." And with that his smile returned, his whole dark countenance clearing like sunshine after rain. "I'm finally doing something with my life that matters. No more sitting about doing nothing but reading and writing. I'm going to be a teacher, Sam. At last I'll be doing something important."
Sam rose to meet him, his coarse features still awash with a warm mixture of pride and concern. "I wish you could see yourself through my eyes..." he uttered with the softest tone, blinking rapidly as if he could hardly look at Frodo for the brightness that he saw. "You're not weak, and never were." He paused, realizing how forward that probably sounded to his former master. Still, he meant every word of it, and he didn't mean to take it back.
Frodo felt himself frozen in place under his eyes. There it is again, he thought with a shiver. That look again. Does he have any idea what he looks like when he does that, what that look does to me??
The gardener took a deep breath and looked over toward the building. "But if that's to be your schoolhouse, it don't matter a whit what we think of anything. More doin', less speculatin' about the whos, whys, or whats of the past, eh?" He grinned and blinked at Frodo, still getting used to the idea of him working. "I could help you, and I mean to do that today, if it won't mess with your plans any. Why, just over there; you can work and the shade's now on it."
Frodo chuckled and turned about to head back to the schoolhouse. "You always were too kind with me, Samwise my dear hobbit," he commented over his shoulder before looking ahead and bending his head from side to side, a smart snap in the neck following each tilt. "All right then, enough rest. Time to finish that wall," he exclaimed, loosening up the joints on his arms by swinging them back and forth in front of him.
They worked for another half hour, and Frodo made no further protests to Sam's help, although many of the workers felt a little awkward with the Mayor of the whole Shire working like a common laborer along side them. The time flew for Frodo and it seemed to him that within no time flat they had nailed in place the last board of the western wall of the old schoolhouse.
Sam had loved it. He loved to work with his hands, and all too often as Mayor he had to leave his projects for travel-time or time spent jabbering away about this or that. Now, he remembered his arm strength and used it. But above all, he was just glad to be able help Frodo again like he used to, and with a few swipes of his handkerchief across his forehead he stood back a bit to survey the handiwork.
"All right! Well done, lads!" Agate clapped his hands and patted the backs of his workers. "Fine work on that there wall. May be finished with the whole dern thing by tomorrow if we keep working at it like this. I say we take our afternoon tea early today before we all start on the roof."
Frodo again had taken to the ladder, being less afraid of it than the others, and leaned back a little from where he perched to take in everything they had done. "Thank you for your help, Sam. I daresay we got the work done twice as fast with you here." He turned to gaze at him out of the corner of his eye. "I'm glad to see that you haven't lost that brilliant strength of yours."
Samwise instinctively held the ladder again, wrapping a hand around each side and standing legs slightly spread. He looked up at him and replied "Oho! Flattery won't get you afternoon tea any sooner," he laughed. "You've got to come down here for that. Methinks that sweet lady I saw with the auburn locks earlier has got something."
Frodo obediently climbed down the ladder, chuckling for no apparent reason other than his pleasure at having finished part of the project. Then suddenly, as he began walking for the front of the smail, a new thought struck him. "Ah, but Sam, shouldn't you be at home with Rose right now?" He didn't even blink as he said it, and Sam could tell right away that the happiness on his face had now transformed itself into a mask. "I mean, she is still recovering, isn't she?"
The Mayor put his hand up to his jaw and scratched thoughtfully. "Hmm. Well, seein' as I'm here, and t'would take me a bit to get there, and as it's Tea-time and all..." He felt like he was making excuses, and he was, but Bag End was currently crawling with people of all ages, Robin besides. "Robin's still around didn't you know..." Sam whispered to Frodo, as an aside.
"Mr. Baggins!" a female voice drew them away from the conversation before it could properly begin as Emerald Burrows rushed up with a cheerful grin on her face. "I can't believe it myself, but I actually managed to cook some mushrooms for you as you like them without muffing it up. Come along, dear sir! I want you to be the first to taste them before them lads get at them."
Sam took a step back and raised his eyebrows. "Ah, yes Miss-"
"Mrs. Emerald Burrows."
"Mrs. Burrows, begging your pardon," Sam nodded and tried to remember the name this time.
"I'm surprised he ever let you work at all! I'm going to have to speak to my little brother about proper respect for his betters."
"You couldn't keep me from working."
It was at that moment that the three of them heard a splintering crack come from the building, followed by a loud yowl. Frodo's head snapped sharply in the direction of the sound and there was a moment were no one moved. A half moment later a repatition of mewling issued from where the unexpected noise had first come from.
"Ah!" Frodo cried out and dashed over to the building, standing on his toes and sometimes jumping to get a better look at the roof and he made his way back around the other side. Sam's jaw dropped in shock. Even as it did so, he leapt forward, his bare feet skittering on the dusty ground. There at last Frodo could see the source of the disturbance. "No, Para!" The grey cat could just be seen at a distance on top of the roof, crouching and meowing unceasingly. He could not see the cat's leg.
"Hullo! What's all this?" Agate came rushing along after, having heard the noise even from inside the smial and skidding to a halt beside the gentlehobbit.
Unthinkingly, Sam grabbed the ladder they had just been using, and steadied it with his palms before starting to make his way up it with surprising dexterity. "Don't you dare, Sam!" Frodo rushed up after him and grabbed the back of his shirt. With surprising force he yanked the gardener back down onto the ground.
Sam fell back on his ample backside, blinking up at the sky confusedly. "What broke... what... the cat..."
"Sam, I'm sorry, but that wood is rotted straight through," Frodo looked at his friend seriously in the eye. "There's no way you could reach for that cat without crashing through it yourself."
"Oh no, the poor thing!" Emerald gasped as she at last saw what was happening. "It's got it's leg caught in the broken board."
"Hold a moment! I'll get one of my lads to get it," Agate suggested.
Samwise leapt to his feet, dusting himself off and bit, and cried out in agreement. "Yes, let's get the lightest of 'em to reach with a tool from a distance." He whirled around, looking for an appropriate long object.
Frodo turned back around to look at the two hobbits. "Don't bother. I'll go up and get him. I'm far lighter than any of you lads. I may be able to reach him without the boards giving way." As Sam heard him say this, he whipped his head around and gave Frodo a withering stare. Frodo of course paid it absolutely no mind. Without further argument he began to climb up the ladder at such a speed it might have put Gollum himself to shame.
"Oh, Mr. Baggins, do be careful!" Emerald called with wide frightened green eyes.
Sam just stood there frozen in place, eyes wide, unable at this point to stop him. "Yes, do..." he muttered under his breath. "So help me Baggins... stubborn as always..."
Frodo reached the top in no time and the cat mewed at him and struggled to free his leg. "Hush, easy now," Frodo soothed, trying to reach out and grab it. Unfortunately the feline was too far away for him to try and grab. With a look around him at the surface of the wood, he took a deep breath and placed one knee upon it.
"Ah! No don't do that!" Emerald cried out and ran to the ladder to grip it. "We'll find another way-"
"Don't shake me," Frodo hissed as he slowly lifted himself up onto his other knee.
Sam's mind raced. "Somebody... could we open the door and go inside!" He cried, even as he was dashing for the old dilapidated front door, his hand reaching out for the nonexistent knob.
"All right..." he whispered to himself, reaching out only when he felt he was properly balanced. "Come on, Para dear." The cat meowed loudly, almost imploringly, and struggled to get closer, causing it's leg to twist. "Come ... on..." the hobbit grit his teeth and leaned further, putting more of his weight onto the wood.
Sam scooted inside, trying not to touch or move anything more than necessary. From within the half-built structure, the smell of the decades of disturbed dust with which the school was covers filled his nostrils and made him sneeze. His eyes adjusted quickly to what little light flowed through the chinks of unfinished wood and he craned his neck upward, trying to locate by shadows alone where on the roof the two were perched. The desks were scattered in a reckless mess about the room, and a chill ran through the air that had not been present in the air outdoors.
Sam shuddered, and waved his arms about, to catch a bit of falling dust from the roof in his outstretched palm. Leaning against the wall, set right beneath where Frodo was kneeling upon the roof, he noticed a large portrait of an aged lady hobbit, the colored muted with the dust. Only her bright hazel eyes could plainly be seen in detail.
"Mr. Frodo!" the gardener yelled at the crumbling ceiling. "Got the cat?"
"Almost," Frodo grounded out and he stretched his arm as far is it could go, just barely touching the terrified cat's fur. He delayed a moment before scooting an inch closer. At last he managed to catch hold of the scruff of Para's neck. "Got-"
But suddenly, before he could finish, the wood creaked for a last time and broke under their combined weight. With a shout Frodo fell through, clutching the feline to his breast the entire time. Sam kept his eyes open until falling debris forced them shut, trying to maneuver himself to catch whatever fell, his strong legs planted firmly. The gentlehobbit fell right atop him and the two hobbits collapsed onto the ground.
"Ah, no!!" From outside, Emerald screamed as she witnessed the Baggins fall through the roof. Everyone heard a crash from within the building, a feline's screech, and then silence. Agate Goldworthy burst through the door and rushed to the scene, shocked at what he saw.
Samwise lay frozen, terrified, and momentarily unable to breathe, but whether this was physical or emotional he could not immediately tell. Light filtered down through the broken roof onto his dirty curls and face.
"Mister Frodo..." he gasped, hoping that the weight that struck him was...
"I knew it! It's old Mother Goose's ghost that done it, I just know it," Emerald could be heard ranting as she entered the room. "I tried to tell him to let the building be but he-" She stopped short when she saw what had happened, her eyes wide as saucers.
Sam finally opened one eye and took a good look at his position on the floor at his friend. He grasped the cat gently with one hand and reached up around his friend with the other, moving a bit experimentally. "Are you okay?" he breathed, looking up for what he could see of the cat's leg.
Frodo remained unmoving, on his back attop Sam, looking straight upward with wide unblinking eyes. Para lay upon his chest with it's tail fluffed out, staring right at him. Just before his very eyes, he stared up into another pair of eyes, painted hazels. And just upon the forehead there protruded forth a large, sharp splinter of wood, only just stopped from stabbing Frodo in the throat by the touch canvas of the portrait when it had fallen on top of him.
Frodo could say nothing. Emerald stared open mouthed at the scene and Agate scratched his golden brown curls. "What do ye know. The old gal actually saved 'em."
Emerald laughed nervously once and promptly fainted.