Chapter One: The Flower
There was a certain mystical magic in the air. The day was almost indescribably perfect. It was a time of peace and contentment lingering on the very breeze with gentleness reminiscent of eider down. The spring rains of the previous week had subsided and given over to warm sunny days. The natural result had been lush green grass, trees leafing out and the inevitable spring flowers. The whole Shire was filled with anticipation of the up-coming Mushroom Festival. Many of the youth of the Shire were sent out in groups or in pairs and occasionally alone to find the best mushrooms while the finest cooks worked feverishly to perfect new recipes to be tried in the annual cooking contest as part of the festivities.
A pretty Hobbit maid came quietly through the trees. She had light brown hair and piercing deep-blue eyes. The color of her gown was a shade of green which was difficult to distinguish from the young grass and made her appear to be floating or like some ethereal being. Finally, she spotted her long-time friend. He appeared to be asleep. She glided through the grass without a rustle and stood looking down at him with a smile on her face. She loved spending time with him and had since they had become friends when he first moved to Hobbiton. Things had been a bit rocky for him with the other Hobbit children. Coming from Buckland, he was seen right off as being different. The fact that his parents had both died in a boating accident leaving him an orphan was unheard of. The crowning problem was due to the fact that he was taken in by a wealthy, old bachelor relation of his who tended to be a bit eccentric and enjoyed friendships with strange beings who were likely to be coming and going at his smial at odd times. Knowing what it was like to be lonely, she had befriended him from the start or, perhaps, he had befriended her. Her father was overly opinionated and liked to argue for the sake of arguing. Instead of bartering for business he tended to argue with his customers, not a particularly good way of doing business or winning friends for yourself and family. In time, the mellowing of her father plus the generosity of her mother, as well as, her own beauty and grace led to her acceptance by others. It was much the same for the lad. As seasons changed and years passed, the other residents of Hobbiton saw not a self-willed, overly indulged and quirky Hobbit, but rather a sensitive, compassionate and quiet lad who just every once in a while had enough mischief in him to make him a normal lad in his tweens.
He seemed not to hear her as she came and stood above him. He wore the strangest expression on his face. This puzzled her for a moment. They had spent enough time together that she knew his moods very well by now. Something was definitely on his mind. Every so often on spring days such as this, a melancholy would sting him over the death of his parents all those years ago. An event she just couldn’t imagine in her own life, but knew her stepbrother still reacted negatively over the death of his mother. She knew it was probably best to let him tell her what was on his mind when he felt ready.
She stood looking down at him, just watching him, wondering if he ever felt the same feelings for her that she was feeling for him. This was getting more and more difficult to deal with, but as it was not a proper thing for a maiden to speak of such things she would have to endure. “So there you are…daydreaming again, I suppose. I’ve been looking all over for you. I thought you were helping me collect mushrooms for the festival. I’ve managed to find enough berries for my mum.”
The young Hobbit was lying idly in the grass on the hillside near a grove of trees. This was a favorite spot of his; not only because of the trees, but also for the mushrooms he always managed to find here. Of course, if one added in the warmth of the sun, a gentle breeze and those deep blue flowers that reminded him of her, the place was idyllic. He was a comely Hobbit with dark hair and what can only be described as beautiful blue eyes. He was known for being a quiet sort who would take part in the most outlandish jokes on a whim. He was rarely idle, for he was always thinking of great adventures. “Don’t worry.” He mumbled. “I finished a long time ago.” He didn’t even look up at her, let alone open his eyes. “I was only picking mushrooms to help you out, after all.”
“I am very glad you did,” she stated with a tense smile. He seemed a bit strange. Perhaps his uncle’s influence was beginning to tell as others said it would.
“There’s nothing wrong with a little honest use of the imagination once in a while.” Was he upset with her, she wondered.
“Well, it’s not as if I haven’t been warned about that Tookish strain in you,” she said growing a bit defensive. He grinned, reached up, took her hand and pulled her down to sit in the grass beside him setting her basket next to his “What have you been dreaming about?”
“I haven’t really been dreaming…just watching the clouds, more or less and thinking…” he hesitated, but smiled warmly.
“So what is it that you see in the clouds today, oh learned master of lore,” she giggled, relieved that what had seemed like fight brewing had vanished.
“Now you’re mocking me,” he responded trying but not managing to sound offended, “but have a look anyway.” He slipped his arm gently around her shoulder and pulled her close as he proceeded to point out various images in the clouds. “See there is a dragon …
“For your uncle,” she teased. “That one looks like a frog.”
“Rib-bit…Rib-bit…Rib-bit.” They both laughed. “Do you see over there? It’s a grand palace…”
“Just for the two of us…” she mused softly. He eyed her sideways but said nothing in response to her comment. She felt embarrassed. “Look,” she quickly pointed, “a horse …”
“A horse for some noble person… perhaps Lord Elrond of the Elves…or maybe, just maybe Gandalf….” Now it was her turn to glance at him sideways with a slightly raised eyebrow. It didn’t bother him in the least. He just gave her his biggest grin and shrugged his shoulders. He was the Hobbit he was, after all, and was incapable of changing.
They sat together like this for a long time. Secretly he was watching her and studying everything he could about her: her green frock, her delicate features, her light brown hair, her deep-blue eyes - the very same color of the flowers which grew in the grove – the very reason he was drawn to this spot. Should he or should he not tell her how he felt? What if she laughed at him? Still, he should say something. It was agony feeling this way and not knowing what she felt towards him.
Suddenly she gave a start. A cloud had passed over the sun making the formations darker and giving them an ominous appearance. “Look, the horse seems to have a rider!” she did not like the change.
“The dragon seems to have sprouted wings.”
“Our palace looks to have been destroyed by some monstrous storm.” She quailed at the thought.
“They do look evil,” he commented. They both shuddered. He held her more closely than before. A gentle breeze blew and the clouds passed away from the face of the sun. “It’s quite all right now. See, here comes a great ship to rescue us and we’ll live happily ever after… Marry me, Veronica.”
She spun towards him. “What!”
“I said, ‘Marry me, Veronica’.”
“I heard what you said. This is so very sudden.”
“I’ve been trying to think of a clever way to ask you all day. It’s not really so sudden if you remember,” he smiled remembering a bright autumn day as they stood by the mill some years ago when he was eighteen and she was seventeen.
“I remember she said. My father overheard us. Do you remember what he said?”
“He said to ask you when you were older and it would be more appropriate to speak of such matters,” he shrugged.
“Not exactly. He said we should wait until we were older to see “if he’s as cracked as the rest of his relations.’” She said imitating her father’s voice. She knew her father was very serious about this matter as he had spoken of the strange goings on many times.
“…and am I all cracked?” He laughed and pretended to sprinkle things over her head watching her reaction. “…Besides, he was laughing when he said it. Years have passed. Seasons have changed. Have I?”
“No… and yes, if anything you’ve become more serious and sensible. A right respectable Hobbit you are,” she responded smiling as she gazed thoughtfully into the eyes she could never resist.
“So there you are. You have no reason not to marry me.” He managed a tentative laugh as he drew her close again and kissed her on the cheek.
“I just don’t know why you should want to marry me,” she stated not begging the question, but rather matter-of-factly. This would probably be considered an upward match for her, but given some of the attitude towards her family, a downward match for him.
“Well, I should think it is obvious.”
“No, I don’t want to know about the obvious thing that every young Hobbit eventually wants. I want to know why you want to marry me. We both know that you can have your pick of any maiden in the Shire.” Veronica stood up and gestured toward the village of Hobbiton which looked very small from this vantage point.
“You aren’t just any maiden in the Shire. You are the maiden I want.” The lad got up and standing in front of her to block her vision of the village took both her hands in his and placed a bouquet of the blue flowers in her hands.
“Neither one of us has come of age. A marriage will not be allowed.”
“I know. I will come of age on my birthday a year and a half from now. We could announce our betrothal then and be married at Yuletide.”
“My mother would want us to wait until the Mushroom Festival for luck,” she sighed.
The young couple embraced and stood thus for a long while just basking in the glow of being in love: him wanting to shout it from the hills to the valleys below and her not quite wanting to give him the pleasure of doing so. Not yet, at least. Usually these matters were kept quiet until the time of the marriage or the couple just went off quietly by themselves and announced a marriage on their return.
Veronica looked up a bit dreamily into his eyes and smiled. She loved the feeling of being in his arms. “Where do you propose for us to live in this dream world of yours?”
He enjoyed the feel and scent of her soft hair as she nestled closer to him. “I’ve thought about that. We could live in my home. My uncle is fond of all my friends. He would welcome you with open arms and learn to love you as I do.” Veronica bit her lip hesitating in thought. “Your uncle? … My father doesn’t hold with dragons and wizards and dwarves and elves and the like. And your uncle …”
“My uncle? … What about my uncle?” he asked. Those old tales again! He knew this would probably come up! Would the unfounded fears in the minds of all Hobbiton follow him his whole life! The gentle old Hobbit wouldn’t hurt a fly. Frodo was tense and knew it. He moved away from her ever so slightly, but breaking the embrace nonetheless.
What could she say? She brought it up. If she thought they would have any chance at a future together she would have to tell him what was on her mind. “Your uncle,” she hesitated. “Your uncle is a little bit off,” Veronica responded timidly.
He pulled one of the flowers from the bouquet and stood there twirling it in his fingers seemingly lost in thought, his lips pursed, considering this bit of information as if the notion had never occurred to him before. Veronica stood staring at him not quite knowing what to say but wishing she had never made her last statement, at least not out loud. It seemed an eternity of watching and waiting and awful silence. Suddenly a smallish sort of smile began at the corners of his mouth and then covered his whole face. Soon he was laughing. “So he is, so he is. But he is a good sort of chap. He’s quite friendly you know and very giving of himself. He’s not very demanding at all. He’s been very good to me my whole life and especially since bringing me here to live with him.” The shadow of grief washed over his face briefly then brightened again with the prospect of their acknowledged love.
“I’m sorry,” she said hugging him close.
“It’s all right he said. Apology accepted. You seem to have a lot of questions,” he said placing the flower in her hair.
“And you just happen to have all the right answers, I suppose.” Veronica stood on the tips of her toes to give him a quick peck on the cheek.
“So, do I have your answer to my question?” he asked looking into her eyes.
“I’ll think about it,” she smiled demurely. He folded her in his arms and they enjoyed love’s first kiss. Oblivious to all else around them, they did not hear the approaching voices coming up the hill behind them.
A Young Hobbit’s Fancy
Chapter One: The Flower, part 2
“Hallo, Frodo!” a Hobbit fry’s voice shouted excitedly.
Veronica and Frodo froze momentarily and then slightly backed away from each other as if they had merely been having a conversation. Veronica’s eyes opened wide with fear as she watched Frodo’s face. They had done nothing wrong or to be ashamed of, but others might talk and this could be construed as not very seemly. Also, she honestly wanted to be able to make her own decision and share it with him before anyone else should find out. She placed her index finger on his lips and mouthed, “Don’t say anything about this.” Frodo smiled, nodded and turned so the newcomers could see he was not alone.
“Hallo, Frodo. What are you doing here?” said a lad trying hard but not quite succeeding in suppressing a grin for he had seen exactly what Frodo was doing. Frodo and Veronica looked at the two lads and blushed.
“Hallo Pippin. Hallo Merry. This is a friend of mine, Veronica. Veronica, these are my cousins, Pippin Took and Merry Brandybuck from Buckland.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Veronica said managing a smile while retaining the glow of her blush.
“Hallo, Veronica. You’re very pretty,” exclaimed young Pippin.
“Why thank you, Pippin.” Pippin suddenly grabbed her hand and shook it so vigorously causing her to drop the flowers she was still holding onto. This action produced laughter in the young couple while Merry just rolled his eyes.
“No, no Pip that isn’t the way to greet a young lass. You either tip your hat,” Merry said tipping an imaginary hat “or you take her hand like this and kiss the back of her hand.” This was stated as he demonstrated the action with a grand flourish producing another round of laughter. It was Merry’s turn to blush. He was a handsome lad of about seventeen years and though he knew his manners was very uncertain of himself around the fairer gender.
“That was very well done, Master Merry,” said Frodo feeling a bit flustered by the obvious charm in his cousin.
“That’s not fair! I don’t have a hat to tip and I took her hand first,” wailed Pippin thinking that Merry would be seen as better than him.
“Yes, you did,” soothed Veronica reaching out and ruffling her fingers through Pippin’s light brown curls. Her laughter seemed to light up an already bright day. The young lads stood there, all three of them, totally captivated. At the moment rather than a Hobbit maiden on an outing with her first love, she seemed more like a queen holding court filled with her admirers.
“What’s brought you to Hobbiton, today? The festival isn’t for another two days,” Frodo wondered.
“Our mums brought some new shirts and things for you and Cousin Bilbo. Mum said she wanted to make sure he was taking good care of all your needs, him being an old bachelor and all,” blurted Pippin. At nine years of age, he was still at that age when children just blurt out whatever comes into their heads.
“I think Frodo’s needs are being taken care of just fine,” muttered Merry so softly that Frodo was the only one to overhear. Frodo punched Merry good-naturedly in the arm and whispered for him to mind his manners. Merry just grinned and asked “So what are the two of you doing way up here?” He was trying to get a good look around to see if there was anything to be seen that he had missed.
“It’s a secret spot for mushrooms, though not any more I suppose,” explained Frodo with a sigh.
“I’m hungry,” stated Pippin at the mention of food. Veronica laughed and brought out the lunch of bread, cheese, dried apples and water that she had brought for her and Frodo. Merry and Pippin took the invitation and helped themselves. Even though the lads appeared to be two boys happily filling up all the empty spots in their stomachs which, of course they were, they were very acutely trying to listen to whatever Frodo and Veronica were talking about. This was a bit difficult as the young couple was speaking softly between themselves, but after all, Hobbits do have a good sense of hearing. They were well aware by the glances and smiles exchanged that something important was going on with their cousin and his friend. Continuing on like this for some while, the boys had soon devoured everything leaving not one bite for either Frodo or Veronica.
“There is also a patch of berries in this grove of trees,” Veronica said to the boys trying to prolong the time they were sharing. “My mum is working on a couple of new recipes for the contest.”
Merry raised a skeptical eye. “Berries and mushrooms! You have got to be joking!”
“Not in the least. She mixes the berries with pine nuts and stuffs the mushroom caps with the mixture,” she explained.
“Blech,” exclaimed Pippin sticking out his tongue. “I’ll eat my berries and mushrooms by themselves, if you please.” He had taken on a rather imperious tone eyeing the basket with the berries.
“I agree. It sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it? Would you like some berries? Mind you save some for my mum, though”
“We thought you’d never ask,” said Merry as he and Pippin dived for the basket together nearly upending it
“Yum! I mean, thank you,” said Pippin remembering his manners.
“What a delightful pair they are,” Veronica said softly to Frodo.
“We could fill Bag End with the likes of them, if you wish,” Frodo whispered into her ear. They both smiled a secret smile, their fingers touching slightly as they stood close together.
She stood gazing down at the two lads; so alike and yet different. Pippin was young enough to still be considered a young child: all ruddy and active and interested in everything around him, little enough to be all boy and yet trying to be all grown up. Merry, at seventeen, was a bit more mature in years but young enough to be caught between his youth and his childhood. He was still inquisitive, but was developing the capacity to restrain his actions if need be. He still delighted in games of every sort and seemed to possess the voracious appetite necessary to an active lad. They both possessed a natural charm which was difficult to escape. There was no doubt about it: he had a very winning way about him. She had noticed some of the same features in Frodo too. Frodo was charming, and sensitive, and caring, and impulsive, and protective, and gallant, and oh so many things. Her list could go on and on. She knew she loved him. She was also aware of the fact that while she and Frodo were watching his cousins eat everything in sight, Frodo’s cousins had also been watching the two of them. They were well aware that something was going on between the young couple, something definitely more than just friendship.
Pippin and Merry suddenly realized that in addition to eating Frodo and Veronica’s lunch, they had eaten all of the berries and had upended the basket of mushrooms. Trying to refill the mushroom basket without being noticed, Pippin inquired, “Frodo, is Veronica your girlfriend?”
“Well, Frodo, is she? Come on, you can tell us,” badgered Merry with a mischievous grin.
Frodo was uncertain how to answer. He looked back and forth between Veronica and his cousins. He knew what he wanted to say, but he also knew what he had promised. He tried to weigh the options. He swallowed hard and laughed and then without thinking he stated rather too decisively,
“… No. We are just good friends and have been for a very long time.” He had dutifully remembered his instructions not realizing that things had dramatically changed between Veronica and himself during the course of the past hour.
Veronica stood very still as the color drained from her face. She didn’t say a word, as she gazed blankly from the lads to Frodo. “Oh, Frodo….”she whispered almost inaudibly and simply walked away without a backward glance at any of them.
Frodo swallowed with great difficulty. He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly as he watched her wind her way slowly down the hill.
“Veronica, you forgot…” Pippin started to call after her.
“It’s empty,” said Merry guiltily as he hit Pippin in the arm and thought to at least give her the basket with the mushrooms. As he swung around Pippin tripped and fell sitting right down on the bouquet of flowers. Merry laughed so hard at the sight of Pippin sitting on the flowers that he too fell to the ground holding his sides. In the process, he upended the mushrooms for the second time.
Frodo sighed, “Never mind fellows. I’ll take them to her later.”