The Heir of the Hill

by Lothithil


Chapter 8: Rain and Roses

Parts I  II  III  IV

I.

It was a fair day in spring in the Shire. Frequent soft rains had woken the slumbering grasses and flowers with benign kisses, with liberal draughts of sunlight to unfold the leaves. Frodo walked slowly down the Bywater lane, inhaling deeply the scent of moist loam. It was a wonderful, beautiful day, and he was very happy.

He was on his way to Bucklebury. He was long over-due for a visit to his Aunt Mene and Master Rorimac. Uncle Saradoc had sent an invitation to him, urging him to come as soon as winter had faded. He was missed, they said. He felt warm and peaceful, to know that he was so loved.

It had been way too long since he had gone back. Meriadoc usually argued that he should come and visit Frodo, and Merry usually argued very well so it had been almost four years since Frodo had come back to his other home. It was a fine day for walking. Frodo was glad he had talked Bilbo out of driving him in the carriage. A nice long walk would be just the thing after a long restless winter.

The road was dotted with puddles from the night’s rain, and Frodo walked around them carefully. There was little traffic this early, though he had seen some wagons rolling toward Bywater loaded with bags of grain and seedlings. The planting would get started early this year, in hopes for a bumper crop at first harvest. Gardening and farming weren’t Frodo’s chief interests, but eating certainly was one! He had overheard the Gaffer saying that if the weather held soft, this year’s gardens could produce more food than ever before recorded. Of course, the Gaffer was rather famous for such sweeping statements, and then finding blame for the lacking in the drought or plague of locusts or potato bugs or whatever ill might have befallen the season.

This year might be different, thought Frodo, waving to a hobbit that was walking past with a fishing pole over his shoulder. If this morning was a sample of the year to come, it would be sweet indeed.

A soft patter of rain began as he reached the end of the lane and came to Bywater. He was tempted to stop at the Ivy Bush and wait for it to subside, but it was only a light rain… more like drizzle, really. And if he stopped now, it would be nightfall by the time he reached Frogmorton. He drew up the hood of his cloak and walked on.

The soft rain stopped in a few minutes, but after he had covered maybe half the distance to the next village, dark clouds rolled over the sun and it began to rain in earnest. Frodo pulled his cloak close around him as a wind nipped at him from the east. He cast about for a nearby house to take shelter. It looked like a nasty spring storm was brewing.

Some miles down the road a lane opened to the right, and following it Frodo found a small house nestled among some dogwood trees. He ran to the front door and rang the bell, starting to shiver as the temperature began to drop. When no one answered after a moment, he lifted his hand to knock soundly on the painted wooden door.

Just as he did so, it swung open, and Frodo froze so that he would not knock on the pretty hobbitlass who had just appeared. He dipped a hasty bow.

“Your pardon, miss. I need…” was all he had time to say.

“Come in, sir! Why! You are soaked to the bone! Out of that cloak now, before you catch your death! There is a fire in the kitchen and some water in the kettle. Make yourself a cup while I find you something dry to wear. Come in, come in!” She all but pulled Frodo into the cozy house, shutting the door against the fickle spring weather.

II.

Once inside, Frodo removed his dripping cloak and coat, which the lass took from his hands. "Th...thank you, miss," he stuttered, trying to keep his teeth from chattering.

"Why, I haven't done nothing yet to be thank for, sir. Now go and warm yourself by the fire. I will set these things to dry. Your hands are like ice!" She took his cold hand and led him through a short hallway to the kitchen, where the hearth blazed. There were bunches of herbs and peppers hung and drying overhead, and a row of copper kettles shining. A lump of dough lay slowly spreading in a puddle of flour. The kitchen was clean and warm and homey. Frodo could smell cloves and roasting meat.

He stepped to the warmth of the fire gratefully. The lass had disappeared through another door beyond, and he could hear her speaking softly to someone. There was a low murmuring answer in a thin voice.

Frodo was relieved that he was not alone with the lass. He knew it was odd, but women and girls always acted so strangely around him. Older women insisted on mothering him, and young lady hobbits never hardly spoke to him, just peeked at him through their eyelashes and blushed. It made him feel uncomfortable, and he did not know why.

The weather was growing fierce outside. He could hear the wind whipping against the glass of the windows. So much turmoil, when only this morning it had been bright and clear… how quickly change could come!

Minutes passed and the lass did not reappear. Frodo noticed a pile of vegetables lying on the table, cleaned and ready to pare. The dough was starting to look dry. Bilbo had been teaching him about cooking, and he knew that if the mixture was left to dry too long, the bread would be tough. He found a clean smock and tied it over his shirt, then washed his hands in the basin. He attacked the bread first, being careful not to over-knead. He added some yeast and a bit more buttermilk, working the dough deftly. It felt good to be doing something, and his fingers warmed up quickly.

When the lass came into the kitchen, she found Frodo had shaped the bread that was now rising beautifully, and he was scraping vegetables, half-way through the pile. He smiled at her shocked expression.

"It looked like you were making stew, but I figured I better wait to ask before slicing them up." He pointed at the potatoes and carrots with the small knife he had been using.

"Well, actually I was going to make a meat and vegetable pie," she said, laughing at Frodo's crestfallen face. "But stew and bread sound better on such a day as this has become! Thank you for helping. Master Banks feels the change in weather rather poorly, and I needed to build a fire to dry your things and keep him warm."

"Master Banks? Is he your father?" asked Frodo politely.

"No, sir. I come once a day to do for him, until his daughter and her husband return from Nobottle. She is up there helping her sister deliver." She smiled brightly at Frodo, swinging the simmering pot full of beef and spices away from the cooking fire. "And a good thing I was here today, too, or you would be walking in the rain all the way to Frogmorton." She handed Frodo a sharper knife and suggested that he cut the pieces very small, as Master Banks’s teeth were not as sharp as his tongue could be. There was a muttering laugh from the other room, and Frodo heard the old hobbit moving about carefully.

Frodo laughed, starting to slice the vegetables neatly as she put away her piepans and fetched a largish kettle. "So you were making a fire while I was cooking! I think that it should have been better the other way around!" He stopped slicing so suddenly that the hobbitlass gasped, thinking he had cut himself. "I don't know your name, yet." He wiped his hands on a towel, then bowed to her. "My name is..."

"Gracious, Mr Baggins, I am sure there is not a lass in the Shire that doesn't know your name, sir." She bobbed a curtsy to him, small pink patches blooming on her cheeks. "And no need to be so formal. My name is Rose Cotton."

Frodo looked at her again, trying to place her face and name. He did not recall her from the young hobbits he knew about Hobbiton. There was a Cotton that the Gaffer spoke of who lived down in Bywater. "Are you Tom Cotton's daughter? Have I met you before?"

Rose laughed merrily, her dasiy-yellow hair bobbing around her face in golden ringlets. "I have seen you about town, with your uncle and without. You are quite the adventurer, aren't you? I have also seen you walking at night through the hills. Where were you going this time?"

"Buckland. That is where I used to live, before I was adopted by Bilbo." Frodo found it amazingly easy to talk to Rose, much easier than any of the other lasses he had met since coming to live in Hobbiton. She was young, maybe ten years younger than Frodo; too young it seemed to him to be so sensible and responsible. She was bright, friendly and efficient, working all the while that she chattered away, mending some worn shirts as the stew simmered. And she spoke to him, really spoke to him, and laughed and expressed her mind. The morning faded to noon as they talked about cooking and Hobbiton and the weather and everything, until the meal was ready.

Rose prepared a plate for the Master and served him in his room, but she and Frodo ate in the kitchen. He helped her wash up afterward. He looked out the window and noticed with some regret that the storm had passed, as quickly as it had blown up. He sighed.

"No more rain. I guess I should be getting on now. I would wish for more rain if it meant I could spend more time with you, Rosie."

The hobbitlass laughed and waved away his compliment, though her cheeks bloomed again. For once, Frodo did not find this annoying. She opened her mouth to speak, but her retort was lost as a knock sounded at the door. She rushed to answer it, calling to the Master to stay in his chair. Frodo followed her, curious about who it might be and a little sad that their time together was being interrupted.

To Frodo's shock, Samwise stood outside, draped in a waxed cape and holding an umbrella. Behind him in the lane was a pony trap where Bilbo was sitting, wrapped in thick blankets. Frodo could hear his voice saying, "Is he here, Sam? He must have stopped at one of these houses..."

"Good day, Mistress!" Sam touched his forelock to Rose, bowing clumsily. He seemed to be unable to find any more words to say. He was staring at her as if she were something he had dreamed come to life.


III.


This part picks up where part 2 left off, with Sam and Bilbo arriving to find Frodo after the sudden rainstorm caught him walking on his way to Bucklebury. Story resumes....

Frodo smiled at the look on Sam's face. He was fairly sure that he had been wearing the same expression of charmed mesmerization all morning, watching Rosie as she cooked and chattered. He quietly came up beside Sam as he stood on the doorstep gaping at Rosie. Frodo had to nudge him to get his attention.

"Hullo, Sam! Did you and Bilbo come looking for me?"

Sam wrenched his eyes off of Rosie, who had suddenly become somewhat shy and was half hiding behind the door. "Mr Frodo, sir! Mr Bilbo hustled me out of Bagshot Row in the pouring rain, worritted that you were caught out in the gale." Sam's eyes flicked back to Rosie briefly. "I am glad to find you got safe out of the weather, sir."

"Luckily for me, I found this place, and this kind heart let me inside. Rose, this is my friend Samwise Gamgee. His father cares for the garden at Bag End. Sam, this is Rose Cotton, the lady who let me in out of the rain."

"Hullo, Miss Rose," Sam said, his face turning a shade red. "I recall you from time I spent as a lad, playing down Bywater Pool with your brothers Jolly, Nick and Tom. It is nice to see you again."

Rosie blushed prettily. "It is nice to see you again, too, Sam!" All her clever words and frankness seemed to have disappeared. She was staring steadily at her toes, nervously brushing at the stains on her apron.

"All right, Sam. I am coming. Tell Bilbo I shall be out directly." Sam trotted away, almost tripping over his own feet.

Frodo sighed. It had been such an agreeable morning, in spite of the weather. He was loath to let it end. "Well, Rose, let me give my regards to Master Banks and tell him how grateful I am for allowing me to sample the comforts of his hole, and then, I guess I had better be off, since my escort has arrived!" It was difficult to keep a note of disappointment out of his voice.

Rose seemed to wake from her trance. "Oh, Mr Frodo! Let me tell him for you, sir." Her sudden formality was also disconcerting. "Master Banks will be resting after his meal. We shouldn't disturb him." She fetched Frodo's cloak and coat, now warm and dry. "Do stop in again if you are ever passing by," Rosie added then, with a touch of her earlier humour and a smile, "Take an umbrella next time!"

Soon they were on their way, not back to Hobbiton as Frodo expected, but onward to Bucklebury. "I will feel more comfortable knowing you are there safe, lad, and not out in this fickle weather," Bilbo said, who was now sitting in the back, swathed in wool blankets. Frodo had climbed up and sat next to Sam on the buckboard.

Sam was driving the pony, whistling soundlessly between his teeth. Frodo could see that he had something on his mind. "I did not know that you knew the Cottons, Sam. Rosie seems a nice hobbit-lass," he ventured to say, watching Sam's expression.

Sam nodded and flicked the reins gently. He said nothing. Frodo was suddenly suspicious that Sam might somehow be jealous. The idea made him want to laugh, but he did not. That might hurt his friend’s feelings even more. Frodo thought for a while, watching the miles pass by smoothly. Bilbo was nodding behind him, rocked to a drowse by the rhythm of the wheels.

"Yes, a fine lass she is," continued Frodo, as if no time had passed. "Why, if she hadn't been there to do for Mr Banks this morning, I would have been soaked through to the skin and shivering in Frogmorton about now, if I wasn't washed into the Water by a spring flood and drowned first! I don't know what I would have done, if she had not answered the door when I knocked."

Sam shifted slightly on the seat. After a few moments he said, "Mr Banks… he was home during your visit?"

Frodo glanced at Sam in surprise. "Of course! Rosie said that he was not able to get around easily anymore, and that was why she was there helping him, while his daughter is away in Nobottle"

The tension suddenly went out of Sam's shoulders, and he began to chuckle softly. He glanced back at Bilbo, asleep now in the bed of the trap. Quietly he said, "Aye, Mr Frodo. That Rosie is a fine lass. A right proper hobbit-lass and that’s a fact, sir."

@}---‘,--‘,---


Two weeks later, after Frodo had returned to Bag End after his visit in Bucklebury, he saw Rosie again. She was walking with a handsome hobbit-lady at the market. Frodo smiled broadly and bowed to the ladies. Rosie whispered in the woman’s ear.

"A pleasure to meet you, Master Baggins. My name is Lily Cotton," the woman said kindly. "Fine weather for the season, isn't it?" They spoke briefly of light matters, Rosie remaining silent though she returned Frodo’s smile brightly.

"I was wondering if perhaps you would care to come to the Bag End for tea one day, Mrs Cotton?" Frodo said as they made their goodbye. "You and Rose? Bilbo and I would welcome the company!"

"Thank you, Mr Baggins. That sounds lovely. Tomorrow, perhaps?" Mrs Cotton led her daughter away. Frodo sped home to inform Bilbo. He was thrilled that he would get to speak to Rosie again.

The trouble was, he didn't. Mrs Cotton and her daughter showed up on the step of Bag End at precisely four o'clock, and they had a lovely meal with fresh nutbread and brewed blackberry tea. Rose had brought a small covered basket filled with scones, which happened to be Frodo's favourite. The young hobbits listened while Bilbo and Mrs Cotton spoke, but Rosie said nothing outside of "Hullo" and "Thank you", "No, thank you" and "Good-bye". Frodo gradually ceased to try to lure her into a conversation.

After the ladies had left, Frodo was washing up the dishes. Bilbo came into the kitchen and clapped him on the shoulder. "Thank you for inviting those lovely lasses to tea, Frodo! It has been a while since I had such a nice afternoon. Mrs Cotton and her daughter are very nice."

"Yes, Uncle." Frodo answered, distracted.

Bilbo noticed, and he smiled. Young hobbits were so easy to read sometimes. "Miss Rose was very much a proper young lady, I noticed. Shame that it is expected for young hobbits to ‘be seen and not heard’. I have always disagreed with that custom, as my raising you can prove! But that is the way of our folk. I expect she will be easier to talk to next time she comes to tea."

Frodo's depression lifted like a sunrise. He dropped his shoulders and exhaled with relief. "Uncle Bilbo, your nutbread was excellent. Mrs Cotton mentioned that she would like the recipe. Is it all right if I run it over to her home tomorrow afternoon?"

"Yes, lad, I think that will be just fine!"

@}---‘,--‘,---


One breezy day Frodo had gone walking, searching the pastures north of Hobbiton for a path he had not walked before. He had a bag full of bread and cheese for his lunch. He had set out with no more purpose but to see how far he could walk before the sunset caught him out, then try to come back to the hole in time for second supper.

He was crossing a field grown waist-high with sweetgrass, littered with daisies and buttercups. He paused at the top of a rounded hill when he heard someone call his name. Shading his eyes, he looked around and saw Rosie waving, wading through the tall grass with a lamb under her arm.

She was laughing as she crested the hill. She set the lamb down and sent it off toward the herd with a pat. There were white daisies in her shimmering hair, and she walked fearlessly up to Frodo and pushed him down the hill.

He pulled her down behind him, and they both rolled through the grass, laughing merrily. Frodo gasped and opened his bag, "You crushed my lunch, you silly wight!"

Rosie giggled and said, "Flat bread tastes better!"

Frodo watched her run and play in the field, trying to catch butterflies in her hands without crushing their wings. He was glad to see the young hobbit did not have to work all of the time. Children should be allowed to be children, he had heard his uncle say many times. This was what a hobbit-lass of her age should be doing, playing and singing in the soft country. Frodo watched her frolicking, relishing the innocent beauty that radiated from her like sunlight.

"What are you doing in my meadow, Frodo Baggins?" she sang as she ran, scattering flower-petals.

"Your meadow? Well," Frodo laughed, turning as she skipped around him. "I was looking for a fäerie princess. I think I have found her."

Rosie dropped her flowers, "I am no fäerie! I don’t have wings or grant wishes!"

Frodo laughed. "Real fäeries don’t either. I have met a few, so I can tell you so."

Rosie’s eyes grew wide with wonder. "You have not! Have you really?"

"Yes," answered Frodo honestly. "I have met and spoken to a few Elves with my uncle, and once or twice on my own, on a day just like today."

Rosie was enchanted. "My dad says that there aren’t any more Elves around here. Jolly says that Elves are not real."

So Frodo told Rosie about his first meeting with the Elves, and how they when they spoke they sounded like they were singing, and when they sang it sounded like rare music beyond all description. As he told her tales, the lamb came wandering back, bleating playfully and nibbling on the remains of Frodo’s bread.

They were laying in the grass, watching the puffy white clouds sail overhead. The lamb was curled up across Frodo’s legs, and Rosie was weaving a daisy chain wreathe.

"Frodo, can you keep a secret?"

Frodo opened his eyes. He had almost been asleep when he heard Rosie’s soft voice. "Aye, lass. I can."

Rosie placed the ring of white flowers on her head. "I am going to get married someday!"

Frodo rolled over, rousing the lamb who uttered a complaint and went to lay on Rosie’s lap. "That is no secret! I can tell by looking at you that you will marry and have many fine children someday."

"Yes, but I know who I am going to marry, and he doesn’t even know it yet!" Mischief glinted in those merry eyes.

Frodo was silent for a while, thinking. "Can I ask you a question, Rose?"

"Sure!"

"Why do you never speak to me when anyone is around?"

Rose smiled at him as if he were funny in the head. "Because it is not proper, silly!"

"And now it is?" She nodded her agreement exuberantly, dislodging her flowers. They were silent for a while, listening to the buzz of bees in the meadow and the calls of birds in the distant trees.

"Can I ask you another question?"

"Of course!"

"This person you are going to marry… it isn’t me, is it?" he asked hesitantly.

Rosie sat up with a laugh, tossing her flower circlet at Frodo. "Gracious no! I do adore you, Frodo! You speak to me like I am an adult, and listen when I talk, but you are so old!"

Frodo laughed with relief and placed the wreath on his own head. "Who is it, then?"

"I won’t say, unless you tell me a secret of yours, first."

"I don’t have any secrets, Rose."

"Then tell me something about yourself that no one else knows."

"That is the same thing as a secret!"

"No, it isn’t. Tell me something you have seen, or wished for, or dreamed. Something no one else know except you."

Frodo pondered a number of responses, from silly to serious. Then one thought came to him, and he leaned close to whisper, "I want to go to Rivendell someday."

"What is Rivendell?"

"The place where Elrond Half-Elven lives, a beautiful valley in the mountains far away. There is music and light, and many Elves living there. Uncle Bilbo told me about it, and someday, I want to go there and see it." Frodo looked at her and grinned, "Okay, I told you my secret, now tell me who is this lucky hobbit?"

Rosie blushed and removed the flowers from Frodo’s head, placing them on her own again as if crowning herself queen. She sang a rhyme to Frodo:

"If my heart were to be cloven in two,
Half of it would already belong only to you.
But ever since first he looked into my eyes
My heart belongs ever to my faithful Samwise."

Frodo smiled. He reached out and straightened the ring of daisies on Rosie’s golden hair. "That is a lovely poem, Rosie. Sam is a good friend."

Rosie sat up quickly, begging, "You won’t tell him, will you, Frodo? Say you won’t! Promise!"

"I said that I can keep a secret, and I shall. But I don’t doubt what you say will be true. I shall be so happy for you on that day, Rosie! Can I come to the wedding?"

"You must! There will be a big party and everyone will be there…" Rosie’s eyes were full of light and happiness as she visualized that magical day. "I wish it were tomorrow!"

"Slow down, Rosie! Take your time and enjoy your days now! There is time enough for tomorrow. Today we have to round up these lambs, or they will be scattered from Scary to Tuckburough!"

"Frodo?"

"Yes, Rosie-lass?"

Rose took Frodo’s hand and placed a white flower on his palm. "Thanks for being my friend."

IV.


"Hullo, Rosie! Come in!" said Frodo Baggins, opening the round green door wide to admit his guest. He took her cloak and hung it on the peg in the hall. Everytime he saw her, she seemed more pretty.

In the weeks that had past since that rainy day when they first had met, Rosie had become a frequent visitor to the Bag End.  She would come once or twice a week, when she wasn't helping her mother or father.  Frodo still thought she worked far too hard for a child her age, but he did not criticize her.  She seemed to enjoy staying busy

Frodo and Bilbo both enjoyed her visits. She was still openly friendly, as she had been that first day, speaking her mind on everything and being very pleasant and clever. She seemed to know everyone in Hobbiton and she liked almost all of them. She talked about her large family and many brothers and Frodo found it all fastinating, being an only child and somewhat isolated from such a life as he was, living alone with Bilbo.

Sometimes he would finish his studies early to spend the afternoon helping her visit the older, poorer hobbits in the village, who she would cook and mend for while Frodo visited with the gammer and gaffer, listening to their dusty tales and learning much about Shire history which he found very interesting. Frodo considered himself lucky to have found such a good friend.

But today, Rosie seemed distracted. She was still lovely with her fair hair like a halo over her head, but there was no pink in her cheeks. She tugged on her lip nervously, glancing out the window every so often when she thought Frodo was not looking. Frodo looked at Bilbo questioningly. His uncle shrugged slightly.

"What is the matter, Rosie?" asked Frodo, passing her a cup of tea. When she mumbled a reply, he teased her gently, "We have come to know each other better than that! I know something is troubling you. Won't you tell me?"

To Bilbo's surprise and Frodo's horror, Rose burst into tears suddenly, hiding her face in her napkin. Frodo hastened to her side and tried to comfort her.

"What is it, lass?" asked Bilbo with concern. "Your parents..."

"No. No, they are fine. I'll be okay," she gulped, still weeping softly. "I'm sorry... I can't come to tea anymore!"

"Why not, Rose?" asked Frodo. He was beside himself with distress to see her cry, and the fear that she did not want to be friends anymore cut him deeply.

Rosies began to cry harder, until Bilbo sat beside her and wrapped his arms around the little hobbitmaid. She leaned against his shoulder, sobbing. Frodo stared at them in utter confusion.

"I think I know what is bothering our guest, Frodo. Do fetch a glass of water for Rose, and then bring in that brown bottle I keep in the study, there's a good lad. Now Rosie, dear, you just forget all about it. It isn't worth crying about, not even with your lovely eyes, child." He spoke softly to her as she wept, patting her back.

Frodo filled a glass with water for Rose then went to fetch the brandy. Bilbo had him pour a teaspoon of the cordial into a cup of tea while the young hobbitlass drank her water. After she sipped her tea, her tears stopped flowing and she sniffed, her nose pink and her cheeks streaked like a windowpane on a rainy April day.

"What is it, Bilbo?" asked Frodo softly, not wanting to make Rose cry again, but curious beyond all patience to know what had disturbed his friend.

"There's been some loose talk, lad..." said Bilbo. Rose nodded, hanging her head over her cup.

"I haven't heard anything..." objected Frodo.

Bilbo nodded, still patting Rose's hand gently. "There isn't much this old hobbit doesn't hear, with the Gaffer always in my ear. He mentioned to me that some folks were commenting on..." Bilbo hesitated, as if searching for the correct word. Really, he paused because he had hoped not to have to speak of this to the lad. Frodo's face was open and his heart unarmoured, and Bilbo knew that no matter what word or phrase he used, his nephew would be hurt to hear it.

"What, Uncle? What has been said?" Frodo insisted.

"Folks have been speaking about your conduct, lad. Now, before you get yourself all in a'thither, listen to your uncle! You listen, too, dear Rosie, because I speak the truth. There is nothing in any of this gossip! This is just... certain persons firing stray arrows, hoping to hit a mark. You are a convienent target, Frodo my lad. I have often worried that you would be belittled for associating with me. I am afraid that it comes with the territory, dear boy."

Frodo felt anger rise within him, cold and slick. "What are they saying about me?" he asked.

"Nothing that bears repeating. Don't give me that look, Frodo Baggins! A rumour repeated is as bad as telling the lie yourself. Nobody believes what is said, but everyone still listens."

Bilbo poured a splash of the brandy into a cup and filled it with steaming tea. He handed it to Frodo, who accepted it but did not drink. His eyes rested on Rosie's blotchy face. Her lip was quivering and fresh tears were in her eyes.

Frodo took a breath and calmed himself. Bilbo was right. The young hobbit had a pretty good idea of who had been spreading idle rumours, and why they would try to hurt him. He was the perfect way to injure Bilbo's reputation, if they could lable him a miscreant or a debaucher. They had succeeded in some part, for here was a friend in misery and Frodo could think of nothing to do or say to mend her heart.

He offered her a smile, letting his stiff face soften into gentle lines. "Don't cry, Rosie-lass! I won't let such words hurt me. Please don't let them hurt you!"

Rosie sniffed and tried to smile a little, but her eyes were still filled with sparkling tears. "That's why I can't come to tea anymore, Frodo. My da doen't harken to or repeat such talk either, but I can't take the risk of bringing shame on my family. Don't hate me, Frodo! I want to be your friend, too, but I also want to marry someday and raise a family! What if these dirty folk start talking..." her blue eyes grew round with the horror of the idea she couldn't express except in a whisper, "What if they spread rumours about us?"

Bilbo sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose. "You are a young lass, Rosie dear. They wouldn't dare say such things about you. Not yet." He rose and paced the parlour for a few minutes, while Rosies dried her eyes and folded and re-folded her napkin, unable to raise her eyes to look at Frodo.

Frodo watched Bilbo pace, wondering what was running through his uncle's mind. He put his arm around Rosie and she leaned her head on his shoulder. A sister he never had before, now being taken from him by cruel whispers that good folk ought to know better than to listen to. He echoed Bilbo's sigh.

"Rosie, you are so sensible and wise, it is hard to believe that you are so much younger than me! I understand why you don't want to come to tea anymore." He touched a finger under her chin, tilting her face upward so that he could look into her bruised eyes. He brushed away a stray tear. "We can still be friends," he said gently, "There are picnics and fairs, and holiday parties. We shall still see each other, and I will always come and ask for a dance, like a proper gentlehobbit."

Rosie put her arms around Frodo's neck, hugging him tightly. "Thank you for understanding, Frodo! I feel completely miserable about it... selfish... but this is my life! Hobbiton and Bywater are my home." She smoothed the damp fabric of Frodo's tunic where she had spilled her tears. "I will dance with you at the fair, and at the parties. You are always a gentlehobbit, Frodo! And you will always be my friend!" She planted a quick kiss on his cheek and hugged him hard, then hugged Bilbo soundly before fetching her cloak and leaving the smial.

Frodo watched her walk away down the lane; the afternoon was now late. Her hair was a shower of golden curls and he watched as she wound the road down to the bridge and began to cross. At the middle of the arch she turned toward Bag End and waved to him, then she hurried across and disappeared behind the screening elms of Bywater Lane.

Frodo felt Bilbo's hand on his shoulder. For a moment, as he watched Rosie disappear into the trees, he wished that he could bury his face in his uncle's shoulder as Rosie had, and weep out his frustration and pain. He was a young adult now; though not yet of age of responsiblity, he was too old to cry like a baby. Instead he sighed and kicked at the grass growing up between the cracks of the flagstones.

"There, there, Frodo lad. I know it hurts. But they won't succeed in their foul little plots. You and Rosie... you two children will be fine." Bilbo's jaw was set and an spark of fire glinted in his eye. "I will see to it that loose tongues find a bitter taste for the feast of nonsense that has been wrought. There is more than one way to play that game.

"What will you do, Bilbo?"

"Never you mind, lad. Never you mind." Bilbo ruffled Frodo's curly hair affectionately. "Let's go and finish off that damsin tart. I am curiously hungry after all this turmoil. Come and help me."

"No thanks, Uncle. I... would like to be alone for a little while. I think I will go and read in my room." Frodo went inside and entered his little chamber, softly closing the door behind him. He reached under his pillow and brought out a flattened waxed paper containing a pressed flower. He had kept it since he was twelve years old. He sat on his bed and watched the afternoon fade to dusk, holding the dry primrose in his numb fingers.
 
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