Sunlight and Shadows

by Elenna

II  III  IV

Chapter 1: Introductions

It was a crisp morning in spring. The sun was shining and its warmth would quickly burn off the light fog which had developed following the rain of the past evening. Primula sat in the buggy next to Drogo as they traveled from Brandy Hall in Buckland to Hobbiton to visit their cousin, Bilbo Baggins. They were happy to be making this trip: a trip they had planned on taking. It had been threatened by the loss of yet another child not yet born two months past.

Physically Primula felt fine; however, the successive miscarriages threatened to put a strain on her marriage. Drogo had tried to tell her over and over that it was she he loved and if they were never to have more than one child, he would still be happy and love her still. Brandy Hall which housed most of the Brandybuck clan had myriad fry running all over the place. Drogo’s words were difficult for her to accept: women are expected to fill their smials with many happy and healthy Hobbit fry; she had only been able to give her husband one son. How they loved him and doted upon him. He could do no wrong in their eyes even when he did misbehave as children are wont to do. Still, on the whole, he was better behaved than most and was always very polite. The boy had a streak of curiosity that ran through his nature. Primula and Drogo attempted to nurture this inquisitiveness by making certain they spent some time with their elderly cousin several times a year. Bilbo always had tales of adventure and exotic places to fill the boy’s head. The aging Hobbit and the young fry were genuinely quite fond of each other.

Primula smiled as she looked down at her sleeping son curled up on the seat beside her with his head in her lap. He had her fine features and fair skin, but he was very much the image of his father with his dark hair and cerulean blue eyes, a feature that had drawn her to Drogo when they were courting. Gently she ran her fingers through her son’s soft curls and furtively wiped a tear from her cheek as she thought about the babes she had not been able to bring to birth. She had not been secret enough though. Drogo reached over and lovingly he caressed her cheek. Tenderly, he rubbed the boy’s back. The child stirred and sat up.

“Are we there, yet, Da’?”

“Not, yet my lad, we still have some way to go.”

“Is Mum all right?” He looked at Primula and could see the glistening eyes he had seen so often of late. Primula could only nod and managed a smile for this compassionate child of hers. The lad got on his knees so as to reach his mother better. He put his arms around her neck and kissed her on the cheek. “Everything will be all right, Mum, you’ll see.”

Primula hugged the child closely. “I know my little love, I know.”

“I can’t wait to show Uncle Bilbo the new dance I learned. He shall have to dance it with me on our next birthday.” The very thought of Bilbo Baggins, who had celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday this past Halimath when their son had turned seven, doing the jumping dance that the child had in mind, proved so humorous that Drogo nearly fell from the buggy for his laughing. Drogo’s laugh was an infectious laugh a trait shared with his son. Primula laughed too, a light lilting laugh. The child clapped his hands with glee at the sound of his parents’ laughter. It did his soul good. Drogo and Primula exchanged a smile over their son’s head.

The young Hobbit fry was quite wide awake now and settled down in the wagon chattering happily about anything and everything that he saw. Nothing would dampen this day. The rain had passed in the night, it was a beautiful day, his parents were happy and he was on his way to visit his favorite relative and attend the Mushroom Festival in Hobbiton. His Uncle would fill the heads of all the young fry that were willing to listen with marvelous tales of adventure. As Hobbits were wont to be home-bodies there was no real danger to the listeners, even though the adults remained skeptical about the truth of these tales even thinking old Bilbo Baggins quite mad in his fantasies and at the very least a bit off. Still, the elderly Hobbit was kind and generous to a fault and generally well thought of in the Shire.

The young lad thought of his uncle and all the fun they would have with the stories as well as time spent strolling through Hobbiton: an odd little town he thought it. The people were polite enough but not overly friendly towards him. This made the lone times, the times when the adults felt they needed to talk without having him under foot, as they said, quite lonely. His uncle had tried to find things for him to do and arranged to have other children for him to play with but these play times never lasted long or at least not long enough.

Things would be different this time. He just knew it. Even if he had no one to play with he had made a very special discovery the last time his family had visited Hobbiton. He had asked for permission to take a short stroll by himself, promising not to go very far. This was when he found it: the most wonderful place he could imagine. He had been wandering around on the hill when he happened upon a copse of trees. There they stood tall and majestic with the sunlight streaming through their branches giving credence to a feeling of otherworldliness. The ground was covered with strewn leaves and late blooming flowers and berries. Some of the trees themselves bore nutmeats. Birds and squirrels had nested in the boughs; their chirping and chattering bidding him welcome. He had pretended he was a mighty prince returning from battle who was being welcomed home by his subjects and welcome he had felt. He had climbed the tallest tree as far as he could climb never once feeling fear over the height of his maneuvering. He had perched himself on a limb and surveyed his kingdom. From this vantage point he was free to let his imagination run wild and could talk to and play with any one he should choose to. He knew well enough not to stay up in the tree too long and risk having this special privilege taken from him. He also knew as if by instinct not to tell a soul about climbing a tree especially one as immense as this one. He could hardly wait to see his trees again even if it would have to be tomorrow. He grew quiet as he watched the trees wave and bow to him as if acknowledging his princedom as the buggy passed them. Smiling he fell asleep.

The day wore on. It was nearly Tea-time when their buggy made its way along Hill Lane. Many of the Hobbits smiled and waved at Drogo. He was a Baggins, after all; one of their own from the West Farthing. Why he had to go to Buckland to find a wife was a mystery to many, but they had come to accept Primula over the years, after all it was not as if she planned to move to Hobbiton; only visit it occasionally. Frodo, they openly stared at, just watching him as he sat in the buggy. This always left him with a feeling of emptiness. Excluding his Uncle Bilbo, the friendliest person by far, towards the young fry was Uncle Bilbo’s gardener, Mister Gamgee. He was always very polite and friendly and always had a few words to spare for the boy. It was, in fact, Hamfast Gamgee who first greeted Drogo and his family as their buggy pulled along side the gate to Bag End. He helped Primula from the buggy and lifted the lad down. Shaking the boy’s hand he asked about their journey while at the same time steadying the wagon as Drogo, a portly Hobbit, clambered from the other side.

The door to Bag End was opened by Bilbo, who even though he was some years older than Drogo appeared much the same age if not almost younger. The resemblance between the cousins was remarkable making them seem much like brothers with one odd exception: Bilbo did not seem to be aging and had shone no sign of this since his odd disappearance nearly thirty-five years past. This was proving to be a matter of consternation for many whom as they themselves added years in the span of their lives also added the telltale signs of aging. Should anyone have commented on his youthful appearance for a Hobbit of his years, Bilbo merely smiled and gave a gracious little bow and stated that it was his fondness for the simple things in life that kept him young. His idea of the simple things in life included the ability to come and go as he pleased. What Bilbo never told anyone was that it was this same fondness which had prevented him from settling down with a wife and family of his own, a decision he had regretted every so often but not enough to do anything about. He nurtured any desire for a family with visits from his various relations. They were fun to have about the smial from time to time, but he knew they would leave for their own homes after a bit and he would be free to go back to his normal routine of life. Bilbo delighted in the visits from his relations and as with all families, he enjoyed some more than others. The family of Drogo Baggins was one visit Bilbo seemed to look forward to with great anticipation for not only was Bilbo related to Drogo as a second cousin, he was also a first cousin to Primula. Not many in Hobbiton realized this fact, but Bilbo delighted in the study of genealogies and the like. The other drawing point of course was the child, Frodo. This gave Bilbo an even stronger claim on the affections of the boy who for some reason brought out a sense of paternal pride in him.

Bilbo was well aware of the problems that his cousins were having with the growth of their family. He knew what it was like to be raised as an only child and was determined that young Frodo would not suffer should his parents not be able to provide him with siblings. He was also aware that this particular visit would be somewhat tainted by yet another miscarriage. It is difficult to keep family information private when there is a large extended family involved. He could sense the pain in his cousins’ eyes and the quiet demeanor of their usually cheerful dispositions. He would have to see to it that the Mushroom Festival would be extra special for each of them this year. For the meanwhile Bilbo welcome his family with open arms and his cheeriest smile, embracing each in turn but giving an extra pat on the head to the young boy who looked up at his cousin with shining clear blue eyes and an absolutely gorgeous smile returning the embrace and laughing his infectious laugh to the joy of all.

II.


The young lass was trying to stand her ground as she endured yet another session of taunting by the older fry in the village. This time it seemed to be lasting far longer than usual having begun that morning as she and her brother, Ted, had delivered some flour from their father’s mill to a couple of elderly, widowed sisters who lived in Bywater. The miller deemed this to be an appropriate task for a girl of six and her brother of fourteen. Always feeling the need to keep up with anything of a modern nature the sisters lived not in smials, but in cottages side by side. In this manner they were certain to know what each of them were doing at all times and it made it more convenient for discussing what everyone else was doing as well.

Ted had tripped on the little dog one of the elderly women owned for company as it ran to greet them when the woman answered the door. He had dropped the sack he was carrying and the flour was spilt over the flagstones. The lady insisted that the children help clean up the mess. Ted knew his father would be upset but offered to bring a fresh sack of flour. The woman agreed but said he owed her what had been spilled as well, for the inconvenience, of course. There would be no payment until she received her due. She had been very snippy with the boy and girl; shoving the girl and telling her she was messy and telling the boy he should learn to be more careful with property that did not belong to him. “Make your mother proud of you, boy,” they often called after Ted.

As the children left the woman’s yard the little dog ran up to them again. Ted told the animal to “Go away” swinging his foot in the direction of the animal not intending to hurt it and in fact never making contact with the animal. He needed to vent his frustration. By the time the siblings left Bywater, there was an entourage of children trailing after them calling out accusations of the miller and his son trying to cheat the elderly, stealing from the poor and being cruel to animals. Things had escalated from there. Ted was left to help as he could in the mill for the remainder of the morning while his father attempted to make things right with his customers. He was a careful businessman, but not a cheat or a thief.

The young lass was left to play by herself. Soon the children had gathered around her and began accusing her brother of tormenting and killing puppies and kittens. Her parents had taught her that when people can not seem to say anything nice the best thing to do is to just say nothing rather than make the problem bigger than it has to be.

She had reached the point where she could take no more. She simply wandered away from the other children. They followed after her for a while as she led them through all the paths and streets in Hobbiton, but she never looked back and never said a word. This was no fun for them at all; they were trying to be cruel and wanted to see her cry. They never knew they had succeeded. When she could hear them no longer, she peeked behind her and noticed they were gone. She broke into a run as she moved up the hillside. The tears stung her cheeks.

The girl needed to be alone and soon found herself in a coppice of trees. She had never been to this place before as she was never allowed to roam by herself. Wandering in the trees, she noticed how quiet and peaceful everything seemed. The ground was covered with a blanket of leaves from the previous season. Young flowers were beginning to bloom. There were early berries and mushrooms. Birds were chirping in the branches which formed a rich canopy over her head. She spotted a marvelous tree and guided by her misery began to climb. She had never climbed a tree before but the birds were inviting and she was still upset. The task was a bit difficult with her skirts, but hiking them up she managed.

She climbed ever higher until she could no longer see the ground but only branches and green leaves surrounding her. She kept climbing, higher and higher and higher. Soon she was in the very top of the tree with a bright beautiful sky over her head. The sight was breathtaking. From here she could see Hobbiton and Bywater looking small and insignificant. She was totally isolated. No one could see her and no one knew where she was. What did any of them matter anyhow? The young girl sat on one of the large branches and smoothed her skirts back demurely to cover her knees and most of her legs. From this vantage point she could peek through the leaves and survey the world around her. She stayed on her perch for a long time just thinking and imagining and watching the world around her. She watched as a young Hobbit boy wandered alone on the hill until he was lost to sight. She saw the people of Hobbiton scurrying around like ants on an anthill. Why should she come down? No one cared anyway. She did not know that as she had missed luncheon her family was worried for her safety.

Ted had been sent back to Bywater to seek information from the residents and search for his sister. This was a big responsibility for a thirteen year old lad, but a more suitable task than the one which lay before the miller and his wife; that being to search the area surrounding the mill which being located on the water is a dangerous place for a young child playing alone. The miller and his wife would branch out their search from the mill and ask the residents of Hobbiton to aid in the search if the girl was not found.

The strategy that Ted took was to go to the far end of Bywater and begin his search there. He knew his little sister had never gone that far before by herself, but he was also well aware of the taunting of the other children. Who knew just how far she may have wandered to get away from them? Still she was an even tempered little girl; even when he teased her she took it in stride. So he searched and inquired after her. Not one person had seen her since she had come into town with him in the morning.

Ted had been left alone so much that his sister was his best friend. They played well together considering the age difference. He could tell her things he would tell no one else. What would he do if something bad had happened to her?

He was nearly frantic with worry when he arrived at the twin cottages of the two elderly matrons, Ruby Brown and Opal Cottar. He probably should have stopped here as he first came into town, but the truth was he did not care much for these two old meddling gossips. The women were both spending some time in the early afternoon sun working in their flowerbeds which they kept with immaculate care. The little brown spotted dog, Toby, announced the arrival of an intruder in the yard. Ruby got up slowly brushing the soft dirt from her knees.

“Back again, eh, boy?” She eyed Ted with a bit of suspicion. “Did your father forget something?”

“I’ve come to…” Ted began.

“I really think that Tosco said everything he had to say this morning, Ruby.” Opal had joined her sister and was giving the boy an appraising look.

“I’ve come to ask…”

“So, Tosco sent you again to do his work?” Ruby interrupted.

“I’ve come ….”

“That would be just like him. Well, you can tell your father that we paid him for his precious flour. He’ll not get a penny more….”Opal was getting worked up.

“…And do not forget the inconvenience of the mess you and your sister made all over my walk.” Ruby chimed in.

Ted was becoming very flustered by this tirade forced upon him by these women. He was becoming angry in his turn. Through worry over his sister he lost all sense of propriety he had been taught. “Would you two women just shut up for half a minute?” he yelled and in doing so at least got their attention. “I’ve come to ask …” tears welled in his eyes, “have you seen Veronica? My sister has gone missing!”

“Well, that was certainly very rudely put, lad…” Ruby had always stood more by manners.

Opal, being more the motherly type, placed an arm around Ted’s shoulders. “Come over here and sit for a moment and tell us what has happened.” She was trying to soothe as she pulled a handkerchief from her apron pocket to dab at her eyes. Ruby had gone into her cottage and came back with a glass of water for Ted.

Ted had calmed down a little. “I am sorry for being rude, but I have to find my sister. Have you seen her?” He sipped on the water.

“I haven’t seen her since you were both here this morning, have you Opal?”

“No, I haven’t seen her either.”

“Will you keep an eye out for her, at least? I’d best be heading back to Hobbiton.”

“Yes, we certainly will, won’t we, Ruby?”

“Yes, of course.” Ruby had wheels turning in her head.

“You certainly are a good brother to Veronica.”

“Your mother would be so proud of you…” Ruby smiled like a snake ready to pounce on its kill.

“Why do you keep telling me to make my mother proud of me?”

Ruby and Opal exchanged a look and nodded to one another. “Well, lad, any boy should want to make his mother proud of him….” Opal began.

“My mother is proud of me.”

“Boy, you have never met your real mother.” Ruby had a manner of making innocent facts sound unnaturally cruel.

“I know my mother and my father and my sister.”

“No, I’m afraid not, son. Your mother died four days after you were born.” Ruby explained.

“Your mother was the daughter of another sister of ours, Silvia. She was our niece. We are your great aunts, boy.” Opal had tried to soften this blow. Ted sat and stared with his mouth gaping open.

“Her name was Amethyst. Ask your father, Ted. Its high time you knew the truth.”

Ted stared at the elderly sisters, wide-eyed as he slowly stood up. Without saying a word, he nodded at the women and started towards their gate. “I have to find my sister,” he called after him as he broke into a run back towards Hobbiton.


III.

Chapter 1: “Introductions”, Part III

The young Hobbit lass stayed on her perch in the tallest tree in the copse of trees up the Hill from Bag End. She had watched the residents of Hobbiton scurrying around for a while as she imagined them hurrying to do her bidding. She knew that everyone in the area was making preparations for the Mushroom Festival. Her mother had been trying out several new recipes for the baking competition which she planned on winning again this year; however, as a result the girl had been sent outside to play by herself while Ted helped in the mill and her father had gone to smooth things over with the two old women in Bywater. She was glad to be away from the taunting children who so often tried to make things miserable for her and Ted. She wondered what had happened to the boy that she had seen wandering around the hill by himself until he was lost in the high grass section and she could not watch him any more. She wondered what Ted was doing. She missed spending time with him. He was always there for her, but not today. She was deep in her own thoughts and sang a tune softly to herself.

Suddenly there was a rustling in the branches. She had no idea of what it could be. It was definitely larger than either a bird or a squirrel. Whatever it was, it was coming right towards her. She was terrified and could not move. A head covered with brown curly hair popped through the branches.

“Hullo,” the head said to her. At least it was friendly.

“Hullo,” she answered feeling a little uncertain.

“I’m coming up,” it said politely.

“Okay.” She did not think she could stop it from coming up and since it seemed friendly enough she thought it would be all right. If it tried to hurt her in any way, she would just have to try to push it out of the tree, though the very notion frightened her as she, like most Hobbits, was not a violent person

“What are you doing in my tree?” the boy asked, for that is what ‘it’ was. He finished his climb and sat on a branch across from her. How swiftly he seemed to change from being friend to accuser!

“It’s not your tree.” Once again she would have to defend her position, but she had had enough of remaining quiet this day and was ready for a fight if need be.

“It is too. I found it first.”

“No you didn’t”

“Yes, I did.”

“You did not.”

“Did too…”

“If you found it first, how come I was sitting up here before you?”

“I didn’t mean today. I always come up here and sit when there’s nothing else to do.” He meant whenever he was feeling lonely in Hobbiton, even though he had only discovered this spot on his last visit.

“Who are you?” She was watching him. He was a nice looking Hobbit boy about the same age as her with dark-brown curly hair and beautiful blue eyes. He was wearing black breeches and a blue shirt that emphasized the color of his eyes.

“Frodo Baggins…” He, in turn, was taking measure of her: about the same age as him, lighter brown curly hair which was longer than his because she was a girl. Her hair was bound with ribbons the color of new grass in springtime. The ribbons matched the color of the pinafore she wore over a brown frock. He thought she had a pretty face for a girl. She had deep blue eyes that reminded him of something. “…only I don’t live here. I live in Buckland. We are just visiting. What’s your name?”

“Veronica Sandyman. My Da’ runs the mill.” This was an impressive bit of information to an inquisitive young boy.

“Do you know the cracked old Hobbit that lives in the big smial?”

“He’s not ‘cracked’! He’s the smartest Hobbit that ever lived.”

“My Da’ says he’s ‘cracked’ and my Da’ knows everything.”

“You take that back!”

“I won’t take it back because everybody says so!”

“Your Da’ is stupid!”

“He is not! What do you know anyway?” She started to cry.

Frodo had no way of knowing that it was because of some very cruel things being said about her father and her brother whom she loved dearly that she had run away and climbed up the tree in the first place. He had never made anyone cry before. He did not know what to do and so he fished inside his breeches pocket for his handkerchief and then calmly reached over and gently dabbed the tears from her cheeks and said, “I’m sorry. I take it back.”

“Then I take it back too,” she said not wanting to be outdone. They talked for a long time. They stood on the branches as Veronica pointed out some of the more notable sights. She told him all about Hobbiton and Bywater and the mill and he told her about Buckland and Brandy Hall and Great Smials. He also told her about Bilbo’s stories and invited her to come and listen sometime. They each had the sensation of making a new friend and knew they would never be lonely again.

“I’m hungry,” he declared.

“Me too.”

“Well, come on then….” He started to climb down. Veronica looked all about her at the other trees, the sky above, the branches surrounding her. She saw the ground far below and now Frodo was gone and she had been left alone once more. She was petrified by the very thought of the climb down. Climbing up had been an easy task. She did not know how to climb down.

“Aren’t you coming?” he called back to her.

“I’ve never climbed this high before. I…”

“It’s all right…” He popped back through the branches. “…I’ll help you. Just follow me.” He guided her all the way to the bottom making certain she would not fall. Being a proper young gentlehobbit, upon reaching the ground he stretched up his arms to help her out of the tree and averted his eyes until she was safely on the ground and able to smooth her skirts down.

They chased around looking for berries and mushrooms and played a game of tag. He let out a gasp, “Look! The flowers look just like your eyes.” He picked three and handed them to her. She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. “We’d better get back,” he suggested with a big grin on his face.

They could see a lot of commotion going on in Hobbiton by the time they emerged from the trees. It was nearing teatime. Veronica’s family had become beside themselves with worry and had sought out all their neighbors in Hobbiton and eventually had called upon the Watch to aid in searching at the mill, the grange the old farm and the Water as well as Bywater Road and even into Bywater for their lost child. People saw them and pointed and shouted as they ran to meet the children.

Veronica’s brother, Ted, arrived first and assuming the strange boy had had something to do with his sister’s disappearance pushed Frodo so hard he fell sprawling in the grass before giving his sister a hug. Ted stood there with tears in his eyes not wanting to let go of his sister who was the constant in his life. Frodo had been able to pick himself up and brush off his breeches, but stood with clenched fists resisting the urge to retaliate against the interloper who tried to come between him and his new found friend.

The adults including Drogo, Primula and Bilbo Baggins began to arrive on the scene. Primula and Drogo having suffered so much loss of their own as far as children were concerned could imagine nothing more horrible than to lose a child and so readily joined the search. Veronica had to explain over and over again that she had climbed a tree and could not get down, but Frodo had come along and helped her. This made the boy a hero for the time being in this tight knit community of the Shire. Frodo, not wanting to be the center of attention drifted towards the outskirts of the searchers and stood by his family for a few minutes before turning and heading towards Bag End.

IV.


Warm spring rain bathed the following day; a boon for the gardens; a source of distress for those in charge of the Mushroom Festival. Still, there were two days remaining until the festivities. For the moment there was a respite in the weather. A small girl accompanied her mother up Hill Lane towards Bag End the grandest smial in Hobbiton, in fact in the whole Shire if one discounted the Grand Smials of Tuckborough and Brandy Hall over in Buckland. The girl had never been to Bag End before, though she had passed it on more than one occasion while wandering around Hobbiton in the vain attempt to find someone other than her brother to play with especially now that he would be expected to spend a small amount of time working in the mill each day to learn the family business.

The miller of Hobbiton could be personable enough if he wanted to; more often than not his attitude grated on people using a harsh tone of voice when he did not mean to and then retaliating when his customers bristled. The miller’s son was learning his lessons from his father. This left neither of the miller’s children with anyone to play with. Friendships quickly gained among children could as quickly go by the wayside. The miller’s wife felt the pain in her children and tried to protect them from the attitudes around them. The truth was that living in Hobbiton was not always easy for her as she too was an outsider. She had married the miller hastily and not for love but to care for his infant son whose mother had passed in childbirth. The boy had no knowledge of the fact that the woman who was raising him was not his real mother. The miller insisted he would tell the boy about his mother when the time was right. There were those in Hobbiton and Bywater that thought he should be told now including the two elderly matrons who had caused so much trouble the.

The girl was a delight to all who met her. She wore a smile on her face even when she was hurting inside. The smile was only heightened by the sparkle in the deep purple of her eyes the shade of the forget-me–not flowers which grew in the groves. With her lighter brown hair she was the image of her mother in miniature. People would accept the miller’s wife and his daughter if only on appearance. Their outgoing personalities were most acceptable as well. The problem came in with the attitude of the miller which was being fostered in his son. Some said he was still grieving the loss of his first wife whom he had married for love. His grief at her loss was well remembered in the vicinity. It was fortunate that he did not take it out on the babe and sought to find a mother for him as soon as was seen proper. It was unfortunate for the second wife who being young, not even come of age at the time, was caught up more in the needs of the child than the needs of a wife. She was quite fair and could have made a much better match given the status of her family in the Shire. The youth of the world do not always look before they leap. Few saw the unhappiness in the miller’s wife, for she concealed it well. As the years passed, the miller and his wife developed a fondness for each other coupled with understanding.

The child stopped by the Grange to pick a fresh bouquet of flowers as an extra special gift, one from the heart. She pulled one of the napkins from the basket her mother carried and gently wrapped the stems as her mother looked doubtfully at the sky and then at the basket she carried. Soon they were entering the gate at Bag End. It was far too wet for Mister Gamgee to be working in the garden this day. The smial seemed quiet and deserted but for the wisps of smoke rising from the chimneys. The girl stood at the gate and stared at the immenseness that was Bag End with its large garden and outside sitting area to its many windows and doors. She felt a little daunted at first but then she spotted the green door and remember why she had come. Green was her favorite color and always meant things were cheery and welcome in her mind. Her mother looked down at her and smiled giving her hand a little squeeze before knocking on the door. Moments later the door was opened by a kindly looking gentleman hobbit with blue-grey eyes and dark hair just beginning to grey. If Mister Bilbo Baggins, Esq., was surprised to see them standing at his door, he gave no indication.

“Missus Sandyman, is it not? Come in, come in. What can I do for you?”
The girl scrutinized the gentleman as he held the door for her and her mother as they stepped over the threshold. He certainly did not appear to be odd or off in any way that she could determine.

“Thank you, kindly Mister Baggins. We have come to pay our respects and to thank the lad for rescuing my daughter yesterday. We won’t stay but a moment”

“Nonsense, hand me those damp cloaks and come in and warm yourselves by the fire. You don’t want to take a chill.” Bilbo hung their cloaks on pegs and ushered his guests into the parlor. “We have callers,” he announced. A portly hobbit closely resembling Bilbo got to his feet as did a pretty, dark-haired woman with chiseled features and fair complexion. Frodo remained seated on a low stool by the fire lost in thought.

“Please don’t get up,” the miller’s wife murmured feeling somewhat embarrassed.

Bilbo began the introductions: “My cousins, Drogo Baggins and his wife, Primula, this is Mrs. Sandyman.”

“Daisy, if you please, and this is my daughter…” The girl stood in front of her mother in a cream colored pinafore covering a moss green gown with matching green ribbons in her hair.

“Don’t tell us…hmmm…Lily? ...Petunia? … Violet? …Rose? …” Drogo teased with a wink and a twinkle in his eye.

Frodo hearing different a voice had woken from his reverie and came around his mother’s side. “Da’, Mum, Uncle Bilbo, sir, it’s Veronica, my friend!” Frodo turned as if suddenly remembering his manners, “Good day to you, Mrs. Sandyman. Good day to you, Miss Sandyman.” His parents beamed while trying to hold in their laughter.

“I am very pleased to meet you all,” Veronica stated a bit nervously as she made a little curtsy. “We wanted to thank you for helping me. I…I brought you these.” Veronica held out the nosegay for Frodo.

Frodo had never received a gift of flowers before especially from a girl. “I didn’t do anything special,” he muttered as he turned scarlet and stuffed his hands in the pockets of his breeches. Secretly, he thought it very nice. Daisy instinctively stoked her daughter’s curls.

Veronica bit her lip as she tried not to cry. She had in the span of a minute gone from being a friend to someone barely acknowledged; but it was no different from the way she was normally treated. It only hurt all the more so this time as she thought she had made a true friend at last.

Primula quickly came to her rescue. “Why don’t you help me put these beautiful flowers in some water, Veronica?” Holding out her hand she led Veronica to the kitchen.

Drogo squeezed Frodo’s shoulder. “Son, that was very rude of you.” Frodo looked up at his father with an obstinate stare which was returned with a stern gaze.

“I’m sorry Da’. I’m sorry Cousin Bilbo. I’m sorry Missus Sandyman.”

“Oh no, you do not get off this easily, my boy.” Frodo understood and nodded.

Veronica and Primula were giggling as they returned with the bouquet aptly arranged in a small vase. Bilbo smiled at Veronica as he showed her where to place the flowers on a table. No one said a word as Veronica returned to her mother’s side. “I am sorry Mum.” Drogo gave his shoulder another squeeze. “I am sorry for being so rude, Veronica. Please accept my apology.” Frodo blurted all at once.

Veronica glanced at Primula and smiled. “I accept it,” she said refusing to look at Frodo. “We made these for your luncheon,” she took the basket from Daisy and handed it to Bilbo with a smile and another small curtsy. “I hope you like them.”

“Thank you most kindly. The baking of Missus Sandyman is almost legendary in the West Farthing.”

“We must be going now.” Veronica looked up at Daisy and they mirrored a smile as they turned to leave the room.

“We would be most pleased to have you join us for luncheon.” Bilbo was always most courteous.

“That is most kind of you, Mister Baggins. We would be most honored to stay; however, we have my husband and son to care for.”

“Some other time, perhaps?”

“Why, yes, thank you,” Daisy smiled and her deep-blue eyes sparkled as she reached for Veronica’s hand.

“Veronica could stay,” Frodo blurted.

“She would be most welcome,” Primula added.

And so it was decided that Veronica should stay the afternoon at Bag End. The gentle rain which turned into a thunderstorm kept the children inside but it proved no bother to them as they talked and laughed and listened with rapt attention as Bilbo entertained them with one of his many stories.

******************************************************

Even though Ted was greatly relieved at the return of his sister and the fact that no one had harmed her; quite the contrary she had been befriended by the unknown little boy from Buckland, he was becoming solemn and moody. He had up to this point in time looked forward to the Mushroom Festival. It had always symbolized a time of joy and happiness in his life in addition to the end of winters fury and the new growth in the plants and animals. There was always the hope of friendship enjoyed at the games and the singing and dancing and the tales that old ‘Mad Baggins’ would tell, and to say nothing of the food and the sweets. This year he simply did not feel very joyful. He felt cheated out of something very special. He knew those two old women would be in attendance with their wagging tongues and now they would be watching him more than ever. He felt a sense of loathing rise up inside him towards these women and their spiteful tongues who sought evermore to destroy than to encourage and build up.

The fury of the afternoon storm had faded away as the grey clouds gave way to a mirrored rainbow leading some to believe in favorable portents of the future. Soon the sky became a soft blue through which the sunlight glistened in the raindrops adorning the landscape like diamonds. The residents of Hobbiton took advantage of the fresh smelling air and the earth cleansed of winters troubles now coming to life in all its splendor. For many, an evening stroll was in order. Bilbo sensing the need of his cousins to spend some time together offered to take Frodo on a little ‘adventure’ and see Mistress Sandyman’s home along the way. The children delighted in this notion and it was readily agreed to. This freed Drogo and Primula to discuss some of their own needs.

The late afternoon sunlight shone warm and bright drying up the least bit of gloominess that overshadowed the heart. As Bilbo was leading the children towards the mill, Drogo and Primula sought a walk on the hill. They truly were in love with each other and evidenced this by walking hand in hand while talking softly of this and that. They were happy.

“We really do have a good life, Prim, with much to be thankful for.”

“I know, love…I’ve been thinking…” Primula seemed uncertain.

“What is it dear?” He caused her to stop and face him.

“Mmm…I was just thinking as we watched Frodo and Veronica playing together….” Tears were forming in her eyes. Drogo watched her knowing he should not interrupt what she was trying to say. “You know how much I want another baby; a boy or a girl, it doesn’t matter.” Drogo nodded. He would like more children too. “We have a beautiful son, Drogo. He brings so much happiness to our lives and those around him. If he is the only one we…” Drogo brushed away the tears that were now falling freely from her eyes and held her closely to him.

“I know my beloved, I know.”

Moments passed and they were at last able to continue on their way. They comment on the view of Hobbiton from where they stood. Drogo showed her the grove of trees that he had enjoyed playing in when he was a child as well as the berries and mushrooms and the blue flowers. He had, of course, shown her this very place many times before but when one is hurting it helps to go back to happier times. She laughed at his funny descriptions of games he would play. They both thought of Frodo acting out some of the same games and stories.

As they continued their stroll, they came to a slight hollow in the hill with a smaller coppice of trees. They were aware of the unmistakable sound of a child crying in a most pitiable manner. Primula, ever the mothering soul, was down on her knees at the boy’s side in an instant. Drogo was close behind her and came to the boy’s other side.

“What is it child?” Her heart was breaking to see the boy in this state.

“Are you hurt, lad? Can we help you?” Drogo thought of Frodo. The boy just shook his head and continued sobbing. The lad sat with his back against a tree with his knees drawn up and arms encircling his knees. His face was buried in his arms. He was a few years older then Frodo with a somewhat wiry build and a lighter coloring to his curly head. The dust on his clothing gave Drogo and Primula a fairly good idea as the identity of the lad.

“What’s happened, son?”

The boy sniffled into his sleeves, “Its all lies…She is so my mother.” Primula and Drogo exchanged a glance over the boy’s head. They each patted an arm trying to soothe the child.

“Do you want to talk about it?” asked Drogo.

The boy mumbled into his sleeves, “My mother is proud of me … she loves me …” He began to sob again; great choking sobs.

“Of course your mother loves you,” Primula was gently rubbing his back trying to soothe him while Drogo spoke to the boy. “Why wouldn’t she?”

“They said my mother is dead … that I don’t even know my mother…”

“Oh, son, I am sorry someone told you that.” Drogo and Primula were horrified by the cruelty of the truth.

“Any woman, who raises you as her very own son, is your mother. You know she loves you and is very proud of you.” Primula took the boy and cradled him in her arms while Drogo took over the task of gently rubbing his back. Together they wept.