Under the Stars

by Auntkimby

Sam takes his sons and Faramir Took on a camping trip, and deals with old fears. The story takes place in S.R. 1445.

Chapter One: Skipping Stones

Bag End was alive with laughter, shouting, crying and door slamming, as it was at almost any hour with thirteen children ranging in age from 24 through 4 in residence, but on this particular day, the noise level was even higher, if possible. A rather frazzled Rosie, Elanor, and Rose-lass were trying to keep order while Frodo-lad, Merry, Pippin, and Bilbo Gamgee were out on the front lawn wrestling and quarreling amidst a tangle of tents, bedrolls and other outdoor supplies. The five oldest Gamgee lads, along with fifteen-year-old Faramir Took, were preparing to go on a weeklong camping trip with Mayor Samwise, and as far as their mother and older sisters were concerned, they weren’t leaving a moment too soon. At first Sam had considered leaving Bilbo at home, as the lad was but ten years old, but the little one had pleaded so eloquently (in the form of frequent temper tantrums) that the beleaguered father had finally given in. Primrose and Daisy, holding Robin and Tolman respectively, watched the proceedings with amusement.
“I’ll bet Mum and Da are thinkin’ another trip to Gondor would be a fine idea right about now,” Daisy giggled.
“I wouldn’t mind,” Primrose said, “because they’ll bring us lots of nice presents home like they did before!”
“I think Tom here was the best present,” Daisy said fondly, nuzzling the four-year-old’s neck. Tom giggled and squirmed in response. “I missed Mummy and Da and Elanor, but it was fun having Aunt Marigold and Uncle Tom live here with us.”
“Uh, oh, I think Frodo’s had enough,” Primrose murmured. “His face is all red and he hardly ever gets angry.”
Their tweenaged eldest brother was standing in front of Merry and Pippin, waving his arms around and scolding. They stood before him, heads down as if in remorse, but even from that distance Primrose and Daisy could tell they were hiding wide grins. Next to them lay an unrolled tent spread in disarray; apparently, Sam’s second and third sons had been using it for an improvised trampoline.
Sam emerged through the round green door and surveyed the bedlam with dismay, then put his fingers to his mouth and blew a shrill, piercing whistle.
Thirteen children stopped dead and turned toward him in amazement.
“That’s enough, now!” Sam said sharply. “Lor’, the lot of you make a band of orcs sound like bleating little lambs in comparison! I’ve been campin’ more times than I care to remember but I know for a fact that preparin’ for it can be done a lot quieter than this. Now, Merry an’ Pippin, you mind your older brother and roll those tents up proper. Ham and Bilbo, you help your sisters get the packs ready.”
Bilbo nodded agreeably, but Hamfast’s eyes darkened slightly as he straightened up. “I wasn’t yellin’, Da. I was helpin’ Elanor proper-like.”
Sam returned the look evenly. “Don’t give me any sauce, lad. I didn’t say you in particular were yellin’- the thirteen of you combined made a great deal more noise than is needed. I know you were doin’ your part.”
A slight flush stained the lad’s cheeks, and he turned back to his task without further comment. The other children looked away in embarrassment. Sam’s stern expression gave way to sadness as he watched Hamfast shove packages of food into his pack with more force than was necessary.
The fourteen-year-old was a puzzle to his parents and siblings; there seemed always to be resentment and sullenness smoldering in his eyes, though he was seldom outright disrespectful or disobedient. It had not been so apparent when he was very young, but ever since Sam, Rose, and Elanor returned from their year in Gondor it had gotten much worse. The day they had returned to the Shire, the other children had met them on the road with welcoming hugs and kisses and bouquets and banners-all except then-ten-year-old Hamfast.
“Where is he?” Rose had asked, concerned. “Is he sick in bed and not able to come?”
The other children looked unhappy. “He wouldn’t come, Mum and Da,” Frodo-lad finally said.
“Why wouldn’t he come?” Rose exclaimed.
Frodo-lad and Rose-lass looked at each other. “He’s angry at you, for being gone so long,” Rose-lass said softly. “He’ll come around, Mum and Da, I’m sure of it. He…he just didn’t want to come with us, that’s all.”
The memory still sent a stab of pain through Sam’s heart each time he recalled it. His main reason for accompanying the lads on this trip-besides Bilbo’s remark that “Da is getting too old to sleep outside on the ground”-was to try to bridge the gap between himself and his middle son.
“Mistress Diamond and Faramir are coming!” Primrose called excitedly. “I see their carriage coming over the hill!”
Diamond Took was spending the week with Rose and her daughters while her son accompanied Sam and his boys on their camping trip; she was going to lend her matchless sewing skills to making new curtains, rugs, and slipcovers for Bag End. After twenty-five years and thirteen children, the current upholstery looked rather shabby. A new baby nearly every year since her marriage had made such a task beyond the number of hours available in Rose’s day, and she sincerely welcomed and cherished Diamond’s kindness.
Faramir Took bounded from the carriage with a joyful “Hallo!” and immediately entered into a wrestling match with Merry and Pippin.
“Oi, lads, give him a moment to at least greet Mum and Da before you shove him into the dirt,” Frodo-lad reproved them with a good-natured grin. Faramir was slim and wiry, as his father had been at his age, but he had a few tricks up his sleeve: Pippin the elder had taught him the wrestling techniques he had learned many years ago from his friends in Minas Tirith. Within seconds, the fair-haired Took had Merry’s head pinned under his arm and a wriggling Pippin pinioned between his legs.
“That was an admirable try,” Faramir puffed, “but you’ll have to try a bit harder next time.” He released them and scrambled to his feet with a triumphant grin. Merry and Pippin laughingly congratulated him, and then dragged him off, with Frodo and Bilbo hurrying along behind. Faramir found time for a wave and a smile at Goldilocks, who turned slightly pink as she smiled back. Elanor and Rose-lass observed this and winked at each other knowingly.
“Are you certain you want him along, Sam?” Diamond asked as she approached him. “He’s as full of mischief as all your lads put together,” she added with the mock exasperation in which only a truly smitten parent indulges.
Sam smiled. “We’re glad to have him, Mistress Diamond-he’s always welcome. No one tells tales or sings songs better than a Took, and I reckon he’s already learned more than enough to keep us entertained for the entire trip.”
Hamfast stood by the packs, his hands shoved in his pockets and a sour expression on his face as he watched his siblings all crowded around Faramir. He did not share their enthusiasm for the young Took, who was not even family, and he silently turned and went back inside.
Five-year-old Robin saw him go, and he followed his big brother to the kitchen. He tugged on Hamfast’s trouser leg and lisped, “Hammie, some milk, p’ease?”
Hamfast’s features softened into a smile as he looked down at the youngster. His sullenness never extended to the three youngest children, and he always played with them and showered them with affection. That was good, but it hurt his other brothers and sisters, who would have been glad of five minutes with him unspoiled by scowling or muttering on his part.
“Sure, Robin, I’ll get you some milk. I think Mum just took some cookies out of the oven, too.”
Robin eagerly scurried after him, and soon he was happily enjoying his snack at the kitchen table, sitting on a stack of books so he could reach.
“Hamfast, I did not see you greet our guest,” Rose Cotton Gamgee spoke from the doorway. She had Tolman perched on one hip, and he looked longingly at the rapidly emptying cookie plate.
“Merry an’ Pippin had him on the ground soon as he got down from the carriage, an’ then they all took off after,” Hamfast replied as he handed little Tolman a cookie. The lad hooted with joy and bit into it happily.
Rose frowned at her son. “That’s no excuse, lad, and you know it. Faramir is fond of you, and I’m certain he noticed the slight. You greet him properly at lunchtime, and treat him with courtesy as befits any guest at Bag End. You would not be treated as such if you visited him at Great Smials.”
“Yes, Mum,” Hamfast responded dully. He returned his attention to Robin, and once again was the teasing, loving older brother.
Bilbo entered the kitchen then. “Oh, hullo, Mum; Ham, we’re going down by the pond to skip stones- Da said we could before lunchtime. Are you coming with us?”
Ham started to refuse, and then he saw his mother eye him sternly. He sighed. “All right, I’ll come.”
Ham was surprised to see Bilbo’s eyes light up. “You will? Great-but let’s not keep the others waiting!”
Bilbo ran out, and Rose put a restraining hand on Hamfast’s shoulder as he started to follow. “Do you see, son, that your other brothers love you as dearly as Robin and Tom do? Now run along and enjoy yourself- and them.”
Hamfast nodded and hurried after his brother.
Frodo, Merry and Pippin were already down by the pond with Faramir; their eyes widened with surprise when they saw Hamfast coming after Bilbo-and looking pleased about it.
“Well, this is a nice change,” Merry observed with a grin. “Hamfast the Hermit has decided to mingle with the family.”
Pippin elbowed him, and he looked a little annoyed, which was something he seldom was with Merry. “Don’t tease him, or he’ll get angry and leave. He hardly ever plays with us.”
Faramir trotted forward to meet them, and he beamed at Hamfast. “Hullo there, Ham, I’m glad you decided to come. You’re the best stone-skipper in the Westfarthing, and I hoped you could teach me a thing or two about it.”
This was actually true; Hamfast had won the competition two years in a row at the Midyear’s Fair. He blushed with pride and said, “Well, I suppose I could, why not?”
Merry, Pippin and Bilbo all looked at each other, mouths agape.
“Who are you and what have you done with my brother Hamfast?” Merry murmured in wonder as the twosome walked to the water’s edge.
Pippin grinned. “Who cares? He’s being nice and we’ll enjoy it!” The three young hobbits hurried to join them. Frodo had opted to sit on the sun-warmed grass a short distance away to read, but he kept a watchful eye on the younger ones.
Hamfast rolled up his trouser legs and waded out a few feet, and bent down to examine the pebbles on the gentle slope that led out to deeper water. He selected five and waded back to the group.
“You should choose a pebble that’s shaped like this, and worn smooth,” he said, displaying an oblong sample in his palm. Three dark heads and one fair leaned in for a closer look.
“Once you’ve found just the right pebble, it’s time to throw it.” Faramir nodded solemnly.
“The trick is in the wrist,” Hamfast explained, warming to his subject. “You have to hold it just so, and flick it like this.” The pebble flashed out of his hand, and merrily skipped ten times across the glassy surface before finally sinking to the bottom. The ensuing ripples spread in an ever-widening arc as Faramir uttered a long, low whistle.
“You make it look so easy, Ham, but every time I try, it just sort of thuds and sinks.”
Hamfast grinned; he had a charming smile when he chose to show it. “That’s because you’re throwin’ it, and not flickin’ it,” he explained. “You have to practice plenty until you get it right.”
“At the expense of ignoring the rest of your family,” Merry whispered to Pippin. Hamfast overheard him, though, and turned around, his smile fading. “Eh, what was that?”
“Um, ah, he just said that’s why you were scoring more than the rest of the competition,” Pippin said hastily as Merry blanched. Faramir closed his eyes and groaned, making a mental note to hold Merry’s neck much tighter the next time they wrestled.
“I heard what he said,” Hamfast snapped. “He said ‘at the expense of ignorin’ the rest of the family’. Well, I think that’s a fine idea, as now I know at least one of you ain’t worth the trouble.” He threw the pebbles back into the pond and stormed back up the hill toward Bag End.
Merry gulped and tears came to his eyes. “Hammie, I’m sorry!” he shouted as he started to follow him. Hamfast angrily waved him away and disappeared over the rise.
Pippin threw up his arms. “You just had to say something, didn’t you?” he cried. “He was having a good time and spending time with us, and you had to ruin it with your big mouth!”
“Pippin, that’s enough,” Frodo’s voice interrupted him. He had witnessed the confrontation and overheard most of it. “One insult does not justify another.” He sighed. “Really, Merry, what were you thinking?”
The 18-year-old brushed his sleeve across his eyes. “I don’t know, Frodo; it’s not like him to…to be friendly and join in and…the words just came out. I am sorry, I truly am.”
“Well, what’s done is done. I’ll try to talk to him later, when he cools down a bit.” Frodo squeezed Merry’s shoulder kindly and headed up the hill.
As Faramir observed this little family drama, he felt gratitude for the first time that he was an only child.

Twenty minutes later, Frodo summoned a war council in the gardens behind Bag End with a visibly downcast and repentant Merry on one side and a stone-faced Hamfast on the other. Merry apologized profusely, Frodo mediated, and Hamfast listened with folded arms. Finally, Hamfast slowly extended his hand and Merry took it gratefully.
“What’s goin’ on out there?” Sam wondered aloud to Rose as they peeked through Elanor’s back bedroom window, which faced the garden.
“Whatever it was, it seems to be friendly now,” Rose observed with relief. “Our Frodo-lad is worth his weight in gold when it comes to settlin’ disputes among the younger ones.”
“He’s worth more than all the gold in Middle-Earth,” Sam said softly, “as are all the children. I did miss them sorely while we were gone, Rose-wife. I just wish I could convince our Hamfast of that.”
Rose rested her head on his shoulder. “It was wonderful to see the White City, and to have time for ourselves-truly for ourselves-for the first time since you returned to the Shire. However, our children were never far from my mind, either.”
Since you returned to the Shire, she said. Sam looked down at his beloved wife, and keenly felt the significance of her words. Rose cleared her throat and moved away. “I must get lunch on the table now, if you are to leave when you planned,” she murmured, and hurried out of the room.
Sam gazed out the window at the now empty garden, deeply troubled not by what Rose had said, but by what she had not.