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1
Thinning

Thinning


He sat in the chair in his bedroom, wrapped in a blanket, watching through the window. Sam was out there, a couple of baskets and his tools in hand as he prepared to do his fall thinning. Sam stood looking down at the bed of Elven lilies, his eyes considering how many would have to go; then he knelt, setting the baskets down by him, and took up his trowel. He was beginning to hum under his breath as he worked, a hymn to Yavanna he'd heard often sung by the Lady Arwen as he'd knelt by her side, working in the herb gardens by the Houses of Healing or behind the Citadel, after the wedding.

In the distance within the smial Frodo could hear Rosie talking to Elanor while she cleaned up after second breakfast and kneaded the bread for tonight's dinner. They sounded so cheerful, so happy. Did they realize, Frodo wondered, that their second child, their so long awaited Frodo-Lad, would be with them soon enough? Frodo-Lad would be there, but not Frodo himself. He'd decided, decided only a few days previous. He'd chosen, was doing his own thinning....

*******


He was six when he learned about thinning. Six? Well, of course he was six--it was his sixth birthday, even; and his parents had brought him to Bag End to spend the day with Uncle Bilbo, for it was Uncle Bilbo's birthday, too--his eighty-fourth birthday. They'd arrived for elevenses, and then he'd been settled down in his guest room, the one just by Uncle Bilbo's own, to take his nap after the long trip from Buckland. But he didn't sleep long, woke up to hear Gaffer Gamgee outside in the garden, talking to his wife Bell as she and their two boys came up to deliver his nuncheon. He saw the gardener ruffling Ham's hair as he spoke with him, the way he smiled into his wife's eyes, as he leaned over the little lass in the crook of Bell's arm, his Daisy, not yet a year old, to kiss her forehead. Bell's hair was kissed by the Sun, her eyes shining in response to the tone of her husband's voice. Tomorrow Frodo would go out and down the Hill, find Ham and Hal and go down to the woods and explore. For some reason the Gaffer didn't want his lads to play with him, but neither Frodo nor the lads paid that much mind.

But today it was important that Frodo not go far, that he stay nearby for the party later this afternoon. Once he realized he wasn't going to go back to sleep, he'd gotten up, made sure his braces were straight and properly buttoned as Mummy had been working with him on for the last few months, and looked to see what was up in the smial. Mummy and Daddy were in their room, also napping, their arms about each other. Uncle Bilbo was in his study, reading and writing at the same time. How and why he did this Frodo wasn't certain, but he seemed to do a good deal of it. Frodo went into the study and stood by his uncle's chair and watched. It took a few minutes for Bilbo to notice him, and when he did he seemed startled, startled but also pleased.

"Well, that wasn't a particularly long nap, was it?" Bilbo asked.

"No, it wasn't. I heard the Gaffer talking with his wife and Ham and Hal. What are you doing?"

"Copying a book sent by Lord Elrond. It's a book of Elvish grammar."

"What's Elvish grammar?"

"Oh, dear, you would ask that. Let me see--it explains how Elves say things."

"Don't they say things the way we do?"

"When they are speaking the Common Tongue they do. But you see, they speak other languages as well--Sindarin and Quenya, among others."

"Oh. Is it hard to learn the other languages?"

"No, not particularly hard--but it's also not easy for those of us brought up to think only in terms of one language."

"Why are you copying it?"

"Because I'll need to send this one back soon to him, and only if I make a copy of it will I be able to study it over and over until I understand better."

"Oh. Can you teach me some Elvish?"

Bilbo had taught him his first Sindarin words that day, adar, naneth, Anor, Ithil, gil, estel, dun. Then he'd sent him out to play with the admonition to ask to make certain Master Hamfast wouldn't be bothered before he began to ask him a spate of questions.

Master Hamfast had finished his noon meal and was just kneeling down to work in the iris bed when he realized he wasn't alone. He was also a bit startled, for young Master Frodo was able to be even quieter at times than most Hobbits, when he wasn't asking a great many questions.

"Well, hello, young master," he said to the lad.

"Hello, Master Hamfast. Would it bother you if I ask questions?"

"And who said as it might bother me if you asked questions?"

"Uncle Bilbo said I must ask you if it would bother you."

The Gaffer was grateful for his master's thoughtfulness. "I'll tell you what, if'n it becomes much of a bother I'll send you off; until it does, you may stay."

"Thank you." Then, the questions began. "Are you weeding?"

"Sort of."

"How can you tell the weeds from the flowers?"

"Sometimes you can't."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you see, there's weeds and weeds, if you take my meaning."

"What's the difference between weeds and weeds?"

Hamfast sighed--this one was always one for questions, and didn't take well, he knew, to answers that were just made up to quiet them. How to explain? Finally he thought of a way. "Well," he said, slowly, "there is some plants as is weeds any time you see 'em. Things like goat's head. Then there's them as is fine in a field but not in a flower garden, like dandelions. Dandelions is dead common, you know; and left to themselves they'll just seed and spread, seed and spread. Take over ever'thing, dandelions will. So, although they're pretty enough as they is, we consider them weeds in the garden and pull them up every time we see them. Otherwise they'll choke out the flowers as we want there."

"Oh." The lad looked at the plants that the Gaffer had just dug up and placed in his basket. "But those aren't dandelions."

"No, they're not."

"And they're not goat's head."

"Right enough."

"Aren't they iris plants, too?"

"Yessir, that they are."

"But why are you weeding them out?"

"For not all weeds is plants like dandelions or goat's head. Basically, a weed is any plant as is growing where you don't want it to grow. You find an Elven lily growin' amidst the roses and you don't want it there, and it becomes a weed. Or if the nasturtiums start growin' in amongst the gladioli."

"So you'll dig it out, then?"

"O' course."

"But you're digging out irises, and those are all irises!"

"Yessir. What I'm doin' here isn't really weedin'--it's thinnin'."

Young Frodo looked horrified and fascinated at the same time. "But why dig up the flowers you want to grow there?"

"I'm not diggin' up 'em all--just some of 'em." He carefully dug into the soil and exposed a mass of bulbs. "See this? When we first started this bed eighteen year ago, ol' Holman and me, we started with twelve bulbs. This was likely one of 'em. But, the soil here on the Hill is rich and deep, and the bulbs take in lots o' sun and they grow, grow until there's enough bulb for two plants--or more. O'er the years this'n's grown till it's too many bulbs for this bed. Don't thin it oncet in a while, and this'll be too many plants in one place. So you have to dig up the extras so's the ones you started with and the ones more as has growed'll stay healthy." He carefully pulled away many of the smaller bulbs from the large bulb that was the basis of the cluster, and continued that throughout the bed. Finally he seemed happy with what he'd done. "Now, when them come in next summer, all will be tall and strong." He looked at the basket that was now full of what seemed like hundreds of small bulbs and rose to carry them away, and Frodo was left looking at the bare earth now covering the bed, still grieving for all the irises that wouldn't have the chance to flower in the coming year.

*******


Frodo knew that this was what Sam was doing now, thinning the Elven lilies under his window so that there wouldn't be too many in the coming year. He knew it was necessary, but he still grieved for those that wouldn't have the chance to bloom next year, those which had been thinned away.

Well, that was what he was doing, too--some thinning within the hole, or so he hoped. Now, all was overshadowed by himself, by his grief and pain and nightmares and his guilt, and he'd have no more of it. No, he'd have no more of it at all. He'd thin himself away, and then Sam and his family would have more room to grow and bloom. He smiled sadly to think of it, but knew it was the right thing to do--for Sam and his children, for Rosie and Elanor. He smiled and closed his eyes, laid his head back and dozed.

The door opened as Sam carried in a tray. A small vase held a few late blooms--as he awoke again Frodo couldn't see to tell what they were exactly, but saw the glory of gold there, brightening his world for him. Frodo blinked several times, but they refused to clear properly this morning.

"So, you've been up already this mornin' have you, Frodo? It's a beautiful mornin' so far--rained early last evenin' but then let up, it did; and now the sky is blue as blue, you know. Wonderful mornin', it is. Well, here's some breakfast as Rosie's fixed for you. Hope as it's not too much and all, but it's good."

"Thank you, Sam. I was feeling a bit on the lazy side this morning, just sitting and looking out the window at the garden."

"Hope as I didn't bother you and all, thinnin' out the Elven lilies as I was."

"Oh, no--you are never a bother to me, Sam--never you. I fear it's all too one-sided on my part."

"Well, I found a good place to move the excess lily bulbs to, t'other side of the Hill. Nice shady spot it is, and it'll be beautiful as we enter the orchard in the comin' years with the lilies growin' each side of the path, like."

"Then you didn't throw away the extra bulbs?" Frodo was startled.

"Throw 'em away? Course I'm not goin' to throw them away. Took some of the bulbs down to the Gaffer's place and planted them near his window, and a few to the Widow Rumble's as well. Goin' to be Elven lilies all round the Hill in coming years, delightin' all. Transplanted the extras, you know."

"Transplanted?"

"Of course. The soil all about the Hill is rich and deep. Those bulbs as I've transplanted, they'll put down new roots, grow deep, and some day'll fill the whole Shire with their beauty."

Sam was suddenly aware of the unconscious smile Frodo was giving, as if an idea had just struck him that made him happy at a deep level.

"You transplanted them."

"Yes, Master, I transplanted them."

"Your dad--he'd just dump the extra bulbs."

"Lots o' times, yes. But I don't hold with that kind of waste, you know. There's no need to let the beauty go to naught." He was beginning to understand what had always bothered Mr. Frodo about thinning, realized he was happy to know the potential for beauty was still going on, just shared out throughout the neighborhood.

Frodo leaned his head back in his chair, his face less lined, his smile lighting up the room for all he'd closed his eyes. Even his Light seemed brighter this morning. "Thank you, Sam. Thank you."

"You eat that now, Mr. Frodo."

"I'll try, Sam." He opened his eyes, and they, too, were smiling. "I'll try."

Sam left him, glad that his Master's mood was lighter, somehow. He'd been better the last few days, some decision made that had been long put off, he sensed. But that decision had also left him solemn. Now his mood was brightened, as if the simple act of him, Sam, transplanting lily bulbs had somehow lightened his thought.

As Sam closed the door quietly behind himself, Frodo sat, thinking on the transplanted bulbs. Well, that was how he was going to think of it, now--not just thinning himself out of Bag End so Sam and his growing family could shine in the renewed light, but transplanting himself. Yes--a good metaphor--transplanting. He ate a few bites of scrambled egg, and again drifted off into a blessed sleep for a time.

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