The sun was a bright orange ball of blaring wonder, and all around, hobbits were singing gaily in the fields. Feather topped barley swayed in the muggy heat, then fell as stone sharpened scythes dipped and swang. There was a music to the threshing that hummed through sturdy hobbit feet and out into the golden crops, the same song sung for a thousand years by chubby faces with ruddy smiles tending to the wide, lush land.
Frodo Baggins stopped to consider his scythe. “You know, this is simply ridiculous.”
Mereweather Stormwell appeared shocked. “Whatever do you mean?”
Frodo turned the handle and held up the long, narrow blade as if it were a thing that offended him. “There has to be a better way of doing this. I mean, has anyone considered that using a pony to pull a series of blades along the ground might save time and cost for all? We’ve been out here a week and only cleared a quarter of a league, and there’s more than three times that ahead on just this side.” He gestured to a younger hobbit toiling on the opposite side of the field. His great scythe would swing, and then the youth would follow a moment behind in a dangerous dance that was painful to watch. “The risk of injury is insidious.” Frodo shook his head. “We are better than this.”
Mereweather puffed up with a snort, dug his curled toes into the crispy soil. “Yer’ not quite likin’ the harvest, are you Mr. Baggins?” He said. “’Tis not good enough for you that you’ve a sharp blade and a lovely song to swing it by? Hard work improves the spirit, and all here are knowin’ that, as we bring in what feeds all, together.”
“My dear Hobbit.” Frodo said formally, although he realized the battle was lost. “I am simply suggesting we consider improving the mode of the harvest, not the ethic.” He wiped at his brow with a sweat soaked arm. “Getting more accomplished in less time is surely a blessing?”
This failed to impress Mereweather. “I’m thinkin’ things are fine as they are, as they were for me own on past livin’ memory. We bring in the crop an’ we all grow strong as we prove our worth on the back o’ the land. ‘Tis what holds us together, the good, clean work with simple tools and happy hearts. Thas’ not enough for you?”
Frodo forced his face into a pleasant smile. “Of course it is. What was I thinking?”
“That’s your blood, I reckon. Baggins all the way through.” Mereweather chucked Frodo affectionately on the shoulder. “Come now, lets get us some tea. We’ll be done soon enough, lad, and then there’ll be dancin’ to take that mind off yer worries.” He winked.
To his credit, Frodo did not quite cringe.
Every tendon in his body was stripped raw, or knotted into shuddering coils. The burly hobbits milling around the wagons radiated a distressingly cheerful air. Someone had pulled up a cart with several huge barrels of ale. They were drinking the thick, honey-scented stuff out of teacups, for they had no mugs. Frodo couldn’t handle the warm, pungent ale in the noon sun, so he sat with the women and sipped tea. The males regarded him closely, murmured under their breath about the pale Hobbiton lad and his daft uncle. If it weren’t so ordinary, Frodo might have listened. Instead, he chose to go over what he had read of Erebor the night before, and quiz himself on the genealogy of the Long Beard clan of dwarves. The women watched his eyes turn inward as he fell into his thoughts, admired the pretty tilt of his wide, blue eyes. Some ale soaked wit noticed and quickly sorted him as a minge hound. The women giggled then filled his cup a little faster.
Gold turned to a rich amber blush then down to bronze as the day rushed out to the horizon. The hobbits hove their scythes onto homespun backs, and turned towards the lights of Brandybuck Hall. The women followed, dragging fat burlap sacks of barley through the chaff. Younger hobbits and elders helped load sacks onto wagons that slowly drifted off down the road to the mill.
One young hobbit turned on his perch above sacks stuffed in the back of the cart. He thought he recognized a reaper heading out to the far gathering. He squinted so hard he nearly toppled out onto the road. The voice of his father cautioned him. He relented and scrunched up obediently onto a bothersome sack. Later, when warm darkness blanketed the fields, he would sneak away from the mill shack and return. Elves were rumored to walk the woods near the Brandywine this time of year, singing peons to the stars beneath the harvest moon. Mr. Bilbo told him this long ago, when he was nothing more than a child fawning after tales of wonder. Ever since, he burned to see the truth of the old hobbits words, and never had. The Gaffer was tired this evening, yawning as he guided the reigns with heavy hands. With luck, he’d tuck down after supper, and then the night would belong to Sam.
Twilight brought bright bonfires tossing reckless arms high into the air, the sounds of hasty fiddles and steady drums. Frodo saw his cousins dart between food laden tables, snatching morsels of carved meats. They tumbled and laughed, too young to be ground into dust by the harvest, but old enough to enjoy the early dances. Young girls from the Hall, dressed in modest finery and ribbons, stepped lively on the arms of handsome, lean hobbits. Once fat bellies were filled to bursting with tasty food and drink, adults would shoe away the youngsters and take the field for themselves. The firelight would change from orange to scarlet, as the dancing grew wild. They would dance away the day’s hurts until the moon rose high over the pines, and then collapse onto pallets of straw strewn through the hall. Tomorrow, it would all begin again.
Pippin thumbed Frodo in the ribs. Merry held onto his younger cousins hand, knowing better than to allow him to roam.
“Come play with us!” Pippin squeaked then held out a greasy hank of ham he’d skived off some great shank down at the Master’s table. Merry looked apologetic, but eager, as the seriousness of his greater age demanded.
Frodo tousled Pippin’s confusion of chestnut curls, and smiled. “Sweetheart, my back is a bit of a bother, and I’d just slow you down.”
Merry let out a sigh. “You always say that, but then you go off by yourself, anyway.”
“We miss you!” Pippin squeaked then tore away from Merry’s hand. He considered his angle of attack, then leapt into Frodo’s lap, smearing ham across his cheek. Frodo caught him then gently lifted the mess out of Pippin’s chubby hands. He ate two bites, and then slipped the remains over his shoulder while Pippin was distracted by a whirl of colorful skirts and high-pitched shouts. The fiddlers struck up a dizzy waltz, and one by one, the older hobbits stepped into a circle, posing, flirting with partners near and yet to draw close. Merry appeared interested.
“You’re still too young. “ Frodo cautioned.
Merry quickly rearranged his dignity. “You’re not.”
“I know.” Frodo bounced Pippin on his knee. “I just don’t want to. I’m tired.”
“They’re just a lot of simple farmers. Its not like they have any real bearing on things.” Merry looked at the dancers and squeezed back a pout.
“Oh, don’t say that. You are not so cruel, Meriadoc Brandybuck. They are quite the same as us, merely older and set in their ways. That shall come to pass for all of us, even you.”
“Not me.” Merry sniffed. “I’m for better things than bucolic country dances and harvest nonsense.”
Frodo nodded his head. “You’ll be a fine Master of the Hall one day. Don’t be so dull as to maintain appearance when fun’s all you’re after. It will come soon enough.”
“They won’t let me do anything.” Pippin moaned. Frodo hugged him close and made sympathetic noises.
“Never let the expectations of others grind you down, my sweet.” Frodo whispered into his ear.
“You always say the daftest things, Frodo.” Merry laughed.
“A stout heart is required to be daft amidst the clatter of rampant conformity.” He winked. “Do be original, Merry. It suits you.”
The gathering was growing rowdy when Frodo decided he had enough. Merry and Pippin were lost in mischief somewhere on the other side of the bonfire, and the hobbits were beginning to howl in that careless way that meant not much ale remained. He filled his wineskin with what was left in the Master’s keg, bid goodnight to his relations, and slipped away.
The moon was up above the trees, and the night was balmy. Frodo sniffed under his arms, made a face. The baths would be full of drunken hobbits, likely singing and sloshing across the smial in a merry stumble of sore arms and hairy legs. He was too tired to bear their cheerfulness, and not nearly drunk enough to join in. Nearby was a pool beneath a stand of alders whose blossoms shown brightly in the wan light. Frodo yawned, undid his braces then pulled his shirt over his head. The wineskin tangled in his clothes. He freed himself, tied the long, dirty white shirt around his head then celebrated his ingenuity with a slash at the wineskin. Cool air moved across his skin. The wine was a fruity Buckleberry Cabinet, delicious, and a bit strong. The moonlight fell into his eyes as he sang and walked down the mossy path to the pond.
Sam was hunting elves by the Hall. His gaffer had fallen asleep with his eyes open again, making it hard to tell whether he was awake or not. It had taken Sam the better part of an hour to gather enough nerve to leave. He knew of a path to the river, but couldn’t find it. All around him, hobbits were moving around in the dark, heading in for the night. Sam couldn’t focus. How was he supposed to spot an elf if he ended up ducking down in a bush every moment or so because some great daft hobbit was wobbling up the path? All the singing going on surely wasn’t helping. Elves had especially sharp hearing, and as he recalled, did not take kindly to coarse interruptions. They were elegant, cultured, did not appreciate rude, earthy songs, or clumsy, shaggy feet.
Something long, white and flowing swayed in the distance. Sam froze. It was moving away from the hall, tilting from side to side as it rounded tree trunks and stone. He crouched low, then started sneaking through brambles and hawthorns. Up ahead, the shape paused inside a break in the darkness. The figure shone brightly beneath the moon. Long, pale hair swung lazily down its back. This must be an elf, for no hobbit had hair that long, straight, or white. Sam’s heart pounded as the figure moved off at a leisurely pace. He took a deep breath then scrambled silently through the underbrush, following behind the elf as fast as his short legs could carry him.
Frodo was halfway through the wineskin when he finally found the pond. He felt light as a feather, giddy, and rushed. He spun around in a little circle, threw his arms out and laughed at the stars that crashed down into his brain. This was marvelous, and so much better than being surrounded by sweaty hobbits dancing and swanning about like lords of the manure soaked fields. The air was clean and not choked with the scent of crisping meat, close bodies, and work. He took a slash at the skin, looked up at the velvet underbelly of the night and sang.
Sam eyes grew wide as he listened. The elf was singing to the stars in a high pitched, shaky voice that whispered and slurred so very gently. The hair on the back of Sam’s neck shivered as fey words he’d heard Mr. Bilbo share, rose into the darkness. The music was breathless, strange, and wonderful, and reminded him of Mr. Bilbo’s nephew, the one from Buckland who others found odd. Sam peered out from behind a rotted out tree stump, strained for a closer look. The elf ‘s back was turned, and no, that wasn’t hair, it was a head covering of some sort that fell gently against milk white flesh. The elf’s back was naked, narrow, and finely molded. Graceful limbs wove a spell up to the distant lights as strange poetry echoed across the silver pond.
Elves weren’t dangerous, or at least he didn’t think they were. They were famed among hobbits for being queer. Sam thought this must be because of their intense beauty. The words they spoke, their fey appearance, the eternal agelessness contained in their eyes; all these things combined to frighten the life out of hobbits. Sam wasn’t afraid. Beautiful things were natural to him, and part of the world he so wished to live in. But would an elf feel the same way about Samwise Gamgee, a common hobbit of no great beauty outside of his desires? He had to know. He had to know if a world outside his own would accept him. A part of him always knew it would. Elves were good creatures, and so was Sam. Perhaps having the heart to stand forward and be counted in their world as good, would be enough?
Despite himself, he grew scared. What if the elf rejected him, or ran away? What if it laughed at the little overbold hobbit lad who dared to enjoy the company of elves? Sam gathered up his courage and stepped out from behind the stump, hoping he wasn’t making a huge fool of himself.
Frodo heard a rattling in the brush behind him. He turned around. “Hello, hello?”
Sam’s eyes went wider. “You’re not an elf!”
“Oh my. Will being myself be quite enough for you then?” Frodo laughed, and offered him the skin.
Once Sam offered a series of spluttering apologies. Afterward, they found a large flat rock at the edge of the pool then sat down and drank for a bit. The night was lovely, and the air around the water was pleasant and cool. Noise from across the fields faded, and soon the night birds rearranged their songs.
“I always wanted to see an elf, Mr. Frodo.” Sam went on, not satisfied that his humiliation was complete. “Every since Mr. Bilbo told me stories, I fixed on it. T’were foolish. I know that now.”
“Nonsense. There’s always something else to learn. Why, how boring would things become if all we had was now?” Frodo leaned up against him warmly, smirked when he felt Sam hitch and startle. A dim idea of propriety flashed though his thoughts, until Sam relaxed. They were both quite drunk and had no room left for convention, although it was debatable if they ever truly did. Frodo pondered this fascinating new thought while Samwise adjusted himself accordingly.
“Me Gaffer says such things are only good for worry. He’d give me a right good whippin’ if he e’en guessed at where I were now.” Sam sucked in his breath and looked away. “Forgive me, Mr. Frodo…me mouth’s ahead o’ me brain.”
Something bothered him. “Dear Samwise, how old are you?”
“I’m having seventeen years come next harvest, or there abouts.” Sam’s brow knitted together as he reached for a summary. “I e’nt allowed at no grown up dances, e’en though I’m big for me age.”
Frodo drummed his heels on the rock petulantly. “Oh. Well, I seem to have all the luck this evening, as do you.”
“Do you want me to go away now?”
“No. I want you to be a year older.” He stood up then gave Samwise his hand. He was heavier than he appeared, solid as a tree root. Sam turned a lonely face up to Frodo in mute apology.
Frodo decided he had quite enough of that for one evening. He leaned down, and planted a soft kiss on Sam’s cheek; let his breath linger for a moment before pulling away. Sam’s eyes lost their syrupy cast, and quicked.
“I’m sorry I’m not an elf.” Frodo said warmly, and smiled.
Samwise was momentarily fussed for comment. An entirely new set of ideas was forming in his mind, so much so, that he was afraid to open his mouth in case they tumbled out. Frodo watched Sam’s mind work for while, and was reassured. Despite a wicked urge, he resisted teasing him.
“You’re lovely like an elf must be,” Sam blurted, then shied away from his boldness and blushed. Frodo gently tipped up Sam’s chin. His eyes were hazel, and slick with a curious need. With a sigh, Frodo let him go.
“That will have to do, I’m afraid. Thank you, Samwise. I was feeling a touch of melancholy earlier this evening as I was quite surrounded by hobbits, as you know.”
“I don’t feel that way around you, sir.”
Frodo blushed at his honesty. “You’re a wonder, young Samwise. Now take your lovely self back to your gaffer before there’s trouble for both of us.” He pecked him on the nose, squeezed his hand. “And one more thing. You’re not to be so formal with me in private. Please?”
Sam nodded dutifully. “All right, Mr. Frodo.”
Frodo grinned anyway. “Goodnight.”
He watched Sam go, unwound the shirt from his head and reflected back on life in Hobbiton amongst the simpler folk of the Hill. Sam’s honesty quieted his thoughts, gave him hope. A hobbit that actually cared something for elves? Who would have guessed? The night had brought him someone close to his age to talk to, perhaps even dream about. For the first time since leaving the company of his cousins in Buckland, Frodo was truly happy. He couldn’t wait to get back to Hobbiton and babble almost all of it to Bilbo, whom he suspected knew everything the whole time, anyway.