14. Sunshine and Roses
“What are you talking about? Of course they'll be able to read – every hobbit lad of good family learns to read, Frodo! Goes without saying."
"Does it, Pippin? And what about hobbit lads – and lasses! – who aren't from what you call good families? The Gamgees, the Cottons, the Goodbodies –"
"You can read, can't you Sam?" Pippin interrupted.
"Mr. Bilbo taught me, sir -- I wouldn't've learned, otherwise. My Gaffer, now, he can't read."
"What about you, Rosie?"
"Sam's teaching me – Mr. Frodo said I should learn."
Merry frowned. "You really think it's that important, Frodo – this book of yours?"
"I really think it's that important, yes. If I do nothing else the rest of my life, Merry, I must finish the book. But what good is it, if only a few can read it?"
"Your idea is that you want the whole Shire reading? That's a tall order."
Mr. Pippin laughed suddenly. "Oh aye, but no taller than destroying the Ring, and helping the King to his throne, and saving the Shire from Saruman! If we did all that, we ought to be able to teach hobbits to read!"
"I'm going to start a school in Hobbiton," said Mr. Frodo. "That's what I'll do for a break from the writing, Merry. Will you start one in Buckland, for the youngsters who don't go to the Hall school?"
"I'd have to have my father's consent – " He met Frodo's eyes. "All right, Frodo. I think he'll see the sense in it. We'll want a copy of that book, mind, when you get it done."
"There'd be no use me talking to the Thain," Pippin said quietly. "As near as I can tell, he doesn't think I'm capable of rational thought. I'll send you some supplies, Frodo, from the Smials school."
"Pippin –" Mr. Frodo began, but Pippin laughed suddenly and threw himself on top of his cousin.
"Never mind, I'm having a fine time racketing around the Shire and chopping up ice to chill the wine! If my father thought I was up to it, he'd put me to work and I wouldn't like that at all!"
He held Frodo's shoulders down with one arm and began tickling him without mercy. Frodo fought back and Merry piled on -- and the three intrepid Travellers, Heroes of the Great War and the Battle of Bywater, were reduced to a tangle of squirming bodies intent on tickling each other into spasms.
Sam looked down at me “Feel like dancing now, Rosie?"
# # #
The next morning was the judging of exhibits, and Sam was one of the judges for garden stuff. That would keep him busy all morning, and I went off to explore the stalls that rimmed the edges of the field, selling everything from taffy apples to hair ribbons to luxurious, soft fur robes from some strange country far to the North. I was looking for a fairing for Sam, but nothing I saw was quite right.
At last I realized that what I really wanted for him was the little carved bird he had admired at the woodcarvers' exhibit. And I couldn't get him that – even if the artisan would sell, a carving like that would cost far more than I could afford. I sighed and moved on to the next stall.
This one was all books, and until this summer I would've passed it by. Now, though –
I stopped to look. They were old, these books, some bound in fine leather and expensive looking, but some that looked like they might be within my slender means. Sam treasured his one book and I knew he'd love to have another one. But how to choose? I opened a few of them at random, but I couldn't read well enough to really make any sense of them.
"Are you finding anything good, Rose?" It was Frodo's voice, and I grabbed my chance.
"Mr. Frodo, will you help me find something for Sam, please? Something not too expensive? I'm not sure what he'd like."
"Well, what does he have already? That should give you an idea of his taste."
"He only has just the one book, Mr. Frodo – the Elven tales Mr. Bilbo gave him years ago"
"Is that all?" Frodo sounded shocked and more than that, grieved. "No wonder he doesn't read!" he murmured.
He started shuffling through the books, opening some of them and reading a page or two, setting a few to one side. I got tired of watching him and tried to find something I could read, even a little. Finally he said,
"All right, Rosie, tell me what you think of these. This is another Elven tale, the story of Beren, which we heard sung in Rivendell. I think he'd like that, or here's a book of garden lore – not that he needs anything of that sort, but still he might enjoy reading what some other gardener has written! And this is a collection of comic verse – I think he's written some himself, so he might like it."
"Oh my, they all sound nice!" I thought for a moment. "Well, he can write his own poems, if he wants some, and you're right – he really doesn't need a garden book, though he'd probably like it! But I don't think that Beren story is in his book of tales; at least I've never heard it, and he's read most all of them to me, one time or another. And he does love the Elven tales, so I guess that would be best. How much is it?"
"Don't worry about that, Rose – I'll get it for you."
"No, Mr. Frodo! Thank you, but – this has to be my own gift, with my own money. You understand, don't you?"
He handed me the book and I looked at the price inside the cover. "Oh good, yes, I have enough for this. Thank you for finding it!"
He waited while I caught the attention of the stall-holder and bought the book, and then he bought one of his own, a fat volume with a golden dragon on the cover. I was going to thank him once more and move on, when I had a sudden thought.
"Mr. Frodo? I don't know if you are – but – if you're wondering what to give Sam for your birthday, I think I know something he'd like."
I looked into his face with some trepidation, wondering if I was being too bold, but he chuckled. "Do you, Rose? I was wondering, as a matter of fact! What is it? Some new contraption for the garden?"
"No, sir. I can show you, if you'll come with me now, while he's busy judging."
He gave me his arm, polite as he always was, and I led him to the woodcarvers' display. The judges had been there already, and the little bird in its nest had a rosette of blue dangling from its tail. I pointed it out to him, and he took it in his hands, turning it around and examining it with delight. I thought suddenly how alike they were, him and Sam, under the skin as you might say.
"Oh yes," he said softly. "You're right, Rosie, this is perfect. Let's see, who made it?" He turned it over and found the maker's mark. "All right, I'll have to find this fellow and see if he'll sell his little bird. Thank you, Rose!" To my utter confusion, he tipped my chin up and brushed a kiss on my forehead. "Off you go now, don't let Sam catch you lingering here, or he'll suspect something."
I wandered over to the fancywork table. There was my lace – with a Second-place ribbon. Second! Oh, I thought sure I'd get First! I did so want a blue ribbon for Sam, to make him proud of me. I looked around to see who'd taken First – not Angelica? I knew my piece was better than hers!
But no – here was a lace pillow I hadn't seen when I looked yesterday. Mercy me, no surprise that it won; I'd never seen anything so gorgeous! Who in the Shire made lace this fine? I turned it over, and my eyes filled with tears. There was the maker's mark – a crooked letter G – and inside the curve of the letter an embroidered golden flower. Marigold!
She'd been stuck in that awful shack the ruffians built, for months and months, but she hadn't been sitting there moping. Her busy fingers had pulled this beauty out of the silent hours, the loveliest lace I'd ever seen. I remembered now that Mari's mother had been one of the best lacemakers in the Shire before her death. Well, Sam would be pleased, right enough! Both his lasses had done him proud.
I went back to the tents, and Mari was there making sandwiches for lunch. "Will a dozen be enough, you think, Rosie?"
"What, for all our crew? You're joshing, aren't you?"
She shook her head. "The lads won't eat any, Rose – the meat pocket contest is this afternoon. Will Sam be in it?"
I started eating one of the sandwiches. "When has Sam ever not been in it, barring the year he was away? Do you think Tom has a chance?"
She dimpled in amusement and bit into her own sandwich. "Not if Sam's in! Isn't it time he dropped out and gave the other lads a chance? He's a married hobbit now."
"He's married, Marigold, he's not dead! Maybe we can talk him into dropping out next year, so's Tom can win."
They'd been neck and neck in the contest since they were in their tweens, and none of the other lads even came close. The summer before he went away, Sam had eaten seventy-nine of the savory little pastries. Tom had given up at seventy-five, and he'd been sick that night and still a little green the following day, but Sam was fine and downed a good breakfast while Tom sat sipping peppermint tea to soothe his stomach.
Peppermint tea actually sounded pretty good, I thought. I was queasy again, after just the one sandwich. I couldn't think what was the matter with me lately – the weather wasn't as hot as all that!
"Ready to go, lass?" Sam came up from behind and put his arms around me. "First race in half-an-hour, and Merry and Pippin both riding – I told Mr. Frodo I'd get you so's we can all sit together."
"Me too, Sam?" asked Marigold, and he let go of me and swung her up in his arms like she was twelve years old again, instead of a grown-up lass big enough to be wed.
"Of course you too, Marigold Gamgee, if you want to sit with us old sobersides! What's come of that good-for-nothing fellow that was squiring you around the grounds yesterday, eh?"
"I don't know – maybe he's gone to get me a fairing. He'll be at the race, so he can just find me there."
"My word, Rosie, my little sister's grown up to be a minx – she'll lead your poor brother a merry dance! Well, come along, lassies, Mr. Frodo can't hold four seats forever, not for the first race of the day."
Laughing, we linked arms and stepped out onto the concourse, threading through the crowd. Hundreds of hobbits were gathering to the racetrack, and when we got close I could smell it, ponies and leather and dust – the scent of roasting meat drifting in from the food booths – and ugh! a dirty diaper somewhere near at hand! I pulled at Sam's arm, to get us away from that, before it made me queasy again. When we finally got to the stands, we found Mr. Frodo saving our seats and deep in conversation with the Thain himself.
Mr. Paladin was an imposing figure, grey-haired and hook-nosed, with steely blue eyes. He looked, true enough, like a hobbit who'd take no nonsense from the likes of Lotho Pimple. But right now he looked thoroughly uncomfortable, with Mr. Frodo speaking earnestly to him in low tones.
We stood a little apart, not wanting to interrupt, but at last Mr. Paladin looked up and saw us.
"Well, well, Frodo" he said jovially, "I think your young friends are waiting to sit down. I'll give some thought to this school idea of yours. We may be able to get something going for the lads in the village -- after harvest, you understand. First things first -- get the harvest in, then we can think about school! I'd best find my wife now and get ready to hold her hand – she still gets jittery when Peregrin races, even if he does spend his days riding break-neck round the Shire without a thought in his head!"
He strode away, and the crowd parted before him. Sam sat down by Mr. Frodo.
"Sure you want to give up being the Mayor?" he said with a grin. "You're right good at politicking."
Frodo groaned. "Let's go home, Sam. I'd rather face a band of orcs – of all the half-blind, provincial – " He bowed his head into his hands.
"He said he'd think about the school," Sam pointed out.
"Yes, he'll think about it – for a quarter of an hour. And put it off till after harvest and never think of it again. He doesn't see the need, no more than he saw the need to come help the rest of the Shire under Lotho – so long as the Tookland was untouched, he was satisfied! Sam, I ask you, how long can the Shire survive such leadership?"
"It's survived a good while already, Mr. Frodo; it'll hold on a bit longer. Mr. Pippin, now, he wouldn't sit still in the Tookland and let the rest of the Shire go to ruin, if the Troubles came again."
"No, you're right, he wouldn't. Nor Merry neither. Nor you."
"Me!" Sam sounded flabbergasted. "Well, of course I wouldn't, but what's it got to do with me? I'm a gardener, Mr. Frodo, not the Master of Buckland!"
"Oh, didn't you know, Sam? I've got my eye on you for Mayor, one of these days." Sam stared at him, open-mouthed and speechless, and Mr. Frodo chuckled. “You don’t know yourself what you’re capable of, Sam Gamgee. You’ve got courage and devotion and plain hobbit sense – you’d be the best Mayor we ever had.”
Tom found us and sat next to Mari, right before the race began. Then the starting horn sounded, and there was a roar from the crowd as the ponies thundered down the track.
It was easy to spot Merry and Pippin, as big as they were, and of course their ponies were among the largest as well. Pippin was wearing the King's colors, a black shirt with a silver tree emblazoned front and back. He was a length ahead of the pack at the start, and Merry behind him in a knot of three or four, with the rest of the race scattered out in the rear. But the next time they came around, Merry had near caught up, and there were only two others close to them. By the last lap the cousins were neck and neck, and the next one back was more than a length behind.
The crowd was on its feet screaming, Sam clutching Mr. Frodo’s shoulder and yelling, “Pippin! Merry! Pippin!” Frodo was half doubled over, holding his middle from laughing so hard and shouting, but he didn’t call no name at all, just, “Go! Go! Go!”
I couldn’t catch my breath to shout, just stood on tiptoe following them with my eyes. The track was in bright sun and Merry’s pony shone like living fire, as Merry pulled ahead of Mr. Pippin -- slow, so slow it seemed, his pony’s nose with its streak of white poking out ahead, and then Merry was in front. Pippin hunched down and seemed to be urging his pony on, but the poor beast was already going as fast as he could, seemingly, and Merry flashed through the ribbon a split second in the lead.
“Merry! Merry!” Mr. Frodo settled on a name at last, jumping down from the stands and running along next to the track till he got to where Merry stood. The race was was over and hobbits were walking the ponies while the winners stood to receive their prizes.
“Come on, lass!” Sam grabbed my hand and dragged me over to them, and we waited while Merry and Pippin, and the lad who’d taken Third, Nat Bracegirdle from Greenholm, bent their heads to receive their ribbons. Will Whitfoot was officiating, and he handed Mr. Merry a small, heavy purse, making some joke how Merry shouldn’t drink it all up that same night, did he want to enjoy the last day of the Fair! Merry laughed and offered to stand him a pint in the beer tent as soon as the races were over for the day, and then he turned and came over by us.
Mr. Frodo was about as uplifted as I’d ever seen him. He hugged Merry, and then Pippin, and finally Sam, who hadn’t even raced, and then he stood there, beaming, and I marveled how young and sort of shining he looked, when he forgot his worries and let himself be happy.
People and ponies were milling all around us, lining up for the next race. I jumped back as one bay half reared up and shook his head right in front of me, and Sam caught me round the waist.
"Mind your beast, there, laddie," he called, and the rider looked back at us for an instant, a young fellow probably racing for the first time today, tense and serious.
Mr. Pippin held out his arms to herd us all away. “Come on, hobbits, we’ll have to get out of the way, the next race is beginning in a minute. Merry and I have to rub down our mounts – they’ve earned a bit of attention, wouldn’t you say! Meet you in the beer tent, or are you going back to watch the next one?”
Sam turned to me. “Another race, lass, or something to drink? What will you have?”
“The drink, please, and some shade. It’s awful hot out here.”
He looked sharp at me. “Aye, you’re all flushed, Rosie. You need to wear a hat, in this sun. I’ll buy you one this afternoon, for a fairing. A big straw hat with roses all round the crown, for my own Rose.”
“All right, we’ll see you at the beer tent. And Frodo – here,” Mr. Merry held out his prize purse to Frodo, who looked at him questioningly without taking it. “This is for your new school. I know you can’t have much of Bilbo’s gold left by now, and repairing Bag End must have set you back a bit. A school doesn’t run on air and sunshine – this will get you started, anyhow. Take it!” he added, as Frodo still stood there motionless. “You’re right, you know – the Shire will have to know a bit more, to survive. It may take me awhile to talk my father into it, but this is something I can do right now.”
Mr. Frodo reached out at last and took the purse. “Thank you, Merry.” He caught Mr. Merry in a long hug, and when he stepped back there were tears in his eyes. “Thank you – for everything.”
“Off you go then and we’ll meet you in half an hour. Merry, you are going to stand me a pint, you realize that, even if you’ve given away all your money? After sneaking up on me like that and taking the race right away from me – !" Mr. Pippin waved us off and steered Mr. Merry toward the paddocks, keeping up a stream of nonsense as they went.
The three of us headed for the beer tent – which in spite of its name, served other drinks as well, and food, too – stopping along the way for Sam to buy my hat. Nothing would do but I must try on every hat in the stall, for him to decide which one looked best on me, and him and Mr. Frodo had the stall-keeper in stitches arguing the merits of white straw with yellow buttercups, or pale green with white roses. At last I put a stop to their joshing by picking it out for myself, a lacy, open weave of pink straw, with pink roses.
“It’s me will be wearing it, and I like pink,” I said firmly, and clamped it on my head. Sam reached in his pocket to pay for it, and before I could look in the glass and adjust it, Mr. Frodo turned me to face him and arranged it himself, tipping it a little to one side and pulling my hair forward to frame my face.
“There, Sam, don’t you think you married the prettiest lass in the Shire?”
“You’re not telling me nothing I didn’t know already, Mr. Frodo!”
We walked on through the Fairgrounds, me in my new pink hat and my darling on my arm, and Mr. Frodo beside us, happy and carefree for once. The sun was shining and Mr. Merry had won his race – and Mr. Pippin was getting as much enjoyment out of teasing him for it, as if he’d come in first himself – and it was Overlithe, the best Overlithe I ever remember, before or since.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.