Frodo wiped the last of the icing from his plate with the tip of a finger and stuck it in his mouth, sucking thoughtfully.
His mother shook his head at him, looking up from collecting the dishes. “You have the manners of an animal, Frodo Gardner,” she said affectionately. “Why Mithril will even look at you, I don’t know.”
Frodo blushed furiously. Rosie -ever a matchmaker- believed fondly that there was rather more to Frodo and Mithril’s camaraderie than there in fact was, and never passed up the opportunity of telling them so. In his heart of hearts, Frodo wouldn’t mind it if this was so -indeed, entertained private fantasies that one day it would be so- but had a depressing feeling that Mithril had no such thoughts. Besides, he felt instinctively that, with every hint Rosie made, Mithril became more and more disinterested.

Mithril sighed. “His father tells the best stories in the Shire, and has the best appetite as well,” she said. “And Frodo’s the only hobbit I know who’ll happily tramp with me on walks. Honestly, Mirry and Theo only last for a mile before they start complaining their feet hurt.”
“Speaking of stories,” said Sam. “We ought to have some. Mr Frodo always loved stories, you know, and it wouldn’t be right not to have any on his birthday.”
“Well, let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!” cried Mithril, standing up, knocking the table and scattering the crockery.
“Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories.” said Frodo, who all his life had heard of the grand deeds of his namesake, and cherished a secret desire to one day live up to the name’s legacy. “Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, Dad?”

Samwise Gamgee smiled, as he remembered the words of two hobbits, many years ago, as the sat in the darkness of the shadows of Mordor. He often wondered about his master now, and sometimes, despite his wife and family, wished he had gone with him. But now, he turned to the upturned face of his son, and answered.

“Yes, my boy. The famousest of hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.”

The evening melted into the dark of night, the stars rising through the blackness to smile through the windows of Bag End, as if they, too, were listening.

Samwise read from the Red Book, in which was recorded the Quest to destroy the One Ring. Sam spoke slowly, his index finger dragging across the lines of text. He broke off at times, to smile at the upturned faces of his family, and to say that he still couldn’t quite believe that he had come home, to a wife and a loving family, and how lucky he was. But if, like Frodo Gardner, you were watching closely, you could hear his voice falter when he talked of his “dear master” and see the longing in his eyes.

Frodo felt a burning surge of resentment for Sam’s Frodo Baggins, “the real Frodo”, or so he had always thought of his namesake. He wished his parents hadn’t given him the name of that famous hobbit. It meant he was always judged, always compared, always second best. He wondered if he would ever be just himself, rather than just a memory from days gone by, a cheap replacement for the real person.

Frodo excused himself, and wandered out of the door, gazing up at the stars’ light. And he vowed that, one day, he would finally make his father proud of him, and be worthy of that as yet undeserved name.

Inside Bag End, Sam was in the middle of one of his many rants about the creature Gollum. Most of the Gardner children had lost interest by this point, and were dancing the springle ring in the kitchen. Only Mithril remained.

“The Stinker was treacherous from the start, of course.” continued Sam, oblivious to the screeching sounds of an amateur fiddle player and the thumping from next door. “I always knew that. Poor Mr Frodo, he thought that-”

Suddenly, the doorbell rang, the peals resounding loudly. Sam, startled out of his trance, looked up with a puzzled expression on his face, confused by the disappearance of his audience, then shrugged and went to answer the door.

There stood Poppy Burrows, with her flaming red hair tumbled about her, her great coat hanging from her shoulders, fastened by one button, and an expression of mock disapproval on her face.
“Mithril Burrows!” she called, folding her arms. “You can’t just go off in the middle of the night without leaving a note!”
Mithril, still sitting in the darkness of the dining room, grinned to herself. She knew well that her mother was as fond of tales as any of them, and her angry demands to see her daughter were merely an excuse to sit and listen. Silently, she got up and crept to the door.

Meanwhile, Poppy was berating Sam.
“Why did you not tell me she was here?” she said, tapping a foot and looking him angrily in the eye. Sam flushed. Poppy had a way of looking that made him wish himself far away.
“Well,” she said. “I may as well come in, and see what you’ve been up to-”

And as she stepped inside, and saw Mithril watching her from the kitchen doorway, she noticed the ring hanging from her daughter’s neck.

Frodo was still outside when a shrill scream ripped the velvet of the night.

It came from inside thew smial, a dreadful sound, strangled and torn into pieces by hacking coughs, laden with the pain of betrayal of trust. Frodo knew whose it was, though he could not say he knew it well. It took a lot to make Mithril cry out.
Cursing loudly, he turned and ran back along the garden path through the open front door. Inside, he beheld a scene which it made his guts twist with horror. Mrs Burrows was choking Mithril by the chain around her throat. A strange light seemed to shine in Poppy’s eyes, as her hands strove to seize- the ring.

Frodo stood, frozen, as mother and daughter fought. Mithril was rather strong in the arms, and had a fair chance, but Poppy had had the element of surprise. She clearly had the upper hand now, and Mithril’s struggles were becoming weaker and weaker, her yells dying away. Frodo couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing, he was struck dumb by incredulity. This was unnatural, wrong, it couldn’t happen-

But it had.

Suddenly overwhelmed by a tide of rage and fury, Frodo rushed to the struggling pair and threw himself into the fray, straining to prise Poppy’s grasping fingers off the ring. However, as soon as he laid hands on Miss Burrows’ grasping fingers, she seemed to come to her senses, and relenquished her hold, staggering backwards, holding out her hand as if it was dangerous. Mithril, aware that she was no longer under attack, tried to shove Frodo away. “I’m fine,” she snapped, shaking him off. “I can walk-” her answer was cut short as her knees gave way.

Mrs Burrows was staring at her daughter, her eyes filled with a strange mixture of anger and grief. She shook her head violently, as if to rid herself of a thought, looking at her hands with an expression of disbelief and horror.
“I’m-so-sorry-” she said in a hoarse voice, as if struggling to keep back tears. “It’s just-” she took a ragged breath. “I need-that-ring!” Her voice grew stronger. “She stole it! It’s mine-my own-it’s precious-”

Sam stared at her, filled with a fear of the impossible.

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