/The events in this story take place in the year 1384 by the Shire Calendar; however Frodo’s age has been changed for narrative purposes. I hope it is a discrepancy the reader will forgive./

Bilbo Baggins sat contentedly in a corner of the Green Dragon, idly leafing through his book. It was early afternoon on a cold day in Solmath, the second month of the year, and the tavern was mostly empty of customers. Bilbo considered the pen before him, but picked up his mug instead and sighed. At the rate he was going, his book would take another 20 years to finish.

.‘Well, and why not?’, Bilbo thought. ‘I certainly don’t believe my best years are behind me, at the age of 94!’ He glanced at his pocket watch, and then shut it with a frown. He hoped the children would be along soon. He was feeling peckish.

There was a shout at the door, and a small group of hobbit children, indistinguishable in their heavy coats, tramped into the tavern. They made their way over to Bilbo with much shouting, laughing, and comments on the cold weather.

“Come on now! The tea’s almost ready,” said Bilbo. “Now Frodo, Pimpernel, I think we’ll need a few more chairs, set down your bags and have young Samwise help with that,” – the older boys quickly set off – “Pervinca, just hand Pippin to me and the coats can go on the ledge there,” – the wet coats were piled up – “Meriadoc, get off of the table! You’ve only just gotten the splint off your arm.”

Several times during this process Mr. Goodbody, the owner of the establishment, was disturbed enough to remind Mr. Baggins that any damages must be paid for. Bilbo reminded him that the meal he /had/ paid for hadn’t come yet, so Mr. Goodbody sighed and returned to the kitchen. “Tolman! Where’s the Baggins order?” he called.

“Too much business Hal?” Mr. Cotton enquired from a seat by the kitchen door. Mr. Goodbody shook his head as he wiped his hands on his apron. “No complaints here Tom, as long as the building’s still standing at the end of the day…”

Mr. Cotton chuckled. “Baggins will keep ’em in order, don’t you worry. He has a way with those young-uns.”

“Hmph,” snorted Mr. Goodbody. “Acts like one of them himself, with the moonshine fancy he tells ’em. Not much good can come of it.”

“Oh I don’t know,” said Mr. Cotton as he watched his daughter join the laughing table in the corner. “Leastwise no harm can come of it.”

* * *

“Well now, this is comfy!” said Bilbo with satisfaction. They had finished the tea with only a minor mishap: Merry had upset the butter dish onto Marigold Gamgee’s lap, which led her to refuse to speak to him until her brother Samwise convinced Merry to apologize. The dishes were now piled up and the children waited expectantly.

Bilbo leaned back in his chair and pulled out his pipe, slowly lighting it and taking a few careful puffs. His eyes widened comically as he looked at the children. “Whatever could you all be waiting for?” he asked. “We have just had an excellent meal, and-”

“Cousin Bilbo, stop it!” laughed Pervinca Took. “It isn’t funny!”

“I don’t see why you’re laughing then,” grunted Bilbo, the corners of his mouth turning up. “Well then, are you ready for a story?” he asked the hobbits. There was a chorus of “Yes!”

“Can we have another one about the dwarves and the dragon?” asked Pimpernel Took. “Dragons!” squealed little Pippin. There were, however, objections. “You told us a story about dragons last week!” said Marigold. “How about something with Elves?” suggested Sam.

Bilbo started as someone spoke near his feet. “Do you know a story about princesses?” Rosie Cotton asked shyly.

“Why yes, Rosie, I do,” Bilbo whispered down to her. “If you’d all quiet down, ” he said in a louder voice, “I believe I have a story that will satisfy all of you. Frodo?” Frodo looked up from the book he and Merry had been perusing, slightly bewildered. “The poem I had given you to translate?” Bilbo prompted.

“Oh! Yes- only I haven’t quite finished it,” Frodo apologized as he handed over a green copybook from his bag. “The last verse was giving me trouble.”

Bilbo flipped through the book and raised an eyebrow. “I don’t believe illustrations were part of the assignment,” he said. Frodo looked over the older hobbit’s shoulder. Surrounding his neat script were sketches of various peoples and creatures, drawn very enthusiastically. It was a stretch of the imagination to believe they had any relation to the story written on the same pages.

“I didn’t draw those…” Frodo began. Then he turned back to Merry, who was innocently stacking sugar cubes into a tower. “Merry, I told you not to touch my books!”

“That book wasn’t on your bookshelf though.” Merry countered. “I found it in the front room.” Frodo started to speak again but Bilbo forestalled him by beginning to read.

“Once long ago, there was a great forest ruled by a powerful Elf king.”

“Oh, I do like to hear about them Elvish folk,” Sam whispered to Merry. He ducked his head as Bilbo looked up from the book.

“Ahem. Well,” Bilbo continued, “He had many riches, but the thing he treasured more than any of his jewels was his daughter, the Princess Luthien.”

For the next hour the children listened raptly to the story of the beautiful Elven princess who was imprisoned in a tower for loving the mortal man Beren, her escape using a magical cloak woven from her dark hair, and how she and Beren had penetrated a sorcerer’s fortress to retrieve the prize the Elf King had demanded for her hand: a Silmaril, a jewel said to hold the very light of the sun and moon. Rosie shivered as Bilbo described how the sorcerer’s great wolf devoured both Beren’s hand and the Silmaril it held.

Merry leaned toward Frodo as the battle between the wolf Carcharoth and the magical hound Huan was told. “That’s the part I drew,” he whispered. “I thought those were pigs,” Frodo whispered back. Merry kicked him under the table.

The death of Beren, and Luthien’s sacrifice of her immortality for the return of his life, left Pervinca and Marigold brushing away tears. When Bilbo finished speaking, the children were all silent for a moment, eyes shining. Then a party of drovers entered the tavern and the spell was broken.

“Thank you for the story, Cousin Bilbo!” said Pimpernel. “That wolf was just as bad as a dragon I bet.” He bared his teeth and growled at Pippin, who laughed and growled back. “C’mon Pimpernel, help me get Pippin’s coat on,” said Pervinca. The Tooks left, followed by Frodo and Merry, who managed to knock over some chairs before leaving. “He’s staying a week this time,” Frodo whispered to Bilbo. “He’s driving my father mad.” “He’ll grow out of it,” Bilbo whispered back. “Give my best to your parents.”

Bilbo stood and stretched, then pulled on his coat. He noticed Sam was still sitting at the table, looking at the pictures in Frodo’s copybook. Sam shut the book, sighing. “Anything wrong, Sam?” Bilbo asked. Sam shook his head and stood up. “Nothing, sir.” He opened his mouth, then closed it again. “Anything you wanted to tell me?” Bilbo prompted.

“No sir. That is-” Sam stopped and shoved his hand in his pockets. He looked up and met Bilbo’s eye. “I want to thank you, sir, for telling us those stories. Them old tales… those are my favorite.”

Bilbo considered this. “Sam, would you like to borrow some of my books?” he asked. If anything, Sam’s face grew sadder. “That’s right kind of you, Mr. Bilbo,” he said. “But the plain fact is, I can’t read.”

Bilbo wanted to kick himself. Of course Sam couldn’t read! Why would he ever need to, being raised to be a farmer? He considered the hobbit before him, dressed in simple, homespun clothes, dirt under his fingernails even though it was winter. He had an idea, but wasn’t quite sure how to present it.

“Samwise, how would you like to come over to my house sometimes, and perhaps I could show you some of my books, and – teach you to read?”

From the expression on Sam’s face, you would have thought Mr. Bilbo was offering him a trip to the moon. “Could you really do that, sir?” Sam asked eagerly, his eyes bright. “Could you really learn me my letters?”

“Of course I can, Sam!” Bilbo exclaimed heartily. “Come over tomorrow afternoon.”

“Thank you, sir! Thank you!” Sam practically yelled. “I’ve got to tell my Gaffer!” He rushed out the door, grabbing a protesting Marigold away from a conversation with Rosie.

Bilbo laughed softly. As he grabbed his walking stick from by the door and shouldered his bag, one of Sam’s phrases repeated in his head: ‘Them old tales… those are my favorite’.

‘I suppose I’ll have to take a holiday if I’m ever to get my book finished,’ he thought as he stepped out into the falling snow. ‘But there’s no hurry,’ he thought, watching a snowball fight down the road. ‘No hurry at all.’

* * *

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