West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Hare and Hounds
Frodo participates in an Overlithe coming of age ritual. Choose-your-own-adventure: multiple links branch to various pairings. WORK IN PROGRESS Update: (F/S) and (F/S, S/R, F/S/R) Complete
Author: Bill The Pony
WARNING: some heterosexual content.
For the duration
of Overlithe in Hobbiton, class distinctions were all but
forgotten-- originally by insistence of Bilbo Baggins, who
loved a fine party and occasionally preferred to enjoy more
rustic pleasures than he found at gatherings of his
relations. He liked to share an occasional apple brandy or
good malt beer with Gaffer Gamgee, for instance, who was
always pleased to oblige him with the latest local gossip.
Frodo Baggins proved no exception to his uncle's custom; after his arrival on the Hill he took up Old Bilbo's ways and enjoyed many a lively dance on the green with the local maids during each summer's festivities. Even after Bilbo's departure and his own coming of age, Frodo failed to grow respectably sober, remaining as merry as a lad just out of his tweens and preferring a dance to sitting at ease with a mug.
Still, the neighborhood, assembled in the Party Field according to custom, was shocked to discover that in the summer of his forty-fifth year Frodo Baggins planned to take part in the annual Hare and Hounds. It was a tradition of sorts, held to quicken the crops, and had been run every year at Overlithe for time out of mind. It was even more surprising when Mr. Frodo had announced his intent to run, for usually lads were the hounds and lasses the hares.
Only a few times in the Gaffer's long memory had the order of things been turned on its ear, and never for the likes of Baggins blood. It wasn't proper, and some said it stunted the crops rather than blessing them when one lad chased another, as might well happen with Mr. Frodo in the running.
"That'll be the Brandybuck in him," Gaffer Gamgee shook his hoary head in dismay, peering down into the dregs in his mug as though they held the answer to the mystery of Mr. Frodo's queer doings. "Not that I'm convinced they do aught of this sort in Buckland, though they have their foreign ways, and no mistake-- living right against the Old Forest and fooling about in boats as they do." He gave a cautious look about, not liking to speak up against any Baggins who lived under Hill, and lowered his voice for Old Noakes's ears alone.
"I won't say I don't find no concern in it, neither. There's those as says Mr. Frodo'd be seeking after a bride, but I ain't one o' them. If he had an eye for one o' our lasses, he'd not run. He'd chase, and that's a fact." He fell silent, not wanting to follow his line of thinking further-- not out loud, at any rate, but his eyes flickered away towards his Sam, who sat at the bar near enough Rose Cotton to keep an eye on her, but far enough away so he wasn't obliged to speak.
"I reckon I know your mind, Ham Gamgee, and there's no doubt it seems a bit odd he'd do such the very year your Sam's come of age and all. More than a bit, in fact." Noakes kept his own voice low out of respect for the Gaffer's concern. "It ain't done, and that's a fact-- but there ain't a one of us with the cheek to say him no, and none of his betters, neither, now Mr. Bilbo's gone and vanished away."
"That's the truth." Hamfast scowled at his empty mug. "Well, he'll run, and there's no stopping him. What's worse, that Tom Cotton won't let his Rose run early. Not that my Sam would have the bollocks to chase her if she did-- not to look at him! See there how he keeps his eyes on his cup!" The two old hobbits watched as Rose poured Sam a fresh mug, smiling as pretty as a morning in May, while Sam flushed red to the ears and kept his head down, never seeing a bit of it.
Noakes clucked his tongue. "He's a shy one, that's certain."
"Shy's one thing, but that one? Bids fair to end up a bachelor, he does." Hamfast huffed with impatience, then softened his scowl as Rose came around the bar and approached with her pitcher. "Thank'ee, lass, and I'd be speaking for that lout of mine, as well."
She blushed prettily and dipped him a curtsey, as good-natured as any hobbit could want. The Gaffer watched moodily as she padded off, not at all insensitive to the pleasant view accompanying her retreat.
"So Mr. Frodo will run, and that's final," he sighed, "but it's to be hoped my lad's as backwards in that quarter as he is in this. Mayhap naught will come of it but a by-blow, if some lass snares Mr. Frodo in the end."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Sam sipped his beer slowly and kept his eyes on his mug, not
in the least unaware of his Gaffer's scowl or of Rosie
Cotton's smiles, for all he looked it. He had troublesome
matters to turn over in his mind, like any lad on the eve of
the Hare and Hounds. Tomorrow would dawn the first day of
Overlithe and with it would come the first competition. He
had his mind to make up about what he must do in the chase.
Fancy Mr. Frodo running! Sam couldn't think what to make of it. He'd spent the weeks since his birthday grieving that Rosie wouldn't run, torn between which lasses he might chase. The whole village had been abuzz over it since Spring arrived, birds a-twitter and daffodils pushing through the mould, as happened every year-- all the lads wondering who'd run, hoping there'd be enough lasses.
If it were just another game on the green....
Young Tom Cotton pushed through the door, calling a greeting to his friends among the crowd. "Hullo, Sam!" He sat down and called for ale. "Are you still fretting? There's no need." He chuckled as Sam's ears went hot, and Sam knew he was blushing something fierce. "If you catch the lass you want, she won't say nay. You'll have a pretty tumble in the fields, and come up the better for it."
Sam shrugged casually, pretending the notion didn't terrify him half out of his wits. "Ah, but who am I to chase? Dandelion Harfoot, seemingly. Half the village lads have a mind to catch her."
"You don't want that," Tom said confidently. "We both know better. She's a bit too pert for her petticoats, and any smart lad can see it."
"He'd best chase someone as runs slow as he thinks," Carl Goodchild chuckled from a nearby table, openly eavesdropping on their conversation. "May Belle Stoneheaver won't run more than a dozen ells, all told!"
"May Belle's a fine cook, and not her fault if she samples a bit of what she makes," Tom answered him, good-natured. "And if aught comes between her and Bowman Sandybanks, he'll have summat to say about it, I'm thinking."
"Mayhap Sam's got a mind to chase after that Mr. Baggins," Carl said, and half the common room tittered to hear it. "But I'm thinking he'll find himself running from naught at all."
Sam grimaced. That happened, more often than not-- one or two of the hares would run, only to find no hound on her heels. He still remembered Dora Weaver from last year's race; she'd stopped her useless running when the hounds had all but run from her, and gone walking home with her head up high, but her lip trembled when the watching hobbits laughed her on her way, and she didn't come back for no more of the party. Before she was out of sight along the Road, talk already had her an old maid with only her sister's children to dandle on her knee, and not far wrong-- Sam didn't know as she'd ever walked out with anyone, before or since.
"Teach him his place." Daddy Twofoot scowled, taking out his pipe and thumbing weed into it from his pouch. "And mayhap we'll have no more of such foolish goings-on."
Sam bristled, but his father beat him to the words that burned on his tongue. "Now, it's not our place to say such, and you know it."
"He won't run to naught at all. There's half a dozen of the lasses want their names among the hounds; they've a mind to chase him-- for the sake of that fine smial up on the Hill." Farmer Cotton shook his head even as Sam blinked surprise. "The whole town's in a taking; there's no telling what might come of it. It could be we'll wind up with a mistress of Bag End."
"That we won't," Sam said without thinking, and went crimson as the eyes of everyone in the room turned to him.
"Would you be planning to catch him yourself, then?" Carl tittered disbelief.
Sam's head spun; he felt his father's eyes burning at him amidst the throng. "Aye," he said faintly, and turned back to his beer as the room erupted into guffaws and shocked muttering, trying to decide for themselves if he meant the words for true. Sam didn't wait for them to ask; tipping his head back he drained his mug and slipped out into the night, then took off down the lane as fast as he could go.
"You've landed yourself in a pickle, and no mistake, Samwise, speaking afore you think!" He told himself as he hurried away from the Ivy Bush, cutting across old Holman's fields and past the Water. "Mr. Frodo'll hear of your foolish talk before morning, and then where will you be?" He had half a mind to set himself walking through the night and never turn around nohow, maybe not stopping till he found himself in parts where folk had never heard the name of Gamgee.
A spatter of rain gusted out of the darkling sky even as tatters of cloud shrouded over the rising Moon, and Sam turned up his collar. Spotting the remains of last year's hay-rick standing up near the Cotton's byre, he turned aside and tucked himself up under the leeward face of it where the cows had grazed it away, glad of the shelter and a chance to think.
"Mr. Frodo, what are you playing at?" Sam fretted. He couldn't for the life of him figure it out. Burrowing up tighter against the stack, he watched the rain set in for a steady fall, streaming from the straws of hay before his face. There wasn't naught for it now but to keep his word, he reckoned. If he didn't try, he'd never hear the end of it.
In spite of the wind and the rain, something warm fluttered in his belly. Keep his word? Oh, but wouldn't that be a pleasure in itself! To catch Mr. Frodo, pin him down-- have him exactly the way tradition demanded: laid out upon the naked earth of the nearest field?
Sam shivered, and it had naught to do with the rain. If that was Mr. Frodo's game, there wasn't a hobbit anywhere more determined than Sam to play it. But like enough, it wasn't that at all-- surely it couldn't be Sam Gamgee the master had his cap set for.
Sam leaned back against the stack and squirmed until he made himself a nest among the loose hay. Just beyond his nose, the rain whispered down with a steady and soothing murmur, lulling him. He'd had a pint or three of ale before he left the Ivy Bush, and a day of hard work getting ready for Overlithe. Combined, those reasons were enough for his eyelids to droop, and if not for a sharp straw poking him here and there, he'd have been as comfortable as lying at home on his own bed.
Here, isolated by the rain and not tormented by rude onlookers, he could almost chuckle at himself. Perfectly ridiculous, the notion that he could catch Mr. Frodo and have him-- but delightful nonetheless. Sam trailed his hand over his belly and let it rest on his breeches, sighing. Best to get his dreaming over with, and put it behind him before the dawn light.
Mr. Frodo had been slim and upright among the tittering, blushing gaggle of girls who presented themselves to run. Sam could picture him when he closed his eyes. He'd been wearing his usual morning kit: a well-tailored loose linen shirt and dark breeches, without the cumbrance of a weskit. The sun had caught in his hair as he wrote his own name on the scroll, chin set, defiant of the tittering and the gossip already starting to rumble all around.
Sam remembered freezing, still as a fox before it bolts, as he suddenly understood where his master's name had been written-- not on the same scroll as his own. His fingers fluttered now, a delicate pressure, and he stirred his hips lazily, humming a little. He couldn't let himself linger then, slipping away for his day's work unnoticed, but now? He thought of Frodo's blunt fingers clasped on the pen, and the line of his trim back as he bent to sign, and he felt himself begin to swell. Not just any signature, that, but a contract. Frodo Baggins, offering himself up to be had by one lucky winner.
Sam whimpered softly, the cloth of his trousers binding him as his shaft jerked, urgent and quickly began heating under his fingers. Mr. Frodo's glance, when he straightened, had moved coolly across the entire half-circle of the marketplace, absolutely without haste or shame, meeting eyes. Sam had dropped his own before their gazes touched, and hastily gone about his business. He had eggs to buy, and butter, and milk to be hauled up the Hill before the Sun rose high enough to quicken its curdling. And there were flowers to be watered and have their dead blossoms plucked, and grass to be sheared. He had half a hundred little tasks that needed doing or they'd get out of hand, come Overlithe. Quite enough to keep back the memory of those eyes.
But now, in his mind, he met them, and they settled on him-- Frodo, his hair blowing a bit in the summer breeze that tugged open his collar. Sam could finish that job better than any wind, he'd warrant-- open that shirt and let the Sun burnish the slim alabaster body that lay beneath. His fingers tightened around himself and he squirmed, parting his thighs to give himself a bit of room to breathe.
Ah, now that was better. Better just like the thought of grass stains on Mr. Frodo's linen shirt where Sam would tumble him to the grass, and the sight of that grass crushed under Mr. Frodo's lithe body as Sam bared it, unbuttoning velvet trousers and pulling aside the placket, hooking earth-stained fingertips into linen underclothes and dragging them down.
And who knew better than Sam what he'd find, when he did? Sam, who occasionally tended the master at his bath, eyes downcast but not blind, hands near but not allowed to touch, face impassive as he poured warm water, as he handed over the scrubbing brush, as he held a warmed towel for the slender, water-sleek vision who rose from the washtub to be dried....
Sam groaned and fumbled with the button of his own breeches, dragging himself out into the cool, damp air. His imagination was so vivid he could all but feel how the sun would burn and bake at the back of his head, all but see the shadow of his own silhouette eclipsing the sun to Frodo's eyes, letting Frodo look up at Sam as Sam slid a hand behind each of Frodo's knees and bent them up against his chest and then mounted him with a slow, firm push, making Frodo cry out and clutch at him, white teeth sinking in his lip even as Sam sank deep inside him--
Sam gave a keening groan as his muscles contracted, and he slid onto his side, his whole body curled about the sun-hot flare of his hardened shaft, struggling not to come just from thinking of it. He held perfectly still for a while-- as still as he would be after he pressed himself all the way in to his master, as still as he would stay, trembling, until Frodo grew used to holding Sam inside himself and shifted his hips to ask for more, his eyes wide and locked on Sam's, his face beginning to haze with the sweetest sheen of salt sweat for Sam to lick away-- off his forehead, off his cheek, off the bridge of his nose with its faint suggestion of summer freckles, off his narrow chin, off his pink rosebud of a mouth.
Sam's hand drew along his shaft in spite of his best intentions, stoking the blazing heat there, tight as Frodo's body would have to be-- for Sam didn't only attend at his bath. No, Sam set the firescreen upon Mr. Frodo's hearth on winter nights, blew out the candles, moved his reading lamp nearer the bed. And then Sam came about early the next morning, too, to find the fire burnt to ashes and the lamp empty of oil and more often than not, to find Mr. Frodo sprawled on his mattress half-curled around his bed companion: whichever book he'd lain down with before Sam left him the night before.
"Me dear..." he murmured thickly, throat tight with the same love he felt each time he let himself into Frodo's room to open up the curtains and let morning wash in and drive away the stuffy evening air, with the same tenderness he felt when he picked up the tumbled books and put them in a neat stack while his master yawned and stretched and blinked at the flood of light.
Sam let his left thumb, hard and rough with callus, drag around the tip of his shaft, teasing at the loose skin there, then slide over the top. He was wet, and he lifted his thumb to his mouth without thinking, licking at the salt there, as he loved to do-- tasting himself laid over a faint shadow of the beer foam that had run down the side of his mug at the Ivy Bush.
To do that to Mr. Frodo... to wrap his own work-hardened hand around Mr. Frodo's slender arousal! To caress it, feeling skin softer than a babe's, and to touch the gleaming moisture on the tip, gather it on a forefinger, put those fingers against Mr. Frodo's lips, push past them, lay their pads on his tongue and watch his cheeks hollow as he suckled.
Sam's mouth closed around his fingers and he sucked at the fading taste, rolling his hips, lost in the ache of his own fantasy-- withdrawing and thrusting deep again into Frodo, faster now. His master's little smothered whimpers and gasps steep in his ear, his master's tongue dancing against his fingers... Sam squeezed himself tight and pulled hard, bucking forward with his hips, a gust of wind blowing a spatter of rain over him, cool and delicate, near sizzling off his flesh. His breath hitched, then caught in his chest-- Frodo's soft black lashes, his wide blue eyes ablaze, a gush of warmth against Sam's belly, and...!
Sam uttered a strangled yelp through clenched teeth and came, body straining, frantic, his seed wet between his fingers and warm on his palm-- half a dozen long spasms, body wracked anew with each, agonized with bliss. The echo of his cry made the sheep in the nearest pen mill about, their hooves squelching in the mud, the noise ceasing as they settled. Moaning low in his throat, exhausted, he turned over to burrow against the haystack, not bothering to fasten himself up, and brought his wet palm to his mouth for a slow lick-- the fingers of his left hand ached a bit, narrow red troughs pressed into the flesh where he'd bitten them.
His seed tasted rich and a little bitter, like good beer, and his eyes closed as he licked at it, imagining Frodo's there instead, and Frodo's mouth on his hand.
The night folded around him and the rain poured down, but Sam lay cozy under his haystack, his sated body and mind already drifting away into sleep.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"What's this, then?" The tones were feminine, deeply amused,
and they stirred Sam from a dream of lying in bed with the
covers kicked off, unable to find them, and as he blinked,
he realized he wasn't far wrong. He was lying on the ground,
stiff and uncomfortable and more than a little cold. He
squinted at the steel-grey sky. Nearly dawn, and the voice
"Sam Gamgee, if I didn't know better, I'd say you'd come here to pine because I can't run for three years yet." Warm, that voice, flirtatious, and terribly familiar.
...Rose Cotton. He groaned and rubbed his eyes, but he wasn't dreaming.
"But I do, for the whole of Hobbiton was talking of naught but you all the night." Her voice changed, turning tart. "You and that master of yours, what's worse, Sam! Still, if you don't get up and about, I'll warrant my da will give you a clout, finding you here, laying in wait for me, so to speak!"
"I wasn't," Sam blurted, rolling over to face her automatically, and getting up to his knees in a panic, feeling a rather urgent need to be away. A clout from Farmer Cotton's thick fist was naught to risk. "It took in raining while I was on my way home, and I come for a bit of shelter."
"Better if you hid up in the byre." She eyed him critically; there was some amusement in her voice now, and something else. More than one something-- something sharp, and something silky-warm. "If you want to be a bit private-like. For I know you hadn't enough ale in you to fall over asleep after leaving it against the byre."
Private-like? What...? Sam suddenly felt a draft, and crimson heat leaped into his face; he'd forgot to do himself up, and now his breeches were hanging open. His hands flew to his breeches, snatching them shut. Agonized with embarrassment, he kept his eyes on her toes, desperate for her to go so he could fasten himself up proper and creep away before it got any brighter.
"Sam." Her voice fell, and some of the sharpness crept out of it, replaced by that growing warmth. "Sam, what would you say if I asked that you not go to the Overlithe Festival today? It's been a troubled night, and you've passed it without no comfort. Climb up in the loft of the byre-- there's horse blankets there, and straw. You can wrap yourself up and have a sleep, and I'll be about my chores. But when I've done, I'll come up, and there'll be no need for chasing hares about the countryside. Sam, what think you?" Her hand crept out, and her fingers plucked a straw from a curl of his hair, then teased the curl to wind around them. She sounded... wistful.
Sam gulped, feeling like a fox circling a trap-- sniffing at the bait inside, knowing the trap would fall around his ears if he touched it. But oh, it sounded so good, and he could all but taste it. It weren't just Mr. Frodo he had an eye for, and that was a fact-- how could you spend all your life looking at the pale cool Moon and knowing you couldn't have a bit of him, and shun the light of the Sun, with her golden hair and her shining warmth reaching out to touch you? You couldn't, and that was a fact.
"Don't you believe me?" She glanced about right quick, biting her lip, and then dropped the wooden milking pails she was holding and snatched up her skirts to her thighs, bundling them inside one fist. Sam blinked at her legs, which he hadn't seen since she was a wee lass, but he didn't have time to gawp, for she was moving, bearing him over and kneeling with her thighs on either side of his, and she was up against his hand where it held his breeches closed, and she hadn't nothing on underneath the skirts at all, soft hair tickling against his hand, and heat....
"Rosie!" Sam yelped, nearly jumping out of his skin. His body leaped to attention with predictable urgency. "Your father, now, he'd do more than clout me for this!" Sam Gamgee knew he weren't ready to be married, not a bit of it, and that was a fact!
"A sparrow in the hand, now, isn't that worth more than a peacock you've heard tell of somewhere off behind the hedgerow?" Rosie's weight was sturdy on him, and she moved, wet and warm, and he realized his hand had turned over in spite of itself, fingers moving to explore in sheer fascination this hidden landscape of folds and curves and slick wet heat. She shuddered once, and he watched in fascination, moving his fingers again over the spot to watch her bite her lip and draw her breath, charmed like a bird by the weaving of a snake. The curves of her breasts were rising before his face as she inhaled, and they were milk-smooth and downed with the softest, palest hair he'd ever beheld. She might be three years yet from coming of age, but her body didn't seem to know aught of that, and his didn't neither-- that was a fact.
A door creaked and banged shut entirely too close by for comfort, and Sam flinched, near-frantic with guilt. "Rosie, your da...!" Bother it, he was near as good as married off already, if he was caught with his hand where it was and all!
She was on her feet quick as lightning, skirts falling proper-like around her ankles, reaching to snatch her milk-pails. "I'll look for you in the loft at forenoon," she purred, and darted away, leaving Sam stone-hard and staring after her, completely flummoxed.
Nibs Cotton's shrill voice greeted her, and that sent Sam's fingers flying to put himself to rights. It was still dark enough for him to duck behind the sheep-pen and find the shelter of the hedgerow without being seen; the sheep bleated and milled about, but he was already safe, the puddles in the lane shattered by his running feet.
A cock crowed as he fled the farm, and he winced-- he ought to be up at Bag End already, tending the flowers so he'd be finished in time for the festival. If he meant to go-- if he could go, what with Rosie expecting him and all! But he must; he'd given his word, and he hadn't give no word at all to Rosie, for all she'd done. He hadn't done naught; she'd done it herself.
By the time he reached Number Three, puffing and gasping and spent from his run up the Hill the Gaffer was out in the yard, scowling. "Here I thought I'd have to send the Shirriffs out looking for 'ee, Samwise. For shame, laying out all the night! 'Ee may be of age, but 'ee ain't a tomcat. Or at least I thought 'ee weren't." He narrowed his eyes shrewdly, looking off the way Sam had come. "'Ee haven't been visiting down to the Cotton's farm, have 'ee? Getting an early start on Overlithe?"
Sam just stared at him with his chin dropping, guilt writ large over his face, and the Gaffer cackled. "There's hope for 'ee yet. I'll admit I had half a thought to see 'ee creeping out of Bag End instead. Get in that house and have a quick wash, Sam, and run along up the Hill. There's chores to be done, and I'll see to it 'ee don't slack 'em, not even if 'ee lay out every night of the week!"
Sam obeyed, and by the time the Sun rose over the Eastfarthing, he was on his knees in the yard up on the Hill, rooting out a dandelion from the grass of the lawn. The last of the night's clouds were shredding into flocks, herded away by the morning breeze, catching the gold of the rising Sun and leaving behind a rain-washed blue sky.
A clatter from inside let him know that Mr. Frodo was up and about, not waiting abed to be wakened; there was already smoke rising from the chimney and Sam sighed, feeling a bit of guilt over missing his morning duties, for all it wasn't the time he usually begun them yet. He kept at his work, moving quickly about the yard, and was a third from finished when Mr. Frodo emerged with a mug in one hand and his pipe in the other.
Sam blushed and touched his cap, wondering if his master had heard aught of the gossip from the Ivy Bush, but Mr. Frodo just nodded and spoke to him, polite as usual.
Mr. Frodo crossed the yard to sit, but frowned at his favourite bench; its seat was wet, so he vanished away inside and come out with a tea-towel to wipe himself a dry place to sit while he sipped from his mug and then smoked his pipe. He savoured it with long slow puffs, and not a word came out of his mouth after "Good morning, Sam," though his bright eyes followed Sam as he moved about the yard.
A bird in the hand. Sam sighed, remembering Rosie's wet little maiden's nest hot against his fingers. Now that the night was over, the bright of day showed his foolish dreams for what they were. There weren't no way he could have Mr. Frodo, like he'd daydreamed it. He ought to just give over his plans to chase and go back down to the farm, where Rosie would be waiting. If they didn't get caught, Farmer Cotton wouldn't have no reason to make Sam up and marry, and Farmer Cotton wouldn't catch them, would he, being off at the festival for the day.
"Will you be finished in time to come down for the running?" Frodo looked out from under his eyelashes, then breathed in a draught of sweet smoke. His casual words interrupted Sam's thinking. He pressed the stem of his pipe against his lower lip and blew spent smoke out through his nostrils, its sweet scent briefly curling around Sam even from halfway across the yard.
"Aye," Sam murmured truthfully-- he would, whether he went down or no. Already half-roused from the thought of Rosie, his body tightened at the sound of Mr. Frodo's voice.
"Good. I'll see you there." Mr. Frodo rose, perfectly composed, and took his pipe and his mug back inside the house, then came back out again and set off down the Road.
Well, that settled that! Sam sat back on his heels and mopped his forehead with his sleeve. It might mean Rosie wouldn't ever forgive him, but those last five words... even as cool as they'd been, Sam couldn't imagine not going anymore. Not a bit of it.
He finished up quick as he could, blessing the night's soaking rain, for it meant he'd not have to draw water and carry buckets of it through the garden, which would have held him up till near midday. When he was done he stood up and washed his hands at the well, then squared his shoulders and looked down the Hill to the party field. Hobbits were already trickling in to begin the festival; cookfires had been lit and smoke curled up and away into the blue.
Out in one end of the field stood a pole with a rippling banner marking where Sam was to be next, and sparing a guilty thought for Rosie, he trotted down the Road and slipped into the Field. He made a point of nodding and speaking to those as he saw, but wore a red face nonetheless, for he could hear the rumor of last night's talk at the Ivy Bush, complete with his part in it, making a rapid journey from mouth to ear everywhere he passed. At this rate, Frodo would have heard it, too.
His stomach growled loudly, warning him that he'd missed his breakfast, so he paused for a thick slab of toast and a generous helping of blackberry jam, licking his fingers and looking about. Many of the young lasses had snips of red ribbon tied in their hair or on to their bodices, and the sight made him duck his head shyly-- those were the tokens for this phase of the chase, each with its owner's name carefully penned on the fabric. Win one of those today, and it meant you could chase its owner on the morrow, when the real chase started. The girls were walking about sedately now, but soon they wouldn't be.
The crowd had swelled while he ate; he could hear Farmer Cotton's round tones from somewhere near the hedge. Flushing, Sam made himself scarce, ducking around behind the party tree-- and nearly stumbling over his master, who was busy tying ribbons to his shirt.
"Excuse me," Sam stammered, clutching and twisting his jacket-tail in the absence of a cap. "I didn't see--"
Frodo shook his head, impatiently waving aside the apology. "I could use some help, Sam-- I haven't figured out the trick of doing this."
Sam smiled in spite of himself, glad Frodo didn't seem to have heard the gossip-- at least not yet. "Well, seeing as how I watched Daisy help May nigh on four years ago now, I think I might know the way of it." He stepped up and accepted one of the ribbons, then looped it through Mr. Frodo's buttonhole, securing it with a half-bow, so it would come away when tugged.
"You haven't got all the lace and trimmings of a lass, so it's a bit harder to find a place to put them," he murmured, feeling his heart pound-- this was worse than Rosie, having Mr. Frodo so near, tying these very tokens onto him when he hoped to win one for himself later! He laced a second ribbon onto Mr. Frodo's collar button, and began to affix one of them to each of his buttons-- stopping well before the band of his trousers, of course.
"It is," Frodo agreed, looking away from Sam's busy fingers without moving his head, gazing up through his lashes to catch Sam's eye. "You were quick in the garden this morning."
"Aye, well, the rain did half my job for me, and that's good fortune." Sam thought for a minute, out of buttons, then tied ribbons to the tip of Mr. Frodo's collar on either side.
"That should be enough. I'm not planning to give many away, and if I lose one, I can replace it." Frodo tucked the rest of the ribbons in to his trouser pocket and buttoned the flap over them so as not to lose any by accident-- that could lead to most unpleasant results.
Sam stepped back politely, watching the ribbons disappear-- it might have been clever, he realized, to steal one away now, while he had his hands on it. Too late for that-- they were gone, and he'd have to take his chances. Not that he thought he couldn't catch Mr. Frodo if he pleased, but... well, it was hard, that was all. Cruel hard to have to do such a thing, what with half the Shire watching.
Frodo smiled at him suddenly, a mischievous expression as though he could guess what Sam was thinking, and darted around the trunk of the tree back into the festival-- when Sam followed, rather slowly, he was walking across the green, upright, whistling, with a decidedly pleased air.
Sam shook his head, amused in spite of himself. He'd just have to take his chances, along with everyone else.
He wandered out, taking a turn along the booths lined up along the edge of the meadow-- sampling fresh honey, buttermilk, and scones along the way, watching a group of lads and lasses who weren't yet of age as they struck up a dance on the green. The Springle-Ring; its clamour of bells seemed to kick the party off in fine form; all of Hobbiton was present now, more or less, with dainties in hand just like Sam, laughing and chattering in the fine weather.
Worn out from rambling through the festival, Sam leaned back on a post to watch, content to bide his time until the next phase of the chase started, but a word caught his ear, and he cocked his head, the better to listen to the conversation going on behind the nearest booth.
"Aye, well, if you've a mind to chase him, that's all the same to me. I'll help you corner him today, but not tomorrow. I'll have a field of my own to plow, then!" Guffaws greeted the statement. Sam fell in to follow the three lads and tried not to look like he was listening. Rowly Brookstone, that was. He waited to hear more, wondering who had a mind to chase Mr. Frodo and why he thought he might need help with it.
"I'll tend to my field, tomorrow. I just want to be sure of getting a token! Mayhap he thinks he's clever enough to run in the 1 Lithe without running the 2, but we'll show him better, lads."
"That we will." The three laughed and separated, leaving Sam to stew in his juices.
He sighed, rambling further towards the Road as he thought-- that was young Erling Noakes and his cousin Fal, joined at the hip ever since they were old enough to steal a pie. Pleasant fellows, but with a wild hair for mischief, the both of them. They didn't have naught good in mind, especially as young Erling was already rumored to have sown his seed afield. It well on its way to bearing fruit, too, to judge by the way Campion Bridgewater's belly had swollen since Yule, and her father's scowling face every time he laid his eyes on young Noakes.
Well, that was one thing Erling could hardly do to Mr. Frodo, at the least. As for the rest, Sam would just have to--
He gulped, his thought shattered, and ducked behind the nearest booth himself; there was Rosie Cotton threading through the crowd with spots of high color on her cheeks, her pretty rosebud mouth set in a pout, and her eyes hard enough to drive nails. Surely it wasn't forenoon already!
A hand caught his arm and pulled him back further into the shadow-- Tom Cotton, chuckling a bit. "Best to avoid the lass, Sam, and I'm telling ye true. It seems she's of a mind to give ye the rough side of her tongue; mayhap for what ye said in the bar last evening."
"I never promised her naught!" Sam bleated, flushing to the ears.
"Well you know that, and I know it too, but a lass doesn't think the same as a lad, seemingly. Mind the time, Sam-- it's near noon, and you'll be expected on the green. Be off with you, now. She won't be able to get at you once you're part of the gather, for all that she's spent half the month nagging Da to let her run early."
Tom gave Sam a cordial shove, and he darted across the path in Rosie's wake, threading his way stealthily through the booths. He felt rather more like a hare than a hound himself by the time he reached the green, its pleasant grass trampled flat by the morning's dance.
Mr. Frodo was already standing on the grass amidst the hares, most of whom were giving him a wide berth, scowling all the while-- not liking the notion of so much competition, Sam reckoned. He took his own place amidst the hounds, then realized a third group had gathered-- girls, none of them wearing ribbons on their frocks. They stood close by the hounds, and must be hounds themselves-- planning on chasing after Mr. Frodo, Sam would warrant. He nearly groaned aloud. There were six, and as he watched another joined them. Seven extra hounds, all after Mr. Frodo! And no telling how many of the lads fancied him.
Sam set his jaw, putting a stolid, pleasant look on his face, and vowed not to show his dismay, but the look slipped when Rosie Cotton herself came flouncing past, haughtily ignoring him-- and joined the knot of skirted hounds. Sam cast over his shoulder wide-eyed, finding Farmer Cotton and Mrs. Cotton standing at the edge of the field, arms folded and mouths pinched tight with disapproval, but evidently Rosie had managed the last word. Tom stood behind them chuckling openly, laughing even more when Sam fixed him with a scowl.
Well, if that didn't settle it, nothing would. Sam Gamgee would catch Mr. Frodo for himself, and that was flat.
The crowd stirred, muttering approval, disdain, and scandal combined as old Daddy Sandheaver came forth-- at a tidy ninety-eight, he was one of the oldest hobbits in Hobbiton. Good-natured and thin as a rail from a life of rough labor, he was still spry enough to get out and about, and had replaced Mr. Bilbo in this ceremonial duty after the latter's vanishment in years past. Sam helped another of the hounds give him a hand up onto a bench, and he held out his hands for quiet. The murmur gradually died and he let the air hang silent, expectant, for a long moment before he spoke.
"This being the sixty-fifth running of the Hare and Hounds since I run when I was just a lad, I'll be telling ye the rules. Mind ye follow 'em, or ye won't be let to run tomorrow. Chase all ye want and run as fast as ye like, but ye must stay within the Party Field to do it, or ye won't be held fit for tomorrow's chase. Hounds, chase all the hares ye wish, and if ye catch a hare, ye win a proper kiss. If she--" he glared for a moment and reversed himself "--the hare be givin' ye a token with it, that means ye can chase her-- the hare, confound it-- tomorrow. Gather right back here at middle-night for an accounting of the tokens."
He paused, glowering a bit. "I don't hold with this year's doings, mind you, lads running and lasses chasing, but I'll warrant the crops will grow green nonetheless. My Dad's Dad, now, he remembered when this race were run stark naked, and none o' this foolishness with tokens, but the sky ain't dried up and the grass ain't shriveled none on account of them changes, so mayhap we won't have drought and famine for all of this, like some says. The harder ye run the sweeter the catching, and the taller the corn will grow, no doubt." He gazed in a circle around the green, making them all wait for a handful of heartbeats, while the wind teased at his ragged white hair.
"Well, be about it," he scowled, and near fell over backwards, bench and all, as the assembled group exploded into violent motion. Sam leaped to steady him, and by the time he was on his feet again, the green was as bare as the circle around a lightning strike, with no sign of Rosie, nor of Frodo, neither.
He bit his lip, casting about-- the rows were a melee of running young hobbits, with old gaffers and gammers shaking fists after the ones as had jostled them. Another day he would have laughed, but today Sam jammed his hands in his pockets soberly and set about wandering at a steady pace. No sense getting winded; he still had till middle-night and hares would be easiest to catch after they tired.
He rounded the corner of a booth, thinking of finding a bite for his noon meal, only to fall gasping to the grass, all the breath knocked out of him. Blinking up against the Sun, he found himself tangled with May Belle Stoneheaver herself, run straight into him while fleeing other hounds.
"Sam Gamgee!" She yelped right sharp as they recovered, flailing against him in a tangle of skirts and petticoats and nice soft warm hobbit-lass. "What are you about, lurking so?"
"Catching myself a hare, seemingly," he chuckled in spite of himself. This was a bit more like it, to his way of thinking. He'd found a reason to appreciate the game at last.
Half the lads in Hobbiton caught up and circled about, puffing and scowling; he'd scored a strong point and no mistake.
May Belle scowled at Sam and struggled upright, dusting herself off; he followed her. "You wouldn't be leaving without my reward," he reminded her, and she frowned, then considered the boys circled about and thought better of it and leaned in to peck him on the cheek.
"That's no proper kiss," Sam shook his head. "You wouldn't be so miserly, would you? Or mayhap these lads will think twice about the running." It was the simple truth; Festival kisses were a legend among the Shire youth, for it was the one time you could do just as you liked without getting a clout from your elders.
She glared again, eyes fit to burn him down where he stood, but stepped up and let him put his arms around her, so he did-- making sure to hold her right around the waist, since all the lads were looking. It wouldn't do to let them mock him, after.
"Now then," he said, quashing his nerves, and put his mouth against hers just as cheeky as you please-- and she opened her mouth for him, startling him half out of his wits-- just as hot as Rosie had been behind the haystack, and them hardly having said two words to one another in as many years, and her annoyed with him to boot.
His body kindled-- all but forgotten till now, the ache Rosie's forward touch had kindled before the dawn caught flame again, and he met May Belle's skillful tongue clumsily but enthusiastically with his own, forgetting anything except his armful of pretty lass. She made a little sound, startlement perhaps, and nestled right up against him, her arms twining around his neck, her whole body pliant against him.
At last she pulled back. "Now, that's something like." Her sharp tones had gone to a purr. "You're a surprise, Sam Gamgee, and no mistake." She shifted, pushing forwards against him, and Sam went red to the ears-- somehow he'd got his leg half between hers, and she was pressed right up against him, no way for her not to feel how randy she'd got him, nohow! Worse yet, he'd got his hand set on her breast somehow, and it was soft and warm through her bodice.
She just laughed at him, soft-like, ignoring the other lads, who were whooping and catcalling fit to beat the band. "You'd change a girl's mind, you would." She took his hand off her, and vanished like the hare she was-- leaving him with a bit of ribbon tucked into his palm and his state of mind evident for all to see.
Sam dithered, casting about frantically, but the lads were streaming past, indifferent to him in their pursuit except for one. There stood Mr. Frodo, leaning against a post to watch, his chest shaking with poorly-stifled laughter.
"Will you chase her tomorrow, Sam?" Frodo teased. "I think she'd like it if you won."
Sam coloured again, even deeper than before, but Mr. Frodo's eyes sparkled with mischief, and he glanced from side to side, then took a single slow step back, then paused and ever-so-slowly took another-- baiting him, Sam would have sworn it! --before vanishing into the crowd even as a shout went up to announce his presence, and a handful of female hounds stampeded past in hot pursuit.
It gave Sam the time he needed to give himself a quick adjustment through his breeches, tucking his problem up tight behind the waistband where it was less obvious, and slip away. He couldn't run in this state nohow; plus, he was all of a dither. What with all the kissing and the flirting and the ribbon in his fist, he was all hot and bothered.
Wisely Sam sought a nice shady corner and a mug of ale to calm himself; he only had one ribbon he wanted to seek after anyhow, so there weren't no rush. It took a bit for his composure to return, but the mug of beer he'd found, and the bread and apples and cheese he took to go along with it soon worked wonders for his state of mind. Watching the chase did, too-- he could see a fair bit of it passing by, and some of the hares were wearing down already, their hair frazzled and their steps slowing.
Tom Cotton ambled by, and Sam called to him, waving him over-- a thought had occurred to him, rather slower than it might. "Tom, why ain't you running this year? You ought to run, by rights, being the same age as me and all."
Tom just laughed at him, not without a note of the smug. "Aye, well, the lass I'd be having? She's not out of her tweens yet. I'm biding my time." He seemed to think Sam ought to know what he meant, but Sam couldn't reckon it nohow, no matter how he figured-- and that smug look left him a bit aggrieved, so he weren't about to ask.
Instead he looked past his friend, distracted by the sight of Fal and Rowly with their heads together. They gesticulated wildly, Fal describing some sort of arch into the air, and Rowly shook his head. They couldn't be planning to set a rabbit trap for Frodo, not with innocent passers who might run afoul of it, so Sam forced himself to relax. Tom was watching him, eyes gleaming with good humor.
"You don't seem so hot for the chase yourself this year, Sam. Mayhap you should have waited for our Rosie to be of an age to run proper."
Sam squirmed, not liking the reminder. "Tom, I'm not at all sure she had a mind to wait."
"You may have the right of it there, though she wouldn't have come to this pass if you'd waited. She's had her cap set for you ever since she could toddle, and no mistake." He reached and snagged a mug of beer from a lass carrying a tray through the crowd. "Mind you, she's already collected herself a token, Sam."
Sam's head jerked up and he near spilled his beer. He blinked at Tom, startled. "Who in the world from?"
"Aster Goodchild, your own cousin, Sam!" Tom threw his head back and near split a seam laughing at the look on Sam's face. "You should see yourself-- you look like a cow stuck halfway over the stile, and can't make up its mind whether it better go forward or back." He leaned over to Sam, conspiratorial.
"I'll tell you a thing, though. If you don't get about it, she'll put you to shame, and that's a fact. If 'twas me, I'd not be a-setting here brooding on it, if I were you. The race has been on for more than an hour, and the hares are getting footsore. Get yourself out there and gather up some tokens. There's no rule says you have to chase a lass, even if you take a ribbon from her. This is a custom as is meant to enjoy; make hay while the Sun shines!"
Sam considered; Tom's words had sense to them. "Well, I might."
"Do it. And have a thought for that master of yours, while you're at it. Word has it the hounds have him cornered up in the Party Tree."
Sam shook his head, laughing. "There's not a hobbit would follow him up there, not even me."
"Maybe so and maybe not, but he's got to come down sometime. And word has it my sister's making ready to climb after him, so you'd best be hurrying."
Sam did, not bothering with the last swallow from his mug-- and sure enough, a knot of hounds was clustered down under the Party Tree. This must have been what Rowly and Fal was on about; Mr. Frodo weren't visible up in the branches, but his voice could be heard, trading jests and dares with the hounds on the ground.
"I'm not moving from this spot till it suits me. If there's a hound down there with any courage, let him come up!" Frodo laughed.
Sam winced as he drew near, seeing Rosie's curly head turn back to answer. "I've half a mind to do it, Mr. Frodo, for you're a rascal, and that's flat!"
"You can't climb no tree in them skirts, Rose Cotton," Sam blurted before he thought better of it; he knew better than any of the others just how true it was-- for he knew first-hand she might well have naught on under them to turn away watching eyes.
"Is that a fact?" Rosie's head turned and her eyes narrowed at Sam, hot with irritation. "Well, you just try and stop me." She reached down and gathered her skirts, knotting them in front of her just below her hips, then reached up to snatch a branch, and Sam swallowed hard, rounding on the others.
"Stand back now, if she's a mind to climb-- you ain't looking up her skirts." Sam pushed at a lad. "Get back now, if you know what's good for you!"
"Aye." There was Tom, right behind Sam. "You'd best be standing back."
The adding of his voice convinced all but the most stubborn, and a few shoves soon had the assembled group moved back beyond the outskirts of the branches. Sam glanced back to be sure Rosie wasn't in trouble; she'd hoisted herself up onto the lowest branch somehow and was reaching for another, but her skirts had caught a snag, and she had to pause to free them. The tied-up skirts didn't give her much covering, that was certain. A scandalized titter went up from the hobbits who'd assembled to watch the chase.
"Don't you be window shopping neither, Sam, seeing as how you ain't planning to buy." Tom cuffed him jovially. Sam turned away, flushing, but he was relieved-- when she was changing for the party, Rosie had evidently thought the better of going about without no drawers on.
After another moment Tom hissed a worried breath and Sam bit his lip, struggling not to check on Rosie's progress. "Now, you hang on tight to that branch, Rosie, for it's a long way to fall," Tom warned. "Don't you go hurting yourself!"
"Mistress Rose, you're a caution." Frodo's laughing voice filtered through the leaves. "And you've more spirit in you than any dozen of the lads here." Sam could hear the rustle of branches and a bit of scraping like cloth. "Put an arm about the trunk and stay where you are; you've earned your token."
"He's coming down for her," Tom breathed, more than a faint note of relief in his voice. Sam seethed, torn between relief and worry.
"You're a fine sport, Mr. Frodo!" Rosie laughed, sounding not a bit worried at being near ten foot up the tree. "And if I had breeches on, I'd have climbed to catch you, were you perched on the topmost branch!"
"And then not been able to get herself down, like as not," Sam grumbled. Tom just elbowed him with a snort.
"Good day to you, Mistress Rose," Mr. Frodo sounded considerably closer to the ground now. "How are you keeping?"
"I'll be a sight better when I'm back on the ground, but we've got business first," she answered him, just as pert as you please. "Thank you, sir; you're a proper gentleman."
"Perhaps not so proper today as on other days of the year," Mr. Frodo chuckled ruefully. "But you've earned your token, and your kiss."
"I'll have both right here, by your leave." Rosie's voice was firm. "For I ain't so sure I can get back down again in one piece, if you follow."
"I'll help you." Mr. Frodo's voice was teased with threads of laughter.
Sam snorted, and it was his turn to elbow Tom, but his triumph soon vanished, considering the yelps and cheers rising from the assembly, and the catcalls and advice mingled among them. It weren't anywhere near soon enough when Mr. Frodo's voice called for Tom, and together the two of them helped Rosie down-- Mr. Frodo's own red ribbon tied to a curl of her hair for safekeeping.
Sam scowled at her, and she smiled at him, pert as you please, then let down her skirt and flounced off into the crowd. Mr. Frodo just sat up on his branch, chuckling, his feet hanging in the air, then let himself drop to the ground and darted away into the throng, too fast for any of the hounds to stop him.
Stung by Rosie's example, Sam joined the game in earnest, and by the time came for supper, he'd accumulated a nice handful of ribbons from various lasses. His heart weren't in it, though. Sweet as the kisses were, they weren't what he was wanting, and he had a suspicion he was only feeding Rosie's ire.
He spotted Frodo a time or two, stealing through the fair, darting past a booth or through the heart of a dance; each time he noted that Rowly and the Noakes lads weren't far away. As far as Sam could see, the three of them spent most of the afternoon stalking about and trying to corner him, but he was too quick for them, and too clever. Much of the time, Frodo was nowhere to be seen. He'd a bolt-hole somewhere, or Sam was a rabbit.
Rosie was about, but she seemed to have given up after taking her prize in the tree, and likely she had-- she was out to make Sam sweat, and that was plain, but he didn't reckon she actually meant to catch nobody, come tomorrow. Him, though... he still had a mind to keep his promise, if only he could figure out how. Even with the festival and all, a lad like Sam didn't just chase 'round and grab a hobbit like Frodo Baggins-- at least, Sam couldn't seem to see how, no matter how he wanted. He reckoned nightfall might make that easier-- not so many eyes would see him then if he could catch Mr. Frodo for that kiss, and the bit of ribbon that went with it. If he could find Mr. Frodo's bolt-hole, maybe no eyes would have to see them at all.
Sam sat down to rest his tired feet, clutching a bowl of good thick stew dipped from a huge kettle that had bubbled over a bonfire all the afternoon, with hot flat bread straight out of the little brick ovens as had been laid special for the occasion, and new butter. It was understood that those hares as came to sit down for supper weren't to be troubled by none of the hounds till they'd finished.
"Sam." Warm hands fell on his shoulders and Mr. Frodo's soft voice tickled his ear, startling him so his spoon made a clatter inside the pottery bowl. "You've had a fine afternoon, I see!" Mr. Frodo's fingertips played in the ribbons at Sam's collar for a moment, dithering him right and proper. "The stew looks good-- wait and I'll join you." Within a few moments Mr. Frodo returned, carrying a bowl of his own, and sat down at the trestle table, steadying himself on the wobbly bench.
He smiled at Sam, that secret, bright-eyed look, and nodded towards the fluttering bits of ribbon tucked through the uppermost buttonhole of Sam's knitted weskit. "Have you caught everyone you meant to?" The way he leaned in made the question private, and the glee in his expression were anything but proper.
Sam's face burned with colour, but he knew an opportunity when he saw one. "Well now, me and Tom reckoned there's no sense giving up till you've taken a snippet of ribbon and a kiss from all the hares as is running."
Frodo's smile was slow and his eyes gleamed with good humor and perhaps a bit of something more. "I've always said Tom Cotton had a good head on his shoulders." He took his wooden spoon and dipped it in the stew, savoring a bite with a sigh and lowered lashes. He chewed for a moment, expression thoughtful. "But you can't have caught them all yet." Soft, a little sly, his voice also held a faint hint of an unspoken question.
"Aye," Sam agreed. "There's one or two as I'm still chasing." He dared to lift his eyes to meet Frodo's. Their gazes locked, Frodo's smile curving his perfect little mouth innocently under the merry, dancing mischief in his eyes. "Saving the best for last, you might say." Sam felt his throat grow dry with his daring, and he took a swig of ale to wet it.
Mr. Frodo just laughed at him, eyes dancing. "You'll have to hunt harder to catch the best." He took another bite of stew, as composed as though he were sitting at his own table in Bag End eating breakfast.
"Aye," Sam answered him again, mouth all but dry. "I suppose I shall." He scooped his bread through his bowl and chewed slowly, considering. "But I've no worries, for I've got a fine hand at snaring coneys." His heart thumped hard in his chest to hear the words, disbelieving his own cheek.
"Have you?" Mr. Frodo murmured, scooping up a spoonful of stew. "Got a fine hand?"
"Aye," Sam said, voice low and huskier than he'd expected. "That I do." Mr. Frodo's eyes rose to his, demure under thick dark lashes, and Sam coloured even more, cheeks flaming hot, but he met them. "And what's more, I'll warrant you'll be finding it out for yourself, come tomorrow."
Frodo's lips curved with sly pleasure. "You'll have to catch me first. Twice."
"I'll be doing that, never fear." Sam's pulse pounded so hard he could scarce hear himself speak, much less think, over its dizzy roar in his ears. Tearing his eyes away from Mr. Frodo's and trying to drop them with proper respect, he found he couldn't look at naught but Mr. Frodo's soft pink mouth, and the flicker of his tongue-tip wetting his lips.
"You'll have to deal with a few other matters first," Frodo laughed suddenly, conspiratorial. "Do what you have to, then come make good on your boast, Sam." He got up, his slim hips taunting Sam with a lazy roll as he carried his empty bowl away, but suddenly an object intervened, and Sam blinked, raising his eyes with bewilderment along an apron and then a bodice, finding Rosie Cotton's scowl waiting for him at the top.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE:
F/S, S/R (WIP)
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