I don't own any of these dear hobbits. They belong to JRR Tolkien.
I have condensed the age gap between Frodo and Merry slightly for the sake of my storyline. Consider it very slightly AU.
The Harvest Reel was Hobbiton’s largest party of the year. It had not the grand feel of such affairs in Brandy Hall but everyone in the locality, highborn and low, came along with a gift of food or ale (and some other drinks less easily identifiable but no less potent). Anyone who could toot a whistle, scratch a fiddle or beat out a rhythm was pressed into performing for the assembled dancers. And when the prancing, swirling forms fell into exhausted heaps others stepped up to entertain with songs and tales.
This was only the second time that young Frodo Baggins had attended the event and he was looking forward to it, not least because his younger cousin, Merry, was visiting. Merry had never encountered such an event, where staid little Hobbiton kicked off the age-old traditions and for one evening in the year no-one was addressed as, “Sir” or “Lady”.
The idea fascinated the young heir to Brandy Hall as much as it had Frodo the previous year. Brandy Hall was a busy and intricately knit community, where living in such close proximity bred a need for everyone to know their place in the scheme of life. Only at the Summer Gathering were the social rules relaxed a little and even then, no-one but close family would have dared address the Master by his first name.
This was not to say that everyone in Hobbiton did not, “know their place”, nor was their any great feeling that the age-old order should be disturbed. (Except, perhaps, for the Sackville-Baggins.) All hobbits liked to be sure of life and maintained tradition wherever they could. Most were pretty much content with their lot and no one went hungry. But when harvest time came around all hands were needed in the surrounding fields, to ensure that it was gathered before the next rains. And it had long been a tradition that all those who gave a hand at the harvest had equal status at The Reel.
It was a happy and noisy event where matrons squeezed themselves into dresses too long saved for, “best” and young lasses competed over how many lace-trimmed petticoats they could flounce. Gaffers struggled to knot unfamiliar cravats over newly starched collars and young lads practised their dance steps, brushed dust from breeches and sniffed tentatively under their armpits.
“Aren’t you ready yet, Frodo?” Merry sighed as he leaned against the partially opened door to his cousin’s room. Frodo started at the sudden voice and all but dropped the small bottle he had been placing so gently upon the washstand. When he turned to smile at his cousin his cheeks were a little flushed and his fingers fumbled as he married up the buttons with holes on his fine linen shirt.
Merry grinned mercilessly, quick to pick up on his cousin’s embarrassment, if not its reason, and willing to make what capital he could out of it. He sauntered in the general direction of the washstand. Frodo had played Merry’s games on numerous occasions, however and stepped nonchalantly sideways to block his advance. His own voice sounded ridiculously high, however. “Are you not wearing your new green waistcoat, Merry?”
Merry waved a hand dismissively. “It’s only a party. Mama would be horrified if I got food all down the front of my best silk waistcoat.” His access to the washstand temporarily blocked by Frodo, Merry leaned closer to his cousin and sniffed, pointedly, a grin appearing as his suspicions were confirmed.
“Now don’t you smell just sweet?” Merry’s grin turned almost to a leer and Frodo turned away to tuck his shirt into his breeches. The embarrassed action was all Merry needed and in a flash he had snatched up his prize from the washstand.
Noticing too late, Frodo spun around and made to grab it back from Merry but his cousin merely danced out of reach, turning the bottle towards the light in order to read the label. His was thwarted, however, for it was written in some strange flowing script. Frodo made an exasperated swipe but Merry stepped out of reach once more, and tucked the bottle behind his back.
“Oh no. You don’t get it back until you tell me what’s in it. I suspect it’s some strange elven brew . . . maybe a love potion that makes every lass you meet want to feed you treats.”
Frodo feigned disinterest and turned away to collect his new blue silk waistcoat from the bed. “It’s no such thing. It’s just a perfumed oil that Bilbo gave me as a birthday present last year.” When he glanced back Merry had opened the bottle and was wrinkling his nose at the contents.
“Are you sure this is what you have on? It smells different in the bottle.”
Frodo began to button his waistcoat, one eye upon the precious oil, his tone intended to impress with it’s superior knowledge of such matters. “Bilbo says that perfumed oils smell different on different people. That one came from Rivendell and was mixed specially for me. It’s made from the oils of Sandalwood and Oranges.”
Much to Frodo’s relief, Merry re-stopped the delicate bottle and replaced it on the washstand. The younger lad shook his head. “If you’re out to catch a lass, and I can’t see why you would want to, you’d do better with a well filled supper plate. I’ve seen some of the victuals set out and I intend to make sure that I get more than my fair share.” He sat on the edge of the unmade bed. “I don’t know what Sandalwood or Oranges are but I reckon if it’s smell the lasses are interested in, a dab of Lavender water would work the same.”
Merry sighed as he watched his cousin run fingers through his thick dark curls, trying to bring it to order, and decided that this primping may continue for some time yet. “You’ll not hook a local lass with such fancy things, although why you’d want to land one at all is beyond me. They’re alright for dancing but afterwards all they do is hang on your arm and use you to fetch their food and drink.”
Frodo paused in the checking of his teeth. “Bilbo says I must make an effort this year. He says it’s time I started acting like a tween.” It seemed to Merry that there was a slight note of uncertainty in that comment. He shuddered.
“Tweens. They’re all a bit daft in the head if you ask me. Bilbo’s making you grow old too soon. You’ll be talking of getting wed and having babies next.”
Frodo’s eyes widened. “No, Merry. I’m not . . .” He was cut off by Bilbo’s voice.
“And what’s wrong with that, Meriadoc? Most people get around to that at some time. I can’t say that the thought didn’t cross my mind a few times in younger days.”
Merry leapt to his feet and turned to face his host, aware of his older cousin trying to stifle a most un-tweenlike giggle behind him. “Er . . . nothing, Bilbo. I’m sure Papa will be very pleased to see Frodo growing up into a responsible gentlehobbit.”
“And so he should be,” Bilbo replied, crossing to Frodo’s mirror and tweaking at his already immaculately tied cravat. “He’s been running wild with you and little Pippin for far too long. Time he started taking interest in folk more his own age.” Merry was too flustered to notice but Frodo could sense a hint of restrained laughter in his uncle’s voice. Finally satisfied with the arrangement of his black silk cravat, Bilbo turned back to eye the two. “Well . . . are you ready?”
“I think so, Uncle Bilbo,” Frodo replied, tugging at the hem of his waistcoat and glancing down to check that his feet were clean.
Bilbo eyed Merry expectantly. “Yes, sir.”
The older hobbit’s keen eyes considered Merry’s dusty feet for a moment and then, shaking his head, he shooed them both out of the door.
“Meriadoc Brandybuck! If you consume one more slice of that pie I swear you’ll burst. Mistress Cornberry will, no doubt, be pleased that you’ve taken such a liking to it but I’m sure she’d like a wider pool of tasters.”
Bilbo’s initial stern shout had made Merry jump so high that the quietly purloined piece of confectionery had flown into the air and landed with a sorry splat at his feet. Merry sighed in exasperation. “Well, at least eating is a healthy appetite for a hobbit.” He nodded towards a gaggle of giggling tweens, whilst simultaneously grabbing a ham sandwich from a passing platter and taking a large bite.
Bilbo smiled, following his gaze to where two lines of lads and lasses wove a simple pattern at dizzying speed, to the merry jig of fiddle and pipe. Beside him, Merry snorted.
“Gaffer Gamgee is going to throw a fit when he sees the state of the grass when they’ve finished prancing about on it.” The only use Merry could see for dancing was to work up an appetite for eating and he needed no such help in that direction.
Merry liked parties but he usually had company. Tonight his main partner in mischief was standing in a line of dancers, opposite Ruby Brockbank, who was making eyes at the tween and swirling her skirts to give a glimpse of a shapely knee. Merry snorted again as he saw Frodo blush and avert his eyes.
Bilbo only chuckled as he watched Frodo’s cheeks colour and his bright blue eyes sparkle. It did not pass the older hobbit’s notice that more than one set of lasses eyes were drawn to the lithe, if a little too slender, figure with burnt chestnut curls and cornflower eyes. Doubtless many a lass was laying plans to fatten up and catch Frodo Baggins.
He glanced down at the much younger Merry, finding him almost glowering at the antics of Ruby. The lad was used to having Frodo’s complete attention and Bilbo felt a twinge of sadness for him. Still . . . they were both growing up and their friendship was deep enough to find a new accommodation. Even as he watched, he saw Merry bend down with a nonchalant air and scoop something up, slipping it into his pocket. Bilbo made no comment. Dropping frogs down the back of unsuspecting lasses dresses was a well-tried Hobbiton pastime.
The older hobbit took a careful sip from his mug. The Gaffer’s home brew was known to be rather potent and Bilbo was aware that he needed to keep at least one eye on his nephew this night. What Ruby Brockbank lacked in looks she more than made up for in eagerness. He wondered, idly, how many lads she would twitch her petticoats at before one of them claimed her. Whatever lad it was, he would have his hands full. Bilbo had many pleasant memories of evenings dancing with Ruby’s mother . . . of kisses and fumblings beneath the stars on nights just like this. Of course, Candy Brockbank was now a respectable and happy matron . . . at least Bilbo assumed she was happy, if the number of her offspring and the wide grin of her husband was anything to go by.
With one final chord the musicians declared a refuelling break and adjourned swiftly to the supper table, leaving a laughing and glowing group of tweens to melt away into the crowds in two’s and threes.
Frodo found himself standing, once more, in front of Ruby Brockbank, both of them gasping and flushed, almost dizzy at the speed of the last reel. He belatedly remembered his manners and managed to tear his eyes away from the laces, straining across Ruby’s heaving bodice. Frodo bowed. Of course, the direction of his gaze had not gone unnoticed by the lass, who deliberately gave her deepest courtesy, ensuring that his downward glance received the full benefit of the expanse of her ripening bosom. Once she was aware that she had his full attention, Ruby arose and spent a moment re-ordering the flounces of her skirts. She was only a few months older than Frodo but already knew well the steps of this particular dance.
For his part, Frodo was desperately trying to bring some order to his scattered thoughts and control to his eyes . . . which seemed drawn of their own accord to the lacings on Ruby’s bodice. He could count every crossing and describe perfectly their shade . . . had even half worked out how to untie the bow, tied so fetchingly at the juncture of her breasts. His thoughts shocked him but before he could make his excuses and leave, Ruby slipped her arm in his and peeped up at him from beneath dark lashes.
“Oh my, Frodo Baggins. You certainly cut a dash on the dance square. You’ve whirled me about so fast I’m all hot and flustered and fit to faint. You’ll have to get me some cider and somewhere cool to sit down while I recover myself.”
Whilst wise enough to suspect that Ruby Brockbank had never come close to fainting in her life, his uncle’s Bilbo and Saradoc had drummed into him the responsibilities of a gentlehobbit. Besides . . . Frodo had never been on the receiving end of such attentions before and was feeling giddy enough to slake his curiosity. So it was that Frodo allowed himself to be steered towards the cider kegs, where a widely beaming Ted Hoarfoot willingly dispensed two mugs.
Frodo found his blush deepening before Ted’s grin, sure that the older hobbit knew what was in the air. It did not occur to the lad that Ted had been tending bar for most of the evening so far and had been helping himself to more than an occasional sip between customers. By this time he could not even work out who was standing before him, and certainly was incapable of working out what they were or were not up to.
Trying hard not to spill the contents of the brimming mugs, Frodo threaded meekly through the crowds in Ruby’s wake. In fact so intent was he upon the mugs that he nearly bumped into his partner when she stopped and glanced fetchingly over her shoulder, the gleam in her hazel eyes clearly visible even by moonlight.
“I think we’ve come far enough,” she murmured. “It’s much cooler here and quiet.” Ruby settled down upon a conveniently placed rock, spreading her skirts about her . . . all but one side, where she gathered them out of the way and patted the empty space beside her. “Come and sit down. You’ll cool down much faster.”
Frodo seriously doubted her assertion but opted for that position because at present, standing over her as he was, he was once more receiving the full benefit of Ruby’s ample charms, the small scarlet bow at her cleavage moving up and down tantalisingly. At least, sitting at her side, he could concentrate on the scenery, he told himself.
Sitting down gingerly at Ruby’s side he handed over her drink, noting that her hand lingered a fraction longer than needful as the cup was exchanged between them. Ruby, of course, had no illusions about the effect that she was having upon Frodo Baggins, the Scholar of Hobbiton, and nestled a little closer as she took a sip of her drink. Their thighs touched and she had to stifle a giggle as she felt him flinch, muscles bunching tightly, like a rabbit about to flee.
There had been some speculation about the young master of Bag End in the past couple of years, for when his peers were gadding about at picnics and parties he was more likely to be found beneath a tree with a packet of sandwiches and a book. Some were even beginning to wonder which way the wind blew his branches but Ruby bit back a wicked smile when she felt his reaction to her proximity . . . as though his glances earlier had not been evidence enough. She decided upon one more test and began to set her traps.
Glancing aside at Frodo from beneath her lashes, she saw that he was very studiously not looking at her. Those incredible blue eyes were, in fact, fixed firmly upon the cup of cider clutched, white knuckled in his hand, although he was making no attempt to drink. Ruby’s eyes glittered. Getting him to look at her was the easy part.
Taking a small sip from her own cup, Ruby pulled a slight face. “Yuk. I think this cider has been sitting too long. It tastes flat. How is yours?”
The lad blinked, as though aware for the first time what it was he was staring at. A tiny wave of relief washed through him at the introduction of a safe topic of conversation and he took a sip. “Mine tastes good. Maybe I should fetch you another?" he suggested hastily, making to rise and then freezing as Ruby’s hand landed upon his knee.
“No . . . that’s alright.” Ruby fashioned her most becoming pout. “Let’s just share yours. I’m sure you’re right. Lads are so much better at judging these things and maybe yours was poured from a different barrel.”
To Frodo’s intense relief, she removed her hand from his knee, although he could still feel the warm imprint of every finger. Ruby reached for his cider cup and he held it out, expecting her to take it from him, but Ruby had other ideas.
Setting aside her own drink she grasped Frodo’s cup with both hands, trapping his hand firmly beneath her own. Ruby preened inwardly as she saw him blush at her touch. His hand was a little cold, although the long fine writer’s fingers felt soft beneath her palm. There was no resistance from him as she drew the mug, with its captive hand, towards her lips and he obliged by tilting the cup just enough for her to take a sip.
Ruby watched him from beneath slightly fluttering lashes and knew that she had him totally in her sway when his dark pupils widened, following the tip of her tongue as she flicked it out delicately to catch a drop of liquid that had begun to slide down the side of the cup. Frodo’s throat bobbed as he swallowed hard before daring to speak.
“How is it?” He winced as his voice cracked.
“Much sweeter than mine,” Ruby replied, pretending not to hear the change in his voice. She let go of neither hand nor mug and sidled closer still, so that she was pressed quite close against his side now. His fingers may have been cold but the rest of his body was radiating heat in a way that would put a kitchen stove to shame on baking day. Ruby remembered a phrase often used by her grandmother. “Cold hands . . . warm heart, my girl.”
Frodo’s blue eyes finally met hers full-on and Ruby decided that they were definitely his best feature. Blue eyes were not common among hobbits and they gave him an air of mystery that Ruby found quite tantalising.
Frodo Baggins was fighting one of the toughest battles of his young life. He was not particularly attracted to Ruby . . . there were prettier and brighter lasses at the Reel . . . but his body was paying little attention to that fact. It was having ideas of its own and whenever Ruby touched him a warm wave washed up and down his back, finally moving around to settle in an area of his lower regions in a way that he recognised too well and was struggling to hide. When Ruby’s moist tongue flicked out so delicately poor Frodo nearly lost the fight and would have stumbled off into the night, were it not for her hand clasping his so firmly upon the cup.
Moving as unobtrusively as he could, Frodo slid his forearm across his lap, desperately trying to hide the evidence of his rebellious body from Ruby’s artful glances. Too late, he realised that this was a game of which Ruby was very much in control and she did not need the evidence of her eyes to know what she had awakened in him. The most frightening part for Frodo was that a part of his mind was actually enjoying this.
Ruby’s warm, pliant body, pressed so close against his side, was strangely enticing and he wondered what it would feel like to wrap his arms about her and squeeze. Would she feel as soft as he imagined? He was startled to find that his free hand had moved in response to the half formed thought and now rested in the small of Ruby’s back, and he would have withdrawn it at once had the lass not smiled up at him and drawn even closer (a move that until now Frodo would not have thought physically possible).
Frodo tried to concentrate on breathing and ensuring that absolutely no other portion of his anatomy moved without his permission (or at least any more than it already was). This grew increasingly difficult as Ruby lifted one hand from the cider cup and placed it upon his chest. Knowing fingers slid up the shimmering silk of his waistcoat, across the slightly damp linen of his shirt collar and came to rest . . . fingers splayed amongst the roots of his hair at nape of neck.
Blue eyes almost swallowed by dark pupil blinked in consternation at the sensations being roused by the light stroking of Ruby’s fingers and Frodo could do nothing but surrender to the gentle pressure that drew his head down so that his face was only inches from hers. He watched, spellbound, as Ruby’s tongue ran lightly across her full bottom lip.
It wasn’t that Frodo had never been kissed before. As a child he had always had the delicate features and winsome looks that made aunts want to smother him in kisses. And then there had been Lilly Brandybuck, when he was fifteen. They had been playing tig in the fields around Brandy Hall one day and had happened upon a courting couple, kissing behind a tree. The tweens had seemed to find the pastime very pleasurable so Frodo and Lilly had decided to try it.
It had taken only a couple of attempts to reach the point where they no longer bumped noses but try as they may they could find no pleasure in the grinding together of two sets of teeth. Frodo and Lilly had come to the conclusion that tweens were strange creatures and had gone on with their game of tig. Frodo had to agree with his aunt Esme’s assessment of tweens. “T stands for trouble, tantrums, thoughtlessness and tweens.”
Ruby’s fingers combed through the roots of Frodo’s hair, drawing him very firmly back to the present. He was a tween now, so perhaps the kissing would be different? His body was certainly behaving in a way it never had with Lilly Brandybuck and it was worth investigation, particularly as he had such a willing partner for the experiment. Frodo leaned down, now of his own volition, and brushed his lips tentatively against Ruby’s, noting that her eyes fluttered shut as he drew closer and following her lead.
Her lips were soft and full, not at all like the thin dry lines of his aunts’. To his surprise she pressed back briefly and then parted her lips slightly, drawing his with them. Frodo trembled as he felt the soft exhalation of her breath in his mouth. That tongue that had so fascinated him earlier now slipped between his teeth, delicately stroking across his tongue, igniting tiny thrills throughout his body and forcing him to curl his toes into the soil to steady himself. He was too stunned to make any response of his own and could only sit, silent and slightly light-headed, when Ruby drew back.
Finally mustering the presence of mind to at least blink his eyes open he found himself staring down into Ruby’s face. The sparkle in her eyes had softened to a warm glow, tinged with the slightest hint of enquiry for a moment. Then her lips curved into a knowing smile. “You taste of sweet cider apples,” she commented.
Any reply was beyond Frodo at the moment. His senses were all but overwhelmed, his only conscious thought . . . to sample that sweet desert once more. This time it was he who initiated, his hand at the small of Ruby’s back pressing her closer. Once more he leaned down and Ruby’s lips parted willingly to the hesitant attentions of his tongue. Her mouth was warm and sweet, her tongue swirling lazily about his and once more sending his body into a liquid trembling that threatened to undo him.
Ruby had another surprise for him. As they parted to draw much needed breath, she paused to catch his top lip between both of hers, sucking gently before releasing it. She glanced down at his lap and Frodo’s blush deepened as he shifted uncomfortably and wished that he had worn his long jacket. Eyes sparkling, Ruby looked into his face knowingly.
Frodo did not know whether to feel angry or relieved when a loud whisper came out of the darkness nearby.
“Ruby? Are you back here? If Papa finds out that you’ve left the party you’ll catch it hot! Ruby? If you’re back here with a lad I’ll wring his neck, so help me.”
The previously uncertain emotion in Frodo turned very definitely to fear and he released Ruby as though scalded. Ruby only sighed, rolling her eyes and forming the name, “Bartimus”. All Frodo could recall of her brother Bartimus was that he was a good four inches taller than he was and several pounds heavier. Ruby seemed to take it all in her stride, however, standing with a quick flounce to re-organise her petticoats and gathering up her cup.
“I’d better go, before he finds us,” she whispered. “His bark is worse than his bite, and I happen to know I’m not the only one in the family likes to share a cup of cider in the moonlight.” With a wicked little grin she bent down to place a chaste kiss upon Frodo’s brow. The kiss may have been chaste but there was no innocence in the fingers that brushed lightly across Frodo’s upper thigh. She straightened. “I expect you’ll be needing a little time before coming back to the party . . . but maybe we could have another dance later?”
She was gone in a swirl of skirts before Frodo could reply.
Ruby was looking forward to the rest of the evening. After all, she was the only one who knew for sure that the Scholar of Bag End could indeed be coaxed away from his books, and if she played it right she could have him all to herself. He was a little scrawny, perhaps, but there was a wiry hardness to his arms that felt good when he held her.
Frodo took a deep breath of the cool night air. So that was kissing? His attempts with Lilly Brandybuck had never felt like that. He took a deep draught of cider, still feeling the warmth of her hand over his and tasting her lips. He smiled as his body began to relax at last . . . more or less. This was as pleasurable as a good supper and Frodo’s inner eye paraded for his selection all the comely lasses at the party. Bilbo was always telling him to try new dishes. All hobbits should have a varied diet, after all.
Hmmmm. There was Violet, Daisy, Pearl, Rose, Hyacinth . . .
The Harvest Reel of 2999 was one of the best Hobbiton had ever known. A long, warm summer with just enough rain to swell the grain had resulted in one of the richest harvest that had been known for many a year and Hobbiton was determined to celebrate its good fortune.
All were wearing their finest clothes, some even new, and Frodo was no exception. He stood before the mirror, tugging at a particularly stubborn snarl in his dark curls, concentrating so hard that he jumped when Merry’s voice came from behind him.
“Will I do?”
Recovering his composure, Frodo turned, his eyes widening at the sight of his younger cousin. Merry wore a finely cut green jacket and very intricately quilted yellow silk waistcoat. His golden curls were brushed until they shone in the candlelight and there was the unmistakable, in fact almost overpowering, smell of lavender water about him. Frodo grinned and returned to his combing.
“The lasses will fall over themselves to dance with the handsome stranger. When was the last time you visited, by the way?”
Merry settled on the edge of the carefully made bed, watching Frodo smooth liquid from a fine glass bottle onto his throat. He smiled as the smell instantly reminded him of his cousin . . . oranges and sandalwood. “It’s been three years and they’d hardly consider me a stranger.”
Turning to lift his new brown velvet waistcoat from its hanger Frodo grinned. “You’ve grown up and filled out in three years. You never know . . . maybe you’ll get your first kiss tonight.” His face grew thoughtful as he fastened buttons.
“Moon and stars, cousin! How old do you think I am? I claimed my first kiss years ago. It’s not me they called the Scholar of Bag End. I’ve long since found better things to slip down lasses bodices than frogs.”
Frodo laughed. “I may have been a slow starter but I think I made up for it. I fully intend to claim my share of warm lips tonight.”
A familiar gleam appeared in Merry’s green eyes. “I wonder how many girls will be there. What would be a fair share, do you think?”
Frodo grinned broadly. “I consider my fair share to be however many I can tempt,” he replied, slipping a handkerchief in his pocket.
The gleam in Merry’s eyes grew brighter. “I bet I can catch more than you.”
Frodo rolled his eyes. “Don’t you just wish?” He headed for the door and Merry jumped to follow.
“The lasses may like an air of mystery, Mad Baggins, but they also like a lad with a bit of flesh to cuddle.”
His comment was met with another light laugh. “But I’m the better dancer. You have to catch them before you can kiss them, little cousin . . . and with the amount of lavender water you have on they’ll have to back away or choke.”
The last comments Bilbo heard as the two left Bag End, arm in arm, were . . .
“I’ll prove it to you, Frodo. We’ll keep a list for this evening.”
Frodo’s confident laugh danced on the evening air. “I couldn’t possibly, Merry. All that paper would ruin the cut of my coat.”
Bilbo paused in the knotting of his silk cravat as the taste and image of all the pretty lips he’d kissed in his long life slipped through his memory . . . so many of them, and each one special in their own way. But non had stayed, except in his memory.
He glanced out of the window, watching the two lads race each other down the hill to the music and lanterns of the party field. Frodo had turned out well, despite his sad start in life. His future looked very bright. He would have no trouble snagging a fine lass to settle down and fill Bag End with laughing children.
It would not be his fate to have silly adventures instead of home, hearth and family.
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