Combe Stories: Year Three

by Laura Mason


He watches Frodo serve breakfast -- perfectly cooked eggs, strong tea, and a small portion of cut fruit, all placed neatly on the table by a very subdued hobbit..

Some days Doc misses the way Frodo used to burn the toast and boil the tea. Frodo has grown into his duties and grown less scatterbrained, too. That is good. Of course it is. But Doc misses being able to spoil him a little, and treat him as he would have treated his dreamy, impractical son.

Still, Frodo will never outgrow the hobbit enthusiasm for hugs. That is a precious gift. And while he's never been as merry and prone to laughter as other hobbits of Doc's acquaintance, Frodo is a very cheerful companion most days.

And if today he seems more melancholy -- well, Doc knows the reason why.

He could never turn Estel away; the Ranger is a friend and he owes him hospitality if only for Tol's sake. And he saved their lives last year, having his men guard Doc's cottage day and night. When Harle Oakes and his ruffian friends came, they would have killed them both in their beds. But the Rangers caught him breaking in at the window with that big knife of his.

Still, what Estel does to Frodo irks Doc.

"Doc? Is something wrong?" Frodo, looking concerned because he's barely touched his food.

"Sorry, my boy. Just woolgathering." Doc sets to demolishing his breakfast in a manner reassuring to a hobbit, but his thoughts are still on the last few days.

Frodo is a different hobbit with his Estel, but Doc cannot blame the Ranger for that. He might not even realize how much his visits affect Frodo.

Still, he is a grown man -- the Ranger must suspect. Frodo is not adept at hiding his feelings; they shine out of those big eyes for all to see. The looks Frodo gives Estel, adoration plain on his face, tell the full tale of his infatuation. Perhaps more than an infatuation, since it has lasted for three years without encouragement and in the face of the knowledge that Estel is betrothed.

But Estel does encourage Frodo, whether he realizes it or not. Doc shakes his head again, remembering how the Ranger always spends so much time talking with Frodo, taking him for walks, asking so many questions about his daily life...

That gives Doc pause for a moment. Estel isn't suspicious of Frodo any longer, so why all the questions? Why probe into Frodo's thoughts so carefully? Can he be worried about the hobbit for some reason? For that matter, most of his conversations with Doc lead back to Frodo, too.

Well, no matter what Estel thinks, Frodo is a fine upstanding hobbit and the joy of Doc's life.

And perhaps of Estel's, too. The one thing he can fault the Ranger for is leading Frodo on with every long look and intimate conversation. Doc knows Estel has never spoken to Frodo about his betrothed, or mentioned any woman in his life. And he doesn't have to sit and stare at Frodo, or hold his eyes so long. He doesn't have to look so completely different when he first sees Frodo and his stern face lights up with sheer happiness...

Oh bother.

Frodo has only eaten half his food and is staring out the window in a daydream. No doubt in Doc's mind who the daydream involves.

"Frodo, lad, I think it's time for a trip to the Shire. I can drop you in Buckland by nightfall, and you can visit your cousins while I stock up on pipeweed and ale. And perhaps you can find some of those lovely pies Mrs. Hardbottle makes tomorrow, while I see about buying some more of Bilbo's books from those Sackville-Bagginses."

Frodo's face is lit up with joy, pulled from his thoughts of Estel. Doc smiles at him, wondering what post-visit distractions he'll be able to come up with once they've recovered all Frodo's precious books. Knowing his hobbit, Doc thinks the chance to see his family may be enough.



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