The End!  I knew this story would be a short one, but Scamp may return in a future tale, if the puppy-muse starts barking again.  Thanks for enjoying her so much, everyone!

Responses to reviews are located at the end of the chapter.

REFLECTIONS OF THE PAST

Notes for Chapter 6:  This chapter references "Quarantined" Chapters 1 and 14.  Although the month of Merry's birthday (August) is my own invention, the Elf named Arminas is not; he is listed in The Silmarillion as one of the Elves who came to dwell at the Grey Havens with Círdan the Shipwright.  My thanks to Karri, from the Stories of Arda discussion group, for sharing with me her thoughts on who might still be alive in Third Age Middle-earth who could have known (or seen) Lúthien in the First Age.  And I know some of you are going to want to throw me to the Orcs for not having Sam in this chapter, but -- AU or not -- it's just too soon for him to see his first Elf.

Frodo also had a tussle with young Sancho Proudfoot . . . who had begun an excavation in the larger pantry, where he thought there was an echo.  The Fellowship of the Ring, 'A Long-Expected Party'

Chapter 6 --- Captured Hearts

One evening, nearly three weeks after Aragorn had left, Bilbo walked down Hill Lane to Number 3 Bagshot Row.  As he had hoped, the Gaffer was sitting outside, enjoying his usual after-dinner pipe and the warm summer night.

"Evening, Master Hamfast," Bilbo smiled.

"Why Mr. Bilbo!  Have a seat, sir," the Gaffer smiled, patting the bench.  "Out enjoyin' this lovely night?"

"I certainly am," Bilbo said, sitting down.  "I understand Hal and young Sam have been off visiting their uncle.  Over in Tighfield, isn't he?"

"That's right," the Gaffer replied.  "Hamson's pretty much made his home up there, and asked if the boys could visit.  Hal's a responsible lad and will see Samwise home safe and sound.  They should be back tomorrow or the next day."  He grinned.  "Ever since you took Sam campin' last year, he's been beggin' for another trip.  It's good to have family scattered here and yonder for visits now and then."

"It is, indeed," Bilbo agreed.  "Speaking of family, Frodo and I are planning a trip as well.  It's young Merry Brandybuck's birthday soon, and Frodo hasn't seen him in months.  They're quite attached to each other."

"Master Frodo will enjoy that," Hamfast nodded.  "And I suppose you'll be takin' that scrap o' dog with you?"

"No," Bilbo laughed.  "There are so many people at Brandy Hall, Frodo fears she'll get trampled or lost."

"You're not leavin' her up at Bag End alone, then?" the Gaffer gasped.

"We couldn't possibly do that," Bilbo said, pleased with the direction the conversation had gone.  "We'll be gone for several weeks, so I was thinking of asking the Cottons if they'd be willing to look after her."

"The Cottons are good folk, and no mistake," the Gaffer said slowly, "but Bywater's clear across The Water from here.  That pup's likely to be homesick and lonesome for folks she knows."

"Do you think so?" Bilbo frowned.  "I don't know where else she could possibly stay, then, if not with the Cottons.  Do you?"

"Well sir, we could look after her, if that would be all right.  You'll only be gone a few weeks, you say?  I suppose we could handle her that long."

"Would you?" Bilbo grinned broadly.  "I know that would make Frodo very happy, and Scamp just adores your whole family.  But do you think Bell would agree?  And the girls?"

"You just leave that to me, Mr. Bilbo," the Gaffer grinned.  "It won't be easy, but I'm sure I can convince 'em, somehow."

*~*~*~*~*

Frodo was sitting in the parlor reading, Scamp curled up at his feet, when Bilbo returned.

"Well?" Frodo asked eagerly.  "What did he say when you asked him?"

"It's all set," Bilbo laughed.  "Funny thing is, I don't remember even having to ask him!"

"I'm so glad."  Frodo looked down at the pup who had begun snuffling and twitching in her sleep.  "Whatever do you suppose dogs dream about?"

"The same things as hobbit lads," Bilbo replied.  "Food, friends, adventure. . ."

"I'll miss her while we're gone, Bilbo.  Isn't that strange?  I never thought I'd miss a dog."

"Love takes us all by surprise, dear boy," Bilbo smiled.

"Me?  Love this crazy pup?" Frodo grinned.  "Bilbo, when we leave Scamp at the Gamgees' we should warn them about---"

There was a soft knock at the door.  Bilbo went to answer it, and Frodo followed close behind.

"Estel!" Frodo cried when the door opened.  He ran forward as the Ranger entered.  "I was hoping you'd come back!"

"So was I," Aragorn smiled, "but I never imagined I would return so soon."

"Frodo," Bilbo said quietly, "we have another guest."

A tall figure stood just outside the door, and Frodo's eyes widened in shock.  The person's fair countenance appeared both old and young, and seemed to shine with its own gentle light.

An Elf, Frodo thought in amazement.  Oh, how I wish Sam was here to see this.

"This is Arminas," Aragorn was saying.  "His lord, Círdan, does not leave the grey shores, but Arminas wished to view the carving with his own eyes, and see once again she whom he remembers from so long ago."

"Mae govannen," Bilbo said, bowing to the cloaked figure.  "Bilbo Baggins, at your service.  Please come in, Arminas."

"I thank you," Arminas replied, bending low to enter Bag End.  His eyes took in what he could see of the unusual dwelling, and he smiled at Bilbo and Frodo.  "You are kind to allow this visit."  His soft voice sounded almost musical to Frodo's ears.

"Mae govannen," Frodo said, bowing in his turn.  He looked up at the Elf, his eyes shining with excitement.  "Frodo Baggins, at your service.  Did you truly know Lúthien, Arminas?"

Aragorn laughed at the Elf's startled expression.

"Hobbits come right to the point," the Ranger smiled.  "They have not all the Ages of this world to engage in idle conversation, as do the Elves."

"I am happy to meet you, Frodo Baggins," Arminas said.  "The memory of Lúthien is a fair one, indeed.  None who saw her were unmoved by her beauty, courage, and spirit.  We grieve still that she is lost to us."  He smiled suddenly at the sight of Scamp, who was watching him from where she stood next to Frodo.  Kneeling, Arminas held out his hand and Scamp instantly came to him, her tail wagging, allowing the long, gentle fingers to stroke and scratch.  After a moment, she ran back to Frodo and settled at his feet.

"I see you have a protector," Araminas smiled.  "The spirit of Huan lives still, in the smallest of beings."

"Huan?"

"Huan was a noble and brave hound," Aragorn explained.  "His love for Lúthien was great.  He travelled far with Lúthien and Beren, and stood with them through many perils.  In the end, he gave his life for them."

"Would you do that?" Frodo addressed Scamp, who responded by scratching herself vigorously behind the ears.

"Arminas," Bilbo said, "you are most welcome here.  Please take as much time as you wish with the carvings.  Estel, can you show him the way?  The lanterns are right where we left them."

Aragorn nodded, then guided the Elf through Bag End and into the cellar.  After a short time, he joined Bilbo and Frodo in the kitchen where they were preparing tea and slicing cake for their guests.

"I thought Arminas might like some time alone down there, as I did," Aragorn remarked, accepting a cup of steaming tea.  "It is a rare thing to see an Elf rendered speechless; when one has lived for so many Ages of this world, I suspect there is little that one has not seen or that can truly surprise."

"I'm still surprised myself," Bilbo said, as the three of them sat at the table.  "And after this discovery, who knows what other secrets the Shire may hold?"

Frodo grinned.  "That's true, Bilbo.  Perhaps we should set Scamp to work digging at all the holes and hills in the neighborhood."  He surreptitiously passed Scamp a bit of cake.

"I think not," Bilbo smiled.

"Bilbo," Aragorn said seriously, "this is your home, and Frodo's, and you will do as you wish here; but my advice, if you would have it, is to one day seal that wall, and keep secret this discovery."

"Why?" Frodo asked.

"It is not that I wish for such a treasure to be lost once again," Aragorn explained, "but to protect you.  Although the gems set in the images are not of Valinor, like the originals, they are valuable, nonetheless.  The value of such gold, silver, and jewels might tempt even honest men -- or hobbits -- toward theft."

"I will consider it," Bilbo told him.

It was nearly half an hour before Arminas joined them.  By then, Frodo was half asleep, leaning against Aragorn and listening to one of his tales, and Scamp was sound asleep under the table.  Bilbo poured the Elf some tea, and Arminas sniffed the cup's contents curiously before tasting it, and smiling his thanks.  He sat silently, lost in thought, until he became aware that the others were waiting patiently for him to speak.

"The likeness is remarkable," Arminas said at last.  "I did not know that such artisans among Men existed, and I am truly sorry that I do not know the name of he who captured Lúthien and Beren in such detail.  I know of no other image of Lúthien that was ever made."

"Amazing," Bilbo mused.  "It was only by chance that the carvings were found.  Such beauty. . ."

"Bilbo," Arminas said, "no carving, however accurate, can do justice to Lúthien.  The way she moved, danced, sang…" He sighed.  "She lives still, in our hearts, and in the songs and memories of our people.  And now. . ." He smiled at the hobbits.  ". . .she will live in your memories, as well.  Her image lies among gracious and generous folk."

"Thank you," Bilbo smiled.

"Tell us of the Havens," Frodo urged.  "Bilbo's maps don't show anything west of the Tower Hills.  Do you live there with your family?"

"Alas, no.  My family perished in a battle long ago," Arminas said gravely.  "Dagor Bragollach, it was called; we fought Morgoth's armies, and many died, both Elves and Men.  It was a dark time, Frodo, and a tale long in the telling."

"I'm sorry, Arminas," Frodo murmured.  "I didn't mean to remind you of sad memories."

"There is no need to apologize," Arminas smiled at the boy.  "After a time, I found a home at last on the grey shores, where many of us have lived in peace for years uncounted.  Perhaps you and Bilbo will visit one day and see for yourselves.  It is a place of great beauty, and the Sea sings a song unlike any other."

"I have dreamt of the Sea," Frodo nodded.  "At least, I think I have.  I would very much like to see it."

"I will be happy to greet you, should your path lead you there."

Arminas spoke awhile longer, of the Sea that he loved, and Frodo's thoughts began to drift as he listened to the melody of the Elf's voice.  Seeing that the boy was fighting to stay awake, Arminas got to his feet.

"It is getting late, and I must see to the horses.  Thank you for your hospitality, my friends; I hope to see you in the morning before I depart."

"You're not going to sleep out in the field, are you?" Frodo asked in astonishment, coming out of his reverie.  "When you could sleep inside?"

"Frodo," Bilbo said softly, "Arminas may wish to sleep under the stars."

"But it's cloudy tonight," Frodo argued.

"So it is."  Bilbo turned to the Elf.  "I know that to you our home must seem cramped, but we have beds large enough for wizards, rangers, or even an Elf.  I am certain we can make you comfortable, if you wish it."

"Trust me, Arminas," Aragorn chuckled, "do not judge this home, or its residents, by their size.  The beds are quite large and comfortable, I can assure you."

"How, then, can I refuse?" the Elf smiled.  "Thank you."

"While you're tending to the horses, I'll prepare your rooms," Bilbo said.  "And Frodo, it's hours past your bedtime."

"I won't get any sleep tonight, Bilbo!  Not with all this going on."  The boy's huge yawn interrupted his declaration.

"Good night, Frodo," Aragorn grinned.

"You will not leave before I wake up, do you hear me, Estel?" Frodo scowled, his arms crossed.

"I promise," Aragorn smiled.  "We'll see you in the morning."

"All right then," Frodo relented.  "Good night, Arminas."

"A good night to you, Frodo," the Elf bowed.

Frodo picked up Scamp, who opened her eyes and yawned.  "Time for bed, little one," he said, then carried the pup to his room.  If Bilbo and Aragorn were chuckling quietly behind him, he didn't hear them.

*~*~*~*~*

Early the next morning, Bilbo and Frodo saw their guests off at the front door of Bag End.

"Farewell, Arminas," Frodo said with a bow.  "It's been an honor to meet you."

"Farewell, Frodo Baggins," Arminas returned the bow.  "The honor was mine."

"For you," Bilbo said, offering a laden basket to the Elf.  "Some provisions for your journey home."

"You are most kind to offer, Bilbo," Arminas said, "but in my saddlebags I have bread and drink---"

"And now you have fruit, and a few other essentials," Bilbo insisted, pushing the basket into the Elf's hands.  "The idea of starting a long journey with only bread and drink!"

"Very well, my friend," Arminas smiled.  "Thank you."

"You should only get 'bread and drink', Estel, for always running off," Frodo pouted, "but we packed you something, too."  He sighed heavily.

"I'm truly sorry that I must leave."  Aragorn crouched down in front of Frodo.  "By the way," he said casually, "on our way to the Shire, Arminas was kind enough to point this out to me.  Elves have very sharp eyes, as Bilbo may have told you."  He picked up the hem of his cloak and showed a startled Frodo where a small flower had been embroidered.  "A rose, isn't it?" Aragorn continued.  "A very pretty one, at that."

"Estel. . .  I. . ." Frodo stammered.

"Don't fret, little one," Aragorn laughed.  He caught Frodo up in a hug.  "I can picture the whole thing.  No doubt the trolls were prowling about your room one night and found my cloak!  Suddenly you woke up!  While Scamp started barking to distract them, you grabbed the cloak from the largest and meanest troll, didn't you?"  Frodo was staring at him in astonishment.  "They fled," Aragorn continued,  "but not before ripping a few holes in my cloak with their fangs and claws.  In the morning, you saw that one of the holes was too big to mend, so someone was kind enough to cover it up with this lovely flower.  Isn't that what must have happened?"

"How did you guess?" Frodo laughed.  "That's exactly what must have happened!"

"Will you convey my thanks?" Aragorn asked with a smile.

"Yes."  Frodo looked into the Ranger's grey eyes.  "Don't stay away so long, next time."

"I'll visit whenever I can," Aragorn replied, "but don't for a minute think it will be to see you, Frodo Baggins.  I miss Bilbo's lemon cake already."

Frodo grinned.  "You'll find some in the basket we packed for you, you greedy Ranger."

Aragorn looked past the boy.  "That basket moving around by itself?"

"Get out of there, Scamp!"

** END **

*~*~*~*~*

Ailsa Joy:  Oh, I can't possibly take credit for "the fluffiest fanfic in Middle-earth" -- not with LilyBaggins' wondrous "The Trinket" out there!

Ainu Laire:  I'm already planning my next story… no puppies, though.  *sob*

angelsflame265:  Aragorn really can't stay away from Bag End for long, can he?

Annis:  I'm so happy to hear from you, and to hear that my stories brighten your days.  For me, all of the hobbits are very different from one another, and I try to write them as individuals.

Aratlithiel1:  Aragorn knew he was in an Alternate Universe when he realized that his cloak was nicely washed (and probably sweetly fragranced)!

Arwen Baggins:  A book chapter to accompany each quote is a wonderful idea -- thank you.  Unfortunately, I can't have Aragorn meet Merry and Pippin before "By Chance or Purpose", because all three of these stories in the "Quarantined" universe have to be true to each other.  It's difficult writing a sequel… that's also a prequel!

AshNight2:  Believe it or not, this story ended up two chapters longer than I thought it would be.  And Merry liked it too?  What a compliment!

Baylor:  I can't imagine that Aragorn doesn't think about Beren and Lúthien once in a while.  Thank you for enjoying that part.

Belothien:  It was never my intention to describe Scamp more than a tiny bit -- I wanted everyone to imagine her in their own way.  And once again you predicted correctly; I hope you enjoyed Aragorn's reaction to the cloak!  How do you do that?  That was one of the first scenes I ever wrote for this story.  Scamp wags 'thank you' for the (slightly damp now) plushie!

Bookworm2000:  Well, one Elf is streaming to Bag End, anyway!

Breon Briarwood:  Good guess about the Elves coming to see the stones!  (One Elf, anyway.)  And I'm sure we haven't seen the last of Scamp.

British Child:  Thank you so much; I really appreciate you letting me know how much you've enjoyed this story.

Christina B:  I'm so glad you enjoyed this gentle little story.  I had a wonderful time writing it.

Coolio02:  Glad you enjoyed the discoveries!  They were fun to think up.

CyborgSmeet:  Good guess!  You predicted this chapter very well.

Elbereth:  Poor Aragorn, still just an "honorary" Baggins!  Maybe someday…

elentari*angel:  Thank you.  It's a thrill to have one's story called 'awesome'!

Elly Baggins:  I'd love to be an honorary Baggins!  What an honor.

Elven Kitten:  Thanks for reading all the way to the end, even though there weren't any kitties in the story!

Erisinia Gazelle:  I'm thrilled that 'my' Bilbo has made you so happy.  You must be one of his greatest fans.

Firnsarnien:  Warm and fuzzy!  That's exactly what I hoped people would feel when they read this story.

GamgeeFest:  Hope you enjoyed the ending!

Gentle Hobbit:  I originally was going to bring Círdan to Bag End, but I didn't want to break canon quite that much.

Giu:  I'm afraid that the occasional cliffhanger is something you may have to get used to, Giu, but I'll try not to drive you too crazy!  Thanks for all your kind comments.

Grav:  Thanks for reading yet another one!  I'll start the next story as soon as I can.

grumpy:  Oh my, thank you.  What a lovely thing to say.

GTA Otaku:  Good things do come in small packages!  Just ask any hobbit.

Hai Took:  Where did hobbits come from?  Prof. Tolkien was a bit vague about it, so perhaps it's up to fanfic authors to explore that question further!

hobbitfeet13:  I probably will write something about Faramir, but not immediately.  I have to wait for just the right idea to hit me over the head.

Hobbit Lily Baggins:  Thanks for enjoying the story so much, Lily.

illyria-pffyffin:  Poor Aragorn -- still just an "honorary" Baggins, while Scamp is an "official" Baggins!  Hee hee.  I may have to write more about Scamp sometime, if the muse strikes.

Jaimi:  That was a dangerous moment for Scamp, wasn't it?  But Arthad is just as well-mannered as his rider.

Kemenran:  And so this is the end!  But I'll start my next story as soon as I can.

Kit5:  The answer to "where did hobbits come from" is shrouded in mystery, and maybe I'll revisit it sometime in a future story.  And… me?  Have a rock fall on Frodo?  Hmmph.  What must you think of me?  (Actually, though, in my next story…)

Lady of Ithilien:  Arwen must have been beautiful beyond imagining if she was the "image of Lúthien."  Lucky Aragorn.

Leah Beth:  I adore Scamp, now, too!  I never thought I'd get so attached to her.

Leah Day:  I love how 'your' Scamp laughs!  What a delight.

LilyBaggins:  It was fun to show Aragorn's astonishment at what it takes to be an adventurous and curious Baggins.  Ah yes, my little sleeves… golly, there are more stories up there, aren't there?

liptonrm:  Getting a chance to slip into the Shire (and all of Middle-earth) is my favorite thing about both fanfiction and the movies.  (Scamp is wagging her little hooligan tail at you; she's clearly up to no good.)

lovethosehobbits:  You sweetie!  Do my fics really make you smile?  What a nice thing to say.

Megz23:  I'm glad you love surprises, because I love thinking them up.

Mish:  I'm sorry to end the story, too!  Thank goodness there always seem to be more ideas to explore and new stories to think about.

Musicstarlover:  Thank you so much.  When I was writing "Quarantined", I never dreamed there'd be a sequel (let alone two, and maybe in the future… more?).

Mysterious Jedi:  Hope you have enough cloak "closure"!

Nilmandra:  I do feel that there's something special about the Bagginses, or at least these two.  Gandalf saw something unusual in Bilbo, all those years ago, and I suspect that poor Frodo has inherited it.

Orangeblossom Took1:  Glad you like it!

Pearl Took:  In the end, it just had to be Beren, but believe me, I tried to think of something else that could logically have been on that second stone.

Princess Raine:  I'm happy you love Scamp as much as I do!  And hobbits totally rule!

Rowan:  Thank you for reading, even if you did catch it "in progress"!  And you're right -- Scamp isn't the center of the story, but the instigator of it.  (But a cute instigator.)

Sam:  I apologize if anything about the stones seems confusing.  I didn't explain everything about them, because it's been a long time since they were carved, and the full story will never be known.  The stones were always there, but The Hill in which Bag End sits may have grown up around them.  As Aragorn says in Chapter 4, "I suspect that an artisan among Men, one of those who would have lived in this area back then, caught sight of Lúthien and captured her likeness so as not to forget it.  Either this stone was once open to the sky, and this hill yet to be, or perhaps this was an ancient cave or opening in the hill.  Somehow, over the many Ages and changings of the World, all knowledge of this carving was lost. . . We cannot know how or when this stone was covered over and the hill grew around it. . ."

Sandy K:  Thank you so much for highlighting your favorite lines.  I feel good that Chapter 5 made you laugh.

Scottish Hobbit:  Scamp is just too adorable, isn't she?  She even charmed Arthad/Ollie.

Shireling:  Sam's "plain hobbit sense" just can't be beat.

Trishette:  Regretfully, I have had heat exhaustion, and I fainted exactly as Frodo did.  (Or maybe that's the other way around!)

wanequelle:  You have a wonderful imagination!