A small comment, concerning the age of hobbits: Like FF-author rabidsamfan I've come to the conclusion that there should be used a certain key to compare the age of hobbit to those of men. In this story, Frodo has just turned 30, and that would be adequate to a "human" age of 20 (which means that hobbit age minus a third would be human age).
Hay and Clover
By Cúthalion, inspired by illyria-pffyffin (it's all your fault, dearie...)
Great Smials, 2998
"I think you've had enough wine, young Master Baggins," The voice was very close to his ear, and Frodo nearly dropped his glass in surprise. He turned his head and gazed into a pair of eyes, sparkling with laughter. They belonged to a young woman, not much older than himself (he had just turned 30 last week – which of course had been reason enough to be coaxed into a never ending number of toasts). She had frizzy hair, loosely pinned up and already escaping the needles, a small, funny nose, covered with pale golden freckles and a big, beautiful mouth.
And she was right… he'd had enough wine, for sure. Frodo tried to remember how often his Bolger-cousin Fredegar had refilled his glass as he made the mistake of attempting to rise from his comfortable chair. The room immediately started to spin around him; suddenly a small, strong hand closed around his elbow and guided him through the noisy crowd, out of the door and up the hallway until they had reached the main entrance of the Great Smials.
Frodo stepped out in the hazy autumn afternoon, the hand of the unknown girl still around his arm; he smelled the scent of harvest fires, fallen leaves and cool wet soil, and his head cleared a little.
"Who are you?"
"Clover Took," she said with a smile, let go of his arm and curtseyed. "Daughter of Adelard Took," she added when she realized that he didn't know where to sort her into the huge family tree. "And you are Frodo Baggins, a former Brandybuck and now heir of the legendary Bilbo Baggins."
He bowed ceremoniously – the next mistake, for now the world started to spin again. She gazed at him and once more he noticed the laughter in her eyes… at least when her face stood still long enough that he could clearly see them.
"My Goodness, you should better know when to stop." she remarked. "Come on, let's have a little walk… we don't want you to collapse on the doorstep of my sober uncle Paladin, do we?" He found himself being dragged down a damp path leading to the harvested barley fields. „Perhaps we can find a place where you can sleep it off without giving the whole caboodle a reason to laugh."
"I have a guest room with a bed." he told her, but she shook her head and smiled, still holding his hand; now she guided him over to a small hay barn in the distance. The sun slowly sank down to the horizon, and when Clover managed to open the clamping door, he saw big, neatly piled haystacks, filling the barn nearly up to the roof. Clover reached out to the ground and turned around to him, a pile of woolen pony blankets in her arms. Within a few minutes she built a comfortable resting place for him and with a sigh of relief he let himself drop down. Hay dust rose in a tickling cloud around his head and he gave a hearty sneeze, immediately followed by a yawn. He gazed up at her dark silhouette, surrounded by a frame of golden afternoon sunlight.
"Sleep well, Cousin Frodo." he heard her say. She said something more, but her voice faded and the world slowly turned dark.
He came back to himself with a hint of headache and a furry feeling on his tongue. It took some time to remember where he was, but then he noticed the strong, sweet smell of hay and the rough texture of the blanket on which he lay, and then the face of the lass came back to him, and he sat up.
He winced and turned his head, and there she sat on another pony blanket, her skirts neatly spread around her, the same smile in her eyes he recalled astonishingly clearly from their last encounter.
"Do you remember me?"
Now the smile was in her voice, too, and he rubbed his face and ran all ten fingers through his tousled mop.
"You are Clover." he said, clearing his throat.
She nodded. "And you are Frodo, and you have straw in your hair." She reached out, plucking long culms out of his curls. Her face was very close - he could nearly count the freckles on her nose - and he smelled a faint scent of violets and roses, and of clean cotton.
"It's Sunday morning." she informed him in a light-hearted tone. "Within the next hour the Great Smials will be empty because everyone will be out on the great Harvest Picnic. No one has even noticed that you're gone."
"What about you?" he asked.
"Oh… I have slept in my bed where I belong, Frodo Baggins." she said. „My aunt would have given me a proper earful if she hadn't found me there. But now she is in the kitchen, up to the elbows in fruitcake and sausages, and she's surrounded by every single gossip from Tuckborough right now – and she's the worst of the whole band. She will certainly not miss me. – Are you hungry?"
To his surprise he noticed that he was indeed; she produced a small basket from behind her and handed him a giant sandwich with ham, salad and chicken and a clay bottle full of milk. While he inhaled his unexpected – and highly welcome – breakfast, she took a red-cheeked apple from the basket, cut it into slices with a small knife from her skirt-pocket and ate them, one by one. Her teeth were very white, and the sunlight, falling in broad stripes through the cracks of the barn wall, turned her frizzy hair into a red golden cloud around her head.
"Do you have a lass in Hobbiton?" she suddenly asked.
He shook his head.
"And you…? I mean, is there… someone?" He felt his cheeks warm in a sudden blush.
"More than one." She noticed his shocked gaze and laughed. "Excuse me…more than one who would make a nice husband, of course." Her eyes met his. „But that you don't have someone… are woman folk blind over there?"
Suddenly she reached out and touched his hair; this time she didn't search for straw. She ran her fingers through the curls and down to the back of his neck, and then her hand rested on the warm skin.
"I don't know. But you… you are pretty." he managed to say. And she really was… with her laughing eyes, her freckled nose and her vivid, full mouth. Suddenly he noticed that his gaze hung on this mouth, on the lips and the small dimple near the left corner.
"Pretty… yes, perhaps," she murmured. He heard the soft rustling of her skirts when she came closer and finally knelt in front of him. „But you, Frodo Baggins… you are beautiful."
She leaned forward and suddenly her mouth laid on his… a soft touch, a warm and thrilling sensation. He closed his eyes, holding completely still, and then he felt how her hands cupped his face, the thumbs gently following the regular line of his cheekbones. She slowly drew back without taking her hands away. There was only a tiny space between their mouths; he felt her breath, a sweet hint of apple grazing his lips.
The voice of an elder hobbit woman, coming from outside the haybarn. They both winced fiercely.
"Clover? What, for heaven's sake, are you doing in there?"
"Coming, Auntie!" He felt a soft hand on his mouth. "Quiet," she whispered, "she doesn't know that you are here, too…" - and then she was gone, with a sweep of skirts and a rustling of bare feet in the hay. He sat on the pony blanket, his mouth half open in surprise, his whole body humming with the vivid memory of her touch.
They were still lucky with the weather for the next few days, and Frodo decided to stay another week. He wrote a short note for Bilbo and gave it to the messenger who was heading for Hobbiton, and then he dived into the turbulent family life of the Great Smials. The Harvest Picnic was over, but now the potato fires were burning; each evening was a feast with singing, dancing and blazing flames against the darkening autumn sky.
It was one of those evenings when he saw Clover again; she sat on a pile of cushions and blankets, a baby on her lap; beside her his young cousin Peregrin held a stick into the fire, trying not to burn the huge potato he wanted to roast. Discovering Frodo, he immediately dropped the stick, hurried over to him and grabbed his hand.
"Come!" he said, "Come, there's my youngest cousin. She's only a baby, and I can't play with her at all, for she's much too small, but you must have a look. Her name's Petunia."
Frodo stood in front of Clover, barely noticing the peacefully sleeping baby in the crook of her arm. She raised her head and gazed up at him, and a light filled her eyes, warm and golden from the reflection of the fire.
"Good evening, Frodo Baggins," she said, "are you having a good time in the Great Smials?"
"I am indeed," he replied, bowing with more elegance than at their first encounter. "But I would've liked to see you more often."
"Really?" A secret smile curled the corners of her mouth, and a sudden memory of warm lips and the faint taste of apples flashed through his mind and made his palms prickle. "I can barely imagine why."
"I can't either!" Peregrin suddenly piped in. "Clover is awfully boring."
Clover gave him a gentle slap on the back of his head, and he made a few hasty steps back, giggling with delight.
"Clover is boring," he continued from a safer distance. "Clover is ugly…"
"And with your gab you'll end up in a terrible soup some day, young Peregrin," Clover said in a calm tone, returning her gaze to Frodo. "By the way, your potato is nothing more than a piece of coal now, you little fool of a Took." Peregrin gave a yell of dismay, and the baby in Clover's lap stirred and began to mewl. Clover reached out, and Frodo helped her onto her legs. For a short moment her face was very close to his again.
"I'll bring Petunia to her mother; time for dinner," she said, carefully adjusting the floundering baby in her arms. Then she turned around and suddenly he was afraid that he wouldn't see her again.
She looked back. "Yes, my beautiful cousin?"
He opened his mouth, but he actually didn't really know what he should say. I want to be alone with you like I never wanted anything before… I want to kiss you again… you are beautiful, too… you make me hunger for more than the good meals of the Great Smials and Fredegar's wine… Words were insufficient and more than that: he was afraid to hurt, or worse, to offend her.
"Could we perhaps… meet?"
She gave him a long gaze; he couldn't really see the expression in her eyes. A deep silence fell between them, only interrupted by the crackle of the damp branches in the fire. He held his breath… had he already gone too far?
"Perhaps." she said finally. "Let's see… I have to care that Petunia is fed, I will have to find Pearl and Pimpernel and I will have to keep that rascal Peregrin from burning the skirts of Aunt Rosamunda… Pip! I've seen that!"
"I think I'm perfectly able to deal with Pippin." Frodo said, a slightly grim smile raising the corners of his mouth. "When can I meet you? And where?"
"Midnight," Her voice was very soft. "And you know where, don't you?"
Then she turned away and disappeared in the darkness, and Frodo vigorously banished every thrilling memory and every even more thrilling anticipation and went to prevent Peregrin's newest damage.
He reached the barn just in time; he hadn't dared to light a torch, haunted by the thought of having to explain to a very mistrustful Adelard Took why exactly he was sneaking down to a solitary haybarn in the middle of the night. This time the door opened much easier, and he slipped inside.
The barn was completely dark, and he stumbled through the hay, desperately fighting a terrible feeling of ridiculousness. What had he been thinking anyway? Seriously expecting a girl he barely knew to meet him in one of the most inappropriate places he could imagine right now– that was indeed ridiculous.
He was ready to make a strategic withdrawal when he suddenly heard the soft creaking of the door. He took a deep breath, staring into the sweet smelling blackness; suddenly the golden light of a lantern blinded his eyes and his heart missed a beat.
It was Clover; she had been hiding the lantern under her cloak; now she let the heavy, dark garment slip to the ground and stepped closer, her gaze steadfast on his face.
"Here I am, my beautiful cousin," she said.
"There you are, and I simply can't believe that you really came," he replied; joy welled up inside of him, joy and something else, making his knees slightly weak. "Has anybody seen you?"
"Not this time." she said. She placed the lantern on the ground and drew back into the darkness behind the small circle of light; she seemingly had no difficulties finding her way and was back soon, carrying the blankets he already knew.
"I should perhaps have brought something softer," she said with a smile, "but I didn't want to tell Aunt Rosamunda where I'm going with a pile of pillows and fur blankets."
He stood there, looking at her, clearly understanding the message she didn't speak out loud: I'm here with you, all alone in the middle of the night, and I'll stay. He helped her to spread the blankets on a thick layer of hay, then he watched her sit down. He didn't dare to move, suddenly struck by the beauty of her clear face and in awe of her generosity. He didn't dare to speak either.
She looked up at him, and then she reached out and pulled him down by her side.
"Afraid of your own courage, my beautiful cousin?" she murmured, and then he felt her hands around his face and her lips on his mouth. It was a long kiss, undisturbed this time and unbearably sweet in the darkness. Her fingers ran through his hair again, touching his shoulders and sliding down his spine, gently pulling his shirt out of the waistband of his breeches, and then he felt her hands, slowly stroking his skin. She drew back and he heard her breath and his own, astonishingly loud in the nightly silence. Now his own hands explored her hair, the brittle texture of the curls and finally the smooth skin of her neck. He kissed her open, smiling mouth and he felt the tip of her tongue, touching the inner side of his upper lip.
Again she drew back.; he didn't only want to feel now, he also wanted to see. He was filled with a burning curiosity, and his hands slowly found their way down to the deep neckline of her bodice. He saw the soft hills of her bosom, rising and falling with her breath, and suddenly he felt the fierce response of his body. He was embarrassed, but she laughed, a breathless, deep sound, warm and full, and a shudder ran down his spine. He embraced her with enthusiastic thankfulness, drawing her close and covering her laughing face with hungry kisses.
"Slowly…" she said, "slowly…" - and she opened the tiny clasps of the bodice with trembling, but skilled fingers, and then the cloth was gone. She knelt before him, and he saw her breasts, round and sweet and overwhelming, and he laid his hands upon them, caressing the gentle curves… awkward first, then more slowly and with growing security. Again she laughed, and she pulled his head down and then his mouth trailed along her skin, tenderly kissing and tasting, and a long, soft moan came from somewhere above his head.
"Slowly…" she whispered once more, "sit and hold still, let us get rid of this…", and her fingers unbuttoned his shirt and stripped the crinkled fabric over his shoulders and then she leaned in and he felt her lips on his chest, and the wet, tickling touch of her tongue and then her mouth closed around a hardened nipple, her mouth and… ohhh… her teeth…
He was gently pushed down on the pony blanket, then he felt cool air on his thighs and his breeches sailed somewhere into a haystack beside. He propped up on his elbows, his face flushed, his breath hard and fast, his heartbeat a deafening thunder in his ears. She knelt over him, one hand on his chest. Somehow her skirt had vanished, too; he could see the astonishingly white skin of her legs, gilded by the soft light of the lantern, and her belly with the soft deepening of her navel.
"You have never done this before, have you?" she asked with that new sweet and breathless voice and he simply shook his head, far beyond all shame.
She slid beside him with her whole, naked length, kissing him once more, a deep kiss, a dance of tongues, spicy wetness and heat and then he lay atop of her, her left arm keeping him in place, her right hand gently closing around his hardness and guiding him inside.
He held totally still, struck and overwhelmed by the sheer sensation of being surrounded, surrounded by her body… he closed his eyes, feeling with every fiber, and then he gazed down at her, at that pretty face with the big eyes… and she moaned wordlessly and moaned again, and he felt the glorious triumph, piercing his very being it's me oh it's me doing this to her…He started to move and her hands stroked his flanks and her legs crossed behind his hips and her body arched against him and he moved faster. Each thrust was a revelation and a miracle and a maddening joy and let me give this and let me do this and I thank you for this and ohhh only once more and then he reached the peak and the world exploded in blinding white.
When he woke up the next morning, he only found a crinkled pony blanket beside him and the lantern; Clover was gone.
He spent two rather frustrating days pursuing investigations. He was introduced to her father Adelard during a long, abundant breakfast, met her mother Adalgunda and danced with her sisters Cornflower and Chrysanthemum at the evening of the last potato fire, but he didn't find Clover… she seemed to have vanished without a trace.
Two more days later Frodo bid a hearty farewell to Paladin Took and left the Great Smials. The weather had changed, the misty sun of the early autumn was gone and had given way to dark clouds and cold rain. His pony bore him down the muddy path, and Frodo thought of the long journey home and shuddered.
There was a small grove of red-leafed trees where the path met the plastered road, and when he rode by, he saw a small figure, waiting under the low, dripping branches, wrapped in a long cloak with a huge hood.
He tightened the strings and the pony shook it's mane, softly snorting. Clover raised her head and stripped back the hood. He looked in her clear face, returning her smile; the warmth in her eyes made him feel a lot more comfortable.
"Where have you been? I've seen your entire family, but you were…"
"… I was mostly with little Petunia and Pippin's sisters," she said quietly. "I don't want to start something when I have no idea how it might end. I have my place here and you have finally found yours, haven't you?"
He stared at her, and opened his mouth to object, no no it can't be over, this is not the right way to handle it, to finish what has just begun what has happened between you and me… but then he saw the tense line of her chin and the adamant will behind the friendly, grey eyes and the soft mouth.
"Perhaps… perhaps you're right." He nodded slowly, but at the same time he felt a sharp sting of regret. "I would have gladly returned to see you again, Clover. Believe me."
"Oh, I do." She relaxed and gave him a sunny smile. "And I would have been highly offended if you didn't say that."
She reached out and took his hand; her fingers were astonishingly warm.
"Farewell, my beautiful cousin," she said. He bowed down and for a flighty moment she touched his cheek like on that night four days ago in the hay barn. He turned his head and gently kissed her palm.
"Farewell, my sweet Clover," he whispered. The pony started to trot and when he looked back a few moments later, she was gone.
Three years later he was the new Master of Bag End, with new rights and even more new duties, and one clear spring morning he received a letter from the Great Smials. It was written with a fine quill on beautiful parchment, decorated with flowers and leaves. It was a wedding- announcement of Miss Clover Took and Master Everard Bolger.
He knew he wasn't invited and he didn't go to the Great Smials. But he went to see Violet Proudfoot, the best seamstress and embroiderer in Hobbiton, and he ordered a special wedding present: bed sheets, pillow cases and duvets, sewn of the finest linen, every hem embroidered with hundreds of tiny clover leafs. Violet and her daughter needed nearly four weeks to finish it, and the package reached the Great Smials exactly one day before the wedding.
In the following years Clover gave birth to six children, and every time a letter reached Bag End, giving the latest personal news and always ending with Your loving friend, my beautiful cousin – Clover. And he would sit behind his desk, eyes closed, holding the rustling parchment in his hand… and he would allow his thoughts to wander back, remembering a dark autumn night, the warm light of a lantern on red golden curls and the sweet heavy scent of hay.