Just when I thought the story was over, one more chapter nudged to be written! Big hugs and thank you's to Elemmírë for an idea she gave me, which inspired this epilogue. I'm very grateful. And so, just a teensy bit more of our puppy tale...

This epilogue references "Reflections of the Past" chapters 1, 2, and 5.

(For the details about Halbarad bringing Serindë her pup, please see SurgicalSteel's story, "Romance and a Puppy".)

WHEN THE KING COMES BACK

Epilogue: Their Wicked Ways

"They do things proper at Bag End." Hamfast Gamgee, The Fellowship of the Ring

xxxx

When the puppies were old enough to leave their mother, Halbarad made a short visit to Bag End. He returned the books he had borrowed, enjoyed a few days of the hobbits' hospitality, then prepared to go, taking with him the pup he had chosen for Serindë. He thanked Frodo and Bilbo many times, and promised to write to let everyone know how 'Ranger' was faring in Bree.

By this time, Sam and Frodo were taking the two remaining pups -- Patch and Blossom -- for regular visits to Sam's home. The entire Gamgee family was delighted with the spirited, playful pups, and everyone took turns petting, playing with, and beginning to train them. It wasn't long before "the twins", as Sam called them, were as comfortable at Number 3, Bagshot Row as they were at Bag End with Scamp.

Daddy Twofoot was at first a bit alarmed at the prospect of "a pack of wild hounds," as he phrased it, moving in next door. However, once he grew used to the tiny and friendly pups frisking about, he officially pronounced them "harmless little things," and was twice caught sneaking treats to them.

Both Frodo and Sam were a bit put out by the fact that, although they spent the most time with Patch and Blossom, the pups had apparently both fallen head over heels in love with... the Gaffer. They followed him about wherever he went, and he was hard-pressed not to look as delighted as he felt. When Bilbo casually mentioned his "little shadows", the Gaffer appeared surprised.

"You mean the little 'uns, Master?" Hamfast asked. "Why, I suppose they just realize that I'm head of the household, is all. Tryin' to curry favors with me, no doubt. Well, they'll get no special treatment, you can take my word on it. Hard trainin' and discipline, that's what I always say." And he knelt to pat the 'little 'uns', grinning widely as they nearly wagged themselves into a frenzy.

It was now easier to tell the pups apart, even though their coloring remained remarkably similar. Blossom was a bit larger, braver, and more apt to get into trouble, whereas Patch was quieter and more hesitant about new things and people -- preferring to let her sister's nose be the first to poke into an enticing hole or new clump of dirt. But when it came to napping, they were exactly alike -- both heading instinctively toward either a patch of warm sunshine, or the nearest friendly lap. Just like their mother.

xxxx

After much discussion between the Bagginses and the Gamgees, it was decided that the pups would be "officially adopted" at Yule. And so, on a crisp night at the end of December, there came a knock on the Gamgees' door. It opened so quickly that Frodo, standing on the front step with Bilbo and Scamp, laughed out loud. Sam had obviously been watching for them, and the lad was nearly beside himself with excitement. His mother and sisters came to greet the guests.

"Happy Yule, everyone," Bilbo said. "Mmmm, what's that wonderful smell?"

"Happy Yule, sirs," Bell Gamgee said with a welcoming smile. "Please come in."

"Where's the pups, Mr. Frodo?" Young Marigold tugged on Frodo's jacket. "Mum knitted 'em sweaters!"

Frodo smiled and put down the basket he held, and the twins scrambled out to be petted and fussed over. Soon, however, they and Scamp were following their noses toward the kitchen, knowing from experience what good tidbits were to be found there.

Bell hung up her guests' cloaks and jackets on pegs in the front hall, and insisted they make themselves comfortable in the parlor's best chairs until supper was ready. She and the Gaffer were proud of their home, which was warm and inviting with laughing children and fragrant hearthfires crackling merrily.

Supper was a laughing, noisy affair, with the hobbits feasting on soup, roast turkey, whipped potatoes, Bell's herb bread with butter, fresh greens, and two kinds of pie for dessert.

While everyone was forking down the last of the pie, and praising Bell and the girls for the wonderful meal, Frodo excused himself for a moment. He returned with two items retrieved from a pocket of his jacket – a rolled-up scroll and a small, paper-wrapped package. He bent to pat Scamp, who lay on the floor under his chair chewing busily on a soup bone, then stood up and faced the feasting hobbits.

"Ahem," Frodo said, getting everyone's attention. He opened the scroll with a flourish.

"We, the signatories of this document," he read, "do hereby attest that Number Three, Bagshot Row, a respected dwelling in Hobbiton, the Shire, is a proper and fitting home for its new residents, two dogs born to Scamp Baggins, a good and loving mother -- said new residents to be known as Patch and Blossom Gamgee; and that Samwise Gamgee, a minor, is a proper and fitting owner for the aforementioned Patch and Blossom, being the son of Hamfast and Bell Gamgee and living under their roof; and that the aforementioned Hamfast and Bell Gamgee, respected hobbits and parents of the aforementioned Samwise, agree to provide a safe, loving, and nurturing environment for Patch and Blossom, and oversee their care, upbringing, manners, being friendly to the neighbors, and not digging up gardens that don't belong to them."

"If that don't beat all." Bell shook her head in amazement at the legal-sounding document.

"That sounded quite nice, Mr. Frodo. Very proper." Hamfast nodded his approval, especially after hearing "not digging up gardens that don't belong to them" -- a phrase which Sam had known his father would enjoy hearing.

Frodo sat down and handed the document to Sam, who then passed the scroll around the table. When it reached her, Bell smiled lovingly when she recognized Sam's signature beneath three others. She remembered the look of it from the many hours her son had spent practicing diligently when Mr. Bilbo was teaching him his letters.

"It's just like Scamp's adoption papers," Sam said proudly. He had longed for a document as wonderfully wordy and "official" as the one Frodo had written for Scamp, several years before. "I helped Mr. Frodo with it a bit. We signed it, and so did Mr. Bilbo and Farmer Cotton!"

"Read it again, Mr. Frodo!" Marigold said excitedly. She hadn't understood more than a few words, but loved hearing Frodo's voice reading to them.

"Now don't be botherin' Mr. Frodo," Hamfast smiled. "Is there anythin' else we need to do, sir?"

"That's it," Bilbo grinned. "You're a father again, Hamfast. Hope they don't give you as much trouble as your other kids." He smiled fondly at the Gamgees.

"Thank you for your trust, sir," Hamfast said, shaking Bilbo's hand. "We'll raise 'em up good."

"I know you will," Bilbo assured him. "Thank you for inviting us to Yule dinner, Bell."

"Wait, there's one more thing," Frodo said. He handed Sam the package. "Estel sent this for the twins, all the way from Bree!"

"He did?" Sam asked in awe. He untied the string and unwrapped the package. He found a folded note atop a small drawstring bag.

"Dear Sam," he read slowly and carefully. "Congratulations on adopting the pups; you and your family will give them a wonderful home. I know they will have grown quite a bit by the time I see them – and you – again. I hope they enjoy this little gift. I hate to encourage them to follow in their mother's wicked ways so early, but I suppose some things are just inevitable. With fond regards, Estel."

"Read it again, Sam!" Marigold crowed. Her mother laughed and pulled the little girl onto her lap for a cuddle.

"What's he sent, then?" Hamfast asked curiously.

Sam opened the bag and peeked inside, then started to laugh. He shook out on the table two brand-new leather bootlaces of the type Rangers wore.

"They'll be sure to greet Estel with great enthusiasm when he next visits," Frodo chuckled. "They'll have chewed these up, and be ready to start in on his."

"This is the best Yule ever," Sam sighed with happiness. "Thank you, Mr. Frodo."

"You are quite welcome, Sam," Frodo hugged his friend. "Happy Yule. I hope you'll bring the pups up The Hill for a visit soon, wearing their new sweaters."

"I surely will, sir," Sam said. He turned to gaze happily at the guests of honor. Patch and Blossom Gamgee lay contentedly in front of the warm hearth, sound asleep, paws and noses sweetly intertwined.

Bilbo and Frodo exchanged knowing glances. They well remembered Scamp's transformation when she came to live with them; the sleepy, calm, innocent-appearing pup had quickly become a lively, mischievous rascal, whom they loved dearly. They suspected that Patch and Blossom would be no different... and that their new family wouldn't mind a bit.

END