Happy, hobbity holidays, my friends!

Sam is 12, Frodo is 24, and Bilbo is 102.

xxxx

The Magic of Words

Bag End was fragrant with baking and the sweet smell of the Yule logs glowing on the hearth. Burrowed into an overstuffed chair, with a book in one hand and a cup of hot tea in the other, Frodo sighed in contentment.

"Botheration!" Sam muttered from where he sat at the study table Bilbo had set up for his use. Hearing his young friend use one of Bilbo's favorite expressions made Frodo smile, but when he looked up, he saw Sam scowling fiercely.

"Anything wrong, Sam?"

"I didn't mean to disturb you, Mr. Frodo!" Sam exclaimed.

"It's all right," Frodo said soothingly. He put down his book and tea, and joined Sam at the table. "What's causing you such distress?"

"I'll never learn my letters proper, sir, and that's a fact," Sam said mournfully.

"Why do you say that?"

"Just look at this!" Sam said indignantly, pointing to one of the lists on his slate.

Yule
Spool
Jewel
Fuel

"They sound nearly the same, but are spelled different!" Sam said in frustration. "I don't suppose Mr. Bilbo is pulling my leg?"

"I'm afraid not," Frodo said gently.

"Who invented this spelling, sir? It's rather daft, if I may say so."

"You may, and I have no idea!" Frodo laughed. "It's quite confusing, isn't it?"

"Darn near impossible," Sam grumbled. "Why, a turnip has more sense than to spell all these different."

Bilbo emerged from the kitchen, holding a plateful of gingerbread.

"It's time to take a break, Samwise," the old hobbit said cheerfully.

"Take and break," Sam sighed. "There we are again."

"Thank you, Bilbo," Frodo laughed, and took the plate from his uncle. "I fear that Sam is finding your new lessons a bit challenging."

"I'm not surprised!" Bilbo said. "He's learned all the rules so well, I thought it was time to start him on some of the exceptions."

"You think I'm doing good, Mr. Bilbo?" Sam asked delightedly.

"You're one of the best students I've ever taught," Bilbo said.

One of the best. Sam's eyes grew bright with joy.

"This calls for a celebration," Frodo announced. "I'll fetch some milk to go with that gingerbread."

"And I'll have to think up new things to challenge this lad," Bilbo chuckled, ruffling Sam's hair. "Perhaps we should tackle more of these exceptions over the winter."

"Like what?" Sam asked eagerly.

"The plural of foot is..."

"Feet!"

"The plural of root is..."

"Reet! I mean, roots." Sam corrected himself. "That's quite odd, isn't it? Oh, Mr. Bilbo, there's so much to learn."

"There is," Bilbo agreed. "And if you're smart enough to stay curious, and keep asking questions, you'll keep learning right to the end of your days."

Frodo returned with a pitcher of cold milk and three mugs, and the three hobbits sat by the fire and had their snack, and talked about the magic of words until the afternoon was quite gone and Sam had to leave.

"It's snowing," Frodo said, standing at the front door with Bilbo. He held out a hand to the softly falling flakes.

"It will be a lovely Yule," Bilbo said contentedly. "Perhaps Gandalf will come for a visit."

"I wonder who taught him his letters?"

"Now that's the kind of curiosity I like to encourage!" Bilbo laughed, and they closed the door, safe and warm in their beloved Bag End.