Autumn in the Shire was always glorious, but Frodo thought the orange and red and yellow leaves and the hazy mists over the Water were especially beautiful this year. There was almost an Elvish air to the light. Perhaps it was Sam's careful tending of growing things these last few seasons that made everything seem so alive, but it was impossible to stay indoors on such a morning. Frodo rubbed absently at his left shoulder and took his notes and his pipe out to sit in front of Bag End, to think and write in the cool fresh air.

The gate at the end of the lane squeaked open just as he was finishing one page in the great book spread over his knees and turning to a fresh one. He looked up, frowning at the interruption, and set aside his pen. "Sam!"

"Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo," said that worthy gardener. He eased his way carefully past the gate, balancing a sack in one hand and a squirming, golden-curled child on his shoulders. "But Rosie and I were wondering...ow, Elanor!" Sam set down the sack and disentangled his daughter's small hands from his hair. He swung her down from her perch, and she immediately set about inspecting the short grass beside the lane. A small shiny-winged beetle crawled over her toes, and Sam had to move very quickly to keep her from eating it.

"What is it, Sam?" Frodo bit back a smile; it wouldn't do for Sam to think he was laughing at him.

"We were wondering if you might take Elanor for a little. The Gaffer needs my help with his washing, and Rosie's doing her baking this morning. This little lass gets into the smallest corners." He righted the lady in question and let her toddle a few careful steps, holding onto his hands. "But I see you're writing your book. I wouldn't want to disturb you."

"Nonsense, Sam." Frodo straightened the edges of the loose pages he had been working on and closed the book. "I've been writing about the coronation of the King, you know, and the Lady Arwen. But I can't seem to think of anything this morning but how nice it would be to walk through the woods like we used to. I shan't get much more of the book done today in any case."

"Oh," said Sam, "Thank you. I'm afraid she's a little muddy."

"Clearly a young adventurer." Frodo held out his hands to Elanor, and she tottered the last two steps from her papa to the bench. "Already finding dragons under the rosebushes."

Sam blushed. "Well, if you wouldn't read her Mr. Bilbo's stories..."

"Better those than the darker tales, as yet," said Frodo. He stood and scooped up the young hobbit clinging to his knees. "Go along, Sam. We will get on fine here."

Elanor clung to Frodo's jacket with muddy fingers and cooed at him. He found himself laughing for the first time since his recent illness. She kicked her feet against his stomach, reminding him that it was long past second breakfast. Even a bachelor could see that a small child might want second breakfast too.

"Well, now, little lass," he murmured, "shall we raid the larder? Must stay out of your mama's way, though. She has work to do." He tucked his book under his arm and bore her around to the back door. Her dress was beyond his ability to salvage, but he carefully wiped down her little mud-spattered hands and feet, taking care with the baby fuzz growing on tiny brown toes.

Rosie was humming in the kitchen, kneading bread while the oven warmed. She kissed her daughter's cheek and gave them a floury wave. Sometimes, Frodo thought, as he and Elanor repaired to the sitting room with a platter of pastries from the pantry, he almost forgot he iwas/i a bachelor, living with Sam and Rosie like this. They took such good care of him. It couldn't last, of course; sooner or later he would have to tell them that he would never be quite whole again on this side of the Sea. But today his burden was lighter, and he put aside all worries about the future as he quickly stacked books and fragile items out of the way of questing childish hands. Now that Elanor was nearly walking, they would have to move everything further away from the floor, all through Bag End.

"Don't eat my maps, lass," Frodo muttered. Elanor scooted away on her backside and pulled herself to wobbly feet using the lower rungs of her mama's rocking chair. She beamed at him. "Well, all right. Eat your biscuit, and then you shall have a story."

When Rosie came looking for them two hours later, she found them both dozing in the big chair, little Elanor curled up in Frodo's lap and his chin sunk atop her golden curls. Together they held open one of Mr. Bilbo's Elvish books, and Elanor had pressed one hand over an illustration of a great hound and a fair Elven maid. Rosie watched them for a moment with a fond smile.

Frodo stirred under her gaze. "Hush," Rosie said. "Come to the kitchen. The bread is fresh from the oven and Sam will be home soon." She reached for her little girl, but Elanor sighed in her sleep and clung tighter to Frodo's shirt.

"She seems to have adopted me," Frodo murmured. He pried himself from the chair, taking care not to jostle the sleeping child.

"Don't look so surprised," said Rosie. He supposed he shouldn't, after all.

When he'd tucked the child into her bed, he found Sam and Rosie in the kitchen. Sam was opening jars of raspberry and blackberry jam and Rosie was slicing a loaf of crusty bread. Just the smell made his mouth water, and he went to put on some tea.

His book was perched on the end of the table where he had left it. Sam kept casting looks in its direction until Frodo said, "Not until I'm done, Sam. Then you shall read it, and add your own work to it. And Elanor after you."

"Sam said," said Rosie, passing him a plate, "that you were writing about the queen of Gondor."

"I haven't decided what to say, yet," Frodo admitted. "Words seem inadequate to describe the Evenstar. I hope when Strider-when King Elessar comes to the North that you will see her, Rosie."

"Well, tell me," said Rosie. "You and Sam saw all those Elves, and I didn't. Why don't you try to describe them, and maybe it will help your book."

Frodo spread jam on his bread and looked at Sam. "Well, Samwise," he said. "We have seen many great ladies, but I think our Rosie is wiser than them all."

"Wee Elanor will want the story after," said Sam with a grin, and kissed Rosie. She touched Frodo's hand.

"I know," said Frodo. He cast his eyes around the warm and sunny kitchen, and began.