A/N: Following the two-thirds age conversion rule Frodo and Laurel are 11 1/3, Hob and Cob are nearly 13, Cole is 9 2/3, and Merry is just over 2.
One Early Astron Evendim
It was a lovely Astron evendim in Buckland. The sun had set and dark was fast approaching. Six children were lazing about under some trees halfway up a nearby hill, discussing the day's events and enjoying each other's company without having to worry about someone interrupting them. They were children who helped in the kitchen at Brandy Hall. Four were servants, two were considered 'gentle-folk', and all were proud to call each other friends, except perhaps little Merry Brandybuck, the Master's grandson, who was only three and a half and just tagged along because of his adored older cousin. Frodo Baggins, nearly eighteen and the Master's nephew, was the ringleader of the little group. Currently he was hanging from his knees by a low branch of an apple tree while trying to swing his little cousin in his arms.
"No, it's no use, Merry," he sighed. "You just won't stop wiggling. Clear out."
Merry obediently moved out of the way and seventeen-year-old Laurel Delver, one of Frodo's closest friends and the only lass of the group, held onto him as Frodo swung himself down. The blood all drained from his head as soon as he was upright and he quickly sat down.
Laurel laughed softly as Merry ran to his cousin. "You all right?" she asked.
"I'm fine," Frodo brushed away her concern. "Just a bit dizzy." He leaned back, looking up into the sky, only to be pounced on by Merry.
"Oomph," Frodo grunted. "Careful, Merry-lad."
"Sowwy, Fodo," the little one grinned.
Frodo shook his head fondly at his cousin, and then a brilliant presence caught his eye. "Oh," he gasped, wonder tinting his voice. "Look at the moon."
All six children looked up in time to see the full moon, bright and jolly, emerging from behind the thick bank of clouds where it had lain hidden since dusk began.
"'S'lovely," murmured Laurel.
"I's te moon!" crowed Merry, happily bouncing up and down on Frodo's chest.
"Wow. It's sure bright t'night," Hob Twofoot murmured from where he stood guard under a nearby maple in case any of the other lads tried to find their group. At nineteen years of age Hob was already as sturdy as any tween and often his mere presence was enough to scare away trouble.
"It surely is." His twin brother, Cob, nodded in agreement. Cole Potter, the gardener's lad and three years younger than any of them but Merry just shrugged. He really had no use for the moon.
"Fodo? Fodo!" Merry bounced harder in an effort to get Frodo's attention.
"Ouch! Merry! Not so hard!" laughed Frodo. "If you keep drumming my ribs like that I'll have to put you down!" The faunt stilled at once and Frodo smiled. "What is it?"
"Fodo? Why's te moon so bight?" demanded the little one.
"Oh, stars, Merry! You may as well ask why the grass is green!" exclaimed Frodo.
Merry wrinkled up his little nose in displeasure. "Gass is geen taws te gauden wady wikes geen bes'. Said so westiday. Why's te moon bight?"
Frodo had to laugh at that. He'd forgotten that Merry had indeed asked that very question yesterday and the best explanation that he could come up with was that Yavanna's favourite colour was green. "All right, you win," he laughed and gave the moon a hard look, trying to figure out what to tell Merry. Clearly, with the way that his little cousin was still bouncing about he wanted a story, and Frodo was loathe to disappoint him. He thought hard. Bilbo had told him a story about the moon last time that he'd visited. Now, what was it...
"All right, Merry, I'll tell you, but a story like this needs to be told properly," Frodo answered, lifting the faunt off of his chest and rolling to his feet. He moved to the crest of the hill and lay down, gazing at the moon. The others all scampered to follow suite except Cob, who had twisted his leg a few months back and still walked with a limp. He followed them at a more sedate pace. Frodo waited until all were settled in comfortably before he began.
"All right," he told Merry, who was lying with his head propped against Frodo's chest. "Do you see that round thing that we call the moon?"
"'Es," Merry answered.
"Well, did you know that many, many years ago, before there were hobbits, or even Men there wasn't any sun or moon at all?"
Sceptical cries of, "What?" and "Nuh-uh," and "Yes, there was!" greeted this assertion immediately. Frodo stood it for about a minute before rolling over onto his stomach and giving his friends a stern look. They all quieted at once. When peace had been restored he rolled back over and Merry resumed his position.
"This is what Bilbo and my father told me about the moon," Frodo said quietly, gazing at the shining orb. "The Elves believe that back in the beginning of the world there was no sun or moon. Instead, all the light came from two beautiful trees that grew in a wondrous garden on the Isle of Valinor. One was tall and stately. It's bark was silver in colour and all of his leaves were the darkest of green above, but underneath they shone with a silver light and the Valar named him Telperion. The other was as strong as Telperion, but more graceful, and her name was Laurelin." He heard Laurel start at this but ignored her. "She was all of gold, and she shone with a golden light, and if ever it were possible for two trees to love each other as brother and sister it was these two.
"They grew tall and strong for many a year and all seemed to rejoice in their beautiful light. But unbeknownst to all there were a few who didn't; a few who coveted the light and wished to take it for their own. One of these was a dark fellow named Morgoth." The young hobbit whispered the name to give it a little extra chill. He heard all of his friends shiver appropriately and felt Merry snuggle a little closer. He smiled and wrapped a comforting arm around his little cousin.
"Morgoth thought for a long time about how he could take the trees' light for himself, but try as he might he couldn't come up with any plan that would work. Then he decided that if he couldn't have the light then no one else would either. So, he poisoned the two trees." Gasps of horror were heard all over the hill crest, and Cole sat up and indignantly cried, "That ain't right, fer him t' pisen a pair o' trees like that, poor things!"
Hob quickly shushed him and all six children listened intently for any hint of noise below them. After a few moments Frodo continued his story in hushed tones.
"I never said that he was right to do so, Cole," Frodo murmured. "I'm only relating what happened. Yes, he poisoned the two glorious trees of Valinor, and then ran off into the darkness like a coward to avoid punishment.
"The Valar all mourned the loss of the two trees and did their very best to heal them, but it was no good. The poisoning had drained all of the light from the trees, and they were dying." Cole was heard to murmur, "Th' poor things."
Frodo smiled to himself at the success that his story was receiving and continued, "But before the trees died altogether they did one last, very brave thing. They each bore one last great gift to the peoples of Middle-Earth; Laurelin a golden fruit and Telperion one last silver flower. These the Valar took and blessed, and in their wisdom they caused two great vessels to be built and into each they put one of the gifts of the two trees."
"What's 'wessel'? Merry interrupted.
Frodo bit his lip. He didn't like to be interrupted when he was telling a story, but Merry had been very good thus far, and he did deserve an explanation. "A vessel is like a boat, Merry-lad, but it's very, very big and grand. The Valar made giant boats for the trees' gifts."
"Oh," Merry nodded. "Why?"
"Well, that's part of the story," Frodo answered. "The vessel for Telperion's fruit was finished first, and a Maia named Tilion stepped forward and offered to steer it because he had loved Telperion so much and thought that it would be an honour to care for the silvery flower forever."
"Why, tha' means as he's a gardener!" Cole gasped. Suddenly the moon seemed far more interesting than it had a few minutes ago.
Frodo grinned. He loved it when the old tales had this effect on his friends. "So he is," he smiled. "The Valar were all delighted (that means happy, Merry) and they blessed him and christened his vessel Ithil, the Moon, and then sent him off into the heavens. Shortly after, the second vessel was finished, and another Maia stepped forward to pilot it. (Steer, Merry, like your papa does with the oars.) Her name was Arien, and the Valar were all very proud of her too, and they blessed her and named her ship-"
"The sun!" all of the teens chorused, and Merry cheered. Frodo flopped to his stomach and pretended to scowl at them.
"Well, since you all know the story..." he sniffed, and the children laughed.
"Go on, Frodo, tell us the Elvish name," Laurel teased.
"You know you're dying to," added Cob.
Frodo grinned. This was one group of hobbits who didn't mind his quirks and even encouraged him a little. The only other to really do that any more was Bilbo. "Anor," he pronounced carefully. "It means 'fire'."
"Why 'fi-uw'? asked Merry, climbing up onto Frodo's back.
"Because the sun is very, very hot and brighter than any ordinary fire," Frodo answered.
"Oh." Merry held on for his life as Frodo slowly rose to his knees, and from there moved to stand up. The other children all followed suite and began to cheerfully brush off.
"So," Cole wondered. "D'you know why old Tilion never keeps the same path?"
"Oh, that's easy," Frodo grinned. "You see, Tilion is in love with Arien. That's why he was so quick to volunteer. He's always trying to chase her down. That's why his path is so unsteady. Sometimes he stays and visits with her a little too long; sometimes he's trying desperately to catch up to her before the end of the day...and sometime he just had a few too many ales at his favourite inn." The lads all grinned back at that thought. Each of them was eagerly waiting for the day that they could have their first 'official' mug with a special family member or two.
"Lads," Laurel sniffed prissily, before stuffing a handful of long grass down the back of Hob's tunic and pelting down the hill, shrieking with laughter. Hob yelled and followed with a roar as soon as he wriggled most of the grass out.
"Goodnight, Laurel. Goodnight, Hob," Frodo called after them, as Merry yawned and began his pre-sleeping babble.
Cole noticed this and tapped his fearless leader on the shoulder. "Why don' y'take Master Merry t' his bed," he advised. "I'll stay here wi' Cob."
Frodo gave a sigh of relief. "Thanks Cole-" he began.
"Frodo!" a male voice bellowed further down the hill. He sounded angry. "Where are you? It's bedtime!" The two lads winced. It was Doralic, a room-mate of Frodo's and one of the little group's chief tormentors.
Frodo scowled at the voice for a moment, and then turned reluctantly to Cole. "I suppose that I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Aye," Cole agreed. "Bright an' early."
"Hooray," Frodo mumbled sarcastically. He could be an early bird, but that didn't mean that he had to like it. "Well, goodnight then, lads. I'll see you in the morning."
"G'night Frodo, 'night, Master Merry," the two lads chorused.
"Nigh'-nigh'" Merry mumbled, too tired for anything else. Carefully the pair of cousins made their way down the hill, followed a few paces back by their friends.