(Written in 2005 for the wee_hobbits community on LiveJournal)

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Frodo is 24, Sam is almost 11, Merry has just turned 9 and Marigold is 8. ( 15, 7, 6 and 5 in Man years.)

DISCLAIMER: Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate. I own none of them. Some of them, however, seem to own me.

UNDER THE LILAC BUSHES

"Merry, why don't you go outside and see if you can find Sam? I really do need to finish up this bit of copying for Uncle Bilbo. And it's a lovely spring morning. I'll be out myself as soon as I'm done, I promise."

Merry sighed. He knew it was a lovely spring day. The breeze was billowing the curtains slightly, and the sky was ever so blue. He could hear the birds singing and smell the freshness of the clipped grass and the flowers beneath the window. He wanted his Frodo to come out with him, now. He set his determined little chin, and got ready to wheedle, but Frodo just looked at him reproachfully with those blue eyes. He sighed again, and deflated. Maybe he could find Sam. His little shoulders slumped and he headed out of the smial.

Frodo watched him go regretfully. He hated to disappoint Merry like that. But Bilbo needed this text copied. Gandalf would be leaving soon and would have to return the original to Lord Elrond in Rivendell. And Frodo was a much neater and faster copyist than Bilbo.

Merry stood on the steps for a moment, trying to think where to look. He knew the Gaffer was somewhere about, and Sam ought to be with him. He listened carefully, and then heard the Gaffer's rather tuneless whistling, coming from the south side of the smial. He trotted in that direction.

The Gaffer was mulching a bed of bulbs that had begun to send their leaves shooting up. Soon daffodils and narcissus would be showing their blooms. He felt the little hobbit staring at him, and turned.

" 'Morning, Master Merry. How are you today?"

"I'm fine, Gaffer. Where's Sam?" For usually Sam was right by his father's side, helping.

"Sam's about someplace. He's to keep an eye on Marigold today; his ma's had to go over to help her sister-in-law with the new babe."

"Oh. Sam has a new cousin?"

"Aye, a bonny little lass. Named her Snowdrop."

"That's a nice name," said Merry politely, losing interest. It would have been different if it had been a lad. Lasses were nice, but lad cousins were better. He thought about his baby cousin Pippin, and wished he were not so far off in Tookland. It would be a few weeks yet before his parents picked him up and took him to Whitwell to visit with Uncle Paladin and Aunt Tina and Pippin.

Merry left the Gaffer, and tried to think of where to look for Sam. After a few moments, he went to the south side of the smial, near the kitchen windows. There were two lilac bushes growing there, just far enough away to leave an interesting little gap behind them. It made a nice shady spot to hide away from grown-ups, and he and Sam often made use of it.

Sure enough, Sam was there, and so was Marigold. Merry could hear her voice. "No, Sammy. Those are plates! And these are teacups! Now, be nice."

Sam sighed, not noticing when Merry peeked around the edge of one of the bushes, which is where they would crawl through.

Merry giggled at the sight. Marigold had laid out several large leaves, and was making her older brother play tea-party. At the sound of his laugh, Sam looked up and blushed. "Hullo, Merry."

"Hullo Sam. Is the tea good?" He sniggered.

Marigold looked at him, brown eyes flashing. "Merry, if you come in my house, you have to have tea, too!"

Merry bit his lip and looked at Sam. Marigold was just as bossy as his cousin Pervinca. Sam shrugged and shook his head, as if to say, "she's just a lass, what can I do?" and Merry returned the shrug. He crawled through to the little open area, and sat up next to Sam, folding his legs tailor fashion.

"So, Mari, this is your house, now, is it?" he asked. Sam elbowed him slightly. But Merry wasn't making fun. He quite liked Marigold, and thought she was a funny little lass. And it was not like anyone else knew he was playing tea-party with a lass, besides Sam.

"Yes, it is," she said firmly. She picked up one of the larger leaves, and handed it to him. "Would you care for some biscuits and tea cakes?"

Frodo put down the quill, and gave a sigh, leaning back and stretching his arms above his head, flapping his hands. Copying was very absorbing work, and took a lot of concentration, but he was finished now. He capped the ink, and gave one more look over the page. Then he got up to go let Bilbo know he had completed the work.

He found both Bilbo and Gandalf in the kitchen. But they were not talking, they were standing very still near the window and listening.

Gandalf looked in his direction, and putting a finger to his lips, gestured for Frodo to come near.

"-and these are sugar biscuits, and this is honeycakes. And this one is some cucumber sandwiches, and some egg sandwiches-" came a high pitched young voice.

"Sam-" this was a whisper, clearly Merry's. "-I'm starting to get hungry for real-"

"I know," came another whisper, a slightly desperate note in it, "me, too."

"And here," came the first voice, "let me pour you some tea. Would you care for some honey in your tea, Merry?"

"Thank you, Marigold," followed by a not very patient sigh.

Bilbo put a hand to his mouth to stifle a snigger. Gandalf grinned, and gesturing to Frodo to hand him the plate of sandwiches Bilbo had prepared for elevenses, he reached out the window with his long arm and handed it down.

In their little cubbyhole, the three startled children looked up to see the plate coming down, loaded with lovely sandwiches. Sam automatically reached up to take it, eyes wide. Merry did the same for the small tray with a pitcher and cups that followed. They gazed at one another in stunned silence for a moment, Marigold's little mouth forming a perfect "o".

Finally Sam said "How do you suppose he knew?"

Merry shook his head. "He's a wizard, Sam. He knows everything!"

And in the kitchen, Frodo, Bilbo and Gandalf were turning several interesting shades of red, as they stifled their laughter.