Disclaimer: I don't own Lord of the Rings or any of it's characters and I cannot claim to hope to do justice to the genius of Tolkien with any of my writing- yet I do it respectfully as an ardent admirer of Middle Earth with it's evils and innocence alike. Thus my story is humbly submitted.

This series is a revision of my former story, "The Five Score Prelude". While writing it I found that I had left my original story goal and found myself simply "going with it". My characters had deviated from what they were meant to be and their actions went without motive- so I started over. This first chapter is VERY much like the first chapter of the old story because I simply revised it- although the changes are crucial. The rest of the chapters however, are completely new.

Author's Note: This story is to be the first of a lengthy series detailing the half a century leading up to the War of the Ring- a five score prelude. It is not a story of only happy times; it is not a story of only sad times. My upmost hope for it is to be realistic, at least in most aspects. I readily recognize that in plot and character I will not be completely true to Tolkien because this is my take on it- not his. So take my story with a grain of salt (and enjoy it, too!)

A FIVE SCORE PRELUDE

1368-1418

A Prologue: The Decision

* This particular chapter is a flashforward that takes place at the end of this story- the eve before the journey begins.

September 21, 1418 S.R.

There is a hum in the air as the evening breeze rustles the leaves and the grasses, bidding all hush for the coming of night. And everyone heeds it, though nobody hears it above the bustle that comes at the end of the day.

A farmer is checking his stock one last time with an armload of crackling hay, while the baker walks in time to his whistling tune from shop to hot supper on the table at home. A husband is returning, wife in hand, from a leisurely afternoon stroll. A baby cries from a fire-lit room somewhere and a cow lows in the meadow. The robins finally retire their song, displaced by the echoes of distant owls.

And when all seems silent the nocturnal orchestra takes up the stage, it's deep and haunting melodies blending dully into a lullaby the rocks the world into a peaceful slumber. And amidst the sound is found a placid quiet.

And there he sits. His crooked back to the sturdy door of his home.

Still.

He was there in the glory of sunsplashed color.

He was there when the hues began to fade.

He was there when the horizon exploded like a fire.

As it mellowed into violet and the silhouettes found themselves new shapes.

Still he sat as the shadows lengthened and still he remains.

And there is silence in the meaning of the word. For what is silence but the echo of eternity amassed into the now? But there! it is broken again in the slight of an exhale. He breathes. And as he lets go again the smoke rises undisturbed and unnoticed in the covering of dark.

He sits. And though he is hidden altogether from a distance, one can, if they come closer make him out amidst the joint glow of dim lamp and pale firelight within.

He is dressed modestly. A pair of patched trousers, a ragged hat- and similarly conditioned shirt and jacket. He wears no shoes. His large, bare feet are conspicuously battered and rent with thick, curly hair; white as the stuff on his head.

And his face. His age is betrayed in deep lines, as though time itself had etched and chiseled the cares of his years into visible form.

A fragile, old figure he seems to be and yet one who knows him can see his paradox: a bent and broken frame, worn and weakened by the toil of years and yet stronger for them. For despite his frailness of features, a light in his eyes reveals that he is still very much alive. It glistens, reflected, neither from the rusty lamp nor the cozy fire within, but from his youth that he remembers as he sits, pipe in hand.

He had been an energetic boy. He still remembers climbing trees, running about the meadow and fishing with his friends back in Tighfield. He'd played hard… but he'd worked hard, too.

The ancient now pauses his pondering and looks down at his hands- so scarred, so thick with callus and yet loose with age. Yes, there it is. The scar he'd gotten from a nasty rope burn so many years ago.

He draws from the pipe and as the wisps ascend he looks again the scar and winces. And it would seem almost comical, for he heeds not the countless others that criss-cross his hands, nor even the one that notches his left thumb. No- these aren't scars- they are his pride and joy. They are marks of love- love of his favorite work and pastime. He often points them out to youngsters saying:

"See that, my lad? Yes, that was a grisly gash. I got it one day with my trowel. I was making for a nasty ol' root trying to sprout amongst my taters and forgot to move my own hand out the way. My own hand! Can you believe it? Oh, I tell 'ee it was a bad gash to be sure- but you know, soon's I got it bandaged up I went straight back to work. Don't you know it- that ol' root didn't last another five minutes!" Or:

"See those teeth marks, lassie? I was just weedin' in y garden. Mindin' my own business when ninnyhammers! up came a rabbit- right out o' the greens I tell 'ee! An' it bit me! Bit me right on me hand! An' I'd never done't any harm at all. But it bit me!"

And he laughs despite the frightened children's faces for though they mark the bad side of his beloved occupation, they remind him of his younger years and the hours he spent on hand and knee there in that blessed soil.

But this scar… He sighs heavily.

He loves his family. Always has. He'd loved his wife and wonderful children.

Such wonderful children… he loses his train of thought in a burst of affection for them.

Hamson, the strong one. His spitting image, his pride and joy. All grown up now with a family of his own, he is as fine a hobbit as one could hope to meet.

Oh- but he would have made a good gardener...

But no- though the boy loved his father dearly it was his grandfather's handiwork that had caught his interest.

Roping.

He sighs and looks again at the scar.

Then there is Halfred. So much like his older brother. The both of them prefer the work that is permanent, unapt to change and not in need of vigilant tending. Stonecraft is his livelihood and he has done some good work, to be sure.

He smiles. He is proud. They are good boys, both of them. The values he's struggled, if perhaps a bit too sternly, to instill in them are obvious. They are good, honest, hardworking… but then…oh…

Why does he have to dwell on their work? Does it really matter? They make their living.

They even enjoy what they do… to a degree… and yet... at the end of the day it is their job. It's their work. But then isn't that how it should be? A job is just a job, but when it's done it's done and then it's back to really living.

But the old man shakes his head despite himself and his defenses.

Work should never be just work. One should do something because they want to do it. It should be something enjoyed, something treasured, something… loved. Something that is worth the hours it takes, not merely hours wasted or "put in" for that next pay and another mug of ale at the inn.

No- time is much too precious for that. Much too priceless to be cheapened by the notion that it simply worth the day's wage.

But anyway… they are good boys after all.

"Good boys," he repeats out loud, breaking the silence, and nodding as if a confirmation is required from the vacancy about him.

And then there are his girls. Such sweet girls. Yes, he'd once told his Bell he'd only wanted boys, but… they had grown on him. They are his treasures- with their dark locks and deep eyes; they are so beautiful.

Daisy, the oldest, the sensible one. May, the hopeless romantic. And precious Marigold- the baby of the family- so grown up now.

He smiles.

She had been the most inquisitive of the three. Always asking questions. Always showing her father new ways to look at things. Of all his children she was the most like his youngest son…

His youngest son…

And what was he?

The most like his father and yet the most different.

Yes, Samwise always had been different. Oh, but the joy he had found in his father's beloved work. He reveled in it. He seemed to take it to a whole new level. And his father had seemed, if it was possible, to find yet even more passion for the chore as he watched it grow in his son's eyes. Because unlike his brothers, Samwise heard the music…

In fact, he'd always had potential and so, though it was perhaps unintentional… his father had been the hardest on him. Oh, the times the boy's face had fallen at some new and unnecessary reprimand, and oh, the father's guilt and regret at those times, especially when they had been criticized by his mother.

"You just need to be kinder, Hamfast," she'd say harshly after supper sometimes. "Have you seen the work little Samwise has done today? He's been as busy as bee, but have you said one kind word to him?" At this she'd pause for effect and the chance to give her husband another warning glance before softening her tone.

"He loves you, Ham. I see it in his eyes. His deepest desire is just to make you happy."

"And what does he get?" Bell would then turn back to the sink and imitate her husband's voice with a hint of sarcasm. "You missed that weed, Samwise you ninnyhammer," she'd say gruffly. Or, "Go trim that hedge, Samwise, and when you're done go do this and do that…" She'd trail off aimlessly, but she'd make her point. She had been a shrewd woman, that. Shrewd and wise and wonderful.

Bell…

The old hobbit allows a few lonely tears to tread his empty cheeks but them quickly wipes them away.

Because there's his youngest son…

Why had he been so hard on him?

Because he'd been mischievous? No. Dear Sam had never wanted to cause any trouble and at any rate, he had always been too scared of his father to try. The old man winces again, more painfully at this than at the scar.

The scar. The physical reminder of the differences he'd had with his own father. But

Samwise had never fought back, never complained. Well…

Only once…

Usually he'd just go back to his chores, feigning a look of indifference clearly betrayed in his eyes. Indeed, through the years he'd tried and tried to hide his feelings, but more than any of his boys he'd worn his heart right out on his sleeve.

Had the discipline been to promote his son's obvious natural talent? Well, yes… and no. He'd always known his Sam-lad was good and pushed him to become better and yet…

He knows why he'd been so hard on Sam.

He sighs.

Sam was the dreamer. He had these… hopes- lofty hopes. Fantastical hopes of elves and silly obsessions with fairy stories and other such nonsense. Such things were nice to listen to once in great while, but to believe in… He just didn't want his son to be different. He didn't want people to be saying things about him… the way they used to do about Bilbo- the source of all Samwise's peculiarities. He'd known his son wasn't an airy fool. Sam just hadn't always been practical. Oh, but he was now. With his father's constant reminders he had become perhaps even more responsible than his older brothers.

And yet Sam had these ideas- thinking he belonged in the business of his betters.

Now Mr. Bilbo had been a wonderful and generous hobbit, Hamfast would not deny. He had always appreciated and respected his old master greatly- but that's exactly who he'd been. His master.

Of course, it wasn't that Mr. Bilbo hadn't been a friend as well. In fact- he had been the exception to caste- kind despite the circumstances, jovial despite one's income, and concerned despite one's social standing. And as he had been, so his young heir had become.

Yet… it's the thing that's taken for granted as is most easily lost. And a friendship with the Bagginses was not a thing worth losing. And that is why, though class had been less a barrier with Mr. Bilbo, he had respected it all the more. For he can remember times less fortunate and people less forgiving. He glances again at the scar.

He can still picture a spring day so many years ago when the boy had come home all excited from a visit at Bag

"Guess what story Frodo told me today!" He'd exclaimed with a smile.

Well, the smile didn't last much longer, that's for certain. He'd soon been cured of the flaw with a quick spanking and hard scolding. It was the first time his father had ever heard his son address the master so leniently. And the last time.

Now he hadn't been harsh on the boy out of spite… but out of experience. He just didn't want Sam to get hurt.

And it truly broke the father's heart to see the boy so attached to the young heir- for he knew such a friendship could never be.

Now, there was nothing wrong in being friendly with the masters. He'd enjoyed his chats with Mr. Bilbo on the growing of roots and other such undertakings… but to be seeking out camaraderie? That was overstepping the bounds.

And so he had taught his son.

It had taken some doing, to be sure. Some experience. Some humility. Some tears.

But Sam had learned. Indeed, he had blossomed. And he was finally going turn his life around- give up his absurd fantasies and settle down, as any decent and respectable hobbit should.

…but when he is gone…

The old hobbit starts suddenly, his thoughts broken by the sound of approaching footsteps.

He waits and watches and finally sees the figure round the bend. A young hobbit by the looks but then, of course- those shining eyes could be no other's.

"Why good day, Mr. Frodo! Or good night, I should say. Isn't it a bit late to be out of doors?"

"Why, you know I tend to wander about after hours," he replies, smiling. "It's good for the heart… and the soul," he trails off. "But I should be asking the same of you! What keeps you up so late tonight, Master Hamfast?"

"Me? Oh, nothing really. I was just musing, as you might say. Thinking about… things."

The younger hobbit looks at his elder curiously, then shrugs and turns back toward the lane. "Well, it's off to bed for me," he says. "And I daresay you should be heading that way yourself."

"I think I will. Good ev'nin' to you, Master Baggins."

"And good evening to you," the younger replies and turns to leave, but then stops.

"Thank you."

The elder looks up at him, confused.

"You know, I left this morning without my lunch."

A puzzled silence.

"Yes," the younger laughs. "I clean forgot it. I was some fifteen minutes into my walk when suddenly I hear this loud breathing. And I think to myself, 'who could be out this far and breathing so loudly?'" He chuckles. "And then I see Sam.

"He stopped his gasping as soon as I noticed him and tried to tell me that he had walked out to find me because I'd forgotten my lunch. And I thought- walked? For from his red face I could clearly see that he had sprinted the whole thing." He smiles. "But I let him have his way. I'd have been one sorry hobbit about noon-time had it not been for your son's delivery."

"Well," the old hobbit stutters. "There is naught to praise. It was the right thing to do."

"But not everyone would have done the right thing."

Silence.

"But it's more than just the lunch, see," the young hobbit sighs. "I don't know how you did it. I didn't know it was possible for so much… goodness… to be in a person, but you raised your son up right. And despite…" He stops suddenly, embarrassed.

"I guess I don't really know why I'm telling you all this. I just wanted to say thank you." He pauses. "For yesterday, for today… and especially for tomorrow." And blushing he turns back down the lane.

The older hobbit watches him fondly until he is safe behind his door. He had said nothing else, of course, for there had been nothing else to say. Yet his thoughts are swayed. Doubts are fading.

Quietly, he picks up his old lamp and extinguishes it.

He rises carefully; leaning on his arms and against the door, trying to keep his balance and from straining his back. Once standing, he sighs, relieved, and goes inside. He walks stiffly down the hall but suddenly stops, pausing at a door. Cautiously, he pushes it open. In the dim light, he makes out his son's face. All grown up. He wasn't that naïve little boy anymore.

Tears start the father's eyes and he wipes them, surprised; yet he remains. He watches the steady rise and fall of his son's chest as he breathes deep. What is happening behind closed eyes? What dreams has he retreated to? Are they as wonderful as he would like? Or… as magical as he deserves? Is he in a world of elves and dragons? Where it doesn't matter how one looks or how one acts or… what one's social status is?

And suddenly he is crying, overwhelmed by the years of regret- needs that went unfulfilled, possibilities never explored, words that had been said… and words that went unsaid…

And amidst the mist of tears he finds new clarity. Why had he wasted so much time fretting over what kind of son Sam could have been, just to find out in the end what kind of father he had not?

And then, bending ever so slowly, he kisses his boy on the cheek.

He leaves as silently as he had come. There is one last thing to do and anyway, he has finally decided.

I have been working on this story for over a half a year now and am still working out the all the details- therefore, it is very important to me. And as I want to write it to the best of my ability, all constructive criticism is welcomed and appreciated. Thank you.