Again, a disclaimer: I do not own, nor did I create, these characters. I wrote this as homage to my favorite writers, J. R. R. Tolkien as well as Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. — Ruth Davis Hays
Days came and went more merrily for Frodo. He had met with Tasslehoff every day since the kender had left his hobbit hole. Together they talked of adventures and times long passed. They shared favorite paths and favorite habits such as pipeweed and ale. Frodo introduced Tasslehoff to all his old friends, some the kender had met on his own and some he had simply seen from afar. Sam joined them occasionally for a long walk and a good talk, though to be honest with himself Sam found the kender rather tiring and he would often make the excuse that Rosie would miss him if he stayed too long. He was amazed by Frodo’s ability to listen to the kender’s almost continuous chatter.
“He’s a stronger soul than I.” He would say as he would make his way back home to his wife.
In his time with Frodo and Tasslehoff, Sam wondered at the fact that Frodo never mentioned to his new friend about his own great adventure and the important part that Frodo had played in the saving of his own world. The Ring had been mentioned, but Frodo skimmed over it and talked of others’ adventures and dealings. The missing finger was never mentioned at all. Sam tried to tell Tasslehoff once or twice about Mr. Frodo’s amazing journey, knowing that it would rival the kender’s many tales of heroism, but Frodo would quickly switch the topic to either Sam’s bravery or someone else’s part. This worried Sam. He felt that Frodo was doing himself a discredit by not telling of how he had destroyed the Ring and saved Middle-earth.
“To be honest, it was Gollum that actually got the ring into the fire, Sam.” Frodo would remind him each time Sam brought the subject up between them afterwards. Then he would give Sam that knowing look as if to say, “You know this, you were there too.”
Reluctantly, Sam would drop the subject.
One afternoon, Tasslehoff popped his head into Frodo’s front window and invited the hobbit to come to meet his cousins. Frodo, who had been on the verge of dark thoughts, readily agreed.
As they walked under an overcast sky, Tas explained, “I don’t really know if they’re my cousins or not. We kender rarely keep track of such things as family trees or distant relations. But, Uncle Trapspringer is Gintilli’s uncle too, so we must be related somehow.”
Frodo simply smiled. He was growing quite fond of the strange habits and quirks that kenders seemed to have. They were refreshingly different from his fellow hobbits. Normally he would have questioned the kender further, but today he was a little distracted.
Earlier that morning, Frodo had accidentally slammed his right hand in the wardrobe door. The pain had been sudden and over with quickly, but it had succeeded in bringing his attention to his missing digit again. For a few minutes after it had happened, Frodo felt the ache in the four fingers on his hand, but at the instant that it had occurred he could have sworn that the absent finger had been in pain as well. He had pondered this for hours. He had been trying experiments with his fingers to find out if he could really feel anything from that maimed spot or if it had been his imagination. He had concluded that it was his imagination and this had put him into a sullen mood.
Tasslehoff’s invitation could not have come at a better time.
Though the weather was gloomy looking, it was cooling to the skin and held a certain crispness to the air that reminded Frodo of autumn days in the Shire. He breathed deeply and emptied his mind of frustrating thoughts. Half listening to Tas’s chatter, he watched the landscape around them change.
They approached a small, cottage with a thatched roof and a tall, heavy limbed tree towering over it. Frodo stopped and gaped at the size and sheer beauty of the tree. Tas stopped as well and noticing the hobbit’s reaction looked rather pleased with himself.
“It’s a Vallenwood tree.” Tas said proudly. “I made it myself. It’s a little bigger than the ones back home, but I thought, ‘if I’m going to think up a Vallenwood tree, why not think up the biggest one I can?’ so, Tah-Dah!”
“It’s beautiful. Do you live in that cottage?”
“That!?” Tas shook his head. “No, what fun would that be? That’s where Flint stays. I stay up there.” The kender pointed to the branches of the towering tree. Nestled among the leaves was a sprawling tree house with wandering catwalks zigzagging through the branches.
Frodo gasped in astonishment.
“I always wanted to live in a house like the ones in Solace.” Tas chirped merrily. “I told Gintilli about them once and she thought ‘Why not make one?’ So, we did. Don’t worry, it’s bigger on the inside than it looks.”
With that, Tasslehoff bounded towards a ladder made of wood and rope. He stopped only to make sure that Frodo was following him and then scurried to the lowest walkway and waited.