"Keep up, Frodo my lad" called out Bilbo and he walked briskly down the path, past Mrs. Bracegirdle who was sitting outside her door shucking peas and keeping an eye on a pair of her little ones playing in a mud puddle. She smiles at the lad as he totters after his sister, trying to keep up with her larger leaps.
The girl spots them first and pauses to wave her hand wildly above her head, calling out a hello.
Frodo looks to him and Bilbo nods his assent to go chat. "I'll just be moment," he says and makes his own way up to the fence to meet Mrs. Bracegirdle.
"Now what you are up to on this fine day Master Baggins?" she asks, but there is a gleam in her eye as she leans her arms across the top of the fence. A teasing question. Not like the underhanded comments some had been making since his return from the Quest, and now since his official adoption of Frodo.
Bilbo smiles. "Just taking a nice brisk walk. Showing Frodo some of my favorite walking trails."
"That's good," she says and glances at the children. Bilbo follows her eyes. Frodo is shyly answering an apparent barrage of question from the girl, everything from his age to his favorite food to what does he think of their flower garden.
"We've been wondering how the lad was setting in up there." Mrs. Bracegirdle says quietly. "The poor boy."
Bilbo finally looks away from Frodo, now describing some of the more exciting pranks pulled in Brandywine Hall. He thinks for a moment, but answers honestly. "There have been good days and bad ones. Luckily we're of a similar enough nature that he's fit in well enough. He has an mind for learning, and has been devouring my library. He pauses again before continuing, "but there's only so many days in a row one should spend shut up away inside. I'm hoping these walks will make Frodo feel more at home here in the Shire."
Mrs. Bracegirdle put a hand over his, smiling softly. "For all your oddities, Mister Baggins, you've got a big heart. The boy is lucky to have family like you."
Bilbo beams. A surprisingly, but welcome compliment.
"Now off with you," Mrs. Bracegirdle says, shooing him away with a flap of her hands. "I and my family have kept yous long enough. You don't want to be stuck walking home in the dark!" And she called out to her children. The girl waves again to Frodo and picks up the little one, who's more mud than skin now and they scurry up to the door.
"I'll send up a more proper welcome for the boy soon, Mister Baggins," calls out Mrs. Bracegirdle as the walk away.
"What does she mean by that?" asks Frodo. Bilbo chuckles. "It could be anything from a basket full of tarts to sending some of her older terrors to come drag you along on their mischief. No need to worry, she means well."
Frodo raised a doubtful eyebrow but following along.
As they walked further into the woods, and the sounds of Hobbits going about their daily tasks faded away, Frodo seemed to smile easier. He nodded along as Bilbo talked about the paths they walked, sharing the best places for an afternoon nap or to find mushrooms. In fact they find a lovely patch of mushrooms and Frodo gathers and armful to take home for their supper that evening. With food on the brain, they decide it's time to stop for lunch, and Bilbo lays out their supplies on the small blanket he'd rolled up in his bag. Bits of cold chicken, a block of cheese, some leftover sausage from elevesens, bread and a small pot of strawberry jam, as well as a handful of seed cakes.
It was a bountiful meal and the pair dug in. Bilbo sat against the trunk of a great oak tree and wiggled his toes as he picked at a third seed cake. The spices lingered on his tongue, mingling perfectly with the cool breeze and he let out a content sigh. Frodo paused from licking jam off his hand and smiled. "I didn't realized you would horde the seed cakes, Uncle. I'll have to pack some extra ones next time. I doubt I'm quick enough to snatch them."
Bilbo laughed, a belly laugh that started a nearby bird from a branch. "No, Frodo my lad, I don't think you are quick enough yet to part me from my food. Give it time though! You'll match me in skill soon enough!"
Frodo joins in his mirth and at this moment Bilbo feels more content than he has in years. Frodo's eyes suddenly widen, and he clasps a hand over his mouth stifling his laughter.
"What is it?" Bilbo asks, suddenly wary, and twists to peer around the tree, looking for some imagined danger, but he can see nothing out of the ordinary.
"Uncle hush," Frodo admonishes him. "You'll startle them." At Bilbo's confused look, he slowly raises his hand and points to a spot near a line of bushes. A group of rabbits lingers just along the edge, their grey coats blending into the shadows until one knew where to look. Frodo slowly, puts down the piece of bread in his hand and begins to creep forward on his hands and knees. He stops a little ways away and slowly extends one of his hands to lay open upon the grass. Bilbo holds his breath in anticipation. One of the larger rabbits inches closer, its nose pointed up, testing for danger, before it brushes up against Frodo's hand.
Frodo is careful to keep his hand still, but even from the base of the oak tree Bilbo can see the smile bloom on his face. Moments like this make him glad he decided to take Frodo on this little walking tour. The boy deserved all the happiness in the world, and he would do his best to give it to him.