1. In the Kitchens of Rivendell

Sam stood on his tiptoes, trying to see over the edge of the counter. The tall elf calmly slicing the carrots paid him no mind, as though he were a child or one of the kitchen dogs snuffling about. With a small sigh, and a sharp glare at the inattentive cook, Sam turned and took a quick look around the kitchen for something to stand on. Near the door to the cellars, he spied an empty basket woven of thick vines, small bits of dirt still clinging to the inside evidence of the potatoes that had gone into the noontime meal. Sam claimed the light, sturdy basket before it could be whisked away (he had noted that nothing stayed out of place for more than a moment in Rivendell), brushed the dirt out of it, and began to collect the ingredients for a picnic lunch.

First he snagged a sturdy canvas sack that hung on a hook just above where the basket had rested. Ducking under the wooden topped preparation table in the middle of the room, he quickly went over to a side board holding a collection of cheeses. Upending the basket, Sam hopped up on it, and perused the offerings. The hard cheeses smelled very good, mellow and golden and nutty, while the tang of a soft, blue-veined cheese made his mouth water. Even this hungry hobbit had to stop and admire the delicate inlaid wire in the handle of the cheese knife, decorating it and proving a good grip at the same time. He did not stop for long. The canvas sack quickly held three sizable chunks of different hard cheeses, Never know when you'll need a bit of a nibble to tide you over Sam thought, plus a small knife (one of the less decorated ones) from the wooden knife block at the edge of the cheese board. He'd come back for the soft cheese.

Sam hopped off the basket and pushed it further along the floor, ducking under the arm of one elf handing a dish across the walkway and dodging around the legs of another as he closed in on the bread baskets. They were set into the wall, one yeasty scented row after another. The lowest one was as high as his shoulders, the front of it lower than the back to keep the loaves rolling to the front. Sam ducked just in time to keep from being clipped by the pan carried by the baker as she slid fresh baked small loaves into the second highest row. She smiled sweetly at Sam and, much to his annoyance, ruffled his hair before she turned and hurried back to the bread ovens. He scooted the basket close to the racks, and soon had collected a fair number of the fresh baked loaves. Reaching as high as he could, Sam could just grasp the tips of some bread left over from much earlier, cold and starting to get hard. They joined the hot loves in the sack.

Where, where, ah, there! Back under the center table, around the skirts of another baker, and flattening himself against the wall before he got stepped on by the chef and a fellow with a heavy golden chain around his neck animatedly discussing the menu for that night's meal, Sam made his way to the door leading to the dairy cellar. He almost fell trying to negotiate the too-tall steps with his wicker basket, but he didn't dare abandon it. A nuisance to carry, but more a nuisance if it disappears. The dark stone floor smelled faintly of sour cream. It only took him a minute to find the butter crock set inside a cool well of water. Sam broke open one of the stale loaves, scraped out and ate some of the soft bread in the middle, then scooped a big paddle of sweet butter into the hollowed out end of the loaf. He had to stretch very tall, even standing on the basket, to reach the glass bottles of milk, and nearly dropped one due to the condensation on the sides. They joined the cheese and the bread once he had confirmed that they were well stoppered. He had seen a flock of the beautiful brown and black goats that foraged in the hills around the house, and was eager to sample the milk.

Going back up the stair was even more of a chore than coming down them as he had to be careful of the glass bottles. The smell of cooking meat that greeted him when he reentered the main kitchen cause his stomach to grumble, so Sam split the other stale loaf and scooped out the middle to munch on. Two elves, a lad and a lass, walked towards him with a wicker basket piled high with apples, plus a few bunches of grapes draped over the top. They chattered away to each other and gave Sam only a cursory glance. The carrot chopper hailed them from the other side of the table, and they set down their basket to confer. Sam snagged two lovely bunches of grapes and a double handful of apples. The grapes he stuck into his coat pockets, one to each side, so they wouldn't be crushed by the milk bottles.

He followed his nose towards the smell of meat, and was soon in a very hot ante chamber where several roasts and fowl were turning on spits over the fire, turned by one of the kitchen dogs trotting on a wheel hooked up to the spit. A rather chubby elf, the only one Sam had ever seen in all his weeks in Rivendell, waved a cheerful hello at Sam, since between the roar of the fires and the creaking of the wheel and crankshaft not much could be heard. Sam bounded over to his portly friend, and pantomimed eating a chicken leg. The elf laughed loudly, and turned away to a heavy chopping block. Chunk! Chunk! Chunk! went his cleaver, and in a trice, he was wrapping up two cooling, quartered chickens in a thick cloth for Sam, thoughtfully including a small knife for cutting the chicken at the meal itself. The hobbit held open his canvas sack to take the chicken, and the cook deftly rearranged the contents, putting the warm chicken to the bottom and insulating the milk and cheese with the bread and apples. "Venison for dinner," he crowed to the appreciative hobbit, who was very glad that there was at least one elf who understood the need for a solid meal.

Waving farewell, Sam readied himself for one last dash through the leg forest. He hugged the far wall, then made for his favorite highway, the underside of the middle work table. Judging that he had come far enough, he made a quick dash back towards the cheese board. He had neglected to calculate how quickly those long legs could cover ground, however, and tripped the important elf wearing the gold chain with the basket dragging behind him. Sam squeaked and darted behind a few folks, somehow avoiding tripping himself, others or being singled out for having tripped the important elf. Just to be on the safe side, he squeezed in between the cheese board and an open door, and waited until the confusion had died down before making a final visit with the cheese. The second hollowed out loaf soon held a treasure of the tangy blue cheese, and was tucked next to the milk bottles to stay cool.

Sam left the wicker basket where it was. Sure enough, when he turned back from the door to the hall, someone had already picked up and put it away. In no time, Sam had slipped through the halls and over to Mister Frodo's room, where his master stood, gazing out at the turning leaves of the trees.

"Mister Frodo?"

"Yes, Sam?"

"It's getting on a bit in the afternoon, Sir, and I thought you might like to go for a walk out under those trees, and maybe enjoy a bite to eat?"

"Sam, what have you got there?"

"Oh, just a few things from the kitchens. Not much, but enough for a picnic."

"You shouldn't have gone to all that trouble, Sam!" Frodo scolded, but his eyes lit up and his stomach growled at the smells rising from the canvas bag.

Sam beamed back at his master. "No trouble at all, Mister Frodo. It was just sitting there, waiting to on a picnic with us."