Disclaimer: The Tolkien Estate owns the Shire and everything in it (sigh.) I'm just visiting.~-~-~-~-~-~-~
"Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo, but you oughtn't be doing that. I'll be getting to that patch in short order."
"Sam, please, let me help for once. I've been writing all morning and my eyes hurt." Frodo took one hand off the spade and rubbed them tiredly. "Something less…scholarly…will do me good."
Dubious, Sam sat back on his heels and studied his friend and one-time master. Frodo did look pale, which was not surprising. He spent most of each day inside Bag End writing the history of the War of the Ring. But today he also looked strained and weary.
Sam watched thoughtfully as Frodo, hearing no immediate protests, drove the spade into the spring-warm earth. Frodo handled the garden tool awkwardly, which was hardly surprising. The gentlehobbit had never so much as hoed a row in his own gardens before.
You'll be sore as a dwarf on a pony if I don't stop you, AND you'll have blisters the size of mushroom caps, Sam thought. Why are you doing this, Mr. Frodo? Lamps have naught to a bright sun for giving eyesore. Must be what you're writing about, getting to you again.
Sam stood up and caught hold of the spade before Frodo's next stroke. Frodo tightened his grip, frowning, his blue eyes reproachful.
"I want to do this, Sam. Truly."
Biting his lip, Sam let go and Frodo resumed digging. Sam sighed and reached out again. "No, sir—let your Sam show you the way of it at least."
He tugged at the spade until Frodo's grip loosened, then arranged his own hands on the handle, holding it out so Frodo could see.
"Hold it this way.Push it in hard and move it a bit to go in deeper and loosen it up. After you tip it over, tap it so what sticks comes off and you ain't carryin' it over."
He pushed the tool down with one tough hobbit foot, and with practiced ease turned the spadeful of dirt over, chopping it up into smaller clods before thrusting the spade in again and letting go.
Frodo smiled as he once more took hold of the spade. "Thank you, Sam."
"'Won't stop you from gettin' sore, " Sam warned. "Spring digging's hard work even done right, and you not being accustomed to it and all."
But Frodo merely nodded.
As he moved about the grounds of Bag End on his various gardening tasks, Sam kept one eye on his master. Frodo quickly showed signs of tiring, but no signs of stopping even as the day lengthened into afternoon.His pale face grew flushed and hot, and sweat dampened his short dark hair. He stopped only to wipe his face with his sleeve, and eye the remaining undisturbed plot.
Sam was relieved when Rosie came out with afternoon tea. When he saw she was carrying a small table laden with tea things, he jumped up to take it from her.
"Rosie love, you could have asked us to fetch it or called us inside," he said in a reproving tone.
"Don't be daft, Sam Gamgee. It's a lovely day and I wanted to eat outside with you."
"Well, you ought not be carryin' things," Sam persisted.
"I'm fine…Oh, take it then, if you must," said Rosie, then laughed and pointed at where he'd been planting. "Sam, what a mess you've made!"
In his haste to get the heavy tea things from her, Sam had knocked over his basket of gardening supplies. Tools, and especially seeds, lay scattered several feet in every direction.
"Well, Sam Gamgee, you've gone and made a right mess of things, sure enough!" he said cheerfully.
"Hello, Rosie!" Frodo surprised them both, coming up over the near edge of the grassy roof of Bag End and rubbing one shoulder as he came. He looked flushed, and to Sam's surprise, cheerful. "I thought I heard someone say something about food."
"Mr. Frodo!" said Rosie, aghast. "Has my Sam had you working in your c–" Sam threw her a warning look, and she switched her scold midstream "—clothes? As if the birds and breeze were party guests, your good clothes nonetheless!"
Frodo looked down blankly, and rubbed at the smudges of dirt on the front and embroidered sleeves of his finely-spun shirt. "I took my waistcoat off," he said, then grinned sheepishly. "But now that you mention it, Mistress Gamgee, I may be a trifle overdressed."
"Mr. Baggins, you had best take yourself inside and put that shirt in to soak! What Marigold will say when she sees it don't even bear thinking! Go on. You shan't have tea 'til you've changed. Cold water, mind!" she called after him as he ducked into the smial.
When he was too far inside to hear, she grabbed Sam's arm and hissed," What were you thinking, Sam, letting him work?"
Sam didn't answer immediately. He guided her to the nearest path bench and helped her settle there, then went and fetched the tea things and sat down beside her.
"Nothin' else to do, lass. Mr. Frodo wanted it. And—" he put a gentle finger to her lips to stop her protest. "There might be some good come of it. You saw how he looked, Rosie love. Happy. It's been a long while since Mr. Frodo's had somewhat to be happy about."
"But he's only just gotten over this last illness. And as for seeing things, you saw him rubbing his shoulder just now, like it pained him."
"He's gotten into the way of favoring that shoulder. Seems to me were he to work it more, he'd work out the stiffness and the ache, or," he grinned, "get other aches to take his mind off it!"
"Better, Rosie?" Frodo asked, coming out of Bag End and fastening the last button on a plain, homespun workshirt.
"Much better, Mr. Frodo!" Rosie nodded approvingly. "Come join us!"
Just then, Sam heard a reedy crunch and an exasperated sort of a cry. He leaned forward around the hedge to see why Rosie had put one hand over her mouth to cover a smile. Frodo was lifting one foot from the now half-flattened basket, and surveying the increased mess with chagrin.
"You've gone and finished what I begun, Mr. Frodo," said Sam, and Frodo shot him a harried look. Undaunted, Sam continued, "You could say as you put your foot in it."
Frodo grimaced and shook his head, then bent and scooped up some of the seeds scattered nearby. Sam, however, could see a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he rose and continued toward them. "Rosie," he mused, fingering the seeds. "I'm not sure your Sam has improved the flower walk with this latest sowing. Aren't these peas, Sam?" he asked, holding out a large wrinkled seed. "And this, um, cabbage, and—lettuce, I think? Interesting choice of 'flowers.' Start a new fashion, no doubt."
"The things you know, sir!" said Sam. He rose and poked at the seeds in Frodo's hand. "From Master Merry I'd not be surprised, but I never took you as a hobbit to know one plant from the other, nor by their seeds, if you follow me." Then he caught a glint in Frodo's eye that made his heart leap. Frodo was teasing him!
"And you'd be right, my Sam!" smiled Frodo. He tilted the dirt and seeds into Sam's hand and clapped a hand on his shoulder. "But, in all the time you've been gardening at Bag End, and your old Gaffer before you, I have finally learned that peas and cabbage and lettuce are among the seeds in your basket at this time of year! Rosie, that looks wonderful. Will you do the honors and pour?"
After they had, in the manner of hobbits, reduced the bread and butter, tarts and teacakes to crumbs, Sam took the crockery inside while Frodo began the hunt for the gardening tools scattered amid the greening shrubs and sprouts. At their insistence, Rosie remained on the bench. When Sam returned carrying a few cushions for her, he was in time to see Frodo gingerly reach into a tangled rose hedge after a far-flung trowel and wince as the thorns bit him.
"You'd best change into your mithril coat, poking into that tangle of prickles. Or at least use gloves, sir!" said Sam.
"I think you're right," Frodo said ruefully, extracting his hand to examine a particularly long scratch. He caught the gloves Sam tossed at him and pulled them on. Reaching once more through the thorns, he asked, "Sam, what do you intend to plant where I was digging? It's quite a large patch."
"Well, Mr. Frodo, I were thinking this year I'd put it all into – turnips."
Frodo stopped, dismayed. "I'm doing all that work for turnips? Sam, I don't like turnips!"
Sam helped Rosie arrange the cushions against her back, and tried not to grin. "If you say so, Mr. Frodo."
"You know I hate turnips!"
Sam's grin grew, and he met Rosie's amused eyes. "Well, sir, you sure had us convinced otherwise."
Frodo stared at him.
"Very strengthening, turnips are," Rosie added. "Thicken up a stew or soup nicely, too, if chopped up fine."
Frodo looked from Sam to Rosie, aghast. Then, slowly, he started to smile.
"'Strengthening?' Another conspiracy, my unrepentant Sam! And Rosie—you, too?" He shook his head ruefully. "I shall never again trust what you feed me! How long have I been swallowing those horrible things?"
A pause. Sam exchanged another look with Rosie, and sighed.
"Just on a week ago yesterday, sir."
Frodo's grin faded. Sam saw dismay grow instead as he realized that, try though he had, he'd not succeeded in hiding his recent illness from his two friends after all. He stammered, "Sam, Rosie, I—"
"No point denying it, sir. Rosie and me, we saw straight off that morning you weren't right. Saw too you didn't want us to know. We guessed why, so we let you be."
"As much as we could bear to," said Rosie softly.
Frodo pulled the trowel out blindly and dropped it in the ruined basket. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I couldn't let you worry over me, not with Rosie's time so near—" He turned aside and raised one hand to his face. The other clutched the frayed edge of the basket. The glove's third finger dangled limply.
Sam felt his own eyes begin to sting and he blinked hard. He knelt down next to Frodo and gripped his shoulder. Tentatively he slid his own whole hand over his friend's maimed one. Frodo started to pull it away, but Sam tightened his grasp. He spoke softly, his voice rough with feeling, "Don't do it again, Mr. Frodo, please. I couldn't bear it. Neither of us could. Rosie—she's doin' right well. She's the first one as says it, and the midwife agrees. But, knowing you wasn't well, and us not being allowed to help, it was that as was hard on her, sir, not the little one."
He heard the rustle of skirts, and before Sam could stop her, Rosie had joined them. Her arms encircled them both. "Please, dear Mr. Frodo," she said and kissed him on his cheek. Then, embarrassed at her forwardness, she hid her head against Sam's shoulder.
Frodo laughed, his color heightened. "There's no hope for it, then. What can one poor hobbit do against the two of you? You are as deceitful a pair as Merry and Pippin!" He returned their hug and when he had let go and sat back, Sam thought his eyes were particularly bright.
"My most beloved hobbits! Sam, you shall bear the punishment for both and pick up the rest of these tools and seeds alone. Marigold will be here soon for the laundry and I have a garden plot to finish before she arrives."
"No, you don't!" Sam said in chorus with Rosie. He continued, overriding protests as he pulled the gloves off and tilted Frodo's hands so the sun shone clearly on the reddened palms. "You've done plenty for one day. Never saw so fine a crop of blisters, sir, as when you showed me those seeds. They'll sting soon enough, but naught like they would broken open by more digging."
"But I'm nearly done, Sam."
"I'll leave the plot alone, Mr. Frodo. You can finish tomorrow or the next day once they've gone down a bit, if you like."
Frodo looked down at his hands and rubbed a thumb slowly over one large swelling on his palm. "I would like that, Sam. I would like to finish it. And perhaps, I would even like to plant it."
"In turnips, sir?"
Frodo's laugh rang out loud and clear, and Sam's heart lifted to hear it.
"Yes, even in turnips, my dear Sam!"