Beta appreciation notes for my wonderful crew:
Shot Ė thanks for your dedicating editing and your positively elvish ability to spot typos
Kat Ė thanks for the most incredible waffles, so soothing, supportive and encouraging
Chris Ė again, thanks for being so terrific and for the awesome nitpicking
And thanks, Bella, for the great title!
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement is intended. I don't own
these characters. This story is not meant to violate the rights held
by New Line, Tolkien Enterprises, nor any other licensee, nor is any
For dearest Derby, who has been more than patient, and who loves Sam so.
"Iím fine, Mister Frodo. Just a bit overtired is all."
Sam tired? This was a new one. "Youíre not fine," I said. "Your eyes are glassy and youíre starting to stumble. Sam, you can barely put one foot in front of the other."
Sam muttered something so low I could barely hear it. "Excuse me?"
He sighed, clearly annoyed, and grumbled, "I said, I donít figure how you can see my eyes in this dark, and Iím stumbling because of this dark. Weíre all stumbling because of this dark."
"You know that our eyes become accustomed to the dark after a few hours," I reasoned. "I can see you well enough, and if I looked as flushed and weary as you do now, youíd notice in a second, Samwise Gamgee. It makes my head spin to think of how quickly youíd notice."
"Well, maybe thatís as you say, Mister Frodo, and maybe not," he groused. "But Iím not of a mind to argue about it right now, if you please. Itís been a long night, and me and old Bill, weíre just ready to stop. So excuse me if Iím a bit quiet. Like I said, Iím tired is all."
Something was wrong with him. All this sneezing, and now Sam, my Sam, sullen and terse? Something was definitely wrong. I reached over quickly and placed a palm on his forehead. Sam instantly jerked away and frowned at me. That did it. Iíd barely had time to touch him, but Iíd felt what I felt, and he was far too warm.
I glanced ahead to where Legolas and Boromir had now uprighted my cousins. I didnít know what to do, but something had to be done before Sam fell over. At that moment, Legolas turned and headed back our way, carrying Pippin, both of them smiling.
"Legolas, wait!" I said at his approach. From the corner of my eye I saw Sam fire me a quick look, but I didnít return it. Legolas and Pippin both sobered at my tone.
"What is it, Frodo?" the elf asked, as he came upon us.
"Itís Sam. I think--"
"Mister Frodo, please!" Sam hissed.
The elfís bright eyes were on Sam in an instant. Just as quickly, he lowered Pippin to the ground, stepped over to Sam and took Billís reins from him. "Here, Frodo," he said, handing me the reins. "Hold up for a moment." We all stopped walking.
"Now just a--"
It was all Sam got out before Legolas whooshed him up and sat him on his hip. The elf narrowed his eyes and studied Sam closely. He felt Samís face and his forehead, frowned, then said, "Pippin, run ahead and tell Boromir to drop back here. And be quiet about it. No yelling to him."
"Aye, Legolas." Pippin scooted off.
Sam, meanwhile, regained his tongue. He kicked his legs out and squirmed and said, "Put me down! Iím fine!"
"Hush," Legolas ordered in a curt tone that would have certainly silenced me. But, to my astonishment, Sam had actually opened his mouth to say more when Boromir came striding up, Merry still in his arms, Pippin trotting at his side. Boromir looked solemnly at the scene.
"I fear this little one is ill," Legolas said. "Aragorn should know of it at once."
"Iíll go tell him," Boromir said, lowering Merry.
"We shall hold here and wait, little brother."
"Aye." Boromir turned, and that was when my exasperated gardenerís patience once again gave way. He wrenched around and snarled, "Boromir, NOOO! This is silly! Legolas, put me down! I tell you, Iím fine!"
Boromir stopped and stared at Sam.
"Your little bottom will be less than fine if you do not stop fussing, sir," Legolas replied.
"Be careful, Sam," Pippin chirped up at him. "Legolas just learned how to spank a hobbit while standing up."
Under different circumstances, everyone would have laughed. But Sam was clearly hopping mad, and the sight of their usually calm and steady Sam so unreasonable was so shocking to all that it stole the attention from Pippinís smart comment. Sam himself merely huffed down at my cousin, then he paused and glanced at Legolas speculatively, as if considering the merit of Pipís warning.
Anyone in his right mind would know that, despite his threat, the elf wouldnít be so harsh as to spank a clearly ill hobbit. But Sam hardly seemed in his right mind and Legolas looked a bit provoked by Samís outburst. Oddly enough, Pipís seemingly rash remark was helpful. Samís body relaxed in defeat and he fell into a profound sulk.
"Bless me, now look at this mess!" he muttered, crossing his arms over his chest with a jerk. "Of all the nonsense! Iím perfectly fine!"
"I think it best we let the Ranger decide that, little one," Boromir said. He nodded to Legolas and then he took off to retrieve Aragorn.
I petted Billís soft nose and watched Sam slump on the elfís hip. Legolas had both hands cupped under Samís bottom, and he was swaying slightly from side to side, as if trying to calm him. He observed Sam quietly. Merry and Pippin sat down right where they were. All of us waited, and within a few moments, Gimli came trailing along, curious as to why Boromir had gone tearing by him, saying something about going back to wait with the others.
"Samís sick," Merry said.
"No, Iím NOT!" Sam snapped, immediately upset again. "This is all stuff and nonsense! Everyone here is making much too much out of a sneeze or two. Well, when Strider gets here, then youíll see!"
Gimli stopped dead in his tracks and stared at Sam. Then he cleared his rumbly throat and said, "Well, judging from his ill-temper, Iíd say that heís either caught a strain of the wee Tookís waspishness from earlier this eve, or a touch of the miseries from those cold lake waters."
Samís attempted protest turned into a sneeze.
"Indeed," the dwarf said.
Pip tightened his face and turned to Gimli. "Miseries?"
"A cold, young one. Just another name for a cold."
"I do not have a cold!"
"And Aragorn said you can catch a cold from being too cold," Merry went on, ignoring Sam. "Because your body is so busy trying to keep you warm that a cold can slip past your defenses."
"I do not have a cold!"
"Aye, Merry, I know," Pippin replied. "But, I say again, we all drank that foul tea Aragorn made us drink that night, and none of us got sick from being exposed to the cold. So why would Sam be the only one who . . . ."
Pippin halted midway through his ramble. He glanced at Sam. Everyone glanced at Sam. I wondered why they were all now staring at him. A silence fell, and Sam turned his head to look off into the darkness behind Legolas.
"Sam," Legolas said. "Did you --"
"I saw him drinking," Merry said.
"Aye," Pippin added, a bit more cautiously. "So did I."
Suddenly we heard the men and Gandalf approaching at a swift pace. Aragorn, calm and commanding, came striding towards Legolas and his passenger.
"Well, Sam," Aragorn said with gentle seriousness. "What is all this about?"
"Naught but foolishness, Strider," Sam grumbled. He coughed, a gurgling sound coming from his throat. "I sneezed a few times, thatís all. Seems to me folks are making too much of a few sneezes."
"Let us prove them wrong then, shall we?" Aragorn said, and he began efficiently examining Sam, touching his head, his cheeks, feeling around his neck. We all watched in silence. Aragorn worked quickly, but Sam still began to fidget.
"Strider, enough! Kindly stop poking at me! I keep trying to tell everyone, Iím f--"
"Hold your tongue, Samwise Gamgee!" Gandalf ordered, his wizardís scowl firmly in place.
Samís eyes went wide and he closed his mouth with a snap. Gandalf glanced around until his searching gaze stopped at me. He winked.
It took Aragorn but a few minutes to make his assessment. "He has a cold, a nasty one, but manageable," he said, addressing us all. "Up ahead is the last stand of heavy pine before the foothills begin. I plan to stop there for the day. So let us press on with all speed. When we arrive, I will begin to help Sam."
Aragorn paused and studied Sam again, then threw a glance around at my kinsmen and me. "We can move more swiftly if we carry the little ones."
"I shall take Merry and Pippin," Boromir said, heading for my cousins who were scrambling to their feet.
A quick glance passed between Aragorn and Legolas, then Aragorn said, "You may carry one halfling, sir."
"Itís alright, Aragorn," Pippin said as Boromirís strong forearm scooped him up. "He carried Frodo and me for several hours just before dawn yesterday."
"Oh?" Aragornís brow quirked skyward. "Did he indeed?" He turned a blank stare on Legolas.
"I may have forgotten to mention that," Legolas said softly.
"Aye. You may have." He fired Legolas a small frown, then closed in on Boromir, who now had one of my cousins on each hip. "I know you are fully able to handle two halflings, but it is the last hour of a long night, sir, and Legolas is far better suited to this burden at present than are you."
He plucked Merry from Boromirís arm and lowered him to the ground, then turned my cousin towards Legolas and gave him a propelling pat on the behind. Merry scooted towards the elf.
Meanwhile Gimli had marched my way. "Come, young Ringbearer," he said. "Iíll take the beastie."
I mindlessly handed him the reins, watching Legolas reach down and gather up Merry, and Iíd opened my mouth to protest when Boromir beat me to it.
"Aragorn, these little ones are hardly a burden. And besides, Merry could catch Samís cold if --"
"He will not catch Samís cold," Aragorn replied, heading my way. "Merryís inner defenses will see to that."
"Boromir," Aragorn said quietly, turning his look of perfect authority on the warrior. It was the look none of us liked being on the receiving end of. Boromir blinked. Then he wrapped his other arm under Pipís behind and said no more. Fine. It was my turn to protest.
"Iím staying with Sam," I said, and I headed towards Legolas, giving Aragorn a wide berth. Not wide enough, though. There probably was no berth wide enough to circumvent a determined Ranger. He was on me in two strides and I was instantly swished off my feet and plunked astride his hip.
"Excuse me," Aragorn said, watching me with fond indulgence. "But the traveling assignments have been made, sir."
"What difference does it make?" I demanded. "Sam needs me!"
"I doubt Sam cares at this point, Frodo," Aragorn said softly.
I glanced to where Legolas stood waiting, his arms full of hobbit. Sam had collapsed, asleep, his head lying on the elfís shoulder.
"He will most likely not awaken again before we make camp," Aragorn said. "So you will behave yourself and come with me. I wish to talk to you."
We set off again, this time at twice the speed, the big folk, save Gandalf, toting hobbits and Gimli leading Bill. I watched Sam for as long as I could see him, but he didnít stir. Legolas glided along with such fluid grace that Sam wasnít jostled in the least.
The sky hinted at the approaching dawn, and I looked off in the distance, spotting a small dark patch at the foothills of the great looming peaks.
"Is that the last stand of pine?" I asked, pointing ahead.
"Aye," Aragorn replied. "At this pace we shall be there soon." He glanced at me, then smiled slightly and kissed my brow. "How fretful you look," he said. "I know you are frightened, but your Sam will be fine, sweet Frodo. I have many of Lord Elrondís healing concoctions with me."
"And they work?"
Aragorn sniffed a chuckle. "Aye. You yourself are proof of Lord Elrondís knowledge of healing."
Gandalf, who was striding along on the other side of Aragorn, now turned to him and said, "We dare not stop for more than a day. The longer we delay in reaching Caradhas, the more time evil has to forge a campaign against us."
"I know," Aragorn said. "We shall push on tonight. By tomorrow at this time we should reach the cave in the high foothills. Unless some creature has taken up residence there, I had planned for that to be our last stop before the snow line. Sam will have today to rest, then we will fashion a sling and take turns carrying him on our backs tonight."
"He will be unhappy about that," I said. He would. I could just imagine what my Sam would say about being hauled about on the backs of these warriors.
"He will most likely sleep."
I cast another look back. I could see Legolas, his bright hair seeming to glow even in such low light. I couldnít make out Samís features, but his head was still on the elfís shoulder. It looked like Merry had lain his head down as well.
Gimli was ahead of them with the pony, and Boromir ahead of Gimli. They were in closer formation, Boromir not far behind us, and, to my surprise, Pippinís head now lay on the warriorís wide shoulder as well. Boromir had placed his other hand atop Pipís tousled curls, probably petting him, soothing him. My younger cousin was always tired just before we stopped, but the way Pippin was draped over Boromir, the way his arms clung to the warriorís strong neck, and Pipís silence itself bespoke low-spirits rather than mere weariness. This direful mood amongst my kinsmen made sense. Hobbits were so rarely ill, and Sam . . . .
"Iíve never seen Sam sick," I heard myself mutter. "I donít know that he ever has been sick."
"He will not be so for long."
"Is he suffering, Aragorn?"
The Ranger gave a small shrug.
"He is," I said, my worry building. "More than he is letting on. He is, isnít he? He was hot to the touch, so he has a fever, and that means heís most likely hurting."
Aragorn sighed. "His head probably hurts, aye. Heís beyond weary, so it was a good thing you noticed and stopped us. His eyes no doubt ache, perhaps his ears, perhaps his throat since his voice sounded strained. I will know when I have more light and can see better."
"He was sneezing."
"My poor Sam. Why did he have to be the one who got sick?"
"Knowing Sam, he would have been more distressed if you had fallen ill," Aragorn said.
I had to nod. "True enough. Sam would rather become sick himself than have me become sick."
"You did drink all the athelas tea Sam brought over to you the other night, didnít you, Frodo?"
His question surprised me. "Yes, of course."
"All of it?"
"Yes. All of it." I watched him, still perplexed.
"How much was in your tin?"
"The cup was filled to the brim," I said, becoming impatient with these odd questions. Did Aragorn doubt that I drank it all? "And I did drink it all, a whole tin cup full of nasty bitter tea. I drank it all down! And if you doubt me, you can ask Sam. He stood over me and drank his and watched me drink mine, then he took my empty cup and washed it out."
"I donít doubt you, little one. Settle down. I believe you."
I suddenly felt a bit foolish for having lost my temper. Aragorn hadnít accused me of anything. Toying with the leather ties on his duster, I muttered, "Iím sorry I snapped at you. Besides, I suppose if I hadnít drunk all that down, you would know it by now. Iíd be as sick as Sam is."
"Hmmm. Indeed. And now we must talk about something."
At his somber tone, I became suddenly alert again. "Is Sam that bad off? What havenít you told me? Is he --?"
"Not one more word, Master Underhill!" Aragorn said. I instantly closed my mouth. "I am not about to tell you something grievous about your beloved Sam. And I promise to keep nothing from you, so calm your fears. He has a cold, Frodo, that is all. He is uncomfortable, but when I have administered what he needs, he will be his old self again."
Gandalf started chuckling. "When you have administered what that young hobbit needs, he will be sleeping on his belly."
Aragorn joined Gandalfís slight snickering. "Aye, he will."
"What?" I demanded. I couldnít have heard them right. My temper gave way yet again and I blurted, "Are you talking about a spanking? Aragorn! Do you plan to spank Sam?"
Aragorn gave a nod. "I do indeed. As soon as he is well again."
"You canít be serious! Youíre going to spank my Sam for getting sick?"
"In a manner of speaking. And lower your voice."
"I will not!"
Aragorn slid a dangerous sideways glance my way. "Excuse me?"
It was one of those times when a look and a tone spoke directly to my inner sense of self-preservation. I rarely listened, but I did now. I stared at Aragorn silently.
"I realize that you are tired and irritable and quick-tempered from worrying about Sam, little one. However, you would do well to curb your ill-humor. At once. Do I make myself clear?"
"Good. Now, take a moment to calm down, and then we shall talk this over."
I drew a slow breath and thought things out: Sam didnít mean to get sick. He didnít try to get sick. He had no control over getting sick. So it was unjust to spank Sam simply because he got sick. Aragorn was a fair man. So Aragorn wouldnít spank Sam for getting sick. But, hadnít he just admitted . . . . ?
"Iím sorry, Aragorn, but I simply donít understand. Itís unfair to spank Sam for getting sick. It isnít as if he had done so on purpose. He couldnít avoid getting sick. But youíre an honorable man. So I just donít understand."
He flashed me his soft, indulgent smile and gave a small laugh. "Thank you for your good faith in my integrity, pretty Frodo. And we have now come to the matter I wished to talk to you about. I can and do hold Sam responsible for getting sick, because he could have indeed avoided it had he obeyed me. You see, I brewed enough athelas so that all of you had the dose you needed. But, Frodo, Boromir was the only one who needed a full cup of the brew, because he is so much bigger than a hobbit. The rest of you only needed half a cup, a hobbit-dose, so to speak. And that is what I gave to you and each of your kinsmen Ė half a cup."
A tremor shot through me. I felt my mouth fall open. No. Oh, no. He hadnít.
"Aye," Aragorn said with a nod, reading my horror clearly. "Sam gave you his share as well. He must have done it quickly as he was bringing yours back to you, poured his portion in with yours. You werenít watching him the whole time he was walking your way with both cups, were you?"
I shook my head slowly, dazed.
"Neither was I," Aragorn said on a sigh. "Clearly, no one was. Everyone was distracted as I passed out the tea. And there was no reason to suspect he might do such a thing. Yet, it makes perfect sense."
"I canít believe it," I murmured. "I cannot."
"He was clever about it," Aragorn said. "I remember more now, thinking back on it. After he handed you your cup, he stood between you and me so that I couldnít see you and perhaps notice how much you were drinking and how long it was taking you. I didnít catch sight of you again until you were finished and heíd taken your empty cup and gone off to wash it out."
"Ohhh." I gazed off, also remembering Ė Sam standing before me, watching me, lifting his cup and pretending to drink! Again it hit me as simply impossible. Sam, "MY Sam" did something so blatantly dishonest? And lived with his deceit for several days? I had noticed his increased musing and his slight pensiveness, but I had thought he was adjusting to the shift in travel time. This marching by night had affected us all. I hadnít wanted to make Sam feel awkward about his odd behavior by mentioning it to him. Like all of us, he deserved to adjust in his own way. But now, oh! Of course it all made sense. This had been eating at him.
No. It was unthinkable! Iíd never, ever known Sam to tell a falsehood. Even when he tried his hardest to fib, he was endearingly inept at it and failed every time. It just wasnít in him. He simply did not understand what it was to be dishonest. How could he have done this? How . . . .
I felt suddenly frightened. A chill slithered up my spine. I sensed the presence of the Ring around my neck, and then I thought of my Sam . . . sweet Sam wrapped around me as I slept in his arms and . . . and even closer still in our intimate moments, hidden beneath our blankets, joined as one. I thought of Samís deep urgent kisses that could last forever . . . oh, it couldnít be possible, could it?
My eyes drifted to Aragornís troubled gaze.
"What is it?" he asked.
I suddenly felt strange, revealing this fear to Aragorn. I donít know why. But, if the Ring and I had done this thing to my Sam, oh, that was too awful to think about. It made me feel . . . infectious. It was too big to convey at the moment. I needed to think on it more, figure it out on my own. So I looked at Aragorn and calmly said, "Nothing."
Aragorn smiled wearily. "Nothing? Were we not here just a few days ago, young one, after the mud, when your Ďnothingí turned out to indeed be something?"
Oh. I dropped my gaze. "Yes."
"It had to do with your fears about the Ring that day," he went on. "So, shall I hazard a guess that this Ďnothingí is similar in nature, related once more to the Ring?"
I glanced up again and noticed that Gandalf had dropped back to talk with Boromir and Pippin. I did not mind Gandalf being part of our conversation. He was dear to me, and, indeed, he could have perhaps offered some insight to this matter. But it also suddenly felt right that Aragorn and I talk alone, as we had a few nights ago when he last spanked me.
So I turned back to him, and at once I noticed that quiet stillness that often entered his gaze when he studied me closely. It was compelling, almost impossible to turn away from. He looked inside me at times, something that, these days, I drew comfort from.
"Do you think . . . Aragorn, do you think that the Ring could influence Samís behavior?" I heard myself suddenly blurt.
He drew back a little, gazing at me, contemplative and quiet. Then a patient smile crossed his face. "No, Frodo," he murmured.
"But, this is so unlike him! And the Ring . . . Iíve felt what it can do to me, how it can affect me. So, maybe . . . ." I struggled, trying to convey the depth of my fears without embarrassing myself to death. "Sam and I are so close, you see . . . so physically close. We are --" A blush singed my face, but I held Aragornís tranquil gaze, determined to let him know how serious this was.
The Rangerís gentle smile deepened. He leaned in close and whispered in my ear, "I know, little one."
I gave up fighting that hot blush and it careened through me at will. Dropping my gaze, I murmured, "So, maybe . . . maybe the Ring --"
"Shhh." Aragorn placed a curled finger under my chin and lifted my face to his, repeating another soft, "No. Have no fears of that. You know your Sam. That would never happen to him."
I couldnít help smiling softly at him. He shared my smile, then he studied me, then said, "There is still confusion in your eyes. Come now. Out with it."
"Itís just that I have never, ever known Sam to do something like this! He doesnít have a dishonest bone in his body."
"Ah, but that is where you are confused. Sam did not see what he did as dishonest. He saw it as unselfish. He was able to convince himself that it was sound and fitting, even noble, and your Sam is a noble soul. To him, it felt like the right thing to do for you, and for the Quest."
I thought this over. Aragorn watched me, then he smiled again and kissed me gently.
"Ah, Frodo, such a charming gaze of bewilderment. I know. It seems hard to believe that your loyal, honest Sam could do such a thing. For what it is worth, my guess is that his illness is due, in part, to a guilty conscience. But he did what he did in love. Sam felt he was being honorable. He is guilty of muddled thinking, that is all, and he is paying for it now. It simply didnít occur to him that there could be anything wrong with making a sacrifice for a good cause. You were his cause and his concern. I doubt he listened to any nagging fears warning him that he might become ill himself, if indeed he had those fears at all."
"But, Aragorn, if thatís true, if Sam did this out of care and compassion for me, can you not simply talk to him, explain to him why what he did was wrong?"
"And forgo his spanking?"
"No. Sam is due a sincere hiding, and I mean to see he gets one."
I heaved a sigh of exasperation. This didnít seem fair somehow. "Why?"
"Because he deserves it."
"But, he is suffering already!"
"Oh, I intend to wait until he is well. And that will be within a day, given the power of the curative I have for him. The cave will be a fine place to tan Master Gamgeeís backside. He will have a nice warm bottom to take into the snows."
I squirmed, and I wasnít even the one due for the tanning. I tried once more. "Aragorn, be reasonable. Sam does not deserve to be spanked for this! Why canít you let his illness be lesson enough?"
"Because he disobeyed me, Frodo. He was supposed to drink his portion like everyone else, and, had he done so, he would not be ill now. He instead took it upon himself to countermand me. He decided that he knew what was best, and that it was all right for him to go against my orders. But Sam could not see all ends, nor all the possible consequences of his act. For instance, some of Elrondís cures are powerful, and doubling the dose would have been harmful to you. Sam could not have known that."
"Oh!" Such a thing hadnít occurred to me either.
"What he did was potentially dangerous. He needs to know of it. But most importantly, Frodo, Sam needs to learn that he is never to ignore or interfere with my orders in any manner ever again. He was fortunate this time. He only ended up with a cold. But what if the next time I give an order, he again decides he knows better and the consequences are disastrous? Think for a moment of what could have happened this time. What would your Sam have put himself through if the extra dose of athelas had been potent enough to gravely harm you?"
I could picture it, all too clearly, all too horribly, so horribly that I had to shake the thoughts from my head. Aragorn looked at me with a raised brow.
"Ah. Perhaps you understand at last. So, little one, do you still think your Sam does not deserve to be spanked?"
I laid my head on Aragornís strong shoulder and hugged myself against him. "Make it a good long spanking, Strider. My Sam deserves the best."