Beta appreciation for my wonderful crew:
Shot – thanks for your dedicating editing and your positively elvish ability to spot typos
Kat – thanks for the most incredible waffles, so soothing, supportive and encouraging
Chris – 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.
When I woke up, I had no idea where I was or what was happening. Before I opened my eyes, when my head was still fuzzy, I felt movement, like I was being rocked, but ever so gently, a smooth, gliding sway . . . mmmm. Then I felt something soft and silky-like under my cheek, and there was this pretty, sweet-ish smell all around, mmmm, light and clean, like the Shire in the early morning when the dew is still on the grasses . . . ahh, of course. Legolas.
My eyes popped open. Still dark. It was still nighttime? But, wait, no. I wasn’t riding on the elf’s hip anymore; I was behind him, tied onto his back, some kind of cloth sling under my behind and halfway up my back – I was being carried like a nipper who couldn’t yet walk!
"Well, young sir, so you are awake."
I blinked at the soft elvish tone, things becoming clearer by the second. Legolas was carrying me, and I was swaddled onto his back, my cheek nestled on a bed of his soft hair, one fist closed around a handful of the silky stuff.
I lifted my head. Oh, bless me! No more pain! I was better! I wasn’t sick after all! A little dizzy maybe, but that’d pass when I had my feet again.
"How’d you know I was awake?"
"Your breathing changed."
"Ah. Well, I’m awake now, so you can put me down."
Legolas snickered. "That is exactly what your young master predicted you would say: ‘Legolas, put me down.’ He certainly knows his Sam."
"Where is he?" I asked quickly. "Is Frodo all right?"
Again Legolas snickered. "And that is the next thing he predicted you would say: ‘He’ll then want to know where I am and if I’m all right,’" Legolas said, a smile in his voice. "Your Frodo is fine, little caretaker. Look you ahead of us, over my shoulder. He is not far, walking with his cousins."
I narrowed my eyes and peered through the dark. Aye, there they were, three smaller shapes walking just ahead of Bill and Gimli, and . . . ahh. I sighed. There he was, my Frodo, sandwiched between Merry and Pippin.
"I assume you have caught sight of him," Legolas said. "Your whole body just relaxed."
"Aye. And I’m much better now. My head’s stopped hurting and I feel just fine."
"Mmmm. Aragorn was right. This is about the time he said that you would begin to wake up."
I didn’t know what he was talking about, but it didn’t matter. I wanted down from this nipper-sling and I wanted to go see Frodo, tell him I felt much better, and that Strider was wrong – I didn’t have a cold. Silly Ranger. Whatever had made me feel so sick earlier had passed. I had just needed a little rest after all.
Frodo had been worried when he’d dropped back to join me. For a while he didn’t say anything, and then we’d watched Merry and Pippin’s little show, complete with two warriors charging them from opposite directions and shushing them and then teasing around with them. I’d blessed the two scalawags for distracting Frodo from his worried glances, if only for a bit. But then he’d felt my forehead and then he’d called Legolas over and all that ruckus started. And then, well, it all came crashing down around me.
I was sick. I was found out. But they, blessedly, didn’t know how I’d gotten sick, and that was a to-do I never wanted to face, because I did know how I’d ended up that way. I knew what I’d done with the kingsfoil tea Strider made that night we were all sitting around, waiting for our clothes to dry.
"Bring your cups," he’d said. "You must all take this athelas brew. I know it is bitter, but it will strengthen your bodies and ward off any ill effects from the cold water."
I’d taken my cup and Mister Frodo’s over, and, when I was watching Strider dip out half a cup for Merry, then Pippin, that’s when I got the idea. I held out our two cups, and sure enough, Strider gave both me and Frodo the same amount – half a cup, and I turned and on the way back I quick-like poured my tea into Frodo’s cup. I’d had only seconds, but that was all it took, and I kept glancing around, making sure no one was watching. No one saw. Hurray for me!
I stood there in front of Frodo so’s Strider couldn’t see him drinking so much, and I pretended to drink mine, and I kept fending off this little nagging voice that was needling me about how this wasn’t right, and I was being dishonest. ‘Hogwash!’ I told that voice. I watched Frodo sip that nasty tea, making the cutest awful faces, and I kept talking to myself as I pretended to drink: ‘This is good, so good. He needs this much more’n I do. That rotten Ring is draining him more every day. You’re strong as a horse, Samwise Gamgee, never been sick a day in your life. Nothin’ll happen to you, but dear little Frodo, ah, this’ll protect him! Good thinking, Sam!’
No one knew. No one suspected. But that nagging voice kept coming back, louder and peskier, and sometimes I just had to hunker down inside myself and concentrate on shutting it up. Frodo notices everything, so, of course, he started watching me closer. He didn’t know what I’d done with the tea, but he knew I wasn’t quite myself, and my Frodo is as honest as the day is long, so he couldn’t hide his worry. His pretty eyes filled up with alarm when he’d glance my way, even though I was doing my darndest to cover up that fight going on inside me. Then I’d get even madder at myself, mad that I’d made him fret, that I was too bumbling to hide what was my problem to handle.
Thing was, I knew I wasn’t very good at this. Once, when I’d been a bit too honest about a new dress my sister Marigold had, the gaffer had said, "Ah, Sam, you’re too truthful fer yer own good, lad. Not that it’s a bad thing. A hobbit should be taken at his word. ‘Honesty is a virtue,’ as my ol’ Da used to say. But, every now ‘n then, a touch o’ the malarkey don’t hurt."
I gave up a long time ago on my skills with malarkey, but now, oh, how I wished I had just a little of Pippin’s natural skill at it. In the end, all I could do was to keep clear of Frodo when he took to studying me. But then, when Gandalf roused us this evening, oh!
I’d started to scramble up and see to Frodo, but I felt a pain in my head that wasn’t nothing like the little headache I’d sometimes get the morning after a night of a few too many at the Green Dragon. This was a throbbing, hot and fierce, and my throat felt sore when I swallowed, and my ears ached, and all over my body things just hurt. I knew all too well what had happened. I was sick. And it was all my fault. I’d caused it by being stupid about that kingsfoil tea. Aye, my Frodo wasn’t sick, so it wasn’t a bad thing I’d done. I’d have felt worse if Frodo had been suffering this, but I felt stupid and weak for getting sick myself. Of all the . . . ! Fine kettle of fish, Samwise Gamgee! Just look at the mess you’ve made!
Well, there wasn’t nothing I could do but keep it to myself. I couldn’t tell what I’d done. I wouldn’t. Let Frodo know how dishonest I’d been? Let everyone know what a liar I was, how I’d tricked them all and now brought this down on everyone? I couldn’t expect them to slow down for this. I couldn’t bear that thought, or the thought of everyone looking at me, knowing we were in this fix because I’d done something I shouldn’t have. And that brought up another hornet’s nest of nasty thoughts, because Strider sure as heckfire wasn’t going to be pleased if he found out what I’d done. So, he couldn’t find out. No one could, and no one would if I had anything to say about it!
So, before we’d set out tonight, when Strider and Boromir had gone off for a stroll and everybody had been teasing around with Pippin, I’d had a good talk with myself. I’d made my bed and now it was time to lie in it. And that was all there was to that. So buck up, Gamgee. There wasn’t anything else to be done.
And then the sneezing started, and Frodo’s looks got more and more worried, and it got harder, just plain harder to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The first hour was bad, and then it got worser and worser. Just keep going, Samwise, you fool! Step after step . . . don’t let on . . . don’t let them know. But my head pounded so much I started to feel like what little I’d eaten was going to come back up. Sometimes my eyes blurred, and with every sneeze hot pain exploded in my head. And the ache in my body was like nothing I’d felt before, like every muscle, every part of my skin was sore, like even the touch of my clothes made my skin smart. This was what it felt like to be sick? This was awful! Maybe I was dying.
It seemed like the trek was endless. We’d never stop, and this night would go on forever. Every minute was so long, so very long, and then Frodo was beside me, talking, and although I’d tried to keep away from him, I couldn’t now, and he was talking, and I tried to answer politely, but maybe I snapped a little . . . I don’t rightly remember. But I knew when he touched my forehead that it would feel hot, and then, oh, when he called quietly to Legolas! I just got so angry, because, well, maybe if I was angry they’d back off and leave me alone! And yet I had this sinking feeling that I was, well, sunk.
And was I ever. Nothing I had to say was going to matter a whit once the elf snatched me up and looked me over. All my sauce got me was Legolas threatening to give me a sore bottom. Being found out was bad enough, but when that vexing Pippin starting hitting too close to the truth and everyone turned to stare at me, well, I couldn’t even bear looking at anyone.
Strider actually saved my hide there, coming up when he did, but he also knew what he knew, and then everyone knew what I wished they hadn’t. Sam had a nasty cold. And then I fell asleep on the elf’s shoulder. I was just so tired, so, so tired.
I was surprised it was still nighttime. Seemed like I’d been sleeping longer, and it felt like more things had gone on than what I was remembering right off, dream-like things. I wondered how I’d gotten from the elf’s hip into this nipper-sling on his back without waking up, but then, I had been so tired. And I wondered how Strider knew when I would wake up.
"I thought we were almost to some last stand of pine," I now said. "Have I only been asleep for about an hour?"
Legolas was very quiet, then he said, "Is that what you last remember?"
I rested my head on his shoulder again, and thought. "Well, I have a lot of dreamy-like things going through my head, but the last real thing I recollect was something Strider was saying about some pines where we were stopping. Aren’t we there yet?"
"Sam," Legolas said in a gentle voice. "We have been there and gone. You have lost a day."
"What?" These elves talk in such riddles sometimes.
"We stopped yesterday morning at the pines. There Aragorn treated you, despite your entertaining protests, and then you slept most of the time, waking only in order to give trouble to anyone who wanted to help you."
No. That couldn’t be true. "No. I don’t believe it!"
"Ask your Frodo, little one." Legolas gave a nod forward. "I wondered how soon he would notice that you had awoken. His eyes have been trained upon you more than on the trail ahead all night."
I lifted my head and here came Frodo, racing back our way, crying, "Sam! Oh, Sam!"
"Shhhh!" Legolas ordered in a hushed voice. "Frodo! Mind your tone!"
"Oh! Yes! I will! Sorry, Legolas!"
But a second later Merry and Pippin came racing towards us, crying, "SAM! Good old Sam! Hooray for Sam!"
Legolas shushed them, too, but I was grinning like mad, because I guess all this fuss was just such a nice feeling.
Frodo was now practically dancing at the elf’s side, reaching up to touch me everywhere he could, running his hands on my legs where they stuck out from the sling, and patting my rear and back, all the time yammering softly, "Oh, my dear Sam! How are you? How do you feel? Does anything hurt? Are you better? You look better! I was so worried! We were all so worried. Oh, Sam, how good you look! Your color is back! Are you really feeling better? Why don’t you answer me?"
Legolas chuckled. "Perhaps because you have not given him the chance to, little chatterbox."
I laughed and reached down and ruffled my Frodo’s soft curls. "Now, now, Mister Frodo," I said, loving the joyous look on his sweet face. "All this fuss! I’m fine, like I keep telling everyone. Just needed a little rest. You see? Strider doesn’t know everything. I don’t have nary the smidgen of a cold."
Frodo blinked. His face fell. Merry and Pippin stared at me, then glanced at each other, puzzled-like. I felt scared right off, suddenly remembering what Legolas had said about me losing a day.
Frodo turned a worried look to the elf. "Legolas?"
"What’s wrong with him?" Pippin asked.
Legolas stopped walking and sighed. "He recalls nothing since yesterday," he said. "Do not be alarmed, though. Considering the potency of what Aragorn gave him, it is not surprising." He turned and signaled to someone behind us, the rear guard no doubt, to come forward.
"But, is he all right, Legolas?" Frodo asked in a small voice.
"Aye, little one, he is fine."
"How could he lose a whole day of memory?" Merry asked.
"In part, the curative that healed his body and helped him sleep calmed his mind so greatly that some forgetfulness took place. It is a common occurrence with this medicine. Aragorn tells me you had a similar sleep when first coming to Rivendell, Frodo. You remembered little when you awoke. But your memory returned bit by bit, and so will Sam’s, when we begin to tell him of what happened."
I was about to yell that I was here and wanted to be in on this talk when Boromir came jogging up from behind.
Legolas grinned. "How goes the rear guard, little brother?"
"I miss the endless blather of halfling voices," the warrior replied. Then Boromir’s teasing smile grew even bigger when he caught sight of me. He reached out and tousled my hair and said, "Well, there’s a sight! Such nice bright eyes, Sam! Are we feeling better then?"
What I was feeling was stupefied, this notion that I’d somehow lost all sense of time more than just a little upsetting. I managed a nod, though.
"Such a noble soul, Master Gardener," he said. Boromir glanced at Frodo and said, "I suppose you can draw your first calm breath in twenty-four hours, eh, little one?"
Frodo giggled. And I didn’t care what happened from here on in, because hearing that giggle made my insides light up like Gandalf’s finest fireworks.
"Aragorn wanted to be alerted when Sam awoke," Legolas said.
"Then I’m off to fetch him again," Boromir said. He paused and winked at me and added, "No protests this time, sir, like yesterday?" I gave him a wry grin and Boromir took off, chuckling to himself.
"Can you put him down, Legolas?" Frodo asked. "Can I hold him?"
Legolas smiled and glanced around, then strolled over to a group of boulders and sat down. He loosened the blanket sling, then hauled me gently around until, a moment later, I was sitting on his lap, and a moment after that, Frodo pushed his way between the elf’s legs and gathered me to him. I hugged him back, loving how he felt, so warm, fitting so perfectly in my arms.
"Oh, Sam," he whispered in my ear. "I was so worried. My poor Sam."
"Shhh," I said. "Enough of that, Mister Frodo. I’m fine. Not poorly anymore. Just your Sam."
"My Sam," he whispered. "My Sam."
"So, the wee laddie is himself again, I see! He’s wrapped around the Ringbearer, so there’s a good sign." Frodo turned and giggled at Gimli’s gruffly happy voice. "I believe the small beastie has missed you, Master Gamgee. Nay, not that one," he said, pointing to Frodo. "That one." He thumbed over his shoulder at Bill, who turned to look at us as if he knew what we were saying. We all laughed.
"Well, that is a sound more to our liking." Gandalf came into view with his crinkly-eyed grin in place, along with Strider who looked just as pleased, Boromir at his side, still wearing his smile.
"Indeed," Strider said. "So, Master Gamgee, perhaps my curative is more than just a sticky mass of gunk after all."
Again everyone laughed, but I didn’t know what to make of Strider’s words. Frodo’s eyes glistened with soft lights. "That is what you called the elixir Aragorn mixed up and made you take," he said quietly.
"He has no memory since falling asleep on my shoulder just before we reached the pines yesterday, Aragorn," Legolas said.
Strider tipped his head back a little and to the side, like he does when he’s thinking about something, and he smiled gently at me. "I expected as much. His memories will come back, though."
"So I told him," Legolas said. "Or rather, so I told his concerned kinsmen."
"Don’t worry," Aragorn said, his calm smile traveling over we hobbits. "We shall all help Sam remember how naughty he was, and then he’ll wish he could forget again."
Everyone shifted and chuckled and Boromir groaned while Strider moved over and sat beside Legolas, plucked me up and placed me on his own lap, saying, "We are within an hour of the cave, but I shall take a quick look at you now, sir. Do try to cooperate and no fighting."
"Fighting?" I ‘tsked.’ "Strider, I’m certainly not going to be so cheeky as to fight you when you’re trying to help me."
There was a short pause, and then everyone laughed again, trying hard not to be loud, but simply breaking up. Frodo came up and took my hand in his and said softly, "Sam, you were a little bit, well, difficult before."
"Difficult?" Pippin hooted. Merry whacked his backside, making Pip squeak and arch forward and shoot Merry a, "What was that for?"
"For whatever else you were about to say and oughtn’t," Merry told him with a sly grin, setting off more chuckles all ‘round.
The Fellowship was certainly full of merriment tonight, and, as Strider started poking around my head and throat and whatnot, I couldn’t help feeling on display, and a bit sheepish about that, but I also felt warm inside, because it seemed like maybe they were all this happy because of . . . well, because I was better now. I just got that feeling from the way they all watched me. They chatted a little amongst themselves while Strider was busy, but their gazes kept coming back to me, and, well, a body just can’t help going a little red-faced when everyone’s watching him.
My Frodo, though, looked beautiful. He stood beside me, holding my hand and studying Strider’s every move closely. I just wanted to gather Frodo up, hug him close and tell him everything was all right now. I didn’t ever want him to be scared or worried about me, not about me, not ever! With all the hardships pressing down on him, with all he’d taken on his slight shoulders, Mister Frodo didn’t need to be burdened further. And I had burdened him. Just look at what I’d done! I had made him fret. I felt a hot wash of anger at myself for getting sick, and then I felt that tight sting that cuts into my throat, like as to start up some tears.
"Sam?" Strider murmured.
I glanced at him, and I felt Frodo glance at me. I couldn’t start crying. I couldn’t do that to Frodo, to any of them. No! I would not. I’d been selfish enough with all this nonsense. So I ground my teeth and stared hard at the Ranger, trying to think of anything other than how awful I felt for doing this to my Frodo, and to everyone who had plainly been worried. Strider stared hard back, going very still, and then he made a small ‘mmm’ sound in his throat and nodded slightly to himself, like he’d just made up his mind about something.
"Not now, Sam," he whispered, so softly that only Frodo and I heard him, and maybe Legolas, since he turned his head a little. "There will be time for tears soon enough. Hold on, sir, just a little longer."
Frodo’s big eyes flitted between the two of us, and he whispered, "Aragorn?"
"Remorse, little one. Remember what we talked about? Sam is feeling remorse."
Frodo nodded, turning a sad gaze my way. I didn’t know what was going on, but I had a new feeling to add to the awful one, a squeamish feeling, like the time I was left holding Farmer Maggot’s stolen crops and I felt real trouble coming on, and I didn’t know what to do. It was like the Ranger ferreted out all my thoughts and he now knew everything. It weren’t a real comfortable feeling.
"Well, sir?" Gandalf demanded. "How fares our eminent gardener?"
"Aye," Gimli grumbled. "What’s all that whispering about? Come, sir. Out with it. Will the wee laddie live?"
"I will know better in the light of day," Strider announced. "But he looks to be nicely recovered at present."
"Hold your cheers!" Boromir said, standing behind Merry and Pippin and clapping one great hand over each of their mouths.
Aye, the Fellowship was full of merriment tonight.
"You tell the story of what happened yesterday, Legolas!" Pippin implored.
"Yes, you elves tell stories so well," Merry agreed. "I mean, I know it isn’t a story exactly, but more of a narrative--"
"Even a narrative told well is storytelling, Merry," Pip replied.
I could not help grinning and blushing slightly at the halflings’ demands. My little brother chuckled next to me and Aragorn puffed his pipe, a smile in his eyes.
"Yes, please! Whatever it is, narrative or story, you tell it, Legolas," Frodo added from his warm spot snuggled in Sam’s arms.
Given that Sam had been the one who had just been ill, it might have seemed more fitting for Frodo to be holding Sam. But Master Baggins was wise enough to know how best to help heal his devoted companion. And so he lay wrapped in Sam’s covetous embrace, the firelight bathing them in a reddish glow, as it did the whole wide cave, the last shelter we would enjoy before the frozen peak of Caradhas.
This familiar multiple-chambered cavern certainly felt different when abounding with hobbits than when and Aragorn and I had spent warm nights here together several times during our travels over the years. Our Fellowship had reached the shelter a few hours earlier, just before dawn, and all were cheered when Gandalf struck the quickly assembled sticks and kindling with his staff, sparking an instantly warming blaze, for the weather had turned much colder when we had started up the foothills of Caradhas, and I knew my companions felt the chill, although they had said nothing.
Now, however, they were able to prepare something hot to eat, and warm themselves physically, adding to the warmth their hearts had enjoyed back on the trail when a certain endearing gardener had awoken, feeling like himself again.
Aragorn had taken Sam aside and checked him more thoroughly whilst the others set up camp and pretended nonchalance, and when Aragorn pronounced the halfling cured, he allowed a small cheer from the company, the hobbits finally crying out their calls of, ‘Good old Sam!’ at will. Sam cast his shy grin around at everyone and good-naturedly grumbled that this was the most ridiculous ruckus and he had only had a cold, but even Gandalf and the dwarf were grinning mightily around their ever-present pipes.
While we ate, Gandalf shared his proposed change in plans. He felt that it was unsafe to attempt the snow-packed mountain at night, so, although he was loathe to lose more precious time and to make us once again shift our schedule, he felt we should stay here both today and overnight before starting up Caradhas the next morning. Aragorn concurred, casting Sam a serious glance and saying that it would do the halfling well to rest a bit more.
I now studied Sam. He looked both contented and fretful – contented when he kissed the top of Frodo’s head or laid his cheek against his dark curls, and fretful when he glanced at Aragorn. And rightfully so. By now, both my little brother and I knew full well why Sam kept dodging Aragorn’s gaze.
While Sam had slept cradled like an elfling in his arms the day before, when we were encamped under the pines, Aragorn had quietly told us what the little one had done with his athelas tea. Boromir and I had both been taken aback, not only because of how potentially dangerous a deed it had been, and not only because of how Sam had so blatantly gone against Aragorn’s orders, but because it was simply unlike a hobbit to do such a thing, especially this most virtuous of hobbits.
"I think our noble Sam suffered more inner anguish than even he knew," Aragorn had said, gazing sadly down at the sweet-faced little one. "And I think that his anguish, in part, helped make him ill. He tried valiantly to ignore the guilt, but--" Aragorn sighed and raised a melancholy look to us. "-- we all know how futile an undertaking that is."
"All too well," my little brother had muttered, shifting his bottom on the hard forest floor. He glanced at me with mock indignation and I gave him a sweet grin in return.
"Sam thinks he got away with this," Aragorn had gone on, "and until I made certain my suspicions were correct by asking Frodo questions about the tea, Sam had indeed succeeded. Had he not fallen ill, I would never have known what he’d done."
"Poor little mite," Boromir said, gently smoothing his big palm over Sam’s honey-colored curls. "Just his luck."
"Just his luck indeed, my fledgling. I think fate smiled upon our young gardener."
It only took my little brother a second of gazing thoughtfully at Aragorn to understand. "Ah, Thorongil, aye, you are right."
Aragorn and I exchanged a soft grin at my little brother’s use of Aragorn’s old alias. He had unthinkingly lapsed into calling Aragorn ‘Thorongil’ several times since his spanking sessions the previous day with both me and Aragorn. It was fast becoming habit, one that both Aragorn and I found endearing beyond measure. But, thus far, Boromir only did it in an unmindful manner, as he had now.
"Sam’s first concern is Frodo," my little brother went on, "not obedience to orders."
"Indeed, my fledgling. And as much as I long to spare Sam the humiliation he will surely feel when his deed is known, the others will all need to be told of it. As warriors, we understand the importance of following orders, as do Gimli and Gandalf, but the little ones will not understand at first, and they must be made aware of why Sam has to be disciplined ‘ere I spank him."
"Aye," Boromir said. "Otherwise they may think he was spanked for being sick."
"Just so," Aragorn replied. "That is what Frodo thought at first. He was mightily put out to think his Sam was about to be spanked for getting sick."
Boromir and I had chuckled softly. "I dare say," Boromir remarked. "How callous of you, sir! And how like our Ringbearer to exert his masterly protectiveness in defense of his own."
"Aye," Aragorn said, "but after his shock he was merely confused."
"He knows you by now," I murmured with fondness. "He knows you wouldst not mistreat his Sam."
Aragorn sidled me a lopsided grin. "Well, after I explained the matter in full, he accepted it. Frodo understood. He knows Sam well enough to realize that this is a lesson that needs teaching. The temptation to put Frodo before my orders would no doubt come up again, and the thought of what could happen made him pale." Aragorn smirked and added, "He finally told me to make it a good long spanking because his Sam deserved the best."
We had all three grinned and gazed down at the youthful face composed in innocent slumber. He did indeed deserve the best, and as I watched him now, sensing that he knew some dismal fate awaited him, I felt that what Master Gamgee deserved at the moment was a story well told, even if it was only a recounting of the time he had missed during his illness. Despite his pleas, I had declined to tell him any of it during the rest of the journey to the cave. He had remained in my care, Aragorn insisting that Sam try to sleep a bit more while riding again upon my back in what Sam disdainfully called the ‘nipper-sling.’
"There will be time for this story later, so save your pout," Aragorn had told a fiercely frowning Sam. "And you, young sir," he said, gathering up Frodo. "You shall join me once more and leave your Sam in peace."
And so we were now settled in, Gandalf having taken up a post outside the cave for first watch. Aragorn had elected to deal with Sam’s spanking tonight, giving him the day to recuperate even further.
"He may not be very tired," Aragorn had said earlier to Boromir and me as we laid out our bedrolls in a quiet nook of the cave, the hobbits being happily distracted with their group hugging and fussing over Sam. "But he will be disinclined to release Frodo from his arms, so Sam will at least rest and perhaps doze while Frodo sleeps."
"Aye, Frodo slept restlessly yesterday without Sam," I said. "Even when being pressed so securely between Merry and Pippin."
"So Frodo will sleep soundly today. This evening will be soon enough to bring the matter of Sam’s actions before the others, although I am still loathe to have to do this to Sam. It will be hard on him."
"Perhaps there is a way to tell it . . . gently?" Boromir had suggested, although we had all glanced at each other, nothing ‘gentle’ coming to mind.
But now I thought about what was being asked of me, and I fired a quick look to Aragorn. He was apparently sharing my sudden idea, and he gave a nod, a clever smile in his gaze.
"I still can’t believe I don’t recollect much of this," Sam now muttered. "I can’t say as I like the feeling."
"It will sound familiar as Legolas begins to tell you of it," Aragorn said. "Like a dream remembered. He will tell you every detail."
"What do you recall, Sam?" my little brother asked.
Sam narrowed his eyes and stared at the fire, concentrating. "Bits and snatches that don’t make sense, mostly," he said in a bewildered voice. "I recall the strong pine scent all around, and some other smell, like wild weedery, both sweet and bitter."
"That was the athelas poultice I applied to your chest," Aragorn said.
"Oh my, how you squawked about that!" Pippin chortled.
"Now don’t go getting ahead of Legolas, Pip," Merry told him.
"Oh alright. But, come then, Legolas!" Pippin demanded. "Tell us the tale!"
I smiled inwardly at his audacity, but outwardly I remained still and silent, my eyes downcast. Then I raised a slow, intense gaze to Pippin. He squirmed.
"I mean, if you please, sir?" he said, quietly courteous.
I smiled. "Very well, since you asked so politely, Master Took." Pippin grinned contritely, and I began to recount Sam’s exploits when we had stopped the previous morning . . . .
Ever since jarring awake with a start when I sat down at the chosen campsite, Master Gamgee had brought new meaning to the term "difficult patient." Aragorn’s forbearance was sorely, and quickly, tried, as, despite Sam’s coughing, despite his bleary look and despite his obvious lack of energy, Sam had decided that nothing was going to stop him from seeing to the care and comfort of his Mister Frodo.
He struggled from my lap and stood, swaying and unsteady, but declaring that he had to relieve himself. Frodo scampered up, saying he would go with Sam, as he looked too wobbly to go alone, but Sam fired a fierce glare at his master, muttering, "I’mb well enough to do this alone, thangue!" Frodo had backed down, startled, as we all were, by Sam’s glare and his surly tone.
"Do not fret, Frodo," I said when he turned to me with a worried gaze. "I am listening."
Sam soon staggered back from his private moment, spotted his knapsack and immediately began unloading his cooking items, proclaiming, in all Sam innocence, "A fire! Thangue, Strider! Ad leasd tonighd I can fix a prober hod subber. Mizder Frodo could use summ’pin hod in his stomuck."
We all just stared at him for a moment, then Aragorn knelt down next to him and tried some gentle reasoning, explaining to Sam that he was very ill and he would not be doing anything at the moment but behaving himself and submitting to Aragorn’s ministrations.
But Sam was having none of it. He snorted and cast a bemused look at Aragorn, as if the poor man had lost his wits, then he declared that he knew better than anyone how he felt, and he felt, " . . . fide! I’mb fide I tell you!"
Aragorn stood and nodded to me and Sam found himself sitting back where he had started, enclosed within my arms, nestled upon my lap. After struggling through a more thorough examination from the ‘nosy, pokging Ranger,’ Sam then sat there, glaring at everyone as they went about the business of setting up camp and preparing supper, and Aragorn busied himself with readying Sam’s physicks.
A silence hung over our Fellowship, Sam’s coughing and his perfectly miserable appearance clearly occupying everyone’s thoughts. His sneezes were now quickly followed by a short involuntary gasp of pain. I felt his feverish body wrapped in my arms, his too-warm back pressed against my chest. I could only imagine what he must be feeling, poor little soul. Aside from the discomfort, Sam had to also be feeling helpless, watching the others moving about, doing the things he liked doing at the end of the day. This was unfamiliar to him, maybe a little frightening, adding to the fear of what was happening to his body, something he couldn’t stop and couldn’t make go away.
Aragorn kept glancing at Sam, as did the others, and finally he called Frodo over and said a few soft words to him. Frodo nodded and hurried to Sam’s side. He sat down and took one of Sam’s hands and smiled at him with quiet compassion.
Sam’s frown softened. He seemed comforted to have Frodo there, but he was also still clearly miffed by all this. I tried talking quietly in his ear, more gentle reasoning. Sam scowled silently. Merry and Pippin plunked down in front of him and tried talking to him, forgetting their own weariness and hunger in favor of trying to cheer him. Sam dropped his gaze and coughed and sniffled and remained unresponsive.
He was, however, responding loudly, but silently. He was grumpy and he hurt, and courtesy had become a luxury he could no longer afford. Having dropped any pretense of civility, our most affable gardener was now primed to let fly with a rarely glimpsed cantankerousness. I felt we were in for a memorable day.
Indeed, Sam’s finest defiance was displayed when Aragorn began treating him. Gandalf called Merry and Pippin over to the fire so that Aragorn had room to work, but Frodo remained at Sam’s side, trying to calm him while Aragorn plastered a poultice on Sam’s chest and gave him a large dose of elixir. For this entire process, the usually good-natured and sensible Master Gamgee was anything but.
No matter, as Aragorn had things well under control. I held Sam immobile while Aragorn applied the poultice, the young gardener voicing his displeasure loudly. Then Sam took one look at the spoonful of potion Aragorn held before him and he promptly bit his lips together tight, squeezed his eyes shut and furiously shook his head from side to side like an unreasonable tot.
Ai! but I nearly laughed. Aragorn had to lower his head for a moment and study the ground, letting his hair shield his face, but I knew he was struggling to keep from grinning. It was simply so astonishing to see Sam this obstinate. And he was endearingly unskilled at disobedience, so his actions resembled those of an impossible elfling. To say that Sam was not himself was to understate the case, but whom he had turned into was oddly adorable.
"Sam, please," Frodo begged. How he was keeping a straight face at Sam’s antics I cannot say. "You must take this."
Aragorn frowned, his patience just about spent. He sighed, leaned in close to Sam and said, "You will either open your mouth and take this like a good little hobbit, my dear Samwise, or I shall ask Legolas to hold your nose shut until you are forced to open your mouth for a breath, then I shall pour it down your stubborn throat."
"Aragorn! You wouldn’t!" Frodo cried.
I turned to Frodo, knowing he must not interfere, even with his spoken indignation. Leaning towards him, I whispered in his ear, "Give Aragorn trouble and he will send you away, and you will be of no help to your Sam. So enough presumption, little one, lest you earn yourself a few strong swats on your impudent bottom."
Frodo’s eyes grew wide. He swallowed hard and said, "There is hardly reason for that, sir."
"Don’ you threaden Mizder Frodo!" Sam snarled, his eyes popping open. "I’ll tague id!"
After not one, but two spoonfuls of elixir, Sam sputtering and coughing and glassy eyed after each dose, Aragorn said, "There now. That wasn’t so bad, was it?"
Sam sniffed and grumbled, "Id wasn’d so bad for you, no. You weren’d the one swalloweeg thad stiggy mass of gunk."
"I know," Aragorn said with an indulgent half-grin. "But you were very brave, young hobbit. And I am done torturing you for now."
"For dow?" Sam snapped. "You mead I havv to havv more of thad stuv?"
"At least one more dose," Aragorn said, rising. "We shall see how well you respond before deciding if a third is needed."
Sam huffed again, his furious glare intensifying when Aragorn merely gave him a calm smile. "Id hurz to swallow you know, Strider."
"You shoudn’d be magging a body swallow whed id hurz."
"Thad wazn’d dice."
"Prepare yourself for more ‘not niceness’ then, sir," Boromir said, approaching us, a steaming cup with a spoon in it in one hand and a tin in the other. "Your supper, little one," he said, handing Frodo the tin. "And yours, Master Patient."
"Hardly." Aragorn snorted. He took the cup from Boromir and knelt before Sam again, stirring the liquid in the cup and watching Sam with an amused, but determined stare.
"I’mb nod swallowig nothin’ elze!"
It was hard to remain poised when Sam insisted on being so lovably bratty. After a repeat of Sam’s ‘unreasonable tot’ behavior, Frodo quickly said, "Sam, I’ll eat if you will."
Sam froze and turned wide eyes to Frodo. "You will? Promise?"
"Of course! See?" Frodo scooped up a spoonful of stew and ate it, then grinned and said, "Your turn now."
Sam turned a wary frown to Aragorn. "Whad iz thad?"
"Broth. The warmth will help soothe your throat."
"Sam," Frodo said firmly, drawing Sam’s gaze. "If you don’t eat, I don’t eat." He put down his tin and turned a positively smug look up at his servant. "And you’re not in any shape to force me."
It was the most shameless coercion, and Sam looked like he longed to grab up his master and paddle the sass right out of him.
"And you won’t get your strength back unless you do as Aragorn says," Frodo went on. He crossed his arms over his chest, clearly over-enjoying his own impertinence. I half expected him to stick out his tongue.
Sam looked understandably livid, but he again submitted to Aragorn’s care, even letting the Ranger feed him, and soon the cup was as empty as Frodo’s tin.
"Thank you, Sam," Frodo said, coming up on his knees and kissing Sam’s forehead. "You’re not mad at me, are you?"
Sam yawned. "I dunno . . . I guez nod. Bud you’re a cheggy lil’ sod, Mizder Frodo."
Frodo grinned. "I know, Sam."
"Thad wuz bery naughdy."
Sam yawned again. "Keeb id up and I’ll havfa paddle yer preddy boddom."
"I’ll behave myself."
"Zee thad you do."
Aragorn’s elixir was clearly taking effect, Sam’s voice growing more and more lazy, like he had enjoyed too much Dorwinion wine. The tension in his body fled and he sagged, his head dropping back against my chest and lolling side to side a few times. Finally he turned his gaze to Frodo, who had been watching him silently, his wide eyes shiny with concern.
Boromir returned with three more tins, and we sat and ate, Sam now so lax that he did not need holding. He was on the cusp of sleep, though, groggy, babbling little endearments to Frodo and making three warriors grin at each other every so often with his innocent woozy forthrightness.
"There, there, my preddy Frodo," Sam said. "Shhhhhhhh, don you fred now."
"Oh, Sam." Frodo sighed. "My poor, poor Sam."
"I’ll be fide. Juzd soooooo sleeeby."
Everyone jumped at Frodo’s cry. The slowing down of the story and my imitation of Sam’s slurred speech had lulled them, and then this desperate bellow ripped the air, startling them all.
"STOP! You must stop!" Frodo exclaimed, now scrambling up and holding his palms out in front of him as if to stop an oncoming stampede.
The Fellowship was too shocked to speak, and in the seconds before they could recover, Aragorn calmly said, "Continue."
Now the others found their voices, Pippin rather colorfully inquiring after Frodo’s sanity, Gimli roughly huffing about young upstarts going around scaring the life out of others, Merry trying to calm Pippin, while casting astonished looks at Frodo, and Sam, surprisingly closed-lipped and wide-eyed, looking like a hobbit watching the approach of his doom.
Only we three warriors who heard Sam’s slurred words knew what was coming next, and in the flurry of excitement, Boromir leaned over to me and murmured, "Well, well, my clever big brother, it seems you found a gentle way to tell this after all."
I smirked and nodded to the very animated Took. "You call this gentle, little brother?"
Aragorn cleared his throat. Loudly. The ruckus immediately died down. "Frodo, sit," Aragorn murmured.
Frodo sat, looking defeated. Once again, Sam gathered his master close, reaching over unconciously to remove Frodo’s finger from his mouth, stopping him from chewing the nail. But Sam’s clear-eyed gaze stayed locked on we three warriors, as if he somehow knew, just instantly knew that we were aware of his secret. A sudden calm entered Sam’s gaze, as though his trial was over, as if he could now take a full breath again and come out of hiding. Aragorn was right – Sam’s guilt had no doubt helped that illness take hold of him. And now Sam’s eyes took on the quiet glow that bespoke a mind at peace.
"Please, Legolas," he said. "Do go on."
Frodo ran his hand through Sam’s curls and said, "Of course you are sleepy, Sam. You rest for me now."
"Bud . . . havfa tague cara my Frodo . . . he mide need sump’in . . . ."
"If I need something, I’ll wake you."
"Ann you’ll sleeb? How’ll you sleeb? You’re . . . I’mb nod holdig you."
"Merry and Pippin have a place ready for me between them. So don’t worry. They shall keep me warm."
"Oh . . . good . . . thas good. Good ol’ Pip . . . good ol’ Merry."
Frodo grinned. "So you’ll go to sleep for me now, my Sam."
"Aye, only . . . only . . . ."
"Only . . . I’mb sorrrrry . . . I’mb soooo sorry, Frodo."
"Sorry for what?" Frodo asked, his voice quavering. "Sorry because you got sick?"
"Sam, no. No. It wasn’t your fault."
"Id wuz doo."
Aragorn, Boromir and I shot rapid looks between us. Frodo already knew Sam’s dark secret of course, but Sam did not know that, and in his delirium he seemed about to reveal something that Frodo would not want us to hear.
Indeed, Frodo now cast Boromir and me a wary glance and muttered, "Shhhh, Sam, shhhh! Hush now. No more. Tell me later."
"They know, Frodo," Aragorn whispered to him. "Let him speak that he may sleep peacefully."
"You juzd dond unnerstan," Sam went on, his voice low and slurring. "Gabe you my tea . . . gabe you my share’a Striderses tea. Made you dringue a whole cub. I dinn drinque any, so I godded sigue . . . my fauld, Frodo . . . sorrrry."