Notes of appreciation for my astounding team: Kat – thanks for your incredible "waffly" reviews, for your enthusiasm and encouragement, and for being such a constant light. Bella – thanks for making me smile with the lovely nagging and the ever-Tookish excitement. Derby – thanks for offering your expertise, your time and your energy and for always being so supportive.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“I heard you not saying anything.”
Sam only dropped his more comfortable use of the ‘Mister’ in front of my name when he felt some very strong emotion or when we were sharing a bed. It was late at night, and we had indeed been in bed for several hours, though not sleeping. But I knew my Sam. It was the very strong emotion this time.
I grew quiet and he gathered me closer to his side, if that were possible. Warm, solid, loving, ahhh – my splendid Sam.
Our room here in the far wing of Brandy Hall was quiet, aside from the occasional loud sounds from Merry’s room next door where Pippin was a permanent resident. The walls between our chambers were thick, but they could only deaden so much, and Pip truly was shameless, making Sam’s face sometimes go wonderfully pink.
“Bless me!” he would mutter under his breath. “Noisy Took!”
I’d grin at him and try to make Sam blush more than he already was by saying something saucy, like: “Goodness! Whatever do you suppose Merry is doing to him?” Then I’d giggle at Sam’s bashful grin and he’d call me a cheeky little so-and-so and hold me down and tickle me until tears spilled over my cheeks.
It had been a year since Merry had officially ‘claimed’ Pippin for his own. Merry had dashed across the Great Hall, held the mistletoe over Pip’s head and kissed my astonished cousin in front of everyone assembled there for the Yuledays merrymaking.
And what a splendid claiming it had been! All the Brandybucks and Tooks and the vast, various relations in between broke into applause and laughter, whacked my cousins on their backs, issued congratulations and heartfelt wishes for Merry and Pippin’s happiness and then continued on with their merrymaking as sensible hobbits would do.
The female cousins tsked and sulked and bemoaned the loss of two bachelors, but Love journeyed where it would, and none were foolish enough to question Its wisdom. After all, there were plenty of other male cousins available, including, sadly, myself.
Only I wasn’t available. I hadn’t been available for many years now. But Sam and I had managed to keep our secret to ourselves. Of course, Merry and Pip kept company with us too much to be unaware of the intimacy Sam and I shared. But, as Sam had endearingly put it:
“Lot they seemed to care, Mister Frodo! They’re cooler’n mint about it!”
“Of course.” I’d smiled at his sweet grin. “They’re sensible hobbits, Sam. And they’re just like us”
Sam’s quick glance suggested that he thought otherwise. He had always thought otherwise. He still did. To Sam’s way of thinking, we weren’t just like Merry and Pippin. At least he wasn’t like Merry and Pippin and me. And that was what troubled him. He knew what I wanted. And he wouldn’t allow it.
I wanted what my cousins had. I wanted others to know about Sam and me. I wanted to feel as claimed in public as he made me feel behind the closed doors of my bedroom. I didn’t want to hide what we meant to each other. I was proud of it, happy in it, blessed by it – and the sad thing was, I knew my Sam felt all that, too.
Sadder still, the only thing keeping Sam from allowing me to claim him, or, better yet, for him to claim me, take me, as he always did, was the fact that I was ‘gentry,’ Mister Bilbo’s heir, future Master of Bag End, and Sam was my gardener.
Of all the asinine reasons!
It had never been a matter of master and servant between us . . . well, aside from the mostly surface extent. Sam was loyal to me as the Gaffer was to Bilbo. But Sam and I weren’t like Bilbo and the Gaffer. We had been always been closer than master and servant. Our affection had been immediate, then it quickly grew to love, and then it moved on to a passion we could neither ignore nor contain.
Only Sam’s powerful feelings could help him overcome his ideas about class division and give in to me. I had wanted him, needed him, and he had felt the same way, so Sam had responded, and all had been right with our world.
But he was not comfortable allowing anyone save Merry and Pippin know of it. I’d once tried arguing that I wasn’t master of Bag End yet, nor was I going to be for a good long while. Sam was Bilbo’s gardener, not mine. Actually, the Gaffer was Bilbo’s gardener, and Sam was his da’s assistant. So all that had nothing to do with us.
I’d failed to move my immovable Master Gamgee. He’d just given me that inscrutable look of his and said in his quiet tone, “It’s not the title that matters here, Mister Frodo, and you know it. It’s the plain simple fact of what’s what and what’s so. And you and I both know those plain facts right well.”
He wouldn’t have been my Sam if he’d let me befuddle him so easily. At the time I’d felt a little shamefaced for trying. But he did frustrate me with his everlasting devotion to what he considered to be ‘proper behavior.’ And they say the Brandybucks are a stubborn lot! No one surpassed a Gamgee. He was careful to never let anything slip, nor would he allow me to accidentally do the same. And if he suspected I was trying to do so I would receive one of his memorable stern gazes. I loathed being on the receiving end of a memorable stern gaze from my sweet Sam.
So, we were at an impasse. Worse, Sam had made his decision on the matter and that was that.
“Nothin’ more to say about it, Mister Frodo. I know you don’t like that, and I’m sorry as I can be about it, but there you are.”
Of all the --! Yes. There I was indeed.
And so it had begun to nettle me again last night, after several hours of intimate play. Sam lay on his back, holding me loosely, and I was curled half-over him, one arm draped across his waist, one leg nestled between his. Well loved and melted against him, I gazed at the fire, burning low across the room. Sam had drawn the curtains shut around my side of our bed and along the bottom, creating a cozy enclosure around us. Before we both dropped off he would stand and draw the curtain shut on his side, and then he would turn and gaze down at me, his eyes alight with a loving, ravenous gleam . . . .
But for now all was bathed in the red glow of the fire. I glanced up to study Sam’s face.
I fumed silently. Then I scrambled up and straddled him before he could take his next breath. I wiggled my bottom and watched him, utterly enjoying his surprised and instantly hungry gaze; then I leaned down with a lazy smile and I kissed Sam, a long, languid kiss that achieved instant results.
“‘No’ to what, sir?” I murmured against his mouth. “Perhaps you should first find out exactly what I was thinking before you refuse. Of course, as you’ve told me often, ‘no’ means ‘no’ --” And I began to move off of him.
I suddenly found myself flipped over on my back, Sam’s lovely solid weight atop me. His eyes twinkling with dangerous lights, he murmured, “You’re a right naughty hobbit-brat sometimes, little sir.”
Of course, I loved when he called me that! It was a new endearment, and it never failed to make me melt into a grin.
“Someday I just might follow Merry’s example and do to you what he did to Pippin,” Sam went on.
“You mean spank me?” My face grew warm and I squirmed beneath him. “Sam! You would not!”
“Mmmm,” he said, leaning down. “Don’t tempt me.”
That was it for the night. I forgot what had been troubling me and remembered nothing else, Sam loving me straight into exhausted sleep.
Come morning, though, my sadness returned when we joined Merry and Pippin in the Hall for first breakfast. Watching my cousins, I struggled to keep from sulking. But, oh, how I would have loved to express my feelings as they did! I’d love to have openly gazed at Sam with all the tenderness he kindled within me.
I looked at him, his quiet, gentle eyes crinkling at the corners – the sign of a hobbit who laughed often and was used to working in the sunlight from dawn to dusk, as Sam loved to do – and I longed to touch his hand possessively, maybe even reach under the table and smooth my palm over his strongly muscled thigh. I longed to feel our physical connection regardless of where we were or who might be watching.
But, of course, I could do no less than honor Sam’s decision. His wishes deserved my respectful attention. That was often difficult, though. Sam’s firmly held beliefs came from the Gaffer, and Sam loved and respected his da. I understood. But I couldn’t help making the occasional stab at influencing my beloved:
“Sam, we are not Bilbo and your da! The understanding between them doesn’t have to be our understanding as well.”
“I know. And it isn’t”
“Then why should we follow the same rules?”
“Because that’s just the way of it, Mister Frodo.”
“But you don’t even agree with those rules!”
“That’s got nothin’ to do with it, and you know it.”
I did know that. But I didn’t like it. I could go round and round with Sam over this and get absolutely nowhere. I had done so in the past. And what I finally came to understand was that, going against these rules of social class that Bilbo and the Gaffer went by was, in Sam’s mind, the same thing as going against his father. My Sam was far too noble a soul to do such a thing. His loyalty was one of the things I adored about him.
So Sam addressed me as ‘Mister’ Frodo and he showed me a respectful deference that satisfied him and comforted him. When he did that, Sam was honoring his da. The Gaffer might know nothing about it, but Sam knew. It pleased him to honor his da like this, and it pleased me to see Sam content. In most situations I was his master, but in many other situations I was not.
I was not Sam’s ‘master’ when we were loving. He took full control, behind closed doors, and with my enthusiastic blessing. And Sam was also content in that. In fact, he relished it. He could even get a little too authoritarian at times and a lot too protective. And oh! The thrill that rippled through me when he did that!
Sam and I made no formal declarations of anything. We both simply accepted certain truths from the beginning, truths with which we were both comfortable. And I could trace our acceptance of Sam’s role from way back when Sam became a ‘tween.
He was always just a bit bigger, and much stronger than I was. That in itself was no reason for him to take the authoritative role, but it did place him in a position he loved and performed with clear enjoyment:
Sam was a protector, a caretaker. He watched over not only the plants beautifying Bag End but a certain resident within the home itself.
“Look out, Frodo,” Pippin now said, suddenly breaking into my thoughts.
I flinched. “What?”
Pippin giggled and nudged Merry. “Looks like our cousin didn’t get enough sleep.”
Merry glanced my way, then looked off, disinterested. “Neither did you, Pip. So hush up.”
I glanced at Sam from the corner of my eye. He was judiciously peeling an apple, saying nothing. Even after all our years together, dear Sam still squirmed at such talk. His bashfulness was precious.
“I say again,” Pip went on, undaunted, “best watch yourself, cousin. A gaggle of females are coming up behind you from across the Hall, heading for 'our pretty Frodo' at top speed.”
I groaned and turned to Sam, “Sam --”
“Too late, Mister Frodo,” he said, without even turning ‘round. “Be nice.”
“I’m always nice,” I muttered.
He cast me a small sympathetic grin. “I know you are. Too bad you’ve finished eating, or I’d shoo them off. But be brave. We’ll rescue you soon’s we can.”
And then they were upon us, well, upon me, a half dozen hobbitmaidens coming to drag me from my friends for some reason of their own creative invention. This time Melilot was trying out a new flute. Did it sound as nice as the old flute, Frodo? You have such a good ear, Frodo! Can you give us your opinion, Frodo? Of all the nonsense.
But I bore up under such silliness with admirable grace. I laughed and teased and talked to each one and paid attention to all of them, and gave my opinion that the flute was excellent indeed. They were sweet, kindhearted lasses, even though they were sadly misguided when it came to what effect they were having upon me. Because in the rare quiet seconds between their attentions I glanced across the Hall to the only one who held my heart.
Sam never moved from the table. He turned and stretched his solid legs out straight in front of him, crossed his ankles, leaned back against the table and folded his arms over his chest, watching my every move. His fetching pose alone made anything worth the trouble.
“I vow I can feel your eyes on me at such times, Sam,” I once whispered to him later when we were alone.
“Mmm.” He nuzzled my curls. “I love watching you. I think to myself, ‘Look at him! And he’s mine. He’s all mine.’”
I’d grinned against his neck. “Am I Sam?”
“‘Deed you are, my sweet Frodo. And no mistake.”
In truth, I loved Sam’s authoritative nature. It was instinctive, and something about the way he did it, so easily and naturally, stirred my insides. I had to watch myself in such moments, lest I gaze at him with a hunger that would have been unmistakable even to the most casual observer.
Of course, this business with Melilot’s flute now grew until nothing would do but that she try it out by putting it to an extreme test. She decided, after much urging, to pipe up the wildly brisk Springle-Ring. Suddenly the ‘tween lads and the older male cousins, more of my age, were gathering for the fun, along with every girl cousin within hearing distance. The rest of the family musicians assembled from thin air and began tuning up their instruments and in no time at all we had a dance assembled.
The Uncles and da’s hurrumph-ed from their seats ‘round the great fireplace. Merry’s Granda, Old Rory Brandybuck, stood up from amongst them as an official representative of sorts and declared with utterly fake bellows that dances should not take place ere the more decent hour of noonday! This exceeded all reasonable bounds of sensible behavior! Then all the gents turned their chairs ‘round and settled down to watch.
I was paired with each lass, one after the other tapping the shoulder of the lass before them. Unfortunately, I happened to be rather good at the Springle-Ring, Pippin being my only rival. And poor Pippin! He’d fallen from Grandfather Oak ten days earlier and broken his leg, so dancing the Springle-Ring was out of the question, although he had tried a few days before, but that was another story.
Merry had brought a chair over and placed it right in the front row of the circle around us, then he’d helped Pippin over. Sitting down, Merry took Pip onto his lap, and the two of them were laughing and clapping and singing the playful words with all the other spectators.
And beside them stood my Sam, clapping and singing along and gazing at me with that crinkly-eyed grin I loved. Sam had a wonderful gentle voice and sang prettily, but he felt awkward dancing.
“There’s those of us what are dancers and those of us what are watchers, Mister Frodo. I’m not a dancer like you are, m’love, but I could watch you dance all night.”
So I danced that silly dance, and every time I glanced his way, my Sam was watching me. No matter how many other couples there were on the floor, Sam’s eyes were on me. I teasingly scolded him about it once, warning him that someone was bound to notice the way he was looking at me while I danced. Sam had burst into laughter.
“Oh, bless me, dear Frodo! But if you think anyone’s watching me when your pretty self is whirling around on that dance floor, well, you’re just plain cracked.”
“That was lovely!” Pip exclaimed later watching me collapse, exhausted, into a chair in one of the lounge areas that hugged the edges of the Hall. Merry helped settle Pip onto a couch and sat beside him, Sam arriving a moment later with punch for everyone. I gasped and groaned and slugged down the fruity punch fast enough for Sam to take notice and issue me a warning.
“Slow down, Mister Frodo, or your stomach will hurt.”
“There’s no wine in this punch!” Pip squawked.
“Not this early Pippin!” Merry frowned.
“I’m dying!” I exclaimed, lying back and spreading my aching limbs. “Mercy, but I’m out of condition for that dance! I need to go back to bed”
“Without Sam,” Pippin said with a naughty grin. “If you really want rest that is.”
A silence followed amongst the four of us, and then Pippin and I burst into giggles. I loved such teasing! Sam went instantly red, though, and tucked his head down to hide his wry, bashful grin. I cast Pippin an exaggerated frown and said, “You’re a cheeky brat of a ‘tween, Peregrin Took.”
“I know,” Pippin said happily. “But I’m also right.”
“But you’ll practice a little tact,” Merry said. “Won’t you, my lad?”
A lovely moment followed with Pip blushing furiously and casting us sheepish grins since we all knew what Merry had done to him just a few nights before. It was the first time Merry had turned Pippin over his knee and spanked him, and it most certainly was not going to be the last time he did it. We all knew that this was just the beginning for them.
“Aye, Merry,” Pip squirmed. “Sorry Sam. Sorry Frodo.”
Merry grinned, placed a palm behind Pip’s neck, pulled him forward and lightly kissed him. Again a jolt of warm hurt surged in my chest. Longing. It was such longing. I couldn’t even glance at Sam.
Perhaps it was being in Brandy Hall that made me so yearn to enjoy a more public closeness with Sam. Perhaps it was the time of year. Yuledays were full of love in Brandy Hall, even more so than usual, with more cousins and uncles and aunts and little nippers and grandfolks than usual, everywhere you looked, in fact, talking, or squabbling good-naturedly, or singing, or dancing, or reciting stories or poetry, or playing games, and having the best time within each other’s company. There was always music and laughter filling the air.
The day after we arrived it had snowed, a rarity in these parts, and it had snowed a little more every day since, and the cold was profound, so nothing melted – very unusual but delightful. A lovely snow village now stood off on the west lawn, construction on it continuing every time the cousins or the little ones or the ‘tweens felt like running out there to add more. At the center of the town stood a grand snowhobbit, the original item built there by the cousins after they’d carried Pippin outside, broken leg and all, on the first day of the snow.
My gaze drifted to the window. It was snowing again. I loved watching it, so I left Sam listening with fascination to Pippin’s retelling of the tale of his broken leg, and I wandered over to the window that looked out over the west lawn and I settled myself on the window seat. About a dozen nippers were out there playing, squealing and tossing snowballs at each other and working on the village, several aunts watching over them.
“It’s harder here.”
I flinched. Merry. He sat beside me with a quick, “Sorry.” Then he said, “It is harder here for you, isn’t it? Especially with Pip and me carrying on the way we do. I’m sorry, Frodo.”
“Oh, no, Merry. No need. Please. There’s really no need. You can’t rein in your affections and I’d never want you to. You know that.”
“Yes, I know. But it’s still hard for you.”
I shrugged and glanced back out vaguely. “Ah, well. I can’t have everything I’d like.” I sniffed a weary smile at him. “I just don’t like that I can’t.”
“Sam can’t help feeling the way he does. I know you know that.”
“I do know that. I really do. One time he said, ‘Folks talk too much in the Shire, especially in Hobbiton. I won’t have mean, idle gossip hurting those I love, not you and not our families. It needs to be this way.’”
“He was right, Frodo.”
I nodded and turned back to Merry. “The ugliest of minds would suspect Sam of using affection to curry favor, or they would suspect that I was taking advantage of someone in my employ, that I was demanding his compliance if he wanted to keep his job.”
Merry sighed and shook his head sadly.
“So I do understand Sam’s concerns,” I said. “And they are valid. But it upsets me that Sam has to consider those ugly things. And I abhor the fact that ugly thoughts and the gossip of others dictates our actions. It shouldn’t matter what anyone says. That’s what I’ve been trying to explain to Sam. But his only concern is to protect me.”
“I’d do the same for Pip, Frodo,” Merry said in his soft, solemn voice.
I looked outside again. Sam’s quiet eyes and his firm tone during our most recent conversation about this drifted back to me:
“‘Course it’s wrong, m’love. I agree – other folks, mean-spirited folks, shouldn’t get to make a difference in what you and I do. We should just turn away and pay no mind. But words can hurt as much as a blow, and I won’t have no one hurting you, not when I can do something to stop it. That’s just how it is. And there’s an end to it.
“I’m sorry to be so bossy, but enough of this now. I don’t want to be hearing any more about it. We’re going to finish our tea and enjoy these good muffins Bilbo left us for second breakfast, and you will eat, and we’ll find something else to talk about.”
There were times when I most definitely did not appreciate Sam’s authoritative side, and that was one of them. It had been a long conversation there in the kitchen at Bag End. I was weary of trying to sway Sam and frustrated that I’d failed to do so. We were leaving the next day for Brandy Hall, excited about spending Yuledays there. But, once again, I’d have to rein in any show of affection toward Sam. For yet another year I’d be watching my cousins enjoy the freedom I couldn’t share in with my Sam. And he was now forbidding any further talk about this? My temper snapped.
“You don’t tell me when to stop talking about something, Samwise Gamgee!”
“No! If I say we’re going to keep talking about it, then we’re going to keep talking about it!
He shook his head at me, horribly calm. “We’re done.”
My anger boiled over. “Sam! Stop that! Stop being so imperious!”
“Well, I don’t much like the sound of that word.”
“So . . . so overbearing!”
“Drink your tea, Mister Frodo. It’s getting cold.”
“There’s just nothing more to say about this. So enough sass, now.”
“Sass?!” Huffing now, I ground out, “Fine. That’s decided it. I’m going to do just what Merry did last year with the mistletoe. I’m going to claim you in front of every hobbit at Brandy Hall.”
“No. You won’t.”
“I’m going to kiss you for so long and so big that every jaw in that Hall will drop!”
“I said no, Frodo. You won’t.”
“Not while I live and breathe.”
“Sam!” I pounded my fist on the table, making my teacup bounce and spill a little over the edges.
He shot up and was around the table in a flash. Sitting beside me on the bench, he hauled me up and over and plunked me onto his lap, holding me still while I struggled. Every time Sam did this it served to quiet me, after I’d snarled at him and uselessly fought to wiggle free, that is. And Sam was so exasperatingly unruffled! He murmured to me as he always did when trying to sooth my anger:
“Shhhh. Now that’s enough. No more of this fussing now. Quiet down, little sir.”
I sighed and grumbled, “No fair! No fair using that favorite name. That’s cheating, Sam.”
“Aye. I’m a cheating sod.”
“No you’re not!”
And Sam soon had me calmed and he kept me where I was while we had our tea, Sam firmly urging nearly two entire muffins into me along with several cups of his good strong blend of chamomile tea. We said no more about the troubling matter. I just leaned back into him when we were done, full and content and enjoying the feel of my Sam’s warm, sturdy body.
Bilbo had gone out to the Mathom House to visit with the curator and he wouldn’t be back until the afternoon, so Sam and I relished our time alone there in the kitchen, his strong hands moving over my body, touching me in those special places in those special ways that turned my muscles to liquid before he picked me up and carried me to my bedroom . . . .
Again I flinched, Merry pulling me from my reverie once more. “Sorry,” I said. “That was rude of me.” I grinned and glanced over at Sam and found him watching me, attentive as always.
“No matter,” Merry said, being his usual easy-going self. “I guess I don’t need to ask what your Yule Wish is, do I, Frodo?”
I glanced at him, my eyebrows raised.
“A formal Claiming, like I claimed Pippin last year,” Merry went on. “But with Sam claiming you, not the other way ‘round, unless I miss my guess.”
Merry had always been extraordinarily quick and bright. He didn’t like to show off his brilliance, but it came through in his thoughtfulness of the needs and desires of others.
I nodded at him now with a little smile. “Correct as usual.”
“Don’t worry, Frodo. It doesn’t show.”
I sniffed and grinned again at his insight. “Oh well,” I repeated. “I don’t have to like things the way they are. But I can learn to accept them. And nothing can stop me from imagining such a claiming.”
“Nope. You can imagine your Yule Wish to your heart’s content.” Merry sighed a weary smile as well. “And it’s often worth accepting whatever needs accepting.”
I nodded, answering his smile, watching Sam rise to head our way.
“You want to what?”
Frodo stared at me, his big eyes now huge.
“Walk in the snow,” I said, wrapping a scarf around his neck. “Come on”
“Sam, it’s dark out there!”
“There’s plenty of light pouring out of the windows from the Hall. And we’ll take a torch.”
“You aren’t serious.”
“You need some fresh air.”
“I do not!”
“It’ll be fun, Mister Frodo.”
“Fun? You want to go for a walk. In the dark. In the cold.”
“Sam, you always want to stay in by a warm fire with your pipe.”
“Well, tonight I want to take you for a little walk. Here – put another scarf on.”
“But it’s snowing again.”
“Aye. It’ll be right pretty. It’s a slow, gentle snow. No wind. Just thick white flakes.”
“Cold thick white flakes! And do you know how much snow is all ready out there?”
“Lots. Besides, who’s always going on about how much he loves playing in the snow? Aside from Pip I mean.”
“I know, but --”
“Look, if you get too cold or too tired I’ll carry you, little nipper.”
That got him right proper.
“What?! Little nipper? Little nipper? You will not carry me, Samwise Gamgee! Absolutely not!”
“But I love to carry you,” I said real easy and teasing-like. “You don’t weigh hardly nothing, Mister Frodo. And admit it – you like it, too.”
“I don’t!” he grumped. “Oh, give me that!”
He huffed and yanked the second scarf from my hands, winding it too roughly around his neck, so I stopped him and pushed his hands away and took over, trying not to bust out laughing at his sweet little frown. I couldn’t help smiling at him, though. And he winced prettily and shifted a bit, then:
“All right. I admit it. I like it when you carry me. But let’s not overdue this carrying thing. It’s a little embarrassing. And I’m not a nipper, Sam!”
“I know that, Mister Frodo.” I winked at him. “Believe me, I sure do know you’re not a nipper, little sir.”
And that finished him off. Frodo was won. He giggled his, ‘I love you my Sam’ giggle that fair melted me. I picked up Fatty Bolger’s coat, holding it out to him.
He gaped at me. “But, I’ve already got my topcoat on,” he said, as though I didn’t see the rust-colored coat he knew I loved.
“That’s not enough,” I shook the coat at him. “Come on. It’s too cold out there for just your pretty coat.”
He huffed again. “I’m not wearing that!”
I shook the coat again.
“I’ll drown in that big thing.”
“I’ll find you.”
I shook the coat.
Five minutes later Frodo and I were heading out the side door, Frodo now right certain that I’d gone cracked. I grabbed up a torch and lit it at the small fire inside the barrel by the back stoop and looked at him. He wasn’t quite drowning in Fatty’s coat, but he nearly was, and he looked so precious and pouty that I was tempted to haul him back inside and straight to our bedchamber.
But I had something to show him, and something I had to do.
I’d dragged him from the merriment of the Hall when the evening was in full swing. First night of Yuledays! Always exciting! The singing and the dancing and the feasting and the gift giving and the drinking and smoking and the telling of tales went on and on. Mums and aunts and sisters and grandmams kept the tables heavy with delicious foods. Nippers scurried and played and squealed over presents. Gents shared their blends of pipeweed and told stories and slugged back the ales, and ‘tweens and the older cousins, danced and sang. All made merry until they got too tired to move. Then they’d go to bed and get up and start all over again the next morning. Every day and night of Yuledays would be like this, filled with merrymaking.
It was on the first day of the season one year ago that Merry had claimed Pippin in front of the whole hall. That Claiming had now become known amongst us as The Mistletoe Story, and it would likely be told every year.
Frodo and I arrived extra early this year – two weeks before this first night of the season started. But the getting ready at Brandy Hall was as much fun as the actual six days themselves, and Merry had sent a message to Frodo about Pippin and his poor busted leg. Of course we’d been happy to come early to help cheer Pip! And the big change that Pip and Merry had gone through, well, I can’t help thinking that Frodo and I helped his cousins.
Sometimes . . . sometimes I thought about spanking Frodo. But he’d have to do something really awful or dangerous for me to do that. He was right cheeky sometimes, especially when he was riled enough to have himself a little tantrum, but he’d always had good reason to be mad, and he’d never been hurtful. It would take a lot to make me paddle Frodo, but I’d surely do it if he needed it done.
There were, of course, other times when I had turned him over and whacked his pretty little bottom just for fun . . . and it had been a lot of fun.
But us coming early to Brandy Hall, well, this had been grand. Every day we’d joined in with whatever was going on with the Brandybuck cousins, and every night Frodo and I had enjoyed ourselves for hours, here with perfect privacy.
There was a smaller servant’s chamber attached to Frodo’s room, with a bed and even a small fireplace. I was right cosy, but but I’d never slept there of course.
“Just be sure to muss up the bed every morning,” Pippin had advised me long ago, although I’d already known to do that. Pip loved to tease.
Frodo and I didn’t have such freedom in Hobbiton of course. We had ourselves plenty of secret places and we’d spend time there as much as we could. And I’d sometimes stay the night with Frodo when Bilbo was off somewheres, wandering and meeting with strange folk as Mister Bilbo was known to do.
But, wonderful as our private times were, it wasn’t the same as sharing a big fluffy bed and a fire-warmed room and seeing my Frodo, fetching beyond words, bathed in the fire’s reddish glow, all mine. It wasn’t as wonderful as sleeping together, all night, every night, touching or wrapped together.
I’d stir in the night and feel him against me, Frodo’s slender limbs, draped over mine. I could reach out and run my hands over his smooth skin, turn and bury my face in his soft curls, breathe in his scent. And I could watch Frodo drift off to sleep, his lids drooping over his magical wide eyes more’n more, then closing one last time, his thick lashes finally still on his cheeks. Then I’d just watch him sleep. I loved just watching him sleep, so nipper-like . . . my beautiful Frodo, sleeping.
And sometimes I’d wake to the feel of his small hands gliding over my body, or his mouth hovering over mine or next to my ear so close that it tickled when he whispered in a low, throaty hum, words that shot through me, waking me at once, waking certain parts of me to full attention: “Please wake up, my Sam . . . please touch me, play with me . . . do what you did to me earlier, over and over and over . . . I want morrrre! I want you,my beautiful Sam . . . pleeease, Sam; be with me.”
Sleeping all night with Frodo, being his bedmate, well, it was a happiness bigger than anything ever, big enough to near bring me to tears.
We had to be careful, though. And my old da was right – I had to see to that part. The Gaffer, he was a clever old bird. Of course my da figured things out about Frodo and me almost before we had. He’d kept quiet about it, though. He didn’t say anything to me until Frodo and I reached a certain point, and he just seemed to know when that was. Thank goodness my ol’ da was wise about what he said and how he said it, because I was near dying from bashfulness when he brought the matter up. But it was all right with him. That was the most important thing he wanted me to know.
“I just want you to be happy, lad,” he’d said. “And the rest is nonsense. It don’t mean a whit.”
But he’d brought it up to caution me about others – those with hard hearts and small, cruel minds, those like the Sackville-Bagginses, who would be vicious and hurtful and play up the ugly side of what Frodo and I meant to each other.
“Just be ‘ware, son,” he’d said. “And I know I don’t have to tell you that young Master Frodo will need your loyalty and your protection. He’s not a frail flower, but he’s a rare one, if you understand me. He need special care. He and Master Bilbo are both rare varieties, with their love of books and learning and the way they go off to meet up with elves and speak their tongue, and how close they are to wizards and how they know men and dwarves and who knows what other odd kinds of folk from the wilds outside the Shire, and that’s why others ‘round here look at them as strange.
“So he’s different, Mister Frodo is, and you know that, son. You know he’s an uncommon variety, like Bilbo. And these unusual types, well, they don’t always think like your common folk in the Shire, so Frodo might not always make the best choices, not like my sensible son would make. You’re his gardener, and his servant, but now you’re more than that, too. So help him, son. Protect him. I think you understand me, and I know you’ll figure things out just fine on your own. And I’ll say no more on’t.”
And he hadn’t, thank goodness, because da tended to speak in a manner that baffled me at times. But I took his meaning, and it was no more’n what I’d known all along. Frodo, with all his book learning and knowledge of the folk outside the Shire and his understanding of the elvish tongue, had a special pureness of heart that needed protecting. He needed protecting. That was what my da had meant, and that was what I longed to do more’n anything in the world.
As far as I was concerned, Frodo was mine to care for until someone else came along who could do it better than me. I doubted there was such a person in all Middle Earth, so Frodo was mine. All mine. That was all there was to it. And I’d take the best care of him.
Aye, Frodo was an adult. He was older than me. He was my master and I was his gardener, and that always stayed in my mind. But those were just words, and Frodo was far more to me than what those simple words meant.
I knew that Frodo felt that way, too, even more than I did. He didn’t want to think about being my master. He really didn’t want to be my master most of the time. In a very real way, he wasn’t. But he was my master in other ways.
He’d been outside the Shire and he knew Middle Earth beyond our little borders. Of course, that didn’t matter all that much since we’d probably never wander very far outside the Shire anyway. Why would we? Frodo and I both loved the Shire. We’d be here for ever and ever.
But Frodo was more educated. He was gentry. And while he would have called all that nonsense, and had in fact, called it pure nonsense, I had my own innards to live with. All that Frodo was, all that he came from meant that he deserved a ‘Mister’ in front of his name.
Frodo, however, liked what he called my authoritative nature. I just looked at that as the way things needed to be. I was what I was, so it was a good thing that Frodo liked it, since I couldn’t turn off who I was. Oh, he argued a lot. He fussed about the small things I insisted on. But with Frodo it was a matter of standing firm and waiting for him to come around, and he always did because what I expected of him was also the best thing for him, and he knew that. But sometimes arguing just felt good to Frodo, and that was all right. I’d wait him out.
I suppose if he ever did do anything really dangerous I’d need to follow Merry’s example and take Frodo over my knee. I’s spank him in a heartbeat if he truly needed it, but I couldn’t imagine ever having to really do that. Frodo could be a bit bratty at times, but he was overall just too sweet natured to ever deserve a spanking.
There were some things I had to decide about, though, and sometimes Frodo didn’t like to accept those things. One of the biggest ones was exactly what we’d faced for days now, a few weeks, actually, since it had started before we even left for Brandy Hall.
I knew how much Frodo wanted to have the freedom his cousins did, but couldn’t allow any kind of public claiming. I couldn’t. Frodo understood the reasons. But he thought those reasons were nonsense, so that meant he didn’t have to pay attention to them.
And that’s where I had to be the protector, because Frodo needed protecting from himself. He didn’t understand how badly he would feel if gossip got ugly, and it would get ugly. He’d not only hate hearing it for his own sake, but for mine. Then he’d suffer a load of guilt for having not listened to me. It would hurt him, and I wasn’t having none of that.
So Frodo had to accept my ‘no’ on faith alone. No meant no. He might not agree with my ‘no,’ but he would respect it because I said it. And those were the hardest no’s for Frodo to accept. It tested him. And I didn’t like upsetting him by forcing my will on him like this. But I’d rather Frodo was grumpy with me ‘stead of seeing him suffer what he would if I let him have his way.
So my decision made him angry and sad, but he was accepting it. He had to accept it.
Frodo stopped walking. I turned to look at him a few paces behind me, then I glanced around. We hadn’t come far from the Hall. We had a little ways to go yet. I stepped back towards him. “Mister Frodo?”
He made a little growling noise in his throat, and then he started struggling free of Fatty’s huge coat, yanking open the buttons and just ripping it off of him as though it was on fire. I watched, right fascinated. When he finally stopped writhing free of Fatty’s coat it lay in pile at his feet. Frodo looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, Sam. But I was so hot I was about to be sick.”
I couldn’t help it – a little laugh of sympathy burst from me. “Oh, Mister Frodo,” I said, and I went and took him in my arms. “My poor Frodo!”
“Sorry, Sam,” he said again in a small voice, his arms coming around me. He pushed his head against my shoulder.
“Shhh. It’s all right,” I urged him back to where I could see his face. He did look flushed. “I’m the sorry one for making you wear it. I just thought you’d get too cold.”
“I know. But it’s so still. Even though it’s snowing, there’s no wind, so it doesn’t seem very cold.” He looked around, his eyes wide and sparkly in the torchlight. “Just look at all this, Sam! Look at the moon on the snow! The whole world is glistening! Oh, Sam! It’s impossibly beautiful out here!”
“Aye,” I said, not taking my gaze from him. “Beautiful.”
He glanced at me and winced his shy grin.
I gave him a little kiss and a smile and said, “Come on! I have something to show you.”
“You’ll see,” I said, gathering up Fatty’s coat. I took Frodo’s hand. “A little further up the hill.”
I paused and turned back.
Frodo was smiling that soft smile that churns my insides. “I . . . well, thank you, Sam. Thank you for bringing me out here and insisting on a walk. It’s so quiet, like the whole world is wrapped in down. And maybe I should be cold, but I’m not, not in the least, because I’m so warm inside. So . . . thank you, my Sam.”
He moved to me and kissed me then, softly, and everything inside me warmed at the touch of his lips. I kissed him back, so eager now. I couldn’t wait.
“Come on, Frodo. Not much farther. Hurry!” And I took his hand again, and pulled him with me.
I couldn’t imagine what he was up to, but Sam was certainly up to something, his eyes glittering and his dimpled grin flashing every time he fired me another glance. He pulled me along through the snow towards the thick stand of evergreens on the far west lawn. I could’ve sworn I heard him giggle.
What we were hurrying to see was beyond me. We did like visiting the firs, but in warmer weather. There were places amongst the sweet-smelling trees that were actually like hidden rooms. You moved through a few passes and found yourself within a sort of small enclosure of pine. We’d sometimes go there and sit and talk and dawdle, or lie on our backs and watch the clouds and listen to Pippin tell a tale.
But just what was Master Gamgee about, hauling me here in this weather? Oddly, I thought I saw a small light ahead, and Sam was even more excited now. He pulled me along, turning this way and that through the pines, kissed by the snow and freshly fragrant, and at last we turned a final corner and burst through into one of the small chamber-like enclosures.
I halted and stared. Merry and Pippin stood there, grinning from ear to ear. Merry was holding a torch and supporting Pippin, and Pip, leaning on his crutch, was holding a branch of mistletoe.
“At last!” Pip exclaimed. “Hurrah!”
Sam turned to me. “It’s a Claiming,” he said in a hushed tone of delight. “I’m claiming you, my Frodo.”
I blinked, tears instantly stinging my eyes. My heart thrummed. My throat tightened. My vision blurred with tears. “Ohhh,” I breathed. “Oh, Sam!”
Sam grabbed my arm and held on and Merry and Pippin moved closer, Pippin handing Sam the mistletoe. My first tears tumbled down my cheeks. “Ohh, Sam!” was all I could say.
“Don’t cry, Frodo!” Merry said.
“No, don’t!” Pip added. “You’ll end up with wee icicles on your cheeks.”
We all chuckled softly, our laughter muffled by the snow. Torchlight danced upon the pure white surface. It twinkled like mithril in our magically pristine chamber, lazy white flakes drifting over us and around us and the world was perfect.
Sam watched me, tears in his eyes now as well. He raised the mistletoe right above our heads and he kissed me, long and luscious and breath-stealing, my heart near bursting. “I love you,” he whispered against my mouth.
“I love you,” I whispered back.
He pulled away then, that pretty smile softly glowing and he said, “You’ve been claimed now Frodo Baggins, and no mistake.” He reached up and smoothed the wetness from my cheeks, murmuring, “This pretty wee Baggins is mine, all mine.”
Merry and Pippin both made the oddest noises. Sam and I glanced at them. They seemed stunned, but they exchanged a quick look, then shook their heads at us, muttering vague, ‘sorries.’
I looked back at Sam finding that a few tears had tumbled down his cheeks as well. I wiped them away, saying, “Consider yourself claimed, too, my beloved Sam.” And I leaned in and kissed him as well. Then I threw my arms around his neck and softly cried, “Thank you! I love you, Sam! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
Sam laughed and held me with one arm and hugged me ferociously.
Pippin cleared his throat and said, “Sam.”
We pulled apart, turning to Pip.
“You can lower the mistletoe now. He’s claimed, sir.”
Sam looked sheepish and chuckled and quickly lowered the branch with a little, “Oops.” Then my romantic beloved tucked the spindly little thing inside his coat. “Our keepsake,” he said.
“Told you Sam was a romantic, Merry.”
“I didn’t dispute you, sweetheart.” Merry turned to grin at Sam and me. “We still have our branch, too.”
Pippin turned to me. “How’s it feel, Frodo? Being claimed?”
“Feels perfect,” I said. And it did.
“Even though it didn’t take place in front of the whole hall?”
“Pippin!” Merry frowned. “Tact. Remember?”
I giggled, too happy to feel anything but full of giggles, and everyone smiled. “The people I care about the most are here,” I said. “I cannot imagine a better crowd for a claiming.” Turning my most adoring smile upon my Sam, I said, “As I said, perfect.”
“Nice to get your Yuledays Wish?” Merry asked.
I pulled from Sam and hugged Merry and said, “Yes! Thank you!” Then I hugged Pippin, too, and said, “And thank you, little brat, for hobbling out here with your broken leg.”
“I couldn’t keep him away,” Merry said.
“He wouldn’t dare try!” Pippin declared.
I shivered, not from the cold, but from the enormous feelings shooting through me. Sam, however, saw only the shiver.
“Right,” he said, and he grabbed up Fatty’s coat and started wrapping me up in it. “Time to head back in.”
“Sam, no! I’m not the least bit co --”
“I saw that shiver, little sir,” he said.
Pippin giggled. “Little sir? OW!”
Merry raised a brow at him after delivering his swat. “Tact, Pip.”
Sam gathered the coat around me more and tucked both scarves around my neck. I struggled, “Sam, for pity’s sake!”
“He looks like a wee nipper after a mum’s been at him. No! Nooo, Merry!” Pippin hopped away from Merry’s drawn back arm. “Sorry!” And we all chuckled again.
Sam gave me a quiet look and said, “It is cold out here, Mister Frodo. Wouldn’t want you catching a cold and ending up in the Sick Room for the rest of Yuledays, would we now? In fact --” Sam studied me, overly serious. “I think I’d best bundle you off to bed right quick, get you good and warm.”
Everyone paused. Sam rarely teased, but he did it wonderfully! And a whole new tremor, a lovely tremor, coursed through me. I pulled the scarves down from my face and grinned. “I guess I am cold after all. Dreadfully cold! How thoughtful you are, my Sam. Thank you.”
“Maybe even a hot bath first,” he said.
I flushed mightily. “Mmmmm.”
“Oh, my. A hot bath and a nice warm bed. That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it Merry?” Pippin said.
“MmHmmm. But you’re riding back, Pip,” Merry said. And he scooped a squealing Pip up into his arms. “I let you hobble out here against my better judgment, so don’t give me any sass about riding back.”
“No, sir.” Pippin giggled.
Sam now whooshed me up as well. I squealed as loudly as Pip and immediately grabbed for Sam’s broad shoulders.
“You too, Mister Frodo,” he said. “You’re cold enough without tramping back through this snow.”
Sam and Merry headed from the chamber of pines and we came out under the wide skies filled with fluttering snow. Brandy Hall snuggled into the mountain, a great giant of a castle, golden light blazing from the windows and music and merrymaking coming from within.
I lifted my head from Sam’s shoulder and saw Pippin peering at me with his little Took grin. “What?” I said.
“This is part of being claimed, y’know. Getting bossed around all the time.” He laughed at Merry’s pretended frown. “Can’t swat me now,” he declared.
“No,” Merry said. “But just wait until I put you down.”
Pippin made a small squeak, but he was enjoying himself immensely, of course. I glanced at Sam and found him watching me with that soft smile of his.
“And just wait until I put you down, little sir,” he said.
“Mmm, Sam.” I snuggled into his shoulder. “I can’t wait.”