Sam looked up at his garden’s intruder, but the late afternoon sun obscured his view. He could tell, however, who had wandered into his way, for he recognized those feet standing in the middle of his tomato plants. “Not now, Mr. Frodo,” he said as he slapped at those feet, chasing him out of the way. “I’ve got work to do.”
Frowning, Frodo sat down outside of Sam’s reach. “It’s such a beautiful day, it’s a shame to waste it.”
His hands stopped and Sam looked around him. To him anytime spent in his garden was never a waste. In fact, he could think of no other place he’s rather be than among growing things, rain or shine. Sometimes he just didn’t understand Frodo. “Got to get these plants staked, or my Gaffer will have my hide.”
“How long will that take?” Frodo asked as he idly played with one of Sam’s stakes. The day was waning and he was in a wandering mood. Bag End and its surroundings had been fascinatingly new to him when he had first arrived. But, that had been over a year ago, and he was yearning for something a little different, strange and exciting, something that a walk across the Party Field or a stroll around Hobbiton would not satisfy.
Sam grabbed the stake back. “As long as it takes.”
Frodo sat watching Sam expertly push the stake into the ground just beside the new plant, then tie them twice, one on top, the other closer to the ground, with white string. Despite Sam’s obvious skill at his task, each plant seemed to take an hour for him to finish before moving to the next one. After Sam had fixed only 2 plants, Frodo’s restlessness became unbearable. “Come with me, Sam,” he said to his friend, leaning in close in case his uncle was listening at the open window. Life with Bilbo was wonderful, he felt almost at home at Bag End now. But, he could be a bit of a worrier when it came to Frodo and his wanderings. “Today is a day that was meant for grand adventures.”
“Don’t mind all your grand adventures, Mr. Frodo,” Sam said, never stopping his work, “They just will have to wait until I’m done here. That is if you want me to come with you.”
Sam was right, he could go alone. He needn’t wait for his friend to finish his work, he could just run out the gate, not having any plans, just walk and see where the road took him. Yet, somehow that idea didn’t appeal to him. His adventures were always more enjoyable with Sam at his side. It wasn’t that his friend was bold or brash, getting them into exciting mischief. Frodo could do that all by himself. No, Sam was more like a solid wall, an anchor that Frodo could count on to always lead him home. Standing up and leaving Sam in peace for now, Frodo looked up at the canopy of blue above him. The clouds were barely moving in the summer sky and there was a stillness in the air that rankled at his nerves. He was ready to do something, anything, out of the ordinary. And he wanted Sam by his side throughout. “I’ll wait.”
Sam shrugged. “Suit yourself, Mr. Frodo, but I’m telling you, it may be a while. Got a lot of tomato plants to stake.”
Seized with a sudden inspiration born of his desperation for Sam’s company, Frodo knelt down beside him and asked, “Wouldn’t it go faster with another pair of hands?”
He shrugged again and didn’t look up. Frodo took that as a yes. He plopped down and took up the nearest stake. Mirroring his friend’s actions, Frodo began to help stake the plants. The next 15 minutes they worked in silence, Sam going right down the row, Frodo to the left. When the last knot had been tied, Frodo sprang up, shouting, “Done! Where shall we go?”
Sam sat back, drew his knees up and surveyed the plants. His work was done now, no more excuses. “Well, we went south last.”
“Then let’s go east. Haven’t looked on the Brandywine in forever.”
The other hobbit gave him a dubious look. Sam didn’t like the river. The two times he had visited there with his Gaffer, he had been uneasy just standing far back on the shore, and the mention of intentionally going to the water made his stomach turn. He also knew that Frodo had not been back to Buckland since coming to Bag End, and that the river held painful memories for him. He wondered why Frodo had a sudden hankering to visit a place he so recently wanted to forget. “Why would you want to see that river again? If you get my meaning.”
Frodo avoided Sam’s eyes by picking at the blades of grass between his outstretched legs. “Oh, no reason in particular. Just wanted to see some familiar sights, that’s all.”
That didn’t really convince Sam, but he knew that if he didn’t go with Frodo to visit the river, he would most assuredly go by himself anyway, and Sam would have none of that. Since his arrival at Bag End, Frodo had been Sam’s special project. When he had first laid eyes on Mr. Bilbo’s new heir, Sam had seen a broken thing, ate up inside and too scared to let go. So, Sam took it upon himself to show Frodo the wonders of Mr. Bilbo’s Bag End and all that Hobbiton had to offer. He had never intended to discover his best friend in the process. But, it did happen and they were now almost inseparable. Behind those sad eyes, Sam had found someone to talk with while he worked in the garden, someone to study with when Mr. Bilbo’s lessons got too tough, someone to lay out on the Party Field and dream with as the stars filled the blackness above. In Frodo he had found one who would not ridicule him for his clumsiness, not taunt him because of his size. He had found a broken heart similar to his own and comfort in each other’s sorrow.
He had first accompanied Frodo on his journeys at Mr. Bilbo’s request. The older hobbit was worried about Frodo getting lost in the unfamiliar territory around Hobbiton. But, Sam almost immediately discovered that Frodo was the experienced wanderer and he was the one following. Their journeys had taken them all over most of the Shire, one or two days walking distance, and Sam had loved every minute of it.
He glanced sideways at his friend, who was sitting there trying not to seem like he was looking at Sam when he really was. Well, if he wants to visit the Brandywine… “East it is.”
Instantly, Frodo jumped up. “Let me just tell Bilbo,” and ran inside without waiting for a reply.
Knowing he would have a few minutes before his friend came running back, Sam took the time to retie the knots that Frodo had worked on. Better safe than sorry, I always say.
Inside, Frodo dashed to his bedroom, past Bilbo who sat at his desk pouring over the same old maps. Frodo really didn’t know what his uncle did when he sat at his desk, but he would be at it for hours and would never miss his wandering nephew. He grabbed the pack that sat at the ready by the door, then dashed back to the front hallway. “Going out!” he called as he pulled his coat off the peg. He had almost made it out the door when Bilbo stopped him.
“Frodo,” the older hobbit said, and by the tone in his voice, Frodo knew his quick exit had vanished.
“Yes, Bilbo?” He put on his most innocent face, hoping that Bilbo would not keep him too long with his questions. He was running late as it was.
“And just where do you think you’re going?” Bilbo asked. He tried to imitate the stern parent he had seen the Gaffer use on his children. It really didn’t fit him, but for the sake of Frodo, he had to try.
“Walking,” Frodo answered cryptically. No need to give information when it wasn’t necessary.
Setting down the old map, Bilbo looked at the young hobbit. He had grown so much in the short amount of time he had been at Bag End and not only in size. The uncommunicative, shy hobbit was gone and what stood before him was an adolescent bursting at the seams. “Where and with whom?”
As if he needed to ask, Frodo thought. “Sam. I’m going walking with Sam.”
“Doesn’t he have work to do in the garden?”
“Oh, we finished with the tomato plants,” Frodo answered quickly, glad that Bilbo had dropped the where part of his original question.
“We?” Bilbo knew that Samwise was a responsible hobbit and would never leave work undone to go traipsing around the Shire. Nevertheless, he knew that Frodo wielded a great influence over Sam and he was concerned that Sam had been caught with Frodo’s unbounded enthusiasm.
“I helped him stake the tomato plants,” Frodo said as he fidgeted in the front hallway. “He’s waiting for me.”
When Bilbo did not respond, Frodo hoped that was the end of his interrogation and made a move towards the front door. Bilbo wasn’t done, however.
“You never told me where you two where off to.”
Frodo thought about lying to his uncle, but it was only a passing idea. “We’re going to the Brandywine,” he mumbled, hoping that would be enough.
“What?”, Bilbo asked. Did he say the Brandywine?
“The Brandywine, uncle,” Frodo repeated, more clearly this time, “We’re going to the river.”
Bilbo was surprised. Of all the places in the Shire there were to visit, he would never have picked the Brandywine as his nephew’s destination. “The Brandywine River?”
Knowing Bilbo’s objections, Frodo attempted to allay his fears. ” I want to see the river again, Bilbo. I want to visit my old home.” When he had first left there, Frodo never imagined that he would want to see that place again. But, now he did and his worrying uncle was not going to stop him. “Its time, Bilbo.”
This is sooner that I expected, Bilbo thought to himself. Yet, if Frodo was ready, he was not about to deny him. “As long as Samwise is with you.”
“Thank you, uncle!” Frodo cried, and before Bilbo could change his mind, the young hobbit was out the door.
“Be careful!” Bilbo shouted to the slamming front door. He wondered if he had done the right thing, letting Frodo go back to all those painful memories. Samwise would be with him though, he thought, his maps drawing his attention again. He’ll watch out for Frodo. Besides, they will still be in the Shire. What could go wrong?
Sam wasn’t waiting for him at the gate, but had run home to get his traveling pack. Frodo watched his friend hurry across the field that separated their homes. Coming up to the gate, Sam said, out of breath, “Thought we might be needing a few things for our trip.”
Frodo looked over Sam’s pack. It was filled with enough for a month’s journey. “We’re only going to Buckland, Sam,” he said as he started out east.
The pans jingled on his back as Sam fell into step beside the other hobbit. “You never know, Mr. Frodo, what we’ll meet out there on the road. “
The afternoon sun traced across the sky leaving dusk behind. They had walked at a steady, but easy pace, talking of nothing. When the cricket’s evening song drowned out the ordinary sounds of the day, they stopped for the night.
Sam had a fire going almost immediately and the smells of Sam’s stew filled Frodo’s hungry nose. “See, I told you we would be wanting these things,” Sam said, handing Frodo a heaping plate.
“I agree,” Frodo mumbled between bites. Something about eating like this, out under the night sky, the grass as an inviting bed made the food taste, well, more somehow. And Sam was a wonderful cook. He could make anything eatable. Frodo didn’t think he would ever get tired of Sam’s food or of eating on the road.
A branch snapped somewhere outside the fire’s light. Sam jumped to his feet and grabbed the first thing he could reach as a weapon. He had heard the stories told around the tables at the Green Dragon. That is when the gaffer had taken him. He was still too young to join in with his father’s friend’s toasts, but he sat there absorbing everything they said. They spoke of strange things seen lurking at the edges of the Shire, things that could only spell danger. “What was that?”
Frodo barely noticed. As he helped himself to another plateful, he replied, “Nothing. Just some animal come sniffing at your cooking.”
The grass rustled just then, whispering the rhythm of footfalls. “There’s something out there, Mr. Frodo.”
Frodo stopped mid chew. Darting his head back and forth, he scanned the dark circle that surrounded their camp. “What is it?”
Turning around slowly, Sam tried to watch everything at once. “Whatever it is, it can’t be good, if you get my meaning.”
The sound came again, only this time it was to the left. Sam spun, ready to face the danger. Another snap echoed to the right and Sam pivoted to face the danger that way. When he had agreed to go with Frodo on this journey, he had had no idea he would be faced with having to fight with unknown things in the dark. His hands shook slightly.
Frodo stood very slowly, his evening meal forgotten. The night seemed to close in around them as he strained to listen for the sounds of unwanted trouble. All was silent, save the normal ones made by the Shire after dusk. After a few very tense seconds, the pair began to relax.
“Just like you said, Mr. Frodo,” Sam said, relieved, “An animal wanting a taste.” He lowered his weapon and swiped his sleeve across his brow. “We’re making something out of nothing.”
A dark object fell from the trees directly behind Frodo, another followed behind Sam. “Mr. Frodo, watch out!” Frodo spun around, fist at the ready, but the intruder was too quick; he ducked under Frodo’s swing, swerving to the right.
“Sam! Behind you!”
Acting out of reflexes alone, Sam brought his weapon, the frying pan, up sharply and a dull metallic thud rang out as he connected with his attacker. It went down with a thud. Both Frodo and Sam crouched low in anticipation of the next attack.
Giggling. They heard giggling in the dark. All the tension bled from Frodo’s face. “Pippin!”
Another hobbit, mop headed and bright-eyed, crawled on all fours into the fire’s light. “We surrender to you mighty warriors,” he managed to stutter out between giggles.
“A Took!” Sam said with derision.
Frodo plopped down beside his attacker and began to giggle too.
A groaning emerged from behind Sam and he spun around ready with his pan, just in case this one was not friendly. His attacker sat up, rubbing his head. “Why’d you do that?”
“Guess Sam was just too fast for you, Merry,” Pippin said. He and Frodo sat there and watched Sam, frying pan reared back for another blow, over Merry, glassy eyed from the last one. The tableau was just too funny and both hobbits burst into a laughing fit, bringing tears to their eyes.
“Why’d you do that?” Merry repeated, smacking Sam a good one in the shins.
Throwing his pan to the ground, Sam walked away from his victim in disgust. “A Took and a Brandybuck. I came all the way out here to be made foolish by the two of you.”
Frodo didn’t understand Sam’s attitude at this unexpected visit. “It was only a bit of fun, Sam.”
“Not for Merry,” Pippin said as he went to his injured friend. Examining his head, he added, “You’ll be carrying that one for a few days.”
“Very funny, Pip,” Merry hissed. His head hurt, as well as his bum where he had fallen hard. “We didn’t want to scare you.”
“Well, you didn’t, so don’t trouble yourself about it,” Sam nearly snarled out as he went back to re-stoke the fire.
“Not scared? That’s not what I saw,” Pippin spoke up, “By the looks on your faces…”
“Not now, Pip,” Merry stopped his friend. He saw the expression on Sam’s face and knew that their joke had backfired.
“What are you doing here?” Frodo spoke up, “We weren’t to meet until tomorrow.”
“You knew they were coming?” Sam asked, a little hurt that Frodo hadn’t told him.
“Pip here couldn’t wait.” Merry answered.
“Is that supper?” As if the past few moments had not happened, Pippin scooted close to the fire, his mouth watering. “Whatever it is, it smells wonderful.”
“Sam’s the best cook I know.” Frodo tried a little flattery to pull his friend out of his nasty mood. Sam didn’t say anything, but he did fill a plate with his stew and handed it to Pippin. He made another and brought it to Merry, who looked up, thanking him. “Sorry ’bout the frying pan,” he mumbled out before he quickly moved on to the task of the bedrolls.
“How did you find us?” Frodo asked, very pleased at his friend’s unlooked for arrival.
“Started at Brandyhall and worked backwards, ” Pippin said between bites.
“Which is where we should be right now,” Merry added.
Sam shook his head. “You snuck out?” Not surprising.
“We can get back before we’re missed.” Setting his empty plate aside, Pippin stretched out on his stomach, his face illuminated by the fire’s light. “I just couldn’t wait to see you, Frodo.”
Frodo smiled. It had been a long time since he had spent any time with his former friends. When he had lived in Buckland, trouble always came in threes: Frodo, Merry and Pippin. The cows, cooling apple pies and the local crops never rested easy when they were about. He missed those carefree times. Frodo was very happy in his new home, wouldn’t want to leave Bilbo or his new life now. But something of the Took inside him spoke every once and awhile telling him it was time to stir up a little mischief. “You, too, Pip.”
“So, what about tomorrow?” Merry asked as he reclined on his side, his pipe smoke mingling with the fire’s. “What do you have planned?”
Frodo grinned devilishly. “I think I’m in the mood for some mushrooms.”
Sam sat bolt upright. He had bedded down apart from the trio of old friends, not wanting to be in the way of their reunion. But, this piece of news he couldn’t take. “Farmer Maggot’s crop!”
“Quick and a good cook,” Merry quipped.
“I’ll not go stealing from anyone, Mr. Frodo.” Despite the fact that is was just plain wrong, Sam knew that if he did word would get back to his Gaffer and his life made miserable for months. No, years.
“Don’t look at it as stealing, Sam,” Pippin said sleepily, “We’re just borrowing. Permanently.”
That brought peels of laughter from Merry and Frodo, but Sam was not amused. He rolled over, away from them and tried not to listen as they made plans for their escapades tomorrow. As sleep took him, though, he had to admit that Farmer Maggot’s mushrooms were the best in the Shire, and they would taste awfully good in a chicken pie.