THIS ROSE WITHOUT A THORN
I remember something my old Gaffer used to say to me: “Even a rose has it’s thorns, Samwise.” Only know, I know it’s not true.
The entire inn is enraptured by the singing of Merry and Pippin, the troublemakers of the Shire as they’re known. Even Mr. Frodo is enjoying himself, dancing in a circle around them, a mug of ale in each hand. But not me – I only have eyes one person: Rosie Cotton.
The singing ends to rapturous cheering, followed by an encore. I hear old Daddy Twofoot, our next-door neighbour, comment on some strange folk who’ve taken to passing through the Shire. I shudder briefly, not wanting to think of the outside world. Like most, I’m perfectly content where I am. There’s something wrong with hobbits who think otherwise ’bout the Shire. In my opinion, there ain’t no place like home.
Mr. Frodo drops to the bench across from me. I puff thoughtfully on my pipe, barely hearing my old Gaffer’s words as he chats nonchalantly to the others at our table. All my attention is focussed on that lovely hobbit lass with unruly golden curls who stands behind the bar, polishing an empty mug of ale.
Then, she looks up, a twinkle in her emerald eyes and a smile on her lips. That smile makes my knees go weak, and I thank the Shire that I’m sitting down. When Rosie Cotton is around, when she’s smiling at me, I feel my legs tremble, as I’m gonna suddenly collapse. But the one thing I can’t hide is my embarrassment at having been caught staring at her. My face reddens, turning more scarlet than the fragrant roses under the window in the kitchen at home.
I exhale a shuddery breath, thankful when she turns to a customer, even if it is that confounded Lotho Bracegirdle. That silver-tongued charmer never misses a chance to flirt with any hobbit lass, and it seems he’s taking a particular liking to Rosie.
She laughs at one of his jokes, a sweet sound like… the beauty of a sunset captured in song, or the melody of a rose, if roses had voices. This one does, the softest, most soothing voice my ears have ever been blessed to hear. Sometimes, late at night, I can almost her delicate intonations, listen to my name fall off her perfect lips: Samwise…
But what would she want with me? That irritating little voice in my head has started talking again, telling me that I’m not god enough for Rosie. And sometimes, I believe it. What does the most beautiful, kind, warm-hearted hobbit lass in the whole of the Shire care for a lowly gardener who can hardly muster up the courage to talk to her?
My eyes slip shut for a moment as my mind drifts back to old Mr. Bilbo’s party: a memorable event indeed. When the subject is brought up, everyone thinks of how Mr. Bilbo disappeared, and was never seen again. But me? My clearest, most vivid memory of that night was when Rosie Cotton danced with me.
For that, I have to thank Mr. Frodo. True, I’d imagined going up to her, and asking her for a dance, taking her into my arms. But that was all I expected it to remain. I would’ve been content with a mug of ale and a pipeful of Old Toby; but Mr. Frodo had other ideas. Before I knew what was happening, Rosie Cotton, the lass I’d admired from afar for years, was in my arms and dancing happily to the music.
My sweaty palm gripped hers. Her skin felt so tantalisingly soft, like petals against the skin. It was in that dance, for the first time, I looked into her eyes, wishing I could drown in those pools of emerald. Together, we spun around to the music, her movements fluid and relaxed, mine tense and rigid.
She turned her concerned gaze to me. “Is something up, Sam?”
“Oh… no, nothin’s up. I’m… I’m good!” I stammered as a reply, gripped by partial shock at the genuine distress in her voice – for me!
“You seem a little nervous,” she whispered.
“No, I’m fine, Rosie,” I assured her, wishing I could tell myself the same thing, and believe it.
Our dance seemed to last an eternity; yet, all too soon, it was over. She smiled, and I feared that my knees might buckle from beneath my legs, and I would collapse in the middle of the makeshift dance floor. The embarrassment alone of that act would kill me. But I held fast, determined not to plunge into my usual mire of nervous ramblings around Rosie.
“Thank you for that dance, Sam,” she said, curtseying slightly. “‘Twas the best dance I’ve had all evening.”
“My pleasure,” I choked in reply, fluid draining from my throat as I spoke to her. With that, she nodded gratefully, before moving onto the next waiting hobbit lad, whilst I sank to the bench beside Mr. Frodo and reached for another mug of ale.
I lower the pipe from my lips, smoke billowing from my mouth as I revel in such a simple pleasure. Turning my eyes back to the bar, I blink in shock.
Could it be my imagination, or is Rosie Cotton staring at me?
Another laugh, this one softer and friendlier, escapes her lips. Her eyes met mine, and she smiles warmly. With that one gesture, a thousand unsaid words pass between us. It’s then that I realise Mr. Frodo is talking to me.
“It’s getting late, Sam,” he says with a yawn. “I’m off home.”
“Me too,” I say, drowning the last mouthful of ale before standing. We push our way through the crowd, but not before Fatty Bolger halts our progress. We stop for a few moments to chat to him, exchange a few jokes, and even this new recipe his sister Estella has been working on.
Finally, Mr. Frodo and I are able to shake him off. We reach the door. I gasp, finding none other than Rosie Cotton herself standing there, wishing the patron’s goodnight.
She turns to me and Mr. Frodo. “Good night lads,” she says. Is it just my imagination, or is she winking at me? No – she’s probably got something in her eye.
With a reluctant sigh, I smile at her, before bidding her goodnight in return. As Frodo and I turn, I hear that *** Lotho Bracegirdle again. Craning my neck, I watch him drop to his knees. “Good night, sweet maiden of the golden ale!”
“Mind who you’re sweet-talking,” I growl under my breath, but loud enough for Mr Frodo to hear. He places a hand on my arm, probably to restrain me from grabbing that slimy toad and throttling him.
“Don’t worry, Sam. Rosie knows an idiot when she sees one.”
“Does she?” I gulp. Being a lowly gardener, I’m no genius, but I know my plants. But what does Rosie Cotton care for some block-headed lad?
I cast one final glance back at her, a sigh escaping my lips. Of all the roses in the Shire, she will never be mine. Roses of red and pink will adorn my garden, but this rose without a thorn shall never grace my home.