West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
In which Frodo attempts to cook and Sam gets bad news.
Frodo is nearly 30, Bilbo nearly 108, and Sam is 18 (about 19, 69 and 12 in human years)
21 Halimath, 1398 SR
Frodo took the recipe box down from its shelf and thumbed through it, humming eagerly as he searched for Bilbo's favorite strawberry truffle recipe. He was going to make the delectable treats as his birthday present to Bilbo, and he wanted to get it done before his young cousins arrived tomorrow. He would have no time to bake once they arrived and, even worse, they would likely attempt to help him if he waited.
Not that he would have minded the right kind of help. He had never really baked anything on his own before, having always relied on Bilbo to tell him how much of this or when to stop pouring that. Before that, at Brandy Hall, there was an entire kitchen staff working nonstop and no need for him to bake or cook anything. And before that, well, he had been his mother's helper, too young to be trusted with anything more complicated than handing her what she asked for. Yet Frodo felt confident he could manage a few truffles on his own. All he had to do was gather the required ingredients and follow the recipe. How hard could that be?
"Ah," he exclaimed at last and pulled out the desired recipe. Belladonna's Truffles. He pulled the card from the box and frowned. This dish required far more ingredients than he remembered and had several more steps as well. But no matter. He read over the instructions and it seemed simple enough. As long as he took it step by step, he should be able to manage things easily and might even be done by lunch.
He put the recipe box back on its shelf and went to gather the required items from the pantries.
In the study, Bilbo looked over Sam's work while the lad waited nervously in his wooden chair, sitting up straight as a board, his hands folded in his lap. Sam bit his lower lip nervously and studied the old hobbit's studious face. Even after all these years as Bilbo's pupil, Sam still became uncertain of his abilities when the older hobbit sat down to grade his work. Sam always watched Bilbo carefully for signs of what he might be thinking, but Bilbo Baggins was not an easy study and the young gardener could never guess what was going through his employer's mind at any given moment. All he could be certain of was that Bilbo would be kind, whatever his critique might be.
Bilbo lifted his quill from the inkwell and scraped the nib of any excess ink. He bent over the page in front of him and, after underlining a few grammatical errors, he made a few quick notes in the margins. This was what Bilbo did. He added comments or questions where a fact was overlooked or where he felt something could be expanded or explained a little clearer. His notes could be quite random at times and usually said things like, 'Why did Gil Galad feel this way?' or 'What is the proper consistency of pancake batter? Describe!' or even 'Needs a song!'
Sam did his best to make the corrections. He didn't feel he could properly assume why a great Elven lord would feel a certain way, but Frodo usually had good insights for things like that. Explaining pancake batter was easy enough, but Sam struggled with poetry. He simply looked for rhymes and counted syllables on his fingers, relying on Bilbo to tell him where the cadence was off or didn't flow correctly.
"There you go, lad," Bilbo exclaimed cheerily and plopped the quill back in the inkwell. He shook the page dry and looked at Sam fondly. "You're progressing marvelously, Sam. In fact, I shouldn't be surprised to have you speaking Elvish by the end of the year."
Sam widened his eyes excitedly at this. Him? Learn to speak like one of the Elves? He nodded fervently, his nervousness forgotten. Bilbo studied him a few moments longer and handed the page over. Sam took it without even looking.
"Here's your first word, and it's the most important one you can know," Bilbo said, leaning forward over his desk with a fierce whisper and a sparkle in his eye. Sam held his breath and concentrated intently on Bilbo's careful pronunciation. "It is mellon, and it means 'friend'. Go on Sam, say it."
Sam licked his lips and cleared his throat. He tried to shape his mouth the way Bilbo had and did his best to mute his rough accent into the lyrical one he had just heard. "Mal-long," he said bashfully and shook his head at the sound of it. It was shameful to his ears.
"Well done!" Bilbo exclaimed and patted Sam's knee reassuringly. "It's a difficult language to learn. Even Frodo struggles with it still. But I'll tell you what I tell him: just think of it as music, like singing a song. You'll pick it up in no time, you'll see."
Sam smiled gratefully for the encouragement. "Thank you, Mr. Bilbo," he said and finally risked glancing down at his paper on The Water. 'How deep is Bywater Pool?' and 'How many times can a rock skip across the Pool?' were the pressing questions of the day. Sam knew the second answer easily enough, but the first one he had no desire to know. He certainly wasn't going into the Pool to find out for himself.
"Make the corrections and bring your finalized essay to your next session on Sterday," Bilbo instructed, dismissing Sam from his studies.
Sam bounced off his chair and bowed formally. "Yes sir, Mr. Bilbo," he said softly and padded quietly out of the study, closing the door soundlessly behind him. He was grateful to leave the small, clustered, dimly lit room for the rest of the smial, which spread out spacious and pristine before him. He breathed deeply and relaxed for the first time that morning.
Sam stood in the tunnel and perked his ears attentively. He heard nothing beyond the ruffling of paper behind the closed study door, but he could feel Frodo's presence somewhere about the smial. He knew the most likely place to find Frodo was either the library or the kitchen. Being as it was so close to elevenses, Sam headed for the kitchen first, guessing that Frodo would likely be preparing tea and a light snack. What he found instead was Bilbo's young cousin standing at the counter, unceremoniously plopping an armload of various ingredients onto the counter.
"Drat it!" Frodo swore when the loosely tied bag of confectioner's sugar spilt its contents over the counter. He started straightened up the mess, unaware of his audience.
Sam paused, surprised to hear Frodo swear, even so mild a word as that. He never knew that gentlehobbits said such words. He padded silently into the kitchen and placed his tablet on the table next to his little bag of study things. "Good day, Master Frodo," Sam said amiably and went to help Frodo sweep up the sugar and dump it back into its bag.
"Hullo Sam. Thank you, lad," Frodo greeted. He opened the cupboards and started pulling out the mixing bowls and cookie sheets he would need. "How was your lesson today? I hope Bilbo didn't ask you to list all the homesteads in Hobbiton and Bywater alphabetically again. Between you and me, I think he's running out of learning material."
"No sir, he didn't," Sam said with a smile. "But he's wanting to know how deep Bywater Pool is. Do you know how deep it is, sir?"
Frodo paused in the middle of fishing the double boiler from the back of the cupboard and looked up at Sam from his squatted position on the floor. "How deep? Whatever would he want to know that for?" he asked and went back to pushing aside pots and pans until he could slide the boiler from its hiding place deep inside the cupboard. He cradled the boiler in both hands and stood up to set it carefully upon the stove, then closed the cupboard door. Now, what else did he need? Ah! Utensils.
"He asked me to write a paper 'bout The Water, and I mentioned the Pool, sir," Sam answered and eyed the items sitting upon the counter. He could see white chocolate and ground ginger root, almonds, strawberries, cream cheese, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla wafers. He snuck a peek at the recipe card while Frodo was busy setting up the boiler.
"I managed to reach the bottom once," Frodo said distractedly as he filled the bottom boiler with water and put the white chocolate in the top boiler. He stooped down again to prepare a fire for the hearth. "I ran out of breath right when I reached it and almost thought I wouldn't make it back to the surface. I've never tried it again. Imagine how upset Bilbo would be if I managed to drown myself? He'd never forgive me. I would guess it's about thirty feet deep."
Sam widened his eyes at this, unable to imagine such depth and not wanting to either. Entering the Pool was a frightening enough prospect without that knowledge. "Thank you, sir," he managed at last, and picked up a knife to start cutting off the tops of the strawberries. "You're making truffles then, Master Frodo?"
"I am," Frodo announced proudly, setting the last of the logs in place. He picked up the striker and set the tender ablaze. "They're Bilbo's favorites, so I'm making them for our birthday."
"Daisy's got these strawberry fudge truffles as she makes," Sam said. "They're right good."
"They sound good," Frodo commented as the fire blazed to full life. He latched the bottom boiler to the top boiler and hung it over the fire as Sam finished with the strawberries. He then took the knife away from Sam without comment and studied the recipe again.
Sam took the hint and sat at the table, not wanting to get in Frodo's way. Instead, he flipped to a clean page in his writing tablet and started working on his final essay, watching from the corner of his eye as Frodo began measuring things out and placing them in the mixing bowl. Eight ounces of softened cream cheese, four cups of confectioner's sugar, a teaspoon of ginger root. Mixing and beating the items together into one smooth cream was hard work and Frodo was beginning to sweat by the time the white chocolate was melted and ready to be added to the mixture. The heat from the chocolate helped the final mixing go faster and Frodo took the mixture down to the lower cellar to chill.
While Frodo was gone, a rattling and call sounded at the garden gate. Sam jumped up and ran over to the kitchen window. There at the gate stood Frank Hornbeam, a craftsman from Bywater, and he had the wood beams Gaffer had ordered for some repairs that needed to be made to the fence. Gaffer came out from around the other side of the smial and ambled down the garden path to let Hornbeam in. They stood at the gate and spoke for a while, and even though Sam couldn't hear anything they said, he was glad to see his father taking a break.
"What are the birds doing?" Frodo said, coming up behind Sam so suddenly he startled the young gardener. "Sorry Sam, but what are you looking at? Are the hummingbirds back?"
"No, the wood's here," Sam answered and turned to leave. He put his things in his bag and set it under the table out of the way, where Bilbo let him store it until after work. "I'd best be going and helping me Gaffer."
"Very well," Frodo agreed, hiding his disappointment to be losing Sam's company so soon. "Be careful, and if those beams are too heavy for you, I want you to come get me. That's an order, Samwise."
"Yes sir," Sam said and took his leave.
Frodo watched the young gardener as he dashed down the tunnel to the back door and then watched from the window as Sam ran down the path to the gate. He watched long enough to make sure that Sam and Hamfast were indeed up to the task of carting the beams to the far side of the garden. He was heartened to see Hornbeam stay to help them.
With everything secure outside, he went back to his truffles. According to the recipe, he now had to scoop out the center of each strawberry and fill them with minced crystallized ginger. "Minced crystallized ginger?" Frodo said. He had somehow overlooked that particular ingredient earlier. He went back to the pantry to hunt down the final ingredient.
Frodo reluctantly stuck his head into the study. He had scoured the pantries top to bottom for crystallized ginger and couldn't find any. He hoped desperately that they hadn't run out, as it was not something he could merely go into town and pick up at market. This was the only recipe Frodo was aware of that called for the ingredient, and going to market to ask for ginger sugar would only get him a small bag of ginger roots and another bag of plain sugar.
"Yes, Frodo my lad?" Bilbo said, looking up from his writings.
"Do we not have any crystallized ginger?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Frodo," Bilbo exclaimed. "I did manage to procure some fresh ginger roots a few weeks ago and I've been meaning to make some more sugar out of it, but you know how things just slip from my mind. Give me but a minute, and I'll be out to help you."
"But Bilbo, you can't make your own birthday present," Frodo said, dismayed at the thought. "I can make it. Is the recipe in the box?"
"It is, but it's a long and delicate process, Frodo," Bilbo warned. "I know you want to do this all by yourself, but there's really no need to while I'm here."
Bilbo studied Frodo's determined face and knew that any effort on his part to help would crush the lad's spirits. Maybe he could go out and fetch Sam in a few minutes. Frodo wouldn't mind his young friend helping him and Bilbo would be able to consult with Hamfast about the potato garden while he was out there.
"Very well then lad. Just remember, it must be cooked very slowly, so do it over the hot plate on the oven and read the instructions thoroughly before you begin," Bilbo advised. "The ginger roots are in the orange satchel next to the green beans."
"Thank you, Bilbo." Frodo grinned and walked back to the pantries. He had seen the satchel during his search but hadn't looked to see what was in it. Bilbo was often bringing home all sorts of odd things from his wanderings and Frodo had learned long ago not to ask about them, for the answers were often longer than he cared to listen to.
Hornbeam left after the last of the beams was hauled to the fence. Four water-rotted beams needed replacing on the fence and Hamfast wanted the job done before company arrived tomorrow. Sam got to work cutting the fastenings and axing the old beams in half where they sat upon the gateposts, to make them easier to carry for later. Hamfast meanwhile went to the tool shed to retrieve a new coil of rope and met Sam again at the fence.
Fitting the new beams into place and fastening them securely to the gateposts went quickly enough. When the job was finished, they hauled the old beams to the chopping block and made quick work of cutting them down to hearth-log size. Then the two gardeners took their lunch on the porch, looking out over the Party Field and enjoying their meal in companionable silence.
"So, how're yer lessons a going today, Sam?" Gaffer asked after a while.
"I learned me an Elvish word," Sam said, his face lighting up with excitement. "Though I can't say it right, but it means friend."
"And, what it is then?"
Sam closed his eyes and concentrated on saying the word correctly. Then he remembered what Bilbo said about thinking of it as a song and he thought of what the word would sound like if he sung it. He didn't sing it of course, as he had no voice for singing, but he was surprised when the word came effortlessly from his lips. "Mellon." He grinned at his father again, beaming brighter than the sun.
"Hmm," Gaffer hummed noncommittally, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. He could never resist his son's smiles and it was forever his downfall. No wonder the lad got away with so much more than his brothers and sisters ever did, even learning to read and write.
He didn't admit it to many, but he was proud of the fact that Sam could read. It pained him as much as Sam that the lad was having to devote less and less time to his studies as his duties in the gardens increased, but there was no helping the fact that Hamfast was quickly becoming too old to do the job. He knew he'd have to retire soon enough. That meant Sam would have to give up his studies for good, and that'd have to be soon if he were to learn everything he needed to know to take over the gardens full time.
Hamfast kept putting off the day he would have to break that news to Sam, but he wouldn't be able to do so much longer, especially now that Mr. Bilbo had got it in his head to teach the lad Elvish. Crazy about tales of the Elves Sam was, but knowing how to talk like them would do the lad little good. For Sam's own sake, Hamfast would have to cut these lessons short and do it soon, before Sam could get too worked up about it all. He would have to see about speaking to Mr. Bilbo before the day was out.
"Well lad," he finally said and stood up to stretch his back, facing away from his son. "Time to be getting the beds weeded and the rose bushes dead-headed."
"Yes Gaffer," Sam said and packed up the remains of their lunch.
Sam stood up and was getting ready to follow after his father when the front door swung open and Bilbo came out. The old hobbit held a finger to his lips to silence the lad's ready greeting and closed the door quietly behind him.
"Sam, do me a favor, will you lad?" Bilbo asked.
Frodo felt like crying, or at the very least pouting.
He had skinned the roots and removed what he figured must be the "secondary knobs" that the instructions had said to remove. He was fairly certain there were no discolored or dried spots, and after staring at the roots for much too long, he could only hope he was correct. That decision made, he had easily enough sliced the roots and had used a fork to punch holes into the slices.
He started the fire in the oven, keeping in mind what Bilbo said about being careful and going slow. He knew this was the only ginger they had and if he ruined this, then all of his efforts would be for nothing. He was suddenly wishing he hadn't insisted on doing this himself, but he couldn't possibly go to Bilbo now. Besides, he could do this. He knew he could.
He kept the fire low at first and sat a frying pan on the hot plate. He filled it with water and added the ginger roots and two cups of sugar. He watched the pan attentively, adding a few more logs of wood when he felt it was safe, and waited for the water to simmer. Now all Frodo had to do was stir occasionally and keep the roots separated until the syrup formed and started to crystallize.
He relaxed somewhat and was feeling confident enough about the process to start scooping the centers out of the strawberries, keeping an eye on the frying pan as he worked. There were twenty juicy sweet strawberries in all and Frodo went slowly with the first few until he got the hang of scooping out the centers. He was patting the strawberries dry when the sound of the happily boiling water reached his ears.
Panicking, he grabbed the frying pan to remove it from the heat but failed to grab a dishtowel before he did so. The handle scorched his hand and he dropped the pan, which crashed to the floor with a scalding splash. Frodo jumped out of the way, wincing from both the pain in his hand and the sound of the pan slamming onto the tile floor. He begged the floor not to be chipped or cracked and realized he couldn't exactly go to investigate. He stood at the edge of the mess, blowing on his hand and staring bemusedly at the floor, all his efforts gone to waste.
And that was how Sam found him.
The first thing Sam noticed was the mess. The second thing Sam noticed was Frodo's frustrated and dejected expression. The third thing he noticed was Frodo's glowing pink hand.
"Sir, you're hurt!" Sam exclaimed and carefully stepped over to his friend's side. He took Frodo's hand and looked at the palm critically.
"Oh Sam," Frodo said, still staring down at the mess. "It was only supposed to simmer but then it started boiling and now it's all gone to wreck."
"Your hand, sir," Sam said, trying to emphasize the injury and not caring a bit about the mess on the floor. "Put your hand in the wash water. It's clean and cool." He steered Frodo over to the washbasin and stuck the older hobbit's hand into the water. "Keep it there, I'm going to get Mr. Bilbo."
"No, don't bother Bilbo," Frodo said, still frowning at the mess. He noted that, miraculously, half of the mixture was still in the frying pan. Maybe this wasn't a complete disaster after all. "Just get a mop for me please and then maybe I'll be able to salvage the ginger."
"But you're hurt," Sam started to protest.
"Really, Sam, I'm fine," Frodo insisted and pulled his hand from the water as evidence. The burn was already beginning to fade. "See? Good as new. Now go get a mop. There's a good lad."
Sam retrieved the mop from the kitchenette as Frodo grabbed a dishtowel and leaned over to put the frying pan back on the hot plate. He opened the oven and used the hearth tongs to move a few of the burning logs to the hearth. When Sam returned, he took the mop and quickly cleaned the mess, sighing with relief to see that no damage was done to the floor.
Sam watched the older hobbit from the entryway and noticed that while Frodo was gripping the mop securely with his left hand, his burned right hand was being minimally used. Frodo finished cleaning and leaned the mop against the wall, wincing as he released the handle. Sam shook his head and stepped forward.
"You need to be keeping that in the water, sir," Sam insisted and stuck Frodo's hand back into the basin, not caring a stitch about propriety at the moment. "I'm fetching Mr. Bilbo."
"Sam," Frodo started, his turn to protest now.
"Master Frodo, didn't you want me to come get you if me and Gaffer couldn't handle that wood by ourselves?" Sam asked, his arms crossed in front of his chest.
"Well, yes but-"
"I'm sorry to say it, sir, but you've got yourself in a right mess here, meaning no disrespect, so I'm going to get Mr. Bilbo because that's what he'd want, and he is me master, sir." And with that Sam was out of the kitchen, down the tunnel and out the door.
Frodo sighed and swished the water with his injured hand. He had to admit that the cool water felt wonderful to his scorched hand, but he couldn't reach the oven from here. He grabbed a dishcloth that hung on the wall above the basin and soaked it, then wrapped it about his hand, trying not to feel like a fool and a failure.
His very first effort to prepare something by himself, to prove to Bilbo that he could take care of himself so the old hobbit wouldn't worry about him so much, and look what happened. Why hadn't he watched the water more carefully? Bilbo had told him to be vigilant. Now the ginger roots were most likely wasted and the strawberry truffles were just as good as wasted also, and he would have nothing to give Bilbo tomorrow on their birthday.
"Frodo!" Bilbo's worried voice rent through the smial.
Bilbo ran into the kitchen, Hamfast close behind, and headed straight for his young cousin. Frodo held out his injured hand without being asked and Bilbo removed the cloth to examine it closely, then sighed with relief. The burn was mild and would not cause any discomfort beyond a day or two. A nod and a grunt from the Gaffer told him the gardener agreed. Bilbo wrapped the cloth back around Frodo's palm and pointedly steered the lad over to the table and sat him down.
"Bilbo, the sugar," Frodo said. "I could make it still."
"Never mind that, lad," Bilbo said, his voice kind but stern. "Your hand is what's important here."
Frodo sighed in defeat and nodded. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry about what, lad?" Bilbo said. "Never be sorry for accidents, just learn to think better the next time."
"You'll be needing to put some aloe on that," Gaffer said, moving the frying pan off the oven and sitting it on the counter until someone could attend to it properly. "Though I'm sure Mistress Camellia will tell you as much when Sam gets back with her."
"You sent for the healer?" Frodo asked.
"Of course I did," Bilbo said. "Now, let's get you to the parlor. Come on, lad. Master Hamfast, if you please, go outside and let Sam and Camellia know where we are when they get here."
"Aye, Mr. Bilbo."
Gaffer left to wait by the gate and Bilbo led a grumbling and reluctant Frodo to the parlor.
An hour later, Frodo's hand was treated and bandaged, a salve-soaked cloth pressed tightly to the wound under the healer's wrapping. She had also left some creams and teas for Frodo's use that would promote healing and noted that, ironically enough, ginger juice worked quite well on burns also. Frodo had managed to laugh convincingly at that in his cousin's presence, but as soon as Bilbo stepped outside to have a word with Hamfast about the potato garden, Frodo's cheerful countenance fell into gloom.
"Are you all right, Master Frodo?" Sam asked as he and Frodo made their way back to the kitchen. "Are you mad at me?"
Frodo looked down at the younger hobbit's worried face and smiled ruefully. "No, I'm not mad at you, Sam. I'm mad at myself. Look at me. I'm nearly of age and I couldn't even manage to make truffles by myself. I'm hopeless."
"Well, that's not exactly true, sir. You were making them truffles just fine. It was the ginger sugar you messed up, and no mistake," Sam pointed out.
Frodo's smile widened into a genuine grin despite himself. "I suppose you're right about that. As long as I stay away from boiling water, I'll be fine."
"But then you won't be able to be making your teas," Sam said, grinning now also.
"And so there we are again," Frodo countered, "with me back to being useless."
Frodo sobered at that and Sam kept quiet, feeling that Frodo wouldn't be very receptive to encouragement just then. Frodo put the mop away and Sam stepped over to the stove to see what could be done with the partially cooked concoction. The sugar and ginger syrup had cooled to form a thin film over the water but it looked salvageable enough.
"If we heat this up, we might be able to make the sugar yet, sir," Sam said. He added more wood to the oven and poked the glowing embers into flames. Frodo came to stand beside him and they watched as the water began to simmer again, Sam stirring the water until the sugary film dissolved back into the liquid. "Go down to the cellar and grab that cheese cream as you made earlier. It's gotten hard by now and we'll need to be letting it thaw a bit. By the time that's soft, this should be ready."
"Are you certain, Sam?" Frodo asked hopefully.
"I am, sir," Sam said. "And if I'm no wrong, we could always melt some caramel and use that instead."
Caramel? Now why hadn't Frodo thought of that? Shaking his head at his own foolishness, he went down to the cellar, trusting Sam with the ginger.
Sam turned out to be quite correct. They kept a close eye on the water, standing almost directly over the stove the whole time. Frodo was still feeling less than adequate as a cook, so Sam passed the time with various stories of his own disasters in the kitchen, or that of his siblings or father. Sam even admitted to burning two batches of cookies right in a row just last week. This cheered Frodo to no end, knowing that even accomplished cooks could make mistakes.
Sam let Frodo do all the work, staying mostly for support and guidance. For his part, Frodo managed the last of the cooking with no mishaps and only a few hesitations. Once the ginger slices were crystallized, Frodo scooped them out of the water and set them aside to cool.
Now came the job of scraping the crystals off the slices. Sam and Frodo found this easy enough, using forks to remove the crystals. Frodo found the mortar and pestle and ground the crystals into sugar. Sam tasted it, considering the result carefully before nodding his approval.
The majority of the sugar was stored away for later use, but Sam and Frodo carefully stuffed the insides of the strawberries with a good quarter of it. Frodo had a bit of difficulty with this task. His bandaged hand didn't allow him to handle the spoon as deftly as he was used to. Switching to his left hand didn't help speed up the process, as he wasn't used to doing such things with that hand, but he managed it well enough and Sam worked slowly to allow Frodo to keep up.
Frodo again had trouble when it came to molding the cheese around the strawberries. He couldn't risk dirtying his bandages, and working the cheese into a soft and pliant blanket for the strawberries was slow and tedious work with just one hand. Sam eventually took over the job and Frodo made use of the mortar and pestle again to ground the almonds and vanilla wafers. He mixed these together, then he and Sam rolled the truffles in the mixture for the finishing touch. They placed the truffles on the cookie sheets and then Sam took them back down to the lower cellar to keep them chilled until the next day.
When Sam came back, he found Frodo sitting at the table, nibbling hungrily on the remaining cheese. Realizing Frodo must be hungry from never eating elevenses or lunch, Sam started to set about making an early tea, but Frodo stopped him before he could get too far.
"You've done enough, lad. I can at least make tea with no need of help," Frodo said lightly. "I'm not completely useless."
"You're not useless at all, Master Frodo," Sam said before he could think better of it. "You just need the proper know how is all. I reckon Mr. Bilbo's too busy to teach you like he should, but I can, if you want."
"You'll do that?" Frodo asked.
"Of course, sir," Sam said. "You'll learn in no time is my guess, and you'll be cooking like it's as natural as breathing before long."
"Thank you, Sam," Frodo said and smiled warmly at the young hobbit, feeling better already.
Later that day, when Sam came in to retrieve his book bag, Frodo brought up three of the truffles for them and Bilbo to share together. Frodo was relieved that they turned out as delicious as he remembered them and Bilbo threatened to polish them all off before the night was done. Sam could only hum appreciatively and took as much time as he could to finish the treat. Then he had to go. He waved good night to the masters and ran outside to join his father at the gate.
"Sam, I need to be speaking a word with 'ee," Hamfast said gravely as the two gardeners made their way down the Hill.
"What is it, Gaffer?" Sam asked, beaming up at his father.
Gaffer pointedly looked ahead at the lane. He cleared his throat and drew a steadying breath. "'Ee know as it's getting harder for me to be doing the gardening, and I'm counting on 'ee to take over for me one day. 'Ee want that, don't 'ee?"
"Oh yes, Gaffer, very much so."
"There's a lot you'll still be needin' to learn 'bout gardening then, if you're to be ready when the time comes," Hamfast continued, delaying the final news as long as he could. "I can't be learning 'ee when you're in with yer studying and there's not much more as Mr. Bilbo can be teaching 'ee anyway." He paused and cleared his throat again, noting that Sam kept quiet at his side rather than interjecting a comment like he usually did. "I spoke with Mr. Bilbo today. After 'ee finish with yer studies for this month, that'll be it. Understand lad?"
Silence. Then a barely audible, "Yes sir."
Hamfast risked a glance down at his son but could only see the sandy-haired top of his bowed head. He reached down and patted that head gently. "I'm right sorry for it lad, but we don't got the luxury o' learnin' books all day like some folk do. We need to be working for a living and knowing all them tales won't put food on the table."
Sam nodded. He did understand, and he had been expecting this to happen sooner or later, but it didn't make it hurt any less. And he did want to be as good a gardener as his father one day if he could, especially if it meant being able to remain Bag End's gardener. Then he remembered his promise to Frodo. He looked up at his father beseechingly and tugged on his hand until the old hobbit looked down again. "I promised Master Frodo I'd learn him to cook. Can I still do that?"
"Aye lad, after we put the flowerbeds down for winter and the harvests are finished up, 'ee can help young Master Frodo," Hamfast said. "I can't ask 'ee to be breaking a promise, now can I?"
"Thank you, sir," Sam said with relief, then thought of something. "Do you think, if he were to tell me some Elvish while I'm learning him to cook, that'd be all right?" Sam asked hopefully and turned his big brown eyes on his father, pouting ever so slightly, which he was really too old to do anymore, but it still worked.
Gaffer sighed, defeated. "That'd be 'tween 'ee and him," he grumbled and was rewarded with another beaming smile.
"Thank you, Gaffer!" Sam said and hugged his father's waist tightly, preventing the older hobbit from walking for a moment.
They reached the gate to Number Three, Bagshot Row and Hamfast smiled fondly down at his youngest son, chuckling softly. Spoiled to the core Sam was, and all the sweeter for it.
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