West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive



The Making of Samwise
A history of Samwise Gamgee's life as he grows into his destiny.
Author: Bill The Pony
Rating: NC-17


The appointed day of the duel dawned clear and hot, the first real day of the season to feel like summer, with puffy white clouds sailing majestically through a brassy blue sky. Sam could all but hear the leaves soaking up the heavy sunshine, their soft spring green beginning to turn dark and glossy with vigorous health. He checked the weather anxiously through the smial's single glazed window, which overlooked his family's little plot of beans and taters. He'd hoped for rain-- for anything that might delay the fight-- but none seemed to be forthcoming.

He sighed, resigned to the inevitable, and lit the fire so his sisters could fry up a bit of sausage to tuck between hunks of bread and cheese. The Cottons were coming by to pick them up in a waggon, and everyone would ride to Michel Delving together-- not just him and Rosie with Frodo, this time.

All of Hobbiton was sure to turn up, and half the surrounding countryside as well. Sam reckoned there'd be a crowd of Bagginses and their connexions from all the way to Bree, with all the Brandybucks and Tooks that could make the trip thrown in for good measure.

"Don't wear that rag of a shirt," Daisy scolded him. "That's fit for the garden, that is. Wear summat fittin' your place aside the master."

Sam flushed, still unable to believe he was Frodo's chosen lieutenant, for all he'd spent the first half of last week teaching Mr. Frodo a bit about using his fists. The last half, ever since he overheard Mr. Bilbo's scornful words, he'd kept out from underfoot as much as possible while still doing enough work for two hobbits-- as of nightfall yesterday, there was naught to do about Bag End but wipe shelves and crocks with a cloth that came away as white and fresh as before he used it.

Sam went back to his room and changed into his best shirt and weskit, with breeches to match-- clothes he usually kept back for parties. He reckoned he'd rather be setting out to a party than a fight any day of the week, but that's just what he wasn't getting.

By the time he was done fastening his cuffs and putting on his coat, the Gaffer was up, scolding and chattering according to his custom, and May was giving him a bit of sauce in return. Sam crept past them and out into the yard, standing amidst green grass trimmed close by his own hand. There was dew lying thick on the grass to wet his toes. He glanced up towards Bag End, where nothing was stirring, and tugged at his collar, already feeling the sun beating down uncomfortably on his good coat, which was dark and a bit heavier than everyday wear.

"Get on about it," the Gaffer chivvied Marigold, who bounced out the door bearing a rickety old wicker luncheon-basket, one of Mr. Bilbo's hand-me-downs.

"Morning, Sam." She eyed him critically. "You look nervous like it's you as is about to be fightin', not the Master."

"It ought to be," Sam answered her shortly. "Or rather, it shouldn't ought to have been in the first place, if you take my meaning." He could hear the rumble of a waggon coming up the Road. Squinting into the Sun, he could make out Farmer Cotton's old white mare just cresting the long pull out of Hobbiton and passing into the meadow. "Get back in and tell everyone the Cottons are coming over the rise." He took the luncheon-basket in his sweaty hand.

When Marigold reappeared, she had Daisy and May and the Gaffer in tow-- the Gaffer clutching a jug of cider and grousing quietly to himself about missing a day's work in the garden. Sam didn't pay him no mind, tugging at his collar and wishing he could open the top button.

Jolly pulled the horses up sharp as they drew level with Number Three, looking down at Sam from his perch atop the front bench. "Morning, Sam."

"Morning, Jolly." Sam put the basket in the back amidst a seething mass of Cotton lads and lasses. "Enough room for five more?"

"Just about," Mother Cotton puffed, hoisting a squirming babe onto her lap. "If we sit friendly-like."

"Come up here and help me drive, Sam." Jolly invited.

It would be cooler up front with Jolly, not to mention less dusty. Sam gave his sisters and his old Dad a hand up into the waggon's straw-padded bed and then climbed up to sit next to Jolly, who clucked at the horses and ruffled the reins enough to get them moving. They took the next fork in the Road and wound their way back down to Bywater, then took the turn towards Michel Delving.

"How's Himself?" Jolly asked quietly, voice hardly rising over the row in the back of the waggon.

"Set to stand by his word, and as stubborn as the day is long," Sam muttered back.

"Can he stand his ground, you think?"

Sam hesitated. "Aye." Perhaps he could. Not against Sam or Jolly, nor most other working hobbits Sam knew, and maybe not even against Mr. Merry, who was lightning quick and didn't lack for clever trickery, but Mr. Lotho wasn't like any of those. He was soft and lazy, and even if he was bigger, it was just possible Mr. Frodo could take him in a fair fight. But if Mr. Lotho didn't fight fair... he chewed his lip, anxious. Fighting fair was just the sort of thing it seemed Lotho Pimple wouldn't do, and that was a fact.

Sam sighed, wiping his sweaty forehead and wishing the cart could move a little quicker; he wanted a breeze, but there was none to be had. The load was a heavy and a precious one, the mare was old and placid, and they had plenty of time.

Mr. Frodo hadn't spoke to him much since the morning he took Mr. Bilbo's scolding; he'd been quiet and spent his time with Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin and Mr. Fredegar instead. They'd wrestled and fought and journeyed with him, getting him whipped into shape-- or Merry and Pippin had; Mr. Fredegar mostly sat about taking care of any food left over from the previous meal.

Sam squinted up into the Sun. It weren't exactly how he'd hoped to pass the week, but at least he'd not had time to brood as he kept himself busy working twice as hard as ever. What with his own wish to seem worth his keep on top of Mr. Bilbo's determination to keep him occupied, he'd hardly let his shirttail touch his backside, and that was a fact.

Another rumble, lighter and accompanied by a light clipping of hooves, roused him from his reverie, and he nudged Jolly to pull aside as a pony trap passed them, making good time.

As the morning wore on, they had to pull to the side and stop another half-dozen times to let quicker carts pass, all of them headed the same way. The sun was rising high by the time they came within sight of Michel Delving. Sam hadn't ever seen so many hobbits milling about in one spot: the green seethed so thick with them he could have walked on top of their heads all the way from the center of town to the little brook that meandered along the outskirts of the wide common field-- without ever having to hop or jump. Even the few trees hung thick with youngsters who'd climbed up for a sight of the proceedings, dangling like ripe, laughing fruit from every bough.

There was no way so many people could get a sight of the fighting, and poor families like the Cottons and the Gamgees had the worst of it, elbowed to the very outer edge of the field, where many of them stood atop the beds of their waggons and shaded their eyes beneath their hands, squinting and stretching for a sight of the action. None of them could see a thing, but Sam knew that wasn't no matter. Every one of them, or near enough, would tell the tale of the fight the next day just as though they'd been right up front to watch it happen from the very first row.

Jolly pulled the cart over to a likely-looking spot on the roadside, and he caught Sam's eye. "Mam won't be needing me till we set out home, I reckon, or at least it seems you might need me more," Jolly looked at Sam, speculative. "It'll take the two of us to get you through that crowd, I'll warrant."

"Where do you reckon we ought to make for?" Sam was frankly daunted by the prospect. He hadn't had a chance to ask Mr. Frodo where he'd be wanted, seeing as how Mr. Bilbo had stuck so close alongside him all through the week.

"Don't you know?" Jolly laughed. "Well, right where they're thickest, I'll warrant. Out front of the Mayor's office, mayhap."

They set forth with considerable determination, ignoring minor obstacles like sharp words and stepped-on toes, along with the occasional thump of an old gammer's elbow to Sam's ribs as they eased past her. By the time they made it to the green they were puffing and tired, wiping sweat, but still intact, for the most part.

Once they were there, it was easy enough to pick out where to go-- Mr. Gandalf stood head and shoulders above anybody else, standing next to Mr. Bilbo's pony carriage. Mr. Bilbo sat on the driver's bench under its tidy awning, clad in his best brocade waistcoat and looking severe.

Sam spied Mr. Frodo waiting next to the carriage, Pippin and Merry at his side offering competing advice in shrill tones. Sam pushed through the last few onlookers, earning a sharp word or two and one solid thump across his arm from an umbrella, but he didn't mind it; his eyes were all for his master. Frodo glanced up at Sam, the worry on his face softening to welcome. "I was afraid you couldn't make it through the crowd, Sam. We came along before dawn; none of us could sleep, it seems."

Sam nodded; he hadn't slept so well either, what with worrying and all. "Well, I'm here," he said unnecessarily but stoutly, and stepped forward, uncomfortably conscious of Mr. Bilbo's flat stare.

"That's all we were waiting for," Pippin chirped up. "Lotho's here already, and Ted." He nodded across the Road to the little knot that made up Lotho's party. Lotho blustered back and forth between his supporters and his seconds with his bare chest puffed out, wasting his energy-- more fool he.

Sam's mouth curled in a humorless smile. Good; let him prance about. They'd just see whether he was fit to do any strutting after.

Mayor Whitfoot looked to them and received Frodo's determined nod in return; he quickly set shirriffs to running stray hobbits out of the roped square where the fight was to take place. "Clear the way!" The shout heralded three stout fellows bearing yokes and buckets; three were set in either corner.

Sam pushed the rope down and Mr. Frodo climbed across it, then Sam followed; when he looked up, Mr. Lotho was struggling over the rope with rather less grace.

They faced off across the square, and Sam watched with alarm as Mr. Frodo unfastened his shirt-- short, square fingers with nails bitten right to the quick, flicking buttons open as calmly as though he were in his own bedroom back up at Bag End, not in the middle of a field in Michel Delving with what seemed half the Shire looking on.

Sam flushed; this was something Mr. Frodo didn't do very often, not even in the privacy of Bag End; he near never unbuttoned his shirt in front of Sam, but here, in the light, he was revealed for all to see.

His chest was narrow and very pale, nipples dark pink like the secret hollow of a shell from the faraway seaside. He looked unbearably fragile, but there were hints of sinew in his narrow wrists and arms, unexpected, and his hands were strong. Sam judged him lithe and quick, perhaps even more so than he'd hoped in comparison to Lotho. A trail of sweat gleamed on Mr. Frodo's ribs, the only evidence of his nerves; he stood slim and upright, waiting for the Mayor's signal.

By contrast, Mr. Lotho's body was built heavy-- he had a belly that stuck out over his belt courtesy of too many mugs of beer at too many taverns, and ample hobbit mealtimes without enough walking.

Sam nodded to himself, grimly satisfied; Lotho would be slow and quick to tire. He didn't cut much of a figure next to Frodo, either, not in Sam's opinion-- without his shirt on, he showed how well he'd earned his nickname: blemishes scarred his skin, angry red and fading purple, scattered amidst a few wisps of greasy hair on his chest and across his shoulders. His white skin looked pasty to Sam's eyes; it had none of the ivory-carved perfection of Frodo's.

However, Lotho's shoulders were wider than Frodo's, and he had a certain virtue of strength gained just by moving his greater bulk through the day. His thighs had plenty of sturdy muscle on them, and his fists had a worrisome bulk, at least to Sam's eye.

Sam bit his tongue, smothering a belated plea for his master to see reason. It wouldn't do no good, judging from the hard set of Frodo's jaw. It wouldn't be proper to talk up in front of all these people nohow; it would just make the rumor mill turn the faster. Besides, over there stood Mr. Bilbo himself, and if he had naught to say about the situation, then it weren't for the likes of Sam Gamgee to go putting himself forward, be he the cause of the fight or be he no.

Mr. Frodo tossed his shirt to Sam to hold and Sam smoothed it fretfully, then passed it to Mr. Merry and caught Ted Sandyman's eye, setting a warning expression on his face. It'd be just like that Ted to try to cause mischief, and Sam weren't having none of it.

Mayor Whitfoot raised his arms, commanding silence, and the forwardmost hobbits let their voices fall to a hum; it was the best it seemed he was getting, and he took advantage of it.

"This duel by fisticuffs will begin when I drop my kerchief and go till one of you begs mercy or can't get up to fight. Nobody pass over the rope; seconds can't step in until both fighters agree to rest." He looked about the crowd, almost seeming reluctant to start the fight, and Sam followed his gaze as it passed over dozens, if not hundreds, of hobbits eager for a show.

There was also a small and unexpected party of dwarves in the throng, not that much taller than the tallest hobbits but hooded and more than a bit conspicuous, what with their long grey beards poking out. They weren't the only foreign folk, neither. Old Mr. Gandalf had stepped up to the rope and stood towering above the rest of the assembly, leaning on his staff with his keen eyes glinting under the brim of his hat. Mr. Bilbo had come down off the cart and stood next to him, rocking back and forth on his heels with his face set in a fine expression of annoyed disapproval.

Sam turned his eyes away from them barely in time to see the red kerchief fall fluttering towards the dusty grass. With a growl, Mr. Lotho set his heels and lunged at Frodo.

Frodo danced aside lightly, apparently unperturbed, and Lotho straightened. His eyes narrowed as he turned to face Frodo again.

"Fisticuffs means fisticuffs," the Mayor warned. "Not wrestling." His voice was nearly lost in the hum of speculation from the excited hobbits-- like a swarm of angry, breathless bees, a sound Sam knew all too well. He could hear the sound of wagers being taken, too.

Lotho's hands flexed, his face setting with annoyance. He squared his feet. Sam grimaced. Lotho's next move would be smarter.

Sure enough, Lotho began to circle, moving around Frodo towards the right. Frodo turned lightly, watching him, eyes intent. He trampled the kerchief and kept moving, watching for an opening but apparently not finding one. Finally he stopped and raised his fists, squaring his body. Frodo mirrored him, face calm.

The crowd growled again, restless, in danger of growing bored.

"Call off the duel now, or I'll break that pretty face of yours," Lotho snarled, too quietly for more than the first rank or so to hear him.

"If you want to forego the duel, you're perfectly welcome to concede," Frodo replied, unruffled as a frozen pond in winter. Sam sucked a sharp breath at the taunt. Lotho's fist flew to answer and Frodo ducked aside. It clipped his hands, but didn't harm him.

"Stand still, you."

Frodo ignored both the jibe and the inevitable mutter from the crowd. Lotho's fist darted out again to buffet Frodo's defenses. Frodo staggered a little, making Sam's heart lurch halfway into his stomach. Encouraged, Lotho struck again. One, two! His heavy fists battered at Frodo's raised hands, making him stagger, leading him. The exchanged pulled his hands out, leaving a beautiful, tempting hole. Just a little more, just a--

Sam clenched his fists in worry even as Frodo lashed out. He caught Lotho a good blow under the left eye and danced back, guard raised. Lotho snarled and lunged at Frodo.

The scuffle flurried so fast Sam couldn't make it out. The Mayor shouted even as Frodo fell, tangled with his heavier cousin. Sam heard himself moan with worry, wringing his hands as the tangled thrashing mass of limbs tumbled over twice in the grass. They came to a stop with Frodo on the bottom, his belly flat against the dirt, pinned too tight to escape. But no; his head suddenly snapped back. Lotho gave a howl, toppling off and clutching at his face.

The world, which had seemed to Sam as though it stopped tight to hold its breath, started up again.

Mr. Frodo bounced up. His chest and belly were scratched and his trousers filthy, but aside from the scratches and a trickle of blood under his ear, he didn't seem hurt none.

The Mayor surged forward, puffing, and his florid, scowling face swung to regard Mr. Lotho. "Are you giving up, or have you got fight left in you yet?"

"He don't give up!" Ted yelled from the sideline. "I call for a rest!"

Sam hesitated, waiting for Frodo's judgment on the matter. Frodo nodded and stepped back, raising a hand to the back of his neck to rub off dirt and sweat and a drop or two of Lotho's blood. The trampling of the crowd through the morning had wallowed down the grass, leaving a good deal of dust exposed, and he was wearing his share of it.

Sam vaulted the rope. "Jolly, bring the water." The crowd chattered so loud he despaired of being heard-- laughter and more wagering.

Jolly must have seen what was needed, though, for he hoisted up a bucket and Sam took it, glad of the dipper that hung over its brim. Hastily he lifted it for his master.

"I thought he had me," Frodo panted, one hand rubbing gingerly at the crown of his head. He drank thirstily, gulping three swallows and pouring two over himself. Sam was so worried he couldn't spare the attention for its shimmer and sparkle on Frodo's fair skin.

"That's just what you'll have to watch out for," Sam would have wrung his hands if they weren't busy with the bucket. "It's pure luck you caught him with your head. He wasn't wary, but he will be the next time."

Frodo nodded, squinting up at the Sun, and shook himself a little, his jaw firming. "This time he'll be angry."

Dropping the dipper back in to the bucket, Frodo stepped away from Sam to meet Lotho. He advanced wrathfully, his face bloodstained and his hands knotted in fists. Sam winced. He'd thought sure it would be the end of the fight for that Pimple to see the sight of his own blood, but he'd thought wrong. It looked like there was a bit of grit to the fool after all.

Frodo went to meet him, lifting his fists, and Sam withdrew himself and the bucket behind the rope quickly so he wouldn't miss anything. A good thing he did-- Mr. Lotho was angry, moving fast and purposeful. He didn't pause none, but swung a wide blow at Frodo like he was cutting hay. It landed hard enough to drive one of Frodo's arms to the side and let Lotho put his left fist straight through. He caught Frodo's jaw solid and hard, driving him up onto his tiptoes.

Sam's breath caught in his throat as Frodo teetered on the verge of going over backwards. His pained grunt broke the sudden stillness, but he settled on his feet, shaking his head behind his hands to clear it.

Lotho waded in again, forcing him back with a flurry of blows to the chest and belly. They thumped dully against Frodo's flesh and he folded up like a country stile, bending nearly double.

Sam didn't have to hear Mr. Bilbo's low sound of despair, which came near enough to his own. He quivered, frantic with worry. The coarse rope bit his hands, he'd gripped it so hard. "Mr. Frodo, jump back!"

Frodo never heard him, but Lotho pressed forward just a bit too fast. His toe caught and stubbed on a stone, stopping his advance just long enough for him to spit an irritated oath. Frodo backed away hastily, forcing himself upright again.

Jolly's reassuring hand settled on Sam's shoulder, but he ignored it. His breath felt so tight in his chest he might as well have been fighting Lotho himself.

Frodo was hurt now, winded and dazed. Lotho pressed his advantage, but somehow he managed to keep a half-step ahead of the onslaught. He staggered back, blocking blows without offering any in return.

Sam bit his lip so hard he tasted blood. Frodo already needed a rest and a bit more water, but if he called for one now, they'd never wear Lotho down. And their plan was starting to work; Lotho wasn't moving quite so fast and he was panting heavily, his mouth open. Even better, Frodo was recovering. His feet moved a little faster each time he dodged, though he was still on the run.

The hobbits tensed and the racket swelled; Sam could barely make out Mr. Pippin's shrill yelps for all that he was just a few steps away. Mr. Merry was yelling too, pantomiming punch combinations, but the shouting swallowed his advice.

"'Ee got no sense at all, Sam!" The Gaffer's voice suddenly penetrated to him, sharp with ire. "That Sandyman, now, he's give his Mr. Lotho a bit of iron to hide in his fist during that rest, and that's how he's hitting as hard as he is! Ain't 'ee been watching?!"

Sam's eyes darted frantically to find Sandyman. Sure enough, there he stood on his side of the ropes with his hands in his pockets and a little crooked smile on his face. His breeches hung low on his hips, sagging at the pockets. He never moved a bit even as Mr. Lotho's friends and relations went mad around him, capering about and punching air with their fists as Lotho scored another blow that sent Frodo reeling, crimson staining his face from a cut lip.

A red haze of fury slid across Sam's vision. His hands tightened on the rope as he made ready to launch himself across, but his Gaffer's hand held him fast. "Hal and Ham showed up after 'ee left and I've sent 'em to have a word with that Ted. Just 'ee bide quiet, Sam, and be here for Himself. He'll be needing 'ee."

Sam spied Hal and Ham shoving their way around the square towards Sandyman, but there weren't no time to wait for them. Mr. Lotho kept swinging away hammer and tongs at Mr. Frodo. Frodo seemed to have forgot all his lessons in trickery and just kept stubborning it out. He kept on backing away, but that didn't do no good.

There weren't no telling when Lotho might land a telling blow. He wound up his left hand, jabbing it in sharp-- a feint, Sam was sure. It set up for a nasty punch with his right, and there stood Frodo, wide open and too dazed to do aught about it.

"Mr. Frodo!" Sam shrilled uselessly, but for some miracle it seemed Frodo heard him. His head swung around just in time to miss the worst of a punch so savage it pulled Lotho near off his feet. Blinking when Lotho jostled him, Frodo caught an ankle behind his cousin's and twisted, but Lotho clutched at him and dragged him down. The bit of metal fell to earth, vanishing in a puff of dust, but Frodo was down and caught.

Sam's heart hammered in his throat; everything happened at once. Hal and Ham seized Ted. Frodo and Lotho flopped in the dust like dying fish. The crowd shrieked, Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin's voices like to deafening Sam. Lotho gave a howl, but then Frodo was free, rolling onto his knees and swaying there, looking too exhausted to get up.

The breeze stirred and dust sifted away to reveal Lotho writhing on the dirt, clutching his tender parts. The crowd's excited roar fell to an awed hush.

"Now see here, Ted Sandyman!" Ham blustered into the quiet. "The mayor will be wanting to see this!"

"Mr. Lotho's not for fighting any more." Wil Whitfoot judged, rolling Lotho onto his back. There he stayed, curled up around himself like a roly-poly bug. "Mr. Frodo's given him a bit of summat to think about."

The roar of the crowd exploded afresh, loud as thunder, and Sam couldn't hear no more. He bulled his way forward as half the Shire surged over the ropes, not much caring who he shoved aside. He had to get to his master.

Mr. Frodo still knelt on the trampled turf, wiping gingerly at the corner of his split lip. Sam slid a hand under each of his arms, hoisting him up on to his feet. Frodo leaned on him, legs shaky, but his eyes were fixed on the Mayor.

Wil hadn't announced the outcome yet; he stood at the center of a circle of shouting hobbits. Most of them were young Sackville-Bagginses and their connexions, and most were shouting in his face.

"Now see here, that's a forfeit!" Sam didn't recognize the loudest of the arguing lads; it weren't Ted, but one of Mr. Lotho's relations, one of the Sackville lads. "Frodo used a wrestling move, and you said yourself those weren't allowed."

"He wasn't the first to cheat, I'll warrant." The Mayor turned his head over towards Hal and Ham, who were trying to drag Ted forward. "Here now, step back, you!" At his command, a clear circle slowly formed around the center of the action. Shirriffs helped, pushing and shoving the curious hobbits back.

Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin weren't far behind Sam, Pippin carrying Frodo's shirt and Merry the water bucket. "Here, Sam, Frodo needs a drink," Pippin shrilled, and Sam stepped back to yield them his place.

As he did, his foot fell on something sharp. He looked down into the dust, eyes narrowing. "Here now, here's what we're after," Sam raised his voice over the others'. "I saw that Mr. Lotho drop it when he fell."

"Here's what?" Alert, the Mayor stepped forward watched Sam stoop to pick up the bit of metal-- part of a pin like as you'd use to hitch two waggons together, nice and round but broke off short-- just made to fit inside a fist.

"And there's more to match, inside Ted Sandyman's pockets!" Hal shook Ted's arm, and he rattled to prove it, making a metallic sound too heavy for coins.

"Check Mr. Lotho's pockets too," the mayor told off two Shirriffs right sharp.

They knelt in the dust and went prospecting; Mr. Lotho groaned, still hurting bad enough not to pay them any mind. "Here's another!" Robin Smallburrow held it up. "It was in his left breeches pocket."

"What say you to that?" Wil Whitfoot eyed the Sackville cousins, who immediately lost a great deal of their bluster. "I say it looks like more of a forfeit than wrestling, and that's a fact!"

The Sackville lads put their eyes on their toes, and one by one they found an excuse to be elsewhere. After a moment only Ted Sandyman was left, and when Hal and Ham let go his arms, he sank down to sit in the dust beside Mr. Lotho, sullen-faced.

Satisfied, the major raised his hands to silence the crowd, then raised his voice to match. "There'll be no forfeit-- Mr. Frodo wins fair and square! Clear off home now-- there's no more to see!"

Sam sighed with relief, eyes seeking Mr. Frodo-- who was the center of a knot of concerned relations. Mr. Bilbo had a pocket-handkerchief tucked over his finger, thinking nothing of its white silk and fine monogram, dabbing at the blood that stained Frodo's lip. Frodo's eyes traveled over his shoulder, seeking; they locked on Sam for a single moment before heads came between them. When the way cleared, Bilbo and Merry and Pippin had turned Frodo away, guiding him towards the carriage with Merry's arm about his waist.

"Come along, Sam." Jolly's voice was gentle. "They'll stay at the inn, like as not. He'll have a bath and beer and a good bed. My da put a drop of cider in the back of our wagon; we'd best get back there before it gets drunk up."

Sam felt a sharp hollow pain spread through his chest; Jolly was right. He'd best be--

"There you are, Samwise. Don't dawdle." Gandalf's long, bushy brows rendered his expression fierce to go with the impatient words, but his tone was kind, and his hand was light on Sam's shoulder.

"Mr. Gandalf, I couldn't...." Sam's voice trailed away. He flicked an anxious glance to Jolly anyhow, worried that he'd be hurt if Sam left him alone.

"Nonsense. Come along." Gandalf's hand tightened warmly, reassuring. "You'll be needed."

Jolly gave Sam a wry smile. "You be off, Sam. I'll tell the Gaffer you've gone."

Sam nodded and took a deep breath, then followed Mr. Gandalf away towards Mr. Bilbo's carriage.

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