West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

Strange Fruit
In which Frodo is vague, Sam is insecure, and all comes to a satisfactory conclusion.
Author: Semyaza
Rating: PG

 

Sam had good reason to be late that day, and thus he did not see the arrival at Bag End of the mathom that was to cause him so much grief.  He and the Gaffer had been standing in the lane chatting about the likelihood of rain, when a flock of sheep emerged unexpectedly into the road and, in great confusion, swerved up the path toward the Widow Rumble's door. Three shepherds soon came into view over the brow of the hill, running breathlessly after a dog that appeared woefully inexperienced.  When confronted by the stone wall at the side of the property it stopped dead, seemingly disinclined to take after the sheep that were now milling about in the front garden.

"That dog's not in very good shape," said the Gaffer around the stem of his pipe.

"Hmph," responded Daddy Twofoot.

The two younger shepherds, now unable to follow a different tack, grabbed hold of their dog and threw him up over the wall in the general direction of the sheep.

"A bit humiliating," said the Gaffer.

Sam merely grunted, watching the process with an interested gaze but no intention of pitching in.

Upon sighting the dog, the sheep  drifted  to the other side of the garden where the soil was neatly tilled and ready for planting--("I hope she hasn't put in her taters," offered Sam)--and thoroughly trampled it, nipping off the occasional succulent morsel from the winter plantings as they passed.  At that moment, the Widow Rumble, an impressive, sturdy figure with a broom in her hand, emerged from the smial in a state of great agitation and bore down upon the hapless sheep.

"Fine-looking lass," commented the Gaffer, warmth in his voice.

Now caught between the angry Widow in front of them and the dog at their heels, the sheep halted anxiously and looked about them with a puzzled air.

"That's torn it," muttered Sam.  "Dog needs a bit of work."

"Spark, come by," yelled one of the shepherds.  The dog apparently understood his purpose now, and crept around to the left, while the gathering crowd of neighbours looked on expectantly.   Although it remained unclear which was the greater threat, the Widow or the dog, the sheep nevertheless bunched together and turned back toward the gate.

At long last they were able to drive the flock into the lane, with the sole exception of a ewe that had settled into pruning the rather fine herbaceous border.  A very old hobbit, presumably the father of the two with the dog, was attempting to chase her off, his face now alarmingly red from exertion.

"He's going to have a headache," Sam commented.  He had taken the pipe from his pocket, filled it, and was leaning back against the wall with the Gaffer beside him, enjoying the fine spring morning.

"Aye, well, he's a sight too old to be running about after livestock."

Sam nodded.

"I'd best be going. Mr. Frodo's garden won't weed itself.  I haven't put the seedlings out, what with the late snow and all."

"He'll be up afore time and getting himself into a tizzy if you're not where you should be.  Go on then."

Sam somehow doubted that Mr. Frodo would notice if he were to be late but he said nothing.  He was more preoccupied with the image he now had in his mind of Frodo chasing around the garden looking for him in naught but his nightshirt.  Now that would make a fine spectacle, that would.  It would put even the Widow Rumble in a sweat.

And with that thought, he picked up his packed lunch before the Gaffer could say more and turned up the lane in the direction of Bag End.

It certainly was a perfect morning.  In spite of the snow that had blighted the early bloom on the fruit trees, the weather was now set fair until the end of Astron.  Growing peaches and such in this part of the Shire was a chancy business at best, but there would be some fruit after all, he thought, and there was always next year.

The swifts were wheeling overhead in immense flocks, screaming and swooping so close to the tops of the smials that Sam thought they would surely collide.  It would be time for them to mate soon, never touching down and always in motion.  They seemed to live off the air--drank it, were fed by it, and made their nests from its bounty.  He had a kind of yearning to follow them when they left,  to see those faraway places that he'd heard tell of in Mr. Bilbo's books.  He couldn't imagine what he'd do there.  He didn't suppose they'd have any need for a gardener, and there wasn't much else that he was good for.  Stick with what you know and you'll never go wrong, the Gaffer had often told him, and stick is what he would do.  It was what he did best, after all.

The garden at Bag End was silvered with dew and utterly still.  There was no smoke from the chimneys and not a light visible through the windows.  Mr. Frodo was yet abed then. He'd just nip in to the potting shed and check on the seedlings before starting the other garden chores.

He loved the woody, damp enclosed space of the shed.  He had time to think there as he sorted through the containers he would need for potting on the plants that were getting root bound.  The seeds that he had sown the previous week were coming along nicely, the borage leaves soft and plump and deeply satisfying.  He looked forward to seeing them in bloom; the flowers reminded him of Mr. Frodo's eyes--dark blue stars with the black centres like beauty spots. The bees loved the flowers, too.  He had always thought it was the colour that attracted them.  The stalks were prickly, but freshly succulent inside.  He'd have them planted out before long if the fine weather held.

He did a fair bit of weeding that morning, taking out some of the fumitory that had grown up along the wall and leaving the soil bare for the birds to peck at.  It would need sweeping up later, but the blackbirds had been eager enough to get at the bugs and so he had left it.  Fumitory was a good plant for a stomach tonic, to be sure, and pretty with its froth of grey-green leaves and peculiar little flowers.  Even so, it would take over the entire garden if he let it be.  Sometimes things were better for being properly confined and kept in their place.  He raked part of the garden where the ground was rocky, thinking that he really ought to do something about that and wondering where he could make the best use of the rocks after he'd sifted them out.  The ground was wet and heavy in places but fine for putting in some bulbs, Sam thought, and maybe he could sow the sweet peas.  The early spring plants were a pleasure that was fresh to him every year, but he looked forward most of all to the garden as it would be in another month or two, when he could start to bring flowers into the smial for Mr. Frodo.

Frodo was rarely out of bed before elevenses.  It was no wonder he was so thin--Sam already had two good breakfasts inside himself by then.  Not but what his master didn't spend some of that time reading in bed and spreading ink all over the fine linen sheets, or so Marigold said.  Sam had never seen him at it; the principal bedroom at Bag End was not part of Sam's purview.  But he knew that Marigold expended a great deal of effort boiling out the ink.

He sat down on the stone bench that stood below the front window and opened up the bundle of fresh scones and butter that his sisters had prepared for him.  He must remember to go and fetch some mushrooms for Mr. Frodo's tea before he finished for the day, but there was still too much to do in the garden, what with mulching the shrubs and tying up the climbing roses.   He had spent more of his life in cultivating this garden than he had his own.  In a peculiar way this was his garden--he was part of it and it of him.  He couldn't imagine a time when he wouldn't be here, just like this, waiting for things to grow and Mr. Frodo to get up out of that feather bed of his and come see, come see.

______

"Sam!  Sam, are you there?"  an excited voice called from inside.

Sam shook his head.  Where else would he be? 

"I'm right here, sir."

Frodo was laughing as he leaned out the window and peered down at Sam.

"You're late.  Where have you been?"

Sam, his mouth full of scone, looked at the upside down face of his master.  It was flushed, the dark curly hair slightly damp, the deep blue eyes mischievous.

"If I'm late then you're up early, begging your pardon, sir.  Old Odo Proudfoot had a flock of sheep that got away from his dog into the Widow Rumble's garden.  My old Dad has a fondness for the Widow and  we stayed to watch."

He said nothing of the time spent in the garden since then.  No doubt, to Frodo, he was more like part of the landscape than anything else.

Frodo snorted.

"I have yet to see a sheep or any other creature that could stand up to her.  But Sam--you must come in and let me show you what Merry sent over from Brandy Hall.  I've never seen anything like it."

"Is it a new book, sir?  Now that would be worth getting out of bed for and no mistake."

He stood up and dusted the crumbs from his waistcoat, then neatly packed the remaining scone away in his bag.  It wasn't long until dinner, after all.

"No-o-o," Frodo said uncertainly, hiding a smile, "but I think you'll find it almost as interesting."

He drew his head back in and Sam could hear him talking as he padded away into the depths of the smial.  Sam sighed.  There would likely be no more work this morning if Mr. Frodo had some new thing to show him.   Mr. Merry liked to make mischief and no doubt it was something of that nature.  He drew out his handkerchief and wiped the soil from his feet, then went into the house in search of his master.

Frodo was in the kitchen, standing next to the long oak table across from the fireplace.  He was looking down at an object that lay in front of him.  Sam stepped closer.  Lor' bless him, but he'd never seen the like neither.

"What is it, Mr. Frodo?" he whispered.

"I don't know, Sam.  I thought perhaps you could tell me.  All that Merry said was that it was sometimes called a Lady's Finger and at other times the Gem of Valinor.  I have no idea what he could mean."

Sam cleared his throat.

"It doesn't look like a finger of any lady I've ever seen, if I do say so, sir."

The object in question was indeed a puzzle.  It was perhaps five inches long, plump and with a slight curve to it.  The outside was a dark red deepening to purple in places and rather smooth.

"Would it be... may I touch it, sir?"

"Yes, of course you may, Sam.  In fact, I already have.  It seems quite harmless.  One never knows with Merry."

"No, sir."

Sam reached out a finger and prodded the thing.  It was firm and slightly warm from lying in the shaft of sunlight that slanted across the table.  He stroked it gently and then he blushed and turned hastily away.

"It seems to have a bit of a scent, but I'm not sure as I'd want to eat it.   It looks...," he cleared his throat again, "well, there's really no telling what it looks like."

Frodo shifted uneasily from foot to foot.

"No, Sam, quite right.  Still, I think perhaps..."

Frodo wrapped his hand around the object firmly and picked it up.  He had small hands, and the fingers barely met as he gripped it.  The other hand rubbed gently and uncertainly along the length.

"How do you suppose one starts?  I mean, how does one get inside?  It's such a queer thing."

Sam was blushing furiously by this stage and was only thankful that Frodo was more interested in the Gem of Valinor than he was in the discomfort of his gardener.  Frodo was still talking.

 "...that's why I waited for you.  I thought that, together, we might...well, attempt to breach its defences."

Sam just couldn't seem to stop clearing his throat.

"Maybe if you nip off the end like," he suggested hopefully.

Frodo took gentle hold of the little knob at one end and quickly snapped it off.  Sam winced.

"It seems to be white inside. "

He pressed the tip of his finger into the open end of the fruit and began to peel away the outer skin until the starchy interior lay fully revealed.  It was like removing a jacket; it pulled away in one piece, folding down from the long slender curve of the fruit until only the bottom in Frodo's fist remained covered.   Frodo stared at it for a moment, lost in thought, then stuck out his tongue and licked the tip.  There was something in that lick that disturbed Sam greatly, though he didn't want to think about what it was.  But when Frodo put his mouth around the end and bit down...well, Sam suddenly felt that the room was uncomfortably warm.

"Mmm.  Sam, it's very good.  Sweet.  Try some." 

Gem of Valinor, indeed, Sam thought to himself.  Those elves were a right caution at times.  It was no wonder that they had the longing to go west.  He took the fruit from Frodo, their fingers brushing slightly.  Frodo's hand was warm and soft, like the petals of a rose caught in the sun.

"Merry said he thought we could grow them here, if we built a glasshouse for the plants.  Do you think we could?  Have you seen the glasshouses at Brandy Hall?  No, I don't suppose you have. "

Sam was nearly faint with the idea of having to watch Mr. Frodo eating this fruit on a regular basis.  Just the thought of it....

"Well that would be up to you, sir.  I don't know what my old dad would say.  Too fancy for the Shire, I reckon.  Bringing those soft Buckland ways to Hobbiton."

Sam shook his head.  The fruit stood up in his hand waiting to be tasted.

"I think I'll leave this for you, sir.  Something so precious...well, a crisp Shire apple will do for me, if it's all the same."

He set it carefully down on the table and backed away.

"I should be tying up the roses before dinner, seeing as how I was late getting started."

Frodo appeared rather crestfallen. 

"I'm sorry, Sam.  I know you have too much work to do as it is.  Perhaps we could hire someone to help you?  If I thought of having a glasshouse at Bag End then we would need to take on another gardener.  I don't see how you could manage it on your own.  But we won't worry about that just now.  I think I'll make a cup of tea and then do a translation or two before...well, yes...ah, thank you, Sam."

He turned to take the kettle off the hob and hang it on the hook over the fire.  Sam was clearly dismissed.

He returned to his work with a heavier heart.  The sun was beginning to warm the garden now, although a slight haze remained over the grass where the dew reflected the light.  Sheep were being grazed in the field opposite that morning, and the lambs suckled ferociously, tails whirring in circles like a child's windmill.  The air smelled fresh and green and Sam dug his toes into the soil and squeezed.  There was no better place to be.  Maybe the soil wasn't as fine as the soil of Buckland or those parts, but it grew wonderful taters and orchards that looked like Yavanna's own when the trees were in full bloom.  Sam could feel the strength of it right through every part of himself.  It was all he wanted.  Well, not entirely all. 

But there was no use thinking about that.  Another gardener to help him indeed.  Mr. Frodo clearly felt he wasn't up to snuff.  There was no other way to explain it.  The rather disturbing looking fruit from Brandy Hall was merely an excuse.  Before long there would be a horde of strangers brought in from Buckland, looking after the garden, managing the new glasshouse, whatever that was, and he would be seeking work elsewhere.  It was all too clear.

He picked up the ball of twine from behind the shed door and tucked his best shears into the pouch at his side.  He could prune the raspberry canes after he'd tied up the roses.  Then everything would be neat and tidy when the new gardeners came.  Never let it be said that a Gamgee wasn't worth the cost of his hire.   

There were two roses climbing up the front wall of the smial, one by the study window and the other arching over the door.  The first was the palest of pinks.  Queen of the Shire, it was called, and always made him think of the colour in Mr. Frodo's cheeks when something excited him--a new  book maybe or an old tale well told.  It was said to be a native rose, and might well be, Sam thought.  It was hardy and flowered throughout the summer, and in all the time he had been gardener at Bag End it had never shown any sign of blight or pest.  The other rose, by the door, was deep red with a heady scent that followed you through the smial on a hot day.  Marigold dried the petals and made a mixture which she put between the sheets after she had washed and aired them.  Sam wondered if being in Mr. Frodo's bedroom was like being in the garden in summer--warm and sweet smelling and safe.   There was no use letting his thoughts drift in that direction.  No use at all. 

He was trying to train the branches horizontally, but for some reason he couldn't seem to see properly where they should be tied.  His eyes kept misting over and he had to stop each time and wipe them, although he was afraid that his hand was leaving streaks of dirt down his cheeks.  After a short while he gave up, and sat down on the bench again, wondering if he should get out that second scone.

The garden was a small place, he supposed, as such things went.  Not very big at all, but with room for everything a hobbit might need: vegetables and herbs for cooking, one or two fruit trees, flowers for show.  He had put all of his heart into it and for so many years that he couldn't imagine not being a part of it any longer, not seeing the things that he had planted grow and flourish.  The flowers would bloom for someone else and not for him.  He wondered if he was feeling miserable for no reason, and yet he couldn't bear the thought of staying on if he wasn't to be the only gardener attending to things.  And that wasn't right neither.  It wasn't really his garden after all, it belonged to Mr. Frodo.  It did no good to become attached, as the Gaffer had tried to tell him on more than one occasion.  The Gaffer had an uncanny knack for knowing what was to come.  He should have heeded him afore now.

"Sam," said a soft voice beside him.

He looked up, his face streaked with tears unless he was much mistaken.  He felt quite ridiculous, sitting there in a funk with an uneaten scone in a hankie on his lap.

"Oh, Sam.  What have I said this time?"

Sam turned away.

"Nothing, sir.  You haven't said nothing.  I don't know what came over me."

Frodo looked at him thoughtfully for a moment and then plopped down on the bench next to him so that they were almost touching.

"You know there's no better gardener in all The Shire, don't you, Sam?"

"I couldn't rightly say, sir," Sam answered, surreptitiously wiping at his face and only making things worse.

"There isn't.  And if you don't think we could manage to grow those--whatever one calls them--here, then of course we shan't.  We won't say anything more about it."

"I don't know if we can grow them here.   It's Mr. Merry as you should be asking, if you don't mind me saying so.  I don't even..."

"Sam, would you please stop clutching that handkerchief as if your life depended on it and tell me what's happened?"

Sam glanced at where the scone lay hidden and decided that it would be naught but crumbs by now.  He set it carefully on the ground by his feet.  He didn't know how to explain what he was feeling; it was all such a muddle in his head.

"I don't know anything about glasshouses. "

"Then we won't have one."

Sam sighed.  Perhaps he had started from the wrong end of the tale.  He might as well come right out and say it, then.  He couldn't look at Frodo when he said it, mind, so he looked out at the garden that was so new and bright with spring growth and took strength from it.

"I don't ever want to leave here.  I don't think that I could bear it.  But it's not my place to say who comes and goes at Bag End, is it, sir?"

He could feel the concentration in Frodo's gaze without having to turn his head to see it. 

"Why would you think...," Frodo trailed off.  "It's that blasted glasshouse after all, isn't it?  You think that I would hire other gardeners on simply so that I could indulge my fancy for some strange... fruit?  And that I would let you go because of it, because you wouldn't be suited to working with someone from Buckland?  Not good enough, perhaps?  Is that it?  Samwise Gamgee!  I am shocked that you would think I would ever...."

Sam ducked his head, and twisted his hands in his lap, until he felt small fingers creeping carefully into his and looked up at long last.  He saw uncertainty in Frodo's eyes, and not a little ruefulness.

"You belong here as much as I do, Sam.  How could you think I wouldn't see that?  I don't always have my nose buried in a book.  I've watched you in the garden when I should have been attending to other matters.  It wouldn't be the same if you weren't here with me."

Sam smiled shyly.

"Well, it was a very strange looking fruit, and no mistake.  It looked like..."

Frodo giggled.

"Yes, it did, didn't it?"

"Sir!"

"I'm older than you are.  You think I don't notice things, but I do."

Sam wasn't quite sure what to make of that, so he said nothing, merely glanced down to where their hands were joined.

"Yes, I most definitely do.  I don't need curious looking mathoms which Merry no doubt sends just to cause trouble.   I need you.  Only you, Sam." 

And then Sam felt a warm arm curl about his neck and warmer lips pressed to his cheek, and knew that he was home.

"Come inside, Sam.  You can wash your face and then we'll see what we can do about that Gem of Valinor that had you so hot and bothered.  I didn't tell you, but I have another one."

 

Back to Slash Story Listing