West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

The Scouring of the Smial
Sam reveals his mechanical skills, and Frodo enjoys indoor plumbing.
Author: Semyaza
Rating: NC-17

 

Chapter 1: Unplumbed Depths
 

Frodo jammed the quill behind his ear and let out a 'huff' of annoyance.  How was a hobbit to concentrate on his translations with labourers incessantly coming and going by the kitchen door?  Would it never stop?  Sam had promised that the work would be done 'in no time at all', and yet here they were, four weeks into the task and no end in sight.  First, there had been the momentous decision as to which room should be altered--the second best bedroom, directly opposite his own, or the lesser of the two pantries.  The hobbit who had come to do the measurements thought that the bedroom would best suit the purpose.   Frodo suspected that his opinion owed more to horror at the idea of decreasing the pantry space than to any other consideration.  Plans would have to be drawn up in either case, the bricklayer had said with a worried shake of his head.    He was evidently prepared to humour this queer gentlehobbit if that was what it took to show him the error of his ways.  He had finally gone home, much to Frodo's relief, with the measuring rod sticking out of his pocket and a puzzled frown between his brows.  It had been several days before the plan had materialised, by which time Frodo had concluded that the fellow must have forgotten all about it.  As it turned out, the pantry really had been the better choice, and so the matter was settled. 

The next hurdle to overcome had been the procurement of the bricks.  Where to get them from seemed to be the burning question, at least in the mind of the bricklayer.  Frodo had again been baffled by the hobbit's resistance to suggestion.

"Well, Mr. Baggins, I've always thought as the finest bricks come from over Michel Delving way.  They're a lovely cream colour with tiny black flecks in 'em.  Almost look like stone, they do."

"Why, exactly, are we having this discussion about the bricks, Master Euric?  If you could order them directly, we might be able to get on with the rest of the work."

Master Euric shook his head solemnly and squeezed the brim of his cap between his fingers.

"The trouble, Mr. Baggins, is that your Mr. Gamgee says Tuckburrow bricks are what we need.   Now I don't want to be worriting over the bricks afore we even get 'em, nor held responsible if harm were to come from using shoddy materials."

"Tuckburrow bricks will do very nicely, if Samwise says so.  It's entirely his decision.   We're not building a house after all, merely an oven. "

The bricklayer tugged on his left ear while apparently mulling this over.  After a moment's reflection, he sucked a sharp breath in between his teeth and was about to speak again when Frodo interjected.

"Tuckburrow, Master Euric.  I need things to be serviceable, not pretty."

And so, as far as Frodo was concerned, that had been the end of the matter.  It had taken an unconscionably long time for the bricks to arrive once they had been ordered.  They must have been making each one painstakingly by hand in between second breakfast and elevenses.  The area leading from the kitchen door to the pantry was now powdered with a thick layer of brick dust and the imprint of many hobbit feet, pointing in both directions.  The dust had apparently crept beyond the passage, and Frodo began to find it in the unlikeliest of places.  This was not the worst of the business.  He was forced to rise much earlier in the morning than was his custom, due to the deplorably early arrival of the workers.  Then there were the raucous conversations and singing at all times of the day, and every two hours or so the labourers would troop out to the front garden for a smoke and a 'quick bite of summat to eat.' 

Frodo had decided to abandon his translation, at least until the morrow, as soon as he noticed that he was drawing small dragons on the margins of the paper. There seemed to be rather a lot of them, and he wondered vaguely how long he had been at it.  There was no doubt that his mind refused to focus on the matter immediately before it.  His eyes were dry and sore from the brick dust; in fact, his entire body tingled with discomfort.  The room was cramped and stifling.  Even with the windows shut, the scent of lilies was pungent in the room and made him want to sneeze.

It was shortly thereafter, during one of the many intervals when the throng of workers was out of the smial, that Sam called him into the pantry for a quick word.

"Oh, blessed Eru.  It's so wonderfully quiet, Sam.  However do you bear it?"

"There are only five of them, Mr. Frodo."

"Gracious.  They make enough noise for a score, at least.  I thought my head was going to burst."

"Why don't I fix you a nice cup of chamomile tea when we're done here?"

"Yes, thank you, Sam."

Frodo was scarcely aware of Sam's words, as he looked about him curiously.   It appeared that, in spite of his qualms, the oven was almost finished and ready to take the copper once the mortar had set.  The copper itself was placed off to one side, covered with a piece of canvas to keep it clean. It looked impressively large.

"My word, Sam.  I could almost have a bath directly in the copper.  It's quite sizeable, isn't it?  I don't know how I failed to see it coming past the study when you carried it in."

Sam shuffled his feet.

"You weren't here, sir. You were away visiting the Burrowses."

"So I was.  No doubt I missed a great deal of clamour and not a few jokes at my expense.  Perhaps it's just as well I wasn't at home."

"The Gaffer would have a good deal to say about their talk if he knew of it, begging your pardon, sir.  But they don't mean nothing by it, I'm sure."

"No, I don't suppose they do."

The bricks that had created so much unease in the heart of Master Euric were a deep reddish brown, quite handsome in their way, if not so like stone in appearance as the Michel Delving bricks.  Frodo wondered why this should matter when only he and Sam would ever see them.  The oven itself had five sides so as to fit more snugly into the corner of the bathroom.  It had a little door at the front where the fuel could be inserted and a gaping hole at the top that would eventually be filled by the copper.  The new bathtub hadn't yet been delivered and would surely provide more merriment than the copper when it was finally set in position.  Frodo suspected that no one in the Shire had ever seen such an elaborate bath.  He still wondered if he had made a horrible mistake in purchasing it.  He hoped that it wasn't too terribly large.

He glanced up.  There was a small opening in the ceiling above the oven.   Whatever was that for?

"Was there anything specific you wanted to talk to me about, Sam?"

"I thought you might like me to show you how the plumbing works," Sam offered shyly.

"Yes, I would, actually.  I saw the plans, of course, but it's rather different now that I'm looking at it."

"They don't have such things in Buckland, then?"

"No, indeed.  They don't believe in newfangled gadgetry at Brandy Hall.  There are vast open fireplaces for cooking and a horde of servants to carry hot water.   If you're unlucky, or residing in one of the more far-flung rooms, you receive a basin of cold water and a flannel cloth."

Sam raised his eyebrows, while looking as if nothing about the gentry could possibly surprise him.

"Oh my.  Well, there's no accounting for taste.   Those of us who don't have servants prefer things to be easy like."

Sam was also gazing up at the hole in the ceiling.  Frodo could see his lips and fingers moving, as if he were counting.  He almost hated to interrupt.

"The plumbing, Sam?"

Sam started and shoved his hands deep in his pockets.

"Well, first off, I'll be putting a tank for water in the loft."

"Really?" interjected Frodo.  "However will you get it up there?"

"Through the hatchway in the passage, sir."

"What!  Won't it be too large?  That's a very small hole."

Sam's lips quirked in evident amusement.

"Not so very small, sir.  You'd be surprised what you can squeeze through a hole that size."

Frodo made an odd little strangled sound and cleared his throat.

"I'm sorry, Sam.  I think there's a bit of plaster sifting down from the ceiling.  You were saying?"

"The beams will be more than strong enough to support the weight, sir, and once I've pumped the tank full of water, you'll be able to have a nice deep bath any time you like, and as often as you like."

"That sounds like a great deal of work for you."

"Not as much as you might think, sir, begging your pardon.  That's a big tank, that is; the water in it will last a good long while.  'Twill be much easier than doing it by hand--with a pail, I mean to say, if you follow me."

Frodo looked at Sam closely, but his gardener was staring off into the distance, as if contemplating the satisfaction of providing Bag End with a new mechanical device.  Frodo shook his head to clear it.  He must be imagining things.

"I'm not sure that I entirely understand the principle, Sam.   How does the water get from the--?"

"The cistern, sir."

"Yes, the cistern.  How does it get from there into my bath, without your having to carry it?"

"Well, sir, it's like this.  The cistern will stand just above and to one side of the smial, behind the blackthorn hedge.   It will be quite private; no one will see it from the road.  Water from the spring will flow into it through a channel.  The pump is set on top, with the pipe and rod inserted deep into the cistern.  Then I just have to lay a length of pipe from there into the roof and down through that hole you see above you.  The water will be heated in the copper, and when you open the tap, it will flow from the copper into the bath."

"Mmm.  Quite clever.  Are you sure there's room for you?  In the roof-space, I mean," he added hurriedly.  "I seem to recall climbing into the loft as a lad, and, to the best of my recollection, it was rather a tight fit."

"Oh, I think it will be fine, sir.  I'm used to tight places.  Besides, I had a quick look t'other day.  There's room up there for Forlong the Fat and then some."

"If you say so."

Frodo thought for a moment.

"You'll still have to empty the bath by hand?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Frodo.   I haven't quite worked that part out yet.  But I can always use the dirty water for the plants."

"I'm still not sure I understand why we can't just mount a pump on the well."

"Oh bless you, no.  The spring water is much finer.  I don't know why Mr. Bilbo didn't think of it himself, with all the dwarvish friends he had giving him ideas.  The well water will do for the garden."

"Then explain to me why a pump is so much easier than drawing it out by hand.  It sounds as if it will be as much extra work for you as it was before, and all so that I can have the pleasure of running water."

"Well, sir, I think you know how a pump works.  When you push the handle down," Sam made a forceful gesture with his arm, fist clenched, "the piston comes up."

 Sam's arm rose.

 "The piston pushes out the air inside, if you catch my meaning.  Then when you pull the handle up," Sam's arm fell and rose again, then froze in mid-air, "the piston goes down, and the water opens up the valve and the liquid streams out."

Frodo was staring at Sam's well-muscled arm rising and falling.

"Yes, I can see that it might."

"And you have to do this over and over again," Sam emphasized.

"But it's still the best way?"

"Much quicker, I should say, sir.  You need to put a little elbow into it, of course, but it's well worth the effort to get such agreeable results.  And without all the to-ing and fro-ing."

Frodo nodded.

"I always enjoy watching a good piece of machinery at work," Sam added wistfully, with a little quirk of his lips.

"I suppose I can't really disagree with you.   Perhaps we might also find use for one in the kitchen.  Or even in the bedroom?" he added hopefully.

"I see no reason why not, sir.   I could put in a nice little pump by the kitchen sink or under the bedroom window and fit them directly into the cistern.  You could pump those ones by yourself," Sam answered, making that gesture with his hand again.

"Are there truly no problems with this design of yours?"

"Not so long as we use a little bit of forethought.  I've heard tell of pumps clogging so that they can't draw, but I don't think that's likely in your case, sir."

"And that's all?"

 "Well, so long as you're careful to position the plunger stroke so that it goes to the right depth, you're all set.  You don't want to hit bottom."

"I should be getting back to the study," Frodo said briskly. "There's something I have to...ah...finish.  But thank you, Sam, for your very clear explanation.   If there's anything you've forgotten to tell me, knock on the study door.  Knock loudly, mind, I might be immersed in my translation."

He'd forgotten all about the chamomile tea.

------

Frodo shut his door firmly and leaned back against the smooth wood.  That had undoubtedly been a revelation.  Who would have thought that a lecture on pipes and cisterns could be so very stimulating?  He would have to deal straight away with the pressing concern that had arisen; it was rather painfully pressing, in fact. He sank down in the frayed wing back chair by the fireplace and put his fingers to the buttons of his breeches.  He undid them swiftly and eased his hand inside the flap.  He'd never done this in Bilbo's study before.  It seemed almost impertinent and, at the same time, rather exhilarating.  He thought of Sam's strong forearm, the sleeve rolled back, and tried to imagine the warm, square palm encircling him, stroking firmly.   His own hand was somewhat smaller, of course, but he'd had considerable practice over the past months in thinking of it as Sam's hand.  Sam's calluses wouldn't be in the same places; nevertheless he was certain that they would feel equally pleasurable brushing across his skin.  If he could just organise his time more carefully, stay home more often perhaps, he could watch Sam pump the water into the tank on a regular basis.  He would need to be in the garden more frequently, mind you, so as to have an uninterrupted view of the cistern.  He was sure he could arrange his day around little trips outside for a breath of fresh air.  Even better was the fact that the more often he took a bath, the more Sam would have to pump.  Images of pistons thrusting up and down, and fluids gushing forth were more than enough to bring him to completion.  He gasped and felt the warmth slick his hand.

He leaned back with a sigh, hand still resting gently in the front of his breeches.  He sat like this for several minutes, in a kind of daze, pondering all of the possibilities that the new bathroom might bring his way.  He was vaguely aware of heads moving past the window, but they existed in a world quite apart from the one he currently inhabited, the one where he and Sam kissed over a steaming copper.  They might share the new bath, if it was as large as he now hoped it would be.

He was almost asleep when there came a sharp knock at the door.   He jumped as if he had been scalded and pulled his hand out of his breeches rather too quickly.  Fortunately, there was a napkin on the footstool, left over from lunch, and he wiped his hand and did up his buttons in what he hoped was the correct order.

"Yes?" he managed to choke out.

"Mr. Frodo, sir, I'm sorry to bother you."

"Yes, Sam, what is it?  Come in."

He stepped over to his desk and pretended to sort through some papers that happened to be lying there.  The door opened and Sam stuck his head inside.

"It's the workers, Mr. Frodo.  They've gone home for the day.  They say there's naught they can do 'til the stove is ready for the copper, and that won't be until tomorrow at the earliest."

"That's fine, Sam It can't be helped.  You'll be going home as well, then, I take it?"

"No, I'll be measuring up the loft to see if they've sent enough pipe, and then I've got a few chores to do in the garden afore I'm finished for the day.  If you don't mind waiting, I can bring your tea as soon as the water's boiled.  I'd have brought it sooner but I was having a few words with old Euric."

Sam looked around him uncertainly.

"It's very stuffy in here, sir.   I think you ought to open a window.  Those lilies do take on a very queer smell with the room all shut up tight like it is."

Frodo hid his red face behind the napkin he still seemed to be holding.  Oh no, the napkin.  Perhaps that hadn't been such a good idea after all.  He was sure he must be blushing to the roots of his hair.

"Yes, the air is rather close.  I'll just unfasten the window, shall I?  And then I'll join you.  Don't mind about the tea, Sam.   I'd very much like to know what Bilbo's been storing in the loft all these years.  Since he rarely gave away any of his gifts, I'm rather keen to find out what he did with them."

By the time he'd finished straightening his clothing and had taken a few deep breaths, Sam had the ladder set in place and was standing part way up it, holding a lantern above his head and peering curiously into the gaping maw of the loft.  He tutted under his breath.

"One hundred and eleven birthdays.  You'd think, wouldn't you, that he might have given some of it away.  Meaning no disrespect, sir."

"Is it very bad?"

"I couldn't really say, Mr. Frodo.  I don't think I've quite taken the measure of it yet.  Well, there's nothing for it."

And with those words, he set the lantern on the edge of the hole and pulled himself up through the hatch.

Several moments went by as Frodo stood anxiously in the passage, listening to Sam's progress across the floor above.   It took much longer than he would have expected for the shuffling sounds to reach the area directly above the pantry, and he had to resist the temptation to follow them.  They stopped, and there was a brief silence, during which Frodo almost held his breath.

"Well now, here's an interesting thing," a muffled voice declared.

The words seemed to be coming from a great distance.  He stepped cautiously on to the ladder and craned upwards.

"Sam?  What have you found?"

There was no reply.  A faint illumination, only dimly visible from where Frodo stood, trembled across the rafters.

"Sam?"

He heard a slight rustling in response, a thump and then a soft curse.

"I seem to be stuck, Mr. Frodo."

Frodo leaned his forehead wearily against the ladder, wishing he had never told Sam of his desire for indoor plumbing.  It had seemed an innocent enough remark at the time, yet before he could say Tobold Hornblower, the plans were on his desk and Sam had started ordering building materials and engaging workers.  Frodo was uncertain how Sam's management of the garden had suddenly blossomed to include the addition of running water to the smial, but somehow it had.

He began to climb.  When his eyes came level with the rim of the hatch, he was completely taken aback by what he saw.  The roof-space was a horrific squalor of banished objects and unwanted articles liberally seasoned with the dust of ages.  Oh dear.  Apparently, every present Bilbo had ever received was stored here, excepting only those few that he had given away after the Party.  At the time, Frodo had thought that Bilbo was clearing out the excess from the smial.   Now it appeared that had not been the case.

But where was Sam?  Ah, there.  Right over in the far corner Frodo could just discern the bottoms of two grimy feet.  They weren't moving.

"Sam, please tell me you're not hurt."

"No, sir, I'm right as a trivet.  Leastways, I will be as soon as I'm free."

"Just how have you managed to get stuck?  There's far more room up here than I remembered."

"I'm not stuck, exactly, Mr. Frodo.  I've caught my breeches' pocket on something and I'm afraid it'll tear if I try to pull loose.  I can't see what I'm doing and I don't want to knock over the lantern."

"I'll come up, then, shall I?  Is there room enough for me to crawl in next to you?  There's a terrible clutter at this end and all I can see of you are the bottoms of your feet."

"You'll have to be careful, sir.  The floorboards are missing here and there and you don't want to go falling down into the passage.  It's a nasty drop."

"Yes, I'm sure it is.  I think I can find my way."

The final step from the top of the ladder into the loft was a little high, but Frodo dragged himself up onto the hatch's frame, and turned so that he was kneeling on the platform that rested over the beams.  He could see the unmistakeable trail of Sam's movements through the grime, a pattern of knee prints, toe prints and the occasional smudge of a hand.

"You must be filthy by now, Sam.  Where did all this dirt come from?"

"I expect I am, and I couldn't say, sir.  I doubt these gifts are worth much after all the years they've spent in here.  It's dry enough, I'll warrant, but dirtier than a stable-mucker's boots."

Frodo sighed.

"We'll have to clear them out, I'm afraid, but not until after you've finished the plumbing.  Unless you need to make room for the pipes?"

"No, that's fine, sir.  It should be alright.  I think I'd like to be able to move though."

"Oh gracious.  I'm sorry, Sam.  Of course you would."

Frodo followed the path that Sam had inadvertently left for him, careful not to catch his toes on any nails or rough patches of board.  A splinter would be most unpleasant at this point, when he knew that he would have to climb back down that infernal ladder.   There were dark crevices between the piled up trunks ands boxes, and looming shadows thrown by the flickering candle-light.

Sam was lying just the other side of a toppled mound of objects, the lantern in front of him, and his head resting on his hands.

"Where did it catch you?"

"Just there, Mr. Frodo, below my right pocket.  I can feel something sticking into me; it's a dirty great nail, most like.  If you take hold of the lantern and put it next to my elbow, you should be able to see where it's caught."

Frodo opened the door of the lantern a little wider, and tried to peer beneath Sam, but it was difficult to see clearly.

"My, it's warm in here, Sam.  I wish I'd taken my waistcoat off before I climbed up."

"Yes, sir, that would be because of the kitchen chimney, which is beyond that pile there."

Privately, Frodo thought that it had more to do with the proximity of Sam's warm body and the smell of earth and wool and Sam, but he kept that to himself.

"Ah, I think I see it.  May I..."

"Go right ahead, sir.  I'll be glad to be free of it."

Frodo, lying rather awkwardly on his side, tucked both hands beneath Sam.  It was a tight fit, that was certain.  He gripped the nail carefully with two fingers and placed his other hand firmly against the front of Sam's breeches, to hold the fabric steady.  Oh my, that felt like....   He froze.

"I'd be grateful if you didn't press quite so hard there, sir, if you don't mind me saying so."

"I'm sorry, Sam, I didn't realise my hand was quite as far down as that," Frodo answered unsteadily.   "Ah, there, I think that's done it after all."

The fabric came loose from the nail and Sam turned over and inspected the damage.

"A few quick stitches will take care of the hole and they'll be as good as new.  Or as good as they were, at least.  They'll need a thorough wash, though, I'm thinking."

He glanced up at Frodo through his eyelashes as he said this.  Frodo smiled brightly.

"So will you, Sam.  It's a shame the new bath hasn't been installed yet.  You could be the first to try it out."

"Oh, no, I don't think so, sir.  It wouldn't be proper.  The old tin tub at home will do well enough for such as me."

He fell silent, looking down at his right hand where it was splayed against the old timber.   Frodo watched him surreptitiously, reminded yet again of how very much he loved Sam's hands.  He had spent so much time contemplating their mystery, whether they happened to be wielding a trowel in the garden or doing occasional chores about the smial.  In spite of their strength and skill, they displayed a certain vulnerability, as if all the things that Sam felt were expressed through them.  The sleeve of his wool jacket was too short, and Frodo could see the broad wrist with its smattering of golden hairs sticking out beyond the edge of the cuff.  He couldn't resist the impulse, and wrapped his own hand tentatively around that wrist as if he were cradling something precious.  It was so warm and solid.

"Thank you, Sam, for doing all of this for me.  It's a great deal of work, and I wish I could show you how grateful I am."

"It's nought, Mr. Frodo. The Gaffer always says as I have more ideas than a dog at a butcher's."

"None the less."

They lay side by side in the tiny space, so close together on the boards that movement in any direction was awkward.   The ray of light from the lantern was all that separated them.  Sam's curls glowed in the dimness like wheat gilded by the setting sun, and Frodo couldn't bear not to touch them, to put his face against them.  He was afraid.  The air between them seemed full of some profound emotion laced with a tension that almost drove the breath right out of him. 

He touched the side of Sam's face with infinite care.  He could feel the sharp intake of breath against his palm.  He had been going to ask permission, but instead he leaned forward and brushed his lips against Sam's as gently as he could.

"You have a smudge of dirt on your nose, Sam."

"I doubt that's the only place I have one, Mr. Frodo."

"No, but it's the one I can reach."

He ran his fingers up into the curls at the nape of Sam's neck, and then kissed the end of Sam's nose.

"What do we do now?"

"Well, sir, I think we need to clear this rubbish to one side or else I won't be able to see what I'm doing and there'll be no room for the new cistern.  And..."

"That's not what I meant."

"No, sir, I didn't suppose it was."

If the light hadn't been so uncertain, Frodo might have said that there was a trace of pink on Sam's cheeks.  Their faces were so close together now that it could just as easily have been the reflection of Frodo's own flushed countenance.

"I think what I'd like best about now, Mr. Frodo...."

He paused nervously.

"Yes, Sam.  Go ahead.  I'm more than eager to know what you'd like."

"What I'd like best would be to get out my measuring rod and see if the pipes are a suitable length.  If you'd care to hold one end, then I'll just shove the other down toward that hole and we can soon finish the business.  I don't know about you, but I'm finding this loft a mite uncomfortable about now."

Frodo drew his hand back quickly and sat up.

"Careful, sir, or you'll be on top of that nail before you know it."

"Blast the nail.  Samwise Gamgee, you were flirting with me."

Sam hung his head and bit his lip.

"Yes, Mr. Frodo.  If you say so."

"I do, indeed, say so.  All that business about pumps and properly adjusted strokes and...and....  You did it all on purpose."

"Well, yes and no, sir.  You did ask me for a description of the plumbing, and I gave you one.   It just got away from me a bit in the telling."

Sam seemed unable to look him in the face.   Frodo was almost struck speechless, but not quite. 

"Do you mean to say that all this time, while I've been trying to think of some way to approach you, you've been laying plans to seduce me with the plumbing?"

Sam stifled a chuckle, as if he thought it not in keeping with his situation to laugh at his master.

"No, I wouldn't say that.  More like I've seen you watching me, every day, for months now.  And you looked so unhappy like that I thought I could maybe do something about it.  I just didn't know how.  If I was wrong, I reckoned I'd be making a great big fool of myself.  Or more a fool than usual."

Frodo leaned over and put his arms around Sam's shoulders, holding him close.

"You're not a fool, Sam.  Dear Sam.  But do you know something?"

"What, sir?"

"I seem to have snagged my breeches on that nail after all."

"Now that's a thing I do know how to fix.  We can always save the pipe for later."

 

Chapter 2: The Mysterious Mathom
 

"They do say," offered a young hobbit with a narrow, sly face and ginger-coloured eyebrows, "that there's a mathom as has been circulating round and round the Shire for nigh on a hundred years."

He nodded sagely and tamped the weed down firmly into the bowl of his pipe.

"Oh, go on with you," responded Gaffer Gamgee with a snort.  "I've heard that tale afore, over many a pint of ale.  If you weren't so wet behind the ears, you'd not be repeating it.  Every hobbit in the Shire would have had possession of such a thing at one time or another.  Have you seen it?"

"Well, no," said Ted reluctantly, "but I believe in it all the same.  Every story has a grain of truth somewheres."

"Sage and onions," answered the Gaffer.  "If you spent as much time minding your work as you do listening to old biddies and their gossip we'd be up to our eyebrows in flour, and that's a fact."

He thumped his tankard of ale on the table to emphasize the point.

"Careful there, Gaffer.  You don't want to spill none o' that," said Daddy Twofoot.

Ted laughed.

"I still say that there's summat to the tale.  You mark my words."

"I'll mark more than your words, young Ted, if you don't mind your elders," grunted the Gaffer, draining the last of his pint.  "But I'm off home.  I've heard quite enough fanciful yarns for one evening.  Are you coming, Samwise?"

Sam, who had been listening to this conversation while keeping his own counsel, pushed his empty tankard to one side and stood up.

"Aye, I'm with you, Dad.  My head's fair spinning with all this prattle about mysterious mathoms."

Ted dug his elbow into Sam's side before the latter could dodge it.

"Why don't 'ee ask that young master o' yourn?  He has his long nose jammed in a book more often than not.   I reckon he knows the truth of it if anyone does."

"You leave Mr. Frodo out of this, Ted Sandyman," Sam said, drawing his brows together. "I don't like that kind of talk."

Ted merely snorted, and stuck his face back in his ale.

The evening crowd at The Green Dragon had thinned out somewhat, as those who had walked over from Hobbiton gradually took their leave.  It was almost a relief to step out into the cool evening air; the noise and heat of the inn were abruptly cut off as the door closed.  Sam planted his blackthorn stick in front of him and sighed.

"I wish he'd keep his trap shut."

The Gaffer chuckled.

"You know what they say, Samwise; the dog that fetches will carry.  Don't you tell him nowt."

"Mayhap there's truth in the story after all."

"Well, if there is, I've never caught sight of it.  A mathom that nobody wants to keep!  Chance would be a fine thing indeed."

Sam thought, privately, that Frodo might very well know of the strange mathom.  It wasn't all book learning with his master, as that rascal Ted had tried to make out.  You might not think it to look at him, with his soft ways and quiet manner, but he was tough as nails inside, was Mr. Frodo, and sharp as a tack; nothing much got past him.  Unlike some, he knew to keep his eyes open and his opinions to himself.

Sam sighed.

"Even so, it makes you think."

"Don't think too hard, lad.  Himself didn't take you on for what's between your ears."

Sam was hopeful that the Gaffer would never grasp the truth behind his words. The ears in question went a tad warm at the very idea.  What had surfaced that day in the loft couldn't be pressed under again.  It wasn't as if he wanted it to be, far from it.  It was only that, with all the strangers about the smial and the hard work he'd had to do both indoors and out, there hadn't been a single moment when they'd been alone together without fear of a stray hobbit popping in.  He felt like a hummer that had seen the flowers without being able to sip the nectar.  

If he was more than usually taciturn on the way home, the Gaffer didn't seem to notice, being a quiet hobbit himself.  It was a clear night, and Sam could see the light in the study window at Bag End as they came up Hill Lane.   When they walked in through the little wooden gate at No.3 Bagshot Row, they found Marigold standing in the entrance with her arms folded.

"You two look as miserable as a fish on a bed of embers.   Has our Sam been talking of elves again?"

"No, Mari, I haven't.  It's that Ted Sandyman.  He puts me out of humour every time I see his ugly mug."

Marigold tossed her head disdainfully.

"Then you're a fool to go drinking with him, Samwise.  And you, too, Dad.  Come inside and I'll fix you both a bite to eat."

Sam went to bed soon after with a morsel or two of cheese and toast resting companionably in his stomach.  Mayhap his old dad was right, and he shouldn't be always dreaming about the old tales; however, in spite of everything, he knew they weren't all marvels and prodigies.  Shire lore oft had something to it, notwithstanding it was young Sandyman as said so. 

This tale was a puzzle, and no mistake.  To speak fair, the Gamgee smial wasn't overstocked with mathoms, and Sam couldn't conceive of a mathom that never found a home.  How fearful a thing could it be, when all was said and done?  The first time he'd heard the story, by the fireside of a winter's evening, he'd imagined that the mysterious mathom was a boggart or something akin to one.  He'd been frighted by it for years after, believing it would surely turn up on their doorstep any day and he, Samwise Gamgee, would have to get rid of it one way or another.  He had wondered if he would even know when or if it came to him; moreover, who would there be to unwittingly take it from him?  With any luck, it would never come.

Trust Ted to stir up memories that were best forgotten.  He had hoped to put that fear away with his nursery toys and baubles.

He was starting to regret the cheese and toast about now.  He wished he could see Mr. Frodo's study lantern from where he lay.  It would draw them together in the night, so he wouldn't be lying here in his cubbyhole that didn't even boast a window.   He'd be with Frodo, secure in the heart of Bag End, and he wouldn't need to be alone anymore, worriting about haunts and fetches that lurk in the darkness. 

--------

Sam arrived at Bag End the next morning shortly after first breakfast and well before the other workers.  Now that the bathroom was at long last nearing completion in spite of many weeks of delays and frustration, the carpenter and the bricklayer were inclined to take the walk from Bywater at a more leisurely pace.  Sam would not have been surprised to hear that they had stopped along the way to have a word or two with the landlord of The Ivy Bush.   However, with any luck, the carpenter would still find time to finish the shelves and the towel rail before day's end, and by Highday Frodo could have the smial to himself at last.

Provided that the carter didn't tip his load into the Brandywine River, the bath would be delivered the following afternoon.  Sam had mounted the cistern on its platform the previous week, and inserted the pipe into the roof-space.   The water tank itself was currently blocking up one end of the passage until he found time to hoist it into the loft.  

Sam fondly hoped that there would be a small corner in Bag End for the youngest Gamgee son as well.  That went without saying, didn't it?  After all, his master would need him close by to pump the bath water.  Who knew how often his services might be required?  The Gaffer would be vastly put out if Sam failed to give satisfaction.  He sighed.  Now, Samwise, you know what you've always been taught: don't swallow gudgeons before you've caught 'em.  Frodo was like one of those tiny silvery fishes he used to try and grab hold of when he was a wee lad.  You couldn't go splashing about, troubling the water and snatching at everything in sight.  You had to hold your hand in the stream, quiet like, and wait for the fish to swim into it.  Nice and easy, that was how you did it.

Sam looked at the tank, and then sized up the hatch.  Unless he was very far out in his reckoning, the one should pass through the other with a finger's width to spare on each side.   If he climbed up into the loft and leaned over, two of the workers could pass the tank up to him.  It was only tin and couldn't weigh more than two stone at the outside.  He noticed, as he went over the plan in his head, that while the ladder was leaning against the wall where he had left it the previous day, the hatch was now open. That was odd.

"Oh, hallo, Sam.  You're here frightfully early."

Frodo emerged from the study, clothes rumpled and his dark curly hair sticking out in all directions.  Not, Sam admitted to himself, that this was so very different from the usual state of affairs.  It was as well that the others weren't here to see the master looking so mussed and tired.

"Were you up all night again, sir?"

"Not as such.  I'm afraid I fell asleep in the chair and now I have a fearful crick in my neck.  Would you have any notion of how to get rid of it for me?"

Sam smiled.  He couldn't find it in himself to be strict with Mr. Frodo when he was looking through his eyelashes like that,  his cheeks slightly flushed as if he'd been pressing his face too hard against the back of that ratty old chair of his.

"I might."

He was all prepared to smooth out the knots in Frodo's shoulders with some good firm kneading, but before he could even begin, he found himself backed up against the wall of the passage and covered in warm drowsy hobbit.

"It would be best, sir, if you were to turn round.   I can't hardly move with your arms coiled about me so snug."

"Mmm.  I don't care, Sam."

Sam couldn't raise his arms any higher than Frodo's waist.  It was a very nice waist, to be sure, but he couldn't very well ease Mr. Frodo's neck when he was caught tight in a vice.  He felt like a sapling in the grip of a hairy bindweed vine.

"Your neck..."

"Is fine, and very comfortable at the moment.  I'd like to go back to sleep again, actually.  I don't suppose you could stand here for a bit while I do that?"

"No, I don't think so, sir.  I've got to clear a space in the loft and sweep the boards so that all's set for the water tank."

Frodo yawned and leaned away again, dropping his arms and stepping back to glance up at the hole.

"I've done that already."

"Done what, sir?"

"Well, I know you said that I needn't remove Bilbo's boxes and oddments altogether, and that you could shift them to one side and slip the tank in next to them.  After you left yesterday I thought more about it and decided that perhaps it was time to bring them down and have a look."

Sam gasped.

"All of them, Mr. Frodo?"

"No, not quite all of them.  Still, I think you'll be surprised at how much room they take up in the study.  I was awake half the night, what with the opening and the sorting, and now I'm beginning to wonder how I'm ever going to put them back where they came from.  It was such a very small pile when I began, and yet after several trips up and down the ladder, the floor was suddenly covered with odds and ends and now I scarcely have room to move between my desk and the door.  And I must say, Sam, we will have to purchase a taller ladder, because that first step down is rather frightening."

Sam shuddered.  He was horrified to think that, while he and the Gaffer had been innocently enjoying the night air on their walk home from Bywater, Mr. Frodo might have been lying at the foot of that blasted ladder, with his leg broke, or worse.  There he'd stood, like a great lump, admiring the view up the Lane and content at the vision of Frodo nodding over one of his great dusty tomes, not knowing that his master was, in point of fact, up in the loft shifting boxes by candlelight.  It was too much, really it was.  Some hobbits weren't fit to live on their own; they needed looking after.

"What if you'd fallen through the ceiling and no one the wiser?"

He hadn't meant to voice those words.   He didn't want it to seem as if he, a hobbit barely into his tweens, were scolding the master of Bag End.

"If I had done, I expect I should still be dangling from the hole with my feet waving about in mid-air.  I'd have looked very silly, no doubt, had Master Euric come upon me first.  Someone would eventually have seen fit to lower me down, and I'd have been a ten days wonder throughout the Shire, but otherwise none the worse for wear."

Frodo took hold of Sam's hand and gently kissed it.

"Don't worry, Sam.  I won't go anywhere from now on unless you're there to watch out for me.  I give you my word."

Sam was aware of an uneasiness in his heart nonetheless.   Mr. Frodo was wilful at the best of times.   If his master decided that a thing ought to be done, then done it would be, with or without Sam's knowledge.  He wished it weren't so, yet the only remedy that he could see was to stick close and keep both eyes open.

Frodo tugged Sam's hand.

"Would you like to see the horrid mess I've made?  It will have to stay like that for some time, I'm sorry to say, as I really don't have the energy to do anything about it until I'm able to get a decent night's rest.  I'm so very tired from all the early mornings and the constant noise."

Sam was getting behind on the garden chores.  He couldn't neglect them for more than a few days without the garden beginning to run wild on him.  He had taken enough time away from it to finish the plumbing; he had been hoping not to take any more.  Then again, extra time spent at Bag End, if it meant being in the smial with Frodo, wasn't such a bad trade for all the hours it would take to get caught up.  He heaved a sigh of exasperation.

"I'm sure I could tidy everything away, sir, if you don't mind waiting a day or two.  There'll be quite a to-do on the morrow when the village catches sight of that new bath of yours.   It's more than likely they'll be tumbling over each other to get a closer look.   I reckon when they've cleared off home, I can take a bit of a breather and pop those boxes back in place for you as quick as thinking."

Frodo put one arm around Sam's neck, pressing his lower body up against Sam's in a rather unsettling way.

"Do you know what I'd like to do right now, Sam?"

Sam felt a little warm where teasing fingers were idly playing with his curls.   If they continued on their course, he would be heated up in other places as well.  He truly didn't want to spend the rest of the work day horribly conscious of the weight between his legs, not when curious eyes might be watching him.

Ever since those moments in the loft, it only took a glance at Frodo's hands, whether they were riffling through the barbs of his quill pen or idly stroking the wood of the old kitchen table, to turn him as hard as the hob.   Most times, he knew that he could wait for when they'd be able to take proper care of each other.   It wasn't always so easy.

 

"The same as what I want to do, Mr. Frodo.  I'm thinking you know why we can't."

"I do know, Sam, and I apologise.  I didn't mean to make it harder for you.  Well, I did, actually...," he trailed off uncertainly, with a slightly abashed expression.

Sam couldn't help but laugh at the look on his face.

"You do it without meaning to, me dear.  But that's alright; we'll sort it out in the end.  Come show me Mr. Bilbo's mathoms."

"My mathoms now, I'm afraid."

Mr. Bilbo had never been the tidiest of hobbits, it was true.  He had a way of putting something down, whether a plate of toast, a tea cup or a hastily scribbled note, and leaving it to gather dust until the next time he passed by.  As large as the smial was, that might be an hour, a day, or even months later.  Sam had never understood why he hadn't wanted more servants to look after him when he was scarcely able to look after himself.  All the same, in the years that Sam had been doing for the Bagginses in one way or another, there had been nothing to prepare him for what he saw the moment Frodo threw open the door of the study.

"Bless me, Mr. Frodo, if that isn't the sorriest sight I've ever seen.  If you don't mind me saying so," he added hastily, well aware that a hobbit could be very defensive on the subject of his mathoms. "You'll never get all this put to rights.  Most of those boxes are fit for naught but kindling."

There were objects everywhere--on the floor, on the desk, on the rounded window-ledge, on the hearth, on the chair, on the settee, and precariously balanced on the edges of bookshelves.  Every spot that could conceivably hold something was occupied by one or more of the mathoms that Bilbo had spent a long lifetime gathering.  There were candlesticks and butter knives, picture frames and paperweights.  In one corner was an umbrella stand that seemingly was made from the foot of some great beast.  It had a nasty, flaking look to it, and appeared to be leaking small quantities of sand.  There were marbles and toy ponies, odd chunks of stone, and wreathes of dried flowers that were pale and crumbling with filth and neglect.  The air of the room was thick with dust and a mixture of smells that was far from pleasant.  Sort of spicy and rotting at the same time, Sam thought.  There were apples carved out of wood, pine cones, walking sticks that looked like tree roots, copper pots and even an old leather bellows, cracked with age.  Each of these articles had come out of a box that was, as far as Sam could tell, in worse shape than its contents.  Nearly every one was for the scrap heap, that was certain.

"I thought you said that you'd 'sorted' the boxes, sir?"

Frodo nodded.

"Well, not so much sorted as looked through.  I did find one absolutely fascinating article.  Bilbo must have left it in the loft by accident one day while he was adding to the collection."

He plucked something from the summit of a tottering pile of empty cartons and held it up for Sam to see.

It was a small notebook, bound in coarse, dark blue cloth and with a curling yellowy paper label fixed to the front cover on which was written, in faded brown ink :  BILBO BAGGINS HIS BOOK OF MATHOMS.

"I had no idea that Cousin Bilbo kept a record of the family mathoms going back several generations.  At least, I think it does, but I'm not familiar with all of the names.  I shall have to check the records later.  It's most intriguing.  There seem to be far more items listed here than what I've come across while looking through the boxes.  You don't suppose that the remaining bits and pieces could still be up in the loft, do you?"

Sam groaned inwardly.

"I'm not sure as I want to know the answer to that, Mr. Frodo.  Every now and again it's best to leave a thing lying where you found it.  Gamgee mathoms are practical like, the kind of mathoms that you can tuck away somewheres for when you might need them.  If we had this much old rubbish hanging about the place we shouldn't have nowhere to sit, and that's the truth.  I hope you won't take my words amiss, sir, but I don't think most of these mathoms will ever be of use to any hobbit."

Frodo eyed the array of knick-knacks as if measuring the strength of an enemy or the height of the Lonely Mountain from Mr. Bilbo's tale.

"I fear you're right, Sam.  I wish I had the nerve to take them to the tip.  Bilbo kept them for all those years and it rather goes against the grain to simply toss them out.  What if I were to see him again and he made a casual remark about old Uncle Largo's favourite tea cosy?  Well, I should have to admit that I'd gotten rid of it, shouldn't I?"

He tapped the cover of the notebook.

"Could he really have added every single one of his mathoms to this list?"

He opened the little book curiously, and thumbed quickly through the pages.

"Hmm.  It seems as if he gave up part way through.  More than half the pages are empty.  Oh my, but some of these entries are peculiar.  Item #62: a very large shell, found on the beach at Harlond by my ancestor Ringo Baggins (who was a great traveller), mounted on a silver base and incised with periwinkle flowers; Item #43: a rock, strangely pitted and streaked with green, part of the collection of my great-uncle Ponto Baggins; Item #108: a writing box, gilt, inset with ebony, belonging to my grandmother Laura Grubb.  Item # 14: a coat of--I can't quite read the word; he's crossed it out.   Gracious, I don't recall seeing any of these.  I believe I'll have to look for them, as tedious as the task will no doubt prove to be.  Bilbo must have shoved them to the back of the loft many years ago.  Some of them sound quite valuable, and I can't possibly let them go uncounted, now can I?"

Sam was in a quandary.  He might have had his hand down the back of Mr. Frodo's breeches more than once during the adventure in the loft, but if he ever hoped to do so again then he couldn't go telling his master what he should or shouldn't do in his own smial.  It wasn't right.  If Frodo was to brave the dangers of the loft again, then he would have to go with him or, at the very least, stand below and hold the ladder.

"If we bring down the leftovers first, sir, then we can lay them out in the passage, give the loft a good thorough cleaning with a broom and mop, and then put this lot back where it belongs.  I doubt you'll want to see any of these again, so if I push them into the corners you can place the more precious mathoms to the fore.  That way you can get at them if you need them, or if you want--begging your pardon, sir," Sam coughed, "to give any of them away."

"That sounds like a wonderful plan.  When shall we start?"

"I think we can safely leave it until the plumbing is finished.  None of what's left up above is going to walk away on its own."

Sam hoped that would be enough to discourage any more adventures for the time being.  He had quite enough to worry about without wondering where Frodo was at every moment of the day.  Or night.

"Oh, if you say so."

Frodo sounded mildly disappointed.  He was still paging through the Book of Mathoms

"Hold on.  This might interest you, Sam.  I know how much you value old stories and puzzles.  On the very last page, Bilbo has inscribed a riddle, one I've never heard before.  It says: 'I have dwelled in Middle-earth through years unnumbered.  My power goes deeper than the roots of trees.  I have sought out every creature, been to each one's door.  There is none who has not known me, though not all will see me.  I wander without limbs, have sight but no eyes, and speak with no mouth.   I live without begetting.  I linger not with any but must pass on to the next.  Reader, guess my riddle.'  What do you suppose it could mean?  Why would he end his Mathom-Book with a riddle?"

"I couldn't say, sir.  Perhaps he'd just thought of it, and wrote it down before he could forget.  He was always a great one for riddles."

"Yes, he was.  That's how he came by...oh, never mind.  I'll have to think about this one.   I know that some riddles have no answers, or at least none that any hobbit has been able to find.  This could be one of those, if it's very old."

Up until that moment, Sam had been unsure of his way.  He hadn't wanted to ask about the mysterious mathom.  It wasn't so much that he was embarrassed at being caught out listening to such old wives' nonsense, not a bit of it.  It was only that all that natter yestereve had grated on his nerves something awful.  He didn't like to think that he was asking only because young Sandyman had put the idea into his head.  Ted's words had been mean and spiteful.

"There's a question I've been itching to ask, Mr. Frodo, though I don't know as it's proper.  I don't like spreading fireside tales, and I was right angry with Ted Sandyman when he said what he oughtn't to have said...."

"Ted Sandyman?"

"The miller's son, and a ninny if ever there was one, always rambling on about what don't concern him."

"What did this Ted say that you didn't like?"

Sam felt very bold at the moment, but he still couldn't get his mind round the idea of telling Frodo precisely what Ted had said that was of a more personal nature.

"I'd as soon forget that part of it.  It's what he said afore that I meant to ask about.  Did you ever hear tell of a story called 'The Mysterious Mathom'?"

Frodo reflected for a moment and then shook his head.

"No, I don't believe I have.  It sounds like a ghost story."

"More like a taradiddle if you ask me.  My Gaffer was quite put out with Ted for mentioning it; he didn't think it were fit talk for The Green Dragon."

"I should have thought that any talk was fit for The Dragon.  A hobbit in his cups may say anything he pleases, surely?"

"That may be, sir, but Ted weren't in his cups.  He likes to hear himself talk as long as others will listen, which ain't long when my old dad's about, bless him."

"The mysterious mathom?"

"Ah, well, the story goes that there's a mathom that no one can bring himself to keep, and so it passes from hand to hand. No one knows what it is because no one has ever seen it, or admits to having seen it leastways.  This has been going on for as long as the old grandmothers can remember, maybe longer."

"Do you think there is such a mathom?"

"I reckon not, Mr. Frodo.  It makes no sense if you set your mind to pondering it. If every hobbit in the Shire has had the keeping of it at one time or another, then how is it that no one can say what it is?  When I was a lad I supposed it was one of those things that grown ups wouldn't tell you about.  Now I know better, and I don't believe it exists."

"Then why were you so angry at this young Sandyman?  It seems a harmless enough story."

Sam blushed and looked away.

"He said, why didn't I ask you, that you knew everything because..."

"What?"

"You've always got your nose stuck in a book."

Frodo laughed.

"Oh, Sam.  That's certainly true.  I'm sorry, but I don't have an answer for you.  I truly don't know if there is such a thing.  If anyone would know it would be Bilbo; he obviously made a greater study of mathoms than I have.   I don't suppose I'll ever be able to ask him."

"It's no great matter, sir.  I wouldn't have asked only it was perplexing me no end, and I could scarcely get to sleep last night for thinking on it.  I do wish he hadn't brought it up.  He's daft as a brush sometimes.  He does it to rib me, I'm convinced of it.  My old dad tried to make him say it was all nonsense but he wouldn't budge an inch."

Frodo gave Sam a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"Don't let it bother you, Sam.  By the time we've finished dealing with Bilbo's mathoms, you'll almost wish you'd never heard the word.  You'll be thinking that it might not be such a bad business after all, passing your mathoms on to someone else."

Before Sam could give his master a proper hug back--and it was as well that he couldn't, as one thing had a way of leading to another--their talk was abruptly cut off by the arrival of Master Euric and his 'crew'.  

Even though the copper had been cemented in place to the full satisfaction of the bricklayer, he had remained on site, as the senior craftshobbit, to make life miserable for the carpenter and his mate.  It was most unfortunate that he had nothing better to do than torment them in the bathroom or talk loudly to himself while Sam was in the loft sweating over the pipe laying.  Every afternoon, when Sam had nurtured fond hopes of a spell of peace and quiet in the garden, the bricklayer had followed him outside and loudly shared his views on the news from Hobbiton while Sam hid himself behind the bramble bushes and pretended not to hear.  Now, finally, it was all about to end.  One more day and Master Euric would have moved on to other pastures.

Sam left Frodo in the study, and went out into the passage to snaffle old Euric before he'd had a chance to get settled in his usual corner of the bathroom.  It might hasten the carpenter's job if he didn't have to endure the rambling commentary on the quality of joinery in this sadly decayed age.  Besides, it would warm Sam's heart to see the bricklayer struggling to lift the water tank by himself.

After this chore was accomplished,  and Euric had slunk off somewhere to smoke a pipe of Old Toby, drink a mug of ale and recover his strength, Sam was able to get down to the serious matter of fitting the last of the pipe.   He hummed a little while he did this, pleased that Mr. Frodo would be able to have his first bath on the morrow, if all went well.  It was very hot and stuffy in the loft, in spite of the air shafts that Bilbo must have had installed many years ago.  Now that there weren't so many teetering piles of mathom boxes and assorted oddities, the high groined vaults above the roof-space were clearly visible.  Sam thought that, maybe, if Frodo was willing to leave the mathoms in the passage for a spell, he could put on another coat of pitch and flax oil to keep the damp out.

By late afternoon, having taken a brief standeasy by the kitchen door and seen the workers leave one by one, he was ready to test his work by filling the new tank with water and checking for leaks.  He wasn't expecting any, but it was best to be on the safe side.  He'd hate for Mr. Frodo to have a wet patch on his ceiling.

It was rather peaceful back of the blackthorn hedge.  He'd always had a fondness for this sort of work, the kind where you didn't have to think too much about the task at hand but could let your mind run to other matters.  It would take awhile to fill the tank.  It hadn't looked like much, sitting up there on the beams, but it held a deal of water all the same.  He pumped and pumped, wondering about the new bath.  He had a suspicion that his master had a drawing of it somewheres about the study, but he hadn't been able to so much as catch a glimpse.  Frodo blushed anytime he asked about it, and changed the subject.  For some reason that he didn't entirely understand, this was a happy thought, and he smiled to himself.

"Sam?  Have you gone home yet?"

A soft, hesitant voice roused him out of his daydream.

"I'm right here, Mr. Frodo," he called out, "behind the hedge.  I'm pumping water into the tank now that all's finished."

Frodo peered around the side of the thorn bush, uncertain of his footing on the soft sloping ground.

"You've taken your jacket off, Sam."

"Yes, sir.  It's hot work when the tank starts out empty, though I'm right glad to be out of the loft, if I do say so."

Frodo came over and stood near him, watching the action of the pump with a speculative eye.

"So it is a lot of work, in spite of what you said?"

"Well, it's my first time using this tool so I have to get into the pacing of it.  It does benefit from a regular kind of movement, if you catch my meaning.   And of course, I had to prime it first--get it nice and full so that it draws right."

Frodo poked him in the arm.

"You're doing it again, Sam."

Sam looked away.

"Sorry, sir.  Didn't mean to.  I reckon it comes natural by now.  I'm nearly done here, and then I'll be off home to my supper.  I'll be making an early start on the garden tomorrow.  I want to be finished by dinner so I can keep an eye on that lumpkin that does the carting from Bree.  We don't want him turning your new bath into a piece of fancy scrap metal."

Sam knew that his master had words for him, but he couldn't think how to ease them out.  He'd known, the moment that Frodo had come up the hill; there was a look in his eyes like a stricken animal, wide and full of surprise.  Whatever it was, it was near bursting out of him.  All the same, he seemed a bit distracted now, shifting restlessly from one foot to the other and fiddling with the buttons of his weskit, while he stared at Sam's hand gripping the handle of the pump.  He had moved a little further away and appeared to be closely examining the ground near the hedge with occasional glances toward the pump.

"It moves so smoothly, Sam.  Doesn't it ever need...well, you know..."

"A spot of oil to ease it, you mean, sir?  No, it goes a treat with no more'n a smidgin of elbow grease.  It could run all day if my arm were only up to it.  Don't you worry, Mr. Frodo, it's my pleasure to do this for you."

"And mine to watch you do it," Frodo answered in a weak voice.

Sam stopped pumping.

"Are you ailing, sir?  You look a bit peaky to my way of thinking."

"It's no wonder when all the blood is draining to my..." Frodo shook his head.  "Would you come here for a moment, Sam? You've finished pumping, I take it?"

"Yes, I have."

"Good.   I realised something just now, while I was reading the mathom book, and I needed to tell you right away.  Unfortunately, there's something else I need to do first, if you don't mind.  No, don't put on your jacket again."

Sam came round to join Frodo in the narrow gap between the hedge and the cistern.  There wasn't a great deal of room there, barely enough for two hobbits to stand together, and only if they knew each other very well.  Sam had a suspicion that he was about to get to know Mr. Frodo better.  Well, it was more than time, though perhaps this wasn't the best place to become familiar.

"We're outside, sir."

"So we are.  You told me that the cistern couldn't be seen from the lane."

"No more it can, but what if someone were to come over the hill?"

"There's no public footpath over the hill; no sheep are being grazed nearby.  Should anyone happen to stray off the path, we're merely two curious hobbits studying the new cistern at Bag End.  What a remarkable piece of equipment it is, too."

As Frodo spoke these words, he was deftly undoing the front of Sam's breeches and pulling the flap to one side.

"I appreciate your teasing, Sam.  In fact, I adore your teasing.  But right now I'd like the teasing to stop and..."

Sam drew in a sharp breath.

"Oh, Mr. Frodo.  I surely hope you're not teasing this time, because you've just grabbed hold of my apricots."

"Mmm.  So soft.  You left this part out in your explanation of the plumbing fixtures.  I'm not sure that I quite know what to do with them."

In Sam's estimation, Frodo was doing a fine job of handling things.  He was very glad that he was propped up, with the cistern at his back, and relieved that he had purchased the sturdiest cistern he could find, because Frodo was working the pump rather vigorously and a cistern of lesser quality wouldn't have stood the test. 

"I think I'm primed, sir."

"I think you are as well.  I don't believe the piston will go any higher.  Shall we see?"

Frodo sank to his knees in the soggy grass and before Sam could say 'Bob's your uncle' ( though he'd never quite understood that expression as he'd never had an uncle Bob), he had popped Sam's lever straight into his mouth and was  attempting to suck the liquid right ought of it.  Oh my, that was better than he'd ever dreamed it could be; it was much finer than the quick grope they'd had in the loft.  He thought he was beginning to understand why some hobbits might prefer indoor plumbing.

"Frodo, I can't...."

Frodo took his mouth away and pulled Sam down into the grass.

"Shhh, Sam.  We might be invisible, but if we're not careful the Widow Rumble will be spreading stories about how the cistern at Bag End is haunted.  'Oh, Daddy Twofoot, she'll say, that thing do moan somethin' fierce of an evening.'"

Sam grimaced.

"I'd laugh, sir, but I'm afeared I'd pull a muscle.  I feel tight all over.  Could you...?"

Frodo had undoubtedly been paying close attention when Sam had described the manual operation of a well-built pump.  In fact, he wondered if Frodo might have read that leaflet he had accidentally left at Bag End this week just gone.  'Helpful Hints for Hand Pump Use', it was called.  It had a rather life-like picture of a pump being made use of.  Clever with their hands, were dwarves.

Mr. Frodo was clever with his hands as well.   While his tongue roamed along the silky skin of Sam's inner thighs, licking ever higher, his thumb was smoothing over the knob with a deft twist, moving the little hood back and forth as it went.  Sam felt it was a right shame that he would never be able to tell Ted the true uses of book-learning.   He did so wish he could laugh about it, but Frodo was nuzzling right down there at the root, pulling the softness into his mouth and Sam figured the berries must be ripe about now because he was surely going to burst any second.  Frodo knew it, too, and closed his mouth over Sam's cock, cushioning the head with his tongue.  All Sam could do was bite his sleeve and hope to stifle the cry as he came more forcefully than he'd ever done in all his born days.

It took him a few minutes to gain his bearings.  It was like falling asleep after you'd had a generous serving of cherry cobbler with your tea, and waking up and wondering where you were and how much time had flown by.  He'd never woken up flat on his back and staring at the sky.  He was very warm, however.  He looked down.

"But, sir-- I mean, Frodo, you haven't...have you?"

Frodo was kissing him in a slow, easy kind of way, as if they weren't outside in the damp, and him with his breeches still undone.   It wasn't the spot he'd have chosen for the first romantic encounter with his master, jammed up tight between the hedge and the cistern.  Mind you, it had a certain rightness to it, since all of this had begun over talk of pipes and shafts.  They might be able to take it indoors next time, try something a bit more adventuresome.

Frodo seemed intent, for the moment, on licking every part of Sam's skin that he could reach without stripping Sam down till he was in the altogether.  He had one hand still tucked up between Sam's thighs, which Sam thought very nice indeed.  The hand squeezed, ever so slightly, and Frodo pulled back, watching Sam's face closely.

"It's a gift, Sam," Frodo said softly.

There was that look again, the stricken one.  Now it would out.

Sam sat up and pulled the front of his breeches shut.  He couldn't carry on a serious conversation all moist and dangling out like that.  It felt queer.

"A gift?"

Frodo gave him one last lingering kiss for a keepsake, and then put his head down on Sam's shoulder.

"It's what I came out here to tell you, until you distracted me so dreadfully with your pumping and your parts that don't need oiling.   I'm very disappointed because I'd been hoping to watch you work that pump as often as I could find time for, but now I'm sure that we'll wear a furrow in the ground if I do.  I only have to see you...well, your arm and the ...," Frodo made the gesture that had begun it all, "and I want to throw myself on you."

Sam tried to see Frodo's face, but it was impossible from this angle.  He brushed the curls away from Frodo's forehead nonetheless and placed a kiss there.

"What did you want to say to me?  I knew there was summat.  I could tell by the look in your eyes the instant you came round the corner of the hedge."

"I've guessed the riddle.  I never would have if you hadn't told me the tale of the mysterious mathom.   I couldn't understand why Bilbo would put a riddle, one riddle, at the back of his mathom book.  He knew the answer as well, but writing it in the book would have been cheating, don't you see? He never imagined anyone would notice it in any case, so it didn't matter."

"What's the answer to the riddle, then, sir, and what has it got to do with the mathom story?"

"They're the same thing.  The mathom in the story is the answer to the riddle.  The speaker in the riddle says that it's been in Middle-earth for an uncounted number of years, like your gift that has passed from hand to hand for so long.  It's more powerful than anyone can comprehend, and even though everyone has had it at one time or another, very few truly recognise it.  That's why your Gaffer couldn't get Ted to admit that he'd seen it or knew of anyone else who had.  It can see and speak and wander, although it apparently has no body.  It has no children, so there is nothing else like it.  And in spite of this thing being so powerful, apparently no one is able to keep it or wants to; it has to be passed on."

"I'm sorry, it's still a puzzle to me."

"How could it be a puzzle, Sam, when you possess it right at this instant?"

"I do?"

"Yes."

Frodo placed a hand on Sam's chest.

"It's a heart in love.  That's all.  Just a heart in love.  You have mine.  I've gifted it to you."

Sam was overcome then by a deep silence, the kind that he felt at each midwinter, when he turned over the first shovel-full of soil to prepare for the spring plantings.  It was a silence that was always there with him as he worked the ground through the spring and summer, the sort of silence that made him want to lie back on the earth and become one with it.  Now he had.  There was a rootedness in him that took its strength from this silence.  He had always thought that it was a bond between a gardener and his Shire, nothing more.  He'd been wrong, as usual.  The mysterious mathom, that he'd been fearful of all those years, had come to him after all, and he could never tell anyone.  Only he and Frodo would ever know.

Frodo was waiting, wasn't he, waiting for him to answer.  He wasn't any good at this, not when it came to saying the thing that mattered most. 

"Sam?"

Sam hung on tight, not able to answer for the words welling up in him.

"Do I have yours?"

"Oh, Frodo," he said, finally, "You know you do.  I gave it to you long ago."

 

Chapter 3: Polishing the Copper
 

"Walk on, you silly thistle-brained get of a Shire mill-pony.  There won't be no oats for your tea if you don't pull your nose out o' them weeds."

"Now see here, Toby Mugwort, there's no call for you to insult our stock just 'cos your nag got short rations for her breakfast.  She'll bide until she's good and ready."

The carter grunted and hauled on the reins in a half-hearted fashion, but to no avail.  His off pony had uncovered a patch of bristly oxtongue by the verge and had no mind to walk on until every last morsel had been bolted down.  The near pony, meanwhile, was placidly gazing into the far distance.

The cart had come to its unintended halt on the steepest stretch of the Hill, beside the turn-off to Bagshot Row.  It was instantly surrounded by a horde of onlookers who had followed it through the village in hopes of catching a glimpse of what lay beneath the tarp.  The object, whatever it might be, was plainly long and cumbersome.  It stuck out well beyond the waggon's tail and was held in place by a tangled web of ropes that was fastened securely on all sides.

"What've 'ee got in there, Toby?"  wheezed an old fellow in a bright blue jacket and red gaiters. " I ain't never seen a thing so uncommon large go past my door since old Bungo Baggins, father to Bilbo Baggins, brung home that great wooden bed o' his; and no sooner had he bought it than he up and died in it.  I was hardly more'n a babe in arms, hanging on to me mam's skirts, but I recollect it clearly."

He nodded and smacked his gums.

"You're addled, Rollo," answered another gaffer, "he was dead afore you was born."

"You mind your manners, young muggins.  I know what I know and...."

Before Rollo Goodbody could raise his cane in a threatening gesture, their exchange was cut short by the actions of a tiny lad, not old enough to be breeched, who darted into the lane through the legs of his elders.  He clutched the end of the tarp where it was dragging in the dust and pulled it up as high as he could reach.  The villagers froze, horrified lest the load break free and crush the child, yet not one stepped forward to draw him away.  They were far more intent on the astonishing and quite unexpected flash of light, like a great copper sparkler or an elf-fountain, that blazed forth as the sun hit the prodigy beneath the sheet of canvas.

"Oh my, if that don't beat all.  He's gone and bought himself a metal coffin," said Rollo.

"It's not a coffin, you daft old bugger, it's a bath."

"Get out of it, Dudo.  When did you ever see a bath made out of copper?"

"I ain't never seen a copper buryin' box neither," broke in Hamfast Gamgee, who had come out of his smial to see what the rumpus was about.

"He's got a point there, Rollo. "

"It must be four foot long and as broad as the inn door.  Why would any hobbit be wanting a bath that size?" asked Ted, who didn't much care for bathing, if the truth were told.

"Maybe he's hoping to grow a wee bit, and him all of thirty-five and three foot ten!"  shouted someone in the crowd.

This set off a roar of laughter from those assembled.

"Belike he's heedful, which is more than you could say of his cousin Bilbo.  I heard tell that Furlong the Fat got stuck in his bath once on a time.   It took a good half-dozen of his kin to hoist him out of it.  Better to be safe than sorry, is what I say," said the Widow Rumble, with a nod to Gaffer Gamgee.

"Rumour has it that he ain't fat everywheres," said Daddy Twofoot.

"Oh, Daddy, you're a caution," the Widow laughed, covering her face with her apron.

"I still say it's more than any hobbit needs to wash his parts in.  You could put runners on it and call it a sledge.  If Milo Burrows packed his brood inside there'd be room left over, it's that big," grumbled Ted, although no one ever paid him any mind.

"A bath o' that size is an unchancy thing for a hobbit whose parents were drownded in the River.  He'll think on that day whenever he sets his toes in the water," the elder Sandyman answered.

"You've a maggot in your brain, Sandyman," said Gaffer Gamgee.  "I've never known a hobbit to drown in his bath, and don't tell me you have because I won't believe it.  It's stuff and nonsense."

Sandyman was not to be deterred.

"I've never seen a bath akin to it; that's all I'm saying."

"No more have I, but it's not for the likes of us, that's for certain.  You should mind your potatoes, Miller, and let others mind their own."

-------

Frodo and Sam were cooling their feet and enjoying a pipe together in the shade of the willow arbour.  They had just finished elevenses and were full of seed cake and treacle scones and the satisfaction of knowing that their plumbing ordeal would soon be over.  Sam drew thoughtfully on his pipe.

"Those scones went down a treat."

"Mmm.  You must thank Marigold.  She's a dab hand at baking."

Frodo undid the last button of his weskit and stretched out his legs, sighing contentedly.  An errant breeze ruffled the hair on his feet and he wiggled his toes in what Sam considered an especially fetching way.  Sam's teeth gripped the stem of his pipe a little tighter.

"If you don't mind me leaving you in charge, Sam, I might take a stroll into the village and have a chat with Orderic about getting the chimneys cleaned before autumn.   He was extremely tardy last summer, and that young lad of his made a terrific mess on the bedroom floor.  And speaking of dirt- -I was hoping to have a long hot bath before nightfall," he ended wistfully.

"I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you, Mr. Frodo."

"No, I suppose not."

He had barely finished speaking when an odd noise, like a flock of startled geese, rose on the air from the direction of Bagshot Row.  Sam jumped to his feet and ran across to the front of the garden.

"Oh, burrs and brambles."

"Don't tell me, Sam.  I don't want to hear it."

"Begging your pardon, sir, but it's the bath, as sure as eggs is eggs.  I'll have to go down into the Lane and sort it out.  Don't fret yourself; it'll be settled in a jiffy."

Frodo slipped his pipe into his jacket pocket and stood up. 

"I think it would be best if we went together."

Sam was afraid that it might not be best at all.   If it happened that he had to get a bit sharp with the carter he'd as soon his master wasn't at hand to see him do it.   It would be like having an ox treading on his tongue to know that Frodo was standing nearby with that cool blue gaze resting on him.  He'd feel awkward, to say the least.  Even so, there was no denying that Frodo was more than able to handle his own affairs, and if one hobbit on his own couldn't put the fear of the Shirriff into the carter, then mayhap two hobbits could.

The spreading branches of the Party Tree had prevented Sam from appreciating the true size of the throng that had gathered about the waggon.  The only thing he'd been certain of was that, for some strange reason, the cart was stuck fast in the lane and appeared unlikely to move without his mucking in to help shift it.  However, as they drew closer, Sam could hear loud voices lifted in jovial banter.

"There'll be a lot of polishing there I shouldn't wonder."

"Aye, and we know what's going to be polishing the bottom, now don't we?"

"Mind yer language, Rollo, there's young 'uns present.  And Missus Lobelia, o' course, begging your pardon."

Mention of Lobelia put a damper on everyone's spirits, although one young fellow was heard to mutter something about 'Baggins's Folly'.   This epithet was greeted with several grunts of approval.

"You have the right of it, Chilperic.  You're a canny one for your years.   We've allus said that the Bagginses are a peculiar lot -- present company excepted, Mistress Lobelia -- but to be reckless over a bath....   It's a bad business."

A voice like that of a fox with feathers jammed in its throat--unmistakeably that of Lobelia herself--spoke up.

"If it were in my hands there'd be cold water, a bar of soap and a good rough cloth for scrubbing the body and there'd be no bathroom in Bag End.  What's wrong with a tub in front of the kitchen fire?  It was good enough for Lotho."

Frodo stopped dead in his tracks.  It seemed as if he hardly knew where to look. 

"Oh, Sam.  Why didn't I have the bath brought through the village in the middle of the night?" he asked quietly, lest anyone hear.  "They're never going to let me forget it.  Do you suppose I could say that it's actually a planter for your tomato vines?  Is copper beneficial for tomatoes, do you know?"

"I couldn't rightly say, sir.  Somehow I don't think they're going to believe that story.  It's a bit of a stretch.   I shouldn't worry.  They'll have forgotten about it in a fortnight or two."

Sam thought he heard Frodo murmur "when pigs fly in the air with their tails forward" under his breath, but he said nothing.  It wasn't for him to tell his master that the village had already decided that Mr. Baggins of Bag End was as queer as they come, and couldn't get much queerer; 'not in a month of Highdays', as a village wit had put it one evening at The Ivy Bush.  He had a suspicion that Frodo already knew what they said about him, and yet it wasn't kind to come right out and tell him to his face with the entire village standing there gawping at the new bath.

The crowd was, indeed, so engrossed by this unexpected sensation in its midst, that it was some time before anyone besides the carter and his near pony noticed the new arrivals.  In Sam's estimation, both of their long faces were equally vacant. 

Before the carter could open his mouth to complain, Sam had grabbed the pony's bridle and yanked its head away from the thistles.

"What are you doing, Mugwort, sitting there like a stuffed duck when Mr. Frodo's been waiting for you up at the Smial all morning?"

"Aw, don't fret your gizzard.  The pony will go now that you've turned him about."

"Couldn't you have done that yourself?"

"I had to stay here and mind the load, didn't I?"

Sam shook his head in disgust.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Frodo, but it's as I said it would be.  These Bree hobbits think too highly of themselves, and that's a fact."

"Never mind, Sam.  It's not your fault."

Frodo glared at the carter and gestured to the ponies.

"I think it's time, Master, that you took charge of your animals and cleared this obstruction out of the lane.  The sooner I have my order delivered, the sooner you can be off home to Bree; or to The Green Dragon, which is far more likely."

"Oh, now, Mr. Baggins.  Don't be hasty.  Slow and easy wins the race as often as not."

"Slow is one thing, Master Mugwort; stopped dead is quite another," Frodo turned to the assembled hobbits, "and if everyone could stand aside to make room for the cart, I should be grateful."

There was subdued grumbling from certain quarters, but nevertheless the villagers squeezed onto the verge and the bath was finally on its way up the Hill, with those who had breath to walk that far trailing along in the rear.

Sam was as eager as any hobbit could possibly be to see the bath.   Unfortunately, the canvas had again fallen neatly into place to cloak its mysteries.  He stayed by the side of the cart and every once in awhile reached out and put his hand to the load, to reassure himself that it was safe and sound.  He fancied that he could almost feel the smooth warmth of the metal glowing through the tarp.  He was anxious to find out what it would be like when the shrouding fabric was removed.   A small, secret part of him hoped that only he and Frodo would be there to gaze on it.

When they arrived at Bag End, he hurried to open the main door and propped it with the iron door stop that stood in the hall, glancing around at the same time to be sure that nothing was blocking the way.   He didn't want any excuses for dawdling in the passage as the bath was brought in.

While the carter slowly untied the ropes, Sam looked intently at the gathering and spotted a familiar face.

"Ted Sandyman, don't stand there with your hands in your pockets.  Come and put your shoulder under Mr. Frodo's bath and be quick about it. "

Ted opened his mouth just wide enough to let a fly in, before Gaffer Gamgee gave him a poke in the ribs and a stern look.

"You do what our Sam tells you, lad.  You're the youngest here, if I'm not mistaken."

Ted could not gainsay him.  He slouched over to the cart with an ill grace and waited for Sam to give the word.  Mugwort was already poised on the bed of the cart, and when Sam yelled "heave" he shoved the bath towards them and Sam and Ted hoisted it up on to their shoulders.   The carter jumped down after it and grabbed the end, swinging it round at a surprising rate for someone of such a sluggish temper.   If the villagers had been hoping for a final glimpse of the gleaming metal before it vanished forever into the depths of the smial they were to be sorely disappointed.  The tarp stayed in place as if by some magic unheard of in the Shire, and the bath went in through the green door with a flourish.  A few bold spirits, too old to know any better, attempted to follow it, but Frodo placed himself in the entrance and fended them off.

Ted grumbled and groaned for the entire length of the passage, so that Sam would have been sorely tempted to box his ears if he'd had a hand free. 

"Oh, shut your trap, Ted.  You can put the bath alongside the far wall, if you please.  That's it.  Pull the cloth out from under so as it don't get caught.  No, don't take it off; leave it be."

"That thing were heavy, Samwise Gamgee.  I'm all to pieces," Ted complained, while striving to take a gander at the bath in spite of his woebegone expression.

"Then you'd best be off home, hadn't you?  At least your da will know you did some work today."

Toby Mugwort scratched his eyebrow with a faintly puzzled air.

"I've carried a deal of goods in my cartin' days, but I ain't never seen the likes o' that monstrosity.  Whatever will he do with it?"

"He'll bathe in it, of course, same as you or me if we had the chance.  Now, off with you both; I've got chores to do."

Frodo was perched on the step and had apparently been button-holed by Lobelia, who was giving him an earful if Sam was any judge of the matter. 

"If he'd had a penn'orth of sense in his noddle, he'd have noticed that...."

Frodo's relief at Sam's return was plain for anyone who had eyes to see with. 

"Ah, there you are.  Everything all set?" he asked, dipping into his weskit pocket for some coins to place on willing palms. 

"Thank you, Master, and - Ted, is it?  Yes, Ted.  Thank you both."

He turned to go into the smial, but then looked behind him with a slight frown.

"Oh, Sam, leave the garden until later.  I'll need your help with the tarp.  You'll have to stow it in the loft, I think, next to the tank."

Sam suppressed a smile as he followed along in Frodo's wake.  The last thing he heard as he shut the door was Lobelia's voice.

"Shire tin ain't good enough for him, I suppose?  That's what happens when you bring in fosterlings from Buckland; they take to outlandish ways the moment you leave them to themselves.  Dwarvish devices in Bag End!  I've never heard of such an outrage!"

Sam placed his back to the door, determined to defend the smial from dragons if need be.

"I'm sorry, sir.  She's as mean as cat's piss, that one."

Frodo shook his head wearily.

"It wouldn't matter what I did, Sam, she wouldn't like it."

"No, she wouldn't.  Still and all, just because she's spitting feathers, it don't mean you have to be covered in 'em."

"I don't give a fig for what Lobelia may think or say.   I only wish I could avoid her.   Never mind."

Frodo slipped off his jacket and hung it on the coat rack behind the door, smoothing the folds out and straightening the collar.  He rolled up his sleeves as Sam watched, the small, square hands folding back the cuffs neatly on either side. 

"Shall we have a first inspection of the bath, then, or do you not want to see it after all?" 

"Not want to see it!  Lor' bless you, I do hope you're pulling my leg, because I...," he bit off the words as soon as he realised that Frodo was teasing him.

Frodo brushed a hand up Sam's thigh and lowered his eyes.

"What if I were to say that there was something else I'd rather pull?"

Sam swallowed nervously.

"I'd tell you that I'd like to see the bath right quick, if it's all the same to you."

Frodo draped an arm across Sam's shoulders and guided him down the passage to the bathroom.  

The bath had been placed on a low platform, which the carpenter had made the previous week, to raise it a few inches off the stone flags.  It now sat right below the pipe that brought in the hot water.

Frodo pulled the canvas away with a self-satisfied air, in spite of his apparent unease over the purchase, and at long last Sam saw the reason why, for so many weeks, his master had been blushing and avoiding his questions.  He'd never seen such an astounding thing in all his life.  It near brought him out in a sweat merely gazing at it. 

It was sleek and gleaming polished copper, from its high curved front delicately engraved with a pattern of fruits and flowers, to the seat nestled inside the far end.  This seat was broad enough for the largest hobbit to rest securely on and had nice rolled edges front and back so that you wouldn't rub yourself raw against it.  It was supported by long slots, one on each side of the bath, and could be placed in whatever position you desired.  There was also a shelf with hinges on the opposite side, a shelf that had plenty of room for cloths and towels,  bars of soap, jars of comfrey salve or lavender and peppermint foot lotion and bottles of whatever shape and size.  There were even several copper bars with carved bone handles to grip while you were stepping in and out.  Last, but not least from Sam's point of view, was a tap at one end to let the water drain off.

Sam thought it very grand, but far too capacious for one small body to make good use of.  He hated to admit it, but there might have been some truth in the gaffers' gossip.  Frodo would float away, sitting in there by himself.  He ran his hand along the uppermost edge, following the outline of the pattern, fancying that this bath was a ship at sea, with a tall mast but only one lost, forlorn hobbit at the helm.

"Didn't you order the bath afore..." he trailed off uncertainly.

Frodo said something too soft for Sam to hear and turned his head away.

"Begging your pardon, I didn't quite catch that, Mr. Frodo."

Frodo cleared his throat.

"I ordered it the moment you told me about your plans, Sam.  You know I did."

"And what would a hobbit living by himself need with such a bath, I'm wondering.  The entire village is asking the question, so I'll add my tuppence worth to the reckoning."

"Well," Frodo said, straightening the towels and fussing with his sleeves, "I can't really speak for other hobbits, but this particular hobbit hoped that one day he might have someone with whom he could share it."

He blushed.

"Now the entire village will imagine me sitting in it, and I shall think of that every time I pop my head out the door.  I fear this was a horrid mistake."

"But they never caught more than a glimpse of the metal and they won't be able to guess much of what you're doing in it, now will they?"

Frodo seemed more than usually flustered.

"As to that, I'm not doing anything as yet."

Frodo's sudden shyness was almost comical, to Sam's way of thinking. There was nary an inch of his master that Sam didn't know summat of by now.  Sam could scarce make it past the study door without finding himself in a tangle of questing hands and lips and hard flesh pressed to his own.  If there hadn't been much more than that, at least on Sam's part, it wasn't for lack of desire and need.  Sam smiled.   His old dad had taught him the worth of preparing the ground aforehand; never let it be said that he was a poor scholar.

"I filled the copper while you were making the tea for elevenses, Mr. Frodo, and the water should be heated afore long."

"Really, Sam?  I thought it was a trifle warm in here.  Perhaps I'll go and change into something less--confining, shall I?  And when I come back we can...."

He gestured toward the bath.

"You don't mind sharing the water then, sir?"

Frodo smiled warmly and touched Sam's cheek. 

"No, Sam.  I think it's an excellent idea.  I wouldn't want you to wear yourself out trying to keep the tank full."

-------

Sam twisted the tap and watched the water shoot down in a foaming arc, hitting the copper bottom with a rattle of spray and sending the oil and herbs along the length of the bath.  He felt a twinge of satisfaction at a job well done.  This was the first smial in the Shire to have running water, and he, Samwise Gamgee, had the doing of it.  It was almost, but not quite, enough to take his mind off the fact that he was standing in Mr. Frodo's bathroom with no clothes on.  He hoped he would be as skilful in his present position as he had been in the old.   He supposed that knowledge and practice were much of a muchness no matter what the art; if you didn't cultivate them, there'd be no harvest.  This new thing was a kind of nurturing, too, when all was said and done.  He didn't think he could go too far wrong.

He was so intent on gazing at the trace of bubbles drifting lazily on the surface of the water, that he didn't hear Frodo return.  He glanced at the shelf where he'd secretly placed the bottle of oil and saw his master standing just inside the door, with his dark blue dressing gown hanging open and his eyes bright with apprehension.   Once he knew that Sam had seen him, he let the gown fall from his shoulders.

Sam had never set eyes on skin as white as Frodo's.  He was used to the lads who worked in the fields, his brothers most of all, and they were tanned as dark as acorns.  His own skin warmed to a golden brown when the summer months came.  Frodo, for all the time he spent walking out of doors, was as pale as freshly poured cream, except for those parts of him that were blushing now for being looked at.  Sam felt that he might look forever, if he could make Frodo do that simply by staring.   He hadn't ever thought that Frodo would be so pale all over.  Apart from the dark curling hair on his head, and the same to match it a little further down-- and his feet, of course-- he was nothing but smooth, fine skin.  Sam tried not to gawk like a child at a fair.

Frodo walked to the bath and peered into it thoughtfully, then leaned over and dragged the seat towards him.

"I don't think we need this right at the end.  The water will be fairly deep, won't it?"

Sam couldn't answer.  He was admiring the long straight line of Frodo's back, the strong thighs, and what lay between.  He itched to reach out and cradle the beauty with his fingers, but he'd only just been given leave to handle his master and he was afeared that Frodo might startle and tip into the bath. 

Frodo straightened up and turned to him, catching the expression on Sam's face before he could hide it.

"Do you want to touch me, Sam?" he asked in a small voice.

Sam swallowed the lump in his throat.

"Oh, Frodo.  Touching don't half begin to cover what I want to do to you."

Frodo smiled and wrapped one hand around the back of Sam's neck, the other going between their bodies and taking firm hold of what it found there.  Sam had roused long before that hand clasped him; one swift glance at Frodo in the gown that matched his eyes was enough to make him as stiff as a willow rod.

"I can see that," Frodo said, his eyes brimming with mischief.

"Maybe it's time we stepped into the bath." 

"It would be a shame to let the water get cold after all the lovely pumping you did to fill the tank in the first place."

His fingers squeezed gently.

"You'll have to let go of me first, or we'll never make it that far I'm thinking."

Sam couldn't tell if there was any way to get into this bath that wouldn't look ridiculous with him being in such a state.  The sides were very high, made more for dwarf height.    He was used to the tin bath at home that was only big enough to sit with your knees drawn up and where the water got cold before you'd half finished washing yourself.  Sometimes, Marigold poured an extra kettle full of warm water on his head, but not often. 

He clutched one of the handles and lifted his right leg over the edge and then the other.  The copper bottom was nubbly underfoot, so that he wasn't as afraid of slipping as he might have been.  He sat gingerly on the seat, slightly below the surface of the water.

"It's no worse than climbing over a stile, though I can't say as I've ever done that naked."

"You'd have to watch out for the splinters I suppose, and you'd frighten the sheep."

Frodo stepped gracefully in and folded his legs under him.  He picked up a bar of soap from the shelf, dipped it into the water and began to wash his chest, the dark nipples crinkling up as his hand brushed across them.  It wouldn't be the first time that Sam had seen Frodo without his shirt, but he'd never been so close before nor had leave to touch what he saw.  He all but held his breath as he put out one hand and caressed the slipperiness under his fingers.  Frodo closed his eyes and the soap fell forgotten into the water.

"Oh, Frodo," Sam sighed. "I love you I do."

Frodo knelt up in the bath, flushed pink where the water touched him and pale above it, like a white rose with a centre lightly stained with colour.  His dark hair curled even more riotously in the steamy room, and he brushed it away from his forehead impatiently, looking seriously at Sam.

"I haven't done this for a long time, not since...well, not since I came to live with Cousin Bilbo.  There was no one I wanted, you see, except for you, and I didn't suppose there was anyone who wanted me even if...."

"Hush.  You're the fairest lad I've ever known, and the wildest.  There's summat about you that's not like the other lads and mayhap I'm not the only one as sees it.  It's no great matter.  Come here."

Sam pulled him closer, placing his hands carefully where Frodo's back curved into fullness, running his thumbs over the dimples there.  Frodo arched towards him, baring the length of his throat, his mouth falling open as Sam dipped his head to kiss what was offered.   The water was driving Sam mad, flowing back and forth between his legs, so that all he could think of was the memory of Frodo's mouth on him in the garden and how much he'd like to feel that again.  Not now not now.  Now he could think of an altogether warmer place he'd rather be, if Frodo would give him permission.  He didn't know how to ask such a thing, especially not of the Master of Bag End.  There was still too much distance separating them.

'Did I mistake your meaning?  Tell me what you want.  I don't know...."

Frodo kissed him, hot and open-mouthed, moaning as he wrapped a leg around Sam's hip, stroking one silken-sleek foot up and down the back of Sam's thigh.  My word, but that was answer enough, thought Sam, wondering if Frodo might have learned a trick or two from the books in old Mr. Bilbo's library.  He was that supple.  The question, of course, was how to go about the business in a copper bath that wasn't designed on purpose for hobbits to sport in.  He'd seen enough ewes being tupped by rams that he supposed he understood the manner of it well enough.  What was good for those as stood on four legs would no doubt answer for those as stood on two.  At least he wouldn't be in any danger of falling over.

"Shift forwards, me dear, and grab hold of that bar at the top of the bath.  You don't want to lose your balance.  Polished copper is all very well, but it wouldn't take much to send you arse over tip."

Frodo caught his breath, half way between a gasp and a laugh.

"Always practical, Sam?"

"Just so."

Sam had the notion that it would be much finer to do this in a deep feather-bed, where he could toy properly with that rosy stem and those nice round apples that Frodo was sporting.  He knew he could wait.  This time was to satisfy his master's whimsy.

He took the bottle of oil that he had placed nearby and poured a generous amount into the palm of one hand, then set the bottle on the shelf, stroking Frodo's taut belly with the other hand, barely grazing what he found there and passing on.

He smoothed his fingers over the base of Frodo's spine, moving them in small, gentle circles as if he were soothing a baby that had roused from a troubled sleep.   Frodo pushed back toward Sam, the soft skin of his arse brushing Sam's cock.

"Oh, please, Sam, please," he sobbed, "I'm so hard."

"Shh.  In a moment, me dear.  When you're settled.  No harm will come to you." 

He kneaded the rounds of Frodo's backside, and watched the skin begin to glisten from the oil that covered his hands. The sweet scent of it tickled his nose, bringing to mind the spring day when he had plucked the creamy-white flowers while watching a solitary bee land on the lip of a petal, tuck itself snugly into the curve of the tube and thrust its mouth down into the nectar.  He hadn't known, then, that the oil would ever be put to such a use. 

He slipped his fingers carefully into the warmth behind Frodo's cods until he found the little opening, tightly furled like a bud not yet ready to open.  He pressed the pad of one finger around the edges of it; Frodo whimpered softly, spreading his legs further, and dropping his head onto his forearms.

"Let me ease you.  Unlock yourself for me."

He continued to stroke Frodo's back with the other hand, while pushing the length of one finger into the yielding heat.  He knew how that bee must have felt, yearning to sup on the honey at the heart of the blossom.  His cock was standing up near touching his belly, and he wanted so badly to be inside Frodo, but he couldn't fright him.  It wasn't time.  He drew the finger in and out, feeling the powerful muscle fiercely gripping it, and then slid another finger in beside the first. 

"Sam," Frodo gasped, "I want you now."

His thighs were trembling as he moved strongly against Sam's fingers, the warm water of the bath swirling around their legs as each leaned into the other urgently.   It was a wondrous thing, Sam thought, that anyone could need him so much.  Mayhap this was another gift, this pleasuring with the body that he'd never truly understood before.  He'd always been greedy for beauty, had wanted to fill every corner of the garden at Bag End with as much of it as he could find in himself to give.  He hadn't ever dreamed that such a rare and beautiful creature as his master would come searching for him, Samwise Gamgee.   He was mazed at the very idea of it.

He touched Frodo's hip to urge him further back,  then nudged the crown of his cock towards the knot of muscle and began to carefully breach it.  Frodo drew in a sharp breath and Sam gentled him again with a caress along the curve of his spine.

"I'll relieve you, sweeting.  Let me come into you.  There, like that."

Sam sank into Frodo in a slow, effortless advance.   He could scarcely tear his eyes from their joining, marvelling at the way the opening uncurled to grip him firmly and pull him in.  Who could have imagined such a sight, the silky pale rounds cradling his own ruddy flesh, like the whorl of petals on a rose blossom hiding the cluster of tiny stalks at its core.   He withdrew part way, to where the pressure was greatest, and then thrust in a second time until he felt Frodo's sleekness against his balls.

"Yes, Sam, like that.  More."

He wished he could watch the slide of body into body, but he knew that he would be too soon over the edge at the sight.  He leaned onto the seat and pulled Frodo with him, impaling him once more, but holding him close this time, one arm circling his chest and the other slipping along Frodo's cock.  Frodo held on to the side of the bath, bracing himself with his knees,  then reached with one arm to pull Sam's head forward and plunge his tongue into Sam's mouth.   Sam stilled, for a moment only, knowing all at once the worth of this gift that his master had given him as he felt his pulsing need inside Frodo and the burning insistence of Frodo's tongue alongside his own.  He had tucked his feet under him good and firm so he could get properly seated, wanting to take the gift that was freely offered, when Frodo pulled away from him with a quick caress.

"No, Sam, stop."

Sam froze, his breath caught.

"Have I hurt you?  I didn't mean to...."

Frodo touched Sam gently.

"You're splendid.   I hate to let go of you, but I'd like to move so that I can kiss you more comfortably."

Sam pulled out carefully, and Frodo turned to face him, the fragrant water teasing between his legs.  Sam placed his hand there, caressing the delicate velvety bag with the backs of his fingers.

"Oh, blessed Eru, Sam, I need you to fill me again. I feel so cold without you."

Sam could only be thankful for the subtle inventiveness of dwarves that allowed room for Frodo to put one leg either side of Sam's thighs, and rest his feet on the floor of the bath in behind the seat.   It was a convenient arrangement to say the least.  The seat was a bit above the top of the water by this time; their splashing about earlier had made quite a mess on the stone flags, and now the water came no higher than half way up Sam's calves.  It did give him a fair and unobstructed view as Frodo sat down across his thighs. 

"I thought, maybe....   I was afeared that I might have been a bit big for you, though I always figured I was no bigger'n the other lads, if you see what I mean."

"I think we suit each other perfectly.  I don't need it bigger, Sam, but it would be nice to have it higher up.  It's not doing much good where it is right at the moment.  Perhaps some more of that oil...."

He picked up the vial that Sam had set on the shelf at the side of the bath, and tipped some drops onto his hand.  He sniffed at it first, and then reached down to spread it over the still moist skin.

"What is it? I don't recognise the scent."

"It's bee nettle and goosefoot and--oh, I don't think you need to put it there, do you, that's...."

"My pleasure, Sam."

Frodo kept his hand right where it was, lightly fondling Sam while he rested his forehead on Sam's shoulder.

"Did you make it for this?"

Sam choked.

"No, sir.  It's for healing wounds and helping to make the heart merry.  I never thought..."

He knew that if he didn't do summat and do it soon, there weren't going to be two merry hearts in Bag End that day.  He popped his hands beneath Frodo's backside and tickled the spiral of flesh lightly as a reminder.  Frodo sat up straight at that and gripped Sam's shoulders tightly. 

"Grasping the nettle, Sam?"

"You could put it that way.  I'm thinking that if you want to make proper use of this," he glanced downward, "you'd better do it quick like."

Frodo gave Sam a long, thorough kiss, then pushed his feet against the copper bottom, and in Sam went like a finger dipped into a pot of thick cream.

"Oh yes.  Higher up is very good."

Sam knew that he couldn't hold out much longer.  He had done his best, but the weight of Frodo on his thighs and that grasping heat along his rigid flesh were more than he could bear.  Frodo moved languidly on him, and Sam was glad of the steadying hands on his shoulders or he might have fallen back into the water for the sheer bliss of it all.   Frodo was kissing him everywhere it seemed, and Sam wished that he could be held like that forever.  This wasn't only about the gift of a loving heart, each to the other; it was one spirit that they shared between them, binding them together no matter what happened. 

"Ah, me dear.  Don't ever leave me."

"I won't leave you, Sam.  I'll always be with you."

Sam moved to touch Frodo, his strong fingers tracing the hard flesh and holding it tight.  Frodo stilled and let out a little gasp as if his breath had caught, and his seed pulsed over Sam's hand and Frodo's belly and Frodo threw his arms around Sam's shoulders and cried out so that Sam, straining upwards into him, had to let go and came at last.

Frodo sighed.

"I think we need a bath."

------

Sam was raking leaves in the garden at Number 3 Bagshot Row.  It had been a hot, dry summer and leaf-fall had come early; the crisp brown cast-offs from the Party Tree had been blown by an easterly wind into gardens all along the Row.  He wished he could let them be; they looked so pretty with their ruffled edges, nestled around the shrubs or scattered haphazardly across the gravel path.  He knew, though, that if he allowed them to lie where they had fallen they would come together in a leathery mass that would be of no use to the plants.  So he would rake them up and mulch them, and given time and patience he could put them back where they wanted to be.  Meantime, he enjoyed the raking, the scritch-scritch of the springy metal on the path and the neat piles that slowly formed at the garden's borders.  Every now and then, when he was certain that Daisy or Marigold weren't peering out the window at him, he would kick the leaves into the air for the joy of feeling the cool dampness on his feet.   Afterwards, he could take renewed pleasure in gathering the leaves together again, as if nothing had happened.  He was about to do this for the third time when he noticed young Sandyman standing by the gate staring hard at him.   Sam nodded and leaned on his rake.

"Mornin', Ted."

"Mornin', Samwise."

Ted couldn't seem to find a place to rest his eyes; they were glancing around the garden like flies seeking a dunghill.

"Trouble down at the mill is there?"

Ted squinted, and attempted a thoughtful look.

"There's nowt wrong as I know of.  I'd a mind to take a turn before dinner."

Sam snorted.

"Some of us have work to do, so I'll be getting on with mine."

He returned to his raking.  If Ted had summat stuck in his craw, he would soon cough it up.  In the meantime, there was no sense wasting what was left of the forenoon in idle chitchat.  Always take time by the forelock, Samwise, his mam used to say, for she's bald as a coot everywheres else.  Nowadays, he had good reason to make haste.  As soon as he'd finished up here and taken his dinner, he'd be off to Bag End for the afternoon; maybe for longer, if Frodo was in fine fettle.  Sam's heart lit up at the thought of Frodo.  It eased him, like the strength of the sun on his back of a cool autumn's day.  Whatever path his life took from hereon in, the awareness that Frodo was with him would keep him safe and warm.

"That tale o' the mysterious mathom has me right flummoxed.  You ever think more on it yerself?"

Sam's hands clenched on the handle of his rake, but he didn't turn his head.  He propped the rake carefully against the hedge.

"I've pondered on it some.  What's it to you, Ted Sandyman?  You're not still brooding over an old hen's yarn, are you?"

"I might be, and why shouldn't I?  If there be no such thing, as your Gaffer makes out, then who begun the story?   I reckon, now that I've had time to sift through the tale, that someone knows more than they're telling.  Mr. Baggins of Bag End, for a start, or him as used to be.  One hundred and eleven birthdays old Bilbo had before he vanished.  You can't tell me a mathom such as that wouldn't have come to him one way or the other."

"Well, as to that, I couldn't rightly say, and he ain't here to ask, is he?"

"No, he ain't, but somebody is, and you're pretty tight with him, if I'm not mistaken."

Sam twisted round and gave him a look that could have withered a dry stick.

"It's not my place to go delving into matters that aren't none o' my business.  There's some I could name as ought to learn manners."

"Oh garn!" 

Ted spat into the shrubbery and pulled his cap down over his forehead.  Sam eyed him with distaste.

"If I'd seen it or heard tell of it, Ted Sandyman, I wouldn't be passing that knowledge on to you, now would I?  What's a mystery ought to remain so to my way of thinking.  Other folks might differ, seemingly, but that's my view of it."

"You mean to tell me that you never once thought of having a nose around the smial like, when he's not at home?"

"And what would I be wanting in Bag End when Mr. Frodo's not at home?  You can tell me that, Ted, or you can be on your way.  If this mathom ever comes to you, and you see it for what it is, then you can let me know.  Somehow I doubt you will.  Good day to you."

Ted ambledback up the Row, curling his shoulders and staring down at the rutted track as he headed toward Hobbiton.  Sam waited until he had passed into the Lane before picking up the rake once more and calmly gathering the last of the oak leaves into a tidy mound.  There was something caught between the tines of his rake, winking at him like a bit of evening sky trapped  by earth,  perhaps the last bright thing that he would see in his garden before the frost came.

Sam looked at the single gentian blossom; it was so perfectly blue.  He freed the flower and tossed it into the air, watching the breeze carry it along the path, end over end.  When it had passed out of his seeing, he turned to the garden once more, knowing that the late morning sun would soon be laying its warmth across the camomile lawn.   The sky was completely empty of cloud.  He smiled.

 

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