West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
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On the morning after a night of vigorous exercise, Frodo makes an unwelcome discovery and subsequently acquires a new skill.
Author's Note: The sequel to
this story, Bells on Bobtails Ring, can be found
There had been something very close to Frodo's nose, niggling him in a tiresomely insistent way. He was still faintly aware of it, although he had shifted his head on the pillow more than once to escape. There must be a stray feather poking through the linen cover. He really would have to purchase some new goose down pillows from Farmer Trufoot's good wife and be positive that there were no unwanted feathers in the filling this time. It was most aggravating when one had paid dearly for the dratted things in the first place. It was equally unfortunate that Mistress Trufoot's geese were famed far and wide for having the softest down in the West Farthing, otherwise he would have taken his custom elsewhere long before now. Perhaps he should just buy the bags of down and have one of Sam's sisters stuff the linen casings for him. The Gamgee lasses had nimble enough fingers. Sam. My word, how could he have forgotten?
He opened one eye cautiously. He wasn't being assaulted by the pillow after all; he was looking straight into the serene, lightly sun-freckled face of Samwise Gamgee. They were almost nose to nose, and each time Sam exhaled, a small breeze tickled Frodo's face.
Frodo sighed contentedly and blew a gentle puff of air across Sam's mouth. Sam's nose wrinkled and his tongue flicked over his lower lip, searching for the source of the irritation. Oh, that tongue. Frodo growled deep in his throat and Sam's eyes popped open in mute astonishment.
"Oh, Mr-- Frodo --you gave me quite a start. I'm not used to sharing a bed, leastways not since I was breeched. It feels right queer to wake up with someone staring me in the face, if you don't mind me saying so."
"You mean you've never...? Not even in the odd haystack a time or two, with some likely lass from the village?"
"If I ever shared a bed of hay, it wasn't for sleeping. I've never been one to drop off after, if you see what I mean. You had me fair worn out or I'd have been gone by sunrise. I don't know what the Gaffer will say if he doesn't see me at the breakfast table."
"He'll believe that you spent the night in Farmer Cotton's barn, of course, and well you might have. Thank you, Sam. You're a true gentlehobbit."
Sam's freckles pinked up.
"It's kind of you to say it, sir, but this hobbit, gentle or no, had best be about getting your breakfast afore he goes home. I've got chores to do at Number 1 if I'm to be back here to deadhead the roses and choose the vegetables for your supper. I didn't get to the roses yesterday."
He frowned. Frodo tilted an eyebrow.
"Mmm, I know you didn't. I wonder why?"
Sam sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, squinting at the sunlight pouring through the uncurtained window and scratching his stomach.
"Because there's some as want to have their cake and eat it, that's why. I can't be lolly-gagging about in bed all day."
Sam glanced back.
"Yes, Mr. Frodo?"
"I appreciate your staying with me even if you think you shouldn't have. I know this isn't quite...I mean...."
Sam reached a hand back and stroked Frodo's cheek lightly.
"This is what I want, me dear. Don't ever imagine it isn't. But I have to start breakfast before your stomach wakes the neighbourhood with its rumbling."
Frodo admired the outlook as Sam left the bed -- the master bed at Bag End; oh joy, at last! -- and bent over to gather up the clothes that they had carelessly strewn about the room the previous night. Sam was so firm and golden. All over. When Sam's lovely profile finally disappeared in the direction of the wardrobe, Frodo closed his eyes once more and allowed himself to be enveloped by the deep feather mattress and the scent of musk and herbs that lingered on the bedcovers. Sam was humming as he tidied things away, hung Frodo's jacket in its usual place, and gathered the soiled unmentionables into a bundle to take to the laundress.
"I'll light a fire in the kitchen grate and set the water to boiling. It won't take but a minute or two."
Frodo heard the quiet snick of the latch as Sam shut the door behind him, no doubt to keep the chill of the unheated passage from entering the bedroom. Bless him, Sam really did think of everything. Oh yes, indeed he did. All those years of delving and sowing and laying out of beds had evidently paid off most gratifyingly.
With any luck he would spend a large part of the day between the sheets with Sam in attendance. Deadheading the roses could wait. If the Gaffer made any comments about it Frodo would assure him that Sam was indeed giving satisfaction in every possible way. Let old Gamgee puzzle that one out for himself.
He and Sam would play and rest and tease, then when they'd had their fill of each other -- the body having its limitations after all, even Sam's -- they would take a stroll in the garden before supper. He might convince Sam to give him a kiss in the privacy of the arbour, or perhaps a little something extra to be getting on with if he was very persuasive. Sam would simply have to stop worrying about what the Gaffer might think of his absences; Sam was old enough to decide for himself whose bed he warmed.
In the meantime food was an absolute necessity, as Sam had easily surmised, and to eat he would first have to sit up. He lifted his head from the pillow and began to draw one leg forward when -- Yavanna's tits, that hurt. He couldn't.... What in Middle-earth was that? Admittedly, it had been several years since he'd been quite so rambunctious; you didn't find a hobbit like Sam round every corner. One might anticipate that muscles unaccustomed to bedsport would protest after such a long night of overuse. But never, in all his years of rambling, playing at the ball, or otherwise exerting himself, had anything like this happened. How was he to explain it to Sam?
The pillow deflated with a breathy moan as he laid his head back down. The view from the bed became suddenly less appealing, and the glass bottle on the wash stand was an accusation. He would ask Sam to return it to the bath room; it wouldn't be needed again. Sam could always read to him later in the day if he had the time. An edifying work on the merits of solitude and abstinence would be appropriate, all things considered. He closed his eyes with weary resignation.
Moments later the door opened and he heard the soft pad of feet on the tile floor and the rattle of cups and saucers. He opened his eyes to see Sam standing by the bed, the breakfast tray balanced firmly on one broad palm. He was wearing only a thin shirt, which didn't go far toward hiding his considerable charms. Frodo groaned into the pillow.
"Are you tired, sir? You've had a busy night. Tea will be just the thing to perk you up."
"I don't need perking, thank you, Sam. It was perking that put me where I am now."
If Sam had possessed longer ears they might have wilted. As it was, Frodo thought he detected a twitch at each pointed tip; in that moment Sam looked uncannily like a dog that had been disciplined for rough play. The tray trembled slightly and Sam steadied it with his free hand.
"Does that mean you're sorry that we...."
Frodo sighed noisily.
"No, of course I'm not sorry. Don't pay me any mind. I'm concentrating."
Sam gazed thoughtfully at the wooden tray. He adjusted the placement of the teapot on the lace doily, and peered into the sugar bowl as if the lumps of sugar might have wandered off while he'd had his head turned.
"What you need is a nice hot cup of summat inside you," he concluded.
If Sam heard Frodo mumble words about it being hot things inside him that had made him the hobbit he was today, he obviously thought it wise to ignore them. A closed mouth catches no flies was a Gamgee family motto. Sam was a hobbit of discretion by birth.
"Sit up, sir, and I'll set the tray on your lap. When you've finished I'll go and cook a full breakfast -- sausages and eggs and a slice or two of bread fried in dripping? Tomatoes on the side maybe? You need to get your strength up."
"I don't want to sit. More to the point, I'm not able to sit. I shall have to languish here, forever tealess, unless you plan to proffer it to me by the spoonful."
Sam appeared quite taken aback. He even went so far as to raise his eyebrows.
"Why ever would you need me to do that, Mr. Frodo?"
Frodo didn't want this conversation with Sam; having to describe one's somewhat discomfiting predicament to one's recently acquired, young and willing lover was beyond the usual morning after embarrassment.
"I can't move. I fully expect to be confined to my bed for whatever time I have remaining since I've apparently passed into an early senescence."
Sam's brows drew together and he bit his lip. He set the tray on the wash stand and snugged the cosy tightly over the pot.
"Begging your pardon, sir, but if it's because of what we did last night, Daisy has a splendid remedy. 'Tis made from comfrey, poppy and white nettle and a little fingerfull of it will --."
"You shock me, Sam, you really do. What does Mistress Daisy know about...well...that?"
"Oh, she knows nothing about that. Goodness gracious no. It's for the Gaffer's piles. There's naught in it that's like to inflame sensitive --."
Frodo wondered why it should be so very difficult to chat about his nether regions when scarcely anyone had a more intimate knowledge of the parts in question than his gardener. Fortunately, he wouldn't have to.
"I profoundly regret that I can't give it a go, her remedy that is to say. I'm right as a trivet in that regard, and just as well I think. No, it's my back I'm afraid. It's seized up and I can't move an inch."
Why there should be a faint but decided note of relief in that word Frodo couldn't entirely fathom.
"Yes, truly," he said, perhaps more cuttingly than he had intended. "I may as well be trussed up like a barnyard fowl for all the use I am at the moment, to you or anyone."
Sam cleared his throat. There was a strained silence.
"Sam, why does the mere suggestion of my being trussed up make your, um, you know --" he wiggled a finger.
"Well, I once saw a chapbook where --"
Frodo held up a hand.
"No, I don't want to hear your explanation, especially when I can't shift for toffee. We'll save it for another time, since it sounds intriguing. You're full of surprises, aren't you?"
"If you'd ever been upstairs at The Green Dragon, Mr. Frodo, you'd have seen things that would make your hair stand on end, that you would. I'll not say more."
"Oh, Sam, you make me feel positively wet behind the ears. Who knew that Hobbiton was such a seedbed of rural debauchery?"
Frodo had discovered fairly early on in this painful exchange that it was impossible to be properly upset or sarcastic when you couldn't move about enough to wave an arm to emphasise your point, or turn your face away to hide the hurt. It was a terrible inconvenience. And worst of all was the fact that Sam was standing so tantalisingly near, clearly eager to oblige Frodo again, and Frodo couldn't do a thing about it. Ah, Sam. He was always more than ready to please. No doubt it was Sam's agreeable nature combined with the eager buoyancy of youth that had placed Frodo in his current predicament. Buoyancy. It was not a helpful word to use at the moment, since Sam's buoyancy was very much to the forefront at present. Oh blast.
"I'm old. I'm nearly fifty years old. That's middle-aged for a hobbit. You're still young and lissom."
"You were thirty-nine on your last birthday, unless I'm out in my reckoning. I'm not a great deal younger, and as for supple...."
He blushed and looked down at the rumpled bedding, the colourful silk hankies dangling forlornly from the bedposts. Frodo stared fixedly at him.
"You were nine years old when I came to the Shire. Nine."
"I know that, sir, but I'm not nine anymore."
"Yes, I can see that. I should hope not."
Sam shook his head and placed his hands on his hips, causing the shirt to ride up a few more inches. Frodo shut his eyes.
"All I'm saying, Mr -- Frodo, is that you're very lively for a hobbit of such advanced years. If I didn't know better I would think you scarce out of your tweens. I've never met anyone with so much get-up-and-go."
Frodo cracked an eyelid and glared as best he could with one eye.
"That's not the most tactful way to put it, is it?"
"No, but happen it's the truth. My brother Halfred has had an ailing back near as long as I've known him, if you see what I mean. Some hobbits do. I well recall the time when he was crippled up by an ill-judged sneeze whilst raking the hay. Imagine that!"
Sam chuckled, thinking of it.
"This is not a time for levity, Sam. I am in agony."
"Sorry, sir. I only meant --" Sam hung his head. "It's naught to do with age."
Frodo was doubtful if he could persuade Sam to the contrary. On the whole he wasn't certain that he really wanted to if it meant that Sam would no longer be poised at his bedside, arms akimbo, and attractively flushed in places that were conveniently at Frodo's eye level.
He thought back over last night's activities, considering where he might have overtaxed his muscles. It was hard to say. He had often felt that the worst among his many failings was an overabundance of imagination, fuelled in this instance by frequent solitary reading in the more esoteric reaches of Cousin Bilbo's library. Who could ever have guessed that the old hobbit would possess a rather splendid collection of illustrated volumes?
"I believe it was that third occasion, when we, when I...," his voice failed at the memory. "No matter. Suffice it to say that I won't be doing it again. Mind you, if I can't leave my bed I won't be doing much of anything. Ever."
Sam stretched up a hand to scratch his curls, and the hem of the shirt fell down over his thighs. This action brought back to Frodo unexpected and frightful memories of that family outing to Stock, a year before the tragic accident that had claimed his parents. He had been gazing through the window of Master Overbight's candy shop, yearning to possess the gigantic, elaborately decorated sugar egg that had graced the centre of the Yule display. It was a truly wondrous confection, and his infant heart had raced with excitement. He had even pressed his nose to the glass in hopes of getting closer. However, in that instant of pure anticipation, the shopkeeper had lifted the egg from its satin nest and taken it away to be purchased for some other lucky hobbit lad who was no doubt less deserving than Frodo Baggins. It was a bitter disappointment, and he had never forgotten it. It was odd that the memory should resurface now.
"Would you like me to fetch a cloth full of ice for your back, Mr. Frodo? That should help to loosen the knots some or I could give you a nice, slow rubdown first."
Frodo's ears prickled with interest. Sam was more than usually skilled with his hands, as Frodo could attest, but it wasn't reasonable to expect him to take care of everything while Frodo was able to give him nothing in return. Frodo was already beginning to feel uncomfortable in places entirely unrelated to his back pain. If Sam would only leave the room for a few moments he might be able to ease at least a part of the indisposition himself. Should the problem recur, the ice would be there as a last resort. Ice was ideal for reducing stiffness; it was a tried and true remedy in his experience. Whatever happened, he would undoubtedly need a large pack of it after any rubdown that Sam was likely to give him. Perhaps being middle-aged wasn't so very dreadful if one still had to worry about this kind of thing after the long night that he'd enjoyed with Sam.
"I brought in a biggish chunk from the ice house yesterday, after I finished trimming the box hedge. I had an idea you might fancy some of that clotted cream ice for your tea."
Sam coughed gently into his hand.
"That was afore we got down to brass tacks as you might say. It flew clean out of my head until just this minute. There should be enough ice left if I get to it right away."
"Clotted cream ice? A dish or two for second breakfast wouldn't go amiss, now that you mention it."
"Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo, but that's not what I meant. I'd as soon use the ice on your sore back where it's most wanted. It won't do a speck of good inside you, and I don't see as how you're planning to go about eating it whilst laying on your side, I surely don't."
Sam waved his hand in a vague, almost dismissive gesture, making Frodo feel like a prize pig laid out on a slab.
"Besides, I don't have time to make it. It's a fiddly business and I've got to be off."
"You could feed it to me mouthful by mouthful," Frodo answered wistfully. He had a suspicion that iced cream was not going to be on his bill of fare for the day, yet it never hurt to try.
Sam looked dubious.
"I suppose," he answered warily. "I wouldn't want to make a mess on these fine linen sheets."
Frodo found it difficult to contain his impatience when his goal was clearly within reach. How often did one have to hint, after all?
"I'm afraid we've already done that, and more than once if memory serves. That's not including the occasion when I briefly lost control of the oil bottle. The feather bed will need a thorough airing, once I'm no longer tied to it."
Sam's face lit up.
Sam lowered his eyes and fingered the edge of the coverlet attentively. Frodo expected a pronouncement on the number of threads in the weave at any second. In all likelihood a young and frisky hobbit such as Sam could count the threads at twenty paces.
"So we have,' Sam said finally. "Marigold will have to see to these; when it comes to sheets she's a dab hand with the copper, though what she'll think of the master of Bag End having scented oil stains on his sheets...," Sam shook his head with a woeful air. "Don't let me forget to change the bedding afore I go home for the evening."
"You might have to drag it out from under me."
"Oh no, sir, we'll have you walking by tea time I shouldn't wonder, even if it's only to use the chamber-pot by yourself. Lazing about in bed is the worst thing for a bad back."
"I'm almost sorry to hear it. I imagine you'll be making the iced cream before bringing in the fresh sheets then, in case I'm not able to be up for long enough to eat it unaided. It will be a shame if we happen to soil those ones as well. Marigold really will begin to have suspicions."
"Marigold would think that the gentry are wasteful and thoughtless when it comes to those as take in washing and no doubt she'd have the right of it. As luck would have it, I won't be making any iced cream today and we won't have to ask her what she thinks, will we, Mr. Frodo?"
Oh bother, foiled at every turn. Sam was far better at this kind of game than he had ever supposed. But with any luck Sam would be annoyed with him again and return his hands to his hips where they belonged so that Frodo would have a more inspiring view. Instead, Sam leaned over Frodo's prone body -- oh, my, so close -- and grabbed two of the pillows from the other side of the bed. What was he up to now?
"I'm going to lay a bolster along your front, if it's all the same to you, sir, and maybe this smaller pillow between your legs. You'll be more comfortable with your arm over the bolster and your legs apart. Once I've got you settled I'll give your back a good kneading and leave you to rest for an hour or two with a packet of ice and summat to eat that won't make crumbs in the bed. If you're still feeling poorly when I get back from Number 1, I'll see if I can help you to sit up in your chair while I change the sheets. Then maybe we can take a walk down the passage and back. How does that sound?"
Horribly dull, Frodo thought, and disappointing into the bargain. He would, indeed, be much more comfortable with something between his legs, something a good deal harder than a pillow. Happily, he understood that he would need to be obedient if that something were to be more than simply a rapidly fading memory of bliss. Oh well.
"Yes, thank you, Sam. That sounds delightful. Whatever you feel is best."
Frodo returned the blandest of smiles in response to the suspicion on Sam's face and held up his arm for the bolster. Sam placed it along the edge of the mattress for Frodo to hug, and then lifted Frodo's right leg up so that it was resting on the thin pillow, his more tender body parts tucked up cosily between bolster and pillow. How handy and how reminiscent. He'd spent far too many nights like this before he'd discovered Sam's worth. It was not a happy memory; he felt distinctly tearful.
Sam trotted quickly around the end of the bed, and Frodo heard the sigh of cloth as Sam drew off his shirt then draped it over the clothes chest. There was a brief gust of cold air on his bottom when Sam lifted the quilt.
"For pity's sake, put that down at once or get in, before I have goose bumps in unusual places. I might be bed bound but at least I was warm."
Frodo regretted that Sam would never see the suitably sarcastic curl to his lip. It was difficult to maintain a chastening tone of voice while one's backside was being exposed to public viewing.
"You're already covered in goose bumps as far as the eye can see, Mr. Frodo. Your skin's so fair they stand up like -- ."
"Well, thank you, Sam, for that observation. Will you please get in?"
The mattress dipped slightly as Sam slipped under the covers. Frodo decided that he could readily adjust to this strange custom of not sleeping alone, if he was to experience such delicious shivers up his spine every time that Sam climbed into bed with him. They weren't all due to cold air, in spite of what he had said.
Sam's hands, pleasingly roughened with calluses, touched Frodo's lower back lightly, thumbs exploring the soft cleft then kneading firmly outwards. His fingers brushed fleetingly across Frodo's rump. Sam had long fingers, clever fingers, the kind of fingers admired amongst hobbits since time immemorial. Frodo understood that admiration now; he wished he'd been able to appreciate it sooner. There was only so much that one could do for oneself, unless one were a contortionist at a harvest fair.
"I thought you were going to give me a rubdown."
"I am, sir. I like to start with the buttocks and work my way up, then around to the front if the occasion warrants. Some prefer to begin at the top of the back, but I never could see the sense of that when the tightness always begins down here -- "Sam gave a squeeze to demonstrate -- "and not in the shoulders at all. It's different for lasses maybe."
Frodo cleared his throat, but withstood the urge to ask Sam to squeeze there a second time to be sure that he had a proper grasp of the method.
"Ah, I see. I suppose you're right. Carry on."
Although the quilt was only partly covering him, with Sam's warmth at his back, and Sam's breathtakingly silky feet nudging his calves, he wasn't feeling inclined to object. In fact, he squirmed a little to bring the warmth and silkiness closer.
"Don't move, sir. You want this stiff muscle to settle down and go nice and supple."
"It doesn't seem to be working, not yet at any rate," Frodo murmured.
"What kind of pain is it? Is it a sharpish pain like a bolt of lightning or more of a dull throb like a toothache?"
"I wouldn't really call it a pain, Sam."
Sam's hands paused half way up Frodo's back.
"Not a pain? But I thought...."
"Do you mean to tell me that you've almost reached the age of discretion and still don't know how it feels? You're full of surprises, especially after last night. Did some other hobbit take your place in my bed while my back was turned?"
"No, sir, I mean this muscle here," he pressed harder as he said it, and Frodo let out a squeak. "Though that one there needs a bit of work as well, now that you've drawn my attention to it."
"Yes, the strain seems to have spread. Perhaps you were right to intimate that a full rubdown might be called for, under the circumstances."
Sam patted Frodo's bottom reassuringly.
"Slow and easy, Mr. Frodo. Never you mind what's going on down there."
"I don't see how I -- "
Sam's hands continued their kneading, moving upwards in small, careful circles. Sam must have opened the bottle of oil at some point, because the odd, resinous scent was pungent in the room. Frodo's skin moved slick and easy under Sam's fingers. It was becoming ever more apparent, even in Frodo's muzzy-headed state, that there was nothing Sam did, in bed or out of it, that wasn't a source of exquisite pleasure.
"I wish I were able to express my appreciation for your skills. You do a great deal for me, far more than I deserve. If I could move I'd show you."
"You just stop right there and none of that wiggling about. You've shown me plenty. I never thought there was that much to know in all of Middle-earth, nor that a Gamgee would take to outlandish ways as my old dad would call them. Life's uncommon queer when you get to thinking on it. Settle down and I'll take care of everything. You Bagginses were never known for your patience, and that's a fact."
Sam's hands worked the muscles at the back of Frodo's legs as he spoke, fingers smoothing oil around to the inside of the thighs and along the right hipbone. After a few minutes Sam stopped and withdrew his hands. Frodo heard the oil bottle being unstoppered and the slick and slide of the oil as Sam rubbed it between his palms to warm it.
"Why don't I show you summat, Mr. Frodo? It'll be a fair exchange. You and Mr. Bilbo between you taught me my letters. How would it be if I taught you the art of making iced cream? I'll tell you the manner of it as plain as plain, then tomorrow, if you're better, you can attempt it for yourself. I'll help if need be."
"I should like that, Sam, but before you start I want to know what flavour you were planning to make yesterday when I waylaid you in the kitchen."
He was trying very hard to keep a regretful tone from straying into his voice, but it was no easy task. Sam had such tremendous ability in the handling of cream; it was almost magical. He hated to think that he had been deprived of the fruits of it due to this horrid indisposition. Even with the faint hope that he might be able to attempt the cream for himself some day it would never be the same as watching Sam at the churn. For a brief, irrational moment he was actually sorry that he had distracted Sam from his kitchen duties. He had to remind himself that what he had gained by that moment of wilfulness was vastly more satisfying and enduring than traces of iced cream at the bottom of a bowl. Still....
Sam's hands returned to stroking the thigh muscles. Frodo groaned and moved his leg forward so that Sam would have easier access should he need it.
"No, perhaps I oughtn't to have asked you that. If you tell me now I'll feel that I've missed out."
"Oh, we can't have that, can we? You haven't missed out on anything, Mr. Frodo. You can have that particular cream whenever you like. It's a popular flavour in these parts. My old grandad called it 'Berry Tickler'. I couldn't rightly say why, though the firm berries popping on the tongue do make a hobbit's mouth tingle something fierce."
"More than a hobbit's mouth, unless I'm much mistaken," Frodo muttered under his breath. "Any kind of berries, Sam, or one sort in particular?"
"I've a taste for those firm round ones you find in the hedgerows near the Hill, the sort with the rosy blush."
"Ah, yes. I know of them."
"Only some folk do as it happens, but you can't top them for flavour. They're tart at first, yet if you let them ripen up they take on a deeper shade and are as sweet and toothsome as can be. There are no finer berries in or out of the Shire I reckon. Come to think of it, I've had a fondness for them since I was a lad. Isn't that rum? I always seek them out when others might pass by and never notice. I can't understand it; maybe I've got a sharper eye than some. They have a pleasant feel when you roll them between your fingers, too, wouldn't you say?"
Frodo closed his eyes and his breath hitched.
"Oh, indeed they do, Sam."
Sam's hand kneaded gently, warm and well-oiled. His other hand had returned to Frodo's lower back and was rubbing the muscles in long, smooth strokes.
"Are you comfortable with that pillow between your legs, Mr. Frodo? You seem a mite restless. You want to keep still."
"I'm fine, thank you, Sam. Don't stop now, whatever you do. You haven't yet reached the point where the cream is actually produced. I've had so little opportunity to watch you at the churn. This is all quite fascinating. Do go on."
"Well, the first iced cream I made for you, last Highday it was, that was Peppermint Rock. You asked for it special if I remember rightly."
"I did, although you weren't entirely happy about it at the time, were you?"
This was, in fact, a gross understatement, as Sam had been most upset over the entire incident. For some reason he seemed to believe that Peppermint Rock was a common sort of candy and not proper for gentlehobbits such as Frodo Baggins. Frodo was left with only a hazy notion of what was proper when all was said and done, but Sam's protestations of unworthiness, potential impropriety or the general difficulties of producing a perfect iced cream without suitable equipment had gone largely unheard. Frodo had waved them aside with one flick of his wrist and assured Sam that Bag End's kitchen was well-stocked with every possible convenience. He had then proceeded to demonstrate that Sam was entirely on his level in all the ways that mattered, and they had shared the fresh iced cream in friendly companionship.
"No, sir, I can't say as I was. It's a bit of a challenge the first time round; getting that stick of rock to do what you want it to. It isn't as easy as you might think."
"Well, I admit to being partial to peppermint, and I'm afraid that the prospect of hard candy in the midst of all that cream was too great a temptation to resist. It was highly agreeable as a first effort I must say, though when I changed out of my clothes at bedtime I found sticky patches in the most unlikely places."
Sam snorted and his hand stilled briefly, then resumed its slow, sure strokes.
"Iced cream does have a way of going where it oughtn't. You even had a daub of it on your nose. Can't be too careful about such things."
"No, you -- oh, yes, right there -- you've found the trouble spot. Mandos' balls that's nice. I mean, the flavour was nice. The, uh, Peppermint Rock. Hard. The bits of peppermint."
Sam leaned over and adjusted Frodo's pillows carefully. Frodo turned his head so that he was able to look at Sam for the first time since Sam had begun to explain his recipe for iced cream. Sam had a mildly bemused expression on his face.
"I have to be quite honest with you, sir. I've never seen a finer dasher."
Frodo blinked, glanced down to where Sam's hand was kneading firmly, then back up to Sam's face.
"I beg your pardon, Sam. Dasher?"
"Yes, Mr. Frodo. It's the dasher rod as does all the real work in producing the cream. Inside the churn. I'm only the hobbit as puts his hand to the crank."
"Oh, well I'm glad to see that everything meets with your approval."
Frodo didn't say this too loudly, as he didn't want to risk distracting Sam from the task at hand. Sam was doing a first-rate job of easing the stiffness, and if Frodo was any judge of the matter, things appeared to be coming to a head rather nicely and sooner than he had expected.
"Yours has a fine, smooth action. Real quality, that is. Mayhap I didn't tell you afore but I thought you should know. You see, sir, the result of all that churning depends more than you might think on the worth of the dasher. It surely does. A good dasher is an inspiration to even the most experienced hobbit. Gives him ideas, you might say."
Sam exerted a bit more pressure with his thumb, and Frodo turned his head into the pillow and closed his eyes again. He didn't need to watch Sam anymore. The image of Sam at the iced cream maker was forever burned into his memory -- his strong arm covered with all those fine golden hairs glinting in the light, hand grasping the crank securely, as the two of them listened to the forceful, insistent rhythm of the dasher toiling inside the churn.
"I can't help but notice that when you're making use of the crank, you begin slowly and then speed up as you go."
"Oh yes, Mr. Frodo. Once the cream starts to thicken -- and you know by the feel of the dasher under your hand -- you need to crank all the faster. It's easy really. The dasher will do its job, o'course, but having a skilled hand at the crank, a hand that knows when to hasten and when to linger -- well, let's just say that you have a satisfactory result every time you make iced cream. Mind you, as my old dad says, trouble finds even the most careful worker."
Frodo's spirits sank. Why did the Gaffer somehow manage to insert himself into every potentially stimulating conversation?
"You don't mean to tell me that your Gaffer knows how to make it? I don't believe you. You're pulling my leg."
"Bless you, Frodo, of course he doesn't and of course I'm not. All I meant to say was that nothing is as easy as it seems to the untrained eye. For instance, if you put too much in the churn all at once, the thickened cream will brim over the top before you know it, and then where will you be."
Frodo groaned at the thought.
"Covered in cream, I shouldn't wonder. You know, Sam, my back is vastly better."
"I think we're almost there, too. Hold your ponies while I rub a tad more oil on my hands. I wouldn't want to chafe you raw."
As Sam poured the dreg of the oil from its bottle, Frodo lay limply on his feather bed, knees drawn up and arms draped loosely around the bolster. He was thoroughly exposed to the chill air of the room, as Sam had long since thrown the covers back. Frodo scarcely knew when he had done it. All he knew was the heat and vigour thrumming through his body like the deep note of the Yule drum that welcomed in the new year. He had never felt as content as he did in that moment and whether he ever left his bed again was a matter of no consequence.
Sam placed his hand between Frodo's parted thighs, running his fingers down the length of the muscle and then back and forth where the thigh curved into flesh that was altogether softer and more receptive.
"The thing is, sir, when I was a young lad, watching my sisters churning the cream -- they weren't very good at it I'm sorry to say -- I used to yearn for such a mishap. That bit of cream seeping over the edge of the churn -- I had a terrible craving to lick it straight off the wood. Even to this day, I have the habit of running my finger round the rim whilst I'm working the crank to be sure I haven't missed anything. Do you take my meaning, sir?"
"Oh yes, Sam. I take it very well. Go on, I'd like to know more. Please."
"There's little left to tell, I should say. If the cream is to be eaten right away then you'll want it nice and hard, like it was that first time I made it. If you're going to save it for later in the day, it doesn't matter so much I reckon. It will harden up as it sits."
"How much harder can it get? And what about the dasher?"
"Don't you worry about the dasher, sir. It slips in and out nice and easy like, do you see?"
"Mmm. I do, but perhaps it's wiser to wait a moment before you take it out altogether."
"No need to fret. I've done this many a time, and I should say that we're all but finished."
Sam's fingers were pressing somewhat insistently now in a place that had nothing whatsoever to do with backs, sore or otherwise, while his right hand remained busy revealing the wonders of a top-notch iced cream maker. Frodo watched Sam's hand working his oiled flesh and, at that instant, without any conscious thought at all, had a remarkable and dazzling insight into the true meaning of iced cream. He felt it in every corner of his body, from the tips of his ears to the hair that curled on his feet in sudden understanding. The knowledge of it blazed out of him and his breath caught. Then it was gone, and he lay back in Sam's arms, thoroughly drained but filled with new hope at the thought of iced cream to come.
Moments passed, and the bedroom began to form around him again, from the empty oil bottle on the wash stand to the roses brushing against the window glass, to the single shirt button half hidden in the crack at the bottom of the skirting board.
"You never did explain how you really make iced cream. I'm as much in the dark as I was before. I have no idea what you put into it. I know how to turn the crank. Oh yes, and the importance of a good dasher. I think there ought to be a great deal more to it than that, surely."
"You put in whatever you like, whatever you want the most. If I taught you everything now then you wouldn't need me anymore, would you. I have to keep summat back for when you tire of bedding your gardener and want one of those fine gentlehobbits from Buckland to warm your sheets."
"Is that what you think?"
"I don't know what to think, Frodo. It's not my place, is it? You'll make your choices; it's not for me to do it for you."
"I have no idea how many flavours there are, but I rather think I'd like to sample every one. If you have the time to tell me about them, that is. It will take forever, I should imagine."
"It might very well at that."
"Stay with me, Sam?"
"I'll stay as long as you want me."
"You'll love me even when I'm bent and grey?"
"Even then, me dear. We'll make two fine old gaffers setting cosy by the fireside, won't we?"
"I think we will. We might even have a flavour or two left to explore, if we're very lucky."
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