West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Mushrooms and Man Dragons
Midsummer Night romance has never meant so much.
Author's Note: Mushrooms and Man Dragons is set between spring's Grafting Roses and autumn's The Homecoming Series - but stands alone. Thank you, Tiriel, Beatriceorme, and Lurea Aure - you make it fun, and you make it better. (Story inspired by the Hobbit Smut LiveJournal Community "Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder" Challenge)
1. Cookbooks and Arcana
Sunlight slanted low through the open window, and evening shadows crept past bloom, vine, and bush. A cooling breeze fluttered the curtains and lifted Frodo's curls from his brow. He looked up from the cookbook on his lap; such a lovely, lingering day it had been, with summer's longest on the morrow. Sam had been at his sisters' beck and call for several days now, and it was well past time for his work day to end. Patience. He would be here soon, and Frodo would see him from his perch on the window seat with plenty of time to hide any good ideas he found.
When he had pulled likely books from the shelves, he hoped to find a new recipe to mark their first celebration of Midsummer's Night. But few were more appealing than Sam's familiar favourites (although that lemon shortcake might do nicely with cream custard and berries). The more erotic manuals, depicting tangled positions and complicated techniques, were certainly inspiring enough, and made even more pleasant research than recipes, but there was nothing that he hadn't explored thoroughly many years earlier, in solitary imagination, if not in fact. (There were some intriguing possibilities that they might put into practice...)
Cookbooks and the well-thumbed books of elvish erotica seemed, for the most part, to offer plain common sense - any hobbit knew that romance was enhanced by pleasant food and pleasing surroundings, tender touch... and maybe a certain flexibility.
The next book, Midsummer Rites, described Shire-wide fertility rituals and simple love charms, topics which had held no attraction in years past - his own virility was something not much tested, and his fertility never sought, and he had not needed charms beyond sweet words and a warm embrace.
In all the familiar traditions, lighthearted bawdiness was woven through heartfelt desire for fruitfulness in harvest and passion in bed.
Here was the Bonfire, flaring as long-delayed darkness settled over the land. Festival dancing, and romantic trysts; he had been schooled by the best at Brandy Hall in his youth, enjoying kisses, and more, on such nights - though nothing in memory could rival the least of kisses from his Sam. The Betrothal Arch, its every wreathed flower and vine bespeaking a desired quality; the Wicker Pudding in a rounded clay vessel, its dried fruit swelling plump as a woven frame burned fierce around it.
There were wares, to delight and beguile, to exchange, sell, and display. Lotions and oils to evoke tingling desire. Love toys - foot combs, rings, rods and balls, carved from cherry for abundance, oak for endurance. Smooth, thick candles, dipped large by hopeful lasses, to burn hot and pure and true as love. Mead, spiced wines and frothy chilled eggnog; leeks, walnuts, asparagus, carrots... Almost anything could be suggestive if looked at in the right way, although he had not previously noted any erotic appeal to a parsnip, and remained unconvinced. But strawberries - who would not have thought them sensuous? And didn't the morel mushrooms he hoped to find for Sam somewhat resemble... well, yes, of course, and all the better to show his love.
He flipped through the pages, but there was nothing that was quite the thing.
With a sigh, he picked up the last volume, Arcane Majicks: Potions, Spells & Rituals for Love and Power. Long buried in Bilbo's carved chest, it had turned up in the spring when- yes, well... no point in remembering that, now; Sam must have shelved it when he cleared the jumble strewn on the floor. It was unlikely to be helpful, even if such things worked; he had love in abundance, and had never desired power. But he had been curious when he saw it again, and it was worth a look while he waited.
The manuscript was bound in coarse oxblood-brown leather, encircled by a heavy strap. Illustrated profusely with crudely inked serpents and people, plants and skulls, its size and their crudity, together with the use of the Common Tongue, said that it must have come from Men, an oddity in Bilbo's library that bespoke his wide-ranging curiosity about the world beyond the Shire. Frodo scanned several pages, amused and appalled by turns. Some of the concoctions sounded decidedly unpleasant. Apples soaked in sweat from one's beloved? Toad venom? Pearls dissolved in wine? A waste of a rare pearl (and maybe dangerous), not to mention that any wine strong enough to dissolve it were better not drunk. And ground up beetles? Unspeakable, whether ingested or applied.
But as he delved deeper, he realised that the matter here was grimmer by far than rustic Shire-grown folklore or the high elven tales that he preferred; certainly evil deeds and desires might be found therein, but also more by far of loyalty and of truth.
None of this spoke to him of Sam or their love. But it was weirdly fascinating.
Compelled by curiousity, he turned past increasingly gruesome pages: blood rituals, cruel sacrifice, and then, an especially disturbing picture that shocked and confused him. A man, tongue lolling and eyes bulging, choked, hanging from a wooden crossbeam. A snarling dog writhed and strained, bound to - something. According to the text below, which he had read before he could stop himself, the man-shaped root, a 'Man Dragon', granted love, power, and secret desires. It grew beneath a gallows (what kind of people needed that?) from a hanged murderer's seed sown convulsively as he died; it screamed as it was harvested, killing the hapless dog induced to yank it from the soil and anyone else who heard--
How could anyone believe that love could come from that?
He could not imagine wanting such dark artifice, for any reason. How had he gone so long, knowing so little of rituals that sought power by any means, that seemed to 'use' rather than to give? He wished he had gone longer, and was sure that he was no better off for knowing. He would not want Sam even to hear these vile things; he would keep them to himself, and try to forget as soon as possible.
Frowning, he closed the book firmly; it held only harm. He hoped never to look through it again. But he could not quite bear to destroy any book. And it had been Bilbo's; the fact that he had kept it meant that he valued it - for the sake of knowledge itself if not for this knowledge in particular. He leaned to set it face down on top of the others stacked upon his desk. He would put it on an inconveniently high shelf. Perhaps behind those decades-old records of household accounts. Easily enough forgotten, there.
Thank goodness hobbits sought no such wicked solutions.
He sighed and turned to the peace of Sam's garden; rippling lark song and the wafted scent of roses. Sunset's soft light bloomed pink on his hand clutching the sill. He laid his head to the windowframe, drowsing in the fading light until a feather-light touch tickled his hand; a ladybird beetle took flight as he roused. He had dreamed of serving Sam, in the most tempting manner...
Where was that likely looking recipe for shortcake? He leafed through the cookbook. Yes. Here, and it looked far better than what else he had seen. In fact, it looked delicious, and with strawberries--
"Sir? Mr. Frodo?" The call followed fast upon the knock, as the front door opened.
Frodo snapped closed the book on his lap. One look at this would give it all away, though Sam was no doubt plotting a surprise of his own.
"In here, Sam - Hello! Were you able to help?" As he spoke, he hastily pushed the book under a cushion and unfolded himself to greet Sam.
"Aye, leastways much as needed tonight. Laid the logs, set up the smaller cauldron. Separated comb from honey, and boiled and strained the wax for Mari. Gathered almost every dried herb or flower she could think of - ohh!" Their embrace set aside any further conversation about sisters or their schemes, and they devoted the next minutes to thorough exploration of soft lips, speaking volumes with kisses and caress.
"Mmmm... Sam?' Frodo gripped Sam's arms - all that gentle strength - and leaned back to look into his face, pressing his hips more tightly to Sam's. Here was all the inspiration they would ever need - why had he bothered with dusty tomes? "Perhaps we could talk about each other's day... elsewhere?"
All that he had seen or read was set at naught, for this skill came straight from his heart, which told him more than any book could ever say.
2. False Assumptions
Frodo had hoped that Sam might linger afterwards and rest from a workday made even longer by helping his sisters, and taking on his brother's duties, too. (Why had Hamson had to lend a hand to their ailing uncle Andy this summer? Gaffer had driven him there in the trap, the sooner to put his strong back to work. At least Sam had been thus freed from explanations neither of them was as yet quite ready to make.) He would offer cider in pewter mugs cooled in the cellar, and a hearty snack of ripe cheese, rye bread, sausages and mustard, plums, and pickled beets while he rubbed Sam's shoulders, his arms, kissed the curls aside from his bent neck, whispered endearments into his ear... Both ears...
With one desire fulfilled, another hunger finally drew them from sweat-soaked sheets to the kitchen. But Sam had scarcely been settled at the table when came a most unwelcome interruption.
Lotho Sackville-Baggins, his voice louder than his knock, and peevish even through the heavy front door. Best ignored, but unlikely to depart soon when he could see the windows open, smoke rising, and somebody obviously at home.
They exchanged a resigned look and a sweet kiss promising 'Tomorrow', and hurriedly made themselves presentable. Sam cleared away the untouched food as Frodo went to greet his cousin, then excused himself quickly to go home (and sleep, as even Sam had agreed he needed).
It was a wonder he hadn't been harmed by the pointed look Lotho gave him as he slipped past, and out of the door.
Lotho's scowl raked over Frodo next.
"Your gardener takes liberties with you, Frodo. Here in your way, at all hours. Too familiar, despite his respectful words... You should not allow it, or you will be perceived as far too lenient with the help." Lotho had not taken his eyes from Sam's easy gait until he had turned the corner past the white roses and disappeared behind the hedge.
"And I am pleased to see you, too, Lotho." The sarcasm was satisfying even though Lotho missed it completely, and Frodo would permit no further criticism of Sam. Lotho's drooping pale eyes swung round - did he miss a thing out of place in the hall? - to meet Frodo's gaze.
"I cannot stay long, cousin dear... but perhaps a brandy, since you insist?"
"Yes, certainly." He had not 'insisted', or offered for that matter, though hospitality would have required it in the next breath. Frodo strode ahead into his study and thought to turn the books' spines to the window as though he were trying to straighten their disarray. No need for Lotho to know Bag End business, not even a recipe, let alone his research into dark arts.
"If you will excuse me, I will bring our brandy. Please, make yourself comfortable." But not at home.
"I suppose." It was obvious that Lotho was restraining his temper - quite admirable of him, really - though Frodo had not the first idea as to what he might be angry about. Of course, being Lotho, he didn't really need a reason to display ill-humour. Frodo swallowed his own sigh and left him pacing by the window to gather decanter and glasses on a tray. He returned to find Lotho staring at the garden, his arms crossed over his chest.
"The garden is looking well this year," Lotho offered, in an attempt at a safe topic, Frodo was sure; "but then, conditions here have been exceptionally favourable, so I am told."
"Yes. It has thrived, has it not?" A neutral reply to an acceptable subject, were Sam not mentioned again. He poured generously for Lotho (hospitality was all the Sackville-Bagginses would have of Bag End), and a finger for himself, then gestured to the chairs by the fireplace. They might as well be comfortable during Lotho's likely tirade on the inadequacies of roses (Sam had mentioned that his had succumbed to black-leaf fungus), his new vineyard (devastated by mould), and his hapless gardener (who had dared to suggest that both roses and grapes might have been planted in more suitable locations).
But Lotho declined to sit, unexpectedly, and instead pressed the purpose of his visit.
"I have too much to do to linger tonight, but tomorrow we shall have plenty of time to discuss such matters, and perhaps you might have a suggestion or two for a small difficulty my gardener has encountered?" This time Frodo could almost see Lotho's restraint, and it looked to be wearing rather thin. "At my Midsummer dinner. Of course, you are coming, now that you have recovered so well?"
Oh. That blasted dinner. Lotho's annual affair for eligible bachelor cronies and kin was an event that Frodo endured for the semblance of familial geniality, and from which he always made his escape before the evening turned to buffoonery more ribald than he could bear. He would extricate himself early without incident, in order to make an appearance at Festival, and then retreat in solitude to Bag End. This year, the unpleasantness in the spring (not to mention falling wildly in love for the first time) had provided an excuse to avoid it completely; it had been a simple thing to send regrets based upon the uncertain timing of his return to society.
"I must say, you appear the very picture of health. I do so look forward to... being with you..." Lotho's stare was hard over the rim of the crystal glass.
Oh, dear. Frodo had assumed that he had sidestepped the whole thing neatly, but apparently there was nothing neat about it, and Lotho appeared to have made assumptions, too, with most distressing undertones, and without the least foundation, except in his own mind.
"As you say, Lotho, I am quite well, but I still cannot attend this year. I am so sorry - I know the effort that such a successful evening requires, and would not have inconvenienced you, had I thought that you might expect me. Since I have been... indisposed... my memory has been slow to return, and-"
"Indisposed may have been what you were!" Anger flashed in Lotho's eyes, but Frodo was rather more prepared for sudden vehemence than for his initial and uncharacteristic complaisance. "Disinclined, is what I would call this refusal, now! You were well enough disposed to spend time with the help, recuperating, or so it was said. It looks to me as though you are quite disposed towards that gardener of yours, and have made every effort to continue his services even after you finally were removed - reluctantly, I am sure - from his bed--"
"I beg your pardon, cousin, but you are not yourself, and I must ask you to leave." In fact, Lotho was all too much 'himself' and that was stale whisky he smelled on his breath - too close, too close - and not the brandy he had provided. A shiver of fear trembled in his belly; Lotho was volatile at best, violent at times, and his avarice seemed tinged now with unforeseen lust, and malice towards Sam.
"No, Frodo, I will not be put off. There are others much closer, your own kin, to whom you could still turn, at any time..." Lotho's voice dropped, low and ingratiating, and he stepped even closer, his face only a nose from Frodo's - and the desk at his back gave Frodo no room to retreat.
"I did not mean to offend you, my sweet cousin. I had hoped that you and I might mend our fences at last. Come to a better... understanding... of each other. I know we have not been close, not nearly as close as we might be... but I was concerned, too, when you were so ill, and came to realise that you are very dear to me..."
Frodo turned his face away from Lotho's cold touch. He shook a cloying hand from his arm and stood straighter.
"Your concern might better have been expressed by a visit, or a kind note, when I was ill, though I do not doubt that rumours of my demise caused considerable concern in your household. Excuse me. You know the way out." He stepped neatly around Lotho and gestured to the door; he was shaking with rage, but would not dignify the veiled invitations with any comment.
Lotho scowled and in a sudden fury, reached towards Frodo. It was unclear whether a blow or a kiss was intended, and Frodo would accept neither from him. He recoiled swiftly, and Lotho's anger was diverted to a clench of one fist to his chest, of the other against the nearest stack of books, sending them in a sweeping crash to the floor.
"I'll have something of you, cousin, if not your good opinion or your fine company. But I will have something, whether Bag End, or you, or both...." Lotho spluttered, pulling his coat close about himself; he stormed from the smial, slamming the front door so hard it bounced back against the wall.
Frodo shook his head, astounded by Lotho's behaviour. Ill-tempered, as usual. But from whence had come the abhorrent suggestion-
He shuddered. Whatever Lotho was implying, it involved neither love nor romance.
He took a deep breath and knelt to gather the scattered books, smoothing their bent pages and restacking them carefully, soothed by the familiar feel of bindings and vellum.
He retrieved the cookbook from the cushions, and curled cross-legged on the window seat, holding the book to his chest. Sam's roses nodded heavily from their clematis-twined arbour, and moonlight silvered the lawn. The shutters creaked as the night wind sighed through the trees, carrying small rustlings and the 'whooo' of a hunting owl. From the pond beyond the smial, he could hear frogs croaking their dreams.
He hummed an old lullaby, wishing that Sam were here for his much-needed rest, sleeping sweetly in his arms.
3. Earth Mannikins
"Your Sam! He's a fine one, now, he truly is, and I'd say I'm not the only one setting my bonnet for him this Midsummer! You'd best appreciate that brother of yours while you still have him!"
"Aye, he is that." Fine, indeed, and quite a catch, now he'd come of age. Marigold smiled, thinking of Sam's new confidence. He was happier this Midsummer than she'd ever seen him. And that was bound to call more attention to him than even his well-muscled form. Not a trace of the gangly youth of a year ago; he'd filled out to a rounded maturity, and shyness had turned into quiet poise. More'n one hobbit would be watching him, but if what she'd come to suspect were so... Well, there'd be more'n one disappointment, too - and when it came to Rosie, she couldn't quite say which way she hoped the choice would fall.
"I'm sure Tom or Jolly wouldn't have been so quick to help. I can't think they'd know a thing about what flowers or herbs to use." Rosie withdrew dripping candles from the beeswax and gauged their added girth with a critical eye. "Mari, these are about as big as can be, if they're to cool between dippings. Are you ready for them?"
Rosie glanced over to the bench where Marigold sat, carefully pressing a design of dried petals into the sides of the candle, then smoothing a thin layer of wax over the edges. Herbs blended with sweet beeswax, and the mixture tinged yellow with alder bark - these candles were too dear for everyday use, but much in demand for romance, and sure to be a favourite at Festival. That they were actually made on the auspicious day was all the better. Success with the repeated dips it took to build up wax on plaited flax, with neither fire nor weather too hot or too cold, boded well for any who set flame to their wicks or breathed in their fragrance.
"Hmm, maybe another dip or two? I never heard anyone complain about them being too big!" Mari's giggle bubbled into a laugh as she looked up to meet brown eyes sparkling with mirth.
"No, indeed! I'll dip them, long as the wax lasts!"
"That's the point of it, now ain't it?" Mari smiled and reached to the neatly organised basket of herbs Sam had provided. "Rosemary? Makes it even more 'long lasting'!"
"Mmm! I'd warrant your Sam'd know all about that, too."
"Well, I wouldn't know about Sam! But likely your Tom would - the long lasting part, if not the herb - and Midsummer Night'd be a good time to find out..." She eyed Rose speculatively.
"Mari, I wouldn't mind a bit. And I can't think there's anyone he'd rather let know." Rosie's gaze held forthright encouragement - and a reciprocal question.
Mari smiled and nodded, pleased by Rosie's support, but unsure how to respond. She would not want to lose her favour - setting Tom aside, she was as good a lass as might be. And her friend. She'd welcome her being more than that, and couldn't think there'd be any better lass for Sam... But on the other hand, what could she say in truth? There had been heartache for Sam, in the spring; she knew it had not been the sorrow of a mere employee, for she had seen what she had seen. And that was a whole other thing, even if she didn't know what to make of it. Who knew what anyone could make of it, for there was a hobbit - two of them, for that matter - as wasn't likely to wear feelings on a sleeve for the reading.
She turned the candle around, feigning interest in smoothing a scratch. "These petals will surely glow pretty with the flame. Just the kind of glow we could all do with--"
"Glow? Flame? What's this?" May swept in, carrying a basket from which spilled a bairn's soft, embroidered blanket: the traditional wedding gift of hope from the widow Rumble, their mother's closest friend. Its promise had remained unfulfilled, despite May's fine health these years since her wedding. It was good to see her home, though she seemed worn down, and there was a new desperation in her face that hadn't been there at Yule. Perhaps this visit to celebrate Midsummer and her anniversary would do some good. But Mari couldn't help but fret about the urgency with which May had prepared every fertility rite they could recall - some so ancient that only the elder goodwives could remember how they should be prepared.
"How many did you make?" Marigold pulled aside the pale yellow cloth and picked up one of the baby dolls lying within. Strange, these charms, and oddly significant - each dressed carefully in delicate linen, tucked and laced like a babe's naming gown. Sam had dug each vegetable with care-- and complaint. She could hear him, now.
"Don't know why May's decided this is more'n child's play. What she wants is good food - she'd be better off eating these than dressing them up - and more rest. And a mite more patience wouldn't go amiss. What will come will come, in good time, and there ain't no forcing it, and especially not with roots as ain't even good for eating!"
But Sam had been quiet when May came up, and Mari had not had to hush him. And while he'd refused flat out to dig the toxic root she'd asked for - large ones that grew wild, shaped like a hobbit even down to the fine root hairs that covered the feet - he'd dug every one of the garden vegetables as if he cared whether any part was broken, and he'd chosen the most hobbit shaped and waxed them himself, so no juice or carrot's orange would chance getting on the tiny clothes, or on May, however foolish he might think her.
That was her Sam, and whoever he loved would have all of that great heart of his, and likely his good counsel to boot. But he'd always known when to keep his mouth shut, too, and that might be an even better gift, free flowing from their mother's side, for it surely weren't any gift that their Gaffer could've given--
"...keep the sweetest one - here, Rosie, you might like to see my favourite - and let go the others to this season's new brides?" May leaned across Mari to hand over a doll wearing pale blue, the beet's lusty red peeking between neck ruffle and bonnet.
Red beet for blood swell,
Carrot for length,
Potato to bide well,
Onion for strength...
Had Sam managed all that digging and kept a straight face? Mari had to smile; everyone knew the old rhyme - though as children they thought it was about eating your vegetables - and there'd be a laugh at each bride's choice, and an exchange of knowing looks. Though exactly what they'd be knowing was something Mari could only guess at. So far. But Midsummer Night was almost here, and she and Rosie were each bound and determined to find out at least some of it, Tom and Sam willing, that was.
May stretched forward, telling Rosie something about the little bonnet, that it could and would be used again if... when... and something fell from her bodice right in front of Mari's face. A bone?
"May! What is that?"
May drew back and hastily tucked the charm into her blouse; she blushed as Rosie's mouth dropped open around a gasp.
"Oh, dear! I'd heard of such, but I've never seen..." Rosie bent down and laid a protective hand on the old dog sleeping at her feet. "You didn't--"
"No! Didn't hurt anybody - Tanner's old Tobas passed in his sleep, likely worn out from stud--"
"May, you wouldn't! I've heard tell, but you can't think...?" Mari had only seen a bone like this once, but it'd not be something she'd forget. Small and slim, most like a darning needle (the 'in and out' of it wasn't that far off, now was it?), the stud bone had been from a famous hunting hound who'd sired many a fine litter, worn by his master's wife for luck that the line would prosper beyond him - and that hers would, too.
"Well, what if I did? What do I know, Mari? And who are you to say? It's been six years! And yes, starting afore my wedding night - but it still adds up to nothing! Powdered stag horn in his wine, ewe's milk poured into the ground in darkest night, and I don't think I can bear to eat another parsnip. Ever. But none of it works, none of it!" A lesser hobbit might have burst into tears, but May held to her righteous indignation. "Who knows what will help? It's no lack of love or trying, and that's a fact - but we're as barren as two cocks in a barnyard. There. I've said it. Now move over." May shoved Marigold aside and settled heavily on the bench beside her, elbows on the table and head in her hands. She glared defiantly at Rosie and Mari, neither of whom dared either a retort or an offer of sympathy.
"Here, Lad, come here, boy." The old dog heaved himself up to lay his head in May's lap. And if she shed a tear now, it was wiped away quickly into the thick ruff of her dog's neck.
Mari looked to Rosie and shrugged. "Well. Rosie and I are hoping right with you. Ain't none of us knows what it takes to make love bear fruit, whether a seven month babe, or one a bit longer in the starting, or whatever else the loving's meant to come to. I don't lay blame for whatever you try, long as it don't hurt hobbits - or dogs. For that matter, soon as these candles are done, I'll start the Wicker Pudding. The clay's soaking, and I wove a frame, sweet as a maiden's bower. With all those dried cherries in brandy it'll swell pretty as you please - pretty as you'll be, May, when your time comes."
May accepted Mari's quick hug, "You're a sweet lass, and Rosie, too. I just hope you find a hobbit fine as my Tanner, and whatever's in store will be the better for having him by your side. Don't you fret about me - or the Wicker. I'll make a start on it. Maybe the making's as lucky as the eating, and bodes well for the begetting." She winked, and stood; Lad padded after her to the kitchen.
Rosie's voice was hushed. "Mari, I forgot it'd been so long. I don't know how she stands it. I'd go mad if I couldn't have babes. That's the main reason to wed, seems to me."
Marigold was silent. But she didn't think that she would go mad... seemed like the main reason for marrying might have more to do with what hobbit was standing right there beside you for whatever came. And maybe that's what May was saying, too.
4. Man Dragons
Frodo picked up the woven bag and slung it over his shoulder, then stretched and leaned languid in the doorway. The Valley spread before him, verdant beneath a drifting blue mist that would clear before second breakfast; white puffs, soft as the linens he had smoothed on his bed, floated in a cornflower blue sky and were reflected in the small ponds dotting the meadows in which grazed this year's calves and lambs, close by their dams. In the distance he could glimpse The Water sparkling through the trees and hobbits setting up tents and tables; faint shouts and hammering could be heard as the light breeze shifted towards him.
A more promising day, or night, for romance could not be desired. He would bring Sam home to fresh sheets, dried in the sun, and downy pillows, fluffed and waiting. And in candlelight, he would open his eyes, to see over Sam's shoulder the polished roots of the ceiling as if for the first time...
And in the small hours, he would serve his favourites: morel mushrooms, butter fried to a golden crisp; greens with sliced apples and walnuts, drizzled with cider dressing; rosemary roasted chicken. Strawberries. (He would keep his eyes open for the wild ones, their flavour so intense despite their smaller size).Yeast rolls and honey to drip from its comb, to sweetly swirl with lips and tongue...
But first, he must find his mushrooms, scarce now after a season's plunder by hunters as avid as he, and the morning's preparations had taken longer than expected. He set forth, walking stick in hand. He knew of a place others might not know. Since the fall of the old Lightning Tree in the spring, there would have been little reason for anyone to climb down the bank to the small ledge overhanging The Water. All that loose soil and tangled roots would provide perfect growing conditions.
Of course, the mushrooms would have to be soaked very thoroughly in salt water to evict all the tiny creatures inhabiting their folds. Ants, loopers, moths...
Now there was a thought. Here he was, wanting to make sure there were no insects in their food - and hadn't he recently read something about eating them - on purpose? Some strange custom? Oh. Yes. He frowned. That beetle concoction that was supposed to... well, supposed to make it harder. He couldn't help sniggering at the memory. He must remember to tell Sam, and ask if those iridescent beetles lived in their garden - just to watch the slow smile blossom on his face as he wondered dryly what fool first had thought to squash them, and then to put them... there?
Well, thank goodness neither of them had need of that, or for anything beyond a glance caught across a garden, a look exchanged in a crowd, a butterfly caress to hand or cheek...
He stopped; his belly quivered to a flash of desire, and walking had become... uncomfortable. Better to think on where he was than where he longed to be... kissing sun-salted skin beneath Sam's collar, trailing downwards as he unfastened each button, brace, and lace... sinking to his knees...
He took a deep breath and took stock: fields of ripening wheat, bees buzzing at wild honeysuckle draping the drystone wall, and water birds ducking and diving by the bank. He kicked aside a small clump of weeds by the roadside; dandelion puffs fluttered on the light morning breeze, as though tickling his memory. There was something about last evening nagging, besides his continued irritation at Lotho. He had read, gazed at the garden; Sam arrived. They had loved, talked...
Why had he not thought of this sooner?
Had Sam not said something about the little charms the lasses made - the 'Earth mannikins', dressed in infant finery and exchanged amidst laughter at every Festival? Something about May requesting an unusual root, over and above the garden varieties he grew? And Sam had refused - though it was not like Sam to refuse anything a loved one might desire - saying the plant's sap burned your skin, or worse, and that he wouldn't have her messing around with it, no matter it was shaped just right and the root hairs looked like little furry feet. She had even wanted him to dig a small one and plant it in a mould to conform its root more closely to a hobbit's figure, for next year. (He would have known better than to suggest it. Sam's gift was for coaxing the best from a plant's nature. He did not even like to trim boxwood to the forced animal shapes that were all the fashion in the Sackville-Baggins garden, let alone turn a noxious root into a dolly for his sister.)
But what May had wanted was disturbingly similar to the plant in that distressing book; he must read further and learn all he could, despite his revulsion. Yes. He could bear to read more, if by understanding he might better serve Sam, or his family.
Frodo shook his head. It would be all right. By plain good sense, Sam already had kept May from delving into rituals that could poison body and mind with evil means and false hopes. He had kissed Sam's brow and hugged him for his good sense - and for comfort, for it had been obvious that he was more upset by May's sad desperation than by thwarting her wish.
But to such lengths she was willing to go, it seemed...
All the charms and potions that he had taken for simple amusements before... were not simply that. Midsummer Festival was all about fulfilment of desires, the promise of seed to produce flower and fruit, betrothal to become marriage with babes - a cycle that sustained the Shire.
He bent to pick a dandelion stem. The feathered seeds made a perfect circle, linked and interlocked, soft beneath his fingertips. He brushed it to his lips and closed his eyes, and his mere breath scattered the seeds, floating downy past his nose, drifting widely across the meadow.
Now where had he gone? He'd disappeared to his potting shed any time he had a few spare minutes; most likely doing something special for Festival. Mari had an idea that he'd kept back all his special rose oil, a good portion of the sweet woodruff, and who knew what else he'd squirreled away? Well, she'd likely learn, soon enough. If it was one of his lotions, she hoped he'd made enough to share, for he had a knack for blending dried herbs and flowers almost as fine as the way he combined them, living, in any garden he put his hand to.
Mari pushed open the front door with her foot, balancing the heavy box on her hip as she stepped outside. She could manage this one by herself, but if he hadn't left for Bag End, she'd ask him to load the rest.
It would take her and May twice the time, and anyway, with his help, May could sleep where she'd dropped, saying she only needed to close her eyes for a bit. She'd wrapped her arms around Lad and burrowed into the pillows on what was now Mari's bed, and the both of them were snoring when last Mari checked. Sleep was better for her than any of those silly ideas she had. And looking fresh and rested was likely to do her a sight more good with Tanner than that nasty bone draped between her bosoms.
Here he was; he'd brought the wagon 'round, and was jumping down to tie Nell to the gatepost. With difficulty, she made her way towards the back, thinking of all that had to be loaded before dusk. Including May. And old Lad would need a boost up, himself--
Voices? Other side of the cart. One of them low, though clearly Sam's, but the other too soft to tell. Once she set this down, she'd see who was visiting; maybe offer a cup of tea and biscuits. She straightened back up and moved toward the front of the cart to join them.
It was Mr. Frodo. In a second she took in that he had been mushrooming: an open pouch of morels was slung over his shoulder, and his fine linen shirtsleeves were rolled to his elbows. His back was towards her, but she'd guess that his knees were muddy and leaf-stained and in need of a good scrub - and it struck her that the straight, slim figure could as well be a lad just come of age.
Sam stood close, smiling, and listening so intently that he hadn't noticed her. And in the moment before he did, Mr. Frodo laid his hand upon Sam's arm - a gesture as natural as friendship, and as lingering as a caress. Fair smooth skin and a neat square hand, set gentle as you please on the sun glinting gold of her brother's flesh, and Mr. Frodo was leaning closer--
She made some movement - had she drawn back so as not to intrude? - and Sam's eyes lifted to meet her gaze. No startled flinch, and not a word, but his face must have told Mr. Frodo she was there even before Sam said her name, for he turned easily to greet her.
"Good day, Miss Marigold. A fine one for Festival, is it not? Sam tells me that your candles are the best that he has seen."
"Thank you, sir. I hope they please, sir. And I've made chicken pie, with my special chutney on the side, and chilled eggnog for luck. If you please, sir, won't you come and share a bite at our table?"
"Yes, thank you. I should like that very much. Good food and good luck are always welcome." He smiled, and turned again to include Sam, waiting patiently behind him. "Sam, do you plan to return to Bag End this afternoon?"
"No, sir, I was intending to take Mari and May as soon as they're ready and help set up, then come back here to make ready myself. Unless you need me, sir?"
"No, Sam. I shall see you down there. And Miss Marigold, thank you for the invitation - my favourites of all the Festival treats."
A graceful nod to each of them, and the Master set forth up the Hill.
"Mari?" Sam's voice broke into her thoughts. "Shall I load everything now?"
"Aye, Sam, there's a dear. Thank you. Just leave that basket on the table for me to pack the food when it's all ready. And quiet, please. May's sleeping, and needs it for certain. I'll be in right away, soon as I make sure these haven't shifted."
She knelt by the box of candles, but her attention was all on Mr. Frodo, just about to round the bend up the Hill. He turned, and she could tell even from this distance that his smile was soft, and sweet, and that from where he stood, there was only one hobbit he could see as he raised his hand in farewell.
Claps and stamps and hoots of merriment - but here in the quiet shadows, he might catch his breath as he waited for Sam. When had he last stayed so late and danced so long?
Frodo leaned back against the oak tree, lifted his mug, and took a deep draught of spring water; cool and fresh, like the velvet moss beneath these green woods. He flexed his shoulders and forced his breathing to slow. So many hobbits; he had not been in so large a crowd since... had it been since Yule? Yes, he had foregone spring's celebrations as he recuperated. But tonight he had made up for all that he had missed, for this summer's festival meant what it never had before. The Bonfire roared still, and the music sounded fierce and wild, as if it would go on all night, but couples were already stealing away into the woods - as soon he and Sam would, too...
A dancing swirl of colour blurred before him, and as the reel turned faster and faster he could see Sam at the far edge, surrounded by his sisters and friends, laughingly resisting Rosie Cotton's best efforts to pull him into the dance. Not much for dancing was his shy Sam, graceful though he was in every move. But May was pushing at his shoulder, and Mari had taken his hand, and the fiddle and flute were compelling, and Frodo could feel the stamping and the drumbeat in his belly, an ancient rhythm to which they all must turn.
His Sam was so strong, and so happy. He laughed and lifted Mari high and twirled her around, playful and fond, and when he set her down, she handed him off to Rosie, smiling as she spun away with Tom Cotton; and Rosie and Sam were paired now, her skirts flying and cheeks flushed. But the giddy lass in his arms had not raised that blush to Sam's cheeks - for Frodo could see that with every turn he searched the shadows, and he knew that Sam wanted him, and him alone. He would not stay longer in the reel than courtesy required; he liked neither dancing nor Miss Cotton well enough to linger.
Soon, soon, he would slip free, and they would exchange a glance across the crowd.
Moon dappled kisses beneath low hanging boughs, slow slide down rough bark, shoulders and hips pressed back into soft moss... Home to dinner, crisp sheets and a crackling fire, festival candles set all around...
Smiling faces as hobbits swept past in the swirling throng. Nursery rhymes blended with instructions from his childhood to sing in his mind.
Step right in, acknowledge the nods, knees lifted high - and turn.
Bow and smile - raised hands make an aisle...
Where was Sam? The steps moved faster and faster as the musicians picked up their pace.
Round and round, holding hands
Step right through, betrothed are you
Palm to palm, fair bride is won
In and out, a babe will sprout!
Oh, there he was, and he looked so very fine, dancing, dancing, silhouetted now against the Bonfire, now lit golden by its flickering light... skipping hand in hand with Rosie Cotton beneath the bridge of arms arched above, just like the flower-twined gate through which the newly betrothed had walked this evening in true Shire tradition...
In his arms, now, pretty little Rosie, with her smooth breasts and her wide hips, just made for bearing babes... smiling, beguiling, up into his face - and what charm at all was needed beyond the timeless pleasure of fulfilling such a fertile promise?
A buxom bride and bouncing babes...
Immortality, the only kind that hobbits might have.
Fertility rites and festival charms merely hinted at the imperatives of lovemaking. But tonight, he saw them. And for the first time, he saw his own unknown, lifelong assumption: that someday, when the time was right, he would know a great love - and the future would spring from his loins. The time had come, as had the love of his life, but there would be no child of his body, nor of Sam's... and now he understood the desire for love to ripen to fruition, to proclaim itself in bounty for all to see.
Frodo closed his eyes and abandoned, with full heart and mind, what had seemed every hobbit's dream. Perhaps it had never been his own... but was it Sam's?
If ever a hobbit was made for sowing and growing and nurturing, it was his gentle Samwise, who had every aspect of a wonderful father - except a beloved who could take his seed and bear a child thereof. Would he long for a babe as much as did his sister May, for whom the barren years had only deepened her heartache? She and Tanner still had hope; but no babe could grow from the seed that Sam and he sowed together, and the years were long--
Screeeeech! A bow scraped dissonant across catgut. There, behind the musician's raised platform, a commotion, and the harmony of the dance was broken as hobbits fell back from-
Lotho. He had brought along several of his loutish friends, far too far into their cups to join with the dancers floating by; they strutted and preened, uncommonly bold, grasping for new partners, and one clambered clumsily from where he had fallen amongst the musicians. The music continued, but without the first fiddler, who frowned as he looked at his instrument. This was exactly the kind of boorishness Frodo had tried to avoid at Lotho's party. Why had they brought it here?
The disruption had not yet spread through the gathering, but Lotho was wild-eyed enough to lead his cronies to havoc, and that would make an ugly end - and an ill omen - to a lusty night. The elders had left already and there was no sign of any other who would cross one of the gentry, or for that matter, would be able to handle Lotho in a drunken temper.
Could he? He was already halfway there; he had known it would fall to him when first he saw his loathsome cousin.
Lotho turned from the shadows, arms held high, brandishing something, his voice harsh and shrill - the Bonfire flared and Frodo's breath caught.
It was that book, the gruesome book that sweet anticipation had thrust from his mind.
"...whatever you want, and no silly little charms... haven't seen anything to what I can do, soon as... tell you all..." His strident words shocked the hobbits closest to him into stillness.
"...grant every desire... just... root..."
Not that! The fool could not think to bring those horrors--
The crowd around Lotho fell back, muttering, to let Frodo pass, even as Lotho's companions closed at his side.
"Ah! Who have we here? It's my pretty cousin, come to his senses. And come to me for his pleasure! A powerful charm indeed, that works before it is set!"
"Lotho. Give me the book. Take yourself and your friends home to recover your senses."
"There is only one thing I intend to give you tonight, and it isn't this book, my sweet cousin!"
And as Lotho turned leering to face him, Frodo saw that he held tight in his other hand a rope, and that at the end of it cowered a dog. Old Lad, straining toward Sam's May as she cried and called to him.
A root ripped screaming from beneath a gallows, its birth cry death to all who heard. No garden's bounty begowned for charm or child, but evil begotten of vice, with poison in its marrow, cosseted and brew-bathed till it voiced power--
In an instant, the night shifted horribly, into something other, as the seed of darker custom sprouted and coiled in tender Shire soil, choking and crowding the bountiful life from their rustic traditions. The Bonfire blazed too bright and flames hissed destruction; the dancing figures silhouetted before it capered to blood ritual he could not have imagined a day before; sweet mead cloyed like enthralling potion; the wedding arch bloomed deadly with nightshade and belladonna; Mari's wicker frame burned around screaming live sacrifice--
Frodo shook his head, denying visions that belonged to other places and times and peoples - they had nothing to do with romance, nothing at all to do with his beloved Shire or sweet desire.
But the music and the dance seemed very far away, and May's misery was real, echoed on Tanner's drawn face. What false hope had Lotho offered to serve his purposes? Despair would have lent credibility to whatever he had claimed, and evil had a way of working through the wicked to tempt even an innocent's desires.
"This is wrong! Whatever you may have read, it is wrong. Give me the book, Lotho."
"Its power is mine now - and you will be, too, once I've--!"
"No. Such twisted lore is not for hobbits, and I will have no part of your gaming--"
"It is no 'game' I propose! This book grants all desires!"
"The book is useless. And you are not yourself. Give it back, and go home." Frodo tried to cast his voice low enough that it might not attract further attention, but it rang clear in the silent circle. May shrank back against Tanner, and Lotho's stridency drowned her attempts to speak.
"Oh, no! I will keep what you have tried to hide! Oh, yes, my ever-so-learned cousin - you tried to keep these majicks to yourself, away from us - and from her!"
May's gaze swivelled from Lotho to Frodo, and her expression was piteously confused; she already had been hurt by his failure to set the book aside safely. Frodo glanced from Lotho's triumphant sneer to the guileless faces surrounding them, and saw only confusion there. They had not heard his vitriol; this could still be stopped. The book and Lotho had only words, and he might weave a net of words enough to stay their power, if he could find them.
"I have hidden nothing of value to hobbits, and you would know that, sober. Stop this, Lotho, before it goes further." Calm, calm, try to stay calm.
But Lotho advanced upon Frodo instead, dragging Lad, whining, his claws digging into the grass. He stood close, between May and Frodo now.
"Kept it even from this little goodwife, whom you should have helped. Majicks that would help her bear children--"
Lotho dropped the unctuous mask of concern for his fellow hobbits, and his next words reeked as he hissed right into Frodo's face.
"Help her bear all the brats she wants. And she'd better - that brother of hers will never get one on you, no matter how deep he ploughs. No Gamgee, no Baggins - no heir. Never. Bag End will be mine before all is done, as will you."
Frodo froze. Rage coiled in his belly - fight, flight, strike - and bitter truth pierced his heart with grief. Truth tipped with poison, truth nonetheless.
But not all of it. Not the whole truth.
Trust to our love... it is enough, no matter what it bears...
"These are not matters we will discuss in public. Lotho, what I say is for your ears only, and you will wish it to remain so."
"Ah, yes, my little cousin - do come closer. Just as I hoped. Do we have... shall we say... an understanding? And I thought it would take majick and a dog to have you from the help. A root for your root." Lotho laughed; he seemed to stumble and the hand holding the rope snaked between their bodies in a lewd caress.
Frodo flinched, but he did not step back. He seized Lotho's arm and leaned to his ear, and his voice deepened with fury.
"All you will have of me is my word that this is finished. You will take neither dog nor me on this or any other night, and the only root you will have is the limp one dangling between your legs, may its ill-begotten seed shrivel unsown--" Frodo took a deep breath and caught himself; evil spawned only evil, and enraged curses would do no good.
Lotho started back, spluttered, and tried to shrug free, but Frodo's grip was unyielding as he added, loudly enough to be heard by the hobbits gathered around.
"You have mistaken gibberish for wisdom where there is none. There is nothing here for hobbits - only foolish tales from unwise Men."
The crowd sighed, and nodded. No decent hobbit could benefit from those. And despite the ugly words bandied about by Mr. Lotho, if it came to a choice of whom to believe, Mr. Frodo Baggins won hands down over any Sackville-Baggins.
"Lotho. This is both pointless and foolish. Go home - it is over."
"I am not finished!" Lotho dropped the rope and flailed out as rage and alcohol took the last of his wit; he yanked himself free, raised the heavy book high, lunged - and swung viciously. The crowd gasped, and Frodo shrank back, lifting his arm to ward off the harm - but the intended blow had no chance of landing.
"Nay, but you are, sir." Sam caught Lotho's arm easily and pulled it hard behind his back, locking it so firmly that Lotho winced, then went completely still. Sam took the book, and his smile was grim as he met Frodo's eyes.
"So your gardener's come for you, has he--" Lotho yelped as Sam tweaked his arm in warning; he spluttered, and was inspired to restrain himself.
The old childhood taunt meant nothing to the surrounding hobbits. They knew their own. He stood right in front of them, resolute before what had become ridiculous, backed by a home-grown hobbit with devotion that all could see.
"I have him, sir, and he's going home, now." Sam added, low enough that only Frodo and Lotho could hear, "Aren't you? And if you say so much as a peep about Mr. Frodo..."
Several of the burlier hobbits seemed suddenly to realise they could move, and firmly seized Lotho's shoulders and arms to lead him off and convince him not to return.
"Good. Then I will dispose of this, as I should have done." Frodo took the book from Sam's hands, and shook his head slightly, mouthing 'Later' to the question in his eyes. He must tell him, but Sam did not have to see. He cast his voice for all to hear.
"Only a worthless leftover from Bilbo's travels - not worth carrying home. If you will excuse me?"
Most hobbits were fast losing interest in the to-do, especially when some foreign book was all there was to it, and had already returned to the dance, shrugging their shoulders about what, after all, amounted to just another squabble Mr. Lotho started. Only a few watched as Frodo strode briskly to the Bonfire.
Heat wavered in the air above and ringed its dancing flames, flushing his cheeks as he approached. He stood still and looked at the book, pulsing blood-red in his hands. Its words could only mar a night of home-spelled magic such as this, and would blight even the simplest Shire tradition.
Cast it away... there is nothing here...
The rising flame burned out his anger, and in its wake came relief. He turned blindly from the blaze - and there was Sam, standing at his side.
7. Into the Woods
Mari hadn't seen what started it, but it must've been simmering, fast as it came to a boil.
May was bawling, Lad cringing, and Mr. Frodo was toe to toe with that cousin of his, even though he'd gone white as the top side of a mushroom. Looked like he wasn't going to budge, and likely was going to be hurt, and maybe bad, if that brute were wild as he looked, and that book as heavy as it seemed, before anyone made a move to help.
But then Sam stepped forward out of nowhere, just when more than plain old gumption was needed to stand up to a bully half again his size and ten times meaner - not that Mr. Frodo hadn't that aplenty. Her Tom was right there, too, and then other hobbits finally decided they could maybe do something useful, and escorted Mr. Sackville-Baggins' friends away from the crowd and told them to stay put.
Mr. Lotho had glared more than enough this night, and his muttering was even more mean-spirited than what he'd said - she'd caught the gist of that, if not all the words. What he'd meant was naught but a tawdry thing, nothing like what she'd glimpsed just that afternoon, and here again tonight.
But their Sam had looked so fierce at him it almost scared her, and Mr. Frodo was so calm he made the whole thing seem no more'n some silly antic of Lotho's (no more 'Mr.' or 'Sir' for him for a good while, leastways in her mind) and before them all the fight ran right out of that drunken coward. He shook himself free of Sam's hold - only because Sam let him go - and tried to quarrel as Tom and the others took him to his friends, who'd taken themselves to the shadows fast enough. As far as she could tell, they weren't a bit happy either to see him or about what he'd dragged them into. In fact, seemed they had more to complain about than just embarrassment, the way they were catching at their trousers and bits and moaning something about 'It burns' and 'Blasted beetles!'
She was sure she didn't want to know more about that. And she had her hands full anyway, what with Rosie staring after Sam like a moon cow and wanting to hear every detail of what happened twice over, and May all red-eyed from crying into Lad's ruff. Tanner at least was doing some good, holding her so gentle, and she'd finally stopped sobbing when a wrung-out wet napkin was daubed cool at her face.
"I'd never have let him hurt Lad!"
"Shhh, dear one, I know, I know, and I wouldn't have, either, gentry or no." Tanner really was a sweetheart; it weren't his words so much as the tender way he said them that seemed to make the difference to May's tears. Being there for someone in a pinch might be better than being there for the partying... though it surely would be nice to have both. May seemed right enough now, in Tanner's capable hands. Best thing for her would be to go home, tired as she'd been these last days, tired all the time, it seemed, fretful and a little peaked... oh! could it be?
Mari looked up and smiled; she took the hand Tom offered to help her to her feet. The music picked up again, and the first fiddle led strong and clear. Plenty of dancing left, and here was a fine hobbit to do it with. That, and a few kisses, and maybe more, under the greenwood.
Rosie was smiling at her, excited still. "Mari, I wasn't noticing a thing other'n Sam's hand at my waist. But he must've heard something, he whirled round so fast, and was gone almost afore 'excuse me'. Did you see how brave he was?"
"Aye, that he was." And she'd seen more besides - he'd ploughed through the crowd clear from the other side, just like he knew Mr. Frodo were in a tight spot, and there weren't a hobbit in the Shire could've stopped him from taking Mr. Frodo's part.
Soon as all were over, everyone watched that scoundrel Lotho and his friends as they were packed off. But she hadn't taken her eyes off Sam and the Master, standing side by side by the Bonfire - and they had eyes only for each other, and the looks exchanged between them said 'I'm here' and 'Always' and 'Love' to anyone with half a mind to see. And when Mr. Frodo finished talking with May - gentle as could be, with nary a word about her folly - Sam had reached down to hug May. The look he gave over her shoulder to Mr. Frodo said 'Thank you' and more - it was a promise, clear as you please. She had an idea what was promised, and knowing her Sam like she did - and having learned something of the Master that time he'd been so hurt - she didn't think a promise would ever be a casual thing between these two. No. Once they'd finally come to it - and hadn't she thought maybe it was coming long before it did? - it was for good. Forever, most likely.
"But I've lost him - did you see where he went?" Rosie stood on tiptoe to search the revolving dancers.
"Mmmm... he'll turn up." Eventually... but not likely any time tonight. There, beyond Rosie, Sam strode across the meadow toward the woods - and because she knew he must be there, she could see Mr. Frodo, waiting in the shadows beneath the low hanging branches, holding out his arms to welcome his love.
Moonlight and shadow, and midsummer's dream - Sam in his arms, kissing him fiercely, pressing close and hard. Here is all I ever need... Rustling leaves nearby and soft cries not their own returned them to the woodland path, and discretion.
"Sam, let's walk." But I will not let go of your hand, not now, not ever. "And talk." Bonfire, book... bairns.
Kissing, comforting, talking, cuddling, they followed the narrowing path towards Bag End. Sam's home, if all that I have can ever be enough.
The trail meandered among moss-barked trees growing close, and its hard-packed soil became soft moss underfoot. Rustling night creatures and chirping crickets replaced the sounds of love in the woods, and they drew aside to the shadows to let hands and lips rove freely.
"Sam. I - Midsummer Night is more than romance. Fertility, at harvest..."
"And... in bed. Babes. Have you thought-- There can be none."
"Aye, I've thought. But we can't neither of us bear one any more'n fly to that great moon up there." Sam pulled Frodo close, and his smile held love, and the barest shadow of regret. "Our bairn would be my greatest treasure, next to you. But a babe's not all that comes of loving..."
His hands went still at the front of Frodo's trousers. "Unless you're saying, for you?"
"No! I love you. But we should speak of it."
"Later - but it won't change a thing." Sam's hands moved on him again, and only one more button, now, but he hesitated, wiggled his fingers... slid one hand over him, and reached into his pocket.
Oh, don't stop!
Yes, please, there...
"...what in the world..."
Do... that, more...
Sam withdrew his hand and held up his find.
"Well, I'll be... Frodo, that's the biggest--"
"Your surprise... this one looked like..."
"Me!" Sam laughed - no, he snorted. "Any like you, love?"
"Mmm, you will have to look... But what's this?" Frodo traced the raised outline of an equally unexpected bulge in Sam's pocket. Lifting one brow, he glanced from eyes softly green as moss down to hips rocking gently together.
"Mr. Frodo, sir, I'd've thought you'd know by now--"
A deft stroke to the larger swelling silenced Sam's teasing with a gasp.
"This I know, quite well, but this...?" With difficulty, he slipped one hand into a very tight pocket. "What have we here?"
"For you, love...whatever you find there."
Frodo pulled out a cobalt vial, its neck and cork wound with fine red thread, sealed with fragrant beeswax; he rolled its smoothness, warm from Sam's body, over his lips.
"I thought... something for our ease...?" A moment of uncertainty - and then that slow smile bloomed on Sam's face. "Maybe just a touch now, then home for...mushrooms?"
"Oh, love... yes." Frodo sank back against the tree, trying to hold the bottle steady in the dappled moonlight, trying to concentrate as Sam freed them both from velvet, wool, and linen to spring forth bowing and bobbing into his hands. He unwound thread as bright as lifeblood, pressed the cork from its seal, pulled it with his teeth. Trembling, he poured Sam's gift. Green-scented as woods and sweet as a summer night, the precious drops dripped honeyed into his palm. He pushed in the cork, dropped the bottle to the springy moss, and brought his hands to Sam, to twine together around the living fire between them.
Oiled flesh glistened in dappled moonlight beneath Sam's strong hands and his own, stroking, squeezing, sliding over silk. Sam smiled a tender question, and he nodded.
Frodo closed his eyes and let his head drop back to the tree. Sound was smooth and slippery, woven through with ragged breath and a voice that cried Sam! over and again. Sam's heat filled his hands, his weight pushed him back. He would fall boneless were Sam not pressed to him so hard... pressing so hard, between his spread legs, finding... pushing... Oh, Sam's hands, his fingers... there!
Sweet fire burned within and Frodo soared, then fell into their kiss. Blindly he found Sam's lips, his teeth, his tongue, and rode the bucking waves of release as Sam came undone, too, convulsing hot into their sheathing hands.
Who we are will seed what comes from us... Our love will bring forth what it may.
Panting, Sam rested his forehead against Frodo's, and they sank together to the cool moss.
Midsummer Night had only just begun.
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